The Daily Briefing Thursday, July 27, 2017

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com notes that the last two firings, in Kansas City and Carolina, both involved the disposal of “scouting first” GMs.

 

It’s a tough time to be a general manager in the NFL.

 

Doesn’t matter what time of year it is or how close you might be to vacation, or even the start of training camp. GMs are suddenly imperiled around the league, with owners willing to fire them no matter how unusual or unconventional the timing and no matter how much recent success they might have enjoyed. It has long been said that the NFL is a bottom line business, but even more than that, most recently, I would posit that another football cliche is even more applicable.

 

This is, perhaps more than anything else, a relationship business, and the moment an owner no longer believes that relationship with a GM best serves his purposes or works in his favor or makes him sleep easy at night, well, massive change could be imminent. Sometimes trends tend to sneak up on us in this league, and in terms of what owners now covet in terms of their top football personnel man, it’s fair to say a quiet but powerful new movement is afoot.

 

We can all agree this is a copycat league, and all of a sudden it seems increasingly clear that old-school GMs, the gruff, film-driven scouts who were in vogue not too long ago, are no longer as attractive. These are the GMs who logged extensive years on the road viewing players but have less polish and panache and aren’t as adept at communicating with co-workers or dealing with the media as they are breaking down tape.

 

Instead, owners seem to be gravitating to a style they find more CEO-like, more akin to the appearance and characteristics they’d seek for leaders of their non-football business. These are the more face-of-the-franchise type GMs who serve to meld football operations with the business side and who can speak the language of the business world. They are more analytical, and can serve to find consensus among the team’s scouts but don’t have to be primarily a “super scout” themselves. The demeanor of some of those recently let go seems to be out of favor.

 

“These owners want to have a guy leading football operations who they can relate to,” said a high-ranking executive from one successful franchise who agrees that the archetype seems to be changing. “They want someone who looks the part and is comfortable interacting with every department in the building. They want someone who looks like they came from the corporate world and who can speak their language and who is willing to meet sponsors and help on the business side. They want someone who is smooth with the agents and has more of a background in negotiating and the cap. They want a personality that isn’t too volatile and doesn’t make waves with the players or the media. I’m telling you, things are changing. I’m not saying it’s for the better, but look at who has been let go this year.”

 

Indeed, I believe he is on to something.

 

The Panthers’ bizarre firing of Dave Gettleman just about a week before opening training camp certainly bears elements of this theory. Gettleman’s teams won a bunch of games and nearly won the Super Bowl two years ago, but he was very much a product of the old-school model. People skills mattered far less than stone-cold evaluations. Gettleman wasn’t exactly beloved in the locker room and he was never going to be an expert communicator or a figure to meld the business operations with football. For him — and for many others — the answers were always in the film. He wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers and he’d quickly become a divisive figure in the agent community. He was never going to be suave or GQ.

 

The Chiefs were in the middle of their best sustained run of success in roughly 50 years with John Dorsey as GM, yet he was shockingly fired shortly after mini-camp, at a time when most of the team’s staff were already on vacation, and when most assumed Dorsey would be getting a contract extension, like Andy Reid. Dorsey, like Gettleman, is a throwback, a film-monger. He’s more comfortable in shorts and a sweatshirt than a suit, and he doesn’t put on airs. He was much more endearing to the agent community and had no issues with players (unlike Gettleman), but ultimately owner Clark Hunt viewed him as more of a scout/evaluator than a leader of the franchise. He wasn’t much interested in the business side of things, maybe didn’t see the entire big picture in the way ownership did and was very much the product of the Green Bay, old-school means of managing.

 

“They don’t want a road scout as their GM,” the executive opined. “I really think those days are over. That blue-collar guy who spent all of his time looking at players and eating at Applebee’s or Chili’s or whatever — who had his spots in each college town to eat or drink and that’s what they talk about. That’s not what they’re looking at anymore. That’s not what they relate to.”

 

The 49ers finally parted with Trent Baalke this offseason after years of him being a highly-polarizing figure among several coaching staffs and with the fan base. He curried little favor with the media, wasn’t much interested in messaging or anything, really, outside of watching film. He clashed with players and agents and by no means was going to be confused with someone at the vanguard of analytics and advanced metrics. He was never going to help you sell tickets. He very much embodied the kind of guy who got hired as a GM 20 or 30 years ago.

 

Ditto for Ryan Grigson in Indianapolis. He too was a longtime road scout who had very little experience being a facilitator and department head prior to his hiring by the Colts. He had virtually no relationships with agents prior to his hiring. He was another film-grinder who didn’t have to interact with people through the building on a daily basis prior to landing that job, and who was consumed with player evaluation. He too had messaging issues with the media and had some schisms with the coaching side.

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Doug Whaley in Buffalo had a similar background, and the timing of his departure, right after the draft, gained much attention as well. Whaley had been a rising scout/evaluator with the Steelers prior to his arrival with the Bills who spent most of his time on the road. He, too, had little background leading meetings, forming consensus, building bridges. And he had persistent trouble connecting with coaches, and avoiding fissures. He struggled communicating via the media and rubbed people the wrong way. 

 

Of course, in many of these instances a bad run of decisions on personnel had plenty to do with the changes being made. That’s especially true of Grigson and Whaley. But the other stuff, the inter-personal stuff, whether it was failing to connect with coaches or players or the owner himself, certainly played a large role as well, particularly in the unusual nature of some of these firings.

 

And in almost every case, the man who replaced the outgoing GM had a varied background and skill set. The Chiefs promoted Brett Veach, 39, who has been with Reid going back to Philadelphia in 2007, is well-aware of inter-office politics and dynamics in Kansas City and is part of younger wave of execs. The Bills hired Brandon Beane, 40, who has experience on the business side from his long run in Carolina, where he became a fixture in the office – rather than on the road – and where he had years of interacting with ownership and absorbing the culture at the highest reaches of the game.

