The Daily Briefing Friday, June 29, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Count Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report among those worried about the impact of the NFL’s new helmet rule:

 

It’s the 2018 season, December in Carolina, and the Panthers are in the postseason hunt. They are playing the division-leading Saints, and quarterback Cam Newton is scrambling.

 

He rushes for 20 yards, and at the end of the play, he—as thousands of runners have done before him throughout the history of football—lowers his head to protect himself as one of the Saints defensive backs makes the tackle.

 

A flag is thrown.

 

“Unnecessary roughness,” announces the official.

 

Newton is being penalized for lowering his helmet. That wasn’t a penalty back in the 2017 season, but here in the future, it’s one that’s called all the time, changing the complexion of the sport the way the forward pass once did.

 

 

Replays show that it was done in a non-aggressive way and that he lowered it only a few inches. But still the Panthers are flagged 15 yards, knocked out of field-goal range and forced to punt. The Saints go on to win not just the game, but the division, and that play is seen as one of the season’s key moments.

 

This isn’t science fiction. This is a real possibility of where the NFL’s headed.

 

The new helmet rule, announced earlier this year, continues to cause headaches—even though there are currently no games being played and this is the NFL’s dead season. Deadspin and Pro Football Talk both did pieces examining the new rule this week, but it actually isn’t getting enough attention from football fans this offseason. Except for nerds like me.

 

That’s because the rule will force the NFL to face a level of uncertainty it hasn’t seen in decades.

 

No one can say what NFL football will look like next season. Not the players. Not the coaches. Not the league. Not the media. No one.

 

In speaking to players and assistant coaches this week, there’s extreme confusion about the rule. Several coaches said they still don’t know exactly how it will be officiated. Two players said the same.

 

But it’s not just the fact that they don’t understand it that makes it a big deal. It’s how much of an impact the rule could have. It’s not an exaggeration to say this is potentially one of the biggest rule changes in the history of the sport. The same league that has spent years trying to figure out what a catch is will now police helmet location in a sport that moves ridiculously fast.

 

The NFL will say there is no confusion and this is all a media creation. It’s not. There are teams genuinely in the dark about how this rule will be officiated.

 

The problem is the league itself doesn’t seem certain about the rule.

 

As Deadspin pointed out, the NFL’s release indicated the rule won’t actually appear on its own in the rulebook, but would instead be “classified as unnecessary roughness.” The language for that violation was changed from “using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily” to “using any part of a player’s helmet to butt, spear, or ram an opponent.” In other words, the NFL removed the words “violently or unnecessarily.”

 

But after PFT inquired about the weirdness of that and asked why such a huge change was buried in the rulebook, the NFL made things even worse, saying the rule was now Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8, and will read: “Use of the Helmet. It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”

 

I’m not sure people understand the magnitude of the problem this creates.

 

Under this language, there could be a penalty on literally every single play.

 

That’s not hyperbole.

 

Coaches and players also point out that a problem here is that the rule is almost impossible to teach.

 

Let’s go to several other scenarios. A receiver catches the ball across the middle, sees a defender coming to tackle him and slightly lowers his head in anticipation of the hit. That could potentially be a penalty.

 

A defender, in the process of making a tackle, lowers his head, not aggressively or too low but in a normal football move. That could be a penalty, too. On and on it goes.

 

The end result is a league that is much less physical. The NFL could look more like the CFL, with far more scoring and less defense.

 

Players would fear getting a 15-yard penalty, so tackling would suffer, too.

 

And really, maybe that’s what the NFL is trying to accomplish. The league continues to try to make the game less physical and thus, in a superficial way, look like it’s attempting to solve the problem of head trauma in the sport.

 

It knows horrible news, like the deeply terrifying story of Tyler Hilinski, likely won’t go away. He was 21 years old when he died, and his mind was so clogged with CTE that researchers said he had the brain “of a much older, elderly man.” A study from July 2017 showed that 110 of 111 deceased NFL players had CTE.

 

I’m sure football lovers feel the same way I do. I deeply love and care about football, but I also have to acknowledge the high probability that the sport is wrecking the minds of people who play it.

 

The NFL knows many people feel this way, and they use these rule changes to appease that guilt of loving football while watching the effects of it on real human beings.

 

So you toss in some new legislation that appears to make the sport safer but only muddles the actual play on the field.

 

 

Turns the game we love into a game we can’t recognize.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

RB SAQUON BARKLEY is going to bank all his Giants cash.  Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com:

 

When Saquon Barkley signs his contract, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft will become the NFL’s third-highest-paid running back on a long-term deal that will be worth roughly $31 million. If all goes according to plan, the Giants’ running back won’t spend a single cent of that money because Barkley’s plan is to live off his endorsement money and bank the rest.

 

“Once I realized when I declared for the NFL draft and kind of realized where I was going to be drafted, that was something I was like, ‘You know what? Kind of want to follow the Marshawn Lynch method. I don’t want to touch that,” Barkley told ESPN.com‘s Jordan Raanan on Thursday night. “I want to invest it, put it in the right people’s hands and learn as I continue to make investments. And just live off the endorsement deals.'”

 

In addition to Lynch, the Raiders’ running back, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said back in 2015 that he had yet to spend any of NFL earnings.

 

“I live off my marketing money and haven’t blown it on any big-money expensive cars, expensive jewelry or tattoos and still wear my favorite pair of jeans from high school.” Gronkowski, who was drafted in 2010, told Peter King at the time.

.

Meanwhile, Barkley, who has the league’s best-selling jersey and several endorsement deals (including Nike and Pepsi), has already made his first big purchase: a 3,400-square-foot home for his mother.

 

“I’ve been promising my mom, I think since I could talk, honestly 2 or 3 years old, I know it sounds crazy, but I swear I’m not lying to you guys that I’m going to buy [my mom] a house one day,” Barkley said. “My family has been through so much and made so many sacrifices for my brothers and sisters. And that’s not it. That’s not the last thing I’m going to be able to do for my family. That’s a great thing.”

