NFL labor deal unlikely before last minute

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he expects there to be football in 2011. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP file photo)

ONE DAY AFTER finally sitting down for a chat with NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith, Roger Goodell went on ESPN's "Rome Is Burning" yesterday and gave us some good news and some bad news regarding the league's labor negotiations.

The good news: He thinks the two sides can work out a deal by March 4, when the current collective bargaining agreement is scheduled to expire.

The bad news: The two sides will need to meet virtually around the clock for the next 6 weeks to get that done.

There's a better chance of Joe Banner and Ed Rendell going on an around-the-world cruise together. So buckle your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy ride the next several months. Maybe very, very bumpy.

Gary Roberts is the dean of Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis. He also is one of the nation's foremost experts on sports law.

His town is sweating bullets right now because it is scheduled to host Super Bowl XLVI in less than 13 months. All of this talk about a lockout and a lost season already has Indy's movers and shakers chugging Pepto-Bismol by the quart.

Roberts, who made it clear he has no inside information into the labor standoff, doesn't think Indianapolis will lose the Super Bowl. But he also doesn't think there's going to be a settlement any time soon, either.

"I doubt you'll see a settlement until we get right on the brink of losing the season," Roberts said. "It could mean losing the preseason. It could even mean losing a few games at the start of the regular season. But I don't think you're going to see a settlement reached before it absolutely has to be. And it doesn't absolutely have to be until you're at risk of losing the season.

"It's going to get really ugly before it gets resolved. But I do think it will get resolved. I think it's going to be one of those situations where they're going to scream and yell and call each other names and blame each other. But the last minute, I think they'll do something so that the season isn't lost."


 While scouts and personnel people still have tons of homework to do on players before the April draft, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock has seen enough of Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton at this point to believe he'll be a first-round pick. How high in the first round remains to be seen.

"He's definitely got the physical skill set to be a first-round pick," Mayock said of the Auburn quarterback who is forgoing his senior season. "Now we've just got to figure out the rest of it."

By "the rest of it," Mayock means Newton's football IQ and his work ethic.

"I say that about every prospective high-level quarterback," he said. "I'm going more and more toward that philosophy. That once I figure a kid out - footwork, arm strength, all the rest of it - once he's got a certain baseline proficiency, you've got to dig deeper.

"In the NFL, if you can't make decisions in a heartbeat, if you're not accurate and if you don't have the best work ethic in the building, then I don't want you. I'm going to watch a bunch more tape on this kid. But my gut tells me he's got the ability to be a good quarterback in the NFL. But it's going to come down to those other intangibles."

Mayock didn't like Vince Young's intangibles in 2006 when the Titans took him with the third overall pick. Didn't like JaMarcus Russell's intangibles, either, a year later when the Raiders took him with the first pick in the draft. So, he's got pretty good instincts.

Mayock feels that, from a technique standpoint, Newton is more developed than either Young or Tim Tebow were when they came out. Tebow was selected by Denver with the 25th overall pick last spring.

"He played in a very simple pass offense at Auburn," Mayock said of Newton. "For the most part, it's one look, one read, and if he feels any pressure at all, either the ball comes out or he comes out. He's not hanging in there and looking for additional reads.

"When he has time and the pocket is clean, he'll hang in there and look around a little bit. He's got good arm strength. Inconsistent accuracy at this point. It's pretty good, but you're talking things like hitting the guy on the wrong shoulder and not letting him run with the football, and making him go down for the catch. Little things like that from an accuracy perspective that make me want to dig further. But he makes some big-time throws."

Mike Vick's success this season as a passer-runner likely will have a positive impact on Newton's draft stock.

"What we're seeing in the NFL now is more spread principles," Mayock said. "They're stealing it from college and the CFL. What they're trying to do is get defensive coordinators out of all those zone-blitz concepts. Any time you introduce a quarterback who's a potential running threat, defensive coordinators have to think differently.

"So, Mike Vick has influenced some things, in addition to offensive coordinators just getting frustrated with being dictated to by defenses."


 * If you really want to get an accurate gauge on how much Vick's production dropped off late in the season after defenses started blitzing the hell out of him, take a close look at his third-down numbers. Vick finished sixth in the league in third-down passing with a 96.9 rating. But that was built mainly on his early performances. His third-down numbers in his first six games: .627 completion percentage, 10.3 yards per attempt, three TDs, no interceptions, a 120.6 passer rating. Third-down numbers in his last six games: .512 completion percentage, 5.9 yards per attempt, three touchdowns, two interceptions, 10 sacks, 73.1 passer rating. After the Eagles' 59-28 win over Washington in Week 10, they were fifth in the league in third-down efficiency, having converted 44.4 percent. They converted just 33 percent in their last seven games and finished 14th.