 

The 49ers went entirely outside the box in hiring John Lynch straight out of the broadcast booth at Fox with nary any front-office experience. But it’s fair to say Lynch, 45, is a great communicator and super smooth and dapper who is anything but a throwback, old-school hire. He is able to adroitly read people and read a room and can fit in seamlessly around billionaires. And while Grigson’s replacement in Indy, Chris Ballard, very much has a scouting background, he has cultivated strong relationships with agents in recent years, he has been much more of a fixture in the office and he is keenly aware of politics and projects as polished and smooth.

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Even in the case of the Panthers, where owner Jerry Richardson went back to his former long-time GM Marty Hurney to replace Gettleman, many of the boxes were checked. Yes, Hurney is from the old school and cut his teeth in the glory years of the Redskins under Bobby Beathard, but he also brought in many of the key players, coaches and scouts still in Carolina, and is a well-liked figure already in that building who will have no issues interacting with others. He’s already respected by the media down there, and already has a connection with ownership.

 

“He doesn’t have the same characteristics as some of the younger guys being hired,” the exec said, “but the most important thing is Jerry Richardson is already comfortable with him. He has that relationship. The owner can relate to him.”

 

Ultimately, it may be a business, but it’s still personal. For owners, these teams are their brands, and subconsciously or not, what they are coveting most seems to be shifting and a new paradigm is coming into focus. Office politics matter and forging a bond with the owner is imperative, or no amount of regular-season wins or even a Super Bowl appearance might be able to save a GM’s job.

– – –

John McMullen of FanRagSports.com explains that head trauma in football is not as pervasive as the headlines generated from a recent study would have you believe.

 

If you’re not sure how to take the latest Boston University study on the prevalence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in former NFL players, you have a healthy skepticism that once defined journalism in our country.

 

The headlines are emphatic, that 110 of the 111 donations to BU from former NFL players showed signs of the disease, a stunning 99.1 percent.

 

The problem is that many who don’t take a deep dive into the study will assume that 99 percent of NFL players are doomed to a future affected by CTE. Yet, even those involved with the study admit their methodology is far from exact and that there is still no conclusive way to predict the rate of the disease in regard to NFL players.

 

In a lot of ways the study is putting a rubber stamp on common sense in that those who showed signs of problems while alive did indeed have CTE confirmed post-mortem.

 

“Obviously, this doesn’t represent the prevalence in the general population, but the fact that we’ve been able to gather this high a number of cases in such a short period of time says that this disease is not uncommon,” neuropathologist Ann McKee told the Washington Post. “In fact, I think it’s much more common than we currently realize. And more importantly, this is a problem in football that we need to address and we need to address now in order to bring some hope and optimism to football players.”

 

That’s an interesting way of putting it. This study does the exact opposite by attempting to extinguish hope and optimism among the people who play in the NFL.

 

To argue otherwise would mean McKee would be going out of her way to educate those at risk to understand this was a study made up almost entirely of players who were either struggling with serious cognitive issues before their deaths or who committed suicide, not a condemnation that they will all face the same fate.

 

In Philadelphia’s locker room on Wednesday, many of the Eagles’ veterans reported — they were peppered with questions about the study. Many were unaware of the study’s methodology, including Malcolm Jenkins, Brandon Graham, Zach Ertz and Lane Johnson.

 

None of the Eagles reported any regrets about playing football, but Jenkins claimed he may quit sooner than he once expected. Graham admitted to FanRag Sports that he might have tried baseball if the research was there when he originally chose his profession.

 

Ertz insisted there is no need for tackle football before high school. The 6-foot-6 Johnson joked he may steer his son toward basketball instead.

 

A better study would be to include a similar number of ex-players who died from natural causes, but the families of those players obviously aren’t rushing to hand over brain tissue from their loved ones to BU. The fact that CTE can still only be diagnosed post-mortem is a very big issue. Until a breakthrough is made to identify it among the living, you’ll never have a study with the proper control group.

 

Nonetheless, there is often a romanticized vision of science by many who really believe it’s never political. Nothing could be further from the truth. In many ways, CTE research has turned into a lobbying effort against the NFL, which has been branded like Big Tobacco as the evil business that kept denying the altruism of the objective.

 

For many years that was true, but fighting it by throwing out numbers like 99 percent without the context is the definition of “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

 

A total of 202 brains have been donated to BU, of men who had played some level of football. CTE was discovered in 177 of them (87 percent). The 99 percent of former NFL players was the highest level. Yet, McKee described the study as “overwhelming circumstantial evidence that CTE is linked to football.”

 

In what world are numbers like 99 percent and even 87 percent circumstantial?

 

That’s an example of the learned keeping the back door open for a study with methodology holes as wide as the Grand Canyon, trying to fool the uneducated.

 

The league has taken so many public relations hits over this issue that it lauded the study before pointing out the problems with it.

 

“We appreciate the work done by Dr. McKee and her colleagues for the value it adds in the ongoing quest for a better understanding of CTE,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement released to FanRag Sports. “Case studies such as those compiled in this updated paper are important to further advancing the science and progress related to head trauma. The medical and scientific communities will benefit from this publication and the NFL will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes.”

 

Then came the pivot and an attempt to swim upstream against a public that has already bought the idea that football causes CTE — hook, line and sinker.

 

“As noted by the authors, there are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE.”

 

That was the only real factual thesis of the day.

 

Before Boston University and CTE, the more lucid among us already understood playing football is not a good idea for one’s long-term health. It has always been a cost-benefit analysis for those who play it, and it remains so to this day.

 

“I think all players, even in the old days, we understand there are risks to playing in the business,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There are risks to working in a mill. There are risks working as a policeman. There are a lot of really dangerous jobs out there where people are risking their lives. So there is certainly an element of risk to playing this game. But I think most of the players have an understanding of that and embrace it. That doesn’t mean you don’t study it and try to figure out what you can do to help and what the effects are so you can make a good, educated decision. But we love this game, man.”

