The Daily Briefing Thursday, February 15, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com puts forth the offseason priorities of the NFL office regarding its product:
The NFL is in full offseason mode, a time that can challenge the most dramatic parts of the regular season for news and pace. While teams prepare for roster overhauls of varying degrees, let’s check in on what big-picture things league executives will — and/or should — be paying attention to over the next six months leading into 2018 training camps.
Enhance concussion policy
This must be an annual task for the NFL as technology improves and scrutiny increases. There is no more existential threat to the league than brain health.
Reported concussions rose to their highest total (281) since the NFL began releasing data in 2012. Most of the rise was attributed to a spike during training camp practices. League executives, led by chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills and executive vice president of health and safety initiatives Jeffrey Miller, will individually advise teams on strategies to lower that training camp number.
The league already made material policy changes to its game-day protocol in late December, adding a third independent neurologist to the stadium site and a fourth watching from a centralized position in New York City. The league said it conducted more than 600 concussion tests during preseason and regular-season games. But after three high-profile reviews, and several noteworthy instances of players diagnosed after the end of games, the league probably will consider other adjustments as well. Among them: Should players who pass an initial concussion test be subject to a waiting period to guard against delayed onset?
Unify the anthem experience
The league needs an unambiguous policy for all team personnel during the national anthem, as the current guidelines only say players “should” stand. It’s not mandatory, and a protest carries no required discipline.
A new approach could take one of three forms: (A) The NFL could voice a clear support for players making social and political statements during the anthem; (B) it could expressly prohibit all anthem demonstrations and require a strict stand-at-attention; or (C) it could scrap the platform altogether and keep teams in the locker room until after the anthem is played.
Some owners were angry that commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t squash the 2017 protests, but many were upset that the league was caught flat-footed a year after Colin Kaepernick began the initial movement. Owners want the uncertainty resolved, one way or another. And the third option is probably the most painless.
Don’t make catch rule worse
Goodell’s repeated comments on the catch rule make it clear he has made it an offseason priority. That’s the easy part. Who doesn’t want to eliminate the mind-numbing analysis of whether a receiver gained and maintained control “throughout the process of the catch”? Goodell wants to rewrite the rule from scratch, but smart people who have spent years studying it have encountered new — and perhaps equally exasperating — consequences in every proposal.
Would some incompletions turn into fumbles? Would officials struggle to judge possession without the “bright line” of the current rule? Calls to return to what the NFL “used to do” ignore the fundamental change prompted by HD television and replay technology. An HD view of a 1980s game would reveal more (previously unnoticed) shaky catch calls than fans realize. The current rule leads to a handful of head-scratchers in return for a vast majority of clarity. A perfect change — one that purges controversy while preserving simplicity — might not exist. The NFL could be left to decide whether to exchange one set of shortcomings for another. Breaking even might be the best it can do.
Inconsistency in replay was one of the NFL’s biggest stories last season, the result of an unexpected transition at the top of the officiating department just as replay decisions were centralized in the league office. It took a while before new senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron, and replay vice president Russell Yurk, found their way to the NFL’s “clear and obvious” standard for reversals.
Replay is good for the NFL when used in the appropriate context — i.e., correcting obvious mistakes — but will ultimately be drummed out if it’s used to re-officiate close plays on a frame-by-frame basis. The decision to uphold a touchdown by Philadelphia Eagles tailback Corey Clement in the Super Bowl, on a play in which the ball moved as he tried to get his feet in bounds, suggested Riveron and Yurk are in a better place. But earlier discrepancies must be ironed out permanently over the offseason.
Get the (ownership) house in order
It was only three months ago that the NFL’s most powerful owner was openly pressuring his partners to reject Goodell’s contract extension. In the process, the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones revealed he harbors some of the same criticisms Goodell has absorbed from outside the league. The league has survived ownership discord throughout its history, and this episode will prove no different. But some of Jones’ complaints — inefficient staffing in the league office, a failure of proactive leadership and ineffective crisis management — have registered.
Some within the league expect structural changes, and it’s worth noting that there already have been a handful of departures from the league office via buyouts and resignations. Goodell isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Jones. But the seeds of their clash will cascade through the offseason.
Smooth (and lucrative) transition for the Panthers
The Carolina Panthers are for sale — a long-anticipated decision that was accelerated by allegations of workplace misconduct by owner Jerry Richardson.
The looming transaction comes at a fascinating time for the NFL. To this point, evidence of rising revenues has muted narratives about diminishing interest in the game and league. (Most recently, owners coaxed a $660 million annual expenditure from Fox to broadcast Thursday Night Football.) The Panthers are likely to be sold for a record price, eclipsing the $1.4 billion Terry and Kim Pegula paid for the Buffalo Bills in 2014. Many around the league will be watching. Nearly half of its primary owners are older than 70. Seven are at least 80, including Richardson. Some owners plan to pass a franchise to their heirs, but others could be motivated to sell based on the Panthers’ price.
