Patriots

In the NFL labor wars, it's all relative

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In the NFL labor wars, it's all relative

By Michael Felger

After decades as a doormat, NFL players have gotten tough. Good for them. It's about time.

They've also grown acutely suspicious and distrustful, for which you can hardly blame them, either.

The germination of the current labor impasse is the owners' demand for more money from the players for "operating expenses.'' The initial demand was for 1 billion, which would be in addition to the 1 billion the owners already collect off an estimated 9.3 billion in total gross revenue. The owners' asking price was said to be down to 325 million by the time talks blew up last Friday.

Remember, the owners were saying for years they couldn't survive without that extra billion, which turned out to be quite a claim, since they'll now apparently accept 675 million less than that. But that's not what would make me most suspicious if I were a player. After all, that's just negotiating.

No, if I were a player I'd keep going back to those "operating expenses.'' The owners say the new funds will be used to grow the game (new stadiums, new media expansion, overseas opportunities, etc). But, naturally, the money will also be used to pay employees and cover expenses incurred in the operation of the league and its teams. And if the owners say they need more money to operate the game, isn't it reasonable for the players to ask for more details about those operations since it's coming out of their pocket?

Yes, these are private businesses, and as such they are not required to open their books. But the owners generate their profits through a revenue split with the players. And in a revenue-split model, when one side asks for a greater slice of that revenue at the expense of the other, there usually has to be a justification for it.

It would be one thing if the players trusted the owners. But the owners haven't come close to earning the players' trust, especially after the Robert Kraft-negotiated TV deal was blown up in federal court two weeks ago.

That deal would have provided the owners with lockout insurance at the expense of additional revenue that should have been split with the players. Remember Kraft scolding the players at the Super Bowl for bringing that action to court, as Tom E. Curran so brilliantly pointed out? If the players had taken his advice and gotten the lawyers out of the room, they would have lost most of their leverage.

After hearing that, would you trust this guy if you were a player?

But it goes beyond that. Just look at the first few names on any given NFL masthead. Consider for a moment how these teams might be run at the very top.

Start in Arizona, where Bill Bidwill, who inherited the team, is chairmanowner, his son Michael is team president and his other son, Bill Jr., is a vice president. Or check out Dallas, where Jerry Jones is the owner, president and general manager, Stephen Jones is the COO and director of player personnel, Jerry Jones Jr. is an executive VP and chief sales and marketing officer and Charlotte Jones Anderson is the VP of brand management (whatever that is). Or how about Minnesota, where Zygi Wilf is the ownerchairman, Mark Wilf is the ownerpresident, Leonard Wilf is the ownervice chairman and Jeffrey Wilf is an ownership partner (whatever that is). Cincinnati has always been a good one, too, where Mike Brown is the president, Katie Blackburn (Brown's daughter) is the executive VP, Pete Brown is the senior VP of player personnel and Paul Brown is the VP of player personnel.

Sort of feels like Bushwood Country Club, doesn't it?

We'd like to introduce our new VP in charge of brand management, Spaulding Smails.

Try reading up on Bill Bidwill sometime. I say "try," because there doesn't seem to be much there. It seems the length of his accomplishments entail being born and inheriting a football team. If Bidwill has had any other job in his life (he was in the Navy for a time in his 20s), or earned a dime from anyone other than the Cardinals, I couldn't find it. His net worth is still said to be in the hundreds of millions. He's said to enjoy military history, cars, coffee and food.

Oh, and losing football games.

Okay, so NFL front offices have become the lucky sperm club. In some places these family members actually work (unfortunately for the fans in Dallas and Cincinnati, the Joneses and Browns really do pick the players). In other places the owners wouldn't know if the ball is puffed or stuffed (in the last 63 years under Bidwill family ownership, the Cards have won a grand total of three playoff games).

The point is that the sperm club salaries fall under the heading, "operating expenses.'' So do their business expenses.

Again, before the players give the owners more money off the top of the gross revenue pie, don't you think it's fair for them to ask just what goes into those expenses in the first place?

What if, for example, some of these family members make as much as the left tackle? Would that surprise you? It wouldn't surprise me. And all the owners must draw a salary, right? Look at some of their titles. Some of them hold three positions. Does that mean three salaries? Whatever, all that money qualifies as an operating expense. So do private planes and company trips. And when it's a private business, there's no reason why that trip can't be in Vail and Spaulding's car can't be a Bentley. It's just another "operating expense."

Do you get it, now?

The owners would be better off just saying they think the players are making too much. Then there'd be no explanations necessary. You're making too much. We want more. Plain and simple. It's capitalism. We'd all get it.

