The Daily Briefing Monday, February 13, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report with one guess on how the quarterback carousel will spin in the next few months:
In a league with 32 teams and fewer than 32 franchise quarterbacks, starting-caliber signal-callers don’t often become available.
Most offseasons, trade rumors surround a couple of established quarterbacks and maybe a couple more hit the open market. But rarely do “elite” players at the NFL’s most important position change teams.
This offseason could be different because at least a handful of well-established quarterbacks have a shot at becoming available. In fact, we can think of five potential movers—Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylor, Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick and Brock Osweiler—who started at least five games under center in 2016, plus two high-end “backups” in Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Let’s break it down.
Tony Romo: 1st Domino to Fall?
While some of these quarterback situations could take time to play out, the Dallas Cowboys will likely have to make a decision on expensive veteran quarterback Tony Romo in the near future.
That’s because with free agency starting March 9, anyone looking to acquire Romo would presumably like to do so before making in-house decisions and because the Cowboys are low on salary-cap space.
According to Spotrac, they’re slated to be about $10 million over the cap. And despite the fact Romo has become Dak Prescott’s backup, he’s scheduled to make a team-high $24.7 million in 2017.
It’s a tricky situation. If the Cowboys trade Romo, they’ll save about $5.1 million in cap space. Same deal if he retires. But if he sticks to his guns about continuing his career and the Cowboys can’t find a trade partner, they’ll probably have to release him with a post-June 1 designation. That would save them the most money for 2017, but those savings wouldn’t be felt until—you guessed it—June 1, well after the annual free-agency frenzy.
So it’s kind of a lose-lose-lose situation for Dallas, but at least the Cowboys would get something back in a trade. And you’d have to think teams would be interested in a guy who was the league’s highest-rated passer just two years ago.
He’s nearly 37, he’s started just four games in the last two years, there are major injury questions and his contract could become an albatross if a team were to trade for him. But the last two Super Bowls have been won by 39-year-old quarterbacks, and Romo is a four-time Pro Bowler.
There’s little doubt he’d have a chance to make a quarterback-needy team better. And depending on how things play out in the next few weeks, as many as eight teams (Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers) could find themselves in that position.
Prediction: He’s traded to the Houston Texans, who are desperate for a franchise quarterback and might be ready to give up on Brock Osweiler.
The Curious Case of Tyrod Taylor
Tyrod Taylor is one of the most athletically gifted starting quarterbacks in the NFL, and he was a Pro Bowler (albeit as a replacement) in 2015. But Taylor’s rate-based statistics plummeted in his second year with the Buffalo Bills, and if he is still on the roster on March 11, he’ll be owed $30.75 million guaranteed over the next couple of years.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest the Bills won’t keep him at that price. First, owners Kim and Terry Pegula have already fired head coach Rex Ryan, who came on board in the same offseason as Taylor. And according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the Pegulas forced interim head coach Anthony Lynn to bench Taylor in Week 17 in order to avoid an injury that would guarantee him most of that $30.75 million payday.
Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reported Thursday that Taylor is “unwilling” to take a pay cut in order to stay in Buffalo, which probably means he’ll be on the open market in a few weeks.
That’s interesting because he’s 27, he’s thrown just 12 interceptions in 29 career starts and he’s rushed for more yards over the past two seasons (1,148) than any other quarterback in the game.
It’s easy to understand why the Bills might not be willing to fork out big bucks for Taylor, especially as he comes off groin surgery. But considering what he brings to the table, multiple teams are likely to express interest in bringing him in as a starter in 2017.
Prediction: The Bills cut bait, and Taylor winds up competing for a starting job with the Jets.
What If the Washington Redskins Don’t Tag Kirk Cousins?
Playing under the franchise tag in 2016, Kirk Cousins was the NFL’s seventh-highest-rated qualified passer. And since he became the Washington Redskins’ regular starter in 2015, he’s one of only four quarterbacks with over 9,000 passing yards.
Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reported in the fall that if push comes to shove, the Redskins are prepared to use the franchise tag again (h/t John Breech of the same outlet). That would cost them just under $24 million without a long-term agreement, making Cousins one of the highest-paid players in NFL history.
But is it possible the Redskins reconsider? Nothing’s certain in this league, and Cousins’ former coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, is now the head coach in San Francisco. Perceived interest there could drive up the price on a long-term deal, which could scare the Redskins away or even increase the odds they tag and trade the 28-year-old Pro Bowler.
Cousins is inconsistent, but we know he can tear up defenses, and he’s posted winning records in both of his seasons as Washington’s starter. He’ll start somewhere in 2017. It’ll likely be in Washington, but a team like the Bills, Browns, Broncos, Bears or 49ers could sweep in and change that.
Prediction: He returns to the Redskins, with or without a long-term deal. Washington can’t afford to let him go.
Colin Kaepernick and the Open Market
Expect the Kirk Cousins-to-San Francisco narrative to gain steam the moment Colin Kaepernick opts out of his contract, which ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports will happen before the start of the new league year in March.
With a new regime in place, don’t look for the Niners to keep the talented yet often unreliable quarterback on board. When he hits free agency, he’s probably gone.
The 2011 second-round pick excelled as a mobile starter in 2012 and 2013 but then began to regress. He lost his starting job in 2015 and has been plagued by injuries and a lack of consistency since.
Throw in that he became a lightning rod as a result of his anthem protests in 2016, and Kaepernick’s future is very much up in the air.
Still, he’s only 29 and has plenty of big-game experience, along with a unique skill set. That might not be enough to land him a lucrative long-term deal on the free-agent market, but don’t be surprised if he earns a chance to compete for a starting job this summer with any of the usual suspects.
Prediction: He lingers on the market before signing on to compete with Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian in Denver.
Jay Cutler Could Be Done in Chicago
Jay Cutler is a Pro Bowl quarterback. But his last Pro Bowl season came when George W. Bush was still in the White House. A lot has changed since 2008, with Cutler throwing 109 interceptions in eight seasons with the Chicago Bears.
The Bears won just one playoff game during that span, and it looks as though they’re ready to move on from the 33-year-old. In fact, according to La Canfora, the team is “eager” to part ways with Cutler, potentially in order to make a run at New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo.
That alone is an indictment on a quarterback who hasn’t won a lot of big games and hasn’t played a full season this decade. But he has a heck of a lot of talent and experience, and he has connections to New York Jets quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates and Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.
Look for Cutler to get a shot in one of those two places, if not San Francisco or Houston.
Prediction: He signs a two-year deal with the Bills.
Will Brock Osweiler Be 1-and-Done?
Plenty of eyebrows were raised when the Houston Texans signed four-year Denver Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler to a monster contract in the 2016 offseason (four years, $72 million), mainly because the 26-year-old had just seven career starts under his belt.
But that goes to show how desperate teams get in search of stud quarterbacks, and it might indicate that Houston could be willing to move on from Osweiler after just one stinky season. Osweiler was the second-lowest-rated qualified passer in 2016, and the Texans know they have Super Bowl-level talent elsewhere.
Osweiler’s big contract probably isn’t tradable, and the team will owe him $16 million regardless in 2017. Still, the Texans have a decent amount of cap space, and they’re likely desperate enough to swallow that and give someone like Romo a shot.
Prediction: The Texans go all in on Romo. Osweiler signs a one-year deal with the Bears, reuniting with John Fox.
Will Somebody Pay a PRansom for Jimmy Garoppolo?
Relatively speaking, Jimmy Garoppolo could be the mystery quarterback on this year’s carousel. He has just two NFL starts under his belt, but those came with the New England Patriots, who saw fit to use a second-round draft pick on the Eastern Illinois product in 2014.
In those two starts, the 25-year-old completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 496 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 119.0 passer rating. Both were victories.
That’s not enough for a crown, but consider those supply-and-demand dynamics. If Romo is too old and too expensive, Cutler is too old, Cousins is too pricey and Taylor and Kaepernick are viewed by some as one-trick ponies, Garoppolo becomes a stellar option.
What makes his situation unique is he’ll only make about $820,000 in 2017.
Instead, he’ll cost you draft currency. According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the price tag is expected to be “at least a first-round pick” (h/t Kevin Patra of the league’s official website).
That makes the Cleveland Browns an interesting potential landing spot. Cleveland has two top-12 picks in April’s draft, a void at quarterback and plenty of money to spend on a new deal if Garoppolo delivers in 2017.
There are cautionary tales here. Matt Cassel also shone in relief of New England quarterback Tom Brady in 2008, leveraging that into a six-year, $63 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. But he never lived up to expectations there and was replaced by Brady freakin’ Quinn in his fourth season. Plus, we all saw how things panned out for the Houston Texans when they invested heavily in Osweiler last year based mainly on a seven-start sample.
Ultimately, the Patriots might be too stubborn to pull the trigger on a deal they could regret if Garoppolo becomes a star elsewhere and Father Time starts to catch up with Brady. Regardless, they’ll undoubtedly receive some offers.
Prediction: The Browns turn to the draft (along with the 49ers), and Garoppolo stays in New England.
For those who rolled their eyes at the return of Carson Palmer and think the Cardinals should have moved on from the 37-year-old passer: Palmer has thrown for 655 more yards than Aaron Rodgers over the past two seasons.
From a Peter King podcast with GM John Lynch:
• Lynch on how the story of him being a GM was such a shock to so many people: “Early on, the story broke that I was doing the silence part to test [CEO] Jed York, and that’s true but that was probably third on the list. I have four kids. My wife, when I went to her, she said, ‘John, listen. It is hard for me to wrap my arms around something until you have an offer. So, develop this thing if you wish but I don’t want to tell the kids at this point, because kids get anxiety about that.’ That spoke to me. I have a son who is going to be a junior right now. He checks Pro Football Talk, he checks The MMQB on a constant basis. I didn’t want him learning— and that’s the way this world works now. [My family members] were the top priority. But also because I had read the stories that there were a lot of leaks out of that San Francisco building. I said, ‘Jed, it’s very important to me. Actually, it’s a non-starter. If this gets out, my name’s out of the hat.’ To his credit, it worked and it stayed quiet. One person had the story, and he is a good man because he never leaked it. He’s a father and I told him, as a father, I’m asking you to hold on to it and he did.”
The Rams are switching to the 3-4. Mark Whicker of the Los Angeles Daily News:
The Rams hired Wade Phillips, the NFL’s preeminent fireman.
But at first glance, nothing’s burning.
“Usually you get hired as a defensive coordinator because it’s a bad defense,” Phillips said Monday. “But that really hasn’t been the case in my last couple of jobs, and it’s not the case here.”
But you could always use a new inspector, a fresh set of eyes and ears. Phillips, 69, is here to sniff out what’s wrong behind the walls. Maybe it’s one of those invisible alcohol fires that you once saw at the Indianapolis 500, when crew members would start jumping around unaccountably.
The defense wasn’t the problem in the 4-12 nightmare of 2016. But the Rams needed it to be the solution. It was ninth in yards allowed and yards per play, and also ninth in third down conversion.
It was 24th in sacks, 23rd in interceptions, 19th in fumbles recovered and 22nd in fumbles forced.
So it might not be a four-alarm situation, but it needs extinguishing.
“You’ve got to pick up things quick in this league,” Phillips said. “We’re going to attack. We’re coming after you. We’ve been doing this a long time, and we’ve got a system of teaching that’s been successful.”
Denver won the Super Bowl, 53 weeks ago, as Phillips’ defense laid waste to Carolina’s Cam Newton (18 for 41 passing, six sacks and an interception). In 2016 the defense remained sound, despite injuries, but the offense sputtered and the Broncos missed the playoffs.
When coach Gary Kubiak resigned, Phillips left for the Rams, amid talk that he had fomented offense-vs-defense discord in the locker room. Guard Max Garcia dismissed the report as “alternative facts.”
One L.A. bonus is the opportunity for Wade to be near daughter Tracy, who is a choreographer and actress, appearing in “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Water for Elephants.”
This is Phillips’ eighth stop as a coordinator. In each case, the club gave up fewer points than it had the year before. In five cases, it gave up over 100 fewer points than the year before.
Houston went from 427 to 278 between 2010 and 2011. San Diego went from 441 points to 313 between 2003 and 2004, and therefore went from 4-12 to 12-4.
“He puts you in a position where you can be successful,” said Chris Draft, who went from Valencia High in Placentia to Stanford and then played 12 seasons as an NFL linebacker, crossing paths with Phillips in Atlanta.
“But the best thing about him is how he connects with his players. When I moved on to other teams and I’d play his team, I’d always see him outside the locker room afterward, and he’d come over and see how I was doing. That’s what you remember about people in this business.”
Phillips said he fits his defense to the players, but only to a point. He says if Aaron Donald doesn’t suit your system, then the system isn’t working. However, the Rams will shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Theoretically that means William Hayes and/or Robert Quinn could play off the edge in a stand-up position, or Michael Brockers could do more time on the nose.
“This has happened a few times, where I’ll take over a 4-3 and go to a 3-4,” Phillips said. “But the 3-4 is better. You’re normally bringing four pass rushers. In a 4-3, that means all the linemen. In a 3-4, that’s three linemen plus a linebacker, but you don’t know which linebacker is coming. That causes some confusion and gives the defensive backs a better chance. Nowadays it’s all about stopping the passing game.
“We’ve led the league playing all zone, or all man. I prefer man because it’s harder to throw against it for a good percentage. But we also play a lot of matchup zone, which looks like something it’s not.”
“Without you, there is no me. People want to put someone on a pedestal—just one person. But they leave a lot of people out when they do that, and I don’t believe that should happen. So yes, you have a piece of this bust, man.”
—Hall of Famer Terrell Davis, the Denver running back, in a touching interview with a former road-grading teammate, guard Mark Schlereth, on the radio show “Schlereth and Evans” on station 104.3 The Fan.
A legitimately touching tribute by Davis. That was good radio.
Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com on the dilemma facing the Chiefs with two pending free agents they want to retain – S ERIC BERRY and DT DONTARI POE.
The Chiefs are one of the more interesting teams to watch in free agency. There is a growing sense around the league that they must get a long-term deal with star safety Eric Berry in the next few weeks, before the league year begins in March, and that may well price them out of retaining defensive tackle Dontari Poe.
The Chiefs want to keep both, but other teams who have studied their cap situation believe that will prove ambitious, especially with Berry poised for one of the biggest safety contracts in NFL history. Berry is vital to the locker room, beloved for his play and the person he is, and overcoming cancer to play the best football of his career adds another layer to the process.
Andy Reid takes care of his own and they have routinely paid top dollar to keep key players (Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Eric Fisher, etc.), and Berry is clearly their priority now. Given how limited this free agent class is, Poe stand to cash in majorly (how could Washington, Dallas, and Indianapolis not be interested, for starters?) if he’s not franchised, and carrying him on the tag could be tricky, even if Jamaal Charles is released as expected to create some room. Charles will hardly be alone in terms of big names likely to hit the street.
Peter King thinks Vegas is now a non-starter:
This Raiders’ thing in Las Vegas will not end well, because no high rollers there want to mess with the jilted casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a hundred times: Mark Davis needs a partner with money, period.
I think the Raiders deserve credit for the Jack Del Rio contract extension. Lots of credit. But it had to happen, as he was entering the last year of his original contract. When I met with Derek Carr in December, he couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about Del Rio’s steadying influence. Right time, right place, right coach.
Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com on TE LADARIUS GREEN:
The Steelers have a tricky decision to make on tight end Ladarius Green, who they really like as a person and a player, but whose injury and concussion history has to give them pause.
Pittsburgh is often in a cap crunch and could save $5 million in cap room if he is designated a post-June 1 cut; with some of their younger tight ends making strides last year, and receiver Antonio Brown about to get a massive new deal this offseason, I have a hard time seeing Green back there.
The DB thought the Patriots were about as gracious as possible in their interactions with Roger Goodell, but Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com says that rather than counting themselves lucky, NFL execs are “seething” at some fun at the parade.
There’s still plenty of rumbling among owners about the Patriots-Roger Goodell dynamic after an awkward postgame ceremony in which the commissioner was booed vociferously as he handed the Lombardi Trophy off to the various figures in the Deflategate saga.
Several ownership sources said that the once-cozy relationship between Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft is still frayed and might always be. The fact that Kraft called this fifth Super Bowl title “the sweetest” one yet ruffled feathers on Park Avenue at the league office and the image of Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia stepping off the team plane wearing a T-shirt depicting Goodell as a clown had some NFL executives seething, I’m told.
“The T-shirt really bothered him,” according to one ownership source who had been in contact with big wigs at the league office. “The fact that Kraft didn’t stop him from wearing that ticked some people off, but did they really think he’s going to protect Goodell after all of this?”
I reported last year that Kraft had a particular ire for league counsel Jeff Pash in the handling of the Deflategate investigation, and ownership sources said that has by no means subsided. Pash has been a less public league figure since the fallout of the Ted Wells/NFL investigation into the Patriots, but remains a bone of contention between that franchise and the league office.
“Robert still wants Pash out,” another ownership source said. “The only way there will ever be a full reconnect between the Patriots and Goodell is if Pash was no longer there.”
– – –
Peter King travels to a secret location in Montana and dissects the big comeback with QB TOM BRADY. It’s long, the whole thing is here, excerpts below:
This was the most amazing thing about the two hours I spent with 39-year-old Tom Brady on Sunday afternoon in a cabin (well, it’s called a cabin, but the getaway area for the Brady clan is pretty darned well-appointed) in the shadow of one of the most beautiful mountains in the world:
“I have zero pain,” Brady said, almost one week to the hour after he took the field for Super Bowl 51. “I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”
Brady had a zen look to him on a brilliant afternoon in Big Sky country. Clear eyes, zero bloodshot. Placid. No limping, no wincing, which took me by surprise after Atlanta’s five sacks and nine significant hits of Brady in the game. And there’s this: Brady has played 261 NFL games, and never has he taken as many (99) snaps as he did against Atlanta. But when we talked, he looked like he’d been relaxing for a month—not just having arrived here Saturday from a hectic post-Super Bowl week in Boston. He went skiing Sunday on a pristine trail with fresh powder. (He asked that I not name the exact location for privacy’s sake.) (DB aside: We learn later in the column that King flew into Bozeman, so maybe that narrows it down).
Brady does a good job handling being Brady. But who can take being in the eye of the public storm all the time? When I first saw him Sunday afternoon, Brady had a wide grin. That grin was repeated six or eight times on the afternoon, including when he was urging his wife, supermodel Gisele Bü ndchen, to play photographer
After the game, I’d asked Brady for some time to dissect the key plays in one of the great pieces of football theater the NFL has ever put on, New England’s comeback from a 28-3 deficit to the 34-28 victory. We did this after his last Super Bowl victory two years ago, on the phone. This time he invited me here. One thing led to another, and we put 90 minutes on tape—much about the game, but much, too, about his future, his family, his season, and the way he lives. So I’ll divide my time with him thusly: Today I’ll put the great comeback under his microscope; Wednesday, I’ll write Part II about all other things Brady—including how long he plans to play.
– – –
Brady disagreed with my first premise of the afternoon, about this Super Bowl being one of the great games of his life.
“I don’t really think that is necessarily the case,” he said, relaxing in ski pants and sneakers. “I think it was one of the greatest games I have ever played in, but when I think of an interception return for a touchdown, some other missed opportunities in the first 37, 38 minutes of the game, I don’t really consider playing a good quarter-and-a-half plus overtime as one of the ‘best games ever.’ But it was certainly one of the most thrilling for me, just because so much was on the line, and it ended up being an incredible game. There are so many things that played into that game—a high-scoring offense, a top-ranked defense, the long Super Bowl, four-and-a-half-hour game, the way that the game unfolded in the first half versus what happened in the second half … so it was just a great game.”
Well, I’ll quibble with him on that one. I get the angst over the crappy interception that Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford returned for a touchdown, and a few other bad throws. But any quarterback who, on his team’s five biggest drives of the season, goes touchdown-field-goal-touchdown-touchdown-touchdown, and brings his team back from 25 down to win the Super Bowl … that constitutes one of the great games of one’s life.
We’ll start with 8:31 left in the third quarter. Atlanta had just gone up 28-3.
“That’s a good place [to start],” Brady said.
* * *
Atlanta 28, New England 3 (third quarter, 8:31 left)
NFL Films captured Brady going up and down the sideline, exhorting his teammates: “Let’s go! Let’s show some fight! Let’s play harder! Harder! Tougher! Everything!”
“It was similar to what I had felt at halftime,” Brady said. “We came out of halftime saying, ‘Look, we’ve had 20 minutes time of possession, we’ve run 45 or 46 plays, we’ve done a good job moving the ball up and down the field, we just have nothing to show for it because of a missed third-and-one, a fumble in their territory, an interception return for a touchdown in their territory, because of poor execution in the red area … We had over 200 yards passing in the first half [actually 184], so it wasn’t like we were in there at halftime saying, ‘Hey, how are we going to move the ball?’
– – –
Great stat from the Elias Sports Bureau that I shocked Brady with on Sunday: In the Patriots’ first six Super Bowls in the Brady/Belichick era, New England never completed a pass to a rookie. In this game, rookie fourth-round pick Malcolm Mitchell was huge—six catches, 70 yards, in big spots—and especially big on this drive. He had catches of 15, seven and 18 yards, and Brady said the reason McDaniels had him in the game, and Brady picked him on routes with multiple options, came down to one word: trust.
“I think he had earned that trust of everybody,” Brady said. “If it was Julian, Julian was going to get it. If it was Malcolm, Malcolm was going to get it. Malcolm happened to be in those spots. And everybody had confidence to have Malcolm in those spots if he got it. He proved everybody right because he came up with the plays.”
– – –
Atlanta 28, New England 12 (fourth quarter, 8:24 left)
The break New England needed, the sack/fumble of Matt Ryan by Dont’a Hightower, set up two of the most interesting plays of the Super Bowl for the Patriots.
One: the six-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola. Watch closely the Fox replay. Brady’s in the shotgun with 31 seconds left on the play clock, with his receivers fanning out and Amendola settling in the left slot. Collins, the abused Atlanta corner, starts on Amendola’s outside shoulder. But then he walks, almost aimlessly, to the inside shoulder and stares a hole through Brady. With about 21 seconds left on the play clock, Brady changes the play. He gives Amendola a sort of stop sign, and Amendola moves out a couple of steps. Collins does nothing. Now, Brady can hear a coach talk to him until the 15-second point of the play clock, but he doesn’t recall exactly what McDaniels told him on this one.
“I think he said, ‘Don’t forget about Danny,’ or ‘Danny has a great shot on this.’
Something like that,” Brady said. “I wanted to give Danny a better chance to get open. So I pushed him out because I knew at that point I had changed the route and I wanted to make sure Danny would get the leverage or put him in a better position to get the leverage based on the route that he had. I wanted to move him out because I didn’t want him to get stuck inside of Jalen … [Collins] being inside told me it was probably man coverage, a perimeter corner on the inside of the field … When I pushed Danny out, Jalen didn’t really adjust, so I was really looking outside after that to see if the corner was going to try to get involved and maybe trapping that to the flat. But once I saw the corner go with the outside receiver, or it might have been James White, I just threw it to Danny.”
But, one of the benefits of running a tempo offense is you’ve got a trusted voice in your ear. Brady said he likes McDaniels’ reminders because they’re not oppressive or unrelenting; they’re notes based on what McDaniels is seeing from the sideline. “No question part of the advantage of going fast is the coach-to-quarterback communication,” Brady said. If you’re set at the line with 31 seconds left, there are two advantages: You limit defensive substitutions, and a second set of eyes can help you.
Two: the two-point conversion fakery, the successful run by White. As I wrote last Monday, McDaniels said the Patriots “took it out of mothballs.” It’s the same play they used in the Super Bowl 13 years ago against Carolina, with Kevin Faulk getting the ball and burrowing in for two points. But the difference here was what happened at practice on Friday.
On the play, White lines up next to Brady as a snug sidecar. The center, David Andrews, has to vary his shotgun snap slightly, sending it a hair to the left, and Brady has to fake like he’s getting it, and then White has to burst forward and try to make a hole where they may not be one.
Andrews is normally good at the snap. But on Friday … “He snapped it over, it was kind of at my head, so James couldn’t get his hand up there to get it,” Brady said. “So the ball is laying on the ground, rolling around on a two-point play, on a direct snap when it is supposed to be right in James’ breadbasket. We come to the sideline and it was like the last play of the whole week of practice. You always want to finish practice on a high note, and then to finish … I don’t know how a lot of teams practice, but at the end of the week we do what we call, ‘Move the field,’ and you’ll start at one end and work your way down, first down, second down, third down, and you’ll move your way down the field. Then you’ll score a touchdown and you say, okay, let’s go for two, and you run your first so-called two-point play. And that was it. We moved the field, we scored the touchdown, it was the last play of the whole day, and we ran the two-point conversion and we had a mistake, so who knows? I don’t think Josh lost confidence in that play, and certainly not losing confidence in David, because Dave has been a great player for us, and he has done it a hundred times right.”
I told Brady it reminds me of the Friday practice in 2007 when David Tyree dropped four of Eli Manning’s passes—only to redeem himself with the Velcro catch.
“Oh, don’t tell me that,” Brady said.
– – –
The Patriots had three two-point plays on the play sheet for this game. The first one was the Andrews-to-White snap and run fakery. The second one depended on two receivers turning into snowplows at the goal line for Amendola. Edelman and Chris Hogan plowed two Atlanta defenders just far enough away that Amendola burrowed ahead, and the ball pierced the goal line. Barely.
Matthew Slater called heads. The coin flip came up heads. Patriots ball. Ballgame. The Falcons were gassed. The Patriots were energized.
But when Brady looks back at this Super Bowl, he’ll think of more than the game. He’ll think of 111 practices.
The anticipation throws he made in this game were, collectively, his finest achievements and the biggest difference in winning and losing. The chemistry between Brady and his receivers is as good as it possibly can be.
Third play of the opening, and only, drive of OT: Hogan was singled left on Collins. (Poor Collins. He’s got to be having nightmares about this offense.) Follow this. Brady, standing on his 37-yard line, sees Hogan and Collins running stride for stride, almost Siamese twins, at the Atlanta 45. Brady throws to a spot about 23 yards downfield, on the left. Hogan digs his foot into the ground at the Atlanta 37 and boomerangs back, expecting the ball. Collins is a step behind him. The ball hits Hogan in the hands at the 40, and he efforts ahead to the 37. Just a beautiful play. This is the kind of unsung play that wins huge games, and it went a long way, Brady throwing those 11- and 15- and 23-yard comebacks to drive Atlanta crazy.
“It’s such a Peyton Manning-type throw,” Brady said. “I watched him for so many years make those throws. I used to be in amazement. Marvin [Harrison] and Reggie [Wayne], they’d cut their route off, turn around, ball was in the air, in stride, 15-, 18-yard gain. How the heck did they do that? There’s so much trust from the quarterback to the receiver. The DB can’t get to the ball faster than the receiver can. You got to believe your receiver is going to get to the ball faster than their guy. That’s what that play came down to.”
“But,” I said, “if you throw it 25 yards in the air, it could be an interception or incompletion.”
“And that’s a lot of throws,” Brady said. “That’s a lot of throws. That’s 111 practices that we had. That’s however many games. Films, meetings. It’s got to be like clockwork. You’re throwing it to a spot, he’s turning, those are the ones the DBs have been covering all year too. It ended up being a really tight play. But it took great execution.”
The end: James White, who made so many plays in this game, took a pitch from Brady and willed his way into the end zone. Replay confirmed it.
Remember the two two-point conversions, and the Patriots having a third one on their call sheet? Well, this White run was that third one. New England went three-for-three on two-point plays in the game, and the net result was 10 points—and a Super Bowl championship.
And this from Sam Farmer:
The most stunning stat of the Super Bowl: Teams leading by 25+ points are 2545-4-2 (regular season) in those games.
And Elias Sports Bureau has told us that the Patriots are only the second team to score 34+ points in a game without kicking a one-point PAT. The first was on December 20, 2013 when the Eagles beat the Lions, 34-20, in a game played in a Phildadelphia blizzard.
Snow began falling two hours before kickoff and intensified after the game started. Workers used shovels and hand-held blowers to clear off yard lines. Conditions were so poor neither team tried a field goal, and there were 2-point conversion attempts after seven of the eight TDs.
“We just felt footing was so bad,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said.
– – –
This from Peter King on who might draw the Patriots opener:
On Sept. 7 in Foxboro, the Patriots will host the first game of the season. (I’m assuming it will be Roger Goodell’s re-debut in the middle of these six friendly states.) Thoughts on the Patriots’ opening-night foe, with odds:
The Atlanta game would come from the basic FOX inventory.
NEW YORK JETS
Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com with some thoughts on the Jets and their veterans:
The Jets will not be giving left tackle Ryan Clady his $2.5 million roster bonus as part of a $10 million salary in 2017, though they are trying to work out a new deal with him at a different price point. The front office is generally meticulous and takes it time, so it may be awhile before veterans like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall and Nick Mangold are let go, though a purge is certainly coming as the franchise looks to get younger and clear up room for recent draft picks to assume larger roles.
Indeed, many of the smarter teams are more interested to see who becomes contract/cap casualties than they are in signing players who are already assured of becoming unrestricted free agents next month given how much those guys will be overpaid and how little projected value these teams see there.
“It’s a brutal free agent class,” said one AFC executive. “You’ve got to hope some guys get cut who can fill a role at a decent price. We’re more interested in seeing who gets released than where these free agents sign.”
THIS AND THAT
SHOULD T.O. BE K.O.’d FROM THE HOF?
Peter King says no.
Terrell Owens didn’t make the Hall of Fame, which you know. You also know that the fault in him not making the Hall this season seems to be that he was often a disruptive teammate. The man who presented T.O.’s case in front of the Hall’s 47 other selectors, Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News, was befuddled (as was I) at the overwhelming importance apparently placed on his behavior versus his performance. Owens is second all-time in receiving yardage in NFL history, and third in receiving touchdowns.
I wanted to give the story a few days to die down before talking to the widely respected veteran football writer. This was Domowitch about Owens on Saturday:
“I understand people’s reservations about his disruptive behavior. Totally understand. No one disputes he had his disruptive moments. But being second all-time in receiving yards and third in receiving touchdowns—those are Ruthian numbers. We’re keeping him out of the Hall of Fame because of some disruptive incidents with teammates? Most of the people keeping him out of the Hall didn’t cover him. I did. What he did most often was hardly the work of a person who doesn’t care. I don’t think you play the Super Bowl with a broken bone in your leg, and you catch nine balls for over 100 yards … I mean, that’s not something you do if you don’t care. Now what concerns me is how entrenched some people seem.”
That concerns me too. But the next 49 weeks will have a way of calming some troubled waters. I still don’t think it’ll be enough to get him in next year in a starry class, but I hope I’m wrong.
For what it’s worth, the DB thinks there are some players who might otherwise go in on their play in their first year of eligibility who should be made to wait because of less than stellar character. Think Michael Irvin. So we might not have voted for Terrell Owens just yet, but eventually he should get in.
Justin Mosqueda of Bleacher Report looks at who might be active in free agency. Interesting to see the Patriots on the list with some bad teams. And how about the Titans, room to spend plus two picks in the top half of the first round?:
With free agency approaching, it’s time to start thinking of players as assets. Not only are they talent, but they are contracts and/or draft picks.
With that in mind, we looked through the NFL’s landscape to find which teams would be most likely to have an agressive offseason in 2017. Some teams have a quantifiable advantage, as they have mountains of money available to spend this offseason. One even has more cap room right now than a franchise is slated to spend on their current roster in 2017.
Others may not have the same capital, but based on their recent history, either by landing or chasing big name free agents, they will be big players when they are afforded an open market. Follow us as we overview who may be running national headlines in March.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The state of Florida has no income tax. Tampa has fall and winter weather that can’t be beat by the likes of Buffalo or Green Bay. The Buccaneers have $72.8 million in cap space, according to spotrac.com, the third-highest amount in the league.
Go ahead and guess why a free agent might find himself in pewter this offseason.
Tampa Bay could use big help with offensive skill players, some of the more expensive players in the sport, because of their recent history. Mike Evans is a one-man show at receiver right now, running back Doug Martin will start the season with a three-game suspension for performance enhancing substances and their tight end experiment with Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the 38th overall pick in the 2014 draft, ended after less than three full seasons.
On top of that, their offensive line isn’t solidified, and it may already be time to move on from Donovan Smith, their 2015 second-round pick playing left tackle. If nothing else, they need to bring in competition to battle him for the starting role.
Defensively, they still need that one premier pass-rusher, plus they’ve been slacking in supporting Gerald McCoy with an above average teammate next to him in the trenches. 4-3 defensive ends and defensive tackles are some of the highest-paid players in the sport.
Top talents don’t usually hit free agency, but odd circumstances may lead to Jason Pierre-Paul, the defensive end from the New York Giants, hitting the open market. If he does, JPP, a 6’5″ former first-team All-Pro who just turned 28 years old, may return to native Florida to play in Raymond James Stadium, where he played on Saturdays at the University of South Florida.
The Buccaneers have holes in expensive pockets right now. This was also a team that only rolled over about $5 million of cap space from last season, per Spotrac. If that stays consistent this year, Tampa will spend $67 million between now and September.
5. Tennessee Titans
Last year, under the guidance of new general manager Jon Robinson, the Tennessee Titans went from a team which held the first overall pick to one which was in the playoff hunt right up until star quarterback Marcus Mariota went down with an injury.
One of Robinson’s first moves as a general manager was moving that first overall pick, along with some Day 3 changes, for what amounted to being the 15th, 43rd, 45th and 76th picks of the 2016 draft and the fifth and 69th picks in the 2017 draft. Robinson likes to make deals an manipulate; It’s in his background.
After spending 2002 through 2013 with the New England Patriots, it should be no surprise as to how he acts. After a full year of evaluating where his team is, this finally might be time to pounce on a large free-agent signing.
Last year, the Titans didn’t sign one of the 40-plus free agents who signed deals worth more than $5 million per year, according to Spotrac. Instead, their top signings were boring names like Rishard Matthews and Ben Jones.
That’s one reason why they rolled over $24 million in cap space, the fourth-largest amount in the sport, from last season, per Spotrac. Now they have more than $67 million to spend this offseason, which again ranks fourth in the NFL in 2017. Start to expect Robinson to earn a reputation as a free agent dealer, too.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars rolled over $39 million in cap space from 2016 to 2017, the second-largest amount of any team in the NFL behind the Cleveland Browns, per Spotrac. They now have nearly $65 million in cap space, the fifth-largest amount in the NFL.
That was after signing Malik Jackson, a former Denver Broncos defensive lineman, to a six-year, $85.5 million contract, the largest contract in terms of total money in the last free-agent cycle. The team also gave Kevin Beachum, a former Pittsburgh Steeler tackle, a four-year, $45 million contract, the second-largest for any tackle in the 2016 free-agency pool and a top-10 contract in free agency overall based on total money.
The additions of Tashaun Gipson, who had the highest contract awarded to a safety, and Chris Ivory, who had the highest contract awarded to a running back, hardly made a dent. Jacksonville wants to spend money; it just can’t find players willing to take it.
After now Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler, the largest contract on an average salary basis from the 2016 free-agency cycle was defensive end Olivier Vernon, who signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the New York Giants after leaving the Miami Dolphins.
In an article with The MMQB’s Peter King, Vernon let the world know how close Jacksonville was to landing him, noting the fact that there’s no income tax in the state of Florida. That always seems to be the case with the Jaguars, though. If it’s not Vernon slipping away, it’s Ndamukong Suh or Bryan Bulaga.
If Jacksonville turns down the option to pick up the remainder of Beachum’s contract, they’ll have over $73 million in cap space. Shaking tight end Julius Thomas’ contract will bring them to $75 million and will save them $21.8 million over the next three seasons.
This could be the year they land the big fish.
3. New England Patriots
You want to know what’s scary? The thought of Bill Belichick with an extra advantage of cap freedom and extra picks. That’s exactly what we might see with the New England Patriots’ head coach-general manager in the 2017 offseason.
If Belichick is able to move backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for a first-round pick or several Day 2 picks, he’s going to make up for the distance lost in the Deflategate scandal. On top of that, the Patriots are currently seventh in the league with nearly $63 million in cap space, per Spotrac, heading into 2017.
The Patriots only rolled over about $5 million from the 2016 season, meaning that if they play to last year’s plan, they’re going to spend around $58 million this offseason. Think of what Belichick can do with $58 million.
This is the same franchise that players like tight end Martellus Bennet and defensive end Chris Long, among others over the last decade or so, gush about when discussing the possibility of joining to chase a Super Bowl ring. Belichick wants players on discounts, can have players on discounts and has more freedom than just about anyone in the NFL this year.
In terms of cap space, the Patriots have the highest ranking in terms of teams returning from a playoff berth. Of the top dozen teams in cap space, per Spotrac, only the Patriots and the Oakland Raiders went to the postseason in 2017.
No team has as little money invested on the defensive side of the ball as New England does right now. The Tom Brady machine runs itself at this point, and Bennett, tackle Sebastian Vollmer and running back Brandon Bolden are the only offensive players who had an average salary of over $1 million who are coming off of the books in 2017. Expect huge money to be dumped on defense for the Patriots.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Former Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and Houston Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, at 37 years old, took the head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers almost immediately after the Super Bowl. This comes after the firing of Chip Kelly, which came a year after the firing of Jim Tomsula, which came a year after the firing of Jim Harbaugh.
To say the least, the 49ers, on the surface, look like one of the more dysfunctional franchises in the sport, which could have been why free agents have avoided them recently. Shanahan will be in charge of the 53-man roster, according to Nick Shook of NFL.com, but the rest of the roster moves should be in the hands of general manager John Lynch, who after retiring in 2008 immediately started a second career as a color commentator.
Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Lynch volunteered for the general manager gig in San Francisco, in case you were wondering about that “dysfunctional” label. Per the San Jose Mercury News, 49ers owner Jed York told reporters, “I own this football team. You don’t dismiss owners. I’m sorry that that’s the facts and that’s the case, but that’s the facts.”
There seems to be some odd power struggle involving the owner, which might be why he chose a young head coach who had no other choice but to come to San Francisco if he wanted to be a head coach in 2017 and a general manager with literally no experience in an NFL front office. Still, San Francisco has nearly $82 million in cap space heading into the 2017 cycle, good for the second-highest mark in the league, per Spotrac.
That’s including the contract of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who if released, would save the team north of $14 million in 2017. Under Shanahan, the Falcons brought in plus free-agent contracts in receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel and center Alex Mack, while he also developed tight end Austin Hooper and running back Tevin Coleman in their young careers.
Shanahan seems to have an eye for offensive talent, and on a team which may have the most bare cupboard in terms of talent on the offensive side of the ball in the NFL, that is significant. Day 1 on the job: start to find a long-term solution at quarterback.
1. Cleveland Browns
2016 was a weird season for the Cleveland Browns. While they weren’t the only team to transition out of a general manager and head coach, they were the first team to hire a predominant analytics member to their front office.
By title, the team has no true general manager, though the job does seem to be separated into three people. Paul DePodesta, the former general manager of the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers, is the chief strategy officer of the Browns—basically the analytical mind.
Sashi Brown, the executive vice president of football operations who came via the Jacksonville Jaguars, is the business mind of the team. Hue Jackson, the team’s head coach, is the football mind for the franchise.
With all of that chemistry coming together at once, during a short season, the Browns didn’t make many moves last offseason in free agency. Because of that, according to Spotrac, Cleveland rolled over $50 million in extra cap space from the 2016 season into the 2017 year, by far the most in the NFL.
That’s more than double of the Tennessee Titans’, who rank fourth in the NFL in the same metric. Overall, the Browns have $108 million of free cap to spend this year. To put that into perspective, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers only have $100 million of cap used up of the assumed $168 million salary cap heading into this offseason.
The Browns can match the contracts of an entire NFL team, and they’d still have more cap space left over than the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs have entering 2017. After Jamie Collins, a linebacker who the New England Patriots traded away in-season, received the largest off-the-ball linebacker deal in the history of the sport, it’s safe to say that Cleveland realizes they have to spend big to land young, talented players, and they have all the assets they need to do so.
BATHROOMS IN TEXAS
Jazz Shaw at HotAir.com did not think it was a good idea for the NFL to take any side, much less that of the social justice warriors, in the upcoming battle for control of public bathrooms in Texas:
You may have missed it in the rush of “other news” last month, but Texas is considering implementing their own transgender bathroom bill similar to the one in North Carolina which we spent most of 2016 fighting over. That’s a question for another day and surely will not be resolved until the Supreme Court has a crack at it. In the meantime however, plenty of folks will want to be jumping on the bandwagon. One unexpected entrant into this particular field of battle seems to be the National Football League. For reasons which currently baffle me, the NFL decided to weigh in on the subject this week and issue what sounds something like a warning to the Lone Star State, hinting that Texas may not be hosting any more Super Bowl events if they follow such a path. (Weekly Standard)
Days after the Super Bowl in Houston, the NFL is warning Texas that legislation requiring individuals to use public bathrooms in accordance with their biological sex could cost the state future opportunities to host the big game.
The Houston Chronicle reports:
“If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law (in Texas), that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email response to a Chronicle question about the bill.
It was the league’s first statement on the matter since the legislation was introduced in January.
First of all, just for the record, this doesn’t look like something that Roger Goodell’s office decided to jump into feet first. The NFL spokesman in question was responding to a query from the Houston Chronicle. Still, this one probably could’ve used a quick pass in the front office before staking out this particular position. Unfortunately for the league, unless they plan on throwing this guy under the bus they may be stuck with it now.
Is this really the sort of fight that the NFL wants to take on right now? We’ve done countless articles here detailing the ongoing slide in ratings that football has suffered. The reasons for this are not much of a mystery to anybody. We spent untold amounts of time talking about people kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, issuing statements on public policy and players making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The league did themselves no favors by either endorsing such non-football related activities or choosing to remain silent. Even when it came time for the big game, they decided to invite Lady Gaga (who was already making a name for herself in political circles) and then leave the fans wondering whether or not she was going to turn halftime into a 2020 political campaign advertisement.
The net effect has been obvious. People are turned off and increasingly tuning out. Not only were the ratings for the regular-season poor compared to an average year, but even the Super Bowl itself dropped to a three-year low in viewership. People traditionally watch football for one reason and one reason only: to enjoy the game and escape from the tedious or even torturous realities of daily life. There are probably few debates in the public sphere currently more contentious than the transgender bathroom issue. Is this what the NFL wants to be known for in 2017? And particularly in Texas?
If anyone happens to be talking to the commissioner in the near future I’d appreciate it if they passed along a brief message from me. This is a bad idea and you are managing to ruin one of the best things left about America. Get back to playing the game and leave the politics to the politicians.