AROUND THE NFL

An interesting idea from the XFL.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The XFL wants to play a fast-paced variety of football, and it may have hit on one good idea for how to accomplish it: Run the no-huddle offense exclusively.

 

The way to do it, according to ESPN, would be to put speakers in every helmet, so there’s no need to huddle.

 

The NFL allows speakers in quarterbacks’ helmets, and in one defensive player’s helmet, but the rest of the players still need to get the play from that one player. If all 11 players know the call before they line up, the game can move much faster.

 

The XFL has already said it may keep the clock running on incomplete passes and plays out of bounds, so games are likely to clock in at less than three hours. But with the emphasis on a fast pace, there may be more plays run in XFL games than in NFL games, even as NFL games last longer.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

QB DAK PRESCOTT’s peeps are floating $34 million per.  Clarence Hill, Jr. of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

 

Standing in the locker room with a white cowboy hat on, courtesy of Stetson not Gucci, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was the picture image of the viral hit song “Old Town Road.”

 

And “you can’t tell him nothing” about his improved game and looming contract extension that seems to be increasing with each passing day.

 

The new deal signed by Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, worth $32 million annually in new money, was not lost on Prescott.

 

While that deal could impact his negotiations with the Cowboys, as the team is analyzing all 60 pages of Wentz’s new contract, per source, know that Todd France and CAA have broached a deal in the range of $34 million annually, according to someone with knowledge of the talks.

 

Now, these are negotiations, and it’s the agent’s job to ask for the moon with hopes of landing on the stars.

 

“Yeah, I’m involved. It’s about me,” said Prescott when asked about the status of the contract talks after minicamp on Thursday. “But they stand where they stand.”

 

There is no worry or concern on his part because the former 2016 fourth-round pick, who is the final year of a rookie deal that will pay him $2.025 million this year, knows generational money is coming.

 

The Cowboys have made it clear they view him as their franchise quarterback and want to secure his future before the start of the season.

 

“It happens when it happens,” Prescott said. “I’ve got my cowboy hat on, so I’m a Cowboy. Let’s say that.”

– – –

Cowboys Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin called Prescott the perfect quarterback for the Cowboys and the right fit, respectively, because of how he handles himself on and off the field and his stellar play on it, given that he has won 32 games the past three years, including two NFC East titles and made two trips to the Pro Bowl.

 

Irvin said the Cowboys should not wait any longer on a new deal because the price is only going to go up.

 

“When you have the heart and soul and leader of your team at the quarterback position, I don’t know why we’re talking about his money,” Irvin said. “That’s worth $15 million to $20 million, by itself, a year. Now you got to pay him to play football also.

 

“I mean, let’s be real here. It shouldn’t even be a discussion when we talk about it, and the amount of wins this man has had, and the way he’s won football games, it shouldn’t even be a discussion. It really shouldn’t.’‘

 

Said a smiling Prescott, “I might need to hire Mike as my agent.”

 

Earlier this week, quarterback coach Jon Kitna called Prescott a rare individual who is relentless in wanting to be great.

 

Coach Jason Garrett expanded on what is most impressive about Prescott on the final day of minicamp Thursday.

 

“Just that how he handles it all,” Garrett said. “How he handles success, how he handles adversity and how he handles all the different situations that he’s in. He comes to work every day and he’s got an incredible spirit. His eyes are always bright, he’s got a bounce in his step, his shoulders are back, he’s got a smile on his face regardless of what the results have been.

 

“He’s ready to work and ready to set the pace for everybody,” Garrett continued. “He leads by example, completely engaged, completely locked in every situation we put him in. He loves playing ball, he loves the role that he’s in and guys respond to him and it’s been that way right from the start.”

 

That Prescott was involved in a skirmish with safety Jeff Heath in practice Wednesday only endeared himself to more to the Cowboys because it was another example of his competitive spirit.

 

“Yeah, he’s just a natural competitor,” Garrett said. “He’s just one of those guys from day one who’s stepped in and competed with all the other guys, whether it’s in practice, in the offseason program and certainly on Sundays. So that’s probably line one for him. He’s got great leadership skills, but he loves to play and competes as hard and as well as anybody we’ve been around.”

 

What has stood out about most Prescott during OTAs and the minicamp, as the Cowboys take a month off before reporting to training camp July 27, is his improved play manifested by increased confident, comfort accuracy and decision making that was on full display.

 

Tight end Jason Witten was with Prescott his first two years in the league before retiring to become an analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

 

He has noticed a new and improved Prescott.

 

“He’s always been a great leader and how he’s gone about it, but he sets the tone for this football team and you can see the improvement,” Witten said. “I know I can, from being away for a year, with how much he’s improved with his game as a quarterback.