 

Trying to scare a generation into thinking every headache or every misplaced set of car keys was caused by playing football is not only disingenuous, it’s dangerous.

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

DE EVERSON GRIFFIN is cashing in.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com on his four-year extension.

 

Everson Griffen is getting paid again.

 

The defensive end signed a four-year, $58 million contract extension Wednesday in a deal that includes $34 million in guarantees, a source with knowledge of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The Vikings confirmed the signing.

 

 

“Man, this means I’m a Vike for life,” Griffen said, per the team’s official website. “I appreciate the coaching staff, the ownership, the organization.”

 

It’s the second big deal for the former fourth-round pick out of USC, who signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract in 2014. With two years left on that deal, the Vikings are adding four more years, which will keep the 29-year-old Griffen in Minnesota through 2022.

 

Griffen earned 8.0 sacks in 2016 with 30.5 coming over the past three seasons, since he became a full-time starter in Minnesota.

 

The veteran pass rusher has been durable — missing one game since 2011 — and is the stalwart off the edge for Minnesota. Griffen combines the speed, power, and hand technique off the edge as one of the most potent pressure producers in the NFL.

 

The Vikings will roll out a potent defensive end rotation in 2017 in Griffen, emerging stud Danielle Hunter, veteran Brian Robison, and free-agent acquisition Datone Jones.

 

Griffen isn’t the only defensive standout the Vikings are trying to keep in the fold. Rapoport reported on Inside Training Camp Live on Wednesday that Minnesota is trying to get a new contract for cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The Dallas Morning News quantifies what most of us suspect – the Dallas Cowboys are the runaway leaders in amount of suspensions in recent years.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com summarizes the findings:

 

In the last four years the Cowboys have had by far the most players suspended, forcing them to miss by far the most games, of any team in the NFL.

 

The Dallas Morning News compiled suspensions around the league and found that the Cowboys have had 15 players suspended for a total of 100 games since 2014. The Browns, with 10 suspensions totaling 54 games, and the Ravens, with nine suspensions totaling 55 games, are the closest to the Cowboys.

 

Dallas’s suspensions include many players they added to their roster at a time when other teams wouldn’t touch them, including Rolando McClain, Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy. Cowboys owner and General Manager Jerry Jones hasn’t hesitated to take on player with character concerns.

 

The Cowboys’ suspension tally may grow soon: The NFL is deliberating on whether or not to suspend running back Ezekiel Elliott over an allegation of domestic violence, and linebacker Damien Wilson was arrested three weeks ago and charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

 

 

 

 

LUCKY WHITEHEAD has a job (see JETS), but Peter Botte of the New York Daily News thinks the Cowboys priorities are out of whack.

 

So now America’s Team would have us believe that it had to finally get tough and cut wide receiver and kick returner Lucky Whitehead this week because it was in the “best interest” of the team, as coach Jason Garrett said repeatedly and dismissively on Tuesday. Owner Jerry Jones also became emotional — more like, defensive — when asked if he regretted cutting Whitehead so quickly before Virginia police revealed that they actually had arrested an imposter on a shoplifting charge last month.

 

“I’m not going to talk about Lucky. I’m going to talk about players,” Jones told reporters on Tuesday. “I’ve never talked to a player that I didn’t have empathy. If you all (in the media) have done one thing in my time to criticize me, it is how I will back up a player to a fault. You’ve done it. You’ve done it for years. I will back them up to a fault.

 

“So when we do make a decision around here that’s in the best interest of the team to move on, there’s one thing you can forget about and that is whether you’re being fair or whether you’ve given it consideration of what it means to the individual. That doesn’t happen around here.”

 

You know what doesn’t generally happen around the Cowboys? Cutting a player for off-the-field issues, especially if that player can help the Cowboys on the field.

 

Remember, Dallas employed and staunchly defended defensive end Greg Hardy during the 2015 season following a lengthy domestic violence suspension. And they continue to back Ezekiel Elliott now while he awaits possible league discipline for DV allegations, which Jones earlier this week publicly dismissed as “absolutely nothing” and “not even an issue.”

 

David Irving, suspended for four games to start the season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, also was not cut, nor was fellow defensive lineman Randy Gregory, who is banned for the entire 2017 season for violating the league’s policy on substances of abuse.

 

The Cowboys also might be without cornerback Nolan Carroll after he was charged with drunk driving in May, while linebacker Damien Wilson also was busted on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon earlier this month.

 

But Whitehead, whose roster spot was tenuous anyway after making just three receptions last season, apparently had to go immediately, right at the start of training camp. He clearly was made an example of, released a couple of hours after a warrant mistakenly was issued for his arrest Monday morning for missing a court appearance by authorities in Virginia, who one day later cleared him of any wrongdoing as a case of false identity.

 

Police arrested a man outside a convenience store in Virginia — Whitehead’s home state — for petit larceny on June 22. The man had no identification but claimed to be Whitehead, somehow even providing a correct date of birth and social security number.

 

Shortly after news surfaced about the arrest warrant for the missed court appearance, Whitehead was cut by the Cowboys. Prince William County police later announced it had rescinded the warrant after it was confirmed that his “identity was falsely provided to police.” Agent David Rich has contended that Whitehead has proof that he was in Dallas, not Virginia, at the time of the alleged incident.

 

“The Cowboys were looking for an example, and it backfired on them,” Rich told the Dallas Morning News.

 

“As far as the whole situation went down, I was blindsided,” Whitehead added to the newspaper. “No one (in the front office) backed me up. No one had my back in the whole situation. Let’s not sugarcoat anything. I was pretty much being called a liar.”

 

The Morning News cited sources saying the team “remains suspicious about Whitehead’s version of events because he changed his story multiple times” on Monday. Both Garrett and team VP Stephen Jones also have intimated there was an accumulation of problems with Whitehead, including him sitting out a game against the Giants last season for being late to a team meeting.

