The Daily Briefing Monday, August 7, 2017
Former Niners GM Trent Baalke scores a nebulous NFL pay check. Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:
Former 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke has landed a new job.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Baalke has been hired by the NFL as a football operations consultant. Baalke is expected to work in a variety of areas, including officiating video review and player development and evaluation.
Former Giants coach and current Jaguars executive vice president Tom Coughlin served in a similar role with the league during the 2016 season. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz also served as a consultant to the league’s officiating department in 2015.
Baalke was fired by the 49ers after the team went 2-14 during the 2016 season. He took over the job in 2011 and had immediate success with Jim Harbaugh as coach, but things went the other way quickly when Harbaugh left the team after the 2014 season.
Peter King with a nugget from Football Outsiders that should give Bears fans hope:
Chicago led the NFL last year with 155.1 Adjusted Games Lost. That’s a metric that accounts for injuries to starters and important situational players by counting not only games missed but also games where players were at less than 100 percent because of injury. Chicago had the highest total in FO’s entire injury database, dating back to 2000.
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Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com warns of the impending Trubisky Takeover:
The Bears said when they signed Mike Glennon that he is their starting quarterback, and they continued to say after drafting Mitchell Trubisky that Glennon is their starting quarterback. But teams say one thing and do another all the time, and no one should be surprised if it’s Trubisky, not Glennon, under center when the Bears host the Falcons in Week One.
Last year, the Eagles spent months saying Carson Wentz would be a third-stringer throughout his rookie season — and then in September they traded Sam Bradford, demoted Chase Daniel and announced that Wentz would start. In 2014, the Jaguars insisted from draft day through the start of the regular season that Blake Bortles would spend his entire rookie year on the sideline — and then in September they gave Bortles the starting job.
John Mullin, who’s been covering Bears training camp at CSN Chicago, said this morning on PFT Live that Glennon is “well ahead” of Trubisky right now, but that could change if Trubisky outplays Glennon in the preseason.
“It would not stun me to have this kid really flash in preseason and win the job outright,” Mullin said of Trubisky. “I don’t think it’s going to happen but it wouldn’t stun me. You see them alongside each other, you see them trading off the reps and so forth. Trubisky’s got the ‘it’ factor. I’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks and this kid’s got something to him. You don’t see that with Glennon. This kid, when he’s on the field, kind of lights it up a little bit.”
Bears coach John Fox will make the call, and Fox may be motivated by his own job security, and the thought that if the Bears are going to miss the playoffs again, his best bet to save himself is to show that the rookie is making progress on his way to being a franchise quarterback. If it’s close, the nod may go to Trubisky, despite the Bears’ public commitment to Glennon.
Peter King on the amazing accoutrements now available in Green Bay:
Look around this classic old football town. It’s changing—in a big way. There’s a new luxury hotel, Lodge Kohler, across the street from Lambeau Field, a cornerstone to a new year-round fun-and-games Titletown District. (Bocce. Sled hill. Big park. Apartment complex. Medical complex.) Amazing hotel. You order room-service on the in-room bedside tablet; there are ground-floor suites with terraces and grills and fire pits, less than 100 yards from admission gates to Lambeau Field. Shiny and huge Hinterland Brewery has relocated here, with a couple of highbrow restaurants (there’s venison meatloaf) and 12 local brews on tap. There’s also an indoor Johnsonville tailgate house in the Lambeau lot, impressive and logical for frigid days.
As I looked over the lush landscape Friday, I couldn’t help but think: I hope the Packers thank their lucky stars for Aaron Rodgers.
And I hope they continue to thank those stars.
“I want to play another seven, eight, nine, 10 years,” the 33-year-old Rodgers told me in a quiet locker room Friday afternoon.
And this on Rodgers:
Rodgers had a pretty peaceful offseason. He stayed off Page Six after his breakup with star Olivia Munn, and no one saw much of him … which is the way he likes it. He went fly fishing in Montana for a week, and spent some time getting to know New York City—anonymously.
“Mostly,” he said, “I think I did a really good job of pairing my workout mode with better eating habits. Now I’ve put together a year where I’ve sustained positive eating habits and I really notice a difference in my performance. I did a lot of stretching and yoga this offseason, which I have always felt has helped me to sustain my legs and my athleticism and just taking off in practice on some scrambles. Yoga is just wonderful for me. I feel like I am moving as well as I did when I was 23 and I’m 33. Stretching, for me, is amazing. Flexibility can add years to your life, and in our life, football, it adds years to your career. The way I want to play even when I am 40-plus, I want to be moving around, and making plays outside the pocket like I still am, so I have to keep up with the yoga.”
We spoke the day after Tom Brady’s 40th birthday, and Rodgers said he emailed Brady on Thursday to wish him a happy birthday. “And I said to him, ‘Is it just me, or does it seem like you are getting more mobile with age? You’re running around good! You weren’t doing that when you were younger!’ I feel the same way at practice the last couple days.”
Off the field, Rodgers seems more placid. “His overall quality of life is at a high, since I’ve known him,” said coach Mike McCarthy.
Even though he lives in Wisconsin and isn’t “seen” playing a lot of golf, he actually finished second among actual current athletes in the recent American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament:
1 MULDER, Mark
T2 FISH, Mardy
T2 LOWE, Derek
4 CURRY, Stephen
5 ROENICK, Jeremy
T6 PFEIFER, Chad
T6 MODANO, Mike
8 RODGERS, Aaron
T9 SMOLTZ, John
T9 FAULK, Marshall
T9 *ELWAY, John
The Vikings nailed down another defensive lynchpin to a long-term extension. Andrew Krammer of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on the extension to DT LINVAL JOSEPH.
The Vikings agreed to terms with nose tackle Linval Joseph on a contract extension on Saturday.
Joseph, 28, becomes the latest Vikings defender to get paid and the latest star whom Minnesota has locked up long-term. He told the Star Tribune on Saturday night that his four-year extension can keep him in Minnesota through the 2022 season. He can earn up to $50 million in new money with $31.5 million guaranteed, according to NFL Media.
