AROUND THE NFL

FYI – with Memorial Day in the rearview mirror we are 100 days away from Green Bay at Chicago to open the NFL’s 100th season.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

New DC Chuck Pagano makes a heavy comparison with S EDDIE JACKSON.  Patrick Finley in the Chicago Sun-Times:

 

As he walked off the Bears’ practice field Wednesday, Eddie Jackson laughed when he was asked if it was too soon to be playing football again.

 

“No,” he said. “It’s too long of a break from it.”

 

After the best season of his career, albeit with a heartbreaking finish — he earned first-team all-pro honors but missing the final two games of the regular season, and the team’s playoff loss, with a high-ankle ankle sprain — Jackson knows there’s plenty of room to improve.

 

“Still getting better at tackling,” he said. “Understanding the playbook — it’s a new defensive coordinator with [Chuck Pagano]. So understand that and get everything down pat. Get better at practice.”

 

And intercept more passes than the six he totaled — two for a touchdown — last season.

 

“I feel like you can always improve,” he said. “I feel like the bar’s starting to get higher and higher, but I like it. I’m a competitive type of guy. I like to prove people wrong.”

 

As if Jackson needed any further motivation, here’s a Pro Football Hall of Fame case study: in his second season, Ravens safety Ed Reed intercepted seven passes, returning one for a touchdown, in 2003. Like Jackson did last year, he defended 15 passes, recorded one sack and earned his first Pro Bowl appearance.

 

The next year, was perhaps the best of Reed’s career, which will culminate in an August Hall of Fame enshrinement: he led the league with nine interceptions and 358 interception return yards in 2004.

 

By the time Pagano joined the Ravens as the defensive backs coach four years later, Reed was a superstar, having made four Pro Bowls and been named first-team all-pro three times. But he can see a lot of Reed in Jackson.

 

“From a talent standpoint? Very, very similar,” Pagano said. “Great instincts. Great range. Great ball skills. He’s only three years into it. Ed has a lot more time on task, obviously. He’s got a lot of the same traits. He loves football. He’s a football junkie. And again, the sky’s the limit for a guy like that.

 

“When you know the defense and you know what you’re doing and then you can spend all your time figuring out the offense and being one step ahead, that’s where he’s got an edge on everybody. He’s very similar to Reed.”

 

It’s a lofty comparison. But the Bears believe Jackson is on a trajectory to be one of the game’s best safeties for a long time.

 

Jackson did his part this offseason, when he spent time training at Halas Hall. His ankle didn’t feel back to normal until after the Pro Bowl.

 

“He had a great year last year — but that was then,” safeties coach Sean Desai said. “He knows that. We’re going to challenge him in a way that we see, and he sees, the small areas he can improve. …

 

“In this league, it’s about one step and one inch. If you can get him one step faster than he was last year, that could lead to more plays he can make. If you get him one inch closer, than can lead to more plays.”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

When the NFL “reviews” and incident, some kind of punishment usually follows.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

If the video from Las Vegas had involved almost anyone else, no one would have batted an eye. But because it was Ezekiel Elliott bumping a security guard, the NFL likely will review the incident, Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com reports.

 

The league did not respond to multiple requests for comment from PFT over the past week, but the report comes as no surprise considering the running back’s history.

 

After a legal battle, Elliott served a six-game suspension in 2017 for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The NFL informed Elliott then that he could face further discipline for additional contact with authorities, though “it was not spelled out what the threshold would ultimately be to trigger another personal conduct violation,” per Robinson.

 

Robinson, citing a source in the league’s executive branch, added that a video incident of Elliott pulling down the shirt of a woman and exposing her breast during a 2017 St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dallas was deemed a personal conduct violation despite no arrest or complaint from the woman.

 

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones and owner Jerry Jones both have dismissed any concern about the most recent incident. But then, the Cowboys also never expected the NFL to suspend the two-time rushing champion for the domestic abuse allegations made against Elliott by an ex-girlfriend.

 

Las Vegas police working a music festival Elliott attended last weekend placed him in handcuffs but did not arrest him. The security guard did not want to press charges after Elliott bodied him backward and gave him a forearm into a metal gate.

 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine whether he perceives “actual or threatened physical violence against another person” in the Las Vegas video, according to Robinson.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

DT NDAMUKONG SUH is thrilled to be a Buccaneer.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Buccaneers defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh signed in Tampa Bay without visiting, as he’s been in France celebrating his recent engagement. Still in France, Suh has now spoken about his new team.

 

In attendance at the French Open, Suh talked to Tennis Channel, and he said he thinks he can be part of a change in the culture in Tampa.

