The Daily Briefing Friday, September 15, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The NFL demands that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals treat its issues in enforcing player discipline as a judicial emergency.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Two years ago, the NFL accepted the decision to block Tom Brady‘s suspension pending the outcome of his litigation. This time around, the NFL has opted for a more aggressive approach regarding the ruling that blocks Ezekiel Elliott‘s suspension.

 

The league has filed an “Emergency Motion for Stay Pending Appeal,” which specifically requests a decision by September 19 and no later than September 26.

 

The earlier date would take Elliott off the field for the Week Three game against the Cardinals, if the motion is granted. The later date would start the suspension in Week Four, against the Rams.

 

The stay would allow the suspension to be enforced while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit considers whether to overturn the ruling that delays the appeal.

 

The league’s primary goal seems to be putting the issue of jurisdiction before the appeals court, hopeful that the appeals court will find that the entire case should be dismissed because it was filed too soon, before the federal judge in Texas rules on the issue of whether the case should be dismissed.

 

Ultimately, the league hopes to secure the dismissal of the Texas case, with the lawsuit the league filed in New York then taking precedence. Based on the eventual outcome in the Brady case, the league believes that it would quickly win its New York case.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Steve Serby of the New York Daily News assures us that QB ELI MANNING won’t panic.  But the big question is, will he play better?

 

What, Eli worry?

 

“No,” Eli Manning said Wednesday. “First game, guys are playing fast, got some new guys out there, some new bodies.

 

“We’ll bounce back. We’ll be fine.

 

“We just gotta slow down, everybody take a breath, and just run the plays the way we’ve been running them all spring and all summer.”

 

There it is Giants fans … inhale, then slowly exhale.

 

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish in the NFL, and I think that’s an important lesson,” Manning said. “We can hopefully only get better from that first game. That’s the mindset, just have a great week of practice, preparation, go out there and play confident in what we’re doing.

 

“[Fifteen] other teams are 0-1 right now. We just gotta bounce back.”

 

But some 0-1s are uglier than others. And some film review sessions are uglier than others.

 

“Coaches are gonna analyze, and you can’t get too sensitive after the first game,” Manning said. “We’re gonna get coached up, and there’s things we can clean up for sure. But [you] can’t get defensive, can’t get sensitive, you just gotta be confident in what you’re doing, understand what you need to fix and then go play fast.”

 

It doesn’t mean he won’t make a huge difference, because he will.

 

“Our best player,” Manning said. “It’s different when he’s on the field. But on there or not, we have to play better than what we did.

 

“And we can.

 

“And we will.”

 

Manning stands behind his embattled offensive line. For how long on game day, of course, no one can be certain.

 

“They know I got their back, and we’ll be all right,” Manning said.

 

Manning was asked why he believes in his offensive line.

 

“It’s important to them,” he told The Post. “It’s a good group, they work hard, it’s important to them. They know what they’re doing, they’re ready, and that’s football. Sometimes you get beat up a little bit. In the NFL, every once in a while it’s gonna happen, unfortunately it happened the first week. It’s not all their fault, this is a team effort.”

 

He said fans don’t need to panic.

 

“Offensive line’s gonna be fine. They’re gonna protect us up and give us an opportunity to make a lot of plays,” Manning said.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com thinks the Saints should find out, quickly, if there is a market for RB ADRIAN PETERSON.

 

It may not be time for a divorce between the Saints and Adrian Peterson. But it’s definitely time for an annulment.

 

Peterson says he didn’t sign up for nine snaps per game. By agreeing to be one of multiple tailback options in a pass-based offense, however, he did.

 

And it was obvious from the get-go that Peterson wouldn’t be happy with his role. Some (me) thought Peterson took whatever he could get (no one else was knocking on the door at the time), hopeful that once the Saints saw what he could do, they’d make him the top option in the running game and give the offense the kind of balance that the Vikings had in 2009, when Peterson teamed up with Brett Favre.

 

The Saints, for their part, should have known that even if Peterson said all the right things in April, he’d feel differently about the situation come September. So the best move at this point could be to just call the whole thing off and move on.

 

That doesn’t mean the Saints should release Peterson. Instead, they should call the Cardinals or any other team that may need a tailback at this point of the season — or that may need one after Week Two.

 

The last thing the Saints should do is give in to Peterson and change his role. So if he’s not willing to embrace his job and do it, the Saints would be better off flipping him for a conditional seventh-round draft pick and asking someone else to take his snaps and carries.

 

The DB’s niece thinks the Giants should be interested.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

QB CARSON PALMER sounds bummed (as perhaps he should) over the loss of RB DAVID JOHNSON.  Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:

 

Take away 1,239 rushing yards, 879 receiving yards, 20 touchdowns and 23 touches per game from an offense and what do you have? The Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in Indianapolis.

 

That’s what will be missing without David Johnson on the field for the Cardinals against the Indianapolis Colts now that he’s on injured reserve with a dislocated wrist. That’s what Arizona will be trying to replace with five different running backs.

 

“It changes drastically,” quarterback Carson Palmer said of Arizona’s offense. “You lose, who I think, is one of the best football players in this league, things are obviously going to change.

 

“But in saying that, we’re not going to sulk. We got right back to work today and Dre [Andre Ellington] stepped in, Kerwynn [Williams] stepped in. Chris Johnson, getting him back is huge for us. Yes, things change when you lose [left tackle] D.J. [Humphries] and you lose David like that. Things change. The offense doesn’t change but obviously when you take away the touches and the effect that those two guys have on the game, things change.”

 

The actual scheme won’t change.

 

“Not one iota,” coach Bruce Arians said.

 

The dynamics of the offense will, however.

 

Without Johnson, Arizona will lose some of its offensive firepower. It may not be as productive or dynamic or overpowering as it would’ve been with Johnson.

 

“Well, Dave, I don’t know how many catches he had last year but there [are] a whole lot of catches there for somebody else,” Palmer said. “He had 2,000 yards of offense so somebody’s got to step up. We’re not going to run every single exact play that Dave ran, run routes because that was something very specific to Dave that he did really, really well.

