AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

The Packers looked long and hard at DC Mike Pettine after a lackluster defensive effort against the 49ers, but apparently he has survived.  Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com:

 

In the aftermath of an embarrassing loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game that saw them allow 37 points and 285 rushing yards, the Packers appeared be considering making a major change to their coaching staff. Given how their season ended, it wouldn’t have been a huge surprise to see changes made to their defense. However, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has apparently survived the carnage.

 

According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, the Packers have decided to retain Pettine. He’ll return to his post in 2020.

 

Earlier on Wednesday, when Packers coach Matt LaFleur was asked about Pettine’s future with the team, he declined to provide a clear answer one way or the other.

 

“Yeah, we’re still working through everything right now,” LaFleur said, per NFL.com. “Just trying to evaluate everything. Like you said, I think our defense did a lot of great things. Obviously the last game was really disappointing in terms of our performance. It just wasn’t good enough, especially when you get to a championship game like that. You know what’s at stake. Just all across the board, it wasn’t just the defense, our offense and special teams weren’t up to par as well.”

 

On the one hand, LaFleur inherited Pettine, who joined Mike McCarthy’s staff in 2018 and hung onto his job when the Packers replaced McCarthy with LaFleur one year ago. It wouldn’t have been shocking if LaFleur had wanted to bring in someone of his choosing to run the defense.

 

LeFleur also just watched Pettine’s defense get bombarded by the 49ers’ running game with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake. Raheem Mostert carried the ball 29 times for 220 yards and four touchdowns, meaning he averaged 7.6 yards per carry. The 49ers were so confident in their ground game that Kyle Shanahan felt comfortable calling a running play on third-and-8, which resulted in a 36-yard touchdown. The Packers, who stubbornly continued lining up in dime/nickel against a team that had no intention of throwing the ball, were so useless against the run that the 49ers felt the need to throw the ball only eight times over the course of four quarters. Mostert had so much room to run that he gained 142 yards before contact, according to ESPN.

 

“They definitely outcoached us,” LaFleur said earlier on Wednesday, per ESPN. “I just didn’t feel like we played with the same urgency, the same tenacity, the same toughness. We didn’t set the edge the same as we had been earlier this season. It’s disappointing because it’s not like we didn’t know what they were going to try to do. We knew exactly what they were going to try to do. We knew they were going to run the football … and for them to be able to do that was extremely disappointing, and I just didn’t think we played with the same effort as what I had seen earlier in the season.”

 

On the other hand, the Packers’ defense demonstrated growth under Pettine this year. When Pettine arrived in Green Bay, he inherited a defense that ranked 20th in DVOA and 26th in points allowed. In his first season, the defense ranked 29th in DVOA and 22nd in points allowed. But this year, the defense made the leap. The Packers jumped to 15th in defensive DVOA and ninth in points allowed — for that, general manager Brian Gutekunst also deserves credit for infusing the defense with talent via both the draft and free agency.

 

Meanwhile, LaFleur was brought in to reinvigorate an offense that had grown stale under McCarthy. Instead, they got worse, falling from seventh to eighth in offensive DVOA, 12th to 18th in yards gained, and 14th to 15th in points scored. In that sense, firing the defensive coordinator would’ve been surprising and felt a bit like scapegoating — even though, yes, the defensive performance in the biggest game of the season wasn’t up to standard. It’s not like the offense fared much better. In the first half, they were shut out and turned the ball over twice. The offense was just as much to blame for the 27-0 halftime deficit as the defense. But LaFleur was never going to consider firing himself — nor should he have, considering he coached the Packers to a 13-3 record in Year 1.

 

– – –

 

RB AARON JONES plans on doing it again next year.  Rob Demovsky of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones answered plenty of questions during the 2019 season.

 

Could he stay healthy after suffering knee injuries in his first two seasons?

 

He played in all 16 regular-season games for the first in his three-year career and in both playoff games during his first time in the postseason.

 

Was he suited for new coach Matt LaFleur’s offense built around the running backs?

 

He not only registered his first 1,000-yard season (1,084), but he ranked second on the team in receptions (49) and led the team (and ranked eighth in the NFL) with 1,558 yards from scrimmage.

 

Could fantasy football owners finally count on him?

 

He tied for the NFL lead with 19 regular-season touchdowns and added four more in the playoffs to break Ahman Green’s franchise record (including postseason games) of 22 touchdowns in a season.

 

Now, there are new questions for Jones.

 

Can he possibly match that kind of production? And what will happen to him after the 2020 season when he’s scheduled to become a free agent?

 

Jones has an answer for the first one.

 

“You always want to top the previous year, try to do better than I did,” Jones said after Sunday’s loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. “But I’ll go back this offseason and come up with my goals and write them down, and I’ll be ready.”