 

Also great: if Barkley wisely invests his NFL salary, his family will be set for several generations.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Several years ago, the Redskins quietly made a home run (or at least a triple) pick in the first round.  The time is coming to pay G BRANDON SCHERF.  Kareem Copeland of the Washington Post:

 

Washington Redskins guard Brandon Scherff had to be wearing a massive smile when Zack Martin signed an extension earlier this month.

 

The Dallas Cowboys guard landed a six-year, $84 million deal, with $40 million guaranteed, to become the highest-paid player at the position in the NFL, additional proof of the increasing value teams are placing on guards.

 

Scherff can patiently await his own lucrative deal. He has a great case for cashing in.

 

As he enters his fourth NFL season, Scherff already is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Pro Football Focus ranked him ninth among the league’s guards last season. Martin ranked first; Andrew Norwell, who signed a five-year, $66.5 million contract (including $30 million guaranteed) with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency, was fourth. Norwell is the second-highest-paid guard in the league.

 

Scherff is still on his rookie deal and will make $705,000 in base salary in 2018, according to salary website spotrac.com. He’ll take home more than $6 million from signing and roster bonuses.

 

Scherff’s salary rises to $12.525 million in 2019 if the team exercises his fifth-year option, but the Redskins would like to secure his services for the long term. The team doesn’t want to go into the final year with the 2015 draft’s fifth pick on the edge of unrestricted free agency. Preserving salary cap space for Scherff is likely a reason Washington took a conservative approach to free agency this offseason.

 

Scherff is off to a strong start to his NFL career, and offensive line coach Bill Callahan said the 26-year-old is still getting better.

 

“His work ethic is off the charts,” Callahan said. “He’s a guy that continually challenges you as a coach and every day wants to get better, wants to know specifically what he needs to work on to improve. We go over that list continually.

 

“He’s a guy that you just love to coach because you tell him one time and he gets it and he’s got it. You can do a lot of different things with him because he has that type of versatility and that type of adaptability as well.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

On his way out the NFL door with a billion bucks, the NFL docks Panthers owner Jerry Richardson about .3% of the sale price for his nefarious activities with employees.  Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner:

 

The NFL probably could have let former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson slip off into the night, without ever doing a proper investigation into the alleged workplace harassment that was uncovered last year. After all, Richardson had sold the team and isn’t in the league anymore.

 

But the league did a full investigation, and hit Richardson hard as he exits the NFL. The league announced Thursday that it found Richardson had engaged in improper workplace conduct and he was fined $2.75 million.

 

Cynically, that’s a tiny portion of the sale price Richardson got for the Panthers, so it hardly affects his bank account. But it was still a substantial fine, and a statement from the NFL about sexual harassment in the workplace.

 

NFL’s investigation substantiates claims against Richardson

The story about Richardson’s behavior, which included inappropriate actions of a sexual and racial nature, was published by Sports Illustrated last December. It also said multiple Panthers employees received monetary settlements after being harassed. Very shortly after, Richardson announced he was selling the Panthers, a team he founded, and removing himself from day-to-day operations.

 

The NFL didn’t let Richardson off just because he said he was going to sell the team. The league started an investigation, conducted by former U.S. Attorney and SEC Chairman Mary Jo White.

 

The league looked into the claims and was able to “substantiate the claims that have been made, and identified no information that would either discredit the claims made or that would undermine the veracity of the employees who have made those claims.” The investigation also noted the Panthers did not report what happened to the NFL.

 

Richardson’s fine money will be given to specific groups

The $2.75 million will go to “organizations dedicated to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside of the workplace,” the NFL said. From the NFL, here are the first three organizations the league will give money to:

 

Beauty for Ashes Ministry, Inc. – This Charlotte, North Carolina organization provides faith-based resources and spiritual support to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other trauma and provides training for clergy and lay leaders in these issues.

 

Black Women’s Blueprint – This national organization, based in Brooklyn, New York, focuses exclusively on issues of concern to black women, and operates an Institute for Gender and Cultural Competence that delivers prevention education and intervention curricula that addresses the spectrum of discrimination and oppression that affects lives.

 

Women of Color Network, Inc. – This national grassroots non-profit organization, based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is dedicated to building the leadership and capacity of women of color advocates and activists to respond to violence against women in communities of color through training, technical assistance, and advocacy

 

Panthers, rest of teams will review workplace policies

The investigation said that while Richardson engaged in inappropriate behavior, no other Panthers employee did. It was Richardson alone who committed the workplace violations, the NFL said. Still, the Panthers have already “developed and implemented enhanced policies, procedures, and training” to avoid a recurrence of the workplace misconduct Richardson was engaged in.

 

“I particularly appreciate the work of the club employees in assessing the need for enhancing the club’s workplace policies, procedures, and training and implementing appropriate changes,” White said, according to the NFL.

 

The entire league will see some changes. Teams will be required to review workplace practices. Claims of workplace misconduct issues must be reported to the league under its personal conduct policy, and a hotline will be set up to report issues. It also prohibits non-disclosure agreements, which the Panthers reportedly had used when it gave out the monetary settlements to employees.

 

Kalyn Kahler of SI.com:

 

That fine is less than one percent of the $2.3 billion that the Panthers sold for—Richardson, who had a 48% stake in the team, made around $1 billion from the sale. Whether it’s $2.75 million or $200 million, how do you set a price on bad behavior?

 

Eric Montgomery is an employment lawyer in Charlotte who once worked as an attorney for Richardson’s food service company. (He knows the former Panthers owner personally.) Montgomery says that, although the amount of the fine likely won’t impact Richardson, it’s significant because it’s rare that a CEO-type is fined by the company for workplace misconduct. “I haven’t heard of too many situations where the company fined its own employee for misconduct of this nature,” he says. “If more companies took that approach it would certainly have an effect to curb that kind of behavior. This is certainly a major development in the NFL and hopefully the other sports leagues take notice, and big companies take notice as well.”

 

Former U.S. attorney and SEC chair Mary Jo White conducted the league’s investigation into Richardson. As a result of her findings, White gave recommendations for the NFL’s conduct committee to consider implementing. One of those recommendations is to specifically prohibit the use of non-disclosure agreements to limit the reporting of potential violations or cooperation in NFL investigations. SI reported that Richardson or the Panthers had reached settlements in exchange for NDAs with at least four employees, a practice that kept his behavior quiet for many years.

