The Daily Briefing Friday, April 20, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

The schedule is out and we will have our big look at each team’s slate on Monday.  But here are a pair of looks at how the schedule came together.  First, Judy Bautista of NFL.com:

 

Each year, the National Football League wades through thousands of schedules — and closely scrutinizes hundreds of them — before finally settling on a winner. The chosen one of the 59,031 playable schedules spit out by computers since January this year could not interfere with massive concert tours by Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift or Beyoncé and Jay-Z. It couldn’t put too much strain on shared parking facilities with Major League Baseball stadiums or overlap with games played by college football teams or Major League Soccer. It could not give the Monday night game that falls on Christmas Eve to a home team that did not volunteer for it.

 

And this year, it could not play a game in Cincinnati that coincided with the celebration of Oktoberfest. Which takes place in September.

 

On Thursday night, the NFL unveiled the winner, which emerged only two days ago, after Commissioner Roger Goodell had questions about a few late-season Saturday games in the first schedule presented to him on Monday. While trying to answer those questions, the computer kept working and came up with the winner on Tuesday morning. Why was it so good? The schedulers thought all the television networks had good lineups — FOX had told the league that it should take some of their premier Sunday afternoon doubleheader games and move them to Thursday night, to boost that schedule, and they got their way, with four or five of them — and it minimized team penalties. Only three teams have three-game road trips (the Saints, Rams and Ravens). Only two (the Redskins and Panthers) have a bye in Week 4. No team has to play a road game after a road Monday night game.

 

And the league was able to grant a lot of wishes. The Steelers, who played on every holiday last year, don’t play on one this year. The Bucs wanted to host a Monday night game this year, so they would have a big stage when they put Tony Dungy into their ring of honor. They got it with a bonus — the game is against the Steelers, the team for which Dungy played. The Packers hoped to start their 100th season — they actually predate the rest of the league by one year — with a game against their oldest rival, the Chicago Bears. They will, and it will be the first game of the season on “Sunday Night Football.”

 

And no, the Bengals do not have to worry about a traffic nightmare by playing at the same time that Oktoberfest is going on in downtown Cincinnati in late September. The result is the Bengals start with three of their first four games on the road.

 

“We called all the clubs today and all the television networks today, and on balance, the networks were all pleased with their schedules, and the issues clubs have, nobody had any reaction like, ‘Oh my God, how could you do that to me?’ ” said Howard Katz, the NFL’s senior vice president of broadcasting and media operations. “Nobody had anything that created a serious objection. It was more like, ‘Ouch.’ We got a couple of ouches.”

 

The schedule is likely to be closely scrutinized throughout the season, particularly because the NFL is coming off consecutive years of a decline in ratings, and because FOX has taken over the “Thursday Night Football” package. In an attempt to be fan-friendlier, the league has inched up the start times of night games, with the hope that all games will end by 11:30 p.m. on the East Coast. Here are some things to stay awake for (and keep your eyes on) in 2018:

 

1) The kickoff game is a rematch, but not the one we all expected. The Minnesota Vikings — who lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game and, you might have heard, made the biggest free-agency splash in years by signing quarterback Kirk Cousins — are on the Eagles’ home schedule this year. No-brainer for the season opener, right? Nope. The NFL opted for a rematch of the Divisional Round game between the Eagles and Falcons, which is also a meeting of the two most recent NFC champions — and which, after all, was the more compelling playoff game last season. They saved Vikings at Eagles for Oct. 7 (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX), and the scheduling group actually looked at Carolina as a possibility, too. So how did they settle on Atlanta?

 

“It was how it fit into the whole schedule,” Katz said. “The computer was continually showing us Atlanta as the game to put in there that did the best job of solving the entirety of the schedule puzzle. Some years, we have a really strong preference, and we do everything based on that one assumption. But that openness allowed us to search more broadly.”

 

2) London will host games on three consecutive Sundays for the first time, and they are really good ones. The Seahawks and Raiders are in the prime slot of opening Tottenham Stadium, and the Eagles, the first defending champs to play in London, face the Jaguars, London’s home team coming off their surprising run to the AFC Championship Game. The other game — Titans vs. Chargers — features two winning teams. Stadium availability played a big part in putting the games in consecutive weeks, and the league’s international department clearly feels it can handle the challenge of staging three games in a row. But don’t discount the desire to keep interest high, with no lull between games, as a reason for this move, as the league thinks more and more about its global reach.

 

3) Deshaun Watson’s return factored into the Patriots’ season opener. The Texans might have the best chance to make the leap from last to first, as the Eagles did last season, because they are expected to get Watson and J.J. Watt back from injury, and they have the NFL’s easiest schedule, based on the 2017 records of their opponents. Six of their 16 regular-season games are against teams that won five or fewer games last season, and five games are against teams with new head coaches. But it is the season opener — Texans at Patriots — that is the potential ratings blockbuster, and the schedule department knows it.

 

“Before he got hurt, Deshaun Watson was maybe the most dynamic player in the league last year,” Katz said. “We sure as hell hope that it’s Deshaun Watson coming back against Tom Brady.”

 

Likewise for the Colts facing the Patriots on Thursday night in Week 5 — the league hopes Andrew Luck is back.

