AROUND THE NFL

Sean Payton wants more jobs for NFL players.  Mike Triplett of ESPN.com:

 

Sean Payton said the 46-man roster on game days has “gotta change” for health and safety reasons.

 

The New Orleans Saints coach brought up the topic unsolicited Thursday while discussing how the team was down to its last healthy offensive lineman on Monday night at Carolina. He said teams need more players available on game days.

 

“The 46-man roster on game day is soon to be, I think, will be soon dated. I think that’s gotta change,” Payton said. “If we’re interested in health and safety — and it sounds like we are; at least that’s something we talk about a lot — that number should be higher. And that’ll affect the overall roster size. And that might cost a little bit more money, but that’s the price.”

 

Payton said this idea also comes up whenever people want teams to “rest their starters” when they have big leads late in games.

 

“Have you ever looked at the sideline during a game?” Payton said. “We played Cincinnati this year and we rested starters. You’re talking about three different changes, maybe. It’s just different than, obviously, college, where you have a large number of players on the sideline.”

 

Payton is not talking about making all 53 players active on game days — because he said there “obviously has to be that buffer” where both teams have the same number of healthy players available for a game. The seven inactive spots on game days are for injured players or developmental players who aren’t ready to play.

 

“I see that [total roster] number having to increase as well. That’s where the expense lies,” Payton said.

 

Earlier this year, Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn also mentioned expanding rosters for both health and developmental purposes, among others.

 

Payton said there is ample support for expanding rosters among coaches and teams around the league, but he said it’s not something that can be changed by the competition committee — which he is a member of.

 

“Oh, absolutely, [there is support]. That’s an ownership-only decision,” Payton said. “It has nothing to do with the competition committee. It has everything to do with management council and the players union and ownership.”

 

– – –

Congress did get together for something this weekend that all Americans should be able to agree on.  Kevin Skiver of CBSSports.com:

 

Steve Gleason is already a legend in New Orleans for his blocked punt against the Falcons in 2006 and his work in the community after being diagnosed with ALS. On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to further honor Gleason for his contributions by awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal for his efforts. The next step is a signature from President Donald Trump, which is expected in 2019.

 

Gleason will be the first NFL player to receive Congress’ highest civilian honor, and he’ll join the likes of John Wayne, Joe Lewis, Jesse Owens and Arnold Palmer.

 

 

@SenBillCassidy

 Former @Saints star Steve Gleason has changed so many lives for the better through @TeamGleason. I’m proud we passed legislation to award him the #CongressionalGoldMedal. He will be the first @NFL player in history to receive the medal. #HonorGleason #ALS

 

“New Orleans Saints fans will always remember Steve Gleason’s seven spectacular seasons with the team. But it has been Steve’s work off the field that truly distinguishes him as an American hero,” said Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, via the Saints website. “Steve works tirelessly to spread awareness for ALS, all while battling this terrible disease. No one is more deserving of a Congressional Gold Medal than Steve Gleason.”

 

“It is a true honor to witness Steve Gleason become the first New Orleanian and former NFL Legend to receive the Congressional Gold Medal,” said Gayle Benson, the Saints owner, per the Saints’ site. “Along with his wife, Michel, and everyone at Team Gleason, they have unfailingly confronted ALS with a courageous and unwavering determination. Their tireless work to provide crucial assistance and the latest in technology and services has improved countless people’s quality of living. Steve is leaving a truly indelible mark in American history and we are honored to call him a true New Orleans Saint.”

 

Gleason also released a statement.

 

“I am honored, and accept the Congressional Gold Medal for all the families who has been diagnosed with ALS, as well as anyone struggling to overcome life’s inevitable adversities,” he said.

 

Gleason has become a staple at Saints games, and expect to see more of him this season. The Saints are just a win away from clinching home field advantage in the playoffs, and if that happens, Gleason should get quite a bit of exposure.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

DT KENNY CLARK has every reason to be upset.  Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com:

 

There’s a Grinch in Kenny Clark’s hometown, and the Green Bay Packers defensive tackle isn’t happy about it.

 

Someone stole more than $5,000 worth of toys that Clark and his mother, Leslie, had collected to distribute to kids in and around San Bernardino, California.

 

Clark said his family discovered earlier this week that the toys were missing from a shed outside the house Clark bought for his mother shortly after the Packers drafted him in the first round in 2016.

 

“We don’t know if it’s somebody that knows what’s going on and doing something that’s just mean or cruel, or it’s just a random person just taking toys or taking whatever that was in there,” Clark said Thursday.

 

Clark said the plan was to provide gifts for up to 300 kids in the area. The toy distribution still took place as scheduled Thursday, thanks to some last-minute donations. It’s the second year of Clark’s toy drive.

 

“A lot of people have stepped up,” Clark said. “I know they created a GoFundMe account and people have been donating to that, just to get some of the toys back for the kids. All that stuff has been pretty cool. There’s been a lot of people [who] have been hitting us up and trying to do the best they can to help.”

 

Clark said he and his family had been collecting the toys, which included new bikes, for months. They have been in contact with police and also said they have surveillance cameras on their property.

 

“It’s just messed up, man,” Clark said. “It’s messed up, man. It’s for a bunch of kids, man. It’s difficult, especially for my family and my mom. My mom, she works hard to do it. It’s really difficult for her because she worked so hard throughout the whole year putting it together. It’s a messed-up situation.”

 

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said he’d talk to Clark to see if there was anything he could do.

 

“It’s a shame. Thieves, there’s no moral code or anything, especially with those gifts and who they were going to,” Matthews said. “It’s unfortunate. There’s some scumbag people out there. You’d like to think that people are better than that.

 

“… With only a few days before Christmas, that’s terrible — terrible to hear.”

