The Daily Briefing Monday, June 25, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
When we left you, there were rumblings that Buccaneers QB JAMEIS WINSTON was going to get a hefty 2018 suspension from the NFL for an incident in a 2016 Arizona Uber ride that only surfaced in 2017. An incident that did not result in any police activity and for which there was no video evidence. It seemed hard to believe at the time, but while we were gone the NFL leaked that it was going to happen, in all likelihood for three games.
And as it has developed the fact/extreme liklihood that Jameis and his people put out a false timeline of the incident and the fact that Winston was alone and intoxicated when he entered the Uber has put his supporters on the defensive. Even though the person providing the evidence is himself now incarcerated for rape. John Brinson of CBSSports.com:
After Jameis Winston was originally accused of groping an Uber driver back in November, Winston’s initial defense was that the driver’s story didn’t make any sense.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, the driver, “Kate,” alleged that Winston grabbed her crotch while the two were waiting in the drive-thru of a Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 13, 2016. According to Kate’s story, Winston was the only passenger in the car at the time of the alleged incident. As Kate tells it, a small group of Winston’s friends placed the quarterback in the passenger seat of her car around 2 a.m.
As soon as the allegations came out, Kate’s story was contradicted by both Winston and Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby, who both said that there were three passengers in the car on the night of the alleged incident.
Although we’ve heard from both Darby and Winston, one person who had yet to tell his story was the mysterious third passenger, but that changed on Friday, when the passenger’s lawyer, Mark Scruggs, spoke with ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
The third passenger, former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks, offered some damning details to the case. According to Banks, at least part of the driver’s story is accurate, because Winston was definitely alone in the car with her in the early morning hours of March 13. Through his attorney, Banks said that Winston had become “unruly” after getting drunk at a club in Scottsdale. At that point, several friends decided to call an Uber for Winston, and he left the premises by himself in the car.
“What happened after that, they cannot say,” Scruggs said.
According to Kate, what happened after that is that Winston “reached over” and “grabbed” her crotch while the two were waiting for food at a drive-thru. Kate also added that Winston kept his hand in place for three to five seconds and didn’t remove it until she asked him, “What’s up with that?”
Although Banks was never interviewed by the NFL as part of its investigation, the league apparently came to a similar conclusion. According to NFL.com, the league investigation found that the Uber ride consisted of multiple legs and that Darby and Banks weren’t in the car for all of them.
Banks actually had an explanation for that. According to him, the three men — Winston, Darby and Banks — had all taken an Uber earlier in the night with a different female driver.
“Brandon was never in the car with this victim [Kate],” Scruggs told Outside the Lines. “They were two different events, two different Uber drivers.”
Basically, the group went out partying in Scottsdale and the three men were together for Uber ride one. However, according to Banks, Winston was the only person in the car for Uber ride two, which took place much later in the night when Winston was “unruly” and intoxicated.
There’s still a lot of questions to answer and there’s a good chance the NFL will answer those when they release the findings of the league investigation, which has gone on for more than seven months. The new details from Banks may help shed some light on why Winston was hit with a multi-game suspension.
The fact that Banks didn’t speak to the NFL may have been because the NFL didn’t know he was the third passenger. The former Vanderbilt football player is currently serving 15 years in prison. In June 2017, Banks was convicted of aggravated rape and sexual battery for a crime that took place back in June 2013.
New of the suspension led to a scathing column from Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times:
Just get rid of him.
Jameis Winston should never play another game for the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Plain and simple, he’s a bad guy and the Bucs should have nothing more to do with him.
He already will miss the first three games of the regular season because of a suspension coming from the NFL after its investigation of an accusation that he grabbed the crotch of a female Uber driver in Arizona in March 2016.
What he’s accused of doing is disgusting and reprehensible.
It’s more than partying that got a little out of hand. We need to call it what it is: sexual assault. And this isn’t the first time those awful two words have been associated with Winston.
Enough of this guy. Get him out of here. Let him be someone else’s problem.
Maybe Winston needs to get counseling or some other kind of help. He should — for his sake and for all those who might come in contact with him from now on. Maybe there’s still time for him to turn his life around.
But it should not be here in Tampa Bay. There’s no way Winston should ever wear a Bucs uniform again.
This isn’t a one-time mistake from a guy with an otherwise exemplary reputation. This is just the latest in a series of bad decisions that have shown his complete inability to act within the norms of acceptable behavior.
The junk he does is simply not okay.
Also unacceptable, though not nearly as bad, are all the excuses that some members of the Bucs organization, some fans and other enablers make every time Winston messes up. Maybe it’s why Winston feels so entitled to act however he darn well pleases. Maybe that’s why this stuff keeps happening over and over and over again.
Allegations of rape at Florida State? Let’s blame and shame the woman.
Stealing crab legs at Publix? All football players get free stuff.
Shooting a BB gun in an apartment complex and causing thousands of dollars of damage? Big deal, that’s just boys being boys.
Standing on a table in the middle of a college campus and saying vulgar stuff? Hey, he’s just a kid.
Telling little girls to be silent? Oh, the click-bait media is making up fake news, and besides, that’s not what he meant though that’s exactly what he said.
And now this. Certainly those who have always defended Winston will do so again, probably by blaming the accuser.
Stop making excuses for this guy. He is a grown man. He is 24 years old. He is about to be a father. Someone needs to hold him accountable. The Bucs can start that by telling Winston to pack his gear and get out.
The Bucs should send a message to the community that they do not accept, condone or tolerate this kind of conduct — not from anybody but especially not from the starting quarterback and the face of the franchise. They should say that who they are and what they stand for as an organization mean more than winning football games at any cost, including at the cost of the franchise’s integrity.
But I’m guessing that won’t happen. Winston will be back by the fourth or fifth game. He will flash that smile (again) and say all the right things (again) and all will be forgotten (again) and forgiven (again). He’ll get a standing ovation when he returns, I bet.
