Posts by Andrew Brandt

Empowering a Predator

First, a note about my presence -- or lack of presence -- here at the National Football Post in recent months..

As many of you know, I joined ESPN in February of 2011 to provide insight and perspective on their broadcast platforms. This year, my role with ESPN was expanded to include regular

First, a note about my presence — or lack of presence — here at the National Football Post in recent months..

As many of you know, I joined ESPN in February of 2011 to provide insight and perspective on their broadcast platforms. This year, my role with ESPN was expanded to include regular columns for espn.com. With this increasing digital role at ESPN, my NFP partners and I agreed that I will no longer be contributing regular columns here.

I am not leaving completely, however. As co-founder and continuing stakeholder in NFP, I will occasionally add columns such as the one below.

NFP’s continuing mission is to provide experienced and differentiated perspective into football. I hope I have served our readers well with my insights. Continued thanks to all of you for your loyalty and support….

On to the column…

With Thursday’s issuance of the Freeh Report (Report) addressing Penn State’s reaction to the atrocious acts of former coach Jerry Sandusky, my blood boiled once again, as it did when the tragedy was first reported in November. My initial bewilderment as to the breadth and length of its existence was unfortunately cemented by “active concealment” of past and future crimes that, sadly, could have been prevented by those with the wherewithal to do so.

Here is a sampling of some of the conclusions from the Report:

“From 1998–2011, Penn State’s ‘Tone at the Top’ for transparency, compliance, police reporting and child protection was completely wrong.”

“There was callous and shocking disregard for child victims.”

“At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the staff to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building.”

“The rapes of these boys occurred in the Lasch Building.”

And, perhaps, the most damning sentence of all:

“Nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity.”

The report outlines a culture that we suspected but wished were not the case; a culture with Joe Paterno lording over sycophant administrators, a culture with the university serving at the behest of the football program rather than vice versa.

Sandusky was brazen in his predatory behavior.

Brazen

The fact that a predator such as Sandusky was allowed to bring young boys into the football facility after his crimes were known is not only beyond belief but heart-wrenching for the victims, especially ones brought into the lion’s den after his evil was already known.

Sandusky acted in ways that seemed to call out his evil as if to say, “Yes, I’m doing this. What are you going to do about it?”

As it turned out, Sandusky engaged in his deviant and criminal ways for one increasingly clear reason: because he could.

Ushering in a new era

Transgressions at places such as USC and Ohio State for agent contact and free tattoos now seem quite benign.

It is Penn State, with its pristine uniforms and previously clean reputation that had a predator acting with diplomatic immunity. At best, Penn State allowed Sandusky’s chilling behavior to exist without appropriate and necessary intervention. At worst, it enabled it. Future years of civil litigation against the university will determine where along the spectrum its actions lie.

Power and privilege

Having been around the business of football for 25 years I understand the sway that money brings. The $72 million in gross revenue brought in by Penn State football bestowed great power and privilege to Paterno and the program.

And Paterno, to be fair, used his power to bring some good to Penn State, especially his donations towards academic departments of the university. However, based on the Report, he abused that power to allow horrific acts to take place on his watch.

One can only imagine the conversation that took place between Paterno and Sandusky about the latter’s actions, if such a conversation ever took place. Did Paterno and Sandusky feel they were so far above the reach of university governance that this was a “private matter” that didn’t need to be addressed further?

The enduring theme of the Report is this: While innocent children were being victimized, adults in charge were either afraid or unwilling to do the right thing.

No one stepped up

At some point in every person’s life, in his or her own way, he or she is faced with a situation where there is an opportunity to “step up” and make a difference. With Sandusky a known predator lurking in their midst, Paterno and the administrators could have made a monumental difference in the lives of innocent children needing their intervention and future victims to come. Simply, they failed.

