The Daily Briefing Monday, March 20, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

Peter King doesn’t like the way teams have become so reluctant to guarantee money after the first year in free agency:

 

Free-agent linebacker Zach Brown, 27, ranked second in the NFL last year with 149 tackles, playing for Buffalo. But nine tackles a game, roving the middle of the field, is not getting Brown rich. Though the average NFL team entered the weekend $19 million under the NFL’s $167-million per team salary cap for 2017, Brown is waiting for the phone to ring. He’s not the only one. Big names with time left (Jay Cutler, Adrian Peterson) join contributors like wideout Kamar Aiken (27 years old, 104 catches in 2015 and ’16), defensive end Chris Long (played well for the Patriots in 2016), defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins (asking too much), and young safeties T.J. McDonald and Bradley McDougald. It’s not a gold mine, but we’ve gotten to the 30-cents-on-the-dollar portion of free agency quicker than any year I recall.

 

“The middle class of the NFL is getting destroyed,” agent David Canter said Saturday. “So many of the contracts for all but the best players are similar, with so little guaranteed money after the first year.”

 

Check out the money for the middle- to upper-middle class of the wide receiver group:

 

• Markus Wheaton, Chicago: Two years, $11 million, $6 million year one, no guarantee year two.

 

• Brandon Marshall, Giants: Two years, $11 million, $5.5 million year one, no guarantee year two.

 

• Brandon LaFell, Cincinnati: Two years, $9 million, $5 million year one, no guarantee year two.

 

• Cordarrelle Patterson, Oakland: Two years, $8.5 million, $5.25 million year one, no guarantee year two.

 

• Torrey Smith, Philadelphia: Three years, $15 million, $4 million year one, no guarantee year two or three.

 

• Ted Ginn Jr., New Orleans: Three years, $11 million, $5 million year one, no guarantee year two or three.

 

• Terrelle Pryor, Washington: One year, $6 million, with $2 million in incentives.

 

See the pattern? The big stars get guarantees in years beyond the first year—not much, but certainly some—while the middle class often sign one-year deals with extra non-guaranteed years tacked onto the end, in part for image, in part for spreading the pro-rated signing bonus.

 

Our Andrew Brandt had a very good idea, I thought, in his Business of Football column last week. “One way to make incremental change is when the team says it will guarantee $25 million on a five-year deal,” wrote Brandt, “the agent demand that they guarantee $5 million each year, rather than all $25 million secured in the low-risk first two years of the deal. Agents with this kind of leverage have to lead the charge toward fuller guarantees, and that continues to be lacking.” Brandt’s point is that—for instance—if Jason Pierre-Paul is guaranteed $40 million in his new four-year contract, the fact that $35 million is guaranteed in the first two years means the team can cut Pierre-Paul after two years with scant consequences toward future cap implications.

 

– – –

We had this from Judge Robert Berman on Friday night, but we really do think he sums up the bizarre treatment of TOM BRADY and the Patriots here.  Too bad a pair of his judicial brethren did not have as much common sense:

 

“I didn’t see what happened here that warranted a million dollars, two draft picks and a four-game suspension. It just didn’t add up. And, being a judge, we are very concerned with process. The thought of the decider ruling on his own decision, it was just beyond me.”

– – –

Emily Kaplan makes a point about the law of supply and demand:

 

There is a direct correlation between this year’s draft class and free agency spending habits. Notice the dormant market for veteran running backs? As a group of proven vets (Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy, Latavius Murray and Adrian Peterson) remain unsigned, many running back-needy teams are waiting until they can get a bargain, knowing this is an extremely deep draft year (even beyond the first-round household names of Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey) with a diverse group of runners. Conversely, historic spending on offensive linemen coincides with a shallow pool of ready-to-play O-linemen from the college ranks.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Is Jerry Jones scheming to deny TONY ROMO a chance to play with the Texans?  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

As far as the NFL’s alignment of franchises is concerned, the Cowboys and Texans aren’t rivals. As far as the people living in Dallas and Houston are concerned, they are. And that reality could be one of the reasons for the decision of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to slam the brakes on the plan to release Romo.

 

From the moment the news emerged that Romo would be released (the post-hoc spin is that he was only told he won’t be on the roster in 2017), the reaction among the Dallas media was swift and intense and it became clear that the release wouldn’t be the end of a new era of Romo-centric coverage in the Dallas area but the beginning.

 

So spin it forward. Romo exits Dallas and lands in Houston. And then every outlet in Dallas assigns at least one reporter to cover Romo’s year(s) in Houston, forcing America’s Team to share eyeballs and ears in its own hometown with the other team from Texas.

 

Spin it even farther forward. The Texans surge with a healthy Romo, becoming one of the best teams in the AFC. The Cowboys, defense drained by free agency and offense undermined by possible sophomore slumps of Dak Prescott and/or Ezekiel Elliott, regress to the mean. Cowboys fans would be tempted to set aside their silver and blue for the balance of the year and become temporary fans of Romo and the Texans.

 

That wouldn’t be good for business. And Jerry Jones is all about making good business decisions.

 

Couldn’t his concerns be handled via the wink-nod “do-right” approach that the team and the player are supposed to be adopting? This would require Jones to ask Romo not to play for the Texans. And there’s a good chance that request eventually would make its way to the media. Which would prove that Jones is worried about a Houston uprising diluting Dallas interest in the Cowboys.

 

For Jones, creating the impression that he actually cares about the Texans becoming more popular in Dallas and more successful overall could be worse than either thing happening. So he has instead squatted on Romo, waiting for a trade offer that may never materialize, and perhaps hoping an offer never comes from Houston.

 

I’ve believed for the last week that Jones hopes an offer will be made to him at the upcoming league meetings in Arizona. The truth could be that Jones plans in Phoenix to make a team like the Broncos a low-ball, face-saving offer that gets the Cowboys some marginal value for Romo — and that ensures he’ll never play for the Houston Texans.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

Peter King on how PK ROBERTO AGUAYO’s reign as a generational kicker for the Buccaneers will be challenged this summer:

 

“The mistake would be to be prideful,” Bucs GM Jason Licht told the Tampa Bay Times, with the news that the most inefficient kicker in the NFL in 2016, rookie Roberto Aguayo, would have a challenger in camp this summer, and a good one. Nick Folk, an 81.3-percent career field-goal kicker, was signed to go head-to-head with Aguayo. This was a curious and risky decision by Licht at the start, and he knows it. He dealt third- and fourth-round picks to move up 15 slots to choose Aguayo in the second round, and the pressure of being such a high pick got to Aguayo. He led the league with nine missed field goals, and he was a miserable four-of-11 from 40 yards and beyond. Can he be salvaged? Aguayo has seen a mental coach and talked to level-headed former kicker Ryan Longwell for advice. We’ll see. But good for the Bucs to not stick their heads in the sand about the problem. If Folk, 32, is better in camp, the 59th pick in the 2016 draft will likely be on the street.

