The Daily Briefing Friday, May 12, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Rookies are signing all across the NFL and we won’t try to keep up with every announcement with first round picks signing in Detroit (LB JARRAD DAVIS), Houston (QB DeSHAUN WATSON), Los Angeles (Chargers WR MIKE WILLIAMS), Denver (T GARRETT BOWLES),Atlanta (LB TAKKARIST McKINLEY) and elsewhere. According to this, eight first rounders are known to be signed.
It’s a far cry from the days before the rookie wage scale.
The Bears have waived a pair of veterans:
The Bears on Thursday released receiver Eddie Royal and waived defensive lineman Will Sutton as part of a housekeeping effort before organized team activities begin later in May.
Fullback Paul Lasike and center Cornelius Edison also were waived as the Bears prepared to host tens of tryout players at their three-day rookie minicamp beginning Friday.
Royal helped headline Ryan Pace’s first free-agent class as Bears general manager, but ultimately his production didn’t meet the purchase price. Royal received $10 million guaranteed for two injury-plagued seasons. In 18 games, he had 70 catches for 607 yards, three touchdown catches and a punt return for a touchdown.
Royal’s release had been expected since the new league year began. It clears $5 million in cap space for 2017 and also saves the Bears that much cash. He missed seven games in 2015, five for a sprained left knee. He finished last season on injured reserve with a toe problem.
Yale Lary, a great player with a great name, has died. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com brings us up-to-date on this Hall of Famer:
Yale Lary, a Lions defensive back, punter and return man who was one of the best football players of the 1950s, has died at the age of 86.
A nine-time Pro Bowler, Lary was an important member of the Lions’ last three championship teams, in 1952, 1953 and 1957.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1930, Lary went to Texas A&M and first gained acclaim as one of the country’s best punters. “Lary, four-sport letterman at North Side, Fort Worth, kicked the hides off numerous pigskins while he was in junior high. He practiced kicking at school and then took a friend home to chase punts for him,” a 1950 newspaper account said.
Lary became a great two-sport athlete, starring in both football and baseball. His football career is best remembered for leading A&M to a 22-21 victory over Texas in his senior year, 1951, the first time in 12 years A&M had beaten its biggest rival. A two-way player who was the team’s best defensive back, Lary starred on offense in that game, running for a 68-yard touchdown and catching a 37-yard touchdown pass. That same year, Lary led the baseball team to the College World Series and set a Southwest Conference record for doubles.
The Lions drafted Lary in 1952 and he had four interceptions as a rookie and also punted and returned kicks, and he helped the Lions win the NFL Championship Game. In his second season the Lions again won the NFL Championship with Lary intercepting five passes and again punting and returning kicks.
In 1954, Lary left the Lions to serve two years in the Army. He returned to the Lions in 1956 and was chosen a first-team All-Pro each of the next four seasons, again helping the Lions win the NFL Championship in 1957. Lary played minor league baseball during the NFL offseasons, and while still an active player he was elected to the Texas Legislature in 1958 and re-elected in 1960.
In later years Lary described the 1950s Lions as a tight-knit family.
“What I remember best of those times were not the games we played — the only one that sticks in my mind was the ’53 championship game when the pass to Jim Doran beat Cleveland in the last few minutes — but the closeness of everybody on the team,” Lary said in 1979. “I was talking to Torgy [former lineman Laverne Torgeson] just last night and we agreed there never was a team like the Lions of the 1950s. It was just one big happy family — our family against the rest of the football world.”
This from his Wikipedia page:
Lary and his wife, Mary Jane, were married in 1952. They had two children: Yale, Jr., and Nancy Jane.
Even before retiring from the NFL, Lary ran as a Democrat for the Texas Legislature, to which he was elected in both 1958 and 1960. In February 1965, he also broke ground on a Ford Motor Company dealership in Fort Worth to be owned by Lary and a childhood friend. He operated the automobile dealership for nearly a decade. He later formed an investment company with interests in real estate, oil and gas leases, and oil and natural gas production.
Larry has received numerous honors and awards since retiring from football. These include:
In 1969, Lary was selected as a defensive back on the National Football League 1950s All-Decade Team.
In 1973, he was inducted into the Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame for his contributions in both baseball and football.
In 1979, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, becoming only the fifth defensive back to be inducted.
In 1983, sports writer George Puscas of the Detroit Free Press included Lary on his all-time Lions team.
In 1988, he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1994, Lary was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
A daughter of the DB has the middle name “Cornell.” We wonder if Lary had siblings that were named after other Ivy League schools.
It does turn out that the football players full name is “Robert Yale Lary, Jr.”
Charean Williams of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram with some info on attempted Cowboys’ maneuvering on draft day:
The Cowboys had conversations with the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the NFL Draft to move up for Missouri defensive end Charles Harris, according to multiple sources.
Trade talks didn’t get as close as some in past years, one source said. Once the Ravens’ target, Marlon Humphrey, remained on the board at No. 16, Baltimore opted to select the Alabama cornerback rather than trade down.
The Dolphins selected Harris at No. 22.
The Cowboys entered the first round ready to stand pat and wait for one of the top defensive ends to fall to them. But the Cowboys did not try to hide how much they coveted Harris, believing he fit their defense and what coordinator Rod Marinelli wants to do.