“I feel like I’m a part of something and that’s a great feeling,” Joseph said. “Right now, I just want to grow. I want our team to grow and I want to win that big ring.”
The dominant interior lineman is coming off a career year in which he made his first Pro Bowl with career-best marks in tackles (77), sacks (4) and forced fumbles (3).
Head coach Mike Zimmer, entering his 18th NFL season since becoming a defensive coordinator in Dallas, recently said Joseph is the “best [nose tackle] I’ve ever been around.”
Under his old deal, Joseph was set to become a free agent after the 2018 season with $6.85 million cap hits each of the next two seasons.
The Vikings locked up Joseph, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive end Everson Griffen with recent contracts through the 2022 season. Griffen received $58 million on a four-year extension. Rhodes signed a five-year, $70 million extension earlier in camp.
The Vikings had $11.7 million in cap space prior to Joseph’s new deal.
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Peter King makes a bold prediction:
I think rising-star Minnesota pass-rusher Danielle Hunter will finish this year in the top three in the NFL in sacks.
NEW YORK GIANTS
A Football Outsiders nugget brought to you by Peter King:
All 32 NFL teams had 11 personnel (three wideouts, one back, one tight end) as their most common personnel grouping last year, but the Giants took it to another level. The Giants ran 11 personnel on an astonishing 92 percent of plays. No other team was above 76 percent.
QB KIRK COUSINS express his hesitancy to commit his football life to the Redskins with nearly $24 million a fine consolation prize through the franchise tag for his indecision. Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:
When Washington and Kirk Cousins couldn’t come to a long-term contract in July, the quarterback said the time simply wasn’t right, and that he wanted to take another year to see where he and the team were.
Now that he’s in the middle of training camp, Cousins said he’s still confident it was the right decision.
“I didn’t feel at peace with signing a long-term deal at this juncture,” Cousins said, via Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. “I think the freedom that it allows on the other side of this season makes more sense. In the league, there’s so much change, so much turnover year after year, I think it makes a lot of sense to re-evaluate where we’re at, where the league’s at at the end of this season.”
The peace may stem from having a guaranteed $44 million in his pocket, after being franchise-tagged the last two years. But that luxury has also given Cousins the ability to think about the way football players get paid, especially in light of their basketball brethren and their guaranteed contracts.
“A lot of it goes back to, these contracts are not baseball contracts; they’re not basketball contracts,” Cousins said. “As a result, you’re not really signing a five-year deal, you’re not really signing a six-year deal. You’re signing a two-year deal, and then there is an obligation for several years after that. And that just didn’t sit well with me, and I’m better off, if those are my options, I’m better off signing a one-year deal and then having freedom.”
He’s also aware that the next market for quarterbacks could include several others who would be in line for big dollars, so there will be competition.
“I’ve got to play well,” Cousins said. “So I see it as, let’s go 16 games at a time and we’ll see where we are in January/February and go from there. It takes two sides, in the sense that you’re not going to effect any change unless the clubs are willing to do that. And it all comes down to the market. Markets change. What if Drew Brees is a free agent? What if Sam Bradford has a big-time year? What if Matt Stafford? You can just list guy after guy after guy — what if they suddenly blow up and play at a very high level and have a great year and stay healthy? The 16 games, as we know, tell the story. What if the market’s flooded? You never know.”
From that perspective, it’s a bit of a risk. But again, it’s a risk mitigated by the money he’s already pocketed, from being willing to bet on himself two years in a row.
For a second straight season CB JALEN COLLINS is caught by a PED test. JuliaKate E. Culpepper in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins has been suspended without pay for the first 10 games of the season without pay for violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, the Falcons announced on Sunday afternoon.
This marks the second straight suspension for Collins, who sat out the first four games of last season also for flunking a PED test.
“We are extremely disappointed that for the second straight season, we are dealing with a suspension for Jalen,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. “Such are the consequences when certain choices are made. Our decisions going forward will be based on what (coach Dan Quinn) and I feel is best for the team.”
The suspension closed out a curious week for the third-year pro from LSU.
Due to what was then termed a coaching decision, Collins had dropped to working with the third-team defense in training camp since Tuesday. Collins told media earlier in the week he had no issues with the decision and Quinn said the move was due to a crowded depth chart and was intended to get as many repetitions for as many players as possible.
“It’s just a coaches’ decision,” Collins said on Wednesday. “He’s trying to get the younger guys ready. It’s a situation that I’ve kind of dealt with before. I don’t have to practice with the first team all the time. I just have to get everybody else ready and make sure I get the mental reps. Try to help the team the best I can.”
Collins worked out with the team Sunday before the suspension was announced. But the disciplinary action cast some doubt on his future with the Falcons.
Although he can take part in all preseason practices as well as exhibition games, Collins will not be eligible to rejoin the team once the regular season starts until a Nov. 26 game with Tampa Bay, when nearly two-thirds of the schedule will have been completed.
One of the QBs for the dreadful 2016 49ers is off to a great start in the 2017 preseason – and it’s not Colin Kaepernick. Peter King:
I think I don’t love to make any judgment whatsoever on a first preseason game. But Blaine Gabbert, if a judgment is to be made of any kind, looked good against the Dallas Schmoes on Thursday night in Canton, starting seven of seven for 136 yards.