 

AFC WEST

 

OAKLAND

Peter King looks at how RB MARSHAWN LYNCH will get to the Raiders:

 

This Lynch-to-the-Raiders story, birthed by ESPN, is real. Late Saturday night, I talked to an excellent West Coast source on this story. “He [Lynch] really wants to play for the Raiders,” the source said. “He also wants to do good things for his foundation in the area. This is a great chance to accomplish both things.”

 

It could happen one of two ways. Seattle could trade Lynch—likely for a conditional 2018 draft choice, since Oakland wouldn’t be eager to give anything this year, not knowing if the rusty Lynch would be worth it. Or Seattle could release him, which would declare his contract void.

 

It’s easy to say the Seahawks should try to get something for Lynch. And logical. But let’s say the Raiders want Lynch—and I hear they do, at the right price. The price is not going to be for an existing contract cost of $9 million in 2017. The Raiders would more likely want Lynch at a more reasonable number, plus incentives, by signing him to a deal after he’s cut from the Seahawks. I don’t think Seattle will stand in his way. Lynch left Seattle with the front office and coaching staff grinding its teeth over him because Lynch was often times a handful. But he was loved by most of his teammates, and there’s no way the club would stand in his way and risk the rancor of the locker room, seeing that Lynch has so many close friends still in the room. It’s a complicated dynamic, but in the end, Seattle’s probably going to have to release him. Interestingly, the only team I think Seattle would do a release for is Oakland … as a favor to Lynch, and a nod to the fact that the Raiders wouldn’t pick up the existing terms of the contract.

 

With the business out of the way, it probably comes down to this: There are two potential veteran workhorse running backs available, with an intriguing but limited market. Adrian Peterson and Lynch both would fit in Oakland. The Raiders have a strong offensive line and potent passing game, and they’d be able to fit either player in their system, but I sense Lynch would be better. Three reasons:

 

1. He’s an Oakland kid. He loves Oakland. His foundation does loads of work there. Even when he played in Seattle, he was a bi-city person: Seattle and Oakland.

 

2. Lynch can exist in the shotgun just fine. Peterson is more of an I-back type, but Lynch can play in the I or as a shotgun sidecar, or anywhere in the backfield.

 

3. The Raiders will need all the Oakland they can get if they’re approved for a move to Las Vegas in league meetings next week—and a vote could happen there. The smartest thing Mark Davis could do is hold off the signing of Lynch (if he can) till the day before the vote to relocate the franchise or the day after. That way, the locals will hate him and the franchise just a little less. But Lynch as a Raider, in the Coliseum, with a contender, for the next year or two, while the new stadium in Vegas is built? People will come. Oh, people most definitely will come.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Emily Kaplan on some reasons to think Cleveland might get out of the doldrums someday:

 

It’s hard to understate just how much draft capital the Browns have stockpiled. With the crafty Brock Osweiler trade—in which the prize was a second-round draft pick, not the maligned quarterback—Cleveland has 11 picks in 2017 and 11 in 2018, most of which are front-loaded in the first three rounds. Including 2016, the Browns will have 36 picks over a three-year stretch. Last year, all 14 of Cleveland’s draft picks made the final roster in September. It’s unlikely the Browns can keep that pace. So while Jimmy Garoppolo reportedly tops Cleveland’s wish list, the rest of the NFL wonders: If that fails, how else will the Browns leverage their bounty in the next two months?

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Rest easy Steelers fans.  Big BEN ROETHLISBERGER will be your QB for at least one more year.  Nick Shook at NFL.com:

 

Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spoke on his future as the man under center for the Steelers on Friday.

 

To no one’s surprise, it looks like he’ll be coming back.

 

Roethlisberger said he’s “leaning towards it” — it being returning to play for Pittsburgh in 2017 — when speaking at Liberty University on Friday, per the Observer-Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania).

 

Roethlisberger provided cause for concern at the beginning of the offseason, saying he was “going to take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options.” The 35-year-old quarterback, who’s played through injuries seemingly more often than most quarterbacks in recent history, dealt with another in Pittsburgh’s run to the AFC Championship Game, which ended in bitter defeat at the hands of New England. It’s understandable for Roethlisberger to seriously consider his football mortality in 2017.

 

It’s not all that believable, though, to think Roethlisberger would abruptly hang it up after his Steelers team put things together in the second half of the season, winning the AFC North and two playoff games before falling to the Patriots. The return of Antonio Brown on a new contract, a healthy Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant (who’s awaiting reinstatement) has to make it even more difficult to consider retirement. And we can’t forget the fact Pittsburgh doesn’t really have much of a contingency plan for life without Roethlisberger beyond backup Landry Jones, who isn’t inspiring much confidence.

 

This little “will he, won’t he” — vaguely reminiscent of Brett Favre’s final half-decade of his career — should serve as a friendly message to Steelers management, which would be wise to explore a reality without the future Hall of Fame quarterback before it’s suddenly too late.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

PK STEPHN HAUSCHKA is wondering if he can be mentally sharp enough to kick in today’s stress-filled NFL.  Peter King:

 

I think there was an interesting note from Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News, via Pro Football Talk, about the 33-yard extra points from new Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka, who has missed 10 of them in the last two seasons. That led to his demise with the Seahawks. And I’m not calling Hauschka an excuse-maker, though I think it’s ridiculous to listen to some of the reasons why the 33-yard extra point is different than a 33-yard field goal. Said Hauschka: “The 20-yard extra points, those were just chip shots. They really were. I don’t think many NFL guys were going to miss those unless something were to really happen with the snap and the hold. But a 33-yard extra point just brings out that precision. You need to be on it with the snap, the hold and the kick all need to be there and you can’t really get away with it. Plus, I think the biggest difference is you used to have about 25 to 30 field-goal attempts a year and then a bunch of chip-shot extra points. Now you have 25 field goals and maybe 30 to 50 extra points. That can feel like 60 to 70 field goals in a season now, so you’ve got to be mentally sharp the whole game, the whole season and there’s really no room for error.” Here are two points why I’d be hesitant to have Hauschka be my kicker:

 

• In the two seasons since the NFL moved the PAT back, Hauschka is 69 of 79 on extra points, and 20 of 20 on field goals between 30 and 39 yards away. That’s ridiculously inefficient, particularly when the PAT—from what he told Carucci—is something challenging to him mentally.

