AROUND THE NFL

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

WR GOLDEN TATE III is anxious to shed the belief that he is just a slot receiver.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

With Odell Beckham plying his trade in Cleveland these days, the top two wideouts for the Giants are Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate.

 

Both of those players have spent a lot of time playing out of the slot in recent seasons, so the Giants will need to move some pieces around with both of the players on the field at the same time. Tate said on Tuesday that he welcomes the opportunity to do that.

 

Tate said he feels he has “been put in a box that I’m only a slot receiver” and notes that he did more than that during his early days with the Seahawks.

 

“I think that’s the unique thing about me,” Tate said, via the New York Daily News. “I can kind of be put anywhere and I can be efficient. I understand the whole route tree. So hopefully I get a chance to show that.”

 

Tate should get that chance and making good on it would be a big plus for the Giants passing game.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

Newly-signed DT GERALD McCOY arrives in Charlotte.  Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer:

 

What is it like to wake up every day for almost a decade to go to work at the same place, only to wake up one day and… not?

 

Newly signed Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy knows a little something about that. At 31, he’s on a new NFL team for the first time in his career after spending nine years with Tampa Bay.

 

He’s introducing himself to a new city, a new fan base and a new system. He’ll be managing life as a husband and father of five while working under a one-year, win-now deal with Carolina.

 

McCoy has had to deal with change in the past. And those experiences are now helping him reposition himself in Carolina.

 

“All of the sudden, you get drafted, this 22-year-old kid, living in a completely different state,” McCoy said Tuesday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium, shortly after officially signing his $8.5 million contract with the Panthers.

 

“And, you’re a high draft pick, so people expect a lot of you. I would say that moment is most similar to this one.”

 

McCoy earned All-Pro honors in 2013 and is a six-time Pro-Bowler. His daily routine was working for him, to say the least. But five months ago, he decided it was time to make a physical change.

 

So McCoy went vegan, a life-altering decision borne of feeling a little stiffer in his joints and wanting to keep his body at the highest competitive level.

 

Completely revamping his diet taught McCoy so much that he was inspired to hire a documentary team to follow him through the upcoming year. Of course, he didn’t realize at the time that he’d be cut by the Bucs in May.

 

“We were trying (back then) to think of what we were going to title (this documentary),” said McCoy. “I think we came up with the name ‘Transition.’

 

“And how fitting that I switched over to being a vegan and I switched teams. It’s all about transition.”

 

McCoy will also have to adjust from playing as strictly an interior defensive lineman in Tampa Bay’s four-man front to a defensive end in a three-man front — a role that the Panthers hope will maximize both his dynamic athleticism and his ability to eat up space in front of linebackers.

 

“Well, I believe if you can play football, you can play football,” said McCoy. “I’m a defensive lineman. Being a defensive lineman requires you to be like a Swiss-Army knife. You have to play nose tackle. You have to play three (technique), you have to play five (technique). You have to play everything.”

 

But the Panthers’ players and staff made it clear to McCoy that while his location, his role and uniform — and perhaps even his jersey number — will change, they don’t want him to change who he is.

 

That was made clear to McCoy — even in small gestures — when he visited the Panthers last Friday.

 

We wonder if the Panthers knew about the vegan documentary team following him around when he signed.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

G EVAN SMITH is now a teammate of the guy who assaulted him.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

When inexplicable things happen, football players will shrug and say it’s “just business”

 

So for Buccaneers guard Evan Smith, suddenly being teammates with Ndamukong Suh — who famously stomped him on Thanksgiving 2011 — didn’t merit much of a reaction.

 

“It was 2011,” Smith said, via Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Bay Times. “A long time ago.”

 

Smith was playing for the Packers then, Suh for the Lions. The stomp resulted in a fine and suspension for Suh.

 

But upon meeting in the halls last week, they shook hands and moved on. Suh obviously doesn’t care about his perception,

 

“It was just coincidence, really,” Smith said. “I was just walking out of a meeting; man, and he was just walking right by. It was fine. We’re fine. . . . Here’s the thing about it, man, when you come to work, you get paid to do a job. You don’t get paid to hate people, you get paid to play with them. He’s here to help us win football games. . . .

 

“People are making too big a deal of this. I know you guys love it. But its football. We’re grown men with families. We’re not out trying to kill guys 24/7. It’s a business, a tough sport. It’s not for the meek people.”

 

Smith was able to gloss over the incident as “Heat of the battle,” but the reality is Suh has been involved in more than one such battle. But now he’s wearing the same jersey, so Smith isn’t going to make a big deal about it, lest he end up wearing cleat marks again.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

LB NaVORRO BOWMAN is retiring as a 49er.  Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com:

 

Former San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman is calling it a career. But before he does, he wanted to make sure he was going out with the team that brought him into the league in 2010.

 

The Niners announced Tuesday that Bowman stopped by the team’s training facility to inform the organization that he would be retiring and that he wanted to retire as a member of the team for which he played seven-plus years.

 

At the moment, the 49ers have a full 90-man roster and can’t sign Bowman to a ceremonial one-day contract so he can officially retire with the team. Regardless of the formality, Bowman wanted it to be known that he was going out as a 49er.

 

Bowman did not play in the NFL in 2018 after starting the final 10 games of the 2017 season with the Oakland Raiders. As it turned out, those 10 contests were the only games in his career in which he didn’t suit up in the 49ers’ scarlet and gold.

 

San Francisco selected Bowman in the third round (No. 91 overall) of the 2010 NFL draft out of Penn State, and he immediately helped form one of the league’s most feared linebacking duos with Patrick Willis.