 

4) Jon Gruden is popular. The Raiders won just six games last season. No matter. Gruden’s return to the sideline after a decade in the broadcast booth has reignited interest in a team that, a year ago, was losing and struggling to excite fans who know the team will decamp for Las Vegas in a few years. The Raiders will play four times in prime time, including as part of the opening Monday-night doubleheader, plus be part of the aforementioned London game against the Seahawks.

 

And this from Peter King:

 

As with most things in the National Football League, “news” is a word to be taken very lightly. Take the annual release of the NFL schedule, which happens in a lull period before the NFL draft, designed to give some breathless coverage for the programming-hungry NFL Network. The channel was running a countdown clock in the corner of the screen on its Thursday TV shows, showing how many hours, minutes and seconds were left before the release of the schedule Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.

 

“Really, the process couldn’t be more boring,” the schedule czar, NFL vice president Howard Katz, said late Thursday inside the small, rectangular scheduling den, The Val Pinchbeck Room, on the fifth floor of the NFL offices on Park Avenue. “But there’s such an incredible fascination with the end result.”

 

Katz (above left, with his team Blake Jones, Mike North and Charlotte Carey) spent work days for the last four months in this room, poring over 59,031 possible schedules and picking the 58,911th, which was spit out of a computer Tuesday around 10:31 a.m. Usually, we have some fun, feisty or silly news (like the Pope’s visit to Philly in 2015 discombobulating the Eagles’ schedule) with the release of the NFL schedule, but this year it’s pretty sane, and pretty efficient. Last year, NFL teams had seven three-game road trips (which are hated); this year, only New Orleans, Baltimore and the Rams have three-gamers, and every one of those trips is less than 1,000 miles. In 2017, five Monday night road teams went on the road the following week. This year, none do.

 

The big edge for the league, and the reason this year’s schedule was so easy: Five of the recently bad teams got good by the end of 2017. Jacksonville made the AFC title game after years of stinking. The Rams got good, finally. The Niners ended the season red-hot, with an even hotter quarterback. Buffalo and Tennessee made the playoffs. All of a sudden, Katz and Co. didn’t have to lean on the Patriots and Steelers and Packers—and their marquee quarterbacks—to carry the league.

 

 “The fact that we had some new playoff teams from last year,” said North, rolling back and forth on a stability ball while poring over schedule data, “the fact that we had some teams playing well at the end of the year—teams like San Francisco—means when we go into the scheduling process, we don’t necessarily have to rely only on the traditional brands. Yes the Cowboys and the Patriots, and the Steelers and the Packers, and the Super Bowl champions are going to be on national television plenty. But knowing that, San Francisco is going to be a really interesting story, early in the season. The Oakland Raiders didn’t make the playoffs last year, but you know, we’re hopeful that they can bounce back.”

 

With Jon Gruden, who is raring to go.

 

“The new coach, of course, is kind of interesting. That’s at least a story early in the season. You know, the Minnesota Vikings, some of these quarterback moves, as the carousel spun, and we see where these guys have landed. A lot of these quarterbacks coming back from injury. How’s Deshaun Watson going to be Week 1? What’s Andrew Luck going to be like when he gets back? When’s Carson Wentz going to return? Those are all compelling stories, and being able to tell those stories, without having to rely only on the traditional brands that we’re used to, certainly gave Howard more options as he evaluated the potential television windows.”

 

Speaking of television windows, I can say with assurance that we’ve never seen a TV schedule on Thursday as potentially good as this one. Good reason for that. FOX blew out of the water its competition (which was losing money on the Thursday games, multiple reports said) to sign a three-year deal for the package. No doubt the NFL wanted to make the Thursday package stronger to boost FOX and to prove the $660-million-a-year deal is worth it. NBC and CBS thought that was excessive. We shall see.

 

But the league did FOX a major favor. Its 11 games look markedly better than the JV slate the NFL used to put on Thursdays. The matchups: Vikings at Rams, Colts at Patriots, Eagles at Giants, Broncos at Cards, Dolphins at Texans, Raiders at Niners, Panthers at Steelers, Packers at Seahawks, Saints at Cowboys, Jags at Titans, Chargers at Chiefs.

 

Think of just the quarterback matchups in a few of them. Cousins at Goff, Luck at Brady, Wentz/Foles at Manning, Carr at Garoppolo (and Gruden at Kyle Shanahan in one sidebar matchup, and the last Bay Area pro football match, possibly, in history), Cam Newton at Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers at Russell Wilson, Drew Brees at Dak Prescott. Incredible for a non-Sunday-night slate.

 

Said Katz: “FOX asked to take some of their quality Sunday afternoon games, doubleheader games, and put them on Thursday night. So here was the trick for us as a group: Could we populate the Thursday night FOX schedule with at least a handful of games that would otherwise be FOX doubleheader games? And still leave FOX with enough quality doubleheader games? And still be able to take a handful of FOX games and put them on CBS?”

 

That happened. FOX had to be popping champagne Tuesday night.

 

Each work day since Jan. 2—two days after the regular season ended—the team fed data from a complex series of factors into computers in the Cloud. And when the team would come in the next day, Carey would be responsible for collecting the schedules, and figuring which ones were the most attractive, and might pass muster with Katz, the veteran final gatekeeper. He’s the heir to the late Pinchbeck, who used to make the schedule by hand. Pinchbeck’s ancient corkboard is on the far wall (an homage to the legendary NFL broadcast/schedule czar in the Rozelle era) behind Carey’s desk. It’s hard to move in this tight room, maybe eight-feet-by-18-feet, with the shades permanently drawn for four months over the big window to the hall outside. Privacy’s the watchword here. The only league employee who can walk in without an invitation? Roger Goodell.