– – –

This from Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com:

 

No one would be foolish enough to suggest that Rodgers is done. No one should think he’s suddenly a bad quarterback. He’s not. He’s still very good. But what’s becoming increasingly clear is that Rodgers is no longer the superhero, fire-breathing dragon he once was. He’s 35. He’s missing the kind of throws he usually makes. He’s no longer carrying the Packers on his own.

 

And he’s getting more expensive. That’s what’s troubling about the Packers’ future. Unlike the Bears, who have a very cheap (if not great) quarterback, which makes building a team around him that much easier, the Packers have a very expensive quarterback, which makes building a team around him that much more difficult. What’s become clear this season and last season and even the year before that one, is that Rodgers needs more help. With his cap hit on the rise, supplying him with help won’t be easy.

 

@spotrac

 If this the legitimate beginning of Aaron Rodgers’ decline, those cap figures of $26.5M, $32.6M, & $33.5M over the next three seasons are going to hurt. #overreactionsundayhttp://bit.ly/2MCEWRx

 

Maybe the Packers hire an offensive mastermind and Rodgers gets back to his previous ways. That shouldn’t be ruled out. Rodgers is still one of the better quarterbacks in football. His skills haven’t completely evaporated. But as of right now, Rodgers isn’t the Rodgers we’ve grown so used to seeing, and as a result, the Packers’ future is no longer bright and sunny.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

No WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. for your Fantasy Football Super Bowl.  Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com:

 

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will miss his third straight game because of a quad injury on Sunday when the New York Giants play on the road against the Indianapolis Colts. Beckham didn’t practice at all this week. He did work on the side with a trainer for the first time in several weeks.

 

There is a chance that Beckham returns for the Giants’ season finale next week against the Dallas Cowboys.

 

“He’s closer. He’s closer,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He did more this week. He’s able to do more field work. We’ll just have to see what this next couple days brings.”

 

Wide receiver Russell Shepard (ankle), linebacker Alec Ogletree (concussion) and center Spencer Pulley (calf) were also ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Colts.

 

The Giants (5-9) will look for Corey Coleman, Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler to fill the void left by the absence of Beckham and Shepard. They will likely each get snaps at wide receiver alongside Sterling Shepard.

 

Evan Engram could be the biggest beneficiary of Beckham’s absence, even though Shurmur insisted he doesn’t call more plays for his explosive tight end. Engram had his two more productive games (77 and 75 yards, respectively) without Beckham in the lineup the past two weeks.

 

Beckham was originally injured on the final play of a Nov. 25 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He was leg whipped by linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, who was fined $20,054 for unnecessary roughness for the play. Beckham played through the injury in a win over the Chicago Bears but suffered a setback at practice the following week. He hasn’t returned to the field in over two weeks.

 

The Giants have split their two games without Beckham this season. They scored 40 points against the Washington Redskins two weeks ago, before being shut out by the Tennessee Titans last Sunday. Shurmur downplayed Beckham’s absence as a major factor.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

With a huge game with Houston looming, Tim McManus of ESPN.com looks at what could be at stake for QB NICK FOLES:

 

Nick Foles is used to uncertainty. It’s kind of his thing.

 

He’s gone from starter to backup, from nearly retired to Super Bowl MVP. He thought his playing days in Philly were over, only to regain the reins last week when a stress fracture was found in Carson Wentz’s back.

 

It’s only fitting that Foles will head into this offseason with more questions than answers. Will the Eagles exercise their 2019 option to try to keep him in Philly? Will he end up in a different city? Will he become a team’s long-term option? A stopgap? Something in between?

 

Foles does have some control over the situation, including whether he goes into the offseason as a hot commodity by virtue of his play down the stretch. Other elements are out of his hands.

 

Here’s a look at the different variables at play and what the future may hold for Foles:

 

The contract

There is a mutual option for 2019 in Foles’ deal. The ball falls in the Eagles’ court first. They have the right to extend Foles’ contract through 2019 at the price of $20 million, which would become fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. If they choose to exercise that option, Foles has about a week to decide whether he wants to take that payday and remain in Philly next season or void the contract. If he opts to void the contract, Foles would have to give the Eagles $2 million, effectively buying his way into free agency.

 

The scenarios

The Eagles could…

 

1. Not exercise the option and let Foles walk

 

2. Exercise the option and try to trade Foles

 

3. Exercise the option with the intent to keep him

 

4. Decline the option and place the franchise tag on Foles, potentially with the intent to trade him

 

Most likely outcome

From a cap perspective, it would be very difficult for the Eagles to carry Foles as a backup at the price tag of $20 million, especially with Wentz, their franchise QB, due for a massive pay day before long. Recent injuries aside, Wentz is still viewed as the guy in Philly. Foles will be looking to run his own show starting next year, making it unlikely that he would co-sign the option unless he anticipated a dry market.

 

Trying to trade Foles after triggering the option would be tricky, seeing as Foles’ side has the ability to void the contract. It’s unlikely a team would deal for him unless they had a guarantee that they could get a new, longer-term deal done.

 

All things considered, the most likely scenario appears to be that the Eagles will decline to use the option, allowing Foles to hit free agency.

 

Foles’ market

Here are some teams that could be interested in acquiring a QB this offseason:

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

 

Tampa Bay Bucs

 

Miami Dolphins

 

New York Giants

 

Washington Redskins

 

Denver Broncos

 

Cincinnati Bengals

 

And here are some QBs who could also be available:

 

Joe Flacco

 

Jameis Winston

 

Teddy Bridgewater

 

Tyrod Taylor

 

Josh McCown

 

Matt Schaub

 

Ryan Fitzpatrick

 

Trevor Siemian

 

Brett Hundley

 

Some QB-curious teams could end up sticking with their current guy; others could add via the draft. But looking at the current potential suitors versus list of options, it seems like a good bet Foles will find a home. The lack of ego he’s shown in the last year, in particular, will help in that effort as teams hope to build a high-quality quarterback room.

