The Daily Briefing Friday, July 20, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
The NFLPA seems to have realized that suing the NFL to allow their members to disrespect/protest during the Anthem might not be a great way to grow the game or enhance their members reputations with the bulk of NFL fans. Austin Knoblach of NFL.com:
The NFL and NFL Players Association announced in a joint statement Thursday that league and team policies regarding conduct during the playing of the national anthem will not be issued or enforced for several weeks as part of a standstill agreement between the two sides.
A source informed of the situation told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero that everything connected to league and club policies on the anthem will remain on hold as discussions between the NFL and the union play out.
The development comes after a Miami Dolphins source told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that the NFL was requiring every team to submit conduct rules for the national anthem before players reported to training camp. The Dolphins had already submitted their plan to the league since their rookies reported to the training camp Wednesday, Rapoport reported.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that “Dolphins players who protest on the field during the national anthem could be suspended for up to four games under a team policy issued this week.” The AP added that the Dolphins’ anthem conduct policy was under a large list of “conduct detrimental to the club” items.
That policy remains on hold under the standstill agreement, which comes after the NFLPA filed a grievance on July 10. In its grievance, the union stated, among other things, that the policy infringes on player rights.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, the maximum discipline for conduct detrimental to the club is a week’s salary or a suspension of up to four games. A source informed of the situation told NFL Network’s Michael Silver, however, it is unrealistic that any player would be suspended four games for kneeling during the anthem if the policy was enforced.
Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com reports ongoing talks:
The NFL and its Players’ Association released a joint statement Thursday night, hours after word leaked that the Dolphins have included a “Proper Anthem Conduct” section in their nine-page player disciplinary document. The statement said the sides have had recent discussions and are working on a resolution.
“The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue. In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA’s grievance and on the NFL’s anthem policy. No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing.
“The NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country to promote equality, fairness and justice.
“Our shared focus will remain on finding a solution to the anthem issue through mutual, good faith commitments, outside of litigation.”
The players’ union filed a grievance against the league over its anthem policy. In response to criticism of players kneeling on the field, the NFL changed its policy this offseason, requiring players either to stand for the national anthem or to stay in the locker room during the anthem.
See TENNESSEE for more.
A positive report on the health of WR ALLEN ROBINSON. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:
The Bears’ first-round draft pick is noticeably absent as rookies report for the start of training camp, but the team’s big-ticket free-agent acquisition should be ready to go when the veterans join in next week.
Coach Matt Nagy said Thursday that he does not expect any of his players to open camp on the physically unable to perform list.
As a matter of fact, Nagy added, No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson is “full steam ahead” after rehabilitation from ACL surgery, per the Chicago Tribune.
Although the former Jaguars star joined his new club for spring practices, he was not a full participant in team drills. Nagy confirmed in mid-May that Robinson remains “ahead of the game” in his rehab timetable.
Robinson testified Thursday that he now feels “100 percent.”
“I feel great,” Robinson said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “It was all about getting ready for this time right here.”
The Bears took a risk on the 2015 Pro Bowl selection, shelling out $42 million over three years despite Robinson’s disappointing 2016 campaign and injury-marred 2017 season.
The player who sold the most jerseys in the first quarter of 2018 may not start a single game in 2018. Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:
Nick Foles might not start the season at No. 1 on the Eagles’ depth chart, but he will close out the offseason atop at least one list.
The Eagles quarterback and Super Bowl LII MVP was the top seller for all league-licensed product sold from March 1 to May 31 this year, according to a list provided by the NFLPA. Foles bested his Super Bowl counterpart, Tom Brady, and fellow Philadelphia legend Carson Wentz, who were both second and third in apparel sold.
The NFLPA defined “officially licensed NFL player branded merchandise sold” as everything from jerseys to bobbleheads, from socks to Fatheads, and from pet products to cake decorations(?).
Rounding out the list were a rookie, two Cowboys, a face in a new place and a Raider:
1. Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
3. Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
4. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
5. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
6. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
7. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
8. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers
9. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
10. Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders
Other #funfacts from the NFLPA’s apparel press release:
» Seven players from the Eagles’ first SB title team ranked among the top 50 players in paraphernalia peddled: Foles (1), Wentz (3), Zach Ertz (13), Alshon Jeffery (33), Brandon Graham (34), Fletcher Cox (46) and LeGarrette Blount (49).
» The youngins don’t care for Foles. Brady led all players in youth jersey sales, followed by Barkley, Wentz, Beckham, Garoppolo, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, Sam Darnold, Von Miller and Russell Wilson.
» No player saw more pet accessories and apparel sold in his image than Brady.
According to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, WR JULIO JONES will be playing on his existing contract this year or not playing at all.