 

This year, Carey instituted another quality check to the schedule: “rest disparity.” Last year, I heard the Giants were not pleased with their schedule because they felt they were too often playing teams more rested than they were. In consecutive October weeks, they played teams coming off byes, for instance. The NFL calculated a figure for every team based on the number of combined days of rest for their foes or for the team, calculating, for instance, in those two weeks, the Giants were a minus-14 (minus-seven for each of the foes, Seattle and Denver, coming off byes). In all, by my math, the Giants were a league-worst minus-22 in “rest disparity.” So Carey factored that into every schedule this year … and this year, no team was worse than minus-11. (The Giants, by my count, are minus-seven in 2018.)

 

Carey would put each schedule into a program the NFL has called the analyzer, measuring for key games (all prime-time games, and network doubleheader games), rest disparity, three-game road trips, being home Sunday after Monday night road games, and smaller factors like making sure more doubleheader games made it into the Los Angeles and New York markets. There were other permanent stadium-block X factors, including mega-concerts like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and Jay Z/Beyonce running into the fall. (The Cowboys stadium, for instance, has dates for all three.) Then she’d print out the best schedules and give them, in order, to Katz at the start of his day.The group was pleasantly surprised at how smooth the process was this year—again, in some part because of traditionally weak teams getting stronger in 2017. On March 22, the first schedule Katz deemed “playable” was produced from one computer. “We had a lot more playable schedules this year than in the past,” Katz said.

 

Some years, the Katz team doesn’t find a playable schedule till a week before the slate is announced. This year, the team found 14.

 

One of the 13 playable schedules that was turned down by Katz failed in only one regard: It had the Steelers on the West Coast on Dec. 9, a Sunday night game at Oakland, followed by another road game the following Sunday. No good, Katz said. It’d be unfair for the Steelers to play on the West Coast on a Sunday night, get back to Pittsburgh at 7 a.m. or thereabouts on Monday, and then have to prepare to travel Saturday for a Sunday game. That’s what nixed that schedule. In this iteration—the winner schedule—Pittsburgh still plays at Oakland Dec. 9. But the Steelers are home the next Sunday. Thank heaven for small favors. The Steelers do get the late Sunday afternoon game. But it’s against the Patriots.

 

Four other things that caught my eye, and why the NFL did them:

 

• The Katz team wouldn’t say, but I’d be shocked if the Sunday night game on Dec. 2—San Francisco at Seattle—would have been on the schedule had Richard Sherman not flown south to the Niners in free agency. Notice, too, that the matchup is the one scheduled for Seattle, not Santa Clara. The NFL, and NBC, wants to take advantage of the emotion sure to be there when Sherman walks onto CenturyLink Field.

 

• Katz said the NFL gave consideration to six possible foes—Carolina, Atlanta, Minnesota, Washington, Dallas and the Giants—for the Eagles’ season-opener before settling on Atlanta. Sounded like he wanted to keep a Minnesota/Kirk Cousins appearance in his hip pocket for another prime-time game.

 

• Two compelling matchups for Monday night games: Jimmy Garoppolo in prime time at Lambeau Field against Aaron Rodgers on Oct. 15, and the Marcus Peters Revenge Bowl live from Mexico City on Nov. 19—with his new team, the Rams, against his old team, Kansas City. Both should be fun.

 

So not the compelling, weird storylines of some past Aprils. But I got the sense Thursday evening, after four months in these close quarters, Katz and his team were glad for a good schedule and little rancor.

 

Here is the combined Primetime schedule.  Lots of good games for all three packages.

 

Week 1

Thursday – Falcons at Eagles, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Sunday – Bears at Packers, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Jets at Lions, 7:10 PM ET (ESPN)

Monday – Rams at Raiders, 10:20 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 2

Thursday – Ravens at Bengals, 8:20 PM ET (NFLN)

Sunday – Giants at Cowboys, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Seahawks at Bears, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 3

Thursday – Jets at Browns, 8:20 PM ET (NFLN)

Sunday – Patriots at Lions, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Steelers at Buccaneers, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 4

Thursday – Vikings at Rams, 8:20 PM ET (Fox/NFLN)

Sunday – Ravens at Steelers, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Chiefs at Broncos, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 5

Thursday – Colts at Patriots, 8:20 PM ET (Fox/NFLN)

* Sunday – Cowboys at Texans, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Redskins at Saints, 8:15 pM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 6

Thursday – Eagles at Giants, 8:20 PM ET (Fox/NFLN)

* Sunday – Chiefs at Patriots, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – 49ers at Packers, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

(Actually like all three of the Week 6 games about equally)

 

Week 7

Thursday – Broncos at Cardinals, 8:20 PM ET (Fox/NFLN)

* Sunday – Rams at 49ers, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Giants at Falcons, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 8

Thursday – Dolphins at Texans, 8:20 PM ET (Fox/NFLN)

* Sunday – Saints at Vikings, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Patriots at Bills, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 9

Thursday – Raiders at 49ers, 8:20 PM ET (Fox/NFLN)

