The NFL Owners Meetings concluded today with a 23-minute news conference by Commissioner Roger Goodell (what could be more exciting than that?). As you might imagine, the commissioner talked about Deflate-Gate, and the pending appeal of Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady. Goodell says the decision by the Pats not to appeal the $1 million fine and the loss of draft picks will have no bearing on Brady’s individual appeal of his four-game suspension, “I look forward to hearing directly from Tom on that. Is there any new information, or information, that he can bring more clarity to, or something that wasn’t considered in the Wells Report.”
Could the wheels be in motion for a reduction in Tom Brady’s four-game Deflate-gate suspension? Brady’s appeal will be heard in the next five days, and the NFL Players Association continues its push to have an independent arbitrator for the appeal. Today the NFLPA officially requested that Commissioner Roger Goodell recuse himself from the proceedings. Meanwhile, the Patriots will not appeal the loss of draft picks or the $1 million fine. Pats owner Robert Kraft explained why at a news conference today, “I really feel at this point in time, that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans, and the NFL.” The Players Association says the decision by the Patriots not to appeal does not affect Brady’s individual appeal.
In Prague, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby scored a goal to lead Team Canada to a win over Russia and a gold medal at the Ice Hockey World Championships, but there was some controversy after the game. Most of the Russian team left the ice before the Canadian National Anthem (although Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin were among a small group of players who stayed on the ice). The Russian state-owned news agency TASS says the team will be “subjected to a penalty for the disrespect displayed.” Crosby now joins the “Triple Gold Club” with two Olympic gold medals, an Ice Hockey World Championship gold, and a Stanley Cup.
The NFL’s #1 star, quarterback Tom Brady, has received a four-game suspension for Deflate-gate. The NFL also fined the Patriots $1 million, and the Patriots will lose two draft picks, a first-round pick next year, and a fourth-round pick in 2017. This is also huge news for the Steelers because they’ll be playing the Patriots in the NFL Kickoff Game on September 10th. Brady will reportedly appeal (he has three days to do so), but barring an overturn by appeal. it means the Steelers won’t have to face the Super Bowl MVP.
Underinflating footballs isn’t the worst offense in the history of football. Not even close. If they would’ve played that game with a nerf ball, the Patriots still would’ve won going away. Was it a violation of the rules? Absolutely. Is it, in itself, that big of a deal? Absolutely not. But if the most prominent and dominant player in the league breaks the rules and then lies about it, regardless of how the violation ‘did’ or ‘did not’ affect the outcome, the commissioner has no choice. Deflate-gate has very little to do with reality and very much to do with perception. On the heels of the debacle of last season’s response to the ray rice controversy, Roger Goodell is quite low on credibility. If he doesn’t make a statement with Tom Brady, he’ll go from low to empty.
Rookie orientation continues for the Steelers, and Doran Grant, a cornerback from Ohio State and a fourth-round draft pick, is hoping to make a name for himself. He may only be 5-foot-10, but Grant says don’t let that fool you, “I’m very tough, very tough, very intelligent. I feel like, I just feel like, I’m an around-the-clock athlete…can pretty much do a little bit of everything. Whatever they want me to do, I’ll learn it. I’ll master it, and get ready to play for them.”
Steelers President Art Rooney II agrees that, in some ways, this is a new era for the Steelers. Over the past decade, the Steelers made three Super Bowl appearances and won two Vince Lombardi Trophies. But a long list of players, and many leaders from those teams, are gone. NOw that the dust has settled, and with the draft behind them, I asked Rooney for his expectations for 2015, “I think we have enough talent on this team to compete for a championship. There’s no doubt we lost some players who we’ll miss, and who provided some great leadership on and off the field. Troy (was) certainly one of the all-time great Steelers and you don’t say, ‘okay we’re moving on from those guys’ and you miss those guys.”
No fight is without controversy right? Late Saturday night, Floyd ‘money’ Mayweather won the richest boxing match in history with Manny Pacquiao. The judges voted in a unanimous decision to give the fight to Mayweather. After the fight, it was disclosed that Pacquiao had injured his right shoulder in training, but the Nevada Boxing Commission denied his request to take an anti-inflammatory shot in his dressing room before the fight. Pacquiao made no excuses, but Mayweather still took his shots in his post-match interview.
