The Daily Briefing Friday, May 5, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Brian Xanders, a longtime NFL operative who was a Martin Mayhew hire, is moving on.  Nate Atkins at MLive.com:

 

The NFL Draft is less than a week gone, and the Detroit Lions are experiencing a front-office change.

 

Senior personnel executive Brian Xanders has left the organization, Inside the League’s Neil Stratton reported Thursday on Twitter.

 

Xanders spent the past four years with the Lions, handling duties such as college scouting, pro personnel, advance scouting, coaching research/analytics and football information systems development, according to the team website. He came to the Lions in 2013 after a four-year stint as the Denver Broncos general manager.

 

He was a hire of former general manager Martin Mayhew’s with the intent to pull the team’s scouting department more into the present. Detroit had been outsourcing much of its scouting systems, and Xanders introduced an internal method of tracking its college and pro scouting data.

 

Mayhew was replaced by Bob Quinn after the 2015 season, and Xanders continued to work for the team through the next two drafts. But the days after the big event have been a time for teams around the league to undergo staffing changes in the scouting department. This is Detroit’s first reported departure so far.

 

 

MINNESOTA

Rick Spielman, GM of the Vikings, says the decision not to pick up the fifth-year option of QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER was all about his health, not about the player.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman officially declared this week that the team will not pick up the fifth-year option on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s rookie contract, and he says that decision was all about the knee injury Bridgewater suffered in practice last summer.

 

Spielman said on PFT Live that Bridgewater may still have a future in Minnesota, but for now the team just can’t count on him being healthy enough to play.

 

“It doesn’t mean Teddy wouldn’t be a Minnesota Viking, it just means, where his health is at this point, we wouldn’t pick up his option,” Spielman said.

 

Spielman noted that the Vikings picked up 2013 first-round pick Sharrif Floyd’s fifth-year option and are now on the hook for his $6.757 million salary this season even though he suffered a knee injury that could be career ending. The Vikings had some bad luck with first-round picks in both 2013 and 2014 suffering very serious knee injuries while still on their rookie contracts, and they think picking up Bridgewater’s option would risk making a bad situation even worse.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

The Panthers go right to work, signing RB CHRISTIAN McCAFFERY and two other draft choices.

– – –

T MICHAEL OHER has legal issues in Nashville.  David Newton of ESPN.com:

 

Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Michael Oher has been cited for allegedly assaulting an Uber driver in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

The incident was reported April 14, and Oher has been ordered to appear in court on May 8 for the misdemeanor assault charge.

 

Oher, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, is best known as the subject of the 2009 Hollywood movie “The Blind Side.”

 

“We are aware an incident occurred involving Michael,” team spokesman Steven Drummond said. “We have no further comment at this time.”

 

According to the incident report acquired by ESPN.com, the Uber driver told Nashville Metro police that he picked up Oher and four other friends to go to a restaurant. The driver told police that Oher suggested the driver did not know where he was going and an argument broke out.

 

The argument continued at the destination of the ride as Oher and the driver got out of the car. The report said “the victim then put his hands towards the suspect’s face and the suspect pushed him down onto the ground.”

 

The report said the driver also claimed “that the suspect then kicked him in the leg while he was on the ground.”

 

The other passengers then got out of the car and restrained Oher, according to the report.

 

Oher missed the final 13 games of the 2016 season with a concussion. He remains in the concussion protocol, but team officials are hopeful he will be ready for the 2017 season.

 

Oher was the starting left tackle at the time of the concussion, but he is expected to move to the right side with the signing of free agent Matt Kalil.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Usually, when a player has a 1 o’clock accident, you think late night, alcohol, irresponsibility.

 

But Buccaneers RB DOUG MARTIN was minding his own business in Tampa at 1 o’clock in the afternoon when a fool ran a stop sign.  Greg Auman in the Tampa Bay Times:

 

Bucs running back Doug Martin was involved in a car accident on Thursday afternoon but suffered only “minor cuts and bruises,” needing four stitches for a cut on his chin.

 

Martin, participating in offseason conditioning at One Buc Place, was about three miles south of the team’s facility at 1:15 p.m. Thursday when another driver ran a stop sign and collided with Martin’s black BMW in an intersection, according to Tampa Police.

 

The car that hit Martin’s BMW then went off the road and hit an air conditioning unit outside of a local business, according to police. The driver, Jake Balsay, was cited for committing a stop sign violation. (TPD initially reported that Martin’s car hit the air conditioning unit, but later corrected its report.)

– – –

Martin was in good enough spirits to take to Twitter as well, telling fans that he was “perfectly healthy” but that his car was “not so much.”

 

Fans of the Buccaneers are holding their breath that Martin can stay clean and healthy after a suspension in 2016.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Are the 49ers backtracking on the health of LB REUBEN FOSTER?  Eric Branch in the San Francisco Chronicle:

 

Head coach Kyle Shanahan expressed confidence that Reuben Foster’s injured shoulder isn’t a long-term issue, but the 49ers’ head coach didn’t rule out a “worst-case scenario” in which the inside linebacker would need a follow-up procedure that could prevent him from playing in 2017.

