The Daily Briefing Monday, July 23, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

If the Giants are any indication, players will be able to protest on the sideline without fear of having anything taken out of their paycheck, even if the NFL’s new rule sticks in its battle with the NFLPA.  Matt Lombardo of NJAdvanceMedia.com:

 

Giants co-owner Steve Tisch pushed back against President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the NFL and NFLPA’s ongoing battle over whether to punish players for taking a knee or protesting for social justice reform during the national anthem prior to games.

 

“Hopefully he’ll have much more going on that he’s going have to deal with and should deal with and must deal with than worrying about what NFL players do,” Tisch said this week at a movie premiere, via The Hollywood Reporter.

 

“He has no understanding of why they take a knee or why they’re protesting. When the new season starts, I hope his priorities are not criticizing the NFL and telling owners what to do and what not to do.”

 

The NFL recently adopted a new policy that would require players, coaches, and staff to stand during the national anthem after players.

 

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins had protested during the anthem in 2017 by raising his fist. Giants linebacker Olivier Vernon and others took a knee in an act of silent dissent advocating for criminal justice reform as well as against social injustice and racial bias.

 

But Tisch said the Giants won’t suspend players who violate the policy, which is being revisited by the NFL and NFLPA behind closed doors, according to a joint statement released this week.

 

“We support our players,” Tisch said. “They are not going to be punished. There is not going to be any punitive action taking place against them.”

 

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Peter King, now writing Football Morning In America at NBCSports.com spends some time with the Bears:

 

“You gotta say hi to Mark,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said Sunday morning just before 7, as we finished our talk in his Olivet Nazarene University RA apartment-turned-training-camp-office-and-bedroom. (Sparse, but with a big desk, comfy barcalounger, flat-screen, XOS video system and all the Gatorade you could want—a swell camp setup.)

 

Mark. Nagy’s across-the-hall neighbor and offensive alter-ego, Mark Helfrich, the former Oregon head coach and one of the most interesting hires of this NFL season. Helfrich replaced Chip Kelly when Kelly bolted for the Eagles, lasted four years, did college games on TV last year, and leapt at the chance to work with a total stranger when he called late last season.

 

Nagy knocked on Helfrich’s door. We waited. I couldn’t help but think how downright weird this whole thing is. Weird in a football-test-tube/experimental way, with the potential of the next wave of the trendy Run Pass Option system. And also weird in how much Nagy—who might get only one chance at this dream job—trusts a man he never worked with before and just met in January. In football, coaches invariably hire their friends, or men they worked with for years. Nagy, for the biggest job on his staff, hired a man he didn’t know, who never coached in the NFL, who was on zero NFL radar screens.

 

There are so many interesting things about the Bears, I can’t count them all. The crucial maturation of Mitch Trubisky at the position that’s been comically inept for the Bears; it seems impossible for an NFL franchise to have had one Pro Bowl quarterback season (Jim McMahon, 1985) in the last half-century, but it’s true. “Weird,” Trubisky said … Super Bowl hero Trey Burton being the kind of weapon he’s always dreamed of being. (“I’m more than just ‘Philly Special,’ “ he told me. “I can play.”) … A garden salad of a coaching staff led by a guy who was selling real estate in rural Pennsylvania eight years ago … Praying that Leonard Floyd can somehow turn into the first primo long-term pass-rusher for the franchise since Richard Dent … Wideout Kevin White, hurt for all three seasons since being a top-10 pick in 2015, trying to save his career in this camp … The anticipation of getting holdout first-round linebacker Roquan Smith in camp, so he can grow into the nerve center of a highly questionable defense. And more.

 

My favorite story is the odd triumverate of Nagy, Helfrich and Trubisky. Eighteen months ago, they were in Kansas City, Eugene and Chapel Hill, respectively. Now they’re in a race to merge brains and erase the stench of the recent Bears (19-45 in the last four years). In the first three practices of camp, with near-constant stalled cool rainstorms overhead, the new Bears took shape. For their sake, they’d better be new.

 

“It’s time,” said a fan, Todd Harris of Watseka, Ill., who was the first in line outside the camp gate Saturday morning, at 2:30 a.m. “Somebody’s got to light a fire under these guys’ butts. I’m hoping it’s Matt Nagy.”

– – –

Helfrich, 44, opened it. A salt-and-pepper stubble covered his face, and he seemed much happier coaching football than he did talking about it (for FOX, in 2017). “I’ve told people the one pretty big difference is the players’ parking lot has nicer cars in it here,” the former Oregon coach said. “Otherwise, it’s coaching.”