 

There even was the bizarre story in recent weeks of Whitehead reporting that his pit bull had been dognapped and held for ransom before being returned.

 

But let’s be honest, this wouldn’t have happened if this was Dez Bryant, certainly not for showing up late to a meeting or claiming mistaken identity.

 

“I am going to say this is business as usual and I really won’t go into my parameters about why a player is here or not,” Jerry Jones said. “I’m not going to go into anything about Lucky, but I am going to say if you’re going to get wadded up over people coming and going around here, then get ready to stay in angst.”

 

Whitehead, who can be picked up by another NFL team via waivers, deserves better than how the Cowboys have treated him.

 

But it certainly doesn’t sound as if any public apologies are forthcoming.

 

The DB would guess that the Cowboys had their reasons for cutting Whitehead.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Kevin Patra of NFL.com on the contract dance between WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. and the Giants.

 

The Giants intend on Odell Beckham Jr. playing in New York for a long time, but talks on a new contract haven’t started yet.

 

“They haven’t begun as of yet, but … they’ll happen at the appropriate time,” co-owner John Mara told Steve Serby of the New York Post. “I don’t think we have a time frame on it. But we certainly don’t want to see him playing in another uniform.”

 

Beckham will make $1.839 million in 2017, and the Giants exercised the fifth-year option for 2018. The electric playmaker stayed away from voluntary offseason workouts, but returned for mandatory minicamp last season. It was reported that OBJ skipped those workouts in hopes of getting a new contract (his new shoe contract pays him more than his football one this year).

 

Mara didn’t seem worried about eventually getting a deal done with Beckham and knows when the time comes the Giants will have to pony up the moolah.

 

“Listen, he’s as exciting a player as we have had on this team in my lifetime, and he brings a lot of energy, a lot of big plays to us,” Mara said. “And when you cut through everything else, he actually is a really good kid. He does a lot of wonderful things off the field that people don’t know about. He needs to work on controlling his emotions a little bit more. But when he is on the field, the other teams have to pay attention to him … and he strikes fear into the eyes of the other team. As long as you have that ability, he makes your team better. He just adds a lot to us. We really haven’t had a player like that here for a long time.”

 

Mara said it’s “possible” a deal could come during the season, but isn’t putting any predictions or timetables on a new contract. The Big Blue owner is confident Beckham has grown from last season’s boating “controversy” and will continue to grow as he gets older.

 

“I think he’s a work in progress, I think he’s going to mature,” he said. “I had a great conversation with him in the spring about that. I think he understands that. But he’s always going to be an emotional player, and we’re going to have to live with, hopefully, an occasional and rare outburst every once in a while because he wants to win so badly. But I think he is going to mature. He’s 24 years old. You weren’t the most mature guy at the age of 24, were you?”

 

There is no question that on the field Beckham is the most explosive talent in the NFL and carried the Giants offense for the entire 2016 campaign. Mara knows sooner or later he’ll have to pay for the privilege of keeping OBJ in New York.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com with an update on the progress of QB CAM NEWTON who is throwing with a “pitch count.”

 

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been seen throwing, but only some short passes in the locker room.

 

Wednesday night, the former MVP aired a few out for the fans, taking part in the Panthers first practice of training camp.

 

“Another step in the process,” Newton said, via Bryan Strickland of the team’s official website. “It’s a start. Everything felt good, but we have a long way to go to get where I know we can be. Tonight was just fun getting out on the grass in front of the fans and throwing it around a little bit.”

 

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton would be on a “pitch count” as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder in March. That’s probably a necessity because of the physical component, but Newton clearly needs some work as the Panthers try to modify their offense this offseason.

 

“You could tell he was eager to get out there. I thought it was a good start,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “He’s not there yet, and we wouldn’t expect him to be. The thing he’s got to do – and we’ve got to do collectively following our trainers and doctors – is not do too much.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Not only does John Elway have a new contract with a nice raise, he has a new title.  Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post:

 

Five more years, more money and a new title.

 

In addition to signing John Elway to a five-year contract this week, the Broncos also promoted him to president of football operations/general manager, a bump up from executive vice president of football operations/GM.

 

 

Elway retains full autonomy over the team’s football decisions. But his new title, Broncos president/CEO Joe Ellis said Wednesday, better reflects his value to the team.

 

“We’re football first here at the Broncos and obviously John is our leader of the team,” Ellis said. “I think he is definitely deserving of this title elevation. It’s really a recognition that he deserves for all that he does and all that he has done for this team over the years since he arrived here in 1984.”

 

The Broncos signed Elway to a contract Monday that runs through 2021 and, although terms haven’t been released, it was expected to make him the league’s highest-paid general manager. The Broncos had been in talks with Elway as early as last season, however, and had even hoped to secure him to a long-term deal then. But with the coaching overhaul, and then free agency and the draft, Elway felt little urgency to sign, especially when his previous deal ran through March 2018.

 

“It’s something I was never worried about,” he said. “I know everyone else was a lot more worried about it than I was. I knew at some point in time that it was going to get done. To have the opportunity to do what I do because I love what I’m doing, I thank Joe and (team counsel) Rich Slivka, the Broncos and Pat (Bowlen) for the opportunity because I don’t know if there’s a better position in the league because of the resources that we’re given. I’m really excited about it and glad to be here for another five years.”

 

Ellis said it was important to the team to get it done before the start of the season to shift focus back to football. But he, too, wasn’t worried about it eventually getting completed.

 

“Not really,” Ellis said. “John is so synonymous with this town, this city, this region and this team. I believed everything he said in my conversations with him and what he said publicly at various events, that he wanted to stay here and remain a Bronco.”

 

Even though he is now president, and even though he personally was one of the greatest QBs in NFL history, Elway claims that he will let rookie head coach and defensive specialist Vance Joseph make the decision as to who is the starting quarterback.  Marc Sessler at NFL.com:

 

When the Broncos open training camp on Thursday, fans will get their first look at one of the AFC’s top quarterback battles.

