The Daily Briefing Thursday, July 20, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Jay Cutler will get to opine about his former team in the first two games of his broadcasting career. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
What does Jay Cutler really think of his former team? We’ll find out in Week One.
FOX is planning to assign Cutler, along with Charles Davis and Kevin Burkhardt, to the Week One Bears-Falcons game. Cutler retired this offseason to work for FOX after 11 NFL seasons, the last eight of which were with the Bears.
Cutler is also expected to make his preseason debut calling a Bears game.
If he’s willing to be candid and honest, Cutler should have some good insights about his former teammates and coaches. Cutler didn’t always see eye-to-eye with everyone in Chicago, and that should make for more interesting commentary than a former player who only has positive things to say about his old team.
With the cloud of the never-ending NFL’s version of the Russian Investigation still hanging over his head, RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT has been up to no good with bad driving and a bar fight coming to light. First, to help you catch up if you’ve been on vacation, here is what the Washington Post reported on Monday:
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, whose behavior is under investigation by the NFL, has drawn unwanted attention because of an incident Sunday night in a Dallas bar.
Dallas police say that they were summoned to Clutch Bar at around 9:40 p.m. CDT because a 30-year-old patron said he had been physically assaulted by an unnamed man in the incident, which was first reported by 105.3 FM the Fan in Dallas. The man, a local DJ named Nkemakola Ibeneme, was taken to a hospital for injuries that were not life-threatening, no arrests were made and Elliott was not named on the police report. However, The Fan, TMZ, the Dallas Morning News and ESPN cited sources naming Elliott in what Dallas police told The Washington Post in an email is an ongoing investigation. A lawyer for the Cowboys star has not responded to a request from The Post for comment.
Later on Monday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted a man who claimed to be an eye witness and said that Elliott “didn’t throw the punch.” The man, a bouncer at another Texas bar who was in Dallas on Sunday evening, told the newspaper that he had a good view of the events because he was trying to get close to Elliott to take a selfie.
“Zeke was just standing there arms folded chilling feeling the crowd,” the man said in a message to the Star-Telegram. He claimed that as Ibeneme was “getting loud toward the vicinity” of the running back, he saw “an overhand right come over the back” of Elliott and land “square” in Ibeneme’s face, putting the latter “to sleep.”
Elliott, who will turn 22 on Saturday, led the NFL in rushing as a rookie, but has had an unsteady offseason away from the field.
An allegation of domestic violence, for which no charges were filed, has hung over the offseason and could result in his suspension. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Friday that “there’s a growing sense” that Elliott could face “some sort of short suspension here in the coming weeks at some point, once the NFL wraps up its investigation.” The NFL has denied that a decision on possible discipline has been made and the league typically closes shop until the opening of training camps.
Elliott’s judgment has been called into question at times during the offseason, drawing unneeded attention to him at a time when he is under investigation by the league. Among other things, he presently is appealing a misdemeanor conviction for speeding after being clocked driving at 100 mph in a 70-mph zone in April.
During a St. Patrick’s Day parade, he pulled down a woman’s top, a move that was captured on video. “There is not much that I want to say other than that was unfortunate and not good,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of the incident in late March. “It wouldn’t be the right emphasis one way or the other to get into any communications or dialogue since that happened.”
In February, Elliott, who played college ball at Ohio State, was with a friend who was arrested for trying to carry a firearm into a bar in Columbus, Ohio. Elliott, in a tweet that was later deleted, said: “I was never ‘detained’ by the police. Nor was I ever questioned or in any type of trouble.”
Last summer, Elliott visited a recreational marijuana shop in Seattle, where possession of small amounts is legal, just hours before a preseason Cowboys game. He made no purchase at Herban Legends, but his presence in the shop concerned Jones, given that the NFL considers the substance banned under terms of the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association. “Well, I think that, in and of itself, the reason we are talking about it is in a way part of the learning process,” Jones told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “But it’s not good. It’s just not good. It’s just not good.”
The Dallas police on Wednesday said they were closing the investigation because the punchee, Ibeneme, was making himself hard to find and could not be questioned. Certainly DPD would face community pressure not to work so hard to track down the DJ – but remember, NFL Justice reserves an absolute right to insinuate itself into events dismissed by local legal authorities.
This from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Nearly a year after prosecutors announced that Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott would not face charges over allegations of domestic violence, the NFL continues to investigate the matter. And it’s not looking good for Elliott.
Adam Schefter reported on ESPN today that Elliott and people around him are starting to conclude that the NFL is going to suspend Elliott for the start of the season.
“Ezekiel Elliott at this point in time is bracing for a short suspension,” Schefter said. “Maybe one game, maybe two games, but as one person told me, in quotes, ‘It looks like the NFL is trying to pin something on him.’”
Schefter suggested that Elliott could be looking at a two-game suspension, forcing him out for Week One against the Giants and Week Two against the Broncos. It’s unclear why Elliott would be suspended only two games, as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when he introduced the league’s domestic violence policy that a six-game suspension would be the standard for a first offense.
Elliott burst onto the scene as one of the league’s brightest young stars last year. This year the NFL may sit one of its brightest stars for the start of the season.
While we were gone QB KIRK COUSINS opted to play on a franchise tender for the second consecutive year. John Keim of ESPN.com with the overview:
The Kirk Cousins saga was briefly interrupted Monday when he and the Washington Redskins failed to strike a long-term deal. Barring the unlikely scenario of an in-season trade, the dance will resume in the offseason, with Cousins hitting free agency a strong possibility. Unless, of course, there’s another tag placed on him.
The lesson Washington must learn: If you truly want a player to re-sign, don’t wait until late in the game to make what would have been a strong offer a few months earlier. Cousins did debate countering but in the end he said he wanted to see how this season goes because of numerous changes to the organization.
