The Daily Briefing Friday, July 7, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com endorses the proliferation of advertisements onto uniforms:
If the NFL could do it all over again, the NFL would do at least two things differently from the get-go. One, the league would set itself up as a truly single enterprise and not various different businesses, for legal and labor reasons. Two, the league would put advertisement all over its uniforms and helmets, for revenue reasons.
Nearly 100 years later, tens of millions of dollars if not more are lost every year due to the failure of the league to incorporate advertisements from the launch of the league and its reluctance to start now. Surely, the league constantly wrestles with whether to devote a pledge-pin-sized portion of its uniform (or more) to companies looking to expand brand awareness in exchange for large payments of cash.
The process began several years ago, when the league allowed teams to put patches on their practice jerseys. And while the presence of ads on game uniforms currently goes no farther than the Nike swoosh on the jerseys and pants and the logos appearing on shoes, the decision of the Toronto Raptors to become the ninth NBA team to put an ad on their game jerseys surely will spark the latest flurry of emails in and around 345 Park Avenue as to whether the league should find a way to follow suit.
Though many fans would strenuously object to the proliferation of uniforms ads, what would happen if the league found a way to add advertisements in a subtle, unobtrusive way? Racing fans not only tolerate but welcome ads all over vehicles and racing suits. Soccer fans shrug at the entire front of a kit being consumed by a corporate message.
So while the NFL missed the boat back in the 1920s, it feels inevitable that ads eventually will roar onto NFL jerseys. Fans will huff and puff (as the poll we posted last year confirms), but of all the issues that could blow the NFL’s house down, ads on uniforms are low on the list. Especially as more and more other sports embrace opportunities to make even more money for nothing.
To give you an idea of some new NBA jerseys:
We could live with something like that on an NFL jersey. Just not a soccer shirt where the team name goes on the shoulder and the ad is across the front.
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There are two players eligible for the supplemental draft.
Georgia Military College DL Tavares Bingham and Western New Mexico RB Marques Rodgers are eligible for the July 12 NFL Supplemental Draft, a league spokesman confirmed to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
NFLDraftScout’s Rob Rang first reported the news.
Rodgers rushed for 1,283 yards and 10 touchdowns on 217 carries for WNMU in 2015, and caught 61 passes as one of the top offensive threats in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. He was academically ineligible to play for WNMU last year, and entered the supplemental draft with one year of college eligibility remaining, according to the school.
Bingham (6-4, 290) exhausted his junior college playing eligibility after the 2015 season. He redshirted one year and played another at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, then transferred to GMC for his final junior college season. Academic problems prevented him from signing with a four-year school for 2016, per GMC coach Bert Williams.
The supplemental draft includes players whose draft eligibility status has changed since the regular draft in April. Teams that select a player in the supplemental draft lose a draft choice in the corresponding round of the next year’s NFL draft.
Last year, six players were available in the supplemental draft, but none were selected. The last player selected in the supplemental draft was Clemson OL Isaiah Battle, a fifth-round choice of the Rams in 2015 who has not appeared in an NFL regular-season game and is currently with the Chiefs.
This from Wikipedia in case you were wondering:
There have been 43 players selected in the National Football League supplemental draft since its inception in 1977. The supplemental draft was enacted in 1977 for players who had various circumstances affect their eligibility and did not enter the main NFL draft. The only player selected in the supplemental draft to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame was Cris Carter, who was selected in 1987 and elected to the Hall of Fame in 2013. In addition, there have been eight players selected to Pro Bowls in their careers: Bernie Kosar (drafted in 1985), Cris Carter (1987), Bobby Humphrey (1989), Rob Moore (1990), Mike Wahle (1998), Jamal Williams (1998), Ahmad Brooks (2006), and Josh Gordon (2012).
WR TERRELLE PRYOR in 2011 was also a significant supplementally drafted player.
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Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com makes an interesting point about how hard it is for RBs to hang on to the top spot on the NFL yards per carry list.
The list of NFL running backs with more than 1,000 career carries who have averaged more than 4.85 yards a carry is a short one: It consists of two all-time greats, Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, and two active players who are at risk of falling off the list, Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson.
At the moment, this is the yards per carry leaderboard in NFL history, minimum 1,000 rushing attempts:
5.45: Jamaal Charles.
5.22: Jim Brown.
4.99: Barry Sanders.
4.86: Adrian Peterson.
Brown and Sanders retired with such high averages in part because they retired on top: Brown walked away after his age-29 season and Sanders quit after his age-30 season. Running backs who don’t stick around for their inevitable decline in their 30s end up with higher career averages.
Charles and Peterson are not planning to do the same. Both were limited by knee injuries last year, both saw their original teams get rid of them this offseason, and both decided to sign with new teams and keep going.