 

“You name me the starter, you name me the backup, you name me the third-string — if I’m playing this game, it’s not going to affect who I am as a person or my mentality when I step on the field,” Foles said this week of his approach. “If it does, then I probably have some personal things I need to work on.”

 

Potential compensation

It’s really a matter of whether Foles is viewed as “the guy,” a bridge QB or a high-end backup. That will determine what type of deal he gets. Opinions will vary from team-to-team.

 

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, as an example, is a big Foles fan. He recruited him coming out of high school while the head coach at Arizona State and tried to sign him to Tampa Bay before the 2017 season. Foles was between the Eagles and Bucs, and fatefully chose Philly. If Koetter is kept as head coach in Tampa, or lands an offensive coordinator gig for a team in need of a QB, perhaps Foles gets a sweet deal.

 

Depending on how it shakes out, Foles could end up with a contract similar to that of Case Keenum ($18 million per season). If he’s viewed as a longer-term guy, the number could end up somewhere between there and the deal of Kirk Cousins ($28 million per season).

 

A final showcase

Foles has the opportunity to influence potential suitors one last time. With Wentz dealing with a stress fracture in his back, there’s a good chance Foles will be at the controls for the last two regular-season games and potentially into the playoffs if the Eagles make it.

 

There’s a good amount of buzz around him after he led his team to an upset win over the Los Angeles Rams last week. If he can keep that buzz going into the offseason, his odds of landing a starring gig elsewhere will increase.

 

Meanwhile, QB CARSON WENTZ doesn’t want to get Wally Pipped.  Cody Benjamin of CBSSports.com:

 

If you’re wondering how severe the recent stress fracture suffered by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz really is, the answer probably depends on who you listen to.

 

It was a surprise before the team’s Week 15 upset of the Los Angeles Rams when Wentz was held out of practice, and it was perhaps even more surprising when coach Doug Pederson revealed that the Eagles’ 2017 MVP candidate might be out for the rest of the season due to a previously unidentified back fracture. When Pederson then offered a timetable of up to three months for Wentz to recover, most people assumed backup and reigning Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles would remain under center until 2019.

 

According to John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia, Wentz “got another opinion on his back with (a) specialist while (the) Eagles were in L.A.” and “really wants to play through” his injury. That doctor ultimately agreed with the Eagles, however, that “rest is best right now” for the quarterback’s recovery.

 

The report aligns with what Pederson told reporters Friday, when he hinted that Wentz would prefer to stay on the field.

 

“Does he want to play through it?” Pederson said. “I don’t want to put words in his mouth, (but) I think as an athlete who has an injury this time of year, if it’s not going to set them back, then, yeah, I would say everybody wants to play through injury … Again, we have to make sure they’re 100 percent — that’s kind of been our philosophy around here — before we stick them back out here.”

 

Foles has already been ruled the Eagles’ starter for Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans. Wentz has not, however, been placed on Injured Reserve, so it’s not impossible — at least hypothetically — for Pederson and company to re-evaluate his status for Week 17. Yet chances are that if the Eagles don’t beat the Texans to increase their chances of a playoff run even more, there won’t be much of a re-evaluation to make, at least for 2018.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

Ron Rivera isn’t discounting the conspiracy theory of S ERIC REID.  David Newton of ESPN.com:

 

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera knows what he would do as a player if he were chosen seven times for a random drug test as free safety Eric Reid says has happened to him.

 

“I guess there was something about some mathematician saying it’s highly improbable, but definitely possible,” Rivera said Thursday. “But I’ll say this: If my name came up that many times, I’d buy a lottery ticket.”

 

Reid posted on social media following Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Saints that he had his seventh random test since signing with the Panthers in late September. He put “random” in quotes.

 

Reid continues to suggest the NFL is targeting him because of his collusion grievance against the league. The grievance was filed in May by the NFLPA on Reid’s behalf, alleging team owners and the league, influenced by President Donald Trump, colluded to prevent Reid’s employment because of his protests against social injustice during the pregame national anthem.

 

Reid, the first player to join former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the anthem, continues to pursue the grievance. He also continues to kneel during the anthem.

 

Reid’s attorney and the NFLPA, sources told ESPN, are looking into the matter. However, according to the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL and NFLPA are not involved in the testing. It is performed by an independent laboratory.

 

“They can say it’s random all they want,” Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “Sometime it has to make sense. It can be random, but if you keep seeing the same guy popping up, what about [another] player over here taking PEDs, or whatever. You’re missing out. You’re testing the same guy.”

 

Smith said he has been tested “maybe three” times since the season began, including the test every player takes at the start of training camp.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

If WR LARRY FITZGERALD is ready to call it quits, he’s not going to do so with an off-handed answer to a reporter’s idle question.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

The Arizona Cardinals play their final game at home Sunday when they host the Los Angeles Rams.

 

Whether the occasion marks the last stand of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s remarkable 15-year career in front of the home crowd is unclear, but the 11-time Pro Bowler isn’t ready to reveal his plans.

 

“If I decide to retire, I’ll let you guys know,” Fitzgerald told reporters Thursday, via the Cardinals’ official website. “Man, seriously. So, I don’t understand why we keep asking these questions.

 

“You know me; I’ve been answering for the last three years. Nothing’s going to change … I’m never going to tell you, ‘This is my last day. I’m excited. Honor me.’ Those words would never come out of my mouth, ever.”

