1. Mark Cuban: NFL expansion fee would be enormous
Mark Cuban is one of the smartest people in all of sports. Hell, he's one of the smartest people, period. When he talks, you listen, and what he recently told me about NFL expansion is an interesting listen.
I asked Cuban if it was a truly viable option for the NFL to put a team in Las Vegas. His response?
"Only if it's a multibillion-dollar franchise fee."
Cuban was referring to flat-out expansion, not a team like the Raiders or Chargers relocating.
I must admit, I've never heard a number that high—several billion (plural)—for what it would take to make it worth the NFL's while to expand. Bob McNair paid $700 million for the Houston Texans in 1999, and that was considered the highest expansion fee in the history of American sports. Consider that NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported in January that for the right to move to Los Angeles, a franchise must pay $550 million.
I asked Cuban to expound.
"When you add a team, you have to give them their share of profits," he said. "So, teams would split things by 33, not 32. The franchise fee has to be enough to more than pay for the share of revenue teams are giving up. It's the same reason I voted against expanding in the NBA. ...
"The question isn't whether it's worth it for the new owner. It's whether it's worth it to the NFL owners."
He got me thinking. If expansion in the NBA doesn't make financial sense for owners, then it won't in the NFL, either. Finding the right owner is hard enough, but it simply might not be profitable for the current group of owners to allow another team at a reasonable price. This might be the biggest reason there's been no expansion in some two decades.
All of which means what we may see for decades to come is a game of musical cities, similar to what we're seeing now with the Rams, Chargers and Raiders. The Rams moved to Los Angeles. The Chargers might move...somewhere. The Raiders might go to Vegas.
If there's no true expansion, there could be years of teams threatening to move—maybe even to places like London or Mexico City. More cities could be held hostage. Build us a new stadium, or we'll move.
Again, Cuban is often a few steps ahead of almost everyone else in sports. He might see something no one else does. He's that smart. And if what he says is accurate, any expansion would lead to significant financial loss for owners unless a new buyer paid several billion dollars for a team.
So maybe we should get used to a 32-team league. It might stay that way for decades.
2. Long-term NFL plan could be to force Mark Davis to sell Raiders
Want to know how cutthroat NFL owners are? Consider the case of their long-term plan for Mark Davis.
If owners reach a point where they don't want Davis to move the team to Las Vegas, they would purposely make the relocation fee far too high, I'm told by a league source.
Then, Davis would wither on the vine in Oakland, and he'd be forced to sell the team, and there'd be the new ownership that some owners, like Jerry Jones, have long wanted in Oakland. I know for a fact this plan is being considered. I'm told some in the league are talking openly about it.
Yeah, NFL owners don't mess around.
(Also, a personal note: This will be the last damn time I write about the damn NFL in Vegas until a damn team moves there.)
3. En banc
It's a fancy-pants phrase. It basically means Tom Brady wants his appeal, which was previously heard by a limited number of appellate judges and was denied, to be heard by the entire Second Circuit. That would be good for Brady, but he shouldn't get his hopes up.
From the Boston Globe's Ben Volin: "According to [sports law expert Daniel] Wallach's research, only eight of 27,856 appeals in the Second Circuit were granted an en banc hearing between 2000-2010, or less than .03 percent."
4. Terrible look for the NFL
A congressional investigation showed top NFL officials "waged an improper, behind-the-scenes campaign last year to influence a major U.S. government research study on football and brain disease," Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada of ESPN reported.
This is not good. This is not good at all.
The NFL denied any wrongdoing (via Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio), but the report seems thorough and accurate. If it is, it means the NFL's public protestations about wanting an independent voice to examine the head trauma issue were all BS.
What this all shows is the NFL, on this issue in particular, will always look out for its bottom line. The league may talk about how it cares about the health and safety of its players, but it actually sometimes, you know, doesn't.
