AROUND THE NFL
The Commish doesn’t think four preseason games are necessary, but he would never go for just 16 and 2. The AP:
Four preseason games remain too many for Roger Goodell.
The NFL commissioner on Monday reiterated his stance of wanting to reduce the preseason schedule at a time when the league and players’ association have begun preliminary talks on a new collective bargaining agreement.
“I feel what we should be doing is always to the highest quality, and I’m not sure preseason games meet that level right now,” Goodell said, while participating in Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly’s 33rd charity golf tournament outside of Buffalo, New York.
“I’m not sure, talking with coaches, that four preseason games is necessary anymore to get ready for a season to evaluate players, develop players,” he added. “There are other ways of doing that, and we’ve had a lot of discussions about that.”
The NFL has long backed reducing the preseason schedule in exchange for expanding the regular season to as many as 18 games. Players have balked at the proposal by citing safety issues and a desire to receive additional compensation for playing a longer regular season.
Without revealing any details, Goodell called it “the best sign” that the league and union have already had discussions some 21 months before the CBA expires following the 2020 season.
QB CONNOR COOK, who the Cowboys liked more than QB DAK PRESCOTT, could be approaching the end of his time in the NFL. Even though he once “started” a playoff game, he’s not good enough to go to camp with the Lions. The former Michigan State and Walsh Jesuit H.S. (Stowe, Ohio) star has been waived by Detroit as the Lions opt to go with re-tread DAVID FALES instead.
Fans in Winnipeg will have to pay through the nose for the pleasure of seeing the Packers and the Raiders. Richard Ryman in the Green Bay Press-Gazette:
Green Bay’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders in Canada could be a hard sell for Packers fans.
The cheapest tickets Monday on five secondary market sites sampled were $112, but four of the five sites were listing tickets at $159 and up. Tickets went on sale Saturday.
The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 22 at IG Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The stadium seats 33,000.
Also working to diminish Packers fans’ interest is that the Packers play the Raiders in October during the regular season at Lambeau Field, and, even if starters play a half, it’s still preseason. For that game, the lowest available price was $165 and the average lowest price among six secondary market sites was $201.
The average lowest ticket price for the Winnipeg game was $165.
By comparison, tickets for the Packers’ regular-season game in November against the Los Angeles Chargers at ROKiT Field at Dignity Health Sports Park, which has a seating capacity similar to IG Field, started at $202, and the average of least-expensive seats was $225.
Also for comparison, the least-expensive tickets for the Packers’ other preseason games are $10 for Houston at Lambeau Field, $13 for Packers at Baltimore and $6 for Kansas City at Green Bay.
Dennis Garrity, president and CEO of Event USA in Ashwaubenon, said Packers fans have shown little interest in a Winnipeg trip.
“We hadn’t planned on running any tours to it,” he said.
If Packers fans have their hearts set on traveling to Winnipeg, possibly to see the game as part of a Canadian vacation, it’s likely ticket prices will come down closer to the game, or if interest falls sooner.
It will be the Packers’ first football game outside of the United States since they played a preseason game in Tokyo in 1998.
The Packers played the Raiders in the preseason last year as well, losing 13-6 at Oakland.
The Raiders, who will host the Chicago Bears at Tottenham Stadium in London on Oct. 6, will be the first NFL team to play games in three countries in a single season.
It is 735 miles, as the interstate flies through Minnesota from Green Bay to Winnipeg, even though the Peg is about 70 miles north of the Minnesota/Manitoba border.
TE KYLE RUDOLPH and the Vikings have hashed out his future compensation.
On the eve of their mandatory minicamp, the Vikings solved their most pressing financial question.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph, whose contract was set to expire after this season, told the Star Tribune via text message he has agreed to a new deal with the team, after posting a note on his Twitter feed that said, “I am honored beyond words to say that my home, our home, will always be … in Minnesota!”
After drafting Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr. in the second round, the Vikings worked with the 29-year-old Rudolph on a new deal that would extend his time with the team while providing the Vikings some salary cap relief.
The team entered Monday with just $611,926 in cap space, according to NFL Players Association salary data, and had targeted a deal with Rudolph — who was originally set to make $7.625 million this season — as a means of creating some breathing room.
The structure of Rudolph’s new deal will determine how much cap relief it provides. ESPN reported the terms were four years and $36 million.
The eight-year veteran was entering the final season of a five-year, $36.5 million deal. He has 386 career receptions for 3,787 yards and 41 touchdowns, with two Pro Bowl selections.
On Monday night, he wrote on Twitter: “Just under a decade ago, I received a phone call that would change my life. On that day, all I knew is that I would be playing in the NFL, realizing my childhood dream. What I didn’t know was the role the state of Minnesota would play in my life.
