The Daily Briefing Friday, July 6, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

If the NFL’s new anthem policy, which stirred the ire of the social justice crowd of players and media, was designed to placate Donald Trump – it failed.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The President has continued to periodically slam the NFL over the anthem issue. During a Thursday rally in Montana, Trump repeatedly called the NFL policy “worse” than the one it replaced.

 

“Hey, how about the NFL?” he said, via John Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com. “Look, I don’t want to cause controversy. . . . But how about they pass this stupid thing. You don’t have to do this anymore. If you don’t respect the flag, or if you don’t like the country, or whatever it is. Just go into the locker room. . . . I think in many respects, that’s worse. Isn’t that worse than not standing? I think that’s worse. . . . I actually think in many ways it’s worse.”

 

The President also had some criticism for the Commissioner.

 

“I heard this thing, they were so happy, the owners,” Trump said. “This Commissioner, where this guy comes from I have no [idea]. They’re paying him $40 million a year, and their ratings are down 20 percent. But you know why their ratings are down? Yes, the flag. But they’re also down because  people find politics — in other words, hitting Trump, incorrectly, but hitting Trump — they find that to be much tougher, meaner, and more interesting than watching a football game. They actually do. And they’re watching the cable networks instead of watching football.”

 

As previously mentioned, ratings aren’t down “20 percent.” Moreover, Sunday afternoons and evenings aren’t exactly hotbeds for cable news programming. And maybe I’m mistaken, but I thought that the media outlets that were “hitting” the President were failing and struggling and consistently losing viewers.

 

Regardless, the point continues to be that the President will continue to find ways to harass and to criticize the NFL, no matter what the NFL does. And it will only get worse as the midterm elections get closer.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

First words from CB JANORIS JENKINS on what it is like having a friend murdered in your house.  John Healy in the New York Daily News:

 

Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins opened up for the first time on Thursday about the death of 25-year-old hip-hop producer Roosevelt Rene, whose body was discovered in the basement of Jenkins’ Fair Lawn, N.J., home on June 26.

 

Jenkins, who was friends with Rene and worked on music projects with him, called Rene “a good friend” in a statement on Instagram:

 

 “With Regret and sadness I wish to inform the fans, and the public a good friend of mine Roosevelt Rene a.k.a. Trypps Beats was found dead at my place of residence,” he said.

 

“Trypps was a good friend and we were collaborating on music production together. It truly hurts my heart to know he has passed away. At the time of the incident I was in Florida preparing to finish off my promotional tour. As this is an ongoing incident, I cannot answer any questions related to the investigation. I am praying for Roosevelt and his family.”

 

Jenkins appeared to continue to say more, with the words, “I urge to,” but what followed was cut off in the post.

 

Authorities charged William Jenkins, the 34-year-old brother of Janoris, with aggravated manslaughter in relation to Rene’s death.

 

William was arrested in Ontario County near Rochester — about 300 miles away from Fair Lawn — for an unrelated parole issue nine hours before police found Rene’s body.

 

Police were investigating whether or not Rene’s death was by suffocation or strangulation.

 

There has not been any indication thus far if Janoris was involved or played any role whatsoever, but an investigation is ongoing.

 

He was in Florida at the time of the incident and had remained silent up until Thursday.

 

The 29-year-old corner signed with the Giants two years ago and has lived in Fair Lawn since joining the team.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

A book by QB NICK FOLES seems to be required reading for Eagles fans.  Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has a Super Bowl MVP trophy and a spot on the New York Times’ best-seller list.

 

Foles’ autobiography “Believe It” is set to debut at No. 5 on the New York Times Hardcover, Nonfiction list on July 15, according to book publisher Tyndale House.

 

The book will also be on the best-seller lists of USA Today and Publisher’s Weekly.

 

“Believe It,” written with Joshua Cooley, tells Foles’ story of his career and the impact his faith has had in his life. It also touches on just how close Foles came to walking away from football before rejuvenating his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016 and turning that into a Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl MVP in relief of an injured Carson Wentz last season in Philadelphia.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Joel Corry of CBSSports.com, an ex-agent, struggles with how the Falcons can make WR JULIO JONES happy again.  It is a long piece which you can read in its entirety here with excerpts below.

 

Jones isn’t satisfied with the five-year, $71.25 million contract extension he signed in 2015, which briefly made him the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver. He is seeking some sort of adjustment to his contract. The Falcons are reportedly receptive to the idea.

 

General manager Thomas Dimitroff acknowledged during the minicamp there had been “constructive and productive” dialogue with Jones’ camp. Jones is represented by Creative Artist Agency’s Jimmy Sexton, who changed the non-quarterback market in 2015 by negotiating defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s blockbuster deal ($114.375 million/six years; $59.955 million fully guaranteed) with the Dolphins during free agency.

