AROUND THE NFL

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com on how compensatory picks sometimes work in the opposite direction of how they were intended:

 

The original idea behind compensatory picks was to help maintain parity in the NFL: The league has never wanted wealthy teams in big markets to be able to buy up all the top talent and leave the small-market teams struggling, so the compensatory pick formula gives additional picks to teams that have lost high-priced free agents to other teams.

 

But in the years since the NFL started awarding compensatory picks, they’ve actually helped the best teams stay on top. That’s never been more true than this year, when the two Super Bowl participants, the Patriots and Rams, were the only teams that received two third-round compensatory picks. Compensatory picks will help the best teams get better.

 

The NFL, with its salary cap and revenue sharing, doesn’t have the same issues with big-market teams out-bidding small-market teams that have been problems in other sports leagues. So compensatory picks don’t go to the have-nots as compensation for losing key players to the haves.

 

Instead, compensatory picks go to the teams that were already good, and had such an abundance of good players that some of them signed high-priced contracts elsewhere. Teams like the Patriots and Rams.

 

Also benefiting the best teams is the fact that their success gives job security to their decision makers, and a front office that is secure in its job is willing to play the long game and wait out free agency this year to get compensatory picks next year. On bad teams, the G.M. knows he’s on thin ice and might lose his job without a winning season, so he needs to sign free agents who can help this year, not wait for compensatory picks next year. It’s no coincidence that the Ravens, who had the league’s longest-tenured G.M. in Ozzie Newsome, are also the team that has acquired the most compensatory picks. Newsome knew he had job security, which made him feel comfortable building for the future with compensatory picks, which in turn perpetuated his job security.

 

So while compensatory picks were implemented for the sake of parity in theory, in practice they’ve had the opposite effect: Compensatory picks help the top teams stay on top.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com wonders if the Giants might just cut ELI MANNING for cash, but then decides against it.

 

This is the business portion of the annual NFL proceedings. The New York Giants, like everybody else, have to make some financial decisions in the next few weeks in order to prepare their books for the upcoming new league year. That means potentially cutting some players or restructuring their contracts.

 

The Giants have already addressed running back Jonathan Stewart and outside linebacker Connor Barwin. The team did not pick up the option in Stewart’s contract, and Barwin was released. Those two moves gave the Giants an additional $4.7 million against the salary cap.

 

There could be more coming, although not too many, considering there are only 20 holdovers remaining from the 2017 roster before general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur took over. These are the big decisions they face this offseason.

 

Janoris Jenkins, cornerback

The financials: Jenkins is set to count $14.75 million against the salary cap this year. The Giants owe him $11.25 million for 2019 if he’s on the roster and can save $7.5 million against the cap if he’s released.

 

Other factors: It would be hard to imagine the team allowing Jenkins to walk. He’s the only bona fide starting cornerback under contract on the Giants’ roster and is coming off a fairly strong season. The Giants also moved some of his 2018 money into the final two years of his deal, indicating they viewed him as part of their future at the time of the move last summer, barring any unforeseen incidents. There weren’t any last season. But Jenkins’ $11.25 million for 2019 ties him as the NFL’s fourth-highest paid cornerback for this year. So he’s not cheap. That puts him somewhat in jeopardy.

 

Prediction: Stay

 

Eli Manning, quarterback

The financials: Manning is set to count $23.2 million against the salary cap this year in the final year of his contract. The Giants can save $17 million against the cap if he’s released.

 

Other factors: The Giants would save a nice chunk of change if they allowed Manning to walk and replaced him with a cheaper veteran and a high draft pick. They also would probably get a quarterback who can do better than rank 25th in QBR, which Manning did this past season. But the Giants seem to be leaning toward another year with Manning as the starter after the offense showed some promise in the second half of the season. They finished sixth in offensive points per game (24.75) over the final eight weeks. Manning’s salary of $17 million this season currently places him 15th among active quarterbacks. That’s not an outrageous sum, although it could benefit the team if his salary and cap number were reduced this season. That remains a possibility even if it hasn’t been discussed yet.

 

Prediction: Stay

 

Olivier Vernon, outside linebacker

The financials: Vernon is set to count $19.5 million against the salary cap this year. The Giants owe him $15.5 million for 2019 if he’s on the roster and can save $11.5 million against the cap if he’s released.

