The Daily Briefing Monday, July 31, 2017

The study that showed a 99% rate of CTE in NFL football players made an impression with its headlines the DB has learned in lunchtime conversations the last week.  But Ben Volin of the Boston Globe says things aren’t as cut-and-dried as media headlines would want you to believe.

 

The latest CTE study made big headlines when it was released this past week.

 

And for many of those in the medical and football communities, the headlines are a problem.

 

The study, conducted by Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University and published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, proclaimed that 110 of the 111 brains of deceased NFL players that it studied were found to have the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

 

The findings were trumpeted in the Globe and several national media outlets, replete with startling pictures of brain fragments of the deceased players.

 

The implication of the study was obvious — football causes brain injuries, and brain injuries lead to CTE, which leads to a host of mental problems. Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel, a PhD candidate at MIT, retired from football last week following the report’s release.

 

While few debate the dangers of football as it relates to head injuries, some in the medical community take issue with the report’s alarmist tone. McKee’s study certainly shows that CTE is an issue that demands more research, but it did little to advance the overall knowledge surrounding CTE.

 

“Concussion research is still in its infancy,” wrote former Chargers team doctor David Chao last week, in a piece entitled, “Plea for timely truth about football’s link to brain disease.” “One day we hope to have precise classifications for the types of head injury. For example, the outcome of a ‘Grade 2B occipital lobe concussion’ or a ‘Grade 3C temporal lobe concussion’ might have different treatment and prognosis. It is hard to find a cure when you don’t know the exact disease. The truth is our knowledge of head injury today is like that of knee injuries in the pre-MRI and arthroscopy era. Everything was a knee sprain and we didn’t differentiate between ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL, or medial versus lateral meniscus tears.”

 

The BU study was a “convenience sample” of 202 brains donated by families of former football players who demonstrated cognitive issues in life. Since there is still no way of diagnosing CTE in living people, no meaningful testing has occurred to determine the true causes of CTE and the role of football and other sports.

 

We don’t know whether CTE is hereditary or caused by outside factors such as alcoholism or chemical dependence. And we don’t know why some people afflicted with CTE die young and others make it to old age.

 

“That first step is not solved yet — whether there’s a definitive link to concussions,” Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, a Toronto neuropathologist, told the Toronto Sun last week. “So how can you even think about who’s the most susceptible? Who’s not? What age is the worst? Just looking at these brains [posthumously], you cannot say any of that. It’s just impossible at this point.”

 

McKee, the chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the CTE Center at Boston University, acknowledged the limitations of her study.

 

“There’s a tremendous selection bias,” she told the New York Times, noting that many brains were donated specifically because the former player showed troubling symptoms.

 

But that point was seemingly glossed over last week. The “99 percent” and “110 out of 111” are what got people’s attention.

 

The same JAMA medical journal published a study on July 3 stating that men who played high school football in Wisconsin in 1957 were at no increased risk of later-life cognitive impairment or depression.

 

That study barely registered with the media, as attacking football seems to be far more fashionable than defending it.

 

The NFL has gotten a lot of criticism about denying the link between concussions and CTE, and much of it is deserved. Late last week, ESPN reported that the NFL is walking away from a partnership with the National Institutes of Health to study concussions, after giving less than half of a $30 million gift that it announced back in 2012. NIH officials criticized the NFL for being too heavy-handed in directing where the money went and refusing to allow BU researcher Dr. Robert Stern to lead one of the studies.

 

But the motivations of some of the top concussion researchers are also questionable, as they fight each other for funding, access to brains, and publicity.

 

“Competing scientists should not be fighting to sign up brains for when someone passes,” Chao wrote. “We should be studying these people while they are alive and trying to offer help and support.”

 

The NFL needs to continue to do more to support concussion and CTE research and remain vigilant in protecting its players. But researchers also need to be a little more honest with the public about the context of their findings and how little we still know about brain injuries.

 

Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater may have summed it up the best last week as he began his 10th training camp.

 

“As a player, you’re definitely thankful that they’re starting to look into that, do the necessary research, and hopefully get us to a better place when it comes to that,” he said of the CTE study. “Being married to a pathologist, I know that there is a lot I don’t know and there is a lot that we still have yet to learn.”

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

WR MARKUS WHEATON was stricken over the weekend and had an emergency appendectomy.  Jeff Dickerson at ESPN.com on the former Steelers condition as reported by Coach John Fox.

 

He had some stomach pains last night around 4 a.m., and our training staff did a good job getting him and he had the appendectomy at probably 9 o’clock this morning,” Fox said. “They’ll keep him in the hospital tonight. It’s a scope type of procedure, but they caught it. … It was inflamed, not ruptured, which is a good thing. So he’ll start that recovery process.”

 

Does anyone ever have their appendix removed in a procedure scheduled weeks in advance?  Asking for a friend.

 

 

DETROIT

FYI – TE ERIC EBRON suffered a hamstring pull over the weekend.

 

 

MINNESOTA

CB XAVIER RHODES gets a big check from the Vikings.  Adam Schefter with the tweet:

 

@AdamSchefter

Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes signed a 6-year, $78.126 million extension, including $41M gtd, tying him to Minnesota through 2022, per source.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Peter King visits the Cowboys and finds Coach Jason Garrett getting inspiration from The Boss – and we don’t mean Jerry Jones:

 

And Garrett decided to confront the we’ve-arrived, Dak Prescott/Zeke Elliott-fueled runaway optimism in an oddly negative way when he addressed the full squad this offseason.

 

We’re not good enough.

 

“Have you read the Springsteen book?” Garrett said the other day in a lengthy conversation before practice. (“Born To Run,” an autobiography, 2016, Simon & Schuster.) “He’s 20 years old, everybody at the Jersey Shore loves him, but he’s unknown nationally, and a good friend and adviser tells him, ‘If you really want to be great, you’ve got to get off the Jersey Shore.’ And so they pile everything in a couple vehicles and head west to this sort of open mike night in San Francisco.

 

As Springsteen wrote, the band was part of a four-band showcase; one band would get the chance to move on and perhaps get a recording contract. The Jersey guys went third and thought they killed it. The fourth band, though not as energetic, was very good. Via “Born To Run:”

 

“They got the gig. We lost out. After the word came down, all the other guys were complaining we’d gotten ripped off. The guy running the joint didn’t know what he was doing, blah, blah, blah.”

 

That night, Springsteen reflected, sleeping on a couch in his transplanted parents’ home in the Bay Area. “My confidence was mildly shaken, and I had to make room for a rather unpleasant thought. We were not going to be the big dogs we were back in our little hometown. We were going to be one of the many very competent, very creative musical groups fighting over a very small bone. Reality check. I was good, very good, but maybe not quite as good or exceptional as I’d gotten used to people telling me, or as I thought … I was fast, but like the old gunslingers knew, there’s always somebody faster, and if you can do it better than me, you earn my respect and admiration, and you inspire me to work harder. I was not a natural genius. I would have to use every ounce of what was in me—my cunning, my musical skills, my showmanship, my intellect, my heart, my willingness—night after night, to push myself harder, to work with more intensity than the next guy just to survive untended in the world I lived in.”

 

This was music to Garrett. Because after last season, even after the crushing 34-31 playoff loss to Green Bay, he thought the team was just a little too happy with itself. Not without reason. Prescott went toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers and acquitted himself well (Prescott 103.2 rating, Rodgers 96.6), Elliott outgained the Packers team 125-87 on the ground, and it took the miracle catch from Jared Cook and two late 50-yard-plus Mason Crosby field goals for the Packers to survive.

 

There was some gratification in the maturation of the Prescott-led offense, to be sure. But Garrett searched for a message that would tell his team they shouldn’t be fat and happy and satisfied with being the best band on the Jersey Shore. So Garrett had T-shirts made up saying “Recommit … Every Day” and the Cowboys got his message.

 

“People talk about taking the next step like it’s some big, obvious thing,” said Garrett. “It’s not. The next step happened just by working hard every day. I just told them, ‘This is our story. This is us. The goal is not to be local heroes. Everything we did last year, we gotta do it again this year, and we gotta do it better.’”

