The Daily Briefing Monday, April 17, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

If you read one thing today, make it the story on Konrad Reuland and Rod Carew in BALTIMORE.

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The 2017 NFL schedule is likely to be announced this week, perhaps on Thursday.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com with some thoughts:

 

The schedule for the 2017 season is set to be announced this week, which means that we will find out which team will be visiting Gillette Stadium to play the Patriots in the first game of the season.

 

The Falcons are on New England’s home schedule this year, but it doesn’t look like the NFL will opt for a second straight Super Bowl rematch on the first Thursday of the season. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reports that the opener will “almost certainly” involve the Chiefs coming to town.

 

The Chiefs went 12-4 last season and lost to the Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs after winning the second seed in the conference as the AFC West champs. The Dolphins and Texans join the Falcons and Chiefs as the other 2016 playoff teams on the Patriots’ home slate, but it appears those games will also come later in the season.

 

The Falcons, per Volin, will likely be opening their new stadium on Sunday Night Football in Week One. The other three NFC South teams, Packers, Vikings, Bills, Dolphins and Cowboys are possible opponents.

 

DEAN BLANDINO LEAVES

Peter King tries to make sense of the stunning departure of Dean Blandino:

 

It’s true: If the NFL knew vice president of officiating Dean Blandino was going to leave for a TV job—which Ian Rapoport and Aditi Kinkhabwala reported Friday—there’s a strong chance owners would not have voted for centralized replay last month, with Blandino making the calls from the league’s New York officiating command post. Clearly, a big part of voting for centralized replay was because of the strength of Blandino, and how good a media face he was for officiating.

 

He ran the beehive of an officiating command center, the size of a large Manhattan studio apartment, with 82 TV monitors and 21 employees following the games, calmly and authoritatively. He earned the trust of the league, and the officials. Blandino rose from never being on the field as an official to lording over the best football officials in the world. “You ask the officials … and they trust Dean,” Rich McKay, the chair of the rules-making NFL Competition Committee, told me last month. “He’s very detailed. We’re fortunate to have Dean Blandino as our head of officials.”

 

So why didn’t the NFL make sure to have him under contract so he couldn’t walk away to do TV? That’s the question many around the league were asking after this bolt out of the blue happened Friday. It was such a surprise that three prominent club officials over the weekend said they hadn’t heard about Blandino and TV until they heard the news Friday. And though it wasn’t a shock to some of his friends, and some in the league office knew Blandino would want to do TV one day, they didn’t think one day was now. This was not an active rumor, at all, at the league meetings, when the centralized replay vote passed in a landslide, moving the final calls on reviewed plays from the referees on the field to the Blandino team in New York. I can tell you with certainty that the Competition Committee was blindsided by the news Friday.

 

No one can blame Blandino. If, as Mike Florio reported, Blandino leaves for FOX to supplement his smooth predecessor, Mike Pereira, as a second voice interpreting calls, he’ll be doing a job with far less pressure for significantly more money. As one of Blandino’s friends told me Saturday: “Dean’s 45, married, and has two children under 5. He’s probably working 80 hours a week in-season at the NFL. That’s not really good for a father of two young kids.” Another friend said Blandino has long fancied himself a future TV guy. Being home for dinner five nights a week, and working 50 hours a week in the fall instead of far more, and having much of the off-season off—and making more money? A logical decision.

 

Still, there’s no logical person to take his place. NFL execs have a big problem on their hands. I’m assuming they tried to negotiate a deal with Blandino and failed. They should have tried harder. So what does the league do now?

 

This job requires a public figure comfortable in front of the camera and on social media. Blandino was just that. Al Riveron, Blandino’s lieutenant and a former referee himself, is not regarded as comfortable with that part of the job. He could still be considered for it, but after Carl Johnson never could get comfortable on TV and video as Pereira’s first heir, I would expect the league to cast a wider net. The three most prominent candidates—my guess—among current officials are three referees: Gene Steratore, calm and comfortable with a mike on; Clete Blakeman, a Nebraskan with a good presence and very well-liked by the league; and Bill Vinovich, who, while on health leave from on-field duties, worked in the New York command center for almost two years. The NFL could also consider Mike Carey, who had a shaky TV tenure as CBS’ rules analyst, or Terry McAulay, whose side job is as supervisor of officials for the American Athletic Conference.

 

Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the TV-comfy officials emerged as media voice for, say, ESPN soon either. ESPN has to look at FOX and say, “We’ve got high-profile college and NFL games, as FOX does. They’ve got two officiating experts now?” ESPN doesn’t have an in-studio rules expert either Saturday or Sunday, and the absence seems notable now. Which is why it wouldn’t surprise me if they added a smart and cool voice to the studio shows, at least.

But this is a fire the NFL’s going to have put out, and soon. It’s a bad look after a bold March step to centralize replay.

 

Could the NFL really consider Mike Carey, whose TV expectations of replay rulings differed so wildly from those actually delivered by the Blandino-directed system?

 

In an interview with ProFootballTalk, Scott Green the head of the NFLPA said on-field experience is something the officials want – even though Blandino never had it.

 

Albert Breer, also of TheMMQB.com has more on what Blandino’s successor faces:

 

Dean Blandino was never an on-field official. But as his job as the senior vice president of officiating went, the idea was the similar to that of the guys he managed: the less the job he did went noticed, the better.

 

That’s where the NFL will need to make up for his departure, which has been long rumored and became formal this week with a memo that went to all 32 teams.

Now, your point of reference may be how he explained judgment calls during his NFL Network segments (he’ll get to do a lot more of that on TV now), or how he detailed rules changes every March at the league meeting. But the most important part of his job was what he was doing every Monday and Tuesday and Friday, and that was managing all the fallout from game day.

 

Blandino’s strength lies in his people skills. And that’s why the public didn’t see a fraction of the fires he had to put out over the last four years. As one league official explained, it wasn’t uncommon for a furious coach to call 345 Park Avenue on a Monday morning and hang up 10 minutes later satisfied after talking to Blandino.

 

One NFC head coach texted on Friday morning, “He’s always been good with me. Tries to be honest when they make mistakes.” An AFC head coach added via text, “He did a very good job. Consistent. We liked him in our building.” Another NFC head coach said, “He was very objective and willing to admit mistakes, and reason with you. If he was wrong, he’d admit it. If he was right, he’d explain it. But the biggest thing is he was consistent. … Dean just stayed true to the rules.”

