The Daily Briefing Monday, April 2, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Peter King with a good job trying to sort out the elements of the NFL’s bold new anti-head butting rule.
The next step in the controversial lowering-the-helmet ban rule is a month away. It’s now going to be a penalty for an NFL player to lower his head to initiate helmet-to-opponent contact, and the devil will be in the details on this one. The NFL has seven weeks to write the rule the right way; the league wants it done by the NFL spring meetings beginning 49 days from today, May 21-23 in Atlanta. About three weeks before then, the NFL will invite some eight or 10 people to New York for a summit meeting—four to six coaches, a couple owners or top club officials, and a two or three players—to get the language of the rule right. The other interesting parts of this new rule:
• Replay. Still to be determined, but it’s highly likely replays of the helmet violations will be handled by VP of officiating Al Riveron in the officiating command center in New York. The league does not want to add the element of delay into the system that would come if the referee in the stadium had to review the play on his tablet. The likely scenario is if there’s an infraction or ejection, Riveron and his New York crew will review (quickly, the hope is) and inform the referee on site whether the call is upheld or reversed without any sort of coaching challenge.
• Frequency. The league is hesitant to project how many helmet-lowering fouls per game will be called; after instructing teams in the exact rule this offseason, it’ll be up to the coaches to teach it right and the players to live by the rule. But last year there were 2.65 offensive holding infractions walked off per game, and 1.08 defensive pass interference penalties accepted. The best guess, one league official said, is probably between those numbers, between one and two fouls per game. Ejections? I’ll be surprised if there’s more than a dozen in 2018. “I think we won’t be ejection-happy,” said Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay. “We’d eject only with the obvious infractions. We will make it clear what the standard for ejection will be when we meet with the teams. We [the Competition Committee members] were actually caught off guard that coaches wanted ejection to be an immediate part of the rule.”
• The big change. One of the major boosters for the new rule was John Madden, who is the league’s co-chair of the Player Safety Advisory Panel and the head of the Coaches Subcommittee of the Competition Committee. “Coach Madden said he thinks this could be the final step to get the helmet out of the run game,” McKay said. Currently, helmet-to-helmet contact is allowed on running plays, the theory being it’s just too hard in close quarters of running plays to police when players bash helmets. The other area of adjustment will be in open-field collisions. When the NFL studied its 291 documented concussions in 2017, many players were seen lowering their heads to deliver a blow in the open field. That was a factor in making this a rule for 2018.
• Coaching it. “I don’t feel like this is going to be a revolutionary change to the game,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, a member of the Competition Committee. “I’ve got a big note here [to relay to his coaches]—our job is to teach the fundamentals. I learned a lot about teaching during my one-year suspension, coaching my son Conner’s team when he was in sixth grade: eyes up, heads up, wrap up. When we coach taking on blocks, it’s eyes up, heads away. It’ll become our dialog throughout the team.”
• Officiating it. This is the bugaboo. Calling this consistently is going to be very hard. As former officiating VP Mike Pereira said on SiriusXM NFL Radio: “I think it will be impossible to officiate.” That’ll be the biggest thing to watch. Along with the new catch rule, the officials are going to struggle making the helmet call, and they may struggle for years.
I find it ironic that in the wake of the passage of this rule, the majority of players who have spoken out hate it. They think it will change football as we know it. It’s ironic because part of the reason for the rule—maybe the biggest part—is to minimize the kind of blows that could lead to brain issues for players later in life, and here are so many players against what should be good for them. Ironic, too, that Payton is one of the biggest supporters of the rule. Payton spent lots of time before and during his Bountygate suspension at absolute loggerheads with the league on sanctions. Not now. Even though the final version of the rule is still cloudy, Payton thinks this is a vital change for the next generation of players.
“We owe this to the game,” Payton said. “Ten years from now, people will look at this moment and say, ‘That was a big deal.’”
Peter King likes this quote from retired ref Jeff Triplette:
“It’s not meant to fix minutiae. Just as players make mistakes, officials are going to make mistakes and coaches are going to make mistakes. This is not a video game. It is a game played, officiated and coached by humans. It is what it is. We need to think about replay as something that makes sure we get the obvious error corrected but not destroy what is the game by making it a video game.”
—Retiring referee Jeff Triplette, on instant replay, to Jonathan Jones of The MMQB in our “Exit Interview” series.
