Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Inside Scoop on Free Agency in the NFL

by Jodi J. Woodruff
What is Free Agency in the NFL? This is a technical term of art that means the ability to market your services freely once your contract expires.  Today, in the NFL, players are “Restricted Free Agents”.  This means even though a player does not have a contract with a team, he still cannot market himself to the highest bidder. He is bound by the team he plays on for a period of four seasons.

That is a Restricted Free Agent. Free agency, therefore, means the opposite. A player can market himself to the highest bidder once his contract expires. We take this for granted in our life because no one is bound to an employer absent a contract.  But, in the NFL, this is not a given. A player must play at least four seasons with a team before he is free to market himself to the highest bidder.
This use to be much worse. In the 1970’s, prior to lawsuits filed by the players, a player use to be locked into a team for life. He could never move to another team, or market himself to the highest bidder, once his contract had expired.

That all changed with the Mackey decision. The Mackey case was filed by the players, suing the NFL for antitrust violations, to get freedom on the field to market their services to the highest bidder.  They won this case in the 1970’s in the Court of Appeals.  However, they gave up their rights to freedom in collective bargaining. (For pay and more benefits)

Then, in the 1990’s, the players sued again. This time, it was a trial by jury. The players won this case too, on antitrust grounds. So, once again, the players had won the right to free agency. However, once again, in the Reggie White Class Action, they settled it and gave up that right for more pay and better benefits. (See McNeil vs. NFL)
However, the scope of free agency changed from what use to be total suppression to the evolution of free agency after 4 seasons, which is the rule today. So, the players have made substantial grounds on the free agency movement.

But, 4 years is not enough. A player should be free to market his services, absent a contract on the first year in the NFL. There should be no restrictions on the player. This is a violation of antitrust laws.

In the 2021 negotiations for the new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement – an agreement between the Union and the NFL Management regarding wages, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.), look for a great battle of titans – between the Union and the Owners. And NFL free agency is one of the passionate issues on their agenda.

The players argue that it’s about “freedom” (The freedom to market themselves to the highest bidder). But it is truly about money.  A player in the Top 100 makes an average of $8 million more dollars, per year, as a free agent. That is a lot of money. The owners do not like this. Currently, they cut players that are free agents in lieu of new players that are not.

This runs against their argument that the players will flock to the big market teams in a free agency world. That, in fact, is not happening. But, what is happening is the teams are cutting higher paid players for new ones that are restricted. This would stop with total free agency. Then we could maintain the continuity of the team that is required to keep a good, solid football team.

Plus, the NFL owners argue that player continuity is important. That is true. It is. However, stats. Have found there have been more Super Bowl victories in the world of free agency then there was under the old world of suppression. So, free agency seems to help the continuity of the game, not hurt it like the NFL has argued.

Free agency is important for many reasons, all outlined above. But most important, is the freedom one. The right to be free to market your services to the highest bidder is a right taken for granted in America. That right should be cherished and preserved.

Jodi J. Woodruff is the author of “Free Agency in Pro. Football” and “NFL Free Agency”.  She is a respected authority on this issue. Her website can be found at If you want to learn more about this issue or about the cited case law, please visit this website.

She is also the founder of PAA—the Professional Athletes’ Association.  The current chapter regards pro. Football. With this Association, she is trying to build a health care benefit plan for athletes.  To learn more about PAA, go to

And the Best Upper-Body Physique In Rams History Belongs To . . .?

By John Turney
Aaron Donald has the chance to set lots of L.A. Ram marks in the near future and distant future. He will likely become the highest paid player in team annals. He also has a chance to become the best defensive player in team history if he finishes his career, which has a long way to go, as a Ram. And that is saying a lot with players like Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Jack Youngblood in the alumni.

However, where does the young strongman rank in terms of physical build? Good question. Here are a couple of shots from his Instagram account.

Okay, What about the aforementioned Jack Youngblood?

And we cannot leave Mike Henry, TV's Tarzan, out of the mix:

Our vote goes to Cis Rundle a former Rams cheerleader and stunt double for Cheryl Ladd when she was on "Charlie's Angels".