Last week, the 49ers traded up three spots to draft Foster with the No. 31 pick. Since the selection, USA Today and ESPN have reported that Foster will need a second surgery, citing league sources. His medical file explains why Foster, viewed as a top-10 talent, nearly fell out of the first round. Shanahan said the 49ers’ medical staff “felt good” about Foster’s shoulder.

 

“The worst-case scenario is the shoulder doesn’t heal correctly and you’ve got to do it again,” Shanahan said on KNBR. “When you have to do it again, you have to get another surgery and it would be tough to play this year, and you end up having him the next year.

 

“But it’s not something that would hurt him long-term. So the worst-case scenario, he wouldn’t end up being able to play for us right away. But I still don’t think that would have changed how I personally felt about taking a guy with the 31st pick with the caliber of player that we took.”

Shanahan noted that Washington wide receiver John Ross had an extensive injury history that suggested he could slip out of the first round. However, the Bengals selected Ross with the No. 9 pick.

 

“Our doctors do a great job,” Shanahan said. “They looked into everything with Reuben and met with him. Our doctors felt good about his shoulder. They thought it was recovering well. They didn’t have the same report a lot of other teams did.

 

“You never know who is going to end up being right. Everyone is trying to do their best to figure it out. But no one can tell the future. I just look at it as — you go with what your doctors say. And then you always think about, ‘OK, what about the worse-case scenario?’”

 

The 49ers have cut RB MIKE DAVIS, a 4th round pick in 2015.

 

 

SEATTLE

After stoking the rumors that CB RICHARD SHERMAN could be had in a trade, the Seahawks are now trying to stomp out the fire.  Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com:

 

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said Thursday that his relationship with Richard Sherman is “as good as it’s ever been” and there’s no longer serious thought to trading the cornerback this offseason.

 

“Everybody on our team is available to somebody that wants to come get them if they want to trade for them,” Carroll said on the “Brock and Salk” show on 710 ESPN Seattle.

 

“We don’t want to trade guys. We want to keep our guys. But we have to in an effort to always work to be better and help our team. We’ve got to listen and all that. So we went through that process. There was very open conversation about that. There was no animosity at all.”

 

Carroll and general manager John Schneider spoke openly throughout the offseason about the team’s willingness to listen to offers for Sherman.

 

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Sherman was the one who initiated trade talks after last season.

 

Richard Sherman wants to “recapture the intensity that he’s always brought,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says. Sherman’s 30 interceptions over the past six seasons are 10 more than any other NFL cornerback during that span. Ric Tapia via AP

Carroll was asked if the trade discussions are now over.

 

“Yes. In one respect, it would be because it went after draft time,” Carroll said. “But people can always call you, and there were some people, there were some conversations. I don’t think they’re going to change. I don’t think anybody’s going to offer us anything that would make it worthwhile, because there’s no draft involved and all that kind of stuff. But that’s always out there. There’s always opportunities to trade.

 

“But the likelihood is like zero percent, it seems like. Teams don’t want to give up stuff. They don’t want to trade at times like this, and it’s really hard to navigate through a trade with experienced players during draft time. It just doesn’t happen very often.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Mark Kiszla in the Denver Post on how Chiefs-Broncos could use some spice.  And how the signing of JAMAAL CHARLES could change that.

 

John Elway’s $1 million gamble to find out if running back Jamaal Charles has anything left in the tank will be worth every penny if he accomplishes just one thing. We don’t ask for 1,000 yards rushing. All we need from Charles is to pump a little life into the NFL’s lamest rivalry.

 

“I always wanted to play for Denver,” said Charles, after joining the Broncos as a street free agent. “Growing up, John Elway was one of my favorite players.”

 

Oh, burn. Now we’re talking.

 

Broncos vs. Chiefs. The two franchises have met 114 times since 1960. But Denver hates the Raiders. The rivalry with the Chiefs is so chill I sometimes wonder if it’s dead, or merely went up in the happy smoke of brisket on the grill or weed in a joint.

 

Within the 600 miles that separate the two stadiums called home by the Broncos and Chiefs, maybe the only person capable of bringing a healthy hatred to this rivalry is Charles.

 

He’s living proof the NFL is an awesome sport but a dirty rotten business. During the course of nine seasons, the Chiefs ran Charles until his wheels fell off, cut his salary and threw him on the scrap heap.

 

Thanks for everything, Jamaal. Now get lost.

 

“They say it’s a business,” Charles said. “But it’s personal as well.”

 

And isn’t it about time somebody took Broncos vs. Chiefs personally?

 

I have a theory about what’s wrong with this rivalry. People in Denver and Kansas City are just way too nice, darn it. And I speak from personal experience.

 

The year was 2013. The Chiefs started the season with nine consecutive victories. I wrote they were frauds, masquerading as Super Bowl contenders. Denver beat them 27-17 in November and traveled to K.C. two weeks later, with the Chiefs suddenly reeling from a two-game losing streak. Before kickoff, I walked through the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium, a respectful two steps behind Woody Paige, who is greeted warmly everywhere he travels in America like the Clown Prince of ESPN.

