Sports Outside the Beltway

Pistons Fire Flip Saunders

Flip Saunders led the Detroit Pistons the the Eastern Conference finals three straight years. That’s why they fired him.

Flip Saunders Fired Photo In this April 8, 2008 file photo, Detroit Pistons coach Flip Saunders shouts instructions to his team in the second half of the Pistons' 98-94 loss to the New York Knicks in an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich. The Detroit Pistons say Flip Saunders won't be back next season after leading the team to three straight appearances in the Eastern Conference finals. President of basketball operations Joe Dumars said Tuesday June 3, 2008 a change is necessary despite Saunders' successes. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson, File) Flip Saunders was fired as the Pistons’ coach Tuesday, four days after Detroit was eliminated from the playoffs by the Boston Celtics. And more changes could be on the way for a team bounced from three straight conference finals.

“Make no mistake, everybody is in play right now,” said Joe Dumars, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations. “There are no sacred cows here. You lose that sacred cow status when you lose three straight years.”

Saunders had a year left on a four-year deal he signed in 2005. His ouster comes three years after he took over for Larry Brown, who led the Pistons to two straight NBA finals.

“I think this team became way too content and did not show up with a sense of urgency to get it done,” Dumars said at a news conference. “I can’t sugarcoat it. It is what it is.”

Dumars stopped short of saying he would dismantle the Pistons. “The idea you can make yourself bad and make yourself good again, that’s a farce,” he said. “I have no interest in completely ripping the team down. Will I look to making significant changes? Yeah, you’re damn right I will.”

Bizarre. I don’t have the knowledge of the game to judge whether Saunders get the most out of the talent at hand. But, certainly, the Boston Celtics, to whom the Pistons lost in the finals, were widely considered the most talented team in the NBA. This strikes me as a knee-jerk move.


Cowboys Give Glenn Ultimatum

If Terry Glenn is going to continue his career with the Dallas Cowboys, he’ll have to agree to a big insurance policy.

The Dallas Cowboys want receiver Terry Glenn on their team.

But an NFL source said the Cowboys have told Glenn to either sign the $500,000 injury waiver for his surgically-repaired right knee or prepare to play elsewhere. And that time is growing short for Glenn’s decision.

Glenn is due $1.74 million this season. By signing an injury waiver, if he injures his right knee at any time, that $1.74 million would be nullified and he would be paid a pro-rated $500,000. If he was to suffer any other injury other than to his right knee, he would be paid the full $1.7 million.

That’s a tough business move. Then again, Glenn sucked nearly $6 million from the Cowboys’ salary cap last year and couldn’t play. And he refused to have surgery that would have him fully ready to go this year. So it’s hard to blame the Cowboys for wanting a little insurance.


Cowboys Sign T.O. to 3 Year Extension

Terrell Owens is about to turn 35 but that didn’t stop the Dallas Cowboys from extending his contract another three years.

Since his signing with the Dallas Cowboys, the team has taken every opportunity to avoid potential headaches with receiver Terrell Owens. Despite Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ preference for risk, he saw no gamble in giving Owens the extension he sought, but did not openly lobby for.

Any chance the Cowboys were going to cut Owens loose at the end of this season is now all but gone. Owens, who will turn 35 in December, could now potentially end his career a Cowboy.

Owens, whose original contract runs through the 2008 season, agreed to a three-year extension worth $27 million. Combining the 2008 season with the extension, the deal is four years, $34 million. Owens, now under contract through 2011, is among the league’s highest paid receivers with New England’s Randy Moss and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald.

The extension includes a signing bonus of just under $12.9 million. His base salary this season will be $830,000, $100,000 of which is guaranteed. By signing the deal now it gives the Cowboys a little more room under the 2008 salary cap.

I’m leery of giving players that old so much money. The Terry Glenn situation, where a guy who was still at the top of the game one year and never recovered from an injury the next, should serve as a bright beacon for the Cowboys. Perhaps Jones is looking forward to the “uncapped season” to bail him out should T.O. go south; otherwise, this is an awfully big risk.