As NFLPA president Eric Winston tweeted:
5. Louis Riddick nails it
As strong as the NFL is, how long can the league keep taking these types of PR hits and still prosper? That's the point Riddick, a former player and front office executive, made on ESPN. At some point, even a behemoth like football can implode.
6. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jets getting closer
Ryan Fitzpatrick is telling reporters he wants to return to the Jets, and a league source told me the two sides were getting closer to some type of deal.
Now, I say this with great caution. Contract talks ebb and flow, like poop in a sewer system. But it seems that both sides are starting to realize something important: The power rests with neither of them. Fitzpatrick has little bargaining room, because no other team wants to pay him what he believes he's worth. The Jets have no bargaining room, because they have Geno Smith.
So, as often happens in these situations, everyone is starting to come to their senses.
7. 'The T Train'
Ravens offensive lineman Eugene Monroe described "the T Train"—a line of players waiting pregame to get the painkiller Toradol injected into their backsides—in the Players' Tribune this week.
Monroe asks the league and union to do three different things to help prevent opiate dependence in the NFL, which Monroe and others say remains a significant problem:
1. Remove marijuana from the banned substances list.
2. Fund medical marijuana research, especially as it relates to CTE.
3. Stop overprescribing addictive and harmful opioids.
It's rare for an active player to speak so bluntly and honestly about painkillers and their destructive effect. Good for Monroe.
8. Justin Forsett visits San Quentin
Ravens running back Justin Forsett visited San Quentin State Prison with at-risk youth in an attempt to show them what prison life is like. He wrote a powerful blog post about the experience. This section was particularly striking:
I visited the prison, which is outside of San Fran, with a group of at-risk middle and high school kids from the local community, as well as with Josh Johnson (who's now a quarterback with the Ravens) and Kansas City corner Marcus Peters. Some of the inmates who were on "good behavior" showed us around the facility and spoke to the kids about the importance of making good decisions. Once you get to San Quentin, you've done something pretty bad. And since one bad decision can land you in a place like this, the inmates really encourage them to avoid this life path. Some of them—I'm talking murderers in there for life—shared their stories and made sure that the kids understood that jail is not a cool place to be. It's sort of like a "scared straight" approach, but not entirely. It was more like a "you don't have to do what I did" warning message.
Seeing their daily routine firsthand was scary enough. We had a chance to stand inside their prison cell, which is like the size of a New York City closet. You've got a bunk bed and a roommate. If you're on the top bunk and turn to the side, your shoulder is touching the ceiling. And the toilet is right in there with them. There are all kinds of rules in the showers, which are segregated by ethnicity. I didn't actually try the food (I didn't need to go in too deep like that!), but they said it's horrible.
We had officers walking with us on our tour, but it's all pretty open. You're amongst the prisoners out there in the prison yard, which actually looks like it does in the movies. When you walk through the yard, through the basketball courts, it's all segregated by sections. You've got the Mexicans, the Polynesians, whites, blacks...they are all separate.
Forsett is proving to be one of the NFL's best leaders off the field.
9. Team executive on Jimbo Fisher: He's not an NFL head coach
Florida State's Jimbo Fisher told Florio last year he'd heard from at least one NFL team about becoming a head coach.
Recently, he told the Palm Beach Post's Tom D'Angelo that he'd never say never to an NFL team and has had some offers. That may be true. I'm sure some teams see Fisher's excellent record at Florida State and think he could coach in the NFL.
Just not the front office executive that I spoke to. He believes Fisher is more of a personnel guy than a coach on the NFL level.
"I'd love him in my scouting department," the executive said, "but I'm not sure how good a coach he is."
10. Great story on Erik Kramer following suicide attempt
Erik Kramer's story, told by the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett, is an inspiring one, but it's also a cautionary tale of how quickly mental health issues can overwhelm. This can be especially true of football players. I've met many who view mental health problems as a form of weakness, when that's not the case. Many people could learn from Kramer.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.