The Daily Briefing Friday, September 4, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com on the rise of trades:

 

The Patriots acquired more veterans via trade in 2016 (five) than any other organization. The team has already surpassed that total in 2017, dealing for seven players since the league year began. New England made four trades in the last week alone, including the surprising acquisition Saturday of former first-round Colts receiver Phillip Dorsett in exchange for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. In an era where too few quality players hit free agency, this is another avenue with which to build a roster. Nine trades were completed Saturday, making it 45 for the year. For comparison, there were only 31 trades completed combined from 2008 to 2011, the year the current collective bargaining agreement was struck. The uptick can be attributed in part to the rising salary cap, which allows greater flexibility.

– – –

Former player Ross Tucker tweeting outside the box:

 

@RossTuckerNFL

Just had an idea: Really need limit on roster spots in salary cap league? If teams want to carry 58 dudes and fit them under $170M why not?

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com on a trio of Bears cuts:

 

The Bears’ release of receiver Victor Cruz on Friday will likely spell the end of his seven-year career. He never quite got over a devastating knee injury suffered in 2014, but he’ll be remembered fondly in the tri-state area for his star turn as the No. 1 receiver for the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl title team.

 

Chicago will also work out an injury settlement, per NFL.com‘s Tom Pelissero, with linebacker Lamarr Houston, who came to the city on a massive free-agent contract in 2014 before tearing his ACL twice.

 

Kicker Roberto Aguayo’s stay in Chicago was a short one following his August release from the Buccaneers. Here’s hoping the 2016 second-round pick can revive his confidence and kicking motion with some time away from the sport.

 

And then on Sunday came word that former starter RB JEREMY LANGFORD was done:

 

The Bears waived former starting running back Jeremy Langford, the team announced on Sunday.

 

Langford’s roster spot went to undrafted running back Taquan Mizzell, who the team claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens.

 

As Matt Forte’s primary backup in 2015, Langford — selected in the fourth round that year out of Michigan State — rushed for 537 yards and six touchdowns. Langford became only one of three Bears players in franchise history with 100 receiving yards, one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown in a single game.

 

But Langford, 25, fell out of favor last season when he suffered an ankle injury in Week 3 at Dallas. With Langford out for four weeks, the Bears turned to rookie Jordan Howard, who rushed for 1,313 yards — the second-highest total in the league.

 

Langford returned for the final nine games but underwent ankle surgery in the offseason and had to rehab on the side during the Bears’ voluntary offseason program. Langford then reinjured the ankle at the beginning of training camp and missed a sizable portion of camp.

 

Meanwhile J.J. Stankevitz of CSNChicago tries to figure out the QB depth chart:

 

Mark Sanchez’s lack of preseason play — he only quarterbacked three series in four games — didn’t turn out to be a sign the veteran would be cut when rosters were reduced to 53 on Saturday.

 

The Bears will move forward with three quarterbacks on their Week 1, with Sanchez likely serving as an emergency backup while Mitchell Trubisky continues to develop behind the scenes at Halas Hall. Sanchez, with 72 career starts and six more in the playoffs, will also lend some veteran leadership to a quarterback room with only 18 starts between its other two players (all of which belong to Mike Glennon).

 

“Mark’s been one of those mentors for me,” Trubisky said. “He just has so much knowledge being in the league for nine years now, he’s seen so many defenses and knows how to come into a new team how to study a new playbook. This playbook is new to him and me since I just got here as well, so he’s giving me tips about how to remember things, pick them up faster, how to study film on a weekly basis and really just how to carry yourself in the huddle. He helps me a lot with situational scenarios throughout the game, just always knowing what’s going on in the back of your mind, stuff like that. So he’s been awesome.”

 

Said Glennon in mid-August: “He’s kind of the guy that when things are slouching a little bit at practice he kind of picks you up and makes you get back on track. He has a ton of experience in the NFL. He’s good in the meetings. … He’s been a great addition for the quarterback room.”

 

In keeping Sanchez, the Bears can control when Trubisky makes his regular season debut — i.e., they won’t have to insert him into a game in case something happens to Glennon because he’s the only other active quarterback on the sidelines. While Trubisky sped up his development timeline during training camp, the Bears will remain cautious with their second overall pick. When he makes his debut, it’ll be under the best possible conditions the Bears can manage.

 

Trubisky, too, could be among the inactive players on gameday if the Bears don’t plan to use him with Sanchez as the backup. Having Sanchez on the roster may not change when Trubisky makes his first start — if the Bears believe he gives them a better chance to win, he’ll play. But it does mean Trubisky won’t be the team’s backup, at least to begin the season.

 

“Mark’s a great teammate,” coach John Fox said. “He’s been tremendous for both our younger quarterbacks. He’s got the most experience of that room. So I think he brings a lot to the table as far as helping the other quarterbacks.”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Legal counsel for the Cowboys has come down in support of RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT and against NFL Justice in the wake of the testimony that the investigation of Kia Roberts played little role in the six-game suspension decision:

 

Cowboys executive Stephen Jones recently described the team as mere “observers” in the Ezekiel Elliott case. Paperwork filed in connection with the case suggests otherwise.

 

Cowboys general counsel Jason Cohen has submitted a declaration (an affidavit signed without official notarization, routinely used in federal court) that both explains the harm the team will suffer due to a suspension of Elliott and directly supports the claim that an effort existed to conceal the opinions of Director of Investigations Kia Roberts from Commissioner Roger Goodell.

 

“Mr. Elliott’s six-game suspension will cause the Cowboys irreparable harm,” Cohen states at paragraph No. 6 of his declaration. “Mr. Elliott is the starting running back for the team and one of the best players in the NFL. He fulfills a critical role on our team — both as a leader and a player. In addition to missing six games (nearly half of the NFL season), he will not be permitted to practice with the team leading up to the games for which his suspension is in effect. Every practice and every game that Mr. Elliott misses will hurt our team’s chances of having a successful season and making it to the 2017-18 NFL playoffs and hopefully the Super Bowl. And Mr. Elliott’s missing practices and games at the beginning of the season will be very disruptive and affect our team’s performance even after he returns.”

 

The term “irreparable harm” has particular significance in this setting; it’s one of the key factors to be considered when determining whether to prevent the league from suspending Elliott while the litigation proceeds.

 

But it’s one thing for the Cowboys to support Elliott and, in turn, themselves. It’s another to take a direct shot at the operations of the league office.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Cohen, who says he observed the testimony of Roberts and NFL Special Counsel for Investigations Lisa Friel at the Elliott appeal hearing, bolsters the notion that something highly irregular was happening.

 

“Ms. Roberts testified that she was the only person to interview Mr. Elliott’s accuser and all other witnesses in the investigation,” Cohen explains at paragraph 4. “She testified that she had credibility concerns about the accuser, and that her view was that there was insufficient corroborating evidence to proceed with discipline. Ms. Roberts testified that she was not invited to communicate her views directly to Commissioner Goodell or to the four advisors from whom he sought guidance regarding this case.”

 

Here’s the kicker, from paragraph 5: “Ms. Friel testified that Ms. Roberts was not invited to a meeting with Commissioner Goodell at which Ms. Friel and other NFL executives discussed the case with him. Ms. Friel also testified that Ms. Roberts was not invited to a meeting with the four advisors who were engaged by the NFL to consult with the Commissioner on this matter.”

 

NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart disputed during a phone interview on Friday with PFT the claim that Goodell did not know about Roberts’ misgivings. Lockhart said Goodell was aware of her concerns, and Lockhart explained that Roberts was not present for the meeting with the four advisors because the purpose of that meeting was to get information from Elliott, not from league investigators.

 

Regardless, the use of the term “invited” by Cohen implies that Roberts’ omission wasn’t inadvertent but deliberate. And the deliberate decision of the Cowboys to submit evidence that tends to support the allegation of a conspiracy to hide Roberts’ opinions introduces a level of intrigue to this situation that takes it beyond any of the recent controversies arising when the NFL targets a team or a player for discipline.

