The Daily Briefing Thursday, July 26, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Uh oh. QB AARON RODGERS indicates he thought he would/should have a big new contract by now. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers signed his current contract in 2013, the new-money average of $22 million per year made him the highest paid player in football. Now, he’s sliding farther and farther down the list.
The bar has recently moved to $30 million per year, and the Packers have opened camp without Rodgers receiving an adjustment to a contract that has two years remaining on it. Meeting with reporters on Thursday, Rodgers fielded numerous questions the situation, and it’s clear that he doesn’t regard the current situation as ideal.
While Rodgers has yet to complain about his contract, he repeatedly said that getting a new deal is “important to me.” He seems to be disappointed that it hasn’t happened yet.
“I think they’ve talked about it enough that there’s an expectation that something would have been done — obviously judging by the questions here there’s an expectation something would have been done before we started [training camp],” Rodgers said.
Rodgers added that “[t]here’s more than mutual interest on both sides” to get a deal done. So why hasn’t it gotten done?
No one asked him that specific question on Thursday. In the recent past, he’s hinted at a creative structure (a “non-traditional contractual agreement”) that would give him “some more freedom.” But the team has no obligation to give him any freedom. They have two years left under his contract (at a total payout of $39.8 million), and they can easily tag him for the two years after that. While the specific numbers for the 2020 and 2021 franchise tenders aren’t yet known, the Packers most likely would be able to keep Rodgers for four more years at a total payout of less than $100 million.
That’s an average of less than $25 million per year. So why would the Packers swap that right — a right Rodgers gave them in 2013 — for a contract that pays him more than $30 million, that includes “non-traditional” terms, and that provides him with the kind of freedom and flexibility he doesn’t currently have?
That’s likely why the deal hasn’t been done. Rodgers wants more than what the Packers are willing to pay, given that they can instead do nothing and have him under contract for four more years, at an average more than $5 million per year below market value.
So what can Rodgers do about it? Not much. As to the possibility of holding out, Rodgers said he doesn’t “operate that way.”
That’s his prerogative, but it’s becoming more and more clear that the Packers aren’t going to deviate from the four-year, less-than-$100 million formula simply because Rodgers’ agent has asked nicely that they do so. Until Rodgers is willing and able to find a way to put pressure on the Packers, the Packers will be feeling no pressure to break the bank when they don’t have to.
NEW YORK GIANTS
What’s left of the Gotham scribes will be looking for white smoke from the Giants – they are beginning to talk to WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr., who has been well-behaved of late, about a big money contract extension. Ryan Dunleavy of NJAdvanceMedia.com:
Odell Beckham and his agent should stay by the phone because the Giants will be calling.
Giants co-owner John Mara announced Thursday that the Giants and Beckham’s representatives will be talking soon about a contract extension that could make him the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL.
“I anticipate that we will be speaking with his agents sooner rather than later,” Mara said. “I’m not going to give an exact timetable on that nor are we going to give weekly updates on that but I think those will start pretty soon.”
It’s interesting to note that the negotiations have not begun yet considering Beckham has made it known for more than 15 months that he wants an extension.
The fifth-year pro and three-time Pro Bowler is due to make $8.45 million this season on the final team-option year of his rookie contract and has watched as a handful of other receivers from the 2014 draft have gotten big contracts.
“I think this was the time that we always had in mind,” Mara said. “But I think Odell personally is moving in the right direction. He has come in here with a good attitude. I think he’s ready to go. We’re ready for him to have a good season.”
Beckham showed up for training camp — and about half of the offseason’s voluntary workouts — even as other disgruntled stars held out or threatened holdouts over contracts, such as Julio Jones (Falcons) and Earl Thomas (Seahawks).
“It certainly had an impact in regards to starting negotiations,” Mara said.
After spending a spring’s worth of voluntary OTA and mandatory minicamp practices with rookie running back Saquon Barkley, the Giants’ choice with the No. 2 overall pick, quarterback Eli Manning struggled to hide his excitement about the offense’s potential with the former Penn State running back added to the fold.
Just three months ago, the Giants were listening to trade offers for Beckham, possibly fed up with his off-field antics. It’s been a quiet stretch since then, until a lawsuit filled with sex and drug allegations was filed earlier this week.
Beckham’s lawyer denied those allegations to the threatening retaliation an claiming extortion.
“We are aware of it,” Mara said, while giving the impression that the lawsuit won’t slow down the negotiations.
QB COLT McCOY is well-paid for a backup. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:
The Redskins opted against turning their starting job over to Colt McCoy upon Kirk Cousins’ departure, but they are still showing their appreciation for an extension of the head coach in the quarterback room.
Washington has agreed to terms with McCoy on a one-year contract extension worth up to $7 million, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, via a source informed of the situation. The added year gives McCoy a chance to seek greener pastures if he outplays the deal in the event of an injury to new starter Alex Smith:
The #Redskins and QB Colt McCoy have agreed to terms on a 1-year extension worth up to $7M, source said. It contains a void & buyback provision. Interesting
This extension can become no extension at all if it makes sense for McCoy. If he does hit the void criteria, depending on other factors, the Skins can buyback for 6 different amounts based on playing time percentage and performance.
The NFL’s quarterback market essentially lacks a middle class. Franchise-caliber players typically flirt with $20 million or more annually while backups rarely collect more than $4 million per year.
The Redskins have long believed they could win games in the short term with McCoy, which explains why they are willing to pay him the going rate for a “bridge” quarterback. For comparison’s sake, the Bills signed former Bengals backup AJ McCarron to a two-year, $10 million deal with $6 million in guarantees as a hold-the-fort quarterback.
