The one-game suspension issued to Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones this week might not only serve as a precursor to Jones having to return some of the signing bonus he received last year as the No. 6 overall pick. It could also be the precursor to coach Jeff Fisher winning the battle over general manager Floyd Reese as to who stays with the organization.
Over the past three years, there has been an increasingly hostile relationship developing between Fisher and Reese over the direction the team has taken in terms of personnel, according to a source within the franchise. After reaching the Super Bowl following the 1999 season, the Titans have steadily gone downhill and it is Fisher's belief that Reese's management of personnel has been the problem.
The conflicts have been constant, starting with Reese trying to get Fisher fired after the 2003 season, according to the source. The most recent rift was over the decision to draft quarterback Vince Young (Fisher wanted to get a defensive player instead). Owner Bud Adams had to step in to settle that one, preferring to take Young and move on from the Steve McNair era.
But the problem is that many of Reese's other high-profile picks have been one headache after another. Jones, for example, has been in and out of trouble from before he even signed a contract with Tennessee, much of it related to his use of alcohol. In the latest incident, Jones is accused of spitting on a woman in a nightclub.
Of course, that incident pales in comparison to defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth stomping on the head of Dallas center Andre Gurode earlier this season. In training camp, running back LenDale White, a second-round pick with some maturity issues, spit on a teammate. On Monday, linebacker Robert Reynolds pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for pushing his estranged wife and destroying her cell phone.
The sum total of all this is that Fisher, who has been the public face of the Titans throughout all of these problems, appears to be gaining credibility with Adams. Furthermore, the reality for Adams is that he's going to have a lot harder time replacing Fisher than getting somebody to replace Reese. In fact, there have been plenty of quiet inquiries regarding Fisher by NFL teams that could be in the market for a coach in the offseason, such as Dallas and Atlanta.
As for Reese, about the only market he could be in is for a retirement spot somewhere along the Florida Panhandle.
WELCOME BACK, VINATIERI
Kicker Adam Vinatieri makes his return to New England on Sunday as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. It's one of the great subplots to yet another installment in the Patriots-Colts rivalry.
Vinatieri didn't bite on questions about his return to New England, where he helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls. That included the last-second, game-winning field goals in the championship wins over St. Louis and Carolina. Vinatieri also had the dramatic kick in the Snow Bowl playoff game against Oakland in the 2001 playoffs, a game that ignited the three-title run.
With that in mind, Vinatieri was asked after his game-winning kick at Denver on Sunday about his return.
"I think it's going to be OK. I think the people will be pretty good to me. At least I hope so. You never really know," Vinatieri said.
As much as the Patriots and Colts don't like each other, Vinatieri is deserving of a warm reception, if not a standing ovation after his career in New England.
PROTECTING THE DOLPHINS' LEGACY
Speaking of the Patriots, not only are they rolling at 6-1 with four consecutive wins by double digits, but they may be the best hope for the 1972 Miami Dolphins to maintain their mark as the only team in NFL history to go undefeated. Aside from facing the 7-0 Colts on Sunday night, New England also plays host to Chicago on Nov. 26. The Bears could be 10-0 by that point if they beat visiting Miami and then win back-to-back games in New York against the Jets and Giants.
How does the Patriots-Bears game measure up? Well, if the current run by the better AFC teams means anything, the Bears are in trouble.
Last week, there were six games between AFC and NFC teams in which all 12 teams were .500 or better. The AFC won five of the six, with only Atlanta's 29-27 win over Cincinnati keeping the AFC from a spotless mark.
Overall, the nine AFC teams who are .500 or better are 14-5 against the NFC. By comparison, the NFC teams that are .500 or better are only 8-7 against the AFC.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH REGGIE?
After Baltimore shut down New Orleans Saints rookie running back Reggie Bush on Sunday, limiting him to nine touches for a total of 21 yards, the simmering talk around the NFL became a full-blown discussion: Is Bush all that good?
Right now, the people who thought that the way he played at USC wouldn't translate to the NFL appear to be right. Still, there are a few people who think that Bush just hasn't learned how to take advantage of his raw skills.
"Right now, I see a weaker version of Dave Meggett," one scout said. "Good speed, a guy you have to account for, but he doesn't run very hard. The worst thing is that I don't see the guy attack the field very much right now. He looks tentative, like he's not sure where all the defensive guys are."
To another personnel man, that's part of the growing process.
"A lot of young guys are tentative, particularly in the passing game, because they're not used to the speed and all the bodies that come flying at them. Bush has plenty of talent, that's not the problem. The problem is that this is total culture shock in terms of what he went from to what he's seeing.
"First, he was way better than everybody else. Second, he was surrounded by a bunch of other guys who were way better than everybody else. The last thing is that the style of game they play in the Pac-10 is different. It's a passing league right now and the defensive talent in that conference is just average. It's not like the SEC, where you have a lot of great defensive players, fast linebackers, fast safeties.
"Bush is going to be fine. It's just going to take a little time."
The bottom line: Bush's season not only pales in comparison to several other rookies in the league, but he doesn't rank among the top two rookie running backs. For now, fellow first-round picks Laurence Maroney of New England and Joseph Addai of Indianapolis get the nod as the top rookie backs.
Maroney has rushed 94 times for 395 yards and caught nine passes for 110 yards. He also has been impressive as a kickoff returner. Addai, who slowly appears to be taking over as the top back in Indy after his performance at Denver, has rushed 87 times for 447 yards and one touchdown. He also has 19 receptions for 144 yards.
By contrast, Bush has been nearly a non-factor as a running back with 70 carries for 212 yards. He has been a consistent threat as a receiver with 42 catches for 290 yards. But the overall impact among the three has been about the same.
Maroney, who splits time with Corey Dillon, has 505 total yards from scrimmage. Addai, who splits time with Dominic Rhodes, has 591 yards from scrimmage. Bush, who splits time with Deuce McAlister, has 502 yards.
While people can argue the ins and outs of all three players and the teams they play for, the reality is that Bush was the No. 2 overall pick. Maroney was No. 21. Addai was No. 30.
The argument over who is the best of the three shouldn't be close.
ONE MAN'S BALLOT
The 111 nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame were announced this week. The list will be trimmed to 25 and then to 15 (not including two senior committee nominees) before a six men can be elected in February when the 38 electors meet the day before the Super Bowl in Miami.
The list includes the usual group of big names, solid players, coaches and even contributors such as recently retired NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The process of whittling the list is brutal. With that in mind, here are one man's thoughts on who should get in:
Art Monk: There has been a lot of debate among electors over the years about Monk, particularly with Michael Irvin also on the ballot. Monk finished his career as the leading receiver in NFL history with 940 catches, although he was quickly lapped by Jerry Rice and a bunch of latter-day receivers (Tim Brown and Cris Carter) who benefited from changes in offensive style. Monk wasn't a particularly exciting player and many people believe he wasn't even Washington's best receiver for much of his career (Gary Clark gets the nod from some). However, here's the argument for Monk: Washington won three titles and went to a fourth Super Bowl with Monk as a main cog on a team where most of the parts were interchangeable. The Redskins went through plenty of quarterbacks (Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien) and plenty of running backs (John Riggins, George Rogers and Tim Smith, among many). They even went through a lot of receivers. Yes, Washington had the brilliant coaching of Joe Gibbs during that time, but you still need players. Furthermore, the Redskins were an offensive team. Sure, they had cornerback Darrell Green, who will likely make it one day, but there aren't many others. In addition, offensive linemen such as Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby have a chance. Still, Washington had a team that ranks with the great dynasties of the game. Yet, only Gibbs and Riggins are in right now and Riggins made it there as much for the earlier part of his career with the Jets. In short, while Monk may not have had the star power of some other players, he has something many of them don't have – three rings.
Michael Irvin: Speaking of three rings, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Irvin has that going for him, as well as the star power that goes with being a big-play contributor. In short, Irvin may not have the career numbers of Jerry Rice, but he has everything else necessary. There are some voters who believe Monk should make it before Irvin. Call it a draw and put them both in.
Thurman Thomas: The list of eligible running backs is very intriguing because it includes a bunch of guys with some knocks. Thomas never won a title with the Buffalo Bills and never was considered the absolute best back in the league at any time in his career. Terrell Davis didn't play long enough for most people's tastes (although his numbers are significantly better than Gale Sayers over roughly the same period). Roger Craig was a great all-around player and helped build a dynasty, but his stats don't quite measure up because he had to share the ball with so many other great players. Out of all of those guys, Thomas gets the nod here because he had longevity (13 seasons), great numbers (comparable to first-ballot Hall of Famer Marcus Allen) and his team had success (four consecutive Super Bowl berths).
Russ Grimm: The best lineman on famous "Hogs" line, a group that defined its era and, as mentioned before, won three titles. The fact that he's also a pretty good assistant coach doesn't hurt, either. The tough part is that there's a pretty good group of offensive linemen eligible this year. Aside from Grimm, there's Dermontti Dawson, Gary Zimmerman, Bruce Matthews and Bob Kuechenberg.
Derrick Thomas: Some people believe that Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Thomas was a one-dimensional player, capable of only rushing the passer. OK, that's sort of like saying the only thing George Gervin could do in basketball was score. It might be true, but when you're that good at it, you deserve to be honored. The shame of Thomas not getting in already is that, in a sense, he's blocking former New England great Andre Tippett, who was one of the best all-around defensive players of his era. That said, there are a lot of great defensive players who have not gotten the recognition they deserve.
Jimmy Johnson: OK, about the only thing more outrageous than Johnson's hair is his ego, which is starting to make Johnson appear to be more character than candidate. He's not a very good human being and he's completely full of himself. But he's a football savant. In three years, he rebuilt Dallas into a team that won three titles in four years and came close to four straight. The Cowboys under owner Jerry Jones haven't been the same since Johnson's influence there faded after the 1995 season. Johnson's ability to pick players and coach them is why so many teams were eventually willing to give head coaches more say over personnel. He's also a big reason why so many coaches asked for that control. His innovations on defense changed the league as well. While he only had a short run and his second stint as a head coach in Miami yielded only above-average results, Johnson was a force in coaching and the type of person who left an indelible mark on the game. In his own way, he is very much like the great Sid Gillman. Johnson is just not as good a person.
Of course, this ballot won't hold up. Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue is going to get plenty of support in his first year of eligibility and will get a lot of credit for the economic growth of the league. The reality is that Jerry Jones, who is also on the ballot, probably deserves more credit than Tagliabue for the growth of the league, but that's one of the stories of the league that gets little attention.
Aside from Tagliabue, there will be other people who divide the votes. Titans owner Bud Adams will get some mention. Same goes for former executive George Young, who gets a lot of New York bias from his days with the Giants.
Former Oakland Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes will get some mention and first-year eligible defensive backs such as LeRoy Butler (Green Bay Packers), Carnell Lake (Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens) and Eric Allen (Philadelphia Eagles, Saints, Raiders) deserve conversation. Of course, there is always Raiders punter Ray Guy, who might be the only man at his position who deserves to get in.
THIS AND THAT
A tip of the cap to New England quarterback Tom Brady for his performance Monday night. No, we're not talking about the four touchdown passes he threw in the dismantling of Minnesota. We're talking about how he chastised a Vikings fan for throwing a drink at tight end Ben Watson after Watson caught one of those touchdown passes. Brady made his point without coming off as some crusader.
Arizona president and lead counsel Michael Bidwill, the son of owner Bill Bidwill, gave coach Denny Green a lukewarm endorsement for the rest of the season after the Cardinals fell to 1-7 with a loss to Green Bay. "I do not believe a coaching change improves our chances of winning against the Cowboys or any game in the second half of the season, and winning is our number one goal," Michael Bidwill said. The big problem for the Cardinals in getting rid of Green is that he won't quit. He'll want to get the final year of salary owed on his contract through 2007. Meanwhile, the Bidwills are so cheap that they won't want to simply pay him off to go away.
The next three weeks could be interesting for Miami quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington. Culpepper, who is still mending after being put on the shelf after the first four games, would love to play in the Dolphins game against Minnesota on Nov. 19. Culpepper desperately wants to show up first-year Vikings coach Brad Childress after their offseason rift. Meanwhile, Harrington would love a shot at Detroit, who the Dolphins play in the following game on Thanksgiving Day. In all likelihood, only one man will get his wish.
How weak were the respective defenses in the fourth quarter of the Indianapolis-Denver game on Sunday? At one point, Indianapolis completed nine of 10 passes in the fourth quarter on the way to the dramatic 34-31 win. On the flip side, Denver ran 15 consecutive times as it nearly forced the game to overtime.