AROUND THE NFL
If The Season Ended Today in the NFC – counting Monday night’s game as a Green Bay victory.
1 San Francisco West 5-0 1 2-0
2 Green Bay North 5-1 1 4-1 .
3 New Orleans South 5-1 1 3-1
4 Dallas East 3-3 1 2-2
5 Seattle WC 5-1 2 2-1
6 Minnesota WC 4-2 2 3-2
7 Carolina 4-2 2 2-2
8 Chicago 3-2 3 2-1
9 Detroit 2-2-1 4 1-1-1
10 LA Rams 3-3 3 2-3
11 Philadelphia 3-3 2 2-3
The Lions would be in the 6th spot were they 3-1-1 with Green Bay flipping spots with the Saints.
– – –
Al Riveron certainly didn’t need another nightmare game, but he got one Monday night in Green Bay.
Not only were there numerous obviously blown calls, but they all favored the team with the bigger brand.
Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com lays things out:
The Lions had other things to be frustrated with last night, including themselves.
But the officials made such a convenient target.
The Lions were rightfully angry with a number of calls, specifically the two phantom hands to the face calls on defensive end Trey Flowers which helped the Packers come back for a win.
“I didn’t think hands to the chest was a penalty,” Flowers said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “I thought hands to the face, but I had him right here in the chest. The second time I changed it to right here [another spot on the chest]. That’s part of a move that I do and, yeah. So, nah, I don’t think that was a penalty, but they did, so . . .
“They saw something different than what actually happened and they called what they thought they saw. I was doing it all game. I didn’t know that was a flag to the chest, so I could change it to [another spot on the collar]. They called it again.”
Those weren’t the only calls that angered the Lions, as safety Tracy Walker was upset with a personal foul for a helmet-to-helmet hit when he was going for the ball. Officials explained afterward that intent wasn’t a factor, and that the foul would have been called even if Walker picked it off.
“Extremely pissed off right now,” Walker said. “It is what it is. Disappointed. Hurt. We had that game. it’s going – I’m going to say the same s—, we should have won it. It is what it is, though. Got to bounce back. . . .
“I feel like we could have had a better game and we was supposed to come victorious with that game but Green Bay came to play. There was some awful, awful calls, but we got to play through that. We got to overcome those, and so we didn’t, obviously, and we came up short.”
Walker was asked if he was worried about being fined, and he said he did not care.
“Detroit vs. Everybody,” he said. “I’m saying it. Detroit vs. Everybody. It’s awful.”
Of course, that would imply this year’s officiating problems have been unique to Lions games. They have not been, and that creates an issue the league can’t continue to ignore.
Jim Reineking of USA TODAY collects Twitter reaction:
The Green Bay Packers beat the Detroit Lions, 23-22, on a last-second field goal by Mason Crosby.
The Packers moved to 5-1 and took sole possession of first place in the NFC North.
However, that was not the topic of discussion following the clash of rivals at historic Lambeau Field.
Instead, it was several questionable calls by the referees that had people — both current and former NFL players, and other experts — angry in the aftermath of the “Monday Night Football” game.
From Lions legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Barry Sanders to former Packers linebacker and current Los Angeles Rams player Clay Matthews, here’s a look at the intense reaction to the refs.
That is sickening… the @NFL needs to look at a way to prevent that from happening. Two phantom hands to the face calls really hurts us tonight. Yes, we could have scored TDs, but @Lions played too well to have the game end this way. #DETvsGB @espn
Clay Matthews III
The storyline for the 2019 season continues to be the refs inability to make the accurate and correct calls week in and week out. Al Riveron continues to blindly side with his refs and the current status quo. Something must change! Zero accountability. …#throughthewire
The refs need to be investigated. This is horrendous. Check bank accounts. #NoExcuses
There needs to be an explanation about this. You can’t make that call TWICE and nothing comes of it. That’s embarrassing.
The bogus personal foul and the non call Pass Interference was six more points. Four wrong calls is hard to imagine. https://twitter.com/miketirico/status/1183947113178243074 …
When one of the classiest guys in NFL history weighs in .. there’s a problem. https://twitter.com/barrysanders/status/1183946514311385088 …
In my 11 years involved with the NFL, I’ve never seen worse officiating than this year and it’s not even close.
I’m obviously biased toward the Packers, but the refs are taking this game away from the Lions.
Once again the officials determined the outcome of a game. Just a darn shame.
Green Bay can thank the refs for that touchdown 🤦🏾♂️
Buffalo Wild Wings
Don’t blame us Detroit. We’re not the ones who pushed the “refs are trash” button.
Carlos Monnarez of the Detroit Free Press doesn’t call the performance of Clete Blakeman’s crew bad – he calls it cheating.
How much influence did the referees have in this game?
Let me start by saying bad calls are part of sports. I also think decrying poor officiating is usually a loser’s mentality. However, in this case, I think the refs decided the game and stole a victory from the Lions when they incorrectly called illegal use of hands to the face on Trey Flowers in the fourth quarter — twice. One call wiped out a drive-killing sack on third down and the other gave the Packers a first down after an incompletion on third down at the Lions’ 16 with 1:36 left. All because Packers tackle David Bakhtiari did a great sell job and the refs were too gullible to fall for it — twice. The refs essentially put 10 points on the board for the Packers. ESPN analyst Booger McFarland said if we can see the mistakes at home, the refs should see them on the field. And all of America was watching. Shame on the NFL.
But didn’t the Lions blow their own chances, too?
Yes, for sure. Perhaps they could have blitzed more to bring needed pressure on Aaron Rodgers. Maybe coach Matt Patricia could have challenged a non-call on what looked like pass interference on a deep throw to Marvin Jones late in the game. Twelve men on the field for a field goal block led to four free points for the Packers. The run game lacked imagination and was strangely ineffective, managing 2.8 yards per carry against Green Bay’s 26th-ranked run defense. But I’m not letting the refs off the hook. Their mistakes were too big at huge moments in the game. Yes, the Lions could have done more to help themselves. But this was a game played between two good teams, leaving little margin for error. Unfortunately, the refs inserted themselves into that margin and decided the contest, leaving the Packers feeling lucky to have won and the Lions feeling cheated out of rightful victory.
And some more Twitter reaction – these from Jeff Risdon:
If you watched the Monday Night Football game in Green Bay, you saw it unfold in real time. Clete Blakeman’s officiating crew flat-out made up calls against the Detroit Lions to gift the Green Bay Packers a win.
Even Packers fans were embarrassed by the completely biased officiating and the Lions getting absolutely shafted. The NFL decided the Packers were to win, and their officials made it happen. The Lions defense made the plays on the field to make the stops to allow the barrage of field goals to hold up, but Blakeman’s crew thought otherwise with two completely phantom hands-to-the-face calls against Trey Flowers, as well as an ignored obvious pass interference call that would have driven the Lions into field goal range, at minimum.
Twitter exploded in outrage and contempt for the inept officiating. It came from everywhere, not just Lions fans.
Games like this make you not even want to watch the NFL. Everyone’s hand is in the pot💰💰. Year in and year out this happens to the Lions… Such CRAP @NFL
The NFL changed all its replay rules to avoid impacting games and they just handed the Packers a game.
Lions might miss the playoffs over this.
Jason La Canfora
I give up. Just give Green Bay the win. This is a joke
No one tunes in to watch the guys in black and white stripes.
There is no award show at the end of the season called the “Flaggies” for most penalties called.
You’re a ref, you’re there to ensure the integrity of the game, not pick the winner.