* Sunday – Packers at Patriots, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Titans at Cowboys, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 10

Thursday – Panthers at Steelers, 8:20 PM ET (Fox/NFLN)

* Sunday – Cowboys at Eagles, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Giants at 49ers, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 11

Thursday – Packers at Seahawks, 8:20 PM ET (Fox/NFLN)

* Sunday – Steelers at Jaguars, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Chiefs at Rams, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 12

Thursday – Bears at Lions, 12:30 PM ET (CBS)

Thursday – Redskins at Cowboys, 4:30 PM ET (Fox)

Thursday – Falcons at Saints, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

* Sunday – Packers at Vikings, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Titans at Texans, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 13

Thursday – Saints at Cowboys, 8:20 PM ET (Fox/NFLN)

* Sunday – 49ers at Seahawks, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Redskins at Eagles, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 14

Thursday – Jaguars at Titans, 8:20 PM ET (NFLN)

* Sunday – Steelers at Raiders, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Vikings at Seahawks, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 15

Thursday – Chargers at Chiefs, 8:20 PM ET (NFLN)

Saturday – Browns at Broncos, 4:30 PM ET/8:20 PM ET (NFLN)

Saturday – Texans at Jets, 4:30 PM ET/8:20 PM ET (NFLN)

* Sunday – Eagles at Rams, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Saints at Panthers, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 16

* Sunday – Chiefs at Seahawks, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

Monday – Broncos at Raiders, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

 

Week 17

Sunday – TBD, 8:20 PM ET (NBC)

 

The bottom line is that all three major packages have pretty good schedules, with NBC on Sunday night having the best. 

 

After Week 2, we don’t really see anything for ESPN to complain about.  Good scheduling in having the Cowboys, Steelers and Patriots (three big brand teams) playing against less branded teams (Titans, Buccaneers, Bills).

– – –

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com catches ESPN flunking basic math:

 

Now that the NFL schedule is out, people are going through and making game-by-game predictions for each team. That is an impossible task: No one can tell you with any degree of certainty today who’s going to win a game six months from now.

 

But if you’re going to try it at all, you ought to at least start from the premise that every game that one team wins, another team has to lose. Which means that, assuming there are no ties, NFL teams will go a combined 256-256 this season.

 

So when ESPN’s team of NFL writers compiled their predictions, it was amusing to see that they picked a total of 289 wins and only 223 losses. Yes, league-wide the Worldwide Leader thinks NFL teams are going to go 289-223, a .564 winning percentage in a world where the only certainty is a .500 winning percentage.

 

The problem isn’t that ESPN’s staffers went overboard with the best teams. In fact, the best record assigned to any team was 12-4, for the Rams. If anything the folks at ESPN might have understated the number of teams that will have particularly strong records.

 

No, the problem is that none of ESPN’s writers want to admit that the teams they cover stink. The worst record assigned to any team was 5-11 for the Browns. The next-worst was 6-10 for the Cardinals. And four teams are projected by ESPN to go 7-9. Other than that, every team is predicted by ESPN to go 8-8 or better. That is obviously way too rosy an outlook. Last year there was an 0-16 team, a 3-13 team, two 4-12 teams, four 5-11 teams and three 6-10 teams.

 

Overall, ESPN’s writers predict that the NFL standings will finish with one 12-4 team, seven 11-5 teams, six 10-6 teams, five 9-7 teams, seven 8-8 teams, four 7-9 teams, one 6-10 team and one 5-11 team. That’s not just overly optimistic, it’s mathematically impossible.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

There are signs that WR DEZ BRYANT could indeed end up with the Giants.  Jaclyn Hendricks in the New York Post:

 

Dez Bryant isn’t giving up his Giants pursuit.

 

Less than 24 hours after Big Blue cut veteran receiver Brandon Marshall, the former Cowboy posted a workout video to Instagram, training alongside wannabe teammate Odell Beckham Jr.

 

“This f–king industry is cutthroat, I’m not the same man In the LAb,” Bryant, 29, wrote in an expletive-filled post.

 

The polarizing receivers appear to have picked a calculating “Good Morning Football” segment from Thursday’s show with “Can the Cowboys be a playoff team without Dez Bryant?” playing in the background. Bryant also posted a shot of the broadcast on his Instagram story, writing, “oh okay.”

 

Following his release from the Cowboys last week after eight seasons in Dallas, Bryant has made it abundantly clear he yearns to play with the Giants’ receiver corps.

 

“Playing with him [Odell], Sterling [Shepard] … the tight end [Evan Engram], [QB Eli] Manning? Crazy. They draft [Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick]? That’d be crazy!” Bryant told CBS Sports this week.

 

However, Paul Schwartz, also of the Post writes in another story:

 

The Giants, of course, investigate everything and everyone, but they have no interest in Bryant.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

The Ravens have put the Saints in a bind over WR WILLIE SNEAD.  Darrin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Ravens aren’t finished trying to rebuild their receiving corps.

 

According to multiple reports, which PFT has confirmed, the Ravens have signed Saints restricted free agent Willie Snead to a two-year offer sheet worth up to $10.4 million.

 

The Saints have five days to match it, though it seems unlikely they would.

 

The Saints signed Bears RFA Cameron Meredith to join a group including Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn, which wouldn’t seem to leave much room for Snead at any price. They also brought back Brandon Coleman.

