The Daily Briefing Thursday, August 17, 2017

Seahawks DT MICHAEL BENNETT calls on some of his white playing brethren to disrespect the Anthem/join in social protest.  Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Michael Bennett has been the most outspoken of late, among the players protesting during the national anthem by sitting or raising a fist.

 

And he’d like to have a little more help in the effort — specifically from a white player.

 

“It would take a white player to really get things changed,” Bennett said during an appearance on ESPN. “Because when somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak up about it, . . . it would change the whole conversation. Because when you bring somebody who doesn’t have to be a part of [the] conversation making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a jump.”

 

Bennett joined a group of players carrying out the work started last year by then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, as has Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins has continued his protests, along with a few other players disturbed by issues of racial inequality.

 

Other than Eagles defensive end Chris Long — who decried the racism that overtook the city he grew up in (Charlottesville, Va.) last weekend, along with the lack of leadership in the aftermath — few white players have spoken out about the issues.

 

Bennett said he was stirred by watching those scenes, where white supremacists and neo-Nazis clashed with counter-protesters before a woman was killed and 19 were injured when a car was driven into a crowd.

 

“Over the weekend, so much violence, so much hate,” Bennett said. “I just wanted to remember why we were American citizens, remember the freedom, the liberty and the equality, make sure we never forget that. I really wanted to honor that, the founding principles of what we’re all supposed to be. Charlottesville was so crazy, so much going on in the world now, it just made sense.”

 

When he says it like that, you realize the issues aren’t necessarily about black and white. They’re about right and wrong, as Long pointed out.

 

49ers GM John Lynch weighs in, treading a line between freedom of speech and disruption.  Nick Wagoner at ESPN.com:

 

While every member of the 49ers stood for the national anthem before last week’s preseason opener, that didn’t prevent other players around the NFL from continuing the silent protest that originated in the San Francisco Bay Area a year ago.

 

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch sat during the anthem before their respective preseason openers, and Bennett later confirmed he sat in protest. Lynch has yet to comment on sitting.

 

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett recently began sitting during the playing of the national anthem and says the involvement of white players would really help the cause.

On Wednesday, Niners general manager John Lynch was asked if he supports, tolerates or has concerns about the silent anthem protests.

 

“We had a great deal the other day where we had four chairs up here, and there was Steve Young and Jerry Rice,” John Lynch said. “And they talked about ‘The 49er Way.’ And I always thought that’s one of the great things about this league. As a matter of fact, I think it’s a great beacon for the rest of culture, in terms of the way it should be. You strive for a common goal, and you have unity.

 

“And I think this game brings people together. So I think personally when I see that, I think that’s divisive. And I understand guys see things and they’re not happy. They have that right. And I think we’ll always respect people’s rights. That doesn’t mean I believe that. I believe this game should be celebrated for what it is. I think [it’s] a tremendous unifier for our country and for the way things should be.”

 

Lynch went on to cite former Niners coach Bill Walsh, whom Lynch played for at Stanford, and how Walsh would talk about football as a cultural melting pot that can bring players together from all backgrounds.

 

“You take guys from all over the county, different socioeconomic backgrounds, racial backgrounds, and you have friends for life,” Lynch said, mentioning his former teammate Warren Sapp was in town visiting the Niners on Wednesday. “Those types of stories I think get lost in something like this. But they’ve got their reasons [for the protests], and we’ll always be respectful of those.”

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Hall of Famer Howie Long has some advice for his son, G KYLE LONG.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

The one downside to having an NFL legend for a father is that, when you get kicked out of your own team’s practice, he’s probably going to hear about it.

 

A frustrated Kyle Long was booted from Chicago Bears practice Tuesday after starting multiple “altercations during team and individual drills,” with players on both sides of the ball according to ESPN.com.

 

Kyle’s father, Howie, was asked about it this week. Imagine breaking up a fight between the Long brothers at home.

 

“He’s got to get it under control,” Howie Long said on the Rich Eisen show this week. “It’s one of those things where you’re coming back from injury and you’re switching positions and maybe you’re not where you want to be right now. You’re getting your first live action since the [ankle] surgery. I’ve seen it up close and personal in our own house. It got to the point where you start hitting 290, 310 [pounds], I need 10 minutes of stretching a day, minimum, to break it up.”

 

Player fights, so long as they don’t cause a needless injury, are one of the most overplayed aspects of training camp. People are hot, uncomfortable and angry; constantly switching from study mode to hitting mode to agility mode and sometimes it all spirals into some regrettable decisions.

 

Howie is right, though. Long is a key piece of a potentially dangerous Bears offensive line this season. I’ve written on multiple occasions that this could be a top 10 unit if everyone stays healthy. In Kyle Long’s case, that means healthy and under control.

 

 

DETROIT

More positive reports on rookie WR KENNY GOLLADAY.  ProFootballFocus.com:

 

For the first time Wednesday, Detroit Lions third-round pick WR Kenny Golladay was reported to have been working with the first-team offense at training camp.

 

The news comes just days after Golladay broke onto the scene in his first preseason action against the Indianapolis Colts. He hauled in three of his four targets for two TDs and QBs had a passer rating of 156.3 when targeting him.

 

Golladay’s 2.94 yards per route run was well above the league average of 1.87 for the week.

 

26 of Golladay’s 29 snaps came while lined up outside on Sunday. WR Golden Tate looks to see more slot snaps (he ran 26.9 percent of his routes from the slot in 2016).

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The NFL announces that former exec Harold Henderson will hear RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT’s appeal.  Henderson’s most recent foray into appealship proved favorable to the Cowboys when he reduced Greg Hardy’s suspension from 10 to four games.

