You Got Served, Bunker-Hill-is-open style

Happy Tuesday, friends.  Thanks for joining me for another Serving.  As Doug noted yesterday, the topic of the week is the CBA, and we’re going to get into that some today.  We’re also going to “sneak in some football” like Peter King did.  I'm happy because I just got an email saying that Bunker Hill Golf Course is open today for outdoor play.  Even though I'm stuck at work, it puts me in a very good mood, because it reminds me that spring is upon us, even those of us who live in Cleveland.  So armed with that good mood, a slow news week, and a drug called Charlie Sheen that's laced with concentrated Tiger Blood, let's get this thing started.  Ready….. BEGIN!!!

1.  The NFLPA and the NFL continue to negotiate, and I know only one thing for sure.  There won’t be a lockout.  There will either be a deal or a decertification.  The fact that the NFLPA has to decertify in advance of the end of the current CBA to stay in David Doty’s court, and to prevent a lockout dictates that a lockout will never even be an option.

There was some question whether players would actually use the decertification option, but I’m here to tell you, they were ready to do so last Thursday, and they spooked the owners into extending the CBA, first for a day, and then for a week, which continues.  Somebody asked last week if I thought that decertification was some kind of despicable pre-planned tactic by the union, and I never found time to respond in the comments.  The answer is that I don’t think it’s any more despicable than a lockout.  Each side is appropriately a self-interested actor, and has certain tactics they can employ.  It just so happens that the NFLPA has the upper hand right now, tactically speaking.

Now, the NFL has to know that it has no real leverage left, since Judge Doty overturned the Special Master’s ruling last week, relating to the television deal that pays the NFL whether there are games or not.  The NFLPA will decertify, and they’ll win their antitrust cases.  The NFL will be worse off in the long term if they let this get to Doty’s court, and they know it.  Honestly, I think the only judge who’d favor them would be some zealous pro-business ideologue from the Federalist Society, because after 120 years of antitrust law, it’s pretty clear that the NFL’s operating model is illegal, in the absence of an agreement with a union.

For this reason, I expect that the NFL will take the best deal it can get by the end of the day on Thursday.  They can’t possibly accept the risk that their whole operating model will be subject to Doty’s judgment again.  Remember - before 1993, the only free agency that existed was something called Plan B.  Teams could protect their rights to 37 players each season, even if their contracts expired.  For that reason, only bottom-of-the-roster players were ever really freed to switch teams.  That was struck down as a restraint of trade in federal court, which helped pave the way for the 1993 CBA settlement. 

The NFL doesn’t want to find out what else they’re doing that violates antitrust law.  More on that shortly; for now, I’ll just say that I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll have a deal this week, and I’m certain that there won’t be a lockout. 

2.  A pretty incredible poll came out on CNBC.com over the weekend, which continues to show 48% of the respondents (who are ostensibly football fans) supporting the owners in the NFL labor negotiation, with 36% favoring the players, and 16% unsure. 

Clearly, this is a completely unscientific internet poll, and the fact that it’s hosted on CNBC.com makes it seem likely that these respondents are frequent consumers of the anti-union rhetoric of the Larry Kudlows of the world.  Still, though, it always amazes me how many working people don’t view themselves as working people, or at least don’t relate to other working people.

I’ve personally been pretty agnostic when it comes to rooting for one side or the other to “win” in this negotiation, because I see the cases that both sides have to make.  I understand that the owners need more profits if they want the stated values of their assets to hold up.  I also understand that the players want to enrich themselves to the maximum extent possible.  At a really basic level, I think that they’re all being good capitalists, chasing the maximum amount of money they can get for their contribution to the enterprise.

That brings me to a funny sidebar.  I was listening to Sirius NFL Radio on Thursday or Friday, and some nimrod from New Jersey called in and laid down some utter nonsense about how the union should either shut up or be crushed because he favors capitalism.  The reality is, the players are the real capitalists of the NFL, and the owners are largely the socialists, by virtue of the structure under which they’ve always operated.  Former Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell even admitted it once.

Think about this critically.  Who’s for more regulation in this case?  Which side favors barriers to free trade like salary caps, player drafts, restricted free agency, and franchise tags?  The ownership side, that’s who; those things provide some measure of cost containment and risk management.  The players would be happy to have a completely free labor market, believe me.  The NFL splits its TV revenues evenly, 32 ways.  The NFLPA promotes an environment whereby players are free to negotiate their own compensation, and the best performers get paid the most.  We’re clearly not talking about the suckiest worker at the Chevy plant, completely secure in his job, and happy to do nothing because his pay is maxed out for his years of service, and ready to sabotage the line if he doesn’t get his overtime.