 

“I just think, from my perspective, the accuracy has been unbelievable with throwing to us. The velocity on the ball, the anticipation of the throws. We run certain routes and nobody notices it, but that ball is coming out — when you’re coming out of the cut, the ball is already on you.”

– – –

He is seeing everything crystal clear, on and off the field.

 

And again, you can’t tell him nothing about his game or his contract situation.

 

He knows he’s going to be a rich Cowboy soon.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Pat Bowlen has passed away, two months shy of his schedule enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Pat Bowlen, the principal owner of the Denver Broncos since 1984, passed away Thursday night at age 75 after an extended battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

 

The Broncos released a statement from the Bowlen family just after midnight in Denver announced his passing.

 

“We are saddened to inform everyone that our beloved husband and father, Pat Bowlen, passed on to the next chapter of his life late Thursday night peacefully at home surrounded by family. His soul will live on through the Broncos, the city of Denver and all of our fans.

 

“Our family wishes to express its sincere gratitude for the outpouring of support we have received in recent years. Heaven got a little bit more orange and blue tonight.

 

“Pat Bowlen had a competitive spirit with a great sense of humor. As fun-loving as he was, he always wanted us to understand the big picture. We will forever remember his kindness and humility.

 

“More important than being an incredible owner, Pat Bowlen was an incredible human being.”

 

Bowlen’s illness was first announced by the team in July 2014. He stepped down from the day-to-day operations of the team and placed eventual stewardship into the hands of a three-person group of trustees. While family infighting over the controlling interest of the franchise has become the subject of a legal battle, Bowlen’s wife, Annabel, and his seven children, Amie, Beth, Patrick, Johnny, Brittany, Annabel and Christianna, were all named in the statement released by the team early Friday morning.

 

With Bowlen as owner, the Broncos have won three Super Bowls, appeared in four more, won the AFC West 13 times and made 18 total playoff appearances. Bowlen is set to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August after being elected in the contributor category in January.

 

Bowlen is the fifth majority owner of an NFL team to pass away in the last 15 months. Others who have died were Tom Benson (Saints, March 2018), Alex Spanos (Chargers, October 2018), Paul Allen (Seahawks, October 2018) and Bob McNair (Texans, November 2018).

 

Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post on what’s next (and what has happened since Bowlen’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis was announced) for team ownership with litigation in the air.

 

What now for the Broncos following owner Pat Bowlen’s death?

 

It is believed Bowlen’s seven children, who range in age from 21-49, will get an equal share of the team, which was valued last fall by Forbes at $2.6 billion. That works out to the children’s shares being worth approximately $371.4 million apiece.

 

Beth Bowlen Wallace, 48, and Brittany Bowlen, 29, have expressed interest in becoming the team’s next controlling owner and it is believed that the trustees who currently run the Broncos (Joe Ellis, Rich Slivka and Mary Kelly) have prioritized a transition to Brittany.

 

Here is a timeline since Wallace declared last year her desire to run the Broncos:

 

May 31, 2018: Wallace said she was “ready right now,” to take over the Broncos and her succession plan included a “short transition and mentoring period with current Broncos leadership,” and bringing Brittany Bowlen on board.

 

Wallace had the public support of Bill Bowlen (one of Pat’s two brothers) and Amie Klemmer (Pat’s oldest child and Beth’s sister).

 

Within hours of Wallace’s announcement, the trustees said they “thoroughly evaluated” her qualifications and had declined to name her Pat Bowlen’s successor.

 

July 27, 2018: Ellis, the Broncos’ president/CEO, told reporters that Brittany Bowlen had “expressed an interest,” in serving as her father’s successor.

 

“We’re not anointing anybody or anything like that,” Ellis said. “She’s not ready yet — she’s admitted that to us, obviously. We’ll see where it goes.”

 

Oct. 20, 2018: At a charity event in Denver, Brittany Bowlen revealed publicly for the first time that she would like to succeed her father.

 

“I do have ambitions and goals to one day be the controlling owner of the Denver Broncos,” she said. “I’ll keep working toward those goals. I’m not there yet. But I really believe I can get there.”

 

Oct. 25, 2018: Bill Bowlen filed a lawsuit in Colorado District Court to remove the trust from power, “due to their failure to uphold Pat Bowlen’s wishes and act in the best interest of Pat Bowlen, his family, and the Broncos.”

 

Bill Bowlen asked the court to appoint an independent party to serve as protector of Pat Bowlen’s estate.

 

Nov. 23, 2018: The trustees submitted a response to Bill Bowlen’s lawsuit requesting a stay in the proceedings. They also requested that Wallace and Klemmer — who were not a part of their uncle’s lawsuit — enter into arbitration with the NFL and the league would have the power to decide if the trustees are properly serving Pat Bowlen’s wishes.

