AROUND THE NFL
WR DAVANTE ADAMS is almost back.
Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams, outfitted with a vintage pair of shoes that he says he thinks will accommodate his turf toe injury, practiced Wednesday for the first time since spraining the ligaments in his right big toe on Sept. 26.
Although it was an abbreviated practice (without even helmets) that Packers coach Matt LaFleur called a walkthrough, it was the biggest sign of progress for Adams since his injury in Week 4 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
As long as Adams gets through this week without an increase in pain, the Packers think he has a good chance to play Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers.
When asked what needs to happen between now and being officially cleared to return, Adams said: “Just the feedback I get from the docs. I feel good. I know you guys got a chance to see a little bit today. I feel like I’m in a spot where I can make that call for myself. But I’ve got to [collaborate] with them and see how they’re feeling and look at it one more time and then we’ll make that call.”
He said last week that he settled on a pair of Nike Vapor Untouchables — shoes that he wore during the 2017 season — and might have to wear some protection inside his right shoe. But it sounds as if he finally feels comfortable pushing off on his right foot.
“It’s huge, because once you can push off and get out of your stance, you can stride out and really run the way you could when you were healthy,” Adams said. “That’s how I’m feeling now.”
LaFleur’s official stance was that Adams is day-to-day.
The Packers (7-1) have won all four games the Pro Bowl receiver has missed thanks to the emergence of running back Aaron Jones, contributions from a wide array of receivers, better familiarity with LaFleur’s new offense, and stellar play from quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
But LaFleur says he thinks that it won’t be difficult to transition Adams back into the plan.
“When he’s ready to go, we’ll be ecstatic,” LaFleur said.
Rodgers, who did not take part in Wednesday’s late afternoon practice because he was resting a sore knee, said he kept an eye on what Adams did in practice.
“Oh, I’ve been keeping my eyes on [No.] 17 for a while,” Rodgers said. “I’ve got a pretty good idea how he’s feeling and obviously have been watching him.
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The Green Bay defense is having fun. Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com:
“It’s about the team — we grind together, so we celebrate together, that’s what it’s all about,” cornerback Kevin King told Yahoo Sports. “Everybody wants to be a part of those memories because those memories are the types of things that you — when football is done — look back on and think back on.”
And when you’re winning like the Packers (7-1) are, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of moments like this? After last season’s 6-9-1 nightmare, this is turning into a special season in Green Bay, ranging from Aaron Rodgers’ ridiculous touchdown passes, to Matt LaFleur’s burgeoning Coach of the Year candidacy to yes, the assortment of pre-planned celebrations by a fun-loving defense filled with players who are close to each other.
“Bro, we got a young group — we got a bunch of guys who love coming to work and doing what they do,” Za’Darius Smith told Yahoo Sports. “We have fun, but at the same time, when it’s time to work, we go to work. It’s a brotherhood, man. It’s more than just football, bro. It’s getting outside of football, outside of work. Like on ‘Monday Night Football,’ we all get together and go to each other’s houses. Have pizza and wings.”
All of them, he noted. That is why it’s easy for them to get so excited and celebrate profusely when a fellow defensive player makes a play, which LaFleur is OK with.
“When we first got to OTAs, [Coach LaFleur] told us he likes player-led teams,” Preston Smith told Yahoo Sports. “He said he would give us some freedom to lead the team and handle things and be ourselves because he knows creating an environment like that will create success.”
So if guys want to have celebrations as a team …
“He allows us to have celebrations as a team,” Preston Smith said. “He doesn’t stop us from having fun.”
Players say this is part of their identity now, part of their ethos, one vastly different than the corporate, buttoned-up Packers teams of the past under previous coach Mike McCarthy.
“I’ve been in the league 14 years now, and I’m experiencing something new right now,” said safety Tramon Williams, who has spent all but three years of his NFL career in Green Bay. “Being around all these young guys man, [I’m the] old guy in the room. I feel good though. Those guys make me feel good.”
And make no mistake about it, while Preston says the D-Train celebration was the brainchild of high-energy second-year cornerback Jaire Alexander — who is emerging as one of the best young corners in football — the Smiths are at the forefront of this switch as teammates say both players, who were high-dollar free-agent acquisitions by the normally free agency-averse Packers, have brought lots of juice to the team.
