The Daily Briefing Monday, May 29, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

Peter King:

 

I think the NFL’s decision to cut overtime from 15 to 10 minutes probably won’t result in more ties, because coaches will play more aggressively in overtime. I’m not crazy about the change, but I understand it. Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio and the Sporting News had a great stat that plays a part too: In the past five years, 10 teams have followed a Sunday overtime game by playing on Thursday night. Those 10 teams are 2-8 in those games. Not enough to get a rock-solid sample, of course, but an indicator that fatigue could be a factor four days after a long game.

 

The DB disagrees somewhat with King.  We think the teams getting the ball first will be content to control it for a long time if possible to limit the other team’s ability to get a win. 

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

After five seasons with the Vikings, RB MATT ASIATA has signed a contract with the Lions.  The deal comes after an extended tryout during the team’s rookie mini-camp last month. “I think anybody knows who has seen him work, he’s a good special teamer,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said before the tryout. “He’s tough. He’s a very good pass protector and he carries the ball. He runs behind his pads. He’s always been a very, very effective player in this league.”

 

 

MINNESOTA

Coach Mike Zimmer goes to the doctor on June 5 – and hopes to be cleared to return to coaching at that time.  Peter King:

 

The Vikings coach, after his eighth eye surgery in the wake of suffering a detached retina in his right eye, is off work for a few days, resting at his farm in Kentucky so this nagging ailment can die down—he hopes. Zimmer, 60, made it clear he’s not going to stop coaching, regardless the fate of his eye. “One eye or two, it really doesn’t matter,” Zimmer told the media Friday. “I’m going to be back. So we can put the retiring thing or whatever to bed quickly.” Laudable, to be sure. But this is the time of year a coach can take some rest time—lots of it. For Zimmer right now, the more of it the better.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Peter King hits back against WR VICTOR CRUZ’s contention that the Giants tried to keep him down:

 

I think Victor Cruz has always been a class guy, grateful for his life in football and a very good teammate. I was stunned to hear the ridiculousness of him implying last week that Eli Manning purposely passed up throwing to Cruz when he was open because the Giants didn’t want him on the team anymore. There are absurd things to think about, and then there is the thought that coach Ben McAdoo put Cruz out on the field and instructed Manning to not throw him the ball. Ten versus 11. Yeah, that’s the way to win football games.

 

So, here are the top five Giants in terms of targeted passes in 2016:

 

                                 Targets   Comp     Yards           Pct         Yards/Target

Odell Beckham Jr.     169         101      1367            59.8%         8.09

Sterling Shepard         105           65         683            61.9%         6.50

Victor Cruz                    72           39         586            54.2%         8.14

Will Tye                         70           48         395            68.6%         5.64

Rashad Jennings          42           35         201            83.3%         4.79

 

Backing up King’s position is the fact that Manning’s completion percentage was significantly lower when throwing to Cruz.

 

Backing up Cruz’s position is the fact that he had an even higher yards per target than Beckham, and much higher than Shepard.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Peter King offers up a good reason for tearing down the Georgia Dome:

 

If you know me, you’ll know why I love this factoid, courtesy of the Falcons:

 

In the Georgia Dome, former home of the Atlanta Falcons, there were 30 beer taps.

 

In Mercedes Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, there will be 1,264 beer taps.

 

Thirsty?

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

TE COBY FLEENER thinks you should put him on your Fantasy Football team.  Nick Underhill in the Baton Rouge Advocate:

 

Coby Fleener didn’t let the opportunity slip by.

 

After making reference to missed assignments during his first season with the New Orleans Saints, the tight end was asked how deep the problem went since it’s impossible for outsiders to gauge.

 

“That’s a good thing,” he cracked.

 

Fleener struggled some of that during training camp and early in the season, but he doesn’t think missed assignments were anything that plagued his season. And he’s confident the issue, as well as other aspects of his game, will improve after having already spent a full season in New Orleans.

 

Signed to a five-year, $36 million contract last offseason, Fleener was supposed to serve as another dynamic playmaker in an offense full of them. At times he was. Mostly, he was just solid, catching 50 passes for 631 yards with three touchdowns.

 

Could it have been better?

 

“I think it absolutely could have been better,” he said. “I would have loved it to be better.”

 

And he thinks it will. Instead of trying to conquer a new playbook and new verbiage, he’s instead relearning what he already knows and feels comfortable with his role. Fleener believes that should make a big difference heading into his second season with the team.

 

“I think anytime you’re trying to learn a new offense, trying to learn a language, trying to learn something of that nature, going through it under pressure, going through it for a year really helps,” he said.

 

Fleener doesn’t have numerical goals that he’s trying to reach this season. He knows he doesn’t want to drop any passes after letting three hit the ground last season. And he knows he doesn’t want to miss any assignments. There was also mention of making the playoffs.

 

Instead, he speaks in more general terms.

 

“Be more effective in general,” he said.

 

It might not be specific, but achieving that goal, however it may happen, would benefit the Saints.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Bucky Brooks at NFL.com has some thoughts on the marriage of QB JERAD GOFF and coach Sean McVay:

 

In the Twitterverse, the trolls would have you believe that the Rams’ QB1 is an abject failure based on his disappointing first seven games as an NFL starter. Sure, the 2016 No. 1 overall pick failed to win a game while completing just 54.6 percent of his passes with a 5:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 63.6 passer rating. But what if I told you that, despite his slow start, he is following a path that could make him a two-time Super Bowl MVP and four-time Pro Bowl selectee?

