AROUND THE NFL

More ominous thoughts about the Pandora’s box of the Sean Payton Rule.  Jenny Vrentas of TheMMQB.com:

 

The celebratory mood in Arizona after Sean Payton and Roger Goodell worked together to secure the votes needed to make pass interference reviewable has long since abated. What’s followed in the months since has been confusion, and some regret, about the impact of opening up Pandora’s box. When Al Riveron and other members of the league office visited team facilities during OTAs, they showed a reel of plays that reinforced the narrow margin that very often exists between calls and no-calls, and how making these calls reviewable may in fact have no effect on net outrage. The competition committee last month voted unanimously to recommend the rule change approved in March, but that does not mean the muddied waters have cleared. One of the biggest problems I see is the onus this rule change places on replay officials in some of the most critical game situations to apply consistently the standard of “clear and obvious.” It’s possible the rule change will prove to be the safeguard that prevents another egregious mistake like the infamous NFC Championship non-call. But the Arizona kumbaya may well have been premature.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com looks at who might play QB for the Giants this year and when:

 

The awkward, clunky transition from Eli Manning to someone not named Eli Manning has gotten even more awkward and clunky for the Giants.

 

But at least they have a post-Eli option, in the form of sixth overall draft pick Daniel Jones. The question becomes when Jones will play. That question lands at storyline No. 16 on our #CountdownSZN list for 2019.

 

The Giants have suggested the KC model (sit for a year, in reference to Patrick Mahomes and Alex Smith) and the GB model (sit for three, in reference to Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre). Then there’s the NYG model, which the team used 15 years ago, benching Kurt Warner (who was 5-4 at the time) for Eli during Eli’s rookie year.

 

Of course, there’s also the “we used a top-10 pick on a quarterback for a reason” model, which points toward making him the Week One starter. After the draft, the clues of Jones potentially starting from the get-go were hiding in plain sight — given that the Giant thought enough of Jones to make him the sixth overall selection, and given that Eli is widely believed to be in decline.

 

Giants coach Pat Shurmur initially pooh-poohed the possibility, but clearly kicked the door open to a potential competition at the conclusion of the offseason program.

 

Ultimately, it’s a simple analysis. If Jones performs as well as the Giants thought he would (given that they made him the sixth pick in the draft), he should be able to win a fair and square competition with the fairly square Eli Manning. If, after all, Eli were playing at a level that would make him the sixth pick in the 2019 draft, the Giants wouldn’t have taken Jones.

 

So now the question becomes whether Jones performs during training camp and the preseason in a way that makes the Giants think he was indeed worthy of being the sixth pick. Given the intense criticism that the Giants received for making Jones the sixth pick, maybe they’ll be inclined to let the two compete — and to quietly root for Jones to win.

 

At some point, Jones will play. When he does, the Giants will find out whether he was indeed worthy of being the sixth pick in the draft. Along with everyone else.

 

If the Giants ultimately decide to go with Jones from Week One, a very interesting decision will have to be made about Eli. He has a no-trade clause; unless he’d waive it, the options will be to keep him, paying $11.5 million in addition to the $5.5 million he has earned in roster bonus and workout bonuses, or to cut him loose before that $11.5 million becomes fully guaranteed at the start of the regular season.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

The 49ers will have more open practices during training camp than most these days.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The 49ers are opening 11 practices to their fans, but they’ll have to open their wallet to see them.

 

The team announced their schedule of training camp practices at the team facility, making tickets available to season ticket holders first.

 

And because it might sound crass to say you’re charging admission to watch practice, the 49ers helpfully point out that tickets “will carry a $5 donation fee to the 49ers Foundation, which will support the foundation’s mission to educate and empower Bay Area youth.”

 

Their 11 open practices keep them in the middle of the league in that regard, as some teams are beginning to limit the access fans have during the summer.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com checks in with QB PATRICK MAHOMES:

 

The last five months of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ life have been an absolute whirlwind.

 

From chugging beer at the Stanley Cup Finals and striking historic endorsements, to establishing his own charity (the 15 and Mahomes Foundation) and becoming the new Madden coverman, it appears Mahomes — who became the NFL’s youngest MVP in 34 years — has been everywhere this offseason.

– – –

But for all the exciting off-the-field opportunities he’s embraced this year, Mahomes has made it clear to everyone — from the Chiefs to his new sponsors — that football will always come first.

 

And proof of that is reflected in his improved physique, as Mahomes — who lit the NFL up to the tune of 5,097 yards, 50 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2018, his first year as a starter — is primed to come back as sculpted as he ever has before.

 

“For me, offseason-training wise, it’s all about trying to define [my body] … trying to make sure I’m in the best shape possible, nutritionally and physically and mentally,” Mahomes told Yahoo Sports. “So the big thing for me this offseason going in was, I wanted to gain muscle but at the same time, cut weight. Kind of a mixture of both.”

