2015 Season, Week 9 Picks Against the Spread

Last week: 2-1
Year to date: 22-19

Last week recap: Pick of the Dolphins at +9 was one of the more miserable picks of this season – in hindsight anyway.

And I’m still not giving enough weight to the idea I’ve nevertheless been saying since the season started: the Patriots, and Tom Brady in particular, are on a rampage, feeling slighted over the offseason Deflategate scandal; something which the league, apparently, has gone so off its rocker on as to compare it – an issue of slightly deflated football that refs handle on every play – to Chicaco Black Sox players alleged purposeful throwing of the 1919 World Series.

Maybe I should have listened to Heath Evans, who played for Belichick, and was on the roster when the Dolphins came into Foxboro in week 3 of the 2008 season (at 0-2, and 1-15 the year before) and demolished the Patriots:

I did include the entirety of his apparently spot on hyperbole in last week’s week 8 picks – just had too much naive faith that the Dolphins would play with a hunger and intensity; not have four players continually back up on 3rd and16 runs, then just wait right at the first down marker so the Patriots were almost assured of making the first down.

I couldn’t even tweet the game I got so far behind spending so long analyzing a series of plays early on where the Dolphins – not out of laziness, but fear and horrible techniques – literally gave the Patriots key first downs on their opening drive.

And, frankly, maybe a little bit out of laziness and not being in professional athlete shape as well. I never got paid, but have been in professional athlete shape, and there is no doubt, I don’t care WHAT the players are saying; they do not practice enough.

And this for a now Dan Campbell led team that was supposed to have gotten intense in its drills.

You don’t have to go out and break bones in practice. But it’s professional sports; you should be in professional athlete shape. Playing hard and popping up quickly off the turf is not hard for anyone with good endurance capability, who trains properly.

Not doing so, by two players (the first who missed the tackle, and one of the same culprits in the above described earlier 3rd and 16 fiasco, and another getting blocked on the sidelines), allowed an ensuing opening Patriots drive short pass to some dude known as “Gronk” to score an easy 47 yard touchdown gallop down the left sidelines, running right past where the second of the two was lackadaisically spinning off his block “well away from the play” until he saw Gronk about to race right past him. And it was all downhill from there.

That said, the Cowboys last week, at a silly +6, took the game down to the wire; but barring some luck all but gave away any real strong chance when late in the game they kicked their fourth field goal of the contest (a contest they were to predictably lose 13-12), on a 4th and long 2 from a little outside the eight yard line.

Not gonna go into it too much here, but teams essentially don’t get the math of close to the end zone short yardage field goal situations; particularly late in games where going up by 2 points against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, versus possibly continuing to trail by 1 (and handing the ball over on their 8 yard line) – versus the value of a good shot at making it a 5 or even better 7 point margin late, so that Wilson needs a touchdown not a field goal to simply win and if you make your two point conversion will only be playing for the tie in such a case, meaning their winning chances will be halved – is fairly trivial.

There was actually almost a quarter left to play, and the analysis gets more complicated: But even going up by 5, if there is more subsequent scoring, allows you to be able to win on a late field goal alone – far easier to do, particularly if in defensive battles between two good defensive teams such as in this game – if the Seahawks go ahead with a TD (and either neglect to try or fail on a two point conversion try). And it also allows you to possibly extend your lead to 8 (meaning your opponent will only win one quarter of the time they even do score the touchdown to potentially tie the game with the last score of regulation) or even better make the two point conversion and thus go up by 10, on a late field goal, etc, etc.

Put simply, the taking of 3 points, given the strategic structure of the game there, doesn’t do that much to increase their overall chances. On the other hand, getting the TD – if they possibly can get it (and already being inside the 10, with a short yardage opportunity to get a new set of downs starting at the 6 yard line or better is a fairly strong possibility) – does substantially increase their chances.

It’s like some teams can’t see past the score at the moment, and only worry about the illogical but easy to grasp possibility of “going for the conversion and failing, and later losing by, gasp, 3 points or less,” while failing to recognize that what they do here will affect how their opponent plays and the end game unfolds, and more importantly the missed opportunity that was far greater on average that they gave up, in terms of their ultimate likelihood of winning the contest; which is what matters.

Most such calls (though the Cowboys are particularly bad at it) are so off base it’s a caricature of good strategy. But if it was that obvious, a professional football organization in a close scoring defensive game against a top notch fourth quarter comeback team and in particular quarterback (and right now, with injuries, lacking one themselves), wouldn’t kick their fourth relatively short short field goal of the game on a 4th and long 2 from their opponents 8.5 yard line just to take a measly 12-10 lead.

Did proclaim last week (wrongly, as it turns out) that the Broncos had a slight edge: in hindsight they had more than that, holding Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards passing (something like 20 fewer than Matt Cassel put up in that aforesaid Seahawks battle), in a contest that but for a few well timed and at times questionable penalty calls keeping drives alive (although yardage after the penalties was legit); could have been closer to 29-0 Broncos. And picked them to win outright: Which part they did do, just far more convincingly than predicted.

Lastly, it was not an official pick, but last week’s picks also ended with an “upset alert” regarding the Colts at Panthers, including:

…in a close game – if the Colts can play well enough to keep it close – the edge, at least based on history, undoubtedly still goes to the Colts.

And out of desperation, and a sort of “nothing to lose at this point but one more crappy game” [sort of approach by] Andrew Luck, who thus just plays, yet focuses more and tries less – if he sees it that way and can find what he had before – they may just show it.

Well, Luck didn’t play that way, until the fourth quarter when the team was down 17 points. When he did play that way. (At least for a while, then he seemed to somewhat tighten up again and, while still better than earlier in the game still wasn’t quite the same as he was late in razor tight contests in his first three years in the league, although a random deflection (and good hands by Panthers LB Luke Kuechly) on a nice pass breakup in overtime is ultimately what lost them the game; which at that point, with both teams having kicked a field goal in overtime and possession belonging to the Colts, had slightly favored the Colts.)

So the Colts, as it turned out, did almost pull off the upset; and didn’t win. It was the Panthers who won, and yet another close game, uncharacteristically, and possibly in a sign of growth of the team. (And Newton, who late in the game – ignore stats – played near lights out and relaxed, with a look of control and calm on his face – even retaining it when a picture perfect on a rope low arc easy catch TD bomb that likely would have won them the game anyway, was dropped by Ted Ginn.)

But it wasn’t an official pick against the spread, so it doesn’t count unfortunately.

Picks this week: 

1.  Washington Redskins (+14) at New England Patriots 

It’s not clear Brady “lied” to Goodell in the Deflategate saga, and often assumption becomes conflated with fact today.

But here, it does seem at least as if his statement that an undefeated season is “the furthest thing from anybody’s mind” is a bit of a white lie, if diplomatic and focus oriented.

That is, Brady should probably say what he in fact did say. And the players, even if they want to go undefeated, should try to think it; to focus on the present and on their best effort and performance every week, as it it comes up.

Brady knows that, and most communications to the press about competitiveness should serve that purpose first and foremost – i.e., trying to win, not giving one’s deep down and somewhat irrelevant wishes on an ultimate W-L record.

And as noted, the Patriots are on a rampage. This is a team that in general is also focused anyway: they don’t tend to have “trap” games.

But they might not have the same focus for the Skins that they had for the Dolphins, who after a mere two weeks were suddenly reannointed as some type of team on a monster roll. (Which was probably perfect as far as Belichick was concerned, making it easy to convey to his team to get super focused for the game.)

But this Redskins team is a better football team than many people think. And the NFC East is not a “lousy” division. (On the other hand, the AFC South is, as it has been for a while.)

It’s not a great division; it has four somewhat to possibly decently competitive teams, almost any one of which at this point could easily turn the corner and become a strong team.

This includes the Redskins, who have been playing without key starters for much of the season.

They get speedy and likely number one WR DeSean Jackson back this week. TE Jordan Reed, though he didn’t miss too much time with a concussion, will have gotten additional rest. C Kory Lichtensteiger, who has also missed several games, will be a game time decison. OLB Ryan Kerrigan did tear something in his hand last game that was surgically repaired, and is likely to play, though this could limit him a little.

Most importantly both of the team’s top two CBs have been out since early in the season: DeAngelo Hall played in the first three games, Chris Culliver played in three of the first four. Neither has played since.

Hall, with an injured toe, doesn’t sound like he’s 100%, which given that toes matter (balance, push, cuts), isn’t a great thing; but it seems as if he’s more likely to play than not. Culliver’s also still officially questionable, but didn’t practice Thursday, nor, reportedly, Friday – not good signs, but one never knows.

CB Bashaud Breeland, though dinged up a bit the last few games, has played in them all with the exception of week one. He’s also questionable, and like Hall practiced on a limited basis – although it doesn’t appear this was due to major injury limitations rather than simple precaution, but like Hall he is also not near a sure thing to play.

On balance the Redskins are still likely to have at least two of their top three CBs for the game though; which, if so, would be an improvement. (And Keenan Robinson, who’s been reasonably effective in coverage as a linebacker, though listed as questionable, has stated he will assuredly play). As would be the addition of Jackson on offense.

This team is not taking this game as the (here, somewhat humorous, however) joke many others may be taking it as, and while right now the Patriots are playing lights out, if the Redskins come in with fire, they may test the Pats a bit.

The key here is that the Redskins are not the bad team they’re perceived to be. Why they are not is not clear, but what is clear from watching their film is they aren’t all that bad.

The Patriots O line continues to be banged up, with Logan Mankins traded and their center out prior to week one (and placed on IR shortly thereafter, although he was just reactivated in the last 24 hours), left tackle Nate Solder placed in IR a few weeks ago, and injuries continuing to creep up on the remaining lineman.

But Brady is getting rid of the ball so quickly, and the young rookies seeing a lot of action are seemingly getting good coaching and improving, that it hasn’t seemed to matter much.

This could be an interesting game, though some of it will depend on whether the Redskins do get some players back, and if they are in sufficient playing shape and relatively healthy enough to perform.

This one – as with nearly any Patriot game this season at home – could be a blowout. Or it could be a scary close game for the Patriots; but even a strong performance by the Patriots could still only be an 8 to 13 point victory (or even less).

Needless to say, for it to be a good game Skins quarterback Kirk Cousins has to be in his good QB play mode, not his occasional semi meltdown mode.

While he racked it up for fantasy players last week in a big comeback win versus the Buccaneers, and maybe got a little too excited (if playfully) about it – indicating a possible sensitivity to questions about his play (never good for a QB) – at least it may have taken the pressure off of him for a little bit.

That is fired up though.

But who knows with KC. A good game versus Brady could vault him back into possible “good NFL quarterback status” (or a shocker upset, even higher), until later in the season when a slew of bad and overly apprehensive worry driven decisions reappears – if it does.

Pick: Redskins

2. Denver Broncos (-5.5) at Indianapolis Colts

Last year in the playoffs the best pure QB to ever play the game (regular season, what he is able to do from the line of scrimmage pre and post snap), in the twilight of his career, and slowed by injury and nerve damage, faced the most likely contender to be the next greatest – until this season reared its ugly non Luck head  – and the new guard beat the old.  (Before going on to Foxboro and getting throunced with both slightly deflated and non deflated footballs, by – if the postseason is proportionately weighed – arguably the greatest; although it’s hard to measure with only one, and very successful, head coach.)

