AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

John Breech of CBSSports.com checks in on the Bears kicking battle:

 

After getting off to an ugly start in the spring, the Bears kicking competition is suddenly starting to heat up.

 

Although kicking battles don’t usually make headlines during training camp, the competition in Chicago has been the talk of the town, with everyone from airport gate agents to taxi drivers wondering how the Bears are going to replace Cody Parkey.

 

@AndrewSiciliano

 Just landed in Chicago. The gate agent at O’Hare is on the microphone telling everyone waiting at the gate that he’s confident the Bears will find a kicker.

 

The two candidates for the kicking job are Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry, and so far, things have been almost dead even, well, except for one kick. The most impressive kick of Bears training camp so far came over the weekend when Pineiro drilled a 63-yard field goal.

 

If you need an idea of just how crazy this competition has gotten with Bears fans, just watch video below. As Piniero lines up to attempt the kick, fans start chanting his name, which might actually mark the first time in football history that a kicker has had his name chanted at a training camp practice.

 

Here’s a look at Piniero’s 63-yard kick, which made it with room to spare.

 

@PetroTLS

 Eddy Pineiro 7 of 8 including this 63 yarder to end the session. Ladies and gentleman we have a kicker battle in #BearsCamp 🏈🔥

 

To put that kick in perspective, if it had happened in a game, it would have been the second-longest field goal in NFL history (The record for longest field goal is 64 yards).

 

The crazy thing about Piniero’s kick is that he actually asked the coaching staff to move him back that far. After watching Fry hit a 60-yarder over the weekend, Piniero wanted to one-up his competition.

 

“You know you gotta come out and try to do better than the next guy,” Pineiro said on Sunday. “The goal is being better than the next guy. (Fry) said 60 yesterday, alright, I’m going 63. I’m not going 60.”

 

After watching a group of nearly 10 kickers struggle in the spring, Bears coach Matt Nagy seems thrilled to have an actual competition brewing.

 

“How do you not love two kickers battling for one spot competing their tails off after everything that’s gone on with our team and our city,” Nagy said over the weekend, via NBC Sports Chicago. “I appreciate that.”

 

To keep either of the kickers from getting tired, the Bears have had them switching off days, which meant that Fry kicked on Saturday while Pineiro kicked on Sunday. The formula continued this week with Fry kicking Monday and Pineiro kicking Tuesday.

 

Most kicking competitions aren’t set up like that and Fry is a big fan of how the Bears have decided to handle things.

 

“No. 1, it lets us rest our legs,” Fry said. “Obviously that’s a big deal with kickers, making sure you’re fresh every day, but I think just not having a confusion in getting some rhythm going, you know that today’s your day, just like it would be in a game. You’re not going to be in the season splitting reps between someone. It’s going to be your day and you’re going to go for it. So I think it’s making it as game-like as possible.”

 

 

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS suddenly feels old.  Peter King:

 

“I gotta really make sure we’re all on the same page. But that’s kinda life for me. In the QB room yesterday, I started telling this story, and I realized, Nobody in here probably was here even seven years ago, probably knows who I’m talking about, so I’m just gonna stop.”

 

—Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on the newness in Packers camp.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Even as RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT and the Cowboys dance apart over Elliott’s new contract – they must join forces to defend against a lawsuit.  Stefan Stevenson in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

 

A man who was involved in a car accident with Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott in January 2017 is suing the team and Elliott for $20 million.

 

The suit alleges that the Cowboys conspired with Frisco police “to cover up the details of the wreck at the time.”

 

Ronnie Hill, who was driving a BMW 750 when it was side-swiped by Elliott’s GMC Yukon SUV, alleges Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown rushed to the scene of the accident and told him that the team “would take care of everything.”

 

The city of Frisco released a statement denying the allegations of a cover-up and saying Frisco police responded and investigated the accident according to department policies and procedures.

 

“This allegation is false,” the release said. “Both parties to the crash were offered medical attention and both refused. Emergency medical services were not requested by either party. Neither party was treated or transported.”

 

Would the Cowboys really give Elliott one of their vehicles to drive? 

 

Hill’s lawsuit is short on details, such as did his insurance not pay for his demolished car?

 

He alleges all sorts of horrible physical injuries, but provides no details – no mention of broken bones, etc.  As the Frisco police say, he walked away without requesting any medical services.