 

Bowman went on to be named first-team All-Pro four times with three Pro Bowl appearances and was at the center of a dominant defense that led the Niners to three straight NFC championships beginning with the 2011 season. He finished his time with the 49ers with 709 tackles, 12.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and four interceptions.

 

Bowman also provided some of the franchise’s most memorable moments, including an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown that nailed down a playoff spot in 2013 and closed down Candlestick Park and the pass breakup in the NFC Championship Game that sent the Niners to Super Bowl XLVII.

 

For his career, Bowman had 764 tackles, 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and five interceptions.

 

All of that production came despite a knee injury that kept Bowman out for the entire 2014 season and an Achilles injury that cost him the final 12 games of the 2016 season.

 

The 49ers released Bowman on Oct. 13, 2017, after they began to reduce his workload and he expressed frustration because of it. But Niners general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan made it clear at the time that they understood and respected all Bowman had done for the franchise.

 

“Bo’s been great to me,” Shanahan said then. “I’ve always had the utmost respect for him, just from film and playing against him since I’ve been here to get to know him as a person. He’s as cool as any guy I’ve been around.”

 

Bowman watched Tuesday’s organized team activity with his family from the sideline before breaking down the team huddle at the end of the practice.

 

Hall of Famer?  Maybe he didn’t quite play long enough, but otherwise he checked the boxes.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

The Broncos, particularly DE VON MILLER, seems happy with veteran QB JOE FLACCO.  The AP:

 

Joe Flacco still has it.

 

The 34-year-old quarterback showed off his strong right arm Tuesday as the Denver Broncos kicked off their three-day minicamp, throwing frozen ropes over the middle and deep passes down the sideline.

 

“He looks like a Super Bowl MVP to me,” Von Miller said. “Today he had a play-action, rolled out to the right and threw the ball from the opposite 20 to the opposite 15. Now, I don’t know how far that is.”

 

Sixty-five yards — and just out of wide receiver Brendan Langley’s reach.

 

“He threw the ball far,” Miller said. “He can throw 80 yards, easy.”

 

Another time, Flacco hit rookie tight end Noah Fant in stride for a 50-yard gain.

 

Asked afterward how far he can still throw it, Flacco said, “I have no idea. I hope I don’t have to throw the ball too, too far. You want to get the ball out and throw it in rhythm. So, hopefully, 50 yards downfield and you won’t push it down much further than that.

 

“But I would think that the air up here, you actually can get a few more yards further. I mean, I have no idea how far I can throw a ball up here. I haven’t really tried and I don’t really plan on going out there and trying to do it.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

RB DUKE JOHNSON still wants out of Cleveland.  Josh Edwards of 247Sports.com:

 

Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson Jr. did not back off his trade request when meeting with media Tuesday in Berea. He acknowledged that he still wants to be traded and that he felt ‘unwanted’ when the team reportedly placed him on the trade block. However, if he is a member of the team, he is going to give it his all on the field and “will not be a disgruntled employee.”

 

“I’m big on loyalty. I felt as though I have been loyal to the organization through it all. The moment the loyalty stops, it stops on both ends. It is not a one way street. It stops on my end as well. Would it stop me from doing my job? Of course not. Me being upset and me wanting to be traded would not stop me from coming out here and performing at a high level,” Johnson said.

 

Head coach Freddie Kitchens has said in the past that Johnson has a role on this roster. Johnson trusts him when he says that.

 

“Everything is about opportunity. When you get yours, you have to make the best of it. I know last year was different because we had so many moving pieces. Coach Kitchens started off as my coach and now he is the head coach. It just kind of shows you what happened in that year. It was so much on his plate as well as everyone else around him, especially coaching Baker and him being a rookie. He is a great player but he was a still rookie so there was a lot for him to learn and catch up on and just understand with so many moving parts. There was definitely I think this year definitely could be different if I’m here. I think it could be different. I trust coach Kitchens’ word when he says that when he says things like that and makes statements about me being a part of the team. I trust it and that is all I can go off of.”

 

The Florida native was asked by a reporter whether or not there was anything that could repair the relationship between player and coach. Johnson shook his head ‘no.’

 

Quarterback Baker Mayfield called Johnson’s situation ‘self-inflicted’ and suggested that he was displeased with how the running back has handled the matter.

 

“If somebody wants to be here, they’ll be here in that situation. You got guys within our locker room that are dying to get playing time, that are dying to be here. I get it, Duke has been here for years and I respect that but it is about what are you doing right now. The past is the past. My rookie year, I have to learn from it and move forward. It is about right now and what we are going to do.”

 

Somewhere, the DB saw a commentator who noted that Mayfield has a transfer from Texas Tech to Oklahoma on his record.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

EDGE JUSTIN HOUSTON had a number of reasons for signing with Indianapolis.  Two of them were 4 and 3.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Justin Houston’s relationship with Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard certainly played a role with the pass rusher landing in Indy. There was a bigger reason: a switch to a 4-3.

 

Houston told NFL Network’s Good Morning Football on Tuesday that no longer dropping back in coverage on a chunk of his plays is his goal moving forward the rest of his career.

 

“I just wanted to be in a 4-3 (defense),” Houston said Wednesday morning. “I think I didn’t get enough credit for me being in a 3-4, and dropping a lot of the time, so my sack numbers weren’t as high as I would like for them to be. So just being in a 4-3 and don’t have to think about dropping no more is something I want to do for the rest of my career. I just want to go forward and rush the passer.”