Surely the Broncos want revenge, and are more than capable of exacting it. Especially against a not very good Colts team, wherein a few of their defensive backs continue to take awful tackling angles, and the offense doesn’t seem to do much better.

Including a quarterback who isn’t broadly scanning the field, is locking down on his decisions, and appears to be aiming or guiding the ball.

But this is the Colts. And Andrew Luck. He says he’s healthy. And if he stops aiming the ball, and just relaxes while simultaneously focusing without attention to result (as he did for a while in the fourth quarter against the Panthers last week) he can be a phenomenal quarterback. And when he plays like that, at home, getting points, he can potentially beat any team.

Maybe not easily, particularly with an iffy team around him – and for this game possibly missing his game time decision top WR T.Y. Hilton. But this Colts team is too interesting to dismiss as a near 6 point underdog at home against a team, revenge minded or not, coming off of a big game against a previously undefeated team and powerhouse in which they had the embarassment of being undefeated, playing at home to a poor road team, and being tagged as the underdog.

Pick: Colts

3. Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Dallas Cowboys 

Just several months ago not enough people were satirizing the Bills for voluntarily taking on Matt Cassel for a five million dollar salary and the needless loss of an upcoming 5th round draft pick, now many are saying Cassel is no better than the just a tad over half a million dollar a year salary Brandon Weeden that he has replaced.

The Eagles might explode at any moment. At least that’s the perception: Chip Kelly’s system and all, and as they have shown in the past, if not consistently enough late. But they also seem to show signs of it even this season. And they have to be reeling at the fact that last year the Cowboys beat them late to help keep them out of the playoffs. And then this year, as underdogs, the Cowboys came in and beat them (and without Romo for some of the game, as it was the game he broke his collarbone in), for what was the Cowboys only real win of the season.

That is, had the Giants not, to use the highly technical term, made an especially bonehead decision right at the end of their week one matchup, or the referees not missed a call that the NFL subsequently announced to have been a mistake by said referees, the Cowboys would be 1-6 and not 2-5. (Almost assuredly in the first case, assuredly in the second.)

And the Cowboys aren’t even a good home team.

That said, this is their last stand. (Unless they are buying the popular koolaid that 9-7 or even possibly 8-8 will be a lock to win the division, rather than simply a good shot at it given the standings at this moment – and even then they’re still in a world of hurt if they lose.)

And if they play as they did against Seattle, and not just assume they can beat the Eagles, but pay attention to the fact they’ve lost 5 straight and should be 1-6, and that the Eagles trounced the Giants who lead the division (and gave away the game to the Saints at the end last week in a boondoggle of plays almost no one much talked about), and almost beat the Falcons in Atlanta while the Falcons ran up and down the field on the Cowboys here in Dallas after falling behind early, etc., and that the home team has lost the last 5 games in a row between these two teams, and so they need to play harder as if they have the home disadvantage, they will win.

The Cowboys have a potentially powerful defense, seem to know how to play the Eagles reasonably well, Matt Cassel “could” play a good game (well, that one might be pushing it), and the Eagles still aren’t fully meshing – though that also might be changing.

Pick: Cowboys, who should win outright. So long as they recognize that they’re the road team.

4. St. Louis Rams (+1) at Minnesota Vikings

The line is saying the Rams here. Has this Jekyll and Hyde team of the past three years finally turned the corner it seemed to have almost gotten past several times now?

If so they have a decent edge in this game.

If not the Vikings have more of an edge.

Averaging that out, without trying to deciper what the Rams are (they were my “creative” don’t just go with the obvious favorite pick to win the division this season, but a few of those picks got out of hand so maybe they should go unmentioned), gives a slight edge to the home team in a non divisional game.

That said if the Rams are going to win the division or even make the playoffs, they probably need to win this game. The Seahawks are in their division. And the Cardinals, right now a game and a half ahead at 6-2, are still hot, and seemingly not letting up.

This is a pretty interesting game, since while the Vikings can afford a loss a little bit more than the Rams, they face a really tough schedule up ahead, and if they lose this one, may also not yet be for real.

I thought it was a bad draft pick for the Rams to take Todd Gurley. This is based on the fact that the Rams have made several ill thought out draft decisions in the last few years based on the facts that existed at the time of the draft, and simply going on the fact that they liked him (I hadn’t evaluated his play or come to a conclusion about his potential); he was injured; and taking a running back at number ten overall and especially coming off a major knee knee injury should only be done if the player clearly, and outside of his college system/offensive line blocking, shows unusual ability and talent.

Gurley apparently did, and it was a good pick. And this is the Gurley Adrian Peterson Bowl. Whether that gives AP any extra motivation or not, who knows. Regardless, that Rams team, and in particular that defense, still has the potential to be very strong.

Are they finally getting there?

Here’s a vote of low confidence on competition committee Jeff Fisher’s record, simply because he says he clearly understands the “what is and isn’t a catch” rule, and almost assuredly doesn’t:

Fisher says he understands the catch rule.

Then Fisher says “you have to complete the catch when going to the ground”; which is the only thing that is already a given in this rule anyway: with the two real issues being “when do you have to” (meaning the catch was not yet completed before hitting the ground, and not answered by Fisher or anyone else for that matter), as if the most important consideration and by far the most botched out on the field part of this issue in live calls and replay reviews doesn’t even exist), and “what does completing it mean” (answered in a way by Fisher that contradicted the way referees have been explaining and interpreting it).

Still, for a head coach considered so strong, yet who has only made the playoffs 6 times out of 19 full seasons (a poor record given the long head coaching tenure and fact that 37.5% of teams make it every year), this has to be the year right? And thus, likely, this may be the game. I’ll root for them, but:

Pick: Vikings

5.  Miami Dolphins (+3) at the Buffalo Bills

It’s hard to imagine a team that can be trounced by another team as badly as the Dolphins were early in the season by the Bills, can actually turn around and beat that team. And based on the type of response the Dolphins showed in the Patriots game two Thursday Nights ago (see above), they are not that team.

Here’s a vote that on this I’m wrong (usually though it’s reading the tea leaves of players attitude and character on the field that is the most telling, but am deferring to new or interim head coach Dan Campbell until they fall flat again).

Rex Ryan still hasn’t lost a press conference; and, as his team should, and can be better than it is, and has a bad taste in their mouth (as should the Dolphins, both from TNF and their last Bills matchup), they can be better. And they’re coming off a bye, and teams do win a little bit more off of byes.

But let’s see if Dan Campbell’s fire works after a devastating loss, and toward a team that earlier also thoroughly embarassed them and led more than anything else to their prior head coach’s firing. If it doesn’t work here, it doesn’t work.

Remember though that tell tale sign of Dolphins playing scared of the Patriots, backing up on 3rd down runs, waiting at the first down marker, popping up slowly after blocks or tackle attempts, and responding poorly to the game going south – hopefully these aren’t prescient words for this game, but we’ll see. Reluctantly:

Pick: Dolphins

 

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Why Both Parties Should Settle DeflateGate, and how Both Can Win

The  alleged participation by Tom Brady in excessive pre game psi football deflation, known as “Deflategate,” is a mess.

The original appeal on the matter was held by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Naturally, he upheld the NFL imposed (i.e., his), $1,000,000 fine on the Patriots, the loss of their upcoming first and fourth round draft picks, and four game suspension of Brady.

Brady appealed the four game suspension in Federal Court, where Judge Richard M. Berman, albeit with tough questions for both sides, has appeared even more skeptical of the NFL’s position; specifically wondering how the NFL went from the “probable” “general awareness” conclusion of the Wells Report investigation to a finding of specific involvement on Brady’s part; which Judge Berman called a “quantum leap.”

The Judge has repeatedly pushed settlement in the matter. And the case appears borderline in terms of its appropriateness for Federal Court – and certainly it is so in terms of practicality.

Even in a settlement conference on Monday that was extremely short – possibly out of frustration at the recalcitrance of two sides (or possibly one) – Judge Berman has continued the position of all but forcing the parties to settle.

Also on Monday the Judge stated he would likely rule by Tuesday or Wednesday, but no later than Friday. Perhaps he hoped this last moment chance might encourage a last moment agreement.

It didn’t. And so the Judge delayed his ruling, hoping again to encourage settlement.

The two parties should listen. Settling would make a lot of sense for both parties, but particularly the NFL. (And if Brady does later get redemption, much like Adrian Peterson and Ray RIce, it won’t get him his games back if he doesn’t get a long shot stay in the interim.)

Yet there are some interesting, abstract legal and quasi legal/ factual questions involved here. And there is interesting recent legal precedent in terms of Goodell’s decision making as well, that also bear on why the NFL should settle.

For instance, does the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NFL players association, and the NFL – which grants the NFL broad if vague powers – therein implicitly grant the NFL an expectation of access to the most private of personal cell phone records for on field equipment rule violations? And, therefore, is a punishment or increase in punishment for such failure consistent with, or a violation of, that agreement.

If the CBA does not, it would be a violation. And Goodell has strongly hinted if not stated that at least part of the suspension has been Brady’s failure to turn over his cell phone for unfiltered micro examaniation of ostensibly all calls, including to private, non football related parties. (Whether a court is bound by that, or can somehow nevertheless attribute all four games to the deflation issue – providing that hurdle is cleared as well – is another matter.)

Also, was Goodell’s leap from the Wells Report finding of a “likely” general awareness on Brady’s part, to a conclusion by him of specific involvement sufficiently arbitrary to constitute an abuse of discretion – as in the ruling handed down by Federal Judge Barbara Well’s regarding Goodell’s conduct in the Ray Rice hearing last autumn.

These are two of the reasons, for instance, why Judge Berman could vacate the four game suspension (if he does, which is up in the air at this point) if the two sides don’t come to a settlement.

Or, although technically the Judge has to rule on the complete four game suspension matter before him – the judge could plausibly vacate two of the games on the creative but here technically workable theory that the suspension imposed by the NFL (but de facto. Goodell) and upheld on appeal by him constitutes two distinct parts: Namely, punishment for likely involvement or undue “specific awareness” of purposefully excessive football psi deflation in one instance. And punishment for alleged “lack of cooperation,” including the refusal of Brady to hand over his cell phone and thus the entirety of his apparently 10,000 or so plus text (and photo) message records, in the other.

That seems less likely, but the Judge could do it; as the case seems more likely to be appealed than not anyway if he doesn’t.

But whether Judge Berman does creatively split it, upholds the four games, or sets it aside – and nobody knows for sure (except perhaps Judge Berman at this point) – the NFL and Brady will both be far better served to settle this.

And given the various hints and positions offered by both parties throughout this process, the certainties and uncertainties involved, the Judge’s urgings to settle this matter, and his implicit feeling – shared here – that this does not belong in our court system – there is a fairly easy settlement which is practically staring both camps in the face.

So I’m laying it out here:

Right now the Patriots are being hammered over this.  And some league owners may like this fact – Texans owner Bob McNair, who left out several key facts in his near anti Patriots and Brady tirade, apparently being one of them.  And the Patriots star quarterback and February 2015 Super Bowl MVP is as of now being forced to sit for a quarter of their season, and they are looking at the very under mentioned but very damaging loss of future first and fourth round draft picks for the team as well.