 

Having to deal with so many of those dustups is, as I understand it, one reason why he’s leaving. During the final weeks of the 2016 regular season, rumors spread that Blandino could be looking to leave. At the NFL Referee Association’s recent spring meeting, that buzz persisted. So it’s not as if this has caught either the league or its officials off guard.

And it’s easy to see why TV would appeal to Blandino. Those jobs pay well, too, without the round-the-clock nature of his job at 345 Park, and would tap into the relationships he’s built and what one person who would know described as his “encyclopedic” knowledge of the rules.

 

Fewer headaches. Less stress. More time for family.

 

Says one coach about Blandino, “If he was wrong, he’d admit it. If he was right, he’d explain it.”

 

Now, all of that said, that doesn’t mean there’s not opportunity here for the NFL to get better as a result of this move through a search for his replacement that’s already underway.

 

The biggest complaint that game officials had about Blandino—and this is coming from the more experienced, seasoned on-field guys—was that he’d never been in the fire. And with the league set to centralize replay, on-field experience will, as I understand it, be viewed as a plus in prospective candidates by the league office.

 

To some degree the change coming in centralizing replay has been overblown. Officials were able in the past to communicate with 345 Park through a headset when they went under the replay hood. The difference now is that it’ll happen on the field, with the official handed a tablet, and the league office carrying the hammer.

 

The idea is to expedite the process, and having a leader assuming that kind of authority who’s been in the official’s position would at the very least make for easier and faster conversation. That, of course, isn’t the only area where the new SVP of officiating would benefit from real officiating experience, and there’s an acknowledgement that Blandino’s ability to bridge the gap is no guarantee someone else would be able to.

 

We’ll hear about candidates in the coming weeks. Blandino will be gone at the end of May, and it seems unrealistic that the league would have his replacement ready to go on June 1. Al Riveron, Blandino’s deputy, would be one candidate for the spot, and would be a good one from a technical standpoint.

 

Does he have the people skills necessary to do the job?

 

That’ll be an important question not just for Riveron but for any candidate, as well as all the people who deal with the SVP of officiating on a regular basis during an NFL season.

When I talked to NFLRA executive director Scott Green on Friday morning, here’s what he said: “I was looking forward to working with Dean in my role. We’ve got big issues to discuss, so I’m anxious to see which direction the league goes.”

 

Lots of people are. The coaches. The officials. Those on the competition committee.

Fact is, there are lots of relationships to manage in that position. And while Blandino was far from perfect in his four years, the NFL would be fortunate to find someone else who could manage all those people, and their problems, the way he did.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Did ELI MANNING and the Giants do wrong by some memorabilia hounds?  Jenny Vrentas of TheMMQB.com on developments in a slow-moving case:

 

Until last week, you may have forgotten about the fake memorabilia lawsuit against the Giants and Eli Manning. The civil suit was originally filed in January 2014, alleging, among other claims, that the team and its star quarterback have been falsifying game-worn memorabilia that was then sold to unsuspecting collectors. It was a big headline three years ago, as the suit was filed the same week Manning’s older brother, Peyton, was preparing for Super Bowl XLVIII at the Giants’ home stadium.

 

Since then, it fell out of the public eye as it has been caught up in the court system. The Giants’ lawyers sought dismissal of some of the claims facing their team employees and attempted to move the case to federal court. But, the fraud claims survived the motion to dismiss, and are now moving forward in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County. A trial has been set for Sept. 25, and the discovery period in the case is open until June 30—and as part of that process, a potentially damning email from Manning was filed in the public record last week.

 

As first reported by the New York Post, Brian Brook, the lawyer for the three memorabilia collectors who are bringing suit against the Giants, submitted in a court filing an email said to be provided in discovery by Manning and his attorneys. In that email, sent from Manning’s personal account in April 2010, the quarterback is asking team equipment director Joe Skiba for “2 helmets that can pass as game used.” The ask came in response to a request from Manning’s marketing director for two game-used helmets and jerseys to fulfill his contract with Steiner Sports Memorabilia.

 

The Giants responded with a statement from a spokesperson for the team’s counsel, saying the email was “taken out of context” and referring to the lead plaintiff, Eric Inselberg, as an “unscrupulous memorabilia dealer” seeking a big payday.

 

The court filing also includes a previously disclosed email exchange between Skiba and Inselberg, provided by Inselberg, in which Skiba appears to acknowledge the existence of “BS ones,” i.e. made-up Manning game-used helmets and jerseys so that No. 10 didn’t have to give up the real ones.

 

This case casts a wide shadow. The origin dates back to 2011, when Inselberg, a New Jersey-based memorabilia dealer, was one of six men charged with sports memorabilia fraud as part of an FBI probe. Those charges were dropped, however, after defense attorneys argued that members of the Giants equipment staff lied to federal agents and the grand jury about selling Inselberg game-used items from their locker room. In response, Inselberg filed this suit; the other co-plaintiffs are two collectors, Michael Jakab and Sean Godown, who unknowingly bought and sold what they claim is a fake Manning game-worn helmet.

 

In reporting our True Crime story on the Tom Brady jersey caper last week, we stumbled upon another offshoot of the web: Brandon Jacobs, running back on the Giants’ Super Bowl 42 and 46 teams, believed he had his game-worn jersey from each of those two games hanging on his wall at home. But, two years ago, Jakab contacted Jacobs with pictures of what looks to be Jacobs’ entire game-worn Super Bowl XLII uniform, including the jersey. Bewildered, Jacobs asked Jakab where he had gotten it from, and Jakab told Jacobs that Inselberg, his collector buddy, had purchased the uniform from Joe and Ed Skiba.

 

So, what’s next? As the civil case moves forward, things could get even more interesting. Brook said his understanding from Manning’s lawyers was that their discovery was “substantially complete” at this time, which means don’t expect any other e-mails to be filed. But all of the depositions have yet to be completed before the end of June, including Manning’s. And, if this case indeed goes to trial this fall, on some or all of the claims, Manning would be called to testify. You’d think the Giants would be motivated to settle, if only to avoid the distraction and PR hit around their star quarterback—one that he is already taking, and which may potentially only get worse. But all indications so far are that they will fight this case, so perhaps they have another strategy that is yet to be revealed.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

With Tony Romo not arriving to put the debate to rest, Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post looks at the upcoming Broncos quarterback battle:

 

Let the bickering in Broncos Country begin. Are you with Trevor Siemian? Or do you roll with Paxton Lynch?

 

This isn’t a quarterback controversy. It’s an uncivil war not seen since Tim Tebow left Denver.

 

When new Broncos coach Vance Joseph insists it’s an open, 50-50 competition between Siemian and Lynch to be the team’s starting quarterback, I believe him.