 

The Ravens have churned the position, getting rid of Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, and Michael Campanaro, and bringing in free agents Michael Crabtree and John Brown.

 

Snead caught just eight passes last year, but was productive his first two years with the Saints, catching 69 and 72 passes. A three-game suspension last year left him out of the game plan early, but the Ravens obviously think he can return to form.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

This from Albert Breer:

 

One of the strongest player/team connections I’ve heard over the past two weeks has linked Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds to the 49ers. Which probably means it’s not happening. Edmunds, athletically, could easily slide into the KJ Wright role in San Francisco’s Seattle-style defense, and he fits the bill personality-wise, too, after what just went down with Reuben Foster. “They need to go safe,” said one rival exec. “And this kid is buttoned up, a great kid who’d be a very good pick for them.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

The Broncos say they have not made a decision on picking up the 5th year option of DE SHANE RAY.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

See NEW ORLEANS for details on Baltimore’s pursuit of WR WILLIE SNEAD.

 

 

CLEVELAND

GM John Dorsey is neutral on the importance of hand size in presidents, but he’s all in on it being vital for a QB.  More fuel for the QB JOSH ALLEN with the first pick frenzy.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Browns general manager John Dorsey didn’t hesitate when asked what he’s looking for in an AFC North quarterback.

 

“You all laugh at me when I say it, but I think hand size is important,” he said during his predraft press conference Thursday. “With that being said, hand size in November and December, when it’s snowing, raining, it’s getting muddy. We all know the elements in Cleveland are going to play a role.”

 

If hand size were the sole criteria, Josh Allen would be the Browns’ new franchise quarterback come Thursday night at 8 p.m. His hand measured 10 1/8 — the only 10-plus mark among the top QBs at the NFL Combine.

 

What’s more, Dorsey acknowledged that the Browns have to make sure that Sam Darnold, who fumbled the ball 21 times in 24 starts at USC, has adequate hand size to hang on in AFC North Stadiums down the stretch. His hand measured 9 3/8, which Browns coach Hue Jackson said at the combine was sufficient.

 

“You worry about that sometimes,” said Dorsey. “So hand size (is important).”

 

But was this a smokescreen? An attempt to throw teams off the Darnold scent?

 

He went on to say that Darnold’s fumbling isn’t hard to fix.

 

“I don’t think it is,” said Dorsey. “(But) I think you have to sit and evaluate how he handles the ball, what are the cause of those fumbles? Evaluate that on a case-by-case basis.”

 

Baker Mayfield’s hand came in at 9 1/4 and Josh Rosen 9 7/8.

 

It should be noted that the two QBs Mayfield is most often compared to because of they’re all around 6-foot  — Drew Brees and Russell Wilson — both have unusually large hands for their size. Both measured at 10 1/4 at the NFL Combine. Brett Favre — whom Mayfield has also been compared to and who is also on the shorter side at 6-2 — has 10-inch-plus hands.

 

Dorsey says ‘all options’ open at No. 4 including Barkley or a trade

 

One NFL talent evaluator told cleveland.com it’s possible the shorter QBs may have been able to overcome their height challenge because of the larger hands.

 

Of course, hand size isn’t everything, and Dorsey rattled off more criteria for his QB when asked if Allen’s accuracy or Darnold’s turnovers are a bigger deal to the staff.

 

“Seriously, that sounds like a trick question,” he said. “We’re not doing a trick question here. The only thing I really care about is do guys win? Does he have accuracy? Does he have a strong arm? Can he throw the ball in the red zone in tight windows? Can he drive the ball? At the end of the game, does he win? That’s what I look for.”

– – –

 

Multiple reports say Dorsey will draft Allen, including one by SI’s Peter King, who cited “Friend of Dorsey.”

“First off, who is friend of Dorsey?” Dorsey said. “Second of all, I’m going to tell y’all, I go black at this time of year. For a month, I don’t listen to radio, I don’t watch TV and I don’t pick up the newspaper.”

 

Dorsey planned to meet with the offensive staff on Friday afternoon, and Jackson said some staffers will state their case and try to win their “why.” By the end of the weekend, they’ll have a better idea of who they want at No. 1 overall.

 

But with interest in both the No. 1 and No. 4 picks, don’t expect Dorsey to show his hand until it’s time to turn in the card on Thursday night.

 

Appearing on Colin Cowherd’s radio show, Joel Klatt offered a devastating takedown of the idea of taking Allen first. It’s worth a listen.

 

Some highlights:

 

“On the field, there really is not an argument for Josh Allen to be taken over Sam Darnold, or for that matter Baker Mayfield or Josh Rosen.”

 

Klatt says that Mock Drafts that send Allen are based on “sourcing” (i.e. anticipating what the Browns will do), instead of “evaluation” (i.e. what the Browns should do).

 

“I happen to think that Josh Allen is a pretty clear fourth among the top quarterbacks.  Now clearly there is some giftedness, but when was a player taken first overall who did not dominate at any point in college?  You can’t point at a game in which Josh Allen was the dominant factor.”

 

“Allen is clearly a beautiful looking passer of the football, the arm strength is clear, he moves well…but he does not anticipate windows and he’s not very accurate.”

 

“If your going to be the number one overall pick don’t you think you should be all-conference.  Josh Allen was only honorable mention in the Mountain West.  Nick Stevens from Colorado State and Brett Rypien from Boise State were the all-conference picks in the voting.”

