AROUND THE NFL

With the NFL anxious for a deal, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says this is the best time for the NFLPA to get a favorable deal done – if they don’t get greedy:

 

The NFL would like to get a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place before the start of the 2019 regular season, the league’s 100th. Although that goal reflects an unreasonable degree of optimism, the league presumably would settle for declaring long-term labor peace in the days preceding the Super Bowl that caps the league’s 100th season.

 

Regardless, the window has opened, and an opportunity exists to get a deal done. From the perspective of the NFL Players Association, that gives rise to a different kind of opportunity — an opportunity to squeeze the NFL for more than what the NFL ordinarily would give, given the NFL’s desire to get a deal done.

 

That’s the practical consequence of the league wanting to move now. It’s true of any negotiation; if one side makes time of the essence, it alters the essence of the negotiation, at least a bit.

 

Of course, this hardly means the league will just roll over for the NFLPA. And that’s something the NFLPA needs to realize if/when an effort will be made to exploit the league’s desire to get a deal done.

 

The NFLPA should exploit the circumstances, to a certain extent. But an attempt to ask for too much could actually push the two sides farther apart, making it harder to get something accomplished. And if the NFL doesn’t get the deal done within the time that the league would like to get the deal done, the NFL could then harden its position, making it even harder to get something accomplished.

 

So this will require subtlety, and nuance. Yes, the NFLPA stands to squeeze a little more out of the NFL based on the NFL’s desire to act now, but that’s hardly a blank check. Even if/when the two sides strike a deal on the most important aspect of the talks — as always, the money — the NFLPA won’t be able to say, “Give us this and that and that and this and that” without making an equivalent concession.

 

That’s how it always works, as to the non-monetary elements of any CBA negotiation. To get something, something else must be given up. And the two sides must be in harmony as to how the status quo will be changed as to one term, coupled with how the status quo will be changed as to another term.

 

So, yes, the NFLPA currently has the upper hand, but to a very limited extent. If the NFLPA overplays its hand, the advantage will evaporate. And that’s something that needs to be understood from the get-go, since the only way to prove the point is to push the issue and ultimately do a deal that isn’t as good as the deal that could have been done.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

Bengals EDGE CARL LAWSON says QB AARON RODGERS is easy to sack.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Aaron Rodgers is coming off a 49-sack season in which he was hindered by a bum leg, his line was banged up for stretches, and the offense as a whole was out of whack before and after canning Mike McCarthy.

 

In 2017, Rodgers was on pace for 50-plus sacks despite playing in just seven games (22).

 

Cincinnati Bengals edge rusher Carl Lawson took Rodgers down 2.5 times in Week 3 of 2017, a six-sack day for the defense. The defensive end told NFL Network’s Good Morning Football on Monday that Rodgers is actually easier to sack than some other QBs despite his mobility because he’s always looking for the big play.

 

“Honestly, I think it’s easier to sack Aaron Rodgers than most quarterbacks,” Lawson said. “He sits there, and he pats the ball. At the same time, sacking him don’t mean nothing if you don’t do it for four quarters. You know, he came back against us.

 

“So, I mean, he’s an easier quarterback for me to sack personally, because he sits there, and he probably gets eight to 10 yards in the pocket. He’s got a great left tackle in (David Bakhtiari). So, he just sits there, he waits, he waits, getting that read. When he gets sacked, he doesn’t get flustered. I only saw him get frustrated maybe one time when I did sack him, which was the third and a half sack that they took off (negated by a penalty)…”

 

Rodgers gunning for the big play was one criticism of the Packers QB the last few seasons as the team didn’t live up to expectations. Taking sacks isn’t exactly a new thing for Rodgers, who has 412 sacks in 14 seasons. Counting only his 11 seasons as a starter, Rodgers has been sacked 403 times (36.6 per season), including two seasons of 50-plus sacks and two more above the 45-sack mark. Packers fans have been used to seeing QBs sacked over the years, with Brett Favre holding the all-time record of 525.

 

For years, the Packers were willing to trade the sacks for the big plays. When Rodgers was divebombing defenses, the tradeoff worked great, and the splash plays overcame the negative ones — as Lawson noted, the Bengals lost to Green Bay in 2017 despite six sacks. In a discombobulated offense, like we saw for long stretches last season, the sacks stung.

 

With the change from McCarthy to new coach Matt LaFleur, Green Bay is hoping a more diverse offense will consistently scheme quicker options for Rodgers. How this plays out will be one of the most interesting subplots to the 2019 NFL campaign.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

WR JULIO JONES says his quest for a new deal won’t involve a new contract.  TMZ.com:

 

Julio Jones will NOT be holding out of Falcons practices this year … the star WR says owner Arthur Blank has promised him a new deal — and Jones is confident it’ll all get done soon.

 

“Mr. Blank gave us his word,” Julio says … “That’s golden.”

 

30-year-old Jones still has 2 years left on a $71 MILLION deal he inked back in 2015 … but he’s been angling for a new contract for a while now.

 

In fact, Jones held out of Atlanta practices LAST summer … before he ultimately settled for a small raise before the season began.

 

But, Jones says he doesn’t anticipate any of that happening again this summer … saying the Falcons have already told him a new contract is on the way.