 

If Jones does anything similar next season, then he will put himself in line for a massive contract. The former fifth-round pick is still playing under his rookie deal (four years, $2.6 million) that makes him the 78th-highest-paid running back in the league based on average per year. The Packers let their last regular starting running back, Eddie Lacy, leave in free agency, although Lacy’s weight became the major issue.

 

From a playing-time standpoint, Jones was on the field for 62.9% of the Packers’ offensive plays this season, compared to 35% last season and 22.5% as a rookie.

 

No one played all 1,205 offense plays, including playoffs, but right guard Billy Turner and left tackle David Bakhtiari came close.

 

Bakhtiari had to come off the field for three snaps in Week 8 against the Kansas City Chiefs to get checked out by the medical staff, while Turner’s only two missed snaps of the season were the final two plays — both kneel-downs — in a win over the Washington Redskins in Week 14.

 

Center Corey Linsley’s consecutive snaps streak ended at 2,768 when he left the Week 5 game against the Dallas Cowboys after 19 plays because of a concussion. The last time he missed a snap was Week 15 of 2016 when he came out for one play because his shoe came off. That season he played 803 of 804 snaps following his return from an early-season injury. He then played every snap of 2017 and 2018, including playoffs, and the first 284 snaps this season.

 

The Packers used 29 players on offense, the same number as the previous two seasons.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Todd Archer of ESPN.com wonders if WR AMARI COOPER is really worth a huge pile of Cowboys cash.

 

– Amari Cooper will be in Orlando, Florida, this week, getting ready to play in the Pro Bowl.

 

Based on the numbers he put up for the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 — 79 catches, 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns — he should be hobnobbing with the NFC’s best, even as an injury replacement.

 

But Cooper’s season will not be remembered for his fourth Pro Bowl appearance in five seasons. It will be remembered for how he finished the 2019 season. It will be remembered for his not being on the field during the biggest play of the biggest game of the Cowboys’ season against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16. It will be remembered for him getting shut out against the New England Patriots in Week 12.

 

And it brings up this question as Cooper looks to hit unrestricted free agency in March: What is he worth?

 

Before the 2019 season started, the thought of Cooper, 25, making $18 million per season behind Julio Jones’ $22 million a season with the Atlanta Falcons and Michael Thomas’ $19.25 million a season with the New Orleans Saints appeared to be the right price. Maybe even $18.5 million.

 

With how Cooper started the season, it looked like the price tag might go even higher. Through nine games, he had 53 receptions for 848 yards and seven touchdowns, putting him on pace for a season that would likely land him in a neighborhood occupied only by Michael Irvin, Terrell Owens and Dez Bryant in franchise history.

 

And those stats include the one-catch, 3-yard Week 6 game against the New York Jets in which he went down with a quadriceps injury.

 

But, something changed after Week 9.

 

Some thought the heel, ankle, quad and knee injuries he suffered early in the season had caught up to him, but he said he felt better in the season’s second half than the first. Perhaps the attention of opposing defenses got to him, which might have played a part in Michael Gallup’s 1,107-yard season. Some inside the Cowboys’ organization believed there was some sort of issue with wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal that led to Cooper’s drop in productivity.

 

But Cooper blamed his issues on a lack of focus.

 

“Sometimes when you are having success, you tend to lose focus on the little things that you need to do to keep playing well,” Cooper said. “For example, if you catch a lot of balls early on, it starts to feel like that’s just what you do. … When it becomes routine, you stop doing those things.”

 

Whatever it was, Cooper’s production in the final seven games has to give the Cowboys at least some pause.

 

His 26 receptions in Weeks 11-17 ranked 53rd in the NFL, and his 341 yards ranked 43rd in that time frame.

 

No. 1 receivers can have lapses, but Cooper’s finish to the season looked like some of the indifferent times he had with the Oakland Raiders before the trade with the Cowboys.

 

Does the way he finished the season fall into the $15 million-a-year neighborhood?

 

“The way I would asses [my season] is, I wouldn’t say I hit my potential this season even though it’s a career high in yards and in touchdowns,” Cooper said the day after the Cowboys’ season ended. “I thought I could’ve accomplished a lot more, but I didn’t, so it’s a good reason to be able to go back to the drawing board and work my butt off this offseason, so that … in a way can be a good thing. Now I know that coming into next year it’s something I can actually top, because I know for a fact down the stretch this season I didn’t perform at a level in which I know I can perform.”

 

A couple of times during the season, Cooper said he wanted to be with the Cowboys long term.

 

“I love it here. I love everything about this area, this team, the place I live,” Cooper said. “It’s just I don’t feel like I have anything to complain about in this situation.”

 

Cooper sees room for growth for himself as well as Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

 

“I think he and I are a very important part of this team and very important pieces in terms of wins and losses,” Cooper said. “I think we can really take over games together, and if we do that consistently, then it’ll be really hard to stop us and be really hard for us to lose.”

