The NFL Today: Short leashes for Wilson, Cassel
Russell Wilson and Matt Cassel's days as starters could be numbered, Gregg Williams has always been able to attend Rams home games, Joe Banner could be installed as Browns team president as early as next week, and there are still miles to go before the Saints "Bountygate" case reaches a resolution.
|Another shaky outing for Russell Wilson could make it Matt Flynn's time to show what he can do as the Seahawks starter. (AP)|
Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and Chiefs veteran Matt Cassel could be the first starting quarterbacks to lose their jobs due to performance this season, and both could do so as soon as next week, according to league sources.
The Seahawks are not averse to benching Wilson in favor of free agent Matt Flynn soon, if they believe he would give them the best chance to win, and coach Pete Carroll is monitoring that situation closely. When the Seahawks opted to name Wilson, a third-round pick, the starter, they did so intending to give him a decent enough sample size to show what he could do. Team officials are enthused at his ability to make plays on the move, and keep his team in every game, but if Wilson can not be more effective on third-down or establish more of a pocket presence, the move to Flynn could be imminent. The Seahawks (2-2) have playoff aspirations and a dominant running game and defense, and know they can’t afford to fall too far off the pace in what is shaping up as a surprisingly competitive NFC West.
Flynn was signed to a lucrative deal in the offseason to be the starter after playing sparingly behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, but Wilson starred in the preseason and Flynn was dealing with an elbow ailment he picked up in the preseason.
Seattle travels to Carolina (1-3) Sunday for what is a critical game for both teams.
Cassel, meanwhile, may be coming to the end of his starting days in the midst of a fourth uneven season with Kansas City. Cassel was obtained from the Patriots, then signed to a hefty contract in 2009 to be the Chiefs’ franchise quarterback under then-rookie general manager Scott Pioli, who also came to Kansas City from New England. Cassel has struggled for the most part since then, save for a brilliant stretch in 2010 that resulted in a playoff spot. He has been turning the ball over at an alarming rate this season (10 turnovers during the Chiefs' 1-3 start), hindering the ability of Kansas City to get a ball-control game going with its strong rushing attack. Journeyman Brady Quinn -- who last threw an NFL regular season pass in 2009 -- could get reps with the starters soon if Cassel’s play does not improve quickly, according to sources.
Cassel's last chance could come against a tough Baltimore defense on Sunday.
If the Chiefs had more viable options at quarterback -- unproven Ricky Stanzi is the other quarterback on the roster -- a change might have already occurred. Lacking that, coach Romeo Crennel has been inclined to stick with Cassel for now. Cassel’s future with the Chiefs seems bleak, regardless, with him set to make $7.5 million next season. Furthermore, it would cost the Chiefs just under $4 million in a cap hit to release Cassel after the season, a nominal figure for a team that generally is in the top five in most available cap space.
No funny business at end of Bucs/Redskins game
Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III claimed, after a wild comeback win in Tampa last week, that he lost communication during the game-winning drive and could not hear the plays being called in from the sidelines. The Redskins did not ask the league to formally investigate the matter, and made no claims against the Buccaneers. According to a league source, Griffin’s frequencies were working normally.
The NFL tries to monitor this vigilantly, both on the sidelines during games and then when issues come up afterward, and the sideline personnel who oversee the frequencies could in fact hear the plays being called in to Griffin during the game and on that final drive, according to the source. Griffin may have been having difficulty hearing the calls due to a low battery or some deficiency within the helmet, but the league has eliminated the possibility that anyone was trying to cut the ability to communicate between coach and player.
|Drew Brees attempts to break a long-standing NFL record, can also attend Rams games. (US Presswire)|
Williams' ability to attend Rams games is nothing new
There have been differing reports about the ability of suspended coach Gregg Williams to attend NFL games as a fan, but according to sources with knowledge of the situation, the arrangement between the Rams defensive coordinator and the league was established months ago, well before he submitted an affidavit related to the league’s probe into the Saints bounty case.
Williams, whose son Blake coaches the Rams linebackers, asked the NFL for clarification on his ability to attend games over the summer, and according to sources was at that time granted the right to attend Rams games as a fan, with stipulations. Williams is forbidden from going on the field or interacting with coaches, players or media. He was granted permission to speak with his son and Rams coach Jeff Fisher -- a longtime personal friend -- after games, as long as the conversations were not about football.
Williams, the Saints former defensive coordinator, was banned from the league for 2012, along with Saints head coach Sean Payton. Payton was instructed to stay away from all NFL and college football games, and he did not seek any additional clarification on his ability to attend as a fan, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. He will attend the Saints/Chargers game Sunday night as a guest of quarterback Drew Brees, as Brees seeks to break Johnny Unitas’s long-standing record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass.