Assess roots of viewer/audience data
NFL broadcast ratings fell 9.7 percent in the regular season, just a year after falling 8 percent. The audience for a dramatic Super Bowl, one played by two large-market teams, was the smallest in nine years. There was no presidential election to blame for luring viewers in 2017. Already, the NFL has attempted to accelerate the pace of game to produce a crisper broadcast.
Meanwhile, a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll suggested fan deterioration among important demographics. Those numbers could be overlaid with a drop in high school football participation — 4.5 percent since 2010, according to the National Federation of High School Sports — to form an existential trend. In other words, the decline in key data points can’t be considered a blip.
It’s true the NFL remains television’s ratings leader, but its dominance is of a shrinking pie. If they haven’t already, owners must make a frank assessment of not just their product, but why its consumption trends have slowed.
Turbocharge global presence
The upside of domestic stagnation is that about 95 percent of the world’s population lives beyond United States borders. There are plenty of new customers available. In the past decade, the NFL has taken moderate steps to establish a foothold in the United Kingdom and, more recently, in Mexico.
The gaping hole, however, is Asia — particularly, China. The NFL has mused vaguely about playing a regular-season game there, but nothing is imminent. One path is to encourage more players to make offseason visits, as Tom Brady and Russell Wilson did in 2017, to promote the game (and their brands) abroad. That’s how the NBA expanded its popularity across Asia over the past two decades, starting with Kobe Bryant’s first trip in 1998. Whether the NFL is actually facing an existential crisis, its global outreach has never seemed more important.
Consider a targeting rule
NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent went on record in December saying “we have to consider” a targeting rule, in response to a particularly violent game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13. In essence, the rule would call for a mandatory ejection of a player who hits a defenseless receiver in the head or neck area. At the college level, an instance occurring in the second half of a game mandates suspension for the first half of the following contest. The rule has had mixed success for the NCAA, and to be fair, the primary function of the rule might be to assert a commitment to minimizing dangerous plays.
But in the NFL, it also would clarify and elevate the consequences for players, who are subject to ejection by rarely used official discretion but usually are penalized 15 yards. If anything, the league’s concussion protocol could have increased incentive to take head shots, because of the greater chance that it would knock a player out for the game at minimal cost to the opposition. But it wouldn’t work if not subject to replay; current rules do not make hits to the head reviewable. And the prospects of additional ejections would have to be weighed in the context of a 2017 season that produced 18 disqualifications for various other reasons, believed to be an NFL record. At the very least, targeting will be the subject of intense debate this winter and spring.
Rethink Rooney Rule
The Oakland Raiders’ virtual snub of the rule brings an old question into new light: How militant does the NFL want to be on imposing a genuinely diverse search process for its teams? Raiders owner Mark Davis, by his own admission, had been honed in on hiring on Jon Gruden for years. That made two minority candidates a backup plan at best, and a prop at worst. Were their interview experiences alone, cursory as they were, enough to say that the Rooney Rule had served a purpose? Will the NFL ever be able to prevent similar situations? Should it? In scenarios in which owners have pre-chosen candidates — yes, it happens and will continue to — is there a way to further the cause of diversity without forcing meaningless interviews? These are questions that at least some in the NFL will address this offseason.
How much would QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO have gotten if he had not been traded to showcase his wares for the Niners? The DB thought that the contract MIKE GLENNON got from the Bears last year would be the floor. Now, Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com is thinking he will be on the streets in the near future:
The veteran quarterback lost his starting job to rookie Mitchell Trubisky in Week 5 after turning the ball over eight times in four games. Glennon, who signed a contract last offseason that included $18.5 million in guarantees, now seems out of place in new coach Matt Nagy’s offense, which is expected to rely heavily on run-pass options for Trubisky. Plus, Glennon’s base salary for 2018 is $12.5 million. That’s way too much money for a backup quarterback. The writing is clearly on the wall that Glennon will not be playing in Chicago next season.
S SU’A CRAVENS, who took a powder shortly before the season started, has been re-instated by the NFL. John Keim of ESPN.com:
The NFL has reinstated Washington Redskins safety Su’a Cravens off the reserve/left squad list, a league source told ESPN’s Field Yates.
Washington had placed Cravens on the exempt/left squad list on Sept. 3 after the second-year player said he wanted to retire. Cravens was dealing with family issues at the time.
On Sept. 18, the team placed Cravens on the reserve/left squad list, which meant he had to sit out the season.
In December, his agent said in a statement that Cravens had been cleared to resume football activities after suffering from post-concussion syndrome; he suffered a concussion in Week 4 of the 2016 season.