But when owners say they need the money to operate the game, then shouldn't the specifics of that operation be on the table?

Maybe the owners operate their teams on tight budgets with few perks. Maybe there are no frivolous salaries or needless expenses. Maybe everyone flies commercial. It's possible family members are hired purely on the basis of merit and are paid like anyone else would be from the outside.

But probably not.

That's why audited financials are the issue. That's why you can't blame the players for asking:

If "operating expenses" are the problem, why don't we take a look at Spaulding's plane first?

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Hard to find a Patriots equal in soft AFC

Hard to find a Patriots equal in soft AFC

John Elway created a stir this week when he said his Broncos, after a 3-1 start, had “gotten a little bit soft." Elway, the Broncos GM, said that after five straight Denver losses – the last two by the combined score of 92-39

Denver’s head coach Vance Joseph said Elway’s remark bothered him. He talked to his players about it. On Sunday, the Broncos went out and did something about it. They lost by just three at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Yay.

They’re pretty much all soft in the AFC this year. Check out the AFC West. There’s Denver. And the Raiders – who the Patriots handled with disturbing ease on Sunday, 33-8. The 5-4 Kansas City Chiefs, who lost on the road to the one-win Giants after starting the season 5-0.

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The AFC East is soft. Miami was 4-2. It’s lost four straight including a 40-0 loss to Baltimore. The Jets were 3-2, they’re now 4-6 (which is a minor miracle given how ragged their roster is). The Bills were 5-2, now they’re 5-5 having lost by a combined 101-34 the past two weeks as head coach Sean McDermott willingly stuck a butter knife in an electrical outlet and replaced Tyrod Taylor with a not-ready-for-preseason-Week-4 Nathan Peterman.

The AFC South is led by the Jaguars and Titans. Jacksonville – which can play some defense – isn’t as bad as the rest. The Jags have won four straight and play cutthroat defense, but they had their hands full with the 0-10 Browns on Sunday. During the week, running back Leonard Fournette complained about having to play in the cold in Cleveland. At least he showed up Sunday and ran for 111. The Titans are awful when they leave Tennessee, which was further proven last Thursday when they lost 40-17 at Pittsburgh. Since October began, they’ve been outscored 122-43 in four road games. Their one road win in that span was a 12-9 decision over Cleveland. 

The big, bad AFC North contingent led by the Steelers at 8-2? Talented. But led by a forever-whining, passive-aggressive quarterback who openly and annually mulls retirement and two “me first” skill guys in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Their greatest strength may be in executing elaborate post-touchdown skits. Vital.

Meanwhile, here are the boring-ass Patriots. Yeah, they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and continuity in the program and coaching staff, but the gap between them and everyone else in the conference is that they don’t worry about the cold or the road or the five-act plays after they score.

They stayed a week in Colorado Springs to get ready for the altitude. Two Patriots – Stephon Gilmore and Danny Amendola – had to be treated for dehydration in the second half. After five PLAYS, Raiders rookie Obi Melifonwu was asking out of the game saying he couldn’t breathe.

The Raiders – a team that went 12-4 last year - haven’t improved a bit defensively all season. They are – under head coach Jack Del Rio – one of those “we do what we do” defenses the Patriots love to face because it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Brady is now 8-1 against Del Rio-led teams/defenses and the numbers against Del Rio’s teams are absurd: 225 completions on 310 attempts for (73 percent) for 2,387 yards, 21 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

It just feels like the AFC is a collection of teams, with an overwhelming majority of them in turn-it-on, turn-it-off mode. Their coaches are just kind of casting about, constantly open to suggestion and willing to give anything a shot because, hell, they better try something to get hot or they’ll be passing out resumes at the Combine in four months.

The Patriots remaining schedule goes like this: Dolphins, Bills, Dolphins, Steelers, Bills, Jets. Shake me awake on December 17 when the Steelers game comes. And we have a mountain of data explaining how that one will go too.

I’m not weary of the team. It’s historic and fascinating, like watching a hooded Mozart compose and a helmeted Van Gogh paint every week. But the exercise of trying to conjure scenarios where the Patriots play November football with the exquisite ineptitude of their opponents is not easy.

They are doing this without Julian Edelman or Dont'a Hightower. They played Sunday without Chris Hogan, David Andrews, Marcus Cannon and Matt Slater.

Offenses can’t score against them. Defenses can’t stop them. They create points on special teams. They manage the game, the clock and their opponents like simple arithmetic while every other team’s doing trigonometry. What was broken in September has been long fixed.