That forgiveness surely will start with the Bucs. After all, this franchise ignored all the warning signs before drafting Winston first overall in 2015. Last year on the HBO documentary series Hard Knocks, general manager Jason Licht was taped saying, “He’s the best leader I think I’ve ever been around. In anything. He inspires me.”
That should tell you all you need to know about how the Bucs and Licht feel about Winston.
Well, the Bucs are now getting exactly what they deserve. All this hassle. All this embarrassment. All this criticism. They should not be surprised by any of this.
Winston did bad things before he got here, and he has continued to do bad things after his arrival.
So anything that happens from now on is on the Glazers. It’s their team. And it’s especially on Licht. He’s the guy most responsible for Winston being in Tampa.
They, too, will say how they take all this seriously and how Winston needs to shape up or else. They will say they really mean it this time. Then Winston’s suspension will end, and all their faux concern and threats will vanish because that’s how the Bucs always have operated when it comes to Winston.
But that’s no way to solve this perpetual problem.
The best way? The only way?
Get rid of him.
The DB, doing some sleuthing on the scene in Tampa, feels that this column from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com touches upon what is going on.
So why would Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston accept a three-game punishment and not exercise his appeal rights? There’s one simple and obvious explanation for it.
The NFL and Winston may have struck a deal.
It’s was for both sides to justify the move. The NFL, in lieu of suspending him the baseline of six games (plus a possible enhancement for his pre-NFL alleged misbehavior), offers half instead. Winston doesn’t launch an appeal that, while ultimately futile, possibly would expose yet another Park Avenue Keystone Cops investigation and/or kangaroo court process.
Here’s a fact that further points to a bargain possibly being brokered: Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that “Winston’s suspension could be increased if he fails to meet certain undisclosed requirements expected to be imposed by the NFL.” That feels like the kind of term that would be added to a negotiated compromise aimed at wrapping things up easily, while also making it even easier to whack him with another penalty if he runs afoul of the NFL’s expectations.
While the league has steadfastly refused to strike deals after suspensions are imposed, perhaps the league has learned that much embarrassment has resulted from cases like Tom Brady‘s and Ezekiel Elliott‘s. So instead of welcoming another avoidable P.R. crisis, the league sends its message and Winston catches a break.
Expect the NFL’s official statement upon suspending Winston to be light on the facts dug up in the investigation, although some of them have been leaking out (such as the flawed alibi, such as Winston’s inebriation). A lack of specific findings could help Winston should civil proceedings arise. It is no coincidence that Uber driver Kate is represented by attorney John Clune who guided Erika Kinsman to hefty settlements from Florida State and presumably Winston for her interactions with the quarterback back in 2012.
Florio explains that the Bucs have $20 million reasons to think about the demands of columnist Jones:
It remains to be seen whether the looming suspension of Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston compels the team to release him. While that’s still an unlikely outcome (the NFL’s specific findings against Winston will become a major factor, along with the possibility of further unexpected developments), it’s safe to say that the suspension will become relevant to whether the Bucs make Winston the first quarterback ever drafted by the team to get a second contract.
Which means that the Bucs could decide to move on from Winston after the 2018 season, especially if the Bucs move on from G.M. Jason Licht and/or coach Dirk Koetter. Indeed, a new regime would be untethered to Winston, and it would be much easier for someone with no ties to him to make a detached, unbiased decision about Winston’s future than Licht and Koetter.
But here’s the risk for the Bucs, if they choose to kick the can until after the 2018 season and to decide on whether to keep Winston before his $20.9 million base salary for 2019 becomes fully guaranteed in March. Because the money is guaranteed for injury in 2018, and because the guarantees applicable to the fifth-year option don’t evaporate due to a suspension, the Bucs will be on the hook for the full $20.9 million if Winston suffers an injury during the 2018 season that keeps him from passing a physical before the amount becomes fully guaranteed in March.
The Jaguars welcomed that risk in 2017 with Blake Bortles. Washington refused to do so in 2015 with Robert Griffin III, putting him on ice for the entire season. While the risk of owing Winston $20.9 million next year likely won’t be a deciding factor on the question of whether to cut him, it could become relevant to the analysis if the specific findings the NFL makes against Winston create enough of an outcry to make it a close question.
In other words, if the NFL paints an ugly picture about Winston’s interactions with the Uber driver and/or if other unsavory witnesses have unflattering things to say about Winston, the ability to sidestep a $20.9 million gamble could be enough to get the Bucs to make a decision driven by principle, not by winning.
WR JAMISON CROWDER is healthy and looking to make some money. John Keim of ESPN.com:
It wasn’t just the quickness that stood out to Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. Nor was it just the way Jamison Crowder caught the ball. Or the routes he ran.
Rather, it was everything. And in one spring, Smith already seemed to develop a trust in his slot receiver. The Redskins have other targets who pleased Smith — and he still hasn’t worked with tight end Jordan Reed. That won’t happen until some point in training camp as Reed recovers from toe surgeries.
But Crowder is the most proven of the wide receivers, with three consecutive 60-plus catch seasons as he enters his fourth year. There’s a reason Smith smiles when asked about Crowder, a guy he clearly clicked with this spring.
“Super talented,” Smith said. “Such great feel. Such great instincts. Such great vision.”
It’s a mutual admiration, too.
“He knows the game, he knows how to see defenses, see different coverages,” Crowder said. “By him having that experience, he knows how to put the ball in the right place. … You can already see that we can do a lot of great things as a unit.”
Their skills should mesh quite well once the season begins. Crowder has been productive in his first three seasons, with 192 combined receptions and 12 touchdowns.
His best season in the slot was his second year in 2016 when he averaged 13.43 yards per catch — and had seven touchdowns — when aligned in this area, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only four players with at least 30 receptions from the slot had a better yards per catch that season.
That season, it was quarterback Kirk Cousins’ second year starting, and the Redskins also had proven veterans such as Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson outside. That combination freed Crowder. Also, it allowed for different routes, as the average air yards per target on these throws to Crowder was a career-high 8.29.
