Steinberg: NFL never rests

So it is a weekend in March with "March Madness" having the equivalent of their semifinals for the NCAA men's basketball championships. Countless millions of folks across the country, some of whom never watch a college game, have filled out brackets with their predictions.

The amount of money changing hands in the next eight days is enough to finance a small country for a year. Spring training is drawing to a close with Opening Day not far away. The NBA is running it's accelerated schedule, with games being played more frequently than ever before. And what has been the dominant topic of interest in media and around the water cooler? The NFL, which does not open training camps for four months.

I was interviewed on more talk radio shows this past week than any time since the Super Bowl, and here were the topics:

Bounty-gate. The NFL discovered that assistant Greg Williams, who recently departed defensive coordinator duties at the New Orleans Saints to head to St. Louis, had instituted a program that financially rewarded any player who "knocked an offensive player out of the game."

While NFL players frequently reward each other for hard hits, this was an actual coach and organization inciting its players for injuring an opponent.

Yes, the NFL is a contact game, and no we're not advocating putting quarterbacks in a rocking chair or a dress, but the game is dangerous enough without paying players to injure others. This type of team sanction to the most excessive of behavior, a license to maim, sets a horrific model that would trickle down to collegiate and high school football.

Players are in denial anyway and will play until they break down every joint in the body long-term. The recent ESPN Outside the Lines interview with former Chicago Bear Super Bowl quarterback Jim McMahon, who has lost his short-term memory and is confused everyday, illustrates the danger.

Commissioner Roger Goodell needed to send a strong message, and to his credit he did. He fined the team $500,000, indefinitely suspended Williams, suspended head coach Sean Payton for a season, general manager Mickey Loomis for half a season, and took second-round draft picks away for the next two years. Also, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended without pay for the first six regular-season games of the 2012 season.

The Saints Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, who the team could not come to terms with for a new contract and used its one franchise tag to lock him into unsatisfying one-year deal, has to be destabilized regarding his future.


Tebow traded to the New York Jets. Local product quarterback Mark Sanchez must feel he is living a nightmare. He was hoping to rebound from a disappointing 2011 season and just signed a contract extension. And he wakes up to read that the most popular player in the NFL, who is beloved by millions for his faith and "everyman" status, is now his backup.

While the Jets justify the trade by discussing a "wildcat role" for Tebow on third downs, Sanchez knows what he is facing.

Some years ago a player with a similar national following, Doug Flutie, returned from Canada to the NFL. I represented three players — Jim Harbaugh, Tony Eason and Rob Johnson — that he backed up. Much of the public didn't care what his actual level of talent was, they loved him. And each time the starting quarterback threw an interception or multiple incompletions, the chanting and controversy began.

"We want Flutie! We want Flutie!" echoed in the stands.

Teams need to have unity and confidence in their leader, and a quarterback needs the security of knowing that his franchise is behind him through thick and thin. The Denver public virtually lobbied Tebow into a starting job. And while last season was exciting and miraculous for him, I'm still not convinced he is a franchise starting quarterback.


Peyton Manning to Denver. The Broncos decided to abandon the Tebow experiment and sign a legend at quarterback. There is no question that Manning is capable of taking a franchise to the Super Bowl. As I wrote in this space several weeks ago, Manning has had multiple neck surgeries and had to sit out last season. This is the neck that is in question, paralysis can follow with the wrong hit.

Does it really make sense to continue playing after 14 Hall of Fame-type seasons, having played in the Super Bowl, with lifetime financial security and multiple second career options as a father of young kids?

He hasn't asked for my advice, but it illustrates why athletes find it so hard to walk away from a game and lifestyle that they love.


On a personal note, I celebrated my second Sober Birthday on Wednesday and my chronological birthday is this Tuesday. I remember the 1960s in Berkeley when we chanted "Don't Trust Anyone Over 30" and now I have more than doubled that marker.

My daughter, Katie, finds it remarkable that I can walk and chew gum at the same time. But as we are the Baby Boomer generation with the largest population bulge in America, we can redefine age.

The best is yet to come.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or

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