Here are the four options in 2018 and, based on talking to numerous people, why they do or don’t make sense:
A third franchise tag: This would cost $34.5 million, which likely makes this an unrealistic scenario. The benefit, though, is that the Redskins would control his rights. If the Redskins feel there’s any shot at retaining him, they could tag him and negotiate without any future tag numbers impacting their talks, as has been the case. If they don’t strike a deal, it’ll be a costly maneuver.
Or, they could tag and trade him. Cousins would have to work out a long-term contract with another team. If there’s no trade — and no long-term deal — the Redskins would be stuck with a hefty bill that, if the salary cap rises by $10 million or so, would occupy nearly 20 percent of the space. That’s bad business. They also have 11 other key starters or backups in the final year of their deals, so if Cousins played a third year under the tag it would cost the team the ability to retain multiple players.
The transition tag: This would enable Washington, which would owe Cousins $28.7 million under the transition tag, to match any offer from other teams. But there’s a problem: The offer could be too tough to match. The Redskins will have plenty of cap space — overthecap.com projects them at $54 million — so they could absorb a massive first-year hit on a new deal. However, as noted in the franchise-tag section, it would prohibit the Redskins from re-signing some of their other players. San Francisco, in need of a long-term starting quarterback, projects to have around $49 million in cap space. Those numbers don’t include possible carryover space from 2017 or players who could be released.
The 49ers — or another team — could make a heavily front-loaded deal with a player opt-out clause for the second year, much like the deal Alex Mack signed three years ago when under the transition tag with Cleveland. A year later, he opted out and bolted. If the Redskins matched such an offer, they would do so knowing Cousins could simply leave in 2019. It becomes an expensive one-year rental. However, if he opted out and signed elsewhere, the Redskins would receive a compensatory draft pick. If they fail to match the original offer, they wouldn’t receive compensation. If Cousins doesn’t get the offer he wants, or from the team he wants, he could always sign the tag and do this dance all over again in 2019.
Re-signing before free agency: This is tough to see happening. Real tough. Cousins said he wasn’t bothered by general manager Bruce Allen’s statement and knew it was coming, but suffice to say it went further than anticipated and did not sit well. If nothing else it stalled momentum from the previous two months that would have helped next offseason. Will that matter in February? Who knows. It could be viewed as a continuation of how things are handled in Washington. Regardless, how Allen steers the franchise will matter. So will the relationship between Cousins and Gruden when it comes to how they mesh in the playcaller-QB dynamic. So will how the offense fares with two new prominent receivers. The season would have to go really well to the point both sides realize they’re better off together than apart in order to get something done. There are things both sides really like about the other, but it hasn’t been enough to work anything out to date. It’s not all on the Redskins, though. For them to pay the money it would take to sign Cousins pre-free agency, they’d have to see a whole lot this season — and the team had better reach the playoffs. The best guess here: He won’t sign at this point, opting to let them either use another tag or hit free agency. It’s not impossible for him to return, but a lot must break right.
Free agency: If neither tag is a great option and if signing before free agency would be considered a long shot (as of now), then this is the most likely (and desired) outcome. In this case, the Redskins would be bidding against multiple teams and, as you could imagine, there will be no hometown discount. Washington would not be out of the running, but the Redskins also wouldn’t be the favorite. Again, a lot depends on how the season unfolds. Cousins’ value would be set without the threat of a future tag. With good quarterbacks rarely hitting the open market, there likely would be multiple suitors. Yes, the 49ers would be one of them, but they won’t be alone. It could reach numbers that make the dollar amounts bandied about in 2016 and ’17 seem like a bargain. If Cousins leaves in free agency, the Redskins’ parting gift would be a compensatory pick in 2019.
Mike Florio says a huge heaven-sent payday could be coming:
Quarterback Kirk Cousins says he’s entrusting his football future to the Lord. And that may not be the only thing Cousins has in common with Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White.
White, the NFL’s first high-profile unrestricted free agent, famously said that God told him to go to Green Bay.It was the culmination of a pursuit that has been unrivaled in 25 years since then, but for maybe the Peyton Manning sweepstakes of 2012.
For Cousins, multiple teams may already be plotting to make a run at him in March. Some league insiders believe the 49ers decided to wait until next year as an alternative to trading for him this year, given the ransom that Washington CEO Brice (typing accent) Allen wanted. The Browns also were contemplating a run at Cousins, and possibly will do so again based on how their quarterbacks perform in 2017.
Don’t overlook the Rams, either. New coach Sean McVay got the job due in large part to the work he did with Cousins over the last two seasons. If McVay doesn’t deem Jared Goff to be the answer — and/or if McVay doesn’t want to have to deal with Cousins as a 49er for the next five or six years — the Rams could get in on the land rush, too.
Other teams also could be interested, based on age, performance, and health of current starters. From the Bills to the Jets to the Bengals to the Jaguars to the Broncos to the Vikings to the Saints (if Drew Brees leaves) to the Cardinals (if Carson Palmer retires), Cousins could find himself at the center of a storm that would shock most observers.
It would shock most observers because there continues to be a “why him?” vibe surrounding Cousins. Part of that comes from the fact that Washington’s default emotion regarding Cousins continues to be ambivalence.
That said, Washington has used the franchise tag on Cousins twice. Don’t rule out Washington using it a third time. Which would mean that Cousins will have made more than $78 million for three years with Washington.
Which should get every franchise quarterback to embrace year-to-year life under the franchise tag.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com checks in on RB DEVONTA FREEMAN and his contract negotiations:
All signs have been pointing to a long-term contract for Falcons running back Devonta Freeman. But with no deal happening, maybe it’s time to re-read the signs.
Maybe Freeman, who is a year away from the open market or the franchise tag (which currently outpaces market value), has decided to roll the dice. Maybe he’s willing to go year to year, like other star players facing the tag may be doing.
Whatever the case, if it were an easy negotiation it would be done by now.
