In the wake of Hurricane Sandy ravaging large portions of New York and New Jersey, among other locales on the east coast, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke directly to New Jersey governor Chris Christie to assess whether Sunday's 4:25 ET kickoff between the Giants and Steelers at The Meadowlands would in any way impede cleanup efforts.
On Monday, the NFL received assurances that MetLife Stadium was not damaged in the storm. At that point, the league announced it was preparing to play the game unless advised otherwise by local authorities, none of whom subsequently suggested or urged the league to cancel or postpone the game, according to sources. Goodell and Christie spoke on Thursday, with the NFL expressing it did not want to do anything to divert resources from relief efforts (the New York City Marathon was canceled Friday for such reasons), and Christie assured the league he was comfortable with the game being played. Christie also expressed appreciation for the efforts the NFL was making to aid the cause, including a $1 million donation made in concert with the NFLPA, the gestures of individual teams and owners, and the considerable broadcast time being allocated this weekend to solicit donations to assist the efforts of the the Red Cross.
The Steelers also made it clear to the league that they did not want to in any way detract from the massive ongoing effort to repair homes, businesses and infrastructure in the New York area. The original hotel the Steelers were set to stay in Saturday night, in Jersey City, was still unable to accommodate them late in the week, when the Rooney family made the determination (with league approval) to fly to New Jersey on Sunday morning. The Steelers were informed before the weekend that two options for accommodations were open to them for the game, but the Rooneys felt those rooms could best be used to house and assist others as part of the relief effort, and opted to stick with the Sunday travel plan. Instead, the team convened at a Pittsburgh hotel on Saturday night, as they normally would for a home game, and following breakfast there Sunday were busing to the airport for a short flight scheduled to depart around 9 a.m.
While day-of-game travel is highly unusual in the NFL, it is not unprecedented. In 2005, the threat of Hurricane Wilma in South Florida resulted in the Chiefs flying into Miami to play a game that was moved from Sunday to Friday night, with Kansas City flying in before the game and out late that night. The visiting Chiefs won, 30-20, despite the tight travel window.
Delay In DeAngelo Hall ruling related to his accusations against official
As CBSSports.com first reported earlier this week, the NFL will not suspend Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall for his altercation with an official last Sunday, but he will be fined and disciplined. Hall has not been informed of any fine to this point, will play Sunday against Carolina and will learn of his punishment soon.
A ruling has been delayed because Hall has alleged misconduct by the official, head linesman Dana McKenzie, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Hall, who was ejected after exchanging words with McKenzie late in a loss at Pittsburgh, has alleged the official verbally abused him during the incident. The NFL is reviewing the matter thoroughly before moving ahead with discipline. Though the league has already found insufficient evidence to suspend Hall, the fine could be substantial pending the investigation of Hall's claims.
Once the fine is conveyed to Hall, the veteran corner will also receive a stern letter advising him that further actions involving game officials will result in a suspension.
Bounty Hearing Could Take Place a Week From Tuesday
Paul Tagliabue, appointed by commissioner Roger Goodell to oversee the appeal hearing in the Saints bounty case, has yet to communicate a new timetable for a hearing following the postponement of the original date of Oct. 30. The effects of Hurricane Sandy are among the issues making this a fluid situation. Since such hearings are normally conducted on the players' off day of Tuesday, and Nov. 6 is election day, sources with knowledge of the situation have said the union anticipates Tuesday, Nov. 13 as the first possible date for the hearing.
Furthermore, there has been no communication from a federal judge, Helen Berrigan of Louisiana, on the NFLPA's Oct. 24 motion asking that Tagliabue be recused from the case, but the lack of a ruling on the motion does not necessarily indicate the court will not intervene in the process. Berrigan could wait until Tagliabue hears the case and rules on it before acting on that motion, sources said.
The two players in the case who are under contract and not on injured reserve -- Saints pass rusher Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma -- will be able to continue playing for at least a few more weeks as the appeal lingers. Given the likelihood of further court action beyond the appeal hearing, this case looks primed to remain unresolved well into 2013.
Cruz and Giants not close on contract, but both sides hopeful
Giants receiver Victor Cruz, perhaps the greatest bargain in the NFL with his $490,000 salary, has been talking to the team about an extension and told reporters this week that a deal was getting close and a "structure" was in place. In fact, the sides still have considerable work to do before a deal is at hand, according to league sources, and at this point they are still trying to reach an agreement on many key elements of the deal.
Talks are amicable, and both Cruz and the Giants would like to resolve the matter before the end of the regular season. But the fact that New York could control Cruz's 2013 rights at a low cost via use of a first-round restricted free-agent tag complicates matters. The Steelers used the same approach in dealing with wideout Mike Wallace, now in the midst of a disappointing season after a prolonged, ultimately fruitless holdout last summer. Cruz -- who is tied for the NFL lead in touchdown catches with seven entering Sunday's games -- has emerged as one of the NFL's premier slot weapons, which carries significant financial ramifications.
The Giants have a strong history of identifying and securing their core players, and the injury history of fellow star wideout Hakeem Nicks could perhaps work in Cruz's favor as well. But while Cruz is pleased with the progress the sides have made, the sides are not on the cusp of a long-term contract and there are several hurdles still to overcome.