 

“But the offense doesn’t completely change. You don’t run some of the same plays Dave ran but the things change when you lose a guy that produced 2,000 yards in one season.”

 

The Cardinals will turn to Williams to start at running back on Sunday in Indianapolis. He’ll be backed up by Ellington and then Chris Johnson, with Eli Penny and D.J. Foster battling for the fourth and final active running back spot.

 

Last season, those five players combined for 465 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns.

 

Palmer said he — or anybody else — can’t feel like he needs to do more to make up for Johnson’s loss.

 

 

“We don’t need Chris to try to play like David,” Palmer said. “We’ve got to each play within ourselves and play within the system. You can’t sit around and sulk. You can’t feel like you’ve got to do anything superhuman.”

 

And Arians won’t be putting more pressure on Palmer to fill Johnson’s void for one, well, obvious reason: “He doesn’t play running back.”

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

Would RB MARSHAWN LYNCH have been fined $6,000 for one finger?  Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:

 

The NFL fined Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch $12,000 for a hand gesture he made during Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, a league source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

CBS cameras caught Lynch raising the middle finger on both hands in the fourth quarter.

 

Sunday’s game marked Lynch’s regular-season return to the NFL after sitting out the 2016 season in retirement. He unretired after being traded by the Seattle Seahawks to the Raiders in the offseason.

 

He rushed for 76 yards on 18 carries Sunday, setting the tone for the Raiders with his bruising running style in Oakland’s 26-16 victory.

 

“We got to see that Marshawn is Marshawn,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “He’s running through people, and he’s going to make it a pain on them to tackle him. You’ve got to earn it if you’re going to tackle him.”

 

Lynch also had a 16-yard reception on the right side and nearly had what could have been a 34-yard TD catch one play later when he drifted out and down the left sideline with no one in front of him.

 

But Carr overthrew the ball, and Lynch did a front-flip somersault.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.  Well, the NFL keeps going to the Houston-Cincinnati well, and they came up dry for the third time (if you value points).  Maybe not, if you like close games.

 

Thursday night’s game represented the third time the two teams have been put before the nation playing each other in the last two calendar years.  And for the third time, we are looking for a team to reach 14 points or 300 total yards.

 

11/16/15         Houston 10, Cincinnati 6      Total Combined Yards      438

12/24/16         Houston 12, Cincinnati 10    Total Combined Yards     538

9/14/17            Houston 13, Cincinnati 9      Total Combined Yards     508

 

There were a total, a total, of 4 TDs scored in those 3 games.

 

Despite the best efforts of Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth, Thursday night’s snoozefest led to a lot of tweets like these two around 11 pm last night:

 

@ClayTravis 

 College football is so much more entertaining than the NFL. It isn’t even close, honestly.

 

@ProFootballTalk

 Currently, college football is genuinely exciting far more often than pro football is. NFL needs to be concerned about that.

 

There was this interesting exchange on Twitter between a pair of Hall of Famers – Kurt Warner and Tony Dungy:

 

@kurt13warner

What has happened to NFL Offenses??? My goodness – so much awful play early in the season! Coaching? Players? Practice?

 

@TonyDungy 

Tony Dungy Retweeted Kurt Warner

I think it’s the practice schedule Kurt. Lack of practice at high tempo and very few reps for starters in preseason games.Tony Dungy added,

– – –

The Bengals are now the first team that did not score a single TD when opening the season with a pair of home games since the 1939 Eagles (reported by Rich Eisen of NFL Network). 

 

That is a smaller sample size than you might think in that it requires games in both Weeks 1 and 2 to be at home and that’s only a couple of teams per year.  Still….

 

And this from Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Bengals had better cross the goal line next week, or else they’re in some really ugly company: The last team to fail to score a touchdown in the first three games of the season was the 1976 Buccaneers, an expansion franchise that is often recognized as the worst team in NFL history. Any time you’re drawing comparisons to the 1976 Buccaneers, you’re in very, very bad shape.

 

Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com says Coach Marvin Lewis is going to send ANDY DALTON out again when the Bengals next play – at Lambeau Field.

 

Despite the poor showing by the offense in the first two games of the year, head coach Marvin Lewis isn’t considering making a change at quarterback. According to Paul Dehner Jr., of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Lewis said after the game that Andy Dalton‘s job is not in jeopardy.

 

Dalton tossed four interceptions, was sacked five times and passed for just 170 yards in the loss to the Ravens four days ago. While he wasn’t as statistically bad against the Texans, the Bengals still couldn’t get anything going offensively. Cincinnati failed to convert a single first down on six of their 13 possessions and converted more than just one first down on only two drives. A 17-play, 58-yard drive ended in just a field goal with Dalton couldn’t connect with Brandon LaFell on a third-and-6 at the Texans’ 12-yard line.

 

Dalton completed 20 of 35 passes for 224 yards without a touchdown or interception against the Texans. He was also sacked three times.

 

While Cincinnati’s struggles go beyond Dalton, the presence of A.J. McCarron on the roster would give Lewis a potentially competent option to turn to should he decided to make a change at quarterback. However, that doesn’t seem to be in the thought process as of yet for the Bengals.

 

We would also note that Dalton is from Houston – and has put 1 TD on the board in his last 3 games against the Texans.

– – –

ProFootballFocus.com wonders about the Bengals running back usage:

 

Despite drafting Joe Mixon in the second round of the NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals continue to use a running back by committee approach.

 

Mixon logged the most rushing attempts Thursday night with nine and was the only Bengals running back to force a missed tackle (one) while he had 2.89 yards after contact per attempt, higher than Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. He finished the game with an overall grade of 77.3.

 

Hill logged the second most rushing attempts with six, and finished the game with an overall grade of 73.3.