 

As near as we can tell, there is nothing to show any bad behavior by the Frisco police.  We are surprised that the Cowboys/Elliott did not show more concern to Hill and his loss of a spiffy vehicle.  We are not surprised that Elliott is a knucklehead, red-light running driver.  We think $20 million is a ridiculous amount of money to even ask for as a starting point.  But we suppose that Hill will be offered hundreds of thousands for he and his attorney to go away.

 

While we suppose there is hidden damage out of sight, the best photo the plaintiff can give TMZ shows two vehicles that do not look like they went through a horrific accident:

 

 

More from a TMZ story:

 

In fact, Hill claims the Dallas Cowboys “conspired with the Frisco Police Dept. to cover up the severity of the accident to assure that Elliott’s health would not be placed in question before their playoff game.”

 

According to Hill’s suit, “If anyone had actually reported the impact of the accident and had Elliott been examined he would have most likely been placed in concussion protocol and out for the Dallas Cowboys upcoming playoff game.”

 

In his suit, filed by attorney Larry Friedman, Hill claims Dallas Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown had raced to the scene of the accident and told Hill, “We will take care of everything.”

 

Hill claims the Cowboys did NOT take care of anything — and he’s suing both Zeke and the Cowboys for $20 MILLION in damages.

 

By the way, the Cowboys ended up LOSING the playoff game 34 to 31 … but Zeke played great, rushing for 125 yards on 22 carries.

 

We reached out to the Frisco PD and the Dallas Cowboys for comment — so far, no word from either side. A rep for Elliott had no comment.

 

We spoke to Hill’s attorney, Larry Friedman, who tells us, “Ezekiel Elliott believes he’s above the law. He doesn’t follow any rules. As a citizen and a member of our community he has a duty to obey the law and act responsibly, especially while driving a motor vehicle.”

 

Friedman adds, “There are no exemptions for running backs or members of the Dallas Cowboys.”

 

“He has admitted liability in this case but refuses to take responsibility as he has refused to take responsibility on so many other occasions when he has disobeyed the law.”

 

“My client is suing for compensation for his injuries and wants his day in court.”

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Peter King, usually a soft touch, thinks the NFL should throw the book at WR GOLDEN TATE who took a banned substance from a surprising source.

 

A note about Golden Tate, who is facing a four-game ban for a PED that he claims was an innocent fertility drug—taken in a family-planning mode to help he and wife have a child. Then he found out the drug contained a substance banned by the NFL. Here’s the problem: If the NFL lets Tate slide on this, and agrees that he and his wife are innocent parties here, what does the league do about the point it’s made in scores of team meetings and scores of public statements about performance-enhancing drugs: All players are responsible for what they put in their body, and if it’s on a banned list, there are no exceptions. Does the league roll back that stricture? I doubt it.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Peter King looks at the risks involved in Philadelphia’s big deal for QB CARSON WENTZ:

 

I understand why Eagles GM Howie Roseman did what he did—the price for quarterbacks keeps going up, and if Wentz plays 16 games this year at his 2017 level, after suffering two fluke injuries (lots of those happen in football), the extension that was worth $32 million a year this year jumps to $37 million next year. The Eagles took a leap of faith, for sure. This deal has to keep Roseman up at night. When I asked Doug Pederson about it, he was pretty matter-of-fact about what the Eagles need to happen here with Wentz.

 

“He’s been given the keys to the kingdom,” Pederson told me. “Now it’s up to him to make sure the kingdom stays healthy.”

 

(Cap numbers for Wentz for the next six years, by the way: $8.39 million, $18.66 million, $34.67 million, $31.27 million, $34.27 million, $32 million. The highest percentage of the cap that Wentz will take up? About 17 percent. On average, his pay will take up about 13 percent of the Eagles cap, by my best projections, over the next six years.)

 

Would I have waited to see Wentz play a full season? Tough call. Probably not. I think he’ll be a little smarter about putting himself in harm’s way. Plus, officials will err on the side of protecting the passers, always; starting NFL quarterbacks missed only 60 games due to injury in 2018—and that’s out of 32 starters. Pederson says he isn’t changing the offense to bubble-wrap Wentz, and Wentz isn’t going to overhaul how he plays. Nor should he. It’s a hard game. I remember when Phil Simms got hurt in four of his first five NFL seasons with the Giants, and he was called injury-prone. Then he became an ironman. So you just don’t know. Sometimes people get hurt. Wentz has to play smarter, but he’ll neuter himself if he changes his game entirely.

 

In some ways, what the Eagles did with Wentz this offseason, giving him the big deal, reminds me of how Pederson coaches. Pederson did get a little more conservative last year than in Philly’s Super Bowl year, but he says now that’s because early in the season Wentz was coming back from the knee injury, and late in the season, he wasn’t playing. “I want to coach aggressive,” Pederson told me on my camp visit. “That’s what I gotta get back to. Last year was not my mentality. I’ve learned from that.”