“One of the things that gets misconstrued in this game is that it’s supposed to be fun — that’s the point of it,” Williams told Yahoo Sports. “[Despite] the politics of the game, whatever else is going on in the game, those guys don’t lose [that fun]. It keeps reminding us of why we began to play this game at the age of 5 — it’s all about fun, and those guys are keeping that instilled in us, and we’re having fun doing it.”
This could also be the week that two receivers whose names start with “De” return to play for teams that wear green. DeVante Adams and maybe, WR DeSEAN JACKSON.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson expressed optimism that receiver DeSean Jackson will return to the lineup Sunday against the Bears. But officially, the Eagles list Jackson as questionable.
Jackson has not played since injuring his abdomen Sept. 15.
He hopes to be back on the field but said ultimately it’s the medical staff’s decision.
“That’s the plan right now,” Jackson said on Friday afternoon, via Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Definitely been a long process, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Jackson, who spoke to reporters for the first time since his injury, was not interested in getting into specifics about the injury.
Jackson had eight catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns before his injury, and the Eagles have missed him.
“Tough. Definitely been tough,” Jackson said. “I know what I’m capable of doing when I’m out there on the field, so to sit back and watch my teammates go through a [stretch] where there are struggles here and there. It’s been the biggest struggle for me, sitting back and just having anxiety and anxiousness to do everything I can to get back out there to play the game we all love to play.”
The Eagles also have optimism that defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (foot) will play, though they list him as questionable.
The team ruled out linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle) and left tackle Jason Peters (knee). Safety Andrew Sendejo (groin) is questionable.
The Redskins announced on Friday that they would wait no longer for QB CASE KEENUM to emerge from the concussion protocol. QB DWAYNE HASKINS, The Rookie from The Ohio State, will make his first NFL start.
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John Keim of ESPN.com:
Washington Redskins Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams says he no longer trusts the organization and felt they were vindictive in how they waited until the last minute to try to trade him. He also remains upset over how long he said it took them to take care of a cancerous growth on his scalp.
Williams, who ended his holdout Tuesday, spoke publicly for the first time since the end of last season. He held little back.
“There’s no trust there,” Williams said. “There are some things that happened that are hard to look past.”
Williams said he held out because he was upset with the medical staff, though he didn’t name anyone in particular, and because the Redskins wouldn’t give him more guaranteed money in the last two years of his contract. It expires after the 2020 season. He also wouldn’t say whether he’d play for the Redskins this season. He returned because if he hadn’t done so by 4 p.m. Tuesday, he would need the team to apply to the commissioner’s office for his reinstatement. That could have prevented him from getting credit for a year played.
It wasn’t until he had a cancer scare that he wanted to end his relationship with the organization. Williams said he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP). Williams said doctors told him the growth was removed only weeks before it would have reached his skull. And, he said, doctors told him to get his affairs in order. Williams said when he said goodbye to his daughters — ages 9 and 5 — before surgery he did not know if they’d see him again.
“It was cancer. I had a tumor removed from my skull — attached to my skull — it got pretty serious for a second,” Williams said. “I was told some scary things from the doctors. It was definitely nothing to play with. It was one of those things that will change your outlook on life.”
Williams said he first asked the Redskins’ medical staff about the growth on his head six years ago, but he said nothing was done until this offseason. The Redskins, over the past several months, have offered a different version, and sources said they prodded him to seek more medical attention.
In a statement released Thursday evening, the Redskins said they’ve requested that the NFL’s Management Council and NFLPA review the medical records and the medical care given to Williams.
“We have requested this review under the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that provides for an independent third party review of any NFL player’s medical care,” the statement read. “The Redskins continue to prioritize the health and well-being of our players and staff. Due to healthcare and privacy regulations, we are unable to comment further at this time.”
Williams asserts that he was told the lump was “something minor.”
“I mean, the lump continued to grow over the years. It was concerning, but there was no pain involved, and if I’m being told by the very people I put my career in the hands of, people are telling me I’m fine, I’m fine,” he said. “That’s how I looked at it.”
After his 18-minute interview session with reporters at his locker, Williams said he even told doctors to remove the growth during previous surgeries on his knee and his thumb.
But it wasn’t until this offseason when Redskins doctors examined him and told him to go to a specialist.
