The Daily Briefing Thursday, August 10, 2017

After negotiations with the official’s union, the NFL has an agreement to hire 24 “full-time” officials.  Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com:

 

The NFL and NFL Referees Association agreed Wednesday to convert up to 24 of its game officials to full-time status for the 2017 season, an important step in addressing one of the league’s most volatile on-field issues.

 

The deal amends the officials’ collective bargaining agreement for one year and must be renewed in June 2018 for the program to continue, according to NFLRA executive director Scott Green. That effectively makes it a one-year experiment to determine how — and if — full-time officials can improve the department’s effectiveness.

 

In a statement, the league said implementation of full-time status “will provide the NFL officiating department, in consultation with the NFLRA, the opportunity to identify the most effective ways to utilize the off-field time for full-time officials throughout the calendar year.”

 

Green said the “biggest difference” will come in the offseason, when full-time officials will spend time at NFL headquarters and participate more closely in rule development meetings with the competition committee. To this point, officials have worked on a contract basis and thus were not available to the NFL between the end of the season and mid-May.

 

Important details of the program include:

 

*Any of the league’s 124 active officials can apply for full-time status. Green said there will be “plenty of people” who will be interested.

 

*The NFL agreed not to compel transition to full-time status for any particular official.

 

*At the NFLRA’s request, the league committed to hiring officials from all seven on-field positions rather than just referees, as the NFL initially proposed.

 

*Full-time officials will be allowed to keep outside jobs as long as they agree to make the NFL their top professional priority.

 

*Full-time officials won’t have to move to New York but will be required to travel to the league’s headquarters with 48 hours’ notice.

 

The NFLRA agreed in 2012 to allow full-time officials, but negotiations did not heat up until the league’s competition committee recommended the change in March. Players, coaches and fans have grown increasingly frustrated with the appearance of part-time employees occupying such important jobs. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, in an appearance on “Pro Football Talk Live,” called the situation “madness.”

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com believes there is a relationship between this move and the seemingly inevitable legalization of gambling:

 

The NFL has resisted legalized gambling over the years for a variety of reasons. Here’s one of them: Once fans can place bets on point spreads, over-unders, and various other in-game props, it will be important for the league to create the impression that it’s doing everything it can to ensure that the officials aren’t making mistakes.

 

Indeed, when part-time officials currently make mistakes, the knee-jerk reaction by many is to say, “Full-time officials wouldn’t make those mistakes.”

 

It’s more perception than reality, but the perception will continue to be the reality until all officials are full-time employees. So with legalized gambling coming (courtesy of either the Supreme Court or Congress), it’s no surprise that the NFL, nearly five years after securing the ability to hire full-time officials, is doing it.

 

Whether it actually reduces errors doesn’t matter. The league will need to do everything it can to create the impression that it’s trying to minimize errors, and full-time officials will assist in that regard.

 

Other eventual enhancements will include expanded replay review. The league likewise should consider assigning a member of each officiating crew to monitor multiple camera angles in order to enhance the initial ruling on the field, with the replay system as a fallback.

 

At some point, the NFL should tear down the current officiating function and rebuild it from scratch, in light of all available technological advances and devices. There’s nothing like the scrutiny that will come from bad calls causing millions of dollars to change hands to create the incentive for such an effort — and there’s nothing like the billions the NFL will make from legalized gambling to pay for it.

 

– – –

The NFL has not abandoned its scheme to extend the regular season.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Before the NFL realized that it was impossible to reconcile player health and safety with an expanded regular season, Commissioner Roger Goodell routinely criticized the quality of preseason play. The purpose was obvious; the league wanted to reduce the preseason from four games to two, and to increase the regular season from 16 games to 18.

 

Once it became clear that the players weren’t interested in an expanded regular season, the criticism of the preseason subsided. Goodell’s recent comments regarding the preseason serve as a clear reminder that the league still wants to swap fewer preseason games for more regular-season games.

 

And that’s clearly what the league still wants, even if it no longer will say so.

 

“Any change in the [overall game] structure, we said that we would collectively bargain,” Goodell said.

 

But here’s the reality. To reduce the preseason, the NFL doesn’t need to bargain with the union. The 2011 CBA gives the league the right to do that unilaterally. The league won’t voluntarily reduce revenue without a way to replace it, which is how collective bargaining comes into play.

 

After the CBA was finalized, the thinking was that the league eventually would inform the union that the preseason would be chopped in half, hopeful that this would prompt the players to volunteer add two regular-season games. When it thereafter became clear that the union would call the NFL’s bluff, unilateral reduction of the preseason never happened.

 

However it plays out, the league knows that it can’t ask for the regular season to expand. If it’s going to happen, it needs to come from the players. If the players ever would be willing to do it, they could parlay it into significant financial gains.

 

Still, there’s no reason to believe they ever will — especially as more is learned about the realities of CTE.

 

So look for the preseason to remain at four games, and for the Commissioner to periodically huff and puff in the hopes that the players eventually will agree to blow the preseason down to two games, and to pump the regular season up to 18.