That’s what promoted at least exploratory trade conversations. But as one source pointed out, the cost to move up in the first round is expensive, especially considering the Cowboys’ many defensive needs.
The Cowboys also had first-round interest in UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinely, but the Falcons jumped the Cowboys and picked him at No. 26. The Cowboys selected Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton at No. 28 and were satisfied with the choice.
Dallas ended up using seven of nine selections on defensive players, getting Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie in the second round and Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis in the third, among others.
Hopefully the reluctant selection of Charlton works out as well as the reluctant fourth round selection of QB DAK PRESCOTT last year.
The DB was just saying this the other day. Will Brinson at CBSSports.com:
As recently as three years ago, the NFC South was the laughingstock of the NFL, a sloppy division won by the Panthers with a 7-8-1 record. There were plenty of quality offenses, but no really good teams. That has changed quickly and the division might be ready to establish itself as the best in the NFL, with every single team improving this offseason.
Still sweating that 28-3 hangover out
The Atlanta Falcons won’t tell you that they’re worried about it, but they spent the whole offseason chasing the dragon that is their lost Super Bowl lead . Dan Quinn and his team said and did all the right things , which is great news. But it’s also exactly what the Carolina Panthers did the year before, after going 15-1 and then losing to the Broncos in Super Bowl 50. The Super Bowl hangover is a real thing and the Falcons appear to be doing their best to correct the issues they had in letting the Patriots come back.
Atlanta’s primary investments in free agency and the draft were all on the defensive front. Tyrone Crawford, Dontari Poe, Courtney Upshaw and Takkarist McKinley were the highest-profile purchases for Quinn and Co. this offseason, with that group designed to make the front seven for Atlanta better.
The Falcons’ defensive effort against the Patriots in the first half was incredible, but once the Patriots got them gassed, Tom Brady had his way. It’s clear that Quinn, Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli were determined to put bigger bodies on the defensive line and improve the pass rush.
What’s not clear is if the offense will hold up its end of the bargain. Everyone is so focused on the final game of the year and the defensive improvements that it is largely going unnoticed that Matt Ryan is about to shift coordinators and systems again. The 2016 season was one huge heat check for Kyle Shanahan. Steve Sarkasian is a talented offensive mind, but also an unknown at this level and with this team.
The offensive line is back together, the dynamic running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman shouldn’t be slowing down, Julio Jones is an elite mainstay and Ryan elevated his game to an MVP level. There shouldn’t be a mysterious dropoff, but everyone assumed the same about Carolina this time last year, too.
Building around the quarterback
Speaking of those Panthers, they made a concerted effort to improve the situation for their former MVP quarterback Cam Newton this offseason. Dave Gettleman usually drafts a defensive pack of hog mollies , but he was hell-bent on making life better for Newton since a disappointing five-win season ended with the Panthers having a top-10 draft pick.
Whether you like the terms of the contract or not, getting Matt Kalil to serve as the team’s left tackle was a strong investment during a bull market for offensive linemen. If Kalil, a former No. 3 overall pick, returns to the form he showed as a rookie, he will look like a steal. If not, he’s probably still an upgrade over the Panthers’ prior situation.
Carolina zigged in the draft too, picking up a pair of RB/WR hybrids in Christian McCaffrey out of Stanford and Curtis Samuel out of Ohio State. Samuel is listed as a wideout, but finished his three-year college career with more carries (172) than receptions (107). McCaffrey “only” had 99 receptions in college, but he’s a guy who makes a major impact in the passing game and in the return game.
Both guys are modern NFL players and the polar opposite of the previous weapons Gettleman got for Newton. Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess are power forwards. The new guys are point guards.
In theory this should work for the Panthers, because of how McCaffrey and Samuel should improve Newton’s completion rate by catching short-yardage throws and then offering up big-play potential without Newton always taking huge shots down the field. Properly utilized they’ll help minimize protection time requirements. The question is, will Mike Shula be creative enough? He hasn’t always been willing to put much more than a half scoop of regular in his decaf and if McCaffrey is running a bunch of third-down draws into the offensive line it’s going to be disappointing.
No one can say the Panthers aren’t trying to help Newton though.
Thought you guys wanted to get better on defense
All offseason the Saints were determined to improve their defense. Sean Payton repeatedly preached the importance of adding a pass rusher either in the draft or free agency. There was almost no doubt they would pull it off after trading Brandin Cooks, he of two straight 1,000-yard seasons, for the Patriots’ first-round pick. Picks 11 and 32 were enough to get the defensive pieces the Saints needed.
The good news: They came away with Marshon Lattimore , maybe the best corner in the draft, at No. 11. The bad news: They got snaked on Reuben Foster at 32 and ended up with an offensive lineman in Ryan Ramcyzk. The worst news: They wanted to draft Patrick Mahomes with the first pick but got snaked him on him too. No, wait. The worst news is they traded a future second-round pick in order to trade up and get Alvin Kamara.
Kamara is a dangerous running back. But do the Saints need running backs badly enough to give up a second-round pick? Lattimore will help immediately, but they wanted to take a quarterback instead. Ramcyzk is a big bonus now that Max Unger is injured. But what is the plan here? The Saints swore up and down they were going to improve their defense, then managed to accidentally do it once in the first round and picked up a talented safety in Marcus Williams in the second round.