 

“It hit home,” Prescott said. “I felt him on that story. Here’s [Springsteen] and his band, local heroes, and they go west and it doesn’t work for them. That’s like us, winning the division and being local heroes in our city, in our division. That’s not what we want. We want to be worldwide heroes. That’s what we’re playing for this year—something more than the division—and that story reminded us you’ve got to work for it every day.”

 

There will be obstacles. Who’s going to rush the passer? Can so many young secondary pieces (free safety Byron Jones and corners Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis) rise to big roles? Can the early impressive work of potential starting middle linebacker Jaylon Smith (the Notre Damer is trying to return from left-leg nerve damage to be the pivot of the Dallas defense) continue fast enough for him to start?

 

And can Elliott be the kind of mature long-term star the Cowboys need him to be? We should know part of that soon enough; the league is expected to rule in the coming days on Elliott’s status in the wake of a year-long domestic-violence investigation. Garrett has been working on him.

 

“I’ve had a number of talks with him,” Garrett said. “I’ve asked him, ‘What do you want to be?’ I’ve had him try to understand the potential paths he could go down, the opportunities he has, on and off the field. They’re off the charts. He’s an infectious, very likable, hard-working kid. My point to him is, ‘If you maximize your abilities, you might be able to make $200 million off the field, like LeBron. Or you could make a million.’ I mean, say you’re AT&T, or you’re Pepsi. You’re looking for a spokesman for your product. What would you do right now? You’d probably say if you’re one of those companies, ‘Oh, we’ll go with Dak. Or we’ll go with Jordan Spieth.’ But that’s in his control.”

 

The Cowboys, as always, are an interesting chemistry experiment. They have it in their power to build on the strong base they created last year, to be sure. If they do, Garrett will be able to thank two bosses: Jerry Jones, for the players, and Springsteen, for the message.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Peter King on the two J. Browns:

 

The Arizona Cardinals have two receivers named Brown with a first name starting with “J.” They locker next to each other.

 

John Brown is number 12, Jaron Brown is number 13.

 

John Brown is 27. Jaron Brown is 27.

 

John Brown was a highly recruited high school defensive back and wide receiver who enrolled out of high school at a university in the Carolinas (Mars Hill University). Jaron Brown was a highly recruited defensive back and wide receiver who enrolled out of high school at a university in the Carolinas (Clemson).

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

A nice story from Niners practice involving the head coach and GM.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The 49ers haven’t played their first game under new General Manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan, but they’re already winning over the hearts of some fans.

 

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the 49ers allowed the fans who were cordoned off in a set of bleachers farthest away from the practice field they were using to move closer to the action.

 

The 49ers have multiple practice fields and they just happened to be on the distant one, so Lynch went to the fans directly and told them they could move up and stand along the sidelines.

 

The 49ers said Shanahan felt bad the fans were so far away, and Lynch said on Twitter the idea was his rookie head coach’s. Only a small amount of fans get to attend practices at their facility, and the only practice open to the general public will be Saturday at Levi’s Stadium.

 

And while it’s a small gesture, the 49ers have done the big things very poorly in recent years. So perhaps Shanahan and Lynch can make some of the changes which will make larger groups of fans happier in the future — like winning games.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Part of Peter King’s visit to the Rams:

 

Kirk Cousins, last year’s McVay pupil in Washington, says the great thing about McVay’s play calls is that he’d always be able to find someone—at least one receiver—with an open window for a completion. “Like Kirk says,” Goff said here, “this offense has a lot of answers. On every play, the way Sean conceptualizes things, he gives us at least one chance to make a good play. And with the variables in this offense—the deep ball, the trickeration—it’s still not that complicated for the quarterback. I think it’s a great offense for a quarterback.”

 

McVay will have patience with Goff, who clearly isn’t going to be yanked early in the season unless the results are putrid. I believe the most important addition to this offense is left tackle Andrew Whitworth. The longtime shutdown tackle for the Bengals will spend his twilight years (year?) protecting Goff’s blind side. That was an excellent addition, and a vital sign for a team trying to let a young quarterback have a couple more split seconds to think under pressure. Whitworth looked leaner Saturday, and he moved better than a 35-year-old tackle has a right to. Mostly, he gives off the air of, I got this. Go worry about some other position. “He’s huge for us,” said Goff. “I love having him out there.”

 

Time will tell on this coach, and this quarterback. McVay knows he needs to find Goff some completions, and that’s going to be his aim coming out of the chute.

– – –

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com with an update on the holdout of DT AARON DONALD:

 

The Rams are proceeding with camp without star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is staying away as they talk about a new contract.

 

But Donald isn’t sitting back and resting, and one of his teammates said the absence is bothering him.

 

“Oh yeah, it’s killing him right now,” Rams lineman Michael Brockers said, via Rich Hammond of the Los Angeles Daily News. “I know it is. He cannot wait until this contract thing is over. … You text him just to check in, and he lets us know that he’s still working and stuff like that. We know he’s not letting off in any way. We know he’s going to come back in shape and be the same Aaron he was before.”

 

But unlike some other situations in which teammates put (sometimes) subtle pressure on guys to show up for camp, Donald’s co-workers seem supportive of his efforts. When one fan showed up at camp with a picture of Donald and the words “pay the man,” pass-rusher Robert Quinn signed it. And having gone through his own negotiation recently, Brockers knows that business happens at its own pace sometimes.

 

“It’s hard to not do that when a guy has put in so much work,” Brockers said. “He has worked so hard and been tremendous for this team. It’s hard not to want that for him. So yeah, we’re right with him and we support him. We’re just waiting for him to get back.”

 

And when he does return, he’s likely to be very, very rich.

 

 

SEATTLE

DT MALIK McDOWELL is a no-show for the start of training camp – and he may be a no show for 2017.  Sheil Kapadia at ESPN.com:

 

– Seattle Seahawks second-round pick Malik McDowell was involved in a vehicular accident a couple of weeks ago and is at home in Michigan recovering as the team begins training camp.

 

According to an NFL Network report, McDowell was involved in an ATV accident and suffered a concussion, along with facial injuries.

 

“Unfortunately, Malik McDowell was involved in a vehicular accident, in which he suffered an injury during the NFL break period,” the team said in a statement. “As a precautionary measure, Malik has remained back in Michigan under the care of physicians there. Our medical people have been in constant communication with his physicians, and they have been monitoring the situation. At this point, it is important for Malik to stay at home and rest. We consider this a long-term relationship and will do whatever is in the best interest of Malik. We look forward to Malik’s return to Seattle and will update you with any changes. We placed him on reserve/did not report today.”

 

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was asked if there’s a possibility that McDowell will be out for the year.

 

“We’ll see. I don’t know that,” Carroll said.

 

“It’s challenging. He had extraordinarily high hopes to be here and be with us, and he’s not able to. So everything’s above board and cleared — what we’re doing. But it’s going to take a little while just because this is the first time there’s been a statement to come out, and we’re just honoring the family in how to handle this properly.”

 

The Seahawks drafted McDowell out of Michigan State with the 35th overall pick. The team had plans for him to contribute as an interior pass-rusher as a rookie, and Carroll raved about McDowell’s progress in the spring.

 

Asked if it’s a long-term injury, Carroll said, “We’ll wait and see. We’ll see what’s going on. It’s been a little while since the accident happened, but we’re still waiting to figure all that out.”

 

McDowell sent out a tweet to “clear the air.”

 

“I’m doing well and expect to rejoin my teammates in Seattle in the next few days,” McDowell’s statement reads. “My injury is not life or career threatening as some have speculated. I am grateful for the support I have received from the Seahawks organization, my doctors and my family. You will see me back on the field in the near future.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Peter King talks to John Elway about his philosophy of GMing:

 

“I could never get away from the competitive side of the game, or being competitive,” said Elway, tanned and looking relaxed on the verge of his seventh season running the team. “When I did get away, I had car dealerships and all those type of things, but the competitive side of me wanted to be back involved in some way to where you can have an impact on, or help have an impact on, some games and be involved with it. My gut has been right a lot of the time. I can look at tape and you can evaluate and all those things. I know what I like in coaches, I know what I like in players, I know what I like in the locker room.