 

Jones is scheduled to make $34.426 million through the 2020 season. His salary is $10.5 million this year, $12.5 million next year and $11.426 million in 2020.

 

Quinn expressed confidence at minicamp that Jones’ situation would be resolved before the Falcons veterans report to training camp on July 26, but addressing Jones’ contract in a significant way may be easier said than done.

 

Jones’ source of unhappiness

Wide receivers have been hot commodities this offseason, particularly in free agency. Allen Robinson receiving a three-year, $42 million contract with $25.2 million in guarantees from the Bears was unexpected because he tore his left ACL in the Jaguars’ 2017 season opener.

 

The most surprising deal belongs to Sammy Watkins. The Chiefs gave him a three-year, $48 million contract with $30 million fully guaranteed. Watkins drew considerable interest in free agency before signing with the Chiefs. The Bears, Cowboys and Packers reportedly were among his suitors.

 

Watkins caught a rather pedestrian 39 passes for 593 yards and eight touchdowns with the Rams last season after being traded from the Bills during training camp. The 2014 fourth-overall pick’s only 1,000 receiving yard season came in 2015. Prior to the trade, the Bills passed on a fifth-year option in 2018 for Watkins at $13.258 million due to his persistent problems with a broken left foot.

 

Jarvis Landry, who was designated as a franchise player by the Dolphins for $15.982 million before the Browns traded for him in March, fundamentally changed the way slot wide receivers are paid. Cleveland signed Landry to a five-year, $75.5 million deal with $47 million in guarantees. $34 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Wide receivers that primarily thrive in the slot, like Landry has, typically have been paid less than those that excel on the outside or can take the top off opposing defenses.

 

A Mike Evans extension, which was signed with the Buccaneers in March before free agency started, was always going to exceed Jones’ deal. In 2017, Evans joined A.J. Green and Randy Moss as the only wide receivers in NFL history to reach the 1,000 receiving yard mark in each of their first four seasons. His five-year extension averaging $16.5 million per year has $55.008 million of guarantees, where $38.258 million is fully guaranteed.

 

The Watkins deal may be the biggest source of Jones’ frustration because Watkins is being paid like an elite receiver without matching production. Jones can make a case for being the NFL’s best wide receiver. He has averaged slightly over 100 receptions and almost 1,600 receiving yards a season since Watkins’ NFL career began in 2014. His 95.3 receiving yards per game is the best career mark in NFL history. The five-time Pro Bowler had one of the most prolific seasons for a wide receiver in 2015 when he had 136 catches for 1,871 yards. Jones’ catches in 2015 are nine more than Watkins has had over the last three seasons. Watkins’ 2,070 receiving yards during this span are just about 200 more than Jones’ 2015 total.

 

Why the Falcons don’t have to do anything for Jones

The Falcons would be justified leaving Jones’ contract as it is until he is closer to free agency. Jones doesn’t have leverage in this situation because he has three years left on his contract.

.

The top of the wide receiver market hasn’t dramatically changed since Jones signed in 2015. Jones’ $14.25 million average yearly salary is still eighth among wide receivers. His $47 million in overall guarantees is tied for third with Landry. Only Evans ($38.258 million) and DeAndre Hopkins ($36.5 million) have gotten more than the $35.5 million Jones had fully guaranteed at signing.

 

It seems apparent that Jones is focusing on his remaining compensation rather than looking at his deal in its entirety. Jones is conveniently forgetting that his contract is frontloaded. This narrow view is quite common among players who want to renegotiate with multiple years remaining on their contracts.

– – –

Jones would have been looking at a $14.599 million franchise tag in 2016 after an outstanding 2015 campaign. His 136 receptions and 1,871 receiving yards are the second-most ever in an NFL season. Jones’ season for the ages probably would have allowed him to eclipse Green’s $15-million-per-year deal, which was the standard at wide receiver, and improve upon the actual guarantees in his own contract. Applying the 8.37 percent increase of the salary cap in 2016 to these marks would have put Jones at slightly over $16.25 million per year with a little under $51 million of guarantees in which almost $38.5 million was fully guaranteed.

 

A second franchise designation in 2017 at a CBA mandated 20-percent increase would have been after a season in which Jones was second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,409) and Atlanta went to the Super Bowl. Jones likely would have been in a position to surpass the $17-million-per-year extension the Steelers gave Antonio Brown a few weeks after Super Bowl LI.

 

A franchise tag for a third-straight year would have been too cost prohibitive for Atlanta. The requisite 44 percent increase over the second franchise tag would have put a third designation at a little more than $25.275 million. It’s conceivable that Jones could have become the NFL’s first $20-million-per-year non-quarterback on the open market this offseason whether re-signing with the Falcons or from another team under these circumstances. In hindsight, Jones should have bet on himself like Cousins and Johnson did.

