The Daily Briefing Monday, April 9, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Peter King on the recent trend of teams seeming to choose fonts for their uniform numbers based on how hard to read they are:

 

I think I don’t understand why uniform numbers can’t be simple. Just like I never understood why the Bucs made the numbers on their new uniforms unintelligible, I don’t get Tennessee’s new digits either. Why can’t a 2 look like a 2, and not a Z? Why make numbers make you do a triple-take?

 

The only reason for a number to be on a uniform, in multiple places, is to help people identify the player.  Treating the numbers as a design element is a disservice.

– – –

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com notes that the law of averages over history says that many, if not most, of the teams drafting a QB high will blunder on April 26:

 

With possibly four quarterbacks taken in the first five picks and five (maybe six) quarterbacks taken in the first 32 selections, each of the teams that writes the name of a quarterback on a first-round draft card will believe that they are getting a franchise-changing guy. In the end, up to half (or more) could be dead wrong.

 

History tells us that quarterbacks have a ceiling that can’t be determined until they’re in the NFL and either busting through it or bumping against it. Most if not all incoming players have flaws, especially the quarterbacks.

 

Ultimately, success or failure will hinge not only on the ability of the player to adjust to the next level but also on factors beyond his control, such as the ability of his coaching staff at the next level to get the most out of him. Five quarterbacks went in round one 19 years ago, with Tim Couch to the Browns at No. 1, Donovan McNabb to the Eagles at No. 2, Akili Smith to the Bengals at No. 3, Daunte Culpepper to the Vikings at No. 11, and Cade McNown to the Bears at No. 12. They collectively failed more than they thrived.

 

McNabb was the best of the bunch, a fringe Hall of Famer who’ll maybe get in years from now via the Seniors Committee. Culpepper had some very good moments (including a stellar 2004 season), but a serious knee injury in 2005 derailed his career. The rest — Couch, Smith, and McNown — had largely disastrous NFL careers. Combined, the not-so-Fab Five won a total of zero Super Bowls.

 

For Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson, it’s impossible to know who’ll thrive and who’ll fail. Where they end up will be a major factor, whether it relates to quality of coaching, the manner in which personalities mesh, and/or the overall stability of the organization. The teams that take the wrong guys (or who fail to develop a guy who otherwise would have done well) will have to deal with the disappointment of swinging and missing, along with the regret that comes from leaving star players on the board, like the Browns and Bengals did in 199 with the likes of Edgerrin James, Torry Holt, and Champ Bailey.

 

This year, one or more teams will be passing on the likes of Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, and Minkah Fitzpatrick for a quarterback who quite possibly will fail. Or maybe they’ll simply take the wrong quarterback, like the Browns did in 1999 by taking Couch over McNabb. (Then again, maybe McNabb would have been Couch under Chirs Palmer and his successors in Cleveland, and Couch would have been McNabb under Andy Reid in Philly.)

 

Regardless, as the hype builds for the 2018 draft, it’s important to remember that we don’t know — and won’t know — which of the quarterbacks expected to be picked in round one will be worth a damn until enough time passes to allow their skills, abilities, weaknesses, and achievements to be fully evaluated. For those teams who take quarterbacks at the top of the draft and fail, the good news is that they’ll soon be in position to try it again.

 

In the last 20 drafts, a total of 55 QBs have been selected in the first row.  We decided to boldface those who clearly justified the pick – giving the benefit of the doubt where possible.  Clear busts, we put in red. Those somewhere in-between, neither clear success or outright failure – we left alone.

 

 

1998 to 2017 Draft

Season

Rnd

Pick

Overall

Team

Player

Pos

College

2016

 

 

1

Los Angeles Rams

Jared Goff

 

California

2015

 

 

1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jameis Winston

 

Florida State

2012

 

 

1

Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck

 

Stanford

2011

 

 

1

Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton

 

Auburn

2010

 

 

1

St. Louis Rams

Sam Bradford

 

Oklahoma

2009

 

 

1

Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford

 

Georgia

2007

 

 

1

Oakland Raiders

JaMarcus Russell

 

LSU

2005

 

 

1

San Francisco 49ers

Alex Smith

 

Utah

2004

 

 

1

San Diego Chargers

Eli Manning

 

Mississippi

2003

 

 

1

Cincinnati Bengals

Carson Palmer

 

USC

2002

 

 

1

Houston Texans

David Carr

 

Fresno State

2001

 

 

1

Atlanta Falcons

Mike Vick

 

Virginia Tech

1999

 

 

1

Cleveland Browns

Tim Couch

 

Kentucky

1998

 

 

1

Indianapolis Colts

Peyton Manning

 

Tennessee

2017

 

 

2

Chicago Bears

Mitchell Trubisky

 

North Carolina

2016

 

 

2

Philadelphia Eagles

Carson Wentz

 

North Dakota State

2015

 

 

2

Tennessee Titans

Marcus Mariota

 

Oregon

2012

 

 

2

Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III

 

Baylor

1999

 

 

2

Philadelphia Eagles

Donovan McNabb

 

Syracuse

1998

 

 

2

San Diego Chargers

Ryan Leaf

 

Washington State

2014

 

 

3

Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles

 

UCF

2008

 

 

3

Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan

 

Boston College

2006

 

 