“Marrying my wife and establish[ing] our home … in Minnesota. Experiencing the birth of my 3 beautiful children … in Minnesota. Starting a journey to better the lives of children dealing with a disease that doesn’t discriminate … in Minnesota. Giving everything I can possibly give, professionally and personally, to the greatest sports franchise and its fans … in Minnesota. And I am honored beyond words to say that my home, our home will always be … in Minnesota! #UnfinishedBusiness.”
The contract means the Vikings will head into the season with Rudolph and Smith in an offense that could make frequent use of two-tight end sets, as schemes orchestrated by new assistant head coach Gary Kubiak often have during Kubiak’s tenure as an offensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL.
After missing a combined 15 games because of injury in 2013 and ’14, Rudolph has played all 16 games in each of the Vikings’ past four seasons.
Since 2015, only two tight ends — Kansas City’s Travis Kelce and Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz — have caught more passes than Rudolph’s 253. Only Kelce and now-retired Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski hauled in more touchdown passes among tight ends than Rudolph, who caught 24 TD passes in that time.
Rudolph also said last month he had heard from his agent, Brian Murphy, that multiple teams had expressed interest in a trade for him, though he made it clear at the time his priority was to stay in Minnesota.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Coach Pat Shurmur seems to be throwing the competition open for the QB spot when the Giants play the Cowboys in Week 1 on FOX. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
Giants coach Pat Shurmur said he wasn’t trying to be cryptic. But he left enough space between the lines that you can read whatever you want into his words.
Via Tom Rock of Newsday, Shurmur said that he’s “constantly” evaluating both Eli Manning and Daniel Jones, and that the one who gives the team the best chance to win will start.
“We’re gonna play the very best player,” Shurmur said. “I know we’re dancing around the words here, but right now Eli is getting ready to have a great year and Daniel is getting ready to play. We’ll just see what happens. . . .
“We feel good where Eli is, he’s our starting quarterback, and we’ve got a young player that we think is going to be an outstanding player getting himself ready to play.”
It’s easy to interpret that as the opening of a competition between the veteran who has led the Giants to two Super Bowls and the first-round pick, but Shurmur knows what leaving room for interpretation means.
“I’m not trying to be cryptic about it,” Shurmur said. “It is what I said it is. Eli is getting ready to have an outstanding year and Daniel is getting ready to play. That’s really about it.”
When it was mentioned that both things can’t be true at once, Shurmur replied: “Have at it, I guess.”
If nothing else, Shurmur has provided stuff to talk about in New York for the next few months, as the Giants decide when to begin the post-Manning future.
S MALCOLM JENKINS shows up. This tweet from Adam Schefter:
Eagles’ safety Malcolm Jenkins has reported for his team physical and will be in attendance for the team’s mandatory minicamp that begins Tuesday, per source. Jenkins is said to be excited to be with his teammates and focused on the 2019 season as an Eagle.
More from Glenn Erby of EaglesWire.com:
The heart and soul of the Eagles defense officially returned to work on Monday, taking a physical and reporting for the teams minicamp despite reports that he’s unhappy about his contract. Malcolm Jenkins was front and center to lead his guys and a welcomed change from his visible absence over the past month or so.
Jenkins spoke briefly with 6ABC’s Sharrie Williams before joining his teammates.
Just spoke with @MalcolmJenkins 👇🏽👇🏽
“I’m really excited to be back with the team. Contract situations are always a part of the business that need to be addressed. The next few days I’m going to focus solely on football and helping my team win a championship.” @Eagles #Eagles
Jenkins status and the remarks now confirm that his contract status was and is at the root of his missing OTAs. It was initially reported that Jenkins was going to skip the mandatory minicamp and that could have been the case, but things changed quickly and it appears Jenkins contract status could be addressed in the near future.
The Saints have signed DE CAMERON JORDAN for the long term – or at least they have clear cap space. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan has been among the best in the league at his position, even if he wasn’t worried about being paid that way.
The Saints paid him anyway.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Saints have extended Jordan’s contract through the 2023 season, with a three-year, $52.5 million deal which includes over $42 million in guaranteed money.
Jordan’s turning 30 before training camp, so the Saints wrapped him up for what could be the rest of his career, or at least the prime earning years.
They also kept one of their top players happy, at a time when they know they also have a big deal on the horizon for wide receiver Michael Thomas.
Apparently neither WR TYREEK HILL, nor the fiancée he loves to berate, broke their son’s arm. And that’s been known for quite awhile.
Kevin Keitzman of WHB.com:
Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill did not break his three-year-old son’s arm last January, and neither did his fiancée, Crystal Espinal. According to multiple sources close to the investigation, Hill and Espinal were cleared of any role in the broken bone injury almost immediately after the investigation began in March.
