Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Not Punishing Colts Owner Jim Irsay Looks Bad

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 21, 2014

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1. Irsay double standard?

This offseason, Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on video dragging his then-fiancee out of an elevator. He was charged with aggravated assault. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to take any action against Rice. 

Aldon Smith, a perennially troubled player for the San Fransisco 49ers, was arrested in April over an alleged bomb threat at Los Angeles International Airport. The case has yet to be adjudicated. Discipline of Smith, as in the case with Rice, would fall under the personal-conduct policy. Goodell has yet to take any action against Smith. 

Uncredited/Associated Press

Recently, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was arrested after he was stopped going 10 miles per hour in a 35-mph zone. Police say Irsay had trouble standing, his speech was slurred, and he had bottles of prescription pills and $29,000 in cash in his Toyota Highlander, per The Associated Press (via ESPN). Goodell, as in the case with Rice and Smith, has not disciplined Irsay, who is also subject to the personal-conduct policy.

In many cases—definitely not all—the NFL will wait until a case is adjudicated or a plea deal is reached before Goodell imposes discipline under the personal-conduct policy. It's been two full seasons since a player has been suspended under the personal-conduct policy. So what the league is doing with Irsay in waiting to see what happens is, mostly, common practice.

Yet there is no question that a perception problem exists for Goodell and his league. I can tell you without question that union officials are furious. And I mean furious. One player rep on an NFC team told me, "Here's how it looks to most of the players: Players in a mostly black league get punished quickly and harshly. But with the owners, who are mostly white, they get protected by Goodell."

That is not in any way a unique sentiment. Despite the fact the NFL often waits on punishment with players, it's the perception that it doesn't, that the league has a quicker trigger with arrested players than it has with Irsay, which is damaging its reputation.

"Of course there's a double standard," one veteran player told me. "He's punished many players before the court system was finished (with) the case. The owners are his bosses."

After Irsay was arrested, a series of tweets from Falcons wide receiver Roddy White in many ways symbolized the feelings from players.

Someone tweeted to White: "Odd that when players do it people call them stupid for not calling a cab with all their money ... haven't seen it with Irsay."

White responded: "So true," adding:

The pertinent part of the conduct policy says, "All persons associated with the NFL are required to avoid 'conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League.' This requirement applies to players, coaches, other team employees, owners, game officials, and all others privileged to work in the National Football League."

Notice the policy doesn't mention timing.

Another huge perception problem for the NFL is that it has punished offenders in the past before the courts reached a conclusion or a case was plea-bargained. Ben Roethlisberger got a six-game suspension just four years ago without ever being charged with a crime.

Yet in recent years, Goodell has moved away from the faster punishments. That's why Rice and Smith, for example, have not been disciplined. Also, the NFL has quietly shifted from Goodell instituting discipline to the teams themselves doing it.

After two Denver Broncos front-office executives were busted for separate DUIs last July, they were suspended quickly by general manager John Elway. The suspensions were approved by the NFL.

"It's disappointing when you have people working for you that get in these situations," Elway told Mike Klis of The Denver Post at the time. "It's embarrassing for me, it's embarrassing for the organization, as well as for Tom and Matt. I look at it as threefold. No. 1 is the punishment side.

"Then there's the process of doing whatever we can within the organization to make sure this doesn't happen again. And then No. 3 to make sure Tom and Matt get the appropriate attention they need. There's embarrassment. There's anger. And there's also compassion for the individuals it happened to."

It's difficult to find a single NFL player who isn't astounded that Irsay was allowed to attend the owners' meetings on Tuesday. They believe that fact is remarkably hypocritical. It is accurate, though, that Rice has participated in the Ravens' voluntary offseason workouts—so, again, Goodell is mostly being consistent. But again, it's the perception that's the problem.

Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Another factor at work—particularly for the players—is how a player is treated after an arrest versus how an owner is treated. Irsay received sympathy after his arrest. Players don't receive the same treatment. They are vilified. 