3

Tennessee Titans

Vince Young

 

Texas

2002

 

 

3

Detroit Lions

Joey Harrington

 

Oregon

1999

 

 

3

Cincinnati Bengals

Akili Smith

 

Oregon

2004

 

 

4

New York Giants

Philip Rivers

 

North Carolina State

2009

 

 

5

New York Jets

Mark Sanchez

 

USC

2003

 

 

7

Jacksonville Jaguars

Byron Leftwich

 

Marshall

2012

 

 

8

Miami Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill

 

Texas A&M

2011

 

 

8

Tennessee Titans

Jake Locker

 

Washington

2017

 

 

10

Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes II

 

Texas Tech

2011

 

 

10

Jacksonville Jaguars

Blaine Gabbert

 

Missouri

2006

 

 

10

Arizona Cardinals

Matt Leinart

 

USC

2006

 

 

11

Denver Broncos

Jay Cutler

 

Vanderbilt

2004

 

 

11

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger

 

Miami (OH)

1999

 

 

11

Minnesota Vikings

Daunte Culpepper

 

UCF

2017

 

 

12

Houston Texans

Deshaun Watson

 

Clemson

2011

 

 

12

Minnesota Vikings

Christian Ponder

 

Florida State

1999

 

 

12

Chicago Bears

Cade McNown

 

UCLA

2013

 

 

16

Buffalo Bills

EJ Manuel

 

Florida State

2009

 

 

17

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Josh Freeman

 

Kansas State

2008

 

 

18

Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco

 

Delaware

2000

 

 

18

New York Jets

Chad Pennington

 

Marshall

2003

 

 

19

Baltimore Ravens

Kyle Boller

 

California

2014

 

 

22

Cleveland Browns

Johnny Manziel

 

Texas A&M

2012

 

 

22

Cleveland Browns

Brandon Weeden

 

Oklahoma State

2007

 

 

22

Cleveland Browns

Brady Quinn

 

Notre Dame

2004

 

 

22

Buffalo Bills

J.P. Losman

 

Tulane

2003

 

 

22

Chicago Bears

Rex Grossman

 

Florida

2005

 

 

24

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers

 

California

2010

 

 

25

Denver Broncos

Tim Tebow

 

Florida

2005

 

 

25

Washington Redskins

Jason Campbell

 

Auburn

2016

 

 

26

Denver Broncos

Paxton Lynch

 

Memphis

2014

 

 

32

Minnesota Vikings

Teddy Bridgewater

 

Louisville

2002

 

 

32

Washington Redskins

Patrick Ramsey

 

Tulane

 

So we have 21 good to great picks, 15 bad picks and 19 in the middle. 

 

You surely could disagree on some, Grossman started a Super Bowl for the team that drafted him, should he be boldfaced?  Does David Carr deserve red?  The Vikings were pleased with Bridgewater until his accident.  You could go on.  But the bottom line seems to be it is a one-third, one-third, one-third deals historically.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

For all the talk and rumors, the talk now is that WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. will dutifully report to the Giants’ offseason workout program this week.  Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com:

 

Odell Beckham Jr. is expected to be in attendance Monday for the start of the New York Giants’ offseason workout program, the wide receiver told ESPN’s Josina Anderson.

 

Beckham is scheduled to fly from Los Angeles to New Jersey later Sunday. He plans to be at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center on Monday to “check in, work out in the gym and meet with some people.”

 

It’s a sign of solidarity as new coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman attempt to reshape the team’s culture. While Beckham still desires a new contract, it provides the Giants a chance to look in person at the ankle he shattered in October and shows that Beckham is willing to buy into the new program.

 

The hope is that this leads to more serious contract negotiations in the near future after the Giants left the door open for a trade two weeks ago at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Florida.

 

Offseason workouts are voluntary under the collective bargaining agreement. Beckham and Olivier Vernon weren’t around for much of the team’s offseason workout program last year. Vernon is also expected to attend this year with the team learning new offensive and defensive schemes under a new coaching staff.

– – –

Exactly where S LANDON COLLINS buried his hatchet remains unclear, but he and ELI APPLE are moving on.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

New Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, defensive coordinator James Bettcher and General Manager Dave Gettleman have all talked about giving cornerback Eli Apple a clean slate after a rough 2017 season.

 

It appears that the teammate who called Apple a “cancer” as that season was coming to an end is willing to do the same thing. Safety Landon Collins apologized for making that comment, which came after Collins had made previous calls for Apple to grow up during a season that saw the 2016 first-round pick benched and suspended by the team at various points.

 

Collins was back at work with the rest of the team with the offseason program starting on Monday and sang a different tune about Apple. According to multiple reporters, Collins said he’s “buried the hatchet” with Apple and is “glad” to have him back because the team needs him at cornerback.

 

With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie gone from a group fronted by Janoris Jenkins, it’s hard to argue with that assessment of Apple’s place with the Giants heading into the 2018 season.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

Coach Dirk Koetter hints at Tampa Bay’s draft priorities.  Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times:

 

The pro days are over and the NFL draft still is a few weeks away. The next couple of weeks are used for private workouts and scheduling the 30 in-house visits with potential picks.