Investigators quickly agreed with the medical staff that the broken bone was the result of typical accident involving a rambunctious toddler, consistent with reaching out to brace for a fall.
The investigation into Hill and Espinal began weeks after the broken bone was first treated, when Espinal, according to sources, asked a third party to call authorities and tell them that Hill was responsible for the boy’s injury. Espinal has admitted she was trying to shame Hill because in her mind, he had become too controlling and abusive again in their long and stormy relationship.
Hill and Espinal are currently separated and neither has custody of the boy at this time.
The investigation into the couple’s parenting accelerated when Overland Park police checked on the boy in March and found bruises and welts on his body. Both Hill and Espinal have admitted to investigators that they spanked the 3 year old with their hands and a belt, but prosecutors can’t determine for sure which parent, or if both, went too far.
In April Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe held a press conference to announce criminal charges wouldn’t be brought against Hill or Espinal but stated he believed a crime was committed against the boy and it was believed the crime was about the broken arm. It was not. Howe’s team has halted working on the case as they still can’t bring charges for bruising and harming the boy.
During the news conference Howe said several times that he could not comment about any injuries to the boy whose privacy is protected by law.
Howe did not respond to a request for comment and Chiefs President Mark Donovan declined to comment on this story.
KCTV5 obtained audio in which Espinal secretly recorded a conversation between her and Hill discussing their son’s injury. Sources told Sports Radio 810 that Espinal shared the audio with a person close to her because she feared for her life.
On the recording, Hill, who was previously convicted of a felony after battering Espinal, can be heard telling her, “You need to be terrified of me too, dumb bitch,” after she told him their son was terrified of Hill.
Hill is currently employed by the Chiefs but was suspended from team activities after club officials heard the recording.
Shortly after the suspension by the team, Hill’s attorney sent a letter to the NFL offices, the Chiefs and the NFLPA to explain much of what was said on the recording. While the letter attempts to deny many of the things asserted in the audio, it does admit Hill’s comment that Espinal should be “terrified” of him is inexcusable. The attorney explains in the letter that Hill has been attending individual and family counseling to improve his life and become a better parent.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families continues its investigation in the case of the bruising and welts, but since the case involves a minor its documents are sealed.
– – –
Adam Teicher of ESPN.com says that S TYRANN MATHIEU has become a Chiefs team leader without playing a down for the team so far.
When the Kansas City Chiefs held a news conference recently to introduce new defensive end Frank Clark, the player who showed up first to publicly welcome him wasn’t one of their long-time veterans. It was another new arrival, safety Tyrann Mathieu.
That may have been a small gesture on Mathieu’s part, but it was telling nonetheless. Mathieu signed with the Chiefs in March, but he’s already the face of their heavily renovated defense.
The Chiefs were an overtime loss to the New England Patriots in last season’s AFC Championship Game away from reaching the Super Bowl, a failure directly traced to their faulty defense. They overhauled the defensive coaching staff and base system, and acquired as many as seven new regulars to try to make quick and dramatic improvement.
Mathieu, along with Clark, is one of the key pieces in the rebuilding effort, and he isn’t wasting time trying to get the turnaround started. He embraced the defensive leadership role that was vacated earlier in the offseason when the Chiefs released safety Eric Berry. They also parted with another vocal veteran, linebacker Justin Houston.
“I’ve always been quiet, for the most part, especially any time I’ve come into a new environment,” said Mathieu, who joined the Chiefs after five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and one with the Houston Texans. “Obviously, you’d like to have respect for the people around you.
“But for me, it’s about obviously embracing the guys around me and believing in them but knowing that there’s a certain direction we want to go in and everybody can’t lead you in that direction so a lot of the guys on our side of the ball, we have to really follow somebody in the right direction. Hopefully, I can lead those guys in that direction.”
The Chiefs aren’t shy about allowing him to take that role. Indeed, they liked his leadership skills from his time with Arizona and Houston, one reason he was signed to a three-year, $42 million contract.
“You can acquire as many great players, as many talented players as you’d like,” general manager Brett Veach said. “But until you have a catalyst to make it go, things will never work out the way you want. [Mathieu] was the catalyst that we had to have.”
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes said, “I think if you meet him you see the mentality and the leadership that he has just by being himself. I think that’s a huge thing that he’s going to bring to this team. He’s going to come in with the mentality of, he wants to be great, he wants to be known, [he wants] the Kansas City Chiefs to be known as a great defensive team, a team that can shut people down. He brings that mentality as he walks through the locker room and I think that’s going to be something that we will utilize this year.”
