The NFL Players Association has taken the first step toward disciplining at least one of the agents involved in a string of high-profile contract controversies that occurred during the offseason.
The union's committee on agent regulation and discipline has authorized a complaint against Jerome Stanley, according to Richard Berthelsen, the general counsel for the NFLPA. Stanley represents Cleveland Browns wide receiver Dennis Northcutt, who lost a chance to become a free agent by missing a deadline to file paperwork to void the remainder of his contract.
Union chief Gene Upshaw said months ago that he expected the committee to take action against one or more agents stemming from the cases last offseason of Northcutt; wide receiver Terrell Owens, who missed a similar deadline to void the remainder of his contract and become a free agent; and linebacker LaVar Arrington, who filed a grievance against the Washington Redskins alleging that the team shortchanged him $6.5 million in a contract extension signed last December.
Stanley becomes the first agent to face possible sanctions for those incidents. Berthelsen, who serves as counsel to the committee, said that the group of five current and former players decided during a meeting about 21/2 weeks ago to authorize complaints against Stanley and fellow agent Neil Cornrich, who provided expert testimony for General Motors during a recent lawsuit against the company by the estate of late Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas.
Agents have 30 days to respond to such complaints, and then the committee -- which includes current and former players Troy Vincent, Trace Armstrong, Robert Porcher, Robert Smith and Larry Izzo -- decides whether to impose disciplinary action ranging from a reprimand to a fine to a suspension to permanent decertification. An agent can appeal sanctions to arbitrator Roger Kaplan.
Stanley and Northcutt missed a deadline to void the final three seasons of the wide receiver's contract with the Browns (with salaries totaling about $2 million). The union was unable to challenge the Northcutt case the way it challenged the Owens case, in part because a modification to the NFL calendar actually made the deadline later for Northcutt, not earlier. The union attempted to help broker a trade to Baltimore or Denver, but none was completed. Northcutt signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Browns, but he reportedly had been offered $16 million over five years by the club before missing the deadline and might have gotten even more on the free agent market.
Stanley admitted a mistake during the offseason, but said he shouldn't be punished for it.
"Players need to be protected from incompetence,'' Stanley said then. "I share [Upshaw's] concern. But he doesn't know me that well. . . . In a business run by human beings, there are always going to be mistakes, misreadings, misunderstandings on both sides of the table, unfortunately. I'm not ready to call it a trend.''
Cornrich, according to the union, was paid $1,000 per hour by General Motors to testify in a deposition that Thomas's earning capacity as an NFL player was on the decline before he died after a January 2000 accident while driving a Chevrolet Suburban. That contradicted the testimony of Thomas's agent, Leigh Steinberg, and Chiefs President Carl Peterson. Cornrich did not testify at the trial. Thomas's mother, Edith Morgan, and other family members sued General Motors, but a Jackson County (Mo.) Circuit Court jury found in August that the automaker was not at fault.
The union is basing its complaint against Cornrich on a rule that agents are required to avoid conflicts of interest, not only involving their clients but also involving NFL players in general. A source familiar with the case said Cornrich has argued that the complaint against him is unfounded because the issue of damages in the case was made irrelevant by the jury's decision and because agents regularly engage in discussions about players' earning abilities, as with contract negotiations in which they must argue that money be given to their clients at the possible expense of other players.
Parcells Frustrated With Team, Himself
Coach Bill Parcells is not having his usual second-year success with the Dallas Cowboys, and his frustrations are spilling over.
"This is the only team I can ever remember having that I can't get to respond in the right way, no matter how hard I try,'' he said during his news conference Monday, the day after a 26-3 loss at Cincinnati that dropped the club's record to 3-5. "I feel like I'm having trouble with elementary things. Either I'm not communicating right or they're not paying enough attention. [It's] one of the two, and I assume it's me. . . . I have not been hammering them. I have been encouraging them the whole way. . . . Anyone can judge the wisdom of the decision by the result.''
Each of Parcells's previous teams improved by at least three victories in his second season, but the Cowboys already have ensured they won't do that after going 10-6 and reaching the playoffs last season in Parcells's first year in Dallas.
Jets' Carter Gets an Audition
As former Dallas starter Quincy Carter takes over for injured New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, who is out two to four weeks because of a rotator-cuff strain, he is playing for a job next season. Carter signed a one-year contract with the Jets, ensuring that he would be on the free agent market in 2005, after being released by the Cowboys in training camp, reportedly after failing a drug test. Carter threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to wideout Santana Moss after taking over for Pennington in last Sunday's loss at Buffalo.
Now that they have lost starting defensive ends Michael Strahan and Keith Washington to season-ending injuries, the New York Giants likely will go with Osi Umenyiora and converted tackle Lance Legree as their starters. They are particularly high on second-year pro Umenyiora, whom they adamantly refused to surrender to San Diego in the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers trade on draft day. He was a second-round draft pick last year out of Troy State. The Giants could activate end Lorenzo Bromell from the physically unable to perform list to add depth. . . . Giants center Shaun O'Hara has been cleared to practice today after missing two games because of a staph infection in his leg. . . .
Chargers reserve fullback Andrew Pinnock, in his second year out of South Carolina, was suspended for four games by the NFL for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.
Bears Tackle Takes Long Road Back
Chicago activated offensive tackle Marc Colombo from the physically unable to perform list this week and waived guard Mike Gandy, who started five of the first six games of this season. Colombo, a first-round draft choice in 2002, hasn't played in two years because of a dislocated knee. His rehabilitation was complicated by nerve problems. He returned to practice on Oct. 20, and the Bears expect him to challenge Qasim Mitchell for the starting left tackle job soon.
"Good things are supposed to happen to people who work this hard,'' Coach Lovie Smith said during his news briefing Monday.