Deflategate Penalties Are Very Fair

Deflategate has been blowing up the airwaves and twitterverse lately, and the outrage and criticism of the punishment handed down from Roger Goodell has me puzzled. From Friday, when we had insiders saying a 4 game penalty was in the realm of possibility, it has always seemed very straightforward. But, after reading media comments and articles, I feel like I might be in the minority. I don’t really care about being in the min–no, that’s bullsh; I do. When I’m right and you’re wrong (and when isn’t that the case?) it’s hard to hold it in, so I’m examining the common arguments against the punishment as I see them.

(H/T: these are largely taken from Peter King’s MMQB reaction article, since I think he groups the arguments together, and is sometimes too smug for my taste.)

NFL levied an unprecedented penalty on a team while admitting that the front office and head coach weren’t aware of the illegal actions. A few things are wrong with this line of thinking. First, in the NFL’s original letter about Spygate, Goodell said that this would be taken into account if there were any other cheating infractions. So, take an original penalty and multiply it via the “repeat offender” bonus, and you have the two draft picks and $1million. The draft picks are similar to the Spygate penalty–although Patriots fans should take heart: if New England makes a trade for an additional first round pick in the 2016 draft, we know the league will still let them keep the better pick. The fine is a joke. Not because this is a very profitable sports franchise, but because Kraft actually stands to make money as the punishment stands. Tom Brady is suspended for four games (about $1.8 million), which means that he doesn’t get paid these dollars. So, the team is only paying one million of the almost two million that it was slated to pay Brady during those four weeks. Does Robert Kraft need the money? No. But, talking about that being an unbelievable fine is ridiculous.

Also, we learned from the New Orleans Saints Bountygate scandal that “Ignorance is no excuse”, so not knowing it was going on does not keep one from being culpable. It can definitely be said that the Patriots have created an environment that fails to monitor adherence to the rules as vigorously as they could. So, the Ted Wells Report saying that Kraft and BB didn’t know about the deflation doesn’t mean that they can’t (and shouldn’t) be held accountable for what goes on in their building. So, we’re still good on the punishment logic so far.

The Ted Wells Report didn’t find that the Patriots conclusively even deflated the footballs. That’s a key contention of those not happy with the Wells Report, and it’s understandable–to a point. In a court of law, you need to prove something beyond reasonable doubt in order to convict someone of a crime. However, things are different in the NFL. Up until Spygate, the threshold to penalize a player or team for cheating was similar to that in a criminal court. However, after he handed down the penalties to the Patriots in that situation, Roger Goodell wrote a letter to the NFL Competition Committee days before the March 2008 Owner’s Meetings announcing his intention to lower the burden of proof from “conclusive proof” to the “preponderance of evidence” standard used in civil cases. Meaning that if all the evidence points to someone cheating, even without the conclusive smoking gun, the Commissioner is still entitled to penalize that person or persons.

“Too often, competitive violations have gone unpunished because conclusive proof of the violation was lacking,” Goodell wrote. “I believe we should reconsider the standard of proof to be applied in such cases, and make it easier for a competitive violation to be established. And where a violation is shown, I intend to impose more stringent penalties on both the club and the responsible individual(s). I will also be prepared to make greater use of draft choice forfeiture in appropriate cases. I believe this will have the effect of deterring violations and making people more willing to report violations on a timely basis.”

This letter also included various items such as his endorsement of the implantation of a helmet communication system for defensive players, and while rule changes would require a 3/4 majority approval from the owners, “Goodell could enact some of the administrative proposals in his memo unilaterally, and several people familiar with the issue said they don’t foresee him encountering much opposition to any measure he deems necessary.”

So, people who say that the Ted Wells Report didn’t find conclusive evidence that the Patriots and Tom Brady were adjusting the inflation levels of footballs outside the approved window are correct. However, that doesn’t preclude Goodell from penalizing them anyway.

This is unprecedented to “attack” an owner and team this way. Not really. Remember when due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, we had a league year without a salary cap? Apparently, it was only an uncapped year if you didn’t use your imagination. The Cowboys signed Miles Austin to a (regrettable) contract extension that offseason, with the cornerstone of the deal being a gigantic portion of the guaranteed money coming to Austin in the uncapped year. This structure allowed the Cowboys to possibly overpay for a player without having an adverse affect on future salary cap years. Other owners in the league (read: ownership of the New York Giants) were outraged, saying that this was a violation of the uncapped year. How? We never got a better answer besides that the owners had a “back room” agreement that spending wouldn’t get out of control. Jerry Jones did nothing worse than violate a gentleman’s agreement, and was penalized for “salary cap violations” in a year where there was no salary cap. And yet, some want to be outraged when there is (at the very least, some) evidence that the Patriots deflated their footballs? Sorry, sometimes you get caught and have to pay up.

The average of all 22 readings was 11.30 psi–two-one-hundredths lower what the Ideal Gas Law would have allowed for balls that started the day at the Patriots’ level of 12.5 psi. What, then, should the margin of error be for the proper inflation levels of footballs? Should the rule read “a football should be inflated to between 12.5 psi and 13.5 psi, except if the football is within .02 psi of the previously described range.” That’s stupid. That would then be 12.48 to 13.52 psi. But fine, that can be the new acceptable range of inflation. But what if we find someone using a football that using the Ideal Gas Law is predicted to have been inflated to 12.47 psi? That’s only .01 outside of the new range. See, it’s a slippery slope. The rule may be dumb, and thrown out at a later date, but it’s here today–so it needs to be followed.

I’m not smart enough to understand the Ideal Gas Law. But, I do know that a law of physics applies to everyone equally. And only a couple of the Colts balls were found to be outside the range as opposed to eleven of twelve for the Patriots. If the law is incorrect, it still incorrectly judged both sides.

