Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Owners Passing the Buck on NFL's Problems

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 17, 2014

Jim Mone/AP Images

1. The owners are being gutless

In Carolina, it was the coach, not the owner, who explained why a man convicted of physically abusing and threatening to kill a woman was going to play. Then not going to play. Jerry Richardson had a tearful speech at another function, but where was his press conference explaining the decision? There was none. 

In San Francisco, coach Jim Harbaugh had a press conference—a rather ridiculous one—but a press conference to explain why the 49ers' accused woman beater was still playing. Where was the owner press conference? Good question.

In Minnesota, in one of the most intelligence-insulting, absurd, fact-devoid press conferences I've ever seen, general manager Rick Spielman spoke about his star playing despite being the alleged cause of horrific scratches and bruising on a four-year-old—including injuries to the child's testicles. Then the coach came out and took only football questions. The owner? Invisible, until today's press conference. Even when Zygi Wilf did find the spine to be accountable to the press, it was a joke. The Wilfs said they wanted to get the Peterson decision right, but they didn't admit the right decision only came after they were pressured by corporate sponsors.

In Baltimore, after the Ravens released their particular woman beater, it was coach John Harbaugh who met the media in what was another awkward exchange. The owner? No press conference. Oh, he did do a cozy sit-down interview, but he wasn't subjugated to queries from the general media the way Harbaugh was.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Owner Steve Bisciotti had this shameful response (via The Baltimore Sun) when asked why he didn't meet the press that day instead of Harbaugh: 

It seems to me that people thought we were shunning our responsibilities. That seems to be pretty consistent. So for me to say, I regret that people thought we threw John out there and we should have been the ones, I will tell you that this was so emotionally tough on us on Monday that there is no way I could have prepared to meet the press that day. There's just no way.

I think whatever we gained by going out there and talking, we would have lost by saying the wrong things. If Ozzie has taught me one thing in our 14 years together, it's that any big decision, he likes to sleep on. I want an answer right way. Ozzie never gives it to me. He always says, 'Let me think on it, I'll talk to you tomorrow about it.' We've come to learn to wait on Ozzie and we usually get good counsel when it comes to football decisions. I channeled him when we decided that we weren't ready to talk to the press that day.

There is a pattern here with all of the owners: In each case, the owners were gutless and let other men take the arrows for their decisions.

This has been a trend throughout all of this mess. The owners have been invisible. Commissioner Roger Goodell deserves his share of the blame, to be sure, but Goodell has at least been accountable.

And while it is true that the owners paid Goodell over $40 million to take the slings and arrows, it would still be nice for some of these guys to crawl out from behind their security and face the public the way Goodell does. I would love to see some of these guys show a little courage.

They've gotten passes, mostly. No, check that—they've gotten passes, entirely. Everyone has had their feet held to the fire—the players, the coaches, the general managers; everyone except the owners.

Genevieve Ross/Associated Press

What I know is that if the Vikings were to win a Super Bowl, we'd see Zygi Wilf, owner of the team, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. He wouldn't email a statement to the press. He'd stand before them.

Well, now, here we are. This is when owners are needed the most, and what are many of them doing?

They're hiding.

2. This is how you lead

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Go ahead and say he's just being a politician, but I loved this (via the St. Paul Pioneer-Press) from Minnesota governor Mark Dayton. It's the kind of stance the Vikings should have taken from the beginning.

It is an awful situation. Yes, Mr. Peterson is entitled to due process and should be 'innocent until proven guilty.' However, he is a public figure; and his actions, as described, are a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the State of Minnesota. Whipping a child to the extent of visible wounds, as has been alleged, should not be tolerated in our state. Therefore, I believe the team should suspend Mr. Peterson, until the accusations of child abuse have been resolved by the criminal justice system.

See, Vikings, that wasn't so hard, was it?

3. More changes in NFL to come

The league has responded with some positive change following the massive screwup in their initial reaction after the release of the Ray Rice video. The NFL has appointed more women to key posts and created new positions with weight. More than window dressing. Substantial stuff. At least to me.

I'm told by a high-ranking team executive that more changes are on the way. None include the removal of Goodell, I'm told, but they are more structural changes and personnel additions. This story remains in flux.

