The Daily Briefing Monday, March 26, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
The owners are going to have a chance to open the Pandora’s box of replay review on personal fouls. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Under current NFL rules, personal foul penalties cannot be reviewed in instant replay. In 2018, that could change.
Next week the NFL owners will consider two proposals that would change the league’s replay rules to allow the referee and head of officiating to review personal fouls.
One proposal, made by the Chargers, would allow roughing the passer and hits on players in a defenseless posture to be reviewed. A broader proposal made by Washington would allow all personal fouls to be reviewed.
NFL owners have been hesitant to allow replay reviews for personal fouls, saying that those penalties are often judgment calls. And yet the league office routinely uses video footage to determine whether to fine or suspend players for personal fouls. If the video can be used later in the week to determine league discipline, why can’t it be used on Sunday to determine whether the call on the field was correct?
The answer may be that the league doesn’t want to do anything that would add to the already too-frequent replay delays in NFL games. Reviewing everything would make for longer games at a time when the league wants games to move faster.
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Al Riveron explains the likely new catch rule to Peter King:
In the front of the room, prepping the plays he wanted to show me that were at the crux of the proposed new rule, NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron riffed on the rewrite of the complex rule.
“The Competition Committee rewrote the catch rule, basically, over the last two months,” Riveron said, with the infamous Dez Bryant play paused on the screen at the front of the room. “Totally. And it’s broken down in three basic things: Control, two feet down or a body part down, and a football move. We took away the element of going to the ground. Once they fulfill these three steps, it’s over.”
Riveron ran the Dez tape. The play, Bryant’s controversial non-catch in the 2014 NFC divisional playoff game against Green Bay, is three years and two months old. In the eyes of the Competition Committee, it’s the Zapruder Film.
“One of the examples we use as a football move is a third step,” Riveron said. “So watch Dez.”
Bryant catches the ball at the Packer 5-yard line, high above Sam Shields. “Control,” Riveron said.
Bryant left foot down at the 5. “One,” Riveron said.
Bryant right foot down at the 4. “Two,” Riveron said.
Bryant left foot down, with a chunk of sod flying up, at the two-and-a-half-yard line. “Three,” he said. “We have a catch. Contact with the defensive player [Shields]. Down by contact. Play over. Process over. Catch. Doesn’t matter that the ball’s jarred loose.”
That would have reversed 2014 history. This next play is more recent.
“Now Jesse James,” Riveron said.
December 2017: New England, 10-3, at Pittsburgh, 11-2. Home field in the AFC playoff in the balance. Almost certainly it’s Pittsburgh’s with a win. Pats up 27-24, 30 seconds left. Ben Roethlisberger threw to tight end James near the goal line.
The video starts. James catch just outside the 1-yard line. “Control,” Riveron said.
Left knee on the ground, two feet from the goal line. “A knee equals two feet,” Riveron said.
Football move—James reached across the goal line and broke the plane … and the ball moved perceptibly as both hands and arms hit the ground beyond the goal line. “Now he reaches,” Riveron said. “Football move. It’s over. Catch. Touchdown. He made the football move. He broke the plane of the goal line. Play over.”
“One question,” I said. “Can you define ‘football move?’”
“We’ve got this in our proposal,” Riveron said. “Player reaching out with possession. Player pulling the ball back. Player making a third step. Player protecting himself. Those qualify for a football move.”
The Riveron point, backed by the Competition Committee, is pretty clear. The simplicity of it—the three points of control/two feet down/football move—sounds simple. But as we’ve learned, with the betterment of replay technology, the increase of HD cameras at every NFL game, and the ability of TV crews to have far better views of tight plays, simple plays are not simple anymore. Look at the replays the NFL overturned in 2017—such as the overwrought, overcorrected Kelvin Benjamin touchdown for Buffalo in New England that should not have been negated but was—and you realize so much of this is subject to human control too. I expect a few things if, as expected, the new rules pass this week when a three-quarters vote of the 32 teams comes up.
• I expect Riveron to be less of a micromanager as the replay supervisor in 2018. There is no question the Competition Committee and the league office thinks the standard of indisputable visual evidence must be reinstated after a 2017 season when it was fungible.
• I expect this rule to pass, because there is little organized opposition. I couldn’t find league or team people ready to fight it before the vote this week. That’s because it’s better than the rule that includes the point that a receiver must keep possession when he goes to the ground. “The problem with that,” said Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay, “is that if the players takes three steps and then goes to the ground, it could be a number of yards after he’s caught the ball.” In Bryant’s case, for instance, it was four yards between the time he took possession and the time the ball was jarred loose by contact with the ground.