 

The DB mentions again a possible plan – add two weeks but just one game – that’s 19 weeks, 17 games, two byes.  One week in front of the current season so that the NFL starts on the Labor Day weekend now abandoned to the colleges.  The other at the end of the season, pushing the final week into January every year.  The 17th game is controlled by the NFL, outside the regular scheduling format, and would often be an international game while every team still had eight home games.  The preseason shrinks to three or two games.  We’ve put this forward previously, but not in awhile.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS is an avid watcher of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”  Will Brinson of CBSSports.com:

 

At this point, it feels like more people watch “Game of Thrones” than not watch it. Clearly that isn’t a real number, but if you’re one of those weirdos somehow not watching the hit HBO show careening towards an epic ending during the middle of its seventh and penultimate season, well, what are you doing?

 

Aaron Rodgers is not one of those people, and it turns out the Green Bay Packers quarterback has a pretty good handle on the history of the series. It actually turns out that a lot of NFL players do — on “Hard Knocks” there are multiple front office folks (including GM Jason Licht) and a ton of players talking about watching the show. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was caught telling teammates he was pumped that HBO was in the dorms at Falcons training camp.

And according to Kevin Clark of The Ringer, there are a ton of Packers players who are concerned about being around teammates after the show has aired for spoiler purposes. Allow this to be an official GAME OF THRONES SPOILER WARNING TOO.

 

Rodgers also told Clark he has a pretty good theory about how the season will play out, or at least what will happen with three main characters.

 

“I think that Jon Snow, Daenerys, and the Hand of the Queen [Tyrion Lannister] — I think they are all related. Three dragons, three riders, three siblings,” Rodgers said. “We know from Bran, the Three-Eyed Raven, that Ned Stark was not Jon Snow’s father. The Mad King might have been his father, might have been him — and that would make Daenerys and Jon brother and sister. And then Tyrion, we don’t know who his mother is, who Tywin slept with. I think there’s some sort of relationship.

 

“At least Jon Snow and Daenerys are going to be working together, and they are mining the dragon glass.”

 

Maybe Rodgers doesn’t have a good handle after all? Of course Dany and Jon are related (although Rodgers is wrong — they would be aunt and nephew, not brother and sister, but I made the same mistake the other night and my wife called me a moron, so it’s OK, Aaron). If you didn’t pick up on that, you need to go back to college in order to figure out how to watch television.

 

There’s a lot of theories out there about Tyrion being a Targaryen as well, although that is certainly not confirmed. There would be some good family themes about love and hate if that would be the case. It would also set up a potential triple-dragon, triple-Targaryen situation where the three family members could ride dragons into the north and burn up all the White Walkers.

Maybe that is what Rodgers was trying to convey; it’s not exactly easy to break down a complex show like “Thrones” in the course of a quick interview. Clearly he has a pretty good handle on it and, let’s not forget, he can’t assume that everyone is caught up on the show or even watches. He knows his teammates do though.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

A re-worked contract for DE BRANDON GRAHAM.  Jeff McLane in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

 

The Eagles reworked the contract of defensive end Brandon Graham, who can now earn an additional $1.5 million over the next two seasons through incentives and escalators, an NFL source said.

 

ESPN was first with the report and provided more detail. Graham’s base salary remains at $6.5 million for the next two years, but he can increase his pay by reaching certain sack totals and by making the Pro Bowl or the all-pro team.

 

Graham had his best season in 2016 and was a second team all-pro. He notched only 5-1/2 sacks, though. If he records more than seven sacks and fewer than nine in 2017, he’ll earn $250,000. If he finishes with more than nine sacks, he’ll collect another $250,000. If Graham falls short of nine sacks but is voted to the Pro Bowl or named first- or second-team all-pro, he’ll still get that $250,000.

 

He has extra incentive to perform this season because his 2017 numbers and end-of-the-season honors could affect how much more he can make in 2018. If Graham notches seven or eight sacks, his 2018 salary will increase by $250,000; nine to 11 sacks, $500,000; and 12 or more sacks, $750,000. And if he makes the Pro Bowl or the all-pro team, his salary jumps an additional $250,000.

 

Graham, 29, missed a week of voluntary workouts in May. He hoped his absence would spur the Eagles to renegotiate the four-year contract he signed in 2014, league sources told the Inquirer then. Graham returned after the report and said that he was not unhappy with his deal and that he went home only to Detroit to spend time with his family.

– – –

Tim Rohan of Sports Illustrated notes that QB CARSON WENTZ is the people’s choice in notoriously hard-to-please Philly, as heard through the prism of sports talk station WIP.

 

 WIP is a fixture in the Philly sports scene. In the late 1980s, the station was among the first to move to the 24/7 sports-talk radio format as we know it today: loudmouth hosts giving opinions and taking calls from ornery fans. For about 30 years, WIP has been the place where people gather to discuss, analyze, and rip the Eagles year-round.

