The Daily Briefing Thursday, December 7, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

Roger Goodell has quashed the rebellion of Jerry Jones and signed a massive 5-year contract to continue his brand of NFL leadership into the next decade.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com is among those with the story:

The Commissioner finally has a new contract.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL’s Compensation Committee has informed all owners that a new contract for Commissioner Roger Goodell has been executed.

The memorandum to all owners explains that a “binding contract extension has been signed by the Commissioner and by Arthur Blank, on behalf of the League entities.” The memo also cites the existence of a “nearly unanimous consensus” among the owners in favor of finalizing the extension now.

The Compensation Committee received unanimous authorization from the owners in May 2017 to execute the contract. Since then, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been working to delay and/or derail the process. He had four or five other owners on his side, at most. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough to keep the contract from being executed.

Adam Schefter of ESPN.com has some details:

A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the new contract would be worth $200 million over the life of the contract — about $40 million annually — if owners approve all the bonuses and all the incentives are met. The new deal runs through the 2023 season.

The base salary of the new contract is in the single-digit millions, a source had told Schefter. Roughly 85 percent of the total potential compensation package is from bonuses, which would be subject to ownership approval and validation.

Peter King tracks down Arthur Blank of the Falcons who spearheaded the deal:

The fight over Roger Goodell’s contract ended placidly Wednesday afternoon, when the 58-year-old NFL commissioner signed a contract extension through March 2024.

Arthur Blank, the chairman of the league’s six-owner Compensation Committee confirmed the signing to The MMQB, saying he and Goodell each signed the deal Wednesday afternoon, after a final snag—which he would not disclose—was overcome Tuesday night.

“I’m feeling relieved now,” Blank, the owner of the Falcons, said in an interview from Atlanta. “I’m happy that it’s over. I was just telling Roger that in the history of the NFL, I’m not sure a big decision has been so transparent as this one. We got a lot of input from a lot of owners, a lot of guidance from them, and we feel very good about what developed out of that.”

The news of the extension was first reported Pro Football Talk.

Blank said he spoke to the chief and vocal opponent of the deal, Dallas owner Jerry Jones, twice in the past few days, including Tuesday night. Jones had threatened to sue the owners last month because he was opposed to the tenor of the negotiations with Goodell and to extending him with a year-and-a-half left on his contract when there were so many contentious issues buffeting the league. Blank said Jones “understands the contract and how we got here,” and said Jones would be presenting some proposals on league matters important to him soon. There is a league meeting in Dallas next week. Pragmatist that he is, Jones could use that meeting to smooth over some of the rough feelings left by him going rogue in these negotiations and making some sensitive internal committee details public. In the end, it’s clear Jones still harbored resentment over the rush to extend Goodell for the next six-plus years.

The deal got done in the last six days. Each of the six members of the Compensation Committee divided up the owners. The six members spoke to the other 26 owners; Some owners had more than one conversation with their peers. Blank took Jones. One owners said he had heard Blank told Jones late last week, in effect: You’ve been an incredibly valuable owner in this league for more than 25 years. The league needs you. It’s better to help the league from within than from the outside. Jones had argued the committee wasn’t transparent enough. But Blank said each of the 26 owners not on the committee had been called at least five times over the last year to be briefed on the state of the negotiations and asked for their input.

“One thing that’s come out of this that’s very good, I believe, is the fact that owners are going to have a much more open line of communication with Roger now,” said Blank. “At every owners’ meeting now, we’re going to have an owners-only session, and then an owners session with Roger, with everyone else out of the room. The owners asked for that contact, and it’s a reasonable thing to ask. We’re going to do it.”

Blank believes the wounds with Jones will be healed, but he said it was “disappointing” that Jones was so public in his break with the other owners.

 

“What many owners said in the past few days was they wanted to get on with the business of the league, and there are a lot of issues very important right now that must be addressed,” Blank said. Those include sagging TV ratings, the issue of players not standing for the national anthem, and no-shows and attendance. “Now we’ll get to focus on the real issues. The important thing is, the owners have confidence in Roger, and they wanted him to continue. There was no doubt about that.”

Thirty-one, apparently, did. We’ll see if Jones comes back to the group beginning next week at the Dallas meetings.

ESPN’s experts sound off on what should be next:

So now what for Goodell, whose new deal had been a contentious issue through the 2017 season? We asked our panel of ESPN NFL insiders to weigh in:

Roger Goodell’s No. 1 priority should be ______________.

Dan Graziano, NFL writer: … finding some common ground with the NFLPA on negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement.At this point, the league doesn’t have much to offer the players in negotiations. The players aren’t likely to make financial concessions in exchange for give-backs on things like personal conduct policy or marijuana, even though those things get the headlines. The commissioner and owners need to talk to NFLPA leadership and figure out what the major issues are going to be in the next negotiations, then get to work on seeing whether they can get anything done that prevents a work stoppage when this deal runs out in 2020.

Mina Kimes, senior writer: … player safety. This encompasses a few things: ensuring that current and retired players receive necessary healthcare, examining the viability of Thursday Night Football, developing a consistent rubric for enforcing rules that deters unnecessary violence (while acknowledging that violence is inherent to the sport), and investing in substantive, independent concussion research.