 

If you’re a Rams fan, take solace in the fact that Goff’s slow start surpasses Eli Manning’s early days as an NFL starter. In 2004, Manning completed just 48.2 percent of his passes, throwing six touchdown passes against nine interceptions and producing a pedestrian 55.4 passer rating. He posted a 1-6 record during that span, struggling to find his rhythm as a rookie starter.

 

Eventually, Manning became comfortable within the Giants’ system and was able to rely on his solid supporting cast to help him grow into an upper-echelon quarterback capable of driving his team to the winner’s circle. This is crucial to remember when thinking about Goff, especially considering that the Rams just brought in a new head coach with a system and a plan in place that should help the second-year player significantly progress.

 

Goff’s success starts with coach Sean McVay and his version of the spread formation, which features West Coast offense principles. Without seeing the Rams practice yet, I’m basing my opinion on how the young offensive guru built the offense in Washington to enhance the strengths of his quarterback (Kirk Cousins) and incorporate the talents of the supporting cast. While Goff might be familiar with the schematics of McVay’s system (the QB directed a “Bear Raid” offense at Cal that featured some basic West Coast offense principles like Y-stick, snag and mesh), it might be the condensed verbiage that most helps a quarterback who never called a play in the huddle as a collegian, taking in calls off placards from the sideline.

 

Speaking to a Rams executive recently, I was told that the team’s play calls are “not as wordy” as they’ve been in the past, and McVay has done a great job of lightening the load on the quarterback’s shoulders.

 

“We had some play calls with as many as 12 to 15 words,” the Rams exec said. “It’s hard for a young quarterback who has never had to make a play call to spit out a long play call to his teammates, remember all of the alerts and checks, and know exactly what he is supposed to do at the line of scrimmage and post-snap. … McVay has tried to scale back on some of the verbiage to help him get in and out of the huddle faster. It should also help him digest the information quicker and be a more decisive player at the line.”

 

With young quarterbacks, it is important to free their mind from clutter to help them allow their talents to shine. Trimming the verbiage will certainly help Goff play faster, but alleviating some of the responsibilities on his shoulders should help him focus on being a more effective and efficient player at the position. Naturally, the toughest transition for most young quarterbacks is understanding pass protection and deciphering coverage. They can work hand in hand with the safety rotations tipping off the potential extra rushers on a play. Some schemes leave it up to the quarterback to audible or change the play or protection in those instances, while other systems incorporate built-in answers with hot reads (quarterback targets a designated receiver or running back on a short route or flare pass against a blitz) or sight adjustments (designated receiver runs to a void created by a blitzing defender on the second level).

 

Based on how Cousins attacked blitzing defenses in Washington, it appears he was asked to find the hot read or sight adjustment that’s built into the route. Considering how Goff countered blitzes in a similar fashion in college, he should be comfortable identifying and targeting the designated blitz-beater within the route.

 

From a personnel standpoint, the Rams’ new receiving corps will also help Goff make a significant jump as a sophomore. After watching their receivers struggle mightily in 2016, the Rams added Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to the group during the offseason. Woods, a fifth-year pro with 203 career receptions, is a slick route runner capable of playing outside or in the slot. Although his career numbers (2,451 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns) suggests that he isn’t a marquee pass catcher, Woods was consistently open on a variety of short and intermediate routes when I studied the game film. He not only gained sufficient separation from defenders, but he was able to use a wide array of stems and top-of-the-route moves to shake free from coverage.

 

Kupp, whom the Rams took at No. 69 overall in this year’s draft, was viewed as one of the cleanest route runners in his class after a spectacular career at Eastern Washington. Scouts raved about his “high football IQ” and work ethic as a collegian, and he has already impressed NFL folks with his diligence and attention to detail.

 

“We needed dependable and reliable pass catchers on the perimeter,” the Rams executive told me. “The quarterback needs to know that his top targets are going to be where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there. Woods and Kupp will be in the right spots. That alone will help Goff become more consistent.”

 

Although many observers wouldn’t consider Woods or Kupp A-level receivers, there are plenty of teams that have succeeded with solid B-level pass catchers in a West Coast system that creates opportunities for polished route runners. Thus, the Rams’ passing game could flow smoothly without a true No. 1 on the field.

– – –

In the end, Goff’s success will ultimately come down to whether the Rams can build a system around his talents that allows him to showcase his strengths as a quick-rhythm passer. If McVay can quickly identify what his young passer does well and feature concepts that allow him to stay in his lane, Goff will eventually show off the talent that made him the No. 1 pick in the draft. If the team can identify and develop a supporting cast that enhances the young quarterback’s game, the wins will start to pile up and the naysayers will quickly forget about the slow start that had some uttering the “B” word after just seven starts.

 

 

SEATTLE

The Seth Wickersham story that we had last week on CB RICHARD SHERMAN, obsessed with the interception that lost Super Bowl 49, struck a chord.

 

Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Seattle starts its Organized Team Activities a week later than expected this year, because last year’s OTAs had a little too much “A” in them, again. This time around, the offseason practices come only days after the emergence of a story that peeled back the curtain on the drama and dysfunction still lingering from Super Bowl XLIX.

 

So when the first session begins on Tuesday, how will coach Pete Carroll handle it? Will Seth Wickersham’s story for ESPN The Magazine become a rallying cry for team unity? Will it be used as an example of what happens when family business gets discussed outside the family? Or will it be disregarded and ignored as the product of unreliable sources and #fakenews?

