AROUND THE NFL

We’ll let Peter King catch us up on the weekend’s WR ANTONIO BROWN developments (and King “goes there” in a boldfaced paragraph).

 

I would not describe Tom Brady as giddy, or overly bubbly, about the prospect of playing football with the great but troubled wide receiver he’ll meet today, Antonio Brown. When I met Brady for a few minutes in an office just off the Patriots locker room around 12:20 this morning, an hour after the Patriots finished a stunning 33-3 pasting of the surprisingly docile Steelers in the 2019 season-opening Sunday-nighter, I’d describe him as pleased that the Patriots went out on a limb and invested millions in Brown.

 

Pleased … but pleased in the way you get when you’ve finished raking a third of the yard. Hardly satisfied. Lots left to do.

 

“There was a lot of positive emotion when it happened,” Brady said, “but you know, everybody says, Whoa, this is what it can be, and what potential they have. But you know, the teams I’ve been on, they go to work.

 

“The NFL’s a competitive place. Lots of moving parts. Lots of adjustment, constantly. Week to week, a guy gets hurt, a guy gets picked up you don’t know, you’re constantly manipulating your team. We lost our right tackle [Marcus Cannon, with a shoulder injury] tonight for who knows how long. Like, oh sh–, that’s a big deal. Now we’ll add Antonio, and he’s got to … there’s a lot to learn. … The point is, it’s one thing to talk about, it’s another thing to go do it. Let’s go do it. That’s what my attitude is.”

 

Of course, that’s why this place works so well. The Patriots have won six Super Bowls in 18 years because Bill Belichick’s a dour metronome of preparation and utter consistency, and his GOAT disciple, Brady, plays the most important position at the same level of preparedness and attitude. So sometime before the Brown deal is announced Monday, Belichick will tell Brown something like this: Welcome to the team. Great to have you. Follow the rules. Those who have heard the Belichick welcome say it’s not particularly long nor emotional. But there will be an understanding that if Brown continues to act like the petulant child he was in Oakland, he won’t last here, even if it means it’ll cost New England owner Robert Kraft millions to jettison him.

 

As Brady says, We’ll add Antonio, and he’s got to … there’s a lot to learn.

 

Left unspoken: We’ll add Antonio, and he’s got to be the same as everyone else here. A Team Guy.

 

“The expectations are high,” Brady said. “Coach always says, ‘I’m not going to congratulate you for doing your job. You’re not going to get a lot of pats on the back because you completed a pass. That’s why you’re here.’ And if you screw up, he’s gonna tell you. I mean, he knows so much football. He wants it done right. Josh [McDaniels, offensive coordinator] wants it done right. That’s what we’re gonna try to do now.”

 

I said: “Seems like it’s got a pretty good chance to work, based on your history here.”

 

“I hope so. I don’t think this team would make a decision like that if they doubt it’s going to work. We’re gonna work as hard as we can to make it work to contribute to what we’re trying to achieve.”

 

Today, the Patriots are expected to announce the signing of Brown, whom they hope will buttress a team without a deep threat they can count on (Josh Gordon is one, but substance abuse has limited him to 18 games in the last four years) as they chase a record seventh Super Bowl title. We all know Brown’s issues. They bore us now. So now we wonder if Brown can put down his precious social tools and, as Gruden apparently pleaded to Brown in the infamous (and illegal) Friday night post: “Please stop this s— and just play football.”

 

The two players in the Belichick era who resemble Brown’s arrival—though neither were as downright disruptive pre-New England—were running back Corey Dillon, traded from Cincinnati in 2004, and wide receiver Randy Moss, acquired from the Raiders in 2007. Each had multiple prime years left. Moss had the best year of his life with the Pats in their 16-0 regular season in 2007, catching a league-record 23 touchdown passes.

 

The Moss story is vivid and so much like Brown’s. The draft was held over two days in 2007 (first three rounds on Saturday, last four rounds on Sunday), and Oakland owner Al Davis was trying to unload the 30-year-old Moss for a third-round pick. The Patriots said no, as did other potential trade targets, and when the draft ended, Davis said he’d take a four for Moss. That was okay with the Patriots, but Belichick wanted to speak with Moss first. So Moss flew overnight to Boston, and on Sunday morning met with Belichick and VP of personnel Scott Pioli. Moss was due $20.8 million over the last two years of his contract; Pioli said if he’d take a major pay cut (one year at $3 million, with $2 million in makeable incentives), they’d do the deal with Oakland.

 

“Bro, I don’t care what the deal is,” Moss told Pioli. “Just get it done.”

 

The Patriots traded the four to Oakland for Moss. “Same thing with Corey Dillon,” Pioli said. “Those guys should get credit for humbling themselves and taking a lot less money so they could try to win a Super Bowl.”

 

There’s another element—the most important one, the one Antonio Brown is about to experience. Another new receiver to the Patriots in 2007, Donte’ Stallworth, told me he and Moss were stunned in the first team meeting by Belichick’s equal-opportunity wrath-sharing.

 

“I was sitting next to Randy,” Stallworth said Sunday, “and Bill was showing some plays from the previous season. The Patriots blew a big lead and lost to the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, and he was showing plays where the guys made some mistakes. He gets to Tom, and I remember Bill showing a short pass to a wide receiver that Tom threw really short. Just a bad pass. Bill says, ‘What the f— is this?’ And he says something like, I can get a kid from Foxboro High to make that throw! Randy and I looked at each other. He kinds of sits up real straight in his chair and we had this look like, Holy s—! Is this real?

 

“That day, we learned the truth about New England: If Tom Brady was getting it, no one was safe.”

 

So, I asked Stallworth: Is the guy so sensitive to every perceived slight, the guy who seems to trust no one, going to be okay getting called out if he runs an imprecise route—which Brown tends to do. Is Antonio Brown going to be able to take Belichick’s stuff?

 

“I really think he’ll be okay,” Stallworth said. “You’ve got to remember too that there’s something about playing with Brady. They’ll find things in common with each other. They’ve already got a connection, right? Both sixth-round picks with chips on their shoulders?”

 

Actually: Brady went to college in Michigan and was the 199th overall pick in 2000. Brown went to college in Michigan and was the 195th pick in 2010.

 

“I know people are talking about the money he lost,” Stallworth said. “Money’s great. But when you can be a Super Bowl contender, and when you can play for maybe the greatest coach ever in team sports, and you can play with the greatest quarterback, maybe ever, I’ll just tell you, the way players think, that is something money can’t buy. That appeals to players.

 

“Antonio’s got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But when you get to New England, you have to accept being a cog in the wheel. I think if Antonio buys in, he’s going to have a great year. If he doesn’t, the experience will be over pretty quick.”