 

A longtime friend on the Chiefs’ staff last year strongly advised Nagy to reach out to Helfrich, who badly wanted to get back into coaching. When Nagy first called Helfrich during the Chiefs’ season to check in, he didn’t have much time—Helfrich and wife were on a short vacation in central Oregon, and cell service was spotty. Nagy, Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City, wanted an imaginative alter-ego to team with on offense if he got a shot at a head-coaching job. “Andy always told us, ‘Hire people better than you are,’” Nagy said. “That appealed to me. I asked Mark after about 15 minutes of talk, you know, hey, if I get a job, do you think you’d have any interest at all? And after maybe 30 seconds of thinking about it, he said, ‘It’s crazy you called. There is interest.’ So once I heard that, now we can really start talking. So we did. I started talking to him about how it would go. I asked if he would be okay if I called the plays, and he was.”

 

Nagy, and many around football, have admired the Oregon offense for years, during both the Chip Kelly and Helfrich periods. It’s a more run-oriented scheme than people think, and using ways to hide tendencies and have the passing game flow though the running game. “And then obviously he’s so smart when it comes to the RPOs,” Nagy said.

 

As the 2018 camp season dawns, expect to hear those initials more and more and more. You saw the plays last year—the quarterback putting the ball in the back’s gut and “riding” the back for a step or two while deciding whether to yank it back and throw, or give the back the ball. Last year, the Eagles with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles used run-pass-option schemes to throw changeups at teams, and it became fashionable for teams to dabble in it. Some teams worry about the risk of injury to the quarterback, which is valid. But the reward makes it a worthy consideration.

 

Trubisky clearly wants to do it; he dabbled with it at North Carolina, then did none of it last year in Chicago’s old offense. “I think just hiding the ball with the running back and then quick throws down the field—those are skills that fit what I can do well and I really enjoy the RPO as well. I think it keeps it simple. It allows us to play fast and it’s hard for the defense to cover.”

 

As a very heavy mist fell over the practice fields Sunday morning, the new thing got unveiled. In the shotgun, Trubisky took a snap from center, put the ball in scatback Tarik Cohen’s gut, stayed with him for two steps, withdrew the ball when he saw he’d have time to throw, and fired a completion for mybe 15 yards to tight end Colin Thompson.

 

“I think that’s the direction our offense is taking,” said Cohen. “I really like it.”

 

 

MINNESOTA

Sad news with the passing of Tony Sparano, the gruff coach with a heart of gold.  Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com:

 

Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano has died unexpectedly at the age of 56, the team announced Sunday afternoon.

 

“I am at a loss for words with Tony’s sudden passing. Tony loved the game of football and his players. More importantly, he was a strong man of faith who treasured his family. My heart is with the Sparanos today. As an organization we will support them in whatever ways we can,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said in a statement.

 

Sparano had complained about chest pains and went to the hospital Thursday, a source told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. Sparano underwent tests and was released Friday. The source said Sparano’s wife found him unconscious Sunday morning as they prepared to leave for church but could not revive him.

 

Sparano served as an assistant with Minnesota for the past two seasons. He worked for nine NFL teams over 19 seasons, with head-coaching stints in Miami (2008-11) and on an interim basis with Oakland (2014). He held positions with Cleveland, Washington, Jacksonville, Dallas, San Francisco and the New York Jets.

 

Sparano was 32-41 as a head coach. In 2008, his first season at the helm in Miami, he took the Dolphins to his only playoff appearance. The Dolphins won the AFC East with an 11-5 record that season, the only time in the past 15 seasons that the division wasn’t won by the New England Patriots. Sparano became the first coach in NFL history to take a team to the playoffs the year after a one-win season.

– – –

Sparano’s no-nonsense, gruff exterior was synonymous with the signature sunglasses he wore at all times. He wore the sunglasses, even in low lighting, because of a hot oil accident he sustained while working at a fast food restaurant at age 17 in his native Connecticut.

 

“You can see there’s still a scar on my face,” Sparano told the Star Tribune in 2016. “I had a patch over my left eye for 22 days, a patch over my right eye for 14. The left eye never did get right. The cornea is burnt and sun-sensitive, light-sensitive.

 

“I hear people always say, ‘Why does he have these sunglasses on at a night game?’ Or, ‘Why is he wearing them inside?’ Hey, it’s that kind of bright light that causes my eyes to start running, tearing and crying.”