• Three weeks ago today, I quoted a person close to the Competition Committee in this column, regarding the what-is-a-catch conundrum: “Going to the ground is going away,” my source said. And immediately I heard from several people in the league wondering if the league was simply exchanging one problem with other ones. Dean Blandino, the predecessor to Riveron, told me the Competition Committee is getting what it wanted with this new rule. “The Competition Committee wanted those plays, the Dez play and the Jesse James play, to be catches, and basically figured out, How do we do that? They figured it out. But now the issue is going to be, ‘Did they perform a football act, an act that is common to the game?’ That is going to be subjective.”
My feeling is this rule is better than the one it’s replacing, but it is not a catchall. If anything, I think Riveron is going to have more reviews in 2018 than last year.
“We just have to be mindful that this is not going to solve everything,” Blandino said.
I wish as a football-crazy people we could realize that. There are so many analysts, fans, players and coaches who express incredulity when a call on the field is upheld or overturned. Nothing is perfect, and no system in a bang-bang sporting play is perfect. I had to watch the Bryant replay more than 10 times to see all the intricacies. Imagine doing that on the field, in real time. It’s hard. Football can’t be perfectly officiated. We shouldn’t think this system will fix all wrongs, because all wrongs in such a fast game cannot be fixed.
There was a motion to make defensive pass interference just 15 yards (except in the case of flagrant DPIs), but it is not going to pass with just two of the eight members of the Competition Committee in favor of a change. Peter King can’t believe it:
I think there’s one rule the NFL likely won’t fix at these league meetings, and I cannot figure out why. The Jets proposed a rule that would limit defensive pass interference penalties to 15 yards, with the exception being flagrant fouls such when a cornerback, clearly beaten, tackles a wide receiver downfield with the ball in the air; that would remain a spot foul. On Friday, league officials downplayed the efficacy of a rule that would limit defensive pass interference to 15 years, with EVP for football operations Troy Vincent saying: “The professional defensive backs are too skilled, too smart … You don’t want a defensive back being able to strategically grab a guy.” Of course you don’t. That’s why you keep the egregious fouls spot fouls, and cap all the jousting fouls at 15 yards. And that’s why you make the rules change for one year only, and revisit it after the year.
I think the reason I’m bullish on changing this rule is that year after year, we see how the field gets tilted by ticky-tack calls. In the Saints-Vikings divisional playoff game, Ken Crawley was flagged on consecutive first-quarter plays for pass-interference downfield, handing the Vikings 54 yards for the simples acts of jousting with a wide receiver; there was nothing remotely flagrant. I’ve got no problem with flagging Crawley, even flagging him twice. But the Vikings went from first-and-10 at their 40-yard line to first-and-goal at the Saints 6 in a couple of minutes—all because of simple coverage jousting. Those flags simple do not deserve to tilt the field like that.
I think the league’s defense—there were only 11 DPIs of 40 yards or more last year—is specious. One of Crawley’s penalties was 20 yards, the other 34. Certainly a 40-yard DPI foul is huge. But a 25-yard DPI is huge too. And last year, there were 60 defensive pass-interference calls of 25 yards or more, per Pro Football Focus’ Nathan Jahnke. SIXTY! In addition, there were a total of 126 flags for DPIs of 16 yards or more.
I think I will end with this: I talked to Stanford coach David Shaw about the college rule (15 yards max on DPI) versus the spot foul in the NFL, and he said, even though there’s a fear of a beaten cornerback dragging down a receiver, it doesn’t happen often. Shaw prefers the college rule.
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Peter King on where the head coaches are coming from:
NFL head-coaching hires, last three off-seasons: 20.
NFL head-coaching hires, last three off-seasons, offensive side of the ball: 14.
Percentage of offensive hires in the last three years: 70 percent.
2016 … 7 offense: Mularkey, Jackson, Gase, Pederson, Koetter, Kelly; zero defense
2017 … 3 offense: Marrone, McVay, Shanahan; 3 defense: Lynn, Joseph, McDermott.
2018 … 4 offense: Nagy, Gruden, Shurmur, Reich; 3 defense: Wilks, Patricia, Vrabel.
We boldfaced the African-American hires.
NEW YORK GIANTS
It seems hard to believe but WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. may be talking and behaving his way out of a big money deal with the Giants. Tom Rock of Newsday:
Odell Beckham Jr.’s behavior is wearing on John Mara.
The Giants’ co-owner spoke publicly for the first time on Sunday about the latest couple of offseason conflagrations involving the star wide receiver, including a brief video on social media that showed him with a French model and what appeared to be illegal drugs.
“I’m tired of answering questions about Odell’s behavior,” Mara said in his first public comments about Beckham since the video surfaced a few weeks ago. “He knows what is expected of him and now it’s up to him.”