 

To that end, Mahomes — who is listed at 6-3, 230 pounds — says he’s currently the same weight he’s always been. But, he’s primed to report to training camp in July in better physical condition.

 

“I’ve gotten more muscular and [have] less baby fat, I guess you would say,” Mahomes said. “So that’s been the big thing for me — sculpting my body in the best way possible so I can go through the season and feel just as fresh at the end as I did at the beginning.”

 

Mahomes has worked hard this offseason — often as much as two hours a day running, lifting, etc. — in hopes of adding more muscle mass, particularly in his lower body, and shedding three to five percent body fat from his frame by the time training camp rolls around.

 

“The lowest I was last year after training camp was 12 percent, and that’s pretty good,” Mahomes told Yahoo Sports. “But now my goal is to be in the single digits, so I’m gonna try to get as low as I possibly can while still being healthy and still having the body to be able to take a full season.”

 

But Mahomes, who turns 24 in September, says the key for any good offseason program is diet, an area he’s steadily improved since the Chiefs made him the 10th overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.

 

“I mean, I’ve always been someone who trains hard, someone who works out hard, someone who goes out there every single day and doesn’t feel complete until I get a workout in on any given day,” Mahomes explained. “I think the biggest thing for me [has been] learning how to eat better, learning how to take away the snacks, the candies, the desserts, all that stuff and just focus in on how I eat and how I take care of my body that way.”

 

Mahomes doesn’t count calories, but he does stick to three meals a day and is a big fan of fruit — especially strawberries, oranges and apples. He also credits Brittany Matthews, his girlfriend since the 10th grade, for being a positive influence in this area.

 

“Eating-wise, I’m blessed that my girlfriend is [big on] nutrition so she helps me out with that — she’s [about] fitness,” Mahomes said. “I just try to eliminate some of the bad meals, the fast food, the foods that aren’t great for your body and don’t help you get the most out of it. I’m a picky eater, but I still try to eat healthy stuff like chicken, salmon and all the [other] stuff I like a lot.”

 

Mahomes looks ripped in the photo above, but perhaps it should not be a surprise. Given the disappointing way last season ended — with the Chiefs barely missing out on a trip to the Super Bowl, and a clearly-annoyed Mahomes silently vowing to avoid ever feeling that way again — almost assured he would come back with a vengeance, despite the myriad assortment of off-the-field opportunities the offseason would present after his historical 2018 season.

 

“Obviously with my brand, football comes first,” Mahomes said. “And [so does], hopefully, winning a lot of football games.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

QB BAKER MAYFIELD is married.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Baker Mayfield got the first of what he hopes are many rings on Saturday night.

 

But when all is said and done, this one will likely be the most special.

 

Mayfield, 24, married the former Emily Wilkinson on Saturday night in Malibu, California, with hundreds of family members and friends in attendance, including many of his Browns teammates such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who appeared in photos on social media.

 

The Browns quarterback also posted a video of himself and his new bride on his Instagram story on Sunday.

 

“What’s up everybody? Mr. Mayfield here checking in with Mrs. Mayfield!,’’ he said while riding in a car with Emily. “Oooh my goodness, I’m married. We’re married.’’

 

Mayfield was surrounded by many of his former Oklahoma teammates such as Sterling Shepard and Kyler Murray, and NFL friends such as Saquon Barkley.

 

Guests were treated to a pair of Nike sneakers to dance the night away.

 

In the days leading up to the wedding, Mayfield worked out in Los Angeles with Browns teammates such as Beckham, Landry, David Njoku and Rashard Higgins as they prepare for training camp.

 

The first day of practice at the Browns’ facility in Berea is July 25.

 

A graduate of Nebraska-Omaha, former bartender and former employee of a plastic surgery center, Wilkinson has primarily become an Instagram phenomenon.  Here is more from the time of their engagement last summer:

 

The former patient coordinator at a plastic surgery clinic left L.A. to be with the Cleveland Browns quarterback, and moved to Ohio! Her family and friends are over the moon with the recent engagement.

 

Emily Wilkinson is an Instagram model/beauty enthusiast, and her social media feeds are peppered with fashion shoots and styling tips. She has been dating Mayfield since early 2018, and though it might seem like the engagement has come a little too soon—when it’s right, it’s right!

 

Emily Patricia Wilkinson was born on April 4, 1991, making her age 27. She hails from Omaha, Nebraska, but was working and living in L.A., California before her engagement. She quit her job as a patient coordinator at Dr. Galanis’ clinic in April, 2018, to move with her boyfriend Baker Mayfield to Cleveland.

 

According to Linkedin, Emily Wilkinson went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and graduated from the college in 2013.