 

Montgomery says paying for silence is a typical practice when it comes to misconduct in the workplace and he’d be shocked if the league put that recommendation into practice. “That would be earth shattering,” he says. “I can’t see a team willing to pay someone half a million and not have a non-disclosure agreement.”

 

It will be interesting to see which, if any, of White’s recommendations will be adopted by the league. One natural next step among them: a hotline to report workplace misconduct anonymously.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Yes, it is three games for QB JAMEIS WINSTON who will accept his fate and issues a non-specific apology.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

 

Jameis Winston’s punishment is now official.

 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback has been suspended for the first three games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the league announced Thursday. News of Winston’s punishment was first reported by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

 

Winston won’t appeal the ban since it is part of a “negotiated settlement,” a source told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The suspension stems from a female Uber driver accusing Winston of groping her in Scottsdale, Arizona, in March 2016.

 

The NFL “concluded that Winston violated the personal conduct policy by touching the driver in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent and that disciplinary action was necessary and appropriate.” As part of of his discipline, Winston is required to obtain a clinical evaluation and fully cooperate in any recommended program of therapeutic intervention.

 

“A failure either to obtain the evaluation or to cooperate with treatment will result in further discipline,” the league said in a statement. “In addition, a future violation of the personal conduct policy will result in more substantial discipline, including a potential ban from the NFL.”

 

Winston, 24, quickly responded to the league’s decision:

 

“The NFL informed me today that I will be suspended for the first three games of the season,” Winston wrote in a statement obtained by Rapoport.

 

“First and foremost, I would like to say I’m sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in. It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize,” Winston added. “In the past 2 1/2 years my life has been filled with experiences, opportunities and events that have helped me grow, mature and learn, including the fact that I have eliminated alcohol from my life.

 

“I know I have to hold myself to a higher standard on and off the field and that I have a responsibility to my family, community, and teammates to live above the platform with which God has blessed me. I apologize to my teammates, the Buccaneers organization and fans for letting them down and for not being able to be out there for the first three games of the season. Although I am disappointed in the NFL’s decision, I understand the NFL’s process, and I embrace this as an opportunity to take advantage of the resources available to help me achieve the goals that I have for myself.

 

“I now look forward to putting this behind me and I will continue to work hard every day to be a positive influence in my community and be the best person, teammate and leader I can be.”

 

Winston’s apology comes after he publicly denied the allegations last November.

 

Winston’s absence will cause him to miss games against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers before returning in time for Tampa’s Week 4 meeting with the Bears. The suspension formally begins Sept. 1 and is scheduled to end Sept. 25.

 

The suspension leaves Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin to battle for the temporary starting spot. The Bucs also have Austin Allen on the roster.

 

Chalk it up as a concerning career turn for Winston, who is under contract with the Bucs through next season.

 

Thoughts on what happened from John Breech of CBSSports.com:

 

Apparently, there was a reason for the non-specific apology and that’s because the Buccaneers quarterback doesn’t believe that he did anything wrong. Although the NFL’s investigation concluded that “Winston violated the Personal Conduct Policy by touching the driver in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent,” it seems that Winston doesn’t feel the same way about those findings.

 

According to NFL.com‘s Tom Pelissero, Winston refused to apologize for anything specific — such as inappropriately touching the Uber driver — because he doesn’t believe the touching actually happened as it was alleged.

 

So why would Winston waive his appeal rights to a suspension if he truly believes nothing happened?

 

According to NFL.com, Winston couldn’t be sure that nothing happened because he had been heavily drinking on the night of the alleged incident and therefore, couldn’t “clearly remember the events.” Since Winston wouldn’t admit guilt, the NFL negotiated a settlement with the Buccaneers quarterback that involved a three-game suspension, and Winston had to promise not to appeal it. Under the settlement, Winston wouldn’t have to admit guilt, but he would have to admit that he was drinking, which is something he has apparently given up. In his statement on Thursday, Winston said that he no longer drinks alcohol.

 

Winston could have been suspended for up to six games, which is the baseline penalty for a first-time offender under the NFL’s sexual assault policy, but that was negotiated down to three games, although it’s not clear why since the league investigation found that he touched the Uber driver inappropriately.

 

The NFL has also said that it likely won’t release the letter that was sent to Winston to announce the suspension. The letter is a big deal because it generally offers a detailed outlook at how the league came to its final decision. In the Ezekiel Elliot case, the league sent a six-page letter to the Cowboys running back that outlined multiple reasons for his suspension.

 

It almost seems like everyone got off easy in this case. By not releasing the letter, the NFL is basically protecting Winston, because he won’t have to answer questions about any sordid details the league might have found in its investigation. The league also caught a break with Winston accepting the three-game suspension. The fact that Winston has promised not to appeal means that the NFL won’t have to deal with a lengthy legal battle against one of its star players for the fourth straight offseason (Tom Brady in 2015 and 2016, Elliott in 2017). 

 

“Uber Kate” has not filed any legal action against Winston yet, but she has a lawyer, so we can’t rule that out.  Legal eagles – could she compel the production of the letter as part of her discovery in a civil action?

 

Mike Florio:

 

What was a hunch last week has become a reality. The NFL, despite a reputation for meting out discipline without compromise, reached a compromise with Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, giving him a three-game suspension in exchange for an agreement not to appeal and to apologize generally to the victim for whatever it is that he did.

 

So why did the NFL do it?

 

With an internal legal system that has been collectively bargained over the years to give the NFL full and complete discretion to impose whatever penalty it wishes and to make it stick in court, the NFL opted instead to do a deal with Winston. At a minimum, it’s a stunning reversal for a Commissioner who has never been one to split the difference with players. At most, it’s a recognition of the reality that, in the #MeToo era, the labeling of a player as a sexual abuser with graphic details and harsh public rhetoric could do more than justify punishment. It also could spark a movement that gets the player shunned by his current team, along with every other NFL franchise.

