Nathan from Port Washington, WI

Can you explain how contracts work? I'm not entirely clear how bonuses, guaranteed money and penalties for releasing players work.

I think what you’re asking is how contracts apply to the salary cap. I’m starting to get a lot of salary cap-type questions, now that it appears a new CBA will provide for a salary cap system. Hey, I like the cap. I don’t like the fact that it’s a means for high-revenue teams to pass their player costs onto low-revenue teams, but I like the rules of the cap because it rewards teams that draft and develop and, in my opinion, penalizes teams that try to take a short cut to winning through free agency, which I regard as a high-risk venue for player acquisition. OK, let’s get back to some cap basics. Signing bonus is money paid up front that is divided evenly over the life of the contract. Deferred signing bonus is also guaranteed, but its payment is deferred to a certain point in the contract, and the amortization of that money on a team’s salary cap doesn’t begin until that money is paid, and then it is divided evenly over what remains of the life of the contract. Deferred signing bonus is a means for guaranteeing money but lowering a player’s cap hit in the first year or two. Roster bonus is money paid on a particular date, for being on the roster on that date, and it is realized in full on that year’s cap. Salary is realized in full in the year in which it’s paid. There are two types of incentives: likely to be earned (LTBE) and not likely to be earned (NLTBE), and teams love to play cap games with incentives because it’s a way of making cap room or eating up cap room. If a player has an incentive for scoring 10 touchdowns, but he only scored nine in the previous season, then his incentive is NLTBE and, therefore, does not appear on that season’s cap. It would appear on the next year’s cap if he earns it, even if he’s not on the roster. LTBE incentives must be charged to the current year’s cap. If you trade a player, all of his remaining amortization accelerates into the current year. The same applies to cutting a player. Teams never wanna leave room on a year’s cap when the year expires, so they will often do a contract extension with a player late in the season to eat up remaining cap room. One question I get a lot is this: How do teams that spend a lot in free agency always seem to have more cap room to spend on more free agents? The answer is: They often convert salary to signing bonus in a contract extension, which means they’ve taken money that would’ve had to have been declared in full in the current year and spread it out over the additional years, which means they’re mortgaging their future for the sake of the present. When that player is still on their cap but no longer on their team, that’s called dead money and too much of that and their team will be dead, too.

Ryan from Irvine, CA

This is not a simple question, so i know I won’t be getting the full details, but how do quarterbacks read a defense? I know it requires film study but, still, how do you know if a linebacker is blitzing or not?

The old rule was: Look through the middle linebacker to the strong safety and you should know where everybody on the field is. Today’s defensive strategies, however, are much too sophisticated and varied to apply that old standard broadly, though, it still applies to 4-3 teams that like to walk the strong safety up into the box. How do you read a defense coached by Dom Capers or Dick LeBeau? That’s the bigger question. Well, it starts with finding the key player in each defense. In Capers’ defense, it’s Clay Matthews. In LeBeau’s, it’s Troy Polamalu. They are the featured players, which is to say the players Capers and LeBeau are going to put into impact positions. As far as knowing if a linebacker is going to blitz, you don’t need to know, only suspect and be prepared to react accordingly. A blitzer immediately creates a hot receiver on that side of the field; the quarterback will often go to the hot receiver in the face of the blitz. Knowing that, the defense might roll coverage toward the blitzer’s area. Now we’re talking about a zone-blitz scheme.

Patrick from Jacksonville, FL

I think the NCAA does go too far. Taking away the Heisman is fine; they are penalizing the player. I don't agree with vacating wins. It doesn't serve a purpose except to punish the coach. I think taking away future bowl games is also a good punishment. Do you think the NCAA goes too far sometimes?

Based on recent discoveries at Ohio State and Georgia Tech, I’m inclined to believe the NCAA hasn’t gone far enough.

Nathan from New Orleans, LA

I imagine the north-south layout came from concern about the sunset giving an advantage to one direction of the field; domes eliminated that from the equation entirely.

That’s correct, but Cleveland Browns Stadium doesn’t have a dome and neither does M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The sun isn’t a problem in Cleveland, of course, because there is no sun, but I’ve covered games in Baltimore on sunny days, so what happened there?

Richard from Lake Havasu, AZ

I know Ted Thompson likes to draft for the best player available. I once heard Dick Vermeil espouse the theory of maybe drafting a defensive player number one every year. I once read that when he was drafting for the Steelers of the ’70s, Chuck Noll gave a slight edge in drafting players to defensive players (and it sure worked). I would like to see the Packers use a similar approach in building a defense that you cannot score against. What are your thoughts on this?