 

• “You’ve got to be mentally sharp the whole game.” Last season, Hauschka was called on an average of 4.5 times a game to kick an extra point or field goal. That’s 72 times in four months. I know it’s a job packed with pressure. I get it. But that is the life you’ve chosen. It’s not too much to expect a kicker to be “mentally sharp” for three hours and four or five opportunities once a week.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

This report from John Ourand at Sports Business Journal on Robert Kraft’s deplorable travel arrangements:

 

@Ourand_SBJ

White House Pool Report: Patriots owner Robert Kraft, “who was wearing

black canvas Nike sneakers, also joined POTUS on Air Force One.”

– – –

CB MALCOLM BUTLER is annoyed that the Patriots have strung him along while paying big money to STEPHON GILMORE.  Phil Perry at CSNNE.com:

 

If Malcolm Butler wants to get paid what he feels he’s worth, he’ll have to find a club willing to either a) sign him to an offer sheet and give up a first-round pick, or b) trade for him and give him a long-term extension.

 

According to our Mike Giardi, that’s exactly what he’s is trying to do at the moment.

 

@MikeGiardi

Source tells me Butler & his camp remain extremely frustrated by Pats position & Gilmore signing. Courting offers elsewhere. Wants new home

 

The reason a new home might be hard to find? Whatever team draws up an offer sheet for Butler won’t only have to be ready to give him a lucrative long-term contract, but it will also have to be prepared to part with one of its most prized possessions: a first-round pick.

 

The Patriots tendered Butler, a restricted free agent, at the highest level prior to the start of the new league year. That means that if Butler signs the tender — which he has yet to do — and plays for the Patriots, he’ll make $3.91 million next year. If he signs an offer sheet with another club, that club will have to hand New England its first-rounder.

 

It’s a steep price for any team to pay, but a player of Butler’s caliber rarely hits the restricted free agent market. For clubs at the bottom of the first round that believe they’re one Pro Bowl-level corner away from competing for a Lombardi Trophy, giving up the opportunity to draft a more cost-effective player in exchange for the ready-made pro may make sense.

 

The Patriots reportedly considered the idea of trading Butler to the Saints last week in return for receiver Brandin Cooks. But because Butler was not under contract — because he has not signed his tender — he could not be traded. The Patriots, you may have heard, found another way to get their man.

 

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports sent out a mini Twitter blast on Sunday night as it related to Butler’s situation. Two nuggets of note…

 

1) The Patriots would be “cool with” picking up a first-rounder if Butler finds the offer sheet he’s looking for. This seems logical because while Butler is a very, very good corner — arguably one of the five best at his position last season — the team protected itself from losing him in some ways when it signed Stephon Gilmore to a five-year free-agent deal. They have a No. 1 guy — or someone who projects as, and is being paid as, a No. 1 guy — on the roster. What they don’t have is a first or second-round pick. Getting into that range in the draft may be a priority for Bill Belichick and his front office, and Butler could be their ticket to get there. Of course, if there is no offer sheet, the Patriots probably would be more than happy to run onto the field with a one-two punch at corner of Butler and Gilmore.

 

2) Butler is telling teams he wants a Gilmore-type deal. From Butler’s perspective, this makes sense. He considers himself at Gilmore’s level or better, and so the $40 million guaranteed that Gilmore received is could very well be his asking price. From the league’s perspective, though, it might be difficult to rationalize giving Butler that kind of money at the moment. As a restricted free agent who will cost a team its first-round pick, his price tag is through the roof. Paying him near the very top of the market for corners, Gilmore-level, and giving up a first-rounder in a deep cornerback draft may be prohibitive for anyone in need of help at that position. This may be why Butler’s agent is courting offers as opposed to being courted.

– – –

The authorities have tracked down TOM BRADY’s missing Super Bowl jersey – to Mexico.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The stolen Tom Brady Super Bowl jerseys were found on foreign soil. That soil apparently resides south of the border.

 

Via FOX 26, Houston police chief Art Acevedo said that the suspect is in Mexico.

 

“The HPD criminal intelligence division detectives identified a suspect in Mexico,” Acevedo said. ” I’m proud to say as a result of their hard work, and with the assistance of the FBI and Mexican authorities, we believe we’ve recovered the jersey.  Further authentication is in process [of being completed].”

 

Acevedo added that the suspect had “legitimate access to the Super Bowl.”

 

In the aftermath of the Super Bowl, Yahoo! Sports reported that the authorities had determined that the jersey likely had been stolen before the media entered the locker room. Apparently, that wasn’t the case.

 

And this:

 

It wasn’t only Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey that was stolen and is now recovered.

 

According to Tom Curran of CSNNE.com, it was actually Brady’s last two Super Bowl jerseys that were stolen, and both of them have now been recovered from the same source.

 

The report says Brady’s Super Bowl XLIX jersey from two years ago was taken by the same person who took the Super Bowl LI jersey. Both were stolen outside the United States and both were recovered in an FBI investigation.

 

It’s unclear how one person was able to steal two Super Bowl jerseys and sell them both overseas, and it’s also unclear why we’re just now learning that the two-year-old Super Bowl XLIX jersey had also been stolen. The missing Super Bowl LI jersey was reported within hours after the game ended and has been the subject of much discussion in the seven weeks since.

 

Brady will apparently get both of his jerseys back soon.

 

The NFL says the suspect is a member of the “international media” and we would presume he is from Mexico.

 

Don’t know why Donald Trump’s name popped into the DB’s brain.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

John McMullen at FanRagSports.com isn’t impressed with how the Jets are conducting themselves regarding quarterbacks:

 

From a political perspective, the term “bridge to nowhere” is often used to describe a structure designed to serve low-population areas at a hefty cost, a symbol of pork-barrel spending in Washington.

 

The bridge quarterback is a popular term in the NFL in that sometimes you need to swallow hard and move forward with a less-than-desirable option while searching for the long-term answer.

 

The New York Jets, however, are quickly finding out that Ryan Fitzpatrick turned out to be the league’s version of the “bridge to nowhere” as they talk turkey with 37-year-old journeyman Josh McCown.