Peter King is impressed with Kyle Shanahan’s ability to talk inside football. Here’s an example as we learn a lot about “scripted” plays:
On whether, as a play-designer and play-caller, he scripts the first 15 of the game as some offensive coaches do: “I’ve always scripted. I usually try to give an opening 24. But I don’t think ever in my life have I gone one through 24. You just try to give guys an idea of what the game plan is, and where you plan on going with it. It’s mainly more so players can feel comfortable with what the play-caller’s thinking so they can prepare. I always start out with the first play, and I usually go with the second play too. But, very quickly when you see what you’re getting on defense, how they’re playing, formations, how they’re playing personnel groupings, after a series we might’ve just finished plays one through five but I’ll tell the coaches, ‘Hey we’re skipping to 19. They’re playing this differently and we want to get in this personnel group, we’ll go there.’ Then I might come back later to play seven. It just gives players an idea of how to prepare—kind of what you’re thinking so they don’t have to read your mind. But by no means are we just going to stick with it and go, it’s always set on what we’re going against.”
The normally ebullient-in-August Peter King can’t bring himself to like what he saw at Seahawks camp:
This didn’t seem like a happy team the day I was there (last Tuesday). Two skirmishes at practice. One carried over, with coach Pete Carroll banning hothead defensive end Frank Clark for a day of practice when he slugged offensive lineman Germain Ifedi later in the week. Richard Sherman still obviously feeling pissed off over Seth Wickersham’s ESPN story about Sherman being unable to drop his feeling over the Super Bowl loss to New England—and, as Wickersham reported, Sherman’s feelings that the coaching staff was too soft on Russell Wilson. Sherman, according to Wickersham, also boiled over one day in practice after the Super Bowl loss, cursing at Wilson.
“Did you see me out there today?” Sherman told me after a feisty practice in pads. “I was saying a lot worse things out there than they [ESPN] had me saying!”
Perhaps. But with the decibel level so high at practice, the only thing you can hear other than the music is … well, nothing. You cannot hear a thing out here. And maybe that’s the way Pete Carroll wants it, so we can’t hear what Sherman is saying out here to Wilson, and, on this day, to wideout and longtime friend from Stanford Doug Baldwin.
“We practice at a level where we always want to restrain ourselves,” said Carroll.
“We always want to go to that edge, and look over that edge, and almost tip over that edge, and come so close that you almost fall over,” Wilson said. “Because if you don’t go there, you’ll never be great. But we have to be really smart too.”
I’m not a big fan of fighting at training camp. I’ve seen a lot of them over the years. When I covered the Giants in the eighties, I saw two teammates on the defensive line, Eric Dorsey and Erik Howard, fight so violently that helmets got swung in the direction of bare heads. And skirmishes are going to happen at training camp. I get that Carroll likes a feisty practice. But I don’t get the encouragement to go to that edge and peer over the side. How can a Frank Clark or a Thomas Rawls, two young guys trying to earn their spurs, control themselves when the tenor of practice gets so hot? They couldn’t the other day.
Everything’s great when you win—and that’s the case here too. But there is no team in the NFL with a tougher road slate early than Seattle. And keep in mind there is no normal or easy roadie for this team; everything’s more than 1,000 miles, seemingly. In the first six games, Seattle plays at Green Bay, at Tennessee, at Oakland, and at the Giants. Sherman didn’t take adversity well last year, barking at offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell during a game with the nation watching. And he was dangled in trade talks before the draft; he’s back this year, in large part, because no team would pay two high draft choices for him.
So this is a big year for this franchise. Those in the crosshairs don’t seem bothered by what the outside world thinks.
Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com senses unease in Broncos camp over QB PAXTON LYNCH.
This is all about one thing now.
The quarterbacks. Just like last season. And to the behind-closed-doors chagrin of the Broncos staff, that is the problem right now. This feels just like last season.
It’s unsettled. Things aren’t going according to plan with Paxton Lynch. As much as general manager John Elway might say publicly that things are working themselves out and Paxton is a better pro and Trevor Siemian is competing, this all feels very familiar and very undone.
Here’s an early assessment of the derby from behind the scenes, from a handful of team personnel:
First, Siemian. He is ahead in this race basically by default. He is solid and brings a pro mentality every day. But he’s also more steady than spectacular – a reality that speaks to what Elway and the personnel staff believe about him in the longer term. And that longer view is that Siemian is an option whose greatest upside might be no better than a middle-of-league starter. Adequate NFL starting material, but not special. Perhaps he will be capable of winning games consistently, but his talent doesn’t appear to be that of a guy who can elevate the unit around him for the next decade.
Next, Lynch. More than anything, Elway and the personnel staff want him to seize this job and take a big step forward, but he hasn’t done it at this point. Given the talent that Elway believes he has, the grand design is to get Lynch into the starting job at some stage this season. Preferably, things would click for him and he’d win the job outright. But the opposite has happened. If you believe the practice tape that others have watched, Lynch has lost every single practice session to Siemian. His sparse collection of good days has been – at best – on par with Siemian’s good days. Lynch’s bad days have been exponentially worse. Most notably, a practice in which he threw three straight interceptions and left Elway clench-jawed.
So, yeah, as far as the Lynch plan goes, it’s not in the greatest of spots right now.
Here’s the Broncos’ silver lining: It’s still the first week of August and neither quarterback has faced a defense that isn’t their own. And lest anyone doubt it, Denver’s defense is elite and also knows its opposition inside and out. All of that puts the still-developing in-house quarterbacks at a sizable disadvantage. Given those realities, nobody should assume the offense is going off a cliff. Not yet.
All of that said, there are a few worrisome aspects of where this has the potential to go. This season should be considered a referendum on the quarterback position in Denver. It’s Year 3 for Siemian and that is enough time for him to point his arrow in a consistent enough direction for the staff to cement an opinion on him. Although it’s only Lynch’s second season, he has to show growth on and off the field. The Broncos can’t just say he’s a better pro and not have it reflect more consistently on the field. If Elway wants him to win the starting job, it needs to reflect a lot on the field.
That brings this all back to square one (and 2016), with Denver lacking clarity at the starting quarterback spot. This is where Tony Romo would have come in handy. Romo would always have been a massive injury risk, but his existence on the roster would have allowed for much more patience with Lynch, who is under a huge microscope right now.