The Wells Report doesn’t tell Brady’s side of the story. It’s one sided in favor of the NFL. 

“Oh, okay; what’s your side? Let’s take a look.”

“Well, you can’t, because it’s on this cell phone that I won’t give you. And it’s corroborated by this guy that my team won’t let you do a follow up interview with. But still! Tell my side!”

“That’s okay, I understand you not wanting your text messages on TMZ. How about you and your agent look through your phone alone, and then send me anything pursuant to this investigation. No one will snoop on your phone.”

“No, not doing that. Just tell my side of the story in your report.”

If you don’t cooperate, don’t gripe about it being one sided. Idiot.

How can they use Spygate against them? It’s something different! This one is tough. I can’t find any source material on Goodell’s original announcement of the penalties in 2007. But, I’ve heard John Clayton on ESPN say that Goodell told the team that this would be held against them if they were found to be cheating again. I can’t vouch 100%, but he’s a respected reporter, so I’m putting it in.

Plus, many people would say—me among them— that the NFL botched (or purposely softened) the draft pick penalty to the Patriots. They had made a trade with the 49ers, and had two picks in the first round of the 2008 draft—[a top ten pick] and [a low pick]. The league only took away the pick that the Patriots had actually earned, instead of the one they had traded for. It would have been easy, to say, “We’re penalizing you your best first round draft pick.” Holding to that, what if the Patriots had already traded away their first round pick for 2008? Would they have only taken away the second round pick, because that was the first pick they owned? Or, would they have deemed that too light of a penalty and made the penalty take place in a year with the first round pick available. Most would say the latter, which then holds that the league didn’t take steps to impose the most strict penalty possible.

The (arguably) underinflated footballs didn’t change the outcome of the game. You can’t prove that they gained a competitive advantage. Again, NFL has said they don’t need 100% proof. Competitive advantage doesn’t mean “caused outcome of the game.” If a cornerback holds a receiver on the complete other side of the field from where an interception took place, do we overturn the penalty because it didn’t lead to the interception? It didn’t give the defense a competitive advantage to pick off the pass? Should only the penalties that we can prove affected the outcome of the play be enforced?

Look, I’m not a Patriots or Tom Brady guy. But, I do like fairness. If you broke the rule, just own up to it. If you claim more deductions than you should have to get a higher income tax return, good for you. You’re not hurting anyone. But, when the IRS comes to audit you, just admit your mistake and give them all the paperwork. People who are griping about this seem to be fans or uneducated. When I look at it, it seems very cut and dried, and not worth spending time talking or arguing about.

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Draft, Draft, Draft

The Cowboys are in an envious and difficult position in this May’s Draft. After the best season that post puberty-Ryan remembers, they are picking at 27 in the draft. While a sign of last year’s success, some would say that it leaves them in a no man’s land for draft strategy and predictions. But this front office staff has shown themselves to be the exact kind of people that I want guiding my team in this situation.

At 27, you’ve got no reasonable idea of who will be there when it’s time to pick. Three years ago, there was an early run on offensive guards and as a result, the offensive line prospects were picked over late in the first. That was unexpected, and never reflected in anyone’s mock drafts. The current Cowboys regime has shown an ability to quickly adapt to the current landscape—whether it be signing our own free agents, obtaining new free agents, trades—to acquire the right player at the right time. Also, I believe that picking at 27 forces one to use my preferred draft strategy.

The two predominant theories on the method to decide which player to pick are “best player available” and “drafting for need”. Both of you know the ideas behind them, so I’ll move on. They’re both right, and both wrong. Like so many things in life, you can’t just do it one way or another. A hybrid is the best way. Yes, you obviously want the best player that you can get, but not at a position that is in much better shape than a position that is filled with scrubs. But you don’t want to just pick for need, or you end up with a fourth-round quality guard taken in the first. You have to combine the two, which is what I’m going to try to do for my “Draft Guide”.

The Cowboys know what their needs are, just like we know—defensive line, secondary, runningback, backup tackle, linebacker, wide receiver depth (in no particular order). After they agree on the order of the need, based on their comfort level with the existing players at the position, you can have a big picture of your shopping list.

Then, they can grade and rank the players at the various positions, separately. Once those two sets of rankings are done, you combine them. Put the players in order for the most needed position, then the players in order for the second most needed position, and so on. By the grades, the personnel people will know who is in the top tier of linemen, or who is a clear step ahead running the ball, which will allow them to know when that need is basically picked over and the next need with value at 27 can be utilized.

It’s not rocket science, but it works. Yes, we need a runningback, but unless Todd G or Melvin Gordon are there at 27, I don’t think it’s the position to go with. We also need defensive linemen both to help Greg Hardy and Demarcus Lawrence stay fresh, but to add depth when Hardy is out. There are good guys for that in this draft, but maybe they’re all gone when we pick. The only way to know which need to pay attention to is to look at what the quality is at each position of need by severity. Find the first graded match for where you’re picking, and that’s the answer.

Moving to the players, because, let’s be honest: I won’t write anything else between now and the draft. I thought that working from home would allow me to play a ton of Clash of Clans and wax rhapsodic about America’s Team all day. Experience has shown neither to be the case. But, while I was coasting at my previous job, I commandeered many conference room hours and watched film on players. Not as many as I would have liked (or even “many” at all), but more than I watched last year.

I used draftbreakdown.com which is the go-to place for people to break down film. If you’re not receiving the all-22 of college games (and few people are, outside of team facilities), it’s the best substitute. It allows you to watch every snap that the selected player was on the field during the game that you selected. They don’t have every game for every player, but they have a lot. More than enough for a true draft blogger’s purposes. Not that I’m one of those, but still. The drawback is that it’s tv footage, which follows the football. It’s great for linemen, linebackers, and runningbacks, but not the other positions.