 

Wentz looks a little Bradyish, actually. He’s lost a few pounds (he won’t say how many) which he attributes to training and nutrition—not trying to be Tom Brady II.

 

“Back feels good. Knee feels good,” Wentz told me. “I feel about as healthy as I’ve felt in a long time, both physically and mentally. Been able to take a step back due to the injury the last few years, unfortunately, but it allowed me to see the game from a different perspective. Allowed me to invest a lot of time and energy into my body and into not only get healthy but finding ways to stay healthy for hopefully the duration of my career. I feel really good and ready to go.

 

“I wasn’t necessarily setting out to lose weight. It was just a byproduct of some of the things I’ve been doing but at the end of the day it’s all about how I feel. By no means do I think I’m now too skinny or anything. I’ve lost a couple pounds. I’m not making a big deal about that. But just overall, being healthier … I think will help the longevity of my career. Having played a couple seasons now knowing the rigors of this game, obviously I’ve gotten hurt a few times but it wasn’t because of not being able to take a hit or anything.”

 

The NFL needs Wentz. He’s a North Dakota kid loved by the fans and the public. He’s smart, driven. Did you know he never got a grade lower than A in any level of schooling? Teammates loves him, coaches love him. He’s electric as a player, with a great arm and athletic legs. He’s got great leadership. He’ll never do something embarrassing for the franchise. At Saturday’s practice, by my very unofficial count, I saw 43 Wentz jerseys by the fans invited to the camp workout; no idea who was second, but it wasn’t close. Wentz is one of the stories of the year in the NFL, and the fate of the NFC East rests on him. A bit of a cliché here. But it’s why we watch.

– – –

Also from Peter King:

 

You might say New York Yankees reliever Tommy Kahnle is an avid Eagles fan. Stitched on his baseball glove, in script, in Eagles green: “Fly Eagles Fly.”

 

We don’t think the NFL would ever allow a player to show support for a team in a rival sports enterprise on their NFL uniform.  Curious if MLB has an issue.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com says that QB ALEX SMITH isn’t giving up:

 

“I’m still determined [to play], still marching down the road, still optimistic,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. “I want to push it, for the challenge’s sake. I want to see what I’ve got … I enjoy the challenge, even to this [recovery], coming out here and being with the guys. It’s not going to last forever. I’d like to see where it leads.”

 

Here’s how big Smith is on challenges: when asked if the goal is to get back to be an NFL starter, he made his long-term hope clear.

 

“Well, it’s hard enough to play the quarterback position when you’re 100 percent, and I don’t think you could fake it if I wasn’t,” Smith said. “So the goal is to get back to that, yeah.”

 

Smith has been taking small, but important, steps toward that goal. Over the course of his recovery, he has regained the ability to drive and work out, and in mid July, he was allowed to shed the fixator for the first time in over seven months.

 

Smith’s desire to play again becomes obvious when he starts talking about the effect his renewed presence around the team has had on him. “I feel back, getting to know the guys,” Smith said. “This time of year, if you play long enough … you start to [feel the pull].”

 

And it’s overwhelmingly clear the Redskins are happy to have him back around the team. Second-year running back Derrius Guice even briefly interrupted an interview Smith was doing with a reporter to make it known.

 

“Alex, we love you!” Guice said, prompting Smith to smile.

 

Smith, who has $31 million guaranteed owed to him by the Redskins for the next two seasons, says he has no timeline for his return to the field, other than it won’t be this year. He says he has kept his arm in shape and is optimistic he can ditch the crutches in a few weeks. Then it’s on to walking, then jogging and jumping, running and eventually, taking drops in the pocket.

 

“If you know Alex, you know he’s gonna do everything he can to come back — that’s all you can say about him, he’s one of the greatest competitors there is,” Gruden told Yahoo Sports. “Those injuries hurt him a little bit, but he’s got a great attitude and a great mindset of he’s gonna get well, he’s gonna get better and he’s gonna play. And that’s all we can do is support him in that regard any way we can. We’re all behind him, we’ll do anything for him.”

 

In the meantime, the Redskins are counting on Smith to be a positive influence this season on first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins and a sounding board for veterans Case Keenum and Colt McCoy, who are also competing for the starting job in Smith’s absence.