 

Other factors: Vernon is coming off a rough season. He missed five games, played through ankle and shoulder injuries and was questioned publicly by his coach. That didn’t go over well behind closed doors. Still, Vernon is the Giants’ best pass-rusher by a wide margin. I made the argument entering the season that he was the most important player on the team considering the drop-off behind him on the depth chart. That showed when he was sidelined for the first five games with a high ankle sprain. He still finished with more than twice as many quarterback hits as any other player on the Giants’ roster last year, despite missing significant time and taking several games to get back near full strength. His 7.0 sacks also led the team. Vernon is expensive at $15.5 million this season, but he doesn’t have any more guaranteed money remaining in his contract. That makes him worth a one-year flier for the Giants or another team. He could have value on the trade market, should the Giants elect to go that route.

 

Prediction: Stay

 

The wild card

Rhett Ellison, tight end: He is set to count $5.75 million against the cap this year. The Giants can create $3.25 million in cap space if released. Though Ellison is a valuable complement to Evan Engram because of his blocking, it’s a move they might contemplate if they’re desperate to free up money. They’re expected to be in the range of $30 million under the cap at the start of free agency without any more moves.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

RB PEYTON BARBER learns a valuable lesson – never leave your passport in a parked car.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber had his team-issued tablet stolen from his SUV early on Saturday in Atlanta, according to ESPN.

 

Police said a group of men broke into Barber’s SUV around 5 a.m. on Saturday morning near Phipps Plaza just north of downtown Atlanta, according to WSB-TV in Atlanta. The men reportedly stole his tablet, passport, designer sunglasses and clothing, and were seen breaking into multiple vehicles.

 

There was no playbook information on the tablet, a team official told ESPN. They still wiped the tablet clean remotely on Saturday anyway — which cleared scouting video that was on the tablet — to protect any other confidential information from getting out. The team does use their tablets as playbooks, however the new playbook apparently had not yet been loaded.

 

Barber, who hails from Alpharetta, Georgia, ran for 871 yards on 234 carries for five touchdowns this season for the Buccaneers — his third in the league.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

The Ravens understand that running is a big part of what might make QB LAMAR JACKSON palatable as an NFL QB.  Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:

 

Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was asked about the times last season when quarterback Lamar Jackson would try to get an extra two or three yards instead of going out of bounds.

 

Are those yards worth the hit?

 

“Does it get us a first down?” Roman asked.

 

This sums up the mindset of the Ravens’ coaching staff. Jackson’s running ability is a weapon that can extend drives and get Baltimore in the end zone. It’s not a point of consternation.

 

When it comes to Jackson darting around defenders in the open field, there’s more concern about him getting injured from those outside the Ravens’ facility than those inside. Roman and coach John Harbaugh each said this offseason that the risk isn’t heightened for running quarterbacks compared to pocket passers.

 

“It’s a little overrated, the whole danger thing,” Roman said. “Why? Because, and this is empirical data here, over the years you kind of realize that when a quarterback decides to run, he’s in control. So now [if] he wants to slide, he can slide. If he wants to dive, he can dive, get out of bounds — all of those different things. He can get down, declare himself down. A lot of the time, the situations that [have] more danger are when he doesn’t see what’s coming — my eyes are downfield, I’m standing stationary from the pocket, somebody is hitting me from the blindside.”

 

Jackson didn’t simply run the ball more than any quarterback last season. His 147 rush attempts set the record for most attempts by a quarterback in a single season since the 1970 merger, and the rookie didn’t start a game until Week 11.

 

Many of his runs were designed plays and didn’t occur from him taking off out of the pocket. Jackson’s running was such a big part of the game plan because he was Baltimore’s top playmaker.

 

In his seven regular-season starts, Jackson led the Ravens in runs of 10 yards or longer (16) and 20 yards or longer (seven). He accounted for half of Baltimore’s eight rushing touchdowns during that stretch.

