The Daily Briefing Tuesday, February 14, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

WR VICTOR CRUZ, who grew up nearly in the shadow of the Meadowlands, is a Giant  no longer.  ESPN.com:

 

The New York Giants have released wide receiver Victor Cruz in a move that creates significant salary-cap space, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

The move was first reported Monday by NorthJersey.com. The Giants are expected to officially announce Cruz’s release later Monday, the source told Schefter.

 

The Giants also have released running back Rashad Jennings, sources told ESPN’s Jordan Raanan. Jennings, 31, averaged just 3.3 yards per carry last season, his third with the Giants. He rushed for a career-high 863 yards in 2015.

 

Cruz, 30, is less than three years removed from major knee surgery and would have counted for $9.4 million against the Giants’ salary cap in 2017. New York will free up $7.5 million in cap space with his release.

 

Jennings would have counted $3,062,500 against the cap in 2017. Releasing him frees up $2.5 million in cap space for the Giants.

 

Cruz burst onto the scene with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2011 and 2012 but has struggled to regain that form since suffering a torn patellar tendon midway through the 2014 season. He missed the entire 2015 season and had just 39 catches for 586 yards and a touchdown this past season.

 

A fan favorite known for his signature “salsa dance” touchdown celebration, Cruz also saw his role diminish as he fell behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard on the Giants’ depth chart in 2016.

 

Cruz took a significant pay cut to return to the Giants last season. He still made $5.4 million and wanted to return to the team that signed him as an undrafted free agent out of UMass in 2010.

 

Even as the Giants were purging veterans on Monday (they also let it be known that they would not be attempting to re-sign TE LARRY DONNELL), word came that they do hope to retain DE JASON PIERRE-PAUL.   Chris Wesseling at NFL.com:

 

New York’s front office is freeing up salary-cap space, with designs on preventing impending free agent Jason Pierre-Paul from reaching the open market.

 

“I do expect them to make a legitimate run in the coming days and weeks,” NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo said on Monday’s edition of Up to the Minute Live. “They will try and get a deal done before he can potentially hit the free agent market.”

 

Pierre-Paul made it clear last month that he will not accept another one-year, prove-it contract to remain with the Giants.

 

He was just hitting his stride, recording 5.5 sacks over a two-game span to close out November, when he went down with a season-ending core-muscle injury that required surgery.

 

Without the benefit of a bidding war, Pierre-Paul is unlikely to match the $17 million annual figure that teammate Olivier Vernon landed from the G-Men last March.

 

If he’s willing to settle for a deal closer to $12 million per year, the Giants might just succeed in locking him up before the start of the league year on March 9.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Cardinals GM Steve Keim knows it is time to find his next quarterback.  Darren Urban at AZCardinals.com:

 

If Steve Keim truly feared that Carson Palmer wouldn’t be back in 2017, the general manager was able to allay that concern last week when the quarterback went to dinner with him and let him know he was indeed going to play.

 

That meant, at least for another season, the quarterback issue wasn’t an issue.

 

That doesn’t mean it should be ignored right now, however.

 

“There’s no doubt every GM, there is no question your name has to be put on a young quarterback at some point,” Keim said on last week’s edition of the “Big Red Rage.” “I challenge myself every day, because if you look around the league, you’re not a GM for long if you don’t find (a quarterback). I have to do a better job, with my staff and the coaching staff, we have to identify the right guy and put this organization in positon to have success for years to come.”

 

The Cardinals benefitted from the big 2013 trade that brought Palmer to Arizona. That was only a few months after Keim had been named the GM, at a time when the team was still trying to find a quarterback. Keim said then his philosophy was to bring in a quarterback every year in search of the next long-term answer.

 

Keim never said it would come in the draft specifically, and since adding Palmer and free agent Drew Stanton that first offseason, he’s kept up that mindset:

 

2014: Drafted Logan Thomas in the fourth round.

 

2015: Traded for Matt Barkley.

 

2016: Brought in Zac Dysert after a “tryout” with Aaron Murray and then promoted Dysert from the practice squad later in the season when the Dolphins tried to sign Dysert away.

 

Thomas and Barkley didn’t work out. Like Barkley before him, Dysert will need this offseason and training camp to show what he might be – although with time to show already in the league, his potential as a  starter isn’t considered vast.

 

As Palmer creeps toward retirement – “At this point in my career, it’s a one-year-at-a-time-type of deal,” Palmer said last week after announcing he was returning for 2017 – the need to find that next guy moves toward critical status.