And it’s ultimately really not good for the league either. This is particularly the case given the ambiguity of what actually happened in “Deflategate”; Brady’s consistent assertions he was not involved; and the fact that while knowing equipment rule violations are unacceptable, to some the NFL may be piling on the Patriots in what is ultimately a somewhat ambiguous matter in terms of what actually happened, and involving what at least some current and former NFL quarterbacks are calling a near witchhunt (“Movin’ The Chains” Jim Miller called it “ridiculous,” for instance).

And it will look worse for the league if Judge Berman rules against them – as has a considerable chance of happening, and probably why in part he keeps pushing settlement.

Last fall a Federal Judge found that Goodell’s actions amounted to an “abuse of discretion” for initially suspending Ray Rice for two games; then reasonably toughening up the NFL’s domestic violence policy and not applying it retroactively to Rice, but then suspending Rice indefinitely upon the emergence of a video that basically illustrated the already known facts – rather, as I argued at the time, than use the video to argue that the physical striking with the hand was “with closed hand and harder and more direct” than the NFL had interpreted it to be, and therefore constituted sufficient new information to simply update the original 2 game suspension under the new 6 game suspension policy and “get it right.”  And which would have been fair, and highly consistent with the new policy – particularly given that while the blow itself was out of control, there are at least half a dozen legitimate mitigating circumstances, and it was otherwise a one time incident.

And the Court found that Goodell had acted aribitrary and abused his discretion for later essentially misleading about what Ray Rice had told him in their hearing, in order to substantiate this new indefinite suspension:  A suspension which not only wasn’t even in keeping with the new policy, it wasn’t in keeping with anything other than a somewhat panicked, over reactive sort of “I don’t know what to do.”

Though Goodell certainly wasn’t helped any by a Baltimore Ravens team that had just cut Rice upon hearing of the video, and falsely giving the country the impression that the video somehow constituted some sort of stunning new information, when in fact it only essentially validated what was already known: Rice, an otherwise model citizen, player and charitable contributor with both time and money to the community and his now wife had been drinking heavily he had suddenly struck her and she fell, hitting her head on the way down.

(The Ravens, who adored Rice, for their part had chosen to interpret it very leniently, and had been wearing rose colored glasses – owner Steve Biscotti later all but said those very words – and they overeacted when their pollyannaish view was shattered by an infamous TMZ video that put Rice’s punch on a perpetual loop for the country to witness 50 times over in practically a matter of seconds, and the victim’s wishes, which in Godell’s weak defense he did originally take into account, propelled and amplified by the Ravens and in particular NFL’s awful handling of the situation, were trampled over by a tidal wave of windswept anger because Rice’s deeds were witnessed; and the rest, including the fact the video barely added info, was forgotten or ignored.)

In other words, last fall a Federal Judge all but came out and said Goodell dissembled, saying his assertion that Rice mislead him was simply not supported, and that his action was “arbitrary,” and amounted to an “abuse of discretion.” And here today is a Federal Judge that, regardless of what he rules on Friday or before (if the NFL and Brady don’t settle this thing) has continually hinted that Goodell’s actions have been awful close to aribtary once again.

The NFL doesn’t lose face if it settles. It may however if it merely accepts Brady’s no game terms or his apparent one game willingness and no coerced confession. Brady meanwhile, given his constant assertions, may lose some face for sitting two games. And far more importantly for him he misses two games in a key defending Super Bowl champs season in the twilight of his still very much competitive career.

And his team is still hammered. The one million dollar fine doesn’t really matter to the Patriots and Kraft. (Brady has even said he would be willing to pay a very large fine in exchange for not having to sit out games.) But not getting draft picks will catch up with the Patriots, who regardless of what they do continue to accomplish or not, will be a slighty lesser team because of it. A fourth and more importantly a first round draft pick loss is substantial. Draft picks are how one builds a team, and they are valuable – particularly the high middle rounds.

And once again the NFL may not be completely thinking this through, as on the Ray Rice mess. Though, admittedly, not in as egregious a fashion, since the Rice response was a somewhat knee jerk almost spontaneous panicked reaction that predictably backfired. And that, along with the Ravens actions, made the NFL look like it specifically had something to hide when it really didn’t. Goodell had screwed up with the initial two game suspension, but the Court system had seen the inside the elevator video, Goodell did genuinely take blame for that initial light suspension even without any video, and announced a new tougher more consistent league domestic violence policy – one which the specificity of the video could have allowed the league, again, to retroactively and easily apply to Rice and it would have been upheld in court. (Whereas it was clear a random arbitrary “indefinite” suspension had a very chance of not being.)

What’s also key, and possibly being missed by the NFL here again is that if it’s the NFL’s or Goodell’s goal to get a coerced confession out of Brady – that’s worthless. To the extent it makes them look good it’s only through stiff arming, which in the long run, if the thing is properly assessed, should only make them look bad. If their goal is to find out the truth, forcing Brady into a confession as part of a settlement isn’t a way to do this, since Brady either won’t do it if he feels he had no relevant direct involvement, or (albeit unlikely), will do it just to get better other terms. (And if he does the latter he’ll use careful, well chosen language that will nevertheless make the NFL feel good.)

The NFL is playing poker and in essence bluffing, and doesn’t really know what cards their opponent holds:

If Brady really did have direct involvement maybe he will crack and acknowledge direct knowing participation and intent, and do so in a way that makes it clear he is coming “clean.” But it seems awfully unlikely, regardless.

And the NFL doesn’t seem to have much else to gain. Even if Judge Berman upholds the 4 game sitdown, it doesn’t mean the NFL acted appropriately. It just means the CBA gives wide latitutde, and a Court is reluctant to step in and say discretion was “abused” over what’s ultimately a highly discretionary, and somewhat unclear factual matter. Plus all indications are that Brady will appeal it – and if he feels his current position is justified, if it’s upheld he should appeal it. (Plus, although probably not a high likelihood, he and the Patriots may get a stay of the four game suspension as well pursuant to an appeal, and possibly pending the language of Judge Berman’s ruling.)

Here’s how both parties save face, and come out on top, and why a simple settlement is practically screaming out: First, numerous reports indicated Goodell was willing to cut the suspension to two games if Brady “admitted guilt.” But Brady can only truthfully admit what actually happened and what he knows; nothing more, nothing less. And this long shot poker game aspect by the NFL that Brady lied to Goodell, and if so Brady will fess up to it over 11.5 psi deflated footballs on the same day some Colts balls were found below 12.5 and his consistent assertions, was just covered above.

So the point is that the NFL was early on willing to accept two games. And now the cost for the NFL of not taking something along those lines has gone up.

Brady, meanwhile has indicated a possible willingness to go for one game: The NFL’s Ian Rapoport, usually a fairly reliable source, reported Monday that Brady was open to serving one game. This is a big switch from “absolutely no games.” One versus two games is also not a big gap. It is, instead, a very solvable gap.

And here’s where the other key comes in, and, at least publicly, it’s being largely overlooked: Two draft picks are a harsh imposition – even more so on top of a multiple game suspension. Brady is a team player. He has even taken a significantly lower salary in order to help with the team’s salary cap in the past, and has expressed a willingness to pay huge fines in lieu of a suspension. True all of that is so he can play (and his immediate family is now also very wealthy). But if he can get something back of value for his team, his town, his Patriots, what’s one more game? Something, but not insurmountable.

And what is it for the NFL to drop the loss of the upcoming 4th round pick? Even less.

The NFL will still have fined the Patriots the loss of a draft pick, but the loss of the far more valuable 1st round pick. Yet for what is seen as barely a round lower than a partial toss-on to many NFL team trades, they get the original two games they were willing to do even before they knew Brady was so dug in. And they get to avoid the chance of this being dragged out infinitum.

And perhaps most importantly the NFL gets to avoids the real possibility of the Court not only slamming them down and vacating all four games (assessing the odds here are hard, but that’s certainly not a long shot, and by some evidence might be as or even slightly more likely than not), but badly embarassing them. Now, when it matters. Not after the fact and barely noticed, as in the Rice and Peterson cases.

And even if Judge Berman rules in their favor, there is still likely to be some harsh words for the NFL, with the ruling only coming down as such due to the extreme nature required for the judge to purposefully set aside such a highly discretionary action on a somewhat subjective – and thus interpretive – set of facts.

In short, the NFL loses very little and potentially saves a great deal; including ending this matter and having some resolution without yet another long drawn out messy looking and very iffy Roger Goodell court case. ( Also, while the owners seem behind Goodell at this piont, and they would be hard pressed to get rid of him given the money he’s made the league, it could also in theory save his job.)

As for Brady? He may win in theory, but still have to serve four games, as the Judge gives him an “I’m sorry but the NFL is within it’s rights” look and upholds the suspension, no stay is granted and an appeals court, now reasonably deferring to the lower Court’s finding, does the same.

Taking two games for the team instead, to win back something key for them – a draft pick –  softens the potential stench of having to sit for possible/likely/highly suspected equipment tampering/rule violataions. And frankly, Brady is getting something back of value for the team. (And backup Jimmy Garoppolo has shown he can play with a reasonable amount of the necessary Patriot QB quarterback cool and decision making in the pocket.) And while he clearly doesn’t want to sit any games, two games isn’t that bad. And if Brady had the willingness to sit one, one more is doable.

The smart negotiation for the Patriots is to make the case as laid out above, but more powerfully, and insist on the first round and the fact that up until recently Brady wasn’t willing to sit a single game even if he had to go to the literal highest court in the land. (All seemingly true.) And that to suspend him, fine the team, and hit them with multuple draft picks on a corporate chosen and possibly heavily corporate biased “independent” counsel, is capricious and arbitrary, and more importantly strongly out of sync with the fact that Brady was willing to have the phone company dig up any and all communications, including texts with any other possible related party; the fact that the Wells Report found a ‘likelihood” of general awareness of a softly deflated football (which is apparently not being alleged as a violation); and that further testing on Colts’ footballs was suddenly and bizarrely ceased that same day once several Colts footballs tested low as well – how did that happen by the way – on one of the two gauges.

Finally, when all else fails (and if all else fails), the Patriots should switch it to the far less team damaging 4th Round pick. so the NFL gets its fine, its suspension – multiple games and in keeping with what Goodell would have originally done – and not only its draft pick take away, but a first round pick – serious business – at that.

The only possible sticking point is one Goodell should let go.  That Brady “didn’t cooperate.”

But again, no coherent legal theory or relevant precedent has emerged that supports why even the CBA creates the inherent right to dig through the most potentialy private and personal of off field records/communications, for the purposes of investigating an on field equipement rule violation.  And that should be emphasized.

As should the fact that Brady has become contrite in this regard. And has also reasonably expressed his belief he didn’t know he faced actual league punishment over his initial responses over a matter he felt (or at least maintains) he had no direct involvement with, and which has to do with football micro pressure variation off of what is already a range to begin with.

Thus, the last piece to this puzzle, if even needed, is a statement by Brady regarding his culpability in matters of cooperation early on, and in general declaring support of the importance of cooperation in any league examination into equipment or related field or rule violations: Something, most importantly, which Brady has already expressed a willingness to do.