 

And the NFL steps up the war of words on those who are defending him by attacking the credibility of his accuser.  Sam Farmer in the Los Angeles Times:

 

Fighting words are flying between the NFL and the players union over the Ezekiel Elliott case.

 

The Dallas Cowboys running back, who led the NFL in rushing last season, was suspended by the league last week for the first six games of the season for allegedly assaulting a female companion on multiple occasions last year.

 

But this week, there have been reports that the woman, Tiffany Thompson, discussed blackmailing Elliott over a sex tape in text messages with a friend that are documented in the NFL’s investigation, one that hasn’t been made public.

 

On Wednesday, the NFL accused the NFL Players Assn. of spreading “derogatory” information about the alleged victim.

 

“Over the past few days we’ve received multiple reports of the NFLPA spreading derogatory information to the media about the victim in Ezekiel Elliott discipline case,” Joe Lockhart, the league’s executive vice president of communications. said in a statement. “It’s a common tactic to attempt to prove the innocence of the accused by discrediting the victim — in this case Ms. Thompson — when coming forward to report such abuse. Common or not, these tactics are shameful. Efforts to shame and blame victims are often what prevent people from coming forward to report violence and/or seek help in the first place.”

 

The NFLPA returned fire with a statement accusing the NFL of “stooping to new lows.”

 

“The public statement issued on behalf of every NFL owner is a lie,” the NFLPA said. “The NFLPA categorically denies the accusations made in this statement. We know the League office has a history of being exposed for its lack of credibility. This is another example of the NFL’s hypocrisy on display and an attempt to create a sideshow to distract from their own failings in dealing with such serious issues. They should be ashamed for stooping to new lows.”

 

The process that determined Elliott’s suspension did not include Roger Goodell in a hands on role.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Conflicting reports have emerged in recent weeks regarding the direct participation of Commissioner Roger Goodell in the events preceding the suspension of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. Although, as Friday’s letter to Elliott makes abundantly clear, Goodell made the decision to suspend Elliott six games, Goodell did not personally attend the most important meeting regarding the investigation.

 

The NFL, after previously not commenting on the matter, has acknowledged that Goodell was not present for the June 26, 2017 hearing that preceded the issuance of discipline. Deadspin.com reported in late July that Goodell didn’t attend any of the hearings involving Elliott.

 

“On June 26, 2017, you and your representatives had an opportunity to meet personally with [the four] independent advisors [Peter Harvey, Ken Houston, Tonya Lovelace, and Mary Jo White] to discuss you recollection of the events of the week of July 16, 2016, you relations with [Tiffany] Thompson, the March 2017 [St. Patrick’s Day parade] incident, and other issues you and your representatives believed were pertinent to our review,” the August 11 letter informing Elliott of his suspension explains. “The advisors had an opportunity to engage directly in discussions with you, and to hear your counsel’s assessment of the legal, evidentiary and credibility issues presented in this case.”

 

With credibility being such a critical aspect of this matter, it’s difficult to make a conclusion about Elliott’s credibility without personally attending the June 26 hearing. While the independent advisors serve as a bit of a buffer, their assessment of Elliott’s overall credibility is no substitute for the credibility assessment made by the person making the decision.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the investigation, Goodell also did not meet with Tiffany Thompson, whose credibility also is at issue.

 

That’s a clear deviation from standard legal proceedings, especially where a case turns on the resolution of a dispute in witness testimony and recollection. In most if not all other cases, the person making the decision personally assesses the credibility of the key witnesses.

 

Indeed, when recalling facts and answering questions on matters that are sharply contested, what a person says is only part of the puzzle. How the person says it — demeanor, body language, tells, etc. — is as important, if not more important.

 

On a matter of such importance and sensitivity to the league, to the Cowboys, and to Elliott, with one of the NFL’s brightest young stars being branded a domestic abuser under a very low 51-49 standard of proof, how can a reliable decision be made if the person making the decision did not directly assess the credibility of the witnesses?

 

Here’s the truth: It can’t. While the four independent advisors may individually and collectively be capable of assessing witness credibility, they weren’t the ones making the decision. The person who made the decision needed to be in the room, studying every word, facial expression, and gesture. Without that, the grade on the Commissioner’s decision as to Elliott is incomplete, at best.

 

As the DB understands it, each of the four experts/hearing officers produced their own reports on the matter, and each independently recommended six games. 

 

Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News bucks DFW opinion and defends Goodell:

 

Goodell has placed his trust in B. Todd Jones, the formerdirector of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that he hired two years ago when he created the position of chief disciplinary officer. It was Jones and the other former prosecutors who heard the evidence in the Elliott case and determined that he was worthy of the suspension.

 

Presumably as Elliott appeals and his representatives fight on his behalf, doing all they can to undermine the credibility of his accuser, we will get a better determination of exactly what was in that time-stamped evidence that led to six games.

 

Goodell isn’t out to get the Cowboys any more than he was out to get the Patriots. He gains nothing personally and the league suffers when Brady or the Cowboys are in any way diminished in the eyes of fans.

 

Did Goodell and the NFL find the truth where the Columbus district attorney could not?

I don’t know that, and neither do you. But I can see that he’s searching for it above all other considerations.

 

More from Gary Myers in the New York Daily News on the NFL-NFLPA ugliness:

 

Bleacher Report quoted a Cowboys source saying Elliott was prepared to fight the suspension “as hard as Tom Brady did,” which could mean, in the likely event Elliott loses his appeal to the league, that this could potentially drag through the courts and enable him to be available all season to make a Super Bowl run with the Cowboys. Any court ruling would not be on the merits of the case but whether Goodell abused his power in Article 46 of the CBA and whether the process was unfair to Elliott.

