The Daily Briefing Monday, September 3, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
The DB’s first thought is that the KHALIL MACK trade won’t make either team happy in the end, but we’ll see.
Peter King of NBCSports.com in his Football Morning in America column comes down as bad for Oakland, okay for Chicago:
I was talking to Saints coach Sean Payton over the weekend, and the Khalil Mack trade to Chicago came up. “The last time we played Oakland [Week 1 2016], we put in a special protection for him,” Payton said. If Mack lined up outside the right tackle to rush, the Saints’ tight end would line up on the right side and chip him as he rushed. If Mack lined up opposite the left tackle, the tight end would shift left. The Saints called it “Mack Protection” in the gameplan that week.
You do that kind of thing for Khalil Mack, or Aaron Donald, or maybe Von Miller. They’re that good, and they can wreck games if foes try to block them consistently with one man.
But between late February and late August, I’m told, the Raiders didn’t aggressively try to resolve the Mack contract issue—not as aggressively as the Rams with Aaron Donald or the Packers with Aaron Rodgers. Mack was on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal but didn’t report to camp, and the Raiders seemed willing to hope Mack would report this week so he could begin collecting increments of his $13.846-million one-year salary. But Mack was steadfast about staying away, feeling Oakland didn’t value his game sufficiently. He wasn’t coming. So last Friday the Raiders zoned in on trying to get two first-round draft picks in trade for him (the Jets, Niners and Browns pushed, but not hard enough) and Chicago put the two ones on the table. So the deal got done, with an asterisk: Oakland had to send a future second-round pick to Chicago, cheapening the return for Mack. By the end of the day Saturday, Mack had eclipsed Aaron Donald as football’s richest defender.
The most important part of this story is being mostly ignored. It’s best framed by asking this question:
If I told you that you could draft and develop one of the three best defensive players in football (and maybe the best), and then sign him to a contract that would take him all the way through his prime for an average of 10.7 percent of your salary cap annually, would you do it?
I bet the vast majority of the teams in the league would be happy to do so. If they knew anything about football they would.
But that’s the crux of this situation. Let me explain. Mack, over the next seven years, is scheduled to make $154.85 million on his new Bears contract. The salary cap this year is $177.2 million. Over the last five years, the cap has risen about $10 million a year. So let’s project that it continues to rise $10 million a year through the last year of the Mack deal, in 2024. The cap, then, would be $237.2 million in the last year of Mack’s deal.
Average salary cap per team over the next seven years, by my estimate: $207.2 million.
Mack’s average compensation over the next seven years: $22.12 million.
Average cap spending devoted to Mack annually: 10.67 percent.
When Jon Gruden spoke Sunday night in Oakland, he implied that the odds are against a team winning when it has two huge-salaried players. Those two players in Oakland were Derek Carr and Mack. Last year, Carr signed an extension that, adding in his scheduled 2017 salary, would pay him $126.7 million over six years, according to Over The Cap. Long-term, then, the combined Carr/Mack cap number, on average, would be $43 million, or 20.87 percent of the annual cap. That means two star players would make 21 percent of the Raiders’ cap.
I don’t think spending 21 percent of the cap on two big stars is excessive. Especially when the alternative is irrelevance.
That’s the most important thing here. Let’s dig into four tributaries:
1. There are times to make first-round picks untouchable. This was not one of them. There’s this impression out there that first-round picks are the Holy Grail of team development, absolutely irreplaceable pieces of a team’s future. Remember the Patriots’ furious comeback to beat Atlanta in the Super Bowl two years ago? On their game-tying drive that night, of the five offensive linemen and six skill-players who touched the ball, one (left tackle Nate Solder) was drafted in the top 75 of a draft.
Excepting Mack and the last two first-round Raider picks (who cannot be judged yet), look at the last 10 Raider first-round picks: Robert Gallery, Fabian Washington, Michael Huff, Jamarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Rolando McClain, D.J. Hayden, Amari Cooper, Karl Joseph. Seven of those players were top 10 picks in the first round. But would you trade Mack for any two of them? I wouldn’t. Not even close. So what makes the Raiders think they’ll strike gold with another franchise player with either of the two picks after nearly a generation of not finding one (other than Mack) in the first round?
2. Oakland players can no-comment this or try to make it not so big a deal, but there’s no way they’re not ticked off. The early tweets from Derek Carr and Bruce Irvin (No f—ing way) are the real ones. This has Jon Gruden’s fingerprints all over it, and the team’s leaders—Carr included—should not sit idly by and say, Whatever you want to do, coach. Gruden had to make this call. And the locker room is thinking, “If Khalil Mack, probably our best player, isn’t worth 10 percent of the cap through his prime, then who are they going to pay around here other than the quarterback?”