Instead, Denver has two guys who haven’t blown anyone away yet. That sets up a frustrating scenario. If Siemian takes the job by default, it’s bad. If Lynch doesn’t get himself right and gets an opportunity simply because Elway wants it, that’s also bad. The ideal scenario would be Lynch suddenly putting it all together and seizing the job over the next few weeks. Or Siemian going out in the preseason games and showcasing elite intangibles that can transform moderate talent into a top-10 quarterback.
If neither of those scenarios happen, then Denver has the same problem it had when Peyton Manning retired: It doesn’t have a long-term quarterback. And with this highly paid defense, that’s going to be a problem. The Broncos can’t hold the fort forever. One way or another, the offense has to get itself together.
S KEITH McGILL, a special teams stalwart, suffered a fractured foot over the weekend. He will undergo surgery and will miss the rest of the preseason at the least.
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The Raiders and LT DONALD PENN are still in a contract dance. Conor Orr of NFL.com:
Donald Penn and the Raiders continue to maintain their distance from one another.
Speaking Sunday on Inside Training Camp Live, NFL Network’s Michael Silver said he spoke with the valued left tackle recently and noted that Penn is still determined to get paid like a top-10 player at his position. The 34-year-old has yet to report to training camp.
“He is holding firm,” Silver said. “He said we are in a holding pattern, basically. This is not something that should be a surprise to the Raiders, it’s something that was broached at the combine and they’ve been aware that Donald Penn, and I happen to agree with them, is underpaid based on productivity.”
Silver also spoke with Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, who likened the holdout to a family squabble.
“He said, listen, I love Donald Penn, he is a Raider, this is a family dispute. Sometimes in a family you have dispute. McKenzie believes they can work something out,” Silver said. “Reggie McKenzie very confident that something will get done.”
There is another catch to getting something done, though. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported the Raiders will only negotiate with Penn if he shows up to camp. Penn, meanwhile, refuses to appear at camp until he receives a new contract, Rapoport added, resulting in a deadlock.
What will get done? At this point, it seems like each side is waiting for the other to blink. Will the Raiders panic as they get closer to the season knowing that their franchise quarterback Derek Carr, who is coming off a broken leg in December, will start a potential Super Bowl-bound season with rookie David Sharpe and veteran Marshall Newhouse as his anchors?
Or, will Penn decide that $5.8 million is an unfair but ultimately acceptable asking price for a legitimate shot at producing an offensive MVP candidate and rushing leader in Marshawn Lynch?
Deadlines always bring about action, so for the moment, we await the conclusion of this slow-moving game of chicken with eyes and ears wide open.
As the Ravens dither about whether to sign QB Colin Kaepernick, QB JOE FLACCO’s injury remains murky. Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:
The Baltimore Ravens haven’t been given a definitive return date for injured quarterback Joe Flacco, coach John Harbaugh said Saturday night.
“We know he’s getting better every single day,” Harbaugh said after the Ravens’ practice at Navy. “Obviously, we have a plan for him, football-wise, when he gets back. But we haven’t been told when yet.”
Doctors told Flacco and the Ravens that he would need about a week of rest in order to recover from a back injury.
Harbaugh said last week that he is confident that Flacco will be back long before the end of the preseason. On Wednesday, Harbaugh said all indications from Flacco and trainer Mark Smith have been “very positive.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said last week that he is confident that quarterback Joe Flacco will return before the end of the preseason. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
With Flacco out, Ryan Mallett has been working with the first-team offense. The Ravens signed inexperienced quarterbacks David Olson and Josh Woodrum because it has always been believed that Flacco would be out for only a short period.
The Browns are going to let QB BROCK OSWEILER start the preseason opener. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Browns don’t have a clear leader in their quarterback competition, but they do have a starter for their first preseason game.
Browns coach Hue Jackson announced on Monday morning that Brock Osweiler will get first crack with the offense when the Browns host the Saints on Thursday night. In a statement about his decision, Jackson noted that putting Osweiler in the lineup will allow him his first significant reps with the first team this offseason.
‘At this stage in the evaluation process of our quarterbacks, we are going to have Brock start the preseason opener against the Saints on Thursday night,” Jackson said. “A lot goes into our evaluation but it’s always going to be about efficiently and effectively running the offense. You want your starter to be able to do that despite any circumstance. Brock hasn’t really gotten any first team reps and this will give him that chance. We look forward to seeing what he can do with this opportunity throughout the week and against the Saints.”
Cody Kessler, who was No. 1 in the pecking order in early training camp practices, will be the second quarterback with DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan lined up behind him. Jackson added that “everyone in that room still has the chance to earn more opportunities,” so it would seem a good week of work from Osweiler won’t do anything to settle the quarterback question in Cleveland just yet.
Peter King on the signing of QB JAY CUTLER:
Aug. 6, 2008: Mike Tannenbaum of the Jets finishes negotiations with agent Bus Cook to bring an NFC North alum, Brett Favre, out of retirement to try to save the Jets’ season.
Aug. 6, 2017: Mike Tannenbaum of the Dolphins finishes negotiation with agent Bus Cook to bring an NFC North alum, Jay Cutler, out of retirement to try to save the Dolphins’ season.
The news: Cutler will fly to Miami this morning—he had a personal commitment Sunday night that he could not break—and take a physical he is certain to pass. (His diet and dad lifestyle have changed significantly from his early days in Denver.) He should sign his one-year, $10-million deal with $3 million in reachable incentives by this afternoon, and practice with the Dolphins tomorrow for the first time. By the way, I have heard that the incentive package is $2 million for playoff-related team goals, and $1 million comes if Miami is a top 10 offense.
This is a pretty logical deal. The Dolphins told Cutler either late Thursday or early Friday that they wanted him to replace Ryan Tannehill, who suffered a likely season-ending knee injury at practice Thursday. Cutler took 48 hours to think hard about it; I was told he was interested in making a serious run at doing TV on FOX’s number two team, led by Kevin Burkhardt, and Cutler was looking forward to life after football. This came out of the blue. So he needed time to process it. Said someone who knows Cutler on Sunday night: “He might have come back to another situation anyway. But when [Miami coach] Adam Gase called, that was his number one guy. No one’s had his back like Adam. I don’t think the decision was that hard.”