 

It’s not like the Jets haven’t tried to formulate a destination for that bridge with Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg drafted in recent seasons, but Smith was a bust as the team’s supposed future after being selected as the 39th overall pick in the 2013 draft and has now changed locker rooms at MetLife Stadium, trading in “Gang Green” for “Big Blue” as Eli Manning’s backup with the Giants.

 

Petty, a fourth-round selection in 2015, and Hackenberg, a second-rounder last year, are so ill-prepared to take over the reins that the Jets are talking numbers with McCown, who will turn 38 in July, and are also considering bringing in the enigmatic Jay Cutler, not exactly the kind of leader you want mentoring prized prospects.

 

But the dirty little secret here is that Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan already understands Petty and Hackenberg aren’t the answers and has already moved on from a mental perspective.

 

In the case of Petty, that’s really not that big of a deal because fourth-round picks not named Dak Prescott don’t exactly have a long and storied history of developing into competent NFL starters. Meanwhile, Petty was already really behind the eight-ball after playing his college ball in Baylor’s spread offense, having to learn NFL-level protections and progressions at the professional level with less-than-ideal arm strength.

 

The real faux pas, however, was Hackenberg, a player many believed Maccagnan threw out his back reaching for with the 51st overall pick last April. The Penn State product is straight out of central casting for an NFL QB at 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds but reports out of North Jersey were anything but good last season as the Jets’ season fizzled.

 

Despite Fitzpatrick coming off the rails and Smith getting injured, Jets coach Todd Bowles went to Petty to finish things out and never even considered Hackenberg despite that the fact the coach’s job was on the line.

 

Typically, that does mean going with the guy who gives you the best chance to win on any given Sunday, and that’s the strategy Bowles employed. However, if you have a young quarterback who you really believe is going to be the starter at some point, inserting him can actually buy a coach some time with the critics.

 

Bowles never considered Hackenberg and now the guy tied to drafting him, Maccagnan, is also on the clock when it comes to his employment, and he is flashing little interest in showing the courage of his convictions with Hackenberg.

 

When evaluating an NFL front office, never concern yourself with what they say, watch what they do and everything New York has done, from its interest in Tyrod Taylor and Mike Glennon to its contract discussions with McCown and keeping Cutler on speed dial, screams that they have no confidence in Hackenberg.

 

And that means the Jets are about to break ground on their next bridge to nowhere.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

Sad news from former 49er WR Dwight Clark, shared by Twitter, as noted by Peter King:

 

The Tweet from “DwightC87” at 9:03 p.m. Sunday. (I didn’t know the man who made “The Catch” was on Twitter.)

 

@DwightC87

I wanted to share some unfortunate news: I have ALS. http://alturl.com/8x8c7

 

“Those words are still very hard for me to say,” Clark said in a statement released Sunday night.

 

Clark was inclined to try to fight the disease privately, a friend said, until Sunday afternoon. While at a sports memorabilia show in Chicago, Clark ran into Jim Kelly, and Clark shared the news. Kelly posted a photo of the two of them on Instagram at 4:54 p.m. Kelly asked his followers to pray for Clark, who was suffering from ALS. That sent Clark’s statement into motion.

 

He said he began to feel symptoms of muscle weakness in 2015. I’m told he was told with finality he had ALS in the middle of 2016. Said Clark: “I can’t run, play golf or walk any distances. Picking up anything over 30 pounds is a chore. The one piece of good news is that the disease seems to be progressing more slowly than in some patients.”

 

And he said: “I’ve been asked if playing football caused this. I don’t know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did. And I encourage the NFLPA and the NFL to continue working together in their efforts to make the game of football safer, especially as it relates to head trauma.”

 

King seems to think five former NFLers with ALS is too many for random chance:

 

Clark becomes at least the fifth former player in the past 10 years to be diagnosed with this incurable disease that gradually shuts down every muscle in the body. Former Patriots and Eagles running back Kevin Turner had ALS and died in 2016. Saints special-teamer Steve Gleason, who turned 40 on Sunday, lives with it and has become a tireless advocate for funding to try to find a cure. Former Tennessee linebacker Tim Shaw also has the disease and is an advocate for a cure. Former Raiders fullback Steve Smith suffers from it as well. In 2012, the American Academy of Neurology published a study of 3,500 former players that said pro football players were four times as likely to die from ALS or Alzheimer’s Disease as the general population.

 

As Clark said in his statement, it’s incumbent on the stewards of the game to press for as safe a sport as possible. Clark’s case is just another clarion call for the people who run the sport to make the equipment safer, and to spend generously to study the effect of brain trauma on post-football life for players. You can be sure that though there’s no indisputable evidence linking football with long-term brain injuries and devastating diseases like ALS, more and more parents of young people will question at what age—if ever—they’ll allow their children to play tackle football. And rightfully so.

 

More on Clark from Tim Kawakami in the San Jose Mercury News:

 

it was another convening of the dynasty, another moment when Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and yes, Clark… and everybody else from those days… stood together.

 

Through five Super Bowl titles. Through this, too, now.

 

“As much as we’ve been together in glory,” former team president Carmen Policy told me Sunday night, “it seems like this group gets even tighter in adversity. It’s really noble to behold.”

 

They call themselves a family, like a lot of sports organizations do, and sometimes, with other groups, that seems trite and mostly exaggerated. They played football, and, as Clark suggests, it seems likely that the violence of that sport contributed to this condition–and to the deterioration of so many other players.

 

But beyond that, because these 49ers figures have been through so much more than football, they speak about unbreakable family ties because they have them.

 

A few months ago, the Mercury News’ Daniel Brown and I had lunch with Roger Craig–just to catch up and talk football–and Craig rattled off updates for his old comrades just as easily as he might’ve when they were all playing together.

 

Roger didn’t mention Clark, though I think the teammates all knew most of it and by then they knew that Eddie D was, as usual, trying to move heaven and earth for Clark to get the best treatment and see the best doctors.

 

That it didn’t leak is another tribute to the unity of all this group, which kept it quiet because Clark wanted it quiet for a while longer.

 

It would be Clark’s letter, then the statements from his friends and teammates.

 

And that would be it for this sad, shocking, and essentially 49er night.

 

“Every single one of my 49ers teammates that has contacted me has said whatever I need, anytime I need it, they will help,” Clark wrote. “That’s just the kind of guys they are. They were so giving as players and now they are the same as friends.

 

“I can’t thank my teammates and friends enough for their support. Mr. D always treated us like family and that family is still together.”