I get they’re not supposed to be all in for 2017 and they have to plan things for the long haul, but the Drew Brees window is rapidly shrinking. If the Saints are going to trade away his best weapons they need to find some balance instead of just adding more offense to an already potent unit.
Loaded to the gills with weapons
And here is where I go full hypocrite and praise another team in this division for doubling down on offense. Actually, the Buccaneers didn’t double down — they tripled down. But the difference was Tampa is being sensible with the weapons added for Jameis Winston to make an offense operate at a high level — unlike the Saints, who don’t need more weapons to be high scoring.
In this case, the balance provided for the Bucs and Winston for the short and long haul was incredibly effective. DeSean Jackson should immediately make Winston a better downfield passer and open up things for Mike Evans. Throw in O.J. Howard, who is a dangerous pass catcher as well as a blocker , with Cameron Brate and the Bucs have a slew of weapons to help Winston really flourish in 2017.
Tampa could need some help at running back if Doug Martin, who is suspended the first three games of the season , isn’t ready to produce at a high level. But otherwise this offense could explode into a top-five unit.
Defensively, the Bucs are better than most people think. They finished 12th in DVOA last season and supplemented a group of talented players (Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Vernon Hargreaves, Kwon Alexander to name a few) by adding Chris Baker on the interior of the defensive line and J.J. Wilcox on the back end. It’s a solid group with some upside.
Tampa becoming a division winner this year doesn’t feel that far-fetched.
Kent Somers in the Arizona Republic on the decision by the Cardinals to part ways with LB DARRYL WASHINGTON, even as he is reinstated by the NFL from a long suspension.
After spending the past three years apart, the Cardinals and linebacker Daryl Washington weren’t going to reunite like lovers who had been separated by some silly misunderstanding.
But no one expected the relationship to end as suddenly as it did on Thursday morning, when the Cardinals announced via press release they had cut Washington. Included was a terse statement from the team.
“After meeting with Daryl Washington, we have collectively decided it is best to release Daryl and give him the opportunity to continue his career elsewhere.”
Later in the day, Washington released his own statement to profootballtalk.com:
“I want to thank the Cardinals organization, especially Mr. Bidwell (sic) and Steve Keim for drafting and believing in me, and their continued support. We’ve had some really positive and productive discussions this week, and at the end of the day we mutually agreed it was best for both sides to get a fresh start. I’m in the best shape of my life, and very much look forward to the next opportunity, where I will again play at an All-Pro level and help my team make a championship run.”
We’ll give Washington a pass on spelling team President Michael Bidwill’s name wrong, since copy editors are scarce everywhere these days.
Thursday’s news came as a surprise because the Cardinals indicated this week that a decision about Washington’s future was going to take time. On Wednesday, Bidwill told SiriusXM that it was going to take more than one “30-minute meeting” for the Cardinals to determine if it was worth accepting Washington back on the team.
“There is a lot that goes into it. There is a lot more process to go through than just having a meeting. I think everybody has to be comfortable to put him back on the field,” Bidwill said.
So what, if anything, sped up the process so much that the Cardinals released Washington the following day?
Neither side is talking, so it’s hard to say.
Maybe the Cardinals found out what they needed to know and decided to give Washington a road map and an apple now rather than later.
Maybe Washington declined to take a pay cut from the $2.9 million in salary he was due to make under his current contract and decided a fresh start was needed (as Washington told Mike Jurecki, formerly of Fox Sports 910).
Whatever the reason, the relationship between the Cardinals and Washington ended seven years after the team drafted Washington in the second round out of Texas Christian University.
Both sides will probably be better off.
Washington is now free to sign anywhere he wants, and he might find a more favorable situation than offered by the Cardinals, who signed a linebacker in free agency (Karlos Dansby) and drafted another in the first round (Haason Reddick).
The Cardinals no longer will have to wonder if Washington can be counted upon. Over the years, Washington failed multiple drug tests, which led to a four-game suspension in 2013 and an indefinite one in 2014. That last one lasted three years, partly because of a domestic violence incident in 2013.
In seven seasons on the Cardinals roster Washington played in 59 games. He was suspended for 52.
The Cardinals kept Washington on the reserved/suspended list for three years, in part so they could recover bonus money paid to him. Sources said Washington paid back the money as required.
Washington, 30, was conditionally reinstated to the NFL on April 25, two days before the draft. It took more than a week for Washington and team officials to meet because of a death in Washington’s family, according to sources.
Last Monday, the Cardinals hierarchy – Bidwill, General Manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians — talked with Washington face-to-face for the first time in three years. Afterward, the Cardinals said more meetings would follow, and it seemed Washington’s status wouldn’t be resolved until next week at the earliest.
Thursday came and Washington was gone.
His release frees $3 million of cap space for the Cardinals. Washington will count $1.875 million on the 2017 cap, according to overthecap.com. That’s the leftover amount from an extension he signed in 2012.
But Washington’s release was not about cap space. It was about trust. That is a difficult thing to repair, and it appears Bidwill and Washington were both ready to move on.
We might not ever know the details of their meetings this week, but this much is known: Washington could have been one of the better defensive players in franchise history. He was that good. He was a new breed of inside linebacker, small (230 or so pounds) but incredibly fast and equally adept at rushing the passer and dropping into coverage.
