Labor issues affecting OTAs
The Raiders, Jaguars, Lions and Ravens each lost two days of organized practice because of violations of the offseason rules, and no one should be surprised.
The reason for the increase in forfeited practices is a reflection of the brewing labor issues in the league. Coaches always want to push practices and offseason meetings to the max, but no one is going to get away with anything when labor talks are going on.
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Think of the timing of last week's announcement about the Lions and Jaguars. The teams and the NFL Players Association made the joint announcement during the same day both sides were talking about a future 18-game schedule and beginning talks about how the offseasons of players would be adjusted. Knowing that players feel as though they are doing too much during the offseason now, any extra case of player overuse won't be tolerated.
Coaches who lost OTAs might be snooping around for players who turned in the team, but the rules are clear. If meetings go too long, OTAs are in jeopardy. If non-padded hitting gets too intense, OTAs will be lost.
This is a sensitive time.
While owners would like to expand the regular season, players are going to seminars about the long-term affects of concussions and the long-term wear-and-tear of the game on their bodies. You heard some initial resistance to the 18-game model from players, but in the end, it's the way the NFL should go if it wants to get long-term labor peace.
Eighteen games might scare players initially because of injuries, but in reality, the veterans will be exposed to injury for only about a quarter or two longer than the current system. In the current four-game preseason, veterans play about six or seven quarters. The extra two regular-season games would add only eight quarters to the regular season, and the league is still maintaining the 20-game format of total games played.
Although there is a downside to an 18-game schedule, I'm for it as long as it allows both sides to reach a labor deal that prevents a lockout. The extra revenue that would go to owners would allow the owners to talk players into a lower percentage player-cost formula without having players take a pay cut.
More regular-season games means larger base salaries for players, and players ultimately can't complain about getting more money.
From the inbox
Q: I keep hearing that Jason Campbell will definitely be an upgrade for the Raiders over JaMarcus Russell, but no one wants to commit to saying that they can be better than a .500 team. Over the past few weeks, I have seen several 2009 Redskins game replays, and in addition to being able to feel pressure, I see Campbell making the types of passes that Russell has not ever been able to deliver. How is it possible that this big of an upgrade at the most critical position on the field doesn't translate into four wins?
Robert in Las Vegas
A: We're on the same page. I picked the Raiders to be one of my surprise teams because of the Campbell trade. He should be worth four to six more points a game for the Raiders' offense. I won't go overboard and think Campbell can get the Raiders to 20 points a game because I'm not sold yet they have the receivers to get to that level. Remember, Campbell averaged 16.6 points a game over the past two years running the Redskins' offense. But 16.6 points a game is more than four points a game better than what Raider fans have endured over the past few years.
James in La Crosse, Wisc., puts his vote in for the Bears to make a trade for Logan Mankins, the Patriots' unhappy guard. Can't see that happening. The price would be too high. The Bears can't keep trading away first- and second-round picks, and it would clearly cost any team wanting to get Mankins a first- or a second-rounder. Expect them to pass on the chance. Cliff in Albany, N.Y., stays on the offensive line theme with a question about the Giants. Barring injury, he asks if the line will be effective this season. Barring injury, I think it can be good, but it won't be as great as it was when it was one of the best in football. Age is starting to show. Ike in Cincinnati was observant enough to see that all of Adrian Peterson's regular-season fumbles were against NFC North teams, including six in the past four games against the Lions and Bears. That tells me that the division teams all know how to get the ball out of Peterson's hands. Still, Peterson burns those teams for a lot of yards. Victor in Charlotte, N.C., wants to know why the Carolina Panthers weren't aggressive in free agency. Because their high-priced free agents of the past didn't pan out, the Panthers have taken the approach of a lot of teams -- build through the draft. This year, they are younger. If things work out at quarterback, they could be better. Having just seen them, I think they have enough depth at linebacker to fill in for the loss of Thomas Davis. Mike in Columbus, Ohio, admits he's a Brady Quinn supporter, so he wonders if Quinn will take advantage of the opportunity with the Broncos. Not this year. They will go into the season with Kyle Orton and try to develop Tim Tebow. But Orton's contract is up after the season, and Quinn still has another year and probably will have a better chance. Sean in Orlando, Fla., thinks Josh Freeman is being ignored with all the talk about Mark Sanchez and Matthew Stafford. That shouldn't come as a surprise. The Bucs are rebuilding and out of the national spotlight. That gives him the chance to sneak up on people, which really isn't all that bad. Kyle in Carlisle, Pa., noted a recent TV question I answered about whether the Jets had overtaken the Patriots for the AFC East. He thinks the Dolphins were slighted. At the moment, I see them at the eight- or nine-win level, finishing a close third. Kyle notes the Dolphins were 8-4 in division games over the past two years. Remember, one of those they years didn't have Tom Bradyas an adversary. James in Dallas has an ongoing debate with friends who insist the Cowboys should have a better quarterback than Tony Romo. James, you are the one who is right in this argument. Romo has had the longest string of success in Dallas since Troy Aikman. Romo is an elite quarterback. Dave in Conover, N.C., is a Dolphin fan and wants to know who will have the better career -- Sanchez or Chad Henne. I'd give a slight edge to Sanchez, but I believe both are good enough to take their teams to the playoffs in the right years. I think they will be battling each other for along time. At the moment, though, I don't look at either one being elite. They will have to earn that honor.
