Ben Roethlisberger walks in University of Miami's commencement ceremony.

Steelers MMQB: NFL Off Season News

May 2, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Charger fans Angela Weidmann (right) and Kristina Bautista stand near an impromptu memorial for former San Diego Charger linebacker Junior Seau at Seau

What We Learned This Week in the NFL Off Season:

  • The NFL lost one of the greatest linebackers of all time
  • Goodell drops the hammer down on Saints players involved in Bounty-Gate
  • NFLPA responds by challenging Goodell’s authority
  • Steelers Rookie Mini Camp opens and 2 out of the 7 draft picks ink their contracts
  • Ben Roethlisberger graduates from University of Miami (Ohio)

Last week was one of the oddest weeks in the NFL offseason thus far.  Between the punishments being handed down to the players involved in the bounty program in New Orleans to the passing of Junior Seau to opening of rookie camps, the NFL just can’t stay out of the headlines this off season.  The NFL was rocked on Wednesday with the news of the punishments levied against some players involved in the Saints scandal as well as the shocking death of Junior Seau broke within hours of each other.  The NFLPA wasted no time in countering the punishments by filing suit stating that Goodell should not have the authority to hand down punishment unilaterally in its attempt to have the case completely handed by an arbitrator.  Steeler Nation will note that this was one major issue Steelers players had with the newest collective bargaining agreement (Goodell’s ultimate and supreme power over discipline and appeals) and was the main reason why they were the only team not to sign. 

On a lighter note, the Steelers have obtained signed contracts from two of their seven draft picks; Alameda Ta’amu and Chris Rainey both signed their 4-year rookie contracts during the Steelers rookie camp over the weekend.  Ben Roethlisberger obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Education from the University of Miami of Ohio (or Ahia depending on how yinzer your accent is) and walked in the graduation ceremony yesterday.

When the news broke on Wednesday afternoon that former San Diego/Miami/New England linebacker Junior Seau was dead at 43 of a self inflicted gun-shot wound to the chest I think I had the same reaction as most everyone else; complete and total shock.  Many NFL players, including Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, expressed their sadness via social media after hearing the news.  What upset me about this was the following commentary that was sparked about the plight of the ex-NFL’er.  I heard NFL “analysts” all over television, radio, and social media express how difficult it is for NFL players to transition from the league back in to the real world, and the fact that they might be dealing with the lasting side effects from concussions makes it even more difficult.  Seems as though the NFL is heading into treacherous waters with these former players and their mounting medical issues, the lawsuits they are filing against the league, and the majority of they and current players still arguing that the rules designated to increase player safety are ruining the game they and we all know and love.

When it comes to the NFL “cracking down” on player safety, Roger Goodell made a clear example of his intentions by the punishment he handed down to 4 players last week as a result of the Bounty-Gate investigation in New Orleans.  Many NFL players, including Steelers players, expressed their anger towards the severity of these penalties.  I’ve never been known to agree with Goodell so far but I don’t happen to think he went too far with this.  The NFL is maintaining that they have proof, documented proof, along with the contrition of Gregg Williams himself, that the players and coaches in New Orleans participated in a pay-for-performance as well as a bounty program even after being specifically told not to several times by the league.  I seriously doubt that there are only 4 players that they have this proof on.  I’d say they got off lucky with the fact that only 2 current Saints players will face any suspensions during this upcoming season.

DeMaurice Smith is about to battle the Commish again this summer.

In my opinion, if the Saints players wanted to distance themselves from this scandal and insist that they hadn’t done anything wrong, they really should have been more proactive about maintaining their innocence.  Remember, these players weren’t suspended for hitting hard or any specific “illegal hits”.  Their suspensions are coming from the fact that the league feels it can prove that those specific players participated in activities that are specifically outlawed within the CBA, the severity is because Goodell has to slap a harshness about it to show that he’s totally for player safety, even if he wants more Thursday night games on his own network, and still wants an 18 game season.  The fact that the Saints did not lead the league in personal foul penalties during the time the bounty program was said to be going on, and the fact that while game tape shows some harsh hits on targeted QB’s Kurt Warner and Brett Favre, neither suffered any “cart offs” during games against the Saints should have worked in their favor.  Apparently Gregg Williams is highly regarded and respected in the player community, but I think this was the time the players should have thrown him under the bus to save themselves.  They could have argued that the league might have proof that Williams instituted this bounty program but by the game tape, you can’t really prove that the players willingly participated in it.  They could have argued that if they did participate, it was because that’s what they were being coached to do.  Instead they are maintaining that nothing illegal went on, in spite of Williams acknowledging it all initially.

Instead the players went on the offensive, and took to the courts under the NFLPA to challenge Goodell’s authority to hand down such punishments.  I think it is very unlikely that they can overturn this or even change Goodell’s authority because of the fact that all these players agreed to these terms in the CBA.  Last August, under the threat of preseason game cancellations, the players and owners agreed on a new CBA to last 10 years with Goodell keeping his supreme authority over all things discipline.  If they wanted to change anything about that, that was the time.  It could be too little, too late at this point.  Meanwhile Charlie Batch, Ryan Clark, and the rest of the Steelers players can turn to the rest of the league and give them all a big “told ya so!” when it comes to the players realizing at this point Goodell has far too much power over them.

The Steelers rookie camp opened over the weekend and contracts were signed by the Steelers 4th and 5th round picks.  The Steelers, always known for drafting well, had what appears to be on paper a spectacular draft, adding much needed help to the offensive line, defense, and special teams.  Ta’amu, out of Washington, is considered to be the heir apparent to Casey Hampton at nose tackle, and Rainey has speed that could rival Mike Wallace’s.  Training camp this year should be a sight to see with all this new talent coming in and a relatively new offense being instituted under Todd Haley.  With all the change to the offense, if there was any truth to the rumor that Ben was upset with losing BA and not happy with Haley the best way to make a quarterback happy is to draft him some protection and that’s just what the Steelers did.

Speaking of Ben, he finally obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in education from Miami University over the weekend.  Ben attended the graduation ceremony and walked with the rest of the 2012 graduates nine years after leaving to enter the NFL draft.  It’s quite an accomplishment that unfortunately not all players take advantage of, having the opportunity to finish their degree if they left school early.  Last off season Troy Polamalu received his bachelor’s degree finally from the University of Southern California.  Not that these guys will ever have to enter the “real world” of writing resumes and interviewing for office jobs to work in a cubicle, but to accomplish something like a college education is a big deal no matter what you plan to do with your degree.

I’d like to thank Steeler Nation for all of the prayers and support for my father, who has been in critical condition for over a month now.  A very special thank you to everyone here at Nice Pick Cowher, who allowed me to take time away from writing and still made me feel like I never left the team.   My family appreciates all the support more than I could express.  Steeler Nation is truly remarkable.

Follow me on Twitter @Kimmy_KimKimM

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