 

Houston compiled 78.5 sacks in eight seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, all of them playing in a 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker. The pass rusher hasn’t broken the double-digit sack barrier since his 22 QB takedowns in 2014. The 30-year-old previously noted he played his first three years in college at Georgia playing in a 4-3.

 

Switching schemes isn’t always easy, but for a veteran like Houston becoming a full-time edge rusher not asked to drop back in coverage much, the transition in Indy should be fluid. The veteran showed down the stretch last season that when healthy, he can still pack a punch and collapse the pocket. In the last four regular-season games he compiled five sacks and generated two more against the Colts in the playoffs win for the Chiefs.

 

One interesting aspect to Houston’s 4-3 comments is Kansas City is currently moving to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. While Houston’s age and contract figure played a bigger role in the team’s decision to cut him than concerns about how he would transition to a 4-3, any success he has in Indianapolis this season will add additional burn to K.C. fans who were saddened to see the long-time vet jettisoned.

– – –

Is this something?  QB ANDREW LUCK is not in perfect health.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck’s bothersome calf strain continues to keep him off the practice field during organized team activities.

 

Luck did not get any on-field work Tuesday and the Colts will re-evaluate him next week, Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star reported.

 

Erickson adds that Colts head coach Frank Reich told reporters the team won’t suffer a setback in the event Luck does not practice when the team opens the mandatory minicamp on June 11-13.

 

Luck is the team’s franchise quarterback, so it more than makes sense for the Colts to err on the side of caution despite the signal-caller’s desire to be on the field.

 

Moreover, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Colts decide to hold back Luck until training camp. Taking that approach would allow Luck plenty of time to be 100 percent healthy when considering the more than a month-long break between minicamp and the start of training camp in late July.

 

The Colts know Luck’s health takes priority over no-contact install periods during OTAs and mandatory minicamp.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

DE SHAQ LARSON is motivated.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

First-round picks who don’t get their fifth-year options picked up respond in different ways.

 

Washington wide receiver Josh Doctson said this week that he’s taking no extra motivation from the team’s decision to pass on the option. Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson is taking the opposite view.

 

Lawson said this week that he is using the Bills’ call on 2020 as fuel for his preparations for the year to come.

 

“No, I ain’t concerned. It’s motivation. I know what time it is. It’s do or die,” Lawson said, via the Buffalo News. “I’ve been through a situation like this before. It’s just a small step. Me, I’m just gonna go out there and ball this year and see where everything falls.”

 

Lawson has produced 76 tackles, 10 sacks and four forced fumbles while missing 13 games over his first three seasons. More production and less time on the sideline would be good places to start avoiding the death side of his predicament.

 

 

MIAMI

S RASHAD WOLFE could be a short-timer in Miami.

 

Miami Dolphins safety Reshad Jones reported to team facilities for mandatory minicamp Tuesday unfazed by the trade rumblings and criticism he has received this offseason after skipping voluntary organized team activities.

 

“I’ve seen it and I’ve heard of it, but I control what I control,” Jones said. “I’m in great shape. I’m still one of the best safeties in this league, and whatever happens, happens. I control what I control. I’m here, I love this city, I love the fans. I’d love to be a part of the Dolphins organization.”

 

Jones’ vocalizing his desire to be with the Dolphins in 2019 is notable because general manager Chris Grier expressed a similar desire earlier this offseason.

 

As for OTAs, Jones felt the criticism he received for skipping them under a new coach was overblown. There have been multiple reports that the Dolphins might still look to trade Jones this offseason.

 

“Voluntary mean voluntary,” Jones said. “So I took the time to get physically ready to play a 16-game stretch coming off a surgery in February.”

 

Jones had surgery on his partially torn right labrum, an injury he played through for much of last season. He said his shoulder rehab played a big factor in his staying away from the team this spring and that he is not 100 percent yet — but he’s close.

 

Dolphins coach Brian Flores was all smiles Tuesday when speaking about Jones, noting that the two-time Pro Bowl safety was in good shape, good spirits and eager to get to work.

 

That being said, Flores didn’t assure Jones a starting job when assessing the Dolphins’ safety situation last week. Jones has been a starter since 2011, his second year in the league.

 

“Everyone’s got to work to start in this league and on this team,” Flores said. “There’s no sacred cows, not in this game. You have to earn what you get.”

 

Jones, 31, has the Dolphins’ highest cap figure at $17.165 million, and he’s set to make over $13 million in 2019, with nearly all of it guaranteed.

 

Minkah Fitzpatrick, a cornerstone piece for the Dolphins’ defense, T.J. McDonald and Bobby McCain have all spent considerable time at safety in Jones’ absence this offseason and figure to play a role at that position.

 

Jones had issues when changes were made to his playing time and role last season. It’s unclear if that has played a role this offseason, but Jones said he plans on being the same caliber player in 2019.

 

“I don’t really have to prove anything to anybody,” Jones said. “I mean, the numbers speak for themselves. Respect? I earned that. I earned my stripes in this league. I’ve done everything possible.”

 

While a trade has yet to be ruled out, it appears the Dolphins and Jones are trying to make their partnership work at least for the 2019 season.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Whoever might try to replace TE ROB GRONKOWSKI, it apparently won’t be TE AUSTIN SEFERIAN-JENKINS.  Shalise Manza Young:

 

The odd offseason of the New England Patriots continues.

 

On Tuesday, the team released veteran tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, whom they signed just eight weeks ago.