 

Not surprisingly, veteran Trevor Siemian will get the initial shot at making a good impression by taking first snaps with the starters, per NFL Network’s James Palmer.

 

The Broncos, though, plan to get an equal look at second-year passer Paxton Lynch, with Palmer noting that both signal-callers will “rotate days” with the ones during camp.

 

 

First-year Broncos coach Vance Joseph on Wednesday said that “it would be ideal” to have his starter named by the team’s third preseason game against Green Bay, per the team’s official website.

 

Joseph is part of a committee of Broncos leaders who will pick the quarterback, calling it a “group decision — mine and the (coaching) staff; obviously (general manager) John (Elway) is going to have impact.”

 

Elway, though, confirmed the choice will “be Vance’s,” while adding: “I’ll give my input,” per ESPN. The team’s football czar emphasized that team brass would avoid disagreement because “everybody is going to see it … it’s going to show itself.”

 

Said Joseph: “In my opinion, we’ve got two guys that we can win with.”

 

Siemian played well last season, showing a live arm and making plenty of good decisions over 14 starts. Lynch, though, looms as the hand-picked choice of Elway, who traded up in last year’s draft to grab him.

 

Truly seen as an open competition, Denver’s quarterback tussle has a legitimate chance to wind on beyond Joseph’s preferred preseason deadline. The reality is that both of these passers are bound to see starts in 2017.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

Andy Reid has Michael Vick in camp as a coaching intern.  Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star hems and haws about it, but ultimately decides it is permissible.

 

It’s been a decade this month since NFL star Michael Vick was indicted in the notorious Bad Newz Kennels dog-fighting investigation.

 

But that gruesome and appalling operation still and forever will be the first thing I think of when I hear his name.

 

The chilling cruelty can’t be unseen, or somehow expunged.

 

As a dog lover, I honestly can’t even bear to type the specifics.

 

While I reread the old stories, I glanced at one of my dogs and felt nauseated and furious.

 

Even if dogs aren’t your thing, the sheer inhumanity of it all was frightening and is fused to Vick as his scarlet letter.

 

It will stigmatize him the rest of his life and be prominent in his obituary.

 

So no wonder some outrage has bubbled up locally in the wake of the news Tuesday that Vick has joined the Chiefs as a coaching intern, another fine mess they find themselves in over a weird few months that included the abrupt firing last month of general manager John Dorsey.

 

By late afternoon Wednesday, a change.org online petition declaring that Vick does not deserve a job “in the NFL and especially not in KC” had 745 supporters, a movement following suit with other more entrenched ones in just recent months.

 

As of Tuesday afternoon, according to The Roanoke Times, two other change.org petitions had amassed 90,000 signatures opposing Virginia Tech’s announced intention to induct him in the school’s sports hall of fame.

 

In Atlanta, where Vick spent most of his NFL career, last month a similar number endorsed a Care2 petition to try to convince the team not to let him retire a Falcon.

 

So this is not a great look for the Chiefs in many ways.

 

But this is also not a zero-sum game, and it’s a story that stokes emotions and opinions from all angles.

 

A Star online poll, for instance, found that as of late Wednesday afternoon about 89 percent of more than 1,600 voters believed in Vick’s right to a second chance in life.

 

As despicable as Vick’s involvement was, he served 19 months in federal prisons for charges related to operating and financing the dogfighting ring — notably, though, not for the actions themselves.

 

In St. Joseph, just 30 minutes or so from the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth where he was incarcerated from January 2008 to February 2009, he is reunited with coach Andy Reid, who offered him something between reform and a pardon with the Eagles in 2009.

 

(When the Chiefs took Tyreek Hill in the 2016 NFL Draft despite his guilty plea to domestic abuse, Reid’s effort with Vick was cited as one of the reasons it could be expected to work out.)

 

Vick served his time, lost more than $100 million dollars in the fallout and aligned with the Humane Society of the United States to speak against dogfighting and publicly supported the Animal Fighting Prohibition Act signed into law by President Obama in 2014.

 

In 2015, when he was playing for the Steelers, Vick met with Pennsylvania lawmakers to express support for PA House Bill 1516 to give law enforcement officers the authority to rescue dogs and cats from cars due to unsafe temperatures.

 

“I know that I’m an unlikely advocate,” Vick through a representative told ESPN at the time. “I was part of the problem. Now, my perspective can help reach people that activists can’t reach. I can help others become agents of change.”

 

There are those who doubt the sincerity of Vick’s remorse, and there are those like me that never will be able to separate him from what he did.

 

But is the answer really to have no mercy ourselves?

 

Is the answer to quarantine him in a penal colony for the rest of his life?

 

Is it to keep him away from something to which he could make meaningful contributions?

 

It doesn’t require absolution of his past to say he should be allowed to engage in a coaching internship with the Chiefs and be around the man who has helped him before as he tries to continue to move forward with his life.

 

It doesn’t require forgetting about what he did to say you hope he is earnest in his attempts to rehabilitate himself, not just his image, and that maybe he can do real good if he continues to try to atone.

 

“I can’t take it back,” he once told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The only thing I can do is influence the masses of kids from going down the same road I went down.”

 

It doesn’t require forgiving him to try to remember these things didn’t just happen in a vacuum in the life of Vick, who has described seeing his first dogfight as an 8-year-old growing up in a drug-infested neighborhood in Newport News, Va.

 

(Only last month, Vick’s estranged father, Michael Boddie, was indicted and charged with dealing heroin and money laundering.)

 

And unlike the protested scenes at Virginia Tech and with the Falcons, the Chiefs aren’t seeking to glamourize Vick here.

 

Ultimately, they merely are trying to help the polarizing Vick, whose notion of being a coach may never get traction because of the wretched baggage he packed himself.