 

Sparano had reunited with Vikings coach Mike Zimmer in Minnesota. The two coached under Bill Parcells with the Cowboys from 2003 to 2006.

 

“I love Tony Sparano. He was a great teacher, a grinder of a worker and had a toughness and fighting spirit that showed in our linemen. He was a great husband, father and grandfather and a great friend to me. This is just sinking in for us but Tony will be sorely missed by all,” Zimmer said in a statement.

 

This offseason, Sparano was reunited with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo on the Vikings’ staff. Sparano and DeFilippo coached together in Oakland in 2013 and 2014.

 

Sparano spoke with ESPN on the Vikings final day of minicamp in June about how his previous relationship with DeFilippo and their mutual respect helped facilitate the seamless transition once the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach took over offensive coordinator duties in February.

 

“I think Flip knows me enough to trust me in the things that I’m doing there. You can get line coaches in this league that are afraid to change and afraid to do something different, and they’re stuck in their ways one way or the other. I’ve sat in every seat and Flip knows that; Flip and I have talked about that a bunch of times, you know where you’ve sat in every seat and for me whatever he wants to do, whatever he wants to try, I’m good with that.

 

“Plus the terminology portion of it was easy for me; we can go back and we can grab things that you know my line calls, Flip is familiar with. His terminology, I was familiar with. So now there’s two people going at it in the room that way instead of just one person trying to coach the coaches. You know there’s two of us going at it that way a little bit, and when it really comes down to it at the end of this whole thing, my position as a line coach and his position as a coordinator, those two have to work well together, and I think, you know, I was excited when he was the guy that we chose, and I kind of knew that this could be a good thing and he brings a lot of passion and energy and that’s the kind of football I like to play.”

 

More reaction from Peter King:

 

“It’s hard to take,” an emotional Jake Long, Sparano’s franchise left tackle, said Sunday night. “When I found out, I started crying. I’m still … just at a loss for words.”

 

Sparano should be remembered, (Chris) Palmer told me Sunday, for what a good family man he was, and how devoted he was to his four grandchildren. “The only good thing I can think of,” Palmer said, “is his daughter got married two weeks ago, and Tony was able to be there and share in it.”

 

Sparano was about to begin his third season as the Vikings offensive line coach. (Getty Images)

I knew Sparano fairly well. We spoke often after his first head-coaching job, in Miami, ended in December 2011, and then quite a bit again late in 2014, when he’d rallied the Oakland Raiders as interim coach (with rookie quarterback Derek Carr) to a 3-3 finish in a disastrous year. He wanted the full-time gig so badly. He loved that team. He was sure he was the man to handle a young team with a smattering of vets, and he was hugely disappointed when Mark Davis chose Jack Del Rio as his coach. But that’s football. Sparano went on to be one of the best position coaches in the game, in San Francisco and Minnesota, over the last three seasons. “His love and passion for the game are like no coach I ever played for, at any level,” Long said.

 

When you think of Sparano, you probably think of a gruff throwback, a by-the-book, not-very-imaginative guy with the dark glasses. I don’t. I think history underrates Sparano. Players loved playing for him. On Twitter, former Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said Sunday, “Thank you for caring about us as individuals and not just athlete.” He got submarined after three seasons in Miami when owner Steven Ross courted Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, failed to get him, and then Sparano had to return in what was obviously a lame-duck situation. Remember his first Miami year? Replacing the fired Cam Cameron after Miami’s 1-15 season in 2007, Sparano took a quarterback whacked in favor of Brett Favre by the Jets in August, Chad Pennington, handed him the keys to the Dolphins season, started the year a toothless and hopeless 0-2, but rallied the team to an 11-3 finish. Miami won the AFC East.

 

“I will never forget our conversation when I walked into Miami that first day [Aug. 11, 2008] after getting signed,” Pennington recalled Sunday afternoon, still processing the stunning news of Sparano’s death. “I go into Tony’s office, and he peers at me over the top of those glasses and he says, ‘Glad to have you here.’ He told me the culture he wanted to build there and said to me: ‘I need you to help us establish it.’ I always appreciated his honesty. That’s the only way he knew to be. Candid. Players loved that. And they loved that they knew with Tony, they were always going to be well-prepared.”

 

Pretty tough task. New coach, 1-15 team, quarterback walking in a month before the opener, totally negative air around the team. Then, a shocking four months.