 

While having the least rushing attempts (five), Bernard heavily out-snapped Mixon and Hill, with his 33 total snaps, more than Mixon and Hill, combined. This is mainly due to Bernard’s usage in the pass game, where he finished the game with 19 snaps in route, once again more than Mixon and Hill combined. He finished the game with an overall grade of 50.3.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

It is not a surprise based on Chuck Pagano’s actions and non-comital remarks, but Ian Rapoport of NFL.com is reporting that QB JACOBY BRISSETT will start for the Colts on Sunday.

 

Meanwhile, ESPN is torn by strife over a comment by one of its hosts – Mike Greenberg saying ANDREW LUCK wants out of Indy.  Hannah Withiam in the New York Post:

 

It appears Mike Greenberg has a lot to learn before launching his own “SportsCenter”-like show in the new year.

 

Several of Greenberg’s ESPN colleagues questioned his news-breaking credibility Thursday after the radio host cited a “general sense” around the NFL that tension was growing between Andrew Luck and the Colts, pushing the quarterback out of Indianapolis. Both Mike Golic Jr., the son of Greenberg’s longtime “Mike & Mike” co-host, and respected NFL insider Adam Schefter disputed the quality of Greenberg’s report.

 

A day after Greenberg dropped the Luck bombshell, Schefter appeared on Thursday morning’s “Mike & Mike” and cut him off with a tone of incredulity when Greenberg revisited the subject.

 

“I know you came up with the statements you did, he signed a five-year contract last year. He’s not going anywhere,” Schefter said of the Colts quarterback, whose status this season remains uncertain as he recovers from shoulder surgery. “They can’t deal him and don’t want to deal him. So, to me, they’re with each other for better or worse. And there remains a question as to when he’ll be back.”

 

Luck’s agent, Will Wilson, also denied the rumors Greenberg set into motion on Wednesday as a “non-story.” The 28-year-old Luck has five years left on the six-year, $140 million contract he signed before last season.

 

“The speculation/rumor is simply not true,” Wilson told IndyStar. “Andrew would not have signed a five-year extension last year if he was not committed to the Colts. Complete non-story.”

 

Golic Jr. took the shaming further on his radio show Thursday morning, which is notable after Golic Sr. and Greenberg’s relationship (although both have denied those rumors) is said to be strained as the two prepare to break up in November. The younger Golic launched into a monologue about who should and should not deliver news on the network before mocking his father’s 18-year partner with an NFL rumors segment.

 

“Yesterday, something strange happened,” Golic Jr. said on ESPN Radio’s “First and Last.” “We kind of understand generally at ESPN the roles everyone plays here, we’ve got analysts, we’ve got hosts, we’ve got news-breakers. … Generally, Mike Greenberg’s regarded as one of the best hosts we’ve got around this network, a great ability to drive a show, lead discussions, do all these things. But not necessarily break news in the way that he attempted to yesterday. And do it, really, with very little basis of fact underneath it.”

 

Golic Jr. — who is expected to fill in as Golic’s co-host once Greenberg departs for his new show in New York City and Trey Wingo takes over full-time — went on to play the clip of Greenberg’s Luck report on his show and critique it, sarcastically adding he would “love to see the source on this.”

 

Then the 27-year-old Golic Jr. asked listeners to call in with rumors of their own to make the point that if Greenberg can spread an NFL report without credible sources, so can the average Joe off the street.

 

“If you’ve got any NFL rumors, listen, if you’ve heard something, if you live in Cincinnati and you’ve heard something from a guy at the deli about Marvin Lewis’ job, all sources are good sources in this scenario,” he said. “If you’ve got an NFL rumor you believe is worth us getting started here at ‘First and Last’ to try and make waves, ’cause it made waves for Greeny, and we’re not above self-promotion here at ‘First and Last.’”

 

Greenberg tried to clarify his comments later in Wednesday’s show, but the damage had already been done.

 

“I want to make it clear, I’m not reporting (Luck) wants out of there or anything like that,” he said. “That’s just a commonly heard rumor, that he doesn’t want to go back on the field because he feels that he played hurt last year and will not want to go back out until he’s 100 percent. That’s not even a rumor, just what people are saying around the situation.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Two injuries to watch in New England:

 

New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower and wide receiver Danny Amendola did not practice Thursday, putting their status for Week 2 at New Orleans in serious doubt.

 

Hightower suffered a right knee injury in the season opener. The injury was termed a “minor MCL sprain” by Ian Rapoport of The NFL Network.

 

Amendola suffered a concussion during a punt return. He is also dealing with a knee injury.

 

Tom Curran of CSNNE.com on what the loss of Hightower might mean:

 

If we made a list of the non-Brady Patriots that New England could least afford to lose, Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman would have been in the top five joined by Devin McCourty, Nate Solder and Malcolm Butler. You could also Gronk here if you want to.

 

Regardless of the order you’d place them in – or if you’d want to offer someone else – the fact Edelman’s down for the season and Hightower’s MCL is almost guaranteed to keep him out of Sunday’s game in New Orleans (that’s just spitballing on my part given the grotesque way his right knee bent), is an early dose of adversity the team just has to suck down and try to stomach.

 

The “they did it before, they can do it again” mindset is fine. The Patriots will inevitably figure it out to a degree that keeps them in the league’s upper firmament. But it’s not going to be pretty. It’s worth getting your head around that now. The 2016 team that was downgraded for style points during a 14-2 that ended with a Super Bowl win may not be winning by knockout any time soon.

 

I’ve already pummeled the Edelman Factor into submission. He’s been the oil in the engine of the Patriots offense. Without him – or anyone to challenge the middle of the field at the linebacker level even when there’s traffic – the ride will be bumpy until Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady arrive at what works best most often.

 

But the Hightower loss is just as significant because of the new parts on defense and the fact the Patriots are a game-plan team. If New England ran a “do what we do” defense like Pittsburgh or Seattle, losing the most influential member of the front-seven may not be as big a deal. You’d just plug the next man in, deal with the dropoff in talent and go. But Hightower has the most institutional knowledge of anyone in the front-seven. He’s got the most authoritative and trusted voice.

