The Daily Briefing Friday, May 26, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

Four writers from TheMMQB.com bat around the effect of the 10-minute overtime.

 

The MMQB

Welcome, everyone. Let’s jump right in. The NFL’s stated reason for reducing overtime from 15 minutes to 10 is for player safety. Do you buy this? If not, what’s really going on here?

 

Andrew Brandt

Player Safety has become the watchword for the NFL (and the NFLPA). Anything with that imprimatur is going to get approval. My point, as I wrote this week, is that if Player Safety is the primary concern, they why not scrap overtime altogether. It would improve player safety and make for strategic and interesting end-of-game decisions, where coaches could truly separate themselves.

 

Jenny Vrentas

I’ll never argue with a rule change made in the name of player safety, but I don’t think shortening OT by five minutes will end up having a major impact in this regard. Teams may end up running the same number of plays because they’ll go uptempo earlier.

 

I like Andrew’s point–why extend the game at all, in that case. Also, player safety is a good argument for adopting the college OT procedures, since those eliminate special teams plays like kickoffs and punts that can be the most dangerous since players are charging downfield at full speed.

 

Jonathan Jones

I can’t imagine the league is trying to pull the wool over our eyes on this. We could look at this and say, ‘How is this really helping player safety when you guys are still willing to have men play on Thursdays after a Sunday game?’ And that would be a fair question.

 

But I don’t see some sinister ulterior motive here that they’re attempting to cover up with the “player safety” catch-all.

 

Andrew Brandt

Of course, there’s player safety and there’s business. The NFL is not going to do anything with Thursday Night Football; it is a cash cow with money from NBC, CBS, Twitter and now Amazon. TNF is not going anywhere.

 

Jenny Vrentas

Jumping off that, I like the idea that has been floated of two bye weeks, which would extend the season to 18 weeks without adding regular season games, and could present the opportunity to schedule Thursday night games after a bye week.

 

Robert Klemko

I think there was probably a general feeling that the new rules allowing for rebuttal scores made overtime games go on for too long. If I were the NFL I would do everything I could to avoid the paradox of a boring overtime.

 

And I don’t think you could find one head coach in the NFL who wouldn’t love an extra bye week, but that means pushing the entire calendar one more week back, and pro days drag on for too long as it is. I’d support an extra bye week if you kept the draft where it is.

 

Andrew Brandt

It has always seemed to me that you could schedule almost every Thursday game between two teams coming off a bye, giving them 10 days between each game. Maybe that makes too much sense.

 

The MMQB

There’s an argument being made in some corners of the internet that shaving five minutes off OT is most beneficial to a crowded TV lineup on Sunday afternoons.

 

Do you believe there’s even a remote chance that this was done with TV in mind—remember, everyone complains how long the games are—and it was labeled “player safety” to help push it through? According to ESPN Stats & Info, there were 32,732 total plays during the 2016 regular season . . . and only 60 of them occurred in the last five minutes of OT. The impact doesn’t seem to be large here…

 

Jenny Vrentas

Making the games shorter has been a stated goal of the NFL this offseason. That was no secret. Ratings dipped last year, for which one reason was almost certainly the Presidential election season, but there were conversations about reformatting advertising, making replays shorter, etc.

 

Jonathan Jones

There have been 83 overtime games since 2012 and just 22 have gone more than 10 minutes. That’s about four per season and about one per every four weeks. It’s true that games have dragged on, and it’s true the league should do whatever it can to tighten that up (like it has with the replay center). But I don’t think a long overtime game once every four weeks creates that large of an impact in this regard.

 

We’ve all been to games where everyone on the field, in the stands and in the press box is waiting for the commercials to end so that they can play. I think there’s plenty of fat to be trimmed.

 

Robert Klemko

I don’t think you have to go for 15 minutes for an overtime to be described as boring.

 

Theoretically, the five fewer minutes would make teams more aggressive with their second possession in overtime, knowing that time is running out.

 

Andrew Brandt

Goodell says the changes will shave about 5 minutes, from an average time of 3:07 to 3:02. That’s nice, and ratings seem fine except for the election cycle, but ultimately consumers will demand a shorter length of product.

 

I predict the game will be closer to 2:30 than 3:00 in ten years. It will have to be.

