AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

The trade of TE MICHAEL ROBERTS to the Patriots fell through as Roberts failed the physical.  So Detroit cut him and rival Packers have placed a waiver claim.

 

 

GREEN BAY

New head coach Matt LaFleur runs an offense that puts some restrictions on a quarterback’s freedom at the line.  Is this a point of conflict with QB AARON RODGERS?  Michael Silver of NFL.com:

 

While LaFleur is undeniably excited about the prospect of working with the future first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Rodgers is similarly pumped about their partnership, there is one important stylistic gulf that must be confronted between now and the 2019 season opener between the Packers and the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sept. 5, and it is not a trivial one.

 

“Aaron and I have had some good talks, and we’re going to have to talk a lot more — and one thing we have to work through is the audible thing,” LaFleur explained. “We’re running a system I first picked up while working with Kyle (Shanahan) in Houston a decade ago, and we’ve never really had a quarterback who’s had complete freedom to change plays at the line, because that’s not really the way the offense is set up. But, I mean, this is Aaron Rodgers. He’s had a lot of freedom to make those calls, and deservedly so. Now, how do we reconcile that, and get to a place where we put him in the best position to succeed?”

 

It’s a valid question, and one of the NFL’s most compelling ones heading into the 2019 campaign. When the Packers, in the midst of a second consecutive losing season, fired longtime head coach and offensive architect Mike McCarthy last December, it created one of the league’s more intriguing job openings in recent memory, given Rodgers’ sublime skill set. When the Packers settled on LaFleur, who had only one year of play-calling experience (as the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator in 2018) but was highly regarded by a pair of former bosses and renowned offensive wizards — Shanahan, the San Francisco 49ers’ current head coach, and Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay — his endeavor to connect with and maximize the transcendental talents of his ultra-competitive quarterback became a massive storyline.

 

The LaFleur-Rodgers football marriage is still in its honeymoon phase, meaning there are some potentially hard conversations about how much leeway Rodgers will have at the line of scrimmage looming.

 

“It’s a conversation in progress,” Rodgers said when we spoke at his locker last Tuesday, punctuating his words with a short chuckle. “I don’t think you want to ask me to turn off 11 years (of recognizing defenses). We have a number of check with mes and line-of-scrimmage stuff. It’s just the other stuff that really not many people in this league can do.

 

“That’s not like a humblebrag or anything; that’s just a fact. There aren’t many people that can do at the line of scrimmage what I’ve done over the years. I mean, obviously, Tommy (Brady) can do it, no doubt. Peyton (Manning) could do it. Drew (Brees) can do it. (Patrick) Mahomes will be able to do it. Ben (Roethlisberger) has called the two-minute for years. There are a few of us who’ve just done it; it’s kind of second nature. And that’s just the icing on the cake for what I can do in this offense.”

 

So, to summarize: Rodgers wants to take advantage of his intelligence and experience to attack defenses, and LaFleur wants him to buy into a proven system that, because of its ambitious pre-snap activity and overall philosophy, restricts the quarterback’s ability (and, theoretically, his incentive) to do so. This is not a mean-spirited staredown that will necessitate a clear winner emerging as its sole means of resolution. The situation is, however, somewhat tricky, and the way LaFleur and Rodgers navigate the terrain will go a long way toward determining whether the Pack’s once-prolific attack gets back on track.

 

To make it work, both men will have to be adaptable, for there are some built-in challenges that won’t be easily navigated. For one thing, the scheme LaFleur is installing — which, for the strategy nerds, will have more in common with Shanahan’s multi-formational attack than McVay’s confuse-defenses-by-showing-the-same-look concepts — is designed to work without drastic deviation at the line of scrimmage.

 

“I guess from what you consider the true standard of ‘audibles,’ you’re right — we have not had that,” LaFleur said last Tuesday during a second conversation in his office. “Because, you know, we pride ourselves on having concepts that have answers for whatever. Now, it might not always be the best answer, but you have an answer. But when there are plays that are called that have maybe not a very good answer, we typically call two plays and we run one or the other, based upon the look that the defense is giving us. The quarterback chooses, and there are criteria: We try to teach him the criteria for why we would want this play over the other play.”