Another fact worth noting: In the past five years, Smith owns a combined 102.8 quarterback rating when targeting slot receivers. That’s third best in the NFL over that time for quarterbacks who have made at least 30 starts, trailing only Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. Smith owns the ninth-most completions to slot receivers in that period.
The Redskins hope more of the same follows this season. They have a quarterback patient enough to move the ball underneath in Smith, if that’s what the defense allows.
And it was evident this spring how Crowder can be effective with this offense. The Redskins could clear out areas by aligning him on the same side with Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson, both of whom can make plays down the field. That enables Crowder to work underneath; he’s adept at finding soft spots in zones and has the quickness to better shake man coverage by running across the field to a vacated area.
“That will help out a lot,” Crowder said. “It’s similar to when DJax was here. Paul has that ability to go over the top and the defense has to back up and they have to honor that, and then when [Reed] is back healthy, he’ll definitely open it up for me and other guys as well.”
But what Smith likes can be boiled down to one word: trust.
“He’s so easy to read as a quarterback,” Smith said. “Such great body control, body language. He sees defenses well and it’s hardest to do that in between the hashes. You get so many looks and leverages and you have to handle all those things. He’s decisive and he’s so friendly. He’s always coming back to the ball, always working for you. Those are things you know as a quarterback come crunch time that here’s a guy who will constantly work his tail off to get open. He wants the ball. You love that as a quarterback.”
Crowder’s contract expires after the season, making this a pivotal one for him. But he’s also coming off a year in which he was plagued by hamstring issues. To help, he returned to Duke University this offseason and worked out the way he had when he played for the Blue Devils. He said he focused on his entire body, but he also did more power cleans and hang cleans.
“When I was at Duke, I didn’t have hamstring issues, maybe one or two, so I went back and did more dynamic lifts that I did in college,” he said. “I feel great now … It was frustrating [last year]. When you go out there with a lingering injury, you’re already setting yourself behind.”
Statistically, QB DREW BREES is poised to be the greatest of all-time sometime early in 2018. The man he will replace is fine with it. Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Peyton Manning knows his tenure as the NFL’s all-time passing leader is soon coming to an end.
Drew Bees has Manning’s career mark of 71,940 yards in his sights and is expected to break the record sometime this season. Brees will enter the season 1,495 yards shy of Manning. If he maintains the 305.8 yards-per-game average he has established during his 12 seasons in New Orleans, he would surpass Manning in Week 5, when the Saints play Washington. It’s hardly coincidence that “Monday Night Football” will televise the game.
That leaves Manning about four more months to enjoy his three-year run as the NFL’s most prolific passer.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of if (Brees breaks the record), it’s just a matter of when,” Manning said Friday (June 22) from the 23rd annual Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State University. “He deserves it. He’s been a great player for a long time.”
Manning and Brees’ relationship dates to 1998, when the future Hall of Famers met and played golf together at an offseason banquet in Indiana. Manning was in his rookie season for the Indianapolis Colts and Brees was a sophomore at nearby Purdue University.
Drew Brees ‘deserves it,’ says Peyton Manning about all-time passing yardage record
Since then, their careers have repeatedly intertwined. Brees resurrected his NFL career in New Orleans, Manning’s hometown, settling into an Uptown neighborhood not far from Manning’s childhood home. They played in nine Pro Bowls together and famously dueled in Super Bowl XLIV, where Brees bested Manning with an MVP-worthy performance.
“You feel a connection to (Brees),” Manning said.
Other similarities exist. Both have played 17 seasons. Both found success with second teams after bouncing back from a serious injury. And both displayed remarkable durability. Manning did not miss a game or a start in his first 13 NFL seasons before a neck injury sidelined him for the entire 2011 campaign. Brees has missed only one game because of injury in his 12-year tenure with the Saints.
“Obviously, he’s just been the ultimate pro, taking care of himself, being in great shape,” Manning said of Brees. “Credit to him for playing as long as he has at such a high level. … He’s just been a great model of consistency, what he and (Saints head coach) Sean (Payton) have been able to do together for (12) years now.”
If Brees eclipses Manning’s mark in Week 5, he will have accomplished the feat in the 255th game of his career, which is entering its 18th season. Manning played 266 games in his storied 17-year career. It should be noted that Brees has attempted 97 more passes than Manning (6,222-6,125).
Manning’s NFL record for career touchdown passes is likely out of Brees’ reach this season. Brees would need a career-high 51 scoring strikes in 2018 to tie Manning’s mark of 539. But Manning knows it’s only a matter of time until Brees captures the TD mark as well.
If QB RYAN FITZPATRICK makes it through the first three games in the expected absence of JAMEIS WINSTON, Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com says he will join some elite company.
Buccaneers backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is no one’s idea of a star quarterback. But with his longevity and consistency, he’s putting himself in some fairly rare company.
Fitzpatrick is slated to start the first three games of this season while Jameis Winston is suspended. Fitzpatrick also started three games last year while Winston was injured. And Fitzpatrick has started at least three games every year since 2008.
If Fitzpatrick does start three games this year, and all the other quarterbacks who are expected to be starters do as well, then Fitzpatrick will be one of just eight quarterbacks to start at least three games every year from 2008 to 2018. The other seven are Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan.
Fitzpatrick is the least-accomplished of the quarterbacks on that list, but he deserves credit for how long he’s managed to last in the league.
Besides Fitzpatrick, there would seem to be some doubt about Flacco extending his streak to 11.
At this point, all is well between QBs SAM BRADFORD and JOSH ROSEN. Bob McManaman in the Arizona Republic:
As wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald noted last week, teams don’t bring in big batches of young players every single year for their health.
“They’re bringing them in here to get an opportunity to take your job,” Fitzgerald said. “And that’s not lost on me, ever.”
So imagine how veteran quarterback Sam Bradford must have felt when, after signing a one-year, $20 million deal with the Cardinals in March, the team turned around a month later and moved up in the draft to select UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen with the 10th overall pick.
