The Daily Briefing Thursday, August 16, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Todd Archer of ESPN.com checks in with DE RANDY GREGORY, back after a year in the wilderness:
Randy Gregory admits there were times he thought he would never return to the NFL while he served a yearlong suspension for multiple violations of the substance abuse policy.
Through intense therapy that began last winter and continues now along with medication, Gregory said he is at a point to truly start a career with the Dallas Cowboys that had been held back by dependence and mental issues.
“I’ve got a good schedule, got around the right people, therapy always has helped and just being consistent with that, a healthy dose of medication,” Gregory said Monday, a day after his first full practice of training camp and first since preparing for the 2016 season finale. “And then just being able to realize what I have on my plate, my priorities and being happy not only with what I’m going but with myself internally. That has been the biggest thing, I think.”
Gregory has had a sober partner with him throughout training camp and will have someone with him at all times during and after the season to help him cope with issues that played a major part in his fall from a potential high first-round pick in 2015 to the second round.
He would not discuss if he is bipolar.
“I think they have diagnosed me with a lot of things at this point,” Gregory said. “I can’t really say what I believe is right and what’s wrong. I do trust a doctor’s opinion over mine, but I also understand that there’s a lot of different things you can do throughout that process to make life easier for yourself. And a lot of those things, I was putting in front of myself, self-sabotaging, and had to realize that. Grew up a little bit, and I think I have.
“I can’t really address the bipolar thing. I think that’s kind of a private matter, but anybody that deals with what I have to deal with and have gone through what I’ve gone through and understands the process of what I’ve been through, I think can understand that there’s obviously a mental aspect to it along with emotional.”
Gregory credited his attorney, Daniel Moskowitz, for guiding him through the league’s substance abuse program. He also expressed appreciation for the patience the Cowboys, owner Jerry Jones and his teammates have had with him.
“I think they’ve believed in me,” Gregory said. “First and foremost, they like me not only as a player but a person and that I’ve always tried to do the right things. I know I always haven’t, but I’ve tried. And I think they realize I was a person in need and sticking by me throughout that tough part and even now has been real important for me to get back, and I think it’s worked.”
Coach Jason Garrett said Gregory has put in the effort to make his way back to the NFL.
“I do know he’s worked very hard at getting himself right to get him to the point to where he can be a football player for us,” Garrett said. “We commend him for that. We appreciate all of his effort. I think he appreciates the support we’ve given him, and hopefully it’ll work out.”
Jones said Sunday that he expects Gregory, who has one sack in 14 career games, to be able to contribute by the time the season opens Sept. 9 against the Carolina Panthers. The Cowboys worked Gregory into training camp practices slowly, opening with him on the non-football-injury list. He worked to the side on his conditioning then went through walk-through sessions. On Saturday, he worked through individual drills for the first time before being allowed to participate in an entire practice Sunday.
“I think it’s been good as far as me getting my feet under me,” Gregory said. “It’s kind of different pushing weight in the weight room compared to being out in the field pushing somebody that’s pushing against you. So that’s been kind of different, but it is kind of like riding a bike because I am used to it. I have done it for a long time, that a lot of those things that I think I was good at before, I never really lost. And a lot of things I was working on before and worked on in the offseason that I’m working on now, picking it up a lot quicker now that I’m out there with the guys.”
The media is outraged on behalf of QB NICK FOLES that Patriots QB TOM BRADY didn’t stick around to congratulate his conqueror last February. Foles doesn’t take the bait. Nick Fierro of the Allentown Morning Call:
Now that the Philadelphia Eagles are ready to once again meet the team and the quarterback they beat in February for the Super Bowl title, Nick Foles remains unfazed by an infamous snub from that night.
The Eagles quarterback and Super Bowl LII MVP still insists he had no problem with his New England Patriots counterpart, Tom Brady, heading back to the locker room instead of running him down for a customary postgame handshake.
“I think everyone’s making a big deal about this and it’s not a big deal at all,” Foles said after the final practice of training camp on Tuesday. “I’ve already talked to him before. He’s a guy I’ve always looked up to. You’ve got to admire someone who’s probably the greatest ever and still going strong even at his age. He seems to get better and better.
“I already had a conversation with him before when we practiced. If we have one in the future, we have one and it’ll be cool.”
Both quarterbacks are expected to start Thursday night’s preseason clash in Foxborough, Mass.
Brady has seemingly been criticized by everyone except Foles for ducking out of sight immediately after the Super Bowl loss.
Foles couldn’t care less about what happened then or what might happen Thursday — except for the 60 minutes the clock is running.
“This is a new season, new people, new players,” he said. “Obviously we wear the same logos as last year but we both have a new identity. This is the time of year we grow together as a team, and that’s really all I’m focusing on.”
As rookie DE MARCUS DAVENPORT appeared at practice, Saints DE ALEX OKAFOR left with an injury. Herbie Teope at NFL.com:
New Orleans Saints defensive end Alex Okafor was diagnosed with a sprained ankle and a knee bone bruise after undergoing an MRI on Wednesday, sources informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Okafor is considered week to week and it’s unclear when he’ll return to practice, Rapoport reported.
Members of the Saints’ training staff quickly tended to Okafor after he went down at practice Wednesday. He managed to limp off the field under his own power, according to multiple reports.
Okafor is attempting to come back from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in Week 11 of the 2017 regular season. Before the season-ending injury, the 6-foot-4, 261-pound Okafor was enjoying a strong campaign, totaling 43 tackles (27 solo), 4 1/2 sacks and two forced fumbles as the much-needed complementary pass rusher to Cameron Jordan.
Okafor, who originally signed with the Saints in 2017 on a one-year contract, re-signed during the offseason. With Okafor on the mend during the offseason, the Saints added more firepower to the pass rush through the 2018 NFL Draft by trading up to select defensive end Marcus Davenport in the first round.
Davenport, who has missed recent practices with an undisclosed injury, returned Wednesday, but didn’t participate in team drills, according to ESPN’s Mike Triplett.