 

Rodgers, of course, has spent years conjuring potential adjustments that extend well beyond the binary model. Yet even if the quarterback feels as though he has the answers at the line, there are other forces working against him: specifically, mechanical limitations and time. Many of LaFleur’s play calls will require pre-snap activity, such as players going in motion, that complicate any potential departure from the script, and narrowly reduce the window on the play clock within which Rodgers must operate. Says one coach familiar with the system: “The time you actually have to change the play, on a 40-second clock, is so limited. There are so many nuances to it, that by the time you get through everything there are maybe 10 seconds at the line of scrimmage.”

 

Additionally, some of the personnel and formations are so specific to certain play calls that it’s tough, if not futile, to change on the fly.

 

“I think that has a lot to do with it,” LaFleur said. “We move a lot more. There’s a lot more motion. There are a lot more moving parts. And so if you just let the quarterback have that freedom to just get to whatever, I’m afraid it would slow our guys down. Now, he is a special talent and he’s got an incredible mind, so as we move forward throughout this process he’s getting more freedom. It’s just, where is that happy medium?”

 

LaFleur believes his system will greatly benefit his quarterback, both by relieving pressure in the pocket (through the implementation of a zone-read-based rushing attack, and the accompanying play-action throws) and pushing him to get rid of the ball quickly on most passing plays. In the past, Rodgers has shown a penchant for buying time, both inside and outside the pocket, and bailing the Packers out of tough situations by making exceptional throws.

 

If all goes according to plan, LaFleur hopes, those moments will become far less frequent. Rodgers? Well, he’s prepared to do those things as often as he needs to.

 

It should be noted that the quarterback, on a philosophical level, is excited about the new offense.

 

“This offense really stretches the defense formationally and with motions,” Rodgers said. “A lot of what this offense is based in, with Mike and Kyle Shanahan and Sean (McVay), it’s stressing you with tempo and formation and motions. It’s really testing the eye discipline, especially with teams that want to play more man coverage.

 

“There’s so much motion and action and reverses and fake reverses and stuff that really stresses the discipline on that side of the ball — and then allowing you to get out on the edge and have some downfield opportunities. It really tests where (defenders’) eyes are going — just things happening that (they’re) not used to for a team that just lines up and plays.”

 

To be sure, Rodgers was highly comfortable in the McCarthy-era scheme, largely because of his ability to diagnose and solve problems at the line of scrimmage from a relatively static formation.

 

“That offense has worked for Peyton for years in Indy, and for me it worked for us for years here,” Rodgers said. “But this offense is really gonna stretch you with pre-snap stuff. And the schemes are the schemes, and everywhere Kyle’s gone it’s been effective, so the schemes work. But what they’ve done on top of the schemes is window dressed it enough to really stress the defense’s eye control.”

 

For now, Rodgers’ head is swimming. He’s busy learning what amounts to a new language. Often, in OTAs and minicamps, he has engaged in non-verbal conversations with himself, translating the McCarthy-era terms for one concept into the current terminology upon receiving the play call in the huddle.

 

“It is fun,” Rodgers said. “It’s a challenge for sure. I ran the same system for so long. There’s a lot of stuff in my mind. Having to relearn certain terms, that’s been the hardest part. Learning new concepts that I don’t have any history with, it’s not that bad, because I had no point of reference. When you have the word that meant something in the new system for 13 years and now it means something else in the new system, that’s when it gets tougher. It’s still gonna take a while when I call the play; even when I’m breaking the huddle, I might say (to myself), ‘Oh, Shade equals Indy.’ My mind has a million things on it.”

– – –

Both men are well-intentioned and eager to connect; each has elements of his personality to which the other must adjust.

 

When Rodgers attended the Kentucky Derby in early May, he ended up encountering and spending time with LaFleur’s two most recent bosses: McVay and Titans coach Mike Vrabel. For a sample of the type of sentiment Rodgers might have heard from McVay, consider the Rams coach’s recent answer when I asked him for a quote about his friend: “The best way to describe Matt is, he’s an extremely detailed guy that thinks through all the potential problems that can arise and wants to work out an answer beforehand, the detail and the clarity. That’s why he’s such a great coach, and a reason why we are the closest of friends — and why I wanted to strangle him sometimes.”

 

I asked Rodgers about LaFleur’s “healthy nervousness,” and he smiled broadly.