 

If that’s the reason for league’s the willingness to agree to a three-game suspension when the NFL easily could have (arguably should have) slapped Winston with the baseline ban of six games and with a potential enhancement for his pre-NFL misconduct, the NFL has become surprisingly magnanimous. It could be that the NFL, as it desperately tries to bring the P.R. focus back to football, didn’t want the next two months to be consumed with news stories delving into the nuts and bolts of the case, with Winston’s camp working the media and eventually taking to court a case that, as Ezekiel Elliott did a year ago, will make the NFL seem to be incompetent at best, malicious at worst.

 

It’s possible that the NFL ultimately was motivated by both considerations, but not necessarily as a favor to Winston. How does it benefit the NFL to paint Winston with the kind of scarlet hashtag that makes a three-game suspension a de facto permanent banishment? He remains an engaging personality and a competent quarterback. A strategically engineered slap on the wrist, done in a way that minimized the P.R. consequences (indeed, Winston’s camp initially leaked that the suspension would arise from a failure to report the allegations only, and that item of #fakenews surely took some of the sting out of the eventual discipline) allowed the NFL to send a strong message without wrecking Winston’s career.

 

Look for more deals like this to be considered in the future, given that the court of public opinion now has far more power over a celebrity’s career than Roger Goodell ever will enjoy.

 

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com on the history of NFL suspensions:

 

As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell faced a torrent of criticism for his decision to suspend Ray Rice just two games for domestic violence, he released a statement acknowledging he got it wrong and promising stiffer suspensions in the future. Specifically, Goodell said players would get suspended at least six games in the future.

 

“Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense,” Goodell wrote at the time.

 

That policy has proved to be meaningless. Yesterday the NFL announced that Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has been suspended three games for touching an Uber driver “in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent.” So why didn’t Winston get six games?

 

Because the NFL frequently flouts its own policy.

 

Just three days after the NFL announced its policy, Jets receiver Quincy Enunwa was arrested and charged with simple assault when police said Enunwa pulled a woman off a bed, hurting her head and finger. After the NFL investigated, Enunwa was suspended four games.

 

Then-Giants kicker Josh Brown was arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. Brown was suspended one game. After a backlash against the NFL’s decision to suspend Brown one game and reports that he’d had a long pattern of terrorizing his ex-wife, he was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. He hasn’t played since.

 

Then-Packers tight end Andrew Quarless was accused of firing a gun in the air during an argument with a woman. After the NFL investigated, Quarless was suspended two games.

 

Washington linebacker Junior Galette was arrested and charged with misdemeanor simple battery/domestic violence. After the NFL investigated, Galette was suspended two games.

 

Less than a month after the NFL announced its mandatory six-game suspension policy, then-Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested at the team facility for head-butting his wife and breaking her nose. He was suspended three games. (The incident took place before the NFL announced the mandatory six-game suspension policy, although the arrest and the suspension both happened while the policy was in place.)

 

In 2015, then-Cowboys running back Joseph Randle had the police called on him for domestic violence with a weapon after an incident with the mother of his son. Randle was suspended four games.

 

The NFL will no doubt say that some of those cases had mitigating circumstances, and that’s why those players got less than six games. The NFL is less than transparent about explaining its suspensions, so we don’t know what those mitigating circumstances are. But regardless, the reality is that when Goodell claimed there would be a six-game suspension for a first offense, he wanted the public to believe that the NFL now had a strong standard for crimes against women. As it has turned out, there is no such standard other than the NFL’s continuing decision to make up suspensions as it goes along.

 

More from Florio:

 

It’s possible that the NFL concluded that Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston‘s actions did not constitute “sexual assault involving physical force.” Unless the league specifically explains it that way, it’s impossible to know for sure. (It’s also odd that the NFL wouldn’t simply make all sexual assaults subject to a six-game suspension, without requiring physical force or an assault “committed against someone incapable of giving consent.”)

 

The NFL possibly decided that “mitigating factors” justified a reduction from six games to three, like they initially did when dropping former Giants kicker Josh Brown’s suspension from six games to one. (MDS has listed other similar instances that didn’t result in a six-game suspension.) Without sharing the information as to why the reduction was made, however, it’s impossible for anyone to assess whether the reduction was sensible or justified.

 

In Brown’s case, the league defended the lack of transparency in reducing the suspension by pointing to the privacy rights of the victim. In Winston’s case, there should be no similar concern. The victim made a report to her employer and then, inspired by the #MeToo movement, she told her story to the media. If the NFL believes that the conduct generally requires a six-game suspension but that mitigating factors require it to be cut in half, the league shouldn’t keep it secret.

 

Of course, it’s entirely possible (if not probable) that the league cut the suspension in half simply as part of the effort to make a deal with Winston, pursuant to which he wouldn’t file an internal appeal (or external litigation) and he would in turn control the messaging, in an effort to best conceal the details as to what he did and, in turn, to prevent a #MeToo firestorm that could result in the Buccaneers having no choice but to part ways with him.

 

Whatever the reason, the league deserves scrutiny and criticism for not explaining why Winston got only three games, when the policy would seem to require at least six — and when “similar misconduct before joining the NFL” would justify an enhancement of the penalty beyond six games.

 

 

Against a drumbeat of media criticism of the decision, the DB thinks that Winston’s actions while bad, while offensive, while punishable – are a ways short of “sexual assault”.  Five seconds of bad behavior, no physical attack, no exposed organs, no verbal threat – there are a lot of things missing from Winston’s alleged behavior from that which characterized that which was alleged from Ezekiel Elliott, Ben Roethlisberger, Ray Rice and others.

 

Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com:

 

A little over three years ago, when the majority of quarterback-needy NFL teams were doing some deep investigative dive on Jameis Winston, nearly every available bit of character-fluffing was being leveraged by his camp. From his silver-tongued attorney, David Cornwell, to his media savvy quarterbacks coach, George Whitfield, to his less-than impartial former college coach, Jimbo Fisher. And in between, all manner of characters lined up behind the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, from former teammates to prospective mentors to fawning ex (and future) head coach Jon Gruden.