 

“I’m very excited,” Suh said. “I actually had the opportunity to talk very deeply with coach Todd Bowles, as well as Bruce Arians, two elite coaches that I’ve had great interactions with in years past. I like being part of things you can build, and be able to put them over the top. Hopefully my talent, as well as all the other guys — former Nebraskans, Lavonte David — we can play together and change the game there, and get us to a winning situation.”

 

Suh was in a winning situation last season, playing in the Super Bowl with the Rams. The Buccaneers have an uphill climb to get back to the postseason, but they’re hoping Suh is a part of getting them there.

– – –

The Buccaneers thought they had a scheme that would net them $20 million for the “damages” they sustained by the Deepwater oil spill disaster.  A federal appeals court has pierced the veil.  The AP has a surface skim of the case:

 

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not entitled to damages from BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

 

At issue were the accounting practices the team used to argue that the 2010 spill caused the team’s revenues to fall. The Bucs had sought $19.5 million in damages.

 

On Friday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s decision against the team.

 

The court found that the Bucs’ revenue in May-June 2010 was not significantly lower than its revenue during that same span a year later. To qualify for damages, it had needed to show that its revenues rebounded by at least 10 percent in 2011.

 

The team’s stadium is about 360 miles southeast of the site of the spill.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com plunges deeper into the morass (and points out the rare unanimity of the circuit panel that detected the Glazers’ sneaky bid for lucre):

 

The message oozing between the lines of the eight-page decision is clear: The federal appeals court that resolved the issue believes the Buccaneers engaged in creative accounting in order to qualify for payment.

 

Because the Buccaneers fell in the group of allegedly impacted business that were the farthest away from the site of the spill (Tampa’s stadium is roughly 360 miles from the site of the spill), the Buccaneers could obtain compensation only according to a formula that requires proof of a financial loss in the months following the spill followed by a financial rebound in those same months the next year. Specifically, the Buccaneers had to locate on their books a three-month window from May through December 2010 that showed a 15-percent drop in revenue from the same three months in 2009, and a 10-percent increase in revenue during that same three-month period in 2011.

 

Under this “V-Shaped Test,” the Bucs found a three-month window that revealed a 15-percent loss from 2009 to 2010: May through July. The problem came from proving a rebound in the team’s financial fortunes from May 2011 through July 2011.

 

As noted in the post from earlier today based on the bare-bones, minimal-analysis, completely-missed-the-broader-point AP story and not the full text of the ruling, the 2011 lockout seemed to be the biggest impediment in providing an uptick in revenue during the 2011 offseason. But that didn’t stop the Buccaneers from trying.

 

The Buccaneers recorded on their books during the key three-month window in 2011 a major payment from NFL Ventures, the mechanism for sharing league-wide revenue. In 2010, the Buccaneers had recorded those payments in January and then in August through December — not in the months of May, June, or July. The change in accounting practices resulted in a 500 percent increase in revenue during the key three-month period, qualifying the team for benefits under the V-Shaped Test.

 

The Buccaneers claimed that they made the change in accounting practices at the behest of the league, but there was no evidence that the Buccaneers actually put the NFL Ventures payment on the books in 2011. Which means the payments may have been recorded at a later date, after the organization understood that a clear financial incentive existed for doing so.

 

“The team . . . never submitted financial statements or other evidence showing that it made and implemented this accounting decision during 2011 (as opposed to later when it learned of the requirements for a Deepwater Horizon claim),” the court writes. “The only dated financial statements have an ‘as of’ date of October 2014.”

 

Though the court never comes out and says it, the message is that the court believes the Buccaneers tried to manipulate the compensation system.

 

“So the dispute comes down to the legitimacy of the lockout justification,” the court writes. “The Buccaneers fail to support it as a valid reason to deviate from its prior practice. The team relies solely on the affidavit of its controller and repeatedly misrepresents it as recounting a directive from the NFL that teams should book NFL Ventures revenue during the offseason.” (Emphasis added.)

 

That’s an indirect way of saying, “Hey, Buccaneers. We know what you’re up to. You specifically recorded a massive payment from NFL Ventures during the months of May through July 2011 in an effort to qualify for something that you otherwise didn’t deserve. And we’re not stupid enough to fall for it.”

 

While the Buccaneers would surely disagree (a request for comment has been made to the team), three federal appeals court judges (one of whom was appointed by President Reagan, one of whom was appointed by President Obama, and one of whom was appointed by President Trump) unanimously found that the Bucs were essentially trying to pull a fast one in seeking $19.5 million from the Deepwater Horizon compensation fund.