Established quarterbacks haven’t always gotten along with their young understudies. There have been some notable rocky relationships, from Joe Montana and Steve Young in San Francisco to Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. In Pittsburgh, meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t pleased about the Steelers drafting quarterback Mason Rudolph in the third round this year.
He emphasized the point by implying he wouldn’t help mentor Rudolph, although Roethlisberger has since said he was only joking and that the two were getting along nicely during offseason workouts. And just this week, Favre said he finally has mended fences with Rodgers and that the two are continuing to work on their relationship.
As for Bradford and Rosen? From the moment the Cardinals drafted Rosen, Bradford has offered to help groom and guide the rookie. He got Rosen’s cell phone number from the team and assured Rosen of that pledge via a text message. It’s all a part of those three little words that matter so much to Wilks and the Cardinals – trust, accountability and commitment.
Bradford has also reached out to Chad Kanoff, the Cardinals’ undrafted rookie free agent out of Princeton, and offered to lend a hand.
“I’m an open book, ask me anything. I’ll give you everything I’ve got,” Bradford said he told them both. “I’ve gone through quite a bit in my career just as far as different offenses. I’ve seen a lot of different offenses so I feel like I’m fairly knowledgeable in some of the schemes and some of the schemes that we’re doing.
“I’m more than happy to help and just try to show them the way that I work, the way that I prepare, and hopefully they take something from that.”
Football is a ruthless sport by nature, but it doesn’t have to be divisive in the workplace between teammates, even when you know you’re helping someone who eventually is going to be your replacement. In Rosen’s case, that could come sooner than Bradford wants.
Rosen looked incredibly comfortable and confident while taking much of the first-team repsduring offseason workouts as Bradford and his gimpy left knee were slowly eased into action.
“He’s helping me out a ton,” Rosen said during last week’s three-day minicamp, in which Bradford took most of the snaps. “He’s giving me a lot of pointers.”
Veterans aren’t required to play nice and teach. It’s not written into their contract and it doesn’t pay them any bonus money. In that regard, the veteran quarterback who mentored Roethlisberger said he can understand why Big Ben wasn’t quite ready to bend over backward to help Rudolph.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say he owes it. That kind of gets into a little bit of a slippery slope,” Tommy Maddox, whom Roethlisberger replaced as a rookie in 2004, told ESPN. “His job is to win football games right now.”
Roethlisberger is 36. Bradford doesn’t turn 31 until November. They’re both getting paid to win games, although again, in Bradford’s case, he’ll have to beat out Rosen in training camp and the preseason to get first dibs.
“He’s done a great job. I think I’ve been impressed just with his ability to grasp things, mentally,” Bradford said, adding of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, “Coach has thrown a lot at all of us in trying to learn the system and it’s tough for a rookie to be able to come in and to understand everything that’s being asked of him and I think he’s done a tremendous job of that.
“And then physically, he’s just really gifted. You can see he can make all the throws. He’s got plenty of arm strength to push the ball outside the numbers, to push it down the field.”
Those are the kinds of comments that would make Carson Palmer proud. Before retiring after last season as the Cardinals’ starting quarterback following a 15-year NFL career, Palmer reiterated just how much his first mentor, Jon Kitna, helped him along the way.
“Probably the most instrumental individual in my career,” Palmer said. “It was only for a handful of years but he continued to mentor me when he was in Detroit, when he was in Dallas. He’s what you want in the quarterback room, a guy that’s stable. He’s a great role model for teammates, a great father role model. There was a lot to look up to. There still is.
“I still have a great relationship with him and appreciate what he did for me early on. He’s a true vet and a true mentor.”
Who knows? Perhaps Rosen will one day say same the same things about Bradford.
The rookie was incredibly complimentary of the veteran after Bradford reached out via text and offered his help in any way possible.
“I think it speaks to him as a person and how he’s willing to embrace the competition and the team aspect,” Rosen said. “And I’m the same way. Regardless of starter-backup, I want the Arizona Cardinals to do the best possible because I want to be in a Super Bowl. If at least for this year the best way to do that is have Sam starting, then so be it, and I’m going to push him every single day.”
Rosen’s made so much progress in such short order, there’s been a buzz around the league that he could leapfrog backup Mike Glennon and actually win the starting quarterback job over Bradford.
“I think he’ll beat out Sam Bradford in training camp, I really do,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.
“I’m fully expecting Josh Rosen to win this job,” echoed Steve Wyche, another analyst for the NFL Network.
Wilks said Bradford will enter camp next month as the starter, but also repeatedly stated that the best 11 players will start. That’s been enough to make Rosen happy.
“Sure, I’d be excited if I was just a fan of the Cardinals and that was my head coach saying the best 11 dudes are playing,” he said. “There’s no favorites, no nothing. As a player that’s awesome because I know I’m going to get a fair shot at getting on the field.”
In a cute June timewaster, ESPN used many of its idling reporters to try to figure out what would make a good trade for S EARL THOMAS.
We asked NFL Nation reporters to make their best trade offer — on behalf of the teams they cover, and only from those teams that have both a need at safety and extra cap space — for the 29-year-old. We came up with three teams that would have realistic trade interest in Thomas — the Cowboys, Patriots and Chargers. The offers below are based on what each reporter believes their team’s front office could offer the Seahawks in a trade, plus what each organization could offer Thomas, a six-time Pro Bowler, in a potential extension.
We then had ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando take on the role of Schneider and pick the best offer for the Seahawks, and then had ESPN NFL reporter Dan Graziano play the role of Thomas’ agents, Andrew Kessler and David Mulugheta of Athletes First, to make sure the extension worked for his client. But first, let’s get the Seahawks’ perspective.
Why Seattle could deal Thomas
The Seahawks are not in negotiations with Thomas, and there has been nothing to indicate they’re interested in giving him an extension while his current deal has a season remaining. This Seahawks regime has previously extended the contracts of many “core” players with a year left on their contracts, but Schneider drew a distinction when he noted the majority of those previous extensions a year ahead of free agency were with players on their rookie contracts, meaning that precedent wouldn’t necessarily apply to Thomas since he’s on his second deal.