“They kind of underestimated it, and it was far more advanced than they realized, and I don’t think they realized how long it was there,” Williams said.
From there, he flew on owner Dan Snyder’s plane to Chicago for further examination. That’s where he had the surgery in the winter. Williams said he needed 350 stitches and 75 staples on his head; the diameter of the incision was about that of a softball.
“We literally caught it within weeks of metastasizing through to my brain to my skull,” Williams said. “Extracting it was the only thing they could do. Doing radiology on it would have put a cap on my life. I think 15 years was the most I would have had after I started chemo. So I had to cut it out.”
All of the emotion from this offseason rushed back to Williams when he walked into the building Tuesday and had to get a physical from a staff he no longer trusted. During his media session, Williams constantly shook his right leg as he sat on a stool in front of his locker.
“It was a lot of emotions. I’m not going to lie and say it wasn’t,” he said. “I almost lost my life. Seriously, I almost lost my life. You’re 30 and coming off seven straight Pro Bowls and a doctor tells you to get your affairs in order, it’s not going to sit well with you. It still doesn’t. It still, even thinking about it, it’s a scary thing to go through. Think how you describe to your 9-year-old, your 5-year-old that daddy might not be here. It’s tough.”
He had two subsequent cosmetic procedures done in the spring.
Williams’ scalp remains sensitive from the surgery; he said it caused him discomfort when he put on a helmet. Because of that, he failed his physical. Redskins interim coach Bill Callahan said they’re trying to have a helmet customized for Williams. However, Williams did not say he would play again for Washington.
QB CAM NEWTON isn’t getting any closer to returning. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
It’s been seven weeks since Cam Newton last played football. It may be more than seven weeks before he plays again.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL reports that Newton’s sprained foot “is not getting better,” and that “[p]laying football is a long way off.”
Per Rapoport, Newton will make the trip to see Dr. Robert Anderson in Green Bay because the condition isn’t improving.
It’s fair to wonder whether Newton will play again this season. It’s also fair to wonder, if he doesn’t, whether Newton will never play for the Panthers again. Signed through 2020 at a salary next year of $18.6 million, the Panthers could decide to move on after the season.
That decision could depend on whether owner David Tepper chooses to stay the course at G.M. and/or head coach. The first order of business for a new regime could be to find a new quarterback, especially if the current one can’t get or stay healthy.
When we read this we said, why is he flying to Green Bay to see Dr. Anderson? We remember from past NFL foot ailments that Dr. Anderson’s office is in Charlotte!
Surely no one would leave the greatness that is Charlotte for the tundra?!?! But then we found this in the ESPN.com archives from 2017:
If you’re an NFL player and have a foot or ankle injury, there’s a good chance you’ll come to Green Bay.
That’s where the renowned Dr. Robert Anderson, surgeon to many star athletes, will be setting up shop. He has joined the Green Bay Packers’ medical team and will partner in a new practice at the Bellin Health Titletown Sports Medicine and Orthopedics that will open next month adjacent to Lambeau Field.
Anderson’s practice had previously been in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he also served as an assistant team physician for the Carolina Panthers. He will serve in a similar capacity with the Packers under their head physician, Dr. Pat McKenzie. Anderson, a Wisconsin native, has known McKenzie since their days at Medical College of Wisconsin.
Greg Joyce of the New York Post was among those in the media who noted this:
Jimmy Garoppolo was feeling good about himself Thursday night, but went viral for a reason that had nothing to do with his play.
After leading the 49ers to a 28-25 win over the Cardinals, Garoppolo was asked by Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews how it felt being 8-0.
“It feels great, baby,” Garoppolo said with a big grin before quickly changing the subject and awkwardly adding, “Happy Halloween.”
Andrews, whose husband is two-time Stanley Cup champion Jarret Stoll, laughed and wished him a happy Halloween back before the interview ended and a still-smiling Garoppolo walked away.
Garoppolo completed 28 of 37 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns to keep the 49ers unbeaten at the midway point of the season. The former Patriot sounded more like Rob Gronkowski instead of his mentor, Tom Brady, who only makes sure he says hi to his mom in every on-field postgame interview.
Into every 8-0 start, some rain must fall though. The Niners have lost LB KWON ALEXANDER. The AP:
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander will miss the rest of the season after tearing his pectoral muscle.