 

And while it can be argued that there’s no harm in rolling the dice on payment, the end result necessarily constitutes a blow to the organization’s credibility and, all in all, a bad look for the NFL.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

RB TEVIN COLEMAN, who was a strong #2 for most of his time in Atlanta, looks to be the lead dog in the 49ers backfield at the moment. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Tevin Coleman arrived in a crowded backfield in San Francisco this offseason, with last year’s leading rusher Matt Breida returning and last year’s free agent signing Jerick McKinnon expected to return after missing the whole season. But Coleman is expected to move to the head of the line.

 

Matt Maiocco of NBCSportsBayArea.com writes that Coleman is likely to get the most carries and the most catches of all the 49ers’ running backs this season.

 

Coleman can take an early lead because McKinnon is still recovering from last year’s knee injury, Breida has a pectoral injury and the next running back on the depth chart, Raheem Mostert, recovering from surgery for a broken arm. That gives Coleman the majority of the first-team snaps in Organized Team Activities.

 

And it appears that Coleman will get the majority of the first-team work when the season starts.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Mike Klis of 9News in Denver reports on progress towards a new contract for CB CLIFF HARRIS:

 

Broncos’ general manager John Elway continued to talk with agent Frederick Lyles Jr. over the Memorial Day holiday weekend about a 2019 contract adjustment for Harris.

 

The two sides have been moving closer to an agreement, sources tell 9NEWS. But as every negotiator would tell you: A deal is never done until it’s done.

 

The cornerback Harris was scheduled to make $8.9 million this year in salary and bonuses in what was supposed to be the final year of his current contract.

 

The Broncos are offering Harris a pay raise. Although such contract adjustments without an extension are rare, if not unprecedented, it’s clear Elway doesn’t want to leave anything to chance as the Broncos attempt to rebound from back-to-back losing seasons.

 

There is cautious optimism Harris and the team will reach an agreement by the time the Broncos hold their final segment of OTAs (Organized Team Activities) Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The Broncos’ offseason program continues the following week with a three-day mandatory minicamp June 4-6.

 

Then the team breaks for five weeks before reconvening in mid-July for training camp.

 

Harris is a four-time Pro Bowler who is the last remaining player from the No Fly Zone secondary he dubbed during the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 season of 2015. The other four defensive backs from that team — Aqib Talib (trade to Rams), Darian Stewart (release), Bradley Roby (contract not renewed, signed as free agent with Texans) and T.J. Ward (released) – are either on other teams or are not currently in the league.

 

Harris, though, has yet to practice within the revised 3-4 defensive system new Broncos head coach Vic Fangio and coordinator Ed Donatell have been installing. Harris has been a no-show to protest his contract since the Broncos’ offseason program began eight weeks ago on April 2.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

Jon Gruden talks to Peter King about WR ANTONIO BROWN:

 

King: How’s it been to be around Antonio Brown?

 

Gruden: I just love guys like that. He’s like … he just wants it. Reminds me of, you throw a dog the ball, he just goes and gets it. He keeps going, and going, and going, and going. He just won’t stop. Antonio’s energy is contagious. Getting him here was interesting. I remember my wife and I in a car in Las Vegas, early March. Mark Davis had me and Mike [Mayock] go there for a fund-raising event. Mike’s wife Mandy came and my wife Cindy came. And we’re driving around, and I get a call from [Pittsburgh VP and cap guy] Omar Khan. He’s like, ‘Hey what about a second-round pick for Antonio Brown?’ Free-agency’s about to start and I’m thinking, ‘Man, all these slot receivers are going for $10 million. Some of these players are going for $15 million. Why don’t we just give him the second? Get Antonio Brown!’ I call Mike and I said, ‘Why don’t we just give the Steelers the second and get this guy?’ Mike says, ‘That’s a little rich still. Let me talk to [Steelers GM] Kevin Colbert.’ Now he talks to Kevin Colbert and he says, ‘I think we can get him for a three and a five.’ I said, ‘Get the hell outta here!’

 

King: Amazing. That happened fast.

 

Gruden: Mike goes, ‘Now you gotta call Antonio Brown and see if he’ll play for us.’ So my wife and I were up in the Red Rock Mountains, just outside of Vegas. Just looking around, waiting for the event to start that night. There’s bad cell phone service. I’m like, ‘I can’t even get ahold of this guy!’ So we’re driving down to some sports bar parking lot, I’m calling Antonio Brown, and he says he’d love to play for us. Now Mike has to get on the phone with Colbert to work out the contract. We’re at this nice event, I got my wife … They got beautiful makeup on, beautiful dresses on. But me and Mike are over there at the event, working on a trade for Antonio Brown. ‘What’s the deal, man? We getting him?’ It was great though.