Thomas is an all-world talent, a potential Hall of Famer and arguably the most important player on Seattle’s defense. Just look at how badly they missed him when he was sidelined late in the 2016 season and their pass defense fell apart, allowing a passer rating of 100.3 with him out of the lineup. But the Seahawks are clearly turning over a new leaf on defense, where they’ve already moved on from mainstays such as Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett. And they’ve gotten three recent reminders about the dangers of shelling out big-money extensions to players nearing or over 30 years old. If Kam Chancellor’s neck injury prevents him from continuing his career — a legitimate fear — then he, Bennett and Marshawn Lynch would have all been extended without playing a down for Seattle beyond the length of their previous deals. Seattle will eat more than $5 million in dead money in 2018, just as it did in 2016 after Lynch retired.
If the Seahawks are going to extend Thomas, it will be on their terms, not his. So their “offer” might be this: play out the last year of your deal or get the franchise tag in 2019, which would mean waiting at least two years for a multiyear extension as opposed to one more. — Brady Henderson
Trade offer to Seahawks: 2019 third-round pick, 2020 fourth-round pick
Length and value of extension for Thomas: Five years for $62.5 million
Full guarantee at signing: $25 million
Total guarantee: $31 million
The Cowboys’ need for a safety has been obvious since the start of the offseason — they used former undrafted free agent Jeff Heath and former sixth-round pick Xavier Woods as starters during organized team activities. The Dallas front office had discussions with the Seahawks about Thomas that never seemed to go far before and during the draft, and the Seahawks even approached the Cowboys at the combine and asked for their first-round pick.
The organization values its picks, but giving up a third-rounder next year and a fourth-rounder in 2020 allows the Cowboys to spread out the hit over two drafts. And Thomas, who told coach Jason Garrett to “come get me” after a game in December, can be viewed as a final piece to their defense.
The Cowboys would be willing to give Thomas one of the league’s best contracts for a safety — the average annual value of $12.5 million would rank second among safeties behind Kansas City’s Eric Berry’s $13 million, and total guaranteed money of $31 million would rank third behind Berry ($40 million) and Miami’s Reshad Jones ($33 million). This deal also would offer some protection in case the injury bug continues to bite Thomas, who has missed seven games over the past two seasons.
Dallas locked up guard Zack Martin to a long-term extension earlier this month, and it will have decisions to make next offseason on defensive linemen DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving, who are both free agents, which could complicate its future cap space. Quarterback Dak Prescott is also eligible for an extension in 2019. The Cowboys have just enough cap room to make the Thomas extension work this year, even with $16.9 million in dead cap hits from the releases of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, both of which will come off the books next year. — Todd Archer
New England Patriots
Trade offer to Seahawks: Right guard Shaq Mason
Length and value of extension for Thomas: Three years for $39 million
Full guarantee at signing: $22 million
Total guarantee: $28.5 million
The Patriots run their Big Nickel package (three safeties) as much as any team in the NFL, and return their top three safeties in 2018 with Devin McCourty (97.1 percent of the defensive snaps in 2017), Patrick Chung (87.5) and Duron Harmon (65.8). So Thomas isn’t a pressing need, but the Patriots will always explore unexpected opportunities (i.e., Rodney Harrison in 2003) to improve the roster if it seems like a good value with all the pieces falling into place, and this would certainly qualify.
Mason, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, is an ascending player who could command a significant contract at a position at which the market has been reshaped with recent deals for Zack Martin (Cowboys) and Andrew Norwell (Jaguars). Signing him after the 2018 season will be a challenge, and so trading him in this hypothetical situation — to a team that could use an upgrade at the position — would fall into a similar category as what the Patriots previously did with the likes of Chandler Jones and Richard Seymour.
As for the financial piece in acquiring Thomas ($13 million average per season, matching Berry), the Patriots would add three years and $39 million on to the end of the 2018 portion of Thomas’ contract, allowing them to spread out salary-cap charges over four years. The $22 million guarantee at signing and $28.5 million guarantee overall matches the deal McCourty signed in 2015, which is always a consideration to maintain harmony in the locker room. — Mike Reiss
Los Angeles Chargers
Trade offer to Seahawks: 2019 second-round pick and 2020 fourth-round pick
Length and value of extension for Thomas: Four years for $50 million
Full guarantee at signing: $20 million
Total guarantee: $32 million
Thomas is still one of the best safeties in the game, a playmaker who takes the ball away, and he would immediately improve one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. The Chargers are in win-now mode, and he could be the final piece that makes them true Super Bowl contenders.
They picked safety Derwin James in the first round of this year’s draft, but he has played mostly strong safety during offseason work. The Chargers rotated several players at free safety this offseason and could still use a rangy center fielder like Thomas to roam the back end of an already talented secondary. Thomas is the ideal fit at free safety for Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s Cover 3 scheme. Bradley was in Seattle when the organization selected Thomas with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2010 draft.
While it would be tempting to offer Thomas a fully guaranteed contract like Kirk Cousins got from the Vikings this offseason, this extension would push the Texas native near the top of the safety market while protecting the Chargers with the last $10 million in guaranteed money tied to injuries.
The Chargers have about $9 million in salary-cap space in 2018, according to the ESPN Roster Management System, so they would have to get creative in order to bring Thomas into the fold. The Bolts could restructure the contracts of quarterback Philip Rivers (scheduled to make $15 million in 2018) or receiver Travis Benjamin (scheduled to make $5.75 million in 2018) to create some cap space. — Eric D. Williams
The verdict from the Seahawks’ GM
We’ll take the Chargers’ offer unless the Patriots are willing to sweeten their proposal by throwing in a 2019 pick in the fifth round or higher.