 

I also believe Joseph cannot possibly know exactly what he’s getting himself into by letting Broncos Country be a house divided between Mr. Skittles (Siemian) and the Pirate (Lynch).

 

“It’s open,” Joseph said, “and it’s going to go down to the wire, I hope.”

 

Here’s applause for Joseph committing to take his sweet time to fully evaluate the team’s two young quarterbacks. If it requires all of training camp, or even half the regular season, to choose between Lynch and Siemian, that’s fine by me.

 

Why? His call on the quarterback is one Joseph must get right, or he won’t be the Broncos’ coach for long.

 

A year ago, Gary Kubiak prioritized making the playoffs over finding the team’s QB of the future, and he failed at both tasks. While it’s understandable why Kubiak took the win-now approach with the defending Super Bowl champs, he walked out the door at Dove Valley headquarters leaving a hot potato in the lap of Joseph.

 

How Joseph negotiates the noise emanating from the Siemian vs. Lynch debate will reveal much about if he’s cut out to be an NFL head coach. Joseph must not only sell his decision to the Broncos’ locker room, he must sell it to Broncos Country.

 

Around here, a coach unable to control the hubbub gets run out of town real quick. Or have you forgotten Josh McDaniels? Around here, the passionate fan base will scream about the quarterback until it’s nearly impossible for a coach to ignore. Or have you forgotten Tebowmania?

 

Whether the position is left tackle or quarterback, Joseph insists “The best guys will play.”

 

We all want to believe sports represent the ultimate meritocracy. But when the debate is about the quarterback in a football-crazy town, locker-room politics and the court of public opinion get all tangled up with whatever evidence is recorded in the all-22 video by Lynch and Siemian.

 

Think not? Well, Jake Plummer always was and always will be a better NFL quarterback than Jay Cutler, but that didn’t stop the Snake from losing his job when Mike Shanahan turned over a winning team to his prized first-round draft choice.

 

Remove the personal bias, and the math doesn’t lie. Although Siemian was more experienced in the Denver offense and produced a much larger sample size in 2016, there was no significant difference between him and Lynch in completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio or quarterback rating.

 

“I think you learn pretty quickly, or at least I did, that you’ve got to earn it every year and every day in this league,” Siemian said.

 

There’s a weird dynamic between Broncos Country and their two quarterback prospects. If Twitter is a window into the irrational mind of football fanatics, then Siemian is either the next Tom Brady or Brian Griese, while Lynch is either the league’s next great gunslinger or too dumb to read NFL defenses.

 

“I believe in myself to be a starter this year,” Lynch said.

 

While Siemian can command a huddle and is tough as nails, New England coach Bill Belichick exposed Siemian’s limited skill set with a no-frills defense during the Patriots’ 16-3 victory in December. Although Lynch’s lack of footwork and focus can drive a coach nuts, if new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy can’t find the pages in his playbook that allow Lynch’s playmaking ability to shine as the starting quarterback, then John Elway hired the wrong coaching staff.

 

Let the bickering begin.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

The DB does not remember Konrad Reuland when he passed through the Ravens a few years ago.  Now, he is dead but lives on in the body of Hall of Fame baseball player Rod Carew.  It is an amazing story, beautifully told by Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:

 

Mary Reuland still remembers the day almost 20 years ago that her son Konrad came home from school after meeting Hall of Fame baseball player Rod Carew.

 

Konrad, who was 11 at the time, couldn’t stop talking about it.

 

“‘You know I met Rod Carew!’” Mary recalls him saying over and over again. “That’s how it was the whole rest of the day. It was really kind of cute.”

 

Like most kids, Konrad had hopes of becoming a professional athlete, and meeting a former Major League Baseball star made the dream seem just a little more feasible.

 

“For him to meet a pro athlete at that age, it was like the best thing that could happen to him,” Mary said.

 

Carew made an impact on Konrad in that one brief encounter. Konrad would go on to become a standout football star who shined in high school, then played at Stanford and for four NFL teams.

 

But nobody could imagine the difference that 11-year-old boy would one day make in the life of the Hall of Fame baseball player.

 

WE LOST A RAVEN

 

The Ravens had just dropped a disappointing game to the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football in December of last year. Baltimore failed to mount a late-game comeback, and the 30-23 loss dealt a significant blow to its playoff chances. When Head Coach John Harbaugh stepped to the microphone for his post-game press conference, he started with an announcement that had nothing to do with football.

 

Konrad, just 29 years old, had died earlier that day after suffering a brain aneurysm two weeks prior.

 

“We lost a Raven today,” Harbaugh said, before reading a passage out of Psalms. “We love Konrad Reuland.”

 

The news both shocked, and brought a sobering perspective to the Ravens locker room.

 

Ravens Chaplain Johnny Shelton, who received the devastating news in a text at halftime from Mary, shared the news with Harbaugh after the game. Offensive lineman John Urschel, who typically roomed with Konrad on road trips, told some teammates and word quickly spread through the locker room.

 

Harbaugh then announced to the team that Konrad had died.

 

“It resonated with everyone,” Shelton said. “It took that game, literally as it was – just a game. But we lost a close friend. You could feel it in the room.”

 

OUR LIVES CHANGED DRAMATICALLY

 

Konrad’s death was shocking on many levels. He was so young. He was completely healthy. He had played in NFL preseason games just three months earlier. He was actually training to stay ready in case an NFL team called and needed a tight end on short notice.

 

He was living and training in his hometown in Southern California, and a benefit of being out of the NFL was that he finally got to spend Thanksgiving with family. It was the first time in nine years that he had a Thanksgiving at home.

 

His younger brothers, Warren and Austin, were both in town, and they spent all day together on Wednesday. The family ate a traditional Thanksgiving meal on Thursday and then went to dinner and a movie on Friday. They started putting up Christmas decorations Saturday morning and Konrad went to the gym to get in a workout.

 

About 40 minutes later, Konrad called home and told his parents he felt a click in his head and suddenly had a crushing headache. Even though Konrad was walking and talking, his father Ralf, a physician, suggested getting him to the emergency room just to rule out the possibility of anything serious.

 

Soon after Konrad arrived at the hospital, doctors determined he had an aneurysm. He laid in a hospital bed and was immediately transferred to UCLA Medical Center by ambulance. He never stood up again.

 

“Our lives changed dramatically at that moment,” Mary said.