That means they’re putting their places on the career yards-per-carry list in jeopardy. If Charles were to finish this season with 200 carries for 700 yards, it would drop his career average to 5.19 yards per carry, and he’d fall behind Brown on the all-time yards per carry list. If Peterson carries 200 times for 700 yards, his career average will drop to 4.75, behind Lenny Moore, Robert Smith and Joe Perry.
If Charles and Peterson were to stick around for two more such seasons, they’d run the risk of sliding even further down the yards-per-carry leaderboard. That wouldn’t detract from the great careers they’ve already had, but it would make their career stats look a little less impressive.
NEW YORK GIANTS
QB ELI MANNING is tutoring WR BRANDON MARSHALL on FaceTime. Conor Orr at NFL.com:
How does a savvy veteran get a leg up on the playbook?
If you’re on the Giants, just FaceTime Eli Manning.
Wideout Brandon Marshall posted a snippet of his conversation with the Giants quarterback Thursday — a short clip that showed Marshall thanking Manning for teaching him more about the timing of the offense. Marshall seems to say he was spending too much time “working” his defender at the line. Head coach Ben McAdoo’s offense is notoriously dependent on a specific rhythm between the quarterback and wide receiver, something that is hard to solidify with precious few practice hours in the spring.
While the video feels a little staged and awkward, this is the day-in-the-life side of an NFL player we rarely see. Thanks to social media, we can get a glimpse of two players learning the system instead of just hearing them talk about it during early training camp interviews.
The DB knew CALAIS CAMPBELL had bolted, but most of the other core players remain. So it was surprising to find out how much the Cardinals had churned their roster in this report from Conor Orr at NFL.com:
The Arizona Cardinals will look quite different in 2017.
Bruce Arians’ unit was turned over more than any team in the NFL this offseason, according to a deep data dive done by Jason Fitzgerald at Over The Cap, a site devoted to salary-cap analysis.
The site released its top 10 teams Thursday with Arizona earning the top spot after letting go of stars like Calais Campbell and Marcus Cooper this offseason. The rankings were based on total snaps lost, quality snaps lost, quality special teams snaps lost and average per year dollars lost.
While the Cardinals did not edge out the No. 2 Cowboys by much, their place atop this list makes a pretty interesting statement about the franchise and how important this year is to the club. As Fitzgerald noted, they theoretically could have Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald on next year’s list and claim the NFL’s top roster turnover spot again.
This might help explain all the nostalgia surrounding Palmer and the Super Bowl ring of late. Arians brought up Palmer’s Hall of Fame credentials earlier this offseason, and star running back David Johnson talked about the pressure he has placed on himself to get something done for the quarterback and wide receiver.
Arizona’s current situation makes it all the more interesting that it did not opt to select Palmer’s successor in this year’s draft, instead focusing on a fierce pass rusher to bolster its defense in the first round. Striking a balance between the present and the future is incredibly difficult, especially when a team is losing star power but still hoping to maximize the final stretch of a veteran-laden team.
Here are the top 10 teams in the OTC study with edited analysis. You can see the whole thing https://overthecap.com/roster-turnover-2017-number-10-1
Not surprisingly the rest of the league pounced on the Packers available players, paying a premium for some of those players. The question for Green Bay is how much will the loss of Lang, Peppers, Hyde, etc… hurt the team.
The Rams are a strange team that needed a change, but as you can see from the differential that this is a far departure from a squad like the Jets who effectively had nobody being signed elsewhere.
The Vikings saw a number of players that are viewed as quality mid tier guys, and one top level player, be signed in free agency. For the Vikings the mix wasn’t really working so this may be a situation where players like Matt Kalil, Rhett Ellison, Captain Munnerlynn, and Cordarelle Patterson can help teams get over the hump more than they could collectively in Minnesota. The team spent money so its not like money was an issue, though the contracts that they did sign were questionable. They will hope it’s a better mix.
I think we all should have seen this one coming from a mile away after the Bengals failed to fire this year. The Bengals have basically been the equivalent of an NBA 6 or 7 seed that generally always is in the playoffs but you knew they had no chance of knocking off any of the better teams. It’s a terrible place to be in any sport.
This ranking surprised me especially since Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned and doesn’t count as a lost “quality snap” because of that.
When you look at the average salary of the players lost this year I think it speaks volumes to how bad a job that the Jaguars coaching staff has done in getting anything out of their team. Julius Thomas, Kelvin Beachum, Prince Amukamara, Tyson Alualu, Jonathan Cyprien, and even Luke Joeckel (though in fairness that is a ridiculous contract) will all be starting somewhere next season while the Jaguars continue their constant rotation of poor free agent signings.