 

And this on having Brown and his former Bengals nemesis LB VONTAZE BURFICT on the same team:

 

King: Still glad you came?

 

Gruden: Yeah. I am glad. I love it, man. I do. I really do. I have no regrets doing it. It’s a lot of work. I knew it was gonna be a lot of work coming in here. But starting to see progress. Starting to feel momentum. I can… I sit at a quarterback meeting with [Derek] Carr and [Mike] Glennon, and we had Landry Jones and Nate Peterman. You just feel a different vibe. Antonio Brown sticks his head in there and then Vontaze Burfict talking trash at us down the hall. Here comes Lamarcus Joyner walking up the hall and you see your second-year tackle, Kolton Miller. He’s 20 pounds heavier. And you look, is that Brandon Parker, our rookie right tackle? God, he looks better. Maurice Hurst looks like he’s growing up a little bit. You start to feel like there’s some roots that are starting to grow here. We’ve had so much turnover here. So many different coaches. So many different coordinators. So many different players. You just hope we can get some roots and start growing up a little bit.

 

King: Burfict and Antonio had quite a history. Burfict knocked Brown cold in a playoff game. They hated each other. How about now?

 

Gruden: They’re good. We played Family Feud one day in our team meeting. We had three guys on one team, three guys on the other. Our version of Family Feud. Silver team and a Black team. The Silver team was Antonio Brown, Vontaze Burfict and I think we had Isaiah Crowell on the team. [2018 teams: Brown, Pittsburgh … Burfict, Cincinnati … Crowell, New York Jets.] You gotta try to get these guys to know each other. This is the only time that you can really do that. April, May, June. It’s almost like church. Everybody stand up. Shake a hand, introduce yourself to your teammates. Otherwise, Peter never gets to know Jon and Jon never meets Joe …

 

King: What happened in Family Feud? How was it?

 

Gruden: It was a helluva game. One of the questions was, ‘Who were the 1,100-yard rushers in the NFL last year?’ They nailed that pretty good, but they had a hard time with [Chris] Carson of Seattle. Another question: ‘Who do the Raiders play on the other side of the Mississippi?’ Last one was top designer brands clothing or jewelry. These guys were guessing Nike, Wrangler. They don’t know s— about fashion. But they did great. Got some laughs. These days, you gotta think outside the box.

– – –

You could guess a long time before you came up with the site of a Week 3 Raiders preseason “home” game with Green Bay.  Ben Weinrib of YahooSports.com:

 

For the first time in six years, the NFL is returning to Canada.

 

According to a report in the Winnipeg Free Press, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League are close to securing a preseason game between the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers. The matchup would take place in Week 3 of the preseason, although the exact date in late August is not set yet.

 

A potential game at IG Field was first reported in March by the paper with Winnipeg reportedly beating out Regina and Edmonton for a potential game. Although Winnipeg doesn’t have much of a connection to either team, it’s about an 11-hour drive from Green Bay, due north of the North Dakota-Minnesota border.

 

“We’re optimistic that we can secure this game,” Blue Bombers senior director of public and player relations Darren Cameron said. “It’s looking good and we’re working towards that game but at this point there’s nothing more we can comment on.”

 

The NFL last played a game in Canada in December 2013 when the Buffalo Bills hosted the Atlanta Falcons in Toronto. That was the sixth straight year the Bills played a game at the Rogers Centre.

 

Although this would be the NFL’s first game in Winnipeg, the league has hosted a bevy of games in other Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Montreal, Hamilton and Ottawa. The NFL even had a series against the CFL between 1950 and 1961 with NFL teams winning all six games.

 

This will be the fourth straight year that the Raiders played a game outside the US. They’re also scheduled to play the Chicago Bears at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in Week 5 and briefly considered playing all of their home games in London.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

John Breech of CBSSports.com thoughtfully provides three late moves for the Patriots to make to assure themselves of yet another Lombardi:

 

For the month of May here at CBSSports.com, we’ve been taking a look at three moves that teams around the NFL could potentially still make this offseason to turn themselves from playoff contenders into Super Bowl contenders.

 

Of course, if there’s one team in the NFL that definitely doesn’t need any help in becoming a Super Bowl contender, it’s the New England Patriots. Although the NFL is a league designed for parity, someone clearly forgot to tell that to the Patriots, who seem to laugh in parity’s face every year. Under the iron fist of Bill Belichick, the Patriots have played in nine Super Bowls over the past 18 seasons, including four of the past five.