 

Even before Hightower was forced from the opener in the second half with his injury, the team was having issues getting things communicated with Kyle Van Noy in the middle as the defensive signal-caller and Hightower at left defensive end.

 

Hightower went out with 7:08 left in the third with Kansas City leading, 21-17. The final was 42-21. Some of the big plays were related to communication issues. Would his mere presence have made a difference in the way things got mapped out before the snap? No guarantee. But Hightower’s exit and the Chiefs’ explosion do dovetail neatly.

 

Van Noy isn’t incapable of communicating the defense. He’s not a dummy. But he was taking his first stab at it against a Chiefs offense that uses formation and personnel groups as well as any team in the league to mess with a defense’s head. The Saints – Sunday’s opponent – are similar. Alongside Van Noy for a big chunk of the game was safety Jordan Richard who is getting his first extended run in the regular defense. He is on the hook for relaying communication as well because of where he is on the field.

 

So that’s a problem. What’s the solution? On Quick Slants the Podcast, former Patriots captain, linebacker and lead communicator Jerod Mayo had this to say.

 

“I’m more concerned with the communication than the personnel. The communication was brutal. The thing about having Hightower at the line of scrimmage – it’s great – but you can’t talk to the entire defense playing defensive end. You’re so far removed. That’s why having a middle linebacker in there who can turn around and say (to safety Devin McCourty), ‘Devin, we’re doing this.’ And can say to (defensive tackle Alan Branch), ‘Alan, we’re doing this.’ That’s the missing piece. You’re not going to have a Jordan Richards making calls. It’s just not gonna happen. This will be interesting, especially going against the Saints, for Matty P (Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia). They’re gonna formation you to death, you have to know what back is in the game at all times. They have three backs with three different skill sets. So how do they trim the fat from the game plan? How do you trim the fat and make the calls easy so a guy like Jordan Richards can make calls with confidence. It’s all about confidence. Jordan Richards went to Stanford. He’s probably one of the smartest kids on the team. But it goes to confidence.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

KAEP

The NFLPA comes down on the side of Colin Kaepernick and his social justice activism.  Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The players union recognized another player who’s doing more than his share to help people off the field.

 

And the fact he’s not on the field allows them to get a not-so-subtle dig in at the owners who won’t let Colin Kaepernick onto a field.

 

The NFLPA announced that the former 49ers quarterback was named their Week One Community MVP, “for his commitment to empowering underserved communities through donations and grassroots outreach.”

 

The day of last week’s opener, Kaepernick announced his latest round of $100,000 donations (as part of his pledge to give $1 million to a variety of charities). He gave $25,000 each to DREAM, a New York group which provides after-school programs and youth sports opportunities to inner-city youth; Coalition for the Homeless; The Gathering for Justice’s War on Children, a new program that will launch in 2018 to continue the fight against child incarceration; and United We Dream, which addresses the inequities and obstacles faced by immigrant youth. Then on Sept. 9, he held a backpack giveaway at the Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York.

 

The union is making a $10,000 donation to Kaepernick’s charity along with the award. They point out in their released that to be eligible for the award, a player must be a dues-paying union member, and “either on a current NFL roster or actively seeking employment as a free agent.”

 

Kaepernick has time to do all these wonderful things because he’s not busy working at the moment, even as teams are displacing starters who spent entire offseasons preparing, and handing their teams over to recently acquired backups who aren’t like-for-like system fits.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

According to TalkingPointsMemo, a liberal outlet, ESPN tried to give Jemele Hill the Linda Cohn treatment, but she proved to be unremovable from her show.  So ESPN is now denying that it is powerless, claiming nothing to see here.  Des Bieler in the Washington Post:

 

Viewers of ESPN’s 6 p.m. “SportsCenter” on Wednesday would not necessarily have known that anything extraordinary happened that day. Jemele Hill took her usual place alongside co-host Michael Smith, and the two kicked off the show with a discussion of the red-hot Cleveland Indians before offering their takes on other sports topics.

 

Hill, though, was in the midst of a very public furor over her criticism Monday of President Trump, which in turn had White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters Wednesday that Hill’s comments constituted “a fireable offense.” The network, which had already distanced itself from Hill’s depiction of Trump as “a white supremacist,” has not fired Hill, but a report claimed that ESPN did try to take Hill off the air Wednesday.

 

According to ThinkProgress, which Thursday cited “two sources familiar with the situation,” the sports network “reached out to two other black ESPN hosts,” Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, to take Hill’s place that evening. They declined, and Smith reportedly also refused to do the show without Hill.

 

Confronted with a situation in which it might have to replace both Hill and Smith with white hosts, ESPN asked her to join him on the air, per ThinkProgress. The pair also hosted Thursday’s 6 p.m. “SportsCenter.”

 

In an email to The Post, a spokesman for ESPN denied the ThinkProgress report Thursday, saying, “We never asked any other anchors to do last night’s show. Period.”

 

The spokesman did not offer additional comment but pointed to a statement from ESPN earlier in the day that said, “Jemele has a right to her personal opinions, but not to publicly share them on a platform that implies that she was in any way speaking on behalf of ESPN. She has acknowledged that her tweets crossed that line and has apologized for doing so. We accept her apology.”

 

On Wednesday evening, several hours after her “SportsCenter” appearance, Hill posted a message on Twitter to, as she put it, “address the elephant in the room.” She said, “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional.”

 

Shortly before that tweet, Hill posted another one in which she shared a photo of herself with some ESPN colleagues, including Eaves. She expressed happiness that her “brothers” from the National Association of Black Journalists “came to check” on her.

 

Daniel Holloway of Variety says Hill’s travails are just part of the problems at ESPN.

 

Hours after the White House called for her to be fired Wednesday, Jemele Hill was in her regular seat on the 6 p.m. ET edition of ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” She made no reference to the controversy that a day earlier had compelled her own network to publicly censure her. She and co-host Michael Smith led off the show with a report on the Cleveland Indians’ 21-game winning streak.

 

That Hill was on the air with Smith as usual was an indicator of the line that ESPN is attempting to walk after the host took to Twitter Monday to call President Donald Trump “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” Right-leaning critics have become increasingly outspoken about a perceived liberal bias at the cable channel at the same time that ESPN faces significant declines in ratings and subscriber numbers. Those losses have far more to do with shifts in television viewing habits than with ESPN employees’ Twitter accounts. But the channel’s handling of the Hill controversy indicates that it is wary of alienating viewers anywhere on the cultural spectrum as it attempts to evolve.

 

“They’re nervous,” says Windy Dees, a sports-administration professor at the University of Miami. “They have to be. They’re hemorrhaging viewers left and right.”

 

From 2015 to 2017, ESPN has seen its number of subscribers fall 7.4% to fewer than 88 million. Its ratings have faced an even steeper decline, with average total viewers falling 19.2% from 2014 to 2016. Wall Street has noticed. After Disney CEO Bob Iger acknowledged this week that affiliate deals covering more than half of ESPN’s subscriber base are set to expire in 2019, analyst Michael Nathanson wrote, “We are concerned about the poor ratings trends at ESPN and ABC,” the company’s broadcast network. John Janedis of Jefferies similarly wrote, “weak ratings at ABC and ESPN’s non-live-sports programming continue to weigh on [advertising].”

 

Hill and Smith haven’t helped reverse those weak ratings. In February, the hosts of ESPN2’s “His and Hers” migrated to the core channel, taking over the 6 p.m. “SportsCenter” broadcast and reinventing it as a hybrid news-debate show in which the hosts argue sports opinions and the occasional non-sports opinion. Sports Media Watch reported in March that viewership three months after the launch of “SC6” — as the 6 p.m. show was rebranded — was down 4%.

 

“They are in a state of decline,” Dees says of ESPN. “So any situation that happens in the future, whether it’s the Jemele Hill situation or something else, is going to have its impact magnified.”

 

Hill and Smith have not provided ESPN the same ratings boost that colleague Scott Van Pelt has since being installed in the 12 a.m. ET “SportsCenter” last year, but they have seen their profiles increase dramatically. They have become frequent targets on social media and in the conservative press of complaints (often on Twitter employing vulgar or offensive language) that ESPN has allowed a left-leaning social and political stance to creep into its programming. Being interviewed in April on WABC New York — shortly after ESPN initiated a round of job cuts that affected more than 100 employees — veteran “SportsCenter” anchor Linda Cohn was asked if the injection of non-sports issues into ESPN’s coverage had negatively affected ratings.

 

“That is definitely a percentage of it,” she said. “I don’t know how big a percentage. But if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”

 

But in an era in which the President of the United States equates Nazis with the counter-protestors opposing Nazis, and in which athletes from Colin Kaepernick to LeBron James have brought protests of violence against African-Americans into the playing arena, ignoring politics and social issues may not be a reasonable expectation for ESPN or any other sports broadcaster.

 

“ESPN has been criticized since long before [the Hill incident] for being too political as a sports network,” says Dees. “Sports and politics are always going to intertwine. You’re not going to dissect politics from sports. Sports have been a part of politics since the creation of the Olympics.”

 

ESPN on Tuesday issued a statement distancing itself from Hill’s tweets and saying that the anchor “recognized that her actions were inappropriate.” But the Trump tweets remain undeleted on Hill’s feed. There is no indication that she faced any discipline from ESPN besides the statement.

 

An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on what if any disciplinary action the network had taken. Hill, through a representative, also declined to comment. On Wednesday night, after this story was initially published, Hill issued a statement on Twitter: “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional.”

 

If ESPN was attempting to stake out a middle ground on the Hill controversy — one where it could avoid alienating viewers on either side — that is understandable, given its current troubles. But it does not appear to have managed that feat. On Tuesday night, in a Fox News segment devoted to the Hill controversy, Fox Sports’ Clay Travis told Tucker Carlson, “It means that nothing actually happened, because Hill is saying what the higher ups at ESPN believe. I think this goes all the way to the top.” Deadspin hours earlier had posted a report on the ESPN statement headlined, “ESPN Issues Craven Apology For Jemele Hill’s Accurate Descriptions Of Donald Trump.”

 

Clay Travis, who is good at analogies, says ESPN’s problems stem back to when they shanked the handling of Curt Schilling.

 

Let’s acknowledge an important fact — ESPN created this mess themselves by being overly solicitous of public opinion and caring so desperately about what people said about them on social media that they made a colossal error I see being repeated everywhere — they decided to police employee speech in an effort to avoid being criticized online.

 

One of the things I like to do in life is deconstruct how we get to the modern day disputes or conflicts we confront. If you’ve got a tough decision to make and don’t have very many good options, it’s probably because you made some bad decisions to get there in the first place. (This is why golf is a perfect metaphor for life. If you hit a bad shot your next shot is tougher. If you hit a good shot your next shot is easier. And to extend the metaphor ESPN president John Skipper hasn’t even been hitting the golf ball, he’s been swinging and missing in the tee box.)

 

So how did we reach the point where ESPN is having to issue this absurd and nonsensical statement?

 

“Jemele has a right to her personal opinions, but not to publicly share them on a platform that implies that she was in any way speaking on behalf of ESPN. She has acknowledged that her tweets crossed that line and has apologized for doing so. We accept her apology.”

 

What in the world does this statement even mean?

 

Let’s deconstruct it.

 

“Jemele has a right to her personal opinions” — that’s great, because otherwise she’d be a robot — “but not to publicly share them on a platform that implies that she was in any way speaking on behalf of ESPN.” What idiots saw those Tweets and thought she was speaking on behalf of ESPN? It’s not like she opened up SportsCenter by sticking up double middle fingers and saying, “F— you Donald Trump, you racist m—-f—–.”

 

If she’d done that, I’d acknowledge that she was speaking on behalf of ESPN, but she didn’t use their network to broadcast her political beliefs. (You can argue that ESPN’s network has made people care about her opinions, but I find that argument nonsensical. Johnny Depp is famous because he plays Jack Sparrow — among other characters — in movies. Does that mean Disney is responsible when he says something stupid about politics? Of course not.)

 

What the second part of ESPN’s statement is essentially saying is that Jemele Hill can only have personal opinions in places where no one else can hear or see those personal opinions. She made her comments about Donald Trump on her personal Twitter page. Indeed, the only reason her speech is connected to ESPN at all is because, and this is an important part, ESPN set the precedent that they were in the business of policing political speech when they fired Curt Schilling for his political opinions.

 

So ESPN created the dynamic by which an individual’s political opinions are connected to the network and is now complaining about an individual’s political opinions being connected to the network. It’s mind boggling.

 

But this is what companies all over the country are doing in the age of social media.

– – –

ESPN shouldn’t be in the business of deciding what political opinions are appropriate and inappropriate, but when they fired Curt Schilling entirely for his political opinions nearly a year and a half ago they put themselves in the business of analyzing employee speech and determining what was permissible and what was impermissible. Rather than stand up to a left wing Internet mob that was upset with Schilling’s Facebook posts about transgender bathroom issues, ESPN could have simply said they disagreed with Schilling’s private beliefs, but didn’t believe those beliefs made him a bad baseball analyst.

 

After all, is there anyone out there who is going to trust Schilling’s opinion less on baseball because of his opinion on transgender bathroom issues? Every single person who is on air in any capacity in sports has an opinion on abortion. Mine is that abortion should be legal. You may disagree with that. But do any of you believe that my opinion on abortion makes me less qualified to have an opinion on who the best football team in the SEC is?

 

Of course not.

 

Despite what social media would have you believe, our political opinions don’t impact whether the vast majority of us are good or bad at our jobs. They are totally inconsequential.

 

So ESPN had an opportunity to establish an important precedent with Curt Schilling, they could have simply said this to the online social media mob: “While many of you on social media may find this shocking, we employ tens of thousands of people to talk and write and produce shows about sports. And not all of them have the exact same opinion about political issues. Rather than demand that our employees avoid discussing politics or having any opinions on important issues facing our country, we’ve instructed all of them that those political opinions should never appear on our airwaves. But in their private lives, they may advocate for whichever causes and opinions they deem just. What they believe in their private lives is not our business so long as they do good jobs at work. We’re in the business of sports, not politics.”

 

Boom.

 

This would have been a fantastic statement to make because it would have sent an important message — we all still have public and private lives. Left wing and right wing political junkies don’t need to police social media feeds to “catch” employees behaving inappropriately or sharing controversial opinions. Moreover, nor do any other employees. We don’t need modern day McCarthyism in this country. We need a robust marketplace of ideas, the full flourishing of political debate. (ESPN and other sports media employees receive more public attention for these issues, but tens of thousands of people across the country are fired every year for “offensive” Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat posts that go up in their free time. And almost no one questions that precedent at all. I think that’s insane.)

 

Once ESPN fired Curt Schilling, they set the precedent that they policed speech and from that point forward people have been waiting to see whether ESPN was biased in terms of the speech they police. That is, did they favor left wing speech over right wing speech?

 

And now that Jemele Hill has escaped punishment, it’s readily apparent that what I have been telling you for the past two years is true — ESPN supports left wing political speech and condemns right wing political speech.

 

Put plainly, that’s an untenable position.

 

I believe ESPN has two intelligent options in the wake of their collapsing brand and business —

 

1. Announce that henceforth they will not police speech that takes place off their airwaves or outside of their websites or print publications. That would leave people like Hill and Schilling free to advocate political causes they deem just in their spare time.

 

It would also leave ESPN out of the political business entirely and reestablish the principle that employees can have private lives that differ from their public life. A sports media member can be liberal or conservative or a radical moderate, there’s no need to worry about it because the entire spectrum of political belief, ideally, will be represented in a company.

 

I think that’s ESPN’s smartest option.

 

I’d also rehire Curt Schilling and apologize to him if I were them. This would go a long way towards ending the left wing narrative.

 

Their other option is this:

 

2. Announce that henceforth no employee at ESPN is allowed to publicly discuss politics on their social media feeds.

 

They can tell their employees that they pay them to talk about sports and if they want to spend their time advocating for political causes they can work elsewhere.

 

I think a lot of people would appreciate that position too, but I think it’s a more difficult position to adopt.

 

Otherwise ESPN is going to remain in an untenable position.

 

Travis then takes Hill’s actual remarks to task (he finds the idea that Trump is a “white supremist” preposterous) and if you care, you can find his analysis here.  He finishes up with a shot at what he thinks is the real reason for Hill’s boiling anger.

 

Why was Jemele Hill so angry that she lashed out at the president out of nowhere? Probably because the ratings for her show are awful.

 

On the three days before her Monday night tweetstorm attacking the president look at the ratings for her show compared to SportsCenter at the same time last year in the same week in 2016.

 

Wednesday

 

2016: 574,000

 

2017: 397,000

 

Thursday

 

2016: 537,000

 

2017: 457,000

 

Friday

 

2016: 304,000

 

2017: 280,0000

 

Add it all up and that’s over a 20% ratings decline in one year, probably the worst ratings collapse in the nearly 40 year history of SportsCenter.

 

Jemele Hill’s opinion may be that the president is a white supremacist, but that’s just her idiotic opinion. The facts should be more alarming to her; people don’t enjoy watching her show on television. They’re abandoning her show in droves, at a rate never before seen in the modern history of ESPN.

 

 

MONEY ON THE LINE

The always-interesting Bill Barnwell at ESPN.com has a long take on which players have the most moola on the line in 2017.  Full thing here, edited version below:

 

You can argue that just about every year in the NFL is a contract year. The only players with more than two years of job security are rookie first-round picks and true upper-echelon superstars. Most free-agent deals these days are for two years of guarantees with team options afterward, and even those guys are the exceptions to the rule. Such is life in a league with non-guaranteed contracts.

 

With so many players operating year to year and the average career being shorter than any other major U.S. sport, each individual season is more important for a football player than it is for players elsewhere. Players such as Brock Osweiler (seven starts) and Byron Maxwell (17 starts) were able to unlock huge sums of money in free agency on what basically amounted to a season or less of work. That almost never happens in other sports.

 

Everyone has something on the line this year, but players who are at or near the end of their current deals have the most to gain or lose in 2017. With that in mind, I went through the players who were likely to become free agents in 2018 or 2019 and attempted to estimate how a great 2017 or a disappointing campaign would impact their short-term earnings. For each player, I calculated the money they probably would make in 2018 if they had a frustrating campaign this year and signed a one-year “prove-it” deal and compared it to what they would make if they performed at a 90th percentile level for their talent and established level of performance.

 

These numbers are for the first three years of their new deal, given that some NFL teams use the three-year value of a player’s contract as the best measure of a contract’s actual value. Those free agents might have only two guaranteed seasons, but enough of them make it to a third non-guaranteed year to use the three-year metric. Obviously, each player will make more over three years than they would in one, but in a league with such a high attrition rate, it’s impossible to project what a player might make if they don’t do well with the prove-it contract.

 

I found 15 players for whom I think a great 2017 would be worth a minimum of $30 million. Let’s run through those players:

 

Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams

 

Short-term deal: $8 million

Breakout deal: $38 million

Difference: $30 million

 

Traded to the Rams after the Bills declined his fifth-year option, Watkins could compete with Alec Ogletree for Los Angeles’ franchise tag this offseason. The book on the former fourth overall pick is that he’s effective but can’t stay healthy, so if he misses time because of injuries in 2017, he could be forced to take a one-year deal in the $8 million range to try to rebuild his value.

 

On the flip side, if Jared Goff continues to look as good as he did on Sunday, Watkins might be in line for a breakout campaign.

 

Greg Robinson, Detroit Lions

 

Short-term deal: $3 million

Breakout deal: $33 million

Difference: $30 million

 

Speaking of the Rams, Robinson was a disaster after being taken with the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft. Snead dumped him off to the Lions this offseason, and Detroit found a spot for him in its lineup after left tackle Taylor Decker suffered a shoulder injury that could cost him half of the 2017 season.

 

Robinson has looked much improved during the preseason and held up in Week 1 against Chandler Jones. The Lions have no spot for him at tackle in the long term and probably will need their franchise tag (and cap space) for Ezekiel Ansah, meaning that Robinson will almost definitely hit unrestricted free agency this offseason. If he washes out, some team will take a flier on his athleticism and draft pedigree. (See: Joeckel, Luke.)

 

If Robinson looks like a solid left tackle, though, he’ll be a tantalizing option as a 25-year-old blindside protector. Matt Kalil just got $32.3 million over his first three years from the Panthers as a result of producing one solid season at left tackle, and that campaign was four years prior. Robinson would get a big deal.

 

Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans

 

Short-term deal: $13.25 million

Breakout deal: $44 million

Difference: $30.75 million

 

The Texans already have tendered Clowney a fifth-year option for 2018 at $13,846,000, so this slightly reduced number accounts for the possibility that Clowney either struggles to stay healthy or plays poorly enough for the Texans to decline the option. A serious injury would guarantee the option, so Clowney would need to toe the narrow line between being injured enough to struggle and healthy enough to pass a physical. It’s extremely unlikely.

 

If Clowney does have the sort of career year everyone seems to be expecting, though, $13.8 million might look like a bargain.

 

Dontari Poe, Atlanta Falcons

 

Short-term deal: $8.5 million

Breakout deal: $40 million

Difference: $31.5 million

 

The former Chiefs star hit free agency this offseason and found his market dry, as teams probably were concerned about Poe’s surgically repaired back and the pass-rushing production that has gone missing since. Poe made it to consecutive Pro Bowls in 2013 and 2014, producing 10.5 sacks over the two-year stretch. After undergoing back surgery in the summer of 2015, though, Poe recorded just 2.5 sacks in his final two seasons in Kansas City.

 

Poe took a one-year deal to rebuild his value in Atlanta.

 

Terrelle Pryor, Washington

 

Short-term deal: $6.5 million

Breakout deal: $39 million

Difference: $32.5 million

 

This offseason, Pryor didn’t find a long-term deal to his liking after an out-of-nowhere season with the Browns and took a one-year, $6 million deal to prove himself with a better quarterback. Kirk Cousins was staring down Pryor at times during Week 1, as the former Ohio State quarterback racked up a team-high 11 targets during Washington’s 30-17 home loss to the Eagles.

 

Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings

 

Short-term deal: $5 million

Breakout deal: $40 million

Difference: $35 million

 

Quarterbacks have more to gain or lose from huge seasons than players at any other position; remember that Brock Osweiler went from being a backup who would have been in line to get about $5 million per year to a free agent who racked up $37 million in guarantees and $46 million over three years in free agency after seven competent starts with a great defense.

 

Sadly, the most likely outcome for Bridgewater after suffering a career-threatening knee injury last August is that a team gives the former Louisville star a one-year deal for decent backup money and hopes to get more.

 

Timmy Jernigan, Philadelphia Eagles

 

Short-term deal: $8.5 million

Breakout deal: $44 million

Difference: $35.5 million

 

If you’re a true top-end talent, the most lucrative positions to play in the NFL are quarterback, edge rusher, then interior disruptor. The top six interior linemen in the league average a total of more than $50 million across the first three years of their respective deals, a figure topped only by players at those two aforementioned positions.

 

The best way to get the most possible money is to be a young player hitting free agency on a team that isn’t likely to re-sign you. The Eagles have a ton of money invested along their defensive line and probably can’t pay Jernigan what he would get in the free market. And they probably won’t franchise Jernigan at a price tag of around $14.5 million, given that Philly already has $169.5 million committed to its cap next season.

 

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

 

Short-term deal: $13 million

Breakout deal: $50 million

Difference: $37 million

 

Barring a career-threatening injury, Bell will get paid this offseason. Will it be by the Steelers? If reports are true and Bell turned down a deal worth $42 million over three years, chances are the contract will come from another team.

 

Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins

 

Short-term deal: $9.5 million

Breakout deal: $47 million

Difference: $37.5 million

 

After re-signing Kenny Stills this offseason, the Dolphins don’t appear especially interested in locking up Landry for the long term.

 

Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles

 

Short-term deal: $11.5 million

Breakout deal: $50 million

Difference: $38.5 million

 

Jeffery, who turned down a multiyear contract from Minnesota, took a one-year deal after a lost season in 2016. He has a higher perceived ceiling than Landry around the NFL because of his ability to line up on the outside. Even given the injuries and suspensions that cost him 11 games and portions of several more in 2015-2016, Jeffery was a bonafide star during his four years as a starter in Chicago. From 2013 to ’16, Jeffery was ninth in total receiving yards, just between former teammate Brandon Marshall and Golden Tate.

 

At 27, Jeffery is in line for a career-changing 2017. If he excels with Carson Wentz and stays healthy, he could hit free agency as a productive No. 1 wideout in a league in which those guys never hit the market. (The best wide receiver to hit free agency since the new CBA was signed in 2011 is probably Vincent Jackson.) Jeffery bet on himself this offseason: All you have to do is look at guys like Joe Flacco and Kirk Cousins to see what happens when that bet goes right.

 

Sheldon Richardson, Seattle Seahawks

 

Short-term deal: $9 million

Breakout deal: $48 million

Difference: $39 million

 

It’s amazing what a new destination can do. Richardson was forced out of his role as a defensive end in New York by the presence of Leonard Williams, with the Jets recasting him as an unlikely outside linebacker for stretches of time. The Seahawks traded for Richardson to serve as a replacement for top draft pick Malik McDowell, who is out indefinitely after suffering still-unknown injuries in an ATV accident. Richardson looked like a force of nature against the Packers in Week 1, racking up a hit and four run tackles while living in the Green Bay backfield.

 

Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills

 

Short-term deal: $14 million

Breakout deal: $63 million

Difference: $49 million

 

Taylor is under contract for 2018 as part of his offseason restructure with the Bills. He would earn $16 million if the Bills kept him on the roster, but it’s totally plausible that Buffalo moves on from their supremely underrated starter if he struggles in 2017, a move that would push Taylor into what could be a crowded free-agent market for quarterbacks. Taylor would still be a viable starting option for a handful of teams, but his one-year deal might only come in between $10 million and $12 million.

 

Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars

 

Short-term deal: $8 million

Breakout deal: $65 million

Difference: $57 million

 

Are we sure Bortles isn’t a zombie? Left for dead after losing his starting job during the preseason, Bortles got the gig back when Chad Henne wasn’t much better with the starters in Week 3. He was a virtual bystander during Jacksonville’s dominant victory in the season opener against the Texans, going just 11-of-21 for 125 yards and a touchdown pass. The Jags will try to win this way all season, but chances are that their defense won’t sack the opposing quarterback six times in the first half.

 

Even if they do become a team built around running the ball and playing great defense, there would be no reason for the Jaguars to keep Bortles around at his $19 million fifth-year option in 2018. It seems unlikely the UCF product will ever see that option. If Bortles gets released, there will be organizations that give him a second chance at success in 2018. Arizona seems like an entirely plausible destination, especially if the price tag is below $10 million. If Bortles excels, the Jags would almost assuredly want to give him a long-term deal to keep him around for years to come, which would take in excess of $20 million per season.

 

Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings

 

Short-term deal: $18 million

Breakout deal: $80 million

Difference: $62 million

 

NFL scouts and executives have believed in Bradford for years, and his Monday night performance against the Saints is an example of why they might be right. Bradford finally got some semblance of protection from his offensive line and carved up the New Orleans defense, averaging a respectable 7.4 air yards per attempt while posting a league-best 93.9 Total QBR. As was the case with Alex Smith against New England, this wasn’t just a bunch of checkdowns.

 

Skeptics might rightly wonder whether Bradford will look good if he isn’t playing the reliably putrid Saints defense, and we’ll see. If Bradford plays this way and stays healthy — and he’s already on the injury report for this week because of a knee injury — the Vikings will have to pay a premium to keep him in town. The franchise tag seems likely as a precursor to a long-term deal, which would come in just below the massive contracts Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers will sign. Even if he gets hurt or struggles, Bradford has shown enough for a quarterback-needy team to pay him near-franchise money on a one-year deal.

 

Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots

 

Short-term deal: $14 million

Breakout deal: $85 million

Difference: $71 million

 

 

The one player in the league with the most to gain or lose this offseason is a guy who might not take a meaningful snap. The Garoppolo story is likely to be on hold until this offseason, when the Patriots will have to make a fascinating choice about their future in the short term and long term. The most likely scenario is that the Pats franchise Garoppolo for about $22 million before doing anything, but that assumes Jimmy G spends the entire season on the bench.

 

Remember: Garoppolo has really played only a game and a half as the New England starter. If he is forced onto the field and struggles over a multigame stretch, the sheen would be off his status as a potential franchise quarterback. There would unquestionably be a team or two that would give him very low-level starter money to see if there’s anything there during the offseason, but the situation would be totally different from how it seems right now.

 

Alternately, nobody in New England is rooting for Tom Brady to get hurt, but let’s imagine a scenario in which Brady is ineffective or injured and Garoppolo plays at an MVP level for 12 games before hitting free agency. The Patriots would keep Garoppolo around, but we would be talking about a quarterback who would hit $100 million over three years in unrestricted free agency. Even if Garoppolo were to take a discount to stay in New England, he would be looking at a deal in line with what Matthew Stafford just got from the Lions. If your best-case scenario is taking a discount and still matching the largest contract in NFL history, you’ve got some upside.