It’s not unusual for a high-dollar free agent to become a significant and immediate presence for his new team off the field as well as on it. But many such players find it takes time to find their place in the new locker room. The Chiefs’ major free-agent addition last year, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, acknowledged recently that he was more of a locker room observer.
Mathieu hasn’t had such reservations but rather has jumped right in.
“We’re really trying to build a defense with an attitude,” he said. “Anytime you can have 10, 11 guys with a chip on their shoulder, with an edge, a certain kind of presence, a certain kind of attitude, a kind of swagger, you can create a collective identity.
“We’ve got a good group, a young group. As long as me, as a leader, gets everybody to buy in, I think we’ll be all right.”
End Alex Okafor, linebackers Damien Wilson and Darron Lee, cornerback Bashaud Breeland and safety Juan Thornhill join Mathieu and Clark as new defensive players who will have significant roles this season. Chiefs coach Andy Reid is holding Mathieu up as the example for how he wants those players and others to work.
“The way he plays, the way he goes about his profession here, for young guys it’s invaluable [to see],” Reid said. “Here you bring in a veteran player that does it the right way. … He’s going to go out and he’s going to attack it and study and take the leadership role, handle it the way you’re supposed to handle it on and off the field.
“He’s kind of fun to be around. He’s [all] business. He shares that with the guys around him. He has those instincts [and] you can’t teach that part. That’s what he’s had. He had it in college and he’s had it in the NFL. He works hard every snap and that’s infectious. Along with Frank [Clark] being Frank and going 100 miles per hour every snap, that kind of stuff is contagious.”
First round pick DE CLELIN FARRELL wears number 99 because of ex-NFLer Aldon Smith. But it’s not because he wants to model his life after him. From ProFootballTalk.com:
New Raiders defensive end Clelin Ferrell wears No. 99 in honor of Smith, and Ferrell explained before the draft that Smith’s issues helped Ferrell stay on the night path.
“I wore the number because of him and because I feel like I could be the kind of player he should have been,” Ferrell said in an appearance on #PFTPM. “Aldon Smith was such a great player. I loved his game. But I learned so much from him as far as the different mistakes that he made. It’s sad to say that. I wish I could have learned from his success. A lot of the mistakes he made off the field is something that I definitely learned from and looked to to see like if I’m ever in that situation this is how I should handle it as to how he might have . . . When you get into the NFL it’s much more than just football.”
Smith is still driving in the fast (and drunken) lane in early retirement. This from TMZ.com:
More trouble for Aldon Smith … the ex-NFL star was arrested (again) for allegedly driving under the influence.
Smith — a former All-Pro linebacker — was arrested early Tuesday morning on suspicion of DUI in Mission, Kansas … after cops say he was speeding and illegally changing lanes.
Officials say they suspected Smith was drunk … so they put him through sobriety testing — which he bombed.
Police placed him under arrest and hauled him off to Mission Police Department … where he was processed.
Cops say they tried to administer a breathalyzer … but Smith refused.
Officials then issued citations to Aldon … and after he posted bond, he was released to a friend.
This ain’t the 1st alcohol-related incident involving Smith … he’s been popped for at least 2 other DUI’s in the past.
NFL Justice sideline T ANTONIO GARCIA for four games. Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star:
Colts offensive tackle Antonio Garcia has been suspended without pay for four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, the NFL announced on Monday.
A former third-round pick by the New England Patriots in 2017, Garcia spent the second half of last season on the Indianapolis practice squad.
Despite his status as a third-rounder, Garcia has struggled in the NFL, and he faced an uphill climb to make the Colts’ 53-man roster. New England waived him last May after he spent most of his rookie season on the non-football injury list, and he was unable to make the Jets out of training camp last fall. Indianapolis signed him to the practice squad in late October.
And the Colts are deep on the offensive line.
All five starters return, along with top backups like Joe Haeg, Evan Boehm, J’Marcus Webb and LeRaven Clark, all of whom started for Indianapolis last season. With that group in front of him, Garcia would have to impress in training camp to earn a spot on the 53-man roster and make the suspension count for Indianapolis.
Garcia will be eligible to participate in practice and preseason games for the Colts. If he did make the 53-man roster, he then would not be able to practice or participate for the first four games.
CB JALEN RAMSEY has been told he will continue to play for a pittance in 2019. Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:
Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey will have to wait another year before he gets a big payday.
And he’s definitely going to be asking for a lot.
Ramsey said after Tuesday’s mandatory minicamp practice that his agent told him the Jaguars will not be giving him a contract extension in 2019. Roughly an hour later, Ramsey joked on social media that he’s going to “ask for so much money, they have to put me on lay-away.”