4. League faces challenges on discipline

This blog post from stradleylaw.com is one of the smartest and most sensible things written on the league's challenge in formulating a true anti-crime policy. There are numerous minefields the NFL has to navigate. It won't be easy.

5. The 49ers' locker room

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

It's been reported that Jim Harbaugh has lost the 49ers' locker room. After speaking to 49ers players last week, I don't have a feel for the accuracy of that, but I do know this: There is definitely a chill between a significant number of players on the roster and Harbaugh.

I'm not sure I'd call it a rift or say that he's lost the team. But it just seems, after speaking to players privately and not for attribution, that Harbaugh has worn out the locker room. They don't hate Harbaugh; they've just tuned him out. I think that's the best way to phrase it.

One player put the situation perfectly: "We listen to him, we respect him as a man, we all want to win. But he drives us crazy. Right now, we're all on autopilot."

Everyone will do their jobs, but there is a great deal of tension between Harbaugh and the team.

Harbaugh burned bridges at Stanford as well. This is what he does—while also being one of the best pure coaches I've ever seen in recent years. What Harbaugh has been unable to do is balance the insane coaching life the way his Stanford successor, David Shaw, did.

The belief among many team executives is that this will be Harbaugh's last season in San Francisco. He'll move on, and since he won't change, he'll have great success coaching the next team...

...and then burn out everyone there, too.

6. Colin Kaepernick's interesting quotes

Last thing on the 49ers. Kaepernick is on the cover of VMAN Magazine, and he says one interesting thing in the article. Speaking to critics who believe he should stay in the pocket more and run less:

When [Michael] Vick and Vince Young first came into the league, it wasn't necessarily accepted. It wasn't thought of as a successful way to run an offense or that it could be part of an NFL offense. I almost feel like they suffered from it. You possibly took the most explosive part of their game away from them and said, 'Don't do this. You're not supposed to. You're in the NFL. You're supposed to stay in the pocket. Maybe in college [you could run], but not here.'

7. Jay Freaking Cutler

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears drops back to pass against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on September 14, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

I've been a Jay Cutler critic because so many times, after making so many great plays, he would make so many knuckleheaded ones. But going into this season, I thought the new coaching and schemes would help settle Cutler—and if what happened against San Francisco is an indicator, he's on that track.

His late-game performance showed just what he's capable of doing. Cutler has always had a million-dollar arm and dime-store head, but it's possible that the new coaching staff has figured out a way to get Cutler to cut down on the errant throws and bad mistakes.

He torched one of the top three defenses in football without making a ton of mental errors. The old Cutler would have tossed an interception or fumbled or thrown a pick-six. Cutler would have Cutler'd.

That may be changing. Cutler may finally be getting it, and that makes him a far more dangerous quarterback than he's ever been.

8. Andrew Luck taking shots

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 15: Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during a game at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 15, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

One NFC scout on Luck: "Luck is fantastic, but no one can take the kind of shots he does, week in and week out. He's taking big hits, and eventually it's going to catch up to him and that team."

Luck wasn't sacked against Philadelphia in Week 2, but like in many games, he took substantial hits. He's starting to become Ben Roethlisberger. The Colts had better change that fast.

9. A misleading stat

The statistic that's been floating all week since being reported by FiveThirtyEight.com—teams that start the season 0-2 have a 20 percent chance of making the postseason—is slightly misleading. Slightly.

It's definitely not good to start 0-2, but it's not a playoff death sentence. This, from the NFL:

Since realignment in 2002, nearly 60 percent of the playoff teams (59.7 percent, 86 of 144) started the season at either 1-1 or 0-2. That includes five of the eight division champions from last year: Carolina (NFC South), Cincinnati (AFC North), Green Bay (NFC North), Indianapolis (AFC South) and Philadelphia (NFC East).

The message for 0-2 teams is it's not time to panic. Yet.

10. Things are truly getting serious in nickname fight

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

When you start messing with the NFL's tax-exempt status, that is serious. Very serious.

Who knows if this legislation will ever happen. This type of talk has occurred before. But just another conversation about the possibility of removing the league's tax-exempt status over the Washington team nickname will be frightening enough for the league.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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