AROUND THE NFL
TE JIMMY GRAHAM says he will be back in top form in 2019. Kelly Price of NBC26.com:
After finding the end zone just twice in 2018, Jimmy Graham was ready for a clean slate this season.
He is hopeful he’s getting that in the new offense Matt LaFleur brought to Green Bay with him.
“Obviously last year was disappointing for everybody. I’m not used to losing. I don’t think anybody here is, you know?” Graham said Sunday at his charity cornhole tournament. “And for me, it was not a good year. I’m completely focused on putting my best foot forward and being the player that I am: Scoring in the red zone and being that big threat on third down. I mean, I gotta get back to that. And I take it serious. It’s something that eats at me every single day, not making the playoffs and sometimes not making the plays that I should have. So you better believe I’m gonna be ready.”
He doesn’t regularly speak with the media, but it seemed he read what critics had to say last season about him losing his touch as that quick, big mismatch for opposing defenses.
“I mean we all have our ups and downs,” Graham said. “Obviously there was a lot going on last year for all of us in the building. But all that’s in the past. I know the player that I am and I know I still have juice, I know I still can run. I’m gonna go prove a lot of people wrong.”
Heading into his ninth year in the NFL, Graham’s biggest goal remains the reason he’s still playing.
“All I think about is a ring, so until that happens, I’m going to keep playing. That’s really all I care about at this point,” he said. “I haven’t even thought about what I’ll do after or how I’m going to do it or when I’m going to do it. Once I get the ring, then I’ll answer that question for you and reevaluate what’s going to happen.”
DT GERALD McCOY will get to play his old team twice in 2019, but he won’t get to return to Tampa (as the Buccaneers’ home game with the Panthers is in London). Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
Apparently, Gerald McCoy didn’t care for the fact the Buccaneers gave away his old number so soon, so he wants to take it out on them.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the free agent defensive tackle has decided to sign with the Panthers.
McCoy also visited the Ravens and Browns before taking the weekend to make up his mind, and apparently chose the chance to stay in the NFC South and see Ndamukong Suh wear his jersey twice a year.
McCoy will reportedly sign a one-year deal worth around $8.5 million. That’s less than Suh got in Tampa ($9.25 million for one year), and well off the $13 million he was supposed to make for the Bucs this year.
He’s a significant boost for the Panthers interior rush, as they didn’t have much of substance beyond Kawann Short.
They revamped their outside rush group this offseason (first-rounder Brian Burns, veteran Bruce Irvin) but adding a player such as McCoy was a significant need for them.
Michael David Smith of PFT takes a closer look at the deal:
Gerald McCoy would have had a $13 million base salary this year if he hadn’t been released by the Buccaneers. He’ll make a lot less than that in Carolina, but how much less will depend on how well he plays.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, McCoy gets just $4 million guaranteed, although he can make up to $10.25 million if he hits all his incentives.
In addition to the signing bonus, the deal includes a $3 million base salary, $500,000 roster bonus at training camp, a total of up to $500,000 in roster bonuses for being active on game days, a $500,000 bonus if he records 6.5 sacks and a $1.5 million bonus if he records eight sacks, plus $250,000 if he makes the Pro Bowl and $250,000 if the Panthers make the playoffs.
There’s no reason McCoy shouldn’t get the $3 million base salary and $500,000 roster bonus, which will bring him up to $7.5 million on the season, but the incentives will be tough to reach. If McCoy were to have an identical season in 2019 to the one he had in 2018, he’d make $437,500 in per-gram roster bonuses (for playing 14 out of 16 games), and hit none of the incentives: Last year McCoy didn’t get 6.5 sacks, didn’t make the Pro Bowl and the Panthers didn’t make the playoffs.
McCoy and his agent may have been looking for a way to spin the contract as comparable to or even better than the deal that Ndamukong Suh got to replace McCoy in Tampa, and by structuring it so that he can make up to $10.25 million, they’re allowing for the possibility that McCoy will make more than the $10 million maximum Suh can make this season.