“It wasn’t helpful,” Mara said.
The biggest question, of course, is whether Beckham is worth any of it. Is he worth the monster contract he’ll figure to land at some point — either from the Giants or someone else — after his rookie deal expires at the end of the upcoming season? Is he worth the headaches he causes ownership?
“I’m not going to talk about his contract,” Mara said. “Contracts get done when they’re supposed to get done. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
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That sounds like a departure from Mara’s stance a few months ago when he spoke about a desire to make Beckham a Giant for life.
“Not necessarily,” Mara said.
General manager Dave Gettleman said at the Combine that all of Beckham’s past antics — from pretending to urinate like a dog in celebration of a touchdown early in 2017 to his suspension over launching himself at cornerback Josh Norman in 2015 — were in the past. He said that Beckham would be given “a clean slate.”
A month later,that slate is already getting marked up again.
Mara, attending the NFL’s annual meetings, has not spoken with Beckham since the video surfaced, but he said that head coach Pat Shurmur has. Shurmur met with Beckham in California this week while he was scouting quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen in Los Angeles. “I think the two of them sat down,” Mara said.
That conversation was likely not exclusive to the video. And it likely predated the report on Friday that Beckham is being sued for $15 million for his alleged role in an assault claim. Mara said he is not as concerned about that situation and will not add it to the already significant pile of Beckham issues. “I don’t think it’s fair to do that,” Mara said. Beckham’s attorneys have said the suit is frivolous and an attempt at a shakedown.
Whether or not the conversation with Shurmur, or what will certainly soon be a conversation with Mara, results in any change in Beckham’s behaviors is yet to be determined. It will, however, likely play a large role in how much longer he remains with the Giants.
“Like I said, I’m just tired of answering questions about it all the time,” Mara said. “He knows what’s expected of him.”
Whether or not DT MICHAEL BENNETT’s behavior in the moments after his brother Martellus won Super Bowl 51 with the Patriots was a felony, it certainly seems repugnant. This from CNN on the leveling of charges in his hometown on Friday:
NFL defensive end Michael Bennett was indicted Friday in Houston on a charge of injury to the elderly in connection with an incident that occurred when he was a spectator at the 2017 Super Bowl, authorities said.
The Harris County district attorney’s office said Bennett rushed the field when the game ended to congratulate his brother Martellus Bennett, who played for the winning New England Patriots.
Bennett was told to use a different field entrance, but he pushed through the security detail, which included a 66-year-old paraplegic woman in a wheelchair, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference.
The woman suffered a sprained shoulder in the February 5, 2017, incident, Acevedo said.
“It’s offensive to me that a man who’s supposed to be an example, a professional athlete, thinks its OK to act like this,” Acevedo said.
Bennett’s legal team does not have a comment at this time, Frank Perez, a member of the team, said Friday night. CNN reached out to Bennett for comment through his representative Doug Hendrickson but has not heard back.
Harris County said the felony charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Bennett was one of the most vocal NFL players in protesting the national anthem before games.
He appeared on CNN and said he didn’t understand why President Donald Trump would “stoop so low” as to say that NFL owners should fire players who protest.
Bennett, 32, played with the Seattle Seahawks for five seasons and just signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. He played high school football in Houston and college ball at Texas A&M University.
Acevedo said Bennett’s lawyer has been notified. The chief said Bennett has not been arrested yet but should turn himself into police as soon as possible.
When asked why it took more than a year to file charges against Bennett, Acevedo said police had to prioritize more serious crimes. Also, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August, he noted.
Acevedo said an officer at the game witnessed Bennett pushing the woman but decided to check on the elderly woman rather than immediately arrest Bennett, whom he recognized.
“We knew who the suspect was,” Acevedo said. “We knew what he had done and we knew where to find him.”
Matt Calkins of the Seattle Times assesses the rush to judgment from both sides of America’s political divide after Eagles DT MICHAEL BENNETT is proclaimed to be a felon in Houston.
As soon as word of former Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett’s felony arrest warrant came down Friday, outkickthecoverage.com’s Clay Travis — who has been critical of Bennett for months — took to Twitter to gloat.
“Lying, race-baiting fraud Michael Bennett indicted for felony charge involving injury of an elderly paraplegic person,” Travis tweeted. “NFL man of the year locked up for 2018.”
Just a few minutes later, Intercept writer and Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King weighed in with a different point of view.
“Sure. An officer saw Michael Bennett brutally assault a sweet old woman, said nothing, did nothing, then they decided to charge him with felony assault …14 months later,” King tweeted. “BOGUS.”
Not long after, former ESPN reporter and self-proclaimed conservative Britt McHenry tossed her thoughts into the Twitterverse.
