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What's the hangup with Raheem Morris' phone calls during the NFL lockout?

Bucs coach Raheem Morris says he called a few players during the lockout against NFL rules and expects to be fined.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Bucs coach Raheem Morris says he called a few players during the lockout against NFL rules and expects to be fined.

Rules being rules, Raheem Morris deserves to be punished. He has been caught cell-handed, as they say. He has exceeded the parameters of his phone-a-friend option.

For that, Morris should be fined, oh, about $12.

For the more grievous error of not making his phone calls longer and his game plan more clear, however, he should be fined about $100,000.

After the Bucs' opening weekend — a call for help in itself — it is clear the problem is not that Morris has overcommunicated with his team. He hasn't communicated enough. Did you see Sunday's game, when the Bucs' offense was a huddle full of wrong numbers and the defense was a collection of dropped calls? If anyone suspects Morris was trying to gain an edge, it's the perfect alibi.

Let's face it, if Morris was going to use his cell phone in violation of the rules during the lockout, like he says he did, he should have worn the darn thing out. He should have made so many calls that Verizon considered making him the company spokesman. He should have texted, he should have tweeted, he should have left messages on Josh Freeman's Facebook page. Anything to get his message across.

He should have called Freeman just to talk about touchdowns.

He should have called his defense just to talk about first downs.

He should have called LeGarrette Blount just to introduce himself.

He should have called Matt Millen, who always knew how to stop the Lions. He should have called Barrett Ruud just to say that, yes, tackles 7 yards downfield are better than those 12 yards downfield. He should have called Mark Dominik just to double check if enough speed was out there to make anyone rethink the "no free agent'' approach.

And so on.

Yeah, yeah. Morris made a few calls to his players in the offseason, which in the lockout wilderness of the time was against the rules of Roger Goodell, the NFL's head operator. But let's get real. This wasn't Spygate. This wasn't sinister. If you watched Sunday's opener against the Lions, this certainly wasn't about gaining a competitive advantage. If that was the purpose, it is clear Morris needs another plan, and perhaps another phone. The point isn't how many times Morris dialed long distance; it's that the Bucs' offense could not.

So, no, I don't expect the league to come down too hard on Morris or on the Bucs. This wasn't like Bill Belichick channeling Martin Scorsese. This was a silly violation of a silly rule during a silly lockout. As rules-breaking goes, it was somewhere between illegal procedure and a baseball team stealing signs.

This isn't meant to defend Morris. He was wrong. But in the admission of rules-breaking, sometimes the rest of us tend to lose perspective. We wear solemn looks and talk in stern voices. This time, however, you should be more amused than outraged. So the NFL found out Morris made a few bad calls in the offseason? Hah. It should have checked him out Sunday.

Here's a question: How does the NFL get wind of a story like this? Does the "Can you hear me now'' guy leak it? Or does the NFL now have a Phone Posse? Are retired referees currently poring over the cell phone records of the other 31 coaches in the league? If so, how many times are they going to come across the late-night number for Pizza Hut? (And as long as we are investigating, is "a large with pepperoni and sausage'' really a code phrase for a blitz pickup?) Is the league also checking to see if there was communication through phony Twitter accounts and fake Facebook pages?

Given the competitive nature of the NFL, given the tenuous status of coaches, given the length of the lockout, it's a little hard to believe Raheem's phone was the only one with speed dial. Guess what? Fans don't care. They would prefer to believe their coaches wanted to make their teams better.

Or at least to congratulate the tight end on fatherhood.

Just a guess, but given Morris' energy, the lockout probably drove him crazy. He is a coach who is extremely close to his players, which is much of the reason they are so loyal to him. So Morris made some calls he shouldn't have. Hey, the same thing happened to Lady Antebellum. I make three calls a week I shouldn't by sitting on my phone.

So how do you punish someone for using a cell phone when they aren't supposed to? At my house, we take the teenager's phone away. That seems to work. Maybe you could make Morris pay his own roaming charges. Tell you what, let's just make Morris watch the video of Lady Gaga's song Telephone for four hours straight. That'll teach him. He may never go near his cell again.

When it comes to Raheem, I think it's safe to say we all want to see better calls. As for the NFL, they need to dial it down. Unless there is evidence Morris was trying to improve the odds, pursuing this is a bad call. It makes a league look petty.

This time, Goodell should just hang up and go away.

As Jim Croce once told an operator, you can keep the dime.

What's the hangup with Raheem Morris' phone calls during the NFL lockout? 09/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 9:50pm]

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