The difference, however, is that Suh gets a $9.25 million salary, and only $750,000 of his pay is in incentives. McCoy is unlikely to hit enough incentives to reach $9.25 million. If McCoy were to have the same season this year that he had last year, he’d make just under $8 million — meaning getting cut by the Bucs will cost him more than $5 million.
DT NDAMUKONG SUH will wear the number of the great GERALD McCOY. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Buccaneers barely waited for Gerald McCoy to take his belongings and leave before they replaced him. Three days after releasing McCoy, Tampa Bay signed Ndamukong Suh.
On Monday, Suh announced on Twitter that he will wear No. 93, McCoy’s old number with the Bucs.
It is not like it’s a new number for Suh. He wore 90 during his five seasons with the Lions before switching to 93 with the Dolphins in 2015. Suh has worn 93 since.
But some on social media have seen Suh’s decision to pick McCoy’s old number as disrespectful.
The Bucs just hope Suh wears it as well as McCoy did in earning six Pro Bowls and making 54.5 sacks in his nine seasons in Tampa.
They will get to see their prize addition this week at a mandatory minicamp.
“IT’S THAT TIME!! Whose ready for mini camp?!” Suh wrote on his Twitter post along with the photo of him in his No. 93 Bucs jersey.
CB PATRICK PETERSON shows up at Cardinals camp. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Cornerback Patrick Peterson‘s offseason has included a suspension, reports of a rift with the Cardinals front office and trade chatter, but it did not include any participation in organized team activities until Monday.
According to multiple reports, Peterson is on the field with the team as they kick off their final week of OTAs in Arizona. They’ll close out the offseason with a three-day mandatory minicamp next week.
Peterson will miss the first six games of the 2019 season after being suspended for a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Peterson reportedly asked the Cardinals to restructure his contract to limit the money he’d lose as a result of the suspension and got upset with them when they declined to do so.
Peterson requested a trade away from Arizona last season, but apologized for doing so in January and said that he is “here to stay.” His current contract runs through the 2020 season.
Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com on how 49ers DE SOLOMON THOMAS is coping with a family tragedy:
Dressed in a tailored tuxedo, standing in front of about 400 people in the Appel Room at Lincoln Center in New York City with his parents by his side, San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas accepted an award and delivered a speech much as he’d done many times for his exploits on a football field.
This time, though, it had nothing to do with football. This was an introduction of the new Solomon Thomas: still a son and a football player, forever a brother, and now a distinct and important voice in shining a light on the issues of mental health and suicide.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention was holding its annual Lifesavers Gala in early May and gave Thomas and his parents — mother Martha and father Chris — the Survivors of Loss Award, given to those who have shared their stories in an effort to help others, further prevention initiatives and create change.
“To be strong means to be vulnerable, willing to be uncomfortable, grow in the hardest times of your life and be confident in your emotions,” Thomas said in his speech that night. “This is the biggest honor I’ve ever received. I love you all.”
It came nearly a year and a half after Ella Thomas, Solomon’s sister, died by suicide on Jan. 23, 2018. She was 24.
“I kept thinking it’s amazing that our 23-year-old son is sitting up there on this stage in front of all these people, and it was a moment of pride but also a moment of just reflection on how he’s making a difference in changing people’s lives in that room and having a positive impact,” Chris Thomas said. “That moment was one of the most impactful moments that I’ve seen in my life. Solomon has received a lot of awards throughout his sports career, but to me, being recognized for the work that he’s been doing as a survivor and trying to help others, that is the most important recognition that he’s received.”
After a short introduction from 49ers CEO Jed York, Thomas stepped to the dais and delivered an emotional speech in which he thanked his family, the 49ers and the AFSP before telling Ella’s story and explaining how her death has changed his family’s life.
“He was absolutely stunning and incredible,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer of the AFSP. “It was just a beautiful, beautiful moment.”
A beautiful moment born from devastating loss.
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Although Thomas’ second NFL season ended with some encouraging signs, it still fell short of the expectations that followed him as the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft. Now, Thomas doesn’t hesitate to call last season the worst of his life, and while he acknowledges that his grief played a part in that, he refuses to use it as an excuse.