 

Not much can be gleaned by which players are invited to One Buc Place. Obviously, the Bucs have interest in all the top non-quarterbacks in the draft — Penn State RB Saquon Barkley, North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson.

 

Chubb, Nelson, Washington DT Vita Vea, Florida State S Derwin James, Louisville CB Jaire Alexander and LSU CB Donte Jackson were among the players making pre-draft visits to the Bucs this week.

 

Aside from re-signing 35-year-old veteran Brent Grimes to a one-year contract, the Bucs haven’t really addressed their cornerback situation. Ryan Smith, who moved back from safety in his second pro season, started 10 games and had 62 tackles, but gave up a lot of yards and had no interceptions.

 

Vernon Hargreaves seems relegated to playing slot corner, which gets him on the field about 66 percent of the time when teams go to three receivers.

 

“We said at the end of the year, the No. 1 thing we needed to do was get Brent Grimes back and we did that,” said Bucs coach Dirk Koetter. “And then, also, Vernon Hargreaves finished the year on (injured reserve). When you have those two guys coming back plus the experience that Ryan Smith’s got and Justin Evans coming back at safety — all that said, now that the defensive line has had so many additions, I would think secondary is logical to think that would be an area of target in the draft.

 

“And again, I think it’s a strong group in the secondary in this year’s draft class. I know I’ve watched a bunch of guys and there’s a lot of guys I like.”

The Bucs currently do not have a third-round pick, having dealt it to the Giants for pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. So if they go another direction at No. 7 overall, the second-round choice could well be a cornerback.

 

It also sounds to the DB as if Tampa Bay would be a natural target for a team like the Saints, Patriots or Chargers who might want to move up to grab the last remaining top four QB, should one survive to 7.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com with a long look at how it is JIMMY GAROPPOLO and not KIRK COUSINS who is the 49ers franchise QB:

 

The final five weeks of the 2017 NFL season offered overwhelming evidence of the profound impact quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had on the San Francisco 49ers. What wasn’t as apparent was just how far that effect would reach.

 

Now, more than three months removed from the end of the season and about a month since the start of free agency, the NFL’s veteran-quarterback carousel has stopped spinning. In San Francisco, the ride reached its conclusion in a way that was difficult, although not impossible, to envision a year ago at this time. And for quarterbacks Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins, the outcome probably wasn’t what they originally expected, either.

 

The Niners believe they have their franchise quarterback in Garoppolo and backed that up with what was then a record-setting contract. Cousins followed suit in landing with the Minnesota Vikings, a team that wasn’t connected to him for most of his ongoing saga with the Washington Redskins.

 

In an alternate, albeit realistic, universe, Cousins would have been reunited with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, and Garoppolo would likely have either been traded elsewhere or hit the market and found himself in a bidding war akin to the one Cousins just sorted through.

 

Speaking to ESPN’s Adam Schefter on his podcast, Shanahan offered some insight into his ties to Cousins — Shanahan was the Redskins’ offensive coordinator during the quarterback’s first two NFL seasons — and how Garoppolo altered the Niners’ seemingly preordained plans.

 

 “I think everyone knows how I feel about Kirk,” Shanahan said. “I think most of the league feels that way. … I think anybody in free agency, of anyone who needed a quarterback, if they thought they had a chance at Kirk, I’m pretty sure every team in the league would have gone for him.”

 

In a league in which the “what if” game is easy to play, the Niners-Cousins scenario was anything but far-fetched. As far back as the 2017 owners meetings, the Niners were already planning to wait until 2018 to find their franchise quarterback. They had signed veteran Brian Hoyer as a placeholder and had no intention of using their No. 2 overall pick on a top quarterback such as Mitchell Trubisky or Deshaun Watson.

 

No, the Niners had eyes for Cousins, and although they were well aware there was no guarantee he’d hit the open market, they felt strongly they’d have an opportunity to acquire him. Much as Shanahan’s affinity for Cousins was well known, so too was how Cousins viewed the chance to reunite with his former offensive coordinator. So long as the Redskins didn’t put the franchise tag on Cousins, the Niners had the salary-cap space to outbid any other team and ties to Cousins that would make it difficult for him to turn them down.

 

“That was the plan,” Shanahan told reporters at last month’s owners meetings. “I had a relationship with him. He was a good quarterback that I had been with and I had a strong feeling — I think everyone did — that he was going to become available. Nothing was set in stone; you never know what the Redskins were going to do, and you never knew if they would come to a deal, but signs were pointing that he was going to be available. And, of course, when I came to San Francisco, we didn’t have a quarterback on the roster, and we were looking to get one, and that was going to be a huge possibility. But things change. Something else came across us and we are very happy that it did.”

 

As recently as early October, when the Niners and Redskins prepared to play in the nation’s capital, neither side was exactly denying that a match could be coming in the offseason, although they did their best to downplay it. Little more than two weeks later, that “something else” came courtesy of a phone call from the New England Patriots.

 

To hear Shanahan and general manager John Lynch tell it, the Patriots offered Garoppolo for the Niners’ second-round pick. With no guarantee that Cousins would be available or even that they’d land him, the Niners say they took all of about 10 minutes to say yes. After all, Garoppolo was already on their radar and they had asked about acquiring him as far back as the scouting combine in February 2017.