Those skills are why the Cardinals signed him to an extension in 2012. The possibility Washington still possesses those skills is why another team is likely to sign him in the coming months.
Washington and the Cardinals likely will part with at least one shared question: How good could Daryl Washington have been?
WR JOSH GORDON is apparently still addicted to marijuana as the NFL refuses to let him back in the league until at least the fall. Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer takes a look at the whole situation and where the Browns stand without him:
Once again, Josh Gordon was denied a chance to return to the National Football League.
We actually don’t know what test Gordon failed, or if there was another reason for the league keeping the door slammed shut on his return.
He can try again in the fall to be admitted. But the fact is Gordon hasn’t played in the regular season since Game 15 of 2014.
A quick history lesson:
1. He was suspended by the NFL for the first 10 games of 2014. He returned out of shape and didn’t know the playbook. He appeared distracted and disinterested in five games.
2. He missed a team meeting before Game 16 of 2014. He then was suspended by the team.
3. He sat out all of 2015 with an NFL suspension.
4. He was in training camp with the Browns in 2016 and on course to return. A trouble sign was when he insisted he’d keep hanging out with his friend, Johnny Manziel. The former Browns quarterback was out of the league, dealing with his own substance issues.
5. Right before the 2016 opener, Gordon checked into a rehabilitation center. He didn’t play any regular season games in 2016.
6. He has been through three agents. His most recent was Jody Branion, who reportedly dropped Gordon a few weeks ago. Former agent Drew Rosenhaus also was unable to help Gordon. His first agent was Jeff Nalley.
7. The Browns have Gordon on the suspended list. My guess is they will keep him there, just in case he becomes eligible. Then, I bet they trade him — even if it’s just for a low-round pick.
WHO IS GONE
The Browns are the land of opportunity for receivers. Terrelle Pryor is gone, having signed with Washington for a contract with a $6 million base. Tight end Gary Barnidge was released.
Pryor (77 catches) and Barnidge (55 catches) were the team’s two leading receivers. Also released is veteran Andrew Hawkins (33 catches).
The Browns keep putting the premium on young players.
HOW IT LOOKS NOW
1. Kenny Britt took the four-year, $32 million ($19 million guaranteed) deal that was originally offered to Pryor. He caught 68 passes — 5 TDs — for the Rams last year. Most NFL people I’ve talked to consider him a No. 2 receiver, but he’s No. 1 with the Browns.
2. Corey Coleman was the team’s top pick in the 2016 draft. He had injuries, including a hamstring problem in training camp and a broken hand in a practice after two regular season games. He caught only 33 passes. The Browns are putting him in position to have a breakout season.
3. David Njoku was a first-round pick this season. He is a tight end, but the Browns believe he can be a major weapon as a receiver. In the modern NFL, tight ends can be impact players. They also like tight end Seth DeValve catching passes. He was a fourth-round pick in 2016.
4. The coaches love the physical ability of Ricardo Louis. A fourth-round pick in 2016, the 6-foot-2 receiver was an asset on special teams. He looked very raw as a receiver, catching only 18 passes in 2016.
5. I liked Rashard Higgins as a possession receiver, but the fifth-rounder in 2016 had only six catches last season.
6. Jordan Payton was also a fifth-round pick last season. He flunked a drug test and was suspended for four games. He caught one pass. He has a lot to prove in training camp.
7. The opportunity is there for any of Louis, Payton and Higgins to emerge. The Browns were impressed by Rannell Hall last season, but he tore his ACL late in training camp. He is back and could be a factor if healthy.
8. I wish the Browns had added another receiver in this draft — they drafted none. Or maybe, sign one as a free agent. Other than Britt, none have done much in the NFL. The Browns want to see if they can develop some receivers from all the young players.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com on his lack of an agent:
The sad story of receiver Josh Gordon continues.
Complicating his effort to continue his career is the reality, as PFT has confirmed, that Gordon currently has no agent. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, agent Joby Branion terminated his relationship with Gordon a couple of weeks ago.
Branion quietly emerged as Gordon’s agent several months ago, working with Gordon absent much fanfare or attention as Gordon dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s necessary to get himself reinstated.
The fact that Branion, not Gordon, ending the relationship invites speculation that Gordon did something that alienated Branion, or that Gordon failed to comply with the promises or commitments he had made to secure Branion’s assistance.
Setting aside the reality that the NFL’s ongoing insistence on policing the private lives of players robs the game and the fans of talented individuals, Gordon failed to comply with the rules that remain on the books, and he continues to pay the consequences. With each passing rejection by the Commissioner of Gordon’s attempt to return to the NFL, it seems less likely that he’ll ever be back on the field for the Browns or anyone else.
THIS AND THAT
Is COLIN KAEPERNICK being blackballed?
Well, we do know that three teams have reached out to his advisor Harry Edwards. Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com:
Although no team has offered quarterback Colin Kaepernick a contract or even engaged in substantive negotiations with him, Kaepernick has drawn some interest, according to one of his advisors.
Harry Edwards, a well-known sociologist with long-time links to pro football, tells Jarrett Bell of USA Today that three teams have asked Edwards about Kaepernick since he became a free agent on March 9.