 

That 11-5 season is the only year in the last 15 that the New England Patriots did not win the AFC East.

 

That 11-5 season signifies the only time in NFL history a coach led his team to the playoffs after the team won zero games or one game the previous year.

 

“That was such a great example of what a human game football is,” Pennington said. “You had a bunch of guys on that team everyone gave up on, feeling rejected. Maybe the head coach had a litte of that in him too. Then we went out and played, and it was a perfect storm of synergy, imagination and work ethic.”

 

That was the famous “Wildcat” season, when Sparano and his staff, in a moribund 0-2 hole, invented a new offensive wrinkle before a trip to AFC champ New England in Week 3. “We couldn’t make six inches in the running game,” Pennington remembercd. “Tony got up in front of the staff and said, ‘Hey, bring me your ideas—whatever you got.’” That’s when quarterback coach David Lee proposed something he’d used in college at Arkansas, with the running back lining up as the quarterback and the quarterback flanked out like a slot receiver. Sparano liked it, and they started using Ronnie Brown as the wildcat quarterback in practice Wednesday.

 

But it was not a lovely week. At all.

 

The offense looked so bad at practice that Sparano—whose NFL mentor was Bill Parcells—pulled a Parcells on Wednesday. He kicked the offense off the field at practice. And Pennington went nuts, angry at the stunt and at everybody for their performance. He apologized to the team after practice, but, knowing Sparano would appreciate this screed, said words to this effect in front of the team: “I am so tired of going to New England, year after year, and everyone always plays them so tight and nervous, like they’re the King Kongs of football! Let’s go up there and believe!”

 

The next morning, Sparano stood in front of the team and said, “Chad’s right!” Two good days of practice capped the week, and the Dolphins went to Foxboro and stunned the Patriots 38-13. The worst running game in football Wildcat-ran its way to 216 yards against the defense of the mighty Belichick.

 

“I played football for a while,” said Pennington, “and that’s the first and only time I saw a New England Patriots team have no answers on defense.”

 

For Sparano, a guy who grew up in New England, who started his coaching career at the University of New Haven, who went on to coach at Boston University, that September afternoon in Foxboro had to have been a sweet day. I’m glad he got to have a few of those as head man before he died Sunday at his home in Minnesota.

 

After one of his last sweet days as head coach, with the Raiders against arch-rival Kansas City in 2014, he was filmed in the locker room after the game. He was emotional. He told his team to remember what this moment felt like. Tackle Donald Penn stepped up and said: “Hey! Hey! Tony been through a lot, man, fighting his butt off for us. I wanna give him a game ball.’’

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

Buccaneers WR MIKE EVANS is drawing attention to what he believes is a case of police injustice and putting his money where his social media presence has been.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

In 2014, Gregory Hill was shot and killed by a St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office deputy. In May, Hill’s family received $4 — reduced via the concept of comparative negligence to $0.04 — from a jury as the verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit. The family has gotten considerably more from Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans.

 

Via ESPN, Evans has donated $11,000 to the family. The contribution to the GoFundMe.com page pushed the total collected north of $100,000.

 

Officers responding to a complaint about loud music confronted the 30-year-old Hill. Police claimed that he pointed a gun at them as he lowered his garage door.

 

An unloaded gun was found in Hill’s pocket, and his blood-alcohol concentration was 0.40 percent.

 

After a two-week trial, a jury awarded each of Hill’s children $1. By also finding Hill 99 percent responsible for his demise, the one-percent responsibility that was placed on law enforcement reduced the award to one cent for each of the four children.

 

The verdict in the case actually came in June, but made its way to social media recently. The Washington Post had a story then which you can see here.

 

The $11,000 donated by Evans apparently represents Hill’s funeral costs.  Some excerpts:

 

Police said Hill pointed a gun at the deputies and ignored commands to drop it, forcing one of them to open fire. The gun would’ve fallen out of Hill’s hands, his family’s attorney said. But the unloaded weapon was found in the back pocket of the jean shorts Hill was wearing.

 

Some on-line versions of the story blame a nosy and hyper-sensitive “white neighbor” for calling the police, but it turns out it was due to an elementary school across the street because Hill’s music was extraordinarily loud and extremely vulgar.

 

Hill was killed on the afternoon of Jan. 14, 2014. The 30-year-old was drunk after spending most of his day off from his job at Coca-Cola, listening to music in the “man cave” he had built in the garage of his Fort Pierce, Fla., home when the two sheriff’s deputies showed up.