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: … be more proactive and less reactive. The league spends so much time and resources covering its butt instead of emphasizing what’s great about the game and focusing on how to make it even better. Maybe that’s what happens when the league forgets that the “F” in NFL stands for “Football” and not “Financials.” The league does not consistently make decisions for the right reasons.

Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: … creating a clear standard for player punishment. Frankly, we could use a clear standard for team punishment as well. Goodell’s punishments seem entirely arbitrary, a weather vane blown around randomly by the winds of news coverage and public relations. New Orleans fans were mad, New England fans are still mad, Dallas fans (and especially the owner) are super mad. And remember that it could be your team or favorite player next. We need standards to know who loses how many games and how many draft picks for doing what things. (And while the concussion crisis is very important, player punishment is something Goodell affects much more directly.)

Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: … brain health. There is no greater threat to the long-term health of players and thus the league itself. Perhaps this a naive take. But if a commissioner doesn’t prioritize the most existential threat facing the game, then what’s the point of the job?

Seth Wickersham, senior writer: … a rebuilding of the league’s executive staff. The most common complaint you hear from owners is not fallout from Goodell’s costly disciplinary matters but a lack of vision coming from the league office — about what space in the culture the league should occupy, how it will adjust to changing viewer habits, how it will cease to be seen as square and ham-fisted, how it will convince mothers that their kids should be allowed to play football, and how it will expand internationally and capitalize on the likelihood that gambling is legalized, two areas where the NBA is far, far ahead of the NFL. Goodell’s executive staff makes tens of millions of dollars to provide owners with those answers, and it’s been a long time since owners have been happy.

Field Yates, NFL Insider: … the health and safety of players. That should always be the commissioner’s No. 1 priority. Playing in the NFL affords these athletes uncommon opportunities and allows them to fulfill what has been for virtually all of them a lifelong dream. And while the on-field product is tremendous and the action is thrilling, these players are not machines. Their health and well-being should always be the top focus.

– – –

We wondered why WR JuJu SMITH-SCHUSTER’s shenanigans – 2 15-yard penalties without any response from the Bengals, resulted in only 15 yards being assessed against the Steelers.

Was it a mis-administration of the rule by referee Walt Anderson or was it a senseless NFL rule?  Turns out it was the latter.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

When Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster delivered an illegal block to Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, and then stood over Burfict and taunted him afterward, Pittsburgh was flagged for two penalties. But by rule, only one of those penalties could be enforced — a rule the league will consider changing for next year.

NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said today that the league has discussed changing the rules so that two personal foul penalties could both be accepted, allowing for a 30-yard penalty for egregious acts.

“It has been discussed,” Vincent said. “It’ll be discussed again in February.”

The rule that only one penalty can be enforced on a team on a play makes sense, to a point: If four different offensive linemen false start, it wouldn’t make sense to call four five-yard penalties and march the offense back 20 yards. But the rule that allowed Smith-Schuster to get away with both an illegal hit and taunting — which was considered part of the “continuing action” of the play even though it happened after the play was over — creates a bad precedent where players could figure that if they’re going to get flagged for a personal foul anyway they might as well just go ahead and taunt the guy they hit.

So although 30 yards of penalties would be a harsh punishment, it would make sense: If a player commits two personal fouls on one play, he deserves a harsh punishment.

We still think that JuJu’s second foul, the unsportsmanlike taunt, could have and should have been considered to be “after the play” and thus we believe capable of being tacked on even under the current rules. 

We just noted that the same thing occurred when CB MARCUS PETERS of the Chiefs threw the flag into the stands.  He was not ejected (he self-ejected), his penalty was declined and the defensive holding penalty he committed was accepted.  Until the Chiefs suspended him, his action with the flag basically had no punishment.

– – –

After our piece yesterday about how astonishing it is that the Rams and Jaguars are 99% to make the playoffs with four weeks left, Scott the Terp pointed out that the success of Los Angeles is even more amazing when you consider that they let a guy go for nothing who is an NFL MVP candidate in QB CASE KEENUM. 

NFC NORTH

GREEN BAY

All indications are that QB AARON RODGERS is ready to go as the Packers hope QB BRETT HUNDLEY can beat the Browns.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

No team has a better scout-team quarterback than the Packers do.

Aaron Rodgers returned to practice Saturday, but reporters didn’t get their first look at the former league MVP until Wednesday. Rodgers looked “like himself” as Jordy Nelson said. Aside from, of course, the part where Rodgers lined up at cornerback on the scout team.

“He throws the ball unlike any I’ve ever seen,” Brett Hundley said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN. “Still slinging it.”

Rodgers split scout-team work with backup Joe Callahan and practice-squad quarterback Jerod Evans.

Rodgers underwent surgery on his broken right clavicle on Oct. 19, and the Packers placed him on injured reserve the following day. He does not become eligible to return to game action until Dec. 17 at Carolina.

Thus, Hundley starts again Sunday, possibly for the last time this season.

Doctors have not cleared Rodgers for contact yet, but he is expected to undergo a scan after Sunday’s game against the Browns to see if the collarbone has healed.

Linebacker Clay Matthews said last week the Packers probably shouldn’t have placed Rodgers on injured reserve, because Rodgers appears ready to return.