* The fact that neither the Vikings nor the Browns asked permission to talk to Eagles offensive-line coach Juan Castillo about their offensive-coordinator openings tells me the team almost certainly gave Castillo a significant bump in pay to stay put. Both Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and Browns coach Pat Shurmur were on the Eagles' staff with Castillo. Castillo and Frazier are good friends. But with the Eagles' offensive line facing a major offseason renovation, Andy Reid could ill afford to lose Castillo.



* "[The Jets vs. Steelers] is the way football's meant to be played. This is two hard-hitting, hard-nosed teams getting ready to go at it. Just roll the clock back about 30 years or something, that's the kind of game it's going to be. That's who we are, and that's who Pittsburgh is, and that's who Pittsburgh has always been, so that I respect. I respect the way they play." - Jets coach Rex Ryan on Sunday's AFC title-game matchup vs. Steelers.

* "There's only one of him. If we had more, that would be great. I'd sign up for that. But he's the best in the business. Regardless of who we put him on, that's probably not a good thing for that person." - Ryan on how he'll use cornerback Darrelle Revis Sunday.

* "It's really amazing that they were able to go into Indianapolis and beat Peyton Manning and go up to New England and beat Tom Brady, who are the two best quarterbacks, in my opinion. I don't know how I have a chance." - Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger on the Jets' defense.


* How hot is Aaron Rodgers? Well, in his last nine starts, the Packers QB has thrown 22 TD passes and just two interceptions in 269 pass attempts, with a .729 completion percentage and a 125.0 passer rating.

* Jets QB Mark Sanchez' three-TD, zero-interception performance against the Patriots marked just the fourth time this season that he's thrown multiple TD passes and no interceptions in the same game, and the first time since Week 4.

* Just four teams ran the ball more than they threw it this season - the Jets (534 runs, 525 passes), the Chiefs (556, 475), the Raiders (504, 491) and the Jaguars (512, 469).

* The Steelers have allowed just one 100-yard rusher in their last 50 regular-season games.

* The Steelers held the Ravens to 126 net yards last week, the second lowest total in team postseason history. The franchise record: 123 vs. Vikings in Super Bowl IX.

* Bears QB Jay Cutler is 7-0 this season and 22-0 in his career when he's had a 100-plus passer rating.

* In five career starts against the Packers, Cutler has a 65.0 passer rating. He's thrown five TDs and nine interceptions in 172 pass attempts.

* Bears running back Matt Forte became only the second player in team history to notch 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. He rushed for 1,069 yards and had 547 receiving yards. The only other Bear to do it: Walter Payton in 1983 (1,421/607).



To Jim Mora, who wisely decided that being a father and husband is more important right now than being a football coach. Mora, who lives in Seattle with his wife and four children, turned down the Broncos' defensive coordinator job and withdrew his name from consideration for the same job with the Eagles so that he can continue to spend time with his family. He had made his kids a promise 2 years ago that they never would have to move again unless they chose to. The fact that money isn't an issue helps. Mora still has $8 million coming from the Seahawks, who fired him a year ago with 3 years left on his contract, and he has a bright future as a television analyst.


To Eagles coach Andy Reid for not even bothering to issue a thanks-for-the-memories statement about defensive coordinator Sean McDermott after firing him last week. Yeah, he deserves some points for helping Sean land on his feet with Carolina. But it would have been nice if he had at least acknowledged McDermott's departure. I mean, the guy did spend more than a decade with the organization. Hell, Reid issues statements when janitors at the NovaCare facility retire. And I don't want to hear the excuse that he's been on vacation. He managed to find cell service in the Caribbean to offer Jim Washburn a job coaching his defensive line. He could have done the same to dictate a paragraph to his PR department on McDermott.


To Raiders owner Al Davis. Again. At a news conference theoretically called to announce the hiring of his latest head coach, Hue Jackson, Al spent most of his mike time taking pot shots at past Raiders coaches he has fired. He even felt compelled to fire a zinger at Chargers coach Norv Turner, who hasn't worked for Al since 2005. Davis suggested that Turner is "fighting for his life" in San Diego. Once upon a time, Davis was one of the smartest men in the game. Now, he's a bitter, pathetic human being who is singlehandedly destroying a once-proud franchise.