However, Payton is attending only as a guest of Brees, who broached the issue of his coach's attendance with the league. This will be the only game Payton attends, the sources said.
Williams, hoping to avoid any distractions or create a scene, stayed away for the first month of the season, watching games from a nearby hotel in St. Louis. Word leaked of his attendance at the Rams game against Seattle in Week 4, and he was also back at the Edward James Dome Thursday night, when St. Louis beat Arizona. Williams intends to attend most home games, sources said, and he does not need to seek additional clearance or approval to do so, as long as he follows the NFL’s protocol.
Williams is seeking reinstatement to the NFL after the Super Bowl, and has been following the league’s suggestions and guidelines for doing so. He has quietly offered volunteer instruction with various football programs, and attends the games of his son Chase, a linebacker for Virginia Tech.
Williams does not plan to attend Rams road games at this point.
Banner could be announced as Browns top official at upcoming league meeting
Joe Banner, the long-time team president of the Philadelphia Eagles who was previously reported to be joining the Browns under new owner Jimmy Haslam, could be officially introduced as soon as the Oct. 15-16 league meeting in Chicago, sources said. Some expect Banner to be named CEO, but regardless of the the title will report directly to Haslam. Haslam has yet to comment on the move, publicly or privately, or convey any plans for changes to current team president Mike Holmgren, sources said.
However, Banner’s arrival would most likely spur settlement talks with Holmgren, as their roles would be redundant.
Haslam has made it clear he is not going to make immediate, sweeping changes upon taking over midseason, but sources said an overhaul is possible in the offseason, with everyone under review. Coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert worked for Banner in Philadelphia, but if the winless Browns can’t produce some results, widespread change is possible in 2013.
Haslam is very high on former Bucs and Raiders coach Jon Gruden, league sources said, but Gruden was not interested in the job when Shurmur took it in early 2011 and it would not appear he has interest now. The NFL Today’s Bill Cowher name will undoubtedly be connected with the job, since Cowher is a former Steelers Super Bowl- winning coach (his tenure did not cross over with Haslam's minority ownership of the Steelers) and Browns assistant and player, but that won’t be happening, sources said.
With the prospect of landing any “A list” coach likely to prove difficult, Haslam could ultimately follow the model espoused by the Rooney family for decades, which is targeting bright young assistants for head coaching vacancies and keeping stability in the coaching and front office ranks as those coaches grow and develop in their roles.
Panel ruling delays commissioner’s “Bountygate” decision; More legal wrangling ahead
Commissioner Roger Goodell is close to announcing discipline for four suspended players in the Saints’ bounty case, though league sources said Friday's release of the three-person appeals panel's full written ruling to vacate the suspensions of those players has caused a minor delay. Several league officials expected Goodell’s “re-determination” to come last week, but NFL wants to take time to digest the panel's full ruling before moving forward.
A major delay is not expected, league sources said, and as the league’s legal team dissects the document its interpretation of the Commissioner’s powers in this case has not changed significantly. However, the NFLPA, in its summary brief sent to the suspended players on Friday, believes the panel has more strictly limited Goodell’s ability to rule in this case. Thus, what has already been a protracted legal battle is likely to wage on, regardless of Goodell’s ruling, unless he were to substantially lessen the penalties, which is not expected.
Specifically, in an email sent to the players along with the full panel ruling, the NFLPA points out: “This decision makes it even more clear that Goodell can only discipline for any attempt to injure, and has no jurisdiction over undisclosed payments, even for illegitimate plays.” The email goes on to say that the NFLPA legal team “ventures to guess” that the commissioner “will not obey” this point.
As you might expect given the differing legal interpretations that have been a constant, the league does not view the ruling in that manner. The league believes the player conduct in the Bountygate case violated multiple rules, including conduct detrimental to the game, which the commissioner has authority over and can punish, and the league believes the panel has been very clear on this point.
Some lawyers I have been in contact with, who are reviewing the panel decision, have characterized it as being “confusing” or “poorly constructed.” The league maintains that it feels the decision recognizes there was a bounty program in place; again, the NFLPA differs, saying it only points to the existence of a pay-for-performance program, but not a system that rewarded players for intending to injure opponents.
Following Goodell’s ruling the NFLPA could opt to appeal back to the panel based on certain points, and the case is continuing to be monitored by a magistrate for a federal judge in Louisiana. The union could go back to that judge to push for a court injunction against these suspensions in the likely event they are put back in place.
League sources do not anticipate Goodell will make fundamental changes to his initial ruling in this case, with Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma suspended for the season, free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove getting eight games, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita getting three games and Saints defensive lineman Will Smith getting four games.
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