 

“That’s not a far-off characterization of him,” Rodgers said. “I think he’s just Type A, gung-ho and it just works him up a little bit. Everybody that knows Matt loves him. He’s a really good-hearted person and a super nice guy. It’s just getting him comfortable enough to start laughing a little bit, I think.”

 

LaFleur, meanwhile, is slowly deciphering Rodgers’ dry and caustic sense of humor.

 

“It’s coming along,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think he quite understands that sometimes I’ll make jokes that are kind of on the level where I don’t care if somebody gets them or not. I’ll kind of let things sit. And he’s sometimes, ‘What? Huh? What was that?’ We’re figuring each other out right now.”

– – –

The push-and-pull has already begun. On a red-zone play toward the end of last Tuesday’s minicamp practice, for example, Rodgers dropped back, saw that his targets were covered and bought time by sliding to his left. He then uncorked one of those glorious balls that few other humans can, arcing a glorious pass to the left corner of the end zone that tight end Jimmy Graham leaped up and caught for a touchdown.

 

And no, that was not how LaFleur had drawn it up, but he still applauded from his perch atop a golf cart.

 

“That’s red zone football, right?” LaFleur said a few hours later in his office. “He made a hell of a throw, great anticipation, and Jimmy went up and got it. It was off-schedule ’cause the play was blanketed, and thankfully the pass protection was on point. It was two guys making a play, making you look good as a coach — because it sure wasn’t the play call that (was responsible).

 

“He’s made some unbelievable plays, maybe not going the most conventional route that I was thinking (he should). He’s got a calm about him that is amazing — I haven’t been around a guy as calm as that, and who can think as clearly and as fast. It’s been pretty impressive. And it just gives you more confidence that no matter what you call, he’s gonna make you look good.”

 

In the end, as the coach and quarterback sort through their stylistic differences and figure out how much freedom will be possible and tolerable at the line of scrimmage, that may be Rodgers’ best argument: If the thought process behind an audible is sound, and the end result is positive, how mad can LaFleur be?

 

“(I won’t call) checks just to call checks,” the quarterback said. “Look, you know the offense is great. And you scheme people up and you have formations and motions, and it should be fantastic. But if we need a little something, it’s ’cause we need it.

 

“Any check I’ve ever made is about getting us in a best-play scenario. So when it comes to that, if we need that, I’m sure he’ll be happy when it looks the right way.”

 

We shall see — and come September, we’ll all be watching.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Word is QB DANIEL JONES has lowered the expectations that he is headed to Bustville per Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com:

 

The offseason work is done. The spring has run its course. The New York Giants had three mandatory minicamp workouts and 10 OTA practices, which concluded Thursday. The media was allowed to attend six of the 13 days.

 

It was enough to get a taste of what was happening on the field, particularly with the quarterbacks. Yes, even coach Pat Shurmur acknowledged that is where the attention will stay even more so this season than most. So all eyes were on No. 6 overall pick Daniel Jones and the franchise legend he will eventually replace, Eli Manning. Alex Tanney and Kyle Lauletta are also part of this season’s quarterback group.

 

Here’s a rundown of what I saw:

 

Manning: He’s in good shape and throwing the ball relatively well. The velocity on his throws is workable. Manning is the clear-cut starter and took all the first-team reps during practice. He started slowly in the first OTA but looked better and more comfortable as the offseason program progressed. The noticeable difference was Manning’s willingness to throw it downfield more than in 2018. The checkdowns weren’t quite as frequent. Manning credits this to being more comfortable in Year 2 of Shurmur’s offense. “The second year makes a difference,” Manning said. “It’s not just me, it’s more just everybody.” That includes quarterback, receivers, offensive line and coaches. The Giants can now open the offense up more than they have in the past.

 

There were mistakes, interceptions and inaccurate throws, but nothing more than usual with Manning at quarterback. This spring has only added to the Giants’ optimism that Manning can have a bounce-back season at age 38. “Eli is getting ready to have a great year,” Shurmur said after Tuesday’s OTA. The spring went well for Manning.

 

Jones: He had his ups and downs during OTAs and minicamp. This is expected for a rookie just months removed from taking snaps at Duke. Jones had a lot to learn and absorb. The Giants have been impressed with how quickly he’s been able to adjust. “You can kind of see him getting more comfortable,” tight end Evan Engram said as the offseason progressed. What maybe has been most impressive about Jones was the way he threw deep balls. His connection with fellow rookie Darius Slayton (one of the Giants’ most surprising players this spring) was noticeable. Jones threw the deep ball with accuracy and touch. He also dispelled any criticism that his arm strength was insufficient. He flashed more than ample velocity on his throws and showed athletic ability the Giants haven’t seen consistently from the quarterback position in quite some time.