 

“We made the trade, but then there were some days when Kyle Shanahan was, like, in mourning, because I think everybody knows his master plan was to have Kirk Cousins come in eventually,” Lynch told ESPN Radio in March. “I was proud of Kyle, because I think he knew this was the right thing for our franchise. And he didn’t hesitate. But then, even then, Jimmy had to really prove himself.”

 

At the owners meetings, Lynch explained he was trying to describe how impressive Garoppolo had been to make the 49ers deviate from the potential plan. He also compared the day the team traded for Garoppolo to Christmas morning. That assessment fit better with how Shanahan remembers it.

 

“I think the mourning thing was a little bit off, but we were ecstatic when we got the trade,” Shanahan said. “It kind of came out of nowhere, so we were truly pumped up about it. It surprised us at the time. But I think really what he was trying to explain was after we made that trade, nothing was a set deal.”

 

In landing Garoppolo, the Niners had an idea of what they were getting, but he’d only started two NFL games and was a more unknown commodity than Cousins. Regardless, the price for Garoppolo was worth getting a talented quarterback in the building and giving him some time to work with Shanahan.

 

At the time, the 49ers believed that, at worst, Garoppolo provided them options no matter how much he played or how well he performed over the final eight games. If he struggled or was just OK, the team could tag him and get a longer look in 2018. That could still have left the door open for Cousins, and that indeed was still a possibility after the trade. Finally, in what seemed the most difficult-to-attain option, Garoppolo would get a chance to play and would look so good that the Niners would shut down their search for a franchise quarterback and pay him like one.

 

Even without the benefit of an offseason to learn the offense, Garoppolo took over late in a loss to Seattle and never looked back. By the time Garoppolo engineered a drive to beat Tennessee on Dec. 17, Shanahan knew he had his man.

 

“Jimmy went out there and played very well in the first game,” Shanahan said. “I was extremely excited. The second game I was even more excited. By the third game, I think we all kinda forgot about free agency and about the draft, and we were like, ‘All right, we can isolate on one guy right now,’ and we were very happy that it happened.”

 

With Garoppolo at the controls, the Niners won their final five games and improved in nearly every major statistical category. The day after the season, Lynch declared that signing Garoppolo was the top priority. Sure enough, on Feb. 8, Garoppolo inked a five-year, $137.5 million deal with $48.7 million fully guaranteed.

 

Meanwhile, in Washington, Cousins got a heads-up that he would become this year’s most coveted free agent when the Redskins agreed to a deal for Kansas City’s Alex Smith. That set off a frenzy in which multiple veteran quarterbacks found new homes.

 

Despite the Niners being out of the mix, Cousins had no shortage of suitors willing to make him the game’s highest-paid quarterback. That’s exactly what happened when he signed a three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million deal with the Vikings on March 15.

 

 

Although Cousins didn’t get a chance to reunite with Shanahan in a familiar offensive system, he did land with a legitimate Super Bowl contender, flush with offensive weapons. For their part, the Niners get a less-proven player in Garoppolo, 26, but one who brings more upside to a young team trying to build a long-term contender.

 

After Cousins signed in Minnesota, Shanahan reached out and congratulated his former pupil on his new deal. Not so long ago, such a conversation seemed all but certain to happen right here in the Bay Area, with Cousins sporting a red-and-gold tie. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

 

“I’m really happy how it ended up for all sides,” Shanahan said.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

P MARQUETTE KING wasted no time signing with the Broncos – and he has 5,280 reasons to do so.  Peter King:

 

The Denver Broncos lucked into a top-five punter for very good value last week, signing Jon Gruden-reject Marquette King for three years and $7 million, making him approximately the 12th-highest-paid punter (in average cap value) in the NFL. Not bad for King, who finished second in the league in punting average in 2016 and third in 2017, and who is 29 years old.

 

When the Broncos signed King on Thursday, he was positively giddy about getting to punt in altitude for half his games over the next three years. “Denver’s a punter’s paradise,” King said. “The ball definitely travels a lot further. I’ve always enjoyed punting out here in the altitude just because the ball travels further.”

 

(King has a 50.3 gross average in 5 games in Denver, 46.8 elsewhere)

 

 The Broncos are going to have to work with King specifically on placement on inside-the-20 kicks—kicking as he did for Oakland could result in too many into the end zone.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

LB KHALIL MACK is a no-show for the start of Jon Gruden’s offseason program.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Among the many 2014 first-round picks who have earned but not received long-term contracts is Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack. The fifth overall pick four Aprils ago, 2016 NFL defensive player of the year still hasn’t gotten the financial reward that the rookie wage scale kept from him.

 

Mack may now be doing something about it.

 

Via Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, Mack didn’t report for the first day of the team’s offseason program. While the process is completely voluntary, his absence sends a clear message, especially with new coach Jon Gruden champing at the bit to coach up his players.

 

Mack will make $13.846 million this year under the fifth-year option. The Raiders could tag him in 2019 and 2020 before facing a Kirk Cousins-style day of reckoning in 2021, but the 27-year-old Mack surely won’t want to wait that long, especially since he plays a position that entails enhanced risk of injury.

 

With no remaining signing-bonus proration, Mack can boycott everything until he gets a new deal, with the fines for missing mandatory minicamp and the daily fines for skipping training camp the only financial incentive to get Mack to show.