All of that bubbled over into some draft-day rumors about Thomas being on the trade block, a notion general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan quickly quashed. Lynch even pulled Thomas into his office to tell him there were still big plans for him.
“We all know what he went through, but you can see … he’s got his aura back to him,” Shanahan said. “You can see it in his eyes, you can feel his energy a little bit better and it definitely seems like he’s in a better place.”
For the Thomas family, the nearly year-and-a-half journey from Ella’s death to that New York City podium was filled with heart-wrenching grief. What followed was what Moutier describes as a “mishmash” experience in which the stages of grief can’t be put into an easily defined structure.
Mixed in that grieving process is a natural instinct to question everything that happened leading up to the suicide. What could they have done differently? Were there missed signs? How could they have helped?
“All the phases, the anger, depression, the sadness, guilt, grief, all that kind of stuff,” Solomon Thomas said. “[It was] hard for me to get healthy, it took me awhile.”
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“What we see him doing when he comes and he speaks out publicly in the media or at our events is he’s on fire when he’s talking,” Moutier said. “He’s finding his passion and his sense of purpose.”
That passion has translated into more than a renewed vigor on the football field.
“Ever since I got healthy, my life’s been so different, and it feels great,” Solomon Thomas said. “It’s like once I got mentally healthy, my life has changed and being me again, because I’m just a guy who goes and guy who loves life, and a guy who tries to bring the energy up around me, just be the best I can in everything I do. That’s how I’ve lived my whole life and why I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten.
“And I’m going to keep going.”
LOS ANGELES RAMS
We must admit we didn’t know that QB BLAKE BORTLES is now getting coaching from Sean McVay. He should be ready to be a head coach in the NFL by next year. Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times:
Two seasons ago, quarterback Blake Bortles played in the AFC championship game, falling one victory shy of leading the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Super Bowl.
For his effort, and his projected future, Bortles received a contract extension that included $26.5 million in guarantees.
Fewer than 18 months later, Bortles is no longer an NFL starter. He’s the backup for Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
And, apparently, Bortles is enjoying the experience.
“It’s been awesome,” he said last week.
Bortles, 27, and the Rams consider his time in Los Angeles a temporary assignment.
After the Jaguars signed quarterback Nick Foles in March, Bortles was released and in need of a landing spot. The Jaguars reportedly still owed him $6.5 million for 2019, so Bortles signed a one-year, $1-million contract with the Rams to learn at the elbow of coach Sean McVay.
Barring injury or a major step backward in performance by Goff, Bortles will spend the 2019 season as a reserve. He fully expects an opportunity to compete for a starting job with another team in 2020.
In the meantime, he is soaking up the Rams’ offense and culture during organized team activities, which continue Monday.
McVay, Bortles said, has exceeded expectations.
“Seeing how he coaches, how all the other coaches coach and how the guys are receptive and take it, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bortles said.
McVay likes what he has seen of the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Bortles, the third pick in the 2014 draft.
In five seasons with the Jaguars, Bortles was 24-49 as a starter during the regular season. He passed for 103 touchdowns, with 75 interceptions.
His best statistical season came in 2015, when he passed for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns for a team that finished 5-11.
Two years ago, Bortles passed for 21 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions, and led the Jaguars to a 10-6 record and playoff victories over the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 293 yards and touchdown in a 24-20 conference championship game defeat by the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
But after receiving the contract extension, Bortles struggled for much of last season. He was benched after a late-November loss to the Bills, a defeat that extended a losing streak to seven games.
Now he has a fresh start with the Rams.
Bortles’ experience is evident in his command of the huddle and in his confidence, McVay said. He has proven that he can make elite plays.
“You’ve seen a lot of really good things that he’s put on tape over the course of his career in Jacksonville,” McVay said. “And, if need be, we’re confident he’ll perform well for us as well.”
Goff, preparing for his fourth NFL season, and Bortles share the same representation firm, so they have known each other and have been friends for a few years.
