The Daily Briefing Thursday, August 2, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

The DB wonders the following –

 

Who will win more games, the Cowboys or the Redskins?

 

Who will win more games, the Seahawks or the Cardinals?

 

Who will win more games, the Panthers or the Buccaneers?

 

Who will win more games, the Lions or the Bears?

 

We would say that in each case, the first team would be the expected response, but the second club might be the better under-the-radar choice.

– – –

The NFL offers a “fact sheet” on its new helmet rule that leave Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com unimpressed:

 

In an effort to further educate anyone/everyone about the new helmet rules, the NFL has published a fact sheet. Apart from the fact that the fact sheet does nothing to eradicate fears of a flag- or fine-fest (“[v]iolations of the rule will be easier to see and officiate when they occur in open space – as opposed to close line play – but this rule applies anywhere on the field at any time”), the fact sheet says nothing about the other new helmet rule. You know, the new helmet rule no one ever talks about.

 

The other new helmet rule appears within the specific forms of unnecessary roughness, prohibiting ramming, spearing, or butting with any portion of the helmet. The 2018 rulebook removes the terms “violently and unnecessarily,” extending the ban to all ramming, spearing, or butting — with the exception of incidental helmet contact that occurs during conventional blocking or tackling.

 

The fact sheet doesn’t address this rule at all, providing no guidance of any kind to players and coaches regarding a rule that presumably applies as written, but that will be enforced however the league decides to enforce it, possibly with a standard that shifts and changes from week to week, with no real certainty or predictability as to what the rule really is.

 

The full scope of the league’s handling of these issues during the 2018 offseason suggests that someone(s) within 345 Park Avenue has become determined to reconfigure the rules to allow the helmet to be removed from the game, in order to fend off the existential threat posed by parents not letting their children play football. If so, the new helmet rules eventually will be applied broadly toward the end of ensuring that any effort to use the helmet directly or indirectly as a weapon exits the game for good.

 

If that’s the objective, that’s fine. But the NFL should be honest and transparent about what these rules mean, and what they will do to the game.

 

For now, however, no one knows what will happen. No one knows how the rules will be applied. And once flags start flying for things that have been part of football for as long as football has been played, coaches will be forced to adapt to the new rules or face the periodic, random, and arbitrary loss of 15 yards of field position.

 

Whatever the final outcome, it shouldn’t be this way. Everyone should know not only what the new rules say but also how they’ll be enforced before they’re ever enforced. So either the NFL has concocted a system of rules that entails no one knowing what the really rules are (which is bad) or the NFL knows  that these rules will be broadly and literally enforced and applied, but has decided to conceal that fact (which is worse).

 

Either way, this is no way for a multi-billion-dollar business to handle its business.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

On the eve of the Hall of Fame Game, Coach Matt Nagy describes talks with LB ROQUAN SMITH as at a “stalemate.”  Mark Potash in the Chicago Sun-Times:

 

The Bears approached another disappointing milestone in rookie linebacker Roquan Smith’s holdout Tuesday. After Smith missed his 10th practice, the Bears likely will head into their preseason opener Thursday night against the Ravens in the Hall of Fame Game without the eighth overall pick of the draft.

 

“It is at a stalemate,” coach Matt Nagy said. “But, at the same time, I’m not going to get into where it’s at publicly. I don’t think it’s fair to him. I don’t think it’s fair to his agent. I don’t think it’s fair to our organization. We’re going to keep it between us. I think that’s the best thing to do now.”

 

That might work for now. But if this impasse goes on much longer, the Bears — who have lost 10 games or more in four consecutive seasons and haven’t made the playoffs in the last seven — will face more pressure to explain publicly why they haven’t signed Smith.

 

This is no longer “part of the process” or business as usual. Since the 2011 collective-bargaining agreement created a slotted salary structure for draft picks, only 10 of the 256 first-round picks have held out — only four in the last five years. Under the current CBA, Smith’s holdout is the second-longest behind Joey Bosa’s 31-day holdout before signing with the Chargers in 2016.

 

For now, the Bears are not in panic mode. Smith has missed 15 days and 10 practices. But the Bears still have four preseason games after playing the Ravens and 38 days left before their regular-season opener Sept. 9 against the Packers at Lambeau Field.

 

 Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was not about to fan the flames of the dispute when he spoke to the media for the first time since May 30.

 

“Obviously, it’s not advantageous to anybody that he’s not here, and I’ll just leave it at that,” Fangio said. “Talk to Ryan [Pace] and his salary-cap guys about [Smith].”

 

Asked about his concern that Smith — considered a strong candidate to start from Week 1 — might not be ready for the season opener, Fangio barely budged.

 

“I’m always concerned about everything,” he said. “But great ones adjust. We’ll adjust.”

 

Fangio knows how to make do. He had a top-10 defense last season despite several starters missing games, including linebackers Jerrell Freeman (15), Willie Young (12), Leonard Floyd (six) and Pernell McPhee (three). But Smith has the potential to make an immediate impact and help raise the Bears to another level.

 

Adam Jahns, also at the Sun-Times, offers some interesting background that includes implied collusion between Smith’s agents (who have a history of making contractual mountains out of molehills) and the Bills:

 

It always takes two to tango. So while the Bears have endured the brunt of the criticism for their contract impasse with rookie linebacker Roquan Smith, it’s important to look at the history of the other side, too.

 

The NFL Players’ Association identifies Smith’s representatives as Brian Ayrault, Ben Renzin and Todd France from the Creative Artists Agency, a powerhouse in the football world.

 

Ayrault is believed to be leading the negotiations from CAA’s end. He also was the leading agent for defensive end Joey Bosa during Bosa’s 31-day impasse with the Chargers in 2016.

 

As for Smith, the contract standoff always has involved more than the NFL’s new helmet rule and the rookie’s related guarantees, a source familiar with the negotiations said. When it comes to concessions, it makes sense for the Bears to help Smith, who was drafted because of his exceptional tackling ability, speed and range.

 

The Bears already established a precedent by not going after linebacker Danny Trevathan’s guarantees after he was suspended one game last season for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Packers receiver Davante Adams, though such protections weren’t written in his contract.

 

But budging on other language, including when it involves behavior, is another issue. It’s why league sources have said that many around the NFL are closely monitoring what happens with the Bears and Smith. It’s a fight worth watching because a new precedent might be set.

 

One league source suggested that CAA wanted to reach this point — an impasse that generates negative headlines for the Bears. A source close to the Bears’ front office said there has been a lot of “posturing.”

 

“CAA is just using its big stick,” one longtime agent said.

 

Beyond Bosa, Ayrault and France were involved in other rookie contract impasses — ones that occurred under the most recent collective-bargaining agreement that installed a rookie wage scale.

 

With France as his agent, current Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara had a six-day impasse with the Giants in 2011, the first year of the new rules for rookie contracts. France still represents Amukamara.

 

Former NFL receiver Justin Blackmon’s 12-day impasse with the Jaguars in 2012 is another example. France joined forces with Ayrault before negotiations with Blackmon, who is now out of the league.

 

According to past reports, Terry Pegula, the current owner of the Bills, purchased France’s agency in December 2011. It was essentially merged with Ayrault’s own agency. Ayrault is considered a long-time friend of Pegula’s.

 

Ayrault, France and Renzin also are listed as the agents for Bills rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, the 16th overall pick who was signed by Pegula’s Bills 17 days after the draft.

 

According to The Athletic, the Bills conceded to language pertaining to the new helmet rule and Edmunds’ guarantees. But the Bills still can void Edmunds’ guarantees if he is suspended for an “egregious” amount of games.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com with late word that the Bears have blinked, but not enough for Ayrault:

 

There’s good news, sort of, regarding the Bears’ impasse with No. 8 overall draft pick Roquan Smith.

 

According to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears finally have conceded that the Bears won’t void Smith’s future guarantees if the league suspends him for violating the rules regarding the use of the helmet. However, the Bears haven’t gone far enough to get the deal done.

 

The Bears still want to be able to void future guarantees if Smith is suspended for something that happens on the field beyond the confines of a play — a late hit, a fight, physicality that occurs while a player is defending himself against an attack by an opponent, inadvertent contact with an official, or anything else that could prompt the league office to impose a suspension that is later upheld on appeal. Smith’s camp, per a league source, wants Smith to be protected against the team having the ability to wipe out guarantees over a suspension arising from one hit or one post-play brouhaha.

 

To their credit, the Bears deftly have couched this dynamic as a “behavior clause,” which makes the Bears sound fair and Smith’s agents seem unreasonable. But the behavior in question happens on the field during a game. It’s one thing for a player to be suspended for PEDs or illegal drugs or a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy. In those cases, the guarantees should void. But if a player ends up being suspended because of something that happens on the field in the heat of the moment and in blink of an eye (and there’s been an uptick lately in those kinds of suspensions), the team shouldn’t be allowed to then carry in its back pocket a license to later cut the player and stiff him out of his guaranteed pay.

 

Moreover, it’s unclear whether the Bears have fully given in as to the potential voiding of guarantees for a suspension arising from a violation of the still-vague helmet rules. The Bears possibly haven’t yielded much at all on this point, with only limited revisions as to the team’s discretion when exercising its right to void guarantees.

 

So while the Bears have move a little as to suspensions arising under certain rules that apply between the snap and the whistle, it’s still not nearly enough. Nothing that happens while the player is in uniform and working on behalf of the organization should be used to void guarantees, regardless of whether the Bears try to call it “behavior” or anything else that makes the event that would trigger a voiding of the guarantees sound far more worse than what it is: A football player on a football field doing football things.

 

 

GREEN BAY

Perhaps a season-ending injury for LB JAKE RYAN per Kevin Skiver of CBSSports.com:

 

For the first time since 2009, Dom Capers won’t be heading up the Green Bay Packers’ defense, but new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has an early obstacle. Linebacker Jake Ryan is reportedly likely to be out for the season with a torn ACL, per Adam Schefter. Ryan, who was carted off of practice Monday with a knee injury, was primed for a big season with the Packers.