 

“Just his presence [will help],” Gruden said. “He’s been in all these situations and he knows what they’re like. Playoff situations, third down, red zone, clock stoppages, all that stuff … he can help the quarterbacks out.

 

“It’s another set of eyes. We’ve got [offensive assistant] Matt Cavanaugh who played the position, [quarterbacks coach] Tim Rattay who played the position. I played it, to an extent. [Offensive coordinator] Kevin O’Connell played it. So we have a pretty good group of guys who can help these quarterbacks out, but nobody like Alex who has been there and done that as many times as he has.”

 

But while Smith is willing and excited to help his fellow quarterbacks — he pledged to do his part to help them, much like he did for the eventual league MVP in Kansas City — Gruden and the Redskins also know that Smith is equally focused on returning to the field.

 

“I’ve got my head down, plugged in,” Smith said, shortly before scooting back through the doors of the Bon Secours Training Center. “It’s not time to look up yet.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

Does Charlotte’s climate really require a retractable roof on a new stadium?  The new owner of the team thinks it does.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Panthers owner David Tepper has already gotten the state of South Carolina to help him pay for a new practice facility. He’s apparently willing to put his “Two States, One Team” motto into practice by letting North Carolinians help him with a bigger project.

 

Tepper told Ben Fischer of the Sports Business Journal he hoped to build a new retractable-dome stadium in Charlotte, as long as there was taxpayer help.

 

“At some point, I would make a big investment if I could get the state and others on board in a new stadium that would be great for soccer and great for football,” Tepper said, referring to his bid to bring MLS to Charlotte. “The economy’s big enough for a revenue tax, a hotel revenue increase that would go a long way to help pay for a new stadium.”

 

The Panthers were already planning some renovations to Bank of America Stadium, which opened in 1996, if the MLS bid is approved.

 

Tepper has often talked about bringing more events to his stadium, from concerts to Final Fours. To do so would require a different sort of building, and floating the idea now helps people get used to the idea before it’s time to open their wallets. He said he won’t embark on such a project without public help.

 

“People here in Charlotte have to realize: This is a really major, growing, important city, and it needs that sort of presence,” Tepper said. “Charlotte, in my mind, for these two states, should be the sports and entertainment capital. That’s what it’s meant to be.”

 

Tepper is the richest single owner in the NFL, with an estimated net worth of over $11 billion.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

It’s done.  WR MICHAEL THOMAS has reached a 5-year extension with the Saints that is said to be worth $100 mil or $20 mil per year.  Mike Triplett of ESPN.com:

 

It would be nice for the New Orleans Saints if they could have put their foot down with Michael Thomas and declared that no wide receiver is worth $20 million per year.

 

After all, there was a time not too long ago when skill-position players felt somewhat expendable in New Orleans.

 

The Saints traded tight end Jimmy Graham away in 2015, just one year after he signed a contract extension worth $10 million per year. Then they dealt receiver Brandin Cooks in 2017 before his rookie contract was up.

 

In both cases, the Saints felt their offense could keep running smoothly with coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees behind the wheel — and that their resources would be better spent elsewhere.

 

But times have changed.

 

The Saints made Thomas the richest receiver in NFL history on Wednesday because they had to. They ended a painless six-day training camp holdout by agreeing to a five-year extension worth $100 million with $61 million guaranteed.

 

So what’s so different about “Can’t Guard Mike”?

 

Well, you name it.

 

Not only is Thomas a special player who obliterated the NFL record with 321 catches in his first three seasons, but New Orleans’ cupboard would be frighteningly bare without him.

 

Last year, Thomas set franchise records with 125 catches and 1,405 receiving yards while earning first-team All-Pro honors. No other Saints receiver or tight end had more than 35 catches.

 

And the physical 6-foot-3, 212-pounder is especially valuable at this stage of Brees’ career at age 40, since he works so well in traffic on shorter and intermediate routes. Despite regularly being double-teamed, Thomas caught a stunning 84.5 percent of his targets last season — the most of any NFL receiver since at least 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

 

The Saints addressed their lack of reliable pass-catchers this offseason by signing veteran tight end Jared Cook in free agency. And getting veteran receiver Ted Ginn Jr. back healthy for a full season should help, too.

 

But there is no way around the fact that Thomas is absolutely vital to a team that is built to win a Super Bowl right now.

 

This is one of those deals where the Saints really couldn’t afford NOT to pay him.

 

Both sides deserve credit for getting this deal done quickly before Thomas’ holdout became any sort of concern. This deal made too much sense for both sides to waste time posturing — and those nice, round numbers of $100 million and $20 million per year seemed almost inevitable.