 

Dec. 8, 2018: Bill Bowlen filed an objection to the trustees’ response, saying his lawsuit should proceed on a different path than their arbitration request. The filing said the trustees’ request was “nothing more than a delay tactic.”

 

Jan. 30, 2019: Asked at his Super Bowl news conference if he will grant the arbitration request, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league “may be involved” in resolving the dispute.

 

“It’s sad when disputes like this occur,” Goodell said. “It’s not something I think Pat Bowlen — who I knew very well — would have wanted.”

 

March 15, 2019: District Court Judge Charles Pratt ruled on three motions in the case brought by Bill Bowlen.

 

Pratt declined Bill Bowlen’s request to dismiss the NFL’s potential involvement and denied his motion asking the court to make the trustees to pay their own legal fees. The trustees’ motion to dismiss the case entirely was also denied.

 

March 25, 2019: At the NFL’s annual meeting in Phoenix, Ellis said Brittany Bowlen was poised to re-join the Broncos, “by the end of the year or within the year.”

 

Ellis said Bowlen will serve in a “senior management position,” with the team, a major development in creating clarity about the future leadership of the team.

 

March 26, 2019: Goodell announced that former NFL executive Carmen Policy had been selected as the arbitrator and began his look into the dispute in February.

 

A source said Wallace and Klemmer had not agreed to the process, but if arbitration was initiated, it could be resolved by the end of 2019. The trustees want Policy to decide if their approach to selecting a new controlling owner is in-line with Pat Bowlen’s wishes.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

RB CARLOS HYDE thinks you should want him on your Fantasy team.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Carlos Hyde is slated to serve as the backup to Damien Williams in the Chiefs backfield, but he’s not unhappy about that arrangement.

 

Hyde signed with the Chiefs after being released by the Jaguars and has spent the offseason learning his role with his new team. That’s involved a lot of work as a pass catcher, which Hyde said is “like a dream come true” because of his affinity for that part of the game.

 

“It’s not just a one-dimensional running back here,” Hyde said, via Adam Teicher of ESPN.com. “You do it all. You line up at receiver. You actually run routes. You’re not just a decoy . . . You really get to showcase your ability. I didn’t know they used the running back so much in the passing game until I got here. It put a smile on my face.”

 

Hyde only caught 10 passes while splitting last season between the Browns and Jaguars, but caught 59 passes for the 49ers in 2017 so he’s had some experience to draw on as he tries to make an impact in Kansas City this year.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

A Browns fan of the DB’s acquaintance thinks this is just the media stirring things up.  Here’s Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer following up on a report from Mike Silver of NFL Network (a known and proud confidant of Hue Jackson).

 

Several Browns veterans approached Baker Mayfield in the locker room after his critical remarks about Duke Johnson last week and voiced their displeasure, Mike Silver of NFL Network reported Thursday.

 

The vets and Mayfield hashed out their differences, Silver reported, according to multiple sources. Silver said Mayfield’s harsh comments didn’t go over great, and that even if he didn’t agree with the veterans, he heard them.

 

On the first day of mandatory minicamp last week, Johnson doubled-down on his desire to be traded in his podium interview. While he spoke, Mayfield listened in from the fringes and at times shook his head.

 

When he took the podium himself a few minutes later, he was asked if Johnson’s situation was awkward.

 

“It’s self-inflicted,” Mayfield said. “It is what it is. It’s not awkward for anybody else in this building.’’

 

He also made it clear that he doesn’t want Johnson here unless he’s all in.

 

“That’s something that we’ve been dealing with for a while,’’ he said. “If we have guys that want to be here, they’ll show that, they’ll voice that. Obviously he’s going to handle his stuff how he wants, but you’re either on this train or you’re not, it’s moving. You can get out of the way or you can join us. so it is what it is.”

 

In response to a follow-up question about him not sounding happy about Johnson, he said, “I wouldn’t say I’m not happy about it. It’s just the way he’s handled it. It can be a stir-up in the media, it can be however it wants, but if somebody wants to be here, they’ll be here in that situation. You’ve got guys within our locker room that are dying to get playing time, that are dying to be here, and I get it.

 

“Duke’s been here for years and I respect that, but it’s about ‘what are you doing right now?’ The past is the past. My rookie year, I’ve got to learn from it, I’ve got to move forward. It’s about right now and what we’re going to do.’’

 

Johnson, who skipped the entire offseason program, was unavailable after Mayfield’s remarks, but his agent’s husband Luther Campbell clapped back on Twitter.

 

“F— Baker Mayfield for saying that dumb s— about Duke Johnson,” tweeted legendary 2 Live Crew rapper Luther Campbell, husband of Johnson’s agent Kristin Campbell. “I guarantee you be the one to divide this locker room up. You are not in Texas at Cracker Barrel.”

