- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Early Tuesday morning, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin grabbed a cup of coffee and strolled over to an overcrowded table in a Ritz-Carlton banquet room.
The AFC coaches had a one-hour media session, and a majority of the gathered reporters surrounded Tomlin's table to ask questions about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is being investigated by police in Georgia for an alleged sexual assault.
Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels was at the next table. When asked about his first owners meetings as a head coach, he pointed back to Tomlin's table, reminding reporters that he had the overcrowded table last year because of his feud with Jay Cutler.
Roethlisberger is the headline story so far of this year's owners meetings.
"I didn't have to see my name tag," Tomlin said as he found his seat before the inquisition.
Naturally, Tomlin couldn't say much. "Nothing has changed as far as the investigation," he said.
But what seems to be clear is that Roethlisberger, one of the game's top quarterbacks, has let his lifestyle affect his football career. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday that he would meet with Roethlisberger at the appropriate time to discuss why he is putting himself in troublesome situations. (Roethlisberger also is facing a lawsuit by a woman who says he raped her in 2008 at a Lake Tahoe hotel.)
You can see where this is heading. If Roethlisberger is charged, he will face a trial and severe consequences. The Steelers probably won't release him, but they would have to start making plans to terminate his contract if he is convicted. Although the team plans to re-sign Charlie Batch as a backup, it would start expediting the education of Dennis Dixon to be prepared in case something happens.
If there is no charge, Roethlisberger will still meet with Goodell to discuss the way he handles himself off the field. That could lead to a short suspension, or at the very least, the league could mandate some type of counseling.
Roethlisberger's strength as a player is being able to scramble out of the pocket. But these two incidents have trapped his still-young career, leaving him little room to maneuver.
Here are five other things being heard at the owners meetings:
1. The least touched-upon story that could most impact the season could be the decision to move umpires to the offensive backfield. Umpires have positioned themselves a few yards behind the defensive line to get a good view of holding and offside calls. Last season, five umpires suffered injuries: two concussions, two knee injuries and one shoulder injury. NFL players have gotten bigger and stronger, while umpires have gotten older and slower.
Starting this season, umpires will align themselves on the offensive side about 12 to 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Don't underestimate the impact. For the past three seasons, offensive holding calls have been down. When holding calls are minimized, scoring goes up because quarterbacks aren't faced with as many first-and-20s and the game is played quicker. Last season, there were 1.84 holding calls per game. In 2010, umpires will be able to see holding better because they won't have to worry about dodging players coming at them. If they call more holding penalties, scoring could drop.
One thing umpires won't be able to do as well is spot defensive holding. That could force the back judge or another official to be on the lookout for that. A television issue also is involved: Networks use a sound mike on the umpire to pick up the quarterback's cadence. But with the umpire far behind the line of scrimmage, the mike won't be able to pick up as much of the call.
Finally, there could be long-term ramifications. The NFL has used bigger officials as umpires because they were in danger of collisions. The new positioning will force umpires to run more and may lead to a change in hiring procedures, as more mobile officials could be hired as umpires and then eventually become referees because they will share similar visions behind the offense.
2. McDaniels doesn't know where the Brandon Marshall situation will lead, but you get the sense that he won't trade him before the draft. What's clear at the owners meetings is the Miami Dolphins won't jump for him. Braylon Edwards made a smart move to sign his restricted free-agent tender, so that pretty much eliminates the New York Jets from showing serious interest. The Seattle Seahawks remain the primary team interested in acquiring Marshall in a trade, but they won't offer either of their two first-round picks to acquire him.
McDaniels said his relationship with Marshall is good enough that he could return to the team, but the Broncos are in the same boat as any other team that has a restricted free agent who hasn't signed his tender and isn't attending offseason workouts. The Seahawks will wait until the draft and through the first round, if necessary, to see whether the Broncos are willing to trade Marshall for less than a first-round choice. The only team Marshall has visited is the Seahawks.
3. Although the Oakland Raiders said JaMarcus Russell checked into their offseason program in better shape at 271 pounds, odds are still favoring Bruce Gradkowski as the Raiders' starting quarterback. Raiders coach Tom Cable is encouraged that Russell is in Oakland working with his teammates, but that's it. Others are saying Russell still is heavy and needs a lot of work just to be able to compete successfully for the starting job.
Cable said Russell's delivery doesn't need work and he has one of the best pure arms in the game. But Russell still stares at his receivers long enough for cornerbacks to react, and he's inconsistent with his accuracy. Raiders owner Al Davis wants Russell to be the starter, but unless Russell works harder, it will be hard for Davis to force the issue.
4. Even though a lot of drama remains in the Rams' sale, Illinois businessman Shahid Khan is looking like a solid option. Colts owner Jim Irsay, a member of the NFL's finance committee, says the sale to Khan is trending in a positive direction. The finance committee seems to think Khan has the finances in place to buy the team. Other owners like Khan's passion for the game. By April 12, Rams minority owner Stan Kroenke will have to decide whether he will keep his 40 percent ownership, sell it to Khan or exercise his right of first refusal to match Khan's offer to buy the team. If Kroenke wants to own a majority of the Rams, he would have to sell the NBA's Denver Nuggets and NHL's Colorado Avalanche, something he doesn't plan to do.
The price of moving up from No. 7 to No. 1 would be too much for the Browns, even though they have 12 draft choices. Don't expect it to happen. If Clausen doesn't go to the Washington Redskins with the fourth pick, the Kansas City Chiefs won't rule out taking him at No. 5, but that might be tough after giving Matt Cassel $28 million in the first two years of his contract. The Seahawks traded for Charlie Whitehurst even though they might take Clausen if he falls to No. 6. The Browns don't like Clausen. He could fall to the Bills at No. 9, but so much depends on what the Redskins do.
Bryant's stock is falling because no one has seen him run, and he only played in three games last season. He's considered the best receiver in this draft and one of the most talented to come out in recent years, but he doesn't seem to be the type of receiver the Broncos would take at No. 11. If Denver passes on him, Bryant might drop well into the teens. Finally, more teams are studying Tebow because of the drop-off of quarterback talent after Bradford and Clausen, but that still might not get him into the second round.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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