That is about as common-sense a view of replay as I’ve heard.
The new broom in Green Bay may sweep out T BRYAN BULAGA. Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Sentinel:
Follow the Green Bay Packers long enough and you’re likely to hear plenty about boards.
They have a draft board that ranks the prospects general manager Brian Gutekunst and his staff will consider later this month; a free-agent board that lists the best players waiting to be called off the street; a medical board in coach Mike McCarthy’s office that forecasts which players will be healthy enough to play in a given week. Surely there are others.
It stands to reason, then, that Gutekunst and executive vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball have a board detailing all the cap hits for players under their employ, from the untouchables such as quarterback Aaron Rodgers to declining veterans whose contracts lend themselves to cuts when space is needed. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson was sacrificed when the Packers saw an opportunity to sign tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.
The decision set a precedent for Gutekunst’s judicious and reactive approach to salary-cap clearance rather than lopping off veterans preemptively, wherein the end result could be quite costly if the open market took an unexpected turn. It’s clear that Nelson was at the top of the casualty list should the Packers need a sudden wedge of space, and as free agency enters its secondary and tertiary stages, it’s fair to question who has been elevated to the top of the board.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered Nov. 6, would be a reasonable guess.
“Whenever players are injured it’s tough as personnel guys who are not 100 percent sure of when they’re coming back,” Gutekunst said at the annual league meeting. “But I know that he’s been working exceptionally hard. We’ve got a lot of faith that he’s going to come back sooner rather than later, and obviously when Bryan is in there, Bryan is a good player. We’re hoping everything goes well through the rehab process and we get him back as soon as we can.”
At 29, Bulaga is entering the second-to-last season of a five-year, $33.75 million extension that has been rather burdensome for the Packers given the player’s injury woes. When healthy, Bulaga is a solid right tackle who raises the level of performance for the offensive line as a whole. The problem is that he has appeared in just 33 of 48 regular-season games since signing the new deal March 20, 2015, and carries a cap hit of $7.9 million for 2018.
Still, McCarthy said he wants Bulaga to be part of the team next season.
“I would hope so,” McCarthy said. “All feedback I’ve been given is (positive). He’s in Florida training, he’s going through his rehab program. But just talking to Dr. (Patrick) McKenzie … he feels that Bryan is right on course.”
NEW YORK GIANTS
Doug Farrar of BleacherReport.com would not pay a king’s ransom for WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr.:
Over his first three seasons with the New York Giants, Odell Beckham Jr. posted the most receptions (288) and was the most-targeted receiver (457) in NFL history.
He also had the most yards per game (95.9), the second-most yards (4,122, behind only Randy Moss’ 4,163) and the fifth-most touchdowns (35). He is perhaps the most explosive receiver of his generation both before and after the catch and, when healthy, he’s the most feared offensive player in a one-on-one matchup, though Rob Gronkowski would have an argument there.
Beckham lost 11 games of his 2017 season to a broken ankle (12 overall), but his 25 catches on 41 targets for 302 yards and three touchdowns in just four games, in a highly dysfunctional offense, speaks just as well to his productivity.
And still, the Giants seem intent on, if not trading him outright, at least seeing what the market will bear.
On March 27, co-owner John Mara said the Giants were listening to offers for Beckham, but that he was not on the block, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. One day later, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Giants were looking for at least two first-round picks if Beckham were to be dealt.
Around that time, Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News reported the Los Angeles Rams had spoken with the Giants about a Beckham deal, with the 23rd overall pick in 2018 to dangle.
Beckham is in the final year of a rookie deal that will pay him $8.5 million on the fifth-year option, and he understandably wants a lot more than that—something in line with the highest-paid receivers in the game.
Per Over The Cap, there are six receivers with $30 million or more of guaranteed money built into their contracts, and when you look at the names (Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and Sammy Watkins), you can see that Beckham has a point.
The questions then become: Who will pay Beckham what he believes he’s worth? Will it be another team but the Giants, where you’d need to weigh his salary concerns with the loss of perhaps multiple first-round picks?
New Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has a history of playing hardball with his best players. In Carolina, he released receiver Steve Smith and later rescinded the franchise tag originally placed on cornerback Josh Norman. Gettleman does not appear to be a fan of the win-win situation; he seems to prefer one where the front office emerges victorious.