 

Keim has been around this before. He wasn’t GM, but he was in the front office when Kurt Warner retired after the 2009 season. The Cardinals were hopeful they had the QB of the future in Matt Leinart, but by then, there were already concerns. Leinart didn’t even make it to the opening day roster.

 

Instead, there were stopgaps (Derek Anderson), late draft picks (John Skelton) and a big trade (Kevin Kolb). None worked, leaving the Cards to struggle until there was a GM and coaching change, and Palmer came in another important trade (although the Palmer price was significantly less than Kolb).

 

Taking a quarterback in the draft makes the most sense. Trading for a QB now is hard to justify for a team hoping to make a playoff run. A thin free agent class also would have to know Palmer – and Stanton, for that matter – remain in place.

 

But the post-Palmer time is coming.

 

“You start getting old like me, you start getting grey hair, your body starts telling you no,” Palmer said. “At some point it will.”

 

It didn’t this offseason, but the Cardinals know they need to plan for that day.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Peter King on a stealth hire by the 49ers:

 

I think I wouldn’t be concerned about the mass exodus of Atlanta coaches, except for two: Kyle Shanahan and Bobby Turner. Shanahan made Matt Ryan better. He made the offense better because it was so diverse and so unpredictable. Turner’s the unsung loss. He’s the veteran running backs coach who, back in Denver, made a slew of low-drafted backs (Terrell Davis most notably) play great, and he was vital in the development of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in Atlanta. But I applaud the Falcons. They could have played hardball and kept Turner. But Turner wanted to go with Shanahan—Turner obviously was close with Mike Shanahan—and he becomes a very influential senior adviser (he is 67) to Kyle Shanahan.

 

I think it doesn’t hurt that the 49ers have rewarded Turner by making him one of the highest-paid (if not the highest-paid) running backs coaches in the NFL, with a salary of at least $625,000.

 

In another hire, the 49ers have named a defensive coordinator who honed in Gus Bradley’s ways.  Zac Jackson at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Robert Saleh will be hired as the 49ers’ new defensive coordinator, ESPN’s Adam Caplan reported Monday.

 

Saleh had interviewed with new 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and other key members of the organization last Friday.

 

Though it was previously reported that Shanahan may hire Saleh and Falcons assistant Jerome Henderson as co-defensive coordinators, Caplan reported that won’t be the case and that Saleh will be the only defensive coordinator once he and the team finalize a contract agreement.

 

Saleh spent the last three years as linebackers coach of the Jaguars.

 

 

SEATTLE

A switch at running backs coach for Seattle.  Zac Jackson at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Seahawks will replace running backs coach Sherman Smith with Chad Morton, Alex Marvez of The Sporting News reported Monday evening.

 

Smith had been the team’s running backs coach since 2009. He was an original Seahawk, having played running back for the team from 1976-83. He coached in the college ranks and with Washington and Tennessee in the NFL before joining the Seahawks’ staff.

 

Morton was already on staff. He has spent the last three seasons as assistant special teams coach and added assistant running backs coach duties over the last two seasons.

 

Morton had a seven-year NFL playing career as a running back and kickoff returner. He previously coached for four seasons with the Packers.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

A shuffle on the Chiefs coaching staff as veteran Brad Childress gets kicked up to assistant head coach.  The AP:

 

The Chiefs have promoted Brad Childress to assistant head coach and announced that Matt Nagy will take over as the sole offensive coordinator in a minor shake-up of Andy Reid’s staff.

 

Childress and Nagy served as co-offensive coordinators last season. Their new roles were announced Monday.

 

Childress takes over from David Culley, who served as assistant head coach and wide receivers coach last season. Culley left in the offseason to be the quarterbacks coach in Buffalo.

 

The Chiefs already have hired Greg Lewis to work with wide receivers.

 

Nagy began his coaching career with Reid in Philadelphia, then followed him to Kansas City as the quarterbacks coach. Last year was his first as co-offensive coordinator.

 

 

OAKLAND

DE ALDON SMITH is/was going to be cleared to return in March.  But now, he has a domestic violence charge to contend with.  TMZ.com:

 

Oakland Raiders star Aldon Smith is being investigated for what we’re told is a domestic incident … TMZ Sports has learned.

 

Sources tell us cops in San Francisco were called early Saturday morning and responded to a home in the city. Smith owns a house in San Francisco.

 

Police interviewed Smith and the alleged victim and took a report. The case is under “active investigation.”

