Commissioner Roger Goodell is still in charge of the NFL, but for how long? (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
1. In the wake of one of the worst weeks in NFL history — fallout from the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson fiascos, commissioner Roger Goodell’s approval rating at an all-time low, a sex scandal involving Dallas owner Jerry Jones, the news that suggests that nearly 30 percent of former NFL players will end up developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia across their lifetime, and the league’s recent inaction on the Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy cases — it feels like the NFL is at a crossroads when it comes to leadership. The faith that many football fans put in the product, and any goodwill that’s been built up over the course of several years, is being frittered away, as more people insist that they will start to turn away from the league until it is able to get its house in order. Whether that means new leadership, tougher stances on penalties for domestic violence or developing a more productive relationship between the players, owners and fans, it’s clear that something needs to be done sooner rather than later. No one is suggesting that the NFL is going to go the way of the dinosaur. The mocking words of Dallas owner Mark Cuban this past spring that hinted the bubble was about to burst for the NFL were more about the financial state of the league, but they could easily apply now to the relationship between the league and many of the fans, who are fed up on a number of levels and are starting to demand real change. It’s not known what the league can do about its own situation going forward — only that it’s reasonable to think that a sizable a part of the NFL’s leadership will look very different in 2015 if the league wants to regain some of the public trust.
2. From a procedural perspective, it’s important to note the NFL constitution requires a three-quarters majority of owners (24 of 32) to terminate the contract of a commissioner, and at this point, that seems highly unlikely. We examined the deep and abiding relationship between Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft here, and despite any possible misunderstandings between the two, it would seem unlikely that Kraft would change his stance on someone he has grown very cozy with over the years. From a league perspective, many of the NFL’s most prominent owners have already given on-the-record backing to Goodell, including Giants co-owner John Mara (who is overseeing the Mueller probe), Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who issued a statement on Saturday saying the commissioner “has always had the best interests of football at heart, both on and off the field” before adding the Washington organization “strongly endorses his efforts to eradicate domestic abuse and the independent investigation into the Ray Rice assault.” While another shoe could still drop — namely, if the league starts losing deep-pocketed sponsors — it seems like Goodell’s job is safe for now.
3. If you need some good news, the story of Cincinnati defensive lineman Devon Still continues to provide plenty of good vibes. Still, who was released in the final series of cuts in August, was brought back to the Cincinnati practice squad so he could continue drawing a paycheck to pay for treatments for his 4-year-old daughter Leah, who continues to battle pediatric cancer. The story got better this week, as the Bengals brought him up to the active roster — in addition, the team announced late Monday night they will donate all proceeds from sales of Still’s jersey to pediatric cancer treatment and research facilities at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. In two days, the Bengals sold 100,000 jerseys, making it one of the fastest selling uniforms in the history of the franchise. (Saints coach Sean Payton bought 100 jerseys on his own.) You can buy your own Devon Still jersey here, and you can follow Still on Twitter here — he tweets frequently about his daughter and their struggle with the disease.
4. While it’s not necessarily a must-win situation for the Patriots this week, the prospect of beginning the season 0-2 is less than appealing. New England is one of three teams who started the year as division favorites who lost its opener — Indianapolis and Green Bay were the other two. No matter how good you are, an 0-2 deficit is hard to crawl out of: Since 1990, 196 teams started the year 0-2, and only 23 of those teams made the playoffs, a rate of 12 percent. (For the record, one of those teams was the 2001 Patriots, who had an 0-2 start but went on to win the Super Bowl.) As was the case for most of New England, neither the Colts (who are home against the Eagles) or Packers (who host the Jets) sound overly worried about their situation. “Unfortunately, ‘almost’ doesn’t count in professional sports,” Luck said in the wake of a seven-point loss to open the season at Denver. The Chargers, Chiefs and Saints are three other 2013 playoff teams who lost their openers and could be 0-2 by the end of this week’s action.
5. While the 2014 season is still in its early stages, it was interesting to see five backs top the 100-yard rushing mark in Week 1, led by Knowshon Moreno’s 134 yards on the ground in a victory over New England. (In addition to Moreno, Dallas’ DeMarco Murray had 118 rushing yards, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch had 110 yards, Houston’s Arian Foster had 103 yards and the Jets’ Chis Ivory had 102 yards.) After an offseason that saw what appeared to be a slight devaluation of the running back position (no back was taken in the first round of the draft, and arguably the best free agent deal went to Chris Johnson, who got a two-year, $8 million deal from the Jets), it represented something of an upgrade when compared to recent years. (By comparison, in Week 1 of last season, just three backs topped the 100-yard rushing mark.) It’s still early, but it will be interesting to see if the pendulum starts to swing in the other direction when it comes to the running back spot the rest of the season.