I personally believe that those regulations favored by the NFL promote the parity that makes the NFL the best sports league in the world, and I’m not really a true believer in pure, unfettered capitalism, but everybody should understand who’s really on which side here, vis-à-vis economic ideology, especially if they’re given to talking about such things.  As Drew at Kissing Suzy Kolber might say while making fun of Peter King: Critical thinking skills.  Develop some.

In any case, I’ll get back to the dubious poll, and my point in bringing it up.  Nobody can reasonably make the case that the players have caused this potential work stoppage.  They were happy to operate under the 2006 extension to the CBA until it expired, but the owners opted out of it in 2008.  The labor stoppage, if there were one, would be initiated by the owners, which is what makes it a lockout, and not a strike.  The players have never once threatened to strike, unlike in 1987.  The players are clearly in a defensive posture, really only trying to protect what they already have, and yet it’s somehow being widely misunderstood that they’re being greedy, and preparing to strike, and it seems that people are rooting for the owners.

I’m trying to understand the psychology here, because I think it has a lot of applications to other aspects of life.  I’m a salaried and well-educated professional, but I’m still a worker when it comes down to it.  The many owners of my Fortune 100 company are benefiting from my labor much more than I am, and the fact that I have an office with a door on it doesn’t allow me to forget the fact that I’m an employee of somebody else, so I therefore relate to other workers, whatever color their collar might be.  I wonder if my Catholic upbringing doesn’t play a role in my worldview, even though I’m pointedly not affiliated with any religious sect as an adult.  There’s a very collectivist vibe to Catholicism, and many of the sermons focused on the parts of the bible about helping others who are less fortunate, and having compassion.

I always assumed that the same was true of Protestants, on the assumption that there wasn’t apparently much doctrinal difference among Christian sects, but I learned in one of my classes this semester that the various Protestant groups have always leaned toward preaching economic individualism, and that to many Protestants, wealth essentially represents virtue.  I don’t know if the implication is that Protestant God wouldn’t let a bad person get rich, but it seems that on some level, that may be the thinking.  I always thought that now-Senator Al Franken’s cartoon about Supply Side Jesus was strictly a joke, but it seems that I may have misunderstood something.  Does anybody have any ideas on this?  I have spent most of my life living in Catholic strongholds like New England and Cleveland (Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, and the fish fries are being advertised everywhere for every Friday).  During my six years in Jacksonville, I was running with strippers, and raising hell, so I didn’t talk a lot of religion with the many Protestants down there.  It’s a little bit of a knowledge blind spot for me, really as much as Islam is.

The question, I suppose, is why so many people relate to the wealthy ownership class, when they’re not remotely part of it, and almost certainly never will be, especially as that class accumulates the vast majority of the wealth, and thereby reduces class mobility.  To be really clear, I’m just trying to understand something about human beings, and their thinking and behavior, and I’m not, in any way, criticizing anybody’s religion or political affiliation.  I’m not saying that anybody is right or wrong.  You Got Served is always meant to be a place for intelligent discussion, so I know that everybody can be reasonable in exchanging ideas on this topic.

3.  Did you hear the one about how Marcell Dareus has moved ahead of Nick Fairley?  I’ve been seeing and hearing it, and frankly, I think it’s a bunch of nonsense.  They both played in by far the best and deepest conference in college football, and Fairley was clearly the better player.  If it weren’t for Ndamukong Suh last year, I’d say that Fairley had the best season of any college DT since Warren Sapp.  I think that Fairley was roughly Suh’s 2009 equal in 2010.

I also think all this stuff about Fairley’s “character” is overblown.  If you know me, you know I don’t get into this character nonsense, because I was a mistake-prone kid once too.  I grew up to be a good and productive citizen, and so can others who’ve made mistakes.  In Fairley’s case, I don’t see what mistakes he’s even apparently made, beyond taking a few unnecessary roughness penalties.  Has he been arrested or even suspended from his team?  It’d be news to me if he has been.

I favor football players, and I don’t really care that much that Fairley lost 10 pounds for the combine.  He’s a penetrating DT anyway, so his size is perfectly fine.  I love this fuzzy math that says that Dareus running a 4.92 was better than Fairley’s 4.82.  I get that the rationale is that Dareus was 319 pounds and Fairley was 291, but I don’t think that being heavier as a 3-technique is necessarily a benefit.  Fairley is going to play around 300 pounds, and he’s demonstrably quicker on the field than Dareus.  This is a no-brainer to me that you take the better football player, and that’s Fairley.