 

Still, a holdout can’t be ruled out. Mack’s agent, Joel Segal, kept running back Chris Johnson out of camp in 2011 in order to get the player paid, and Segal possibly will do it again with Mack, who has watched the Raiders give quarterback Derek Carr a contract worth $25 million per year after only three seasons. Mack now has played four full years, he has earned his next deal, and it’s now time for Mack to get paid.

 

Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the team and player have been negotiating, but that the early stages of negotiation revealed a significant gap between the two sides.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

QB ANDREW LUCK does not sound like he’s ready to be “Andrew Luck” anytime soon.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck hit the podium for a chat with media members at the team’s facility on Monday and the main takeaway was that he still has work to do in his return from missing all of last season due to a right shoulder injury.

 

Luck said that he’s “not a perfect feeling athlete right now” and continues to have his sights set on being ready for training camp this summer. Luck said he thought he “pushed a little too hard” in his attempt to return to action after having surgery last year and that he’s not going to skip any steps along the way this time as a result.

 

Luck also updated his progress when it comes to throwing the ball. Colts coach Frank Reich said late last month that Luck is throwing footballs, but Luck said Monday that he has not yet advanced to the point that he’s throwing regulation-size balls.

 

Given the disparity between the Colts’ promises last year and the reality of Luck’s situation, that admission will serve as fuel to skeptics who think Luck’s return is anything but guaranteed this time around. Luck did say that there’s a timetable in place for him to move to the next step in his throwing program, although he passed on the chance to reveal what it looked like while saying several times that he’s making progress.

 

“I need to stay this course,” Luck said.

 

The Colts will hope that Luck comes to the finish line this time, but there’s clearly still some road left to travel before he gets there.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

After a surprising 2017, DE CALAIS CAMPBELL hopes to keep the heads of his younger teammates screwed on straight.  Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:

 

When the Jacksonville Jaguars return for the start of the offseason conditioning program next week, Calais Campbell will have a message for his teammates.

 

Not only should they not pay attention to the fact that the Jaguars are considered one of the favorites in the AFC in 2018, they should actually approach the upcoming season as if nobody expects them to win more than a few games.

 

That attitude is the best way for the Jaguars to deal with the hype following their first division title since 1999, first playoff appearance in a decade and surprising run to the AFC Championship Game, Campbell said. He is, unfortunately, speaking from experience.

 

 “You start back at zero, so everybody’s equal,” Campbell said in a phone interview. “You have to earn the right to have the opportunity to make it to the playoffs. When people start picking you as the favorite and [predicting] what you should do, it’s kind of poison. You’re kind of relaxing and start believing you’re better than you are.

 

“I experienced that back in ’15 in Arizona. We went to the conference championship, and everybody next year predicted us to win the Super Bowl. I think it kind of affected the way we played. I think we kind of believed it instead of earning it.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald provides some insight into why TE ROB GRONKOWSKI has soured on the Patriots.

 

Recent sightings of Rob Gronkowski, which have included pictures at Brigham & Women’s Hospital on Monday visiting heart patient Lauren Meizo, appear to show an even leaner version of the tight end than we witnessed last season.

 

Of late, Gronkowski has been working out at TB12, continuing his mission with trainer Alex Guerrero. After the 28-year-old’s multitude of injuries, including a third back surgery, he last year decided he would put his faith in Tom Brady’s body coach, who focused on getting the tight end more pliable.

 

That process has resumed, but some are now asking if it’s possible Gronk might be getting a bit too lean for a tight end.

 

Typically, he plays at 265 pounds. Right now, I’m told he’s 260, but will be back up to his usual weight (if not a few pounds heavier) by the time camp rolls around. Given that scenario, there wouldn’t seem to be an issue.

 

Except Guerrero and his treatment of Patriots players beyond Brady is a polarizing subject in and around Patriot Place. Everything seems to be up for debate.

 

Plus, Gronkowski’s quest for pliability may have even stirred up some of the reported friction between Bill Belichick and his star tight end.

 

At one point early last season, the Hoodie chastised Gronk in front of the players for being a TB12 client, according to a source. So maybe that was Belichick’s not-so-subtle way of trying to keep everyone from jumping ship on the team’s training staff.

 

Former Ravens head coach Brian Billick certainly understands the dynamic and difficulties of having a star player wanting to use a coach outside of team personnel.

 

“Everyone wants their personal guy. And that’s probably where Gronk is right now,” said Billick, now an NFL Network analyst. “We took the approach, we let them come to the facility and let them work out with their guy. That way, we could monitor it . . . Now, it’s not comfortable. That’s asking a lot of your weight staff. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s where we are with today’s athletes.”

 

Billick, like Belichick, acknowledged that a head coach has to draw a line in the sand at some point, or else lose control of the locker room.

 

“The problem becomes, do I let everybody in? Now I got 53 different workout guys,” he said, “so there’s a fine line to draw in bringing in outside knowledge into the building. It’s not easy.”

 

Billick said Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe was someone he allowed to utilize, and bring to the facility, his own personal trainer. Sharpe’s seen the pictures of a slimmer Gronkowski and has no problem with the view.