Whether or not he returns to Washington for the 2018 season remains a question.
Cravens has three years left on his original deal. If Washington released or traded him, it wouldn’t be a big cap hit. Cravens would count $1.7 million against the cap if traded or released prior to June 1. Most likely he would be traded before or during the draft, so Washington could get an extra pick.
A source said the sides are expected to meet at the NFL scouting combine, which begins later this month.
Jenna Laine of ESPN.com considers QB JAMEIS WINSTON to be an enigma as he enters his fourth NFL season.
After three years as an NFL starter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is still hard to figure out. He has produced dazzling highlights coupled with maddening turnovers, finding open receivers long after plays have broken down, yet coughing up the ball when he should have taken sacks.
What does that mean for the development of the Bucs’ 24-year-old franchise quarterback?
‘He needs to stop forcing things’
Winston broke Dan Marino’s NFL record for most touchdown passes thrown before a player’s 24th birthday with his 69th this past season. But he’s thrown the second-most interceptions (44) since 2015, when he entered the league, and has turned the ball over 59 times in 45 games. His 15 lost fumbles are also the most of any player during that span. While his turnovers dropped from 24 in 2016 to 18 in 2017, the rate of those turnovers per snap actually went up, from 2.28 percent to 2.38.
“Turnovers are the No. 1 thing that gets you beat, so [I am] very concerned,” said the Bucs’ Dirk Koetter, who’s been with Winston all three seasons, the past two as head coach. “Jameis knows that. He knows. Jameis is streaky with his turnovers. He can go three or four games and not turn the ball over and then we had a game [against the Saints] where he turned it over three times.”
An NFC defensive assistant whose team faced Winston this season echoed those sentiments. The scouting report on him said Winston was “inconsistent” when it came to “decision-making and poise.”
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Shoulder injury played role in 2017 struggles
Some of Winston’s mistakes can be attributed to the shoulder injury that plagued him most of the season and forced him to miss three games. He struggled particularly with the deep ball, completing just 16 of 53 (30.2 percent) passes of 20 or more air yards, which was 23rd in the NFL.
“It’s definitely something that can affect your velocity, accuracy, your mechanics, your ability to push it down the field,” New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “I don’t know Jameis’ exact injury from this season, I just know what I’ve experienced in the past with different things. It depends what the injury is, but certainly those things can be affected.”
Lack of deep-ball accuracy can hurt an offense predicated on making explosive plays downfield, particularly a roster with no true possession receivers. It also nullified any sort of competitive edge the Bucs had in signing speedster DeSean Jackson to a $35 million contract in the offseason. Jackson, who was getting separation on his routes but not catching many passes, had just 668 yards, the lowest total in his 10-year career for a season in which he played at least 11 games.
Then there were reports of a growing rift between Winston and Koetter, stemming from Winston feeling that his coach didn’t have his back during the injury and frustration over Koetter’s lack of creativity in his playcalling. Publicly, Winston denied that a rift existed, and Koetter called their relationship “extremely consistent.” Sources close to the situation suggest the two need to work on their communication.
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Good and bad of being a fiery player
Winston is a passionate player and a fiery leader, which the Bucs lacked with previous young quarterbacks in Josh Freeman and Mike Glennon. He might have unconventional motivational tactics, like his widely mocked pregame speech about “eating W’s,” but teammates appreciate his passion and feed off of it. Backup safety Keith Tandy likened Winston to an uncle, saying, “When he looks you in the eyes, you feel it in your soul and you want to go out and make a play for him.”
Even Saints coach Sean Payton can see it from the outside.
“I think there’s a tremendous amount of confidence amongst his teammates,” Payton said. “You can see that on film, you can see that when you watch the TV copy. You can see his leadership in the huddle, out of the huddle, at the line of scrimmage, and I think guys feel like at any time, they can get the football and make a play.”
But Winston’s passion also can be destructive.
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Part of being a leader and the face of a franchise also means making good decisions off the field. There were a lot of question marks surrounding Winston after he was accused of sexual assault and was cited for shoplifting at Florida State. But once he got to Tampa, there were no issues until November 2017, when a female Uber driver publicly accused Winston of grabbing her crotch.
Winston, who was riding with former college teammate Ronald Darby — who was also with him the night the alleged assault took place at Florida State — and another passenger that night in Arizona, said he believes the driver was mistaken. No charges were filed stemming from the March 2016 incident, but the NFL is investigating. Winston’s availability could be affected by the outcome.
“There’s nothing we can do about the investigation,” Licht said. “The league is going to do its due diligence in investigating it and we’ll deal with that when they come to a decision. But we’ll be prepared. I promise you, we’ll be prepared regardless of whatever decision is made.”