3. The football world has to stop thinking of $22 million a year as absolutely outlandish and dumb to pay a non-quarterback. Folks, it’s all Monopoly money. The cap has more than doubled in 13 years. The way to think of players’ salaries is as a percentage of the cap—not in raw dollars. Five years ago, this Mack deal, on average, would have been 18 percent of the cap. Now, over the next seven years, it’s 10.67 percent. When the cap grows, you’re much better off thinking of the percentage of the cap, not that a defensive player shouldn’t make $20 million a year. It’s all relative.
4. As for the Bears … Bears fans—ask Michael Wilbon—have a love-hate relationship with GM Ryan Pace. This, though, was a brilliant trade by Pace, who smartly figured (I think he did; I could not reach him Sunday) that two first-round picks was extremely reasonable for a player of Mack’s caliber in an age when disrupting the quarterback’s rhythm is the most important thing a defense can do. Per Pro Football Focus, Mack has 175 sacks/quarterback hits/quarterback hurries in the last two seasons, and that is 13 more than the next-most disruptive rusher, Von Miller. I love what defensive coordinator Vic Fangio must be thinking, particularly if Akiem Hicks continues to play in his disruptive way and if Leonard Floyd can become the consistent force on the edge that he’s shown flashes of being in his first two seasons (22 games, 11.5 sacks).
The Bears now have no picks in the first two rounds in 2019, and none in first and third rounds of 2020. But they were able to squeeze a 2020 second-rounder back from Oakland. So their earliest picks in the next two drafts are a third next year and two second-rounders in 2020. Imagine if the Raiders struggle in ’19, and the Bears have a pick near the top of the second round in ’20. That wouldn’t cancel out the Bears’ first-rounder in 2020, but it would ease the pain.
Think, too, of what Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson must be thinking this morning—Rodgers mostly. The Bears play the Packers and Seahawks in Weeks 1 and 2, and a rush with Mack, Hicks and Floyd is downright scary. If Mitch Trubisky is somewhere between competent and very good, the Bears will be a major factor in the NFC North much quicker than we thought.
Some DB thoughts.
Unmentioned by King in his opening ramble with Sean Payton is that New Orleans still put up 34 points on a Raiders defense with Mack that day in 2016. DREW BREES passed for 423 yards and 4 TDs. Brees dropped back 43 times and was sacked once.
King’s point about the Raiders fumbling with draft picks is well taken. The Raiders got two first round picks in their 2002 trade that sent Gruden to Tampa Bay. They proved to be Napoleon Harris, a linebacker in 2002, and Tyler Brayton, a defensive end in 2003.
Harris played seven years in the NFL, three with the Raiders before being sent to the Vikings as part of the trade by which Oakland acquired Randy Moss. He was a good to very good player. And today, he is an elected politician, a Democrat member of the Illinois State Senate, representing the district he grew up in south of Chicago.
Brayton played nine seasons, five with Oakland. He managed 17.5 career sacks, or one good year for Khalil Mack. He has subsequently made an appearance on “American Ninja Warrior.”
Herbie Teope of NFL.com on the situation involving C TRAVIS FREDERICK:
The Dallas Cowboys’ decision to keep center Travis Frederick on the initial 53-player roster after the weekend’s roster trimmings didn’t surprise when considering executive vice president Stephen Jones indicated last week it could happen.
But now there could be a timeline of a return for Frederick, who revealed on Aug. 22 that he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The Cowboys are planning to keep Frederick on the 53-man roster in lieu of injured reserve with hopes of him returning before the middle of the regular season, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, via a source informed of the situation.
Frederick, a 2016 first-team All-Pro selection and four-time Pro Bowler, remains out indefinitely, but the Cowboys have options on how to proceed while closely monitoring his health.
After they got to 53, the Panthers put LT MATT KALIL on IR. Max Henson of Panthers.com:
Left tackle Matt Kalil has been placed on injured reserve with a right knee injury.
Kalil experienced knee soreness during training camp but played in the first two preseason games. A few days after the second game against the Dolphins, Kalil consulted with Dr. James Andrews in Florida and underwent an arthroscopic procedure.
In order to make Kalil eligible to return after eight games, the Panthers kept him on the active roster until after 4 p.m. Sunday. Players placed on IR prior to that time can not come back this season.
“We’re putting Matt on injured reserve to give him time to fully rehab the knee,” general manager Marty Hurney said. “We decided to make the move now so he’s eligible to come back after eight games.”