 

It’s hard to call this a “win-win” for both sides, since the Saints certainly didn’t get a discount on the former second-round steal out of Ohio State.

 

And it’s a hard price tag for the Saints to swallow, since they also just signed All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan to a lucrative contract extension this summer and have more expensive deals on the horizon (Brees, running back Alvin Kamara, cornerback Marshon Lattimore and offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, among others in the next couple years).

 

But if any receiver is worth $20 million to his team, it’s Thomas.

 

He consistently delivered in big moments last season, catching 21 of 22 passes (95.5%) in one-score games in the fourth quarter or overtime. That was the highest such catch rate for any player with at least 10 targets last season.

 

And his postseason numbers were even gaudier than his regular-season numbers: 31 catches for 423 yards and three TDs in four games.

 

The Saints appreciate Thomas’ work ethic as much as his production. Brees compared him to Darren Sproles as one of those rare players who treats every practice rep like it’s the Super Bowl. Payton told NFL.com last season that he felt like he got hit by a car when he made the mistake of standing in as the defensive back across from Thomas during a walk-through session.

 

“But those guys are fun to be around because once they flip the switch, man, it’s time to roll,” Brees said.

 

And if you are in the camp that believes no receiver is worth $20 million per year, well too bad, because that’s about to be the going rate.

 

Ideally, the Saints would have kept Thomas’ contract terms closer to the deal that Odell Beckham Jr. signed with the New York Giants last year, worth between $18-19 million. But fellow elite receivers like Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, A.J. Green and Tyreek Hill are all expected to sign new contract extensions soon. And it’s possible the NFL’s salary cap will increase with a new collective bargaining agreement in 2021. So the bar will just keep getting higher.

 

The Saints were never going to get a bargain with this deal. But at least they have their must-have, go-to guy back in the fold well before the start of the regular season.

 

And now they have a chance to win big together in February.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Most observers feel the RB combo of PEYTON BARBER and RONALD JONES is non-descript and un-inspiring.  But not Coach Bruce Arians.  Jelani Scott of NFL.com:

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians likes what he has in Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones, so much so that he sees both as starting-caliber options at running back.

 

Both players have impressed throughout the early part of training camp, especially Jones, who’s entering his second year after being drafted in the second round out of USC in the 2018 NFL Draft.

 

Following Tuesday’s practice, during which Jones rattled off two impressive long runs out of the backfield, Arians raved about what’s seen so far out of the young back.

 

“He’s an explosive player. He’s going to be a heck of a player for us. He’s going to make big plays like that for us,” Arians said via Greg Auman of The Athletic.

 

Jones’ potential emergence would be quite the turnaround for a player who totaled 44 rushing yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and seven receptions for 33 yards in nine appearances during his rookie year.

 

As Jones continues to find his way, Barber will continue to further stake his claim as a quality talent.

 

In 2018, Barber — in his third season since going undrafted in 2016 — had his best campaign yet, accumulating 871 rushing yards and five TDs on 234 attempts and 20 receptions and a TD for 92 yards.

 

In Arians’ eyes, Barber and Jones represent a tandem that can make quite the impact in offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich’s schemes.

 

“Oh yeah, it’s going to be a heck of a one-two punch,” he said. “Whichever one is the one and whichever one is the two, they are both going to play.”

 

Arians might keep his idea for who starts under wraps until the team’s first preseason game against the Steelers on August 9. Whatever the case is, he seems content with his options, regardless of the direction.

– – –

A tidbit from Peter King:

 

Tampa Bay had the most injured defense of any team since at least 2001, based on adjusted games lost (which accounts both for games missed and for games where players do play but are not 100 percent because they’re injured). They had 92.0 adjusted games lost in 2018 on defense, from starters and important situational players. The average for the league was 36.1 adjusted games lost on defense.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

The training camp buzz is that RB RASHAAD PERRY, like RONALD JONES in Tampa, is hitting his stride in his second season.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Rashaad Penny’s rookie training camp was derailed by a finger injury that sidelined the running back for the final three preseason games.

 

That injury threw the start of Penny’s 2018 campaign off-tilt, yet he showed flashes, popping big plays down the stretch that made spectators remember he was a first-round pick, including a 12-carry, 108-yard, TD Week 10 performance against the Los Angeles Rams.

 

Heading into the 2019 season, the expectations surrounding Penny are heightened, with the Seahawks expected to give him a chance to siphon carries from Chris Carson.

 

Penny knows in order to take snaps from Carson this season, he’s got to be more productive with his chances.

