AROUND THE NFL

Mike Triplett of ESPN.com on Saturday’s big race:

 

Alvin Kamara knows he doesn’t have the same level of “elite speed” as a handful of former track stars playing in the NFL.

 

“I’m all right, though,” the New Orleans Saints running back quickly interjected.

 

And he decided that he is willing to go up against many of those guys in Saturday’s “40 Yards of Gold” 40-yard dash tournament in South Florida because there is a million-dollar first prize on the line.

 

“A lot of guys just like me are looking at that big prize and trying to take their shot,” Kamara said.

 

The motivation is slightly different for Kamara’s teammate, Saints receiver Ted Ginn Jr.

 

Sure, that million dollars is enticing. But Ginn also has a reputation to uphold.

 

The 34-year-old has been considered one of the NFL’s fastest players for more than a decade. And he is eager for the chance to prove it. So eager, in fact, that he boasted earlier this year on “The Lefkoe Show” podcast that he would be willing to race anyone for $10,000.

 

“When you think about speed and you come to the New Orleans Saints, you think about one guy,” said Ginn, who was a national champion in the 110-meter hurdles in high school and was a member of a 4×100-meter relay team his senior year that beat a team anchored by Usain Bolt.

 

“We all got our labels of who we are. So we all just try to go out and man up to ’em,” Ginn said.

 

Kamara and Ginn are among a host of NFL players slated to compete in the inaugural 40 Yards of Gold, an event not affiliated with the NFL.

 

Sixteen current and former players will compete in Saturday’s 16-man, single-elimination tournament field; eight on offense and eight on defense. The winner of each division will face off in the final, with the title of fastest player at stake. The field includes:

 

Offense: Ginn, Kamara, Vikings WR Jeff Badet, Jets WR Robby Anderson, 49ers WR Richie James, free-agent WR Kevin Snead, former Raiders WR Jacoby Ford, 49ers receiver/Olympic long jumper Marquise Goodwin

 

Defense: Vikings CBs Trae Waynes and Jalen Myrick, Redskins CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Panthers CB Donte Jackson, Bears DB John Franklin III, Jets CB Rashard Robinson, free-agent CB Terrell Sinkfield, free-agent CB Charles James

 

Ginn, who will compete against Ford in the first round, said players have long debated things such as who is the NFL’s fastest.

 

“A lot. A lot. It’s everything — the fastest guy, the best running back, the best D-end, the best center,” Ginn said. “You’re in a league where everybody wants to be the best. So everybody feels like they are the guy. That’s what this league is all about.”

 

Now they’ll have some evidence to go by.

 

“They went to a majority of fast guys in the league and reached out to ’em, and it was up to you to buy in. And I bought in,” Ginn said. “Everything you try to do in life, you try to win. You try to be the best at all times.”

 

The race was created by Charles Stewart and Dr. Alijah Bradley, who have been dreaming of such an event since they began the 40 Yards of Gold organization in 2012.

 

All players involved will receive an appearance fee, as well as prizes for winning races in each round. They also will be insured in case of injury (a question Stewart said he has heard a lot). But Stewart pointed out that they won’t be jumping out of airplanes or off of motorcycles — just running, which is a normal part of their training anyway and no different than preparing for the scouting combine.

 

The event will be hosted by Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Chris Johnson and DJ Irie, with a live performance by Rick Ross. And it will include high-tech graphics both at the event and on TV to give the illusion that players are running on futuristic platforms.

 

“We have to turn players away every day,” Stewart said. “A lot of them are already multimillionaires, so they don’t have to do this. But since it’s such an exciting competition — and they really believe they’re the fastest players in the league — they’re on board.”

 

Players will face each other head-to-head, which could allow for some upsets if one guy gets a better start out of the blocks.

 

That might be what Kamara is counting on, since his 40-yard dash time of 4.56 seconds at the scouting combine doesn’t quite measure up against guys such as Goodwin (4.27 seconds at the combine) or Ford and Myrick (both 4.28). Franklin and Sinkfield both reportedly posted times of 4.19 seconds in the past — though neither was official. Kamara will face Anderson in the first round.

 

Ginn was nursing an injury at his scouting combine, but he has said in the past that his fastest 40 time was 4.22 seconds. He guessed that he would run about a 4.35 or 4.38 now — but he still insists he has Kamara beat, just like Kamara would have him beat in a balance competition.

 

Kamara agreed on both fronts. He called Ginn a “legend” and the “OG” when it comes to speed. But Kamara isn’t afraid to boast about his “elite balance,” which he would put up against anyone in the league.

 

And in fact, Ginn is trying to learn some new tricks from Kamara. He began working out with Kamara’s trainer in South Florida while also giving up meat this offseason to try to keep evolving as a premier athlete.

 

“Just trying to take different precautions to stick in this league. Pay attention to the young guys around me, what’s keeping them afloat,” said Ginn, who said he always has trained like a track athlete and mostly avoided weightlifting.

 

“You just go with the flow,” Ginn said. “And I’m just happy I’m here to be able to go with the flow.”

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Barry Sanders, like Calvin Johnson, knows what it is like to quit on the Lions and then have bonus money that has been in your hands taken away.  Carlos Monarrez in the Detroit Free Press:

 

Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders, who was once in a dispute with the team over bonus money, weighed in Wednesday on fellow Lions great Calvin Johnson, who currently is involved a dispute with the team over bonus money.

 

“It’s tough,” Sanders said after playing in the pro-am of the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club. “Each case is different.”