Starting with Andy Dalton in Cincinnati and continuing through Cousins in Washington, coach Jay Gruden has earned a reputation for maximizing the production of hard-working, fundamentally sound passers lacking power arms. That description fits McCoy to a tee.
The Texas Longhorns legend has fared well in limited action over the past four years with the Redskins, completing 98 of 139 passes (70.5 percent) for 1,185 yards (8.5 yards per attempt) and five touchdowns versus three interceptions. While that efficiency is eye-catching, size and durability concerns have kept McCoy in the visor-and-clipboard role behind Cousins — and now Smith.
If Smith goes down at any point in the next two years, Gruden can rest assured that he has a stand-in capable of keeping the Redskins afloat in a pinch.
Rodney Henry, a fired Saints aide, and his attorney will split $400,000.
A NFL arbitrator ruled the New Orleans Saints must pay nearly $400,000 to late owner Tom Benson’s former personal assistant for unpaid overtime and other fees, according to documents obtained by the New Orleans Advocate.
However, according to The Advocate’s report, arbitrator Harold Henderson had previously rejected former assistant Rodney Henry’s claims that he was fired for retaliation after accusing Benson’s wife and current owner Gayle Benson of harassment and racial discrimination.
Henry, who worked for Benson for about 25 years, sued the team after being fired in 2015, but a federal judge ruled that his claims must be decided through the NFL’s arbitration process based on his employment contract. Both sides can now appeal the decision in federal court if they desire.
The Saints and the NFL both declined to comment Thursday.
Henry first sued the team in November 2015, claiming he was owed years of back pay and unpaid overtime for working long and unscheduled hours. He amended his lawsuit in January 2016 to add the claims of harassment and discrimination, which the Saints dismissed as “ridiculous accusations.”
According to The Advocate, Henderson found that the Saints violated federal labor law by failing to pay overtime wages and ordered them to pay $100,000 in unpaid overtime.
Henderson also ordered the Saints to pay a fee of about $105,000 that Henry’s contract guaranteed him if he was dismissed by someone other than Tom Benson; Henry was informed of his firing by the team’s human resources director. Henderson also ordered the Saints to pay Henry nearly $190,000 to cover his attorneys’ fees.
After skipping a first day media session, JAMEIS WINSTON made himself available to the Tampa Bay press on Thursday and tried to say the right things. Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times was not impressed.
Jameis Winston spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since the NFL suspended him three games for touching an Uber driver on her crotch against her will in March of 2016.
He answered questions from the media for nearly 10 minutes. My reaction?
Unimpressed, unmoved, unconvinced.
Why should we believe anything this guy says at this point?
This is not the first time he has stood before the media after doing something wrong. This isn’t the first time he has made promises about being better and growing up and doing the right things. Yet here we were again Thursday, back in the same place.
So you can see why I’m skeptical.
His words came from the head, not the heart.
His answers felt rehearsed. He had a script that he was going to stick to no matter what the questions were. He had his talking points. He said them repeatedly.
That should come as no surprise. And there’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily. This was an important news conference for him and there were certain things he wanted to get across and certain things he absolutely wasn’t going to talk about.
If that’s the way he wanted to handle it, fine. He doesn’t owe me any explanations.
But that also means I don’t have to give him the benefit of the doubt. And I don’t have to believe everything that comes out of his mouth at this point.
And I don’t. His unacceptable actions have spoken much louder than his hollow words.
He had to do what he did Thursday, but he didn’t make his situation any better for those who remain suspicious of Winston. At no point did he say anything that convinced you he was contrite or humbled or remorseful.
Know who Winston looked like Thursday? Like the little kid who is forced by his parents to knock on the neighbors’ door and apologize for breaking their window.
He spoke Thursday because he had to speak Thursday. It was what he had to do to now get on with the rest of his life.
What he didn’t say was as notable as what he did.
He said he was disappointed in himself, but still hasn’t explained or apologized or addressed in any specificity what happened in that Uber that night. He said he can’t put himself in “these situations,” although he never said what “these situations” were. He said he hopes to “grow and learn” from what happened, although he didn’t say how he was going to do that.
He said he apologized to his teammates. He apologized to the Uber driver in his statement last month, but did not mention her Thursday. He claimed in his statement last month that he cut alcohol out of his life since the Uber incident, but sidestepped questions about alcohol on Thursday.
Several times, he pointed out how much good he does in the community with charity work, talking to kids, etc. In fact, there was one moment when he seemed a little defiant, as if he wasn’t being given credit for all the good things he does.
But just because you do good things some of the time doesn’t give you a free pass to do whatever you want the rest of the time. Good deeds don’t erase bad habits.
Sure, Winston can provide plenty of examples of when he did something nice. And I can provide plenty of examples of when he acted inappropriately.
Well, we’re pretty much where we’ve been all along. There are those who will support Winston no matter what and those who will never trust him again. Thursday likely did nothing to change either opinion.
His supporters continue to make excuses. They don’t believe Winston did anything wrong. They talk about how it happened two years ago, while forgetting he lied about it just last November.
They enable him by saying that lots of people do dumb things when they are in their early 20s even though most people in their 20s don’t do such things. And, by the way, don’t we learn well before that age what is and what is not appropriate touching? Don’t we know by that age what lines should not be crossed?
Meantime, the Bucs move forward with Ryan Fitzpatrick as quarterback for the first three games. After that, expect Winston to return.
Come then, it will be like nothing ever happened.
I find that disturbing, even if the Bucs and Winston do not.
Johnny Manziel is in the corner of QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO. Timothy Rapp of Bleacher Report agrees:
Today, we are all Johnny Manziel.