This was disgusting. I’ve always been one of the “refs don’t decide games” when there are 60 minutes of play. But. The refs literally decided this game. They changed the outcome of an NFL division with this atrocity. https://twitter.com/jasonffl/status/1183941472510337024 …
I’m not rooting for either team specifically here… but the Lions are getting hosed by these refs. I’m hopeful the Packers fans see that too… right?
Absolutely. New York should have overturned to 1/G/1. They did look at the call, and the pylon cam is available to them https://twitter.com/nelly_eastside/status/1183953054737010689 …
Replying to @footballzebras
What about all scoring plays being reviewed, and this missed down call on a TD?
Told you, NFL officiating problems aren’t just #Browns problems. League better clean it up. Jobs and millions in gambling 💰💰💰 on the line
“It’s OK, Aaron. We’ll take care of everything.” (photo of official with hand on the shoulder of a kneeling Rodgers)
IDK I’m having a tough time caring about the NFL right now.
When it’s so clearly and obviously rigged like this, what’s the point?
This isn’t a sport. It’s WWF or some shit. It doesn’t matter.
I hate blaming the refs, I really think it’s lazy and irrational. But the Lions were jabbed hard tonight multiple times. “Hands to the face”
There needs to be an explanation about this. You can’t make that call TWICE and nothing comes of it. That’s embarrassing.
The officials just decided the Packers are the NFC North champs. The Lions made the plays and the refs did not let it happen. Not a chance in the world the fix isn’t in. Not a chance.
Jobs get lost because of wins and losses and the officials are directly causing that to happen. Complicit, even. Be better, @NFL
Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com on another inconsistency favoring Green Bay:
It’s been overlooked in the slew of criticism the officials have received for other blown calls, but a key penalty that was called on the Lions early in Monday night’s game was later not called on the Packers.
With the Lions leading 13-0 in the second quarter, the Packers faced fourth-and-5 and sent their field goal team on the field. The Lions, however, had 12 players on the field as the Packers lined up, and the officials immediately blew the whistle, giving the Packers five yards and a first down.
That was the right call: Under NFL rules, lining up with more than 11 players in the defensive formation is a penalty. The officials are supposed to shut down the play before the snap, and that’s what they did. It turned out to be incredibly costly for the Lions, as the Packers scored a touchdown two plays later.
But on the very next possession, the Packers committed the exact same penalty. Only it should have been even more obvious to the officials, because the Packers, in their confusion to make a defensive substitution while the Lions were in no-huddle, actually lined up 13 players on defense. Instead of shutting the play down and giving the Lions five yards, the officials allowed the Packers to call timeout to get the right personnel on the field.
That turned out to be incredibly costly for the Lions as well: Matthew Stafford was sacked after the Packers got the right personnel on the field following the timeout, and the Lions had to punt.
The officiating on Monday night was inexcusable, and most of the mistakes went against the Lions. When a lot of officiating mistakes go against you and you lose by one point, it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than that you got robbed.
And one more tweet, this from Jack Del Rio:
🤬4 major blown calls tonight , all four went against the Lions. DB going for the INT called for Unnecessary Roughness. A non call on a blatant DPI . Then two ridiculous calls for hands to the face. Refs can’t guess and can’t get these wrong. Lions would’ve won by 2 scores @NFL
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com points out what is obvious, Alberto Riveron is not the right man for an incredibly demanding job.
When it comes to mistakes routinely made by game officials, the NFL is less transparent than construction paper. Fearful of the potential negative impact of admitting what is often obvious, the NFL unreasonably protects officials by never acknowledging their blunders publicly.
This refusal to be candid regarding bad calls hurts the league in various ways. Among other things, it invites the tin-foil hat crowd to think that the league wants certain teams to win, and other teams to lose. Although I’ll never believe that happens (indeed, it would be nearly impossible to pull it off seamlessly and even harder to keep someone from blabbing about it in off-the-record discussions, a tell-all book, and/or a deathbed confession), people who are wired to presume the worst will, in the absence of a reasonable, clear, and cogent explanation to the contrary.
So here’s the solution: The NFL needs to hire someone who will serve capably as a spokesperson for officiating matters, available to radio shows, TV, podcasts, etc. and willing to face tough questions and to answer them in a way that inspires confidence in the game.
When, for example, officials throw a flag for an illegal hit to the head of a defenseless receiver and broadcasters mistakenly rail against the fact that the defender was simply trying to catch the ball, the officiating spokesperson needs to be able to say, calmly and persuasively, that intent doesn’t matter when a defenseless receiver is struck in the head or neck area. When, for example, the officials make a mistake, the officiating spokesperson needs to admit that a mistake was made, explain how and why it happened, and move on.
The league used to have something like an officiating spokesperson when Mike Pereira and, after Carl Johnson, Dean Blandino served as the V.P. of officiating. Pereira and Blandino routinely appeared on NFL Network, and often elsewhere, to discuss candidly the calls that drive fan and media discussion in various formats. Al Riveron isn’t available nearly as frequently; instead, he produces periodic, broad-brush social-media videos to explain specific calls of interest, along with a weekly officiating video for the media that rarely addresses the most controversial decisions, highlighting instead examples of proper rules application that involved no mistakes and created no uproar.
The current uproar in the aftermath of Lions-Packers demonstrates how important it is for the league to have someone who can quickly mobilize for day-after interviews, not to spin but to embrace the kind of candid truth that allows fans to realize that, yes, mistakes happen and that, no, it doesn’t mean that the league office instructed the officials that it would be preferred for Green Bay to win the game.
And this chaser from Rick Gosselin:
Ten years ago the NFL averaged 11.8 penalties for 97.3 yards per game. Five years ago the averages were 13.2 penalties for 111.1 yards. This season NFL games average 14.9 penalties for 124.5 yards. The more the flags, the worse the game.
As we go to press, NFL Exec Troy Vincent offers words of apology – ESPN.com:
NFL officials erred when they called a second hands-to-the-face penalty against Detroit Lions defensive end Trey Flowers that set up the Green Bay Packers’ game-winning field goal Monday night, NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said.
Vincent was asked about the penalties during a news conference at the league’s fall meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Tuesday, a day after the Packers defeated the Lions 23-22.
Vincent said the two controversial hands-to-the face-penalties — called against Flowers when he was rushing against the Packers’ David Bakhtiari in the fourth quarter — were a topic of discussion at a meeting with the competition committee on Tuesday.
“There was one that was clear that we support. And there was the other, when you look at it, when you review the play, not something that you want to see called in particular on the pass rush. One that you can support but the other one, clearly after you review it, you’ve seen some slo-mos, the foul wasn’t there,” he said.
Vincent said he plans to talk to Lions owner Martha Ford at the meeting, which ends on Wednesday, and also will reach out to Lions general manager Bob Quinn.
Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com on the move the Eagles need to make:
Which contender has the most pressing need to address in the trade market?
The Eagles have to do something about their cornerbacks. On Sunday against the Vikings, they simply weren’t competitive on the outside against Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen with Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones as starting cornerbacks. Thielen only managed 57 yards and a lone touchdown, but that was because Kirk Cousins sailed a throw that should have set up a second score. Diggs, meanwhile, went off for 167 yards and three scores.
Diggs’ 62-yard touchdown came against what looked like Quarters coverage, or Cover-4, on Douglas’ side of the field. The Eagles dropped Douglas to the sticks and asked him to run with Diggs, which was a non-starter. Cousins threw the ball before Diggs was even past Douglas. The same couldn’t be said about the second touchdown, where Cousins actually had two different wide-open receivers; with Douglas isolated on the backside of the formation after a play-fake against Diggs, the star receiver was already more than 3 yards past the overmatched cornerback by the time Cousins hit him for a 51-yard score.