 

The Chiefs are walking a delicate and blurry line, of course, seeking to render aid to someone who needs it only because of his own indefensible deeds.

 

But he also has paid for his vile actions, through what our justice system meted out and the loss of his fortunes and a name forever shamed.

 

It’s a name that makes me cringe.

 

But it’s also a name that should remind of us our own duty — and at times burden — to strive to be truly human and hope for atonement even in those in whom we find it an overwhelming challenge to extend such a gesture. 

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

After looking at Robert Griffin III, the Chargers decided they would rather trade a pick for QB CORDALE JONES.  Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News:

 

With their first practice of training camp less than 24 hours away, the Buffalo Bills shook up their quarterback depth chart by trading Cardale Jones to the Los Angeles Chargers for a conditional draft pick.

 

Jones, who joined the Bills last year as a fourth-round choice from Ohio State, seemingly was a long-shot to make the Buffalo roster.

 

He received the fewest practice reps during offseason workouts, as the Bills clearly created a two-way competition between T.J. Yates and rookie Nathan Peterman for the second- and third-string quarterback spots behind Tyrod Taylor.

 

On Twitter, Jones thanked the Bills and their fans “for showing me nothing but love and support” during his brief time with the team.

 

Jones arrived on the team as an ultra-raw prospect with a strong arm, but little else in the way of accuracy, consistency or pocket awareness.

 

Nevertheless, new Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, who was the Bills’ offensive coordinator for most of last season and spent the final game as their interim head coach, saw enough in Jones to give him an opportunity in L.A.

 

“Cardale is a good young talent, and he’s going to add competition behind Philip Rivers,” Lynn was quoted as saying on the Chargers’ official website. “He’s the type of quarterback you want waiting on the runway. He’s going to have the opportunity to come on the field and compete. Cardale is someone we think can be developed.”

 

Jones’ lone appearance as a rookie came in the 30-10 season-ending loss against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. He completed six of 11 passes for 96 yards. He was intercepted once and sacked once.

 

Although Jones had strong support from former Bills General Manager Doug Whaley, at least one former assistant coach on the team was known to have had major questions about Jones’ maturity and dedication.

 

The coach noted that Jones made multiple trips to his home in Northeast Ohio for personal matters, and at one point urged him to pay attention to the hard work that Taylor and former Bills backup EJ Manuel put into their preparation.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

QB JOE FLACCO is hurt – let the Colin Kaepernick talk begin in Baltimore.  Jeff Zrebiec in the Baltimore Sun:

 

When the Ravens take the field Thursday morning for their first full-squad practice of training camp, they are expected to be without their starting quarterback.

 

Joe Flacco is dealing with back discomfort that will likely shut him down for at least the first week of training camp, sources said Wednesday. It’s the latest in a suddenly mounting list of injury concerns for the Ravens as they begin preparations for the 2017 season.

 

According to sources, Flacco, who reported to training camp last week, has been feeling some back discomfort for the past two weeks but it was especially stiff Wednesday, prompting him to get an MRI done.

 

Team officials are hopeful that his symptoms calm down when he is re-evaluated after a week of rest.

 

An NFL Network report indicated that Flacco could be sidelined for as long as three to six weeks, but Ravens officials currently have a more optimistic outlook on the situation. The Ravens open the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals in six weeks.

 

The Ravens have yet to publicly comment on the injury. Ravens coach John Harbaugh is expected to speak with reporters after Thursday’s practice. Flacco, 32, is scheduled to speak to the media after Friday’s workout.

 

The Ravens have only two other quarterbacks on their roster: veteran backup Ryan Mallett and Dustin Vaughan. Even if Flacco is out for a short period, the Ravens might still have to add a quarterback just as another camp arm to get through practices.

 

Aside from the fact that Kaepernick is a better QB than Mallett, there are other reasons to think the Ravens could be his landing spot.  Adam Schefter of ESPN, perhaps with background info, makes the case as monitored by Cork Gaines at BusinessInsider.com:

 

The Colin Kaepernick saga may finally have an ending with the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback landing back in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens if Joe Flacco’s back injury turns out to be worse than initially feared.

 

During an appearance on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike,” NFL insider Adam Schefter used tentative language, but strongly suggested that Kaepernick could sign with the Ravens “in the next 24-48 hours.”

 

“Reading between the lines, I think it would not surprise me if ultimately the Baltimore Ravens start talking about Colin Kaepernick and whether or not to bring him in there,” Schefter said. “That’s something that will be on the radar that will be worth following here the next 24-48 hours.”

 

Albert Breer of MMQB also reported that Kaepernick is among the quarterbacks the Ravens “have discussed,” noting that they may only add another quarterback if Flacco’s injury is worse than initially thought.

@AlbertBreer

Also, more on Joe Flacco’s injury. Colin Kaepernick among a handful of QBs the Ravens have discussed, in case it’s worse than believed.

 

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Flacco is “preparing to miss 3-6 weeks” with the back injury.

 

The Ravens do appear to be a perfect landing spot for Kaepernick, whom many have speculated has been blackballed from the league for his anthem protests during the 2016 season.

 

In addition to the Flacco injury, the Ravens are coached by John Harbaugh. As Schefter noted, Harbaugh’s brother Jim “is a Colin Kaepernick fan,” from their time together with the 49ers. In addition, the Ravens have offensive coach Greg Roman on their staff. Roman was the offensive coordinator with the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh.

 

While Schefter hedged his statement as speculation, it was clear that he was getting this information from somebody he trusted.

 

Schefter initially began his segment intending to talk about Ezekiel Elliot when he was interrupted by a text message. Schefter eventually left the stage to make a phone call and returned a short while later and began talking about his speculation on Kaepernick without mentioning any sources.

– – –

The Ravens are losing an offensive lineman who wants to pursue a PhD.  Frank Schwab at YahooSports.com:

 

Usually, players don’t get to choose when they retire from the NFL. NFL teams decide when they’re done. But most other players don’t have a fallback plan like John Urschel.

