AROUND THE NFL

Someone named Veronica Patton thinks that running backs should have their own union, separate and apart from the NFLPA.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The NFL’s current compensation system does not fairly compensate running backs. An effort has been launched to change that.

 

Via Bloomberg.com, a petition has been filed with the National Labor Relations Board to create a separate union for NFL running backs.

 

In a petition dated August 6, the International Brotherhood of Professional Running Backs identifies Veronica Patton as the executive director of the group. The petition, which technically seeks clarification of the broader NFLPA bargaining unit, explains that the “rookie wage contract is economically harmful to workers in skill group (RB), but advantageous to players in skill group (QB),” and that the “current one-size fits all” approach to NFL players is “inappropriate.”

 

There’s definitely a point to all of this. Running backs have shorter careers, they incur far more physical abuse than most other positions, and the rookie wage structure often results in the best years of a running back’s career happening before they have a chance to renegotiate their deals or to hit free agency.

 

The NFL and NFL Players Association will have the ability to oppose this, and they surely will. And at some point, the IBPRB will have to persuade running backs to break away from the NFLPA.

 

Maybe some of them will. There’s a pervasive sense among running backs and the agents who represent them that the men who play the position have different circumstances than other players, and that they are not treated fairly in variety of ways, up to and including the rule that protects pro football’s free farm system by forcing players to wait three years after high school to join the NFL.

 

Of all players, running backs are the best suited to jump to the NFL after one (or no) years of college. Maybe wiping out that rule as to running backs will be the first order of business for the IBPRB, if/when the effort prevails.

 

BloombergLaw gets a quote from Ms. Patton, but can’t shed any more light on the IBPRB and its executive director:

 

“It’s a petition to sever a smaller unit,” said Veronica Patton, who identified herself as the executive director of the new brotherhood. No specific NFL players are involved in this push for creating a new union, Patton said.

– – –

There is no record that the International Brotherhood of Professional Running Backs exists or has ever existed, except in the NLRB filing.

 

A search of Illinois incorporation records—where the organization is supposedly based—revealed no trace of the organization. There are also no records of the group on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website. All active unions in the United States are required to file paperwork with the DOL.

 

The lack of records could be due to the newness of the group or an understanding that the union wouldn’t be fully formed until the NLRB rules on the issue.

 

The Chicago regional office of the labor board now will carry out an investigation to determine whether the job functions of running backs are so different from other NFL players that they shouldn’t be included in the same bargaining unit. The regional director there can make a decision with or without a hearing on the matter.

 

The NFLPA already has intervened in the case, according to the NLRB docket.

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

QB MATTHEW STAFFORD is not participating in all practices.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Matthew Stafford practiced and played through a back injury last season. During training camp, the Detroit Lions have been more selective of how much they’ve had the 31-year-old quarterback throw.

 

Stafford had a six-day throwing break after getting last weekend off and not participating in the Lions preseason game a week ago. The hope is that the planned break for the veteran’s cannon should pay dividends when the games actually matter.

 

“I’m not 21 anymore, so it’s probably pretty good to, if you can find a place in the schedule where you think you can get some rest and just kind of feel fresh again, might as well,” Stafford said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

 

Stafford didn’t look right down the stretch last season while playing through the back injury. His near week break set off questions of whether he suffered a setback. Stafford, however, insisted Wednesday that he feels fine physically, and the break was simply planned maintenance.

 

“It’s not easy for me but it’s probably good for me in the long run,” Stafford said. “So something that Coach (Matt) Patricia and I had talked about and probably the right thing to do. But it was good, gave me a little bit of perspective, let me coach the guys a little bit more on the sideline. But yeah, it’s not easy as a competitor to sit out, but it’s probably the smart thing to do.”

 

Stafford participated in the Lions joint practices with the Houston Texans this week and is expected to play about a quarter in Saturday’s preseason tilt.

 

At 31, the 11-year pro isn’t near Tom Brady-old, but he’s no spring chicken either. Coming off a season in which Stafford threw for just 3,777 yards — lowest since 2010 when he played just three games due to a shoulder injury — battling the back issue and losing key receivers to injury and trade, giving the veteran a few days off is smart planning. There is plenty of time left for chemistry building with his wideouts before Week 1, and just because he isn’t throwing in practice doesn’t mean he’s not getting mental reps in Darrell Bevell’s new offense.

 

Stafford enters a big year coming off arguably his worst season as a pro. With the Lions expected to employ a run-heavy approach under Bevell, Stafford might not need to carry the load as he did for years, but he’s still Detroit’s most important player. Giving him a few days off in early August is shrewd if it keeps the signal-caller fresh down the line.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Former agent Joel Corry, writing at CBSSports.com, tries to figure out where QB DAK PRESCOTT’s contract will land.

 

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who is in the final year of his four-year rookie contract, is asking for $40 million per year, unless he isn’t. There were conflicting reports on Monday about the accuracy of a $40 million per year demand. Previous reports in June had Prescott seeking a new deal in the $34 million per year neighborhood.

 

Prescott is represented by Todd France of Creative Artist Agency Football. France is the co-agent of Rams defensive interior lineman Aaron Donald, who became the NFL’s first $20 million per year non-quarterback last preseason.

