The NFL Players Association dropped a grievance that it filed on behalf of three New York Giants players who were fined by Coach Tom Coughlin after showing up early to a team meeting just before last season, but not early enough to suit Coughlin.
The case was to be heard by an arbitrator late last week, and a union official even traveled to New York for the case. But the players involved -- cornerback Terry Cousin and linebackers Barrett Green and Carlos Emmons -- didn't want to pursue the case. Cousin was released by the Giants this offseason and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and didn't want to travel to New York to resolve a dispute over $500, sources familiar with the case said.
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Coughlin fined the players $500 apiece after they arrived a few minutes early to the meeting, only to find it already under way. Coughlin later said that his meetings start five minutes early, so anyone who arrives after that is late. Coughlin's taskmaster ways didn't always sit well with Giants veterans last year in the coach's first season with the team, and the club lost eight straight games after a 5-2 beginning and finished the season with a record of 6-10.
Players Association chief Gene Upshaw clashed with Coughlin last offseason when several Giants players informed the union that Coughlin's workouts were violating league rules. The league and the union investigated and determined that the Giants indeed had violated the rules pertaining to the length of workouts, and the team was punished by losing two days of workouts last May in which the players were barred from showing up at the club's training facility. But Upshaw said during Super Bowl week that he and Coughlin had patched up their differences.
TV Deal Sooner, Labor Deal Later?
League officials plan to make a push to try to complete new television contracts with ABC and ESPN before an owners' meeting scheduled for April 19 in Atlanta, sources said.
Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, the chairman of the NFL's broadcasting committee, said during a telephone interview Wednesday that he hoped to reach agreements with the two Walt Disney Co.-owned networks within the next month or so. Sources familiar with the negotiations, speaking on the condition of anonymity because talks are entering a sensitive stage, said that Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is intent on moving even quicker than that, hoping to have the deals completed before the Atlanta meeting.
The NFL is attempting to negotiate rights fees with Disney for the two networks to retain the league's Sunday night and Monday night TV packages. It's possible that the Monday night games could switch from ABC to ESPN, and ABC could pick up the Sunday night package now possessed by ESPN. ABC has broadcast Monday night games for 35 years but reportedly has lost about $150 million annually during its current contract with the NFL. Bowlen said he was hopeful that Disney would be ready to strike a deal now that it has named Robert Iger its new chief executive officer, effective Sept. 30.
The league already has completed six-year contract extensions with Fox and CBS, totaling about $8 billion, for its Sunday afternoon TV packages. Those deals run through the 2011 season. The current contracts with ABC and ESPN expire after the 2005 season.
The league's negotiations with the union on an extension of their collective bargaining agreement are not headed toward such an imminent resolution, sources said. The two sides likely will make a push to complete a deal shortly before next season, according to the sources. Upshaw is seeking significant changes to the sport's economic system in this set of labor negotiations, and deliberations are moving slowly. Upshaw and Tagliabue participated in a bargaining session Tuesday in Pittsburgh that also included owners Dan Rooney of the Steelers, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers and Bowlen.
Congress Awaits NFL Response
The NFL is scheduled to submit documents detailing its steroid-testing program to a congressional committee today.
The House Government Reform Committee requested the documentation from the NFL last week, and set a deadline of 6 p.m. today. The committee summoned representatives of Major League Baseball to Capitol Hill last month for a highly publicized hearing on that sport's steroids issues, and has left open the possibility of conducting a similar hearing with NFL officials at some point.
Upshaw said in an interview this week that the union is prepared to agree to measures to toughen the NFL's steroid-testing program in an effort "to eliminate the cheaters" from the sport. Those were his first public comments since a report last week that three Panthers players filled steroid prescriptions by a South Carolina doctor within two weeks of playing in the Super Bowl in February 2004.
The league and the union are discussing several possible changes to the NFL's steroid policy, including a lowering of the threshold for what constitutes a positive test for testosterone. Upshaw and NFL officials declined to comment this week on what other prospective changes are under consideration, but Upshaw said he believes that NFL players are tested often enough and punished sufficiently when they test positive.