 

The linebacker was second on the team with 81 tackles in 2017, also tallying a sack, a forced fumble and recovered fumble. The injury will stretch the Packers’ defense extremely thin, and third-round rookie Oren Burks may need to accelerate his growth. The team is going to have to do some shuffling to give Pettine the personnel to succeed. The Packers’ 3-4 defense allows the team some flexibility at the linebacker position, but losing Ryan is a huge blow all the same.

 

Pro Football Focus noted that in 2017, Ryan was the NFL’s second-most effective inside linebacker against the run, trailing only the Panthers’ Luke Kuechly.

 

The Packers’ other linebacker positions include 2017 tackle leader Blake Martinez, Nick Perry and Clay Matthews. While Martinez plays the run well, Ryan’s loss will be felt on the side opposite from him. Matthews got surgery earlier this offseason after being struck in the nose at a charity softball game. That, however, ultimately won’t affect his season.

 

The Packers were 22nd in the NFL in yards allowed last year, and 17th against the run. Losing Ryan could hurt those numbers this year.

 

Perhaps even more unfortunate for Ryan: He’ll be a free agent after this season as his rookie contract expires. While he’ll still get offers, this may affect the numbers in those offers. The Packers will try to bounce back and make it back to the playoffs with Aaron Rodgers back at the helm, but Ryan is a big contributor to their defense.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

QB DAK PRESCOTT spoke his truth which was that he did not see the National Anthem as an appropriate place for social protests (probably the majority view in the United States to boot).  From the reaction among the denizens of social media (and some in conventional media), you would have thought he committed a hate crime.  Clarence Hill in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram asks him about it and he remains somewhat committed to his original comments:

 

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has taken a beating on social media since his comments last week seemingly supporting owner Jerry Jones’ edict regarding protests against social injustice and racism during the national anthem.

 

Jones said the Cowboys must stand with their toes on the line or face the possibility of losing their jobs.

 

Prescott said Jones’ words, which were contrary to NFL policy and prompted a league-wide gag order on the subject, didn’t faze him because he believed in standing and was going to do what he always had done.

 

Prescott said he understood the reasons behind the protests, which began with former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick two years ago and were continued by a number of other players across the league, most notably Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.

 

But Prescott said he believed it was the wrong time and venue in which to protest.

 

It prompted a swift and visceral backlash on social media, accusing Prescott of selling out and not supporting a cause very dear to many people of color, especially with President Donald Trump continuing to use the issue to attack the NFL and fire up his base.

 

Prescott received criticism from journalists, rappers, comedians and some fellow NFL players. His own Twitter and Instagram pages have been bombarded by a number of unflattering memes and comments.

 

@carronJphillips

 This meeting/statement means nothing when Jerry Jones, who owns “America’s Team,” has drawn a line in the sand and Dak Prescott is out here basically saying he’s happy being a lemonade serving house negro.

 

 “I am not oblivious to it,” Prescott told the Star-Telegram after practice Tuesday. “You get on social media, you see It. It doesn’t bother me. I said what I said. You have an opinion. Everyone else has an opinion. They are entitled to it as well. I accepted what they said and respect it. They should respect mine.”

 

Prescott regrets nothing he said. He believes in standing for the anthem because that is a time of reflection for him. He said his views of the protests were misunderstood and that he certainly recognizes racism and inequality issues still plaguing our country.

 

“I think there was a little misunderstanding of the fact of what I believe in,” Prescott said. “I never said I didn’t believe in social injustice and things that were going on. I just said I didn’t think that the national anthem was the time. It’s two minutes out of our day that we could also be spending embracing what our country should be and what our country is going to be one day that we know that it’s not right now. That is the sad part about it. That it’s not.

 

“I respect everybody. And power to the people that kneel. That is what they believe in and they should be able to kneel. For me, the game of football has been such a peace. It’s a moment for me to be at peace and think about all the great things our country does have.”

 

Prescott also said his comments about believing in action over protests were taken out context as well. He never meant to suggest that Kaepernick, Jenkins or any of the other players were only protesting and not doing things in the community.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Thanks to injuries, WR JOSH DOCTSON has not produced like a first rounder should.  But according to Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com, his latest ailment is not season threatening:

 

Washington announced that wide receiver Josh Doctson was being evaluated for a shoulder injury after getting hurt during Wednesday’s practice and said they’d have an update on his status on Thursday.

 

According to a report later on Wednesday, the update will be a positive one. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the injury is believed to be a “not major” AC joint sprain or shoulder bruise. Doctson also took to social media to offer his own bit of positivity about his condition.

 

@JDoc_son

 #imgood🙏🏾

 

Thursday’s word from the team should provide a better idea about how much time Doctson will miss, but it does seem that his return to action should come sooner rather than later.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

The Panthers have a spotlight on LT MATT KALIL.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Panthers signed left tackle Matt Kalil as a free agent in 2017 and watched him get off to a slow start as he recovered from hip surgery while playing in a new offensive system.