 

For the next three days, Konrad was aware and coherent. The incident had certainly shaken him, but he could talk and lift his legs. He was still confident he could recover and his family stayed by his side virtually around the clock. His family wanted to provide constant encouragement and his mom gave him a passionate talk one night.

 

The next morning at 6:47, Konrad wrote a text to his mother:

 

“THANK YOU FOR THE PEP TALK! I’M ABOUT TO KICK THIS THING’S BUTT, WITH THE HELP OF GOD. HE HAD SOMETHING BIG IN STORE FOR ME, AND THIS IS SOMETHING THAT WILL HELP MANIFEST WHAT IT IS … I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHERE HIS WILL TAKES ME.”

 

It was the last text he would ever send his mom.

 

While the entire family was in his hospital room later that week, Konrad said he was tired and needed some rest. He suggested that his parents and brothers go out for dinner, and then they could all come back later and spend more time together.

 

Soon after the family arrived at the restaurant they received a phone call that something had gone wrong. Konrad had told the nurse that he had an incredibly painful headache and within five minutes it was clear he needed immediate attention. Nurses rolled his bed to the emergency room and he underwent a 17-hour surgery.

 

“He came out and we thought, ‘He has a chance of making it,’” Mary said.

 

The optimism didn’t last long and he soon took a turn for the worse. His organs began to fail, and he developed pneumonia and an infection in the lungs. Doctors made the decision to put Konrad in a prone bed, where he was in a face down position in an attempt to clear out his lungs.

 

But then his head began to swell and it became clear he wasn’t going to survive.

 

Knowing time was short, the family asked if Konrad could be removed from the prone bed and turned on his back so family members could say their goodbyes. About 40 minutes later, the doctor told the family that Konrad’s lung function had shockingly started to return. Irreparable damage had already been done to his brain, but oxygen had returned to his organs.

 

“They came out and they were just dumbfounded,” Ralf said. “That event allowed his organs to survive.”

 

Reuland was ultimately pronounced dead on Dec. 12, just about the time the Ravens were kicking off their Monday Night Football game against the Patriots.

 

As the Reulands grieved, Rod Carew waited.

 

The seven-time American League batting champion and first-ballot Hall of Famer was in a hospital bed, dealing with life-threatening complications from a heart attack he initially sustained on Sept. 20, 2015. Carew had been living for more than a year with a device implanted in his heart that kept it functioning, but a series of problems had occurred and doctors determined that Carew needed a transplant.

 

Carew was put on the transplant list in November, and his condition reached a point severe enough to move him to the top of the list on Dec. 9, 2016.

 

Unbeknownst to Carew, Konrad Reuland, a little boy he had met nearly 20 years earlier, died three days later.

 

Two days after that, Carew received the call he had been waiting for – he would be getting a new heart and kidney. He underwent a 13-hour procedure to receive the transplants.

 

The surgery was a success, and the Carews were eternally grateful to the man whose heart and kidney Rod had received. Rod’s wife, Rhonda, had friends who had seen the news of Reuland’s death and asked her if that was the heart he received, but they had no way of knowing.

 

The Carews initially had no information about the donor other than the man’s age. But that detail alone was enough to leave them in awe. Rod’s campaign to fight heart disease was called the Heart of 29, in honor of the number he wore throughout his baseball career.

 

They didn’t know it at the time, but he had, in fact, received the heart of 29-year-old Konrad.

 

More than 1,000 people attended Konrad’s funeral in southern California. At the funeral, dozens of guests asked Mary the same question: “Do you think it’s Rod Carew?”

 

She had no idea what they meant.

 

“It was like this lightning bolt went through me,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on in the world. I was just focusing on the little bubble of my son’s hospital room.”

 

Friends and family shared the news reports that Carew had received a heart and kidney transplant from a 29-year-old male donor who died at the UCLA Medical Center. Carew received the transplant four days after Konrad’s death.

 

After the funeral, Mary started her own research. She read news articles online and noted that the circumstances had to be more than a coincidence.

 

Carew, 71, had received heart and kidney transplants from an exceptionally healthy 29-year-old man. The Reulands had been told that his left kidney and his heart went to a 71-year-old man in Southern California. Carew was a patient at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, less than five miles away from where Reuland died.

 

“Everybody was connecting the dots,” Mary said.

 

The family was virtually certain that Carew was the recipient. The circumstances were just too clear to miss. But they couldn’t know for sure until they received official confirmation from the donation company. Families of organ donors are encouraged to wait at least a year before initiating contact with a recipient, allowing time for grieving and healing, but the Reulands couldn’t ignore the facts in front of them.

 

“We needed to know for our sake if it was really true,” Mary said.

 

She called the donation company and they confirmed it. Carew had received Konrad’s heart and kidney.

 

WHOEVER GETS HIS HEART BETTER DESERVE IT

 

Mary spent the last few hours of her son’s life sitting next to his bed. She knew his time was limited.

 

“I had laid my right ear on his heart all day and just listened to his heartbeat,” Mary said. “When we left him for the last time I said, ‘Whoever gets his heart better deserve his heart because it was a good one.’”

 

Konrad’s other kidney went to a woman in her 60s in Southern California. His liver went to a man in his 50s. As much as the family grieved the loss, they took some solace in knowing that Konrad lives on and saved other lives.

 

A few days after the funeral, Mary was grappling with the loss of her son.

 

“I was sitting at home, still numb, and I was praying, ‘Please give me a sign. Let me know that you’re OK,’” she recalls.

 

Within minutes, Mary received a text. A family friend was at the cemetery setting up a nativity scene when he realized something remarkable on Konrad’s grave site. A single beam of light was shining through the clouds, directly onto his grave, right at the spot where his heart would be.

 

“He looked around and said there were no beams of light anywhere else,” she said. “It was just right there, on Konrad. It was pretty incredible.”

 

In the weeks following Konrad’s death, the family started an endowment in his name through Big Brothers Big Sisters.

 

Mary also decided to reach out to the Carew family. She connected with Rhonda, and they bonded almost immediately. They talked over the phone on several occasions and realized they have been closer than they ever knew. Their children went to the same grade school and the Carews remembered Konrad and his brothers from all of their success on the football field and basketball court.

 

They decided they wanted to meet in person. Mary and Ralf wanted another opportunity to listen to their son’s heartbeat. Rod was released from the hospital on Feb. 14, and the Reulands invited Rod and his family to their home on March 2.

 

Mary and Ralf had no idea how they would react to the emotions of the meeting. They were less than three months removed from losing their oldest child, and they knew the encounter would be raw. But when Mary first saw Rod outside her home, she greeted him warmly with a big hug and said, “You’re part of our family now.”