The Montreal Alouettes quarterback was asked about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo going on a date with adult-film actress Kiara Mia on his Comeback SZN podcast with Barstool Sports, and frankly, he just doesn’t care what Garoppolo does in his private life.
“What’s wrong with it?” Manziel asked (h/t TMZ Sports), adding: “Dude, let the guy live his life! He’s going on a date. So what? What she does for a living is what it is.”
Manziel continued to support Garoppolo.
“Jimmy G, live your life! Do whatever you want. He’s backing it up on the field, he hasn’t lost a game, nothing. Guy’s doing everything … and he’s enjoying life. So be it.”
On this topic, Johnny Football is the voice of reason.
This from RealClearSports.com:
Garoppolo, who is beginning his first full season as his team’s No. 1 quarterback, may not have realized being the face of the franchise means fans and media will care about who you date.
After facing queries about his relationship with Ms. Mia, now he does and called the date and the fallout from it a “good learning experience.”
“Just that life is different now – my life off the field,” Garoppolo said. “I’ve never been very big on being really public with things – even social media. I’m not out there a ton. But my life is looked at differently. I’m under a microscope. It’s like [San Francisco coach] Kyle [Shanahan] said: It is a good learning experience. I just have to take it in stride.”
Garoppolo, 26, inked a five-year, $137.5 million contract extension with the 49ers this offseason so, whether he keeps dating Mia or not, he should be in good shape.
Peter King recently called John Schneider the GM he’d start a team with, but it won’t be because he drafted DT MALIK McDOWELL who now limps off to the Bustville Hotel, where he has had a reservation for quite a while now. Brady Henderson at ESPN.com:
The Seattle Seahawks have waived defensive lineman Malik McDowell, closing the book on one of the most disappointing draft picks in franchise history.
The team waived McDowell with a non-football-injury designation prior to their first practice of training camp Thursday. Seattle also placed Kam Chancellor on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, an expected move after the Pro Bowl strong safety and team captain suggested on social media earlier this month that his neck injury would prevent him from playing again.
Chancellor won’t count against the Seahawks’ 90-man roster while on the PUP list and is officially ineligible to play in 2018.
The Seahawks made McDowell their top draft pick in 2017, choosing him 35th overall out of Michigan State with the hope that he could step in right away and help their pass rush. But he never played a down for Seattle after suffering what the team described as a severe concussion during an ATV accident before training camp last summer.
“It always was disappointing,” coach Pete Carroll said of McDowell’s situation. “This whole process has been disappointing because he had a real upside. We took a big pick to take him and all that, and unfortunately it didn’t happen. We made a move last year because he wasn’t here, so that just shows you how important he was.”
You might not recognize the Chiefs version of WR SAMMY WADKINS. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
Sammy Watkins is on his third team in five years, so he’s used to new looks.
But as he reports to his first training camp with the Chiefs, Watkins decided to change something other than his uniform.
Via Brooke Pryor of the Kansas City Star, Watkins decided two weeks ago to cut the long dreadlocks he’s worn since high school, and he’s using it as a symbol of the greater change.
“Kind of just wanted to be different this season and just be about business,” Watkins said. “I’ve had them for 12, 13 years. I’m 25 now. I don’t want to be 40 with dreads. I just decided to cut it.”
Without the hair, he’s going to have to stand out by his play on the field alone.
The Chiefs obviously believe he can, as they gave him a three-year, $48 million deal to come over after his cameo with the Rams. The early returns are good, with coach Andy Reid declaring him “a true pro,” and noting that he’s “all business.”
“I don’t have to come here and be somebody that I’m not,” Watkins said. “I got great guys that are going to make plays. I can feed off of those guys. I don’t have to make every catch and every play. I know if I’m not getting the ball, other guys are going to go out there and score touchdowns.”
As he enters a new offense stocked with other weapons and a new quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, Watkins has a chance to make a considerable impression. But with what they’re paying him, they’re expecting him to make himself known, with or without the hair flying out the back of his helmet.
WR JARVIS LANDRY has some big goals for the Browns who are coming off an 0-16 season. Tim Daniels of Bleacher Report:
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry said he believes the team possesses championship potential one year after completing a 0-16 season.
On Thursday, Ben Baskin of Sports Illustrated provided comments from Landry, who has sky-high hopes for the team’s offense after being acquired from the Miami Dolphins in an offseason trade.
“You’ll be lucky if we don’t score 40 on you,” he said. “If we get everyone playing to their potential, we can win the Super Bowl this year.”
Cleveland does possess far more upside on offense this season.
Landry, Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman could form one of the NFL’s most enticing receiving corps, but there are question marks.
Gordon announced Monday he’s going to miss the start of training camp as part of his “overall health and treatment plan.” He didn’t provide a timetable for his return.
– – –
All told, Cleveland should be far more entertaining this season and will likely avoid another winless campaign. Contending for a Super Bowl title is a stretch, however. The Browns own the seventh-worst championship odds at 80-1, per OddsShark.
Opening the regular season with games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints will provide an immediate litmus test of the team’s chances.
A trimmer QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER has showed up at Steelers camp, but exactly how much trimmer is not revealed. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:
Ben Roethlisberger cut sugar and carbs from his diet this offseason in an effort to lose weight entering his 15th training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Roethlisberger, who turned 36 in March and worked with a personal trainer this summer, said the goal is to prolong his career and stay fresh.