This is another team that needed a change, but I do believe that some of their decisions are fueled by cap management, which is something that the Ravens have struggled with for the last few years
Speaking of roster and cap mismanagement, you have the Bills whose decisions the last few years led to them patching a team together with a ton of one year low cost veterans, many of whom are not in the NFL right now. It’s one thing to be aggressive when you are the Packers or Seahawks spending on talented players, but another thing to be the Bills and being aggressive on guys like Charles Clay to create bad financial situations.
Just based on turnover alone this is the one playoff team that stands to have a major shift. Gone are Ronald Leary, Doug Free, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Terrell McClain, JJ Wilcox, and Jack Crawford with the incoming veterans being Byron Bell, Stephen Paea, and Nolan Carroll. Dallas simply is not in a position, especially with more extensions coming for their linemen, to keep anybody which is a tough pill to swallow for a team that was so good last year
Arizona has been incredibly aggressive with their contracts in recent years which put them in a position where they were going to have a hard time keeping players this year.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Don’t forget about TE HUNTER HENRY when you are putting together your Fantasy Football draft list. Max Meyer at NFL.com:
It can be hard to replace a perennial All-Pro. Luckily for the Chargers, despite Antonio Gates turning the ripe age of 37 in June, they’ve already found their solution to a seamless transition at tight end.
Unlike most rookie tight ends, Hunter Henry made an impact in his first season. The 2016 second-round pick caught 54 passes and tied Buccaneers target Cameron Brate for most touchdowns (eight) among the position.
Chargers tight end coach John McNulty, however, thinks that the Arkansas product was only scratching the surface of his potential in 2016.
“Hunter is a kid who is going to play a long time with a lot of successful seasons. For a young player, he’s got a tremendous amount of poise. He has rare awareness and savvy for someone his age,” McNulty said, via the team’s website. “The biggest thing is that he has ball skills. He can catch the ball that gets in on him fast, and he makes the contested catches with big, strong hands.”
The most impressive part about Henry’s game is that he can do it all. He quickly emerged as one of Philip Rivers’ favorite targets, especially in scoring territory. Henry also proved that he could hold his own as a blocker.
“Nowadays you look and say, that guy is a blocker and that guy is a receiver. Not everyone is well-versed in both [areas],” McNulty said. “There are rare guys who you feel can do both at an exceptional level, but that is what Hunter has shown he can do already. I think he will keep getting stronger as a younger guy. … He has a great future ahead of him.”
The Chargers have an exciting collection of weapons for Rivers to deploy. Henry and first-round wideout Mike Williams are two of the young guns that can excite the masses in the team’s foray into Los Angeles.
A nice story out of Houston reported by Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Mikaila Ulmer is a 12-year-old girl with a lemonade business, and it’s a whole lot bigger than a neighborhood lemonade stand.
Ulmer started selling lemonade sweetened with honey after her great-grandmother gave her a family recipe from the 1940s, and it proved so popular that she got deals to sell it at several stores. Now a number of NFL players have decided to invest.
Former and current NFL players Arian Foster, Glover Quin, Duane Brown, Jonathan Grimes, Omar Bolden, Bobby Wagner, Darius Slay, Sharrick McManis, EJ Manuel and Malik Jackson have combined to put up $810,000 to back Ulmer’s business.
Foster told the Houston Chronicle the group of players was looking for an investment opportunity that could help a promising entrepreneur like Ulmer, and help a good cause, as Ulmer is invested in fighting colony collapse disorder, which has devastated bee populations.
“Of course, any time you invest in anything you look at if it’s going to be profitable,” Foster said. “We look for companies that match our main focus of developing a good product, but are also good people and do it for the right reasons. It’s more than about money to us. We believe that investing in small black businesses is extremely important.”
With NFL money and a family recipe, Me & The Bees Lemonade plans to get a whole lot bigger.
QB MARCUS MARIOTA professes not to be thinking about making upwards of $20 million per in two or three years. KHON-TV.com
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was on set Monday morning filming a new commercial with Island Insurance.
Over the last three years, the Saint Louis graduate has starred in a handful of commercials for the company, and admits that he’s slowly getting used to life as an actor.
But just like in football, he’s very critical when grading himself.
“Probably 70 out of 100,” he said. “It’s still new to me. It’s all kind of surreal. I’m still getting used to it, but it’s a lot of fun. For me, I think I found a new respect for actors and actresses, and how they handle themselves and how they’re able to do the job, because it’s not very easy.”
Mariota, who has recovered from a broken leg suffered at the end of last season, fully expects to be given full clearance for training camp in late July, which only adds to the hype of his third season.