Doing the deal with Los Angeles lets us send Thomas outside the conference while replacing the 2019 second-round choice we sent to Houston in the Duane Brown trade last year. Getting that second-round pick is the key to this deal. Think of all the talent we’ve found in second rounds over the years. Golden Tate, Bobby Wagner, Paul Richardson, Justin Britt, Frank Clark and Jarran Reed have either earned or will earn a lucrative second contract. That’s impressive, but if we don’t do this deal with the Chargers, there’s a chance Malik McDowell and Ethan Pocic will be the only players we select in a second round from 2017-19. Think that would go over well with the local radio hosts?
So, while the Chargers’ offer wins out, New England did tempt us with Mason. People often overstate our O-line needs without realizing how much Mike Solari’s scheme change and some healthy runners will help us, but we obviously could use another young building block up front. Mason would give us that, but he’s also going to command a big salary. In the end, that 2019 second-round pick is what we want. Getting that choice and the Chargers’ 2020 fourth is the deal for us. — Mike Sando, playing the part of John Schneider
The verdict from Thomas’ agent
Our client would have preferred Dallas. Heck, he told Jason Garrett as much late last season. And the state income tax hit in California versus Texas (where they don’t have one) is a tough pill to swallow. But the Chargers look like they have a potentially special situation with that defense, he likes Gus Bradley and it’s not as if he has to get used to Pacific time. So let’s talk deal.
What we want is to make $32 million over the next two years. Length of the deal doesn’t matter. You need to make it longer to prorate the signing bonus and stay under the salary cap? Knock yourselves out. Add four years onto the deal that’s already out there, give us a $22 million signing bonus, a $1 million salary in 2018 and a $9 million salary in 2019, all fully guaranteed at signing, and we can work out the rest of the details. That drops Earl’s 2018 cap number from $8.5 million (which is what it would be for the Chargers if they traded for him without doing an extension) to $5.4 million. You carry a $13.4 million cap number for 2019, but (A) the cap keeps going up anyway and (B) that’s still market value, considering Berry is making $13 million a year. Give us an injury-guaranteed $9 million for 2020 so we can say we got $41 million in guarantees, which is a million more than Berry got, and make that convert to a full guarantee five days after the Super Bowl in 2020. That means you’ll have to decide before 2020 free agency whether you want to stick with Earl, who’ll be three months shy of his 31st birthday by then, or let him go. We’re not stupid. We understand 31 is a heck of a lot different than 29 in NFL years.
We propose adding four years and $56 million onto the $8.5 million he already has coming this year. That’s $56 million in “new money,” and calling it a four-year extension (that runs through 2022) lets us say he’s the highest-paid safety at $14 million a year. But you can sell it as a five-year, $64.5 million deal if you want (the new $56 million plus the $8.5 million he’s already getting), and then the average annual salary is $12.9 million, so if you want to tell your fellow owners you didn’t set a new safety standard and the deal came in under Berry’s, go right ahead. Just as long as you don’t mind us putting it out in the media at $14 million.
The key thing for us is the guarantee and the first two years. As long as, at time of signing, he’s guaranteed to make $32 million total over 2018 and 2019, we can do this deal and be happy. If you’re willing to do that, call the Seahawks, tell them you have a deal, and let’s try to bring a Super Bowl trophy to L.A. before the Rams do. — Dan Graziano, playing the part of Andrew Kessler and David Mulugheta
The NFL has let Sr.’s and III’s on player jerseys, but they have put the kibosh on a request of an MD. John Breech of CBSSports.com:
After Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif graduated from medical school in May, he was hoping that the NFL would let him put something on the back of his jersey that’s never been on the back of an NFL player’s jersey before.
As the only active player who also happens to hold a real medical degree, Duvernay-Tardif made a request to the league and asked if he would be allowed to put “M.D.” on the back of his uniform. Although it sounds like a reasonable request, apparently, the NFL didn’t feel the same way.
According to TVA sports in Quebec, which is where Duvernay-Tardif is from and went to college, the NFL has turned down the lineman’s request to wear M.D. on his jersey. However, that may not be an airtight final decision. TVA Sports also added that Duvernay-Tardif is hoping that the buzz from his medical school graduation will cause the NFL to reconsider.
I mean, it took Duvernay-Tardif eight years to earn his medical degree, so the least the NFL could do is let the man add two simple letters to his jersey.
If you’re wondering what exactly a “Duvernay-Tardif M.D.” jersey would have looked like, the guys over at Arrowhead Pride made a nice mock-up of the uniform, and now that I’m looking at it, someone needs to talk the NFL into approving this thing.
QB BLAKE BORTLES is feeling good entering 2018. George Diaz in the Orlando Sentinel:
Life is good if you’re Blake Bortles.
A year ago, he was in danger of getting benched in favor of journeyman quarterback Chad Henne. Today, he is walking on sunshine after signing a three-year, $54-million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Where did all those dark clouds go?
Bortles picked himself up as the 2017 NFL season went along, grinded it out, and was a Tom Brady comeback away from leading the Jaguars to their first Super Bowl appearance.
He’s come a long way from his days at Oviedo High School, where he graduated in 2010. Bortles has since beefed up his star-power resume at UCF, and is now working toward that end in the NFL.
Away from the aforementioned grind, Bortles has hosted football off-season camps at Oviedo High School and in Duval County in partnership with JaxPAL. He also has plans to partner with the Arc Village Jacksonville, an independent-living facility designed to maximize community inclusion for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. (There’s a backstory we discussed).
I caught up with him before the start of his camp in Jacksonville recently. It was hot and coffee wasn’t in our game plan, but Bortles brewed up some interesting tidbits about his personal life, including his take on social media. We got an X’s and O’s question out of the way before getting into other stuff you probably don’t know.
Compare your pre-snap comfort level this year to last?
When we started last year, it was kind of an elementary level, in terms of ‘I’m hearing the play, I’m thinking about the footwork I have to take, the identification, trying to remember what routes guys are running and all that.’ Now, I think I’m kind of owning the offense and having a better understanding of it. Obviously, it is a continuous study and a continuous grind to continue to master it and stay on top of it, but I definitely feel more comfortable with it.”