 

“I think he has had a really good offseason. … I think he has had a really, really productive offseason. He is on track with the goal to be ready to play Day 1,” Shurmur said. The Giants want Jones to be ready just in case. He’s still a significant underdog to start. Something outrageous would need to happen for him to jump Manning, even though Jones quickly worked his way onto the second-team offense this spring. But he still has a way to go to be ready to start NFL games. Jones struggled at times this spring with the looks he was seeing from the defense.

 

At practice Tuesday, he looked uncertain and rushed for a significant stretch. He hit on two of his first seven pass attempts, but finished strong by completing seven of eight. This is the life of a rookie quarterback, but Jones’ ability to retain information and not make the same mistake over and over again can give the Giants confidence. “I think I am making progress,” Jones said. “I certainly don’t think I am there at all.” Regardless, the early returns are positive.

 

Tanney: He started the spring working mostly with the second team before Jones moved his way up the depth chart. Tanney finished OTAs splitting his time between the second and third teams. It was more a product of Jones being the quarterback of the future than anything Tanney did on the field. Tanney had days when he threw well — particularly early on, when he was the best quarterback on the field at the first OTA.

 

More than likely, Tanney is vying for the third quarterback spot this summer. He was ahead of Lauletta in the pecking order last season and again this spring.

 

Lauletta: Last year’s fourth-round pick started the spring on the sideline as he rehabbed a knee injury. Lauletta had his knee cleaned out this offseason, but worked his way back on the field at the end of the spring and seemed to be throwing the ball well. He still has some ground to make up in order to secure a spot on the roster. When he received work this spring, it was with the third-team offense.

 

That said, there are reports that Jones was booed when he recently attended a Yankees game.  This tweet from Sean Farrell of The Bergen Record:

 

@seanfarrell92

Giants QB Daniel Jones just got booed at Yankee Stadium.

 

@seanfarrell92

For the record, Kevin Costner just got a huge round of applause.

 

@seanfarrell92

Ladies and gentlemen, the impossible has happened. Giants Twitter has come to Daniel Jones’ defense.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles are going behind closed doors, with one exception, during training camp.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Bills aren’t the only team cutting the number of public training camp practices they’ll hold this summer.

 

The Eagles will hold one practice open to the public at Lincoln Financial Field this summer. The only other access to training camp practices held at the team’s NovaCare Complex will be for invited guests only.

 

Per Tim McManus of ESPN.com. fans interested in attending the open practice will have to pay $5-10 as an entrance fee. The proceeeds from those sales will go to the Eagles’ fundraising efforts for autism research.

 

The number of Eagles practices open to the public have dropped steadily since the team switched from holding camp at Lehigh University to their own facility.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

More hype for QB KYLER MURRAY (which does not mean it is not true) from Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:

 

Justin Pugh heard the hype surrounding Kyler Murray leading into this year’s NFL draft.

 

There was, he said, a lot of it.

 

So when the Arizona Cardinals took Murray first overall, Pugh, one of the Cardinals’ starting guards, was given a front-row seat to Murray Mania. So how did Murray do? Through organized team activities and minicamp, Pugh thinks the rookie quarterback has fit the bill.

 

“Everything that I heard, he’s lives up to,” Pugh said. “And I’ve heard a lot of good things, so it’s been great so far.”

 

As the Cardinals enter their summer break before reuniting for training camp in late July, the early returns on Murray are in. He received high marks for his play on the field and his leadership and demeanor off of it.

 

And there was nary any criticism of him from his teammates of all ages.

 

“He’s cool, calm, collected, smooth,” new guard J.R. Sweezy said. “Make a mistake, come back, correct it. He’s on it, honestly.”

 

Sweezy knows a good quarterback when he sees one.

 

He blocked for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson for five of his first six seasons. In just a few weeks, Sweezy already can see the similarities between the two. Both are short — Murray is 5-foot-10 and Wilson is 5-foot-11 — both have a baseball background and both entered the league with an ability to run as well as pass.