So here we are. Irsay back in charge of the Colts. It's almost as if nothing ever happened. Irsay may one day face a suspension or fine (or both), but for now, it's business as usual.

And the claims of a double standard continue... 

2. It doesn't matter who the best runner in NFL is because the position is all but dead

This week there was some "controversy" when LeSean McCoy said that he was the best running back in the NFL on ESPN's First Take, over Adrian Peterson.

This generated some talk and buzz. What??? How dare McCoy think he is better than Peterson!

"My brother always rips me all the time, trying to make me play harder. I say, 'I'm the best,' and he'll say, 'Did Adrian Peterson retire?' I look at the last three years and everything. I think AP has been the best back for so long, and he's been doing it for so long, that's why he automatically gets the best running back (title)," McCoy said.

He added: "But the last three years? I've been All-Pro, first-team, twice. I never leave the field. I block. I catch. I never leave the field. I don't have anybody do my job; I do it myself. Tons of credit goes out to Adrian Peterson. I'm a big fan of his, for sure. But I feel I'm the best."

McCoy was all over ESPN—show after show, repeating his claim. I may have missed it, but no one asked McCoy the obvious question: Why does it matter who's best at a dying (some would say dead) position?

Examining who's better is fun...for a second. But picking which running back is superior is like asking what the best way is to cross the country: steamboat or horse and buggy?

The running back position isn't officially dead, but if it were a body, it would be on a stretcher in the ER, with a doctor standing over it, defibrillator paddles in hand, yelling, "Clear!"

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

McCoy and Peterson and all other runners are dial-up Internet. That's why this debate over McCoy and Peterson is so silly. Last year's draft was the first time since the AFL-NFL merger almost 50 years ago that no running back was picked in the first round. It happened again this year. In fact, it wasn't until the Titans took Bishop Sankey at pick No. 54 that the first running back went.

Running backs are becoming like fullbacks. The last fullback taken in the first round was William Floyd in 1994. Floyd's nickname was "Bar None" because his agent said he'd be the best fullback in the NFL, bar none. Now, the fullback position is basically dead. The running back position is not far behind.

In modern offenses, the running back simply isn't needed. In fact, a running back can be a detriment. It can slow down offenses. The running game just doesn't get the advantage of relaxed rules that punish defense against passing games.

While McCoy is a brilliant athlete, he wasn't the key to Philadelphia making the postseason. It was the emergence of Nick Foles and his throwing accuracy. Peterson is terrific, but even with him setting records and crushing people, the Minnesota Vikings have made the playoffs just three times since drafting him in 2007.

In 2012, he rushed for 2,097 yards—just nine shy of the best ever—and still the Vikings went only 10-6 and lost by two touchdowns in the first round to a Green Bay Packers team that has Aaron Rodgers, the best all-around quarterback in football.

No, the position isn't totally dead. There are blips of a pulse. The Packers' addition of a talented runner has taken some pressure off Rodgers, and Seattle won a Super Bowl with a run-heavy offense. But those are outliers.

In the meantime, running backs...how's that dial-up Internet working for you? 

3. Playoff-expansion brawl coming

What I keep hearing is that the NFL wants playoff expansion to happen soon. It will. The money is too great.

One union source estimates that by adding two playoff games, the NFL could earn about $20 million in revenue generated from stadium sales alone. In five years, the league could generate $100 million, maybe more. That's why playoff expansion will happen despite the watering down of the postseason product.

The track the union and NFL seem to be on, the union official said, is getting rid of one preseason game in exchange for the extra playoff game. This way, the union could justify adding the extra games while alleviating the concerns of players worried about head trauma.

But expanding the playoffs will not be an easy sell to some players. Washington defensive back Ryan Clark tweeted:

The union will also want more than just the eradicating of a preseason game. It is also tying extra playoff games to workers' comp issues in New Orleans. Now, I think some of this is union posturing. It will have a difficult time not accepting playoff cash, especially if a preseason game is removed.