 

Johnson retired unexpectedly after the 2015 season. When he made his retirement official, the Lions forced him to repay a seven-figure portion of the $16-million signing bonus he received four years earlier.

 

Sanders, like Johnson, was forced to repay a seven-figure portion of his signing bonus when he retired abruptly before the 1999 season. Sanders stayed away from Lions functions for years before he recently returned to work for the team as an ambassador.

 

“Hey, that’s a tough check to write,” Sanders said about repaying the bonus money. “In the NFL you realize it’s a business and they have to handle things on their side of it the way that they do.

 

“So I don’t have any advice other than I think over time then you’ll probably see the two sides come together. You think they’d be able to reach some agreement. But I wish Calvin well. We’d love to have him back around, especially the fans, what have you.”

 

Lions president Rod Wood said in May re-establishing a relationship with Johnson is “a very high priority” for the organization, three years after the sides parted ways on bad terms.

 

Johnson told the Free Press on June 1 there’s only one way to solve the rift.

 

“They already know what they got to do,” Johnson said at an annual camp he runs for high school students in metro Detroit. “The only way they’re going to get me back is they put that money back in my pocket. Nah, you don’t do that. I don’t care what they say. They can put it back, then they can have me back. That’s the bottom line.”

 

One of Johnson’s former peers, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, is sponsored by Rocket Mortgage and also played in the pro-am in Detroit. He said he hopes Johnson patches things up with the Lions — but on his terms.

 

“I haven’t really followed what’s been going on,” Fitzgerald said. “Obviously, I love Calvin. Great friend, wonderful ambassador for our league and a future Hall of Famer. Whatever’s going on, I hope it works out in his favor because he’s a special person.”

 

Sanders played in the pro-am with PGA Tour pros Si Woo Kim on the front nine and Nick Taylor on the back nine. Dressed in navy-blue pants, a white shirt and navy-blue visor, Sanders, 50, looked as professional as a Champions Tour player, even if his swing didn’t always match the outfit.

 

“Oh, there was some good,” Sanders said after the six-hour round. “There was some bad. There was some ugly. You know how it is.”

 

Sanders has played Detroit Golf Club several times with members, including fellow Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis. And he looked entirely at ease playing and chatting with fans and signing autographs all along the way. Sanders won’t sign football items because of an exclusive agreement he has with a memorabilia company.

 

 

GREEN BAY

New coach Matt LaFleur wants QB AARON RODGERS throwing more passes to his running backs.  The RedZone.org:

 

New Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur wants to get the team’s running backs more involved in the passing game according to an interview on packers.com.

 

Green Bay’s backfield finished 24th in total receptions last season, and the unit’s 17 percent target share was well below league average. It sounds like they will rank a bit better in those numbers under the new coaching staff. “I love it when we can give [running backs] the ball in the passing game,” LaFleur said. “That’s one more eligible that the defense really has to focus on.”

 

The biggest beneficiary of the new emphasis on catching passes out of the backfield will likely be third-year back Aaron Jones.  Originally a fifth-round pick out of UTEP in 2017, Jones took a step forward in the passing game in 2018 with 26 receptions for 206 yards in 12 games. 

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Authorities in Topeka still have not found the thug who shot Giants rookie COREY BALLANTINE.  Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com:

 

A supporter of Washburn University is offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest in the Kansas shooting that injured Giants rookie cornerback Corey Ballentine and killed his best friend Dwane Simmons.

 

Shawnee County Crime Stoppers originally offered a $2,000 reward. The two rewards can be combined.

 

New York Giants draft pick Corey Ballentine survived the double shooting that killed Washburn teammate Dwane Simmons.

 

Just after midnight April 28, about seven hours after Ballentine was drafted in the sixth round, police responded to reports of gunshots outside an off-campus party hosted by the women’s soccer team. The neighborhood where the incident took place is not considered dangerous by local residents and includes three condominium complexes patrolled by security cars.

 

Ballentine was shot in the buttocks and Simmons was declared dead on arrival. They were teammates in the secondary at Washburn, which is a NCAA Division II program in Topeka.

 

An emotionally charged funeral for Simmons included pleas for witnesses and anyone with knowledge of the crime to have courageous conversations with police.

 

Police do not believe Simmons and Ballentine were targeted after conducting interviews and reviewing surveillance footage.

 

Simmons’ father said his son and Ballentine were approached by unidentified men they did not recognize and asked if they had “smoke for sale.” The football stars said they did not, the unknown men drove their car around the block and returned to open fire, according to the father.

 

Ballentine joined the Giants in mid-May and physically healed in time to be on the practice field for most of the Organized Team Activities and minicamp, playing with the second- and third-team defense as a cornerback. He has not conducted any media interviews since the incident.

 

Police “have some good leads” but will not put a timetable on any potential arrests, according to 13 NEWS.

 

Washburn has also been in the news lately for a good thing.  Gary Woodland, the new U.S. Open champion, went to Washburn.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

Adam Rank of NFL.com sees the Panthers of Ron Rivera and CAM NEWTON at a crossroads.

 

Members of the Panthers organization, Panthers fans around the world and those who would have just given up that seat to Cam Newton because that’s the kind of deference and respect that he deserves:

 

This is a critical time for the Panthers. After some unprecedented prosperity in recent seasons, you have reached a crossroads. The team is now three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Consistency continues to remain an issue.