 

One thing that seems to be universally accepted is Prescott turning down a $30 million per year offer. Cowboys Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President Stephen Jones characterized the offer made to Prescott, who is scheduled to make $2.025 million this season, as top-five quarterback money. $30 million per year in a vacuum is meaningless. Structure is everything in NFL contracts because the deals aren’t fully guaranteed as they are in MLB and the NBA.

 

Details about the rejected offer haven’t been leaked publicly, but an attempt to create what a good faith $30 million per year offer could look like can be made with a pretty good understanding of the top of the quarterback market and Dallas’ most lucrative contracts.

 

QB market summary

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers entered the offseason as the NFL’s highest-paid player at $33.5 million per year. He signed a four-year, $134 million contract extension worth a maximum of $138 million through salary escalators and incentives last preseason. The deal has $98.2 million in guarantees, of which $78.7 million was fully guaranteed at signing.

 

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson surpassed Rodgers as the NFL’s highest-paid player in April. He received a four-year, $140 million extension averaging $35 million per year. The maximum value is $146 million because of salary escalators. Wilson’s contract has $107 million in guarantees, which was the most ever for an NFL player at that time. $70 million was fully guaranteed at signing, which includes an NFL-record $65 million signing bonus. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, 37, signed a two-year, $68 million extension shortly before late April’s NFL Draft.

 

The most recent data point in the quarterback marketplace is Carson Wentz’s deal. The Eagles gave him a four-year, $128 million extension averaging $32 million per year in early June. The deal is worth up to $144 million through salary escalators. Wentz’s almost $108 million in guarantees are an NFL record. Just over $66 million was fully guaranteed at signing.

 

The chart below summarizes the top five for quarterbacks in average yearly salary, total guarantees and amount fully guaranteed at signing.

 

RANK   AVERAGE SALARY      CONTRACT GUARANTEES       FULLY GUARANTEED

1          $35M (Wilson)                 $107,870,683 (Wentz)               $94.5M (Ryan)

2          $34M (Roethlisberger)    $107M (Wilson)                         $84M (Cousins)

3          $33.5M (Rodgers)          $100M (Ryan)                              $78.7M (Rodgers)

4          $32M (Wentz)                 $98.2M (Rodgers)                      $70M (Wilson)

5          $30M (Ryan)                   $92M (Stafford)                           $66,470,683 (Wentz)

 

Cowboys’ preferred structure

The Cowboys prefer lucrative veteran contracts to be structured with a fairly significant signing bonus. The $25 million signing bonus defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence received as a part of the five-year, $105 million deal he signed in April is the league’s fifth largest for a non-quarterback.

 

The base salaries in the first two years are fully guaranteed, and any guarantees beyond the second year are conditional. Base salary guarantees after the second contract year are for injury only initially at signing but become fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year early instead during that specific year. For example, Lawrence’s $17 million 2021 base salary is guaranteed for injury. The skill and salary cap guarantees for the $17 million kick in on the fifth day of the 2020 league year, which is next March 22. The most lucrative Dallas contracts typically contain a $500,000 base salary de-escalator for less than 90 percent participation in the offseason workout program.

 

The Cowboys favor lengthy deals for the best players. Lawrence has the shortest at five years. Center Travis Frederick and offensive guard Zack Martin signed six-year extensions. Offensive tackle Tyron Smith received an eight-year extension. He was under contract for 10 years because he had two years left on his rookie deal when he signed. Tony Romo, Prescott’s predecessor, signed a six-year extension in 2013, which was his last NFL contract.

 

It’s extremely unlikely France would consider any offer in which Prescott gives up more than five new years because of the way the quarterback market has been escalating. France is probably pushing for a three- or four-year extension, so at the latest Prescott would have an expiring contract at age 30. The deals Wentz and Wilson signed this offseason are four-year extensions, but based on their history, the Cowboys probably don’t want to follow suit with Prescott.

 

Cash flow

How the money is allocated throughout a new deal will be of the utmost importance to Prescott. The Cowboys should recognize that any good faith offers are going to have to resemble the top quarterback contracts structurally. There are three quarterbacks — Derek Carr, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford — who have signed five-year extensions averaging at least $25 million per year since 2017. The structures of their deals could be instructive.

 

 

The following chart outlines the percentage of new money earned after each of the new contract years in their respective deals.

 

PLAYER                        YEAR 1           YEAR 2 YEAR 3 YEAR 4 YEAR 5

Derek Carr                      37.21%            53.21% 68.40% 84.10% 100%

Matt Ryan                      36.50%            50.17% 65.50% 81.33% 100%

Matthew Stafford           37.78% 52.22% 68.15% 82.96% 100%

Average                         37.12%            51.78% 67.26% 82.71% 100%

 

These three extensions are more player-friendly than the Cowboys are accustomed to on five-year deals. Dallas has only done two extremely lucrative five-year deals, with wide receiver Dez Bryant and Lawrence, during the last five years.

 

The Prescott negotiation revolves around new money, which is the amount of compensation in a contract excluding what a player was scheduled to make before receiving a new deal, and how it gets allocated over the life of the contract. Professionals within the industry (agents and team negotiators) typically value deals by new money. This means a $150 million offer averaging $30 million per year is really a six-year contract totaling $152.025 million. Prescott’s existing 2019 contract year for $2.025 million is subtracted from the $152.025 million six-year total to arrive at a five-year, $150 million extension offer.

 

Taking into consideration the dynamics that have been highlighted, below is a chart breaking down what a $30 million per offer to Prescott could look like.

