We're Black and Blue All Over:
While covering the NFL owners meetings last week, the party line seemed clear: The competition committee had proposed changes to kickoff rules as a way to aid player safety. Given the league's recent emphasis on that issue, and its key role in labor talks with the NFL Players Association, there seemed little doubt where the motivation came from, and most league officials appeared publicly on board.
The Chicago Bears have been the notable exception. Completely out of character, coach Lovie Smith blasted the proposal before it was enacted, suggesting it was motivated in part by teams hoping to minimize the Bears' advantage in kickoff returns. Now team president Ted Phillips has followed suit in an interview posted on the team's website.
Phillips: "The rule got a lot of discussion at the league meetings. Although it was passed for safety reasons, I think it definitely discriminates against clubs like the Bears, not just because we have strong special teams and elite kick returners but because we've invested a considerable amount of money in those players as well. Personally, I'm not convinced that injuries will be diminished significantly, and if they are it's going to be because there's a significant increase in touchbacks, which then has a negative effect of eliminating probably the most exciting play in the game. I would have liked to have seen the rule modified where maybe it just prevented players from lining up more than 5 yards behind the ball. See how that goes, see if injuries diminish just with that change alone for a year or two as opposed to changing the kickoff spot. But with that being said, we've always been at the forefront of player safety. Every team's under the same rules and I know we'll work hard to minimize whatever impact it has on us as a team."
I know where the Bears are coming from, and it will be interesting to see if injury totals decrease on kickoffs this year. But while I believe that some of the Bears' opponents are happy about the change, I don't think they were motivated solely to damage a competitor. In this case, the Bears got caught up in a political issue and negotiating ploy, and they're going to have to live with it.
Continuing around the NFC North:
The Bears are trying to find a balance for Devin Hester's role as a special teams and offensive player, notes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford tweeted he is feeling good after "throwing a lot" over the weekend and is returning to Pensacola, Fla., to continue shoulder rehabilitation with the staff of Dr. James Andrews.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz acknowledged that tailback Jahvid Best was limited for nearly two months by turf toe last season, notes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly could be facing significant jail time after his arrest Friday morning, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel looks at some of the players the Packers have chosen with compensatory draft picks, including guard Josh Sitton (2008).
Packers coach Mike McCarthy wants to preserve the current locker room culture the team has, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Buffalo Wild Wings, a Minnesota-based company, is estimating that 10 percent of its business is derived from NFL Sundays. Mike Hughlett of the Star Tribune has more.