“I think we know when he comes back we know what he brings to the table,” Matthews said. “In the meantime, there’s no point in getting too excited over his hopeful return, because Brett’s our guy. We’ve got these four more games, and I assume one more game with Brett at the helm. We’ve got to get this win first, but hopefully that’s the plan moving forward.”

AFC WEST

KANSAS CITY

The NFL would let CB MARCUS PETERS play against the Raiders even after he committed violence on a referee’s flag on Sunday, but it turns out the Chiefs don’t want him to.

The Kansas City Chiefs are taking discipline into their own hands.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid announced Wednesday that the team has suspended cornerback Marcus Peters for Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders for his actions during Kansas City’s loss to the New York Jets last Sunday.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per sources, that the Chiefs are banning Peters without pay because he left the field of play while the game was on.

In the waning moments of the defeat, Peters threw a penalty flag into the stands after teammate Steven Nelson was called for defensive holding on a two-point conversion attempt. Peters was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, and assuming he would be ejected, walked to the locker room as the game continued. When told he wasn’t ejected, Peters returned to the field, without socks, but did not return to the game.

On Monday, Reid told reporters he had not decided on discipline for Peters, but “that was the wrong thing for [Peters] to do.”

Kansas City will miss Peters for their crucial division clash against Oakland, who will see the return of Michael Crabtree from suspension and could see Amari Cooper return from injury.

 To replace Peters, the Chiefs might have to rely on veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis. K.C. signed Revis off the streets just last week. The corner played 36 snaps in the first half against the Jets, but sat out the entire second half. Terrance Mitchell will also see increased snaps across from Nelson against the Raiders.

AFC NORTH

CINCINNATI

Were the Bengals taking cheap shots at Pittsburgh’s kicker?  Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

To the list of everything else that went on during Monday night’s game, add even more bad blood.

The Steelers’ Chris Boswell believes the Cincinnati Bengals intentionally attempted to injure him just prior to him kicking the winning field goal.

“You’re not jumping offsides that bad without trying to run into the kicker,” Boswell said Wednesday morning in reference to Cincinnati’s Josh Shaw running off the end well before the snap with 4 seconds to play in a tie game and the Steelers in position to attempt a winning 43-yard field goal.

The chaotic moments as Shaw ran unabated toward Boswell and holder Jordan Berry led to Boswell   nearly injuring his kicking foot. Boswell swung trough on the try even with Shaw’s foot at the ball at the time of the kick. Berry held onto the ball because he saw Shaw approaching, and Boswell said he was too focused on the kick to notice Shaw.

Replays appear to show Shaw using a kicking motion toward Boswell’s foot.

Boswell said his foot “stung,” but it didn’t hurt enough for it to affect the true attempt, which came from 5 yards closer after the offside penalty was assessed.

But what if Boswell’s had been injured enough — even momentarily — that he needed medical attention?

“We can’t kick that field goal at the end,” Boswell said, “and (the Bengals) got want they want.”

Boswell and Shaw shared some words after the incident, but it was forgotten after Boswell booted a winning field goal for the third time in four weeks.

“It’s not an accident at all,” said Boswell, who was named the AFC’s special teams player of the week. “If you look in the NFL for the last two years, multiple teams have done it just to try to… either if it’s running into, blocking the kick, doing something. But Seattle did it last year against the Bills, Ravens did it against us last year — and now Cincinnati.”

After Antonio Brown’s go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left on Christmas Day last year, Baltimore’s Tavon Young left early on Boswell’s extra-point attempt and was able to dive into Boswell’s leg as he kicked. Though Boswell was not injured enough that it inhibited him, he has remained irked by it.

“They’re trying to scare (kickers),” said Jesse James, who’s on the far end of the line blocking on placekick tries.

Monday night’s game included nine personal foul penalties, yielded a one-game suspension for a player on each team, had two players carted off the field and featured at least five players leave the game because of injury and not return.

“Especially in a game like that,” said Berry, “your (default guess) is, ‘Maybe (Shaw) is trying to do something crazy.’

“He was moving before I even turned around early — so he was definitely trying to jump something. Whether or not he was trying to hit anyone…”

Will other teams follow suit in game-ending situations?  Morality aside, it’s a clever ploy.

– – –

The Bengals have ended the rookie season of under-achieving/oft-injured WR JOHN ROSS.  John Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer:

The strange odyssey that was John Ross’ rookie campaign came to a quiet end on Wednesday afternoon, as the Cincinnati Bengals placed their first-round pick on injured reserve with a left shoulder injury.

The Enquirer learned Ross will have surgery to repair the injury per a league source. It is unclear when he injured it, but he received an MRI on Wednesday and a quick decision was made.

He is expected to participate in organized training activities in the spring.

Before the Bengals practiced on Wednesday, head coach Marvin Lewis said he felt there was a possibility Ross would dress against the Chicago Bears.

Just over an hour later, Ross missed the practice due to the previously undisclosed shoulder injury.

The 23-year-old missed most of training camp recovering from offseason labrum surgery on his right shoulder, and he returned in time to play in the Bengals’ final two preseason games. He then injured his left knee in the fourth preseason game, which kept him out of the season opener.

And this from ProFootballTalk.com:

Why had coach Marvin Lewis said earlier in the day that Ross could play on Sunday?