The Dynasty lost its architect when Walsh died in 2007, and it has lost other great members–including Freddie Solomon and several beloved behind-the-scenes members.

 

As Policy describes it, the Dynasty teammates are all “circled around Dwight now,” which is wholly expected and utterly meaningful.

 

If he hangs on long enough, maybe former Florida State star Myron Rolle will help cure him.  Marc Lancaster at Omnisport:

 

“Student-athlete” is a term the NCAA insists be applied to everyone participating in college sports, no matter where academics rank among their priorities. Few have been more worthy of the moniker than Myron Rolle.

 

The former Florida State safety learned Friday that he has been accepted for a neurosurgery residency at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, the next step on a path he had planned out even before stepping away from the NFL to enter med school.

 

Rolle has long been on a different program than his football-playing peers. He earned a Rhodes scholarship while at FSU and deferred his NFL career for a year while earning a Master’s in medical anthropology at Oxford University.

 

He didn’t end up playing in a regular-season game and ultimately entered FSU’s medical school to pursue his real dream. At age 30, he is now one step closer to fulfilling it, with his residency set to begin July 1.

 

“Seven years of neurosurgery is a big deal, something I wanted for a long time, really excited about it. Today is just great, it’s remarkable,” Rolle told WCTV in Tallahassee on Friday. “… Saving lives and helping people live a better life, that’s going to make life worth living.”

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Peter King on the likelihood that TONY ROMO will end up in TV sooner or later, maybe sooner:

 

Nothing new. No news. No white smoke out of Jerry Jones’ chimney. But even though the Cowboys have not released him, I’m starting to wonder whether Romo might actually consider a TV career now instead of taking one last shot to win big at age 37 (and possibly 38). Adam Schefter reported recently that FOX wants to hire Romo to replace John Lynch on its number two NFL broadcast team, and Schefter said other networks are interested too. The easy thing would be to say: He can do that after his career ends. No rush. And that’s true. This is just my opinion, but what if Romo is enjoying the family life (he is married, with two children, and a third on the way), realizes he wants to continue to live in Dallas, and thinks maybe it wouldn’t be so bad on 20 weekends a year to leave home Friday morning, get home Sunday night, do something he knows he’d be good at (talking about football in an amiable and intelligent way), and be able to make $2 million a year (at the very least). He will be smart enough to know he can’t just walk into a big-time booth without some knowledge whether he’d be good right away, and I expect he’d do his homework on that, if he’s not already.

 

I still think it’s likely a released Romo will end up getting an offer from Houston, and possibly (but less likely) from Denver. And if I had to guess I’d say he’d end up signing with Houston and taking one more shot at a title. The Texans continue to be coy about their interest, but with a premier defense, they’re not going to enter 2017 with Tom Savage, Brandon Weeden and a rookie in the quarterback room—not if they have any chance to get Romo.

 

But I do not dismiss the TV stuff. I understand it. Romo loves talking about football. In Dallas’ training camp in 2015, he spent 30 or 40 minutes after our interview one afternoon talking to me about quarterback mechanics and the art of playing the position in language easily understandable, not all footballese. When I think of Romo, I think of a guy who, if he chooses TV, will make a good living for a long time explaining the NFL game to people. Who knows whether that will happen, but I do think it has to be tempting for Romo when a pretty big TV offer (or more than one) comes his way—knowing that this job or jobs may not be open in 2018 or 2019.

– – –

Peter King talked to Cris Collinsworth for a podcast.  Here is how he ended up with a law degree:

 

Collinsworth on getting a law degree while he played: “I had this really hot girl I was dating who was in law school. [It was his future wife, Holly.] I had already been accepted to law school at University of Florida, and you know me, I can get a little competitive and she was at the University of Kentucky going to law school and I went down to visit her and so she is sitting in the library grinding away and it was during finals, and I am ready to go out and have some fun and go out and party. And she says, ‘There’s just no way. I have finals coming.’ And I said, ‘Well, I got accepted to law school. I could do this too.’ She goes, ‘Oh yeah, sure you could.’ I go through and I reapply and go to the University of Cincinnati and it ends up this cute young girl is now my wife, who ended up the number three student in our law school class and I was somewhere just beneath her looking up as we graduated. But it was really her, it was some strange competitive thing that exists within me. I couldn’t stand the idea that she was doing something that I had always planned to do. By then I kind of knew my career was starting to tick down then too, it was my seventh year and I only played eight and my knee was starting to hurt. It was crazy, but I did it. … It never crossed my mind for a second [post-career] that I was going to be anything but a lawyer. My degree is in accounting and the classes I always aced were the taxes and business stuff, so probably something like that.”

 

The DB’s brother was also in that UC law school class, FYI.

 

 

2017 DRAFT

Peter King on an injury to CB SIDNEY JONES:

 

Washington cornerback Sidney Jones sustained a serious left leg injury at his Pro Day on Saturday. He was carted off the field after going down in one of the final drills of the day. The Seattle Times reported Jones tore his Achilles tendon. A physical, lock-down corner, Jones was a first-round candidate. (I consider him the second-best corner in this draft, after Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore). Depending on the severity of the injury and projected recovery, Jones could fall out of the Top 32. While Jones’ injury highlights the physical risk prospects inherently accept, I’m not sure it will instigate any pre-draft workout reforms.

– – –

Today’s Mock Draft is from Rob Rang at CBSSports.com who kind of splits the difference with QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY:

 

1. CLEVELAND BROWNS

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: The clear top need in Cleveland is at quarterback but frankly it would be a stunner if anyone other than Garrett was the first pick, as he is simply the best player in the draft. Garrett lived up to his hype at the Combine, dazzling with his combination of size (6-4, 272), power (33 repetitions of 225 pounds) and speed (4.64) and explosiveness (41-inch vertical).

 

2. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: Head coach Kyle Shanahan was hired to help spark a listless offense that ranked 27th in the NFL in points scored and dead last in passing last season but ignoring better players just to draft a quarterback may only guarantee another poor season in 2017. Thomas is a natural disruptor who has drawn comparisons to LA Rams star Aaron Donald. Sandwiched between massive defensive ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead and new defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, he could give the 49ers the dominant defensive line to compete in the NFC West, with the need at quarterback more likely to be addressed with a veteran.