 

Nevertheless, the questions surrounding Fitzgerald’s future are sure to increase with two games remaining in the regular season, one that has seen a decline in the standout wide receiver’s production on a team in clear transition with first-year head coach Steve Wilks. Fitzgerald’s current deal with the Cardinals expires this offseason, but general manager Steve Keim said the team will give Fitzgerald time to determine his future before engaging in potential contract talks with him.

 

“We don’t get into that with Larry at this point and time,” Keim said on KMVP-FM on Friday. “It’s no different than the last couple of years. We will give him that grace period to sort of reflect and see how his body feels like a lot of the vets do. Those are the conversations that will come after the season.”

 

Arizona started the season with quarterback Sam Bradford before turning to rookie Josh Rosen, and the Cardinals are in the throes of a 3-11 campaign. With a rookie signal-caller learning the ropes, Fitzgerald’s numbers have suffered after entering the 2018 season with three straight 1,000-yard receiving campaigns.

 

Through 14 games, Fitzgerald has topped 100 yards receiving just once and enters Sunday’s game with 59 catches for 645 yards and five touchdowns on a career-low 92 targets.

 

Still, the 35-year-old Fitzgerald remained a consummate professional while the Cardinals struggled in 2018, helping his younger teammates and contributing whenever his number was called.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Jared Dubin of CBSSports.com says it was the schemes of Matt Patricia that exposed holes in the offense of Sean McVay:

 

As recently as a month ago, the Los Angeles Rams appeared to have an offense that was damn near unstoppable. Through the first 10 weeks of the season, the Rams gained more yards than any team in the league and also ranked second in the NFL in scoring. Their offense was both efficient (NFL-high 6.9 yards per play) and explosive (58 plays that gained 20 or more yards, second in the NFL), and as such ranked second in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.

 

At the time, the Rams and coach Sean McVay were being universally lauded for their unique offensive philosophy, where in they used 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) on 98 percent of their offensive snaps, with the same exact 11 players playing almost all of those snaps. (Todd Gurley would get a breather every now and then, while Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp missed some time due to injuries, but when everyone was healthy, the same guys were on the field for essentially every important snap of every game.) Aligning this way meant they could make almost every single play look exactly the same right up until the moment that it became something different, which allowed them to confuse defenses with motion and play-action, creating enormous holes through which Gurley could run or Jared Goff could throw the football.

 

And all of that was before the Rams played in what was inarguably the Game of the Year, hanging 54 points on the Chiefs as Goff fired the ball all over the field and just about every skill-position player on both teams had a monster game. The Rams took their bye immediately after that game against the Chiefs, and they haven’t looked the same since. It’s been tempting to say they’ve been off for the last two weeks — Week 14 was when the Bears absolutely shut them down on Sunday Night Football — but the Bears (and the Eagles) actually owe some of their strategy from that win to the Rams’ Week 13 opponent: surprisingly, the Detroit Lions, who had the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense heading into their game against the Rams.

 

What the Lions did against the Rams that week set the blueprint for what the Bears and Eagles have done since: they simply ignored all the bells and whistles that come along with the Rams’ offensive play design, steadfastly refusing to react to play-action fakes and daring McVay to run the ball or Goff to complete short passes against soft zones and methodically work the ball downfield. The Rams ended that game with 30 points, but that figure overstates how much of a slog that game was for them — they had just 16 points until there were seven minutes left in the game, and their two fourth-quarter touchdown drives covered a combined 69 yards thanks to a turnover and an onside-kick attempt.

 

Goff, in particular, struggled badly in that game, completing only 17 of 33 passes for 202 yards, one touchdown and one interception, foreshadowing his more extreme struggles against the Bears and Eagles. The splits for Goff through Week 11 and since are stark, with the drop-off during and since that Lions game extremely noticeable.

 

Consider the clip below, and pay close attention to the defenders at the second and third levels of the Lions defense, and how they essentially do not react to either the jet motion from Josh Reynolds or the play-action fake to Todd Gurley.

 

The Bears combined the Lions’ complete indifference to motion and play-action with a ferocious pass-rush that forced Goff into hurried throws to nobody in particular all night long. It got pretty ugly at times — even on passes that weren’t intercepted.

 

Because of things like this, what was one the best play-action offense in the league has come to a screeching halt.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post on the increasingly acrimonious Broncos ownership dispute.

 

The wife of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has entered the dispute between her husband’s trustees and his brother, Bill Bowlen.

 

In Arapahoe County District Court on Dec. 12, Annabel Bowlen, through her attorney, filed a motion to intervene in the litigation involving The Pat Bowlen Trust and Bill Bowlen.

 

Annabel Bowlen’s involvement begins nearly six months after Beth Bowlen Wallace declared her desire to be the Broncos’ next controlling owner and nearly two months after Bill Bowlen filed a lawsuit requesting the trustees be removed from power.

 

So what is Annabel’s goal with the request?

 

“Mrs. Bowlen is a beneficiary of the Patrick D. Bowlen Trust and she believes that the trustees have done a good job managing the Trust’s assets,” said Annabel Bowlen’s attorney, Hugh Gottschalk, president of the law firm Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, in a statement to The Denver Post. “Her goal is to be able to participate in the lawsuit that Bill Bowlen filed that is attempting to remove the trustees.”

 

Bill Bowlen’s contention is that trustees Joe Ellis (the Broncos’ president/CEO), Rich Slivka (team counsel) and Mary Kelly (a Denver attorney) “wield almost total control over the Broncos … with no accountability. … Over the past 15 years, I’ve noticed that the operation of the Broncos has deteriorated while my brother’s health has worsened.”

 

There can be two ways to look at Annabel Bowlen’s motion to intervene.