 

“I see hundreds of similarities,” Sweezy said. “I always say, we got to see this guy really play. I think he’s going to be just fine. But just to even be compared to Russell Wilson is a huge compliment.

 

“He’s going to back it up. I just love that he’s getting compared to him already and everything. He’s going to be great.”

 

Murray grabbed the nation’s attention last season when he passed for 4,361 yards with 42 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in his lone season as a starter at Oklahoma. It was good enough to earn the Sooners a playoff bid and Murray the Heisman Trophy. And it hasn’t taken Murray long to turn heads at the pro level, either.

 

“First off, he’s faster and quicker than I thought when we got on the field,” running back David Johnson said. “I think a lot of people underestimate how great he can throw. He throws a dart. Accurate dart.

 

“Even in quarterback drills, seeing him throw it at the net and seeing him hit it five in a row. I think a lot of people underestimate his throwing ability.”

 

Murray’s development in Arizona began further along the curve than other rookie quarterbacks because of his familiarity with coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.

 

Murray began running portions of the spread and Air Raid in eighth grade and ran it primarily at Oklahoma, so he was able to hit the ground running during OTAs in May. It took just weeks for Murray’s teammates to understand how he operates, Kingsbury said.

 

“As soon as he came in, he looked just as good as he does now,” wide receiver Kevin White said. “I think now, he is more fluid where everyone’s on the same page, I would say, but he’s a special talent.”

 

After finally getting his chance to coach Murray, whom he began recruiting to Texas Tech as a sophomore in high school, Kingsbury likes Murray’s attitude — especially when things don’t go Murray’s way.

 

“He’s going to take chances and this is the time to do it, see what you can get away with,” Kingsbury said. “If you want to go at [cornerback] Pat [Peterson] a couple of times, it’s usually all it takes to learn.

 

“But no, he’s aggressive in nature, the way he thinks and attacks when he’s out on the football field, and I like that.”

 

Off the field, Murray already has caught the attention of some of the veterans with how he has handled himself. He has blended his skill on the field with his approach off the field, and it has earned him respect.

 

“He’s shown nothing but great leadership and hard work and doing the right thing,” Pugh said. “Once we get the pads on, we’ll get a lot more of a feel for each other, and I’m looking forward to that.”

 

Said outside linebacker Chandler Jones: “Kyler’s confident, and he’s not a cocky player. For him to be the first overall pick, he’s a very confident player. He’s composed. I can see him construct, I see him getting guys together in the huddle, and as a young guy, that’s something that I admire about him.

 

“He’s good at grabbing guys’ attention. I’m not sure how tall he is, but I see his little helmet and I see a little helmet in the huddle. He’s grabbing guys. I’m just, it’s impressive. He’s an impressive player. and I’m still sitting here watching him at practice getting a front-row seat to the No. 1 pick and the Heisman winner.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

CEO Joe Ellis answers some questions including clearing up that it won’t be Pat Bowlen Mile High Stadium.  The AP:

 

The Denver Broncos are planning several ways to honor team owner Pat Bowlen , who died last week at 75 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s just two months shy of his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

Renaming their stadium in his honor isn’t one of those.

 

The team has lacked a naming rights partner for several years, and an online effort pushed by Broncos broadcast partner Orange & Blue 760 called for fans to sign a petition asking the team to rename the stadium “Pat Bowlen Field at Mile High.”

 

“I don’t think he would want that. So, I don’t think we’re going to do that,” team president and CEO Joe Ellis said Monday. “We’ve honored him with a statue, with a Ring of Fame pillar, his plaque on the Ring of Fame. We’ll do some things this season to honor him. But if we were to put his name on the stadium, I can remember him when he knew I was off-track saying, ‘Joe, just a second.’

 

“And I think that would be his reaction. Probably there are people who would disagree, and I respect that. But for now that is not something that would be in our plans.”

 

The team will hold a public tribute Tuesday at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.

 

“It’s kind of cool, we’re setting up a museum walkway that has a lot of his personal and Broncos memorabilia, and then at the end of the line is a tribute to him where members of the public can pay their respects to his family,” Ellis said. “All family members will be there tomorrow between the hours of 10 and 3. I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a nice send-off for Pat.”

 

Ellis said the Broncos also will wear an orange and blue “Mr. B.” decal on their helmets this season. Bowlen’s memory also will be honored before the regular-season home opener against Chicago and again in October on the same day fellow Hall of Fame inductee Champ Bailey is added to the team’s Ring of Honor.

