AROUND THE NFL

An update on the talks (or lack) concerning a new CBA.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

Monday’s collective bargaining session between the NFL and the NFL Players Association has been postponed, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Sunday.

 

The plan is to reschedule the session for sometime during the first week of August.

 

Pelissero added the two sides are adjusting so as to maximize time between players and owners now that training camps have started league-wide.

 

This upcoming summit will be the fifth time the sides have formally met to discuss the CBA since the end of the 2018 season. The last meeting occurred on July 17.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com bucks conventional wisdom by not placing QB AARON RODGERS in his top 6 of current QBs:

 

Aaron Rodgers is overrated.

 

I know this will create a little buzz in the Midwest, but I’m having a difficult time understanding the exhaustive veneration of the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback. The latest example of Rodgers worship? A piece in The Athletic where Mike Sando asked 55 NFL coaches and executives to place each of the league’s veteran quarterbacks into one of five tiers based on their performance and impact potential. Sando then took the average of all the survey results to provide an overall ranking from these football folks. Care to venture a guess as to who claimed the No. 1 spot? That’s right: Mr. Rodgers. And I’m left miffed by such blind devotion from a group of high-level figures.

 

Although I certainly understand why the NFL community has the utmost respect for a quarterback with a Super Bowl ring and a couple MVP trophies on the mantel, the evaluation process is supposed to be a meritocracy where players are graded on their most-recent performances instead of nostalgia. And I’m sorry, but there’s no way Rodgers should’ve been ranked as the top quarterback in football based on how he’s played the past few seasons. Sure, No. 12 remains an exceptional talent with a resume that will net him a gold jacket after his career is done, but you can’t tell me he’s been the best player at the game’s most important position in recent years. In fact, I think I’ve pinpointed an interesting line of demarcation — for Rodgers and, inherently, the Packers.

 

Let’s go back to Week 7 of the 2015 season. The Packers were actually on bye that week, but they were sitting pretty at 6-0. Following the week off, Green Bay went 4-6 down the stretch and lost in the Divisional Round. The Pack then won the division in 2016 with a 10-6 record, but posted losing records in 2017 and ’18. Now, let’s focus in on Rodgers’ play in this context …

 

Prior to that line of demarcation — Week 7 of the 2015 season — Rodgers sported a 76-33 QB record with a 66.0 percent completion rate and a gaudy 107.0 passer rating. That is, undoubtedly, first-class production. Since that point, though, Rodgers is just 24-24-1 as a starter with a 62.7 percent completion rate and 96.4 passer rating. Additionally, the QB is fresh off a season that saw him record the second-lowest completion percentage (62.3) of his starting career, as well as the fewest touchdown passes (25) in a season where he played in at least 10 games.

 

Given this clear decline in Rodgers’ play over the past few years, the Packers QB just can’t be ranked as the top player at his position — especially when so many quarterbacks across the league are playing lights out. I know many people disagree with me.

 

“He’s still the gold standard at the position,” an NFC personnel director told me this week. “It’s not as clear-cut. … He needs to play in an offense that lets him air it out and enables him to control the action at the line of scrimmage. When he’s healthy, we’ve seen the Packers win big with No. 12 at the helm.”

 

That last qualifier — “when he’s healthy” — is no small thing. Injuries have definitely taken a toll on the 35-year-old signal-caller. He missed the majority of the 2017 season due to the second broken collarbone of his career and has been compromised by additional ailments in recent years, including a tibial plateau fracture and an MCL sprain last fall. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his efficiency from the pocket has simultaneously deteriorated. After averaging a healthy 8.4 yards per attempt and completing 66.3 percent of his passes from 2009 through 2014, Rodgers has seen those figures drop to 7.1 and 63.2 since. Considering Rodgers has finished with a completion percentage below 65 and a passer rating below 100 in three of the past four seasons, it is time to take away the hall pass we’ve handed No. 12 when it comes to any criticism directed at his game.

 

Rodgers defenders blame the Packers’ coaching staff, particularly former head man Mike McCarthy, for concocting faulty game plans lacking imagination. The static nature of the offense (few motions, shifts or exotic-personnel deployments) has been frequently cited as one of the reasons for the unit’s struggles against top defenses. The scheme purportedly didn’t create easy-catch opportunities for the top targets on the perimeter, which forced Rodgers to hold onto the ball longer and wait for his pass catchers to uncover on improvised routes down the field. That theory might have a little truth to it, but the All-22 Coaches Film also reveals a quarterback with a preference for the three-point shot over the layup. Rodgers would rather launch the ball down the field off an impromptu scramble than take the “cheap” yards available on a checkdown to the running back. This prevents Rodgers from attacking the defense from all angles, the kind of approach that allows Tom Brady and Drew Brees to provide highly efficient play from the pocket year in and year out.

