AROUND THE NFL

The NFL plans to make up for lost time next year by flooding the Hall of Fame with members from the past.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It already was known that the Pro Football Hall of Fame would have a Centennial Class for 2020. What wasn’t known was how many.

 

As it stands now, the maximum number of inductees in a year is eight. In conjunction with the NFL’s 100th anniversary celebration, the Pro Football Hall of Fame tentatively has approved a class of 20 for next year, Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker revealed Monday.

 

It would allow players, coaches and contributors who have fallen through the cracks a spot in Canton.

 

The operating board has approved five modern-era candidates — the same as normal — plus 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches for the Class of 2020. The full board still must approve the plan during their meeting Aug. 2.

 

“It is extremely elite company, and it’s not the Hall of very, very good. It’s the Hall of Fame, and so it should be difficult to make it,” Baker said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “But there’s a lot of guys through the years [who have slipped through the cracks]. We have several guys who are on all-decade teams who aren’t in the Hall of Fame, so this is an opportunity with the Centennial coming up. What we’ve looked at potentially and has been approved, at least in concept, by our operating board . . . is that potentially we would have 20 Hall of Famers enshrined for the year 2020.

 

“This year we have eight, so this would be quite a few guys, but it would be the five normal modern-era players elected from 15 finalists and then 10 seniors, three contributors and two [coaches]. But again, I want to stress that that’s got to be something that’s passed by our board on Friday, Aug. 2.”

 

The seven first-team all-decade players in the senior pool would have their best shot at earning election. Only one of those, former Cowboys safety Cliff Harris, has ever made it on the list of finalists, according to Rick Gosselin of the Talk of Fame.

 

Former coach Don Coryell, a five-time finalist, also likely would have a great chance at finally earning his due.

 

The Pro Football Hall of Fame currently has 318 Hall of Famers.

 

Some of the top first-ballot players for the 2020 class include safety Troy Polamalu, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and linebacker Patrick Willis.  Peyton Manning comes on board in 2021.

– – –

Eliot Harrison of NFL.com offers his list of the 25 greatest QBs ever.  The whole thing is here, edited below:

 

Who is the greatest quarterback of all time?

 

It’s a question that has been posed countless times. You might have a good idea on who is No. 1. But what about Nos. 2-25? Now that is the spot in the football universe where the QB debate gets pretty darn interesting.

 

Makes for good conversation, too. The last time I completed a ranking of the best quarterbacks to ever lace ’em up was back in 2014. A few years later I heard the list being discussed on the radio, leading me to think the list needed a refresher (and in some respects, a drastic makeover). With the 100th NFL season also on the horizon, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the game’s most exalted position, and to contrast the most celebrated players that played it. Well, they weren’t always celebrated, as even the Hall of Fame and HOF-caliber players below often heard as many jeers as cheers. Perhaps that, as much as anything, makes this exercise so worthy of the time — the subjective nature of it all, and the concerted effort to quell that subjectivity and morph it into educated objectivity.

 

Easier said than done, but to that end I enlisted the support of Jack Andrade, research maven for NFL Network. He and I have collaborated on historical pieces before, such as comparing quarterbacks from 1992 and 2017 with a statistical equalizer. You will see a little of that below, with some reference to Jack’s handiwork.

 

As for the rest, there are facts and there are opinions. The following includes a portion of the former, and plenty of the latter. Many of these players are compared with their peers from the same era as well as quarterbacks from a different decade. It should make for interesting arguments in your head or at your favorite pub. Send me your strongest take. Would love to hear it. @HarrisonNFL is the place.

 

First, let’s start with the greatest quarterbacks to not make the top 20. An appetizer, if you will.

 

25) Norm Van Brocklin

Los Angeles Rams, 1949-1957; Philadelphia Eagles, 1958-1960

 

24) Len Dawson

Pittsburgh Steelers, 1957-1959; Cleveland Browns, 1960-1961; Dallas Texans, 1962; Kansas City Chiefs, 1963-1975

 

23) Fran Tarkenton

Minnesota Vikings, 1961-1966, 1972-1978; New York Giants, 1967-1971

 

22) Warren Moon

Houston Oilers, 1984-1993; Minnesota Vikings, 1994-1996; Seattle Seahawks, 1997-1998; Kansas City Chiefs, 1999-2000

 

Moon could be higher on this list; he could be lower. Those who would say others belong ahead of him would have a point in that Moon never enjoyed success in the playoffs, winning only three postseason starts (and never advancing to a conference title game) in his 17-year career. Yet, what those pundits miss, and why Moon could be (should be?) higher on this list, is the fact that he had to spend the first six years of his pro career in the Canadian Football League before he got a chance to play quarterback in the NFL.

 

21) Jim Kelly

Buffalo Bills, 1986-1996

 

Put the four Super Bowl losses aside. Sure, Kelly and the Bills’ offense didn’t play great in any of those contests. But what about all the playoff games to get them there?

 

* * * * *

 

That’s your bonus five right there. Hated to leave out Y.A. Tittle, whose run from 1961-1963 is up there with the most incredible three-year performances in league history. Doubly hated omitting Bobby Layne, who won back-to-back titles in Detroit and made the sad-sack Steelers respectable in the early 1960s. Then there’s Philip Rivers, and I didn’t forget about either Kenny — Stabler or Anderson. One word: under-freaking-rated (actually that’s three words and two hyphens).

 

20) Kurt Warner

St. Louis Rams, 1998-2003; New York Giants, 2004; Arizona Cardinals, 2005-2009

 

When it comes to rating Warner, most folks can’t get past the mid-career lull. Their argument is, essentially, that he didn’t enjoy enough of a prime. Well, that might be true. But it sure as heck wasn’t all his fault.