Pacquiao: “Even though I hurt my shoulder, I didn’t complain in the ring. It’s part of the game.”
Mayweather: “I had injuries also going into this fight. And if he would have come out victorious, I would have said ‘You know what, I’ve got to show respect’ and say he was the better man.”
For as long as the NFL Draft has been analyzed, one question in particular has been debated. Should teams draft a player to fill a need? Or should they draft the best available player regardless of position? Well, the Steelers have one need that sticks out like a sore thumb…Cornerback. This year’s best corner prospect is Trae Waynes of Michigan State. The problem is, unless the Steelers trade up, Waynes won’t likely be around. He could very well be a top-ten pick. So assuming Waynes is gone, and if the Steelers still believe they need to take a corner with the 22nd pick, then another good possibility would be Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest. Johnson is a cover corner who would be a great fit for the Steelers. he might need to put on some weight. He’s 6-foot, 188. But the scouts say Johnson has a nice combination of speed and physicality. But back to the burning question. Should they fill a specific need? Or go after the best available player? If it were up to me (and it’s not), I’ve always liked the idea of going after a potential star, regardless of what position he plays, and even if that player doesn’t fill your #1 need. This year’s corner group is solid, and the Steelers could still get a quality corner when they draft in the second round. Keep in mind that Ike Taylor was a fourth round pick and ended up playing 12 years. Plus, if you draft based strictly on need, you might get some unwanted baggage. Marcus Peters of Washington is a talented corner, but he comes with some questions. Peters was suspended for a game and then kicked off the Huskies for reportedly fighting with a coach. He’s been known to yell at teammates, coaches, opponents and referees. This could be an issue. In fact, assessing a player’s character is more complicated than ever. Based on the internet and social media, the problems of every player are now everybody’s business. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin met with approximately 130 college players, and part of the process, according to Colbert, is to get to the bottom of off-the-field incidents, “you sort out what’s real and what’s rumor, and if you figure out what’s real, you figure out whether you can deal with it, and if you want to deal with it.”
The NFL draft gets underway tomorrow night. This year the draft is in Chicago instead of New York City, but not much else will change. Same story. Same staged photo-ops. Same hype. Commissioner Roger Goodell will be front and center, announcing, hugging, and high-fiving draft picks. The draft is an annual made-for-television event where there’s lots of sizzle, but often very little steak. Just think of the time, energy and attention that goes into it, and that’s just the fans. There’s too much analysis, too many previews, and too many mock drafts. Then again, one mock draft would be one too many. In terms of interest, I’ll give you the first round, although a portion of those picks turn into busts, and not the kind on display in Canton. The draft is still very significant. It’s the most important thing NFL teams do all year. Despite free agency, drafting well is still the backbone of any franchise. I talked to a couple NFL scouts, and this is their favorite time of year. Everything they’ve worked for plays out in the next several days. But that doesn’t mean it plays well to television, and that doesn’t mean the best picks are anywhere near the top. Some stars don’t emerge until the lower rounds. Hines Ward was a third-round pick, and 91 players were picked ahead of him. Hines is #1 in every major Steelers career receiving category. I’d say that’s a great draft pick! In 2010, 194 players were selected before the Steelers picked Antonio Brown in the sixth round. Brown has been to three Pro Bowls, and counting. He’s arguably the most dangerous weapon in the NFL, and he was the 195th player selected! Last year, mostly because of injuries, the top pick for the Steelers, linebacker Ryan Shazier, had a disappointing rookie season. Their second-rounder, defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, came on strong, and has great potential. Third-round pick, running back Dri Archer had virtually no impact. But the biggest draft win for the Steelers last year may be fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant, who’s poised to be a star. Steelers fans would like to think that every draft class could potentially be like 1974—the year of Swann and Stallworth, Lambert and Webster, but these days, fans will happily take one or two impact picks. By the way, in 1936, the year of the first NFL draft, the first-round pick for the Steelers was none other than—William Shakespeare. You can look it up.