 

“[Blank’s] word is that it’s going to get done,” Julio says … “There’s no stress on my end. I’m not thinking about it.”

 

“[Blank] makes it easy for me to go out and just work every day and not have one of those situations where there’s a holdout or anything like that.”

 

Jones says he hopes his new contract makes him a Falcon for life … saying it’s his goal to finish out his career in Atlanta.

 

As for the eventual end to that stellar career … Jones says he doesn’t see retirement coming any time soon — but he did say he’s evaluating his future on a season-to-season basis.

 

“I’m year-to-year, man,” Jones says … “For me, I haven’t felt like I’ve lost a step. But, as soon as I feel like I’m losing a step or I’m slowing down or I can’t produce or I can’t help my teammates or things like that, that’s when I will slow down.”

 

 

CAROLINA

Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com looks at Carolina as he ranks them 17th in his preseason previews:

 

The Panthers were unlucky last season. They lost close games. They had bad injury luck, ranking seventh in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost injury metric. If Newton bounces back and looks like his old self all season, the Panthers are in for a nice positive regression.

 

The part about Newton is key. The news to this point on his recovery from surgery has been good. Maybe he can bounce back to his MVP form. The clock is ticking, probably a little louder than for any other 30-year-old quarterback we’ve seen.

 

The Panthers had a rare May signing that changed their offseason outlook. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and the Panthers won a battle royal to sign him. He might not be the player he was a few years ago, but he’s a motivated six-time Pro Bowler. The Panthers lost center Ryan Kalil, who retired, but signing Matt Paradis from the Broncos was a nice recovery. They re-signed tackle Daryl Williams to a one-year deal, and it was surprising Williams couldn’t get more. Williams’ return was an unexpected bonus for Carolina. In the draft the Panthers got a fantastic value with Florida State pass rusher Brian Burns at No. 16 overall. Offensive tackle Greg Little, the team’s second-round pick out of Ole Miss, can help protect Newton.

 

BEST CASE SCENARIO

There are many reasons to like the Panthers. Cam Newton is an amazing player if shoulder surgery gets him back to new. He has some good players around him too. The defense has talent, and maybe a scheme change can energize that unit. There are many reasons why an NFL team succeeds or fails, but sometimes you can simplify things: If Newton, Christian McCaffrey and Luke Kuechly stay healthy for all or most of the season, the Panthers could be really good. They were 6-2 at one point last season and then got buried by close losses in the second half. It’s not out of the question the Panthers could challenge for the NFC South if the Saints slip.

 

WORST CASE SCENARIO

This whole section could just be a picture of Cam Newton’s right shoulder, but it’s probably more complicated than that. Another losing season would make three in four years for Carolina. NFL teams typically react to a stretch like that by firing the coach. Ron Rivera is a good coach, and the Panthers might not have an easy time replacing him, but Rivera shouldn’t feel too comfortable. And another losing season is possible, considering the Panthers will play a tough schedule and don’t have a ton of depth if injuries hit.

 

THE CRYSTAL BALL SAYS…

I can see the Panthers climbing much higher than this. They were a clear playoff contender last season before their luck went really bad in close games. This ranking is a bit of a hedge due to Cam Newton’s shoulder. If we see before the regular season that his arm strength is entirely back, obviously the outlook is a lot more optimistic. Let’s see if Newton plays in the preseason and how he looks, then reassess before the regular season begins, shall we?

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

WR ANTONIO BROWN has settled a suit for throwing furniture near a baby – and it apparently included a half-hearted apology requirement.  Jason Owens of YahooSports.com:

 

In April, Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown reportedly settled a lawsuit from an incident in which he allegedly threw furniture off the balcony of his Miami condominium that landed near a 22-month-old boy and his grandfather.

 

The boy’s father Ophir Stenberg filed the suit seeking $15,000, claiming his son was “severely traumatized by the incident, crying for hours on end the day it occurred and was unable to sleep that night.”

 

The lawsuit cited police reports that state that Brown was agitated over $80,000 and a hand gun that apparently went missing.

 

On Monday, Brown confirmed that the lawsuit was settled in a tweet that included an apology and a claim that money was given to charity to resolve the suit.

 

“I am sorry that an incident occurred,” Brown wrote. “I apologize for any statement we made in court filings or otherwise to Mr. Sternberg and his family.”

 

Shortly after posting the apology, Brown deleted it. We have a screenshot.

 

Brown, through his attorneys, initially dismissed the lawsuit as frivolous, claiming in a motion to dismiss that he “was not the alleged perpetrator of the actions alleged,” that “the acts were committed by another individual who was also present at the time of the incident.”

 

The motion also claimed that the lawsuit was “nothing more than a shameful attempt by a struggling real estate developer to exploit his minor child” and a “shakedown attempt,” claims that may be the impetus for Brown’s apology for “any statements we made.”

 

The owners of the condominium complex also sought $15,000 in damages over the incident. The NFL had previously stated that it was “aware of and will continue to monitor the civil suits.”

 

The status of the second lawsuit and the NFL’s stance on the incident are not clear.

 

AFC NORTH

 

PITTSBURGH

WR JAMES WASHINGTON is expected to emerge in the absence of WR ANTONIO BROWN.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

With Antonio Brown out west, JuJu Smith-Schuster is the unquestioned No. 1 receiver in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers still need to figure out who Ben Roethlisberger’s second option will be.