The answer, Lewis says, is that Ross had been hiding his injury. Lewis told SiriusXM NFL Radio that Ross had been concealing the injury before finally “coming clean” with the team. Lewis said Ross was concealing the injury because he wanted to keep playing, which may be a good sign about his competitiveness but is a strict no-no in the NFL.

– – –

NFL Justice takes a hit from the independent arbitrator when it tries to suspend S GEORGE ILLOKA.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

What seemed to be an emotional overreaction in suspending Bengals safety George Iloka apparently looked different after hearing officer Derrick Brooks slept on it.

The league announced that Brooks overturned Iloka’s one-game suspension, and gave him a $36,464.50 fine instead.

That’s the right call, as his action was more like the commonly fined hits we’ve seen over the course of the year, and less like premeditated acts like Rob Gronkowski‘s elbow smash.

That’s good news for the Bengals, and especially Iloka, who would have lost a $235,000 game check and a $31,250 per-game roster bonus if he had been suspended.

But it’s another hit for a league that looks foolish at times with it’s random interpretations of the rules. Until they have a consistent (and consistently applied) standard, they set themselves up for this kind of embarrassment. 

PITTSBURGH

WR JuJu SCHUSTER-SMITH made a vicious block and taunted afterwards, but the play was within game action.  TE ROB GRONKOWSKI did something crazy after the play was over.  The Steelers, S MIKE MITCHELL among them, are wondering why they are each worth a one-game suspension.  Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com:

The issue, as always, is consistency. Steelers safety Mike Mitchell was the latest to make this point.

Mike Mitchell

@iammikemitchell

So gronk elbow drops a guy off the top rope like Dusty Rhodes and gets same suspension as a guy getting a penalty making a football play. Okay cool @NFL @espn @ESPNNFL can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

 It’s a fair point; when the rules seem arbitrary and haphazardly applied, the rule of law goes out the window. For instance, shortly after Smith-Schuster’s punishment was announced, the Twitter police unearthed this hit by Falcons receiver Julio Jones delivered to Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo.

 @JReidDraftScout

Julio getting suspended a game too?

That hit appears to check the same boxes Runyan outlined to Smith-Schuster — “…[Y]ou lined up a defender and delivered a violent and unnecessary blindside shot to his head and neck area…”

Jones wasn’t flagged on the play. And perhaps he will be fined but there was no conversation about suspending him. Yes, Smith-Schuster’s punishment also includes taunting Burfict after laying him out but Illoka only “violently struck a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area” and he was also suspended one game.

Which brings us back to Mitchell.

 “Listen, I never said [Gronkowski] was dirty,” he tweeted. “I never mentioned his character I’ve only met him once and to be honest he seemed like a real chill guy. What I’m referring to is the actual incident. Look at the plays. [Smith-Schuster and Iloka] were making a football plays in football games during the PLAY. more specifically before the whistle. [Gronkowski’s] play was a downed man post-whistle. I get the league having player safety [and] that’s fine but don’t tell me those are the same offense. It’s not the same offense therefore the punishment shouldn’t be the same. [Smith-Schuster and Iloka] should lose some cash but not their whole game check.”

Mitchell’s conclusion:

Mike Mitchell

@iammikemitchell

My real complaint isn’t with the @nfl it’s with my fellow players. How did we agree to this cba? There is no consistency in the way we are disciplined. One week you can commit a foul and be fined the next be suspended. One week a fight is an ejection the next it’s a suspension.

Mitchell isn’t wrong — about any of it.

– – –

LB RYAN SHAZIER is back in Pittsburgh, but it wasn’t easy. Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner:

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has a long road to recovery, but at least he was well enough on Wednesday to be transported back to Pittsburgh.

Shazier, who suffered a spinal contusion on a scary play in Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, was transported from Cincinnati to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, according to team spokesman Burt Lauten.

Shazier was apparently airlifted via helicopter, per TV producer Laura Chapnick. 

AFC SOUTH

JACKSONVILLE

A big part of the Jaguars defense, LB TELVIN SMITH, is expected back for the big battle with the Seahawks.  Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:

After missing Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts due to a concussion, Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith was back at practice on Wednesday.

Smith was a full participant in practice, which bodes well for his availability for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.

While Jacksonville’s defensive front and cornerbacks may get more acclaim, Smith is a vitally important piece of the Jaguars’ top-ranked defense. He’s recorded 83 tackles this season with three interceptions, five passes defended and a forced fumble.

 Smith was injured two weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals. He was evaluated for a concussion, cleared to return to the game and then eventually ruled out upon further examination. He was unable to practice all last week as he was unable to clear the check points of the concussion protocol.

– – –

The Jaguars view Sunday’s game as a huge benchmark.  Alex Marvez in The Sporting News:

Thanks to an unusual gift bestowed upon coach Doug Marrone, the Jaguars are full of bologna off the field.

It’s now on them to prove the same cliche doesn’t apply to the team itself.

Not to disparage what is unfolding as the best season Jacksonville (8-4) has enjoyed since its last playoff appearance a decade ago, but even one of the team’s best players admits he’s curious to see just how real the Jaguars are against an established winner like the Seahawks in Sunday’s matchup at EverBank Stadium.

“We’re trying to transcend into that next stage of having people actually worry about us and say, ‘That’s a good team,'” defensive tackle Malik Jackson told co-host Bill Polian and me Tuesday night on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Who better to come in here than a two-time Super Bowl team (since 2013) that’s at a high level in their confidence, that just beat the No. 1 team in the NFC (the Eagles)?