The owners decided to table any changes to the playoff format until the fall meetings. This fight is just beginning and will be one of the more interesting disputes we've seen the league and union have.

4. Pulling for Mr. Irrelevant

I hope this guy makes it. Good story, and imagine the symmetry of the first overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney, and the last pick, Lonnie Ballentine, in the draft both becoming stars.

5. If you have to keep saying Tony Romo is elite...

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 15:  Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys walks off the field after losing 37-36 to the Green Bay Packers during a game at AT&T Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Over and over and over again, as the Dallas Cowboys constantly do...then he's not elite.

It's like what a Supreme Court justice once said about hardcore pornography: He couldn't define it, but he knew it when he saw it. The same goes for elite quarterbacks.

No one has a debate if Tom Brady is an elite quarterback. You know it. Or Aaron Rodgers. Or Peyton Manning. The Cowboys are always telling us how great Romo is and how he'll win a title. Dallas needs to stop talking about it and finally do it.

6. Bill Belichick press conferences are things of beauty 

Belichick is easily one of the most intelligent people I've ever known. If he weren't coaching football, he'd be somewhere designing starships. He's that smart.

Yet no one tries harder to appear bland. 

Privately, Belichick is funny, engaging and smart. He just finds it easier to be a smartass with the media, which is too bad. 

7. Exploitation of NFL cheerleaders

This story continues to grow. Only a matter of time before it embarrasses the NFL into doing something about it.  

8. Michael Sam's miscalculation

I still believe that if Sam wants to do a damn reality show on Oprah, then he should be allowed to do a damn reality show on Oprah. The whole distraction argument is silly and irrational. After all, the NFL itself does the Hard Knocks shows and has for years. Teams survive. The NFL survives.

Where Sam and his inner circle miscalculated was not knowing exactly what league they were going into and how it's run. Let me explain.

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Sam's camp underestimated just how old school the league is, despite Sam being introduced into the NFL as an openly gay man. General managers, coaches and assistant coaches want rookies to conform. They hate the notion, or appearance of one, that a rookie is different or special. You saw this in Cleveland with Johnny Manziel and how Browns owner Jimmy Haslam went out of his way to make sure everyone knew Manziel wasn't the starter.

To the St. Louis Rams coaches, what Sam was doing with his proposed show—with Oprah's backing, no less—was making himself bigger than other rookies and the team as a whole. I find this argument silly, but that's how the NFL works. No league in American sports is harder on its rookies, in every way, than the NFL.

All of this was also emphasized when the league office said, via NFL Media's Albert Breer (h/t NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal), it did not know that Sam was doing the reality show until after the draft, contradicting a statement from Sam's agent. The league office didn't have to make that statement, but they had to let Sam know who was boss.

It's the NFL. They're the boss. You will be assimilated. That's a lesson Sam now gets.

9. Tom Coughlin shows personal side

What many people don't get about the outwardly stiff Tom Coughlin is that he is actually one of the more outstanding human beings you will ever know. Dedicated family man, sincerely so. Not a coach who says he is and then has women on the side.

I loved these two quotes from Coughlin on the series Coach Speak, which examines the demands placed on coaches. It's moderated by the always excellent Andrea Kremer. Coughlin has two of the best quotes in the series, via Sulia:

I was an assistant...and we won the Super Bowl against Buffalo in Tampa. I went around to the back door and opened it and I let my two sons in. I said all of the moving and all of the things that you guys have gone through, I asked them if they thought it was worth it. 'Yeah Dad, it was worth it.' That meant a lot to me.

Coughlin also said, speaking of his wife Judy:

It used to be I come roaring in after the end of the season, start giving orders. (Judy would respond) 'Who do you think you are? You just got here, I’ve been running this ship here for four, five, six months and you haven’t even been around.' You learn your place real quick.

10. Matthew McConaughey, Brad Pitt and Drew Brees

Because why the hell not?

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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