 

Urschel, who played on the offensive line for three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, called it a career. Urschel went through the Ravens’ offseason program but didn’t report to the start of training camp Wednesday, the team’s site said. Coach John Harbaugh said Urschel informed him Thursday morning he has decided to retire.

 

Urschel had gained a level of fame for being an expert mathematician while also grinding away in the NFL trenches. He is a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and “gets straight A’s” at the acclaimed school according to the Ravens’ website. Go check out his MIT bio and you’ll see he has a gift that goes far beyond football.

 

From a football standpoint it’s not great news for a Ravens team that has already had a bit of bad news at the start of camp. Urschel was expected to compete for the starting center job, vacated when the team traded Jeremy Zuttah to the San Francisco 49ers. Urschel hasn’t said anything publicly about his retirement decision, but many other players have retired early because of concern for their health. Urschel is just 26 years old.

 

Urschel got to live a dream of playing in the NFL for a while, and now he gets to move on to perhaps even bigger and better things.

 

 

CLEVELAND

QB CODY KESSLER is the first among equals as the Browns start camp.  Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Cody Kessler heads into training camp the same way he did organized team activities: He’s the man to beat in the quarterback competition.

 

“Cody will walk out there first, and we’ll give him an opportunity there,” Hue Jackson said during a press conference Wednesday to kick off training camp, which opens to the public Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. “Obviously, Brock (Osweiler) and DeShone (Kizer) and Kevin (Hogan), all of those guys will get reps. This is a competition. Somebody has to walk out there first. We’ve made a decision that it’ll be Cody and we will kind of go from there.”

 

Jackson gave Kessler the nod even though rookie Kizer split first-team reps with him in the offseason and significantly narrowed the gap by the end of minicamp in June.

 

“(Kessler’s) still the guy who demonstrates knowing the offense the best,” said Jackson. “He’s the guy that has played the most football for us in that group, and I think he deserves a chance to walk out there first.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

The EA Madden game thinks QB TOM BRADY is perfect.

 

Thinking about Madden-2004 Michael Vick makes most Madden fans want to curl up into a ball and hide, and now another perfect quarterback is going to grace the virtual gridiron. EA Sports gave Tom Brady a perfect 99 overall rating for Madden NFL 18, putting him above the likes of Aaron Rodgers (98) and regular season MVP Matt Ryan (96). Brady’s fifth Super Bowl ring has put him in contention for the greatest of all time (the G.O.A.T.), and EA isn’t letting anyone forget it.

 

Here is some more info from Forbes.com:

 

That should come as no surprise as Brady is coming off his fifth Super Bowl title and fourth Super Bowl MVP. Brady will be 40 years old next month, but he’s still going strong and he’s also the cover athlete. No player that old has ever been rated a 99 overall in the game.

 

Brady’s awareness is through the roof and that helps to offset his modest athleticism numbers. Though it’s not pictured, you can bet Brady’s throw power and accuracy numbers are on an elite level as well. Mix all that together and you have a member of the coveted Club 99.

 

 

 

TOM BRADY                          99 OVR   – Speed only 62

AARON RODGERS               98 OVR   – Speed 79

MATT RYAN                          96 OVR

DREW BREES                       92 OVR –  AWR 99

BEN ROETHLISBERGER     91 OVR

 

 

There are no real surprises in the Top 5. This group of guys are the best in the NFL at their positions. EA Sports also released the overall ratings for the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck. Both are at a 90 to begin the season.

 

The Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton is an 88. All of these ratings are subject to change once the season starts. Stay tuned for more rating information and feature details as it surfaces leading up to the official release date on August 25.

 

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

The Jets decide to go out and get Lucky, making a waiver claim on a Cowboys cut.  ESPN.com:

 

The New York Jets claimed wide receiver Lucky Whitehead off waivers from the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday.

 

Whitehead, 25, was placed on waivers this week after news broke that he had been charged with shoplifting in Virginia in June. Whitehead proclaimed his innocence, which was confirmed by the Prince William County Police Department on Wednesday when it confirmed the man arrested was not Whitehead.

 

The Prince William County Police Department confirmed Tuesday that the man charged with shoplifting on June 22 wasn’t Lucky Whitehead, as the former Cowboys wide receiver and his agent had maintained on Monday.

 

The police department said that the man arrested for taking items from a Wawa on June 22 without paying didn’t have identification and had verbally provided the name, date of birth and Social Security number of Rodney Darnell Whitehead Jr. to police officers, who checked the information through the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles database.

 

Police also compared the DMV photo on file with the man in custody and “acted in good faith that, at the time, the man in custody was the same man matching the information provided.”

 

Despite the fact Whitehead was cleared, the Cowboys said they stood by their move and cited a pattern of behavior in justifying it.

 

Whitehead told the Dallas Morning News that he was “blindsided” and “no one [in Cowboys management] had my back in the whole situation. I knew about it at, what? 12:45. By 2:30, I’m released.

 

“Let’s not sugarcoat anything. I was pretty much being called a liar,” Whitehead told the Dallas Morning News in a telephone interview.

 

The Jets have been seeking to improve their kick return situation this offseason. Whitehead had returned kickoffs and punts for the Cowboys in each of his two seasons with the team. He returned 44 punts for 305 yards (6.9 yard average) and 33 kickoffs for 846 yards (25.6 yard average).

 

Jalin Marshall was the Jets’ leading punt and kickoff returner last season, but he was inconsistent and faces a four-game suspension for PEDs

 

So, who was that guy who had Lucky’s full name, DOB and SS# memorized?

