Competition committee wants to move on from 'Spygate'
By Dan Arkush, Mike Wilkening, Dan Parr and Matt Sohn
Feb. 21, 2008
INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL’s competition committee met with commissioner Roger Goodell for about 90 minutes on Thursday to discuss the league’s handling of the “Spygate” controversy and came away pleased with what it heard, according to the committee members who spoke publicly at the Scouting Combine.
“Spygate” received new life after the Boston Herald
, citing an unnamed source, reported the Patriots had videotaped the Rams’ final walk-through before Super Bowl XXXVI. Also, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) demanded a meeting with Goodell to hear the commissioner’s rationale for destroying materials related to the scandal, which stemmed from the Patriots’ covert taping of their opponents’ defensive signals. Specter was not satisfied by Goodell’s explanation, but the competition committee saw the league’s actions in a different light.
Colts president Bill Polian
“That process was fair, detailed, efficient, and what was on the tapes was explained to us and what was in the notes was explained to us,” Colts president Bill Polian said. “The reason that that information was done away with was explained to us. From my perspective, that was a thorough, fair, efficient process with lots of integrity.”
As a whole, the committee would like to move on to other on-field matters.
“I view it as something that’s happened, something that was dealt with severely, in my mind,” said Falcons president Rich McKay, the co-chairman of the committee. “… In my mind, it’s yesterday’s news.”
Issues that the committee plans to discuss at the league’s annual meeting in March include re-seeding the playoff teams, as well as allowing one defensive player per team to communicate with the coaching staff via a wireless device installed in the helmet.
Colbert: Faneca likely to depart
Steelers OLG Alan Faneca will probably prove too costly for Pittsburgh to re-sign, director of football operations Kevin Colbert said Thursday. Faneca, 31, is one of the top free agents available. His financial demands, coupled with the back injury suffered by OLT Marvel Smith late last season, were the primary factors in the Steelers’ decision to give swing OT Max Starks the transition tag on Wednesday.
Starks received a one-year, $6.895 million tender. He can still negotiate with other clubs, but the Steelers have the option to match any offer he receives. However, they would not receive any draft-pick compensation were Starks to depart.
That appears unlikely; Starks and the Steelers would like to strike a long-term deal. But Faneca’s exit seems all but assured.
“We’ve talked to Alan previous to the season, we’ve talked to Alan recently, and the natural question, I think, would be, ‘Well, why didn’t you tag Alan, and you tagged Max Starks?’ ” Colbert said. “In talking with Alan and talking with Alan’s representatives, he’s probably going to get significant money on the open market, and it’s probably money that we’re not going to be able to absorb. And if we did absorb it, (it) might limit what else we can do in free agency. So, you have to make a decision on what guy is more signable, and in our estimation, right now that’s Max.”
Designating Faneca a franchise player would have required the Steelers to make a one-year, $7.455 million tender to Faneca. The transition tag saves the Steelers $560,000, money that Colbert said could conceivably go to a pair of minimum-salary players.
Rucker out of workout mix
Missouri TE Martin Rucker said he tweaked his hamstring a week and a half ago and will not be participating in any tests at the Combine. Rucker, who is projected to go in the second or third round of the draft, said the injury was not serious, but he wanted to be extra cautious.
He has been tagged as more of a receiving tight end than a blocking one, coming from the Tigers' spread offense, but he wants to shed that label. “I'm looking to be a complete tight end, and there's no reason that I can't be,” he said. “There's no lack of willingness or ability. I look forward to getting that chip off my shoulder.”
His older brother, Mike, a Panthers defensive end who will be a free agent this offseason, is a valued adviser to Martin. “It gives you something to strive for and it gives you something to follow. “(Mike's) a great role model,” Martin said. “He's done everything the right way, on and off the field. He's a resource that's priceless. He's been through it all. Any question I have, I go to him.” Mike, who will turn 33 on Feb. 28, is 10 years older than Martin.
Straight from the heart
Every Scouting Combine has its share of poignant human-interest stories, and this one is no exception.
Take the case of Texas A&M C Cody Wallace, projected by Pro Football Weekly as a fifth-rounder, at best.
Texas A&M C Cody Wallace
“I just want to make a team,” he said as the reflection of the Indiana Convention Center lights made his small but distinct earrings glisten brightly. “I don’t care if it ends up being through free agency. I just want a shot. I don’t care what the team is, although playing on a Texas team would make it easier for my family to watch me.”
Wallace’s life growing up was full of hardship. His father drank himself to death in prison when the 6-foot-4, 290-pound center was 8 years old. His mother died of an unexplained ailment when he was 16. And if that weren’t tragic enough, his only sibling, brother Marcus, who is 2½ years older than Cody, is currently serving time on felony drug charges.
Wallace’s salvation was his grandparents, who basically have raised him into the solid citizen he has become.
His grandparents — and football.
“I’m very lucky to have grown up with them,” said Wallace, whose selection as the Texas A&M team captain is an indication of his high character. “They taught me good values. We went to church all the time. I’m glad they took me in.”