The 49ers announced the diagnosis Friday, a day after Alexander got hurt in a victory at Arizona that improved San Francisco’s record to 8-0.
Alexander has been a key part of one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses in the first half of the season with his speed allowing him to cover tight ends and running backs when necessary. He has also taken up a leadership role on the unit that will be hard to fill.
This is the second straight year Alexander went down with a significant injury. He tore his ACL last year in Tampa Bay before signing with the Niners as a free agent in March.
Rookie Dre Geenlaw is expected to take Alexander’s spot on the nickel defense with rookie Azeez Al-Shaair and practice squader Elijah Lee in contention to take Greenlaw’s spot in base packages.
Will the Broncos keep QB JOE FLACCO active now that they have news he could be back for the last few games? ESPN.com:
Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco is expected to miss four to six weeks because of a neck injury, pending reviews from doctors, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Flacco received a second opinion on the bulging disk in his neck and, a source told Schefter, will not need surgery, pending reviews from Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles and Dr. Jack Kelley in Connecticut.
The Broncos have announced that Flacco will miss Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns but have not disclosed an official timetable for his return. Initial reports indicated that the former Super Bowl MVP could miss the remainder of the season, depending on the medical evaluations on his neck.
“Everything is still on the table with Joe,” coach Vic Fangio said Thursday. “We can leave him on the 53[-man roster] and wait a while, or we could IR him. We’ll make that decision here in the next couple days. … By the end of the week I think we’ll have a better understanding, after getting all of the medical advice, going over it, what plan we’ll take long term.”
Brandon Allen, claimed off waivers on Sept. 1 from the Los Angeles Rams, will start against Cleveland. Fangio said Monday that the team will decide later this week whether Brett Rypien will be signed and elevated to the roster from the practice squad or whether fellow rookie Drew Lock will be activated from injured reserve to be Allen’s backup.
During the second half of Sunday’s 15-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Flacco spent much of his time between Denver’s offensive series getting his neck attended to by the medical staff. After the game, Flacco said he first felt neck pain “a couple weeks ago” and that “I don’t know if I got hit on it [Sunday] or not.”
Flacco has been sacked 26 times in eight starts this season. Only two quarterbacks have been sacked more often: Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston.
As we go to press comes word that the Broncos indeed do not want to keep Flacco hanging around on those terms and the ex-Raven is headed for IR.
The DB isn’t one to make these suggestions every time a QB goes down, but is this maybe, maybe the straw that will get Colin Kaepernick back? BRANDON ALLEN and BRETT RYPIEN is not much of a one-two punch, John Elway is the only GM known to have offered Kaepernick a post-knee contract and Coach Vic Fangio was around Kaepernick in his 49ers days and might have an okay opinion of him.
The Chiefs are keeping the Vikings – and the gambling public – guessing about QB PATRICK MAHOMES. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Chiefs would love to have Patrick Mahomes back in their lineup. At the same time, they want to take a deliberate approach with the franchise quarterback as he works his way back from a dislocated kneecap.
Mahomes had another limited practice Friday, and the Chiefs list him as questionable.
It doesn’t appear that much has changed since last week when he missed his first game since becoming the Chiefs’ starter.
Matt Moore started last week in the loss to the Packers.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
At least it sounds like QB BAKER MAYFIELD and WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. are still together.
Odell Beckham Jr. came to the defense of Baker Mayfield on Thursday, calling some criticism of the embattled Cleveland Browns quarterback unfair, while noting that others on the team need to play better.
“You can’t sit here and say it’s all on him. You have to take a look at everything going on around him,” Beckham said. “Obviously, he has to play better. I have to player better. … We all need to do better. Can’t sit back and be like, ‘It’s Baker’s fault.’ I feel like that’s the easiest thing for us to do. I’ve been in situations where one person is getting the blame, and the rest of the people are quiet to kind of stay out of the fire.
“I’m going to jump in the fire with him. I’ll be the first one. Some of these losses are on me. I need to be in the right place at the right time. I’m going to do better. And that’s what I plan to do for the rest of the season.”
The Browns are 2-5, with Mayfield tied for the NFL lead with Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston with 12 interceptions. Beckham, meanwhile, has only one touchdown catch in his first season with Cleveland and is averaging career lows with only 4.9 receptions and 69.7 yards per game.