 

“Uncle Luke” Campbell came back at Mayfield again on Twitter on Friday, listing all the elite quarterbacks such as Brett Favre, Joe Montana and Peyton Manning who were traded by their original teams and warning him “don’t ever turn on your teammates for management — you are not exempt.’’

 

Jarvis Landry, for one, jumped to Johnson’s defense.

 

“I still have a relationship with Duke,’’ he said. “I’m happy that he’s here, it’s good to see him, but outside of that, I hope it works out for us as the Browns and for him if that’s the way that it goes. He’s a tremendous talent and he’s capable of making plays. I have no other say about what happens.’’

 

He added, “I hope he understands and feels that guys are here for him, whether he’s here or not, that the relationship goes beyond the player, the person as well, so I definitely hope he understands that and knows that there are guys that are here for him.”

 

In another article, Cabot says it is time for Johnson to be sent packing:

 

When your quarterback starts calling you out and your agent’s legendary rapper husband claps back, you’ve reached the point of no return.

 

That’s exactly where the Browns and Duke Johnson are right now: It’s over and it’s in the best interests of both sides to part ways as soon as possible.

– – –

Johnson, the Browns’ third-round pick in 2015, admitted that he attended the full-squad minicamp only because it was mandatory. Had he skipped it like he did the entire voluntary offseason program, he would’ve been fined more than $80,000. When he was out on the field, he worked hard as he always does and promised he won’t be a disgruntled employee.

 

But there’s just no point in it anymore. It’s a distraction the Browns don’t need, and they should trade Johnson as soon as they can. The only reason they haven’t done so yet is because they haven’t received a high enough offer. The Browns are hoping for more than the sixth- or seventh-round picks running backs garner these days. Ideally, they’re probably holding out for a fourth-round pick or higher, and Johnson is definitely worth that because of his dual-role as a receiver and running back.

 

But if they can’t get it, they should take the best offer and eliminate this distraction as soon as possible. The Browns have enough on their plate this season with Odell Beckham Jr. adjusting to his new team, a new head coach, new coordinators and a second-year quarterback with great expectations to win the division and take this team to great heights.

 

Johnson’s value could increase in training camp or preseason if a back goes down, but it’s not even worth the distraction to bring him back. The Browns have too much at stake this season to spend extra time on someone who doesn’t want to be here.

 

Not only will Kareem Hunt make Johnson expendable when he returns from his suspension against the Bills Nov. 10, young running back Dontrell Hilliard, signed as an undrafted rookie out of Tulane last year, has already begun to demonstrate he can replace Johnson as the third-down back.

 

With Kitchens and running backs coach Stump Mitchell praising Hilliard over the past few months, it’s more evidence they’re done with Johnson. If they can get Hilliard to believe in himself as much as they do, they’ll have unearthed a gem.

 

At 25, Johnson still has plenty to offer a team and has a trade-friendly contract with cash payouts over the next three years of $2.3 million, $4.1 million and $5.15 million. Plenty of teams are still interested, including some that have coaches that tutored him in Cleveland.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Adam Rank of NFL.com, in his State of the Franchise series, tries to figure out if the Steelers, minus RB Le’VEON BELL and WR ANTONIO BROWN, but with better chemistry are heading up or down.  Full thing here, edited below:

 

Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization, fans of the team and those who realize that fries belong on the sandwich:

 

This is a time of tremendous change in Pittsburgh. For many generations, the Steelers have stood as one of the model franchises in the NFL. The Rooney family built a culture of stability that has filtered down to the football field. Only three teams (the Packers, Bears and Giants) have more NFL championships than the Steelers, who were the first team in league history to capture six Super Bowls. And while Pittsburgh continues to win, lately the team has created more of a stir with off-the-field drama than anything it’s accomplished on the field.

– – –

2019 VIPs

Head coach: Mike Tomlin. Look, the Steelers are consistent winners. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013 last year, but they did finish with a winning record (9-6-1). So Tomlin’s a good coach. But recently, there just seems to be something missing. The Steelers are the kind of team that hangs around the main event scene, but they haven’t been in a championship match in quite some time. They won the Super Bowl in 2008. Lost it in 2010. And they haven’t been back since. They are like the Sheamus of the NFL. The pedigree is impressive. But do you expect Sheamus to be in the title mix at any point in the future? He hasn’t been the same since the League of Nations days.

 

Now, there are things that have gone wrong that aren’t Tomlin’s fault. I mean, the Bell situation wasn’t his fault. Untimely turnovers aren’t really his fault, either. But there has seemingly been a drama-filled atmosphere around the team in recent years. And at some point, there needs to be an adult in the room who doesn’t let these things build up. Maybe Tomlin has done his best in that regard, and we can’t say whether the team’s struggles at times are a direct result of off-field drama. But this is a narrative he needs to slay for good.