 

Parents picking their children up at the elementary school across the street from Hill’s home had called in a noise complaint, concerned that their kids were overhearing the expletive-laden music he had been playing, The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery reported. Newman and another deputy, Edward Lopez, first knocked on the front door before knocking on the garage door. According to Hill’s family’s lawyers, he began to open the garage door, saw the police, and began to close it again when Newman opened fire.

 

Police said Hill was holding a gun in his right hand when he opened the door. They said Hill was ordered to drop the weapon, but instead raised it toward Lopez’s direction as he was closing the door.

 

“Deputy Newman, perceiving that his life and the life of his fellow officer was in imminent danger, fired four shots at Hill,” according to a court document filed by Newman’s attorney. “As the garage door was in the process of being closed during this time, the bullets traveled through the garage door, striking and killing Hill.”

 

Witnesses told investigators that the entire confrontation was over in seconds. Hill was found lying face down in a pool of blood. He had been shot in the head, abdomen and groin. The tip of a dark-colored Kel-Tec 9mm was sticking out the top of Hill’s right back pocket.

 

Phillips said Hill’s then-9-year-old daughter was at the elementary school across the street and saw her father get killed. The girl, now 13, testified that her father had no gun in his hand, Phillips said.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The feel-good story of the week (month? year?) comes from Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com on TE JERMAINE GRESHAM who has been committing random and significant acts of kindness his whole life – and we are only just finding out about it now.

 

Delilah Cassidy’s tweet thread was building to a climactic ending.

 

At 1:37 p.m. on May 30, Cassidy, a law student at Arizona State University, began tweeting about her experience at an airport gate en route to Phoenix from a European trip. By now, the story is internet lore.

 

But that afternoon, she was unveiling it to the digital world tweet by tweet. She was about to board an American Airlines flight when the gate agent told her she needed to pay $50 to bring her carry-on with her. If she didn’t want to pay, the agent said, she needed to check it at the counter — which would’ve caused her to miss her flight. A stranger standing behind her offered to pay the fee, allowing Cassidy to get on the flight and return home.

 

In the seventh and final tweet of the thread, Cassidy revealed the mystery donor was Arizona Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham.

 

The tweet with a selfie of her and Gresham has more than 5,700 retweets and almost 42,000 likes. Cassidy’s story went viral, and Gresham was hailed as a kindness hero.

 

“I just feel like it’s just how I was raised,” Gresham said in his first public comments since the gesture. “Core values. You see somebody in distress, just help them out. Nothing more, nothing less.”

 

But his random act of kindness in the airport wasn’t the first time Gresham had done something nice for somebody else. Sitting among the 463 comments were others.

 

@rororoyourboat3

He walked into my nail salon in Scottsdale one time and paid for random people’s nails 😭😭 seems like a great guy

 

@FellNcantgetup

Replying to @Delilah_Cassidy

Class act. True story: At a supermarket in Tempe a woman who looked down on her luck was buying milk, bread and some diapers. She was fumbling through her purse searching for change to have enough to pay. Jermaine Gresham (who was behind me) pushed through and paid for everything

 

The tweets of his kindness kept coming. Most people were just learning about this side of Gresham, but that’s always who he has been, said his mother, Walletta Gresham.

 

He gets it from her mother — his grandmother — who got it from her mother. Jermaine’s great-grandmother ran a nursing home in Ardmore, Oklahoma — Jermaine’s hometown — Walletta said. Walletta watched her mother let people who needed a bed stay with her and make sure they were fed.

 

Kindness was passed down through the Greshams.

 

“It’s just something that’s embedded in us,” Walletta said.

 

He always has been like that, she said. She tried to think back to the first time she saw Jermaine’s kind side. Too many instances ran together.

 

“I’m his mother,” she said. “I’ve been knowing that all my life.”

 

@DerickSmith91

Replying to @Delilah_Cassidy

When Gresham was in Cincinnati I saw him take three homeless people out to eat and he took them to buy new clothes

 

When the Range Rover pulled into the driveway at the Millennium Hotel in downtown Cincinnati, Derick Smith, who worked as a valet, didn’t know who would open the driver’s door.

 

For years, the Millenium had become a go-to destination for professional athletes in Cincinnati to park their cars when they visited downtown. They knew if they tossed the valet $10, $15 or $20, they could park their cars in the driveway for about two hours while they rendezvoused around the city. That day during the 2015 offseason was no different.