Ramsey, however, said he wasn’t angry or upset that he wouldn’t be getting an extension this season, the final year of his rookie contract. The Jaguars picked up his fifth-year option, which means he would make $13.703 million in 2020 but the contract would be guaranteed for injury only, and the team could use the franchise tag in 2021.
“As long as I’m a part of this organization, as long as I’m a part of Duval County, I’m going to give the city and the players all I’ve got, and I think y’all know that,” Ramsey said. “I’ve fought through injuries. I’ve fought through everything, haven’t missed a game. I think I’m in a similar situation as Yan [Yannick Ngakoue], as where I feel like I have outplayed my rookie contract and I feel I’ve earned a new contract.
“But at the end of the day, it’s not the end of the world. I’m tremendously blessed. I’m so blessed. I’m not down on it or anything like that at all, but that is the circumstance. That is what I’ve been told.”
Ramsey, the No. 5 overall pick in 2016, has made two Pro Bowls and was named a first-team All-Pro once in his first three seasons. He has nine interceptions and 44 pass breakups and hasn’t missed a start.
Finding money to sign both Ngakoue and Ramsey this year would take some work because the Jaguars have just $9.14 million in cap space, according to ESPN’s Roster Management System.
NEW YORK JETS
As the Jets and Joe Douglas build their personnel department, some names with media experience are cropping up. Darryl Slater of NJ.com:
Joe Douglas is expected to meet with both Todd McShay and former Browns GM Phil Savage this week, according to ESPN’s Rich Cimini.
In addition to firing general manager Mike Maccagnan in mid-May, Jets acting owner Christopher Johnson also fired Maccagnan’s right-hand man — vice president of player personnel Brian Heimerdinger.
So now that Johnson has hired the Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas to replace Maccagnan, Douglas still needs to hire a No. 2 guy.
And one candidate is ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, as McShay told ESPN.
“Joe is considering multiple options, and I’m one of the options,” McShay said.
It’s unclear what McShay’s role in Douglas’ front office might be. Douglas could always rearrange things and bring McShay onboard in a position other than No. 2 man (whatever he winds up calling that job).
McShay and Douglas go way back, to their college days at the University of Richmond in the mid-1990s. McShay was a walk-on quarterback, while Douglas was a four-year starting left tackle. McShay and Douglas both graduated from Richmond in 1999.
When McShay realized he wasn’t going to stick as a player, he became an undergraduate assistant to coach Jim Reid, helping with film breakdowns and recruiting. And that’s how McShay got his start in the scouting/draft analyst world.
McShay has been at ESPN since 2006. He is expected to speak with Douglas about a potential Jets job during the middle of this week, as McShay told ESPN.
Before the Jets hired Douglas, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah (another draft analyst) was floated as a possibility for Douglas’ Jets front office. Jeremiah and Douglas worked together in the Ravens’ scouting department from 2003-07.
Another person to keep an eye on, as Douglas determines what to do with his front office — Phil Savage, the former Browns GM and Senior Bowl executive director.
Savage also overlapped with Douglas in Baltimore. Savage worked there from 1996-2004, as director of college scouting and director of player personnel. Douglas was in Baltimore as a scout from 2000-14. So Savage used to be his boss.
Other than Savage, McShay, and Jeremiah, another possibility for Douglas is Eagles assistant director of player personnel Andy Weidl. He worked under Douglas in Philadelphia, so he could be promoted now that Douglas is gone. Or maybe Douglas is able to bring him to the Jets. Weidl was a scout for the Ravens from 2005-15, then joined Douglas with the Eagles in 2016.
So Douglas knows Savage, Jeremiah, and Weidl from Baltimore, where he got his start in NFL scouting after his college playing career ended in 1998.
THIS AND THAT
It’s a copycat league and teams are looking to find the next TAYSOM HILL. Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com:
Out on the practice field watching his defense compete against the New Orleans Saints last August, the breath-taking speed of Taysom Hill caught the attention of Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
During joint practices and a preseason game against the Saints, Bradley and the Chargers got an up-close look at the versatility of a do-everything backup quarterback.
“You rarely see a guy that size with that type of speed,” Bradley said. “Sometimes you see speed and you go, ‘Well, he’s going to play wide receiver.’ But because of his size, he can play multiple positions.”
Hill ran for an 11-yard touchdown, threw to Tre’Quan Smith for a 5-yard score and also converted a fake punt for a first down in a 33-7 exhibition win over the Chargers.
Wanting to add a similar athlete to an already-explosive offense, the Chargers selected North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick in the fifth-round of this year’s draft.
Stick is one of a handful of players around the league added to the back end of rosters who could serve in a similar role to Hill’s for the Saints.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sought the same type of impact player in undrafted rookie Nick Fitzgerald out of Mississippi State, while the New York Giants signed Syracuse undrafted rookie quarterback Eric Dungey with the same purpose.