Coming off a loss at New England, Mayfield got into a testy exchange Wednesday with a reporter before abruptly walking out of his media availability. Beckham said he’d already talked about the incident with Mayfield, referencing a Drake lyric as a lesson — “You only lose when you fight back” — while also offering understanding.
“Nobody likes to feel like you’re being poked at or prodded at, especially not a guy like that,” Beckham said. “I’ve been through that journey already, I’ve been through this fire. That’s a part of me that’s able to help him in a way. This is a kid who cares about football, cares about winning. Whatever people make him out to be just because of his personality — if we were winning and he was still doing it, we’d all be here laughing. Because we’re losing, we want to kind of poke at him a little.
“I’m going to be the first one here to defend him every single time. I’ve always got his back. I know what it’s like. I’ve been there. … I understand how we’re looking for the negative. But he wants to win. He’s upset he’s not winning, or he hasn’t done to the best of his ability, that’s upsetting. Just upsetting. We want to be great.”
Despite the disappointing start, Mayfield maintained Wednesday that he still believes the Browns will turn the season around. Beckham piggybacked on that, specifically noting that he and Mayfield will begin to click through the air soon enough.
“The more games we have together, the better we’ll be, but it’s time for us to turn it on,” Beckham said. “You have a highly regarded quarterback [who] I think is a phenomenal player, and I just want to be able to help him in every which way I can.
“I have no doubt in my mind that at some point in time it’s going to be everything that we all talked about.”
Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com with the latest on the eye of QB DESHAUN WATSON:
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson wore a visor at practice Friday, but said he hasn’t decided if he will wear one on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Watson said he will take the weather in London into consideration when making the decision. As of Friday afternoon, there is a 60% chance of rain at the start of Sunday’s game at Wembley Stadium.
On Friday, Watson’s eye was still noticeably red. He was kicked in the face during last Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders. Watson threw a touchdown on the play and returned for Houston’s last offensive series.
Watson said he has worn a visor before — at times while playing in high school, college and during his first season in Houston — and it has not affected his play.
After Friday’s practice, Watson said his eye felt normal and his vision is “perfect.” He took a vision test this week and said there were “no problems.”
The Patriots have released WR JOSH GORDON off injured reserve. ESPN.com:
Wide receiver Josh Gordon is being released off injured reserve by the New England Patriots on Thursday, a source told ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
Gordon had been playing through a left knee injury and was knocked out of the team’s Oct. 10 win over the New York Giants when he injured the knee while attempting to make a tackle after a Patriots fumble.
The Patriots used the minor designation for his placement on injured reserve, signifying a lesser injury. That meant the team had to release him upon his return to health.
Gordon will be subject to waivers and other teams can put in a claim for him.
Through six games, Gordon totaled 20 catches for 287 yards and one touchdown.
NEW YORK JETS
Adam Gase met with RB Le’VEON BELL who was a high-priced after thought in Gase’s failed game plan against the Jaguars. Rich Cimini of ESPN.com:
Upset with his lack of involvement last Sunday, New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell texted coach Adam Gase after the game and later vented his frustrations in a conversation with the coach.
Bell shared his feelings in his Thursday media session, saying he and Gase are “fine” and that he expects to have more touches Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. He had only nine carries and three catches in this past Sunday’s 29-15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This comes in a turmoil-filled week for the Jets (1-6), whose star safety — Jamal Adams — accused general manager Joe Douglas of going “behind my back” and shopping him in trade talks.
Unlike Adams, who ripped Douglas on social media, Bell didn’t make any impulsive comments. He said he avoided reporters after the game because he was afraid his anger would result in an unwanted headline.
“Yeah, I was frustrated, so I didn’t want to be in front of the media and say something that everybody could run with,” Bell said. “I was frustrated. We lost the game and I didn’t feel like I was involved. Plus, I feel like that was a game we kind of let go. I didn’t want to say anything I would regret because I was angry at the time.”
Stuck behind an inconsistent offensive line, Bell is averaging a career-low 3.2 yards per carry — 349 yards on 109 rushes, with only one touchdown.
Despite the lack of production, and the losing, Bell has remained positive. This was the first time he showed any degree of frustration.