 

Let’s take a quick look back at the highs and lows of the 2018 season:

 

The highs:

 

— A 6-2 start made the playoffs look inevitable. Cam Newton played like one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and the team looked the best it had since 2015. But then all of the unpleasantness happened.

 

— Graham Gano kicked a 63-yard field goal to beat the Giants in Week 5. Seriously, what’s it like to have a reliable kicker you can count on in situations like this? Must be super nice.

 

The lows:

 

— The Panthers won just one of their final eight games. The win came Week 17 against the Saints (who had already locked up home-field advantage). Included in that losing streak was a prime-time drubbing at Pittsburgh.

 

— Cam battled shoulder injuries for most of the season and missed the final two games of the year. And seriously, don’t take my word for it. You can watch the entire thing unfold on the award-winning “All or Nothing” series, which will be streaming on Amazon Prime Video:

 

2019 VIPs

Head coach: Ron Rivera. Riverboat Ron! You know, sometimes I wonder if that nickname is more myth than reality. Rivera had a fourth-and-short on the opening series at Atlanta in Week 2. But instead of going for it with one of the greatest QBs in NFL history, he allowed Gano to kick a 54-yarder. And maybe it’s because I’m a Bears fan and I don’t know what it’s like to have trust in a kicker who can boot 50-yarders, but that disappointed me. That notwithstanding, Rivera has been the most successful coach in club history, having led the team to three consecutive NFC South titles from 2013 through ’15, a run that included that famed 15-1 season that ended in an NFC title.

 

But consistency has been a bit of an issue, as Rivera has yet to have back-to-back winning seasons. Which might make you say to yourself, “Rank, you really must be eating paint chips because you just said he won three straight NFC South titles a few years ago.” Which I did just write, but remember the Panthers won the 2014 NFC South title with a 7-8-1 record. And with Carolina fresh off a promising-turned-disastrous campaign, the Panthers’ head coach is under pressure to show second-year owner David Tepper that he’s still the right man to steer the ship. But here’s the good news: Rivera has been down this road before and his teams have always responded. This could be the last stand for Rivera in Carolina, so he’s going (forgive the expression) “all in” by taking over defensive play-calling duties, a move he first made during the middle of last season.

 

Quarterback: Cam Newton. You might have noticed I referred to Cam (we are first-name cool) as one of the best quarterbacks to walk the planet, and I fully believe that. He’s one of the most disrespected great quarterbacks ever. He is typically an afterthought when it comes to ranking signal-callers, but to me, he’s one of the best that I’ve ever seen play the game. And here to illustrate that is this Sporting News ranking of today’s quarterbacks: Cam is No. 19. That’s right, behind such luminaries as Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins. Both are fine quarterbacks, I suppose. I mean, if I were playing a pickup game of football in Newport Beach, I would certainly want to be on their teams. But they are not better than Cam. Our own Gregg Rosenthal was better, having Cam all the way up at No. 15. And here is a list from Chris Simms, who has him ahead of Tom Brady. And, no wait, that’s too far, Chris. Chris! I like the spirit, but let’s be realistic at the same time.

 

Listening to Simms talk about Newton, though, I really do agree with a lot of what he’s saying. Cam is certainly not going to be a guy who lights up the stat sheet, passing for 5K yards and 51 touchdowns (which can be frustrating to fantasy dorks like myself at times). But he is a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators. You can’t get comfortable against him, and he’s a better passer than he’s given credit for. Cam can stretch the defense by throwing darts, but he can also tuck it and run to do his damage. And he’s one of those players who’s just absurdly physically imposing, something that’s often taken for granted. He’s the best.

 

So, if he’s good this year, the Panthers should be good.

 

Projected 2019 MVP: Christian McCaffrey, running back. Obviously so much of this season depends on Cam and how he returns from injury, but McCaffrey has been the truth since he came out of Stanford in 2017. He nearly became just the third guy in NFL history to notch 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 rushing yards in the same season. (Only Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk have accomplished the feat.)

 

2019 breakout star: D.J. Moore, wide receiver. I thought he was the best receiver in last year’s draft, and we really only got a taste of what he can do on the field. Moore averaged 7.9 yards after the catch last year, the third-most over the last 10 NFL seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. The highest average was Percy Harvin’s 8.7 yards after the catch in 2012. Moore draws a lot of favorable comparisons to Harvin because of his game-breaking ability. Moore also led NFL receivers in forced missed tackles and total yards after contact.

 

But don’t be sleeping on: Curtis Samuel, wide receiver. I’m also eagerly awaiting a breakout by gadget guy Samuel, who also has the ability to break big plays. I’m telling you, the Panthers’ offense could be a nightmare for defensive coordinators this season. When you have McCaffrey, Moore and Samuel, there is a lot for offensive coordinator Norv Turner to work with.

 

And I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t sure Turner was going to be good with Cam last year. But he kind of proved me wrong. The offense looked great while Cam was still healthy. Turner said this year’s team could be explosive. I’m here for it.

 

New face to know: Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle. The Panthers are currently in the middle of a youth movement, with young talent brimming at nearly every position. But sometimes you need that veteran presence to help pull things together. They signed Bruce Irvin early in free agency as sort of that veteran presence. Clearly not the player he was earlier in his career, Irvin was still worth the risk, especially because the Panthers didn’t really know what else could be out there. It’s like when you crack your TaylorMade driver and you need to get a new one, so you find a serviceable one at the local golf shop. You think, Yeah, this should do, but then all of a sudden, your buddy gets a new driver and lets you have his old one he wasn’t using anymore. It’s kind of like that with McCoy. The Bucs signed Ndamukong Suh and allowed McCoy to walk. And just like that, the Panthers had a veteran to anchor the defense that they weren’t counting on.