 

She then took up a job as a bartender at Barry’s Bar and Grill, 10 Below. Back in 2013, she also promoted her workplace on social media, like Instagram.

 

Today, Wilkinson endorses many products on her Instagram account, which currently boasts over 130k followers. She suggests style tips and hair care, along with nail salons, clothing brands, and spa’s by promoting their products.

 

Emily Wilkinson’s earnings can be estimated somewhere between $300-$500 per endorsed post on Instagram alone.

 

Her Facebook page suggests that she has also worked with beauty and skincare brand Rodan+Fields. Having worked closely with Dr. Galanis (who she touted as being the “best boss ever”), it’s likely she learned quite a bit about skincare!

 

Wilkinson is born to parents Dave and Lori Wilkinson. And for a while, she was also known as the older sister of social media star Sammy Wilkinson, a singer/songwriter who began his career on Vine back in 2013.

 

Her other siblings are Ben Wilkinson, a fitness junkie and travel enthusiast, and Annie Wilkinson, who runs a podcast.

 

The family of six are pretty close-knit and all their Instagram accounts testify to that!

 

The couple was first spotted together at a Clippers game back in January 2018. Since then, fans of the QB have been wondering who the mystery beauty is, and then the Instagram posts cleared all doubts!

 

The couple made their relationship public with utmost grace, and have been seen on Instagram and other social media platforms together ever since.

 

It was a surprise engagement, or so it looks, as the media and the fans were still warming up to the lovebirds.

 

Nonetheless, Emily Wilkinson was presented with an eye-popping diamond ring, as Mayfield got down on one knee and everything!

 

The details of the ring are not available yet, but we’re sure the stunner has cost the QB a pretty penny! With his latest $33.0 million contract with the Cleveland Browns, it’s probably not that big of a pinch.

 

Mayfield was in a relationship with Morgan Mayberry before Emily Wilkinson came into his life, but he let bygones be bygones and has moved on with his “most perfect girl.” Now that he’s put a ring on it, we can only hope to hear of what their wedding plans for the big day will look like!

– – –

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com looks at TE DAVID NJOKU’s aspirations to catch 20 TD passes in 2019:

 

We’ve reached the point of the offseason where outlandish predictions and goals are stated on a daily basis. From analysts to players, everyone wants to put a bold and bodacious hot take out there for public consumption. While I normally would dismiss most claims without a second thought, a recent statement from Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku almost made me spit out my sparkling water when I heard him being interviewed on “The Rich Eisen Show.”

 

“Honestly speaking, I don’t really put numbers into my goals,” Njoku told Eisen. “I just feel like if I gave everything I could to the game, just worked my hardest, I feel like I’ll feel accomplished.

 

“With that being said, I want 20 touchdowns this year,” Njoku added, with a laugh. “I just feel, for me, just knowing that I gave all I got will make me feel accomplished.”

 

Now, to be fair, it’s possible that Njoku wasn’t completely serious about the goal, since he did laugh after saying it. Initially, I chalked up Njoku’s comment to a young player eagerly hoping to make a splash as a playmaker in his third season. Coming off a solid campaign with 56 receptions, 639 receiving yards and four touchdowns, I understand the confidence and optimism he emits as a developmental player. Still, I didn’t want to dismiss the possibility of a 20-TD campaign without some serious consideration.

 

Measuring 6-4, 246 pounds with wide receiver-like movement skills and athleticism, Njoku is becoming a nightmarish matchup for defenders between the hashes. He can bully defensive backs with his superior strength and power or race by lumbering linebackers with a series of finesse moves. In the red zone, Njoku’s ability to play above the rim gives him a chance to win the majority of his one-on-one matchups on the perimeter.

 

For a guy who has put 20 touchdowns out there as an individual goal, Njoku does enjoy a significant advantage as a red-zone weapon. Moreover, he could benefit from the presence of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on the outside. With opponents forced to use more two-deep tactics and double teams to contain Nos. 13 and 80, Njoku could get plenty of touches running down the seams against linebackers or sitting in open windows against loaded zones.

 

That said, it is going to be nearly impossible to reach to the 20-touchdown mark with so many playmakers on the roster, including Kareem Hunt (after serving his eight-game suspension), Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson coming out of the backfield. There aren’t enough balls to go around, and No. 85 might be fourth or fifth in the pecking order when you consider how Freddie Kitchens prioritizes who will get touches in a given week.

 

Remember, OBJ and Landry have to get their touches each week or Kitchens runs the risk of dealing with meltdowns and fireworks on the sidelines. That’s not a slight to their individual and collective maturity, but it’s a real acknowledgment of how elite pass catchers need the ball to remain engaged over the course of a 60-minute game.