 

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Seferian-Jenkins felt he needed to step away from things for a month or so to address some personal issues. Seferian-Jenkins hopes to return to football in July, and the door isn’t closed on him returning to New England.

 

It’s unclear why Seferian-Jenkins is taking a bit of a break.

 

New England signed the 6-foot-5, 26-year-old tight end on April 10, as it looks to fill the productivity gap left by Rob Gronkowski’s retirement.

 

The Patriots also signed Benjamin Watson last month, though not long after that reunion happened, Watson revealed that he will miss the first four games of the regular season to a PED suspension. In a social media post, Watson said that after last season, with the New Orleans Saints, he thought he was retiring and began testosterone treatment to heal his body; as a result, he failed a March drug test, leading to his suspension because he signed with New England.

 

Last month, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer told the Patriots he was retiring a week after he signed with the team, and in March defensive coordinator Greg Schiano stepped down to spend time with his “family and faith” just weeks after being hired.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

RB Le’VEON BELL shows up at Jets camp.  Rich Cimini of ESPN.com:

 

New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell says he and Adam Gase are texting buddies and BFFs — even though he knows his coach reportedly didn’t want him on the team.

 

Bell, in his first face-to-face session with reporters since signing a four-year, $52 million contract in March, insisted Tuesday that recent reports regarding Gase’s negative feelings about the signing of Bell as a free agent haven’t damaged their rapport.

 

“This is a business,” said Bell, who reported to the team and participated in its first minicamp practice after skipping the voluntary portion of the offseason. “Even if the report was true, obviously he doesn’t feel like I’m not a great player.

 

“Maybe he just feels like, ‘Dang, maybe we could’ve got more great players.’ I don’t know. What I’m saying is, me and him, our relationship is great.”

 

It was widely reported last month, when general manager Mike Maccagnan was fired, that Gase wasn’t a proponent of signing Bell. The main issue, sources said, was the price tag — $13 million per year, second only to Todd Gurley among running backs.

 

Bell, who spent the past few months working with a personal trainer in South Florida, said he and Gase have communicated throughout the offseason. Bell sends him video of his workouts, and Gase sends Bell cut-ups of the Jets’ practices.

 

“There have been false reports about me, so I don’t really buy into reports,” Bell said. “I talk to him. He tells me what’s going on. The communication is there, that’s all that matters.”

 

Bell was in a giddy mood after his first football practice since January 2018, when he played his last game for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After a 17-month layoff, he looked rusty and tentative in the mandatory practice. He took only seven reps — four in the 11-on-11 period, three in 7-on-7 drills. He carried the ball three times and was targeted once — a pass that went off his fingertips.

 

He acknowledged the obvious, saying he’s behind the rest of his teammates. Bell didn’t care; he was just happy to be in a team setting again.

 

“This felt so good, not doing it for a year and things like that,” said Bell, who sat out last season in a contract dispute with the Steelers. “I’m excited.

 

“It was amazing, just running around and being able to trash-talk and catch some balls and just sweat in your helmet and things we take for granted when you’re playing. To have that whole year off, and to come out here and play football again, it felt so good.”

 

Bell was mostly an observer, standing off to the side with the quarterbacks so he could hear the playcall when it was sent in. He raised the energy level at practice, according to some players. He also raised the decibel level with his trash-talking.

 

“We got a loudmouth on defense [Jamal Adams] and now we got a loudmouth on offense,” said tackle Kelvin Beachum, who played with Bell in Pittsburgh.

 

Gase, who has big plans for Bell in his offense, said they won’t give him a heavy workload this week. He, too, said his relationship with Bell is solid, adding that they will rely on two-way communication to figure out the best ways to use him.

 

Bell actually believes he could be more productive in New York than Pittsburgh, which will be difficult. He amassed nearly 8,000 yards from scrimmage in five seasons, with a career-high 406 touches for 1,946 yards in 2017.

 

He said Gase’s system will provide “a lot of opportunities I’ve never really had before.”

 

Bell also spoke highly of second-year quarterback Sam Darnold.

 

“Sam is going to make me a better player, just because of the fact that he’s so mobile,” said Bell, who spent the first five years of his career playing with future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger. “He’s going to create opportunities I wouldn’t usually have. Same thing for me. I’m going to make opportunities for him that he’s never had before, too. We’ll bounce off each other. We’ll be a special duo in the backfield.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

PFWA AWARDS

Recently retired DE Chris Long is the PFWA’s Good Guy for the second consecutive year.  From the release:

 

Recently retired Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who was praised for his dealings with the media, has been selected as the 2019 Good Guy Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).

 

Long, the 15th Good Guy Award winner, is the award’s first repeat honoree.

 

Other nominees for the Good Guy Award were Chicago Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara, New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, San Francisco 49ers tackle Joe Staley and former Baltimore Ravens, now Los Angeles Rams, safety Eric Weddle.

 

The Good Guy Award is given to an NFL player for his qualities and professional style in helping pro football writers do their jobs. The award has been presented annually by the PFWA since 2005.

 

Congratulations to Chris and the nominees.

 

And the organization’s Walter Payton Award has gone to LB Ryan Shazier.  Bryan Deardo of 247Sports.com:

 

Ryan Shazier has been named the Pro Football Writers of America’s 2019 George Halas Award recipient.

 

The award, named after Hall of Fame coach George Halas, is presented annual to a player, staff member of coach who overcame the most adversity to succeed on or off the gridiron. While he hasn’t been able to play since sustaining a serious spine injury in December of 2017, Shazier has made significant physical strides while continuing his outpatient therapy. Shazier has also been a consistent presence in Pittsburgh’s facility over the last 16 months while serving in an unnamed role.