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests that the team “own[s] most of the chips.” We disagree (as, apparently, does Luther Campbell, the wife of Freeman’s agent).
Freeman has leverage, because he’s one year from finishing his rookie deal Sure, he’ll make only $1.8 million in 2017 without an extension. After that, though, the Falcons face a dilemma — let him become a free agent or use the tag, which was $12.1 million this year for running backs and surely will be higher next year.
The question becomes what it will take to get Freeman to trade in his 2017 pay plus the chance to hit the market or make at least $12.1 million in 2018. Whatever the Falcons have been offering, it’s apparently not enough to get him to give up the power that he has over the situation.
In the end, what Freeman wants may be enough to get the Falcons to regret offering such cheap food at their new stadium.
The Panthers bounced crusty GM Dave Gettleman last week amidst signs that he cold-heartedly did not love longtime Panthers stalwarts LB THOMAS DAVIS and TE GREG OLSEN enough. Longtime Charlotte Observer scribe Tom Sorensen stands up for Gettleman:
Talked to a Carolina Panthers’ source as the team ascended to the top of the NFC South. In other words, before last season. The man told me that, more than anybody in the organization, general manager Dave Gettleman was responsible for the team’s success.
On Monday Gettleman was fired.
Many players resented Gettleman. Not all of them, certainly. But when something happens to one player, there is a sense it could happen to them all.
We know about the publicized and messy departures of the stars. See you Steve Smith, see you Josh Norman and see you DeAngelo Williams. There also was a departure that was as least as significant – left tackle Jordan Gross.
Gross was asked to take a cut in pay by the new general manager before the 2013 season. Gross did not see it coming and reluctantly accepted it. He got revenge, surprising his employer when he retired before the 2014 season. Gross was one of the best left tackles in the league, a teacher, and a teammate; you’d see him at camp helping linemen who almost no chance to make the team.
Had he not been asked to take the pay cut, he almost certainly would have returned for one more season, and would have made an enormous difference.
So, when you add up the evidence, when you add Gross to Smith and Norman to Williams, Gettleman must be what, obnoxious, too tough, a bad guy?
Does anybody believe that Carolina owner Jerry Richardson woke up the morning after a Gettleman move, picked up his Observer (he subscribes), saw the headlines and said:
“Whoa, you mean to tell me Jordan Gross agreed to restructure his contract? Steve Smith is leaving? We’re not keeping Josh Norman? Why wasn’t I told of this?”
(The DeAngelo Williams departure was different.)
Richardson is aware of and part of every major decision his team makes. He doesn’t instigate it, necessary. But he’s aware of it. He played the game, he owns the team and it’s absurd to believe that Gettleman made moves the owner didn’t know about.
Like Richardson, Gettleman is a football lifer. I can envision Gettleman in his very cool Charlotte home or his office at Bank of America Stadium. It’s 3 a.m., and everything is dark but the screen on his TV. He uses the light to make notes about the player he’s studying, hits rewind and watches the video again.
I read and heard in a couple places that Gettleman was fired because he allowed his ego to get in the way. What ego? He wears baggy shorts with his shirt tucked in – in public – and he drives a van.
I never heard him say, “Hey, look what I did.” When he got it right, there’d be a smile. The message was: We. We added talent. We retained our core players. We are going to win.
Gettleman regularly praised his Carolina predecessor, Marty Hurney. There was no ego. There was confidence. There was a football guy.
Gettleman and I talked once about a Panther whose contract was about to expire. Gettleman said he wanted to retain the player. Then he named the players whose contracts would expire the following season and the season after that. If we overpay now, he said, we struggle to retain the players we’ll need in the future. He talked about the budgets with which we deal at home.
He turned what had been an interesting salary cap discussion into a boring story about a household budget. But, yeah, he was right.
The timing of Gettleman’s firing is terrible for the GM and for his employer. If the Panthers knew this was coming, the No. 2 personnel man in the organization, Brandon Beane, would not be in Buffalo.
Some of the speculation is silly. But we do know that linebacker Thomas Davis, with whom Richardson is extremely close, wants an extension. Tight end Greg Olsen, who signed a contract two years ago, wants a better one. He and Richardson also are close. Can you imagine this team without them?
Don’t blame (or credit) Davis or Olsen for Gettleman’s departure. What did they do wrong? They want to be paid. We’re like that, we humans.
Gettleman is honest and effective, a grinder and a good man. I’ll miss the guy.
If you’re a fan of the Panthers, you should, too.
Maybe Gettleman will be back some day. His successor is also his predecessor. David Newton of ESPN.com.
The Carolina Panthers on Wednesday hired Marty Hurney — on an interim basis — to replace the general manager who replaced him four years ago.
Hurney takes over for Dave Gettleman, who on Monday was fired by team owner Jerry Richardson despite helping Carolina reach the playoffs — including a trip to Super Bowl 50 — in three of his four seasons.
Gettleman was hired in January 2013 to replace Hurney, who was fired after a 1-5 start to the 2012 season and a 6-10 record in 2011.
Hurney said at a news conference that he heard from a “buddy of mine” on Monday morning that Gettleman had been fired. Late in the afternoon he got a call asking if he would meet with Richardson on Tuesday.
“There’s a trust there,” he said. “I know him. He knows me. We know the principals and philosophy. We both have a burning desire to win games, to bring a successful season to this city.”
Hurney said when he and Richardson met they talked strictly about moving forward, not about why Gettleman was fired. But he said knowing Richardson the way he does it wasn’t a rash decision made in one day.
Hurney said his immediate focus was on learning the roster and getting ready for this season. He won’t start narrowing down a list of candidates for a fulltime general manager until after the season.
Asked if he might be a candidate for the fulltime position, Hurney was vague.
“Honestly, I’ve got 93 text messages on my phone right now,” he said. “I’m not looking past this afternoon. I’m here in an interim capacity and I’m here in this role.”