 

Cooper and Prescott will be tied contractually, too.

 

In an ideal scenario, the Cowboys will avoid chewing up all of their available salary-cap space by signing both to long-term deals before the NFL’s free-agent market opens in March. Maybe slightly less ideal would be signing Prescott to a multiyear deal and using the franchise tag on Cooper, which could be worth about $18.5 million in 2020.

 

In a less-than ideal scenario, the Cowboys could use the franchise tag on Prescott, which could pay him either $27 million or $33 million depending on the designation, and the transition tag on Cooper, which figures to be around $16 million — if there is not an extension of the collective bargaining agreement. If there is a new CBA, teams can use only one tag.

 

In using either tag on Cooper, the Cowboys would buy themselves another 16 games to see what they are getting in the veteran receiver.

 

Back in early November, they thought they knew.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

It’s not a surprise, but it still hits that QB ELI MANNING is the first of the Big 5 to retire.  Dan Graziano of ESPN.com:

 

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is retiring after 16 seasons and two Super Bowl MVPs.

 

Manning, 39, steps away holding almost every passing record in team history and a pair of Super Bowl rings. His victories over the New England Patriots after the 2007 and ’11 seasons are the most iconic moments from a legendary career. They will put him in the conversation for the Hall of Fame in five years, when he’s eligible.

 

Manning is one of just five players in NFL history with at least two Super Bowl MVPs. He’s in an elite club with Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Tom Brady and Terry Bradshaw.

 

“For 16 seasons, Eli Manning defined what it is to be a New York Giant both on and off the field,” John Mara, the team’s president and chief executive officer, said Wednesday in a statement announcing Manning’s retirement. “Eli is our only two-time Super Bowl MVP and one of the very best players in our franchise’s history. He represented our franchise as a consummate professional with dignity and accountability. It meant something to Eli to be the Giants quarterback, and it meant even more to us. We are beyond grateful for his contributions to our organization and look forward to celebrating his induction into the Giants Ring of Honor in the near future.”

 

The Giants will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. ET Friday, when Manning will address the media.

 

His decision to call it a career comes after a season in which Manning spent most of his time as the backup to rookie Daniel Jones. Manning made it clear after the season that being a backup wasn’t much fun and there wasn’t an interest in returning in a similar role, even if Mara left the door open for it to happen. Mara has also said it was possible Manning could return to the organization in another role if he decided to retire.

 

The Giants turned to Jones after Week 2 this season, and Manning started just four games, the lowest total since his rookie season. He won his final start as a Giant against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 15 and received a proper send-off as he jogged off the field and into the arms of his wife and four children at MetLife Stadium.

 

Manning was set to become a free agent this offseason. He has made more than $250 million from his football contracts, the most in NFL history. 

 

His father, Archie, had long said he never thought Eli would play for another team. He will not, despite taking a month after the conclusion of the season to make his final decision.

 

Manning was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers. But he didn’t want to play in San Diego and was quickly traded to the Giants. The Chargers ended up with Philip Rivers and the Pittsburgh Steelers landed Ben Roethlisberger in the legendary ’04 QB class. Manning is the first of the three to call it a career.

 

“I learned very early that you evaluate quarterbacks on their ability to win championships, and to do it late in a game when the game is on the line, that they’re able to take a team down the field and into the end zone to win a title,” former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, who engineered the trade for Manning, said in the statement.

 

“The second thing is to know that over a period of years, he’s always going to be there. Those kinds of quarterbacks always give you a chance to win, and for 16 years, he did that for this franchise. He won championships and he was always there giving us a chance to win. I don’t know how you can ask more from a quarterback.”

 

Manning is seventh in NFL history with 57,023 passing yards, 366 touchdown passes and 4,895 completions. He finished with a 117-117 record as a starter in the regular season.

 

And then there were those two magical playoff runs that led to the two Super Bowl victories and MVPs. Those are part of the indelible mark Manning left on the game. He was the architect of two of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. 

 

Most Starts by QB for Single Franchise

 

Eli Manning started 234 games for the Giants, the fourth most by a QB for a single franchise.

 

QB       STARTS         FRANCHISE

Tom Brady      283      Patriots

Brett Favre      253      Packers

Dan Marino     240      Dolphins

Eli Manning     234      Giants

— Elias Sports Bureau

 

It can’t be long now for Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger and Rivers.  With AARON RODGERS and MATT RYAN here before you know it.

 

The DB, who likes players who endure, says Hall of Famers all with no one on the horizon after that until RUSSELL WILSON (outside shot MATTHEW STAFFORD).