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

DREAM TEAMS

Chris Wesseling of NFL.com ranks his top RB-WR teammate tandems – and he says the best duo is playing right now:

 

I know Vince McMahon doesn’t care much for tag-team wrestling — I mean, seriously, Enzo and Cass and DIY are both gone? — but I love it. Mostly because I grew up worshipping Edge and Christian. With that in mind, here is my stab at the best RB-WR tandems of the Super Bowl era. (Didn’t want to irresponsibly judge long-past eras completely foreign to me.) This stems from an article I penned last month: “Why you should root for the Pittsburgh Steelers.” In that piece, I wondered if Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell-Antonio Brown duo is the best ever. Well, wonder no more …

 

15) Walter Payton and Willie Gault, Chicago Bears

We all know Payton is the G.O.A.T. And if this were the WWE, we know who would be the weak link. But the Bears’ offense of the 1980s never gets enough credit. Everyone’s familiar with the 1985 Bears’ defense. But Chicago also ranked second in scoring that season. Gault had … Oh, wow — Payton led the Bears in rushing yards and receptions in ’85. You know what, screw it: Payton in handicap matches. He’s that good.

 

(Yes, I jammed the Bears into another piece. I am who I am. Deal with it. OK, now on to the real rankings …)

 

14) Curt Warner and Steve Largent, Seattle Seahawks

I feel bad for Curt because, if you search his name, the Google even asks if you mean “Kurt.” Tough. He was a pretty great running back. I mean, he was the 1983 AFC Offensive Player of the Year as a rook. Warner and Largent helped lead the Seahawks to the AFC Championship Game that year. (Yes, they were part of the AFC West at that point.)

 

 

13) David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

Full disclosure: Going into this exercise, I aimed to find tandems with an extended run together. But I’m willing to bend the rules right off the top here because Johnson had more than 2,000 scrimmage yards last year, while Fitzgerald still managed to lead the NFL with 107 receptions. And while Fitz’s age keeps this duo from being a pair of “young bucks,” it’s a partnership that can keep climbing these ranks as long as Larry is around.

 

12) Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, Houston Texans

I feel like, to a lot of millennials who grew up playing fantasy football, this is probably their favorite duo of all time. Foster was an absolute beast from 2010 through 2012, with ‘Dre putting up great numbers alongside of him (though a hamstring injury limited him to just seven games in 2011). You know, maybe a quarterback better than Matt Schaub puts this tandem into the truly elite category.

 

11) Tony Dorsett and Drew Pearson, Dallas Cowboys

This duo was clearly great on the field. Pearson led the NFL in 1977 with 870 receiving yards (not a typo — different game). That happened to be Dorsett’s rookie season, when he rushed for 1,007 yards and 12 touchdowns. But I wonder if I’m giving this tag-team duo excessive credit for the mic skills Pearson displayed at the 2017 NFL Draft, where he trolled the Philly crowd like a true WWE superstar.

 

10) Robert Smith and Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings

Obviously everybody remembers how awesome Moss was during his day. But Smith is often overlooked as one of the best in the business from his time. At age 28 in 2000, Smith rushed for 1,521 yards (with Moss going for 1,437 yards and 15 TDs) — and then he retired. Yep, he pulled a Barry Sanders.

 

9) LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers

All right, I’m cheating here. But it would be disingenuous to ignore how great Gates was as a pass catcher. Tomlinson was the best of his era. And Gates was top two at his position during that time, as well. I’ll let him and Tony Gonzalez fight out who was really the best. But I’ll make this one TE exception here.

 

8) Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts

Harrison is already in the Hall of Fame. Edge figures to join him at some point. Peak year for this duo was probably 2000. Edge led the NFL in rushing (1,709) with 18 total touchdowns, while Harrison paced the league in catches (102) with 1,413 yards and 14 TDs. Having a Hall of Fame quarterback helped, but these two guys could get it done.

 

7) Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed, Buffalo Bills

You can look at them as four-time Super Bowl runner-ups. I look at them as four-time AFC champions. So they didn’t have a run as world champs … Still, four years holding a secondary belt (like the WWE’s Intercontinental Championship) is pretty damn good. This tandem’s the Chris Jericho of the NFL.

 

6) Terrell Davis and Rod Smith, Denver Broncos

Davis played just a short while, but he was clearly the best at his position during his prime years. I mean, he helped John Elway finally get over the top (and good grief — Elway certainly deserved some help). But Rod Smith never gets enough credit for how good he was, and I can only hope he will take his rightful place next to Davis and Elway in Canton.

 

5) Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, Dallas Cowboys

Emmitt is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. Irvin never gets the praise he truly deserves because he sacrificed stats for rings. If this were the WWE, Irvin would eventually hit Emmitt over the head with a metal folding chair because of this and scream, “You held me back!” Not that Irvin would ever feel that way in real life.

 

4) Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt, St. Louis Rams

Faulk was absolutely amazing during his first three years in St. Louis. I give the slight lean to Holt over Isaac Bruce. In 2000, Holt led the NFL with 1,635 receiving yards while Bruce finished third with 1,471. Seriously, this St. Louis offense was completely ridiculous. So, in other words, this was like the NFL version of The New Day.

 

3) Barry Sanders and Herman Moore, Detroit Lions

People don’t give Moore enough recognition for how great he was during his career. But I guess that’s what happens when you play for the Lions in the 1990s, when there were three other great teams in the NFC (Cowboys, 49ers and Packers). Moore set an NFL record in 1995 with 123 receptions (which produced 1,686 yards and 14 touchdowns). Yeah, the same year Barry rushed for 1,500 on the dot.

 

2) Roger Craig and Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers

Not only is Rice regarded as the greatest receiver of all time, but many argue that he is the best overall player in NFL history. Craig was no slouch himself — in 1985, he became the first player in NFL history to pile up 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. Craig never reached that 1,000/1,000 plateau again, but still did work on those late-’80s teams that went back-to-back.

 

1) Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

I know: Hipster pick. But over the past two years, Bell has averaged 101.3 rushing yards per game and Brown 100.6 receiving yards per game. They are the first teammates in NFL history to average over 100 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards over a two-year span. They win.