It might not be a leak after all. It's more like a well-placed hemorrhage.
For months we've been hearing – a trickle here, a trickle there – that Steve Spurrier wanted to return to the NFL. That he still felt he could prove something in football's upper echelon, rather than return to the safety of the college game. Now it seems like he's on his way back to the University of Florida.
Key word: Seems. Don't be shocked if Spurrier still ends up on an NFL sideline next season.
As one league source suggested this week, the sudden wealth of information about Spurrier's affair with Florida "sure isn't going to hurt him with (NFL teams). He should find out fast whether there is anyone still interested in him."
While there's no proof that Spurrier's camp has proliferated his involvement with the Florida job, at least a few people in the NFL are connecting the speculative dots. The theory is that strategically planted details – such as the two-week "yea or nay" job offer deadline given to Spurrier by the Gators – gives the former Washington Redskins coach enough time to gauge NFL interest before making a decision. Florida rebuffed reports this week that such a deadline or offer existed.
For months, Spurrier associates have been dropping small nuggets of information in NFL circles about the coach. There was word of a mutual respect between Spurrier and Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga – though we have heard repeatedly in recent weeks that any interest was over-inflated. Among the other particles floated was the idea that the NFL's offesason emphasis on locking down physical play in the secondary would open up Spurrier's "Fun N Gun" passing scheme. And that the struggles of Joe Gibbs with the Redskins this season actually reflected well on Spurrier's mediocre stint with the team.
One thing to keep in mind: If Spurrier is attempting to gain leverage with an NFL team right now, it wouldn't be a unique maneuver. Doubters need only look to Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis. Less than two years ago, Lewis fielded a job offer from Michigan State that sped up his hiring process with the Bengals. While the offseason timing was better for Lewis, only time will tell if Spurrier is attempting the same thing.
- It should be a healthy market for running backs this offseason, with Willis McGahee earning the starting nod in Buffalo and Minnesota's Mewelde Moore appearing to have locked up the No. 1 job in Minnesota.
If McGahee thrives in his starting role, expect Travis Henry to draw a healthy spate of trade offers when the season ends. Despite having one of his least productive seasons this year (zero touchdowns and a 3.4 yards per carry average), Henry is still considered a productive commodity across the league. Ironically, Henry would have been a free agent after this season, but he signed a one-year extension in the 2003 offseason, just days before the franchise drafted McGahee.
As for the situation in Minnesota, Moore has apparently won over the team – particularly quarterback Daunte Culpepper – and won't be yielding his starting spot to Michael Bennett, who is returning from injury.
Moore's play has given the Vikings the opportunity to seek draft picks for one of their talented backups, either Bennett or Onterrio Smith, who is in the midst of a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Bennett's contract expires after the 2005 season and word is that the Vikings are higher on Smith. But Smith's suspension, combined with his questionable reputation coming out of Oregon, remains a concern.
- Drop any thoughts of the San Francisco 49ers changing hands anytime soon.
It's been a poorly kept secret that a handful of NFL owners would like to see the franchise sold by Denise Debartolo York and her husband John. But the two apparently rebuffed Oracle CEO Larry Ellison when he displayed an interest in buying the team at the end of the summer. That's much to the chagrin of NFL power brokers (one source named Dallas' Jerry Jones and Oakland's Al Davis among them) who have privately lamented the erosion of one of the NFL's "cornerstone" franchises.
- The infamous cut block thrown by Denver's George Foster on Monday night looks like it is going to plague the team the remainder of the season.
Players have whispered and sniped repeatedly over the last few seasons about perceived dirty play by Denver's offensive line. But after Foster's block broke the ankle of Cincinnati's Tony Williams and raised a heated debate, it looks as if the league office will be getting a game-by-game tutorial on the Broncos' offensive line.
"I saw the play," Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said. "I wouldn't condone it. I don't think it was legal."
To which Denver coach Mike Shanahan responded, "All teams do it. I was a little offended by Bill Cowher's statement, because they do it."
Ironically, Denver plays Atlanta and former offensive line coach Alex Gibbs on Sunday. Gibbs, who left the Broncos to join the Falcons this offseason, is credited for shaping Denver's blocking schemes, and the Falcons will be carefully reviewing tape of Denver's blocking this week and forwarding any suspect (dirty) findings to the league offices. It's a practice expected to be undertaken by each Denver opponent for the remainder of the season.
An interesting outing should be the Dec. 5 game between the Broncos and San Diego Chargers. San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer was highly critical of Foster's block, suggesting Foster should be suspended by the NFL the same length of time it takes Williams to recover from his injury.
- Perhaps teams didn't do proper homework on Redskins rookie safety Sean Taylor, who received sparkling reviews coming out of the University of Miami. Outside of what some saw as a cocky attitude in interviews at the February combine, teams didn't seem to feel Taylor lacked maturity – unlike some assessments of his teammate with the Hurricanes, tight end Kellen Winslow.
Since the combine? The immensely talented Taylor fired agent Drew Rosenhaus, was fined $25,000 for leaving the NFL's rookie symposium early, fired agents Jeff Moorad and Eugene Mato and rehired Rosenhaus, irked coaches by showing up to a Redskins practice with shorts so loose they kept falling off, and then was arrested Thursday morning for alleged drunken driving. And to compound the problems, he skipped a Redskins practice following the arrest and didn't call coaches to notify them. Now he's been sent home by coach Joe Gibbs through Monday in hopes that his problems won't distract the team from this weekend's game.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
With the annual fall meetings in Detroit this past week, talk of the NFL returning to Los Angeles moved to the front burner for a few days. From the looks of things, it's still a few years away, but there appears to be some legitimate sites and ownership groups stepping up.
One thing that won't be decided for some time is whether the NFL will expand, or simply move a weaker team into the market. For the league's sake, let's hope the number of NFL teams stays at 32, and another franchise gets shipped west.
The NFL has exactly what it wants – even divisions, 95-percent parity, and a semi-dynasty with the New England Patriots. Why mess with a good thing by thinning the talent pool? Besides, it gives the NFL something to do with the Arizona Cardinals and that ridiculously low 38,000 average attendance figure.
- Steve Spurrier