 

Shazier is the third Steelers player to win this award, following the footsteps of Hall of Fame receiver John Stallworth (1985) and fellow 1970s Steeler, Rocky Bleier (1975). Shazier’s teammate, running back James Conner, was also considered for the award. Conner, who overcame a cancer diagnosis in 2015, led the Steelers in rushing touchdowns in 2018 while earning his first career Pro Bowl selection.

 

 

2019 MVP

Nostradamus Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com wants you to know that he has narrowed down the serious candidates for 2019 NFL MVP to just 233 players.

 

My colleague Louis Riddick tweeted out a prediction last week: Carson Wentz is going to win the MVP award in 2019. It’s a great pick given what we know about MVP winners. History tells us the ideal pick is an ascending quarterback who hasn’t won the award recently, plays for a great team, and is likely to improve in 2019. Wentz fits all those criteria.

 

Of course, Riddick was ahead of the curve on last year’s MVP winner too. It seemed like an obvious pick by the time the season ended, but this time last year, no one would have put Patrick Mahomes forward as a potential MVP. The Chiefs had drafted Mahomes in the first round in 2017, but he started just one game during his rookie season, a meaningless Week 17 contest. Mahomes would have fit the criteria I mentioned, but most people would have named the likes of Deshaun Watson, Marcus Mariota or Jimmy Garoppolo as trendier picks than the eventual winner.

 

Naturally, I started thinking about possible competitors with Wentz for the award and who might represent this year’s Mahomes. The five first-round quarterbacks from the 2018 draft are the closest comps to where Mahomes was a year ago, but they’re hardly the only long shots. He wasn’t the most likely candidate this time in 2018, but he was a plausible candidate.

 

And when you start using history to plot out plausible MVP candidates in 2019, the list gets big. Quickly. By my count, there are 233 players who history suggests could have some semblance of a shot at winning NFL MVP in 2019.

 

Let’s run through those players and why the past suggests they have a shot at winning the biggest individual award in professional football this season, group by group. I’ll also use the Caesars sportsbook’s current odds for MVP to pick a favorite and a least favorite selection from each group given the odds.

 

Group I: The Hall of Fame QBs

This is easy, right? Any of the guys who already have been fitted for gold jackets can win MVP in any given year. Late-career awards for guys such as Tom Brady (at age 40) and Peyton Manning (37) have proved that there’s no expiration date for glory. I shouldn’t need to explain this one.

 

Candidates (4): Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger

 

My favorite from this group: Rodgers (8-1). Freeing Rodgers from the grasp of Mike McCarthy can only help matters.

 

My least favorite from this group: Brees (10-1). Roethlisberger (30-1) has lost Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and offensive line coach Mike Munchak, but Brees’ downturn during the final weeks of the 2018 season at age 39 scares me.

 

Group II: The rookie-deal QBs

On the other side of the coin, there’s no reason to think that a passer needs some level of seasoning before being taken seriously as an MVP candidate. In 2017, Wentz was likely about to win the award in his second season as a starter before going down with a torn ACL. Mahomes won MVP last season with all of one professional start in his back pocket.

 

It would hardly be shocking if Baker Mayfield, who was one of the best starting quarterbacks in the league during the second half of his rookie season, is a legitimate MVP candidate in 2019 after the Browns added Odell Beckham Jr. I think it would even be foolish to totally count out Kyler Murray, who has transcendent athleticism and will be playing in a Cardinals scheme designed to rack up numbers. Some of these guys will fall off and play middling football, of course, but there’s every reason to believe one of these guys will put together an MVP-caliber season. One of them did just that a year ago.

 

Candidates (14): Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Marcus Mariota, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston

 

My favorite from this group: Garoppolo (40-1). Injuries are going to be a concern, of course, but you could say that about half of the people in the list above, and most have worse odds. Underlying metrics suggest that the 49ers are one of the most likely teams in the NFL to improve in 2019, and Garoppolo should have an excellent offensive line while working under Kyle Shanahan for a full season. Wentz, for what it’s worth, currently has the second-lowest odds of any passer at +550.

 

My least favorite from this group: Mariota (60-1). He is one of those quarterbacks with serious injury concerns, but he also hasn’t played well enough when healthy to ever garner meaningful MVP consideration. The former Oregon star is also dealing with yet another offensive coordinator in Arthur Smith, who has never been a coordinator at any level.

 

Group III: The established veteran QBs

There’s a group of effective, Pro Bowl-caliber signal-callers between those first two groups. We don’t usually think about one of them suddenly piecing together a MVP season after six or seven years in the league, but Matt Ryan did just that in 2016. He wasn’t even an ascending quarterback at the time; both he and the Falcons had seemingly taken a step backward during the final years of the Mike Smith era. Ryan had a frustrating first season under coordinator Kyle Shanahan, but he averaged 9.3 yards per attempt and was a deserving league MVP in Year 2 with Shanahan.

 

Was Ryan a better player under Shanahan than he had been under Dirk Koetter or than he would be under Steve Sarkisian? Maybe. It’s more likely that Ryan had a career year because the context surrounding him was ideal. The Falcons massively upgraded by signing center Alex Mack, and their offensive line stayed healthy for the entirety of the season. Julio Jones was healthy, and the Falcons replaced a hobbled Roddy White with Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.