 

What could be done for Jones

It is unusual for teams to renegotiate a player’s contract with three years remaining, although the 49ers did so with inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman in 2016. Jones’ situation isn’t comparable to Andre Johnson’s in 2010, when the Texans renegotiated his six-year, $44.05 million extension from 2007. Johnson had sold himself way short by representing himself. There were five years remaining when Johnson’s deal was reworked — $4 million of new money was added in the first two years of the existing deal, and $10.8 million of salary escalators were inserted in the last four remaining years, which could be earned by Johnson performing like a top wide receiver. Two new contract years were added as well.

 

Typically, a contract isn’t ripped up in instances where the player is treated like he is approaching free agency when it is addressed with so much remaining time. Jones expecting that kind of treatment will likely make it extremely difficult to reach an agreement. More of a Band-Aid approach has been taken when elite players who felt underpaid were at similar stages of their deals.

 

The best Jones should reasonably expect this year is for the Falcons to adopt a similar approach to what the Patriots did with tight end Rob Gronkowski last year or the Steelers with Brown in 2015 and 2016.

 

The Patriots finally addressed Gronkowski’s perpetual unhappiness with the six-year, $54 million extension he signed in 2012 to become the NFL’s highest-paid tight end by average yearly salary. Gronkowski’s contract had $5.5 million of incentives added. He earned the entire amount when he was named first team All-Pro by The Associated Press.

 

The Steelers adhered to their longstanding policy of not renegotiating contracts until one year is remaining (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been the lone exception). Brown had clearly outperformed the five-year, $41.9 million extension he signed in 2012 after just two NFL seasons. Instead, Brown was given a $2 million raise in 2015 by taking money from his 2016 base salary. A little more than $2.5 million of much-needed cap room was created in the process because the money was converted into signing bonus along with a big portion of Brown’s 2015 base salary. The Steelers were able to placate Brown again in 2016 through this concept with a $4 million increase coming from his 2017 compensation.

 

Sexton should reach an understanding with Falcons owner Arthur Blank that Jones’ contract will be extended in 2019 when he has two years left if only a minor adjustment is made. The Brown approach would probably need to be done in cap-neutral manner considering that Falcons have approximately $7 million of 2018 cap space available. Only a handful of teams (Eagles, Panthers, Raiders, Rams and Steelers) have less cap space. For example, Jones could receive a $4 million raise this season by lowering his 2019 base salary from $12.5 million to $8.5 million where this amount and $2 million of his 2018 base salary are turned into a signing bonus. His 2018 cap number would stay at $12.9 million. Jones’ 2019 cap hit would decrease by $2 million to $12.9 million while his 2020 figure would go from $11.426 million to $13.426 million.

 

Anything done with the Gronkowski method would require incentives to be classified as not likely to be earned (NLTBE) given Atlanta’s tight salary cap. Incentives with higher thresholds than a player or team’s statistical achievements in the prior season qualify as NLTBE. There isn’t a salary-cap charge during the season with most NLTBEs. If earned, a team typically incurs the charge after the playoffs end. In Jones’ case, exceeding 90 catches, 1,450 receiving yards, four touchdown receptions, 75 percent offensive playtime or being named first team All-Pro by The Associated Press would be deemed NLTBE based on his 2017 performance.

 

Jones should prefer the Brown approach over incentives or a combination of the two. An injury-plagued 2018 season would make it difficult, if not impossible, to earn incentives.

 

Jones might be better off in the long run with the minor adjustment this year where a true renegotiation occurs next offseason. Odell Beckham, Jr., who is scheduled to play this season under his fifth-year option, is expected to reset the wide receiver market whenever he signs a new deal. The existence of a Beckham deal should raise Jones’ salary floor.

 

Potential ramifications of a Jones renegotiation

The Falcons renegotiating Jones’ contract so he becomes the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver isn’t out of the realm of possibility. A precedent that could be used against the Falcons in the future by extending Jones’ contract would be set. Anytime a player with multiple years left on his contract felt he outperformed his deal, he or his agent would point to how Jones was handled. Given that Jones is arguably the game’s best wide receiver, the Falcons could draw a distinction with his circumstances.

 

Potentially, the Falcons would be facing this situation next offseason, when right tackle Ryan Schraeder is at the same stage in his deal that Jones is in right now. The five-year, $31.5 million extension (worth up to $33 million through salary escalators) he signed during the latter part of the 2016 season quickly became outdated. Ricky Wagner changed the salary landscape for pure right tackles with the $9.5-million-per-year deal he received from the Lions during free agency in 2017.