 

Put simply, in the dispute regarding whether Roberts was kept out of the loop in order to make it easier to secure an Elliott suspension, the team owned by Jerry Jones has gone on the record to support Elliott’s position — and to undermine the league’s.

 

Tully Corcoran of The Big Lead talks about the Elliott case (as well as the awful USC dismissal of its placekicker) to say that jurisprudence and sports entities (or college administrations) don’t mix:

 

By now you have heard that Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is suing the NFL for suspending him six games after he was accused of domestic violence. The thrust of his complaint is that his suspension was based on non-credible evidence, and evidence supporting his case was suppressed in what his attorney describes as a conspiracy.

 

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

 

“Elliott and the Union were subjected to an arbitration process in which, among other things, there was a League-orchestrated conspiracy by senior NFL executives, including NFL Senior Vice President and Special Counsel for Investigations Lisa Friel, to hide critical information, which would completely exonerate Elliott.”

 

That is some good and typical lawyerin’ for a situation like this. Makes a good pull quote, and it leaves plenty of room for Elliott and his attorney to eventually concede some points without giving up the essence of their complaint.

 

And it’s the essence of the complaint I want to talk about here. Which is: The NFL suspended Elliott not because it believed he had done something wrong, but because the public did.

 

According to the Star-Telegram, NFL investigator Kia Roberts, the only NFL employee who actually interviewed Elliott’s accuser, recommended no suspension for Elliott . That recommendation wasn’t included in the NFL’s final report on the matter, and the Star-Telegram reported Roberts wasn’t included in meetings held to discuss disciplinary action against Elliott.

 

Now they’re getting sued.

 

You’ll notice these sorts of things don’t happen much in real, actual courts, where there is a presumption of innocence, proceedings are open to the public, there are long established rules about evidence and testimony, lying is a crime, and you don’t get sentenced without being found guilty.

 

But they happen a fair bit in the sports world, where there is a way of thinking that says criminal courts, yeah, they’re OK, but — ugh — the cases take so long, what with all the “fairness” and “procedure” getting in the way, and what’s needed is some stern action from a strong leader to make sure the fans don’t have grapple with, heaven forbid, a conflicted thought or two.

 

A similar scenario is playing out at USC, where Zoe Katz, the girlfriend of a former USC kicker, says the Title IX office put words in her mouth to make it sound like she told them she’d been abused by Matt Boermeester, who was kicked out of school. The Title IX office has pretty much called her a liar. There is video of the incident, but USC so far hasn’t let anybody see that video or any other evidence it says it has for that matter. Because unlike the District Attorney, the Title IX office isn’t accountable to the public. Maybe it has the evidence it says it has, and maybe it’s making that up. Maybe Katz told them one thing at first, and later changed her story because she was afraid of him. Maybe there was a conspiracy against Matt Boermeester. We may never know for sure, because — think about this for a second — the Title IX office didn’t record or transcribe its witness interviews.

 

Makes you wonder who they’re really trying to protect.

 

These are criminal matters that should be taken seriously by people who actually know what they’re doing and don’t have a stake in the outcome. Which is to say the police and the courts. It’s well within the rights of a business like the NFL or a school like USC to associate or disassociate with whomever it pleases. But where there was once a certain deference paid to the criminal justice system, there seems now to be an expectation that sports organizations will provide some sort of extra-judicial reckoning process carried out behind closed doors and influenced by who knows what.

 

Boermeester filed a petition seeking reinstatement in Los Angeles Superior Court.

 

“USC places the entire responsibility for the investigation, prosecution, fact-finding, and adjudication in the hands of non-sworn, non-licensed individuals who act as police, prosecutor, and judge without an evidentiary hearing,” the petition says.

 

A hearing is upcoming.

 

As the NFL and USC are finding out, when you try to play judge, you might just wind up in front of a real one.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says the fate of Cowboys Nation is in the hands of one Amos Mazzant and he provides a scouting report:

 

In the same way the name “Richard Berman” became well-known in NFL circles two years ago, “Amos Mazzant” is about to become a short-term pro football celebrity. Formally known as the Honorable Amos L. Mazzant III, he’s the judge who was assigned to the Elliott case. And Judge Mazzant will commence his official involvement on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. ET, when he convenes a hearing on the question of whether Elliott’s suspension will be stayed pending the resolution of the litigation.

 

So who is Judge Mazzant? For starters, he may not be a Cowboys fan. In fact, there’s a chance he’s the opposite.

 

Mazzant grew up in Ellwood City. Not Ellwood City, Texas (if there even is one). Mazzant grew up in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, a town nestled 40 miles to the northwest of Pittsburgh.

 

Born in 1965, Mazzant came of age during the Steelers dynasty of the 1970s. Unless he was a contrarian who opted not to become a Steelers fan because everyone else around him was shoving him in that direction (a certain 1965-born blogger who grew up 60 miles to the southwest of Pittsburgh can relate), Judge Mazzant at some layer of his epidermis bleeds black and gold. Which means that, at some layer of his heart, he possibly hates the team from Texas that faced the Steelers in Super Bowl X and XIII — and that competed directly with the Steelers for the perception of football supremacy in that era.

 

Judge Mazzant got an undergraduate degree from Pitt, before a scholarship took him to Baylor for law school and kept him ever since then in Texas. So maybe he’s developed an affinity for the Cowboys over the last three decades. Or maybe proximity has made his disdain for them even greater.

 

This doesn’t necessarily mean Judge Mazzant will do to Elliott what Jack Lambert once did to Cliff Harris. Indeed, these dynamics are supposed to be irrelevant when the time comes to apply the law to the facts in any and every given case. Regardless of whether Judge Mazzant showed a streak of independence when the environment of his youth would have pushed him toward becoming a fan of the Steelers, Judge Mazzant — who was appointed to the bench by Barack Obama — previously attracted national attention by blocking the nationwide implementation of an Obama-proposed rule that would have doubled the salary limit for eligibility for overtime pay. This pro-business ruling points to a philosophy that could be very good news to the NFL.

 

It may sound overly simplistic, but judges develop clear reputations for issuing decisions that favor either employees or employers. And the trend typically holds, given that big-picture attitudes fueling the individual rulings tend to bubble up in each and every case the judge handles.

 

In this case, the pro-business outcome would be a dismissal the case as being filed prematurely, or perhaps deference to the potential lawsuit the NFL will file in New York City after arbitrator Harold Henderson affirms the suspension. Judge Mazzant also could keep the case and decide on Tuesday that, although Elliott would indeed suffer “irreparable harm” if he is forced to miss games and later wins a ruling that the suspension was flawed, the likelihood of success is so small that there’s no reason to let him use the court system as a way to slam the brakes on the banishment for a full year or longer.

 

So why did Elliott file the lawsuit in Judge Mazzant’s court? He’s one of seven judges serving in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, and the process of picking one is (or at least is supposed to be) random. Also, any ruling from Judge Mazzant will be subject to appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and if two of the three judges randomly assigned to handle the appeal agree with Elliott, Elliott will prevail.

 

None of that will matter, however, if Judge Mazzant’s Tuesday ruling doesn’t block the suspension. It will be the first, and arguably most important, decision in the case. While Elliott could still win later (which would help the NFL Players Association in its ongoing push-and-pull with the NFL over the Commissioner’s power over players), once Elliott misses six games it will be game over as far as most will be concerned.

 

Peter King is not impressed with either the conduct of NFL Justice and its investigation or the behavior of EZEKIEL ELLIOTT even if he deserves to be de-suspended:

 

Whatever happens Wednesday—by which time the league should hear the results of the Ezekiel Elliott appeal of his six-game suspension for abusing girlfriend Tiffany Thompson in 2016, and by which time we should know if a Texas court will grant Elliott a restraining order so he can play Sunday against the Giants—both Elliott and the NFL will not look good after this case.

 

We know now Elliott admitted having rough sex with girlfriend Tiffany Thompson, admitted using illicit drugs (“in college,” was his proviso), could not stay away from a relationship with a woman he says got pregnant by him on purpose (the woman who alleges his drug use included “doing a bunch of coke”), and says he had sex with a woman (not Tiffany Thompson) whose breasts he exposed in public.