‘We’ve got the right guy’
Once healthy, Winston produced one of the best performances of his career on Dec. 18 against the Atlanta Falcons, throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions, completing 77.1 percent of his passes and posting a 130.5 passer rating. Even more impressive was that Jackson, tight end O.J. Howard and right guard J.R. Sweezy all left the game with injuries. It was truly the first time in Winston’s NFL career that he carried a team on his back.
That was all part of a strong finish to the 2017 season once Winston returned Dec. 3 from the shoulder injury. From Week 13 to Week 17, Winston led the NFL with 1,584 yards passing, tied for third with nine touchdown passes and was 11th in Total QBR with 57.2 after ranking 25th in Weeks 1-12.
That’s something to build on going into 2018.
If Winston can stay healthy, he can rebound playing a last-place schedule that includes the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and Washington Redskins. But he and the Bucs certainly have their work cut out for them in an NFC South featuring three 2017 playoff teams.
“We’ve got the right guy,” Licht said. “He’s got the right mindset. The combination of toughness, intelligence, work ethic … all those things never cease to amaze me, to be honest with you.”
When Jon Gruden coached the Buccaneers he loved old players, but he’s not bringing back PK SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI. Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:
Speculation on Sebastian Janikowski re-signing with the Oakland Raiders and reuniting with coach Jon Gruden was quelled Wednesday as the team told the veteran left-footed place-kicker that it does not plan to bring him back for the 2018 season, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Janikowski, the Raiders’ all-time leading scorer with 1,799 points (11th in NFL history), spent last season on injured reserve, and his locker was cleaned out by midseason.
He will turn 40 on March 2 and will be an unrestricted free agent.
Oakland is the only NFL home Janikowski has known. He said last offseason his goal was still to be kicking for the franchise when it moved to Las Vegas in 2020.
“Until they kick me out,” Janikowski said in June, when asked how long he saw himself playing for the Raiders.
The Raiders’ late owner Al Davis drafted Janikowski with the 17th overall selection in the 2000 NFL draft, out of Florida State. Gruden, who then was in the third season of his first tenure as Oakland’s head coach, favored either receiver Sylvester Morris or running back Shaun Alexander in that draft.
“Thank God for Raiders fans they listened to Al Davis and not me,” Gruden said during a radio interview more than a decade later of using a first-round pick on Janikowski. “I’ll say he was right.”
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Jon Gruden can’t believe how the NFL (and NFLPA) now hinders his job. Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is already back in a routine of working from sun up to sun down in trying to get re-acclimated to the franchise he led from 1998-2001.
However, Gruden isn’t thrilled with the reality of the NFL under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement that significantly restricts access to the players during the offseason. In an interview with Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group, Gruden made it clear he isn’t a fan of the changes to the contact rules put in place since the last time he was an NFL head coach.
“You’re not allowed to be with your players,” he said. “Some genius thought that would be great, that we’re not even allowed to talk to our players. So that’s been a big challenge.
“You’re not allowed to do anything. You’re not allowed to coach your players. I’ve called several players, introduced myself. I think that’s legal. I’m not having contact with everybody. … We’re not allowed to have any real contact. It’s pretty clear on what the rules are.”
The rules of the CBA implemented under the new agreement in 2011 significantly limited the amount of contact players could have with coaches throughout the offseason and cut back on the number, and type, of workouts teams can engage in.
Gruden believes the players themselves want to work more than they’re currently allowed to with their teams. He also laments that the rules don’t allow him to start building relationships with the players he’s going to be coaching this fall.
“I hate it, personally,” he said. “When I was out of coaching, I had players come and visit me to help them with getting their football fix. A lot of these guys want to work. A lot of these guys are dying to work. And a lot of these men have hired independent coaches to help them work. But the big thing is, I just want to start having relationships with these guys, learn what makes them tick. What motivates them. How they learn. The only way you can learn is by being with people but there’s some geniuses out there that have put together this formula and we’re going to certainly abide by the rules.”
Since Gruden is a new head coach, he will be allowed to begin offseason workouts ahead of teams that have kept their head coach in place from last season. However, it’s still not going to be as much of a head start as Gruden would prefer in acclimating to being the Raiders head coach once again.
Todd Haley is circumspect on his move from Pittsburgh to Cleveland. Gerry Dulac in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Haley, in his first interview since being hired as offensive coordinator by the rival Cleveland Browns, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday: “I kinda sensed something was up. I can’t tell you what, but I wasn’t completely unprepared.”
Haley was not rehired after six seasons with the Steelers, even though they ranked third in total offense and passing offense during the regular season. In what proved to be an unceremonious farewell, the Steelers scored 42 points in the playoff loss to the Jaguars and averaged 32.3 points in the final eight games.
One of the first warning signs likely came before the season when the Steelers didn’t extend Haley’s contract as they did a year earlier for defensive coordinator Keith Butler.
