In advance of Paul Tagliabue's expected ruling on the appeal of the Saints' Bountygate case this week, the NFL extended a settlement offer to the four suspended players, according to several sources with knowledge of the situation. The NFLPA summarily rejected those offers, sources said, with the terms not close to being enough for the parties to end the process at this point.
The latest development in this process began on Friday, sources said, with the league reaching out to set up conference calls with the suspended players -- Anthony Hargrove, Scott Fujita, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma -- and their representatives on Saturday.
The offer was not attractive to any of the parties and the NFLPA's legal team also recommended the offers be rejected, sources said. The terms of the settlement would have included the players still paying fines or possibly losing future game checks, and might have required them to do PSA-type activities and/or speak at the annual rookie symposium. The settlements would have in essence closed the matter, prevented much future comment on them and likely prevented some testimony and transcripts from entering the public record, as they still might should the legal cases resulting from this matter proceed.
Hargrove spoke Sunday about the settlement offer on The NFL Today. The NFL declined to comment on this report, through a league spokesman, saying, "We will continue to respect Mr. Tagliabue's direction to refrain from commenting on the proceedings."
Tagliabue has expressed reservations with the detail and accuracy of evidence and testimony provided by the NFL in this case, according to sources involved in the recently-completed appeal hearings, and a federal judge in Louisiana is also watching the proceedings closely and prepared to rule on a possible injunction against the suspensions as well.
The delineation between a bounty -- with players given incentives to attempt to intentionally and illegally injure individual opponents -- and a pay-for-performance program, with financial payments for essentially legal football actions, is at the core of the forthcoming decisions. Should the NFLPA not agree with Tagliabue's decision, a federal court may see the issue differently. Meanwhile, Vilma still has a defamation of character suit pending against commissioner Roger Goodell, while sources said other players are considering similar actions pending Tagliabue's decision on their appeals.
Competition Committee to talk challenge rules, kickoffs
Owners are gathering in Dallas this week for a brief league meeting, and the Competition Committee intends to discuss changing the rule that negates the ability to replay a call when a coach illegally throws a replay-challenge flag. This matter became a hot-button issue on Thanksgiving week, when the Lions' Jim Schwartz and Falcons' Mike Smith fell victim to the rule within a five-day span. The Lions' loss to the Texans was due at least in part to a scoring play in which Houston running back Justin Forsett was not ruled down despite clear replay evidence that he should have been marked down near his own 25-yard line. All scoring plays and turnovers are to be reviewed by rule, but Schwartz's throwing of the challenge flag led the officials to enforce a rarely-used rule that prevents the play from being reviewed when the challenge flag is thrown.
There is sentiment within the committee to change this before 2013, with some members discussing trying to implement the change for the 2012 postseason, but that is no longer the expectation, sources said.
Instead, the matter will be discussed at this meeting but no vote on the actual rule change would take place until the March ownership meeting, sources said. There remains every expectation that the 15-yard penalty associated with the transgression will remain, but that in 2013, the play will still be reviewable if a coach makes a similar mistake.
According to a league source, discussion on the elimination of the onside kick will also occur this week.
The NFL is evaluating potentially drastic changes to try to prevent concussions and other head- and neck-related trauma, with Goodell recently talking to Time about the possibility of all kickoffs being replaced at some point. While that is seen as a move that would likely be a ways off, other changes are being evaluated in the short term.
In addition to the onside kick issue, the committee will study the possibility of eliminating all chop blocks, and also whether to penalize hits in which the runner (not the tackler) leads with the crown of his helmet.
The Competition Committee makes its major presentations to the owners at the full-scale NFL meetings in March. This week's brief meeting is largely focused on economic issues (briefing teams on the 2013 salary cap, for instance), with the owners gathered for just one day.
Chargers do not plan in-season changes, but big changes looming for 2013
On Thursday, Chargers owner Dean Spanos released a statement denying a report that he had decided to fire coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith at the end of the season and, according to sources close to the situation, Spanos' contention is technically correct. While Spanos has not formalized any plans for the offseason, sources said it is a near certainty he'll be relieving both men of their duties.
However, no changes are planned in-season, as the team has fought hard, many of the losses have come down a critical series or play or error late in games, and the Chargers have been very competitive even against tough opponents like Baltimore and Cincinnati. Barring San Diego playing uninspired football and showing no signs of life down the stretch, no changes will occur until after the season. Moving forward, though, Spanos expects to be conducting a dual search and, according to sources close to him, will continue a hierarchy with a division of responsibilities between coach and general manager.
Spanos would first seek to hire a general manager to oversee the construction of the roster and then find a coach to determine the best 53 players and formulate player and staff roles on game days. The prospect of having one person with control over the roster and game day is very unlikely.
Jimmy Raye, the team's director of player personnel, is highly thought of and would merit consideration for the general manager opening, though a source cautioned there is no succession plan in place and many options would be explored. Furthermore, Ed McGuire, executive vice president of football operations, is very highly thought of by ownership and would remain in the organization. Spanos' son, John, the director of college scouting, could be primed for a move to a higher position as well.
Multiple sources indicated the Chargers' opening is one that would appeal to Andy Reid, should he not return to Philadelphia. Sources said ownership would consider an array of candidates, but the unlikely consolidation of coach and GM responsibilities could be a deal-breaker for some would-be candidates.