 

“I know he’s been with Tom Brady’s method, and it doesn’t matter if Alex Guerrero doesn’t have an MD from Harvard, or if he’s not medically trained. It doesn’t matter,” Sharpe said of Guerrero, who studied traditional Chinese medicine at Samra University in Los Angeles. “All that matters is that the guys he’s seeing believe that what he’s teaching them works. And I did see a picture of him, and he does look thinner.

 

“Gronk is a large, large man. So him thinner, at 6-6, 6-7, 260 pounds, so be it. But I think Gronk is going to be every bit as effective as he’s always been as long as he has Brady throwing to him. He’ll be just fine.”

 

Asked if there was such a thing as being too thin for a tight end, Sharpe wasn’t too worried about what Gronk weighed at the moment. He figured it would be different once he got to camp.

 

“For me, it’s whatever Gronk is comfortable with. I have no problem with a guy trying to gain every edge that he possibly can through his diet, his exercise, it doesn’t matter,” said Sharpe. “So he felt playing at 270-280, being as tight as he was, it was cumbersome and inhibiting his ability to stay on the field. So, he felt the need to drop weight. And he looks good from what I can see.

 

“I still expect him to be the Gronk that we’ve seen since Day 1 he set foot in the NFL.”

 

Last season, which was his first on the program, Gronkowski put together one of his finest years, amassing 69 receptions for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns. He earned All-Pro status for the fifth time while also making his fifth Pro Bowl. He missed one game due to injury, and one due to suspension.

 

Gronkowski believes in the program. He pretty much bragged all last season about how great he felt. The advantage of pliability for Gronk, in theory at least, is better rotation in his hips — allowing him to run better — and better mobility. A body that’s more pliable also allows Gronkowski to boast a better catch radius, and using resistance bands for strength develops functional force.

 

Given that, Gronk probably feels strength won’t be an issue even with a much leaner physique.

 

“If you’re worried about his effectiveness as blocker, that might be a concern,” said Billick, “but he’s strong, and he’s tough.”

 

Blocking is also a function of leverage. Gronkowski has always been one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Sharpe wasn’t concerned about Gronk’s blocking ability so much. He just thought it was time for the Patriots tight end to consider not taking so many hits.

 

“I was never the size of Gronk, but year 6 or 7, I tried to come in a pound or two less every year,” said Sharpe. “It’s hard to get leaner. I was coming in to camp at 6 percent, 5 percent body fat. I don’t know how much leaner I could have gotten and been effective playing. But I do understand Gronk doing this. Gronk is a big man.

 

“No one is ever going to question Rob Gronkowski’s toughness, he just has to be smart. You don’t always have to take on all 11 defenders. It’s OK to go down. It’s OK to get 13 yards and not take a big hit, as opposed to trying to get 15, 16 and getting 3 or 4 extra yards.”

 

Ultimately, both Billick and Sharpe thought Gronkowski continuing to get more pliable, and continuing with the TB12 method was the right way to go.

 

“Gronk is trying to do what he thinks is best for him. The better Gronk you get, the better your chances are of winning. But I get it,” said Sharpe. “Mr. (Robert) Kraft is paying his training staff hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Why should anyone go elsewhere? I’ll tell you why. Because the greatest muscle an athlete has is his mind. It’s not his hamstring, it’s not his quad, it’s not his biceps, it’s his mind. They believe Guerrero gives them an advantage. He offers them something the Patriots training staff doesn’t.”

 

So get ready for a lean, mean Gronk machine.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ALDON SMITH

Aldon Smith ranks very high on the list of the NFL’s knuckleheads.  So much talent, so many senseless problems.  The AP:

 

Authorities say former Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers player Aldon Smith is back in a California jail after violating a condition of his bail.

 

Online records show the 28-year-old Smith is being held Sunday in San Francisco County Jail on $500,000 bond. A message seeking comment from his attorney, Joshua Bentley, was not immediately returned.

 

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Nancy Crowley tells the San Francisco Chronicle that Smith was booked Friday for violating a condition of his electronic monitoring while on bail.

 

Last month Smith pleaded not guilty to domestic violence and other charges. A judge issued a protective order prohibiting him from contacting the victim. He later surrendered to police on charges he violated the restraining order.

 

The Raiders released the linebacker after his arrest on the domestic violence charges.

 

 

THE END OF KAEPERNICK

Howard Bryant, a senior writer at ESPN.com whom we were not previously familiar with, sees the Kaepernick movement retreating – and finds it heartbreaking.  He also thinks the media didn’t do enough to assist the social justice warrior players in their activism:

 

From Robinson to Ali, the power of player activism has always been rooted in its moral imperative. The recent wave has been no different, motivated by moments like in August 2014, when Ferguson police shot Michael Brown dead and left his body on the street, baking in the summer heat for hours. Or when police choked Eric Garner to death that same summer, or killed Philando Castile and Terence Crutcher in 2016. People filled the streets to protest the violence. Players like Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid joined them in on-field protests.