Since general manager Howie Roseman regained control of personnel in Philadelphia, the Eagles have generally eschewed spending at cornerback in favor of investing along the line of scrimmage. Philly continued that philosophy this offseason, as the only notable moves it made in the secondary were to re-sign Ronald Darby to a one-year deal and to add Andrew Sendejo on a one-year deal for close to the minimum. With coordinator Jim Schwartz traditionally preferring to rush four and avoid blitzes, stacking the league’s deepest front four made a lot of sense.
Six weeks in, though, that plan has failed. Defensive lineman Malik Jackson went down for the season in Week 1, and star interior rusher Fletcher Cox has had a disappointing start to the season, with zero sacks and three quarterback knockdowns in six games. Philly is blitzing 23.5% of the time, which is close to the league average of 26.3%. The Eagles are getting pressure, as they rank sixth in the NFL in pressure rate, but teams are picking apart Schwartz’s defense when the rush doesn’t get home.
The Eagles are allowing a passer rating of 107.5 when they don’t pressure the opposing quarterback, which is 22nd in the league. Teams have thrown a league-high 60 passes against them within two seconds of their quarterback getting the football, and those passes have generated a passer rating of 102.4, the seventh-worst rate in the league. They are 28th in passer rating against screens (117.7) and 27th in passer rating against play-action passes (120.8). When you slow down or render the Philly pass rush irrelevant, you can succeed.
I don’t think Philadelphia can get by with what it has in the secondary. It is already committed to Sendejo, Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins at safety. Darby and Avonte Maddox missed the Vikings game, and Darby has missed 18 games over his two-plus seasons with the Eagles. Counting on him to stay healthy isn’t a viable option. Cre’von LeBlanc is out with a foot injury. Cornerback Jalen Mills, who hasn’t played this season, could be in line to return from his own foot injury over the next few weeks, but he hasn’t been a difference-maker. The Eagles could nominally be deep at the position if everyone was healthy and lived up to expectations, but that’s not happening.
Roseman is arguably the most aggressive GM in the league when it comes to trades. Philly has also restructured a number of contracts and has nearly $27 million in cap space to work with if it wants to add a veteran to the roster. The Eagles’ long-term flexibility isn’t quite as clear, given that Carson Wentz’s contract really doesn’t kick in until next season. Darby, McLeod, Mills, Sendejo and fill-in Orlando Scandrick are all free agents after the year, so they could very well rebuild their secondary next offseason.
The big name on the market, of course, is star Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey. No better source than Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said that Ramsey would play this week after the two had a “heart-to-heart” conversation, but Ramsey still didn’t feel able to play through his back injury. The Eagles would likely need to give up something close to two first-round picks to acquire Ramsey, who would expect a contract extension as part of the deal. I wouldn’t put anything past Roseman, but it’s tough to make the financial logic work in these sorts of deals, even for a player as talented as Ramsey. The Eagles went all-in for Wentz, but that was to acquire a quarterback who would make a fraction of his real value over the next three years.
If Ramsey’s price comes down, the Eagles could make sense, but the Jaguars don’t seem inclined to deal their former first-round pick. Other interesting corners also seem off-limits. The Cardinals have refused offers for suspended star Patrick Peterson. The Saints have former Eagles standout Patrick Robinson buried on their depth chart but are unlikely to trade their former first-rounder to a possible playoff rival. I’ve suggested that the Eagles make a move for Steelers corner Artie Burns, but the little-used Burns was forced into the starting lineup for Sunday night’s win over the Chargers with Steven Nelson injured.
Philadelphia might be stuck waiting until the trade deadline for teams who are currently vaguely in contention to lose faith. The Broncos have won two straight, but they’re 2-4 and veteran Chris Harris Jr. is a free agent at the end of the season. The 2-4 Titans are a mess on offense and have Logan Ryan, who was one of the best corners in football through the first month of the season, entering the final year of his deal. The Giants probably wouldn’t make an in-division trade with their rivals, but do they really need Janoris Jenkins if they’re not competing for a playoff berth?
As is, it’s tough to see the Eagles having enough at corner to win against the likes of the Vikings, Rams and Saints come January.
– – –
LB ZACH BROWN is an Eagle no more. Tim McManus of ESPN.com:
– The Philadelphia Eagles released linebacker Zach Brown on Monday, just three days after he made unflattering comments about former teammate Kirk Cousins.
Multiple teams are expected to be interested in Brown’s services, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
His level of play is believed to be the primary factor behind the move, though his recent comments didn’t help his cause.
When asked about Cousins on Friday in advance of the Eagles’ game at the Minnesota Vikings, Brown said: “I think every defense is going to want that guy to throw the ball. For me, that’s probably the weakest part of their offense is him. Everything else is good. They’ve got a good running game, probably one of the best in the league. They have real good receivers. You just want them to pass the ball. You want Kirk Cousins to get it in his hands.”
Cousins threw four touchdown passes against the Eagles in a 38-20 Vikings win.
After the game, Brown was asked to comment on Cousins.
“I’m here to talk about the game. Not about that,” he said.
Pressed further, he said: “Any other questions besides about Kirk Cousins?” before finally relenting and saying: “He did a good job. He played good. Hats off to him.”
Brown, who was signed to a one-year deal by the Eagles in May, has played significant snaps in all six of Philadelphia’s games this season, posting 29 tackles, two tackles for loss and a pair of passes defensed.
Brown, 29, has 661 career tackles for Tennessee, Buffalo, Washington and Philadelphia.
His departure likely means increased roles for Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry. It is also likely that the Eagles will sign a linebacker, especially with starter Nigel Bradham dealing with an ankle injury.
Bill Barnwell on the fate of Dan Quinn:
Should the Falcons fire Dan Quinn?
I am generally against in-season coach firings. Teams almost never hire a coach from outside the organization in midseason, so if they’re firing a coach in the middle of the campaign, they’re just promoting a coach from his staff. Chances are that coach isn’t doing a great job, either, so promoting him isn’t some genius idea. There’s also a chance that the coach will see the team regress toward the mean, pick up a couple of victories and convince ownership that he deserves to shed the interim tag, which has typically been a decision NFL teams have regretted.
Quinn might be the exception to this rule. The Falcons defense is unwatchable. I covered Atlanta’s defensive woes in my playoff fallers column last week, and Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals wasn’t much better. The Falcons allowed Kyler Murray to throw for 340 yards and three touchdowns and failed to come up with even a knockdown of a quarterback who had been sacked on 9.5% of his dropbacks before Sunday. It’s one thing to fail because of a lack of talent, but the Falcons continue to blow coverages in incomprehensible ways:
David Johnson had a scarcely believable 14.2 yards of separation between him and any other defender when he caught this pass (animation courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats). It’s difficult to see many signs of progress from Quinn’s defense as this season has gone along; if anything, it’s getting worse.
Arthur Blank has been patient to a fault during his time as Falcons owner. It was clear that Mike Smith was going to be fired when the Falcons hit their bye week in 2014 at 2-6, but Blank let Smith coach the rest of the season out before moving on and hiring Quinn. Smith never made it to a Super Bowl, while Quinn did in his second year at the helm, and that might allow the former Seahawks defensive coordinator more leeway. It also might be harsh to fire Quinn after a game the Falcons lost, in part, because Matt Bryant missed an extra point that would have sent the contest to overtime.