“Knees, ankles, being lighter — those are all positives when it comes to this age and playing football, where you’re pounding on your knees and you’ve had a couple of knee surgeries,” said Roethlisberger, who suffered a torn MCL and a bone bruise in 2015 and a torn meniscus in 2016, before playing a full season last year. “Anything you can do to lighten the load on your knees is important.”
Roethlisberger looks noticeably slimmer this camp and ran at a steady pace during the team’s conditioning test, which requires players to record eight 100-yard runs in 18 seconds or less.
Roethlisberger confirmed he has lost weight but wouldn’t reveal the number. Told that his Steelers bio still lists him at 241 pounds, his weight coming out of the 2004 draft, Roethlisberger quipped that director of communications Burt Lauten and his group “do a great job with the media guides.”
Roethlisberger is chasing a third Super Bowl, and if he follows his outlook to play three to five more seasons, he’ll need to extend a contract that expires in 2020. Maximizing his potential in his late 30s follows the blueprint of Tom Brady (41) and Drew Brees (40), who are still playing at high levels.
“Do everything you can to really say, ‘OK, I’m going to be the best I can be physically, mentally for this season,'” Roethlisberger said. “But if you can continue looking after your body and keeping yourself healthy, it can lead to more years.”
The Titans have a big deal with their prize tackle Michigan man T TAYLOR LEWAN. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
Taylor Lewan can safely practice now, as long as he leaves his wallet in the locker room.
According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Titans have agreed to a five-year, $80 million deal with their left tackle, which includes $50 million in guarantees.
That makes Lewan the highest-paid lineman in the league, surpassing the deal Nate Solder got with the Giants earlier this offseason (four years, $62 million).
The two sides have had an amicable negotiation (despite his skipping mandatory minicamp), and Lewan showed up for camp on time, though he stayed out of team drills until the deal was done.
The Bills don’t seem to think that RB LeSEAN McCOY hired a goon to rob and beat up his ex-girlfriend. Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News:
The fact LeSean McCoy is at the Buffalo Bills’ training camp and “ready to roll” was a point General Manager Brandon Beane emphasized Thursday, just before the team’s first practice at St. John Fisher College.
The message was clear from the team’s standpoint: Nothing that has come up so far in police and NFL investigations into the running back’s alleged involvement in an assault and robbery of his ex-girlfriend, Delicia Cordon, is a large enough concern to keep him off the field.
The Bills say McCoy is likely to be a part of the team for the entire season and McCoy said he is “very confident” that he will be on the field for Week 1.
“We’ve communicated with (the NFL),” Beane said during a news conference with coach Sean McDermott. “We feel comfortable that LeSean’s going to be here and ready to roll. We don’t see that changing.
“We’re just focused. LeSean’s here, and it’s just going to be about football.”
Speaking for the first time since police and the league began looking into the accusations following the July 10 invasion at a house McCoy owns in Georgia, the running back told reporters that Beane and McDermott are “backing me 110 percent.”
“We had a long talk (Wednesday), and we’re moving forward, we’re ready to roll, as they would say,” the running back said. “And everything’s just geared on making this team better. I want to be there for my teammates, my guys, my coaches. That’s the kind of mindset.”
McCoy also said he addressed the matter with team owners Terry and Kim Pegula.
Asked how confident he was that he would be available and able to play this season, McCoy said, “I’m here right now, so I’m very confident.”
Did he ever have any doubt he wouldn’t be here?
“No, no doubt,” McCoy said.
Otherwise, the running back avoided any discussion about details of the investigation in a eight-minute session with reporters before the Bills’ first practice.
“Right now, it’s an open investigation, so I’ll leave it at that,” he said. “That’s what’s going on right now. But right now, my main focus is here with my teammates, my team, trying to build together in camp to reach our goal together, and that’s a championship. I’ll let (the investigation) take care of itself and right now I’m just being supported with my teammates.”
Beane said the team had looked into the matter.
Cordon’s lawyer said in an email to The Buffalo News last week that her client “believes very strongly” that McCoy “had some involvement” in the incident.
“She absolutely thinks Mr. McCoy had something to do with it,” Tanya Mitchell Graham said in response to emailed questions from The News. “She believes anyone else involved was likely contacted by someone else on behalf of Mr. McCoy.”
Graham did not respond to a request for comment Thursday following McCoy’s news conference.
Police in Milton, Ga., have not named any suspects. McCoy has previously said he has not had any “direct contact” with Cordon in months.
In attempting to focus the attention on football Thursday, McCoy said he has “just been training hard” for camp.
“I don’t let things distract me or get in the way of that, because I’d be cheating my teammates,” he said. “I came here focused for camp and just ready to play, ready to roll.”
That said, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport is reporting that the Bills have worked out RB ORLEANS DARKWA, who is unsigned despite averaging 4.4 yards per carry last year for the Giants in 171 carries (751 yards).
THIS AND THAT
Some have said that Donald Trump will never be happy no matter what the NFL does about the National Anthem. But on Friday, he signaled that all the other 31 owners have to do is follow the lead of Cowboys president Jerry Jones. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones may not be on the same page as the league office when it comes to the national anthem, but he is on the same page as the president.
President Trump wrote on Twitter today that he supports Jones, responding to a tweet that quoted Jones saying the Cowboys’ “policy is you stand during the anthem.”
“Way to go Jerry. This is what the league should do!” Trump wrote.
Trump has relentlessly criticized the NFL for the last two years over players kneeling during the national anthem. This offseason the NFL attempted to appease Trump by saying players would no longer be allowed to kneel on the field. But Trump blasted that policy for allowing players to stay in the locker room during the anthem if they don’t want to stand.