 

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger. It wasn’t long ago that he was openly talking about retirement. Then, last year, the Steelers drafted quarterback Mason Rudolph, and Roethlisberger was all, “Oh no, I’m staying to play forever.” He’s kind of like that friend who responds “maybe” anytime you send him a party invite, mostly because he wants everyone to beg him to attend. Like, “No, dude. It won’t be the same without you.” But when you finally start to ignore that person and say, “Cool, we’re going with these other people,” he’s suddenly all in to go. Even promising to drive and everything. It is as exhausting as it is annoying. But Ben looks locked in now. And really, he has to be. With all of the stuff that went down with Antonio Brown, Roethlisberger will now be on a mission to prove he’s the best teammate in the world, which will only benefit those around him. He’s a very talented quarterback and has proven he can win on the biggest stage. If this is what it took to get him to lock in, well, results over process, I suppose. Go prove them wrong.

 

He could start by not turning the ball over as much. Roethlisberger passed for a career-high 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns last year, which is great. But he also threw a league-high 16 interceptions.

 

Projected 2019 MVP: JuJu Smith-Schuster, wide receiver. JuJu looked like a stud last year. All he wanted to do was go out there and be the best receiver in the game. And he’s well on his way, coming off a Pro Bowl campaign. I understand there are those who have reservations about him being the No. 1 guy now and wonder if some of his success stemmed from playing alongside AB the past two years. You’d be obtuse to believe having AB as a teammate doesn’t help. Not only does he draw the top corner, but he also throws a mean block, as you can see right here on this 97-yard touchdown reception. But Pittsburgh has a long history of moving on from star receivers and being just fine (Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Hines Ward and now AB). And if you think Ben isn’t going to pepper JuJu with a seemingly endless supply of targets, like a groomsman at a wedding reception trying to grab as many Bud Lights as he can right before the open bar switches to a cash bar, then you just aren’t paying attention.

 

2019 breakout star: Vance McDonald, tight end. He finished with a career-high 50 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdown catches in 2018. But he’s going to be counted on even more this season. I mean there are 168 targets to replace from AB’s departure alone, and tight end Jesse James left for the Lions in free agency. Roethlisberger is going to look for some familiarity. Plus, McDonald once delivered a stiff-arm I’ll never forget to former Bear Chris Conte.

 

A low-key candidate to get some targets: Diontae Johnson, wide receiver. Oh, don’t think I can’t see what’s going on here with the Steelers. So you trade a talented former MAC receiver and then go out and draft a talented former MAC receiver? I’ve seen divorcees be less transparent once they get back out in the dating pool. I kid (barely), but Johnson — a third-round pick out of Toledo — could end up moving into that No. 2 spot behind Smith-Schuster on the depth chart as a rookie. Veterans Donte Moncrief, Eli Rodgers and James Washington also figure into the mix. But I’m going with the rookie.

 

Another new face to know: Devin Bush, linebacker. The Steelers made the bold move to jump up to the No. 10 spot in the draft and select the talented linebacker from Michigan. It was kind of an anti-Steelers move, because they normally let the draft come to them. But they had to get Bush on the roster. The Steelers have had a need at the position ever since Ryan Shazier suffered his spinal injury in December 2017. The lack of speed over the middle has been evident in the aftermath, so the team spent its 2018 first-round pick on safety Terrell Edmunds and now grabbed the former Wolverine. This fills a massive need.

 

Three key dates:

 

— Week 1 at the Patriots. Oh, boy. You’d probably prefer to saunter into the season with a nice matchup against the Bengals or something. No such luck here. But the Patriots did lose to the Chiefs in Week 1 two years ago while coming off a Super Bowl championship, so you have that going for you.

 

— Week 5 vs. the Ravens. This will be a telling little stretch of the season. The Steelers will play host to the defending AFC North-champion Ravens and then follow it up with a game in Los Angeles against the Chargers, a team that came back from a 16-point halftime deficit to win in Pittsburgh last season.

 

— Week 10 vs. the Rams. This comes on the heels of a game against the Colts. So, again, not an easy stretch. The good news is the Steelers have a bye in Week 7 before beginning a three-game homestand that wraps with the Rams game. The Steelers won’t be on the road for about a full month until they travel all the way to Cleveland in Week 11.

