Non-answers, Russell Wilson slander and one player's very bad morning

A quick tour around the NFL starts with the cartel's front man, Roger Goodell, who's going to be asked questions for which he has no answers this week.

I’m sure Roger Goodell is going to field questions this week in Los Angeles.

I know better than to think that he will answer them, though. At least not the tough ones about the hiring practices for head coaches in the league or the supposedly independent investigation of the Washington Football Team that culminated with no written report.

There are plenty of things I miss about being a daily journalist covering the NFL. Participating in the charade of an interview that constitutes a public press conference like the one Goodell has each year before the Super Bowl is not one of them. Usually, it takes place Wednesday before the Super Bowl. Last year it was Thursday. These are generally a waste of time not because the questions are bad, but because Goodell is a buffer. He is the front man for the cartel. He is the guy who gets paid $40 million per year or whatever it is now to stand up there and pretend he has the authority to act on the high-minded words he brokers in: honor, integrity, diversity and respect. He may actually mean it, but he doesn’t have any real ability to back those words up. At least not when it comes to the owners. The players, he can suspend as he sees fit. The owners? He doesn’t control who they hire. Man, he can’t even force one of his owners to submit his organization to a thorough, independent vetting without promising to prevent a written summary of that report if that’s what the owner wanted.

The same league that produced a 243-page report over the deflation of footballs — a report that was scientifically flawed, by the way — produced no pages in the account of an investigation into a team alleged to have committed sex crimes in the form of nonconsensual nude photos of cheerleaders in addition to rampant, endemic sexual harassment.

Goodell is going to face questions about that case, but he’s not going to have answers. Not meaningful ones anyway. He steps up there and takes the heat so none of that comes bearing down on any one owner.

The fact that Miami hired Mike McDaniel as its coach and Love Smith is now in charge in Houston, doesn’t change the underlying reality for Black coaches in the NFL. Black coaches still find it harder to get hired, and once they do, they face higher expectations while having less patience.

Of the last three coaches to be fired after a season in which their team had a winning record, two were Black: James Caldwell in Detroit and Brian Flores in Miami. Of the last three coaches to be fired after a single season, two were Black: Steve Wilks in Arizona and David Culley in Houston.

Ashes to ashes, Russ to dust?

The Russell Wilson slander has begun, and for the record, I found myself feeling downright wistful about the reaction among Seattle’s fans. They still like the guy enough to get offended on his behalf when ESPN’s Ryan Clark affixed Wilson with the the good-not-great designation. Clark said he thought Ben Roethlisberger was better than Wilson, and while that’s not exactly criticism it’s certainly not going to be taken as a compliment, either.

Honestly, Clark’s criticism wasn’t nearly as harsh as it has been made out to be. There are three components of this argument:

1) Russ is not like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or (presumably) Patrick Mahomes

Clark: “Russell Wilson is a very good football player. Russell Wilson is a good quarterback. Russell Wilson is not an all-time great quarterback. He’s never going to be in those conversations, and so we have to stop putting him in that world. In that world that any team that has Russell Wilson can win a Super Bowl.”

I’m honestly not sure how much of a criticism this is. I’ve always thought Mike Holmgren had the best working definition of a franchise quarterback, which is that when you’ve got one, as long as that guy stays healthy, you can be reasonably certain of making the playoffs. I don’t think there’s any doubt Wilson is a franchise quarterback, but I also don’t think that at this point in his career you can argue he’s more than that unless you believe that Pete Carroll’s offensive strategy or the Seahawks’ offensive line has absolutely undermined Wilson.

2) The Big Ben equivalent

Clark: “This is kind of like Big Ben’s trajectory, but I think Big Ben was a better football player where Big Ben wins, too, when the defense is great and when they have a run game and when you limit turnovers and then when he gets the Killer B’s, this offense is high-flying, he’s one of the best players in the football game and you don’t win a championship. So Richard Sherman is kind of just pointing to philosophy not necessarily what Russell Wilson is as a quarterback. He’s pointing to the way that they’ve won.”

This is the most interesting point in my opinion because it’s saying that if the passing game is the strongest part of Wilson’s team, it’s not going to be good enough to win a title. The comparison to Roethlisberger is fascinating. Like Wilson, Roethlisberger won a Super Bowl in his second season. Like Wilson, Roethlisberger did it playing with a team whose strength was its defense and its running game. The Steelers also won the Super Bowl in 2008, when Roethlisberger was a much more integral part of the team, however, the more prolific a passer he became, the less success his team had in the postseason. Through the first nine years of his career, Roethlisberger threw for more than 4,000 yards just twice, his team was 10-4 in the playoffs with two titles. In the second nine years of his career, he had four seasons with 4,000 or more yards, including a year with more than 5,000 yards, and his team was 3-6 in the postseason and never got back to the Super bowl.

3) How many teams really want him?

Clark: “But we have to stop including Russell Wilson in these talks that, ‘If Russell Wilson goes here, does this team win a Super Bowl? If Russell Wilson goes here, does this team win a Super Bowl?’ This isn’t basketball, and frankly Russell Wilson actually isn’t that great. He isn’t that much of a factor that changes who football teams are. So now, we’re thinking to ourselves, is he an upgrade over the quarterback we have, and can he make us a better team? And that’s not every team in the NFL.”

Would every team take him? No. Kanas City is set. So is Buffalo, Cincinnati and I’d throw the Chargers, Ravens, Cowboys  and Jaguars into that group, too. You telling me Miami wouldn’t be interested? Or Cleveland? I think that three-quarters of the league would trip over themselves at the chance to add Wilson if he becomes available.

It’s not late, it’s early

When any professional athlete gets arrested, the first thing I check is the time of the incident to see how late it was. Or, in the case of Alvin Kamara, how early. He was involved in an altercation at 6:30 a.m. the day before the Pro Bowl. That must have been a hell of a night, I thought. Then, I remembered the Pro Bowl was in Las Vegas, and I had to adjust the time. I’ve always argued that Las Vegas operates by its own clock, and you have to subtract four hours from the time to get the real-world equivalent because of how late everything is.

Tony Dungy used to preach to his players about “the early hours of” being a telltale sign of trouble and that nothing good happened after midnight (or 4 a.m. if you’re in Vegas).

For the record, Kamara played in the Pro Bowl the following day and was arrested afterward for assault. Apparently, depending on what happens in Vegas, you may stay in Vegas.

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