 

Elliott’s father Stacy tweeted this week, “My son’s legal team is ready to fight! Let’s deal!!! You will know the set up and PLOT!”

– – –

Elliott is more likely to get a reduction in his suspension from Henderson since Goodell is not about to overrule himself. It would be difficult for Goodell to walk back a domestic violence suspension. It’s the issue that got him in deep trouble two years ago when he initially was too lenient with Ray Rice, leading to his establishing a six-game baseline suspension for domestic violence.

 

Even if Henderson cuts two games off the suspension should Elliott present crucial new evidence, it’s not likely Henderson will vacate the suspension entirely. The next step: Elliott will probably sue the NFL and at least try to get a preliminary injunction putting the suspension on hold and allowing him to play until the case is heard.

 

By waiting so long to finally rule on Elliott, the NFL may have left him an opening to get the suspension put on hold for at least the early part of the season, since it’s unlikely there would be enough time to get it resolved in court before the season starts. That means there is still a chance Elliott will play in the Sept. 10 season opener against the Giants. But the suspension could also come late in the season and impact the playoffs.

 

In the meantime, the league office and the NFLPA will just continue to sling accusations at each other.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

Rookie CB MARSHON LATTIMORE has mended.  Joel Erickson of the Baton Rouge Advocate:

 

On the same day news broke that the Saints will be without one of their cornerbacks for another four to six weeks, New Orleans got another one back in action.

 

First-round draft pick Marshon Lattimore, who suffered a sprained knee at the end of the first week of training camp, was back on the practice field Wednesday, participating in full-team action for the first time since the injury.

 

New Orleans believes Lattimore’s chances of playing in Sunday’s preseason game at the Los Angeles Chargers are strong.

 

“Hopefully, pretty good,” coach Sean Payton said. “We’ve got to be smart with regards to a pitch count, how many plays, but we’re optimistic that he’s going to be able to play.”

 

CB DELVIN BREAUX is the CB who will be out four to six weeks.

 

Mike Triplett of ESPN.com with more on Breaux’s mis-diagnosis:

 

— Firing the team orthopedists was a jarring and probably necessary move by coach Sean Payton after an embarrassing turn of events at New Orleans Saints camp this week.

 

But Payton and the altered medical staff will have to do even more damage control to ensure they don’t lose the trust of the locker room after cornerback Delvin Breaux’s misdiagnosis turned into such a mess.

 

It was a bad look for a lot of folks:

 

For team orthopedists Deryk Jones and Misty Suri, who apparently didn’t discover Breaux’s fractured fibula soon enough and who had done enough to frustrate Payton in the past to make this a last-straw incident.

 

For Payton, who had reached the point where he was ready to trade or possibly release Breaux because of that faulty injury diagnosis. This situation wouldn’t be nearly so ugly if it hadn’t publicly leaked just days earlier that the team thought Breaux was loafing it.

 

For Breaux, who had created some mistrust with the coaching staff through some previous injury issues.

 

I’m sure all three of those things are fairly common in the NFL. But they rarely play out in the public spotlight the way they did this week.

 

I haven’t gotten an indication that the Saints have any sort of mutiny to worry about. It’s even possible that players will see the firing of the team doctors as a positive move. As the team’s union representative, Thomas Morstead, said Wednesday, Payton’s message to the team was “very well received” when he explained what happened and, “I thought he did a great job of basically promising the team that they’re gonna have people that are here in every area of the building — including the medical staff — that players feel like have their best interests at heart and are competent.”

 

However, I can’t imagine that Breaux is too happy with the way things played out. I’m certain that other players won’t be happy in the future if coaches question their commitment to returning from injuries if they disagree with the doctors’ findings.

 

I’m even more certain that some past players are incensed over similar situations, including former cornerback Keenan Lewis and former linebacker Chris Chamberlain, who were practically gloating on social media Wednesday. I can think of a handful of other disgruntled former players who likely feel the same way.

 

Again, I’m sure this type of thing happens in every locker room. As one source told me, “I believe it’s common throughout the NFL, but maybe a little more in New Orleans.”

 

Payton himself said Wednesday, “You’re not gonna bat a thousand here, but you’re just hoping that more often than not, you’re getting the right information.”

 

What players need to know is that Payton and other coaches will have their backs if they insist that the doctors’ findings don’t match what their bodies are telling them.

 

Last but not least, this week’s turn of events is an awful development for the Saints because we now know for certain that Breaux isn’t heading into the year as a healthy No. 1 cornerback.

 

Maybe the coaches felt Breaux deserved to lose that status due to performance. Or maybe young cornerbacks such as first-round draft pick Marshon Lattimore, second-year pros Ken Crawley and De’Vante Harris and third-year pro P.J. Williams were outperforming Breaux in the coaches’ eyes.

 

But any of those scenarios is bad news for a defense that ranked 32nd in the NFL against the pass last season. The Saints really could have used a healthy Breaux to play at the level he did in 2015, when he came from the Canadian Football League and turned into an instant star. He routinely held his own against No. 1 receivers and could have been a Pro Bowler.

 

I wrote this summer that a healthy Breaux was one of the greatest reasons to be optimistic that the Saints can finally turn their embattled defense around. So much for that idea.

 

The good news is that the Saints’ secondary will probably still be greatly improved from last season, when they lost starters Breaux and Williams to major injuries in Weeks 1 and 2. The Saints have now added Lattimore, rookie safety Marcus Williams and veteran safety Rafael Bush, and they’ve been happy with the development of guys such as P.J. Williams, Crawley and Harris.

 

But it’s essential that one or more of those guys is ready to step into a major role quickly — exactly the way Breaux did in 2015.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

More leg ailments have Coach Bruce Arians frustrated with WR JOHN BROWN.  Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

When Cardinals coach Bruce Arians gave a negative critique of his receiving corps this week, wide receiver John Brown‘s inactivity because of a quad injury was among the issues affecting the group.