 

“But I will say this, and I say it all the time. This job is lonely at times, because you do have to be the bad guy at times. That’s the thing about leadership. I look at leadership as a quarterback and I look at leadership as a general manager, and that’s two different types of leadership. When you are a quarterback, you’re working with whoever is in that locker room, so you learn how to get along with everybody and understand the personalities and also work at getting the most out of everybody who is around you as a quarterback. And then as a GM, you’re not in that locker room, but you’re having to make the decisions determining who is going into that locker room. So therefore, you are going to have to make unpopular decisions because of the relationships that are created in that locker room no matter what. As hard as the decisions are, every one that I make is made with the idea that the most important thing is the Denver Broncos and our mission of trying to compete for world championships.

 

And these nuggets from King on VON MILLER:

 

Von Miller has a personal videographer following him around camp. Just for fun, and for the social-media impact of lots of video postings … Miller’s thighs got ridiculously massive in his offseason workouts. He pooh-poohed that, but see if you notice when you watch Denver on TV… I think none of us had quite the 2017 vacation that Von Miller did. He spent 40 days in Europe following Drake on tour. He saw Drake 22 times.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

QB PHILIP RIVERS hasn’t left San Diego.  Peter King:

 

• Philip Rivers told me he’s going to commute to the training complex from his northeast San Diego home, about 71 miles each way. He’ll have a driver so he can do work in the car to and from the complex. I asked coach Anthony Lynn how he felt about it, and he admitted, “I’m a little concerned. But Philip has such a unique situation with eight children.” Rivers said his family, obviously, played into the decision, and he said he’s going to be sure not to be rushing out of the facility at the end of the day to get home. “I think it was worth it, all the things I weighed, both sides, for this first season,” Rivers told me after his first practice not as a San Diego Charger. “It was worth a try to commute and keep ourselves in the same home and be in the same schools and have the same support system and go to the same church and do all those things. Early in the morning it will be a piece of cake, just about an hour and then on the way back it could be a little longer. I can’t be the one behind the wheel. I can’t sacrifice preparation, or if I am tired. I wasn’t going to sacrifice being a good teammate either. I didn’t want to be the guy that says, ‘Gotta run!’ That’s my favorite part of football, being around the guys and being a good teammate. So we’ll give it a shot.”

 

And this from King’s conversation with owner Alex Spanos:

 

He said he understood the fans’ ire. But he also said: “I can look myself in the mirror after what’s happened.” On whether he thinks Los Angeles will be a good two-team market, he said, “Obviously, time will tell if this is the right decision. But where were the two teams that moved going in their [previous] markets? The potential for growth is so great here. We know we have to win. That’s obviously a big key in this market.” He also said the 46 suites and the nearly 30,000 seats in the StubHub Center have been sold. When I expressed some trepidation about a minor-league-type stadium for his team for the next three years, Spanos got his back up a bit. “Is that bad?” he said. “Is it bad that every seat is sold, and the fan experience is positive? How is that bad? You may start to see the downsizing of stadiums in sports anyway.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

It seems clear that the Ravens are contemplating factors beyond the gridiron as they weigh the decision as to whether they should sign QB and social justice activist COLIN KAEPERNICK.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

 

Despite the Baltimore Ravens signing backup quarterback David Olson last week, the team has not closed the door on bringing in Colin Kaepernick.

 

Speaking at a fan forum on Sunday, Ravens president Dick Cass said the team has had direct discussions with Colin Kaepernick, per the Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec.

 

Cass added that Kaepernick wants to play in 2017 and that the Ravens are weighing a decision.

 

The Ravens entered the market for backup quarterbacks after Joe Flacco tweaked his back last week. Coach John Harbaugh said last week he’s had several discussions with Kaepernick during the offseason.

 

Cass and owner Steve Bisciotti also said the team has reached out to veteran players, Ray Lewis, fans and various sponsors to gauge the reaction to potentially signing Kaepernick, who kneeled during the national anthem during games in 2016 to raise awareness for social injustices.

 

“We want to get a sense of what the attitude is out there and how Colin would handle it if he were to come, how he’d handle it and how that would change people’s views,” Cass said, per the team’s site.

 

NFL Network’s Michael Silver reported on Saturday that Kaepernick would be excited to join the Ravens, but has had zero discussions with any team about money at this point.

 

Kaepernick could provide the Ravens with competition for backup QB Ryan Mallett, who has reportedly struggled during team practices during training camp.

 

Kaepernick is not the only veteran quarterback the Ravens could bring in as Flacco insurance. Bisciotti told fans the team is discussing working out Robert Griffin III, who visited the Chargers last week.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says the fact the Ravens are hemming and hawing is a clear indication that Kaepernick’s current state of unemployment involves more than just football prowess:

 

Sitting in the presence of a Commissioner who has said that football teams make decisions based only on winning football games, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti made it abundantly clear that his organization is considering non-football factors in connection with the possible addition of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. It’s the closest any NFL executive has come to admitting that Kaepernick’s status is influenced by concerns regarding public and fan reaction to signing him.

 

The issue arose at a fan forum on Sunday, when someone asked Bisciotti whether he’s concerned that adding Kaepernick would hurt the team’s “brand.”

 

“We’ve very sensitive to it and we’re monitoring it, and we’re still, as [General Manager] Ozzie [Newsome] said, scrimmaging it,” Bisciotti said, via the team’s official website. “So pray for us.”

 

Bisciotti also addressed the inherent presumption within the question that signing someone who protested during the national anthem throughout 2016 would harm the team’s image.

 

“Quantify hurting the brand,” Bisciotti said. “I know that we’re going to upset some people, and I know that we’re going to make people happy that we stood up for somebody that has the right to do what he did. Non-violent protesting is something that we have all embraced. I don’t like the way he did it. Personally, I kind of liked it a lot when he went from sitting to kneeling. I don’t know, I’m Catholic, we spend a lot of time kneeling.”

 

Of course, with Kaepernick committed to standing for the anthem in 2017, the question isn’t whether having a guy who kneels for the anthem will harm the team’s brand. It’s whether having a guy who previously kneeled for the anthem will harm the team’s brand. In a league where dog fighters and drunk drivers and domestic abusers and alleged killers get second chances all the time, the guy who did nothing wrong can’t get a second chance that he shouldn’t need.

 

“Talk to your neighbors and your friends and your co-workers, because I think you’ll get the same sense that I got, which is every time I hear something negative, I hear something positive and sometimes it shocks me who it’s coming from,” Bisciotti said. “I hope we do what is best for the team and balance that with what’s best for the fans. Your opinions matter to us, and we couldn’t get a consensus on it in [this room] either.”

 

That’s an honest, frank, and candid assessment, provided by Bisciotti with Commissioner Roger Goodell in attendance. And it directly conflicts with Goodell’s past insistence that teams consider only football impact when deciding whether to sign football players.

 

“[A]ll [teams] want to get better,” Goodell said last month. “And if they see an opportunity to get better as a football team, they’re going to do it. They’re going to do whatever it takes to make their football team better. So those are football decisions. They’re made all the time. I believe that if a football team feels that Colin Kaepernick, or any other player, is going to improve that team, they’re going to do it.”

 

Bisciotti’s comments make it clear that this isn’t the case. For Bisciotti and the Ravens, it’s about determining (and balancing) fan reaction against football considerations — and by expressly inviting fans to chime in.

 

Consider that one in light of the team’s history. After linebacker Ray Lewis faced murder charges and then pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with a pair of killings for which no one was ever brought to justice, the Ravens embraced him without giving it a second thought — and without considering or soliciting fan input.

 

Ditto for running back Ray Rice. Over a period of months, the team stubbornly defended Rice despite knowing that he’d knocked out his future wife in an Atlantic City elevator, staging along the way a shameful press conference during which the victim apologized for her roll in getting knocked out. Only after video evidence let everyone see with their eyes that which they should have been able to envision with their minds did the Ravens cut the cord on Rice.