“I’m excited.”

Marrone recently received a different type of thrill when he learned the Beef Checkoff and National Hot Dog and Sausage Council sent 100 Boar’s Head bologna logs to team headquarters after the coach shared his fondness for the deli meat with the media following Sunday’s 30-10 rout of the Colts.

Marrone kept his bologna log for future use in fried sandwiches on white bread topped the way he likes it, with American cheese and spicy mustard. The rest of the food was donated to local food banks.

The levity Marrone’s passion for bologna evoked was sorely lacking during Jaguars training camp, and understandably so.

Marrone and new football czar Tom Coughlin were inheriting a team coming off six straight seasons with double-digit losses. As the team’s assistant head coach/offensive line coach the previous two years, Marrone saw first-hand a ship that had gotten too loose under previous head coach Gus Bradley.

The environment soon changed with Jaguars players quickly learning they would be held far more accountable than in the past. Jackson described the Marrone-Coughlin combination as “no-nonsense” and credited them for adding a “grit factor” that was lacking.

“When you have a lot of young guys on the team, I think discipline is needed,” said the 27-year-old Jackson, who joined the Jaguars in 2016 after a Super Bowl-winning season with the Broncos. “As an older guy, maybe not as much as they’re giving, but I see why we need it and I see where we’re going, so I’m not complaining.”

Jackson, though, does admit having to bite his tongue after enduring a grueling training camp practice schedule.

 “I was actually having a conversation with (Marrone) last week about how tough it was, but then I have to give him some praise because I’m doing very well right now in the season,” said Jackson, who is a half-sack away from matching his career high of six with four games remaining. “At the moment, you’re like, ‘Aww, this is BS.’ But he has a greater goal in mind and he can see the future. I’m glad we stuck with him and I’m glad I followed him.”

Although the Jaguars enter the Seahawks game leading the NFL in total defense (282.5 yards allowed per game) and sacks (45), one major question that has lingered since the preseason remains unanswered: Is Blake Bortles a good enough quarterback to guide the Jaguars to playoff success?

There is no debate that Bortles has enjoyed his best year to date after a disastrous preseason in which he was briefly benched in favor of backup Chad Henne (who wasn’t any better). Bortles also isn’t expected to carry the offense so much as avoid turnovers and effectively serve a game-manager role with the Jaguars leaning heavily on their rushing attack.

But at some point, Bortles may be forced to show he can provide difference-making plays in the passing game when the Jags face quality opponents on a consistent basis. A preview of that scenario in the playoffs could happen Sunday against Seattle.

The Jaguars have a chance of securing a postseason berth depending on the outcome of their game and five others in Week 14. Jacksonville is still likely playoff-bound regardless for the first time since the heyday of David Garrard, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.

But losing to the Seahawks will paint the Jaguars as a strong one-and-done candidate considering the relatively soft schedule they’ve played this season. Only two of Jacksonville’s eight wins have come against opponents that currently have winning records (the Steelers and Ravens).

“This is one of the biggest games in Jacksonville in a long time,” Jackson said. “I’ve been having this circled on my calendar for a long time.

“I just can’t wait for Sunday night, seeing how I feel and just seeing what will go down.”

And what type of taste facing the Seahawks will leave in Jackson’s mouth.

AFC EAST

NEW YORK JETS

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News has sources who whisper that the Jets and DT MUHAMMAD WILKERSON are heading for a divorce.  Mehta gives him the bum’s rush:

Muhammad Wilkerson has disrespected and embarrassed (in no particular order) his teammates, coaches, fans, trainers, the general manager and owner during his train-wreck, two-year run that has revealed what people should have seen long ago: No. 96 is neither a team leader nor a productive player worthy of any more chances.

The Jets and Wilkerson are headed for a divorce this offseason, according to team insiders.

“He’s gone,” a team source told the Daily News in the wake of Wilkerson’s first-quarter benching against the Chiefs last weekend.

The overpaid underachiever refused to discuss his habitual tardiness to team meetings, his “leadership,” his play or the fans he’s duped during a 151-second exchange (abruptly ended by a team PR official) with the media Wednesday. A year after Wilkerson publicly apologized for missing a practice, the self-proclaimed team leader offered no accountability this time for his latest act of unprofessionalism.

Maybe he got wind of the news: His days here are numbered. There’s simply no reason to trust this guy anymore.

There’s a strong sentiment in the building that Wilkerson cannot — and should not — be a part of an organization so invested in remaking its culture. Some people are ticked off at Wilkerson’s repeated violation of team rules. Others have grown tired of Wilkerson’s disappearing act on gamedays, while picking up a Pro Bowl paycheck.

Bottom line: Wilkerson has been an embarrassment for the organization.

The seven-year veteran stuck to his talking points Wednesday during a brief exchange with reporters in the run-up to the Broncos game this weekend:

“If you ain’t got no Denver questions,” Wilkerson said, “You don’t need to ask me anything.”

Wilkerson showed no accountability for anything.

How do you think you’ve played this year, Mo?

Wilkerson: “I’m only asking, uh answering, Denver questions. So…”

Why won’t you talk about your play this year?

Wilkerson: “I’m answering Denver questions. That’s our next opponent.”