What Trump wants is what Jones wants: A requirement, like the NBA has, that players stand for the anthem. The NFL is currently in talks with the players’ union about formulating a new policy, although it seems unlikely that the NFL union will agree to the NBA rule. And it seems very unlikely that the NFL will get Trump to stop his relentless criticism of the league.
Here’s what MD Smith meant by Jones not being on the same page as Roger Goodell and his cohorts.
Earlier this week, Bengals owner Mike Brown made it clear that the league office has told the teams not to talk about the ongoing effort to fix the anthem policy. On Wednesday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talked about the ongoing effort to fix the anthem policy, saying among other things that his team won’t honor the anthem policy on the books, because his players won’t take advantage of their opportunity to remain in the locker room for the playing of the song.
And so the broader question becomes this: If there truly is a gag order regarding the anthem policy, will the league office punish Jones for violating it? Asked whether there’s a prohibition against talking about the anthem policy and, if so, whether Jones will be fined, the league office declined to comment.
Nine years ago, the NFL fined Jones $100,000 for talking about Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, after saying this: “Right now, we are subsidizing [the Minnesota] market. It’s unthinkable to think that you’ve got the market you — got here 3 1/2 million people — and have teams like Kansas City and Green Bay subsidizing the market. That will stop. That’s going to stop.That’s on its way out.”
Earlier this year, the NFL forced Jones to reimburse the league more than $2 million for legal fees incurred in response to a threat to sue over a proposed contract extension for the Commissioner.
Here’s a guess: The league won’t do anything, because to fine Jones is to invite a tweet from the Commander-in-Chief chastising the league for attacking Jones for trying to ensure that his employees show proper respect for the flag. If the guess is wrong, maybe it means the league is inching toward a position of no longer caring about the comments of the President.
We have since had second thoughts about whether or not it is “cohort” as in a singular group like a squad or gang or “cohorts” like friends or allies. Let’s check – and apparently it is both –
1: companion, colleague
a few of their … cohorts decided to form a company —Burt Hochberg
2 a : band, group a cohort of supporters
b : a group of individuals having a statistical factor (such as age or class membership) in common in a demographic study a cohort of premedical students the cohort of people born in the 1980s
c : one of 10 divisions of an ancient Roman legion
d : a group of warriors or soldiers
Apparently, the original “cohort” was the rapid responders of Ancient Rome –
the riot police of Ancient Rome, also pressed into use as a military unit
NFL OFFSEASON GRADES
Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com presumes to grade the NFL Office on its offseason:
Our annual list of NFL offseason priorities published on Feb. 12 this year, in that brief moment between Super Bowl LII parades and the start of a relentless churn of change. How did the league do?
Let’s take a closer look, in one final swoop, as training camps open around the country.
Enhance concussion policy
What I wrote in February: This must be an annual task for the NFL as technology improves and scrutiny increases. There is no more existential threat to the league than brain health.
What the league did: The league made permanent several protocol changes established late in the 2017 season. Most notable is the addition of a third unaffiliated neurological consultant (UNC) for each game, to sit in a mid-level booth to monitor television replays and elevated views for injury symptoms that are not immediately apparent from the sideline.
From a broader perspective, though, many of the NFL’s biggest offseason stories — the new helmet rule, a redesigned kickoff and first-ever helmet restrictions — can be viewed through the prism of brain health. A league that once denied the serious consequences of concussions has never more actively attempted to address them. One important caveat for 2018: The speed of these changes has led to midsummer confusion that could take some time to work through.
Unify the anthem experience
What I wrote in February: The league needs an unambiguous policy for all team personnel during the national anthem, as the current guidelines only say players “should” stand. It’s not mandatory, and a protest carries no required discipline.
What the league did: This effort has been a complete failure. Stark divisions among owners led to a tortured “compromise” policy in May that already has been put on hold. Negotiations with the NFL Players Association could produce a better approach — the two sides are meeting on Friday — but continued public pressure from President Donald Trump has flummoxed league leadership and left it unable to act with coherence. The NFL might not have the power to make the issue disappear, but it has always had the authority to craft a clear and simple policy — and to back it with courage.
Don’t make the catch rule worse
What I wrote in February: A perfect change — one that purges controversy while preserving simplicity — might not exist. The NFL could be left to decide whether to exchange one set of shortcomings for another. Breaking even might be the best it can do.
What the league did: The league accomplished its top priority, eliminating the potential for a handful of rulings that don’t pass the eye test. (See: Calvin Johnson in 2010, Dez Bryant in 2014 and Jesse James in 2017.)
Players no longer are required to maintain control of the ball throughout the process of going to the ground. Instead, they must establish control in bounds and then have the ability to perform “any act common to the game,” whether they are going to the ground or not. Rule book examples of an “act common to the game” include tucking the ball, extending it forward and taking an additional step.
Players aren’t required actually to perform the act. They must only maintain the ball long enough to do so. Officials will be asked to judge that time frame. The league might have traded one set of controversies for another, but in the end the rule is no worse than it was before.
What I wrote in February: Replay is good for the NFL when used in the appropriate context — i.e., correcting obvious mistakes — but will ultimately be drummed out if it’s used to re-officiate close plays on a frame-by-frame basis.
What the league did: Most of the 2017 replay issues revolved around the catch rule, specifically overturning completed passes because of what appeared to be slight movement of the ball. The league addressed that issue in its case book, clarifying that “if the ball moves within control of the receiver he is deemed not to have lost control of the ball and it is a completed pass.” The note goes on to say: “If the receiver has to ‘chase’ the ball, he is deemed to have lost control and the pass would be incomplete.”
The NFL, however, did not do anything to clarify the larger “clear and obvious” standard for replay reversals that seemed to get lost during some of the 2017 rulings. But the immediate issue was addressed.