That doesn’t work in Beckham’s favor, though Gettelman is saying all the right things.
“The past two days, there have been two reports about Odell that have been floated—that he won’t take the field without an extension and that the Rams are interested in trading for him,” Gettleman said from the owners meetings March 27, per Jarrett Bell of USA Today. “I understand the reports; people are going to print stuff. I get it. But I want you to understand this: Neither Odell nor his agent have contacted us regarding either report.”
“You don’t quit on talent,” Gettleman also said.
While this would be news to Panthers fans during Gettleman’s tenure there, it does indicate some desire for Beckham to stay with the Giants and eventually sign a long-term deal.
There is also his history as a distraction to consider: His fruitless beefs with opposing cornerbacks during games and post-touchdown celebrations leading to penalties tend to indicate a guy who struggles to keep his head in the game.
There’s also the fact that, for all his talent as a receiver who creates space against those same cornerbacks with his ridiculous speed and agility, Beckham isn’t a great contested-catch option.
There are multiple examples on his tape over the last four seasons of defenders boxing him out at the boundary or over the middle, and Beckham doesn’t always respond with the kind of physical presence that would increase his odds of making the catch.
Beckham is not the kind of receiver who’s engineered to win physical battles at the catch point. This makes sense in a way because he’s also the best space-creating receiver of his generation and perhaps of all time. The ways Beckham can get free from coverage with his speed and agility could fill a book.
– – –
Beckham can create openings in just about any situation. In that regard, he stands alone. But if you’re looking at the player’s value in total—and any team giving up enormous draft capital and signing Beckham to a massive contract would—there are some issues to consider.
Beckham’s relative inability to make contested catches creates incompletions for his quarterback. His catch rate went down from 70 percent in his rookie year to 60.8 percent in 2015 to 59.8 percent in 2016, rebounding a bit in 2017 at 61.0 percent.
If you were to compare him to another receiver with similar size and skill set (Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown), you’d see that over the last four seasons, Brown’s catch rate has gone from 71.3 percent to 70.5 percent to 68.8 percent to 62.0 percent.
Brown has had more years in the league to ply his trade, but he’s still an incredibly explosive receiver at age 29. And at 5’10” and 180 pounds, he’s proved to be a better and more willing contested-catch player than Beckham.
Brown is in the second season of a $68 million contract extension that runs through 2021. Per Over The Cap, $32.9 million of that deal has been earned, but only $19 million—the signing bonus—is guaranteed. Brown may well make it through most or all of that deal, but one never knows.
If an NFL team is interested in ponying up at least that much for Beckham and would give up multiple high draft picks, that team better have an offense that allows Beckham to get open using creative route concepts. And it better have at least one high-quality receiver able to make the contested catches that Beckham can’t.
In a fully integrated offense, Beckham could be the NFL’s ultimate difference-maker. But he won’t always be that on his own, and that should be factored into his value and the amount any team would need to trade.
Thoughts on OBJ from Peter King:
First it was Giants CEO John Mara saying in Orlando: “I want him to be a Giant. I can’t promise that’s going to happen.” Then it was the Rams doing nothing to debunk the rumors of their interest. Then it was Beckham, according to the New York Daily News, telling Rams players he would like to play there. Here’s what I think now: The Rams are definitely interested. The price tag—likely two first-round picks plus a contract averaging at least $18 million a year—is daunting and could eventually road-block L.A., but that’s not happening now. If the Giants move Beckham, the Rams will be in the game until the end.
There’s no way Giants coach Pat Shurmur would want Beckham traded; Shurmur took the job in January believing he’d have Beckham as his biggest weapon. Shurmur’s desire isn’t going to be what decides this, but it’s a factor. On the other hand, Rams coach Sean McVay isn’t afraid of taking on the mercurial Beckham.
This isn’t an easy one to decipher. The Giants already have a short fuse with the immature Beckham. He lives in Los Angeles in the offseason and could make it very hard on the Giants and their rookie head coach by not showing up for any of the offseason work, and holding out well into the summer. They may decide he’s not worth the trouble, and take two low first-rounders for him, and save all that cap money they’d have to pay him long-term—realizing full well it’s a deal they could soon regret. Look at GM Dave Gettleman’s history in Carolina. He had a big veteran star, Josh Norman, about to be a contract-related distraction for the Panthers in 2016. Gettleman’s solution was simply to cut him loose. If you told Gettleman he could get two first-round picks for a huge headache … well, I don’t have to draw you a map.