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but your entire football career has been played out within a 130-mile radius. Can you talk about that dynamic?
It’s crazy. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to stay at home and go to UCF. In the house I grew up in, we used to walk to UCF to football games. To be able to play football for UCF and to get drafted by Jacksonville, it’s been incredible. Never left the state of Florida. Wouldn’t have it any other way. No state income tax, which is awesome. And obviously having friends and family so close. It’s great to be able to see them way more than I would be if I played for 28 other teams.
How often do you get back to Orlando?
On our bye week, hopefully it’s an Oviedo home game and a home UCF game so I can do a Friday and Saturday. And then I do my camp there, and still go see my parents a couple of times a year.
A relationship you cultivated with CJ Williams fostered a passion for children and adults with developmental disabilities. Can you share that backstory?
There’s a league in Oviedo called Challenger Football League, which is mentally disabled kids playing flag football. It was every Saturday morning, so it was after our Friday night games in high school. The kids on the varsity football team would go out and help these kids play. I started doing that when I was a freshman in high school. I met CJ through that and we connected and had a really good relationship. My mom and his mom became good friends. And now he’s part of this thing up here called The Arc [which he plans to partner with]. When I left and went to college my brother stepped in and became CJ’s buddy for four years. We created a bond with them and everybody in that league.
How old is CJ now?
A $54-million contract buys you a lot of pizzas and a lot of peace of mind too I suppose?
It’s something I never even thought of last year, even throughout the whole thing. On the outside looking in, I understand why people wondered. Why aren’t you thinking about this or the future or what’s going to happen? But I was really caught up in helping us win and doing what I could to help with that. To sign a second contract with the team that drafted me was a goal I set a long time ago. It’s incredible to have the confidence of the team and be able to come back here for at least a couple of years.
Would you draft Blake Bortles on your fantasy football team?
Probably not. Maybe Leonard Fournette.
Go with the safe bet?
– – –
Are you on the UCF National Championship bandwagon?
The season they had and what coach Frost did was incredible. I’m behind them 100 percent. If they claim a National Championship, then I’ll call them the national champs. They deserve it. They played well enough.
Did you get any SWAG?
No I didn’t, but there were some coaches of the new staff at practice [recently]. The first thing I do when I go back to UCF is get some national championship gear and I’ll make sure I’ll hand it to some of the guys in the locker room,
Jim Wyatt of TitansOnLine.com says there is some question as to whether T JAKE CONKLIN will be good to go when the Titans visit Miami in Week 1 on FOX:
Let’s pass the time with another Titans mailbag …
Eric King from New Albany, Mississippi
Question: Hi Jim. How is Jack Conklin coming along with his knee injury and do you think he’ll be ready by the start of the season?
Jim: Hey Eric. Well, he’s making progress. Jack didn’t take part in the offseason work – he missed all the OTAs and minicamp. But he was on the field watching, and he looked good walking around. Titans coach Mike Vrabel said at his final minicamp presser he expects everyone to be ready for camp, with Conklin being the only exception. He mentioned PUP as a possibility. So I’m not necessarily expecting him at the start of camp on July 26. As for the start of the season, well, it’s too early for me to say about that quite yet.
WR JULIAN EDELMAN is going to appeal his 4-game PED suspension, which you may remember was said to be for an “unknown” substance. Dan Graziano of ESPN.com:
Julian Edelman’s appeal of his four-game drug suspension will be heard Monday, and sources say he plans to mount a vigorous defense that questions the NFL’s handling of his case.
ESPN reported earlier this month that the New England Patriots receiver is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
As the MMQB reported a few days later, the substance for which Edelman tested positive wasn’t one the league’s drug testers recognized. That remains one of two key issues at the heart of his appeal.
The other, according to a source, involves a mishandling of the documentation and delivery of Edelman’s test results. During the course of the investigation, it was learned that the NFL made mistakes in the manner in which the test results were handled. Edelman is arguing that the mishandling of the evidence is one of the reasons he should be exonerated.
Edelman, 32, who has been a regular participant in the team’s offseason program, organized team activities and minicamp, missed the entire 2017 season after tearing an ACL during the preseason.
To assist in his defense, Edelman has enlisted outside counsel, specifically Alex Spiro, a New York-based attorney who gained fame in recent years for his work representing NBA players in their legal entanglements.
Given the addition of Spiro to the defense and the recent history between the Patriots and the NFL in the Tom Brady Deflategate matter, it isn’t out of the question that Edelman could end up pursuing an appeal of his case in federal court if the arbitration does not go his way.
THIS AND THAT
FIRST COACH TO BE FIRED ODDS
If Browns head coach Hue Jackson is still just renting his house in Cleveland, he should keep doing it.
Jackson, who guided the Browns to a 0-16 season last year, is the odds-on favorite to be the first NFL coach to be fired, according to a list that was released by OddShark on Tuesday.
At +350, Jackson has more than double the odds of being the first coach on the chopping block compared to the next name on the list, Adam Gase of the Miami Dolphins (+750).
At third on the list, OddsShark has longtime Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and second-year Broncos coach Vance Joseph tied at +1000. That pair is followed by Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter and Redskins coach Jay Gruden at +1200.
Todd Bowles (Jets, +1600), Bill O’Brien (Texans, +2000), Jason Garrett (Cowboys, +2500), John Harbaugh (Ravens, +2800), Jon Gruden (Raiders, +2800), and Pete Carroll (Seahawks, +2800) round out the list.
NETWORKS RAID THE OFFICIATING DEPARTMENT
The NFL has lost four refs to retirement this year (two expected). Three of them will be working for networks come September. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
Of the 17 referees on the NFL’s payroll during the 2017 season, four of them have now left. Does that leave the NFL with a referee problem?
It’s a fair question to ask as the 2018 season approaches. While the departures of Ed Hochuli and Jeff Triplette had been known for months, the bang-bang retirements of Terry McAulay and Gene Steratore in recent days, reportedly to work at NBC and CBS respectively, is jarring. And the moves raise legitimately questions as to whether something has gone haywire with the NFL’s officiating department, whether more referees will leave, and whether the replacements will be good enough.