 

“Woody! Stop and have a beer with us. We love you!” shouted a Chiefs fan, rising from his chair at a tailgate party, before adding something else on his mind. “When you see that Kiszla dude, tell him I want to punch him!”

 

With perfect comedic timing, Paige turned on his heels, waved an arm in my direction and replied: “Why don’t you punch him yourself? He’s standing right here.”

 

Instead of getting smacked, I was offered a drink. But not until a Chiefs fan full of false bravado got an earful from his wife, embarrassed by rude behavior in the polite company of two strangers from Denver.

 

Midwestern values and Rocky Mountain chill make for good neighbors but a bad rivalry.

 

The knees of Charles have been shot full of more holes than a spaghetti Western. Beat out C.J. Anderson as Denver’s No. 1 tailback? Put the brakes on that runaway dream. Should the 30-year-old body of Charles survive training camp in Denver, everything else is gravy. If he gets 125 touches by rush and pass for 600 total yards all season long, it would qualify as a major comeback victory.

 

Yes, there might be a 100-yard game left in Charles. I can only hope it is on the last Monday of October. At Kansas City. With the Chiefs seeing red. Feeling the burn.

 

This rivalry could use a little heat.

– – –

Big offseason talk from LB SHANE RAY recounted by Jeff Legwold at ESPN.com:

 

Shane Ray has the power of knowledge as he works through the Denver Broncos’ offseason.

 

He knows, without a doubt, his time has arrived. After two seasons’ worth of preamble, Year 3 is his year to show why the Broncos traded up in the first round of the 2015 draft to select him.

 

In the cycle of football life, DeMarcus Ware — along with Von Miller — helped shape Ray’s first two seasons in the league, and now that Ware has retired, the Broncos are looking at Ray to fill a spot at the front of the line.

 

 “DeMarcus’ leadership goes such a long way,” Ray said this week. “Everything that he’s taught me the past couple years — all of the opportunities I had to learn stuff from him and see things from a first-ballot Hall of Famer’s perspective is a huge blessing. Not a lot of guys get to come into the league and have guys like that that are also willing to teach like DeMarcus. It’s very bittersweet for me. His presence in the locker room as a mentor and as a big brother is hard to replace. At the same time, this is how the business goes. This is how life goes. It’s time for me to step up and handle my business and take everything that he taught me and apply it to the field.”

 

The Broncos have spent plenty of time this offseason trying to add players up front in the defensive line, including DeMarcus Walker as a second-round pick in last weekend’s draft, to help free Miller in the pass rush. Miller was held without a sack in the Broncos’ last four games in 2016, largely because the Broncos often couldn’t get the lead to put themselves in more favorable rush situations.

 

And the team’s run defense was so porous — the Broncos allowed 130.3 yards rushing per game — offenses were not in third-and-long situations enough for Miller, Ware and the rest to rev up the rush as much as the Broncos would have liked. They still finished third in the league in sacks, with 42, but that was 10 fewer than they had in 2015.

 

As the Broncos move through their first on-field workouts of the offseason, they’ve got plenty of attention on Ray because a big part of the defensive plan depends on the 23-year-old linebacker stepping up.

 

“And Shane’s been ready,’’ Miller said just before the draft. “He’s been ready for a long time.’’

 

The Broncos have seen only glimpses because Ware missed six games last season due to a fractured forearm and then back trouble. With those opportunities, Ray finished second on the team in sacks with eight as he played 58 percent of the defensive snaps.

 

Ray returned a fumble for a touchdown in Week 2, had a three-sack game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 and closed out the season with sacks in three of the final four games. Asked this week what he expected in the season to come, and Ray was to the point.

 

“I keep pressing the goals,” Ray said. “When you sit in a room with two All-Pros and two potential Hall of Famers, it’s hard to say that mentality and that idea doesn’t rub off on you. … I want to be an All-Pro player. That’s something that I aspire to every day. I feel like every big goal that I make, I’ve made smaller goals that can attain that for me. One goal that I said, I went back to how I was thinking in college. I said in college my junior year that I can average a sack a game. Nobody can honestly stop me from getting one sack a game. I look at that in the NFL and honestly I feel the same way. Nobody can block me for a whole game. One sack a game for me is equivalent to 16 games — that’s 16 sacks. That could lead the league, not to mention playoffs or any of that stuff. That’s how I break stuff down for me, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

 

Ray finished his career at the University of Missouri with 14.5 sacks in 14 games in 2014 as he was named the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

 

“I’m loving my job and loving what I do and continuing to work for my particular goals and my team goals as well,’’ Ray said. “It’s something that I really let take over my life. I love this now. There are no distractions. This is what I do. This is what I want to be great at.”

 

 

KANSAS CITY

Andy Reid will be flashing back to his days with Brett Favre as he tries to tame Gunslinger 2, QB PATRICK MAHOMES.  Jeffri Chadiha at NFL.com:

 

General manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid moved up 17 spots to select Mahomes 10th overall because they saw a rare talent with a skill set that reminded them of Brett Favre. They also gave up two picks (a first-rounder next April and a third-rounder last Friday) because they believe in the environment they are plopping him into for the next couple of years. Dorsey and Reid understand that talent isn’t the only thing that makes quarterbacks succeed in the NFL. The right fit has plenty to do with that happening, as well.