I’d feel more confident that the Giants would dump Beckham, except for one thing: I covered the Giants in the ’80s, and I remember how Giants scion Wellington Mara, John’s father, overlooked all the headaches the great Lawrence Taylor gave the franchise for years, because of his transcendent talent. I saw Wellington Mara get emotional with Taylor after he played a heroic 1987 game. Mara knew how important Taylor was to his team. John Mara is very much like his father. So there’s that. This one’s a conundrum.
Yes, Beckham is worth two ones. The narrative in some NFL quarters that Beckham is not worth two first-round draft picks in trade—especially two late first-round picks, as would likely be the case if the Rams traded with the Giants. Check out the first-round receivers in the last three years, many of whom have “bust” written all over them.
My point about Beckham’s value isn’t that because 12 of the 13 receivers picked in the last three first rounds have been underwhelming the Rams should overpay for Beckham. It’s that recent history says the value of first-round receivers is not good. And if you’re desperate for a receiver, and Beckham, 25, is in the pool, why wouldn’t you consider paying two low first-rounders—as the Rams would have to—in order to make a serious bid for a premier player?
Will Ben Navarro be the new owner of the Panthers? Rick Rothacker in the Charlotte Observer:
Another bidder for the Carolina Panthers is in town on Monday, with multiple reports saying Charleston businessman Ben Navarro is visiting Bank of America Stadium.
Navarro is among the bidders identified by the Observer who are vying for the franchise put up for sale by owner Jerry Richardson this year. Navarro’s Sherman Financial Group owns Credit One Bank, which issues credit cards to subprime borrowers.
Alan Kestenbaum, the CEO of Canadian steel company, made a visit last week, and a source told the Observer that hedge fund manager David Tepper is expected to visit Charlotte Tuesday.
247Sports.com offers this primer on Navarro:
Current Occupation: Founder and CEO of Sherman Financial Group (a debt collecting agency)
Past Occupations: Co-Head of Mortgage Sales and Trading for Citicorp
Net Worth: Unknown, but his company made $2 billion in revenue in 2016 and it’s anticipated he can buy the franchise’s majority portion outright
Ties to the Panthers: None, outside of the fact he lives in South Carolina
Past sports ventures: None, but his father Frank Navarro was a head college football coach for Columbia and Princeton, so he knows the sport.
Navarro calls Charleston, South Carolina home. He has a history of philanthropy for education of at-risk youngsters. This from the Charleston Post & Call:
According to the Observer, Navarro may be “the first known bidder with the financial wherewithal to buy the team outright.”
Navarro is the CEO and founder of Charleston-based Sherman Financial Group, a consumer debt collection company.
He started his education nonprofit Meeting Street Schools in 2008, first with the opening of Meeting Street Academy in downtown Charleston and, later, Meeting Street Academy in Spartanburg. Both are private schools geared toward mostly low-income minority students who pay nominal tuition costs.
His nonprofit opened Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood in 2014, a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership with the Charleston County School District. In 2016, Meeting Street Schools entered a second public-private partnership at North Charleston’s Burns Elementary.
The schools have been praised for their high test scores and innovative, though expensive, educational model.
Meeting Street schools offer two teachers per classroom, an extended school day and school year, and an in-house crew of therapists and social workers.
We also have determined that he went to the University of Rhode Island and made his initial stake working for Goldman Sachs.
And this from Will Brinson of CBSSports.com:
* Navarro’s oldest daughter (he and his wife Kelly have four children) is a star tennis player who trains at LTP Tennis and Swim Club (owned by Navarro) and has committed to play at Duke.
* Navarro owns a $3 million home on Charleston’s Broad Street. It’s a nice little neighborhood.
If you distill all that surface stuff down, he makes a lot of sense as a possible Panthers owner. He apparently has some aggressive business practices, he knows the game as a coach’s son, he has a lot of money, he has local real estate ties, he will have future local family ties (Duke is private, but still in North Carolina), he has local charitable ties and, most importantly, he has lots of money.
