The Daily Briefing Friday, December 1, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
The NFL Office and its marketing whizzes demand a lot from the member clubs. But Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says they will no longer order compliance with the Color Rush uniform scheme.
In March, Washington proposed a rule that would allow teams to say “no thanks” to the Color Rush program. The NFL did not adopt that rule. Washington said “no thanks” to the Color Rush program anyway.
For Thursday night’s game at Dallas, a designated Color Rush occasion that saw the Cowboys wearing their approved, Nikefied white-on-white duds, Washington did not wear its official Color Rush gold-on-gold ensemble that is available for purchase, just in time for the holidays. Instead, Washington wore its usual burgundy jerseys, along with its burgundy pants.
It’s unclear why or how Washington avoided the obligation, or whether the league authorized it. (A request for comment has been submitted to the NFL and to the team.) The fact that Washington felt compelled to propose a rule change suggests that compliance isn’t optional. The fact that the league didn’t adopt the proposed rule change reinforces that point.
Regardless, Washington decided not to comply. Based on the quality (or lack thereof) of some of the other Color Rush uniforms, here’s hoping other teams follow suit.
UPDATE 2:08 p.m. ET: The NFL says that teams have gotten “more flexibility” when it comes to the Color Rush program. Basically, they can ditch the predetermined uniforms as long as they choose matching jerseys and pants from their normal color schemes.
The Packers do not want TE MARTELLUS BENNETT to keep what they think are ill-gotten gains. Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com:
The Green Bay Packers have filed paperwork in an attempt to collect a portion of Martellus Bennett’s signing bonus after they released him with the designation that he failed to disclose a medical condition.
The NFL Players Association told ESPN it is “aware of the situation and currently monitoring.”
The Packers released him with that designation to strengthen their case to recoup their money. They gave Bennett a $6.3 million signing bonus as part of his three-year, $21 million contract during free agency this past offseason.
The Packers could have tried to get back the entire signing bonus, but considering Bennett played seven games, the stronger case would apply to the remaining $4.2 million that’s prorated over the final two years of the deal. The case is expected to be heard by an arbitrator and would need to be settled before next season because of the salary-cap ramifications.
Bennett hinted that he was planning to retire during the Packers’ bye week. When he returned from the bye, he took part in the first practice. He never practiced after that and appeared on the injury report with a shoulder injury.
Shortly after the Packers released him on Nov. 8 and the New England Patriots claimed him the next day, Bennett disputed that he withheld any injury information and criticized the team’s medical staff, saying they were trying to force him to play. Several Packers players, both past and present, came to the defense of team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie, saying that if anything McKenzie is too conservative when it comes to clearing players.
Bennett was inactive for one game before the Packers released him. He later said he received multiple opinions that he needed surgery. He then played in two games for the Patriots before they placed him on injured reserve. Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews said the Packers “all got a good laugh” that Bennett was able to play for the Patriots but not the Packers.
In the postgame glow of their first win without RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT, QB DAK PRESCOTT is not worried about an injured hand. Austin Knoblauch of NFL.com:
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott briefly left for the locker room during the second quarter of Thursday’s 38-14 win over the Washington Redskins after suffering a hand injury.
According to NBC Sports sideline reporter Heather Cox, the X-rays Prescott underwent in the locker room on his right hand were negative. He didn’t miss an offensive snap, playing the final snaps of the first half despite dealing with swelling in the hand.
Prescott told reporters his hand was feelin “all right” after the game.
“It’s good,” Prescott said after the game. “Just initially, got hit on it, it bruised up and felt it swell a little bit at the time … it was on the option. I think I just put my hand on my stomach and his helmet hit it. It just swelled up. I was fine. We’ve got great trainers and doctors. They wrapped it up, fixed it up, and we were ready to go.”
The Cowboys were leading the Redskins, 17-0, when Prescott made his brief exit. He was back on the sideline with his teammates after spending a few minutes in the locker room.
Television cameras captured him throwing the ball on the sideline when he returned from the locker room. Backup quarterback Cooper Rush also warmed up briefly before Prescott’s return.
“I couldn’t grip initially because the swelling swelled up on me so bad,” Prescott said. “We wrapped it up, got the swelling down and I was fine.”
Prescott finished the game completing 11 of 22 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
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And a record for WR DEZ BRYANT. Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner:
The story around Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant is that he’s not quite the same receiver that he used to be. He doesn’t get separation from cornerbacks like he did a few years ago.
But he’s still good enough to go up and make a contested catch in the end zone, something that helped him rewrite the Cowboys’ record book on Thursday night.
Bryant went up over Washington Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland and hauled in a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. That was Bryant’s 72nd touchdown, passing Bob Hayes for the most touchdown catches in Cowboys history.
QB KIRK COUSINS hopes his misfortunes help brake the NFL’s ratings slide. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins was on the receiving end of blistering criticism on NFL Network after Thursday night’s loss to the Cowboys, with players-turned-commentators Marshall Faulk, Steve Smith and Michael Irvin all pinning the blame on Cousins.