 

This is why we’ve heard so much about Dorsey being a part of the Green Bay front office when the Packers selected Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 draft, despite having Favre still in his prime. It’s why Reid’s well-documented history of developing quarterbacks is so noteworthy, as is the way current starter Alex Smith goes about his business. Yes, Mahomes has the type of cannon that is best described as a gift from the heavens. More importantly, he has three men around him who understand that arm strength won’t be the biggest reason why he becomes an effective signal-caller at the next level.

 

In fact, when a reporter asked Reid — who also served as Favre’s position coach with the Packers in 1997 and ’98 — for a reasonable timetable for Mahomes to become a starter, the coach said, “I don’t know. We’ll get in and see how it goes. The one nice thing is, we have a good quarterback here. You look at what Dorsey went through with Aaron Rodgers. It took time. (Rodgers spent three seasons sitting behind Favre.) We’re OK. I’m just glad we got him. It’s kind of a neat deal. It’s a positive thing. It gives an opportunity for Kansas City to have that position in pretty good hands for a long period of time.”

 

It’s critical for Reid to soften expectations as to when Mahomes will play, because he knows the outcry will come quickly. The first time Smith endures a bad game — or even throws one too many check-downs — the fans in that town will be clamoring for the rookie who was videotaped throwing a football 80 yards in the air. The future can’t come soon enough for those who support the Chiefs. The reality is that Mahomes will require delicate care and ample time to become the player the Chiefs envision.

 

For all of Mahomes’ upside, there are plenty of analysts who have criticized his noticeable flaws: the penchant for taking too many chances with the football, the raw footwork, the lack of time under center and the fact that he didn’t have to call plays in the huddle for a college team that won just 13 of the 29 games he started. It’s no secret that quarterbacks who come from spread offenses in college have to learn plenty about playing quarterback in the NFL. It’s also well-known that signal-callers who thrive in the “air raid” system that spawned Mahomes have an even tougher mountain to climb.

 

The good news for him is that Reid once took an athletic quarterback from an option-style system in college and turned him into an NFL star. Donovan McNabb had more running ability than Mahomes, but he blossomed into an effective passer under Reid’s tutelage in Philadelphia. Smith also came from a gimmicky offense in college, the same system that made Tim Tebow a household name (both quarterbacks were stars under Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, who had Smith at Utah and Tebow at Florida). It took Smith five years (and three coaches) before he came into his own.

 

The point here is that patience matters more than anything with a prospect like Mahomes. The Chiefs just happen to be in a position where they can afford to have it. They’re coming off a season where they went 12-4, won the AFC West and reached the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This is still a team that is talented enough to compete for a championship. Even though Smith’s overly conservative style has generated plenty of critics, he’s still the best option to lead K.C. to such hallowed ground.

 

The irony is that Mahomes — who impressed the Chiefs with his intelligence and the control he had in the Texas Tech offense — will be best served by learning to temper the gunslinger in his own game while adding some of the practicality that has made Smith successful. “That is just going to come with maturity and hard work and preparation,” Mahomes said. “Taking those reckless parts of my game out of it and still keep the playmaking ability. So it’s really going to be about me working hard every single day at practice and in the film room. Whatever I can do to make myself better.”

 

The most underrated factor in the question of what it will take for Mahomes to succeed is his family history. His father, Patrick, spent 11 seasons as an MLB pitcher, so the son had the chance to learn plenty about what it takes to be a true professional. Young Patrick had ample opportunity to be around his father at work. He vividly remembers watching Alex Rodriguez during his days with the Texas Rangers, when A-Rod would commit to hours of hitting a baseball off a tee to improve his stroke.

 

Those memories are critical because Mahomes is entering the NFL at a time when young quarterbacks need to know how to do work on their own. The league’s rules seriously limit the amount of time players can spend around coaches in the offseason. Where Rodgers and McNabb could devote hours each day in the spring and summer to learning their craft, Mahomes will have to do more with less. He’ll also be likelier to avoid the types of distractions that led to the demise of Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III, both of whom let celebrity consume them.

 

If you spend enough time around Mahomes, it doesn’t take long to see that he’s determined to deliver on his potential. “He is a football junkie,” Dorsey said. “He wants to do everything right. He wants to please the coach. I think that’s a big deal. This guy just wants to play football. I used to know a guy [who] used to flip it into coverage, too, sometimes (Favre). He made it [to] the Hall of Fame one day. I’m not comparing him, but I am just saying those things happen.”

 

It’s important to note that Favre’s success came after the Atlanta Falcons — who originally drafted him in 1991 — gave up on him, when the starter in front of him in Green Bay (Don Majkowski) sustained an injury and Packers head coach Mike Holmgren was in the early stages of rebuilding the Packers. If just one of those turning points plays out differently, the career narrative of one of the best quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL changes completely. The point is that luck often factors into the development of great players at that position. If you question that, just ask Bill Belichick what he thought about Tom Brady’s future when the former sixth-round pick was a rookie.