– – –

Stat you need to know: Warner went 1-2 in his three Super Bowl starts, but did you know that he threw a touchdown to tie the game or take the lead in the final three minutes of all three games? That puts things into perspective.

 

19) Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004-present

 

Maybe the most difficult guy on this list to rate. Roethlisberger has, at times, played brilliantly. He led the NFL in passing yards in 2018 (5,129), his 15th season. He posted a passer rating of 98.1 and went 14-1 as a starter during his first season (including the playoffs). He’s won two Super Bowls, and started a third. On those merits alone, he should probably go higher than 19th here. Then again, has Roethlisberger ever been the best or second-best player at his position?

 

18) Russell Wilson

Seattle Seahawks, 2012-present

 

Wilson hasn’t put in nearly as much time as the other players that are listed here among the league’s pantheon of all-time quarterbacks. That’s OK, because his first seven seasons as a starter rate just as well as that of almost any QB in league history.

 

17) Terry Bradshaw

Pittsburgh Steelers, 1970-1983

 

There are those, particularly the aforementioned NFL Research guru Jack Andrade (who I’ve done many a historical-research deep-dive with), who think Bradshaw was an average NFL quarterback. If you consider the body of his regular season career alone, you wouldn’t be as far off the mark as many of Bradshaw’s passes were from 1970-1974. Yet, from 1977 until 1982, he was quite effective, shrugging off injuries and a coach who was not the easiest for QBs to play for in Chuck Noll. So why is Bradshaw here? Because when it came to big games, particularly the Super Bowl, he was often masterful.

 

16) Sid Luckman

Chicago Bears, 1939-1950

 

Severely underrated. Vastly underrated. Whatever other adjective you can come up with that applies here, please do. There’s a reason why some of the Bears’ passing records still belong to Luckman.

 

15) Steve Young

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1985-1986; San Francisco 49ers, 1987-1999

 

Steve Young retired in the previous century, but he’s a prototype of the modern player who can throw, run, and throw on the run. In fact, he might be the most complete quarterback to ever lace ’em up. You read that right. He was the Russell Wilson of his day, using his athleticism to make plays with his legs, yet knowing when to call it a day and play another down. He was as accurate as Drew Brees, and he was as tough as they come.

 

14) Troy Aikman

Dallas Cowboys, 1989-2000

 

If Young was the prototype for the modern-day quarterback, Aikman was the embodiment of what every GM in pro football was looking for at the position from 1950 until Y2K. That is, a tall, steady presence in the pocket and in the huddle, complete with a strong arm that operated with a tight release. Aikman could see, sense and let it fly as quickly as anyone, despite not being necessarily known for doing so. You might have heard that Aikman’s numbers aren’t as impressive because the Cowboys’ offense was all about running the football. Well, that isn’t exactly true. What is accurate is that Dallas’ offense was a replica of the Air Coryell attack, which threw for quality, not quantity. With the Cowboys leading so often late in games in the ’90s, there was no need to keep chucking it

 

13) Bart Starr

Green Bay Packers, 1956-1971

 

Starr always gets placed third among the Packers quarterbacks. It’s not fair, especially when most analysts say the game is about winning and not stats. Who can match Starr’s 9-1 postseason record? (Answer: Nobody.) Starr ranks below Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers here — and it’s cloooooose — only because he struggled early on and near the end of his 16-year career.

 

12) Brett Favre

Atlanta Falcons, 1991; Green Bay Packers, 1992-2007; New York Jets, 2008; Minnesota Vikings, 2009-2010

 

Similar to his Hall of Fame forebearer in Green Bay, Favre is often remembered for one aspect of his career: the ironman streak of 297 consecutive starts. It zooms far past being impressive, no doubt. So did the man’s lasers. However, if there is one thing not mentioned quite enough, it’s the fact that Favre won three straight MVPs.

 

11) Sammy Baugh

Washington Redskins, 1937-1952

 

Too high, right? Sammy Baugh, a guy who came into the league in 1937, shouldn’t sniff this rarefied air, right? Whatever. Yes, Baugh played in some of the NFL’s prehistoric days, back when throwing for over 100 yards in a game was a solid outing. Except he threw for 335 and three touchdowns in the 1937 NFL Championship Game, winning the title as a rookie. Guessing 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL would take that line. Baugh revolutionized the passing game, catapulting off the strides made by the Packers’ Arnie Herber to make throwing the football more than just an idle threat.

 

So, those are Nos. 11-20. The next 10, the elite of the elite, have been scrutinized through every possible metric, consideration, and of course, subjective reasoning. Only one member of the top 10 never won a title. Meanwhile, four of the signal-callers below played the bulk of their careers over the last 20 years, which is indicative of the improved play at the position as a whole.

 

10) Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay Packers, 2005-present

 

There will be those in the peanut gallery who would expect to see Rodgers higher than 10th, and those that would be just fine putting him behind Favre. (And even a few cheeseheads would slot Rodgers behind Starr.) Frankly, putting Rodgers at 10 was the hardest selection, particularly since it placed him over Baugh, who was the top quarterback of his era.