 

Out from the SUV stepped Gresham. He asked if it was all right if he parked there. Smith was quick to say it was. But that’s not what surprised Smith — it was who else got out of the car.

 

Two men and one woman also got out. All of them, Smith described as white and middle-aged. “They had a very dirty smell,” Smith said. “They looked like they hadn’t bathed for a couple of weeks, kind of had some old, ratty clothes on — they weren’t necessarily tattered, but they had holes in them. But you could tell they were dirty and old.”

 

Smith said he wasn’t sure if the passengers were homeless, but when Gresham asked if he could park at the hotel, he followed that by saying he was going to take the three people to eat and to get some clothes. And down the street they walked, Smith remembered.

 

“He acted like it was normal,” Smith said. “He acted like it was just plain as day. It was just odd because you didn’t expect to have these three homeless people walk out of a brand-new Range Rover.”

 

@MattWidemanAtty

Replying to @Delilah_Cassidy

I met him a few years ago at my friend’s party in Ardmore, OK. Couldn’t have been a nicer guy. He bought pizza for the people who were too drunk at the party…even though he didn’t drink a sip of alcohol. Great sooner!

 

One of Matt Wideman’s best friends from his undergraduate days at Westminster College in Missouri just happened to grow up in Ardmore, Oklahoma, the same hometown as Gresham.

 

Although he is several years older than Gresham, their circle of friends overlapped. So, when Wideman’s friend hosted a housewarming party in March 2011 in Ardmore, the invite list, which was about 30 people long, included some people who knew Gresham. At one point during the party, they asked if Gresham could swing by. A die-hard Oklahoma Sooners fan, Wideman’s friend enthusiastically welcomed the tight end.

 

Wideman remembers Gresham showing up around midnight — about four hours after the party began. He declined all the drinks offered his way, though, telling guests he doesn’t drink, Wideman said.

 

“He was probably the nicest, warmest, very friendly guy,” Wideman said. “He was super cool.”

 

In the early-morning hours, Gresham — unprompted — offered to buy the partygoers pizza, Wideman said. A little while later, about $100 of food was delivered to the house.

 

“Nobody asked him to,” Wideman said. “Nobody said, ‘Hey man, we’re broke.’ He just did it. He was like, ‘Hey, it looks like everybody had too much to drink, I’ll just make sure everybody gets home safely.'”

 

But one memory from that night that still sticks out to Wideman is that Gresham, who stayed about two hours, wouldn’t eat any of the pizza. He wanted everyone who was drinking to eat it, saying he was in training, so he was staying away from pizza.

 

Watching Gresham that night, in the middle of the offseason, in the middle of Oklahoma, in the middle of a stranger’s house, showed Wideman who Gresham was as a person.

 

“You can pretend in the news, you can pretend in an article talking to you, but it’s hard to pretend on a Tuesday night, it’s hard to pretend on a Thursday night.”

 

@SchwartClaudia

Replying to @Delilah_Cassidy

Such a great guy! Gresham came up to me in LA a couple years back and spent some time talking to be before the game. He’s got such a big heart I’m glad he’s a Cardinals

 

Claudia Schwartz and her father made sure to get to the Los Angeles Coliseum “pretty early” before the Cardinals’ Week 17 game against the Rams to close out the 2016 season so they could secure a spot on the railing during pregame warm-ups.

 

Her mission that day was to get autographs.

 

What she got, however, far exceeded her goal.

 

When Schwartz saw Gresham run onto the field for warm-ups, she screamed his name while holding a Cardinals flag. Gresham turned and waved at her. About 30 minutes later, Gresham went to Schwartz and her dad en route to the locker room. She asked him to sign her flag, which she said he graciously did, and then, much to her surprise, he struck up a conversation.

 

“He was like, ‘Where are you from?’ and he was asking me all of these questions,” she said. “I want to say we ended up talking for like 15 minutes before the game, and it was just, like, random questions about my trip down to L.A. and how I was. I was like, ‘I’m so excited to watch you guys next season,’ and, ‘This was my first time in L.A.’

 

“Just random conversation, but it was so nice of him.”

 

Schwartz and her father, who have lived in Colorado for seven years after she grew up in Arizona, try to go to two Cardinals games a season. When players signed autographs for her during pregame warm-ups in the past, they usually didn’t take off their headphones, she said. Gresham took the time to chat.

 

“He was just like, ‘Oh, are you from down here? Where are you from?'” she said. “I was just like, ‘Whoa, wait. Did he just ask me that? I was so surprised.”