 

Belichick probably doesn’t need any help putting his roster together, but we’re going to give him a few suggestions anyway. Although the Patriots have a talented roster heading into 2019, there are three small things they can do to put themselves in a position to return to the Super Bowl for the fourth straight season.

 

Let’s get to the list.

 

1. Trade for Kyle Rudolph

Bill Belichick would never come out and say that New England still needs a tight end, but if you look at what the Patriots have done this offseason, it seems that Belichick still isn’t fully convinced that his team is going to be able to come close to replacing Rob Gronkowski, even though they’ve spent all offseason trying.

 

Since Gronk’s retirement in March, the Patriots have added multiple tight ends in Ben Watson, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, and undrafted free agent Andrew Beck (They also signed Matt LaCosse this year, but he was added before Gronk announced his retirement). Watson is arguably the best tight end they’ve added this offseason, but he won’t even be eligible to play until Week 5 due to a suspension.

 

If you look at every successful Patriots team for the past 15 years, there’s almost always been a star tight end, ranging from Watson (2004-09) to Gronk (2010-18). The Patriots have especially thrived when they’ve had two tight ends like they did when they pared Gronk with Aaron Hernandez (2010-12) and Martellus Bennett (2016-17). Basically, without a productive tight end on the roster, there’s a real chance the Patriots offense could take a small step back in 2019, which is where Rudolph comes in.

 

For the Patriots, adding Rudolph to the roster would potentially go a long way toward replacing Gronk. Although Rudolph doesn’t block as well as Gronk — there aren’t many tight ends who can — he did put up similar numbers in the receiving game last season. In 2018, Rudolph caught 64 passes for 634 yards and four touchdowns while Gronk caught 47 passes for 682 yards and three touchdowns.

 

Trading for Rudolph would actually be a classic Belichick move. Not only does the Patriots coach love to trade for tight ends — we saw the Patriots trade for Martellus Bennett in 2016 and Dwayne Allen in a 2017 trade — but he has also proven that he’s willing to pull the trigger on a deal when he feels that his team needs an offensive weapon. Since March 2007, we’ve seen Belichick go the trade route to add weapons like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Brandin Cooks. In March 2018, we even saw the Patriots add Cordarrelle Patterson in a trade with the Raiders.  

 

Of course, there is one potential drawback for the Patriots if they were to acquire Rudolph and that’s his salary cap hit. Assuming the Patriots didn’t re-work his contract before making a trade, he would come with a cap hit of $7.625 million.

 

If the Patriots feel that Rudolph is too expensive, they could also make a play for former Texans tight end Ryan Griffin, who was cut last week. Griffin isn’t as talented as Rudolph, but he would come at a much cheaper price.

 

2. Add an offensive tackle

The Patriots actually added an offensive tackle in early May, but that signing backfired on them when the player they signed (Jared Veldheer) unexpectedly decided to retire. With Veldheer walking away from football, the Patriots now have a lot of questions at the one position on the offensive line where you don’t want to have a lot of questions: Left tackle. 

 

As things currently stand, the team’s depth chart at left tackle consists of Isaiah Wynn and 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste, who are both coming off injuries and who have combined to play exactly zero NFL snaps in their career. 

 

On Wynn’s end, he’s still battling back from an Achilles injury that caused him to miss the entire 2018 season. As for Cajuste, he’s still recovering from offseason quad surgery, which is expected to keep him sidelined until training camp. The Patriots already knew they had a serious depth problem at left tackle, which is a big reason why they added Veldheer. However, with Veldheer now retired, the Patriots need to start looking around for another veteran to add.

 

If I’m Belichick, the first person I’d call is Donald Penn. Although the Patriots might have a tough time convincing Penn to sign as a backup, it’s not crazy to think that he might be willing to sacrifice money and playing time for a chance to win a Super Bowl.

 

If Penn’s not interested or if he’s out of their price range, the Patriots could go after someone like Garry Gilliam, Jermey Parnell or Ryan Schraeder. All three players are available in free agency and all three guys would add some much needed depth. That being said, Penn would definitely be the most intriguing option. At 36 years old and coming off a season where he only played four games due to injury, the veteran might be willing to sign for less and embrace a backup role if it means getting back to the postseason. In his 12-year career, Penn has only played in one playoff game, and that came back in 2007 (He was also a member of the Raiders when they made the playoffs in 2016, but he didn’t play in the postseason).

 

3. Sign Gerald McCoy

If there’s one move on this list that screams Patriots, it would be signing Gerald McCoy. As a matter of fact, as soon as the Buccaneers made the decision to cut McCoy on May 20, almost everyone on the internet immediately assumed that he would end up signing with New England.