 

Kalil has been healthy this offseason and a new offensive coordinator hasn’t forced him to do the same kind of learning because he’s played for Norv Turner in the past. With those two things off the table, coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers “expect him to improve and be better for us this year.”

 

Kalil seems to think he’ll fulfill that expectation.

 

“I think from Week 4 on I started playing better and better, and toward the end of the season I was playing where I want to be,” Kalil said, via the Charlotte Observer. “I think that carried over to [organized team activities] and to camp, and obviously I’m way ahead of the curve of where I started last year.”

 

The Panthers lost one starting offensive lineman in free agency when Andrew Norwell signed with Jacksonville and right tackle Daryl Williams went down with a knee injury early in camp, so a stronger season from Kalil would be a welcome development up front in Carolina.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

The Buccaneers tack a year onto the contract of GM Jason Licht.  Ira Kaufman of JoeBucsFan.com:

 

The overseeer of five drafts as general manager of the Buccaneers, Jason Licht has been rewarded by ownership with a contract for a sixth season.

 

Multiple sources confirm that Licht now has a deal in place to remain with Tampa Bay at least through 2019.

 

At the NFL owners meetings in March, Bucs co-owner Joel Glazer lauded the infusion of young talent Licht has stockpiled.

– – –

Licht, 47, replaced Mark Dominik as GM in 2014, a few weeks after Lovie Smith was named head coach. In his first draft as head of football operations, Licht selected Evans, who has posted at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his four pro seasons.

 

This from Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times:

 

Licht has had more hits than misses, though the Bucs’ free-agent signings haven’t always panned out. Many late-round picks haven’t worked out, but his front office has consistently found gems after the draft, like tight end Cameron Brate, receiver Adam Humphries and running back Peyton Barber.

 

The Bucs will have major decisions in the next seven months, with three 2015 draft picks (T Donovan Smith, G Ali Marpet and LB Kwon Alexander) all going to unrestricted free agency next spring if they aren’t given extensions.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com notes the limited term of the extension:

 

Even if Licht’s pay for 2019 is guaranteed, a housecleaning remains possible, since the buyout obligation would be manageable. Coach Dirk Koetter has a contract that runs through 2020. Some believe that another poor season from the Buccaneers will trigger major changes in Tampa.

 

The Buccaneers haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007. Quarterback Jameis Winston was supposed to change that, but the team hasn’t made it to the postseason in any of his three years with the franchise.

 

It’s unclear whether it will take a playoff appearance to avoid changes for 2019. It is clear that the Bucs find themselves in a division with three Super Bowl contenders, making it even harder to stand out.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

The agents for DE KHALIL MACK wisely want to backload his new deal to thwart California’s ravenous lust for cash.  Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Journal-Review says that is not what the Raiders want for cash flow purposes:

 

In some sense, the superstars stand together.

 

Neither Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack nor Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has reported to training camp. Both seek a long-term extension. Both built a clear case for compensation exceeding that of Denver Broncos defensive end Von Miller, whose 2016 deal averaged more than $19 million annually. Mack was the 2016 AP Defensive Player of the Year. Donald followed last year.

 

Soon, the nation’s highest-taxed state could host the NFL’s two highest-paid defenders.

 

But there’s a key difference: Mack is not long for California.

 

A distinct wrinkle exists in the ongoing contract dispute between the Raiders and their elite edge defender. While its relevance toward why Mack today remains unsigned shouldn’t necessarily be overstated, the franchise’s scheduled 2020 relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas presents an intriguing dynamic. California enforces a 13.3 percent rate on state income taxes. Nevada is one of seven states that imposes no such taxes.

 

“It’s very interesting,” said Robert Raiola, director of sports and entertainment at PKF O’Connor Davis, an accounting firm in New York City. “It’s not often you go from the worst-taxed place to one of the best. It’s definitely something that’s not ordinary.”

 

Its effect could become more pronounced if Mack doesn’t sign an extension in 2018; however, the Raiders hope to avoid such a scenario.

 

Team decision-makers have not obscured their opinion of Mack. They covet him. They want him signed before this season. Achieving the goal has been a top priority, something general manager Reggie McKenzie has targeted for more than a year. There was an order when re-signing the 2014 draft class. First, quarterback Derek Carr and guard Gabe Jackson were secured last year in June and July, respectively. Mack, under contract an extra season because of his $13.846 million team option, was to come next.

 

As August now begins, it would surprise if the Raiders were this far into the process without belief they’ve made an offer reflective of the high regard to which they hold Mack.

 

Yet, the holdout continues.

 

There is no guarantee Mack will sign before this season.

 

His agent, Joel Segal, is highly experienced in large-scale negotiations. The track record includes players who have played out their contract and were franchise tagged the following season — or, in the recent instance of then-Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson, were tagged a second year, too.

 

Johnson signed with the New York Jets in March for five years and $72.5 million, including $34 million fully guaranteed.

 

Benefits and risks exist to this slow-cooked approach.

 

 

Among the potential benefits for Mack, waiting even one year might avoid significant taxes.