Two games. The same team fine. 1 draft pick. Ideally the fourth rounder from the Patriots perspective. But even if it’s a first rounder, the Patriots at least get their fourth rounder back. And the model husband face of their team only sits the first two games – one eighth of the season instead of one fourth. And his settlement likely means nothing inconsistent with what he has already maintained, other than to now solve this problem for his team, and the league, so they, he, the team, the league, the fans, can “move forward.”

The NFL comes out nicely, for the same reasons. And at the least avoids a lengthy and further embarassing drawn out federal court process on the heels of last years messes, and possibly more: Brady possibly getting a stay and dragging this out. Or even more likely Judge Berman suspending all four games and the NFL facing an appeal to even try to get that reversed. (Which in such a case would be unlikely to happen by an appeals court, who will give the Judge wide discretion; and he certaintly would have acted within it on the grounds that at least some of the four games is attributable to non cell phone cooperation which may be outside the bounds of the reasonable expectations of the CBA for something like on field equipment issues.)

And, though it’s not technically on the table, even if the Judge splits the decision since he knows it’s going to get appealed anyway, whereas the parties “might” accept a split ruling (and thus no appeal court has to rule on whether it was appropriate or not), the NFL comes out looking better having settled.

The problem is the NFL probably doesn’t see it that way. And that’s why Judge Berman is right to prompt settlement. It’s not the courts role to step in for parties that have solvable disputes but won’t out of stubborness or pride. Our court system is to settle questions of law and fact. Those are secondary here – and even barely at that.

What isn’t, is an NFL that has lost in the court system and wants to role the dice yet again to see if it can “get a win” while adding to the chances of its losses piling up. And again, in their last losses the rulings were mainly after the fact anyway – and there is no restitution for missed football games – once gone they are gone – so they didn’t really have much impact on what the NFL had done, and very unlike what will be the case here.

And a commissioner in Goodell who may be operating on pride. The owners may like it because Goodell makes them money, and “it’s the Patriots, they deserve it, remember them filming the Jets! Plus they always win.” But settling it accomplishes the same thing, and extinguishes the NFL’s downside while not losing all that much to the upside anyway.

This also presupposes Brady would go two games. Brady might be prideful himself, particularly if he’s less culpable than Goodell (and many others) inherently believe. But if the report is true that he’s willing to go one game, then going a second to get the Patriots draft pick back is the right move. And Brady’s no dope. Explained right – and again, if he was willing to go 1 game anyway – he’ll do it. (The only real problem is who they play in week 2 – addressed at the conclusion of this piece shortly below.)

Not settling this thing is a waste of our courts’ time, and our sports reporters’ time (even if some love it) covering this mess ongoing, instead of covering football. Jimmy Miller’s encapsulation of the whole thing as “ridiculous” might have been over the top – and it’s certainly not a ridiculous matter to violate rules with equipment to get an edge. And it also shouldn’t be tolerated. But it’s not being tolerated.

And while Miller’s position is one end of the spectrum, at this point the NFL’s is near the other. A two game settlement with the loss of a very high draft pick and a fine is still closer to the NFL’s side than to most NFL quarterbacks’ opinion on the matter. (Not counting Mark Brunell). To not take that and muck up our court system and football time with non football created drama (when there’s plenty of real life and relevant drama getting insufficient coverage) is a waste, and foolish. The parties involved may not even know how good most of them have it in life. Get some perspective, settle this fairly, and let’s play some football. With Brady starting in week 3, versus the Vikings.

Fact is, to go up and give the NFL what Goodell was willing to do anyway – miss a second game, which is at the Bills, a team that’s going to challenge the Patriots for the division this year – the Pats will get worse case a 4th round pick back.

If the Patriots and their negotiators can’t get that done, either they need some new negotiators, or the NFL Commissioner needs to some anti stubborness counseling. Or maybe they just need the idea presented to them.

The 2015 NFL Draft and the Blockbuster Trade That Wasn’t

Despite great anticipation, no blockbuster trade ups to grab a top 5 pick in the 2105 NFL draft were ever announced. Continue reading

The Unusual Reason an Adrian Peterson Trade Between the Cowboys and Vikings Could Benefit Both Teams

Last updated 6-22-15

Many NFL trades can easily help one team while not really benefiting, or even possibly hurting, the other.

For example, one team assesses the overall situation better, and simply receives more in terms of value for their team than what they gave up; and despite different needs or “philosophies,” the same doesn’t apply to their trading partner.

Exceptions occur when each of the involved teams has very different weak links, and the trade legitimately helps fill both of them.

So, for example, more often than not a trade for a good running back harms one team and helps the other. Or it’s neutral. That is, unless one team has a plethora of great running backs, or backs with particular skill sets – such as great hands and blocking skills – and the other team doesn’t have any. And the team weak in backs in return fills a different need for their trading partner; one that doesn’t give up the same or greater ultimate value to their team (such as a high draft pick for instance) in the process.

But the Adrian Peterson situation is a little unique for a few reasons. And because of the oddities involved, Peterson can elect to bring something to the deal that may make a trade for him between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings – if structured correctly – advantageous for both teams. (The fact that the Cowboys are being reported to have less overt interest in trading for Peterson since the first draft of this piece was written almost two weeks ago, doesn’t mean they aren’t interested, or that the possibly unique factors to a Vikings Cowboys Peterson trade don’t still apply.)

To get a feel for why most of the trade ideas being bandied about (with the exception possibly of John Clayton’s, for instance) would be a gain for the Minnesota Vikings, and a loss for their trading partner, and then how Peterson might be able to make a trade between the Cowboys and Vikings make sense for both teams, let’s take a closer look at the issue:

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Former Cowboys’ running back Demarco Murray’s average yard per carry dropped remarkably in college from his first two, to his last two, college seasons. But he’s been relatively solid since entering the league as a strong value pick in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL draft. Then he tore it up last season. (1,845 yards, though his ypc, at 4.7, was a little lower than his career high in of 5.1, over the course of 1,121 yards rushing, which he hit the year before.)

The Cowboys, however, recently lost Murray in free agency, They also lost him to a pricey, possibly not too exorbitant contract with division rival Philadelphia. Philly, in turn, had given up their star “Slim Shady” LeSean McCoy, in a startling trade with the Bills in return for star 3rd year linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Yet the team from Dallas may have a better running back right now than people think. (And if the Cowboys truly are a little less interested than they seemingly were, or that people presumed, this could be part of the reason why.) Demarco Murray has consistently been good, and had a great year last season; but he may have also greatly benefited from an exceptional Dallas offensive line.

Cowboys new running back Darren McFadden, who comes over from Oakland at a fraction of the price that Murray commanded, had the opposite “benefit”; repeatedly getting hammered behind the line of scrimmage. In fact, Murray reportedly leads the league over the last three years in total number of times hit behind the line of scrimmage.

Some of that could be McFadden’s doing, but much of it likely wasn’t. And for much of the time McFadden also had the relative detriment of a team that also had a fairly insubstantial passing game, and one of the most consistently challenged offenses in the NFL. (McFadden also holds a lifetime 4.1 ypc average, which behind that Oakland line may not compare too poorly to Murray’s 4.8 behind the Dallas line.)

Though good opportunities or not, McFadden has often not looked as good as the promise he showed very early on (or as good as he looked coming out of college, where he was the 4th pick overall in 2008), and more importantly has been fairly injury prone.

Adrian Peterson, meanwhile, is one of the best running backs to ever play in the NFL, and the best pure running back in the NFL the last few seasons, bar none. (Though Peterson turned 30 toward the end of March. While McFadden, almost two and a half years younger, will turn 28 this August.)

So how could a trade “possibly” benefit both the Vikings and Cowboys? And why would most of the suggestions that talk of high picks going to the Vikings in return for acquiring Peterson under his current contract, would heavily favor the Vikings at the expense of their trading partner?

A fey key considerations that are often overlooked come into important play here:

The first is that it’s not just about how good a player is, it’s about how much a player’s cost is relative to how good he is. In other words, in a salary cap league, it’s about dollar value.

There is a limitation on this though:”Player availability.” There’s no unlimited supply of players for teams that maximize cap dollars to choose from, as most are under contract with other teams. So simply spending the “right” amount is only part of the full equation – the team still needs to get good players, or good potential players, one way or another.

But the free agent, or “available” player pool is relatively small to begin with. since the supply of players actually available is very limited. So sometimes getting the right players is challenging, particularly when combined with utilizing salary space wisely.

Due to its nature, free agency also sometimes results in a casual or de-facto bidding competition. This can further limits teams’ ability to pick up good value relative to the money spent; at least for the more marquee and some of the better known players. And it almost makes it a good strategy to sit back and let other teams pick up pricey offseason free agents.

But doing that then limits the “true” pool of available players for salary cap maximizing decisions even further.

So while teams have to maximize their value in terms of what they pay out in salary, the pool of practical available opportunity to do so is somewhat limited. And but for the rare free agent who has been widely undervalued by the rest of the league, the opportunity to do so for great value relative to the salary spent is extremely low.

That is, with one extremely notable, and extremely undervalued exception: The NFL draft. The draft presents a nearly unlimited pool of potential NFL players, many of whom will turn out to be very good.

And, there’s a second, also extremely important component to the draft that isn’t available to teams when going after free agents: The huge possibility of extra value versus the salary paid.

This exists because new draftees are just entering the league and are paid less, and because their multi-year contracts are usually based on their draft position. (Rookie salaries are also limited by a separate pool, but this pool only places a secondary limit; it’s not exclusive to the team’s overall salary cap, which includes all salaries, including rookies’.) And for most draft choices, these contracts tend to be fairly modest.

This offers tremendous upside relative to salary for most draft picks, and gives limited downside: The salaries are usually already low, and, aside for small signing bonuses in most cases, are unilateral: The team can always let a player go and cut even small losses further. Thus there’s almost no downside risk, and very high upside since a player can easily outperform the value of his contract several times over.

As a result, between the key opportunity to tap into a far wider pool of available talent, and the value side of being able to do so under the modest contract structure, most of the draft slots represent a great but somewhat hidden value. This is because many draft prospects turn out to be either solid or very good, and have very reasonable to excellent salaries relative to what is offered in terms of building and maintaining a dominant winning team.

Note that the top draft slots offer even more in the way of choice, but don’t offer as much of this hidden salary value because these choices often command a much higher multi year contract price. With often far more guaranteed money, meaning more of their “expected” value is already priced in, there is also more downside if the very top draft choices don’t work out well, and also less upside when the player is strong. (Albeit – and the overly focused on point of very high picks – at least this tends to be more often. But a college prospect’s NFL performance is still somewhat unpredictable.)

All of this makes mid to high draft choices extremely valuable – and, if not as valuable as the highest picks (even with the salary priced in most cases) – probably more valuable than most teams are realizing. And certainly more valuable than they are realizing based on examination of every draft trade, and many involving draft picks, going back a dozen or so years. (This gives a pretty good handle on how teams are valuing each slotted pick. Then there is also that “chart,” which is heavily relied upon, and which, along with draft valuation, warrants a book. But short version for NFL teams: Throw that chart out the window. Or hold onto it solely for use in negotiating favorable deals with other teams, who may be looking to the chart for guidelines, and your team can use it for leverage or assessment of what your potential trading partners might do or might be persuaded to do.)