The Baltimore Ravens drafted Trace McSorley in the sixth round to back up athletic signal-caller Lamar Jackson.
“You saw what the Saints have done down there with their third quarterback,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said about McSorley. “That’s something we’ll have a chance to do, too, with Trace. He’s going to be able to play special teams as well. The more you can do. You want players with roles, and he’s a guy that has a chance to have a big role for us.”
Stick’s role on Chargers
With Philip Rivers nearing the end of tenure as the team’s starting quarterback, Stick could be viewed as his eventual replacement: Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt likes the fact that Stick operated in a conventional offense at North Dakota State, taking snaps under center and using the play-action game, along with the spread concepts normally seen in the collegiate game.
However, Stick also totaled 2,523 rushing yards and 41 rushing touchdowns as a dual-threat quarterback for the Bison.
“I have the ability to run around and make plays outside of structure, try to be a good athlete and make different plays,” Stick said. “I feel like I can do a little bit of everything. Really, I’m just excited to be in that quarterback room and get an opportunity to learn.”
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn is intimately familiar with using a running quarterback effectively on offense. While serving as the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills in 2016 under the direction of current Bolts’ backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Lynn’s unit led the league in rushing offense. Taylor contributed 580 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry with six rushing scores.
Lynn acknowledges Stick is not exactly in the same mold physically as Hill. Although Stick will focus on learning the quarterback position first for the Chargers, Lynn sees the rookie quarterback as someone who can diversify the Chargers on offense.
“He runs the RPOs [run-pass options] and he’s also a pretty mobile guy,” Lynn said. “They did a lot of things with him [at North Dakota State].
“But we are going to teach him our system. He’s going to play quarterback for us. We have running backs — we don’t a need a quarterback that can run all over the place, but he can certainly create when he has to.”
Taysom Hill restarts a trend
Seeking an advantage on game days, NFL teams are looking to adopt some of the things the Saints have had success with by using Hill.
“You have to look at college football, and a lot of quarterbacks are much more athletic now because of spread offenses, RPOs and quarterback-designed runs,” said ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen, who played seven seasons in the league as a defensive back and core special teams player. “You don’t see as many pro-style offenses as much anymore.
“But it still comes down to Day 3 picks. And Day 3 picks, unless you’re challenging for the No. 1 quarterback job, you’ve got to play special teams to actually dress on game days. So if I’m a personnel guy, and I’m going through the middle of the fifth round on looking for guys with athletic traits, that’s what I would do — someone with high-end athletic traits and versatility that can help our football team.”
The Saints claimed Hill off waivers when the Green Bay Packers released him during final roster cuts in September 2017. At 6-foot-2 and 221 pounds, Hill ran a 4.44-second, 40-yard dash at BYU’s pro day in 2017.
According to ESPN Stats & Information data tracking, Hill played 177 snaps on offense for the Saints last season, including 57 at quarterback, 58 at tight end, 48 at receiver and 14 at running back.
Hill finished as the Saints’ third-leading rusher, totaling 196 yards on 37 carriers and had two scores. He averaged 5.3 yards per rush. Hill also completed three of seven throws for 64 yards and totaled three receptions for 4 yards.
Per Pro Football Focus data, Hill played on 387 special teams snaps for the Saints. He returned 14 kickoffs for 348 yards (24.9 avg.), made six tackles on special teams and also blocked a punt.
“Look, he does so many different things. He’s a football player,” Saints head coach Sean Payton told ESPN.com. “When his game is over with, and it’s a grass field, [his uniform] is gonna be dirty.”
At 6-1 and 220 pounds, possessing electric speed and a rocket arm, Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart was ahead of his time. Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Kordell Stewart: The original
The original Slash, Kordell Stewart was a second-round selection in 1995 of the Pittsburgh Steelers who started out as an all-purpose player before winning the starting quarterback job.
Stewart eventually earned a trip the Pro Bowl in his third season because of his ability to lead a team from the quarterback position. He finished 48-34 as a starter during a nine-year NFL career, leading the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game during the 2001 season.
Due to injuries and wanting to get on the field in his second NFL season, Stewart played receiver for Pittsburgh. He finished with 171 rushing yards, 293 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns during that 1996 season.
At 6-1 and 220 pounds, possessing electric speed and a rocket arm, Stewart was ahead of his time. Decades later, Stewart’s dual-threat abilities spawned a new generation of quarterbacks who can stress defenses with their athleticism and ability to throw the football.
An NFL analyst, Stewart wistfully looks at the league now and wonders “What if?” as a 5-10 mobile quarterback in Kyler Murray is selected No. 1 overall in this year’s draft by the Arizona Cardinals. And up in the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Seahawks made 5-11 quarterback Russell Wilson the highest paid player in the league, signing him to a four-year, $140 million contract extension.