 

9) John Elway

Denver Broncos, 1983-1998

 

If winning is the lone gauge for determining the finest quarterbacks in league history — a method we discussed in the Rodgers section but one I don’t subscribe to — then Elway’s career received a boost from those back-to-back Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 1998. In fact, immediately after winning those rings, I recall some folks vaulting Elway to Johnny Unitas-level status. Reasonable? Well, you can view Elway’s career from several prisms. One of the most common is for critics to say he was a Hall of Fame quarterback, but far from the greatest, due to the fact that Denver’s late 90s championship teams won because of a supercharged running game behind Terrell Davis. Or, there is the vantage point of Elway’s early chapters, when he was considered a one-man band that willed the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances in his first seven years. Yet another view stems from a pure talent perspective. For all you Patrick Mahomes junkies out there, hop on YouTube and watch yourself a scoop of Elway from 1985 or ’86. What an arm. Extremely mobile, too.

 

8) Roger Staubach

Dallas Cowboys, 1969-1979

 

There is only one Roger Staubach. There will never be another player like him, much less quarterback. He served in the Navy for four years, including a tour in Vietnam, upon graduating from the academy and was the ultimate franchise representative, embodying all that was right about professional sports while never being a distraction to his team, save for the artificial one Tom Landry created when he began rotating a young Staubach and Craig Morton EVERY PLAY.

– – –

Losing out on those four seasons while he served in the Navy and the fact that he might have played longer had injuries, especially concussions, not piled up on him ultimately hurts Staubach on this list. Rightfully so, as longevity is part of the deal. Yet, Staubach didn’t go out with a whimper like so many Hall of Fame quarterbacks. He led the NFC in passer rating in each of his final three seasons, and made the Pro Bowl in each of those years.

 

7) Dan Marino

Miami Dolphins, 1983-1999

 

Marino is considered the universal exception to the “thou shalt win a Super Bowl to be great” sports proverb that has pervaded analysis over the last 25 years. It used to be, back when the Super Bowl was young, that Y.A. Tittle, Dan Fouts, and other quarterbacks who never won a title but displayed excellence, and put forth gaudy numbers (for their time), could be counted among the top-shelf passers in league history. No more, except for Marino, it seems. So how has Marino transcended one of the most tired, stale, dumb*@$ arguments in sports? Although I can’t be sure, the educated guess is that the Dolphins legend’s wow factor was so off the charts that he couldn’t be denied.

 

6) Drew Brees

San Diego Chargers, 2001-2005; New Orleans Saints, 2006-present

 

Much like Marino, Brees has made a living producing gaudy numbers. Many in the football business think he’s been underrated, partially because his record 74,437 passing yards have come in workmanlike fashion. Brees is not the imposing presence Cam Newton is. He doesn’t have Aaron Rodgers’ arm. Although a nice-looking athlete, Brees has never been the GQ cover-boy-type like Tom Brady or a young Joe Namath. All he does is produce, year after year

– – –

Stat you need to know: The fact that Brees has finished ahead of all comers in passing yards seven times, a league record, doesn’t validate the uniqueness of his production. Rather, it’s how often Brees has reached numbers that other greats either never do or rarely do. For example, while he has passed the aforementioned 5,000-yard-barrier five times, no other player has managed that total more than once. He has completed over 70 percent of his passes four times, and no other player has surpassed that number more than one time.

 

5) Otto Graham

Cleveland Browns, 1946-1955

 

Arguments can be made for an old-timer like Graham ranking this high that, unfortunately, some football fans just won’t consider. Imagine a world in which people only believe what they want to believe, basing their opinions on alternative facts. Thank goodness that only happens in pro football. The stat/number/fact that you hear the most about Graham is concise and carries import: 10 seasons, 10 championship game appearances…And he did it all with class.

 

Stat you need to know: I have always thought that yards per attempt was the most unheralded measure of a player, or at least quarterback, in pro football. It’s a simple data point: How much bang for the buck does a quarterback give his team when he cocks his arm? It’s also the one area that older passers, such as Graham, can be measured fairly equally with players of today. Guys like Graham threw down the field, as opposed to tossing none-yard outs to Danny Amendola and three-yard ins to Jarvis Landry. All of which is to say that no stat in this article is more impressive than Graham’s career yards-per-attempt mark of 9.0. The dude almost got a first down every time he released the ball! When I sat down with Jack Andrade to go over the numbers, Jack had the brilliant idea of finding out how many times Graham would have had to spike the ball into the dirt for the next closest player to catch him on the all-time list. The answer: 174 times! For the next active passer? More than 200! Next.

 

4) Johnny Unitas

Baltimore Colts, 1956-1972; San Diego Chargers, 1973

 

The innovator of the group, Johnny Unitas altered the way the quarterback position was played in a similar manner to another Colt some four decades later. Much of what you see in the passing game today can be attributed to Unitas. He morphed the disorganized approach losing teams used to make a comeback late in a game into the routine two-minute drill we know today. Before this monumental shift in strategy, offenses ran their normal attacks, clocks be damned, and more often than not, ran out of time (only Bobby Layne achieved regular success with this inefficient approach). With Unitas’ late-game heroics came clock management and precision passing.

