The Daily Briefing Monday, July 24, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Kudos to LB JERRELL FREEMAN for knowing the Heimlich maneuver. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
It’s a good thing Jerrell Freeman decided to have one last cheat meal before training camp.
The Bears linebacker made a last-minute call for some brisket at the airport in Austin Sunday, when he encountered a man who was choking, and saved him with the Heimlich maneuver.
According to Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune, Freeman said the man initially just looked disoriented, before he realize how serious the situation was.
“Like he had forgotten something and was about to go running for it,” Freeman said. “But then he went around the table and started to look a little frantic. I’m thinking, ‘Man, this is odd. Maybe one of his kids walked off and he can’t find his kid or something?’”
Instead, the man was choking on his own brisket, and an older woman initially tried to perform the Heimlich herself, before yielding to an NFL linebacker who could put a little more force behind the move. Freeman said he’s never performed the move previously, but was taught by his mother, a nurse, how to do it.
“I grabbed him and tried to squeeze the life out of him,” Freeman said. “You’ve got to push in and up. So I did that and he started throwing up what he was choking on. I asked him if he was all right and he shook his head like ‘No!’
“I grabbed him again and hit him again with it. And when I put him down the second time, his eyes got big. He was like, ‘Oh, my god! I think you just saved my life, man!’ It was crazy.”
The choking victim, a man named Marcus Ryan, eventually introduced himself and mentioned his ribs were a little sore, when he realized an NFL player had dislodged his food in a rather forceful way.
QB SAM BRADFORD talks to the legendary Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
The past 10 seasons the Vikings ran their offense through Adrian Peterson, a once-in-a-generation talent at running back. But this season will be different, and it looks more and more likely that the offense will be built around the talents of quarterback Sam Bradford, who had an effective first season with the Vikings in 2016 despite not arriving until just before the regular season began.
Bradford was able to post career highs in passer rating (99.3), yards passing (3,877), and completion percentage (71.6), which is also the highest mark in NFL history.
But for the Vikings and Bradford there still is some uncertainty, with him in the last year of a two-year contract, and injured former starter Teddy Bridgewater seeming to make strides every day. Bradford was asked how important it is to get an entire offseason with the club to improve the offense.
“Obviously last year was pretty unique, I have never been in that situation, and I don’t think many people have been in that situation,” Bradford said. “But just to be here this offseason, to be able to go through the program, go through the meetings, the installs, really sit down and learn this offense and what we’re trying to do, it’s a much better situation than showing up here however many days, eight or nine, before the first game last year and trying to learn everything on the fly.”
Bradford admitted that even though he put together good numbers, he didn’t have full command of the offense for some time.
“I think the later we got in the year the better I felt with it,” he said. “Obviously going through the change that we did kind of halfway through the season [the resignation of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator], having worked with [new offensive coordinator] Pat [Shurmur], I think that really helped me just because we have a really good relationship and I felt like we were able to communicate. Towards the end of the year I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on things.”
Yes, there’s no question that there is a lot of room for growth in the offense, despite Bradford’s numbers. The team ranked only 28th in total offense last season, averaging 315.1 yards per game, and the average of 20.4 points per game ranked just 23rd.
Bradford has few concerns about playing on an expiring contract.
“It’s one of those things that I kind of went through the situation a little bit when I was in Philadelphia and honestly I try not to think about it too much, just because I don’t have a whole lot of control over it,” he said. “I come in here every day trying to get better, trying to be the best teammate, the best quarterback I can be.”
When asked if the team has had any discussions with his agent, Bradford said that he didn’t believe so.
So while he’ll be making $18 million this season, it remains a unique situation for the 29-year-old. But he said that the uncertainty of last season, and the way he and the team responded, should bode well for this year.
“I think I learned a lot about a lot of things last year going through that,” he said. “But you know I think it just makes me grateful to have the opportunity to be here this time of year and be able to go through the offseason program and hopefully prepare myself as you would in a normal year to go out there and play.”
Did we mention that Sid Hartman is 97 years old? Did we mention that he was the general manager of the Minneapolis Lakers (yes, those Lakers) in 1947, signing the legendary George Mikan 70 years ago.
– – –
Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press has this update on QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER:
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater continues to make progress in his recovery from a catastrophic knee injury, but likely won’t practice when training camp begins Thursday for veterans at Minnesota State, Mankato.
Asked Sunday if Bridgewater will begin camp on the physically unable to perform list, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said, “I think so, but again I haven’t seen him.”
Bridgewater suffered a torn left ACL and dislocated knee in practice last August and missed the entire regular season. He did some throwing to receivers during spring drills but wasn’t cleared to practice.
Bridgewater wore a knee brace while throwing in the spring. Earlier this month, though, he posted online a picture of him throwing without the brace.
Reporting Sunday to camp for the Vikings were rookies, players who have not accrued a full year of play, select quarterbacks and select injured players. Bridgewater could have reported, but won’t show up until Wednesday.
Starting quarterback Sam Bradford also won’t report until Wednesday. Quarterbacks arriving Sunday were Case Keenum, Taylor Heinicke and Wes Lunt.
If Bridgewater is placed on the PUP list to start camp and remains on the list at the start of the regular season, he can’t play or practice for the first six weeks. At that point, the Vikings would then have a five-week window to allow Bridgewater to resume practicing. Whenever he might return to practice, there would be a three-week window to decide whether to activate him or have him go on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who missed the final 15 games last season because of a serious knee injury, reported Sunday. Zimmer said Floyd is doing better but doesn’t know if he will be able to practice during camp.
“He’s improved was the last I’ve heard, but I don’t know where he’s at,” Zimmer said.