 

“I would take Lamar Jackson over Josh Allen candidly.  His development as a passer has been pretty good.  Josh Allen has the biggest ‘bust factor’ of any of these quarterbacks.”

 

We give credit to Klatt for not dumping on the Mountain West, but Allen was an honorable mention choice in a sub Power 5 conference.  And it is not like the players chosen ahead of him were brilliant underclassmen who we’ll hear from in future drafts.  Stevens of CSU is a red-shirt senior.  Rypien has another year left, so maybe in his case, but he only threw 14 TD passes last year and still beat out Allen.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The Texans new GM says there is no change in the team’s policy of not negotiating during the season.  John McClain in the Houston Chronicle:

 

Under general manager Brian Gaine, the Texans’ philosophy on signing players to contract extensions or new deals will not change.

 

Like his predecessor, Rick Smith, Gaine doesn’t plan to negotiate contracts during regular season. That means extensions for linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Benardrick McKinney must get done before regular season begins Sept. 9 at New England.

 

“I would much prefer contracts be done before the season starts,” Gaine said recently. “When the season starts, we want our players and coaches to be focused on football performance and not the business part of it.

 

Can you imagine a happier place on earth than Disneyland? If you ask former Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, that place is in the works. He says the theme parks that he will create will be the happiest places in the world. He says that building a

 

“The preparation you go through Monday through Saturday to get ready to play on Sunday, there’s a large emphasis on focus, intensity and dedication to get ready to play (so) we would much prefer those deals to be done before we start the season. Our intent is exclusively on winning games and not the business side.

 

“We try to do our contracts consistently so there’s a standardized format of how we do contracts, how we pay players and how we structure those contracts. As it relates to executing deals with players and their representatives, I think it’s the best business practice to do it before we get to the regular season.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Albert Breer with some reportage on TOM BRADY that leads to an open door for retirement.

First, the Patriots have done their homework on quarterbacks in the draft. (A couple teams I talked to had heard Washington State’s Luke Falk was a non-first round player to watch with them.) That should be expected, since Jimmy Garoppolo’s gone, and with him went any semblance of a succession plan. Second, from what I’ve heard, Brady has made an effort to unplug this offseason. That doesn’t mean he’s straying from his diet or his training, but the focus has been less on football than in the past. A smoking gun? The trip he made to Qatar, which was to benefit his charity, was planned well in advance, and the return flight was scheduled for, and went out Monday night. That was the first day of the team’s offseason program, and it’s fair to say that he probably wouldn’t have set his plans that way in the recent past (at least since he moved his home base from Los Angeles to suburban Boston), particularly considering the optics coming out of the tumultuous season the Patriots did. Also, he brought filmmaker Gotham Chopra, but not trainer Alex Guerrero on the trip, and focused his time there on his family.

 

Now, the questions will be what Brady does when Phase II of the program starts April 30. That’s when on-field work begins. For now, there’s uncertainty in the air, and the breadcrumbs that Brady himself left at the end of Tom vs. Time documentary and on social media during the Qatar trip. And we do have this, the last thing he said in the series that Chopra produced: “It’s a big commitment. I’m sitting here three days after the year getting my Achilles worked on, and my thumb, and you go, ‘What are we doing this for? Who are we doing this for? Why are we doing this?’ You gotta have answers to those questions, and they have to be with a lot of conviction. When you lose your conviction, you probably should be doing something else.”

 

That is significantly different than what we’ve heard for years—that he wants to play into his mid-40s. And he could shut all this talk down very easily. That he hasn’t is notable too.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

You know how the NFL sometimes has some real clunky games on Saturdays in December?  They are trying something different this year for Week 16.  From Peter King:

 

• The NFL will play two Saturday games in Week 16—but they haven’t been announced yet. The league has told eight teams playing four games in Week 16 that two of those games could switch to Saturday. The four games: Jacksonville at Miami, New York Giants at Indianapolis, Washington at Tennessee, and Baltimore at the Los Angeles Chargers. The NFL will designate after Week 8, on or about Oct. 30, for two of those four games to be played at 4:30 p.m. ET and 8:20 p.m. ET on Saturday, Dec. 22. Why? Katz: “We want to try to avoid putting games in national windows with no playoff implication. This give us a better chance.”

 

Are these NFL Network games – or will one be on FOX?

 

The NFL went the conventional way to pick two games for Week 15 (all with AFC teams) –  Cleveland at Denver and Houston at the New York Jets.

 

Mike Florio says the Saturday Flex could extend to Monday night in the next deal:

 

The 2018 schedule includes the inevitable flexing of two late-season Sunday games to Saturday. This is not, in my own personal view uninfluenced by anything I’ve heard or not heard from anyone at NBC, an insignificant development.

 

For the first time ever (except in the event of inclement weather and/or collapsing domes and/or inclement weather leading to collapsing domes) the NFL will flex a game from one day to another. When the flexing concept first debuted in 2006 as one of the key features of the then-new Sunday Night Football on NBC, fans clamored for similar flexibility as to the oft-substandard (especially in November and December, when teams that were expected to be very good had become very bad) Monday night slate. Consistently, the league has said that for logistical reasons games can’t be flexed from Sunday to Monday and, in turn, from Monday to Sunday.