 

She wasn’t the only one surprised by Gresham.

 

Take a spin around the internet and there’s more. Gresham once gave a homeless man $100 after the man put 50 cents into his parking meter so that Gresham wouldn’t get a $55 ticket. He replaced a football that a Saints fan stole from two Bengals fans in New Orleans in 2014. He sent autographed jerseys to winners of a youth football league. And Gresham has donated at least $60,000 to his alma mater, Ardmore High School, for uniforms, gear, apparel and equipment for the football, boys’ basketball and girls’ basketball teams.

 

Gresham has made an impression wherever he has been. A.J. Moreno, a volunteer with the Sooners football program while Gresham was at Oklahoma, remembers how Gresham acted toward the fans, people in the football offices and, especially, coaches’ kids.

 

“The big word I can think of is humble … and down to earth,” Moreno said.

 

Now that Wideman is about seven years past meeting Gresham at that house party, he appreciates what Gresham did even more.

 

“As I’m older and I see how people truly are, it’s really kind of mind-blowing in some ways,” Wideman said, “because here’s a guy, a multimillionaire, coming to a party for two hours, buying a bunch of kids pizza, and for really no reason other than making sure they get home safe.

 

“It’s almost like an astronaut coming to your high school.”

 

And their interactions with Gresham left those people lifelong fans of his — both on and off the field.

 

Wideman said he’ll always draft Gresham in fantasy football now, regardless of how well he has been playing. Asked if he’s more of a fan of Gresham now, Smith said, “Yeah, big time.”

 

“It’s nice to root for someone who you know is going to come into the community and do his best to give back.”

 

AFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The watch for the return of TE ANTONIO GATES continues.  Eric Williams of ESPN.com:

 

Asked once again about bringing back Antonio Gates while appearing on the Petros and Money show on AM 570 LA Sports radio this Thursday, Chargers GM Tom Telesco said he remains open to that possibility.

 

The Chargers, of course, lost starting tight end Hunter Henry for the year when he suffered a right ACL knee injury on the first day of organized team activities in May. Free agent addition Virgil Green is the only tight end currently on the roster with a catch in the NFL.

 

Telesco and the Chargers told Gates’ representation at the NFL combine in February that they would not be seeking his return to the roster in free agency, but things changed once Henry suffered a season-ending injury.

 

“There’s no update right now,” Telesco said. “We’ll see where things go next week. We’ve got a couple, different possibilities. We had talked about one obviously with Antonio Gates, and we’ll see where that goes. We’ve got some time here next week, so we’ll see what happens.

 

“Losing Hunter was a blow at the time, it is now but you have to overcome it. That’s what you have to do.”

 

Although he turned 38 years old in June, Gates can be an effective player for the Chargers if used in a limited capacity.

 

Henry suffered a lacerated kidney at the end of last season, forcing him to miss the final two games of the year. During his absence Gates finished with 10 catches for 127 receiving yards and a touchdown as the Bolts’ starting tight end.

 

Gates served as a captain on offense and remains a popular player and mentor for younger players like Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon and Henry. Players I spoke to this offseason, including Philip Rivers, are lobbying for the veteran tight end’s return because they know how close the Bolts are to making a deep playoff run.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

What’s going on with WR JOSH GORDON?  First this from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Josh Gordon, the talented but troubled Browns wide receiver whose career has repeatedly been derailed by issues stemming from drug addiction, has announced that he will not be at the start of training camp.

 

Gordon didn’t go into specifics about the nature of the treatment he currently needs, but he did say in a Twitter message that treatment will keep him off the field when his teammates begin practicing.

 

“I will not be in Cleveland for the start of training camp,” Gordon wrote. “Rest assured this too is a part of my overall health and treatment plan. I appreciate the awesome support I have received from teammates, friends, fans, and the Brown’s organization. Just like you, I am excited to start the season and I have every intention of being ready and available to join my teammates soon to help bring winning football to our fans. With the help of the NFL, NFLPA, and the Browns’ organization, I have been able to utilize the resources available to me that will ensure my well-being on and off the field. By continuing to follow the plan set up by our medical director and his team and taking this time before this season starts, we believe it will help me maintain the progress I’ve made for not only today but for many years to come. Thank you all for your patience, love, and support! Go Browns!”