This is also one of the hidden reasons why teams often make big mistakes when they “trade up” several otherwise solid picks, just to move up to one single very high number pick. (This mistake is also covered a little bit in The Hidden Challenge in NFL Draft Evaluation.) Thus normally any team with a high pick that can talk another team into giving them several in return should usually do it.

Yes the first team could have kept the pick and gotten a “star.” But they often pay a pretty hefty salary; so while it’s often worth it to pick that possible to sometimes likely star, a lot of the hidden value of excellent performance well above salary is gone by holding onto the very high selection, valuable as it otherwise certainly is.

And the player may turn out to be average, making the draft choice a negative for the team. Or, worse, and not so rare, the player may turn out out be a bust, or close enough. In either case, the team is paying more than the player winds up being worth, and in the latter far more so, and far more than most other draft choices, which is one of the no no’s of drafting, since drafting is the key value opportunity in NFL football.

On the other hand, while any draft choice can work out poorly after the fact, with far lower salaries the downside is far lower (as is the loss of having to cut a player and thus wind up getting very little from the pick, if the team otherwise has a lot of picks), whilemost of the hidden value of the several picks being lost in exchange is gone by trading them away in return for just one pick, and that real value often isn’t being fully recognized.

Bottom line: Draft choices matter, and are often far more underestimated in value than they are overestimated – particularly the middle and middle high picks.

On the other hand, as important as the draft is, there’s still the ever present issue of simple player availability and “need”: A draft provides broad opportunity. But it’s not unlimited. Giving a pick away for a good player to whom a team is already agreeing to pay a salary commensurate with his ability, is normally a bad move; but, while it does waste the upside value of the draft choice, and it doesn’t represent “salary cap” value, it can fill a perceived “need” for the team.  Well crafted, and when the need filled at least exceeds the cost being paid sufficient to make up for the loss of the draft pick, such a trade can make sense: Meaning the team still got good value for that player relative to their salary, has a huge need for that player in terms of their specific weaknesses and strengths – which also provides a little extra value to them on top of general market value – and these together are sufficient enough to outweigh the pure loss of the most valuable possession in football: A draft pick, and free opportunity to build your team with minimal downside, and huge upside.

But with trades there isn’t necessarily any built in value to the opportunity aside from the value which, by sharp assessment and decision making, teams create from their moves; just as with free agency acquisition. But that value can still be created by fashioning a trade which is at least beneficial to your team.

Aside from finding a trading partner who mis-perceives the value they are both giving up and receiving, the simplest way to do this (particularly since teams often don’t trade much) – is to create a trade which can benefit both teams:

Sometimes specific team needs, in terms of position strengths, weaknesses, depth or overall utilization of that position on the field can be different enough between trading partners so that trades, can be of benefit for both teams: even trades involving the more difficult to value draft choices, as most trades do.

Obviously all of this applies to the most fundamental task of having a successful, or even dominant, NFL franchise. That is, building and improving the team, and beside the key component of training, practice and on field execution and passion, the remaining two key components therein: The draft, and, secondarily, acquisition and improvement through other means – free agency and trades.

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But without Peterson, the Vikings have a need at running back just as the Cowboys do. Possibly even more – though given McFadden’s injury history it’s not a clear cut evaluation. There’s seemingly no major need divergence, and any divergence points to the Vikings perhaps needing a starting running back even more than the Cowboys.

So, barring one team making a mistake (which presently is the most likely possibility), how is value created for both teams?

The first possible relevant distinction between teams is that Peterson apparently doesn’t want to be associated with the Vikings. (So, frankly, if a deal was in theory a complete “wash,” it would be in the Vikings interest to do it, because there’s that unknown for them that doesn’t exist for other teams: The fact that Peterson may hold a bit of a grudge aginst the team, or at least not be very motivated to play for them. And even if that factor bears no relevance to his actual value to them (see below), one could also make an argument that if it’s otherwise no loss for the Vikings, given the situation it’s better from a human and business perspective to respect his wishes, since relative to a “neutral” trade it does the Vikings no good to not do so. Sure, there’s the argument of precedent setting for disgruntled players, but the Peterson situation is unique, as we’ll cover shortly, so it probably doesn’t apply.)

Last season, on the heels of the Ray Rice Roger Goodell Brouhaha, the Vikings suspended Peterson for aggressively using a “switch” – we can pretty much all agree – to greatly over-discipline his very young child. (Most experts, and I concur, say there’s no reason to ever hit a child. But if one disagrees with that, my suggestion is it should certainly be symbolic, mild, never with even a hint of anger, on a soft part of the body, accompanied by clear explanation, and extremely rare.) The NFL was already taking a public relations hit, and sensitive to matters involving NFL players given the Ray Rice incident and the rather poor way it was handled, many were outraged by Peterson’s seemingly medieval ways; and although he otherwise has a record of doing excellent charity work on behalf of children, it doesn’t excuse the discipline which if not in Peterson’s mind, at least in others’, crossed into abuse.

So the Vikings suspended him (before briefly unsuspending him, then doing so again for what ultimately became the entire season minus one game), even before our court system had weighed in on any culpability or recommendations, and before the NFL acted as well.

From Peterson’s perspective, though it’s not clear he had an issue with the idea of some disciplinary response from the team, he thought the Vikings acted hastily, made him into a bit of a pariah, and treated it as if the only thing that mattered was their appearance, regardless of their relationship with him.

Right or wrong, and despite questionable arguments like this one (see number 9, in an Adam Schein NFL article which also, by the way, suggests several draft day “move ups,” all of which are bad ideas for the reasons expressed in this piece and others), Peterson’s perspective in this regard is vaguely reasonable. Whether he should or shouldn’t want to play for the team is another question; but him not wanting to certainly doesn’t seem completely whimsical.

So, would he impart more value to another team than to Minnesota simply due to the fact that he might not play as well for them?

Likely not. Peterson’s a professional and an athlete first on the field, and it’s hard to say what role, if any, all this would eventually play; particularly since it’s a team game and he would ultimately be out there on the field both with and for his teammates as well. Many analysts have suggested he would play well for the Vikings if he remained, and while it’s hard to know for sure if a little something extra in terms of “spirit” would be missing or not, I tend to concur.

Another idea is the “one piece away” theory, common in the NFL. Thus, here, there’s the idea that Dallas is “one piece” away from a championship, while the Vikings aren’t, so Peterson is more valuable to Dallas.

While not worthless, this over relied upon notion should be used extremely carefully. Components to a team matter – improve your weakest links since that’s the room for the most improvement (and normally the easiest to acquire improvement at, relatively speaking, anyway), at the lowest cost.  But it’s a team game, and not usually a “one piece is missing” game. And improve your weakest links applies to all teams, not just “really good” teams.

Additionally, future team performance is usually less predictable than we think. In this case, while my (probably widely held) prediction is Dallas will be a better team than Minnesota in 2015, that’s only if forced to speculate at this moment; it’s not as clear cut as people think. (On the other hand, if they didn’t have such a poor offseason, and don’t also botch the upcoming draft as they have some of the past few drafts, I could say the Rams will be a team to watch out for in 2015, relative to their recent NFL history. They still likely will be to some extent.)

Dallas may continue to win, or fall back to being a strong team that nevertheless manages to toe up with the best in the league yet falls to 8-8. (Recall them in 2013 going head to head with a Denver team that almost no other team matched that year. Not always, but typically when lesser teams hang with a dominant team, it’s a lower scoring game; yet Dallas somewhat outplayed Denver in a major scoring fest, going toe to toe, round for round, the entire game. Remember also that before getting demolished in the Super Bowl, again by their offense being stifled, Denver in 2013 specifically was one of the more dominant teams in recent NFL history.)

Aside from Dallas, Minnesota may surprise, as they were an improving team last year, with a rookie quarterback who didn’t even get in a full season.

Who knows. But team’s are rarely so “one piece away.” And if they are that good, perhaps the lesser team that may not be as “lesser” as we or their management thinks, and for better value in return, could benefit more from that key piece that the better team thinks it’s “benefiting” more from.  And here it’s almost silly to say Dallas is Championship game bound with a great running back while Minnesota doesn’t have much of a chance. We don’t know, nor can they know. (By the start of the season however, players and coaches, if there is a specific intensity, can sometimes know their chances are very strong, despite public perception.)

The fact is, right now Minnesota may need a running back slightly more than Dallas, if anything – or at least the two teams are not lopsided in terms of disparate need.

So on balance – unless Peterson, albeit unlikely, simply wouldn’t give his all if stays with the Vikings – any argument overall that “Dallas will benefit more,”  from Peterson than the Vikings is probably just nice sounding words. (Though granted, there are a lot of those. In fact, the world is dominated by them.) Second year man Teddy Bridgewater, who showed promise in his rookie year at QB, might like having a nice running back to hand the ball off to and maybe entice defenses to crowd the box.

Again, barring a desire on the part of Minnesota to respect Peterson’s wishes despite the fact they clearly don’t have to, or a reasoned belief he won’t play as well for them as he would for another team, there’s really little way for a trade for Peterson to make great sense for one team, while not in reality hurting the other, or otherwise simply being a “neutral.”

But Peterson can do something that can create value for both teams: And at the same time – if at 31 years old he is no longer the same running back next year – decrease the chances of his new suitor accepting their losses and after giving up a high draft pick and nearly thirteen million dollars, waive him next season to save an additional 15 million dollars (plus 17 million for the following season.)
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It’s been suggested that Dallas give up a first round pick for the trade. (One analyst I love listening to for his football insight, even if I sometimes don’t agree, even casually suggested two first rounders – which would be close to highway robbery by the Vikings.)  But a first rounder, under Peterson’s current salary, isn’t even close to equitable.

Peterson has three years remaining on his contract, and a team trading anything of legitimate worth for him would likely lose value if they didn’t employ him for all three years; or at least two, pending the details of the trade. This season he’s due to make $12.75 million. Almost thirteen million. Next season it goes up to $14.75 million; almost 15 million. The season after that – 2017, in which Peterson will be 32 years old – it goes up to almost 17 million dollars.

That’s a lot of coin, to use an already well coined expression.

Seemingly chilling views on child discipline aside (views that have probably now been adequately quashed by input from many, and the experience), given the opportunity Peterson has done a lot for kids with his charity work, was raised to believe his strange discipline tactics were right, and seemingly loves his kid and (not that it makes up for abusive “discipline), otherwise may be a good enough dad. Yet his team didn’t seem to support him in the least.

Community, country, legal system, no one has to support Peterson. But his team could have at least stepped up a bit and had some loyalty to their own player, given that a football team is not our justice system, even if the broader NFL sometimes tries to be.

Players may get uptight or have too many imagined grievances. It’s in our nature as people. And Peterson did a wrong. But if his view is “I don’t really want to play for the Vikings,” it may not be completely unreasonable in one sense.

In other sense, former GM extraordinaire Bill Polian, who called the idea of Peterson playing for another team a “complete fantasy,” has a valid point we all know: he’s under contract. (And Minnesota seems to need a running back.)

But the idea that Peterson may play for another team, although unlikely, is not – as Polian put it recently  “not reality.” (Note, Polian, who usually gives excellent insight and is worth listening to, made the statement, along with the suggestion that Peterson possibly playing for another team was “not reality,” on Sirius’ “Late Hits”probably around two weeks ago; and the first draft of this piece – wherein the line suggesting it was reality, if unlikely, for Peterson to play for another team – was written shortly thereafter. I think Polian was overly keyed in on reasonably refuting the idea that Peterson could just demand to be traded and thus “be traded” simply because he “didn’t like the way the Vikings handled something,” where, aside from a personal wrong, he had more broadly committed a wrong as well under the NFLPA, and got caught.)