Maybe the silver lining in this terrible tragedy is that although it took a pedophile to do it, the age of entitlement for Penn State football has ended. At the least — we hope — Penn State football will serve at the behest of the University’s greater good, rather than vice versa. That won’t help the victims, but it may change a culture that failed them.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt

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All Saints Day in Court

Today in New York -- in the midst of chilling and damning audio from Gregg Williams -- Commissioner Roger Goodell will hear appeals from head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant coach Joe Vitt, and the organization in general -- regarding the discipline levied due to the “bounty” system in place

Today in New York — in the midst of chilling and damning audio from Gregg Williams — Commissioner Roger Goodell will hear appeals from head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant coach Joe Vitt, and the organization in general — regarding the discipline levied due to the “bounty” system in place in 2009, 2010, and 2011. As per the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and Bylaws, the appeals are heard by the same office that originally levied the discipline, that of the Commissioner.

Why appeal?

Goodell handed out the penalties — which include a yearlong suspension to Payton, an eight game suspension to Loomis, and a six game suspension to Vitt — after a comprehensive and lengthy investigation by NFL Security. Among those questioned and allowed to explain their side of the story during the inquiry were, of course, Payton, Loomis, and Vitt. Therefore, an appeal appears futile, especially with the release of this explosive evidence today from Yahoo’s Mike Silver.

However, for the simple price of asking, Payton and Loomis can have their “day in court” to challenge the harshness of the penalties. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.

Buying time

Delay allows Parcells to further explore returning to coach Saints.

Certainly, there are strategic reasons for the appeal. Payton wants to savor every minute he can before being banned from the Saints’ facility. Payton and Loomis can also map out their calendar with existing staff to better prepare the organization for their absence. And, of course, Payton can continue to explore his replacement, including the possibility of Bill Parcells serving in his stead.

The slight delay can also give guidance to Payton on what he can and cannot do over the coming months, although this seems clumsy to me. I find it to be a bit flimsy. After an exhaustive inquiry, a prelude announcement to sanctions a month ago, and the announced sanctions two weeks ago, Payton does not know what restrictions are placed upon him? Seriously?

Precedent

The real reason for the appeal is for the representatives of the Saints, Payton, Loomis, and Joe Vitt to try to put the punishment in some kind of context. They will not challenge the fact they were wrong; they will challenge the severity of the discipline imposed.

Lawyers will likely be representing all parties. And lawyers love precedent. They will try to look to any similar situations in the past — “Spygate” among them — that Goodell or those before him have ruled on. They will try to compare situations and argue that the discipline is disproportionate to the misconduct involved.

The problem for the appealing parties is that precedent may simply not matter here.

Initiatives

A hallmark of Commissioner Goodell’s tenure has been the Personal Conduct Policy and having full authority to rule on player conduct and any appeals (a power unchanged in the new CBA despite carping from the NFLPA).

The most well known case of this involved star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for conduct that, while vile, did not result in criminal charges after a lengthy investigation. Nevertheless, Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for six games — later reduced to four — in the name of protecting the brand and the image of the NFL and its players.

Did Roethlisberger’s punishment fit the misconduct based on precedent? Probably not. Would a lesser known player have had the same discipline? Probably not.

Now the Saints have erred in the face of another primary initiative of Goodell: the health and safety of NFL players. As negligence lawsuits regarding concussions mount, the issue of intentional injury flies in the face of the NFL’s priority on health and safety.

The behavior of the Saints’ employees was wrong and, perhaps more importantly, at the wrong time. Does their punishment fit their misconduct based on precedent, even what little there is? Probably not. However, to Goodell, there are issues bigger than this case here.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt

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Cap Control

At the NFL meetings this week my sense is things were a bit, uh, awkward. Earlier docked $36 million and $10 million, respectively, for Cap “abuse”” during the uncapped year of 2010, the Redskins' Dan Snyder and the Cowboys' Jerry Jones -- faced with a 29-0 vote from ownership approving the sanctions against them

At the NFL meetings this week my sense is things were a bit, uh, awkward. Earlier docked $36 million and $10 million, respectively, for Cap “abuse”” during the uncapped year of 2010, the Redskins’ Dan Snyder and the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones — faced with a 29-0 vote from ownership approving the sanctions against them — raised the stakes, filing a grievance against the NFL challenging the imposition of such penalties.

