Bears

See the NFL's decision on the Saints' appeals

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See the NFL's decision on the Saints' appeals

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- Sean Payton now knows for certain he won't be coaching in 2012. And the New Orleans Saints must figure out whether Bill Parcells or someone else is best suited to take over a team seeking its fourth straight trip to the playoffs. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday rejected the Saints' appeals of their unprecedented punishment stemming from the league's investigation of the club's bounty system. The program offered cash bonuses for big hits that knocked targeted opponents out of games or hurt them enough that they required help getting to the sideline. In addition to upholding Payton's suspension, which begins next Monday and runs through the Super Bowl -- in New Orleans next season -- Goodell also upheld suspensions of eight games for general manager Mickey Loomis and six games for assistant head coach Joe Vitt, along with a 500,000 fine for the franchise and the loss of second-round draft picks this year and next. Loomis, who declined comment Monday, and Vitt begin their suspensions after the preseason ends. The Saints case represents perhaps the starkest example yet of the sea change that the NFL has undergone since medical research and media reports on the long-term damage suffered by football players through concussions began to gain attention a few years ago. While former players say off-the-books incentives have been around for years, and current players say the tough talk about getting after specific opponents happens in locker rooms throughout the NFL, Goodell responded to the Saints case by handing out stern penalties. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who left the Saints after last season to join the St. Louis Rams, ran the bounty program and has been suspended indefinitely. He did not appeal. Goodell said in a statement if Payton, Loomis and Vitt "embrace the opportunity and participate in a constructive way," he would consider reducing the financial penalties on them. While none of them has been fined, each will lose significant amounts while not being paid their salaries during the suspensions. Goodell also "would consider whether there are factors that would support modifying the forfeiture of the team's 2013 second-round draft choice." The commissioner's latest decision could open the way for the Saints to coax Parcells -- Payton's mentor since their days together in Dallas -- out of retirement. Parcells, a Hall of Fame finalist who turns 71 in August, has said he would consider coaching the Saints if asked to help his former protege. Payton and Loomis played golf with the former NFL coach during NFL meetings in south Florida last month to talk to him about the team's predicament. Payton's suspension was supposed to begin April 1, but he was allowed to continue working while his appeal was pending, delaying plans to select an interim coach. If the Saints decide to hire an interim coach from outside the organization, as would be the case with Parcells, the club also would have to interview a minority candidate to comply with the NFL's "Rooney Rule." Parcells, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants and took the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, has not coached since retiring from the Cowboys after the 2006 season, though he then worked in Miami's front office. The Saints also could decide to promote from within the current staff. There are three strong candidates among Saints assistants to take over as interim coach: offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. Payton expressed confidence in the abilities of his assistants to compensate for his absence, but also has voiced some misgivings about saddling those coaches with additional responsibilities. Vitt also could be a candidate to step in, as he did briefly last season when Payton broke his leg, once his suspension ends. Loomis will be able to oversee the draft and handle other roster moves. When the preseason concludes, he will serve his suspension for failing to put a stop to the bounty system in a timely way. With all the uncertainty, Payton had been working long hours at the Saints' suburban New Orleans headquarters trying to cram as much planning for 2012 into whatever time he had left. Payton has said he laid out plans for the offseason training program and the beginning of training camp, up until the Saints play Arizona in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio. The NFL has said Williams' bounty system, which ran from 2009 through 2011, offered cash payments of 1,500 for "knockouts," in which an opposing player was knocked out of a game, or 1,000 for "cart-offs," in which an opponent needed help off the field. The league has said the bounty pool grew as large as 50,000, reaching its height in the 2009 season, when New Orleans won its only Super Bowl. The investigation also found that Payton initially lied to league investigators about the existence of a bounty program and instructed his defensive assistants to do the same. It also found that Loomis did not do enough to put a stop to the enterprise after he was informed the league was looking into it in early 2010. Payton twice apologized for his role in the bounty program, saying he takes "full responsibility" for allowing it to flourish. The NFL has said as many as 27 players also could be sanctioned in the scandal, but it is not yet clear when that might happen, creating additional uncertainty for New Orleans and some teams that have signed former Saints defensive regulars as they tried to build their 2012 rosters. Suspensions could be coming for players -- Goodell set a precedent last season when he suspended Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for two games for stomping on an opponent, and Steelers linebacker James Harrison one game for a flagrant tackle that gave Browns quarterback Colt McCoy a concussion.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.