 

Green Bay’s front office also catches flak, due to the perceived lack of weaponry at Rodgers’ disposal of late. The Packers’ young, inexperienced receiving corps has fielded plenty of negative ink, with critics pointing to the unit’s lack of chemistry and continuity with the veteran quarterback. While it is certainly challenging to break in a host of baby-faced pass catchers on the perimeter, it is hard to give Rodgers a complete pass when Brady, Brees and Philip Rivers constantly produce at a high level with a revolving door of playmakers at their disposal. Franchise quarterbacks are expected to elevate the performance of the role players around them, and I don’t believe we’ve seen much of that from Rodgers in recent years.

 

Remember, superstar quarterbacks are expected to carry the franchise with their individual brilliance, and I don’t know if we can legitimately point to Rodgers putting the squad on his back in recent years. Sure, the team has won some prime-time games with No. 12 in a starring role, but Green Bay’s middling 33-30-1 record over the past four seasons can’t be ignored.

 

Like everyone else, I’m fascinated to see how Rodgers and the Packers perform in Year 1 under new head coach Matt LaFleur. But given Rodgers’ recent play, I just don’t understand how anyone could consider him as the absolute cream of the crop at the position at the moment. In fact, I wouldn’t even have him in my top five. Here are my QB rankings heading into the 2019 season:

 

1) Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs: In his first year as a starter, Mahomes hit the 5,000/50 Club. Whoa. The reigning MVP is a video game quarterback with A+ arm talent, athleticism and improvisational skills. With Andy Reid dialing up explosive/exotic plays and the Chiefs featuring a supporting cast with playmakers everywhere, No. 15 is the premier player at the position.

 

2) Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers: The ultra-confident QB1 is arguably playing the best football of his career. Rivers not only manages the game with veteran savvy, but he remains one of the top playmakers in the clutch, as evidenced by his three fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives last season. Considering how effective Rivers has played with a revolving cast of characters on the perimeter, No. 17 deserves a prime spot on this list.

 

3) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Brees has lost some arm strength in his later years, but he remains a high-level passer due to his pinpoint accuracy, superb judgment and deft management skills. Brees has become the master of connecting the dots from the pocket, which enables him to stretch the field horizontally while also attacking the seams. With a big-body pass catcher like Mike Thomas adept at making big-time catches over the middle, Brees will continue to torment opponents as a precise pocket passer.

 

4) Tom Brady, New England Patriots: TB12 might not be able to dominate every game from start to finish, but he remains the best closer in football. He most recently demonstrated his finishing skills in Super Bowl LIII and his clutchness separates him from others at the position. Despite losing his security blanket (Rob Gronkowski), the six-time Super Bowl champion will continue to keep the Patriots in the hunt as the ultimate winner at the position.

 

5) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: Don’t let the Seahawks’ run-first offense impact your opinion of Wilson as a Tier 1 quarterback. The improvisational wizard is an efficient passer from the pocket with enough magic to snatch wins from the jaws of defeat with the game in the line. With four game-winning drives in 2018, Wilson’s winning pedigree and electrifying skills warrant a spot in the top five.

 

So, where does Rodgers rank? Well, I’d have him battling Andrew Luck for the No. 6 spot. This is not a hot take — not when you assess the trajectory of Rodgers’ play over the past four seasons.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com says that the big money foisted upon RB TODD GURLEY by the Rams has complicated the dealings of the Cowboys with RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT:

 

It’s business. It’s football. It’s the business of football. This is the company line for the Dallas Cowboys in the Ezekiel Elliott contract holdout.

 

Right now, nobody is saying much. Elliott’s camp is quiet. Cowboys ownership is measured. The players are unconcerned. And nobody is saying anything negative, which at this stage is probably the most important point for the franchise. But none of this means Elliott’s situation will be resolved easily. Not without one side making a financial concession.

 

Either the Cowboys are going to be willing to pay Elliott the Todd Gurley money that he wants, or Elliott is going to be willing to take less than the highest-paid running back in the league. In most cases, that’s a simple equation. But this isn’t most cases. And it has less to do with Elliott than the other guy, whose deal is weighing heavily on seemingly every upper-end running back negotiation.

 

Specifically, Todd Gurley and his sizable contract extension. The one that aged poorly for the Los Angeles Rams last season and has been the bane of essentially every franchise with a Pro Bowl-level running back.

 

Frowns over Todd Gurley’s $57.5 million deal

“Teams with running backs hate that Gurley deal. It’s in their heads,” one veteran contract adviser said of Gurley’s four-year $57.5 million extension, which was reached with the Rams on the eve of training camp in 2018. “Now other franchises are trying to get it under control and roll [the salaries] back.”

 

Another adviser with experience doing top-end running back deals was specific about what “rolling it back” means. The adviser suggested that agents are facing the same thing over and over: NFL front offices want to use Devonta Freeman’s 2017 extension with the Atlanta Falcons as a baseline that pulls back on the Gurley deal.

 

“With good running backs, teams are trying to make the thought process something along the lines of negotiating off Freeman’s [$8.25 million per year] salary,” he said. “And if it’s a great running back, teams want that premium in the $12 million neighborhood or even less – not building off of Todd’s [$14.375 million] per-year average.”

 

“It comes down to whether some teams believe the Rams did a bad deal with Todd,” the contract adviser said. “Then it’s whether you have the [guts] to say, ‘We’re not even going to consider that a real bar in these [negotiations].’”