 

3. CHICAGO BEARS

Jamal Adams, SS, LSU: Safety has long been a sore spot in Chicago with only one Bears safety (Mike Brown) earning an invitation to the Pro Bowl over the past 20 years. Adams has that kind of potential and is viewed by some as the safest prospect in the draft. He is a tone-setter with a rare combination of instincts, athleticism and intangibles to make an immediate impact on a defense that made strides a year ago but allowed 24.9 points per game, 24th in the NFL.

 

4. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama: The Jaguars’ overhaul of the defensive line may continue on draft day should Allen still be on the board. Allen dominated the SEC the past two seasons and at 6-3, 286 pounds he possesses the bulk, strength and quickness to line up virtually anywhere along the defensive line.

 

5. TENNESSEE TITANS (FROM LOS ANGELES)

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State: The Titans improved in virtually every category in 2016 but one significant exception was in pass defense, where Tennessee ranked 31st in the NFL. Recurring hamstring injuries limited Lattimore to just one healthy season for the Buckeyes but his easy athleticism (as demonstrated by a 4.36-second 40-yard dash) jumps off tape.

 

6. NY JETS

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Adding a third young quarterback to compete with recent draft picks Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg would be bold but with little evidence that either is the long-term answer at quarterback, general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles might have little choice but to exhaust all options. Barring the signing of a veteran (Jay Cutler), Watson could be a candidate to watch. Watson is a polarizing player in the scouting community, dazzling with his dual-threat ability but throwing 30 interceptions over the past two seasons, most in the FBS. His undeniably impressive track record of playing his best under the bright lights could be more valued on Broadway than elsewhere.

 

7. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State: The Chargers won big with Joey Bosa a year ago and could see another Buckeye as an ideal replacement for Eric Weddle, whom the club clearly missed in 2016. The 6-foot-2, 205 pound Hooker possesses the range and ballskills to complement the Chargers’ small but physical cornerbacks.

 

8. CAROLINA PANTHERS

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: One of the reasons for Carolina’s slip in 2016 was an inconsistent running game, putting the spotlight once again on Jonathan Stewart’s struggles with durability. Stewart has only played in 16 regular season games three times over his nine-year career and not since 2011. Fournette was not as impressive at the Combine as expected but he is a freakish talent, boasting the most exciting combination of size, speed and power since Adrian Peterson.

 

9. CINCINNATI BENGALS

Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple: Marvin Lewis will remain the Bengals head coach in 2017 but with the pressure on, he likely will be pushing for players who can make an immediate impact. Reddick recorded 22.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks as an edge rusher for the Owls in 2016 before wowing first at the Senior Bowl as a more traditional linebacker at the Senior Bowl and then at the Combine, recording a ridiculous 4.52 second time in the 40-yard dash and 11-foot-1 broad jump at 6-1, 234 pounds.

 

10. BUFFALO BILLS

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Extending Tyrod Taylor accomplished one big goal but for the Bills’ offense to take the next step more weapons are needed. After spectacular performances at the Senior Bowl and Combine, Howard is gaining traction as the top pass-catcher in this draft. His strength and experience as an inline blocker would also complement Buffalo’s commitment to the running game.

 

11. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: The Saints ranked dead last in pass defense in 2016 but this is as much a reflection on a poor pass rush as it is the secondary. Barnett lacks the length and pure explosiveness scouts would prefer but his instincts, use of hands and production (33 sacks over the past three years) are certainly first-round caliber.

 

12. CLEVELAND BROWNS (FROM PHILADELPHIA)

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: The splashy trade for Brock Osweiler is not likely to keep Cleveland from drafting another quarterback. Trubisky is obviously a roll of the dice given that he only started one year for the Tar Heels but he showed impressive accuracy, athleticism and pocket awareness in 2016. The Ohio native possesses the combination of upside and intangibles that Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson prioritized with their draft picks a year ago.

 

13. ARIZONA CARDINALS

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: The Cardinals have publicly stated their intention to find a young quarterback to groom under Carson Palmer and teams are excited about Mahomes’ upside. After starring in Tech’s shotgun-heavy Air-Raid offense, Mahomes is undeniably a project but he possesses the gunslinger mentality and arm talent to excite Bruce Arians.

 

14. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (FROM MINNESOTA)

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: With last year’s starting cornerbacks (Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll) playing elsewhere in 2017, the Eagles will be looking hard at this position in free agency and the draft. Humphrey is an NFL legacy with a rare combination of size (6-0, 197 pounds) and speed (4.41), who at just 20-years old appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential.

 

15. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: The best way to spark Andrew Luck and the Colts’ sagging offense? A dynamic running back. Ignore the questions about Cook’s so-called lack of athleticism after a disappointing Combine performance. On the field where it matters, Cook is a proven superstar with the soft hands and elusiveness to put Indianapolis right back in the playoff picture

.

16. BALTIMORE RAVENS

Jabrill Peppers, SS, Michigan: With starting safety Matt Elam a pending free agent and Eric Weddle poised to enter his 11th NFL season, the Ravens may very well be looking for help in the secondary in the 2017 draft. Peppers starred as a linebacker in 2016 but possesses the agility and speed to handle coverage.

 

17. WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama: The Redskins surrendered an average of nearly 120 yards per game on the ground in 2016 and only three teams (the Chargers, Bills and 49ers) allowed more than their 19 rushing touchdowns. Foster was kicked out of the Combine after a run-in with medical personnel but his talent is undeniable. Possessing remarkable closing speed and the physicality to intimidate, he could prove a steal at this point in the draft.

 

18. TENNESSEE TITANS

John Ross, WR, Washington: Allowing former first-round receiver Kendall Wright to leave in free agency leaves an average receiver corps even shallower. Adding a vertical threat like Ross would not only give Marcus Mariota another weapon, it would keep defenses from crowding the box in run support.

 

19. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: The Bucs boast two dynamic pass-catchers in Mike Evans and recent free agent signee DeSean Jackson but both have struggled with consistency over their respective careers. With depth at receiver a relative weakness, GM Jason Licht may see the polished Davis as an ideal insurance policy.

 

20. DENVER BRONCOS

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: The Broncos averaged just 3.6 yards per carry last season and Elway made adding reinforcements along the offensive line the top priority in free agency. McCaffrey is perfectly suited to today’s wide-open NFL, offering the speed and shiftiness to make defenders miss as a runner, receiver and returner.

 

21. DETROIT LIONS

Zach Cunningham, OLB, Vanderbilt: The Lions addressed concerns along the offensive and defensive lines through free agency but lost speed at linebacker with the decision to release DeAndre Levy. Cunningham, a two-time All-SEC pick, has the range and length to fill this hole immediately.