 

Ellis said it was important to give fans that chance because so few can attend the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 3.

 

He said the public outpouring of support from fellow owners, former players and coaches, and from fans is proof that the team made the right call in putting together the five-hour public stadium tribute, which will be followed by a private funeral next Monday.

 

In reflecting on Bowlen’s legacy, Ellis called him “a really good friend, a great mentor, and he was a great boss.”

 

Ellis said that although Bowlen was famously shy and known publicly as a man of few words, “I’ve got to tell you he was a great communicator,” one who would check in often whenever he was away on league business.

 

“He just loved to stay in touch. He needed to know what was going on and what that did for me was let me know that he was paying attention,” Ellis said.

 

“He ran this football team with his heart and not his pocketbook,” said general manager John Elway.

 

That was something Ellis could attest to.

 

“He wanted to rip up everybody’s contract all the time to give them more money,” Ellis said, laughing.

 

Ellis said Bowlen’s widow, Annabel, who also is suffering from Alzheimer’s, visited team headquarters Friday afternoon shortly after her husband died. “She just wanted to see Pat’s office,” Ellis said.

 

Ownership of the franchise is held in a trust Bowlen set up more than a decade ago in hopes one of his seven children will one day run the team. Although daughter Brittany is hoping to one day take over, the succession plan and the trustees’ oversight of Bowlen’s estate has been challenged in state district court in the past year by some members of the Bowlen family.

 

“Nothing has changed,” Ellis said. “Pat prepared himself for this day, planned ahead for this day. The trustees are going to follow Pat’s plan. I’m going to carry out what Pat asked me to do and honor what he asked me to do and that’s really as much as I would say at this time.”

 

Elway said that nothing changes from his perspective, either.

 

“I’ve got 100 percent trust in what the trust is doing and the plan that Joe’s put together and the plan that Pat put together knowing this was coming down. I’ve got 100 percent confidence that this organization is going to continue to stand on its feet. Whatever direction that may be, it’ll be the right direction.”

 

Elway did allow that Bowlen’s death reinforces the urgency for him to reverse the slide that took the Broncos from Super Bowl champs three years ago to a team that posted double-digit losses each of the last two seasons.

 

“No. 1, we’ve got to get it turned around, and No. 2, with Pat, thinking about Pat, it’s his memory,” Elway said. “There’s no question there’s more motivation to get this thing turned around.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

DT MICHAEL PIERCE admits he’s a fat slob, but he says he is strong.  Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:

 

Defensive tackle Michael Pierce accepted responsibility for being pulled from practice during last week’s Baltimore Ravens mandatory minicamp, blaming it on an error in his training regimen.

 

“Throughout the offseason, I tend to lift more than run,” Pierce told WNSP-FM radio in Alabama on Friday. “Being a noseguard, I want to be strong or whatnot. I, honestly, just mismanaged my running a little bit.”

 

Pierce reported to the Ravens last week significantly heavier than his listed playing weight of 340 pounds. A restricted free agent, Pierce didn’t attend the team’s offseason conditioning program and sat out all of the voluntary practices in the spring.

 

On Tuesday, Pierce left the field following the stretching portion of practice after speaking to coach John Harbaugh, who later told reporters that the fourth-year lineman wasn’t ready to practice “from a safety standpoint and for his own health.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

We put Ben Volin’s story in the Boston Globe about Nick Caserio in NEW ENGLAND, but it also impacts Houston.  Perhaps the Texans will wait a year for Caserio as he will be a free agent next May.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

More on the Jaguars and LB TELVIN SMITH who sort of says he is “retired.”  John Reid of the Florida Times-Union:

 

Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith has kept his word on not playing football in 2019, skipping all team activities since January that included last week’s three-day mandatory minicamp.

 

But the 2017 Pro Bowl linebacker still has not filed his official retirement paperwork with the NFL.

 

Until he does, he won’t get any protection from fines imposed by the Jaguars.

 

When Smith skipped the team’s mandatory minicamp, he forfeited $5 million of his $9.75 million base salary after it was guaranteed March 17. The Jaguars reportedly fined Smith $88,650 for missing the three-day minicamp.

 

Smith posted the notice of the per day breakdown of the fines on his Instagram account Saturday — $14,775 for the missing the first day, $29,550 for the second and $44,325 for Day 3.