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DREW BREES talked about his mortality with former teammate LaDaininan Tomlinson. More from Teope:
While Drew Brees enters his 18th professional season with no signs of slowing down, even the 39-year-old New Orleans Saints signal-caller — one of the NFL’s all-time greats — knows he can’t play forever.
The QB recently shared with his former teammate and current NFL Network analyst LaDainian Tomlinson during a segment on “Inside Training Camp Live” that he has an out-strategy on when to call it quits.
“I do have a plan in my mind for how long I’m going to play,” Brees said. “Last year was probably the first time where I really said, ‘All right, play it like it’s your last. I mean, truly play it like it’s your last.’
“I think for a long time, you’re playing and you’re just thinking it’s going to last forever. At some point, you got to realize I’m more towards the end of my career than I am the beginning. But last year, I really made the point to just enjoy every moment.”
The plan to have fun certainly worked, as Brees helped guide the Saints to an 11-5 record and the NFC South title on the heels of three consecutive 7-9 seasons from 2014 to 2016.
With the Saints unleashing a balanced attack last season, Brees completed 386 of 536 pass attempts for 4,334 yards and 23 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He established an NFL-record completion rate of 72 percent.
“The success had a lot to do with it, but it was enjoying those moments,” Brees told Tomlinson. “I don’t want to take it for granted. I want to play it like it’s my last — even though I don’t think it is — and just enjoy every moment.”
Nevertheless, what made Brees’ comments compelling was he hadn’t previously stated to the media how he viewed the 2017 season when it came to his decorated career. Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi expressed surprise last week when told what Brees shared on NFL Network.
“Well, I didn’t hear it,” Lombardi told NFL.com. “Now, you’re depressing me.”
Lombardi was joking, of course, but he also understands the Saints will eventually have to face life after Brees.
“Obviously, he’s at an age where those questions are always going to come up,” Lombardi said. “But I still see a guy who loves the game and is attacking it as hard — if not harder — than he ever has. I don’t see any signs of him slowing down, but he’s got four young kids and it’s a demanding game.”
Brees, an 11-time Pro Bowler, ranks as one of the most prolific passers in league history, and he became just the third quarterback to throw for 70,000 yards in his career, a feat accomplished in Week 16 of the 2017 season. Brees’ 70,445 career passing yards currently trail Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre (71,838) and Peyton Manning (71,940).
In 2017, he posted a 12th career 4,000-yard passing campaign, a milestone that leaves Brees two behind Manning, the all-time leader in the category. Brees is also the only quarterback in league history to eclipse 5,000 yards passing in a season more than once — Brees has accomplished the feat five times (2008, 2011-13, 2016).
Yet, for all the production, Brees has only one Super Bowl ring. And the Saints understand the opportunity to get back to the championship game with Brees won’t last long.
“I think everyone realizes he’s not going to play for 10 more years, and, man, this window is open,” Lombardi said. “Let’s go do it.”
Wide receiver Michael Thomas, who has 196 catches for 2,382 yards and 14 touchdowns through his first two pro seasons, also fully grasps the scenario and hopes the team can deliver.
“It’s something that he deserves with his career that he’s had, the example of what he means to this organization, what a championship means to this organization,” Thomas said. “It’s something we want to take ownership of and help send him out the right way.”
Thomas’ goal extends beyond the offense, which has consistently ranked among the league’s best since Brees arrived in 2006.
The Saints’ defense, which showed vast improvement in 2017, also understands it won’t have Brees around forever, and there is a sense of urgency.
“We just know we’re playing with a living legend,” cornerback Ken Crawley said. “It helps us strive harder. We’re not just playing for the coaches. At the end of the day, we’re playing for those guys we go in the trenches with.”
DE ADAM GOTSIS was staring at a rape charge – until yesterday. The AP:
Prosecutors in Atlanta are dismissing a rape case against Denver Broncos defensive end Adam Gotsis that stemmed from an alleged assault more than five years ago while he was at Georgia Tech.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. said in a statement Wednesday that “after a careful and thorough investigation” his office had decided not to proceed with the case.
“My office understands the sensitivity and significance of these investigations, but the evidence presented does not warrant any further action in this case,” Howard said.
A 30-year-old woman went to Atlanta police headquarters on Feb. 1 and told an investigator that Gotsis had raped her on March 9, 2013. The woman said she went to a party with Gotsis and then he took her to his home and assaulted her.
Gotsis turned himself in March 7 and he was released that day on $50,000 bond.
A third-year pro, Gotsis continued working out with the Broncos while authorities investigated the woman’s allegations.
“I’m just relieved that everything is being taken care of,” Gotsis said after practice. “You don’t really know what’s happening. You have faith that things are going to work out. I’m glad to be out here with the guys, running around. There’s no place I’d rather be.”
Gotsis found out after team meetings when coach Vance Joseph informed him. Gotsis said it’s been weighing on him.
“It’s harder when you’re alone and you’re really not in the building,” said Gotsis, who’s from Australia. “When you’re in the building, it’s so caught up in football and everything. It’s more when you’re alone and stuff and you’re thinking about it. That’s what you have friends and family for, to support you when you have no one else.”
Asked if he’s concerned about a possible penalty from the league, Gotsis responded: “They did a good job of communicating with the team, making sure everyone is on the same page throughout everything. I’m just going through and playing football. Focusing on what I need to do to help this team win.”
The second-round pick had 41 tackles last season. On the depth chart, he’s currently listed as one of the starting defensive ends.
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WR DEMARYIUS THOMAS has joined the ranks of those who won’t be present and accounted for when The National Anthem is played. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
Demaryius Thomas and Brandon Marshall chose to stay in the tunnel during the playing of the national anthem Saturday night. That broke from Von Miller‘s assertion in May, after the NFL passed a new anthem policy, that the Broncos would stand as a team following a meeting with president Joe Ellis and G.M. John Elway.