With Kalil sidelined, Taylor Moton will continue to work as the starting left tackle. Daryl Williams, the starting right tackle who suffered a knee injury during camp, is “ahead of schedule” and could be available for Week 1.
The Panthers filled the open roster spot by signing cornerback Lorenzo Doss, who was with the team throughout the spring and the preseason.
The Saints sign a running back to reinforce the position with MARK INGRAM suspended. Luke Johnson of NoLa.com:
After keeping just two true running backs on their initial 53-man roster, the New Orleans Saints signed running back Mike Gillislee Sunday (Sept. 2).
The Patriots released Gillislee Saturday (Sept. 1) after he rushed for 960 yards and 13 touchdowns the last two years.
As a vested veteran, Gillislee immediately became a free agent and one of the more accomplished backs on the open market. Given the Saints current running back situation at the position, the two sides seemed to make sense for each other.
Mark Ingram is serving a four-game suspension to start the season. Jonathan Williams, who looked to be a solid bet to make the Saints roster after a strong preseason, was among the Saints roster cuts Saturday.
That left the Saints with Alvin Kamara and rookie Boston Scott as the only true running backs on the roster, with the team also keeping fullbacks Zach Line and Trey Edmunds.
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Elsewhere in his column, Peter King notes that he had recently talked to Sean Payton, so we can believe this is Payton doing the “thinking” here and not King:
. I think I believe the Saints did the right thing in dealing a third-round pick to the Jets for Teddy Bridgewater and a sixth-round pick, even though Bridgewater is working on a one-year contract. This is why:
• Drew Brees turns 40 in January and though he has missed only two games in his 12-year Saints career, no one’s selling insurance for quarterbacks that old. Legitimate quarterback insurance costs something. The Saints like backup Taysom Hill, but would they have been willing to play Taysom Hall with a Super Bowl roster and still felt they could play deep into January without Brees?
• The Saints have always felt they can find a draft pick in trade if they need one. Jimmy Johnson used to be that way. And so GM Mickey Loomis was concerned but didn’t panic over not having a three next year. He had the full support of coach Sean Payton. Everyone Payton knew—particularly Bill Parcells (a mentor of Bridgewater’s when he was in high school)—told Payton to get him.
• Payton gets to have Bridgewater in the building and around him and Brees for a year. If the match is good, and if Bridgewater doesn’t have a better starting option somewhere else, Payton might be able to tempt him to stay even if he has to sit behind Brees one more year in 2019.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Peter King puts the Kiss of Death on the Rams as he picks them to win Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta.
Here we are, three days before the start of the NFL’s 99th season, and there is no team in recent history that has done a 180 like the Rams of the past year. I’m about to do something that is either insane, or an illustration of how quickly life changes in a league that churns so fast and so furious, or maybe it’s a sign that building a good football team really takes only four or five cutting-edge decisions. But after seeing 22 teams in five weeks on my camp trip, it was hard to come away from Rams camp thinking they shouldn’t be a Super Bowl favorite.
Labor Day 2017: The Rams were trying not to be a laughingstock anymore, with the youngest coach in modern NFL history, a quarterback desperate for a detour from bustdom, a GM hanging on for dear life, and no one to put on a billboard in a sprawling market that demanded stars. Best two players on this team: a defensive tackle and a punter.
Labor Day 2018: The Rams, defending NFC West champs, are darlings. That chortled-at peach-fuzzy coach, Sean McVay, is the reigning coach of the year. Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald are returning offensive and defensive players of the year. That disastrous quarterback, Jared Goff, had a 100.5 rating, fifth in the league and higher than a few great QBs—Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Ryan, Rivers and Wilson.
And now I’m going all-in on a franchise that last won a playoff game in January 2005, when “Meet the Fockers” was the top movie at the box office.
I’m picking the Rams because they’ve done a good job playing down their worst-to-first offense last year, realizing if they were really the Warriors of the NFL they wouldn’t have stunk it up in the playoffs against Atlanta. They added the kind of versatile and durable deep threat that Sammy Watkins wasn’t in Brandin Cooks, who can play all over the offensive formation.
McVay told me in camp he realizes he has to stay progressive to remain ahead of the defenses that have spent an offseason studying his play-calling, his tempo, even his cadences. Early one morning, in his tape den on the campus of UC-Irvine, McVay told me what he’d spent the last few months working on. “The basic thing for us is: What are we doing offensively in order to try and conflict defenses? Whether it’s their matchup responsibilities, or being able to learn our cadence, learn our formations and motion and tempo. We have to use those as weapons to apply pressure to the defense. Our offense is totally different now from this time a year ago. I think it’s all about adjusting and adapting to our players.”