Get the (ownership) house in order
What I wrote in February: Roger Goodell isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Jerry Jones. But the seeds of their clash will cascade through the offseason.
What the league did: Goodell restructured the league office, following up on complaints from owners. Among other changes was promoting Maryann Turcke to chief operating officer, replacing Tod Leiweke.
Jones, the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, has curtailed his legal assault on the league, but the anthem issue has revealed sharp divisions between him, some other owners and Goodell. On an issue of tremendous importance to the league’s public perception, owners remain all over the map. They have committed to Goodell as commissioner through 2023, but their commitment to his leadership appears to remain a case-by-case endeavor.
Smooth (and lucrative) transition for the Panthers
What I wrote in February: The Carolina Panthers are likely to be sold for a record price, eclipsing the $1.4 billion Terry and Kim Pegula paid for the Buffalo Bills in 2014. Many around the league will be watching. Nearly half of its primary owners are older than 70. Seven are at least 80.
What the league did: Investor David Tepper, formerly a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, paid a record $2.275 billion for the franchise. He is well-known among owners and is not expected to make waves at the league level.
The price, as wild and record-setting as it was, fell below some public predictions. Still, it will cause a substantial rise in NFL franchise valuations. According to Forbes, 29 of the NFL’s 32 teams are worth at least $1.95 billion.
Assess roots of viewer/audience data
What I wrote in February: If they haven’t already, owners must make a frank assessment of not just their product, but why its consumption trends have slowed.
What the league did: Of concern was two years of television ratings decline, unexpectedly low numbers for Super Bowl LII and a Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll that suggested fan deterioration among important demographics. Publicly, the NFL has argued that it remains dominant relative to television viewing trends — an implicit suggestion that the cause is rooted elsewhere. Internally, the league remains focused on finding new ways to deliver its product. But there were no public developments during the offseason to indicate it found any answers.
Turbocharge global presence
What I wrote in February: Whether the NFL is actually facing an existential crisis, its global outreach has never seemed more important.
What the league did: The most significant development in this area, beyond its continuing commitment to games in London and Mexico City, is outreach in China. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson visited in June to promote the game. Two years ago, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took a similar trip through Asia.
Wilson’s trip wasn’t a dramatic sea change. But it follows the long game the NBA played to establish its current dominance in the region.
Consider a targeting rule
What I wrote in February: At the very least, targeting will be the subject of intense debate this winter and spring.
What the league did: This discussion led in part to a new rule that will penalize players 15 yards for lowering their helmet to initiate contact with an opponent. Flagrant instances will be subject to ejection, but the NFL stopped far short of mandating the automatic ejections we see at the college level.
Still, players lower their helmets for all kinds of reasons during games, and some have concern about the consequences of strict interpretation. The informed guess is that there will be only a handful of additional ejections and that the rule will be enforced only in obvious situations.
The true goal here is to set in motion a long-term effort to minimize the use of helmets during blocking and tackling. But in the interim, there are a number of problematic possibilities. If the rule is selectively enforced, is it a good rule? And if it is strictly enforced, is the NFL truly ready for what would be a massive impact on the flow of games, and potentially their outcomes?
Rethink Rooney Rule
What I wrote in February: In scenarios in which owners have pre-chosen candidates — yes, it happens and will continue to — is there a way to further the cause of diversity without forcing meaningless interviews? These are questions that at least some in the NFL will address this offseason.
What the league did: The NFL already had ruled that the Oakland Raiders did not violate the rule in hiring coach Jon Gruden, whom owner Mark Davis admitted he has wanted to hire for years. But it has done nothing publicly to address this issue. For now, at least, those who value diversity have been asked to accept that even cursory interviews are better than none at all.
The last note got the DB to thinking wouldn’t it make sense for a team with a vacancy to have the option of declaring a “successor” right off the bat or go to an “interview” process that would invoke the Rooney Rule.
The Buccaneers did not have to comply with the Rooney Rule when they promoted Raheem Morris to succeed Jon Gruden several years ago. Should the Patriots have to do so if and when Josh McDaniels succeeds Bill Belichick? If the new coach is named within 72 hours of the vacancy, and only one interview is recorded, then no Rooney Rule. Otherwise it applies…
We have a mighty crystal ball here at ESPN. Yeah, of course, we have the regular ones that we use to predict what happens in the upcoming season or offseason or draft or whatever the story of the moment is. But we also have a special one that can see three years into the future.
You want to know what will happen in the NFL in 2018? We’ll get to that. Predictions come out in August, early September, whatever, and you know what they’ll look like.
But this column? This is all about the much bigger picture. This column predicts what will happen over the next three years. We did it last year, and some of the predictions already have come true. Which means you know it’s just a matter of time for the others. So, because this is such a valuable service to you, the reader, we decided to do it again.
Here, without further ado, are 25 NFL predictions for the next three years.
1. Le’Veon Bell will change teams.
No way Pittsburgh can franchise him again next year for $21 million, which means Bell becomes the running back version of Kirk Cousins and an open-market free agent next March. If he gets through 2018 healthy, that offers him his chance to reset the running back market at a level well beyond the Devonta Freeman/LeSean McCoy levels and likely even beyond the Adrian Peterson level. Think $13 million or more per year. Assuming he gets through the year healthy.
2. So will Odell Beckham Jr.
Yeah, I know, this could look really dumb in a couple of weeks if Beckham gets some whopper of a five-year deal from the Giants before camp, as he absolutely should. I just don’t get the sense that the Giants are super-eager to extend Beckham at the level he seeks, which means either they don’t get this done before camp and they have a headache that leads to him leaving in the next year or so, or they do a shorter-term deal that ends at some point in the next three years and allows him to land elsewhere.