Like Barack Obama telling his Justice Department that there wasn’t a smidgen of evidence of corruption against Hillary Clinton, Jerry Jones thunders in the media that the NFL’s domestic violence vice presidents better not try to suspend RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT. Clarence Hill in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones claims he doesn’t want to say anything to influence the NFL’s decision following a year-long investigation into domestic violence accusations against star running back Ezekiel Elliott, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.
But Jones sent a strong message about what he expects the outcome to be during the team’s news conference to open the start of training camp on Sunday afternoon.
Jones said he has read the NFL’s report into the allegations of domestic violence by a former girlfriend and said there was no domestic violence.
“I found nothing since we were standing here at this time last year,” Jones said. “I knew everything in that report. I knew that this time last year.”
A recent ESPN report said the league wanted “to pin something on Elliott” and that he should brace for one- or two-game suspension.
“My opinion is there is not even an issue of ‘he said, she said,’” Jones said. “There is not even an issue there.”
– – –
Here is an update on attendance on the Cowboys charter to Cali from David Moore in the Dallas Morning News:
Darren McFadden was running late Saturday.
It will cost him.
The Cowboys running back won’t be fined. Players aren’t required to report to training camp until 2 p.m. Sunday. But since McFadden failed to ride on the team charter — he called club officials to let them know he wouldn’t make it — he’s responsible for picking up the tab for his commercial flight to Southern California.
McFadden isn’t the only player who must make it to Oxnard on his own dime. Cornerback Orlando Scandrick flew back to California after reporting to The Star for physicals and a conditioning test Friday. Defensive lineman David Irving did not report to The Star, but club officials say he’s in California and is expected to report before Sunday afternoon’s deadline.
Third-round pick Jourdan Lewis also missed Saturday’s charter. Lewis was at The Star a few days ago for the start of rookie minicamp but left Wednesday evening to return to Michigan for a pretrial hearing on a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence.
The trial — Lewis has pleaded not guilty — begins Monday and is expected to conclude quickly. The rookie cornerback is scheduled to take a late flight Tuesday and be in Oxnard for Wednesday’s practice.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Former Rams RB Eric Dickerson isn’t done with his opinions about the current team. Jeremy Bergman at NFL.com:
New regime in Rams land. Same old Eric Dickerson.
The legendary Los Angeles running back stirred the pot last season when he called for coach Jeff Fisher to be fired in November and was subsequently barred from attending Rams games on the sidelines.
Now a new coach (Sean McVay) is in charge in Thousand Oaks, but Dickerson still has two cents and change to offer on the state of the quarterback position.
“For me, my guy that I would start the season with is Sean Mannion,” Dickerson said Friday on The Herd. “I’ve been saying that since last year. Give him a shot. You drafted him. He was great at — where’d he go to school? — Oregon State, playing in a pro-style offense. He’s a big guy, got a great arm.”
Dickerson later added: “Look when you win, that [Fisher] situation would have never been there. I think you had a better chance of winning with Sean Mannion. I think even this year they start with Sean Mannion.”
It’s confusing what Dickerson actually wants the Rams to accomplish here. The organization made sure to rid itself of the “middle-school offense” that Fisher and offensive coordinator Rob Boras ran last year, hiring the whiz kid who transformed Kirk Cousins into a potential $30 million man. Jared Goff, whom the Rams drafted first overall and brought along very slowly last season before starting him in Week 11, has another offseason under his belt and has been earning rave reviews from teammates. Plus, Mannion has thrown just 13 passes in the pros.
In regards to starting Mannion, the Hall of Famer might have had a point last year, when it wasn’t certain that Goff was ready to take professional snaps, but it was clear L.A. was going nowhere with then-starter Case Keenum. But there’s next to no reason why McVay, a young coach brought in to be Goff’s QB whisperer, would peg Mannion for the starting position, barring injury to Goff.
At this point, Dickerson just sounds like he’s grasping for clicks, and it’s working.
Although Coach Pete Carroll professes happiness, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times is waiting for more from TE JIMMY GRAHAM:
Asked in June to evaluate how tight end Jimmy Graham has fit in with the Seahawks during his first two seasons, head coach Pete Carroll delivered a response that surely raised a few eyebrows.
“Gosh, I think it’s been awesome,’’ Carroll said.
Carroll, of course, tends to see the bright side of things (it’s possible he even liked the Ed Sheeran appearance in Game of Thrones).
But Carroll then went on at length (218 words worth, to be exact) about how he thinks Graham has not only been a good fit so far, despite a lot of Hot Takes protesting otherwise, but will be an even better one in 2017.
“He’s had a beautiful offseason so I think we should expect to get even more out of that moving forward,’’ Carroll said.
Carroll’s comment was a reference to the fact that Graham is healthy this year compared to last season when he was coming off of a patella tendon injury.
“He was just trying to get to camp and get healthy (last season),’’ Carroll said.
So to the team, the fact that Graham set Seahawks’ team records for most catches (65) and receiving yards (923) by a tight end in a season was, all things considered, just fine in 2016, even if to some observers it still seemed a little underwhelming (no matter that he had the third-most receiving yards of any tight end in the NFL).
But now, with Graham in his third year in the system, healthy, and entering a contract year that should erase any questions of motivation (in case any exist), one of the big questions for the Seahawks in 2017 is whether this is the season when he finally turns in the kinds of numbers that were expected when he was acquired in 2015.
It’s worth a reminder that no one in the organization ever really figured that Graham would put up the exact same numbers he did with the Saints, where he had 85 or more catches (with a high of 99) in his final four seasons while also twice topping the 1,200-yard mark (with a high of 1,310).
Seattle simply doesn’t pass as much as the Saints, and while the Seahawks threw more last season than any year in the Russell Wilson era, the hope is that a beefed-up running game will bring them back to a more usual-looking run-pass ratio in 2017 (Seattle threw it 59 percent last season after not being higher than 53 percent any of the previous four years).