 

Perhaps now they can. If it can be done from Sunday to Saturday, it can be done from Sunday to Monday.

 

It’s a powerful signal for the league to send to all networks as the Monday Night Football contract creeps toward expiration. Raising the stakes in this regard is the reality that the Monday contract expires after the 2021 season, a year before all of the other broadcast deals terminate. So Monday night will be in play sooner, and a network that currently has one NFL package could try to land MNF, too. Having a flex component makes the property even more attractive.

 

With ESPN currently paying $1.9 billion per year and quite possibly unwilling/unable to re-up at the same price or greater, it becomes easier to justify the money if there’s a way to ensure that a crappy game can be replaced late in the year with a less crappy game. And the uncertainty regarding the possibility of a Sunday game suddenly becoming a Monday game could be managed by flagging in advance the Plan B (and maybe Plan C) games that would, if necessary, replace a given Monday night game.

 

That’s what makes the NFL’s decision to pick four Sunday games from which two will be flexed to Saturday in Week 16 even more intriguing. In future years, the NFL could pigeonhole a game for Monday Night Football and designate one or two others that could take its place. Better yet, the NFL could identify two or three possibilities for the last-season Monday night assignment in April without parking one in the spot tentatively. This would allow as much certainty and advance as possible for the teams involved and the fans who eventually would find themselves at a given stadium in a given city a day later than planned.

 

Bottom line: If the NFL’s Saturday flex was aimed at sending a message about future Mondays, that’s brilliant. If it was inadvertent, that’s the equivalent of discovering plutonium by accident.

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com on why CB MIKE HUGHES left North Carolina – and how it might influence his draft stock:

 

Every year, a talented player begins to slip on draft night and people on the outside begin to wonder why.

 

Generally, it’s because the people on the inside are privy to information about character or injury concerns that aren’t widely known to the general public.

 

That was the case last year with Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster (a top-five talent who slid to the back of the first round and has since been arrested for three felony counts of domestic violence). But according to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, there doesn’t appear to be a case that dramatic this year, though there are some top prospects who have tried to state their cases with teams.

 

One example is Central Florida cornerback Mike Hughes. He has told teams that he reason he left North Carolina two years ago was a sexual assault allegation that did not lead to criminal charges.

 

Considering the current climate, teams are reasonably concerned about that, but the consensus seems to be that teams believe Hughes’ version of events. That doesn’t there won’t be an outcry if his accuser comes forward, but he’s getting in front of the story by telling his side.

 

Hughes told Pelissero that he has text messages and a female witness to validate his version. There were no charges filed because of insufficient evidence. There was an initial Title IX hearing at UNC about the case, after which he decided it was in his best interest to change scenery, going to a junior college and then Central Florida.

 

“Obviously, I have to tell them everything that happened and everything that went into why I left and also what I’ve learned from it,” Hughes said. “What I tell teams is that they won’t have any issues with me if they draft me. I haven’t had any problems with the law or anything since I was at North Carolina.”

 

He did serve a one-game suspension in 2015 for a misdemeanor assault charge (which was dropped after he did community service).

 

Hughes is generally considered to be a late-first to early-second-round prospect, and it will be interesting to see how the revelation changes that, if at all.

– – –

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com with something to keep in mind vis a vis QB JOSH ROSEN:

 

Coaching connections matter this time of year, and so the close relationships ex-UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, now a Rams assistant, has with Jets OC Jeremy Bates and Dolphins coach Adam Gase are important. For better or worse, Bates and Gase are getting the goods on Josh Rosen.

 

And this Breer not about the draft in general:

 

Good news/bad news on the draft class in general. Good news: There’s depth that will lead to better-than-usual quality into the fourth round. Bad news: This group isn’t stocked with blue-chippers. There’s a cliff somewhere in the teens that has plenty of teams looking at picks in the 20s as de facto second-rounders. One NFL exec explained it like this: “(Picks) 20 and 55 may wind up being the same. The guy in the last third of the first round, you might be paying a first-round premium on him and he’s no different than the guy at 35 to 40. And those guys in the last third of first round, top half of the second, they’re the same not only in ability but value of their role in the game.” This dynamic also could make it a little harder for Buffalo, which has the 22nd pick, to trade up.

 

– – –

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com offers today’s Mock Draft:

 

With nine days to go until teams are officially on the clock, here’s my third mock of the 2018 NFL Draft.

 

1 – CLEVELAND

Sam Darnold – QB, USC

There’s been a lot of talk around the league about Josh Allen being the pick here, but I still believe Darnold is the safer choice and the right choice.

 

2 – NY GIANTS

Saquon Barkley – RB, Penn State

If the Giants are indeed determined to land a future Pro Football Hall of Famer — GM Dave Gettleman has said he’s looking for a gold-jacket guy at No. 2 — I believe Barkley is the best choice with this pick.

 

3 – NY JETS

Baker Mayfield – QB, Oklahoma

Mayfield has the presence and accuracy the Jets are looking for at the QB position.

 

4 – CLEVELAND

Bradley Chubb – DE, N.C. State

I wouldn’t be shocked if the Browns took a cornerback here, but Chubb is too good to pass up. The lack of depth at edge rusher in this draft makes him the logical choice.

 

5 – DENVER

Josh Allen – QB, Wyoming

In this scenario, I could see the Broncos trading out of this spot, but if they stay at No. 5, Allen fits the John Elway mold at QB.

