The Daily Briefing Thursday, August 23, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Two good choices by the Hall of Fame for induction in 2019.  Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:

 

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and former Cowboys personnel maven Gil Brandt are one step closer to joining the NFL’s ultimate pantheon.

 

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Thursday that Bowlen and Brandt have been nominated as contributor finalists for the Class of 2019. The contributor category recognizes “individuals who made outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching.”

 

Recent inductees as contributors include longtime general manager Bobby Beathard, current Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr.

 

Bowlen and Brandt join former Chiefs safety Johnny Robinson, who was recently selected as a senior finalist. The Hall of Fame’s full selection committee will vote on that trio — along with 15 modern-era finalists — on Feb. 2 at the Super Bowl festivities in Atlanta. Each candidate must receive 80 percent of the committee’s votes in order to be inducted.

 

The nominations of Bowlen and Brandt are part of a recent push by the NFL to recognize more contributors such as longtime scouts, general managers, personnel executives and owners. Before the bylaws changed four years ago, contributors were voted in the same class as modern-era players.

 

Since purchasing the Broncos in 1984, Bowlen has been one of the NFL’s most accomplished owners. Over that 34-year span, Denver boasts the league’s best home winning percentage (.721) and the second-best percentage overall (.603). Bowlen is the only owner ever to achieve 300 victories during his first 30 seasons. Robert Kraft of the Patriots is the sole owner in NFL history with more Super Bowl appearances (nine) than Bowlen’s seven.

 

Perhaps most telling, the Broncos are the lone NFL organization to avoid back-to-back losing seasons during Bowlen’s four decades overseeing the operation.

 

A battle with Alzheimer’s disease forced him to cede day-to-day control to CEO Joe Ellis in July of 2014. A year later, Bowlen was unanimously elected as the 28th member of the Broncos Ring of Fame, which he founded upon acquiring the team.

 

“We’re absolutely thrilled for Pat and the entire Bowlen family,” Ellis said in a statement. “There’s no question that Pat elevated the NFL, the Broncos and our region over the last three decades. He’s always had such modesty and humility, but he’s incredibly deserving of this selection and we appreciate the contributor committee nominating him. It’s very special to see Pat take such a significant step toward the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

 

One of pro football’s original “draftniks,” Brandt obsessed over NFL prospects as a student at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1950s. He would eventually spring forth from the same storied Los Angeles Rams scouting tree that produced legendary NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and original Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm.

 

Installed as Schramm’s personnel director, Brandt and longtime head coach Tom Landry transformed the Cowboys from an expansion outfit to a long-running NFC dynasty. Bringing the scouting profession out of primitive times, Brandt not only developed an extensive network of informants among the college ranks but also pioneered the use of computers to refine the process. Along the way, he also popularized the use of psychologic tests, initiated the search for prospects outside of the United States and Canada and searched for potential football stars in other sports.

 

As the architect of a franchise that generated five Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl titles during his 29 years, Brandt’s fingerprints all over the Cowboys’ iconic “America’s Team” moniker that caught on with even casual fans by the late 1970s. During the height of his success, Dallas registered an NFL-record 20 consecutive winning seasons (1966-1985), earning 18 trips to the postseason in that two-decade stretch.

 

Nicknamed “The Godfather” out of deference to his reach, influence and stature in the NFL community, Brandt still keeps his hand in talent evaluation as an analyst, writer and eminence grise for NFL.com.

 

“He progressed NFL scouting in so many ways,” venerable scouting veteran C.O. Brocato told the Waco Tribune-Herald in 2015. “He was a tremendous director of scouting for the Cowboys for so long. He was always one of the top ones. At his age, he’s still in a little bit of everything.”

 

This is the kind of interesting and informed copy Brandt still produces at NFL.com:

 

In 2017, the Green Bay Packers lost Aaron Rodgers to injury and drifted to ignominy behind backup Brett Hundley.

 

In 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles lost Carson Wentz to injury and won the Super Bowl behind backup Nick Foles.

 

There were obviously a lot of other things at play in determining the disparate post-QB fates of the Packers and Eagles, including overall roster construction. But the examples help illustrate the value of carefully considering the entire quarterback depth chart. You can argue it’s not enough to just have a stud QB1. To prevent a random injury from completely gutting your season, your QB2 and maybe even QB3 should at least be capable of winning games in the NFL.

