AROUND THE NFL
Peter King is not happy with preseason 2019 style:
I think we have reached the breaking point on the preseason thing now. Now it’s not only prime-time players sitting out most if not all of the preseason. Two 2018 playoff teams, the Bears and Rams, sat all 22 starters in Week 2 of the preseason. More and more teams are inching toward that, and it’s not the first time it’s happened. But we’ll see about the honor of those who run this league and those who own teams, if they can look their patrons in the face knowing that, in many cases, 20 percent of the season-ticket fees being paid are for off-off Broadway performances. Do you pay the same for a play in a dinner theater in New Haven as for “Hamilton” on Broadway? Of course not. For owners to continue to ask fans to subsidize scrimmages at top prices is an insult to anyone’s sense of fairness.
King also thinks the NFL had better be all-in on fighting for “social justice”, not just half in, even though many of the NFL’s fans are none in.
I think I have one reaction to the NFL/Roc Nation partnership: Prove it. The league announced last week that Jay-Z and the league would join forces to promote social and social-justice initiatives favored by the league and its players, and also for Jay-Z to become a co-producer of the Super Bowl halftime show. At first glance, the hire of Jay-Z seems like a blatant Halftime Show move. Last year, the league struggled to find a halftime act for Rams-Patriots because many performers were angry that no NFL team would sign activist quarterback Colin Kaepernick. According to Ken Belson of the New York Times, at the press conference announcing the partnership, “One reporter compared the league’s partnership with Jay-Z, one of the most influential African-Americans in the world, to ‘putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound when it seems like Colin is getting blackballed by the NFL.’ “ While I don’t think efforts at promoting and aiding causes favored by the league and its players are misguided, I do think reporters and the public should be extra vigilant to be sure this isn’t the NFL engaging Jay-Z to make the halftimes shows great while doing only moderate social work. If that happens, this partnership will be a sham.
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Monitoring things in Las Vegas, David Purdum says the betting public like the Browns and Bears.
Bettors have spoken: The Chicago Bears and the Cleveland Browns — and their young quarterbacks — are public darlings at Las Vegas sportsbooks.
There are more bets on the Bears to win the Super Bowl than there are on any other team at multiple sportsbooks. The Browns are right behind the Bears in Super Bowl bets.
“It’s been kind of overwhelming, the support [for the Bears],” said Alan Berg, the senior oddsmaker for Caesars Sportsbook. “Every time the Bears go to the playoffs, the following year, the money just pours in. Everybody gets optimistic.”
The Bears are 9-1 to win the Super Bowl at Caesars, the fourth-best odds behind the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, who are co-favorites at 7-1, and the New Orleans Saints at 17-2. The Browns are 10-1.
Those five — the Patriots, Chiefs, Saints, Bears and Browns — are the only teams that have already attracted more than $1 million in Super Bowl bets at MGM sportsbooks in Nevada.
Most Bets To Win Super Bowl
In addition to the Super Bowl bets, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield are the most popular bets to win NFL MVP. At the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, Trubisky’s odds to win the MVP have moved from 200-1 to 50-1. Only Mayfield has attracted more bets than Trubisky at the SuperBook.
“They’re going wild on Baker Mayfield,” said SuperBook vice president of risk management Ed Salmons, who noted that more than $40,000 had already been bet on his shop’s NFL MVP odds.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the MVP favorite at 9-2.
Trubisky’s MVP odds are down to 22-1 at Caesars, putting him in the same tier as Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady.
“The support from Trubisky has been ridiculous,” Berg, a longtime Bears fan, said. “Trubisky, at 22-1, is an insane number.”
The story is drastically different at New Jersey and Pennsylvania sportsbooks, where bettors are loading up on the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nearly 50 percent of the Super Bowl bets at SugarHouse sportsbooks in Pennsylvania have been on the Eagles, with more than half the bets on the NFL MVP odds on quarterback Carson Wentz.
DraftKings and FanDuel, the two largest sportsbooks in New Jersey, also said the Eagles had attracted the most bets to win the Super Bowl and Wentz had the most bets to win the NFL MVP. The Eagles are 13-1 to win the Super Bowl, and Wentz is 14-1 to win MVP at DraftKings
“It makes sense,” DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello said. “It matters where you’re located and if you’re pretty good, and the Eagles look like a pretty good team.”
In Las Vegas, however, the Eagles are in the middle of the pack in terms of betting interest and are not in the top 10 in Super Bowl bets at Caesars Sportsbook.
“Funny enough, our best result in New Jersey is the Bears,” Berg said.
The great Bears kicking competition has a winner – who is still likely to be another loser. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Bears cut Elliott Fry on Sunday, which leaves Eddy Pineiro as the only kicker on their roster with the start of the regular season coming in just over two weeks.
Outlasting his competition didn’t lead to a sigh of relief from Pineiro, however. The Bears haven’t been shy about sharing their plan to look at kickers outside the organization before settling on anything and Pineiro is mindful of what that means for him.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Pineiro said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “Still gotta make kicks. If I don’t make kicks, I’m gonna be gone, like everybody else. . . . I’ve just gotta make all my kicks. With the whole kicking struggle from last year, they’ve got us on thin ice here.”
Pineiro made both field goals he tried against the Giants on Friday night after making 1-of-2 tries in Chicago’s first preseason game. The Bears acquired him by sending a conditional 2021 draft pick to the Raiders after trying out eight other kickers in May.
With NATE SUDFELD hurt and CODY KESSLER concussed, the Eagles find a capable emergency fill-in from the ranks of the retired. Adam Schefter of ESPN:
Josh McCown, who announced his retirement this summer to spend more time with his family, is returning to play his 17th NFL season with the Philadelphia Eagles, the team announced Saturday.
A source said the Eagles are giving McCown a one-year deal that includes $2 million fully guaranteed and could be worth up to $5.4 million.
McCown, 40, was planning to be an ESPN analyst this season but had wanted to play and told the network that if the right opportunity came along, he would strongly consider it. Now it has.
He plans to resume his broadcasting career with ESPN after the season, a source said.
The Eagles have lost two quarterbacks this preseason — Cody Kessler to a concussion this week and Nate Sudfeld to a broken bone on his left wrist last week — but Philadelphia was interested in McCown even before then.
Philadelphia will be McCown’s 11th NFL team and first NFC East team. He spent the past two seasons with the New York Jets, going 5-11 as a starter while throwing 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions overall.
The Eagles expect Sudfeld, who received a second-round tender during the offseason, to return this season.