3. The Dallas Cowboys win one of the next three Super Bowls.
It just feels as if people are sleeping on a team that went 9-7 last year while its best player/key to the offense was suspended for six games. Assuming Ezekiel Elliott plays all 16 games, there’s no reason not to like the Cowboys as 2018 contenders. And with their dominant offensive line all under contract and Dak Prescott still on his rookie deal at quarterback, there’s no reason to think there’s any major drop-off coming in the short term.
4. The Philadelphia Eagles won’t.
This is nothing against the Eagles, who should have a very good team again and stand as a legitimate threat to become the first repeat NFC East champion since 2003-04. This is just to make a point about how hard it is to repeat and sustain the kind of success Philadelphia had last year. In 18 NFL seasons since the turn of the millennium, there have been 12 different NFC champions. Of those, the only one that has returned to the Super Bowl within three years is the Seattle Seahawks, who played in back-to-back Super Bowls following the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Carson Wentz is a young superstar quarterback, the roster is well-built and well-coached, and if there’s a team built to buck history, this could well be it. But it’s really hard to buck that kind of history.
5. The anthem controversy isn’t going away.
The NFL hopes its new policy requiring players to stand for the pregame national anthem or wait it out in the locker room will quiet the furor over the issue. But it won’t. The NFL Players Association is already mulling a legal challenge to the new policy, and there’s sure to be at least one player who decides it’s worth challenging the new policy to make a public point about social injustice.
6. At least two more teams will be sold.
The Carolina Panthers just sold for $2.275 billion. That price tag alone is enough to grab the attention of any owner who has even considered the idea of getting out. The unfortunate health situation with the current ownership of the Denver Broncos makes that team the most obvious candidate to be the next one sold. (Watch to see whether Peyton Manning is involved when that happens.) It’s obviously hard to predict situations like that, or like the one that forced the aforementioned Panthers sale, but the Tennessee Titans have a situation to which many around the league are paying attention on this front.
7. Russell Wilson will become the highest-paid quarterback.
Oh, don’t misunderstand. Aaron Rodgers will do it first, likely surpassing Matt Ryan’s new deal before this summer is out. But Wilson’s deal is also up after the 2019 season.
8. The Cowboys end up in a bind over the Ezekiel Elliott contract.
Bell’s situation isn’t going to be the last difficult running back contract over the next couple of years. Running back is a weird position. Because of the rookie wage scale and the relative stagnation of veteran running back salaries, a back taken in the top five or 10 picks of the draft these days instantly becomes one of the highest-paid backs in the league. Teams aren’t getting bargains on backs taken that high the way they are with quarterbacks and pass-rushers on their rookie deals. This is why the Cowboys are going to have a problem when Elliott’s rookie deal ends. The Rams’ 2019 fifth-year option on Todd Gurley is $9.63 million, which means Elliott’s fifth-year option in 2020 is likely to be higher than $10 million, which means a high starting point for negotiations when Elliott’s agent goes to the team to start discussions on a second contract. And this will continue for backs taken high — Leonard Fournette’s 2021 option will be higher than Elliott’s 2020 option. Saquon Barkley’s 2022 option will be higher than Fournette’s. And so on. Either the top of the running back market has to move soon, or teams are going to have to make tough decisions on these guys when their rookie deals start ending.
9. David Johnson will lead the NFL in scrimmage yards over the next three years.
Because Johnson wasn’t a first-round pick, there’s no fifth-year option on him, and his extension likely has to get done this summer. Assuming it does and he doesn’t miss any 2018 games, Johnson is in position to shoulder more of his team’s offense than any other player in the league. As a runner and a pass-catcher, Johnson should be the best friend of whomever the Cardinals use at quarterback — Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen. And if he does get a huge new deal, you can bet the Cardinals will use him as much as they can to justify it. Johnson’s 2017 injury was a wrist, not a leg injury, so there’s no reason to doubt that he can return to his dominant 2016 form.
10. NFL players will continue to complain every year during NBA free agency that their contracts aren’t guaranteed.
…Every July, NFL players complain about non-guaranteed deals. Then every August, they rush to do extensions that don’t offer full guarantees. The change has to come from the ground up.
11. Threats of a work stoppage will only get louder.
I’m still sticking with last year’s prediction that the new CBA gets done without a work stoppage, but I don’t feel as good about it as I did last year.
12. The Houston Texans win at least two of the next three AFC South titles.
Bill O’Brien is the best coach in the division and has a history of finding his way to the playoffs with brutally unsettled quarterback situations. Assuming Deshaun Watson returns to and stays at full health, O’Brien finally has a dynamic solution to his biggest persistent problem. That, combined with the number of fine young players the Texans have on defense, makes them the biggest threat in a rapidly improving division.
13. Someone besides the Patriots finally wins the AFC East.
Yeah, I know. This one doesn’t seem so bold. But the Patriots have won the past nine AFC East titles and 15 of the past 17. They’re heavy favorites to win it again in 2018, and assuming Tom Brady returns, they’ll be favored again in 2019. But at some point, the Brady/Belichick run will end, and one of these other three teams will be in position to be the next AFC East titlist. Which one? I say it depends on which quarterback is better sooner — Sam Darnold with the Jets or Josh Allen with the Bills. The Dolphins are probably the non-Patriots AFC East team in best position to contend now, if things break right for them. But they also may end up having to start their rebuild a year or two from now, while the Bills and Jets already have started theirs.