 

As you might imagine, the team and the station have a complicated relationship. From what WIP can gather, Eagles coaches and front office members do listen, if only to gauge the climate around the team. At one point, the Eagles actually assigned an intern to listen to WIP and report back what he heard. The players, meanwhile, try to avoid it. When linebacker Ike Reese flew in for rookie minicamp, in 1998, Mike Zordich, the Eagles’ veteran safety, picked him up at the airport. Driving into town, Zordich gave Reese two pieces of advice: “Don’t read the newspapers and don’t listen to WIP.”

 

But at training camp, for some time, there was no escaping it. For 17 years, from the mid ’90s until 2012, the Eagles held their camp at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pa. The practices were mostly open to the public, and as a way to promote the station, WIP would travel up there and host their various talk shows from time to time. The station set up a tent five feet from the sideline and broadcast from 6 a.m. until 7 at night. They’d interview players, take calls and evaluate the practice going on right in front of them. They even set up big speakers, so the fans could hear them. But the players could, too.

 

“If we were going: ‘I’m telling ya, this McNabb, he always chokes in the clutch . . .’ he could literally be walking by,” says Angelo Cataldi, a WIP personality who’s been at the station for 28 years. “Players would be coming down [the field] while we were ripping them.”

 

And they ripped Donovan McNabb worse than anyone. It didn’t help that he and WIP didn’t get off to a good start at the 1999 NFL draft. In the days leading up to it, Cataldi says, the mayor of Philadelphia, Ed Rendell, was convinced that the Eagles were taking Ricky Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, with the No. 2 pick. “Rendell told us that we should be up there for that crowning moment, when we got Ricky Williams,” Cataldi says. The station figured it’d at least make for a good promotion, so Cataldi took 30 Eagles fans—“30 crazy people,” as he describes them—up to New York. When the Eagles selected McNabb instead, those 30 Eagles fans booed him mercilessly. “And he held a grudge for 11 years,” Cataldi says. Not once in 11 training camps, according to Cataldi, did McNabb appear on a WIP show (though he did after retiring).

 

Other Eagles players had their own issues with the station. The constant critiquing and negative commentary got to be so much one year that, when WIP asked to interview a player, Ron Howard, the team’s public relations man at the time, told them none of the players wanted to—they hated the station that much. Cataldi was livid. He threatened to never broadcast from Lehigh again, so Howard said he would see what he could do. “He drags over Chad Lewis, and Lewis does a very perfunctory interview with us and leaves,” Cataldi recalls. “Ron told us later: he paid [Lewis] $200 to do it! I think out of his own pocket!”

 

WIP had that kind of pull in those days, during the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2004, during Terrell Owens’s first training camp, the Eagles were drawing about 20,000 fans a day and the WIP personalities acted a bit like rock stars playing to a packed house. The WIP tent became a meeting ground before practice, fans doing E-A-G-L-E-S chants and singing the team’s fight song. If a fan ever wanted to get on the radio, they’d just be handed a microphone.

 

You can see why Chip Kelly, in 2013, decided to move the team’s training camp to its practice facility in Philadelphia and close the majority of practices to the public. That didn’t stop WIP from pilling on Kelly, as the team kept losing, until he was fired late in 2015. After that, though, the mood on the WIP airwaves seemed to shift, to a more mellow tone. By that time, the Sixers were fully committed to The Process and a long rebuild, and irascible Philly fans had grown more patient. When the Eagles drafted another quarterback, Carson Wentz, with the second overall pick in 2016, he wasn’t booed the same way McNabb had been. He was roundly cheered.

 

When Wentz first appeared on WIP, he sounded robotic, rehearsed, cliché. Then the Eagles traded Sam Bradford, Wentz became the starter, and the team started 3-0. Over the course of the season, Wentz started opening up during interviews, talking more about his maturation process, specifically tapping into the blue-collar identity of the city. “He’s good at [showing] how much it means to him,” says Jon Ritchie, the former Eagles fullback who now has a show on WIP. “It means so much to us as fans, and when you’ve got a guy, leading the team, that it means that much to as well, you feel a real bond there. You feel like you’re working together with this young man, witnessing the growth, and feeling a pride in the growth. Like you’re a part of the team. He’s able to engender that sort of reaction from the fans, which is very savvy. He’s young, but he’s got a great grasp of what makes this town tick.”

 

That is one thing that McNabb, at least in his critics’ eyes, apparently failed to do. “He never got the city,” Cataldi says. “He was the best quarterback the Eagles ever had, but he never made a connection with the fans.” (Multiple attempts to reach McNabb for this story were unsuccessful.)

 

Some people may look at this as a race issue—fans critiquing a black quarterback and celebrating a white one. Ike Reese, the former Eagles linebacker (and McNabb teammate) turned WIP host, doesn’t view it that way. “The only color these fans see is green,” he says. Wentz is being celebrated, he says, because the Eagles haven’t had a franchise QB since McNabb left, and fans finally think they have one in Wentz. “This town is tough,” Reese adds. “If things don’t go well, it’s not going to matter. Just ask Ron Jaworski. Ask Mike Schmidt.”

 

“We try to reflect the mind-set of the fan,” Cataldi says, “and it is a little gentler Philadelphia than it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. We’ve all evolved over time.”         