The time will come again when the Patriots appear just as inept, clueless and mired in mediocrity as every other AFC team appears right now. But it won’t be this year.

So embrace the softness? I guess?

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Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

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Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

ARLINGTON, Texas - No kicker, no problem for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Carson Wentz threw for two touchdowns and three 2-point conversions after Philadelphia lost kicker Jake Elliott to a head injury, and the Eagles all but wrapped up the NFC East with a 37-9 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

The Eagles (9-1) outscored the Cowboys 30-0 in the second half while extending their winning streak to eight games, their longest since 2003-04 and tied with New Orleans for the best current run in the NFL.

Philadelphia leads the second-place and defending division champion Cowboys (5-5) by four games with six to play after handing Dallas its worst home loss at 8-year-old AT&T Stadium.

Dallas' Dak Prescott threw a career-high three interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in his second straight loss without star running back Ezekiel Elliott, serving a six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence.

Jake Elliott's injury wasn't a factor for nearly a half because the NFL-leading Eagles couldn't get in scoring position. They failed to get a first down on five straight first-half drives, starting with one at the Dallas 15 when Elliott missed a 34-yard attempt and soon after left the field.

Trailing 9-7 at halftime, Wentz led the Eagles on scoring drives of 75, 90 and 85 yards, the middle one boosted by Jay Ajayi's 71-yard run against his hometown team in his second game since getting traded by Miami.

"The biggest thing was sticking with the game plan," said Wentz, who is up to 25 touchdown passes with just five interceptions. "The big boys up front kind of came out angry. We ran the ball the second half really effectively."

Ajayi had 91 yards on seven carries and LeGarrette Blount added 57 on 13 carries, including a 30-yarder leading to the last offensive touchdown.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson declared at halftime that he would go for every fourth down and try 2-point conversions after every touchdown.

It came into play right away when Corey Clement scored on an 11-yard run to open the second half and ran in a screen pass behind three blockers for the 2-pointer.

The first fourth-down try was Wentz's 17-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery for a 29-9 lead. That 2-point pass failed. Torrey Smith had the other TD catch, an 11-yarder.

After Derek Barnett hit Prescott's leg and arm as he was throwing, Nigel Bradham picked up the loose ball and ran it 37 yards for a touchdown. Wentz's 2-point pass to Trey Burton provided the final margin.

"We got some nice 2-point conversions," said Wentz, who was 14 of 27 for 168 yards. "Now we've got to go back to the drawing board with our 2-point plays."

The Cowboys appeared to have fixed the problems of missing injured left tackle Tyron Smith and 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee from a week earlier, when they allowed eight sacks of Prescott along with three Atlanta scoring drives following Lee's injury in a 27-7 loss to the Falcons.

But after protecting Prescott fairly well before halftime, Dallas allowed three sacks and 180 of Philadelphia's season-high 215 yards rushing in the second half. Lee's replacement at weakside linebacker, Anthony Hitchens, left with a groin injury after halftime.

Prescott was 18 of 31 for 145 yards for a career-worst 30.4 passer rating before backup Cooper Rush took mop-up duty.

"It's no excuses," said Prescott, who teamed with Elliott in a remarkable rookie season that is now a distant memory with already two more losses and three more interceptions than Prescott had a year ago. Elliott won't be back until the final two games of the regular season.

"We're not saying injuries or any of that's bothering us. We're not saying it's the reason we're not winning is because of those guys."

NO RUST THIS TIME

The Eagles had a focus on being better following the bye after losing nine of 11 last season after a 3-0 start going into the break. Now Philadelphia will take a shot at the best record in the NFL with history on its side when starting this strong. The Eagles have two NFL championships (1949, 1960) and two trips to the Super Bowl (1980, 2004, both losses) following 9-1 starts.

SECOND-HALF MELTDOWNS

The Cowboys have been outscored 47-0 in the second half the past two weeks following a three-game winning streak that seemed to have Dallas back on track following an NFC-best 13-3 record last season.

"It would be pretty tough not to panic, but I don't think we are panicking," said running back Alfred Morris, who had 91 yards filling in for Ezekiel Elliott. "It's been two tough losses, ugly losses on top of that. But at the same time, I know the character of this team and the fight we have."

EMERGENCY KICKER

Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is the emergency kicker for the Eagles. But he completely missed the safety net on a practice try on the sidelines, sending the ball into the stands. He did reach the goal line with his first kickoff, though.

UP NEXT

Eagles: Home against Chicago next Sunday.

Cowboys: Los Angeles Chargers visiting for annual Thanksgiving game.

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