Rolando McClain's suspension could be a precursor to his release
Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain, a 2010 first-round pick, is completing his two-game, team-issued suspension on Sunday and is eligible to return to the club on Monday. However, this suspension could well be the first step to releasing the former eighth overall pick, whom sources confirmed was sent away from the team after engaging in a very loud and volatile argument with coach Dennis Allen a few weeks back, during the individual portion of practice. McClain has not practiced with the team since.
The former Alabama star is no stranger to off-field issues as well, including a December 2011 arrest for assault, and several current and former teammates say privately that McClain is a difficult individual to play with and be around at times. McClain is due another $3.6 million in guaranteed money between 2013 and 2014, the remaining years on his deal, but per the language in his contract, the suspension means the Raiders can void the remainder of guaranteed money still owed to him and release him without penalty. Should McClain appeal, the NFLPA would have to make the case that his actions did not amount to "conduct detrimental to the team" in order to recoup that money.
McClain has already pocketed roughly $20 million from the Raiders.
Oakland could be looking at major changes this offseason, with veterans like Carson Palmer and Richard Seymour possibly done there, and oft-injured Darren McFadden entering the final year of his deal. Owner Mark Davis has expressed public dissatisfaction with the team's progress in 2012 under the first-year coach Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie.
A large part of McKenzie's job this year was the restoration of order to the team's cap situation, purging bloated contracts and trying to prepare the club for the future. It remains to be seen if McClain will be a part of that purge, though the events of recent weeks would make it much easier now to get out of that deal without major financial ramifications.
League bracing for battle over knee and thigh pads
The NFL in May mandated a rule change for the 2013 season requiring all players wear knee and thigh pads. At a league meeting in Dallas this week the owners will watch presentations from several manufacturers on the latest technology involved. That will include one-piece devices with the pads already part of the game pants (Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, for one, already wears a model of this).
This initiative is particularly important to Goodell, according to league sources. After years of communication between league officials and the NFLPA, the league opted to vote on the rule change last May and it passed overwhelmingly.
The rule change is being made with enhanced player health and safety in mind, but many players have objected to wearing these pads, claiming they can be cumbersome and slow them or limit their mobility. These pads were mandatory until 1994. But according to a 2010 NFL survey, roughly 30 percent of players wear them now, with receivers, defensive backs and linebackers among those who wear them least frequently.
According to the collective bargaining agreement, the union must be notified of any rule changes immediately after the March league meeting. The NFLPA could then begin a seven-day process of review if they deem the rule change to potentially adversely impact player safety and health. If after a joint committee meeting the NFLPA still objects, they could request that an arbitrator review the case. The league would then decide whether to consider the arbitrator's decision.
Anything that involves both the NFL and NFLPA these days requires a fight, and some in the league office wonder if the union would try to get an injunction against the rule change in federal court. There could end up being some trade-offs and discussion between the sides before 2013, but the reality is the vote has already been taken and the league could force the matter, with Goodell vigilant about it.
The NFL believe it needs to send the right message to all other levels of football, where such pads are mandatory. Additional padding could help prevent concussions during inevitable collisions where knees and legs strike an opponent on the head. The measure would also ensure a level playing field, with all but kickers and punters required to wear the pads.
There are significant penalties connected with not complying with this rule set to begin in 2013.
Braylon could have been a Jet again
Former Jet Braylon Edwards took to Twitter last week to attack his former team, which has been mired in dysfunction. Edwards was subsequently released by Seattle, ending an injury-plagued and unproductive stint with the team.
Little did Edwards know he was nearly a Jet again.
According to league sources, the Jets approached the Seahawks earlier this season about trading for Edwards and were serious about the proposition. The Jets lost Santonio Holmes, their top receiver, for the season in late September, and Edwards was one of the first options they explored, weeks before the trade deadline in Week 8. At the time, the Seahawks still had high hopes for Edwards staying healthy and rounding into form, and the Jets were informed that it would take something significantl in return for Edwards and not just a late-round pick.
The talks were cursory, but New York's intent was real. Throwing Edwards' combustible personality back into that already toxic mix might have added even more turmoil to this Jets season.
On Monday, Edwards tweeted of the Jets' quarterback controversy: 'Don't blame Sanchez. I played there. Blame the idiots calling shots ... Mark is a beast and will (prove) it when given a proper chance.”
He later apologized for the tweet and his "emotional" response to the events in New York. On Tuesday, Edwards was waived via an injury distinction. Fair to say even if healthy, he won't be reuniting with the Jets anytime soon.
Eagles could save money by benching Nnamdi now
Eagles corner Nnamdi Asomugha has been a free-agent bust in Philadelphia, and his stint there could be brief, with the team cutting veterans and firing coaches in recent weeks in preparation for a reshaped organization in 2013. Benching Asomugha now, however could save the team future money in the event that he is back in Philadelphia next season and still playing out this contract.
Asomugha, who received $25 million guaranteed when he signed in July 2011, made $10 million in 2011 and makes $11 million this season. His base salary jumps to $15 million in 2013, with $4 million fully guaranteed, However, there is a $3 million de-escalator in the contract, according to league sources, should Asomugha fail to reach 90 percent playing time in either 2011 or 2012.
With a month left to play and the Eagles' season seemingly coming apart, it's a dynamic worth watching. There is no proration in the deal, so if the Eagles did move away from Asomugha as part of their 2013 transition, they would suffer no cap hit. Trading him, given how high his contract is, could be tricky, though a renegotiation could be looming whether he stays or goes. It's hard to imagine anyone paying him that kind of salary next season.