 

Below, I’ve identified the five most and five least enviable quarterback situations in the NFL, with depth being the primary deciding factor. Note that I’m taking the entire position group into account, not just the starter — which is why you won’t find some of the top quarterbacks in the league listed here. (That’s also why you will find some studs with less-than-inspiring backups on the “least enviable” list.) I’ve also listed every quarterback on each team’s roster, even if the third- or fourth-stringers aren’t likely to factor into the season.

 

THE FIVE MOST ENVIABLE QB SITUATIONS

1) Philadelphia Eagles

Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld, Joe Callahan, Christian Hackenberg.

It can be tricky to separate good teams from good quarterback play. Whoever slings the pigskin for the Eagles is blessed with an excellent supporting cast that includes a stout O-line, a strong running game and a potent receiving corps. That said, Philly boasts an impressive trio of passers. Wentz, obviously, was an MVP front-runner before tearing his ACL last December; when healthy, he’s a top-five QB. Foles has had his ups and downs and started slowly after stepping in for Wentz, but he was undeniably brilliant in the NFC title game and Super Bowl LII; you can’t ask him to do much more in terms of proving his bonafides. And Sudfeld is a promising third-stringer who just posted 312 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Patriots in preseason action. The way Eagles coach Doug Pederson has been developing quarterbacks lately, you have to wonder if he might even be able to make a credible NFL signal-caller out of Hackenberg.

 

2) Minnesota Vikings

Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter, Peter Pujals.

Last year, the Vikings were handsomely rewarded for having a strong contingency plan at quarterback, with Case Keenum rescuing a season that otherwise could have been ruined by Sam Bradford’s inability to stay on the field. This year, Minnesota completely changed out its QB room — but the replacements seem just as reliable. Cousins will show why he was the big prize of the offseason. Cousins’ backup, trade acquisition Siemian, is a proven winner who is a lot better than people give him credit for. Despite facing less-than-ideal circumstances in Denver, Siemian still managed to assemble a record of 13-11 there in 2016 and ’17. Another former Bronco, Sloter, is a promising developmental project.

 

3) Cleveland Browns

Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield, Drew Stanton, Brogan Roback.

There are early, encouraging signs that the Browns finally, at long last, got the quarterback position right with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Mayfield looks like he will be pretty good. He might not have the strongest arm in the world, but he’s accurate, he can move around and avoid sacks, and he’s a competitor who rises to the occasion. I think he’ll be the man in Cleveland for a long time to come. Until Mayfield is deemed ready to play, however, Taylor should do well holding the fort. As someone who never turns the ball over, Taylor is like an answered prayer for a Browns team that posted an NFL-worst turnover differential of minus-28 last season. GM John Dorsey did a great job bringing both Taylor and Stanton aboard as veteran mentors.

 

Crucially, whoever steps up under center in Cleveland will be working with a much better supporting cast than past Browns QBs, which means he’ll face much less pressure to keep the team in games via the air. The Browns claim to want Taylor to start, and I’m inclined to think he’ll keep the job all season. However, if Mayfield ends up starting, ideally it’ll happen late in the year, with the Browns having either clinched a playoff spot or having fallen short after a strong season by Taylor.

 

4) Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Phillip Walker, Brad Kaaya.

Yes, Luck’s ability to shake off the rust after missing all of the 2017 season is something of a question mark (as is, to some extent, his ability to throw the ball downfield). But the upside of Luck’s lost time was Brissett getting to demonstrate that, after flashing promise in New England, he’s a quality backup who can give his team a chance to win when he’s on the field. (It sure looks like the Colts got the better end of the deal last September that saw Indianapolis and New England swap Brissett and receiver Philip Dorsett.) Brissett started 15 games last season, completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 3,098 yards with a TD-to-INT ratio of 13:7 and a passer rating of 81.7, and reportedly attracted a recent trade offer from the Seahawks that included a second-round pick. Against the Ravens the other night, Luck looked to be about 85 percent back to where he was at his peak a few years ago. He didn’t really go deep, but he did seem to have the necessary velocity on the throws he did make. Either way, I feel good enough about Brissett to slot the Colts here.

 

5) Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Matt McGloin, Chase Litton.