 

Stat you need to know: Unitas is the only player to lead the league in passing touchdowns four straight years, a feat he pulled off from 1957 to 1960. During that time, he also completed a streak of 47 straight games with at least one touchdown pass. Drew Brees beat it in 2012, some 52 years later. However, when Unitas produced his record streak, he was throwing the ball fewer than 29 times per game. Brees? Nearly 40. Huge difference. Moreover, while Brees tossed a touchdown on 6.2 percent of his passes during his span, an excellent number, Unitas did the same on 7.6 percent of his attempts. That Unitas streak from the late ’50s is every bit as golden as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

 

3) Peyton Manning

Indianapolis Colts, 1998-2011; Denver Broncos, 2012-15

 

What can you say about Peyton Manning that hasn’t already been said? Not much. The key with Manning is pointing out how he changed the way the position was played. Lost in all of the passing yards (he ranks second), passing touchdowns (he ranks first) and those five MVP trophies lies the undercurrent of innovation. By the time he was drafted in 1998, quarterbacks had long ceased calling their own plays. The Raiders were the last holdout. They quit the practice in the mid-1980s. Sure, Dan Marino called many of his own via audible as he got more experienced. Jim Kelly called them on the reg out of the K-Gun, the Bills’ rip-off of the Bengals’ no-huddle offense that befuddled the AFC in 1988 (so Boomer Esiason should be mentioned here, too.) Manning began calling plays at the line constantly in the mid-to-late 2000s, but his approach was different. He would identify defensive formations at the line, choose the best play to counter what he saw and routinely yell out dummy calls more than anyone else. Opponents would do their best to match wits and identify keys, only to have Manning switch the play up, or shift it to the opposite side, seconds before snapping the ball. Only veteran middle linebackers or defensive play-callers, such as a Ray Lewis or the too-often forgotten Zach Thomas, could even attempt to keep pace with Indy’s Hall of Fame quarterback.

 

Manning’s wobbly throws often resembled some Dan Fouts specials, but like the phenomenal Chargers quarterback, the ball always got there.

 

2) Joe Montana

San Francisco 49ers, 1979-1992; Kansas City Chiefs, 1993-94

 

For a long time, it was Joe Montana and then everybody else in the greatest quarterback of all time conversation. Under Bill Walsh’s tutelage, Montana ushered in a new era of offense in the NFL, a fresh take on an old moniker. The West Coast offense spawned a legion of imitators, with many of its principles still present in today’s game.

 

Montana didn’t own the strongest arm, but he was highly accurate and much more mobile than people remember. He threw perhaps the most catchable ball ever. Watch some of those Jerry Rice and John Taylor highlights. Notice how all the slants each took to the house hit them on the run, softly in stride. What stuck out more than the kind of passes Montana tossed was the quality of them; specifically, the circumstances in which so many of his greatest performances occurred. Montana was so often a maestro in contests against the NFC’s toughest competition

 

1) Tom Brady

New England Patriots, 2000-present

 

He’s the all-time leader in the QB clubhouse, though not in any of the major statistical areas. Except, that is, for the category that has always resonated the most with this position: winning. Brady owns the most wins at the position by a wide margin. His 207 regular-season victories are 21 more than second-placed Manning. His 30 postseason wins blow everyone out of the water. Early in his career, Brady was known for being an accurate passer who was smart with the football and could dial up big plays when the defensive-minded Patriots needed it. He was cool in the pressure moments, too. Brady let the game come to him toward the end of Super Bowl XXXVI, taking the checkdowns and short stuff to maneuver kicker Adam Vinatieri into range to finish off the “Greatest Show on Turf.” A less-heralded, but equally important, drive came at the end of Super Bowl XXXVIII, when Brady moved the Patriots’ offense just enough to set up Vinatieri for another Super Bowl-winning kick. No such theatrics were needed the next year, as Brady was efficient in helping New England to its third Super Bowl in four seasons.

– – –

Paramount to Brady’s success has been his focus on what’s in front of him. He refuses to lose, and early in his career, refused to be distracted. He’s taken less money every year to ensure New England has the resources to build a quality team around him. He supports his teammates, even guys who are forced to move on from the organization (like Malcolm Butler). Despite so many accomplishments in his incredible career, winning a Week 2 home game against the Dolphins still remains as important to him as ever. As part of that immense drive, Brady has readdressed his body and conditioning in a manner pertinent to his age and the position he plays. It’s functionality over fashion, despite his ease with the latter. Although not known for stats, and Brady’s seemingly indifference to them, he has managed to finish No. 1 in passing yards three times, touchdown passes four times and passer rating twice. Brady has also produced the lowest INT percentage in a season four different times in his career — a truly rare feat. He minimizes mistakes without sacrificing production, then wins the important downs so his team wins in the standings, game after game, year after year. Brady is the NFL’s top all-time quarterback, if not player. Yep. He is probably that, too.

 

Stat you need to know: Brady’s career has been a study in steady greatness, but it’s also bookended by both individual and team accomplishments. There simply hasn’t been much decline, and if anything, Brady might have improved in his later years. His first and most recent MVP seasons came a decade apart. Brady’s first and most recent passing yards titles were 12 years apart. His first and most recent passing touchdowns titles were 13 years apart. More than any other numbers, a single line exemplifies what Brady’s legacy will be: In 17 healthy seasons as a starter, he’s made more Super Bowls (9) than he’s missed (8).

 

Interesting list.  Our first thought is that Fran Tarkenton is rated too low.  He was Wilson or Young for a much longer run.  And way ahead of his time.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

It looks like RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT has dodged a suspension.  Jane Slater of NFL Media with a tweet.

 

@SlaterNFL

 A source with knowledge of the situation tells me they’re confident there won’t be a suspension for Ezekiel Elliott. I’m told the Las Vegas police department removed Zeke from situation to protect him but found no merit to victim’s claim.

 

“No merit” to the victim’s claim?  It’s on video.  Elliott knocked the guard over.  We’re not saying he deserved a suspension, we could buy that he was right up against the suspension line but not over it.  But “no merit”?

 

And indeed, the NFL gives Elliott a holiday present.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Ezekiel Elliott avoided another tackle, this time from the NFL front office.

 

The Dallas Cowboys running back has been informed he will not be punished for his most recent off-field incident, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported.