The well-traveled McCown is one of seven players in NFL history to attempt a pass for seven different teams. He and Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Miami Dolphins are the only active players on the list, and each has the opportunity this season to be the first QB to throw a pass for eight different teams.
Mike Sando of The Athletic drops this nugget on Twitter:
Did you know … Josh McCown last season passed David Carr as the highest-earning QB from the 2002 draft class? He can go past $50 million in career earnings with
@Eagles this season.
If you had the ticket for QB CASE KEENUM as the winner of the Redskins opening day quarterback position, it looks like you will be cashing it. This tweet from Adam Schefter:
Jay Gruden today on how soon Colt McCoy might return from a broken leg that ended his 2018 season: “Oh man, it might not be the end of camp, it might be two or three weeks into the season. We don’t know yet.”
Case Keenum is now tracking to be Washington’s opening-day starting QB.
More from John Keim of ESPN.com:
– The Washington Redskins remain uncertain about when quarterback Colt McCoy will be able to play in a game, leaving Case Keenum on track to start the season opener.
McCoy has yet to play in the preseason and said Sunday that he has visited noted foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson twice since training camp began on July 25. McCoy suffered a broken right leg on Dec. 1 and needed three surgeries in the offseason. He has practiced throughout camp, but admitted early on that he was still having issues with his leg. He has not played in the preseason and did not practice Sunday.
McCoy said he did not have a setback in camp and said he expects to return “sooner rather than later.”
“It might be two or three weeks into the season,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of when McCoy might return. “We don’t know yet. There’s no timetable for him until he feels like he’s 100% to push off that leg. Until that time comes, he’s going to be rehabbing.”
Colt McCoy’s ongoing recovery from a broken leg likely means Case Keenum will be the Redskins’ Week 1 starter at quarterback. Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports
But nobody quite knows when, or why it remains an issue. However, when he was hurt last season, the Redskins did not place him on injured reserve, thinking he might be available should they reach the postseason.
“That was probably part of the issue,” Gruden said. “He probably rushed back, we probably rushed him back. So they had to go back in a little bit. That was nobody’s fault, just a fluke deal that something else happened. Hopefully we get him right. He’ll do whatever he can to get right, we’ve just got to get it right first.”
Throughout training camp McCoy has been alternating with Keenum on a daily basis as far as who takes the first-team reps.
Keenum has started the first two preseason games. He has completed 7-of-16 passes for 112 yards and one touchdown.
Gruden was not ready to name a starting quarterback, but said “ideally” one would be named after the third preseason game. The Redskins play at Atlanta on Thursday. They play at Philadelphia in the season opener.
“You might have your general thoughts on who it might be, but if something happens in the preseason game three where you might have to flop them, you never know,” Gruden said.
Rookie Dwayne Haskins remains a possibility, but numerous people in the organization — from front-office personnel to coaches and players — have echoed the same point: He’s talented but has a lot to learn before being ready to start. Because he’s considered a pure drop-back passer — and doesn’t rely on his legs to threaten a defense — the Redskins want him to master as many of the nuances of the position as possible before putting him in the game.
They are watching TAYSOM HILL vs. TEDDY BRIDGEWATER with interest this preseason. Eric Triplett of ESPN.com:
I’m not ready to call the Saints’ backup QB job an open competition. Teddy Bridgewater is the NFL’s highest-paid backup for good reason, and he looked much better throughout training camp and the preseason opener before struggling Sunday, with just 40 passing yards and an interception while playing through an illness. But it was a disappointing showcase for Bridgewater before he becomes a free agent next year. Sunday’s game made you wonder a bit whether Bridgewater or Taysom Hill is a better bet to become Drew Brees’ long-term successor. Hill had 136 passing yards, two passing TDs and 53 rushing yards while rallying the Saints to a come-from-behind win. CBS’ announcers revealed that Sean Payton compared Hill’s potential to Steve Young. — Mike Triplett
Peter King goes to a Cardinals practice:
When Kingsbury got the coaching job at Texas Tech after the 2012 season, one of his first acts was to offer a 5-foot-8 quarterback from Allen, Texas, a full ride to come play quarterback for him in August 2015. When I met Murray after practice, I asked him if that surprised him, a Big 12 coach offering high school sophomore a full ride.
“No,” Murray said matter-of-factly. “I got my first offer from Clemson after the state championship game that year.”
Well, okay. Talk about how college football history may have changed. Kingsbury has been chasing Murray ever since, and now their partnership could impact football for a long time.
It’s always dangerous to make any judgments on a team based on one football practice, and I shall not do that here. Except to say three things:
• This offense is going is going to be fast, and it’s going to rely on spread principles, and it’s going to put lots of decision-making on the quarterback’s shoulders because of the multiple choices he has to make when he surveys the field. Murray threw a couple of interceptions Saturday, one by trying to fit a throw into way too small a window. My guess is Kingsbury will stress to him that if the receivers are running precision routes, he should have a fairly clean option on most plays.
• David Johnson will still have a chance to be a dominant back. He’s going to be Murray’s sidecar an awful lot. One of the most interesting plays I saw Saturday reminded me of a CFL play, with the pre-snap speed. There were two backs in the backfield, on either side of Murray in the shotgun, and smurfy second-round UMass rookie Andy Isabella came in jet-motion (sort of a sprint motion behind the backfield) and two receivers flanked left. At the snap, your eyes focus on Isabella and then quickly to the action left, and you missed Johnson leaking out to the right, away from all the shiny traffic, for a big gain on a swing pass. In Kingsbury’s last full season as Texas Tech coach, 2017, the Red Raiders threw it 551 times and ran it 459. So keep in mind that Kingsbury’s last team for a full season at Tech averaged 35 rushes a game. Johnson will not go hungry, in the running or passing game.
• Murray throws such an effortless and beautiful deep ball, a consistently perfect spiral. No question in my mind that with a couple of speed guys (Isabella and Christian Kirk) and a breakout camp performer in KeeSean Johnson—all three are 22 years old—as well as old reliable Larry Fitzgerald, Kingsbury will be tempted to challenge the deep areas for four quarters.
Overall, there is something weird and illusory about watching the Arizona Cardinals this summer. People have come to two preseason games here wanting to see the Kyler Murray show, and they see the Joe Gibbs Washington teams or something old-fashioned like that. Thursday night against Oakland, you saw a bunch of two-tight-end plays, three on a couple of snaps. There were 76 snaps played by Arizona tight ends in all, conservative and slow … stuff you won’t see when the season starts and Kingsbury is calling his offense. It’s ridiculous to ask people to pay for what is nothing but a faux dress rehearsal, but that’s what the Cardinals have put out when the games begin. Here, in the practices, that’s when Kingsbury can mold the real offense.