 

While Lewis and Rice already were working for the team when they did cross the line regarding what the law allows, Kaepernick broke no laws and violated no rules. Instead, he exercised one of the fundamental rights that all Americans possess — and he has made it clear that he won’t be exercising that right in 2017.

 

(That said, the Ravens also embraced receiver Donte Stallworth after he killed a man while driving his car under the influence of alcohol. The Ravens signed him without engaging in a public debate regarding whether having him on the team would hurt the brand.)

 

However the Ravens resolve this one, it’s now abundantly clear that Kaepernick is unemployed in part for reasons unrelated to football. We hope the many fans and media members who insist otherwise will abandon the notion that Kaepernick isn’t on a team because he stinks.

 

We would say that maybe the Ravens have learned their mistake from Lewis and Rice and that is why they are now preparing the battlefield.

 

Mike Freeman tweets a case for Kaepernick:

 

@mikefreemanNFL 

 Baltimore owner has forgotten he’s in majority African-American city with decades long policing issues. Kaepernick message would be welcome.

 

Now, obviously, most of Baltimore’s fan base does not live in the geographical confines of the City of Baltimore. 

 

Thoughts from Peter King:

 

The fact that the Ravens admitted they were talking to team sponsors and fans means, most likely, that they’ve decided internally that Kaepernick is worth the risk. Interesting, because I don’t think that how Kaepernick’s time in San Francisco ended under offensive coordinator Greg Roman—now on the Ravens’ staff—was very good. It’s interesting now, and perhaps a sign of worry about the injury to incumbent Joe Flacco, that Baltimore would consider Kaepernick. But why wouldn’t anyone consider Kaepernick now? The next 33 days, essentially, are a free trial period for Kaepernick with any team. Minus whatever guarantee a team would give him, and that’s not going to be much at this stage—a signing team would owe Kaepernick nothing in salary until and unless he was on the roster opening day. At that point, his salary for the season would be guaranteed for 17 weeks. I continue to think it’s wrongheaded to not bring Kaepernick in at least for a trial, because it’s not going to cost much, and the benefits might be plentiful. That is, if you can take the heat from some quarters for signing him.

 

Clan Fahey at PreSnapReads.com makes the heretical case that the 2017 version of Kaepernick is better, at the moment, than past Super Bowl hero Joe Flacco.  It’s more about Flacco not being very good.

 

11 quarterbacks have thrown at least 2,000 passes since the beginning of the 2013 season.

 

Only one quarterback averaged fewer than 7.04 yards per attempt, Joe Flacco at 6.66. Only one had a touchdown percentage lower than 4.4, Joe Flacco at 3.6. Eli Manning threw interceptions more often than Flacco, but only Eli Manning threw interceptions more often than Flacco. Only Philip Rivers had a worse win-loss record.

 

Nobody cares.

 

From the beginning of Flacco’s career until his Baltimore Ravens team won the Super Bowl in 2012, he was an adequate starter. He competently complemented a run-first offense on a team where the defense was the foundation for success. The Delaware prospect was forced to start at the very beginning of his career but rarely ever looked flustered. He quickly established himself as the Ravens’ long-term starter.

 

That Super Bowl at the end of the 2012 season wasn’t just the peak of Flacco’s career. It was a turning point.

 

Flacco’s touchdown-to-interception ratio, his touchdown percentage, his interception percentage, his yards per attempt and his quarterback rating have all fallen significantly since the Super Bowl. If one was so inclined, you might suggest that the league figured Flacco out and that he failed to adjust.

 

We typically don’t say that about the Flaccos of the league though. We typically don’t say anything about the Flaccos of the league.

 

Whether it’s apathy, wilful ignorance or the sheer inability to look past a Super Bowl ring, Flacco has been given a pass for being a bad quarterback over recent years. There are no national radio segments built around his inability to play from the pocket. Nobody is questioning if the Ravens should try to find a way out of his contract. Nobody is asking if the team would have been better off with Tyrod Taylor.

 

(They would)

 

That brings us to this week when Flacco was ruled out for the short term with a back injury. He took to the podium to discuss his injury and what the team will do without him. Flacco spoke truth when he said his job wasn’t under threat and he was comfortable knowing that he would be guaranteed his starting spot regardless of who the team brought in. The Ravens aren’t replacing him. That’s not the way the NFL works.

 

That’s the way it should work.

 

In a true meritocracy where every team prioritized winning, Colin Kaepernick wouldn’t have hit the free agent market. But now that the situation is in front of us, it’s clear that the smart move for the Ravens would be to sign Kaepernick as true competition for Flacco, not just as a camp arm or third-string backup.

 

Kaepernick is a better quarterback than Flacco.

 

Let’s start with raw numbers. Raw numbers can be misleading. They are attributed to the individual player but they are created by the whole offense and they don’t account for the quality of opponent. In spite of that, we’ll start with raw numbers because they are what most people use to craft their opinions.

 

Over the past two seasons, Kaepernick and Flacco have both suffered major, season-ending injuries while playing for multiple coordinators with limited supporting casts. Kaepernick has thrown touchdowns more often, interceptions less often and averaged significantly more yards per attempt than Flacco over the past two years. He has done that while also adding in 643 more rushing yards.

 

The raw numbers are clearly on Kaepernick’s side, which is reflected in his quarterback rating. Flacco has an 83.4 rating whereas Kaepernick’s is 85.5.

 

But like I said, raw numbers aren’t the way to evaluate quarterback play. They just highlight how the relative perceptions of each player is not being established the way it traditionally has been. So let’s look pas the raw numbers and focus exclusively on each quarterback’s performances from this past year.

 

Over the course of his career, Flacco has never been a top-tier passer. Prior to the Super Bowl, he was a worthy, consistent starter. He was never asked to carry an offense—his first 4,000 yard season came last year—but carried enough responsibility to consistently show off his poise and toughness to stand and deliver the ball in the pocket. Flacco kept his offenses moving by prioritizing the deliver of his passes over protecting his body. He exposed his legs so he could establish a strong base, absorbing big hits while standing tall.

 

That version of Flacco was more than good enough for the Ravens to win. That version of Flacco hasn’t existed for a while.

 

Since winning the Super Bowl and signing his long-term deal, Flacco’s footwork has gradually gotten worse. Before his ACL tear in 2016 it had completely fallen apart. Flacco now regularly falls backwards, points both feet in the wrong direction or leaps into the air as he releases the ball. Despite his 64.9 completion percentage in 2016, Flacco’s accuracy suffered massively because of his footwork.

 

It’s easier to complete short passes than it is to complete deep passes. Obvious, right? Yet, we are generally reluctant to acknowledge the different ways quarterbacks in the NFL throw the ball when discussing accuracy and completion percentage. Flacco’s completion percentage was only so high because of how often he threw the ball short.

 

Charting for the Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue revealed that the 32-year old threw 56.87 percent of his passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage last year.

 

Only Sam Bradford threw passes short at a higher rate. Flacco was almost 10 percent above the league average. Because he was throwing the ball to slants, curls and checkdowns behind the line of scrimmage rather than repeatedly trying to hit post routes between two defenders 20 yards downfield, Flacco’s 64.9 completion percentage is not actually impressive.

 

Furthermore, Flacco had the eighth-best failed reception rate last year. He lost a completion on an accurate pass once every 17.23 attempts.

 

Playing with receivers who aren’t dropping the ball and throwing the ball short almost 60 percent of the time means you should have a bloated completion percentage. The league average accuracy on passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage was well above 80 percent. The least-accurate passer to that yard range was Matt Barkley and he was above 70 percent.

 

That means even if you are the worst short passer in the league, you would still have the best completion percentage if you never pushed the ball deeper than that range.

 

When you only consider the placement of the ball and take the result of the play (whether the receiver caught or dropped the ball) out of the equation, Flacco is a subpar passer. His accuracy to five yards was 85.3 percent last year, 22nd best in the league. His accuracy past five yards was 62.26 percent, 19th in the league. By throwing the second-highest percentage of passes within five yards he warped his completion percentage.

 

Breaking Flacco’s accuracy down further only makes things worse. He ranked 23rd on passes to the line of scrimmage, 19th in the 1-5 yard range, eighth in the 6-10 range, 11th in the 11-15 range, 19th in the 16-20 range and 27th out of 33 passers on throws that travelled further than 20 yards downfield.

 

Colin Kaepernick had a sub-60 completion percentage last year. He was a much more accurate passer than Flacco though.

 

Kaepernick had the fifth best accuracy on throws behind the line of scrimmage, fifth best in the 1-5 yard range, 13th in the 6-10 range, 21st in the 11-15 range, 17th in the 16-20 range and 25th on deep passes. Kaepernick was more accurate in four of the six yard ranges and, crucially, ranked in the top five on both short yard ranges. Had Kaepernick thrown as many passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage as Flacco did, he would have had a much better completion percentage.

 

A massive 55.12 percent of Kaepernick’s passes travelled past the five-yard line. That’s 12 percent higher than Flacco’s. 12 percent of Flacco’s attempts would be 80. That’s two games worth!

 

Being top five in accuracy to two areas of the field and having those areas next to each other offers the coaching staff a specific area of the field to attack. Being below average in accuracy to every level of the field and being awful on deep throws means the quarterback is always handicapping his coaching staff and forcing them to work around his glaring flaws.

 

The depth of Kaepernick’s throws wasn’t the only reason he had a lower completion percentage last year. While Flacco lost a reception to receiver error once every 17 attempts, Kaepernick lost one once every 8.49 attempts. Nobody in the league lost completions on accurate passes because of receiver error as often as the San Francisco 49ers quarterback did.

 

Poor footwork is something strong-armed quarterbacks are more prone to. They trust their arms too much because they get away with more throws than weaker-armed quarterbacks. Flacco’ reluctance to set his feet ruins simple throws and makes tougher throws impossible.

 

In the below gif he has an opportunity to hit his receiver’s backshoulder down the seam in the endzone for a touchdown. He fears the defender arriving so much that he is falling backwards, releasing the ball off his back foot, even when the defender is a couple of yards away. He could easily have got the ball out before being hit. He probably would have been hit after the release. Reacting like this is the quintessential example of prioritizing your body over your delivery. It’s understandable, the violence in this game is monumental, but it’s not good quarterbacking.

 

Flacco’s inaccuracy is bad enough to be a fatal flaw on its own. Being a quality starting quarterback in the modern NFL without being efficient is almost impossible. Yet it’s not even his most damaging trait.

 

Interceptions have been a huge problem for Flacco over the past two seasons. He has thrown 27 in his last 26 games. He threw 12 in 10 games before his ACL tear in 2015 and 15 in 16 games last year. Because NFL seasons are so short and sample sizes of plays are so small, it’s possible to carry bad luck through multiple seasons. Take Philip Rivers for example.

 

Rivers is not actually a turnover prone quarterback but he’s thrown a lot of interceptions over the past two years. The Chargers have put Rivers in situations where he’s had to force plays behind an awful offensive line over and over again. He can’t take the safe play or the offense won’t function. Furthermore, he has had abnormal misfortune with defenders not dropping his interceptable passes. Rivers threw 26 interceptable passes and had 15 caught last year. 57.69 percent of his interceptable passes were caught last year, only Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck had worse fortune.

 

The first problem Flacco has is that he throws interceptable passes too often. He threw an interceptable pass once every 21.68 attempts last year. 4.61 percent of his passes were opportunities for defenders to catch the ball. 21 quarterbacks in the league were better at avoiding those plays. Kaepernick was one of them. In fact, Kaepernick threw an interceptable pass once every 47.29 attempts, the second best ratio in the league.

 

Secondly, Flacco can’t blame anyone but himself for his interceptions. He’s not being asked to make difficult throws. His mistakes aren’t coming when he’s chasing a big lead. His receivers aren’t constantly creating turnovers and pressure isn’t the primary problem. No, Flacco’s interceptions are egregiously his own.

 

Maybe only Blake Bortles throws more consistently ugly interceptable passes out of all the returning starting quarterbacks for the 2017 season. Despite his experience, Flacco constantly misreads underneath coverage to throw the ball straight to linebackers or defensive backs who are baiting him.

 

None of these plays came when he was chasing a game and made a good decision based on the situation. None of these plays where him giving his receiver an opportunity to make a play that he didn’t take advantage of. None of these plays were a result of great defensive play design or fast pressure. These are flat-out missed coverage reads. They are mistakes a rookie would be crucified for. Mistakes a 10 year veteran shouldn’t be making.

 

Yet, most of Flacco’s interceptable passes are as ugly.

 

These are plays that suggest the quarterback is incapable of executing his offense or reading NFL coverages. If Kaepernick made these types of plays they’d be on a loop everywhere and we’d use them to say he can’t read defenses and needs a specific system to function. Hell, Kaepernick doesn’t make these plays and we still say he can’t read defenses and needs a specific system to function.

 

We don’t say that about Flacco.

 

Kaepernick is 29 years old, fully healthy and coming off his best season. He has shown development, growing from a quarterback with a narrow skill set who was reliant on his scheme into someone with a wider skill set who has now shown functional ability in multiple schemes. The criticisms of Kaepernick are outdated. He used to run out of clean pockets, stare down his first read and panic if he had to hold the ball in the pocket. That’s no longer who he is.

 

In 2016, Kaepernick showed off an ability to make subtle movements in the pocket while keeping his eyes up to diagnose coverages downfield. He showed off poise and precision with his movement in the pocket, he got off his first reads in a timely manner and kept his eyes up at all times. He developed an ability to throw from the left flat, something he never had as a rookie, and made better decisions both in terms of attacking coverages and picking his spots for when to scramble.

 

The cruel irony is Kaepernick was called a superstar when he wasn’t close to a superstar because of his team’s success. Now the same inability to see the context of his performances is allowing people to argue that he’s a bad quarterback. Allowing people to pit him against second-string and third-string players when he’s a superior player to many starting quarterbacks in this league.

 

One of these players has performed competently in a run-first, deep shot offense where he lined up under center in heavy packages all the time to execute different handoffs. One of these players has performed competently in a shotgun-heavy offense that spread the field and required that he get rid of the ball quickly. One of these players offers an explosive, wide skill set that he plays to consistently. One of these players was still showing signs of growth when he was last on the field.

 

The other is trapped in the midst of a Matt Schaub impression and will start for the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Did the Browns hit second round gold with QB DeSHONE KIZER?  WR KENNY BRITT and rival QB BROCK OSWEILER say they did.  Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Browns wide receiver Kenny Britt has already played with 10 starting quarterbacks in his nine-year career, so when he predicts big things for rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, it carries a lot of weight.

 

“He’s growing each day, each day,” Britt said Sunday before day four of Browns training camp. “From OTAs, I could tell he was a different person. I actually asked him yesterday has the offense slowed down for him. He said, ‘Yes,’ and I could tell that he’s looking at certain things. He’s seeing the defense before the snap count, and once he lines up, he knows there’s certain things he has to do, and he’s going to be one of the great ones.”

 

One of the great ones? Already? He can see that after only a few training camp practices?

 

“Yeah, if he keeps going, focuses on the track that he’s on, to tell you the truth, he could be one of the great ones,” Britt said. “He’s learning fast and he’s got a strong arm.”

 

Kenny Britt uses experience to help young Browns receivers

Britt, who played six games with 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff last season in Los Angeles, didn’t compare him directly to the Cal product.

 

“They’re both taking it one step at a time, to tell you the truth,” said Britt. “They’re both young players, and they’re both growing at the same rate.”

 

Britt isn’t the only veteran player who’s noticed the lights coming on for Kizer, the No. 52 overall pick. Quarterback Brock Osweiler praised him this week as well.