 

I don’t want to forget the non-football stuff here. It’s ugly, and it should not be forgotten. In order:

 

Something just doesn’t feel right about a player who gets traded, is happy to be traded and happy where he goes, and because he can’t follow some pretty simple rules (like wearing a safer helmet), he goes batcrap crazy and skips a walkthrough practice and never really feels like a full-time member of the team because he missed so much time (after said team handed him $30 million guaranteed). In preparing for tonight’s Raiders-Broncos game on ESPN, the crew heard an interesting admission from Jon Gruden. Reporter Dianna Russini told me Sunday night that Gruden said Brown was never really all-in because he wasn’t there a lot. “We felt for Jon,” Russini said. “He looked like he’d been through hell. I sensed relief that it was over, but it really took a toll on him.”

 

But I blame Gruden too. He behaved like an enabler too often. In the phone call leaked by Brown on Friday night, before pleading with him to just play, he told Brown how misunderstood he was. And in the same week Brown went after GM Mike Mayock at least verbally, and then released an apparent private conversation in violation of the law, and then was cut … After all that, Gruden said on Saturday: “He’s a good guy. He’s misunderstood by a lot of people.” Man. THAT’S your response to Brown after taking that much abuse?

 

Then there’s the matter of how convenient it is that Brown signed with New England so quickly. Belichick and Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, have been making deals forever. And from the time Brown was cut by the Raiders on Saturday to the time word leaked that he’d agreed to terms with New England, about half a day passed. Is it possible that there was no contact between the two sides, and that Rosenhaus made the deal quickly, in an hour or so, with the Patriots? Rosenhaus was in Massachusetts on Sunday night, but he refused comment on all things Brown when I reached him. Word has surfaced that at least one other team was seriously interested in Brown on Saturday. Could the dueling deals have been worked in such a short time? It’s possible. I was told by a league source that the league had no plans to investigate Brown’s behavior or the signing with New England, or whether it set a precedent that if a star player doesn’t like where he is, he can act up for three or four days and drive a team so crazy that it will release him. If I were Mike Tomlin or Eric DeCosta or Andy Reid or Chris Ballard, say, big men on big AFC teams, the way this whole story went would really bother me.

 

The events will stand, and life will go on, and the Patriots, who have played in four of the past five Super Bowls, seem favored to reach another one. New England’s defense is terrific, with a secondary that is football’s best and a front seven that puts just enough pressure on the passer to be dangerous. And if Brown is right, the receiving corps could have Josh Gordon and Brown outside and Julian Edelman in the slot. Those are big ifs, of course, because of the history of Gordon and Brown. “You gotta love football here,” Edelman said Sunday night. “We like football players who love football.” That’s Brown’s reputation. Oakland never saw much of it, though.

 

More from Brady. I asked him: “Do quarterbacks look at receivers and say, ‘I’d love to throw to that guy?’“

 

“Absolutely, absolutely!” he said. “I watched Josh Gordon play for a while. I watched DeMaryius [Thomas] play with Peyton [Manning] when Peyton was throwing 55 touchdowns, and I’d say, “Damn!’ I was playing with Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan—I mean, I’ve never lacked for great players. But yeah, I watched him [Brown].”

 

I wondered about that story with Moss and Stallworth, and Brady smiled about it; he’s been on that end of the Belichick knife a few times. Who knows? Maybe it helped in the perfect regular season in ’07. “That 2007 team, with all the great players, we just went to work. I played with Hall of Famers. Moss. Rodney Harrison, who should be in the Hall of Fame, Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson. Junior Seau, for God’s sake. We just showed up every day, every week and competed and worked. Randy really worked. And that year it worked out pretty good, till a couple of those last plays at the end [of the Super Bowl loss to the Giants]. Still a great experience.

 

“Even though that one still eats at me. But now … another year.”

 

And another Belichick project. The Antonio Brown show comes to New England today, and it could be New England’s most challenging one yet.

 

– – –

Peter King with a good summation of the DB’s thinking this morning about certain teams, except we liked Dallas going in:

 

8. I think these teams I underrated: Dallas, Minnesota. Hard to tell, because the Giants were so easy to move the ball on, and the Falcons looked so awful. But if Dak Prescott is that accurate and dynamic in and out of the pocket, and if the Vikings’ running game can take pressure off Kirk Cousins so effectively as it did Sunday … well, both of those teams could win January games.

 

9. I think lots of fan bases will be hugely disappointed this morning. Cleveland’s at the top of that list. Then Atlanta, Miami (but Fin fans had to know it was going to be bad), Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh … but I’d also put Tampa Bay high on that list. Bruce Arians got hired to fix the quarterback, and he brought his new quarterback-whisperer, Byron Leftwich, with him to be hand-in-hand with Jameis Winston. Arians and Leftwich stressed taking care of the ball with Winston, and Sunday’s 31-17 loss to San Francisco was the big test. Winston failed. Three interceptions, two returned for touchdowns. The Bucs have to make a decision on whether to sign Winston long-term by the end of the season, and many more afternoons like Sunday’s will put him on the free-agent market in 2020—and put the Bucs back in the market for a franchise quarterback. Again.

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Peter King:

 

Not a bad debut for Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson, who had the most productive debut for a tight in NFL history—124 receiving yards.

 

 

GREEN BAY

Peter King:

 

The Packers going 1-0, with five of the next six at home. Weeks 2-4: Minnesota, Denver, Philadelphia home. Week 5: at Dallas. Weeks 6-7: Detroit, Oakland home.

 

 

MINNESOTA

Peter King:

 

Best player I didn’t know much before Sunday: Minnesota rookie running back Alexander Mattison, the third-rounder from Boise State. Very fitting backup for Dalvin Cook—strong and fast.

 

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Now, it is QB DAK PRESCOTT’s turn to get paid.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said on his radio show Friday he held out hope of getting a deal done with Dak Prescott before the season opener. That didn’t happen, but it appears it will soon.

 

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after Sunday’s 35-17 victory over the Giants that he expects to have a deal with the quarterback in a matter of “days.”

 

“Oh, yes, I do know that we’ll get it done,” Jones said. “It would probably be fair to say it’ll be done on a imminent basis. Imminent. Without being real clear, bright lined. It’s not done. What’s imminent? Well, days. Days. Or something like that.”

 

Prescott completed 25 of 32 passes for 405 yards, four touchdowns and the first perfect passer rating in team history.

 

Prescott said he was unconcerned about his contract when told of Jerry Jones’ comments.

 

“I’m turning the page and I’m worried about the Washington Redskins,” Prescott said. “I have people that handle that. My focus is on this team, on the football game. I think as long as I can keep continuing to do that, this will do things like we did tonight. As I said, that’s been out of my focus for the past week, and I told you guys that.”