Why would McVay want to make his offense “totally different” from the best offense in the game last fall? “I would say that in terms of some of the core ways of we run the football—some of the personnel groupings that we operate out of might be different. But the way we’ll do it, whether it be formationally, whether it be tempo-driven, at the line, in the huddle … In the span of a year, our players’ ability to process has enabled us to have a little bit more versatility.”
The Rams got better on defense too, if a pair of incendiary corners can last the season. They added cover corners Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, who need the kind of gentle but smart hand of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to make them each 16-game factors. The Aaron Donald signing was vital, not just for Donald’s peace of mind, but to know this great player is the center of a strong defense for the next seven years.
Of course, the continuing development of Jared Goff is vital. I trust McVay here. How can you not?
A big final preseason game did not prevent the Broncos from preferring a Cleveland QB cut to the guy they drafted in the first round in 2016. ESPN.com:
The Denver Broncos waived former first-round pick Paxton Lynch after claiming quarterback Kevin Hogan off waivers on Sunday, the team announced.
Head coach Vance Joseph and president of football operations/general manager John Elway met with Lynch on Sunday to break the news to him.
“Vance and I met with Paxton this morning and informed him that it’s best for everyone to make this move. We appreciate all of Paxton’s hard work as a Bronco, and we wish him well in the future,” Elway said in a statement.
Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said on NFL Network on Sunday evening that a change of scenery might be good for Lynch.
“I’m sad to see him leave, but I’m happy for him because he needs the change of scenery. I remember that second preseason game, we were playing against the Bears. He goes in and the crowd is just booing him. It does something to you as a player,” he said.
Lynch had made the initial 53-man roster on Saturday, but Elway stressed that it was as the third quarterback, behind starter Case Keenum and backup Chad Kelly.
Elway said Saturday evening that part of the thinking was Kelly’s inexperience. He was a seventh-round pick in 2017 who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, and that played a part in the decision to retain Lynch.
“Every decision we make, we try to make the best decision for the Broncos, and sitting right now, where we are at quarterback and who knows our system … I thought at this point in time that’s the best decision for us,” Elway said. “Paxton continued to improve, but he is the third-string quarterback. Looking at it, looking at the situation, with Chad not having a lot of experience and not having played a regular-season game before, we felt like we had to go with three quarterbacks, and Paxton was our third one.”
Lynch, whom the Broncos traded up to select in the first round of the 2016 draft (26th overall), lost back-to-back training camp battles with Trevor Siemian the previous two summers. This summer, Lynch slid to No. 3 on the depth chart after the Broncos’ preseason opener against the Chicago Bears and wasn’t able to regain the backup spot.
Lynch did have his strongest outing of the preseason Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals, completing 14 of 15 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns just two days before the Broncos made the bulk of their cuts.
Hogan, we note, went to the alma mater of Elway, Stanford.
Jeff Legwold of ESPN on the failures of two recent draft classes.
It was a tough weekend for the Broncos’ 2016 and 2017 draft classes. That means it was a tough, rip-the-Band Aid-off kind of a weekend for Elway as well.
“With every decision we make, we try to do what’s best for the Denver Broncos,” Elway said again Saturday evening. ” … We picked who we thought were the best 53 football players for our team right now, who give us a chance to go out and compete.”
But it stung more than a little. Even as the 2018 rookie class put 10 players on the team’s roster, the previous two drafts took a significant hit. The Broncos waived four draft picks from the 2017 class on Saturday — wide receiver Carlos Henderson (third round), cornerback Brendan Langley (third round), wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (fifth round) and running back De’Angelo Henderson (sixth round) — and on Sunday the team waived the centerpiece of the 2016 draft class, quarterback Paxton Lynch.
Lynch’s departure likely resets the progression at quarterback once again given Keenum is signed for just two years and reaffirms the struggle the Broncos have had to find a homegrown prospect at a position Elway himself played. The Broncos now have just one of the five quarterbacks Elway has selected in the draft on the current roster — Kelly — and just two of the five (Brock Osweiler and Siemian) have started more than two games in any season.
“It’s tough to make a lot of decisions, but the bottom line is we’ve got to make the best decision for the Broncos,” Elway said. ” … The ’17 class, I’m not giving up on that either. Obviously, we had to let a few of them go [Saturday].”
A few players got a slight reprieve to try to find their way back into the team’s plans. Langley and Henderson were signed to the team’s practice squad Sunday and McKenzie is going back to the active roster because safety Su’a Cravens is heading to injured reserve designated to return. But those two draft classes have taken their share of criticism in the team’s back-to-back playoff misses, including last year’s 5-11 cave-in.