 

Jonathan Jones

It seemed like once the news broke Tuesday, more players were more concerned about the relaxed celebration rules than the overtime change. I spoke with Ron Rivera about it today, and he’s been in two long overtime games in recent years (a tie against Cincinnati in 2014 and a 13-minute OT game against the Colts in 2015).

 

To Robert’s point, both of those games would have been radically different from a strategy standpoint had it been 10 minutes instead of 15. I don’t want to say he seemed indifferent to the rule change but rather he seemed intrigued by the different strategic possibilities this rule creates, a la backing up the extra point.

 

Jenny Vrentas

Perhaps the most interesting potential strategic change is the possibility that the first team to get the ball could simply try to drain as much of the 10 minutes off the clock as possible. Even if they only get a FG out of the drive, they might be draining so much time off the clock that the second team to get the ball might not have a chance to even get in FG range. Of course, an entire OT period of four-minute offense would hardly be more exciting than what we currently have.

 

Jonathan Jones

This is kind of what I love about the OT change. If you have an offense that can smash an opponent in the mouth, you could play for an 8:30 drive that ends up with a 27-yard field goal. Good luck getting 50 yards in 90 seconds to attempt a long field goal.

 

Robert Klemko

I just think it would be so difficult to take 10 minutes off the clock. If you’re in an overtime game, it’s been a fairly closely-contested contest, so it’s not like you’ve been dictating the pace of play with any ease. I think the priority would be to put points up on the board above playing any clock games.

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

He may have a ticket to Bustville in his back pocket, but WR LAQUEAN TREADWELL is acting like he doesn’t want to board just yet.  Ben Goessling of ESPN.com:

 

The Minnesota Vikings spent the spring spelling out the stakes for 2016 first-rounder Laquon Treadwell heading into his second season, whether by calling this a “critical” offseason for the wide receiver (as offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur did in February) or signing a veteran (like Michael Floyd) who could cut into Treadwell’s playing time in Year 2.

 

By the sound of things on Wednesday, it seemed as though Treadwell has taken the Vikings’ hints.

 

He was in the team’s top three-receiver sets during the Vikings’ first open OTA on Wednesday, working with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. And after practice, Shurmur sounded impressed with what he’s seen from Treadwell since the Vikings welcomed players back into their building last month.

 

“He’s had a great, in my opinion, five-and-a-half weeks,” Shurmur said. “He came back and he was really on point with what he’s supposed to be doing mentally. He’s been out here competing and doing a nice job running routes and catching the ball.

 

Understanding where he fits in the running game and who to block. To this point, we’ve been really pleased with his progress based on a year ago.”

 

Goessling has this update on Coach Mike Zimmer:

 

While the Minnesota Vikings are going through organized team activities over the next three weeks, coach Mike Zimmer is holed up at his ranch in northern Kentucky, getting some rest and letting his right eye recover after his eighth operation last Wednesday. Even as he manages things remotely, however, the Vikings say there’s no ambiguity about who’s calling the shots.

 

“I know he’s going to be out for a couple weeks, and we’ll kind of re-evaluate where he’s at, and when he can get back on the field,” general manager Rick Spielman said Wednesday. “But I know there’s no question he’s still in charge of this football team and what’s going on between the white lines.”

 

Zimmer was driven to his ranch in Kentucky, has been cleared to watch practice film as his eye recovers and remains in “constant communication” with coaches, Spielman said.

 

“The biggest thing is, him being out here on the practice field, yelling and screaming, putting in the time and energy that he does in this job, to just get away and let it heal and let it recover,” Spielman said.

 

Spielman wouldn’t say whether Zimmer would be back in time for the Vikings’ mandatory minicamp in mid-June, but made it clear that now is the time for the coach to resolve the vision problems that have lingered since last October.

 

“I will just say, Coach Zimmer is very hardheaded on a lot of things, and sometimes just like these players you just have to make sure that your health comes first,” Spielman said. “Hopefully this surgery which we are very optimistic about, will be the surgery that corrects the detached retina.”

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

WR VICTOR CRUZ’s numbers declined because the play of Victor Cruz declined.  That’s the position of Giants coach Ben McAdoo.  Lorenzo Reyes of USAToday.com:

 

New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said “there is no accuracy” to comments made by Victor Cruz that the team purposefully kept the wide receiver’s production low in order to make it easier to part ways with him.