“It wasn’t a decision,” Thomas told Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic. “It’s just that I always had it on my mind. Not even this year, but last year. It’s just something I’ve dealt with growing up, racism as a kid, kind of still do as a grown up and my family still deals with it today and doesn’t get justice. It’s something I’ve dealt with, my family has dealt with and others around the country have dealt with so much. It’s just tough to see that, because I’m one who wants to put out love to everybody. I don’t see color. I don’t see none of that. To see people get hurt and not get justice is sad.”
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“I don’t think it was a right or wrong time,” Thomas told Jhabvala. “It’s what I was going to do.
“. . . It’s what I feel passionate about. People bash me about playing football. They talk about my game, and it’s what I do everyday. It is what it is. I don’t pay attention to it. I don’t pay attention to social media and TV and all that stuff.”
Unsaid here is that Thomas does have a very personal reason for having some gripes with the justice system. His mother and grandmother both received presidential pardons from Barack Obama.
This from before the Super Bowl in 2016 by Eli Sasnow of ESPN.com:
DEMARYIUS THOMAS HAS just sent his mother a picture of the most unlikely Super Bowl ticket of all, the one intended for her, and now Katina Smith has a few days to decide whether she’s prepared to take it.
It’s been just six months since President Barack Obama granted her clemency and released her from federal prison 15 years into a 20-year drug sentence. It’s been 10 weeks since she left a halfway house and moved back home; eight weeks since she bought her first cellphone; five weeks since she learned to drive again; and four weeks since she met some of her nieces and nephews for the first time. It’s been two days since her most recent panic attack, which she spent holed up in her bedroom, overwhelmed by the freedoms and stresses of the outside world.
“I’m like a child,” she tells Demaryius during a phone call. “I have to relearn everything. It’s information overload, and my head is about to explode.”
Her transition back into society has had its stressful moments, but never more so than this week. Relatives call for Super Bowl tickets. Strangers on the Internet complain to her about Demaryius’ dropped passes. Her parole officer says she needs to find a job, enroll in college, submit to another drug test and fill out paperwork if she wants to travel to the Super Bowl in San Francisco. He has questions about her potential itinerary, and Katina has questions, too — all of which she asks Demaryius each morning during their daily calls.
“How big is the stadium?” “How will I get there?” “What do people wear in San Francisco?” “Am I ready to make a trip like this?”
She spent 15 years cut off from America in a 20-by-20-foot concrete cell, and now she has an invitation to the biggest American spectacle of all.
A series of counselors and former inmates had told her to take it slow in the months after her release, to transition gradually: a first-generation cellphone before a smartphone; email before Facebook; short outings to familiar places before any ambitious trips. She moved back to the quiet of rural Dublin, Georgia, even though she would prefer living in Atlanta. She stays with her sister even as Demaryius finalizes the purchase on her own five-bedroom dream house. He bought her a brand-new Camaro with the nicest trims, but first she had to retake the state driving test and figure out how to work a stereo system that was missing its tape deck.
She already took one trip to a divisional playoff game in Denver in the middle of January — the best weekend of her life, she says — but the fatigue that followed left her with a headache that lasted a week. She came home, turned off her phone, closed the door to her bedroom and read the same Bible verses about humility and simplicity that she studied each morning in prison. She finds relief in routine, in being momentarily confined. Sometimes she rereads the letter Obama sent to her along with her official notice of clemency from the White House. “Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust,” he had written.
A few days before her release from prison, a counselor had talked to her about situations that could trigger anxiety: unfamiliar places, disorientation, strangers, big crowds, loud noises and sudden excitement.
She wonders: How in the world can she go to the Super Bowl?
But how can she not?
FOR 4,568 DAYS in prison, she kept a picture in her cell of the last time she traveled to see her son play, at a junior high basketball game in 1999. The bleachers were mostly empty that night. The court was made of rubber. Both teams were coed. Demaryius made two 3-pointers while Katina watched in a sweatshirt with his nickname, Bay-Bay, stitched across the chest. They posed for a picture in the parking lot and then drove home, where the next morning they were jolted awake by the sound of 14 federal agents kicking in the front door.
The agents executed a search warrant and found several hundred dollars of rolled-up cash, money that was connected to a small drug ring led by Katina’s mother, Minnie Pearl. Katina was charged with conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. The crime carried a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 20 years in federal prison.
“That must be some kind of mistake,” Katina remembered saying to her lawyer, at their first meeting, because she had expected probation or maybe a few months in jail. She had no criminal record. She had never used drugs. At the time of her arrest, she was working the overnight shift at a clothing factory to support Demaryius and his two younger sisters. The “sophisticated drug ring,” as prosecutors described it, was run out of a rotting and abandoned gas station near Minnie’s trailer, where customers came to spend $10 or $15 at a time. The government’s evidence indicated that Katina had neither dealt drugs herself nor been paid for helping her mother store the extra cash.
“She was doing me a favor, really,” Minnie said. “She was a bit player at most.”
The government offered Katina a plea deal of four years if she testified against Minnie, but Katina refused to turn against her mother. She chose instead to risk abandoning her three children for the next 20 years by taking the case to trial. “It was what I felt I had to do as a daughter, but I’ll never forgive myself as a mother,” Katina said. The government had wiretaps of her talking about drug money and 14 witnesses lined up to testify against her. Her own lawyer never called a single witness. The jury deliberated for an hour. “She’s a good mother with so many factors in her favor,” the lawyer pleaded at sentencing, but the only factors that mattered were working against her.
The average drug sentences had tripled in length during the late 1980s, after Boston Celtics draft pick Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose and the Boston-based Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, pushed harsh sentencing legislation through Congress. The penalties were worst for crack, and worst still in the South, and worst of all for black people and minorities, who typically received sentences 25 percent longer than white people for similar crimes.
“I’m sorry,” the judge told Katina, explaining that congressional sentencing laws left him little choice but to give her the full 20 years with no possibility of parole.
She moved into a prison in Tallahassee, Florida, to share a cell with her mother, who had been sentenced to life without parole, and Demaryius moved in with five different relatives over the next three years. For a while he refused to visit her in prison, angry at what he considered a betrayal. “You chose this,” he told his mother once, and his words sent her spiraling into depression. Only after he left home for Georgia Tech did Demaryius finally decide to visit her, after playing a football game in Tallahassee. Seeing his mother so anguished and lonely thawed his anger. He started phoning her each week, and then eventually each day, and she watched his career take shape on the scratchy box television bolted to the wall of the prison lounge.
She lost one appeal while Demaryius was at Georgia Tech. She lost another before the Broncos selected him in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft. When Demaryius and the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl in 2014, Katina and Minnie made pompoms out of old newspapers and decorated their faces with blue and orange crayons.
Demaryius called Katina from his hotel room the night before the game, and he was on the verge of tears. “This doesn’t feel right,” she remembered him saying. “You should be here.”
She calmed him down. They prayed together. Then she gave him the same advice she offered before every game: “No regrets. No fear,” she said.
HER FINAL APPEALS went nowhere. Her petition for a reduced sentence failed. By Katina’s 15th year in federal prison, another lawyer had dropped her case and explained that her only chance left was a pardon from the president, by which he really meant she had no chance at all. More than 35,000 federal prisons had applications pending for presidential relief. Obama had granted fewer than 50 during the entirety of his time in office. Katina went to the prison’s law library, filled out an application, sent it off in the fall of 2014 and resigned herself to serving out the rest of her term. “I’m out of options,” she wrote in an email to one friend. “I might miss his whole NFL career. I’m stuck.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, a frustrated Obama had run out of options, too. The federal prison system was in crisis — 40 percent of facilities overcrowded, 50 percent over-budget and the system as a whole more than 800 percent larger than it had been just 30 years earlier. Three decades of mandatory-minimum drug sentences had swelled the federal prison population from 24,000 to more than 200,000 prisoners, half of whom were serving time for nonviolent drug offenses.
Legislation to change sentencing policy had stalled in Congress. Federal prosecutors were continuing to push for long sentences. Determined to take action on his own, Obama traveled last summer to a federal prison in Oklahoma to meet with drug offenders and promised he would start relying more on clemencies and pardons. “It’s a broken system,” Obama said in one speech. “These punishments don’t fit the crime.”
Former agent Joel Corry ponders what it might take to complete a trade for LB KHALIL MACK.
The Raiders hit the jackpot in the 2014 NFL Draft. Defensive end Khalil Mack, quarterback Derek Carr and offensive guard Gabe Jackson, all foundational pieces, were selected in the first three rounds. Carr and Jackson were given top-of-the-market contract extensions last offseason, when they were entering the final year of their rookie contracts.
The expectation was the Raiders would do the same thing with Mack, who is scheduled to make $13.846 million on his fifth-year option. Signing Mack long-term in 2018 seemed to be general manager Reggie McKenzie’s plan during the middle of the 2017 season. At the time, McKenzie said, “I anticipate that. Yes I do. Hopefully his agent feels the same.”
Joel Segal, Mack’s agent, is a shrewd negotiator. He doesn’t have a reputation of being particularly difficult in his dealings with teams even though he navigated running back Chris Johnson through a successful holdout in 2011 that lasted until the Titans gave his client a four-year, $53.975 million contract extension in early September. Segal has gotten deals done extremely early with first-round picks under the rookie wage scale. He made Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback in 2014 after his third NFL season. He also got the Rams to grossly overpay wide receiver Tavon Austin on a four-year extension in 2016 averaging approximately $10.5 million per year with two years remaining on his rookie contract.
It had been a foregone conclusion that Mack would have become a charter member of $20 million-per-year non-quarterback club by now. Instead, Mack is one of three veteran players under contract who are holdouts. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported during his recent visit to Oakland’s training camp that there haven’t been contract discussions since February and the Raiders don’t currently have an offer on the table for Mack. McKenzie refused to negotiate with left tackle Donald Penn last year while he was holding out. Penn signed a new deal shortly after ending his holdout.
So what’s changed? Jon Gruden came out of the Monday Night Football broadcast booth after a nine-year hiatus to return to coaching armed with a 10-year, $100 million contract from Raiders owner Mark Davis. It’s pretty clear with the type of money Gruden is getting that he is the main power broker in the Raiders organization, although McKenzie retained the title of general manager. Gruden probably didn’t do himself any favors with Mack and his agent by gratuitously commenting at the start of training camp that Oakland’s defense wasn’t very good last year with the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year on the field.
The holdout isn’t surprising considering Oakland’s previous treatment of Mack’s fellow 2014 picks, Carr and Jackson, and an unwillingness to engage in negotiations. Mack appears to be firmly entrenched in his position despite being subject to a fine of $30,000 for each missed day of training camp and one week’s base salary ($814,471) with each preseason game he misses.
The Rams have taken a different approach with All-Pro interior defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who is holding out for a second-straight year. The lines of communication have remained open with a more conciliatory tone during this contract stalemate. There is some light at the end of the tunnel with Donald, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Rams general manager Les Snead indicated last week that the parties were in the same “zip code.”
The Rams are reportedly willing to make Donald the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback, which is currently Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller at $19,083,333 per year and $70 million in overall guarantees, by breaking the $20 million per year barrier. It is my understanding that at least restoring the traditional financial relationship between the highest-paid quarterback and non-quarterback, which existed under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement before salaries for passers dramatically increased over the last year, has been important to Donald’s camp. A deal averaging more than $23 million per year with $85 million in guarantees where $65 million to $70 million is fully guaranteed at signing would recreate the balance. Donald’s new deal should serve as a baseline for Mack if and when negotiations eventually resume.
The dynamics have prompted speculation about the Raiders trading Mack, with sports books beginning to take odds on where he will play this season. Mack hasn’t indicated that he wants out of Oakland and the Raiders have no plans to trade him at this time.
The Raiders should be able to command a king’s ransom if Mack is put on the trading block. I asked former longtime Eagles president and Browns CEO Joe Banner via direct message on Twitter about the type of compensation the Raiders could get in a Mack trade. The Eagles were considered as a team to emulate in salary-cap management under Banner’s direction.
“I think the range is a 1, 3 and 7 on the low end to two 1s on the high end. A lot also depends on how high the 1 is. Maybe it’s a 1 and 2 if it’s fairly high, or two 1s if it’s lower,” said Banner. “Maybe a team would be smart to include a 1 with a quality player. Or a 1, a middle pick and a quality player. He (Mack) is as good or better than any of the players we have seen involved in these kind of trades.”
Banner’s assessment is consistent with the top trade compensation for veteran non-quarterbacks during the 21st century, which is outlined below.
PLAYER POSITION YEAR OLD TEAM NEW TEAM
Ricky Williams RB 2002 Saints Dolphins
2002 first-round pick (25th), 2003 first-round pick (18th), swap of 2002 fourth-round picks
Keyshawn Johnson WR 2000 Jets Buccaneers
Two 2000 first-round picks (13th, 27th)
Joey Galloway WR 2000 Seahawks Cowboys
2000 first-round pick (19th), 2001 first-round pick (7th)
Jared Allen DE 2008 Chiefs Vikings
2008 first-round pick (17th), two 2008 third-round picks, swap of 2008 sixth-round picks
Roy Williams WR 2009 Lions Cowboys
2009 first-round pick (20th) third- and a sixth-round picks, 2010 seventh-round pick
Percy Harvin WR 2013 Vikings Seahawks
2013 first-round pick (25th) and seventh-round pick, 2014 third-round pick
Jason Peters OT 2009 Bills Eagles
2009 first-round pick (28th), and fourth-round pick, 2010 sixth-round pick
Randy Moss WR 2005 Vikings Raiders
2005 first-round pick (7th), seventh-round pick and LB Napoleon Harris
Darrelle Revis CB 2013 Jets Buccaneers
2013 first-round pick (13th) and 2014 fourth-round pick
It’s been more than 15 years since two first-round picks were given up for a non-quarterback. In each case, the trade involved an offensive skill-position player. Jared Allen may be the most relevant because he was also a defensive end like Mack. He had been given a franchise tag by the Chiefs, while Mack is in his contract year.
A team must have enough salary-cap room to absorb a player’s current salary in order to make a trade. Once the player is acquired, the new team can renegotiate or restructure his contract to increase/decrease his cap number and/or salary.
Teams aren’t allowed to include cash or cap room in trades under NFL rules. The way around it, which probably wouldn’t be applicable to Mack, is for the team and player to restructure the contract before the trade by converting salary into signing bonus.
Below are five teams with a pass-rushing need that can absorb or get in a position to accommodate Mack’s $13.846 million 2018 salary. The Giants, who tied for 29th in sacks last season with 27, are not included because of a tight salary-cap situation. Creating cap room through an Odell Beckham, Jr. extension wouldn’t put the Giants in position to get Mack. The Giants are last in the NFL with just under a $1 million of cap space.
Fines for missing training camp would no longer be enforceable after a trade because of a 1997 arbitration decision involving Kevin Greene. The Greene precedent means that Oakland wouldn’t be able to collect any of daily fines Mack racked up or the weekly salary penalty for his absence from training camp if he’s with another team provided he doesn’t end his holdout until dealt.
Green Bay Packers
On the surface, the Packers are a logical destination. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, 32, is in a contract year and hasn’t had a double-digit sack season since 2014.
McKenzie has a great relationship with the Packers. He spent 18 years as a scout and front office executive in Green Bay prior to becoming Raiders general manager in 2012.
The Packers are the only team with two first-round picks in the 2019 draft. In addition to their pick, the Packers have the Saints’ pick that was traded during this year’s draft. The picks are expected to be near the bottom of the first round since both teams are considered playoff, if not Super Bowl, contenders.
The Packers have just over $11 million of cap space so a contract restructuring or two would be necessary unless a player was a part of the trade. For example, including Matthews should allow the Packers to retain one of the 2019 first-round picks. Gruden’s affinity for older players dates back to his days when he was essentially calling the shots with the Buccaneers after winning a power struggle in 2003 with Rich McKay, who had been general manager for 20 years. Seasoned veterans, such as wide receiver Jordy Nelson and inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, were among Gruden’s biggest free-agent acquisitions this offseason. Both players are older than Matthews. The Packers would be picking up $10,837,500 of 2018 salary cap room from dealing Matthews, which would leave right around $8 million of space after getting Mack.
Green Bay would become very top heavy financially. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been negotiating an extension that will make him the NFL’s highest-paid player if an agreement is reached. Mack would likely set the standard for non-quarterbacks with a new deal.
General manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott haven’t been shy about making trades since taking over in 2017. Mack would be returning to the city where he played his college football with a trade to Buffalo. He is currently working out in Buffalo during his holdout.
The Bills had trouble getting the quarterback last season. Defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson led the Bills with four sacks apiece.
The Bills are approximately in the same cap position as the Packers with just under $11 million of room. A change of scenery might do Lawson, a 2016 first-round pick, some good. Lawson has been a disappointment and Beane/McDermott aren’t invested him since he predates their arrival in Buffalo.
Approximately $1.4 million of cap room would be gained from trading Lawson, which wouldn’t quite give Buffalo enough for Mack’s 2018 salary. Lawson is under contract through the 2019 season for just under $3.25 million with a fifth-year option in 2020 that can be exercised.
Cap room isn’t an issue for the Colts. Only the Browns have more than Indianapolis’ almost $51 million of cap space. Mack would give the Colts the consistent pass-rushing threat that’s been missing since Robert Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2013. The Colts have an extra 2019 second-round pick from the trade with the Jets, who moved up to the third-overall pick in this year’s draft to take USC quarterback Sam Darnold.
New York Jets
Mack would leave the Jets with approximately $1.5 million of current cap space. The Jets are in a great cap position next season. With 45 players under contract, they have the league’s fewest 2019 cap commitments at just under $109 million. The Jets don’t have to worry about having a high-priced quarterback anytime soon. The fully-guaranteed four-year rookie contract Darnold signed a couple of weeks ago is worth a little less than $30.25 million. The Jets probably wouldn’t be picking until the third round in next year’s draft because the Raiders would surely insist on a first-round pick in 2019 instead of 2020 in any deal for Mack. The Colts own the Jets’ 2019 second pick.