Denver Broncos Helmet Oddity in 1976 and 1977—Two Shades of Blue

By John Turney
Since it's Summer we are continuing to examine small but interesting uniform anomalies. Today's subject is the lighter and darker shades of blue lids the Broncos donned in 1976 and 1977.
In the early 1970s the Broncos wore a medium blue helmet with the orange and white striping and the Bronco sticker with the big "D".

In 1976 and 1977 the Broncos went with a darker blue than in previous years. But the anomaly is not everyone got the memo. In those two years players could be seen sporting both shades.

Here are two players in the ligher model with everyone else in the new, darker shades
A closer look:
 Here you can see Wright and another Bronco with the dark lid.

In the late 1980s they even seemed to get to be almost a baby blue, but at least everyone on the team had the same color:

Here are the helmets from the earlier 1970s:

Here are a few helmets purported to be game used from the relevant era.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Roman Gabriel—A Career in Three Acts

Originally published by the Professional Football Researchers Association in ‘The Coffin Corner,’ Volume 36, Number 5,  September/October 2014.

By John Turney

As with many players on the NFL stage, Roman Gabriel had a career that unfolded in distinct parts. Sometimes an injury, such as with Gale Sayers, marks a divide. Other times it’s a trade that causes a separation. Sonny Jurgensen first sat behind Norm Van Brocklin, then had his prime years, and finally split time with Billy Kilmer with the Redskins from 1971 to 1974.
Gabriel, who had a short career as an actor after football, had his early years as an understudy from 1962 to 1965, when he learned his position and played only part-time; his prime years in the spotlight as an NFL starter, from 1966 through 1975; then two years as a backup with the Eagles. Here then are the three acts of Roman Gabriel’s career on football’s biggest stage

ACT I: The Curtain Raiser
When is ordinary really extraordinary? Or can 'average' be stellar? In Gabriel’s early career, there were glimpses of the star he would become. He was excited to be drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, believing head coach Bob Waterfield would impart the knowledge that Gabriel would need to start his NFL career off on the right foot. The Rams selected him with the number one overall pick in the 1962 NFL draft and then engaged in a bidding war for Gabriel with the Oakland Raiders, who chose him in the AFL draft.
Gabriel later said the relationship with Waterfield was icy, and that he never got the instruction he was expecting. Gabriel told the media that sometimes practice, for him, was throwing the ball as far as he could, running after it, and throwing it back the other way. Zeke Bratkowski was entrenched as the starter, and it seemed to Gabriel the new coach had little interest in him.

Gabriel sat most of the season, playing in only two games, until Week 10. The Rams were 1–9. The week before, an unheralded Ron Miller got the start and went 2 for 11 and threw a pick. So, perhaps desperate, Waterfield started Gabriel. The Rams tied the Vikings and Gabriel went on to start the final three games, all Rams losses. But the stats pointed towards improvement. The Rams offense averaged 254 yards in the first 10 games and 331 yards per game with Gabriel starting. It was a  trend that continued through Gabriel’s early years.

But the Rams chose quarterback and Heisman winner Terry Baker in the first round in 1963, perhaps because they had little faith in the quarterback they had chosen in 1962. Baker started the first game but Bratkowski received the nod the next four weeks. With the Rams offense averaging 9.2 points a game and 211 yards of total offense, their record stood at 0–5. Gabriel started the final nine games and the Rams went 5–4 in that span, the offense doubled its output in points and averaged over 50 yards a game more in total offense.

Again, it seems that increase in production failed to impress the Rams, who took Bill Munson, another quarterback, in the first round of the 1964 NFL draft. And this time, when the season began Munson was the starting quarterback. Gabriel also injured a knee in preseason and started the season on the injured list. Munson began well, winning two games, tying one, and losing none.

In Week 5, however, the Bears picked Munson off four times and Gabriel finished the game. Gabe started the next six, winning three before giving way to Munson for the rest of the season. With Munson as the starter, the Rams were 2–4–2 and averaged 16 points a game and 235 yards in offense. With Gabriel, the Rams were 3–3, averaged 23 points and just under 300 yards of offense a game.
Still, in 1965 Harland Svare noted that Gabriel was not accurate as a passer and named Munson the starter. He lasted 10 games, and the Rams record was 1–9. The offense was averaging 272 yards and 16 points a game and that poor production caused Svare to hand the keys to the offense to Gabriel.