In Chicago in 2015, under offensive coordinator Gase, Cutler had his highest rating as an NFL passer (92.3). He was disciplined. Gase makes his quarterbacks play disciplined football, and explain on Monday why they made a dumb read on a certain play Sunday. Gase values balance, too, which is a quarterback’s best friend. Chicago was a 44-percent run team in 2015 with Cutler, and with better receivers last year in Miami, Gase called runs on 48 percent of the snaps in the last 11 weeks. That’s huge. As long as Jay Ajayi is healthy, and with center Mike Pouncey back from injury, Cutler can count on Gase not putting the whole load on his shoulders.
So two questions persist: Isn’t Cutler a bad locker-room guy? And why not Colin Kaepernick ahead of Cutler? On the first one, Cutler does not have a more passionate ally in the NFL right now than Gase. Three months ago, after Cutler signed a deal to do the FOX games, Gase was asked in a press conference if he thought Cutler would do well on TV. “I wouldn’t be surprised,’’ Gase said. “I guess I know a different guy than what everybody else portrays. I think a lot of things that have been said about him in the past have really been [BS].” While many in the league burn Cutler at the stake for being a laconic, downer guy, Gase loves him. Gase wouldn’t have gone along with the signing if he didn’t think Cutler would fit in the locker room.
I’m told if Cutler didn’t sign, Miami would have considered Christian Ponder, Robert Griffin III and Kaepernick. I think the Dolphins are happy they didn’t have to go Kaepernick. Gase is a communicator, but he’s also a football nerd. My guess is he didn’t want to deal with the initial sideshow that would have come with Kaepernick … though I also think the initial public outcry for signing him would have died down once the games started and he played. But in the case of Kaepernick, there’s a chance Miami would have started backup Matt Moore and used Kaepernick as insurance. Cutler will start because he’s played well under Gase, and because Gase would trust him more than Moore.
This story, really, is more similar to the Vikings last year than the Jets nine years ago. Eleven months ago, Minnesota didn’t want to waste a contending season with a strong defense after it lost Teddy Bridgewater, and dealt a first-round pick for Sam Bradford. Here, Miami traded nothing, and is obligated for one year only. Our Albert Breer wrote about the future of Tannehill and Miami, and how Tannehill cannot see his 2018 roster spot in Miami as a lock anymore.
So Gase gets a quarterback who has had some great days in the NFL—just not enough of them. He gets Cutler, presumably at his most disciplined self. And the Dolphins get a chance, the way Minnesota had one last year. The Vikings with Bradford, by the way, went 8-8 last year, averaging a paltry 20.5 points per game. If Cutler and the Dolphins go 8-8, Gase, and all of the Miami organization, will be bitterly disappointed.
Matt Bowen of ESPN.com with some inside stuff on why Cutler played better under Adam Gase in 2015:
We can throw out Jay Cutler’s lost season with the Chicago Bears in 2016. Don’t even watch it. Injuries, a new system and he played in only five games.
But we have to go back to only 2015 to find a time when Cutler played extremely efficient football. With 3,659 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 64.4 completion percentage, it was one of the best full seasons of his career. And his coordinator that year? Current Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase, who spent one season with the Bears.
Now Gase has convinced Cutler, who retired early this offseason, to join him in Miami after Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury. And if Cutler plays to the level he did in 2015, the Dolphins might not miss a beat.
Here’s what Gase did during that season to maximize Cutler’s strengths and cut down on the negatives. Plus, with the film, we can also get a look at how Cutler can make the Dolphins better right now.
We know Cutler has a live arm. He can sling it. But Gase used the call sheet to put Cutler in situations in which he could lean on the quick passing game and routes concepts that produced much more high-percentage throws. Take the risk out of the mix and give Cutler more clean reads in the short-to-intermediate route tree.
Think of Jarvis Landry for the Dolphins on the quick inside drag route or using DeVante Parker. This is a third-and-short situation. But instead of asking Cutler to make a tight-window throw, Gase uses formation and scheme (hi-lo mesh) to create an open lane for Cutler. This is a simple toss. Just dump the ball to his receiver with plenty of room to produce after the catch.
Just like we saw with a healthy Tannehill in Miami, Gase will use plenty of run-pass options to give the offense a numbers advantage. These are defined reads based on the defensive alignment. And Cutler has experience running Gase’s RPO packages. Throw the wide receiver screen to Landry, pull the ball on a QB-designed run, hand off to Jay Ajayi on the inside zone or hit the inside pop pass.
Cutler has the athleticism and the toughness to handle the football on these RPOs. And that creates a matchup advantage for the Dolphins when Cutler can read the end-man on the line of scrimmage, pull the rock and force the linebacker to attack downhill before tossing the screen. That’s a modern-day triple-option — and we will see it this season.
Scripted deep-ball shots
Cutler loves to take his shots down the field on 50/50 throws. But Gase also used his game plan — based on opponent — to script matchups on deep throws. This allowed Cutler to challenge both single-high and two-deep safety looks while also taking advantage of Gase’s game-planning to find targets over the top of the secondary.
Similar to RPOs, Gase utilized Cutler’s mobility off boot/play action. And with a strong run game in Miami led by Ajayi, the Dolphins can lean on the same schemes to get Cutler to the edge of the pocket. That gives Cutler much clearer throwing lanes and it also cuts the field in half.
Creating favorable matchups
When the Dolphins move the ball into the red zone, look for Gase to use formation and alignment to give Cutler the best matchup possible. That could be Landry inside on the fade route from the slot (the toughest route to cover in football) or Parker on the seam due to his size and ability at the point of attack (see example below).