 

Donte Moncrief, Ryan Switzer, Eli Rogers and rookie Diontae Johnson should all see attention from Big Ben, but according to Smith-Schuster, second-year receiver James Washington will be Pittsburgh’s breakout pass-catcher in 2019.

 

“But you talk about a young dude who’s up and coming, it’s going to be James Washington,” Smith Schuster told ESPN. “A guy from Oklahoma State, came to the Steelers his rookie year, started off slow but figured it out and got the ropes down.

 

“This past summer workouts that we had, he’s been doing amazing, a great job. I’m super excited to see how he does this year. He’s our guy that’s going to sneak up on everybody.”

 

Washington started six games in his rookie year, behind Brown, Smith-Schuster and Switzer, and caught 16 balls on 38 targets for 217 yards and a touchdown. His 42.1 catch percentage was the lowest on the team among skill players with at least 14 targets.

 

Washington should see an increase in playtime in 2019 from last year’s 526 snaps (47.1 percent), and the receiver is readying himself for an larger workload. Washington told The Athletic during offseason workouts that he dropped 15 pounds to 210 in preparation for the upcoming campaign.

 

The receiver admitted that he was “burned out” in his rookie year during which he saw his snap count flutter and his quarterback criticize him on local radio. All that has encouraged Washington to prepare differently for Pittsburgh’s upcoming training camp.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Writing in TheMMQB.com, Colts GM Chris Ballard gives us great insight into how Indianapolis drafted CB ROCK YA-SIN:

 

We go the extra mile to delve into players and see how they’ll fit. You are telling the locker room every time you draft a player, “this is what we stand for.” If you bring in someone with a poor work ethic, or someone who is selfish, or someone who is unwilling to put in the work, you’re telling the locker room that that’s OK. Jerry Angelo used to say all the time that the talent of a player will tell you his ceiling, but his football character determines his floor. It’s critical to get that right, so we know the floor.

 

Let’s take our first pick this year, Temple cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, and examine the process of how we reached our final decision, from the initial scouting report to draft day.

 

What traits make up a Colts cornerback? Is it possible to pick a Colts cornerback out of a crowd? The answer is yes, and there are a few things we look for. Ya-Sin had them all:

 

• Size and length. Ya-Sin is 5-foot-11 with 32-inch arms, which are considered long for a cornerback.

 

• Instincts and ball skills. Yup.

 

• Toughness. It’s impossible to play our scheme if you’re not tough. Frank Reich’s definition of toughness: A relentless pursuit to get better every day; an obsession to finish. Ya-Sin is a two-time state champion high school wrestler, fitting this definition to a T.

 

Some of these traits might seem generic, and, yes, you can find most of these qualities if you look hard enough. However, each player is not always drawn up that way. I think of Colts cornerback Kenny Moore as an example. At 5-foot-9 he didn’t pass our height standard for a cornerback. But his long arms (32 1/8 inches) allowed him to play with more length, and he passed the test. That’s something scouts brought to our attention when we acquired him before the 2017 season. Moore has since become a key player on our defense.

 

Our scouts were aware of Ya-Sin from his time at Presbyterian in South Carolina, but not as a top prospect. When he transferred to Temple, he was awarded a single-digit jersey within a few weeks and our Northeast Area Scout Mike Derice took notice. (A single digit jersey at Temple signifies a player as one of the toughest on the team. Even more impressive, the single-digit jerseys are voted on by the teammates.)

 

Ya-Sin looked like a Colt, and Derice said Ya-Sin had the right makeup to ascend within the NFL. Derice followed his season, watched him play against Buffalo (where he recorded his first interception as an Owl), and used his contacts at the university to get a sense of his character.

 

Derice’s first scouting report on Ya-Sin said he had great football character and his physicality fit what we needed for a defensive back. At that time, we thought he’d be drafted somewhere in the third round. We marked him with an ascending grade, one to watch hard at the Senior Bowl.

 

Ed Dodds, our assistant general manager, said we should go “A-Z” on him during the Senior Bowl. Ya-Sin had a standout performance. He was getting better every day, and Derice developed a strong conviction about his belonging on the Colts. We made sure to interview Ya-Sin at length because we put a big emphasis on knowing a player’s character and story. The story leads us to the answers that we’re trying to find out about each guy.

 

When we interview a player it’s not strictly a “getting to know you” session. We use as much time as we need to get our detailed questions answered. We might visit with that same player during one of our Top 30 visits—NFL rules allow each team to have 30 private visits—to continue to get a better feel for his personal makeup.

 

When I first took the job in Indianapolis, I wanted to find an expert who could help us get to the core of a player’s football character. We found the perfect person in Brian Decker, a former Green Beret and now our director of player development. He uses a model he developed in the military and applies toward our interview process. He interviews every prospect on our draft board and teaches our scouts specific interviewing techniques.

 

I didn’t know anything about Decker until I read an ESPN article about his journey in the NFL and the work he was doing on player character assessments to more accurately predict if a player will succeed or fail. I was really intrigued by this topic so I reached out to Decker to get to know him and pick his brain.