Trades are reality, and the Vikings could very easily make a trade, and may have some incentive to do so. And, depending on how badly he wants to play for another team – say Dallas, for example, Peterson’s alleged favorite team and one he ostensibly would really like to play for – and how badly he doesn’t want to play for the Vikings, an unusual but potent wild card enters into this picture that could make the trade manageable, even potentially beneficial, for both teams.

First, recapping why it’s not without something else added to the mix: Minnesota would likely want (and expect) a high draft pick of better for Peterson. Dallas, or any other team, would be giving up too much value on their part to part with such a pick on top of the fact that Peterson already commands a very high salary. (And the fact is, while he’s a fantastic runner, some of his extra yardage came from the fact that he could lower his head and bowl people over – which he was good at. Now if it that’s done in a clear and direct way, it’s a penalty. Could be coincidence, but worth noting: In Peterson’s one season after the new rule was passed his average yard per carry dropped to 4.5, a full half yard below his lifetime average (an average that includes his last year playing – 2013 – where he had that 4.5 average).

But there are two components, the lesser, and first of the two being again that Peterson in theory might not play quite as hard for Minnesota as for another team.

Suppose Minnesota believes, or has reason to believe, that a disgruntled Peterson will play hard for them, but perhaps not with the same fire he might otherwise have. Even if not, Peterson could somewhat convincingly tell them: “I will run hard, but I feel like you – my team – abandoned me in my darkest hour after a terrible mistake, and so I won’t have that deep burning desire I had, and won’t be able to give it may all.” (He could also be bluffing, or mean it when he says it but later realize he’s a football player. You play. It’s what non professional athletes who are competitive and love giving it their all do. And though the hitting can be a little more unpleasant in the NFL – where a focus on hitting hard has sometimes transcended even a focus on correct tackling technique – it’s what football players who are professional, particularly if they love the game, do.)

On the other hand, Dallas has perennially been an average to above average team, and as an unusually good road team and poor home team last season out played Green Bay in Green Bay (where from early mid season on GB was dominant, and Green Bay then should have beaten the Seahawks in the Championship game in Seattle; and as we all know, the Seahawks came within a hair of beating the Patriots in Super Bowl 49.) So, while hard to predict, a Dallas first rounder for 2016 stands a good chance of being a late first rounder. This spring they pick 27th – very late.

Minnesota may not realize the extra value late first round picks present. There is much less salary cost, but almost as much upside player potential as with a higher pick. But they still recognize much of that value, and it is still a “first round pick.”

But on the flip side this is still a huge amount to give up, for the same reasons stated above: Player pool availability is limited, but virtually unlimited draft wise, and low first round picks are near perfect opportunities to tap it, with tremendous upside, and relatively low downside.

Ditto, if slightly mildly, for a second rounder, and, frankly – again considering that for a 30-32 year old running back being paid almost 15 million a year, and the fact that high middle draft picks are undervalued – to some extent for a third rounder as well. (I’m not sure, at least if I was Dallas, that I would even trade a trade a fourth rounder, as John Clayton predicted would be the trade, since McFadden might turn out to be pretty solid, and 15 million per year can purchase a lot of team improvement when used wisely. I think Clayton was more realistic in assessing what a reasonable trade would approach, but I also disagree with it as a “prediction”: I can almost guarantee – barring the extremely unlikely event of teams getting hold of and believing what is in this piece you’re reading, that if Peterson is traded it is for something higher than a 4th rounder.)

Now here’s the twist, the extra value for both teams, in terms of a trade, that Peterson could create if he wanted.

Peterson in theory could sit out. This is normally a bad move, unless a player really doesn’t want to play, and doesn’t care about the money.  If he sat out, he’d make nothing. There also don’t appear to be any real signs this is a possibility (but who knows, strange things do happen).

He could also play for a team he ostensibly really doesn’t want to play for.

Now enter Dallas. It just so happens that given the loss of Murray and McFadden’s recent history and heavy injury pattern, that they may have dropped at running back. (Again, it’s hard to tell because McFadden has upside, and so is a bit of a wild card here, but his salary is relatively low, about $3m/yr.)

Picking up Peterson would strengthen them, and if McFadden isn’t strong any more, or he gets injured – both possibilities, particularly the second given his history of foot problems – it would strengthen them a lot. (And ditto for some other teams.)

So, what if Dallas could get additional “value” for Peterson as well, that isn’t available for Minnesota: That is, Minnesota gains more by letting Peterson go, than Dallas gives up by acquiring him.  And they may be able to, depending on Adrian Peterson.

Another team could do this as well; several need running backs, and the most likely candidate for a trade appears to be the Cardinals, who will likely overcompensate for Peterson if such a trade is announced. Peterson could slightly facilitate such a trade as well, since it means he’s out of Minnesota, but it’s not Dallas, who’s apparently Peterson’s favorite team and a team he would reportedly love to play for. Yet in theory all of this could apply to Arizona as well, if Peterson is willing. And if so it might make more sense for Arizona, because again, the McFadden wild card is not necessarily a large “weakness” at running back for the Cowboys.)

This extra value could come in two forms. First, it could come in the form of enthusiasm. Peterson is a Cowboys fan. How cool to be able to play for your favorite football team. Yet even if combined with the “chance” Peterson won’t reach as deep down to play hard for Minnesota, this is probably slight.

Second, it could come in the form of money. This is not slight.

Though it may seem odd to some, once one has “enough” (different amounts for different people and philosophies) more money doesn’t really matter as much. Living comfortably Peterson can already be set for life. Sometimes people with a lot of money, including some players, see this, and employ it. Peterson may just want to play, and may be willing to restructure his deal to play for the team he wants to play for, and not for the team that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with after last season. (Note also that in 2016 and 2017 he will be 31 and 32, and making near 15 and 17 million, none of which is apparently guaranteed, and barring stellar performance he may be waived or possibly asked to restructure first anyway.)

On the one hand, one could look at this and say “but he’s giving up millions!” But on the other he’s getting paid to play running back in the NFL. You get hit hard, but if you can keep out of the way of concussions (and that new lowering of the head rule benefits Peterson in terms of avoiding concussions as well) and hopefully keep your knees together, running with the ball doesn’t have to destroy running backs, and often doesn’t. (We’re made to run, even cut, despite popular opinion; just not constantly be hit and torqued in the knees by others.)

Getting paid to play running back is pretty cool. It’s like a bonus, since running back, for those who truly like football, including the hitting, is a lot of fun. Playing hard, for hard playing athletes (whether crappy athletes who just like to play and who are rugged, or star athletes), is fun.

And Peterson would be paid millions to do is. A big improvement on last season.

Thus, the wild card twist. Peterson plays a little poker with the Vikings (who may be fully aware he’s doing it, but it still serves its purpose)

I was fine not playing last year. Football bangs up my knees, concussions damage the brain long term, I’ve made money, you guys abandoned me last year as I was made out to be a national pariah, I’m fine – even happy, sitting out. I want you to trade me, but if you don’t, I may be almost as happy just not playing, or just doing my duty, but is it worth 13, then 15, then 17 million to you?

Depending on how well he or his agent delivers it, and how much he means it, the Vikings could legitimately buy into this a little bit. And more importantly buy into the fact that they may have a running back who is perhaps semi-legitimately pissed at them, and doesn’t really see the point in staying loyal, contract or no contract. Businesses break contracts, and teams have the right to drop them while the player’s still  “on the hook.” That is, Peterson can’t break the contract, but they can’t force him to play. He just sacrifices his rights under it.  Better they all make a clean start. It’s what you sometimes do in the NFL.

Enter Peterson again, and now with the key addition:

Why don’t you trade me, that way you win, I’m not so disgruntled – which means you win again – and I might even restructure a bit to make a trade where you get adequately compensated, make sense.”

If the Vikings are thinking, this does make sense. They lose his salary, a gain to them of almost 13, then almost 15, then almost 17 million dollars. A total of a little over $44 million over 3 years (unless they wound up later waiving him anyway, making trading him now more valuable for them, not less). And they pick up value in the form of a draft pick. And they don’t have a guy on the roster who doesn’t want to play for them despite the fact they were paying him a lot of money to.

But the trade has to make sense for another team as well. Enter shrewd Dallas, who recognizes the value of draft picks, but doesn’t have much else to offer the Vikings. They have McFadden, the wild card, but on one hand he’s an unknown to semi disappointment by this point, and there’s that extensive injury history.

How about a running back who can absolutely pound it, who wants to for their team, and who they don’t need to break the bank to get?

Adrian P knocks off a few to several million a year from his current salary.  That represents a few to several million in value per year the Cowboys are getting, at least in theory, for a year or two any way. And since the last two years are the most unreliable in terms of prediction, Peterson and his agent knock more off the back two years, so if he works out reasonably well, the Cowboys save a bundle versus having to keep him at a whopping 15 and 17 million a year in ’16 and ’17 (or even cut him and devalue the initial acquisition, and loss of a draft pick for it, in the first place.) .

Now, unless Peterson gave up a LOT (which he may well do because he doesn’t want to play for Minnesota and does wan to play for Dallas and may want to help them) the deal still doesn’t make perfect sense for Dallas.

A late 1st rounder is still too much. (Minnesota may not see if that way for the same reason that Dallas may be willing to do it even with a modest salary reduction for Peterson; but Peterson can sell it as per above.)

So Minnesota throws in a 3rd or 4th round pick in 2016. Ideally Dallas should press for a 3rd rounder, in which case Dallas suddenly swapped their (late) 1st rounder for a mid 3rd rounder – a significant value drop off, no doubt – but picks up probably still the best running back in the NFL, at a substantial discount, which discount can be used to sign more players. At least in theory, though again it will still take ongoing work given the limited player pool, but opportunities always abound for the prepared team. And at least they didn’t lose a net draft pick. A 3d rounder isn’t nearly as valuable, but its still a pretty strong – and underrated – pick, and at least gives Dallas the same number of choices.

The Vikings lose a disgruntled player who was from one perspective possibly legitimate in his desire to move on from the team after a bizarre 2014 – and gain enormous amounts of cap space and savings – and now have two first round picks this or next spring!

From the Cowboys’ perspective, it could be worth getting the Vikings 4th rounder instead of 3rd (a sizable drop off) if Peterson convinces them he is really to fly and cuts off at least a few million a year, giving them back at least that value they gave up and giving them the additional benefit of then having Peterson – which even at his current (higher) salary, if he still runs well, is probably worth it. (Certainly it would for the Cardinals, and perhaps for another team. But again I would be surprised if the Cardinals or another team doesn’t both pay Peterson more, and give up more, if such a deal does in fact occur.)

Another option is to have Peterson lower his salary for Dallas, and Dallas gives up a 3rd rounder.(Or a 3rd rounder plus they swap a 6th in return for a 7th to give the Vikings a little extra value to boot, since Dallas also only has their one pick late in the round 3rd round this spring, and a late 3rd rounder is different from an early 3rd rounder.)