Under the league's current steroid policy, seven players per team are selected randomly each week during the season to be tested. All players are tested during training camp. Players are subject to random testing during the offseason, and a player faces a four-game suspension without pay for a first positive test. Lawmakers and drug-testing experts have called the NFL's steroid-testing program the toughest in professional sports. Upshaw said during this week's interview that he regards the policy as good but realizes it's not perfect.
Pioli Works Cell Phone
Patriots front-office chief Scott Pioli attended the Players Association's charity dinner Thursday night at the Washington Convention Center, tuxedo and all. But he apparently didn't shove his work aside completely. Pioli could be seen talking on his cell phone in a hallway during the cocktail reception, and late Thursday the Patriots agreed to a two-year contract with free-agent linebacker Monty Beisel, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The addition of Beisel bolsters the Patriots' depth at linebacker, a necessity because Tedy Bruschi reportedly is considering sitting out the 2005 season. Bruschi suffered what the team called a mild stroke in February, just after helping the Patriots to their third Super Bowl title in four seasons and participating in his first career Pro Bowl. He reportedly underwent surgery for a hole in his heart that might have caused his stroke . . . .
The Chiefs agreed to a one-year contract with fullback Robert Holcombe, who was released by Tennessee as part of the Titans' salary-cap purge in February . . . Oakland re-signed linebacker DeLawrence Grant. The Raiders had released him last month in a salary-cap move . . . . Pittsburgh re-signed tight end Marco Battaglia, who was out of the league last season . . . Arizona re-signed safety Quentin Harris, a restricted free agent . . . .
Cleveland acquired safety Brian Russell when the Minnesota Vikings declined to match the Browns' two-year, approximately $3 million offer sheet to the restricted free agent. Russell became expendable when the Vikings signed veteran safety Darren Sharper to replace him in the starting lineup. He probably will be a starter in Cleveland. Minnesota receives no draft-pick compensation from Cleveland for Russell because he originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent.
Russell is the second player to change teams via restricted free agency this offseason. Cornerback Kelly Herndon moved from the Broncos to the Seattle Seahawks.
To Play Or Not To Play?
Chiefs guard Will Shields, who was selected to his 10th Pro Bowl last season, said at Thursday night's charity dinner that he's not particularly close yet to making a decision about whether he'll play a 13th season in Kansas City.
"I'm thinking about it," Shields said. "It's week to week, month to month. I'm not really worried about it at this point in time."
The Chiefs would love to have the 33-year-old Shields back, but he said he's not sure if he wants to put his body through another NFL season.
"It's just old age and playing 12 years in the NFL, the wear and tear on your body and those types of things," he said. " . . . Any time you get above Year 10, you always have those bumps and bruises and other stuff that you have to worry about." . . .
Miami Dolphins linebacker Junior Seau said he decided to return for a 16th NFL season while the playoffs were going on. The woeful Dolphins weren't participating, and Seau was rehabilitating the torn pectoral muscle that cut short his second season with Miami after 13 seasons with the San Diego Chargers. But that's when he felt healthy enough to begin serious training for another season, he said.
"I'm looking forward to banging heads and getting back in there with everyone," said Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection. "I had to weigh the decision based on where the injury was. It's the first major injury I've ever had in my career, the first surgery. I'm back in training, doing the things I've done in the past, and I'm ready to go."
Seau, 36, said he had begun to contemplate his post-playing-days career options long before this injury.
"I've been thinking about life after football for about 10 years now," he said. "I'll probably take one of these announcing jobs or be a head coach. There are so many options. I would love to be a head coach. I would love to take a franchise and build it. I have a lot of love for the game. I've seen so many eras during the course of my career. To be able to communicate to the athletes of today is the key factor in coaching. To implement a system that everyone believes in is something I would look forward to."
And could he deal with today's players?
Seau grinned and said: "They're going to have to deal with me."
Seau and Shields were among the players honored Thursday night by Fox broadcaster James Brown for their community work. The sold-out event benefited Special Olympics D.C.