Steelers facing strong penalties from Sanders' fake injury episode
NFL officials interviewed Emmanuel Sanders on Friday in Pittsburgh, league sources said, as it continues its investigation into whether the Steelers' receiver faked an injury to stop the clock in a Sunday night win over the Bengals on Oct. 21. The league has conveyed to the Steelers that it considers the situation serious, with a decision on the matter still pending and stiff penalties possible.
“It is being taken very seriously, and all should be on clear notice,” said one source familiar with the review of the matter.
|Did Emmanuel Sanders fake an injury? Should the Steelers pay? (AP)|
In the fourth quarter against the Bengals, Sanders collapsed with the clock ticking down and his team facing a third-and-long while clinging to a seven-point lead. Pittsburgh was not forced to burn a timeout, as Sanders was helped off the field. Sanders was back on special teams one play later, appearing perfectly normal after having been helped off the field.
The issue of feigning injuries is frowned upon within the league office. And the fact that this episode took place in a highly visible Sunday night game ensured it received ample attention. The NFL sent a memo to all clubs in September reinforcing as a point of emphasis that players, coaches and teams could face fines for such actions, and draft picks could be lost as well.
No team has been disciplined for such actions to this point, but that could change when the review process is completed this week.
Ravens staff still believes in no-huddle
Baltimore's offense, particularly its run/pass balance, has become a source of considerable criticism in the city, with even some Ravens players expressing surprise that star running back Ray Rice is not getting more carries. Opponents averaged 40 minutes of possession in Baltimore's three games before its bye, viewed as evidence of the team's unwillingness to keep the ball on the ground and run clock. Despite the fan and media pressure to re-establish a run-first mentality, that's unlikely to be the case moving forward, sources said.
The coaching staff has crafted a plan it believes can carry the team through the season and to another long playoff run, wants to push the envelope offensively and is not inclined to greatly change the offensive direction, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens' offense have flourished at home by emphasizing an up-tempo approach, expanding the passing game. As Flacco has matured, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has given him a greater stake in the offense, with more checks and audibles at the line. That setup was at play in road losses to Philadelphia and Houston, when Rice failed to see as much of the ball in the run game as is the norm.
Finding the right balance is imperative and, privately, some players are concerned the Ravens -- who have been awful against the run defensively -- have not been running more on early downs and getting Rice involved right away. A need to become more adept at incorporating run elements into the hurry-up approach has been cited by players. Baltimore is throwing the ball 56 percent of the time on first-and-10, tied with the Eagles for third-most in the NFL behind only Oakland and Cleveland. Flacco has a solid 87 rating on first down, statistically similar to his rating on every other down, yet the Ravens are averaging 5.06 yards per rush on that down, fourth-best in the NFL.
The Ravens face Cleveland on Sunday, a team they have traditionally overpowered in the run game. And while there might be more plays involving Ray Rice running behind fullback Vonta Leach, those looking for a drastic change in approach from the team will be disappointed. The expectation is that the execution of the hurry-up will improve as the team gets more reps in it, and the likelihood of the Ravens altering their offensive identity at the midpoint of the season is remote at best.
Spring developmental league to be discussed at NFL spring meeting
The league's Competition Committee has, in the past, considered pushing for a development league to replace the discontinued NFL Europe. And given the recent demise of the United Football League, there is a renewed effort to explore this possibility in 2013, according to several sources.
High-ranking officials believe it possible that the Competition Committee makes a recommendation to the owners on such a proposal this spring. There is not a consensus yet on the matter among members of the committee, sources said, but there is significant support for it and further examination of the options is ahead.
In theory, the league would begin small, perhaps four-to-six teams based in the southern United States. In the past, the league has evaluated whether it makes sense to create a bus league, perhaps based completely in Florida, that mimics baseball's Arizona Fall League or Instructional League, where teams could send young prospects to get seasoning, with easy geography for scouts to navigate.
The Competition Committee is also studying proposals for the creation of an academy that would work as sort of a 33rd NFL team, as one source put it, that would train together in the fall under the eye of former coaches and establish a central spot to fill roster voids that occur in-season. Currently, teams are calling in free agents for workouts every week, usually on Tuesday, and the pool of players includes those working day jobs, in various states of retirement and various states of conditioning.
The idea with the academy would be to maintain a centralized taxi squad of sorts, where players are focused on football and receiving proper nutrition and training, to try to mimic football shape and a locker room environment while they try to get back into the league. As with everything in business, finances would certainly play a role -- funding either a developmental league and/or an academy (as the concepts are not mutually exclusive) would be expensive -- but commissioner Roger Goodell is focused on growing and expanding the game and finding means of innovation at a time when the public's demand for football is at an all-time high.
Many coaches and executives supported NFL Europe as a means for giving novice players an opportunity to get game experience, with the drawback being the fact the players missed out on offseason conditioning work as they were a continent away. The league continues to search for a way to fill that gap, and this could become a considerable topic of conversation when the owners, execs and coaches gather in March.