The Bears haven’t had a dominant pass rusher from the edge since future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers was released after the 2013 season. Peppers played in three Pro Bowls during his four seasons in Chicago. Adding a top-of-the-market defensive-player contract isn’t a problem for the Bears, since quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is in the second year of a fully-guaranteed four-year rookie contract totaling just over $29 million. The Bears are one of six teams with more than $25 million of existing cap space, with approximately $26.15 million of room.
The Raiders run the risk of creating a new blueprint for how not to handle a superstar player. Banner had a couple of other interesting observations regarding the Mack situation. “I’m not sure the Raiders appreciate the mess they have created,” he said. “If he sits some of this year, how do they tag him? Tie up $19M and don’t know if he will even show. He has more value right now then he will in the future in a trade. I think he is a superior player at the second-most important position in the game.”
Mack’s market will be well-defined if Donald and the Rams come to an agreement. He is precisely the type of player a team should be looking to sign long-term. At that point, the Raiders should enter into good faith negotiations with Mack regardless of whether he ends his holdout.
An offensive coach by trade, Gruden may have taken note that the massive contracts given to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Miller by the Dolphins and Broncos in 2015 and 2016, which made them the NFL’s two highest-paid non-quarterbacks, haven’t translated to wins. The Dolphins made the playoffs only once (2016) as a wild card during Suh’s three years in Miami before releasing him in April. Their regular-season record was 22-26 with Suh on the roster. The Broncos have missed the playoffs in both seasons and are also under .500 since Miller received his contract.
The Raiders should probably adopt the approach Patriots head coach Bill Belichick took with edge-rusher Chandler Jones in 2016 and wide receiver Brandin Cooks this year, if Gruden and/or Davis aren’t comfortable with Mack becoming the league’s highest-paid non-quarterback. Both players were traded at the beginning of their fifth-year options because of signability. Belichick wasn’t willing to pay the premium that good, young pass rushers command with Jones, or to pay Cooks after the explosion of wide receiver salaries in free agency. He dealt them rather than deal with the potential distraction that playing the franchise-tag game could have created.
– – –
Gruden should really consider whether he wants a disgruntled Mack in the locker room if he ends his holdout while still under his rookie contract. Based on conversations I’ve had with several prominent agents, there is probably going to be some player, not necessarily Mack, in the not-too-distant future who is strategically disruptive (falling short of a suspension for detrimental conduct) in a contract year or upon return of holdout to try to dissuade his team from designating him as a franchise player the following year. The agents considered it merely using the tools at their disposal under the NFL CBA, just as teams do with players.
WR DeANDRE HOPKINS gets kicked out of a joint practice with the 49ers. Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
Tempers have bubbled — and fists have flown — in Houston.
An otherwise mundane training camp practice between the Texans and Niners tumbled into chaos Wednesday as Houston wideout DeAndre Hopkins and San Francisco defensive back Jimmie Ward blew up the session by throwing punches.
NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo noted Texans coach Bill O’Brien booted Hopkins from practice following the scuffle.
Bottom line: None of this is unusual for a team-against-team scrimmage in August. It’s not the kind of thing you’d expect to break out at some hollowed-out corporate office between suit-and-tie drones, but it’s just another day in the NFL.
RB DION LEWIS feels loved in Tennessee. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Running back Dion Lewis signed a four-year, $20 million contract with the Titans this offseason, but he vows he won’t be a player who stops working hard after landing a deal.
Lewis said he’s always had a chip on his shoulder and “that’s not going to change just because I got a contract.” Lewis said he’s motivated by the feeling that he can raise his game to another level and do better than the 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns he produced for the Patriots last season.
In conversation with Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Lewis suggested that the Patriots’ disinterest in bringing him back after that production is another source of motivation.
“I’m happy with the decision, and this is the decision I would’ve made even if they did offer,” Lewis said. “If they wanted me, they could’ve had me. But obviously, they didn’t want me, they didn’t think I was good enough to be there. I just had to move on and do what’s best for me.”
History says that Lewis shouldn’t have been surprised by the way the Patriots played things, but the landing spot looks like a good one. While Lewis will be splitting time with Derrick Henry in the backfield, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s system should have room for both to shine and his own history points to Lewis having a big role as a Marcus Mariota target in the passing game.
For a story on CB MALCOLM BUTLER, now a Titan, see NEW ENGLAND as we look at his Super Bowl benching.
QB JOSH ALLEN brushes off the criticism from DB JALEN RAMSEY (which frankly seemed to merely amplify media critiques of the Buffalo draft pick and didn’t represent any actual experience playing against or studying the former Wyoming signalcaller). Jack Goods in the Buffalo News:
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey hasn’t been shy about sharing his opinion on Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen.
In May, he retweeted a video of Allen throwing at OTAs, calling it “a pick waiting to happen,” and, in a recent interview with GQ, he expanded on that opinion when asked about this year’s rookie quarterback class.
“I think (Buffalo Bills draft pick Josh) Allen is trash,” Ramsey told GQ’s Clay Skipper. “I don’t care what nobody say. He’s trash. And it’s gonna show too. That’s a stupid draft pick to me. We play them this year, and I’m excited as hell. I hope he’s their starting quarterback. He played at Wyoming. Every time they played a big school—like, they played Iowa State, which is not a big school in my opinion because I went to Florida State, and he threw five interceptions, and they lost by a couple touchdowns or something like that.✞ He never beat a big school. If you look at his games against big schools, it was always hella interceptions, hella turnovers. It’s like: Yo, if you’re this good, why couldn’t you do better? He fits that mold, he’s a big, tall quarterback. Big arm, supposedly. I don’t see it, personally.”
As pointed out in an editor’s note in the story, Allen never played Iowa State while at Wyoming. He did throw two interceptions in a 24-3 loss to Iowa. He threw five interceptions once as a sophomore against Nebraska.
Allen brushed aside the comments when asked after practice on the final day of Bills training camp at St. John Fisher College.
“That’s the first I heard of it,” Allen said. “He’s not on my team. He’s not my teammate. … It doesn’t bother me one bit. I care about my teammates and what my teammates think of me.”
Evan Bleier of RealClearSports.com believes that Bill Belichick would not act irrationally. If so, why was CB MALCOLM BUTLER benched for the Super Bowl?
Tonight when the Philadelphia Eagles take on the New England Patriots in Foxborough, cornerback Malcolm Butler won’t be on the field for the hometown team.
This time, unlike when Butler rode the bench for all of Super Bowl LII sans one snap on special teams, we know the reason: Butler is no longer on New England’s roster.
As for the reason why Butler didn’t play against the Eagles in February, well, that’s been as closely guarded a secret as KFC’s secret recipe, the location of Flight MH370, or the final whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa.
There have been hints. Slight, tiny, Patriot-sized leaks. And, since you may have missed some (or all) of ’em, we’ve got everything that’s anything which has been said about the benching by the primary parties involved -Butler, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia – all in one place below.
After that, we’ve got our best guess about what actually went down to turn Super Bowl XLIX’s hero into Super Bowl LII’s goat.
Patricia on the benching after the Super Bowl: “We were just trying to run some packages we had on defense, and those guys that were out there for all the situations that we needed them for. So it kind of turned out that way, and the game, with the way it went and some of the situations that came up, that was just kind of the way it went … We’re just trying to put everybody in the right spot to make plays – the guys that we thought could make the plays in the right situation.”
Butler on the benching after the Super Bowl: “They gave up on me. F-ck. It is what it is It was a coach’s decision. I was just doing my job and supporting my teammates. I have nothing but great things to say about the organization. They gave me an opportunity. That’s about it.”
Belichick on the benching after the Super Bowl: “I respect Malcolm’s competitiveness, and I’m sure that he felt like he could have helped. I’m sure other players felt the same way. In the end, we have to make the decisions that we feel are best for the football team, and that’s what we did, that’s what I did. There are a lot of things that go into that. In the end, the final decision is what I said it was.”
Patricia on the benching in February after joining the Lions: “I’m going to be extremely respectful to coach Belichick and his organization and I’m going to let him answer any questions that have to do with the Patriots. I have obviously a lot of love for New England, but I have a new team. I would characterize my relationship with Malcolm as extremely strong. I love Malcolm a lot. Like all my players, he’s like one of my sons. I want to make sure that he does everything to the best and I hope the best for him. That’s really all I’m going to say about Malcolm.”
Butler on the benching in March after joining the Titans: “I never got a reason. I feel like this was the reason: I got kind of sick. I went to the hospital. They probably thought I was kind of late on the game plan; I wasn’t as locked in as I should be and could have been a matchup deal. It could have been anything. But Bill Belichick has been doing this for a very long time. He took a veteran out of Super Bowl XLIX and put in a first-year rookie, and that turned out right, so you could never question his decision.”
Belichick on the benching in March: “I have a lot of respect for Malcolm. From the day he got here, in rookie minicamp four years ago, he’s always competed as hard as he could. He always is a great competitor on the field. I totally respect that. I’m not going to get into last year, I’m not going to get into next year or some other year. I talked to Malcolm. I wish him well in Tennessee.”
Butler on the benching last month: “This the biggest game of the year, so you gotta shoot your best gun or your best shot. Preparation is the best way to win. And maybe they didn’t see 100 percent, mentally or physically, Malcolm Butler that they usually see. No bad blood between me and Bill Belichick. One of the greatest coaches ever and I care about him, I know he cares about me. And this a hurtful game sometimes and it can look different than what it is. But that’s my guy. I got a lot of respect for him.”
Belichick on the benching last month: “Last year is last year. I am not focused on last year. We talked about that. That was multiple months ago.”
Thought it takes different forms, the theme that runs through most of those comments is that the benching was a football decision that was possibly influenced by Butler’s health and preparation level, but had nothing to do with disciplinary measures or an off-field incident.
And, if you think about it, that explanation makes sense. Nothing scandalous has come out because there was nothing scandalous that actually went down in early February in Minnesota.
It was a really, really bad one, but it was a football decision.
If it wasn’t, one of the players who left New England for greener pastures following the Super Bowl (Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Nate Solder to name a few), would have pulled back the curtain. No longer under the rule of Belichick, they’d have every reason in the world to make their cantankerous old coach look bad for costing the team the Super Bowl over something that had nothing to do with what was happening on the field.
Internally too, with all the well-documented dysfunction within the Patriots organization, if there was something to come out, it’s only logical to think that it would have by now. A cut player, a disgruntled staffer, a fired employee – someone would have said spilled the beans.
After all, “If You See Something, Say Something,” only works if there is something to see. In this case, there wasn’t, other than a 65-year-old football coach making an awful choice that was so badly out of character that no one could believe that’s actually all it was.
That theory could be incorrect and it is still always a possibility that someone, possibly even Butler himself, will spill the beans about what did or didn’t happen leading up to the biggest benching in Super Bowl history.
But, considering it has been six months and we don’t know much more than we did in the aftermath of New England’s 41-33 loss, we may never know what, if anything, Butler did.
After that tease, we conclude “it’s just a football decision”? The DB hasn’t been so let down since Geraldo went into Al Capone’s vault.
Here’s the thing we don’t understand though – okay, you make a “football decision” to start the game. Then the Eagles are carving up your secondary, the “football decision” you made isn’t working, why can’t you adjust by giving Butler some snaps later in the game? Aren’t you the master of adjustments? Why stick with the losing hand?
THIS AND THAT
Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com has seen a video put out by the NFL Officiating Department designed to reassure those who watched Week 1 that the new helmet rule isn’t an impossible-to-officiate disaster. He is not reassured.