 

McAdoo initially told reporters in a press conference after Thursday’s organized team activity that he had “no response” to Cruz’s claim. But when pressed on the issue, he emphatically denied the accusation.

 

Appearing on WWPR-FM in New York, Cruz, who agreed to a deal with the Chicago Bears on Thursday, sent a shot to his former employers.

 

 “I felt it all year long,” Cruz said. “Halfway through the year, I’m balling; the other half I’m not getting the ball. And you’re just like, ‘What’s going on?’ It was like, ‘OK, I see what’s happening. They don’t want me here anymore.’

 

“Let’s say I played well, was a 1,000-yard receiver last year. It would have been more difficult from a fan perspective to cut me. If I am a 1,000-yard guy, they’re like, ‘Why are you cutting Cruz? … That doesn’t make sense.’ But if I have 500 yards, or whatever the case may be, it’s a little easier on the fans.”

 

The Giants released Cruz, a fan favorite for seven seasons after making the team as an undrafted free agent, this offseason after he caught 39 passes for 586 yards and one touchdown in 2016. It was the first season he’d played in nearly two years after suffering an assortment of injuries starting early in the 2014 campaign when he tore a patellar tendon.

 

Cruz tried to walk back the remarks in a tweet on Thursday: “I love the @Giants, they gave me a platform no one else did. I am forever grateful! I never said I was sabotaged, don’t believe these headlines.”

 

 

WASHINGTON

CB JOSH NORMAN talks some offseason trash.  Scott Allen in the Washington Post:

 

During a wide-ranging interview with Bleacher Report’s Tyler Dunne, Norman ensured this year’s games within the division will be even more hyped, and suggested that they’ll be even more intense.

 

“Trust me when I tell you, it’s going to be bad blood this year,” Norman said. “You think the NFC East didn’t like each other before? This year right here? There’s going to be a lot of fines and maybe some suspensions. I’m going to be honest with you: This [expletive] is going to get really ugly. Because I do have a safety that don’t give a [expletive] and I definitely don’t. And I know they don’t have that many people on the offense who do on their side.”

 

“And if it turns south like it did that last time, you’re not holding back?” Dunne asked, referring to the Week 15 game between the Giants and Panthers in 2015, in which Beckham and Norman were flagged for a combined five personal fouls.

 

“I’m letting all hell break loose,” Norman said.

 

The safety Norman was referring to was offseason acquisition D.J. Swearinger.

 

“When you have a guy like that who can back you up, man? It’s so good,” Norman said.

 

Earlier in the interview, Norman was asked specifically about Bryant and Beckham Jr.

 

“That’s a guy,” Norman said, when Dunne asked him to do some word association and mentioned Bryant’s name. “Just a guy. Dez was Dez in 2012, ’13, ’14. Maybe ’14. Now? He’s a guy. … He doesn’t ‘wow’ you. For me, he don’t. For other guys, he probably will do the worst to them because he’ll bully them. But you can’t bully a bully. You know what I’m saying? That’s why his game doesn’t resonate to me.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

At the moment, the Saints love what they see in RB ADRIAN PETERSON.  Mike Triplett ofESPN.com:

 

– John Kuhn spent nine years with the Green Bay Packers before he joined the New Orleans Saints last summer.

 

So perhaps more than anyone else in New Orleans, Kuhn appreciates sharing a locker room and a practice field with former Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

 

“Strange? It’s not strange. I’ve been dreaming about a day like this for a long time,” the veteran fullback said of his longtime NFC North rival, who signed a two-year deal with the Saints last month.

 

“He looks the same way he looked when I was watching him from the other sideline for all those years. He looks like the same old AP, and I’m just excited to see him in the same team colors.”

 

Peterson, 32, looked plenty fast and fluid on the practice field Thursday during the first Saints OTA practice session that was open to the media. But of course he did. Running backs usually look great during these non-padded, non-tackling practice sessions.

 

Still, a few things were noteworthy about Peterson’s performance:

 

First and foremost, he was out there at full speed — and head coach Sean Payton noted that Peterson has been in New Orleans since the start of the offseason workout program. That wasn’t always the case with the Vikings, as Peterson often preferred to begin his spring training on his own in Houston.

 

Peterson also took the bulk of first-team snaps since Mark Ingram was watching from the sideline with an unspecified injury issue.