 

22. MIAMI DOLPHINS

Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama: Adding two more years to Cameron Wake’s contract lessens Miami’s need for pass rush help but doesn’t eliminate it. The talented but troubled Williams might learn a thing or two from Wake, who finished with more than twice as many sacks last season (11.5) as any other Dolphins defender and has earned Pro Bowl nods five times since jumping from the CFL to Miami in 2009.

 

23. NY GIANTS

Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin: The Giants rushed for a miniscule 3.5 yards per carry in 2016 and scored a league-low six touchdowns on the ground and its tackles struggled with speed rushers. Adding former first round pick D.J. Fluker helps at guard but if a gifted left tackle like Ramczyk was still on the board, incumbent starting blindside blocker Ereck Flower could be moved to his more natural right side, potentially improving three positions immediately.

 

24. OAKLAND RAIDERS

Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State: The Raiders’ rise to the playoffs is directly attributable to its explosive offense but if the club is to take the next step — and remain a consistent postseason threat — help must be on the way for a defense that surrendered an average of 375 yards per game, 26th in the NFL. In his postseason wrap-up, Jack Del Rio stressed the need to create more of disruption on the interior, which is exactly what the 6-5, 285 pound McDowell does best.

 

25. HOUSTON TEXANS

DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame: Ridding itself of the colossal Osweiler contract was a relief in itself but unless a veteran replacement (Tony Romo?) is found, quarterback is now the top priority again in Houston. Kizer lacks polish but possesses the size and arm that Bill O’Brien has always prioritized.

 

26. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama: It is no secret that the Seahawks’ top priority over the offseason would be addressing a leaky offensive line. Robinson, the reigning Outland Award winner as the nation’s top blocker, possesses the size and strength Seattle prioritizes with a skill-set which projects well to guard or tackle, wherever offensive line coach Tom Cable needs him most.

 

27. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: The Chiefs’ receiving corps is full of savvy route runners and speed demons but lacks bulk and physicality, which is precisely where the 6-3, 218-pound Williams excels. This would be an ideal landing spot for Williams, whose ability to win contested passes could make him a perfect red zone threat for an offense built around Alex Smith’s accuracy in the short to intermediate levels.

 

28. DALLAS COWBOYS

David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.): Jason Witten is a future Hall of Famer but his inability to stretch the field anymore limits Dallas’ offense. Incorporating a seam threat like Njoku would make it risky for defenses to crowd the box to stop Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ powerful running game and who better to model the work ethic necessary to be successful in the NFL for Njoku than Witten?

 

29. GREEN BAY PACKERS

Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky: The Packers may be ready to absorb the losses of former Pro Bowl guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton with young players already on the roster but GM Ted Thompson could see Lamp as a plug and play solution here. Lamp starred at left tackle for the Hilltoppers but made a seamless transition inside to guard at the Senior Bowl.

 

30. PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Obi Melifonwu, SS, Connecticut: Two years ago, it was former Husky Byron Jones who wowed scouts at the Combine with his sheer athleticism, earning a first round pick by Dallas. Melifonwu was one of this year’s brightest stars in Indianapolis, producing a 4.40-second 40-yard dash, 44-inch vertical and 11-feet-3-inch broad jump at 6-4, 224 pounds. Better yet, Melifonwu’s athleticism translates onto the field and the Steelers could use his range in the deep patrol.

 

31. ATLANTA FALCONS

Charles Harris, DE, Missouri: The need for more juice in the pass rush was evident throughout the second half collapse in the Super Bowl. The 6-3, 253-pound Harris would be an ideal changeup to the similarly sized Vic Beasley. Harris may lack Beasley’s initial burst but he possesses a full complement of pass rush moves and plays with the intensity head coach Dan Quinn will appreciate.

 

32. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (FROM NEW ENGLAND)

Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado: GM Mickey Loomis and the Saints were reportedly targeting Malcolm Butler in the Brandin Cooks deal and may see similar qualities in Awuzie, a highly instinctive and physical corner just as effective in run support as he is in coverage.

– – –

Emily Kaplan of TheMMQB.com looks at whether or not QB DAVIS WEBB from Cal (by way of Texas Tech) could make the first round:

 

Upon arriving in Mobile, Ala. in January, I asked Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage if he believed any quarterbacks were poised to break out during the week.

“Davis Webb,” Savage, the former Cleveland Browns GM, said without hesitation.

I had heard moderate buzz about the Cal quarterback throughout the fall but never considered him a top-tier prospect. He couldn’t beat out Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech, so he transferred to Berkeley. He followed Jared Goff in Cal’s Bear Raid offense, meaning that the same steep learning curve (commanding a huddle, taking snaps from under center) that kept the Rams rookie off the field until late November will likely apply to Webb. But back in January, Savage was sensing momentum, and now it’s tangible. Six weeks before the draft, Webb is a legitimate second-round candidate, and it’s feasible that, come the last weekend in April, he will be billed as someone’s quarterback of the future.

 

In January, Webb flew into Mobile two days earlier than his Senior Bowl peers to adjust his body clock, and he arranged a throwing session with local University of South Alabama receivers. As you learn more about the 22-year-old Webb, stories like this become common. He’s the son of a coach and after his playing career wants to be a coach himself. When he watches football on TV, he splays out 50 index cards in front of him, scribbling down plays he likes. He has already built the framework for his eventual coaching playbook—down to situational red-zone plays—in a binder he keeps at home. He had keys to the high school gym, and janitors found Webb running cone drills past 9 p.m. more than once. He packed up his car the day after Texas Tech graduation—under NCAA rules, a player who receives his undergraduate degree and has eligibility remaining can transfer to another program to pursue a master’s without sitting out a year—and drove the 20 hours to Berkeley with his mom so he could get started as soon as possible. He out-clocked a few coaches in the Cal football building, self-imposing a 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. workday. He rehearses play-calls in the mirror. He stayed up an extra two to three hours at Senior Bowl practices to study the exhibition game playbook.

Says Jake Spavital, Webb’s offensive coordinator at Cal: “Sometimes you hear all of this and say, Alright, you’re probably full of s—. Sure, he’s always up at the offices, and always working and all of that. But when you do the research, and a lot of NFL teams are, you start seeing it. And you say: Damn, this kid is the real deal.”