 

Elliott met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday regarding an incident in Las Vegas in which the running back nudged a security officer. After the meeting, Elliott issued an apology for his actions, promising to make better decisions in the future.

 

The NFL later announced that Commissioner Goodell determined that Elliott did not violate the personal conduct policy.

 

The League’s statement in full:

 

Immediately following reports of an incident in Las Vegas in May involving Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL conducted a comprehensive investigation that included interviews with multiple witnesses, including security personnel and others with direct involvement, as well as a review of documentary and other information.

 

On Tuesday, as part of the review, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with Mr. Elliott to reinforce the standards of conduct expected of him and the consequences for failing to meet those standards.

 

Mr. Elliott acknowledged that he demonstrated poor judgment and committed to make better choices in the future. He volunteered to take advantage of the resources available to help him continue to grow personally.

 

Commissioner Goodell determined there was no violation of the personal conduct policy and no further action is warranted.

 

Despite not being arrested or charged with a crime in the Las Vegas incident, the NFL could have taken action against Elliott for violation of the personal conduct policy as a repeat offender. Zeke was suspended six games in 2017 for violating the policy.

 

In this incident, Commissioner Goodell determined no further action was warranted.

 

The Cowboys hope the only noise they hear about Elliott in the future is regarding his on-field exploits when training camp opens July 26.

 

AFC NORTH

 

PITTSBURGH

WR JuJU SMITH-SCHUSTER is the toast of London town.  Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:

 

English breakfast is “fire,” the fish and chips are “not good” and the interest in football is “so cool.”

 

Those are among JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hot takes from London, where he’s appearing this week as an ambassador for NFL Academy at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The league plays a minimum of two games per year in Tottenham, and Smith-Schuster and a handful of NFL players are coaching and teaching hundreds of teenagers who want to learn the game through intensive training.

 

JuJu Smith-Schuster served as an ambassador for NFL Academy at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, coaching hundreds of teenagers who want to learn the game. Courtesy of NFL

Turns out Smith-Schuster’s marketability and branding in the states carries overseas.

 

“I was surprised how many guys know me,” said Smith-Schuster about spending time in the city. “In the states people come up to me and show some love. But here, when I walk down the streets of the U.K. and they come up to me … It happened four, five, six times the first day here. They show so much love. It’s awesome.”

 

As Smith-Schuster has developed into a Pro Bowl receiver in two NFL seasons, his profile off the field has grown. He’s among the most active players on social media, his JuJu TV channel on YouTube has nearly 800,000 subscribers, and he’s turned a love for video games into marketing deals.

 

But Smith-Schuster’s focus in London is more personalized than that.

 

“I want (the students) to see a guy who is super authentic, pretty much who gives back to the community and can help out a lot,” Smith-Schuster said. “To be out here with the kids and show them I care so much. They want to learn. I am able to show them I care about them and American football.”

 

Smith-Schuster said he spotted Big Ben in London and will snap a picture to show his Big Ben, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But first he imparted his football wisdom to a large group. Smith-Schuster estimated more than 1,000 locals showed up to the Academy event.

 

“When they told me about this, I accepted right away,” Smith-Schuster said. “Giving back to the community, especially the young kids out here starting American football and teaching them at the NFL Academy and what (the game is) all about and being a part of it, it’s amazing.”

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Sad news concerning Dolphins LB KENDRICK NORTON.  Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

 

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Kendrick Norton, a former University of Miami standout, was involved in a serious car accident late Wednesday night that was labeled career-ending.

 

Sources say he is in critical condition at the Miami Jackson Memorial trauma unit, but his injuries are not believed to be life-threatening. Norton was involved in a multiple-car accident that featured a vehicle rolling over.

 

Norton’s left arm had to be amputated by paramedics at the scene for him to exit the vehicle, according to a source.

 

“With sadness, I can confirm that Kendrick Norton was in a car accident last night and suffered multiple injuries, including the amputation of his arm,” Malki Kawa, Norton’s agent tweeted Thursday morning. “We ask that you continue to pray for him. His family also asks that the public respect Kendrick’s privacy.”

 

More here from CNN:

 

“With sadness, I can confirm that Kendrick Norton was in a car accident last night and suffered multiple injuries, including the amputation of his arm,” Norton’s agent, Malki Kawa, tweeted. “We ask that you continue to pray for him. His family also asks that the public respect Kendrick’s privacy.”

 

The Florida Highway Patrol said Norton had “severe injuries to his left arm.”

Lt. Alex Camacho said Norton was driving in the early morning hours of July 4 on State Road 836, also called the Dolphin Expressway, a 15-mile stretch of highway that cuts across Miami.

 

Norton’s Ford pickup ran into a concrete barrier wall for “unknown reasons,” Camacho said. The vehicle flipped, coming to a stop on its roof.

 

“We were made aware this morning of a serious car accident involving Kendrick Norton,” the Miami Dolphins said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Kendrick and his family during this time.”

 

The Florida native played football for the University of Miami Hurricanes. In 2017, during his junior year, he appeared in each of the team’s 13 games, making 12 starts, and earned All-ACC honorable mention.

 

The Dolphins announced that they’d signed Norton on December 19 after he was drafted by the Carolina Panthers earlier in the year.

 

The defensive lineman has not played in a regular-season NFL game.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

One of the most distinctive figures in football history – QB JARED LORENZEN, a massive passer – has died.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Former NFL quarterback Jared Lorenzen has died at the age of 38.