In the past you’ve taken general questions about your play…

Wilkerson: “I’m ask, ask… answering Denver questions. If you don’t have no questions about Denver, there’s nothing else to talk about.”

Don’t you think you owe it to the fans?

Wilkerson: “If you have anything to ask about Denver? If not, then there’s nothing else to talk about.”

So you don’t think you owe it to the fans, Mo?

Wilkerson: Any other questions?

Do you consider yourself a leader on this team?

Wilkerson: Any other questions about Denver?

How much do you want to be a part of this franchise next year?

Wilkerson: “So you missed it. Any questions about Denver?”

Summary: Wilkerson couldn’t care less about showing accountability to anyone, including Woody and Christopher Johnson’s paying customers. Real talk: Jets fans are a necessary evil for him.

Wilkerson, who was disciplined (benched) for tardiness issues in 2015, promised Todd Bowles that he’d stay on the straight and narrow path before signing a five-year, $86 million deal in 2016. Promise broken.

He’s become an All-Pro excuse-maker. The guy threw his own training staff under the bus last year, for Pete’s sake.

The Jets erred by not making Wilkerson play on the franchise tag ($15.7 million) last season. They gave him a multi-year commitment with $36.75 million in guarantees. So, the team essentially wasted $21 million on a player who has a grand total of seven sacks in the last 30 games.

There is an escape hatch that must be exercised: The Jets can cut Wilkerson before the third day of the new league year in March before his 2018 salary ($16.75 million) becomes guaranteed. The team would free up $11 million and incur a $9 million dead money charge. If the Jets designate Wilkerson as a post-June 1 cut, they would ultimately free up $17 million (with a $3 million dead money hit).

Even if Wilkerson magically comes to life on the field over the final four games — believe it or not, he’s on pace for fewer sacks this year than last year — there is exactly a zero percent chance that he will be on the Jets next year under the current terms of his contract, according to sources.

Some folks on One Jets Drive don’t care about the money at all: They’re just fed up with Wilkerson’s awful on-field production over the past two seasons.

The team could restructure Wilkerson’s contract (aka — significant pay cut) before trading him. Remember: This regime was amenable to trading him for draft picks and/or moving up in the draft in the past.

The mercurial defensive lineman hasn’t changed much since 2011, when the regime that drafted him in the first round explained the player to me this way: You could put together a 15-play reel from his days at Temple that would make you think he would be a perennial Pro Bowler. You could also put together a 15-play reel that would make you think he was destined for the practice squad.

Very little has changed. Wilkerson still shows up when he feels like it.

He ostensibly tried to take charge this year, but lapsed and set a terrible example for impressionable younger players.

True leaders don’t repeatedly break team rules. True leaders comport themselves like professionals during prosperous and challenging times.

These Jets have true leaders. Wilkerson isn’t one of them. 

– – –

Even as Wilkerson has flunked the leadership test, veteran QB JOSH McCOWN has passed it with flying colors.  Daniel Popper in the New York Daily News:

Longevity means something in the NFL, especially at quarterback. It’s why Giants fans lost their minds when Eli Manning’s ironman streak of consecutive starts ended at 210, thanks to Ben McAdoo. And it’s why Josh McCown, at age 38, appreciates his current situation.

Todd Bowles on Wednesday confirmed a notion he’d been hinting at for the last several weeks: Barring injury, McCown will start the final four games of this 2017 for the Jets, who remain on the fringes of the AFC playoff picture after a home victory over the Chiefs last weekend.

For McCown, this is a chance to start 16 games for the first time in his 15-year NFL career. (At minimum, he’ll tie a career high in starts when he takes the field Sunday in Denver, with 13.) For Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, this likely means waiting at least another offseason for an opportunity to start — in New York or elsewhere.

“Certainly it’s something that I would like to accomplish, there’s no doubt about it,” said McCown, who won AFC Offensive Player of the Week after totaling 331 passing yards and three touchdowns (two rushing) against Kansas City. “It’s a one-game-at-a-time mentality, but I have a ton of respect for the guys that have played and started for a long time in consecutive games, whether it’s (Brett) Favre, or Tom (Brady) or Peyton and Eli (Manning), all those guys. It’s impressive what those guys have been able to do and so for me just to go out, especially at this point in my career, and get 16 games is something to be proud of.”

The odds were stacked against McCown to begin this season, both because of his age and the state of the organization. Two young quarterbacks waited behind McCown on the depth chart, and it seemed only a matter of time before one of them took over under center. General manager Mike Maccagnan cut a slew of veteran players in the offseason, setting up a prime tanking scenario. Pundits across the country believed the Jets would be vying for the No. 1 overall pick.

And yet entering Week 14, the Jets remain mathematically in playoff contention. McCown is playing the best football of his career and is the main reason the team is in this position.

Bowles has no choice but to continue playing him. Petty and Hackenberg must accept that fact. 

THIS AND THAT

WARREN MOON ACCUSED

Bad news for Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon, one way or the other.  He’s either a bad guy or someone is telling horrible lies about him.  Deadspin:

Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon used to grab his assistant’s crotch without her consent, mandated that she sleep in his bed during business trips, and drugged her drink during a business trip in Mexico “because he thought she was not ‘having fun,’” according to a lawsuit filed this week by the former assistant in a California court. The lawsuit was filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court. As of Wednesday afternoon, Moon’s publicist had not released any comment on it.

The woman, 32-year-old Wendy Haskell, was hired as the 61-year-old Moon’s executive assistant in July. She says in the lawsuit that “Moon had a dark and twisted side that commanded far more than just executive assistant services from his newly hired employee.” The lawsuit goes on to say this about Haskell’s time working as an assistant at the Sports 1 Marketing, where Moon is still listed as president on the website:

Soon after she began her employment, Moon demanded Ms. Haskell submit to a variety of unnerving sexual and perverse controlling arrangements, including sleeping in the same bed with him on all business trips, providing him unfettered access to the bathroom every time she showered, wearing skimpy lingerie while in the obligatory single room, obtaining prior approval for her wardrobe, and being subjected to continuous unwanted and unsolicited sexual advances.

The lawsuit says that, on Oct. 6, Haskell told Moon that “while she loved working at S1M, she was very uncomfortable with the travel sleeping arrangements and shower protocol.” Moon replied, according to the lawsuit, that “if she wasn’t ‘comfortable’ with it, or him, then she could not work for him.” The lawsuit continues:

Later that evening after dinner with some of the company’s officers, when dropping Ms. Haskell off at her home, Moon claimed he had to use the bathroom. After purportedly doing so, Moon approached Ms. Haskell and tried to remove her clothing. She stopped him and asked him to leave.

Three days later, Haskell reported Moon’s behavior—the dress code, sleeping arrangements, touching, and unwanted sexual advances—to the company’s CEO, David Melzer, according to the lawsuit. Meltzer told her to go with Moon on an upcoming trip to Cabo as planned. The lawsuit describes the trip as little more than pretext for Moon to harass women:

After the trip, Haskell says in her lawsuit that she was demoted to a position where she made “significantly” less money, and suffered emotional distress and humiliation at work. She was also asked to sign a new employment agreement along with a Non-Disclosure Agreement, which she declined to do. The lawsuit is written in the past tense, but doesn’t explicitly say when or how Haskell left the company.

Moon, who won a Rose Bowl with the University of Washington and then played 17 seasons in the NFL before retiring in 2000, was sued in 1995 by a Vikings cheerleader who accused him of sexual assault. That same year, he was arrested for hitting and choking his wife. He was charged, but later acquitted when his wife said she had provoked the fight.

 CONTENDER WEAKNESSES

ESPN.com’s Bill Barnwell talks about the units that could bring down the top contenders.  It is a long piece which you can read here or the edited version below:

Every NFL team has at least one weakness. It’s impossible for teams to be flawless in the salary-cap era, and in a season that has repeatedly made us ask whether there are any great teams, it’s not difficult to believe that even the league’s top playoff contenders can be exploited by the wrong matchup or opponent.

With the playoffs a month away, let’s take a look at the contenders and their weaknesses before identifying which possible playoff opponents in their conference are best suited to go after those weaknesses (names in bold for each team). The idea of playoff kryptonite doesn’t mean that a team is guaranteed to lose if it ends up with an opponent that could give its problem fits, but it should at least give fans a look into where their favorite team might be faltering and whom to root against once the playoff bracket officially takes fold.

For the purposes of this piece, I included the 14 teams the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI) believes have at least a 10 percent chance to make the postseason. We’ll go in order of the team with the worst chance (Atlanta) to the teams with the best chances (New England and Pittsburgh):

Atlanta Falcons (36.6 percent chance to make the playoffs)

Playoff kryptonite: Run defense

The Falcons’ defense hasn’t been very good in general this season, but it has been particularly egregious against the run. Atlanta ranks 31st in the league in rush defense DVOA and was dead last as recently as one week ago. As an undersized defense built on speed, the Falcons aren’t likely to suddenly improve against opposing rushing attacks. Dan Quinn’s team is allowing runners to convert on 69.2 percent of their third-down carries, the worst rate in football by nearly five full percentage points.

As a result, the Falcons probably don’t want to see their NFC South brethren in the playoffs.

Los Angeles Chargers (37.5 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Tackling

Every team has to tackle, and the Chargers have gotten better as the season has gone along, but the Los Angeles defense has a way of turning decent gains into huge chunks of yardage.

The Raiders might be on the outskirts of the playoff picture, but it’s no surprise Marshawn Lynch’s team leads the league in yards after first contact at 2.26.

Kansas City Chiefs (61.5 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Lack of pass pressure

I wrote on Monday about Kansas City’s disappearing pass rush. The Chiefs desperately need a healthy Dee Ford to step up and deliver as a second threat alongside Justin Houston, because opposing quarterbacks simply haven’t had much to worry about in the pocket. The Chiefs are pressuring opposing quarterbacks on just 24.8 percent of their dropbacks, the fifth-lowest rate in the league.

Carolina Panthers (70.7 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Absent interceptions

 It’s not quite as bad as what’s going on with the Raiders, but the Panthers just aren’t intercepting many passes.

Seattle Seahawks (83.0 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Penalties

The Seahawks are a physical team. They’re also a team with an offensive line that is particularly fond of holding and false starting. As a result, Pete Carroll’s squad has committed 137 penalties in 12 games this year. That’s a staggering number; consider that the Broncos and Dolphins are tied for next-to-worst with 114 penalties, and they’re closer to league average (96.1) than they are to Seattle. Fourteen players have racked up double-digit penalties this season, and the Seahawks have two of them, including right tackle Germain Ifedi, who leads the league with 14.