But if the Seahawks won’t necessarily look for Graham to catch a ton more passes than last season, what they would like is for more of them to come in the red zone.
“Not quite as productive as we thought we could be,’’ Carroll said in June. “That’s a big area of focus for us now.’’
Graham caught six touchdowns last season, second on the team to the seven of Doug Baldwin and up from two in his initial Seahawks’ season of 2015.
But he caught nine or more each of his last four years with the Saints and that’s a stat the Seahawks think he could replicate in Seattle.
Much was made after the season of the fact that Graham had just four passes thrown his way inside the 10-yard-line last season, which according to a breakdown from Warren Sharp’s 2017 Football Preview was tied with Paul Richardson for third on the team behind the 11 of Jermaine Kearse and 10 of Baldwin.
Sharp’s breakdown, though, showed that the Seahawks did try to get Graham the ball a lot inside the 20 — he had a team-high 21 passes thrown to him from the 11-20-yard-lines, far more than anyone else on the team (Baldwin was next with 12) for a total of 25 red zone targets that was also the most on the team (Baldwin had 22 followed by Kearse with 18).
But then there were also instances like the final play against the Saints, when the Seahawks had one shot from the 10-yard-line to win it. New Orleans doubled Graham compelling Wilson to instead throw to Kearse, who was left in single coverage against a backup cornerback.
Kearse caught the pass but his foot was just out of bounds and Seattle lost 25-20. Had Seattle won the game some might have pointed to that play as an example of the kind of impact Graham could have even without getting a pass thrown his way by creating favorable matchups elsewhere, something the Seahawks talked about when they got him.
But the Seahawks also know that ultimately, they didn’t give up a first-round pick and center Max Unger (while also getting a fourth-round pick) while also paying Graham $10 million this season to be a decoy.
That this is the last season on Graham’s current contract, barring an extension before the season, makes this a critical year for both sides.
The Seahawks could wait to decide on Graham’s future, knowing they could just put the franchise tag on him following the season (it’s estimated the tag number for tight ends in 2018 would be roughly the same $10 million that Graham is getting this season).
And until it’s settled Graham, who will turn 31 in November, knows the more he produces, the better his bargaining position.
“He’s so much more of a complete player than maybe we thought he would even become, really,’’ Carroll said in June, also referencing what he said is Graham’s continued commitment to improving at blocking. “So, he surprised us.’’
Now it’s time to see if he can rewrite the narrative of his Seattle career.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
WR MIKE WILLIAMS fiercely denies that his rookie season is over before it starts. Lakisha Jackson at NFL.com:
Los Angeles Chargers first-round pick Mike Williams is denying reports that he might need season-ending back surgery.
The rookie wideout addressed the rumors during Alshon Jeffery’s camp on Saturday.
“I’m good. Everything good. The back situation. That was some false information being released,” he said. “I don’t know who released it but everything is good.”
Williams suffered a mild disc herniation in his lower back during rookie minicamp. He was held out of the rest of offseason workouts.
NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported on Wednesday that Williams is likely to start training camp on the physically unable to perform list following a second epidural. Garafolo did note that he resumed running and was “feeling better” after the second procedure.
Per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, back surgery was on the table for Williams three or four weeks ago. Though two sources with direct knowledge of the situation told Rapoport it is not on the table now and Williams is improving.
Sara Barshop of ESPN.com explains why QB DESHAUN WATSON will emerge number one.
It was late on a Saturday night in January, just a few weeks after Deshaun Watson enrolled at Clemson. Tigers offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, who was meeting a recruit on campus by Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, saw two people running on the field under the emergency lights.
Scott quickly realized that it was Watson and his freshman roommate, wide receiver Artavis Scott, now a Chargers rookie. They were using the flashlight on a phone to see the plays they were running.
“They had only been on campus for about two weeks, and I knew right then, I was like, ‘Wow, here it is. It’s a Saturday night, the lights are off in the stadium, it’s 35 degrees, and these guys are out here running through plays,'” Jeff Scott said.
That night in Clemson was an early sign of Watson’s great work ethic and desire to transition quickly to the next level, qualities that set him on a path to dominate in college and become the 12th overall pick by the Houston Texans.
Watson came to Houston noticeably prepared for rookie minicamp, and he impressed on the first day of team meetings.
“The one thing that stood out to me is, really, his work ethic and how dedicated he is to doing it,” Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan said. “Today is a day off for him officially, but I just went down to the quarterback room. He’s in there, he’s studying, and I just think that’s how he’s approached it since he walked in here. His approach to it, how serious he is about it and his professional demeanor for a young guy has been impressive for me.”
As impressive as Watson was during offseason workouts, he is still a rookie who enters training camp as unproven Tom Savage’s understudy. The Texans, who have won the AFC South the past two seasons and return the NFL’s top-ranked defense, have playoff expectations, even though their biggest question is at the most important position in the game.
Is Watson capable of stepping in and leading a team primed for a playoff run? Watson’s time at Clemson showed that he is capable of picking up a complex offense and rising up the depth chart quickly.
“[He’s] uncommon. It’s unbelievable,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I don’t really know how to articulate what I know about him. And [comparing him to Michael Jordan] is the only way I know how to do it. All those great ones, the Michael Jordans, the Steph Currys, the LeBron Jameses, the Joe Montanas, the Tom Bradys … there’s a uniqueness to them. There’s something to them. Yes, you can see talent. But there’s this other stuff that you cannot see until you really get around it every day. And that’s what he’s got. And how to articulate that, I don’t really know, other than this is going to be a great 30 for 30 one of these days.”