For instance, when I tried to evaluate cornerbacks, there was no way for me to determine that the receiver got behind the corner for a 20 yard gain because of the technique of the corner, or due to a bad coverage call by the defensive coordinator. Likewise, I had no way of knowing if that interception was a positive outcome to improper technique, or true talent. As a result, only one corner even has information listed from me. Seeing this, and knowing how few people actually get All-22 footage made available to them, made me take every media member’s skill position assessments with a grain of salt. Obviously the ESPN and NFL Network people have this, but I don’t think any newspaper writers or bloggers get access to this. Thus, how can I trust their grade of a corner or receiver? It doesn’t matter if they watched every game, they still wouldn’t have seen anything of note.

I also didn’t watch Todd G. It was pointless, I already know that his game footage is basically all highlight-reel stuff and would make me fall in love. I can’t read an MRI, so I have no idea if he’s going to be healthy. If he somehow falls to 27, I’m in a real pickle. I’d say to take him based on the possibility of getting a top 5 player at that spot, but who knows?

Below is who I did watch, and what I thought. For every player, I watched at least three games, and only the games against the best competition (power 5 conference opponents, programs I know are good—I don’t care how he did against Directional School Technical University).

Melvin Gordon

o Pros

  • Always falling forward. Rarely lacks momentum to gain another yard or two while being tackled
  • Reminds me of a younger DeMarco Murray
  • Sees hole, hits hole.
  • When able to hit his called hole/gap, he can get solid yards every time.
  • Pile always moves forward. Reminds me of Lynch in that way—not quite as physical at all times as Lynch, but a pile mover.
  • Bad news behind this offensive line. Defensive coordinators will lose sleep if he gets to have these guys blocking for him.
  • Impressive to see what he was able to do without a quality quarterback. That guy wasn’t very good.

o Cons

  • Not shift at all. He won’t make you miss consistently
  • Not a home run threat
  • No hole? Uh-oh. Not a creator.
  • Can sometimes cut backside, but it has to be there. If the backside cut has a defender waiting, will fight to get back to scrimmage.
  • Incomplete on pass catching and protection
  • Wisconsin offense didn’t ask him to do either very often, so hard to tell how that will translate

o Conclusion

  • I think Gordon would be a beast behind this line. He seems to be sturdier than Murray, and will get you the 5-6 yards blocked almost every time. He moves the pile, and while he doesn’t always require two guys to take him down, the defense gives up a yard or so while tackling him. He won’t make the offensive line look better than they are, but on this team that isn’t needed. If he’s there at 27, and the first round-grade DE/DTs are gone, this is a pick that will serve dividends for the next five years.

Owamagbe Odighizuwa

o Pros

  • Looks like he has a nice first step
  • 1.63 10 yard split in the 40
  • Great measurables and a great physique
  • Had a good combine workout
  • Strong enough to push his blocker into the QB when he’s not able to get past him
  • Able to line up at DT or DE/LB

o Cons

  • Didn’t show ability to switch to inside rush when outside wasn’t there
  • Multiple times I saw his initial outside rush bring the tackle so far out, that when he was blocked and stopped he could have slid inside for open path to QB
  • If the blocker gets his hands on him, it’s almost over
  • If he can’t beat you with speed, he can’t beat you
  • He can push the lineman back, but rarely saw him able to do it quickly and accurately enough to do anything but be a nuisance
  • He looks very raw, at best a project player

o Conclusion

  • In no way should he be the Cowboys first round pick. I don’t even get the first round grade on him. He might develop into something solid, but at this point he’s a big fast guy without a lot of functional strength. Tackles or guards would simply need to get in front of him while pass protecting to win every time, he can’t fight anyone off.

Carl Davis

o Pros

  • Never loses sight of the football
  • Quick to disengage from blocker if ball coming at his gap or going east/west
  • Rarely looked out of position in scheme
  • Didn’t seem like the offense was succeeding because of something that he was doing wrong
  • Might not always get the tackle or sack, but doesn’t try to play outside his responsibilities on that particular play
  • Drew a good number of double teams

o Cons

  • Pad level may be a little high?
  • Not blinding speed
  • Quick, but not fast
  • Not a lot of penetration

o Conclusion

  • Solid lineman, looks to have a good engine for pursuit, doesn’t give up easily. Drew a lot of double teams, but didn’t penetrate into backfield very often. I think he would make a solid 1 technique rotation guy, don’t see how he would project to a 3 technique in this scheme. As a result, I don’t see how a 1 technique guy is worth a first round pick.

PJ Williams

o Too hard to scout cornerbacks w/o All-22

o What I saw though wasn’t stellar

Denzel Perryman

o Pros

  • Quick, even for a Will linebacker
  • Good in coverage, especially East/West
  • Rarely saw a problem staying with RB out of backfield
  • Able to cover WR running cross or In routes
  • Good tackler
  • Ball carrier rarely kept moving past him
  • Didn’t see him give up any YAC
  • When he knows where the ball is going, look out
  • See ball, get ball

o Cons

  • Not asked to rush passer very much in Miami’s scheme
  • When he did rush passer, didn’t fly through gaps consistently
  • Never lost ground to blocker, but didn’t ALWAYS push his man back

o Conclusion

  • I don’t see him as a first round talent, to my highly untrained eye. Solid linebacker, but only played Will for Miami, so not a pass rusher. Tough to spend high on a guy who won’t consistently affect the quarterback. But, if he’s another player drafted in the third round, like Hitchens was last year, he can go a long way to helping the linebacking corps heal from the losses of Bruce Carter and Justin Durant.