Asked about it this morning, Cousins brushed it off. Cousins said on 106.7 The Fan that he wasn’t aware of the criticism, but once he heard about it, he figured it was just an attempt to stir controversy.
“People can say what they want to say, and that’s fine. I’m sure it drives ratings. It helps [attract] viewership. So be it,” Cousins said, via the Washington Post.
Faulk raised the question of whether Thursday night’s performance will make Washington decide not to sign Cousins to a lucrative contract this offseason, and Smith replied that Cousins’ performance” probably cost him between $10 and $20 million off that contract.”
One game probably isn’t going to cost Cousins eight figures on his next contract, but Cousins is more concerned with avoiding future games like last night’s than responding to his critics at the league-owned media outlet.
Falcons CB DESMOND TRUFANT remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol and will not play Sunday against the Vikings. Vaughn McClure of EPSN.com:
Trufant sustained a concussion in last week’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a helmet-to-helmet collision with teammate Keanu Neal. His absence means more opportunities for converted wide receiver C.J. Goodwin as the cornerback opposite Robert Alford.
The Falcons played without the 2015 Pro Bowler for the second half of last season after a pectoral injury landed him on injured reserve. Trufant was playing at a high level this season prior to the concussion.
While the Falcons lose Trufant, they will have nickelback Brian Poole, who has battled a back injury all week. Poole tested out his back during Friday’s practice and was cleared after meeting with coach Dan Quinn and a member of the medical staff.
The Panthers get coal in their holiday stocking, courtesy of NFL Justice.
The Panthers will be without a key member of their defensive line rotation for the next month.
The league announced that defensive end Charles Johnson was suspended four games for violating the policy on performance enhancing substances.
The suspension begins immediately, and he’ll be eligible to return for Week 17.
“I accept full responsibility,” Johnson said in a statement released by the team. “I have been recovering from back surgery, dealing with the daily grind of football and mistakenly thought this could help. It was an error in judgement on my part. We have a special group here I wanted to be a part of and felt an obligation to do my part by getting back as soon as possible.
“I have always prided myself on being a person who does things the right way through hard work, dedication and sacrifice. I want to apologize to my team, Mr. Richardson and Panthers fans for this mistake. Regretfully I have disappointed people, but I promise to come back ready to redeem myself when this suspension is over.”
The 31-year-old Johnson has 67.5 sacks in his 11 seasons with the team, and has been a solid player against the run throughout his career. Now, the Panthers are a man short as they push for playoff position.
Once hopeful of a return for T ZACH STRIEF, the Saints are resigned to pushing on this season without him.
Longtime New Orleans Saints right tackle Zach Strief will not return from injured reserve this season, a source told ESPN on Thursday.
Strief had surgery about two weeks ago to repair his ACL and MCL, ending his 12th NFL season and obviously leaving his future in doubt at age 34.
There was some hope that he might be able to return this season after he was placed on injured reserve in Week 5, depending on how his knee injury responded to rest and treatment. Surgery, however, wound up being necessary.
Rookie first-round draft pick Ryan Ramczyk has been terrific as Strief’s replacement. However, Saints left tackle Terron Armstead is dealing with thigh and shoulder injuries this week, so the added depth might have come in handy if Strief had been able to return.
Strief has been a pillar in the Saints’ lineup since he first took over as a starter in 2011. He has started 94 regular-season games. A seventh-round draft pick out of Northwestern in 2006, Strief is tied with Drew Brees as the longest-tenured players on New Orleans’ roster.
Strief was still going strong before he first suffered the knee injury in Week 1 and re-injured it in Week 4. He had one of his best seasons in 2016 and actually earned a rare raise from the Saints this offseason to reflect the level of his play.
Strief still has a year remaining on his contract, but he has described himself as “year to year” during the past two seasons, saying he’ll walk away if he ever feels like he is becoming a liability.
QB JAMEIS WINSTON cannot imagine that NFL Justice would suspend him. Others can imagine it. Jenna Laine of ESPN.com:
– Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since allegations surfaced two weeks ago that he groped a female Uber driver.
He said he “absolutely” believes he will be vindicated by the NFL’s investigation and has no fear of a suspension.
first time since being shelved for three weeks in order to heal his injured throwing shoulder.
“I have no fear at all, but I have to respect their process,” Winston said. “I’m just going to respect the process, most importantly. That’s all I can do.”
Winston previously issued a statement at the time that the allegations surfaced in a BuzzFeed report, denying them. He had been dealing with a shoulder injury and had not been required to take part in his weekly news conferences since he was not playing.
ESPN confirmed that no police report had been filed in Scottsdale, Arizona, the night the alleged incident occurred in March 2016. The driver did file a complaint with her employer, however, and Winston’s Uber riding privileges were revoked.
The woman stated that Winston was in the passenger seat of the vehicle and that he reached over and placed his hand on her crotch while waiting in a fast food drive-thru. The restaurant, Los Betos Mexican Food, told ESPN that it does not have surveillance set up at its drive-thru.