The rookie QB challenge
To open the season as the Texans’ starting quarterback, Watson will have to beat Savage, who has been with the Texans for three years; the organization drafted him in the fourth round in 2014. But Savage has played in only two of those three seasons because he missed 2015 with a shoulder injury suffered in a preseason game.
General manager Rick Smith and coach Bill O’Brien said on draft night that Savage would be their starter.
Since the Texans traded Brock Osweiler in March, O’Brien has emphasized how difficult it is for a rookie quarterback to start in the NFL. He and Smith echoed those comments after they drafted Watson, despite the fact that the Texans paid a heavy price (their 2017 first-round pick at No. 25 and a 2018 first-round pick) to trade up to the No. 12 pick to get him.
Last season, the Texans’ offense ranked 29th in passing yards per game and 31st in touchdowns with Osweiler and Savage under center. Despite the lackluster QB play, Houston won the AFC South with a 9-7 record, beat the Raiders in a wild-card playoff game and stuck with the Patriots for one half on the road in Foxborough during the divisional round. Much of that can be credited to the NFL’s No. 1 defense that now returns J.J. Watt, who missed most of the previous season with a back injury.
To take the next step — reaching the AFC Championship Game for the first time in team history — Houston needs much-improved play from its quarterback.
The Texans have two options in that department: an unproven starter who showed flashes in his brief stint in relief of Osweiler last season but who has not thrown an NFL touchdown and a rookie who dominated in college but has work to do in his transition to the NFL.
Rookie quarterbacks have had varying success in the NFL in recent years, although the Dallas Cowboys hit the jackpot last season in fourth-round pick Dak Prescott, who led them to a 13-3 record after winning the starting job when injuries felled Tony Romo and Kellen Moore. In 2016, Prescott and Raiders fourth-round pick Connor Cook started playoff games, each losing his lone start. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 16 rookie quarterbacks have started a playoff game in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). None has ever reached the Super Bowl.
Since 2006, when QBR was first tracked, rookie quarterbacks who were drafted in the first round have a combined record of 131-176, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Of the 29 quarterbacks taken in the first round since then, five have started a playoff game — but none since Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in 2012.
Texans backup quarterback Brandon Weeden said Watson is showing that he is capable of quickly making the jump to the NFL.
“He’s a very smart guy,” Weeden said. “He retains information very well, so he’s kind of ahead of the curve. He’s doing a lot of great things. This is a challenging system for a quarterback, but I think he’s taking all the right steps and putting in the work to get better.”
Although Watson is a rookie, players have gravitated toward him in the locker room, and he is already earning the respect of his new teammates.
“When you watched him, or at least when we watched him in the building here around our players, it was pretty apparent that that leadership trait that he has, it’s infectious,” Smith said.
Added offensive assistant Pat O’Hara: “I think he has that [leadership] about him without saying a word. He has a nature about him that I think people go to him. I think he has a real strong personality that’s maybe not real, real vocal, but that’s OK. But he has a presence about him that’s real positive. A really poised man. But no, he doesn’t need to be out there screaming and yelling. He just kind of gets that respect. That’s something that’s hard to find, and Deshaun has that.”
– – –
With training camp approaching, Smith and O’Brien will soon have a decision to make: Sit Watson and let him learn, or truly let him compete with Savage for the starting job. Even if Savage begins the season as Houston’s starter, he likely will be on a short leash. If he is ineffective early in the season — or is unable to stay healthy — the Texans might have little choice but to turn to Watson.
As a player who started at Clemson and was a five-star recruit out of high school, Watson is used to being the No. 1 guy. But it didn’t start out that way. Watson got injured during spring football before his freshman season, so Clemson gave senior Cole Stoudt the starting job. But the Tigers still got Watson some playing time, and over a couple of games, he took advantage of his opportunity and was named the Tigers’ starting quarterback.
Deshaun Watson hasn’t been in Houston long, but he has already impressed with his leadership. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Watson said he plans to employ the same mindset as he tries to win the quarterback job in Houston.
“I was a starter at Clemson the past three years, but each and every day, I would go into the day thinking I’m not the starter and I could lose my job. So for me, that’s natural,” Watson said. “I’m a competitor. I’m going to compete each and every day to get better.”
Scott said Watson’s demeanor stood out to him after Watson missed out on the starting job as a freshman because “he never was panicking early in the year that he’s got to start. He knew he was going to get his opportunities.”
While Watson has, of course, communicated his desire to start for the Texans, Swinney said he can’t see there being any drama from Watson over the starting job.
“If he’s the starter, great. If he’s not, you won’t hear a word from Deshaun,” Swinney said. “He’s just going to keep working and show up every day and keep preparing for when his time comes. That’s just how he is. He is a low-maintenance superstar.”
Even though Savage has played in only five games in two NFL seasons, he certainly has a leg up in his knowledge of O’Brien’s system. However, he is still an unproven starter who hasn’t been able to stay healthy. And now the guy many consider to be the best rookie quarterback prospect is waiting in the wings.
Whether Watson is the starter in Week 1 of 2017 or Week 1 of 2018 or anytime in between, the Texans hope they have found their first true franchise quarterback.
A Titans offensive lineman, one SEBASTIAN TRETOLA, was shot in the leg in the wee hours over the weekend in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He already is known to Nashville authorities. Jessica Bliss in The Tennessean:
Tennessee Titans lineman Sebastian Tretola was shot in the leg early Sunday morning in Arkansas, according to media reports and the team.
The Fayetteville Police Department is investigating a shooting that occurred about 2 a.m. in a parking lot near the Sterling District Apartments off Dickson Street, according to KNWA-TV.
A family member confirmed to the television station that Tretola was injured in a shooting.