 

Regardless, the story and its details loom over the team as the OTAs launch, and it’s safe to say that key figures in the story (Carroll, cornerback Richard Sherman, quarterback Russell Wilson, offensive lineman Germain Ifedi) will be peppered with questions about the facts reported therein. Defensive end Michael Bennett, who always has something to say and who called the article “trash” and “all gossip” on Twitter, surely will be talking about the issue, regardless of whether he’s asked about it.

 

At the core of the story was the notion that the Seahawks and Sherman seriously contemplated a divorce in the offseason, but ultimately opted to stay together. Will they renew their vows or are they simply biding their time for the inevitable?

 

The evidence as to which way this relationship will go will begin to be compiled, beginning this week — and culminating during a season that with the application of stress will either make things better or make things much, much worse.

 

Peter King:

 

The respected Wickersham reported from a slew of sources, basically, that Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman cannot get over the game-losing interception from the Super Bowl 27 months ago, and his frustration continues to point mostly at coach Pete Carroll for enabling the play-call at the New England one-yard line, and at quarterback Russell Wilson for throwing the interception.

 

I’m going to re-live the key play in a moment, but I’ll just say this: Those who live in the past are condemned to repeat it. I have not spoken to Wickersham’s sources, but I do not doubt the veracity of his story. And if Sherman continues—as he did last year, when he verbally harangued offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on the sidelines of a game—to bring up that losing play, Seattle should trade him after the season. (I’d say now, but without significant reinforcements at the position on a contending team, losing Sherman would be a major blow to going far in the playoffs this year.)

 

One other point: This is, in part, Carroll’s doing. He has created a don’t-worry-be-happy atmosphere in which it’s almost okay to be insolent because it’s part of his freedom environment. It’s fine when you’re winning, not so fine when you’re not dominating. Now, I don’t think the Seahawks will trade Sherman or let him go this year, because they’re a cornerback-needy team, and premier cornerbacks like Sherman are rare. My guess: Sherman will be on his best behavior this season (at least as it relates to this incident, and further disruptive sideline incidents) because he knows all media and team eyes will be on him because of this story. But 2018? Nothing is guaranteed.

 

AFC WEST

 

OAKLAND

The DB is of a mind that the Raiders will retain much of their fan base when they move to Las Vegas, unlike the Rams and probably the Chargers.  Some evidence in favor of that hypothesis from Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Oakland fans may not be happy that the Raiders are leaving, but the team remains popular enough that the fans will support the team while it’s still there.

 

That became clear with the news from the San Francisco Chronicle that the Raiders have sold out their season tickets.

 

That hasn’t always been the case in Oakland, but this year the Raiders are coming off a playoff season, they have plenty of young talent and they’ve added a popular hometown hero in Marshawn Lynch. It would be surprising if they’re not able to fill the Oakland Coliseum this year and next year.

 

The big remaining question is whether the Raiders will be gone after next year, or whether they’ll stay for 2019 as well. The Raiders’ lease in Oakland runs through 2018, and their new stadium in Las Vegas won’t be ready until 2020. That leaves them in limbo for 2019, but if they keep selling tickets, the most sensible decision would seem to be a one-year extension of the lease, and one last year in Oakland for the Silver and Black.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

More hype on WR BRASHAD PERRIMAN.  Jeremy Bergman at NFL.com:

 

The early reviews are in: The Baltimore Ravens are really high on Breshad Perriman through one week of OTAs.

 

The wide receiver is entering his third year as a pro, but only his second as a healthy option for Joe Flacco. With Steve Smith retired and Mike Wallace the only other notable wideout to warrant receiving targets, Baltimore needs a big year out of its former first-round pick. According to the man himself, the Ravens will get one.

 

“I feel like my concentration level is at a pretty high level right now — an all-time high,” Perriman said Thursday, per the Baltimore Sun. “Right now, I’m just going out there, and when I’m on the field, I’m not thinking about anything but football.”

 

The wideout added that his chemistry with Flacco is improving and that the two are in a good place right now. Perriman boasted a similar optimism last week when he said that he was “expecting a huge year” for himself.

 

But don’t just take his word for it. Here’s a slew of encouraging sentiments from Perriman’s teammates and coaches:

 

» Dennis Pitta, tight end: “You look at Breshad out here and nobody, I think, is having a better camp than him so far. He’s making big plays everywhere, catching everything thrown his way.”

 

» Mike Wallace, wide receiver, per ESPN: “He’s going to surprise a lot of people. He’s going to be one of the top receivers in the league this year. … You can tell it’s night and day with the confidence level. I know exactly how he’s going to play. I’m the most confident person in him in the whole world.”

 

» John Harbaugh, head ball coach: “He’s had a really good five weeks. He looks very healthy, he looks very fast. He beat Jimmy [Smith] one time and I asked Jimmy about it and he goes, ‘Hey man, I think I would have pulled my hamstring if I had chased him right there.’ [Perriman] eats up a lot of ground. He’s running routes very well and he’s catching the ball well, but again, he’s got to keep building, keep stacking.”

 

 

CLEVELAND

Peter King begs to differ with BROCK OSWEILER’s self-assessment:

 

Brock Osweiler defended his play in 2015 and 2016 to reporters in Cleveland the other day. “I think the proof is in the film the last two years,” he said.

 

I don’t have the wherewithal to show you Osweiler’s 785 pass attempts in the past two years here, but suffice to say if he was holding up those two seasons as proof he should be an NFL starter, he’d be wrong. What I can do is compare Osweiler to another low-level part-time starter in 2015 and 2016, Case Keenum.