 

“When you do everything right and the other back is doing everything right, they’re going to stick with the guy who is consistent, who is on it, who is faster,” Penny said, via Michael-Shawn Dugar of The Athletic. “This year, I think it’s going to be way different because now I’m starting to pick it up and I’m starting to play faster.”

 

Part of playing faster is better understanding the offense in Year 2, and improving his pass protection, something that is vital if he wants more playing time. Last season, because of his struggles, the running back saw only 81 snaps on passing plays. Penny said he’s improved leaps and bounds in pass pro.

 

“It’s easy when I come out here and get it,” Penny said. “The part about striking, finishing with your guy, I think that’s the most consistent thing I have to get better at.”

 

Carson and Penny will sort out who earns more snaps each week, with the Seahawks likely deploying a hot-hand approach on Sundays. Behind the top two sit pass-catchers J.D. McKissic and C.J. Prosise. Rookie Travis Homer and big-back Bo Scarbrough are battling to stick on the roster.

 

Penny said the competition between himself, Carson and the rest of the backs help all boats float.

 

“It’s competition every day,” Penny said. “Just the race up to the locker room is competition. I wouldn’t want to compete with any other guys because we’re all trying to get the spot.”

 

While Carson will be tough to bump out of the top RB job unless injury strikes, Penny is ready to prove he can be the running back that can be more than just a six-carries-per-game spot-sub in the Seahawks backfield.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Because he is Andy Reid, he gets a pass on a stat that might indict a lesser figure as a bad coach.  Peter King:

 

Kansas City led the league last year with 163 penalties, including declined and offsetting. No other team was above 150. The Chiefs were first in defensive penalties and second in offensive penalties.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Peter King on the greater emphasis on analytics with the Ravens:

 

I’ve always been interested by Baltimore’s ability to do things a different way. The Ravens were leaders in accumulating compensatory draft picks, and the league followed. The Ravens figured out that offensive linemen in spread systems were tortured acclimating to the NFL, so they made hay with mid-round Big Ten, pro-style linemen. Now they’ve got an analytics-savvy GM, Eric DeCosta, taking over for the legendary Ozzie Newsome, and he’s great friends with the progressive Astros team that was hired to rebuild the Orioles—GM Mike Elias and assistant GM Sig Mejdal. “They question everything, and I love that,” DeCosta said. This offseason, the Ravens put an ad on social media for an analytics hire. In baseball, analytics is the new wave. The NFL is still trying to figure it out. “We got hundreds, I mean hundreds, of applications,” DeCosta said. The Ravens hired a 22-year-old woman who will try to make sense of the new data—including GPS tracking of players in practices and games. DeCosta is so protective of the Ravens’ analytics plans that when I asked him how many analytics hires he had this year, he said, “More than one.” And about the number of analytics employees in the organization? “Less than 10.” DeCosta doesn’t think analytics provides a magic formula, but that’s not what he wants. He wants a small edge. A tiny edge. “We’re looking for 1 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent advantages,” he said. “There’s no 50 percent edge anymore.”

 

 

CINCINNATI

The ankle injury to WR A.J. GREEN is requiring surgery and his absence will extend into the regular season.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

A.J. Green’s timeframe to return to the field is now longer than previously anticipated.

 

Following his ankle surgery on Tuesday, Green is expected to miss multiple regular-season games, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. Bengals coach Zac Taylor confirmed that news Tuesday afternoon.

 

“I hate to put weeks on it,” Taylor told reporters, per Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic, “but we are ready for him to come back when he feels healthy and ready to go and hopefully it’s not more than a couple games.”

 

Green underwent surgery on Tuesday morning to clean out his sprained left ankle that he injured in practice on Saturday. It was understood before the surgery that Green still had a shot to play in Cincinnati’s Week 1 opener against the Seattle Seahawks. But following further examination, Green is now expected to miss not just the opener but the first part of the Bengals’ 2019 campaign, however long that is.

 

Cincinnati follows its opening trip to Seattle with games against the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals will start the Taylor era with Tyler Boyd and John Ross as likely starters at receiver, though it should be noted Ross (hamstring) has had durability issues of his own in the past and this summer.

 

In addition to missing time on the field, the collateral damage surrounding Green’s injury will extend to the negotiating table. Rapoport added that contract extension talks between Green and the Bengals will be “halted” because of the injury. Green is entering the final year of his deal and is owed nearly $12 million in base salary.