 

Brown said that he doesn’t think he helps the team if he’s playing at less than full speed and that the sickle-cell trait that contributed to last year’s injuries means that he heals differently than other players. Arians acknowledged that was a fact that couldn’t be changed, but he did say that the team may have to make a choice about sticking with Brown if his availability remains intermittent.

 

“I don’t have any choice,” Arians said, via the team’s website. “If he can’t run he can’t play. Now, if he can’t run long enough [after he returns], you’ve got to replace him.”

 

Brown was a major part of the offense in 2015 as a speedy complement to Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver, but he was clearly a different player because of the same kind of soft-tissue injuries he’s dealing with now.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Beleaguered QB JARED GOFF finds a friend in Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com:

 

— We’ve seen our share of quarterbacks break in their rookie seasons, the victims of bad teams, bad systems, bad lines, no real weapons of note to go with a young mind that simply gets overloaded with the NFL playbook, not to mention eyes that drop because of the big, bad men that want to take their heads off.

 

It’s easy to understand how that happens, and there are those who will say that Los Angeles Rams second-year quarterback Jared Goff could be another readying for a seat on the train to Bustville.

 

They would be wrong.

 

The Rams traded up to get Goff with the first overall pick last year, putting him firmly in the crosshairs of the media and fans, so it’s understandable that his seven-game stint as a starter last season has some thinking he might not be the long-term guy, ready to become Mr. Los Angeles in a town known for glitz and glamour. Goff had a few good moments in a bad offense, with little talent, but the bad outweighed the good in 2016.

 

It was a horrible situation for a rookie quarterback. He was in an offense that was run-heavy — or at least wanted to be — with little in terms of help up front and a weapons cache that didn’t offer him much help.

 

That’s why there are doubts now, but it really is unfair to judge him on last season. Hell, he just learned to take a snap under center the February before the draft after coming out of an Air Raid offense at the University of California.

 

“There were a lot of transitions for him,” Rams first-year coach Sean McVay said. “When you look at that, and take into consideration how young he was, that he was supposed to still be at Cal, it was a lot to handle. When you are a young quarterback, how you handle the tough stuff says a lot about you, and I think he did a good job. When you play the quarterback position, bad things are going to inevitably happen. How you respond is what separates the good ones from the great ones. He did a nice job with that.”

 

That could be because of how Goff sees himself. He is a confident, almost cocky (in a nice way) passer who doesn’t back down from saying he plans to be great.

 

What’s not to like about that?

 

“You have to believe in yourself,” Goff said. “It’s the most important thing. I have a tough time losing confidence in myself.”

 

It would have been easy for Goff to blame circumstances last year on his struggles. But every time I threw out the bait, he wouldn’t bite. Not even a nibble.

 

“I am not going to make excuses,” Goff said. “It’s not ideal when you don’t win. But we didn’t play well as a team, me included.”

 

In his first sit-down with Goff, McVay noticed that there was no finger pointing at all by the young quarterback.

 

“He stood out as a guy who wasn’t fazed by anything last season,” McVay said. “He took full responsibility. He didn’t look to blame anybody. That impressed me.”

 

The Rams traded a first-round pick, two second-round picks and a third-round pick in 2016, plus a first and third in 2017, to move up to take Goff. It was the type of move that can define a franchise for a decade. Hit, and you will be relevant for a long time. Miss, and you can continue to be a perennial loser, which the Rams have been for a decade, which, in turn, leads to firings and a team constantly in turmoil.

 

Based on 2016, the jury is still out on Goff — but it would be unfair to come to a verdict with so little evidence.

 

He took a beating in his seven starts, sometimes brutally. Put on any tape from any of his starts and you will see a kid that took a pounding. Some of it was self-inflicted by not getting rid of the football fast enough, but many times it was also the result of bad line play.

 

“I’m just glad I got the experience,” Goff said when asked about getting beat up. “I am glad I went through it.”

 

Goff completed just 54.7 percent of his passes last season with five touchdown passes and seven picks. His rating was 63.8, which is horrible, even for a rookie. But there were moments, like when he threw three touchdown passes in a loss to the Saints.

 

Under Jeff Fisher, the Rams wanted to pound the football. That led to running back Todd Gurley calling it a “middle school offense.” When Fisher got fired after going 4-9 to open the season  — including Goff’s first four starts — that didn’t change.

 

As the Rams new coach, McVay brings a reputation as a quarterback maestro after helping to turn Kick Cousins into a good NFL starter the past two seasons. The 31-year-old McVay is considered one of the bright, young offensive minds in the league.

 

His offense is predicated on getting the ball out of Goff’s hands quickly. There is also more pre-snap movement, which will help the young quarterback decipher defenses better.

 

“I couldn’t ask for a better coach,” Goff said. “Some people know how to call plays, and some don’t. He definitely does.”

 

At one of the Rams recent practices against the Chargers, the defensive backs were sitting on some of Goff’s out routes. A few times, they almost got picks. So after another, McVay came of the sideline to point out where the ball should have gone, which was to a single inside on tight end Tyler Higbee.

 

“It’s just being smart and progressing when the first read isn’t there,” McVay said.

As for getting the ball out quicker, Goff said he likes the offense, but also quickly added, “We will still get the shots down the field.”

 

With the addition of Sammy Watkins outside to add a deep threat, you can count on it. The offensive line is improved with the additions of veteran center John Sullivan and left tackle Andrew Whitworth. There is no reason the offense, and Goff, can’t take big leaps this year.