 

Quarterback      Teams               Comp. %          TD-INT  YPA     Rating

Osweiler            DEN/HOU         .600                  25-22                6.27      77.2

Keenum            STL/LAR           .609                  13-12                6.78      79.5

 

You can make stats say a lot of different things, but when you have not played better than Case Keenum (and I think Keenum is a fine backup who can play for a while but isn’t anyone’s long-term starter), it’s mindful of the old Parcellsism: You are what your record says you are.

 

People complain about the NFL’s passer rating format, but we actually think it is a pretty good number for “passing” which we acknowledge is not all that goes into “quarterbacking”.  As a test, here are the QBs, like the two above, under 85 for the last two years.

 

28        Trevor Siemian              84.6                         

29        Blake Bortles                 83.4                          

30        Joe Flacco                     83.4                         

31        Ryan Fitzpatrick             80.3                         

32        Blaine Gabbert               79.7                         

33        Case Keenum                79.5                         

34        Carson Wentz                79.3                         

35        Brock Osweiler              77.2                         

36        Nick Foles                     74.2                          

 

Surprising to see JOE FLACCO in that group, but it seems about right for the bottom of the barrel.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

Is this the year that DE DANTE FOWLER turns it loose?  Jeremy Bergman at NFL.com:

 

Around this time last year, Dante Fowler said he was ready to “turn it loose” after sitting out his entire rookie year with a devastating knee injury. The result? Four sacks and 32 combined tackles in 16 games played.

 

Now the Jaguars pass rusher is ready to take his game to the next level.

 

When asked this week if he’s going to make the leap, Fowler responded, per GridironNow.com, “I think it will happen. It was a big learning experience for me last year on and off the field. That was my first year on the field. I was like a freshman in college all over again, getting used to the guys at this level. It gave me an idea of how big and strong some of these guys are.”

 

Most encouraging for Fowler is that, after rehabbing his injured ACL all of last offseason, he is finally reaping the benefits of a healthy spring and seeing marked improvement in his burst and agility.

 

“[The ACL injury] out of my head, mentally,” Fowler said. “It is hard to believe it’s been two years. The coolest thing about it is the progress I see while we’re doing the conditioning work. I’m seeing how strong I’m getting and the explosiveness coming from my knee. It’s a really cool thing.”

 

The former third overall selection’s potential ascent is just one storyline to watch this season in Jacksonville, where Shad Khan, Dave Caldwell and Tom Coughlin have stockpiled an expensive, highly touted defense. The additions of Barry Church, A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell are expected to sure up an already stacked secondary and front seven, while the Jags hope to see improvement out of their young stars in Fowler, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey.

 

We’ve been burned by premature Jaguars hype two years running now, so it’s safer to tread lightly than anoint the team in May as the AFC’s dark horse. The same goes for Fowler and the defense.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

QB TOM BRADY spoke at a fallen hero’s funeral.  Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com:

 

Last week, the funeral for Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, who was killed during a U.S. raid in Somalia on May 5, was held in Norfolk, Va. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn’t attend the funeral in person, but he still offered his condolences to Milliken’s family.

 

According to the Boston Herald’s Bill Speros, Brady recorded a video message for the family, in which he thanked Milliken’s family and talked about how Milliken, 38, was called a “glue guy” by his college track coach. The reason Brady recorded the message? Milliken and the Patriots actually go way back.

 

As Speros reported, Gillette Stadium hosted Milliken and his fellow Navy SEALs for a training exercise in 2011. After, Brady and Bill Belichick met with the SEALs, including Milliken. Brady and Milliken took a photo, which you can see at the Herald’s website.

 

“It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the Herald in a statement. “As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”

 

Milliken was killed in an operation earlier this month that targeted a leader of al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group. According to CBS News, the Navy SEALs got caught in a firefight, in which two SEALs were wounded and Milliken was killed. Milliken is the first American military casualty in Somalia since 1993, when 18 service members lost their lives in what is commonly known as the “Black Hawk Down” mission.

 

Milliken, a 15-year veteran, is survived by his wife, son, and daughter.

– – –

At the moment, TE ROB GRONKOWSKI is in full Gronk mode.  Jeremy Bergman at NFL.com:

 

Three words: Gronk. Is. Back.

 

Coming off a season-ending back injury — not to mention a spring of WrestleMania cameos and starring roles in suggestive, C-level music videos — Rob Gronkowski impressed reporters and coaches in workouts this week, notably during Thursday’s organized team activities in the New England rain.

 

“He looks like Gronk,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told The Boston Herald of his tight end’s performance in OTAs. “We haven’t got into a big evaluation. He’s involved in everything.”

 

A healthy Gronk, even in May, is good news for all parties involved: the Patriots, their fans, the league, their fans and, most importantly, Gronk himself. Thanks to a recent contract restructuring, the tight end could earn up to $5.5 million more than his original base salary in 2017 if he either plays 90 percent of the time, records 80 catches, tallies 1,200 receiving yards or becomes an All-Pro.

 

If staying healthy wasn’t Gronk’s main objective beforehand, as difficult as that has been, it sure is now.

 

There’s a long way to go until the tight end can start cashing in on his new deal. But this week’s news of Gronkowski’s “full-go” practices is nothing if not highly encouraging for the win-now, win-tomorrow, win-forever Patriots and their loyal disciples.