His grandparents kept him on the straight-and-narrow, but not so much that they would forbid him from things like wearing earrings.
“Actually, my grandma recommended my earrings.”
Not surprisingly, Wallace considers his greatest strength to be his work ethic. “I keep working and staying with my guy until every play is finished,” he said. “I really hope I can do well on all the drills at the Combine. There have been questions about my quickness, so the agility drills are pretty important.”
But even if Wallace ends up falling short of his goal of making it to the NFL, one gets the immediate feeling that he will succeed in whatever endeavor he chooses.
USC OG Chilo Rachal also has a heart-wrenching story to tell. Rachal’s mother is battling tumors in her stomach, a condition she knew about throughout his final season at USC but didn’t tell Chilo about until after the regular-season finale. Additionally, his father is coping with the aftermath of two hernia operations. Neither has medical insurance.
Adversity is nothing new to the Rachal family. Hailing from the rough Los Angeles inner suburb of Compton, two of Chilo’s older brothers were killed in gang-related activities.
“My mom and my dad did a good job of sheltering me from that stuff,” Rachal said. “Me knowing the path that (my brothers) took and where they ended up definitely motivated me.”
Nearly every prospect interviewed was asked if he played any other sports in high school.
Kansas OT Anthony Collins played basketball, but he figured out “he couldn't jump worth nothing,” and that ended any NBA dreams.
UTEP OT Oniel Cousins grew up playing soccer in Jamaica and didn't start playing football until his sophomore year of high school.
Wrestling is Notre Dame C John Sullivan's second love. “With the offensive line, leverage is important, balance is important," he said. “Wrestling really helps you with those qualities. I miss wrestling. The one-on-one battles, going out there, it's just you against the other guy.”
Sullivan had a 138-6 record as a heavyweight wrestler as a prep athlete in Greenwich, Conn., and he also played water polo and rugby. “I have a big background, a very diverse background in athletics, and I think I'm fortunate for that. It helped me really find what I was passionate about, and that turned out to be football.”
Virginia OG Branden Albert, PFW’s top-rated guard, who was the first player to step to the podium for media interviews at this year’s Combine, on teammate Chris Long, who is widely considered this year’s top defensive end: “He’s a helluva player sure to go in the top five. He has a never-say-die attitude and always plays to the whistle. He has the attitude that nobody
can block him — except for me.”
Michigan OT Jake Long measured in at 6-foot-7, 313 pounds, and reveled in his ability to get away with cheating during his 15-minute session at the podium. Long said he's mastered the art of holding so well that referees rarely notice it. “I'll admit that I hold,” he said. “I get my hands inside and hide it that I'm holding. I think it's a skill to get away with it.”
Titans head coach Jeff Fisher on how he would react if the Titans’ final walk-through before the Super Bowl were taped by the opposition — something the Patriots have been accused of doing before their matchup with the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI: “I’m not going to answer that question because we’re dealing with a hypothetical situation related to an ongoing investigation right now. I think you could speculate what my answer would be. But I’m not going to go into any detail.”
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome thought the Patriots’ Draft Day punishment for “Spygate” — a first-round pick — was plenty tough. “Anytime you take a No. 1 draft pick from someone, maybe it doesn’t mean a lot when it happened in September (2007). Wait until we get toward April. And instead of me picking 40th, I’ll be picking 39th. I’m going to get one better player. So yeah, I think it’s very severe. And as good as New England can draft, that’s going to be one better player that’s left for me.”
A few head coaches have undergone an appearance makeover since we last saw them on the sideline this past season. In addition to Bills head coach Dick Jauron’s new Javier Bardem-style haircut — which doesn’t make him look nearly as sinister as the unforgettable bad guy in “No Country for Old Men”— Bears head coach Lovie Smith is sporting a very stylish salt-and-pepper goatee. Niners head coach Mike Nolan also has a nice beard going, although not quite as gray as Lovie’s — yet.
The NFL may have found a realist in Oklahoma TE Joe Jon Finley. He didn't seem to be enjoying the thorough examinations and critiques at the Combine and was one of the few prospects to break script and speak candidly about the experience. "I feel like a cow," he said. "It's like a meat market. Everybody's looking at you. I see what they're doing, it's their job. It's a business. They're not going to pay somebody if they don't know everything they need to know about them."
A good showing at the Combine could tip Furman FB Jerome Felton from borderline draft pick to late-round lock. However, if the NFL doesn't work out, it looks like Felton will have something to fall back on, thanks in large part to his emphasis on education. With the prodding of his mother, Sabrina Felton-Curtis, Jerome took the ACT when he was in seventh grade. "My mom, academics were very important to her," he said. "She wanted me to get a head start, and after I did that, it allowed me to take some college classes, so I had some credits going into college." It looks like Sabrina didn't take it any easier on Jerome's younger brother. Jerome said Eamon, 16, will be starting law school in a year.