The NFL is still working on trying to get everyone on the same page about what is and is not a penalty under the new helmet rules. And the league still has a lot of work to do.
Toward that end, NFL V.P. of Officiating Al Riveron tweeted a video that shows three examples of plays from the first week of the preseason that were not illegal, and three examples of plays that were illegal.
The three legal plays are all easy to identify: Two show tacklers hitting with their shoulders, while one shows a tackler stopping and breaking down with his head up, rather than lowering his helmet to initiate contact.
Unfortunately, the three examples of penalties are much harder to decipher. One shows
Jaguars defensive end Lyndon Johnson coming out of his stance with his helmet lowered and running into a blocker, which is apparently a penalty, although it’s hard to determine exactly why it was a penalty: Johnson didn’t lower his helmet specifically to initiate contact; he simply made contact when his helmet was already lowered.
And oddly, the NFL’s video consists merely of six plays, with no commentary on what makes one play legal and another play illegal, and no closeups or arrows or any other guides for viewers to know what they’re supposed to be looking for. Why wouldn’t the NFL, a multibillion-dollar company with a big media arm, put more effort into producing a video that helps clarify this new rule?
If the replies to Riveron’s tweet are any indication, fans aren’t on board with this new rule. Responses like, “Way to completely not clear that up at all” and “Looks like regular football plays to me” and “Your examples only confused me more. This is a going to be an absolute disaster for the league” were the typical comments.
So the NFL still needs to do a better job of clearing up this rule. Preferably before the regular season starts, three weeks from tomorrow.
Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com concurs:
The NFL season kicks off in less than a month, and the league’s new helmet rule is still unclear, confusing and difficult to grasp. On Wednesday, the league once again tried to bring clarity to the rule by releasing yet another video breakdown of the rule, but the video had the opposite effect.
The video, released by the NFL’s head of officiating, Al Riveron, provides three examples of clean plays and three examples of penalties under the new rule. The clean plays are easy to understand in that none of the players involved are lowering their helmets to initiate contact. The penalties, however, are not easy to understand, because they’re difficult to spot without the aid of commentary and/or indicators like arrows or bubbles or anything really (the league’s last video breakdown, released in June, did at least include these things, and it was much more effective at clarifying the rule).
On the second-to-last play, the infraction might be on No. 82 of the Browns, who blocks his man with his helmet leading. On the final play, No. 92 of the Jaguars appears to engage his blocker with his helmet leading. Those are my best guesses. Either way, it took me four or five re-watches to find the penalties.
Now, imagine an official being forced to spot those infractions in real time. Hell, the NFL just told me there was going to be an infraction before the plays started, and I still couldn’t spot all of them until I replayed the video a few times.
The DB looked at the three plays here and in the words of Sergeant Schultz – “I see nothing.”
Ahh, the video has been revised. Mike Florio is still beyond puzzled:
There’s good news as it comes to that largely useless video posted by NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron regarding the new rule against lowering the helmet and making contact with an opponent: It’s been revised both to ditch the Commodore 64 graphics and, more importantly, to add animation that highlights which player is or isn’t complying with the rule.
Here’s the bad news: It still lacks narration or explanation, making it only slightly less useless than it was. (It’s not clear why Riveron didn’t simply do a video that includes his explanation as to why a given play is or isn’t a foul.)
Here’s my quick assessment of the six plays shown on the video, with the first three not a foul and the last three examples of a violation.
In the first play not involving a foul, Rams safety Steven Parker closes in to make a form tackle. As he approaches the ball carrier, Parker LOWERS HIS HELMET. If the ball carrier had shifted slightly to his right (Parker’s left), Parker would have struck the opponent with the lowered helmet, and it would have been a foul.
In the second, Jets safety J.J. Wilcox approaches the Falcons receiver and Wilcox instinctively LOWERS HIS HELMET. Wilcox actually makes contact against the receiver with the helmet. So why wasn’t it a foul? As the grossly broad lowering-the-helmet rule is written, it should have been.
In the third, Jets cornerback Jeremy Clark makes a form tackle on a kickoff return. Just before impact, Clark LOWERS HIS HELMET. Clark manages to deliver the blow without making contact against the opponent with Clark’s helmet.
As to the two situations that clearly aren’t fouls, the outcome is driven more by happenstance than technique. Basically, Parker and Clark got lucky, in that the opponent didn’t move into the path of the lowered helmet. If they had, it would have been a foul, based on the manner in which the rule is written.
In the first play showing a violation, a Rams defender chases down a ball carrier and, at the point of impact, instinctively dips his helmet and makes contact. Technically, it’s a foul. But what was the player supposed to do differently? There will be many plays in which the defender won’t be able to square up and make a form tackle. If what the defender did in that case is a foul, what could he have done that wouldn’t have been a foul — other than sprint down the field and circle back in the hopes of maybe being able to approach him from the front?
In the second play, Browns tight end Orson Charles goes in motion from right to left before the snap, then goes back to the right and delivers a block that seals the path to the ball carrier. Charles instinctively lowers his helmet and seems to make contact with the helmet against the Giants defender Charles is trying to block. Again, what could he have done differently, other than collide with the defender while standing straight up, and in turn been blown up by the lower man? (An arguably more obviously foul appears on that play, when Giants defensive back Orion Stewart, wearing No. 45, performs a head-down lunge into the ball carrier while he is being tackled.)
The third play represents a mirror image of the second one, with a Saints player moving left to right to block Jaguars defensive lineman Lyndon Johnson, who lowers his helmet just before colliding with the blocker. It happens quickly, but it definitely appears to be a violation of both the letter and the spirit of the rule; Johnson could have at least tried to move his helmet to the side instead of putting his helmet in the blocker’s stomach.
Bottom line? The rule continues to be far too broad, its application will far too often be driven by chance and randomness, and it’s becoming far too late to implement a meaningful fix that requires the blow to be forcible and that carves out any incidental contact that happens while the tackler or blocker is attempting to deliver a hit without making contact with the helmet.
In 22 days, this rule will be applied to games that count.