The Titans issued this statement Sunday acknowledging the shooting and said the injuries were minor:
“We are aware of the reports that Sebastian received treatment for a wound when he was grazed by a bullet.
“He has been released from the hospital and is thankful only for a minor injury.”
The Titans selected Tretola in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft. He played in one game last season for the team.
The 6-foot-4, 314-pounder played guard at Arkansas and started the final 24 games in his Razorbacks career.
Earlier this year, a Nashville man filed a federal civil lawsuit alleging a Titans football player beat him up while another player — Tretola — served as a lookout.
Dante R. Satterfield filed the lawsuit in May against wide receiver Tajae Sharpe and Tretola.
Could WR ANQUAN BOLDIN be adding some veteran experience to the Bills? Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Word came at the end of last week that veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin would be visiting with the Bills this week and the team confirmed it by announcing Boldin is in Buffalo to meet with the team on Monday.
As Chris Brown of the team’s website points out in the announcement, the Bills’ depth chart at receiver is “largely a jumble” once you get past Sammy Watkins. Second-round pick Zay Jones dealt with a knee injury during spring work and Andre Holmes, Jeremy Butler and Philly Brown are all new to the team after signing this offseason.
Boldin would give them another new face, albeit one with both more experience and more accomplishments at the professional level. He ranks ninth in league history with 1,076 receptions and would have a good chance to move past players like Terrell Owens, Tim Brown, Chris Carter and Marvin Harrison if he finds a home for the 2017 season.
Boldin said earlier in the offseason that he’d like to find that home closer to his offseason one in Florida, although there might be some flexibility there with camps starting and Boldin still out of uniform.
THIS AND THAT
Michael Irvin will escape a charge. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
More than a month after Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin and his lawyer held a press conference aimed at lobbying for prosecutors to not charge Irvin with sexual assault, the case is finally closed.
Via Andy Slater of WINZ radio, Broward County authorities have decided not to proceed, due to a lack of evidence.
“Nothing happened that night,” Irvin said during the press conference, which ended with Irvin saying, “Make a decision, let’s move on.”
The decision has been made, and the authorities have moved on. This doesn’t keep the alleged victim from suing Irvin, and the much lower standard of proof (plus the unavailability of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination) could mean that, although Irvin won’t face criminal jeopardy, the case may not be fully closed.
A clever idea from TheMMQB.com:
How would you go about building an NFL team if you could draw from a pool of every player in football history? How would Tom Brady, J.J. Watt and Adrian Peterson stack up against the likes of Johnny Unitas, Joe Greene and Jim Brown? Do you go heavy on defense early, knowing you might get an all-time QB down the road, or do you jump on the passer of your dreams? And, most compellingly, who would go No. 1 in a hypothetical draft of all-time players?
The MMQB set about answering these questions with an intriguing project. This spring we assembled a 12-man panel of personnel experts, football historians and longtime writers to stage The MMQB All-Time NFL Draft—12 “GMs,” constructing a squad—offense, defense and special teams—from the roster of every player in pro football history.
• Each team would select 25 players and one coach. Twenty-five rounds, plus a round (in reverse draft order) for the coaches.
• Each team would field 11 players on offense and 11 on defense, plus a placekicker and a punter. In addition, (at least) one wild-card player would be selected.
• Each team must draft one QB, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, two tackles, two guards and a center.
• The defense could be either a 4-3 or a 3-4, plus two cornerbacks and two safeties.
• If a GM selected a player who played two positions (for instance, center and linebacker, or kicker and punter), the GM could deploy that player at both spots, allowing for another wild-card pick.
• Conceptually, the process would be era-neutral. The assumption was that players who excelled in one era would be equally good in any other.
• The primary purpose was to have fun.
The Participants (in draft order)
1. Joel Bussert. Former longtime head of the NFL’s player personnel department.
2. Ron Wolf. Hall of Fame NFL executive.
3. Rick Gosselin. Longtime Dallas Morning News football writer and Hall of Fame voter.
4. Dan Fouts. Hall of Fame quarterback and Hall of Fame voter.
5. John Turney. Highly respected football historian from Pro Football Journal.
6. Gil Brandt. Pioneering scout and personnel executive.
7. Bob McGinn. Packers beat writer for 38 seasons.
8. Joe Horrigan. Vice president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
9. Peter King. Editor-in-chief of The MMQB and Hall of Fame voter.
10. Bill Polian. Six-time NFL executive of the year and Pro Football Hall of Famer.
11. John Wooten. Longtime player, NFL scout and director of The Fritz Pollard Alliance.
12. Ernie Accorsi. Former GM of the Colts, Browns and Giants.
Here are the first two rounds:
PICK PLAYER POS. YEARS G.M.
1 Lawrence Taylor LB NYG,1981–93 Bussert
2 Joe Greene DT Pitt, 1969–81 Wolf
3 Johnny Unitas QB Balti, 1956–73 Gosselin
4 Ray Guy P Raiders, 73–86 Fouts
5 Anthony Muñoz T Cin, 1980–92 Turney
6 Jim Brown RB Browns, 1957–65 Brandt
7 Reggie White DE McGinn
8 Don Hutson WR Green Bay 1935–45 Horrigan
9 Tom Brady QB New England 2000– King
10 Otto Graham QB Browns, 1946–55 Polian
11 Joe Montana QB 49ers, 1979–92, KC 1993–94 Wooten
12 John Elway QB Denver, 1983–98 Accorsi
PICK PLAYER POS. YEARS G.M.