 

The Gurley deal has already negatively impacted at least one negotiation – Le’Veon Bell’s failed talks with the Pittsburgh Steelers – and may also be creating some lingering issues with the Melvin Gordon extension impasse with the Los Angeles Chargers. Sources who spoke to Yahoo Sports pinned the Chargers and Gordon being nearly $3 million apart on their annual salary expectations, with the Chargers falling in line near $10 million per season and Gordon’s negotiation starting near the $13 million annual salary of Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson.

 

Lowering ceiling for ‘unicorn backs’

How does Gurley factor into that Gordon negotiation? In theory, Gurley’s deal slots Johnson as the next tier in running backs. Which means “unicorn” backs like Gurley are $14 million to $15 million per-season players, while the next echelon of backs like Johnson (and in theory, Gordon), should fall into the $13 million range.

 

The problem? Bell was also considered a “unicorn back.” And he faced a cold free-agent market before signing a somewhat controversial deal with the New York Jets that averages $13.125 million per season. A deal that landed after the Jets appeared to be ultimately negotiating against themselves.

 

According to contract advisers who have been circling running back deals over the past 12 months, it is apparent that the deals of guys like Gurley, Bell and even Johnson isn’t the kind of math teams are interested in engaging in. While franchises appear to have grudgingly accepted Odell Beckham Jr.’s $18 million annual salary (and the impact it has had on wideouts) as a barometer for the market, teams have been less accepting of Gurley’s deal as being a bellwether for running backs.

 

The rationale for why that is has been a subject of debate, but it likely has roots in every-down running backs becoming less of a bedrock in offensive schemes, as well as injury realities at the position. Not to mention that Gurley’s deal could look staggeringly bad if last season’s worries about his knee health persist this year.

 

This looms large for Elliott on a number of fronts. First, he’s angling for a contract that exceeds the Gurley deal, which is hard for Dallas to grapple with because the Gurley deal looks like a bad one. Second, Dallas has a quarterback in Dak Prescott who is going to be near the top of the quarterback heap, along with a wideout in Amari Cooper who should land in the top three in his position when his deal is done.

 

Considering the money already invested in the offensive line, that makes Dallas overwhelmingly salary cap-heavy on offense in the next few seasons. That is a problem because there are some additional defensive deals that should be sizable, including linebacker Jaylon Smith and cornerback Byron Jones.

 

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten probably summed it up best on Saturday, when he called Elliott’s holdout “tricky” for the player and franchise.

 

“It’s really hard,” Witten said. “I’ve seen it over the course of my career. I thought what Jerry [Jones] said and Stephen [Jones] and how they approach it … these things happen. You go through them and hope it gets worked out soon.”

 

That may very well happen in the coming days. But however this gets resolved, it will have ramifications. Either Elliott will land a Gurley deal and help harden the salary floor for “elite” running backs, or he’ll take less and play a part in what NFL teams seem to want: A dialing back of the upper end of the running back scale.

 

And that’s a big factor in why this deal simply isn’t easy for anyone.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles are taking a flyer on former Cowboys CB ORLANDO SCANDRICK.  Jared Dubin of CBSSports.com:

 

The Philadelphia Eagles have one of the strongest rosters in the NFL. They have arguably the best offensive line in the league. They have arguably the best defensive line in the league. They have a star tight end and a deep group of wide receivers and running backs. They have a quarterback who is a star when healthy. They have two very good safeties.

 

The lone weakness of the roster, if you can call it that, is at cornerback. The Eagles have some nice pieces there, but there’s not a lot of depth and it might be the only position where they do not have a potential star.

 

At this time of year there are not usually stars hanging out on the free agent market, but you can get valuable depth pieces. That’s exactly what the Eagles did on Saturday when they signed a former division rival — longtime Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick.

 

In his prime, Scandrick was one of the best slot corners in the NFL. He’s no longer at his peak, but he is a solid, veteran option who can be counted on to be in the right spots at the right times. He’s also shown more of an ability to play on the outside in recent seasons, and that versatility could work well in the Philadelphia secondary.

 

 

WASHINGTON

How bad is the relationship between T TRENT WILLIAMS and team president Bruce Allen?  Matthew Paras of the Washington Times:

 

While Trent Williams continues to holdout over his contract and displeasure with the Washington Redskin’s medical staff, the team pushed back Sunday against some of the reporting surrounding the situation.

 

Senior vice president of communications Tony Wyllie told reporters Sunday that a report that claims Williams has said he does not intend to suit up again for Washington was “100% false.”

 

On Sunday, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora tweeted: “As I reported months ago, relationship between Trent Williams and Skins is totally fractured. He (doesn’t) trust Bruce Allen or the medical team there and made it known long ago he does not intend to play for them again.”

 

La Canfora’s tweet came after an NFL Network report that stated there is “no end in sight” to Williams‘ holdout.

 

Coach Jay Gruden said last week he expects the seven-time Pro Bowler to report “sooner or later,” but that has yet to happen. The Redskins reported to training camp Wednesday.

 

Williams‘ holdout has loomed large over this year’s training camp, especially as the left side of the line has struggled in pass protection. The Redskins added veteran Corey Robinson on Saturday for depth and could still look to sign Donald Penn, who worked out for the team on Friday.

– – –

John Keim of ESPN.com on how the Redskins’ QB race is shaping up.

 

As Washington Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy exited the room, teammate and fellow quarterback Case Keenum entered. It was podium day for all three Redskins quarterbacks, none of whom know which one will start the season. That could lead to tension; it hasn’t.

 

So as these two passed, Keenum jokingly told McCoy, “Good job. I’m proud of you.” And tapped him on the backside as McCoy chuckled.

 

This isn’t exactly a competition where the quarterbacks — rookie Dwayne Haskins included — are giving the others a cold shoulder. Each one understands why they’re in this position — and why they could end up with the job. For Keenum and McCoy, they’re veterans who have started and backed up. Haskins is a first-round pick but only started one year in college. He has the talent to start, but perhaps not the experience.

 

So far Keenum and McCoy have been alternating days taking the first reps. Haskins is clearly running third, though he has been getting work with the starting offensive line.

 

“It might come down to the wire,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “It might come down to Saturday before the [season opener vs. Philadelphia].

 

“It’s interesting. It’s actually fun. The most important thing is who is the most consistent, the most accurate, and who does the best in the move-the-ball periods in some of the team settings.”

 

Handicapping the race:

 

Colt McCoy

 

Why he could start: McCoy, entering his 10th season, has spent five years in Gruden’s offense, giving him a major edge. That comfort is evident when watching him run the offense during full-team work. Or even during individual drills. At one point Friday, when the other quarterbacks were throwing, Gruden would bark out when to release the ball. They were working on holding the safety with their eyes before turning back and throwing. When McCoy’s turn came, Gruden was silent. McCoy threw it at the precise time and the receiver caught it as he turned.

 

Why he might not: McCoy is coming off a broken leg that required surgery to insert pins. He ended up needing three procedures — one more than they thought would be necessary. He also suffered a neck injury late in the 2014 season that cost him the final three games — and the starting job. Also, as much as the organization expresses its love for McCoy — and it’s far more than just Gruden — they’ve never turned to him as the starter when there’s a competition. Though his arm has been criticized, McCoy said it’s improved after strengthening his legs.

 

“Drew Brees said the older you get, the stronger his arm felt, and I can’t argue with that,” McCoy said. “I thought he was lying when he was 32, 33, but I have worked hard at that for sure. Your force comes from the ground. That comes from my leg, getting that strength in, getting that in-the-ground throwing, being confident in that. I’m a little rusty for a couple of days on some things, but overall, I feel pretty confident.”

 

Case Keenum

 

Why he could start: Keenum has started a combined 30 games the past two years and during the 2017 season helped Minnesota reach the NFC Championship Game. Like McCoy, he can make plays with his legs and has a competitive nature the Redskins like. He was on their target list in the 2018 offseason before the team traded for Alex Smith. Keenum was the No. 1 veteran quarterback on their list this past offseason.

 

Why he might not: He’s still getting used to the offense. It’s a difficult offense to learn in just one offseason, so that could slow Keenum’s quest to win the starting job — at least at the start of the season. He, too, is working on his timing. Though he does throw with a veteran’s confidence, there are times he might be off because of his inexperience in the offense.

 

“I feel good, but at the same time, I’m a long way away,” Keenum said. “There’s a lot of room to grow. I love this offense. It’s one of my favorite offenses I’ve ever played in. I love the way they see the field, the way they see offense.”

 

Dwayne Haskins

 

Why he could start: He could win the job because he’s the most physically talented of the group and was the 15th overall pick in the draft. Haskins is clearly the future of the franchise. Sometimes in practice, he’ll make throws, whether a feathery deep ball or a bullet on an out route, that allow the Redskins to see visions of their future.

 

Why he might not: Inexperience. Patience is always preached when his name is mentioned — from owner Dan Snyder on down. Haskins wasn’t always responsible for calling plays in the huddle in college, something he must do well in the NFL. He’s still getting the timing down — matching up his drop with the receivers’ breaks. When he’s on, Haskins looks terrific. When it’s just going through progressions, Haskins does well. When he needs to decide where to go based on the coverage, his feet sometimes don’t match up with his body and that leads to off-target throws. He’s learning; he’s improving.

 

“I want to master the playbook for me to be able to call plays on my own, for me to be able to understand what Coach Gruden wants when he calls a play and that will take time,” Haskins said. “Every day I’m just trying to make sure I know my job.”

 

Whoever he might be, the Redskins have the best third QB in the NFL.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

Now in Baltimore, RB MARK INGRAM cannot get over the cruel twist of fateful officiating that denied the Saints a Super Bowl berth.  And he doesn’t think his former team ever will either.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Running back Mark Ingram has left New Orleans. But he’ll never forget his last game there.

 

The Saints lost to the Rams in the NFC Championship, fueled by the blatant and stunning failure to call pass interference and/or an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver late in regulation.

 

“That is something that no one on our team, no one in our organization, will ever get over,” Ingram tells Peter King of Football Morning in America. “That is tough. Tough. When you get to that point, basically one play from the Super Bowl, there’s no justifying that, there’s no comfort in that.

 

“Obviously, they changed the rule, so they know they got it wrong. Some players play 14, 15 years without making it to a playoff game, so to be able to make it to that point, a minute and some change left, and if you get this call, you’ve got a fresh set of downs, and you’re going to the Super Bowl. It was sickening. Every time I see the play, it’s a bad feeling, it’s a dark cloud over me.”

 

Although the Saints won the Super Bowl a decade ago, Ingram didn’t arrive until 2011. He’s now left for Baltimore, where he’ll continue the quest for what would be his first berth in the NFL’s premier game.

 

For his old team, the question remains whether the Saints can process a second straight heartbreaking end to the playoffs and dig out of the Valley of 0-0. It won’t be easy, especially given the level of competition in the NFC.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The Cardinals are done with DE ROBERT NKEMDICHE.  Grant Gordon of NFL.com:

 

Former first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche is no longer an Arizona Cardinal.

 

The team announced it released the defensive lineman on Saturday afternoon.

 

In three seasons, Nkemdiche played in just 27 games for Arizona.

 

With his release, Nkemdiche’s time is up in Arizona following an underwhelming time for the Cardinals and horrendous final two months.

 

In early June, he was arrested for speeding and driving with a suspended license.

 

Nkemdiche was put on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he recovered from an ACL tear, but was also pronounced “not in shape” by head coach Kliff Kingsbury on Friday.

 

A day later and he’s gone.

 

It culminates a three-year run that hardly lived up to expectations for the defensive lineman taken 29th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Mississippi.

 

Nkemdiche is actually coming off his best season, as he started six games and tallied 4.5 sacks in 2018. Those were his only starts and sacks in his Cardinals career and that being his best showing is likely as emblematic as anything of his time in the desert.

 

 

SEATTLE

LB BOBBY WAGNER has an extension, one he bargained for himself.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Bobby Wagner secured the largest contract for an off-the-ball linebacker, snagging a three-year, $54 million extension from the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend. Wagner bargained for that contract himself, eschewing an agent. Without a paid advisor, the linebacker got his advice from the most famous of athletes: Michael Jordan.

 

Wagner said he spoke to Jordan, the six-time NBA champ and current owner of the Charlotte Hornets (formerly Bobcats), about the dynamic of negotiations from a player and owners perspective.

 

“We got a chance to really sit down and just have a conversation with him,” Wagner said, via ESPN. “We talked about his playing days, talked about his mindset — tried to steal some of his mindset — talked about training, talked about a bunch of different things. I asked him how he would feel if one of the players came and tried to negotiate a deal. What would be different? How would he see it? We just talked about a lot. It’s just really cool to have a guy like that in your corner and have a guy like that willing to take the time to speak to you and take the time to give you that knowledge, pass the knowledge down. I felt like I could have asked him anything.”

 

Wagner said the goal in representing himself wasn’t necessarily to prove he didn’t need an agent to secure the largest payday for a linebacker — no one deserved it more — but rather to grow as a person, and so that any negatives the Seahawks might have to say, they’d be forced to say it to his face.

 

“My goal was to challenge myself and if anything I want players to leave wanting to educate themselves,” Wagner said. “Whether they want to do it themselves or have an agent, no matter what the situation is, you got to know the business and you got to educate yourself to what’s in your contract, how they got there, how they got to those numbers.

 

“I feel like there’s two negotiations: there’s one between the GM and the agent and there’s the agent and the player, because you’re not in that room. You might miss some things that’s not being talked about. My thing is, how I looked at it, I didn’t want them to say all the bad stuff to the agent, I wanted them to say it to my face. I could take it.”

 

To be frank, there isn’t much negative to say about Bobby Wagner. He’s at the top of his game, the best off-ball linebacker in the league, stuffs the run with the strength of a bull and can cover the jitteriest of bugs out of the backfield.

 

Now he’s got the contract consummate with his worth, and the Seahawks keep the cornerstone of their defense in Seattle for the long haul.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Controversial WR TYREEK HILL spoke to reporters over the weekend.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill spoke to reporters at training camp on Sunday and one of the questions he faced was about his conversation with team owner Clark Hunt.

 

Hunt said that he had “a very frank conversation” with Hill when the wideout rejoined the team after the NFL announced he would not be suspended for child abuse allegations or the language he used toward his child’s mother in an audio recording of the couple discussing their son’s injuries. Hill did not offer any details of that conversation, but said “I have to work on my life skills” by way of referencing the message Hunt sent.

 

Hill said he was unaware that a recording of his conversation with Crystal Espinal existed until it went public and said his language, which included telling Espinal she should be terrified of him, was “very disrespectful.” He added that he wouldn’t want anyone talking to his little sister, daughter or mother like that.