 

Of course, the reason everyone automatically connected McCoy to the Patriots is because if there’s one thing New England is better at than winning Super Bowls, it’s convincing veteran players to sign with them at bargain-basement prices, which is likely going to have to happen with McCoy, because the Patriots don’t have a lot of spare salary cap space.

 

The good news for the Patriots is that McCoy might actually be willing to sacrifice some money to sign with them just so he can get to the playoffs for the FIRST TIME in his career. That’s right, McCoy has never played in a postseason game. After being selected by the Buccaneers with the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, McCoy spent nine seasons in Tampa and didn’t reach the playoffs once. To put that in perspective, the Patriots reached the playoffs nine times in those same nine seasons and played in five Super Bowls.

 

McCoy has already made it clear that he wants to play for a “contender,” which presumably means the Patriots would have to be one of the top teams on his radar.

 

“I want to win,” the six-time Pro Bowler recently told ESPN.com. “I’m not worried about where I’m living. Wherever I got to go to win. … Everybody’s open.”

 

When the Bucs decided to cut McCoy, they basically dropped a present right in Belichick’s lap, and that’s because the Patriots have spent most of their offseason trying to fine quality defensive linemen. Not only did they add three guys during the early stages of free agency — Mike Pennel, John Simon and Michael Bennett (trade) — but they also ended up using two picks on defensive linemen in the draft (Chase Winovich, Byron Cowart). Not to mention, they also re-signed Danny Shelton on May 20.

 

If you only look at interior linemen, McCoy would be a gigantic upgrade over anyone the Patriots currently have on their roster. Although he’s 31 years old, McCoy has still been highly productive over the past few years. In 2018, he finished the season with 28 tackles and 6.0 sacks, despite only playing in 14 games. He’s also racked up at least 5.0 sacks in every season he’s played in since 2012. To put that in perspective, only one Patriots player recorded more than five sacks last season and that guy (Trey Flowers) isn’t even on the roster anymore.

 

It’s not often that a six-time Pro Bowler suddenly becomes available as a free agent in May, and if the Patriots want to instantly bolster their defensive line, then they’ll definitely make a run at McCoy. If McCoy does end up in New England, it would reunite him with Bennett. The two were teammates for three seasons in Tampa (2010-12), and their best season together came in 2012 when they combined for 14 sacks.

– – –

It appears that TE BENJAMIN WATSON, one of the NFL’s straight arrows, is going to take a four-game suspension (that the Patriots were aware of when he signed).  It all makes a lot of sense.  Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:

 

New England Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson wrote on Facebook on Sunday that he is facing a four-game suspension for a failed test in March of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

 

Watson, who had originally planned to retire after the 2018 season, explained the situation in detail on Facebook.

 

“After my contract expired last March, I told my doctors I was finished playing, went through a series of medical tests and was prescribed Bio Identical Testosterone Cypionate to assist in healing my body and mind,” he wrote.

 

“On March 29, nine days after I started therapy, I was randomly tested under our substance policies. I complied out of habit, never thinking in the moment I’d want to come back. In late April, some clubs expressed interest in me playing and after much deliberation and prayer, I decided I wanted to return. Considering myself previously retired, I had forgotten all about my test in March until I got a letter on May 3rd saying my results were positive. I was devastated and for obvious reasons did not want to proceed.

 

“At that point I knew my decision to return to play would include a four-game suspension and I immediately discussed this new development with the clubs.”

 

The Patriots signed Watson to a one-year, $3 million contract on May 9.

 

“I am excited and thankful to return to New England but very disappointed that I will not be able to play and contribute immediately,” Watson, 38, wrote on Facebook.

 

“This is not how I would want to enter a new locker room and attempt to earn my role on a new team. However, I respect the regulations that have been collectively bargained to promote fairness on the field of play and accept the discipline associated with my infraction.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BART STARR

The former Packers legend has passed away at age 85.  Rob Demovsky on the beloved quarterback:

 

Fans loved Bart Starr.

 

They loved him because as a quarterback he led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships.

 

Because of his sneak in the Ice Bowl.

 

Because he represented everything that was special about the team in the NFL’s smallest market.

 

Because he embodied the competitive spirit that was his coach, Vince Lombardi, during the glory years of the 1960s.

 

And they even loved him after a nine-year tenure as the team’s head coach that resulted in only one playoff appearance.

 

Bob Harlan loved him for an entirely different reason — the one that only those who knew Starr behind the scenes could fully articulate.

 

Harlan, a former Packers president, was in his early days with the organization when Starr was in the final year of his playing career. It was 1971, after all the championships had been won and after Lombardi was gone. Harlan joined the team as the assistant general manager. His primary job was to help negotiate player salaries.