 

This is the second consecutive season, and the third in four years, in which Green will miss multiple games due to injury. The seven-time Pro Bowler sat out seven matches in 2018 with a right toe injury.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

DE STEPHEN TUITT has been reworked.  Gerry Dulac in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the details:

 

The Steelers have created nearly $4 million in cap space by reworking the contract of defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who was scheduled to earn $6 million in base salary in 2019, according to a team source.

 

The Steelers converted $5.195 million of Tuitt’s salary into a signing bonus, creating $3.9 million in cap space this season.

 

Tuitt, 26, is one of the highest paid defensive linemen in the league after signing a six-year, $64 million contract in 2017.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

A concussion in Buffalo.  Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN.com:

 

Buffalo Bills center Mitch Morse is in the concussion protocol, head coach Sean McDermott announced Wednesday.

 

Morse will miss Wednesday’s practice.

 

Morse’s concussion was diagnosed Tuesday but occurred during Saturday’s practice — the Bills’ first in full pads. Although it occurred Saturday, Morse’s symptoms were not immediately discernible.

 

“Anytime a player is injured, I am concerned because: A) it’s their health and B) it’s the health of our overall football team,” McDermott said. “You’ve heard me say how important availability is, so we’ve got to make sure that we get these guys back, and just overall the number of guys we’ve got out right now is concerning. We can only control what we can control, so that’s what we focus on and it does give other guys the opportunity to step up and show us what they’ve got.”

 

Morse, 27, took a rest day Sunday before the team’s off day Monday. He worked to the side during Tuesday’s practice, when it was ultimately decided he be placed in concussion protocol.

 

The Bills made Morse the league’s highest-paid center this offseason with a four-year, $44.5 million contract. Formerly of the Chiefs, Morse has had three documented concussions during his four-year career. He missed five games because of them last season.

 

There’s no immediate timeline for Morse’s return; he will be evaluated day-by-day.

– – –

RB LeSEAN McCOY has paid off a Philly police officer.  John Barr of ESPN.com:

 

— Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy and his friend, former University of Pittsburgh running back Tamarcus Porter, have each been ordered to pay $55,000 to a Philadelphia police officer who was injured in a 2016 bar fight with the two football players.

 

McCoy, 31, has already paid his $55,000 award to the officer, according to William Davis, the Philadelphia attorney representing officer Roland Butler. Porter has yet to pay his share, Davis said Tuesday in an interview with ESPN.

 

The financial award was the result of an agreement that came after two days of binding arbitration earlier this year and stems from a civil case that resulted from a fight inside the Recess Lounge, an after-hours nightclub in Philadelphia.

 

The fight broke out around 2:30 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 7, 2016, and started, the arbitrator found, when Butler, who was off-duty at the time, argued with Porter, a member of McCoy’s party, over who ordered a bottle of champagne.

 

In her award letter describing the incident, arbitrator Annette Rizzo, a retired judge, said a “melee” and “free for all” broke out inside the nightclub.

 

Butler, Rizzo wrote, was “taken to the ground and punched and kicked multiple times, sustaining injury, including, but not limited, to a broken nose, lacerations to the face, broken ribs, a broken thumb and contusions.”

 

A TMZ video of the incident appeared to show McCoy striking in the direction of the officer when the officer was down.

 

Three security officers from the nightclub testified at the arbitration hearing, along with McCoy, Porter, Butler and officer Darnell Jesse.

 

Davis said Butler missed months of work as a result of his injuries.

 

Jesse, a second off-duty Philadelphia police officer who was with Butler the night of the fight and attempted to come to his aid, suffered a broken orbital bone after being punched once in the face, according to court documents. Jesse was not entitled to a financial award, the arbitrator found, because he was unable in the end to clearly identify who struck him.

 

The ruling from the binding arbitration hearing ends a more than three-year legal battle over the bar fight.

 

In April 2016, former Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams determined that McCoy would not be criminally charged for his role in the incident.

 

“There is insufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, who started the fight and under what circumstances,” Williams said at the time, adding that it was impossible to determine whether the participants acted in self-defense.

 

The head of the Philadelphia police union at the time called Williams’ decision an “outrage.”

 

Prior to D.A. Williams’ decision not to pursue a criminal case, McCoy, through his attorney, argued that he was acting in self-defense the night of the fight. Rizzo, the arbitrator in the civil case, found “no basis” for a self-defense claim by McCoy or anyone else.

 

“Both McCoy and Porter had argued that they acted in self-defense, and [the arbitrator’s] finding was that that was absolutely untrue,” Davis said, adding that the officers “were disappointed that the Philadelphia district attorney’s office didn’t prosecute.”