“Michael Bennett is a proven race-baiting liar. But liberals propped him up as ‘Man of the Year’ & gave him an SI cover,” McHenry wrote. “Now, THEY’RE STILL DEFENDING HIM. Hurting an elderly paraplegic somehow isn’t that bad? It’s insane. But keep blaming police officers.”
And then Tariq Nasheed, a black film producer and media personality, dove into the fray.
“They are putting this bogus charge on Michael Bennett to send a message to OTHER Black NFL players to stop calling out white supremacy, or they will use the system of white supremacy to target other Black players who get too ‘uppity,’ ” Nasheed tweeted.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world in which we live. Scroll through social media, and you’ll find countless examples highlighting such division on this topic. And I’m not talking about trolls with 43 followers and a picture of Uncle Rico as their avatars. I’m talking about some of the well-established, respected media members in the country.
What’s crazy about this is we don’t know what Bennett actually did. During a news conference Friday, Houston police chief Art Acevedo said Bennett had forced his way onto the NRG Stadium field after his brother’s Patriots beat the Falcons in the Super Bowl in February 2017. Acevedo added that Bennett had sprained a 66-year-old paraplegic security officer’s shoulder upon pushing her and later told a police officer: “Y’all must not know who I am. I can own this mother (expletive). I’m going onto the field whether you like it or not.”
The thing is … there is no known video of the incident. And it took 14 months for him to be indicted. And we still haven’t heard a word from Bennett.
It’s a nebulous situation, but that didn’t stop the takes from rolling in.
Tweeted right-wing commentator and “From Democrat to Deplorable” author Jack Murphy: “Michael Bennett, the NFL player who lied about being racially profiled at gunpoint by police, sits during the Anthem and became a hero of Black Lives Matter, was indicted on felony charges today for assaulting an elderly paraplegic female stadium worker. Justice.”
Tweeted ESPN broadcaster Cari Champion in response to the allegations: “No Way. No how. I’m not buying it. I’m sorry but I’m calling foul. Never met a more generous and kind person off the field.”
Pretty sure you get the point by now. This is not about Michael Bennett. This is about people’s world views and their need to protect them.
Between sitting during the national anthem and accusing police of racial profiling in Las Vegas, Bennett became a hero to one part of the country and a villain to another. And I can’t help but think that, in most people’s eyes, this isn’t a matter of one man’s guilt or innocence — but a matter of a movement’s legitimacy or lack thereof.
That’s why fervid opinions keep coming in despite a dearth of facts. That’s why minds are no more open than a bank on Sunday.
It’s understandable why people would proceed this way, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. No matter the situation — facts always matter.
Whether it be police violence, sexual harassment or anything Donald Trump, there are lot of emotionally charged topics out there today. What seems to be waning is the concept of anyone judging instances on a case-by-case basis. It’s becoming an all-or-nothing, my-side-against-yours world in which people see only what they want to see.
When bodycam footage from Las Vegas emerged, Travis was convinced that it proved Bennett was lying about his interaction with police. (Actually, dude, there was zero footage of the takedown, which is what Bennett was complaining about.)
A few weeks later, after Texans players kneeled during the anthem at CenturyLink Field, King tweeted “unlike in other cities where protesters were booed and heckled, the Seahawks fans gave them a standing ovation.” (Actually, dude, the fans always stand during the anthem and always cheer when it’s over.)
On Saturday, it was reported that Bennett, who lives in Hawaii, will surrender to authorities when he returns to the continental U.S. What happens then is unclear.
We will, however, likely learn more about the details in Houston. Assuming, of course, those details actually matter to anyone.
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The Eagles say no one knocked their socks off with an offer for QB NICK FOLES, the MVP of Super Bowl 52. Edward Lewis of NFL.com:
The Philadelphia Eagles wanted a treasure chest if they were going to be tempted to trade away backup quarterback Nick Foles this offseason. Turns out, they didn’t get an offer that even piqued their interest, let alone the first-round pick “at the very least” that they were seeking.
In speaking with NFL Network’s Steve Wyche at the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando on Saturday, Eagles coach Doug Pederson admitted nothing came his way with regard to a deal for the Super Bowl LII MVP.
“We did not,” Pederson said when asked if the team got any interesting trade offers for Foles. “Nothing too crazy. It had to be the right deal for us to do that. But there wasn’t anything coming down our way for Nick.”
The plush free-agent quarterback market clearly hurt the Eagles’ leverage in the situation, but Pederson spoke like a man Saturday who didn’t want to do a deal regardless.