Q: Many writers have stated that new pass-friendly rules and pass-happy offenses have inflated receiving statistics. They imply that the resulting catch/yardage/touchdown totals are exaggerated in the receivers' favor, unfairly tipping the scales toward Hall-of-Fame candidacy. They therefore reason certain receivers (Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Art Monk) are not truly HOF worthy. But no one mentions the flip side: If receivers are catching more passes, it must mean running backs are getting fewer attempts than in previous decades. Thus fewer yards and touchdowns. It stands to reason, then, that old-school football unfairly exaggerated rushing statistics in exactly the same way. Fewer passes means more runs, thus higher rushing totals and overly impressive rushing stats. Seems to be a hypocritical double-standard to credit one at the expense of the other. Thoughts?
Alan in Lubbock, Texas
A: I couldn't have said it any better. A top-15 running back in league history doesn't have too many problems making the Hall of Fame. A top five-to-10 receiver has to wait and wait and wait unless his name is Jerry Rice. It's funny that you mention the decreased workload for backs. I went through some recent stats and saw the usual list of 17 250-carry backs drop to nine last season. That means the running back trend for fewer carries doesn't affect any back now under consideration for the Hall of Fame. We won't see that impact until maybe 10 years from now. The interesting votes will be when Corey Dillon and Tiki Barber start to go against Reed, Brown and Carter for consideration. I'm not sold the numbers for Dillon and Barber will get them in, and I'm firmly supporting Carter, Brown and Reed for the Hall of Fame. The receiver position continues to get slighted and you bring up an excellent point.
Q: Everyone wants to talk about college coaches moving up to the NFL and how they don't do as well as they did in college. I believe that Pete Carroll has done a great job surrounding himself with talent from the players, coaches and the front office. I know the Seahawks have the highest roster turnover this year and are still rebuilding. My question is how do you think the Seahawks and the Carroll era will look in the next two to three years?
Dave in Spokane, Wash.
A: Even though he comes from USC, it's hard to consider Carroll just a college coach. He was previously a head coach for two AFC East franchises, so he's not the normal college conversion coach. I think he will do fine, but his success will depend on finding the quarterback who will eventually replace Matt Hasselbeck. He takes over a franchise that is in rebuilding mode. He's done a nice job of bringing in new players and could get this team to eight wins or so if he can keep Hasselbeck healthy. My read on the quarterback position is that if Hasselbeck does well this year, the team will re-sign him for two more seasons. Charlie Whitehurst remains a question mark because he hasn't played a regular-season game. The best break for Carroll would be for a good college quarterback to fall to him in the next two years. If there is a way he can get Andrew Luck or Jake Locker, I'd say the Carroll years will be successful.
Q: Chargers restricted free agents Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill are heading to a holdout because of no long-term deal. Should the Chargers target Cowboys WR Patrick Crayton for insurance or look to pick up someone like Terrell Owens?
Steven in Carpinteria, Calif.
A: You know GM A.J. Smith would never consider bringing in Owens because of the potential headaches. Crayton isn't the big receiver who seems to fit well in the San Diego offense -- the Chargers like their outside receivers to have great size. It's a shame Jackson and McNeil could hold out long into the regular season. Both players were third alternates to the Pro Bowl and they are part of the core group of this team. The Chargers should still win the AFC West because of Philip Rivers, but their margin of error shrinks with these two players out.
Q: I've found it odd that with such a stable of backs, the Patriots have only really used them in short-yardage situations or on first and second down, especially after the addition of Fred Taylor to the group. I was hoping he would make more of an immediate impact before he got too old, but it doesn't look like he's going to continue to shine as he gets older. I'm not sure the Patriots really needed to draft another back, but it seems like Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris, with a little help from Kevin Faulk, can carry our running game to great heights. How can the Pats make the running game work with the backs they have now, without adding anyone immediately or stretching the depth chart even more?
Tyler in Tallahassee, Fla.
A: The Patriots have become more of a passing team in the past couple of years, so they have only modest expectations for their running attack. They have been counting on Maroney's young legs to carry them, but they haven't. He's never had a 1,000-yard season and he's never started more than six games in a season. Bill Belichick doesn't mind mixing and matching his backs for different opponents. Part of that might be because they are in a division filled with 3-4 teams. The trend last year was to try to throw more against the 3-4 schemes to try to get the nose tackle off the field or to get the defense into nickel packages. For those purposes, the Patriots can get by with the backs they have unless they all get old at once.
Q: If Ronnie Brown is injured again this season (knock on wood) will he be out of Miami after this season? Also what are the chances Ricky Williams retires for good after this season? Will my Fins lose both their RBs after this season?
Justin in Elk Grove, Calif.
A: You figure one of the backs will return next year depending on how they play. Williams probably has the better chance to return as long as he doesn't look too old this season, because it won't cost much to keep him. Brown's an interesting case: If he has a good year, his asking price might be too high, particularly with the worries about injuries. If Brown doesn't do well, the Dolphins will be looking for a new back.
Q: The Cowboys have four offensive linemen over the age of 30. This window isn't open forever. That being said, why don't they go and get someone like O.J. Atogwe? He's a playmaker and they need turnovers, and they have no proven players at that spot. Isn't it supposed to be their year?
Josh in Winston-Salem, N.C.
A: The offensive line concerns are more of a worry than the safety position. Atogwe is a good name but he's also 29. To pay $5 million or more for an older safety -- even though he's a very good player -- probably doesn't work for Jerry Jones. The front seven and the cornerback positions are filled with enough star players, the Cowboys can get by with the safeties they have. Two injuries or two of the older offensive linemen having bad seasons because of their age could burden the team more than the safety position. The Cowboys need to draft linemen over the next several years.
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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