 

Center Alex Mack would have license to seek a new deal in 2019 when he has two years left on the five-year, $45 million contract containing $28.5 million of guarantees he signed as a free agent in 2016. The contract put Mack at the top of the center market until Travis Frederick’s extension with the Cowboys several months later. Mack, who has earned All-Pro honors in both of his seasons with the Falcons, is now tied with Justin Britt (Seahawks) as the league’s fifth-highest-paid center by average yearly salary.

 

The potential impact of taking care of Jones before valuable players in contract years should be of more immediate concern to the Falcons. Namely, the wrong signal could be sent to defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and left tackle Jake Matthews, both potential 2019 free agents, about their importance to the organization.

 

Other veteran players around the NFL who feel they have outperformed their contracts would love to see Jones get rewarded. They would have more ammunition to push for new contracts sooner rather than later. For instance, 2017 NFL sack leader Chandler Jones, whose contract expires after the 2021 season, might feel emboldened to ask the Cardinals for a new deal in 2019 if Jones gets one this offseason, especially after salaries for players who can consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks begin to escalate dramatically once Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack sign new contracts

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

49ers WR MARQISE GOODWIN is one of the good guys.  ESPN.com:

 

Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin has found a home with the San Francisco 49ers after a breakout season in 2017 and a three-year, $20 million contract extension.

 

He wanted those he loves to have a home too, so he bought a new house for his mother, Tamina, and sister Deja, who has cerebral palsy.

 

Thursday, he posted video of the unveiling.

 

Goodwin’s caption on the video read: I know mama… I can feel your energy in this video! All the obstacles WE have overcome… Man…I love you so much mama… thank you for EVERYTHING! Especially blessing me with a sis like my Deja!!! 🙏🏾🙏🏾 #Blessed @mamaflashgoodwin”

 

Goodwin says that Deja has been a lifelong inspiration. She is usually confined to a wheelchair. Goodwin is 10 months older than his sister and when they were children they were inseparable.

 

“If Deja wasn’t my sister, I feel like I would still be motivated but not in the way that I am today,” Goodwin told ESPN in 2013. “Having a disabled sister, that’s a lot more motivation, especially when she tells you growing up that she wishes she can be out there with the kids playing and she wishes she can be out there running around.”

 

Doctors told their mother that Deja would not live beyond 6 months. But she continues to overcome the odds. On Sept. 17, she will celebrate her 27th birthday.

 

“It’s very inspirational to me,” Goodwin said. “To me, no doctor can determine when it’s your time to go. God really knows, and He’s the only one who can really give you the day. You just have to keep the faith and live the best you can each day.”

 

Goodwin had a breakout season with career highs in catches (56) and receiving yards (962) to go with two touchdowns. He was third in the NFL with 17.2 yards per catch, and he had two of his three 100-yard games after quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was inserted as the starter.

 

The former Olympic long jumper signed with the 49ers in 2017 and was expected to be mostly used as a kick returner. But he developed a chemistry with Garoppolo, and was rewarded with the contract extension in March.

 

The home is in Texas.  You can see the video here.

 

 

SEATTLE

Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner tries to figure out the Seahawks in this 2018 preview:

 

When the Seattle Seahawks’ brass wakes up, the first thing it should do is thank the football gods for Russell Wilson.

 

NFL teams dream of landing someone like Wilson. The New York Jets have been searching for a quarterback like Wilson since Joe Namath, and he hasn’t played for them in more than 40 years. The Chicago Bears have been searching longer than that, since well before the Super Bowl was even dreamed up. Many teams have undergone long searches to find an elite quarterback. The Seahawks have one, and he’s just 29 years old.

 

Wilson is undeniably great. He had a fantastic 2017 and if we didn’t shut our minds to a player on a non-playoff team being MVP, Wilson could have won the award. The Seahawks are slipping, but the clearest path back to the top is through their amazing quarterback.

 

Yet, the Seahawks seem to see it differently. I like Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, and general manager John Schneider too. They built a great championship team in Seattle. But as some of their stars have gotten older and left, they seem to be grasping at how to remain a contender. Their main focus this offseason seemed to be minimizing Wilson, the one advantage they still have, in favor of running the ball more. It’s confusing.

 

“We have a real formula of how we win and we have been unable the last two years to incorporate a major aspect of that and it’s running the football the way we want to run it,” Carroll said, according to the team’s transcripts. “I think you see tremendous examples around the league of teams who have turned their fortunes around and they have turned it around in a formula that I think should sound familiar to you. [By] teams running the football. Teams playing good defense and doing the kicking game thing. That is the formula that has proven historically the best in this game. We have been committed to that from the start but unfortunately we have not been able to recapture it the way that we have in years past.”

 

He was serious. The Seahawks hired offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who is a staunch believer in a run-first offense. They drafted running back Rashaad Penny in the first round, a move that surprised everyone and didn’t make much sense given Seattle’s many other needs. Pass catchers Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson left in free agency, and nothing substantial was done to replace them.

 

And if that wasn’t enough, Schottenheimer made sure everyone knew what this offense’s focus would be.

 

“You’ve got to have the ability to run the football when people know you are going to run the football,” Schottenheimer said, according to the Seattle Times.

 

You have to run the ball when people know you’re going to run the ball? When you have one of the best quarterbacks in football? Yep, that sums up the Seahawks’ mantra this offseason. I don’t get it.

 

I understand there’s nuance involved. The Seahawks aren’t going to become the 1973 Buffalo Bills and run 75 percent of the time. Some balance isn’t a bad thing. But it’s a fallacy to believe the best path back to greatness is through more run plays.

 

First of all, NFL teams pass to run, not the other way around. Most teams pass to get a lead, then use the running game to finish. Teams that rely heavily on the run usually do so out of necessity — they would change course immediately if they had a potential Hall of Famer at quarterback.

 

Many Seattle fans will argue the Seahawks’ championship formula was Marshawn Lynch and defense. But the 2013 Seahawks defense doesn’t work here anymore. That unit was incredible, and in Super Bowl XLVIII it had one of the best single-game performances by any defense in NFL history. The 2018 Seahawks defense isn’t in the same conversation as that group. Wilson was also a young quarterback in 2013; he hadn’t yet blossomed into one of the NFL’s best. Running the ball and playing defense was a great formula for that team five years ago. For this Seattle team, with a defense that isn’t bad but certainly slipping, and without a Hall-of-Fame-level running back like Lynch, running “when people know you are going to run the football” doesn’t make any sense.

 

It’s understandable why the Seahawks are searching for ways to hang onto the past. This era has been amazing. But there were signs of erosion last season. While the Seahawks weren’t a bad team last season, they went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Depending on what happens with Earl Thomas’ contract situation, the Seahawks could be without Thomas, practically retired safety Kam Chancellor, defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, and cornerback Richard Sherman from last year’s defense. The offense took some hits too. A declining NFL power had a brutal offseason.

 

Perhaps because some key mainstays will still be around – Wilson, receiver Doug Baldwin, linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, Carroll and Schneider – it has gone a bit unnoticed that these Seahawks have undergone a massive change.

 

“With those guys leaving, or some guys leaving and some guys not being here, it’s sad,” Baldwin said. “It changes the dynamic of the team in some ways. Obviously, like I said, the energy is different.

 

“At times it’s sad because I’ve grown up with [Sherman] in this system, in this organization and we built something special here together, in terms of the culture and the championship atmosphere. But going into the unknown, there’s a level of excitement because we have an opportunity to continue that and bridge the gap between what has happened in the past and what’s new and hopefully continue that championship legacy.”

 

It’s a new era in Seattle. When you have a quarterback like Wilson, you shouldn’t slip too far. Do the Seahawks understand Wilson is the one asset that gives them the best shot at returning to glory?

– – –

While the NFL is trying to find the next brilliant, progressive offensive mind, the Seahawks hired Brian Schottenheimer as their offensive coordinator. His record shouldn’t excite anyone, and nor should his run-first approach in a pass-first NFL world. Schottenheimer has been the coordinator of nine offenses, and only one (2010 Jets) finished higher than 16th in yards gained. Seven of his nine offenses finished 20th or lower. Since his first offense (2006 Jets), every Schottenheimer offense has finished 21st or worst in net yards per passing attempt. Even his results in the run game aren’t great: Six of his nine offenses finished 19th or worse in total rushing yards and six finished 15th or worse in yards per attempt. In fairness, Schottenheimer never had a quarterback as talented as Russell Wilson. But when people complain about the recycling of coaches in the NFL, this is one instance they can point to.

– – –

Part of me assumes that when push comes to shove, the plan to “run the football when people know you are going to run the football” is going to take a back seat and Russell Wilson will be asked to carry the team again. He can do it. What Wilson did last season was amazing. This is a team with a championship pedigree, and it had five losses in games decided by seven points or less last season (three of those losses were by a field goal or less). They were an unlucky 9-7. Any team with a quarterback like Wilson should at least be in contention for a division title, and that’s on the table for Seattle.

 

Again, having Russell Wilson means the floor can’t be too low. The Seahawks are in major trouble if Wilson gets hurt, but that’s true for many teams. I can see the Seahawks finishing below .500, however. Brian Schottenheimer was an uninspiring offensive coordinator hire, new defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s three Oakland Raiders defenses never finished better than 20th in yards or points allowed, and I believe I’ve mentioned how confusing Seattle’s offseason was. A six- or seven-win season wouldn’t be a disaster for some teams, but it would be horrible for a Seahawks team that put together a mini-dynasty this decade.

 

The Seahawks seem to be stuck on the idea they’ll be better off with more Rashaad Penny and less Russell Wilson. We’ll see if words turn into action, but I’m not encouraged. The Seahawks’ moves this offseason spoke loudly. The amount of talent the Seahawks lost this offseason has not gotten enough attention, for some reason. They lost multiple players who should be in the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor, and some could end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (especially if Thomas never returns). I’ve enjoyed this Seahawks run. They’ve been compelling and dominant. I’m not biased against Seattle, Pete Carroll, Starbucks coffee, the Space Needle or anything else I’m sure Seahawks fans will scream about. I simply don’t like or understand the direction they went this offseason. The over/under win total for the Seahawks in Las Vegas is either 7.5 or 8, and the under seems like the right play.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Will QB BAKER MAYFIELD ever see the field?  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

The Cleveland Browns will eventually turn to rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

 

For now, however, veteran signal-caller Tyrod Taylor has the keys to the offense and his share of fans within the locker room.

 

Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey complimented Taylor’s leadership during a Tuesday guest appearance on NFL Network.

 

Wide receiver Jarvis Landry took his turn Thursday on The Rich Eisen Show when asked how Taylor looked during the offseason.

 

“Amazing,” Landry told Eisen. “Amazing, man. His leadership, his arm, his accuracy and he’s ready, man. He’s the starting quarterback, and I’m sure that, obviously, the decision is up to [head coach] Hue [Jackson] and the offensive staff, and stuff like that. But I’m sure they’ve been highly impressed with [what] he’s done through OTAs and minicamp.”

 

Taylor, whom the Browns acquired via trade with the Buffalo Bills during the offseason, projects as the starter ahead of training camp. While there could be some competition between Taylor and Mayfield, Landry didn’t see any issues with the current pecking order.

 

The Browns wide receiver pointed out how Taylor has been to the Pro Bowl as a member of the Bills, adding the quarterback was a member of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl-winning team.

 

Those experiences should benefit Mayfield as he waits his turn and absorbs the professional game under Taylor’s mentorship.

 

“He sees it as an opportunity for him to grow at the position,” Landry said of Mayfield. “A guy like Tyrod, who’s been to the Super Bowl, who took a Buffalo team that hasn’t been to the playoffs to the playoffs, he can learn a lot from Tyrod. At the same time, I think it’s a competition, but I think it’s true at the same time both guys are definitely qualified for the job.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Interesting, but not surprising, that the late author Hunter S. Thompson would be a friend of Jim Irsay.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Hunter S. Thompson, the author known for his drug-fueled gonzo journalism, was a football fan and a friend of Colts owner Jim Irsay. But Thompson wasn’t much of a draft scout.

 

It turns out that Thompson was among those who believed before the 1998 NFL draft that Ryan Leaf was the better prospect than Peyton Manning.

 

That comes from Leaf, who this week was given a copy of a letter Thompson sent to Irsay, urging him to draft Leaf. The note, written in Thompson’s humorous tone, was posted on Instagram by Leaf.

 

“Dear James,” Thompson wrote. “In response to yr. addled request for a quick $30M loan to secure the services of the Manning kid — I have to say No, at this time

 

“But the Leaf boy is another matter. He looks strong & Manning doesn’t — or at least not strong enough to handle that ‘Welcome to the NFL’ business for two years without a world-class offensive line.

 

“How are you fixed at left OT for the next few years, James? Think about it. You don’t want a china doll back there when that freak Sapp comes crashing in.

 

“Okay. Let me know if you need some money for Leaf. I expect to be very rich when this depp movie comes out.

 

“Yr. faithful consultant, HUNTER”

 

Fortunately for the Colts, Irsay did not listen to Thompson.

 

Irsay needed money to fund Manning or Leaf’s bonus?  Note that Hunter Thompson, an expert on addled, thought Irsay was addled.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

A nice story about RB LEONARD FOURNETTE from Gabrielle McMillan of The Sporting News:

 

Leonard Fournette is paying it forward.

 

The Jaguars running back saw on Twitter an LSU student named Jhane Lowsoo asking for financial help to cover her final year in school.

 

Fournette tweeted at the fifth-year senior, saying he would cover it.

 

7 Leonard Fournette

@_fournette

 Looka my dawg dm me yo number I’ll pay the rest for you ……..

 

MissJ-Nichol

@jhanenichol_

I have 2 come out of pocket to pay for my senior year. It’s 10k for the entire year! I currently work 2jobs for the other 5k! $1, $5 ANYTHING HELPS! I’ve come too far to stop here! Thank you everyone! Plz RT!

 

Please support my GoFundMe campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/please-help-me-pay-4-my-last-year?pc=tw_co_dashboard_a&rcid=87a2d76c7d86429892c947aa327f2b6e … @gofundme

 

According to Lowsoo, she needed $10,000 to cover her fifth year at LSU. She was already working two jobs to cover her tuition after TOPS, a financial aid program in Louisiana, stopped covering her tuition.

 

Before Fournette stepped in, Lowsoo had raised $2,000 of her $5,000 goal.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

RB FRANK GORE is thrilled to be with the Dolphins for what looks to be the final stop in a (borderline?) Hall of Fame career.  Barry Jackson in the Miami Herald:

 

Frank Gore never knew exactly when he would end up with the Dolphins. But he knew it would happen at some point before his career ended.

 

Gore shared a story this offseason:

 

 “I remember when Bobby McCain, when he was in his rookie or second year, we trained together over the summer,” Gore said. “I told him before the end, I’m going to be in the locker room with you. I remember when I signed, he said ‘Boy, you were right.’ I’m happy to be here. Now I just want to show everybody that I still can play.”

 

Gore, who attended Coral Gables High and UM, is the NFL’s only running back who has rushed for at least 900 yards each of the past three seasons.

 

At 35, “I still feel good,” he said. “I think about it sometimes. I think about how blessed I am to still be playing a game that I love since I was a kid. I always hear it every year: ‘When you turn this age, you can’t do it anymore.’ Especially with what it took me to get here, to play in this league, with the injuries that I had, and still to be blessed to play this game and have pretty good years, I think that’s a blessing.”

 

He believes he will be helped this year by playing home games on grass, after playing on turf in Indianapolis.

 

“Turf is tough on your body and it’ll have you swollen,” he said. “Playing on turf, I wouldn’t get my body back until that Friday. But when I’m playing on grass, I’m good after the game. I’m happy that I’m on grass.”

 

Fans, he said, are “happy that I’m home. Coming from Coral Gables and going to the University of Miami, it’s been good. Now I’ve got to make sure that I’m ready for the season and do some good things for the team.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

This from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Some key figures in the Alliance of American Football will moonlight via media gigs while preparing for the inaugural season of the most ambitious spring league arguably since the USFL. Phil Savage won’t be.

 

The Phoenix G.M. previously left his job as executive director of the Senior Bowl, and he has now exited his position as radio analyst for the University of Alabama. Via WALA-TV, Savage has stepped down from the position he has held since 2009 to focus on building the Phoenix roster.

 

The AAF clearly doesn’t require this. Daryl Johnston will remain at FOX while serving as the San Antonio G.M., and AAF co-founder Bill Polian has not relinquished his on-air role at ESPN, even though fellow AAF co-founder Charlie Ebersol is devoting his full efforts to the new league, joking in a recent #PFTPM appearance that he’s devoting 36 hours per day to the AAF.

 

A replacement for Savage has yet to be named. When he took the job nine years ago, Savage replaced Alabama legend Kenny Stabler.

 

 

RANKING THE DIVISIONS BY QUARTERBACK

When we saw what this article by Adam Schein was about, we figured the NFC South would rank on top even with JAMEIS WINSTON dragging it down.  Not in Schein’s eyes though.

 

You know what they say: It’s all about the quarterback. And “they” are right.

 

But which division will boast the best collection of quarterbacks in 2018? The worst? Let’s rank ’em!

 

NOTE: Quarterbacks listings within each division are presented alphabetically by team. And as you can see, I didn’t necessarily pick the projected Week 1 starter in each situation, but rather the guy who will make the biggest mark on the season.

 

1) NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky

Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers

Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins

 

This is a significant jump up from last year’s rankings, but I am very comfortable with it. Rodgers is the most talented quarterback in NFL history. I love Green Bay bringing in Jimmy Graham to help in the red zone. Stafford has been fantastic the last few seasons, a true maestro in the clutch. And Detroit improved the offensive line and run game this offseason — that will provide the 30-year-old quarterback with some needed protection and balance. I think Trubisky will be this year’s Jared Goff, taking a major leap forward in Year 2 with a new head coach and more talent around him. Lastly, Cousins swings the pendulum in favor of this division. He’s the answer to the franchise-quarterback question for the Vikings.