Having said all that, there is a LONG way to go before he simply takes over the team. There needs to be a group created to purchase the Panthers, the group needs to be approved by the current NFL owners, etc. etc.
It is also worth noting that Richardson controls who takes over the team, so there is no absolute way to predict which direction he’ll go when it comes to selecting a new buyer and new ownership.
Peter Schrager, as quoted by Peter King, on the re-birth of the Rams-Niners rivalry:
“I spent a lot of time with both organizations down here; they are competitive as hell with each other, the head coaches are as close friends and as competitive rivals as you’ll find in the NFL. McVay was the tight ends coach under Kyle Shanahan and now is the coach of the year, belle of the ball. Meanwhile Kyle just got his dream quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, and there’s a healthy friendship there. They’re still friends for sure—I’ve been with them where they interact and stuff—but boy, they want to beat each other. And the NFL, it’s been a couple years since those two franchises have been at the peak of their game. I cannot wait over the next five years to see how it all plays out, because the GMs are young, the coaches are young, the quarterbacks are young, and the fan bases are both so hungry for it. I think Rams-Niners could end up being Steelers-Ravens over the next 10 years.
“There was a Week 17 game between the Niners and the Rams, and neither one of these guys would say it on the record and neither one of them has said it to me personally. I just know. The Niners gave it to the Rams. [San Francisco 34, Los Angeles 13.] The Rams were putting their second string guys in, they were already looking forward to Atlanta—the Niners rolled up that score and they ended their season five straight wins and they went into the Coliseum and blew out the Rams, and it might have been their backups, but McVay won’t forget that. And I love that stuff.”
Jon Gruden is challenging WR AMARI COOPER to meet his potential. Scott Bair of NBCBayArea.com:
Jon Gruden has high hopes for Amari Cooper. The new Raiders head coach previously lavished praise on the young receiver, saying he’ll be the central offensive skill player in a new passing attack.
Gruden’s kind words continued Tuesday morning at the NFL owners meetings, when he compared Cooper to a Hall-of-Fame receiver Raiders fans know well.
“I said it when he came out of Alabama, that he reminded me of a young Tim Brown,” Gruden said. “He has that type of game speed. He’s elusive, and has a wide range of routes he can run. He’s flexible. It’ll benefit him to stay healthy and stay in the same system for a few years. If he does that, great things are ahead.”
Cooper’s stats took a downturn in 2017, following 1,000-plus yards in his first two NFL seasons. He had just 48 catches for 680 yards while dealing with injuries down the stretch. That has been a common theme during Coopers three years in the league, something he hopes to reverse in 2018.
“He has to get healthy and stay healthy,” Gruden said. “We need him to be the player he was the first two years. I’ve said it earlier. We’re going to make him the main vein of our passing offense and move him around a lot.
“…We are really excited about him. I think he’s entering the prime of his career. “
Some other notes from Gruden in Orlando.
— Gruden is clearly over being asked about his working relationship with general manager Reggie McKenzie, though Gruden has more influence than any coach in the Mark Davis area.
“It’s been great,” Gruden said. “…He’s a great guy. If you can’t get along with Reggie McKenzie, you can’t get along with anybody. We both realize there’s a sense of urgency. Mark Davis and the Oakland Raiders want to win. We want to improve the roster, improve the product on the field.”
— Left tackle Donald Penn is still recovering from Lisfranc surgery on his foot. Gruden said he’ll be out a few more months. He’ll miss OTAs, with the goal of being ready by training camp. Penn is three pounds below his playing weight, and is confident in the Raiders patient approach to rehab.
Gruden called Rodney Hudson “my favorite Raider right now.” He loves the center’s effort and ability to get downfield on run and pass plays alike.
– – –
The Raiders got rid of P MARQUETTE KING over the weekend, either because of his massive salary for a punter and/or because Jon Gruden just didn’t like him. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
The Raiders cut punter Marquette King last week, and that came as a surprise. King is a solid punter who had a career-best 42.7-yard net average last season, and he still had three years left on his contract.
But new Raiders coach Jon Gruden apparently didn’t like King.
Veteran Raiders reporters Bill Williamson and Vic Tafur both reported that Gruden was the one who made the call to send King packing, and that Gruden had personality issues with King.