 

“I actually signed Bart to his last contract,” Harlan recalled in an interview with ESPN.com. “In fact after five world championships, I gave him his all-time high salary of $100,000.”

 

That was Dan Devine’s first season as the Packers coach and Starr’s last as a player. Devine lasted three more years, posting only one winning season after Starr retired as a player.

 

It was Devine who hired Harlan away from baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals, and when Devine was done in Green Bay, Harlan wondered if he, too, might be done.

 

“Dan was the one who hired me so when Dan left, I thought I might have trouble,” Harlan said. “And the day Bart was hired [in 1975], he called me at home and said, ‘I want you to help me and take over doing all the contracts.’

 

“I said, ‘Bart, it’s going to be an honor to work for you.’ He said, ‘You won’t work for me, you’ll work with me.’ And that was just the way he handled things. He was the boss, but yet he was such a gentleman.”

 

Starr’s coaching tenure (1975-83) ended with a 52-76-3 record (and a 1-1 playoff mark).

 

“He just was so raw in the position; he probably got the job too early,” Harlan said. “In ’83 we were so close, and I think a couple more years — and he had been here nine years, but the fans weren’t really screaming about it — if he had a couple more years we weren’t that far away.”

 

Still, Starr’s coaching tenure had a lasting impact on the franchise in large part because of the impact it had on Harlan.

 

For Harlan, Starr served a model for how to run things at 1265 Lambeau Field. It was a treat-others-how-you-want-to-be-treated mentality, something that served Harlan throughout his presidency.

 

It was Harlan who, as president, oversaw the resurrection of the franchise in the early 1990s when he hired Ron Wolf as general manager, who then hired Mike Holmgren as head coach and traded for Brett Favre.

 

Just like Starr welcomed Harlan into the Packers’ family, Harlan made sure Starr remained a key figure in the organization. What other team not only had three iconic quarterbacks in Starr, Favre and Aaron Rodgers but also ensured the trio would have strong personnel connections?

 

Harlan made sure Starr was a regular presence at Lambeau Field, something players who followed cherished. Their tributes on Sunday shortly after Starr’s death at age 85 spoke not of football but of the same qualities that Harlan loved about Starr.

 

Brett Favre

@BrettFavre

 Bart Starr was the most kind, thoughtful and classiest person you could ever know. I consider myself extremely lucky to have called him friend and to have been mentioned in the same breath. Deanna and I are praying for Cherry and the Starr family. #RIPBartStarr

 

Mason Crosby

@crosbykicks2

 Bart Starr is a legend in so many ways! I am so sad to hear this news today. I remember first meeting him my rookie year at the Lombardi golf classic. He always had time for everyone and made everyone around him better. Praying for Cherry and their family on this sad day.

 

Rodgers, in an Instagram post, shared photos of Starr and simply added a heart in the comment section.

 

lways had time for everyone and made everyone around him better. Praying for Cherry and their family on this sad day.

 

Green Bay Packers

@packers

Replying to @packers

A message from the family of Bart Starr

 

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Rodgers, in an Instagram post, shared photos of Starr and simply added a heart in the comment section.

 

Indeed, Rodgers, who never saw Starr play or coach, loved the man for the same reason that Harlan did.

 

And Peter King has more on just why that was so:

 

In his last interview—and that is a stretch, really, because the “interview” was 23 courageous and arduous words long, and it lasted well over an hour—Bart Starr tried to accomplish his goal just as hard as he tried to burrow in for the biggest touchdown in the history of the Green Bay Packers in the Ice Bowl. Two strokes, a heart attack and a brain-scrambling disease called aphasia can make uttering 23 words like climbing Kilimanjaro. I know. I witnessed it, late last August in Starr’s office south of Birmingham, Ala.

 

The effort that day said so much about Starr the man. I had come to Birmingham to convey the level of the relationship between Rodgers, 34, and Starr, 84. Though they were a half-century apart in age, they had a bond. When Rodgers took over the Packer QB job in 2008, Starr wrote Rodgers a letter, and Starr kept writing him. Encouraging things. “It meant so much, coming from a man who had been in my shoes with this team,” Rodgers told me a few days later. “I was a big football fan, and big Packer fan. Here was Bart Starr, writing to me. It always meant a lot to me, because I knew I had the support of one of the greatest players of all time.”

 

Bart Starr died Sunday morning at 85. He was a great player, a Hall of Fame player, quarterbacking the Packers to the NFL championship in 1961, 1962 and 1965, and the larger Super Bowl championship in the 1966 and 1967 seasons. Pretty good for the 200th pick in the NFL draft in 1956, exactly 44 years before Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the draft.