Beyond vague comments from Giants owner John Mara about the teams “violating the spirit of the uncapped year”, the league has been mum on details. Here is the best I can surmise as to what is behind this dispute.

The background

As NFL teams entered the uncapped year of 2010, many wondered if teams such as the Redskins and Cowboys would be “Steinbrenneresque” in their spending with none of the previous limits that the Cap had imposed in previous years.

As it turned out, the Cowboys and Redskins did not engage in disproportionate cash spending. However, they did engage in disproportionate Cap spending. To the league, therein lies the problem.

The deals

The Miles Austin contract caught the attention of the NFL.

Notorious for writing large signing bonuses to push out proration into future years and keep the first-year Cap number as low as possible, the Cowboys went the other way with Miles Austin. They loaded all $17 million of what would have ordinarily been a “bonus” into salary, thereby containing the Cap hit in 2010 alone.

Interestingly, this is the kind of Cap management that I have lauded, one being used in Tampa with their recent deals for Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks. This structure, however, was completely out of character for the Cowboys, and has been out of character since.

The Redskins, in contrast, did not front load new contracts in 2010, as the Austin deal described above. Rather, they restructured existing contracts, negotiated in 2009, to bring forward future proration amounts from the “out” years into 2010. Restructured contracts for DeAngelo Hall and Albert Haynesworth alone accelerated $15 and $21 million of future Cap into the uncapped year. That $36 million just so happens to be the amount the Redskins have been docked.

At the time, I noted how two teams that traditionally have pushed their Cap problems into the future had become more prudent. As it turned out, they were ignoring warnings not to do so.

The warnings

I remember the NFL Management Council starting to advise clubs as far back as 2007 that, in the event of an uncapped year, they could not press “File Delete” in 2010.

These warnings continued with more urgency in 2009, that it would be “taking unfair advantage” of the uncapped year in gaining a competitive edge by Cap-dumping into a year without a Cap.

Let’s look at the arguments from each side.

Warnings

  • The Cowboys and Redskins will argue that there were no written warnings against what they did.
  • The NFL will argue that there were repeated and strident verbal warnings as far back as three years prior to the uncapped year.

Approvals

  • The Cowboys and Redskins will argue that the front loaded negotiations and Cap restructures were approved by the NFL — as all contracts must be — which represented a tacit approval of their structure.
  • The NFL will argue that it is irrelevant that the contracts were approved. There was no Salary Cap and thus no Salary Cap rules to manage.

Competitive edge

  • The Cowboys and Redskins will argue that the league should look into teams like the Buccaneers and Chiefs, teams that underspent in 2010, and their competitive edge gained by under spending.
  • The NFL will argue that teams were not advised to spend or not to spend; only to not engage in accounting practices that took advantage of a unique year on the calendar.

The arbitration will be an intriguing study of the interplay, alliances and coalitions among NFL owners and the league office.

Whither the NFLPA?

Interestingly, the penalties to the Cowboys and Redskins were part of a joint agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA. The union’s primary concerns were to ensure (1) no reduction in Cap room league-wide, and (2) the team Cap number would exceed– if only barely — the number from 2011 (it did, with a $120.6 million number compared to $120.375 in 2011).

The problem for the NFLPA is that, in their zeal to prop up the 2012 Cap number, the NFLPA have borrowed from the future. Thus, the Cap “spike” that some project in 2014 when the new television contracts activate may not materialize the way the union, players and agents are hoping.