13 Roger Staubach QB Dallas Cowboys, 1969–79 Bussert
14 Gino Marchetti DE Wolf
15 Deacon Jones DE Rams, 61–71 SDiego 72–73 Gosselin
16 Kellen Winslow TE San Diego, 1979–87 Fouts
17 Jerry Rice WR SF, 1985–2000 Raiders, 01–04 Turney
18 Walter Payton RB Bears, 1975–87 Brandt
19 Ronnie Lott S SF, 1981–90 Raiders, 91–92 McGinn
20 Peyton Manning QB Ind 1999–2010, Denver, 12–15 Horrigan
21 Gale Sayers RB Bears, 1965–71 King
22 Barry Sanders RB Detroit, 1989–98 Polian
23 O.J. Simpson RB Bills, 1969–77,SF, 1978–79 Wooten
24 Lenny Moore RB Baltimore Colts, 1956–67 Accorsi
Comments from the DB to this point –
* Ray Guy in the first round? We think Team Fouts starts off behind the rest. Even if we were a big fan of Guy’s – and we are not – he would have been available in a later round.
* Tom Brady to Peter King is the only currently active player to go in the first round and Peyton Manning is the only other player active within the last 10 years. J.J. Watt in the 5th round is the next active player picked (again by Peter King) with other recent players like Ed Reed, Calvin Johnson and Ray Lewis also off the board.
* King takes T Joe Thomas in the 7th round, Aaron Rodgers goes in the 8th, Von Miller and Rob Gronkowski in the 9th. Julio Jones, Luke Kuechly, Antonio Gates, Larry Fitzgerald, Jason Witten, Richard Sherman, Cowboys OLs Zack Martin and Travis Frederick and Patrick Peterson round out the actives. Also some active PKs and Ps like Justin Tucker, Johnny Hekker and Andy Lee.
* The QB order off the board is Unitas, Brady, Graham, Montana, Elway, Staubach and Peyton Manning for a total of 7. The other five QBs drafted were Terry Bradshaw (5th round Fouts), Aaron Rodgers (8th round Turney), Brett Favre (10th round, Ron Wolf his GB GM), Dan Marino (10th round, McGinn) and Troy Aikman (20th round, Gil Brandt). No Brees, Roethlisberger, Tarkenton or Steve Young.
It’s a fun piece and you can see the entire thing with the whole draft, depth charts and commentary from the 12 GMs here.
Here is Peter King about his selections. Did he notice his affinity for current players?
As someone who reveres pro football history, this was one of those near-and-dear projects that I am thrilled finally got off the ground. Sports fans know why Babe Ruth and Joe Louis are significant in American history. But Don Hutson? Otto Graham? Who are they? If we can give a sliver of the football-loving public some better knowledge of the Hutsons and Grahams, then we’ve done our job here.
So: I was determined to honor history with my picks … and I fear I fell short. My team probably has more players from the 21st century than any other team. But I picked from the meat of the curve. I wanted Anthony Muñoz, the best tackle ever, or Hutson with my first-round pick. With both gone, I took Tom Brady; as my buddy and fellow GM Rick Gosselin said, that’s some consolation prize. I honored the past with my next two picks, an electric back, Gale Sayers, and the best pass defender in the NFL’s first 50 years, Night Train Lane.
Overall, I believed in taking the best player when I picked, almost regardless of position. In a draft with Dan Marino and Brett Favre going in the 10th round, I knew there would be strong players at every position available for 20 rounds or more. I respected those who went defense first. But if I call Tom Brady the best quarterback of all time—which I did last February—how can I pass on him with the ninth pick, particularly with my two favored gems, Muñoz and Hutson, gone?
I had just one sentimental pick. I wanted former Saint Steve Gleason on my team, for his greatness on special teams and for his greatness at humanity. (You probably know Gleason for his intrepid fight against ALS, but let me assure you what a gallant and unstoppable force he was in the kicking game.) I got him in round 20. I was thrilled. I know this: Gleason’s going to give one hell of a speech in the locker room before our opening game.
THE TOP 25 PLAYMAKERS IN NFL HISTORY
Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report has a list that counts down to number one on the top 25 playmakers in NFL history. We have the list below, but fiercely edit his commentary. For the full thing go here.
There are many ways to define “playmaker.” For this countdown of the best playmakers in NFL history, our watchwords are versatility, elusiveness and consistency.
An all-time great playmaker must have the versatility to beat opponents in many different ways. With one or two exceptions, this is a countdown for rusher-receivers who also returned kicks and for scrambling quarterbacks who perhaps punted now and then.
A playmaker must have the elusiveness to get away from defenders in the open field. Don’t worry about those workhorse running backs: They will soon get their own countdown. Not many of these guys toted the rock 25 times per game. But they did make defenders worry about every screen pass, kickoff return or escape from the pocket.
An all-time playmaker demonstrates consistency over multiple seasons. Percy Harvin was versatile and elusive, but he couldn’t stay on the field. The players on this countdown supplemented their niftiness and shiftiness with a healthy dose of sturdiness and, well, healthiness.
In short, these are the players who made things happen with the ball in their hands, year in and year out, with or without a quality supporting cast. Some of them redefined NFL strategies. A few infuriated their own coaches as much as they vexed opponents. All of them provided many unforgettable moments.
25. Eric Metcalf
One of the best things about writing this NFL Nostalgia series has been taking occasional breaks from the Tom Brady/Joe Montana/Vince Lombardi worship to talk about nearly forgotten players like Eric Metcalf.
24. Darren Sproles
Reggie Bush nearly made this list. Let’s say he ranked 27th. Bush may have been overpriced and overhyped in his heyday, but he was a heck of a receiver and return man early in his career who developed into a capable running back as he matured.
But Darren Sproles replaced Bush in New Orleans and was better—more dangerous as a running back (5.7 yards per carry with the Saints), more versatile as a receiver (16 touchdowns in three seasons; Bush scored 12 receiving touchdowns in five Saints seasons) and more reliable as an all-purpose return man.
