Archive | December, 2010

With Possible Lockout Looming, the NFLPA Takes its Case to the People

16 Dec

By Chris Murray

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith wants players to be ready for a lock out by the owners

For The Chris Murray Report

With the possibility of a lockout looming in less than 90 days, both the NFL Players Association and NFL owners are in a race against time to come up with a new collective bargaining agreement and to make sure that there will be football in 2011.

On Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the Associated Press that he is optimistic that an agreement with the players will be reached by the Super Bowl.

“There’s no higher priority than getting a collective bargaining agreement,” he said following a day of meetings with NFL team owners. “So we will work night and day to get that done.”

But the leadership of the National Football League Players Association along with its members are bracing themselves for the worst.

In what could be described as a well-orchestrated, preemptive public relations campaign, the NFLPA and its leadership has been going from city to city with its “One Team Tour” an effort to let fans, labor leaders and local political leaders know that the players want to play football in 2011 and they’re doing all they can to get a new collective bargaining agreement with the owners. The current CBA expires on March 3, 2011.

Recently, players union executive director DeMaurice Smith briefly spoke to reporters during the “One Team Tour” stop in Philadelphia  last Tuesday (Dec. 7) at the Water Works Restaurant. The One Team Tour has already made stops in Green Bay, Minnesota and Pittsburgh.

If nothing else, the players union is trying to win the public relations war because often times fans who can barely afford to attend games aren’t necessarily sympathetic to the plight of striking millionaires.

“You’re in a city that loves its football team to death,” Smith said. “You’re with fans and groups of people who want to see these guys play every Sunday. It’s important for our fans to understand that our players want to play. Nothing would make us happier than to get the deal done sooner rather than later and I want them to know that’s what we and the players are fighting for.”

During the course of the gathering, local and national leaders from the AFL-CIO spoke up in support of the players and talked about the impact an NFL work stoppage would have on the Philadelphia community as well as the rest of the country.

“It will mean that 25,000 people who work in concession stands in our stadiums will not be able to work,” said Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO. “It means that in every team’s city we will lose $160 million. Now I ask you in these tough economic times, can any of our cities afford the loss of $160 million? No, they can’t. We come here in solidarity and we will stand with our brothers until victory is won.”

During the last work stoppage in 1987 in which the owners used replacement players, some NFLPA members crossed the picket line and played with the replacement players. Eagles cornerback Ellis Hobbs are far more unified and prepared to dig in for an impending lockout. “What a lot of people are banking on as far as the owners are concerned is that we don’t know what we’re doing., Hobbs commented, “The truth is a lot of us don’t understand, but what we do know is that we have leaders who know what they’re doing and are in the right position …They’re telling us what to do and we’re following and so we’re unified in that sense.”

The NFLPA appears to bracing itself for the long-haul by urging its membership to start saving at least 25 percent of their salaries for what could be an arduous negotiation process that could possibly jeopardize the 2011 season. Smith said he it wasn’t difficult for players to understand the urgency of the situation.

“When I met with the Eagles players during the season just like every other team we talked them about if we don’t have a deal done by a certain amount of time, it is incumbent on players to protect themselves and protect their families. The message from the beginning of training camp until now has been protect yourself from this lockout.”

The owners have apparently built their own lockout war chest with a $900 million work stoppage fund, which means they are also preparing for long and difficult rounds of negotiations with the players union.

One of the main points of contention in the negotiations between the players and the owners is the distribution of revenue. The owners, who shaved two years off the current collective bargaining agreement, saying that some of the league’s franchises are suffering because the players are getting 60 percent of the revenue. Their goal is to get the players to take an 18 percent cut.

But Smith said the players aren’t getting the 60 percent of the gross revenue as the owners claim. He said the actual is number is 50 percent minus $1 billion dollars off the top. It was a point that he made emphatically clear during his confab with reporters.

“Players get 50 percent of all revenue,” Smith said. “The owners want an additional billion dollars off the top that means (the players) taking substantially less than 50 percent. That’s really been at core of our discussions. I’m hopeful that we’ve been able to get information to try to reach a fair deal.”

In 2009, the NFL made close to $9 billion dollars in gross revenue.

Getting that information from the owners is another one of the challenges in the negotiations. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners have said they have been struggling with the current downturn in the economy. The players are pushing for the owners to open their books so they can get a better understanding of their situation.

“If there is an economic justification for substantially moving backwards off of that 50 percent, let’s see what the economic justifications are,” Smith said.

The only team to release their financial records was the Green Bay Packers, which are publicly owned. In 2010, “Our goal is transparency and we’re not there yet,” Smith said. “I think transparency is good for us, it’s good for business partners. I think that a world where the players and the owners have an accurate and true picture of the business of football. That’s the way true business partners deal with each others.”

The possibility of an 18-game schedule is something that doesn’t sit too well with the players, who are concerned about the toll a longer season would take on their health, especially at a time when head injuries are on the rise.

Hobbs, who’s out for the season with a neck injury he suffered on a helmet-to-helmet collision in a game against the New York Giants, said the move to an 18-game season has to take the players health into consideration.

“When you go through an injury like I did and have been through the injuries that I’ve had throughout my career why do want to risk putting on two extra games when it’s already a long enough season,” Hobbs said “Without the right compensation, I really don’t see that happening or something that we can agree with.”

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Philly’s Lethal Weapon 3: Vick, McCoy and Jackson lead Birds potent offfensive attack

16 Dec

LeSean McCoy wants the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter for the Eagles.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Vick to Jackson is becoming a dangerous combination for the Eagles

ack Michael Vick to make plays with both his arm and his legs has had defenses scrambling to come up with a way to contain him while opening up the field for other weapons in the Eagles offense.