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

QB DREW BREES is deciding if he wants to play a 20th season and the Saints are letting him take his time. Mike Triplett of ESPN.com:

 

Drew Brees said he won’t make a decision anytime soon on whether he is coming back for a 20th season at age 41. But New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said the Saints “obviously” want him back.

 

Brees is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. But the quarterback made it clear the most recent time he was a free agent in 2018 that he has no desire to test the open market and will remain in New Orleans as long as he decides to keep playing.

 

“I wanted to give it at least a few weeks, months, postseason, just to take a deep breath and decompress a little bit and get some time with the family and then just reassess,” Brees told ESPN’s NFL Live while at the Pro Bowl on Wednesday.

 

Brees said his family will be a big part of the decision. Then he pointed to his kids, who were standing nearby, and said, “I know this: I know my boys love coming to work with dad every day when they can. If they had a vote, dad would play forever.”

 

Brees, who holds the NFL records for career passing yards, touchdowns, completions and completion percentage, told ESPN last month that he made a conscious decision in 2017 to start taking each season one year at a time and treating each season like it could be his last.

 

So this “decompression” period has been the norm for him in recent offseasons, while he has continued to play under deals with the Saints that pay him only one year of guaranteed salary at a time.

 

Loomis, meanwhile, confirmed at the Senior Bowl on Wednesday that the Saints want Brees back, even though backup Teddy Bridgewater is also scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and third-string QB Taysom Hill is scheduled to be a restricted free agent.

 

“We’d love to have Drew back, and if he wants to be back then we’ll go from there. I’m assuming that he does,” Loomis said. “I don’t think it’s any different than it’s been the last few years.

 

“It’s easy to take him for granted, yet I don’t take him for granted. I don’t view it any different than I did a year ago, or a year before that, or a year before that — regardless of whether he has a contract or not. Yeah, he’s a great player, he’s been a great player, he continues to be a great player.”

 

When asked about Brees’ stellar finish in December (15 touchdown passes, zero interceptions), Loomis said, “Look, if any of us are surprised at what he does, then we’re just not very smart.”

 

It would be a bit surprising to see Brees call it quits now, since he is still playing at such a high level. He had a career-best passer rating of 116.3 in 2019, despite missing five games early in the season because of thumb surgery.

 

And it would be even more surprising to see Brees finish on such a sour note after a disappointing performance in the Saints’ 26-20 overtime playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The Saints have won the most regular-season games in the NFL over the past three years (11-5 in 2017, 13-3 in 2018 and 13-3 in 2019). But they haven’t been back to the Super Bowl for 10 years since Brees was named the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV.

 

While Loomis made it sound like an easy choice to keep Brees, the Saints might face tougher decisions regarding Bridgewater and Hill.

 

Bridgewater, 27, went 5-0 as a starter this season while Brees was sidelined, which could make him more attractive on the open market. Last year, Bridgewater elected to stay with the Saints as a free agent on a one-year deal worth $7.25 million plus incentives.

 

When asked if it’s feasible to keep paying both Brees and Bridgewater, Loomis said, “We’ll see.”

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Will the Bidwill family let WR LARRY FITZGERALD have a piece of the Cardinals and become a two-sport owner? A story so big that the two greatest rumormongers at ESPN, Adam Schefter and Adrian Wojnarowski combined to break and write it:

 

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has purchased a minority stake in the Phoenix Suns, becoming the second active NFL player with an NBA ownership share.

 

He joins Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who purchased a stake in the Milwaukee Bucks in 2018, as the only active NFL players who are partial owners of NBA teams.

 

Fitzgerald, who ranks second all time in NFL receiving yards, has built a strong relationship with Suns managing partner Robert Sarver. Fitzgerald, 36, had already taken on a significant ambassador’s role with the team.

 

Even so, his presence has been more than ceremonial. Fitzgerald has done everything from sitting in on interviews with potential front-office candidates to canvassing for a Suns public arena vote, but he won’t take a more active role with the Suns until his football playing career is over, sources told ESPN. He signed a one-year contract last week to play for the Cardinals in 2020.

 

“I have a special place in my heart for the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, and I have a great deal of respect for Robert,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “He has become a dear friend and trusted confidante. He is a big part of why I am making this commitment.”

 

Fitzgerald has been a Suns season-ticket holder since 2005.

 

An iconic Arizona sporting and philanthropic figure, Fitzgerald is expected to bring an additional level of credibility to Sarver and the Suns. Fitzgerald has been engaged in well-regarded charitable foundations in the Phoenix area for much of his career. He was honored as the NFL’s 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year.

 

“Larry has been a great ambassador for our organization for years,” Sarver said in a statement. “He is an Arizona icon and a businessman, passionate philanthropist, and leader. He brings a unique perspective from outside basketball but still grounded in sport, and we welcome him as a valued partner and investor.”