At the same time, though, the Falcons could be better-positioned to make a move. They have a coordinator on staff with head-coaching experience in Dirk Koetter and a pair of former head coaches who could assume offensive coordinator duties in Raheem Morris and Mike Mularkey. Bob Sutton, the former Chiefs defensive coordinator, is on Quinn’s staff as a senior assistant. I can understand if Falcons fans aren’t excited by those names, but there are veterans who could move into larger roles if Blank decides that Quinn has had enough.
The Falcons have home games against the Rams and Seahawks over the next two weeks before their Week 9 bye. Their last home game, a 24-10 loss to the Titans, featured what would charitably be described as a sparse crowd. If the Falcons can’t beat the NFC West opposition and fall to 1-7 in a half-empty new stadium, it’s difficult to see Quinn coaching out the slate, no matter how generous Blank has been in the past.
When you win game after game, you are not really pressing QB CAM NEWTON to come back. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
Panthers coach Ron Rivera wouldn’t confirm that quarterback Cam Newton was close to returning to practice, but he did say he wants to make sure Newton has time to get himself right.
Newton has missed the last four games because of a foot injury, and coincidentally, they have won those four games.
“Cam has epitomized what we’ve asked of him as far as being a captain,” Rivera said, via Brendan Marks of the Charlotte Observer. “When we met, we told him we’re not going to pressure you.”
Having Kyle Allen playing competently makes it easier to give Newton time to get well. There’s little doubt that a healthy Newton is a better option than a healthy Allen, but they haven’t seen one of those in about a year. So giving him time to heal, and to rebuild timing with his teamates in practice, makes sense.
The Panthers have a bye this week, before playing the league’s second-ranked defense in the 49ers — which will be a test for any quarterback they put on the field.
More on the topic of Newton return from Mike Sando of The Athletic:
Kyle Allen is 4-0 as the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback. Here’s how execs think Carolina should proceed once doctors clear Cam Newton to return.
Newton rushed for minus-2 yards and frequently missed open receivers during the Panthers’ 0-2 start. He obviously was not healthy. Allen has seven touchdown passes without a pick since Newton left the lineup to recover from his foot injury. Coach Ron Rivera, speaking after the Panthers’ 37-26 victory over Tampa Bay in London, said he wouldn’t address the looming quarterback question before a decision had to be made.
There will be three basic choices when that time comes. Rivera could name Newton the starter whenever doctors clear the 30-year-old former league MVP. Rivera could commit to Allen. Or, Rivera could suggest Newton needs some extra time, allowing the Panthers to keep Allen in the lineup a little longer, perhaps until there’s an easier time to make the switch.
Three longtime execs who are currently GMs or have held the title in the past provided the following answers when asked how they would proceed:
• Exec No. 1: “Slow-play it. Make absolutely sure Cam is healthy.”
• Exec No. 2: “Give Cam a little more time to heal. Go with the hot hand. When they lose a game, they can make a change if they want to, but it’s hard to bench a guy playing that well.”
• Exec No. 3: “You go back to Cam if healthy. It will cause a major distraction if you do not.”
There are longer-term questions to consider. Newton’s contract runs through 2020. The Panthers could easily get out of the contract if they determined the time had come for a change. Carolina could then move forward with 23-year-old Allen and 2019 third-round pick Will Grier under contract at discount prices. While Allen was on the Panthers’ roster last season, he did not qualify for an accrued season under the labor agreement. That means he’s essentially still a rookie from an accounting standpoint, another bonus for Carolina.
“The discussion internally is, ‘Do we go all-in and move Cam and use that money and build it up around the young guy that we have for three more years?” an agent suggested.
The Panthers might not be to that point, but Newton could be nearing a crossroads. If and when he does play for Carolina, there’s more riding on how well he performs, especially if Allen proves to be a viable alternative.
Mike Sando of The Athletic makes the case that the injury to QB DREW BREES has proved to be a good thing – even if QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER has not played well enough to displace him:
How Brees’ injury can catapult the Saints, not just this season but in the future.
Brees had 29 touchdown passes with two interceptions during the Saints’ first 11 games last season. He had three scoring passes with three picks over the remainder of the regular season. Brees’ production improved during the playoffs, but at his age, there was reason to think he was worn down, even though other factors contributed to New Orleans’ offensive fade. And heading into the 2019 season, there was reason to fear Brees could be susceptible to wearing down again. He was another year older, after all. That appears less concerning the way things are playing out.
“I think this is going to help Drew, missing this time, from a strength standpoint,” a GM from another team said. “I thought he faded at the end of last year. Taking those reps off him could work in his favor once he does come back.”
Brees could return for the Saints’ Week 8 game against Arizona. New Orleans has a bye the following week before playing four successive games against NFC South opponents. Bridgewater’s success and the timing of the bye should give the Saints some flexibility.
“I would tell you New Orleans is the best team in the league right now,” another GM said. “What they are doing without Drew, they might be the most complete team. They are good on the offensive line and defensive line, they have good quarterback play, they have good runners, they have good weapons.”
This GM noted that the Saints are “a little suspect” in the secondary. He still placed New Orleans above the undefeated Patriots in part because New England has benefited from playing such a soft schedule. The Saints, for all their ability on offense and defense, also rank among the NFL’s top 10 in expected points added on special teams.
New Orleans won at Seattle 33-27 in Week 3 with a couple of return touchdowns and a conservative passing attack as Bridgewater eased his way into the starting role. The Saints outlasted Dallas in a 12-10 defensive battle the following week. They opened up the deep passing game to outscore Tampa Bay 31-24, then choked out Jacksonville 13-6 on Sunday, becoming the first team to solve Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew.
In light of all that, let’s say a rested Brees returns soon and does not fade down the stretch this season. Let’s say the path to the Super Bowl runs through New Orleans for a second consecutive season. This time, let’s say an officiating gaffe for the ages does not cost the Saints in the playoffs. Let’s say these Saints win it all with a rested quarterback and a balanced, complete team around him.
“Who is to say Drew doesn’t call it quits if they win the Super Bowl?” an evaluator said. “Bridgewater likes it there. He trusts them. I think he sees he has a chance to be a legitimate starter with a good team if Drew retires. Even if they draft somebody, at least he gets a chance to be around a good team.”
It would be a storybook finish for Brees and a dream transition for Bridgewater. So much can change from week to week in the NFL, but at this point, given the facts as we know them now, the Saints have earned the right to dream big.
If Bruce Arians were to bench QB JAMEIS WINSTON, the in-house alternative at the moment last threw a pass that counted in 2012. Jenna Laine at ESPN.com:
One day after Jameis Winston threw five interceptions and turned the ball over six times against the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said he was not considering a change at quarterback, nor has his perception of Winston changed.
“No. I look at the reasons why. What happened?” said Arians, now 2-4 as the Bucs’ head coach. “If it happens again, yeah, it’ll concern the hell out of me.”
Winston already has thrown 10 interceptions this season, behind only Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield. Winston’s 68 career interceptions are the most of any quarterback since 2015, as are his 87 turnovers.
The Bucs enter the bye week in third place in the NFC South after dropping back-to-back divisional games to Carolina and the New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay’s next opponent after the bye, the Tennessee Titans, just benched Marcus Mariota, who was selected one spot behind Winston, second overall in the 2015 NFL draft.
Both quarterbacks are in the final year of their rookie contracts after having their fifth-year options picked up by their respective clubs.