Gabe's first opponents were the Green Bay Packers, who would end the season as NFL champions. Gabriel passed for 255 yards and the defense clamped down on the Packers as the Rams won, 21–10. The following week the Rams rolled up 380 yards of offense on the Cardinals for another win.

The next week the Rams faced the Cleveland Browns, who would face the Packers in the NFL Championship Game a few weeks later, and Los Angeles beat them handily. They lost to the mighty Colts in Week 14, 20–17, in a game Baltimore had to win and were forced to play Tom Matte as the quarterback. In the games Gabriel started, the team averaged 27 points and 365 yards of offense.

So when is "average" better than average? From 1962 through 1965, Gabriel started 23 games, and in those games, the Rams were 11–11–1, exactly .500. In the 33 games not started by Gabriel, the Rams were 4–27–2 for a winning percentage of .133.

Moreover, in the games started by Gabriel in that span the Rams averaged 21 points a game and 304 yards of offense; in the others, the Rams averaged 15 points and 256 yards of offense.

In addition, there was the number of “quality wins” to consider such as the win over the eventual conference champions in 1965. In three previous years, there were two other wins over the Packers and wins over contending teams like the Colts and Lions. Over the four-year period of Gabriel’s role as an  understudy, his passer rating was 74.0 at a time when the NFL–AFL average was 64.0, and the other Rams quarterbacks combined for a 57.3 rating.

ACT II: The Spotlight
In May 1966, the Raiders offered Gabriel a $100,000 contract for the 1967 season. Head coach George Allen promptly declared Gabriel the starting quarterback, and he remained the Rams starter through 1972. It was, according to Gabriel, Allen’s assurances that he’d play that kept Gabriel from hopping leagues.

The Rams, under Allen, Gabriel and the Fearsome Foursome defense, were winners for the first time since the 1950s, and Gabriel proved himself to be one of the best quarterbacks in football and a star player during that span. The Rams were 8–6 in 1966. Allen brought in running back Tom Moore for that season, and under the system installed by Ted Marchibroda, Moore set a record for catches by a running back with 60. The offense was especially proficient in Week 10 versus the New York Giants when the Rams set a record for most first downs in a game (38) that stood until 1988.

In 1967 the Rams were division champs, going 11–1–2, and Gabriel threw for 2,779 yards and 25 touchdowns. In the final two weeks the Rams beat Green Bay and Baltimore to secure the division title, and both weeks Gabriel was named the AP Offensive Player of the Week for his contributions. The voting for the MVP awards was completed the week before the final game and had it been taken after the final game, when Gabe bested Unitas, perhaps the voting would have gone differently. Gabriel's TD passes and wins topped Unitas.

In 1968 the Rams were 10–1–1 after 12 weeks but two close losses cost them the division crown but Gabriel was still voted to the Pro Bowl. A year later, in 1969, Gabriel was voted the NFL MVP by the AP, UPI and NEA when he threw for 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He was also a consensus First-team All-Pro selection.
That three-year run was the “peak” of  Gabriel’s prime seasons. From 1967 through 1969, no quarterback in the NFL won more games as a starter (32), and he had the highest winning percentage (.821) in the NFL as well, and only the AFL’s Daryle Lamonica had more wins in pro football (36). Lamonica, Fran Tarkenton, and Sonny Jurgensen were the only quarterbacks who threw for more touchdowns in those three seasons.

And while Rams receiver Jack Snow was a fine player, he wasn’t in the category as some of those Lamonica, Tarkenton and Jurgensen were throwing to—players such as Charley Taylor, Fred Biletnikoff and speedsters like Homer Jones and Warren Wells. Clearly, Gabriel had arrived at the top of his craft.

The prime of Gabriel’s career, from 1966–1975, was full of such successes. In that decade-long span, only Fran Tarkenton completed more passes and started more games as a winning quarterback (77 to 74), and only Tarkenton and John Hadl threw for more yards and more touchdowns than Gabriel.
Gabriel suffered knee injuries and had a chronic elbow condition in the early 1970s. In 1970 and 1971 he played through it, but the Rams finished second both seasons, losing each year on the final Sunday to the 49ers in the NFC Western Division race. Gabriel was ranked in several passing categories both seasons and appeared on lists of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, but he would soon be leaving the spotlight in Los Angeles.