 

“The family of Jared Lorenzen would like to extend our sincere thanks and appreciation for all of your support and prayers over the past six days,” Lorenzen’s family said in a statement to Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio. “We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Jared today, July 3, 2019. Again, we appreciate all of the warm wishes and prayers, but as a family, we would request your respect and privacy. We will offer arrangement information in the coming days. Please keep Jared’s family and especially his children in your thoughts and prayers.”

 

The Lorenzen family confirmed last week that Jared was in intensive care as a result of an infection and kidney and heart issues.

 

Lorenzen, who was the heaviest quarterback in the NFL and was jokingly referred to as the “Hefty Lefty,” admitted in retirement that he had weighed as much as 500 pounds and that his weight had caused serious health problems.

 

Growing up in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, Lorenzen became one of the best high school football players in the country and committed to play in the high-flying offense of Hal Mumme at the University of Kentucky. He left school as the Wildcats’ all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. His brief NFL career saw him back up Eli Manning for two years with the Giants and then spend a short time with the Colts.

 

A personal remembrance from Tommy Tomlinson, writing at ESPN.com:

 

We never got to be friends, exactly. We were more like soldiers who had fought in the same war. We talked in shorthand. I didn’t have to explain eating a box of Girl Scout cookies in one sitting. He didn’t have to explain trying to find a pair of pants that fit his waist and his thighs at the same time.

 

In a lot of the important ways, we had lived each other’s lives.

 

In other ways, we hadn’t. Jared Lorenzen had been a star quarterback at Kentucky and won a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants. I’d had desk jobs my whole life, stringing together words for a living. That’s why I was writing about him, instead of the other way around. But when we talked — and we talked a lot, that spring and summer of 2014 — I felt like I was talking to a mirror.

 

I’m just now realizing that we never ate a meal together. That would have been fraught for both of us.

 

I wanted to write about Jared because I was afraid to write my own story. Jared was known as the biggest quarterback anyone had ever seen; he often played at more than 300 pounds, and by the time I met him, he was somewhere about 400. But he wasn’t as big as me. That year, I was closing in on a high of 460, and I had this weird two-sided life: I loved my work and loved my wife and loved my friends, but I often hated myself because I couldn’t control my weight and I knew one day it would kill me.

 

For years, I had been hauling around the idea that I should write about all that — that I should share the most important story of my life. But I was afraid to reveal the darkest parts of myself. And I was terrified of the damage it might do to the people I loved. So I stuffed all that back inside and kept writing about other people.

 

Telling Jared’s story was a substitute for telling mine.

 

I went to his office. I went to the radio station where he worked part time. I watched him play Wiffle ball with comedian Jay Mohr. I hung out at the apartment he had just moved into, strewn with boxes and clothes and toys belonging to his two kids. The one thing he had managed to do was hook up the TV. On one of my interview tapes, you can hear golf announcers in the background, calling the British Open.

 

I talked to his mom and his ex-wife and his old agent and a bunch of his coaches. They all loved him and cared about him. None of them knew how to help him.

 

I try to keep myself out of stories I write about other people. But as I wrote Jared’s story, it became clear I had to put myself in. My struggle was the whole reason I was writing about his. I started the story this way:

 

Jared Lorenzen and I are in love with the same woman. Her name is Little Debbie, and she makes delicious snack cakes.

 

The story on Jared ran that August and became one of ESPN’s most-read stories that year. I got hundreds of emails and messages from readers who had their own weight issues and saw something in Jared’s story that made them want to change. I forwarded a bunch of those emails to Jared. He was hearing from a lot of people too. His story moved so many.

 

One of the people Jared inspired was me. As I listened to him being so open and honest about his weight, I started to think that my story might be worth telling too. I wrote a book proposal for a memoir, and we found a publisher. That book, “The Elephant in the Room,” came out this past January. Since then, I’ve heard from hundreds of more readers who were motivated to change because of the book or who used it as a way to connect with someone they know with a weight problem.

 

The book would not exist if not for Jared showing me the way.

 

I sent him a copy when it came out. We had kept in touch off and on over the years. He didn’t say much except that he was doing OK. But every once in a while, I saw photos of him online. As I was getting smaller, he was getting bigger.

 

Jared died on Wednesday. He had gone into the hospital last week with an infection and heart and kidney issues. I don’t know for a fact that they were related to his weight, but it seems likely. He was only 38.

 

After the story came out, he started a company called Throwboy Tees; one of his nicknames as a player was the Pillsbury Throwboy. He worked on the radio team at Kentucky football games. He always had a business idea or two in his head. But I don’t know that he ever found anything with the clarity and purpose that football gave him.

 

A couple of years after the story, he finally went to the doctor and stepped on a scale for the first time in years. He weighed 560 pounds.

 

For a while, he did a video series called “The Jared Lorenzen Project” about his fight to get back in shape. When ESPN’s show, E:60, did a piece on him last year, he had dropped down to 477. This past February, he was the subject of an online documentary series, also called “The Jared Lorenzen Project.” The last clip on the series’ Facebook page is from two months ago. He looks tired and stressed.

 

Jared had told the E:60 crew that he was willing to be the face of obesity, to be the one to stand up and say, “I’m fat,” and then to show people what it took to get better. He had a desire to change people with the force of his personality, the way I always hope to change people with my words.

– – –

I’m honored and humbled that the story on Jared has made a difference for so many. I wish my words had been strong enough to make the difference for Jared. His courage made so much of a difference for me.