Six years ago, the Commissioner stridently boasted that replacement officials would perform as well as the locked-out black-and-white-stripers who wanted more green than the NFL would give them. Reality proved the Commissioner quite wrong, culminating in the embarrassment that was the Fail Mary.
Three days after the Seahawks beat the Packers thanks to a blatant case of offensive pass interference on the game’s last play, the “A” team was back, led by the swagger of Steratore, who’s Thursday night strut for a Browns-Ravens game let everyone know that, indeed, there’s a palpable difference between the best officials in football and those who aren’t.
With Steratore now gone (along with McAulay, Hoculi, and Triplette), the NFL will be facing a real test. And the stakes are higher than ever, since there will be actual, legal stakes on the games.
And it could have been worse. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com reported that Clete Blakeman also auditioned for the NBC gig that went to McAulay. If ESPN hadn’t hired Triplette (who already had retired, and who many fans won’t miss), maybe Blakeman would have gotten one of the three recently-filled network gigs.
And maybe now the report that the NFL nudged ESPN to hire Triplette makes more sense. Maybe it wasn’t about helping Tripllette; maybe it was about helping the NFL not lose yet another referee as a new season approaches.
And maybe the NFL now needs to worry about possibly losing more referees after the coming season concludes.
What Florio doesn’t mention is that quite a few other referees, like Hochulli and Triplette, are reaching an age when running up and down an NFL field might not be to their best advantage, even if they don’t get TV gold. Steratore grabbed the TV gig at age 55.
The 13 returning refs (and the four retiring refs), ranked by their ages.
Ed Hochuli, 67
Jeff Triplette, 66 estimated (Wake Forest grad, 1973)
Tony Corrente, 66
Pete Morelli, 66
Walt Anderson, 66
Walt Coleman, believed to be 66
Jerome Boger, 63
Bill Vinovich, 58
Carl Cheffers, 58 estimated (’78 high school grad)
Terry McAulay, 59
Ronald Torbert, 55
Gene Steratore, 55
Clete Blakeman, 54
John Hussey, 54 estimated (’82 high school grad)
John Parry, 53
Craig Wrolstad, 53
Brad Allen, 48
You would have to think there will be at least four more openings in the next two years.
– – –
Cameron Felipe of ProFootballZebras has the scoop on newly-promoted Shawn Smith who becomes the NFL’s third current African-American ref. Like Ronald Torbert, he comes out of the Big Ten where he was a ref in 2014:
Shawn Smith has been promoted to the referee position after the retirement of Terry McAulay, as announced by senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron. Smith was hired in 2015 and was hired initially as a field judge, but worked all three seasons at the umpire position, which is known to be a pipeline into becoming a referee. He worked on Jeff Triplette’s crew for his first two seasons, and worked last season under Ed Hochuli, pictured side-by-side above. His pairing with Hochuli was not a trivial move, as they obviously had Smith set for advancement and wanted to give him a strong mentor.
Smith has been assigned to work three postseason games, which include one Wild Card Playoff, one Divisional Playoff, and the 2017 NFC Championship Game. He was one of the officials who received two non-Super Bowl assignments last posteason, as he officiated both the Falcons-Rams Wild Card Playoff and the NFC Championship Game. Ineligible for the postseason in his first year by longstanding policy, Smith’s three postseason games come in the last two years. He will, again, be ineligible in his first year as referee, if the officiating department continues past practice.
Smith was given a tryout at the referee position in two games over the last two preseasons.
This will be the first time since 2014 when three officials don the NFL white hat for the first time; in that season, a late-June vacancy was also created when a referee left for television when Mike Carey was hired by CBS Sports.
Off the field, Smith is an internal auditor from Southfield, Mich. He got started as a flag football official at Eastern Michigan University. Smith was recruited to run track and play football at EMU before transferring to Ferris State University.
At the collegiate level, Smith officiated in Conference USA in 2009, the Mid-American Conference from 2009 to 2012 and the Big Ten Conference from 2012 to 2014. He worked at the back judge position during this time, and completed his first full season as a Big Ten referee in 2014, when the NFL came calling for the 2015 season. Smith worked the 2011 Armed Forces Bowl and the 2015 Senior Bowl while a college football official.
A group of NFL players responded to Donald Trump’s request for suggestions on people he should pardon. Like many, they think to many small time drug dealers get enormously long sentences. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
Earlier this month, President Trump addressed protests by NFL players by saying that they’ve seen “a lot of abuse” and unfairness before asking players to recommend names of people they would like to see considered for pardons.
Four players responded to that request in an Op-Ed for the New York Times published on Thursday. Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, former NFL wideout Anquan Boldin, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, and Saints tight end Benjamin Watson called the power to pardon “a valuable tool for redressing injustice” and commended the President for pardoning Alice Johnson from serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense.
They also write that a “handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that N.F.L. players have been protesting.”
“These injustices are so widespread as to seem practically written into our nation’s DNA. We must challenge these norms, investigate the reasons for their pervasiveness and fight with all we have to change them. That is what we, as football players, are trying to do with our activism.”
Using Johnson’s example and noting that 79,000 of roughly 185,000 federal prisoners are there for drug offenses, they suggest he could issue “a blanket pardon” for people given such sentences in nonviolent cases. They also point to the number of elderly people in the federal prison population — 28 percent by next year — and suggested releasing prisoners over 60 who are serving time for drug offenses that took place a long time ago.
They also make a call to end eliminate life without parole for nonviolent crimes on the federal level and point out that 30 percent of federal prisoners currently serving life without parole are there for nonviolent offenses as opposed to two percent on the state level.
“These changes, if President Trump were to make them, would positively affect the lives of thousands of people and have a lasting beneficial effect on many more people in the future. The president can implement these changes with his pardon power and other executive decisions. His ability to change the lives of people for the better is immense. We hope he uses it, not just for the few, but for the many.”