“The games, we’re trying to keep it close to the vest, obviously,” Kingsbury told me, sitting on a golf cart before practice. “We’re trying to get our players used to playing with each other. But … it’s interesting for me, because this is the NFL, and I’ve never called a game in my life where I wasn’t in straight attack mode. Kyler and I are adjusting to that.”
“So what can you do that’s just not going through the motions?” I asked.
“That’s a great question,” said Kingsbury, choosing his words carefully now. “For us, it’s operations. Getting guys lined up. Proper footwork. Things like that. It’s a challenge for Kyler. He wants to play. He wants to have success right away. He wants to light up every field he gets on. He’s been trying to get more put in to these game plans. ‘Are we game-planning this week? Are we game-planning? Can we do what we do?’ That’s been fun to see. He wants to go out and shine. He always has been the best, wherever he’s played. He expects to be the best. That’s what drives him.”
Of all the practices I saw on my camp tour, this one was the most interesting, Kingsbury worked with the quarterbacks constantly. When the offense was on the field in 11-on-11 work, he wore the headset and talked to his quarterbacks—Murray and Brett Hundley mostly—and Murray, in particular, played with tempo. You got the feeling, with seven of the eight receivers in serious contention for the final 53-man roster 26 or younger, and six in their first camp with the Cardinals, that Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim have hand-picked receivers specifically for the spread coach to use as modeling clay.
After practice, Murray described the fun of playing in this fast, attack-style offense. He said he considered Texas Tech, but, “I didn’t know how many guys I could get to come with me to Lubbock. But I loved it. I loved that style of play. I thought about going there for sure.”
“[Kingsbury] is the kind of coach guys like to play for,” Murray continued. “I think everybody has the perception of his swag, his confidence, his offense. But for me that was from the outside looking in. I didn’t get to play for him at the time. I played against him at OU one year. What I admired was they never had the best athletes but they always put points on the board. They were never out of the game basically. It was just a testament to his offense.”
Murray and Kingsbury seem to have something in common that’s important at this level of football. They’ve been able to shrug off the stuff that’s not going to matter much at this level. Kingsbury had a losing record in college and his hire by the Cards was widely ridiculed; he hasn’t taken any of the justify-yourself bait. He has learned how to say very little in his dealings with the press; you won’t hear him brag (at least not yet) about his edgy offense. Same with Murray and the height thing. He’s the first sub-6-foot quarterback to be drafted in the first round in football’s modern era, never mind being number one overall. And he has very little interest in promoting his brand right now.
It’s a fascinating combo platter. A big chunk of people think Kingsbury didn’t deserve the job, but they’re fascinated to see if his offense will shred the competition or fall flat. A big chunk of people think a 5-10 quarterback should not go number one in the draft, but they’re fascinated to see how Murray will play. ESPN has dispatched Pedro Gomez to cover Murray as a beat this season, and you don’t send one of your star reporters to cover a story full-time unless he moves the needle. And Murray, whatever he does, will be one of the most fascinating stories in sports, not just the NFL.
For now, Murray just doesn’t care about it all.
“I think he’s incredibly competitive,” Gomez said, “but I don’t think the fame part is a huge thing for him.”
“He just doesn’t care for all the pub,” said Brett Hundley, the backup quarterback here. “He just wants to play football.”
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I told Murray I’d talked to his college coach, Lincoln Riley, before the draft, and Riley said he never called a game differently or made accommodations for Murray because of his size. I wondered if anything had changed early at this level.
“People make a big deal about me being a smaller guy,” Murray said, sounding resigned to the fact that no extended conversation will happen without a height reference. “Russell Wilson’s not the tallest guy, and look at him. So it’s like, I gotta take the heat for it, I guess. It is what it is. I’ll keep taking it. I just hope people understand, you know, I feel like if you can play, you can play, no matter how big you are.”
Then he brightened a bit. Say this about Murray: He may not care about being The Man in sports media in 2019, but he’s pleasant and polite and understands the duties of his job. He understands why ESPN dispatches Pedro Gomez to cover him. (“I will say this,” Gomez said. “This is a much easier assignment than covering Barry Bonds.”) He’ll play football, and play his part in it, and play Fortnite, and probably not pay attention to much of the outside-world stuff.
“I always try to keep a positive mindset about it all,” Murray said as we parted. “I’ve been playing this game my whole life so I kinda understand how it goes. Just try to keep pushing. That’s life.”
The 49ers have an interesting situation at QB, with two quality back-ups – who may not be that far behind, if at all, big money starter QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO. Thoughts from Peter Panacy of NinersNoise.com:
The San Francisco 49ers have a quarterback controversy on their hands. On the surface, it’s who should occupy the unheralded-yet-critical No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind the starter, Jimmy Garoppolo.
This battle amid the 2019 preseason, of course, is between C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has repeatedly indicated both backups will have an equal shot to serve primary support to Garoppolo in training camp leading up to Week 1. But given San Francisco’s depth elsewhere, it’s unlikely Shanahan keeps all three on the 53-man roster when the regular season rolls around.
Mullens could wind up securing the job and roster placement by the regular season, sure. And there’s no shortage of evidence why. As far as the regular season goes, there’s no logical explanation why Mullens should lose this competition.
But there’s another reason: What if Garoppolo winds up… (gulp) not being the answer under center?
This isn’t an overreaction piece to Garoppolo’s five-interception performance during a recent training camp session. Heck, this isn’t even about Garoppolo “struggling” or anything like that. Rather, just like Fourth and Nine’s Dylan DeSimone pointed out, it’s mere admission of the possibility Garoppolo could wind up not being the guy San Francisco envisioned when they inked him to what was then a record-setting five-year, $137.5 million deal early in 2018.
My unfiltered opinion is Jimmy G played like shit the beginning of 2019. He needs to be better if this team hopes to go anywhere. I really don’t know if he’s the answer tbh. I’m also not hedging bets off practice.
Speaking of Garoppolo’s contract, the 49ers can get out from under it in 2020 relatively easily, being charged $4.2 million in dead money, but with $22.4 million generated in cap savings.
So, as much as it’s not good to think about, the Niners aren’t exactly committed to Garoppolo for the long term.
This is where Mullens comes into the fray.