“I know the history, yes,” said Arians, who came out of retirement in part because of the opportunity to coach Winston. He said Winston is still trying to do too much, but he also feels protection let him down, with the offensive line surrendering seven sacks.
“I think when you get hit — I don’t care if you’re Tom Brady — when you get hit early in games, it’s different,” Arians said. “And we got him hit early in the game, excluding the first play. We got him hit too much early in the game.”
Against the Panthers, Winston was pressured on over 40 percent of his dropbacks — more than in all but four games he has played in the past three seasons.
Before Sunday’s game, Winston threw nine touchdown passes and two interceptions during a three-week stretch against the New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams and Saints.
When asked what makes him believe that Winston will be steady after years of erratic play, Arians said, “I think just him playing better, the guys around him playing better, coaching better — the whole thing. I think as we continue to grow together, I think it will get better and these games will be one in a million and not one every five.”
Mike Sando of The Athletic with some thoughts on the 49ers and how they will shape up against Seattle:
The 49ers win the West, in my view, if they prove three things: that they have better depth than what some in the league think they possess; that their quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, can last the season; and that their passing game can be consistent enough to win higher-scoring games against teams with top quarterbacks, especially when play-action isn’t available.
Garoppolo is 11-2 as a starter for San Francisco. That record includes:
• 5-0 in 2017 against teams with Mitch Trubisky, Tom Savage, Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles and Sean Mannion starting at quarterback;
• 1-2 in 2018 against teams with Patrick Mahomes, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins;
• 5-0 this season against teams with Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Mason Rudolph, Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff.
Can Garoppolo outduel Russell Wilson? Seattle is 5-1 mainly because Wilson is even better than he’s been in the past — better at commanding the game at the line of scrimmage, better synced with his play caller, better protected by his line on the whole. But the Seahawks’ defense is ordinary by every statistical measure, putting additional pressure on Wilson to make up the difference. So far, Wilson is doing just that —but it hasn’t been easy.
Seattle’s 32-28 victory at Cleveland in Week 6 gave Wilson a 5-2 record since the middle of last season in games when Seattle allowed more than 24 points (dating back to Week 12 of last year). Wilson had a 3-26 record (including the playoffs) in those games previously, dating back to Wilson’s first season in 2012. This is his team now. It’ll be fascinating to see if Wilson can put up points on the 49ers’ improved defense, and if Garoppolo can keep pace if necessary. Seattle and San Francisco play the Week 10 Monday night game at Levi’s Stadium on Nov. 11.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
What’s up with the Rams? Mike Sando of The Athletic:
• Rams go from 3-0 to 3-3: Their offensive decline began last season when opponents started using a 6-1 defensive alignment to contain the Rams’ outside zone rushing scheme. This season, the Rams barely beat Carolina in Week 1, when Newton was making his return from shoulder surgery and playing through a foot injury. They beat the Saints impressively, but that was the game when New Orleans lost Brees and had to adjust on the fly. They also beat the Browns.
Somewhat out of necessity, the Rams have shifted from aggressively building up their roster to maintaining it. They made their big personnel acquisitions — Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, etc. — before the 2018 season. They supplemented with Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews this past offseason, but mostly, they tried to maintain, not add, as they prepared for a future with quarterback Jared Goff earning top dollar. Their offensive line is in transition and not as good. Todd Gurley appears diminished. There’s more pressure on Goff when the defense and running game falter.
Coach Sean McVay keeps speaking in generalities after games (“Go back, let’s look at the film, figure out what we can do to be better …”). Can McVay find specific fixes? Did this Rams roster and offensive scheme peak last season? Beating Atlanta (1-5) and Cincinnati (0-6) over the next two weeks should be a given. Is it?
A banged-up hip won’t keep QB BAKER MAYFIELD out of the big Patriots game. Jake Trotter of ESPN.com:
Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said Tuesday that there’s “no doubt” that quarterback Baker Mayfield will play in the Browns’ next game on Oct. 27 at the New England Patriots.
Mayfield injured his hip Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. He briefly went to the locker room but returned before missing a snap. Seattle defeated the Browns 32-28.
Mayfield didn’t practice Tuesday, though he dressed and held his helmet. The Browns (2-4) have a bye this week. They’ll practice Wednesday before breaking for the rest of the week.
Mayfield has struggled in his second season. He leads the NFL with 11 interceptions — the most in six games by a Browns quarterback since 1984.
Not all the interceptions have been his fault, but accuracy has been a problem all season for the former No. 1 overall pick.
Praise for QB DESHAUN WATSON from Bill Barnwell of EPSN.com:
Is Deshaun Watson an MVP candidate?
Yes. I’m tempted to leave things there, but Watson has been incredible over the last two weeks in leading the Texans to victories over the Falcons and Chiefs. He has thrown for 706 yards and six touchdowns, run for 89 yards, six first downs and two more scores, and posted a Total QBR of 91.7. Watson threw two interceptions in Sunday’s win over the Chiefs, but one was the product of his receivers running into the same area of the field. The other came after DeAndre Hopkins uncharacteristically dropped a would-be completion in the red zone.
The scary thing, I suppose, is that Watson could have even better numbers if he hadn’t been let down by drops from Hopkins and Will Fuller on Sunday. He’s playing absolutely lights-out football, and he was much better Sunday than his raw numbers and 77.5 passer rating indicated. While the Chiefs and Falcons clearly influenced things, one key number for Watson over the last two games has to be the zero sacks he has taken. He had porous offensive lines for his first two seasons in Houston, but he also deserved some of the blame for taking sacks as he extended plays. The line between extending plays and taking bad sacks is narrow, and over these two wins, he has toed it perfectly.
While the long-term effects of trading so many draft picks might be deleterious, the Texans are clearly a better offense after adding Laremy Tunsil to the fold. Tunsil hasn’t been the best left tackle in the league, but he has been a mammoth upgrade on what Matt Kalil would have likely done on Watson’s blindside. Tunsil also freed up would-be Kalil replacement Tytus Howard to start his career on the right side, and the first-round pick was playing well before being carted off with a knee injury against the Chiefs. Zach Fulton also ranks among the league leaders in ESPN’s pass block win rate over the last two weeks.
If anything, Watson needs more help from his receivers. Hopkins, who hasn’t scored in five weeks, has officially been credited by ESPN Stats & Information with two drops and has had a handful of other passes this year bounce off his hands. Fuller is tied for the league lead in drops with Julian Edelman at four. Kenny Stills has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. Texans receivers have dropped five of Watson’s passes over the last two weeks.
A win over the Colts next week would put the Texans in great shape to claim the AFC South title. They would move to 5-2 and sit comfortably ahead of the 3-3 Colts, with both the Jaguars and Titans remaining under .500. A quarterback typically needs to come away with a first-round bye and rank among the league leaders in fantasy points to garner serious MVP consideration. With the Chiefs struggling, the Texans — who now hold a tiebreaker over their AFC rivals — suddenly have a 43.5% chance of taking off Week 18.
Mike Sando of The Athletic notes some slightly encouraging trends for Miami:
The Miami Dolphins finally played a close game, but they remain on schedule to overtake the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the worst point differential in NFL history.
Those expansion Buccaneers fought hard to the end. They held a 14-7 halftime lead over the playoff-bound New England Patriots in their final game. They would lose that game, 31-14, but their effort was so valiant that the Patriots’ owner at the time, Billy Sullivan, called the game “a tribute to professional football” after his team needed 17 fourth-quarter points to win.