6. The NFL released some really interesting roster breakdowns, stacking each one of the 32 rosters from kickoff weekend against each other and giving some sort of insight into the where the Patriots stand when it comes to age, height, weight and experience. Broken down from a team-by-team perspective, here’s how the Patriots stacked up against the rest of the league:
a) Players weighing 200 pounds or less: 10. The Patriots were one of nine teams with 10 players who were at 200 or less. Washington had the most with 12, while New Orleans and Carolina had the fewest at four each.
b) Players under six feet: 14. New England was tied for second in the league with San Diego in total players under six feet. Cleveland had the most with 16, while Oakland had the fewest with only two.
c) Players weighing 300 pounds or more: 8. The Patriots were tied with Houston for last place with eight players at 300 pounds or more. Indianapolis had the most with 15.
d) Overall, the average Patriots player is 6.16 feet, 245.83 pounds, 25.79 years old and has 3.68 years of experience in the league. New England had nine players in their rookie or first year in the league, and six players who are 30 or older. In all, the average NFL player is 6.17 feet, 246.78 pounds, 26.16 years old and has 4.13 years of experience in the NFL. The average roster has 10.38 rookies or first-year players, and 8.28 players age 30 or older.
7. When Patriots rookie Cameron Fleming took the field for his first professional game last Sunday against the Dolphins in Miami, he became one of the youngest players ever to suit up in New England in the Bill Belichick era. The Stanford product had just turned 22 a few days before the opener (he was 22 years and four days, specifically, when he played against Miami). The only player on the New England roster in the same neighborhood was defensive lineman Dominique Easley, who was 22 years and 195 days last Sunday when he stepped on the field in Miami.
8. Fleming is young, but he’s certainly not the youngest to ever play for Belichick. According to Pro Football Reference, that honor goes to wide receiver P.K. Sam, who played a minor role on the 2004 roster. He was 20 years (and 278 days) old when he made his professional debut with the Patriots on Oct. 3, 2004. The youngest player selected in the draft that year, he ended up playing just two games for New England that season. The only other Patriots player to debut prior to the age of 21 was tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was 20 years and 310 days when he first played in the NFL on Sept. 12, 2010. The rest of the under-22 club was Rob Gronkowski (21 years, 121 days when he debuted in 2010), Hakim Akbar (21 years and 56 days in 2001), Chad Jackson (21 years, 195 days in his first game in 2006), Laurence Maroney (21 years, 217 days in his first game that same season) and Sterling Moore (21 years, 283 days when he first suited up for New England on Nov. 13, 2011).
9. Despite the fact that the NFLPA gave an official thumbs-up to a new drug-testing policy on Friday, things are still in limbo, as a league official told ESPN Saturday that there are still “unresolved issues” with the proposal. As a result, several players who could see their punishments changed retroactively — including Josh Gordon, Orlando Scandrick and Wes Welker — remain in limbo. (It’s not known if suspended Patriots Brandon Browner and Brian Tyms would be impacted by the news.) Regardless, Patriots player rep Matthew Slater — in his third year as New England’s representative to the NFLPA — told reporters on Friday that the players remain optimistic they will get a deal done. “I’m confident that we’ll find something that all of us will be happy with,” Slater told Comcast. “I am confident in that. It may take a long time, it may not take as long, but we’ll see. What we’ve really done with this is take our time and make sure that we’ve really thoroughly gone through the process and thought about what we want. Hopefully everybody will be happy at the end of the day.” (For what it’s worth, this year, Slater is serving as the Patriots player rep, with kicker Stephen Gostkowski and offensive lineman Ryan Wendell serving as alternates. That group is going into their third season together as the local reps for the players association — in year’s past, offensive lineman Matt Light had served as a primary player rep, while quarterback Tom Brady had also worked as an alternate.)
10. On a personal note, I’d like to thank several of my friends and colleagues for lending a hand this week when I went down with kidney stones. My family (who endured a scary 3:30 a.m. trip to the ER) and the staff at Newton-Wellesley Hospital were terrific and supportive. In addition, I’d like to extend a big thanks to colleagues like Mike Petraglia, Ryan Hannable, Peter Neudel, Rob Bradford, Shalise Manza-Young and Mike Whitmer, who rallied to provide me with information (notes, stats and the like) so I could write from home for a couple of days while I recovered. There were a few days earlier this week where I was listed as ‘limited’ on the injury report, but knock on wood, I’m good to go for this Sunday. I could not have gotten through a miserable medical week without a lot of help. Thanks to all.