When I was at Chiefs training camp, Mahomes made a throw that made it seem like he could put the ball in a peach basket 55 yards downfield. He’s got great promise. But he’s also likely to struggle with consistency as he continues to accrue NFL experience. So why do I feel so good about the Chiefs’ QB situation? Because Mahomes has been partnered with Henne, a veteran backup who can help Andy Reid coach Mahomes through his growing pains and unlock his tantalizing upside. I think he really helped Blake Bortles develop in Jacksonville. And if Henne does have to play, consider this noteworthy tidbit: Reid told me that he wishes he’d had a chance to work with Henne earlier in Henne’s career. You can’t turn the clock back, but Henne does now have the chance to be a backup in a quarterback-friendly offense while mentoring Mahomes. Keep an eye on Litton, who has a chance to make the 53-man squad.

 

THE FIVE LEAST ENVIABLE QB SITUATIONS

 

1) Buffalo Bills

Josh Allen, AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman.

The apparent front-runner to start Week 1 for the Bills is a rookie who, while he has plenty of promise and a chance to be very good, struggles with accuracy and, obviously, has no NFL experience. The big-armed Allen needs to learn, as Hank Stram would put it, when to put mustard on the ball and when to take mustard off the ball. Two things working in Allen’s favor: his 10-plus-inch hands, which will help him cut through the wind in Buffalo, and the presence of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who will focus on getting the ball out of Allen’s hand quickly. He does have the potential to become a franchise quarterback. Still, it’s going to be tough sledding in Year 1, given the state of the Bills’ offensive line and receiver corps. The scary thing about this situation is what’s lurking behind Allen. McCarron was unable to show enough to claim the starting job despite being a four-year NFL veteran. Peterman has posted good numbers this preseason, but his only real accomplishment of note to date is throwing five first-half interceptions in his first NFL start.

 

2) Denver Broncos

Case Keenum, Chad Kelly, Paxton Lynch.

The Broncos are hoping their $36-million bet on Keenum pays off. I happen to think Keenum is for real, because he’s very smart and capable of winning, provided the right talent is around him. Of course, I do have questions about that supporting cast. Moreover, if something should happen to Keenum, Denver is in trouble. Lynch has been playing so poorly (completing 11 of 22 passes this preseason, for 63 yards, zero touchdowns and a 37.3 passer rating) that I would not be surprised if he were cut or traded before Week 1. Kelly — who was, for what it’s worth, “Mr. Irrelevant,” or the last player picked, in the 2017 NFL Draft — played well enough to surpass Lynch on the depth chart, but he has no previous experience as a backup. I would expect Denver to be in the market for a trustworthy veteran to slot behind Keenum.

 

3) Miami Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, David Fales, Bryce Petty.

Tannehill was playing the best football of his career when he went down with an ACL injury in late 2016. Based on their decision not to draft a quarterback this year, the Dolphins must be confident Tannehill — who was also robbed of his 2017 campaign — can thrive running an up-tempo attack this season. I love Tannehill, and I think he’s better than people give him credit for; he’s athletic, smart and capable of winning. However, the backup situation is dicey, to put it delicately. Osweiler seems to be a mess. He throws a lot of interceptions (27 in 29 games over the last three seasons) and, perhaps more troublingly, hasn’t looked good this preseason despite having been reunited with coach Adam Gase, who was his offensive coordinator during his time in Denver. Fales and Petty (who is dealing with an oblique injury) do not inspire much confidence, either.

 

4) Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton, Garrett Gilbert, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen.

The Panthers’ placement on this list is NOT reflective at all of Newton’s ability. I do worry, however, about the way his scrambling style exposes him to repeated big hits. If he were to miss time in 2018, Carolina would, as of now, have to hand the reins to either Gilbert (a good passer without much athleticism) or Heinicke (a good athlete without much passing ability). The Panthers could still choose to re-sign Derek Anderson, Newton’s longtime backup, but he might not be the best fit for new coordinator Norv Turner’s offense.

 

5) Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson, Austin Davis, Alex McGough.

As with the Panthers, the Seahawks’ spot is not related to starting quarterback Russell Wilson’s ability. But he was responsible for a massive portion of Seattle’s offensive output last year (Wilson generated 586 rushing yards in addition to his 3,983 passing yards, or 86 percent of the Seahawks’ 5,286 yards). Who would fill the gaping hole that would be left by a Wilson injury? Davis hasn’t been awful in his career, but the well-traveled journeyman is not anywhere close to capable of replicating Wilson’s impact. McGough, meanwhile, is still raw as a rookie. In other words, if Wilson — who does like to run — goes down, Seattle’s season will likely go down with him. The Seahawks are not alone in their reliance on their No. 1 QB, but the lack of appealing options behind Wilson makes them among the NFL’s more vulnerable outfits.