 

One storyline people are overlooking: The Steelers’ need to divvy up the workload at running back. I love James Conner but I feel like the Steelers (and I have observed this in a dorky, fantasy enthusiast way) have a way of burning out their running backs as the season goes on. Conner averaged 18.9 carries per game through Week 9 last season. He never topped 15 carries in a game following that and missed Weeks 14-16 with a lower leg injury (he averaged less than 13 carries per game in the second half of the season). Sure, game script could be one of the explanations for the lighter workload, but it always seems the Steelers are far too willing to overuse their running backs in the early part of the season and find themselves in kind of a rut at the position come December and playoff time. It’s like a kid who eats his lunch right when he gets to school, and then sits there hungry when everyone else is eating lunch at lunchtime. Tomlin has always had a workhorse to lean on (Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Le’Veon Bell and Conner), but maybe this year will be different (Conner seems to think it will). Thankfully, the team did draft a powerful back in Benny Snell Jr. this year, and 2018 fifth-rounder Jaylen Samuels is in the mix, too.

 

One storyline people are overthinking: It’s the Steelers, so everything. I mean, I’m sitting here questioning a coach who makes the playoffs seemingly every year and a quarterback who is probably going to the Hall of Fame. Has there been a winning team that has been questioned so much? I ask knowing I’m part of the problem.

 

For 2019 to be a successful season, the Steelers MUST …

— Be in the headlines for the right reasons.

 

— Get back to the playoffs. Like I said earlier, the Steelers missed the playoffs in 2018 for the first time since 2013. I thought about saying this team needs to win the Super Bowl for its 2019 season to be a success, and I understand why fans really want to get another Super Bowl. You basically are in a race with the Patriots to see who is going to be the first to get to seven Super Bowl titles. But just getting back to the playoffs would have to be considered a success.

 

In closing

I feel like there will be no middle ground with this team. Either they will fold in horrific fashion — maybe win five games or something — or go completely the other way: Roethlisberger throws 60 touchdowns and JuJu catches 30 of them as the team wins a seventh Super Bowl. It feels like one or the other. Because it would be disappointing (even a little sad) if they just meander around again for another season. At least make it exciting and newsworthy

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

OFFSEASON STANDOUTS

Not sure how you determine this from just offseason workouts, but ESPN’s 32 correspondents single out players with upward arrows in 2019:

 

We asked our NFL Nation reporters to pick out a surprise standout from each of the 32 teams and here’s what they said:

 

AFC EAST

 

Buffalo Bills – CB Kevin Johnson

The No. 16 overall pick in 2015 was a disappointment in Houston, missing 29 games because of injury over his final three seasons (2016-18). The Bills signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal in March. He has participated in OTAs with the second-team defense but is expected to compete with Levi Wallace and E.J. Gaines for a starting role. — Mike Rodak

 

Miami Dolphins – WR DeVante Parker

He has regularly looked like the Dolphins’ best offensive player this spring, making highlight grabs along the sideline and consistently being a threat in the red zone and in the middle of the field. This isn’t the first time Parker has opened eyes in the spring (only to disappoint in the fall), but it’s a good sign after how bad 2018 went for him. — Cameron Wolfe

 

New England Patriots – LB Jamie Collins

Signed to a modest one-year deal in May, Collins flashed speed and playmaking ability on defense while being inserted into a top spot on the punt-protection unit. The initial projection was that Collins would add depth on defense and potentially have to fight for a roster spot based on the way his first stint in New England ended in 2016, but now he looks as if he will be a key cog alongside returning off-the-line linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Elandon Roberts. — Mike Reiss

 

New York Jets – TE Daniel Brown

Known as a blocking tight end and special-teams player, Brown has impressed with his ability as a receiver. No one expected much from him in the passing game because he played only 23 offensive snaps last season with the Bears (221 on special teams), but he has displayed more downfield speed than anticipated. — Rich Cimini

 

AFC NORTH

 

Baltimore Ravens – S DeShon Elliott

The 2018 sixth-round pick made the play of the offseason when he raced nearly halfway across the field to make a diving interception and then added another pick during mandatory minicamp. Baltimore has a loaded secondary, but it looks as if the Ravens are going to need to find a way to get Elliott on the field this season. — Jamison Hensley

 

Cincinnati Bengals – CB B.W. Webb

Webb was presumed to take over Darqueze Dennard’s slot corner spot when Dennard remained unsigned earlier in the offseason, then appeared to go back to the No. 2 spot once Dennard’s deal was done. Now that’s not quite so clear. — Katherine Terrell

 

Cleveland Browns – RB Dontrell Hilliard

With Duke Johnson Jr. still asking to be traded, Hilliard has made the most of his opportunities at running back this offseason behind Nick Chubb– Jake Trotter

 

Pittsburgh Steelers – RB Trey Edmunds

The Steelers’ tailback room is full with James Conner, Jaylen Samuels and draft pick Benny Snell Jr., but Edmunds has been hard to miss during offseason work. He won several drills against linebackers in the open field and looks comfortable in the system as a two-year NFL veteran who also has played for New Orleans. The big brother of Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds will be difficult to cut. — Jeremy Fowler

 

AFC SOUTH

 

Houston Texans – RB D’Onta Foreman

The 2017 third-round pick had a disappointing 2018 season after missing the majority of it while rehabbing an Achilles injury. Foreman said after last year that he feels as if he’s “basically starting all over” and “coming in with something to prove to everybody.” The coaching staff told Foreman to “have a great offseason,” and coach Bill O’Brien said he thought the running back did just that. “I think he’s had a really good time away from us,” O’Brien said, “and that has parlayed into a good spring.” — Sarah Barshop

 

Indianapolis Colts – TE Mo Alie-Cox

The former college basketball player at VCU has taken advantage of Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, the team’s top two tight ends, being out or limited this offseason while rehabbing injuries. — Mike Wells

 

Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Chris Conley

He might turn out to be one of the best under-the-radar free-agent signings this year. Signing QB Nick Foles was obviously big, but the Jaguars added Conley three days later and he has been the best receiver during OTAs and minicamp. — Mike DiRocco

 

Tennessee Titans – WR Tajae Sharpe

Sharpe welcomes the competition from free agent Adam Humphries and second-round pick A.J. Brown. He continues to exhibit precise route-running skills, leading to frequent targets from Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill. — Turron Davenport

 

AFC WEST

 

Denver Broncos – TE Troy Fumagalli

“Surprise” might not be the best word, but Fumagalli, a second-year player who spent last season on injured reserve while recovering from sports hernia surgery, has certainly waited for his chance. — Jeff Legwold

 

Kansas City Chiefs – WR Byron Pringle

He was on the verge of making the team last year as an undrafted rookie before an injury in the final preseason game ended his season. Pringle continued to make plays after returning this offseason. The fact that he played well at camp and in the preseason last year is an indication Pringle isn’t just an offseason phenomenon but indeed has staying power. — Adam Teicher

 

Los Angeles Chargers – CB Trevor Williams

Hampered by a nagging knee injury, the Penn State product lost his starting job to Michael Davis last season after starting 15 games in 2017. Now healthy, Williams is moving like his old self and is battling Davis to win his starting job back. — Eric D. Williams

 

Oakland Raiders – TE Darren Waller

He joined the Raiders as a late-November signee after serving a pair of NFL-mandated suspensions with the Ravens, missing four games in 2016 and the entire 2017 season, for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. And after Oakland allowed Jared Cook to leave in free agency, Waller finds himself as Oakland’s TE1. The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder with all of 18 career catches for 178 yards and two TDs has done more than flash in the offseason program with several sideline grabs as well as catches in traffic. — Paul Gutierrez

 

NFC EAST

 

Dallas Cowboys – WR Randall Cobb

Normally a player with Cobb’s résumé — 470 catches for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns during his career — would not be considered for a category like this. But injuries limited him to only nine games and 38 catches for Green Bay in 2018, and it was hard to know what the Cowboys were getting in the veteran receiver. If the offseason work is any indication, they have found a replacement for Cole Beasley. — Todd Archer

 

New York Giants – WR Darius Slayton

The fifth-round pick’s first impression was downright scary. He had the yips on the first day of rookie minicamp, dropping five passes. But he did more than bounce back. He impressed greatly, especially with his ability to get open and make plays downfield. It seemed as if Slayton was catching a deep ball every day when practicing with the veterans. It prompted coach Pat Shurmur to call Slayton the “most improved” player he saw this spring. — Jordan Raanan

 

Philadelphia Eagles – WR Marken Michel

The brother of Patriots RB Sony Michel, Marken, a former CFL player, has managed to snag some spotlight in a talent-rich environment by coming up with a handful of impressive downfield catches. He has gotten some work with the first team and has had pretty good chemistry with quarterback Carson Wentz. It’ll be an uphill climb for Michel with the likes of DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside leading a deep receivers group, but he’s putting his best foot forward heading into training camp. — Tim McManus

 

Washington Redskins – CB Jimmy Moreland

Moreland intercepted five passes during spring workouts, a result that stems from his instincts and knowing where to be and when. Moreland, a seventh-round pick in April, will be a player to watch this summer as a slot corner. But for a late-round pick from a smaller school (James Madison), he’s off to a terrific start. — John Keim

 

NFC NORTH

 

Chicago Bears – TE Bradley Sowell

Formerly an offensive tackle, Sowell converted to tight end in the offseason to improve the Bears’ depth. Despite being listed at 6-foot-7, 312 pounds, Sowell is a fairly agile route runner with above-average hands. — Jeff Dickerson

 

Detroit Lions – WR Chris Lacy

The Lions have a hole at wide receiver — or at least had a bigger one before signing Jermaine Kearse last week — and Lacy seemed to make plays almost every practice during the open spring workouts. It might be a tough way to a roster spot for the second-year pro out of Oklahoma State, but he has a size/speed component that most of Detroit’s receivers don’t — Michael Rothstein

 

Green Bay Packers – WRs Jake Kumerow and Marquez Valdes-Scantling

OK, that’s two, but it’s hard to differentiate between them. Not when you see Kumerow with touchdown after touchdown from Aaron Rodgers, and Valdes-Scantling quickly climbing the depth chart into the top three. It has helped that Packers GM Brian Gutekunst didn’t add a receiver in free agency — where he lost slot man Randall Cobb — or via the draft. Most important for Kumerow is that he has earned the trust of Rodgers, who recently listed off all the things he likes about Kumerow and then added, “Obviously, I’m a big fan of him. I could keep going.” And of Valdes-Scantling, Rodgers said: “MVS is playing a lot closer to his 40 time speed, which is saying a lot because he’s pretty damned fast.” — Rob Demovsky

 

Minnesota Vikings – WR Chad Beebe

All aboard the Chad Beebe express. Beebe’s “Little Engine That Could” tale — from winning a spot with the Vikings via a rookie tryout to being elevated to the 53-man roster midway through the 2018 season — is inspiring. He has gone from an unknown player — commonly referred to simply as “Don Beebe’s son” — to a possible front-runner for the Vikings’ No. 3 receiver position. — Courtney Cronin

 

NFC SOUTH

 

Atlanta Falcons – WR Russell Gage

The second-year wide receiver has received more practice reps at the X receiver spot this offseason with Julio Jones (foot) observing. Gage, a potential special-teams ace, looks comfortable running routes and has shown nice concentration on catches — Vaughn McClure

 

Carolina Panthers – WR Curtis Samuel

Injuries have slowed him his first two seasons out of Ohio State, and the arrival of 2018 first-round pick DJ Moore has made Samuel an afterthought among the receivers. Not to mention he plays a lot of slot, where Christian McCaffrey often lines up. But Samuel is healthy, making moves and catches in practice that even he says he couldn’t have a year ago. Now, as the No. 2 receiver, he has a solid chance to top the 54 catches he has combined for in his first two seasons. — David Newton

 

New Orleans Saints – S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

The rookie fourth-round pick has made a quick impression this spring. Not only has he made a few flash plays in both rookie camp and OTAs, but the Saints clearly like his versatility as both a safety and slot corner in the nickel. — Mike Triplett

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bucs rookie DBs

The Bucs used a second-round draft pick on cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and third-round picks on cornerback Jamel Dean and safety Mike Edwards, and all three players have notched interceptions against first-teamers in workouts. These three are handling the transition from college to the pros very well. “I don’t give a s— if they’re rookies, these guys can play. They’re getting their hands on a lot of balls. They’re doing things that veterans do, because they listen and they’re smart,” coach Bruce Arians said. — Jenna Laine

 

NFC WEST

 

Arizona Cardinals – WR Kevin White

The seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft has been looking more like the receiver that Kliff Kingsbury coached against in the Big 12 than the one who has played in only 14 games over four pro seasons. White has been given a chance by Kingsbury to resurrect a disappointing career and is taking advantage of it in a crowded wide receiver room. He has plenty to prove and has started the process of doing just that through OTAs and minicamp. — Josh Weinfuss

 

Los Angeles Rams – TE Gerald Everett

A second-round pick in 2017, Everett has had a few standout moments in his young career, including a 39-yard catch in the NFC Championship Game, but he has not been consistently called upon in coach Sean McVay’s offense. Through the offseason program, Everett was a clear standout as a target for quarterback Jared Goff. — Lindsey Thiry

 

San Francisco 49ers – WR Trent Taylor

Maybe it shouldn’t be thought of as a surprise considering the success Taylor had with QB Jimmy Garoppolo at the end of 2017, when he caught 17 of the final 20 passes thrown his way. But a back injury slowed Taylor in 2018 and his production was cut in half. Now he’s another year removed from the back issue and looks healthy, but he faces more competition for the slot receiver job. With new receivers coach Wes Welker showing him the ropes, don’t be surprised if Taylor regains his rookie form and takes a step forward into an expanded role in 2019. — Nick Wagoner

 

Seattle Seahawks – LB Cody Barton

The rookie third-round pick from Utah has benefited from Bobby Wagner’s contract situation. Wagner has been present for offseason work but isn’t practicing, which has allowed Barton to take valuable first-team reps while also soaking up information from an All-Pro. The book on Barton is that he has a high football IQ and he has been showing it. — Brady Henderson