 

 

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Wow.  If the Giants had not been on the Monday Night Football schedule, Peyton Manning is telling folks he would be in the booth.  Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com:

 

When it came down to it, Peyton Manning’s loyalty outweighed a chance to be the 2019 centerpiece of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

 

Two sources close to Manning told Yahoo Sports the coveted former quarterback passed on a lucrative “Monday Night Football” opportunity in April largely due to a 2019 schedule that included a pair of games featuring Eli Manning’s New York Giants, as well as a handful of other games that included former Manning teammates or friends. For two straight offseasons, Manning has fielded meetings and calls from high-ranking executives from ESPN, Disney and other major networks — but passed on offers to make him a franchise centerpiece. And that apparently won’t change as long as Eli Manning’s games are part of the equation, according to sources.

 

“If he ever decides [Monday Night Football] is something he wants to do, it’s going to be after Eli has finished his career and he gets a little bit further from his era of playing and maybe some of his teammates have moved on, too,” one source said. “It would have been a tough position for him this season, with the Giants [and Broncos] being on the schedule. There is a lot of loyalty there for him and I don’t think he’d ever want to be in a position where he’d be conflicted about his analysis. It just wouldn’t have been a comfortable situation this year.”

 

To date, Manning hasn’t gone into granular detail about why he has declined a television broadcasting booth that appears to be both a natural progression and lucrative avenue in his post-career life. But during the Manning Passing Academy last week in Louisiana, he was a little more expansive about his feelings when observing his brother and teammates from an outside perspective.

 

“It’s great to have someone that you’re so close to, that you feel invested in, to watch [Eli] play and compete,” Manning said. “I know when Eli stops playing, it will be different, because when you have a brother, you feel a part of it. I pull hard for Eli. I keep up with the coaches, guys like Adam Gase, who I played for, [and] players, like Emmanuel Sanders and Von Miller, that I played with. Anybody that you have a connection to, you feel that connection when you watch him play in person or on TV. So I’ve been real proud of Eli and I’m looking forward to watching him play this year.”

 

That won’t stop the TV networks from being persistent, of course. And there continues to be a strong undercurrent in NFL circles that Manning will ultimately be destined for a powerful front office job — if and when he decides he wants it. But for now, he’s apparently content to continue pursuing a litany of business opportunities while also keeping one foot in the league whenever he can. That includes making another round of tours to teams in the preseason, similar to the tour he made last summer.

 

“I’ve said yes to some things since I stopped playing, like this kind of NFL [100th season] project,” Manning said. “But I’ve said no to some things right now. I’ve talked to a number of the TV people. I’ve talked to them, I’ve listened, and I just said at the time, it’s just not the right time for me. Next year, maybe it will be. And next year, the ship sails sometimes and they may say, ‘We’ve already moved on.’ That’s the way it is.

 

 

LONDON CALLING

When/if an NFL team makes London home, the team’s pitch/field will be in Tottenham.

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

So far, every NFL game in London has been played in a stadium that was built for soccer or rugby, with American football fitting in as a square peg in a round hole. This year, that will change.

 

That’s because the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, though primarily a soccer field, was built with American football in mind and financed in part by the NFL. Among the features is a grass soccer field that retracts and makes way for an artificial turf football field, as well as bigger locker rooms to accommodate NFL teams.

 

“It really does feel like an NFL stadium today,” former Tottenham player Ledley King told ESPN after visiting the stadium on a day when the football field — with its NFL shield on the 50-yard line — was in place.

 

Also visiting the stadium was Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate, who was also pleased to see a real football field.

 

“I wasn’t really expecting this,” Brate said. “I was expecting to walk into a soccer stadium, so to see this set up is awesome and shows the commitment to growing the game here.”

 

This season two NFL games will be played at Tottenham, Bears-Raiders on October 6 and Panthers-Buccaneers on October 13.

 

 

THE NFL’S ALL-RETIREMENT TEAM

 

Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com lets us know who has retired recently with a special team:

 

The retirees are about to knock a team out of the NFL playoffs in 2019.

 

ESPN’s fourth annual All-Retirement team is stacked. The skill positions combine for 300-plus career touchdowns. The defensive front seven has All-Pros all over the field. The kicker is legendary.

 

There’s no Peyton Manning on this list, but two of the best centers of the past decades are available to block.

 

The retirement team — composed of a player at each position who announced a retirement shortly before or after the conclusion of the 2018 season — is a tribute to those who left the game in a better place than they found it.

 

Josh McCown, QB

2018 team: New York Jets

One of the NFL’s good guys, McCown started games for six different teams since 2003, and his toughness fighting through injury was a rare bright spot during the Browns’ one-win stretch from 2016 to 2017. In his final full season, he posted a 94.5 passer rating in 13 starts with the Jets. He announced his retirement June 17 and joined ESPN as an analyst.

 

Reserves: Derek Anderson, EJ Manuel

 

Jamaal Charles, RB

2018 team: Jacksonville Jaguars

An injury-filled late-career arc shouldn’t discount Charles’ impact on the game.

 

Chris Johnson, RB

2018 team: None (played for the Arizona Cardinals in 2017).

All running backs fade, but the memories of Johnson’s battles for tailback supremacy with Adrian Peterson a decade ago will not.

 

Reserve: Jonathan Stewart

 

Rob Gronkowski, TE

2018 team: New England Patriots

Gronkowski dropped the news of his retirement during the NFL owners meetings in March and had the hotel lobby buzzing. The Patriots great can dominate an NFL news cycle with one tweet. Gronk leaves behind a Hall of Fame portfolio after catching 521 passes for 7,861 yards, 79 touchdowns, with three Super Bowl rings and countless clutch postseason catches. Injuries were the only thing that ever stopped him, and now he’s off to Hollywood.