 

Bucky Brooks on Gronk’s re-done contract:

 

The New England Patriots recently restructured Rob Gronkowski’s eight-year, $54 million contract to give the four-time Pro Bowl tight end an opportunity to get paid like the top player at the position (currently Jimmy Graham, who’ll earn $10 million in 2017). The way the contract is set up, Gronkowski’s 2017 salary could go from $5.25 million to possibly $10.75 million — if he can hit certain benchmarks. While the deal had been in works for six months, it surprised me to see such a talented player agree to a restructure loaded with incentives instead of guaranteed money. Thus, I thought I would reach out to some execs to get a better perspective on the new contract and whether it serves both sides best. Here’s what I asked and the responses that I received:

 

Why would the Patriots — and most crucially, Gronk — agree to such an incentive-laden deal?

 

AFC personnel executive: “As long as he’s healthy and playing, he has a chance to get it. This is a deal that pays him for being available. He just needs to line up and play. With TB12 at quarterback, he can certainly hit all of those numbers.”

 

Former vice president of player personnel: “This is a deal that balances his production against his injury history. They’re basically telling him that they are willing to pay him big bucks … if he is healthy. He just needs to stay on the field, which is a bit of a challenge, based on his injury history the past few years.”

 

NFC pro personnel director: “He wasn’t being paid like a top-10 tight end. This is a team-friendly deal that pays him based on his production. It’s really a sign of good faith by the team to one of their best players.”

 

MY TAKE

 

It is uncommon for a guy universally viewed as the No. 1 player at his position to sign a “prove-it deal,” but Gronkowski’s injury history makes it hard for him to demand a fat contract loaded with guaranteed money. Thus, he needed to settle for an incentive-heavy deal that will allow him to earn his money if he takes the field and produces like everyone knows he can.

 

Here’s a quick breakdown of what his salary could be next season, if he can reach certain incentive thresholds:

 

» $6.75 million: If Gronkowski hits 70 percent play time OR 60 catches OR 800 receiving yards OR 10 TDs.

 

» $8.75 million: If Gronkowski hits 80 percent play time OR 70 catches OR 1,000 receiving yards OR 12 TDs.

 

» $10.75 million: If Gronkowski hits 90 percent play time OR 80 catches OR 1,200 receiving yards OR earns All-Pro recognition.

 

After thinking about it, I think the deal makes sense for both parties.

 

The Patriots don’t have to worry about a huge salary-cap hit because the incentives fall under the “Not Likely to be Earned” designation, as those numbers would surpass his production from 2016, when he totaled 25 catches for 540 yards and three scores. Yep: With Gronkowski coming off another injury-abbreviated season, the Patriots were able to take advantage of a rule to sweeten the pot for their No. 1 playmaker in the passing game.

 

For Gronkowski, the deal makes sense for a few reasons. First of all, he was already under contract through 2019. Secondly, Gronk’s long injury history — December’s back procedure was the ninth surgery he’s undergone since 2009, according to the Boston Herald — really sapped his leverage. Gronkowski hasn’t logged a full 16 games since the 2011 season. In two of the past four years, he’s missed half the season.

 

But, when healthy, Gronkowski has shown the ability to hit these benchmarks. He has eclipsed 80 receptions twice (2011 and 2014) and earned first-team All-Pro honors three times (2011, 2014, 2015).

 

Overall, this strikes me as a win-win negotiation between a team and a top player. The Patriots will be able to reward their star if he produces (without altering the length of the deal — it still runs through 2019), while Gronkowski has a chance to get the biggest bucks at his position.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

Dave Boling in the Tacoma News-Tribune, soon to be the victim of a layoff, brings us up to date on the other Curt Warner in his final story for the paper.

 

Curt Warner dodged the questions for years.

 

How come we never see you? Is something wrong?

 

People want answers when someone such as Warner, a famed and beloved Seattle Seahawks star, withdraws from the public eye for more than 20 years. Warner and his wife, Ana, never knew what to tell people.

 

If they detailed the around-the-clock challenges of raising their twin autistic sons, people might think they were complaining, or were ungrateful for lives that included so many gifts. They certainly didn’t want to give that impression.

 

“People would asked me why I didn’t do things in public or make appearances,” Curt said. “I just always knew that (Ana) needed my help here, at home, with the family. That was always my No. 1 priority.”

 

Warner famously recovered from a career-threatening knee reconstruction early in his career as an All-Pro running back for the Seahawks in the 1980s. So he understood pain, and knew what it took to reach deep inside for the strength to overcome it.

 

But merely thinking of his boys’ suffering, and the unrelenting stress he and Ana faced, often would bring him to tears. He discovered it was better to just keep quiet about it.

 

“There were so many times we were in disbelief at what was going on,” Curt said. “For a long time, we wondered how far we could go without breaking.”

 

At first they didn’t know why their young twins, Austin and Christian, were so far behind their developmental benchmarks.

 

They were such wonderful, pure-hearted boys, so loving and innocent. Yet they often raged inconsolably, and grew increasingly violent and destructive.

 

Belatedly diagnosed on the lower-functioning end of autism spectrum disorder, the twins sometimes pounded their heads on the floor and kicked holes in walls, or bit themselves bloody – despite Curt and Ana’s every attempt to comfort them.

 

In 2008, Austin discovered where matches were hidden and set a fire in his bedroom that burned their house almost to the ground.

 

Now 22, the twins’ health and long-term care needs are still at issue, and their ability to communicate is limited, but their behavior is largely controlled.

 

Curt and Ana decided it now was time to reveal some of the details of their lives, hoping that their story might inspire others coping with extraordinary family challenges.

 

They have written a book, “Waiting for a Miracle,” outlining their experiences. It’s currently being shopped to publishers.