 

Getting the pieces around a quarterback right allows him to flourish. We saw players in this group blossom last season under those terms, as passers such as Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson improved their numbers behind the sorts of competent, ambulatory offensive lines they hadn’t seen in years. Everything could break right around a skilled vet in 2019.

 

Candidates (9): Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson

 

My favorite from this group: Cousins (60-1). If the Vikings’ offensive line is better after signing Josh Kline and drafting Garrett Bradbury, Cousins can add that to the league’s best wide receiver pairing and a running game that should be better with Gary Kubiak coming on board as an adviser. A great defense should ensure an impressive record if Cousins holds up his end of the bargain too. If the Vikings go 13-3 and Cousins has a great season, he’ll be up there.

 

My least favorite from this group: Stafford (75-1). New Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell just talked about how he wants to build around the running game and imposing their will on opponents, which might hurt Stafford’s stock. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has said the same thing about his offense, but Minnesota’s defense is much better than Detroit’s. The Lions don’t have the defensive talent to play that way.

 

Group IV: The middling veteran QBs

Yes, it’s fair to say there are starting passers more likely to be out of the league by 2021 than suiting up on Sundays. It’s almost a joke to mention them as MVP candidates. I have to say almost, though, because a 35-year-old John Brodie was five years removed from his prior Pro Bowl appearance in 1970 and then won league MVP. The 1981 winner was 32-year-old Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson, who was five years removed from his last Pro Bowl nod and threw 13 interceptions against just six touchdown passes in 1980.

 

As long as you have a starting job in the NFL, you could conceivably have everything go right and win league MVP. Is there a strong chance that Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins are going to put together the sort of season The Fitzchise would need to win MVP? Absolutely not. You only have to look back to the first two weeks of 2018, though, to remember how hot Fitzpatrick can get when things are going well.

 

On top of that, remember that those same Dolphins entered the 2008 season coming off a 1-15 campaign in a division with the Patriots, who had gone 16-0 the previous year and returned virtually everybody from their terrifying offense. Tom Brady got hurt in Week 1 and the Dolphins ended up winning the division. A lot can go wrong — or right — in 16 games.

 

Candidates (6): Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Joe Flacco, Case Keenum, Eli Manning, Colt McCoy

 

My favorite from this group: Dalton (250-1). All of these guys are extreme long shots, of course. I’d say Dalton because the Bengals’ offense was averaging 27.7 points per game during the first half of the season before Dalton and A.J. Green went down injured. That would have been the fourth-highest average in football if Cincinnati had been able to keep it up. The Bengals also might be more competitive than people think in a division in which the Ravens and Steelers lost talent, and the Browns, who admittedly added talent, were still only 7-8-1 a year ago.

 

My least favorite from this group: McCoy (3,000-1). Several of these veterans are likely to lose their jobs as the season goes on, but it’s unclear whether McCoy will even be on Washington’s opening-day roster.

 

Group V: Literally any other active QB

We actually can’t rule out any quarterback with NFL eligibility, thanks to Kurt Warner’s stunning MVP season in 1999. Think about how unlikely of an MVP candidate Warner was before that season began. He was a Northern Iowa product and NFL Europe veteran with 11 career pro passes to his name by age 28. Most NFL hopefuls who haven’t taken meaningful snaps by that age are selling insurance.

 

Furthermore, Warner was the backup quarterback on a team whose offense had finished 24th of 30 teams in points scored the previous season. Sure, the Rams had added weapons by trading for Marshall Faulk and drafting Torry Holt to play alongside Isaac Bruce, but no one expected the Rams’ offense to blow away the league with Trent Green at quarterback, and even those modest expectations collapsed into the basement once Green tore his ACL and gave way to Warner.

 

Warner’s campaign tells us that any quarterback lurking on an NFL roster — and even a few guys who don’t currently have jobs — could conceivably win league MVP. To say otherwise is to ignore history, which means we can add a lot of candidates to our list:

 

Candidates (97): Kyle Allen, Brandon Allen, Drew Anderson, Matt Barkley, J.T. Barrett, C.J. Beathard, Kurt Benkert, David Blough, Blake Bortles, Tim Boyle, Sam Bradford, Tyler Bray, Teddy Bridgewater, Jacoby Brissett, Jake Browning, Matt Cassel, Connor Cook, Chase Daniel, Joshua Dobbs, Jacob Dolegala, Jeff Driskel, Eric Dungey, Danny Etling, David Fales, Luke Falk, Ryan Finley, Nick Fitzgerald, Blaine Gabbert, Garrett Gilbert, Mike Glennon, Will Grier, Robert Griffin, Ryan Griffin, Dwayne Haskins, Taylor Heinicke, Chad Henne, Taysom Hill, Devlin Hodges, Kevin Hogan, Brian Hoyer, Brett Hundley, Tyree Jackson, Josh Johnson, Cardale Jones, Daniel Jones, Colin Kaepernick, Charles Kanoff, Chad Kelly, Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer, Kyle Lauletta, Tanner Lee, Chase Litton, Drew Lock, John Lovett, Paxton Lynch, Sean Mannion, AJ McCarron, Josh McCown, Alex McGough, Trace McSorley, Gardner Minshew, Nick Mullens, Brock Osweiler, Nathan Peterman, Tony Romo, Josh Rosen, Jake Rudock, Mason Rudolph, Cooper Rush, Brett Rypien, Mark Sanchez, Tom Savage, Matt Schaub, Kyle Shurmur, Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter, Alex Smith, Geno Smith, Wilton Speight, Drew Stanton, Easton Stick, Jarrett Stidham, Nate Sudfeld, Ryan Tannehill, Alex Tanney, Tyrod Taylor, Clayton Thorson, Phillip Walker, Davis Webb, Joe Webb, Brandon Weeden, Mike White, Manny Wilkins, John Wolford, Josh Woodrum, Logan Woodside

 

My favorite from this group: Bortles (5,000-1). There are certainly better quarterbacks in a vacuum than Bortles on this list, but we’re looking for a passer who would be in the best possible situation to succeed if someone got injured. To me, that’s playing under Sean McVay in the Rams’ offense if Jared Goff got hurt.