 

Doug Baldwin, WR

2018 team: Seattle Seahawks

Baldwin earned respect as a self-made No. 1 receiver, overcoming role-player status early in his career to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 2015-16.

 

Reserve: Jeremy Maclin

 

Jordy Nelson, WR

2018 team: Oakland Raiders

Aaron Rodgers’ back-shoulder throw to Nelson was a signature play for a decade. Nelson’s career ended on a quiet note with Oakland, but he produced four seasons of at least 1,200 yards in Green Bay and three of at least 13 touchdowns.

 

Reserve: Dwayne Bowe

 

Max Unger, OL

2018 team: New Orleans Saints

Unger was an anchor in the middle of the line for nearly a decade. His surprise retirement in March came after a Pro Bowl season with the Saints, the third of his career.

 

Ryan Kalil, OL

2018 team: Carolina Panthers

One of several quality centers to retire after the 2018 season, Kalil made five Pro Bowls in 12 seasons and served as a pillar for the Panthers franchise.

 

Reserve: Travis Swanson

 

T.J. Lang, OL

2018 team: Detroit Lions

Lang lived a success story that makes the NFL great — mid-round pick out of Eastern Michigan wins Super Bowl, becomes top-shelf guard on a contending Packers team, later earns $28.5 million contract with the hometown Lions. Lang was always a baller but suffered injuries in Detroit, so he announced his retirement after 10 seasons to spend more time with family.

 

Andy Levitre, OL

2018 team: Atlanta Falcons

Not a marquee name but an ironman of sorts, Levitre began his career with 140 consecutive starts for the Bills, Titans and Falcons before injuries slowed him later in his career.

 

Jared Veldheer, OL

2018 team: Denver Broncos

Veldheer delivered a surprise retirement announcement after one practice with the Patriots, who signed the nine-year veteran in May. “It was an easy [decision] because of knowing what my body was telling me, but it was hard because I was leaving a very good situation,” Veldheer told the MLive Media Group. Veldheer earned that rest after 113 starts with the Raiders, Cardinals and Broncos.

 

Julius Peppers, DE

2018 team: Carolina Panthers

An athletic “freak” before the term went mainstream, Peppers was a force every time he stepped onto the field. The three-time All-Pro ranks fourth in NFL history with 159.5 career sacks, including 97 with the Panthers, the team that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2002.

 

Kyle Williams, DT

2018 team: Buffalo Bills

Loyal Bills fans love their mainstays, and they loved Williams, who appeared in 183 games over 13 seasons for the franchise.

 

Haloti Ngata, DT

2018 team: Philadelphia Eagles

The first defensive lineman the Ravens ever selected in the first round did not disappoint. Over a 13-year career, including nine with Baltimore, Ngata earned two first-team All-Pro nods, five Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl championship.

 

Reserve: Charles Johnson

 

Chris Long, DE

2018 team: Philadelphia Eagles

Long’s ability on the field stands alone, but the way he ended his 11-year career elevated his profile. He was a key member of two Super Bowl teams (Eagles, Patriots) and became the 2018 recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

 

Reserve: Brian Robison

 

Brian Orakpo, OLB

2018 team: Tennessee Titans

Orakpo wasn’t the flashiest player on this list, but he produced a sneaky-good career with four Pro Bowls over 10 years…Now he can focus on his cupcake side hustle.

 

Reserve: Arthur Moats

 

Derrick Johnson, ILB

2018 team: Oakland Raiders

Not many players embodied the heart and soul of the Chiefs’ defense more than Johnson, who holds the franchise record for tackles (1,168).

 

Reserve: Gerald Hodges

 

NaVorro Bowman, ILB

2018 team: None (played for Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers in 2017).

Football purists lauded Bowman as a tackling missile in eight years with the 49ers. His run of four All-Pro nods in five seasons from 2011 through 2015 will live in franchise folklore. Unfortunately, injuries kept Bowman from even more accomplishments. He missed 2014 with a major knee injury and part of 2016 with a torn Achilles tendon. He played one season with the Raiders, sat out 2018 and retired properly with the 49ers in June.

 

Reserve: Martrell Spaight

 

Adam Jones, DB

2018 team: Denver Broncos

There will never be another Pacman. Jones called it quits after a 12-year career that included stints with four teams and multiple off-field issues…Jones rebuilt his career in Cincinnati, where he battled AFC North receivers on his way to an All-Pro and a Pro Bowl nod. In the end, he was known more for his press coverage than his antics.

 

Andre Hal, DB

2018 team: Houston Texans

Hal inspired the football community with his valiant cancer battle in 2018, and now leaves the game on his own terms — “completely healthy,” he said in April.

 

Vontae Davis, DB

2018 team: Buffalo Bills

Let’s try to give Davis a proper goodbye, since his own attempt was a bit of a mess. Davis rankled most of the NFL world when he abruptly retired at halftime of the Bills’ 31-20 loss to the Chargers in September.

 

Alterraun Verner, DB

2018 team: None (played with the Miami Dolphins in 2017).

Verner announced his retirement in March after 72 career starts over eight seasons for the Titans, Buccaneers and Dolphins.

 

Sebastian Janikowski, K

2018 team: Seattle Seahawks

Anyone with the nickname “Seabass” deserves a spot on this list. Janikowski is an anomaly as the highest-drafted kicker of his generation — going No. 17 overall to the Raiders in 2000 — and lived up to his first-round billing. Janikowski made 436 career field goals, tied for ninth all time with Jason Elam. He made at least one 57-yard kick in six of his 19 NFL seasons.