“The time spent there meant a lot to me, for a lot of reasons,” Haley said. “I’m very proud of most of the things we did. We did a lot of good things, we won a lot of games, developed multiple really good players and Ben got better.
“My job was well-documented. It was to help elongate his career and protect him, and I don’t see how anyone can argue we didn’t do that.”
“It was time to move on,” Haley said. “I had a great conversation with Mike [Tomlin]. I’m very much at peace with it. That’s why I stress the time there meant a lot to me, having family and friends who still live there.”
More from Frank Reich’s introduction as Colts coach. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
“We will be a multiple, attack, up-tempo offense. We will be aggressive,” Reich said Tuesday, via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
While that’s all pretty standard for an introductory news conference, Reich expounded on what he hopes to see out of his quick-paced offense.
“We’ll change things up. What I mean by multiple is we’ll use multiple personnel groups and multiple formations,” he said, via WXIN-TV in Indianapolis. “We’ll change the tempo. There will be a strong element of the no-huddle offense. We’ll build the players around that kind of scheme.”
That “strong element of the no-huddle” is intriguing. Most coaches shy away from using tempo on offense when they own a defense as poor as the one Reich took over.
Tempo could buoy Andrew Luck in his potential return. Reich was mostly mum when talking about the franchise quarterback on Tuesday but intimated he wasn’t concerned about Luck’s agonizingly slow recovery.
Reich saw first-hand what using tempo did to help the Eagles’ offense explode, extend drives, and tire out defenses. Utilizing that plan as one core element of Indy’s offense will aid whichever quarterback starts the season under center.
NEW YORK JETS
Jeremy Bates is bumped up to OC. Dennis Waszak of the AP:
Jeremy Bates is getting another chance at running an NFL offense.
The New York Jets promoted Bates from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator Wednesday, replacing the fired John Morton.
The team also hired Rick Dennison as offensive line coach/run game coordinator and Steve Jackson as assistant defensive backs coach. Bates also will continue his duties as quarterbacks coach.
Bates takes over an offense that ranked 28th overall and struggled with consistency — resulting in Morton’s dismissal after just one season.
Bates was hired last offseason by coach Todd Bowles to work with the Jets’ quarterbacks after being out of football from 2013-16. The 41-year-old Bates has previous experience as an offensive coordinator, serving in that role for Seattle in 2010 under Pete Carroll.
“Jeremy is a talented coach who has a sound understanding of what it takes to build a successful offense,” Bowles said in a statement issued by the team. “Having spent last season with us, he offers continuity and has a good sense of what we need to do to improve. I look forward to him working together with our offensive coaches.”
He has also worked as an assistant under Mike Shanahan in Denver and Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay during his coaching career.
The former college quarterback at Tennessee and Rice is the son of former college and NFL defensive coordinator Jim Bates.
The key question facing Jeremy Bates — as well as the entire franchise — is who his quarterback will be next season. He helped Josh McCown have the best season of his lengthy NFL career, but the 38-year-old quarterback is scheduled to be a free agent and uncertain to return. New York also has Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg on the roster, but neither is considered the quarterback of the future.
The Jets could also be interested in Washington’s Kirk Cousins if he becomes available with the Redskins trading for Kansas City’s Alex Smith. New York holds the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL draft in April, and could target a quarterback with that selection.
THIS AND THAT
Johnny Manziel will be the centerpiece of something called the Spring League. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
Johnny Manziel will return to a football field in late March.
The ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback announced Wednesday he would be joining The Spring League in Austin, Texas, beginning March 28.
Back in Texas where it all started. I’ll be joining @TheSpringLeague in Austin to get #ComebackSZN started! Can’t wait to get back on the field and show NFL scouts what I can do! #cantwaitforspring
“Football has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. Sometimes you take for granted how much you value something until it’s gone. My goal is to make it back to the NFL and I realize I have to earn that privilege,” Manziel said in a statement released by the developmental league. “The Spring League has provided me with a great opportunity to play ball again, and ultimately, that is all I want to do. I miss the competition.”
Manziel hasn’t played a football game since being cut by the Browns following the 2015 season. The quarterback spoke with Good Morning America earlier this week, revealing his battle with bipolar disorder, depression and alcohol use. Manziel said he quit drinking and hoped to return to football.
The first step in that potential comeback will be with The Spring League. The developmental league was created in 2017 to help grow and showcase football talent for potential NFL and Canadian Football League teams. The league is currently comprised of four teams and will conduct joint practices and games from March 28-April 15 in Austin, Texas.
The 25-year-old Manziel will be part of the Spring League South squad, which has games scheduled for April 7 and April 14.
Manziel received an offer to play in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but sides did not agree on a contract. The former first-round pick instead decided to begin his “Comebackszn” in the developmental league.