Then again, as ESPN’s Michael Smith points out, “The key to the deal may not be the length or even the money. The best part: Owens will not be playing out the final year of his contract, eliminating a potentially explosive topic from a team that needs its attention on ending an 11-season drought without a playoff win.”

Smith adds, “He’s 34 now and in as good shape as anyone a decade younger. A fitness devotee, he’s unlikely to let himself go now. His former teammate and mentor Jerry Rice played well into his 40s.” True enough. Then again, almost nobody manages that. Even a supremely fit athlete like Owens can break down playing such a brutal sport.


Pacman Jones Allowed to Practice, Not Yet Reinstated

The NFL has allowed Adam “Pacman” Jones to return to practice.

Pacman Jones Allowed to Practice, Not Yet ReinstatedSuspended Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones moved a step closer to becoming an active NFL player again Monday when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gave him permission to participate in practices, training camp and preseason games.

Goodell said he will wait until Sept. 1 — six days before the Cowboys’ season opener against the Cleveland Browns — before making a final determination on full reinstatement.

But being allowed to get on the field with his teammates even on a limited basis was a much-welcomed step in the right direction for Pacman and the Cowboys. He will make his Cowboys debut during the organized team activity workouts today.

It’s absolutely unconscionable that one man has this much power to decide the livelihood of another. Presumably, though, Goodell wouldn’t allow a man to practice only to deny him the opportunity to earn a living once the season starts. If this is being done in good faith, the only rationale for holding the final decision over Jones’ head is to add incentive for good behavior.


NFL Rules Named After Players

A discussion with Steven Taylor about the new “Marion Barber Rule,” a new point of emphasis against offensive players stiff-arming to the head, prompted me to note how many rules are (informally) named after Dallas Cowboys.

A quick Web search found the following (Cowboys in bold):

    * Bert Emanuel rule — the ball can touch the ground during a completed pass as long as the receiver maintains control of the ball. Enacted due to a play in the 1999 NFC championship game, where Emanuel, playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had a catch ruled incomplete since the ball touched the ground.

    * Bill Belichick rule — two defensive players, one primary and one backup, will have a radio device in their helmets allowing the head coach to communicate with them through the radio headset, identical to the radio device inside the helmet of the quarterback. This proposal was defeated in previous years, but was finally enacted in 2008 as a result of Spygate. This rule is the first, and thus far only rule named after a head coach.

    * Bronko Nagurski rule — forward passing made legal from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. Enacted in 1933. Prior to this rule, a player had to be five yards behind the line of scrimmage to throw a forward pass.

    * Chad Johnson rule — players may no longer use a prop or do any act while on the ground during a touchdown celebration. Enacted in 2006. (While Johnson was the foremost offender, the rule also might be considered the Joe Horn rule, after an infamous post-touchdown incident involving Horn and a cellular phone after he scored for the Saints against the New York Giants. [13]

    * Deacon Jones rule — no head-slapping. Enacted in 1977.

    * Deion Sanders rule– Player salary rule which correlates a contract’s signing bonus with its yearly salary. Enacted after Deion Sanders signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 1995 for a minimum salary and a $13 million signing bonus. (There is also a college football rule with this nickname.)

    * Deion Sanders rule II — Player salary rule which correlates a contract’s signing bonus with its yearly salary. Enacted after Deion Sanders signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 1995 for a minimum salary and a $13 million signing bonus. (There is also a college football rule with this nickname.)

    * Emmitt Smith rule — A player cannot remove his helmet while on the field of play, except in the case of obvious medical difficulty. A violation is treated as unsportsmanlike conduct. Enacted in 1997.

    * Erik Williams rule — no hands to the facemask by offensive linemen.

    * Fran Tarkenton rule — a line judge was added as the sixth official to ensure that a back was indeed behind the line of scrimmage before throwing a forward pass. Enacted in 1965.

    * Greg Pruitt rule — tear-away jerseys are now illegal. Pruitt purposely wore flimsy jerseys that ripped apart in the hands of would-be tacklers. Such a jersey was most infamously seen in a game between the Rams and Oilers where Earl Campbell’s jersey ripped apart after several missed tackles.