That eased the acceptance of a new personality into the quarterbacks meeting room.
“I’m excited to have him in the room with me,” Goff said at the start of offseason workouts.
The existing relationship enables Bortles and Goff to share ideas and provide honest feedback in a position group that also includes Brandon Allen and John Wolford.
“There’s no ‘Should I say this? Should I not say this?’ ” Bortles said. “We’re both pretty free talking with each other.”
The Rams are coming off consecutive NFC West titles and a trip to the Super Bowl. They are regarded among the NFC favorites to make another Super Bowl run.
With McVay is expected to again hold out starters during preseason games and Bortles will probably have the opportunity to show what he can do in the Rams system before the opener against the Carolina Panthers. But Bortles has accepted that there is no chance to challenge for a starting role with the Rams. And he is at peace with it.
“It’s a weird thing to kind of balance in your head,” he said. “I have a role. I’m here to back Jared and do whatever I can to help him out. And if I get an opportunity, I’ve got to make sure we don’t miss a beat offensively and we continue to roll.
“And at the same time, I also expect to be a starter in this league again, and I know it’s not going to be here in L.A.
“So I’m trying to just better myself. … And if I get an opportunity to play, great. If not, then I spent a year learning from McVay, and being around a really good organization.”
Why does the DB feel that we’ll hear from both Bortles and RYAN TANNEHILL (now with the Titans) in the next few years?
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And this from Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com on the left knee of RB TODD GURLEY III:
Four months after Super Bowl LIII, questions still abound about the health of Todd Gurley’s fickle left knee.
The Los Angeles Rams running back has been held out of on-field team practices during offseason workouts, instead taking part in a “planned training program.” Gurley is also reportedly trying to shed half a dozen pounds down to 218 in an attempt to lighten the load on a knee that held him back down the stretch of last season.
Rams coach Sean McVay addressed Monday reports of Gurley’s desire to play at a lower weight, expressing optimism about the running back’s health heading into 2019.
“I want him to feel most comfortable. That’s the most important thing, what he feels he can most function at, being the all-purpose back he’s been and that’s where we’re at,” McVay told reporters. “So he says, ‘I’d rather play five, 10 pounds lighter,’ and he’s going to feel better about that, then that’s exactly what we’ll do. He’s earned the right to be able to tell us how he’s feeling with the give and take. As long as he’s got a why, which I know he does, we’re always receptive to those things.”
Gurley’s return to “all-purpose” form might not be so simple, though. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that it is understood in Los Angeles that Gurley will no longer be the bell-cow back that he was over the first four seasons of his career, something that was hinted at during Super Bowl Weekend and will continue this year.
“The days of Todd Gurley just being the straight-up, every-down bell cow are probably over, just based on his knee, his age, the position, the amount of carries he’s had,” Rapoport said on Monday’s edition on NFL Total Access. “It’s probably not going to be like that, which by the way is maybe why the Rams drafted a running back in the third round, someone they really like a lot. This is a team that is clearly ready to spread the ball around.
“Of course, Gurley’s knee, the wear and tear on that knee, the surgically repaired knee, is something that everyone knows has been concerning to the team for some time. All they really want is for Gurley to come back when the season begins when it’s really time to go to be 100 percent. What they don’t want is to have all those questions they had leading up the Super Bowl repeat before Week 1.”
Rapoport reported on the day of Super Bowl LIII that Gurley, who had seen a dip in production and snap count since suffering the knee injury in Week 15 but was not mentioned on the injury report, would not be the work horse against the New England Patriots, despite McVay telling reporters Gurley would “be a big part of this game.” The running back carried the ball 10 times for just 35 yards in Los Angeles’ loss.
The Rams have since insisted that Gurley was healthy ahead of the big game, despite reports that the back’s knee remains arthritic. McVay said in April that Gurley would be the “focal point” of Los Angeles’ offense.
But that was before the Rams chose Memphis RB Darrell Henderson in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, after which McVay, who used 11 personnel almost exclusively last season, suggested the Rams could use more two-back formations next season. The Rams also employ Malcolm Brown, Justin Davis and John Kelly as backup options.