What exactly those personality issues were is unclear, but King also drew the ire of former Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, who said in 2016 that he was growing tired of King’s antics after King picked up 15-yard personal foul penalties in back-to-back games.
Cutting King knocks $2.9 million off the Raiders’ salary cap, and whoever the Raiders eventually sign to replace him will surely cost less than that. So there’s a financial reason to get rid of King. But the biggest reason may be about a personality clash.
Peter King says keep an eye on Browns GM John Dorsey taking Wyoming QB JOSH ALLEN:
FOD (Friend of Dorsey) thinks Browns will go Allen-Saquon at 1 and 4. What would an April MMQB be without another draft rumor?! This friend of Cleveland GM John Dorsey believes he’ll go Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen over Sam Darnold with the first overall pick, keep the fourth pick, and take Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. “I would be surprised if he traded down,” FOD told me. “This would be his chance to take his two offensive cornerstones for the next eight or 10 years.” The most interesting thing there? That FOD thinks Dorsey will not trade. I think that’s great. Cleveland’s been very good at trading and stockpiling, and not very good at drafting, in the last few years. I hope Dorsey’s more about the (relatively) sure things instead of Cleveland leading the league in draft picks.
Mike Mayock, who may or may not be the FOD, has also been saying that Dorsey loves big arms and that no one has a bigger arm than Allen.
WR ZAY JONES with his first social media since the weird behavior that led to a brief arrest in Los Angeles. Ryan Miller of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:
Zay Jones is thankful to be alive and grateful for the support.
The Buffalo Bills wide receiver, who was detained by police earlier this month, celebrated his 23rd birthday Friday and posted for the first time on social media since the incident.
“Thankful to be alive. thankful for another year. more life,” read the first post on Twitter by Jones since the altercation.
thankful to be alive. thankful for another year. more life.
He also thanked fans who have reached out to him, adding, “the outreach of love has been overwhelmingly great. thank you for all the birthday wishes and for those who have supported me through everything.”
His brother, Cayleb, posted a picture on Instagram wishing Zay a happy birthday. In the photo of the Jones brothers swapping jerseys after an NFL game, Cayleb, a Minnesota Vikings wide receiver, wrote that he was thankful for this brother and “Ill cherish everyday I have with you.”
Zay Jones commented, telling his brother “without you, I wouldn’t be here. you literally saved my life cayleb. nobody will understand what happened, but as long as I have you I could care less. You’ve always had my back. Since day 1. True definition of my brothers keeper, til the end.”
Jones was originally arrested after a naked, bloody argument with his brother in Los Angeles on March 19. Police spokesman Luis Garcia said Jones was found “breaking glass doors and windows” and arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism.
Prosecutors announced that they won’t be pressing charges against Jones because of “insufficient evidence.”
The arrest was first reported by TMZ, which posted a video showing a nude Zay pushing Cayleb in what appeared to be the hallway of an apartment building.
In the video, Cayleb appears to be trying to calm Zay down. Witnesses on the scene said that Cayleb kept Zay from harming himself.
NEW YORK JETS
Jets GM Mike Mccagnan with a shooters shoot, pickers pick mentality figures that eventually, if he picks enough QBs, he will get one right. Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com:
Mike Maccagnan is a cool customer. For a guy who drinks 10 cups of coffee a day (no exaggeration), he never seems jittery or rattled. It takes a lot to get a rise out of him, which is why it’s noteworthy he displayed a hint of defiance last week when questioned about his sketchy history of drafting quarterbacks — a hot-button issue in the current landscape.
The New York Jets general manager defended himself by reminding reporters that Bryce Petty was a fourth-round pick (2015) and Christian Hackenberg was a “late” second-rounder (2016). It was his way of saying, “Hey, guys, gimme a break, it’s not like I blew a first-round pick.” No, he didn’t, but Hackenberg was such a colossal miss — he still hasn’t played in a game — that some folks are wondering if Maccagnan will get it right on April 26.
“It doesn’t faze me,” Maccagnan said of the criticism. “It’s the college draft. [There are] guys you’ll hit on and guys who don’t pan out. That’s part of the process. We feel pretty confident with this year’s group and where we’re situated.”
The Jets are picking third and, barring the draft upset of the decade, they will select a quarterback from the group of Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen. It’ll be a franchise-altering decision for the Jets and a legacy-defining choice for Maccagnan, a college economics major-turned-scout who found the big chair in 2015. He will attempt to solve The Quarterback Riddle, which has flummoxed this star-crossed franchise for decades.