But again Minnesota may not be as keen on that.Then again they may if Peterson sells his disinterest in football, or at least disinterest in Minnesota, sufficiently; why have a player on the roster being paid a fortune who doesn’t really want to be there, when you can save the fortune and gain some value for it.

The key here is the extra value that Peterson has the power to create given his high salary, and his strong desires (pro – Cowboys, con – Vikings). If offered, and they can’t possibly negotiate for any more from anyone else, the Vikings would probably be foolish or stubborn to pass this up:

The fact that they were not required to suspend Peterson, Peterson was not initially suspended by the league, and yet the Vikings instead suspended him indefinitely and he didn’t play for almost the entire season, means that while it is fine for them to legitimately hold him to his contract, they should also respect his wishes to not play for them if a way can be found to accomplish this that also benefits the Vikings simultaneously, or at the very least leaves them as well off in terms of overall potential and value, as they were.

The deal as just laid out doesn’t hurt the Vikings, and would probably benefit them – they’re saving many many millions. It would, at least based upon potential, likely benefit the Cowboys as well – they’re getting a player plus the extra value of those millions shaved off each year that they can now apply back to their salary cap and later player acquisition or rollover; and it would benefit Peterson, since it gets him what he wants if he was willing to do this. He may not be willing, but it could make sense from his perspective. Easy to miss, money really isn’t everything, particularly when you have a lot of it.

It probably won’t happen. But it could. And more importantly, it would make more sense for all parties involved. Unless Peterson just wants the higher salary. But again, that very high – and on a now aging player, creeping higher – salary, is the wild card here, that, due to special circumstances, can create value. It makes possible what Peterson can bring to the table to make the move worthwhile and get accomplished what he wants – out of Minnesota, in a way that allows Minnesota to do it, and that also benefits his new team:

The Dallas “Darren McFadden” Cowboys.

Two Key Things Overlooked in the Ray Rice NFL Roger Goodell Brouhaha

An initial two game suspension, over a domestic violence incident, for then Baltimore running back Ray Rice handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this summer, led to a public outcry over its seeming leniency.

Subsequently, Goodell re-examined how the NFL had handled the issue, and issued a public apology, stating, “we didn’t get it right,” and took full responsibility for it.

Concomitant with that proclamation, Goodell also stated the NFL was toughening its domestic violence policy for any employees in the NFL. Under this new policy, a first time domestic violence offense would carry a six game suspension.  A second offense would carry a ban from the league, with the right to petition for reinstatement after a period of one year.

Less than two weeks ago, a TMZ procured video publicly emerged of the actual incident – showing what many thought we already knew – Rice hitting his then fiance sufficient to knock her down, hit her head, and cause her to temporarily lose consciousness as a result. But it also showed – or clarified – that the punch was not all half-hearted, but delivered in fairly brutal appearing fashion.

So, boom. The NFL, in response, argued that the video showed the facts to be not quite what the NFL thought or was led to believe, even despite the NFL’s apology only a few weeks before, and that therefore “suspending” the initial two game suspension and instituting a full six game NFL suspension for Rice, at least consistent with the NFL’s new domestic violence rules, was appropriate and warranted.

Except the NFL didn’t.

Within a matter of only a few hours after the video surfaced on TMZ on Monday, September 8, Ray’s team, the Baltimore Ravens, who assumedly should have known that Rice had hit his fiance on purpose, that she had fallen, hit her head, and was knocked out, acted as if the video was one of the more frightful and “new,” things ever seen, and immediately cut Rice from the team. (Although as that last link shows, head coach John Harbaugh, on the other hand, did appear generous in terms of the team’s, or at least Harbaugh’s, continued commitment toward otherwise being supportive of, and available for, Rice.)

Shortly after and again within a few hours total of the public release of the video, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely. (Note, in the second draft of this article, I wrote “Goodell” instead of Rice. It was probably a Freudian slip. And perhaps a good idea.)

Why was not clear.  But, along with the Ravens’ actions, it made it seem as if the video conflicted tremendously with what had been known and thought.  Yet the video, while it may have added some information (though that is still not completely clear), showed what was generally thought to be already known. Rice hit her – hard, as it turns out, she fell, and knocked her head.

And, this response of the Ravens and the NFL made it seem as if the video was some sort of stunning revelation for the NFL. And therefore, and notwithstanding their subsequent apology over it and statement of domestic violence policy intensification as a result – it made the NFL’s initial handling of the matter appear completely out of sync with the NFL’s general illegal off the field activity guidelines and policies. And made the NFL and Goodell in particular, appear even more insensitive to the issue of domestic violence.

Thus, despite the initial, pre-video appearance apology, it made it seem like the NFL didn’t really pay attention to the matter initially, and that it treated or treats domestic violence like some sort of lesser issue.

In short, it made the NFL seem as if it had its hand caught in the cookie jar. Only it wasn’t cookies here, it was domestic violence, and the brutal image of an athletic running back lashing out and violently punching his fiance and immediately felling her to the ground; and then, in footage already seen months earlier, acting drunk and indifferent while trying to move her out of the elevator, until a hotel employee appeared and asked him to hold up.

And, in short, it was also one of the most ill advised moves the NFL could possibly have made. By the Ravens and the NFL engaging in this knee jerk, and rather severe fashion almost immediately upon the release of the video, it made it seem as if the NFL, despite issuing punishment even more severe than under its new, reasonably strong, domestic violence policy, was soft on domestic violence and trying to cover up for a mistake, as if it hadn’t already acknowledged that mistake – thereby undoing the commissioner’s initial forthcoming-ness and humble, candid, acknowledgement of said mistake, and also making it seem that the NFL didn’t know what it was doing.

The facts as to how and why the NFL handled this the way that it did are still not fully known – although as of just this afternoon, courtesy of an explosive new report by ESPN’s Outside the Lines, it has become more apparent that the Ravens played a large role in the initial mild handling of this by the NFL. Which in turn complicated the matter for the NFL. Which, in turn, from a PR standpoint, itself then handled the matter abysmally. That is, as the ESPN link suggests, the Ravens’ president was allegedly told that the video was “f***ing horrible” appearing, and other Raven personnel reportedly had the video described to them.

What is known is what happened:  Rice and his then Fiance Janay Palmer (now Janay Rice), both drunk – Janay apparently, and possibly both of them – very much so, walked into an elevator in an Atlantic City casino, in a spat. According to the AP, which was played a recording of the elevator security tape not made available to the public which included audio, they were cursing at each other. Inside the elevator, as the footage has clearly shown America, Janay, moving toward him, barely tapped Rice, just as she had several yards outside of the elevator – about as much of a threat as a kitten is to a Lion.

Rice then cold cocked her with one very swift punch, causing her to fall over. On the way down, she hit her head on the elevator railing, and in her inebriated state, apparently passed out.

Rice – as has already been well known since both the NFL and the public had seen this part of the footage months before the NFL issued its suspension – then awkwardly, and without much apparent concern, tried to move Janay out of the elevator, at which point a hotel employee approached him and apparently directed him to hold off. The employee also immediately stated, according to AP reports, “no police.”

Drunk or not, and regardless of what Janay said to Rice during the incident, the striking of her was despicable and unacceptable. Almost everyone agrees with this.

What it has turned into, however, is a verbal near lynching of the NFL and in particular it’s commissioner, Roger Goodell.

There are likely four specific reasons why: the power of image; the fast acting “story of the week” tendency in our current media and Internet age; the unsettling and emotional aspect of the troubling issue of domestic violence; and, last and most of all, the NFL’s, and in particular, Goodell’s handling of the matter.

Thus, in essence, a private citizen, engaging in a disturbing and almost brutal seeming one time punch of his fiance which was reviewed by the applicable court system and somewhat surprisingly deemed acceptable for Pretrial Intervention instead of a trial and possible sentencing, and who was initially suspended for two games as a result, and then ultimately suspended indefinitely while being simultaneously cut from his team, has turned into one of the largest sports scandals in years. And one which at least one or two otherwise reputable sources have otherwise called “possibly the biggest sports scandal of all time.”

But what’s the real scandal?

The NFL in part at least created this appearance of scandal, or at least its possibility if the media and public, then ran with it, by seemingly trivializing domestic violence in the public eye by initially handing out a two game suspension in contrast with the harsher suspensions the NFL often hands out for victim-less off the field incidents; then issuing an apology for doing so and then nevertheless still acting as if the video made public a little under two weeks ago – and which actually shows footage that the county prosecutor and judge, but not the public (nor, allegedly, the NFL) saw – somehow completely changed the facts of the case, rather than serve as a clarification of and possible augmentation to what basic evidence already existed.

The appearance of an NFL out of control was then, by sheer unlucky serendipity, made to appear much worse, when, in addition to two other pending domestic violence cases, perhaps its premier player at the same position Rice had played – running back – and a player who has been very active in children’s charities, was within days of the release of the Rice video suddenly charged with child abuse:  for using a tree branch, called a “switch,” to discipline his child to the point where the resulting wounds were alarming enough to lead the treating emergency room to call authorities for possible abuse.pictures, and pictures of which (in terrible places no less, likely caused by the child writhing and twisting to try to avoid the blows) were despicable.

This also raised the unsettling issue of child abuse, and, now that the issue of domestic violence was already in the forefront, added to the image of an NFL and (even though it was not the commissioner who beat his 4 year old with a switch),  a commissioner out of control. It also created a debate as to whether corporeal punishment is ever called for when disciplining children (a separate question as well from the issue of type, and degree). My answer is no – but if some parents feel differently, a one or two time slap on a soft spot on the body, never done in anger and with complete communication as to why, at least keeps the discussion within the bounds of reason.

With respect to the Ray Rice issue, which the timing of this unfortunate “domestic violence child abuse” incident only further magnified, all of the attention on the matter is good in terms of the negative attention being brought to the troubling issue of domestic violence (or, hopefully, violence of any kind).

It has not been so good for the NFL, Ray Rice, apparently his now wife, Janay Rice or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

But in so heavily scapegoating the NFL, as well as Goodell, there are two very key factors being overlooked here: What the suspension ultimately should have been, and why.  And consideration of the actual victim in this matter; this is the person that was hit, not the public, not Goodell, not the NFL, and not Ray Rice.

This article is not a defense of Goodell.  In fact, subjectively, and based in part upon my own personal biases about the game, I personally have been in favor of replacing Goodell as commissioner for a long time. I believe that for many true fans of the game of football itself, and not just fans of watching teams score, Goodell’s continued and heavy emphasis on rule changes that favor the offense over the defense, and in particular wide receivers over defensive backs, has watered down the quality and balance of the game; that his heavy push for a playoff expansion would denigrate the current excellent weighted playoff bye system, dilute the value of the most important later season games and differences between teams and what they do in their divisions, and undermine perhaps the most brilliant overall playoff structure in all of sports; and that, ironically even given this Rice situation where he initially appeared to have been overly soft, that Goodell is morally high handed.

And now Goodell’s very poor, inconsistent, and, ironically, still seemingly morally high handed handling of the Ray Rice incident, is only another very strong reason why.

But as poorly as Goodell and the NFL have handled this matter, those two key factors just mentioned are being left out in our overall consideration and assessment on the issue and on the NFL and Goodell.  And for a better, fairer, more even handed assessment, they need to be considered.