“I expressed the way I felt to coach Gase and things like that,” he said. “We had a good little talk. I want to be one of the main reasons for helping the team win. I don’t like not being used and we end up losing the game. I felt like I couldn’t help my team out.
“So we had that conversation. Hopefully, things are better from here on out. Obviously, I want to help my team win. That’s why I came here in the first place. I want to be involved and I want to help the team win games.
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Tony Dungy says the Jets have a way of letting things slip.
The Jets ruffled the feathers of perhaps their best young player this week when word got out that they had talked about trading safety Jamal Adams. Although Adams isn’t going anywhere, he’s now upset with the team for even considering trading him.
Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy said this morning on PFT Live that the Jets made a mistake — but not by discussing trading Adams. The mistake the Jets made was allowing Adams to catch wind of that.
“I don’t understand some of these teams,” Dungy said. “The Patriots, they’ve been on top for years and years. You’re never going to hear anything out of their organization about, ‘We took a phone call on this guy.’ Jamal Adams said, ‘They don’t take calls on Tom Brady.’ We don’t know that. They might take phone cals. They’ll never let you know if they do. That’s the issue more than anything. Not what they’re doing. . . . To me, that was the biggest mistake. Whoever let it out, we talked to this team, this team called us, you don’t have to go into that. That’s no one else’s business.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been tight-lipped about his plans for two decades, and his team has been the best in football for two decades. That’s not a coincidence.
That said, and we get what he’s saying, if the Jets called say, the Cowboys, on Adams wouldn’t it make sense to think that the leak to Adams’ agent came from the Cowboys – either in checking out some things about Adams before they contemplated a trade or just after the fact in the gossip that goes on in the biz. Part of the issue here to the DB is Adams and his agent feeling they can diss on the Jets. Agents and players no better than to publicly talk about things they might hear about the Patriots or they can end up cut.
THIS AND THAT
THE FUTURE OF THE QB HEIRARCHY
Dan Graziano notes that we seem to be close to the end for TOM BRADY, DREW BREES, BEN ROETHLISBERGER and PHILIP RIVERS. What next?
Sunday night offers a past-vs.-future NFL matchup, with Tom Brady’s Patriots visiting Lamar Jackson’s Ravens. And while “past vs. future” is an oversimplification given the significance of both of those players to the league’s present, you get the point. Brady’s brilliant career is far closer to its end than its middle, and Jackson’s to-be-determined career is in the middle of its thrilling start.
So there’ll be time to write about Jackson, which means this week we’ll focus on the Brady end of this. Adam Schefter’s recent reporting has cast some doubt on whether Brady will play for the Patriots — or at all — after this season. He’s 42 years old, a six-time Super Bowl winner with nothing left to prove and no contract beyond this season.
But he’s not alone. In New Orleans, quarterback Drew Brees is 40 and is not signed beyond this season. The Chargers’ Philip Rivers is 37 and in the final year of his deal. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger is also 37, and while he has years left on his contract and intends to play in 2020, he’s out for the rest of the season with an elbow injury. There’s no guarantee he makes it back, and if he does, there’s no guarantee how much longer he’ll play.
These are stalwart quarterbacks — linchpins of the early-21st-century NFL. With the exception of Rivers, they have all been champions. Along with former Colts and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who has been retired for a couple of years now, they have spearheaded the current era of passing-game dominance. And their time in the league is nearing its end.
What will the NFL look like once these guys are all gone? It’s all speculation, of course, but it’s a topic of some degree of conversation around the league. Here are some parameters and best guesses on a couple of key questions:
What will their teams do?
The timing is key here. If Brady, Brees, Rivers and Roethlisberger all retire in 2020, it would be fascinating to watch a quarterback market that otherwise has a chance to be overloaded with imperfect but interesting options.
A partial list of quarterbacks who could be free agents at the end of this season includes not just Brady, Brees and Rivers but also Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater. A partial list of accomplished veterans who could be released from their contracts and made into free agents (depending, of course, on a lot of different circumstances — don’t get angry here) includes Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Derek Carr.