Conor Orr of TheMMQB.com struggles to make sense of the trade involving LB KHALIL MACK.
It’s a good thing the Raiders signed their head coach to a 10-year contract, because they’re going to need about that amount of time to find another player 50% as good as the one the franchise traded on Saturday morning.
Dealing Khalil Mack to the Bears for a pair of first-round picks before the sun came up in Oakland signals Jon Gruden’s unequivocal takeover of the team’s front office. He emerged from a 10-year coaching hiatus this offseason, scanned the Raiders’ roster and unapologetically decided the depth chart was not good enough to win as presently constructed. The solution? Ship off the franchise’s best defensive player since Charles Woodson for a pair of first-round picks—the kind of players Gruden has not extensively dealt with under the time constraints of a new collective bargaining agreement. The kinds of young guys that he tends to ignore anyway while hoarding 30-plus year old talent that can more quickly legitimize his garbled offense.
“That’s the way he was in Tampa,” Keyshawn Johnson told me this summer for a story I was working on about Gruden’s complicated relationship with his old players. “He always wanted veteran guys, he never wanted rookies, he never wanted young players. He always wanted veteran guys. Well, you drafted the young dude, teach him how to play if you’re such a great teacher of men.”
Start buying those Personal Seat Licenses while they’re available, residents of Las Vegas!
The insanity of this move is hard to fathom. What are the odds that Gruden will select two first-round players who can average 12.5 sacks per season between them like Mack has over the last three years? How about three Pro Bowls in four seasons? How about two first-team All-Pro honors? How about one NFL Defensive Player of the Year award?
What if a Bears team that will now start Mack alongside Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller and Danny Trevathan on defense this year ends up being pretty good? What if those picks end up being in the 20s or late teens?
The sheer ridiculousness of paying $100 million to a coach who has not won a playoff game since the year the Department of Homeland Security was created and then griping about finances when it comes to paying one of your two faces of the franchise is laughable. Mack could knife open a defense from anywhere on the field and he commanded double teams. The Raiders’ front seven front now consists of three rookies—Tank Carradine, Mario Edwards (whom Gruden is also shopping) and Justin Ellis—and Bruce Irvin, who, when seeing the news on Saturday tweeted “No f—— way.” Franchise QB Derek Carr is also less than pleased about the move.
How quick were we to point out supposed tanking efforts in Cleveland and with the Jets in recent years, but because the man from the Hooters commercial, who, during his ESPN QB show wondered aloud why more people weren’t talking about Christian Hackenberg as a first-round pick said it, we automatically take it for gospel. The remaining years of the franchise in Oakland could be worse than expected.
While this is no slam-dunk for the Bears either, given what the team is giving up, but it’s a good time in the franchise’s timeline to experiment. QB Mitchell Trubisky is affordable for another few seasons under the rookie wage scale, so spending quarterback money on another player who can help the team win now makes sense. Gruden worshippers imagining this as a modern day Herschel Walker trade might need to relax. Barring injury, Mack is going to be an immediate franchise-changing player for the Bears, while Oakland tries to collect enough acorns to legitimize this trade to their fans.
Full-scale rebuilds in the NFL are messy, but there is some type of draw we tend to have to a man who uses a gigantic platform to pound the table and say “I alone can fix it.” Gruden-ites might be caught in the hysteria now, but something tells me Reggie McKenzie, the person who won the 2017 executive of the year award for a 12–4 season buoyed largely by a series of excellent drafts including the one that yielded Mack, was doing just fine on his own.
Even as the Raiders signal a youth movement, Gruden cuts his way to the NFL’s oldest roster. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Jon Gruden is bringing the Over The Hill Gang back together.
Gruden has assembled the oldest 53-man roster in the NFL in years.
Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com, who has been calculating the average age of every opening-day NFL roster in 2012, reports that the Raiders’ average age of 27.4 years is the oldest roster as far back as his records go.
It’s been a strange offseason for Gruden, the head coach who also has final say over personnel. He has targeted several older players in free agency, and acquisitions of younger players, like 26-year-old receiver Martavis Bryant, haven’t panned out.
The decision to trade away pass rusher Khalil Mack has been widely criticized by Raiders fans, although that trade did bring in two first-round draft picks. Gruden needs those picks, because he’s going to need some young talent when all his older players reach the end of the line.
Mack’s absence barely alters that number one way or the other. He is 27.5 years old.
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Sean McDonough weighed in.
McDonough, who now calls college football for ESPN, said in a promo for SportsCenter during the LSU-Miami game that he was anxious to watch because it would include Gruden’s comments about the Mack trade. McDonough then said he didn’t understand what Gruden was thinking in getting rid of such a great player.