 

Per collective bargaining agreement, the Jaguars could fine Smith up to $40,000 per day for missing next month’s training camp. Also, he could forfeit his entire $9.75 million base salary if he skips the 2019 season.

 

Smith, a fifth-round draft pick by the Jaguars out of Florida State in 2014, has not indicated his plans beyond 2019. Smith is in the second year of a four-year, $45 million extension.

 

However, if Smith files his retirement papers, it would protect him from fines and free up a roster spot for the Jaguars, who would put him on the league’s reserve/retired list.

 

If Smith files retirement papers and then decides to return after the 2019 season, his existing contract with the Jaguars would resume unless they cut him.

 

Still, the Jaguars would have the option to pursue the return of a portion of Smith’s signing bonus equal to the unplayed portion of the contract.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

An interesting marital offer by the Bills.  This from the Buffalo News:

 

The Bills are seeking a couple to get married at New Era Field at halftime of the Sept. 29 game against the New England Patriots.

 

The Bills are calling this the “Halftime Wedding Experience of a Lifetime.”

 

The winning couple will exchange vows on the field with 20 invited guests and the 70,000 fans in the stands with a reception to follow. The couple will get custom Bills jerseys.

 

The team has posted a questionnaire asking, among other info, what is your favorite Bills memory, how long have you been a Bills fan, have you attended Bills games, and of course, why should you be the lucky couple?

 

The DB wondered how much the Bills were hoping to charge the couple, but if you click the entry form, it appears to be a straight offer (perhaps we shouldn’t use straight here as presumably gay and other unconventional couples are eligible), a direct offer of a free wedding.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Nick Caserio with a leak from deep within the Patriots’ Deep State – “Let me out!”  Ben Volin of the Boston Globe:

 

While you were loading up your car to head to the beach last Friday afternoon, the Patriots won their battle with the Texans over Nick Caserio.

 

The Texans backed off their pursuit of New England’s director of player personnel after being “made aware of certain terms in Nick’s contract with the Patriots,” the team said in a statement. In turn, the Patriots rescinded their tampering charge against the Texans, and Robert Kraft said, “We appreciate the way [Texans chairman] Cal McNair has handled the situation.”

 

So Caserio will be back this year, and the Patriots’ power structure remains intact. All’s well that ends well, right?

 

Not in this case.

 

The Patriots may have won this round, but keeping Caserio isn’t the real story here. The real story is this: Nick Caserio wants out of New England.

 

Specifically, he wants that Texans job, even though it was more of a lateral move than a true promotion. And to prevent Caserio from leaving, the Patriots had to enforce a clause in his contract and file tampering charges.

 

Caserio’s deal reportedly runs through the 2020 NFL Draft. To use football terms, the Patriots are making him play out his contract before reaching free agency.

 

The Patriots’ win keeps Bill Belichick’s right-hand man in Foxborough for another season but also exposes some tension inside the walls of Gillette Stadium that we thought had simmered since last year.

 

Belichick and Tom Brady seem to have smoothed things over. But there has been a surprising exodus of coaches and scouts over the last two years (especially this year), which raises questions about the working environment in Foxborough.

 

Five coaches left this offseason (not all for promotions). Jack Easterby left. Longtime scout Dujuan Daniels left. Greg Schiano left after a month.

 

And now we see that Caserio wants out, too. If Caserio wanted to stay in New England, he would have just turned down the Texans’ overtures. Instead, the Patriots had to lawyer up to enforce Caserio’s contract.

 

This marks the second straight year that the Patriots have had to block Caserio from interviewing with the Texans. Last year, they also blocked college scouting director Monti Ossenfort from interviewing for the same job. I have been told he wasn’t too happy about it.

 

The Patriots are well within their rights to force their employees to fulfill their contracts. And I wouldn’t blame them for being upset if Easterby, the Texans’ new vice president of team development, used the Patriots’ June 6 ring ceremony at Kraft’s house to recruit Caserio (former Texans GM Brian Gaine was fired the next day).

 

But it’s certainly a significant plot twist that Caserio wants out, especially when he seems to have a good thing going in Foxborough.