“They’ve asked, ‘Can he play? Does he want to play?’” Edwards told Bell. “The last question I can’t answer. The first question, absolutely. If Kaep makes up his mind, he wouldn’t only go in and make a team, he’d put pressure on somebody to start.”
That response hasn’t sparked the formal pursuit of Kaepernick by any of the three teams, none of whom Edwards named. Meanwhile, Edward believes that Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest from 2016 has become a factor in his ongoing unemployment, even though the reasons leaked by unnamed sources to various media members focus on more innocuous factors.
“I don’t think there’s any question that there are some owners who wouldn’t have him in the league, much less on their team,” Edwards said. “But I fully expect one [team to sign him], because it’s in the best interest of the league to have him on a team.”
This suggests that, eventually, the league office could get involved with this one, twisting arms and/or trading favors to get someone to give him a job — like the league office reportedly did three years ago with Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to attempt to play in the NFL.
Still, if Kaepernick eventually will be on a team, it makes sense both for him and his employer for that to happen during offseason workouts, so that he’ll have the best chance to learn the offense, the coaches, and the personnel. If he’s thrust into an unfamiliar environment at the outset of training camp, it will become much harder for him to make a 53-man roster.
Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News writes about another factor that hurts veteran quarterbacks seeking new deals:
Tony Romo is with CBS, Jay Cutler has a gig at Fox and Colin Kaepernick has moved to New York while still searching for employment. At this time a year ago, all three were No. 1 on the depth chart of NFC teams. They may have little more in common than that they throw footballs right-handed, but there may be one other element that has led to their lifestyle changes.
The rookie wage scale.
There are any number of ways that players associations can negotiate bad deals with sports owners, and the NFLPA has pretty much demonstrated all of them through the years. But nothing that seems quite as well-intentioned and harmless may do as much damage as putting a lid on rookie salaries.
The premise seems reasonable, from a veteran’s viewpoint. Limit what these kids are getting coming into the league and there is more for me. Sounds great. But it doesn’t work that way.
Running backs have felt the pain for some time. How many teams even want to talk to backs after their initial contract? DeMarco Murray broke Emmitt Smith’s team record in the final year of his rookie deal, and the Cowboys essentially said: “We can go find another.”
You saw how long it took for Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles to land short-term deals this offseason as players near the end of their careers. Well, it’s happening for quarterbacks, too, which brings us back to Romo, Cutler and Kaepernick.
As I indicated, each case is its own. Romo is 37, has barely played in two years and had a punitive contract. That last part was negotiable, though, and still no one really rang the Cowboys’ phone in search of a deal, eventually leading the quarterback to move to the CBS booth alongside Jim Nantz.
Romo’s last full season (2014) was his best in terms of passer rating. The same was true of Cutler in 2015 before he missed most of last year. Cutler is three years younger. He can match Romo in arm strength but little else. There are attitude questions. The Bears let him drift away. No one latched on. Cutler landed at Fox.
The primary quarterback moves of this offseason were Mike Glennon to Chicago and Josh McCown to the Jets. Glennon got $18 million guaranteed for a move that now looks like a one-year hold-the-fort plan for rookie Mitch Trubisky. It’s the Bears, so there’s no rational way to explain it, but, in quarterback terms, this was not a lot of money. It’s just a lot for Mike Glennon.
McCown got $6 million — or less than safety Barry Church received from Jacksonville — to go to New York. McCown’s deal also sounds like a one-year rental, although it’s hard to say who’s on deck for the Jets.
Blaine Gabbert, who competed with Kaepernick for time in San Francisco, signed with Arizona and caused some degree of outrage from Kaepernick supporters. But Gabbert signed for the league minimum to compete with Drew Stanton for a backup role. Anyone really think that’s the job and the salary Kaepernick is seeking?
Still, it’s clear that paying for veterans of any kind in free agency has lost mass appeal. It’s now mostly the work of desperate teams, hoping to be crowned in March. There are exceptions, but more teams are stuffing their rosters with players tied to those rookie contracts while sprinkling a few star players with big salaries around them.
That’s one reason Kaepernick remains on the market. He’s eight years younger than Romo and has been to two more NFC Championship Games than Romo. But his game disappeared when Jim Harbaugh left for Michigan, and last year’s solid passer rating on a bad team paints an enhanced picture of a quarterback in decline. His seven fumbles do not count against that rating.
There has been much discussion of a league-wide blackballing of Kaepernick, but that suggests a level of collusion that isn’t necessary. Unless he was willing to play for less than McCown — and no one really knows that — there’s no reason to think he should have landed one of these jobs. A quarterback who once excelled in a particular style but has since declined isn’t likely to attract many offers. If a marginal starter also comes with what owners see as baggage off the field — no matter how noble some might view Kaepernick’s convictions — then those conversations with general managers are going to last about five minutes.
Whether you think that’s fair may depend upon where you live. If an owner thinks a particular player is going to alienate a significant number of fans and season-ticket holders, then that player had better seem like he’s bringing an automatic increase in win total to compensate. No one would see Kaepernick in that light.
But in other ways, he’s simply paying the same price that Romo and Cutler did this spring. Being a quarterback with a nice track record or a Pro Bowl trip or two on his résumé isn’t what it used to be.