 

In response to a question about a reference to punching his son in the chest during the taped conversation, Hill said that “would probably refer to me teaching my son how to box” while wearing boxing gloves but otherwise steered clear of details about anything related to the incidents that led authorities to remove the boy from the care of his parents earlier this year.

 

Hill closed the session by saying that he’s “growing as a person every day” and thanking the Chiefs, their fans and the NFL for welcoming him back.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

QB PHILIP RIVERS does not mind being in the final year of his contract.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is heading into the final year of his contract, but he’s not in any hurry to get an extension.

 

Rivers, who has an $11 million salary and $5 million roster bonus this year, said on SiriusXM NFL Radio that he is fully prepared to play out 2019 and re-start negotiations with the Chargers in 2020.

 

“I feel fine playing this thing out,” Rivers said. “The expectation and hope is to be here again next year, but it doesn’t need to be done right now. If it were to some time soon, great. If not, let’s play it out and worry about it in the winter.”

 

The Chargers currently have a little more than $10 million in cap space, and Rivers was asked whether a new contract would reduce his own cap number and leave room for holdout running back Melvin Gordon.

 

“If it does, awesome,” Rivers said. “You want our team to have the best chance to win. Hopefully we see Melvin soon. I think Melvin adds a great deal to our team.”

 

But a Rivers extension doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Gordon’s contract. The Chargers could give Gordon a raise without Rivers freeing up any cap space. That they haven’t means they don’t agree with Gordon about how much he’s worth.

 

But while Gordon and the Chargers aren’t seeing eye to eye, Rivers sounds happy with the team regardless of whether a new contract comes this year or next year.

 

We always think about QB TOM BRADY as a QB who takes less than the market value – but we also should include Rivers at $16 mil this year in the same category.

– – –

Eric Williams of ESPN.com on the return of DE JOEY BOSA to top form:

 

One can understand why Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa wants to put 2018 in the rearview mirror.

 

The Ohio State product suffered a bruised left foot during training camp, forcing him to miss the first nine games of the regular season. He limped through the rest of year, finishing with a career-low 5.5 sacks.

 

However, through rest and rehab, Bosa successfully avoided surgery. And after diligent work this offseason, he’s ready to get back on track. Entering his fourth season, the 24-year-old’s 19 sacks in his first 20 NFL games is the most in league history.

 

“I don’t like watching film from last year,” Bosa said. “It was not me. I didn’t have the same power, the same strength. It’s not an excuse. It is what it is — but it’s a fresh slate this year. I kind of want to put that behind me, what happened last year.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

The Ravens are comfortable with QB LAMAR JACKSON rushing about 10 times per game.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The Baltimore Ravens won’t shy away from riding Lamar Jackson’s legs.

 

Joining NFL Network’s Inside Training Camp Live Sunday, coach John Harbaugh was asked by ex-Ravens coach Brian Billick what the pitch count on Jackson running this season might be, noting Cam Newton’s career-high is 139 rushing attempts.

 

“I’d bet the over on that one. I’d bet the over for sure,” Harbaugh said without hesitation. “It’s going to be interesting. I don’t think we know the exact numbers or the math.”

 

Jackson besting Newton’s career-high wouldn’t be a surprise. The Ravens quarterback already beat that last season, rushing 147 times as a rookie. Jackson averaged 17 rushes per game in his seven regular-season starts. Extrapolate that out and it’s 272 for a 16-game slate — for comparison, only Ezekiel Elliott earned more than that last season among running backs.

 

Detractors will point out that if Jackson carries the ball that much, he likely won’t make it through 16 games.

 

The more interesting part of Harbaugh’s plans for Jackson is that the Ravens aren’t just looking to run the QB more than any in history, the picture is bigger. Much bigger.

 

Harbaugh and his staff are seeking an evolutionary effect on football.

 

“If you look back and think of the history a little bit, the game was probably revolutionized with Bill Walsh and Joe Montana,” Harbaugh said. “And that’s been the model for the last 25, 30 years, and we’ve all been chasing that model, pretty much, trying to find that quarterback, find that rhythm, and all the things that go with that offense, and it really hasn’t changed too much.

 

“None of us can envision what’s to come in the future. I don’t know how many of the quarterbacks from the 60s or 70s would have been able to succeed. Not too many, probably. (Dan) Marino, I’m sure, could have played in any era, but a lot of those other guys would not have been great in the west-coast-offense-era. What’s the next era going to be? Well, we’re about to find out. We’re about to find out what the limits are on that. I think it’s going to open up opportunities for quarterbacks all across, and in our league, and it’s going to make it tough on defenses. So, that’s the idea.”

 

It’s a big idea. No transformative plan started with a small idea.

 

Whether Harbaugh’s Ravens become an evolutionary force or the latest big idea to fall into the sideline ditch depends greatly on whether Jackson stays healthy and develops into a dangerous passer. If he does, and Baltimore blasts through defenses consistently, teams will be in search of the next Lamar Jackson.

 

The DB isn’t sure that Jackson is a great player, but if he is, it is because of his running ability.  You can’t play Jackson and not expect him to run.