But remember one thing: He was the youngest starter in the league last year and, even if a few rookies start this season, he would still be close to being the youngest when he turns 23 next month.

 

“I feel great where I am right now,” Goff said. “I am happy with where I am. But I am by no means content. I am going to continue to grow and get better.”

 

As he walked away from out chat, you could tell this truly was a kid who believes in himself. There was no hesitation when he was asked if he thought he would be a star down the road.

“Yes,” he said. “Don’t you have to believe that?”

 

That matters at that quarterback position.

 

So don’t judge Goff on what you saw last year. It isn’t fair.

 

I don’t think this is a quarterback who will be broken by what happened in his rookie season, even if he took a beating, but how far past it he goes is yet to be determined.

– – –

So far, the California air agrees with WR SAMMY WADKINS.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

 

The Los Angeles Rams gave up a high draft pick to get Sammy Watkins, and the receiver is already making his presence felt in practice.

 

“I did a little bit,” quarterback Jared Goff said when asked if he noticed Watkins’ first head-turning catch this week, via the OC Register. “You try not to, but I did kind of turn around, like, ‘Everyone see that? All right.’ It was a good catch and hopefully something that won’t be quite a surprise any more.”

 

Watkins was brought in to be the No. 1 target on a team riddled with second- and third-fiddles. Through his first three days of practice, the team likes the way the former first-round pick is opening the offense.

 

“When the ball is in his hands you can feel his speed and his juice down the field,” coach Sean McVay said Wednesday. “I thought it was good to get him out here. We were comfortable with the things we were asking him to do, so it was great to have Sammy out there and get him in the mix.”

 

The plan is for Watkins to play in Saturday’s night’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. Rams starters are expected to see about a quarter of action after playing sparingly last week. Goff has worked to get his newest weapon up to speed in time.

 

 

SEATTLE

The Seahawks did go ahead and sign CB TREMAINE BROCK, the former 49er now cleared of legal jeopardy from a domestic assault charge.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

The perfect trade – you ship out a player, keep a draft pick, then get the player back.  It could be happening with C JEREMY ZUTTAH and the Ravens.  The Baltimore Sun:

 

The Ravens’ quest to add depth and experience to their injury-riddled offensive line has led them to a familiar face.

 

According to sources, they are close to a deal to bring back free-agent center Jeremy Zuttah, who was released by the San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 9. Zuttah is also considering the Indianapolis Colts.

 

Ravens looking to find some offensive rhythm in second preseason game against Miami Dolphins

The Ravens traded Zuttah, 31, to the 49ers in March in a move that was more about getting bigger and younger at center than creating salary cap space. When word leaked that the Ravens were planning on releasing Zuttah, the 49ers expressed interest in trading for him.

 

San Francisco agreed to send a 2017 sixth-round pick (No. 186 overall) to the Ravens for Zuttah and a later 2017 sixth-round selection (No. 198 overall). The Ravens used that pick to select Virginia Tech safety Chuck Clark.

 

 

CLEVELAND

BROCK OSWEILER will head the QB rotation for Monday night’s game with the Giants.  Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

It was a Brock Osweiler kind of day.

 

First, left tackle Joe Thomas effectively christened him the starter for the opener against the Steelers. Then, Hue Jackson named him the starter for Monday night’s second preseason game against the Giants at FirstEnergy Stadium.

 

In addition to announcing that Osweiler will start, Jackson said DeShone Kizer will come in second, at some point in the first half.  Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan will play third and fourth, respectively.

 

“I still think that right now where we are, Brock deserves the opportunity to walk out there first,” coach Hue Jackson said. “And I think seeing DeShone, I mean again, last week it was in the second half. I want to see him now in the first half and see what he can do there. I’ll give him an opportunity there to showcase his talent and ability.”

 

 

PITTSBURGH

The amazing JAMES HARRISON, clinching his spot in the Hall of Fame by extending his career, is still getting after QBs at age 39.  Marc Sessler says he’s content with not playing every down in the wake of LB T.J. WATT’s ascendency:

 

At 39 years old, All-Pro Steelers pass rusher James Harrison sees what everyone else can see: T.J. Watt has the goods.

 

The rookie outside linebacker shined in his preseason debut, piling up two sacks, raging into the pocket and causing havoc in a win over the New York Giants.

 

In the afterglow of that contest, Watt’s starry play prompted outside linebackers coach Joey Porter to say that Harrison was being teed up for a “relief pitcher” role behind the first-rounder — a scenario Harrison is willing to follow.

 

“Oh, OK, if that’s what they say, all right,” Harrison said of Porter’s depth-chart update, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “That’s fine if that’s what they want me to do.”

 

Harrison acknowledged that Porter’s comments were news to him, but circled back around to emphasize: “Whatever it is they ask me to do. I’m fine with that.”

 

Harrison stands as the franchise’s all-time sack leader with 79.5 takedowns during a career that began in 2002 and could very well land him a spot in Canton.

 

Pittsburgh historically slow-cooks its rookies, but it’s no surprise that Watt is being seen as a different beast. Why not shove him into the starting lineup and see what he can do?

 

As for Harrison, no matter what obstacles rise up, the age-old pass rusher has always found his way into the lineup and will continue to make a difference for the Steelers in what could be his final campaign.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

Michael Salfino of the538.com on the ability of QB BLAKE BORTLES to play like the GOAT when nothing is on the line.

 

If the Pro Football Hall of Fame had a special wing for Garbage Time, they’d already be sculpting Blake Bortles’s bust.