 

And perhaps most interesting, the Saints were installing their nickel offense — so Peterson was catching several passes from Drew Brees out of the backfield. That has always been a small part of Peterson’s game but not a major part.

 

“He made a few catches today that looked pretty good. … I think he’s comfortable catching the ball in space. He was on top of the protections, much the same way you’d expect Mark or any of those backs to have a variety of things that they can do,” said Payton, who noted that all of the running backs do a little bit of everything at this time of year, then “as we get closer into the season, you begin to hone in on how you want to deploy certain people.”

 

 “Listen, he’s picked things up well. He’s been here through the whole offseason program, he’s in good shape and moving around well,” Payton said of Peterson, who appeared in only three games last season because of a torn meniscus in his right knee. “So it’s good to be able to get out and do some football movements and get that timing down. But he’s done well.”

 

Peterson wasn’t available to the media after practice Thursday. However, he said in a conference call last month, “It’s kind of crazy to hear people even comment on how many years I have left and compare me to other running backs, when I’m just my own individual.

 

“This is one thing that I really dislike about the NFL is how people kind of put guys in a box — especially running backs after that [age] 30 mark,” Peterson added. “So in my mind, I feel like I have a lot of years left.”

 

Payton agreed, pointing to Peterson’s unique history, which includes a 2,000-yard rushing season and NFL MVP award in 2012 after he returned from a torn ACL suffered in 2011.

 

“I think he would be the one guy that you would say already has really gone against conventional wisdom. So I would agree with him,” Payton said. “I think that not only his skill set, but his physical ability and the way he trains and his athleticism, I think he’s excited to get back and return healthy.”

 

Payton insisted he doesn’t expect any issues with Peterson and Ingram sharing the backfield in New Orleans, pointing out that he’s managed similar timeshares since he first arrived in 2006 and had both Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush on the roster.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

RB DOUG MARTIN says his problems are behind him.  Jenna Laine of ESPN.com:

 

– Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin broke his silence Thursday, speaking publicly for the first time since leaving the team in Week 16 to enter a drug treatment program.

 

“It was a journey of self-development,” Martin said. “It was definitely hard being away from my friends and family. I found strength in the people I was with around the time. It was definitely worth it. I definitely turned a negative into a positive and I’m out here and I’m definitely a stronger person because of it.”

 

“I had a lot of support with my teammates, with Jameis and Gerald. They did a good job of rallying behind me, coach [Dirk Koetter] and [GM] Jason [Licht] as well — I’d like to thank them for standing behind me and for the support of the fans.”

 

Martin would not name the substance he took that led to a four-game suspension by the NFL, nor would he disclose the length of his stay in rehab. However, he said he believes his struggles are behind him and that he’s ready to tackle not just football, but the responsibilities of everyday life.

 

“They prepared me for it,” Martin said of his treatment program. “Everything I’m dealing with right now is a piece of cake right now.”

 

Physically, Martin looks very strong in practices. He looks fit and shows good burst. Licht said Martin is in the best shape physically since he’s been in Tampa, but the team must be patient and temper expectations.

 

“We have a ways to go,” Koetter said. “We’ve got to get through preseason games, Doug’s got to stay healthy. There’s more things that have to happen. Time is on our side. I know everyone is anxious. … There’s just nothing to know right now.”

 

“I think from my own experience, when Doug is practicing like this — when he’s finishing plays, when he’s got that burst, that pep in his step — it’s carried over to the field.”

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

Much to the renewed consternation of some in the media, COLIN KAEPERNICK came and went from Seattle without a deal.

 

More angst from Bryan Curtis of The Ringer:

 

I thought I’d read everything about Colin Kaepernick. He’s being blackballed by the NFL. Actually, he isn’t. He wants to be a social activist more than he wants to play football. Nope, he wants to play. Kaepernick was secretly a good quarterback in 2016. He sucked.

 

But it was optimistic to think these were the only conflicting narratives that were placed on Kaepernick’s shoulder pads. Because I hadn’t read this: “Given that Trump won the election by roughly 77,000 total votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin … is it really inconceivable to think that 38,500 football fans … could have flipped their votes from Hillary to Trump based on their disgust with Kaepernick’s protest and the fawning coverage he received from the liberal sports media? I don’t think so.”

 

Sportswriters often use athletes as empty Word documents on which to input their own political beliefs. Even so, Kaepernick may be the first athlete accused of accidentally electing a president.