 

“Forever,” Rod replied. “I will take care of this one because I’ve been given a second chance, and God knows how I feel and what I’m going to do for him.”

 

As the families shared hugs and tears, Mary was reminded of what she told the doctors before leaving Konrad’s hospital room for the last time: Whoever gets his heart better deserve it.

 

“We lost a wonderful man, so it had to go into a wonderful person,” Mary told Rod. “I couldn’t be happier that it went to such a wonderful man.”

 

The families went inside and sat with each other on the couch, and Rod asked Mary if she wanted to listen to Konrad’s heartbeat “to see how beautiful it sounds.” Before putting the stethoscope to Rod’s chest, she told the Carews that she learned every person has a unique heartbeat. She had Konrad’s memorized.

 

Mary, Ralf and Austin each took turns listening to Konrad’s heart. Ralf listened silently for about 30 seconds. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and reached his arms around Carew to embrace him with a big hug.

 

He then looked at Carew’s chest and said, “Welcome home, Konrad.”

 

 

CLEVELAND

Peter King thinks the Browns may want to end up with the top two picks in the draft:

 

If the Browns take Garrett number one (most likely scenario) and want to use their treasure trove of picks (12, 33, 52, 65, 108 this year, with a first- and three second-round picks next year) to move up from 12 to, say, 2, to ensure getting the quarterback they want. Spitballing only: But Cleveland from 12 to two makes a lot of sense. This would allow the Niners to still get a good player at 12 (Solomon Thomas? Christian McCaffrey? Mike Williams?), as well as Cleveland’s one next year and at least one other prominent pick.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

With the help of two commissioners, Peter King on the NFL’s loss with the passing of Dan Rooney:

 

On March 31, two days after returning from a historic NFL owners meeting in Arizona (for several reasons), NFL commissioner Roger Goodell flew to Pittsburgh to see the ailing Steelers owner, Dan Rooney. Goodell feared what he might see. Rooney, 84 and seriously ill, was now in a rehabilitation facility with major back problems and an undisclosed ailment. Goodell hadn’t seen him since Super Bowl Sunday in Houston.

 

When Goodell opened the door to Rooney’s room, Rooney was in bed, too weak to get up and greet him. A slim man already, Rooney had lost weight. But when he saw Goodell, Rooney smiled broadly.

 

“Commissioner,” Rooney said.

 

Goodell didn’t want to get emotional just then. It was difficult. “I flashed back,” Goodell said Sunday afternoon. “It was exactly the same thing he’d said to me once before.”

 

Eerily, it was. Same word, same smile too, as on a hot day in August 2006, in a hotel in Northbrook, Ill. In a ballroom of the hotel, the 32 NFL owners ended a lengthy debate about the man they’d elect to succeed Paul Tagliabue as commissioner, choosing Goodell over league lawyer Gregg Levy. One of the league’s biggest power players for four decades, Dan Rooney, was dispatched to give the winner the news. Rooney went to room 755 and knocked on the door.

 

When Goodell opened the door, Rooney smiled broadly.

 

“Commissioner,” Rooney said.

* * *

 

Dan Rooney died Thursday, and it took the media world a half day to move on to the next story. I know how it works. But this week, I’m not moving on. When a Mount Rushmore figure in NFL history dies, he’s going to get his due in this column. I hope you read about Rooney, but if not, there’s 6,000 more words here about the rest of the football world. Before that, I’m going to try to explain why Dan Rooney matters, and why he’ll be missed for years to come.

* * *

 

Thirteen days after Goodell’s hospital visit, Rooney died, and so much of the history of the league (and the all-for-one, one-for-all nature of the old NFL) died with him. Rooney had a key role in four labor negotiations; I believe he’s the most significant diplomat between players and owners in NFL history, and that had much to do with him skating into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. Rooney stuck his neck out to hire the unknown Chuck Noll, 37, in 1969 (and to keep him when the Steelers went 12-30 in his first three years) and the unknown Mike Tomlin, 34, in 2007; in this era of instant gratification, Rooney knew something so many other owners didn’t. The Steelers have had three coaches in the 48 seasons since 1969, and won six Super Bowls, more than any NFL team.

 

And so unique. In a league filled with Republican owners, he campaigned hard in Pennsylvania for Barack Obama in 2008—then took the ambassador appointment to Ireland by President Obama in 2009. He worked for years on the peace process between Ireland and Northern Ireland. For the past 41 years, he awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature to a young Irish writer. The annual prize money (now 10,000 euros) wasn’t as significant to most of the writers as the career push. Rooney didn’t forget his first sporting love while ambassador: On each of the Fourth of July holidays he served in Ireland, an American football game was played on the front lawn of his ambassador’s residence in Dublin.

 

“The NFL was the least of his accomplishments,” Tagliabue told me. “He truly cared about an extraordinary array of world affairs.”

 

Rooney longed for the Steeler life while in Dublin, and when he returned four years ago, he was back running the team with son Art Rooney II. Intensely loyal to his team, he was as loyal to his league. Rooney was in Pete Rozelle’s kitchen cabinet throughout his tenure, then in Paul Tagliabue’s, then in Goodell’s, almost until the end. When I mentioned to Goodell on Sunday that he must have learned a lot in his weekly talks with Rooney, he said, “It was more than weekly. Really, it was daily. I talked to him almost daily. It goes back, I’d say, 30 years.

 

“So many of the conversations I had with him, I came to realize, were to prepare me to become commissioner. He has such a strong sense of history. He has a perspective that is unmatched by anybody in the league. Often we’d talk about his historical perspective, and things that were important to focus on for the future, and the importance of the game itself, which he was intensely focused on. The players, the officiating, the game … the game. He had a focus that a lot of other owners didn’t have.

 

“Pete would always say, ‘Dan is one of the most valuable owners in the league.’ And Paul would say that. And of course, now, I would say that. He was a treasure.”

 

Goodell got quieter for a moment. Over the phone, he sounded emotional.

 

“I never met a better man in my life. He had the highest integrity. There was a genuine goodness about him. He was the most devoted man I ever met … devoted to his wife—he met his wife in 1936! Devoted to his family. Devoted to his city, Pittsburgh. Devoted to his Steelers. His father, The Chief [Hall of Fame owner Art Rooney] was a legend, and Dan came in and created his own legend. It was always about the game, his team, and his league.”

