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Goodell gets it

Goodell gets it

A year ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided that his league was at risk of gaining a reputation as a collection of thugs. Sweeping changes in the code of conduct and stiffer penalties for violating those standards came into effect almost overnight.

Tank Johnson of the Bears and Chris Henry of the Bengals felt the sting of Goodell's preemptive strike. Pacman Jones, who at some point will be a former Titan, still is feeling it.

Now, Goddell sees a new problem on the horizon and, just as he did with player misconduct, he's moving quickly to nip it in the bud.

That problem is cheating, teams going outside the rules to gain an advantage over an opponent.

Right now, it's not viewed as a league-wide problem. Fairly or unfairly, it's viewed as a New England Patriots problem. They're the only ones who have been caught. The organization was fined and stripped of its first-round draft pick after being caught taping the Jets' coaching staff's defensive signals during the season opener.

There may be more to come as Goodell is interesting in speaking to a former low-level Patriots employee who may know something about taping prior to the Patriots' first Super Bowl win after the 2001 season.

If something comes of that, the league will have an image problem, but the negative perception still would be focused on Foxboro.

Another team caught spying, though, would be a PR nightmare for the league. One team doing it is a maverick; two teams doing it is a trend, a cancer. The brush tarring the league's reputation would become much broader. Congressional hearings certainly would follow.

As he did with player conduct, Goodell has taken a decidedly proactive stance on the cheating issue. A memo obtained by Mark Maske of the Washington Post outlines a series of strong steps designed to strongly encourage teams from going outside the rules of competition, to make it easier to punish them should they do so and to make those penalties more severe.

The measures, some of which Goodell can implement on his own and others of which will need league approval, include unannounced inspections of team facilities including locker rooms, the press box, and the coaches' booth.

Something less than conclusive proof of rules violations will be needed in order for the commissioner to impose penalties.

And, as it was with the players, the punishment will be swift and severe. "Where a violation is shown, I intend to impose more stringent penalties on both the club and the responsible individual(s)," Goddell is quoted as saying in the memo. "I will also be prepared to make greater use of draft choice forfeiture in appropriate cases. I believe this will have the effect of deterring violations and making people more willing to report violations on a timely basis."

Bravo.

The culture of "If you ain't cheatin' you ain't tryin'" has to go by the wayside. If people are going to continue to pay for tickets and watch games on TV they have to believe that the games are being fairly contested. Another cheating scandal would shake the faith that the playing field is level.

You can argue that what the Patriots did in the Jets game gave them only a marginal edge at most and you wouldn't find a lot of disagreement here. However, the perception was the critical aspect in Spygate. It will take the Pats a long time to shake the "cheaters" label that many fans and others have applied.

Instead of waiting for trouble to happen, Goodell going out to find it and stop it before it has a chance to take hold. This approach not only makes him unique among the major pro sports commissioners, but among most of heads of sports at all levels.

Again, bravo.

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Despite one-year contract, Gruden unequivocal about Kirk Cousins' position

Despite one-year contract, Gruden unequivocal about Kirk Cousins' position

RICHMOND - Looking at the contracts for the two most important people associated with the Washington Redskins, a clear discrepancy arises. The head coach, Jay Gruden, is under contract until 2020. The quarterback, Kirk Cousins, is only under contract for 2017. 

Some speculation suggested that, given the diverging deals, at some point Gruden might look to develop another passer that's locked in with the Redskins for the long-term. Backup QB Colt McCoy is under contract for the next two seasons, and second-year passer Nate Sudfeld is under team control through the 2019 season. 

Gruden made clear that isn't the case. Crystal clear. 

"We're focused on Kirk," the head coach said. "He's our starter and he's going to get all the starter reps. Period."

Cousins should obviously be the focus. In the past two seasons he's twice broken the Washington single season passing yards record, and his rise has coincided with the Redskins first back to back winning seasons in 20 years. 

As for practice reps, Cousins will get the vast majority. McCoy will get work, and Sudfeld too, but this Redskins team is focused on winning this season. 2018 contracts are not on the coach's mind in July of 2017, nor should they be. 

"Colt [McCoy] will take advantage of his reps, I'm sure he will. And Nate [Sudfeld] will get a few sprinkled in there. We're trying to develop Nate also for the future. But, this is Kirk's team right now, and it's our job to get him ready for Philadelphia and really surround him and make him feel good about the people around him. Trying to get him used to [Josh] Doctson, get him used to [Terrelle] Pryor, we have some new weapons around him, so it's a matter of getting him ready. But Kirk will get all of them."

With a rebuilt defense and plenty of options offensively, the Redskins should compete for a playoff spot this year. Is there a scenario where the team sputters and spirals into a lost season? Maybe. And in that hypothetical scenario, perhaps at some point it makes sense to see what another passer can do. It's a long shot. 

For Redskins fans, know that Cousins is the unequivocal starter. Period. 

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Focus will be on Redskins' tight end depth during Jordan Reed's absence

Focus will be on Redskins' tight end depth during Jordan Reed's absence

RICHMOND—The Redskins will be without Jordan Reed in training camp for an unknown period of time. Although his toe injury does not appear to be serious, others will have to fill the gap until he is able to return. And the Redskins just so happen to have one of the deepest tight end groups in the NFL and they added another one with NFL playing experience on Thursday.

Jay Gruden said that the Redskins needed to sign E.J. Bibbs, who has one NFL catch in his career, because Vernon Davis, the backup tight end, has “a little bit of a tweaked hamstring.” Davis, who caught 44 passes for 583 yards last year, seemed to me moving fine in practice after Gruden spoke to the media but he could need some reps off on occasion so they brought in Bibbs to fill in the gap. There is no point in pushing the 33-year-old Davis if it’s not necessary.

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The Redskins have even more options at tight end. Niles Paul is back and he appears to be fully recovered from the shoulder injury that sidelined him for the last eight games in 2016. Paul is going into his seventh season and while he is mostly relied on for special teams play he does have a 500-yard season on his resume (2014).

During offseason practices fifth-round rookie Jeremy Sprinkle looked like he had a lot to learn as he goes from a run-based offense at Arkansas to the Redskins’ sophisticated pass-first scheme. He will need to find his comfort level before he takes any snaps in Reed’s place.

The forgotten veteran is Derek Carrier, who now appears to be fully healthy after he missed the first half of last season with a knee injury he suffered late in 2015. He had just two receptions for 10 yards last year in limited playing time on offense.

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Joining Bibbs in the long shot category is Manasseh Garner, a first-year player out of Pitt. While neither player seems to have a shot at the 53-man roster, the Redskins could carry one of the tight ends on the practice squad.

Depth is a good thing to have and the Redskins have done a good job assembling a backup plan at tight end. But you just can’t replace Reed, one of the best few tight ends in the NFL, without a significant drop off in production. The Redskins will let the backups compete and learn in training camp and will keep Reed either on the sideline or doing very light work until he is fully ready to go (and then some).

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.