 

Not a big deal: Since she is not joining legal forces with the trustees, she is merely requesting a seat at the table, which would allow Gottschalk to attend closed-door negotiations and legal proceedings and allow him to have access to the files presented by both sides if the dispute reaches the discovery stage.

 

A semi-big deal: As a beneficiary of trust, Annabel declaring approval for how the trustees have performed their duties since being installed by Pat Bowlen in July 2014 is certainly notable.

 

If Bill Bowlen’s lawyers oppose Annabel Bowlen’s motion, her legal team would respond and Judge Charles Pratt could make a decision next month.

 

In a statement Giovanni Ruscitti, Bill Bowlen’s lawyer said: “If the Court allows her to intervene, we don’t believe it will have any impact on the claims asserted by Bill Bowlen.”

 

Aside from announcing her Alzheimer’s diagnosis on June 27, Annabel Bowlen had stayed out of the dispute. It is unknown if her health would allow her to testify if the Bill Bowlen-Trustees dispute goes to trial.

 

The Bowlen Ownership Saga began May 31 when Bowlen Wallace, 48, one of two children from Pat’s first marriage, said she was “ready right now,” to replace her father and presented the trustees with a transition plan that included Brittany Bowlen, 28, one of Pat and Annabel’s five children.

 

The trustees responded swiftly to Bowlen Wallace’s request, saying she was “not capable or qualified at this time.” Bill Bowlen supports his niece’s candidacy to be the next controlling owner.

 

On Oct. 20, Brittany Bowlen announced that she has “ambitions and goals to one day be the controlling owner,” of the Broncos. She is believed to have the support of the trustees, once she rejoins the organization, to eventually replace her father after a transition period.

 

Since Bill Bowlen filed his lawsuit, his legal team (led by Ruscitti) and the trustees’ lead lawyer (Dan Reilly, who is Kelly’s husband) have traded filings.

 

On Nov. 23, the trustees requested a stay in Bill Bowlen’s lawsuit while requesting that Bowlen Wallace and her sister, Amie Bowlen Klemmer enter into arbitration with the NFL. Bowlen Wallace and Bowlen Klemmer are not a part of their uncle’s lawsuit.

 

Two weeks later, on Dec. 8, Bill Bowlen’s lawyers filed an objection to the stay request, asserting that a stay would “prejudice” his case and that the court should not be compelled to delay his trial while waiting for the NFL to decide if it will serve as an arbitrator.

 

Last Friday, Bill Bowlen’s team filed a request that Ellis, Slivka and Kelly not be compensated or have their legal fees paid for via the trust’s coffers. The trustees responded earlier this week by asking for a 30-day stay to respond to the issue. Bill Bowlen filed an objection to the stay request on Wednesday and Pratt granted an abbreviated extension to Jan. 11.

 

It’s unclear to the DB why Bill Bowlen has standing to sue – especially after we read this:

 

The Broncos team is owned by PDB Sports, Ltd., a Colorado limited partnership. Controlling ownership of that entity is held by Bowlen Sports, Inc., an Arizona corporation owned by Pat Bowlen and his brother John. Pat Bowlen’s ownership interest in Bowlen Sports is held through his trust, according to the court petition.

 

Where is John Bowlen on this matter?

 

 

THE RAIDERS

The greatness of the Raiders does not lie in their Pro Bowl selections in Jon Gruden’s first season.  Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com:

 

Sure, Robert Mueller is busy at the moment, but Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden might want to drop the special counsel a line.

 

“If he’s not a Pro Bowler,” Gruden said of Raiders tight end Jared Cook last week, “I hope there’s an investigation.”

 

Not only was Cook snubbed, but so too was center Rodney Hudson, who had gone to the NFL’s all-star game after each of the previous two seasons and is having the best season of his career.

 

In fact, for the first time since 2003 and for just the second time in franchise history, the Raiders had no players selected for the Pro Bowl. Cook, Hudson and left guard Kelechi Osemele were named as alternates for the AFC squad.

 

Raiders offensive lineman Jon Feliciano let his feelings on the snubs known on Twitter.

 

This is what happens to 3-11 teams. But this is not what is supposed to happen to teams coached by Gruden, right?

 

Hudson has not given up a sack and ranks first in pass-blocking efficiency and sixth in run-blocking, per Pro Football Focus. He was bypassed in favor of the Pouncey brothers, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Maurkice and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Mike.

 

Cook, meanwhile, has career highs in receptions (63), receiving yards (848) and touchdown catches (6) and was passed over in favor of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce (93-1,220-10) and the Indianapolis Colts’ Eric Ebron (59-662-12).

 

Keep this in mind, though, because while the Raiders are in last place in their division, the Steelers, Chargers, Chiefs and Colts are all in the playoff race.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

The DB thought the story that Freddie Kitchens was all set to be the 2019 offensive coordinator and that the new head coach could be someone other than Gregg Williams to be fit around him was funny.  Sounds like Kitchens did to, per this report from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has looked like a completely different player since coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired, and interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has received a lot of the credit for that. In fact, it has been reported that no matter who gets the head-coaching job on a permanent basis next year, Kitchens will remain the offensive coordinator.

 

But if Kitchens is so important to the future of the franchise, why shouldn’t he get the head-coaching job? Asked on Thursday if he wants to be a head coach, Kitchens said he does.

 

“Definitely,’’ he said. “No doubt.”

 

Kitchens, who has never been a head coach and had never been a coordinator until taking over for the fired Haley, bristled at suggestions that he’s not experienced enough.

 

“I heard the other day somebody say something about I wasn’t ready to be a head coach,’’ Kitchens said. “I mean, who the hell’s ready to be a head coach?’’