By naming an interim general manager, the Panthers, according to a league spokesman, did not violate the Rooney Rule. The rule requires a team to interview at least one minority candidate for high-profile positions such as general manager and head coach.
There was no formal search in 2012 when Brandon Beane was promoted to interim general manager after Hurney was fired.
But John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance that advocates for minority hiring in the NFL, told The Charlotte Observer he believes the rule should apply.
“The Rooney Rule clearly states that if you are hiring a person or in search of filling a position and that position has to do with being in charge or being in charge with personnel, then you must adhere to the Rooney Rule,” Wooten said.
The transition for Hurney should be simple. Hurney remained in Charlotte and purchased radio station ESPN 730 after his dismissal. Most of the front-office personnel and many of the key players remain in place from when he was with the organization.
Hurney also hired coach Ron Rivera in 2011 and has remained close to Richardson.
Rivera said with training camp starting on Tuesday, “we’ve got the right guy at the right time.”
“He knows us,” Rivera said. “He knows the organization. He knows how Mr. Richardson thinks, which is very important.”
Bringing back Hurney now gives the organization time to find a full-time replacement after the season with players reporting to training camp on Tuesday. Richardson also would have the option of making Hurney the full-time general manager. Team officials said Hurney will help hire the next GM.
Hurney joined the Panthers in 1998 after serving in the Chargers’ front office under Bobby Beathard. He was named the general manager in 2002 and helped the Panthers reach the Super Bowl after the 2003 season.
Hurney was responsible for bringing to the organization 10 of the 21 starters on the 2015 team that went an NFL-best 15-1 and reached Super Bowl 50.
“He worked with us for 15 years and understands the culture we have here,” Richardson said in a statement. “He had a lot to do with the core of our team being in place. I’m thankful that he is willing to help us in this transition period.”
More insight from Joseph Person in the Charlotte Observer:
Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson began the week by making a mistake. He did not compound it by making a second one.
Bringing back Marty Hurney as interim general manager after Richardson’s 11th-hour decision to dump Dave Gettleman was the only move Richardson could make with training camp starting in a week.
As temp workers go, you could do a lot worse than finding someone with 10-plus years of experience as a GM in your organization, with a Super Bowl appearance on his resume.
It was also convenient that Hurney still lived in town and maintained close ties with Richardson and just about everyone else with the team, including the head coach he hired and the six captains he was responsible for acquiring.
As Ron Rivera, who worked with Hurney for parts of two seasons, said of his old/new colleague: “I think we’ve got the right guy at the right time for the situation and circumstances we’re in.”
The Panthers found themselves in desperate circumstances because Richardson waited too long to cut ties with Gettleman, who oversaw the only NFC South team to win three consecutive division titles and had the Panthers in the Super Bowl 18 months ago.
If Richardson and a prominent player or two had grown tired of Gettleman’s gruff bedside manner, it would have helped if he’d reached that conclusion in April, before Brandon Beane was off to Buffalo.
But he didn’t, so Richardson did what any of us would have in a tough situation: He turned to someone he knew and trusted.
– – –
Hurney indicated he planned to sit down with Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner, who has an expiring contract, as well as Olsen and Davis.
“I think you explain what’s best for the team and the organization,” Hurney said. “Knowing a lot of the players that are here, they understand that.”
Those kind of talks weren’t necessarily Gettleman’s strong suit. Gettleman, a career scout until four years ago, didn’t pull punches when it came to contract negotiations and his assessments of players.
But it appears Gettleman drew his final line in the sand with Davis, the 34-year-old linebacker/community pillar who wants to play beyond this season when his contract expires.
Hurney – like Beane – is a bridge-builder who is universally liked throughout the building. It shouldn’t take him long to repair the rifts that were said to have formed between Gettleman and the locker room and coaches offices.
“I think one of my strengths is dealing with people and I do have a familiarity with a lot of people here,” Hurney said. “Anytime you’re leading or managing you have to have that ability to communicate with people. Not only talk to people, but listen to people. So I do think that’s a strength and I’m hoping that’s one of the reasons I’m here.”
But Hurney’s also here to win.
And while he signed a one-year contract and kept emphasizing Wednesday that his is an interim role, you think he’s going to give up the gig if the Panthers go 10-6 and make the playoffs?
But if the Panthers fall flat and finish south of .500 again, Hurney will help lead the search for his successor.
Either way, Rivera’s right: Hurney is the right man for this odd time in Panthers history.
QB TREVONE BOYKIN’s world in the Texas justice system has gone to partly cloudy from cloudy. Gregg Bell in the Tacoma News-Tribune:
Trevone Boykin is halfway to closing his offseason legal issues in Texas.
What that may or may not mean to the NFL remains unclear.
A clerk with the Bexar County Court that had been hearing the Seahawks quarterback’s case for possibly revoking his probation there, and Boykin’s San Antonio-based attorney, both told me Wednesday Boykin’s case there is closed.
“There is no finding of guilt,” Boykin’s attorney in San Antonio, Jaime Cavazos, said in a phone conversation.
“He is done with us,” the coordinator for Bexar County Court 12 confirmed.
Court records show it closed July 7, after he had pleaded no contest. Boykin was fined $1,500 and ordered to pay another $237 in court costs.
Boykin got probation in Bexar County as a result of pleading no contest in June 2016 to a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest following an incident at a bar Dec. 31, 2015. He was in San Antonio then to play in the Alamo Bowl for Texas Christian University. He was fined $1,500 in disposition of that case, required to take anger-management and alcohol-awareness courses and – according to Cavazos – required to check in regularly in writing and with phone calls to his probation officer.
That requirement continued while Boykin was in Seattle last year playing his rookie season as Russell Wilson’s backup and an undrafted free agent for the Seahawks.
Then in March, Boykin was arrested and briefly jailed on charges of marijuana possession and public intoxication relating to a car crash in which he was a passenger. He was facing revocation of his probation in San Antonio and possibly up to a year in jail time because of that incident.