 

My least favorite from this group: McGough (10,000-1). The former Seahawks seventh-round pick is the fourth-string quarterback on a Jacksonville team with arguably the worst offensive infrastructure in football. He’s playing behind an expensive free agent in Nick Foles and a pair of Jaguars draft picks, suggesting that McGough is extremely unlikely to make the active roster.

 

Group VI: Workhorse running backs

Fifteen running backs have won the AP’s MVP award, dwarfing the three won by non-quarterbacks at other positions. It’s obviously more difficult for a back to win it in a modern era in which teams happily rotate their backs and throw the ball more frequently than ever before, but Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season reminded us that it’s possible. His 2,097 rushing yards came within eight yards of Eric Dickerson’s single-season record, and his season culminated with the Vikings star almost literally carrying his team to the playoffs. It also came about one year after Peterson tore his ACL in December 2011.

 

If a 2019 back sets the rushing record on a playoff-bound team, he’s going to engender serious consideration. Maybe the path is slightly different; voters typically haven’t rewarded backs for their receiving production, but what if someone like Le’Veon Bell or Todd Gurley II becomes the first back to hit 1,500 rushing yards and 1,500 receiving yards in the same campaign? Any back with a plausible path toward 300 carries or with a key role on a dominant offense has to be in the running:

 

Candidates (20): Saquon Barkley, Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, Dalvin Cook, Kenyan Drake, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Devonta Freeman, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley II, Mark Ingram, Josh Jacobs, Kerryon Johnson, David Johnson, Aaron Jones, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, LeSean McCoy, Joe Mixon, Damien Williams

 

My favorite from this group: Barkley (60-1). The Giants are also one of the most likely teams in the league to improve in 2019, and with Odell Beckham Jr. leaving, Barkley is the most likely candidate to get credit for carrying the team. They seem decades away from the playoffs, but we also very well might have said that about the likes of the Bears and Colts a year ago, or the Rams two years ago. Barkley also should be running behind one of the league’s best run-blocking lines after New York traded for Kevin Zeitler this offseason.

 

My least favorite from this group: McCoy (500-1). The moves the Bills have made this offseason suggest that McCoy, entering the final year of his extension in Buffalo, isn’t going to be the featured back throughout the season.

 

Group VII: Star pass-rushers

We can’t ignore the chances that a dominant pass-rusher might catch fire and win MVP. It’s going to take an incredible season; since Lawrence Taylor won the trophy for his 20.5-sack campaign in 1986, the only defensive player to attract significant consideration was when J.J. Watt racked up 13 votes in 2014. Chances are that a defensive winner would need to happen in a season in which there’s no standout quarterback candidate, which could split the vote and create a scenario in which a defender could win with, say, 20 of the 50 electors backing him.

 

That player is also going to need to hit some significant number as part of a very successful team defense. Taylor’s Giants went 14-2 while allowing 14.8 points per game, the second-fewest total in the league. Taylor also became just the second player in the brief (official) history of the sack statistic to top 20 sacks in a single season, after Mark Gastineau hit 22.0 sacks in 1984.

 

The record currently stands at 22.5 sacks, and an MVP-winning edge rusher would almost certainly have to surpass that mark. Before the 2017 season, Khalil Mack and Von Miller speculated that they could each rack up 30 sacks in a single campaign. I laid out why that was unlikely at the time, but 25 sacks is more plausible and would still be a dramatic increase on the old record.

 

Let’s use Mack as an example. He finishes his 2019 season by traveling to Lambeau, hosting the Chiefs in a prime-time game, and then traveling to Minnesota for a Week 17 tilt with the Vikings. If Mack gets to 25 sacks, dominates Patrick Mahomes on national television, and then comes up with a big play or two in the finale to push the Bears into the playoffs, he would get some votes.

 

Candidates (31): Ezekiel Ansah, Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Calais Campbell, Bradley Chubb, Frank Clark, Jadeveon Clowney, Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald, Carlos Dunlap, Trey Flowers, Dee Ford, Myles Garrett, Everson Griffen, Cameron Heyward, Akiem Hicks, Justin Houston, Jerry Hughes, Danielle Hunter, Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, Cameron Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan, DeMarcus Lawrence, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Yannick Ngakoue, Za’Darius Smith, J.J. Watt, T.J. Watt

 

My favorite from this group: J.J. Watt (250-1). I’m going to go for the player who has exhibited the highest ceiling here, and that’s the Texans star. Watt stayed healthy and racked up 16 sacks a year ago, and while he wasn’t quite at the heights of his 2012-15 peak, if I have to pick one pass-rusher to get to 25 sacks, it’s him.

 

My least favorite from this group: Griffen (750-1). The Vikings standout turns 32 during the campaign and might lose some pass-rushing snaps to Anthony Barr. He also has to beat Danielle Hunter to the quarterback.