No one is saying particularly nice things about the 2019 Dolphins, but Miami finally did produce a respectable final score Sunday. A failed two-point try in the final seconds made the Dolphins 17-16 losers against previously winless Washington, the first time in five games this season Miami did not lose by at least 20. The losing margin has fallen every week, from 49 in the Dolphins’ embarrassing opener against Baltimore to 43 against New England, 25 against Dallas, 20 against the Chargers and finally a single point Sunday.
The Dolphins could be improving. Their schedule has softened. Whatever the case, they’ve been outscored by 138 points through five games. The 1976 Bucs had been outscored by “only” 94 points through five games. Opponents outscored them by 287 points over the full season, an NFL record that still stands. Those Bucs played a 14-game schedule. Their point differential did not surpass the Dolphins’ current 138-point deficit until their ninth game of the season.
Miami’s current scoring deficit (27.6 points per game) projects to a 442-point deficit over the full 16-game season. The Dolphins aren’t going to keep that pace. They are trending toward improvement. But if their opponents outscore them by 149 points the rest of the way — 13.6 points per game on average — the Dolphins will “beat” the 1976 Bucs’ record. A tribute to professional football, it will not be.
Not that they’ve used him much lately, but the Patriots have suspended DT MICHAEL BENNETT. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Defensive lineman Michael Bennett was not spotted at Patriots practice on Tuesday and the reason for his absence came to light later in the day.
Bennett has been suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team. Nick Underhill of TheAthletic.com reports that Bennett aired his displeasure with his role on defense to the coaching staff last week and Bennett confirmed that such a conversation was behind the disciplinary action.
“On Friday, I had a philosophical disagreement with my position coach that has led to my suspension. I apologize to my teammates for any distraction this may have caused,” Bennett told Jordan Schultz of ESPN.
Bennett joined the Patriots in a trade with the Eagles this offseason. He has played 130 snaps through six games and was in on 11 snaps against the Giants last week. Bennett has five tackles, 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hits in that playing time.
THIS AND THAT
Dan Graziano of ESPN.com ponders the odds that WR ANTONIO BROWN will get all of the money that teams have not paid him.
Two different NFL teams released wide receiver Antonio Brown in September, and as you’ve probably heard, he believes both of those teams owe him money.
About a week and a half ago, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) formally filed grievances on behalf of Brown, seeking about $39.775 million in total from the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots — the two teams that signed him to contracts and released him. The grievances have not yet been scheduled and could be put off until after the season.
What exactly those grievances are and Brown’s chances of winning each of them are somewhat complicated, so we thought we’d break it down for you.
Here are the eight specific grievances that were filed and, based on conversations with various sources familiar with the situation, Brown’s chances of winning them:
1. Fine appeals with the Raiders: $215,000
Brown’s chances of winning this grievance: Decent
The Raiders fined Brown, who was traded to Oakland from Pittsburgh in March, approximately $215,000 for skipping practices and workouts while he was dealing with his much-publicized foot and helmet issues during training camp. The imposition of these fines led to a practice-field feud with general manager Mike Mayock, behavior that ultimately led the Raiders to tell Brown they were voiding the guaranteed money on his contract (more on that later) and setting off the chain of events that culminated in his release the day before the start of the regular season.
The appeal here likely lies in conversations Brown had with Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who is known to be the team’s ultimate decision-maker, as opposed to those he had with Mayock. Brown’s fine letters came from Mayock, and it was Mayock with whom he had the dispute during practice. But Gruden was in contact with Brown during the same time period.
If Brown could, hypothetically, prove that Gruden had told him he wouldn’t be fined, then he could argue that Mayock lacked the authority to fine him, since Gruden is the one in charge. It’s tough to say how he could prove that absent a recorded phone call (which likely would not be admissible as evidence), but an argument along these lines could muddy the waters enough to convince the Raiders to settle on this issue and forgive at least some, if not all, of the fines.
2. Week 1 salary from the Raiders: $860,294
Brown’s chances of winning this grievance: Strong
Brown was on the Raiders’ roster at 4 p.m. ET on the Tuesday before the team’s Week 1 game, which means they have to pay him for that week. Players get paid in 17 weekly installments during the regular season. One-seventeenth of Brown’s scheduled $14.5 million Raiders salary works out to $852,941.18.
He should have the right to collect that money if he hasn’t already. Of course, the fine money would have been taken out of that paycheck, so these first two grievances go with each other.
3. Remaining 2019 guaranteed money from his Raiders contract: $13,764,706
Brown’s chances of winning this grievance: Almost zero
The language in Brown’s contract with the Raiders (as in most standard NFL player contracts) allows for guaranteed salary to be voided for a variety of reasons, including failure to report or play. Brown missed enough required training camp days to allow the Raiders a strong case to activate the language in his deal that allows them to void his guarantees.
4. 2020 guaranteed money from his Raiders contract: $14.5 million
Brown’s chances of winning this grievance: Almost zero
For the same reasons outlined in the paragraph above.
5. Guaranteed 2020 workout bonus from his Raiders contract: $500,000
Brown’s chances of winning this grievance: Very slim
The Raiders (with very few exceptions) don’t put signing bonuses in their contracts. Brown’s Raiders deal had $1 million in bonus money listed officially in the contract as OATSB, which stands for “other amount treated as signing bonus” for salary-cap purposes. But it was actually structured as two separate, fully guaranteed, $500,000 workout bonuses — one in 2019 and another in 2020.
While these are both defined as “fully guaranteed,” that really exists only as protection in case the team cuts the player before paying him. Since they are workout bonuses, a player still has to show up to the specified workouts to qualify for them, and Brown did not show up to said workouts in 2019.
The 2020 guarantee disappears just like the base salary guarantee does as a result of the aforementioned contract language that allows the Raiders to void his guarantees.
6. Signing bonus from the Patriots: $9 million
Brown’s chances of winning this grievance: Strong
This is where it gets really interesting. The Patriots gave Brown a $9 million signing bonus — half of which was to be paid on Sept. 23, three days after they ended up cutting him, and the other half in January. They haven’t technically paid it yet, and New England will likely argue that it shouldn’t have to pay him because of a “representation warranty clause” that claims breach of contract since Brown didn’t disclose a situation that would have prevented him from continued availability. That situation would be the civil suit in which his former trainer accused Brown of rape.
Brown and his attorneys will argue a civil suit is not likely to render a player unavailable to play football, that the Patriots could not reasonably assume said suit would result in a suspension and that they cut him only after it was revealed he sent intimidating text messages to a different woman whose accusations surfaced after he’d already played a game for the team.
Brown will argue the Patriots’ reason for cutting him appears to have been those text messages (since they didn’t cut him after learning of the civil suit and, in fact, allowed him to play for them), and that the conduct occurred after the team signed him. Therefore, it wouldn’t fall under a representation warranty clause, because it wasn’t a pre-existing situation at the time of his signing.
The NFLPA knows it doesn’t have a strong case to pursue the voided guaranteed salary money from Oakland and New England because of the way those contracts were written. But a signing bonus is considered money earned at the time of signing (hence its name), and the union will fight hard for Brown on this one, if only to avoid setting a precedent that allows other teams a road map for getting out of signing-bonus money with other players in the future.
7. Week 3 salary from the Patriots: $62,500
Brown’s chances of winning this grievance: Strong
Brown’s 2019 salary with New England was $1 million — remember, most of the money in his contract was in the form of a signing bonus — and since he signed after Week 1, his weekly salary is that $1 million divided by 16 (the number of weeks he would have spent on their roster if he had been there the remainder of the season). So his weekly salary from New England was to be $62,500.