 

Signing bonus: $35 million

Guaranteed money: $96 million

Fully guaranteed at signing: $73 million

New money total: $150 million ($152.025 million over six years)

Contract length: Five-year extension

Average per year: $30 million

 

Notes: 2019-21 guaranteed for skill, injury and salary cap. 2022 guaranteed for injury; skill and salary cap guarantee on fifth day of 2021 league year. $500,000 base salary de-escalator based on 90 percent workout program participation in 2020-24.

 

Final thoughts

Something I did while an agent was try to anticipate a team’s first offer by taking into account the market at my client’s position and his team’s structural conventions. That was the impetus for attempting to put Dallas’ $30 million per offer into context without any specific knowledge of the negotiations.

 

Teams have been successful in getting players who haven’t made a lot of money by NFL standards to accept deals that aren’t quite what is being sought because the risk of playing out contracts is greater than the reward. Prescott has made a little over $2 million from his player contract during his three NFL seasons. France is clearly driving a hard bargain for Prescott, who has been adamant about not giving Dallas a hometown discount, if a $30 million per year offer along these lines was rejected.

 

Prescott will be destined for a franchise tag in 2020 if he plays out his rookie contract. An analysis of going year-to-year playing the franchise tag game versus any Dallas offers is likely being made by France. The 2020 non-exclusive quarterback number should be in the neighborhood of $27 million if the salary cap is around $200 million next offseason. A second franchise tag in 2021 at a CBA-mandated 20 percent increase over the 2020 franchise number would be over $32 million.

 

Quarterbacks usually get the exclusive version, which would be a certainty if Prescott’s increased effectiveness over the second half of the 2018 season after Dallas traded for wide receiver Amari Cooper is a sign of things to come. Prescott ranked in the top 10 over the second half of the season in most conventional statistical categories as the Cowboys tied the Colts at 7-1 for the NFL’s best record during that stretch.

 

The exclusive version would prohibit Prescott from soliciting an offer sheet from other NFL teams. The calculation is also different from the non-exclusive version. An exclusive designation for Prescott would be the average of the top five 2020 quarterback salaries (usually salary cap numbers) when the restricted free agent signing period ended on April 17. This number currently projects to $32.221 million. A second franchise tag in 2021 at a 20 percent increase over Prescott’s 2020 franchise number would be $38,665,200.

 

Listening the Dan LeBatard Show last night, the DB heard Mina Kimes, who is getting a lot of love in 2019 as the analyst on Rams preseason TV, say that CARSON WENTZ is a much better QB than Prescott.  “Much better” perked our ears.

 

So we decided to look at the numbers.

 

Wentz         40 starts (23-17)       63.7%      70 TDs        28 INT          92.5 rating

Prescott      48 starts (32-16)       66.1%      67 TDs        25 INT          96.0 rating

 

We might also give Prescott an edge in mobility and durability to date.  Conventional wisdom would say Prescott has more support from his running game, Wentz plays in a more enlightened offense.

 

Not saying you are wrong if you prefer Wentz.  But the numbers don’t show “much” to the better.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

The police had cameras running when Cardinals COO Ron Minegar was arrested.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Cardinals Chief Operating Officer Ron Minegar was slurring his speech, contradicting himself about how much he’d had to drink and struggling to walk in a straight line during a field sobriety test as he was arrested for driving under the influence.

 

Video of the arrest released by police show Minegar was asked after he was pulled over how much he’d had to drink. Minegar slurred his words as he said, “Three, four drinks.”

 

But later during the arrest, Minegar denied saying that.

 

“I didn’t tell you that at all,” he said. “I had two drinks.”

 

When officers asked Minegar to walk in a straight line, he began to do so but then stumbled and said, “I can’t do it.”

 

Minegar refused to take a breathalyzer.

 

An officer asked Minegar if he works for the Cardinals and he confirmed he does, as their COO. The Cardinals called Minegar’s actions “inexcusable,” and nothing in the video contradicts that conclusion.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Wow! If you are a 3% interception thrower and that’s not all that good, the chances you would throw interceptions on five straight passes are …. Something like 1 in 50 million.  Jeremy Bergman at NFL.com:

 

immy Garoppolo enjoyed a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day at the office on Wednesday afternoon.

 

During one stretch of practice, the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback threw five consecutive interceptions to Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Jaquiski Tartt and Tarvarius Moore (twice), per NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco.

 

Jimmy G broke the spell with a touchdown pass to rookie Jalen Hurd, but the damage was done, acknowledged by the onlooking press and Garoppolo’s head coach.

 

“He threw it to the wrong team five plays in a row,” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said bluntly. “I was a defensive coach today, so I was pumped. But no, the defense did great today and obviously he struggled.

 

“You hope to never have a day like that, but I don’t think it’s never not happened to anyone. When you do that, you hope you can practice long enough and give him a chance to play out of it and use it as an opportunity that hopefully you can do in a game. Hopefully you don’t have five in the game, but you can play yourself out of two in a row or something like that.”

 

Wednesday was San Francisco’s last practice before traveling to Denver to take part in joint practices with the Broncos on Friday and Saturday. The 49ers will play Denver on Monday night, when Garoppolo is expected to make his preseason debut, his first on-field appearance since tearing his ACL in September.