 

While I love Njoku’s confidence and view him as a key contributor for the Browns this season, I don’t believe he will join Jerry Rice and Randy Moss in the 20-touchdown club.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Jenny Vrentas of TheMMQB.com looks at the contract situation for DE JADEVEON CLOWNEY:

 

What will the Texans do with Jadeveon Clowney? A week from today, at 4 p.m. ET, is the deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign long-term deals with their clubs. Falcons’ Grady Jarrett and 49ers’ Robbie Gould are the two other tagged players who haven’t signed extensions—but let’s focus on Clowney, whose situation is the most intriguing not only because he was the No. 1 overall draft pick five years ago, but also because the Texans fired their GM five months into the offseason.

 

My guess? The Texans will not sign Clowney to a long-term contract before the deadline. His injury history is one consideration—he had microfracture surgery on his right knee as a rookie, and needed an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee after the 2018 season—though he’s only missed a total of three games the past three seasons. The bigger issue, in my view, is they may not feel Clowney’s production warrants his being paid as a top-tier pass rusher. Clowney is also a very good run defender, but you pay an edge rusher top-shelf money for his ability to get to the QB. If he’s looking for a deal like the one DeMarcus Lawrence got from Dallas (five years, $150 million, with $65 million guaranteed), the Texans may not be willing to pay that. The front-office changes make the situation tricky to read, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Clowney plays for the Texans on the tag this year.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

The Colts have their fingers crossed for TE JACK DOYLE.  George Bremer of the Anderson Herald-Review:

 

It’s no coincidence the Indianapolis Colts’ lone shutout last season came the week after tight end Jack Doyle was lost for the year.

 

Yes, Eric Ebron shined in his first season under head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. And, yes, 25-year-old Mo Alie-Cox is a rising talent who appears to be poised for a breakout year.

 

But no other tight end means as much to this roster as Doyle.

 

It’s not just the raw numbers that prove it, either. Doyle set career-highs with 80 catches and 690 yards during a 2017 season after which he played in the Pro Bowl for the first time.

 

But his all-around ability goes far beyond statistics.

 

“Jack would be a heck of a coach,” Sirianni said. “But his presence and him leading by example is really where Jack shines.”

 

Doyle’s versatility also allows Reich and Sirianni the flexibility to mix up plays and formations without massive changes in personnel.

 

His mere presence on the field doesn’t tip the offense’s hand. He’s as adept a blocker in the running game as he is a receiver in the passing game. And he’s more than willing to stay in line as a pass protector when that’s called for as well.

 

Doyle still has the mentality of an undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky who was cut as a rookie in 2013 after training camp with the Tennessee Titans.

 

And Indianapolis desperately missed his work ethic and consistency after hip and kidney injuries ended his 2018 season.

 

“It’s exciting to know that he is making a full recovery from his hip, from his kidney and we are going to have the Jack Doyle that we had at the start last year,” Sirianni said.

 

While Ebron racked up career highs with 66 catches, 750 yards and 13 touchdown receptions in a tight-end friendly scheme, Doyle mostly watched from the sideline.

 

The hip injury occurred in Week 2 at Washington when a defender fell onto his back in a pile after a tackle. He somehow finished that game but was forced out for the next five.

 

He returned in Week 8 at Oakland with a big game — six catches for 70 yards and a score — but played in just three more before suffering a lacerated kidney against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 25.

 

The hip injury has healed, but he’s still recovering from the procedure to fix the kidney. Doyle estimates he lost 25 pounds during the process, and he’s making sure he regains the weight the right way.

 

General manager Chris Ballard mentioned training camp as a goal for the tight end’s return in February, but Doyle is not ready to lock in a specific target.

 

“I really am trying to take it one day at a time, not rushing anything,” he said. “But I’m happy with where I’m at and happy with the progress I’ve made. It’s definitely going in the right direction, and when it’s time to get back out there, I’ll be excited to be back out there. I promise you that.”

 

The Colts will be equally excited to see him.

 

He, Ebron and Alie-Cox each had a touchdown catch in the win against the Raiders — an NFL first for tight ends — but there is precious little tape of the trio playing together.

 

It will be intriguing to see how Reich and Sirianni employ the three of them, if they’re all able to remain healthy.

 

Sirianni has mentioned there were a few three-tight end sets in last year’s playbook that Indianapolis never got around to using. If nothing else, the depth at the position has everyone filled with anticipation.

 

“We’ve got a great room,” Doyle said. “We really do, and it’s exciting with how this offense works and uses the tight ends. We’ve got a great room and (we’re) excited for the season. That’s for sure.”

