The Daily Briefing Friday, October 27, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
A cat ran on the field late in Baltimore’s blasting of the listless Dolphins. It led Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report to tweet:
Teams would sign that cat before they signed Kaepernick.
Earlier in the game, the Ravens lost their QB when LB KIKO ALONSO drilled JOE FLACCO in the head as he lay prone on the ground after a slide. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:
Joe Flacco suffered a concussion after taking a brutal hit from Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso late in the second quarter of the Ravens’ 40-0 win Thursday night.
Flacco had clearly given himself up by sliding at the end of a 9-yard scramble when Alonso lowered his shoulder and delivered a vicious blow that immediately knocked the helmet off of the Baltimore Ravens quarterback. Alonso was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play, and Flacco didn’t return to the game after leaving for the locker room to undergo testing.
In addition to the concussion, Flacco suffered a cut to his ear, which required stitches, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the game.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday that the league will review the play but it is unclear whether it’s for a possible suspension.
“It was bang, bang,” Alonso said. “It got to a point where I thought maybe if he slid a second sooner, I was anticipating him sliding and I was going to not hit him, but I think it was like, you know, a second late, which is why I hit him.”
Alonso added there wasn’t anything he could have done to avoid hitting Flacco like he did.
“No. No way,” Alonso said when asked if he could have avoided contact or not put a shoulder on Flacco. “That’s the target, you know, when a guy slides, his target is very small. I just think it was a second late, which is why I hit him, to be honest with you.”
Harbaugh wouldn’t discuss whether he believed Alonso should have been ejected.
“I’m not commenting on that,” Harbaugh said. “It was penalized correctly, I would say.”
Alonso is defended by his coach Adam Gase. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
Dolphins coach Adam Gase is defending linebacker Kiko Alonso, who is facing a possible suspension for his hit on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on Thursday night.
Gase said today that Alonso was running full speed to make a tackle, and by the time Flacco went into a last-second slide, Alonso had already committed to the play.
“Kiko — he’s in a tough spot,” Gase said. “It’s not like a true slide that you normally see. He’s kind of half in, half out. So it’s a tough play to tell a guy what to do. If he just completely stays away from [Flacco] and he keeps running and gets the first down, we all say, ‘What are you doing? Finish the play.’”
Gase does not believe there was any intent to injure Flacco.
“I don’t think Kiko was trying to do anything maliciously,” Gase said.
The officials, however, ruled that Alonso had hit Flacco in the head after Flacco was already sliding. It’s likely that the league office will see it the same way, and Alonso will face at least a hefty fine if not a suspension, despite Gase’s belief that there was no malice involved.
The Lions will have a depleted receiving corps against Pittsburgh. Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:
It looked like Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay would return to the lineup this week after taking part in practice upon the team’s return to work following their bye.
Golladay’s not over his hamstring injury, however. He wound up back on the sideline for the final two days of the week and was officially ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Steelers on Friday.
The rookie made a splashy debut with two touchdown catches in the season opener, but this will be his fourth straight game out of the lineup without much sign that things are trending in the right direction.
It remains to be seen if Golden Tate will be joining Golladay in street clothes on Sunday. Tate was a limited participant in practice all week as he deals with a shoulder injury and said that he’s unsure if he’ll get the green light to play, which is why he’s listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week.
In the heat of the moment, Vikings LB ANTHONY BARR was less than contrite about shattering the shoulder of QB AARON RODGERS, according to Rodgers. Ryan Wilson of ESPN.com:
Aaron Rodgers is convalescing in Los Angeles this week after a successful surgery to repair the broken collarbone he suffered on Oct. 15 against the Vikings. And part of Rodgers’ recovery includes playing video games with Conan O’Brien.
During a segment that aired Thursday night (you can watch it here), Rodgers said doctors used 13 screws to repair his collarbone. The Packers quarterback also talked about the conversation he had with Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, the man responsible for Rodgers’ injury.
“I looked over at him as I walked off the field,” Rodgers told O’Brien. “Cameras caught me saying something to him but what they missed was him [giving me the] finger [and the] ‘suck it’ sign.”
We haven’t seen any visual evidence confirming this. And while we’d typically take Rodgers at his word, here’s what he told ESPN.com‘s Jason Wilde in response to a question about whether 13 screws were really needed to repair his collarbone: “It’s TV. Sometimes you exaggerate. And then sometimes, you tell the truth.”
The Vikings may have some new options at QB, but CASE KEENUM will apparently be tasked with beating the Browns on foreign soil. Ben Goessling in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
The Vikings brought four quarterbacks with them across the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday night, when they took a Virgin Atlantic charter from the Twin Cities to London in advance of Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns. It seems reasonable to bet, though, that the two quarterbacks the Vikings dress for the game will be the same two they used last week.
Sam Bradford, who flew with the team to London, missed his eighth straight practice on Thursday and wasn’t on the field as the Vikings held a walk-through on a makeshift 50-yard field at the Syon House in Brantford, England. Teddy Bridgewater, who is still on the physically-unable-to-perform list, “didn’t do much” on Thursday, after handling a larger workload well during Wednesday’s practice in Minnesota, coach Mike Zimmer said.
It appeared Thursday as though the Vikings are preparing Case Keenum to start against the Browns, with Kyle Sloter again in line to back him up. It would be Keenum’s sixth start of the season, with the quarterback also playing the final two quarters of the Vikings’ Oct. 8 win in Chicago.
Zimmer would not officially name a starter for Sunday’s game on Thursday, and when asked if Bradford could be ready to play on Sunday, the coach only said, “We’ll see.”
Bradford’s last practice was before his truncated start against the Bears; the quarterback has made several visits to specialists since then, to deal with what head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman has called “wear and tear” in his left knee, which was surgically repaired in 2013 and 2014.
Keenum returned to full participation in Thursday’s practice after being limited on Wednesday because of a chest injury.