    * Ken Stabler rule — on fourth down at any time in the game, or any down in the final two minutes of play, if a player fumbles, only the fumbling player can recover and/or advance the ball. If that player’s teammate recovers the ball, it is placed back at the spot of the fumble. A defensive player can recover and advance at any time of play. Enacted in 1979 in response to the 1978 “Holy Roller” play.

    * Lester Hayes rule– no Stickum allowed. Enacted in 1981.

    * Lou Groza rule — no artificial medium to assist in the execution of a kick. Enacted in 1956.

    * Mel Blount rule — Officially known as illegal use of hands, defensive backs can only make contact with receivers within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Enacted in current form in 1978.

    * Mel Renfro rule — allows a second player on the offense to catch a tipped ball, without a defender subsequently touching it. Enacted in 1978.

    * Michael Irvin rule — no taunting. Another rule, resulting in offensive pass interference, prohibiting WRs to push off CBs, is also often called “the Michael Irvin rule.”

    * Neil Smith rule — prevents a defensive lineman from flinching to induce a false start penalty on the offense. Enacted in 1998.

    * Phil Dawson rule — certain field goals can be reviewed by instant replay, including kicks that bounce off the uprights. Under the previous system, no field goals could be replayed. Enacted in 2008 as a result of an unusual field goal that was initially ruled “no good” but was reversed upon discussion.

    * Ricky (Williams) rule — rule declared that hair could not be used to block part of the uniform from a tackler and, therefore, an opposing player could be tackled by his hair (aka “The Ricky Rule” due to Williams’ long dread-locks). Enacted in 2003.

    * Roy Williams rule — no horse-collar tackles. Enacted in 2005 when Williams broke Terrell Owens’s ankle and Musa Smith’s leg on horse-collar tackles during the previous season.

    * Shawne Merriman rule — Bans any player from playing in the Pro Bowl if they test positive for using a performance-enhancing drug during that season. Enacted in 2007 after Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman played at the 2007 Pro Bowl after testing positive and serving a four-game suspension during the preceding season.

    * Terrell Owens rule — no “foreign objects” on a player’s uniform (enacted in response to the 2002 “Sharpie incident”), though existing rules already forbade this.

    * Tom Dempsey rule — any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe.

    * Tony Romo rule — teams will now be given 45 minutes – 25 extra minutes than in years past – to prepare the balls for the game; and 12 sequentially numbered “K” balls will be used in the game, monitored by an official, instead of the ball boys. Enacted in 2007.

    * Ty Law rule (also known as the Rodney Harrison rule — placed more emphasis on the Mel Blount rule after the New England Patriots utilized an aggressive coverage scheme, involving excessive jamming of wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, in the 2003 AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Sources: “National Football League lore – Rules named after players,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “National Football League – Rules named after players,” Spiritus-Temporis, “Penalties Named after NFL Players,” The Football Palace Forums


Patriots Cheated on ‘Injured’ Players, Too

In addition to videotaping other teams in direct violation of League rules, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots also cheat on their use of the Injured Reserve list. Mike Florio has the details at Sporting News.

When Walsh met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, he blew the whistle on the Patriots using players on injured reserve during practice. Goodell chose his words carefully at the press conference following the May 13 meeting with Walsh, explaining only that Walsh said “there was a tape at one point in time of a player inappropriately practicing.” The question left unanswered is the extent to which the Patriots engaged in such conduct outside the presence of a camera lens, and after Walsh left the team in 2003.

Enter Ross Tucker. The former Patriots offensive lineman has joined the media, and he recently wrote that the Patriots were using injured players in practice as recently as 2005. Tucker also says that none of the other three teams he played for did the same thing.

Goodell has said that he’ll investigate Walsh’s claims, but that he won’t impose further penalty on the Patriots if Walsh’s claim is corroborated. But what if Tucker’s claim is corroborated, too? And what if an investigation reveals that the Patriots have been using injured players in practice for most of the Bill Belichick era? Can Goodell really do nothing further to the team at that point, especially since he made it clear last year that the Patriots had a chance to come clean, and that any future evidence of undisclosed cheating would result in harsh sanctions?