“I’m anxious to hear this one, Jon Gruden and Khalil Mack talking about the trade,” McDonough said. “Khalil Mack traded by Oakland, by our man the Gru-dog, to the Chicago Bears. The Bears got a great player. I don’t know what my man the Gru-dog is doing. He got some draft picks, but that’s one of the best defensive players in the league. He could’ve been a Gruden Grinder. Now he’s a Chicago Bear.”
There was talk during the Gruden-McDonough partnership that the two men didn’t particularly enjoy working together, and before their last game together there was an awkward moment when McDonough announced that it was Gruden’s last game as a broadcaster while Gruden insisted he hadn’t officially been hired to coach the Raiders. McDonough had one last thing to say about his former partner on Sunday night.
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After you’ve traded away your best pass rusher, the 2019 Draft will be a good one to replenish. Frank Cooney:
Perhaps the specific talent in the 2019 NFL Draft was a key factor in the Oakland Raiders’ decision to trade away All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears Saturday.
Although nothing was confirmed as of Saturday morning, the Raiders reportedly traded Mack to the Bears for two first round picks and possibly a player.
When NFLDraftScout.com this week revealed its top 32 rated players for the 2019 NFL Draft, six of the first seven players were defensive linemen.
Said NFLDraftScout.com‘s Rob Rang: “Trading away a young superstar edge rusher like Mack is certainly risky business, but with now two first round selections in a 2019 NFL draft that is expected to feature a historic class of defensive linemen, the Raiders are in a reasonable position to replace him.
“Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver and Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa are nearly universally regarded by scouts as the elite talents likely to be available in next spring’s draft. Edge rushers Rashan Gary (Michigan) and Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) also possess the combination of initial quickness, length and power to project as immediate impact edge rushers, making them other logical candidates to consider adding to a front that began its youth movement last spring with gifted defensive linemen P.J. Hall, Arden Key and Maurice Hurst, Jr.”
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This from Peter King:
I think this got lost in the mayhem of Saturday, but Jon Gruden also cut loose his second and third quarterbacks, EJ Manuel and Connor Cook. Manuel was the 16th overall pick in 2013; Cook was picked before Dak Prescott in 2016. And so in comes A.J. McCarron, who played so well in camp this year he was third on the Bills’ mental depth chart after the preseason, after being imported in free agency to start at least one season while Josh Allen got seasoned for the long-term Buffalo job. Man, Gruden made so much news this weekend that his notable quarterback shuffling is in the 39th paragraph of a 40-graf story.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
The Chargers have signed TE ANTONIO GATES to a one-year deal.
Not only did QB ROBERT GRIFFIN III make the Ravens roster, he starts the season as the team’s number 2 QB per this tweet from Tom Pelissaro of NFL Network:
Some clarity here: My understanding is the #Ravens aren’t trading RG3 and the plan is he’ll enter the season as No. 2 QB behind Joe Flacco. Rookie Lamar Jackson gets to sit, learn (and probably do other fun stuff, too).
Oh my. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Buffalo Bills have their starting quarterback: Nathan Peterman.
Peterman, the second-year player who struggled as a rookie but looked good this year in preseason, was officially announced as the Bills’ starting quarterback this morning.
The Bills drafted Josh Allen and were considering giving him the starting job, but Peterman looked better over the summer and appears more likely to perform well early, when the Bills have a tough September schedule.
Allen is the Bills’ quarterback of the future, but Peterman is the starter on Sunday when the Bills take on the Ravens in Baltimore.
The Patriots were down to three WRs before they hit the waiver wire. Doug Kyed of NESN.com:
The New England Patriots solved their wide receiver depth issues Sunday when they claimed two wide receivers off waivers.
The Patriots claimed wide receiver Amara Darboh off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks and Chad Hansen off waivers from the New York Jets.
Darboh was a third-round pick out of Michigan in 2017. He caught eight passes for 71 yards in 16 games with the Seahawks in 2017. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver fits the Patriots from a testing perspective. He ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash with a 6.81-second 3-cone drill. Darboh also played 159 special teams snaps last season. He caught 151 passes for 2,062 yards with 14 touchdowns in three seasons with Michigan.
Hansen was a fourth-round pick out of California in 2017. He caught nine passes for 94 yards in 15 games with one start last season. He also fits the Patriots from a testing perspective. He ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash with a 6.74-second 3-cone drill at 6-foot-2, 202 pounds coming out of college. Hansen played 34 special teams snaps last season. Hansen caught 92 passes for 1,249 yards with 11 touchdowns in 2016 at Cal.