It looks like the Redskins will get CB JOSH NORMAN back for Sunday’s rivalry game with the Cowboys. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Josh Norman couldn’t come up with a reason why he would miss Sunday’s game against the Cowboys and doctors agree with that assessment.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden said on Friday that Norman has been cleared to return by doctors after missing the last two games with a rib injury. Gruden stopped short of saying that Norman will be in the lineup against Dallas and cited the possibility of a setback after Friday’s practice, but it seems more likely than not that Norman will be lining up on defense come Sunday.
Linebacker Mason Foster won’t be joining him. Gruden said that Foster will have surgery for a torn labrum in his shoulder after trying to play through it for the last few weeks. Foster will likely head to injured reserve, leaving Will Compton and Martrell Speight as options to play on the inside along with Zach Brown.
Gruden also said that center Spencer Long and tackle Ty Nsekhe have also been ruled out for the game against the Cowboys. Several other Redskins linemen have been dealing with injuries this week, so there may be other absences once the 46-man roster is set on Sunday.
Oh my. PK GRAHAM GANO took a turn for the worse on Friday, increasing the possibility that ROBERTO AGUAYO will return to his personal house of horrors. John Breech of CBSSports.com:
Since being cut by the Buccaneers in August, we haven’t heard much from Roberto Aguayo.
The beleaguered kicker, who lost his job in Tampa after a rough preseason, signed with the Bears in late August only to get cut just before the regular season started.
Aguayo then spent the first seven weeks of the season watching the NFL from home before the Carolina Panthers called him this week. Panthers kicker Graham Gano has been dealing with some soreness in his knee, so Carolina decided to add Aguayo to the team’s practice squad Tuesday.
Although Aguayo isn’t expected to play Sunday, there is an outside chance that he could end up on the field. Gano missed practice Friday and has been listed as questionable for this week’s game. If Gano can’t play on Sunday, then the Panthers will roll with Aguayo, and in a fitting twist of fate, the kicker’s first game of the year would come against the same team that drafted him in 2016: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That’s right, the Panthers are playing in Tampa on Sunday and there’s a chance that Aguayo could get revenge on his old team. An Aguayo game-winner on Sunday would probably send Buccaneers fans into a conniption fit.
Of course, just because Gano missed practice on Friday doesn’t mean he’s going to miss the game. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said that Gano’s absence from practice didn’t have much to do with his knee injury and was more closely related to the fact that Gano has been dealing with the flu.
According to the Panthers’ official website, Rivera said that Aguayo is “strictly an emergency” situation for Carolina. However, the Panthers coach did add that Aguayo has been “kicking really good.”
GM John Lynch wants you to know that winning is vitally important to his part of the organization and that fan surveys are not. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
If 49ers owner Jed York made some fans angry by asking them if it was important to win, he might also have some problems in his football operation.
As part of a larger survey, the team asked fans: “How important is winning to your stadium experience?”
First-year General Manager John Lynch, during an appearance on KNBR, did not seem pleased.
“Someone brought that to my attention and that’s not something I want reflected in this organization,” Lynch said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s different aspects of an organization. I can promise you this: It didn’t come from my desk. . . .
“There’s a lot of layers to this organization. I don’t know where that came from. I’m not a big believer in surveys myself. I think you put out good work and people come. And you build it and people come. Yes, winning is everything to us. It’s everything to me. And I’ll just leave it at that.”
The 49ers are 0-7 and haven’t won a home game in more than a year. They’re 7-32 since running off former coach Jim Harbaugh, which did nothing for the impression that football wasn’t the top priority.
They gave Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan six-year contracts to help with what should be a long rebuild.
DT MICHAEL BENNETT is not concerned that the video evidence of his incident with Las Vegas police make him look like an embellisher, at best. Brady Henderson of ESPN.com:
– Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett says he isn’t bothered by people who call him a liar and dispute his accounts of his August incident with police in Las Vegas.
“I can’t really worry about what people say because there’s a certain part of people who are not going to believe you regardless of what you do,” Bennett said Thursday. “So for me, it’s continuously stay on my position and keep doing what I do.”
Bennett was detained outside of a nightclub after the Aug. 26 fight between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. as police searched for what they believed at the time was an active shooter. Bennett accused police officers of racial profiling, saying they pointed guns at him and used excessive force.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said last month that its internal investigation found “no evidence” that officers used excessive force and that they had reasonable suspicion to detain Bennett. The LVMPD released video that showed part of the incident but not the moment when Bennett was initially detained.
In his first public comments about the incident since that video was released, Bennett said the officer who detained him was not the one he was seen speaking with later. Bennett said he doesn’t feel a need to respond to those who don’t believe him “because nobody can be in my position.”
“Obviously, at the end of the thing, I’m talking to officers who weren’t a part of it. I got taken to another officer, and that’s the one I ended up talking to towards the end,” Bennett said. “So like I said, I don’t hate anybody or have a problem with any police officers. Just that what happened to me is a certain situation.
“People are entitled to their position and what they believe in, no matter what happened. So at the end of the day, there’s going to be people who believe me and people who don’t believe me, and my ultimate goal is not to make everybody believe me or make everybody happy, it’s just about me being able to sleep at night and continuously speak upon what happened to me personally.”
Bennett said he hasn’t seen the video: “I was there, so I don’t need to see the video.”
Bennett recounts what is on the video “other officers” while claiming he has not seen it.
Best wishes for a quick and full recovery to Raven PR VP Kevin Byrne, stricken prior to Thursday night’s game. Tweets from Chris Mortensen:
Ravens pre-game drama: Sr. VP Kevin Byrne didn’t feel “right.” Team Dr. Andy Tucker gave EKG. Byrne sent to hospital; needed a heart stent.