That’s news to me about Coach Noll. I was covering the Steelers back then and, as I remember it, four of Chuck’s first six first-round picks were offensive players. What Chuck wouldn’t draft early were offensive linemen. He believed you could get those players later in the draft and develop them. I’m with Thompson on drafting the best available player, so it’s hard for me to say anything more than rank ’em and pick ’em. Fans don’t like to hear that because the debate ends right there, so I’ll take it a little farther for you by saying this: I don’t agree with what you’re suggesting because the offensive side of the ball is the expensive side of the ball and the draft is the least expensive means for acquiring premier players. In other words, if an offensive player and a defensive player were in an absolute deadlock at the top of my board, and if I had an equal need for both players, I would favor the offensive player because acquiring that player in free agency is likely to cost more than it would to acquire a player on defense in free agency.

Robert from Las Vegas, NV

What are your thoughts on the NFL making every scoring play reviewable next season?

I’m not in favor of four-hour games, but if we’re gonna get one play right, let’s make sure we get the touchdown right, and that means I’m in favor of whatever cameras the league wants to install down on the goal line. The way I figure, the more cameras or whatever they put down there, the faster the referee will come to a decision and the less disruptive the break in the action will be.

Frank from Oak Creek, WI

Any idea as to when, if at all, President Obama will invite the Packers to the White House to congratulate them on winning Super Bowl XLV, or perhaps is he snubbing the Packers because unfortunately he's a Bears fan?

We’re still in a lockout. It can’t be done. Beyond that, I have two thoughts on this subject: 1.) It’s time to turn the clock forward. 2.) I would much rather see President Obama direct all of his attention toward the debt ceiling.

William from Sterling, VA

What do you think of the Packers Hall of Fame?

I love it. I think all heritage-type franchises should have a Hall of Fame. As I have said and written before, pro football hasn’t done nearly as good a job of chronicling its history as baseball has. The NFL’s founding fathers did a fantastic job at growing the game, but in many cases they seem to have lacked an appreciation for the history they were creating. That’s not true with the Packers. They trumpet their history and tradition and that’s something that drew me to Green Bay, because I love and revere the history of the game. Frankly, I think the history of football is every bit as interesting as the history of baseball. The Packers Hall of Fame will induct three new members on Saturday and I’ll attend the banquet and, of course, write a story after it. It’ll be my first Packers Hall of Fame induction and I hope I do a worthy job.

Mike from Iola, WI

I was wondering if you think Edgar Bennett was named wide receivers coach to try to reduce the number of drops the Packers’ receivers have had. I know he was big on ball security for the running backs he used to coach, and I was curious if you think he can bring the same trait to an otherwise good group of wide receivers.

Bennett is the Packers’ new wide receivers coach because Mike McCarthy sees a young coach with high upside and he wants to grow his role in the offense. In today’s game, you have to be involved in pass-offense and pass-defense to be upwardly mobile. Bennett has one of the most appealing personalities I’ve ever known in the 40 years I’ve covered the league. He’s head coach material all the way. Good coaches can coach any position. Tom Landry was a defensive coordinator with the Giants but was an offensive innovator as Cowboys head coach. Vince Lombardi was an offensive coordinator with the Giants but his stamp was all over the Packers defense. Noll was defensive coordinator for Don Shula in Baltimore but was his own offensive coordinator as coach of the Steelers. We tend to think too narrowly in today’s game, and I think that’s largely the result of the game having become so specialized. It doesn’t have to be that way and, frankly, it shouldn’t be that way. Tom Clements has coached quarterbacks almost exclusively, but I promise you he could coordinate pass-defense coverages without any problem. James Campen has only coached offensive linemen in the NFL, but he coached everything as a high school coach and I have no doubt he could move to the defensive line seamlessly. Football is football. It’s about having a feel, instincts and aptitude for the game. Once you have that, coaching any position is merely about learning its specifics.

Niklas from Hamburg, Germany

With a new slotted rookie wage system, does it make sense for rookies to have agents negotiating their contracts?

Structuring the contract is an agent’s most challenging and important task. How much of the contract is signing bonus, roster bonus, deferred bonus, incentives, etc.? The teams need agents to help structure a deal that’ll fit under the team’s cap. The last thing a team contract negotiator wants is a player representative that doesn’t understand the cap system and the team’s needs for structuring a contract a certain way.