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Adam Rank of NFL.com thinks that QB NICK FOLES will bring the Jaguars back to their 2017 form:

 

Members of the Jaguars organization, Jaguars fans around the world and those who just love to yell Duuuuuuuuuuuuval:

 

It is my honor and privilege to join you today and talk about the state of your franchise. It’s much different than it was a year ago. For last offseason, the Jaguars were coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. A few plays from reaching the Super Bowl. And we can all agree Myles Jack wasn’t down, right? The Jags went into last season thinking it was going to be their year.

 

It wasn’t.

 

In fact, last year might have been the most disappointing in franchise history, given the weight of expectations. But this is a new year. And I’m here to tell you the Jaguars are going to be back.

 

2019 VIPs

Head coach: Doug Marrone. I’ve always found Marrone to be an interesting person. I mean, he led the Bills to a 9-7 record in 2014 and then bounced when an ownership change provided an out clause in his contract. He figured he was going to get a bigger and better gig someplace else. Like when Tom DeLonge left Blink 182 to start Angels & Airwaves and study UFOs.

 

OK, it has eventually worked out for DeLonge — and ultimately, Marrone, who initially accepted a position as a Jaguars assistant before becoming head coach a couple years later in the wake of Gus Bradley’s firing. And then he got within a game of the Super Bowl. But then last year happened. And as things flew off the rails, he probably wished he had some type of out clause on the season. But he’s back, presumably given one more chance to right the ship again in Jacksonville. His current head-coaching record is a few games under .500, so this is a make-or-break season.

 

Quarterback: Nick Foles. The Khan family made two of the biggest free-agent acquisitions of the year. First, getting Foles down to Duval. And second, getting Chris Jericho to sign with All Elite Wrestling. That’s a pretty amazing offseason.

 

Some people (haters, really) will contend that Foles was just a system quarterback for the Eagles the past two seasons. Which is hilarious to me. You don’t win Super Bowl MVP as a system quarterback. With the Lombardi Trophy on the line, Foles put up 41 points on Bill Belichick’s Patriots — you know, the team that didn’t allow Sean McVay and Jared Goff to score a single touchdown in this past February’s Super Bowl — so I don’t want to hear any of that noise. And it’s not like Foles was just a two-year wonder. He tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a game in 2013, the same year when he had the second-best TD-to-INT rate in NFL history (27:2). Last December, he tied the NFL record for most consecutive completions (25) in NFL history. I know a lot of people point out that he was nearly out of football before Eagles coach Doug Pederson rescued him. But I guess that’s what playing quarterback for Jeff Fisher will do to a man.

 

Projected 2019 MVP: Foles. I know I kind of took a cheap shot at Bortles earlier, but let me explain myself a bit more. The reason the Bortles-quarterbacked Jaguars found success in 2017 was because Jacksonville had this formula of getting out to an early lead, letting the defense put the screws to the opposing team and then salting games away with Fournette. It worked. The Jaguars were 10-2 (including the playoffs) in games where they scored first in 2017. They went just 2-5 when they fell behind early. Last year was even worse, as the team was 1-8 when the other team scored first. The point isn’t to have a quarterback who is going to pass for 5,000 yards. Just having a guy who can generate enough offense to get you out of a hole is a huge boost.

 

2019 breakout star: Ronnie Harrison, safety. The third-rounder played quite well as a rookie, starting eight games and making veteran Barry Church — a 16-game starter in 2017 — expendable by December. Harrison’s a big-time playmaker with the right combination of size and speed for this secondary. He’s a perfect fit for a defensive backfield that includes a pair of shutdown corners in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.

 

Needs to return healthy: Cam Robinson, left tackle. Robinson looked like a franchise left tackle in his sophomore campaign before he went down with a torn ACL in Week 2. If the Jaguars can just get healthy on the offensive line, not only do you protect the investment in the quarterback, but you also get back to what the coaching staff wants to do: run the football.

 

BTW, how good is this guy? Calais Campbell, defensive end. I’ll never forget people clowning Campbell in the 2017 offseason for turning down free-agent money from the Broncos to go to Jacksonville and play with that Duval defense. Folks thought it was a straight cash grab, but he was shown to be right with the Jags’ run to the AFC title game. With everything that happened last year, Campbell will be the steadying force to help get this team back on track.

 

New face to know: Josh Allen, defensive end. One of the silver linings of having a solid roster that goes belly up for a season is that you can end up adding another a great player in the draft. And this is what happened when the Jags landed Allen. I mean, really. I saw this sort of start to unfold when the Raiders made the surprise pick of Clelin Ferrell (it was a fine pick, but a surprise nonetheless) and the Giants picked alternate-universe Eli Manning (Daniel Jones). I was like, How are you going to let the Jags come away with the guy some considered to be the best defender in the draft? Our own Daniel Jeremiah had Allen ranked third. (Really, you couldn’t back me up here, DJ, with having him at No. 1?)