San Francisco controls Mullens’ contract terms — which are exceptionally friendly, given he’s an undrafted rookie — through 2020 and easily into 2021, when he becomes a restricted free agent.
All at a low cost, too.
Let’s assume, for a moment, Garoppolo plays poorly over the entirety of 2019, convincing head coach Kyle Shanahan it’s wiser to cut losses after the season and move on. Which quarterback would he rather have the following year?
Granted, Mullens wouldn’t have to be a long-term answer. And while quarterback wins are a ludicrous means to determine a quarterback’s overall effectiveness and ability, the 49ers have at least proven they can win games with Mullens under center.
He owns a 3-5 record as a starter, compared to Beathard’s 1-9 record split between 2017 and 2018.
The gist of this entire argument is a simple one: If Garoppolo doesn’t end up being a franchise-caliber quarterback, and the 49ers elect to move on, who winds up being the better option in 2020? Beathard or Mullens?
There’s your choice. And it’s another reason why Mullens should wind up winning the No. 2 quarterbacking battle entering this season.
WR DK METCALF has had a good camp. But he’s also having surgery. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
Seahawks rookie DK Metcalf did not play in Sunday’s preseason game against the Vikings. It turns out there was a good reason for his absence.
He had his knee checked out and learned he needs surgery.
“DK’s got an injury to his knee that we found after a couple of days. It happened a few days back,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll revealed after Seattle’s 25-19 loss to the Vikings. “We’re going to do some work on it probably Tuesday and get him back in a hurry. We’re disappointed for him, because he was off to a fantastic start, but I don’t think this is going to derail him for long. But he does have to have some work done, and we’ll know more about that when we get back into town.”
The Seahawks are holding out hope that Metcalf can return in time for the season opener.
Metcalf, a second-round choice, played 26 snaps in the preseason opener and made one catch for 8 yards. The Seahawks, though, are expecting a lot out of Metcalf as they attempt to replace Doug Baldwin.
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We learn that QB PAXTON LYNCH is in Seattle and that he is concussed. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Seahawks quarterback Paxton Lynch was on the receiving end of a nasty hit from Vikings cornerback Holton Hill on Sunday night and he’ll need to get cleared through the NFL’s concussion protocol before he’s allowed back on the field.
Hill was ejected for using his helmet to hit Lynch in the head while Lynch was going down at the end of a run. Lynch left the game after the hit and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll updated the situation after the game.
“He felt like he was OK,” Carroll said, via the Seattle Times. “But he’s still got to pass those tests. So we have to recognize all the process and take care of that.”
Lynch followed Russell Wilson in Sunday’s game with Geno Smith sitting out after having a cyst removed from his knee. The Seahawks are back in action on Saturday night against the Chargers.
GM Mike Mayock tries some tough love with WR ANTONIO BROWN. Adam Maya of NFL.com
Antonio Brown missed practice again, and it was because of his helmet, again.
Just 24 hours after participating in the Raiders’ walkthrough, the wide receiver did not attend Oakland’s workout in Napa, California. General manager Mike Mayock delivered a stern message afterward — which the team issued itself on Twitter — regarding Brown’s absence.
“You all know that A.B. is not here today,” Mayock said. “So, here’s the bottom line. He’s upset about the helmet issue. We have supported that, we appreciate that. OK? But at this point we’ve pretty much exhausted all avenues of relief. So from our perspective, it’s time for him to be all-in or all-out. OK? So we’re hoping he’s back soon. We got 89 guys busting their tails. We are really excited about where this franchise is going, and we hope A.B.’s going to be a big part of it, starting Week 1 against Denver. End of story No questions. OK? Just wanted you guys to know where we were.”
It’s another about-face in a saga that’s been filled with them. Brown was away from the team for the majority of camp because of his desire to use his old helmet model that is no longer legal in the NFL. The All-Pro wideout has also been hampered by frostbitten feet after not wearing proper footwear while using a cryogenic chamber.
A day after his grievance to use the old helmet was denied, Brown returned to Napa last Tuesday.
“While I disagree with the arbitrator’s decision, I’m working on getting back to full health and looking forward to rejoining my teammates on the field,” he wrote on Twitter last week. “I’m excited about this season appreciate all the concerns about my feet!”
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that Brown was “very close to practicing,” as he accompanied his new team to Arizona for its preseason game against the Cardinals. He was still with them as of Saturday. Sunday, as it has often been, was a different story, this time with his general manager seemingly issuing an ultimatum to the player he traded for just a few months back and subsequently signed to a $50 million deal: Be here or be gone.
This from Peter King:
The Raiders should put Brown on notice today by sending him the dreaded “five-day letter,” which every agent and knowledgeable player would absolutely dread. This letter would mean that Brown would have to return to the team by Friday and (be an adult and) play with a league-approved helmet, or he would be put on the reserve/left squad list, meaning he couldn’t play for the Raiders or any team in 2019. It’s also Belichick insurance, preventing the Patriots or some other contender figuring they can deal with the Brown headache for four or five months if it allows them to win a game or three more.
I did consider urging the Raiders to just fire Brown. It just might come to that. But the five-day letter is a good starting point, because it draws a line in the sand immediately. As Mike Florio reported at Pro Football Talk, not reporting after receiving that letter would end Brown’s season and prevent the Raiders from having to pay $29.1 million future guarantees on Brown’s Oakland contract. It’s worth doing. Brown has driven the franchise to this, and he deserves this.
Today is not the day to make any judgment about Brown’s mental stability or his frame of mind. He might be fine; he might be legitimately troubled in a way we don’t know. I just know the Raiders went out on a limb to acquire him from Pittsburgh, then paid him a rich contract. Since then, Brown has been beyond childish about an issue that more than 2,000 players have coped with: wearing only safety-approved helmets in accord with a $60-million initiative in 2016 to ensure that every player wear a helmet that has been approved by a joint NFL/NFLPA testing process. Every team has 63 active and practice-squad players. So 2,015 players (some of whom might be ticked off about it) will start the season wearing approved helmets. One wants to wear a non-approved—and relatively unsafe—helmet. That one is Brown.