 

Shanahan said he was unsure whether Garoppolo would play longer than one or two series, saying, “That depends on how the practices go this week.”

 

If Jimmy G continues to throw to the wrong team (the Broncos) in the coming days, he might not be long for game action on Monday evening.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

A hip injury is giving WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. some time off.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. did not participate in team drills Wednesday because of a hip injury. Coach Freddie Kitchens, though, indicated the injury isn’t serious.

 

“He’s got a little bit of something going on but we expect him back pretty soon,’’ Kitchens said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

 

Six times in 15 practices the Browns have held out Beckham for all or most of the 11-on-11 periods, according to Cabot. He did not play in the preseason opener.

 

Beckham skipped most of the voluntary offseason work after being traded from the Giants to the Browns.

 

The Browns, though, are unconcerned about Beckham getting up to speed and on the same page with Baker Mayfield.

 

“I think he’ll be ready to go mentally,’’ Kitchens said. “He’s ready to go mentally. We’ve got to wait and get him ready to go physically, but he’ll be there.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

The mysterious leg affliction of QB ANDREW LUCK seems likely to result in QB JACOBY BRISSETT showing his wares in September – and perhaps beyond.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It is looking more and more like Jacoby Brissett will start the season opener for the Colts.

 

Andrew Luck remains out, isn’t expected to play in the preseason, still has his left ankle wrapped . . . and the regular season is quickly approaching.

 

Colts coach Frank Reich said Wednesday he wants to make a call on Luck’s status for Week One by the end of the third preseason game. That’s 10 days from now if you’re keeping track at home.

 

“I think with that, ideally, the more time you have, the better,” Reich said, via Mike Wells of ESPN. “But by the end of the third preseason game, you have to know something. You have to be able to make a call and move from there in whether we’re full speed with Andrew after that third preseason game or if at that point we’re going with Jacoby. We’ll make that decision with that when the time comes.”

 

Luck has dealt with a calf strain since the offseason program. He also has a high-ankle injury, General Manager Chris Ballard revealed Tuesday.

 

Brissett played for Luck in 2017 when Luck missed the year with a shoulder injury. The Colts went 4-11 with Brissett as their starter.

 

Brissett has much to gain as he becomes a free agent in 2020.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FANTASY BREAKOUTS

Mike Clay of ESPN.com with some names for late in your draft.

 

It’s one of the questions I get asked most often during the offseason.

 

“Who is this year’s …?”

 

It’s not a simple question to answer because no two scenarios are exactly alike. But there are obviously comparable players in similar situations. And if the people want comparisons, comparisons they shall have.

 

The process here was simple: I jotted down each of 2018’s top breakout players and came up with a short list of players who fit a similar pedigree as they enter 2019. Below is analysis of each player who best fits the bill, as well as the other players who landed on the short list.

 

Note that this is not a prediction of players who will definitely break out this season. Again, it’s simply the players positioned to do so as a product of landing in a similar situation to those players who exploded onto the fantasy scene last season.

 

This season’s Patrick Mahomes: Baker Mayfield

 

Mahomes emerged as a fantasy star in his second NFL season.

 

Let’s get this out of the way right away: No, I’m not predicting a 50-touchdown, MVP season for Mayfield. That said, if there is a young quarterback in this league who could vault into the fantasy elite, it’s Mayfield. Fantasy’s No. 10 QB from Week 9 on last season, Mayfield looks even better in 2019 with superstar Odell Beckham Jr. added to the fold. Similar to Mahomes, Mayfield might not do much damage with his legs, but he can overcome that with top-end passing production.

 

Other candidates: Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold

 

This season’s Baker Mayfield: Kyler Murray

 

Mayfield was a first-round quarterback who quickly joined the QB1 discussion.

 

Speaking of Mayfield, there’s little (no?) doubt that Murray is the best candidate among rookie quarterbacks to enter the QB1 discussion. In fact, Murray’s ninth-round ADP suggests that the masses expect exactly that. Murray is an excellent athlete (1,001 rushing yards at Oklahoma last season), and that’s important here, as there have been only three top-10 and six top-14 rookie fantasy quarterbacks over the past decade and all did damage with their legs (including four-plus rushing touchdowns for each). Of course, Murray can sling it too, setting an FBS record by averaging 11.6 yards per pass attempt last season. Rookies are risky bets, but the Cardinals’ Week 1 starter has elite upside and won’t cost you more than a midround draft pick.

 

Other candidates: None

 

This season’s Saquon Barkley: None

 

Barkley was an early-round running back who immediately provided RB1 production.

 

I’ll say the same thing here that I said about Alvin Kamara in this piece last season: Don’t plan on seeing a repeat performance (by him or someone new). Whereas Kamara built his terrific rookie campaign on elite and unsustainable efficiency, Barkley built his on workhorse-level volume and good efficiency. Though we can’t reasonably project any current rookies to match Barkley, first-rounder Josh Jacobs is the most likely candidate to quickly join the RB1 ranks. Consider: From 2012 to 2018, 11 running backs were drafted in the first round and seven of them finished top-10 in fantasy points as a rookie. Jacobs is well positioned for feature back duties in Oakland right out of the gate and should be on your radar in the early fourth round.

 

Other candidates: None

 

This season’s James Conner: Kerryon Johnson

 

Conner converted a second-year promotion into fantasy stardom.