The Atlanta Falcons informed Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones last month that they would not give him a contract extension this season, sources confirmed to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The communication doesn’t mean the Falcons can’t modify Jones’ contract this season in the form of incentives, but his deal will not be extended in 2018, sources said.
The fact that someone in the Falcons organization has publicly commented does not sit well with Jones, sources told Schefter, and Jones now will have to decide whether to attend training camp next week.
If Jones does not report to training camp, he is subject to a $40,000 fine per day missed.
The team’s decision not to renegotiate a deal with Jones was first reported by The Athletic.
Jones, who did not join the team for offseason workouts or a mandatory minicamp, was seeking a raise with three years and $34.426 million left on his contract. He signed a five-year, $71.25 million extension in August 2015 that included $47 million guaranteed. Jones is due $10.5 million for the ’18 season.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff made it clear that the top priorities right now are extensions for left tackle Jake Matthews, nose tackle Grady Jarrett and free safety Ricardo Allen. The team typically addresses contract extensions when a player is entering the final year of a contract and apparently doesn’t want to set a new precedent by addressing Jones’ deal with three years left.
Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com approves of the risky move made by the Saints to land DE MARCUS DAVENPORT:
Sean Payton started to believe that Marcus Davenport might be the player to help get the Saints back to the Super Bowl not all that long after their 2017 season ended in bizarre, heartbreaking fashion by blowing a late lead on a miracle play by the Minnesota Vikings.
In the aftermath of that 61-yard heave from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs, the Saints coach along with general manager Mickey Loomis and the entire scouting staff turned their full attention on how to best utilize the 2018 draft to get the team back to a Lombardi Trophy.
The franchise’s misfortunes had reversed in large part due to a loaded 2017 draft class, and over the course of the winter the Saints would become convinced that their 2018 Super Bowl aspirations might be best served with a laser focus on a particular player who could get to the opposing quarterback and negate the kind of play Keenum (who threw for 318 yards) made to end New Orleans’ season in the divisional round.
With the draft short of elite edge rushers, and such players in their prime basically never available in free agency, Marcus Davenport, from football outpost Texas San Antonio, continued a steady rise up the Saints’ draft board. Davenport was considered by many the second-best edge player in the draft. The first, Bradley Chubb, was a sure-fire top-five pick and would cost far too much to move up and take. And Davenport would ultimately become their first-round pick, as the team moved up from 27th overall to pick 14 while parting with their 2019 first-round pick.
Throughout the assessment process the Saints projected that a raw player from a small conference with some freakish athleticism – but who often played inside as a five-technique tackle – could blossom into a pass-rushing force to complement All-Pro Cameron Jordan and put this defense, and football team, over the top.
Jordan was the only Saint to notch more than five sacks a year ago and Payton is now hopeful Jordan won’t be alone this year as he detailed the thinking behind the Saints’ process recently with me during a sitdown interview at the team’s headquarters.
“It’s something we felt that could help our team right now,” Payton said of the trade that rocked the first round. “And obviously there is downside and you give up some compensation and you give up some flexibility next year. But we are worried about this year, too, and our focus is on winning this year, and that was the cost to move from where we were in the first round to getting really into a different part of that round.”
Many have debated if the Saints gave up too much. And evaluations of Davenport — who had minor thumb surgery this summer but is expected to be full-go for training camp — certainly vary by the team. But the Saints tried to follow the same decision-making tenets that served them so well a year ago. With Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Alvin Kamara and Alex Anzalone part of their historic draft haul, Saints brass had a consensus “vision” for how Davenport could impact them in the short and long term that became irresistible, similar to the vision from the 2017 draft class.
Payton first became aware of the late-rising player — there was little fanfare about Davenport entering his senior season — when the Saints began what they call their “front-board” meetings to start dissecting Senior Bowl and combine participants in January. He would quickly become a player who Payton and Loomis discussed frequently, and a prospect they soon discerned would have no chance of being available at the later stages of the first round, where they were slated to pick.
“I was aware of him early on, and you’re looking closely at the position fit and looking at the prototype and size,” Payton told me. “He’s someone that we felt fit a lot of the things we were looking for and he can also play defensive end, and we kind of put a premium on that position. So from that point to when we are entering the daft — and we were selecting where we were in the later part of first round — you know if we were to go up it would have to be for a specific player. And in fact, when we are grading these players like [Saquon] Barkley, the running back, or other specific players, the question might be before the final grade — would we move to get this player? And [Davenport] was one that we felt we would do that for.”
Davenport began to stand out for many at the Senior Bowl, registering a sack of eventual top-overall pick Baker Mayfield, but was still being played primarily inside. Not how the Saints envisioned him. By the time the combine concluded, and Davenport displayed his athletic prowess in all of its glory, there was no more chatter about him getting past the top half of the first round, thanks in part to impressive measurables (6-feet-6, 264 pounds) with great explosiveness and leaping ability.