Byrne reports he’s “feeling great,” will be released from hospital in a few hours. Joked about “pretty good perk” w training room & team doc
Until today, Texans owner Bob McNair was known as a good and decent man with relatively little controversy as he brought professional football back to Houston. But now someone inside the NFL’s inner sanctum has leaked a once-innocent turn of phrase he used to ESPN that provides ammo for the social justice crowd in the media. Will Levith at RealClearLife.com:
Houston Texans owner Bob McNair has come under fire for comments he made at last week’s owners meeting in New York City.
In a newly published ESPN The Magazine story, McNair said of the protesting NFL players, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” The statement didn’t go over too well with some people in the room, including executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, who told McNair he was offended by what he’d said. “Vincent said that in all his years of playing in the NFL—during which, he said, he had been called every name in the book, including the N-word—he never felt like an ‘inmate,’” per the publication.
McNair later apologized to Vincent for making the statement—and has since released a formal apology, saying “I regret that I used that expression. I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players. I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I would never characterize our players or our league that way and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”
The DB has always heard the phrase as inmates running the “asylum”, although we don’t know whether those offended would be less so if the implication was that they were crazy.
McNair’s apology counts for nothing with players like WR DeANDRE HOPKINS:
DeAndre Hopkins has not been on the Houston Texans’ injury report since before Week Six, but the Pro Bowl wide receiver was an unexpected no-show at practice on Friday, local media reported.
That’s because, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, he wasn’t injured at all.
His absence was actually a response to reported comments by team owner Bob McNair, who was quoted in a Friday ESPN story as referring to protesting NFL players as “inmates” — “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” was his full statement at meetings between team owners and players, the story said.
And Hopkins wasn’t the only Houston player to be perturbed by McNair’s reported metaphor. Citing ESPN NFL Nation reporter Sarah Barshop, Schefter also noted that “Texans players wanted to walkout [sic] today in response to Bob McNair’s comments” and “had to be persuaded to stay.”
The Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson and SportsRadio 610’s Matt Hammond were among those who first reported Friday there was “no sign” of Hopkins during the portion of Texans practice that was open to the media. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reiterated those reports, saying the fifth-year receiver “was not spotted” on the field or on the sidelines two days before Houston’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
And while Texans head coach Bill O’Brien told local media Hopkins had taken “a personal day,” Schefter reported via Twitter shortly afterward that the receiver’s decision stemmed from McNair’s remarks. O’Brien, for what it’s worth, declined to address whether or not the former Pro Bowler had taken a day off because of McNair’s comments, all the while declining to rule out the possibility that Hopkins could miss Sunday’s game against Seattle — “If something changes,” he said, according to Wilson, “we’ll let you know.”
We have more from the ESPN expose below at ANTHEM.
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Jeffri Chadiha of NFL.com with more evidence that a bunch of teams should not have let QB DESHAUN WATSON fall to the Texans:
To understand the excitement surrounding Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, all you have to do is look at the rookie’s approach to his Week 7 bye. Instead of finding a cool place to party or racing back to his old stomping grounds at Clemson, he spent a good chunk of his free time evaluating his performance. He assessed his decision making, his reads, the mistakes he needed to correct. Essentially, he was heeding the advice of his head coach Bill O’Brien: that the only thing that matters in the NFL is what you’re about to do next.
As giddy as the Texans are about Watson’s on-field play so far, this is the kind of stuff that makes his future seem so bright. Yes, the numbers are stunning, especially for a quarterback who started this season on the bench: Watson’s 15 touchdown passes tie him with Mark Rypien and Kurt Warner for the most in a player’s first six games. Those stats are also an indication of how prepared Watson was to capitalize on this opportunity. They tell us this is only the beginning of something special, that he will handle the growing buzz around him as adeptly as he does a zone blitz.
It used to be a given that Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt would run away with NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Suddenly, it’s a two-man race.
“The best thing I’ve done is execute at a high level and operate this offense,” Watson said. “When we get in the red zone, we have the mentality that we’re trying to get points. We’re not satisfied with three points. We’re trying to get touchdowns each time we get in there. Each guy on the field understands that, and they’re trying to get open to make a play. They understand that the ball can find anybody.”
What those fellow Texans also realize is that this team finally has found an answer at quarterback. This franchise has tried to win for far too long with middling talents like Brock Osweiler, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. The Texans traded up in this year’s draft to take Watson 12th overall because they sensed greatness in a signal caller who led Clemson to a national championship. They knew any kid who could slay Alabama on college football’s biggest stage had to be worth the investment.
Watson has yet to disappoint for a Texans team that is now 3-3. Once O’Brien decided to replace former starter Tom Savage — a move that came midway through a season-opening loss to Jacksonville — everybody wanted to see how Watson would fare. All he’s done since is complete 61.5 percent of his attempts for 1,297 yards (with five interceptions) while rushing for another 202 yards and two scores. In his last three games alone, Watson has thrown 12 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.
Most importantly, Watson has energized an offense that has scored at least 30 points in each of its last four games. For perspective, consider that Houston didn’t hit the 30-point mark once last season. As Texans wide receiver Bruce Ellington said, “The guy is a winner. He’s been a winner since college. Coming in, he already had that confidence, so the guys around him have his back. We’re out there to help him get better.”
“Deshaun has a great way about him,” O’Brien said. “He’s smart. He’s poised. He has a great memory, so when he makes a mistake, if the same situation comes up again in a practice or a game, he’s not going to make the same mistake twice. He’s going to remember what he did wrong and correct it. He’s done some really good things, but he has to keep it going.”
There is no mystery to Watson’s early success. The man was built for stressful situations — he started as a freshman in high school and in college. One fact about his college career that thoroughly impressed O’Brien was Watson’s startling ability to avoid defeat. In 35 games as a starter at Clemson, Watson only lost three times.
That meant Watson had a pedigree that is pretty hard to find. He didn’t just win, but he knew what it took to win. That knowledge showed up when he was working as a backup to Savage in training camp and at the start of the season. Even though Watson was Houston’s quarterback of the future, he was patient enough to wait for his opportunity to arrive.