 

Johnson already had the look of a 2019 breakout, but Theo Riddick’s departure only helps his cause. Without Riddick, Johnson is ticketed for a boost in targets and could come close to doubling his rookie-season total of 32 receptions. Combine that with 200 to 230 carries and the 22-year-old will end up squarely in the RB1 mix. Johnson averaged 5.4 yards per carry and was fantasy’s No. 14 running back prior to suffering a season-ending injury in Week 11 last season. Losing some carries to C.J. Anderson and/or Zach Zenner could limit Johnson’s ceiling a bit, but a role similar to that of Kamara in New Orleans would obviously be enough to allow for a breakout campaign.

 

Other candidates: Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones, Rashaad Penny, Justin Jackson (if Melvin Gordon doesn’t play)

 

This season’s Kerryon Johnson: Miles Sanders

 

Speaking of Johnson, he was a Day 2 draft pick who played a limited role but was efficient enough to provide RB2 numbers as a rookie.

 

Whereas Johnson deferred snaps and touches to big back LeGarrette Blount and receiving specialist Riddick, Sanders is expected to do the same with big back Jordan Howard and receiving specialist Darren Sproles. Nonetheless, like Johnson, Sanders has a path to roughly half of the team’s backfield snaps, which, with good efficiency, can allow for RB2 production. And good efficiency is certainly what is expected from the explosive Sanders, who was selected in the second round of April’s draft. Sanders’ role only figures to grow as the season progresses, and he’s in terrific position in an Eagles offense with an elite line and that ranks sixth in touchdowns over the past two seasons.

 

Other candidates: David Montgomery (if he begins behind Mike Davis)

 

This season’s JuJu Smith-Schuster: Chris Godwin

 

Smith-Schuster was a young wide receiver who broke into the WR1 conversation.

 

Smith-Schuster jumped from WR20 as a rookie to WR8 last season thanks in part to the departure of Martavis Bryant. Godwin, meanwhile, remained somewhat buried on Tampa Bay’s depth chart a year longer than Smith-Schuster but still jumped from WR71 in 2017 to WR27 last season. With DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries gone, Godwin is positioned for every-down duties for the first time in his pro career. The 2017 third-round pick is expected to trail only Mike Evans in targets in Tampa, and as shown by his 14 end zone targets last season (sixth most), he will also be an option near the goal line in Bruce Arians’ wide-receiver-friendly offense. Godwin is expensive at his Round 4 ADP, but so was Smith-Schuster last season and that paid off in a big way.

 

Other candidates: James Washington, Anthony Miller, Courtland Sutton

 

This season’s George Kittle: O.J. Howard

 

Kittle was a young, athletic tight end who joined the superstar ranks.

 

Injuries have limited Howard to 24 games in two NFL seasons, but the 2017 first-round pick has been highly efficient on 86 career targets. Howard has finished first among tight ends in both yards per target and yards per reception during both of his professional seasons. Despite the missed games, Howard was fantasy’s No. 14 scoring tight end as a rookie and was sixth prior to last season’s injury. His upside makes him well worth his sixth-round cost.

 

Other candidates: David Njoku, Mark Andrews

 

This season’s Nick Chubb: Devin Singletary

 

Chubb was a Day 2 draft pick who was buried on the depth chart early but eventually emerged as a weekly fantasy starter.

 

Whereas Chubb was initially limited to only a handful of touches behind Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson Jr., Singletary might struggle to see the field behind 31-year-old LeSean McCoy, 36-year-old Frank Gore and perhaps TJ Yeldon. Of course, third-round pick Singletary is the future of this backfield, and it’s possible he’ll emerge as the most effective back on the roster. The super-elusive Florida Atlantic product could end up on a lot of waiver wires in September, but — like Chubb — will make for a logical end-of-bench stash.

 

Other candidates: Darrell Henderson, Damien Harris

 

This season’s Phillip Lindsay: Darwin Thompson

 

Lindsay was an undrafted rookie back who quickly and improbably exploded onto the fantasy scene.

 

Though Lindsay was undrafted, I’m going to cheat here and also consider late-round picks. Thompson — a sixth-round pick out of unheralded Utah State — found himself in a terrific landing spot in Kansas City. Thompson touched the ball only 176 times in college but couldn’t have been much better with his chances, scoring 16 touchdowns, averaging 18.3 yards after the catch and posting an elite elusiveness profile. The Chiefs are one of the league’s top offenses, so if Thompson can overtake underwhelming Damien Williams and journeyman Carlos Hyde, he could quickly land in the RB2 mix. Thompson is a fine late-round flier.

 

Other candidates: Ryquell Armstead, Myles Gaskin, Bruce Anderson, Dexter Williams, Mike Weber

 

This season’s Calvin Ridley: DK Metcalf

 

Ridley rode a barrage of explosive touchdowns to a top-25 fantasy campaign as a rookie.

 

It’s rare to see a No. 3 wide receiver finish 22nd in fantasy points, but Ridley did just that with a 10-touchdown rookie campaign despite working behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Ridley’s touchdown rate is far from sustainable (and thus we can’t project something similar for anyone, let alone a rookie), but we can go hunting for situational targets who could consistently produce explosive plays (and touchdowns). Metcalf is an obvious choice: The second-round pick and super athlete is set up as a vertical threat for deep ball specialist Russell Wilson. Metcalf might not immediately slide in as an every-down player, but Seattle’s depth chart is wide open behind Tyler Lockett. A half-dozen targets per game would sneak Metcalf onto the flex radar, assuming a few of those looks end up as downfield connections.