 

WILD CARDS

 

Arizona Cardinals

Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon, Chad Kanoff.

 

Bradford has a notable injury history. But he’s also demonstrated the potential to be a very good player. Yes, he missed most of 2017. But in 2016, he completed a league-high 71.6 percent of his passes. He was sensational when I visited Cardinals camp. If he’s as good as he looked then, he’ll cause quite a stir this year. And Rosen might be a rookie, but he’s smart and athletic; I think he’ll be a good NFL quarterback.

 

New York Jets

Sam Darnold, Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater.

McCown and Bridgewater have piled up some impressive career stats, with McCown’s numbers (97 TDs against 78 INTs, with a passer rating of 80.8) looking even better when you consider the bad teams he’s played for. In limited time this preseason, Bridgewater has looked pretty good as he continues to seek his first start since having his career derailed by a catastrophic knee injury in 2016. McCown is very smart and had a strong season in 2017, for someone of his age (he turned 39 this July) on a poor squad. Of course, we can expect Darnold to start this year. I do worry about Darnold’s relative lack of experience. But he’ll be good and, when he’s given a better team to work with, will be capable of getting the Jets to the playoffs. For now, this trio of arms makes the Jets worth considering for this piece.

 

We hate to quibble with a Hall of Famer – but the selection of KANSAS CITY at this point is surprising.  Mahomes may be good, real good – but we don’t know that yet.  And CHAD HENNE is a known mediocrity.

 

And he may have jumped the gun on CLEVELAND too.

 

The DB might rather have WASHINGTON’s duo of ALEX SMITH and COLT McCOY.

 

And if Mahomes can drive KC, why not HOUSTON with DESHAUN WATSON, BRANDON WEEDEN and JOE WEBB.  Weeden is not great shakes, but neither is Henne.

 

We also kind of like the duo of SAM BRADFORD and JOSH ROSEN in Arizona.

 

And the Buccaneers triumvirate of JAMEIS WINSTON, RYAN FITZPATRICK and RYAN GRIFFIN have been throwing the heck out of the ball in preseason.

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

The Vikings went to the NFC Championship Game last year without their best running back, DALVIN COOK.  He returns to action tonight per Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook said last week that he was 100 percent ready to play, but the team didn’t put him in the lineup for their last preseason game.

 

Cook remains ready to roll and it appears the Vikings will be making a different call on Friday night. According to multiple reports, Cook is expected to play against the Seahawks.

 

It would be Cook’s first game action since he tore his ACL in Week Four last season and the Vikings will be hoping that Cook picks up where he left off. The 2017 second-round pick ran 74 times for 354 yards and two touchdowns while also catching 11 passes for 90 yards in a fast start to his NFL career.

 

Cook probably won’t play much on Friday, but just having him take a carry or go out for a pass will check off one of the few boxes remaining on his comeback checklist.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Signals emerging in Jersey that the Giants and WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. are closing in on a deal.  Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com:

 

– Odell Beckham Jr. just might have that financial security he so desperately desires before the start of the regular season.

 

The New York Giants and Beckham have made progress on what is expected to be a record-breaking contract for a wide receiver, sources told ESPN, and there is reasonable optimism from both sides that a deal could get done by the start of the season.

 

The Giants open against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 9 at MetLife Stadium.

 

Beckham, 25, has been looking for a new contract after 10 of the other 12 receivers selected in the first two rounds of the 2014 draft have received new deals within the past year.

 

The Giants wanted to ensure that Beckham had bought into their new regime and that the ankle he broke last October was healed.

 

The Giants listened to trade offers for their star receiver earlier this year, but it has been an especially successful summer on all fronts.

 

Beckham has worked out at full speed in live drills and even participated in joint practices last week against the Detroit Lions. He has looked like his old self. He also has forged a strong relationship with new head coach Pat Shurmur, and it appears they have been on the same page this preseason.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

No signs of Super Bowl-starring QB NICK FOLES in the preseason. 

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com on the reaction of Coach Doug Pederson:

 

The Eagles somehow coaxed the best possible performance out of quarterback Nick Foles through three 2017 postseason games. Through three 2018 preseason games, it’s been a much different story.

 

Foles has played like anything but a Super Bowl MVP, but instead a lot like the guy who was a disappointment during donut-hole years with the Rams and Chiefs.