Fun times this week in South Florida this week. The faces of Jones and Snyder were quite red, a skin tone from anger rather than the sun.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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Inside the NFL Meetings

The 2012 NFL annual meetings open today, a rite of spring in which NFL owners and team personnel end their winter hibernation and surface in a plush resort to discuss the issues of the day affecting the league and its teams.

Aside from a show of relative austerity last year during the

The 2012 NFL annual meetings open today, a rite of spring in which NFL owners and team personnel end their winter hibernation and surface in a plush resort to discuss the issues of the day affecting the league and its teams.

Aside from a show of relative austerity last year during the lockout – when the meetings were held in New Orleans — the meetings return to the idyllic Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

The itinerary takes a familiar pattern each year. Team personnel would arrive throughout the weekend, with an opening speaker on Sunday afternoon. I remember being especially intrigued by Eric Schmidt of Google one year, who gave a fascinating lecture. This year’s speaker was former President Bill Clinton.

Meeting rituals

The meetings open every year with a short film of the sights and sounds of the previous season, with the best that NFL Films has to offer. After the video, with everyone feeling the energy and passion of the season, Commissioner Roger Goodell welcomes the crowd and gives proper respect and mention to the two Super Bowl teams. He then moves on to address the state of the game and the challenges that lie ahead.

Goodell’s address is concise and purposeful. This year he will certainly speak to the security of labor peace yet the challenges ahead with increasing options for fans and viewers — a theme of this year’s meetings will certainly be the in-stadium presentation, with a priority for teams to improve the game day experience.

The gathering then splits with ownership and chief executives in one room and coaches and “working club executives,” as people like myself were identified, in another. The Competition Committee presents its report at different times to different audiences — honing its presentation before its owner presentation — on topics ranging from time of games, penalties, officiating points of emphasis, overtime rules, player safety, tampering rules and specific proposals for rule changes.

Proposals for rules changes – often prompted by an egregious call the previous season — will be offered to the group, explained by the owner or team official putting forth the proposed change, and at some point voted on. Those certain to pass will be submitted to vote; those fraught with controversy or extensive debate are usually “tabled” until a later meeting in May, if at all.

An interesting proposal this year will be the discussion of moving the trade deadline back from Week Six until Week Eight. It does not seem to be a bold proposal, but may add some “buzz” to the concept of trading that has been largely foreign to the NFL compared to other leagues.

ICONMike Brown can be a polarizing presence at the meetings.

Interesting interplay

There are always interesting encounters between owners at the meetings. Mike Brown of the Bengals will certainly make a point to draw the ire of large market owners. And we can expect the recent Cap reductions given to the Redskins and Cowboys to come up, perhaps with some red-faced intensity, by Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones, who have filed a grievance against challenging its ruling. Cocktail hour could be quite interesting tonight!

Also on Monday, teams are given a list of compensatory draft selections. The carping over compensatory picks is an annual rite of spring for team personnel.

It is also always interesting to see the annual picture of the head coaches assembled, with sometimes as many as a third of them new faces.

Sidelights

A few agents always attend. Drew Rosenhaus is a ubiquitous presence, notorious for parading both his players and having an attractive female companion with him to entice team executives to stop by. And some business is done with agents and negotiations. I spent many a breakfast or lunch visiting with agents at the meetings.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, coaches meet the media for breakfast, with coaches treating the mandatory sessions with everything from interest to indifference or impatience. Tuesday also features the coaches’ golf tournament, a time when owners have used their absence to pass rules changes.

The meetings wrap on Wednesday, with some voting on Competition Committee issues but little in the way of monumental decisions coming out of any meeting. Replay is usually extended with some possible modifications, and some officiating changes are made based on the hot-button issue from the prior season.

No conflict

I would be surprised if Goodell steps on some of the land mines in recent weeks — the Cap penalties to the Cowboys and Redskins and the harsh discipline invoked on the Saints. Although these are working meetings, this is a time for fellowship and a bit of relaxation among the membership; Goodell saves the hard conversations for private meetings away from the public view. Moreover, this is not a time to embarrass anyone, as there are short memories all around.