 

The sports world did its best to kill the protests, aided by a media that largely refused to understand the revolt and by the willful ignorance of owners and fans who never believed this part of America was a problem. The efforts appear to have succeeded. Kaepernick is still without a job. Reid, a free agent safety, said on March 22 that if signed by a team he would discontinue his two-year practice of kneeling during the anthem in protest of police brutality. The next day, Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin and Devin McCourty — three members of the Players Coalition, a group of activist players that in November negotiated with owners an $89 million partnership to contribute to social causes — gave the keynote address at a Harvard seminar on criminal justice reform. Speaking about on-field protest, McCourty told USA Today, “That was a vehicle that we used to draw attention, but doing some type of protest on the field every week is not going to stop an unarmed black kid from getting killed.”

 

The players have clearly succumbed to the prolonged hostility to their cause and suffer a terribly absent sense of self. Their union is ambivalent toward protest, even as jobs are being threatened. Kaepernick, the hero to the people who never quite wanted to lead the people, is still an unquestioned inspiration to millions, but he hasn’t spoken nationally in more than a year. In the void, his moral urgency has been co-opted. Unwilling to couple labor solidarity to protest, the players let Kaepernick die professionally, sacrificing their one strength management feared: the power of their numbers. The coalition said their partnership wasn’t a quid pro quo to end protests, yet that is what it has become. Players took ownership’s money without asking for fairness. Kaepernick and now possibly Reid, who remained unsigned heading into April, have been the human cost — and everyone seems all right with that.

 

Yet while the players were cutting deals with owners — the same owners who have been historically dishonest with them about the dangers of their sport, men who have called them “inmates” and treat them as disposable — children from Parkland to Chicago, tired of gun violence, many first inspired by Kaepernick, went precisely to the place the players negotiated to avoid: the streets. The kids went out and marched, a million strong. They incorporated the kids from Columbine who are now adults, and the parents from Sandy Hook. When black kids wrecked by gun violence felt omitted, they forced their way into the fight, made themselves be seen. The movement incorporated military veterans who shared their gun-control views, a strategic alliance that obscured the violence of constant war but muted accusations that the kids were unpatriotic. It was alliance-building the players ignored-hundreds of police officers lead anti-police brutality organizations — and the result was being branded as anti-cop.

 

The kids faced attacks of their own, just not at the level of hostility facing protesting players. They are slowly connecting the dots from gun violence to domestic violence to police violence, dots the players were too willing to disconnect. They moved America without begging the powerful for money — or by having their movement co-opted by sneaker companies. Their success illuminates the players’ failure, because at the same time the coalition talked down demonstration at Harvard, the moral imperative to do so has only increased. In Baltimore, where Freddie Gray died in police custody, two officers were found guilty of corruption and six others pleaded guilty to it. Houston police killed Danny Ray Thomas, another unarmed black man. Four days earlier, Sacramento police killed Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard, shooting him multiple times in the back. Louisiana prosecutors announced that Baton Rouge police who fatally shot Alton Sterling in 2016 — the killing that ignited the activism of Reid and Jenkins — would not be charged.

 

For their compromise, NFL players now look like followers who settled for a check instead of having the stamina to stay in the streets, where movements are always at their most dangerous. Maybe it’s fitting. The kids don’t seem to need them anyway.

 

It should be noted that the Baltimore police corruption trial involved officers black and white who engaged in theft and extortion (but not violence) – and that none of the officers involved had anything to do with the Freddie Gray’s death.

 

Still it was pretty horrible stuff – although most of the “victims” were themselves criminals:

 

The prosecution was aided by four former task force members who pleaded guilty to racketeering and testified for the government. They identified Hersl and Taylor as part of a crew that had a tacit agreement to take money and split it up. They also covered for each other as they filed for thousands of dollars in unearned overtime pay.

 

The government gave immunity to admitted drug dealers to secure their testimony that the officers had stolen cash and in some cases drugs from them.

 

The defense derided the drug dealers and the convicted officers as untrustworthy.

 

Some of the Gun Trace Task Force officers’ crimes were particularly daring: Taylor was accused of taking part in a robbery of more than $100,000 in the guise of a legal search.

 

Prosecutors said police handcuffed a man, took his house keys broke into a safe in his basement and found $200,000. They took half the money, prosecutors said, returned the rest to the safe, and then filmed a video showing the officers “discovering” the smaller amount.

 

The video was played for jurors.

 

Hersl was charged with taking part in the robbery of $20,000 from a Carroll County home after a man and his wife were detained without having committed a crime. Officers testified that Hersl was among a group that split up the money at a bar afterward.

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Peter King gets some thoughts from the great Gil Brandt, who turns out to be a supporter of QB JOSH ROSEN:

 

Now (Brandt) is the NFL draft shepherd, going to almost every pro day, keeping tabs on the prospects, wooing the top ones to come to the first round of the draft, working for the league and helping organize the football side of the draft. We caught up late Saturday, and I tried to denude Brandt of everything he knows about the 2018 crop.

 

• On what makes this draft different: “This is going to be the most talked-about draft in history. And not just because quarterbacks could go one through four, or four of the top five picks. But this will be an incredible extravaganza. For years to come, people will compare every draft to Dallas. The saying, Everything’s bigger in Texas, will definitely apply. We’ll have sections all over the stadium for all 32 teams, and it’ll be like a competition between all the teams and their fans. Twelve big-time college coaches will be there—Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Chris Petersen, others. Day two’s going to have the same excitement.”