14. Drew Brees plays longer than Tom Brady does.
This one dovetails with the last one. Brees isn’t out there with a bunch of “Drew vs. Time” longevity hype videos, but Brees at 39 remains in peak playing shape and shows no real signs of slowing down. He’ll own the NFL’s career passing yardage record by Halloween of this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of his long-range goals is to play longer than Brady does. I also doubt Brady harbors the reciprocal goal.
15. Kirk Cousins wins more games than Alex Smith.
There’s this offseason drumbeat about how Washington upgraded at quarterback with Smith over Cousins. And it could be true, but even if it is, it’s close. I just think Cousins landed in a much better situation in terms of the quality of his defense and of the offensive arsenal at his disposal. The Vikings are better positioned to win games now than Washington is, and Cousins — who’s clearly aware of his place in NFL contract history — should be motivated to prove that he’s worth his new deal and get another one once it’s over.
16. Josh Rosen plays the most games of any 2018 rookie quarterback over the next three years.
My offshoot prediction is that, at the conclusion of the 2020 season, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson is the 2018 draft quarterback about whom the league’s fans are most excited. But since I don’t expect Jackson to start at quarterback for the Ravens until 2019, I hedge here against Sam Bradford’s injury history. The Browns, Bills and Ravens don’t want to play their first-round quarterbacks this year, and the Jets probably would rather wait to play theirs as well. The Cardinals, given Bradford’s well-known fragility, may have no choice.
17. Jim Harbaugh returns to the NFL as a head coach.
No way that’s over, right? Harbaugh was too good for too short a period of time as an NFL head coach to not want to try it again. If things do fall apart in Miami, watch for Dolphins owner and Michigan man Stephen Ross to make another major play for Harbaugh to come back and coach his team.
18. Marvin Lewis will still be coaching the Bengals.
Unless, of course, the Bengals are one of the teams that gets sold. (See No. 6.) Look, if it wasn’t over after last year, what’s to say it ever will be? Lewis seems to like it there, and Bengals owner Mike Brown seems to like the face Lewis puts on the organization. It’s an odd dynamic there, and it’s not for everyone. Brown has a guy for whom it all works, which is why he’s not inclined to change it up.
19. Josh McDaniels will get another head-coaching interview.
What McDaniels did to the Colts was ridiculous and should cost him. I’d be at least mildly surprised if he drew any interest in the January 2019 hiring cycle. But come on. The guy just turned 42 and clearly knows how to coach. Time softens everything, and there’s another McDaniels image rehab tour to come. I have no idea if he’ll ever want to take another head-coaching job, and I don’t think he’ll succeed Bill Belichick in New England. But some team will kick the tires again at some point in the next three years.
20. The kickoff will disappear.
The kickoff got a reprieve for this year, as special-teams coaches successfully lobbied the league to try out some changes designed to make the play safer. But owners have made it no secret that if the play doesn’t become demonstrably safer than it is (five times as many concussions on that play than others in 2017), they’re willing to scrap it. The prediction here is that they end up doing it within the next three years.
21. The combine will move to Los Angeles.
And it’ll be a shame, because Indianapolis is set up just perfectly for it. But the NFL is going to want to make the Rams’ and Chargers’ new stadium complex a destination, and in order to do that, it’s going to need events. For a long time, people around the league expected the league to move the draft to L.A. on a permanent basis too, once the stadium complex was complete. And that may well happen, but at this point, the league seems to be enjoying moving the draft around to different cities every year.
22. Speaking of L.A., the Rams will continue to make it interesting.
Personally, I think the Chargers will be the better of the two L.A. teams this year, even though I expect the Rams to be good as well. (I like both rosters a lot.) But big-picture, I would expect this Rams’ active offseason to become something of the norm. The people running that organization seem very cognizant of the importance of selling their team to their new, massive market. Yes, the Rams want to win games and championships above all else. But the moves they’re making have an eye on getting and keeping people interested in what they’re doing. So expect them to be a consistently risk-taking and fascinating participant in the NFL’s offseason player-movement circus.
23. The recreational drug policy will change, but not the way you may think.
The NFLPA doesn’t really want the league to stop testing for marijuana. It wants the league to stop punishing players for testing positive. If the union got what it wanted on marijuana testing, the result would be a program where players were tested for the drug but for clinical purposes. Example: If someone is using it excessively, are they trying to deal with an injury they’re trying to conceal from a team? Do they have an addiction? The result would ideally be a situation where players who only occasionally use marijuana wouldn’t have to worry about multigame suspensions for relatively harmless violations, but the testing could actually have a positive impact on the lives and health of players who need more attention.
24. The Browns still won’t make the playoffs.
I know, I know. They’re some kind of trendy pick to “make noise” somehow this year, even though there have been two Christmases since the last time they won a game. I just think there’s still a lot that can go wrong. They don’t have a left tackle. Josh Gordon is basically one beer away from a lifetime suspension. They need more pieces on defense. Even if they improve by five games this year — which is a massive one-year improvement by NFL standards — they still probably miss the playoffs by four. Then, if their plan works out the way they expect, they switch to an inexperienced Baker Mayfield at quarterback next year and goodness only knows who the coach is. This is a longer rebuilding project than a lot of people want to think it is.
25. The ties between the Jacksonville Jaguars and London will only intensify.
Owner Shad Khan has plenty of interest there. The Jaguars might not eventually move there (although they absolutely might), and even if they do, three years is probably not enough time to make it happen. But we’ll say this: If an NFL team is going to go to London, Khan wants it to be his. So I wouldn’t expect the Jaguars to start playing fewer games in London anytime soon. If anything, bet that it will be more.