On Wednesday afternoon, the limos soon pull up and owners alert their private planes to fire up. The meetings have ended, recess is over, back to work.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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Stinging the Saints

I have always found the more interesting part of the NFL to be when there are no games being played. The NFL offseason is, to me, the “in-season” and never lacking for story lines or drama. Yesterday were two vivid testaments of such intrigue, with ramifications for several teams heading into 2012. Let’s look

I have always found the more interesting part of the NFL to be when there are no games being played. The NFL offseason is, to me, the “in-season” and never lacking for story lines or drama. Yesterday were two vivid testaments of such intrigue, with ramifications for several teams heading into 2012. Let’s look at each.

Unsaintly behavior

I certainly expected Commissioner Roger Goodell to levy the “Triple Cocktail of Discipline”: fines, suspensions, and the loss of draft picks. And all three were given, as per the NFL’s statement, with the money quote from Goodell: “A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious.” Yikes.

The damage: indefinite suspension for Gregg Williams, one-year suspension for Sean Payton, eight-game suspension for Mickey Loomis, six-game suspension for Joe Vitt, loss of consecutive second-round picks, and a team fine of $500,000. Steep? Of course, it was expected to be severe.

Two major tenets of the NFL were in play here. First, a bounty program strikes at the heart of competitive balance and competitive integrity of the league. Reports of “bounties” and “cart-offs” put a sinister image on a game that is being sold not only as family entertainment but as competitively honest. Simply, the entire credibility of the sport was at issue with these activities.

Second, with the issue of concussions, head trauma, lawsuits and mentally infirm players so much in the news, player safety has never been more of a priority. The NFL has instituted several measures to ensure a safer product and the new CBA allows for players to have less contact and padded practices, all in the name of player health and safety. A “bounty” program belies these efforts.

Like the 2010 Ben Roethlisberger punishment for off-field misbehavior – a six-game suspension for vile, though not criminal conduct – the league erred on the side of being too harsh rather than too light. Penalty with a purpose.

Tebow’s 2011 salary advance has become much in issue.

Advance altercation

As the Saints news was resonating around the NFL – and it certainly did resonate – there was a reported trade of a player with some name recognition, Tim Tebow, from the now Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos to the New York Jets. Soon after the report, however, there became a “not so fast” moment as a dispute developed over $5 million of the contract Tebow signed with the Broncos, a dispute that now appears resolved.

Tebow was drafted late in the first round of the 2010 draft, the final year of the “old system” of first-round picks. Under the terms of the previous CBA teams could “advance” (pay forward) future guaranteed portions of salary owed in later years. These advances, formerly “option bonuses”, were used to — in effect — create a “second Rookie Pool” for top picks to receive more than the Rookie Cap would allow.

The Broncos exercised their $6.27 million advance in March of 2011. And they had “paid forward” a remaining $5 million of Tebow’s salaries due over the next three seasons, with the following breakdown:

• 2012: $1.425 million
• 2013: $1.69 million
• 2014: $1.92 million

With the purported trade, the Broncos expected repayment from the Jets for these advanced amounts to Tebow while the Jets resisted such payment as part of the trade, either due to a different interpretation of the contract or some other reasons. Regardless, it became a negotiation within a negotiation, settling with the Jets paying $2.53 million of the advance back to the Broncos over the next two seasons.

The Jets will pay the Broncos $1.5 million this year and $1.03 million next year, both paid throughout the regular season in weekly installments.

I have not seen the contract but in the vast majority of advances, an acquiring team in a trade has to pay the trading team back. This dispute, however, appears to be settled outside of the contract, as part of the trade. And despite what I sense was having the contract language on their side, the Broncos were motivated sellers of Tebow.

Finally — and thankfully — under the new CBA, such salary advances (except for that of first-year salary) are now prohibited.

The Tim Tebow spinoff from the Peyton Choice will continue in New York. Stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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