 

For now, Wentz is still enjoying his honeymoon period in Philly. After watching him for just one season, fans are calling into WIP singing his praises. They tell the hosts they’re expecting eight, nine, 10 wins this season, especially since the Eagles added Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and LaGarrette Blount, giving Wentz two big-play receivers and a goal-line running back. “[Wentz has] given people reason for hope,” says Spike Eskin, the WIP program director. “They see light at the end of the tunnel, so they’re giving the team a chance to live up to that.” Four WIP personalities—Cataldi, Ritchie, Reese, and Joe DeCamara—all described themselves as big Carson Wentz fans. Cataldi says he hasn’t been this optimistic about the team since McNabb and the Eagles lost the Super Bowl at the end of the ’04 season.

 

Last Wednesday, Cataldi did his regular morning show from the Eagles’ facility, just like old times. Except now there are no booming speakers, no roaring crowds, no E-A-G-L-E-S chants. Just a quiet RV sitting there in the early morning, next to an empty row of fields. Then around 6:45 a.m., Wentz popped in for an interview. “Carson Wentz is in the house, baby!” Cataldi shouted into his mic. He interviewed Wentz for about 10 minutes, signed off by saying that he was “rooting” for him, and they posed for a picture together. This was the WIP of 2017, almost unrecognizable compared to the WIP of yesteryear.

 

“The heyday of WIP at training camp is probably over,” Cataldi says. “We try to reflect the mind-set of the fan, and it is a little gentler Philadelphia than it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. We’ve all evolved over time. I guess we’ll have to find new ways to have fun and rip every one of our players. I will say this: it was a party while we had it. It was a party…”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

A good start for WR KELVIN BENJAMIN, documented by Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner:

 

Kelvin Benjamin looked like he was in pretty good shape on Wednesday night.

 

The offseason wasn’t kind to the Carolina Panthers receiver. He received a ton of scrutiny for his weight when he looked out of shape during OTA sessions. Benjamin wasn’t in fantastic shape, though coach Ron Rivera said Benjamin’s weight wasn’t as big of an issue as some made it out to be.

 

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Benjamin put any questions to rest in the Panthers’ preseason opener. On Carolina’s first drive, he took a short pass and looked strong as he delivered a stiff-arm to the cornerback to gain extra yards. Then later in the first quarter he made a phenomenal, athletic 23-yard catch for the Panthers’ first touchdown of the preseason.

 

Benjamin wasn’t coming off a great 2016, but he was still productive in his first season back from ACL surgery. He’s a former first-round pick with 1,949 yards and 16 touchdowns in a run-heavy offense. At his best, Benjamin has looked the part of a true No. 1 receiver for Cam Newton. Wednesday’s touchdown came from Derek Anderson, as Newton continues to recover from shoulder surgery. Newton didn’t play in the preseason opener.

 

The Panthers had other highlights. Christian McCaffrey had some nice moments in his NFL debut. It was good to see linebacker Luke Kuechly, who dealt with a concussion for most of the second half of last season, back on the field. But the highlight of the night might have been Benjamin’s catch. He answered a lot of questions.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

The 49ers boldly discard C JEREMY ZUTTAH.  Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com:

 

The 49ers released center Jeremy Zuttah on Wednesday.

 

They replaced him on the roster with linebacker Sean Porter.

 

In March, San Francisco acquired Zuttah and Baltimore’s sixth-round pick (No. 198 overall — defensive tackle D.J. Jones)

 

In exchange, the Ravens received the 49ers’ sixth-round pick (No. 186 overall).

 

Zuttah was a Pro Bowler last year with Baltimore.

 

The 31-year old entered the NFL as a third-round pick of the Buccaneers in 2008.

 

After six seasons in Tampa Bay, Zuttah played for the Ravens from 2014 to 2016

 

If his value was 12 spots in the 6th round, how was he a Pro Bowler last year?

 

We note, he was a late add to the Pro Bowl roster and that it was his only Pro Bowl selection.

– – –

Assault charges against former 49ers CB Tremaine Brock are no more, but has he been “cleared”?  Matt Barrow in the Sacramento Bee:

 

Domestic violence charges against former 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock were dismissed on Tuesday due to insufficient evidence.

 

Brock had been charged in connection to an April 6 incident in Santa Clara involving his 31-year-old girlfriend. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office in June accused Brock, 28, of punching the woman in the face and attempting to strangle her on different occasions. Brock pleaded not guilty to the charges.

 

Brock’s attorney, San Carlos-based Josh Bentley, wrote in a text that the entire case was dismissed during a preliminary examination hearing Tuesday afternoon. The district attorney’s office said that Brock’s former girlfriend declined to cooperate.

 

The 49ers cut Brock, a two-year starter at cornerback, after he was arrested in April. He has had no tryouts with other teams, though his agent said four teams have called to inquire about Brock since Tuesday’s dismissal. The 49ers said they were not interested in re-signing him.

 

“No one’s reached out to Tramaine, so no on that,” Kyle Shanahan said after practice.

 

The 49ers’ top cornerbacks in training camp have been Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson, although Keith Reaser also has been worked in with the first-string unit at times. The 49ers also used a third-round pick on a cornerback, Ahkello Witherspoon.

 

Although criminal charges have been dropped against Brock, he still could be disciplined by the NFL.

 

The April 6 incident was sparked, according to a statement issued by the district attorney’s office in June, by a disagreement over what to watch on television.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Are the Broncos interested in Bengals QB A.C. McCARRON?  John Elway says no, even as reports say QB PAXTON LYNCH continues to lag.  Vinnie Iyer in The Sporting News:

 

John Elway is executive vice president of the Denver Broncos, but he tweeted a lot like the president of the United States on Wednesday.

 

With his team’s quarterback situation becoming messier than anticipated in Year 2 of Trevor Siemian vs. Paxton Lynch, Elway had to shoot down rumors of the Broncos pursuing a third option: Bengals backup AJ McCarron.

 

Despite Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post reliably reporting the opposite, Elway felt compelled to go on the social media record to defend Siemian and Lynch.

 

@NickiJhabvala

I’m told the Broncos are not trying to trade for AJ McCarron. “It’s 150% false,” source said.

 

@johnelway

Rumor of us being interested in anyone other than the QBs we have is another example of irresponsible, fake news!!

 

“Fake news!” refrain aside, there’s no reason to think there’s dissent in Denver to the point of wanting to suddenly deal for a third quarterback. The Broncos’ biggest issue with their two QBs is this: Paxton Lynch isn’t taking the reins like they thought he’d be ready to do. It was all set up for the 2016 first-rounder to emerge and win the battle in training camp. By all accounts, he operated very well in OTAs, both on the field and in the locker room.

 

But even in a Mike McCoy offense new to both quarterbacks, Siemian, like he did as the more experienced option in Gary Kubiak’s system, has consistently proven himself the more polished pocket passer. Even with his arm and athleticism tailored well to what McCoy wants to do in the passing game, Lynch can’t shake the erraticism that plagued him as a raw rookie.

 

The whole point was to get Lynch looser and more comfortable with his natural physical tools, but Siemian has carried himself as the cooler, more confident player beyond his years. Based on play — not talent — Siemian still is the better overall QB, the one enough at ease to call one of his practice performances “slappy” and have it be more endearing than worrisome.

 

Lynch has worked out well and hard, but he is having trouble putting it all together to look the part at 6-7, 244 pounds. His draft pedigree can only be propped up so much against the seventh-round Siemian.

 

Elway has to be rooting for Lynch, because a continued failure to launch into the lineup will be the undoubted biggest dent of Elway’s GM tenure. He was fortunate with how things worked with Peyton Manning, but between Brock Osweiler and Lynch, the best quarterback in Broncos history has had trouble nailing down a true, long-term franchise passer.

 

Early in the offseason, it seemed like it was breaking the right way, that Elway opting for Lynch as the better prospect than Dak Prescott could end up with Lynch playing at the latter’s level in ’17. As Elway has kept declaring, he liked both of his quarterbacks since the beginning of the year, he was hoping to like Lynch a whole lot more, and that hasn’t materialized.

 

Siemian will start the preseason opener, with Lynch getting his nod for the second preseason game next week. Both Elway and Vance Joseph have extended the competition as far as possible in exhibitions, desperately hoping have extended the competition as far as possible in exhibitions, desperately hoping that it will lean toward Lynch, given more time.

 

But it’s looking now more like Siemian has to be choice, because Lynch hasn’t proven to be much of one yet. That’s not a good development, for either the present or the future — and certainly not a good look for Elway.

 

AFC NORTH

 

PITTSBURGH

We thought WR MARTAVIS BRYANT was good to go, but apparently the end of his suspension is not final, but impending.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Martavis Bryant could be getting good news on his potential reinstatement soon.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the twice-suspended receiver is simply “waiting for the doctors and the counselors, people who saw him, to hand in their letters, get the paperwork cleared with the NFL, have the league process that, and then make him officially conditionally reinstated.”

 

Official word could come down in the “next couple of days,” Rapoport said.

 

Bryant missed the entire 2016 season due to a violation of the league’s policy on substances of abuse. He was conditionally reinstated back in late April.

 

But RB Le’VEON BELL remains out and GM Kevin Colbert has some comments.  Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Steelers can’t fine running back Le’Veon Bell for skipping training camp because Bell hasn’t signed his franchise tender, but they can try to point out to Bell that he’s not helping himself by missing time on the field with the rest of the team.

 

That’s the approach General Manager Kevin Colbert chose to employ while discussing Bell on Wednesday. Bell is set to make $12.1 million under the terms of the franchise tag and the deadline to sign a multi-year deal passed last month, leaving Bell with the choice to report, stay away from camp or agree to a different one-year deal.

 

Such a deal could pay him more money for 2017 or include a clause barring the Steelers from tagging him again, but Colbert suggested that’s not in the cards by saying there’s nothing for him to talk to Bell’s agent about at this point.

 

“My feeling is there’s nothing to be gained by a holdout,” Colbert said to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The situation won’t change, it can’t really change from our part on a long-term deal. So it hurts him not to be here. It hurts him because he’s not working with his teammates, he’s not getting the conditioning work that he’s going to need to have a great 2017 season. And he’s not working with his teammates to get acclimated to the offense — every year it’s different.”