They’ve tried everything.
They’ve rummaged through the recycle bin (Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick), they’ve tried their luck in the second round (Hackenberg and Geno Smith) and they’ve rented a hired gun (Brett Favre). Their last first-round pick was Mark Sanchez in 2009, and that was working for a couple of years — until it wasn’t.
After failing to secure the only quick fix in the 2018 market — Kirk Cousins said no — Maccagnan went back to his days as an economics student. He took some of his best assets (three second-round picks, including one in 2019) and sold them off for a chance to score with a potential high-yield investment — easily the boldest move of his tenure.
The blockbuster trade with the Indianapolis Colts, which allowed the Jets to climb three spots in the draft order, carries considerable risk. It’s an all-in move that will leave Maccagnan out of a job in a couple of years if it backfires.
“I don’t like necessarily giving up the picks, per se, to move up,” said Maccagnan, adding he did it because it’s a chance to “potentially help yourself in the bigger scheme of things.”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. called it “a hefty price to pay,” saying the Jets essentially gave up three potential starters — the draft picks that went to the Colts — to select perhaps the third-best quarterback. In that context, yeah, it doesn’t look like a sound move, but no one will remember the compensation if the quarterback develops into a long-term solution.
It’s a calculated gamble, but you know what? You can’t sit back, passively, and wait for the next Tom Brady in the sixth round. You can’t win a Lombardi Trophy by playing it by the book. To quote Tom Cruise in “Risky Business,” sometimes you just have to say … well, you know.
“We do think there are some very good quarterback prospects in this class,” Maccagnan said. “They all have different strengths and maybe some different areas of concern or weakness. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been to all these pro days, because there are some real viable guys there that you think may be good additions if they fall to us in the right spot.”
The question is, can Maccagnan learn from his past quarterback mistakes?
With Hackenberg, Maccagnan relied too much on projection. The GM saw the big arm and projected what Hackenberg could be, not what he was — an inaccurate passer with questionable instincts.
Will that effect the way he evaluates Allen, who has a tremendous amount of raw, physical talent but is considered boom or bust?
With Petty, Maccagnan bet on a player from a spread system, figuring he’d need a year or two to make the transition to a pro-style offense. It hasn’t happened for Petty, who is 1-6 as a starter.
Will Maccagnan downgrade Mayfield because he played in a spread at Oklahoma?
Hey, no one said this will be an easy decision. History says two of the top four quarterbacks will be NFL disappointments. Maccagnan put himself in the batter’s box and gets another swing. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
THIS AND THAT
Isaiah Pead, a recent NFL running back, now has a new challenge after a horrible auto accident. Tyler Conway in BleacherReport.com:
Former NFL running back Isaiah Pead, who lost part of his left leg in a November 2016 car accident, said he plans to compete in the 2020 Paralympics.
“If they let me on the track, I’m goin’ for the gold, period,” Pead told TMZ Sports.
Pead, who will be 30 in 2020, lost part of his leg after he was ejected from his vehicle after losing control. He was not wearing a seatbelt.
A 2012 second-round pick, Pead played for the Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins during his NFL career. He rushed for just 100 total yards and largely made most of his impact on special teams.
In high school, Pead was a dominant track athlete, winning the 2007 Ohio Division II State 400-meter dash. He told TMZ Sports he plans on competing in the 400 again with the goal of winning three Paralympic golds.
“Three gold medals, three Paralympics. God willing, that’s a hell of a career right there,” Pead said.
Pead added his leg is amputated partway up his thigh, which could make his next career more difficult. As he noted, most elite Paralympians have full use of their thigh and hamstring muscles.
BEST WISHES FOR A PAIR OF RECOVERIES
Peter King with a couple of medical updates:
I think I wish Mike Ornstein, a longtime league staple and the most colorful character I’ve met covering this game, the best as he fights an infection stemming from a kidney stone at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. He’s had some starry visitors in the past few days—Sean Payton and Isaiah Thomas on Friday. Ornstein was at one point Al Davis’ right-hand man with the Raiders and lately a great friend to the Saints.