 

At the time I was working in Kansas City, and he was doing some consulting with for the Kansas City Royals. I was impressed right away with his intelligence, vision and humble spirit. He also had an easy way about him that made you want to talk to him. I knew after a few more visits that if I ever had a chance to hire him that I would do it. I can’t sit here and say I knew exactly what his role was going to be, but I did have a strong conviction that Decker would really help us get to the core of a player’s football character, which in turn would help us in our hit rate in the draft. His role has really grown in two years and has become a valuable resource to our coaches, scouts, and players.

 

I am not going to give away any trade secrets but here are the five questions Decker wants to get the answers to:

 

• Does this player have a favorable developmental profile?

 

• Does he have a profile that supports handling pressure and adversity?

 

• Does he have a good learning and decision-making capacity?

 

• Is he a character risk and, if so, what can we do to help support him?

 

• Is he a fit?

 

THE ROOM OF CANDOR

There are times that I refer to our draft room as “the Room of Candor,” just like they have for film screenings at Pixar Studios. I picked this up in Kansas City while reading Ed Catmull’s book “Creativity, Inc.” and it has followed me to Indianapolis. At Pixar, they meet every few months about their current projects and honestly assess the films they create. They aim to put smart and passionate people in a room with an emphasis on problem solving.

 

Similarly, in our version, it’s a room for honest conversation, where everyone has a chance to present their case, ask questions, and speak to the abilities of each player.

 

From our February meetings until draft day, our team pokes holes in the viability of every player. As we enter the draft room, titles get checked at the door. We want everyone in the room to challenge and say what they think. You never know if what you say might spark a different mindset about the player. I promise, this is not easy for scouts. When you have scouted a player for a long period of time and everyone in the room is questioning your work, you have to fight the urge to be defensive. Saying that, it’s a great way to grow and learn because you get to hear other perspectives from the scouts.

 

What I have found over the years is that the better the discussions are on a player in the room, the more likely we are to get him right. We have some talented evaluators on our staff and also some real personalities:

 

• Ed Dodds, assistant GM, always has a strong opinion on players and never shies away from confrontation. Even with his strong personality, he has a humbleness to admit when he is too high or low on a player.

 

• Morocco Brown, our College Scouting Director, at one point was a Pro Scouting Director for the Washington Redskins. He has a 19-year mental library of NFL players and always is up for making accurate comparisons to whom we are watching. Brown might be the best report writer that I have been around. He can paint a picture of what the player can do and what he will be for the Colts in a very clear and concise manner.

 

• Kevin Rogers, our Pro Scouting Director, has a very similar library to recall players and is an elite evaluator. Dodds calls him “The Sniper” because he usually waits until the room gets a strong conviction on a player and then he “snipes” everyone from the back of the room. He can shoot down the momentum a player has gained with a comparable player from 15 years ago who struggled in the league.

 

• Both our analytics guys, John Park and George Li, have voices in the room, too. They both offer great insight from an analytic perspective and we challenge the numbers when we don’t like what we are hearing. It’s always entertaining to watch guys get defensive when they are spitting out numbers depicting how a player would struggle.

 

• Jamie Moore, our tremendous Southeast Area Scout, is passionate about his work and all the players he has scouted. He might take as much ribbing in the room as anyone, but he has a good time with it. What I love about Moore is that he does the work and is not afraid to voice his opinion. An area scout without conviction is just an information gatherer. There is no doubt about Moore’s conviction on players when we are talking and watching one of his.

 

• Our coaching staff also does a tremendous job working on the draft and are always welcome into our room. They have worked extremely hard to put together profiles on each position and the traits that fit our schemes. When we disagree on a player, we put the tape on and watch it together. The tape always tells the truth and settles disagreements.

 

THE BLUE CARDS

When we are in draft meetings, we talk about each player’s football character at great length to determine if a player fits our draft board. If a player meets our strict criteria in terms of his football character, he is given a blue card. There might be 10 or 12 blue cards in the entire draft and we want to pick as many of these players for our locker room that we can. Ya-Sin was a blue card.

 

On draft night, we felt like we would have a chance to move back in the draft and pick up an extra pick that weekend or in a future year. We have a strong belief that the more picks that we can acquire, the better it is for our team in the end. We don’t want to pass up a difference-making player so we are very thorough working through every scenario before we make the decision to move.

 

Ya-Sin was one of the players we considered taking as our No. 26 pick in the first round before we got a call from the Redskins. We felt like Washington’s 2019 second-round pick and the extra second-round selection in the 2020 draft was a very good offer and would be worth the trade back with the players we still had on the board. What also helped was that our No. 34 pick, acquired from the Jets the previous year, was only eight picks away.

 

The next day, there were five players we still liked who were available at No. 34, and the draft room was split. Half of the room thought we should trade again and acquire another second and third-round pick, and the other half wanted to stay at No. 34 and pick Ya-Sin.

 

Ultimately, the decision is on me. However, because of our collaborative process, I made sure I heard everyone’s opinion one more time before we made the selection.

 

I have been very fortunate to work for two great general managers in my career, Jerry Angelo and John Dorsey, who both believed in having scouts in the room on draft night. They both understood that the scouts worked an entire year and spent a lot of time away from their families to get it right for the organization. I have also been in their shoes and understand what it means to feel like a part of the entire draft process. It is powerful for a scout to be able to speak on draft night in front of ownership and others in the draft room on their feelings and why they think a player can help the Colts win.