 

BTW, I really did crack my driver and need a new one. So if there is anybody who has any recs, I would appreciate it.

 

2019 roadmap

The competitive urgency index is: HIGH. It’s been a long tenure for Rivera. I give credit to Tepper for staying the course after he took over the team in 2018, and even showing some restraint after the season got away from the Panthers last year. But you can’t imagine Rivera is going to be given much room for error.

 

Will the Panthers be able to …

Avoid giving up chunk plays? There was a stretch last year when teams were beating the Panthers deep. It was called the 2018 season. I kid. But I think back to Week 10. The Panthers went up against the host Steelers, 7-0, on McCaffrey’s touchdown reception and you’re like, “Oh damn, the Panthers can play.” Then JuJu Smith-Schuster caught a 75-yard touchdown pass on the next play from scrimmage. The Steelers won 52-21. The Lions’ Kenny Golladay burned Carolina the following week with some big receptions. It was Seattle’s David Moore the following week with a 54-yard reception and a 35-yard touchdown catch. Then Chris Godwin. And you get the picture.

 

Get to the quarterback? A way to stop those big plays is to get to the quarterback. Put some pressure on him. Rookie DE Brian Burns was such an obvious fit for the team, and he’s going to be counted on to contribute right away. When you mix him in with Irvin and McCoy, this should be less of an issue for the team.

 

Continue to protect Cam? That’s going to be one of the keys moving forward. The Panthers ranked 18th, according to PFF, in terms of pass-blocking efficiency last season. The line allowed 10 sacks, 13 hits and a league-leading 70 hurries in 2018. There have been some changes, though. Ryan Kalil retired. The team brought in Matt Paradis to anchor the offensive line, re-signed Daryl Williams and drafted Greg Little in the second round.

 

One storyline people are overthinking: Cam Newton’s new throwing motion. Cam had shoulder surgery in January and debuted a new throwing motion in camp this offseason. And of course, it was one of the most discussed topics of the Panthers’ offseason. The idea is to take some strain off his shoulder and make him more efficient. And it’s one of those things where he will end up reverting back to his old motion (as David Carr mentioned on “NFL Total Access”). But that’s what happens. It’s like when you take golf lessons, you practice all of that stuff out on the range, but once you’re ready to actually hit the links, you are going to rely on your muscle memory to take over. And that is what is going to happen with Cam. Once he starts playing games, he’s going to be the player he’s always been. And that’s one of the best players in the NFL.

 

For 2019 to be a successful season, the Panthers MUST …

— Play with some consistency.

 

— Have Cam play a full season.

 

— Get back to the playoffs.

 

The final item is the most pressing. If the Panthers aren’t still playing in January, I don’t see Rivera surviving in Carolina.

 

In closing

If you’re a believer in trends, then you have to be optimistic about the Panthers’ chances this season. If Rivera is hot one year and cold the next, then you should be enthused that he’s due for a hot season. And really, this team isn’t far off from the club that started 6-2 last year, which should give you hope.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com on the rehab and possible growth of QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO:

 

Late in the San Francisco 49ers’ final minicamp practice, coach Kyle Shanahan wanted quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to take a rep or two against a full 11-man defense for the first time since tearing the ACL in his left knee on Sept. 23, 2018.

 

Shanahan’s instructions for the defensive line were clear, or so he thought: Stand still, put your hands up and do not touch Garoppolo.

 

“The animals that they are, why we love them, they couldn’t help it,” said Shanahan of a defense that moved toward Garoppolo. “I saw it, so I stopped it. I wasn’t going to mess with it.”

 

No damage was done, and soon enough, all sides were laughing at the quickly aborted rep.

 

“I liked it, after I got over it,” Shanahan said.

 

Garoppolo has not yet been cleared for full contact and was kept out of team drills for the offseason program, though he participated in 7-on-7 and individual drills.

 

But Garoppolo has mostly moved past the rehabilitation stages of his recovery and is focused on playing at a high level once he is fully cleared. To that end, Garoppolo is turning this summer to Tom House — one of the NFL’s most well-known quarterback whisperers — and the staff at 3DQB at their quarterback academy in Huntington Beach, California.

 

In his short time working with Garoppolo, House has already been impressed by what he’s seen. Garoppolo checks many of the same boxes as the big-name quarterbacks with whom House has worked in the past — Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer are just a handful of the star signal-callers who have spent time under House’s tutelage.

 

House, who began working with quarterbacks in 2006, when Brees was rehabbing his dislocated right shoulder, said Garoppolo is as humble and hungry for success as those other star quarterbacks, which makes his job much easier.

 

“When he shows up, you know what you’re going to get,” House said.

 

Over the next month-plus, Garoppolo will work with House, 3DQB CEO Adam Dedeaux, motion mechanics instructor John Beck and motion performance expert Taylor Kelly on everything from fundamental throwing mechanics to nutrition and sleep.

 

Some of Garoppolo’s pass-catching teammates will join him for training sessions (though Garoppolo wouldn’t name names), which also provides an opportunity to stay on top of specific Niners plays and concepts.