As one league source opined to last week, the use of injured players in practice is more significant than the videotaping of defensive coaching signals. As the source explained it, the tactic allows “injured” players to be stashed on the roster, preventing other teams from claiming them on waivers. It gives the “injured” players an opportunity to develop their skills. It gives the healthy players a break from practice reps.

Simply amazing. The NFL has let Belichick get away with claiming fake injuries and under-reporting serious injuries, violating the spirit of the League’s disclosure rules, for years. But this is far more serious than that. My guess is that they’ll get away with this one, too.


NFL Power Rankings – 2008 Preseason

The gang at ESPN has ranked all 32 NFL teams. Here’s the top 10 (final 2007 rankings in parenthesis):

1 (1) Patriots 16-0-0 A healthy Tom Brady and a happy Randy Moss make the Patriots championship contenders this season and for years to come. (MS)

2 (2) Colts 13-3-0 They haven’t had a lot of offseason turnover and they already were very good. Continuity means a lot. (PY)

3 (6) Chargers 11-5-0 If the Chargers can get over their injury issues, they could be in the Super Bowl mix all the way to Tampa. (BW)

4 (3) Cowboys 13-3-0 Felix Jones should help the running game immediately. But who will emerge as the No. 2 receiver? Patrick Crayton wasn’t up to the task in late ’07. (MM)

5 (4) Jaguars 11-5-0 They sometimes get overshadowed by division rival Indianapolis, but the Jaguars have an elite roster and an elite coach in Jack Del Rio. (PY)

6 (9) Giants 10-6-0 Teams other than the Patriots aren’t supposed to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Will Michael Strahan retire? Can they compensate for free-agent losses at LB? (MM)

7 (8) Steelers 10-6-0 A very strong draft catapults the Steelers into Super Bowl contenders. RBs Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall should be one of the best 1-2 punches. (JW)

8 (7) Seahawks 10-6-0 New O-line coach Mike Solari stands out as the Seahawks’ top offseason acquisition, perhaps allowing them to keep their edge in the NFC West. (MS)

9 (13) Browns 10-6-0 The 2007 darlings face high expectations. The offense will score. Can the D, anchored by additions Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams, hold up its end? (JW)

10 (5) Packers 13-3-0 This is an unpredictable team in the wake of the retirement of Brett Favre. Who will step up and make the big plays this year? (JW)

Click here for 11-32.

Dropping the Packers, were 13-3 and lost in the NFC Championship game to #10 seems about right. After all, they lost one of the best quarterbacks in League history to retirement. But how do you justify dropping the team that beat them, along with the #4 ranked Cowboys and the #1 ranked Patriots on their way to winning the Super Bowl down to 6th place? Even if Strahan retires, they still have the most dominant defensive front in the League and Eli Manning should only get better.

I like the Cowboys’ chances at #4, though, especially since that puts them as the favorite team to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. They’re a deeper team than the Giants, I think, and have really shored up their defensive backfield with the Pacman Jones trade and the drafting of Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick. But the Giants deserve to be considered the team to beat.


Cowboys Re-Sign Newman to 6 Year, $50.2 Million Deal

Pro Bowl safety Terence Newman will likely finish out his career as a Dallas Cowboy.

The Cowboys and Newman on Tuesday agreed to a six-year contract extension worth $50.2 million, beating a deadline in which the salary-cap rules will change after NFL owners decided to opt out of the final three years of the collective bargaining agreement. He will receive $22.5 million guaranteed over the first three years of the contract.

Newman, the fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft, joins the likes of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Bradie James, Jay Ratliff and Roy Williams in choosing to remain with the Cowboys with an extension before being able to hit the free-agent market.

Excellent news. It’s a lot of money to pay a guy who turns 30 this year, especially when the team has just invested a 1st and two 4th rounders on cornerbacks in the most recent draft (counting the trade for Adam “Pacman” Jones). But you don’t let top notch corners go in a pass friendly league if you can help it .