 

Other candidates: Andy Isabella, Mecole Hardman, N’Keal Harry, Parris Campbell

 

This season’s DJ Moore: A.J. Brown

 

Moore started slow but eventually emerged as his team’s No. 1 wide receiver and a fantasy starter.

 

Whereas Moore began his career behind Devin Funchess, Jarius Wright and Curtis Samuel, Brown will have his hands full finding consistent targets behind Corey Davis and Adam Humphries (not to mention TE Delanie Walker and RB Dion Lewis). The cream tends to rise, however, and no one should be shocked if second-round pick Brown eventually emerges as Marcus Mariota’s top target. The Ole Miss product has good size, can play inside and out and is excellent with the ball in his hands. Brown is a great end-of-bench stash out of the gate.

 

Other candidates: Deebo Samuel, Marquise Brown, Terry McLaurin

 

This season’s Tyler Boyd: Curtis Samuel

 

Early-round pick Boyd underwhelmed during his first two seasons in the league but broke out in a big way in Year 3.

 

In this same column one year ago, Boyd was listed as a candidate to be 2018’s Nelson Agholor. That one paid off and then some. Choosing this season’s version wasn’t easy (perhaps John Ross makes more sense since his efficiency has been so brutal), but I’m going to roll with Samuel. The 2017 second-round pick has flashed at times, but he was limited to 19 touches in nine games as a rookie and required some touchdown luck (seven scores on 47 touches) just to manage a 49th-place finish in fantasy points last season. Injuries have been a problem (he’s missed 10 games in two seasons), but Samuel is still young (turns 23 this month) and positioned for a full-time offensive role opposite DJ Moore. He’s a fine mid-round target.

 

Other candidates: John Ross, Zay Jones, Trent Taylor

 

This season’s Robert Woods: Sterling Shepard

 

Woods was a veteran wide receiver who finally broke through as a consistent fantasy starter.

 

Following an uneventful four years in Buffalo, Woods took a step forward in 12 games with the Rams in 2017 before leaping to a WR11 fantasy finish in 2018. Shepard is less experienced than Woods (three seasons under his belt), but the 25-year-old is entering a season as his team’s No. 1 wide receiver for the first time in his career. Even with Odell Beckham Jr. in the mix for three-quarters of the 2018 season, Shepard hit career-best marks in receptions (66), receiving yards (872) and fantasy finish (30th). With OBJ out during the final month last season, we saw a preview of what’s likely to come, with Shepard garnering more perimeter work, more targets downfield and additional goal-line looks. Shepard is a terrific mid-round value with WR2 upside.

 

Other candidates: Chris Conley, Geronimo Allison, Donte Moncrief, Albert Wilson

 

This season’s Josh Allen: Daniel Jones

 

Allen struggled as a passer as a rookie but landed on the fantasy radar thanks to surprising rushing production.

 

Jones was a conservative but accurate passer during his time at Duke, and considering the Giants’ relatively weak group of pass-catchers, the first-rounder is unlikely to shred defenses through the air as a rookie. Of course, Allen wasn’t particularly effective through the air last season and still managed five top-five fantasy weeks. The reason? An 89-631-8 rushing line. Similar to Allen this time last year, Jones’ rushing prowess isn’t discussed much, but the rookie quarterback ran the ball 406 times for 1,323 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past three seasons. And that includes the yardage lost on 85 sacks. Jones might not see the field as early as Allen, but don’t be surprised if his legs allow him to sneak onto the fantasy radar once he’s finally called upon.

 

Other candidates: Trace McSorley

 

 

JAY-Z

While Tim McGraw will be performing at Tampa Bay’s season opener, the entertainment provided by the NFL at its big games will be taking a distinctive urban turn with the announcement that the League in its wisdom has turned to Jay-Z and his Roc Nation for a special partnership with a heavy focus on “social justice.”  Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal seems to approve:

 

The NFL has struck a broad alliance with Jay-Z in which the rapper will both help the league with one of its thorniest problems—smoothing out continuing tensions with players over social-justice issues—and expand the NFL’s entertainment offerings, including the Super Bowl halftime show and other creative projects.

 

The NFL and Roc Nation, the entertainment company founded by Jay-Z, have launched a partnership in which Jay Z will take a prominent role in a social-justice program the league launched last year at a time when it was still roiled by controversy over player protests during the national anthem started by Colin Kaepernick.

 

The parties said Roc Nation will also expand and play an integral role in the NFL’s entertainment operations—not just the halftime show, but also the production and distribution of other new football-related content together on streaming services. That could include original music, in addition to podcasts for players to voice their opinions on social and cultural issues that are important to them. Front Office Sport first reported an NFL-Roc Nation partnership.

 

The deal effectively positions Jay-Z—who once rapped “I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me, I don’t need you”—as the face of the NFL’s social-justice program, Inspire Change, which was launched earlier in the year after years of unrest among its players. But the topic has been a prickly one for the NFL, as Kaepernick has gone unsigned for two years since inspiring the movement while some players continued to demonstrate through last year.