 

The design in play was implanting a singular narrative into the populace: Jameis Winston is a good guy who made some immature decisions.

 

One only needs an Internet browser and five minutes to cull the remnants of a media-wooing campaign that was a sales pitch built on future hope rather than past precedent. It’s worth revisiting because it’s going to feel familiar over the next two years.

 

With a three-game suspension officially set on Thursday and Winston getting dragged by some of the same people who bought into the first sales pitch, the next two years will be a bug-fixing software update from the same cast of characters. Something along the lines of: Jameis Winston is a good guy who made some immature decisions … 2.0.

– – –

This is what the NFL has to grapple with now with Winston. Two years from potential free agency, this will be the next iteration of this saga: Winston and his camp trying to again recreate the same pre-draft positivity; selling whatever they can to induce a white-knuckled, $100 million guaranteed gamble by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or some other NFL team. That’s where this Jameis Winston story is going. Back to the same place it was in 2015. Back to talking about a young quarterback with immense skills and charisma who is a complete crapshoot from a character standpoint. Back to the boom or bust franchise centerpiece who appears as likely to get management fired as take a team to a Super Bowl.

 

In the wake of this Winston suspension, no matter how much he wins or loses, there is going to be another sales pitch. One in which we’re implored to look at his charitable foundation or the family he’s building. Or we’re asked to ignore an alleged crotch-grabbing of an Uber driver from 2016 because there is no video evidence or legal accusation. We’ll be asked to trust Jameis again. Trust his people again. Trust the redemptive narrative. And above all, ignore the litany of stupid things Winston has either provably done or allegedly done.

 

But there will forever be a lingering question of horrific judgment when it comes to Winston’s past. The kind of thing that had former Buccaneers wideout Keyshawn Johnson openly questioning Winston’s mental health this week. Of course, Johnson isn’t a trained doctor or psychiatrist. But this is part of the deal with Winston now. His track record invites some deeply disturbing assessments from those who are disinclined to buy the sales pitch.

 

The case for and against $100 million

Whether or not the Uber allegations are proven to be true in a public space, one asinine part of the story alone has been verified. The night of the alleged groping – March 13, 2016 – Winston was spending time with ex-Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks, who was free on bond awaiting his own rape trial — a trial that eventually resulted in a 15-year prison sentence.

 

That night was almost exactly one year from Winston’s pro day in 2015, when Cornwell, Whitfield and Fisher and everyone else was laboring to convince the world that Winston was just a good kid who had some maturity problems. That a rape allegation against Winston wasn’t true – and that with the draft on the doorstep he finally had his head screwed on straight when it came to life choices.

 

I distinctly remember Whitfield talking up Winston’s self-awareness and how he knew the eyes of the NFL world were upon him. And how teams had even gone as far as employing pre-draft spies to watch him. And how it was all part of Winston learning what 24-7 maturity and accountability meant.

 

 “[The NFL has] staged people,” Whitfield told Yahoo Sports about league investigations into Winston. “Yeah, there are teams that have staged people on different flights he had, just to kind of be in the midst – a fly on the wall. I had a team official tell me that. … [They’ve used] private eyes. I know people have interviewed his elementary school teachers, bus drivers, team bus drivers, people that gave him rides at the Heisman ceremony. Pilots. … Local restaurants. The lady at the Florida State cafeteria. All that stuff. And hey, if that’s what they feel they need to do to ensure themselves so come draft day they can get up on the table for him, then that’s what you’ve got to do.”

 

The implication of Whitfield’s words at the time was that everything about Jameis was being sliced, diced and processed through the machine. And if someone was drafting him, they must have found out that he had the right character to make the choice. It was a fair assessment. And not nearly as aggressive a stance as one taken by Fisher, who that same month blamed Winston’s alleged character problems on – of all things – the media.

 

“Why is there a question [about Winston],” Fisher asked on Tampa Bay radio station WDAE in March of 2015. “Because of the character assassination that he’s lived through in the media, and the [misinformation] and half-truths that have been printed. What amazes me about this whole process is the un-professionalism of a lot of major newspapers, and a lot of major outlets that did not report the whole truth of the situation and only slanted it for their own opinion.”

 

One year later, Winston was hanging out with Brandon Banks as he awaited a rape trial. Then Winston allegedly got into an Uber drunk and crotch-groped the driver. And now he’s suspended for it by the NFL’s investigative unit.

 

For any NFL player, it would be considered a troubling and incomprehensible run of stupid. For Winston, it’s just the middle chapter between sales pitches about redeeming the flawed parts of his maturity or character.

 

One of those pitches successfully got him drafted No. 1 overall by the Buccaneers in 2015. The next will work feverishly to regain the footing on a $100 million contract in 2020. Inside it all, someone will have to resolve the Jameis Winston conundrum by weighing his past reputation against his future promises.

 

Same as it has ever been.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

MAKE OR BREAK

This list of folks for whom 2018 is especially critical has been put together by Adam Schein of NFL.com:

 

With temperatures rising outside, it feels like the right time to assess who’s facing serious heat in the NFL world.

 

In the ultimate “What have you done for me lately?” league, certain players and coaches inevitably fall under a searing spotlight. Every year, particular individuals find themselves at a career crossroads where the coming campaign isn’t just another season — it’s a turning point, for better or for worse.

 

As we head into the summer, it’s time to roll out our annual “make or break” list for next fall, Schein Nine style.

 

1) Jameis Winston/Dirk Koetter, quarterback/head coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

UPDATE: Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has been suspended for the first three games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the league reported Thursday. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero later reported that Winston will not appeal the ban.

 

Winston is suspended for three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. This stems from an incident in 2016 where the quarterback allegedly groped a female Uber driver. Of course, this isn’t the first disconcerting off-field episode for the former No. 1 overall pick.

 

A few months before the 2015 NFL Draft, I wrote a column on NFL.com that urged the Bucs to pass on Winston. Given the QB’s pattern of behavior at Florida State — which ranged from sophomoric mischief to shoplifting to serious allegations of sexual assault — I just didn’t trust Winston as a potential face of the franchise. A franchise-quarterback talent? Sure. But the antics outside the lines were alarming. And now we have another incident that raises serious concerns. Sadly and regrettably, this development didn’t really catch anyone by surprise. Not with everything we already knew. And that’s the problem.