 

“I think DeShone is a tremendous quarterback,” said Osweiler. “I really do. Where I first saw him in the spring to where he is today, he just keeps getting better and better. I could tell he had a tremendous summer training and throwing, things like that. He’s in great shape physically. He’s really on the screws when it comes to his playbook. The kid has a big arm. There’s not a throw he can’t make, so I think he has a ton of talent. I’m very excited to see what he does.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

File away the name WR CHESTER ROGERS for your Fantasy Draft.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Another Ryan Grigson first-round draft pick is underachieving in Indy.

 

With receiver Philip Dorsett struggling to become the guy he was drafted to be, an undrafted receiver unearthed by Grigson and company in 2016 could be on the verge of leapfrogging Dorsett.

 

In a series of practice notes distributed by the team on Sunday, it was noted that Chester Rogers was the “early, early favorite” to win the No. 3 receiver job. Zak Keeffer of the Indianapolis Star notes that, on Monday, Rogers is the No. 3 wideout for the second straight day.

 

Rogers, who played college football at Grambling, caught 19 passes for 273 yards as a rookie. Dorsett caught 33 passes for 528 yards a year ago.

 

Leading the way at the position are T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. Throwing the passes, for now, is Scott Tolzein, who will be the No. 1 guy until Andrew Luck returns.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

A shaky start for QB BLAKE BORTLES.  Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:

 

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles turned in one of the worst practices of his career Saturday night by throwing five interceptions, including two to a player who last played in an NFL game in 2015.

 

Bortles threw two interceptions in 7-on-7 drills and three in 11-on-11, one of which linebacker Telvin Smith returned for a touchdown. Cornerback Tyler Patmon, who last played in 2015 for the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, intercepted Bortles twice in 11-on-11 play. Linebacker Josh McNary (7-on-7) and safety Tashaun Gipson (11-on-11) also had interceptions.

 

Coach Doug Marrone was clearly disappointed after the two-and-a-half-hour practice, the team’s first in pads.

 

“I think any time someone doesn’t perform to what you want to do, you’re concerned about it,” Marrone said. “He’s not the only one that’s out there. There’s some good things.

 

“We’re going to look at it. We’re going to look at those plays. If there’s any struggle or things we don’t like, then obviously we’re going to be smart enough to throw that crap out.”

 

Marrone said he didn’t try to encourage Bortles on the field or after the practice because, “If I’ve got to do that now, then we’re going to be in trouble.”

 

Smith’s interception return for a touchdown drew cheers from the 4,015 season-ticket holders who attended the night workout on the practice fields adjacent to EverBank Field. The fans barely reacted to Bortles’ other interceptions, but that might be partly because they are used to seeing those kinds of mistakes.

 

And T BRANDEN ALBERT has retired at 32 in a contract dispute.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Cam Robinson, you’re up.

 

The former Alabama tackle likely will be groomed to become the new left tackle in Jacksonville, given the abrupt retirement of 32-year-old veteran Branden Albert.

 

“After nine seasons playing in the National Football League, I have decided to retire from the game that has given me so much,” Albert said in a team-issued release. “God has blessed me with so much through football that I thought would never be attainable. It’s been truly a blessing. I cherish all of the relationships and people I have encountered while playing in the NFL. . . .

 

“This is such a special league and it’s been an honor and a privilege to play this sport professionally for the past nine years. I wish Coach Marrone and my Jacksonville teammates the best of luck on their journey this season. During my short stint in Jacksonville, I quickly realized that they are working incredibly hard to turn the corner and I truly believe that they will find success in the coming years. I look forward to returning to Miami, the place that I now call home, and running my businesses, while giving back to the community.”

 

The Dolphins traded Albert to Jacksonville in lieu of cutting him, and Albert promptly boycotted the offseason program in search of a new deal. He was due to make $8.875 million in 2017.

 

Retirement allows the Jaguars to seek up to $3.4 million in bonus money paid by the Dolphins to Albert, since the Jaguars inherited his contract via the trade. It may seem unfair, but that’s precisely what the Buccaneers did after trading for quarterback Jake Plummer, who retired in lieu of reporting.

 

It’s entirely possible that the Jaguars had told Albert that they wouldn’t be paying him $8.875 million this year based on what they’d seem from him, that he refused to take less, and that he retired in lieu of being cut, with the team agreeing not to recover the bonus money if he walks away voluntarily.

 

Regardless, Albert has now retired, which will prompt many in the media to assume he did so for health reasons, ignoring the reality that if he’d gotten the kind of raise he was looking for earlier this year, he’d likely still be playing.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Tom Blair at NFL.com catches up with G RICHIE INCOGNITO who at one time was too boisterous/insensitive for 21st century football.

 

My favorite thing about Buffalo is the people. It is a really unique place to play professional football, because it has such a college atmosphere. The fans are so passionate about it. They’re so in tune with everything that we do. We have such a strong following. They haven’t made the playoffs in [18] years, and those people are still as passionate as ever, and the whole city, you know, the city has this underdog mentality. People always want to talk bad about Buffalo, and the weather, and the people, and there’s nothing to do. And people have this edge to them, and it’s what I identify with most, because I have a big chip on my shoulder. I have a lot to prove.

 

Every time I step out my door, I have crazy interactions with [Bills fans]. You know, they’re nuts. … But they’re passionate about it. I love it. Everywhere we go, they’re always showing love.

 

I was out here [in Los Angeles] at a friend’s house, and we were on the patio, sitting there, chilling, and a guy pulls up in the back of a Toyota Tacoma, in Hermosa Beach, cracks two beers over his head, starts chugging them, and they all start singing the Bills Mafia song. So it’s like, you know what, no matter where we are, we’re with the Bills fans.

 

Yeah, I’m playing the best football of my life right now. I’ve had a lot of things come together off the field that have really just given me peace of mind. And you know, really just kind of helped take me to the next level as a player. Spending the year out, and watching my friends and teammates continue playing while I had the year off, it really just lit a fire under my belly that burns bright, and it burns hot, and just made me realize what a special opportunity it is and what a privilege it is to play in the NFL. So I just take that every day, I take that mindset, that approach, that hunger every day, and I attack every day, and it’s brought my game to a whole new level.

 

The thing I hang onto is, I’m just so blessed and so thankful to have another opportunity, and I just want to make right on it, no matter what I’m doing. I’m an incredibly hard worker, and that’s where it usually comes out, you know, in the weight room and on the practice field, taking care of my body, stuff like that.

 

I found my purpose; my purpose was to be the best football player I could be. Not the party animal, not the socialite, not the guy out to all hours of the evening. Once I figured out my purpose in football, all the other stuff kind of fell off, and, you know, my purpose and my focus and my vision on football just got even greater.

 

I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about what I wanted out of life, what I wanted out of football. It was another situation in my life where it kind of just forced me to take the next step and grow up and accept my actions and accept my things that I did wrong, and learn from them, and use my friends and my network and my people around me to help make me better, as opposed to, you know, shutting them out and being bull-headed and young and going about my business. I really kind of let people come in and critique me and tell me some hard truths, and it just helped me take the next step, first as a person, and then getting through that and learning what I wanted from life, and kind of transitioning to that, then it made me a better player. And it all really kind of all worked together.

 

Yeah, [my approach in the locker room] had to change. It had to change. I was always the loudest, most boisterous one, causing trouble, doing pranks. I was always that alpha, you know, the alpha of the alphas, you know, the ringleader, the roughest one, the toughest one, the loudest one. And I had to change. I became a better teammate because of it, because I learned how to operate in that ecosystem, not just try and dominate every situation and be this guy that really I wasn’t, I kind of made myself into.

 

So it was really cool when I got to Buffalo and I had guys like Eric Wood and Tyrod [Taylor] and Kyle Williams, guys who I knew before stepping into that locker room. They kind of insulated me and gave me a chance to try and figure out how to navigate it, all the while being myself, but still trying to figure out, like, hey, there’s a lot of stuff out there about me, but these guys necessarily don’t know me. I want them to get to know me first. And then I can bust some chops and have some fun. Buffalo was the perfect landing place for me.