 

Asked by Erin Andrews of FOX whether Foles would enter the third quarter of Thursday’s preseason game against the Browns, coach Doug Pederson said, “I’m done. I’ve seen enough.”

 

Andrews asked Pederson to explain Foles struggles.

 

“I don’t know,” Pederson said. “It’s very disappointing. He was calm before the game, I thought he’d settled in.”

 

Foles completed 13 of 17 passes for 127 yards and two interceptions on Thursday night. Foles also lost a fumble.

 

The backup to Carson Wentz didn’t play in the preseason opener against the Steelers. Last Thursday, Foles completed three of nine passes with a lost fumble against the Patriots.

 

After the game, Pederson backtracked a bit.  Once again, Florio:

 

After the game, Pederson pushed back on the perception that he expressed disappointment with the Super Bowl LII MVP.

 

“Not Nick,” Pederson said in response to a question about the report delivered by Erin Andrews of FOX. “Offensively. We had six possessions. We had two interceptions, two fumbles. We had a sack safety, and we had a turnover on downs. That’s an offensive performance, so I was displeased with what our first offense executed. . . . I’m disappointed in the offense. I don’t want to single out one player, so don’t put this all on Nick. I’m disappointed in the offense. It’s obviously not what you want in the third preseason week.”

 

As Andrews told it, Pederson did indeed single out Foles.

 

“It’s very disappointing,” Andrews claimed at the outset of the third quarter that Pederson said at halftime, specifically about Foles. “He was calm before the game, I thought he’d settled in.”

 

Pederson tempered his disappointment in the offense (and in Foles) by pointing out that preseason games entail a different level of planning and adjustment.

 

“He finished the season pretty well last year,” Pederson said regarding Foles. “We know who he is and what we need to do to get him ready to go, and again, we’re still pretty vanilla offensively. We haven’t done any of our [run-pass option] game. Those are all things that are part of his strengths, too, so we’ve got to make sure that when we put game plans together moving forward, that we’re utilizing his strengths too.”

 

Pederson added that they’re “still keeping things very vanilla and we still want to evaluate and make sure we have the right guys in the right spots.”

 

Even with those caveats, Pederson clearly isn’t happy with the starting offense.

 

“When you don’t score, you played the way you play on offense, and me being an offensive guy, I’m not very jovial in there,” Pederson said. “I’m not patting guys on the back. I praised the defense. I think the defense played lights out and played like they should. The offense just didn’t do enough obviously, and they understand it. I wanted to make sure they heard it from me. We just move on. We fix it and move on, and the season begins in a couple weeks.”

 

He’s right about that. For the Eagles, it begins in 13 days. And if starter Carson Wentz isn’t cleared to play, the Eagles will need to find a way to coax something more out of Foles than what they’ve gotten so far this preseason.

 

 

WASHINGTON

A big test tonight for T TRENT WILLIAMS. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

All eyes will be on Adrian Peterson, but there’s another debut for Washington tonight that’s probably more important.

 

Via Matthew Paras of the Washington Times, left tackle Trent Williams will return to the field tonight, his first game action since they shut him down last December because of knee problems.

 

Williams had surgery in late December, and has been limited in training camp but gradually increasing his workload.

 

“Anytime you have a Pro Bowler like Trent, it makes your team better all the way around,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said. “It makes your quarterback more comfortable on his blindside. It makes your running game better. It makes the other offensive line better. It makes the receivers look better.

 

“It makes me look better too, so I love having him out there.”

 

The 30-year-old Williams is one of the best in the league when well, and having him back will make life easier for quarterback Alex Smith, Peterson, or anyone else who happens to be in the backfield.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

The Buccaneers have put RB CHARLES SIMS on IR with a knee injury.  RB RONALD JONES, who was drafted in the second round with an eye to replacing Sims as the third down back, will now be expected to show more in that role than he has so far in the preseason.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

Oakland is admitting they blundered with a second round defensive back in 2017.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

The Oakland Raiders are moving on from Obi Melifonwu after less than 16 months with the organization.

 

Oakland waived/injured their 2017 second-round selection on Thursday while simultaneously confirming the signing of veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

 

In his rookie season, Melifonwu appeared in five games and made one start, but spent 10 weeks on injured reserve with knee and hip injuries. Adding injury to injury, the safety suffered what the team termed a “lower body injury” last week. He leaves Oakland with just seven tackles to his name.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport noted that, aside from injuries, one reason Melifonwu was waived was because Oakland “never quite felt he loved football enough.”

 

Melifonwu was Oakland’s second pick in the 2017 draft and was selected one round after fellow injury-prone defensive back Gareon Conley, who played in just two games last season.

 

Melifonwu will hit waivers next. If he goes unclaimed, he will revert back to Oakland’s injured reserve. Once he’s healthy, the Raiders can release him.

 

Not much should change on Oakland’s defensive-back depth chart. Marcus Gilchrist, Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson are leading the way at safety.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

At first Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com makes it sound like the decision to keep ROBERT GRIFFIN III is in his hands.  But, later on it becomes apparent that the reason it is a decision at all comes from the struggles of QB LAMAR JACKSON.

 

The biggest decision facing the Baltimore Ravens is whether to carry three quarterbacks for the first time since 2009.

 

With Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson already securing spots on the roster, the Ravens have nine days and two preseason games to determine whether they will keep, trade or cut Robert Griffin III.

 

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the decision will “go right to the wire.”

 

“There’s no question that the best quarterback thing to do would be to keep Robert Griffin. He’s proven it,” Harbaugh said. “He’s played exceptionally well, and it makes the team better.”

 

The decision will be heavily based on the Ravens’ confidence in Jackson, the rookie first-round pick.

 

Jackson has struggled mightily during stretches in the preseason. He has failed to complete at least half of his passes in any of the three preseason games.

 

If the Ravens feel Jackson can be the primary backup to Flacco, they will part ways with Griffin. If Baltimore believes Griffin gives the team a significantly better chance of winning — and ending a three-year playoff drought — if Flacco gets injured, the team will keep him.

 

“That’s going to be a choice that will be well-discussed within the next couple of weeks and already has been,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said.

 

Griffin has made a convincing case to stay in Baltimore. In three preseason games, he has completed 18 of 26 passes (69.2 percent) for 177 yards. He has thrown two touchdowns and one interception for a 97.8 passer rating.

 

It does sound like Griffin has put himself back on the radar for other teams going forward as the injury toll mounts.

– – –

Hensley has a look at the Ravens and their decision to stick with CB JIMMY SMITH who the NFL suspended for four games amidst murky results from a domestic violence investigation.

 

Within minutes of the NFL announcing Jimmy Smith’s four-game suspension Tuesday night, the Baltimore Ravens released a statement saying they remained committed to their star cornerback.

 

This is a no-brainer for the franchise from a football and financial standpoint.

 

It is also a major risk for a franchise that was in the national spotlight less than four years ago because of a domestic abuse incident.

 

Since the Ray Rice incident, no team has taken a harder stance on violence against women than the Ravens. Baltimore has not signed a free agent or drafted a college player with domestic violence in his past since cutting Rice in September 2014, when a video surfaced of him punching his then-fiancée while in an elevator.

 

Smith was suspended for the first quarter of the 2018 regular season after the NFL discovered “evidence of threatening and emotionally abusive behaviors” by Smith toward a former girlfriend who is the mother of his first child, according to the Ravens. There was “a pattern of improper conduct,” the team said in its statement.

 

“The Ravens fully support the NFL’s decision” to suspend Smith, the team said. Did the Rice situation have any effect on the organization’s approach to Smith?

 

“I appreciate the questions. I guess I’m the one up here answering them,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Thursday. “I don’t have anything further to add to all of that. My focus is getting our team ready to play.”

 

The Ravens insisted they learned from what happened with Rice. Team officials vowed to treat domestic abuse with the degree of seriousness it deserves.

 

“Domestic abuse? Not taking them,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said in January 2017. “Kansas City is in the playoffs, partly because of a guy [Tyreek Hill] they took a chance on [despite pleading guilty to a domestic abuse charge]. Will we take chances like that again? I don’t think so.”

 

Now, 19 months later, the Ravens are taking a chance on a high-profile player being disciplined because of a domestic dispute.

 

The NFL’s discipline of Smith stems from a petition filed last year in court by his former girlfriend, who alleged Smith has a history of being physically violent. Smith has denied those allegations, and the NFL didn’t find any evidence of physical abuse.

 

The Ravens aren’t saying much beyond their team-controlled message in Tuesday’s statement. Neither Bisciotti nor any front-office member has addressed this matter publicly. The organization believes it was exhaustive in its due diligence on Smith.

 

In deciding Smith’s future, the Ravens said the franchise consulted with domestic violence experts and addressed the matter with female and male executives not directly involved in football operations. Smith underwent a clinical evaluation and agreed to follow-up treatment if it’s warranted, according to the Ravens.

 

“Through our conversations with Jimmy, we believe he is taking the proper steps to improve and that he can change,” the Ravens said in a statement. “Jimmy has assured us that he is fully dedicated to making this change. He also understands the consequences if he does not.”

 

By sticking with Smith, team officials have opened themselves to scrutiny in being linked to domestic abuse, whether emotional or physical.

 

From a football standpoint, it’s understandable that Baltimore would want to keep its top cornerback after missing the playoffs three consecutive seasons. It’s also smart business, as cutting Smith now would trigger a $12.7 million dead-money figure (divided over two seasons), which would hurt any team’s salary cap.

 

The Ravens are showing a great amount of faith by standing by Smith in the wake of the Rice incident. This is a team that allowed fans to exchange their Rice jerseys, spending six figures for the trade-in. This is a team that sent a letter of apology to fans and sponsors after cutting Rice. This is a team that formed partnerships with and made substantial donations to organizations such as House of Ruth and the One Love Foundation.

 

The franchise is now putting its trust in Smith, who slid to the Ravens in the first round of the 2011 draft because of character concerns. Over the past four years, Smith was charged with failure to obey a lawful order of a police officer (a misdemeanor charge was later dropped), suspended four games by the NFL for violating the policy on performance-enhancing drugs (which he attributed to taking the wrong pre-workout supplement) and disciplined again by the league for this latest incident.

 

“I take full responsibility for my past conduct,” Smith said in a statement. “Moving forward, I will work with the NFL and the Ravens to ensure that what happened in the past will never happen again. I will take all necessary steps to be a positive role model for both my sons, for the NFL and for the entire Ravens community.”

 

If Smith doesn’t, the Ravens will have themselves to blame.

 

 

CLEVELAND

QB TUH-ROD TAYLOR left Thursday’s game with a hand injury, then returned.  Afterwards there was still some doubt.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Coach Hue Jackson said quarterback Tyrod Taylor will undergo further exams on his injured left hand, but expects him to be okay for the opener against the Steelers Sept. 9th.

 

“Anytime your quarterback gets nicked like that, you’re always concerned, but I think the fact that he was able to go back into the game was a good sign,” Jackson said after Thursday’s 5-0 victory over the Eagles in the third preseason game. “I know we’ll make sure that we take care of it this week, whatever that is, and get him back to where he needs to be. I feel comfortable and confident that he is going to be OK, and that will happen.”

 

Jackson admitted he was “very concerned” when Taylor fell on the left wrist and bent it back on a fourth-and-1 incompletion with about 6:05 left in the game. Baker Mayfield replaced him for two series and put a field on the board, the only offensive points of the game.

 

X-rays on the hand were negative and Taylor returned for three more series in the first half, but then received treatment on the hand in the locker room at halftime and throughout the second half and did not return to the sidelines.

 

Taylor left immediately after the game and opted not to meet with the media.

 

“Anytime your starting quarterback goes into the locker room, you’re not sure, but he came back,” said Jackson. “Obviously, he went back into the game so we will continue to look at it and see where we are as we head into next week.”

 

When Taylor returned to the game in the second quarter, he handed the ball off with two hands, and Jackson kept an eye on him.

 

 “Absolutely, and I was aware of it, but obviously, our medical people said he was fine and he could be out there,” he said. “We would not have put him back out there if he was not. We will check everything tonight and see where he is, but hopefully, everything will be okay.”

 

Jackson said although X-rays were negative, he’ll undergo more exams.

 

“I think it’s important that we do everything that we need to do to make sure we know exactly where that hand is.”

 

In his five series of work, Taylor completed 11-of-16 attempts for 65 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions for a 76.3 rating.

 

He was sacked twice to thwart two drives, badly overthrew Jarvis Landry on his final possession and failed to generate any points despite the fact the defense kept getting the ball back for him.

– – –

Meanwhile, on defense the Browns showed well against the Eagles.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Browns starting defense had a good night against the Eagles on Thursday and defensive end Myles Garrett played a big part in it.

 

Garrett had two sacks, one of which resulted in a safety, and Eagles tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai didn’t mince words when it came to how he fared.

 

“I got my ass kicked. Myles is a great player,” Vaitai said, via Philly.com. “I was out of control today. I just got beat today.”

 

Garrett’s outing led defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to say that Garrett “comes out here and dominates.” Garrett’s own observations about the evening had more to do with the defense producing four turnovers and what that foreshadows for the year to come.