 

The best thing we can say about Mahomes as he enters his own first year in the NFL is that he has everything a young player could want. The talent is there, but so is a structure that can grow the best parts of his game while minimizing the worst. In many ways, it was easier for the Chiefs to make the pick because they could imagine everything Mahomes could become. With ample time and necessary patience, there’s little reason to think he won’t make good on that promise.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

GM Reggie McKenzie doubles down on Oakland’s belief that CB GAREON CONLEY is a good guy being smeared, not a sexual monster as some in the media are quick to believe.  Alex Marvez in The Sporting News:

 

Even though more post-draft questions have emerged about the potential involvement of new Oakland cornerback Gareon Conley in a sexual assault, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie isn’t sweating whether criminal charges will be filed.

 

McKenzie reiterated Wednesday night that he remains confident Conley will be exonerated from a claim that caused the Ohio State standout’s first-round slip in last week’s NFL Draft.

 

“We researched everything thoroughly and were totally convinced,” McKenzie told co-host Gil Brandt and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “We felt good about what was presented before us.

 

“We were very comfortable with the pick.”

 

For his sake, McKenzie better be right.

 

As great a job as McKenzie has done rebuilding the Raiders — he was named 2016 Sporting News Executive of the Year — he will be heavily vilified if Conley is charged or ultimately convicted.

 

And understandably so.

 

It wasn’t like the risk of drafting Conley was unknown to McKenzie before the corner was selected at No. 24. News had broken roughly two days earlier that Cleveland police were investigating claims made by a female accuser who alleged she was raped during a late-night encounter in early April. Police administered a sexual assault kit to the accuser, for which Conley submitted his DNA earlier this week. NFL Network reported results won’t be known for six to eight weeks, although the standard SAK processing times can vary.

 

While an Xs-and-Os argument could be made that Conley should have gotten picked earlier, the possibility of a sexual assault charge — and the negative public and media brouhaha that would follow — was likely enough to scare away potential suitors.

 

There are questions surrounding the validity of claims from both parties. Video shows Conley and the accuser were together at a nightclub, which contradicts her initial claim that she met him at a hotel. Conley’s attorney told the media earlier this week that a “consensual sexual event” with the accuser occurred that night despite the player issuing a pre-draft statement deferring to witnesses in his hotel room who claimed they never saw such interaction.

 

Asked whether any new post-draft information surfaced that the Raiders didn’t already know about, McKenzie said, “Absolutely not.”

 

McKenzie told Raiders media the franchise did “miles and miles” of research in vetting Conley. That carries weight. So does the fact that during his five-plus seasons at the helm, McKenzie has made off-field character an important part of the decision-making process when acquiring a player. No player on the active roster has gotten arrested since 2014, per USA Today.

 

McKenzie, though, isn’t above taking a gamble if he believes it can help win games. That strategy blew up in his face with the 2015 signing of Aldon Smith.

 

Despite the edge rusher’s long history of DUIs, McKenzie signed Smith to a free-agent contract following his latest arrest and subsequent release by San Francisco. Smith was suspended midway through the 2015 campaign because of that incident and hasn’t played since, failing to regain reinstatement by the NFL last year under the league’s substance-abuse policy.

 

The Raiders stuck with Smith by re-signing him in the 2016 offseason. Their faith was not rewarded. Smith had a domestic violence claim filed against him in February and was detained for public intoxication in March after the driver of a car he was in was arrested for suspected DUI following a hit-and-run.

 

Smith remains under contract with the Raiders, but whether he ever takes the field again for the franchise is in serious doubt.

 

Unlike Smith, Conley had no criminal history or red flags in his background before joining the Raiders. Conley may very well be cleared and have the incident become a footnote in his past while enjoying a prolific NFL career.

 

“He really is a good player,” said McKenzie, whose team fielded the NFL’s 24th-ranked pass defense last season.

 

“I’ve got nothing to say but great things about him as a worker and as a person and player. We’re very excited about the person we’re getting.”

 

McKenzie, though, shouldn’t celebrate too much until he knows for sure he didn’t waste a first-round pick and embarrass himself (and the Raiders) in the process.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

The Ravens won’t just have a good defense this year says Coach John Harbaugh.  Chris Wesseling at NFL.com:

 

Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn’t shying away from grandiose expectations this season.

 

After signing veteran defensive backs Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr in free agency, Baltimore followed up with four draft picks on defense in the first two days of the draft.

 

“I don’t want to overstate the expectations, but I’m not afraid to do that, really,” Harbaugh said Sunday, via the team’s official website. “I expect these guys to be great. … We expect to put a great defense on the field.”

 

It’s hard to begrudge Harbaugh his excitement.

 

The Ravens finished last season seventh in total defense and sixth in Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency ratings.

 

If they had a weakness last season, though, it was in the secondary. This defense topped the charts entering Week 14, only to be shredded to the tune of 401 passing yards and a season-high 496 net yards in a lopsided loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots.

 

Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome spent the past two months throwing resources at the pass defense. Baltimore might just boast the league’s top safety tandem in Jefferson and Pro Bowler Eric Weddle. In addition to Carr, the cornerback corps now includes first-round pick Marlon Humphrey.

