He'll be a guiding Light
Patriot tackle ready for player-rep role
When the Patriots traded Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs, they lost more than a versatile, hard-nosed linebacker and occasional pass-catching presence as a goal-line tight end.
Vrabel was also the team's player representative, which meant he was a trouble-shooter and sounding board in the locker room for teammates who had questions and concerns regarding their rights as a player under the collective bargaining agreement. Vrabel also cast votes on behalf of the team's players.
Those responsibilities will now fall to offensive tackle Matt Light, the nine-year veteran who steps up at a critical time as NFL players and owners begin working to maintain labor peace.
"It wasn't until my third or fourth year that I really started thinking about the union and how the business of the NFL operates," said the 30-year-old Light, who has been with the Patriots since the team drafted him in the second round in 2001. "I think it's like that for a lot of guys - you come into the league and I think you're pretty bogged down with being a rookie, and you're probably still trying to figure it out in your second year. Once you get past that, for me, I wanted to start learning more and try to help out in any way I could."
Light worked alongside Vrabel as an alternate player representative the last two years, attending meetings while gaining a better understanding of key issues that will be a central part of upcoming negotiations for a new CBA. Some of the hot-button topics include the percentage of total revenue players receive, a possible rookie wage scale, a potential expanded regular season, accounting for the risk owners incur with stadium debt, and revenue sharing among owners.
The next 10 months are crucial for the future of the NFL.
If owners and players don't strike an extension to the existing CBA by next February/March, the 2010 season will be played without a salary cap, potentially threatening the competitive balance that has helped the league thrive. Several rules would change; for example, players would need six complete seasons to become free agents, not four.
If an extension isn't reached by the end of the 2010 season, there could be a work stoppage in 2011.
Owners previously showed their solidarity by unanimously voting to shorten the existing CBA by two years, expediting the showdown that is to unfold over the next 10 months. After the death of Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw last August, the players have regrouped, and last month they hired Washington, D.C., attorney DeMaurice Smith as their new leader.
Light was at the March meeting in which Smith was elected, and believes the players are as unified as ever.
"I felt like we had four strong candidates, but I think it was really clear to everybody in the room that DeMaurice was the guy that just stood above the rest," he said. "He is very polished, a very good speaker, and has some great insight into how business is done at the level of which the NFL conducts business.
"He's been kind of a guy that has experienced everything you could want in a director, a guy who knows how to negotiate and how to get the best deal for everyone involved. I felt like he did a great job of understanding and listening to what the guys wanted.
"Gene accomplished a lot of great things over 25 years, but I do think there was a disconnect with some players and the union. It wasn't anything that wasn't repairable, but you'd listen to people in the locker room, and you'd hear things like, 'Do they really know me?' and 'Are they really listening to me?' That was one of the reasons I wanted to get involved."
Unlike teammate Adalius Thomas, who publicly railed against the league's potential plans to expand the regular season, Light said he's not the spitting-fire type. He'll stand firm on key issues, but plans to do so with the idea of being a uniting presence.
"I guess I don't look at it as frictionally as some," he said. "Some people say 'the NFLPA' and it's, 'Whoa, they have this problem with ownership.' I don't view it that way.
"I think the owners want to get a deal done. The players want to get a deal done. So it's about finding out how best to accomplish that, and there should be enough adults in the room that we can come to a fine conclusion."
Dissecting the Cutler tradeOne writer's view on what's to like and dislike about the trade that sent Denver quarterback Jay Cutler and a 2009 fifth-round draft choice to the Bears for quarterback Kyle Orton, first-round draft choices in 2009 and 2010, and a 2009 third-round pick:
Like - The Bears finally get a highly touted, strong-armed quarterback to build around. Cutler's presence should give the offense a chance to control games and aid a defense that no longer dominates.
Dislike - The immaturity of Cutler throughout the entire process and his laughable remarks after the deal was announced that he didn't want to be traded.
Like - In Orton and Chris Simms, the Broncos know their quarterbacks will be the first players at the facility, doing whatever it takes to get better and providing the required leadership.
Dislike - The initial handling of the situation by Broncos first-year coach Josh McDaniels, who erred by letting the team's failed pursuit of Matt Cassel spiral out of control and affect his relationship with Cutler.
Like - Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who tends to favor building through the draft, loosening his grip on the picks to inject a spark to his team and fans.
Dislike - Cutler's agent, Bus Cook, manipulating the process behind the scenes and seemingly standing in the way of McDaniels and Cutler meeting to work it out.
Like - Adding some spice to the preseason: The Bears visit the Broncos in a nationally televised exhibition game Aug. 30.
Dislike - The current crop of receivers Cutler will be throwing to in Chicago, which might be the weakest group in the NFL.
Still some treats among free agent leftoversFree agency started Feb. 27, and the pace of signings has slowed. Still, for teams seeking to fill a void, there are options on the market:
Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Jeff Garcia, Rex Grossman, Byron Leftwich, J.P. Losman
Quick hit: Leftwich was solid filling in for the Steelers last season, but these signal-callers are mostly No. 3-type options.
Running back: Tatum Bell, Warrick Dunn, Rudi Johnson, Deuce McAllister, Dominic Rhodes
Quick hit: No top-flight talent here, just complementary parts. Edgerrin James, a possibility to be released by the Cardinals, would vault to the top.
Wide receiver: Plaxico Burress, Ronald Curry, Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Darrell Jackson, Amani Toomer, Reggie Williams
Quick hit: Burress is the top talent, but his situation is clouded by off-field issues; Holt has visited with the Titans and Jaguars and could help a team immediately.
Tight ends: Bubba Franks, Marcus Pollard, Sean Ryan, Daniel Wilcox, George Wrightster
Quick hit: This is a very light crop, which is why needy teams might reach in the draft.
Offensive line: George Foster (tackle), Melvin Fowler (center), Marcus Johnson (tackle), Adrian Jones (guard), Pete Kendall (guard), Jon Runyan (tackle), Mark Tauscher (tackle)
Quick hit: Kendall, the former Archbishop Williams High and Boston College star, can still help a team in a starting role.
Defensive line: Kevin Carter, Ebenezer Ekuban, La'Roi Glover, Tank Johnson, Jerome McDougle, Jason Taylor, Josh Thomas, John Thornton, Darwin Walker
Quick hit: Teams will find only part-time options here. Taylor, who could wind up in New England or Miami, would boost a team's pass rush on third down.
Linebacker: Derrick Brooks, Rosevelt Colvin, Tyjuan Hagler, Napoleon Harris,
Quick hit: June, the former Colt and Buccaneer, can fill a starting role in the right scheme. He looks headed to the Texans.
Secondary: Mike Brown (safety), Keith Davis (safety), Rodney Harrison (safety) Ty Law (cornerback), Ken Lucas (cornerback), Chris McAlister (cornerback), Justin Miller (cornerback), Lawyer Milloy (safety), Keiwan Ratliff (cornerback), Lewis Sanders (cornerback)
Quick hit: Teams that don't fill needs in the draft can find some help here.
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.