 

Said Tagliabue: “His values were so traditional, but he was one of the first people to support major change and innovation. Stadium financing, the salary cap. He was for free agency, and for fundamental changes in how players were treated. The Rooney Rule, so characteristic of him, seeing a wrong and trying to right it. I don’t think enough attention has been paid to a man who was such a traditionalist and was truly so innovative.”

 

I found it compelling that as much as Rooney was egalitarian about every team in the league being able to compete fairly, he never minded sticking a needle into Goodell (or the commissioners before him) when he felt his team had been wronged. I witnessed it at a dinner in 2009, when Rooney bitterly complained to Goodell (with wives present) that the NFL was unfairly trashing the reputation of Hines Ward. I reminded Goodell of that Sunday.

 

“I used to tease him,” Goodell said. “He would call up on a Monday, and if he was mad about the officiating, he’d say it was ‘your officials.’ After a good game, he’d said, ‘The officials did a pretty good job.’ With Dan, his guys never committed a foul. He was all Steeler, through and through.

 

“I remember he was the first person I fined as commissioner. Remember that?”

October 2006, seven weeks into Goodell’s reign: After a 41-38 Atlanta win over the Steelers, Rooney, mad at several calls from ref Ron Winter’s crew, said, among other things: “Those officials should be ashamed of themselves.”

 

“So,” Goodell said, “I got Dan on the phone. I read him his quotes. I said, ‘Dan, is this what you said?’ He said, ‘That sounds about right.’ I said, ‘That’s a violation, Dan. I’ve got to fine you.’ He told me, ‘That’s okay. I deserve it.’ He knew.”

* * *

 

Rooney was at the fore for a lot of famous things—CBA talks, the Rooney Rule, commissioner elections. But where Goodell valued him was as a conscience, and a sounding board. Before he became commissioner, the NFL was about to expand to 32 teams, and realign from six divisions to eight. It was a clunky time, back in 1999. Few teams want major changes. And so Tagliabue and top lieutenant Goodell and Rooney (among others) began months of talks to figure out how to take a 31-team league with six divisions, add Houston in 2002, and become a 32-team league with four divisions.

 

At the time, all visiting teams would get a financial share of the eight games they played on the road from the home teams. And the teams playing at Dallas or the Giants, for instance, lucrative dates, didn’t want to give those up. So it wasn’t going to be easy to form an AFC South with smaller markets (Nashville, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, for example) making less than the teams with foes from bigger markets. So it was proposed that instead of each game being an individual visitors’ share, all 256 regular-season games be pooled and all 32 teams get the same collective visitors’ share each year.

 

Rooney loved that. “Both to maintain the proper rivalries and to get the schedule perfect, and to get the regional divisions right, it made sense,” said Goodell. “Through the process, Dan would scratch out his ideas for the right divisions, and he’d send them all to me. With the financial incentive taken away, it leveled the playing field. It was crucial for revenue sharing. It got us to a place where we could now talk football. Dan would talk to owners, I would talk to owners, Paul would talk to owners. Dan did a lot for that process and that solution, but he didn’t want any credit. He operated with total humility. He just wanted what was best for the health of the game, the future of the game, the future of the league. He just always put the game first. I start almost every league meeting with that point.

 

“In fact, I talked about that in Arizona. History is so important to our league. When we started the meeting this year, I said, “Except for a year or two when he was in Ireland serving as our ambassador there, this is the first league meeting since 1961 that Ambassador and Mrs. Rooney have not been to a league meeting.”

 

I wrote this the other day, but it is Rooney to the core. One year, the Steelers announced they were holding the line on ticket prices, which means that the percentage the Steelers would be contributing to the visitors’ share of the pie would stay flat. He heard some grousing at a league meeting about it. He got up and said: “I’m not concerned about your share. You’ve got enough money—we’ve all got enough money. I’m concerned about our fans and their ability to afford the tickets.”

 

Are there enough Dan Rooneys out there to keep this game great, and to be fan advocates? After a four-month period during which rabid fans in San Diego watched the Chargers leave because a new stadium wasn’t forthcoming, and rabid fans in Oakland watched the Raiders leave because a new stadium wasn’t forthcoming there either, are there enough men and women of conscience in the league to watch out for the fans and the football? If Dan Rooney could have left one message to his peers—the 32 stewards of the game, and Roger Goodell—I can pretty safely predict what it would have been:

 

We’ve all got enough money. It’s got to be about the game. The game. The game.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Sal Capaccio of WGAR Radio on a tough decision facing the Bills:

 

The Bills have to make a decision on whether or not to pick up the 5th-year option on wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ rookie contract by May 2.  A source familiar with the situation has informed me the team has yet to make that decision and will be discussing it internally over the next couple weeks.

 

Watkins is under contract for one more season for a salary cap hit of $6.343 million.  If the team picks up his option, it will cost them roughly $13 million against the cap in 2018.  They could always pick up the option then reduce that number by working out a long-term extension, as well.

 

While exercising the option seems like a slam-dunk by most analysts and observers (and I still believe the Bills will ultimately do it), I’m told the reason the team has yet to decide is because the option is guaranteed against injury.  Since the Clemson product entered the league in 2014 he’s had numerous ailments that have kept him off the field.  He’s missed 11 games the past two seasons, including eight last year after breaking a bone in his foot and is currently recovering from a second surgery he had in January to repair that foot.

 

The front office and head coach Sean McDermott will meet with the medical staff to get an update on Watkins’ progress and outlook after taking part in rehab and conditioning with the team over the past two weeks.

 

Other than for injury, the option would not become fully guaranteed until the new league year begins in March of 2018.  So, if Watkins stayed healthy but did not perform to the level the Bills are expecting, they could withdraw their option to exercise and allow his contract to expire, or work out a new deal (which would be unlikely in that scenario).

If the Bills ultimately decide not to pick up Watkins’ fifth-year option because of the injury risk, and then he does play at a high level this season and the team wants to make sure the retain him, they would still have the ability to place the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next year.  The franchise tag amount for wide receivers this year is a guaranteed $15.682 million and will most likely be around $16.5 million or more next year.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Happy Birthday to 65-year-old Bill Belichick.  Nicole Yang at Boston.com:

 

He may not be thinking about retirement just yet, but Bill Belichick nevertheless celebrated his 65th birthday on Sunday with his girlfriend, Linda Holliday.

 

Holliday shared a picture of the couple in Jupiter, Florida, via her Instagram account, with the caption: “Thank you for so many sweet birthday wishes to Bill today! What a very special day to celebrate. Hope you’re all having a Happy Easter!”