 

I’ll always be attached with [the bullying scandal]. And I’ll always be attached with all the knucklehead stuff I did in St. Louis and at the University of Nebraska. I think it’s, you know, I have many chapters to this book that we call Richie Incognito and my life. Each chapter, I’ve learned, I’ve gotten better, and now I’m trying to make a positive out of it. Now I’m trying to do something good with my life. I’m trying to be a good player, I’m trying to be a good role model, I’m trying to use what I’ve been given me to make some good out of it, make positive change out of it.

 

There’s this crazy perception about me. But, you know, I always tell people this: If you spend five or 10 minutes with me, and we just chat, we talk, I really think that I change a lot of people’s minds in five to 10 minutes.

 

I really do, people do underestimate how good a quarterback Tyrod can be. … But Tyrod’s a tremendous athlete. He’s an even more tremendous person. He’s got a big heart; he’s a great leader; he works very hard. And I’m excited for him this year. I’m excited for him to take that next step. I’m excited for him to prove the doubters wrong.

 

So my year off, I spent the whole year training at Exos in Phoenix, all of 2014. And once the season ended in 2014, Tyrod, after his season in Baltimore, had come out to work out in Arizona. And it was actually me, Tyrod, [Colin] Kaepernick and several other guys. And, you know, they had gotten there, and they didn’t know what the heck was going on. So I just stayed quiet. I stayed quiet, I worked hard, I’d been training there like every day for 10 months. And after awhile, you know, my personality’s going to come out eventually. And, like, after a week or two, my personality was coming out, and I could see those guys, they warmed up to me. At first, they were very skeptical, and then we warmed up to each other, because we were just working hard, being ourselves.

 

It was really cool that [Tyrod and I] both started our Bills journey together. And he was fighting for the starting quarterback job; I was fighting for a starting guard job; I was trying to reestablish myself. And I was pulling for him to be the starter the entire time. I was in the GM’s ear about it. … We had a three-way competition, and I just saw how Tyrod moved, the command he had of the huddle, and I was like, “Listen, you need to play him.”

 

Rex [Ryan] is Rex. Rex does his thing. Players love him; I love Rex. I really do. I owe him a lot for bringing me back in the league. And [new Bills coach] Sean [McDermott is] a completely different animal. But I really like what Coach McDermott brings to the table. He’s a fiery competitor. He is fierce. He has that wrestler’s mentality. He always wants to be competing. He’s always chomping at the bit. He wants energy really high. … He’s very detail-oriented. He’s a stickler for the details, which I like, I like out of a head man. … Usually, the detail-oriented guys don’t have that personality and can’t show it. But he’s got a little bit of a personality, and he’s trying to bring a winning culture to Buffalo. He’s doing some things where I really think he’s changing the culture.

 

Oh, man. I’d say a lot [to myself as a rookie]. It’d take a couple days. And I don’t think any of it would sink in. But I would say, you know, just focus on yourself. Focus on being the best version of yourself every single day. Let people in. Take advice from people. Let people help you. ‘Cause there are a lot of people that want to help you, but you’re being bull-headed right now. You’re ignoring them. So, just, let people in, let people help.

 

And football is your focus. It’s not party; it’s not travel; it’s not all this other stuff that you think it is. It’s football.

 

I see myself in the media [after my playing career ends]. I love football. I’m a really good communicator. I like being in front of the camera; I don’t get camera-shy. So I’m gonna give this a whirl. I could see myself being on TV, talking, doing a podcast. Just kind of being around the game. I love the game and I love being around the guys.

 

I have not [spoken with Jonathan Martin], no, not since it went down.

 

You know what, it’s, the whole gamut of emotions went through my head. You know, What would I do, what would I do, what would I do [if I found myself in the same room as Martin]. And it’s funny, because I’ve just been talking to some people the last couple weeks, couple months, and I think I’m just getting to the point where I can accept it. And I think I would be good sitting in a room. ‘Cause I, you know, for months and years after that, probably nothing good would’ve come of us being in the same room. But it’s water under the bridge.

 

I’m sorry that things went down the way they did. I definitely could’ve conducted myself a lot better. But I’m ready to bury the hatchet. I’m ready to move on. Jon was a good friend of mine when this all went down, and before it went down. All the crazy stuff happened. And it’s always tough. ‘Cause people say, when you walk around with a grudge, that’s on you. You hold that. And once you can let it go, then you really start learning. And I can really say, just the last couple weeks and couple months, I’ve really been able to kind of accept it and let go of it.

 

 

MIAMI

A possible concussion for RB JAY AJAYI on the first day of hitting as he leaves Monday’s practice early.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

LB ROB NINKOVICH calls it quits after 11 seasons.  Jim McBride in the Boston Globe:

 

When Chris Long signed with the Patriots back in 2016, the veteran defensive end had a plan: Be like Nink.

 

“Rob knows how to do things the right way around here,’’ Long said last May. “And if you see a guy like that and you’re halfway smart, you follow him around, you try to see what he does. So, if Rob goes to lunch, I go to lunch — that type of thing. Rob’s a good buddy already.’’

 

Collecting buddies was as easy as collecting big plays for Rob Ninkovich, who retired Sunday after an 11-year NFL career, the last eight with the Patriots. As a testament to Ninkovich’s popularity, more than 30 of his teammates and coaches packed his news conference to see him off.

 

Peter King:

 

I think Jimmy Garoppolo could not be handling his situation with the Patriots any better than he is. Our Albert Breer spent time with him the other day in Foxboro, and if you know Albert, you know he tried 67 different ways to get Garoppolo to say, I’m not really pleased to still be a backup in my fourth year, even though I’ve proven I should be starting right now. No dice with Garoppolo. “I wouldn’t say frustrated is the word,” Garoppolo told Breer for a story we’ll have on The MMQB this week. “I’m happy. I think everything that happens, happens for a reason. I’m happy being here. I’ve gotten two Super Bowl rings. So I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated. Eager to play is probably a better way to put it.”

 

I think my opinion hasn’t wavered regarding Garoppolo. If you were him, would you rather have been shipped, say, to Cleveland this year and start for a franchise where the future is at best uncertain? Or would you rather stay in New England for at least one more year, and either get tagged at huge money next year, be a free agent and get to choose your landing spot, or somehow land with a coach you’ve grown to like a lot—New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels—should he get a head-coaching job in 2018. It’s not that complicated to me as to why Garoppolo knows that, for him, patience is the right play right now.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com with a report from the former player crime blotter:

 

Former Cardinals safety Chris Clemons has been sentenced to jail for assaulting a woman outside an Arizona nightclub.

 

According to TMZ, Clemons was found guilty of  misdemeanor assault intentionally causing physical injury.

 

He could have been jailed up to six months, but was given a 10 days, with five of those suspended. He also had to pay $30,000 in restitution, and has to enroll in an anger management program.

 

Clemons was cut by the Cardinals last September (after the May 2016 incident), and hasn’t resurfaced in the league.

 

At 31 years old and with a jail sentence to serve, it’s unlikely he’ll get another chance to play. He was originally a fifth-round pick of the Dolphins and spent five years there, and has also played for the Texans.

 

 

20 IMPACT MOVES

At ESPN.com, Dan Graziano offers his take on the 20 impact offseason moves that will soon bear fruit.

 

The play-by-play you get of camp practices can be fun, and it can soothe your football-starved soul. But it doesn’t ultimately make much of a difference as to what happens once the real games start. Far more likely to matter is what has come before — the moves made this offseason long before camps opened.

 

With that in mind, and with camps open across the league, here’s a look at the offseason moves likely to have a major impact on the 2017 NFL season, in no particular order:

 

The Oakland Raiders hit fast forward

The biggest Raiders news of the offseason was the approval they got to move to Las Vegas after two or three more years in Oakland. But that news seems to only have intensified the team’s desire to win very, very soon — as in, before it leaves the Bay Area. Luring running back Marshawn Lynch out of retirement, adding Jared Cook to an already potent pass-catching corps, signing quarterback Derek Carr for the long term, extending coach Jack Del Rio … all of these moves signify a franchise flush with confidence and the highest of hopes for the very immediate future. Regardless of location.

