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What's the next play to be eliminated?

NFL moving quickly to make the game safer


David from Hales Corners, WI

Vic, I just read a quote from Mark Murphy that read "the organization is not going to overspend for players. It often adversely affects a team's salary cap, occasionally leads to discord in the locker room and many times doesn't deliver what you paid for." I think we all want to fill a glaring need with a perceived proven player, but I hadn't thought about how that could wreak havoc in the locker room. Do you have any experiences where an expensive free agent poisoned the locker room? What happened to the team afterward?

It's not that a player poisoned the locker room; it's that his salary did. A team's payroll structure is of immense importance. It helps maintain peace and fraternity in the locker room. I think free agency damaged the 2008 Jaguars locker room. The wrong players were being rewarded. I've always admired Tony Boselli for the way he handled the signing of Leon Searcy. Tony was the second pick of the 1995 draft. After just one season in the league, it was obvious he was on the way to becoming the best left tackle in the game. Leon was signed in '96 free agency to be the Jaguars' right tackle. His signing immediately made him the highest paid offensive lineman in history. Another left tackle might've said, "Hey, who's the left tackle here?" Not Tony. He never uttered a word of discontent. That was a signing that could've damaged that locker room. Thanks to Tony, it didn't. Fans don't think in those terms. They should.

Cale from London, Canada

Vic, 3-4 ends are not generally known for their sacking prowess. What made Bruce Smith the exception?

He wasn't made to two-gap. He was allowed to play the Okie end position as though he was a 4-3 end, which meant the Bills played a kind of gap-control 3-4. I'm not sure it worked. I don't think that defense played to the level of its personnel. It made big plays, largely the result of Smith's all-out assault on the quarterback, but it wasn't rock-ribbed. You could run on it, as evidenced by the Giants win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV. Yeah, the defense's ranking was impacted by the K-Gun, but I always felt the Bills would've been better off playing a 4-3. I felt the personnel fit a 4-3 better and they needed more run-stopping power up front. Scheme must fit personnel, that's why I say scheme personnel, not schemes. Asking Smith to two-gap would've been a terrible waste of his talent, but somebody has to eat blocks in a 3-4.

Ric from Temecula, CA

I've been a staunch pro football (and Packers) fan since I was seven years old (60 years). It's getting harder and harder to watch since segments of players seem to be immature, narcissistic, look-at-me egotists, rather than pro football players. What's with the latest trend of adding a Roman numeral or other identifier (i.e., Smith Jr., Smith Sr., Griffin III) to the jersey? Such displays of ego detract from the player's status as a professional and smacks of an individualistic, rather than team-member approach. Maybe this season, those guys can add propellers to the tops of their helmets.

Dude, you gotta go with the flow.

Jimmy from Naugatuck, CT

Vic, I consider Lawrence Taylor the best defensive player I have ever seen. Who's your choice?

I would agree with your choice.

Mike from Plover, WI

Vic, love your writing style and philosophies. I hope you never completely retire. What are your thoughts on Jatavis Brown from Akron? I'm surprised there's so little info about someone who runs a 4.5 and was MAC defensive player of the year.

He's a wonderful football player, but he's 5-11, 218, and that's largely considered to be too small to play linebacker. Most are projecting him as a safety. OK, I get it. The flavor of the year is a safety that can play linebacker. Packers fans want the Packers to do what the Cardinals did, even though the Cardinals defense was savaged by the Panthers. If that's what you want to do, Brown is your guy. He is pure run-and-hit power in an undersized package. He can bang and cover. Size is the issue.

Andrew from Redcliffe, Australia

Vic, how do you protect your plays when you lose a player to another team, either from trading or letting that player go?