Ameer Abdullah

o Small guy

o Pros

  • Quick, maybe even fast
  • Not Todd G, with home run speed, but more than fast enough to play position
  • 0-60 quick; top speed might not be the same as some, but doesn’t take long to get to what he has
  • Rarely gets tackled for loss
  • Often able to make guys miss and turn a poorly blocked play (Nebraska wasn’t great) into a positive or even great play. Doesn’t juke, but brushes guys off while changing direction. VERY effective, and a weapon that is transferrable to NFL.

o Cons

  • Short
  • Can make it hard for smaller guys to take the NFL beating
  • Pass protection leaves some to be desired. It didn’t look due to his size, but technique or coaching. Often looked late in moving to engage his guy. Might be due to not being able to see b/c of height, but I saw it happen on edge rushers. I think the coaching left some to be desired or the scheme was such that it took seconds to determine who to block. Also, Nebraska isn’t a high volume passing team, so he didn’t get a lot of reps to practice blocking

o Conclusion

  • He doesn’t have that big burst or bowl you over toughness that’s required to be taken in the first round as a runningback in the current climate. However, if he is available when the Cowboys pick in the second round, Abdullah is a pick that (like many runningbacks) would excel behind a quality offensive line. He gets (at least) what is blocked, and has the quickness and elusiveness to make Dallas a force on the ground again in 2015 and beyond.

Special

Special, adjective: otherwise different from what is usual.

To be special is to not be the same as everything else–or at least the majority. Everyone else is short, but you’re tall. Your brothers are fat and slow, but you’re smaller and can run circles around them. Mike Trout. This girlfriend doesn’t freak out when I want to watch the game. Joey Gallo doing Joey Gallo things. People want to see things they can’t usually see, like the Hope Diamond or a Christopher Nolan sci-fi movie. There’s rarely a line at the cubic zirconia counter at Wal-Mart.

Athletes are people, just like us. They happen to make a good deal more money than we do, and an even smaller segment of them make more than any regular person will see in a lifetime–in a year. Athletes aren’t different people, though. The paychecks are perfect, but the people cashing them sure aren’t. They oversleep, overeat, bicker with friends, and lose girls to other people. One of the prices of fame is that their mistakes trend on Twitter, lead local newscasts, and dominate the public consciousness for a period of time. A software programmer who is irresponsible and receives a DUI is able to deal with his problem and mistake with his family and, at worst, his employer. But if that programmer could throw a ball really fast instead of efficiently migrate your website from flash to HTML 5, that DUI is anything but private. Even in situations where the police or city officials don’t leak the relevant information, Deadspin’s automated Google Alerts are there to pick up the slack. When an athlete makes a mistake, we all know. And judge.

Athletes make the same mistake regular people make. Maybe not the same mistake I would make, or you would slip up with. But we all know people who have gotten pulled over while holding. A friend of a friend might have killed someone years ago, and served their time. It’s possible we know a guy who hits his wife. In fact it’s likely that we know the guy, but are unaware that he hits his wife. The mistakes I make are private, are known to only the people involved or those that I choose to bring into confidence. Which is fine, I’m a regular guy. But so is that cornerback that wrecked his car with a .09 BAC. He just happens to make tons of money, so I know about it and criticize. Even though the same thing happened to me last week. My point is, income taxes aside, athletes are people just like the two of you reading this blog.

Another consequence of being rich and famous, apparently, is that you’re required to be a better person. Once you end up in that highest tax bracket, the freedom to make bad decisions is gone and replaced with an eight figure annual salary. Why else would we bemoan a player who makes a mistake as a “bad role model”? Yes, he might have failed as a role model for your son, but why was he one in the first place? Because he’s on SportsCenter, and you’re not? That’s stupid. Making more money doesn’t make you a better person than me, and it doesn’t require you to be held to a higher standard than me. We’re both men (I’ve heard women play sports, but without evidence, I’ll continue to only use masculine pronouns), what’s the difference?

It’s been done for decades, these men we cheer put on a higher pedestal. And what happens? They fail us. They drink and drive. They hurt or kill someone. They gamble on the sport they play. They have children out of wedlock. Sadly, they even kill. When these things happen, the stories and comments no longer contain exclamations of surprise when the quarterback falls from grace, but the disappointment remains. When this is so prevalent, why do people continue to see these (rich and famous) regular guys as role models? The exception is when the player goes his career without making a monumental slip-up. The guy who makes eight figures and doesn’t cheat on his wife or settle his disagreements outside the bar? He’s special.

Why then, do we try to marry what a guy does off the field with what he does on the field? Celebrate the guys who do good, of course. But, they’re the exception. That’s why they’re celebrated–you don’t celebrate every sunrise. A guy who does something deplorable, I think, should be handled just like the guy in the cubicle next to me who does the same thing. Go through the legal system, make amends, and take full advantage of your second chance. Learn your lessons, do better.

I have a problem with how the media is handling the Greg Hardy signing, obviously. Look, he screwed up. Huge. He, by all accounts, beat the crap out of a woman. You can’t do that. But, the legal system has him on the street. He exercised his right to work the system and settle the dispute with a civil settlement subject to a non disclosure agreement. Does that mean that he did (at least) most of what has been reported? Probably. And I hate that he did that, but I’m not losing any more sleep over him doing it than I would the coal miner in Pennsylvania doing it at the end of a shift. Or someone at church who slipped up the same way. It’s not really my business. My business is making sure I don’t do that. My business is making sure that I’m the best role model for my kids that I can be. That guy running fast and (hopefully) knocking the quarterback down? He’s a good football player. Don’t worry about the rest.