 

Jupiter is famously one of Belichick’s favorite places to spend time during the offseason. He and Holliday have been spotted vacationing there on multiple occasions, and his boat, “VII Rings,” is reportedly docked at the Jupiter Yacht Club.

– – –

The Patriots are sending a message to RB LeGARRETTE BLOUNT through various media outlets.  Here is Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount gave New England an 18-touchdown season last year, and his reward may be a take-it-or-leave-it contract offer this year.

 

With Blount still unsigned in free agency, Mike Reiss of ESPN reports that if Blount doesn’t sign the contract the Patriots have offered him soon, the team may close the door entirely on the possibility of him coming back.

 

That move would be consistent with the way the Patriots usually do business: They decide how much a player is worth, and they’re not willing to pay him a nickel more. And if he hesitates to agree to the deal they want, they move on.

 

In a sense, the Patriots already have moved on by signing Rex Burkhead and re-signing Brandon Bolden to add to a backfield that also has James White and Dion Lewis. The Patriots have also been linked at times to everyone from Adrian Peterson to Mike Gillislee to Damien Williams to Marshawn Lynch. That doesn’t preclude Blount from returning to New England, but it does show that the Patriots are ready to head into 2017 without him.

 

Blount’s yards per carry average has declined in each of his four seasons in New England, from 5.0 in 2013 to 4.7 in 2014 to 4.3 in 2015 to 3.9 in 2016. Despite all his goal-line production last year, the Patriots may think Blount has lost a step and see no reason to give him a pay raise.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

SO SAD

 

Prayers for former NFL tight end TODD HEAP and his family:

 

Former NFL tight end Todd Heap accidentally killed his 3-year-old daughter Friday when he ran her over while moving a truck in the driveway of the family’s suburban Phoenix home. The Arizona Republic reported that police said Heap, 37, was behind the wheel of the truck when he struck the girl while moving the vehicle forward. The girl was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

– – –

The Baltimore Ravens, Heap’s longtime former team, called the accident “knee-buckling news and an overwhelming tragedy.”

 

Jay Feely, who played with Heap on the Arizona Cardinals, wrote on Twitter : “My heart is broken for Todd Heap and his family. One of the kindest persons I’ve ever met and a man who lives for his family.”

 

Heap spent 10 seasons with the Ravens, who selected him in the first round out of Arizona State in 2001. He spent two seasons with the Cardinals before retiring with 42 career touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl after the 2002 and ’03 seasons and was a second-team All-Pro in 2003.

 

Heap also is a member of the Raven’s Ring of Honor.

 

“We cannot imagine the heartbreak and sorrow Todd and Ashley’s family feels right now,” the Ravens said in a statement. “We believe their deep faith and tremendous support from friends and family will help them through this unimaginable time.”

 

Heap is from a Mormon family that stretches its lineage to the early days of the faith. Since 2007, he and his wife have operated a foundation to help sick and disadvantaged children.

 

He talked about family being the most important thing in his life in a 2015 interview with Kevin Byrne , the Ravens’ senior vice president for public and community relations.

 

“I just got done jumping on the trampoline with my 2-year-old daughter,” Heap told Byrne, “and it’s hard to get a bigger smile than that. I took all three of my boys golfing this morning. That was a lot of fun. (My wife) Ashley makes me smile every day. Family and all of the events we do, that regularly makes me smile.”

 

 

2017 DRAFT

Peter King:

 

1. Rampant belief: Myles Garrett number one—to some team. One executive told me Saturday it’s “100 percent … no, 99, because you can’t predict Cleveland.” Another veteran scout called him a “once in 10 years player.”

 

And this on the rising PATRICK MAHOMES:

 

4. I think Cleveland wants Mitchell Trubisky or Pat Mahomes. Big arms. Love football. My gut: If it’s Mahomes the Browns covet, they can stay at 12 and pick him. But one bit of warning …

 

5. The Cardinals like Mahomes. They pick 13th. They might love him. Beware, Cleveland. GM Steve Keim’s a bold guy. Emily Kaplan’s “24 Hours” piece with Mahomes illustrates why he’s so well-liked in the NFL community.

 

– – –

Even though reason says this is a very average group of QBs, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com hears they will be off the board quickly:

 

When it comes to the draft, we’re not studying film or traveling to Pro Days or otherwise pretending to engage in the inherent crapshoot that is determining which successful college football players will thrive and which will fail once they make it to the next level. But through 15-plus years of doing this, people who purport to know things about how the draft will unfold either have developed a strong track record for accuracy with us, or they haven’t. One source who has proven to be very accurate in the past has shared the current assessment of the manner in which teams regard the top quarterbacks in the draft.

 

The top five, each of whom could potentially go in round one depending on how anxious teams are to roll the dice for a potential starter (and/or the always-elusive franchise quarterback), are as follows: (1) Mitchell Trubisky; (2) Deshaun Watson; (3) Patrick Mahomes; (4) Davis Webb; and (5) DeShone Kizer.

 

As the draft approaches, there seems to be a stronger sense that the quarterbacks will go earlier than previously expected. Which makes sense; some teams can’t resist the lure of a potential franchise quarterback, which often results in the guys regarded as the top quarterbacks in a given drafted being drafted sooner than they should be.

 

In twelve days, we’ll all know the number of first-round quarterbacks and the order in which they exit the board. The question then becomes whether in their first NFL destinations the coaching and the supporting casts will be good enough to help them become among the best in the game.

 

Jared Dubin of CBSSports thinks four of them will be enticing enough to go in the first round.  We don’t doubt it, as DAVIS WEBB shows up

 

Chatter is picking up. Smoke screens are everywhere. Real information is hard to come by.

In other words, it’s business as usual this time of year.

 

Scroll on down for Mock Draft 9.0.

 

1. Cleveland Browns

Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M: This week’s Mitch Trubisky rumors seem like a classic smokescreen intended to drum up some interest in a Godfather offer for the No. 1 pick. Barring that actually happening, something pretty unexpected would have to go down for Garrett not to go No. 1 at this point.

 

2. San Francisco 49ers

Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: The 49ers seem like a more likely trade candidate at No. 2, if only because there’s not an incredibly obvious fit staring them in the face. Thomas works well as an option, though, because San Francisco badly needs to improve its pass rush.

 

3. Chicago Bears

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State: Chicago’s defense is more than one player away, but adding elite talent to the back end is a smart play. Lattimore is the best corner in this draft, and would immediately elevate the Bears’ secondary in Year 1.

 

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Jacksonville has devoted the past few offseasons to revamping its defense. It’s about time to add another element to the offense, with Fournette providing both power and speed out of the backfield to relieve Blake Bortles of responsibility.

