Daniel from Houston, TX

Do players take classes on how to answer the media? Can a player ever say anything off the record that you can't repeat in articles?

First of all, there is no such thing as off the record. I never use those words when interviewing someone because it would be unfair to them and a betrayal of my profession to do so. That doesn’t mean I’m going to use everything I hear and it doesn’t mean I’m heartless and would refuse to protect a subject that I believed truly did misspeak. It just means what it means: In journalism, there is no such thing as off the record. Any education the players receive that prepares them for dealing with the media begins with that off-the-record warning. As far as classes to prepare players for dealing with the media, yes, the top college programs are doing that for their players, and the league offers a rookie symposium that provides education. Beyond that, players are getting pre-draft educations on how to present themselves. It was so easy to determine from talking to the players at the Senior Bowl that they were all coming out of the same finishing school; they spoke as though they were Miss America contestants. It’s not just about them being able to speak with the media, it’s also about being able to answer questions from coaches and scouts during the combine interview sessions. The way the players conduct themselves in those interviews will go a long way toward determining where and by whom they’re drafted.

Randy from Longview, TX

In this era of passing, Marino's name is brought up often. In your opinion, why didn't the Dolphins win any Super Bowls in the Marino era? Hall of Fame coach, quarterback, what was missing?

The Dolphins were a one-trick pony. They couldn’t run the ball and they couldn’t play defense. All they had was a passing game. They only once had a back rush for a thousand yards in all of the years Marino played for the Dolphins. The defense, however, was the real problem. It couldn’t stop anybody. During the regular season, Marino was good enough to overcome those shortcomings on most Sundays, which put the Dolphins into the playoffs. In the postseason, however, teams in that era needed to be more well-rounded to win. Defense and the running game really did matter back then. It’s a tribute to Marino’s greatness that he was able to lead the Dolphins into the postseason as many times as he did.

Nick from Sullivan, WI

I'm interested to know which era of football you most enjoyed.

I prefer a more physical game. I miss the days of watching a punishing running game wear down an opponent. I miss the days of watching a fearsome defense intimidate its opponent. I guess I’m describing the era prior to the 2004 major point of emphasis on the chuck rule, which ushered in an era of game-softening measures. Do I like them? No. Do I understand the need for them? Yes. That’s why I’m trying to change my ways. That’s why I’m trying to re-order my thinking. The game is at a crossroads. It has to become less violent for it to grow. Head injuries and what we’ve learned about them are threatening the future of the game, if we don’t take measures to eliminate them. That’s why I support what the commissioner is doing, even though it often rankles me. It has to be done. I remind myself of that fact every time a flag flies and I find myself shaking my head.

Robert from Coupeville, WA

Doesn’t the tight end from Indy wear No. 47? Was that a case of a position change after he had the number?

Rule 5, Section 1, Article 2: “Any request to wear a numeral for a special position not specified (e.g., H-back) must be made to the Commissioner.”

Andrew from San Diego, CA

Living in San Diego and dealing with blackouts, I understand both sides. One issue is the fans just don't go to the games and complain when they lose. On the other side, the owner chose to keep a bad GM and a losing coach, even though the fans wanted them out. It's sort of the owner saying I don't care about you, but please buy my product that is not going to get any better, only worse. What do you think?

So, if the owner conducts a survey of fans as to who they want to be the GM and coach, and hires the guys the majority of fans want to hire, then the fans will buy the tickets? Yeah, sure. Here’s the truth: You either wanna go to the game, or you don’t wanna go to the game. In the towns where you can’t get tickets, there is a fever among fans to be at the game. The seats at Lambeau Field are prime real estate. Everybody wants to go to the game, and it’s been that way for a long time, even during the ’70s and ’80s, as the Packers went through a 25-year stretch that saw them win only one postseason game, in the strike-shortened 1982 season. You gotta buy the tickets, or I think you know what’s gonna happen.

Nick from Water Mill, NY

If a player underperforms or a team finds themselves in a cap dilemma, how can the team avoid the roster bonus?

Not every player has a roster bonus in his contract. If he does and he’s not playing well, or he has a bad neck and the team has to give him a huge sum of money to find out if he’ll recover fully, all the team has to do is not pay the roster bonus on the day it’s due and the contract will void and the money that was owed in the roster bonus will come back to the team’s cap.

Kevin from Kennewick, WA

A side question on the blackout issue: Does the sellout include the standing room only tickets?

No. The only seats that pertain to blackouts are the non-premium seat tickets. Those must be sold for the game to be televised. Luxury-suite tickets, club-seat tickets and other such premium-seat tickets don’t count toward the blackout number. ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) seating doesn’t count toward the blackout number, either. Most fans would be surprised to know just how easy it is to beat the blackout. Just buy the general-bowl seats; that’s all. I think the NFL has been most accommodating in trying to put its games on local television. I think it’s being asked now to give away its product, and that’s not a good business model.

Randy from Medicine Hat, Alberta

From a safety perspective, can we draw a parallel between Paul Brown's invention of the football facemask and Jacques Plante first wearing a goalie mask in a hockey game in the late 1950's?

In its original intent, yes, we can draw a parallel. Brown was reacting to an injury Otto Graham sustained in the 1953 season. He had Graham’s helmet outfitted with a facemask that would help protect Graham’s injury. The parallel ends when everybody else decided to wear a facemask. That didn’t happen in hockey. The NHL’s goalies wear masks, but the other players don’t. In fact, for the longest time, most NHL players didn’t even wear helmets. Brown’s original intention for the facemask was to offer protection for Graham. It was a great idea that evolved into something he probably didn’t foresee. It offered so much protection that it allowed players to use their heads as weapons. It’s similar to the boxing glove. It was increased in size and padding to help protect the hand, which it did, which allowed boxers to punch harder and longer, and that introduced more head trauma. What we know to be true is that there’s a correlation between protection and punishment.

Rafe from Brentwood, TN

I have had two sons go through high school football and rugby and a daughter who does rugby as well. I love both games but for different reasons. There are more players and more hits in rugby, but we see fewer injuries. The ruggers know how to tackle without smacking heads. The footballers who convert to rugby learn very quickly not to lead with the head.

There is no greater human instinct than to protect the face. Even a great-fielding shortstop will flinch at a bad hop. In my mind, there’s no question about it, the invention of the facemask was a game-changer.

Doug from Denville, NJ

If there are no guaranteed contracts in the NFL, then why is a long-term deal so important to some players? I understand guaranteed money and incentives but why would a player want a multi-year deal when a club can cut them at any time and not owe them all the money the contract implies?

It’s usually true that the longer the contract, the bigger the signing bonus, and signing bonus is guaranteed, as long as the player doesn’t quit. That’s why players want long-term deals. They want the signing bonus that goes with them.

Dustin from Brewer, ME

I would like to know what the definition of a scatback is and if one would fit the Packers offense.

Dexter McCluster is a scatback and any offense can accommodate his skills. Scatback is more of a description of a player’s skill set than it is a position designation. The term suggest that the player is smallish and swift.

Bob from Colby, KS

If Ted Thompson was willing to trade up to, say, No. 10 to get the great pass rusher we need, what would it take?

That’s an awfully big jump and it would carry with it a very high cost. I don’t think it’s necessary, either. I think this draft is loaded with tweeners. I think this is a good year to be a 3-4 team.

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