Since he played for the Patriots in Week 2 — his only game — we have to assume they paid him for that week. But he was still on the roster as of Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET in Week 3, and players who are not cut before that time have to be paid for the week. Brown was not released until three days later. He did not play for the Patriots in Week 3, but the rules under which players are paid will likely allow him to collect a salary for that week anyway.
8. Remainder of guaranteed 2019 Patriots salary: $875,000
Brown’s chances of winning this grievance: Almost zero
This amount is that $1 million salary minus the Week 2 and Week 3 salaries we already discussed. As with Brown’s Raiders deal, his Patriots deal specified that $1 million be fully guaranteed. But the remainder ($875,000) should void in the same way in which the Raiders were able to void the guaranteed salary they owed him.
It’s also worth noting here that Brown has the right to termination pay of up to 25% of his scheduled salary. NFL veterans are allowed to file for termination pay once during their careers, and Brown has not done so before. If a player is on the roster Week 1, he is entitled to 100% of his salary in termination pay. Brown was not on any roster Week 1, since the Raiders released him before 4 p.m. ET that Saturday and the Patriots technically didn’t sign him until the following Monday.
Veterans who aren’t on Week 1 rosters are entitled to up to 25% of their scheduled salary in termination pay, so it’s possible Brown could secure as much as $250,000 in termination pay from New England in addition to what the organization already paid him. All told, it’s possible he could end up being owed as much as $408,333.33 in salary and termination pay from the Patriots.
What this all means, and what’s next
Brown is likely entitled to his $9 million Patriots signing bonus, the Week 1 Raiders game check ($860,294) and the Week 3 Patriots game check ($62,500). That comes out to at least $9.92 million in salary he could recoup.
Common sense would indicate he could come to some sort of settlement with the Raiders on the fine money (though common sense hasn’t exactly ruled throughout this situation), and it’s possible he could settle with either or both of these teams on the salary guarantees.
As mentioned earlier, the grievances could be put off until after the season. In the meantime, Brown remains under investigation by the NFL for the accusations made against him by two women. He is free to sign with any team, but if he did, the NFL likely would put him on the commissioner’s exempt list until the investigation were complete.
THE TRADE MARKET
Mike Clay of ESPN.com looks at teams that might be able to spare somebody.
Trade season is upon us, which means rumors and speculation will be rampant. Sometimes the potential trade bait is obvious — like wide receiver Zay Jones, who was dealt from Buffalo to Oakland last week — but other candidates seem to come out of nowhere.
One way to discover these potential sleeper picks is to sort through the league’s deepest position groups, where there is usually an odd man. Yes, having quality depth is important, but for a contending team, trading a bench player for a regular contributor at another position could help toward a Super Bowl run. For a rebuilding team, a future draft pick can help accelerate the plan.
Here are 10 of the league’s deepest position groups, as well as a player from each that makes sense as a potential trade piece at the deadline:
Los Angeles Chargers running backs
The group: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Troymaine Pope
We’ll start with the obvious one. Gordon unsuccessfully held out the first four weeks of the regular season while backup Ekeler shredded the NFL for 490 scrimmage yards (fifth among running backs) and six offensive touchdowns (first).
Meanwhile, second-year back Jackson racked up 142 yards on only 18 carries (7.9 YPC). Gordon, who couldn’t come to an agreement with the Chargers this past offseason, is headed to free agency after the campaign, meaning the 26-year-old will have a new home no later than March.
Ekeler (a restricted free agent this offseason) and Jackson (signed through 2021) are near locks to return in 2020. Gordon makes sense as the one to go if the injuries continue to push the Chargers out of the playoff race.
Odd man out: Gordon
What he could bring in trade: 2020 Day 2 and Day 3 draft picks
Green Bay Packers cornerbacks
The group: Jaire Alexander, Tramon Williams, Kevin King, Josh Jackson, Tony Brown, Chandon Sullivan, Tremon Smith, Ka’dar Hollman, Natrell Jamerson
This one might be a long shot considering the injuries in the secondary for Green Bay, which is a playoff contender.
That said, the Packers are so loaded at cornerback that Jackson, their 2018 second-round pick, has been getting significant run at safety. Green Bay has been rolling with Alexander, Williams and King as its starting corners but struggled to find snaps for Jackson prior to Darnell Savage Jr.’s injury (he’s expected to miss a few more weeks). The Packers like 2018 undrafted free agent Brown; Sullivan, a former member of the Eagles, has been solid in limited work, and Hollman was a sixth-round pick in April.
If the Packers make a move to acquire a player of significance, King could be the bait, as he’s signed only through 2020 and isn’t quite as versatile as Williams — who isn’t quite as valuable to non-contending teams at age 36 — or Jackson.
Odd man out: King
What he could bring in trade: A starter along the interior offensive or defensive line
San Francisco 49ers defensive line
The group: Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, D.J. Jones, Arik Armstead, Ronald Blair III, Solomon Thomas, Sheldon Day, Jullian Taylor
The 49ers’ defense has finally turned the corner, and its heavy investment in the defensive line is a main reason for it. Five of the players listed above were first-round picks; four of them play a significant role. The exception is Thomas, who was the third overall pick in the 2017 draft. He’s only 23 but simply hasn’t lived up to his pedigree, though he did have a sack on Sunday.
Thomas is versatile enough to play both inside and on the edge, but a lack of effectiveness has led to him playing roughly 32% of snaps this season. Headed to an offseason in which the 49ers probably will decline his fifth-year option, Thomas makes sense for a contending team looking to improve at another position.
Odd man out: Thomas
What he could bring in trade: Impact defensive back, wide receiver or Day 3 draft pick
San Francisco 49ers wide receivers
The group: Deebo Samuel, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne, Richie James Jr., Jordan Matthews
Speaking of the 49ers, they’re in an interesting situation at wide receiver. They have a lot of young talent in the form of Samuel, Pettis, Bourne, James, Jalen Hurd (IR) and Trent Taylor (IR), as well as seasoned veterans Goodwin and Matthews. However, they’re missing a clear No. 1. That could be problematic for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
The 49ers could be in the market for a player like A.J. Green at the deadline, and if that’s the case, someone has to go. That could be Pettis, who showed flashes as a rookie after being selected in the second round of the 2018 draft. Pettis, though, fell out of favor during the offseason and has been targeted only 15 times this season, though he has played a larger role the past two weeks. If Green is in fact the target, some combination of Pettis, the aforementioned Solomon Thomas and a draft pick could do the trick.
Odd man out: Pettis
What he could bring in trade: 2020 Day 3 draft pick
Tennessee Titans off-ball linebackers
The group: Jayon Brown, Rashaan Evans, Wesley Woodyard, Daren Bates, David Long
Woodyard is nearing the end of his 12-year NFL career, but the 33-year-old figures to have more left in the tank. After trailing only Jurrell Casey in snaps during his first five seasons with the team, Woodyard lost his starting job to 2018 first-round pick Evans during the offseason. With Evans and Brown locked in atop the depth chart, Woodyard had played only 18% of the snaps through Week 5, though he played 56 snaps on Sunday.
Granted, Woodyard is a team leader and captain, but if Tennessee begins to fall out of the playoff race or needs to shore up another position, he makes sense as a trade piece. That’s especially the case if the team wants to get the rookie Long some run down the stretch. Teams eyeing a veteran linebacker figure to give Tennessee GM Jon Robinson a call this month.
Odd man out: Woodyard
What he could bring in trade: Midround draft pick or help at right guard
Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackles
The group: Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Andre Dillard, Halapoulivaati Vaitai
The nice thing about having solid players at nearly every position? Luxury picks during the NFL draft. That was the case for the Eagles in April, when they selected Dillard No. 22 overall.