 

Group VIII: Superstar wide receivers

No wide receiver has ever won the AP’s version of the MVP award. The Pro Football Writers Association gave their flavor of the trophy to Jerry Rice during the strike-hit 1987 campaign, when the legendary wideout racked up 22 receiving touchdowns over 12 games for a 49ers team that went 13-2. Awards for great passing performance typically go to quarterbacks over receivers, but Joe Montana missed five starts between the strike and an injury and ceded way to Steve Young, who racked up 10 touchdowns against zero picks.

 

Rice narrowly lost to John Elway in the AP voting that year, in part because the electorate split between the two Niners stars; Elway won with 36 votes to Rice’s 30, while Montana received 18 votes. For a wide receiver to win this award, he probably needs to post record numbers for a dominant team despite losing his quarterback to injury for a chunk of the campaign. (Naturally, losing a starting quarterback also makes it harder to rack up those record numbers and win a ton of games.)

 

Of course, there’s still a huge round number out there to be hit. No receiver has ever topped 2,000 receiving yards in a single season, with Calvin Johnson the only wideout in league history to even top 1,900. What would happen if Michael Thomas topped 2,000 yards and added 16 touchdown catches? If the Saints went 13-3 despite being forced to turn to Teddy Bridgewater for a month after Drew Brees went down injured, I think Thomas would be a reasonable MVP option. The first receiver to top 2,000 yards will get votes if he’s on a successful team.

 

Candidates (20): Davante Adams, Keenan Allen, Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Brandin Cooks, Amari Cooper, Stefon Diggs, Mike Evans, Kenny Golladay, A.J. Green, Tyreek Hill, T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Tyler Lockett, Allen Robinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Adam Thielen, Michael Thomas, Robert Woods

 

My favorite from this group: Hopkins (200-1). Nuk even managed to remain productive with Tom Savage & Co. at quarterback after Deshaun Watson went down during the 2017 season. There are similarly talented wideouts to Hopkins in the NFL, but nobody else can match his combination of target share and health, given that the former first-round pick has missed just one pro game.

 

My least favorite from this group: Diggs (250-1). Nobody doubts Diggs’s talent, of course, but he has yet to complete a 16-game season as a pro and has to share targets with Thielen.

 

Group IX: Kickers

Really. It seems absurdly far-fetched, but it has happened before. Mark Moseley won the AP MVP award for his 1982 season, when the Washington kicker went 20-of-21 on field goal attempts during a strike-shortened, nine-game campaign. I wrote about the Moseley story several years ago and found that there appeared to just be some level of hysteria — Moseley missed several extra points and took credit for several wins he didn’t really save for Washington — but he had a legitimately excellent season for a team that ended up winning the Super Bowl.

 

Admittedly, I think it’s tough to imagine a kicker winning the award in a full season. We’ve seen perfect campaigns from the likes of Gary Anderson and Mike Vanderjagt for successful NFL teams, and they didn’t sniff a single MVP vote, let alone the award itself. Moseley likely would have regressed toward the mean over the second half of a full campaign, given that the 34-year-old had hit on 62% of his field goal tries before 1982 and would go on to miss four of his eight tries during the subsequent postseason.

 

What you would need, realistically, is a season in which a team goes 13-3 with a great team defense, a middling offense, and a kicker who hit 95% of his attempts and booted through 10 game winners. Justin Tucker is the most obvious candidate to pull that off, but remember that Moseley was a middling veteran kicker with one Pro Bowl appearance across his first 12 seasons in the NFL before winning league MVP. Moseley’s win would be something like Mason Crosby or Stephen Hauschka winning MVP today. So, with that in mind, we’ve gotta throw every starting kicker onto the list:

 

Candidates (32): Mike Badgley, Dan Bailey, Chris Blewitt, Chris Boswell, Randy Bullock, Harrison Butker, Daniel Carlson, Chandler Catanzaro, Mason Crosby, Jake Elliott, Ka’imi Fairbairn, Graham Gano, Zane Gonzalez, Stephen Gostkowski, Robbie Gould, Stephen Hauschka, Dustin Hopkins, Greg Joseph, Josh Lambo, Wil Lutz, Brett Maher, Brandon McManus, Jason Myers, Matt Prater, Aldrick Rosas, Jason Sanders, Cairo Santos, Ryan Succop, Giorgio Tavecchio, Justin Tucker, Adam Vinatieri, Greg Zuerlein

 

My favorite from this group: Tucker (1,000,000-1). He’s by far the most plausible candidate from this group.

 

My least favorite from this group: Sanders (1,000,000-1). The New Mexico product went 18-for-20 on kicks as a rookie last season, but he’s playing for a Dolphins team in the middle of a rebuild.

 

Add all those candidates up and we get to 233 players. More than half are quarterbacks. Two hundred and fifteen of them probably have less than a 1% shot of winning the award, and 200 might not even have one-tenth of 1% of a shot.

 

History tells us, though, that strange things can happen in an NFL season. If a 34-year-old kicker, a 28-year-old NFL Europe backup, and a guy with one career start to his name can all win MVP in their own respective seasons, just about anything is possible in 2019.

 

The DB will now be rooting for a tight end to win it.  What if ZACH ERTZ has 125 catches with 15 TDs for an Eagles team that once again has split quarterbacks?

 

Or, how about an unearthly year from a safety – say 12 INTs, five returned for TDs by Chicago’s EDDIE JACKSON on a 15-1 team?

 

These aren’t very likely scenarios – but we think they are far more likely than MATT PRATER or RYAN SUCCOP winning the MVP.