If you’re confused by what you’re reading about Kaepernick this offseason, you’re not alone. The Kaepernick story is testing the limits of NFL insiderdom — the idea that we can know everything that goes on in the league behind the branded press-conference backdrops. I think I know what’s going on with Kaepernick. Flapping my tongue on a podcast, I would probably swear to it. But the nature of the Kaepernick story makes it hard to prove anything with 110 percent certainty, even for the league’s best reporters. So we’re all having an argument.

 

Kaepernick’s story has been a source of not only political but factual contention since August, when he first took a knee on the sideline to protest police violence. Kaepernick was a “traitor,” one anonymous front-office type told Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman. Another executive, in Freeman’s paraphrase, said “he hasn’t seen this much collective dislike among front office members regarding a player since Rae Carruth.” Carruth, the former NFL wide receiver, was convicted of conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend in 1999.

           

Was the sentiment Freeman reported true? Sure. But how many NFL teams shared it? A few? Half the teams in the league? That question remains hard to answer even today. As if to prove how murky such questions are, multiple sources offered Freeman the bum prediction that Kaepernick would soon be cut. In fact, he started 11 games last year.

 

The fog drifted into the offseason. (See Dom Cosentino’s excellent state-of-play piece in Deadspin for a breakdown.) First, in March, four days before the NFL’s “legal tampering” period, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported — via “sources” — that Kaepernick would stand for the national anthem this season. Kaepernick was allegedly satisfied that he’d started a dialogue, and, as Schefter put it, “no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created.” (Kaepernick’s former allies called him a “hypocrite” and a “pretend protestor” because of his reported decision — an almost perfect echo of the taunts Kaepernick heard from the right for not voting in the election.)

 

The big question about free agency was whether Kaepernick’s activism would cost him a job. But how do you judge that? Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group drew the line when Blaine Gabbert got a contract before Kaepernick. Speaking judiciously on The Rich Eisen Show, Freeman said that “normally guys like [Kaepernick]” — a.k.a. former Super Bowl quarterbacks who are 29 years old — “get snapped up in the first wave of free agency. … Something is clearly going on here.” Meanwhile, Roger Goodell insisted that nothing was going on with Kaepernick — teams were just making “individual decisions.”

 

The MMQB’s Peter King reported that the 49ers’ front office wasn’t sure Kaepernick wanted to play football. The Nation’s Dave Zirin, who spent time with Kaepernick this offseason, countered that King’s sources were merely doing the NFL’s bidding — that is, drawing attention away from the blackballing.

 

Even Kaepernick’s allies couldn’t agree on how many teams had reached out to him. Kaepernick’s adviser, the esteemed Harry Edwards, said three. His girlfriend, the DJ and television personality Nessa Diab, said none. Kaepernick visited the Seahawks on Wednesday, bringing the total to at least one.

 

The uncertainty around Kaepernick’s story is enhanced by the fact that he isn’t talking much. He isn’t affirming Schefter’s report about not kneeling during the anthem or confirming whether he wants to play football or letting a sympathetic E:60 reporter tape his workouts (which, King reported in a do-over, were apparently wide ranging).

           

In that piece, King wrote that Kaepernick “needs to be heard from.” Such a plea is partly self-interested: Every NFL writer would love to score the interview. It’s also a cry for help: If reporters are going to step off a cliff and charge NFL teams with blackballing Kaepernick, they’d love for the victim to come out and say they’re right.

 

The Kaepernick story is weird but not unique. It reminds me a lot of the writing about Michael Sam, who in 2014 became the first openly gay player in NFL history. The debate about Kaepernick is whether he’s good enough to be a backup. With Sam, who was drafted in the seventh round, the argument was whether he should have been an early- or mid-rounder (and was thus the victim of bigotry and fear) or whether he was barely draftable (and thus overrated by people who wanted him to succeed).

 

Sam, like Kaepernick, was a magnet for conspiracy theories. And as with Kaepernick’s political activism, Sam’s genuineness was questioned. It might seem absurd to ask such questions about human sexuality. But I hadn’t read this: “Was the whole thing a stunt designed by a subpar player to increase his draft stock and denounce his doubters as bigots? Absolutely.”