 

“During these 40 days, you do so many different things, physical, mental,” Garoppolo said. “You’re trying to recover at the same time [as] getting ready for training camp. I think just having the timing of the offense down, being in rhythm with the receivers that I’ll work with and everything, and just getting comfortable. It’s been a little while since I’ve been in 11-on-11 football, so just getting as comfortable as I can as quickly as I can.”

 

Garoppolo and House hadn’t worked together before this offseason, but they met each other when Garoppolo was in New England because of House’s long-standing relationship with Brady.

 

As Garoppolo approached his rehab this offseason, he went in search of someone to help him balance his rehabilitation while also fine-tuning his performance. Agent Don Yee, who represents Garoppolo and Brady, connected Garoppolo to House.

 

Garoppolo got his first taste of working with House & Co. before the Niners began their offseason program in April. At the time, he was still being eased in. The team managed the amount of repetitions he took and tweaked the intensity some to ensure that he wasn’t pushing too hard, too fast.

 

Because Garoppolo is further along now, the workload intensity will ramp up this summer.

 

“As the performance part of the rehab, we are working in lockstep with the medical rehab,” House said. “We just make sure to coordinate accordingly. You don’t want to undo anything the medical has done, and you don’t want to overdo anything on the performance side. When you’ve got a guy like Jimmy — and I had met him and got to know him a little bit when he was with the Patriots — and obviously he gets along really well with the young coaches on our staff, so it was a good fit in both directions.”

 

Although House politely declined to talk about the specifics of what he has planned for Garoppolo, he did offer some insight into how he and the other coaches at 3DQB handle a quarterback coming off a serious injury.

 

A typical week for quarterbacks working with House and the 3DQB staff includes five sessions spread out over the course of seven days. Each session lasts three hours.

 

Those sessions aren’t limited to simple throwing mechanics or drills, either. House, 72, is constantly learning and evaluating new technology to find better and more in-depth methods to study the biomechanics of throwing frame by frame.

 

For Garoppolo, the next month and a half will be every bit as important as the time that preceded it. This season will be a big one for Garoppolo, who signed a five-year, $137.5 million deal in February 2018 but appeared in just three games before the ACL injury ended his season.

 

Slowly but surely, Garoppolo has progressed, and the Niners are confident he will be ready to go at the start of training camp.

 

Now, it’s about getting ready for what will happen when Shanahan can’t blow a whistle to stop the pass rush.

 

“I think all of that will come with time,” Garoppolo said. “I’ll try to implement as many drills as I can during these 40 days or so. But, I think once until the bullets start flying and everything, then we’ll really see.”

 

For those of you who forgot or never knew, Tom House was an MLB pitcher before he was a “quarterback whisperer.”  Now 72 years old, he is best known for catching a ball while in uniform during a game, but it is not an official part of a play.

 

Aaron’s home run

House and Hank Aaron were both members of the Braves in 1974, the season when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record for career home runs. Aaron hit the record-setting 715th home run in the fourth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, on April 8, 1974, against pitcher Al Downing. The ball landed in the Braves’ bullpen in left-center field, where it was caught on the fly by House. Bill Buckner, then the Dodgers’ left fielder, climbed to the top of the fence and begged House for the ball. The game stopped to celebrate the achievement, and after sprinting to the infield, House presented the ball to Aaron at home plate. His only payment was a TV given by a local store.[14] Photos of House catching and presenting the ball are often included in displays honoring Aaron’s achievement, such as the one at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

With a thought towards what awaits WR TYREEK HILL, Mike Florio looks at the NFL’s history of “investigations” which he says has often involved facts being twisted into place to reach a preordained conclusion.

 

So what happens next?

 

The NFL will continue its investigation, as needed, before making a decision on whether Hill should be disciplined. Unless the information provided by Hill requires follow-up work, the NFL should be prepared to reach a conclusion, given that (as the league explained the protocol in defending the delayed interview of former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt) the NFL waits to interview the player until the rest of the investigation has concluded.

 

Once the NFL has the information that it needs, the question becomes whether and to what extent the league will determine that a violation occurred. The nuanced view would entail considering whether and to what extent Hill tells a credible story in a believable way, meshing his verbal explanation with the other evidence in a way that makes the NFL determine that he’s telling the truth and that he’s genuinely contrite, and that he should have little or no punishment. The more practical view would be that the league will do whatever it already wants to do.

 

On multiple occasions in recent years, NFL investigations have become an exercise in working backward to justify a preordained ending point. If in this case the NFL already has decided that Hill should be suspended for a specific number of games, the investigation will be molded, contorted, and maybe even distorted in a way that leads to that outcome.

 

That’s the unknown at this point. What does the league want to do? We’ll find out when they do it, and then Hill won’t be able to do much about it. Commissioner Roger Goodell will both issue the discipline and handle the appeal (directly or through a designee). Litigation filed by players like Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott has underscored the fact that the NFL has considerable power in these matters, and that there’s not much the player can do about it.

 

The Saints “Bountygate Investigation” stands out for that in the DB’s mind.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

QB PHILIP RIVERS got the Chargers somewhat close to the top of the mountain last year.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com is slightly skeptical he can do it again:

 

In only their second season back in L.A., the Chargers had a season to remember. The campaign ended in disappointment, with a divisional-round loss at New England, the Chargers’ first loss of the entire year away from Los Angeles.

 

Citing the close, hard-fought nature of most games, quarterback Philip Rivers has said that the Chargers could have been anywhere from 16-0 to 6-10. Which makes their ability to win 12 and to make it to the playoffs impressive, but which also raises real questions as to whether they can do it again.