Payton said the Saints were as aggressive as any team in the league working the phones in the weeks leading up the draft, something I heard repeatedly from rival executives back in April. They had exploratory conversations with the Raiders — who let it be known early on they were willing to move out of the 10th overall spot (and they ultimately did trade down with the Cardinals) — figuring that is where the sweet spot for Davenport might start forming, knowing four quarterbacks and a running back (positions the Saints weren’t interested in) were going to go in the top 10, thus pushing some defensive players down the board.
Baltimore, with the 16th overall pick and super-motivated to move back (they ended up doing so twice, in fact), was another potential hotspot for a trade and the Saints held talks about that pick, too, knowing there was only so far back they could afford to go and still expect Davenport to be available (Baltimore ended up trading with Buffalo, as Bills GM Brandon Beane detailed in our extended chat here). The Saints wound up pulling it off with the Packers for the 14th pick, ending countless hours of trade discussions in the round.
“It was really just trying to get feelers out,” Payton said, “because when the clock starts for a team, man, there are only 10 minutes so you are just trying to get an idea of who might be interest. And when you have done this long enough you start to build relationships, and there are certain guys you can pick up the phones and if they have an interest you can do a deal in under a minute. And there are other guys where it’s going to take more time, so that when each team is on the clock you can reference a conversation or at least get a sense of who isn’t interested [ahead of time] and maybe not waste your time.”
Much has been made of parting with the 2019 first-round pick, though one can understand why the Saints would anticipate that pick also being quite late if they continue their upward trajectory. But given his physical gifts and potential, the team’s needs and the fact that future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees is now 39, there was a strong consensus within the organization to make this move.
“There is always a premium on that position, and on pressure players — corners, left tackles, those are positions that are hard to find when the season ends in free agency,” Payton said. “It’s not impossible, but it’s hard, and we felt like he was a pressure player and we felt like we had a good vision for him and we felt it was a need. It was a position that we thought was one we wanted to address in some way, shape or form.”
There is a tangible conviction in his voice whenever Payton speaks about the thinking that led to this brash trade and Davenport’s importance to their short- and long-term goals. He and Loomis have long been willing to take risks. Perhaps this was their biggest.
“There is a point at which we are only going up if it’s the player that is available,” Payton said. “And then is it comfortable? And are we comfortable with the deal that you have? You know a part of that process with the draft, there is some good fortune that takes place, but it’s also, I think, spending enough time and trying to really hit on the things a player does well. Do we have a clear vision for the player? And that part of it has served us well.
“So in the room we unanimously felt like we see him playing right end, and we see these are the things he can immediately help us with, and here are the things we’re going to continue to work on. He’s young, I love his size and his work ethic, and there is a grit element to the way he plays. So there is a projection with all of these young players, and hopefully we have the same success we had a year ago with this class. But I think it’s really being decisive and having a plan.”
If Payton has anything close to the hit rate from the 2017 draft, I like the chances of Who Dat Nation flooding to Atlanta in droves in February and taking over the Super Bowl hosting stadium of their hated rival. Even if it means skipping Mardi Gras.
TMZ.com with breaking news on the social life of QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO:
49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo definitely appreciates a woman with experience … because he went on a dinner date Wednesday night — with one of the biggest porn stars in the world!!!
26-year-old Jimmy G and Kiara Mia hit up Avra restaurant in Beverly Hills … where they walked in arm-in-arm and toasted with wine together at the dinner table.
At the end of the date, the two walked to a waiting car together — Jimmy had a big smile on his face … and Kiara’s IG account might explain why.
You might be familiar with Kiara’s work — she starred in a “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” porn spoof back in 2015.
She’s also graced the covers of classics like “Cougars Gone Wild 2” and “Bra Busters 4.”
She’s also been nominated for a bunch of AVN awards over the years — including MILF Performer of the Year in 2015.
Per Wikipedia, Kiara Mia (born Deanne Munoz) is 41 years old.
Greg Papa is no longer the radio voice of the Raiders as Brent Musberger, a man with deep Vegas ties, is hired. Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com:
The Oakland Raiders, who are moving to Las Vegas in 2020, are also moving on from their radio voice of the past 21 years, as the team said Thursday that Greg Papa would not return this season.
Brent Musburger, a broadcasting veteran who has worked for ESPN, is in line to replace Papa on the team’s broadcast as the play-by-play announcer, a source confirmed to ESPN. The Las Vegas Review-Journal first reported Musburger as replacing Papa.
Musburger, 79, is already in Las Vegas with his fledgling Vegas Sports & Information Network channel, a sports-betting platform, on SiriusXM. He is one of the leading figures in sports broadcasting history, with 27 years at ESPN and ABC and 17 years with CBS, and has called games in both the NFL and college football as well as college basketball (his final college hoops broadcast was, ironically enough, UNLV’s national title win over Duke in 1990) before retiring from ESPN and ABC in 2017 and going to Las Vegas with VSiN.
Still, Musburger has had his share of controversies over the years. As a newspaper columnist in 1968, he referred to Mexico City Olympics civil rights icons Tommie Smith and John Carlos as “black-skinned stormtroopers” after their raised-fist protest during their medal ceremony. (Raiders owner Mark Davis is very tight with Smith, calling him a personal hero for his actions at the Games, and had him light the Al Davis Torch in Mexico City in 2016.)
ESPN apologized for Musburger’s comments on the looks of Katherine Webb, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s then-girlfriend, during the 2013 BCS national title game. And in the 2017 Sugar Bowl, Musburger raised the ire of many viewers by complimenting the game of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, who had punched a woman.
Davis issued a statement on Thursday: “The Raiders organization would like to thank Greg Papa for his two decades of service to the Silver and Black. He wasn’t just given the job. He earned it. With intense preparation Greg was always ready for the call. Just as my generation remembers Bill King and ‘Holy Toledo’. The Raider Nation will remember Greg Papa and ‘Touchdown Raiders’. We wish Greg and his family the best in whatever the future brings.”
Papa had become as identifiable with the Raiders as many players after being hired by the late Al Davis in 1997. Years ago, Papa recalled Davis climbing to the top of old Texas Stadium before his first broadcast to wish him luck, telling Papa to “dominate” the airwaves.
“In a lot of respects,” Papa said at the time, “he was like a second father to me.”
Also, the Raiders are not retaining Papa’s broadcast partner, two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Flores, though he will still be associated with the team in a role to be determined.
Flores, 81, told ESPN.com he was “kind of semi-surprised” to be relieved of his radio duties in the wake of Papa’s dismissal.
“We’ve been together for 21 years,” Flores said. “I was just hoping to do at least one year in Vegas, but it didn’t happen.
“I’ve been a Raider since 1960; I’m not going to walk away. My loyalty is to the Raiders. I’m a little hurt right now and we’ll miss Greg and I’ll miss being with the team, on the road, in the booth, in the press box. I’m just trying to digest it right now. Nothing lasts forever, but I’ll always be affiliated with the team in my heart.”
Former Raiders offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy is a candidate to move up from field reporter to join Musburger in the booth as the analyst.
A camp is open. Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Baltimore Ravens became the first team to report to training camp and held their first practice on Thursday ahead of their matchup with the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game in two weeks.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is taking it easy on some of his veteran players in hopes of easing into the grind of camp with an extra exhibition game to play before the start of the regular season. According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com, quarterback Joe Flacco, linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Eric Weddle are among the group of veterans that won’t participate in a full practice until after the first weekend of camp.
Harbaugh wants the NFL to institute of a week prior to the start of practices that would allow for players to acclimate more seamlessly into the rigors of training camp.
“Acclimation is very important,” Harbaugh said. “If we could get a week instead of two days — not to push it back so we have a shorter time to get our guys ready for football — to put in front of training camp where we can get our guys ramped up for the collisions and hard movements, maybe we would avoid some of those first two- to three-day injuries that we get during training camp. That’s our goal this year.”
Veterans are being limited to individual drills and conditioning in the first week in hopes of avoiding serious injuries, such as the knee injuries sustained by tight end Crockett Gillmore and cornerback Maurice Canady on the second day of camp last year.
Training camps typically begin with veterans reporting for camp one day and practices beginning the next. A mandated acclimation period could potentially yield fewer injuries. However, coaches aren’t going to voluntarily give up practice time while their competitors are able to practice. It’s also no guarantee that injuries would be reduced.
But with the Ravens getting an extra week of practice due to their presence in the Hall of Fame game, it gives Harbaugh a chance to ease into a full workload more easily than in most seasons.
DL JURRELL CASEY is willing to pay for the right to righteously protest/flagrantly disrespect the flag during the National Anthem. It sounds like the Titans aren’t ready to accept his choice.
Joey Garrison in The Tennessean:
The Tennessee Titans’ top brass wants to speak to Jurrell Casey after he returns from England, the team’s President and CEO Steve Underwood said Thursday, while suggesting the star defensive tackle might not understand the league’s new rules on protests during the national anthem.
Underwood made the comments at Thursday’s Nashville Sports Authority meeting when he was asked by a board member to address comments from Casey, who said on Wednesday that he plans to “take my fine” and protest during the national anthem this season despite the league’s rules against it.
Casey, who was speaking to media while in England for a promotional event, has not taken a knee during the anthem in the past, but has instead raised his fist after the anthem is played.
“In the case of Jurrell Casey, I think our head coach (Mike Vrabel) and general manager (Jon Robinson) are interested in having a conversation after he gets back from the United Kingdom,” Underwood said. “We think there may be some misunderstanding on his part. Because the new league new policy does not provide anywhere that fines are made against players. If a player doesn’t stand, the teams can be fined, but not the players.
“There are two things that can happen that are considered to be legitimate under the policy: stay in the locker room or you can stand respectfully during the anthem. And it doesn’t apply just to the players; it applies to every employee of ours.
“So, we’re not exactly sure why he suggested that he would, as he put, ‘take his fine’ because there will be no fines levied against him.”
President Donald Trump has been vocal against players standing during the anthem, and the NFL passed a rule this offseason stipulating that players must stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem or remain out of public view in the locker room.
NFL fines are to be billed to teams, which can enforce pre-game anthem observations as they choose. The amount of the fines have been unspecified.
With his decision to continue to protest, Casey became the first NFL player to say he would defy new NFL rules that have sought to end player protests during the anthem.
“I’m going to take my fine,” Casey said in England. “It is what it is, I ain’t going to let them stop me from doing what I want to do. If they want to have these battles between players and organizations, this is the way it’s going to be.”
At the beginning of his remarks, Underwood stressed that no Titans player has ever knelt during the anthem, saying he believes there may be some “confusion about that.”
After the meeting, Underwood said the Titans are not disappointed with Casey.
“No. He made those comments overseas. We haven’t had the opportunity to talk to him about what he said. But no, we’re not disappointed. He’s one of our starting players.”
Players have protested racial inequality and police brutality during the national anthem for two seasons, ever since former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting and then kneeling during the anthem during the 2016 preseason.
The national anthem issue, debated nationally, has also entered state politics in Tennessee with Republican gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, saying she gave up her season tickets over NFL players kneeling.
Casey, a three-time Pro Bowl lineman entering his eighth year in the NFL, has said that his decision to raise his fist is a form of protest intended to be respectful.
The Titans signed Casey to a four-year, $60.4 million contract extension last season.
The Dolphins maintain they have the power to issue a four-game suspension for an anthem violation, but Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says it is not likely they would do so:
Technically, the list of 2018 work rules given by the Dolphins to their players says that suspensions could be imposed for violations of the new anthem policy. As a practical matter, this doesn’t mean that Dolphins players automatically will be suspended for violating a league policy that requires anyone inclined to protest during the anthem to stay in the locker room.
Per a team source, no decisions have been made as to the punishment that the Dolphins will impose if/when players violate the new anthem policy. “All options are on the table,” the source said.
The team was required to put together a list of rules, and like most work rules, few articulate a clear, set formula for how discipline will be imposed. It’s entirely possible that the Dolphins will utilize progressive discipline in this case, beginning with a fine, escalating to a greater fine, and eventually resulting in a suspension (maybe for only one game), if he continues to violate the anthem policy.
Regardless, the notion that any Dolphins player who violates the new anthem policy automatically will be suspended four games is incorrect. Instead, a four-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team represents the maximum discipline that the Dolphins or any other team can impose on a player.
WR DANNY AMENDOLA on the differences between the Patriots and the Dolphins. Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:
Now that he has spent an offseason program with the Miami Dolphins, former New England Patriots receiver Danny Amendola offered up a comparison between third-year Miami coach Adam Gase and Bill Belichick.
“Coach Gase is one of the guys. He’s our leader, he’s our head coach, but he’s also our boy. It’s cool, it’s refreshing to have that kind of relationship with a coach, something I haven’t had in a long time. … Back in New England, it’s almost like you had a principal and a principal’s office and s— like that; in a good way and a bad way, too,” Amendola said on the Comeback SZN podcast presented by Barstool Sports.
In noting the comparison between Gase and Belichick, Amendola said he has respect for all his prior coaches — calling Belichick one of the best of all time — while expressing excitement with his present situation. Amendola signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Dolphins in March after spending the 2013-2017 seasons with the Patriots.
The interview, with Kayce Smith and Amendola’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, touched on how Amendola has developed a quick rapport with Gase; his top memories in New England; how he didn’t sense outside-the-norm friction within the Patriots last season; and the benching of cornerback Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII, among other topics.
In April, Amendola was passionate when discussing Butler’s benching with ESPN, which he echoed in the podcast.
“I don’t know the answer to that to this date,” he said. “I know we had 40-some-odd guys dressed up for the game, all of them didn’t play, and for whatever reason [Belichick] felt — he’s the coach, I can’t make that decision, I can only do my job. … In hindsight, it’s like, really, ‘What agenda are we on?’ It’s something I’ll probably never understand.”
LB James Harrison gives Bill Belichick some love – at the expense of Mike Tomlin. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
James Harrison was on the Patriots’ defense that Eagles center Jason Kelce said was lacking in talent, but Harrison didn’t take offense at Kelce’s comments.
“To be honest with you, it doesn’t bother me. It’s not a farfetched statement,” Harrison said on FS1 of Kelce’s claim that the Patriots had good coaches, not good players.
However, Harrison interpreted Kelce’s comments a little differently than most people did. Although most saw it as a shot at the Patriots’ talent, Harrison took it as praising Bill Belichick.
“There’s still good players on that defense, but to be honest with you if you go over it, look at other defenses across the league, they’re not considered the top, the best,” Harrison said of his old Patriots teammates. “But they’re at the pinnacle, the Super Bowl, so the coaching is far superior.”
In a separate FS1 interview, Harrison added that “the coaching is better” with Belichick, and that former Steelers coach Mike Tomlin needs to run a tighter ship, like Belichick. Harrison didn’t play in New England for long, but he was impressed with the coaching he got.
And this from Ricky Doyle at NESN.com:
James Harrison spent less than two months with the New England Patriots, and that was enough for him to confirm that Tom Brady is the ultimate teammate in addition to a great quarterback.
Harrison, who signed with the Patriots in December after the Pittsburgh Steelers cut him, said Thursday on FS1’s “Undisputed” that he wanted to hate Brady. After all, Brady had plenty of success against the Steelers during Harrison’s 14 years in Pittsburgh, and the Patriots QB’s good-guy image tends to rub some opponents the wrong way.
But Harrison just couldn’t. Instead, he left New England after this past season amazed with Brady’s preparation, study habits and overall leadership qualities. Simply put, he’s a Brady fan now.
“I’m a Brady fan now; I’m not going to lie. I wanted to hate this dude. He’s the ultimate teammate. … Tom is a great QB — the best ever. I’ve never seen anyone with his study habits, his preparation. He’s filling up a whole notebook of notes with each game.” —
Harrison also explained Thursday that he never saw any friction between Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick despite being on the lookout for tension upon arriving in Foxboro. The since-retired linebacker believes reports of such are made up and actually bring the Patriots closer together.
THIS AND THAT
Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com thinks that the NFL’s 2018 kickoff rules revisions are just a step towards something bizarre.
Imagine it’s the spring of 2022. The NFL has just reached a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with its players. The league is now drawing an average of $10 billion per season in digital and broadcast revenues alone, thanks in part to Netflix’s streaming-rights package and Google’s virtual reality products, as part of its march toward $25 billion in total revenues.
Commissioner Roger Goodell is in his final season before retirement. He has nothing to lose. It’s time to get funky — NFL style. So what does Goodell do? He makes one final, sweeping attempt to cement a legacy as … the man who made special teams fun again.
After years of tinkering, Goodell goes all-in. He pushes the competition committee to narrow the goal posts, noting radio-frequency identification tracking data showing that 85 percent of successful field goals travel within 6 inches of the midpoint of the old goal posts. He has the extra point moved back farther, making it a 45-yard kick, and puts the two-point conversion at the 1-yard line. The moves, Goodell hopes, will further minimize routine kicks and encourage coaches to go for it more often on fourth down and utilize more two-point attempts.
And for the big reveal, he unveils a brand-“new” kickoff. It has roots in tradition but raises the efforts to make the play safer to an entirely new plane. For 2022, Goodell decrees, all kickoffs will be onside kicks.
Now, to be clear, I don’t have any inside knowledge that NFL decision-makers regard the onside kick as the final stop in their decadelong tinkering with the play. I do, however, feel confident that in the next five years or so, the kickoff will evolve into something that is — at best — distantly related to what we know it as now.
Keep in mind that Goodell and the NFL have been tweaking the kickoff since 2011, when they moved the kickoff line to the 35-yard line from the 30. In 2016, the touchback line was brought to the 25-yard line from the 20. Both were attempts to increase touchbacks, decrease returns and minimize injuries.
That didn’t work.
There were 71 concussions on kickoffs between 2015 and 2017. This spring, special-teams coaches redesigned the play to look more like a punt. They hoped it would reduce both touchbacks and concussion rates. But the working theory here is that it won’t be enough to satisfy data-driven decision-makers.
The next step would be to shift to a more creative alignment. One possibility is the “Greg Schiano rule,” which the competition committee discussed but dismissed this spring. The rule — developed by Schiano after watching one of his Rutgers players, Eric LeGrand, become paralyzed on a kickoff — gives the scoring team the ball on its own 30-yard line. The scoring team can either punt the ball to its opponent or try to gain 15 yards with one offensive play to retain possession. (Another way of looking at it: The scoring team gets fourth-and-15 at its own 30 after a score.)
But the guess here is that the NFL’s mostly conservative head coaches would generally punt and rarely elect to go for the 15 yards. Fans would quickly grow bored with the addition of 10 punts per game. So by 2022 or so, the NFL landscape could quite possibly be ripe for a more radical and entertaining change.
The all-onside kick idea isn’t as wild as you think, at least if you follow the thought process that could get the NFL there. The exact wording would require a significant disincentive for kicking long, perhaps a 15-yard penalty and a replay for any kick that travels 25 yards beyond the original line. But this solution addresses every question mark that the NFL has faced since it began fiddling with the play.
It’s more entertaining, given the possible outcomes. A player would get the ball near midfield with a chance to score quickly, a fair swap for the undeniable but currently only occasional long kickoff return.
Naturally, it retains the opportunity for teams trailing late in a game to vie for an extra possession.
And according to data that has driven many of the recent changes, the onside kick is much safer than the traditional kickoff. Between 2015 and 2017, only two of the 71 concussions suffered on kickoffs occurred during an onside kick. It’s true that onside kicks are relatively rare, but if you’ve followed the approach the NFL took to rule-making this offseason, you know that concussion totals have been a strong guiding force.
To be fair, not everyone thinks an onside kick is objectively safer despite the numbers. Kansas City Chiefs special-teams coordinator Dave Toub, in fact, said of the data: “I would think that there would have been more [concussions].”
He added: “I know that the collisions are huge. Guys are looking up for the ball. Could that be a matter of luck? As a coach, that play really scares you.”
An all-onside kickoff is far from a certainty. But what is clear is that we haven’t seen the end of the NFL’s kickoff tinkering. The league has used most of the easy options. Future changes will, by necessity, be more complicated.
Would I bet the world that the NFL will implement this option in 2022? No. Would I bet that it will follow a similar thought process — to find an alternative that addresses safety, entertainment and allows teams to regain possession late in a game — and land on something that is relatively inconceivable to think of now? Absolutely. Stay tuned.
Beth Mowins will return for a second game as an NFL play-by-play announcer. Barry Wilner of the AP:
ESPN is going with a fresh approach for its first 2018 regular-season broadcast of “Monday Night Football.”
Two announcers with plenty of NFL credentials but far more entrenched in the college game these days will be handling the Jets-Lions game from Detroit: Beth Mowins and Brian Griese.
“We are pretty excited to bring the franchise on the air, and hoping some pretty good story lines will play out,” says Mowins, who did last year’s second half of the opening doubleheader with analyst Rex Ryan. Mowins also does a few CBS telecasts of NFL games during the season, as well as Oakland Raiders preseason contests, but her main gig is college sports.
Griese is one of the top analysts of the college game, an insightful and often critical but fair voice.
“Guys who can shoot from the hip are always fun to work with,” Mowins says.
Of course, he also played 11 pro seasons, starting 83 games. So his knowledge of both levels of football is expansive.
“I think the pro game in a lot of ways is more familiar to me than the college game,” Griese notes. “I have had to learn the college game as it has grown. I spent 11 years in the NFL playing quarterback and it’s more similar to what I know.”
What both Mowins and Griese know is that the fan bases of both teams will be stoked for the game, even though Jets-Lions isn’t quite the marquee matchup. Indeed, the NFL gave ESPN what appears to be a better game in the nightcap, Jon Gruden’s return as the Raiders host the Rams. The regular and new Monday night crew of Joe Tessitore and Jason Witten will be in the booth, Booger McFarland at field level for that one.
“No question both these teams have reasons for optimism, for different reasons,” Griese says. “Jets fans should be excited about Sam Darnold, who can be a game changer and a franchise quarterback in the making. For Detroit, it’s a whole new ballgame for the fans with Matt Patricia hired as coach, a new way of doing things. I’m eager to see how he will impact the franchise. And they have their bellwether in Matthew Stafford at quarterback.”
Adds Mowins: “You tell the truth with a heavier emphasis on the hope, and that is what all of these fan bases are having. The history is part of the story heading into the season and something we absolutely talk about graphically. The nice thing about the opener is everyone has hope again, and we can also focus on the changes these teams have made to improve.”
To its credit, ESPN is willing to make changes or go outside the box for its Monday night showcase. One area of expertise that Mowins and Griese — and sideline reporter Laura Rutledge — bring to the telecast is an advanced awareness of NFL newcomers.
That could be particularly enlightening for Jets-Lions with the likes of Darnold — even if he doesn’t play and Josh McCown starts — and Lions rookie running back Kerryon Johnson on hand.
QBS WORTH WAITING FOR
KC Joyner, ESPN’s Football Scientist, has a list of QBs that should prove profitable late in your Fantasy Draft.
Last season, 12 quarterbacks posted 250 or more fantasy points. That may seem like a large number of high-scoring field generals, yet it was actually the lowest volume of 250-point quarterbacks since 2012 and ended a six-year streak of an increase in 250-point quarterbacks. In 2008, there were just six, with the number growing each season until there were 18 in 2016.
Considering the overpowering upward historical trend, it would seem logical to predict that there will be more than 12 250-point passers in 2018. Given that the average value of the No. 10 scoring quarterback (the entry level to QB1 status in 10-team leagues) over the past five seasons is 269.7 points, landing a quarterback who will score 250 or more points gives a fantasy manager a very good chance having a low-tier starting-caliber fantasy quarterback.
The value proposition to this development is to identify passers who have the combination of 250-point-or-higher potential and a relatively low average draft position. Using that mindset, I’ve identified four quarterbacks who have that upside to go along with QB2-caliber ADP.
Alex Smith, Washington Redskins
Washington coach Jay Gruden has a proven track record of operating a vertically-inclined pass offense. Over the past two seasons, the Redskins rank tied for second in vertical touchdown passes (29 scoring aerials traveling 11 or more yards downfield), fourth in vertical yards per attempt (12.7) and eighth in vertical passing yards (4,136). These numbers were major factors in Washington placing fifth in quarterback fantasy points during that time frame (577.9).
Smith’s reputation as a dink-and-dunk game manager is perhaps misplaced, as last season he ranked first in vertical YPA (14.7) and seventh in vertical passing yards (1,993). This helped Smith rate fifth in fantasy points scored on passing plays (253.7) despite ranking 21st in vertical pass dropbacks (136).
Gruden’s playcalling history says he did not bring Smith to Washington to operate a play-it-safe offense. Add that combination to Smith’s downfield passing prowess and elite rushing skills, and it should equal another QB1 fantasy campaign.
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
What will it take for Goff to get more fantasy managers to believe in him? Last season, Goff racked up 22 short-pass touchdowns (pay-dirt plays that were thrown 10 or fewer yards downfield), a mark that placed first and was five touchdown passes ahead of Tom Brady’s second-place finish in that category. Goff ranked second only to Brady in short-pass fantasy points (166.6).
A repeat of that alone could allow Goff to meet his No. 12 ranking in quarterback fantasy points of last season, but the Rams decided to give him some much needed vertical-pass help via the addition of Brandin Cooks. Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Julio Jones are the only wide receivers to score more vertical fantasy points than Cooks over the past two seasons (266.6).
Goff has already shown an ability to connect on long aerials, as he placed fifth in vertical YPA last season, but Cooks should help Goff improve tremendously upon his six vertical scoring throws, a total that rated tied for 29th.
All of those talents should come in handy against a schedule that includes potential high-scoring battles against the Seattle Seahawks (twice), San Francisco 49ers (twice), the Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles.
Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
Rivers’ inconsistent history of reaching QB1 status is probably why fantasy managers are hesitant to consider him at that level following his No. 8 ranking in quarterback fantasy points last season, but there are many factors pointing towards Rivers being able to replicate his 2017 numbers.
The Chargers operate one of the most aggressive passing schemes in the league. Rivers placed fourth in vertical pass attempts (207) and sixth in stretch vertical pass attempts (70 throws traveling 20 or more yards downfield). Those elements were key to Rivers ranking second last season in fantasy points scored on passing plays (270.6).
Quality pass blocking is one of the reasons the Chargers can rely so heavily on this approach. Last season, the Chargers were the best in the league in sacks allowed (18) and their 11.7 percent rate of allowing impact pass rush pressure rated 11th best. Those numbers could improve if Forrest Lamp, an offensive guard taken in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft, is able to return from an ACL injury that caused him to miss his entire rookie campaign.
For those concerned about the impact Hunter Henry’s season-ending ACL injury could have on Rivers performance, it’s worth noting that the Chargers ranked tied for fourth in vertical passing yards to wide receivers last season (1,647). With Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams returning to the lineup in 2018, the Chargers should be able to utilize more three-wide receiver sets to offset Henry’s loss and keep Rivers in strong QB1 contention.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Prescott dropped from sixth in quarterback fantasy points in 2016 to 11th in 2017. Fantasy managers seem to be expecting a similar decline this season, as Prescott’s ADP has now dropped to mid-tier QB2 status.
Before relegating Prescott to that territory, one should take into account how bad luck affected Prescott’s 2017 decline. According to a study I did on the 2017 season, Prescott lost an estimated 27.3 fantasy points because of errors such as dropped passes or inaccurate throws to wide-open receivers. That was the seventh-largest total among quarterbacks last season. A very high percentage of those errors were on passes to Dez Bryant, who ranked second among wide receivers in lost points, so losing Bryant this offseason may actually be a positive for Prescott’s fantasy prospects.
Prescott should also benefit from having Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup for an entire season. Elliott’s absence for six games last season is part of why Prescott ranked 32nd in fantasy points gained on defensive coverage errors (15.1). Having Elliott in the backfield for a 16-game slate should force defenses out of position on play-action fakes much more frequently and greatly increase Prescott’s ranking here in 2018. Add this factor to the potential reduction in offensive errors, and it could result in Prescott’s return to QB1 status.