Baltimore Ravens (89.3 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Passing

I mean, there’s not much of a need to be more specific. Joe Flacco & Co. just aren’t a good air attack.

Tennessee Titans (92.9 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Lack of big plays on offense

Mike Mularkey’s “exotic smashmouth” offense set up all kinds of big plays in the passing game last season. By the end of 2016, the Titans had amassed 38 plays of 25 yards or more, with 33 of them coming via pass. Thirty-eight tied them with the Chargers for 10th in the NFL.

In 2017, with Marcus Mariota struggling and the league enjoying a second look at Mularkey’s attack, the big plays have mostly disappeared. Tennessee has only 18 plays of 25 yards or more through 12 games, which is 29th and ahead of only the Bears, Giants and Ravens.

Los Angeles Rams (95.8 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Fumbles

The Rams have done a lot of things right since hiring Sean McVay, but if there’s one problem with their offense in 2017, it has been coughing up the football. Los Angeles has fumbled 19 times, tying it with the Browns and Colts for the sixth-most fumbles in the league. And while most teams atop the fumble charts are seeing an inexperienced or frazzled quarterback fumbling away the ball, the Rams have had problems with their skill-position talent holding onto the rock. There are 26 players in the league with three fumbles or more this season, and the Rams hold three of them with Todd Gurley (five), Tavon Austin (four) and Pharoh Cooper (three).

New Orleans Saints (97.6 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Downfield pass defense

The Saints have turned around their defense in remarkable ways this season, and the focus has rightly shined on their young secondary. Second-year corner Ken Crawley and rookies Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams have become mainstays in the starting lineup, while 2016 second-round pick Vonn Bell has filled in as a nickelback. The elder statesman of the unit is 27-year-old Kenny Vaccaro.

When things go well, the secondary looks and plays fast. The problem with a young secondary — even one that has looked as good as the Saints’ has this season — is that lapses can lead to big plays downfield.

Jacksonville Jaguars (98.9 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Throwing downfield

Everyone should be scared of the Jacksonville pass rush, which can make any offense look bad on its day. (Ask the Steelers.) The offense has been more erratic, however, with Leonard Fournette dominating earlier in the season before slowing down thanks to a suspension and an ankle injury. Blake Bortles’ season has been inconsistent, alternating excellent performances against the Colts and Bengals with uglier games against the Rams and Chargers. Sunday was one of his better performances, as he went 26-of-35 for 309 yards with two touchdowns in his second go-round against a faded Indy secondary.

The Jags have a 98.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, so it’s likely we’ll see Bortles suit up for his first playoff game. The concern about Bortles against playoff-caliber competition will be whether he can make plays downfield in meaningful situations.

Minnesota Vikings (99.9 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: The kicking game

I’m truly sorry, Vikings fans. I don’t want to dredge up old wounds by bringing up kickers like Gary Anderson and Blair Walsh, but with the Vikings executing in all facets of the game right now, their biggest concern is what happens on special teams.

Philadelphia Eagles (99.9 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai

This exercise is virtually futile for the Eagles, who are the most balanced team in football and don’t appear to have an obvious weakness. They rank in the top eight in both passing and rushing offense and defense DVOA and are 10th on special teams. They’re fourth in DVOA at defending short passes and long passes. They run efficiently and generate big plays. They rarely turn over the ball, and they force plenty of giveaways.

To be fair, Vaitai has looked better in this second season as a regular filling in for a missing star on the Philadelphia offensive line. Vaitai was posting up at right tackle for the suspended Lane Johnson in 2016; this season, he’s lining up at left tackle for the injured Jason Peters.

New England Patriots (100 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Run defense

The Patriots were plagued by blown coverages and mental mistakes in the secondary early in the season, but they’ve mostly overcome those issues and appear to be rounding into form as an above-average defense. Their run defense, though, hasn’t come around. The Pats are dead last in rushing defense DVOA. They’ve stuffed opponents for no gain or a loss on just 14 percent of carries, which is also the lowest rate in the league.

The good news for the Patriots is that most of the league’s best rushing attacks are in the NFC. The best AFC rushing attacks by DVOA belong to the Titans (fourth) and Chiefs (fifth), with Kansas City sealing its own victory against the Patriots in Week 1 with a pair of late rushing touchdowns. The Saints would represent a fascinating Super Bowl matchup, given the matchup of two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks and the presence of a dynamic two-way threat on the other side in Alvin Kamara. Would Belichick treat Kamara the way he treated Marshall Faulk in the Super Bowl 16 years ago?

Pittsburgh Steelers (100 percent)

Playoff kryptonite: Red zone offense

The Steelers should be great in the red zone. Short of a dominant tight end, they have just about everything you would put on your shopping list if you were trying to build a great offense. And yet, strangely, they haven’t been very good inside the opposition 20 this season. The Steelers are averaging 4.5 points per red zone possession, which is just 23rd in the league. They’re 26th in red zone touchdown percentage, and the six teams who have been worse are a combined 20-52.

To be specific, Le’Veon Bell & Co. haven’t been able to pound the ball in.