We don’t disagree with anything Cowlishaw wrote, but we’re not sure how “the rookie wage scale” relates to the non-signing of Romo, Cutler and Kaep.
As to Kaep – there clearly is no formal “black ball” and the suits in the NFL office would surely love him to sign somewhere to placate liberal elements in the media if nothing else.
But among each NFL team, there isn’t a QB situation that leaves a team anxious to sign Kaep based on a combination of his performance last year, his notoriety and his expectation of a fairly significant salary and bonus. His perceived intangibles or lack thereof make it easier for a team to talk itself out of signing him, rather than talk itself into going after him.
Only two quarterbacks from Wyoming have ever been drafted. That will change this year or next. Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report wants you to know about JOSH ALLEN now:
It is four weeks before the NFL draft, and Josh Allen doesn’t seem the least bit concerned. Not by the freezing rain or unrelenting winds that plague the University of Wyoming’s spring football practice. Nor by the likelihood that he passed up millions of dollars to return to this.
Wearing a blue non-contact jersey and brown leggings, Allen, Wyoming’s starting quarterback, launches footballs around War Memorial Stadium. On one play, he breaks free of the pocket and glides to his right, connecting on a perfect throw to his wideout on the sideline. Minutes later, he throws the ball 45 yards on a line, cutting through the elements with ease.
Nestled between two mountain ranges, both of which are encased in clouds, the city of Laramie is insulated from the outside world. This is a place of both natural beauty and lingering Old West charm. It is not typically the home of a football talent this grand—a quarterback capable of throwing the ball 85 yards and running the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds.
At 6’5” and 235 pounds, Allen has grown into the NFL prototype and a wildly intriguing prospect. Although franchise quarterbacks do not typically surface in places like this, the then-redshirt sophomore’s life began to change last fall on this very turf.
It was then that an NFL general manager took in a Wyoming practice with no intention of scouting the team’s quarterback. A few hours later, he approached head coach Craig Bohl with a question about his starting QB: “Who the hell is that guy?”
Not long after, another general manager had a similar Laramie revelation during a visit. “I don’t know anything about him, but I can tell you that with his physical stature, arm strength and accuracy, he’s an NFL camp guy right now,” he told Bohl after practice.
Word spread over the next few months to the point that Allen had a decision to make: return to Wyoming—one of the few programs that wanted him in the first place—or declare for the NFL after only starting one season at the Division I level.
That decision brought him here: to the cold and the rain and the reality of another year in Laramie.
“The NFL will be there,” Allen says a day later. “I don’t want to be the guy that gets drafted in the first round, plays four years and then is out of the league. I want to be a guy that plays 15 years with the same organization and be one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.’’
One can’t help but share the curiosity that NFL GMs had on their visits. Not just why Allen said no to the NFL, but how he arrived here. And perhaps more importantly—the question that will be asked endlessly by general managers and coaches over the next 12 months—just how special can he be?
The cashier at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit across the street from War Memorial Stadium cannot help himself. The moment Allen enters, he doesn’t take his eyes off him.
He knows his order by now: four chicken sliders, a salad and a side of waffle fries. When Allen orders only one sandwich because of a workout in 45 minutes, the man looks concerned. Allen says hello before retreating to a table in the back of the restaurant.
“Being the quarterback of a small school,” Allen says as he sits, “your name kind of gets around.”
Over the past four months, he has been thanked countless times for returning to the program. His white Dodge Ram with 35-inch tires is now known around town.
As his profile grows, those inside Wyoming’s football program feel like his body will continue to grow with it. There are already discussions about whether he’ll be listed at 6’6” by the start of next season. Seated now, Allen towers over the table. His shoulders fill out his gray sweatshirt.
He wears a brown Wyoming baseball cap and short brown stubble. While his body has changed significantly over the past three years, Allen hasn’t lost his baby face. He didn’t shave until he arrived in Laramie, which his coaches and teammates remind him of as often as possible. He wears his scattered facial hair proudly.
When he speaks of his roots—growing up on a farm in Firebaugh, California—his voice beams with pride. “It’s different,” he says. “But I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
When he speaks of his future in the NFL, he revisits a conversation he shared with his roommates before last season, telling them he would be a first-round pick in 2017 despite having only 15 Division I snaps under his belt.
He manages to sound both confident and endearing at the same time. As he traces his path to Wyoming rather than to a football-obsessed town in the Southeast or the bright lights of the West Coast, his tone shifts. The attitude that has driven him all these years and will carry him forward suddenly appears.
“The only team I have respect for is Eastern Michigan,” Allen says of the only FBS program besides Wyoming to offer him a scholarship. As for the rest, he says: “You didn’t find me, and you didn’t offer me. I don’t like your team. I don’t like your program.”
Josh’s father, Joel Allen, is quick to note that Firebaugh, California, has two stoplights. On the outskirts of a town that is 45 minutes from Fresno is a small ranch where he and his wife, LaVonne Allen, have raised their family. A basketball hoop and batting cage are in their backyard. The nearest neighbor is miles away.
Until recently, Joel and LaVonne also owned and managed a family restaurant, The Farmer’s Daughter. Earlier this year, they sold the business in large part because they wanted to free up time to attend their sons’ sporting events.