 

6 – INDIANAPOLIS

Denzel Ward – CB, Ohio State

The Colts’ roster is in terrible shape and that makes it tough to lock in on what they will do here. Ward is the top cover cornerback in the draft and would give Indy a nice duo at the position with Quincy Wilson.

 

7 – TAMPA BAY

Quenton Nelson – OG, Notre Dame

The Bucs need to add more pieces around Jameis Winston. Nelson would be a huge asset in both the running and passing game.

 

8 – CHICAGO

Tremaine Edmunds – LB, Virginia Tech

Edmunds is starting to gain a lot of steam when you talk to teams around the league. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were off the board before Chicago picks.

 

9 – SAN FRANCISCO

Roquan Smith – LB, Georgia

With the 49ers stating that Reuben Foster’s status with the team is under “great scrutiny” in the wake of the domestic violence charges filed against him, picking Smith should be an easy decision for GM John Lynch.

 

10 – OAKLAND

Minkah Fitzpatrick – DB, Alabama

Oakland is desperate for playmakers in the back end. Fitzpatrick has an ideal combination of versatility, ball skills and intelligence.

 

11 – MIAMI

Vita Vea – DT, Washington

Josh Rosen could be the pick here, but Vea fits a more urgent need and he would make an immediate impact.

 

12 – BUFFALO

Josh Rosen – QB, UCLA

There’s a good chance the Bills will have to trade in front of Miami to ensure they land one of the top four signal-callers, but in this scenario, one of them falls right into their lap.

 

13 – WASHINGTON

Derrius Guice – RB, LSU

This is a little early for Guice to be picked, but the Redskins lack a dynamic presence at RB and he would be a perfect fit in this offense.

 

14 – GREEN BAY

Marcus Davenport – OLB, UTSA

The Packers need to add some punch to their edge-rush group. Davenport has impressive raw tools.

 

15 – ARIZONA

Calvin Ridley – WR, Alabama

If the Cardinals don’t trade up for a quarterback, they need to land a playmaker at wideout or in the secondary with this pick. Ridley is the top guy at his position.

 

16 – BALTIMORE

Hayden Hurst – TE, South Carolina

I think the Ravens would be looking to trade back in this scenario. Hurst is a good fit for this offense, but they can probably land him 5-7 spots lower in Round 1.

 

17 – LA CHARGERS

Derwin James – S, Florida State

This would be a dream pick for the Chargers. James is a top-10 talent in this draft and a perfect scheme fit.

 

18 – SEATTLE

Harold Landry – OLB, Boston College

Landry isn’t the most physical edge defender, but he has natural pass-rushing skills.

 

19 – DALLAS

Courtland Sutton – WR, SMU

Sutton is well-liked in personnel departments around the league and the Cowboys have a pressing need at wide receiver.

 

20 – DETROIT

Will Hernandez – OG, UTEP

I love the way Hernandez plays the game. His physical, nasty style will fit well with the new coaching staff in Detroit.

 

21 – CINCINNATI

Mike McGlinchey – OT, Notre Dame

The Bengals already added one talented offensive tackle in the offseason (Cordy Glenn), but they could use another one. McGlinchey is a Day One starter on the right side.

 

22 – BUFFALO

Leighton Vander Esch – LB, Boise State

Vander Esch has the size, athleticism and versatility to be a playmaker in the Bills’ front seven.

 

23 – NEW ENGLAND

Rashaan Evans – LB, Alabama

Evans would team up with Dont’a Hightower to give the Patriots two very explosive linebackers that can play play inside or outside.

 

24 – CAROLINA

Mike Hughes – CB, UCF

Hughes didn’t test all that well at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he plays plenty fast and adds value in the return game.

 

25 – TENNESSEE

James Daniels – C, Iowa

Daniels is the best center in the draft and I believe he could handle any of the three interior positions.

 

26 – ATLANTA

Taven Bryan – DT, Florida

Bryan is ultra-twitched up and he’s exactly what the Falcons are looking for in their defense. There’s a chance he could go much earlier than this spot, but if he’s still on the board, I can’t see the Falcons going in another direction.

 

27 – NEW ORLEANS

Dallas Goedert – TE, South Dakota State

The Saints’ offense goes to a whole new level when they have a playmaking tight end on the roster. Goedert has tremendous size and athleticism, which is a huge asset in the red zone.

 

28 – PITTSBURGH

Jaire Alexander – CB, Louisville

I love Alexander’s swag and ball skills. He can play inside or outside and he’ll be ready to start from Day One.

 

29 – JACKSONVILLE

D.J. Chark – WR, LSU

This pick might surprise some people, but I love Chark’s explosiveness and ability to track the ball down the field. He complements the run game beautifully.

 

30 – MINNESOTA

Isaiah Wynn – OG, Georgia

The Vikings need more help for the offensive line and Wynn is incredibly consistent on tape.

 

31 – NEW ENGLAND

Kolton Miller – OT, UCLA

The Patriots don’t often draft offensive linemen in the first round, but they have a big hole to fill at the tackle position following the departure of Nate Solder.

 

32 – PHILADELPHIA

Sony Michel – RB, Georgia

The Eagles have the luxury of taking the best available player at this spot. Michel would be a dynamic playmaker in this offensive system.