 

Gordon’s message strikes an optimistic note that he’ll be on the field when the season starts. Teammates have spoken highly of him this offseason, and the Browns have indicated that they believe his problems are behind him and some great football is ahead of him.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

As the Georgia police go about their work, more rumblings that RB LeSEAN McCOY was the ringleader of a vicious assault.  Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News:

 

Tanya Mitchell Graham wants to set the record straight.

 

The lawyer for Delicia Cordon said in an email to The Buffalo News on Friday that her client “believes very strongly” that Bills running back LeSean McCoy “had some involvement” in the home invasion and assault that occurred July 10 at the Georgia residence that McCoy owns.

 

“She absolutely thinks Mr. McCoy had something to do with it,” Graham said in response to emailed questions from The News. “She believes anyone else involved was likely contacted by someone else on behalf of Mr. McCoy.”

 

Graham said she wanted to clear up any confusion that stemmed from an interview she did last week that left some believing she and her client were backtracking on their assertion that McCoy was somehow involved in the incident.

 

“I mentioned that I had a conversation with our client about the ‘criminal burden of proof,’ which is a higher standard than a civil burden of proof, and ‘probable cause’ – legal terms,” she said. “At this time, there is circumstantial evidence, which is not significant enough probable cause for an arrest; so, I said you can’t blame Mr. McCoy without additional evidence.

 

“This matter is under investigation, and we should allow the City of Milton Police and their detectives to do their job. I think either the way I said that, or the way it was interpreted caused some confusion to suggest that my client was backtracking. She is not. I was just trying to explain the legalities of the incident.”

 

McCoy has denied he was involved in the incident. He said he was in Miami at the time.

 

Milton police said entry into the house was not random, but the department has not named a suspect or filed charges and offered no new details Friday. Graham has said her client described the robber as a short black man wearing a mask and all-black clothing. He demanded cash and specific items of jewelry that McCoy gave Cordon as birthday presents, the lawyer said. Then the intruder hit her in the face with a handgun several times, she said. Graham said two Cartier bracelets were taken.

 

Graham said Cordon did not suffer any broken bones or fractures but has been traumatized.

 

“She still has some visible bruising and swelling,” she said.

 

Graham confirmed that Cordon has moved out of the five-bedroom home she shared with McCoy.

 

“She had already been looking since about June 1,” she said. “She still has some remaining items to retrieve from that home, however.”

 

Police records show officers responded to three calls over the past year to McCoy’s house. On one occasion, the couple argued over jewelry, records show. Court filings show McCoy has tried to have Cordon removed from the house over the same time period and to retrieve items he believed belonged to him. The next hearing was scheduled for Aug. 14 in the Fulton County courthouse in Atlanta.

 

Graham was asked if the fact Cordon has moved out of the house will have any impact on that eviction hearing.

 

“The matter would then be moot; so, we have to see how Mr. McCoy’s attorney will respond,” she replied.

 

The Bills’ first practice of training camp is scheduled for Thursday at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford. The team has not commented publicly since a statement last week saying they were aware of the allegations made against McCoy on social media. The NFL also has not commented beyond saying it was reviewing the matter.

 

There is no indication whether McCoy will be in attendance when camp opens.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTHEM INFINITUM

Caught between its social justice seeking players and their leftist union leadership and Donald Trump, the NFL knows it will have no end to the anthem issue as long as the latter is politically active.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com actually says there will be no end:

 

As the NFL and NFL Players Association negotiation a possible Anthem Policy 3.0, some in league circles realize that, no matter the current solution, the situation never will truly be solved.

 

“There’s no end game,” a high-level employee with one of the NFL’s teams told PFT over the weekend.

 

And he’s right. There is no end game, because there’s no way to end the political gamesmanship that accompanies what has become one of the most polarizing issues of our time. If the league and the union carve out any opportunity for protests during the anthem, the President will continue to bang his favorite base drum. If, somehow, management and labor agree that all players will always stand for the anthem with no players protesting under any circumstances, internal and external voices will chastise the NFL for bowing to the President — and the President surely welcome the victory with silence and humility.

 

Even the possibility of getting rid of the anthem entirely will invite a harsh outcry from those who have become accustomed to consuming sport with a side dish of forced patriotism.

 

So the issue lasts as long as the current President is in office, right? Fat chance of that. Now that he has shown the potency of this specific platform plank, other politicians of similar ideology will press the same button wherever and whenever it will serve as a useful rallying cry and/or a welcome distraction.

 

The more likely reality, then, is that the argument over anthem protests has become part of the NFL’s new normal, with no outcome that will conclusively end something that didn’t exist less than two years ago.