 

 

5. Tennessee Titans (from L.A. Rams)

Jamal Adams, SS, LSU: The Titans need help in the defensive backfield more than anywhere else. Adams is maybe the best back-end playmaker in this draft, and well worth a top-five selection.

 

6. New York Jets

Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: The Jets aren’t merely a quarterback away from going anywhere, but they definitely don’t have an “answer” at quarterback currently on their roster. They’re enamored with Trubisky and won’t get him later if they pass at No. 6.

 

7. Los Angeles Chargers

Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State: This Chargers defense has a chance to break out if they add a player with the range and ball skills Hooker has. He’d be the perfect capper to what this team has already built on the less glamorous side of the football.

 

8. Carolina Panthers

Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama: Carolina can go in a bunch of different directions with this pick, but stocking up with another versatile defensive lineman seems like it’s right up Dave Gettleman’s alley, especially if top talents at running back and safety are already off the board.

 

9. Cincinnati Bengals

Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: The Bengals were only average at rushing the passer last season. To get their defense back toward the top of the NFL they need to start getting to the quarterback more consistently. Barnett gets around the edge and to the quarterback on a regular basis.

 

10. Buffalo Bills

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: Buffalo saw 167 targets, 90 catches, 1,233 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns walk out the door in free agency. The Bills need to replace that production, and drafting Davis here would be a great step in that direction. It helps that he has the size, speed, hands, and fluidity to work alongside Sammy Watkins as a 1B target to Watkins’ 1A.

 

11. New Orleans Saints

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: The Saints have been dreadful against the pass for years and badly need to add secondary talent. Humphrey has crazy speed, good size at 6-foot and 197 pounds, and the ability to work in press coverage because of his stout frame.

 

12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: The Browns added an elite talent at No. 1 in Myles Garrett. At No. 12, they pick up their quarterback of the future. Watson doesn’t necessarily have the accuracy or prototype skills you look for in a passer, but he knows how to make plays from inside and outside the pocket, and he’s the kind of galvanizing force the Browns need at the position, to boot.

 

13. Arizona Cardinals

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: Mahomes might need some time to transition into Bruce Arians’ vertical-style offense, but he’ll have that with Carson Palmer still working ahead of him in 2017. Palmer’s career comes full circle as he’s now the veteran tutoring a high pick during his rookie season.

 

14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: The Eagles spent a bunch of their free-agent money making their offense more Carson Wentz-friendly. Adding a versatile weapon like McCaffrey amounts to doubling down on that effort. There are few things more important than putting your franchise quarterback in position to succeed.

 

15. Indianapolis Colts

Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama: The Colts have gone on a minor spending spree this offseason to rectify their biggest issue: the front seven. Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, Margus Hunt, Al Woods, Johnathan Hankins, and Sean Spence have all been signed. Here, GM Chris Ballard adds another piece to the puzzle.

 

16. Baltimore Ravens

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: The Ravens need to add a long-term weapon to help take this offense to the next level. Williams has the size-speed-hands-body control combination to be a No. 1 receiver for years.

 

17. Washington Redskins

Zach Cunningham, OLB, Vanderbilt: Washington needs to figure out its run defense, badly. Cunningham was the best run defender in the SEC last season and can step in right away to help rectify Washington’s biggest weakness.

 

18. Tennessee Titans

John Ross, WR, Washington: Ross might have blazing speed, but he’s not just a speedster. He’s a complete wideout. The Titans have a power running game and Delanie Walker working the middle of the field, but they don’t have an outside complement to those elements just yet.

 

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: The Bucs added DeSean Jackson to give them a deep threat complement to Mike Evans’ size-and-power game. Adding Howard to the mix would make their passing attack even more dangerous.

 

20. Denver Broncos

David Njoku, TE, Miami: The Broncos add Njoku to replace what the long-departed Julius Thomas used to bring to their offense. And the thing is, Njoku might be even more athletic and physically imposing.

 

21. Detroit Lions

Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: The Lions have a huge need along the defensive front, as they badly need a complement to Ziggy Ansah in their pass rush. Charlton showed at Michigan that he has the ability to consistently make plays in the backfield.

 

22. Miami Dolphins

Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky: With Laremy Tunsil expected to kick outside to tackle this season, the Dolphins can slide Lamp into the middle of the offensive line and make a strength even better.

 

23. New York Giants

Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin: Wisconsin offensive linemen always seem to find a way to find consistent success in the NFL, and Ramczyk should be no different. He can step in right away at tackle or guard.

 

24. Oakland Raiders

Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State: The Raiders have their offense set, but they still need to get things settled on the other side of the ball. Conley gives them another incredible athlete on the back end to go along with their rushers up front.

 

25. Houston Texans

Davis Webb, QB, California: The Texans will not have Tony Romo under center next season. He will be calling games for CBS instead. Bill O’Brien is a fan of Tom Savage, but there’s too much unknown here for the Texans not to add another QB. Webb has been rising up boards lately, and it wouldn’t surprise to see him land in Houston.

 

26. Seattle Seahawks

Garett Bolles, OT, Utah: Bolles lands in Seattle and kicks the recently signed Luke Joeckel inside to guard, helping Seattle fill two openings with one pick.

 

27. Kansas City Chiefs

Haason Reddick, LB, Temple: Reddick would be a picture-perfect fit in Kansas City, given his flexibility to play the run and the pass from all over the defensive formation. The Chiefs could use help both inside and outside at the linebacker spot, with some of their top options getting up there in age.

 

28. Dallas Cowboys

Takkarist McKinley, OLB/DE, UCLA: The Cowboys have to add talent both in the defensive backfield and along the defensive line. They love the SPARQ system for grading athletes, especially on the edge, and Takk tested extremely well there. He could give Rod Marinelli another body to use in his waves along the defensive line.

 

29. Green Bay Packers

T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin: Watt doesn’t have to move too far to find his first professional home, as the Packers add an athletic pass-rusher to a defense that started last season hot before slowing down the stretch due to injuries.

 

30. Pittsburgh Steelers

Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan: Peppers is an incredible athlete waiting to be molded into a player that is more than the sum of his parts. He can play as a nominal safety and make plays in the box, but he can also be used as an attacking style blitz corner.

 

31. Atlanta Falcons

Charles Harris, DE, Missouri: Harris would prove an excellent complement to NFL sack leader Vic Beasley.

 

32. New Orleans Saints (from New England)

Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn: The Saints snagged Marlon Humphrey early, and now add an athletic pass-rusher to continue remaking their defense.