 

With Elvis Dumervil jettisoned and Terrell Suggs entering his twilight years, the Ravens added a pair of athletic edge rushers in second-round pick Tyus Bowser and third-rounder Tim Williams. The defensive line features a slew of young talent from the past three drafts.

 

 

CINCINNATI

Mike Brown is not denying he has stepped out on a limb with the selection of RB JOE MIXON.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

When the Bengals drafted Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon last week, the general reaction was along the lines of “of course they did.”

 

Bengals owner Mike Brown has admitted being perhaps too generous with second chances in the past, but defended the decision to select the man who was caught on video punching a woman in the face. Mixon later reached a civil settlement with the woman, and Brown sounds like he believes that Mixon is a changed man.

 

Brown wrote a letter to fans published by the Cincinnati Enquirer, in which he referred to Mixon as “a very talented football player who did a terrible thing his freshman year at college.”

 

“The Bengals take pride in our hometown and want to provide winning football on the field and successful players off the field,” Brown wrote. “That is the reason we drafted Joe – he is a rare football talent, and his conduct over the past three years leads us to believe he can help us win football games and also become a productive member of this community.

 

“In making our decision, we took a risk. In this case, the risk has an upside as well as a downside. We believe Joe has put this behind him and that he can turn into the player and community member that creates a plus for Cincinnati. We are going to do everything in our power to make this happen. Our hope is that time will prove that this opportunity is deserved, and perhaps – if given a chance – Joe can write a chapter in Cincinnati sports history that both he and Cincinnati can be proud of.”

 

It’s good that Brown at least acknowledged the obvious — that they drafted a woman-puncher because he was very good at playing football. And their defense of Mixon is either a noble gesture of forgiveness (if he stays out of trouble and plays well) or just another chapter in Brown’s tradition of taking in players other teams won’t touch (if he doesn’t).

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

LB MAX BULLOUGH has picked up a four-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug.  He wants you to believe he was blindsided by the old tainted supplement.  Aaron Wilson in the Houston Chronicle:

 

Texans backup inside linebacker Max Bullough was suspended without pay for the first four games of the season by the NFL on Thursday.

 

Bullough, 25, violated the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

 

Although Bullough didn’t specify what triggered the violation and NFL punishment, he implied in a statement where he also issued an apology that it stemmed from him unknowingly ingesting a supplement that contained a banned substance.

 

Under the NFL performance-enhancing drug policy, players are responsible for whatever they put in their bodies and are instructed to consult with the NFL and NFL Players Association about any vitamin supplements to make sure they aren’t taking any banned substances.

 

“As a dedicated member of this team, it is very disappointing to have to miss the first four games of the season and not be out there with my teammates,” Bullough said in a statement. “I sincerely apologize to my family, the entire Texans organization, my teammates and our fans for this situation. It is my responsibility to know the ingredients of every supplement that I use, so I take full responsibility for what happened and will work as hard as I can to be ready to contribute when I return. Sincerely, Max.”

 

The suspension will cost Bullough a total of $162,353 in four forfeited game checks, which will be credited to the Texans’ salary cap. Bullough is due a $690,000 base salary this year as part of his three-year, $1.716 million contract.

 

Max is the grandson of Hank Bullough, the longtime NFL coach.  And in researching that fact, the DB saw this about a previous transgression.  This from Detroit Sports Rag in 2014:

 

Nine months ago today, Michigan State Spartans linebacker Max Bullough was suspended by Mark Dantonio before the biggest game of his entire career. And until this afternoon, the mystery of WHY Bullough was suspended had gone unsolved.

 

We went through the NFL Combine, the NFL Draft and Bullough eventually signing a practice squad deal with the Houston Texans without discovering the nature of the transgression that cost him a chance at playing in the Rose Bowl.

 

Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press never uncovered the real story. Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News didn’t bother to tell us why a member of MSU’s football royalty wasn’t allowed to play in a game that had been a lifetime dream of the Spartan defensive standout.

 

All the while, the number of people who knew why Bullough was given the harsh punishment had grown exponentially since that Boxing Day announcement as he obviously had to spill the beans to every NFL team during his interviews at the combine in Indianapolis.

 

Until now, all we knew for sure is that Bullough’s suspension wasn’t related to an NCAA violation, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request.

 

So why did Max Bullough miss the Spartans’ BCS victory over the Stanford Cardinal?

 

Well, thanks to the DSR’s East Lansing connection, we can now let you in on the secret. Max Bullough was suspended by Dantonio at the REQUEST of his family. As you probably know, Max’s father, Shane, was a linebacker at MSU and his grandfather, Hank, lined up as a guard on the Spartans’ 1954 winning Rose Bowl team.

 

Why did the Bullough Family ask Dantonio to suspend Max for that HUGE game? It would appear that the week before Christmas, an intoxicated Max got into a fight with a former high school teammate (who was also inebriated) with the former teammate on the business end of an incredible beating.