 

This isn’t just a blot on the Buccaneers’ off-field record, either — it could seriously hinder Tampa’s record on it. The Bucs open the season with a three-game nightmare: at New Orleans, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Pittsburgh. Those three clubs combined to go 37-11 last season. That combined mark officially makes this the toughest opening stretch in the Super Bowl era. If Winston is indeed a no-go for all three of those games … Do you believe in Fitzmagic?? I didn’t think so.

 

Tampa had a chance to be a surprise contender in 2018, with general manager Jason Licht adding a whole bunch of talent on the defensive front and snagging a talented running back in the draft. But Winston’s looming suspension throws everything into question. It appears the face of the franchise can’t be trusted. Can Winston — and the Bucs — still salvage something in 2018 and beyond?

 

One man is sure to pay the price if the Buccaneers miss the playoffs for an 11th consecutive season: Dirk Koetter. The head coach needs a breakthrough campaign to keep his job. Meanwhile, Winston is in the final year of his rookie contract, and while Tampa Bay exercised the fifth-year option that would keep him with the team through 2019, that $21 million pact is guaranteed only against injury. Could the Bucs cut ties with the QB after this season? Well, if he keeps going down this path, at some point, Tampa needs to ask when enough is enough.

 

2) Ryan Tannehill, quarterback, Miami Dolphins

I thought Miami should’ve been in the quarterback business this offseason. Tannehill is a career 62.7 percent passer. In 2016, his touchdown-to-interception ratio slumped to 19:12. Then Tannehill tore his ACL the following August, and Jay Cutler had to be lured out of retirement for one more pointless season.

 

Let’s be honest: At this point, Tannehill is just a guy. Ask Jarvis Landry. And when you’re talking about the most important position in team sports, just a guy ain’t good enough.

 

It’s go time, for both Tannehill and the Dolphins. Color me skeptical on Tannehill ever taking that major step forward. History and precedent tell you that’s a long shot. But if it’s going to happen, it has to happen NOW. Beyond the Patriots, the AFC East remains highly underwhelming. It’s time for Tannehill, Adam Gase and the Fins to make a move.

 

3) Hue Jackson, head coach, Cleveland Browns

I could sit here and give you many colorful words. Or I could simply tell you that Hue Jackson is 1-31 as the Browns’ head coach.

 

New general manager John Dorsey isn’t going to be patient. Cleveland has enough talent to win eight games this year and finish in second in the AFC North. So do it, Hue.

 

4) Ereck Flowers, offensive tackle, New York Giants

Truth be told, in the world of make or break, I firmly believe Flowers is broken. Sure, he is a former top-10 pick, but that’s from the prior regime. I can’t imagine a new coach and general manager allowing Flowers to continually wilt on the field of play.

 

Yet, despite resembling a turnstile on the offensive line, Flowers remains on the Giants’ roster and in line to play. And hey, he’s still just 24 years old. With marquee free-agent addition Nate Solder manning left tackle, can Flowers protect Eli Manning’s front side?

 

5) Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams

Now, I loved this move by the Rams. A lot. Especially considering it puts Suh alongside Aaron Donald and under the tutelage of Wade Phillips. That’s a recipe for large-scale game-wreckage. But this is Suh’s last chance to show he’s still a bona fide star, the kind of centerpiece teams fight over in free agency.

 

Suh became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history three offseasons ago, signing a six-year, $114 million contract with the Dolphins, but Miami cut bait halfway through the megadeal. The DT signed a one-year, $14 million deal with the Rams in March. Will he still be able to command big bucks next offseason at age 32? Well, this spot in L.A. is dreamy. But if it doesn’t work …

 

6) Blake Bortles, quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars

It’s borderline amazing that one of the most talented teams in the NFL is quarterbacked by Blake Bortles. In 2016, Bortles’ biggest problem was the forward pass — as in, he was terrible at it. Kind of tough when that’s your quarterback. Sure, he showed improvement last season, and played quite well at Pittsburgh in the Divisional Round. But when it mattered on Championship Sunday, the Jaguars staff didn’t trust him. Understandably. Do you trust Blake Bortles?

 

This should be a Super Bowl season for the Jags. Will Bortles allow Jacksonville to maximize the immense talent up and down the roster?

 

7) Richard Sherman, cornerback, San Francisco 49ers

I love John Lynch bringing this Stanford product back to the Bay. I still think Sherman can play and lead. I think he can show the young Niners the ropes and how to establish a winning culture.

 

But what if I’m wrong? What if Sherman is a shell of his former self? What if the Achilles isn’t the same? What if he lost many steps? The downside — and Sherman’s age (30) — puts this situation squarely in make-or-break territory.

 

8) Robert Quinn, defensive end, Miami Dolphins

The long-tenured Ram was dealt to Miami in March. And considering the Rams rightly think they ooze talent and are ready for the Super Bowl, this was an eye-opener.

 

Quinn was first-team All-Pro in his third NFL season, but hasn’t reached double-digit sacks since 2014. The Miami staff seems energized about Quinn’s addition. But why? Can Quinn still take over games? This is a huge season for the 28-year-old.

 

9) Mark Ingram, running back, New Orleans Saints

He’s been suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances. Not ideal for a 28-year-old running back who’s in a contract year.

 

Ingram and Alvin Kamara formed a remarkable 1-2 punch in 2017. But could Kamara take the reins in the season’s opening month and run away with them? Not hard to imagine. So Ingram could be auditioning for his next team. And given that he’ll turn 29 in December — one year closer to the dreaded age 30 for running backs — he better put some great film on tape upon return.

 

The DB kind of thinks Ingram is already broken as a 28-year-old RB.  We might have put SAM BRADFORD on that list as he auditions for his future before JOSH ROSEN moves ahead of him in Arizona.  Or maybe CASE KEENUM who has to quickly prove his 2017 run with the Vikings was not a fluke.