 

As Mike Freeman told Rich Eisen, the battle over Kaepernick’s quarterbacking is probably best understood as a proxy battle over Kaepernick’s politics. If a writer thinks Kaepernick’s protest had merit, he also probably thinks Kaepernick is good enough to get a job as a backup. If the writer thinks Kaepernick’s activism was a fraud, he probably thinks he’s not good enough to bother with.

 

So what should we think? Well, the best and most information-rich piece I read this offseason is the one by The Nation’s Zirin. He hung out with Kaepernick at a Know Your Rights Camp in Chicago — a place Adam Schefter and Peter King don’t visit on their daily rounds. Kaepernick stood in front of students, talking like a community organizer. “So if an officer stops you, what do you say?” he asked.

 

“Am I free to go?” the students said in unison.

 

The rapper Common dropped by the forum to compare Kaepernick to Muhammad Ali. Kaepernick gave the students DNA ancestry kits so they could better explore their roots. There were “breakout sessions,” Zirin reported, about “holistic health.” If Kaepernick’s activism is a put-on, it seems like a hell of a lot of effort.

 

After the forum, Zirin interviewed Kaepernick. But Kaepernick wanted to talk about social justice, not the NFL’s hot stove league. Perhaps he didn’t want to gin up another “distraction” and give a team another excuse not to sign him.

 

“One thing we did not talk about was whether he was being politically blackballed by the league for his political ideas and activism,” Zirin wrote. “There was no need.”

 

I think Zirin is right. We have prima facie evidence that Kaepernick has been blackballed. But without knowing for sure, sportswriters are going to continue to argue about this until everyone takes a knee.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

QB RYAN TANNEHILL declares his knee good to go.  Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill chose to not have surgery on his partially torn ACL, and said that the ligament is healed thanks to stem cell treatments.

 

“Yeah, it’s really strong and ready to go,” Tannehill said, via Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. “I feel good. I’m feeling back to 100 percent.

 

“Everything feels totally normal. I’m going to keep pushing to get better next year.”

 

Tannehill said he’d continue to wear a knee brace, and that he started feeling strong enough to rehab every day by January. Now, he said there are “no more checkpoints,” and he’s confident about going out in Organized Team Activities.

 

“I feel like I can make any cut,” he said. “I trust it. That’s the biggest thing, do you trust it? Are you able to move without thinking about whether something’s going to happen. Once it got to that point I felt great about it.”

 

Tannehill showed progress as a passer last year, and the injury late in the regular season left the Dolphins listless in the playoffs. And as long as he holds up, they should have a chance to build on that this year.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Hmmmm.  Would the Patriots keep JIMMY GARAPPOLO over TOM BRADY at some point?  Adam Schefter is hinting that is a possibility.  Tyler Sullivan at nep.247.com:

 

Jimmy Garoppolo may not be going anywhere any time soon.

 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter joined Bleacher Report’s “Stick to Football” podcast and spoke about the New England Patriots’ quarterback situation with Tom Brady about to enter next season as a 40-year old man and Garoppolo entering the final year of his contract.

 

Schefter had been adamant all offseason that the team was not going to trade Garoppolo and was ultimately proven right. Now, he personally thinks that the defending Super Bowl champions will try to keep their young quarterback beyond 2017.

 

Here is what he had to say on the matter, via Ryan Hannable of WEEI.com:

 

“This is interesting on a lot of levels because there was so much Garoppolo conversation during the offseason,” he said. “I don’t think that the Patriots ever considered trading him, and I know when the reports came out that they weren’t dealing him there were people who were instantly skeptical. ‘Oh, this is just trying to raise the price for the Patriots. Nobody is offering —‘ No, they were never trading Jimmy Garoppolo. Period. That was the case in February, and in March, and in April. It didn’t stop teams from calling to inquire, but there wasn’t a team out there that was going to be able to put together an offer that would have changed the Patriots’ thinking with trading Jimmy Garoppolo.

 

“Now, again, going forward, how is that going to operate and how is that going to work — will the Patriots risk losing Jimmy Garoppolo? My own sense is no. They are going to figure out a way one way or another to keep him there — whether that means signing him to an extension, or franchising him, or making it work. We’ll see how that plays out. I don’t think they are going to lose him. I don’t think they want to lose him. I think they recognize how good they think he is — many of us don’t know that right now because we haven’t seen him play on a consistent basis. They have. They’ve watched him practice. They’ve seen him in practice. They know what he is and isn’t capable of. They are big believers in him.