 

The source went on to say that the Bulloughs paid the medical bills of the ex-teammate (not sure if a cherry was put on top of that sundae or not) and did everything within their power to make sure it didn’t get into the press. The price for Bullough was missing the Rose Bowl. One wonders if Dantonio would have taken this action without the family’s prodding, especially given Dantonio’s fairly lax style of discipline (just like about 99% of Division I football coaches).

 

The bizarre part of this story is that the truth is fairly innocuous. Kids (especially drunk athletes) get into these sorts of fights all the time. Why not come clean instead of letting the Internet message boards run rampant with stories of steroid abuse or something of the Brendan Gibbons variety?

 

So that’s the story. It’s not very sexy, but now ya know. We will update you further when we find out where Jimmy Hoffa was buried or why Adam Oates was traded by the Red Wings.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

With interest in his services as a football player little to none, Jay Cutler turns to broadcasting and seems to have landed the FOX gig once held by John Lynch.  This at ESPN.com:

 

Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler says he has accepted a role as a color commentator for Fox Sports, but he is not saying he’s completely done on the field.

 

“I don’t know if retirement is the right word; I don’t feel that anyone ever really retires from the NFL,” Cutler told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington. “You are either forced to leave, or you lose the desire to do what’s required to keep going. I’m in between those situations at this point in my life.”

 

It is unknown if Cutler has a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave for a quarterback job, though Fox does have a history of putting such clauses in contracts. Brady Quinn, for instance, briefly left his role at Fox to attend Dolphins training camp — something his contract allowed him to do — before later returning to the network with the same clause in his new deal.

 

Cutler, 34, will start in a three-man booth to allow him to get adjusted in the same way that Troy Aikman did when he entered broadcasting in 2002. A three-man booth, in theory, would also allow a more realistic chance for a return to the field since it wouldn’t put Fox into such a bind if Cutler left.

 

Two NFL general managers of QB-needy teams say they did not anticipate Cutler getting a role that would allow him to compete for a starting job, noting his best chance would be to wait for a potential injury during training camp or the season.

 

“Words can’t express how grateful I am to everyone who helped me along my journey,” Cutler said. “I started playing tackle football at the age of 10 and was so lucky to have supportive parents and great coaches along the way that made my path possible. If I listed each person individually, this would quickly turn into an essay, but you know who you are and I wouldn’t be in this situation without you. So thank you.

 

“To my parents, my sisters, my wife and kids — thank you for putting your wants and needs on the back burner while I played a game every Friday, Saturday or Sunday. You made it all possible.

 

“I recently read a quote that struck a cord with me at the time. It was attributed to Henry Rollins (but with the Internet these days, you can never be too sure). ‘I did that, I gave everything I had to give to that. Now, if I returned to that it would be repetition — it might be fun repetition, but it wouldn’t be meaningful repetition.’ Thank you to everyone along the way. You made my dream come true.”

 

Fox has been searching for a new analyst to work alongside Kevin Burkhardt after John Lynch left to become the San Francisco 49ers’ general manager earlier this offseason.

 

Cutler’s knowledge of the NFC, after an eight-year stint in Chicago, would be an asset to the network because Fox broadcasts the NFC package of games.

 

Cutler, whom the Bears released on March 9 after an 11-year NFL run, had conversations with the New York Jets and Houston Texans before the draft, but the talks ultimately went nowhere, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson.

 

Cutler will be the second high-profile quarterback to leave the playing field for the broadcast booth after former Cowboys star Tony Romo joined CBS last month.

 

Charles Davis will be the third man in the booth with Cutler and Kevin Burkhardt.

 

 

2017 DRAFT

Gil Brandt at NFL.com singles out 14 rookies he think will have special impact in 2017:

 

Not all rookies are created equal.

 

Some require a certain amount of seasoning before they can contribute on an NFL field. Others are ready to shine right away.

 

In the wake of the 2017 NFL Draft, I thought I’d pick out a handful of rising rookies who will make an immediate impact this season. The following players are listed in alphabetical order:

 

Jamal Adams, safety, New York Jets

Drafted: Round 1, No. 6 overall.

This tough, physical player can be effective in the box or in pass coverage. He’s very smart and has great character — Adams is the only player in LSU history to have served as a game captain as a freshman. He will be a Day 1 starter and an eventual Pro Bowler for the Jets, who have a stud safety for the next 10 years. I know Adams’ father, George, who was drafted in the first round by the Giants in 1985. Jamal Adams is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in your life, but he’s also a tough S.O.B.

 

Garett Bolles, offensive lineman, Denver Broncos

Drafted: Round 1, No. 20 overall.

Denver will need to develop Bolles quickly to help solve its offensive line problems. The key for Bolles is improving his pass blocking, as he’s already a pro-ready run blocker.

 

Tarik Cohen, running back, Chicago Bears

Drafted: Round 4, No. 119 overall.

Cohen should provide some additional burst out of the backfield for the Bears, especially as a receiver, where 2016 breakout back Jordan Howard doesn’t offer much. Cohen also should add juice to a return game that still hasn’t really replaced Devin Hester.

 

Jarrad Davis, linebacker, Detroit Lions

Drafted: Round 1, No. 21 overall.