 

Smith has not been arrested.

 

An arrest would be catastrophic for Smith’s career — he’s currently suspended by the NFL for multiple violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

 

Smith was expected to be reinstated in March, on the assumption he stayed out of trouble. An arrest could undo his prospects.

 

Smith has had several run-ins with police since he was drafted by the 49ers back in 2011.

 

Smith showed extreme potential when he was on the field — he was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year back in 2012.

 

A rep for Smith had no comment.

– – –

Sheldon Adelson backed out of his deal with the Raiders because the gaming billionaire did not like the deal.  Richard Velotta in the Las Vegas Review-Journal (which is owned by Adelson we add) has the story from the family.  It’s interesting that the Raiders allegedly shoddy treatment of co-tenant UNLV is cited as a big factor.

 

From the start, it seemed like a partnership destined to bring the National Football League to Las Vegas.

 

The Oakland Raiders, one of the iconic franchises in professional sports. The family of casino executive Sheldon Adelson. The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee. Everyone involved with the plan described it as an alignment of the stars that seemed too good to be true.

 

The Raiders couldn’t secure a new stadium in Oakland. The Adelson family saw an opportunity to invite the NFL to Southern Nevada. A special committee appointed by the governor already was examining infrastructure projects to grow Las Vegas’ tourism economy as well as provide a new home for UNLV football. In 2016, everything was lined up to build a $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium near the Strip.

 

Today, the Adelson family is out of the deal. The stadium’s financing plan suddenly has a $650 million hole and no announced partner to fill it. And the Raiders are six weeks away from a meeting where NFL owners could decide whether the team can move to Las Vegas.

 

What happened?

 

That’s a question that even representatives of the Adelson family are still asking.

 

‘STUNNING’

 

“It was stunning,” said Andy Abboud, vice president of government relations and community affairs for casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. and a spokesman for the family. “It’s still stunning.”

 

Abboud’s interview with the Review-Journal provided the first comments from either party about stadium development negotiations between the Raiders and the Adelson family. Talks began in October, when Nevada lawmakers and Gov. Brian Sandoval approved an increase in Clark County’s hotel room tax to fund $750 million of the stadium’s construction costs.

 

Abboud said Raiders executives changed their minds about issues in mid-negotiation, frustrating Adelson’s representatives as talks progressed.

 

He said the last straw was the Raiders’ decision to take a proposed stadium lease agreement to the Las Vegas Stadium Authority, the public body established to oversee the stadium’s development, without telling or involving the Adelsons. The family had pledged $650 million to the project, and the Raiders had committed $500 million.

 

Raiders President Marc Badain said by phone Friday that the team would not comment on the negotiations and that he stood by his comments at Thursday’s Las Vegas Stadium Authority board meeting.

 

At that meeting, Badain, UNLV President Len Jessup and Stadium Authority board chairman Steve Hill spoke glowingly of the Adelsons and said that without their involvement, Las Vegas would not be so close to a new stadium and having its own NFL team.

 

$650 MILLION WITHDRAWAL

 

Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, withdrew his $650 million commitment to the project on Jan. 30, four days after Badain and Executive Vice President Dan Ventrelle presented a 117-page draft lease agreement to the authority.

 

“The concern that we had and the concern that everybody has in hindsight is the 117-page proposed lease agreement that did not reflect the commitments that the Adelson family made to the Raiders and that the Raiders had made to the Adelson family,” Abboud said. “It did not reflect the commitments that were made to UNLV. It did not make the commitments that were promised to the community, and it was in no way reflective of the months of (Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee) meetings and reflective of what it took to get the members of the Legislature to vote for the funding.”

 

Abboud said Robert Goldstein, president and chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sands, and Patrick Dumont, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Sands, negotiated with the Raiders on behalf of the Adelsons. Dumont is also Adelson’s son-in-law. (The Adelsons’ contribution to the stadium would have come from their personal wealth, not as an investment by Sands.)

 

After months of appearing together at public meetings and at a rally at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, it appeared the Raiders and the family were on track to formalize their partnership as stadium developers, negotiate a lease agreement with the Las Vegas Stadium Authority and build the dome. The authority also would negotiate with an events company that would schedule sports and entertainment events beyond Raiders and Rebels football games.

 

Abboud said the Raiders’ tone changed when Sandoval signed the legislation.

 

The two sides reviewed all aspects of their partnership: stadium naming rights, sponsorships, revenue from stadium contractors, parking, signage and use by UNLV.