 

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com on Prescott’s big opener and Kellen Moore’s first game as Dallas OC:

 

The story: Dak earns racks

 

Let’s start with the most lucrative performance of the day. It’s clear that the Cowboys are going to pay Prescott soon, but if Jerry Jones was playing any sort of hardball in negotiations, he’s about to stop. Cowboys fans who expected their offense to hit new strides under debuting offensive coordinator Kellen Moore enjoyed a dream start to their 2019 season, as Prescott went 25-of-32 for 405 yards and four touchdowns. On a day in which Ezekiel Elliott played just 34 of 62 snaps, Prescott shouldered the load in a 35-17 blowout of the Giants.

 

The popular story after the game, naturally, is that Moore’s elaborate system of pre-snap shifts and more extensive movement of receivers around the formation unlocked a great game from Prescott. I’m not sure it’s quite that clear of a causation. Moore did good work, and it’s impossible to know just how much his scheme went against what the Giants were expecting as they game planned, but I don’t think it’s quite as easy as crediting Moore for the big day. Many of Dallas’ biggest plays came without any sort of motion or disguise; they were a result of great throws from Prescott and absolutely dismal defense from the Giants.

 

It would be fair to say that defensive expectations are low for the Giants heading into the season; on Sunday, they lived down to those fears. As Prescott posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating, the Giants pressured him on just 9.4% of his dropbacks, the lowest pressure rate for any quarterback so far in Week 1. You have to give some credit for the low pressure rate to Dallas’ offensive line, but the Giants did more than leave Prescott alone.

– – –

Honestly, while I thought Moore called a great game, I don’t think he needed to show all that much of his hand to beat the Giants. The most exotic look Moore might have shown was the split zone with window dressing the Cowboys used on Elliott’s 10-yard touchdown run, but my favorite pair of plays Moore showed on Sunday were run-pass options (RPOs) built around the pin-and-pull sweep.

 

There’s every reason to be excited about what Moore, a former Boise State quarterback, did in the opener. He seemed to play to his offense’s strengths throughout the game, even when he didn’t have a full complement of snaps from his returning star running back. He used tempo selectively to create confusion with the Giants and force mismatches. Crediting him as the sole author of Dallas’ offensive outburst, though, is too simplistic.

 

The Cowboys were going up against a bereft New York defense, and counting out what their signal-caller did would be naive. Prescott looked every bit like a franchise quarterback on Sunday. It won’t be long before he’s paid like one, too.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

In a week where young and dynamic Kliff Kingsbury punted the ball away in overtime in Lions territory to preserve a tie and edgy Mike Tomlin meekly kicked a field goal on fourth and goal at the one-yard line down 20 in the third quarter, there was one coach who chose boldly.  Peter King:

 

Game: Washington at Philadelphia, Sunday.

 

Situation: Washington up 20-7, third quarter, 13:03 left, Eagles ball fourth-and-one at the Eagles 34-yard line.

 

The decision: If Eagles coach Doug Pederson goes for it and fails, he leaves Washington (and hot quarterback Case Keenum) a short field to make it a three-score game. If he punts, he could leave Washington 80 yards from a touchdown, but short-circuiting this possession would leave him with one less chance to score in what could end up being a shootout.

 

The thought process: In training camp, Pederson told me he coached too conservatively last year, unlike his bold 2017 season that ended in the Eagles’ first Super Bowl victory. “I want to coach aggressive,” Pederson told me on my camp visit. “That’s what I gotta get back to. Last year was not my mentality. I’ve learned from that.” And on Sunday, Pederson said post-game he thought it was “a no-brainer. It was just inside a yard [to go]. I knew I was gonna go for it. We had success on the QB sneaks early in the game. I was coming right back to it.”

 

The analytics: Eric Eager of PFF reports: “There have been fewer than 130 plays when a team went for it on fourth down before the fourth quarter and inside of their own 35 since 2006. The play carried significant weight for the Eagles, roughly a 33 percent proposition to win the game at the time. Punting in that situation would have made the Eagles probability of winning the game the same, while converting the first down would increase their win probability to 40 percent. Converting on all run plays for a team with the strengths of the Eagles against a team with the strength of Washington is roughly a 73-percent proposition, and given the historical rates of quarterback sneaks, likely higher in this instance. Thus, going for it did have some risk, but the benefits outweighed the cost.”

 

The result: Carson Wentz converted the first down on a two-yard QB sneak. Eight plays later, the Eagles scored to make it 20-14, and on their next series, they scored another touchdown to go ahead for good. No doubt Pederson will be similarly emboldened the rest of the season, the way he was in 2017.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Jay Gruden on why RB ADRIAN PETERSON was a healthy scratch:

 

“If we have a game where we think we can run the ball 55 times in a game in an I-formation, then sure, I’ll get him up.”

 

—Jay Gruden, in discussing why Adrian Peterson was not active Sunday, in a quote that is sure to burn the hair on the back of Adrian Peterson’s neck.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Peter King:

 

I think I don’t want to put a coach on the hot seat after one week, but man, that was an ugly opener for the Falcons’ head coach who took over as defensive coordinator this year. Dan Quinn watched the Falcons get gashed for 120 rushing yards and 21 points in the first half alone at Minnesota. That was a borderline non-competitive game. Since the morning of Super Bowl LI, Atlanta is 18-18. And if you think Arthur Blank is a patient man about such things, you do not know Arthur Blank.

 

 

CAROLINA

After watching his against the Rams, Jay Busbee of YahooSports.com sees QB CAM NEWTON on the backside of his career:

 

Playing healthy — or as healthy as he gets these days following shoulder surgery — for the first time since roughly the middle of last season, Newton struggled against the Rams defense. He didn’t throw a single touchdown and rushed for a career-low minus-2 yards. A backward pass led to a fumble which led straight to a Rams touchdown, and an interception with just under six minutes left in the game effectively killed off the Panthers’ chances to win. He didn’t have a pass for longer than 17 yards, and after the game he conceded that he was “a little rusty” and that he and the rest of the Panthers “weren’t connected to the same Wi-Fi.”

 

Nice metaphor. But perhaps most damning of the current state of Cam’s game was this quote from Rams linebacker Cory Littleton, who picked off that pass late in the game: “Cam is a readable guy. He gave me an opportunity and I read it perfectly.”

 

The last thing any team wants to hear is that to a defense, their quarterback is a readable guy.

 

Can Newton, Panthers bounce back from loss?

If there are positives to be taken from this game, it’s this: Newton didn’t win it for the Panthers, but he didn’t entirely throw Carolina out of it, either. Losing to the defending NFC champions isn’t exactly a mortal sin, and Newton — at least in his telling — played without pain in his shoulder.

 

“That’s what I’m most optimistic about and happy about, not needing to gauge the [long] throw,” he said after the game. “My body feels fine. Whatever play is called, I feel confident. I didn’t think about my shoulder.”