“He never complained, but you could tell he was chomping at the bit to get in there with the ones,” O’Brien said. “He didn’t get as many reps as Tom, but he got more than a rookie normally would. What stood out to me was that every time you asked him a question in meetings, nine times out of 10, he would have an answer that was right. That told me he was putting in the work on his own.”
Sad news concerning the family of Bills TE LOGAN THOMAS. Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:
Bills tight end Logan Thomas missed practice on Wednesday this week, but it wasn’t because of a lingering injury from last Sunday’s game.
Thomas’ wife Brandie was not due to gave birth to their daughter Brooklynn Rose until April, but delivered the child on Tuesday. The baby died a short time later and Thomas returned to work with the team on Thursday.
Thomas said, via Joe Buscaglia of WKBW, that being with the team helps take his mind off the loss his family — the Thomases have four sons — suffered this week. He praised Brandie’s “emotional fight” and called her “my rock” while adding that other family members are helping out at home while he worked with the team.
Bills coach Sean McDermott opened his Friday press conference by sending condolences to the Thomases.
“I was just happy to see Logan’s smiling face in here yesterday, not from a football standpoint at all, but mostly for him to be around and for us to be able to embrace him and him to be around his teammates,” McDermott said, via the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. “He seems to be handling it as well as anyone could at this point.”
We send our condolences to the Thomas family on their loss.
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According to Ben Schreckinger in GQ, when Donald Trump and Jon Bon-Jovi collided, the Pegulas ended up owning the Bills.
Back in early 2014, with the team for sale and potential buyers in the process of being narrowed to three finalists—Trump, Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, and a group of Toronto investors led by Jon Bon Jovi—speculation was rampant that the would-be Canadian buyers planned to move the franchise north of the border. That’s when a local fan group sprang up, hoping to turn sentiment in Buffalo against Bon Jovi and his partners.
These activist Bills backers called themselves “12th Man Thunder” and began orchestrating colorful stunts like establishing “Bon Jovi-Free Zones” in local bars, antics that earned them ink everywhere from Breitbart to New York magazine. (All that attention also got them into a legal showdown with Texas A&M over the use of the phrase “12th man,” which the Aggies had trademarked.)
But what almost nobody knew—until now—is that the whole thing was pulled together by the then-future president of the United States. In the spring of 2014, Trump hired veteran Republican operative and Buffalo resident Michael Caputo—a close associate of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. Caputo had worked with Ollie North during the Reagan years and then helped boost the careers of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin as a political consultant in Russia—now he was enlisted to create a group that would scuttle Bon Jovi’s NFL chances.
“Trump knew he couldn’t outbid the Canadians,” Caputo recounted to me recently. Instead, Caputo explained, he would scare them off by turning Buffalo against them.
Having been publicly involved with abortive efforts to launch Trump into New York’s gubernatorial race the year before, Caputo was too closely associated with the mogul to be the public face of the 2014 effort, so he recruited others. “I had it all set up with neighborhood guys who lived by the stadium,” he explained.
“We weren’t even allowed to mention [Trump’s] name because of the agreement that he signed.”
In a stroke of cunning, Caputo recruited Chuck Sonntag, a double amputee cancer survivor, to serve as the group’s leader. Press coverage would occasionally identify Caputo as a “PR consultant” to the group, while reporting that it was founded by Sonntag as he lay recovering from his amputations in a rehabilitation center. “It was easier for Sonntag to lose his leg than his team,” Caputo recalled.
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Trump’s involvement in the Buffalo scheme was short-lived. According to Caputo, not long after 12th Man Thunder was formed, Trump entered a $1 billion bid for the Bills, and as a condition of that offer, was forbidden from participating in public outreach efforts related to the sale. So, as Caputo recalls, Trump called him and told him that he had to break off contact with him and the fan group. “I can’t talk to you anymore because of the NDA I signed,” Caputo remembers Trump saying. “Have a good time.”
“We immediately made it far more aggressive and anti-Toronto than the president ever envisioned, mostly because we didn’t have to worry about getting him crossways with the NFL,”
Charlie Pellien, a Buffalo local who co-founded the group said that keeping a lid on Trump’s involvement was a challenge. “It was all behind the scenes and we weren’t even allowed to mention his name because of the agreement that he signed,” Pellien told me. “I was bursting at the seams to tell people, ‘Hey, this was Donald Trump’s idea.'”
With Trump having removed himself from the picture, Caputo took the gloves off. “We immediately made it far more aggressive and anti-Toronto than the president ever envisioned, mostly because we didn’t have to worry about getting him crossways with the NFL,” he said.
The group gathered thousands of signatures for a petition demanding the team remain in Buffalo and started a “Ban Bon Jovi” movement to rid upstate New York of the New Jersey rocker’s music. A local radio station, Jack FM, started playing a version of “Livin’ on a Prayer” with new lyrics that went, “Johnny used to get played on Jack / Now he wants our Bills / But Buffalo just won’t take that / He’s wack.”
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With the threat of legal action out of the way, the group’s campaign continued—and it worked, partially. Bon Jovi didn’t get the Bills, but neither did Trump. Instead, in September 2014 the team went to Pegula, who has kept it in Buffalo.
Without an NFL team to run, Trump entered the presidential race nine months later, capitalizing on anti-foreigner sentiment, outrageous stunts and the enthusiasm of colorful grassroots groups to win the presidency. Caputo, Stone and Manafort each joined his presidential campaign as advisers and then left it amid various public blowups. All three have been hauled before Congress as it investigates possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Caputo said Bills Fan Thunder still exists, and that it now has 20 season tickets it uses to send underprivileged youth from Buffalo, along with chaperones, to each home game. Caputo told me that after Trump launched his White House bid, he informed the candidate that the group had transformed into a vehicle for taking poor kids to Bills games. Trump, he said, seemed pleased and regularly peppered him for updates on the organization over the course of the campaign.