Two of the biggest beneficiaries of defensive nightmare scenario are wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy. Both players have emerged as a dynamic weapons in the Birds offensive attack and are the main reasons why the Eagles are on the verge of another run through the playoffs.

The way Vick, Jackson, and McCoy have been playing for the Eagles in the last few weeks has led to comparisons to that hated Dallas Cowboys trio of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmit Smith who dominated the NFL back in the 1990s by winning three Super Bowls. At the rate, they’re going at this point of the season, the Eagles “triplets” could just as lethal as that Dallas threesome.

When the Eagles (9-4) step on the field for Sunday’s NFC East showdown with the New York Giants (9-4), Jackson and McCoy will be a big part of the Birds game plan. Against a powerful Giants pass rush that sacked Vick three times when the teams met at Lincoln Financial, Jackson and McCoy will have to come up big.

The hottest player in the Eagles offensive arsenal has definitely been “Shady” McCoy. Playing on an Eagles team that prefers to put the ball in the air more often than not, McCoy has been the Birds feature back at those late in the game when you have the lead and clock management is needed.

It was McCoy’s running late in the fourth quarter that closed the door on the Cowboys in last Sunday’s 30-27 win. With 4:22 remaining, McCoy, who finished the game with 149 yards rushing on 16 carries, touched the ball five times for 56 yards (four rushing for 44 yards and one reception for six yards).

“I think any competitor wants to run the ball, especially at a time like that in the offense. You get the first down and ice the game,” McCoy said after the game. “Once we started rolling, we were rolling. We finished it. We put the foot on the gas and kept pushing away…Once we got it going, it was hard to stop us.”

Thanks to McCoy’s efforts, Dallas never saw the ball again. You would hope that pass-happy Andy Reid would finally realize that he needs to utilize McCoy’s talents as running back a little bit more in their second match against the Giants. That would probably slow down the Giants pass rush on Vick.

I’m not suggesting that the Giants aren’t going to their licks on Vick, but if the Eagles are giving the ball to McCoy in the running game about 20-25 games that might be enough to take some sting out of the Giants pass rush.

The last time, the Birds and Giants played each other, McCoy ran right up the middle of a blitzing Giants defense for a 50-yard touchdown that put the Eagles on for good late in the fourth quarter. Throughout the game, Vick had been harassed and hurried throughout the night by the New York defensive line, but McCoy’s run up the gut took the fight of the Giants defense.

So far this season the second-year back out of Pittsburgh has gained 972 yards rushing on 184 carries while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Like his predecessor Brian Westbrook, McCoy has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, he leads the Eagles in receptions with 70 for 538 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

“Listen, we knew he could catch the football and we knew he could run the football,” Reid said after Sunday’s win over the Cowboys. “And (former Eagles running back) Brian Westbrook was a big part of this of kind of telling him the little ins and outs of it. And then (running backs coach) Ted (Williams) is a veteran coach for that position, so that’s helped. And then having (former Eagles running back) Duce (Staley) here, you know, Brian left, Duce comes back and he gets another little side of it from a player’s perspective.”

The Eagles have been effective at using McCoy on the screen pass against the blitz, something that you might see a lot in the Birds rematch against the Giants.

Since Vick has been the Eagles starting quarterback, DeSean Jackson has been one of his favorite receivers, especially on deep routes. In last Sunday’s win at Dallas, Vick and Jackson hooked for two passes that went beyond 50 yards including a spectacular 91-touchdown pass that gave the Eagles a fourth quarter lead they would never relinquish.

Jackson would finish that game with four receptions for 210 yards and a touchdown. If the Birds can establish a running game against Giants, you’re going to see Vick looking for Jackson with the deep ball.

You may not think much of Jackson’s 42 receptions, but he leads the team in receiving yardage with 972 yard and six touchdowns. He is averaging 21.1 yards per catch. Those numbers speak more to Jacksons’s ability to stretch the field while teammates Jason Avant and Jeremy Maclin probe the middle of the defense in the intermediate passing game.

“He’s talented. He works hard at it,” Avant said. “If he continues to be humble, he can do a lot. It’s good to have somebody with his talent on our talent. If we can keep him away from penalties, we’ll be fine”

If there’s something that Reid and the Birds coaching staff frown upon with Jackson is flair for costly end zone celebrations. In the aftermath of his 91-yard touchdown pass against Dallas, Jackson walked and then bellyflopped backwards into the endzone, which caused a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff.

The signature game of the Vick to Jackson combination came in the Eagles big Monday Night win over the Washington Redskins. On the game’s first play, Vick hit Jackson with an 88-yard touchdown pass.

Vick by himself had a combined 413 yards (333 passing and 80 rushing) and threw four touchdown passes while scoring two more on the ground.

Meanwhile, Vick as a passer seems to improve with each game even in the midsts of all the elaborate defenses built to keep him from using his legs as a weapon.

Statistically, Vick has a 104.3 passer rating and has thrown 17 touchdown passes against three interceptions. But even more than his numbers, Vick’s resolve in the face of constant late hits and a plethora of defenses geared to stop him has helped the Eagles overcome late deficits in wins over the Giants, Texans, and Cowboys.

Vick’s unflappable belief in himself and the weapons around him is the thing that’s helped the Birds get through difficult times.

“Well, regardless of how the game goes or if you’re down by a certain margin,” Vick said. “I think you have to remain confident, remain poised, and believe in one another. That’s the one thing that we have—is trust—on this offense. And we believe we can get it done.”