It has to be separate. Is it ideal? No. But humanity isn’t ideal. We screwed that up in Eden. Love him on the field, and pray for him off it. If he screws up, I’ll react the same way as if a friend had screwed up. Sadness, and hope for his future.

The Cowboys are being criticized for making the deal, but if you look at the financials of it, it’s not a huge endorsement. By NFL standards he is receiving average offseason roster and workout bonus money. Once the season starts, he’s essentially on a week-to-week deal. That’s both a testament to the number of teams that didn’t want to deal with him and the new way the Cowboys do business. I doubt Jerry Jones knew this kind of contract existed five years ago. I envision him erecting a statue of Henry Melton’s contract outside the new facility in Frisco. And if he does, I’ll get my picture taken beside it.

Between the hashes, this is an amazing turn of events. I still can’t believe it’s happened. I haven’t gone through Pro Football Focus’s assessment of him in previous years, but we all know he’s great. And in his prime. I’m not condoning what the man did, but he went through the legal system just like anyone else (who can afford a top attorney and a financial settlement). I like that they’ve separated the two parts of the person. Someone was going to sign him. He was eligible to play, and too good of a talent to sit out. Why shouldn’t it be the Cowboys? I want to see this and this happen at AT&T Stadium.

Separate the player from the man. Spend more time being a role model instead of looking for one. Do this, and you’ll be set to enjoy the Cowboys 2015 season.

Poppin’ Tags

Not well written, but had to get something out of my mind on Murray. Such a big transition to not say anything.

Free agency, the intensely scrutinized by the media portion anyway, has come and gone. Even though the period technically lasts from the first day of the league year through training camp, the media judge the winners and losers of the entire free agency part of the calendar by the actions of 72 hours. It’s wrong, misleading, and impossible not to watch.

All the headlines and talking heads purport that the Cowboys lost free agency. They’re not listed in the “winners” section of blogs, and more attention is paid to what players left the team instead of the reasons for them leaving. Which is fine, it’s the way the world works. Cowboys fans know that championships aren’t won in free agency. Otherwise, we’d have a lot more Lombardi Trophies than anyone else.

The prevalent line of thought I’ve read and heard regarding DeMarco Murray leaving the Cowboys for Philadelphia has been that the Cowboys have no one to blame for this but themselves. It’s true, the Cowboys can’t blame Murray choosing a division rival who offered more money on a natural disaster or a supernatural creature from another dimension. But I have to say that I’m surprised at how many in the media are 100% sure this is a bad thing for Dallas. By all accounts, Dallas had a number in mind for what they wanted to pay the league’s leading rusher in 2014–both in per year and guaranteed money amounts. They weren’t going to go over that, even if he threatened to switch to a rival. The Eagles, doing who knows what in free agency, were very willing to go over the Cowboys self-imposed spending limit, and added Murray to an increasingly crowded backfield. Jamey Newberg has a litmus test for when a player is considering leaving, or does leave, your team. Picture him in your archrival’s uniform. Are you terrified?

I’m not terrified of seeing DeMarco with eagle wings on his helmet instead of the iconic star. I don’t like it, but it won’t keep me up at night. Going into 2014 the storyline for Cowboys runningbacks was “who is going to pick up for Murray when he gets hurt?” It was an assumption, based on years of evidence. He’s never played healthy for 16 games (he was still hurt in 2014, but was just able to play through it), and it’s hard to assume that he has the injury thing “figured out”. Players rarely get healthier as their careers progress, especially at positions that take beatings like runningbacks. I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that the year the Cowboys have the best offensive line in the league is the year Murray doesn’t miss a game. The Eagles also have a really good line (PFF had them as the best run-blocking line in the league last year), but they’re still paying him about 8 million per year. That’s a lot. Not only do I think it’s a gross overpay for a player that is all but guaranteed to regress in production and appearances, it hurts your ability to upgrade or retain players at other positions. Thus, you hurt two (or three) positions on your roster with one mistake. I love me some Chip Kelly, but I’m glad he made this move. I want a front row ticket to their dumpster fire.

Mike Greenberg from ESPN tweeted some tweets implying that Murray was dealt with poorly since Dallas didn’t pay him for his performance last year. They offered him what they felt like his future value equated to, and not what he had already done. That’s an idiotic statement, even from an ESPN front man. Any educated fan knows that you don’t pay a player based on what he did do, as opposed to what he will do. That’s the way the league is run now, and it’s a sound strategy. Sometimes, you’ll see a player excel for another team. Most of the time, though, you’ll see examples of why you didn’t offer that big contract. The team who taught the league this lesson is lauded for doing this time and time again. No one says that the Patriots did Darrelle Revis dirty by not paying him to help them win a Super Bowl. The story on that franchise is that “The Patriot Way” dictates that you set a price on the player and let him go if need be. And they’re praised for it. As it should be. But, the Cowboys, and (to some unknown extent) Jerry Jones take a page from that book, and are criticized. Jerry can’t win. If he gives a huge contract to Murray and it blows up in his face in 2015 or 2016, he’s “Same ol’ Jerry”. But the team tries to turn a new leaf, and are called “losers”.

It’s not fair. I get it. It’s not fair that Murray can’t get paid for his past performance. It’s not fair that he can only live the dream that he has worked so long and hard for a few years, and then for the rest of his life is a “former player”. The dream recedes to the back of his mind as a fuzzy memory. It’s not fair that a player I’ve enjoyed watching leaves for a rival. It’s not fair that after dealing with games without Murray he finally plays in all of them, just to move on down the road. It’s also not fair that a guy who can run really fast gets paid more money than some people make in a lifetime. It’s not fair. But it’s the way the world is, and I have to accept it.