 

Kitchens said he isn’t lobbying for the head-coaching job, but given the way he has turned Mayfield around, and given the importance of Mayfield’s continued development to the future of the franchise, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and G.M. John Dorsey absolutely need to consider hiring Kitchens as head coach. If the Browns don’t, some other team might.

– – –

A beloved member of the Browns suffered a broken ankle at practice Thursday, but the team’s chances of winning the Battle of Ohio are unchanged.  Pat McManoman of ESPN.com:

 

Cleveland Browns offensive line coach Bob Wylie broke his ankle in practice on Thursday.

 

Wylie, who earned a bit of a cult following for his appearances on “Hard Knocks” during the preseason, had surgery Thursday evening. He is questionable, at best, for Sunday’s home game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

 

Wylie’s appearances on “Hard Knocks” mocking the stretching period and leaving his Maserati with a valet for a preseason game earned him national notoriety. He also showed the offensive line videos of animals to teach about balance.

 

The Browns aren’t just favorites this week – they are overwhelming favorites.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Browns are not accustomed to being heavy favorites. But they are this week.

 

Cleveland is now a 9-point or even 9.5-point favorite over Cincinnati at some sports books, which is virtually unprecedented for the franchise.

 

Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, they’ve only been favored by more than nine points once. That was in Week 17 of 2007, when they were facing a 49ers team that was down to its fourth-string quarterback, Chris Weinke, who would never play in the NFL again after that game. Those 2007 Browns finished 10-6, the best record the Browns have had since returning in 1999.

 

According to Pro Football Reference, the current incarnation of the Browns have only been favored by more than seven points four times before this week. There was that 11.5-point spread against the 49ers, an 8.5-point spread over the Texans in 2002, a 7.5-point spread over the Panthers in 2002, and a 7.5-point spread over the Panthers in 2010. That’s it.

 

This year’s version of the Browns appears to be the best team Cleveland has had since 2007, and given the young talent on the roster, the Browns should get used to being favored by more than a touchdown.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Most places that the DB goes, the feeling is that BEN ROETHLISBERGER with two Super Bowl rings is a sure Hall of Famer, PHILIP RIVERS probably is and then let’s talk about ELI MANNING.  But DE CAMERON JORDAN of the Saints isn’t enamored of Big Ben’s candidacy.  Mike Triplett of ESPN.com:

 

Outspoken New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan argued against Ben Roethlisberger’s case as a future Hall of Famer on Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t rank the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback among the top five of his generation.

 

The Saints host Pittsburgh on Sunday.

 

“Is that true?” Jordan responded when a reporter suggested that Roethlisberger might be a future Hall of Famer. Then he gave an exaggerated, “Reeeaaally?”

 

“In this era? You’d put him at like a top three of this era? You’d put him in the top five of this era?” Jordan continued, before listing Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning as top quarterbacks during Roethlisberger’s 15-year career.

 

“You’re saying he’s better than Philip Rivers, career-wise? So you’re giving him the Super Bowl nod?” Jordan said. “You’re putting him at No. 5? OK. … I’d honestly put Eli (Manning) before I’d put Ben, but OK. Two Super Bowls — if we’re going by those numbers.”

 

Roethlisberger’s Hall of Fame case is stronger than Jordan suggests. Not only does he have two Super Bowl wins and three Super Bowl appearances, but he ranks third in regular-season wins since he entered the NFL in 2004 with 143 — just one behind Brees’ 144 wins (and well behind Brady’s 171).

 

Roethlisberger also ranks sixth in NFL history with 55,527 passing yards (behind Brees, Peyton Manning and Favre and just barely ahead of fellow 2004 rookies Eli Manning and Rivers). Roethlisberger ranks seventh in NFL history with 359 regular-season touchdown passes (behind Peyton Manning, Brees, Brady and Rivers; just ahead of Eli Manning).

 

“He doesn’t vote for (the Hall of Fame) … I look at that like Twitter,” Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said in response to Jordan’s comments. “I don’t pay attention to it. It doesn’t do anything. Come on, man. We’re grown. That his opinion. That’s totally fine.”

 

Pouncey also took offense to Jordan’s thoughts that Roethlisberger doesn’t rank among the five best quarterbacks of his era.

 

“Come on, bro. It’s crazy he feels like that. Maybe Ben has a little more emotions for it,” he said.

 

Jordan is never afraid to stir a little controversy, though. He often refers to specific offensive tackles as “speed bumps,” among other jabs. And he has enjoyed a well-publicized trash-talking back and forth with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton over the past two years that hit its peak when Jordan mailed Newton a bottle of Jordan-brand wine (no relation) to celebrate the Saints’ three-game sweep of the Panthers last year.

 

Jordan, however, insisted that he wasn’t the one who sent Newton a broom.

 

Ben Roethlisberger: Career Ranks

 

The Saints’ Cameron Jordan said Wednesday that he wouldn’t put Ben Roethlisberger in the top five QBs of his era. At least based on wins, pass yards and touchdown passes, Roethlisberger ranks in the top five in each category since his rookie season in 2004.

 

NFL RANK

QB wins            143       3rd

Pass yards        55,527  3rd

Pass TD           359       5th

— ESPN Stats & Information

 

The DB thinks it is a false premise to limit QBs from this “era” however defined to five.  We would have no problem with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning – and then Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson – all in the Hall of Fame.

– – –

RB JAMES CONNER has a big fan in Rams DT AARON DONALD, his teammate at Pitt.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

After college teammates James Conner and Aaron Donald were both named to the Pro Bowl this week, Conner shared on Instagram the text that Donald sent him in 2015, when Conner was diagnosed with cancer. That text did a lot to lift Conner’s spirits, and learning that meant a lot to Donald.