Yes, the price was steep. But it’s the going rate:

The deal puts Newman in the same neighborhood as two of the richest deals signed by cornerbacks last March. Philadelphia lured Asante Samuel away from New England with a six-year, $57 million deal, and Seattle kept Marcus Trufant with a six-year, $50.2 million. Both of those contracts included $23 million and $20 million guaranteed, respectively.

If anything, Newman was a bargain.


Oscar Pistorius, Double Amputee Olympic Sprinter

As incredible as it sounds, a man with no legs will be able to compete as a sprinter in the 2008 Olympics.

Oscar Pistorius Photo Stu Forster/Getty Images In its ruling, the CAS said the IAAF failed to prove that Oscar Pistorius

Double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius won his appeal Friday and can compete for a place in the Beijing Olympics. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the 21-year-old South African is eligible to race against able-bodied athletes, overturning a ban imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

More amazing: the opponents argue that he has an unfair advantage.

Pistorius appealed to CAS, world sport’s highest tribunal, to overturn a Jan. 14 ruling by the IAAF that banned him from competing. The IAAF said his carbon fiber blades give him a mechanical advantage.


“The panel was not persuaded that there was sufficient evidence of any metabolic advantage in favor of a double-amputee using the Cheetah Flex-Foot,” CAS said. “Furthermore, the CAS panel has considered that the IAAF did not prove that the biomechanical effects of using this particular prosthetic device gives Oscar Pistorius an advantage over other athletes not using the device.”

It’s hard not to admire Pistorius, who was born without fibulas and had his legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday, and wish him all the best.

At the same time, those of us who grew up watching “The Six Million Dollar Man” and its spinoffs can certainly envision a scenario where those with prosthetic limbs do have an advantage over the “able bodied.” And what’s the standard for assessing that? No better than the best human legs ever in existence? Knowing how obsessive competitive athletes can be — survey after survey shows they’re willing to risk losing years of their life if they can win now — we might see the day when someone decides it’s worth it to have perfectly healthy legs amputated.

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80 Man Roster Hurts NFL Camps

SI’s Don Banks breaks down the ripple effects of the NFL enforcing its 80 man roster this offseason. Previously, teams were able to carry a handful of extra guys because they got exemptions for guys who played in the now-defunct NFL Europa.

So what, right? Those guys probably weren’t going to make the team anyway, right?

One prime example of the difficult internal roster decisions that are now unfolding revolves around the issue of how many specialists teams can afford to bring to camp. Before this year, standard operating procedure was to bring two kickers, two punters and two long-snappers to camp. That’s a luxury not likely to continue at the 80-man limit. Rather than necessarily searching for the best available talent at those positions, teams are prizing versatility above all else. If you’re a punter who can also kick off, or a kicker who can handle some punting duties at least in the preseason, your chances to receive an invite to an NFL camp have risen significantly.

Which means the emphasis has shifted from “the best guy” to the most versatile.

Gary Zauner, a former Vikings, Ravens and Cardinals special teams coach, is now a Phoenix-based special teams consultant who trains kickers, punters and snappers and helps them find roster spots within professional football. Several NFL teams have contacted him this spring seeking candidates for double duty in camp, rather than the top-rated prospect at any one particular position. “They’re no longer taking the best guy, they’re taking the guy who is the most convenient for them given the 80-man limit,” Zauner said. “To me, it’s just a case where the NFL didn’t look at this decision long enough. Everybody’s trying to maximize the combination guy rather than the true specialists. Teams are saying get me a kicker who can punt, or a punter who can field goal kick and kick off. But the guys they’re bringing in aren’t as quality as they can be. Almost no one is bringing in two of everything this year. You need two kickers, two punters and two snappers to get through camp and get guys some rest. It’s going to be a problem unless it’s addressed.”

Wah wah. Kickers aren’t really football players anyway, right? This doesn’t just affect kickers.

“It’s going to affect older players,” the AFC general manager said. “Because older players that need to have rest and need to be managed through the preseason are going to have to practice more. Coaches are going to say, ‘I don’t want to sign this guy. He can only do one-a-days in camp, or he’ll need a day off twice a week. I won’t be able to practice.’ Older, veteran teams are going to be impacted.”