It's not the plays that are the issue; every team has the same plays in their playbook. It's the line-of-scrimmage calls that need to remain secret. I don't know how a team protects that information. If I did, it wouldn't be a secret. I can tell you every team in the league knew brown was the Steelers' hot color back in the '70s. I can also tell you the Rams had the Steelers' entire numbering system for audibles back in Super Bowl XIV. What the Rams didn't know is what number was hot. Was it the first number or the second? Was it "Brown 46" or "Brown 52"? The action is fast and furious. In most cases, defenses don't have enough time to react to what they hear. Defenses react to tendencies according to formations.

Juan from San Antonio, TX

Vic, I thought I was hooked on football and I enjoy the game, but too many changes are gutting the game I came to love. I've stopped watching Thursday and Monday football unless the Packers are playing. This past January, I did not renew my NFL package on DirecTV. In short, I'm a Packers fan but no longer an NFL fan. The NFL should be careful because in any business, when you lose your long-time core customers, the casual fan will not support you during tough times, which always come, it's just a matter of when.

The game has to change to survive. The NFL is complying by changing it at what I consider to be break-neck speed. It's a concern, but it has to happen.

Nathan from New Orleans, LA

What feel you? Really?

Yeah, this new question language is Nutsville. I'm just gonna go with the flow, but I do have a request of those submitting questions: Please try to clean up the spelling and capitalization. I spend most of my time on this column re-writing questions. Thanks.

Trevor from Clearfield, PA

Keith Marshall out of Georgia was the fastest and the strongest running back at the combine. Does GM Vic take a player like that despite previous injury history?

Sure he does. Curtis Martin had injury history from his college days, and he became one of the most durable running backs in NFL history. You can't predict injury. What you can predict is toughness. You ask coaches if a guy will play with minor hurts.

Rod from Chugiak, AK

Vic, I'm a players, not plays guy, but McCarthy's dissatisfaction with our receivers' one-on-one failures and his promise of remedy piques curiosity as to whether he is saying his players will perform much better, or the coaches will scheme better for 2016.

I think Coach McCarthy was speaking of execution, not scheme.

Joe from Bloomington, IN

I'm also curious if the cut-block rule will be one of those momentous rule changes.

I think eliminating the cut block could become the equivalent of the 1978 rules changes that allowed offensive linemen to use their hands to block. I think elimination of the cut block can be a game-changer. One more thing: If teams abandon zone blocking and go back to drive blocking, three and four-point stances will be the next targets for change.

Harold from Chippewa Falls, WI

You mentioned the 1982 strike. I remember it. What did it mean to your writing at the time?

I changed a lot of diapers on Sundays.

Tal from Ascot, UK

With the kickoff dying, what other dangerous plays will be eliminated in the near future?

The onside kick is the most fearful play in the game; that's my opinion. I remember a game at Riverfront Stadium. It was the final seconds, I was down on the field and the Jaguars were attempting an onside kick. I'll never forget the sound of what I thought was a piece of wood breaking. It was a player's leg. I think the up-tempo nature of the modern game is going to result in more and more onside kicks, and I fear the dangerous nature of the play will also put it at risk.

Ryan from Minneapolis, MN

Vic, I understand your sentiment, but referring to those of us who don't want to be complicit in watching young men damage their brains, risk becoming paralyzed, or worse, as haters suggests you haven't actually changed your perspective; you're just telling yourself you have. I love football, but the game needs to become safer. The cost of that safety is both reasonable and necessary.

No sports league has ever acted more swiftly to effect game-changing safety measures as the NFL has, yet, the league continues to be under assault. I think it's unfair.

Darragh from Cork, Ireland

Vic, how long do you think it'll be before there's a franchise located outside of the U.S., and what do you think would be required to make it a successful venture?

Once the situation in Los Angeles is decided and rendered stable, the NFL will turn its attention to London. I believe there will be a team in London within a few years after Los Angeles has a new stadium and two teams in it. That's my opinion. Men in the league whose opinion I greatly respect disagree with me. I tend to follow the money. I think London will happen, and I think it'll be successful because of the revenue it'll drive. Progress always wins.

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