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Pro Football Focus presents its highest honor for the 2019 season to Niners TE GEORGE KITTLE.  Sam Monson explains:

 

The NFL’s MVP award has lost its way. In most sports, MVP is simply designed to be awarded to the best or most outstanding player in the sport over a given period, but for some reason, the AP seems to tie itself in knots every year as they try to parse the ‘valuable’ element of the NFL’s title. PFF’s Stephenson Award tries to right that wrong, and its purpose is to acknowledge the best player in the NFL regardless of position and regardless of how much value he brought to the table.

 

Five of the seven Stephenson Awards that we’ve handed out over the years belong to either J.J. Watt or Aaron Donald. But this year, San Francisco’s George Kittle gets the hardware.

 

Kittle just finished the season with the highest overall PFF grade we have ever given to a tight end, and PFF was around for the entirety of Rob Gronkowski’s career. In his day, Gronk obviously put up bigger numbers than Kittle did this year, and Gronk did it for far longer, but PFF’s grades can be seen as a production or efficiency measure, and Kittle was more dominant with his opportunities this year than any other player at the position since we been grading (2006).

 

Highest overall grades by a tight end in the PFF era (2006-2019, min. 200 snaps, regular season only)

 

Name                            Team    Snaps   PFF Grade

George Kittle                  SF       2019     802       95.0

Rob Gronkowski NE        2011     1092     92.0

Rob Gronkowski NE        2014     832       91.8

Tony Gonzalez                KC       2006     929       91.7

Rob Gronkowski NE        2012     733       91.1

Jason Witten                 DAL      2007     957       91.1

Rob Gronkowski NE        2013     385       91.0

Mark Andrews                BAL     2019     457       90.8

Jason Witten                  DAL     2008     899       90.8

Rob Gronkowski NE        2015     942       90.7

 

One way in which Kittle shares something in common with Gronkowski is in how dominant he is as a blocker. The league has changed a lot from the days when tight ends were run blockers first and foremost and, at the very minimum, needed to be able to hold up in that regard before they earned work in the passing game. Over the years, tight ends who have been ornamental at best — and complete and total liabilities at worst — in the running game have poured into the league, but that never applied to Gronk during his reign of dominance, and it certainly doesn’t apply to Kittle now.

 

The college game has meant that much of this isn’t the NFL’s fault, but rather the product of a college landscape that doesn’t feature that type of player anymore, and we typically talk about matchup weapons at the position purely in terms of receiving threats. However, Gronkowski, and now Kittle, are such matchup problems for defenses precisely because they are such dominant blockers.

 

While most dominant receiving tight ends can just be treated as big receivers, and the only matchup question on defense is who is best suited to cover them when they run pass patterns, players like Kittle and Gronk need to be thought of as blockers in the run game, too. Because if you line up a small, undersized coverage player against them, you’re likely to see that guy driven seven yards off the line of scrimmage and into the turf.  Don’t believe me? Take a look:

 

But that matchup advantage isn’t just restricted to working against players he outweighs by 50-plus pounds. Again, what makes Kittle so special is that he can be deployed to handle players who typically need offensive line attention, such as defensive ends who outweigh him significantly. Bizarrely, Kittle was actually labeled as not a strong run blocker by some in the media this year, but it’s actually one of many strengths to his game. Kittle, in fact, blocks with the better blocking tight ends in the league — including those who are blocking specialists. His run-blocking grade is the fourth-best among all tight ends this season, and his highlight reel might be by far the best given the players he has been tasked with blocking.

 

However, the NFL is a passing league, and all the run blocking in the world won’t make up for being a non-factor in the passing game — in fact, it will make you Maxx Williams this season. Kittle, though, has been arguably the 49ers’ best receiving option since he came into the league, and he topped 1,000 receiving yards for the second season in a row, this year doing it on significantly fewer targets. Including postseason play, Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has a passer rating of 114.6 when throwing Kittle’s way this season, and Kittle has dropped just two of his 91 catchable targets all season.

 

It was Kittle who came up big in what was arguably the team’s biggest win of the season — the Week 14 win that stole home-field advantage away from the New Orleans Saints. Kittle simply took over this game with seconds remaining and made multiple key catches; his catch and run that put his team in kicking range to win the game was one of the plays of the season and showed a ball-carrier who refused to be tackled until he had made the play he needed to make.

 

Kittle’s overall grade of 95.0 wasn’t just the best grade of any tight end in the game this season (by some distance), but was the best grade of any player at any position league-wide. A lot of players in the NFL had phenomenal seasons, but at the end of watching and grading every player on every play of the NFL season, George Kittle graded out as the best in football, and he rightfully deserves the Dwight Stephenson Award for his efforts.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

How good has QB PATRICK MAHOMES been in the two postseason games?