While the coach is confident Carson Wentz can return to MVP candidate form (“He’s doing really well. He’s ahead of schedule,” Pederson said of the QB’s recovery from knee surgery), the insurance Foles provides the team certainly sounds of greater value to the Eagles than the one or two premium draft picks they would have received to trade him.
“He’s totally fine being that mentor, sort of in that backup role, helping Carson along the way,” Pederson said of Foles. “That’s who Nick is. That’s who he is. And when called upon, he’s going to perform, but he understands this is Carson’s team and he’s going to support him every way he can.”
With many of his compadres heading elsewhere, S EARL THOMAS wonders if he will be remaining a Seahawk. Edward Lewis at NFL.com:
Will he stay or will he go? Even Earl Thomas himself doesn’t know the answer.
In Ireland this week alongside other NFL stars to take part in NFL UK Live, Thomas told Off The Ball he’s just as unsure as the rest of the football world of his future with the Seattle Seahawks.
“Hopefully I stay, but right now, nobody knows,” the three-time All-Pro safety said. “It’s a guessing game, so we’ll see.”
Thomas’ name has been rumored to be on the trading block for weeks. With Seattle trading defensive end Michael Bennett; cutting cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead; allowing tight end Jimmy Graham, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and wideout Paul Richardson to walk in free agency; and facing the very real possibility that both defensive end Cliff Avril and safety Kam Chancellor’s careers could be over because of neck injuries; the ‘Hawks look to be in full rebuild mode. And teams seeking to hit that reset button don’t usually hang on to soon-to-be 29-year-olds (Thomas’ birthday is May 7) with $10.4 million cap hits in the final year of their contract. Especially ones who have threatened to hold out if a new long-term deal isn’t reached.
Thomas knows all of this, and has obviously seen and heard the whispers of his future in a Seahawks defense that will no longer be known as the Legion of Boom. But for the veteran safety, he’s OK with the outcome either way.
“In my case, whether I’m in Seattle or anywhere else, I’m going to be rich and happy regardless,” Thomas said. “So it’s a cut-throat league, but if you’re at the top of your game and you don’t give them any reasons to devalue, you’re good. That’s just how I look at it.”
Veteran QB DREW STANTON joins QB TYROD TAYLOR and two holdovers in the Browns’ current stable of passers according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He seems likely to serve as a backup to a number one overall QB for the fourth time in his career:
The Browns have agreed on a two-year deal with quarterback Drew Stanton, his agent Mike McCartney announced Sunday night.
The Browns met up with Stanton on the West Coast last week when they were working out Josh Rosen at UCLA and attending Sam Darnold’s Pro Day at USC.
Stanton’s presence doesn’t change the fact that the Browns are targeting a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick. He adds another mentor to the quarterback room and his presence likely seals the fate of Cody Kessler, a third-round pick from 2016. He would also offer some insurance for starter Tyrod Taylor.
Stanton, who turns 34 in May, played three years for the Lions and started four games. He was a rookie when the Lions went 0-16 in 2008. He most recently spent four seasons with the Cardinals. He started eight games in 2014, completing 55 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
He started four games last season, going 3-1. He completed 49.7 percent of his passes and threw six touchdowns against five interceptions.
Stanton has spent time behind three quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall. Matthew Stafford was drafted No. 1 by the Lions in 2009. Carson Palmer, who started for the Cardinals during Stanton’s time there, was drafted No. 1 by the Bengals in 2004. Stanton also spent the 2012 season with the Colts, the year they drafted Andrew Luck No. 1 overall.
Stanton joins a quarterback room that includes Taylor, Kessler and Kevin Hogan.
Of course, coach Hue Jackson and GM John Dorsey continue to insist that Taylor will be a long term starter. Michael Florjanic at WKYC.com:
Leadership was just one of many qualities the Cleveland Browns were looking for when they went in search of a quarterback during the offseason, and they feel as though signal-caller Tyrod Taylor is the perfect guy to guide the franchise in the right direction after an 0-16 record in the 2017 season.
And the Browns are so confident Taylor can lead a team after watching him guide the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years, they sent a third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to Buffalo in a deal on the first day of the new league year to acquire the quarterback’s services.
“The beauty of Tyrod is I think he is a natural leader,” Browns general manager John Dorsey said. “I think he has the skillset physically to extend plays. He does not turn the ball over, which I really like and admire. He has the arm strength to really go deep.
“I just thought it was a natural fit.”
During his seven-year career with the Baltimore Ravens and Bills, Taylor completed 793 of his 1,271 attempts (62.4 percent) for 9,056 yards and 51 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. Of those 793 completions, 116 went for at least 20 yards and 22 more were 40-yard gains.
In his three seasons with the Bills, the last of which ended with the snapping of a 17-year playoff drought, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Taylor completed 774 passes for 8,837 yards and 51 touchdowns against 16 interceptions.