Get ready for a fresh round of debate on the necessity of a four-game preseason schedule as well, league sources say, because with starters needing to play more in those August exhibition games due to the reduction in the number of camp bodies, there will be more injuries suffered by regulars. And that will get everyone focused on the camp-roster issue.

So, we’re likely to see more injuries as a result of this? That’s not good. But there’s more. Some teams will actually have fewer than 80 players to utilize.

In addition, a team that went deep into the playoffs last season, and perhaps suffered some injuries doing it, may be at an even more severe disadvantage under the 80-man camp roster limit. Consider the Patriots at the start of camp in 2007, coming off their run to the previous AFC title game. New England had defensive end Richard Seymour and receiver Chad Jackson starting camp on the preseason physically unable to perform list, and safety Rodney Harrison was suspended by the league late in the preseason for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. All three players counted against the team’s 80-man camp roster, shrinking the Patriots’ pool of available players even further.

“Players who had offseason surgery and start camp on PUP, not being able to practice really hurt you now,” said the AFC general manager. “That becomes a big problem with fewer roster spots available. I know we’re going with one kicker and one long-snapper in camp this year, and we’ve always had two of each in the past. Maybe you go with one fewer quarterback, one less arm in camp. That means your starter is throwing more. That’s one thing that everybody loved about NFL Europa, the quarterback exemption you got from it. But having one less arm in camp, one less quarterback to develop, that’s a big thing. This thing goes in a lot of different directions.”

So, if everybody sees what a big problem this is, it’s easy enough to up the roster size, right? Not so fast. There’s the Ralph Wilson Factor.

The impetus behind the owners’ move to freeze rosters at 80 is the cost savings they realize from having fewer players in camp, especially given that teams were reportedly losing roughly $1 million per year on NFL Europa. More importantly, with team owners trying to build the case that their profit margins are surprisingly thin given the nation’s economic downturn, and that the players received too much of the financial pie in the 2006 CBA settlement, they’re in no mood to send the signal that another half-dozen camp roster spots per team is negotiable.


“We hear it’s a bargaining chip in the next round of CBA negotiations,” said one league executive. “The 80-man camp roster is going to be a two or three-year problem that will have to be dealt with by everyone, because the owners can’t just give the union jobs and not get anything in return for it. Getting camp rosters back where they were before will be part of any new CBA deal that eventually gets done.”

Football people within the NFL rightly believe it’s a pretty short-sighted approach by league owners, because the downside costs of limiting camp rosters to 80 could far outweigh the meager savings of slicing six bodies from a team’s preseason contingent. During the preseason, rookies only make about $1,000 per week, so the cost of carrying six more collegiate free agents is minimal compared to the risk of having to pay off multiple players with injury settlements brought on by short-handed teams not being able to patiently wait while a player recovers from a preseason injury.

Oh, and those six extra guys who had no real shot at making the team, anyway? It’s not really true.

Teams that are known for giving undrafted players a legitimate shot to make their roster will also feel the impact of having fewer roster spots in camp. The Colts are perhaps foremost on that list, and both head coach Tony Dungy and general manager Bill Polian have been outspoken in their opposition to the 80-man roster limit. “I think we had six guys (from our) Super Bowl (team in 2006) who were collegiate free agents and played prominent roles,” said Dungy last month, himself a former undrafted free agent who made the Pittsburgh Steelers roster as a rookie in 1977. “Gary Brackett, Josh Thomas, Jeff Saturday, Dominic Rhodes, Ben Utecht, and Aaron Moorehead. This is what we try to sell, that if you come to us, we’ll give you a chance to show what you can do. But this means we’ll miss out on some of the guys who could have helped us.”

So, to recap: Some guys who are better than the guys currently on each team’s roster won’t make the team. Some veterans will be injured and not playing for the team. Practices will be watered down, making the teams less sharp. All to save some billionaires a few thousand bucks and some leverage with the union.


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