 

Colbert said the team would love to have Bell in camp, but “when he’s not here we’re going to look at the other guys.” Rookie James Conner would seem to be a better candidate to threaten Bell’s place in the team than Fitzgerald Toussaint or Knile Davis, but he has been dealing with a shoulder injury and a return to practice on Tuesday ended quickly.

 

Bell won’t lose any money unless his holdout spills into the regular season and he starts missing game checks, so he can report at any point before that and still receive the full $12.1 million. We’ll see if he agrees with Colbert that there’s still more to lose by not joining the team until that point.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Back in the Carolinas, QB DeSHAUN WATSON lit it up on Wednesday night in Charlotte.  Alec Nathan of BleacherReport.com collects the reviews:

 

Deshaun Watson shone in his first NFL preseason action Wednesday night and commanded the Houston Texans offense in efficient fashion after taking over for starter Tom Savage in a 27-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.       

 

Before he was lifted late in the fourth quarter, the No. 12 overall pick in April’s draft completed 15 of 25 passes for 179 yards. He also rushed three times for 24 yards, including a 15-yard scoring scamper in the third quarter.

 

Savage, by comparison, was limited to one quarter of play with the starters and completed nine of 11 passes for 69 yards. The highlight of Savage’s night came at the end of the opening frame, when he led Houston on a 13-play, 75-yard drive that was punctuated by Alfred Blue’s 16-yard touchdown run.

 

Despite those positive flashes, Watson stole the show in two-plus quarters against Carolina’s backups.

 

Beyond the pure numbers, it was clear the rookie was comfortable sitting back in the pocket and picking apart the Panthers secondary without rushing throws.

 

NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah and Steve Mariucci also came away impressed by the former Clemson Tigers signal-caller:

 

@MoveTheSticks

Watson looks very smooth tonight. Footwork, poise & decision making 👍🏻

 

@SteveMariucci

In my humble opinion..we are watching Texans QB DeShaun Watson show tonight why he will be a franchise QB in our League! @NFL @nflnetwork

 

Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, meanwhile, saw Watson’s ability to extend plays with his legs as perhaps the biggest reason for optimism moving forward:

 

evansilva

Savage may be a more advanced passer but Watson’s dual threat adds another dimension to a #Texans offense that needs it. Will help run game.

 

“He’s a good player,” head coach Bill O’Brien said of Watson, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson. “He’s an instinctive player. He did some good things.”

 

With one game under his belt, Watson figures to hit the film room hard in the days ahead as he continues to fine-tune his approach before the Texans return to the field Aug. 19 for a tilt against the New England Patriots at NRG Stadium.

– – –

Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com reminds us that this could be the first year that DEs J.J. WATT and JADAVEON CLOWNEY wreak havoc together.

 

It has been three years since Jadeveon Clowney became the top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and in his three seasons with the Texans, Clowney’s gone on to notch 10.5 sacks, 72 solo tackles, and eight passes defended. At first glance, that appears to be an underwhelming output for a player who’s shown the capability of doing stuff like this:

 

Despite that underwhelming stat line, Clowney has been anything but a bust for the Texans. It might’ve taken longer than expected due to injuries, but Clowney has almost morphed into the exact player the Texans thought they were getting three years ago. Every Sunday, he showcases his freakish athleticism by bulldozing linemen, demolishing running backs, and harassing quarterbacks — even if the stat line above doesn’t show it.

 

The numbers might not be there, but they’re coming.

 

As the 2017 NFL season approaches, a few household names will be floated as potential Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Von Miller will be on the shortlist. So will Khalil Mack. Clowney’s teammate in Houston, J.J. Watt, is always a front-runner. But don’t count out Clowney. He’s given us plenty of reasons to be considered a dark horse candidate for the award.

 

At the very least, Clowney appears to be on the verge of a mammoth breakout after already establishing himself as one of the best defensive players in the game.

 

Disruptiveness

Clowney is far from a bust, even if his raw numbers have been a tad lackluster. Keep in mind that he practically missed his entire rookie season. In the 48 regular-season games for which he’s been eligible, he’s appeared in just 31, starting 25. His stat line looks a bit better within that context, as he’s averaging 0.42 sacks per start.

 

Peaking

Clowney peaked at the end of the season, offering a glimpse of what’s to come. After accumulating three sacks in his first 11 regular-season, he picked up a sack in each of his final three regular-season games. If you watched the Texans’ two playoff games, you know just how dominant he was against the Raiders and Patriots — even though he didn’t register a single sack in either of those two games. 

 

In the Texans’ wild-card round win over the Raiders, Clowney notched four quarterback hurries, a batted pass, and an interception, per PFF. He was everywhere:

 

In the Texans’ divisional round loss to the Patriots, Clowney provided two quarterback hurries and hit Tom Brady three times, according to PFF. Due to his lack of sacks, that performance will be forgotten if it hasn’t been already. But it shouldn’t be. Peter Bukowski recently provided a film breakdown that demonstrates how Clowney completely disrupted the Patriots’ offensive gameplan.