 

Caserio may not be the top dog in New England, but he is a close No. 2. He gets to negotiate contracts, pick a lot of the players, conduct workouts, help out in practice, talk on the headset during games, and do a million little things that the Patriots don’t tell us about. Caserio has been in New England from the beginning of the dynasty (2001), likely makes several million per year, has raised his family here, and goes to the Super Bowl every year.

 

And as I wrote last week, that Houston job isn’t perfect by any stretch. Certainly there’s an attractive setup with coach Bill O’Brien and Easterby, both former Patriots with whom Caserio has a good relationship. But it looks like a lateral move, as Caserio would still be working with a head coach who has most of the control over the roster. And the Texans brass may not be on the most solid of footing, what with O’Brien’s 1-3 playoff record in five seasons, and Gaine getting fired after 16 months.

 

If Caserio is concerned about job security, there is no better place than New England, where he has lasted 19 years.

 

Yet he still wants the Houston job.

 

Perhaps it’s simply about money, or the opportunity to grow. Whatever his motivation, this episode says that Caserio believes his time in Foxborough has run its course.

 

The Patriots, if they want, have a year to convince him to stay. He and his old college buddy Josh McDaniels are obvious candidates to replace Belichick, whenever he moves on (though no one I’ve talked to thinks that day is coming soon). Caserio may want out, but money always talks.

 

But every sign points to Caserio landing with the Texans next offseason.

 

When the Texans fired Gaine, it was done for one reason: to hire Caserio. They interviewed Martin Mayhew and Ray Farmer for the job — two minority candidates who could fulfill the NFL’s Rooney Rule — but since they lost out on Caserio, they have decided to move on without a general manager for the 2019 season. O’Brien, Easterby, and lead contract negotiator Chris Olsen will run the football side.

 

Nothing will stop the Texans from signing Caserio next spring, though, when he becomes a free agent. The only question may be whether the Patriots will enforce Caserio’s contract to the bitter end. Do they really want Caserio running their draft next spring, knowing that he is going to bolt for Houston as soon as the final pick is announced?

 

I don’t expect this episode to affect Caserio’s professionalism this year, as I don’t believe he would lay down on the job or tank or anything to that effect.

 

But it is interesting, to say the least, to see that Caserio wants out of New England. And despite the appearance of harmony and joy in Foxborough following a sixth Super Bowl championship, perhaps things aren’t as rosy and perfect as they appear.

– – –

Here is one way that QB TOM BRADY makes up for his relatively benign salary.  Ryan Young of YahooSports.com:

 

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may be nearing the end of his NFL career, but he’s still raking in more money than anyone else in the league.

 

Brady earned $2.35 million in NFL Players Association endorsements last season, according to Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic. That list, included in the NFLPA’s annual report filed to the Department of Labor, detailed how much each player in the league earned from group licensing — which includes all deals used by at least six players. The majority of earnings in that report come from Nike jersey sales, video games from Electronic Arts and Panini trading cards.

 

Brady’s other endorsement deals, like with Under Armour and UGG, are not included in that figure.

 

“(It’s) just truly staggering, because he’s been in the same market, selling the same jersey for 17 years,” Russ Spielman, president of sports marketing at GSE Worldwide, told The Athletic. “You see, Peyton Manning moves markets when he did, and you understand when his jersey goes to the top of the sales. But for Tom, I mean, how many more Patriot fans are there that don’t own his jersey at this point, but it keeps going. It’s awesome to watch.”

 

Brady topped the list again this season, though his number was down from the $2.5 million he earned last year. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott came in second on the list at $2 million, and former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was third at $1.5 million.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

“HE HATE ME” MISSING

There is a BOLO alert on former NFL and XFL RB Rod Smart.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Former Panthers running back and original XFL legend Rod Smart has been reported missing, and authorities in South Carolina have asked for help locating him.

 

According to Andrew Dys of the Rock Hill Herald, police in Lancaster County, S.C. (just south of Charlotte) have asked for any information about Smart’s whereabouts, describing him as a “missing endangered person.”

 

The 42-year-old Smart was last seen on June 12 near Indian Land, S.C.

 

“Family and deputies have concerns about his well-being and safety,” said Doug Barfield, spokesman for Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.

 

Smart spent four seasons with the Panthers, and was perhaps best known for his XFL nickname of “He Hate Me.”

 

He was last spotted driving a silver 2016 Nissan Maxima (license plate PJR-1759). Anyone with information is asked to call the Lancaster County Sheriff’s office at 803-283-3388