With a change in ownership and a desire to go in a new direction, the Rams traded Gabriel to Philadelphia in 1973. Los Angeles had traded for quarterback John Hadl earlier in the year and Gabriel was not happy about it. Offered a king’s ransom for Gabriel, the Rams pulled the trigger on a trade with the Eagles, acquiring star wide receiver Harold Jackson, running back Tony Baker, two first-round picks and a third-round choice.
Gabriel went on to help an Eagles team that had gone 2–11–1 the previous season improve to a 5–8–1 record, leading the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns. He was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year and was voted to his fourth Pro Bowl. A late missed field goal and a couple of other bad breaks cost the Eagles a chance at a 7-7 or 8-6 season. Without a doubt, the team was a tough game for everyone they played in 1973, a "tough out" as it were.

His skills continually impressed scouts as well. Ermal Allen, the Cowboys top scout said of Gabriel "(he) is the best quarterback in professional football at looking the defensive man off. He'll look one way and then turn and throw it on target the other direction". Allen added, "he has only given up three percent interceptions in his career—far better than anyone else and he doesn't get trapped much. He will throw the ball away if he has to".

The following season the Eagles won four of their first five games, and in the one loss, which came in Week 1 versus the Cardinals, Gabriel just missed on four passes near the goal line in the closing seconds. The Eagles were inches from victory. In Week 6 they lost by a touchdown to Dallas in a classic hard-fought game, then went on to lose the next five in a row, taking their record to 4–7. For the first time in his career, Gabriel was benched, and the Eagles won their last three under Mike Boryla. Boryla did to Gabriel what Gabriel had done to Rams quarterbacks in his early years.
In 1975, the Eagles were still in transition, going 4–10 with Boryla beginning and ending the season as a starter and Gabriel starting nine games in between. Neither quarterback played great, but Gabriel’s passer rating was 67.8 while Boryla’s was 52.7.

ACT III: The Denouement
Gabriel was a backup for the next two seasons as the curtain started to close on his career. In 1976 Dick Vermeil took over the Eagles head-coaching position and went with the younger Boryla as the starter.
Gabriel hadn’t even been sure he’d play after 1975, but he rehabbed his aching knees and stuck around as the backup to Boryla that season. The Eagles were 3–7 after ten games and Vermeil went with Gabriel as the starter for the final four, which included consecutive games against three of the best teams in the NFL: the Raiders, the Redskins, and the Cowboys. All three beat Philadelphia and beat up on Gabriel and the Eagles. Gabriel finished the season with his final NFL start against the expansion Seahawks, notching his final win.

In 1977 the Eagles acquired Ron Jaworski from the Rams and Gabriel was the backup, seeing the field almost exclusively as the holder for placekicks. He did fill in briefly during the first game of the season after Lee Roy Selmon sacked Jaworski and shook him up. Gabriel came into the game to finish the series, completing a 15-yard pass to Vince Papale, which was short of the first down. Jaworski, with the cobwebs out, came back the next series and finished the game. A few weeks later, for the same reason, Gabriel entered the game versus the Lions and threw his final two passes, both incomplete.
One of Gabriel’s fans is Jerry Kramer, who has stated that the Packers always respected Gabriel and prepared hard for him. When asked what player deserved Hall of Fame consideration, Bob Lilly indicated Gabriel, saying, “He’s got as good a set of numbers as anyone in there.” The Cowboys were a team that Gabriel always seemed to play well against. The Rams beat Dallas in 1967 and 1969 and lost a close one on Thanksgiving Day in 1971. Then, when Gabriel was with Philadelphia, he engineered upsets in 1973 and 1974. In 1974 and 1975, in the games the Eagles lost to Dallas, the Eagles kept it close to one of the NFL’s powerhouses.

Gabriel’s arm strength was his calling card in his early years; he could step into the pass and fire it downfield. He was a noted runner as well. From 1966 through 1972, no Rams running back rushed for more touchdowns than Gabriel, and only 16 running backs in the NFL rushed for more. From 1966 to 1969, Gabriel rushed for 18 touchdowns, which was 11th best in the combined AFL–NFL. And for his career, no QB ran for more touchdowns than Gabriel. Gabriel was the short-yardage runner for the Rams

Said his coach Dick Vermeil: "I had the pleasure of being on the L. A. Rams staff in 1969 when Roman was in his prime. He was as good as the very best at that time. Great competitor, a leader, tougher than any QB playing. He had a very strong arm and was a real worker. No one at that time was preparing to play each week with more effort than Roman was at that time, he was a real student
of the game.

"In 1971, I went back to the Rams with Tommy Prothro as his offensive coordinator and QB coach, a position I did not have the experience to do real well at that time; Roman was always respectful, very helpful and patient with me. I learned a lot from him! He was a true pro. His arm went dead on him during that period, 1971 or ’72, but he hung tough and did the best he could without making excuses. I will always admire this guy and consider him a player that impacted my career and life. I’m a better person for having had the opportunity to coach Roman."

Phil Olsen remembers Gabriel for his toughness: "He was remarkably athletic and, even though this was a time when few athletes trained year round, he was consumed with a desire to be physically fit. He was big and very strong for a quarterback and on many passing plays, he would refuse to go down until two or three defenders had pounded on him. Gabe would simply stand in the pocket and absorb punishment just like a boxer taking body punches from an opponent. He completed a lot of passes while dragging defenders with him. I was rehabbing a knee following surgery in 1971 and spent a lot of time in the training room so I saw a lot of Gabe. Week after week, he would come in for treatment following games.

"He’d have bruises all over his body from the pounding he’d taken. Some weeks, it looked like someone had been beating on him with a sledgehammer. In spite of all the pounding he absorbed, I never heard him complain or grouse about it. He was simply one tough dude."

Gabriel was always proud of his ability to avoid interceptions. When he retired after the 1977 season, he held the NFL record for the lowest interception percentage and held it until Joe Montana broke it. The advent of shorter passes and the West Coast types of offense prevalent now reduce that statistic to an afterthought. At the time, however, it was a remarkable achievement, even when he was compared to his peers such as Unitas, Tarkenton, Jurgensen, Brodie and other great quarterbacks
of the time. Gabriel is now tied for 67th in lowest career interception percentage at 3.3 percent and none of the players ahead of him were active when Gabriel played. To find another person from his era, you have to drop to the 111th spot, to Joe Theismann at 3.8 percent.

To find a true peer of Gabriel (anyone who played in or before 1970) you have to look down to two who are tied for 124th and 132nd, respectively, to find Bill Munson at 4.0 percent and Fran Tarkenton at 4.1.

From 1965 until early 1972, Gabriel started 89 straight games, tops until both Ron Jaworski and Joe Ferguson surpassed it in 1983, with Jaws setting the mark with 116 in 1984. Brett Favre blew the numbers away with his massing 297-game mark, but nothing was made of Gabriel besting the mark of 88 set by Johnny Unitas. Currently, Unitas's 88 games rank tenth and Gabriel’s 89-game streak is ranked ninth.

Gabriel’s NFL accomplishments followed a stellar college career at North Carolina State University, where he was voted All-American twice and as well as being twice voted the ACC Player of the Year. He was voted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989 and was on the ACC’s 50th Anniversary Football Team announced in 2003.

Gabriel left North Carolina State in 1961 as the school record holder in rushing touchdowns (he still ranks 15th), passing yards (also currently ranks 15th), passing completions (currently 14th), and touchdown passes (currently tied for ninth). His 60.4 percent completion rate is a single-season record was not bettered until 1988 and still ranks as eighth best in N. C. State history, remarkable given where college football has gone in the passing game since 1961. His 34 touchdowns, both running and passing, is still eighth in school annals in that category. while at NC State Gabriel was a two-time All-American and also a two-time ACC Player of the Year in 1960 and 1961 and set 22 school records, nine conference records, and was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame for those accomplishments.

Gabriel left the Rams as the leader in virtually every passing category and even after 40 years, he is still the team record holder in career touchdown passes, the Greatest Show on Turf teams notwithstanding. His five touchdowns in a game is also still a record he holds with Van Brocklin, Waterfield, Vince Ferragamo, Jim Everett and Kurt Warner.