“I played the game the way my abilities allowed me to play, period,” Stewart said. “We’re at the age now where the conversation of mobile quarterback is more relevant, and more tangible to what’s being called from a scheme stand point.
“It’s now an open conversation, as opposed to whispers behind the scenes of should we bring in a Kordell Stewart, and how do we preface it as far as the narrative? He’ll come in as a quarterback, but he’ll be more of an athlete.'”
NFL offensive guru Mike Martz was the orchestrator of one of the most potent offenses in the league with the “Greatest Show on Turf” during his Super Bowl run with the St. Louis Rams.
Martz used cat-quick receiver Az-Zahir Hakim, a former option quarterback in high school, to run some plays as a quarterback out of shotgun during his time with the Rams.
“I think there’s great value there,” Martz said. “If you have a terrific athlete who’s a 4.4-4.5 guy, even if he throws it kind of OK, to run the option and those other things that are going on in college, it’s hard on the defense.”
Teams now have to balance the risk/reward of using an athletic backup quarterback at other positions to create impact plays that can help them win games.
“It validates everything I’ve done,” Stewart said. “It’s a great thing to watch, especially in college football, to see these young kids that are mobile and athletic quarterbacks, not being forced to play another position.
“That lets me know that the coaching styles are growing in their mentality and their approach, along the scouting department. They’re starting to believe and understand that it’s OK for your quarterback to be an athlete.”
Added Bowen: “You’re going to get beat up on special teams. And that has to be something for NFL teams: Are they willing to take on a third quarterback who is more a true athlete and can he play on their coverage units? Because if they can’t then how are you going to dress him for game days? How are you going to dress him to use him on just for plays on offense? That’s tough. That puts some stress on your roster.”
Taysom Hill Effect: A Tale of the Tape
With the success the New Orleans Saints had with backup quarterback Taysom Hill last season, some NFL teams are looking for players who can a fill similar role. Here’s a closer look at the measurables of some of those players.
EASTON STICK, Chargers
College: North Dakota State
HT/WT: 6-1, 224 pounds
40-yard time: 4.62
Vertical jump: 33.5 inches
Notable: Stick totaled 2,523 rushing yards and 41 rushing touchdowns as a dual-threat quarterback for the Bison, averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
NICK FITZGERALD, Buccaneers
College: Mississippi State
HT/WT: 6-5, 226 pounds
40-yard time: 4.64
Vertical jump: 29.5 inches
Notable: Fitzgerald set an SEC record for career rushing yards by a QB (3,607). He totaled 1,121 rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs his final season at Mississippi State.
TRACE McSORLEY, Ravens
College: Penn State
HT/WT: 6-0, 202 pounds
40-yard time: 4.57
Vertical jump: 33 inches
Notable: McSorley ended his career with the Nittany Lions as the career record-holder in wins (31), completions (720), passing yards (9,899) and touchdown passes (77), as well as rushing yards (1,697) and rushing touchdowns (30) by a QB.
ERIC DUNGEY, Giants
HT/WT: 6-4, 226
40-yard time: 4.68
Vertical jump: 31.5 inches
Notable: During his college career at Syracuse, Dungey totaled 1,993 yards on the ground and 35 rushing touchdowns on 543 carriers, averaging 3.7 yards per carry.
TAYSOM HILL, Saints
HT/WT: 6-2, 221 pounds
40-yard time: 4.44
Vertical jump: 38.5 inches
Notable: With 196 rushing yards last season, Hill was the Saints’ third-leading rushing, picking up a first down on a team-high 41 percent of his carries.
TOP ROOKIE RUNNING BACK OF 2019
Hall of Famer Gil Brandt has some rookie backs for your fantasy team – and they are not all who you think they would be:
None of the running backs in this year’s draft class enters the NFL with as much rookie hype as, say, 2018 No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley or 2016 No. 4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott. But that doesn’t mean one of them can’t emerge as an important cog in an NFL offense.
Last week, I ranked my top five rookie receivers according to projected first-year production. Below, I’ve done the same for rookie running backs. Players are arranged according to projected rushing-yard totals.
1) David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
Projected stats: 275 carries, 1,200 rushing yards, 7 rushing TDs, 30 catches.
Drafted: No. 73 overall, Round 3.