 

So Newton’s back. But what does that mean, exactly, for Carolina and its playoff chances? Nobody’s picking Carolina to run the table in the NFC; those days of 2015 are long past. But Christian McCaffrey gives the offense another dimension besides “throw Cam at ‘em,” and that in turn gives Carolina a shot at a wild card.

 

Regardless of how well McCaffrey and the Luke Kuechly-led defense play, however, the team, as ever, revolves around Newton. He’s always been a guy who keeps the “me” in “team,” whether through his outfits, his strange-font Instagram posts, or his self-conscious touchdown celebrations. All that was fine when Carolina was tearing through the league; it doesn’t play so well when the team’s struggling to hit .500.

 

Plus, the Newton style of ball, hammering away at the defense with both passes and shoulders until it breaks, is as dated as a guitar solo now. Newton’s only got so many hits left in him, but Carolina’s default seems to be, when all else fails, turn Newton loose. After that MVP season of 2015, when he averaged 39.8 yards rushing a game and tallied 132 total carries on the ground, the Panthers coaching staff dialed him way back, holding him to only 23.9 yards per game on 42 fewer carries in 2016. The next year? Back up to 47.1 on 139 carries, and then 34.9 in 2018.

 

What does the future hold for Newton, Carolina?

Newton will be an unrestricted free agent after next season, and in a perfect world he’d be in line for a Matt Ryan-style Last Big Contract. But Newton’s world is far from perfect, and he’s put a lot more miles on his tires than Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford or other QB comps had at this point in their careers. At this point, it’s almost impossible to envision anything other than a long-term Carolina extension in Newton’s future … but what if he can’t shake the injury woes? What if he’s lost too many miles off his fastball? You can ask those questions of any quarterback, of course, but Newton’s a unique quarterback with unique questions.

 

Newton came the closest the NFL has ever seen to being the total quarterback package back in 2015 — a sledgehammer runner with a rocket-launcher arm and a chess grandmaster’s strategic analysis. But that season seems a long, long time ago now, and with the ascendance of younger quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott, Newton’s fading into classic-rock territory.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

NFL.com on the beautiful music still being made by WR LARRY FITZGERALD:

 

Larry’s still got it. It wasn’t that long ago that Larry Fitzgerald’s retirement was a possibility. Sunday showed there was no reason for one of the all-time greats to hang them up. While the headlines will belong to Murray, Fitzgerald showed off the experience and skill in the clutch that the Cardinals needed to steer their sinking ship. It was Fitzgerald’s four-yard TD catch with 47 seconds left that led to overtime, and it was his huge 45-yard gain in overtime that set up Zane Gonzalez’s fourth and final field goal. Ending the afternoon with eight catches for 113 yards, Fitzgerald started his 16th season with a 100-yard game after recording just one in his 15th campaign. Myriad questions remain to be answered for the Cardinals’ offense after a Week 1 showing that was good, bad and all the ugly in between. Fitzgerald still has the skill and presence to be the guiding light needed to shine when called upon.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

With an injury to RB TEVIN COLEMAN, Sunday’s win at Tampa Bay came with a cost.  Jordan Dejani of CBSSports.com:

 

The San Francisco 49ers may have a problem at the running back position.

 

During their season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tevin Coleman left the game with an ankle injury, and the team quickly relayed to reporters that he would not be returning. Ian Rapoport speculated that this could mean it is a significant injury.

 

Without Coleman, the 49ers are left with just two running backs in Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. Coleman rushed six times for 23 yards and caught two passes for 33 yards before he sustained the injury.

 

This is not the only issue the 49ers have had with the health of their running backs early in the season. San Francisco was supposed to have one of the most talented and versatile backfields in the NFL, but Jerick McKinnon is still struggling to return from the serious knee injury he suffered last year. Last week, Adam Schefter reported that the 49ers placed veteran running back on season-ending injured reserve. Rapoport also previously reported that McKinnon’s surgically repaired knee recently had “a bit of a flare up” and may require a procedure to fix the issue. 

 

Coleman was signed by the 49ers this offseason after spending his first five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. In 56 career games, he has rushed for 2,340 yards and 18 touchdowns, and he has also caught 92 passes for 1,010 yards and 11 touchdowns.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Peter King:

 

I’ve got three observations about the Jared Goff contract:

 

• I get the raised eyebrows over paying Goff $110 million guaranteed, but consider that just before Sean McVay got his contract extension with the Rams in late July, McVay told Rams brass: I just want to be sure we’re going to extend Goff too. I want him around as long as I’m around. McVay is sure he can win with Goff, and, as transcendent a coaching talent as McVay is, you’ve got to trust him.

 

• The cap has gone up an average of $10.8 million a year over the past seven seasons. It is $188.2 million this year. Even though the cap could fluctuate wildly with the next CBA being negotiated now, let’s just assume $10.8 million growth per year on the NFL cap. That would mean Goff’s cap numbers would take up these percentages of the Rams’ salary cap over the next six years, starting with 2019: 3.0 percent, 17.2 percent, 14.7 percent, 13.2 percent, 12.4 percent, 10.3 percent. The Rams usually don’t let star players play to the end of their contracts. Even if the last year ends up being rolled into a new deal, it’s a big plus if your quarterback, in his prime, is taking up 13.2 and 12.4 percent of the team’s cap, as Goff would at age 28 and 29.

 

• Please, please, please: Understand that the money quarterbacks make is monopoly money, and consider the percentage of the cap and not the raw dollars, because the percentage of the cap is all that truly matters.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

Peter King liked the way Mike Mayock jettisoned WR ANTONIO BROWN – even if Brown goes off (in a football positive way) in New England:

 

An adult in the middle of the playpen. One day we’ll know the truth about precisely what happened, but in the end, Mayock realized he blew it by trading third-round and fifth-round picks for an incendiary device named Antonio Brown. Before Brown could ruin Oakland’s 2019 season, Mayock drew his personal line in the sand and said if Brown was going to play in Oakland he’d have to accept proper discipline. Brown not only didn’t accept the discipline but also released a private conversation with Jon Gruden (illegal, by the way) in which Gruden pleaded with Brown to cut out the nonsense and just play football. Still, I don’t give Gruden much credit for this, at all. If Gruden ran everything, the Raiders would have scotch-taped this abject disaster together and found some misguided way for Brown to stay. Mayock refused to continue enabling the player who had been enabled for most of his career. Good for Mayock—regardless what happens with Brown going forward.

 

But Mike Sando of The Athletic, armed with an army of secret NFL executive sources, says neither Mayock nor Gruden maximized their hold on disgruntled asset Brown:

 

Exactly what happened to precipitate Brown’s release from Oakland and his pending marriage with New England might never be known. Conversations with veteran NFL execs helped build a plausible scenario:

 

GM Mike Mayock likely planned to suspend Brown on Thursday of last week. Coach Jon Gruden, steadfast in his support for Brown, resisted going that far. Hence, the reports suggesting the team “planned” to suspend Brown, as opposed to the team actually suspending him. Gruden, as the Raiders’ most powerful figure under owner Mark Davis, got his way.

 

At about this time, Brown decided he was finished with the Raiders. His agent presumably did what agents do in these situations by checking in with teams that had interest in his client previously. New England was one of those teams. At this point, Brown had enough information to know he had a landing spot, if only he could extricate himself from Oakland.

 

Brown then posted audio of a secretly recorded phone conversation with Gruden. Brown demanded his release. Why would the Raiders let him go? There were potential financial implications of keeping Brown, but execs also thought the makeup of the Raiders’ front office was a critical factor.

 

As “Monday Night Football” viewers know from listening to Gruden suffer the finer points of the rulebook, the Raiders coach loves the game, not the particulars of administrative process. While Mayock has an extensive scouting history, he’s a first-year GM coming off a TV career even longer than Gruden’s. It’s unrealistic to think Mayock would already be a leading expert on the collective bargaining agreement.

 

Instead of keeping Brown as an asset that could be traded if he ultimately refused to play, the Raiders let him go. More specifically, Gruden let him go.

 

“In my opinion, it’s a classic case of a team with one guy in charge, the head coach,” an exec said. “Gruden was so committed to making it work there that when he realized it wasn’t going to work, he just said, ‘Ah, screw it, get him out of here,’ and there is nobody there to say, ‘Hey, Jon, wait a second, that is not the way to do it, let’s be calm, let’s make sure we know what we are doing and let’s talk through all the implications.’”

 

Tim Kawakami of The Athletic:

 

Jon Gruden was smiling as he walked to the podium after practice Saturday, smiling as he answered every question and definitely smiling when he was done mostly dodging any exact explanation for the conclusion of Antonio Brown’s brief but instantly infamous Raiders career.

 

It was a tight smile, though. A tense smirk. A forced, grind-your-teeth grin. He had to summon energy to do it. He had to play-act through the scene. It wasn’t natural. It was strained.

 

Mostly, it seemed like Gruden was a shadow of himself up there Saturday. There are real reasons for this. He’s spinning his wheels. He’s screwing up. He is facing another lost season, mostly of his own doing. And you can see that he understands all of this.

 

He arrived with trumpets blaring and was practically carried into the building on a throne, but before the first game of his second season, Gruden is facing a complete wipeout of his $100-million second tenure.

 

After Saturday’s final whirlwind — Brown asking for his release on social media and the Raiders finally succumbing to the inevitable and issuing the release, just two days before their regular-season opener — you know Gruden felt all of this in the deepest parts of his football soul. Bringing Brown to the Raiders was his great project and Gruden failed.

 

And then a few hours later, Brown agreed to terms with the New England Patriots, which had to shake Gruden even more.

 

Gruden is the one who traded two draft picks for Brown last March when the Pittsburgh Steelers had enough of the potential future Hall of Famer. Gruden is the one who signed off on giving Brown a new deal when Brown still had multiple years left on his old deal. Gruden is the one who let Brown skip sessions in the spring and at the start of training camp. Gruden is the one who was always in Brown’s corner through the worst distractions when maybe general manager Mike Mayock wanted to run a tighter ship. Gruden is the one who protected Brown through all of that.

 

Gruden did this — put the franchise through all of this — just so he could get Brown to play for the Raiders. Gruden did this because he was desperate and didn’t mind everybody seeing that he was desperate. Just to get Brown playing in games.

 

But Brown didn’t get into a single game as a Raider. And now the Patriots, who went through none of this, will have Brown’s services. Well, that is, if he doesn’t blow up on them, too.

– – –

But Brown is just the latest and largest symptom of the Gruden malaise. If you think of Gruden’s Raiders tenure so far, it’s all about missteps, misjudgments, misadventures and missing players. It’s about having Mack and trading him and watching the 2018 season go up in flames. It’s about ignoring the warnings and acquiring Brown, then ignoring even more warnings and giving Brown every indication that most Raiders rules didn’t apply to him. It’s about yielding to Brown at every turn until he crossed the line and then skated away to the Patriots.

 

Gruden’s tenure, so far, hasn’t featured many victories or much team chemistry. It’s been about owner Mark Davis’ complete faith that Gruden is the answer to all of the Raiders’ ills and about Gruden’s complete inability, so far, to justify that faith. Davis might’ve wasted a lot of money. And Gruden might be wasting a lot of time.

– – –

Now Gruden will have to sit and watch what Brown does in New England the same way he winced through Mack’s great season for the Bears last season. And here’s the greatest fear: What if Brown plays well in New England, in an echo of Randy Moss dogging his way through his short Raiders career and then exploding for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady more than a decade ago?

 

If that happens, what’d be the difference between former Raiders coaches Norv Turner and Art Shell’s hapless attempts to coach Moss and Gruden’s abject debacle trying to coach Brown? There wouldn’t be much difference at all. And Turner and Shell even had the excuse that Moss knew they didn’t have real power in Al Davis’ franchise. But Gruden is the singular power on the Raiders now and he has no excuses.

 

Right now, he’s no better than Turner, Shell and all the other doomed coaches who followed Gruden’s first tenure and seemed like duds compared to him. Add Gruden 2.0 to the dud-and-presumed-doomed list. And if you tell Gruden that, I don’t think he could really argue. He’d just plaster on that tight grin and try to change the subject.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Not many NFL running backs grow up on a ranch, but AUSTIN EKELER of the Chargers did.  Peter King on the long shot who was a reason MELVIN GORDON is chilling without a contract:

 

The Ekeler story is amazing. The Chargers were going to sign one undrafted running back after the ’17 draft, and coach Anthony Lynn liked Corey Clement from Wisconsin. But in a surprising turn, the Eagles offered a $10,000 signing bonus and $25,000 guaranteed to Clement, high for a player who might be cut. Ekeler chose the Chargers ($5,000 to sign, no other guarantees), and the Chargers are glad he did. In training camp, Ekeler wasn’t going home without a fight for a roster spot. One day he approached Lynn during training camp and said, “Coach, what do I have to do to make this team?” Lynn told him to keep working, and just concentrate on that. “I didn’t even know who he was,” Lynn admitted later.

 

Ekeler’s story is like so many other longshots—only this one, so far, has had a happy ending.

 

“I grew up on a ranch in Colorado. It was always sports during school, and building fence all summer. I learned how to work hard. I came up the hard way: Division II school, undrafted. Was the competition in college any good? I left school early. I just trained for football. When I first got to the Chargers, I was all-in on just this moment. I told my family when I got here, ‘Don’t text me, don’t call me, I’ll be studying.’ I was the sixth-string running back. I was getting, like, three plays a practice. Where I was getting noticed was on scout team special teams. I’m not even on the regular special teams—I’m on the scout team for special teams! When Coach Stew [special teams coordinator George Stewart] said, ‘All right, we’re full go,’ I don’t care if I’m scout team, I’m gonna make a play. I’m literally flying down the field. I’m wearing number 3. I remember afterward, Coach Lynn coming into our meeting, watching tape, I’m steaming down the field, and Coach Lynn says, ‘Hey Stew, who’s number 3?’ Stew says, ‘That’s Austin Ekeler, coach. Been doing it all day.’ Coach Lynn’s like, ‘Okay, okay.’ I’m like, yeah! A little motivation right there.

 

“That’s why I told everyone in my life to chill, basically leave me alone. I needed to be all-in on this moment.”

 

I asked Ekeler: “What’s the moral of your story?”

 

“I would say make sure football is really what you want to do before you even start in college. You have to make sure you’re in the right presence of mind, and you’re gonna commit to this all the way. Find something in your life, even if it’s not football. Find something in your life that you really want, and just go for it. That’s what’s going to get you there.”

 

More from the Denver Post in 2018:

 

Austin Ekeler grew up with his mother and brother in a house on vast farmland about a 25-minute drive down dirt roads from Eaton High School. In the spring of 2013, he walked across a stage in cap and gown as one of 96 graduates, and then hopped in his car. No time to waste.

 

“Kissed my mom goodbye,” Ekeler said, “and I started driving up the mountain.”

 

A literal and metaphoric journey.

 

Ekeler always dreamed of playing in the NFL. But a 5-foot-9 tailback from Class 2A Colorado high school football? Tough odds. Even after a breakout senior season at Eaton with more than 2,300 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns, Ekeler’s only full scholarship offers were from Division II programs, and just one of those programs sought his talents at tailback.

 

So, Ekeler traveled over Kenosha Pass and Monarch Pass to 7,700-feet elevation in Gunnison to play at Western State Colorado University of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Today, he is a Los Angeles Chargers tailback who scored five touchdowns as a rookie last fall. What happened in between Ekeler describes as “coming up the hard way.”

 

He was on Western State’s campus last week to finish four classes and complete a degree program he postponed one semester to train for NFL Draft evaluations a year ago. Gunnison, a town of around 6,000 residents, is blue-collar, which Ekeler appreciated. He once had a part-time summer gig as a river raft guide.

 

“Your reputation absolutely means something up here,” he said.

 

At 22 he looks and acts beyond his years with a chiseled frame, bald head and scruffy beard. Among his original childhood friends is Trent Sieg, a former Colorado State long snapper (2013-2017), who played football with Ekeler from about 5th to 12th grade. Sieg knew then what others know now.

 

“No one could tackle me,” Ekeler said. “That was just the thing in high school.”

 

Added Sieg: “He was never one of those guys to go out and flaunt it.”

 

Ekeler did his best to catch college coaches’ attention, though, and sent highlight tape all over the country. The big schools all but ignored him. The small schools suggested he play defensive back. Western State coach Jas Bains held a different vision. As a former special teams coach at D-II Chadron State in Nebraska, Bains helped mentor tailback Danny Woodhead, whose ongoing nine-year NFL career has so far produced 4,936 yards combined between rushing and receiving, plus 32 touchdowns.

 

Could Ekeler, with a similar stature and running style, fit the same mold?

 

Sam Seale is a former Western State defensive back (1980-83) who played nine NFL seasons. He now has two decades of experience scouting for the Green Bay Packers. Prior to Ekeler’s arrival in Gunnison, Western State earned one victory in each of its previous three seasons. Then, Seale spoke with the team.

 

“You can make it to the NFL out of Division II,” he said, “but you’ve got to dominate.”

 

Message received. Ekeler broke almost every career program rushing record with 932 carries for 5,857 yards and 55 touchdowns over four seasons. In 2016, he finished eighth in the Harlon Hill Trophy voting; the Division-II equivalent of the Heisman. Western State won seven games — the program’s highest total since 1998 — with Ekeler as the catalyst.

 

“We got lucky,” said Jeff Williamson, who has coached Western State running backs for the past 26 years. “You only get a kid like Austin once every century.”

 

Ekeler posted a 4.43-second 40-yard dash and a 40.5-inch vertical leap at his pro day and still went undrafted. Then he received a phone call from the Chargers, a team that lost Woodhead in free agency to the Baltimore Ravens, and Ekeler accepted the Chargers’ offer to try out on the spot.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Bill Barnwell on the big opener for QB LAMAR JACKSON:

 

The story: “Not bad for a running back.”

 

Jackson’s instant classic of a quote from his postgame news conference sells the former Heisman Trophy winner short. The goalposts keep moving on him in disingenuous ways. Before the draft, he was too small to play quarterback and needed to move to wide receiver. After Jackson started his career by leading a 4-5 Ravens team on a 6-1 romp to the playoffs, critics said he was running a gimmicky scheme and that Baltimore’s 23-17 playoff loss to the Chargers had revealed Jackson to be a one-trick pony. Jackson wasn’t a good enough passer to succeed as a pro.

 

Well, on Sunday, Jackson posted one of the most efficient games you’ll ever see from an NFL quarterback. On a day in which he ran just twice for 7 yards, Jackson picked apart the Dolphins in a 59-10 rout. Before being relieved by Robert Griffin III, the second-year quarterback went 17-of-20 for 324 yards and five touchdowns to post his own perfect passer rating. Jackson averaged 21.2 adjusted yards per attempt, the second most for a quarterback with 20 or more attempts in a game in NFL history and the most since Johnny Unitas in 1967. His 99.4 Total QBR was the best single-game performance in more than four years.

 

Now, of course, the next hurdle people will throw in Jackson’s way is the idea that he was taking advantage of a Dolphins team that appears to be actively self-destructing. I won’t pretend that the Dolphins are going to be good, but there have been plenty of awful football teams and dismal defenses over the past 50 years, and no team has topped 21 adjusted yards per attempt against any of them. If anything, given that the Dolphins have one of the league’s better cornerback duos in Xavien Howard and Minkah Fitzpatrick, you would figure their one competitive advantage over most teams might be in the secondary.

– – –

His completions were difficult, in part, because his average pass traveled nearly 12 yards in the air. His three incompletions included a narrowly overthrown bomb to Marquise Brown and a drop in the red zone by Willie Snead.

 

Watch the actual throws Jackson made and you can see what I’m talking about. The 83-yard touchdown pass Jackson threw to “Hollywood” Brown is a good example. Brown has top-tier NFL speed, but this is a rookie who wasn’t healthy for most of camp playing in his first NFL game, and he’s matched up out of a reduced split against Fitzpatrick, who was one of the league’s most promising rookie corners a year ago. When Jackson lets go of the pass, Next Gen Stats projects it has a 32% chance of completion. Jackson isn’t supposed to have a rapport with Brown yet, but he throws an absolutely, positively perfect pass. Brown doesn’t have to break stride, which is the difference between this going as a long completion (or a possible incompletion) and a touchdown.

– – –

I hesitate to bring up the RPO because it’s so easily misconstrued. Jackson doesn’t need RPOs to succeed as a passer. Many of his best throws Sunday had no option looks. I do think that the best version of this offense will include RPOs, if only because defenses already know they should be terrified of Jackson as a runner. If anyone thinks they shouldn’t be scared of what Jackson can do as a passer, Sunday should be a wake-up call.

 

Mike Sando:

 

By the way, this Ravens performance on offense recalled one their offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, helped orchestrate as a member of the Jim Harbaugh-coached San Francisco 49ers in 2012. In Week 5 of that season, with Roman as coordinator, those 49ers amassed 310 yards passing and 311 yards rushing against a wholly overmatched Buffalo Bills team. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the losing quarterback for that Buffalo team in 2012, just as he was the losing quarterback against Baltimore on Sunday.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Peter King has a correspondent in Cleveland:

 

At 4:15 Sunday afternoon in Cleveland, after Tennessee shocked the Browns with a 30-point pummeling, the diehards filed out of First Energy Stadium and a very light rain began to fall on the lakefront. Even the sky was crying at the Browns performance, which included three Baker Mayfield interceptions in the fourth quarter, 18 Browns penalties for 182 yards, one score in Cleveland’s last 13 drives, and a trusted tackle (Greg Robinson) ejected for kicking a Titan in the helmet.

 

Talk about a letdown.

 

Longtime season-ticket-holder Preston Hoge said from Cleveland on Sunday night: “It’s the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard in that stadium at the beginning of a game, and the quietest crowd I’ve heard at the end.”

 

“It reminded me of a college crowd,” cornerback Logan Ryan of Tennessee said. “The fans are there at 9 a.m., drinking, and there’s a lot of them. And they were really loud, especially at the beginning.”

 

Give credit to Tennessee, though. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees sent multiple looks at quarterback Baker Mayfield (sacked five times, intercepted three) all day. You wouldn’t have known Marcus Mariota has the hot breath of Ryan Tannehill on his neck; he was 14-of-24 for three touchdowns and no picks. The Titans were more than solid on both sides of the ball, and their picks of Mayfield came on three straight series that ruined the game for the Browns.

– – –

All teams can say it’s only one game. That would seem particularly important to the Browns today. And to their fans.

 

“The hype was a little over the top,” Hoge said. “This game was a wakeup call. One loss is not going to rip the heart out of these fans.”

 

Mike Sando of The Athletic could see John Dorsey/the Haslems having quick buyer’s remorse on making Freddie Kitchens the head coach:

 

The hype surrounding the Browns was so over the top this offseason that Kitchens could realistically be on the hot seat in Year 1, as ridiculous as that seems.

 

“Who is my locker room glue that when you have a tough loss is going to step in?” an exec asked earlier this offseason. “Is ownership really prepared to stand by this group if they hit a two- or three-game losing streak? Freddie Kitchens is coaching for his job this year! There is a real chance if they do not make the playoffs that he could be fired, which is insane.”

 

CBS sent its No. 1 broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo to Cleveland for the Browns’ opener. The pressure isn’t subsiding. Three of Cleveland’s next four games will be in prime time.

 

Do the Browns have the leadership they need? Do they have the offensive tackles? (Update: On the positive side, quarterback Baker Mayfield did not wear sunglasses to his postgame news conference; those were shadows from his hat, not the latest in eyewear).

 

These types of questions lingered beneath the hype through the offseason. The questions are doing more than lingering after Week 1.

 

After incurring 20 penalties (two declined) and watching left tackle Greg Robinson draw an ejection for kicking Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro in the head while his team lost by 30 at home, Kitchens must pull things together as a first-year head coach with limited credentials.

 

And this, about WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. is crazy.  Brian Hood of The Robb Report:

 

Wearing a Richard Mille watch while taking in a sporting event from the best seat in the house is quite the flex, but wearing one while actually playing in the game? That’s on a completely different level. So leave it to Odell Beckham Jr., the NFL’s reigning fashion superstar, to show off his favorite timepiece while playing in the Cleveland Browns’ season opener.

 

The wide receiver sent the internet into a tizzy after fans realized he was sporting a watch while hauling in his first seven receptions for the Browns against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon. But even more rare than an athlete wearing a watch while playing a contact sport was the timepiece OBJ decided to show off—a Richard Mille RM 11-03 McLaren Automatic Flyback Chronograph.

 

Limited to just 500 pieces, the RM 11-03 McLaren went for $191,500 when it first went on sale last year. That number has ballooned to upwards of $350,000 since.

 

The result of a collaboration between the Swiss watchmaker and British automaker McLaren, the RM 11-03 McLaren Automatic Flyback Chronograph made its debut at the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show. Referred to by the company as its “take on the Gran Turismo,” the flyback chronograph was designed with McLaren’s “attitude in mind,” and features a unique Carbon TPT and orange Quartz TPT case that matches the Browns’ colors perfectly. Beckham Jr. has been seen wearing the RM 11-03 several times since the New York Giants traded him to the Browns in March, including at the ESPYs, on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2019 NFL preview and during drills before a pre-season game last month.

 

Other features of the watch include a skeletonized, automatic winding RMAC3 caliber movement, a variable geometry rotor with 18-karat white gold weight segment, variable inertia balance, baseplate and bridges made from ultra-strong grade-5 titanium, an oversized date display and a 55-hour power reserve (or 45 when the chronograph’s running). With features like that, it’s easy to see why the receiver thought it could withstand the rigors of a full-speed NFL game.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

NFL.com on Pittsburgh’s attempt to replace WR ANTONIO BROWN against the Patriots. 

 

Speaking of Brown, Pittsburgh could not replace his impact on the offense in its first go-around without the mercurial pass-catcher. With JuJu Smith-Schuster taking on Brown’s No. 1 role, James Washington, Donte Moncrief and Ryan Switzer scooped up most of Roethlisberger’s targets. While Switzer was a reliable security blanket (six catches on as many targets) and Washington was on the receiving end of Big Ben’s prettiest throw of the night, Moncrief was a drop-happy mess. On 10 targets, Pittsburgh’s potential No. 2 receiver hauled in just three balls for seven yards; that’s .70 yards per target. All the while, James Conner was a non-factor in the ground game. Pittsburgh’s three points were its lowest output since a loss to the Eagles in Week 3, 2016, which was also the only other time Big Ben’s Steelers had lost by more than 30 points. The Killer B’s are gone. All that’s left is an offense that on Sunday night was dead on arrival.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

Peter King of the impressive debut of Jacksonville’s rookie QB GARDNER MINSHEW, pushed into action when NICK FOLES went down:

 

I think one of the stories that will get lost (because his team lost, mostly) is that a sixth-round rookie, who barely practiced with the first unit in his first summer with the team, had to play most of Sunday’s season-opener for the Jaguars. And Washington State’s Gardner Minshew went 22 of 25 for 275 and two touchdowns, with one interception and a 122.5 rating against a changeup-playing defense. Mike Leach must be smiling this morning.

 

On Monday, the Jaguars shipped a 5th round pick to Pittsburgh for QB JOSHUA DOBBS, in his third year from the U. of Tennessee.  Presumably, he backs up Minshew.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Mike Sando of The Athletic – yes the Dolphins are tanking:

 

The next time the Dolphins deny they are tanking, someone should ask them a simple question: What would they have done differently over the past six months if they actually had been tanking? The answer is … nothing. They are tanking from an organizational strategy standpoint while trying their hardest to win each game along the way.

 

For the Dolphins, losing 59-10 to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday wasn’t altogether different from losing to them 40-0 (2017) or 38-6 (2016). Getting blown out by the Ravens is insufficient by itself to prove tanking even though the Ravens set franchise records for points and yards (643).

 

The Dolphins’ leadership can deny tanking because every member of the organization is presumably doing everything it can to win each game. However, tanking isn’t an effort thing. It’s an organizational strategy thing. The Dolphins have dumped veteran players who could help the team now while collecting draft choices that could help the team improve in the future.

 

According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, any Dolphins player with an ego wants to emulate ANTONIO BROWN:

 

Losing 59-10 at any level of football leaves a mark. In Miami, it’s sparking a mutiny.

 

Per a league source with knowledge of the situation, multiple Dolphins players contacted their agents after Sunday’s season-opening blowout loss and directed them to attempt to engineer trades elsewhere. The players believe that the coaching staff, despite claiming that they intend to try to win, aren’t serious about competing and winning and by all appearances have bought into the notion that the Dolphins will take their lumps now in the hopes of laying the foundation via high draft picks for building a successful team later.

 

Coach Brian Flores consistently has denied an intention to tank, but the first rule of Tank Club is never talk about Tank Club.

 

And even if Flores insists that there’s no tanking, that doesn’t keep the players from: (1) believing it’s happening, based on the trade that sent tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Still to Houston eight days ago; and (2) wanting to be no part of it.

 

The Dolphins informed PFT that they have not heard from any agents or players regarding this matter, and that they have not received any requests for players to be traded.

 

Again, this doesn’t mean that coach Brian Flores and his staff are actually not trying to win. Flores is a respected coach with a strong work ethic and high character. But the perception wasn’t good before Sunday, and now it’s getting worse after a 49-point loss to the Ravens.

 

It’s inevitable that, eventually, people inside the locker room were going to notice. They now have, and some of them want out.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

How fortunate for New England that their first game with WR ANTONIO BROWN will come against the hapless Dolphins.  Peter King alertly notes:

 

New England plays at Miami on Sunday afternoon.

 

Antonio Brown went to Norland High School in Miami Gardens, Fla.

 

The Dolphins home field, Hard Rock Stadium, is in Miami Gardens, Fla.

 

Norland High is a 24-minute walk from Hard Rock Stadium.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk notes the line on Sunday’s game:

 

One team won by 30, the other lost by 49. They play each other on Sunday. And Vegas expects it to get ugly.

 

The Patriots, on the heels of their 33-3 win over the Steelers, are 16-point favorites against the Dolphins, who lost 59-10 at home to the Ravens.

 

It looks like a no-brainer, but it’s dangerous. The Dolphins have, over the past six years, compiled a record of 5-1 against the Patriots in Miami. Also, Patriots coach Bill Belichick can have a tough time when facing former lieutenants, like he did a year ago in Detroit, against Matt Patricia. Then there’s the reality that, in 2018, the Patriots lost five of eight road games.

 

Last year in Week Three, the Vikings were 17-point favorites over the Bills in Minnesota. And Buffalo won the game outright.

 

So stranger things have happened. But few things would be stranger, frankly, than the Dolphins winning next Sunday’s game. Especially if Antonio Brown plays.

 

The DB cannot remember a road team spotting 16 in an NFL game.  This on the Patriots as road favorites from CBSSports.com, thinking New England was just a 14.5 point pick next week:

 

Although it’s not that odd to see the Patriots favored by 14.5 or more points in a game, it is odd to seem them favored by that many points on the road. As a matter of fact, even though the Patriots have been the best team in the NFL for years, this week will mark just the second time since 2009 that New England has been favored by at least 14.5 points on the road.

 

The last time it happened came in December 2012, when they were favored by 14.5 to beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville. The last time they were favored by more than that 14.5 that their favored to win by this week came in October 2009 when they were favored by 15.5 to beat the Buccaneers on the road.

 

It turns out you can look up spreads at ProFootballReference.com – and the Falcons were once a 23-point dog against the 49ers of Bill Walsh.  It turns out a home team has been an underdog of 17 or more points three times in whatever span is covered by this data base.  And all three covered:

 

23.0        ATL vs. SF     1987-10-11           L 17-25           covered

18.5        BAL vs. NE     2007-12-03           L 24-27           covered

17.5        NE vs. SF       1992-10-11           L 12-24            covered

16.5        IND vs. BUF    1992-11-29          W 16-13  OT   covered

16.0        BUF vs. NE      2007-11-18         L 10-56            not covered

16.0        CLE vs. TEN    2000-12-17         L 0-24              not covered

 

WR ANTONIO BROWN has 20 million reasons to mind his Ps and Qs per Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Patriots are expected to make the Antonio Brown signing official on Monday and the deal could wind up being for more than one year if all goes well.

 

PFT has learned, via a league source, that the Patriots have a $20 million option on Brown’s contract for the 2020 season. The option is for $20 million and it becomes guaranteed if it is exercised. The option helps with cap proration for this season and is similar to an option the Patriots had on cornerback Darrelle Revis’s contract when he was with the team for the 2014 season.

 

Brown’s deal for 2019 is worth up to $15 million and includes a $9 million signing bonus.

 

If the option for 2020 is exercised, one can assume Brown will have done well with New England this year and the two years of salary and bonus will exceed the guaranteed money he was set to make with the Raiders before forcing his way out of Oakland over the last week.