 

It’s incredibly difficult for an NFL team to piece together, week by week, a special season, to have it end abruptly in a playoff game that was over barely after it began, and to start all over again the next season, from 0-0. An ugly or close loss or two in September can derail everything, creating a sense that this year simply won’t be nearly as special as last year, and providing a reminder that 12-4 can indeed sink to 8-8 or worse.

 

The broader question is whether last year is as special as it’s ever going to be for Rivers, who’s getting closer and closer to the end of the road and who may have a hard time getting as close as he did last year.

 

Really, the heartbreaking loss didn’t come in mid-January as much as it came in late December, when the Chargers lost on a Saturday night at home to the Ravens, preventing the Chargers from winning the AFC West and capturing the No. 1 seed. That’s the key to setting the stage for a Super Bowl run, something that Rivers has had only a couple of legitimate prior chances to accomplish and that these Chargers may have a very hard time duplicating in 2019.

 

They’ll be tested right out of the gates, with a visit from the Colts, a trip to Detroit, and a home game against the Texans. Challenges are looming against the Steelers, at Chicago, against the Packers, and of course twice against the Chiefs — including a return to Arrowhead Stadium in Week 17. They have plenty of talent, they have excellent coaching, and another playoff appearance isn’t a stretch. However, Rivers may never get another shot at a Super Bowl like the one he got last year. Whether the Chargers collectively can do it is a significant storyline for 2019.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

Former DT Malik McDowell, a big swing and a miss for John Schneider a few years ago, is arrested in Michigan.  Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times:

 

Former Seahawk draft pick Malik McDowell, who last month was sued by the team for repayment of part of his signing bonus, is facing new legal troubles in his native state of Michigan, including assault of a police officer and resisting arrest as well as receiving a stolen truck said to be worth $74,000, according to a report Wednesday from DetroitNews.com.

 

The newspaper reported that McDowell will appear Thursday in Oakland County Circuit Court on the charges in the two incidents.

 

The paper reported that McDowell was involved in a scuffle in February with two police officers who tried to arrest him on suspicion of drunken driving and that two months later McDowell was charged with receiving and concealing stolen property in connection with the truck, which he had claimed he had purchased for $3,000.

 

The paper reported that during the February incident, McDowell confronted one of the arresting officers inside a gas station, refused to hand over his license and grabbed his wrists and put his hand on the officer’s gun, according to a police report, and that “during the exchange, there was heavy extensive damage to the inside of the store.”

 

After being subdued, McDowell was charged with assault/resisting arrest, a felony punishable by up to two years in prison and fines, and operating while intoxicated, according to the paper.

 

McDowell has also been charged with receiving and concealing stolen property, the paper reported, as a result of an investigation of pickup thefts from a Ford Motor Co. overflow lot in Dearborn. The paper reported that if convicted McDowell could be sentenced to up to five years in prison as well as fined $10,000.

 

The paper reported McDowell’s attorney, Mitchell Ribitwer, as saying “My client has had some troubles this year. We hope to resolve these matters but first will seek an adjournment in court Thursday.”

 

McDowell was the Seahawks’ top pick in the 2017 draft, taken in the second round at number 35 overall.

 

But he never played a down for the team after suffering head injuries in an ATV accident in July 2017. He never again practiced with the Seahawks and was eventually waived by the team in March.

 

That seemed to be the end of it for McDowell with the Seahawks.

 

But the team then sued McDowell in May alleging he has not repaid $799,238 in bonus money that an arbitrator ordered him to. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan — McDowell is a native of Detroit who played at Michigan State.

 

The Seahawks initially attempted to reclaim all of McDowell’s signing bonus of $3.198 million. Negotiations between the team, McDowell and the NFL Players Association resulted in an agreement that McDowell would forfeit half — $1,599,238. Seattle had already paid McDowell three installments of the bonus, so to make good on the agreement McDowell had to repay $799,238 while Seattle simply had not made the final payment.

 

McDowell was allowed to keep $1,598,476, with the arbitrator essentially ruling McDowell had to repay the bonus for the 2019 and 2020 seasons — he was still officially on Seattle’s roster for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The bonus was part of a standard four-year rookie contract that could have paid him up to $6.9 million.

 

As for the new legal charges, DetroitNews.com reported that on Feb. 18 a police officer  “spotted McDowell spinning out in a Jeep Grand Cherokee and attempted to question him.” His attorney told the paper that McDowell “demanded that a supervisor be called to the scene and when the officer said none was available, McDowell exited the car and walked to a nearby gas station, where he and the officer got into a confrontation.”

 

The officer and McDowell are alleged to have “wrestled” inside the station with McDowell said to have gotten “the better of the battle” even though he was shocked with a taser. When another officer arrived McDowell was subdued and handcuffed and taken into custody.

 

The paper reported further that McDowell was convicted of drunken driving in 2018 in Royal Oak (Mich.) so a new conviction of operating while intoxicated could result in a stiffer sentence.

 

As for the truck, DetroitNews.com said McDowell told police he did not know the truck was stolen and had purchased it for $3,000 from a man on Linwood in Detroit but did not know the name of the man. The paper reported the trucks were equipped with GPS devices, one of which led officers with the Oakland County sheriff’s auto theft unit to a closed garage at McDowell’s Southfield address.

 

After McDowell was released, he had a visit with the Cowboys in March, with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, saying at the NFL league meetings later that month that McDowell had been cleared to return to play football by an independent doctor.