 

Inspire Change’s stated goals are promoting education and economic advancement, improving police and community relations, and enacting criminal-justice reform. The initiative was started in partnership with the Players Coalition, which was founded by a group of players seeking to enact social reform, and has supported charities and causes across the country. Patriots owner Robert Kraft was among the key figures in bringing the partnership with Roc Nation together.

 

Jay-Z said in an interview that he felt comfortable becoming a leading voice for the Inspire Change because of the league’s ability to reach so many different people. He is getting involved even though he may not agree with the politics of some of his new business partners—NFL team owners.

 

“I’m black. That’s my world,” Jay-Z said at his offices in Manhattan. If he didn’t do business with wealthy business interests who he may disagree with politically, he added, “then I couldn’t have any TV shows. I couldn’t put my platform on TV because I’m sure someone who owns the broadcast network has supported someone who I don’t believe should be in office.”

 

“I can’t control, no one can control the world that we live in currently and people’s choice to vote self interests,” the hip-hop icon added, referring to “very, very rich people.”

 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell championed Jay-Z’s ability to connect with younger fans that the league needs to both secure its future audience and make a broader cultural impact.

 

“There’s really no one quite like him,” Goodell said. “When we talked about doing something together, the one thing that really stood out is both of us wanted to have an impact.”

 

The NFL moved to the center of this conversation three years ago when Kaepernick began sitting and later kneeling during the national anthem to call attention to social issues and racial inequality. He was later joined by fellow players, and the movement was met with polarizing responses—praise from some for his activism, and derision from others who deemed the protests unpatriotic.

 

Goodell said the league has sent letters inviting Kaepernick into the conversation on the league’s efforts. Jay-Z, on Monday, said he has not spoken to Kaepernick but hopes to do so soon. Kaepernick couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

 

“He absolutely brought this conversation alive,” Jay-Z said of Kaepernick. “We like to think that the way we build the Inspire Change platform, that if anything close to that would happen in the future, then Kaepernick would have a platform where he can express himself and maybe it doesn’t have to take place on the field.”

 

Kaepernick became a free agent after that 2016 season and has gone unsigned since, leading to a grievance in which he alleged the NFL and its teams colluded to keep him unsigned because of his outspoken political views. The grievance was settled earlier in the year, for a sum The Wall Street Journal reported was less than $10 million.

 

Tensions over the movement catalyzed by Kaepernick became inflamed in 2017 when President Trump repeatedly assailed the players’ actions as unpatriotic and in a stump speech referred to a generic player as a “son of a bitch.” In response, NFL players knelt en masse in a direct rebuke of the president’s language and the massively popular league found itself in an unusual firefight.

 

The uproar also cast a light on owners’ relationships with the president. The Journal previously reported that in private depositions taken during Kaepernick’s grievance, the owners discussed how Trump’s commentary changed their opinion on the topic.

 

That same issue roared back to life last week when word emerged that Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross would host a fundraiser for Trump amid a heated national debate over criticisms that have called the president’s politics racially charged.

 

Ross created a nonprofit to empower the sports community in social justice efforts to eliminate racial inequality, a juxtaposition called into question by one of his own players. “You can’t have a non profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,” Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills tweeted. Ross has said since that while he agrees with Trump on some issues, they disagree on others.

 

“I admire his conviction and his bravery for speaking how he truly felt,” Jay-Z said of Stills.

 

“We’re going through a tough time,” he said. “A lot of people are not agreeing with one another. And we have to just push it along a little bit. There’s no magic pill. No one is going to have the solution themselves. You just have to do your little thing to push it along.”

 

There is a lot to know about Shawn Corey Carter.  Here are the first couple paragraphs of his Wikipedia page:

 

Shawn Corey Carter (born December 4, 1969),[6] known professionally as Jay-Z (stylized as JAY-Z),[a] is an American rapper, songwriter, producer, entrepreneur, and record executive. Considered among the best rappers of all time,[9] he is regarded as one of the world’s most significant cultural icons and has been a global figure in popular culture for over two decades.[10][11][12]

 

Born and raised in New York City, Jay-Z first began his musical career after founding the record label Roc-A-Fella Records in 1995, and subsequently released his debut studio album Reasonable Doubt in 1996. The album was released to widespread critical success, and solidified his standing in the music industry. He has gone onto release twelve additional albums, which have all attained generally positive critical reception and universal commercial success, with The Blueprint (2001) and The Black Album (2003) albums later being heralded as modern musical classics.[13][14] He has also released the full-length collaborative albums Watch the Throne (2011) and Everything Is Love (2018) with Kanye West and wife Beyoncé, respectively.[15]

 

Outside of his musical career, Jay-Z has also attained significant success and media attention for his career as a businessman. In 1999, he founded the clothing retailer Rocawear,[16] and in 2003, he founded the luxury sports bar chain 40/40 Club. Both businesses have grown to become multi-million dollar corporations, and allowed Jay-Z to fund the start-up for the entertainment company Roc Nation, which was founded in 2008. In 2015, he acquired the tech company Aspiro, and took charge of their media streaming service Tidal, which has since become the world’s third-largest online streaming company.[17] His marriage to musician Beyoncé has also been a source of substantial media attention.[18]

 

Jay-Z is among the most critically acclaimed musicians and one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with over 125 million records sold worldwide.[19][20] He has won a total of 22 Grammy Awards, the most by a rapper, and holds the record for the most number-one albums by a solo artist on the Billboard 200, with 14.[21] He has been ranked by Billboard and fellow music publication Rolling Stone as one of the 100 greatest artists of all time.[22][23] In 2017, he became the first rapper to be honored into the Songwriters Hall of Fame,[24] and in 2018, received the commemorative “Salute to Industry Icons” award at the 60th Grammy Awards.[25]

 

In 1999, Jay-Z knifed a rival record executive at a party with a five-inch blade.  Social justice at the time determined that the proper sentence was no jail time, three-year probation.