His case in Dallas, part two of his legal troubles in his home state, has been pushed into August.
Records from Dallas County Court show a hearing for Boykin’s case there was to be last week but is now scheduled for Aug. 22. That is between the Seahawks’ second exhibition game, home against Minnesota, and the third preseason game against Kansas City.
I asked coach Pete Carroll last month if the Seahawks had any information from the NFL on whether the league might punish Boykin for his offseason troubles per its personal-conduct policy.
“I don’t have any other information than what we’ve had,” Carroll said June 15. “So I know nothing more. We have to wait and see what that’s all about.”
Boykin was arrested and briefly jailed March 27 in Dallas. He was a passenger in a car that backed across a curb and through the front of a bar, injuring eight. Boykin was booked into jail for about a day before posting $500 bond after charges of possessing less than two ounces of marijuana and investigation of public intoxication, according to jail records.
At the time of his arrest in Dallas, the Seahawks issued a statement that they were “disappointed.” Three months later, as expected, they signed a veteran to compete with Boykin as Wilson’s backup in 2017. Austin Davis, a journeyman and former part-time starter for the Cleveland Browns and the St. Louis Rams, participated in Seattle’s organized team activities and veteran minicamp in June. Davis will be on the field July 30 for the start of training camp, along with Wilson and Boykin, of course.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Another year and another top Chargers pick has a problem that could keep him from the field for all or part of his rookie season. Dan Woike of the LA Times on the 7th overall pick in the 2017 draft, WR MIKE WILLIAMS:
Mike Williams might need season-ending surgery on his lower back. Or, Mike Williams might be improving from nonsurgical treatment and will avoid surgery that would have cost him his rookie season.
Right now, anyone who says they know for sure probably doesn’t.
Williams, the Chargers’ first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft, hasn’t been on the football field since the first day of rookie minicamp, sidelined with a herniated disk in his lower back. The Chargers were briefly optimistic that he’d be able to return at some point during the team’s offseason program, but those hopes were dashed when the team shut him down in the final weeks of organized team activities.
Wednesday, some reports said Williams could be headed for season-ending surgery on his back. Shortly thereafter, conflicting reports said that Williams was actually improving after a pair of epidurals and that surgery wasn’t currently an option.
The Chargers declined to comment on the reports, and Williams’ agent didn’t return messages from The Times.
Williams seems likely to be headed for the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp — a move that wouldn’t necessarily prohibit him from playing during his rookie season. He could come off the list at any time during training camp.
If he remained on the list through training camp, he’d be ineligible to play during the first six weeks of the season.
The contrasting reports do represent some concern with Williams’ injury. The team has never formally identified when the injury occurred, whether it happened during the run-up to the draft — in which the Chargers used the No. 7 pick on the wide receiver — or on the field during rookie minicamp.
Back injuries are notorious for lingering and, in Williams’ case, injury red flags already existed. One game into his third season at Clemson, Williams suffered a neck fracture in a collision with the goalpost during a touchdown catch.
“My first thought was ‘Oh man, this kid may not play again,’” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told The Times in an interview in April. “It was a scary moment for everybody, for sure.”
Williams was somewhat lucky, though. He did miss the entire season, but the fracture didn’t require surgery. He returned in 2016 and helped lead Clemson to a national championship, catching 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Chargers were very impressed with Williams during a private workout prior to the draft.
“I love the pick,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said that night. “You can’t have enough playmakers.”
And luckily, even without Williams, they have plenty more.
Receiver Keenan Allen returned from a knee injury that cost him nearly all of last season and participated throughout organized team activities. When Allen was sidelined, Tyrell Williams emerged with 1,000-plus yards receiving and Dontrelle Inman developed into a reliable target.
Running back Melvin Gordon had 997 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns last season, and tight end Antonio Gates — one of the best ever to play the position — is flanked by Hunter Henry, the best tight end in last year’s rookie class.
The plan, of course, was to add Williams to that group. But as he watched his teammates go through drills during the summer, it was clear that he would not enter training camp on a level footing.
“He’s getting behind,” Lynn said at the time. “But the most important thing right now is to get him healthy, and get him back on the football field. But I know he can help us win football games down the road.”
It’s just that no one seems too sure how far down the road the Chargers will have to travel until Williams is ready.
TE GARY BARNIDGE has been on the street for a surprisingly long stretch, but now comes word of a nibble from the banks of the St. John’s River. Mike Kaye of First Coast News:
The Jaguars may add another former Pro Bowl player to the mix before the start of training camp on July 27.
Former Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge is scheduled to visit and work out for the Jaguars on July 25, a league source told First Coast News on Wednesday.
Entering his 10th NFL season, Barnidge has produced 2,258 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns during his career.
His best season came in 2015 with the Browns, as he posted 1,043 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Barnidge was released by Cleveland following this year’s NFL Draft. The Browns used a first-round pick on Miami tight end David Njoku, who is set to take on Barnidge’s playing time.
If the Jaguars were to sign Barnidge, it would be a homecoming for the veteran tight end. Barnidge played football at Middleburg High School. He played college football at Louisville
Barnidge was drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.
The Jaguars currently have Marcedes Lewis, Mychal Rivera, Ben Koyack, Neal Sterling, Alex Ellis and Caleb Bluiett at tight end.
NEW YORK JETS
QB JOSH McCOWN knows bad teams. He says the Jets are really all that. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
Jets quarterback Josh McCown is getting a little tired of hearing about how bad his team is.
McCown says the Jets, contrary to what many believe, have a competitive mix of veterans and young players who are going to play hard to win this year.
“There’s still some guys there that are pros,” McCown said on ESPN. “When you watch how a guy like Matt Forte comes in and does his job every day, Mo Wilkerson had a great spring, came in and worked hard, and our rookies coming along, Jamal Adams so impressive coming in as a rookie out of LSU, a high draft pick. So I think the future is bright for our team. We’ve got a good mix of the right guys who are willing to help the young guys learn but also committed to moving forward this year.”