 

The book traces the dramatic twists taken in what appeared to be storybook lives: he the three-time Pro Bowl back for the Seattle Seahawks and two-time All-American at Penn State, and she the aspiring model from Brazil.

 

“We’ve got a better sense of peace about it now,” Ana said. “We still worry, but we can talk about it now, and for so long, even that was painful.”

 

“It’s been a jagged road we’ve traveled,” Curt added. “But here we are.”

– – –

Autism spectrum disorder has so many facets and a broad range of symptoms, but Ana knew with the first online search that the doctor was right.

 

“In a way, it was a relief,” she said. “At least we finally had a name for it.”

 

A team of therapists was gathered, and they shuttled to the Warner home for intensive treatments that filled 40 hours every week. “We tried everything they could think of,” Curt said.

 

Autism, the fastest-growing neurological disorder in America, is frequently diagnosed by the age of 2. But the Warner twins were almost 5 before diagnosis and the start of treatment. Curt and Ana feel the delay was an obstacle to mitigating the boys’ symptoms in the long run.

 

Christian, particularly, began one of the most alarming behaviors the Warners would deal with over the years: Head-banging.

 

Curt took pride in being able to take control of tough situations. But this was an existential test. “It’s your child, someone you love more than anything, and nothing you try helps them,” Curt said. “When they suffer, you suffer right along with them. It was years of feeling helpless.”

 

‘It was like a war zone’

 

Because they couldn’t keep their eyes on the twins every minute, the Warners turned their house into a fortress monitored by alarms and sensors. If they got out on their own, the twins couldn’t find their way home or tell anyone who they were or where they lived. The dangers could be life-threatening.

 

But the house was an environment they could control, where the twins could be kept most comfortable and safe. The stresses of unknown and crowded places sometimes set the boys off. And especially when the twins were young, public awareness of autism was limited. Bystanders were often cruel.

 

On a trip to try a new therapy for the twins, Christian threw himself down on the concourse of the crowded Denver airport and started screaming and banging his head on the floor.

 

“When the kids have a meltdown, there’s very little you can do; you can’t move them or try to take them anywhere,” Curt explained. “All you can do is be there for them, try to comfort them any way you can, and ride out the storm.”

 

Ana teared up as she remembered how Curt responded when the curious crowd gathered around Christian. “Curt got down on the floor, laid right beside Christian, talked to him quietly, trying to reassure him that things would be all right.”

 

The boys’ growth and early teen hormones added new and puzzling behaviors, and their inability to communicate compounded their frustration. “Puberty was a nightmare,” Ana said. “The boys destroyed the house. It was their way to express their frustration and anger, hitting and kicking walls and doors, breaking what they could.”

 

Neighbor Don Lovell was stunned the first time he went into the house. “You’d go over there and it was like a war zone,” Lovell said. “There were holes in the walls everywhere. Curt would work to fix two holes, and in half an hour, there would be two more kicked in a different wall. He just couldn’t keep up.”

 

Tested by fire

 

Austin Warner watched where his dad hid the lighter he used to fire up the two candles on the birthday cake for the Warners’ 2-year-old daughter Isabella. Curt and Ana knew that all sharp things and fire-starters had to be hidden.

 

A few days later, when the fire alarms broke the quiet of a February afternoon in 2008, Ana knew it was Austin. By the time she got upstairs, Austin’s room was ablaze. Eldest son Jonathan heroically lead the other children safely from the home, but Ana suffered smoke inhalation in her futile attempt to put out the flames.

 

By the time Curt had raced home from the car dealership, everyone was out of the house and the fire department had vented the roof and soaked it down. But little remained except the outer walls.

 

“We always lived on the edge, but this was so unforeseen,” Curt said. “We didn’t have time to sit there and complain and go ‘woe-is-me.’ We got through the initial shock of it and regrouped. We had to think, what do we do next?”

 

Austin felt such guilt that he would punch himself in the face. Jonathan was angered by how his life had been altered, and was so different from that of his friends. And Curt set his jaw and leaned into the rebuilding of their lives.

 

But Ana put on a mask. Curt had no idea how dark her mood had become. “She could put up a pretty strong shield, like everything was OK, and she didn’t complain,” he said.

 

“Those were dark times, and it still hurts to think about how low I got,” Ana said. “For months, I didn’t want to live, I was too overwhelmed.”

 

She called upon Curt’s strength and her faith to work past what was later diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of that unwavering support, Ana calls Curt a “Hall of Fame husband.”

 

His greatest strength? Always being there. “I have no doubt so many lesser men would have given up and left. What we were going through wasn’t pretty, but he was just always present, always convincing me it was going to be OK.”

 

Everything was lost in the fire, including all of Curt’s trophies and sports memorabilia. But all escaped unharmed and Ana and Curt absorbed the lesson of it. “We learned it was just stuff,” she said. “Stuff isn’t what makes you happy. Your family is what makes you happy. And our family survived.”

 

In the aftermath, promising therapies and short-term progress for the twins often led to regression and frustration.

 

Dr. John Green III of Oregon City, Oregon, has treated the twins since they were early teens. The story of Austin and Christian “is the most difficult to tell because it’s so painful,” Green said.

 

“It’s so full of hope and despair; you know how many things (Curt and Ana) have put into it. I feel that there’s another message that can be conveyed: It’s about the deep love and commitment Curt and Ana have had for so long.”

 

A different kind of miracle

 

Curt Warner still believes that some day a medical breakthrough will allow Austin and Christian to enjoy what most would consider to be a more typical life. Ana is convinced that the dramatic growth in the incidence rate will lead to increased awareness and greater funding for autism research.