 

McDowell, though, was not signed by the Cowboys and has not been reported to have any further visits.

 

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said at the league meetings the team did not feel McDowell would ever be cleared medically to play football.

 

“The doctors wouldn’t let him play,” Carroll said in March.  “…He had an accident that he was injured and they couldn’t clear him.”

 

McDowell took to Twitter on June 1 to dispute that he was not medically fit to play saying the Seahawks “had their own reasoning” for not clearing him while questioning the legitimacy of the doctor used by the Seahawks. That doctor, Samuel R. Browd, is the Medical Director of Seattle Children’s Sports Concussion Program and the Director of the Sports Institute at UW Medicine and serves as an unaffiliated neurological consultant to the NFL and an independent neurological consultant to the Seattle Seahawks. (Among the reported investors in VICIS helmets are Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin).

 

If one is to believe McDowell, someone offered him a $74,000 truck for $3,000 and he didn’t see anything suspicious in that.

 

 

RATING THE OFFSEASONS

The Browns had the best offseason according to ESPN.com:

 

Elite

 

Cleveland Browns

Offseason goals: The Browns placed a priority on surrounding budding franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield with more weapons, connecting on the blockbuster trade for All-Pro wideout Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants. GM John Dorsey also took a chance by signing running back Kareem Hunt, who could make a significant impact down the stretch after he serves an eight-game suspension. They also wanted to provide their defensive cornerstone, end Myles Garrett, with additional help up front.

 

Biggest question still to be answered: With so many big personalities and new faces, how will these Browns mesh under rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens? There’s no question the talent is there for Cleveland to make a run to the playoffs. But it has been a long time since this franchise has faced the level of scrutiny and pressure it will this season. — Jake Trotter

 

Above average

 

Buffalo Bills

Offseason goals: The Bills’ goal for the offseason was clear: Build the offense around quarterback Josh Allen. That meant addressing needs at both skill positions and the offensive line. In total, the Bills signed 14 offensive free agents, drafted four offensive players and could have as many as seven new starters on that side of the ball.

 

Biggest question still to be answered: Is Allen good enough for his revamped offensive cast to matter? Entering his second season, Allen showed flashes of high-level potential last season, such as his Week 17 finale in which he scored five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) and posted the franchise’s second-highest Total QBR since ESPN began tracking the stat in 2006. But his overall shaky play as a rookie leaves unanswered whether he can rise up and lead the offense to the next level. — Mike Rodak

 

Detroit Lions

Offseason goals: The Lions needed to upgrade the offense and also add a pass rush after a season when the Lions lacked an elite pass-rusher, with Ezekiel Ansah consistently injured, and got nothing out of the tight end position. Those were the immediate goals after a first season that went awry for Matt Patricia, with a 6-10 record on the field and multiple gaffes off of it. On paper at least — which means little once the season gets here — Detroit handled these things. The Lions revamped the tight end position and signed Trey Flowers to bolster the defensive line. Patricia also has seemed more comfortable during his podium sessions, which is his conduit to speaking with the team’s fan base, than he did at any point last year.

 

Biggest question still to be answered: Who is playing cornerback opposite Darius Slay? Slay stayed away throughout the offseason, giving Detroit ample time to look at Rashaan Melvin and Teez Tabor as possible outside corner options. Melvin has been largely quiet, which isn’t terrible for a corner, while Tabor has had some standout plays and also some struggles in a critical offseason for the former second-round pick. Neither option has made enough of a splash yet to make Detroit feel comfortable there. — Michael Rothstein

 

Indianapolis Colts

Offseason goals: Led by All-Pro rookie linebacker Darius Leonard, the Colts surprised many by being an overachieving defense that finished 11th overall last season. But the Colts want the defense to be a top-10 unit to go along with their top-10 offense. The Colts used seven of their 10 draft picks on defensive players and added defensive end Justin Houston, who has 78.5 sacks in his career, in free agency. Houston was one of only three outside free agents the Colts used salary-cap space on. They wanted to be able to re-sign their own players while being selective when it came to outside free agents.

 

Biggest question still to be answered: Is the addition of Houston enough to help a pass rush that finished 19th in the NFL in sacks (38) last season? The Colts had better hope so, considering this is the list of quarterbacks they’ll be facing this season: Philip Rivers, Derek Carr, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Jameis Winston. — Mike Wells

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Offseason goals: The Jaguars had to fix an offense that scored two touchdowns in the final five games of 2018 by upgrading at quarterback. Nick Foles, who won a Super Bowl MVP with Philadelphia after the 2017 season, was the best free-agent quarterback available. The Jaguars signed him to a four-year deal worth $91 million, with a franchise-record $50.125 million guaranteed. Is he an elite quarterback? No, but he’s a major upgrade over Blake Bortles. In his 13 starts (including postseason) with the Eagles, Foles completed 67% of his passes with 21 TDs and 11 INTs. No Jaguars starter has completed more than 64.5% of their passes over a season.

 

Biggest question still to be answered: What can the Jaguars expect out of RB Leonard Fournette? Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said Fournette will be “a major reason where our offense goes” in 2019, and executive VP of football ops Tom Coughlin and coach Doug Marrone have been adamant in their belief of a run-first attack. Marrone said Fournette showed up in great shape to voluntary offseason conditioning at 226 pounds. He has to prove he can stay healthy and that he has matured and committed to becoming a professional. — Mike DiRocco

 

Miami Dolphins

Offseason goals: It has been a two-step goal: 1. Say goodbye to an era mired in mediocrity, Band-Aid fixes and a risky win-now vision with moves such as getting rid of coach Adam Gase, GM Mike Tannenbaum and QB Ryan Tannehill, along with largely sitting out the free-agent period. 2. Exercise patience for an impending rebuild and make moves to set up the organization for long-term success starting in 2020 with moves such as hiring coach Brian Flores with a five-year guaranteed deal, collecting a bounty of 2020 draft picks and making Xavien Howard the highest-paid cornerback.