The NFL and NFLPA are not softening on this. They can’t. Last season was the first the NFL mandated that players wear only the approved helmets, with the proviso that veterans who wore other helmets would have a one-season grandfathering of the rule so they could wear unapproved helmets in 2018. About 33 players, including Brown, took advantage of the grandfather clause and wore unapproved helmets last year. This may be an outlier, but preseason and regular-season concussions fell from 281 in 2017 to 214 in 2018, a decline of 23.8 percent. Addressing head trauma is the hottest-button issue in football today. The last thing, then, that the NFL will do is to start making exceptions for players, or to allow players to sign waivers to wear unsafe helmets. Where would that stop? And what would happen if Brown signed a waiver, played with the unsafe helmet, and was diagnosed with a brain disorder at 45? Would the public sympathize with the league or Brown? And the courts? It’s not morally right for the sport with an issue as explosive as head trauma to start making exceptions.
On Monday, I met with rookie Raiders GM Mayock in his office at Raider camp. The Raiders thought the Brown issue had been quashed, and he’d abide by whatever ruling an independent arbiter made on whether he could wear his obsolete Schutt Air Advantage helmet. Though Brown had been a headache to that point, Mayock told me: “Unfortunately there is a sliding scale—the more talent a guy has, the more opportunities he’s going to get. But in the case of Antonio, Jon [Gruden] and I both had the advantage of being in the media and seeing Brown up-close over the years and seeing him practice as hard as anyone we’ve seen. We felt like and still feel like when he’s on the field he’s the best receiver in football. We support him and we’re behind him.”
Then Brown, late Monday, lost his grievance to be able to wear his old Schutt helmet; the NFL argued that a clause in the rules that said players could not wear helmets more than 10 years old—which Brown’s was—automatically disqualified the helmet from further use. The arbitrator agreed. Brown thought if he found any Schutt helmet that was less than 10 years old he’d be able to wear that going forward, but in midweek the league ruled that even the later model of the Schutt Air Advantage (discontinued in 2014) that Brown wanted to wear didn’t pass the testing process. So Brown would have to wear one of the NFL/NFLPA-approved helmets.
On Sunday, Brown was absent from camp. Mayock stood in front of writers at Raider camp and issued a terse 39-second statement that made it clear the organization has had enough.
Mayock is pissed off. Gruden is pissed off. Maybe they can scotch-tape this together and Brown will pout a little and find a helmet that he’d tolerate; I suppose if he does and reports in the next couple of days, they’ve got to try to make it work. But when is the next time Mount Antonio’s going to blow? Make no mistake—it’ll happen. How many things did Mike Tomlin tamp down in Pittsburgh that we didn’t know about? It got to the point that a top-three receiver in football just wasn’t worth the constant BS that Brown brings to a team. So whatever the financial cost—and though the Raiders paid Brown only a $1-million signing bonus, he and agent Drew Rosenhaus would file a grievance to get the guaranteed money in the new contract—the tightrope Gruden will have to walk just isn’t worth it unless Brown surrenders right now.
And this, from King:
While in Seattle last week on my camp trip, my NBC team went to new helmet manufacture Vicis, which makes the top-tested helmet on the NFL market, the Vicis Zero1. Patrick Mahomes wears it. Julian Edelman wears it. About 200 players in the league wear a Vicis helmet. Vicis has some of the same equipment used by the NFL/NFLPA testers, including the kind of battering ram used to tests how much force is felt by the brain when the helmet is hit full-force. We were able to procure a 2006 Schutt Air Advantage helmet, close to Brown’s model if not exactly the same (his was at least 10 years old), and, with the help of the Vicis scientists, we measured three major areas.
Weight: The Schutt helmet weighed 3.70 pounds. The Vicis Zero1 was heavier—4.53 pounds. The fact that the helmet with more modern technology is .83 pounds heavier is a factor, to be sure. Players like to feel lighter.
Absorption of force. When impact-tested by the battering tool, the Schutt helmet recorded 73 g’s of force that would have impacted the brain. At the same force, the Vicis helmet, with its slightly malleable outer shell, recorded 53 g’s that would have impacted the brain. So, the brain of a player wearing this Schutt helmet would feel 37.7 percent more force of impact than the force on a brain protected by the new Vicis model.
Peripheral vision. Using a light to shine through the mask of the helmet and reflect onto a tool measuring the field of view, the Schutt helmet had a horizontal field of view of 210 degrees wide. The Vicis helmet had a 236-degree-wide field of view. The 26-degree improvement was a vision increase of 12 percent. The vertical vision was 40 degrees north to south in the Schutt model, 47 degrees north to south in the Vicis helmet—better by 18 percent in the newer helmet.
Let me be clear that I think there are new Schutt and Riddell models that could test very well versus the 2006 Schutt Air Advantage. I reached out to Vicis because I’d interviewed CEO/co-founder Dave Marver for a May podcast about the state of the helmet, and because I know I’d have some time in Seattle while visiting the Seahawks last week. I don’t mean to endorse this helmet or this company; I simply mean to compare a new helmet with the most modern technology to a helmet that is more than a decade old.
More positive reviews for DB fav QB RYAN FINLEY. Chris Roling of USA TODAY:
Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Ryan Finley has caught the eye of a Super Bowl MVP by the name of Kurt Warner.
Finley, fresh off a promotion to the second team, put on a show Thursday night during a preseason win over the Washington Redskins. He cruised his way to 150 yards and two touchdowns, in the process navigating messy pockets and making good decisions.
While the performance isn’t going to push him into a sudden competition with starter Andy Dalton, it is going to solidify him as the second quarterback.
This is what the new Bengals coaching staff had in mind when they traded up to get Finley. And while Finley isn’t making major waves because he’s viewed as a backup, he got some massive praise from Warner:
Lots of eyes on Kyler, Daniel, Dwayne & Drew… but I’m here to argue Ryan Finley has been the BEST rookie QB up to this point! Go ahead and @ me… I can handle it!
Warner would know a few things about quarterbacks. For Finley, a legend like this saying he’s looked better than guys like Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones is a nice feather in the cap.
T MATT KHALIL is still the starting left tackle in Houston reports Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle:
The most scrutinized position on the Texans’ roster hasn’t stabilized midway through the preseason, taking another sideways turn Saturday night.
Unless it has.
An overhauled offensive line unveiled a different starting combination in the Texans’ 30-23 victory over the Detroit Lions at NRG Stadium. Former Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Kalil, signed to a one-year contract worth up to $7.5 million this offseason, wasn’t dressed out for the game one week after a shaky starting debut against Green Bay.
Days after Kalil said he got his foot stepped on and limped through practice Wednesday and was held out of practice Thursday, the 30-year-old former Minnesota first-round draft pick was replaced in the lineup by former Cleveland fifth-round draft pick Roderick Johnson.
After the game, though, Texans coach Bill O’Brien reiterated that Kalil’s status remains unchanged heading into the season opener against New Orleans.