Brian Westbrook nearly made this list. Let’s say he ranked 26th. Westbrook is revered in Philadelphia. He carried the Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb Eagles at times as an all-purpose weapon, and he was a respected figure in the locker room as well.
But Westbrook was nearly finished by his 30th birthday, and the Eagles spent the beginning and end of his career carefully rationing his touches. Sproles, now 34 years old, has been one of the Eagles’ most important all-purpose players for three seasons.
23. The Fabulous Brady Boys
Tom Brady always has a playmaker to turn to. Sometimes he has two, three or more of them than the Patriots can put on the field at the same time.
At first, there were Kevin Faulk, David Patten and Troy Brown. Then came Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead. Then, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis, with James White joining the fun in the second half of Super Bowl LI.
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No one Patriots playmaker has ever stood out enough to make this countdown. But as a group, they are helping Brady redefine NFL offense.
22. Jackie Smith
You will often hear Rob Gronkowski redefined the tight end position. Or perhaps Tony Gonzalez redefined the tight end position. Or maybe Shannon Sharpe did it. Or Kellen Winslow.
All of those all-time great tight ends certainly left their stamp on the position. But Jackie Smith is the guy who literally turned the tight end from a blocker who lined up next to the right tackle and caught a few underneath passes to a chess piece who can line up anywhere and do practically anything.
21. Devin Hester
Devin Hester wasn’t just one of the best return men in history. He may have been the last truly great pure return man in NFL history.
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Kickoff returns may be extinct in a few years. Punt returns get harder and harder as punters improve and teams grow more daring on fourth downs. Yes, there are still amazing return men in the NFL. But there will never again be a returner who makes as great an impact as Hester made.
20. Brian Mitchell
There have been many excellent, elusive all-purpose backs in NFL history, but few of them were as good for as long as Mitchell. And few of them could ever have taken over at quarterback against a Buddy Ryan defense as rookies and lived to tell the tale.
19. Frank Gifford
The 1950s were a golden age for all-purpose players. Offenses were more daring and pass-oriented in those days than you might think. The old T-formation had evolved to the point that one of the two halfbacks often detached from the backfield and lined up as a flanker. But all of the pivot and hide-the-ball fakes of the three-back formation were still in the playbook, so a halfback with an arm might end up throwing one or two option passes per game.
Frank Gifford was the best of the 1950s all-purpose weapons.
18. Jamaal Charles
A good litmus test for an all-time playmaker is to ask this question: Could a team be competitive if this guy were its only offensive weapon?
That’s an easy question to answer for Jamaal Charles. His quarterbacks have been Matt Cassel and Alex Smith. He’s lucky if a healthy Dwayne Bowe or Jeremy Maclin is around to lead otherwise lackluster receiving corps.
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Charles probably cannot do it all by himself anymore. But if everything goes as planned in Denver, he won’t have to.
17. Tie: Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny
Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny comprised one half of the “Million Dollar Backfield,” which also consisted of quarterback Y.A. Tittle and halfback John Henry Johnson.
16. Fran Tarkenton
Fran Tarkenton was Russell Wilson with a better offensive line and worse luck.
15. Tiki Barber
History’s best playmakers often start their careers as ordinary all-purpose backs. They return kicks, catch some third-down screen passes, produce a few highlights and then appear poised to give way to someone younger, faster and cheaper as soon as they lose a fraction of a step.
So it was with Tiki Barber.
14. LeSean McCoy
A “playmaker” should be the opposite of a “product of a system.” Playmakers may excel in particular systems, of course, and some schemes are built to help players who can make things happen in space (see No. 23 on this countdown). But an all-time great playmaker should prove he can transcend one particular scheme and use his diverse talents in a variety of ways.
LeSean McCoy has delivered Pro Bowl-caliber seasons in three completely different (and rather extreme, by NFL standards) offensive systems:
13. Floyd Little
The modern Broncos have a well-earned reputation as one of the best-run sports franchises in America. It all started when a bowlegged spark plug of a runner finally gave the fans of football’s ugliest franchise something worth watching.
12. Warrick Dunn
When we think of great playmakers, we think of speed, quickness, shiftiness and creativity. But as this countdown demonstrates time and again, we should also be thinking about consistency, durability, toughness and reliability.
11. Thurman Thomas
The hurry-up offense works best when it creates natural mismatches that the defense cannot adjust for. Grinding I-formation running backs need not apply—a running back in an uptempo offense needs to be able to beat linebackers in coverage, run between the tackles when the opponent is caught in a nickel or dime package and create in space once defenders are worn out and out of position.
Thurman Thomas was the first truly great hurry-up running back.
10. Steve Young
Because this segment is about Young the playmaker, not Young the champion or Hall of Famer, we have to wonder what Michael Vick-like magic we missed when Young was in exile or on the bench. Just imagine what the younger, faster, more reckless Young could have contributed to the world of highlight montages.
We must also wonder how many would-be Steve Youngs were lost to history because of bad coaches, organizations, situations or decisions. The best playmakers are often at risk of becoming their own worst enemies. Young escaped that fate the way he escaped defenders, and once he caught up to his own talent, nothing could stop him.
9. Charley Trippi
Trippi was sometimes called the One Man Gang at the University of Georgia, where he excelled as a rusher, passer and defensive back, with a stateside tour of duty with the Air Force during World War II mixed in.
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In modern football, Trippi would be a cross between Christian McCaffrey, Terrelle Pryor and Jabrill Peppers, with a dash of Marquette King sprinkled in.
8. Michael Vick
Few were more dazzling. Few were more disappointing.
7. Bobby Mitchell
Bobby Mitchell was one of the greatest athletes in pro football history: a two-way player for Illinois who had Olympic aspirations as a hurdler and was offered a baseball contract by the St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, Mitchell would have fit in perfectly as part of the All-Time Greatest Athletes edition of NFL Nostalgia. But he fits even better here.