Joel is a row-crop farmer by trade, something he passed on to his sons Jason and Josh. In the summers under the blistering California sun, Josh and Jason spent time in the fields. They would move pipes to water the crops, weed cotton and drive a tractor when they weren’t playing sports.
Long before he could touch 90 miles per hour on the radar gun, which he did in high school, Josh wanted to be a major league pitcher. He also loved basketball and excelled at it. Then he found football, and he knew it would ultimately win out.
Bill Magnusson, the former head football coach at Firebaugh High School, first learned of Josh when he was only six years old. Having spent more than three decades in Firebaugh, Magnusson knew Josh’s father and grandfather, Buzz Allen, who helped build the original high school. The gymnasium, Buzz Allen Gym, is named in his honor, and he knew any son of the Allens was worth a long look.
When Magnusson finally was able to coach Josh in high school, he was 6’2” and 180 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 5.5 seconds. His baseball coaches nicknamed him “Tortuga”—tortoise in Spanish.
Although he lacked size and speed, he did not lack ability. Coaches would come see him in person, although it didn’t progress any further. Others didn’t bother visiting a town not known for producing Division I athletes.
“I would send them film, and I wouldn’t hear back,” Magnusson says. “He was doing some really incredible things, and I didn’t get any responses.”
Allen threw for more than 3,000 yards his senior season and accounted for 37 touchdowns. His dream was always to play for Fresno State, his favorite team growing up. His father was a season ticket holder there for many years. Josh even retrieved the kicking tee at a few games as a child.
Although Josh and the family took an unofficial visit to the campus during the recruiting process, Fresno State never offered. Many NAIA schools did. So did Division III programs. So did the junior college programs selling visions of more significant offers down the line.
“I didn’t want to walk on to a Division I program,” Allen says. “I felt like I was scholarship-worthy and didn’t want to put my parents through that financial burden, even though they were in a place where I could have walked on anywhere. I was doing this for them.”
While bigger programs didn’t venture out to Firebaugh, Ernie Rodriguez did. Rodriguez, the offensive coordinator at Reedley College at the time, made Allen his project.
“He’s putting up these big numbers and nobody’s really paying attention to it,” Rodriguez says. “I didn’t know why these guys were passing on him.”
With few other options, Allen committed to Reedley. It was during his freshman year at the junior college that Wyoming assistant coach David Brown refamiliarized himself with the quarterback.
After spending time on Fresno State’s staff, Brown remembered Allen in high school despite the school passing on him. Things were different now.
When Brown got a tip about a 6’5”, 225-pound junior college quarterback in the midst of a growth spurt, he couldn’t believe it was the same player. After not starting early on, Allen accounted for 35 touchdowns in Reedley’s final seven games.
“Usually with a big-time guy, especially a quarterback, you watch five plays and you know what you have,” Brown says. “Because of his ability, he could play at Alabama. But no one saw that. Somehow his talent just sort of slipped through the cracks. Guys like this don’t usually end up at Wyoming. It’s not normal.”
Louisville, Indiana and Memphis showed interest in Allen, but it never progressed any further. Eastern Michigan offered him a scholarship. Although Wyoming didn’t plan to add a JUCO quarterback, a decommitment late in the recruiting process created an opening.
Wyoming offensive coordinator Brent Vigen began digging on Allen. He spent time in his hometown and in his high school. He went to see his junior college, hoping to collect as much information as possible.
“You try to look back,” Vigen says. “Did I see something? I think what I saw was a combination of where he came from and his backstory. This wasn’t a 365-day-a-year-quarterback like so many of those kids have to be in California. This was a three-sport kid.”
Once again, all major programs passed. With a chance to work with the braintrust that helped mold Carson Wentz at North Dakota State—now one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the NFL—Allen settled on Wyoming.
Before he did, he reached out to Fresno State, giving his dream school one last chance to recruit him. It declined.
Truth be told, Craig Bohl is not yet certain what he has. From the sofa inside his Laramie office, the head coach of Wyoming is looking for the appropriate words to describe his quarterback’s potential.
He has seen offensive brilliance before—back when he coached the Nebraska defense in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “I’m an old defensive guy,” he says. “You got a dude who’s 6’5”, 235 pounds and can also run a 4.6 rolling down on ya? His arm strength is on par with Peyton Manning. I coached against Peyton.”
He doesn’t take it further beyond the physical measurements, though. Instead, he merely leans back and smiles.
The comparisons to Wentz are too convenient not to make. While most coaches hope to have a quarterback with such abilities once in a lifetime, Bohl and Vigen are going on their second in five years.
“They’re about the same size, they’re about the same speed and they have similar arm strength,” Bohl says of the comparison between Allen and Wentz. “These were underdeveloped guys in high school who really had the competitive spirit.”
Allen’s Wyoming debut season in 2015 was cut short because of injury. His collision with a defender 15 snaps into his Division I career broke his clavicle in seven places. His season ended with surgery days later.
Before the injury, those around Allen saw glimpses of his athleticism. Former Wyoming running back Brian Hill’s peek came on the basketball court when Hill attempted a dunk.
Allen leapt off the floor and rejected it. “That’s when I knew,” Hill says.
Former Wyoming wideout Tanner Gentry, one of Allen’s best friends and top receiving targets from a year ago, recalls his first impression. “He had a baby face and long hair,” Gentry says. “You could just tell he came from a small town, and he didn’t give off the impression of being an elite athlete. Then he threw the ball.”