 

The defensive staff and scouts talked through the direction we wanted to go and we debated a couple of players on the board. We had a specific safety we debated hard for weeks and thought he could move to corner. He reminded us a lot of Rashean Mathis when he came out of college. We debated taking him if we moved down. We had a strong conviction about what type of player he could be and he had good football character. Saying that, blue card players are hard to find and there was the chance that we’d lose Ya-Sin if we hesitated and didn’t make the pick.

 

Matt Eberflus, our defensive coordinator, talked about Ya-Sin’s fit on the Colts. Derice then noted Ya-Sin’s character, grit, toughness, and will to be great. Furthermore, about four days before the draft, I had asked Decker to give me a list of the top players based on football character available in the draft. Ya-Sin was on that list.

 

The other half of the room—who wanted to trade back—thought we could still get Ya-Sin, but at a lower pick. There’s never a perfect alignment in the room, but once we make a decision, there is no looking back and second-guessing.

 

Coach Reich and I huddled for a few minutes and we decided we couldn’t afford the chance to lose a blue-card player like Ya-Sin. He fit exactly what we wanted at corner and there was no way we could pass on him at No. 34.

 

(A quick aside: Reich is tremendous on draft day. He has a lot of faith in our scouting group and allows us to work. He will also give us his opinion and allows our scouts to challenge him. His open mindedness really is special.)

 

It’s obviously not possible to know for sure if we’ve had a good draft yet. But we do feel 100 percent confident in a player once they’ve made our board. We’re not always right, but when we put in the work, the many man-hours challenging each other in the draft room, getting to the heart of ‘who is this player?’ and a million other questions, combined with the tape and the analysis and getting opinions from the coaches, we can feel validated.

 

At the end of the day, the players have to earn their place on the team and we as an organization have a responsibility to develop the player. Once they’re with us, we feel we have everything in place to get them to their ceiling as long we’ve got the football character right. Why? Because players who have football character want to get better and can overcome adversity. They never let the ups and downs of this tough league get in the way of their improvements each and every day.

 

Here is some more background on Ya-Sin.  His given name is Abdurrahman Ibn Ya-Sin and he went to Southwest DeKalb High School near Atlanta.  A two-star recruit, he first went to Presbyterian, then transferred to Temple after Presbyterian downgraded its program.

 

A Q&A with Ya-Sin on why he was not a D1 prospect coming out of high school:

 

How did you end up at the FCS level in the first place?

 

“I only played football in high school for two years so I was slightly under recruited I feel like. So that was probably the biggest reason.”

 

Why did you only play football for two years?

 

“My first time playing sports was in eighth grade wrestling and I was a wrestler throughout high school up until the 11th grade. I gave football a try and it worked out well for me.”

 

When you started playing football, did you keep wrestling at that point?

 

“Yes sir. Yes sir.”

 

So you wrestled all the way through senior year?

 

“Yes sir.”

 

Do you think wrestling helps the football side of things?

 

“Yes sir.”

 

In what ways?

 

“Just the competitiveness. The way in wrestling – it’s a team sport, but it’s a lot of one-on-one matchups. (It’s) the same thing in football. It’s a team sport, but a lot of times you are asked to be one-on-one with a guy and you have to beat that guy. And just not being afraid to be one-on-one because when you wrestle 150 matches in high school one-on-one versus another opponent. So you’re not afraid to stand in front of a guy and play man-to-man or stay in the zone and go one-on-one and tackle the running back.”

 

Some more about his time at Presbyterian whose nickname is the Blue Hose:

 

Ya-Sin could have wrestled in college.

 

A two-time Georgia state champion at Southwest DeKalb High, Ya-Sin had scholarship offers to wrestle at Virginia Tech, Virginia, North Carolina State and Chattanooga, schools far bigger than the ones pursuing him as a football player.

 

But his wrestling coach, Keith Johnson, convinced Ya-Sin to leave his first sport behind.

 

“He told me I should probably play football,” Ya-Sin said. “I’d only played for two years. My ceiling was so high. I had so much potential, just keep going with it and see where it would take me.”

 

Ya-Sin chose Presbyterian, a school of 950 students in Clinton, S.C., one of the smallest schools at the FCS level. He chose Presbyterian because Blue Hose coach Tommy Spangler had been after him longer than anybody and found him after Ya-Sin played the first football season of his life.

 

Nobody else had found Ya-Sin yet. All of the athleticism was there; the lack of his experience meant his high school tape was far from impressive.

 

There was something about Ya-Sin’s character, the way he worked and presented himself, that Spangler couldn’t shake.

 

“I’ve done it long enough,” Spangler said. “I could sense there was something special about this guy.” 

 

Spangler showed up to Ya-Sin’s wrestling matches, spent time at his house, ate dinner with his father. That fall, Ya-Sin earned all-region honors, and Spangler admits he spent a lot of time worrying about somebody else swooping in and realizing how good Ya-Sin could be at the last minute.

 

The Atlanta area is one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the country; all it might take is the right coach showing up at the right time.

 

But the discovery never happened. Tennessee State tried to get involved late, and Hampton gave it a shot. Ya-Sin stuck with Presbyterian and the coach he’d come to know well.