 

“We can be [dominant] from day one, and we’ve showed that actually the last three games when we’ve been in on those series,” Garrett said, via Ohio.com. “It just takes a little bit more clicking, a little bit more time on the practice field and more time really in the regular season. I know that once we get out there that first drive, after a couple plays, we’re going to see the tempo, and we’re going to see how we move at a different pace. And it’s going to be pretty impressive.”

 

There’s been plenty of optimistic talk about what the year to come will bring for the Browns. The defense has provided reason to believe some of it over three preseason games and a more telling test against the Steelers looms a little more than two weeks from now.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

RB JAMES CONNER has benefitted by the absence of RB Le’VEON BELL.  Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:

 

Bell, who’s away for the second consecutive August because of the dynamics of the franchise tag, is training in South Florida while the Steelers prepare for their third preseason game Saturday against the Tennessee Titans. A source said Bell’s tentative plan was to follow last year’s blueprint and show up some time after the fourth preseason game. He signed last year’s $12.12 million tag on Sept. 4, the Monday of Week 1 at Cleveland, also the site of this year’s opener.

 

Bell’s tag for 2018 pays $14.5 million, but he isn’t under contract until he signs it. Bell is saving himself from injury after both sides failed to reach a long-term deal in July.

– – –

Pouncey said he hopes and expects Bell to show up in good shape, but he added that the offense “feels great” about James Conner if he has to play significant snaps in Cleveland.

 

Conner has improved his conditioning and pass protection in his second season and is averaging 9.1 yards on nine preseason carries.

 

“He’s in great shape, hitting the hole hard, pass-blocking really well,” Pouncey said. “We’re all really excited for him.”

 

Make no mistake, though, Conner isn’t delusional that he’ll step in and be the guy in Cleveland. As Pouncey points out, it’s hard to argue with the league’s most prolific tailback over the past half-decade.

 

“When Le’Veon gets back, he’s going to start — there’s no secret,” Conner said. “I’m just trying to make the most of the reps.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

The Colts have made a quarterback cut.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Brad Kaaya went to the Colts late last year because he thought he’d have a chance to make the roster in 2018. It didn’t work out.

 

The Colts announced today that they have waived Kaaya, with an injury designation. He will go to injured reserve if he clears waivers.

 

Kaaya played his college football at Miami and was a 2017 sixth-round draft pick of the Lions. He has also spent time with the Panthers. He has never appeared in a regular-season game.

 

It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Lions put in a waiver claim for Kaaya, given that they reportedly liked his potential, and given that their backup quarterback competition between Matt Cassel and Jake Rudock has failed to produce a clear leader.

 

The Colts signed free agent cornerback Juante Baldwin with the roster spot made available by Kaaya’s departure.

 

AFC EAST

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

RICHIE INCOGNITO

Conner Casey of 247Sports.com with some sad details on Richie Incognito at the mortuary:

 

Richie Incognito was arrested on Monday for threats and disorderly conduct on Monday at a funeral home in Scottsdale, Arizona.

 

More details have come to light regarding the former Buffalo Bills lineman’s arrest, and they’re quite disturbing.

 

According to the arrest report obtained by the Democrat & Chronicle, Incognito was threatening to cut the head off his deceased father’s body for “research purposes.”

 

Incognito was originally at the Messingers Pinnacle Peak Mortuary to sign cremation papers for his father’s body, but wound up punching a number of caskets and throwing things inside the building.

 

He eventually calmed down and signed the papers, only to change his mind and decide to have his father’s body buried. The employees showed him a military casket he appeared to like, but then Incognito allegedly slammed an urn on top of it.

 

He then began throwing pamphlets around the room and broke down in tears. He then formed a gun with his fingers and allegedly pointed it at an employee, asking them if they’d like to see his gun collection inside his car. Police reportedly found a .40-caliber handgun, a Glock 17 9mm, a Glock 35 and four magazines inside his truck.

 

 

ANTHEM ANTICS

The DB has observed some NFL players and supportive media retweeting this remark from Beto O’Rourke.  He’s the Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas, trying to unseat Ted Cruz.  It was after a woman asked him a question at an event, a woman who did not seem comfortable with the NFL player protests.

 

O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman, was asked at a recent campaign event about NFL players who kneel during the anthem. O’Rourke replied, “I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee for your rights anytime, anywhere, any place.”