I think the fight for Jim Kelly goes on—a 12-hour surgery Wednesday in New York to remove his cancerous jaw and lymph nodes, and reconstruct the jaw using one of his femur bones. Three times in four years Kelly has thrown haymakers at this insidious disease. All of western New York, and the rest of the football world, hopes this is the time that doctors got it all.
JOSH ROSEN AND JIM MORA
Jim Mora has tried to be candidly helpful about his former QB JOSH ROSEN, but as explained by Peter King, he has only been confusing because he is less than totally supportive:
I know the first question I’d ask Josh Rosen in Cleveland this week. The UCLA quarterback travels to Cleveland to meet with Browns brass this week. (He has seven team trips scheduled by mid-April—Browns, Jets, Giants, Cards, Broncos, Bills, Chargers). Cleveland owns the first and fourth picks in the first round and will use one of the picks on a quarterback. You know that Cleveland GM John Dorsey at some point is going to ask Rosen: What’s up with you and your coach at UCLA? Last week, Jim Mora, fired as Bruins coach last fall, said on NFL Network that he’d take USC quarterback Sam Darnold over Rosen with the first pick in the draft if he were running the Browns. Mora said it was “because of fit” and cited Darnold’s “blue-collar, gritty attitude.” My jaw dropped when I heard that. And I can tell you the jaws of more than a few NFL people at the meetings in Orlando last week dropped too. Mora did go on to say that if he were the Giants or Jets at two and three in the draft order, he’d have the card with Rosen’s name on it, ready to turn in. But that didn’t get much attention.
Mora coached Rosen for three years. Rosen and Darnold are competing to be the top player picked in this draft. Oh, and Darnold played for UCLA’s archrival. Was Mora trying to slap the free-spirited Rosen with some tough love? Was Mora taking this TV analyst neutral-party thing very seriously and simply telling the truth as he sees it? Or was Mora trying to help his old quarterback avoid Cleveland and land with the Giants and a quarterback mentor he trusts, Pat Shurmur, at number two?
I spoke with Mora on Sunday, and he understands the tornado his words created. But he stood by his point that Darnold and his don’t-worry, be-happy ethos (my words, not his) would be a better long-haul fit for a Cleveland team that likely will take a while to win. “I put it in the context of ‘fit,’” Mora told me. He strongly emphasized the word “fit” in our conversation. He said Darnold has “the underdog mentality that I think will fit so well in Cleveland, a franchise that’s really been down.”
Of his own quarterback, Mora said: “Josh, I think, without a doubt, is the number one quarterback in the draft. He’s a franchise-changer. He’s got the ability to have an immediate impact. His arm talent, intelligence, and his ability to see the game and diagnose the game is rare. He’d come to the sidelines after a play and it was uncanny—he could right away say exactly why he made every decision.
“He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored. He’s a millennial. He wants to know why. Millennials, once they know why, they’re good. Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire. He has so much ability, and he’s a really good kid.” It sounded like Mora thinks Rosen would be well-served to be pushed by quarterback mentors like Shurmur (Giants) or Jeremy Bates (Jets), and to learn for a year or so from Eli Manning (Giants) or Josh McCown (Jets).
Much of what Mora just said in the last two paragraphs is what he’d tell an NFL GM if he called to ask about Rosen. Curiously, Mora said: “None of them have called, which is interesting.”
There’s time, of course, and Mora figures the calls will come. I’d be surprised if they didn’t, after the hubbub around his NFL Network comments. Rosen, by the way, got an explanatory text from Mora before Mora said his piece on air, but I’m told Rosen still was stunned by what his coach and neighbor said on TV. (Rosen lived in the same L.A. neighborhood as Mora, and he is friendly with Mora’s daughter.)
I have never heard of anything like this, even with the Giants/Jets note following what Mora said first. When Mark Sanchez declared for the draft after the 2008 season at USC, coach Pete Carroll was critical of the decision, saying he thought Sanchez should stay in school. That’s a little different, though, than saying the quarterback of your archrival should be picked above your own guy. That’s not going to help Rosen’s cause at the top of the draft. It will also be noted by teams that Mora says you need to “hold Rosen’s concentration level.” It’ll be fascinating to see which team takes the plunge with Rosen, and how they process the information they’re hearing out of UCLA.
“One thing I do want teams to know,” Mora said. “It’s desperately important for Josh to be a great player.”