 

Biggest question still to be answered: When will Dolphins find their franchise quarterback? A nifty trade for Josh Rosen gives Miami an option to evaluate during the 2019 season, but there’s still a good chance the Dolphins won’t have a firm answer once the season ends. None of the Dolphins’ offseason progress toward long-term success will matter until Rosen or somebody else (likely in the 2020 draft) steps up at quarterback. — Cameron Wolfe

 

New Orleans Saints

Offseason goals: The most important mission for the Saints is to prove they can get over another devastating playoff defeat, but we won’t really be able to gauge that until the season gets underway. In the meantime, the biggest fix they need make on the field is reviving a passing game that cratered down the stretch. Adding TE Jared Cook should help quite a bit. He was a go-to guy throughout organized team activities and minicamp and has a noticeable presence in the middle of the field.

 

Biggest question still to be answered: Do they have enough pass rush? The Saints have one of the NFL’s best defensive ends in Cameron Jordan, and they’re expecting a nice Year 2 leap from edge rusher Marcus Davenport. But they have some depth concerns after losing veteran starter Alex Okafor in free agency and losing standout DT Sheldon Rankins to a torn Achilles in January. Ideally, Rankins will be healthy by midseason, but they’ll need others to step up too. — Mike Triplett

 

New York Jets

Offseason goals: Recognizing they have a young quarterback with exciting potential — a rarity for this franchise — the Jets’ No. 1 objective was to build around Sam Darnold. They hired Adam Gase, their first offense-minded head coach since 1996, and they signed the most dynamic offensive player in free agency, running back Le’Veon Bell. He’s their best running back since Thomas Jones (2009) and his ability as a prolific receiver will raise Darnold’s completion percentage by at least 5 points. Problem is, a limited offensive line could prevent this group from reaching its potential.

 

Biggest question still to be answered: They have only one proven starter at cornerback (Trumaine Johnson), and that is a scary proposition for a Gregg Williams-coached defense that will blitz a lot and put its corners in man-to-man situations. The Jets are counting on CB2 Darryl Roberts and CB3 Brian Poole to overachieve while waiting for one of the young players to develop faster than expected. Don’t be surprised if first-year GM Joe Douglas trades for a corner before the start of the season. — Rich Cimini

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Offseason goals: Set up quarterback Carson Wentz for success. They added a deep threat receiver in DeSean Jackson, bolstered the backfield by drafting Miles Sanders and trading for Jordan Howard, and spent their first-round pick on left tackle Andre Dillard. Wentz may never have a supporting cast as talented as this again.

 

Biggest question still to be answered: Can they generate enough pressure off the edge? Their two most productive defensive ends from a year ago, Chris Long and Michael Bennett, are no longer with the team. With the unit seemingly short on depth, they need big-time seasons from Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett. — Tim McManus

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Offseason goals: Cleanse the locker room of headaches, identify supporting players on the edges (receiver, cornerback) and solve the inside linebacker problem once and for all. Receiver Antonio Brown had to go, and now the locker room can focus on cohesion. Receiver Donte Moncrief and cornerback Steven Nelson are reliable free-agent additions at reasonable costs. Trading up for linebacker Devin Bush could give Pittsburgh a defensive leader for the next decade.

 

Biggest question still to be answered: How do the Steelers replace two All-Pros in Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell? This question dominated Pittsburgh’s offseason, and the answer is found under center. Ben Roethlisberger said he’s excited about his batch of weapons, but the onus is on Big Ben to make it work without two players who dominated the ball. The Steelers need him to have one of his best seasons — maybe an MVP-type performance — to re-enter the playoff race. — Jeremy Fowler

 

Tennessee Titans

Offseason goals: Find a way to maximize quarterback Marcus Mariota under first-year offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. The offense was inconsistent last season, especially the passing game. The Titans lacked weapons and a consistent player to move the chains in third-down situations.

 

Biggest question still to be answered: Can the offense do enough to complement what appears to be a shutdown defense? Under coordinator Dean Pees, the Titans’ defense finished as a top-three scoring unit. Most of the key pieces return and the team’s identity remains defense first. If the offense can score points more consistently, things will work well for the Titans. It all starts with Mariota, but having Derrick Henry and the running game firing on all cylinders will add to their potency. — Turron Davenport

 

You can read why the rest of the teams are rated as “average” or “too soon to tell” here.

 

Average

 

Cincinnati Bengals

 

Dallas Cowboys

 

Los Angeles Chargers

 

Los Angeles Rams

 

New England Patriots

 

San Francisco 49ers

 

Too Soon To Tell

 

Arizona Cardinals

 

Atlanta Falcons

 

Baltimore Ravens

 

Carolina Panthers

 

Chicago Bears

 

Denver Broncos

 

Green Bay Packers

 

Houston Texans

 

Kansas City Chiefs

 

Minnesota Vikings

 

New York Giants

 

Oakland Raiders

 

Seattle Seahawks

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Washington Redskins