 

“You know what happens nowadays,” Spangler said. “People get done with recruiting so early, they don’t actually recruit seniors any more. They recruit freshmen, sophomores, juniors and make decisions. By the time a kid’s a senior, the big boys feel like it’s too late.”

 

Football was still relatively new to Ya-Sin, and he struggled at times during his freshman season. Playing at a small school like Presbyterian ended up giving Ya-Sin the playing time he needed to develop; he might have gotten lost in the shuffle at a bigger program. Presbyterian gave him a chance to play right away.

 

Under the tutelage of Spangler, who coached the defensive backs before starting his second stint as the program’s head coach in 2017, Ya-Sin kept getting better, earning a starting role as a sophomore and then blossoming into a first-team All-Big South cornerback as a junior, breaking Presbyterian’s school record with five interceptions.

 

Ya-Sin loved Presbyterian, loved playing for Spangler. Even now, after a season spent at Temple and a whirlwind draft process, Ya-Sin still talks to Spangler all the time and called him the night before his first minicamp practice with the Colts this week.

 

When the bad news hit at the end of that breakout season, Ya-Sin didn’t even realize it might represent a chance for him to take his career to the next level.

 

“Transferring didn’t really cross my mind,” Ya-Sin said.

 

Spangler was the one who saw the opportunity.

 

Because of Presbyterian’s decision, any scholarship player on the Blue Hose roster could transfer to any school and be eligible to play immediately, rather than being forced to sit out a season.

 

And by that point, he knew Ya-Sin might be special. Only one Presbyterian player has ever been drafted — the Arizona Cardinals selected Justin Bethel in the sixth round in 2012 — but Spangler coached several NFL-caliber players in six seasons as Louisiana Tech’s defensive coordinator, and he thought he knew how good Ya-Sin could be.

 

“If this kid keeps developing, he’s going to have a chance,” Spangler said. “Did I think the second pick of the second round? No.”

 

While Spangler thought Ya-Sin had the talent to play in the SEC or ACC, he knew his protégé might not get a chance to start at that level with only one year of eligibility left, so he called the coaching staffs at Louisiana Tech, Georgia Southern and Coastal Carolina, imploring them to take a look at his best cornerback.

 

All of them passed. Temple listened. Geoff Collins, Temple’s coach at the time, had a friend on Presbyterian’s coaching staff and a need at cornerback.

 

Ya-Sin couldn’t have picked a better place to land.

 

And what about Ya-Sin, the name?  Ya-Sin is apparently a letter in the Arabic alphabet, a book in the Qu’ran and one of the names for the Prophet Muhammad.  This from Wikipedia:

 

Yā Sīn (also Yaseen; Arabic: يس‎) is the 36th chapter (not a book) (sūrah) of the Quran. It has 83 verses (āyāt). Regarding the timing and contextual background of the supposed revelation (asbāb al-nuzūl), it is an earlier “Meccan surah”, which means it is believed to have been revealed in Mecca, instead of later in Medina. Some scholars maintain that verse 12 is from the Medinan period.[1]

 

It is named “yā sīn” because the chapter starts with the “disconnected” or “mysterious” (Muqatta’at) Arabic letters: يس (yā sīn).[2] The meaning of these letters has caused much scholarly debate. Tafsir al-Jalalayn, a Sunni exegesis (tafsir), concludes, “God knows best what He means by these [letters].”[3]

 

Yasin is also one of the names of the Prophet Muhammad, as reported in a saying of Ali, “I heard the Messenger of God say, ‘Verily God has named me by seven names in the Quran: Muhammad (3:144; 33:40; 47:2; 48:29), Ahmad (61:6), Ṭā-Hā, (20:1), Yā Sīn (36:1), thou enwrapped (Al-Muzzammil; 73:1), thou who art covered (Al-Muddathir; 74:1), and servant of God (ʿAbd Allāh; 72:19).'”[4]

 

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

On the one hand, the weight loss speaks to TE ROB GRONKOWSKI being really retired.  On the other hand, he’s spotted tossing the pigskin around with QB TOM BRADY in Los Angeles.  Andrew Callahan of MassLive.com:

 

The Patriots won’t report to training camp for another two and a half weeks, but Tom Brady is already hard at work with a familiar face.

 

Brady threw to Rob Gronkowski during a private workout Monday on the UCLA campus, a source told MassLive. Gronkowski retired in March after a nine-year career in New England that should one day land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The former All-Pro tight end is in Los Angeles for the second annual Monster Energy $50K Charity Challenge Celebrity Basketball Game set to tip off at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion on Monday night.

 

Gronkowski, 30, told The Rich Eisen Show last week he’s enjoying retirement, but said, “I can’t really say how I’m going to feel about it when the games start rolling around and everything.”

 

Brady’s personal trainer and business partner, Alex Guerrero, was also present for the private session. Brady stopped at the campus for a workout on May 1 and threw to members of the Bruins football team.

 

The night Gronkowski announced his retirement, Brady posted a lengthy tribute to his tight end on Instagram that began, “What an honor and privilege to play with you these past nine years @gronk!” A week later, Brady joked in an Instagram comment he hoped Gronkowski’s career would continue.

 

Gronkowski caught 522 passes for 7,861 receiving yards and 79 touchdowns over 115 regular-season games in New England. He made five Pro Bowls, earned four first-team All-Pro nods and three Super Bowl rings.