 

And another: Josh Oliver, tight end. The Jaguars need a good tight end, and the rookie out of San Jose State could be that player. It’s super easy to mention how effectively Foles used tight ends Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert and Trey Burton during his time in Philly, and somehow tie this back to Jacksonville’s third-round pick in April. It’s easy, and I hate to do it … but not enough to keep me from doing it.

 

2019 roadmap

The competitive urgency index is: HIGH. Mr. Khan did the right thing in giving Marrone — along with Tom Coughlin and GM David Caldwell — one last chance to see this through all together. This club is far too talented to just give up. But you get the sense this is one last stand for this trio, so winning is of the utmost importance.

 

Will the Jaguars be able to …

Recapture the magic? And by magic, I mean that swagger. Ramsey is one of my favorite players. I love when he walked into EverBank Field after knocking off the Steelers in the 2017 playoffs in that sweet coat, and telling the crowd that the Jags were going to go to New England and win that, uh, stuff, too. Loved it. And when he called out quarterbacks around the league, I was a fan of that, as well. When I heard him say he was going to be more mature this season and not talk smack on quarterbacks, I got a little worried. You don’t want to take that edge off. Thankfully, Ramsey is ready to go:

 

Run the ball? Foles is great. And the Jaguars are relying him. But Fournette is a huge key to this offense. He regressed from 80 rushing yards per game in 2017 to just 54.9 last season. (And 103.2 scrimmage yards to 78.0.) Additionally, the Jaguars were second in the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2017. That total plummeted to just seven last year — good for last in the NFL.

 

Needless to say, the Jaguars need a full and productive season from Fournette for this year to go well. But one name I want you to keep in mind is Ryquell Armstead, a fifth-round pick out of Temple. Even with Alfred Blue and Thomas Rawls on the roster, Armstead could end up being the backup running back and getting significant playing time if something happens to Fournette.

 

Generate a pass rush? The Jaguars’ defense is still good — more on that in a bit — and Campbell had a respectable 10.5 sacks last year. Yannick Ngakoue was second with 9.5. But then there was a serious drop-off, with Malik Jackson being third on the team with 3.5. Jacksonville finished with 37 total to rank tied for 22nd in the league. The Jaguars were second in the NFL with 55 sacks in 2017.

 

One storyline people are overlooking: The Jaguars receivers are better than you think. It’s been a while since the days of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, but I really do like this receiving corps in Jacksonville. Marqise Lee will return from injury. Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, D.J. Chark and Chris Conley all have the potential to do some pretty good things. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t judge them completely by what you saw last season, because … well … you know the reason. All that being said, I wouldn’t mind if the Jags made a move to get a receiver. Maybe bring some familiarity to the new QB and swing a deal for Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside this year. Perhaps see if you could get him down to Duval. If not, these receivers are still good, even though that last part might make it seem like I’m contradicting myself. Because I’m not. It’s like getting a free upgrade. Like, I’m totally content with the fries you delivered to me. But if you’re going to throw in some chili cheese on top of that, well, who’s going to turn that down?

 

One more: The Jaguars hired former Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo. I’m curious to see how this works out. DeFilippo was hired as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator last year to much fanfare because of what Philly was able to do in the Super Bowl and everyone was raiding that coaching staff. He didn’t last the season because he wasn’t running the ball enough for Mike Zimmer’s liking. This seems awfully familiar, with Marrone being an old-school coach who wants to run. But DeFilippo’s familiarity with Foles gives this a fighting chance.

 

One storyline people are overthinking: The falloff of the Jaguars’ defense. Since I am contradicting myself and I did point out that the pass rush could use an upgrade, it’s fair to point out the defense was still pretty good last year. Obviously, 2018 was a lost season. But since 2017, The Jaguars are first in points allowed (18.3), yards per game allowed (182.2) and passer rating allowed (76.4). They can become the first team in a decade to allow fewer than 200 passing yards per game in three consecutive seasons. If they can rush the passer and keep their own defense fresh by moving the sticks on offense, the Jags will be just fine.

 

For 2019 to be a successful season, the Jaguars MUST

— Make the playoffs.

 

The Jaguars aren’t going to be messing around and it’s one of those things where they have to get back to the playoffs once again. Otherwise, some jobs will be on the line.

 

In closing

The Jaguars are going back to the playoffs. The defense is elite, and now Jacksonville actually has a quarterback who can take advantage of it. I mean, he doesn’t have to be Joe Montana. He just has to be Nick Foles. You know, the former Super Bowl MVP and a proven winner.

 

It’s one thing to say the Jaguars are going back to the playoffs.  But to do that someone won’t be going.  Will Jacksonville be better than either Indianapolis or Houston in their own division?  They need to be better than both to win the division, and better than one of them to make the playoffs.

 

Or they have to be better than the lesser of the Chargers or the Chiefs.

 

And that’s presuming they are better than the AFC North runner-up to boot.

 

 

TENNESSEE

Coach Mike Vrabel reiterates that QB RYAN TANNEHILL is a mere back-up to QB MARCUS MARIOTA – but that the question is asked is in itself interesting.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

When it comes to who’s starting under center for the Titans this season, there’s no tumult in Tennessee: Marcus Mariota is the starter and Ryan Tannehill is not.

 

That’s the word from Titans coach Mike Vrabel, who reiterated this weekend that Tannehill, whom Tennessee acquired in a trade from the Miami Dolphins, won’t be competing for starting snaps in training camp.

 

“His job as a backup — everybody’s job as a backup — is to push the guy in front of him,” Vrabel said this weekend, per UPI. “To compete and try to make yourself better and try to make the team better and see how everybody responds.”

 

This year will be Tannehill’s first as a backup QB. He was often on the bench in Miami but due to injury rather than performance reasons. Drafted by Miami eighth overall in the 2012 draft, Tannehill started 77 straight games to open his career before being felled by a torn ACL. The Dolphins, under new leadership, moved on from Tannehill this offseason, shipping him to Tennessee and replacing him with Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

 

The former Fins starter has already said this offseason that transitioning to a backup role has been “definitely tough at times,” but that he is acclimating well to taking a back seat to Mariota.

 

“I think there’s a lot of mutual respect between us,” Tannehill said in late May. “I’m going to try and help Marcus as much as I can. I think Marcus has done the same for me.”

 

Though Mariota’s starting job is not immediately threatened by Tannehill’s presence, the Titans franchise QB is on a short leash this season. Mariota is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie deal without an assurance that he will get a new contract from the club.

 

The former second overall pick has dealt with injuries and struggled with unsteady play over the last four seasons, like Tannehill. Mariota sat out the final two games of the 2018 campaign with a stinger, ceding responsibilities to usher Tennessee into the postseason to Blaine Gabbert. The Titans couldn’t get the job done, dropping their season finale to the rival Indianapolis Colts at home on “Sunday Night Football.”

 

The trade for Tannehill seemed a direct response to the pain of last season’s conclusion. Tennessee needed better Mariota insurance, for this year and perhaps a Mariota-less season in the near future, and Tannehill had the bona fides.

 

Tennessee is hoping Tannehill flips a switch in Mariota in the latter’s contract year. But whether the presence of a longtime starting signal-caller behind a franchise quarterback like Mariota will complicate things at Titans camp remains to be seen.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

LABOR PEACE?

Is it possible that the NFL and NFLPA could do a deal sooner, rather than later?  Kaelen Jones of SI.com:

 

The NFL and NFLPA are aiming to reach a new collective bargaining agreement this month, before the 2019 regular season begins, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano.

 

The current CBA deal is set to expire following the 2020 season.

 

According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, the NFL and NFLPA are set to hold negotiations from July 17-19, marking the first time the two sides will meet three consecutive days to discuss the new CBA deal. Graziano reports talks are expected to “intensify” this month.

 

Graziano reports there have been three direct owner-player negotiations conducted once a month since April, in addition to conversations between staffers. Multiple owner-player discussions could potentially take place in July, and ESPN reports that both sides are optimistic about reaching a deal without a lockout.

 

According to Graziano, owners are motivated to close a deal prior to the start of the 2019 season, which will mark the NFL’s 100th year. The league is planning a marketing campaign around the anniversary.

 

NFL owners locked out the league’s players in 2011 after the CBA expired, but the two sides were able to come to an agreement before the season, avoiding the cancellation of any regular season games.

 

 

BRUSCHI

Former Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi suffered his second stroke recently.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Former New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke on July 4, but his recovery is going well.

 

The ex-linebacker posted on social media accounts early Monday morning about his second stroke and did a little educating on the topic while updating his status.

 

“Around 10:30 a.m. on July 4th I lost use of my left arm,” Bruschi wrote. “I then tried to speak and realized I was slurring my speech. As I turned to my wife she noticed the left side of my face was drooping. We immediately knew what was happening. These are stroke warning signs. We called 911 and an ambulance got me to the hospital. Thank you for all your kind thoughts and prayers. I’m doing much better.”

 

This is the second stroke for the 46-year-old Bruschi, who won three Super Bowls with the Patriots. A statement released Friday morning stated that Bruschi had a Transient Ischemic Attack and immediately recognized the warning signs.

 

Bruschi, currently an analyst for ESPN, suffered his first stroke in 2005, three days after the Super Bowl. At the time, it was revealed that he had a congenital heart defect that resulted in a hole in his heart. Bruschi subsequently underwent a procedure to repair the hole. After sitting out the beginning of the 2005 season, he returned to play nine games that year, winning the Comeback Player of the Year award. The linebacker played an additional three seasons before retiring prior to the 2009 season.