Since McVay’s arrival in L.A., there have been few, if any, offensive players as consistently dangerous as Gurley, who led the league in yards from scrimmage and total TDs in 2017 en route to Offensive Player of the Year honors and then paced all pros with 21 total TDs in 2018 despite missing the Rams’ final two games.
But all indications, from inside and outside the Rams’ facility, are that the 24-year-old Gurley’s days of league-leading dominance are dwindling.
Was this a good decision by WR ADAM HUMPHRIES? TheRedZone.org translates from The Athletic’s Travis Haney:
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers/current Tennessee Titans wide receiver Adam Humphries says he passed up a chance in free agency to sign with the New England Patriots according to Travis Haney of The Athletic.
The New Orleans Saints were also reportedly interested, Humphries said he chose the Titans because he viewed them as a team “on the rise,” and that he was not sure how much longer Tom Brady might play in New England. “Obviously, he’s the G.O.A.T.,” Humphries said of Brady. “But there’s so much that factors into a decision. It was a four-year deal. Who knows how many (years) he’s got left? There’s a lot that goes into it.”
Left unsaid is the likelihood that the Titans also offered Humphries the most money as he ended up signing a four-year, $36 million contract which included a $10 million signing bonus and $12 million in guaranteed money. That’s a pretty awesome payday for a 5’11”, 195-lb. slot receiver who started his NFL career in Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson. Humphries had a breakout year in 2018 with season highs in catches (76), yards (816), and touchdowns (5) and he gives Titans QB Marcus Mariota a bankable possession receiver. Not quite dynamic but highly efficient, Humphries posted better than a 70 percent catch rate in his final two years with Tampa Bay.
The Bills are increasing pressure on community leaders for a new stadium. Shalise Manza Young of YahooSports.com:
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is spending Monday in Western New York, playing in Hall of Famer – and cancer-free legend – Jim Kelly’s charity golf tournament.
Not surprisingly, Goodell again took the occasion to push for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, even seemingly subtly threatening the city and fan base.
‘I want the Bills to be successful’
Goodell spoke to reporters before teeing off at Kelly’s annual event, and was asked about the alleged need for the Bills to play in a new facility.
He wants to see New Era Field, the Bills’ 45-year-old stadium, replaced.
“The reason why I’m supportive is because I want to make sure this franchise remains stable here and continues and remain competitive,” Goodell said, via Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News. “And I think it’s great for this community. And we’ve been able to do these stadiums in such a way that it creates a tremendous economic benefit, too.
“I want the Bills to be successful and I want them to continue to be competitive here in Buffalo.”
The remarks are similar to the ones Goodell made in 2016 at the same event, when he said Buffalo must “stay up” with modern NFL facilities.
Reporters on Monday pressed Goodell on whether that meant the Bills could relocate and he responded, “I don’t know about that.”
‘Answer is probably a scaled-down palace’
It’s nothing new to see the NFL and team owners threaten fan bases with relocation unless residents pony up the money for a new stadium.
But Buffalo without the Bills? You can’t be serious.
Earlier this year at the NFL owners’ meetings, Buffalo owner Terry Pegula was asked about the stadium issue and said the league “more or less” wants to “see something done one way or the other.”
Buffalo is one of the smaller markets in the NFL, and “any way we can increase our revenue, they’re for it,” he said.
Of course when it came to the billion-dollar question – would Terry and his wife, Kim, foot the bill for new home digs? – he answered, “I don’t know.”
The Pegulas have commissioned CAA ICON to complete a market research study to help determine the best option. More than 30,000 people have been surveyed and focus groups have been held. The results are expected this summer.
“I think the answer is probably a scaled-down version of some of these palaces that are being built around the country,” Terry Pegula said at the owners’ meetings. “The thing [Rams owner] Stan [Kroenke] is building in L.A. is amazing, Jerry Jones’ facility in Dallas. So we need to do something that’s Buffalo style.”