 

Asked about it on Thursday, Donald said he was touched that Conner had saved his text and still remembered it three years later.

 

“I started to tear up when I seen it. He’s family to me. So I’m just proud of him. I’m his biggest fan,” Donald said, via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.

 

In his text to Conner three years ago, Donald wrote, “You’re going to look back at this one day after about seven Pro Bowls.” Conner now has six Pro Bowls to go, and he and Donald will square off against each other at the Pro Bowl this season. Unless one of them is in the Super Bowl — or, perhaps, they will meet each other in the Super Bowl.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

The comeback of WR JOSH GORDON has hit a huge speed bump – and it’s another sign that this just isn’t the Patriots year.  Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:

 

New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended indefinitely for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the NFL’s drug policy, the league announced Thursday.

 

“Effective today, Josh Gordon has been returned to the Reserve/Commissioner Suspended list indefinitely for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse,” the league said in a statement.

 

Gordon, 27, had been suspended by the NFL for most of the previous four seasons because of multiple drug violations. Based on the discipline schedule in the collective bargaining agreement, Gordon would be facing banishment from the league for any positive test, though he could still apply for reinstatement.

 

“I take my mental health very seriously at this point to ensure I remain able to perform at the highest level. I have recently felt like I could have a better grasp on things mentally. With that said, I will be stepping away from the football field for a bit to focus on my mental health,” Gordon said in his statement.

 

Gordon went on to thank coach Bill Belichick, team owner Robert Kraft, the Patriots organization and the fans. A short time later, the Patriots said in a statement that they support Gordon “in his continued efforts to focus on his health.”

 

Gordon missed the start of Cleveland Browns training camp this season to seek counseling for mental health and anxiety issues. He rejoined the team three weeks later and played in one game for Cleveland before the Browns decided to move on, trading him to New England for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

 

Gordon participated fully in the team’s Wednesday practice.

 

During Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Gordon was held to one catch for 19 yards and was targeted just twice. While he played 57 of 62 offensive snaps, he notably wasn’t on the field for the team’s final fourth-down play. Then, for the first time since he suited up for the Patriots this season, he didn’t answer questions from reporters after the game.

 

Gordon had been elevated to a No. 2 role alongside receiver Julian Edelman, averaging 59 snaps per game over the past nine games. In his absence, the club projects to rely more on Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett.

 

In 11 games with the Patriots, Gordon totaled 40 receptions for 720 yards and three touchdowns.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES

Chris Wesseling of NFL.com has his list of NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidates:

 

The nature of football doesn’t lend itself to statistical analysis with the same expediency of baseball, which features a one-on-one showdown between pitcher and batter at the heart of the sport. Because all 11 teammates on both sides of the ball are inextricably linked each play, it’s impossible to extract one football player’s value from his surrounding talent and coaching staff.

 

Advanced metrics have come a long way over the past decade, partnering with game-film analysis to allow services such as Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders and Next Gen Stats to isolate each player’s contribution on a given play. Still, context is too often missing in the numbers.

– – –

The following list of Defensive Player of the Year candidates is based primarily on the eye test. For my own edification, I’ve also developed a big-play formula to help gauge the impact of the league’s most disruptive defensive stars. To that end, I’ve factored in sacks + stuffs (tackling a runner or receiver behind the line of scrimmage), QB hits, QB hurries, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions, pass deflections, touchdowns, stops (solo tackles that constitute a failure for the offense, per Pro Football Focus’ metric), missed tackles, penalties and a couple of secret ingredients to come up with one composite playmaker score.

 

1) Aaron Donald, defensive lineman, Los Angeles Rams

A brick wall with ninja skills, Donald is essentially unblockable. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year has accounted for 48.5 percent of the Rams’ 34 sacks, the seventh-highest rate in NFL history if it stands, according to NFL Research. Donald leads the league in sacks (16.5), QB Hits (34), tackles for loss (20) and disruptions (71), which factors in run stuffs and pressures. My playmaker formula gives Donald a score of 158.2 — 20 points higher than second-place J.J. Watt. Here’s what separates Donald from the pack: He offers the highest level of production while facing the highest percentage of double-teams from opposing offenses.

 

2) Khalil Mack, outside linebacker, Chicago Bears

After managing just 33 takeaways over the past two seasons combined, the Bears are leading the league with 35 takeaways and 107 points off turnovers this year. They are one of only four teams in the past decade to record at least 35 takeaways and 45 sacks in a season. Vic Fangio’s defense is the best in the league, essentially earning its own tier in Football Outsiders’ defensive metrics.

 

The difference this year is the presence of Mack, who opens opportunities for other players with his relentless pressure in the passing game and penetration against the run. Despite an ankle sprain that caused him to miss two games and lose his explosiveness and effectiveness in two others, he boasts a league-leading six forced fumbles on 12.5 sacks.

 

3) J.J. Watt, defensive lineman, Houston Texans

Andrew Luck’s primary competition for Comeback Player of the Year honors has the highest motor I’ve ever seen. I wish we could find a way to measure how many times he beats his man only to just miss a tackle for loss. After going nearly two calendar years without a sack, Watt ranks second only to Donald with 14.5 in 14 games. He’s also tied with Mack for the lead in forced fumbles while playing the run as well as any defensive end. Watt might never again reach the pre-injury heights that forced his name into MVP debates, but he’s still playing at an All-Pro level as his 30th birthday approaches.