Speaking of defensive linemen, I think the best value at #36 is also likely to be on the defensive line.  Mike Mayock says he has nine DEs with first-round grades, and I agree with him.  I’d go as far as to add seven DTs to that, for a total of 16 D-linemen who are among the best 32 players in this Draft class.  This is my list:

Rank Name Position School Scheme
1 Nick Fairley DT Auburn 4-3
2 Da'Quan Bowers DE Clemson 4-3
3 Robert Quinn DE North Carolina 4-3
4 Marcell Dareus DT/DE Alabama 4-3 or 3-4
5 J.J. Watt DE Wisconsin 3-4 or 4-3
6 Cameron Jordan DE California 4-3 or 3-4
7 Marvin Austin DT North Carolina 4-3
8 Aldon Smith DE Missouri 4-3
9 Corey Liuget DT Illinois 4-3
10 Ryan Kerrigan DE Purdue 4-3
11 Muhammad Wilkerson DE/DT Temple 3-4 or 4-3
12 Adrian Clayborn DE Iowa 4-3
13 Cameron Heyward DE Ohio State 3-4 or 4-3
14 Stephen Paea DT Oregon State 4-3
15 Phil Taylor NT/DT Baylor 3-4 or 4-3
16 Jurrell Casey DT USC 4-3

The thing is, there’s no way that 16 defensive linemen go among the first 32 picks, or even in the first 35.  That means that the Broncos have a good opportunity to double up with quality guys up front.  One thing that jumps out at me about this class is that it’s a good year to be switching back to an even front.  I believe that all 16 of these players can play in a 4-3 scheme, as I noted in my table.

I think that J.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Muhammad Wilkerson all project best as 3-4 DEs, but that any of the three could play in a 40-front, with Watt and Heyward as strongside DEs, and Wilkerson as a DT.  (Watt and Heyward did play DE in even fronts in college, remember.)  Phil Taylor is the most natural 3-4 NT, but he could play in 40-looks for teams that do a lot of over and under alignments.  Cameron Jordan is more natural as a 4-3 player, but he could translate over to the odd-front stuff, like Dareus.

The other 10 are pretty much strictly even-front guys, with none of the pass rushers even looking like great candidates to be OLBs.  Of course, this is largely a function of the fact that few college teams play the 3-4, but that’s as good a reason as there is to favor the 4-3.  You’ve seen guys play in those schemes, and you’re not picturing him doing something he’s never been asked to do before.

If you’re wondering why some of the 4-3 DTs don’t translate that well to being 3-4 DEs, it’s mostly a function of height.  You like a 2-gapping DE to be taller, because that usually also translates to being longer.  If a guy is engaged with an OT and keeping himself free to step into 2 gaps, you’d like him to have the reach to fully close off both gaps.  The height also helps him see the QB and RB and read where the play is going.

It’s okay in a 4-3 to have DTs who are a bit shorter, because you’re mostly asking them to penetrate one gap, and shorter guys can be harder for taller offensive linemen to block.  Especially inside, it’s all about leverage, and a short/strong guy like Stephen Paea can get underneath some 6-4 guard and drive him backward.  A short/quick guy like Jurrell Casey can quickly be even with the Guard in the B gap and give him a small target to block.

Speaking of short/quick guys, you’ll notice that I have Marvin Austin a lot higher than anybody else does, and it’s because I think he’s going to be an outstanding player in the NFL.  Like Robert Quinn and other North Carolina players, Austin didn’t play in 2010, but he had the best showing at the combine of all of them.  He ran a 4.8-second forty at 309 pounds, if that sort of thing matters to you; but more than anything, he showed he was about business by being in such good shape.  Austin has some outstanding sophomore film from UNC, and before the season, we was widely seen as the best DL prospect in the country.  I also heard him talk to Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan on Sirius, and I was very impressed by what he had to say.  If the Broncos took some combination of Fairley and Austin or Von Miller and Austin with their first 2 picks, I’d be a pretty happy guy.

4.  It’s funny to me how todays’s Pro Days at Arkansas and Auburn will send Ryan Mallett and Cam Newton “skyrocketing” up draft boards, yet everybody wants to talk about how worthless Pro Days are for QBs.  I tend to focus on the whole concept of players moving up and down draft boards, as if teams are updating these every day or something. 

I picture a woman from the steno pool in Mad Men stretching her rotary dial phone cord out, and changing the order of names on a chalkboard, while some scout in a stained shirt sexually harasses her and breathlessly tells her how to order the names.  (I finally started watching Mad Men recently, and I’m a fan.)

Draft evaluation has become a cottage industry, and for those who profit from it, making each all-star game, pro day, combine, and individual workout sound like it really moved the needle is in their own interest.  Otherwise, why would we have Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, Jr. on TV every day between January and April?  Here’s the thing about evaluating players that gets lost in all of this “stock is rising” stuff; the best evaluation tool by far is film, and it’s been available since the games happened.

I’ve never been a scout, and I doubt that I’d ever want to be one, but to me, film tells the biggest part of the story.  How well does a guy play 11-on-11 football?  If scouts can observe players at unstaged college practices and talk to strength coaches and position coaches, some valuable insight may be gained, as well.