“We’re excited to have such a dynamic player in Johhny Manziel taking part in The Spring League,” Brian Woods, CEO of The Spring League, said in a statement. “We believe our platform is the ideal forum for Mr. Manziel to enact his NFL comeback.”
A now-revealed codicil of the NFL’s agreement with FOX over Thursday Night Football is that the network will now televise the draft every April. It’s the old NFL Network show, co-branded says Kevin Draper of the New York Times:
Fox is going all-in on the N.F.L., and for the first time this year will televise the N.F.L. draft, according to multiple people with knowledge of the plans. Fox and the NFL Network will team up for a joint production, mixing talent from both networks on a co-branded broadcast. One feed will appear on both networks, the people said.
Fox will televise the first round on Thursday, April 26, and the second and third rounds on Friday, April 27, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. It is unclear whether Fox will televise the last four rounds of the draft on April 28.
ESPN, which has broadcast the draft each year since 1980, will continue to do so. Since 2006, both ESPN and the NFL Network have broadcast separate productions of the draft. Last year, 6.7 million viewers watched ESPN’s coverage of the first round, while 2.5 million watched on the NFL Network.
The N.F.L., Fox and ESPN declined to comment. News of Fox televising the draft was first reported by ProFootballTalk.
Last month, the N.F.L. announced that Fox had won the rights to broadcast 11 games of “Thursday Night Football” for the next five seasons. The rights to televise the draft were part of that package, and according to SportsBusinessJournal, Fox will televise the draft for the next five years.
In December, the Walt Disney Company — which owns 80 percent of ESPN — agreed to pay $52.4 billion to buy most of 21st Century Fox’s assets, including its 22 regional sports networks, pending regulatory approval. The slimmed down company that remains will include Fox, Fox Sports, Fox News and a few other channels, and will focus on live programming such as sports and news.
Despite television ratings for the N.F.L. having fallen 19 percent over the past two seasons, Fox has decided to make the league a cornerstone of its programming. In addition to winning the rights to “Thursday Night Football” and the N.F.L. draft, the network might soon be televising an additional playoff game as well.
Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com has more, with some numbers:
When ESPN first approached the NFL about televising the draft, Commissioner Pete Rozelle was taken aback: Who would want to watch that?
As it turned out, the answer was: Millions of football fans. With ESPN’s help, the NFL draft has become a huge annual event and the centerpiece of the NFL offseason. It’s become a lucrative business for both ESPN and the NFL.
But with FOX agreeing to televise the draft for the first time this year, it’s an event that ESPN no longer controls.
In recent years, NFL Network’s coverage of the draft has taken a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. Although ESPN has always had higher ratings than NFL Network, the ESPN-NFLN split of the audience has gone from 74-26 in 2015 to 70-30 in 2016 to 67-33 in 2017, according to Sports Business Journal. That split is certain to change significantly when FOX, which as a broadcast network reaches more viewers than ESPN, jointly televises the draft with NFL Network this year. It’s likely that the combined FOX-NFL Network coverage will have a higher viewership than ESPN’s coverage.
Pete Rozelle never could have imagined, when ESPN first approached him, that the NFL draft would become such a hot commodity that some other network would come along and compete with ESPN for the event. But that day has come, and with FOX and NFL Network now showing the draft together, it’s a competition ESPN is likely to lose.
Can LSU CB DONTE JACKSON set the Combine Record for the 40-yard dash? Dan Parr at NFL.com:
John Ross became the NFL Scouting Combine’s speed king with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash last year, and now he has a target on his back as the record holder in the event.
LSU’s Donte Jackson, one of the top CBs in this year’s draft, is aiming for it.
Jackson told NFL Network’s Jane Slater that he’s working toward breaking Ross’ record. He should have as good a shot at it as anyone at this year’s combine. Jackson, who was training Wednesday at the Michael Johnson Performance headquarters in McKinney, Texas, said he’s been timed as fast as 4.24 seconds in the 40.
Ross, a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017, broke Chris Johnson’s record of 4.24 seconds, which stood for nine years.
“That was huge. I was watching it,” Jackson recalled of Ross’ record-breaking run. “A lot of guys on my team we were all watching it like, ‘You’re going to beat that. You’re going to beat that.’ It was cool to see. It was cool to see somebody actually went out there and broke it.”
We ranked Jackson the fastest player in college football before the 2017 season, so it’s not a surprise to see this conversation bubbling up with a couple weeks until the combine gets underway in Indianapolis. One NFL personnel exec recently told NFL.com‘s Daniel Jeremiah that Jackson will be the prospect who generates the most buzz at the event.
Mark your calendars for March 5 — that’s the day Jackson will run the 40 at the combine.