 

@ScottKacsmar

Basically every meaningful Mahomes drive this postseason is a TD or a 3rd down drop. It’s been crazy.

 

Seth Keysor

@RealMNchiefsfan

I couldn’t believe this, but Scott’s absolutely right.

 

The Chiefs have had 19 “meaningful” drives (with the game remotely in doubt).

 

Of those, 12 have been TD’s, 1 has been a FG. Of the 6 non-successful drives, 4 ended in drops that would’ve been 1st downs.

– – –

Imagine how good Mahomes would be if he had concentrated on football as a kid.  We joke.

 

Dan Wetzel of YahooSports.com reveals that Mahomes had 2 varsity letters each in baseball and basketball before he made a start at QB in football:

 

Last Sunday, like most Sundays, Adam Cook made sure to get in front of a television so he could watch Patrick Mahomes drop magic on the NFL.

 

The sidearm throws. The no-look passes. The weaving scrambles. The never-blink comeback victories. This time it was Mahomes delivering 294 yards passing, 53 yards rushing and four touchdowns altogether to lead Kansas City to its first Super Bowl in half a century. The Chiefs will play San Francisco on Feb. 2.

 

When Cook watches Mahomes though, he doesn’t necessarily see what everyone else does, namely a 24-year-old quarterback who might be the best football player on the planet. Instead he sees an athlete who stubbornly refused to settle on any single sport, let alone position on the field. As a result, Mahomes is now reaping the benefits of being among a dying species in a world obsessed with specialization at the youth sports level.

 

“Patrick is the poster child for the multisport athlete,” Cook said.

 

Cook was Mahomes’ football coach at Whitehouse (Texas) High School. He now serves as the school’s athletic director. He knows not just what Mahomes is capable of, but how he became capable of it.

 

The sidearm throws? Cook sees Mahomes on a Whitehouse High pitcher’s mound, working on release points and firing fastballs in the mid-90s.

 

“There are times he throws it 50 yards with what looks like a flick of the wrist,” Cook said.

 

The no-look passes or the hip shakes past defenders into open space? That’s Mahomes in the open court as the school’s starting point guard.

 

“He’d come down on the break, look a defender off and pass it for an easy basket,” Cook said.

 

The ability to read defenses and sense the tendencies of defensive backs? That’s the Mahomes who was willing to play safety his sophomore season as a more experienced quarterback started.

 

“He had a knack for knowing where the ball was going to be,” Cook said.

 

And that poise and competitiveness in the face of adversity? Well, that’s just a kid who never stopped competing in game after game after game (regardless of the sport) and learned how to win.

 

“Because he played multiple sports, the overlay of all of those experiences and skills are there in the NFL,” Cook said on Monday. “It’s all just one game for Patrick. It’s always been just one big game, just on different playing surfaces. In high school football you are guaranteed just 10 games. Instead Patrick was always playing something and learning how to win along the way.”

 

Specialization is the trend in youth sports these days, even to a frightening degree. Forget three-sport high school athletes. It can be a challenge to find three-sport fifth grade athletes. The average youth athlete age 6-12 played 1.87 team sports in 2018, according to the Aspen Institute State of Play’s 2019 report. That was down from 2.11 sports as recently as 2011.

 

Critics contend that isn’t healthy and often leads to injuries or burnout. Parents, of course, often feel overwhelmed by the business of youth sports and the fear of their young athlete falling behind.

 

“The goal is to make them athletes for life, not create the best 12-year-old athlete,” said Jon Solomon, editorial director of the Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program. “Patrick Mahomes is a good example of how cross-training can help in the long-term.”

 

It’s not just single sports that are focused on these days, but single positions within single sports. He’s just a QB. She just plays shortstop.

 

Mahomes was different. The son of a Major League Baseball player (Pat Mahomes Sr.), he was a starter as a freshman at Whitehouse High in baseball and basketball. He made varsity football as a sophomore, just not as the starting QB.

 

Mahomes wanted to be on the field and agreed to do whatever was best for the team. He became the starting safety “even though he wasn’t very defensive-minded,” Cook said, noting it showed his unselfishness. It was similar in baseball, where at one point or another he started at every position but catcher.

 

As a senior in football he passed for 50 touchdowns and rushed for 15 more. In basketball, he averaged 19 points and eight rebounds a game. And in baseball, he batted nearly .500 for his career, and when his fastball hit the mid-90s, he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers.

 

Instead he headed to Texas Tech on a football scholarship, and he also spent one year on the Red Raider baseball team.

 

It wasn’t until spring of his sophomore season of college that he concentrated solely on football. He continued to play pick-up hoops until February of 2019, when a viral video of him playing outed him to the Chiefs. They promptly banned him from the court due to injury concerns.

 

 

LAS VEGAS

As of January 22, 2020, they are the LAS VEGAS RAIDERS.  They come to Nevada buying free lunches.

 

The Las Vegas Raiders are pledging $500,000 toward eliminating meal debt which will be allocated through the Nevada Community Foundation (NCF). Nevada schools participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs will be working with NCF to eliminate existing school meal debt.

 

“Today, we want to make a donation to the Nevada Department of Agriculture meal service program, which feeds kids lunch and breakfast at the schools. We are hoping to eliminate the debt that the entire state of Nevada has to do that project, and in that regard we are donating $500,000 to the program,” said Raiders Owner Mark Davis.

 

The National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs are federally assisted meal programs operating in public and non-profit charter schools. When families are not able to pay for school meals and do not qualify for federal free or reduced priced meals, debt is accrued at the school level. This donation will fill the gap between schools and families who cannot afford to pay their school meal debt.

 

The funds are being allocated through the Nevada Community Foundation, which is working in conjunction with the Raiders and the Nevada Department of Agriculture, administrator of the state’s National School Lunch (NSLP) and Breakfast (SBP) Programs.

 

The DB was amazed that the Chargers brought approximately a dozen fans a hundred miles up the 5 to LA.  Mick Akers in the Las Vegas Review-Journal says that it looks like 40% of Raiders sales so far are from outside Nevada, including 7,000 seats belonging to previous season ticketholders.

 

Raiders fans who feared that the notorious enclave known as the “Black Hole” may not transfer to Las Vegas can take heart.

 

It appears that the fan-led area will make its way to Sin City after all.

 

The Black Hole was an area in sections 104, 105, 106 and 107 at Oakland Alameda Stadium where Raider Nation fans dressed up in intimidating costumes and were known to get raucous at times.

 

After renderings circulated showing a field-level club in the north end zone of Allegiant Stadium, the Raiders’ soon-to-be home, a collective gasp was heard from fans and media speculated it was the end of the “Black Hole.”

 

But every stadium has two end zones and the south end of the $2 billion, 65,000-seat Allegiant facility is gearing up to host the feared fan zone.

 

Raiders President Marc Badain noted that 40 percent of those who purchased the sold out personal seat licenses for Allegiant Stadium are from outside Nevada.

 

Of those, around 7,000 fans — or 13 percent of the 55,000 PSLs sold at Allegiant Stadium — owned season tickets at Oakland Alameda Coliseum.

 

 “A lot of the folks that sit in the Black Hole in Oakland bought tickets in the south end zone at Allegiant,” Badain said. “Whether that happens organically, we’ll see what happens.”

 

Cisco Ortega, 49, was the vice president of the Black Hole at the group’s headquarters in Oakland and is the president of the soon-to-launch Las Vegas chapter. He said he knows of a few people from the Black Hole that will be in the south end zone, but said members also will be throughout the stadium.

 

“I believe there’s about eight (members in the south end zone),” Ortega said. “There will be other Black Hole members in the section over and different sections in the stadium…. I know that area (end zone) is known as the Black Hole area, but the entire coliseum in Oakland we had Black Hole members throughout that whole stadium.”

 

Plans are to officially launch the Las Vegas chapter with a Super Bowl bash, but those details are not yet available.

 

“We’ll be launching our Black Hole chapter with an official chapter party,” Ortega said. “We’re already here, we have our office.”

 

Las Vegas will join the approximately 30 chapters established throughout the U.S., with members also located in Mexico and Canada.

 

Ortega moved to Las Vegas last year with his company, which by luck was perfectly timed for the Raiders’ move.

 

Ortega himself doesn’t yet have season tickets for Allegiant Stadium, but said he’d be looking to buy them sometime in the future.

 

Ortega said the fan club chapters are active in the community, including toy drives for Christmas, feeding the homeless and other civic activities.

 

“We are more than just fun stuff,” he said. “We make ourselves known in the community.”

 

That said, you have to wonder if QB DEREK CARR will make it with the team to their new home.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The rumor mill has been looking for a new quarterback for the Raiders. And it’s getting under the skin of the team’s current quarterback.

 

The latest buzz emerged after soon-to-be-free-agent quarterback Tom Brady attended the recent UFC event in Las Vegas, chatting openly with Raiders owner Mark Davis.

 

Derek Carr addressed the situation on Wednesday’s official unveiling of the Raiders as the first NFL franchise in Las Vegas.

 

“I mean, there was a lot of quarterbacks at that fight,” Carr said with a laugh, via Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. “And there was a lot of football players at that fight that are free agents. And it’s like, every time, with my job, it’s always a story. No matter what. And knowing some people that were around, I even know what the conversation was [between Davis and Brady], and it’s like, ‘C’mon, man, when’s it going to end?‘”

 

(David separately joked that the discussion “was about Tom was going to fight [Manny] Pacquiao here to open the stadium.”)

