The Daily Briefing Friday, September 1, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

Maybe it is just what lawyers do, but the NFL never seems to have a consistent, opaque and trustworthy process in arriving at disciplinary decisions.

 

The big bombshell emerging on Thursday in the matter of RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT is that the only NFL employee ever to talk to Tiffany Thompson filed a report that recommended “no discipline” for Elliott – and from that point on she was shut out of the process and her report was suppressed.  Clarence Hill of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram with the scoop:

 

After more than 25 hours of discussion, including Ezekiel Elliott testifying in his own defense, the hearing on the Dallas Cowboys star running back’s appeal of his six-game suspension finally ended Thursday afternoon.

 

Now the wait begins for NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson to issue a decision on whether to uphold, reduce or vacate the suspension handed down after the NFL found that Elliott had violated the league’s personal conduct policy.

 

Elliott’s hope of a reduction or of success in federal court were improved during the proceedings that began on Tuesday, according to a source.

 

His camp promised controverting evidence to the league’s 13-month domestic violence investigation of Elliott, based on claims made by former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson. The possible bombshell evidence came in the testimony from Kia Roberts, director of investigations for the NFL.

 

Roberts recommended no suspension for Elliott following her interviews with Thompson during the investigation — a fact Roberts testified to during the appeals hearing with Henderson, according to a source.

 

Roberts’ recommendation of no discipline is the main reason Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expressed so much confidence in the case until the NFL announced the suspension on Aug. 11.

 

Jones was told by a top NFL executive that there would be no suspension, according to a source.

 

But Roberts’ recommendation never made it into the NFL’s final report or the official suspension letter on Aug. 11, which cited the league’s findings of three instances of domestic violence by Elliott against Thompson based on the victim’s testimony and photographic evidence.

 

When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conducted a meeting to discuss discipline for Elliott, it included Lisa Friel, the senior vice president for investigations; Jeff Pash, executive vice president and general counsel; and Adolpho Birch, senior vice president of labor policy and government affairs, among others.

 

But Roberts was not at the meeting as Friel recommended a six-game suspension to Goodell.

 

During the appeal hearing there was testimony that Friel barred Roberts from the meeting, a source said.

 

Elliott and the NFLPA attacked Roberts’ absence as a process failure during the appeal hearing and plan to exploit it if they go to federal court to seek a temporary injunction against a suspension.

 

That Roberts’ recommendation didn’t make it into the report and that she wasn’t involved in the decision could be used against the NFL if a federal court case is pursued.

 

Now the ball is in Henderson’s court.

 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday that Henderson is being pressured into making a decision by Monday and that a reduction is likely.

 

The date is key because if a decision is not made by Tuesday, Elliott could be on the field for the Sept. 10 season opener against the New York Giants. As long as Elliott is under appeal, he is eligible to play. That is the assumption the Cowboys are operating on, according to a source.

 

And if a ruling comes back that is unacceptable to Elliott, it could spark a sprint to federal court for a possible temporary injunction to block the suspension.

 

If Elliott’s original six-game suspension is upheld, he would be barred from taking part in any team activities starting on Saturday, the day of final roster cuts from 90 to 53. Elliott wouldn’t be eligible to return until the week of the Cowboys’ game against the Washington Redskins on Oct. 29.

 

When the league suspended Elliott on Aug. 11, after investigating claims made by Thompson, it concluded that there was “substantial and persuasive evidence supporting a finding that [Elliott] engaged in physical violence against Ms. Thompson on multiple occasions during the week of July 16, 2016.”

 

Goodell’s decision was aided by a four-member advisory committee, including Peter Harvey, former attorney general of New Jersey; Ken Houston, a Hall of Fame player; Tonya Lovelace, chief executive of the Women of Color Network Inc.; and Mary Jo White, former U.S. attorney and former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

 

Goodell also cited photographic evidence and testimony of medical professionals.

 

The league has no verifiable proof that it was Elliott who injured Thompson or was the source of the bruises. The pictures don’t show Elliott in the act of committing domestic violence, and there were no witnesses.

 

A source said the evidence would not hold up in a court of law.

 

The advisory committee’s finding may have boiled down to believing Thompson more than Elliott.

 

Elliott was never charged or arrested in the incident after the Columbus, Ohio, city attorney’s office cited inconsistent information from Thompson.

 

As has been reported elsewhere previously, those inclined to conspiracy theories have noted that Friel’s defining personal characteristic is her rabid love of the New York Football Giants.  The Daily Snark had this a couple of weeks ago:

 

To add another layer to the story, it appears as there may have been a conflict of interest in the decision.

 

The lead investigator of the Elliott case is a woman by the name of Lisa Mendelson Friel, who just happens to be a New York Giants’ fan.

 

The fandom was confirmed by a feature done on her by The Daily Beast shortly after she was hired by the NFL, where it started the following –

 

She’s the sort of fan who turned the den of her Brooklyn home into a shrine (painting it Giants blue and red and decorating it with team paraphernalia and a life-size wall-hanging of Eli Manning), boasts season tickets that have been in her family for more than 60 years, and cheers her lungs out at every game at MetLife Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

 

“She’s a rabid Giants fan,” says Friel’s former boss, Linda Fairstein, the famed New York prosecutor-turned-crime novelist. “I can be sitting at home staying good and toasty, watching a game, and she’s out there in all kinds of weather,” Fairstein says. “She knows football inside-out.”

 

Just as the New York offices pro-Jets inclination (see Mike Kensil who laid the Deflategate trap at the AFC Championship Game) tarnished Deflategate, Friel’s pro-Giants affinity clouds Elliott’s case.

 

In Deflategate, the NFL raced to its chosen Federal Court in New York, a move that paid off when one of the three appeals court judges in the 2-1 reversal of the trial court is believed to be be-smitten with the Jets.

 

Now, it is Elliott who gets his Federal jurisdiction in Texas.  More from Clarence Hill:

 

NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson is expected to make a ruling by Tuesday on Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s appeal of a six-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy.

 

Elliott is not waiting that long for a decision.

 

Fueled by what they believe were procedural errors made by the NFL during the initial ruling, Elliott and the NFL Players Association filed suit in federal district court in Plano on Thursday night in hopes of gaining a temporary injunction to block the suspension, allowing him to play until the case is resolved.

 

According to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Plano, just outside the Cowboys’ Frisco headquarters, the NFLPA said Elliott was subject to one of “the most fundamentally unfair arbitral processes conceivable.”

 

It also read that “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.”

 

The NFLPA asks that any ruling by Henderson on the subject be vacated. The court would be asked to consider the “unfair processes” during the stay, allowing Elliott to play while matters were resolved in court.

 

Elliott’s defense team consists of his attorneys, Frank Salzano and Scott Rosenblum, as well as two attorneys from the NFLPA, Jeffrey Kessler and Heather McPhee, who both have had previous litigation success against NFL.

– – –

Elliott and the NFLPA will attack, and plan to exploit in federal court, what they see as failures of the process during the appeal hearing.

 

That Roberts’ recommendation didn’t make it into the report and that she was not involved in the decision, could be pivotal against the NFL in federal court.

 

The suit cites the fundamental unfairness by Henderson and the NFL for refusing a request for Thompson to testify at the hearing, thus denying Elliott the opportunity to confront his accuser. The suit says Elliott did appear before the arbitrator and gave strong credible testimony denying any wrongdoing.

 

Henderson did not grant the request to have the accuser testify. He also did not provide Elliott or the union with the investigative notes of the six times Thompson was interviewed by the NFL.

 

The third deprival of fairness, per the lawsuit, was the arbitrator’s refusal to compel the testimony of Goodell, who imposed Elliott’s discipline.

 

Without testimony from the commissioner, the suit says, it is not possible to determine the full impact of the conspiracy, or precisely what Goodell knew or did not know about his co-lead investigator’s conclusion that there was not sufficient credible evidence to proceed with any discipline.

 

The league’s personal conduct policy requires “credible evidence” to support the charges in a case where the player has been accused of domestic violence.

 

Law enforcement in Columbus, Ohio, investigated and declined to bring any charges due to conflicting evidence and inconsistent accounts of the alleged events, the suit says.

 

And because Goodell was not required to testify, it was impossible for Elliott to learn additional critical facts, such as: who decided to exclude Roberts from the meeting with the Commissioner’s outside expert advisers on June 26; who asked Friel what the investigators had concluded with respect to the credibility of the charges (notwithstanding that the panel’s inquiry was never informed by Roberts’ credibility determination to begin with); or who decided not to include Roberts in Goodell’s meeting to discuss the findings of the disciplinary investigation.

 

Legal eagle Mike Florio with more on why Elliott was so anxious to gain home field advantage in court:

 

With the expected news that Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott filed a lawsuit attacking his suspension and the stunning allegations of a conspiracy to keep Kia Roberts (who believed Elliott shouldn’t be suspended) away from the disciplinary process, the biggest question for many is why didn’t he wait until after the issuance of a ruling from arbitrator Harold Henderson before filing suit?

 

Here’s why: If Elliott had waited, the league would have filed the first lawsuit.

 

One of the most basic realities of lawyering is that the place where the lawyer’s case is heard has a direct impact on the outcome. If Elliott hadn’t filed the first lawsuit, the NFL quite possibly would have done what it did in the Tom Brady case, rushing to a Manhattan federal court before Elliott could sue elsewhere.

 

Making that outcome even more likely is the fact that the league ultimately secured (after losing before Judge Richard Berman) a 2-1 win in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. That victory underscored the broad and significant power of the Commissioner to make whatever decision he wants, and to essentially employ whatever procedures he desires.

 

So Elliott and the NFLPA have escaped the reach of the Second Circuit by filing in federal court in Texas, close to Dallas and even closer to Frisco, site of the team’s new training facility. The Fifth Circuit will now resolve any appeals; even without researching the relevant labor-law precedents of the Fifth Circuit, it’s safe to say it can’t be worse than the Second Circuit, for Elliott’s purposes.

 

At the district-court level, the judge is appointed for life, so there will be little or no ballot-box bias that nudges the judge in the direction of the local NFL star of the local NFL team. But if the judge is a Cowboys fan, that won’t hurt.

 

Ultimately, what won’t hurt is the allegation that NFL Director of Investigations Kia Roberts testified in the appeal hearing that she didn’t find Tiffany Thompson credible and Roberts didn’t believe Elliott should be suspended. Those facts will give any fair-minded judge pause, almost ensuring that the suspension will be delayed until the litigation ends.

 

But remember this: The NFL gets a chance to respond to the lawsuit. While the effort may be focused solely on the argument that Elliott’s lawsuit should be dismissed because it’s premature (he’s technically required to exhaust all remedies under the labor deal before suing), there’s still a likelihood that the league will submit paperwork that looks every bit as compelling as the paperwork Elliott filed. Often, the documentation filed by the two sides of a lawsuit can make a neutral observer think that the documentation comes from two completely different cases.

 

Regardless, Elliott’s case has a much different feel to it that other similar cases from recent years. His lawyers have developed evidence that, on its face, creates the impression that the league office has essentially framed a star player as a domestic abuser in order to advance the broader P.R. objective of ensuring that the Commissioner will never be viewed as being soft on domestic violence. That dynamic will be very hard for any fair-minded judge to ignore.

 

Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s lead spokesperson who honed his teeth defending Bill Clinton, says the NFL’s position is not that underlings shielded the honest  Roger Goodell from a conflicting view on his staff.  No, Goodell was fully aware of Kia Roberts’ feelings about the case, and subsequently disregarded them in favor of the view of Giants fan Friel.  Of course, arbitrator Henderson didn’t hear such testimony from Goodell, but we get the news from Lockhart.  More from Florio:

 

The NFL will have plenty to say in court about the 30-page petition filed overnight on behalf of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. For now, the league has one clear message.

 

The allegation that league executives conspired to keep the opinions of director of investigations Kia Roberts from Commissioner Roger Goodell is not accurate.

 

“I can tell you without any hesitation that this is false,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart told PFT by phone on Friday morning.

 

Lockhart explained that Goodell was aware of the views of everyone on the team. Roberts, according to Elliott’s lawsuit, believed Tiffany Thompson was not credible, and that Elliott should not be suspended.

 

“It’s categorically false that the information was kept from the Commission,” Lockhart said.

 

Lockhart did not dispute the notion that Roberts believed Thompson to not be credible. He noted that the Commissioner was aware of Roberts’ concerns regarding the credibility of Thompson and other witnesses.

 

“The findings were not based on the testimony of any one witness,” Lockhart said. “It was based on evidence through forensic sources and it was corroborated in the process.”

 

The league previously has argued that photographs taken by Thompson of her injuries, coupled with metadata confirming the precise time they were taken, contributed to the conclusion that the injuries were inflicted by Elliott.

 

Lockhart agreed that Roberts was not present for the June 26 hearing in the Elliott case, and that she was not present for the meeting with the Commissioner that included a recommendation from Special Counsel for Investigations Lisa Friel that sufficient evidence exists to suspend Elliott. Lockhart said that the June 26 hearing “was not designed to put questions to investigators,” but for Elliott to make his case. Lockhart also said that Roberts’ presence at the meeting with the Commissioner was not necessary, because he was aware of her concerns.

 

Kia Roberts, who interviewed Thompson on multiple occasions, has become a central figure in this case because she testified at the three-day appeal hearing. Per Lockhart, the NFL did not designate her as a witness; Elliott requested that she be required to testify, and arbitrator Harold Henderson agreed. For its part, the league was content to rely on the 160-page report arising from the investigation.

 

Elliott also wanted the Commissioner to be required to testify. If he had, he could have explained that he was aware of Roberts’ opinions directly to Henderson.

 

More thoughts from Florio:

 

The 30-page petition filed last night by Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott put the NFL in a very tough spot. And the NFL had two options for dealing with that tough spot.

 

The league on one hand could have admitted that Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t know about Kia Roberts’ opinions regarding the credibility of Tiffany Thompson or the propriety of a suspension from Commission Roger Goodell, which would cause the case to collapse but would allow Goodell to seem fair and reasonable and willing to admit a mistake, irregularity, whatever in the process. On the other hand, the league could have claimed that Goodell knew about Roberts’ opinions and beliefs, short-circuiting the argument that a deliberate plan to conceal Kia Roberts’ views existed.

 

The league chose Door No. 2, arguing via NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart that the notion Goodell didn’t know about the opinions of Kia Roberts is false. The problem with that is this: Goodell’s awareness of the opinions of the person who interviewed Tiffany Thompson on multiple occasions makes Goodell’s so decision to suspend Elliott seem even weaker and more wobbly.

 

While awareness of Roberts’ opinions may help the league eventually prevail in a court of law (where the league usually wins), it will not help the NFL in the court of public opinion (where the league usually loses). Either Goodell didn’t know about Kia Roberts’ opinions, or he did. Neither outcome looks good for the league.

 

Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com with a concurring opinion:

 

• Friel testified that she had indeed been made aware of Roberts’ concerns regarding Thompson, including the memo Roberts produced outlining inconsistencies in interviews. She also testified that Roberts was not asked to attend the meeting with Goodell in which Friel recommended the suspension.

 

Asked if the testimony of Roberts weakened the NFL’s case against Elliott, the league source said: “It speaks for itself.”

 

The testimony speaks to what sources close to Elliott previously told Yahoo Sports – that his appeal would be formed around the basis of Thompson’s credibility and motives. With Henderson denying a request to compel Thompson to appear for cross examination by Elliott’s legal team, a source close to the running back said the information and assessments produced by Roberts and Friel became a focal point of the appeal. The league source said that focus ultimately led to the revelations of credibility concerns from Roberts. Whether that ultimately undermines the NFL’s six-game suspension remains to be seen.

 

We have always hated the term “league source” which implies that the source is in the NFL office or at least employed at the NFL team, but actually is a vague adjective that various reporters have used to cover the leaks of agents and officials with the player’s association.  If you don’t want to give us a hint as to where the source comes from, such as “a source in the agent community” or “someone in Elliott’s camp”, don’t make us think the League with a capital L has a leaking problem.  Just call it “a source” or a “source familiar with the testimony.”

 

This from Tom Pelissaro, new to NFL.com (and perhaps tasked with carrying the ball on NFL spin):

 

The NFL denies hiding critical information about the Ezekiel Elliott case and other assertions made in a petition filed Thursday by the NFL Players Association, which is seeking to prevent the league from enforcing any suspension for the Dallas Cowboys’ star running back.

– – –

“They’re trying to create a grand conspiracy story where none exists,” league spokesman Joe Lockhart told NFL.com on Friday.

 

Lockhart also disputed key aspects of a report by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Thursday: that Lisa Friel, the league’s senior vice president of investigations, barred Roberts from the meeting in which Friel recommended a six-game suspension to Commissioner Roger Goodell; and that Roberts testified in the appeal hearing that she recommended no discipline.

 

Asked if it would be common for an investigator to make a disciplinary recommendation in such a case, Lockhart said: “No. In fact, at Kia’s level, she wouldn’t, and she didn’t. She made her point of view on particularly the credibility issues known in the report; they are reflected in the report. It is the commissioner and the commissioner’s sole role to decide on discipline. In fact, the union filed a grievance to force him not to delegate the decision” on disciplinary decisions under the personal conduct policy that was strengthened in Dec. 2014.

 

Last year, the federal court system ultimately upheld the commissioner’s broad authority under Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement to decide discipline in ruling against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the Deflategate case.

 

So the NFL is framing the issue that what the NFLPA is calling a “recommendation” was just a “point of view.”  And that while the title is Director of Investigations, there would seem to be very little “directing” expected of Kia, someone at “Kia’s level” just gathers information and it is more important people who act on it and can go off in another direction at their whim and nothing can be done about it because the players bargained away their rights (see “Brady vs. NFL” in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals).

 

The NFLPA filing served to put the NFL’s Investigative Report into the public record, and Deadspin has pounced.  You can read it here.  Some explanation from Deadspin writers Donna Moscowitz and Emma Baccelieri:

 

Before reading the report, know that the complaint alleges it is incomplete and flawed. Thompson was interviewed six times, but just twice were those interviews transcribed. The NFL’s report doesn’t reach a conclusion and excludes certain key pieces of information, the lawsuit claims (bold is as produced in the complaint).

 

First, after repeated questioning, Friel admitted that it was Roberts’ conclusion that after review of the totality of the evidence, there was insufficient evidence to corroborate Thompson’s version of events. Arb. Hr’g Tr. (Aug. 30), Ex. C. at 301:22-302:4. Friel admitted that this conclusion was excluded from the Elliott report, as a result of a decision that she made with NFL counsel

The lawsuit also takes issue with many parts of the arbitration and hearing process—it says that not having Thompson present for questioning was unfair.

 

Still, this is the report that the NFL produced. It reads like the opposite of an investigative report. It opens with summaries of the events and then, at page 78, goes into detailed accounts of each interview, following the timeline of the investigative process. Unlike the NFL’s letter to Elliott upon announcing his suspension, it does not state any definitive conclusions about who is right, who is wrong, or what might have happened. Unless indicated otherwise, everything that follows is from the NFL report.

 

Some random items, but read the whole thing:

 

On Sept. 28, the NFL’s investigator talked to Elliott, who repeatedly denied hitting Thompson. When he was asked if he ever saw any injuries, such as bruising, he said: “She always would have bruises because she’s a small girl and she used to get really drunk and fall all over the place. I mean, she would have bruises sometimes, but I really didn’t see anything out of the normal.”

 

Elliott didn’t consider Thompson his girlfriend; he said it was a “sexual” relationship, although he did provide her with financial support and helped pay for her apartment.

 

He described it this way: “But I never was in a, was at a moment that I, did she ever think that we were in a relationship. She never at no time thought that she was the only girl that I was involved with. That’s all.”

– – –

Prosecutor Robert Tobias, Nov. 1

 

Tobias went over his investigation with Roberts. He talked a bit about Mason, saying that even when she cooperated, he felt like she did not want to be involved. Tobias also spoke about Alvarez Jackson, who he says told him that “none of those things had ever happened, and that he never intervened in anything.” He also said that officers at the club described the fight between Thompson and the woman differently. Thompson and Mason described it as brief but “the police officers described it as flying, punching, and falling to the ground.”

 

On the text about lying: “Once we saw the whole string, it later said Tiffany told her not to lie.” On the other witnesses, he noted: “We felt like the witnesses really rallied around their respective sides.”

 

“Tiffany just said that she wanted him to get counseling. Not vindictive, didn’t seem like she had a vendetta. I feel like something definitely happened here. She had bruising. We couldn’t determine exactly when and how she got the bruises, so we couldn’t charge him. But that doesn’t mean something didn’t happen here.”

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Lions P SAM MARTIN will not answer the bell for Week 1 with Arizona.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

One of the best punters in the NFL will be sidelined to start the season.

 

Detroit’s Sam Martin will open the season on the non-football injury list, according to multiple reports.

 

Martin was placed on the list at the start of camp with a foot/ankle injury, but at the time he was expected to be good to go in time for the regular season. Apparently not.

 

The Lions will now turn to Kasey Redfern, who handled all the punting in the preseason. A first-year player from Wofford, Redfern showed promise in the preseason, and the Lions will now hope that Ford Field is where the Redfern grows into as good a punter as Martin.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

The question has been – has Sean Payton done a valiant job in recent years creating a brilliant offense to pull the Saints’ losing roster up to mediocrity or has he been holding them back by not devoting enough resources to defense?  The DB kind of subscribes to the former view, but Larry Holder at NoLa.com says 2017 will be critical for Payton’s future going forward and he gives us an NFL coaching history lesson.

 

Tom Benson displayed loyalty to Sean Payton when the New Orleans Saints’ coach was banned by the NFL for the 2012 season.

 

Benson’s support never wavered for the team’s most successful coach in franchise history despite the loss of draft picks, the fines, the embarrassment and essentially the loss of a season as part of the bounty scandal.

 

You couldn’t blame Benson for his allegiance to Payton, who had guided the Saints to their only Super Bowl title three seasons earlier.

 

Payton returned from exile with a vengeance, opening the 2013 season with a 5-0 record en route to an 11-5 overall mark and road playoff win at Philadelphia.

 

Benson maintained his trust in Payton after two subsequent 7-9 seasons. He even kept confidence in Payton despite the coach’s flirtation with potentially leaving the organization after the 2015 season.

 

Payton’s reward?

 

A five-year contract extension through the 2020 season that made him the highest-paid coach in the league at about $9 million annually.

 

Benson’s reward?

 

A third consecutive 7-9 mark that brought the Saints back to the level we last witnessed under Jim Haslett. Now, the Saints are a national afterthought even with future Hall of Famers Drew Brees and Adrian Peterson in the backfield.

 

Those players and a handful of others have become the reasons Who Dats continue to fill up the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Not the expectation of watching a winning football team.

 

Now Payton, who had the security of bringing the ultimate prize to a once-moribund franchise, is on the hot seat.

 

It’s the nature of the NFL. Three straight losing seasons will do that.

 

Only three other current NFL head coaches have maintained their jobs as long or longer than Payton: New England’s Bill Belichick, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis and Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy. Payton, sans the season-long suspension, has as many seasons coaching on the sideline as Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, who was hired in 2007. John Harbaugh became the Ravens’ head coach in 2008.

 

Compared to Payton’s three straight losing seasons, Lewis has had two the past eight years with the Bengals. McCarthy’s only losing season with the Packers came in 2008. The Ravens’ Harbaugh, however, has produced only one winning season in the past four years.

 

And believe it or not, Belichick did have one losing season when the Patriots went 5-11 in Belichick’s first season in 2000. Tomlin, meanwhile, has never finished worse than 8-8 in his career.

 

Every coach among this group has won at least one Super Bowl except for Lewis, so you can understand their respective owner’s loyalty (Belichick has essentially earned a lifetime contract with his success in New England). But Lewis, Harbaugh and Payton are pushing the limit. Most NFL teams allow head coaches two straight losing seasons. A third consecutive losing campaign typically ends with the axe.

 

Jeff Fisher still reigns as the king of mediocrity. He managed to keep his job through four losing seasons with the Rams. Fisher nearly made it through a fifth before he was fired near the end of last season with a 4-9 record.

 

A handful of other coaches hung on to their jobs after three consecutive non-winning campaigns. Many of them, though, didn’t survive through the end of the following season: Buffalo’s Dick Jauron, Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio and Gus Bradley, Miami’s Joe Philbin and San Francisco’s Mike Nolan. Rex Ryan at least made it until the end of 2014 to complete four non-winning years with the Jets.

 

Jim Schwartz and John Fox are the only coaches to earn one season with a winning record during a five-year span. Neither of them survived to coach another year with their respective team.

 

Schwartz did so in Detroit with his only winning record occurring in the middle of his stint with a 10-6 mark in 2011. The Saints ended the Lions’ season in the wild-card round.

 

Fox propelled Carolina to a 12-4 record in the third year of the span as well. The Panthers lost their playoff opener in the 2008 season then went 8-8 and 2-14.

 

The fact that Payton can be grouped together with the aforementioned jettisoned coaches should signal just how far his record has fallen since 2013. No, those coaches didn’t take home a Lombardi Trophy, much less win a playoff game.

 

But a Super Bowl championship can only extend a career so far. Three coaches with world championship rings have received pink slips since Payton became a head coach in 2006.

 

The Giants politely booted Tom Coughlin out the door after losing seasons in 2013, 2014 and 2015. And this came after Coughlin’s second world championship.

 

The end of the line for former Ravens coach Brian Billick occurred after the 2007 season.

 

Drew Brees feels like this is one of he better training camps the Saints have had

Baltimore rotated winning and losing seasons under Billick after winning the Lombardi Trophy in 2000. Billick went 10-6 in 2001 and 2003 and 7-9 in 2002 and 2004. Then a 6-10 mark in 2005 squarely landed Billick on the hot seat.

 

He saved his job for another year after a 13-3 record in 2006, but the Ravens showed Billick the door after finishing 5-11 in 2007.

 

Jon Gruden went on to coach six seasons after winning the Super Bowl with Tampa Bay in 2001.

 

The Bucs went 7-9 and 5-11 the next two seasons. Gruden followed up with an 11-5 mark in 2005 to get back in the good graces of ownership. Tampa Bay then strung together 4-12, 9-7, 9-7 records before Gruden was ousted after 2008.

 

Payton’s place on Airline Drive should be is serious jeopardy if this year’s Saints produced in the same manner as that of his previous three teams.

 

Payton reconfigured his staff during the offseason, firing longtime assistants Joe Vitt, Bill Johnson and Greg McMahon — all of whom helped guide the Saints to a Super Bowl 44 crown.

 

I’m not sure firing another defensive coordinator (Dennis Allen is the fourth man to hold the post since 2011) or staff shakeup would satisfy Benson enough for Payton to keep his job if the Saints don’t make the playoffs this season or put another mediocre product on the field.

 

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said on the eve of training camp that the NFL is a “produce or else business.”

 

It’s also the business for head coaches.

 

The 2017 season should be Payton’s last stand in New Orleans if the Saints remain stagnant. It shouldn’t matter how much money Benson would have to pay Payton to walk away. No NFL franchise can afford four straight losing seasons.

 

After all, there’s comes a point – especially in the NFL – when loyalty only goes so far.

 

On the issue of loyalty, we would note that there is reasonable certainty that Payton also tried to bolt the Bayou last year with his allies stirring up news of his interest in the Rams job that went to Sean McVay.  This from Ian Rapoport on January 1, 2017 is typical:

 

Sean Payton’s job-related saga has entered Year 2, and speculation over whether he’ll leave New Orleans continues to grow. But don’t be surprised if it comes to an end fairly quickly.

 

Multiple sources say there is mutual interest between the Saints coach and the Rams organization. The ball is now in Saints GM Mickey Loomis’ court. If he decides he’s willing to part with Payton for moderate compensation, Payton would be the clear front-runner to take over for the job opening created by the firing of Jeff Fisher.

 

Loomis would have to decide if he wants to keep a coach who would prefer to be somewhere else. There has been no contact yet between the Rams and the Saints, who would have to work out a deal to send Payton to Los Angeles. Payton is also owed $40 million by the Saints, and they could decide to let him go because that’s an incredible price tag for a coach who last went to the playoffs in 2013 and won a Super Bowl in 2009.

 

Sources also say the Saints are tiring of Payton’s open flirtation with jobs and might be ready to end the era and move on as the team’s rebuild is almost complete. Last year, speculation on Payton’s future center upon the Rams, Chargers, 49ers and Colts. None of it came to fruition. However, there is a renewed fervor this year.

 

The name Sean McVay does not appear in this paragraph later in Rapoport’s story:

 

There are other candidates the Rams would consider, from Panthers coach Ron Rivera (who might be linked to the Chargers job if it comes open) to coordinators like Vance Joseph, Kyle Shanahan and Josh McDaniels to former head coaches like Mike Smith.

 

But if Payton can be had from New Orleans, the rest might be moot.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

The Broncos have sent unwanted T TY SAMBRAILO to the Falcons.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Broncos settled on first-round pick Garret Bolles as their starter at left tackle and restructured Donald Stephenson‘s contract to increase his chances of sticking with the team, which didn’t seem to leave a lot of room for Ty Sambrailo on the 53-man roster.

 

That feeling turned out to be correct. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Broncos have traded Sambrailo to the Falcons in exchange for a 2018 fifth-round pick.

 

Sambrailo was a second-round pick in 2015 and opened his rookie season as the team’s left tackle with Ryan Clady out due to injury. He started the first three games, but landed on injured reserve due to a shoulder injury. He played in 10 games and made four starts during the 2016 season.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

The Bengals played their injury-prone first round pick WR JOHN ROSS in the meaningless Week 4 exhibition.  And he did what injury-prone people tend to do.  Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Bengals didn’t get a long look at first-rounder John Ross in the preseason, and when they did, they saw him leave with a new injury.

 

But the news apparently was good.

 

According to Geoff Hobson of the team’s official website, the damage to the rookie wide receiver’s knee is not serious, and he’s only expected to miss a few weeks.

 

The Bengals were hoping the fastest man in the history of the Scouting Combine would add a new element to their offense, but his role has been limited through the preseason. He got a late start because of his recovery from shoulder surgery, and had just three touches in preseason games.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

As expected, RB Le’VEON BELL reported to the Steelers on Friday.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Le’Veon Bell is back.

 

After the Steelers’ franchise running back spent all offseason away from the team, Bell reported to work today. NFL Network reported that he has shown up at the team’s facility.

 

Reporting today was the plan all along, as Bell knew that he had to arrive before the Steelers’ 53-man roster cuts tomorrow in order to get his full $12.1 million franchise player salary.

 

Although Bell wanted $17 million, he’ll play this year for $12.1 million, and next year he’ll either get franchised again, which would come with a guaranteed salary of $14.5 million, or he’ll hit unrestricted free agency.

 

So Bell is ready to get paid, and, the Steelers hope, ready to play.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Does this seem like a lot for WR ANDRE HOPKINS?  Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com:

 

The Houston Texans signed wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to a five-year, $81 million contract extension with $49 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Hopkins’ $49 million guaranteed is the largest for any wide receiver in the NFL.

 

The Texans have reached an agreement with tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz on a three-year extension, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Hopkins had a breakout season in 2015, with 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last year, Hopkins’ production dipped — he finished the year with 78 catches for 954 yards and four touchdowns — with quarterback Brock Osweiler throwing him the ball. During the offseason, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said even though Hopkins’ stats were not what they were the year before, he helped the team in other ways on offense and in the locker room.

 

The Texans exercised Hopkins’ fifth-year option in April 2016, so the wide receiver was entering the last season of his rookie contract. Last year, Hopkins left training camp for one day because he wanted a new deal. This year, he reported to camp, telling ESPN’s Dan Graziano he did not hold out “because I know I have a great team.”

 

“My teammates, those guys count on me to come out here and make this team better,” Hopkins said earlier this month. “Guys like Lamar Miller, like J.J. Watt that want to win a championship. And I know, for them to be able to do that, I have to be able to come out here and help those guys do it. So you know, the other 52 players on the team, they depend on me. That’s why I’m here.”

 

Hopkins has a hand injury and has not practiced since the Texans’ first preseason game on Aug. 9. He is expected to be ready for Houston’s season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

After trading Osweiler in March, the Texans had almost $31 million in cap space, and they put some of it to use on Thursday. Houston also gave contract extensions to free safety Andre Hal, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and fullback Jay Prosch.

 

According to Schefter, the Texans gave $61.7 million guaranteed combined to Hopkins, Fiedorowicz and Prosch on Thursday, plus an additional $7 million to Hal.

 

With the Detroit Lions’ new contract for quarterback Matt Stafford, which included $92M guaranteed, the Texans gave out the 2nd-most guaranteed money on a single day in August in the last 10 years among Hopkins, Fiedorowicz, Prosch and Hal.

– – –

On the other hand, this is a story about Houston where the number is both a lot – and yet nowhere near enough.  Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

When Texans defensive end J.J. Watt‘s career comes to an end, he’ll be well remembered for his impact on the field but his actions this week ensure he’ll be remembered for his off the field work as well.

 

Watt initiated a fundraising effort to help Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey with a goal of reaching $200,000. That number was reached quickly as money rolled in quickly. It hasn’t shown much sign of slowing down as the days have passed either.

 

Watt’s fundraiser, which can be found here, cleared the $14 million mark on Friday. Watt gave an update on Thursday saying that trucks are being loaded now with deliveries of supplies expected to start this weekend.

 

In addition to Watt’s work, many NFL teams have made their own donations to relief organizations. The Giants are one of the latest to join that list with an announcement during Thursday night’s game that they are donating $1 million to be split among Americares, the Red Cross and the Houston Food Bank.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

The Jaguars have the “next Deion Sanders” according to Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report.  Edited version below, whole thing here:

 

Jalen Ramsey wears sunglasses.

 

His favorites are a pair of Louis Vuittons, but he isn’t exclusive with them. He has about a half-dozen pairs he wears frequently and others he’ll mix in on occasion.

 

He wears them cruising in his Camaro. He wears them in the locker room. He wears them in the team meeting room. He wears them on the trainer’s table. He wears them in the cafeteria. He wears them during interviews.

 

“I wear them everywhere,” he says. “I try to stay to myself and learn as much as I can.”

 

Sometimes, sunglasses reveal more than they hide.

 

Deion Sanders wore sunglasses, too.

 

It’s not the only point of comparison between the Jaguars’ second-year cornerback and the Hall of Famer many consider the best to ever play the position.

 

Both went to Florida State. And both started from day one as freshmen there—Ramsey becoming the first defensive back to do so for the Seminoles since Deion did 30 years earlier. Both were the fifth picks of their respective drafts. And both draw the spotlight.

 

So is Ramsey the new Deion?

 

“I try my best not to put that kind of pressure on these young guys,” says Deion, “but I’m going to tell you something—that kid, he’s bigger than me, and he’s been in more big-time games at the college level than I was. I like everything about him.”

 

“He’s a character kid, as well,” adds Deion, who has interviewed Ramsey for NFL Network. “He’s a kind kid. And he’s a workaholic.”

 

Of course, Ramsey isn’t a carbon copy. There is plenty of disparity in their playing styles.

 

Deion would bait quarterbacks into throwing his way, then close on their passes with a burst that was just a tick slower than the speed of light. He’d steal their throws, and then he’d steal their nerve.

 

Ramsey is not quite as fast but is more physical. He tests receivers wills as much as their skills, waging war with them all over the field. Just when a receiver thinks he has a step on him, Ramsey reaches out a long arm to break up another pass.

 

But what comparison there is, it isn’t a mistake. When Ramsey was a boy in Nashville, he was a Cowboys fan. “He wanted to be like Deion,” his father, Lamont Ramsey, says. As he grew, Jalen came to think he was more like Devin Hester—because of his versatility—and modeled his game after Charles Woodson’s. He still reveres Deion, though, and strives to be compared to him.

 

“There will never be another Deion Sanders, ever,” Jalen says. “But one day I hope with hard work and dedication, I would like to be looked at as Deion is looked at now—the best corner to ever play the game, a guy who made playing corner very popular his type of way. I want to be able to be looked at like one of the greatest of all time.”

– – –

Ramsey believes the mentality is a prerequisite for greatness at the cornerback position.

 

“On the field, I’m very, very arrogant—cocky,” he says. “I think that’s how you have to be as a DB. All the great DBs I know—the best DBs ever—had that. I bet you couldn’t rank the top 10 of DBs and say when he was playing he was very humble and didn’t talk smack. I think it would be impossible.”

 

His father has seen it from the time Jalen was a tyke. In fact, Dad may be responsible for it.

 

“He got that honest,” Lamont says. “I talk trash all the time.”

 

When Jalen transferred to a new school in the fourth grade, he and his father declared he would win the math bee. And then he did.

 

When Jalen was in middle school, his older brother Jamal was selected to play in the Tennessee high school All-Star Game.

 

“I remember him telling his brother, ‘I’m so proud of you, but I’m going to be the No. 1 player in the state and I’m going to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl,'” Lamont says. And then he did.

 

There are those who talk it, and there are those who walk it. The guy wearing the sunglasses is both.

 

If you could see through the dark lenses, you would see something you might not have expected in Ramsey’s eyes.

 

His teammates call him “20 Savage” for good reason, but there is another side to him.

 

“People get confused with athletes, especially ultimate competitors,” Ramsey says. “They think they are the same on and off the field. Once you see me on the field, I am a different person. I have a switch I can flip on and off.”

– – –

Lamont owns Ramsey Performance Training in Nashville, where Jalen trains, and he is also a firefighter. Jamal is in the fire academy. Jalen, subsequently, has a soft spot for firefighters. He has hung out with them in Jacksonville.

 

There, behind the sunglasses, is kindness.

 

Stars and sunglasses go together. Ramsey follows the lead of Diddy, Eric Church, Michael Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Bono and many others.

 

But the market Ramsey works in isn’t exactly a hotbed of stars. And it’s not like he is mobbed when he ventures out in Jacksonville.

 

The Jaguars, of course, have not given their fans much to be excited about. They haven’t had a winning season in nine years, and they have made the playoffs only two times in the last 17 years.

 

Despite having the least expensive ticket prices in the NFL, the Jaguars’ average game attendance was seventh-lowest in the NFL last year. Nationally, they don’t get much attention unless their first-round quarterback flames out. They are not scheduled to play a regular-season game on Sunday night, Monday night or Thursday night this season.

 

Ramsey doesn’t mind. Playing in Jacksonville is another challenge.

 

“If that’s what most people think—that it’s not really a football town—then that’s a barrier I can break down,” he says. “It’s a challenge to help Jacksonville become more of a football town, or make the most out of their market here.”

 

That will mean helping the Jaguars win. Last season, Ramsey played in 13 losses—two more than he had in his entire previous football experience, going back to when he was five years old, according to his father.

 

He had never learned how to lose before, and he did not handle it well. He and Wash have had many conversations about it since, and both say the coverages will be more varied this season, but last season Ramsey complained publicly about the predictability of the Jaguars’ defensive scheme. On the sidelines of a loss to the Lions in November, Ramsey vented and cried.

 

“I was mad, man. I was mad,” he says. “I think it’s because I knew I was leaving it all out there. I wasn’t mad at anyone on the team or a coach. I was mad I couldn’t make a play to turn that game around so we could win it. I felt like I had done everything I could have done and tried to make plays, and it just didn’t happen.”

 

Deion understood. He played on a 3-13 Falcons team as a rookie.

 

“You come from a school where you are only losing a couple games in a two-year span, and you go to a team that’s desperate to win,” Deion says. “It’s frustrating, and I could see the frustration welling up in him last year. But he knows how to win, and he knows how to solve problems.”

 

Ramsey’s combination of big-play potential, big personality and ambition give him a chance to transcend Jacksonville. Deion, famous enough to be known by his first name only, was a revenue stream in shoulder pads. Fans paid to see him strut, dance and smile as much as they paid to see him play, and he knew exactly how to monetize talent and charisma. Ramsey, as Deion once did, is taking it upon himself to try to promote his personal brand.

 

Prior to being drafted by the Jaguars, Ramsey was signed to be a Jordan Brand athlete, a statement about his marketing potential. Others in the exclusive Jordan family include Roy Jones Jr., Russell Westbrook and Derek Jeter.

 

In the offseason, he visited the Orange County office of Athletes First, the agency that represents him, to chart out his marketing strategy and identify target partners.

 

“He wants to be a part of the big turnaround in Jacksonville,” says Austin Lyman, a marketing specialist at Athletes First. “He really wants to be involved in the brand building. If I’m chasing a deal, I know he can close it. He has told me he has no qualms about getting a room and doing that.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

QB PRESSURE COOKER

All starting NFL QBs have more pressure in a week than many of us endure in a decade.  But Mike Sando of ESPN.com singles out eight QBs who are really on a play-by-play inspection:

 

 With Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season fast approaching, we turn our attention to eight quarterbacks facing the most pressure to perform well.

 

1. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars already benched Bortles briefly this summer, an indication the 2014 first-round pick will not have a free pass in his fourth season. Jacksonville does not have a long-term alternative on its roster, but you can bet new Jaguars football boss Tom Coughlin will seek one after the season if Bortles falters.

 

Jacksonville, despite having picked up Bortles’ fifth-year option for 2018, can extricate itself from the contract in the absence of a serious injury.

 

“I don’t know if Bortles is ever going to throw it well enough,” a former GM said before training camp opened. “When the season ends, I think they will be looking for a new quarterback.”

 

2. Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears

Glennon showed enough during the Bears’ third exhibition game for coach John Fox to credibly name him the starter for Week 1. This is still a fluid situation.

 

If Glennon plays well and the Bears contend in the NFC North with him in the lineup, Chicago could conceivably wait until next season before turning to rookie Mitchell Trubisky, but all parties know Trubisky is going to start eventually.

 

“I don’t know if I see Glennon tearing it up there with the weapons they have, which are not that great,” a personnel director said. “I think they are going to run the s— out of the ball with Jordan Howard and not put too much on Glennon’s shoulders, and then they are going to go to their young guy.”

 

3. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos

GM John Elway has championship expectations for the Broncos — if only Siemian can play efficiently enough for Denver to win big with its defense leading the way. Siemian showed signs he could do that last season, but his play deteriorated behind an offensive line that could not protect him nearly well enough.

 

“When he felt like he was in the pocket and he was invincible and he had not played enough to get the crap beat out of him, then I think he was just throwing the ball around like nobody’s business, like he was playing flag football,” a personnel director said. “But then reality set in, he started taking shots and getting beat up, and he could not overcome all the physical stuff.”

 

There have been scant indications yet that 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch is ready to provide an upgrade, but that doesn’t assure anything for Siemian.

 

“I think he is a Tier 3 guy, a legitimate starter who needs the defense and running game to be OK,” a defensive coach said. “I didn’t think the game was too big for him. Not only did he just run his team, but he made plays as a rookie, where he was the difference-maker in the game.”

 

4. Tom Savage, Houston Texans

Savage would ideally play well enough for the Texans to bring along rookie Deshaun Watson at their own pace. There is not much evidence to suggest Savage can play well consistently or even play consistently. Injuries limited his opportunities early during his college career and in each of the past two seasons with Houston.

 

“I’d give him maybe not even a game or two before Watson is in there,” a personnel director said.

 

Not everyone is down on Savage, however.

 

“Now, if you just looked at him from a talent — throw, run — type of breakdowns, I think you would probably downgrade him a little bit,” another personnel director said, “but you have to look at the whole picture. I think he is going to be a good scheme fit for Bill O’Brien and he will be the best version of himself.”

 

5. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

The Rams are looking to re-establish themselves in Los Angeles, which cannot fully happen without at least some star power at quarterback. Goff did not look the part in 2016 while going 0-7 as a starter in an exceedingly difficult situation, creating immediate pressure on him to finally win a start, at least.

 

It’s not a stretch to think Goff’s future as the undisputed starter in Los Angeles hinges on him developing into a viable player this season, despite the fact that many coaches and evaluators thought Goff would need time to assimilate from a college system that did not necessarily prepare him well. That timeline is accelerated in the apparent absence of a viable alternative.

 

“He had a perfect bad storm,” an offensive coordinator said. “Wrong plays, unstable coaching staffs, probably going to change staffs a couple more times before he gets any good, the whole ‘Hard Knocks’ thing. It is hard to be a leader of the team in a town where all that is going on. I think he is a nice kid. Some guys just don’t have it, whatever ‘it’ is. He is missing something.”

 

That was the impression Goff left as a rookie. The Rams will try to help him with better scheming and, hopefully, a better ground game.

 

“I think he will play better,” another personnel director said, “but he will never play like the first pick in the draft. I don’t think he has that type of talent.”

 

6. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills

The Bills’ new coach and GM inherited Taylor, re-upped with him and will spend the season determining whether to build around him in the longer term. Does Taylor fit the offense Buffalo wants to run ultimately? Will he continue to develop into a well-rounded player? What is his ceiling? The restructured contract Taylor signed gives Buffalo a relatively easy out after this season.

 

“I like him,” a pro personnel director said. “I just don’t see the consistent performer. I don’t think he shows up at critical times. This may be the best opportunity for him to have a great year with the new staff. I think he has to become more well-rounded. I just haven’t seen it yet.”

 

The concussion Taylor suffered in Week 3 of the preseason could give rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman a chance to start the opener.

 

7. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs plan for Smith to remain their starter in 2017 at least, but their bold move to trade up and draft Patrick Mahomes II put Smith on notice entering his 13th season.

 

An injury or stretch of poor performances could open the door for Mahomes. Smith lived through such an experience with San Francisco in 2012, when an injury cleared the way for Colin Kaepernick. There could be less pressure on Smith than there is a simple realization that he’s down to his final year or two as the Chiefs’ starter.

 

“I don’t think Andy Reid would put that guy [Mahomes] out there unless he is ready,” a personnel director said. “Mahomes is a talented guy who can sling it all over the place, but it will be some time before he’s ready, and you have to plan for it. Alex Smith is still a good football player.”

 

8. Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings

Every quarterback ever would love to experience the kind of pressure Bradford is facing. Not yet 30 years old, Bradford will pass the $100 million mark in career earnings this season while playing for a team unlikely to find an obviously better alternative. A rough season or another serious injury could leave Bradford on the outside, but for now, he’s in prime position to earn another lucrative deal.

 

“He is an accurate thrower and he does a good job taking care of the ball, but they don’t do anything where it is stressed,” a defensive coordinator said. “He doesn’t throw the ball more than 10 yards down the field, hardly.”

 

Not listed: Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown, who are seen as backups even though they are getting the chance to start this year; Jay Cutler, who should feel no pressure after Miami called him out of retirement; Carson Palmer, who seems to be year-to-year at this point; and Andy Dalton, who seems safe in Cincy even though the Bengals have reached the point in his deal when they could go another direction without incurring salary-cap pain.