Depending on how things shake out with Gardner Minshew in Jacksonville, the Jaguars could look into making him or Nick Foles available in a trade. If Alex Smith gets back healthy and wants to keep playing, Washington would have to see what it could get for him. Add all that to a 2020 NFL draft class that includes the likes of Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow, and there is a stunning number of quarterbacks potentially available next offseason to potentially needy teams. Heck, after a year off, maybe Andrew Luck can be talked back into the league. Crazier things have happened, right?
The problem is, the landscape changes for the likes of the Pats, Chargers and Saints if their current future Hall of Famers decide to come back for a year or two or three. Then those teams would be stuck having to make their long-term quarterback plans amid uncertainty. Could the Saints persuade Bridgewater to stick around for another year or two as Brees’ backup, or would Bridgewater want to cash in his 5-0 relief performance on a $20 million-plus-per-year deal? Would a veteran like Dalton be OK with backing up Brady in New England and helping develop Jarrett Stidham or some 2020 draft prospect as the eventual successor? If you’re the Chargers, do you make a trade for, say, a Minshew if you don’t know for sure at what point in the three remaining years on his rookie contract you’d need him to take over for Rivers?
Assuming Brees, Brady and Rivers all sign new contracts to stay where they are, that would give their teams some clarity that could help with those types of decisions. But if they all start going year-to-year on their deals, as Brees and Brady already have demonstrated a preference to do, then that clarity remains elusive. All of these teams could have difficult times over the next couple of years trying to implement succession plans while also still trying to respectfully manage — and take advantage of — whatever their iconic veterans have left to give them.
What will the players do?
Peyton Manning isn’t exactly setting up a retirement blueprint for all-time great quarterbacks. “Insurance pitchman and ESPN+ football programming front man” isn’t an avenue that’s going to be open to just everyone. But it’s interesting to imagine Brady, Brees, Rivers and Roethlisberger in their post-football lives.
The broadcast networks would probably write each one of them a blank check, and I can imagine any of them but Brady behind the microphone. (And who knows, maybe he’d surprise me.) But the trick is, you’d have to find a way to make it worth their while. The four of them together have earned a little less than a billion dollars in their careers from just their football salaries and bonuses — which is to say nothing of their off-field endorsement income. They won’t need jobs, and they’re not going to sign up to do the No. 4 game in the weekly CBS rotation. You’d have to be talking about a Troy Aikman/Tony Romo-level type of job to entice these guys, and … well, those jobs are of course taken.
When I covered the Yankees, Derek Jeter used to tell us he wasn’t interested in getting into coaching or broadcasting when he was done playing but that he wanted to own a team. That is the path he took. And while it hasn’t gone particularly well for him, it leaves open the possibility of other athletes who’ve made their fortunes going down similar paths. Could Brady and his much richer wife, Gisele Bundchen, end up with enough to buy a majority interest in an NFL team? Would they want to?
A step or two down from that is the John Elway path. Elway isn’t the Broncos’ owner, but he is their team president and general manager. That’s a role in which many have imagined Manning since his retirement, and perhaps he finds himself doing that for some team in the future. Perhaps one of his still-active contemporaries is thinking along similar lines.
And then there’s the possibility that they just vanish, right? I mean, Rivers has nine kids. Would you be shocked if he retired and disappeared from the public eye? He’ll certainly have more than enough to do.
What becomes of the quarterback position?
That’s kind of where Lamar Jackson comes in, though he’s not alone. The highest-paid quarterback in the league right now is Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who’s 30 years old and doesn’t look as if he’s almost done. Not far behind him are the likes of Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, and in the next year or so we’re likely to see mega-extensions for the likes of Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Newton is still kicking around in Carolina and in line for a big new deal if he gets back healthy. And we’ll wait and see on the first-year and second-year signal-callers, on whom the jury is obviously still out.
Point is, the position isn’t going to lack for big names and star power just because these all-time legends are walking away. The question everyone wants answered is one of longevity. The Luck retirement just before this season started threw the league for a loop and left it to wonder. Will someone like Mahomes, who’s the brightest star in the league and looks set up to dominate for decades, even want to stick around as long as Brees and Brady have? Will youngsters like Watson and Jackson and Josh Allen, who run an awful lot more than their predecessors ever did, last long enough through the hits they’re taking to have the same types of Hall of Fame careers?
Whenever it is that the stewards of this golden QB age decide to hang up their cleats, they will leave a lot of questions — and a far different-looking NFL — behind them.