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He'll be a guiding Light

Patriot tackle ready for player-rep role

By Mike Reiss
April 5, 2009
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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 trade

One 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 leftovers

Free 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, Cato June, Freddy Keiaho, Willie McGinest, Zach Thomas, Marcus Washington

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.

Etc.

Scout cookies
Five nuggets from talking to NFL scouts and personnel executives leading up to the draft: 1. That Baylor left tackle Jason Smith is in the discussion for the top pick is surprising to one scouting director, who doesn't rate him a top-10 talent; 2. Best player in the draft whom the Chiefs might be fortunate to see drop to them at No. 3: Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry; 3. The Lions have made calls about trading the No. 1 pick, but interest is predictably light because of the cost to sign the player; 4. Bill Belichick's presence at the University of Connecticut Pro Day last week was duly noted in one NFL office, and that club wouldn't be surprised if cornerback Darius Butler is strongly considered with New England's 23d pick; 5. Boston College defensive lineman B.J. Raji was inching toward top-five status before reports of his positive drug test at the combine. Now he might slip out of the first round.

Seven is up
Matt Cassel won't be wearing No. 16 in Kansas City - that's retired for Len Dawson - and instead will don No. 7. Cassel chose the number, in part, to pay homage to Ken O'Brien, who coached him early in his career at Southern Cal and who wore that number with the Jets from 1983-92. Also, Cassel figured that when adding the 1 and 6 from his old number, it came to 7.

These birds get crumbs
So this is what the Cardinals get for their surprise run to the Super Bowl? A long trip to Pittsburgh for a preseason opener is a drag (teams like to limit travel in the preseason), and then they were left off the prime-time schedule on opening weekend in favor of Green Bay-Chicago. Not a great hand dealt to the Cards.

Don't they want more?
Ken Whisenhunt, who has done a fantastic job restoring credibility to the Cardinals, has yet to be approached about a contract extension after directing the team to the Super Bowl, according to the Arizona Republic. Whisenhunt has two years remaining on his deal, with a team option for a third year, and is making about $2.5 million per season. That's less than what his former offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, is earning as head coach of the Chiefs.

Two spots for three Bears
The Bears' signing of offensive tackle Orlando Pace will have a trickle-down effect on former BC lineman Josh Beekman. The addition of Pace will kick Frank Omiyale inside to left guard, where he'll compete with Beekman (16 starts in 2008) for the starting job. Omiyale, the former Carolina Panther, signed a four-year, $11.5 million deal to play tackle.

Draft had chilling effect
First-year Jaguars general manager Gene Smith has a big clean-up project on his hands, attempting to inject the roster with more talent. The Jaguars realize they might have to take a step back before moving forward, and one reason for the team's dip is poor drafting. Consider that the first-round picks in 2003 (Byron Leftwich), 2004 (Reggie Williams), and 2005 (Matt Jones) - all of whom should be in their prime years with the club - remain on the free agent market.

Newsy release
Tight end George Wrightster, who was released by the Jaguars late last week, scooped his former team by announcing his release on his website. In addition to posting the news a day early, Wrightster included a poll that asked readers to pick which team he should play for next. As of this weekend, the Bills were the early favorites, with 61 percent of the vote.

Tweeter, etc.
If Packers general manager Ted Thompson was curious how linebacker Nick Barnett views the team's offseason moves, he should sign up to receive Barnett's "tweets." Barnett sent out a "tweet" last week that asked his fans if they agree the team needs another defensive lineman. Barnett followed up by "tweeting" that he feels the Packers need a bit more bulk up front as the team transitions to a 3-4 scheme.

Receiving jobs up for grabs
After releasing Plaxico Burress Friday, and with Amani Toomer departed in free agency, the Giants enter 2009 without their top two receivers and figure to target the position in the draft (they have 10 selections). Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith are the top two options on the depth chart, but a player not to overlook is Mario Manningham, a third-round pick from 2008 who the club is hoping makes a significant leap after playing in just seven games and making four catches last season.

Tampering talk
The Titans asked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to look into the possibility that the Redskins tampered with defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, who signed with Washington on the first day of free agency. According to the Tennessean, the Titans provided newspaper articles and a radio interview to the NFL that they felt proved tampering. The next step is Goodell determining whether a full-blown investigation is required.

Did you know?
Snug to the salary cap, the Panthers have not signed an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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