 

On the surface, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ signal-caller fits the profile of a perfectly mediocre NFL quarterback. But the traditional stats don’t show the true Bortles: He is the NFL’s best when the game is basically over. In garbage time — which we define as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, when a team is down multiple scores (9 or more points) — Bortles transforms into the franchise quarterback Jacksonville envisioned when they made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. In these scenarios in the past two seasons, Bortles has completed 78 of 118 for 964 yards with 12 touchdowns. He’s tossed only four picks. His passer rating in these instances is 111. To get a sense of how good that is, Tom Brady’s rating across all of last season was 112.

 

Since 2015, 20.7 percent of Bortles’s total touchdown passes have come when the fans are heading for the exits. That’s nearly four times the average for the rest of the league. It’s done little to help the fortunes of the Jags, who have won eight games in the last two seasons and failed to come back in any of the 15 where they were trailing big late. So his body of garbage-time work has been meaningless to everyone except his fantasy owners.

 

The only thing Bortles is as good at as posting garbage-time numbers is creating garbage time with his lackluster play in meaningful time. According to ESPN data, last year when a team was within one score (8 or fewer points) in the first half of games — one of the situations in which the game’s outcome is most uncertain — Bortles was the worst quarterback in football. He completed 96 of 158 passes (60.8 percent) last year for 963 yards and just five touchdowns versus eight picks. His rating in these situations was just 67.6. What’s more, in the past two years, Bortles has thrown only half as many touchdown passes in the first quarter of all games (six) as he threw in the last five minutes of games he had already lost.

 

Bortles throws more garbage-time passes than anyone, partly as a result of his own crummy play earlier in games. By comparison, Brady has only thrown six garbage-time passes in the last two seasons — or 112 fewer than Bortles — because the Patriots are never losing.

 

It may seem like any quarterback would be more productive when opponents are easing into a prevent defense and beginning to daydream about their next game. But in the last two seasons, the average non-Bortles QB saw his rating increase only marginally in these scenarios, 2.4 percent. Bortles’s rating jumps 37.9 percent.

 

Despite Bortles’s ability to excel only when the chips are off the table, the Jaguars picked up his fifth-year option in May, meaning they will pay him $19 million in 2018. The move mystified many NFL observers, but general manager Dave Caldwell and new executive vice president Tom Coughlin rationalized that Bortles’s salary over this year and next will still be below average — two words that Bortles is familiar with.

 

Bortles is not off to a good start in 2017. He threw five interceptions in one recent practice, including one that was returned for a touchdown in 11-on-11 drills. Another pick 6 on Sunday led to head coach Doug Marrone giving veteran backup Chad Henne (who had no pass attempts last year) a chance with the first team. Not only is the patience of Marrone wearing thin, but the team’s No. 1 receiver, Allen Robinson, is reportedly also growing increasingly frustrated.

 

Maybe the only way to turn Bortles into an efficient quarterback is to somehow convince him that the game is already lost before it’s even begun.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

SLEEPER FANTASY BACKS

Mike Castiglione of ProFootballFocus.com with some backs to keep an eye on late in your draft:

 

To handcuff or not to handcuff has long been debated in the fantasy community, and I’m not here to sell or sway you on the merits. You don’t need me or anyone to tell you that Tevin Coleman or Derrick Henry would have immense value if Devonta Freeman or DeMarco Murray were to be sidelined for an extended period. But if we’re drafting a player in the single-digit rounds, that’s not so much a “handcuff” as it is a player we’re simply counting on to produce standalone value as a potential weekly lineup option.

 

So with that being said, in this space you won’t find names like Coleman, Henry, Duke Johnson, C.J. Prosise, Kareem Hunt, or even Darren McFadden (whose current ADP is a topic in and of itself). Instead, these are 10 running backs currently available in the double-digit rounds of fantasy drafts that offer RB2 or flex potential in a true handcuff scenario.

 

As a quick aside, during the season I’ll be bringing back the Handcuff Index and running a weekly “On the Radar” series, honing in not just on fluid backfield committee situations but also spotlighting deeper names at WR and TE. We’ll break down cues from usage and performance trends using PFF signature data to identify those lightly owned players who may be on the cusp of fantasy relevance, or next up in the event of an injury. The aim, of course, is to unearth the most worthwhile roster stashes before the mad dash to the waiver wire, so you can know to let everyone else rush after Michael Pittman while you simply insert Earnest Graham.

 

(*All ADP data is from Fantasy Football Calculator 12-team PPR settings)

 

JAMAAL WILLIAMS, GREEN BAY PACKERS  (ADP: 10.02)

Ty Montgomery was truly electric with the ball in his hands last season. He’s also virtually impossible to project in terms of his 2017 workload (hence his inclusion on my most overvalued list). The former wide receiver logged double-digit carries in only one game last season, and Williams – one of three running backs the Packers drafted – has already been pushing Montgomery for first-team reps. A productive runner between the tackles at BYU, Williams earned the No. 5 run grade in this year’s draft class and was No. 2 in blocking grade. Conversely, Montgomery’s 64.6 blocking grade last season ranked 49th among RBs, and protection can’t be understated when it’s Aaron Rodgers in the crosshairs.

 

MARLON MACK, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS  (ADP: 13.06)

I’ve been wrong about this for like five straight years, but Frank Gore has to break down at some point, right? Here’s the thing: the ageless wonder did show signs he was beginning to fade in 2016, as his pedestrian 15.8 elusive rating ranked next-to-last among 53 qualified RBs. The fact that the Colts had the highest percentage of rushing yards before contact (51.9 percent) yet Gore averaged only 3.9 YPC illustrates that there was meat left on the bone. He’s also now 34 and has averaged 294 touches over the past 11 seasons. Enter rookie Mack, a human highlight reel out of USF whom coach Chuck Pagano recently said “jumps off the tape.” Mack ranked fifth in this year’s draft class in breakaway percentage (52.3 percent) and 12th in elusive rating (93.4).

 

JONATHAN WILLIAMS, BUFFALO BILLS (ADP: 13.09)

Nobody has touched the ball more than LeSean McCoy (2,085) since 2010. And last season, only the Dallas Cowboys ran the ball more times than the Bills did behind their unstoppable run concepts. You may be only vaguely familiar with Williams, who now replaces Mike Gillislee as McCoy’s primary backup. After all, Williams sat out all of his 2015 season at Arkansas due to a foot injury, which sapped his draft stock last summer. But the previous season, he led the nation in missed tackle rate (once every 3.2 rushes). A favorite best-ball option of mine and many of my peers, Williams shined in his first preseason action last week and, more importantly, he finally retired that awful No. 40 jersey in favor of a more palatable No. 31.

 

D’ONTA FOREMAN, HOUSTON TEXANS  (ADP: 13.11)

Foreman won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back after rushing for 2,028 yards this past year at Texas. A big-bodied back with some finesse (forced 64 missed tackles on 323 attempts), Foreman was drafted by his hometown Texans to spell Lamar Miller on early downs (he also led this year’s RB draft class in pass-blocking efficiency). If nothing else, his ADP makes for an enticing hedge for those not quite sold that Miller can blossom in the Texans’ zone-blocking scheme. Given a career-high workload of 299 touches last season, Miller finished 49th out of 53 qualifiers in elusive rating and posted the lowest fantasy points per opportunity of the top-20 fantasy RBs.

 

ALFRED MORRIS, DALLAS COWBOYS  (ADP: 14.01)

Darren McFadden enters his age-30 season coming off yet another injury-riddled season, although he is currently going off draft boards in the eighth round. Let someone else in your league take that bait, and instead take a flier on Morris five rounds later. While Morris comes with his own question marks, he carries much less risk given his ADP. And for what it’s worth, Cowboys reporter Todd Archer recently said it is possible Morris winds up with more touches, although Dallas could very well go with a committee if and when Ezekiel Elliott serves his six-game suspension. For their careers, Morris has averaged more yards after contact (2.6 to 2.4) and logged more 1,000-yard seasons than McFadden despite playing four fewer seasons, and he’s never ran behind a line like the Cowboys’.

 

JAMES CONNER, PITTSBURGH STEELERS  (ADP: 14.03)

Hometown hero and cancer survivor Conner was drafted by the Steelers in the third round to replace DeAngelo Williams. Although Conner still must work his way up the depth chart after a hamstring injury and then a sprained shoulder limited his practice reps, he recently returned to action and has been hitting the juke stick to embarrass defenders. Earlier this summer, I tabbed Conner as a deep sleeper rookie, largely due to the fact that Williams was given a bell-cow workload when called upon to sub in for an injured Le’Veon Bell. Before battling a torn MCL and a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis, Conner trailed only Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon in PFF grade in 2014.

 

WENDELL SMALLWOOD, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES  (ADP: 15+)

We’re into dart-throw territory now and are looking for that potential winning lottery ticket with our final non-kicker/DST pick. With the Eagles recently releasing (as expected) Ryan Mathews and LeGarrette Blount having a quiet camp, Smallwood’s name is an interesting one to monitor. Darren Sproles’ role won’t change, but Smallwood is a former collegiate standout who has been running like a man possessed in padded practices and could certainly work his way into consideration for the Eagles’ open early-down gig. Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing in 2015 and did catch 68 passes over the course of three years at West Virginia, where he earned the sixth-best run grade of the 2016 draft class and ranked fifth in pass-blocking efficiency.

 

JALEN RICHARD, OAKLAND RAIDERS (ADP: 15+)

Richard didn’t just average 5.9 YPC as a rookie, he was PFF’s most elusive runner and was second in both yards after contact (3.6) and missed tackle rate (once every 4.1 rushes). Seven of his 83 carries went for 15 or more yards, and his primary hurdle to a bigger piece of the pie, Latavius Murray, is now in the North Star State. However, fantasy drafters have been rather bullish on Marshawn Lynch, drafting Murray’s replacement as a fringe RB1/RB2. The obvious caveat here is that Lynch is now 31 years old and was out of football last year after his body failed him in 2015. The “Beast Mode” moniker is well earned, of course, considering Lynch has broken 66 more tackles than the next-closest RB since 2013 – and that includes his year off. But can he still withstand the punishment that his running style invites?

 

DEVONTAE BOOKER, DENVER BRONCOS (ADP: 15+)

Nothing to see here, right? Especially with a wrist injury that will keep second-year Booker out until right around the start of the season. Considering how pedestrian he looked for much of his rookie season, it’s easy to forget that he did lead the Broncos in rushing. It’s also easy to forget that Denver averaged a league-worst 1.15 yards before contact per attempt last season. The Broncos’ front office spent the offseason reconfiguring the O-line, which could feature four new starters. Mike McCoy also returns for his second stint calling the offense in the Mile High City, and he’ll replace some of Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking with power-blocking concepts. Our draft analysts saw lead-back potential after Booker posted the third-best overall RB grade in the 2015 draft class despite running behind a Utah OL that didn’t create much yardage before contact. A few months back, I laid out the case for Booker as a post-hype sleeper, which you can check out here.

 

MATT BREIDA, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (ADP: 15+)

I’ll double down on another one of my late sleeper rookies and give a shout out to UDFA Breida, who is already working as the 49ers’ second running back, ahead of summer buzz rookie Joe Williams. Breida, this year’s SPARQ star of the NFL draft, shined in his preseason debut, holding up in pass protection and pacing all RBs last week with six forced missed tackles. Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee observed that Breida had more highlights than Williams (and oft-injured Carlos Hyde) at spring practices, with Barrows noting Breida’s pass-catching ability in particular, an area that Williams was not asked master at Utah. Kyle Shanahan has been known to feature multiple running backs, but he’s also not shy about leaning heavily on a late-round rookie (see Alfred Morris’ 1,613 rushing yards as a sixth-round rookie in 2012).

 

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Has anyone ever called games for two different networks in one season?  Beth Mowins is scheduled to make that bit of history per Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

CBS Sports announced its NFL lineup pairings for the 2017 season, and it includes play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins teamed with new game analyst Jay Feely.

 

Mowins and Feely are slated to call the Browns-Colts game Sept. 24.

 

Mowins will call ESPN’s opening-week Monday Night Football late game between the Chargers and Broncos on Sept. 11, marking the first nationally televised NFL game called by a woman.

 

She has called college games for more than a decade and, since 2015, has worked as the Oakland Raiders’ preseason play-by-play announcer.

 

Other new faces to the CBS lineup include Hall of Fame receiver James Lofton, who will work alongside Andrew Catalon.

 

Here is the complete least of announcer pairings:

 

1. Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson

 

2. Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and Evan Washburn

 

3. Greg Gumbel, Trent Green and Jamie Erdahl

 

4. Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon

 

5. Andrew Catalon and James Lofton

 

6. Spero Dedes and Adam Archuleta

 

7. Tom McCarthy and Steve Tasker and Steve Beuerlein

 

8. Beth Mowins and Jay Feely

 

A three-man booth for the number 7 team?  Or is Beuerlein on the sideline?

 

 

2018 HALL OF FAME

Besides Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, veteran scribe Rich Gosselin, writing at TalkOfFameNetwork.com, finds another defender eligible for the first time in 2018 to be worthy of Hall of Fame consideration:

 

Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher are the defensive headliners on the slate of first-time eligible candidates for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2018.

 

But look a little deeper into that slate, and you’ll find yet another defender worthy of strong consideration. Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber has a resume that includes feats that few defensive backs in NFL history can match. He also has a completeness to his game that few can match.

 

Barber was a four-down player who made plays on both sides of the line of scrimmage, as well as the kicking game. And he made those plays for a long time.

 

Barber played 16 seasons with the Bucs, starting more games (232) than all but two defensive backs in NFL history (Hall-of-Famer Darrell Green and Charles Woodson) and more games at cornerback (216) than all but one corner (Green). Barber also started more consecutive games (200) than any cornerback in NFL history. He didn’t miss a game in his final 15 seasons and didn’t miss a start in his final 14 years.

 

The adage that the most important part of “ability” is “availability” alone stamps Barber as a deserving candidate for Canton. Cornerback is the toughest position to play in the NFL, and Barber was the ultimate survivor there.

 

But not only did he survive, he thrived.

 

In his ninth season, Barber became the first defender in NFL history to collect 20 interceptions and 20 sacks in a career. Now he is the only defender in history with at least 45 career interceptions and 25 sacks. If he wasn’t tackling quarterbacks in the pocket, he was intercepting them downfield. And he wasn’t tackling just quarterbacks.

 

Barber also tackled Chicago running back Matt Forte in the end zone for a safety in a 2011 game. So he was an able defender in run defense, once again making tackles on both sides of the line of scrimmage. But more than that, he was a willing run defender. With 1,028 career tackles, he’s the rare cornerback in NFL history with membership in the 1,000-tackle club.

 

Barber also evolved into an offensive weapon on the defensive side of the ball, scoring 14 career touchdowns. Those 14 scores covered a staggering 527 return yards. He returned eight interceptions for touchdowns, four fumbles and two blocked kicks. He also blocked two other kicks.

 

Barber returned two Donovan McNabb interceptions for touchdowns in the same 2006 game against the Philadelphia Eagles and propelled the Bucs to their only Super Bowl with another 92-yard interception return for a touchdown of McNabb in the 2002 NFC title game. He also returned interceptions for scores against Pro Bowlers Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper.

 

Barber led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001 and broke up 24 other passes on his way to the first of his five Pro Bowls. His 47 career interceptions are a franchise record, and he was named to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 2000s.

 

He started at three different positions in his career – both right and left corner plus free safety in his final season. The Bucs led the NFL in both defense and pass defense with Barber at right cornerback in 2002 and also led the league in pass defense with him at left corner in 2007. Tampa Bay led the NFL in defense twice and in pass defense three times with Barber on the field.

 

Ironically, Ronde was assumed to be the lesser of two Barbers.

 

His twin, Tiki, joined him at the University of Virginia, where he became the second all-time leading rusher in school history with a record 19 100-yard games. Tiki led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing in 1996 as a senior and became the 36th overall pick of the 1997 NFL draft by the New York Giants. He was a part-time starter as a rookie and then went on to play 10 years, posting six 1,000-yard seasons, to become the all-time leading rusher of the Giants.

 

Ronde redshirted in his freshman season at Virginia but decided to leave school along with his brother in 1997, skipping his senior season to turn pro. The Buccaneers selected Ronde 30 picks after his brother in the third round, but he wound up playing only one game as a rookie, spending 15 games as a healthy scratch.

 

Ronde started nine games in his second season, six at right cornerback and three at left, and remained a fixture on the Tampa Bay defense thereafter. He wound up going to more Pro Bowls and winning more Super Bowls than his brother.

 

Tackle Warren Sapp and outside linebacker Derrick Brooks both became first-ballot Hall of Famers off that 2002 Tampa Bay defense that delivered the Bucs their only Lombardi Trophy. Safety John Lynch has been a four-time Hall-of-Fame finalist off that same defense. Now Barber is eligible for the Hall of Fame – and his career deserves that same consideration.