Neither Darboh nor Hansen has experience returning punts. The Patriots could be going into the 2018 season with Cordarrelle Patterson, Patrick Chung, Chris Hogan or Rex Burkhead as their punt returner as Julian Edelman serves a four-game suspension. The Patriots cut punt returners Cyrus Jones and Riley McCarron and placed Braxton Berrios on injured reserve. Darboh and Hansen join Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Patterson and special-teamer Matthew Slater on the Patriots’ receiver depth chart.
THIS AND THAT
THE STATE OF GOODELL
Peter King did a poll and the people have spoken.
On the occasion of Roger Goodell beginning his 13th year in office, I asked a question to my Twitter followers this weekend: Do they approve or disapprove of Goodell’s performance in office?
By Sunday night, the results were overwhelming—20 percent more strident, and more negative, than the recent disapproval rating for Donald Trump as president. Some 79 percent of the 28,113 who responded said they disapprove of the job Goodell has done.
What does this mean? Likely nothing. The owners who employ Goodell are concerned that he’s so reviled, but they also know he takes so many bullets for them. In my opinion, Goodell, who has been widely and surprisingly invisible this offseason, will shepherd the NFL to a new collective bargaining agreement with the players over the next three years (the owners pray he can do this) and then leave office sometime not long after the 2021 CBA is done. We’ll see if that happens, but it can’t be fun for him to be the public punching bag that he’s become, and have the kind of horrible public image that seemingly cannot be improved.
A sample of the comments I got from voters in the poll:
• From Matt T. of Buffalo, Wyoming: “Simply the worst and most detrimental figure in the history of the game. Deflategate, Ray Rice, one-sided witch hunts. Awful officiating. The anthem fiasco. I personally HATE what he has done to a game and league I loved.”
• From Andrew D. of Uniontown, Ohio: “I know I’m in the minority based on perception, but I think Commissioner Goodell has done an outstanding job throughout his tenure. He’s grown a brand that already rules supreme in the major sports. His initiative to expand the league’s outreach globally may be in its infancy today, but we’ll all see the fruits of Goodell’s labor down the road. I think he’s underappreciated.”
• From Greg T. of Salem, Ore.: “As long as I can remember, I’ve loved football, and the NFL was always the pinnacle of the sport. Roger Goodell is transforming the game into something I barely recognize anymore in the name of ‘safety,’ marketing to a broader, more politically correct audience. Every lifelong football fan I know feels the same way.”
• From Josh G. of Harrisburg, Pa.: “Deflategate was the low point for me. Goodell was so intent on punishing the Pats that he actually tilted the competitive playing field with the Tom Brady suspension. I’m not a Pats fan by any stretch. I’m a Steeler fan, but that was just so disgusting to me. He botches every single issue that features relationships with the players.”
• From Joel Yashinsky of Detroit: “It’s abhorrent that the man is paid $40 million a year. I believe 15 years from now we will look back and say his tenure was the beginning of the end for the league.”
• From Jeff T., of San Diego: “Under Goodell’s leadership, the Chargers relocated to a market where they’re not wanted, thereby allowing pure greed to destroy generations of family traditions in San Diego. Sundays will never be the same in my San Diego family. I have gone from being a season ticket holder to doing other things with my time on Sundays.”
I can’t imagine a scenario in which Goodell can turn around his image—and I don’t see much of an effort by the league to try. For a league so powerful and successful, this is a conundrum that the NFL cannot make go away.
Peter King picks the Rams over the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Here is the rest of his field.
The NFC Playoff Picture
Division winners: Philadelphia, New Orleans, Minnesota, Los Angeles.
Wild-card teams: Atlanta, Green Bay.
Seeds: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Rams, 3. Minnesota, 4. New Orleans, 5. Green Bay, 6. Atlanta
NFC title game: Los Angeles 26, Philadelphia 24.
As for New England: Man, the receiver position is an abject disaster. How they’ll beat defensively stout Houston and Jacksonville in the first two weeks with Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett as the lone vet receivers on the roster is beyond me. (More about that in a moment.) But this comes down to my faith that the Patriots—who got embarrassed to open the season a year ago this week—will, as usual, figure out their weaknesses and act on them. Bill Belichick always does. Tom Brady always does.
You might think of this as a lazy pick because I don’t see the future. You might say if Doug Marrone hadn’t lost his nerve inside of two minutes in the AFC Championship Game last January against a beatable Patriots team I wouldn’t be picking them now. Maybe. But this pick comes down to the fact I’ve got more questions about every other contender in the AFC than I do about the Patriots.
• Jacksonville’s formidable, but I still question Blake Bortles to take a team to the Super Bowl. And after last January, I question Marrone’s decision-making in the big game.