 

Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse and Stephen Anderson are the top candidates to replace Gronkowski this season.

 

Asked in June how the Pats will replace Gronkowski, Brady lauded the tight ends currently vying to fill his vacated starting spot.

 

“I think like any season, things are different, and we’re going to have to adjust differently and teams are going to play us differently without him,” Brady said. “We’ve seen it even when he’s been on the team. The other guys are getting up to speed; Matt [LaCosse]’s done a good job, Ben [Watson]’s done a good job, Stephen Anderson’s done a good job.”

 

Brady and the Patriots will report to training camp in Foxborough on July 25.

 

This from Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The four-time All-Pro has lost 18 pounds from the 268 he played at last season, but that hasn’t stopped Brady from campaigning for Gronkowski’s return. And for one day at least, Brady was reunited with his favorite pass catcher.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

The Jets like the idea that DC Gregg Williams is extremely competitive in practice.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

When the Jets hired Gregg Williams as their defensive coordinator, head coach Adam Gase said that Williams’s competitiveness in practice will “be the difference maker for us” because it will be like playing a game every day.

 

One of the players the Jets expect to benefit the most from those practice clashes is quarterback Sam Darnold. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said the sheer number of different looks that Williams throws at the offense over the course of a practice session will be a plus for Darnold as he tries to take a step forward in his second season.

 

“I think it helps Sam a lot, just seeing all of the different looks and he has so many different, multiple personnel groupings that you know. You’re seeing different fronts, different coverages, especially in the third-down stuff,” Loggains said, via the team’s website. “He’s going to accumulate and stack reps of odd floater, overload pressures and trap blitzes and all of those things he’s going to get to see. It’s going to be tremendous value as the season goes on and it’s stuff that he can put away in his toolbox and it’s going to come up in Week Six, Seven, Eight, and he’s getting a lot of good experience from that stuff.”

 

Darnold had a rough time against a Williams-run Browns defense in Week Three last season as he went 15-of-31 for 169 yards while throwing two interceptions. He posted better results as the year went on and the Jets are pinning a lot of their hopes on more frequent bouts with Williams continuing that trend.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

MAKE OR BREAK

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com identifies 10 players for whom 2019 is especially important:

 

There are expressions we use too much, in sports and in life, and today’s is “make-or-break.”

 

As in, “Is 2019 a ‘make-or-break” year for Kirk Cousins in Minnesota?” Of course it’s not. Obviously, Cousins could do himself harm in the minds of Vikings fans if he doesn’t have a good year. But a bad year cannot “break” Cousins or his Vikings career, because no matter what happens the team will owe him $29.5 million in guaranteed salary in 2020. Try moving that deal to another team, especially after a bad year!

 

That said, there are some NFL players for whom this coming season really is a make-or-break one — players whose time has come to cash in on their talent and opportunity or look for work elsewhere in the 2020 offseason.

 

This is the list for those players. Not for Carson Wentz, who’s going to be an Eagle for a very long time whether he gets through 16 games or not. Not for Josh Rosen, who’s still going to be 23, cheap and loaded with talent next spring no matter what happens in Miami. Not even for Eli Manning, who could throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns and still not be the Giants’ quarterback in 2020.

 

This list is for the guys whose jobs are literally on the line — whose 2019 performance is critical to their futures with their current teams. Make or break — for real.

 

Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans       Signed through: 2019

Why it’s a make-or-break year: Former Dolphins executive and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum has gone on the record saying that Ryan Tannehill will beat out Mariota for the starting job this year. Whether that happens or not, the facts are that Mariota has never played a full 16-game season (Tannehill has played four of them, although none since 2015), never thrown for 3,500 yards in a season, and that the Titans are only committed to him through this season.

 

How the Titans could move on: They wouldn’t have to do anything. They picked up Mariota’s fifth-year rookie contract option, which will pay him a fully guaranteed $20.922 million this year, but he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency when the year ends. The current Titans coaching staff and front office, which did not draft Mariota, could simply opt to let him walk and draft or sign his replacement.

 

Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers     Signed through: 2019

Why it’s a make-or-break year: Drafted one pick ahead of Mariota in 2015, Winston is in a nearly identical situation, although he hasn’t had Mariota’s injury issues and Blaine Gabbert feels like a slightly less imposing backup than Tannehill. Winston, who opened last season on a three-game personal conduct policy suspension and had to wrest the starting job away from Ryan Fitzpatrick upon his return, has a great chance to thrive under new coach Bruce Arians. But if he doesn’t, the team has to think about other options.

 

How the Bucs could move on: Same as with Mariota and the Titans. Winston’s making $20.922 million no matter what but has no deal beyond 2019. The Bucs could franchise Winston (as the Titans could Mariota), but nothing requires them to do that.

 

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars    Signed through: 2020

Why it’s a make-or-break year: After a 1,040-yard rookie season that helped the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game, Fournette delivered a clunker of a 2018. He missed eight games (one due to suspension for throwing a punch in a game from which he was ejected), rushed for 439 yards and irritated Jaguars management to the point that they told him they were voiding the remaining guarantees on his contract. Next spring, the Jaguars will have to decide whether they’re picking up his 2021 option. A repeat of 2018 could make that a non-issue.

 

How the Jaguars could move on: As the No. 4 overall pick in 2017, Fournette’s contract was fully guaranteed at the time of signing, so he’s owed $2.933 million this year and $4.167 million in 2020. If the Jaguars did try to get out of paying him his 2020 salary, that surely would be a matter for an arbitrator and an NFLPA grievance. But even if they ended up having to pay it, $4.167 million wouldn’t necessarily deter Jacksonville from releasing Fournette if he ends up 2019 the way he did 2018.

 

Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals    Signed through: 2020

Why it’s a make-or-break year: Dalton turns 32 in October. He has completed 60.7 percent of his passes over the past two years. The Bengals look like a rebuilding team with a new and inexperienced coach who could very well want his own young quarterback to groom at some point. Zac Taylor likes Dalton, but another 3,300-yard, 20-touchdown season might not be enough to convince the organization to ignore fourth-round rookie Ryan Finley or, more likely, the QB crop in the 2020 draft.

 

How the Bengals could move on: Dalton is a nice bargain at $16 million in 2019 and $17.5 million next year, but none of that money is guaranteed. Cincinnati could cut him at any time.

 

Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders     Signed through: 2022

Why it’s a make-or-break year: Outside of the fourth-quarter magic of his 2016 season, Carr’s career has been sort of just fine so far. A lot of that might have to do with all the changes the Raiders have made since he has been there, but more change awaits in the coming year, as the franchise plans its move to Las Vegas. Jon Gruden enters his season year as coach hoping to help Carr take the next step into NFL quarterback stardom. If Carr doesn’t, the Raiders could absolutely be looking at quarterbacks in next year’s draft.

 

How the Raiders could move on: Yes, technically, Carr is signed through 2022. But in reality, there is no more guaranteed money remaining on Carr’s deal beyond 2019. If he’s on the roster the week after Super Bowl LIV, $2.9 million of his $18.9 million salary would become fully guaranteed, but they’d owe him nothing if they were to release him before then.

 

Solomon Thomas, DE, San Francisco 49ers   Signed through: 2020

Why it’s a make-or-break year: Drafted one pick ahead of Fournette in the 2017 draft, Thomas has produced just four sacks in his first two seasons. A lot of that is of course understandable, especially due to the personal tragedy that befell Thomas and his family in 2018. But the NFL is a cold, results-based business, and the additions this offseason of Nick Bosa and Dee Ford to a defensive front that already included former first-rounders DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead will put pressure on Thomas to make himself a part of the 49ers’ long-term plans.

 

How the 49ers could move on: Thomas is owed a guaranteed $4.3 million in 2020, so cutting him would cost a little bit. But at that price and at age 24, he could theoretically have some trade value next offseason if he’s squeezed out by all that front-seven talent the Niners have been amassing. They have until May to decide on his 2021 option.

 

D.J. Humphries, OT, Arizona Cardinals    Signed through: 2019

Why it’s a make-or-break year: Injuries have kept the 2015 first-round pick from attaining the potential the Cardinals saw in him, and he’s playing this season on a $9.625 million fifth-year rookie contract option. All eyes are on the ability of the Cardinals’ offensive line to protect top overall pick Kyler Murray, and a healthy and productive Humphries would go a long way toward helping with that.

 

How the Cardinals could move on: Humphries’ contract expires at the end of this season. They could just let him walk out the door.

 

Artie Burns, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers  Signed through: 2019

 

Why it’s a make-or-break year: A first-round pick in 2016, Burns hasn’t intercepted a pass since Christmas Day 2017, and the team did not pick up his 2020 contract option. Burns wasn’t even a full-time starter for all of 2018, and the Steelers drafted the promising Justin Layne in the third round this year. Burns has to take a leap forward or the Steelers could move on.

 

How the Steelers could move on: They don’t have to do anything. The Steelers owe Burns nothing after 2019 and could just walk away if they wanted to.

 

DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins  Signed through: 2020

 

Why it’s a make-or-break year: Last spring, the Dolphins picked up the 2019 option on their 2015 first-round pick. But since those aren’t guaranteed until the new league year starts, Miami was able to get Parker to agree to a restructured deal that guarantees him $4.5 million this year and schedules him to earn a non-guaranteed $5 million in 2020. Parker has never had 60 catches or 750 yards in a season, and he has a total of nine touchdowns in four seasons. Renegotiating him out of his fifth-year option shows the Dolphins need to see more before they commit.

 

How the Dolphins could move on: Miami has until March to pick up the 2020 option on Parker for $5 million in salary and bonuses. If the Dolphins decide to cut him after the 2019 season but before March 2020, they’d owe him nothing.

 

Josh Doctson, WR, Washington  Signed through: 2019

 

Why it’s a make-or-break year: Same as with Burns in Pittsburgh, Docston is a 2016 first-round pick whose 2020 option was not picked up by his team. So he’s in a contract year, earning $1.82 million (only $1.2 million of which is guaranteed). The good news is that someone has to catch the ball in Washington, and Doctson is as good a candidate as any to do it. The bad news is that his 44 catches and 532 yards in 2018 were both career highs, and he has played in just 33 games in three years.

 

How Washington could move on: Same as with Burns in Pittsburgh — Washington owes Doctson nothing beyond 2019 and could simply walk away.