Montgomery could very well be the latest third-round running back to make a splash as a rookie, following in the footsteps of Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt. The Bears paved the way for Montgomery to become a feature back by trading Jordan Howard to the Eagles before the draft. The Iowa State product rushed for 1,100-plus yards in each of the past two seasons, and if he slides right in and takes up Howard’s old workload (270 touches in 2018), Montgomery should produce like crazy. Montgomery can catch the ball better than I thought, and thus offers a bit more versatility than Howard; he should also be a potent goal-line threat. He has a chance to really thrive in the offense of Matt Nagy, who was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator in 2017, when Hunt led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards.
2) Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders
Projected stats: 200 carries, 875 rushing yards, 6 rushing TDs, 25 catches.
Drafted: No. 24, Round 1.
With Marshawn Lynch out of the picture (for now), the Raiders need a new bell cow to step up in 2019. Jacobs has a chance to earn that distinction as a rookie, but he’ll have to prove he can be an every-down back after splitting his time at Alabama with Damien Harris. At his pro day, Jacobs put on a show that was off the charts, demonstrating much better pass-catching ability than people expected him to. He’s not a straight-line speed guy, but he has the quickness to make up for that. The presence of veterans like capable pass-catching backup Jalen Richard and Doug Martin could eat into Jacobs’ workload, but he has the ability to wring the most out of the carries he’s given.
3) Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
Projected stats: 115 carries, 512 rushing yards, 5 rush TDs, 35 catches.
Drafted: No. 128, Round 4.
From Week 10 of last season to the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 75-plus yards in eight straight games, putting up 111.4 rushing yards per game in that span. While Elliott has not shown that he’s one to suffer late-season declines, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to lessen the burden on the one person in the NFL to log more than 1,000 total touches over the last three seasons combined. This is where Pollard will come in. While he had limited opportunities playing alongside Darrell Henderson at Memphis, his style of play has drawn comparisons to Alvin Kamara. Consider Pollard’s line at the Tigers’ bowl game: With Henderson out, Pollard put up 109 rushing yards on 17 carries (6.4 yards per carry). Pollard can also be a factor as a returner; last season, he returned 27 kicks for 667 yards and a score.
4) Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
Projected stats: 95 carries, 475 rushing yards, 3 rush TDs, 42 catches.
Drafted: No. 70, Round 3.
With knee issues dogging Todd Gurley at the end of last season, the Rams could choose to limit his snaps in 2019 to ensure his effectiveness at crucial junctures later on in the year. This creates a potential opportunity for Henderson, a matchup nightmare. At Memphis, Henderson showed he has the quickness to hit the hole, the toughness to run through tacklers and the speed to reach the edge. He doesn’t need much room to run and tends to finish forward. He was able to split out wide at times at Memphis, and he showed the ability to make adjustments catching passes out of the backfield. He also owns the second-most rushing yards (3,545) and yards from scrimmage (4,303) in Memphis history. His height (5-foot-8) is a source of concern, and he’ll have to show he’s a better option than current Gurley backup Malcolm Brown, who was not allowed by the Rams to walk as a restricted free agent this offseason.
5) Qadree Ollison, Atlanta Falcons
Projected stats: 96 carries, 391 rushing yards, 7 rush TDs, 22 catches.
Drafted: No. 152, Round 5.
In a perfect world for the Falcons, Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith would handle the bulk of the rushing load this season. But Freeman has struggled to stay healthy, and both he and Smith lack the ideal size for short-yardage situations, which is where the 6-1, 228-pound Ollison can find a niche. It is true that, after a strong freshman season (1,121 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns), Ollison’s production dipped quite a bit in 2016 (127 yards, two scores) and ’17 (398 and 5). However, in fairness to him, that period coincided with fluctuations on the offensive line. Ollison did run pretty well last season, putting up 1,213 yards and 11 touchdowns (an average of 6.3 yards per carry). And the fact that he served as the primary protector on Pitt’s punt team bodes well for his ability to contribute to the passing game as a blocker. Finally, he’s capable of catching the ball, as well, which could make him dangerous in Dirk Koetter’s offense.
ONE DARK-HORSE CANDIDATE TO CONSIDER:
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
Projected stats: 255 carries, 1,050 rushing yards, 6 rush TDs, 45 catches.
Drafted: No. 74, Round 3.
The Bills have one of the most crowded backfields in the NFL, with free-agent signees Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon joining Singletary as newcomers to a group already led by LeSean McCoy. If the status quo holds, and Singletary ends up splitting carries or even sitting on the bench for most of his rookie year, he will fall far short of those projected numbers. The fact that his role is still up in the air is why I didn’t want to include him among the other five backs in this piece, who have more obvious paths to relevance. The above stats reflect what I think Singletary will do IF his preseason performance convinces the Bills to clear the depth chart, maybe by trading away McCoy or another veteran, and hand him starter-level carries. The fact that the Bills were still willing to draft Singletary in the third round after adding those players speaks to how the team must feel about his potential.