 

So, yes, they’re still waiting for a miracle. But after 20 years, they have a different perspective on what that means.

 

The twins graduated from special education high-school classes, and at 22 are now busy with adaptive employment at SEH of America in Vancouver, Washington. They still live at home. Ana still helps them shave.

 

Ana pointed to statistics showing that one of every 68 American children is on the autism spectrum, with the number much higher among boys (one in 42).

 

Both Curt and Ana have long studied the various theories on autism’s causes and have their own ideas, but, as Curt said, they have never wanted to be part of “a holy war about vaccinations.” The topic naturally is heated and emotional to those with autism in their lives.

 

“We’re not about blaming anybody, we’re just telling people what our experience has been and how we feel about it,” Curt said. “The way we look at it, if somebody can find a cure, we’re behind them 100 percent.”

 

Every family touched by autism has a unique experience, Ana stressed, and the children have such a remarkable range of abilities and potential.

 

As they look back, now, it’s easier for Curt and Ana to take joy in their boys’ wonderful personalities rather than focusing on the daily pains they all felt during the most frantic times.

 

Their twins are full-grown and strong, but they still take joy in getting their Christmas lists mailed to Santa. Austin can recite every detail of every Disney movie through history, but can’t tell you how many quarters make up a dollar.

 

Curt and Ana know the twins will need a structured and protected environment in the long term, so they’re examining live-in options for them. They worry how their own mortality would affect the twins’ future security.

 

Curt, 56, has been out of the car business and now runs Curt Warner Agency in Portland, an insurance firm handling a wide range of coverages for Farmers. Ana still tends to the twins and Isabella, now 11, and continues to research autism and promote autism awareness causes. She’s taking online classes to become a “health coach.” She has decades of hands-on experience.

 

“We’ve prayed for healing, and the boys aren’t healed, yet,” she said. “They’re still very autistic. But, as a family, we’ve had a great deal of healing. There was a healing in our hearts that we needed desperately.”

 

Just being able to look back in time and open up about the experience seems like progress to Curt.

 

“People ask, ‘How do you do it?’ ” Curt said. “Well, you just do it. You can’t just wait for a miracle, you have to get busy finding a way to live, one day after the other. And at some point you realize that maybe that was the miracle itself.”

– – –

Ex-RB Brandon Jacobs, not a fan, has made it his mission to get Jim Harbaugh fired at Michigan.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Jim Harbaugh has had success everywhere he’s coached, but one of his former players was not impressed with their time together.

 

Brandon Jacobs, the retired running back who spent time playing for Harbaugh’s 49ers in 2012, left San Francisco not thinking highly of Harbaugh.

 

“Jim, I had a lot of respect for Jim when I was there – before I got to know him,” Jacobs said on CBS Sports Radio. “I enjoyed my time there, but we didn’t see eye-to-eye. I knew a little bit more about football than what they led on.”

 

Jacobs said Harbaugh didn’t have much of a grasp of the Xs and Os of coaching and that the assistants deserved more of the credit.

 

“Going somewhere where they don’t have route conversions into certain coverages was just absurd,” Jacobs said. “They’re just running routes in the defense, getting people killed. Size and strength is what they had, and that’s why they won. Let’s be real. They had great assistant coaches, but Jim didn’t know what he was doing. Jim had no idea. Jim is throwing slants into Cover-2 safeties, getting people hurt. That guy knew nothing, man.”

 

Jacobs was injured at the start of his 49ers tenure, a bench warmer once he got healthy, and eventually got suspended by the team and then released for complaining about his playing time on social media. So it’s not exactly a surprise that he doesn’t have fond memories of his time with Harbaugh.

 

The interview led to a response on twitter from Harbaugh:

 

 @CoachJim4UM

Biblical advice for @gatorboyrb Let all bitterness & wrath & anger & clamor & slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

 

To which Jacobs replied on Twitter:

 

Love the support but stop the super bowl talk. I will expose him, Michigan will fire him when I am done.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

After listening to Tony Romo’s debut, Mac Engel in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram is confident he will be an improvement on his CBS predecessor:

 

Although an avid golfer with a knowledge of the history of the game, Romo is not preparing to join CBS’ golf coverage team, much the way the late Pat Summerall did umpteen years ago.

 

Romo’s boss, however, did him no favors in previewing Romo’s “surprise” visit to the CBS tower at the 18th tee. This week, Colonial Country Club member and veteran CBS sports producer Lance Barrow told an audience at a pre-tourney event that Romo is going to be the “next John Madden.”

 

When this nugget of viral news ascended to New York and CBS Sports President Sean McManus, he politely advised Barrow to tone down the expectations for their new No. 1 NFL analyst.

 

Romo is not going to be the next John Madden. There is no next John Madden. Madden is partly in the Pro Football Hall of Fame based on a raw style, personality and language that are endemic to one specific man.

 

I can’t hear Romo saying, “Boom!” “Whack!” and “Crash!” the way Madden famously did next to his 90-degree angled partner, Summerall.

 

All Tony Romo needs to do in Year No. 1 as a broadcaster is to shave more frequently, do what Jim Nantz tells him, and just be better than his predecessor, Phil Simms. And then have a custom flak jacket designed for the criticism that he will endure.

 

Over the past few years no NFL analyst received as much unkind evaluation as Simms. NFL fans celebrated not at the news that Romo would join Nantz as CBS’ top-NFL duo, but rather they no longer would have to listen to the Super Bowl-winning quarterback from the New York Giants.