McCown said he had several opportunities to be a backup this season, but the Jets were the only team willing to give him the chance to start, so that’s why he went to New York.
“I’m a competitor, but I want to go down playing, go down competing, so when somebody says ‘You’ve got a chance to compete’ where ever it is, I’m like, ‘Sign me up for that,’” McCown said. “I’m going to go out and play the best ball I’ve ever played in my career and as a team we’re going to come together and maybe buck a lot of people’s expectations.”
The good news for the Jets is that expectations are low enough they only need to win four or five games to buck a lot of people’s expectations.
THIS AND THAT
A sad, but expected, conclusion to the death of former NFL WR James Hardy. This from the AP in Fort Wayne, Indiana:
The death of former NFL wide receiver James Hardy has been ruled a suicide by Indiana officials.
The Allen County Coroner’s Office said Wednesday that the 31-year-old Hardy died of “asphyxia due to drowning.” Michael Burris, chief investigator for the coroner’s office, says the determination of suicide was based on Hardy’s medical and psychiatric history, his contacts with law enforcement and other evidence, including some found on his body.
Hardy’s body was found June 7 at a dam along the Maumee River in his hometown of Fort Wayne. Relatives had reported the former Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens player missing a few weeks earlier.
The former Indiana star was a second-round pick of the Bills in 2008. Injuries limited him to 16 games over two seasons. He also played for Baltimore before being released in 2011.
GOAT OF ALL TIME
Mike Sando of ESPN.com has a hugely long article here where a panel of elite coaches and GMs picks the GOAT QB, with all-time being defined as beginning with Joe Montana’s drafting in 1978. We have a vastly edited version below:
It takes an all-time-great voting panel to rank the greatest NFL quarterbacks of the modern era. We have assembled one of those, which might be the last time everyone reading this treatise nods in solidarity.
Pete Carroll, Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren, Howard Mudd, Wade Phillips, Mike Reinfeldt, Ray Rhodes, Mike Shanahan, Al Saunders and Norv Turner possess a combined 330 seasons of NFL experience. All 10 are Super Bowl champions, having combined for 20 rings in 30 opportunities.
The 10 bejeweled members of this exalted NFL tribunal agreed to rank their top 10 quarterbacks since 1978 — more on the time frame in a moment — while discussing the various quarterbacks on the record.
This exercise was more like completing a deep out into the teeth of the blitz than checking it down to the halfback underneath a soft zone.
“I went ’round and ’round and ’round,” Turner said. “I probably had 20 lists, and then you feel like, when you’re done, you’re leaving someone out to get it to 10.”
Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Ken Stabler were notable players excluded from the survey because some of their most significant seasons fell before the 1978 cutoff. Hall of Famer Dan Fouts also played extensively before 1978. He was included in the survey because his career took off beginning in 1978, when Don Coryell took over as the San Diego Chargers’ head coach.
Final rankings were determined by how frequently each quarterback outranked the others who received votes across all 10 ballots — call it the GOAT Index. For example, Tom Brady was ranked above the other QBs 87 percent of the time. Peyton Manning (80 percent) and Joe Montana (78) were next, followed by John Elway (67 percent), Aaron Rodgers (56) and so on. But enough on the math. Let’s get to the best QBs of the past four decades!
1. TOM BRADY
GOAT Index: 86.7 percent | Highest rank: 1 | Lowest rank: 6
Brady was first or second on nine ballots, making him a pretty overwhelming choice for the top spot. Dungy threw an interesting curveball. He approached the project as if he were a defensive coordinator drawing up a game plan. Dungy saw skilled passers across the board when looking at the best QBs. He reasoned that those who also were dangerous runners were the toughest quarterbacks to stop, which is why his top three comprised John Elway, Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers. Brady might own the best career credentials, but those other guys presented additional challenges. Not that anyone was going to argue against Brady.
Al Saunders: The thing that I asked myself is, “Who do I fear the most? Who did you not want to have the ball in their hands at the end of the game, regardless of the personnel that they played with?” I think of Brady that way.
Mike Reinfeldt, 1979 AFC Defensive Player of the Year and longtime executive with four franchises: If some guys are game managers, Brady is a field marshal. He’s in control of all aspects of the game, able to change his game to meet a specific plan. He’s been blessed to play his whole career for one of the best all-around coaches ever. Brady and Belichick seem to be in total sync. Brady has taken the game to a new level with training, nutrition and overall fitness. That is partly why he has been able to play at his prime level for such a long period of time.
2. PEYTON MANNING
GOAT Index: 80.0 percent | Highest rank: 1 | Lowest rank: 5
Manning appeared among the top three on six of 10 ballots. Montana ranked that high eight times, but he was also lower than Manning on a couple of ballots amid some thought that he would not have translated as well to other offensive systems. Voters did not automatically rank the players they worked with at the top, which illustrated how seriously they took the project. The one No. 1 vote Manning received came from a panelist with no ties to him. Dungy and Mudd spent wildly successful years with Manning and sang his praises at length, but both had Elway ranked higher.
Tony Dungy: I never had to defend Peyton, and if I did, I might have a different opinion as it pertains to this ranking. Rodney Harrison told me defending Peyton was so different from everyone else he ever had to play against. That is a little bit of a disclaimer. I put Manning and Marino at the top of the nonscramblers because they didn’t have the benefit of dominant defenses.
3. JOE MONTANA
GOAT Index: 78.0 percent | Highest rank: 1 | Lowest rank: 9
We considered two mathematical approaches to tabulating the results, and Montana would have edged out Manning narrowly had we used the other one, which gave added weight to the highest rankings. Manning had a slightly better average ranking. Their median rankings were the same. You pick one QB, and I’ll take the other.