 

“Again, I’d like to say this, Tom Brady, that Super Bowl was 28-3 at one point, and if that game had continued on that course, the offseason would have been dedicated to people talking about is it time to replace Tom Brady with Jimmy Garoppolo? When Tom Brady turned that game around, not only did he win a Super Bowl for the Patriots, he stayed off all the [naysayers] that would have come, I believe if they would have lost that game as decisively and as one-sided as it was at one point in time. He’s 40 years old. He’s going to be 40 years old this year and he is the greatest quarterback of all-time. None of that is in dispute, and he may play for five or six more years, he may do that, but the chances are he’s not going to because nobody has ever done that before. I’m not going to challenge the great Tom Brady in any way. I would never challenge that guy ever, but Father Time usually wins that battle. If he can beat Father Time, he’s ever more incredible than we think he is. We’ll see.

 

“Again, I think the Patriots recognize they have what they believe is a commodity and a successor in the wings and they have developed him, put a lot of time in him. They don’t want to lose him. I don’t know how they work it out, but somehow some way something tells me they will find a way to get it done.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

CHARM OFFENSIVE FROM THE COMMISH

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com:

 

The NFL announced its revised policy on touchdown celebrations here at this week’s spring meeting, via an email addressed from Roger Goodell to the fans.

 

But don’t get it twisted. The message was, implicitly, intended for someone else.

 

Goodell wrote in the first sentence that, “We use [the offseason] to listen to players.” The third paragraph detailed the work he did in canvassing a cross-section of players on celebrations. The fourth paragraph explained what players told Goodell. The sixth paragraph had more on that. And the seventh and final paragraph thanked the players for their help.

 

None of it was by mistake.

 

In fact, as several sources detailed over the past week, it’s all part of a concerted effort by the NFL and the commissioner to start chipping away at the public perception—and to some degree, the reality—that Goodell and the players are perpetually at war.

 

The strategy? Give the players ownership. Make them know that it’s their league too.

 

“The commissioner has made an effort to do it,” Giants owner John Mara told me. “Going around and meeting with them on the celebration rule, I think, is just one example. That’s important. We try to engage with them on the competition committee with the rules changes every year. We get good feedback and put a lot of that into effect.

 

“So I think that’s always important to do that, and I know Roger has made that a priority, and hopefully that’ll pay off for both sides in the end.”

 

This story of the 2017 offseason that has gone largely unnoticed. It’s one that could have big ramifications a few years down the line.

 

And that story really begins with the 2011 lockout, and the dividing incidents since then. There was Bountygate, and the damage done to Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita. There was the referee lockout. There was Ray Rice and the domestic violence mess. There was Bullygate, and the de facto banishment of Richie Incognito. And there was, of course, Deflategate and the hits Tom Brady took.

 

All the while, the goodwill Goodell had accrued early in his term as commissioner with players like Ben Roethlisberger, Pacman Jones and Mike Vick frayed and, eventually, collapsed altogether. As a result, plenty of guys grew to distrust the league office. Worse, perception has become that all players feel that way.

 

So now we have an offseason in which there isn’t a major NFL-vs.-players fight, and the league has filled the vacuum by trying to more aggressively rebuild the bridges that were smoldering. And some of that effort has been pretty overt.

 

In February, at the Super Bowl, Goodell held a fan forum with Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Panthers tight end Greg Olsen—the three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. The event was, as intended to be, well covered by the media.

 

A month-and-a-half later Goodell invited Giants receiver Brandon Marshall to the NFL’s annual meeting in Arizona to address the owners on the league’s standing with its players. Marshall’s message: “Our relationship could be so much better.”

 

And then there was the effort to, in essence, let the players write the new rules on celebrations. There were boundaries the league wasn’t going to let them cross, of course. But it was pretty clear in what Goodell said Tuesday during a meeting with a small group of reporters that the new guidelines were basically the sum of what he had gathered in polling players over the preceding weeks.

 

Goodell declined comment on the overarching effort here. But he clearly has support.

 

“The players’ perspective is important—we truly are partners in the business,” said Chiefs CEO/chairman Clark Hunt. “And that’s something certainly from an ownership standpoint that we’ve never lost sight of. I think the commissioner’s initiative here in recent years to try and include them more in the decision-making process is a positive. That should serve us both well going forward.