 

The New York Giants sign Brandon Marshall

The Giants got a major break here, getting the veteran wideout on the cheap in part because he didn’t want to leave the New York market after getting cut by the Jets. Marshall averages 104 catches for 1,341 yards and nine touchdowns in his first year after changing teams, and this is the fourth time he has changed teams. He’s 33, and at some point he and those trends will slow down. But in the meantime, Marshall should be a great help to superstar wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and to quarterback Eli Manning, who too often last season didn’t have enough reliable targets.

 

Bill Belichick gets trade-happy

We’ve long known the New England Patriots coach loves to trade draft picks, but usually he’s dealing them for other draft picks. This offseason, the Patriots dealt for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, pass-rusher Kony Ealy and tight end Dwayne Allen. They also gave up a pick to sign restricted free-agent running back Mike Gillislee away from Buffalo — the team from whom they signed top free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore. It was a bold and creative offseason by a coach who has won five Super Bowls and seems determined to win as many as possible before his and Tom Brady’s window closes.

 

New friends for Jameis Winston

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers added premier deep-threat wideout DeSean Jackson in free agency, a move that should open up the field in unprecedented ways for quarterback Winston and star wideout Mike Evans. They also drafted Alabama tight end O.J. Howard in the first round, a move that should open up things for Cameron Brate as a pass-catcher and help the running game as Howard develops at the NFL level. The Bucs were one of 2016’s surprise stories, and they look to keep it going around their young quarterback.

 

Richard Sherman stays put

Whether he asked for a trade, whether the Seattle Seahawks just got tired of the antics … none of that is really relevant, because coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider made it publicly clear they were listening to offers for their heart-and-soul cornerback. They ended up keeping him, which is the right move. Contract and cap issues will make it tough for Seattle to keep its secondary together after this season, but right now the NFC is still the Seahawks’ for the taking if the offense can hold up its end. Keeping the defense together for at least one more run was the way to go.

 

The Los Angeles Rams hire young and old

The new coach is energetic, talented offensive mind Sean McVay, age 31. The new defensive coordinator is the venerable Wade Phillips, age 70, last seen turning the Denver Broncos’ defense into a championship-caliber monster. The combination should mean new energy and excitement for a Rams team that has hit some doldrums. Whether it means success depends on how much McVay has with young quarterback Jared Goff.

 

Open season on general managers

The teams that changed GMs at odd times of the year included the Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers. The latter two were stunning summer surprises. The changes in Buffalo and Kansas City signify increased power for the head coaches. The one in Carolina could signal a return to some bad, old-style spending habits. The one in Indy is, the Colts hope, the best chance to put a contender around Andrew Luck as he develops. Long term, though, the impact is this: If you’re an NFL GM, there’s no time of year when you can believe your job is safe.

 

The New York Jets draft safety Jamal Adams

Look, it feels as if everything we say and write about the Jets is doom and gloom, and for the most part there’s good reason for that. I don’t expect them to be a good team in 2017. But Adams, the No. 6 overall pick, could be the most NFL-ready player in this year’s rookie class, and the expectation is that he’ll emerge as a leader right away and solidify things on that defense as the team adds pieces in the years to come. A great long-view pick for a team that has to be thinking that way.

 

The Cleveland Browns build the line

This is another team that appears to be years away from contending. But adding Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter in free agency and re-signing Joel Bitonio long term signifies a team that knows what a rebuild is all about. Getting better up front will only help whomever the quarterback turns out to be, and it will help the Browns be a better running team and a tougher team to play in 2017.

 

Sam Bradford gets some help … maybe

Are Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers the answers at tackle for a Minnesota Vikings team whose 2016 season fell apart because of poor play at those positions? Their free-agent price tags say they are. Their histories say “maybe, maybe not.” Bradford is in the final year of his contract, and the health of former Minnesota first-rounder Teddy Bridgewater is keeping the organization from committing to Bradford just yet. Reiff and Remmers will have a lot to say about how successful Bradford will be in 2017 and how likely he is to stay beyond.

 

The Houston Texans overhaul quarterback — again

A year after dumping Brian Hoyer and overpaying for Brock Osweiler, Houston managed to offload Osweiler’s contract to cap-rich Cleveland and then moved up in the draft to take Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Whether Watson starts right away remains to be seen (the bet here is that he does). But where the Texans were once convinced Osweiler was the long-term answer, they’re now all-in on the electric youngster who took out Alabama in the national championship game.

 

The Green Bay Packers sign a free-agent tight end — again

Last year it was Jared Cook, who played well enough to get a new deal from the Raiders. This year it’s Martellus Bennett, fresh off a Super Bowl title with the Patriots. A better all-around player than even the dynamic Cook, Bennett will be a fun middle-of-the-field weapon for Aaron Rodgers and an underrated helper to Ty Montgomery and the running game as a blocker.

 

The San Francisco 49ers change coaches — again

Kyle Shanahan will be the fourth 49ers head coach in four years, but he and new GM John Lynch got six-year deals, which means it’s very unlikely the Niners will change coaches again next year. Shanahan and Lynch are both first-timers in their jobs, so some growing pains should be expected. And they still have to figure out the long-term answer at quarterback. But the long-term commitment indicates a franchise that knows it needs some stability at the top, at long last.

 

The Carolina Panthers add help for Cam Newton

Battered from the outset, the 2015 NFL MVP endured a nightmare of a 2016 season and is coming off offseason shoulder surgery. The Panthers signed former first-round pick Matt Kalil to play left tackle (two spots over from his brother, Ryan Kalil) and drafted Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel to give Newton some short-range, quick-pass targets. This is all designed to help protect Newton better and prolong his career. How he adjusts to the new style will be one of the big stories of 2017.

 

Martavis Bryant is reinstated

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver was suspended for four games in 2015 and every game in 2016 for violating the league’s drug policy, but assuming no slip-ups between now and September — he’s still not allowed to practice or play in games — he’ll be back on the field and should add a viable deep threat to Pittsburgh’s already-star-studded passing attack. If they can get running back Le’Veon Bell in camp and keep him, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown all healthy at the same time, this could be the best offense in the league.

 

Kirk Cousins tells Washington ‘No, thanks’

Washington never came close to offering Cousins the kind of contract it would have taken to keep him from wanting to test next March’s free-agent market, so he’ll play out 2017 on a $24 million franchise tag and likely leave when it’s over. The impact on Washington’s 2017 season remains to be seen, and it’s possible Cousins’ performance suffers from the loss of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. But the major impact of this move could be a franchise quarterback on the open market in March — and those ripples would be felt leaguewide for years to come.

 

The Atlanta Falcons beef up their defensive front

Yes, of course the offensive playcalling in the Super Bowl deserves to be questioned. But another reason the Falcons blew a 25-point lead to the Patriots is that their defense had nothing left by the fourth quarter. Signing defensive tackle Dontari Poe and drafting Takkarist McKinley in Round 1 deepens the D-line and should help the defense stay stronger later in games.

 

The Chargers say goodbye to San Diego

Now the Los Angeles Chargers, Philip Rivers’ team will play in a 30,000-seat soccer stadium while their joint venture with the Rams is built. The stadium situation in San Diego wasn’t a great one, but how bad could it really have been to chase them out of town before they had a representative, NFL-caliber place to play home games?

 

Andrew Luck has shoulder surgery

The Indianapolis Colts’ franchise quarterback enters camp a question mark following January surgery on his throwing shoulder. There’s optimism in Indy because of the moves new GM Chris Ballard has made to strengthen the team’s future, but none of that matters if Luck can’t get on the field — or if his health is in question once he does.

 

The Philadelphia Eagles sign Alshon Jeffery

One thing missing from QB Carson Wentz’s promising rookie year was a true No. 1 wide receiver. Jeffrey — when he has been able to stay healthy — has shown the ability to be one of those. The Bears had enough, and he ended up in Philly on a one-year, prove-it deal. If he can stay on the field and produce the way he did in Chicago, Jeffery will help the Eagles evaluate Wentz and how much further he still needs to go.