 

Joking aside, Carr doesn’t seem to appreciate the presumption that it’s just a matter of time before the Raiders throw him overboard.

 

“All of these things that [you’d think] everyone would be like, ‘Yes, we’re going the right way. Everything’s getting better, and we know where we need to add things and where we [need] help.’ You would think that that would be the story. But that’s not how it works. And I understand that now,” Carr said. “Especially when people are seen with certain people. It’s like, ‘Oh, gosh. Well, I was at dinner with [Davis] last night. Does that count for anything?’ Golly. It’s just funny. But I’m used to it now. But I’ll say it this way: I look forward to taking the first snap in that stadium, and I look forward to taking every snap from here on out — until I’m done.”

 

It’s not the first time Carr has declared that he’ll be the Raiders’ quarterback for as long as he wants to be. Which once again demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding as to how football works.

 

The Raiders will keep Carr as the team’s quarterback only as long as the team believes that employing Carr in that position meshes with the team’s best interests. The moment the Raiders believe otherwise, Carr will be gone. And history tells us that, far more often than not, the team decides to move on before the player does.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

It’s clear that Dolphins GM Curtis Grier has thought a bit about moving up in the draft.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Dolphins made their own lives harder last season, by exceeding expectations to win five games. That means that instead of having the top pick and their choice of any quarterback, they’re in the fifth spot.

 

Via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier said the team had “more than enough” draft currency to move up in the order if they need to.

 

The Dolphins have two extra first rounders (the 18th and 26th overall picks) from shipping Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh and Laremy Tunsil to Houston, and extra second from the Saints.

 

Ostensibly, that would enable them to make a deal to move up if they wanted. And it appears that owner Stephen Ross is interested in such a move.

 

While there have been mixed reports about the Bengals’ willingness to consider anything other taking than LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first pick, Grier pointed out one of the great truths of the offseason, saying there was “a lot of misinformation” being circulated by teams this time of year, in hopes of maximizing their own interests.

 

But whether they move up or not, Grier made it clear the Dolphins are very much in the market for a quarterback, despite saying they wanted to bring back Ryan Fitzpatrick (who was good enough to complicate their draft plans).

 

“We’d like to find the right guy to be the quarterback,” Grier said. “You see how important it is around the league. So I wouldn’t just say it’s Steve. It’s Brian [Flores]. Myself. Coaching staff. Scouts. We think it’s important that we find the right guy, and the leader, to be the quarterback here for a long time.”

 

And if that means using more than one of those hoarded picks to acquire him, that sounds like something Grier is willing to do.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTONIO

Hollywood, Florida authorities and neighbors are tired of messing around with Antonio Brown.  There is now a felony warrant for his arrest.  Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com with details of the troubled one-time star’s latest brouhaha.

 

The Hollywood (Florida) Police Department has issued an arrest warrant for Antonio Brown following allegations that he and his trainer attacked a moving company truck driver near Brown’s Florida home.

 

Hollywood police spokesman Christian Latta said in a Wednesday news release that Brown faces charges of burglary with battery, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and criminal mischief.

 

Brown’s trainer, Holt, was arrested on a felony burglary with battery charge on Tuesday. He posted a $20,000 bond on Wednesday and was released from Broward County Jail on Wednesday night.

 

Police told ESPN that they made several attempts to contact Brown to question him about the incident, but the free-agent wide receiver retreated into his home and ignored their requests to speak with him.

 

Brown pelted a rock at the truck driver before the alleged battery outside of his home Tuesday, according to court documents obtained by TMZ on Wednesday.

 

The documents show that Brown later forced his way into the driver’s side of the main cabin and began to physically strike the driver after a disagreement over payment escalated. He was then restrained by his associates.

 

Brown, 31, remained in or near his home throughout the day Wednesday. Now police have a warrant to go into his home to arrest him if needed.

 

The court documents TMZ obtained state that the moving company was hired by Brown to deliver belongings the receiver had stored in California to his home in Hollywood, Florida.

 

Brown allegedly refused to pay the $4,000 fee, which initially led the driver to attempt to leave with the property in his truck, and that’s when the driver said Brown threw the rock, denting and causing paint damage to the driver’s side of the vehicle. The driver then called police to report the damage.

 

Later, the documents say, the moving company told the driver to drop off the goods because Brown agreed to pay the fee plus damages he caused. Upon arrival, however, Brown paid the $4,000 fee but refused to pay more.

 

Another argument ensued, and that’s when, the driver claims, Brown assaulted him, and Holt attempted to grab his keys from the ignition to open the truck and get Brown’s belongings, causing cuts and scratches on the driver.

 

Brown’s home is located in a gated community in Hollywood. Multiple neighbors told ESPN that they are fed up with the antics coming from the home, including multiple police encounters this month.