The Pegulas ponied up $18 million for a state-of-the-art performance facility that opened in April.
If Goodell wants the Bills to be competitive, having top-notch practice, treatment and meeting spaces for players – you know, the people who actually determine wins and losses – to use on a daily basis is a lot more important than a stadium they use 10 times a year.
But as we all know, the NFL has one concern: money.
Erie County owns New Era Field, and in 2012 the Pegulas signed a lease that runs through 2023; the deal includes $130 million in renovations to the building.
Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said in March that renovation might be more beneficial than a new stadium: “We know if we can extend the lifespan of that stadium for another 25 years, and if it worked for our market, why would we not do that?”
New Era is getting a new turf field this year.
Poloncarz has a point, and the Bills wouldn’t be the only franchise to take the renovation route: Arrowhead Stadium, which is slightly older than New Era, underwent a $375 million renovation about a decade ago; the Hunt family paid $125 million of that, and the rest was paid by Jackson County, which owns the facility.
Soldier Field, the second-oldest stadium in the NFL (L.A. County Coliseum is oldest), underwent extensive renovations in 2002-03, at a cost of $630 million. That, however, was paid for entirely by taxpayers, and as of 2016, residents were still paying for the project.
Stability comment seems dubious
Goodell’s job is to promote and push for whatever the majority of NFL owners want, and to make those owners more money (those two things are not mutually exclusive, of course).
But saying a new stadium will help the Bills remain stable?
Unless Goodell knows something the rest of us don’t – i.e. that the Pegulas want out already – the Bills have been a model of stability for the entirety of their existence: founder Ralph Wilson owned the team for over 54 years, until the day he died in 2014 at age 95.
The Pegulas were approved as the new owners not long after, paying $1.4 billion for the franchise.
Again, practice and training facilities, which can attract top free agents, seem far more important to the team’s success than its home stadium. A great quarterback, good coach and strong front office are also more important.
Bills fans are proud, loyal (if a little crazy) and continue to attend games even though their team has made but one playoff appearance in the past 19 years.
But like many other cities that once thrived on manufacturing, Buffalo’s population is half what it was at its peak in 1950; Erie County has lost roughly 200,000 residents since the 1970 census. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last month that the average weekly wage in Erie is $925, or $48,100 annually.
There are currently 2019 Bills season tickets available through the team website for $468 – if the team builds a new stadium, what are the odds they remain relatively affordable like that?
Slim and none.
Goodell’s contention that a new stadium would be an economic boon for the county and area is dubious as well – stadium deals almost always benefit the team, not the government that owns it.
Even though Erie County owns the stadium, the Bills reap the money that came from the reported seven year, $40 million naming-rights deal with New Era.
As outlined in The Atlantic last November, cities don’t benefit like sports teams and leagues want you to believe. The construction jobs created when a new arena is built are temporary, and it’s not always local workers who get them.
The majority of jobs tied to stadiums are low-paying and seasonal: concession stand workers, ticket scanners, suite attendants and the like work only when the stadium is being used.
THIS AND THAT
WHEN IS A TEAM OWNER NOT AN OWNER?
If it is in the NBA. For now. Mike Florio on the NBA’s latest example of being avant garde. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
In a move that could place pressure on the NFL to follow suit, some NBA teams are considering getting away from the longstanding label that applies to the people who own NBA teams.
TMZ reports that at least two NBA teams have done away with the term “owner” within the past year, and that other teams have discussed making a similar change.
“You shouldn’t say owner,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said last year on HBO’s The Shop, via TMZ. The thinking is that the term “owner” in a league predominantly consisting of African-American players is racially insensitive.
In the current politically correct vs. politically incorrect cage-match climate, as many will strongly agree as will strongly disagree with that notion. We’ve begun the process of exploring whether to employ an alternative term in reference to NFL owners; the problem in some cases is that a team has an owner and, separately, a CEO or a chairman. The goal would be to find a term that reflects the status of the person who is the principal decision maker and primary holder of equity interest, without having to type out that many words every time.