 

“Every player is one play away from being hurt, and every quarterback standing in the pocket is one hit away from being hurt, too,” Harbaugh said. “But the fact that he gets out and runs and scrambles … I get it; I think it’s fair to consider that, but you can’t live your life in fear. I think there’s just as much fear on the other side that he’s going to take the thing to the house if he gets out and runs, too. So, we’ll live in that world as opposed to the other world.”

 

The Ravens know firsthand the horror stories of quarterbacks suffering significant injuries when on the run. In 2003, Michael Vick’s leg was broken by Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas while Vick scrambled downfield. In 2012, Robert Griffin III suffered a career-altering knee injury on a nasty collision outside the pocket with Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

 

Baltimore had two injury scares with Jackson last season. On Dec. 2, he missed an eight-minute series in Atlanta after being accidentally hit in the head by left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s foot at the end of a run. On Dec. 9, Jackson was knocked out of the game’s final two plays in Kansas City after injuring an ankle on a sack outside the pocket. But he never missed any games.

 

This isn’t to say Jackson would be safer if he became more of a pure dropback passer. Jackson’s opportunity to start last season came when Joe Flacco suffered an injured hip while getting hit inside the pocket. Last season’s most gruesome quarterback injury happened when Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibula in his right leg on a sack that was also inside the pocket.

 

The Ravens aren’t wearing blinders on the subject of Jackson’s runs. If he takes more hits, the chances of him getting injured go up. That’s why Roman met with Jackson each Friday to go over film and break down his decision-making on runs. The goal was to lessen the unnecessary hits.

 

“My experience, and I kind of learned this, is that when the quarterback takes the ball and starts to run, there’s not a lot of danger involved in that relative to other situations,” Roman said. “Now, how does he handle those situations, to your point? Yes, last year, for example, was a learning curve for him on how he would handle a situation. Do we really want to take those hits? Why would I cut back against the grain when I could take it out the front door into space? All of those things started last year.”

 

Going forward, Jackson’s rushing attempts could get reduced by circumstance more than a coaching decision. He won’t be bursting downfield as much if he throws the ball more in his second season and if the Ravens add an explosive running back in free agency or the draft.

 

But, when Jackson takes off, Harbaugh and Roman won’t be wringing their hands.

 

“Lamar is just a heck of a player,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a threat every time he touches the ball — run and pass. You certainly, as a coach, are excited to have a guy like that playing quarterback for you.”

 

 

CINCINNATI

The Bengals have a defensive coordinator at long last.  Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com:

 

The Cincinnati Bengals have hired New York Giants defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo as their defensive coordinator.

 

Before working for New York last season, Anarumo was defensive backs coach for the Dolphins from 2012-17.

 

Anarumo was also the Dolphins’ interim defensive coordinator in 2015 due to midseason firings. Bengals coach Zac Taylor and Anarumo worked on the Dolphins staff together from 2012-15.

 

“I’ve always had great respect for Lou, and I know he is a tremendous defensive coach,” Taylor said in a news release. “He’s a great fit for what we want to build here in Cincinnati. Lou is an excellent communicator who the players will have great respect for, and he will get the best out of them.”

 

The move comes after a series of failed attempts to put together the final piece in Taylor’s coaching staff. Taylor was not officially hired until Feb. 4 due to a rule that coaches with teams still in the playoffs cannot officially be hired. Taylor was previously quarterbacks coach for the Rams, who made it to Super Bowl LIII, where they lost to the Patriots, 13-3.

 

The Bengals went after Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who chose to renew his contract with New Orleans instead of moving. They were also unable to get Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who chose to stay in the college ranks. Other notable names such as Jack Del Rio and Dom Capers didn’t work out for various reasons.

 

Taylor has maintained that getting the right staff in place was more important than the timetable, although he did admit a few weeks ago that the clock was ticking with the NFL scouting combine coming up soon.

 

“We need to make sure the right people are here coaching these players. There’s a lot of really good coaches out there, so we’re going to find the right people,” Taylor said on Feb. 5. “We’re urgent in assembling the right people, but we’re going to take our time and make sure that everyone is a perfect fit for this place. We’ll take our time with the process, but I have no concerns that we’re going to get the right people in this building.”