 

Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com tries to sort out Jay-Z’s motivation for getting in bed with the NFL.

 

There’s another aspect to this, one that is on the minds of many following the announcement: Why would Jay-Z do it?

 

If you remember, Jay-Z has been a staunch supporter of Colin Kaepernick, the man who brought social injustice to an uncomfortable forefront for the NFL and has not played in the league since the 2016 season. Not only has Jay-Z worn a Kaepernick jersey on stage, he has also criticized rappers for performing at the Super Bowl.

 

What changed?

 

That’s what is clearly on the mind of Kaepernick’s friend and confidant, Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, who released a series of tweets in which he said that Kaepernick is not a part of the Jay-Z-NFL deal and called the situation “Players Coalition 2.0,” a group he bolted. He also suggested that the timing of the partnership was an attempt to take attention away from Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ fundraiser for President Donald Trump.

 

Interestingly enough, Jay-Z’s statement on his partnership with the NFL strikes a similarity to the league’s goals of moving from on-field protests to tangible community progress.

 

“With its global reach, the National Football League has the platform and opportunity to inspire change across the country,” Jay-Z said. “Roc Nation has shown that entertainment and enacting change are not mutually exclusive ideas — instead, we unify them. This partnership is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of communities across America.”

 

Jay-Z elaborated further at a news conference Wednesday, and according to ESPN’s Jason Reid, Jay-Z said he spoke with Kaepernick (which Kaepernick’s girlfriend Nessa later noted did not come before the announcement of the partnership), but would not reveal what was said.

 

What’s more, according to ESPN, Jay-Z also said that he’s focusing on helping as many people as he can and working on the system from within, language that is directly in line with the justification (right or wrong) the Players Coalition has used to defend its partnership with the league.

 

All of this has led to consternation in some quarters about Jay-Z’s decision to strike the deal, while some are also outright pondering if Jay-Z sold out Kaepernick.

 

While it’s true that Jay-Z has embraced capitalism for years, there’s also reason to believe the 49-year-old wouldn’t make a decision like this without having a bigger master plan, especially since he’s produced more socially-conscious rap in recent years. Take the brilliant “The Story of O.J.,” for instance, in which he preached the importance of black ownership and the reinvestment of money in the black community while simultaneously shaming those who turn their back on their own.

 

So … let’s just see what happens.

 

All we know at the moment is that Kaepernick has been left out, and while that’s fodder for those ready to assume the worst, there could easily be something more to this for Jay-Z because getting paid to produce Super Bowl halftime shows and televised NFL promotional spots sure doesn’t seem like it’s worth the criticism that will come unless he has a master plan.

 

Jay-Z famously went from the block to a billionaire, an accomplishment that can only be done through ruthless calculation. Maybe he quietly sees this partnership as a path to becoming the NFL’s first black team owner, for instance, or maybe he simply thinks he can make a significant impact on the NFL’s social justice issues from the inside. Jay-Z has also insisted that he will operate with autonomy on NFL projects, which is potentially very powerful, too.

 

So yes, while the NFL — which is clearly the early beneficiary in the immediate aftermath of the announcement — has been playing chess, not checkers, on this social justice issue for years, it’s also possible that Jay-Z plays chess, too. If he does – and he wins – it will only enhance his legacy.

 

Those stuck in limbo regarding the legendary rapper’s latest decision are eager to see him do so. Anything less would be a disappointment.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com sees ownership at play:

 

When Jay-Z decided to launch a sports agency six years ago, a well-connected league insider explained Jay-Z’s ambition in simple terms: He wants to own a team.

 

Today’s deal with the NFL nudges Jay-Z far closer to that goal, if that indeed is the objective. He now has a formal relationship with the league, giving other owners a chance to get to know him well, naturally allowing the development of a familiarity that most potential owners never have when they show up and try to buy a team.

 

Jay-Z also has a chance to build up plenty of goodwill with owners, especially if the arrangement between NFL and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation has anything to do with, as Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports has connected the dots, the 2017 comments from Bills owner Terry Pegula that the NFL needs a Charlton Heston-style spokesman to “promote all of the good things” that the league and its players are doing in the area of social justice and racial equality. If Jay-Z becomes that spokesman, he builds intangible equity in his quest to eventually acquire tangible equity in an NFL franchise.

 

Of course, it takes a lot of money to serve as a team’s majority owner, and Jay-Z’s estimated net worth of $1 billion would not be nearly enough to both own the minimum percentage required to be controlling owner, and to pay the various bills that need to be paid in order to keep the business functioning.

 

Perhaps Jay-Z would start as a Jon Bon Jovi-style owner, serving as the face of the group while the person with the controlling share opts to stay in the shadows, honoring the maxim that the only thing better than being rich and famous is being rich.

 

Regardless, there’s almost always a bigger play when a big deal like this is announced. And Jay-Z’s end game may continue to be what some thought it was in 2013: To eventually own an NFL team.