 

Clowney peaking at the end of the season isn’t the only reason to believe an improvement is coming. Watt, who pretty much missed all of last season with an injury, will be back, which means defenses won’t be able to zero-in on stopping Clowney. Watt — not Clowney — will receive the bulk of the attention and double teams because he’s the best defensive player in the game. Remember how I said Clowney averaged 0.42 sacks per start in his career? Watt averages 0.92 sacks per start.

 

Clowney should be beyond excited about the idea of playing alongside Watt.

 

“Since [I’ve] been here, either I’m injured, he’s healthy, or he’s injured and I’m healthy, or we both not on at the same time,” Clowney said last month, per ESPN. “But hopefully we can get that done this year. Come out here and give the people what they want, come out and play hard and we make a lot of plays up front. That’s how it goes. We come in here to work every day to get to that goal.”

 

It should make Clowney’s life less difficult.

 

“With him out there it’s always going to be good, not just me but for everybody around him, for the defense as a whole,” Clowney said. “He’s a great player. He’s going to be noticed. Other teams are going to have to game plan for him, and us knowing that will help us a lot. So, we got a lot of good guys across the front, and with him out there it just makes it a lot easier for everybody to make a lot of plays.”

 

Don’t forget that offenses will also have to account for Whitney Mercilus, who’s been credited with 19.5 sacks since 2015. Teams can’t double-team all three pass rushers. Someone will be left with a one-on-one matchup. At times, it’ll be Clowney who draws the favorable matchup — at the very least, he’ll be less of a vocal point for offenses than Watt.

 

Versatility

Clowney, like Watt, is incredibly versatile. He can play almost anywhere — even inside linebacker.

 

Obviously, he’ll spend the majority of his time on the edges, but he can play on either side. According to PFF, Clowney rushed the passer from the left side 135 times and the right side 205 times last season. The Texans are expected to make use of his versatility again.

 

“They move me all over, I’m not just playing D-end I’m playing a little bit all over the field,” Clowney said in June, per CBS Houston. “Just knowing the system, knowing the scheme and knowing everything we did the last three years since I’ve been here it’s made my life a lot easier. I really don’t write much down now, just really study who we are going against.”

 

Watt can also be moved around, which makes it tough for opposing offenses to gameplan for him — and the entire Texans’ defense, really. The overall strength of the Texans’ pass rush will benefit Clowney, even if he has to share the spotlight with Watt and Mercilus.

 

Eventually, though, don’t be surprised if the spotlight tends to favor Clowney. Watt is still the king of the Texans defense, but he’s coming off a serious back injury. Meanwhile, Clowney is just 24 years old and he’s getting better every year. He’s already shed the bust label after his injury-riddled first season. He’s already established himself as of the league’s best defensive players in terms of defending both the pass and the run. Next up? Becoming the league’s best defensive player.

– – –

A heart-warming story from Dan Hanzus at NFL.com on the return of T DAVID QUESSENBERRY:

 

David Quessenberry was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2013, but he hasn’t seen the field in three years. That will change tonight.

 

Quessenberry has spent the last three years in a fight against non-Hodgkin T-lymphoblastic lymphoma. The illness put his football career on hold, but he never gave up the dream. Finally cancer-free, Quessenberry will be in uniform when the Texans begin their preseason schedule against the Panthers (7:30 pm. ET on NFL Network).

 

Quessenberry’s mother and girlfriend were among a group of family members who surprised him on the field before the start of the game.

 

@amypalcic

Incredible moment watching @DavidQberry’s family surprise him for his first game back in three years after battling leukemia. #DQStrong

5:54 PM – Aug 9, 2017

 

Quessenberry’s comeback tale comes two weeks after Steelers rookie running back James Conner, another cancer survivor, found out he has the NFL’s the No. 1 selling jersey.

 

USA Today says Quessenberry is among a group of interior linemen, including seventh-round pick Kyle Fuller, fighting for a roster spot at guard as the preseason begins. Quessenberry is not a man to be counted out.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

GM Chris Ballard seems to think that QB ANDREW LUCK will be active for the regular season opener.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

It seems no one really knows exactly when Andrew Luck will return to practicing and playing for the Colts, but don’t necessarily expect him to start the season on the physically unable to perform list.

 

Colts general manager Chris Ballard told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Wednesday that although there is no timeline for Luck’s return, all indications point to the quarterback not starting the season on PUP. Luck has progressed in his throwing program the past two weeks, rebuilding motion and strength — and the Colts don’t want their franchise QB skipping steps or rushing back, Pelissero reported.

 

Ballard’s comment comes a day after Colts coach Chuck Pagano reiterated he didn’t have a timeline for Luck’s return as the team prepares for its preseason opener against the Lions (Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network).

 

“We are where we are with that,” Pagano told reporters Tuesday, via ESPN. “There’s no timeline. When they say he’s healthy and ready to go, we’ll get him out there. He’s played a lot of football.”