Olbermann, meanwhile, has just published a book based on his GQ work critiquing the president—it is called, unsubtly, “Donald Trump is F*cking Crazy.” Despite their differences, Caputo places the imperatives of football over mere political disagreements.
“He can do whatever he wants on GQ and say whatever he wants,” Caputo said of Olbermann. “He’ll always be a hero to me.”
A tweet from Scott Kachsmar:
Worst scoring differential for 4-3 team in NFL history
2017 Dolphins: -60
1965 Giants: -55
Conor Orr, writing in SI.com, looks at the loss of LB DONT’A HIGHTOWER:
The most impressive part of the Patriots’ two-decade stretch of dominance has been their ability to shed popular and productive players each season and still maintain a high level of performance.
In 2017, though, the league’s No. 32-ranked defense (426.7 yards per game surrendered) has already struggled mightily to replace both the talent level and chemistry of Bill Belichick’s previous defenses.
What will they do now that Dont’a Hightower, one of the best linebackers of the Belichick era, is set to miss the season with a torn pectoral muscle?
The MMQB’s Albert Breer reported the injury Thursday morning along with the following information, which basically showed that New England, along with the rest of the NFL world, was not totally taken by surprise:
• Teams interested in signing Hightower discovered a partially torn pectoral muscle back in March.
• The New York Jets failed Hightower on his physical amid their free agency courtship of the 27-year-old linebacker, and pulled their initial offer to him.
New England signed Hightower to a four-year, $35 million deal on March 15, though his lower 2017 base salary ($1,250,000) and higher per-game earnings reflected the team’s concern. Hightower has made it through 16 games in a season just once with the Patriots (2013), and he was on New England’s Active/PUP list for nearly all of training camp this season.
A position switch to more of the Rob Ninkovich-style edge linebacker spot also increased the difficulty level for Hightower to emerge from 2017 fully healthy. According to Pro Football Focus, Hightower played 237 total snaps as an edge defender this season, about the same amount as Cassius Marsh and Deatrich Wise. Trey Flowers (435 snaps) has been New England’s most consistent edge presence this season.
Belichick has always been able to flummox opposing teams with the ability to shift defensive fronts on a whim. Part of that success was thanks in part to versatile, cerebral players like Hightower who could handle a vastly different workload from week to week. Belichick signed the largely stashed longtime Jets linebacker David Harris (26 total snaps in 2017) for that same reason.
Will he be able to get creative enough to fix the Patriots’ defensive issues without his most dependable defensive player?
THIS AND THAT
Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. spill the beans at ESPN.com on some inside baseball, er inside football, about the NFL’s response to the social justice protests by some of its players.
It’s a long piece here with some excerpts below. The big takeaway seems to be there is a large cadre among the NFL’s recent executive hires that are all in on making the NFL a political outreach group first, and a professional sports league second:
For weeks, Goodell had tried to get in front of the issue. One owner had complained that NBA commissioner Adam Silver got away with ordering players to stand because, unlike Goodell, he has a good relationship with the union. Another owner had remarked to a colleague that Trump would like nothing more than for players to strike over the protests, maybe forcing a suspension of the season.
As owners filed into the large conference room featuring a massive, football-shaped table, everyone feared the discussion could get ugly. NFL executive Troy Vincent, who cared deeply about the players’ concerns but had little patience for the protests, called San Francisco 49ers GM John Lynch the Saturday before the meeting. He told him that if safety Eric Reid, one of the most ardent protesters, knelt the next day, he shouldn’t “bother to show up” at the players-owners meeting because nobody would take him seriously, according to people briefed on the call. Reid knelt anyway. And he intended to show up.
Just before Reid and the other players and union leadership arrived, talk among the owners turned to a final issue, small but symbolic: the seating arrangement. In collective bargaining negotiations, the owners sat opposite players and union representatives. But Goodell told the owners their job that morning was to listen; the session was not a negotiation or anything that could be resolved by a quid pro quo. The owners decided the meeting would have to start with the tiniest of gestures:
We’ll sit side by side with the players.
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Yet in many ways, the meetings would be a referendum on the same argument owners have been holding in private meetings for years: What is the NFL’s identity? Is it a strict entertainment company that Jones and others envision, controlling the behavior of its players in service of its financial bottom line? Or should it attempt to transform itself into a more socially conscious league that would strive, through the forging of a rare and fragile owners-players partnership in this moment, to use its mammoth platform to try to change society for the good, even if the cost of that process, slow and complicated, would likely be measured in short-term declining popularity and lower revenues?
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Goodell had personally decided which owners would attend, and he had not invited Jones. The commissioner, sources say, wanted to prevent the players-owners meeting from devolving into an argument about whether a player should be benched if he kneels — an argument that was more likely to break out if Jones attended.
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New York Jets linebacker Demario Davis stood up in the center of the room and told owners: “I’m going to break it down for you guys. You guys aren’t supporting us, and until you do, there’s going to be an issue.”
Davis’ message, and passion, seemed to relieve the tension. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank later told Davis that he’d “missed his calling” as a great public speaker. A few owners tried to separate their deep dislike of unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the protests a little more than a year ago, from the players’ broader message: This wasn’t an “anthem protest” but rather an “inequality in America” protest. Knowing that their motives and message had largely been lost in the political chaos, the players told stories of their personal connections to the military and showed a good grasp of the business problems suddenly confronting the league. Left unsaid was the warning issued on Oct. 11 by Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy about forcing players to stand: “I think it’s gonna be an uproar if that is to happen, because you’re basically taking away a constitutional right to freedom of speech.”
League executives tried to show they understood the players’ concerns. Several league staff members presented a three-pronged action plan: expand the My Cause, My Cleats initiative; help convene more meetings with lawmakers to ramp up lobbying for players’ causes on Capitol Hill and, through the clubs, in statehouses across the country; and use the NFL’s platform to promote it all. The league had scrapped a staff idea to extend an olive branch to Kaepernick — who in October filed a collusion claim against the owners — by inviting him to visit the league headquarters.
The action plan had met harsh criticism when it was first introduced inside the league office the Thursday before the owners’ meetings. Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s vice president of social responsibility, chief marketing officer Dawn Hudson and others had presented the plan to Goodell and top executives, including public relations chief Joe Lockhart, chief operating officer Tod Leiweke, chief media and business officer Brian Rolapp and general counsel Jeff Pash. Isaacson characterized the plan as a chance to seize the social moment and make an impact beyond football. There was also a request for a huge marketing budget. The league’s business executives ripped it, accusing Isaacson — who had joined the NFL after working in merchandising and community relations for baseball’s Brooklyn Cyclones — and Hudson of losing sight of the goal, which was to persuade all the players to stand for the anthem. The plan was “too political,” they said, and would likely invite further attacks by Trump. “How could you possibly present this to owners?” one executive asked. As the proposal was discussed, Goodell remained mostly quiet but seethed because he felt the plan was uninspired.
Neither Goodell nor the business executives liked the action plan at that moment, but what worried the business executives was that Goodell was not focused on what they deemed the priority: the very real financial problems facing the NFL. Fact was, they were right. Goodell believed that all players should stand, but he and Vincent had been working with them for more than a year on their concerns, calling them individually and holding meetings, and the commissioner deeply cared about their cause.
Now, in the meeting with players, Goodell, despite his initial reservations about Isaacson’s plan, supported it “full bore,” an owner says. Not only that, the commissioner moved around the room to guide the conversation about its pluses. Many times he told the owners they weren’t hearing the players’ core arguments. “We’re all in this together,” Goodell told them. The players and the union executives, who have been at odds with Goodell for years, were impressed. “It was the proudest I’ve ever been in the NFL,” one owner said later. This was Goodell leading in a manner they’d rarely seen: He was not playing a zero-sum game, he was not risk-averse and his compassion clearly lay with the players in the face of severe pressure from hard-line owners and business executives. “He did a great job because he didn’t say much,” Blank says. “I don’t mean that in a negative way.”
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It was hard to tell if it was just optics. Shortly after 1 p.m., Goodell and Smith stepped out of the session to tell Lockhart and union spokesman George Atallah to craft a joint NFL-NFLPA statement, a symbol of rare cooperation.
Players were still skeptical that the owners and league executives beyond Goodell were motivated to act — a week later, Chargers tackle Russell Okung would label the league’s lack of urgency “disappointing” and said the players-owners meeting appeared “unproductive at best and disingenuous at worst.”
Before everyone left the room that afternoon, Davis made one last point: how important it had been that acting Jets owner Chris Johnson, the brother of Woody Johnson, now Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, had visited with every player in the locker room to hear their concerns.
“Guys will stand up if you hear them,” Davis told the owners.
TWO HOURS LATER, those 11 owners joined their counterparts and league executives in a third-floor conference room at the Conrad Hotel in lower Manhattan. It was uncertain and tense. Most pro-stand owners, like Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins, had been purposefully excluded from the players’ meeting.
Inside the conference room, Goodell kicked off the session by asking each of the 11 owners to give his account of the players’ meeting. Nearly all offered slight variations on the same theme: It was a very good session; the players were passionate and very impressive; we’ve got a lot of work to do to address their concerns and to use the NFL platform to address these difficult social, racial and justice issues. The mandate to stand wasn’t mentioned. Goodell didn’t interrupt anyone, and he summed it up by saying that the two sides were “on a good path to a partnership.”
Goodell then opened the floor to discussion, and something surprising happened: Nobody debated. Jones asked a pair of benign questions about the process for Isaacson’s proposal, a far different occurrence than in the committee meetings three weeks earlier when, according to an owner, he had “hijacked” the protest discussion. Owners were stunned. “OK,” Goodell said, “let’s move on and we’ll come back to this.” The meeting broke around 5 p.m., and many of the owners left for the night believing that the ones who hated the protests most had relented. But Goodell had purposefully tabled the discussion out of deference to Jones, giving him the evening to speak to owners and gauge the support for a league-wide mandate to stand.
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AT THE CONRAD on Wednesday, Day 2 of the meetings began with most owners and team executives back inside the third-floor conference room. While league staffers reviewed mundane legal matters and pored over a PowerPoint presentation showcasing this season’s declining TV ratings, a strange suspense lingered over the session, given that the anthem issue remained unresolved: What would Jerry Jones say?
By late morning, Goodell finally moved the discussion to the protests. It was a “special privileged session,” with only owners plus one adviser allowed. Snyder spoke first. He said that there were real business issues at stake, and he mentioned that in his market, the defense industry and other sponsors were angry about the protests. He didn’t put any dollars on it. To many in the room, Snyder’s speech felt like an opening act for the headlining band.
After Snyder sat down, Jones stood and left no question that it was his floor. “I’m the ranking owner here,” he said.
At first, some in the room admired Jones’ pure bravado, the mix of folksy politician and visionary salesman he has perfected. But he was angry. He said the owners had to take the business impact seriously, as the league was threatened by a polarizing issue it couldn’t contain or control. To some in the room, it was clear Jones was trying to build momentum for an anthem mandate resolution, and in the words of one owner, “he brought up a lot of fair points.” Jones believed he was one of the few showing any urgency on the matter and seemed to be more frustrated that not everybody was listening than he was passionate about the mandate.
As Jones spoke, Snyder mumbled out loud, “See, Jones gets it — 96 percent of Americans are for guys standing,” a claim some dismissed as a grand overstatement. McNair, a multimillion-dollar Trump campaign contributor, spoke next, echoing many of the same business concerns. “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” McNair said.
That statement stunned some in the room. Then Kraft, who is close friends with Trump, politely rebuked the hardliners, saying that he supported the league’s marketing proposal and predicted the issue would work itself out over time. This argument seemed to find a receptive audience in the room. An unofficial count had only nine owners in favor of a mandate, though the reasons for the opposition varied: Some owners had tired of Jones always commandeering such meetings; some were jealous of his power and eager to see him go down; some saw the players-must-stand mandate as bad policy to invoke in the middle of the season; some owners were angry with Jones’ hard-line public stance on kneeling, feeling that it had backed them all into a corner. “The majority of owners understand this is important to the players and want to be supportive, even if they don’t exactly know how to be supportive,” one owner says.
Now, suddenly, Jones found himself in an unfamiliar position: He wasn’t getting his way. He knew it, and everyone knew it. Like the numerous reasons behind the protests, the business concerns were nuanced — one major sponsor had threatened to pull out if the NFL were to issue a mandate to stand. York spoke next. Though Jones and Snyder were angry with him — they felt that if he had forced Kaepernick to stand a year ago, this crisis could have been averted — York and Jeffrey Lurie of the Eagles had emerged as thoughtful leaders. Knowing that many of the players who were still kneeling were on his 49ers, York emphasized that he understood the business concerns and that each market was different, and that he had been talking to his players for a long time and would continue to do so. Lurie had spoken up during the meeting, supporting the players’ right to kneel.
After the owners finished, Troy Vincent stood up. He was offended by McNair’s characterization of the players as “inmates.” Vincent said that in all his years of playing in the NFL — during which, he said, he had been called every name in the book, including the N-word — he never felt like an “inmate.”
It was starting to get nasty. Vincent and Jones had a sharp but quick back-and-forth, with Jones finally reminding the room that rather than league office vice presidents, it was he and fellow owners who had helped build the NFL’s $15 billion-a-year business, and they would ultimately decide what to do. McNair later pulled Vincent aside and apologized, saying that he felt horrible and that his words weren’t meant to be taken literally, which Vincent appreciated. The meetings were already running long and were ending on a raw note — and there were more agenda items to hit. For the second time in a month, a few frustrated owners grumbled about Lockhart, angry that the league was, as usual, appearing to be reactive in a public relations sense in the face of a crippling crisis. League executives worried that during upcoming events — Veterans Day and the NFL’s Salute to Service — pro-military groups might stage protests.
Goodell left the meeting room to be ushered to a news conference. The final topic of a long morning was the most salient one: the commissioner’s next contract. Jones is not technically on the six-person committee that determines Goodell’s compensation, but he has willed himself onto it. And so, before everyone could leave, he spoke for 20 minutes, delving into all of the league’s problems that everyone knew by heart. He wanted Goodell’s contract to be more incentive-based than it is. “This is the most one-sided contract ever,” he said. This speech, like the one earlier in the day by him, was not vintage Jones: His usual annoying but endearing Jerryisms were replaced by a palpable urgency; it seemed to a few owners as if only Jones could see that an opportunity to regain control of the league was slipping away.
As Jones spoke, a few owners wondered what exactly had been accomplished during the week in New York. Had Goodell won? Had the players won? Had Jones lost? For most, it was enough that the owners and players had come together and that perhaps the promise of their newly formed partnership would bury the desire of some players to take a knee or raise their fists again. As a top league executive remarked when it was over, it took a president’s attacks to get everyone to come together — or at least agree to keep talking, as they intend to do at the next owners-players summit, scheduled for Oct. 31, a meeting that the players have invited Kaepernick to attend.
Just after 2 p.m., the New York meetings adjourned, two hours late. Owners filed out to meet in the lobby with reporters, explaining the league’s baby steps toward turning “protest into progress.” All of the reporters waited for Jones. A day earlier, he had tried to duck underneath a staircase at the hotel to avoid them, but about two-dozen reporters swarmed, ready to assume their common position of being his rapt audience. But Jones didn’t stop walking. He searched for a way out of the hotel and hit a dead end before turning back and going down an escalator. Jones likes to talk the most when he’s selling. For now, at least, he had nothing to sell. But there was a very real sense that he wasn’t done fighting, not on the anthem, not on Goodell’s contract and not on his worries about the NFL’s future. As he left the meeting room, Jerry Jones was silent. And then he was gone, slipping out a hotel side door and out of New York, where so much had been discussed and so little had been decided.
It didn’t take long this season for the NFL to generate big-picture concerns about its decision to repopulate the Los Angeles region with two franchises. As the Chargers play in a 27,000-seat soccer stadium in front of mostly visiting fans and the Rams endure the league’s worst attendance decline in decades, the question arose: Has the NFL made one of its worst decisions in history?
My answer: No. Not even close. At least not yet.
It will take years to evaluate this gambit. (You can call that second-guessing, but I’ll go with “the benefit of hindsight.”) Not until both the Rams and Chargers settle into their new stadium, scheduled to open in 2020, can we know whether the moves have paid off.
Fortunately, the NFL has a 97-year history to cull for those who like the idea of exposing (and learning from) mistakes. I’ve compiled 10 below — with an important caveat. The NFL built itself into the country’s most popular and profitable sports league, despite some of its recent turmoil, by making many multiples of good decisions versus its bad ones.
With that said, let’s get to it:
In the spring of 2012, the NFL hatched a deeply flawed plan to maximize leverage while negotiating a labor agreement with the NFL Referees Association. Owners threatened to lock out and replace game officials if a deal couldn’t be reached in time for the preseason. The NFLRA stood firm, and the league office selected replacements from a hastily assembled list.
Most NCAA Division I officials spurned the NFL’s offers, unwilling to be used as pawns in a union fight. So the league played the entire preseason, and the first two weeks of the regular season, with officials from levels as low as high school and from little-known associations (including the Lingerie League).
It ended in disaster — the chaotic and botched “Fail Mary” call that decided a Monday night game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. The lockout was halted three days later. The league had played its fans for fools, risking the integrity of outcomes in an effort to win a labor battle.
“We’re sorry to have put our fans through that,” commissioner Roger Goodell said at the time.
Playing after the JFK assassination
President John Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. It was a Friday. Two days remained before the NFL’s games for that week. Amid the national grief, commissioner Pete Rozelle, 37 at the time, had a quick and seemingly irrelevant choice. Should the games go on? Or should they be postponed out of respect for the tragedy?
Rozelle called Kennedy press secretary Pierre Salinger, a personal friend. In a 1994 interview with the New York Times, Rozelle said Salinger recommended that the NFL play.
Football had been Kennedy’s favorite sport, but criticism was swift. Legendary New York columnist Red Smith termed it an “exercise in tasteless stupidity.” Some of the games kicked off less than an hour after Kennedy’s accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot himself by Jack Ruby. The stadiums were reported to be eerily silent. Rozelle later said it was “the worst decision I ever made.”
Closing NFL Europe and squeezing the offseason
NFL Europe was shuttered in 2007. It was losing millions of dollars per year, and owners didn’t see enough returns on either of its dual goals: international outreach and player development. They switched emphasis on the former, scheduling more NFL teams to play in London, but ignored the latter.
At the very least, NFL Europe had been a decent breeding ground for quarterback depth.
Turning a blind eye to long-term health
There is a long history of football’s organizers glossing over the game’s inherent violence until external pressure forces changes — even predating the NFL.
It started in 1905, when President Teddy Roosevelt intervened to persuade college administrators to address that year’s 18 reported deaths in a meaningful way. In the 1950s and 1960s, concerns about late hits and dirty play forced rules to make players down immediately by contact (1955) and to prohibit rampant grabbing of the facemask (1962). And most of us know the concussion story.
Initial rejection of Warren Moon
It took one of the greatest quarterbacks in pro football history six years to get his first NFL job. It’s not hard to figure out why. When Moon left the University of Washington in 1978, only seven of the league’s teams had started an African-American quarterback. In the previous decades, countless qualified candidates had been asked to switch positions. (As a Minnesotan, I always think of former Gophers Sandy Stephens and Tony Dungy.)
Moon refused. Instead, he signed with the Canadian Football League, where he played for six seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos — winning five Grey Cups — before NFL teams finally expressed interest. He joined the Houston Oilers in 1984 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Stripping Pottsville of 1925 championship
The Pottsville Maroons of Pennsylvania were the class of the 1925 season, finishing 9-2 and defeating the Chicago Cardinals in what was considered the NFL championship game. That’s when things got interesting.
As ESPN’s David Fleming tells the story, Pottsville’s owners received permission to play a post-championship exhibition game against Notre Dame in Philadelphia. (In those days, amateur football was considered superior to the pro game.) Pottsville won 9-7, a huge victory for the NFL. But afterward, the Frankford Yellow Jackets (who would become the Eagles) accused Pottsville of invading their geographic territory. The NFL agreed, rescinding its permission and stripping Pottsville of the championship.
Entering the PI business
Goodell’s “law and order” tenure began reasonably enough. His goal was to present a law-abiding league to the public. But that goal has not always been supported by the investigative infrastructure to pull it off. The NFL often finds itself in grievances or in federal court to defend its discipline — the ongoing litigation involving Dallas Cowboys tailback Ezekiel Elliott is the latest example. What’s more, those efforts seeped into internal probes in a way that created as many stories as it addressed.
Think about the self-inflicted mistakes the NFL has made while investigating allegations of impropriety. It sowed mistrust by destroying the evidence it used to penalize the New England Patriots in the 2007 Spygate episode. Its Bountygate examination of the New Orleans Saints was roiled by errors, and the player discipline was ultimately vacated by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Meanwhile, the league consumed nearly two years in an effort to punish Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for underinflating footballs — despite ample evidence that the deflation could have been caused by the weather.
Overall, the NFL has spent enormous resources and equity pursuing and defending disproportionate offenses. It has created the public perception of a business at war with itself on issues that seem secondary to the health of the league.
The “Heidi game”
Imagine a time when America’s broadcasters prioritized their Sunday night movie schedules more than the outcomes of football games. Well, kids, it used to go that way.
The most famous instance came in 1968 during an AFL matchup, when NBC switched from a Jets-Raiders game to the children’s movie “Heidi” as soon as the clock struck 7 p.m. ET. At the time of the switchover, the Jets led 32-29 with 1 minute, five seconds remaining. No one saw the Raiders drive the field for a winning touchdown.
1987 scab games
The decision to play three weeks of games with replacements during a players strike generated all sorts of folksy anecdotes and stories.
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But in the bigger picture, attempting to pass off “no-names, has-beens and never-would-be’s” was an egregious perversion of the service provider construct. The NFL intentionally put something less than its best product on the field. Of all the objections that fans might have had at the time, never before could they have argued that NFL teams weren’t trying to win.
The decision also damaged the league’s future leverage with players in labor standoffs. The games were so bad that no one could reasonably fear this tactic ever being employed again.
Super Bowl XLV seating fiasco
An attempt to set the Super Bowl attendance record by installing temporary seating resulted in 1,250 fans learning they had tickets but no seats. TOM PENNINGTON/GETTY IMAGES
In the hours leading up to kickoff at Dallas’ AT&T Stadium, about 1,250 ticketed fans learned they did not have seats. A last-minute inspection had deemed the seats, part of a temporary stanchion that was intended to add 15,000 fans to the stadium capacity, were unsafe. Many of the displaced were re-seated, but about 400 were forced to watch from a standing-room position.
Putting the Chargers in L.A. is a bigger mistake than the seating fiasco and a few others on this list.