“Obviously, he has arm talent,” Jackson said. “He also can win games with his legs. He is a leader of men.
“This guy’s work ethic is second to none. He comes early and stays late. He is another coach on the field. He has really worked at his game. I think he has really improved in some area every year. What he did in Buffalo by leading them to the playoffs says a lot. This guy walks in the building having more wins than a lot of people in this building. Hopefully, a lot of that goodwill will rub off on the rest of the organization.”
And as for the term “bridge quarterback,” which implies the Browns plan to play Taylor this year while a rookie they select highly in the 2018 NFL Draft sits behind him and learns the pro game, Dorsey and Jackson are not buying into the line of thinking of having a one-and-done leader.
“We want success, and we want long-term success with Tyrod,” Dorsey said. “Right now, he is our starting quarterback. Right now, I could not be more excited to have Tyrod as a Cleveland Brown.”
Jackson added, “This guy is the starting quarterback on our football team. There are no ‘bridge’ players. This guy goes out and gets this organization to winning and gets us to the playoffs or whatever all that is, none of you guys would be writing ‘bridge’ anymore.
“You would be talking about how this is your quarterback. I see this young man as our quarterback. If we draft somebody who, in the future, is a better player, that will all take care of itself in time, but he is not a ‘bridge.’ He is our starting quarterback.”
With RB Le’VEON BELL playing hard to get, the Steelers have backed off from negotiations. There are those who say they may turn to a back in the draft and let Bell walk. Nick Shook of NFL.com:
Kevin Colbert isn’t concerning himself with Le’Veon Bell’s much-discussed long-term contract aspirations, and for good reason: There’s no need to at this point in time.
The Steelers GM intimated as much during a one-on-one interview with NFL Network’s Steve Wyche on Sunday during the NFL owners meeting in Orlando, Florida.
“We’re still hopeful, Steve,” Colbert said of getting a multi-year deal done with the star running back. “When you make that decision, you’re obviously in negotiations prior to making the tag as we did, but once you make the tag, you move onto other business that’s more pertinent at this point, and that’s dealing with free agency and draft preparations. We still want to get through that period and then we’ll address it at the appropriate time, but our long-term goal has always to have Le’Veon be a Steeler for his career.”
Perhaps Pittsburgh will ensure that by striking a deal with Bell, but with the running back under the franchise tag for the second straight season, the Steelers have plenty of time. It makes sense that Colbert turned his focus to free agency and the upcoming draft — after all, with the tag, Bell is under the team’s control — but it’s peculiar to hear Colbert admit as much publicly when a simple “we’re working on it” would have sufficed.
Colbert’s response can be seen as a return shot sent by the franchise after Bell wasn’t shy about intending to sit out of everything except the first week of the season. Bell is important, but he’s still one of 11, and of 53. The GM seemed to signal that with his response.
Of course, everyone knows Pittsburgh wants to keep Bell beyond 2018. But with the turnover at the position and Bell’s desire for a whopper of a contract considered, these two sides might not come close on a deal for quite some time. As Colbert said Sunday, in the meantime, the franchise tag will work just fine.
The Dolphins have signed QB BROCK OSWEILER. Miami is his fourth team since the end of 2015, with the two stints with Denver only counted once.
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Peter King – and Nick Saban – remember the late Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga.
The former Dolphins, Marlins and Panthers owner, known in the wider world for starting three Fortune 500 companies (AutoNation, Blockbuster and Waste Management), was the greatest owner in the history of south Florida sports in his spare time. He died Thursday at 80. What I’ll always remember about Huizenga: Late in his second year coaching the Dolphins in 2006, Nick Saban was the subject of well-founded rumors that he would leave to coach Alabama. Saban denied it several times, once to me vehemently, but it was clear he was unhappy in the job. Saban went to Huizenga and told him he preferred college football. Now, understand that Huizenga made a huge commitment to Saban in 2005: five years and $22.5 million, mountainous money at the time. And Saban wasn’t really paying off; he and the Miami doctors allowed Drew Brees to get away in free agency in 2006 because of his surgically repaired right shoulder, the Dolphins didn’t have a long-term quarterback, and he was just 15-17 in his first two years.
Huizenga understood Saban’s angst. With south Florida enraged that Saban would even consider carpetbagging out on the contract, Huizenga said he would not stand in Saban’s way if he wanted to leave. And Saban did. “I feel the pain of Nick and [wife] Terry,” Huizenga said at the time. “I am not upset with Nick, because it’s more involved than what you think. I think Nick is great. I’m a Nick Saban fan.”