Dallas wants to win, and has decided this is the best way. I understand it. I like it. I just wish that I could have it both ways.

Franchise Player

I’ve flown a lot in my life, but every time I get on a plane I worry–just a bit. I know the odds, that air travel is much safer than other modes of transportation. I’m aware that, statistically, I’m in the home stretch when I arrive at the airport alive. Even knowing the odds, I still panic a small amount. It’s because of the risk involved. If I’m on the statistically unlikely (but not impossible, mind you) side of the equation, I’m dead. There isn’t a ton of gray area there.

I’m not sure if losing Dez Bryant to another team would be worse than dying in a plane crash. It might involve just as much pain for my heart, that’s for sure. And, even knowing that the odds are heavily in favor of it all working out okay and both sides walking away with life and limb intact, I worry. I hadn’t realized that the Cowboys were using the non-exclusive franchise tag on Bryant. The exclusive tag would tack on an extra million dollars to Bryant’s 2015 cap number (if my math is right), but would preclude him from negotiating with other teams. The non-exclusive franchise tag lacks the extra million removed from the Cowboys’ salary cap, but allows Bryant to seek a deal with another team. If another team offers him a deal, the Cowboys have five days to match, and if they do not, Dallas receives that team’s first round pick in the next two drafts. This freaks me out because two first round picks is a lot of NFL currency. They’re essentially cash that can be turned into players available at those picks, traded to get a high value free agent, or traded in a package to obtain one of the highest picks in the draft. Those two picks are essentially stacks of cash with Roger Goodell’s face on them.

Would it be worth it to let Dez wear another jersey? It’s tough for me to answer. Those two first round picks can really help the team, and maybe allow them to upgrade enough at the right positions to enable Dallas to win games in spite of lacking an All World receiver. Maybe, in that infusion of young (and cheap, Jerry would remind you) talent is Dez Bryant’s successor. Maybe Calvin Johnson was cloned years ago, and wants to declare for the draft early. That extra first round pick can get you that young superstar. Or one of those picks could be for Tony Romo’s apprentice, the signal caller finally talented enough to take over the team without years of mediocrity in between the two. That sounds really appealing to me.

But, no one knows what those picks will translate into. Will McClay has done a heck of a job running the past few drafts, and was even able to let Jerry Jones accept his Executive of the Year honor in his place, but no pick is a sure thing. I would have bet a pretty penny on Jedeveon Clowney being an absolute beast in 2014. I was driving that bus hard. Now, I don’t even bother googling to make sure I spelled his name right. Even if Dallas used the extra 2015 pick to obtain the Greatest Quarterback To Ever Put On A Helmet, there’s no guarantee that he would live up to expectations. Just like the team would have options of what to do with those picks, we don’t know what that might end up looking like. We all know what it looks like when Dez scores a touchdown. The crowd is cheering, that dove comes down and sits on his shoulder, and the loud voice from above acknowledges that that’s another Dallas Cowboys touchdown brought to you by Miller Lite and number 88. And in him, we are all well pleased.

We know what Dez can do on the field (and, if we squint just right at that grainy footage, off it as well), we have no idea what that kid coming out of college can do. Romo doesn’t have time to wait, even if he knew that the receiver drafted was going to be Dez Bryant, it takes time. Seasons that Romo’s back just doesn’t have.

My heart says that it’s not worth sacrificing my favorite Cowboy to watch for two extra first round picks, and my brain comes around to the idea.

I worry about Dez handling not being happy without a long term deal, if it comes to that when the season starts. Will he show up to training camp? Will he sit out of games? If he does come to camp and dress for games, will he be the same tenacious receiver that we know and defend? I can’t say. No one can, unless you know the guy. I know that I wouldn’t care about next year’s salary if you wanted to give me twelve million today. That’s a problem for future-Ryan to handle. But, football players live a different life, and don’t make much money–if any–after 30. It would be very understandable for him to not be as eager to catch that crossing route across the middle when Seattle comes to Arlington. He might say the right things in interviews. Anyone who says that they know how he’ll react, is lying. We won’t know for sure until/if the situation arises.

Cole Beasley getting a new contract today might affect Bryant’s outlook on things. Ideally his agent, Tom Condon, would have been aware that this was happening, and was able to give him a heads up weeks ago. I think he understands the difference between negotiating a contract with him and Beasley, but he probably won’t be watching ESPN today. The signing that would be worrisome is Demarco Murray. Aside from the fact that I think Dallas should absolutely let him test the market before offering him anything, signing a player at a less valuable football position than his would send a bad message to Bryant. He knows how much easier it is to replace a runningback like Murray than a receiver like him. If things aren’t already acrimonious, that might complete the transition.

Ultimately, I think my fears are for naught. I don’t see Cowboys fans dying in a fiery plane crash of Dez Departure. But, what does an emergency landing look like?

I don’t think I can just pop a Xanax for six months.

Libel

Libel, n –a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation

 

We live in a world where it’s all too apparent that lots of people do bad things. It’s sad, but never more so than when the perpetrator is a friend or someone we look up to. It’s hard to put a finger on when, exactly, our world collectively came of age together, but we have. It’s probably not one individual incident, anyway. All the child kidnappings, sexual assaults, and murders have forever changed how our generation acts and perceives things. It’s one of the few universal things in our country, regardless of race or creed. Gone is the age of innocence where doors were unlocked and a stranger was simply a friend you hadn’t met yet. Absent is the comforting knowledge that our children will be okay if we can’t see them. Gone too, is benefit of the doubt. 