• Houston’s got Deshaun Watson back, but he’ll be running for his life behind a bad offensive line. Plus, what sort of J.J. Watt returns?
• Pittsburgh … The eternal search for a secondary continues, as does the search for an interior boss like Ryan Shazier to lead the defense; when Shazier was lost with his spinal injury, the Steelers responded in their five games by allowing 28 points per game and fizzling out of the playoffs. It’s not impossible to fathom Cincinnati or Baltimore winning this division; both are better on defense than the Steelers.
• As for the West, I like the Chargers more than any other team, but don’t we all like the Chargers a ton every Labor Day weekend?
That leaves someone traveling to Foxboro on the third Sunday in January, again, praying they can find a way to dethrone the slightly dysfunctional but ridiculously legendary Patriots.
New England’s defense should be better, with Dont’a Hightower’s return, and Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn giving the Patriots a legitimate 1-2 pass-rush threat they haven’t had. The running game is good, the tackles iffy with the loss of Nate Solder and the injury to Isaiah Wynn knocking him out for the year. Amazing that 49er roster marginalia Trent Brown will play such a vital role, as least early, as the heir to Solder on Brady’s blind side.
If I were Brady, I’d be thinking more about the receiver situation than left tackle. The two most reliable recent wideouts, Danny Amendola (free agency, Miami) and Julian Edelman (suspended for four games) won’t be there in September, and Hogan and Dorsett are complementary pieces more than standard-bearers. The Patriots claimed a couple of waiver-wire no-names, Amara Darboh (Seattle) and Chad Hanson (Jets) on Saturday to give them a five-receiver depth chart, but think of it: The Patriots were 31st in the waiver-wire claiming order, so 30 other teams passed on Darboh and Hanson.
In Bill They All Trust—I get that. But Bill left the offense in a bad place entering two tough defensive opponents to open the season. Belichick counted on Malcolm Mitchell or Kenny Britt or Jordan Matthews or Eric Decker becoming a trusted Brady partner from the opening day of camp, and none did. What now? There’s no way Belichick and personnel czar Nick Caserio didn’t try to deal for a receiver over the weekend; they’re too smart to ignore a position of great need. Now they have to hope that looming free agents/cap casualties are available at the trade dealine. Maybe Denver is lousy the first half of the season and makes Demaryius Thomas available. Or maybe Detroit does the same with Golden Tate, or Green Bay (very unlikely) with Randall Cobb. Or maybe one of the waiver pickups find a chemistry with Brady. I just think the solving of the receiver problem is more likely than the other contenders finding solutions to their big issues.
The AFC playoff Picture
Division winners: New England, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Los Angeles Chargers.
Wild-card teams: Pittsburgh, Houston.
Seeds: 1. New England, 2. Jacksonville, 3. Chargers, 4. Cincinnati, 5. Pittsburgh, 6. Houston
AFC title game: New England 30, Los Angeles 23.
How cool would that be? Each of the Los Angeles franchises making the conference championship games, and being four quarters from an L.A. versus L.A. Super Bowl?
PUNTING ON THE HALL OF FAME
When the time comes, Peter King will have no problem advocating for another punter in the Hall of Fame.
When I heard the Texans cut punter Shane Lechler on Friday, the first thing I thought was also one of the first things I thought when Ray Guy became the first punter (exclusively) to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014: How will Lechler not be elected to the Hall at some point after he becomes eligible?
I know there’s a mythic quality about Guy, the first-round Raider punter/athlete who was Oakland’s first-round pick in 1973 and went on to be one of the most popular players in franchise history. But the rules about punting—massaged slightly, along with the conditioned footballs—haven’t changed drastically in the last 40 years, since Guy’s prime. So these numbers should be applicable when considering what a historic career Lechler has had.
Punting numbers aren’t the same as passing numbers. You can’t say the punting game has changed anywhere near as much as has throwing the ball (Ken Stabler pass attempts for Oakland, 1973: 260; Derek Carr pass attempts for Oakland, 2016: 560). So I don’t know how Lechler—more durable, more starry and more productive by 5.4 yards per punt than Guy—would not be a Hall of Famer if Guy was.
You might say that so many punters are so much better now, and so how can you enshrine Lechler without enshrining, say, Johnny Hekker? I get that. But then, how did we enshrine Guy without honoring his foremost peer, Jerrel Wilson? Wilson led the league in punting five times to Guy’s three, and his average was six-tenths of a yard better than Guy’s in 16 seasons. It’s a knotty issue when you start comparing players, but I’m not into words like “legends” when it comes to comparing cases for the Hall. I’m into words, for punters, like “statistics.”