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NFL Debrief: Public relations, Raider style

Oakland sure has a funny way of trying to rebuild a broken franchise. Maybe Antonio Cromartie could teach them a thing or two about frugality.


Oakland sure has a funny way of trying to rebuild a broken franchise. Maybe Antonio Cromartie could teach them a thing or two about frugality. The Raiders made another offseason move over the weekend. No, some overvalued free agent didn't get a $70 million deal. Instead, Oakland's PR guy, Zak Gilbert, got the boot. He was reportedly fired by owner Mark Davis who was unhappy about an April article in Sports Illustrated.

Trotter's article was about GM Reggie McKenzie and the Sisyphean task of turning around the Raiders. A grown man with a bowl haircut apparently felt it painted his father and his team in a negative light. A negative article about a team that has gone more than a decade, seven head coaches and millions in lost free agent dollars since its last winning season?

Don't let the Baby Huey look fool you. Davis let his guy twist in the wind for weeks before actually canning him. Gilbert has been exiled and awaiting his fate since the article came out before the draft, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Needless to say, Davis took it on the chin from the media for firing one of the team's gatekeepers.

Trotter responded too.

Vindictiveness, paranoia, I half expect to find some lost reel of the Nixon tapes tucked away in the owner's suite.

Gilbert's firing comes right on the heels of CEO Amy Trask's abrupt resignation. The circumstances surrounding her departure are unknown. Trask, a 25-year front office veteran, was reportedly due for a demotion with the team under Mark Davis' control. Whatever the circumstances, her exit and Gilbert's termination are a black eye the team doesn't need.

Think about the situation the Raiders are in right now, the same situation that gave Trotter the impetus for the offending article. On the field, the product it inferior. The team had the league's worst attendance in 2012. They're putting a tarp over 10,000 seats. Oh, there's also a stadium issue. The team is in the last year of its lease for the Oakland Coliseum. A cash-strapped city already on the hook for millions and laying off cops, has no interest in paying for a new one.

Also worth noting since we're dealing with petulance: Mark Davis actually owns the team with his mother, Carol. Without her, the inheritance tax would make it almost impossible for him to own the team.

This is a team that needs all the good will and leadership it can get. Instead, they're purging the front office of competency.

Antonio Cromartie & fuel efficiency

Cromartie's story is where Darren Rovell and Nolan Nawrocki meet. Their seemingly divergent strains of needlessness become one with the Jets cornerback. For the Victorian era draft scout, Cro's 10 kids with eight women is a bogus cautionary tale of the sexuality colliding with NFL hopes. For the corporate trumpet, blowing through millions on cars and fish tanks and real estate is a spectacle.

Overlooked in the ceaseless wave of 140-character paternity jokes was a player that stepped in to provide the Jets with a rare bright spot last season. Darrelle Revis' season-ending injury thrust Cromartie into the No. 1 cornerback role in 2012. He stepped up. Pro Football Focus gave Cro an 11.1 rating in coverage last season, the fifth best of any corner. The Jets had the second-best pass defense in the league last year.

Off the field, Cromartie had undergone another transformation. Gone were the expensive cars he can't even remember purchasing. In their place: a Toyota Prius, the most practical car since the minivan (and Cromartie is the rare case where owning a minivan would actually be sort of practical).

Newsday had the weekend feel-good story of the year. In the piece about Cromartie, the Jets corner is spouting off exactly what he spends on gas every two and a half weeks (a $33 tab that would not impress America's favorite corporate tweeter). He's got a financial adviser who screens money requests from his posse and long lost family members. He's planning for retirement, which is way more than most of us were doing at 29.

To hell with a Victor Cruz reality show. I want to see Antonio Cromartie advising young people about the virtues of a Roth IRA. Put a camera in the man's Prius. A side benefit: we'd have another window into a dysfunctional Jets team the media can't seem to get enough of for some reason.

The 'C' Word

The smoking gun of NFL labor relations, at least from the labor side of things, is catching owners colluding. It almost looked like the NFLPA maybe had something when it went after the league for imposing an unofficial spending limits for the uncapped 2010 season. Handing out punishments for Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones spending too much money that year sure made it look like the union was onto something. The courts disagreed.

Former Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney was the latest to trot out the 'C' word. He publicly accused NFL front offices of conspiring to steer clear of veteran free agents. Of course, Freeney wasn't the only one talking up the possibility. The NFLPA heard player concerns, and sent a memo advising agents to keep an eye out for possible collusion.

I suppose it's a natural reaction to the new economic realities in the NFL. Teams used to engorge themselves on veteran free agents. This year, only shaky franchises like the Browns and Dolphins spent big to remake their teams. Even in those cases, general managers weren't handing out cash to guys like Freeney on their second or third contracts since their rookie deals.

We're in the midst of the NFL's "Moneyball" revolution. Teams now have a friendly rookie salary system that eliminates outsized contracts for top picks and mostly erases restricted free agency. Coaches do a much better job finding ways to insert cheap labor, rookies, into their systems. Scouts can identify capable players in the second and third tier of free agency for a fraction of the cost. Most of all, the cap has stayed relatively flat, growing less than four percent this year.

Freeney's allegation is a natural reaction to veteran players getting squeezed. A little saber rattling about potential collusion helps ease the awareness that owners got a big win with the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

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