 

I don’t know if there is a #deztape. Like The Weather Channel used to do local forecasts on the 8s of the hour, so often does my opinion of the veracity of the claims cycle. 

 

There might be a tape. First of all, in the world we live in, there’s barely privacy anymore. It’s not out of the question that there is a video of someone doing something deplorable in existence. You need not get out a mat to jump to the conclusion that a person being recorded taking deplorable action would catch a lot of touchdowns for America’s Team. Sadly, in this world, that’s easy to swallow. Dez Bryant has lived a life most can only glimpse in their worst nightmares, so it’s likely that he made  some bad decisions to go along with those unthinkable circumstances. It doesn’t excuse anything, but we can see how it would happen. 

 

If there is a recording of Dez doing something bad, I think we can all understand that it’s not surprising for it to come to light. Sports fans don’t know everything about their favorite players’ personal lives, but thanks to social media, we have a larger window into the “real” them than ever before. So, it’s not surprising that a recording that exists would be published in some way for the world to see. And, I would argue, that it’s better when a light is shed on these actions. The motives for the recording surfacing are legion–extortion, negotiating ploy, victim advocacy, or just because someone can. When you grow up as Bryant did, you have a lot of people around you that might not always have your back if they’re not receiving a paycheck from you. We don’t know. 

 

All of that is easy to wrap my head around. He’s one of my all time favorite Cowboys, but that doesn’t mean anything in this context. What I have a hard time wrapping my head around is how this is playing out. 

 

An abbreviated timeline. 

 

Mike Florio got the ball rolling with his mention of a mythical tape. When I heard this, I was comforted because I generally take the exact opposite if what he says as truth. 

 

The Terez Owens website purported Tuesday that the video was real and was being shopped to media outlets to facilitate a bidding process for the rights to air the tape. This would be accomplished, and the video published, by the end of Wednesday. We’re coming up on the last few hours for that to be true. Once it does, I have a hard time placing even a little trust in that site’s comments. I know nothing about the site, but if I haven’t heard of them by now, I have a hard time understanding how they’d have a scoop.

 

This morning, on ESPN Chicago, Adam Schefter acknowledged that he had known about the tape since September, and was also familiar with the subject matter. Schefter was mum on any further details. Well, crap. Schefter is money on rumors. 

 

It seems like the event was a long time ago, which should preclude him from being subject to the new CBA domestic violence sanctions. 

 

But here are the things that make me wonder. 

 

No one has seen the tape. All reports are second hand, full of “someone familiar with the tape”. 

 

No information has surfaced about the screenshots either. 

 

It’s hard to believe that no hint about what it is has surfaced. The closest is that it’s being compare to the Ray Rice video–but no comparison that I’ve seen makes clear whether the comparison is due to the subject or the subject matter. I understand people wanting to keep it quiet until their publication has the rights, but more often than not, someone talks. 

 

Adam Schefter has been working on this since September, and hasn’t even seen the video?

 

Deadspin hasn’t been approached with the video. If I had any type of damaging video about a sports figure, Deadspin is my first call. So, the leader in candid athlete video not aware of the video is odd. Even if just as a bargaining chip against TMZ, I don’t understand that not happening. 

 

The Cowboys have said that they don’t know anything about the video. I take back my previous point, the athlete’s team is my first call. If it was damaging, I like the idea of Jerry Jones’s bargaining prices over a website’s. 

 

We likely won’t know if there’s a video until it comes out. Unfortunately for Dez, it’s almost impossible to prove a negative. He can’t prove that there isn’t a tape. He can only deny it, and I think that his PR team has advised him to not comment–a sound strategy for either case. 

 

What’s worrisome is the rush to judgment. We don’t even know what we’re judging him for. Someone says they recorded him doing something bad. The public is taking these unnamed persons at their word, for no apparent reason. The Cowboys, and NFL Network, implied that there had been off the field incidents that gave the team pause regarding a huge contract. There hasn’t been much fire to go with that smoke, either. That seems to be the entire basis of this current acceptance of unseen wrongdoing by the public. 

 

Because of previous unnamed incidents to go along with incidents that only tangentially apply to Bryant as a person, we should believe another unnamed and unproven report?

 

Especially when the reporting is…lacking. I haven’t seen many reporters reference an investigative piece before it was finished. I’m not a journalist, but that doesn’t seem responsible. 

 

And what if in six months no video has surfaced? Because of these (possibly) irresponsible reports, Bryant’s name and image has been sullied. I’m not a lawyer, but Schefter and Florio could have opened ESPN and NBC Sports to lawsuits. 

 

If the Cowboys don’t give him the big money contract that he wants, suing two TV networks can be great supplemental income.  

UPDATE (2/26/15 8:45am)

Mike Florio was on 105.3 The Fan this morning to talk about the video. I didn’t hear the entire interview, but heard the last half or so. The part I heard was full of “if”s and “possible”s when regarding the video’s existence, and whether Dez Bryant actually played a part in the incident. Again, I’m not a journalist (and don’t even play one on TV), but it’s interesting to see reporters backtrack once the heat of the spotlight is on them.

Subsequently, I read the latest Pro Football Talk entry with some actual details about the incident. It happened at Wal-Mart in Lancaster. Police were called when people saw an African American female having an argument and being dragged from her Mercedes to another car.