I really like that play call from Gase because he widened the defense to give Alshon Jeffery an inside matchup. With the running back flexed out wide, Jeffery now gets to work out of the slot. And Cutler absolutely rips this ball for the score. With the talent the Dolphins have at wide receiver, this is an area of the field where Cutler can play smart and productive football under Gase yet again.
Thoughts from Gregg Rosenthal at NFL.com:
The 2017 NFL season is a more compelling story with Jay Cutler involved. This Miami Dolphins squad could turn out to be better for it, too.
Like a grizzled film antihero dragged out of retirement for one last job, the appeal of working for old boss Adam Gase one more time was too perfect for Cutler to pass up. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that Gase “would not take no for an answer” from a waffling Cutler, who was looking forward to a broadcasting career and more time with his family. Those goals will have to wait, as Cutler gets one final chance to prove he cares.
This is not the plot twist that Gase or Ryan Tannehill were originally hoping for. The team has not yet announced whether the Dolphins’ starting quarterback will undergo surgery on his left knee, which he partially tore ligaments in last December. But this signing indicates that the Dolphins are ready to move on without him. The money in Cutler’s contract — $10 million with $3 million more in incentives — clearly puts Cutler ahead of longtime Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore in the pecking order. It also gives deference to Tannehill by giving Cutler a borderline starter salary well below Tannehill’s $17.975 million. But make no mistake that a painful week for Tannehill just grew darker with the knowledge that this is no longer his team. The NFL coldly moves on from injured players and there’s no guarantee Tannehill ever gets this team back.
Cutler set up for success
Gase earned his first head coaching job in Miami in large part because he already tamed Cutler. A maddening talent who contributed to many coordinators losing their jobs in Chicago, Cutler was a steady presence under Gase’s tutelage in 2015. The numbers tell the story. Despite playing with a receiver group ravaged by injuries, Cutler finished with the best passer rating and touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career. The season ranked among Cutler’s best three seasons in QBR, interception rate, yards-per-attempt and completion percentage. There was a level of comfort and maturity in Cutler’s decision-making that was missing for much of his career. Often known for his open questioning of his coaches, Cutler trusted Gase implicitly.
Much of Cutler’s success in 2015 can be attributed to Gase asking him to do less. The Bears were as run-heavy as possible in close situations, which is the same playbook Gase used with Tannehill in 2016. After one of the worst stretches of his career early under Gase, Tannehill’s season only turned around once the offense ran through running back Jay Ajayi.
That’s one of the reasons why this situation looked so inviting to Cutler. Not only does he know the system, he knows that he’ll be propped up by a deep and promising young skill position group. Ajayi has the complete skill set and aggression to be a top-five running back. Receivers Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and tight end Julius Thomas provide a group of pass-catchers as loaded as any Cutler has ever played with. (The 2013 Bears with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were pretty great, too.)
The Dolphins’ offensive line was dreadful a year ago, and will depend on second-year left tackle Laremy Tunsil and hope for the health of center Mike Pouncey for improvement. The team’s defense, led by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake, has too much talent to play as poorly as it did a year ago. Overall, this is a more talented team than the ones Cutler had grown accustomed to in Chicago. It gives all the scorned Cutler believers (ahem) one last chance to be right about his incredible talent.
Are the Dolphins worse off?
Tannehill and Cutler are similar players in many ways. Both have more than enough raw skills to excel, but neither has consistently shown the anticipation or the pre-snap mastery displayed by the game’s greats. Cutler is more likely to complete a few “wow” throws per game, while Tannehill is more likely to play it safe. One of Cutler’s improved traits under Gase was his ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly, something that Tannehill has struggled with throughout his career. While there is still hope that Tannehill can grow into more than just a mid-level quality starter, this injury will make the Dolphins face some uncomfortable truths.
Tannehill will be 30 years old entering his seventh NFL season in 2018, yet to definitively prove that he’s the guy for the long term in Miami. The guaranteed money in his contract runs out after this season, which will make it easy for the Dolphins to move on from him should they choose whether with a restructured contract, release or a potential trade.
This isn’t your average devastating August loss of a starting quarterback because no one can say with confidence the team is even worse off with Cutler starting instead of Tannehill. This looked like a borderline playoff contender with Tannehill and the same holds true with Cutler.
Still only 34, Smoking Jay’s ability to run this offense will act in some ways as a referendum on Tannehill’s value to the organization. Should the team wind up barely missing its franchise quarterback, perhaps Tannehill isn’t a franchise quarterback at least. Cutler’s final troll job in a career full of them could be putting off the broadcast booth and all that family time for more than just one season. Sometimes that one last job is hard to give up.
QB TOM BRADY with a deflection on the concussion issue that sounds like an admission. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fielded questions from a group of reporters for the first time since Super Bowl LI today, and when asked about his wife’s claim that he suffered a concussion last year, he declined to answer.
Asked specifically about Gisele Bundchen’s statement that Brady had a concussion during the 2016 season, Brady neither confirmed nor denied it.
“I don’t want to get into things that happened in my past, certainly medical history and so forth, I really don’t think that’s anybody’s business,” Brady said. “There’s people that do worry about that. My wife, my parents, my sisters, people that love me and care about me, but I do the best I can do to come out and be prepared to play mentally and physically and give the game everything I can.”
Brady said he is aware of recent research suggesting that most NFL players suffer some degree of permanent brain damage on the field, but he said he sees benefits to football as well.
“You’re not blind to it as a player,” Brady said. “It’s a contact sport and I think we all understand that. And there’s a lot of great benefits that football brings you. You certainly can be put in harm’s way.”
If Brady did suffer a concussion last season, it wasn’t disclosed publicly and it didn’t cause him to miss any time. That means it wasn’t handled properly, according to the NFL’s concussion protocol, which may be why he’d rather not talk about it.
Obviously, all concussions are not equal and if Brady had a severe one it would have been clear and his play would have suffered. If, hypothetically, Brady developed a headache and was woozy on a Sunday night, but by Monday the symptoms had abated and by Wednesday he felt fine – is that a concussion that “wasn’t handled properly.”