 

 

SLEEPER TEAMS

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com with a list of five teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year that might make it in 2019:

 

I thought it would be a good time to highlight some squads that I feel really aren’t getting the respect they deserve with training camps set to open later this month. Here are my top five teams who are being slept on as title contenders after missing the playoffs in 2018:

 

Atlanta Falcons: Whenever you have an MVP-caliber quarterback surrounded by A-plus playmakers in the backfield and on the perimeter in today’s game, you have a chance to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy. That’s why the Dirty Birds shouldn’t be dismissed as viable contenders with Matt Ryan tossing the ball to Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu, with Devonta Freeman — assuming he can stay healthy after missing 14 games last season — serving up 100-yard games as the primary runner. With Dirk Koetter rejoining the squad as the offensive play-caller (he served in the same role from 2012-2014, when Atlanta had a top-10 offense in two of the three years), the Falcons are well-positioned to light up scoreboards around the league. If head coach Dan Quinn can get the Falcons’ young, energetic defense, which was ravaged by injuries last season, to fly to the ball with reckless abandon, The A could be jumping this season with a title contender in the house.

 

Green Bay Packers: The Packers have one of the best to ever play the quarterback position in the starting lineup. Yes, former Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers gives Green Bay an opportunity to win any game in a one-and-done scenario in the playoffs. We’ve already seen him win one title and heat up for stretches to carry the Packers to the brink of another Super Bowl appearance (see: 2016 season), but the deteriorating surrounding cast around him on both sides of the ball in subsequent years limited No. 12’s impact as a franchise player. The Packers addressed concerns about the defense in the offseason by pumping a lot of free-agent dollars and draft capital into resources on the edges (Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, and Rashan Gary), which should enable the team to close out games against opponents chasing points late in contests. If Rodgers and new head coach Matt LaFleur team up to unleash an offense that has some underrated playmakers at key spots, the Packers will surge back to the top of the NFC North this season.

 

Minnesota Vikings: Don’t let a disappointing 2018 campaign overshadow the potential of the sleeping giant residing in the Twin Cities. While there was plenty of hate spewed in Kirk Cousins’ direction for the way things turned out in his first season after signing a blockbuster deal, the Vikings should feel good about his chances of performing like a top-10 quarterback in an offense being overseen by coordinator Kevin Stefanski and advisor Gary Kubiak. The system places a premium on the running game — something Minnesota didn’t do enough of last season, much to Mike Zimmer’s dismay — and complementary aerial attack. With Dalvin Cook healthy and ready to add sizzle to the running game as a stretch (outside zone) runner, Cousins could terrorize opponents with timely dimes to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Defensively, the Vikings have more than enough playmakers (Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, and Xavier Rhodes) to win nip-and-tuck battles that are traditionally won with the defense on the field. If the Vikings can learn how to play complementary ball in each of the game’s three phases, Zimmer’s team could be standing in the winner’s circle at the end of the season.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Tomlin might trot out a team possessing less talent than he did last season, but I’m on record as a believer that he will get better results with a more cohesive unit in the locker room. Sure, the departures of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown will defuse some of the offense’s explosiveness, but James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster are Pro Bowl-caliber playmakers ready to step into prime roles. With Ben Roethlisberger motivated to prove his greatness by uplifting an offense that is short on brand names on the perimeter, the Steelers could get his best effort as a player and leader this season. On defense, the addition of first-round pick Devin Bush gives the unit the dynamic weapon it’s been missing since Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal injury in December 2017. Bush, a former Michigan standout, could dominate the game between the hashes and upgrade a frontline that’s already brimming with young, energetic talent. If the defense comes together and holds its own against some of the premier aerial attacks in the AFC, the Steelers could finally realize their potential as title contenders.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars: After failing to live up to the hype a season ago, the Jaguars have become an afterthought for many observers. I feel like the lack of buzz is an overreaction to the team’s dismal 2018 campaign. Why? Well, the defense remains a potential top-five unit with Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue positioned as core members of the group. Despite the absence of Telvin Smith (who has said he won’t play in 2019) and the release of Malik Jackson, the defense is more than capable of stuffing every opponent on the schedule. Nick Foles’ insertion into the starting lineup at QB1 should provide the offense with more consistency and stability at the game’s most important position. Additionally, Foles’ easy-going leadership style and winning pedigree should play well in the locker room and help the Jaguars get back on track as a title contender. If Leonard Fournette plays up to his potential as a workhorse back, the Jaguars could reprise their role as the bully on the block in the AFC.

 

Presumably, the Browns have too much hype to be a sleeper.  Should Denver be on this list?  The Panthers?