 

We know now the NFL, which should have learned from prior errors in sex-abuse investigations, did not allow the investigator—who interviewed Thompson six times and reportedly had problems with her credibility—to report her findings directly to commissioner Roger Goodell. In fact, Goodell should have demanded to speak with lead investigator Kia Roberts. Her findings were reported to Goodell, but not personally by Roberts. She should have been allowed to tell him exactly what her concerns were, since she was the investigator who would have the most informed opinion on Thompson’s credibility. The NFL must at all costs in cases of abuse do everything right. Everything. Because the league knows the microscope of appeal will delve thoroughly into every aspect of their case. And the aspect of Roberts knowing the accused better than anyone in the league and not conversing with Goodell about that is a blatant error, even if the chain of command in this case does not require Roberts to report to Goodell.

 

I don’t know if Elliott is guilty, or worthy of a six-game ban. But from reading the reports of this case, I sincerely hope the Cowboys do not simply fight for his freedom so he’ll be able to play the maximum number of football games this year. This guy needs to grow up. He needs to go to the Dak Prescott school of maturity. I am reminded of my conversation with coach Jason Garrett in training camp, when Garrett told me of his offseason admonitions to Elliott.

 

“I’ve had a number of talks with him,” Garrett said. “I’ve asked him, ‘What do you want to be?’ My point to him is, ‘If you maximize your abilities, you night be able to make $200 million off the field, like LeBron. Or you could make a million.’ I mean, say you’re AT&T, or you’re Pepsi. You’re looking for a spokesman for your product. What would you do right now? You’d probably say if you’re one of those companies, ‘Oh, we’ll go with Dak. Or we’ll go with Jordan Spieth.’ But that’s in his control.”

 

It’s not just about the money. It’s about Elliot’s career, and about his life.

 

For now, it’s also about his fate. Kia Roberts raises enough doubts about the case, and the veracity of Thompson’s testimony, that unless the metadata is crystal clear that Elliott abused Thompson, a six-game suspension seems excessive. That’s why the evidence, and the forensic examination of the data, is so vital in this case. And the appeals officer in the case, Harold Henderson, has to determine in very short order whether the metadata can be trusted. And if he thinks it can, then Elliott will have to convince a Texas judge the data is flawed—and quickly.

 

It’s hard for me to imagine Henderson erasing the suspension. But the sheer volume of conflicting stories between Elliott and Thompson make it realistic to think Henderson could knock the suspension down a couple of games. And though you never know what could happen in a court of law, it’s also hard to believe Elliott could win this case on its merits. But there’s so much conflicting evidence in this case that any predictions you make on it are done at your own peril.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Gregg Rosenthal on RB MATT JONES:

 

Running back Matt Jones was persona non grata in Washington because of his fumbling issues. It likely didn’t help that he was a favorite of former general manager Scot McCloughan whom the rest of the organization appeared to value differently.

 

“Going to be a stud,” McCloughan wrote recently about Jones on his entertaining Twitter account. He also cited Jones when asked to name the “most criminally underrated player in the NFL.”

 

Jones, who was waived Saturday, put up 4.6 yards per carry last season, and he’s shown great power when he’s not dropping the ball. He’s worth a look as a candidate to be a quality backup elsewhere, possibly with former Redskins coordinator Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams.

– – –

While the Redskins don’t want Jones, S SU’A CRAVENS doesn’t want the Redskins.  Peter King:

 

I think the Su’a Cravens story, is, as one person close to the Washington hierarchy said Sunday, “just plain weird.” But also, as people begin to dig deeper on it, not as much of a shock as you’d think at first glance. Cravens, drafted at age 20 by Washington out of USC in the second round of the 2016 draft, told the organization Sunday morning he planned to retire. The Washington Post reported club president Bruce Allen talked him out of it, and the team placed him on the exempt list, which will allow him one month to decide whether he’ll come back to football. Still, this was the projected starting strong safety, walking into the office of the team president seven days before the opening game of the season, saying he was retiring. A stunner to the public, to be sure.

 

But as our Albert Breer reported in March, some teammates were skeptical that Cravens, who missed the final three games of last year with a biceps injury, was injured to the point that he couldn’t play. And his absence was a factor (one of many) in the team losing to the Giants in Week 17 and missing out on the playoffs. So even if Cravens chooses to come back to football, it’s fair to wonder how he would be received in the locker room by his teammates, some of whom may feel Cravens picked an inopportune time to quit.

 

In a revealing story about the Cravens departure Sunday, Mike Jones of the Post reported an eerie detail about how he told those in his defensive backfield group: “Saturday night, Cravens informed his fellow defensive backs in a group text message that he was retiring, a second person familiar with the situation said. Cravens, in the group message, praised each of his teammates for their skills and expressed gratitude for them and their role in his life. He said that he had enjoyed playing with them, but was retiring on Sunday and ended the text message with, ‘Peace out,’ and then removed himself from the group chat. Members of the group chat were both shocked and angered by Cravens’s decision, players said. Some felt like in a sense, Cravens had let them down.” Good reporting by Jones … and in the culture of a locker room, it explains how it could be difficult if Cravens wants to come back to the team a month from now.

 

 I think you can’t underestimate the kind of damage a player quite important to the welfare of a team can do by walking away after all the hay is in the barn preparing for a game. I don’t know if the Washington defense had been given the game plan yet for Philadelphia (usually that happens on Wednesday morning before a Sunday game, but with the last preseason game having been played on Thursday, the defensive coaches surely had most of the plan already prepared), but defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was surely planning for Cravens—a physical run-support player at 6-1 and 222 pounds—to be a major part of the plan.

 

This update from Mike Florio:

 

Despite reports suggesting that Washington safety Su’a Cravens was talked out of retiring, the team’s official roster move regarding Cravens suggests he’s closer to walking away than staying.

 

Per a league source, Cravens is on the exempt/left squad list. If he doesn’t return within five days of receiving notice from the team regarding the consequences of not returning, he’ll be placed on the reserve/left squad list and done for the year.

 

Although Washington has not yet closed the door on Cravens, initiation of the exempt/left squad procedure forces a player’s hand. And if the player doesn’t come back, the player won’t be playing at all this year.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

We just came back from the coffee pot to see this from Peter King:

 

Matt Ryan on coffee: “I’ve cut back. Like, I don’t have any in the afternoon. For me, I’ll have a little bit of coffee in the morning, but no caffeine in the afternoon. I’m a venti Pike guy, and I probably drink about three quarters of it, so I should move to the grande. Black. I’ve been black with coffee for probably seven or eight years. I try to get away from sugar. As much as you can. I don’t care who you are, everybody cheats once in a while, right? I try and not have a ton of sugar.”

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

RB ADRIAN PETERSON is embittered by not being paid $18 million this year at age 32.  Here’s what he told Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

 

The Vikings host New Orleans and Peterson in Week 1, and the Vikings are the host team for Super Bowl 52 as well. “In my mind, we’re starting and ending the season in Minnesota,” Peterson told Craig. “Of course I want to stick it to them. I want to stick it to everyone we play. But going back to Minnesota, playing the Vikings? Yeah, I want to stick it to them.”

– – –

Drew Loftis of the New York Post looks at the suspension of WR WILLIE SNEAD from a Fantasy Football perspective:

 

You know that sick feeling you get in your belly when one of your favorite bargain targets in fantasy drafts goes belly-up? Well, allow us to introduce Willie Snead.

 

The Saints wide receiver was in line for an increased role after the offseason trade of Brandin Cooks to the Patriots. Now, he will sit out the first three games under a suspension resulting from a DUI arrest.

 

First, don’t panic. The Madman still likes Snead’s upside upon his return. We are, admittedly, less enthusiastic, because this will give quarterback Drew Brees some time to develop comfort with new WR Ted Ginn. But that connection likely will remain more of a big-play option — via deep post and go routes with some reverses mixed in.

 

Upon his return, expect Snead to continue to be a frequent possession target, particularly on third downs. Hopefully you didn’t have Snead slotted as a starter. But if you are in need of immediate relief, try Brandon Coleman, who should inherit a significant portion of Snead’s playing time and targets those first few weeks, and will make for a decent cheap option in daily formats.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

The Buccaneers make a splash by signing S T.J. WARD after he is cast adrift by Denver.  Jonathan Jones at SI.com:

 

1. I think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and general manager Jason Licht believe in windows after signing T.J. Ward overnight for one year and up to $5 million. A three-time Pro Bowler, Ward was the top name plucked after Saturday’s cuts. He joins a wildly underrated defensive backfield in Tampa Bay that improved dramatically last November and December. Brent Grimes still has it at 34 and Vernon Hargreaves has been sharpening his tools against the Bucs’ elite pass-catchers this preseason. Ward will bring physicality to a unit that plays in the best quarterback division, top to bottom, in the league.

 

With Ward on board, Tampa Bay shipped S J.J. WILCOX to the Steelers.  They also sent a 2019 7th round pick to Pittsburgh – and received a 6th rounder in 2018 in return, so we are talking very negligible compensation.

– – –

WR BERNARD REEDY will be making more than $11 an hour in the weeks to come.  Jenna Laine at ESPN.com:

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Bernard Reedy won’t be returning to his side job anytime soon. The former undrafted free agent, who spends his offseason making $11 an hour working as a wheelchair transporter, was informed Saturday that he made the Bucs’ 53-man roster.

 

Reedy told ESPN, “Words can’t explain it. I’ve fought and fought year after year. To clinch a spot is priceless to me. Now it’s time to continue to progress and help the team in any way I can.”

 

As a member of the active roster, he’ll make a base salary of $465,000 this year, or a little over $27,300 per week.

– – –

The former Toledo standout caught a touchdown in last year’s preseason finale and made a strong case for himself to make the final 53, but suffered a torn meniscus and was waived/injured. He then spent the year working for Care Ride, a program similar to Uber that provides transportation services to people in wheelchairs.

 

He started with the company in 2015, when he was waived by the Atlanta Falcons after OTAs, and was away from football for a year.

 

Reedy, who still lives in his childhood St. Petersburg, Florida home, had opportunities to work out for other teams after he recovered from a knee scope. He chose to hold out hope for the Bucs, however. They re-signed him to the practice squad Dec. 10 and he was active for the final two games of the season.

 

“I think he had a real consistent camp,” said Bucs coach Dirk Koetter. “Bernard is a situational player. Obviously by his stature, he’s not your traditional X receiver that’s going to go out there and go against a team’s best corner in press-man all day. But in the things that he’s [been] asked to do, I think Bernard’s done a good job.”

 

Reedy knew he was in a tight battle for the final receiver spot, but rather than waiting around by the phone Friday as cuts were announced, he took his grandmother Yonnie Jordan to breakfast. On Saturday, she had to travel to Atlanta with his uncle, but sent him a text message.

 

She told him, “I’m proud of you for never giving up.”

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Peter King:

 

The Niners kept only two quarterbacks, with Iowa rookie C.J. Beathard, camp star, being number two.

 

 

SEATTLE

Peter King has made a “chalk” Super Bowl prediction of the Patriots against the Seahawks.  Here is why he chose Seattle:

 

Briefly, I am picking a Super Bowl 49 rematch because—though each team has flaws—I like the quarterbacks, I like each coach’s imagination, I like the offensive weapons (even the new and strange weaponry in New England) and I like the Seattle defense. A lot. The acquisition of three-technique defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson by Seattle on Friday clinched it for me; I look at a Michael Bennett/Richardson/Jarran Reed/Cliff Avril front, with Frank Clark the nickel rusher or more, as the best in the NFC. Just about unblockable.

– – –

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com on the acquisition of DT SHELDON RICHARDSON:

 

Richardson comes to Seattle on an $8 million contract, which the Seahawks were able to fit comfortably on their roster. The deal was reminiscent of Minnesota’s acquisition of Sam Bradford from the Eagles on Sept. 3 of last year, with both the Seahawks this year and the Vikings last year using draft capital and leftover salary-cap space to boost their rosters. Teams simply didn’t have that kind of cap space on a routine basis five seasons ago.

 

Unlike the Bradford trade, the acquisition of Richardson could impact the Super Bowl chase. The Seahawks were my pick as the best defense in football and Super Bowl LII champions before this trade added fresh legs to a defensive line that already included pass rushers Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark. Richardson was unblockable in the preseason; he provides Seahawks coach Pete Carroll an assortment of options with linemen who can play inside and out.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

When BROCK OSWEILER was cut by the Browns, the DB would have ruled out the Broncos and Texans as being his next employers, leaving 29 other teams.  Wrong.  Nikki Jhabvala in the Denver Post:

 

Brock is back.

 

In a surprise move, the Broncos will re-sign their former second-round pick, quarterback Brock Osweiler, to a veteran’s minimum deal of $775,000 for one year pending a physical Monday, capping a whirlwind 18 months of bouncing from Denver to Houston to Cleveland and back again.

 

Osweiler returns to be a backup for Trevor Siemian as Paxton Lynch recovers from a right shoulder sprain that will likely keep him out for at least the first few weeks of the regular season — and possibly longer. Lynch has been wearing a sling on his throwing arm, another indication his recovery won’t be as swift as some had hoped.

 

The Broncos waived undrafted rookie Kyle Sloter on Saturday to clear the way for the return of a veteran — one they know quite well.

 

“We’re excited about that opportunity to have that experience there with Brock,” general manager John Elway said. “And plus, with Paxton, you never know with the throwing shoulder. I will say this, Kyle Sloter did a heck of a job in preseason and had a heck of a camp, but as I told him today when I talked to him, I said, ‘You don’t know this, but I’m telling you from experience, going from the preseason to the regular season is a big jump’ and we didn’t put him in that situation.

 

“Trevor is our starter and he’s always going to be that starter. We want him to be that starter, so we have confidence in that. But we feel like if something were to happen that Brock has the experience and we’ve got some good people around him that will be able to help him, too. He fits the system.”

 

In Osweiler, the Broncos get a quarterback versed in offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s system for little money; the Browns are on the hook for his $16 million salary for 2017, minus the amount the Broncos will pay him.

 

Osweiler left Denver as a free agent in March 2016 after spending four seasons grooming to be Peyton Manning’s successor. He started seven games en route to Super Bowl 50 as Manning nursed a foot injury, but was benched in the season finale against San Diego when Manning was healthy enough to re-take the reins.

 

The move was believed to be the impetus for Osweiler wanting a new start in Houston, which came with a hefty four-year, $72 million deal.

– – –

Osweiler’s return to the Broncos may have come as a surprise, given the perceived sour feelings after his exit in 2016.

 

“No, it’s not true,” Elway said. “When Brock made the decision, he made the best decision he thought was best for him. It’s just kind of funny how these things worked out with our situation and Brock being available. It’s a bit funny how everything aligned. We know Brock can win football games with us. He’s got a lot of experience. That was one glaring hole we had at that point in time, in my mind, when Paxton hurt his shoulder. We were able to get it fixed.

 

“We were going to go with a veteran quarterback and Brock made the most sense for us.”

 

During the offseason, Osweiler worked with former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he also saw Elway. He now returns to Denver and looks to right a career that got off track when he left the first time.

 

Siemian is and will remain the starting quarterback. But the Broncos options at No. 2 suddenly became more interesting.

 

“We thought a lot of Brock,” Elway said. “He went 5-2 as a starter for us. Without Brock that year, we don’t win a Super Bowl. He had a lot to do with that year, but I’m sure it’s probably been a long 18 months for him. … I’m sure with everything he went through in Houston and then going to Cleveland, I’m sure he’s going to need a little football rehab. We know that. We’ll welcome him with open arms and give him some love.”

 

Sloter, a one-year starter at Northern Colorado, ended up signing with the Vikings practice squad. 

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers surprised some when they activated prized first round pick WR MIKE WILLIAMS of Clemson in time for the opener.  That and other Chargers cut down news from Jack Wang in the Los Angeles Daily News:

 

Mike Williams won’t play a full rookie season, but the Chargers are hoping that their first-round pick will be healthy enough to return in the next few weeks.

 

Out since May with a herniated disk in his lower back, Williams has only been healthy enough to sprint on his own during practices. But on Saturday, the Chargers placed the No. 7 overall pick on their 53-man roster — taking him off the physically unable to perform list, and leaving open the possibility of him making his NFL debut within the next month or so.

 

Had Williams stayed on the PUP list to open the regular season, the former Clemson star would not have been eligible to play until Week 7.

 

“He has a chance to continue to get better and play that fourth, fifth week,” Coach Anthony Lynn said recently. “If we put him down, we may not see him until midway through the season.”

 

But the decision comes with a cost too. Taking Williams off the PUP list means that he will take up a roster spot while sitting on the bench, bumping off a less-talented teammate who would have otherwise been available for next Monday’s season opener in Denver.

 

Some notable casualties of Saturday’s final cut deadline: veteran safety Dwight Lowery, a 31-year-old who led the team with 961 defensive snaps in 2016, but was due $2 million in base salary; kicker Josh Lambo, who was unsteady last season and failed to separate himself enough from undrafted rookie Younghoe Koo; and linebacker Joshua Perry, a fourth-round pick in 2016 who was waived with an injury designation.

 

The Chargers also released veteran quarterback Kellen Clemens, keeping second-year pro Cardale Jones on the roster behind Philip Rivers. Acquired from the Bills via trade days before training camp, Jones started against the 49ers this past Thursday to end the preseason, throwing for 158 yards and an interception on 18-of-24 passing.

 

According to a source, however, the team intends to re-sign Clemens, a 34-year-old who has served as Rivers’ primary backup for the past three seasons. Temporarily parting with him allows the team more roster flexibility as they comb through the waiver wire, which has suddenly been flooded with more than 1,100 players.

– – –

The Chargers turned to a Younghoe, PK YOUNGHOE KIM to be precise to kick for them.  Peter King with his dossier in a paragraph:

 

Eleven years ago, a 12-year-old Korean boy named Younghoe Kim moved with his family to New Jersey. He didn’t speak English. He thought one way to make friends would be to take up football, and he began placekicking. He kicked well enough at Ridgewood High to get a scholarship to Georgia Southern, and then he got signed as a free agent with the Chargers for training camp this year. Kim out-kicked incumbent Josh Lambo, and now Kim is going to start his NFL career on Monday Night Football, Chargers at Broncos, Week 1.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com on Ravens reinforcement as the season looms:

 

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco returned to practice Saturday for the first time since June, calling his situation — he’s had to miss the preseason with a disc issue in his back — “weird.” It has been weird, with reports saying Flacco would only miss a short amount of time and the Ravens insisting he would be back during the preseason. About six weeks after the disc issue was reported, Flacco’s back was finally ready for a full practice. Still, coach John Harbaugh has to feel a lot better about his offense after seeing Flacco, wide receiver Breshad Perriman and Danny Woodhead all returning after lengthy absences.

 

 

CLEVELAND

For every action, there is a re-action.  Many of the Browns protest the Anthem because of the supposed actions of supposedly racist cops.  Cleveland’s cops now don’t want to participate either.  Dan Gartland of SI.com:

 

Members of the Cleveland police union will not hold the American flag during the national anthem at next weekend’s Browns opener against the Steelers, union president Steve Loomis told Cleveland.com.

 

The officers’ refusal to take part in the anthem is in response to a group of Browns refusing to take part in the anthem before a preseason game against the Giants.

 

Loomis blasted Browns management for “allowing” the players to kneel during the anthem.

 

“It’s just ignorant for someone to do that,” Loomis told Cleveland.com. “It just defies logic to me. The fact that management was aware of what they planned on doing, that’s as offensive as it can get.”

 

The Cleveland Police Department as whole is not boycotting Browns games, though, a department spokesperson told the Huffington Post.

 

Browns tight end Seth DeValve, the first white NFL player to kneel during the anthem, explained that he decided to protest because while he is “very grateful to the men and women who have given their lives” he also “wanted to draw attention to the fact that there are things in this country that still need to change.”

– – –

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com on the acquisition of WR SAMMIE COATES from the Steelers:

 

Browns EVP Sashi Brown had to enjoy the poetry of sending a 2018 sixth-round draft pick back to the Steelers to acquire wide receiver Sammie Coates. The pick was originally obtained by Cleveland last year when the Browns shipped all-time draft bust Justin Gilbert to the Steelers in a move that didn’t stick. Coates has a better chance to make an impact with the Browns, who desperately needed wide receiver help. Still, the Steelers are among the NFL’s best teams at developing wideouts, and failed to do so with Coates. He’s a long shot, which helps explain why the Steelers had to send a 2019 seventh-round pick to complete the deal.

– – –

Peter King on the hoarding of draft picks by the Browns that eventually should unleash a horde of players:

 

In the eight drafts between 2008 and 2015, Cleveland had five general managers and five head coaches who made nine first-round draft choices.

 

Eight of those nine first-round picks, who would now be between 24 and 32 and theoretically be in the prime of their careers, forming the backbone of a team for the long haul, are gone: Alex Mack, Joe Haden, Phil Taylor, Trent Richardson, Barkevious Mingo, Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel and Cam Erving.

 

One, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, is still on the team.

 

II

 

The Browns are drafting enough players over a 37-month period to field a full game-day roster, and have two players left over. The Browns’ draft haul, annually, from 2015 to 2018:

 

Year     Total Picks

2015     12

2016     14

2017     10

2018 (As of Sept. 3)       12

 

Total: 48 (after the Sammy Coates acquisition Saturday). Average NFL team’s picks over those four seasons: 32. (Teams get seven draft choices per season, and in the NFL, another 32 picks per year, approximately, are awarded as compensatory picks for teams that lose monied free agents.)

 

III

 

Assume the Texans finish with a better 2017 record than the Browns, and this will be true, if nothing changes about the 2018 draft between now and late April next year:

 

Cleveland will pick six players before Houston picks one.

 

IV

 

None of the eight quarterbacks and wide receivers on Cleveland’s roster as of this morning was on the roster in March 2016.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

The Colts have been so mysterious about the health of QB ANDREW LUCK, some had wondered if his entire season was in jeopardy.

 

But on Saturday, the team did activate him from PUP which would indicate his return is sooner, rather than later.  On the other hand, the team shipped a player drafted in the first round by the prior scouting regime to the Patriots for QB JACOBY BRISSETT.

 

Zak Keefer of the Indy Star tries to figure things out:

 

He’s back.

 

Finally, he’s back.

 

Waiting until the very last day of the preseason — and waiting until after the 4 p.m. deadline to announce it — the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday elevated franchise quarterback Andrew Luck to the active roster, a significant step in Luck’s eventual return to the field.

 

The move allows Luck, who underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder back in January, to practice with the team as early as Monday, which would be his first since Week 17 of the 2016 season.

 

This has been the Colts’ plan all along. If the team hadn’t moved Luck to the active roster and instead placed him on the physically unable to perform list, of which he spent the entire preseason, he’d be required to miss at least the first six games of the regular season. Now, with him active, there is potential he could suit up at any point.

 

Whenever that happens remains to be seen. At this juncture, it doesn’t even seem like the Colts know.

 

Late Thursday night, after the team’s final preseason game, owner Jim Irsay hinted that the timetable rests upon “the football gods and Andrew’s gut feeling on how he’s feeling.”

 

With the regular season opener in Los Angeles just eight days away, Irsay acknowledged late this week that “the odds are most likely he won’t open up against the Rams.” But Irsay stressed that the franchise has not ruled it out, unlikely as it seems. Luck has just four practices at his disposal before the Colts head west; and that is if the doctors have cleared him to return to the field. Cramming what is usually a six-week preseason into four practices before the opener would be a tall task for any QB.

 

“Will he play against the Rams? Man I hope so, man I hope so,” Irsay said late Thursday night. “We’re going to see where he’s at. It would be awesome (if he can play).”

 

First-year general manager Chris Ballard has repeatedly stressed that the Colts will not rush Luck back under any circumstances. If he’s not ready for Week 1 — the assumption the coaches are currently working under — the team will move forward without him.

 

And with who under center remains the question.

 

The Colts pulled off a stunning trade earlier Saturday, swapping former a first-round pick, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, to New England in exchange for Patriots’ third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

 

One would presume that Brissett, even on a week’s worth of practice time, could start in Luck’s stead in Los Angeles in a week. Under contract through 2019, Brissett could become the Colts’ longterm solution when it comes to a backup quarterback. Interestingly, the Colts kept both Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris on Saturday, giving them an unheard of four QBs on the active roster heading into the first week of the regular season.

 

As for Luck, he has admitted it will take him some time “to get in the groove” once he does hit the field again.

 

But most telling in Irsay’s comments Thursday night was the owner’s repeated suggestion that the final — and most significant — hurdle left to clear is the mental one. That, more or less, this is on Luck. Asked on the game telecast how long it will require the quarterback to get into game shape once he returns to the practice field, this was Irsay’s response:

 

 “It’s a great question, because it’s been said before by one of the greatest athletes and competitors who’ve played any sport — the quote was this: ‘These games, all games, are played on a four-inch field between your ears.’ That’s where it’s at. You have to be able to deal with this, not only physically, but mentally. I have no doubt that Andrew Luck, the person we know that he is, he’s going to come through this thing — and he and I have had long talks about it — not just as good as he was, but a better quarterback. When is the question. That timetable is gonna be more on, really, the football gods and Andrew’s gut feeling on how he’s feeling.”

 

Luck himself has acknowledged the mental challenge he will face as he returns to the field for the first time in eight months, and has said he’s sought advice from quarterbacks who’ve undergone similar shoulder operations.

 

Dr. Chris Carr of St. Vincent Sports Performance has not treated Luck — nor is he familiar with the quarterback’s progress — but he is a sports psychologist with years of experience working with professional, collegiate and Olympic athletes. His expertise offers a lens into the challenges athletes encounter in their quest to return to the field. It’s far, far more complex than most assume.

 

And in some cases, according to Carr, the mental demands far outweigh the physical. 

 

“What’s fairly typical with serious injuries and surgeries, there’s a process these athletes go through: anxiety, doubt, hesitation, tentativeness,” Carr said. “It’s not that they’re telling themselves this, either. It’s subconscious.

 

“It’s normal in any athlete,” Carr continues. “As you’re going through the process, you deal with the anxiety and the doubts. You’ll have moments of confidence, usually after a good rehab session. You could have complications or setbacks, and that’s when athletes have frustration. As an athlete gets closer to returning, they typically get a sense of relief because it’s almost there. At the same time, they’re having a little fear. Am I going to reinjure it? Am I going to be as good as I was?”

 

Irsay has sat down and had several long conversations with his $140 million quarterback in recent months. What has stuck out, the owner recalls, is Luck looking him in the eye and telling him this: “Mr. Irsay, let me just be clear about this: When I come back, I’m going to be the best football player I have ever been, I can promise you that. I just don’t know exactly when that date’s going to be.”

 

“That’s the type of confidence he has,” Irsay added. “He really feels good about getting this thing fixed and going forward.”

 

The season opener arrives in eight short days. Only Andrew Luck knows how Andrew Luck’s throwing shoulder is feeling, and when that long-awaited return to the field will come. Saturday moved him one step closer.

– – –

Peter King on how the Colts landed Brissett – and he says it was the Patriots providing the good fortune to the team that started Deflategate:

 

On Friday evening, a Patriots operative texted the Colts and asked, and I am paraphrasing: Any interest in Jacoby Brissett for Phillip Dorsett?

 

In the previous five pre-cutdown periods, NFL teams averaged 10.2 trades per year. This year, there were 25. “There was a lot of trolling, because there were going to be so many players out there,” said one AFC GM, who was active in the week leading up to the 4 p.m. ET cut deadline Saturday. “There was a lot of, ‘Any interest in this guy? He’s not gonna get to you on the waiver claim system. You’re too low.’” In other words, if a young player, a rookie or impressive undrafted free agent getting cut, hit the market, a team with a low waiver priority (a high-finishing team in 2016) would likely get undercut for the guy. That was a propellant for deals like the Patriots dealing a sixth-rounder for Cincinnati special-teams ace Marquis Flowers.

 

But that doesn’t account for what the Patriots did with the Colts in the stunning trade of the weekend. There was not a whisper of a rumor that the Pats would deal number three (but a rising prospect) quarterback Jacoby Brissett this weekend, particularly with the absolutely unknown quarterback situation the Patriots have in 40-year-old Tom Brady and looming 2018 free agent Jimmy Garoppolo ahead of him on the depth chart. And though Indy had talked to teams (Rams, Patriots, several others) this summer about trading the underachieving Dorsett—two years, 51 catches since being the 29th overall pick in 2015—most around the league thought the Colts would get a mid-round pick, or a pick plus a swap of higher picks.

 

So after the Patriots reached out, the Colts did their due diligence, watching tape of Brissett, especially liking his poise against a hard Houston rush in a September 2016 start. By noon Saturday the Colts decided to do the deal. Interesting, really, to see how quickly deals developed on this weekend: When Indy staffers were at dinner Friday, they had no thought of doing anything significant at the quarterback position. By lunch Saturday, they had upgraded their backup quarterback position—significantly, they thought. Brissett will be an upgrade over Scott Tolzien, who still will likely play at least the opener next week while incumbent Andrew Luck continues to heal from offseason shoulder surgery. The Colts did not make this trade out of a fear for Luck’s health. They did it to get a three-year solid backup/developmental quarterback at a manageable average salary of $735,000 through the end of 2019.

 

Dorsett is undervalued now. Brissett had a good two-year run in the Patriots’ system, and New England probably maximized his value in part by his four-TD preseason game Thursday night. Trading Brissett is risky, but the way New England looked at it, I’m sure, is they’ll worry about the quarterback of the future in 2018, not now. Now is time to maximize a malleable receiver group. “If you want to get something, you’ve got to give up something,” Bill Belichick said Sunday.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Don’t look for QB Colin Kaepernick’s exile to end in Jacksonville even though owner Shad Khan sent out some signals of receptiveness, not after this quote from team president Tom Coughlin:

 

“We did the study and the research and we weren’t interested. No, I’m not explaining it.”

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com is surprised by something done by the Bills:

 

A strange offseason in Buffalo just took another unexpected turn. On Sunday, the Bills surprisingly cut running back Jonathan Williams, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Williams is by no means a household name, but he was expected to be an important player for the Bills this year. After the Bills let the Patriots steal Mike Gillislee this offseason, they were expected deploy Williams as LeSean McCoy’s backup. Williams, 23, rushed for 94 yards and a score on 27 carries last year, but he looked great this preseason when he averaged 5.8 yards per carry.

 

According to Rapoport, the Bills aren’t releasing Williams due to an injury or a looming suspension. They’re just cutting him for football reasons.

 

Those duties could fall to longtime Panthers back Mike Tolbert, even if he’s technically a fullback. What a strange offseason this has been for the Bills — from the firing of GM Doug Whaley the morning after the draft to the trade of Sammy Watkins. Who knows where the Bills will turn now, but don’t rule anything out.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Peter King thinks New England may struggle early with so many new faces on offense, but when they get clicking they will be something to behold:

 

What the Patriots have done on offense since the end of the season, even with the ACL tear suffered by reliable Julian Edelman, is bolster their desire to play position-less football. This is probably the fastest receiver group Belichick has ever coached. Dorsett and Brandin Cooks, both sub-4.4 guys in the 40-yard dash, could line up wide, stretch the field and open up the intermediate areas like never before. Chris Hogan is a 4.45 guy and figures to be in the slot with Danny Amendola a lot. I doubt Rex Burkhead, who is capable of playing the slot, will play much if at all there; I figure he’s going to be a versatile presence in the backfield only. Rob Gronkowski could be more of a move player than he has been, now that a solid blocking tight end Dwayne Allen is in the house—we’ll see.

 

New England has the ability to be so much different on offense than the explosive team that put 34, 36 and 34 points up on three playoff foes. Who knows what they’ll do. This is a team that has the potential to be much better on offense later in the season than in September … and I take you back to my conversation with Brady in February to explain why. I marveled at the precision of the timing routes to first-year Pats Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell at crucial times in the Super Bowl, and this is what Brady said: “That’s a lot of throws. That’s 111 practices that we had. That’s however many games. Films, meetings. It’s got to be like clockwork. You’re throwing it to a spot, he’s turning, those are the ones the DBs have been covering all year too. It took great execution.”

 

Cooks, Dorsett, Burkhead. Allen, Mike Gillislee. When I think of folding in so many new guys to the New England offense, I think of 111 practices. It could take a while before it all fits together. The Patriots’ could change more than any offense in football between today and December. That’s not a bad thing.

 

Here’s why Dorsett was available in a tweet from Stephen Holder of the Indy Star:

 

@HolderStephen

One thing I will say on Dorsett: you could tell Pagano was getting annoyed w his muscle strains and pulls. Missed too much practice time.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

We think Peter King meant the “end of 2016” in this blurb:

 

I think the Jets can say whatever they want. Every action since the end of 2014—shedding Sheldon Richardson, Brandon Marshall, David Harris, Eric Decker, Breno Giacomini, the diminished Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold, and adding a second-round pick in 2018—says this team is all about 2018 and ’19, with 2017 being only a bridge to happier days. They hope.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

JOSH ALLEN

After all the hype, QB JOSH ALLEN did not get it done for Wyoming in their opener against Iowa.  Steve Palazzolo at ProFootballFocus.com:

 

Wyoming QB Josh Allen entered 2017 as one of the nation’s most-hyped quarterbacks, and while his physical skillset is outstanding, he had a rough start to the season against Iowa. Allen finished with a poor 48.5 overall grade for the game as he completed 22-of-40 for 172 yards (4.3 yards/attempt) and two interceptions.

 

While Allen wasn’t as inaccurate as those numbers would appear (of his 18 incompletions, four were dropped and another four were throwaways), his decision-making was poor as he finished the game with four turnover-worthy throws. Last season, Allen’s 20 turnover-worthy throws ranked 22nd-highest in the nation, and it’s something he must improve in order to live up to his top-round NFL draft billing.

 

Perhaps most concerning for Allen was his play from a clean pocket where he picked up both of his interceptions and finished with a passer rating of only 47.4. He was late to the sideline on one pick and his second came on a blind throw right to a defender on a screen pass. With only two games against Power-5 competition this season (Oregon, Week 3), this game against a good Iowa team is a key part of assessing Allen’s next-level ability.

 

As Peter King points out, Allen is now very, very unlikely to be the first QB Josh off the board.

 

I think I’m glad we can be done with all speculation to the contrary. One weekend of college football tells us Josh Rosen is the top pick in the 2018 draft. At least that’s what Twitter informed me late last night/early this morning. Good to know. Kidding, sort of. Hats off to Rosen for a ridiculous comeback performance (292 passing yards, four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter) to beat Texas A&M. Seven more months to determine who’s going number one to the Jets. Or Browns. Or Niners. Or whichever team.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News on what Tony Romo can expect one week from today:

 

By the time the Raiders and Titans have completed the first quarter (maybe sooner) next Sunday, some viewers will be hammering Tony Romo, who will be making his debut as CBS’ No. 1 NFL analyst working with Jim Nantz.

 

That’s the only thing we now can accurately predict about Romo’s TV future. No matter what he says, or how he says it, he’s going to be ripped to shreds.

 

“I’ve prepared for the Twitter universe to be very negative as it always is,” said CBS Sports boss Sean McManus. “Even more so when you are quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. There is a built-in bias and a lot of people are going to hate you from day one.”

 

Considering how seriously the unwashed masses take their NFL and everything to do with it, “hate” is not a strong word. In this world, now more than ever, irrational ravings about sports in general, and the NFL in particular, are common place. Just turn on the TV or radio at any time of day. The Lunatic Fringe has gone mainstream.

 

Romo, who has taken plenty of verbal abuse during his playing days, better come to the party with a reptilian epidermis. There will be plenty of folks, including some in the business with axes to grind, rooting for him to fail. Others are already jealous because of his meteoric rise to the top of the NFL analyst ranks with no experience. Fans of the man he replaced, Phil Simms, won’t like him either.

 

Then there’s everyone else delivering opinions, which are always highly subjective.

 

Listening to Romo speak for over 30 minutes at a recent CBS Sports media roundtable provided evidence he is more philosophical than glib. That might be a good thing. He knows for the first time in his life he won’t be judged on wins, losses, or personal statistics.

 

“The ultimate goal is to not need all the affirmation to make you work harder to be good at (broadcasting),” Romo said. “It’s really about wanting to be real good at what you are doing and enjoying the process…..You want to get rid of the ebb and flow of (the critiques). You want to have more of a secure feeling to do what I do. When you have that, you don’t get bogged down in the week to week grind of (someone) killing you or (someone) hyping you up.”

 

CBS is giving Romo a long leash, so to speak. McManus said he is not expecting Romo “to be great out of the box.” That likely means, unless he is truly horrible, Romo will get at least two years to get his act totally together.

 

“We made the decision he’s going to be our lead guy. It’s a risk. We’re out there. We put it all on the line,” McManus said. “I’m a little bit nervous. I’m going to be very vigilant. We’re going to set Tony up for success as best we can.”

 

 

FANTASY FOOTBALL FAVORITES

Thoughts from some Fantasy Football geeks at ProFootballFocus.com on their favorite players:

 

All offseason long, the PFF Fantasy team has been participating in mock drafts. PPR, standard, IDP, deep leagues, shallow leagues, we’ve tried to hit on the majority of playing styles at least once to show a little glimpse at strategy, at roster-building, and at how our evaluations of certain players change over the course of the offseason.

 

In that process, we also learned some things about our drafters’ preferences. A player taking a guy once doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme. Even twice, it can just be a coincidence that the draft fell a certain way. But a player taking the same guy three, four, five times? There’s something there. At some point, if you’re taking a guy over and over, you’re reaching for him more than the other people in a draft, and if you’re reaching for a guy, even a little, it means you have a reason to do that.

 

So below, several of our drafters opine on the players they took most often in our summer of mock drafts, to explain what it is about these guys that caught their eye.

 

JEFF RATCLIFFE

Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions: With a middle-round and/or late-round quarterback approach in nearly every draft this year, I often found myself pair Stafford up with another late-round option. Stafford is volatile, but he has the upside to be a top-10 option.

 

Eddie Lacy, RB, Seattle Seahawks: Someone had to take him. But in all seriousness, Lacy hasn’t looked particularly good so far in the preseason. However, he has shown the ability to produce RB2-plus numbers in the past. If he rounds into shape, Lacy could potentially be a fantasy surprise this year. That being said, he could also be found on waivers in about a month.

 

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants: Stud. And no, I’m not worried about the ankle injury. I’m still taking him at No. 5 overall.

 

Brandin Cooks, WR, New England Patriots: The idea of Cooks in New England was enticing well before Julian Edelman‘s season-ending injury. Now, he looks even more appealing. There’s very really WR1 potential with him.

 

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers: The drafting public continues to undervalue Benjamin. Sure, last season wasn’t ideal, but he still finished as a WR2. One more year removed from the ACL injury and in an improved Panthers’ offense, Benjamin was a solid value in this year’s drafts.

 

DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins: Arguably the biggest breakout candidate at the wide receiver position, Parker looks like he’s on the verge of big things after a strong preseason performance. This is one instance where the addition of Jay Cutler is actually a positive thing. Giddy up.

 

SCOTT BARRETT

Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings: I hate the offensive line, but man, I love Cook. Coming out of college, I had the controversial take that he was a better overall prospect than Leonard Fournette. He’s worked with the first-team offense throughout all of camp and is the likely Week 1 starter. I love the fit with Vikings OC Pat Shurmur, who has historically used his lead running backs in a bell-cow fashion. At the time I’m writing this, Cook currently leads all preseason running backs in targets per snap. Cook is a strong talent, likely to see an immense workload, and a good value in the early third round of your drafts.

 

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos: Over the past three seasons, Sanders has ended the year as fantasy’s fifth-, 18th-, and 20th-highest-scoring wide receiver. Last season, Sanders ranked one spot behind Demaryius Thomas in fantasy points per game, and one spot behind Thomas in targets per game (13th). By current ADP, he’s routinely being selected as the 33rd wide receiver off the board, which makes very little sense to me.

 

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings: Among tight ends, Rudolph ranked second in Actual Opportunity per game and second in targets per game last year. Among all players, in terms of target market share, he ranked first in end-zone targets, targets inside the 10-yard-line, and targets inside the 20-yard-line. Currently being drafted as the eighth tight end off the board, he’s a steal in drafts.

 

Pierre Garcon, WR, San Francisco 49ers: I’ve written about Garcon a bunch this season, so I’m glad to see I’ve backed it up in drafts. San Francisco has the second-easiest strength of schedule this season for outside wide receivers. He’s also re-joining Kyle Shanahan as the team’s WR1. During Shanahan’s play-calling career his top receiver has averaged 16.5 PPR fantasy points per game — which would have been good for ninth-most at the position. Last time the two played together, Garcon led the league in receptions.

 

DANIEL KELLEY

Willie Snead, WR, New Orleans Saints: Obviously I made these picks before news of Snead’s suspension came down. But even with that, Snead’s stock is surprisingly low. Yes, Ted Ginn is there now, but Snead had 96 targets (with 895 yards and 4 TDs) in 2016 even with Brandin Cooks around. Ginn might be playing over Snead in two-receiver sets, but there’s just no way he equals the 113 targets Cooks had a year ago. A chunk of them will go Snead’s way, making a thousand yards not a long shot at all.

 

Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers: I wrote about this over the summer, but even with Forrest Lamp’s season-ending injury, the team still has Russell Okung and Dan Feeney in the fold to improve an offensive line that made life hard for Rivers of late (his pressure percentage and fantasy performances have fallen closely in line over his career). Add in health for Keenan Allen, development for Hunter Henry, and the new arrival of Mike Williams, and Rivers has all kinds of chances to succeed.

 

Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams: The yards a runner gets before contact aren’t really in his control; that’s what the offensive line does. Well, in 2015, the Rams line gave Gurley 1.96 yards before contact per rush. In 2016, that number fell to 1.00. In other words, Gurley lost 278 yards (his number of carries) last year entirely because of his line. Add even that number back in 2017 (with Andrew Whitworth in the fold to replace Greg Robinson), and Gurley’s numbers look way better. And with a better offense around him, I expect even more improvement.

 

Mike Gillislee, RB, New England Patriots: We’re too obsessed with the “Bill Belichick hates your fantasy team” narrative. Since LeGarrette Blount became relevant in the team’s offense, he was active for 33 regular-season games, and led the team’s RBs in rushing yards and/or fantasy points 30 times. Before that, Stevan Ridley had similar usage over his run. The team used a different back to catch passes, but the primary ball-carrier was fairly locked in place. And considering the Patriots pursued Gillislee after they had Rex Burkhead in the fold, he’s the one they want.

 

TYLER LOECHNER

Paul Richardson, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Richardson is without a doubt my favorite late-round flier at wideout this season. He’s not the only worthy flier, but he’s definitely my favorite. He displayed strong rapport with Russell Wilson down the stretch last year and was often targeted in the red zone. Plus, the No. 2 wideout spot in Seattle is there for the taking.

 

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: Newton is a potential league-winner. He’s being drafted as (roughly) the QB10 in most leagues, but since entering the league in 2011, Newton has more top-three fantasy finishes than not. He’s being drafted at his floor, but his ceiling is what I like.

 

Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans: Henry is stuck behind DeMarco Murray, who is poised to be a workhorse for the Titans again in 2017. But Henry still averaged over 10 carries per game in the final seven games he played last season, and he scored five touchdowns in that span. He becomes an instant elite RB1 if anything happens to Murray, and he has standalone value as a flex option.

 

TYLER BUECHER

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks: I’m not that surprised that Baldwin leads my list here. He’s been inside my top-10 wide receivers all offseason and I’m generally content targeting the receiver position early and often. Baldwin posted the seventh-highest WR Rating among all wideouts last year and finished top-25 in yards per route run. Only six wide receivers had more top-12 weeks than Baldwin last year, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him improve on his 2016 numbers with more touchdowns from a healthy Russell Wilson back in the mix.

 

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Baltimore Ravens: Maclin is another player that I seem to be higher on than consensus. In fact, I’ve got him ranked above all of our other staff rankers at WR32. He’s going to an offense that has a ton of targets up for grabs and he could easily carve out a role as the Ravens’ top wideout. Maclin was in fantasy purgatory with the timid Alex Smith throwing the ball to him. I’m expecting Joe Flacco to unleash Maclin’s return to fantasy relevance on a team that led the league in pass play percentage last season.

 

Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals: Last but not least, Eifert is another player I just can’t seem to stop drafting. Eifert leads all tight ends in touchdowns over the last two seasons with 18, and that’s really all I’m searching for at the position — touchdown potential. Eifert caps off the end of that mid-range tier of tight ends for me, largely due to his hefty 10.9 percent touchdown rate over his career. If he can stay healthy, a top-five fantasy finish isn’t out of the question.

 

MIKE CASTIGLIONE

Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts: Sure, I could point to Mack’s crazy 217.8 elusive rating or summarize all the reasons for my biggest offseason man crush. But really, the eye test just says it all. He’s going to be hard to keep off the field.

 

C.J. Prosise, RB, Seattle Seahawks: Eddie Lacy has failed to impress and Thomas Rawls averaged 3.2 yards on 109 carries last year. Prosise, a converted receiver, carries standalone PPR value after catching 17-of-19 targets for 208 yards last season to go with 5.7 YPC. He’s just been criminally underdrafted as the RB48.

 

DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins: Jay Cutler has been locked in on his new No. 1 target, Parker, who averaged 3.00 yards per route run in the preseason and appears poised for that third-year breakout. It’s been tough to pass up that kind of upside in the middle rounds of our mocks.

 

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions: Another mid-round value, Abdullah has drawn rave reviews since OTAs and then averaged 3.2 yards after contact behind Detroit’s revamped O-line this preseason. He forced the third-most missed tackles of the 2014 RB draft class and was one of the league’s most elusive runners before going down last season.

 

Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: Bryant has averaged 0.67 TDs per game for his career and finished No. 1 in fantasy points per snap in 2014 and No. 3 in 2015. Even knocking 25 percent off his career TD rate, Bryant’s per-16 average would still have placed him as a WR1 in any format last season.

 

WALTON SPURLIN

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks: During the PFF mock drafts I landed Wilson four times mainly due to draft strategy. My preference is to avoid the quarterback position until at least the fourth round (the earliest I selected Wilson in any mocks) and come out of the first three rounds with either two running backs/wide receivers or vice versa. Once he got healthy last year, Wilson was the second-highest-scoring QB in Weeks 9-16, scoring 16 total touchdowns and rushing for 211-yards in that time. I love the rushing threat Wilson brings and that I was able to land him in the sixth round twice.

 

PAT THORMAN

Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington: Cousins’ combination of affordability, demonstrated production, and unrealized upside is exactly what we look for. He was the sixth-highest-scoring quarterback on a per-game basis, saddled with questionable red-zone weapons. His touchdown rate should return to 2015 levels. Cousins returns ADP equity with a repeat of 2016, and he crushes it with reasonable regression.