 

4) Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Carolina Panthers

Kuechly is coming off two of the most dominant linebacker performances in franchise history. He almost single-handedly shut down the Saints’ high-octane offense on “Monday Night Football” after forcing a pair of fumbles and chasing down Jarvis Landry from behind like a madman to prevent a touchdown in Week 14. It’s a shame the Panthers are falling apart around their defensive leader because Kuechly is making plays behind the line of scrimmage at an unprecedented rate. His 21 stuffs not only lead the league, but are also the most ever by a linebacker, according to research done by Pro Football Journal. For comparison’s sake, fellow perennial All-Pro Bobby Wagner has managed just 3.5 stuffs this year. Don’t buy into the trendy narrative that Wagner has overtaken Kuechly as football’s greatest inside linebacker today.

 

5) Cameron Jordan, defensive lineman, New Orleans Saints

An especially dominant run defender for an alleged sack artist, Jordan carries the fourth-highest score (110.6) in my playmaker index. While Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata and Demario Davis have emerged as impact players in their own right, Jordan is the linchpin of a suddenly stingy New Orleans defense that has carried the offense over the past month. This might just be the best defense of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, edging out the ballhawking unit that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after the 2009 season.

 

6) Chris Jones, defensive lineman, Kansas City Chiefs

Jones has generated a sack in 10 consecutive games, the longest streak within a season since the stat became official in 1982. He and outside linebacker Dee Ford (11.5 sacks) are rivaling Denver’s Von Miller and Bradley Chubb as the most productive pass-rushing tandem in the league. Far from a one-trick pony, Jones is fourth in tackles for loss (17), seventh in QB hits (26) and third among defensive linemen with five passes defensed.

 

7) Bobby Wagner, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks

Wagner doesn’t miss tackles — literally. Pro Football Focus credits him with zero missed tackles this season. It’s an incredible feat, considering Kuechly as well as hotshot rookies Darius Leonard and Leighton Vander Esch have missed nine apiece. That thumper’s skill set would seem to be at odds with the modern demands of the position, but Wagner is the rare tackling machine who also excels in coverage, earning PFF’s highest grade among linebackers. Pete Carroll is right: Wagner is on a Hall of Fame trajectory.

 

8) Von Miller, outside linebacker, Denver Broncos

Speaking of future Hall of Famers, the Super Bowl 50 MVP is the defining edge rusher of his era. The master of the strip-sack has forced four fumbles to go with 18 combined sacks + stuffs. While Case Keenum’s offense has disappointed this year, Miller and bookend rookie Bradley Chubb have led a reinvigorated defense that ranks fourth in Football Outsiders’ metrics.

 

9) DeMarcus Lawrence, defensive end, Dallas Cowboys

Lawrence’s raw sack production is down from last season, but he’s still making a living behind the line of scrimmage with 9.5 stuffs and 11 QB hits to go with a flurry of hurries. Although he’s tied for sixth with 23.0 sacks since the start of the 2017 season, his impact in the ground game isn’t far behind. As much well-deserved hype as Vander Esch has received, Lawrence is the most disruptive force on Dallas’ unexpectedly superb defense.

 

10) Darius Leonard, linebacker, Indianapolis Colts

My choice for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year is perhaps the most egregious of this year’s Pro Bowl snubs. Leonard doesn’t just pass the eye test; he’s also generating numbers unseen by the greatest inside linebackers of this century. He’s averaging more tackles per game than Kuechly and Patrick Willis managed en route to Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. His seven sacks are more than Kuechly, Wagner, Willis or Ray Lewis ever posted in a season. He’s also thrown in four forced fumbles and sterling pass defense for good measure.

 

Before Leonard arrived on the scene, the Colts were cupcakes. They have held their opponents to 10 points or fewer five times this season, a feat they had accomplished just six times in the past four seasons combined. This defense is allowing a minuscule 15.0 points per game since Week 7, the lowest number in the league over that span.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Danielle Hunter, defensive end, Minnesota Vikings; Myles Garrett, defensive end, Cleveland Browns; Dee Ford, outside linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs; Akiem Hicks, defensive lineman, Chicago Bears; Fletcher Cox, defensive lineman, Philadelphia Eagles; Calais Campbell, defensive lineman, Jacksonville Jaguars; Chandler Jones, defensive end, Arizona Cardinals; Frank Clark, defensive end, Seattle Seahawks; Jamal Adams, safety, New York Jets; Eddie Jackson, safety, Chicago Bears.

 

 

MARIJUANA BAN ON WAY OUT?

The DB doesn’t think the NFL will have to twist the NFLPA’s arm if it really wants to do away with the ban on marijuana.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Regardless of whether Josh Gordon‘s latest suspension arises from marijuana or other recreational drugs that don’t enhance performance, his indefinite banishment brings back into focus a question that gnaws at power brokers like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: Why does the NFL test players for marijuana use while on their own time?

 

It started during the War on Drugs, which wasn’t really a war and did nothing to get people to stop using drugs. Three decades later, more and more states are legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, and more and more observers believe that marijuana does more good than harm for players suffering from pain and other issues related to playing tackle football for a living.

 

The NFL realizes that there’s no longer any good reason to keep the best football players from playing football over marijuana. But the NFL isn’t yet willing to make dramatic and wholesale changes to the marijuana testing policy because the NFL hopes to dangle the changes within the context of collective bargaining, securing a concession from the union in exchange for softening a policy that badly needs to be softened.

 

If negotiated as a separate issue, the union wouldn’t bite. More than 95 percent (maybe higher) of all players know how to avoid testing positive in the first place, and most of those who accidentally test positive once avoid more positives under enhanced testing, given the enhanced consequences.

 

So why make a broader concession that would affect all players in order to help only a handful? The union wouldn’t do it, and the policy would continue to ensnare a handful of players and the NFL would have to decide whether it’s OK with that.

 

And so the easiest approach will be to dump the changes into the next round of CBA discussions, blending the revision in with the broader negotiations and claiming that a concession was achieved.

 

Even if it isn’t.