“Matt Kalil is the starting left tackle,” O’Brien said.
One year removed from missing the season with Carolina because of a knee injury, Kalil’s health and effectiveness remain hot-button issues for a line that allowed an NFL-high 62 sacks last season. The Texans have tried to manage Kalil’s workload and help him shed the significant amount of rust he accumulated during his final season with the Panthers. Kalil has had an up-and-down training camp after missing the Texans’ entire offseason while rehabbing his knee.
“I didn’t want him to play,” O’Brien said when asked if Kalil was injured. “He’ll play next week. Just managing reps throughout the preseason, that’s all that is.”
On a positive note, Johnson looked sharp as he stepped in for Kalil. The former All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection and Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner did a nice job of walling off pass rushers as quarterback Deshaun Watson had plenty of time to throw and delivered a touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins during a game-opening drive.
As you make your evaluations of the 2019 Titans, remember that at the moment they again have a healthy TE DELANIE WALKER. ESPN.com:
The return of tight end Delanie Walker was a boost for quarterback Marcus Mariota, who targeted Walker two times. Both were completions, one of which was an 11-yard touchdown on a post route. Mariota extended a play when he escaped pressure and threw a pass downfield to rookie wideout A.J. Brown. Brown drew a 27-yard pass interference penalty on the play to set up Mariota’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Walker. Mariota ended the day completing six of nine passes for 63 yards and the touchdown. — Turron Davenport
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets have lost LB AVERY WILLIAMSON, their leading tackler in 2018. Andrew Gross of Newsday:
Jets general manager Joe Douglas reached into his Baltimore Ravens past to find a roster replacement for injured linebacker Avery Williamson.
The Jets announced on Saturday that they have agreed to a deal with eighth-year linebacker Albert McClellan.
The 6-2, 250-pound McClellan, 33, served mainly as a backup and a special teams contributor after signing with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of Marshall in 2010. He split last season between the Ravens and the Patriots and was on a Super Bowl winner for the second time.
Williamson, 27, entering the second season of a three-year, $22 million deal with the Jets after four seasons with the Titans, tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in the second quarter of Thursday night’s 22-10 preseason win over the Falcons at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium and will miss the upcoming season. He was placed on injured reserve.
Williamson, who led the Jets with 120 tackles last season, remained in Thursday’s game after most of the first-team defense had been removed. He was injured when he collided with teammate Tevaughn Campbell while in pass coverage against Falcons running back Brian Hill in the end zone.
THIS AND THAT
RIP CEDRIC BENSON
Famed running back Cedric Benson, who soared to stardom as a Texas Longhorn “legend,” died Saturday night. He was 36 years old.
Austin police said a minivan was trying to cross an intersection when it ran into a motorcycle, CNN affiliate KXAN reported. Both Benson and a woman were pronounced dead at the scene.
“Our condolences to the friends and family of former Bears running back Cedric Benson, our 4th overall Draft pick in 2005 and member of the 2006 NFC Champions team,” the Chicago Bears tweeted Sunday.
Our condolences to the friends and family of former Bears running back Cedric Benson, our 4th overall Draft pick in 2005 and member of the 2006 NFC Champions team.
Hours before the crash, Benson posted a photo of a motorcycle on Instagram with the caption “My Saturday evening,”surrounded by hearts.
Benson rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons at Texas and is the 9th-leading rusher in college football history, with 5,540 yards.
His 64 career rushing touchdowns are second in school history.
He won the Doak Walker Award, which is given to the nation’s top running back, after he rushed for 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns. Benson also earned All-American honors in 2004.
“Very sad day with the passing of Longhorn Legend Cedric Benson,” the University of Texas football team tweeted. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends and our community of lettermen. He will be missed.”
His college coach, Mack Brown, called Benson “one of our favorites.”
“He was a true spirit — one of the toughest players we ever coached, if not the toughest,” Brown told reporters Sunday. “I, along with a lot of Longhorns, are just crushed.”
Benson also played eight years in the NFL.
He rushed for more than 1,000 yards three times while playing for three teams, finishing with 6,017 career rushing yards and 32 touchdowns.
“Cedric was a fine football player for us,” Cincinnati Bengals President Mike Brown said. “Our organization is deeply saddened by his sudden and tragic passing. The Bengals extend our deepest condolences to Cedric’s family.”
Former Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson said he’s mourning Benson’s death.
“Once he bought into our system, he was like a flower. He just blossomed,” Anderson said. “He gave us an element we didn’t have. We had complementary guys, but Cedric gave us a missing element. He was a good man. He was one of my guys and it hurts. Life is too short.”
I think it was sad to hear about the death of Cedric Benson, the fourth pick in the 2005 draft by the Bears. Sad for dying young in a motorcycle accident in Texas Saturday, of course, but also sad because he never seemed fulfilled by his football career. It’s tough to live up to the expectations of being the fourth pick in the draft (in 2005), but Benson came into football at a time of the beginning of the devaluation of the running back, and he wasn’t particularly crafty or quick. He was productive and physical. In his second stop, Cincinnati, he toiled for a while as the kind of workhorse back he wanted to be in Chicago. For a short time—16 games over the end of 2008 and all of 2009—Benson averaged 100.3 yards per game. Not many players, regardless of draft position, average 100 yards a game for a season, and Benson, in effect, did that. I hope he died knowing he had a positive career.
A minivan hit Benson who was on a motorcycle with a woman and poor visibility and speed were the biggest factors in the crash, police say.
“If you’re not really careful, or you’re going slightly over the speed limit, it is very difficult to stop,” said Sergeant Eric Wilson.
From Peter King:
QB: Philip Rivers (Aug. 16), Chargers. Did the first Live Training Camp Podcast in my history of podcasting, with an audience of Charger crazies in Orange County cheering on Rivers after Friday’s practice. Rivers did reveal exclusively (stop the presses!) that he and wife Tiffany, who have nine children, might not be done yet. I told Rivers that Ryan Fitzpatrick had told he and his wife just had their seventh child, and while I asked him if he’d ever catch Rivers, he said, “I texted Philip and told him, ‘I can’t catch you if you keep having them.” That led to this exchange:
Rivers: “I don’t know if he’ll catch us or not. I don’t know where we’re gonna end up.”
Me: “Is it possible that you could go into double figures?”
Rivers: “Oh yeah. We’re just one away!”