 

2) NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen

Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff

San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo

Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson

 

From the bottom to the top: This is what happens when Sean McVay enters the picture for Goff — the QB goes from rookie disaster to sophomore Pro Bowler. And Year 3 will be even better than Goff’s terrific second season. Similarly, it’s going to be a special ride for the 49ers faithful, with a full season of Jimmy G and Kyle Shanahan. Garoppolo can carry San Fran to the playoffs. Josh Rosen is my pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He’s a sensational talent and quick study, with solid weapons and defense flanking him in the desert. And of course, Russ is carving out a Hall of Fame-caliber career out in the Pacific Northwest. This guy’s magical, with or without an offensive line.

 

3) NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton

New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston

 

I still love the quarterbacks in the NFC South, the division which topped this list last year. I’m not worried about Ryan and Newton taking minor steps backward last season. They are former MVPs. Ryan is elite and got paid for it. And last year was attributable to breaking in a new offensive coordinator. In Ryan’s second season under Steve Sarkisian, I firmly expect he’ll be top-tier MVP candidate directing a top-five offense. Cam Newton is Cam Newton, meaning he’s a special talent. And will be an even better version of himself with Norv Turner running the offense. Brees received great balance from the run game last year. Inherently, he broke the NFL record for single-season completion rate, connecting on an absurd 72 percent of his throws. At age 39, Brees remains the model of efficiency. Winston’s suspension is problematic — another off-field strike on his record. And on the field, he has yet to break through in a major way. I still believe in him as a player, but the three-game ban obviously starts off Year 4 on a horrible note.

 

4) AFC WEST

Denver Broncos: Case Keenum

Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes

Los Angeles Chargers: Philip Rivers

Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr

 

Don’t sleep on the AFC West quarterbacks. I think Mahomes is going to blossom into an instant star under Andy Reid. I can’t wait to watch the spectacularly gifted signal-caller heave it all over the field to his fine collection of weapons in Kansas City. Rivers is still playing at a Hall of Fame level, having just posted his lowest interception total since 2009. Jon Gruden will swiftly help Carr get back to his MVP form — as will a clean bill of health for the 27-year-old QB. And while I am skeptical Keenum can ever repeat his magical 2017 campaign, he’s still a major upgrade on Denver’s QB play from last season.

 

5) NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott

New York Giants: Eli Manning

Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz

Washington Redskins: Alex Smith

 

This is the toughest division to place. I love Alex Smith — I’ve long defended Alex Smith — but he’s a downgrade from Kirk Cousins. Manning got benched last year. Admittedly, that was handled in horrific fashion by the Giants’ Powers That Be, he let’s be honest: Eli wasn’t playing like an NFL starting quarterback. Now, Nate Solder, Saquon Barkley and a healthy Odell Beckham Jr will mean the world. But how much is left in the tank at age 37? Prescott experienced a sophomore slump. I choose to always believe Ezekiel Elliott makes Dak, so 16 games with the running back would work wonders for the QB’s play. And jettisoning Dez Bryant was addition by subtraction. Carson Wentz is a star. He was going to get my Associated Press MVP vote before the season-ending injury in Week 14. I’m going to assume he’ll be healthy in 2018, with all signs pointing that way, and I can’t wait to watch him again. He’s special.

 

6) AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen

Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill

New England Patriots: Tom Brady

New York Jets: Sam Darnold

 

For the sake of this exercise, I’m going to lift up the division by projecting that Allen and Darnold will play sooner than later. In fact, I give both a chance to start in Week 1. Especially Allen. I don’t want to hear about AJ McCarron. And spare me the Nathan Peterman nonsense. The Bills smartly traded up for Allen because he’s the next Carson Wentz and oozes talent. I believe in Darnold, too. I hope he wins the Jets’ job. Meanwhile, Tom Brady is the greatest of all time. And Tannehill is a guy.

 

7) AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck

Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles

Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota

 

I really want to prop this division up, but there’s just way too much uncertainty. Watson was absolutely dynamic last season … before tearing his ACL. Will he be 100 percent in 2018? I believe Mariota will even out his play this year — and cut down on the picks — with a new coaching staff. But we have to see it. And we have to see Andrew Luck actually throwing an NFL football again. That’s kind of a huge deal/question mark. Blake Bortles, on the other hand, is something we have seen. And it’s not good.

 

8) AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco

Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton

Cleveland Browns: Tyrod Taylor

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger

 

Big Ben is a future Hall of Famer — and he’s still playing great in the present. I am a big Tyrod Taylor fan, too — the 28-year-old never gets the credit he deserves as an efficient playmaker from the pocket. But Flacco is on the way out. And somehow, against all rational judgment, The Marv and Andy Show got picked up for another season.

 

We have no problem with the AFC North in last.  Most people would probably rank the aging Roethlisberger somewhere around #10 on a list of current QBs and none of the others would seem to be in the top 20 (or if so, just barely).