Montana would have nailed down the second spot if a couple voters hadn’t questioned how well he would have projected into other systems. The other QBs clustered near the top were more imposing physically. Most panelists did not let that influence their thinking.
We start with Norv Turner, who was with the Los Angeles Rams in the 1980s and, therefore, faced Montana’s 49ers twice a year in the NFC West.
Norv Turner: Montana was No. 1 on my list. He was one of the top two or three most accurate guys, a great decision-maker and then obviously he played at his best in the most critical situations. Now, people didn’t know how to defend the system, and you see some of the tape, they are running completely free. Joe benefited from that, but I think there is something about being a forerunner, a leader. That wasn’t in vogue to lead with the pass and then become a running team when you got ahead. The Chargers also did it, and that is why I ranked Dan Fouts high.
Mike Holmgren was the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach and later their offensive coordinator during some of Montana’s finest seasons. Mike Shanahan was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator just as Montana was about to leave for Kansas City. Ray Rhodes was a defensive player and then a defensive coach with San Francisco for the majority of Montana’s career there. We’ll start with Holmgren, who said he was relieved upon taking the job to learn that Montana, though already a Super Bowl champion and league MVP, wanted to be coached hard.
Mike Holmgren: One, he was maybe the most accurate passer I have ever seen. Two, he played his absolute best on the biggest stages. That is why he was No. 1 for me.
Mike Shanahan: Having had a chance to be with him for a year, I saw just how perfect he was in everything he did. If he did not throw the ball on the correct jersey number, he was pissed. He would put all the blame on himself. That is one reason why he was so liked.
Ray Rhodes: I was there in San Francisco when Joe became the starter. The quarterback in front of him [Steve DeBerg] was doing all these hard counts, and Bill Walsh wanted it to stop because it was pulling our own guys offside. Bill gets frustrated and puts in Montana, and Joe executed it the way he wanted it executed. The next year, Montana took over the team, and he was like a surgeon. We would go on the practice field and in 7-on-7, the ball would never hit the ground. He could put the team on his back, and he was so clutch. He took us right down the field in the Super Bowl [against Cincinnati] with a minute or two left in the game. It was unbelievable.
4. JOHN ELWAY
GOAT Index: 66.7 percent | Highest rank: 1 | Lowest rank: 8
Elway’s arm, scrambling ability, toughness and late-game-comeback ability made him the most feared/respected quarterback of the bunch to some panelists. Elway led comeback victories over Montana’s 49ers in the 1985 and 1988 regular seasons. Defensive coaches such as Ray Rhodes, who was with the 49ers at the time, know too well the dread that could set in when Elway got the ball in his hands late.
Ray Rhodes: Elway has been the all-time most-respected quarterback as far as I’m concerned. He was a hard-nosed, tough guy who competed and was a winner. He had one of the strongest arms that I had seen during that era. One of the plays they used to run, he would sprint to one side of the field with the ball and then come back and throw it all the way deep down the other side, and I had never seen a guy with that type of arm strength. He was amazing, man.
Tony Dungy: I coached against all of these players except Peyton Manning, so I based a lot of my ranking on who was the toughest to defend. For that reason, I put the three very mobile QBs at the top. Elway, Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers had that extra dimension of being able to create plays even when the defense covered the receivers. You were limited in what coverages you could play against them because of the threat of them running. I got asked a lot when they were both playing, Marino vs. Elway? It is hard to pick, but John just made plays when everything else was covered. He bought time and moved around, and you could do everything perfectly and you still didn’t succeed.
5. AARON RODGERS
GOAT Index: 56.0 percent | Highest rank: 3 | Lowest rank: NR
Six of the 10 voters listed Rodgers over Favre on their ballots. Four had Favre higher, but Rodgers is still ascending as his career continues. Favre’s record iron-man streak and success with multiple teams/coaches helped his cause. Rodgers’ ability to match Favre in the playmaking department while limiting turnovers has him on the higher trajectory despite a shorter career run so far. Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes and Mike Reinfeldt were all with Favre in Green Bay at various points. That did not dim their appreciation for Rodgers, however.
Mike Holmgren: If you are a quarterback aficionado, you just look at him and say, “This guy can do anything he wants to.” He passes the ball, he runs, he has the whole package. I will say this forever. The playoff game against Atlanta a few years ago, that was maybe the best quarterback performance I have seen by anybody ever. He dropped back, he ran, he threw on the run, he threw accurately, he got first downs. I also think he has shown tremendous toughness because he gets banged around a lot. Some guys have better receivers or better whatever, but Rodgers gives you a chance to win and go to the Super Bowl every year.
T-6. DAN MARINO
GOAT Index: 49.3 percent | Highest rank: 3 | Lowest rank: NR
The first two panelists polled did not have Marino in their top 10s. One considered him to be a stat machine whose penchant for passing worked against the team concept. The other eight panelists had Marino between third and eighth, and they marveled at his ability to do the one thing every great quarterback must do: throw the ball exceptionally well when the defense knows a pass is coming. Has there ever been anyone better at that?
T-6. BRETT FAVRE
GOAT Index: 49.3 percent | Highest rank: 4 | Lowest rank: NR
Favre’s flair for the improvisational made him especially compelling to watch and difficult to defend. He’d rank higher on this list if he had protected the football better, but as Rhodes noted, one of Holmgren’s greatest coaching legacies was getting Favre to stick to the script as often as he did. As for Favre? All he did was win three consecutive MVP awards from 1995 to ’97.
Ray Rhodes: There was not a guy tougher than Brett Favre. As far as making the right decisions and doing the things he was supposed to do all the time, Favre was as wild as they come — just a wild gunslinger. Really, you could have a six-inch window and he would think he could throw it between there. Molding Brett was one of Mike Holmgren’s best accomplishments.