 

 

ISAIAH PEAD

Former NFL running back ISAIAH PEAD is adjusting to life without a leg.  Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com with a long piece here, with excerpts below:

 

Isaiah Pead slips into the driver’s seat, metal leg first, turns the key and savors the seductive purr of the BMW-powered engine.

 

Pead’s newest toy is a cream-colored Campagna T-REX, the closest he can get to a motorcycle — and quite the fearless choice for someone who nearly lost everything in a car accident.

 

“This is for the young and wild,” said Pead, pulling out of a garage filled with toddler toys in plastic bags. “It’s like playing running back, low to the ground, see things before people see you. You have to make a split-second decision.”

 

Pead skirts out of the driveway, bolting through his suburban neighborhood in the oversized go-kart and clinging to normalcy at all costs.

 

The man who ran a 4.47-second 40 at the 2012 NFL combine isn’t about to slow down now. Pead, who spent five years as an NFL running back, lost his left leg in the early hours of Nov. 12, 2016, after his 2011 Cadillac CTS-V hit a divot on I-670, spun off a guardrail and took a terrible tumble at least 40 feet down an embankment.

 

What happened in that car, and the eight surgeries that followed, only fueled his competitive drive and led to a second act: A push for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo as a sprinter in the SB-LL1 sport class for significant impairment.

 

Pead earned nearly $4 million as a player, qualified for an NFL pension, started a trucking company based out of his hometown of Columbus, Ohio and has a 19-month-old son, Deuce, who was born a week before the accident.

 

So why is he spending most of his days grinding on a tattered high school track with his prep coach?

 

Because running backs run.

 

“My dream is done. But I’m still young, have my whole life ahead of me. What’s next?” said Pead, 28, wearing a diamond-encrusted handicap charm on his gold necklace “What do you want to be remembered for?”

– – –

“I want to be an athlete. This comes with a lot more than what I’m used to with being an athlete.”

 

Pead rises from the tarp and starts a series of leg kicks, which are all the more impressive against the backdrop of an accident so unsettling that family members have difficulty describing it nearly two years later.

 

That uncertain morning, medics used “war packing” to control bleeding since they couldn’t close up the mangled leg, mother Leshawna Pead remembers. Doctors eventually removed all but about 10 inches of the leg because the damage was too severe.

 

Pead was en route to Waffle House to meet friends with former University of Cincinnati teammate Wesley Richardson, who avoided serious injury. But Pead was ejected from the car and might have bled out if not for the 911 call from an onlooker.

 

While family members waited nervously in hospital halls, Pead, tube in mouth, was kept on IV sedation until regaining coherence two days later.

 

He put everyone at ease in the hospital room by writing “my whip game proper” on a piece of paper. Pead was not impaired the night of the accident but admits to going over the speed limit.

 

Loved ones knew Pead would eventually be in this position, somehow competing. Within weeks of his hospital stay, he started timing his trek from the bed to the wheelchair.

 

Thirty seconds. Nineteen seconds. Twelve.

 

“You cannot stop that man,” said Ruby Bowman, Pead’s longtime girlfriend and mother of Deuce (Isaiah II). “He got back into grind mode.”

– – –

 “It’s just going to take some time to get used to what his new normal is,” U.S. Paralympic director Catherine Erickson said. “But once an athlete, always an athlete. He’s definitely shown he’s a go-getter.”

 

If Pead is ready, he can target the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, next summer and the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai in November 2019, Erickson said.

 

Pead is flying to Dallas to consult the Adaptive Training Foundation to learn best practices and troubleshoot the leg discomfort. He eventually plans to get a sponsor for his competition trials.

 

“It’d be a great story,” Erickson said. “Time will tell where he is, and how determined he is will be the precursor of what his success can be. From Day 1 in talking with him, he was absolutely determined. I have no doubt he’ll be successful.”

 

Lewis has coached track for more than a decade but never like this. The connection to the runner is more emotional. His job is to understand Pead’s mental hurdles, know when to push or stay back.

 

Pead trusts Lewis, who never asked for anything after Pead made the NFL and stood as a father figure of sorts.

 

“I’m doing this for him. That’s it. I don’t get paid to do it,” Lewis said. “We have a closeness because of the history of working together. I’ve seen him become a man. I was so grateful he survived the actual accident. Now that he’s doing well, I’m doing this for him. I’m all about being a part of this story.”

 

This story needs a rewrite after a promising football career stalled well before the accident.

 

***

 

In May, Les Snead got a message from his wife that included a link of Pead running. It made the Rams’ general manager tear up a bit.

 

He sent Pead a text to let him know he was proud. He saw Pead struggle to crack the lineup for two years, then tear up his knee before a potential breakout season in 2014. But that didn’t matter anymore.

 

“This isn’t a player with a rating on Madden. This is a human being,” Snead said. “He’ll always be a part of my life. What he’s doing now is inspiring.”

 

Pead is proud of a football career that earned him a second-round draft selection, but he admits life on the thin NFL margins is a painful one.

 

After the Rams released him in September 2015, Pead spent short stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins while bouncing from various Airbnb spots. He tried to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs days before the accident but missed his flight for a follow-up visit because he was leaving the hospital where Deuce was born. The Chiefs rescheduled for Cincinnati’s airport and he didn’t make the two-hour drive in time.

 

The Chiefs said they would call back, but Pead knew it was over.

 

“I still hadn’t proved myself to be the player I knew I could be,” Pead said.

 

In St. Louis, Pead had played two seasons behind Steven Jackson and Benny Cunningham while struggling with typical youthful pitfalls such as pass protection and preparation, Snead recalls. Pead said he butted heads with then-coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and regrets not asking coaches why he was on the bench, admitting pride got in his own way. He internalized, then got in premier shape for an expanded role in 2014 before the knee buckled on a kickoff return in an Aug. 16 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.

 

The special teams play was called “bounce left,” with Pead selling the inside and needing one more cut to get loose. He heard the knee snap on that cut.