 

Anarumo is the Bengals’ first official defensive coordinator since Nov. 12, 2018, when Teryl Austin was fired midseason. Then-Bengals coach Marvin Lewis took on the responsibilities of defensive coordinator, and while the Bengals showed improvement, they still finished last in total defense and passing defense. They were 29th in rushing defense and 30th in scoring defense.

 

The Giants finished 23rd in passing defense in 2018.

 

Anarumo will be the third defensive coordinator for Cincinnati in three seasons, as longtime defensive coordinator Paul Guenther left after the 2017 season to join the Raiders coaching staff.

 

 

CLEVELAND

WR ANTONIO CALLAWAY has a marijuana possession charge dropped.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Browns receiver Antonio Callaway had his marijuana charge dropped, his lawyer Kevin Spellacy told cleveland.com.

 

His charge for driving with a suspended license was amended, and he pleaded guilty to speeding Oct. 14th in Strongsville, going 58 mph in a 35 zone, in a hearing Jan. 25th.

 

“The whole time I maintained he didn’t know (the marijuana) was there. It wasn’t his,’’ Spellacy said Thursday. “The officers on the video said he wasn’t smoking it.

 

“It was literally the size of the tip of a pen. That’s how minute it was and at the end of the day, they knew they had a problem proving a case against him that he knew he possessed marijuana which he didn’t know.’’

 

Callaway was stopped in Strongsville at 2:59 a.m. Aug. 5 for failing to yield to oncoming traffic, and officers found a small marijuana roach under the passenger seat of the car. Callaway was charged with minor misdemeanor possession and driving with a suspended license.

 

But Spellacy provided proof that Callaway’s car had been shipped from Florida just three days earlier, and that he hadn’t driven it in weeks since he came to Cleveland for the start of training camp in July.

 

“They did the right thing,’’ said Spellacy. “They dismissed it, he took responsibility for the things he has done which was he didn’t have a valid driver’s license at the time, and then a second case that was months, months, months later, he had (speeded) and he pled to that.’’

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News offers a buyer beware warning on RB Le’VEON BELL, but he would still command the Jets to offer him a huge contract if he could.  Such are the powers of a sportswriter:

 

The Jets believe that Bell is a quality player, but there are reservations inside the building about his motivation after he lands a big pay day. Frankly, I think that sentiment is unfounded given what people who know Bell have told me about his competitiveness and work ethic. He made a business decision last season that few players have had the courage to make in NFL history. But I expect him to be a dominant player when he returns.

 

There’s also concern on One Jets Drive about how much tread the 27-year-old Bell has left on his tires given his 1,635 touches in five seasons.

 

Then there’s this: Word on the street is that Bell, who’s playing weight is about 225 pounds, ballooned to around 260 pounds at one point during his year-long hiatus. There’s a fair amount of concern from the Jets about what kind of shape he’s in at the moment. (You’d have to think that Bell has lost most of his extra baggage by now).

 

All that being said, the Jets would take Bell at the right price. What exactly is that price? Well, my understanding is that he’s looking for a deal that pockets $48 million in the first three years.

 

I’ve been told that the Jets are not going to break the bank for Bell. It would be a shame if Gang Green made a token low-ball offer to arguably the best dual-threat running back of the past decade.

– – –

Samar Kalaf of Deadspin takes some shots at QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER:

 

The Steelers gleaned no lessons from the Le’Veon Bell fiasco, huh? Not only are they happy to let their relationship with receiver Antonio Brown wither away, but the front office has made sure to emphasize that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the only player above reproach. Take note, upcoming free agents.

 

As Brown aired his grievances with Pittsburgh last weekend, he called out Roethlisberger for having a lack of respect for other players, and holding an “owner mentality.” On Wednesday, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert sided with the QB, and in the process infantilized the rest of the players on the team. Roethlisberger has “52 kids”? Really?

 

“Ben’s the unquestioned leader of this group,” Colbert said, via Jim Wexell of 247Sports. “He’s the elder statesman and the Super Bowl winner. If our players were smart they’d listen to him because he’s been there; he’s done it; he can tell them, no, guys, what you’re doing is or is not good enough to do this. I honestly believe that can be a burden on him more often than he may like to admit, because he has 52 kids under him, quite honestly. I want them to step up and say, ‘Hey, Ben, what do I gotta do? Can I do this better? What do we have to do to win a Super Bowl?’ I think that once you win it, you’ve got 53 guys who can say they know what it took. Right now he’s the only one, so I have no problem with him. He can call me out, and that’s fine. What he does, I totally respect because I’ve seen him too many times win games for us and come through situations.”

 

Just because Roethlisberger’s old doesn’t mean he’s fit to be a leader, and he doesn’t know how to lead. Also, being accused of sexual assault twice should be a disqualification. Surely there must be other veteran players on the team who could handle this responsibility. (Maybe not these guys, though.)

 

Colbert’s comments yesterday make clear that the Steelers will continue to facilitate Big Ben until he retires or is severely injured. Brown is grouchy for a bunch of reasons, but you could see why he’d be grouchy about that work situation. There’s no reason any player on offense should sign with Pittsburgh this offseason as long as Roethlisberger is in charge. As the team sees it, even when he’s wrong, he’s right.

 

Matthew Marczi of Steelers Depot defends Colbert:

 

Within his answer, Colbert referred to the rest of the Steelers roster as “kids” in comparison, who will turn 37 in a couple of weeks and is nearly four years older than the next-oldest player on the roster, that being Ramon Foster, who is also the second-longest tenured. Foster just completed his 10th season in the NFL, while Roethlisberger completed his 15th. His career is literally 50 percent longer than his left guard’s.

 

Apparently Colbert’s reference to the other players on the roster as “kids” was greatly offensive, especially when viewed with no context. Personally, I have no issue with the remark even without much context, but the discussion in which it arose is important as well.

 

While the franchise quarterback is a position that naturally lends itself to a certain prestige and authority, Roethlisberger’s status in Pittsburgh is even more distinct not just because he has played at least 50 percent longer than everybody else, but also because he is the only one on the roster (outside of Morgan Burnett with the Green Bay Packers) who has experienced what it’s like to win an NFL championship, having done so twice.

 

First, let’s make clear exactly what Colbert was asked, which we know thanks to the transcript provided to us by Will Graves of the Associated Press. “Ben has said he’s earned the right to be critical, even if it’s in public”, Colbert was asked. “Do you talk to him about that? Do you wish he’d be quieter?”.

 

“No, because Ben is the unquestioned leader of this group”, he began in his response. “Like I said, he’s the elder statesmen and the Super Bowl winner. If our players were smart, they’d listen to him because he’s been there. He’s done it. He can tell them, ‘no guys, what you’re doing is or is not good enough to do this’”.

 

He went on to reiterate a previous comment that such a role could be a burden on him before saying, “he’s got 52 kids under him quite honestly. I want them to step up and say, ‘hey Ben, what do I have to do? Can I do this better? What do we have to do to win a Super Bowl?’”.

 

Colbert was speaking about Roethlisberger within the context of a roster in which only one player has ever gone through the process of winning a Super Bowl. That player has also played longer and is older by statistically significant degrees.

 

By comparison, it’s perfectly reasonable to use the relative term of ‘kid’ within that context. Players, coaches, owners, general managers, and everybody else use the term ‘kid’ to refer to people who are younger or less experienced than they are, and it happens in every other walk of life, as well. It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a YouTube video compiling all of the times that Jon Gruden or Mike Mayock referred to a veteran NFL player as “this kid” during a broadcast.

 

It’s a figure of speech and nothing more. Certainly nothing that merits any sort of drama. It’s fairly innocuous even when removed from its context, but reading it as part of the complete quote makes it abundantly clear that the term ‘kid’ wasn’t intended disparagingly. And frankly, if any veteran Steelers players took offense to that, then it says something about the fragility of their ego.

– – –

The Steelers are hoping to ship WR ANTONIO BROWN to an NFC team.

 

Beggars can’t be choosers. The Steelers will try to be.

 

With the team recently admitting that only three teams have expressed interest in trading for receiver Antonio Brown even though owner Art Rooney II made it clear that Brown is available six weeks ago, the Steelers want to trade him only to an NFC team.

 

Per multiple reports, the Steelers will avoid trading Brown to one of their AFC North rivals or to the Patriots.

 

Ultimately, however, the decision will hinge on what a team is willing to give the Steelers, in comparison to the next best offer. If the Patriots, Browns, Ravens, or Bengals offer a first-round pick and the 49ers offer a fifth-round pick, what will the Steelers do?

 

What the new team will be willing to pay Brown is also a big part of this, since he’s made it clear that he wants a new contract. Which complicates the process considerably, and which will help put the Steelers far more squarely in the “beggars” than “choosers” category, when it’s time to choose between trading Brown or paying him the $2.5 million roster bonus that becomes due on March 17.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

TENNESSEE

Turron Davenport of ESPN.com with a positive report on the rehab of veteran TE DELANIE WALKER:

 

There’s a saying in the NFL that a reliable tight end is a quarterback’s best friend. Given how Titans TE Delanie Walker has been targeted over 100 times in each of his three full seasons paired with QB Marcus Mariota, that rings true in Tennessee.

 

The 13-year veteran has been the focal point of the passing game since arriving as a free agent in 2013. Mariota appreciates the impact Walker has on opposing defenses.

 

“Delanie was such a vital part of the offense, and he caused matchup problems. Teams tried to figure out how to match up against him or maybe even put two guys on him,” Mariota said after Walker suffered a season-ending ankle injury last September.

– – –

Employing dual crossing routes with Walker and another pass-catcher will set up natural picks and cause defenders to get lost in coverage, creating an easy throw to the second option because Walker will draw most of the defense’s attention. Smith can also use Walker on seam routes to create open windows for a deep in-breaking route by a secondary receiver underneath. There is an abundance of ways to benefit from the threat that Walker brings.

 

When the season starts, Walker will be 35. Before leaving the facility for the offseason, he said his recovery is going as scheduled. His goal is to be able to run and catch footballs in OTAs. He knows the questions about returning to form will arise and he welcomes the challenge.

 

“I don’t really remember how old I am,” Walker said. “They can judge me all they want. I already know people are going to say it’s going to be a struggle to come back off an injury like this. They doubted me before and look how far I got. I am just going to prove everybody wrong.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com on what the Patriots should do this offseason:

 

1. Extend Tom Brady’s deal. Let’s start with an easy one. While Brady has notably taken less money than his peers over the years, his cap hold for 2019 is $27 million, which is the fifth largest in the league. It’s also the final year of his deal, so if the future Hall of Famer really wants to play until he’s 45, the Pats have some work to do. New England obviously doesn’t want Brady to go anywhere, so a two-year extension would keep him around while creating cap room in 2019.

 

The exact terms of the extension all depend on what sort of discount Brady is willing to take, but the team could easily free up $6 million in space with a Brady deal. It could create another $11.2 million by cutting Dwayne Allen and Adrian Clayborn, which would get the Pats over $31 million in room, pending a possible retirement …

 

2. Convince Rob Gronkowski to return (or get a very notable replacement). There’s no replacing Gronk. It was telling that when New England finally moved the ball on offense in the Super Bowl, it was by going to 22 personnel and spreading out the Rams’ base defense. Few teams in the NFL have tight ends capable of stretching the seams. The Patriots have one in Gronk. Few teams in the NFL have a tight end capable of looking like an extra offensive lineman in the blocking game. That’s Gronk, too.

 

If they can’t convince Gronkowski to return, it will free up $9.9 million more in cap room and push them over $40 million. Without Gronkowski, the Pats probably have to change their offensive style. They originally built their Brady offenses around Antowain Smith and Troy Brown before transitioning to the Corey Dillon and Deion Branch era. In 2007, they moved to the spread and imported Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte’ Stallworth. When it was time to move on from Moss, they drafted Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

 

It’s possible that the future is heavy doses of Sony Michel and power sets, with the Patriots taking advantage of teams moving toward smaller defenses and using the nickel as their base set. Maybe they’ll trade up to grab T.J. Hockenson in Round 1 and turn the Iowa tight end into the next Gronk. I’d be skeptical.

 

With no Gronk, I wonder whether New England shifts its offense back toward the spread. It needs a great receiver on the outside to pull that off, and it just so happens that two of them might be available via trade this offseason. The Pats have to give serious consideration to trading for either Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown. Of the two, I would prefer Beckham, who’s five years younger. Of course, Beckham also would cost more.

 

Even if it’s not a receiver on the level of Beckham or Brown, expect the team to replace Gronkowski by making at least one meaningful addition to its receiving corps this offseason. It also could add a depth piece given that Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson are all free agents. Bill Belichick has tried to sign Emmanuel Sanders in the past, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he went after Sanders in the hopes that the Broncos wideout will be ready for the second half of the season.

 

3. Let Trent Brown leave, and try to bring back Trey Flowers. Everything depends on the price, but New England has a much more obvious need at defensive end than it does at left tackle. Brown wasn’t even guaranteed a starting job when he joined the Pats last year, but when first-round pick Isaiah Wynn tore his Achilles, Brown became the starter and excelled. Wynn should be ready for Week 1 next season, and with Marcus Cannon entrenched at right tackle, they probably can’t realistically afford to compete with teams who want to pay Brown something in the $13 million range.

 

If the Pats lose Flowers, on the other hand, their edge rotation suddenly looks very thin. They could bring back John Simon and hold onto Clayborn in lieu of cutting the former Bucs end, but a Flowers-less team absolutely has to add a starting-caliber end to replace him. I’d argue that the Patriots should consider franchising Flowers, but they’ve developed a habit of letting their players hit the market before trusting that they’ll get a shot at matching an offer. Belichick re-signed Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower that way, but it led to an outlandish offer on Nate Solder last year. I’d feel comfortable going to $14 million per year on Flowers, but I wonder whether that will be enough (or if Belichick feels the same way).

 

4. Add help on the defensive line. Regardless of what happens with Flowers, New England needs to increase its depth up front. Flowers and Simon are free agents on the edge, while Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton are both unrestricted on the interior. I would imagine the team probably has to bring in at least one run-stuffer. One pivot from Flowers would be to sign Ndamukong Suh, who would give Belichick the most impactful interior defender he has had since Vince Wilfork, but you know the Patriots will get somebody on a bargain deal who comes up with a big play in the postseason.

 

5. Find a punter. Ryan Allen is a free agent, and the Pats have generally been comfortable cycling through left-footed punters; they even brought in options to compete with Allen last offseason. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them opt for a new solution. If so, Allen is leaving on a high, given how much work the 28-year-old ran through in Super Bowl LIII.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

One of the most squeaky-clean players of recent history, now a noted doctor, finds himself accused of committing “sexual harassment” through the content of one phone call.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Myron Rolle — a Rhodes Scholar, an NFL player, and now a medical resident in the field of neurosurgery — recently has been accused of sexual harassment. He denies the claim, publicly and strongly with a detailed statement pushing back against the allegation.

 

“I understand that in today’s world the responsibility falls on the ‘accused’ to prove themselves innocent, as opposed to ones alleged ‘accuser’ having to prove their claims before going public,” Rolle said, via the Miami Herald. “Unfortunately, I have found myself victim to these very circumstances.

 

“A blogger/online personality, whom I have never met in person and have only interacted with once via phone, recently claimed that I verbally harassed her during a phone call exchange. She furthered these claims by stating that anonymous sources have come forward and added their accounts to her narrative.

 

“Let me make myself perfectly clear — these accusations are absolutely false and should be characterized as exactly what they are — acts of bullying, intimidation and retaliation.

 

“I have been raised to respect women and to also keep my personal affairs private, as that is the respectful thing to do. However, I will not sit idly by and allow someone to engage in intentional character assassination simply because I did not return their advances or wish to engage in a relationship as they may have wanted.”

 

The accuser is Amanda Seales, an actress and online personality. Rolle, a sixth-round pick in 2010 of the Titans, spent time with Tennessee and Pittsburgh but never played in a regular-season game. He currently is a neurosurgery resident at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital.

 

Here is a little background on the claims of the “comedienne” known as “Amanda Diva.”

 

Seales detailed the alleged harassment on her podcast, ”Small Doses” and on the “Breakfast Club.” However, it wasn’t until she recently posted an Instagram story that she attached a name to her accusations. That name was Rolle, who retired from the NFL in 2013 to attend medical school. Rolle is currently a Harvard medical resident in neurosurgery. He was a Rhodes scholar while attending FSU.

 

If Seales is to be believed, they had one phone conversation, then Rolle sent her “inappropriate” direct messages.

 

She has a master’s in African-American studies from Columbia “with a concentration in hip hop.”

 

 

KRAFT

Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com tries to figure out how the NFL will react to the charges against Patriots owner Robert Kraft:

 

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is facing misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution charges, South Florida police said Friday. Let’s take a closer look at what this story means.

 

What exactly are the charges?

Kraft is among more than 200 people, police say, who engaged in sex acts with employees of targeted massage parlors in South Florida. According to police, every person who will be charged was caught on videotape. Police said Kraft made two trips to the Orchids of Asia massage parlor in Jupiter, Florida, about one month ago, and thus faces two counts of the charge. Police said details about the charges against Kraft will not be released until next week.

 

Has Kraft been arrested?

No. A warrant will be issued, and his attorneys will be notified. In a statement, a spokesman for Kraft said he “categorically” denies “any illegal activity.”

 

Why was the massage parlor under surveillance?

This case was part of a larger crackdown on a human trafficking ring in the South Florida region, police said. According to TCPalm.com, affidavits obtained last week indicated that employees at Orchids of Asia were living at the parlor and were trapped there as part of the trafficking ring. Many of them are from China, according to the report.

 

What is Kraft’s legal jeopardy?

The charge is punishable with up to 60 days in jail, six months of probation and $500 in fines, according to Florida law.

 

Is there any possibility these charges will result in Kraft having to sell the Patriots?

Almost certainly not, but he is subject to NFL discipline on an individual level.

 

Why?

Everyone in the NFL, including owners, are subject to the league’s personal conduct policy. The policy covers “conduct by anyone in the league that is illegal, violent, dangerous, or irresponsible, puts innocent victims at risk, damages the reputation of others in the game, and undercuts public respect and support for the NFL,” per its text. Owners and club or league management are held to higher standards under the policy and are “subject to more significant discipline when violations … occur.”

 

The league released this statement on Friday: “The NFL is aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”

 

So what kind of punishment could that lead to?

There isn’t much precedent here, but most recently Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended six games and fined $500,000 in 2014. Irsay had been arrested on drug charges and ultimately pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Irsay also admitted to a judge that he was under the influence of the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone. In 2010, Detroit Lions team president Tom Lewand was suspended for 30 days and fined $100,000 after a guilty plea to driving while impaired.

 

Lewand and Irsay pleaded guilty, but Kraft denies he broke the law.

 

That will be determined by the judicial process. But the NFL has made clear that guilty verdicts aren’t required for league discipline. The policy states: “It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values of the NFL, and is lawful.”

 

So Kraft could be exonerated and still face discipline from the NFL?

In theory, yes.

 

Is Goodell up to disciplining Robert Kraft, one of the NFL’s most powerful owners?

Goodell has punished Kraft’s Patriots more severely than any other franchise during his tenure. He fined them $250,000, and coach Bill Belichick $500,000, for spying on an opponent’s defensive signals in 2007. In 2015, Goodell fined the Patriots $1 million, stripped them of two draft choices and suspended quarterback Tom Brady as part of the Deflategate investigation. Kraft threatened legal action against the league but eventually backed off.

 

If Kraft is suspended, who would operate the team?

That’s getting a little ahead of ourselves, but the Patriots are a family-run business. Kraft’s son Jonathan is the team president and presumed heir to the franchise.

 

The DB would think that Kraft would seem to fit into the Lewand mold, maybe a bigger fine because Kraft has more money.  But maybe not a full 30 days since his “crime” would seem to fit in somewhere worse than a speeding ticket and less than driving while drunk on the scale of danger to society.

 

 

2019 DRAFT

Mel Kiper, Jr. offers this Mock Draft:

 

A lot has happened since my first 2019 NFL mock draft in mid-January. The first-round draft order was set after the Patriots beat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. We’ve seen the nation’s best senior prospects perform against each other at the Senior Bowl. And Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray has spurned baseball and committed to playing football.

 

That means it’s the perfect time for another shot at projecting the first round of this draft, going 1-32 and explaining my thoughts on each pick.