So far this off-season, he has been called an MVP candidate by Monday Morning Quarterback’s Peter King and his team has been predicted as a preseason favorite in the AFC South division race.
Recently, a report pointed out that Mariota could become the league’s first $30-million-per-season player, after Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who entered the league one year before Mariota, signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension, which will serve as a benchmark for future negotiations.
“For any athlete, anybody in professional sports, it’s out of your control. I mean, you’ve got to play well, you’ve got to do certain things, things kind of have to line up for those contracts to happen. I can’t think about next season or the season after that. I’ve got to focus on our first game and continue to be the best guy that I can be for the team,” Mariota said. “If all those things happen and things go right and that contract is up, and you know, I’d love to be in Nashville and I think the Titans are such a great organization, that it would be a lot of fun to play for them for a long time.”
Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com on Coach Adam Gase and his guest instructor program:
Dolphins coach Adam Gase has quickly earned a reputation as a player’s coach.
Part of that could be for his willingness to turn to former players for help.
Via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, the latest to drop in was longtime NFL cornerback Dre Bly.
Bly spent a week working with the Dolphins’ defensive backs, “bouncing knowledge to guys” on the field and the meeting room, according to defensive back Jordan Lucas.
Bly and Gase crossed paths in Detroit, when Gase was a scouting assistant and coaching assistant with the Lions.
The two-time Pro Bowl corner joined a list of guest instructors which includes Wes Welker, Chris Chambers and others who have spent time there this offseason.
While many coaches will treat their meeting rooms and sideline access as sacred, Gase’s openness to others is an interesting approach, and perhaps part of the reason players have responded so well to him.
THIS AND THAT
PLANNING FOR A KING’S SUCCESSION
Like the British monarchy, NFL teams like the Chargers, Giants, Steelers, Saints and Patriots know they must plan for a succession that could be imminent and in any case won’t be long. Robert Mays of The Ringer:
The story’s screen time may have been limited by the pre–Super Bowl hype cycle, but Ben Roethlisberger’s will-I-or-won’t-I retirement nugget in late January was enough to make Steelers fans chew their fingernails clean off. Pittsburgh had recently completed its third straight trip to the playoffs, a run that included three combined postseason wins. Its Roethlisberger-led offense had finished eighth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA after ranking in the top three in both 2014 and 2015. The notion that the centerpiece of a perennial contender needed to “take some time away to evaluate next season, if there’s going to be a next season” came as a shock to many.
Roethlisberger announced that he would return to the Steelers in April, and a move that plenty of people around the league considered inevitable. And while such an assumption makes sense on the surface, NFL history would suggest it wasn’t so simple: For most of the past 50 years, quarterbacks in their mid-30s were considered prime candidates to walk away from the game. Roethlisberger spent the past few seasons playing some of the best football of his career. He’s also on the wrong side of 35, has started 16 regular-season games just three times since his rookie campaign in 2004, and has taken more snaps than all but a handful of quarterbacks in league history.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, 14 quarterbacks have started at least 175 regular-season games. Five of those players — Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers — are still in the league. Passers are hanging around longer than ever before, and that means scenarios like Roethlisberger’s are guaranteed to be a fixture of NFL offseasons for the foreseeable future.
The development of the quarterbacks at the top of the 2015 draft and the record-setting deals handed to Andrew Luck and Derek Carr have driven conversations about what the hierarchy of the NFL’s next QB crop could look like, but a more pressing question at the position may be what the future holds for teams like the Steelers, Giants, and Saints. A younger batch of passers will almost surely take up the mantle when the likes of Brees and Brady retreat to lives of par-5s and network-logo-emblazoned sport coats. Whether their teams can move on as smoothly is far less certain.
For most teams with aging star quarterbacks, the process of building for the next generation is daunting. That’s largely because the sheer presence of a high-caliber QB provides these teams with the chance to be relevant every season. As long as Roethlisberger is on Pittsburgh’s roster and (relatively) healthy, the team won’t draft toward the front of the first round, where franchise quarterbacks are historically found. And while the murkiness surrounding Roethlisberger’s future should push general manager Kevin Colbert to keep an eye toward the future, the Steelers’ legitimate Super Bowl aspirations should prevent him from looking too far ahead. Teams on the precipice of a title can hardly afford to squander assets in an effort to pluck their passer of the future.