With his shoulder healed and even stronger than before the injury, Allen showcased incredible gifts and inexperience last fall. His final stat line told the story: 36 touchdowns (including one receiving touchdown), 3,203 yards passing, 523 rushing yards and 15 interceptions.
“His decision-making is an area where we have to make strides,” Bohl says. “His completion percentage [56 percent] needs to improve. The unforced errors have to get better. Last year was the first year he really started, and we’d like to think we can do more with his physical skills and mental growth.”
His performance against Nebraska last fall was a prime example. In one moment, Allen rolled to his right and connected on a 35-yard bullet to his wideout in the back of the end zone that traveled over the secondary. In that same game, a 52-17 Wyoming loss, he turned the ball over six times.
Because Allen has similar mobility, Vigen has spent time this offseason watching film of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the way he works with receivers on broken plays. Improvisation will always be a critical part of Allen’s game. The goal now is to find a balance between the astonishing throws—the ones NFL scouts will show their bosses—and more routine ones.
“He made a lot of amazing throws last year,” Vigen says. “But we want him to make all the easy throws, too. That didn’t always happen, and we’re trying to clean that up.”
At a table in Wool Growers Restaurant in Los Banos, California, Joel Allen lifted his glass. The next morning, his son planned to declare for the NFL.
On hand were Josh’s mother, apprehensive on the inside but all smiles on the outside, his grandparents, a few close family friends and Josh’s girlfriend, Brittany. And there in the center of it all was Josh.
“To Josh’s future,” Joel said to the table. “No matter what he does and where he goes, we’re going to support him 100 percent.”
Allen planned to tell his coaches he was forgoing his final two years of college eligibility the following morning. Earlier that night, he called a few of his soon-to-be former wide receivers and told them he was leaving.
The next step was to leave for San Diego and train for the draft. All arrangements were made. His bags were packed. He was ready to go.
That night, however, Allen couldn’t sleep. The relief he expected to feel after making up his mind never came. The following morning, Vigen called to see where his quarterback stood. Allen declined to answer, suddenly uneasy.
It had been nearly three weeks since Wyoming’s season ended with a loss to BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl—pushing him closer to the January deadline for the NFL draft. Josh’s mother, LaVonne, cried that entire stretch. “It just didn’t feel right,” she says.
The temptation to declare was understandable. After being overlooked for so long, Allen was the talk of the NFL. “People were promising this and that, telling us he could go No. 1 overall in the draft,” Joel Allen says. “Everyone painted a very pretty picture.”
The hesitation for Josh Allen came from two separate conversations. One was a phone call from Wentz, who didn’t try to sway him. He merely painted a picture of the reality of playing football for a living: the burden that comes from leading a team of husbands and fathers rather than college kids.
Another was a phone call from QB coach and guru George Whitfield, whom Allen had never met at the time. Whitfield asked Allen a question: If he had to, could he go four quarters against the Pittsburgh Steelers defense right now?
Unlike quarterbacks Whitfield had queried in the past, Allen said “no” without hesitation, an answer his future quarterback coach respected.
“His talent is mythical,” says Whitfield, whose past clients include Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel. “He’s Cam’s frame, but he can stop, start and has the antenna of a Manziel. It’s not a referendum on talent. It’s flight hours. He’s a young, talented pilot. He just needs more hours in the plane.”
With new perspective, Allen altered course. He unpacked his bags and canceled his San Diego accommodations. He called his college coaches and told them he was coming back for his junior season.
The moment the Chicago Bears select North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the second pick in the 2017 NFL draft, Allen’s gray iPhone begins to buzz nonstop in his four-bedroom apartment.
For the next few hours, he answers texts and calls and eats pizza from his couch. Instead of wearing a suit, he has on Wyoming shorts.
Those inside his inner circle can’t help themselves. They wonder what he’s thinking as Trubisky strolls across the stage and greets Roger Goodell.
After Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes is selected 10th overall and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson goes 12th, they can contain themselves no longer.
“That could’ve been you,” they tell him.
For a moment, the uneasiness returns. Allen allows himself to wonder what might have been had he never unpacked his bags. “I wasn’t mad at myself, but I had to remind myself why I made this decision,” Allen says. “The plan is not just to get drafted.”
The following week, Allen spends time working with Whitfield in Laramie. As another class of quarterbacks signs endorsement deals and buys luxury cars, Allen goes back to work with his QB coach in a town he has fallen in love with, out of the sight of the outside world a while longer.
“Every quarterback in this draft should exhale,” Whitfield says. “I think he would have been the first quarterback taken. If you lined him up with the rest of the QBs in this past class, I don’t think any one of those guys comes in with the skill set or nuclear element that he comes in with.”
Over the next 12 months, NFL general managers and scouts will size him up. They will process the tools and another year of film and how his abilities project. They will flock to Laramie, Wyoming, of all places, to watch perhaps the best football player in the country.
In time, Allen will once again be asked to make a decision about his future. But before then he has a season to play and a Mountain West Conference championship to win.
And in November, in what could be one of his final collegiate games, he will likely get his one and only crack at Fresno State, one of the many programs that didn’t see this coming.