Of course, with Johnson locked in at right tackle and Dillard in line to replace the 37-year-old Peters — for whom Philadelphia needs a long-term replacement — Vaitai could become expendable.
A 2016 fifth-round pick, Vaitai has made 17 starts and is headed to unrestricted free agency after this season. Eagles GM Howie Roseman is always invested in the trade market, and a team in need of tackle help very well could covet Vaitai in a deadline deal.
Odd man out: Vaitai
What he could bring in trade: Help at wide receiver, defensive tackle or cornerback
Indianapolis Colts cornerbacks
The group: Kenny Moore II, Pierre Desir, Rock Ya-Sin, Quincy Wilson, Marvell Tell III, Shakial Taylor
Moore, Desir and Wilson were solid as the Colts’ cornerback trio during 2018’s playoff run, but the team still tried to upgrade the group by spending a 2019 second-round pick on Ya-Sin. The rookie quickly leaped Wilson on the depth chart and has been working the perimeter opposite Desir on a full-time basis, with Moore locking down the slot.
That has left 2017 second-round pick Wilson on the outside looking in. He is blocking the path of rookies Tell and Taylor, who could hold down the fort as reserves down the stretch. Wilson could attract cornerback-needy teams and has the benefit of having one year left on his rookie contract.
Odd man out: Wilson
What he could bring in trade: 2020 Day 3 draft pick
Minnesota Vikings cornerbacks
The group: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Jayron Kearse, Kris Boyd, Marcus Sherels, Holton Hill
The Vikings love investing in cornerbacks to the point that GM Rick Spielman’s wife joked that he should not come home if he took another one during the draft. He did … but not until the seventh round (Boyd).
That said, the investment in the position has led to a bit of a logjam. Rhodes is 29 but signed through 2022. Waynes (2015) and Hughes (2018) are recent first-round picks. Alexander has been solid manning the slot, but injuries have opened the door for Kearse and Hughes to help out inside.
With so many options, it makes sense that Waynes could be part of a deadline deal. Both he and Alexander are impending unrestricted free agents, though Waynes’ pedigree and ability to hang on the perimeter would be more attractive to cornerback-needy teams. If Waynes is moved, Hughes could slide in opposite Rhodes, with Alexander and Kearse inside and Boyd as depth.
Odd man out: Waynes
What he could bring in trade: 2020 third-round pick
New England Patriots defensive line
The group: John Simon, Chase Winovich, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Michael Bennett, Danny Shelton, Deatrich Wise Jr., Byron Cowart
Strong depth along the defensive line has been a big part of the success, though most of the production has come from seasoned veterans like Simon, Shelton, Bennett and Guy. Wise, a 2017 fourth-round pick, has been left out of the mix, for the most part. He has yet to emerge as a full-time player, instead playing the role of a versatile depth option at end and tackle.
New England is always active on the trade market, and Wise, who is signed through 2020, could attract teams looking for a young lineman who can play inside and out.
Odd man out: Wise
What he could bring in trade: 2020 late-round draft pick or help on the offensive line or at tight end
New York Jets defensive line
The group: Leonard Williams, Quinnen Williams, Henry Anderson, Steve McLendon, Nathan Shepherd, Folorunso Fatukasi
The injury-plagued, 1-4 Jets likely aren’t going anywhere in 2019, so there’s little doubt they’ll be thinking about the future leading up to the trade deadline. The team has invested heavily in the defensive line in recent years, selecting Leonard Williams in the first round in 2015, drafting Quinnen Williams third overall this past April, signing Anderson to a three-year extension in March and selecting Shepherd and Fatukasi in the 2018 draft.
All but one of those players are under contract for a few more years, with the exception being Leonard Williams. He was the subject of trade rumors during the offseason, so he makes a ton of sense as an impending unrestricted free agent.
Similar to Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson in recent years, Leonard Williams, 25, may no longer be needed in New York but could be a valuable starter elsewhere. The Jets have major short- and long-term needs at multiple positions, including offensive line, edge rusher and corner. Swapping Williams for an impact player at another position makes sense.
Odd man out: Leonard Williams
What he could bring in trade: 2020 Day 2 draft pick
Several weeks ago, the Aikman Combined Ratings, surprisingly at the time, identified the 49ers as the second-best team in the NFL behind the mighty Patriots. After beating the Rams, that is now a popular opinion – and still backed up by the Aikmans.
– – –
The Patriots, at 105.3, continue to chart with an Aikman Defense ranking over 100. In recent year, few teams have even reached 90 for a full season. The 49ers are also thriving on defense with a 96.2 mark. Then, you go all the way to 82.8 for the Bills in 3rd place.
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In Aikman Offense, Lamar Jackson has the Ravens in first at 98.4 with the Cowboys, Texans, Seahawks and Chiefs also above 90. The Ravens also lead the NFL’s yards-only ranking and are the highest scoring team in the NFL. The Saints, usually above 90 in recent years, are only in 17th at 81.4, near league average.
Aikman Efficiency Ratings Through Week 6
————– Aikman ————–
Comb. Off Def Off Def Comb
1 6-0 Patriots 188.8 83.5 105.3 8 1 9
2 5-0 49ers 179.3 83.0 96.2 4 2 6
3 3-3 Cowboys 166.3 95.0 71.3 2 9 11
4 4-2 Vikings 165.4 87.3 78.1 11 5 16
5 5-1 Seahawks 163.6 92.1 71.5 5 20 25
6 4-2 Ravens 163.3 98.4 64.9 1 13 14
7 4-1 Bills 162.8 79.9 82.8 10 3 13
8 3-3 Eagles 160.3 88.0 72.3 20 14 34
9 4-2 Texans 158.4 94.1 64.3 6 18 24
10 3-2 Bears 157.5 75.4 82.2 30 6 36
11 5-1 Packers 155.7 82.8 72.9 17 21 38
12 4-2 Chiefs 155.0 91.2 63.8 3 27 30
13 4-2 Panthers 154.3 84.2 70.1 18 11 29
14 2-4 Broncos 152.8 76.3 76.6 25 4 29
15 2-2 Lions 150.5 81.0 69.5 13 29 42
16 5-1 Saints 149.0 81.4 67.6 22 10 32
17 3-3 Rams 148.9 83.2 65.7 12 12 24
18 2-4 Buccaneers 148.6 79.6 69.0 15 22 37
19 2-4 Steelers 148.2 73.7 74.5 29 15 44
20 3-2 Colts 147.3 88.1 59.2 23 16 39
21 2-4 Titans 146.8 72.0 74.7 27 8 35
22 2-4 Chargers 146.1 77.9 68.2 14 7 21
23 3-2 Raiders 145.9 84.4 61.5 21 17 38
24 2-4 Jaguars 143.7 79.4 64.3 16 23 39
25 2-3 Cardinals 140.9 84.9 55.9 9 30 39
26 1-5 Falcons 139.5 87.5 52.0 7 26 33
27 2-4 Giants 139.1 73.3 65.8 24 28 52
28 2-4 Browns 138.6 75.1 63.6 19 24 43
29 1-5 Redskins 128.0 67.5 60.5 28 25 53
30 1-4 Jets 127.5 60.9 66.6 32 19 51
31 0-6 Bengals 124.5 65.7 58.8 26 31 57
32 0-5 Dolphins 100.7 55.9 44.9 31 32 63
Avg 149.9 80.7 69.2