The Chiefs seemingly rejected that line of thinking earlier this year when they traded a package including a 2017 third-round pick and a 2018 first-rounder in order to move up 17 spots and take Texas Tech gunslinger Patrick Mahomes. But the difference between Kansas City’s reality and that of teams like Pittsburgh is the former’s recent success often came in spite of its play under center, not because of it. Without more firepower on offense, the Chiefs’ hopes of unseating the Patriots in the AFC or even keeping pace with high-powered division challengers like the Raiders would remain restricted. Roethlisberger’s role in perpetuating the Steelers’ status as a contender — or the hand that Brees or Rivers have had in keeping their teams afloat — necessitates his organization choosing a different route.
To that end, it’s helpful to cite two recent examples of teams with proven veteran QBs seamlessly finding star replacements and moving into a new era. The first involves the Colts; when Peyton Manning was forced to miss the entire 2011 season after having neck surgery, Indianapolis crumbled. The Colts finished 2–14 that year and landed the top spot in the following draft, which happened to include a highly sought-after prospect named Andrew Luck. Having your all-time great, future Hall of Fame passer — who had never previously missed a game in his career — go down just as a generational talent becomes available is not a plan. It’s divine intervention.
The second instance involves the Cowboys, who didn’t fall into the no. 1 pick like the Colts did, but still saw the planets align in an uncommon way. Dallas never could have imagined that Dak Prescott, the 135th pick in the 2016 draft, would go on to post the best statistical season by a rookie quarterback in NFL history after he took over for an injured Tony Romo during the preseason. To the Cowboys’ credit, they facilitated some of that success with the infrastructure they created — assembling the league’s best offensive line and a dominant running game led by Ezekiel Elliott — to maximize the final years of Romo’s career. Still, they didn’t bank on their fourth-round pick approaching a fraction of the success Prescott enjoyed in his debut season.
The most recent success stories of teams transitioning from one franchise quarterback to the next look more like blessings than blueprints. For the next set of teams that will have to replace aging stars under center, striking the perfect combination of timing and fit almost certainly won’t be as easy.
Dallas’s original plan for Prescott, when it seemed as though he’d serve as Romo’s short-term backup while being groomed as the franchise’s QB of the future, is the route most of these teams will be expected to take in the coming years. In this draft alone, the Giants picked Cal quarterback Davis Webb in the third round, while Pittsburgh grabbed Tennessee product Josh Dobbs a round later. Using selections outside the range where teams have typically located quarterback starters represents the middle ground for organizations with both aging QBs and playoff aspirations. For the Steelers, spending the 135th overall pick on Dobbs (weirdly, the same one that Dallas used a year earlier to find Prescott) allows them to mold a young passer while not sacrificing the chance to add top-tier talent at other positions.
Players drafted in this range historically haven’t grown into franchise pillars, but that’s the trade-off teams in this spot are forced to make. Every front office would love to follow the Packers’ plan that involved drafting Aaron Rodgers in 2005’s first round and molding him into Brett Favre’s successor as the former’s career was winding down. But that approach can bring complications. In April, the Chargers were considered a dark-horse candidate to draft an eventual replacement for Philip Rivers. Instead, they added three offensive players who could contribute as rookies. This might come as a shock, but Rivers took notice. “I’m glad we made a move that I think helps us right now,” Rivers told KLSD-AM in San Diego. “As I’ve told you guys, and as I truly believe, I think we’re almost in a window as we were in ’06, ’09, and that part is pretty exciting.” Appeasing a star quarterback while simultaneously looking to the future is a tough needle to thread. It’s led to futures built on QBs taken outside the first round, trajectories that rarely play out as teams imagine.
The ideal outcome looks a lot like what the Patriots have, with a trusted arm waiting in the wings in Jimmy Garoppolo. As a second-round pick in 2014, Garoppolo will finish his rookie deal at the end of this season, and the 25-year-old’s trade value is immense on the heels of a standout performance during Brady’s Deflate-induced suspension. With New England staring down a reality in which Brady could stick around a few more seasons and Garoppolo could walk in free agency, teams in the market for a quarterback tried to pry Garoppolo away from New England this spring. Yet here we are, on July 6, and Garoppolo is still a member of the Pats.
Bill Belichick and Co. decided that having a contingency plan under center was worth missing out on the resources that Garoppolo could have brought back in a trade. That may be the most significant personnel choice that New England has to make between now and the end of Brady’s career, but it’s far from the only one affected by the five-time Super Bowl winner’s eventual exit. The Patriots would publicly deny that Brady’s age was their motivating factor behind trading more than half of their 2017 draft picks for veterans, but his time frame certainly makes the moves easier to understand. It’s a tactic the Saints are familiar with, from their dealings to help Drew Brees.
No team has kicked the salary cap can down the road more casually than New Orleans has over the past five seasons, as it’s rarely shied away from moving up in the draft to grab a skill-position player it coveted. One such maneuver came in 2014, when the Saints dealt the 27th overall pick and a third-round selection to be able to take Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks. In March, New Orleans dealt Cooks to the Pats for a package headlined by the 32nd pick in this year’s draft. That was used on Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk, who will likely open 2016 on the sideline before eventually replacing 11-year veteran Zach Strief at right tackle.