– – –

What he cared about that day was doing something nice for his friend. These 23 words were his Bob Lilly, his big foe.

 

I, and an NBC crew, had come to Birmingham, and would proceed to Green Bay a few days later to speak to Rodgers, for an NBC story on the warm relationship between the great Green Bay quarterback of the sixties and the great Green Bay quarterback of modern day. Starr and his personal assistant, Leigh Ann Nelson, had written a short note for this story. Starr would tell of his relationship with Rodgers. Nelson knew the message had to be short, because Starr simply didn’t have the ability to say much, at any volume, because of the strokes.

 

When Starr walked in, steadied by Nelson, he sat down on a couch and I told him how much I appreciated him making this effort.

 

He stared at me, opened his mouth. “Glad,” he said, and then it took a few seconds, “for Aaron.”

 

This was for Aaron. Anything for Aaron. Bart and Cherry Starr, his wife of 64 years, loved Aaron Rodgers.

 

Then Nelson and Starr began to practice the lines he would say. This is what she and he agreed that he would try to say:

 

You are a strong leader

Cherry and I are admiring you

Because you are one of the finest men we have ever met.

 

Say that right now. How long does it take? I just said it. It took eight seconds.

 

Starr, after 15 or so tries, just couldn’t do it.

 

At the 45-minute mark of our session with Starr and Nelson, she said: “Let’s take a break.” The room got silent. Five, 10 minutes. No one said a word. Starr looked at Nelson. She rubbed his wrists. Then we took a walk around the office. She was so kind. He just wanted to get this right, and he didn’t know how. As Nelson took one hand and I took the other and we walked, I said to him (I still don’t know why; I guess just to be nice), “You know what I always admired about you? Your autograph. Your autograph was perfect. Today you can’t read anyone’s autograph. Why’d you always do your autograph so perfect?”

 

For the first time on this day, his eyes bore a hole through mine.

 

“Why … would you want to do it … any other way? … That’s … the only way I know.”

 

We want back to his desk. He sat down. An hour now. We wanted 23 words, and maybe it was just too cruel, just too much to ask.

 

I felt like aphasia was the enemy, and Bart Starr would not let it win.

 

“You are a strong leader,” Starr said into the camera. And a few minutes later:

 

“Cherry and I are admiring you …”

 

The patient Nelson practiced, and practiced more. I swear I was thinking: What was harder to conquer—the Dallas defense in 1967, or these 23 words?

 

“One more line, Bart,’’ Leigh Ann Nelson said. “You can do this. I know you can do this.”

 

“Because you are one of the finest men we have ever … MET.”

 

He did it. He won.

 

The TV equipment got broken down, and there was 30 minutes of busy-ness in the room, and I had to tell Bart Starr what a great thing I thought he’d just done. It was awesome. I put my hand on his shoulder, at his desk, and said thanks.

 

“Good,’’ he whispered with a huge smile, “… for Aaron. Good for Aaron.”

 

Today, we appreciate and remember one of the great quarterbacks of a bygone era, a five-time world champion, a man who must not be forgotten when the roll is called for the all-time great quarterbacks, a man who executed what the great and dictatorial Lombardi needed to have executed for most of a decade. I say we should remember just as well the grace and determination and humanity of Bart Starr.

 

And Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com notes this about Starr’s enduring legacy.

 

Flip through the NFL Record & Fact Book and you’ll quickly discover that the modern passing era has wiped out the records of the great quarterbacks of the past: Whether you look at the records for yards or completions or completion percentage or passer rating or touchdown passes or fewest interceptions, you’ll find nothing but recent names. With one major exception.

 

The record for the highest postseason passer rating still belongs to Bart Starr, who played his last postseason game more than 50 years ago.

 

Starr, who died on Sunday at the age of 85, still has the NFL record for the highest postseason passer rating, at 104.8.

 

Starr’s postseason stats are, for their era, absolutely amazing. He averaged 8.2 yards per pass and threw 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions. All of his postseason games were played in the 1960s, when the typical TD:INT ratio was about 1:1, and quarterbacks typically averaged a little over six yards per pass.

 

In the 1966 season, the league average passer rating was 67.4. That postseason, Starr had a 143.5 passer rating in leading the Packers to a win at Dallas in the NFL Championship Game, then had a 116.2 passer rating in leading the Packers to a win over the Chiefs in Super Bowl I.

 

To Starr, the most important stat of all was that the Packers went 9-1 in the 10 postseason games he played.