 

McCoy, a native of Harrisburg, played for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2009 to 2014 before being traded to Buffalo in 2015. Attempts to reach his attorney in the civil case were unsuccessful.

 

Butler and Jesse have since returned to active duty.

 

“Although the civil process was lengthy, [the officers] felt vindicated in the end. LeSean McCoy and Tamarcus Porter were held accountable,” Davis said.

 

The attorney suing EZEKIEL ELLIOTT would have asked for $1 billion with all those tangible injuries.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Coach Adam Gase talks to Peter King about RB Le’VEON BELL:

 

Bell says he’s willing to touch the ball 500 times if that’s what he’s called to do. (That’s not happening, of course.) I asked the first-year Jets coach, Adam Gase, his plans for Bell. “I keep telling him, ‘We’ll keep stretching this thing, trying to find as many things that possibly you haven’t done before.’ Pass game, run game, all those types of things. He’s so open to anything, which is great.” Gase isn’t giving away anything, but I wonder if that might be a regular turn at receiver, particularly with the Jets’ intermediate game taking a hit with the four-game suspension of tight end Chris Herndon to start the season. That’ll be interesting watch. For now, Gase will study Bell’s style the way Bell studies the defenders he’s trying to evade. “When he stands behind the quarterback, he’s talking—about whether to cut, where to cut, or how the ‘backers flow or how the D line’s working and how the pressure is coming. That’s happening in real time. The way he thinks, you understand if he’s talking like that, I can’t imagine what’s going on in his head when he’s actually running the ball. I mean, at that point of the play, the game is slow for him.” I have to say I’ve never heard that about a back.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Rich Cimini of ESPN.com likes the debute of “Peyton’s Places”:

 

In the debut of “Peyton’s Places,” Peyton Manning captures the essence of Joe Namath, then and now.

 

His bravado. His cool. His coat.

 

Ah, yes, the fur coat. It’s a scene-stealer, the highlight of the conversation between the two famous quarterbacks.

 

Manning’s mission in the series is to track the 100-year history of the NFL, and his journey takes him to a swanky home where he finds the former New York Jets star shooting pool. (It was filmed in a rented mansion in Atlanta before the most recent Super Bowl.) Manning leads Namath on a nostalgic trip that covers his famous Super Bowl III guarantee and his affinity for … ahem, extracurricular activities.

 

“In the 100-year history of the NFL,” Manning says, “there’s never been a cooler cat than Broadway Joe.”

 

Namath was a celebrated playboy who in a famous pool table interview from back in the day said it’s “un-American” for a bachelor “not to have a drink with a lady now and then.” Namath and Manning re-create that scene, and it’s wonderful.

 

As a player, Namath was a fashion trendsetter, occasionally wearing a fur coat on the sideline when he wasn’t playing. He will break out a fur for special events, as he did in 2013 for the Super Bowl XLVIII coin toss — images of which that went viral on social media.

 

Manning witnessed that scene in person at MetLife Stadium, where his Denver Broncos were trounced by the Seattle Seahawks, and he mentioned Namath’s fur coat to his teammates in the huddle — a miked-up clip that finds its way into “Peyton’s Places.”

 

Back in the present day, Manning prompts Namath in their farewell scene.

 

“Joe, it looks cold out there,” Manning says to Namath at the end of his visit, standing at the front door of the rented home. On cue, Namath emerges with a fur coat for Manning to wear.

 

“That’ll keep you warm, I promise you that,” Namath says.

 

“Do you guarantee it?” Manning replies, with a twinkle in his eye.

 

Namath has a deep respect for the Manning family, in part because he played at the same time as Peyton’s father, Archie. Namath is a big Peyton fan, and their chemistry is evident on screen.

 

The Jets legend regales Peyton Manning with the story behind the “guarantee” before Super Bowl III in January 1969. Namath has repeated it thousands of times — interviews, banquets, autograph shows and elsewhere — but he has the ability to always make it sound like the first time. Namath explains the Jets’ underdog mentality, how they felt the heavily favored Baltimore Colts were overconfident and how the AFL was tired of being looked upon as second-class citizens.

 

“Players on other NFL teams were running their mouths about our league and whether we were championship caliber,” Namath once told ESPN.

 

Manning looks captivated as a fired-up Namath recalls how he blurted out his guarantee in response to a heckler at a Miami football banquet a few days before the Super Bowl.

 

The rest is history, captured nicely — and with a touch of humor — in “Peyton’s Places.”