RB: Phillip Lindsay (July 19), Broncos; Austin Ekeler (Aug. 16), Chargers. I love surprise stories and guys who made it against the odds. Two undrafted guys from Colorado—Lindsay from Colorado and Ekeler from Division II Western State—who did everything to just make the team. Ekeler told me he’d be working for a mining company if he wasn’t a Charger.
TE: Zach Ertz (July 27), Eagles; George Kittle (Aug. 13), 49ers. This says volumes about Ertz: When we talked, he sounded prouder of being Mr. Julie Ertz cheering on his wife and her U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team in France than of setting the NFL record for catches in a season by an NFL tight end. Kittle’s so effervescent.
WR: Michael Thomas (Aug. 2), Saints; DeAndre Hopkins (Aug. 5), Texans; Jarvis Landry (Aug. 6), Browns; JuJu Smith-Schuster (Aug. 7), Steelers. The Idea of the Trip: Annie Koeblitz, chief videographer/idea person, suggested we do “Nice Tweets” from Thomas, a contrast of the Jimmy Kimmel “Mean Tweets” thing. When we finished with it—you’ll see it in the coming days—Thomas pulled me aside and said, “Thanks. That was a cool thing to do.”
OL: David Bakhtiari (Aug. 5), Packers; Keleche Osemele (July 25), Jets; Ronnie Stanley (July 26), Ravens; Joe Staley (Aug. 13), 49ers. I challenged Bakhtiari to a game of Monopoly and said a few untoward things about how I would win. Coming this season on my podcast. Bet you can’t wait.
DL: Grady Jarrett (July 29), Falcons; Cam Hayward (Aug. 2), Saints; Brandon Graham (July 27), Eagles; Calais Campbell (Aug. 1), Jaguars. Factoid of the Trip: Graham told me he has a video of him strip-sacking Tom Brady in the biggest moment of Super Bowl LI on his phone, and when he’s having a bad day, he’ll watch it.
LB: Darius Leonard (Aug. 4), Colts; Devin White (July 20), Bucs; Luke Kuechly (July 28), Panthers; Bobby Wagner (Aug. 15), Seahawks. White, 21, was so eager and so happy to be in the NFL. It shone through. Planning to write more about him next week.
DB: Richard Sherman (Aug. 13), 49ers; Chris Harris Jr. (July 20), Broncos; Johnathan Abram (Aug. 12), Raiders; Damarious Randall (Aug. 6), Browns; Earl Thomas (July 26), Ravens. Abram on being a classic Raider, and praising Jack Tatum, was a keeper.
K: Robbie Gould (Aug. 13), 49ers. Talked about the shock of signing the four-year, $19-million deal to stay in San Francisco in the offseason, after having the best two years back-to-back of any kicker ever. “I got paid $185,000 my rookie year, and I thought, ‘This is absurd!’ “
Coach: Sean Payton (Aug. 2), Saints; Dan Quinn (July 29), Falcons. Payton was a cross between proud dad/facilitating coach/realtor showing off the improvements in the Saints facility for more than an hour. The franchise has spent more than $8 million in the last three years sprucing up a once-drab facility. “The facilities and the equipment sometimes is … affirmation that we’re committed to being real good. We’re committed to excellence,” he said. Quinn’s a born teacher. He showed us how much better the defense will be, on his big screen with the all-22 coaches tape, with Deion Jones back anchoring the linebackers.
GM: Mike Mayock, Oakland. This is probably not such a big secret, but NFL Films has to be ticked off at the fact that the Raiders aren’t being the most forthcoming organization on the “Hard Knocks” front. And that is putting it mildly. But Mayock met with me, talked about Antonio Brown and his team, was guarded but answered the questions, and I appreciated his honesty in a tightrope-walking time for the rookie GM.
Assistant coach: Brandon Staley (July 20), outside linebackers, Broncos. The University of Dayton Flyer coaches and sounds like a rising star, and Vic Fangio is counting on him to help make Von Miller a complete player. Miller’s buying in. Staley on Miller: “He has a refreshing humility about being coached.”
WOKE vs. WOKE
Panthers S ERIC REID, a disciple of Colin Kaepernick, makes it clear that the K camp now views Jay-Z as a rival and sellout – and not an ally in the fight to re-make America. Michael Shapiro vs. SI.com:
Eric Reid ripped the NFL’s new social justice partnership with Jay-Z and Roc Nation on Wednesday, and the Panthers safety continued his criticism on Friday night.
Reid responded to a report from TMZ on Friday that noted Jay-Z will have “significant ownership interest” in an NFL team. The six-year veteran called Jay-Z’s interest, “kind of despicable.”
“Jay-Z claimed to be a supporter of Colin, wore his jersey, told people not to perform at the Super Bowl because of [what] the NFL did to Colin,” Reid told reporters after the Panthers’ preseason matchup with the Bills on Friday. “Now he’s going to be a part owner, that’s kind of despicable.”
The LSU product played with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco from 2013-16. Reid knelt with Kaepernick during the national anthem in their time as teammates, and he continued the practice in 2018 with Carolina.
THE BEST AND WORST QBs
From Football Outsiders as published at ESPN.com. We have their list below, their justification for each is hugely long, but you can read it here:
(based on “added value”)
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
QB EPA: +219.4 (1st)
Team EPA: -74.4 (20th)
QB-added value: +293.4
There wasn’t much mystery to which player would land at No. 1. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with any measurement of player value that didn’t have Patrick Mahomes at the top of its list in 2018. He was one of just two quarterbacks with 5,000 passing yards and the only one with 50 passing touchdowns. Those season totals would have propelled him to his standing however he accumulated them, but he epitomized the added-value concept by having his best production in the Chiefs’ four losses, in which he averaged 337 passing yards, 3.75 passing touchdowns and a 111.8 quarterback rating. When the team lost, it clearly did so despite Mahomes’ brilliance. And the Chiefs would have lost many more games without him, thanks to the league’s seventh-worst defense by DVOA.
2. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Things become much more intriguing in second place, where Ryan takes the nod despite leading a Falcons team to a 7-9 record. His placement illustrates the importance of a relative value ranking.
3. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
5. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Unlike Ryan, Roethlisberger and Rodgers, Brees had a top-10 supporting cast by EPA. It’s little wonder, then, that he rattled off 13 wins in his 15 starts in 2018. Playing just a few months before his 40th birthday, Brees showed no signs of declining performance
6. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
The top five quarterbacks in added value all finished in the top 10 in EPA on their passes and carries independent of the quality of the rest of the team in 2018. Carr finished 25th. It’s a real testament to how bad the rest of the Raiders’ roster was that he landed so high in added value.
7. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
It’s a cliché that teams are quicker to change coaches than quarterbacks, but Dalton’s No. 7 spot on this list neatly explains the reason Marvin Lewis was fired and Dalton was retained.
8. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Football watchers outside of the greater New York City area were ready for the Giants to draft a new franchise quarterback a year or two before they did. But while it didn’t show up in the team’s won-lost record, Manning played reasonably well in 2018, completing a career high 66% of his passes and throwing for 7.5 yards per attempt, his best rate since 2011.
9. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
10. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Traditional quarterback measurements have always had a difficult time capturing Newton’s value.
1. Josh Rosen, Miami Dolphins
QB EPA: -112.6 (29th)
Team EPA: -88.3 (23rd)
QB-added value: -24.3
When Joe Flacco lost his job midseason, he lost his opportunity to defend his back-to-back finishes as the quarterback with the worst added value. But even if he had played the full season, it’s unlikely he could have challenged Rosen.
2. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
3. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Like Cousins, Mariota is another quarterback whose statistical improvements in some areas mask what actually has been consistently substandard play.
4. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Trubisky faces a lot of the same criticism Mariota does, but he is two years into his professional career, not four, and he showed noticeable improvement from 53.6 EPA in 2017 to 79.9 EPA last season.
5. Case Keenum, Washington Redskins
2018 team: Denver Broncos
6. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
2018 team: Miami Dolphins
7. Blake Bortles, Los Angeles Rams
2018 team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Bortles bookended his deceptively mediocre “breakthrough” 2017 season with three wins as a starter in both 2016 and in 2018.
8. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
9. Sam Darnold, New York Jets
10. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Some quarterbacks on this list took advantage of good accuracy against a softer selection of passes. Instead, Brees worked against a barely above-average expected completion percentage (69.9% versus 69.5%) and dominated.
2. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Say what you will about John DeFilippo, and Vikings fans have, but his offense definitely took advantage of Adam Thielen’s talents in the slot.
3. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
4. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
5. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
6. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Almost all of Carr’s extra accuracy last season came from Jon Gruden’s move to a short-focused passing game.
7. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins
2018 team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
And here’s the opposite: Fitzpatrick gained almost all of his value last season on deeper passes.
8. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
9. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
10. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Mariota was essentially league average on throws under 10 yards last season, completing 81.6% against an expected 80.4%. The deep accuracy was better, with him hitting 56.6% of his throws of 10 or more yards against a schedule that would net an average quarterback 51.6%.
1. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
When you get drafted primarily for your deep arm, but then you manage 41.6% completion rate on passes over 10 yards and attempt 137 of them, it doesn’t tend to end well for the accuracy metrics.
2. Josh Rosen, Miami Dolphins
2018 team: Arizona Cardinals
Rosen was bad all over the field in Mike McCoy’s regressive offense, but he was at his worst on short passes.
3. C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers
4. Jeff Driskel, Cincinnati Bengals
5. Blake Bortles, Los Angeles Rams
2018 team: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars tried, guys, they really did. They gave Bortles expected passes over the middle with an average completion percentage of 72.9%. That’s 2.5% higher than the expected completion percentage of all passes over the middle. Bortles could complete only 63.5% of them, and on a volume basis he was the worst passer in the NFL on throws over the middle. If Rams coach Sean McVay can turn Bortles around, he deserves sainthood.
6. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Jackson was probably the league’s worst quarterback on throws outside the numbers last season.
7. Sam Darnold, New York Jets
8. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
9. Case Keenum, Washington Redskins
2018 team: Denver Broncos
10. Joe Flacco, Denver Broncos
2018 team: Baltimore Ravens
Football Outsiders created a metric called ALEX to measure quarterbacks’ aggressiveness on third downs. Named for noted checkdown artist Alex Smith, ALEX stands for Air yards Less EXpected, and measures the average difference between a quarterback’s pass depth and the yards he needs to gain on third down to create a new first down. Leaguewide, ALEX has fallen from +1.4 — that is 1.4 yards past the line to gain — in 2015 and 2016 to +1.2 in 2017 and +1.1 last season. But there is a new hope in the form of the 2018 league MVP. Perhaps his success with an aggressive approach to third downs will spawn the imitators that Pederson could not with his aggressive playcalling.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
2018 ALEX: +4.5
The eponymous Alex Smith went 50-26 in five seasons in Kansas City, but he was never beloved there. One reason was his lack of playoff success, but I contend the bigger reason was his conservative nature. Even in his breakout 2017 season, he peaked at +0.7 ALEX, still in the bottom half of the league. Mahomes injected Arrowhead Stadium with new life with his gunslinger approach as much as with his stellar performance. He converted 50% of his third downs, most in the league, but he also threw for a league-leading 8.8 yards on those attempts with a 12.0-yard average depth of throw. Most quarterbacks focus their third-down efforts on moving the chains, but Mahomes also wanted to score. Mahomes threw 12 third-down touchdowns, tied for second most in football with Tom Brady. Unsurprisingly, Mahomes’ third-down efforts added up to a league-leading 77.6% DVOA that was the best in football. He actually performed better on third down than he did on either first (17.2%) or second down (41.5% DVOA).
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers is no stranger to the ALEX leaderboard. He finished in the top five each of the past four seasons.
3. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
4. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winston is another mainstay on this list, finishing in the top five of ALEX for each of the past three seasons.
5. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
6. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
After a couple of more conservative seasons, Wilson returned to his aggressive reputation on third downs in 2018, throwing nearly 3 yards on average past the line to gain.
7. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
8. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins
2018 team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
10. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
1. Jeff Driskel, Cincinnati Bengals
2018 ALEX: -2.0
2. C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers
3. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
One of the major reasons Prescott surprised in 2016 after being a Day 3 draft pick was his willingness to be aggressive on third downs. That year, Prescott threw 1.2 yards past the line to gain on average and converted 41% of his third-down chances into first downs. But since then, Prescott has declined to +0.5 ALEX in 2017 and minus-1.0 ALEX in 2018, and his third-down conversion rate has declined in step.
4. Josh Rosen, Miami Dolphins
2018 team: Arizona Cardinals
5. Eli Manning, New York Giants
6. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
7. Nick Foles, Jacksonville Jaguars
2018 team: Philadelphia Eagles
8. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
9. Case Keenum, Washington Redskins
2018 team: Denver Broncos
10. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts