The Daily Briefing Monday, April 10, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
The preseason schedule is all grown up and just like big brother the regular season schedule it has its own NFL Network special. Today. 5 p.m. Opponents will be revealed.
Here is a stunt involving Tony Romo. Max Mayer at NFL.com:
Tony Romo will suit up for a Dallas sports team possibly for one final time — except it’s not the Cowboys.
The Dallas Mavericks will make the retired Cowboys quarterback “a Maverick for the day” by having him on the team’s bench and in uniform for their home finale on Tuesday against the Nuggets, per ESPN NBA reporter Marc Stein.
Romo announced his retirement from the NFL this past Tuesday, and CBS announced shortly after that the network hired the gunslinger to be the lead game broadcast analyst beside Jim Nantz.
Back when he attended Burlington High School in Wisconsin, Romo starred on the varsity basketball team as well as being the school’s starting quarterback. In fact, his former high school basketball coach told USA Today in 2015 that Romo was more talented then on the hardwood compared to the gridiron.
While the Mavericks have already been eliminated from NBA playoff contention, Stein also reported that Romo will not play in the game.
At one time it looked like Mercedes Stadium in Atlanta was going to open in plenty of time for the NFL season. Now, not so much according to Tim Tucker in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Falcons officials, who said March 29 they would update the construction schedule for Mercedes-Benz Stadium within seven to 10 days, now say it will take a while longer to assess the timeline.
That leaves open the question of whether the downtown stadium will host its first event as scheduled July 30 or be delayed for the third time.
“We don’t expect to have an update for at least a week,” Brett Jewkes, senior vice president and chief communications officer of Falcons parent company AMB Group, said Friday.
The construction teams “are going around the clock, and it’s going well, but they are still working through a lot of information and interdependent work schedules,” Jewkes said. “If and when we have anything to update, we will.”
Issues associated with the stadium’s complex retractable roof already have delayed the stadium’s opening twice, first pushing the target from March 1 to June 1 and then pushing it further to July 30, and threaten another delay.
Questions also loom about whether games could be played in the stadium before the roof is completed and fully operable, if necessary.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s first scheduled event is an Atlanta United soccer match July 30, followed by two more soccer matches in August and two Chick-fil-A Kickoff college football games in early September: Alabama vs. Florida State on Sept. 2 and Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee on Sept. 4. Dates for Falcons home games are expected to be announced by the NFL the week after next, along with the rest of the league’s 2017 schedule.
Gary Stokan, who runs the Chick-fil-A Kickoff event as president and CEO of Peach Bowl Inc., said this week that his organization has “full assurances from the Falcons” that the Alabama-FSU and Tech-Tennessee games can be played in the new stadium.
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A big deal for Falcons CB DESMOND TRUFANT per Jordon Schultz of the Huffington Post:
Atlanta Falcons standout cornerback Desmond Trufant has agreed to a massive five-year contract extension with the team, according to multiple sources who spoke with The Huffington Post.
The contract is worth $69 million, with Trufant earning nearly $14 million per season and almost $42 million in guaranteed money. Trufant, who was previously signed through the 2017-18 NFL season, is now under contract for the next six seasons with Atlanta. The deal makes him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the NFL in terms of guaranteed dollars.
With the league shifting more and more toward passing, possessing quality corners has become increasingly important. The 26-year-old Trufant earned Pro Bowl honors in 2015, and was likely well on his way to another selection last season before requiring season-ending surgery after suffering a pectoral injury.
As a precaution, the former Falcons’ first-round pick will be held out of offseason workouts, but clearly the team isn’t worried.
“Trufant is coming along great,” head coach Dan Quinn recently said at the NFC coaches breakfast in Phoenix. “We won’t have him practice during [organized team activities (OTAs)], but by the time we get to training camp, he’ll be ready to go and battle.”
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While the record-breaking Atlanta offense ― led by MVP Matt Ryan and All-World receiver Julio Jones ― garners most of the headlines, it’s worth noting that the Falcons defense improved dramatically during the second half of last season.
During its final nine games, it surrendered only 22 points per matchup, totaling an impressive 22 sacks and 18 forced turnovers, including a pick-six of Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI.
In turn, retaining a shutdown corner like Trufant (who has 48 career passes defensed) for the long-term is undeniably a huge boon for a promising young defense that helped propel the franchise to its second ever Super Bowl appearance.
Trufant will once again join forces with Jalen Collins and Robert Alford, two other young corners who played well in his absence.
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This from Dan Quinn on the aftermath of letting OC Kyle Shanahan call the play that ruined the Falcons’ Super Bowl:
“I totally recognize where you are going. I had [the authority to overrule Shanahan] before for sure. I don’t know if I would say overrule, because obviously I am on the headset and I listen too. I would have felt comfortable saying at any point in the game, Hey let’s think about this, let’s go in another direction … I knew where we were going [when Shanahan called for a pass that resulted in a sack with the Falcons in field-goal range and less than four minutes to play in an eight-point game] and I knew we were in field goal range and that was something that we discussed. But that was one for me learning. How do you mitigate some of those risks that take place? But let’s face it, there are all sort of moments that go into the game, but clearly, if you have do-overs, yeah you would say, ‘I would like a do-over at this, or at that.’ But at any point, I always have felt like over the last couple years, Kyle and I have a very good relationship and he has a real respect for the head coach relationship … I don’t regret being aggressive, I regret the result.”
Add the Buccaneers to the list of teams known to have taken a good look at RB JOE MIXON. Greg Auman in the Tampa Bay Times:
The Bucs are considering drafting controversial Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon seriously enough that they brought him to One Buc Place this week for a visit to meet with him personally.
Mixon was suspended for a full season at Oklahoma in 2014 after reaching a plea agreement in an incident in which he punched a woman in the face, breaking four bones. He returned to the team in 2015 and rushed for 1,274 yards this past season as one of the top backs in college football.
Mixon wasn’t allowed to participate at the NFL combine, and Bucs general manager Jason Licht said there that the team would have to “use resources” to investigate players that weren’t available to talk to teams at the combine.
The Bucs had a scout at Mixon’s pro day at Oklahoma last month, and had Mixon in for a visit this week. NFL teams are allowed only 30 all-expenses-paid visits to their facility, so it represents a major investment in evaluating a draft prospect.
The new 49ers regime makes short work of CB TREMAINE BROCK after a domestic violence arrest. Nick Wagoner at ESPN.com:
The San Francisco 49ers have released cornerback Tramaine Brock a day after he was arrested and booked on suspicion of felony domestic violence.
According to a Santa Clara Police Department report, officers responded to a report of a domestic-violence incident at 9:35 p.m. Thursday. The officers reported that an adult female had visible injuries and was “in a dating relationship with the male suspect.”
Brock, 28, was booked into Santa Clara County Jail. He was released on bail early Friday afternoon.
The 49ers said in a statement shortly after Brock’s release from jail that they had let him go.
The Niners have also parted ways with multiple players who were involved in incidents of violence in recent years. Most recently, tight end/fullback Bruce Miller was released after he was charged with assaulting an elderly man and his son in a San Francisco hotel just before last season.
Miller pleaded not guilty in November to seven felony charges stemming from that incident and is awaiting trial. He also pleaded no-contest to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in 2015 and was ordered to undergo counseling.
This is the first such incident under the team’s new leadership of general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan.
Lynch and Shanahan stressed at their introductory news conference that they would not have much tolerance for off-field issues.
“Our intentions, no matter what it is, is to do things the right way, to commit to the right people, to work extremely hard and make the right football decisions,” Shanahan said then. “You don’t always make the right decisions, but I can promise you guys we’re going to do everything we can to do that. We’re going to hold people accountable. We’re going to do it the right way.”
Brock, who had been with the Niners since 2010, started all but one game at cornerback over the past two seasons and was one of the longest-tenured players on the team. He was scheduled to enter the final season of a four-year, $14 million contract in 2017 with a cap hit of $4.3 million. His release saves the team, which already had a league-leading $70 million in salary cap space, $3.55 million.
An NFL spokesman said via email that, “The matter will be reviewed under the (NFL’s) personal conduct policy.”
LOS ANGELES RAMS
A Peter King note:
The projected starting left tackle of the Los Angeles Rams, Andrew Whitworth, is 4 years, 1 month older than the Rams’ head coach, Sean McVay.
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Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com with an update on CB TRUMAINE JOHNSON’s contract situation.
Shortly after the Rams put the franchise tag on cornerback Trumaine Johnson earlier this year, there was a report that the team was discussing a trade that would send Johnson elsewhere before the 2017 season.
Nothing has happened on that front and the team is now reportedly open to moving in the other direction with Johnson. Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com reports that the Rams aren’t ruling out a trade, but that they are also open to talking about an extension that would keep Johnson in L.A. beyond next season.
Gonzalez adds that talks about an extension aren’t expected until the end of the offseason program, which starts on Monday. The timeline fits with how General Manager Les Snead explained the decision to tag Johnson in March.
“Because everyone is new, we need to work together, live together, see if we all fit,” Snead. “Does Tru fit [defensive coordinator] Wade Phillips? Does Wade fit Tru?”
They will presumably have a better answer to those questions after the team starts working together. A full season would give an even fuller picture, although there would likely be cap benefits from an extension that knocks down the cap hit from the $16.7 million Johnson is due to make after getting tagged for the second straight year.
Peter King on the possibility of a RICHARD SHERMAN trade:
I think there are five clues about the possibility of Richard Sherman being traded that lead me to believe it’s more likely than not he will be traded, and probably before the April 27 first round. I’ll give you those in a moment. But this is one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for moment for the Seahawks. Sherman’s still an excellent cornerback, clearly a top-five corner with the physicality and smarts to still be a shutdown corner, and the Seahawks are bereft of good cover guys after Sherman. That would suggest Seattle absolutely should not trade Sherman. But maybe the braintrust feels there’s no time like the present: Seattle’s lucky to be in a quarterback lull in the NFC West right now, with only an aging Carson Palmer a current threat now that Brian Hoyer (Niners) and Jared Goff (Rams) are likely starters for the other two division teams. Now for the clues:
• Sherman’s aware of the trade talks, told our Albert Breer he’s not upset about it, and apparently wouldn’t mind it happening.
• GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have both acknowledged it’s possible.
• Carroll said at the NFL meetings recently, “Richard went through a lot last year, and most of it self-inflicted.” Referring to the Sherman freaking out on the sidelines once, and rebelliously questioning an offensive play-call that drew the ire of Carroll. That quote really stuck with me. Pete Carroll very rarely says anything about his players remotely negative, and here he’s saying something negative about one of his biggest stars.
• The Seahawks have to know that they’ve been so empowering with their players that this could give them the chance to start fresh on the attitude front. Marshawn Lynch and then Sherman went too far with that freedom. With Lynch gone, getting rid of Sherman for a fair price could be the logical next step for Seattle.
• Sherman at 29 for $22 million over two remaining contract years might be too tempting for cornerback-needy teams to pass up.
But—and this is a big but—I find it interesting that the team often most interested in milking a couple of years out of veterans who’ve been great elsewhere apparently won’t bite on Sherman. The Patriots chose to give huge money to Stephon Gilmore, and I doubt they’d employ two corners making in excess of $11 million a year. Just not their way.
After looking at ADRIAN PETERSON, it looks as if the Patriots will re-up RB LeGARRETTE BLOUNT. Jim McBride in the Boston Globe:
Seeing Patriots owner Robert Kraft give LeGarrette Blount a big bear hug at the Celtics-Cavaliers game Wednesday night added fuel to the speculation that the big back will return to Foxborough this season. It’s seems like a no-brainer. Blount, who is wildly popular with his teammates, loves it here, the staff loves him, and he’s a perfect fit to round out the New England’s running back corps. He’s big (6 feet, 250 pounds), he knows the offense, and he has a nose for the end zone. Look for a new deal to get done sooner rather than later.”
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It sounds like the jersey thief was promised immunity for the return of the stolen items. The MMQB.com has this:
March 12: At 3 a.m. Mexican law enforcement officials arrive at Ortega’s doorstep. They have a search warrant for his home in this suburban, gated community in Condado de Sayavedra. But they will not execute it.
Dressed in his pajamas, his stunned wife looking on, Ortega was face to face with armed federal agents. A deal was presented: Hand over the Super Bowl jerseys and whatever else you’ve stolen, and you will sleep in your own bed not only tonight, but for the foreseeable future. Ortega fished a black trash bag out of a dresser drawer and handed it over to the police, who took photos of the transaction to prove Ortega’s cooperation.
Agents didn’t tear up the floorboards, toss cabinets or pull kitchen appliances from their wall connections. They didn’t even search the lower floor. They simply asked, “Do you have anything else?”
He made a phone call to a friend who arrived shortly thereafter (Mexican police on the scene dubbed the physically stout newcomer with the helmet, Gordito, or “fat little one”). The friend brought with him an orange and navy blue helmet with year-old scuffmarks on the crown: Von Miller’s Super Bowl 50 helmet.
To the Mexican authorities, the haul might as well have been laundry. They declined to search the rest of the house and left as quietly as they’d arrived, leaving the slumbering stallions at a neighboring horse farm none the wiser. To the American officials waiting back at the U.S. embassy, the trash bag and the helmet represented the culmination of a weeks-long, cross-continental search that had cost hundreds of man hours and tested the geopolitical relationship between two countries.
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The Patriots have a problem all the other teams wish for. Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:
When the Patriots opened Gillette Stadium in 2002, the idea that they would one day have to explore design plans to create space for four additional Super Bowl banners would have been welcomed. Just 15 years later, that time has arrived. The thought struck me upon leaving the stadium one day last week, looking up at the south end zone, and seeing the four Super Bowl banners hanging: There’s no space for the fifth Super Bowl LI banner in that area.
This is the definition of what owner Robert Kraft calls a “high-class problem” to have. When this was mentioned, it was relayed that the club is considering design plans on how to proceed with the fifth Super Bowl banner. It also enlightened me to some significant renovations the Kraft family had made two years ago to commemorate the Super Bowl XLIX championship inside Gillette Stadium, specifically in the area where players enter the facility, the main lobby area, and inside the team’s Hall of Fame. Just as those renovations were completed, they’ll now need to be updated again.
THIS AND THAT
NFL STRUGGLES WITH ARM WRESTLING
Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY on how Las Vegas is good enough for a team to call home, but maybe not for NFL players to be shown having non-gambling related fun:
Nearly three dozen NFL players are in Las Vegas this weekend for a competition that classically captures the macho spirit of football: Arm wrestling.
Dubbed the inaugural “Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship” — with heavyweight and light heavyweight crowns in play — it’s a made-for-TV deal, to air on CBS over two weekends later this spring.
But arm wrestlers beware. Roger Goodell and Co, lurk for a strong-arm takedown.
That the event is being staged at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino has captured the attention of the suits at NFL headquarters on Park Avenue. The NFL’s gambling policy, of course, prohibits players from appearing at casinos as part of promotional events.
According to the NFL, players participating in this specific event — without pre-approval — are in violation of the gambling policy and subject to discipline.
“Had we been asked in advance if this was acceptable, we would have indicated that it was in direct violation of the gambling policy,” Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president for communications and public affairs, told USA TODAY Sports. “No one sought pre-approval.”
With discipline perhaps coming in the form of a fine, the stage may be set for another skirmish between flamboyant Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and his friends in New York.
Harrison, a vocal critic of Goodell who has had a series of differences with the NFL over a range of issues, is coaching one of the teams in the event. His counterpart is Marshawn Lynch, the free-spirited running back who received permission from the Seattle Seahawks this week to visit the Oakland Raiders as he contemplates coming out of retirement.
Other notable participants: Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, Raiders punter Marquette King and defensive end Mario Edwards, and New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung.
And what event at a casino would be complete without the presence of a guy nicknamed, “Lucky,” as in Dallas Cowboys receiver Lucky Whitehead.
“This is great exposure for all involved,” said Alan Brickman, co-owner of the California-based company, Encinal Entertainment, that is putting on the show.
In addition to funneling half of the $100,000 in first-place prize money to charity, with the Give Back Foundation charged to support foundations in the players’ names, Brickman sells the TV package as a chance “to get to know the players behind the scenes.”
Interestingly, Brickman disputes the contention that pre-approval wasn’t sought from the NFL. He told USA TODAY Sports that, beginning in January, he engaged with two different departments within the league and tried to strike a deal to include the NFL as a partner with the event.
Obviously, the NFL didn’t sign up. Yet Brickman maintains that during communication with the league, guidelines were suggested that included showing no images during the broadcast of any gambling-related activities or any alcohol. He said the power was turned off on gambling machines in the vicinity of the events being taped.
“With a team coming here, I’m sure they’re branding it as a family destination,” Brickman said from Las Vegas on Friday night.
In the big picture, the arm wrestling event is a fresh test of the mettle of the NFL’s gambling policy.
Remember, two years ago the league essentially shut down a fantasy football convention that was connected to then-Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, warning players of fines and/or suspensions if they participated in the event in Las Vegas that wasn’t even to be actually held at a casino — although it was to be staged at a venue owned by a casino, Sands.
It would have been consistent with the Romo case for the NFL to try to squash the arm wrestling, too. But apparently, there was some communication breakdown as league officials insist that they were unaware of the event until the middle of this week.
In any event, as it stands now, even with the Oakland Raiders formally approved last month for a move to Las Vegas in 2020, the NFL is hardly relaxing a gambling policy that prohibits association with casinos or other gambling establishments.
“We did not change any of our gambling policies in the context of the Raiders relocation,” Goodell said in late March, as the NFL owners meetings wrapped up in Phoenix. “It wasn’t necessary and the Raiders didn’t ask us to do that. We don’t see changing our current policies.”
The NFL has a long history of opposing gambling, particularly sports books, which is why any association with casinos is frowned upon. Yet there’s seemingly a much grayer area in play now, with the Raiders headed to Las Vegas.
ROMO AND SIMMMS
Peter King gives Tony Romo a fighting chance to be good on TV:
I’m not saying Tony Romo will make it. I’m not saying he won’t make it. I am saying he’s a different guy, a unique case. And though I think doing football on TV is harder than the public thinks, and probably harder than Romo thinks, and though I think Romo’s got a huge bridge to build to ever get to be Cris Collinsworth II, I’m not betting against him.
A few reasons why, but let me tell you a story first. Actually, the story is from Sean Payton, Romo’s quarterback coach with the Cowboys when Romo came out of Eastern Illinois undrafted in 2003. Payton, quarterback coach. Bill Parcells, head coach.
This was Payton’s version of the story the way he told it to me Thursday night: “We’re at Oakland in the  preseason. Fourth quarter, late, and we’re in a two-minute drill, driving, down a touchdown [actually 20-14]. We get down to, like, the one, and Tony’s the quarterback, and the clock’s running down, and Parcells yells, ‘Clock it! Clock it!’ So I tell Tony to clock it, and he runs to the line, and we all think he’s going to clock it. But he calls, ’98! 98!’ That’s the call for the quarterback sneak.”
… :11, … :10 … :09 … Snap to Romo.
Payton: “So Tony, instead of clocking it, does a Brady-like sneak and somehow he gets over the line, and we end up winning the game. After the game, I couldn’t really say, ‘Great job!’ If he didn’t make it, we’d have both been in trouble. Big trouble.”
That’s part of the story. On Sunday, Romo picked up the rest of it.
“That’s so funny,” Romo told me. “The one thing they didn’t know on that play was I called ‘98’ to quarterback-sneak it, but I was still planning on spiking it. I just wanted the option to sneak it if the defense wasn’t aligned properly. If Oakland would have been aligned right and in their stances with intensity, you have to spike it. But they weren’t. It’s an educated guess I took.”
But if you were wrong?
“I’m pretty sure I’d have been on a bus back to Burlington, Wis., if I wasn’t lucky enough to get in. It was pretty stupid at that stage to risk that. But hell, I was young and dumb.”
Imagine you’re fighting for a roster spot—Romo was behind Vinny Testaverde and Drew Henson in camp in year two of his career—and the only chance you get to prove yourself is in the preseason, and you choose, on the likely last play of a game, to go counter to what a future Hall of Fame coach (Parcells) and a future Super Bowl-winning coach (Payton) tell you to do. You’re an unproven kid, a half-scholarship player at Eastern Illinois, uninvited to the combine, undrafted … and you make your own call at the goal line? How do you have the stones to do that?
“Man, I don’t know,” Romo said. “You just want to win, and it felt like the percentages of me scoring were high. Not scoring never crosses your mind. So I never thought about the consequences in that moment of failing. If you fail you fail, but I’ll deal with the failure after the game and take the responsibility that comes with that. But you have no chance of being great if you can’t be decisive. Make a decision and roll with it.”
Sounds exactly like Romo’s thought process this spring. Today, he could be on the verge of signing with the Houston Texans, a 42-minute plane flight from the home he does not want to upend in Dallas, with his wife and two children and a third on the way. He could have been the quarterback of a team with a Super Bowl defense, with Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt likely to return, and he could have showed the Cowboys what they’re missing. If he could have stayed healthy for one season, which he knew too was absolutely no lock, this could have been his best shot at a Super Bowl, ever. (I’m projecting the Houston signing. I think it was likely, because the Texans know they can’t enter the season with Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden as their prime quarterbacks. No one’s told me Romo was a sure thing in Houston, but logic is logic.)
But despite that opening, Romo chose a pretty challenging world. As Romo told the Mike Krzyzewski podcast on SiriusXM Radio: “Right after the season I was playing football. That was a no-brainer for me at the time. And then I just, I feel like I do with all big decisions I’ve made in my life, you don’t want to make them emotional or quick, you want to kind of just soak in it, think about it and take your time and things start to reveal themselves. And you pray about it, go talk to your close family and people you trust, then you make the call.” Doing the number one job in the CBS NFL booth alongside Jim Nantz, he said, “feels right. It really does.”
Romo says he knows what he doesn’t know. I hope so. The NFL hasn’t announced the TV slate for the year, though a complicating factor for Romo will be that CBS is likely to have about nine weeks when the network will either have the Thursday night games simulcast on CBS and NFL Network, or the crew will do the games and they’ll be on NFL Network. One game’s hard enough. Two? In 70 hours? In different cities? The one sane factor here: There will be some of those weeks, if CBS isn’t doing the national doubleheader game in the 4:25 ET late window, when Romo and Nantz could have Sunday off, seeing that there won’t be a true national game on CBS on Sunday.
Then there’s this, from former CBS sideline reporter (on the Simms/Nantz crew) Bonnie Bernstein, encapsulating Romo’s task on Friday to The MMQB’s Kalyn Kahler: “As an analyst in a two-man booth, you have to take every single play you see, be able to process the All-22 [full-field video replays], decide what to dissect on-air for the audience, and then, without stepping on your play-by-play guy, you have to provide perspective. Is that personnel package working? What was wrong with that defensive back’s technique covering the back shoulder fade? And be able to provide perspective on a player’s history. Whatever the context of the moment requires. You have one shot to get it right and 15 seconds to do it—and if the offense is running hurry-up, you have even less time. You have all of this information at your fingertips, what you’re seeing, all of the insights gathered from players and coaches during our production meeting. So, on Fridays when we get there, we meet with the home team head coach and coordinators and star players. You have all of this insight that you gather from the production meeting; essentially you are trying to flawlessly and cohesively stuff 50 pounds of information into a two-pound bag. Ask anybody who has tried it, and easy is the last adjective they will use.”
Of course, Romo has come this far before. Only difference: He had three years with training wheels on before he had to be The Man.
And this from Albert Breer:
Two pretty massive reality checks hit for Romo, who turns 37 later this month.
One came in mid-November, when Romo went into ownership and asked not for his job back, but to be given the chance to compete for it. He was told no. It was explained to Romo that, for a variety reasons, it didn’t make sense for the Cowboys to open a quarterback competition in the middle of a fight for the NFC East title.
“I can’t tell you how much I respect the man,” Cowboys COO Stephen Jones told me that week. “It’s hard. It’s hard. It’s a hard one on Tony, and it’s hard on everyone who loves Tony, and that’s this team and this organization. And at the same time, we’re all in on Dak as well, and Dak sees the compassion from Tony, and he has to love it. Everyone’s going to go through this at some point.”
The Cowboys wound up winning the NFC East and the top seed in the playoffs, and Prescott played plenty well enough to win in a divisional-round loss to the Packers that set the stage for the next blow to Romo’s psyche.
That came slowly over the last two months. The market simply never materialized. The Texans were very legitimately interested, but only on their terms. The Broncos were merely curious, and mostly committed to developing their young quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, which is what new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was hired to do.
So the Peyton Manning-like recruiting tour not only didn’t happen for Romo—it flat-out wasn’t out there for him if he’d wanted it.
Add all this up, and in less than a year Romo suffered another major injury, was unseated by a fourth-round pick, asked for a chance to win his job back and was told he couldn’t, and then—with his decade as a starter in Dallas clearly over—got a lukewarm (at best) reception from the rest of the league to his availability.
That’s a lot to swallow for a guy who’s played in four Pro Bowls, was All-Pro two years ago and has manned the most prominent position on one of the biggest stages in professional sports for an extended period of time. And it’s easy to see why, over the last few months, he’s asked the question: Do I want to do this anymore?
He’s talked privately about becoming the next Troy Aikman, which is where he’s headed now. He’s also discussed, down the line, the idea of becoming the next John Elway. And as John Lynch has shown us, in going from FOX analyst to 49ers general manager, Romo now very much has the opportunity to do both.
However that plays out, the next step wasn’t far from his mind. The last few years, Cowboys staffers have noticed that he wasn’t reporting to camp in the kind of shape many older players have to, choosing to use the time during camp to get himself where he needed to be before the season started. He’s got a young family now. Priorities change. Circumstances change.
At least on the surface, it looked to those around Romo like he didn’t need football the way he once did. Then, the Cowboys didn’t need him anymore. Then, the rest of the league didn’t need him.
So, in the end, Romo decided—at least for now—that he didn’t need them either.
And this from King:
“For Tony, this will be like merging onto the Autobahn with your driver’s permit.”
—One veteran network broadcaster, to me, on the task facing Romo.
Meanwhile, Phil Simms sends a text to a fan, Gary Myers of the New York Daily News, who extrapolates a lot from four words:
What’s next for Phil Simms?
“I am not done,” he said to me in a text message.
Simms surely will have more to say in the near future about losing his job to Tony Romo as CBS’ No. 1 NFL analyst. He’s under contract for at least two more years and there are many ways this could go.
Simms is 61 years old and has not lost his fastball. So, there should be opportunities for him. He can always do a podcast with his son Chris, who works for several media outlets.
Where will Phil pop up? Here are our top five possibilities.
If he works out an agreement to remain at CBS, he surely will continue on “Inside The NFL,” on CBS-owned Showtime. Although it doesn’t have the following it had on HBO when it was a must-watch, INFL still would provide Simms a forum to express his NFL opinions. It’s also geographically desirable. The show is taped at the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street. Simms lives in New Jersey.
2. NFL Today
Sean McManus, the president of CBS Sports, said this week that he hopes Simms can stay with CBS. “We are talking about a number of different roles in the booth,” he said.
There’s been speculation CBS might offer him a position on its No. 2 team, which is currently Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts. Whether he would knock Fouts down to No. 3 or it would become a three-man booth — Simms started in a crowded booth at NBC with Dick Enberg and Paul Maguire – remains to be seen.
I think he has too much pride to slip into a backup role on CBS’ No. 2 team that is shown to only a fraction of the country compared to the audience he’s been reaching the last 20 years.
There’s an opening on “The NFL Today” desk with Tony Gonzalez quitting because he no longer wanted to do the weekly travel from his home in California. There is sentiment at CBS to not replace Gonzalez and keep the desk as Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason and Bart Scott along with host James Brown.
Simms would be excellent on the show and it’s a lot less work than preparing for a Sunday game each week and a Thursday game once a week for half the season. These studio guys talk in sound bites. It’s not a hard job at all if they do just a little homework and we know Simms does a lot of homework.
When I worked on “Inside The NFL” on HBO as the inside information reporter, I would occasionally sit in on the script session meetings. There was a Hall of Fame quarterback on the panel — I’m not referring to the great Len Dawson — and when it came time to discuss upcoming games, he often had no clue and was totally unprepared. I remember we were prepping to talk about a Saints-Falcons game and he reacted as if he was being asked to break down Liverpool vs. Manchester City. “What should I say?” he asked. “What do you want me to say?”
He is no longer on television.
Mike Francesa is hanging up his headset in December, so The FAN needs an afternoon drive time host. How about moving Esiason to the afternoons and teaming him with Simms? They have great chemistry. The show would be over before Esiason heads over to MSG for the Rangers games. One problem: “Inside The NFL” tapes on Tuesday afternoons, so there would be a conflict. Maybe the Francesa show is downsized from 1 p.m. − 6:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. − 6:30 p.m., which would solve the problem. Or perhaps Showtime can tape on Tuesday mornings. Simms could potentially team with Esiason on “The NFL Today,” “Inside The NFL” and WFAN. How long before they would get sick of each other?
What would happen to the Carton half of Boomer and Carton if Esiason moves to the afternoon? Chris Christie was snubbed by his buddy Donald Trump for a key White House appointment, but would love to work with his buddy Carton. Christie had been lobbying to replace Francesa. Good thing he wouldn’t have to take the George Washington Bridge to get to the radio station from New Jersey. Carton and Christie as a tandem would be…well…interesting.
They have an opening on their No. 2 team behind Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. John Lynch left his spot with Kevin Burkhardt to become the 49ers general manager. It would be much easier for Simms to be No. 2 behind Aikman than remain at CBS and be No. 2 behind the rookie Romo.
5. QB Teacher
Simms already conducts private lessons for high school and college quarterbacks. Joe Montana even sent his son Nick to work with him. If Simms devoted his full-time energy to mentoring, he would become the most accomplished quarterback guru in the country — the new Bill Walsh. His knowledge of QB mechanics is off the charts. Simms would have been a terrific head coach or offensive coordinator. But that’s not happening now. The hours are ridiculous. He doesn’t want to stop working even with CBS not treating him right.
Simms won a Super Bowl with the Giants and broadcast a total eight Super Bowls with NBC and then CBS. He’s had two great careers and says he’s not done yet.
There was a time when all the Mock Drafts had CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY as an afterthought near the very bottom of the first round. No longer, according to Peter King:
In the past three days, I’ve asked some of the smartest draftniks and former NFL scouts this question: If you had to project where Christian McCaffrey will go in the draft, what overall pick would you guess? I asked because McCaffrey is one of the most discussed players in this draft. Most people see him as a hybrid weapon—a runner/returner/slot receiver—who shouldn’t be overused. Smart, seeing that McCaffrey’s likely to play at about 203 pounds. “He’s got the ability to make people miss, but also to make tough yards in the pile,” said Payton, who likes him. “I’ve got a crystal-clear vision of the player. He’d be like Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush for us, kind of the Joker role [versatile back]. But I think you have to have a pitch count on him.”
My panel of experts see him going in the teens, and three of them said particularly they think he’d be the best fit in Philadelphia, as the successor to Sproles and the swiss-army knife in coach Doug Pederson’s game plan. The Eagles are scheduled to pick 14th in the first round.
The projection of my panel:
Interesting: Not a soul thought he wouldn’t be picked in the top 20.
For the record (barring trade): 8 is Carolina, 14 is Philadelphia, 15 is Indianapolis, 16 is Baltimore and 19 is Tampa Bay.
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Sam Alipour of ESPN.com spends some time with DE MYLES GARRETT, the all-but-certain number one pick:
The Projected NO. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft is in a full-throated sing-along to a power ballad that hit the charts back when his parents were of make-out age. Yes, Myles Garrett — the great hope for many an NFL franchise, a 6-foot-4, 272-pound man-eater by both position and on-field disposition — is having a Journey moment.
Restless hearts … sleep alone tonight … sendin’ all my love … along the wire.
“‘Faithfully’ speaks to me,” says the 21-year-old defensive end out of Texas A&M. “It’s about a guy who’s busy with his work, always on the road, but I’m still completely into you. If you just hold on, I’ll completely give myself to you. Just stick along for the ride.”
We’re driving through College Station, Texas, in Garrett’s beloved beat-up Volvo, which is almost as old as the guy behind the wheel. The streets here are familiar to Garrett, but there are few reliable maps of where his career is headed come April 27. He is, after all, a once-in-a-decade pass-rushing prospect with NFL-ready skills and a track record of production. He totaled 32½ sacks, 48½ tackles for loss and 7 forced fumbles in three seasons, despite playing much of 2016 with a high ankle sprain. His freakish natural abilities have drawn comparisons to at least half of the Justice League’s superheroes — and that will likely buy him a one-way ticket to Cleveland, home of the NFL’s worst team last season and seemingly every season.
The Browns and everyone else know Garrett is a singular talent on the field, but it’s his mind, and his curiosity about the broader world, that makes the biggest impression. To ride shotgun with Garrett, you have to play keep-up. In the span of a few minutes, he navigates the conversation from the genius of Journey to the true nature of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s power (his affability, in case you’re wondering) to how the words of Maya Angelou can infuse every cell of your body with light and love. And that’s before he gets to paleontology.
“I don’t think I’m the smartest player in the draft,” Garrett tells me, “but if you consider all the things I think about daily, how many things intrigue me and I try to get involved in, I’m up there.”
Over the course of several chats in Aggieland, and perhaps helped by numerous carpool-karaoke duets, Garrett lets his guard down, proving himself confident, if soft-spoken. As it turns out, the draft’s No. 1 star has dinosaur-sized dreams that only begin with football: to retire as the greatest NFL player of all time.
THE MAG: What’s going through your head these days, just a month shy of becoming an NFL player and potentially the No. 1 pick?
MYLES GARRETT: I didn’t know how this would play out when I was a kid. I knew I wanted to play ball, be a paleontologist and write poetry. I thought, “Heck, where will I find the time? Well, football comes first, and I’ll just find some time for poetry, and paleontology can come at the end.” I made this plan at 14, and dang, it’s all coming together. The day I’ve been dreaming of is tomorrow. Now I have to face it. I’ll either attack it and win or get swallowed by it.
By all accounts, your draft prep has been flawless. At the combine, you ran like a running back and jumped like a wide receiver and drew comparisons to all of the physical specimens at your position. Who do you think is your best comparison?
You can compare me to those wide receivers and the great stars of the league, but I want to show that I’m in a league of my own. I don’t want anybody to be like me. By the end of my career, I don’t want to hear talk of another Myles Garrett. I want to be the greatest. The greatest that ever played, regardless of position or era. They say that’s Jerry Rice. If his total greatness is considered the best of all time, I want to exceed that.
One defensive coordinator told Sports Illustrated that the closest player comparison is Wolverine. Your coach Kevin Sumlin used to call you Batman. Which superhero comparison do you like?
[Laughs] In high school, they used to call me Superman. Around here they call me Flash. I prefer Flash. He’s the fastest man alive, but he isn’t invulnerable like Superman, he doesn’t have all these powers, so he has so much pressure on him to keep up with the Justice League, and he handles it so well. That’s my life.
All right, superhero, let’s knock you down a notch. What do you struggle with most in this world?
My kryptonite? Social situations. I’m naturally a shy person. If I meet you, there’ll be ups and downs getting from “hello” to friendship. And in group situations I’m awful — I don’t know where to stand, how to act. People will try to clue me in, but I’ll try to stick to people that I already know.
What was your least favorite part of the draft process?
At the combine, you have informal meetings, just a roomful of tables with each team — scouts, coaches, former players. You’re meeting everybody for the first time, and they’re all studying you like you’re a piece of meat. The formal team meetings made me more nervous, because then you’re in this little hotel room with 15 people, and they’ve got film of you [laughs]. It’s hard for me to express myself like other folks.
What was the toughest question you fielded in those meetings?
I’m not gonna say who it was, but my worst one wasn’t even a question, more of a statement: “Last year, seemed like you were unstoppable at the beginning, but after that it seemed like you didn’t care.” I was like, “Yeah, I was hurt.”
Has Browns coach Hue Jackson given you any indication as to which way they’re leaning?
He had dinner with me. He wasn’t guaranteeing anything, but he said he’d be happy to take me.
All right, imagine I’m Hue at that dinner. My franchise hasn’t had a good quarterback since Bernie Kosar. Why should I take you first overall?
Because I’ll be a difference maker from day one. And I’m not gonna be in any trouble. I’m just gonna make plays and bring a good atmosphere to your organization. And I’m gonna start winning and winning now. And because if you don’t draft me No. 1, I will punish your team for the next 10 to 12 years. I’ll knock your QB out of the game every time we play you, and I’ll have to kick the hell out of No. 1, whoever it is.
If I’m Hue, my next question is: Which team do you want to play for?
The No. 1 team. Hopefully the Browns.
OK — I’m still Hue — then why did I see you in a video begging Jerry Jones to grab you?
[Laughs] Oh, darn! He didn’t even bring that up at dinner. The Cowboys are my hometown team, but when push comes to shove, I want to go No. 1. I don’t want trades, wondering where my fate lies. Whoever has the first pick, just go ahead and take me. I have no allegiance. I want to go No. 1.
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Why did you decline an invite to the draft in Philly?
I wanted to spend time with my family and friends because there are so many that would not be able to go to the draft but were also involved in my life. Who am I to say that you can’t be a part of this great moment?
You don’t want a photo with Roger Goodell?
No, thank you. An awkward photo doing a side hug with the boss? I’d rather be hugging my family and friends.
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So you’re a voracious reader and writer, particularly of poetry.
If I’m feeling stress or anxiety, I’ll escape into another world. With books, you’re going on an adventure, imagining and wondering. Poetry is different. When you’re a poet, or reading poems, you feel every single word. My favorite, Maya Angelou, was so knowledgeable and wise, and she poured her heart into every poem.
As a poet, what do you typically write about?
Whatever I’m feeling. If Coach chewed my head off, I’ll write about war, aggressive things, how things are going in the Middle East, how we’re treating each other, how we can do better. If I’m in a positive mood, I’ll look on the bright side, how we’ve moved forward so quickly as a people.
When was the last time you cried?
Probably a movie. I cried during Remember the Titans. I cried during MIB3.
Sorry, you don’t mean Men in Black 3?
Yeah, when Will Smith’s brother-in-arms saw his dad die right there in front of him, so he went ahead and basically adopted him [laughs].
Your mom — who’s been selling you out, clearly — says that your romantic disposition carries over to your taste in music. Myles Garrett, do you love love songs?
I love love songs. I’m deep into Journey right now. “Send Her My Love.” “Separate Ways.” But it also goes to “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” by Marvin Gaye, and “I Miss You,” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Then there’s Earth, Wind & Fire, Teddy Pendergrass, then other rock bands like Boston, Led Zeppelin.
I like ’70s and ’80s music equally, but my favorite is Journey, starting with the whole Escape album, then Frontiers, then a bunch of songs from each album. “Who’s Crying Now.” “Stone in Love.” “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.” “Don’t Stop Believin'” is overplayed.
How did you become such an old soul?
My parents and grandparents. I was raised that way, so music and everything else came with it. The R&B and soul is my parents. And my dad is a huge Journey fan, so I know how that happened.
You seem like the nicest guy in the world. Did anybody ask if you’re too nice for football?
[Laughs] Yeah, got that a couple of times. I’m nice now, but everything changes when I put the helmet on. If you smack me in the head, you think I’m gonna smile at you? I’ll smile at you after I kick the crap out of you and your QB. I come from a family of athletes and competitors. We know when to turn it off and on. You’re loving at the dinner table, but when we’re playing Scrabble or we’re in the yard, there’s no mercy.
What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever done?
Against LSU my last year, I choked out their tight end two times in a row.
That’s pretty mean.
[Laughs] He had it coming. He just kept holding me, so I picked him up, put him on his back and then I grabbed his face mask and kept jamming his helmet into the ground. I said, “I’m setting you straight right now. Don’t do illegal holds.”
Your brother, Sean, a 2007 first-round pick of the Nets, had well-documented troubles with marijuana. He has since sought help for addiction. How did his experience shape you?
Man, when I was a kid, to be honest, it was sickening. I felt like I was losing my brother. To this day, marijuana sickens me. I never want to be around it. Alcohol has never appealed to me either. I’ve never wanted to try it.
He sounds like another Aggie – VON MILLER.