Dealing Cooks represents one of the first moves in recent Saints history that was made solely with the future — and Brees’s expiring contract — in mind. Taking the Patriots’ side of the trade into account, it also shows two NFL franchises trying to find the right balance between getting the most of their longtime quarterbacks and setting up their rosters to achieve future success. Accomplishing both goals at once is a tricky process, and one that many front offices have mishandled in the past. For as good as Roethlisberger, Brady, Brees, and the like have been over the years, their careers could end at a moment’s notice. That’s a scary thought for the people in charge of these organizations, but not nearly as scary as ignoring what’s coming.
Kevin Draper of the New York Times on the rise and fall of Jamie Horowitz:
ESPN had struggled to crack the morning show market when, in 2011, a coordinating producer in his mid-30s named Jamie Horowitz was put in charge of the show “First Take.”
Horowitz obsessively convened rounds and rounds of focus groups to identify the ideal hosts for the show. He discovered that participants’ interest soared the moment that Skip Bayless, a former sports reporter, appeared on screen for a debate segment.
“Research showed that debate was the perfect complement to highlights and analysis fans were also consuming on morning offerings,” Horowitz told ESPN’s corporate blog. “Debate would no longer be the best part of the show, it would be the entire show.”
With that revelation — that lots of viewers would subject themselves to constant bickering on TV — the careers of two people skyrocketed: Bayless, whose provocative comments banged around the sports landscape with abandon, driving fury and TV ratings alike; and Horowitz, the behind-the-camera boy wonder who seemed to have a special view into the psyche of sports fans.
Bayless is still unleashing unpopular yet irresistible commentary daily. Horowitz’s career — several job changes later — might have collapsed this week when he was abruptly fired amid an investigation into sexual harassment.
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In Horowitz, the company had an executive unafraid to disrupt the status quo in an effort to expand audience. If he did not invent shout shows for sports, he was among the first to cash in on them aggressively. Fox Sports had given him great latitude to carry out his vision — one that unapologetically veered from traditional broadcast fare and instead embraced combustible, and often contrived, argumentation.
Now, a week after Horowitz announced a radical restructuring of the Fox Sports digital arm, he is out of work.
Horowitz’s career began at NBC, where he spent eight years, rising from an Olympics researcher to creating and producing the National Heads-Up Poker Championship. In 2006 ESPN hired him to run its World Series of Poker coverage.
Early on, when Horowitz was based in an ESPN content development group in New York City, his colleagues included Connor Schell, Kevin Wildes and David Jacoby, all of whom went on to create shows for ESPN.
His big break came in 2009, when he created “SportsNation,” alongside Wildes and Jacoby. Colin Cowherd, an ESPN radio star, was paired with the relative newcomer Michelle Beadle, who was hired after nearly 80 candidates were interviewed and a dozen were tested. “SportsNation” was never a ratings juggernaut, but it became a staple of ESPN2’s afternoon programming. More important, it persuaded Horowitz’s bosses to give him a shot at reinventing the moribund “First Take.”
“First Take” has had a transformative impact on sports media, and wider sports culture, often in service (so its detractors say) of dumbing everything down. With “Embrace Debate” as the tagline, the arguments between Bayless and his partner, Stephen A. Smith, were the purest distillation of a trend toward sports shout shows.
“Some viewers genuinely hate Skip and Stephen A.,” Horowitz told The Los Angeles Times. “But they also watch them.” The only currency that mattered at “First Take” was attention. It didn’t matter why you watched or what you thought of the program, as long as “First Take” was on your TV.
“‘First Take’ started out as a really fringe show, and now it is probably the key news-ish property ESPN has,” said Travis Vogan, a professor of media studies at the University of Iowa who has written a book on ESPN. First Take “amplified this impulse of exaggerated debate, and I think that has been a successful model that others have attached to.”
The show addressed Bayless’s hobbyhorses — Tim Tebow, LeBron James and the Dallas Cowboys — ad nauseam. Horowitz and Bayless insisted that the show was truly authentic, that nobody was arguing for the sake of arguing but rather because they truly felt passionate about the topics.
“First Take” frequently drew criticism. Bayless was accused of “race-baiting,” while Smith was suspended by ESPN for arguing that women needed to avoid the “elements of provocation” that lead to domestic violence.
In an infamous guest segment, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman told Bayless, “I’m better at life than you.” Bill Simmons, a friend of Horowitz’s, was later suspended by ESPN from social media for saying on Twitter that the segment was “awful and embarrassing to everyone involved.”