 

 

CINCINNATI

A setback for the Bengals as WR A.J. GREEN has suffered an ankle injury.  A tweet from Adam Schefter:

 

@AdamSchefter

An MRI revealed that Bengals’ WR A.J. Green has torn ligaments in his left ankle that is likely to sideline him six to eight weeks, source tells ESPN. Green is not expected to be ready for the regular-season opener at Seattle.

 

And there is more to the story as to how the injury came about.  Jesse Reed at Sportsnaut.com:

 

A.J. Green is out for six to eight weeks with an ankle injury suffered on the University of Dayton playing field, which teammate Tyler Boyd says “was terrible.”

 

Green tore ligaments in his left ankle and had to be carted off the field on Saturday.

 

On Sunday, Boyd sounded off:

 

@pauldehnerjr

 Tyler Boyd on the field in Dayton yesterday. Not holding back: “Turf was terrible. I couldn’t run any routes. I was falling all over. It was bad. There was rock, pebbles out there. It was somewhere we shouldn’t have been.” #bengals

 

The big problem here is that, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Bengals signed off on the field after doing a site survey.

 

@AdamSchefter

 More on the decision to practice at the University of Dayton where A.J. tore ligament in his ankle Saturday: Bengals cleared the football field for use in the end, per source. Team did a site survey there and confirmed it was good to go.

 

So, in the end it seems Boyd, Green, and Bengals fans as a whole have nobody to blame but the franchise itself.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

The decision to extend Mike Tomlin was apparently not unanimous among Steelers ownership.  According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, some of the team’s minority owners (not to be confused with owners of a minority ethnicity) were not on board.

 

The Steelers’ minority owners periodically huff and puff, but they lack the ability to blow anyone’s house down.

 

As it relates to the recent contract extension given to coach Mike Tomlin, Ed Bouchette of TheAthletic.com reports that some were opposed to it.

 

Owner Art Rooney II nevertheless extended Tomlin through 2021, with a team option for 2022. It means that Tomlin would have a two-year buyout, if the Steelers were to decide after the season to make a change.

 

It’s not the first time that members of minority ownership have made their voices heard regarding Tomlin. In early 2018, PFT reported that some of the minority owners wanted Rooney to fire Tomlin after a disappointing playoff exit capping a season in which questions were raised about flaws with discipline and situational football.

 

The fact that the minority owners didn’t want Tomlin to get an extension obviously didn’t prevent it from happening. As Bouchette observed in response to our report regarding the push to get Tomlin fired, Rooney will not be listening to what folks with no actual power over the organization have to say, even if they technically own a piece of it.

 

“[I]t’s beyond ludicrous for one or a few minority owners to even think they have enough influence to persuade Rooney to can Tomlin,” Bouchette said. Thus, it’s also beyond ludicrous for one or a few minority owners to even think they have enough influence to persuade Rooney to not give Tomlin a new contract.

 

Still, they have an opinion — and even if the opinion of those minority owners conflicts with the will of the majority owner, it meshes with the mood of the fan base, especially when the team is perceived to be underachieving.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Signs of discipline from the new coach in Miami.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Another Bill Belichick protégé begins his own coaching career by putting his team through the ringer if they don’t perform up to expectations.

 

According to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, Dolphins first-year coach Brian Flores stopped practice three times Sunday and sent either the entire offense or defense running to the “Takes No Talent” wall as punishment for mental mistakes.

 

“Today was a tough one,” safety T.J. McDonald said. “Definitely a grinder. He’s big on discipline. Making sure, if you’ve got too many players on the field, that’s pre-snap/post-snap that you can’t have. You’re going to pay for it.

 

“We know what the expectations are, so as soon as he says, ‘Hit the wall,’ we messed up. We have to be on our little details. It’s not just us. Coaches, everybody. It’s a group effort.”

 

A coach making players run for mental mistakes is hardly revolutionary and has been a staple of punishment since before George Halas roamed the sidelines.

 

It’s interesting, however, to note that last year Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia, in his first season away from Belichick, rubbed some veteran players the wrong way by running a difficult training camp.

 

At this point, it sounds like the Dolphins players understand the reasons behind the old-school disciplinary actions.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

THE TOP 10 RECEIVERS

Rising broadcast star and former NFL WR Nate Burleson picks the 10 top players at his old position.

 

1   DeAndre Hopkins              Texans

“Madden” isn’t the only one who’s high on Houston’s WR1. He’s my top wideout based on a combination of things: A) His catch radius is out of this world; B) he high-points the ball to win contested catches; and C) Deshaun Watson is nearly two years removed from his ACL injury, so the quarterback’s renewed mobility will allow him to extend plays and make life quite difficult for defensive backs attempting to plaster receivers. And that’s just the beginning. The 6-foot-1 wideout isn’t the fastest player on the field, but he’s mastered the art of body positioning and knows how and when to attack the ball. Not to mention, Hopkins just had the most receptions without a drop in a season (115) since Pro Football Focus started charting drops in 2007. With a freakish skill set and a talented, young QB, it feels like Hopkins is just getting started heading into Year 7.