Winston believes that the driver was mistaken about the number of passengers in the car and where Winston was sitting in the vehicle, something former Florida State teammate Ronald Darby corroborated in a statement. Darby was also with Winston the night an alleged 2012 sexual assault took place at Florida State. Uber drivers are not required to keep a log of the number of passengers in their vehicle at one time.
“I put my statement out there discussing this allegation, and I’ve gotta respect the process [of the league investigation]. I’ve been vindicated several times on the past situation,” Winston said when he was asked why he and Darby found themselves at the center of another sexual-assault allegation. “So my statement on those accusations stand firm too. As always, it’s always a growing process in everything. And I’m going to continue to grow.”
Asked how multiple allegations have affected his family, he said: “One thing about my family is that we’re very strong in our faith, and we’re very strong in believing that nothing in our past can control our future.
“Since I got to Tampa Bay and how I’ve grown the past few years — [that’s] meant a lot to my family, seeing my development through college. I think that’s more important than what could be said from any outside source.”
LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Rams will have to make do without WR ROBERT WOODS until the 17th per Coach Sean McVay. Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com:
Robert Woods, the Los Angeles Rams’ leading receiver, probably won’t return in time for the team’s highly anticipated Week 14 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, first-year head coach Sean McVay said Thursday.
Woods has already been ruled out for Sunday’s road game against the division rival Arizona Cardinals. It will mark his second straight missed game.
McVay said the Rams are “shooting for” Woods to be available for a home game against the first-place Eagles the following Sunday, on Dec. 10. But he added, “I think a more realistic target would be the Seattle game” on Dec. 17.
Woods leads the Rams in catches (47) and receiving yards (703) and narrowly avoided serious injury when Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith tackled him in the middle of the field late in the Rams’ Week 11 game. Woods was ultimately diagnosed with a sprained left shoulder that did not require surgery, but he has yet to practice.
S DARIAN STEWART will pay for his concussion-causing hit on Raiders WR AMARI COOPER. A fine of $24,039 has been levied according to the Denver Post’s Nicki Jhabvala
CB DARRELLE REVIS says playing against the Jets is just another game. Adam Teicher of ESPN.com:
Cornerback Darrelle Revis will play his first game for the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday against his longtime team, the New York Jets, at MetLife Stadium.
He said the opponent Sunday wouldn’t be of much inspiration once the game begins.
“I don’t think it’s any extra motivation,” said Revis, who signed with the Chiefs last week to continue his 10-year career. He spent eight seasons over two stints with the Jets, who released him after last season.
“For me throughout my career, it’s always been about timing. I just felt where I was at in my training that I was fit and ready to come back and play football.”
The experience playing against the Jets won’t be a new one for Revis. He played against the Jets three times during his two seasons away from New York. Two of those games were with the Patriots and one with the Buccaneers.
“No,” he said when asked whether he has anything to prove to the Jets.
“We have a long history … I had an awesome time there. We had our runs, our AFC championships back to back that we missed out on. Great guys, great teammates that I’ve been around there. Most of my legacy was with the Jets, so I don’t think it’s anything (personal). I’m just on another team. This is my fourth ball club throughout my career, and now I’m focused on our team goals and what we’re trying to do as a team and accomplish.
“For me personally, I don’t think there’s any ill will or anything to take a stab at or get back at the Jets for any reason.”
Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com let’s us know that Coach Doug Marrone is often, especially in the late afternoons on Sunday, literally full of baloney.
Marrone has had a lifelong love affair with the deli meat that has carried on through his days as an offensive lineman at Syracuse, his time as a head coach at his alma mater and the Buffalo Bills, and now as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coach. A bologna and cheese sandwich — regular or fried — is his go-to postgame meal.
As well as any other time he gets a hankering.
“It reminds me of when I was young, and I do truly enjoy it,” Marrone said. “If someone said I was going to be executed and what my last meal was, I’m going to have a bologna and cheese sandwich.”
Like many kids, Marrone ate bologna and cheese sandwiches when he was growing up in the Bronx. Unlike most kids, however, Marrone never outgrew them. Through high school and college, Marrone stuck with bologna and cheese despite getting razzed by teammates.
“When I was in college at Syracuse, I remember people saying, ‘My God! How can you eat bologna?’” Marrone said. “And I always like bologna because bologna, you never have to throw it out. In other words, if it’s in the refrigerator and you get a little film on it, then you just fry it and it tastes just as good.”
The Bills are signaling that they will be without WR KELVIN BENJAMIN. He misses a second straight game with the knee injury suffered in Week 11 at the Chargers.
THIS AND THAT
49ers S ERIC REID doesn’t want to take $100 million and shut up. Author Emma Baccellieri of Deadspin throws in her two cents of the NFL’s plan to rob from Peter to payoff Paul.
Eric Reid confirmed that the NFL’s $89 million commitment to social justice causes isn’t as directly positive a move as it might seem—telling Slate on Thursday that the league presented players with a plan to make the donation by diverting money from other charitable ventures, like breast cancer awareness and the monthlong celebration of the military that is “Salute to Service.”
Reid left the Players Coalition, the group that’s been negotiating with the league in light of the national anthem protests, earlier this week. He wasn’t the only one. Earlier reporting by Slate indicated that Reid was asked if he’d stop protesting during the anthem if the league made a donation. (Just a day after that story ran, one of the Players Coalition’s leaders, Malcolm Jenkins, announced that he’d cease his own protests.) Essentially, there was already plenty to imply that this donation wasn’t the result of the NFL’s earnest desire to help social justice causes. And Reid’s interview makes it that much clearer:
“[NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell is trying to make this as easy for the owners to agree to as possible so that—again, their goal is to end the protests,” Reid said. “He’s trying to make it as easy possible to do that for the owners. He’s going to present them with a proposal saying, Look you really don’t have to do anything. We’re just going to shift this money from this area and just move it here.”
The 49ers safety told Slate that the idea of moving the money away from other charitable causes was unacceptable to him and the other players who left the Coalition, and the plan contributed in their decision to leave the group and stop negotiating with the league. Reid also confirmed that the person who had directly asked him to stop protesting was Jenkins, whom he described as the only player he knew of who had protested during the anthem and now accepted the NFL’s proposal:
“Based on my understanding, every player who was actually protesting [aside from Jenkins] was not in agreement [with] this proposal,” Reid told Slate. “That leaves a remaining, I guess, nine or so players who don’t protest who were in agreement with the proposal…. I think [it’s] obvious that these [nine non-protesters] are people who have not sacrificed their careers, who Malcolm is using as his backing to say that the coalition is in agreement.”
The $89 million donation is a seven-year commitment and is built to include an annual contribution from both team owners and players. Reid further confirmed the prior reporting that a sizable chunk of the donation would not be earmarked for specific organizations or purposes and rather would be spent at the discretion of a committee that would primarily be made up of those representing league and team office interests, rather than players.
In other words, the NFL asked players to stop protesting racial injustice in exchange for a charitable donation by the league—which is, on its own, at best a gross misunderstanding of the players’ motivation here and at worst a craven move to prioritize public image over all else—only for that charitable donation to be the result of money shuffled over from other charitable spending, with a strong possibility that half of the money wouldn’t even be going directly to charity.
“It would really be no skin off the owners’ backs,” Reid told Slate. It never is.
Meanwhile, with the TIME Person of the Year looming, Colin Kaepernick picks up some hardware from Sports Illustrated and the family of Muhammad Ali. But it is not Sportsperson of the Year. Michael Rosenberg extols Kaep:
“If I was walking down the highway with a quarter in my pocket and a briefcase full of truth, I’d be so happy.” – Muhammad Ali, Sports Illustrated, Feb. 19, 1968
Colin Kaepernick made his truth known when he first decided not to stand for the national anthem. He had a lot of football left to play and a lot more money to make when he made his decision. It was late August, 2016. People who were anonymous in life had become famous in death. Philando Castile. Eric Garner . Alton Sterling. Freddie Gray. They were tragic symbols of a society that had taken a terribly wrong turn. As the anthem played ahead of the 49ers’ preseason game against the Texans, Kaepernick, San Francisco’s 28-year-old quarterback at the time, quietly took a seat on the bench.
It took two weeks for anyone from the media to ask him about it. Kaepernick explained that he was making a statement about inequality and social justice, about the ways this country “oppresses black people and people of color.”
“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” he added. “There are bodies in the street,” he said then, “and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
In the last 16 months, Kaepernick’s truth has been twisted, distorted and used for political gain. It has cost him at least a year of his NFL career and the income that should have come with it. But still, it is his truth. He has not wavered from it. He does not regret speaking it. He has caused millions of people to examine it. And, quietly, he has donated nearly a million dollars to support it.
For all those reasons—for his steadfastness in the fight for social justice, for his adherence to his beliefs no matter the cost—Colin Kaepernick is the recipient of the 2017 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. Each year SI and the Ali family honor a figure who embodies the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy and has used sports as a platform for changing the world. “I am proud to be able to present this to Colin for his passionate defense of social justice and civil rights for all people,” says Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s widow. “Like Muhammad, Colin is a man who stands on his convictions with confidence and courage, undaunted by the personal sacrifices he has had to make to have his message heard. And he has used his celebrity and philanthropy to benefit some of our most vulnerable community members.”
revious Legacy winners—including Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, Jack Nicklaus and Magic Johnson—were deserving. But no winner has been more fitting than Kaepernick. Ali lost more than three years of his career for his refusal to serve in the military in opposition to the Vietnam War. Kaepernick has lost one year, so far, for his pursuit of social justice.
When Kaepernick first protested during the national anthem, he could not have envisioned the size and duration of the ensuing firestorm. But he knew there would be fallout. So much has changed in America since the summer of 2016, and so many words have been used to describe Kaepernick. But his words from his first explanation remain his truth:
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
Kaepernick kept his job for a season before being blackballed by the NFL—and yes, he has been blackballed. This should be obvious by now. Scott Tolzien, Cody Kessler, Tom Savage and Matt Cassel have thrown passes in the league this year, yet nobody has tried to sign Kaepernick, who is fifth in NFL history in touchdown-to-interception ratio. Kaepernick has been called a distraction, which is laughable— his coach last year, Chip Kelly, says there was “zero distraction,” and his 49ers teammates said the same. Most NFL players would rather be “distracted” by Kaepernick than try to tackle the guy who just intercepted Brock Osweiler.
Kaepernick has paid a price beyond missing games and losing paychecks. He has been battered by critics who don’t want to understand him. Some say Kaepernick hates America; he says he is trying to make it better. Others say he hates the military, but on Sept. 1, 2016, as the then-San Diego Chargers played a tribute to the military on the stadium videoboard, Kaepernick applauded.
Kaepernick has listened to the President of the United States take credit for his unemployment. He has seen others falsely claim that he has disappointed the white parents who raised him. He has heard people discredit him because he wore socks that depicted pigs in police hats and a T-shirt with Fidel Castro’s picture on it. (He has said the socks were only meant to represent “rogue cops” and that while he supports Castro’s investment in education, “I never said I support the oppressive things he [Castro] did.”)
Nobody claims Kaepernick is perfect. Reasonable, woke people can be upset that he did not vote in the 2016 election. But the Ali Legacy Award does not honor perfection, and the criticisms of Kaepernick are misguided in one fundamental way: They make this story a referendum on Kaepernick. It was never supposed to be about him. It is about Tamir Rice and the world’s highest incarceration rate and a country that devalues education and slides too easily into violence.
Bill Belichick has some thoughts on the passing of the guard at CBS. Mike Reiss at ESPN.com with the tidbit that Phil Simms is a left-footed punter:
For the 20 years that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were the top broadcasting team at CBS, they called so many New England Patriots games that their presence was almost expected on a weekly basis.
And before those games, as is standard protocol for all teams, they have production meetings that included head coach Bill Belichick and various players.
With Nantz working with Tony Romo for the first time this year (the duo will call Sunday’s Patriots-Bills game), this seemed like the right time to ask Belichick a question that has been on the mind: How much does he miss regularly catching up with Simms – who was on the Giants teams in the 1980s that Belichick was part of – and what has it been like meeting with Romo?
Belichick obliged on the topic during his Friday morning news conference:
“They did a great job and I always enjoyed Phil. Even though I never really coached Phil – Phil was the quarterback, I was the defensive coordinator – we’d talk a lot. I thought we had a real good relationship with the Giants. We talked a lot about coverages and schemes: ‘What do you see? How can I help you? How can you help me?’ Phil was great that way. He was a very knowledgeable player that even things like the kicking game – which as a quarterback you’re not really a part of – Phil was always interested in. I actually involved him in different things when I was with the Giants.
“Even though Phil throws the ball right-handed, everything else he does in his life is left-handed, including punt. So when we had the great right-footed punters at the Giants – Dave Jennings and Sean Landeta – when we went and played against a left-footed punter, Phil was my go-to-guy there. Things like that – he was always very accommodating and helpful. But he always had an interest in it too.
“Honestly, I didn’t hear a lot of games he did for us, but when I heard other games he did, I always thought he gave a lot of great insight into the game – not just from the quarterback’s perspective, but from the team standpoint. So, yeah, I do miss seeing him multiple times during the season when he would have our games.
“Tony, I’d say, is similar: A very inquisitive guy with a good history of the game. He asks a lot of questions about when I was with the Giants, or the 70s, or the 80s, or Tom Landry, and so forth. He’s pretty knowledgeable for a player that wasn’t in that era. He knows a lot about it and has obviously read and studied it.
“He sees a lot of things – a lot of fine points of defensive scheme or a play that I’d say a lot of guys I talk to don’t, and he asks about those: ‘What was this guy reading on this? Why did this guy do that? Was this guy’s job on this play to do something that is kind of subtle?’ He picks up on those things and I’d say asks a lot of very detailed, coaching, technical-type questions that you don’t get in a lot of those meetings. He’s good. I’ve enjoyed working with him.”
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We missed this on November 16, but Clay Travis offered four reasons then as to why the NFL has TV ratings issues this year – and only one of them is the National Anthem protest and the NFL’s appeasement of them:
As Roger Goodell, Jerry Jones, and the NFL engage in an ugly internal fight over the future leadership of the NFL, TV partners at CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC are staring at their own internal conflicts — namely a substantial decline in NFL ratings that is on pace to cost the four networks up to $500 million in lost revenue.
Already several hundred million in lost revenue has been booked in 2017 and it has the league’s top executives and television partners scrambling to figure out what went wrong. How did a league that was setting ratings records in 2015 suddenly see its audience fall by nearly 20% just two years later.
While much of the attention has focused on the protests, according to ongoing conversations with several people close to the league and its television partners over the past couple of months, the ratings decline that will cost the TV partners up to $500 million can actually be attributed to four primary factors.
Those factors in order:
1. The decimation of the one eastern kickoff window on Sundays.
If you’re anything like me your typical Sunday as a kid looked like this — you went to church on Sunday mornings and then when you got home from church you ate Sunday lunch with your family and someone put on the NFL game.
It used to be that the NFL’s one eastern kickoff window was can’t miss television. It was the foundation of the league’s television dominance.
Monday Night Football didn’t really detract from the overall product because it was just one game.
But then the NFL added games games in London, a Sunday Night Football game on NBC, and a Thursday night football game all year around.
You now have just seven or eight games kicking off in this one eastern window and those games are frequently bad or mediocre for most of the country because the better games are being pulled to be put on exclusive airing windows on Thursday, Monday or Sunday nights.
For instance, I’m going to watch Titans-Steelers tonight and I’m letting my boys stay up late to watch this game with me tonight. But I’ve already told my wife that we can do whatever she wants on Sunday during the usual Titans window — at one eastern — because we won’t be watching our local team play then.
So the NFL will get my viewership on Thursday, but they will lose my viewership on Sunday.
I’m betting that’s true for many Titans or Steelers fan and that situation replicates itself for fans of teams all season long.
The NFL’s Thursday night game, in conjunction with Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football, is cannibalizing the audience for Sunday at one eastern and, worst of all in the mind of many, it’s also starting to change viewing habits.
No longer is the one eastern window on Sunday the highlight of the sports calendar in the fall.
The result? Ratings are down for Fox and CBS, which used to see massive numbers for this one eastern game and aren’t seeing those same numbers any longer.
There’s a belief out there that the NFL has oversaturated the marketplace and as a result detracted from its most reliable foundation — the one eastern kickoff games nationwide.
2. Bad football.
Put plainly, the NFL is often putting a poor product on the field and NFL fans are choosing to spend their time doing something else.
Much of this is a function of poor quarterback play. You can frequently rate the quality of a game almost entirely based on the quarterbacks who are playing against each other. Seriously, you don’t even need to name the teams.
Let’s consider this week’s slate of 14 NFL games entirely from a quarterback perspective. I’d rank them thusly:
1. Tom Brady vs. Derek Carr
2. Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott
3. Matt Ryan vs. Russell Wilson
4. Kirk Cousins vs. Drew Brees
5. Marcus Mariota vs. Ben Roethislisberger
6. Alex Smith vs. Eli Manning
7. Jared Goff vs. Case Keenum
8. Nathan Peterman vs. Philip Rivers
9. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Jay Cutler
10. Matt Stafford vs. Mitch Trubisky
11. Andy Dalton vs. Brock Osweiler
12. Joe Flacco vs. Brett Hundley
13. Blake Bortles vs. Deshone Kizer
14. Blaine Gabbert vs. Tom Savage
Seven of the 14 games feature two good quarterbacks going head-to-head.
And that’s being pretty generous.
And this is a good week for quarterback match-ups in the NFL.
Odds are the other seven games are going to be pretty mediocre or just plain bad because the quarterbacks are not good. And, worst of all, if you live in the geographic footprint featuring these match ups, you’re held hostage by these games.
Unlike, say, college football where you can flip around and pick the best game if your game stinks, you are stuck in most media markets with only one option, frequently a bad one. That fuels the perception that NFL games are a bad product. Because many of the NFL’s fans don’t see the best games the league produces because their regional game is crap. (I’m going to write on this soon, but I’ve got a radical idea to make the NFL TV product much better, put every game on television. But that’s for a future column.)
In the meantime, I think the biggest threat to the NFL’s product right now is the lack of quality quarterbacks. The scary thing for the NFL? I don’t see that improving because with the CTE issues now becoming a major point of discussion across the country there are going to be fewer and fewer kids playing football. You know most parents won’t let their children box now because we know what it does to a person’s brain, what if the same thing happens with football?
You might think the declining numbers of kids playing football won’t impact things very much, but it’s important to contemplate the position that will be most impacted by this decision.
I think CTE is likely to decimate the quarterback position in football.
That’s because quarterbacks tend to come from two parent, middle class households and the players would probably go to college even if they didn’t play football. Playing quarterback is expensive, you have to go to exclusive camps now to refine your craft and become elite.
The parents of quarterbacks are the most likely parents to pull their sons from football.
Look at the list of top quarterbacks in the NFL, how many of them needed to play football to go to college? Maybe Dak Prescott. Maybe. Are there any other star quarterbacks in the NFL that wouldn’t have gone to college without football?
Not that I know of.
That means football is something that they are choosing to do as part of many other potential activities, sports and otherwise. Football isn’t their way out of poverty, it’s just a sport they start playing and happen to be good at. Odds are most top quarterbacks in the NFL could have also been pretty good at baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, tennis or lacrosse if they’d played those sports instead.
What would happen if you took the top ten quarterbacks and removed them from the NFL? The league would be virtually unwatchable, right?
In the next decade will the Manning brothers, the Brady’s and Brees’s, the Cam Newton’s, Matt Ryan’s and Russell Wilson’s of the world play football? I doubt their parents will let them.
They’ll play other sports.
If that happens, the NFL’s bad play is going to get worse and worse in the years ahead.
3. The addition of two teams to Los Angeles.
While the NFL spent a great deal of time celebrating its return to the nation’s second largest city the reality is this, the Rams and the Chargers have brought down television ratings in Los Angeles, costing the league’s TV partners tens of millions of dollars in tenths of ratings points by themselves.
Because over the past generation without the NFL in LA, the city received the best games every week.
Instead of getting local teams like the Rams and the Chargers, Los Angeles got the Cowboys and the Patriots, the best teams with the biggest fan bases playing in the most important weekly games.
And TV ratings were very good in Los Angeles.
Then LA got two teams of its own and TV ratings dropped.
If the league wants to combat the ratings decline — and it most certainly does — they need to change the rules to allow Los Angeles to get better games, ones that don’t just feature the local teams.
4. The protest
While the protest has received the majority of the media attention and the league and TV partners definitely believe it’s an issue, they don’t believe the protest is the reason for the substantial drop in ratings by itself.
It is one of the reasons for declining ratings, they believe, not THE reason.
There is agreement that the NFL needs to find a resolution to the protests, but the most alarming thing for the league and its TV partners is simply eliminating the protest won’t return the NFL to its ratings golden era, just two short years past.
There’s a significant belief that the league’s TV partners, who are facing up to $500 million in losses this year, need a fundamental restructuring of TV windows to avoid losing even more money in the years ahead.
Can the NFL reclaim its ratings mojo?
Maybe, but not without some substantial changes.
In the meantime, TV is losing hundreds of millions of dollars on NFL games, and they ain’t happy.
Ace at AceOfSpades.com offers his thoughts that include notion of The Completist:
One of the reasons I used to like the NFL was the specialness of each game, as there were so few. In baseball and basketball, individual games aren’t so important; it’s winning and losing streaks.
Now, teams don’t play more games (the NFLPA resists that, I think: the NFL has entertained an 18-game schedule, I think), but the NFL now has games on Sunday morning, the typical Sunday 1pm game, the 4 pm game, the Sunday night alleged game of the week, the Monday night even more dubious game of the week, and the not-even-pretending-it’s-a-game-of-the-week game on Thursday night.
There’s just a loss of specialness there.
I think there might also be a Completist Revolt going on too. People with the Completist Bug — who need to watch every episode, buy every videogame sequel and DLC, etc. — used to be able to be NFL completists, watching all games available in their markets.
But you can only push a Completist so far before he can no longer even attempt being a Completist and stops even trying. If a Completist football fan now tried to watch all the games available to him, he’d pretty much have to be unemployed and without a family, or he would be after a season of attempting this feat.
That observation may be a stretch too far, but I think it’s a factor in bubble markets. As long as you’re not trying to extract too much from your Completist types, you can flood the market with product and basically tax them for revenue. They’ll pay the tax on their time and money and you’ll reap rewards.
But if you flood the market beyond that, the Completists begin abandoning the hobby. Which is bad for business, because you can really milk a Completist for a lot of their time and money. Right up to the point where they give up and tune out.
That said, I think this is mostly about the politics. Conservatives used to love football almost without reservation, not just because of the product, but because of the values (tradition, family, respect for the military) they thought the NFL shared.
Now it’s just another SJW TV show with a lot of progressive actors and executives.
The DB, who has never attempted to start “Breaking Bad” for example because of the great commitment watching all of it would take, can understand this. We would also add that college football now has much the same phenomenon going on, so it is doubly harder to be a “Football” Completist. So you have to make choices, and sometimes those choices don’t include football.
Matt Bowen of ESPN.com has some thoughts about where Oklahoma QB BAKER MAYFIELD could/should end up:
With 42 total touchdowns and more than 4,000 yards passing this season, Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield heads into championship Saturday as the Heisman Trophy favorite. And with a win over TCU in the Big 12 title game, Mayfield and the Sooners can punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff.
But as we start to look ahead to the 2018 NFL draft process, where does Mayfield fit in the pro game? With a playmaking skill set, an accurate arm and the quick release to make tight window throws, I’ve already dug into the tape and projected Mayfield as an early Day 2 pick.
So which NFL teams are a fit for Mayfield based on need, system and personnel? Here are five teams that should take a look at Mayfield in April — in order.
1. Miami Dolphins
The Jay Cutler experiment hasn’t worked out, and the team could cut injured former starter Ryan Tannehill this offseason with little effect on its cap space. That would open a door for the Dolphins to target Mayfield near the top of the second round. And I like the fit here in coach Adam Gase’s offense.