The first is that the Ray Rice Janay Rice incident is a perfect example of a first time domestic violence offense. Rice hit his then fiance and now wife very hard, and alcohol is never an excuse. But alcohol can be a slightly mitigating factor, and with both of them fairly drunk, it is here.  It also likely played a large role in her getting knocked out.

One punch is enough to kill someone, and is never excusable, and in such an instance as this – it is reprehensible.  But Rice did only throw one punch. His prior record had been clean, even outstanding. His conduct afterward was extremely contrite and cooperative, and he did immediately start counseling, whether under advice of his attorney (almost assuredly), or not.

Additionally, the county court system that dealt with this, however “minor” it may have been relative to the types of even more awful and harm causing incidents that Atlantic Country Superior Court may be used to dealing with, did review all the evidence, including the aforementioned tape, and elected to forego prosecution in the matter.

The woman standing by Rice’s side after the incident was not, as far as the evidence goes, a victim of any prior domestic violence at his hands, but instead someone who has known him since high school, dated him since years ago in college, and who steadfastly tried to defend him.

In short, it is a perfect candidate for the new, standard, six game suspension under the new policy. (Note that this does not mean that Rice’s actions in terms of morality are = to a six game NFL suspension, since we do have a court system; but rather that the NFL, in additionally disciplining it’s players, takes the action of domestic violence serious enough so that even a one time, first incident, results in a suspension of over a third of the season, on top of whatever other punishment stems criminally from the illegal action.)

Yet the NFL – in a matter of hours, no less, making the video itself appear extreme in the public eye, again, suspended Rice indefinitely, while his team, the Baltimore Ravens, cut him.

This raises the unsettling question as to why.

Yet the first key factor of the two being overlooked, and regardless of how tortured the path of its arrival, is that Rice was not only suspended for an amount suggested or required under the new tougher guidelines, he was, essentially, suspended for more.

Rice should have been suspended for six games, which would have been in line with the policy, as well as a definite amount of games, and constituted a response that was not seemingly knee jerk, and, well, frankly, “all over the place” appearing.

But the Ravens cutting Rice as well on the same day – and also within hours – of the public appearance of the video, only made this haphazard reaction by the NFL more likely, since the Ravens strong reaction also made it seem as if there was a much larger gap between what was already known and what the video showed. And both actions in tandem- the Ravens and the NFL’s, after the video was released, made the NFL look even worse in terms of their initial handling of the matter, by again in tandem making it very strongly appear as if the video showed a remarkable new development of set of facts in the case.

The Ravens subsequent cutting of Rice upon public release of a video, is also highly questionable. It is awful, if, as reported by ESPN’s Outside the Lines Rice’s attorney actually told the Ravens back in April that, the video looked “F***ing horrible,” and if the Ravens head of security shared a detailed description of what happened inside the elevator with team officials, as also alleged. To be told this back then, and then cut Rice upon release of the video, seems in some ways unacceptable.

Outside the Lines reports that the “horrible” statement came from Rice’s attorney, Michael J. Diamondstein – who remember represents Rice, and is representing him now in his suit against the NFL for his handling of this matter – although the report does not disclose or make clear who the source of the allegation to Outside the Lines is; only revealing that Diamondstein was unavailable for comment.  The statement “looks f _ _ _ _ _ g horrible” depending on context, could also mean something very different, particularly coming from Rice’s own attorney – as if the video gives a very false impression, and unfairly makes Rice look bad. This might sound like a stretch to some in the public, but anyone who practices or has practiced law knows it to be relevant.

Additionally, the statement was reportedly made to Ravens president Dick Cass, and if so there is apparently no knowledge as to whether Cass shared that information with anybody. And judging by the countenance of John Harbaugh in that press conference linked to above, and knowing Harbaugh in terms of having studied the NFL for many years, if not intimately and personally, it is unlikely to have been shared with Harbuagh, or at least shared clearly, in terms of showing Rice engaging in the vile act that we now see it to have been.

The information offered in ESPN’s report also seems to strongly support this view as well. And it also renders Harbaugh’s actions, upon seeing the video, more consistent with his initial views on the matter. It does not however fully explain the NFL’s reaction.

It seems though, at least in part, that since Rice was an exemplary Raven and upstanding member of the community who had “raised millions” for sick children, the NFL was first pressured by the Ravens to make the suspension of Rice light, then was made to look bad when the Ravens, perhaps not wanting to believe that the punch was so direct or vicious looking, later cut Rice upon seeing, along with the public, the video.

But the NFL’s similarly knee jerk response only worsened matters, while the Ravens response is not the NFL’s fault. It is also interesting, and fairly important, that again, according to the ESPN article the Ravens – and apparently Harbaugh in particular – considered cutting Rice upon initial reports of the incident, but instead opted to back Rice. This put the NFL in a bad position when the video came to light.

In hindsight it is easy to say the video should have been procured. And if they were willing to cut Rice over throwing a drunken, direct and hard hitting punch to his drunken fiance, the Ravens should have procured it. (In an interview with Baltimore TV station WBAL last week, owner Steve Bisciotti cited specifically that as his largest regret.)

But the case for the NFL getting the video, in foresight – not hindsight – is weaker. The NFL and Goodell had the Ravens, seemingly reasonably, pushing for a light suspension of a guy who bled Baltimore purple, who had the city name tattooed on his forearms, who named his daughter after the team, and who, again, raised millions for sick kids.

The NFL, which is not necessarily supposed to sit in an appeal type of judgment over our court system, also had the relevant county superior court, which reviewed the very same video tape now so explosively in the forefront of this issue, declare Rice a candidate for Pretrial Intervention. And a prosecutor who would later not only make a fantastic point about how the outrage over domestic violence is great but that “reality is reality whether it is captured on video or not,” who also intimate knowledge of applicable courts, believed that while a conviction could be procured – and was unfair to put the victim through – there would only be probation sentenced in the matter.

As suggested here, the NFL did not really know what it was doing in this sensitive matter.  As a result, and despite issuing a harsher penalty than Rice should have gotten under its new, tougher policies, it made the NFL look extremely bad, as well as, ironically, somehow still appear soft on and somewhat insensitive to, domestic violence; by making it seem as if the NFL botched the handling of the Rice case initially even more than it did.

It has also helped make this into a much bigger issue than it needs to be, and helped feed our innate media and public desire for a sensational story.(And this one now has plenty of twists and turns and intrigue, drowning out the fact that at heart its just a simple voluntary employer suspension policy for unrelated illegal criminal behavior, albeit in a very public and tax exempt, venue.)

And it has hurt Rice (that is, in terms of the suspension he likely would have gotten under the new domestic violence policy, failing any pending grievance against the league over the matter), and more importantly his wife, who – foolish though many may judge her to be – has a right to stand by him, support him, and support his opportunity to play.

And which is the second key factor here:  The victim. Who apparently all but pleaded with the NFL to go easy on Ray; to give him a chance; and that (as foolish as such an argument is) it was partially her fault.

It’s never someone’s fault who is hit without said action being in clear self defense, in any situation, let alone a woman’s being hit by a man, and let alone a woman who is petite in relation to a powerful running back.

But Janay’s account of events, and her full support of Ray, is still relevant. Again, she is the victim here. Her say matters. The fact that battered or repeatedly abused women often sadly feel psychologically compelled to defend their abusers should not strip Janay, as the victim, of her basic rights and desires in this matter. Particularly given that there is apparently no prior evidence of abuse or violence. And also given that, improvidently or not, Rice was allowed into the Pretrial Intervention Prevention program and has an unblemished record before and since; a history of exemplary behavior; and Janay, so far as we know, a long and largely unblemished history with him.

Goodell was right to also try to take into account Janay’s wishes. Even if he was in error to listen to the Ravens (particularly in hindsight, when the team was later to cut Rice upon seeing the video, and apparently, according to the afore-linked ESPN report anyway, contemplated cutting him well prior to it), and even if he was in error for issuing such a seemingly insensitively short suspension for what was being labeled a domestic violence incident, which to the public at least appeared to involve alarming facts – Rice hit her, she fell as a result and was temporarily unconscious. And for which, and prior to the release of the video, Goodell acknowledged the mistake, and changed the league’s domestic violence policy as a result.

But Janay, as the victim, had some rights, and still has some rights, in this matter. And she deserves some say in it, which appears now to have possibly been shut out of the process, due to the way this affair has unfortunately evolved.

Yet Goodell likely was initially at least somewhat sensitive to and respectful of Janay’s strongly expressed wishes, as well.  And, without appearing to make excuses, he has intimated as much.  And perhaps, as suggested by the ESPN report, Goodell was sensitive to the Ravens expressed wishes, consistent with the victim’s herself, to go easy on Rice because this was a one time incident and Rice was extremely cooperative, and played a large and generous part of the NFL’s goodwill in Baltimore. (And again, this discipline by the league, two game or indefinite suspension, is not mandated, but is ultimately a voluntary policy on the part of an employer, even if sensible or even effective public relations on the part of the NFL and seemingly beneficial to society.)

But remember, Goodell also apologized for his initial handling of the matter before the video came out, and instituted a stronger league domestic violence program in response.

Yet Goodell’s second major mistake – the first being the initial two game suspension – being that he wound up altering the original suspension anyway, was not then adhering to this new policy in response to the release of the video. If Goodell could undo the initial two game suspension to change it to an indefinite one in response to the release of the “video evidence,” he could just as easily have instead instituted, or at least be guided, by, the new policy, as a means of finally “getting it right,” just as he stated in his apology just a few weeks earlier.

But again, the Ravens seemingly knee jerk reaction in cutting a player over a video tape that they were ostensibly originally informed about, after the video was made public – as if it provided some remarkably new evidence, and when they had originally asked for leniency on Rice with the league over the same matter – rendered Goodell’s similar knee jerk indefinite suspension mistake more likely.  And may have painted him into a corner a little bit, or at least partially explain his actions.

And both – the Ravens and the NFL through Goodell – are culpable here. But what they are culpable of is poor judgment, and poor handling, perhaps very poor handling, of this matter.

Nothing much worse. And though an interesting, and, in terms of the domestic violence incident involved, disturbing story that also involves the repeated bungling by an image conscious and sometimes over controlling appearing NFL and NFL commissioner – making it all the more newsworthy – it is not a scandal for the ages.

Yet perhaps it is time for Goodell to step down, or the owners to require him to do so. Or at least, please, Roger, read this piece, and don’t dilute the best playoff structure in all of sports; stop heavily favoring the offense and restore some balance, and stop seeming to make it all appear about image and money.

Also, perhaps, while some might disagree, stop being, or at least appearing to be, so morally high handed.

And if you give another press conference about this matter, don’t go on with even more moral high handedness, and vague statements, without addressing and answering the basic fundamental questions – why did you initially apologize if the NFL’s view of what occurred was so much softer than the video showed; and if it was not, why did you respond so severely to the release of the video. Also, acknowledge the specific mistakes made, and don’t try to be policeman for the world. Just hold players accountable as representatives of the NFL fairly – in particular for violent behavior, which has to become seen as universally unacceptable in an advanced society – and without sounding all high and mighty in the process.

It’s bad enough that much of society, sitting now in casual judgment of you, is already sounding the same.  Even if it is, indirectly at least, for a good cause. Which, instead of the NFL, should be getting more direct attention.