I read the original police report which was obtained via a Texas Freedom of Information Act request by Ian Rappaport. It says that an officer was called to the scene at Wal-Mart where people reported a disturbance. The officer talked to the onsite security guard, and he reported that he’d been told that a female had been dragged from her Mercedes to another car by an African American male. The officer went out to the car, and found it unoccupied with the driver’s door open. While investigating the vehicle, a black Escalade arrived at the scene with two men. These men said that they had been called by the woman in question to pick up her car from the Wal-Mart parking lot. While officers talked to these men, a white Bentley arrived, with Dez Bryant and the woman in question. She told police that she was in the parking lot with Alex Pinson, had an argument with him, and got in a vehicle with him and left. Then, called the two men to pick up the Mercedes that she had left. She told officers that she had not been assaulted or injured in any way, that it was simply an argument. She was dropped off at a friend’s house, and asked Bryant to pick her up. She talked with one of the men already on the scene, and they advised her to return. Officers spoke with Bryant who said that the woman had asked him to pick her up, and he came with her to Wal-Mart for support. After talking with each party, officers decided that no assault or offense had taken place. Each member was questioned/interviewed separately, so officers could confirm that the stories corroborated.

I know that victims frequently take the side of their attacker and tell law enforcement that nothing happened. But I also know that officers are trained to have an idea about when that’s happening, and have been known to include subtle clues in their reports about their suspicions. However, if someone is dragged in a parking lot, even a short distance, there would be physical evidence on their face. Or, more damning, signs of an attempt to cover up the evidence. Even if there was an altercation, there was no indication that Bryant was involved besides his cars being used. The report does not contain information from the initial call the police fielded regarding the type of vehicle the woman was dragged into. I would think the officer would have asked about it, but it wasn’t included in the report. We can’t assume.

So, in summary, the sports media world is in a tizzy because three and a half years ago a woman (possibly Bryant’s girlfriend) got in an argument with a friend, and left a store with him. It became a story because all the vehicles involved were registered to Bryant, and Bryant is a polarizing figure. If there is a surveillance tape, it is likely going to be low quality due to the venue and time of the occurrence. Notice, also, the men in the report are African American, and if they are friends with Bryant from his Lufkin football days, are likely to be athletic as well. Not unquestionable that all the men involved could have a similar build. This could easily be a case of mistaken identity broadcast on every sports station in the country. One African American with muscles looks just like another.

Dez, tell ’em Ryan sent you.

A Sample DeMarco Murray Contract

While perusing overthecap.com, I came across this article from mid-season about DeMarco Murray’s possible new contract. It’s pretty in depth, and well worth a read for the breakdown of dollars to rushing yards and probability of gaining future rushing yards. I’m never going to be a GM (I’m even a marginal fantasy one), but the methodology really jived with how I feel about most contracts. Figure out how much you can reasonably count on getting from that player, look at the market and your own ideals, and pay that. If they walk away, so be it. Sort of like Moneyball, although I can’t imagine Aaron Sorkin trying to write dialogue for Jerry Jones.

To summarize the article, based on his age DeMarco has a really good chance at a 1,200 yard season in 2015. Looking at the market for that kind of player, the fair price is around 3.5mm-4mm/season. Obviously, most important is the structure of the contract, and in this scenario, the contract is very top/front heavy. After the second season of the contract (2016), Murray could be cut with 3mm in dead money on the 2017 cap. That’s a savings of 3mm on a 2017 6mm cap number. In that scenario Dallas is only handcuffed to him for two more seasons, and can still move on from him relatively painlessly before he can even see the age of 30 on the horizon. Murray would get about 12mm guaranteed (5mm in signing bonus at 1mm/year, fully guaranteed 4mm in 2015 base salary, and partial guaranteed 2016 5.7mm guaranteed salary), with the more likely scenario being him getting almost 15mm in those two seasons. Looking at the data the author used to look at the likely future data based on runningbacks who had his production level and age in the past, and what they did in the next five seasons, it’s a good contract for both sides. Murray gets at least 90% of the amount he would get from hitting the open market, and if he performs well and is still cut after 2016, he can pick up some more guaranteed cash from another team. It’s probably not the contract he dreamed about when playing football in the school yard, but because teams are learning to not pay runningbacks for past performance it’s the new reality.

The article does leave out a salient point that I think is a principle reason the Cowboys have to stand firm at a team friendly number and be prepared to walk away, Murray’s injuries. When looking at data, the author is only looking at production projecting forward, not how many games those players played, and how often they’re likely to play the full slate of games each year. Looking at DeMarco’s past, it’s impossible to say that he’s going to play 16 games next year. There is no reason to think that 2014 was the trend instead of the outlier. When you start dividing his production by games played and then hoping to get 13 or 14 games from him, all the numbers change. I really like Murray, and selfishly wish that he was going into a contract year now. But for the person, I’m glad it worked out this way–it gives him the best chance to make the most money possible for his family. I won’t begrudge him one bit when he signs with the highest bidder. When accounting for injuries, I still think that the numbers paid to Murray on the sample contract are too high. Jerry Jones just doesn’t know what he’s going to get from him. I like the structure, and the easy out after two seasons. If this was just a runningback coming off that kind of season, I would be leading the charge for that contract. But this is a player who had never gotten close to a full season of games played until last season, and that has to be taken into account.

People may say that he was the foundation of the offense, and a big part of why the team was so successful last season. They’re not wrong. But implying that no one else could help contribute isn’t accurate either. I don’t believe that anyone can run for 1,800 yards behind this line, but I do believe that the runningbacks we have on the roster can combine for 1,200 with a healthy YPC behind this line. And the dollars saved by not retaining Murray at that price could be allocated to pass rushing or elsewhere on the defense in order to mitigate the drop in offensive production we’re likely to experience (with or without Murray). I think the running game will be crucial to our success in 2015, just like it was in 2014. But the marginal difference between the runningback(s) in 2015 versus Murray in 2014 would matter less  if the defense isn’t giving up nearly as many points. I’d rather pay to improve one side of the ball over last year than chase a dream of getting closer to where we were on the other.