– – –

Pead doesn’t live in this space for long. He chooses to hug his son a little tighter or plan that next trip to IKEA with Ruby. The couple is renovating a four-bedroom home sitting on 1.4 acres in the suburb of Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

 

The “Momma’s Boy” tattoo on his right bicep reminds him of his mom’s constant care, raising him as a single mother and, now, helping him manage medical insurance red tape. Pead has NFL disability but sees the phrase “explanation of benefits” more often than he’d like. “I’ve got three piles (of paperwork),” Leshawna said.

 

And he’s thankful for his father, DeJuan Taylor, who was in the car that frightful night but got out to connect with other friends early in the evening. Pead was a teenager when his father re-emerged in his life.

 

The outpouring of support from those following his training progress on social media keep him running.

 

“It’s humbling. It’s inspirational to keep doing whatever I want to do,” Pead said. “I want to do this, compete at the highest level. The fact of the matter is I came from wanting to do something else that I did, but now this is who I am.”

 

Pead embraces being disabled, though he searches for a normal life. The constant staring in fitness centers makes him want to open his own gym for the handicapped. Going to the doctor reminds him of what he can’t do.

 

That’s why he hits the track in the late afternoon, leaving time for a night-time spin in the T-Rex, unafraid to turn at high speeds.

 

“Get out and ride, man,” Pead said.

 

 

2019 DRAFT

Western Michigan CB SAM BEAL is a name to know in the upcoming supplemental draft.  This tweet from Gil Brandt:

 

@Gil_Brandt

Official pro day numbers for @WMU_Football CB Sam Beal:

 

Height: 6-0 7/8

Weight: 178 (187 in spring)

40: 4.47/4.55

Vertical: 37

Broad: 10-6

Short shuttle: 4.09

3-cone: 7.11

Bench: DNP

 

Had very good workout. Expected to be highest sup draft pick since Josh Gordon in 2012.

 

The Browns used a second round pick on Gordon.  No one has been selected in the last two supplemental drafts.

 

This from Vincent Frank of Forbes on how Beal got to the draft:

 

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Beal has filed to enter the 2018 NFL Supplemental Draft. The root cause of this decision stems from Beal not accruing enough credits in class to be eligible to play out his senior season with Western Michigan.

 

“He was a joy to coach. I wanted to coach him one more year. When it comes to talent and work ethic, he’s one of the best I’ve ever been around,” Western Michigan head coach Tim Lester told Yahoo! Sports. “I’m looking forward to watching him at the next level.”

– – –

There’s not going to be a shortage of teams interested in adding Beal to the mix. His issues are academic. He has no off-field concerns to speak of. That’s big in today’s NFL.

– – –

When Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com looks at QB JARRETT STIDHAM of Auburn, he sees DEREK CARR:

 

Auburn should be one of the more fascinating teams to follow in the upcoming college football season. The Tigers’ defense is loaded with talent, and they return one of the top signal-callers in the country: Jarrett Stidham. Gus Malzahn’s squad has all of the ingredients to win a national championship. We already witnessed the Tigers’ immense potential last season, when they knocked off both teams that ended up playing in the national championship game. But for Auburn to maximize its promise in 2018 — and play for the ultimate prize on January 7 — it will need Stidham to be a little more consistent. I spent some time studying his play from last season and here is my First Look report:

 

Jarrett Stidham, redshirt junior quarterback, Auburn

Height, weight: 6-foot-3, 215 pounds (school measurements).

 

2017 statistics: 246-of-370 (66.5 percent) for 3,158 yards, 18 TDs and 6 INTs.

 

Game tape watched: Arkansas (Oct. 21, 2017), Georgia (Nov. 11, 2017), Alabama (Nov. 25, 2017).

 

What I liked: Stidham lacks elite size, but he’s big enough for the position. He has plenty of arm strength and throws a very tight ball. I was quite impressed after watching him spin it at the Elite 11 camp a few weeks ago. The 21-year-old is very accurate in the quick game and shows the ability to change ball speed. He really excels throwing the deep ball coming off play action, and he does a good job using the width of the field to give guys plenty of room to run under the ball.

 

Stidham is also very effective throwing on the move. He squares his shoulders and displays the ability to layer the ball over underneath defenders. His athleticism is a big asset in the running game. He’s used on designed QB draws, as well as in the zone-read game. He has similar athleticism to Mitchell Trubisky when he was coming out of North Carolina.

 

Where he needs to improve: It’s tough to evaluate the quarterback in Malzahn’s attack because of the lack of intermediate throws and full-field reads. This offense heavily features the quick game, deep shots off play action and gadget plays. There were a few examples of his ability to drive the ball down the seam and connect on deep-over routs, but they are few and far between. He’ll likely need some time to develop in the NFL, due to the limited opportunities in this area.

 

I’d also like to see Stidham improve his patience in the pocket. His internal clock goes off too early at times and he will take off running. As a result, there are some missed opportunities and he takes unnecessary hits as a runner. This can be improved with more reps, and I think he’ll be more comfortable in the upcoming season.

 

Biggest takeaway: Last year, Auburn’s offense was heavily run-based, but I expect Stidham to have more control this fall. He is arguably the most talented thrower in the country, but he needs to continue to develop as a pure quarterback. I was very impressed after seeing him throw in person at Elite 11, and I look forward to seeing him live — in a game setting — this fall.

 

He reminds me of: Derek Carr. Both guys have a similar body type and are excellent athletes for the position. They have the arm strength to fit balls into tight windows and are accurate on the move. Carr displayed better touch coming out of college, but Stidham is competent in that department. Both guys come from a spread attack, although Carr played in a more traditional system earlier in his collegiate career. Carr has established himself as a top-tier quarterback in the NFL, and I believe Stidham has similar potential.

 

I can’t wait to see him play: Washington on Sept. 1. In the marquee game of college football’s opening weekend, Stidham will be challenged by one of the top secondaries in the nation. Washington has depth at cornerback, and Taylor Rapp is an outstanding safety. The Huskies run an aggressive scheme defensively, and they have all offseason to prepare for Stidham and the Malzahn attack. If Stidham performs well on this stage, against this opponent, it could really kick-start his Heisman campaign. It would also grab the attention of NFL evaluators.