Gabriel’s career, like any great performance for an athlete or an actor, is worthy of our applause and adulation. It certainly has stood the test of time.

Joel Buchsbaum—A Pioneer Draftnik and Player Evaluator

By John Turney
Photo credit: John McClain, Houston Chronicle
I didn't know Joel Buchsbaum, we only spoke over the phone but I can say that I miss his work and wish he were still around. He passed away in December 2002 at the age of 48 of natural causes.

Buchsbaum began writing in 1979 and his articles were published by Gannett News Services and also wrote for Pro Football Weekly, and that year he wrote the first draft book, ''Pro Football Weekly and Scout's Notebook '79.''

In so many ways Buchsbaum was first to publish several things. The aforementioned draft book, he published player ratings, something akin to the current Top 100 list that the NFL Network broadcasts every Summer. He even was innovative in small ways, like in 1991 when he grouped nose tackles and 4-3 tackles together as "defensive middle" which is the same thing as the "defensive interior" that the Associated Press now uses for their All-Pro team and other groups use. And a bit later he coined "outside defensive linemen" similar to edge rushers along with the "(Hybrid) end-outside linebackers:

He also was one of the first (if not the first) to pick pre-season and mid-season All-Pro team in 1980:

Buchsbaum watched film, but he also talked to everyone—scouts, coaches, NFL executives and gather excellent information and as a result, his All-Pro teams and "Best in the Business" lists were not run-of-the-mill and not simple repeats of the semi-official All-Pro teams of AP, PFWA and NEA.

Here are some of those articles as we go down the lane of "Let's remember":
1987 Preseason All-Pro team:

1997 Preseason All-Pro team:

2001 Preseason All-Pro team:

1985 Mock Draft:
1981 NFL Draft Running Back Ratings:
1983 Draft Reports, collected from film study, NFL executives, etc.:

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Remembering Dr. James King, Grandson of Ralph Hay

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Dr. James F. King, Grandson of Ralph Hay
(Courtesy: Chris Willis)
Yesterday I heard the news that this past Monday, on June 18th, that Dr. James F. King had passed away from a heart attack at the age of 81. If you don't know the name, then you probably know his famous grandfather, Ralph Hay. It was Mr. Hay who owned the Canton Bulldogs and who called the NFL's first organizational meeting in his automobile showroom on September 17, 1920. Hearing this news was very difficult for me since it was just two months ago I had spent a week staying with Dr. King and his charming wife Charlene (they have been married for 59 years), while I did research at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in King's hometown of Canton, Ohio.
Ralph Hay, Owner of Canton Bulldogs (1919-1922)
(Courtesy: of King Family)
I've known Dr. King for nearly twenty years. I was able to interview him for NFL Films back in 2003 so we could get his grandfather's story preserved in our Archives. Out of that interview I was able to write an article for the Coffin Corner, the official publication of the Professional Football Researchers Association.

Over the years I have been able to pick King's brain to learn more about his grandfather. Ralph Hay was a pivotal figure in the founding of the NFL, so I wanted to learn more about the man. Every time I talked to him I learned something new. This past April I was able to sit down with Dr. King and ask more questions. I interviewed him for over an hour. He was always warm, toughtful, interesting and passionate.

When I first met Dr. King he told me one of his favorite stories. He loved talking about Jim Thorpe, one of his grandfather's closest friends. He first told me how his middle name was the same as Thorpe. James Francis King. He also told me about how Thorpe would visit the family in Canton and how Thorpe would babysit him. He showed me a photo of himself as a young baby being held by Thorpe. He kept this photo in his wallet for decades.
Jim Thorpe, holding Dr. James King
(Courtesy: King Family)
I will always remember how Dr. King treated me and how he helped me with my research projects. It was a sad day yesterday hearing the news, especially with the NFL about to celebrate its 100th season in the fall of 2019. I know next year I will be remembering Ralph Hay, as well as Dr. James King, during that celebration season.

My thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family. I will miss my friend, Dr. James F. King. But I will not forget him or his generosity to others.

Dr. James King Obituary Canton Repository