6. Randall Cunningham
Randall Cunningham rushed for 4,928 yards without the aid of read-options, well-designed quarterback keepers or, for much of his prime, any real offensive support whatsoever.
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Judged as “playmakers,” there’s no contest between Cunningham, Steve Young and Michael Vick. Young was a brilliant soloist and conductor for a world-class orchestra. Vick played in offenses that complemented his rushing ability, and his 2000s passing totals don’t come close to Cunningham’s 1980s totals. When it came to contortionist tactics to avoid sacks, windmill leaps at the end of scrambles and making up new moves just to survive, Cunningham was in a class by himself. He often looked like he was on the field by himself. And win or lose, he always put on a show.
5. Lenny Moore
If you have a half-hour to spare and want to see what Moore, Gifford, Unitas and football of the late 1950s were all about, this extensive highlight montage of the 1959 NFL Championship Game is better than anything you will find on Netflix. A lot about the football of that era looks a little primitive to modern eyes. But the big-play capability of Moore is instantly recognizable and just as thrilling now as it was then.
4. Red Grange
Red Grange, Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth invented a new type of fame: sports superstardom.
There had been famous athletes before them, from Jim Thorpe to Grover Alexander to boxers and cyclists whose names are now lost to history. But the advent of live radio and the birth of the automobile connected fans of the 1920s to national-caliber athletes in ways that were impossible at the turn of the century.
The exploits of the Bambino, the Manassa Mauler and the Galloping Ghost could be heard in living rooms and seen on movie reels. Fans hundreds of miles away had a chance to hop in their automobiles to catch a glimpse of them live. And Grange, the college football superstar, was every bit as famous as the Yankees home run sensation and the heavyweight champion.
When Grange joined the NFL in 1925, it changed perceptions about professional football. His presence at a Bears road game could put a struggling host team in the black for the season. Fans came to see the most dynamic, elusive all-purpose weapon of that primitive era. Grange ran, passed and returned punts in an era when punt returns were much more integral to the game than they are now. Football before Grange was college lads clobbering each other in the mud. Grange introduced quickness and grace to the sport. He was, quite literally, the NFL’s first playmaker.
Don’t look up Grange’s NFL stats seeking enlightenment; what little is there is almost incomprehensible to modern eyes anyway. Just know that he was a Ruthian figure who achieved LeBron James-like fame the moment such fame became possible in American society, and his exploits introduced the fledgling NFL to future fanatics all across the country.
3. Marshall Faulk
There have been a handful of better open-field runners in history than Marshall Faulk. But no runner reached the open field as often or as consistently as Faulk.
2. Gale Sayers
“Just give me 18 inches of daylight. That’s all I need.” — Gale Sayers
Given 18 inches of daylight, Gale Sayers performed feats that are still dazzling over half a century later. He jump-cut, head-faked, hurdled and juked early ’60s defenders who had never seen the likes of the Kansas Comet before. It might be cheating to point to a highlight reel and say “watch this,” but here’s a highlight reel, complete with quotes from George Halas and others (plus some AC/DC music). Words don’t really do Sayers justice.
Sayers sparked a bidding war between Halas and Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt in the AFL. Halas won, and Sayers took the stodgy NFL by storm as a rusher, receiver, returner and crafty southpaw passer on the occasional option play.
Sayers’ six-touchdown effort (four rushes, one reception, one punt return) against the 49ers as a rookie is still considered one of the greatest individual games in NFL history, but it wasn’t that much more impressive than many of his other games from 1965 through 1967. Sayers had a game versus the Vikings with one rushing touchdown, two receiving touchdowns, a kick return touchdown and a 27-yard completion earlier in his rookie year. He returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns and ran for a third score against the 49ers in 1967. If fantasy football existed in the mid-1960s, Sayers would not only have dominated but would have made the Bears defense (and special teams) worth an early selection.
In addition to elusiveness that remains jaw-dropping to this day, Sayers possessed outstanding vision and surprising power. Watch the highlights, and you are initially struck by the cheat-code jukes. Then you notice the quick cuts, economical moves and Sayers’ ability to glide through traffic. Sayers led the NFL in rushing in 1969 after a knee injury robbed him of much of his shake ‘n’ bake. Sayers had more than one method of avoiding tacklers. All he needed was a crease, and he found a way to do the rest.
1. Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders was the perfect player for the most imperfect system in a complicated era in pro football history.
The run ‘n’ shoot offense was unlike anything which came before it. Running backs who played in the system were suddenly left without lead-blocking fullbacks or edge-setting tight ends. In their place were itty-bitty slot receivers and (fortunately) the backup cornerbacks drafted to defend them. Every handoff or screen pass was an open-field adventure.
Sanders was history’s most elusive running back, making him an ideal fit for the run ‘n’ shoot’s barely controlled chaos. Nickel and dime defenders of the day were no match for Sanders’ ankle-twisting cutbacks. Linebackers didn’t stand a chance of even keeping up with him. Lions quarterbacks were generally average-to-terrible, but Sanders kept the team and the hinky system in the playoff picture with his ability to consistently rack up big plays.
The Lions switched to a much more traditional offense in 1997, abandoning all vestiges of the run ‘n’ shoot. Sanders promptly gave us a taste of what might have been, rushing for 2,053 yards and 6.1 yards per carry with 14 total touchdowns. Given a fullback and a decent quarterback for the bulk of his career, Sanders might have set rushing records which still stand. But then, we may never have enjoyed the image of Sanders shucking, juking, reversing field and defying physics just to gain a few yards, an image that he burned into our minds and hearts for nearly a decade.