 

Although in the booth off air Nantz and Simms appeared to get along just fine, on air there were multiple exchanges where a viewer could conclude their relationship was strained.

 

Make no mistake — this is Nantz’s booth. The change of Simms to Romo did not happen without Nantz’s approval. Next to Joe Buck, there is no more powerful broadcaster in sports than Nantz.

 

And unlike Buck, who has said he plans to leave the booth sooner rather than later in an effort to pursue other interests, calling sports and events is Nantz’s passion. Even though he has young children, a successful wine label and his efforts to fight Alzheimers through his foundation require time, he has no interest in giving up his role with CBS.

 

The sooner Romo learns that and yields to Nantz’s judgment he will become a better broadcaster. If Romo pulls an “I got this” rather than “Tell me more” this high-profile move is going to bomb all over McManus’ face.

 

On Saturday next to Nantz and color analyst Nick Faldo, Romo sounded like a guy who has zero intention of coming back to play another down, and has no idea what he is doing yet.

 

“When you are a football player you are a guy who is used to going through this routine each week,” Romo told Nantz and Faldo. “And you are used to getting ready for one game and you put in all of this preparation and time all week. For me, I like the preparation aspsect of that playing the quarterback position. This feels similar. I get to keep that same routine. You’re watching tape to get ready each week and you have your Sunday. You’re big moment when everyone is out there. For me that is exciting.”

 

Yeah, it’s not the same. It’s always more fun to play than to watch.

 

One of the traits that his coaches found both admirable and frustrating was his knack for completing their sentence before it was finished. He’s not a dumb guy; he knew where they were going so he stopped them, or tuned them out.

 

At least in football Romo knew the language, the speed, the pace, and feel of a football game. He has no such baseline for a football broadcast. He will be better served to just let Barrow, Nantz and the veterans to finish their sentences before he says, “I got this.”

 

As Simms discovered, viewers are fairly certain all broadcasters stink. Even Nantz is not immune, nor is Al Michaels, Bob Costas, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Marv Albert, Verne Lundquist, Chris Collinsworth or anyone else attached to their sport. They’re all just terrible.

 

There are none better than Collinsworth or Aikman; both men do their homework and offer insight, humor, analysis and criticism. They often inspire their viewers to throw chairs at the television, but that’s part of being a good analyst.

 

Romo is a funny, wise-a**. His dry sense of humor might get him in trouble, relatively speaking, if he’s not careful during a telecast. Viewers might not know when he’s joking.

 

He’s also smart. If Romo matures into the caliber of broadcasters as those two, CBS’s decision to hand him this spot was brilliant.

 

Romo had to earn his spot as a starting quarterback in the NFL for 10 seasons. Then he used his humor and wit, and celebrity status as the quarterback of America’s Team to parlay that into falling backwards into the top NFL analyst’s spot at CBS.

 

His Saturday chat with Nantz and Faldo is zero reflection on what type of analyst he will become.

 

For now all Romo needs to do is listen to Nantz, and be better than Simms.

 

 

KAEP

John Mara of the Giants goes there as he admits that COLIN KAEPERNICK’s brand of social activism is a factor in his not being signed – at least by the Giants.  Not that Mara has a problem with it, it’s just that so many of his fans do.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The NFL party line, as articulated by Commissioner Roger Goodell, is that Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment is football related, Giants owner John Mara has acknowledged off-field concerns contributing as well.

 

Mara told Jenny Vrentas of TheMMQB.com that the Giants didn’t discuss signing Kaepernick this offseason, and that they’ve heard from many fans who would be angry if they did.

 

“All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue,” Mara said. “If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game. It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot. It’s an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, moreso than any other issue I’ve run into.”

 

The Giants signed kicker Josh Brown to a new contract after he was arrested for domestic violence, and kept him on the team last year after he was suspended for domestic violence. It’s extraordinary that Mara says he heard from more fans about Kaepernick — a player on another team, who didn’t do anything illegal — than about Brown.

 

Mara’s comments say a lot about Kaepernick’s continuing unemployment: For many teams, the decision not to sign Kaepernick may go beyond whether the coach or G.M. think Kaepernick can help on the field. It may go up to the owner, who fears Kaepernick would hurt the franchise off the field.

 

Jim Caldwell hems and haws on why Kaep wouldn’t be a good fit in Detroit.  Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Lions don’t have a veteran backup to quarterback Matthew Stafford. They’re nevertheless not interested in adding Colin Kaepernick.

 

Via Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press, coach Jim Caldwell recently said that Kaepernick won’t be pursued by the team.

 

“[W]e have the guys that we want at this point in time,” Caldwell said.

 

Who they have other than Stafford is 2016 sixth-rounder Jake Rudock and 2017 sixth-rounder Brad Kaaya. That doesn’t mean Caldwell believes Kaepernick to be unable to play well.

 

“I don’t think there’s any question he’s capable,” Caldwell said. “I was on the other side of the field [with the Ravens]. Actually, I was in the press box, but nevertheless when he was playing for the 49ers in the Super Bowl. That was only a couple years ago. So, I don’t think that his skill level has diminished to the point where he would be completely ineffective in this league, so we’ll see.”

 

If Stafford gets injured, Caldwell will be facing more pointed questions about why the team doesn’t have a quarterback with playing experience, whether it’s Kaepernick or someone else. For now, the “someone else” list is down to the likes of Robert Griffin III, Christian Ponder, Shaun Hill, Luke McCown, and Dan Orlovsky.