 

“All those things were negotiable, and then even when we got to the point that we thought we had a deal, they’d change their minds again,” Abboud said. “And we negotiate deals every day all over the world. The Adelson family has made a lot of people rich in the world. This is a family that negotiates with everyone from Barney’s to Emeril Lagasse and deals with the governments of Singapore and China. They know when to be reasonable and how to cut a deal.”

 

‘PICKING HIS POCKET’

 

As negotiations continued through the fall, sometimes in person and sometimes by phone, the Raiders were seeking more and more, Abboud said.

 

“(Adelson) was willing to share revenues and make it financially mutually beneficial, but they were picking his pocket,” Abboud said. “I think that they felt they were asking to be entitled to revenue streams and things that simply made the deal unworkable. It was never about the financial return for the Adelsons, but the Adelson family wasn’t going to have their pocket picked, by the Raiders or by the NFL or anybody.”

 

Throughout the talks, the family’s negotiators said they received mixed signals about the NFL’s perception of the city of Las Vegas and the Adelson family’s involvement in the deal.

 

“We just kept hearing conflicting stories about how we could do it and how the NFL owners felt about it,” Abboud said. “We felt it was conceivable that they were using that as a tool for manipulation. I don’t know.”

 

Then came the Jan. 26 stadium authority board meeting. Abboud transported Badain and Ventrelle to the Southern Nevada Water District meeting room. The Raiders executives presented the proposed lease, which had no mention of Adelson as a partner, to the authority staff, who made copies to distribute to board members.

 

LEASE PROPOSAL BOMBSHELL

 

“I’m still trying to figure out what the hell they were thinking,” Abboud said. “Had they told anybody ahead of time that they were going to dump that document, even if they had told us, ‘We don’t want you in the deal anymore,’ if they had shown anyone that’s been involved in this process at all that document, we would have said, ‘What in the hell are you thinking?’”

 

Adelson reacted swiftly after hearing the news, opting to withdraw his $650 million contribution.

 

“He wanted everyone in the state to know and the community to know that he would never have asked for that $750 million if we knew the Raiders were going to come forward with terms that were not reflective of anything we had discussed over the last year,” Abboud said. “He would have never asked for that kind of commitment from the state based on the lease agreement the Raiders proposed.”

 

The lease called for the Raiders to pay $1 per year in rent, gave the Raiders full control of the UNLV football schedule and denied the Rebels the ability to have their brand on field markings.

 

Abboud believes the Raiders miscalculated the importance of UNLV’s use of the stadium to legislators.

 

“Of course UNLV should have their markings on the field,” Abboud said. “The insistence (in the lease) that UNLV could not have their brand in the stadium that was funded by the state is evidence of how frustrated we became.”

 

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, was majority leader when the stadium legislation passed in October. He affirmed that UNLV’s use of the stadium was paramount to legislators.

 

“The UNLV aspect was very important to all of us in terms of this whole process of building a stadium,” Roberson said by phone Friday.

 

Asked whether he thought the legislation would have failed without accommodations for UNLV, he said, “I don’t know, but remember, it only passed by one vote in the Assembly, and I know the UNLV aspect was important.”

 

At Thursday’s stadium authority meeting, Badain apologized for the perception that the Raiders would be inflexible on field and stadium markings. Jessup said he is satisfied that on Rebel game days the stadium will look like a UNLV home field.

 

BIG MISCALCULATION

 

Abboud also said he thinks the Raiders and the NFL misjudged the Las Vegas community.

 

“Don’t underestimate the ability of Las Vegas to stand up for itself,” he said. “The Las Vegas Raiders are today’s bright, shiny object. There will be a new bright, shiny object tomorrow and there will be another bright, shiny object after that. This is a city that always has one fabulous new idea after another. You had to be deaf and blind to think the city or the state were ever going to roll over for anybody.”

 

He said the Adelson family remains committed to getting a stadium built and having an NFL franchise in Las Vegas. Abboud said that if the Raiders have an investor to help as a stadium developer, the family would be happy, but they aren’t aware of any prospective partners. Abboud also thinks there are tough negotiations ahead if the Raiders proceed.

 

“If they think that they’re going to go forward making it all about the Raiders and not about all the other things that drive visitation, I think they should be prepared for some long stadium authority meetings,” he said.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Veteran coach Richard Smith, let go by the Falcons in the aftermath of Super Bowl LI, is heading to Los Angeles – the Chargers that is – as linebackers coach.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

The Browns will try to retain WR TERRELLE PRYOR according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Terrelle Pryor’s agents will have ‘strong discussions’ with the Browns soon about a new deal for the 1,000-yard receiver, a source told cleveland.com, and Pryor has instructed them he wants to stay in Cleveland.

 

The Browns have no plans to franchise Pryor, and would only do so if they can’t strike a long-term deal.

 

Pryor’s agents, Drew and Jason Rosenhaus, will meet with the Browns this week to discuss a deal for their “top offseason priority” according to CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora.

 

Drew Rosenhaus declined to comment on the status of Pryor’s negotiations at the Senior Bowl two weeks ago and again on Monday. Pryor became the Browns’ focus after they wrapped up linebacker Jamie Collins last month to a four-year, $50 million deal.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Owner Robert Kraft explains there were plenty of players missing from previous Patriots visits to the White House, even though you didn’t read about it in the media.  Ryan Hannable at WEEI.com:

 

Patriots owner Robert Kraft appeared on the TODAY show Monday morning and one of the topics was the number of Patriots players who have said they will not attend a ceremony at the White House with President Trump for winning Super Bowl LI.

 

Kraft said players not attending the ceremony isn’t anything new.

 

“Well, you know what’s interesting, this is our, I’m happy to say, fifth Super Bowl in the last 16 years,” Kraft said when asked if his relationship with President Trump has impacted his relationship with his players. “And every time we’ve had the privilege of going to the White House, a dozen of our players don’t go. This is the first time it’s gotten any media attention.

 

“You know, some of the players have the privilege of going in college because they’re on national championship teams, others have family commitments. But this is America. We’re all free to do whatever’s best for us. We’re just privileged to be in a position to be going.”

 

Just a week after the Super Bowl there are already six players on record saying they will not attend: Martellus Bennett, Devin McCourty, Chris Long, Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch and LeGarrette Blount.

 

Hmmmm.  It seems that the GOAT didn’t go see Barack Obama two years ago, albeit it was with less fanfare.

– – –

Meanwhile, the winning TD ball has apparently been secured.  Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Fifty percent of the missing memorabilia from Super Bowl LI has been recovered.

 

The Patriots have announced, via their Hall of Fame Twitter account, that the game-winning football from the overtime classic has been located. Running back James White, who scored the touchdown on a sweep from the two capped by a hard cut to the inside and a charge to the goal line, told Dan Patrick last week that White left the ball on the ground after the game ended.

 

The ball currently is on display at the team’s Hall of Fame. Or, more accurately, a ball showing the Super Bowl LI logo and the team’s logo is on display. Obviously, there’s no way of knowing with certainty that it’s THE ball — absent an affidavit and/or certificate of authenticity from the equipment staffer who retrieved it and delivered it to the Hall of Fame, along with affidavits and/or certificates from everyone who touched the thing en route to its current resting place.

 

Meanwhile, there’s still no word on whether Tom Brady’s jersey from Super Bowl LI has been located.

 

UPDATE 8:23 p.m. ET: Patriots spokesman Stacey James tells PFT that the football was immediately recovered by the team’s equipment staff after the touchdown and properly secured.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

There was a time that T RYAN CLADY seemed headed to Canton.  Now, he’s heading to the waiver wire.  But Rich Cimini of ESPN.com explains it may be a tactical money-related deal:

 

The New York Jets’ first key personnel decision for 2017 will be made this week, and it involves left tackle Ryan Clady.

 

Clady, who finished the season on injured reserve (rotator cuff surgery), is due a $1 million roster bonus by Wednesday as part of the two-year, $17 million contract he signed last April at the time of his trade from the Denver Broncos. In addition to the bonus, the former Pro Bowl selection has a non-guaranteed salary of $10 million.

 

With a total cap charge of $10.5 million, Clady’s contract is prohibitive for the cap-strapped Jets, who probably will release him by Wednesday to start what figures to be a tumultuous offseason.

 

Clady can avoid a pink slip by re-negotiating his contract. You might be asking, “Why should the Jets bother?” After all, Clady will be 31 in September and he’s injury prone, having missed 37 of the last 64 games. He didn’t play particularly well last season, although his supporters will note he was basically a one-armed tackle for a few games as he attempted to play through the torn rotator cuff.

 

But in a situation like this, the team has to look at the market and ask, “Is there a replacement out there?”

 

In this case, he’d be tough to replace because the left-tackle market stinks.

 

In free agency, the top left tackle is the Cincinnati Bengals’ Andrew Whitworth — and he’s 35 years old. In the draft, there are no studs worth the sixth pick. In his latest top 32, Todd McShay’s highest-rated tackle is Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin — and he’s 15th on the list.

 

Now you can see why the Jets are interested in retaining Clady … for the right price. You have to believe $6 million, what he earned last year, would do the trick.

 

In theory, the Jets could pay the $1 million roster bonus with the idea of trying to get him to accept a pay cut at a later date, but they’d lose most of their leverage. Clady could say no and walk away with his $1 million — money for nothing.

 

It wouldn’t be unprecedented. In 2013, the Jets paid a $1 million bonus to Darrelle Revis in early March and wound up trading him. He was allowed to keep Woody Johnson’s money. In Clady’s case, he’d be taking on risk because the left tackle jobs could be filled by then. He wouldn’t be in a great bargaining position.

 

The Jets can always cut Clady to avoid paying the bonus, then try to re-sign him after he’s had a chance to test his value on the market. This option is a real possibility.

 

If the Jets keep Clady, they still need a backup plan because of his durability issues. It would be wise to re-sign Ben Ijalana, a pending free agent.

 

Ijalana, who replaced the injured Clady after eight games, has starting experience at left and right tackle, and he’s only 27. Those guys are hard to find, and Ijalana will command interest if the Jets let him get to market. He’s a must-keep, especially if they cut Clady.

 

The smart plan: Keep Clady at a lower cap number, sign Ijalana, let him compete with Brandon Shell at right tackle and draft a left tackle in the second or third round, an heir apparent to Clady. That would protect the team’s short- and long-term interests.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Clay Travis at the Outkick The Coverage blog sees ESPN in a downward spiral that the Worldwide Leader has acerbated with a pronounced leftward spin to its programming.

 

Yesterday afternoon Disney announced its quarterly earnings and something I’ve been predicting for several years now was at the forefront of most of those stories — ESPN’s income declined 11% compared to last year. The drag on earnings and revenue from ESPN led to a quarterly miss of estimates for ESPN’s parent company, Disney. Fortunately for Disney the company has made smart strategic moves in other arenas — buying Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel among others — that have helped to defray the coming collapse of ESPN. So while Disney may not suffer terrible consequences thanks to the success of the Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar films and the continuing popularity of its theme parks — I’ll be spending a ton of money there next week on “vacation”with my kids — ESPN is a dead company walking.  

 

And the story here is simple — ESPN is losing millions of subscribers and viewers that add up to billions of dollars a year in losses and is on the hook for tens of billions of dollars in sports rights costs in the years ahead.

 

That’s a bad combination. 

 

Every single day this year ESPN has lost roughly 10,000 cable and satellite subscribers.

 

Per day!

 

Think about that for a minute. If your business was losing 10,000 customers every single day how panicked would you be? But that’s the exact case with ESPN. Every single day the equivalent of a decent sized American town stops paying ESPN for content. This is the continuation of a trend that began in 2011 when ESPN peaked with 101 million cable and satellite subscribers according to Nielsen. Per Nielsen’s most recent estimates ESPN now has 87,859,000 cable and satellite subscribers. That’s a loss of over 13 million cable and satellite subscribers in the past several years, costing ESPN in the neighborhood of $1.3 billion dollars per year. ($7.30 a month in affiliate fees x 12 months x 13 million households). That’s money that will never return and that’s money that is incredibly significant when you consider that ESPN is on the hook for $7.3 billion in yearly sports rights fees, the most any company in the world is paying for content.

 

Presently ESPN has the following yearly sports rights payments: $1.9 billion a year to the NFL for Monday Night Football plus an additional playoff game which costs the network an additional $100 million, $1.47 billion to the NBA, a deal I told you flat out wasn’t sustainable back in July because it meant every single cable and satellite subscriber in the country was paying an average of $30 a year for the NBA whether they watched or not, $700 million to Major League Baseball, $608 million for the College Football Playoff, $225 million to the ACC, $190 million to the Big Ten, $120 million to the Big 12, $125 million a year to the PAC 12, and hundreds of millions more to the SEC.

 

Add it all up and the amounts are staggering, tens of billions of dollars in yearly fees owed regardless of what revenue looks like. With most companies you can cut costs if your revenue declines. Not ESPN. It owes these tens of billions for the next decade to come and more. 