Horowitz was promoted based on the success of “First Take,” but nothing else he created came close to matching its success. Though “SportsNation” is still on TV, it fizzled after Beadle and then Cowherd left it (Beadle returned to the show in 2014), and his creations “Numbers Never Lie” and “Colin’s New Football Show” never found significant audiences.
The final show he helped create at ESPN was “Olbermann,” starring the former “SportsCenter” anchor Keith Olbermann. Though it was nominated for a Sports Emmy, after two years ESPN declined to renew Olbermann’s contract. Still, Olbermann has only praise for Horowitz.
“In my experience, he was an exceptional producer and an exceptional executive,” Olbermann said. “There was never any sense that it was conflict,” he said of his relationship with Horowitz, “and that is a tremendously rare thing in this business.”
When asked if he had ever witnessed any untoward behavior from Horowitz or knew anything about his firing, Olbermann said, “No, nothing.”
Horowitz’s next stop was a disaster. He left ESPN in May 2014 to take over “Today,” NBC’s marquee morning show. Compared with the more placid waters of Bristol, Conn., where ESPN is based, the morning show world proved less receptive to Horowitz’s attempts at radical disruption.
Just 10 weeks into the job and while he was still on a “listening tour” before taking the reins of the daily broadcast, Horowitz was fired. “He and I have come to the conclusion that this is not the right fit,” Deborah Turness, the president of NBC News, wrote in a memo.
But his ability to command sports fans’ attention was not forgotten. He was soon hired to reinvent Fox Sports, and its FS1 and FS2 channels, as the company tried to build a viable rival to ESPN, the dominant sports broadcaster.
FS1 was nowhere close to relevance when Horowitz took charge in April 2015. It aggressively bid on live sports rights contracts, winning some and forcing ESPN to pay more for others, but its daytime programming was abysmal.
To help him reinvent Fox Sports, Horowitz brought on several people he had worked with at ESPN: Charlie Dixon, then working for MSNBC, as his top lieutenant; Whit Albohm, who ran the day-to-day operation of “SportsNation” when Horowitz was promoted; Gabe Goodwin, who oversaw social media for several Horowitz-helmed shows; and Mike Bucklin, a producer.
By this point, Horowitz’s playbook was hardly a secret. They decided that Fox Sports needed to get out of the news and highlight business, and go all-in on earsplitting opinion programming to accompany its live rights. Large numbers of sports fans, Horowitz remained convinced, loved to watch people argue about sports.
Reporters were laid off or allowed to leave when their contracts expired, and “Fox Sports Live,” FS1’s answer to ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” was canceled.
Horowitz’s first big hire was an old friend, Cowherd. “It’s hard to put into words how much fun it is for me, as a broadcaster, to build something with really smart, talented people,” Cowherd said upon his hiring.
“What Colin and I have is years of a working relationship and a friendship and a trust,” Horowitz told SportsBusiness Journal.
The bigger coup came last year, when ESPN announced that Bayless was leaving the network. After his contract expired in the summer, he quickly joined Fox Sports. Horowitz “changed my life and my career at ESPN,” Bayless told The Oklahoman.
Along with a fellow ESPN defector, Jason Whitlock, Horowitz executed a more concentrated version of the strategy he had pioneered at ESPN.
Bayless, teamed up with the former N.F.L. player Shannon Sharpe, is featured on “Undisputed,” a “First Take” clone that runs in the same time slot. “Undisputed” is followed by a simulcast of Cowherd’s radio show. Cowherd later appears on the hourlong debate show “Speak for Yourself,” alongside Whitlock, which runs opposite ESPN’s “Around the Horn” and “Pardon the Interruption.”
It is difficult to ascertain whether this strategy has been successful. Before Horowitz arrived, FS1’s viewership was almost nonexistent. The bar was so low that even a modest audience might be interpreted as huge growth.
“Undisputed” regularly draws 100,000 viewers and has siphoned off some from “First Take,” which regularly draws 400,000 to 500,000 viewers and was moved from ESPN2 to ESPN in January to shore up its ratings. “Speak for Yourself” regularly draws 40,000 to 60,000 viewers — more when it is preceded by live sports — while ESPN’s opinion programming at the same time gets 10 times as many.
For those relatively small ratings gains, FS1 has paid a princely sum: Bayless is reportedly being paid $26 million over four years, and Cowherd reportedly earns at least $6 million annually.
Fox Sports was started in 1994, eight months after Fox surprisingly won a bid to broadcast the N.F.L. Under its longtime president, David Hill, Fox Sports became known for its on-air innovations, like a glowing hockey puck and constant score graphics.
Horowitz tried to seize this legacy. In an interview this year in Slate, he said he was modeling FS1 on other 21st Century Fox properties like the Fox network, Fox News and FX, known for their bold and risky decisions. “Do you know how fearless it was when they did ‘The Simpsons’ or when they did ‘Bernie Mac’?” he said.
Horowitz’s FS1 was rarely innovative. The strategy replicated what he had done years earlier at ESPN: Find two hosts who tested well and run the cameras while they yell at each other.
Before Horowitz was fired on Monday, his next big play was going to be a new morning TV show featuring a provocateur (Nick Wright) and a former N.F.L. player (Cris Carter). “Nick Wright, for people who don’t know him – this is what Skip Bayless sounded like 30 years ago, this is what Colin Cowherd sounded like 20 years ago,” Carter said in a news release.
Horowitz, the prince of “Embrace Debate” who caught lightning in a bottle with Bayless and Smith, will not be around to see if the formula still works.
GIL BRANDT’s TOP PUNTERS
Gil Brandt of NFL.com has nothing better to do on a slow summer day than name the 14 best punters of all-time. The DB goes into it thinking Ray Guy is not the best, will Brandt agree?
14. Marquette King
Oakland Raiders, 2012-Present
» Has averaged 46.7 yards per punt throughout his career
» Averaged a career-best 48.9 yards per punt in 2013
13. Dave Jennings
New York Giants, 1974-1984; New York Jets, 1985-1987
» Voted to four Pro Bowls, First Team All-Pro twice
» Averaged 41.2 yards per punt throughout his career
12. Donnie Jones
5 teams, 2004 to now
» Has averaged 45.5 yards per punt throughout his career
11. Thomas Morstead
New Orleans Saints, 2009-Present
» One-time Super Bowl champion
» Voted to one Pro Bowl
» Has averaged 47.0 yards per punt throughout his career
10. Glenn Dobbs
Brooklyn Dodgers, 1946-1947; Los Angeles Dons, 1947-1949
» First Team All-Pro once
» Averaged 46.4 yards per punt throughout his career
9. Andy Lee
San Francisco 49ers, 2004-2014; Cleveland Browns, 2015; Carolina Panthers, 2016
» Voted to three Pro Bowls, First Team All-Pro three times
» Has averaged 46.3 yards per punt throughout his career
8. Pat McAfee
Indianapolis Colts, 2009-2016
» Voted to two Pro Bowls, First Team All-Pro once
» Averaged 46.4 yards per punt throughout his career
7. Johnny Hekker
St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, 2012-Present
» Voted to three Pro Bowls, First Team All-Pro three times
» Has averaged 46.9 yards per punt throughout his career
6. Bryan Anger
Jacksonville Jaguars, 2012-2015; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2016-Present
» Has averaged 46.7 yards per punt throughout his career
5. Reggie Roby
Many teams, 1983-1998
» Voted to three Pro Bowls, First Team All-Pro twice
» Averaged 43.3 yards per punt throughout his career
4. Ray Guy
Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, 1973-1986
» Three-time Super Bowl champion
» Voted to seven Pro Bowls, First Team All-Pro three times
» Averaged 42.4 yards per punt throughout his career
» Enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
3. Yale Lary
Detroit Lions, 1952-1953, 1956-1964
» Three-time NFL champion
» Voted to nine Pro Bowls, First Team All-Pro three times
» Averaged 44.3 yards per punt throughout his career
» Enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
2. Shane Lechler
Oakland Raiders, 2000-2012; Houston Texans, 2013-Present
» Voted to seven Pro Bowls, First Team All-Pro six times
» Has averaged 47.5 yards per punt throughout his career
» Averaged a career-best 51.1 yards per punt in 2009
1. Sammy Baugh
Washington Redskins, 1937-1952
» Two-time NFL champion
» Voted to six Pro Bowls, First Team All-Pro four times
» Averaged 45.1 yards per punt throughout his career
» Enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
DB thoughts – interesting that Brandt never cites net punting, just gross.
As a practical matter, all of the best punters by statistics are active now as for whatever reason the top 17 career averages belong to current punters (much the same way that 90% of the 100 mph pitchers seem to be around at the moment). So we agree with taking the slight difference in eras and techniques into account.
The DB can live with Baugh as number 1.
We think Roby and Anger are rated too high.
Hekker should be higher (his net average of 43.3 in his career is nearly two yards higher than anyone else and 2.8 yards higher than anyone else on the list).
We think Brandt missed Jerrel Wilson, the longtime Chiefs punter (1963-78) whose 43.0-yard gross is the highest of the 14 punters with more than 700 punts (including Guy) from before 1990.