But Bob Ley at ESPN.com is among the members of the media who feel that in this case Brady’s private HIPPA’d health info is our business.
Ley strongly disagrees.
“The hell it isn’t Tom,” Ley said on ESPN’s E60. “With enhanced NFL protocols in place to diagnose and treat brain trauma, that the league’s greatest ever quarterback may have had concussions despite never being listed as such on an injury report: That is news.”
Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News:
Here’s the NFL’s greatest current player — arguably its greatest player ever — saying that, at his age, we shouldn’t worry if he suffered a serious head injury.
Given that we all revere his unprecedented invincibility as an 18-year professional football veteran, Brady’s comments brings back all the old-school thoughts on the league staying too cool on concussions.
Heck, if it didn’t bother Brady or keep from him being the G.O.A.T. with another Super Bowl ring, why should we care in the end? Because regardless of the NFL trying to deflate him, Brady is still looked up to as the model that every player on every level emulates: someone who was that good (and healthy) for that long.
The Patriots are the least forthcoming when it comes to information on injuries, including their severity. Brady may have had absolutely nothing happen to his head in 2016 — or he could have been concussed at the highest grade. We were never going to know either way, and not knowing is what hurts the cause.
NEW YORK JETS
This report from Jets camp at TheMMQB.com:
On Monday at Jets’ camp, Christian Hackenberg was having trouble just breaking the huddle correctly. During one rep in seven-on-seven drills, as he approached the line of scrimmage, a coach ordered him to re-huddle. When he broke the huddle again—in the wrong fashion for a second time—he was ordered off the field. No one expects the Jets to contend this season, but at some point, they will have to decide whether Hackenberg is the answer at quarterback, a decision that could affect their 2018 draft plans and their franchise for years to come. So for now, all eyes are on him. The next time Hackenberg took the field, he broke the huddle correctly and threaded a pass about 20 yards downfield for a completion. That kind of resilience will serve him well, if he wants to be the Jets long-term quarterback answer.
THIS AND THAT
On second thought, Seattle WR DOUG BALDWIN thinks the NFL owners have coordinated in a scheme to deny QB Colin Kaepernick the job he deserves. Sheil Kapadia at ESPN.com:
In the spring, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said he didn’t think free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s social activism was the reason for his unemployment.
But with the start of the 2017 season approaching, Baldwin has changed his mind. He said Saturday that he believes NFL owners are trying to send a message by not signing Kaepernick.
“My original position was I thought that the situation last year with him taking a knee didn’t have anything to do with it,” Baldwin said. “After viewing what’s going on, I’ve got to take that back. I definitely think that the league, the owners are trying to send a message of, ‘Stay in between the lines.’ It’s frustrating because you want to have guys who are willing to speak out about things that they believe in, whether you agree with it or not. But I think that’s definitely playing a role now moreso than I thought it was going to.”
The Seahawks remain the only team that even brought Kaepernick in for a free-agent visit, but the team elected not to sign him.
Baldwin said Kaepernick’s play is worthy of a job in the NFL.
“If you take a step back and you look at the overall picture, there’s a lot of teams in this league that could use a quarterback of Colin Kaepernick’s ability,” Baldwin said. “And why he doesn’t have a job, it’s very telling to me. He’s a very capable player. There’s a lot of teams out there that need quarterbacks — whether they’re a starting quarterback or a backup-caliber quarterback. The fact that he hasn’t been brought into camp yet is questionable.”
Baldwin said he did not seek answers from coach Pete Carroll or general manager John Schneider when the Seahawks opted not to sign Kaepernick.
“I’m focused on the receiving corps and myself,” Baldwin said. “I’m trying to do the best I can in serving my team in that regard. Pete and John have their own job to do. And that’s not my job. So I’m sticking to what I have to do in order for us to be successful this season right now.”
HALL OF FAME WEEKEND
RB LaDainian Tomlinson walked into cultural issues in his speech at the Hall of Fame Saturday and seems to have emerged unscathed on the other side. Barry Wilner of the AP liked it as he recaps all seven speakers:
As he so often did on the field, LaDainian Tomlinson stole the show.
With a powerful speech calling for “Team America” to be a place for inclusion and opportunity, the great running back of the San Diego Chargers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
The 2017 roster of entrants into the shrine was deeply impressive: fellow running back Terrell Davis ; quarterback Kurt Warner; defensive end Jason Taylor ; safety Kenny Easley ; placekicker Morten Andersen ; and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones .
All spoke eloquently, with bursts of humor and heartwarming stories. But Tomlinson’s words resonated so strongly that he drew several standing ovations not only from the crowd of 13,400, but from his now-fellow Gold Jackets.
“Football is a microcosm of America,” Tomlinson said. “All races, religions and creeds, living, playing, competing side by side. When you’re part of a team, you understand your teammates — their strengths and weaknesses — and work together toward the same goal, to win a championship.
“Let’s not choose to be against one another. Let’s choose to be for one another. … I pray we dedicate ourselves to being the best team we can be, working and living together, representing the highest ideals of mankind. Leading the way for all nations to follow.”
Tomlinson and Taylor were elected in their first year of eligibility. Taylor’s emotional speech during which he had to pause several times to compose himself was another highlight.
A third-round draft pick from Akron — just down the road from the Hall of Fame — Taylor’s 139 1/2 career sacks helped him make the All-Decade Team of the 2000s. He also was the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2007.
“I honestly can’t believe I am here,” said Taylor, who kissed the shaved head atop his bust when it was unveiled. “In 1992 I was at the University of Akron, just 20 miles away. It took 20 years to travel 20 miles to put on this jacket. It was worth every step.”
The longest wait, 24 years, was by Easley, chosen for enshrinement by the seniors committee. The hard-hitting safety for the Seahawks and a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team played only seven seasons and 89 games. But what an impact he made as an intimidator and ballhawk.