 

“The benefit is making sure that the players feel like they have input. They’re as important to the success of the NFL as any of the teams are. And I think helping them feel like partners is important.”

 

The union has taken notice of a few things: 1) how Goodell is taking a lead role in issues (like the celebration-rule research) that may have been delegated to Troy Vincent in the past; 2) the league’s hire of Natalie Ravitz, because of her previous work to improve perception of media mogul Rupert Murdoch; and, 3) how Goodell’s handling of situations like being booed at the draft has improved.

 

They also know that the NFL tracks his approval rating like he’s a politician, and they know that those ratings haven’t been good this decade. As such, enough of them are skeptical that these sorts of efforts are: A) for PR, and B) pointed toward labor negotiations as the sides creep closer to the collective bargaining agreement’s expiration after the 2020 season.

 

No matter how you tally the score there, it’s clear the league has a ways to go.

 

Goodell does have solid relationships with more individual players than perception holds. On Wednesday, when asked about the effort to have players feel ownership in the league, Fitzgerald told me Goodell’s been good about bouncing ideas off him and other current and former players. “All we want is to grow the game and make it better for generations to come,” Fitzgerald says. “The commissioner sees that.”

 

Conversely, Goodell’s credibility gap with the larger group remains. As one player put it, over the past six years, the lockout has become a “living thing,” growing with the brush fires since, informing the players that the commissioner works for the owners and not them. That implies, too, that there are limitations to where this relationship can go.

 

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be better. And what we’ve seen, quietly, over the past few months, is the league agreeing that it should be better.

 

 

BRANDON GILBERT

Bustville resident CB Brandon Gilbert is suspended should he ever make it back to the NFL.  Michael David Smith at NFL.com:

 

One of the biggest draft busts in recent NFL history has seen his career dealt another blow.

 

Former Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert, the eighth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, has been suspended four games, according to Courtney Fallon of NFL Network. There has been no word on the reason for the suspension.

 

Of course, a suspension only matters if the player has a team to play for, and Gilbert doesn’t. The Browns got rid of Gilbert after only two seasons, and the Steelers cut him this offseason. He’s been unemployed since.

 

It remains to be seen whether any team will want to pick Gilbert up now, or in the future. It’s possible that this player with Top 10 talent could be done at age 25.

 

 

R.I.P. SONNY RANDLE

Sonny Randle, a quality receiver from circa 1960 has died.  Michael David Smith atProFootballTalk.com:

 

Sonny Randle, one of the best players in the history of the Cardinals franchise and later a college head coach, has died at the age of 81.

 

A high school track star, Randle enrolled at the University of Virginia with little football experience and wasn’t even on the team as a freshman. But he made the team as a walk-on during his sophomore year and eventually became a star, leading the ACC in catches, receiving yards, kickoff return yards and all-purpose yards in 1958.

 

The Chicago Cardinals took early notice of Randle’s talent and used a 19th-round draft pick on him in 1958, even though he still had a year of college ahead of him. In those days, a team could draft a player who wasn’t done playing college football and own his rights until he finished his college career, and the Cardinals were happy to wait until he could sign a pro contract in 1959.

 

In 1960 the Cardinals moved to St. Louis and Randle became one of the top players in the league, leading the NFL with 15 receiving touchdowns and earning first-team All-Pro recognition. He would have three more Pro Bowl seasons for the Cardinals after that, but injuries began to take their toll, and later in his career he bounced around the league in San Francisco, Dallas and Washington without matching the success he had in St. Louis.

 

Randle was a natural as a coach, starting while he was still an active player and the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team noticed his speed and asked him to give baseball players instructions on sprinting techniques. Cardinals outfielder Lou Brock, who would go on to lead the National League in stolen bases eight times, said Randle helped him become a faster runner.

 

In retirement Randle became a college football coach and had a great deal of success early on, leading East Carolina to back-to-back Southern Conference championships. That got him hired at his alma mater, Virginia, but he struggled there and was fired after two losing seasons. He eventually got another shot as a head coach, at Marshall, but there were allegations of mistreatment of players, more losing, and he was fired again.

 

Randle found success later in life as a broadcaster, including working as a color commentator on Marshall games. He worked in broadcasting into his late 70s, retiring in 2014.