We might see history made for the second straight year.
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Today’s Mock Draft comes from Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com who thinks BAKER MAYFIELD will shoulder his way past the two Los Angeles area QBs to the top:
It’s February, which can only mean one thing as we look ahead to the draft: The Browns are on their never-ending search for a franchise quarterback. We were having this discussion 12 months ago, when they were perfectly positioned to take Mitchell Trubisky (they selected Myles Garrett first overall; Trubisky went second) or Deshaun Watson (they traded out of the No. 12 pick and the Texans took Watson), and instead settled on DeShone Kizer in the second round. The Browns were in a similar situation the year before, when the Rams drafted Jared Goff with the top pick and instead of pulling the trigger on Carson Wentz, they traded down to accumulate picks to help restock a barren roster.
Yet here we are, two years, two missed franchise quarterbacks and a single win later and the Browns, you could argue, have somehow regressed. But that all changes this offseason. New general manager John Dorsey sounds like he has every intention of drafting a quarterback early (Cleveland has the No. 1 and No. 4 picks) because it’s clear this team has no chance to compete without one.
As has been the case pretty much since the team returned to Cleveland in 1999, the question now becomes: Who will they target in the draft to be the next face of the franchise?
Conventional wisdom says the Browns could take safe bet Sam Darnold, the USC quarterback who ticks all the boxes on the “This is what a franchise quarterback looks like” form. In a word, he’s safe, something Johnny Manziel wasn’t when the team traded up to get him with the 22nd overall pick in 2014. Darnold isn’t perfect; he has a hitch in his delivery that has some scouts worried, but his accuracy is attractive though he struggled with ball security last season.
But there’s another, less conventional choice and the only question may be when the Browns decide to draft him.
1. Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. Mayfield isn’t your prototypical NFL quarterback. At 6-1, 220 pounds, and with a demeanor that can sometimes rub people the wrong way, he has drawn comparisons to the aforementioned Manziel. Mayfield is understandably bothered by this. Whether it’s enough to scare away Dorsey and the Browns is another matter, particularly since the team’s new draft consultant, former Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan, has been a huge Mayfield fan for some time, saying in October, “He reminds me of a shorter version of Brett Favre.”
2. New York Giants
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. Rosen has terrific mechanics and completed 63 percent of his passes last season even though he was victimized by 31 drops. He has struggled to stay healthy but with 37-year-old Eli Manning entering his 15th season, the Giants are in the market for his replacement — and it’s unlikely they’ll have the second-overall pick again anytime soon.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. The Colts were terrible in just about every facet of the game a season ago but their pass defense ranked dead last, according to Football Outsiders’ metrics. In terms of getting after the quarterback, the unit ranked 31st (ahead of only the sad-sack Buccaneers) with 25 sacks, which is why Chubb seems too good to pass up.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans)
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. Here’s the good news: The Browns’ defense was replacement-level last season. The bad news is that their offense was the worst in the NFL. More good news, though! They can address two offensive needs with the first four picks. And after taking Mayfield first overall, the Browns circle back and take the draft’s best running back. And here’s to hoping that this isn’t a repeat of the 2012 draft when the Browns used their two first-round picks on Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden.
5. Denver Broncos
Sam Darnold, QB, USC. Assuming the Broncos don’t land Kirk Cousins in free agency, Darnold will be too good to pass up here, even after trading up in the 2016 draft to grab Paxton Lynch at the end of the first round. He, Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler aren’t the long-term answers and the window is closing fast for a team two years removed from a Super Bowl title.
6. New York Jets
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. The run on quarterbacks continues, and Allen is the next name to be called. The Jets have a gaping hole at quarterback and while Allen comes with some flaws, it’s hard to overlook his physical skills. That said, he’s struggled with accuracy and God help us all if he’s Christian Hackenberg 2.0. (He’s not.)
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama. The Bucs’ pass defense ranked 31st last season and Fitzpatrick’s best attribute is his versatility. He excels in the slot, at safety and as a nickel linebacker and he’ll immediately upgrade a hapless unit that was hard to watch at times in 2017.
8. Chicago Bears
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. The Bears’ leading receiver last season was Kendall Wright, who had 59 catches for 614 yards. Yes, Kevin White and Cameron Meredith will return but you can never have too many big-play options for second-year quarterback Trubisky.
9. San Francisco 49ers
Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame. The 49ers have tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown but the interior of the offensive line needs some work and Nelson makes a lot of sense here, especially now that the franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo signed a five-year, $137.5 million extension.
10. Oakland Raiders
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech. One of the NFL’s most disappointing defenses adds one of the draft’s most physically gifted players to shore up the unit.