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

QB JAY CUTLER may be out of shape, but Coach Adam Gase says his memory is sharp.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Adam Gase is pleased with what he saw from Jay Cutler in the quarterback’s first practice with the Miami Dolphins. The coach said Cutler looked the “same” as the last time he saw him on the football field.

 

“He said he felt good,” Gase said Tuesday, via ESPN.com. “He is not going to sugarcoat anything with me. It was good that he felt right back in it.”

 

The Dolphins signed Cutler to a one-year contract following Ryan Tannehill’s knee injury last week. On Monday, Gase noted the veteran quarterback didn’t unretire to stand on the sidelines.

 

Cutler’s most efficient season came when Gase was the Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator in 2015.

 

“[He] remembers basically everything with the offense,” Gase said. “Basically for him, it’s just kind of getting that feel with the rush. It’s one thing to throw routes on air and one-on-ones, but to get in there and be able to take some reps with the line in there and to be able to see everything develop and our players’ body language and how they run routes, that’s the biggest difference for him.”

 

Cutler and Matt Moore split reps with the first-team offense on Tuesday.

 

Cutler ended 2016 on injured reserve and underwent shoulder surgery. The 34-year-old said Tuesday his shoulder feels fine after practice.

 

“My arm’s fine,” Cutler said. “It doesn’t get sore. First of all, we just have to get all the strength and stuff back in it.”

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

The Patriots give Vince Wilfork his day as he announces his retirement.  Stephen Hewitt in the Boston Herald:

 

Vince Wilfork’s post-retirement plan is to do pretty much nothing.

 

The former Patriots nose tackle formally called it a career Wednesday at Gillette Stadium, and he attributed most of his decision to the mental grind it took to play 13 years in the NFL, 11 of which came with the Patriots.

 

Wilfork now plans to sit back and relax, and just do what he wants.

 

“I don’t have no plans,” Wilfork said. “For 20 years I’ve been on a schedule, and the last thing I want to do is jump into something right now. I’m going to take some time. It might be a year or so I’m going to take off and kind of do things I want to do. Wake up when I want to, fish when I want to, golf when I want … just live life. Let my body relax, let my body get a feel of what life without having workouts and no schedule, being here, being there, just let my body relax and just go.”

 

Wilfork, who played his last two seasons with the Houston Texans, said that physically, he probably could have returned for a few more years. But mentally, there was a block, and he didn’t want to keep playing if he wasn’t going to be at his best.

– – –

Wilfork officially re-signed with the Patriots today — just so that he could retire as a member of the club he won two Super Bowls with.

 

He was lauded by team owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick in an emotional ceremony at Gillette Stadium. Both said Wilfork was a special part of the Patriots not just for his on-field prowess but for his leadership in the locker room.

 

“It was truly an honor to have coached him,” Belichick said. “Best defensive lineman I have ever coached.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

RGIII

Mark Sanchez of the New York Post checks in on Robert Griffin III, waiting in obscurity for an opportunity:

 

Colin Kaepernick gets the attention. Jay Cutler gets the job. And Robert Griffin III gets to work out furiously, apparently, preparing for a job that hasn’t begun to formulate.

 

The curiously quiet market for Griffin perked up recently — he had a workout with the Chargers in late July and was among the names the Ravens examined with Joe Flacco sitting out due to a back injury — but training camp is here, and Griffin’s career relaunch still hasn’t taken off.

 

The one-time alleged Redskins savior and last year’s latest Browns bust is now resorting to cryptic tweets to express his frustration with the lack of interest, saying last week he was “used” but will keep hustling.

 

His fiancee, though, is taking a more proactive approach, doubling as his agent to show NFL teams he’s ready — even after Cutler, who had retired, got a shot with Miami while admitting he was showing up to camp out of shape.

 

“SwipeLeft … The hardest working man I know!” Grete Sadeiko wrote Monday night in an Instagram post filled with pictures and videos proving Griffin’s been active. “He is grinding and working every single day and sometimes I ask him why is he putting himself through all these hard practices and makes sure he doesn’t miss a day and he always responds to me with ‘So when the right opportunity comes you don’t have to get ready, you’ll be ready.’ I admire and respect him in so many ways and he is my biggest motivation and inspiration to work towards my dreams and never give up. ❤️ You’re amazing baby!”

 

Griffin has been the forgotten man one offseason after he was a sought-after one. Griffin, just 27, got a lot of looks his first season removed from Washington before signing with Cleveland on a two-year, $15 million deal, but with just $6.75 million guaranteed. The oft-injured quarterback lived up to his reputation, going down in the season opener with a shoulder injury and not returning until Week 14. He was not impressive in his comeback, finishing the season with two touchdowns, three interceptions and a 72.5 rating, leading to his Browns departure.

 

Griffin wants to prove that peek — and his last days in Washington, when he was a shell of the dual-threat quarterback who burst on the scene in 2012 — is not who he is today. And when he’s not working out, he’s tweeting pointed motivational thoughts.

 

@RGIII

You were meant to push the standards not accept them

 

Robert Griffin III @RGIII

You can be better and not get the opportunity of most. I challenge you to stay ready.