 

The result of this coming financial calamity has been panic, which has primarily manifested itself in a desperate ploy for relevance. ESPN decided to become a social justice warrior network, treating all liberal opinion makers as those worthy of promotion and casting aside all those who had the gall to challenge the new Disney world order.

 

ESPN became MSESPN.

 

You would be astounded by how many people inside ESPN I hear from who have the absolute gall to vote Republican. Yes, they exist. And yes they are terrified of you knowing who they are. In fact, many of them are reading this right now and nodding their heads at the absurdity of this corporate decision.

 

I’m not saying that ESPN should just stick to sports, but I am saying that if you decide to allow political opinions to flourish from your network’s stars that you shouldn’t neuter all conservative opinion and allow liberal political opinion to advance unchecked. That’s not a marketplace of ideas, that’s a totalitarian government. Those with liberal opinions are rewarded and allowed to speak freely, those with conservative opinions are told to keep their mouths shut.

 

Conservative viewers aren’t stupid, they see exactly what’s happening.

 

Even crazier, SPORTS VIEWERS ARE, ON AVERAGE, CONSERVATIVE!

 

Check out this graphic.

 

 

 

The only sports fans with a large fan base in this country that skew liberal in their voting are NBA fans. And that’s because of black voters who, guess what, are actually more socially conservative and religious than many white voters. As business plans go ESPN going all in on liberal sports fans is the rough equivalent of Outkick saying that henceforth we will only write articles about hot girls in Saudi Arabia.

 

There is more from Travis on ESPN’s perceived drift from the center here.

 

One of the main reasons we linked is the cool graphic.  If you can’t see it in the email, go here.  Interesting how the NBA tilts so much further to the left from college basketball.

 

 

WIN PROBABILITY

Kevin Clark at The Ringer.com notes that a lot of improbable things are happening in the NFL, and elsewhere:

 

Leicester City, Brexit, and Donald Trump have made this a weird stretch for math. And yet despite those high-profile instances of low-probability outcomes hitting, when the New England Patriots fell behind the Atlanta Falcons 28–3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, viewers still flocked en masse to websites that calculate win probability, a metric designed to reveal how likely a side is to prevail — and a metric that failed in the aforementioned cases.

 

The parameters vary site to site, but the guiding principles remain the same: When it comes to football, a win probability model is constructed to account for the score, the time remaining, the field position, the timeouts remaining, and many other small factors. And at 28–3, the metrics gave the Patriots less than a 1 percent chance of winning the game.

 

It’s hard to know exactly who was glued to the live probability updates during the game: Maybe they were Patriots haters enjoying the schadenfreude of seeing a numerical representation of just how unlikely a comeback was; maybe they were Patriots fans looking for a sliver of hope, however slender. Regardless, they came in droves. The traffic to analytics site numberFire.com doubled in the second half, according to its internal metrics. Ten percent of the season’s traffic to the win probability calculator on Pro-Football-Reference occurred during and just after the game, according to the site’s metrics. Tweets like this were shared thousands of times:

 

When the Patriots completed their revival in overtime, sealing the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history in just more than 20 minutes of game action, math took another L, leaving win probability experts in the strange place of having to defend the numbers.

 

“It’s tough,” says Mike Kania, head of football operations at Sports Reference. “A lot of people who don’t understand probability are coming out and saying, ‘Why are these sites predicting anything anymore?’ And the election is brought up a lot. But 28–3 is still a very, very safe lead.”

 

For the first time in the digital age of easily accessible data, the extremely probable event regularly seems to be turning into the exception, and that was especially true this football season. Well before the Patriots scored a knockout against math, the San Diego Chargers blew second-half win probabilities of 99.9 percent in Week 1, 84.7 percent in Week 3, and 99.8 percent in Week 4, according to Pro-Football-Reference. The Detroit Lions broke math in the opposite direction, winning a Week 1 game over the Colts that they stood a 99 percent chance of losing in the second half, then continuing to mount unlikely fourth-quarter comebacks. The Packers, who made the NFC title game, at one point in November had just an 18 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Patriots’ recovery was the season’s fiercest rebuke of the metrics yet, but it wasn’t the first.

 

“I used to get angry and defensive,” says ESPN senior analytics specialist Brian Burke, a football win probability expert who built the most influential model. “Now I think, ‘Man, I want you on the other sideline of life from me, I want to compete against you.’ In the long run, guess who will win? People like that are shooting themselves in the foot.”

 

Burke thinks of himself as the Wright brothers of win probability: Other people had the idea for the airplane, he says, but the Wrights got their vessel off the ground. Similarly, while the influential 1988 football analytics book The Hidden Game of Football gave an early outline of when teams are more likely to win based on the game situation, Burke says the authors lacked the technology to build an actual model, which he launched in 2008. The idea came when he was watching a Ravens game the previous year and heard the broadcasters explain that Brian Billick was almost perfect in the second half when leading by two touchdowns. Burke, who has since consulted for NFL teams, surmised that all teams are likely good in that situation, and began building a model to confirm his suspicion, developing the one that’s now used at ESPN and is the basis for many other football win probability formulas.

 

Burke is often asked if a comeback was one-in-1,000 or one-in-a-million, but stresses that his model is not a “trivia generator” designed to quantify how rare a comeback is. Rather, he says it was built to help teams make decisions about timeout usage or fourth-down decisions or other key matters based on the likelihood of victory at a given moment. Teams still use win probability to make decisions, but that has become a small part of its fame. These days, the most common usage is real-time fan and media consumption.

 

While win probability has gone mainstream, the data that propel it are still fairly limited because of the nature of football. There are only 267 NFL games per season (including the playoffs), meaning there are very few 28–3 leads to study. In fact, there were only 12 regular-season or playoff games this season in which a team ever trailed by 25 points. That small sample size hurts predictive ability. So, too, does the fact that the way the sport is played is changing faster than ever before, meaning data from even a handful of years ago may not be as useful anymore.

 

“The current climate has changed a little bit,” says Keith Goldner, chief analyst at numberFire, who compares changes in the sport to changes in the voting body that hurt political analysts’ ability to project Donald Trump’s rise. “Teams have a much higher propensity to pass the ball, passing numbers since the early 2000s have increased dramatically,” Goldner says. That shift means some of the data from before the pass-happy era is slightly outdated in its predictive powers now, Goldner says, “in the same way you can’t use data from the steroid era of baseball, because there are different run environments now, that’s the sort of thing that might be included in our model [going forward]. A four-score game, over the course of the season, is an extremely safe lead, it might be less safe than it was 10 years ago.”

 

Burke says to look at yards per pass attempt, which has increased 0.2 yards per attempt since 2010. The jump from 6.2 to 6.4 may seem insignificant, but Burke says that over the course of a season, a bump like that can have an “enormous” effect on the sport and start to change what a model should value. Namely, in a world in which teams gain yards more easily, field position should matter less and possession of the ball should matter more in the math. Burke says the sport is “getting closer” to absurd levels of offense that would necessitate adjusting models to reflect how little field position matters.

“Teams can move the ball easier so possession matters more and field position matters less,” Burke says. “In the [1920s], it was a 6–3 game and a deep punt in the second half might be a death blow. It was a field position game, even in the late ’70s. Now things are changing even more.” Nowadays, Burke mentions, Aaron Rodgers can get the ball anywhere on the field and score a touchdown, making it harder to project how much a good punt helps the opposing team.

 

Now that multiple websites are getting attention for live win probability, other math experts are starting to develop their own models — and some of them want to make big changes. About a month ago, Konstantinos Pelechrinis, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Information Sciences, started to see NFL win probability models he thought were “too optimistic,” giving teams too high a chance to win in games he thought could still go either way. Pelechrinis built a model for pregame predictions 18 months ago, and started to build an in-game prediction model this winter, which he hopes to complete in a few months. He says that his research confirmed what we all saw this season: haywire results. Pelechrinis claims he found 50 games in the 2016 season in which teams had a 98 percent chance to win a game on Pro-Football-Reference, but that those teams won just 80 percent of the time. He wants his model to avoid bold declarations of 99.9 percent chances in all but the most dramatic of circumstances.

 

Burke, however, isn’t panicking about his own model. “We’re not going to say, ‘Oh no, we have to fudge [the formula] a little bit’ to reflect the changes,” says Burke, who believes it’s too early to tell how this season’s cluster of high-profile, low-probability games will affect the database going forward. Burke’s team will not throw away “freaky outcomes” and plans to include every comeback in its data. Sports Reference’s Kania says he doesn’t yet know if this hectic season will lead him to make any tweaks to his site’s formula, which is not live but is posted after every game.

 

“I don’t relish [that people are doubting analytics],” Burke says. “There are coaches in the NFL like that, who say things publicly, and I’m not going to go on Twitter and rip them.

 

“I’m going to make a note that that coach is a mark.”