* * *

Webb completed his goal at the combine: He wanted to finish top-five in every category. He had a terrific throwing session, highlighting his arm strength on vertical routes while shrinking the gap between himself and the presumed top four—DeShone Kizer, Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky. “But the interviews were my best part,” Webb said in a phone interview last week.

 

This was the second time Webb met with many teams—the first being the Senior Bowl—and his football obsession and ultraconfident personality resonated. Webb is so personable, it can be mistaken as inauthentic. One scout was surprised that one month after chatting with the quarterback in Mobile, Webb addressed him by name in Indianapolis. But these traits trace back to Webb’s upbringing.

 

Webb’s father, Matt, coached high school football in suburban Dallas. He switched schools five times—according to Davis, always accepting better job offers—and so Webb cheered for five different schools, himself switching schools once. “I’ve kind of become used to making new friends,” he says. He attended a Texas Tech camp his sophomore year of high school, and fell in love with the program. On the drive home, Webb pledged to his father that he would make Lubbock his home. When Tech offered a scholarship, Webb told his other suitors (among them: Iowa, TCU) to back off. He committed the same day.

 

By the second day of spring ball Webb was practicing in the first-team huddle. He switched off with incumbent Michael Brewer, fully supplanting him as starter by the bowl game. (Brewer would transfer to Virginia Tech; Webb’s emergence also pushed Baker Mayfield out to Oklahoma). Webb, as a freshman, won the Holiday Bowl MVP, leading the Red Raiders to a 37-23 upset over No. 16 Arizona State, completing 28 of 40 passes (to 10 different targets) for 403 yards and four scores.

 

A dark-horse Heisman candidate, Webb started the first eight games of 2014 before a season-ending ankle injury in October. A few weeks later he underwent surgery on his shoulder from an injury in September. As Webb sat out, coach Kliff Kingsbury inserted a true freshman, Patrick Mahomes. Webb’s trajectory was suddenly thrown out of whack.

 

In 2015, Mahomes won the starting job in camp. “I feel like I never really got the chance to compete,” Webb says. Factoring into Kingsbury’s decision: Mahomes had two years of eligibility on Webb.

 

It was a harsh shift. “I was a team captain, I was the guy for the first couple years,” Webb says. “And then all of the sudden I was just the backup. It wasn’t easy. I think it would be easy to bow my head and feel sorry for myself, but I knew as a captain I had to be a great teammate.”

 

Webb stayed in the top pack of conditioning drills. He lifted like a linebacker. He made himself available to freshmen (Need help with a move? Want to go over plays?). He was now leading the No. 2 huddle and took pride in working with the younger players. “And the next year, it was so fun watching [wideouts] Keke Coutee and Jonathan Giles have a great year with Patrick [Mahomes],” Webb says. “Because I felt like I had a hand in their development.”

 

By December, the worst-kept secret in Lubbock became official: Webb would transfer.

* * *

Webb chose Cal over Colorado, with Spavital’s arrival as offensive coordinator being one of the biggest factors. A quick primer for those who don’t follow college football:

In 2008, Kevin Sumlin became head coach at Houston and, with offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, helped Case Keenum become one of the most prolific passers in NCAA history. Kingsbury was a quality control coach who worked closely with Keenum. In 2009, Spavital was hired as a grad assistant. Sumlin and Kingsbury brought their offense to Texas A&M in 2012. Spavital moved briefly to West Virginia with Holgorsen (helping groom Geno Smith), then joined the Aggies in 2013 for the prime of Johnny Manziel.

 

“I’m really close with Kliff, and we’ve always traded tape,” Spavital says. “Every single week we trade tape. He critiques me, I critique him. Throughout the year when Davis was the starter, I was like, This guy is really good. Kliff spoke so highly of him. He said he has one of the better arms you’ll ever see. Though Kliff went with Pat Mahomes, it was kind of like just giving it to the hot hand. He never thought anything less of Davis.”

And so when Spavital took the Cal job, Webb followed. It was a perfect match. Spavital was going to install his offense (which, according to Spavital, is essentially the same as Kingsbury’s with a few variations) and had an incoming quarterback with a base knowledge. The transition from the farmlands of Lubbock to one of the most liberal campuses in the U.S. was jarring. Knowing his grad transfer was essentially a six-month audition for NFL scouts, Webb accelerated the process. He wanted to know every player on the team, their hometown, their hobbies. “I didn’t want to look at it like memorization or trying to suck up,” Webb says. “I just tried to be as human as possible.” If he sat with a group of five offensive linemen for breakfast, he’d join wide receivers for lunch. He even got to know defensive players. Within two months of being on campus, Webb was named a captain (a badge he proudly reminds NFL interviewers).

 

“For six months, we pretty much lived together,” Spavital says. “He was in the office so much he forced me to get in there too. If he liked a certain concept, even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of it, I still put it in because the kid did his homework.” Webb and Spavital did a few studies on footwork. They broke down just about every NFL quarterback’s tape. Webb’s mechanics were already pretty sound—he’s been tutored by George Whitfield in offseason, and is a veteran of Elite 11 camps—and his arm talent is undeniable. Webb has a quick release, to the point where sometimes it feels like he’s just flicking the ball. Though Spavital’s offense is different from the one Goff ran a year earlier, it has enough similarities that evaluators talking themselves into Webb have pointed to this:

 

Webb’s final season at Cal: 61.6% completions, 4,295 yards, 37 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.

Goff’s final season at Cal: 64.5% completions, 4,714 yards, 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

 

“I’ve known Jared for a long time, because of Elite 11 camps, and I think comparisons are O.K., but we are different leaders, different quarterbacks,” Webb says. “Jared is a little more laid back. I can be laid back, but I’m pretty high strung.”

 

“Oh, Davis is a competitor, he’s a very emotional player,” Spavital says. “He’d get so intense with stuff, and I’d say, Relax relax, relax. Two weeks later, if I was losing my mind, he’d come up to me and say, Relax, relax, relax. That’s the type of relationship we had.”

 

Their bond was so strong, Spavital treated Webb like a grad assistant. “He was the only player I’ve ever allowed to run my meetings on Friday,” Spavital says. “I’m used to splitting my meetings in half. I let him have one, and let him run it. He made cutups throughout the week of things he wanted to show the skill players. I met with the entire unit at night.”

 

Spavital is now back at West Virginia with Holgorsen. “Davis will end up being my fifth quarterback to enter the NFL,” Spavital says (the others: Keenum, Manziel, Smith and Brandon Weeden). “Everyone has their own path, but the kids who put their whole life into the game, you root for those kids.”