All-star games like the Senior Bowl offer an indication to how well players can take NFL coaching and quickly learn new techniques and information.  You can also see individual matchups of top-ranked players and use that as a verifier of what you say on film.  If you liked how Robert Ayers set the edge on film, and then you see him dominate Michael Oher at the Senior Bowl practices, your evaluation is validated by that.

The Combine is mainly about medical and personality testing, and individual interviewing, as has been noted here recently.  The standardized athletic testing can help a player whose film maybe wasn’t as noticeable, though.  A guy like LB Scott Lutrus of UConn can test really well at the Combine, and it will make people want to go back and look at his film again with a positive eye.  The guy runs and jumps and has great LB size like a first- or second-rounder, but he looks like a fourth- or fifth-rounder on film.  Why is that?  Is he just a late bloomer?  To me, the only way it hurts a guy is if he performs much more poorly than expected.  Conversely to a guy like Lutrus, underperformance forces scouts to go back to the film with a more critical eye.

Finally, there are the Pro Days.  These are designed to be very player-friendly, and to showcase the hometown kids’ skills.  The standardized athletic testing will be repeated from the Combine, and players who did poorly there will often want to run again on their own campus.  Likewise,  players who were hurt at the end of February will usually participate in testing on campus.  I think Pro Days are taken with the biggest grain of salt because of the comfort zone of being at home with your own coaches putting you through the drills.

All of this data gets collected, and then boards are stacked and finalized.  If you listen to your friendly neighborhood draftnik, two or three scouts telling them that they like Von Miller means that his “stock” is rising.  Nobody’s draft “stock” ever helped a football team win a football game, though, I’ll tell you that.

When the Draft comes around, there will be a supply and demand environment that will be somewhat predictable, but will definitely include some surprises.  Teams will all do their best to acquire the greatest number of good players they can, and it largely won’t matter what Cam Newton or Ryan Mallett did today on their own campuses. 

5.  I really like the Kevin Vickerson re-signing for the Broncos.  I think that he’s a natural DT, and that the money in the deal is very reasonable.  I didn’t love the release of Justin Bannan, but I understand it, and with the 2011 cash saved by the releases of Daniel Graham, Bannan, and Jamal Williams, I hope the Broncos can fill some holes.

It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens with Restricted Free Agency this offseason.  I would imagine that if a new CBA deal is struck, the limit will be back down to four years, as it has been in the past.  That would mean that Ryan Harris and Marcus Thomas would be unrestricted.  If there’s a decertification, I would suspect that last season’s six-year policy would continue into the future.  (That’s somewhat defensible in an antitrust lawsuit, because the players once agreed to it, in a past contract.  If the NFL tried to unilaterally make it eight years (or something more restrictive), they’d knowingly be asking for a hammering in Judge Doty’s court.)

This is why young players who were franchised with less than six years experience quickly signed those tenders.  Provided there are games (which there will be), those players now get income assurance that vastly exceeds the would-be restricted tenders for at least one year.

I think that Harris is a four-year, $20 million kind of player, and that Thomas is like a four-year, $15 million type.  I get the distinct impression from following him on Twitter that Harris wants to be back in Denver, and we’ve already heard about Thomas’ desire to “test free agency.”  (That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t return, of course.)  My preference would be to have both players locked up for this season, one way or another.  Thomas just had his best season while playing out of position at DE, and Harris looked better as he got healthier at the end of the season.  To me, both guys are key young contributors who are just entering their primes.

6.  Congratulations to Ryan Clady, who’s in Baltimore today for the well-deserved presentation of the Ed Block Courage Award.  As you'll recall, Clady was injured playing pickup basketball last April 28th.  Usually, a tear of the patella tendon is a 9- to 12-month sports injury, but Clady was back in time for the season and started all 16 games. 

Clady wasn’t quite his 2008 or 2009 self, but he was still easily one of the five or six best LTs in the NFL, and his play improved as the season went along, as did that of the Broncos’ whole offensive line.  I was impressed with Clady’s ability to play so well and so quickly, and with the Broncos' having not freaked out about the injury when it happened, and managing his return so well. 

When fully healthy, Clady is still the best player in the AFC West - so I’m excited to see what he’ll look like in 2011, as he hopefully anchors an offensive line that returns all five starters.

7.  Retired for John Elway.

8.  Speaking of Mr. Elway, a co-worker who is a big Browns fan, and who was in the Mistake by the Lake for The Drive just stopped by my office, and he saw this Broncos clock that my mom bought me.  Like everybody in Cleveland who learns that I am a Broncos fan, he asked how I became one.  Some get hostile, but he didn't.  He said that he thinks that John Elway was the greatest QB ever to play the game.  I didn't realize the guy was that smart, or that Browns fans could get past their Super Bowl-deprived feeling enough to realize that.

That’s all I have for this version of YGS, friends.  I hope you’re having a great Tuesday, and that it carries through to the rest of the week.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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