Mike Holmgren: Brett is the contrast quarterback to Manning and Brady for how he played the game. You could make a case that, while he played within an offensive system, he ad-libbed a lot. It helped him a great majority of the time and hurt him some. Those other guys were more robotic. All these guys are tough, but Brett’s record of playing in all those games cannot be overlooked.
Tony Dungy: Brett Favre was always tough on us, but he was more of a risk taker than Montana or Brady, and that allowed you to make some plays against him.
8. STEVE YOUNG
GOAT Index: 44.0 percent | Highest rank: 2 | Lowest rank: NR
Young’s ranks for fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives lag compared with some of his peers. Of course, he and the 49ers played so efficiently — Young ranked first in yards per attempt, adjusted net yards per attempt and passer rating over the course of his career — that they coasted to the finish line a fair amount of the time. No one with the possible exception of Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren could have seen it coming, either. The 49ers acquired him from Tampa Bay for second- and fourth-round picks after the Buccaneers drafted Vinny Testaverde first overall in 1987.
Ray Rhodes: When Steve first came to San Francisco, I honestly didn’t think he was going to be a player. Early on, as soon as he dropped back, he was ready to run. No throwing, no passing. We had a three- and five-step system, and it used to drive Bill [Walsh] up a wall. Finally, Bill and Mike Holmgren got him settled down and you saw improvement, improvement, improvement. Steve continued to improve, and then the next thing you know, he was running the offense the same way Joe Montana was running it. He showed so much consistency.
Mike Holmgren: Knowing Steve from college, I saw him grow and learn and get better and discipline himself. He is as bright a quarterback who has ever played the game. He played a long time. You talk about Russell Wilson and the guys who can run today. Well, Steve could run as good as anybody. He became great when he realized he did not need his legs to bail him out all the time.
Mike Shanahan: You’d better remember what you told him two months ago because he is going to remember — he is going to have it written down. He was just extremely bright, and he could do it all on the field. Then you look at his stats and they are overwhelming. The three years I was with him, you could not ask for any more. Steve could do it all.
Mike Reinfeldt: Steve Young is a tough one for me to evaluate because he didn’t become a full-time starter until well into his career. I remember seeing him play in the USFL and then for some bad Tampa teams, and initially there seemed to be few indications his career would take off. He was as athletically talented as any quarterback ever, which was good and bad for him. If he’d gotten with Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren earlier in his career and then enjoyed a longer run as a starter, he’d be even higher on this list, for sure.
9. DREW BREES
GOAT Index: 40.0 percent | Highest rank: 4 | Lowest rank: NR
The Brees-era Saints are 58-22 with a Super Bowl title during the five seasons in which they allowed fewer than 22 points per game. They have allowed between 24 and 29 points per game in the six other seasons Brees has been on the roster, and it’s a testament to their quarterback that they have finished no worse than 7-9 in any of those seasons. Brees’ New Orleans teams have allowed 23.6 points per game, worst among all the QBs receiving votes (Fouts’ Chargers were next at 23.3 PPG allowed from 1978 to ’87, when teams averaged about 1.5 fewer points per game than they have averaged during Brees’ New Orleans tenure).
Brees is so closely associated with Sean Payton and New Orleans that it’s easy to forget he was a dominant player under head coach Marty Schottenheimer and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in San Diego. Brees went 20-11 as a starter for the Chargers over the 2004-05 seasons, ranking among the NFL’s top five in touchdown passes and passer rating over that span.
Mike Holmgren: People might not appreciate it as much as they should because of the success Russell Wilson has had, but shorter quarterbacks like Brees are at a disadvantage. Drew has been able to do something at his size that, if you look back historically, quarterbacks can’t do. Look at the numbers. He has learned to move, he has learned sight lines and how to play the position at his height. That in itself is pretty good. It’s remarkable, actually.
Tony Dungy: If Drew goes a couple more years, his numbers are going to be astronomical. He has kind of gotten overshadowed playing at the same time as Brady and Manning. It is a different era now, but I think you look at the numbers and the fact that he has done it with a lot of different receivers and two different systems, I had to include him in my top 10.
10. DAN FOUTS
GOAT Index: 22.0 percent | Highest rank: 4 | Lowest rank: NR
Fouts trailed only Brady and Manning in a metric measuring wins above expectation, making a strong case that he could be undervalued in the survey.
THE BEST OF THE REST
T-11. BEN ROETHLISBERGER
T-11. KURT WARNER
13. TROY AIKMAN
The consensus on Aikman was that he was an exceptionally gifted quarterback on a team that didn’t need him to do as much as the higher-ranked quarterbacks had to do. His exceptional postseason production played a leading role in the Cowboys’ three Super Bowl victories in four seasons, suggesting he could have done more if needed. Norv Turner was Aikman’s offensive coordinator and is best-positioned to explain why the Hall of Famer could be underappreciated.
Norv Turner: Put all these guys in a draft and Aikman is a top-five pick. Because of his numbers and the style of offense he played, people don’t give Troy’s talent enough credit. I remember when we were playing well, [John] Madden and [Pat] Summerall talking about Troy being the most accurate passer they had ever seen. We were throwing those deep comebacks and deep dig routes to Michael Irvin and skinny posts, and people would be in awe of how he threw the ball. People have forgotten that because of the numbers with Jimmy [Johnson] and the way I coached and what we did. We were not a team that was going to give him 10 completions within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Michael Irvin was averaging over 16 and 17 yards a catch. To me, that is where you see the talent.
14. WARREN MOON
15. JIM KELLY
Kelly played fewer seasons (11) than every other quarterback receiving votes for the top 10. What if his Bills had won one of the four consecutive Super Bowls they reached?
16. ELI MANNING
The DB thinks that is a pretty good list. Had we been asked, not that we should be, we would go:
3. P. Manning
Philip Rivers is probably the best player not to make the top 16. Matt Ryan is on a pace to insinuate himself well up the list in a few years and don’t count out Russell Wilson.