 

• On the walkup to the draft: “There’s been more activity than I ever remember at all these pro days. More coaches, more assistant coaches. South Dakota State had their pro day last week, and there were six NFL tight-end coaches there to see their guy [Dallas Goedert]. But he didn’t run the 40. Hasn’t run it yet. He could go anywhere from low first to the third, but it’s hard to know because teams don’t know his speed.”

 

• Quality of the draft: “This is a draft where 13 to 17 guys I could point to and say for sure, This guy’s a first-round pick. After that, there’s a lot of starting-type players who could go anywhere. Let me put it to you this way: My guy who I have 21st overall on my list could go 64th. The guy I rank 47th could go 19th. So the Patriots, with their needs and their two first-round picks, should be able to get a tackle to replace Nate Solder. They need the tackle from UCLA, Kolton Miller. He’s Nate Solder, is what he is … 6’8″, 310 pounds, unbelievable 10-yard speed which is what you need for a tackle. Needs development. But [offensive line coach] Dante Scarnecchia can develop a guy like that as well as anyone.”

 

• His order of the quarterbacks: “Rosen, Darnold, Mayfield, Allen, Jackson.”

 

• Top of the draft: “Here’s what it looks like: The running back from Penn State [Saquon Barkley] has all the characteristics needed to be an all-pro player and could go anywhere in there. Nothing would surprise me. Let’s go to the quarterbacks. Josh Allen has everything you need to be a franchise QB, but he lacks accuracy, and you can’t complete 56 percent in the NFL. Now Sam Darnold, he’s got great mechanics and the right attitude and approach to be great. But he throws interceptions. This is where you have to grade him—was the interception his fault? Josh Rosen started as a true freshman at UCLA. Never happened before. Started 5-0 or something like that as an 18-year-old. [Actually 4-0, and he won seven of his first nine starts]. You want to be the surest that you won’t be laughed at five years down the line with one of these quarterbacks? Pick Rosen. He’s a player. Lamar Jackson, immense talent, immense upside. Baker Mayfield is a guy like Drew Brees. He’s got velocity, good accuracy. We all undervalued Drew. But what you don’t know about anyone is which quarterbacks are gonna work like Drew Brees. Drew’s gonna work his ass off. His agent could get a call during the season from a car company saying, ‘We got a $200,000 commercial for you to tape on Tuesday.’ And Drew would say, ‘No, I’m not gonna do that on Tuesday. That’s my day to work on the next opponent.’ Your job if you’re going to draft one of these guys is to figure out who’s like Drew Brees.”

 

• Josh Rosen and the questions surrounding his desire: “I have zero questions about Josh Rosen. I have no problems with him at all.”

 

• Biggest surprise in the top 10: “[Notre Dame] tackle Mike McGlinchey. He’ll go in the top 10.”

 

• Player who will go higher than everyone thinks: “Will Hernandez, guard, UTEP. Reminds me of Mike Iupati—both drafted higher than anyone thought.”

 

• Draft invitee who fascinates Brandt: “Leighton Vander Esch, the Boise State linebacker. He’ll be the first man ever invited to the draft who played eight-man football in high school. He’s from Salmon River High School in Riggins, Idaho. A true rising star.”

– – –

Meanwhile King finds those who see warning signs with the other Josh, JOSH ALLEN of Wyoming:

 

“The two things for me that are like major red flags … There’s a couple of times on tape in a game where he’ll get up to the line of scrimmage and he’ll communicate with his offensive line. It looks like he’s changing your protection or setting your protection one way … There’s a clip against Iowa where he changes a protection. The Will linebacker blitzes and everybody runs hot and Josh Allen does not move till his third step of the drop. What were you thinking? What was going on? And that shows up way too much for me. And again, that stuff is not fixable. You think Dick LeBeau is easier to do it against? When he’s got Star Wars on the back end going on? … When the ball is snapped it’s almost like, I don’t know what’s going on … It seems like he doesn’t have a plan and a process, and to get to the NFL level and to not be able to do the little things—if you can’t do the little things, you can’t do the big things. The little things are your plan and your process. The big things are executing against what happens. And so it just seems like he doesn’t have that as part of his DNA, as part of his quarterbacking. And that for me I go, Well, what does it matter how big he is, how athletic he is if you could throw it to the moon, the field’s a hundred yards. To not be able to adjust or react to a Will linebacker blitzing is alarming to me. Alarming.

 

“And then the second thing—I saw this at the combine, and it made me go watch all his tape again. But when he was throwing at the combine, he was staring at his receivers. And I was like, well, that’s a bad habit, and it’s a habit you can create just trying to be better at accuracy. So, I watched all his tape, and that showed up on tape a bunch where he would just stare at receivers when he catches the snap … And so for me those are things that are really hard to change. You got to change years and years of having those bad habits.”

 

On Saturday, I read Orlovsky’s criticism of Allen to one draft-day-decider (on a team that is studying quarterbacks for this draft and could pick one) and asked if he agreed with Orlovsky.

 

“I’d say it’s true,” the NFL person said. “If people see Carson Wentz when they look at Josh Allen, because they’re both big guys, they are making a massive mistake. Wentz was so ready mentally for the pro game. Allen needs a lot of work there. If you pick Josh, you are taking a raw, talented kid and banking the future on your coaches being able to take that raw talent and turn him into a great player. It’s a gamble for sure.”