For years, Saban has harbored regrets over how he left, and rightfully so. Twenty-four months after he got handed the keys to reconstruct the Dolphins for huge money, Saban walked away to coach Alabama. He told Dan LeBatard in 2012: “I’ll probably never feel good about it.”
On the news of Huizenga’s death, Saban repaid his former boss thusly: “He was the classiest man I ever met, a fantastic friend, a tremendous leader and a world-class businessman. I had as much love and respect for Wayne as a man as anybody I’ve ever met other than my own father. He was always supportive and treated us like members of his own family during our time in Miami. Even during a difficult transition when we left Miami, we were able to maintain our friendship and positive relationship, which shows you what kind of man he was.”
You won’t find many people—any, probably—with a bad word to say about Huizenga the sports owner.
Peter King on the arrest of Patriots S DURON HARMON:
I think that story of New England safety Duron Harmon being detained in Costa Rica for trying to enter the country with 58 grams of marijuana is concerning for a few reasons. The biggest: Harmon’s smart and mature, the kind of veteran Bill Belichick relies on as a leader. To try to import a significant quantity on a trip out of the country? That’s stunningly irresponsible, particularly when there’s heightened security around the world these days.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets were all in on DT NDAMUKONG SUH – and then they weren’t. Edward Lewis at NFL.com:
The Ndamukong Suh sweepstakes is back down to three teams.
Just two days after NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported the New York Jets jumped into contention for the free-agent defensive tackle with the biggest offer yet, team owner Christopher Johnson told reporters Sunday at the Annual League Meeting the deal is now off the table.
Suh “wasn’t in keeping with our long-term plan,” said Johnson, who didn’t want to go into further detail.
That leaves just three teams vying for the D-lineman’s services: the New Orleans Saints, the Tennessee Titans and the Los Angeles Rams. Suh, who was cut by the Miami Dolphins earlier this month, took visits to each of those three teams in the past two weeks. He had a visit scheduled for the Oakland Raiders earlier this week, but cancelled those plans.
THIS AND THAT
Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com finds NFL owners divided on the issue of players respecting the National Anthem as the owners begin their conclave in Orlando. Surprisingly, Seifert finds the team most likely to want to continue to allow players to disrespect the flag and military/use their free speech rights to advance social justice is the one owned by a Donald Trump political appointee.
NFL owners arrived at their annual meetings starkly divided on how best to address player protests during the national anthem. Rigorous discussions are expected to take place this week, and at least one owner is calling for a new policy by the end of May.
Some owners want to bolster current rules by making it mandatory for every player and coach to stand during the anthem.
Others want players to stay in the locker room until after the anthem is played. A few, most notably the New York Jets’ Christopher Johnson, are planning to argue against either change.
“I can’t speak to how other people run their teams,” Johnson said Sunday, “but I just think that trying to forcibly get the players to shut up is a fantastically bad idea.”
Johnson might be in the minority, however. Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, one of the NFL’s most powerful owners, made clear that “political statements” have no place as part of football Sundays.
Although no resolution is expected this week, New York Giants owner John Mara said the league needs clarity on its approach by no later than its spring meetings, scheduled for May 21-23 in Atlanta.
The battle lines appear to have been drawn. McNair said he considers the issue a matter of respect to the country and flag, even though the players involved — led by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — have said they are protesting police brutality and systemic oppression.
“We’re going to deal with it in such a way that people will understand we want everybody to respect our country, respect our flag,” McNair said. “Our playing field, that’s not the place for political statements. That’s not the place for religious statements. It’s the place for football. That’s what we need to be doing.”
Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in August 2016. But the issue became a matter of national discussion last season when President Donald Trump began advocating for players to stand or be disciplined. According to McNair, fan feedback on the protests has been negative.
“Fans are our customers,” he said. “You could replace all the owners, and the league would go on. You could replace all the players, and the league would go on. The quality of play probably wouldn’t be as good. But you can’t replace the fans. If you don’t have the fans, you’re dead. We’ve got to pay attention to them and make sure they know we respect the flag, we respect our service people, we love our country. This is where we all get our opportunity.”
The path of least resistance might be to play the anthem while players are still in the locker room. Even that would be a mistake, according to the Jets’ Johnson.
“I think that’s a particularly bad idea,” he said.
No Jets players kneeled during the anthem last season, but Johnson stood with them and locked arms every week. Johnson is running the franchise while his brother Woody serves as the United States’ ambassador to England. Christopher Johnson’s pro-player stance has endeared him to the Jets’ players, and he was among the NFL owners who worked with players to strike a deal on an unprecedented $89 million social justice platform.