 

The signing bonus in Mack’s projected extension will be worth tens of millions of dollars. Players often aren’t paid their signing bonus in one lump sum. Rather, a portion of it is commonly deferred into the next taxable year, a cash-flow move that has no impact on a club’s salary cap. This spring, the Raiders were unwilling to defer a portion of first-round pick Kolton Miller’s signing bonus from 2018 into 2020. This was a thoughtful attempt from Miller’s representation to capitalize on the impending Las Vegas move.

 

Presuming the Raiders are unwilling to defer part of Mack’s bonus payout to 2020, he can wait a season for that option to become available.

 

Again, that is one option.

 

“I think state taxes are important and can be in potential play here,” Raiola said. “But there’s a lot of other things that have to go on in the negotiation. … He may not want to wait for state taxes. He might want the security of getting the deal done.”

 

Today, Mack stands with Donald, away from training camp.

 

The Raiders want him in Napa with them.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Condolences to Browns coach Hue Jackson who is dealing with a double dose of family tragedy.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Hue Jackson has been dealing with a lot more than Hard Knocks and who will be his left tackle during the start of Browns training camp.

 

He lost his brother John Jackson Jr. unexpectedly two weeks ago and then his mom, Betty Lee, 83, died Sunday morning in Los Angeles on the fourth day of camp after a long illness.

 

“It’s been really tough on him,” his agent, John Thornton, told cleveland.com. “He’s just trying to let football help him out.”

 

Thornton said Jackson hasn’t mentioned it because he wanted the focus to be on the team at the start of camp.

 

“But to have two tragedies like this back-to-back has been really difficult,” Thornton said.

 

What’s more, Jackson has had to put on a brave face in front of the Hard Knocks cameras.

 

“At any given time he’s got two cameras in his office,” said Thornton. “He’s doing the best he can not to let his emotions get the best of him. He knows he has to be there for the team.”

 

Thornton said Jackson’s mom had been sick for a long time, and that he had been traveling back and forth to Los Angeles to visit her. The death of his brother was more sudden.

 

“Losing two important people in his life in the span of two weeks has really hit him hard,” said Thornton.

 

Funeral services in Los Angeles will be next week after the Browns preseason opener.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

The Steelers are apparently not the automatic sellout they used to be and Art Rooney II thinks a plethora of Steel City night games has something to do with it.

 

If the NFL had allowed Steelers owner Art Rooney II to make his team’s schedule this year, it sounds like he would have done his best to keep the Steelers out of prime time. 

 

During an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week, Rooney revealed that he’s not a big fan of home prime-time games. For Rooney, the problem is that fans just aren’t showing up for night games in the same way they show up for afternoon games.

 

“The thing that concerns me about our attendance is more related to our schedule — I would rather not have as many night games,” Rooney said. “Last year we had three home night games almost in a row. I just don’t think our fans want to do that anymore.”

 

For the Steelers, attendance has been falling steadily since 2015, when the team set an all-time record with an average attendance of 64,731 fans over the course of their eight-game home schedule. In the two years since then, the Steelers have averaged 64,313 fans (2016) and 62,471 (2017).

 

Rooney’s obviously been keeping a close eye on the attendance number, which is probably why we shouldn’t be surprised that he wants to see fewer night games. In 2017, a big reason why the attendance average was so low was because fans just weren’t showing up for prime-time games the same way they were showing up for afternoon games. For instance, the team drew 66,237 for a Week 5 afternoon game against the Jaguars, but just 60,069 for a December Sunday night game against the Ravens, a division rival.

 

If you don’t count the team’s season finale against the Browns, when only 50,704 fans showed up watch the Steelers backups play against an 0-15 Browns team, you can see the giant discrepancy between night and day games. In four day games — against Minnesota, Jacksonville, Cincinnati and New England — the Steelers averaged 66,536 fans per game. In their three night games, the team averaged just 60,973 fans.

 

Rooney thinks part of the problem is that 18 percent of season-ticket holders live outside of the state and thousands more have to make a drive of more than three hours to get to games. That becomes a problem for fans, because it means they’re not driving home until midnight or 1 a.m. if they attend a night game.

 

Of course, the Steelers’ popularity is part of the problem and that’s because it’s the big reason they end up playing in so many prime-time games each year. Rooney definitely sees the irony in wanting to take his popular team out of prime time.

 

“It’s definitely a Catch-22,” Rooney said. “Obviously we want to be in prime time, we want to be the kind of team they put in prime time. I just think it’s a question of them spreading them out, which this year is a little better from that standpoint. When you have those sort of bunched at the end of the season when it gets cold, I think that can be a problem.”

 

Although the Steelers have been scheduled to play in five prime-time games this year (the league maximum), the NFL must have listened to Rooney, because the league has cut down on home prime-time games for the Steelers. Assuming they don’t get flexed, the Steelers will play only two home prime-time games this year (Week 4 vs. Baltimore and Week 10 vs. Carolina).

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Health concerns have driven C JACK MEWHORT to announce his retirement.  Stephen Holder in the Indianapolis Star:

 

Jack Mewhort is a worker.

 

He’s as cliché as they come. A Rust Belt kid, a favorite son from Toledo, Ohio who grew up to be a Buckeye and went on to become a Colt.

 

At every stop along the way, whether at St. John’s High School, Ohio State or with the Indianapolis Colts, the common thread was Mewhort’s work ethic. It defined him. And it made him easy to root for.

 

He didn’t want the glory. He just wanted to block his man into submission, then watch his team win.

 

But it’s hard to keep working when pain constantly gets in the way. That pain, finally, has gained the upper hand on Mewhort.

 

Mewhort, 26, announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday, shocking the Colts organization and those close to him, according to sources.

 

Mewhort’s knee issues during the past two years have been well documented. He ended the past two seasons on injured reserve and has undergone multiple knee operations. Once a projected top-tier interior lineman after a strong start to his career in 2014 and 2015, everything changed for Mewhort when he sustained his first knee injury in 2016. From then on, his career has been reduced to a series of starts and stops due to knee injuries.

 

On Wednesday, Mewhort decided he no longer wanted to work through the persistent knee pain that has proved inescapable. He informed the team of his decision and began the first chapter of the rest of his life.

 

“I would like to thank the Irsay family and the entire Colts organization for giving me the opportunity to live a childhood dream,” Mewhort said in a statement released by the Colts. “The fans and the city of Indianapolis have treated me like one of their own, and I am forever grateful. Wearing the Horseshoe was one of the biggest honors I have ever known, and I will always bleed blue.”

 

It was, perhaps, a decision Mewhort had been contemplating – even though he didn’t previously indicate anything to the organization.

 

On Saturday, after skipping a practice in a move designed to take some of the load off his knees, Mewhort offered some perspective learned through his recent injury travails.

 

“When you’re young and you get in the NFL, you think you’re going to play for a million years,” he said, according to WTTV-4. “You think you’re going to do it all and you don’t think about anything else. But I started getting hit by the injury bug, which is a common thing.

 

“I’ve been through a lot, but it’s nice to have a life outside the stadium or outside the facility that you can go to and kind of separate this from that and make sure that you have other things going on. … You obviously want to succeed, and my job is to play professional football. But I want to be able to find happiness outside of football as well.”

 

The Colts face an ugly reality after Mewhort’s retirement: He was the last of their 2014 draft picks on the roster. With his departure, the Colts now have no draft picks from the 2013 and 2014 classes. Just two picks, Clayton Geathers and Denzelle Good, remain from the 2015 haul.

 

But Mewhort’s physical state was such that the Colts were not going to put themselves in a situation where they needed to rely on him despite re-signing him as a free agent in the spring. One source said Mewhort’s physical state during the offseason was so tenuous that it’s doubtful he would have passed any other team’s physical.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

QB BLAKE BORTLES is pleased that his lows aren’t that low anymore. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles gets to work against a good defense in practice this summer and he has seen a positive change in his play since the start of training camp.

 

Bortles believes that he’s putting forth more consistent play than he has in the past. While he’s not mistake-free, Bortles said that the mistakes happen less frequently and are less costly than they have been in previous seasons.

 

“I think the positive is that the lows aren’t near as low as they were,” Bortles said, via First Coast News. “They are still up and down, which is going to be when you play our defense every day. I think the floor has risen — the lows aren’t as bad. It is one, two, three bad plays, compared to where there were times last year where I would go for a whole day of having a bad practice and not really feel good about it. I think as long as you continue to make those lows not quite as bad as they had been in the past, I think we will have a chance.”

 

Carrying over that trend into the regular season would be a good step for Bortles and the Jaguars. When he avoided big mistakes last season, the Jaguars tended to end up winning games. They went 8-0 when Bortles didn’t throw an interception and 2-6 when he did get picked off, so finding a way to further limit those mistakes should be a plus to the chances of another run at a division title.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

Jets LB DYLAN DONAHUE avoids jail time for an act of dangerous drunken stupidity.  Yaron Steinbuch in the New York Post:

 

Jets outside linebacker Dylan Donahue has pleaded guilty to drunk driving after his wrong-way smash-up in the Lincoln Tunnel, where his Dodge Charger Hellcat collided with a bus in February, according to TMZ.

 

The 25-year-old rookie known as “Wild Man” had a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 percent – almost twice the legal limit – when his car struck the jitney bus, which was carrying 15 people, according to sources.

 

Donahue was initially hit with four charges, but he struck a deal in which three of them were dropped in exchange for pleading guilty to operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, TMZ reported.

 

Under the deal, his license was suspended for three months, his car must be fitted with an interlock device that prevents ignition if alcohol is detected and he must complete a DUI education program, the news site reported.

 

In May, Donahue said during the first OTA of the spring that he underwent a “life-changing” experience.”

 

“It was very enlightening. I went through a lot,” said Donahue after his second drunken driving bust in under a year.

 

“I volunteered to go down to inpatient treatment in Jacksonville. I think it was a life-changing experience. It was very awakening and life-changing this offseason,” he said after spending 30 days in rehab.

 

The Jets drafted the 6-foot-3, 248-pound athlete in the fifth round last year. He played in four games before suffering a season-ending elbow injury.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

THE STACKED NFC

As he makes his first power ranking of the year, Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner notices that the NFC is stacked.

 

A funny thing happens when you look at the odds to make the NFC playoffs. There are way more playoff teams than playoff spots.

 

In the recent odds to make the NFC playoffs from Bovada, via OddsShark, nine teams are +150 (you’d be betting $100 to win $150) or better. A team set at +150 odds should feel it has a pretty good chance to make the playoffs. And the problem is, as everyone knows, there are only six spots.

 

Odds to make the NFC playoffs (@BovadaOfficial):

 

PHI -295

LAR -230

MIN -215

GB -170

NO -140

ATL EVEN

SF +135

CAR +135

DAL +150

SEA +240

NYG +250

DET +250

TB +375

WSH +375

CHI +450

ARI +650

 

The NFC is as deep with playoff-quality teams as it has ever been. Philadelphia, Dallas, Minnesota, Green Bay, New Orleans, Atlanta, Carolina and the Los Angeles Rams have what should be considered playoff-caliber rosters. San Francisco might be in that group too, if you buy into their late winning streak. I can’t even rule out teams like Detroit, Washington, Chicago or the New York Giants being much better this season. On top of that, there are no hopeless teams from No. 1 to 16 in the conference. The Arizona Cardinals are probably considered the worst in the conference, and they went 8-8 last season and get David Johnson back.

 

The NFC is absolutely, positively loaded.

 

The playoff races should be incredible. Every division has some intrigue, with the NFC South and NFC North having very compelling races. There are only two first-round byes to go around, and definitely more than two elite teams. When we look up in January, we’ll find that multiple playoff-worthy NFC teams didn’t make the postseason. With the preseason about to start we find it impossible to believe a team like the Eagles or Packers or Saints will miss the playoffs, but someone really good is getting left out. Even when the NFC was dominating the league in the 1980s and early 1990s, with powerhouse teams like the Redskins, Giants, 49ers and Cowboys, the conference never had eight or nine high-quality teams.

 

There are a few NFC teams that could put together a special season, too. Four of the top five teams on our first stab at the 2018 NFL Power Rankings are all in the NFC. This list could change a lot over the next few weeks, as players rise and fall during the preseason and the inevitable injuries hit. But here’s how the teams stack up as we head into the preseason (for an in-depth breakdown on each team, click on the team’s name for our full preview):

 

32. Cleveland Browns

We don’t know what’s exactly going on with Josh Gordon’s absence from camp, but hopefully whatever he’s doing as par of his “overall health and treatment plan” allows him to get back soon. It’s just impossible to trust that everything will be fine after the last few years.

 

31. Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck says he feels no pain in camp, and that’s great. But after more than a year of unfulfilled optimism, let’s just wait to see him in games, shall we?

 

30. New York Jets

Sam Darnold’s short holdout won’t help his chances of starting Week 1, which seemed to be a decent bet for most of the summer. It would be strange if none of the five first-round picks start the season opener, but that seems to be possible.

 

29. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals seem decided on Sam Bradford as their quarterback to start the season, but why? We all know what Bradford is. Josh Rosen is one of the more polished rookie quarterbacks to come out in a while. It seems like it would make sense to admit Bradford was a desperate free-agent signing when the team didn’t have a quarterback on the roster, treat it as a sunk cost and move on with the future.

 

28. Buffalo Bills

LeSean McCoy is in camp, at least for now, and the Bills seem fine with that despite serious accusations against him. From a football standpoint, the offense would be frighteningly bad if McCoy isn’t around.

 

27. Cincinnati Bengals

We’re quick to forget about a player when he struggles as a rookie. When’s the last time you thought about John Ross? The ninth pick last year was invisible as a rookie, but reports from camp so far are positive. What a huge boost it would be for the Bengals to have Ross emerge this season. It’s not like he doesn’t have the talent.

 

26. Chicago Bears

All I know about this Roquan Smith holdout is it needs to end. This is over the remote possibility the Bears would take away guaranteed money if Smith gets suspended for an illegal hit under a new rule against lowering your head? I get that players’ rights are trampled all the time in the NFL, but this is insane. For both sides.

 

25. New York Giants

It will be interesting to see how the Giants handle Saquon Barkley’s preseason snaps. He’s clearly going to get a ton of touches in the regular season, and the Giants don’t want to wear him out in August. But as a rookie, he needs to play some.

 

24. Miami Dolphins

Kenyan Drake’s role this preseason is worth watching. I think the Dolphins are foolish to not see if he can be a full-time back over this season, but Miami seems to want to find anyone else but Drake to be that guy. We’ll see if they give Drake the starter’s treatment in preseason.

 

23. Washington Redskins

The early training camp reports on former first-round pick Josh Doctson were glowing. He has talent but inconsistency has been a problem. Hopefully the shoulder injury he suffered on Wednesday isn’t a major setback.

 

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dirk Koetter shot down any notion that Ryan Griffin could start at quarterback during Jameis WInston’s suspension, saying it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick’s job. Still, it’s worth watching in the preseason if Griffin can play so well he makes it an issue.

 

21. Houston Texans

J.J. Watt is full-go in training camp, and all accounts are that he looks great. It would be great for the entire NFL if he’s back to his prime form.

 

20. Seattle Seahawks

The player who has gotten the most praise in Seahawks camp so far is running back Chris Carson. Maybe it’s Pete Carroll pumping up a player, which he has done plenty in the past, but it just makes the first-round pick of running back Rashaad Penny even stranger.

 

19. Oakland Raiders

So, so many jokes about the report that Jon Gruden was showing his players game film from 1976.

 

18. Denver Broncos

Rookie running back Royce Freeman looked good early in camp, and that’s great news. Devontae Booker will still be in the mix to play, but Freeman might provide more upside if he shows he’s ready in all areas of the game.

 

17. San Francisco 49ers

Didn’t expect Jimmy Garoppolo going on a date with a “movie” star (ahem) to become a big deal, but here we are. Welcome to life in the spotlight.

 

16. Detroit Lions

The breakdown of playing time in the Lions backfield is a bit of a mystery, and makes the Lions’ preseason games worth watching. The Lions probably didn’t move up to draft Kerryon Johnson if they didn’t plan to feature him, but there are a lot of guys who fill different roles.

 

15. Tennessee Titans

The Tennessean singled out slot receiver Taywan Taylor as a player who is shining early in camp. If Corey Davis has a big year, Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker are their reliable selves and Taylor breaks out, Marcus Mariota might have a huge season.

 

14. Baltimore Ravens

Lamar Jackson might be the most interesting player to watch this month. He won’t start the season, unless Joe Flacco gets hurt, but a great preseason will stick in everyone’s mind if Flacco struggles to start the season.

 

13. Carolina Panthers

Offensive tackle Daryl Williams suffered a knee injury. Cornerback Ross Cockrell broke his leg. Training camp is necessary, but injuries are unavoidable.

 

12. Dallas Cowboys

Few teams have as much uncertainty in their pass-catching ranks as the Cowboys. Not only are we going to find out who will play receiver for them this month, they need to figure out who their tight end is too. There are some major questions for a team with this much potential.

 

11. Kansas City Chiefs

All eyes will be on Patrick Mahomes, but safety Eric Berry’s return is crucial as well. The defense struggled after he tore his Achilles in last season’s opener, and the defense might be pretty bad this season if he doesn’t rebound.

 

10. Atlanta Falcons

The team got the Julio Jones situation settled quickly, so that won’t be a problem once the season starts. The Raiders (Khalil Mack) and Rams (Aaron Donald) could take a pointer there.

 

9. Los Angeles Chargers

At this point, if the Chargers make it through the preseason without another major injury, I’d be shocked. They really might be cursed.

 

8. Green Bay Packers

Inside linebacker Jake Ryan isn’t a household name, but he’s a solid player especially against the run. He suffered a season-ending knee injury, and the problem isn’t necessarily that he’s irreplaceable, but that the Packers don’t have a lot of depth to fill his spot.

 

7. Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s worth noting that last season, after holding out, Le’Veon Bell got off to a slow start. Through two games he had just 119 yards on 37 carries (3.2 average) and seven catches for 19 yards. Through five games he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry before heating up. That doesn’t mean he’ll start slow again this season, but it’s certainly a possibility.

 

6. Jacksonville Jaguars

Leonard Fournette wasn’t great as a rookie. He was fine, but the perception would have been much different had he not crept past the 1,000-yard mark (he finished at 1,040). He clearly has the talent to do more. He trimmed down to 223 pounds, his lightest weight since high school, and that’s a great sign heading into his second season.

 

5. New Orleans Saints

Rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith is the player getting all the buzz early in Saints camp. Everything changes when games start, but the Saints have done a great job finding receivers through the years. If Smith is the real deal, a great offense becomes even better.

 

4. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles aren’t really talking about what their timetable is for Carson Wentz, but everyone seems impressed so far in his recovery from knee surgery. Rest assured, there will be no lack of coverage for every step of Wentz’s return.

 

3. New England Patriots

The more I think about what the Patriots have on offense, what holes need to be filled and who Tom Brady has trust in, the more I believe Chris Hogan is about to have a monster season.

 

2. Los Angeles Rams

If the Rams don’t pay Aaron Donald what he’s worth, especially after giving extensions to Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley when those issues weren’t pressing, they are potentially screwing up a great chance at a championship season. Just pay the man. Don’t overthink it.

 

1. Minnesota Vikings

I’ll probably be on an island with the Vikings at No. 1, but that’s fine. I like all the pieces they have and the moves they made this offseason. I don’t think Kirk Cousins is an MVP, but I think he’s good. I believe he’s better than Case Keenum. Is he overpaid? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a top 10 or 12 quarterback. He’s a great addition for a team that was loaded before adding him.