The 1981 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Easley was the league’s top overall defender in 1984 when he had a league-leading 10 interceptions, a career high.
“I thank you for welcoming me into your exclusive club,” he said.
Andersen, the league’s career scoring leader, joined Jan Stenerud as the only placekickers in Canton.
A native of Denmark who knew nothing of American football when he came to this country as a teenager, Andersen played an incredible 25 pro seasons, a league record. A member of the NFL’s 1980s and ’90s All-Decade Teams, he played 382 total games, scored 2,544 points (565 field goals, 849 extra points) and is the all-time scoring leader for both New Orleans and Atlanta.
“Good evening, Canton, Ohio,” he began. “Good morning Denmark.
“My story isn’t only about my love for my country of Denmark and its people, but also my deep appreciation and respect for what I discovered here in the United States of America.”
It took Warner years to get discovered by the NFL. By way of the Arena Football League, NFL Europe — and stocking shelves at a grocery store in between football jobs — Warner stepped in when Trent Green tore up his knee in a 1999 preseason game.
He went on to win two NFL MVP awards and one league title, reinvigorating moribund Rams and then Cardinals franchises along the way.
“People say Hollywood couldn’t have written it any better,” Warner noted. “After this, they don’t have a chance.”
Davis had a similar story. A sixth-round draft pick after a nondescript career at Long Beach State and Georgia, his mercurial NFL stay (seven years, five of them spectacular) had been something of a hindrance for entry into the hall. But he was the catalyst for the NFL titles Denver won in 1997 and ’98 with another Hall of Famer, John Elway, at quarterback.
The 1996 and ’98 Offensive Player of the Year, 1997 Super Bowl Most Valuable Player and ’98 NFL MVP, Davis’ meteoric stint came to an ugly end with a devastating knee injury in 1999. That in great part kept him out of the hall for more than a decade.
Now, he is in, having overcome migraines that plagued him since he was a teenager — and overcome the questions over the longevity of his NFL stint.
“The overwhelming feeling running through my body is gratitude,” he said.
The current Cowboys showed their gratitude to Jones by sticking around the area after winning the Hall of Fame game on Thursday night. They were in the stadium for his induction, which Jones earned not only for winning three Super Bowls within six years of buying the team, but for being a power broker within the NFL.
Jones has been a key figure as the league grew to a multi-billion dollar business, having a hand in many important decisions, from TV contracts to sponsorships to labor issues.
“As someone who owned a team, I was always thinking how we could go to the next level,” Jones said.
That next level for “America’s Team” is a value of $4.2 billion, the most for any sports franchise.
“Buying the Dallas Cowboys frankly was that kind of risk, even exaggerated in my mind,” Jones said of the 1989 purchase. “But I knew it was now or never. Football kicked in.”
Since Jones was paying for the plane, we’re not sure if “showed their gratitude” is exactly the right way to describe their continued presence in Northeast Ohio. Not that they didn’t want to be there, but we doubt they had much of a choice.
Peter King on the interminable length of the ceremony:
If I know David Baker and Joe Horrigan, the two men most in charge of Hall of Fame weekend, they had to be sitting there in Tom Benson Stadium at 11:40 Saturday night thinking: We have to lasso this ceremony. We can’t have five-hour ceremonies anymore.
If they are not thinking that, they should be. I enjoyed the speeches, sitting in a Kansas City hotel for much of them Saturday evening. But my Lord: 37 minutes for Jerry Jones (enjoyable though it was), 33 minutes for Kurt Warner, 32 for Jason Taylor. With his talk winding down, Kenny Easley (22 minutes) said, at first inexplicably: “Blah blah blah, blah blah blah. My teleprompter just went off. So I have to cut it short.” No one mourned.
This is a sensitive thing, because—as I’m sure Jones thought—how can I encapsulate my life in football without going point by point, big moment by big moment, and telling great stories along the way? But if everyone goes microscopically through his life in the game, then seven men are going to take five hours to do the show. Does anyone except seven families want a five-hour Hall of Fame show?
Here’s the most sensible way to do it: Figure a time. Say, 22 minutes. Each person has his speech written out, and practiced, anyway. Tell each new Hall of Famer he’s got 22 minutes, and at the 23-minute mark, NFL Network’s going to commercial. At the 24-minute mark, the teleprompter is shut off. Something’s got to be done. I enjoy a good speech as much as the next football follower, and there were some gems Saturday night. But this cannot drone on for five hours. It’s just too much.
It looked like much of the crowd had departed when Warner came to the stage as the last man speaking.
FOX AND CUTLER
Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com on how FOX had some preparation for a JAY CUTLER departure:
For a change, a high-profile employee is leaving FOX absent a pending sexual harassment investigation. So what does it mean to have NFL analyst Jay Cutler gone before he ever even arrived?
Probably nothing. FOX assigned Cutler to a three-man booth, with Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis. So the easy fix would be to drop the booth to two, and move on.
CBS would have a much bigger problem, if Dak Prescott were to suffer the same fate as Ryan Tannehill and if Tony Romo were to unretire. CBS would need someone to work with Jim Nantz.
The easy answer would be to put Phil Simms back in the booth. But that would be awkward, to say the least, given the way CBS dropped Simms into limbo before assigning him to Tony Gonzalez’s empty seat at The NFL Today.
We will see if it’s Burkhardt and Davis alone as FOX’s B team announcers.
We would not assume that Cutler can just slide back into the slot in 2018. Maybe so, but there might be brighter fruit on the hiring tree in 12 months.
But you can’t blame Cutler for the decision he made, although ESPN announcer Adam Amin’s noticed someone in the Twitter world who did:
Saw a tweet saying Cutler is an idiot for signing w/Dolphins (for $10M) cause he’d make more at FOX. Umm…how much do you think TV guys make?
The DB would be surprised if Cutler’s FOX deal called for as much as $2 mil.