11. Miami Dolphins
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. Like many of the other teams picking high in the first round, the Dolphins’ secondary was exposed a season ago. Ward isn’t the biggest cornerback in the draft but he can cover. Those skills are hard to come by in the NFL, and are especially important when you face the Patriots and Tom Brady twice a year.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
Connor Williams, OT, Texas: Cincinnati’s offensive line wasn’t even replacement level last season and Williams would provide a much-needed upgrade, not only making life easier for Andy Dalton but for Joe Mixon too.
13. Washington Redskins
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. With Zach Brown possibly becoming a free agent, Smith would be a faster, younger, cheaper alternative. If the Redskins can re-sign Brown and pair him with Smith, all the better.
14. Green Bay Packers
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA. Davenport parlays a big Senior Bowl week into a strong draft-day showing and the University of Texas-San Antonio standout brings his pass-rushing skills to Green Bay. He had 21.5 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss during his four-year college career, and he would join a defense that ranked 17th in sacks a season ago with 37.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma. With the top quarterbacks long off the board, the Cardinals turn their attention to protecting whomever succeeds Carson Palmer under center. Brown can step into a starting job immediately.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU. Just like the Browns are perpetually looking for a quarterback, the Ravens are annually in search of a game-changing wide receiver. They’re hoping Sutton, who is a huge downfield target, is that player.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Derwin James, S, Florida State. Yes, the Chargers drafted two defensive backs a year ago, they were late-rounders and not nearly the talent that James is. Plus, in today’s NFL you can never have too many competent defensive backs. James is solid against both the run and the pass and will make an already good defense better.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. The Seahawks could have gone in any number of directions with this pick — cornerback and defensive line among them — but making an honest effort to protect Russell Wilson seems like the prudent move given that he spent much of the 2017 season running for his life.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan. The Cowboys have a big need along the defensive line and Hurts is the most obvious player to fill that need. At 6-2, 283 pounds, he may be undersized but his unbelievable quickness more than makes up for it.
20. Detroit Lions
Vita Vea, DT, Washington. At 6-4 and almost 350 pounds, Vea is one of the biggest players in the draft. And he’d make some sense in Detroit for first-year coach Matt Patricia, who once had Vince Wilfork dominating the line of scrimmage when both men were with the Patriots.
21. Buffalo Bills
Billy Price, OL, Ohio State. Eric Wood was forced to retire and the Bills have a need at interior lineman. Price is the top-rated center in the draft and would transition seamlessly in Buffalo.
22. Buffalo Bills from Chiefs
Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. A quarterback is an obvious need for the Bills but if history has taught us anything, reaching for one is a fool’s errand. (See J.P. Losman, EJ Manuel, though maybe the lesson is don’t take a quarterback whose uses initials as their first name.) Either way, Payne is as strong as he is athletic and he’ll anchor the middle of the Bills’ defensive line.
23. Los Angeles Rams
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. The Rams could use an edge rusher but with the top players already off the board they’ll settle for a cornerback who will bolster a top-10 defense from a season ago.
24. Carolina Panthers
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State. Devin Funchess was the Panthers’ leading receiver last season, followed by a running back (Christian McCaffrey) and a player they traded after eight games (Kelvin Benjamin). Put another way: Cam Newton needs another downfield weapon and Washington could be it.
25. Tennessee Titans
Harold Landry, DE, Boston College. Landry isn’t a finished product but he can get after the quarterback from Day 1, something the Titans’ front seven needs to do better in 2018.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida. The Falcons could lose four defensive linemen — including Dontari Poe — in free agency and Bryan should still be on the board late in Round 1.
27. New Orleans Saints
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State. Drew Brees is planning to re-sign with the Saints but at 39 how much longer does he have left? Goedert will make an already explosive offense even more so as New Orleans preps for a Super Bowl run.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama. Evans could be off the board by the time the Steelers go on the clock but he would fit perfectly in Pittsburgh. Ryan Shazier suffered a serious spinal injury last season and he was the glue that held the Steelers’ defense together.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. Blake Bortles earned the right to be the Jaguars’ quarterback in 2018 but there are no guarantees beyond that. If he regresses next season the Jags will have Jackson waiting in the wings.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Will Hernandez, OL, UTEP. The Vikings need help at tackle but Hernandez is too good to pass up here, and he’ll bolster the interior line of a unit that was replacement level in the running game last season.
31. New England Patriots
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma. The Super Bowl proved that the Patriots desperately need pass rushers and cover cornerbacks. With Okoronkwo still on the board, New England addresses the pass-rushing deficiencies and will circle back to those secondary needs in later rounds.
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Ronald Jones, RB, USC. With LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles headed for free agency, Jones would add some much-needed depth. That said, Jay Ajayi and Super Bowl hero Corey Clement return (along with Wendell Smallwood) but as Blount proved in 2017, you can never have too many talented backs in a game where injuries can derail a season.