 

2  Julio Jones                          Falcons

We’re so used to Jones putting up sensational numbers that we forget just how difficult it is to lead the league in receiving yards, something Atlanta’s WR1 has done twice in the last four seasons. Even more impressive is the fact that Jones has logged five straight seasons with more than 1,400 receiving yards. Much of his gaudy production has come against double- and triple-teams, too. The best part is he shows no sign of slowing down.

 

3  Michael Thomas            Saints

The Saints’ WR1 made the argument last season that he should be in the best-receiver-in-the-NFL conversation, and he’s right. Thomas led the league with 125 receptions despite ranking outside the top 10 in targets (11th with 147). His connection with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees becomes more magnetic with each passing year. And with his production doing the talking entering Year 4, the All-Pro is looking for a major raise. In fact, he’s apparently staying away from training camp until he gets one.

 

4  Mike Evans                      Buccaneers

Although Evans is the third-highest-paid receiver (by annual average), he routinely gets overlooked due to the Bucs’ constant struggle to stay relevant on a national scale. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to what he brings to the table for this unit. At 6-5, 231 pounds, Evans can run every route in the route tree. He’s also durable and aggressive when the ball is in the air. Evans could be in line for a big year with new head coach Bruce Arians determined to right Jameis Winston.

 

5  Odell Beckham Jr.             Browns

From my own experience, a new hairstyle signifies turning over a new leaf. Well, guess what? Odell showed up to the ESPYs sporting a new cut, which tells me we’re about to see OBJ 2.0 in Cleveland this season — a scary thought, knowing the success he had early in his career. He is just scratching the surface and now joins the most talented group he’s ever played with. Expect Beckham to bring the fireworks in 2019.

 

6  Antonio Brown                  Raiders

Defenses have feared Brown for years because he’s one of the best route runners and most clutch receivers of his era. The reason Brown, who had a league-leading 15 receiving TDs last season in Pittsburgh, fell outside my top five is simple and has little to do with Brown himself. Pittsburgh’s offensive line did a tremendous job protecting Ben Roethlisberger, thus allowing the QB to hang in the pocket and find AB downfield. The receiver’s new passer, Derek Carr, was sacked 51 times last season. If the Raiders’ O-line can’t protect the franchise quarterback, we won’t see the same statistical output we’re used to seeing from Brown.

 

7  Keenan Allen                      Chargers

Allen has bounced back from injuries and is out to prove he’s one of the most resilient receivers in the business. He’s averaged nearly 1,300 receiving yards over the last two years, helping the Chargers emerge as an AFC power. With the Bolts heading into the 2019 season as legit contenders, this could be the year Allen stamps his place in my top five at the position.

 

8  Tyreek Hill                           Chiefs

Hill is the most explosive player in the NFL. Period. Usually guys who are that fast have trouble slowing down to transition in and out of breaks, tracking the ball or straight up catching it. But Kansas City’s WR1 has an unbelievable knack for slowing the game down even when he’s playing faster than everyone else. As great as Patrick Mahomes was last season, he doesn’t sniff 50 touchdowns without the “Cheetah.”

 

9  Davante Adams                   Packers

Adams suffers from the “GOAT QB Complex,” a made-up syndrome that occurs when great skill-position players are overlooked because they play with one of the best quarterbacks in the game. (Even when Jordy Nelson was at his best, he was fully overshadowed by Aaron Rodgers.) Yet if you look beyond the quarterback, Adams has improved each season, with his best coming in 2018 (111 receptions for 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns). He’s evolved into a dynamic red-zone threat and Rodgers’ most-trustworthy target.

 

10  JuJu Smith-Schuster             Steelers

There are those who don’t appreciate what JuJu has done over his first two NFL seasons because he has played with the likes of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger. Trust me, I know what it’s like playing next to a superstar — SEE: Randy Moss in Minnesota and Calvin Johnson in Detroit — and the good thing about being a WR2 is a lot of pressure doesn’t fall on you. You’re able to play loose and are given the opportunity to make a ton of plays facing single-coverage. That’s what JuJu has done since coming into the league and you have to respect him for it. Now with Brown in Oakland, JuJu should receive even more targets than he had a year ago (166). I see the youngster having another big season of around 1,400 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns, allowing him to be fully recognized outside of AB’s legacy.

HONORABLE MENTION: A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals. When healthy, the veteran receiver is as good as anyone in the league. But the inconsistency of the team and his health (played 16 games once in the last three years) causes him to be overlooked and, in this case, forces him to take a back seat to guys who have been more readily available. That said, I’ve seen Green make incredible catches in traffic, whether on a slant or Hail Mary, and I’m always impressed by how focused he is within the chaos of each play.

 

He has Cincinnati’s A.J. GREEN as an honorable mention.  Who is not on the list that could be?  BRANDIN COOKS and ROBERT WOODS of the Rams?  AMARI COOPER of the Cowboys?  The Vikings duo of ADAM THIELEN and/or STEFON DIGGS?  LARRY FITZGERALD?  JULIAN EDELMAN?

 

We think Burleson came up with a pretty good list.