Think of the run-pass options, the play-action and the movement schemes that would cater to Mayfield’s game. Look at the quick release with the ability to attack tight windows, just as he did earlier this season in the win at Ohio State (see the example below). Show the bubble screen off the run fake — and draw the linebacker — get the eyes back inside, and find the hole in the coverage to hit the seam for the touchdown. Just picture DeVante Parker running that route with Mayfield threading the ball up the seam.
Given that Miami needs to think hard about its future at quarterback, I’m buying the idea of the Dolphins taking a hard look at Mayfield. The skill set and the system is a match. And so is the value on Day 2 of the draft.
2. New Orleans Saints
The 38-year-old Drew Brees is still playing well in his 17th NFL season, but it’s time for the Saints to invest in the future. Chase Daniel is not the long-term answer. I would love to see Mayfield working with Sean Payton and the balanced offensive system in New Orleans.
Think of the quick game, inside-the numbers-throws and play-action opportunities that are created off the Saints’ run game with Mark Ingram and rookie star Alvin Kamara. With a year or two to sit behind Brees, Mayfield would be in a position to step into an offense that could really maximize his ability. Throw the three-step game, get outside off boot, work leveled concepts and rip the ball on the seam in scoring opportunities, as Mayfield has shown on his college tape.
Plus, we have to look at the coaching Mayfield would get under Payton. That’s high-level ability stuff there with a playbook that would put the young quarterback in a position to succeed. New Orleans traded its 2018 second-round pick to move up to take Kamara in the 2017 draft — which looks great so far — so the Saints would have to look at Mayfield at the end of Round 1. I don’t think that’s too high — remember, contracts for first-round picks include a fifth-year option, which is extremely valuable. And the fit with Mayfield and Payton makes too much sense.
3. New England Patriots
Maybe Tom Brady does have two years left at the top of his game, but that hasn’t stopped Bill Belichick and the Patriots from drafting quarterbacks before. Jimmy Garoppolo was a second-round pick in 2014, and the Patriots grabbed Jacoby Brissett in the third round in 2016. And while Mayfield would have to sit behind Brady, who will be 41 when the 2018 season begins, the system in New England will adapt to fit the personnel at the position.
With the short-to-intermediate passing game — and the ability to create consistent matchups at all three levels of the field — Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is a master at using his personnel to generate positive one-on-ones and open-window opportunities. Mix in more spread concepts for Mayfield by throwing post-wheel (see the example below) and flood concepts. Sprinkle in some RPOs and play to the modern game using multiple personnel groupings to get the exact matchup New England wants.
Oklahoma retakes lead as Mayfield goes deepTrailing for the first time, Baker Mayfield airs it out to Mark Andrews along the right sideline for a 59-yard touchdown, putting the Sooners up 29-24.
With no developmental backup in place behind Brady, I expect New England to target a quarterback in the 2018 draft. And with the second-round pick they added while trading Garoppolo to the 49ers, they would be in perfect position to land Mayfield at the beginning of Day 2 — just ahead of the next team on this list, for now.
4. New York Giants
The Giants are expected to go through a major transition this offseason. And we’ve seen the beginning of that process with Eli Manning being demoted as the starting quarterback. While we don’t know what type of system, or leadership, New York is going to have in 2018, could Mayfield thrive there? Sure, if the Giants look to rebuild that offensive line at the top of the draft — they’re projected by ESPN’s Football Power Index to have pick No. 4 overall — and then target Mayfield as an early Day 2 pick.
The pieces would be in place at the offensive skill positions with a healthy Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and another year of development for Evan Engram. And even though we can’t speculate on the exact offense the Giants will run next season, the core concepts still apply in every NFL playbook. Just picture Mayfield getting the ball out to Beckham in space on the three-step.
Now, can Mayfield survive the intense scrutiny in New York? Yes, I think he can. He plays with an edge, a supreme confidence level. I think he can handle the pressure of playing in a massive market with a swagger that his teammates will feed off. And if the Giants pass on UCLA’s Josh Rosen or USC’s Sam Darnold in Round 1 to address their issues up front, Mayfield could be in play when the clock starts on the second round of the draft.
5. Minnesota Vikings
The smart money’s on Teddy Bridgewater starting the 2018 season as the Vikings’ No. 1 QB. But Bridgewater, Case Keenum and Sam Bradford are all heading into the offseason as unrestricted free agents, and there is a possibility that Minnesota targets a quarterback in the draft. Mayfield could be an option at the end of the first round.
We’ve seen the production from Keenum this season in Pat Shurmur’s offense, and the Vikings have legit weapons at wide receiver with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Mayfield would be a system fit here, and he has shown the ability to produce in the same route concepts that pop up at the pro level.
This could all be moot if the Vikings roll with Bridgewater (or even Keenum) as their quarterback heading into 2018. But the fit is right with Mayfield in Minnesota, running a balanced system and playing with a top-tier defense that can create prime field position for a rookie quarterback.