Detroit made the playoffs last season despite being outscored by 12 points — and the Lions proceeded to give up 177 rushing yards in a postseason loss to Seattle. Davis will bolster the defense and help return the Lions to the playoffs. He has great instincts for the linebacker position and is capable of playing strong, middle or weak linebacker; he can also play all three downs. The very aggressive Davis ran a 1.57-second 10-yard split at his pro day. He’ll start Week 1, and his teammates should rally around him, given his outstanding leadership ability.

 

Pat Elflein, offensive lineman, Minnesota Vikings

Drafted: Round 3, No. 70 overall.

Elflein has the versatility to play center or guard. Whichever position he ends up starting at in Minnesota, he’ll contribute as a rookie.

 

Evan Engram, tight end, New York Giants

Drafted: Round 1, No. 23 overall.

Engram will give the Giants even more firepower on offense. After all, the guy clocked a 4.42 official 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine — at 234 pounds. Engram posted 162 catches at Ole Miss and had the most receptions of any Division I tight end in 2016. Engram is not currently a great blocker, but I think he’ll learn. The defensive coordinators of the Giants’ opponents will have to cook up something special to contain Engram and this offensive attack.

 

Reuben Foster, linebacker, San Francisco 49ers

Drafted: Round 1, No. 31 overall.

This guy is an unbelievable football player — he can really bring it. In fact, one team had Foster rated as the best player in the draft. He’s very physical and plays with great passion. Foster excels in pursuit; he’s very strong and the most competitive linebacker I’ve seen since Jack Lambert. Foster can cover tight ends and running backs and plays with reckless abandon.

 

Leonard Fournette, running back, Jacksonville Jaguars

Drafted: Round 1, No. 4 overall.

Fournette should become the first Jaguars running back to top the 1,000-yard mark since 2011. He’s a rare talent who, when it comes to SEC backs, ranks up there with legends like Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker. Fournette is quick and explosive — his 2.5-second 20-yard split at the combine was better than any other back — and has great cutback ability as a runner. Plus, he can catch passes and return kickoffs. To top it all off, he’s a nice young man, too.

 

Myles Garrett, defensive end, Cleveland Browns

Drafted: Round 1, No. 1 overall.

Garrett has the potential to be just the second Browns player in this decade to post double-digit sacks in a season. He also has a chance to be the best edge rusher since Julius Peppers in his prime. Garrett has outstanding athletic ability — consider that he improved on his combine times at his pro day, just to show everyone he could. He’ll make the entire Cleveland defense better, freeing up his teammates to make more plays.

 

O.J. Howard, tight end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Drafted: Round 1, No. 19 overall.

Having played in a pro-style offense at Alabama, Howard quickly will become a factor in Tampa. Bucs coach Dirk Koetter loves passing to tight ends — consider that in Koetter’s two seasons as offensive coordinator in Atlanta, Tony Gonzalez racked up 176 receptions. So it stands to reason that Howard will be a frequent target. He’ll start from Day 1 and rapidly ascend to Pro Bowl status. His 1.52-second 10-yard split at the combine is fast for a 251-pound guy.

 

Christian McCaffrey, running back, Carolina Panthers

Drafted: Round 1, No. 8 overall.

McCaffrey will be a matchup nightmare for opponents — he can run as a back or flank out as a receiver. He will be very hard to cover on high-percentage passes coming out of the backfield, especially when you factor in the threat of him catching screen passes. McCaffrey is tough, athletic and has great work habits. He will help Cam Newton become a better quarterback and improve his completion percentage. McCaffrey also will be a factor in the return game.

 

Ethan Pocic, offensive lineman, Seattle Seahawks

Drafted: Round 2, No. 58 overall.

The Seahawks need offensive line help, and Pocic can provide it. He can play across the line — at center, guard or tackle — though I believe he ultimately will settle in at left tackle for Seattle.

 

Curtis Samuel, running back/wide receiver, Carolina Panthers

Drafted: Round 2, No. 40 overall.

Samuel is my dark-horse candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He’s like a Percy Harvin clone, only stronger. At Ohio State, Samuel lined up at running back, H-back and receiver, and he posted 74 catches without a drop in 2016. He has great speed and acceleration. At his pro day, Samuel looked like Secretariat. He will make catches in traffic and plays his best against tough competition. Samuel most likely will be a slot receiver on early downs, but he can line up as a back on third down, which will pose a real conundrum for defenses. Yes, I know he’ll have to fit in among weapons like Greg Olsen and fellow rookie Christian McCaffrey in Carolina, but he’s just such a mismatch threat, and the Panthers will be very creative with him, giving him a chance to make a major mark.

 

Mike Williams, wide receiver, Los Angeles Chargers

Drafted: Round 1, No. 7 overall.

Philip Rivers will love Williams, who makes you think of Keyshawn Johnson. Williams can get off the jam. He has great size and is outstanding at tracking the ball. He’s smart, athletic and has long arms. Reminiscent of a Charles Barkley-esque rebounder in the NBA, Williams knows how to come down with throw-it-up jump-balls — he’ll win 90 percent of those 50-50 battles.