“I think that the Jets had a pretty great thing happen last year, around the anthem,” Johnson said. “I think that there was an understanding between me and the players that we could … use [our] position to get some great stuff done off the field. And I think we have done some great things off the field, and I have immense respect for the players and their efforts, and I think if some of the other teams approached it like that, there wouldn’t be such a problem in the NFL.”
The DB is hearing that people at FOX are thinking that the longer Peyton Manning goes without a public decision, the less likely it is he is going to be the network’s Thursday night announcer. And it has gone on quite a while already.
Robert Klemko says that when it comes to “football smarts” Oklahoma QB BAKER MAYFIELD is off the charts.
At some point during the NFL combine, between the MRIs and the 15-minute team interviews and the early-morning drug tests, almost every prospect takes a little-known test known as the AIQ, or Athletic Intelligence Quotient. Dr. Scott Goldman and Dr. Jim Bowman have spent the last 15 years developing the exam, administered on a touchscreen and intended to improve upon the methodology of the Wonderlic test, the longtime benchmark for intelligence testing at the combine still in use today.
You’ve probably never heard of the AIQ, and that’s by design; two teams are under contract with Bowman and Goldman’s company—Athletic Intelligence Measures—and purchase the rookie data in full. (The company does not disclose the names of its clients.) About a half dozen additional teams each year buy portions of the data (typically, the test scores for the Top 100 prospects on their boards). The company has administered more than 4,000 tests across each of the major American sports leagues, and started administering the test at the combine in 2012.
“Years ago, we discovered the Wonderlic was the only test that was used to measure intelligence at the combine, and that was based off a theory from 1934,” Goldman says. “It’s language-dependent, and it has socioeconomic and cultural biases. So we spent years looking at all the forms of intelligence and cognitive abilities that impact unsolvable puzzles.”
They debuted the test with the NFL in 2012, testing on a limited basis at the combine, and for the last two years they’ve tested each prospect invited to the combine. Now that they’ve tested thousands of future pros, they’re beginning to see results.
“I’m proud of this,” Goldman says. “We’ve found a statistically-significant correlation between our test and on-field performance, and this is the first test I’m aware of that has found that in the NFL. Players with a high AIQ tend to get on the field sooner and stay on the field longer.”
Why are you hearing about the AIQ now? One of the two teams that subscribes fully to the testing service already has its franchise quarterback. The other team is not a perennial winner, picks in the top half of the first round this year and is one of the handful of teams most interested in drafting Baker Mayfield, the subject of The MMQB’s ongoing series. Goldman declined to confirm the performance of specific players, but did acknowledge a QB prospect this year scored in the Top 100 on the AIQ all-time—out of more than 4,000 tests—and is the second-highest scoring quarterback out of 63 who have taken the test since 2012. Two league sources, who asked for anonymity to discuss the testing results of a prospect, confirmed it was Mayfield.
“It’s just one piece of data, Goldman says. “If an athlete does really well, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s great too, because now you have the information.”
The AIQ is one of the many innovations in analytics that have found a marketplace at the NFL combine. While the league has a reputation for lagging behind the NBA and Major League Baseball in its teams’ embrace of analytics, new ventures emerge every year with the goal of recognizing and cataloguing the vast pool of data to be mined from college prospects. Whether it’s a new way to measure intelligence or a fresh look at on-field résumés, NFL coaches and executives are introduced to innovations in scouting year-round, and many of those conversations take place at the combine.
A survey of those on the cutting edge of this cottage industry gives us analysis of prospects—in this case, Mayfield—independent of subjective concerns like off-field behavior. Pro Football Focus, for instance, publishes nary a word about a prospect’s “intangibles” in its analysis; their focus since introducing a grading scale in 2007 has been eliminating processes in which opinion rules over analysis. This year at the combine they privately introduced to teams a new metric that seeks to reduce ambiguity in the often subjective debate over a quarterback’s accuracy: ball location.
PFF applied its new metric to last year’s quarterback draft class and this year’s top six—Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Mayfield, Josh Rosen and Mason Rudolph. They used four major categories to chart the specific point on the receiver’s body where the ball was placed—Accurate (perfect), Frame (on-target, step below perfect), Catchable Inaccurate (catchable, but less than ideal ball location), Inaccurate (uncatchable). “We’re trying to be very specific,” says PFF senior analyst Steve Palazzolo. “Did you put it on his front number in stride? Did you hit him on his frame? We give the QB the benefit of the doubt if it’s a little bit inaccurate but thrown away from the defender.”
They also tracked the yards after the catch gained by the receiver on each type of throw in order to demonstrate the value of the accuracy grade. An accurate (perfect) pass, for instance, carries an expected 2.8 yards after the catch (this is an average across all types of routes). A catchable inaccurate pass averages 1.0 YAC. The results: