The Daily Briefing Thursday, July 6, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner at YahooSports.com on who might be the best remaining free agents:
NFL teams do most of their free-agent shopping in March, or right after the draft when they figure out what holes still need to be filled.
Sometimes a gift comes in June, like a surprise cut of Jeremy Maclin or Eric Decker, but for the most part if a player is out of a job after July 4, it will likely be tough to get one. Then you peruse the list of available free agents and realize there are some good players who are still looking for work. There’s even some potential Hall of Famers on the list.
These might not be the best values or even the best players still on the market, but here are the 10 biggest names still waiting for a contract:
QB Colin Kaepernick: Let’s get this one out of the way first. I doubt he’s signing anywhere. Once the Seattle Seahawks passed, that was it. We all know the story about why he’s out of football despite not being that old, coming off a decent season on a wretched team and the NFL’s lack of competent quarterbacks. Even though there seems to be zero chance of him signing now, if a team suffers a major injury in preseason, Kaepernick is clearly the best free-agent quarterback available. Then we’ll see if whatever message NFL teams are trying to send outweighs their desperation at quarterback.
CB Darrelle Revis: This one surprised me, though it makes more sense once you consider his contractual situation. Yes, Revis’ play dipped last season, but he’s still better than a lot of cornerbacks who will be on 53-man rosters. But there’s the question of how much Revis wants to play, if he could accept a lesser role and probably most importantly, his contract. Revis’ contract with the New York Jets has $6 million in offset language for 2017, so he essentially makes $6 million whether he plays or not this season, unless someone offers him more than $6 million. That doesn’t seem likely. It’s possible one of the best corners ever will just fade away at age 31, or maybe try again next year.
RB DeAngelo Williams: Williams tried out professional wrestling (spoiler alert: he still needs some work) as he waits for a football job. Williams has said he still wants to play, and it has seemed like a reunion with the Pittsburgh Steelers makes the most sense for everyone. Even at 34 years old, he’s still a reliable, productive vet.
WR Anquan Boldin: Boldin recently talked about waiting until just before training camp to sign with a team. There should be someone interested. Boldin, 36, might not be the Pro Bowler he once was, but he’s tough, smart, a respected leader and still had 67 catches and eight touchdowns with the Detroit Lions last season. Many teams would be smart to add him.
C Nick Mangold: Mangold was cut loose by the New York Jets, and even though he’s 33 and coming off an injury-plagued season, he’s still one of the best centers of this generation. He’s not still at that level, but he’s probably still one of the 32 best centers around. A team like the Baltimore Ravens or New York Giants need to take a closer look.
S Jairus Byrd: It was only three years ago Byrd was worth $54 million to the New Orleans Saints in free agency. Part of that is the Saints’ addiction to compulsive spending, but Byrd was a good safety not too long ago. His time with the Saints didn’t work out (to put it mildly), and the 30-year-old hasn’t gotten another shot.
RB Rashad Jennings: Who wouldn’t want to add a champion to their roster? Jennings was a champion … on “Dancing With The Stars” this offseason, but that works too. He actually told Metro New York that the training he did for the show helped his footwork for football. Still, at 32 years old, he’s probably waiting for an injury to show off his sweet feet for an NFL team.
CB Alterraun Verner: Verner was a Pro Bowl player with the Tennessee Titans in 2013. He earned that honor, too. Then he signed a four-year deal worth almost $26 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014 and hasn’t really been a factor since. However, it’s still a little surprising that in a pass-happy league, one in which many teams could use cornerback depth, the 28-year-old Verner hasn’t signed anywhere. He should get a shot at some point.
TE Gary Barnidge: Anyone who stumbled into Barnidge on their fantasy team in 2015 has fond memories of the out-of-nowhere breakout season for the veteran tight end. The 30-year-old Barnidge, whose career highs were 13 catches, 242 yards and two touchdowns, had 79 catches, 1,043 yards, nine touchdowns and made a Pro Bowl for the Cleveland Browns. What a story. Then 2016 wasn’t as kind, though he still managed 612 yards. The rebuilding Browns cut Barnidge when they drafted David Njoku in the first round, but it seemed a team with a need at tight end could use him as a short-term option. But that opportunity hasn’t come yet, and there’s probably no guarantee it will.
QB Robert Griffin III: With all the buzz about the quarterback at the top of this list, we kind of forgot about this former star. It has been deathly quiet this offseason for Griffin, and it seems like his 2012 offensive rookie of the year season was about three lifetimes ago. Injuries and poor play have limited Griffin to six touchdown passes over the last three seasons. He didn’t play too well (and was injured, again) with the Cleveland Browns last season. San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, Griffin’s offensive coordinator with the Washington Redskins in 2012, explained why teams aren’t rushing to sign him.
“You’ve got to make sure you tailor an offense that fits his skill set,” Shanahan said on The Rich Eisen Show, via All 22. “I look into all of that and I think one thing that’s tough when a guy’s not your for-sure starter, you need to put in a certain offense to give this guy a chance to be successful.”
Griffin, amazingly, is just 27 years old. Former No. 2 overall picks generally get plenty of chances. But with no buzz on Griffin this offseason, it’s hard to figure out where his next chance comes from.
Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com with a fun little fact about QB AARON RODGERS:
Ten players in NFL history have thrown 300 or more touchdown passes. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is poised to become the 11th — and the first to do so before throwing 100 interceptions.
As noted by Elisha Twerski, Rodgers needs three touchdown passes to become the 11th player in NFL history with 300. The other 10 quarterbacks averaged 171 interceptions before throwing their 300th touchdown. Rodgers has thrown 72 interceptions.
The current record for fewest interceptions when throwing the 300th TD pass is 115 by TOM BRADY. A pair of Giants QBs had the most at 300 – Fran Tarkenton at 219 and ELI MANNING at 205.
It has taken longer than the investigation of “Russian Election Hacking” but it looks like the NFL is getting ready to resolve the matter of RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT and his possible domestic violence/abuse. And it looks like the Cowboys will need some other running backs this year if leaks from NFL Justice are to be believed. Joe Giglio of NJ.com monitors the rumormonger Adam Schefter:
The Dallas Cowboys could soon be dealt a huge blow for the 2017 season.
With the NFL still investigating a domestic abuse claim against Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter alluded to possible discipline being handed down by the league.
During an appearance on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, Schefter told hosts Adam Caplan and John Hansen what he’s heard from inside league circles about Elliott, the investigation and where it’s heading.
“I would just say this,” Schefter said. “It is definitely a factor, and if I were drafting today, I would be hesitant to (draft him). But this is a situation that has gone back and forth so many times. I’ve spoken to some people within the league who, during the course of the offseason, got a sense that some form of discipline could happen.”
The show’s focus on fantasy football is where Schefter’s comment about drafting comes into play. The insider then qualified what he’d heard with the other side of the coin.
“And then I spoke to somebody last week and they’re like, ‘Yeah, I don’t think anything is going to happen here,'” Schefter said. “And then a decision that many people thought would come before the start of the the July 4th weekend on Friday when the NFL usually makes a lot of decisions, hands down some news, I was told that was being pushed back. Now why is that being pushed back? Was it being pushed back, actually? Maybe it wasn’t even.”
“But I was told there wasn’t going to be an answer here for a little while, that there was more information. There have been more meetings between either Zeke’s people and the league, or the NFLPA and the league, or whoever. It’s just been an ongoing issue that has had no conclusion.”
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com alludes to what he suspects is going on behind the scenes including Jerry Jones packing more clout with The Commish than Robert Kraft was able to muster in the matter of TOM BRADY and cold air.
It can’t be “just sort of out there” for much longer, if there’s a chance of discipline that will give Elliott a fair chance to get the case resolved before the start of the regular season. If there will be a suspension, the sooner Elliott gets a chance to challenge it, the better.
In the absence of clarity or transparency, it’s hard to know why this is taking so long. It could be that investigators are diligently working toward resolving what amounts to a dispute between Elliott and his accuser as to what he did and didn’t do. It could be that whoever will be making the decision within the walls of 345 Park Avenue is having a hard time navigating strong pressure from one of the most powerful owners in the sport and delicate P.R. considerations that compel vigilance and stringency, especially if Elliott’s accuser decides that her failed effort to get satisfaction either in the criminal justice system or in the Court of Roger Goodell will culminate in a public effort to tell her story — a story that could be deemed credible, making the league’s decision to not take action against Elliott seem incredible.
At the heart of the situation could be (emphasis: could be) a behind-the-scenes effort by the league to broker a settlement of all potential civil claims that the accuser could make in court, which would provide a real and legitimate platform for her story to be told. This would allow the league to close the book on Elliott without fear of a subsequent effort by the accuser to make the league look bad for giving him a pass.
However it plays out, the reduced standard of proof combined with an accuser who surely insists something happened and a player who insists the opposite makes it a tough case for the league to create. It won’t get any easier with the passage of time — unless Elliott and the accuser reach a financial settlement that allows for everything to be wrapped up in one fell swoop.
As is usual in these cases (see Ray Rice), the DB thinks it odd that the determination of the actual court system is irrelevant, that NFL players are held to a far stricter standard than members of the public at large. The City of Columbus “cleared” Elliott without even bringing actual criminal charges, but he still faces peril from the NFL’s system.
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And, as his second season gets ready to start, Elliott’s fellow 2016 rookie sensation, QB DAK PRESCOTT, also finds himself awash in a fresh scandal. Darren Rovell of ESPN.com with the scoop that stains Prescott:
Dak Prescott is being accused of using a machine to sign his autograph for a memorabilia company instead of signing by hand.
Beckett Grading Services, which evaluates and values trading cards, has refused to verify the Dallas Cowboys quarterback’s signature in a recent card set.
Steve Grad, principal authenticator at Beckett, said his company looked at five autographed cards from collectors who received Prescott autograph redemptions from Panini’s 2016 Prizm set.
“They had a very machine-like feel,” Grad said. “You could see the starts and stops.”
The lack of natural flow associated with organic signatures led to Grad’s conclusion that they were done by autopen, a machine that politicians have used to sign documents in bulk since the late 1950s.
“I immediately knew they were autopen,” Grad said. “I’ve never heard of a modern athlete doing this.”
It’s possible that Prescott never saw the cards, as blank labels to be signed and even cards themselves are often sent to marketing agents first.
When Panini sends cards or memorabilia to be signed by an athlete, it requires the athlete to sign an affidavit stating that what it is returning is genuine.
Attempts to reach Prescott, his agent Jeff Guerreiro and his marketing agent Peter Miller were unsuccessful.
Messages left for Panini officials also went unreturned.
In May, Panini said it had discovered that some of the autographed cards of Atlanta Falcons first-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley were not actually signed by him.
The company promised to send authentic autographs to customers who returned their signed McKinley cards.
Doug Williams thinks he has the will to mold the Redskins in his image – or go out trying. Liz Clarke in the Washington Post.
Last month, at age 61 — after nearly three decades coaching high school and college football and climbing the ranks of NFL front offices in Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Washington — Williams was named Redskins’ senior vice president of personnel. The job puts him on a hierarchical par with Coach Jay Gruden, reporting only to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and team President Bruce Allen.
“Jay is entrusted with the football team, and I’m entrusted to make sure we get Jay what he needs,” Williams recently explained. “And we’ve got to get results.”
But as Williams embarks on the job, the question is: Will his bosses give him rein to do it?
There is reason to be skeptical, given Snyder’s record of meddling and the abrupt way he and Allen fired their hand-picked general manager, Scot McCloughan, in March, two years into a four-year contract.
It’s easy to view Williams’s promotion as mere window dressing designed to placate alienated fans, many of whom responded to McCloughan’s ouster with a #FireBruce social media campaign. It’s also easy to view it as largely symbolic — designed to make the Redskins front office look more like a high-functioning organization and less like a two-man fiefdom, while conveying little autonomy.
Williams sees no gain in rebutting either assumption in detail, noting that few NFL analysts understand the power structure of NFL front offices, which varies from team to team. He prefers to steer clear of politics, he explains, and work behind the scenes and by consensus.
Williams crafted his own job description, including his title, spelling out responsibilities that give him control of the Redskins’ personnel department while leaving contracts and salary-cap management to longtime specialist Eric Schaffer, who got a bump in title, too.
“I’ve never been a ‘yes guy,’ ” Williams said. “Now, can I be someone who can talk things over and work it out? Yes. I know Jay well and Bruce well. And I know there are going to be times when we may not agree. That’s a good thing; that’s what scouting is all about.”
He is eager to get started, accustomed to the hard work of proving skeptics wrong, which started decades ago with the pernicious myth that black athletes couldn’t handle the complex demands of quarterback.
Still an imposing figure, Williams is a gifted storyteller with keen recall of his childhood, his life’s many blessings and every coach, relative, teammate and friend who played a role in his achievements. As for the injustices along the way, and there were many, they’ve left no outward trace of bitterness. In Williams’s recollection, they are simply facts of the period in which he was reared, before integration reached Louisiana’s East Baton Rouge parish and before NFL coaches and scouts saw the ability of a college quarterback before they saw the color of his skin.
Williams’s story begins on a gravel road just outside Zachary, La., where he was born in 1955. It was a small, close-knit community, with elders such as Mr. Will, Miss Mary and Miss Rebecca minding the Williams children when their parents went to work each morning. Cross burnings were weekly events on nearby Plank Road, and hooded Klansmen didn’t just lurk in the woods but handed out pamphlets at intersections in broad daylight.
“We understood the possibility that something bad could happen if you were out walking the streets when dusk came,” Williams recalled in a recent interview. “You understood segregation; you understood civil rights. That’s the way it was.”
A three-sport standout athlete at segregated Chaneyville High, where he played basketball, third base, pitcher, safety and quarterback — Williams wanted to become a coach like his eldest brother, Robert. When it was time for college, his mother made the decision for him after Robinson phoned the house one evening to offer her son a scholarship.
“I just talked to Coach Robinson,” she informed him, “and you’re going to Grambling. He said that you were going to class, you were going to graduate, and you were going to go to church!”
Looking back, Williams said, “That’s the best choice my mom ever made, besides bringing me into the world!”
Williams led Grambling to a 36-7 record and three Southwestern Athletic Conference titles in four years as a starter. His senior season, he led the NCAA in touchdown passes (38) and passing yards (3,286). By then, he’d earned his degree in education and was doing student-teaching toward his master’s as he awaited the 1978 NFL draft.
Only one NFL team sent a coach to evaluate him: Tampa Bay, a floundering second-year expansion franchise that held the No. 1 overall pick after a two-win season. Its running backs coach, Gibbs, had studied Williams’s game film, but Buccaneers Coach John McKay wanted to know more. So Gibbs showed up unannounced at the Monroe, La., high school where Williams was teaching and took a seat at the back of the classroom.
“He came there just to watch me interact with the students,” Williams recalled, shaking his head at the memory. “He sat through six classes!”
Based largely on Gibbs’s scouting report, Tampa drafted Grambling State’s star, who’d finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, in the first round — but traded back from first to 17th to do so, confident that other NFL teams would pass him over.
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Robinson’s retirement after 55 years at Grambling State brought Williams back to Louisiana to take a job that friends and relatives advised against — succeeding Robinson, the mentor he regarded as “the cornerstone of a building.”
In taking over for Robinson in 1998, Williams said from the outset that no man could fill the shoes of a coach who won 408 games. But after back-to-back 3-8 seasons, he felt he could help. And he started with the values Robinson had drilled into generations of players.
“Coach Rob was about being a good citizen,” Williams said. “He was about being a good man, being able to provide for your family, and being good Americans.”
Equally powerful was what Coach Rob didn’t say.
“Me being here today,” Williams said during a recent interview at Redskins Park, “Coach Rob has a lot to do with it. Just imagine — a little old black school in Louisiana, an all-black team, and Coach Rob never, ever uttered one word about what you can’t do because you’re black.”
Williams led Grambling to three Southwestern Athletic Conference titles from 2000 to 2002 before returning to Tampa Bay as a personnel executive. He returned as Grambling’s coach in 2011, but after the team won that season’s SWAC title, a 1-12 stretch followed, and Williams was fired.
Williams’s estrangement with Gibbs lasted just two years. It was buried the moment they were reunited during the 1991 Senior Bowl in Alabama.
Today, there is no one Williams admires more than Gibbs and Coach Rob.
“I hold them close to my heart,” he said, patting his heart twice. “Right here.”
Gibbs, reached at his NASCAR team headquarters in Huntersville, N.C., hardly knew where to begin on the topic of Williams. “Really, somebody could do a movie on his life!” Gibbs said.
That day nearly 40 years ago, watching from the back of a classroom as a young student-teacher patiently instructed his pupils, is as vivid as yesterday. So, too, is the excitement he felt in rushing back to Tampa to write his report for Coach McKay.
Gibbs remembers every detail of Williams’s first-quarter injury in Super Bowl XXII, his return for what calls the “magical” second quarter and the command he had over his teammates, especially running back Timmy Smith.
“I could not get through to Timmy Smith, but boy, that Doug Williams could!” Gibbs said. “He told [Smith], ‘We’re not messing this up! This is our chance!’ And that Timmy played his guts out.” Smith rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns. “I think a lot of it was because of Doug,” Gibbs said.
So it was a powerful sort of homecoming last month when Williams was named to the highest-ranking job attained by an African American in the history of the Redskins, the last NFL team to integrate.
Jeff Bostic, the Hogs’ former center, was among hundreds of friends, teammates and admirers who sent congratulatory messages. A longtime believer that the Redskins need more football experience in the front office, Bostic loves the move.
“Obviously, Doug knows football,” Bostic said. “He’s now in a position where he can make a huge impact on this football team.”
If so, Williams will be the first given latitude to do so under Snyder and Allen, who have a history of overruling, undermining and undercutting their own coaches and personnel executives.
Washington-based lawyer Cyrus Mehri, legal counsel of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a watchdog group that works with the NFL on minority hiring, pushed back on speculation that Williams was promoted for largely symbolic reasons. Mehri pointed to the fact that the Redskins adopted Williams’s own plan for restructuring the team’s front office and characterized him as “one of the most observant, insightful people you’ll ever be around.”
“Anyone with one iota of thought that this is window dressing needs to put that out of their mind because that would be, number one, inaccurate, and two, unfair to Doug Williams,” said Mehri, who has challenged the Redskins on its team name and in January questioned their process for filling their offensive and defensive coordinator vacancies.
Williams has experience dealing with domineering NFL owners.
He understands that no football player arrives ready-made — whether eighth-grader who has never been in a stance or first-round NFL draft pick. Teams need to invest in players’ development, the way Gibbs did in his.
Williams also understands that to build a Super Bowl contender, NFL teams must cut players without regard to sentiment. And ultimately, Williams knows that teamwork is more important to success than any one star.
It is insight that has served Williams well through a lifetime in football. But it remains to be seen whether the voice that commanded the Redskins huddle three decades ago can command a culture change in the Redskins’ front office today.
We skipped some of Williams’ interesting back story, which you can read here.
DE MICHAEL BENNETT of the Seahawks is unabashed in his admiration of 49ers DL DeFORREST BUCKNER. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Seahawks’ rivalry with the 49ers has dimmed in recent years, but Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett thinks the Niners have a player who can help refuel things on their side in the future.
Bennett has spent time working out in Hawaii with several players this offseason, including 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. Buckner, the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft, has made a strong impression on Bennett.
“I think DeForest, I’m lucky to be working with a guy like that.” Bennett said, via KHON. “I think DeForest will eventually be a defensive player of the year. I think he has the talent to be able to do that. I keep telling him there’s nobody like him. He’s not normal. His physique, his speed, it’s not normal so when you’re not normal you can do not normal things and winning the defensive MVP is not normal for most people.”
Buckner said Bennett’s prediction “gives me a lot of confidence” and that it motivates him to work harder as he heads into his second pro season.
The 49ers liked Buckner’s play enough to keep him on the field for more than 1,000 snaps last season, although their new coaching staff plans to cut back on that number after Buckner admitted to being “dead tired” at points in 2016. The hope is that will make Buckner more productive over the course of the season, which would be a plus for the 49ers even if he doesn’t land the hardware that Bennett believes will come his way one day.
We’re trying to make sense of this offer from the Chiefs. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
As teams try to fill stadiums in the days since the death of the shell-game threat known as the local TV blackout, creativity is becoming a requirement.
In Kansas City, the Chiefs have adopted a season-long game pass, which guarantees customers a ticket to each of the 10 preseason and regular-season games for a flat fee of $200.
“The limited number of seats available through the Bud Light Game Day Pass will be in select locations in the upper level of Arrowhead Stadium,” the Chiefs said in a press release. “Bud Light Game Day Passes are non-transferable and must be used by the purchaser.”
As noted by Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, the Jets are the only other NFL team to use these device for filling otherwise empty seats. At least 22 Major League Baseball teams use it.
The press release notes that traditional season-ticket packages remain available to Arrowhead Stadium at $380 for the full year, which entails a fixed seat and the ability to re-sell tickets to the various games. The broader message could be that the Chiefs are scrambling a bit to convince 76,416 people to pay to attend the various games of a team that has made it to the playoffs in three of the last four years but that he been bumping its head against the ceiling of the divisional round.
If they are overselling – how can they guarantee the tickets to each game?
This from the website:
A Mobile Only Ticket that Guarantees A Seat At All 10 Home Games
Randomly Selected Game Day Passholders Will Be Upgraded To The Bud Light Party Lounge Every Game
And this from their release:
Bud Light Game Day Passes are non-transferable and must be used by the purchaser.
These mobile-only tickets will be delivered to the cell phone of the registered purchaser the morning of the game and cannot be printed. Individuals may purchase up to four Bud Light Game Day Passes together, but that purchaser will own all four passes and will need to present the tickets at every game for the group to gain access to the stadium.”
Jim Mora, the Elder, can’t let bygones be bygones. Dakota Crawford of the Indianapolis Star:
Jim Mora was a guest with WNDE’s “Query & Schultz” radio show Wednesday, and he talked at length about his apparently turbulent time in Indianapolis.
The interview opened with him discussing why he left the Colts, who he coached from 1998 — Peyton Manning’s rookie season — to 2001, after being asked if it was because he refused to fire defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
“That’s exactly true,” Mora told Query & Schultz. “I didn’t walk away, though, I got fired. It was either fire Vic or fire me. I was asked by Bill Polian — I was told by Bill Polian — he wanted me to fire Vic Fangio. I said, well, he doesn’t deserve to be fired. He’s an outstanding coach, was then and he still is. So we had talks with Jim Irsay, it came down and I wouldn’t do it …
“I couldn’t fire a friend or a coach that I felt was very qualified that didn’t deserve to be fired. So I got fired. That was it.”
By the end of the interview, Mora was asked his thoughts on returning to Indianapolis for a ceremony honoring Manning.
Manning is due to have a statue erected outside Lucas Oil Stadium this fall. According to Mora, Manning asked him to attend.
“I told him I wasn’t going to come,” Mora said. “I had reasons. I would love to come back there, but because of the way I left the Colts, my relationship with Polian, I don’t know. I just wouldn’t feel that I would feel comfortable being there.”
The Colts went 3-13 Manning’s rookie season but flipped that record to 13-3 in his second campaign. Year No. 3 saw Manning and Mora go 10-6, before going 6-10 in Mora’s last season.
The core of that team went on to, with Tony Dungy at the helm, win Super Bowl XLI over the Chicago Bears. Mora said he only wishes he could have seen out that roster’s potential.
And though he still loves Indianapolis, he’s not ready to come back. Not even for Manning.
“I would love to come, but I think I would just feel a little bit awkward there,” he said. “It was a big part of my career. I coached some really good players there. I loved the organization. I loved the city. It was a great city.”
Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly thinks that the one game you can most count on the Patriots winning is the season opener. Against the Chiefs. Really?
The Patriots finished last season as the best team in football.
Their historic comeback in Super Bowl LI secured a fifth Lombardi Trophy and earned everyone the spoils of a championship offseason that include a parade, a trip to the White House and, soon, a gaudy new piece of jewelry.
As the page turns to 2017 and New England’s title defense, it seems that the Patriots are expected to once again be the best team in football this fall. Heck, Bill Belichick’s team is the only NFL squad that Vegas currently has favored to win all 16 of its games in 2017.
Some have even begun to wonder if another undefeated regular season could be in the makings.
But whatever success New England finds in the coming months, it won’t be easy. The Patriots have a pretty impressive schedule of opponents littered with recent playoff participants and high-powered passing attacks.
That got PFW thinking, which of New England’s upcoming games is the most difficult, both in terms of opponent, location and ever-ambiguous “spot?” Which is the most likely layup? (Of course such talk probably has Belichick breaking out in hives at this point in May, his team little more than a week into OTA workouts!)
So, here’s a 1-16 rundown of the Patriots 2017 schedule ranked from biggest challenge right on down the line. Read
1. AT STEELERS, DEC. 17:
This AFC title game rematch takes place in Pittsburgh with the Patriots coming off a Monday night trip to Miami in mid-December. Oh, and Big Ben’s Steelers offense could be even tougher to deal with in 2017, especially if it’s healthy late in the year.
2. AT RAIDERS, NOV. 19:
The upstart Oakland (soon-to-be-Las Vegas-but-sometimes-Mexico City) squad will be looking to establish itself as a legit AFC contender in this mid-November battle south of the border. The Patriots will be coming off a Sunday night game in Denver and may have spent a week away from home leading up to a second-straight contest at high altitude.
3. AT BRONCOS, NOV. 12:
A game in Denver against the Broncos impressive defense. Enough said.
4. AT DOLPHINS, DEC. 11:
A game in Miami always seems to be concerning, especially with the Dolphins supposedly building a contender. The teams will also be coming off a battle in Foxborough just two weeks earlier.
5. FALCONS, OCT 22:
The NFL apparently did Atlanta a favor by not making it travel to New England on opening night. By this late-October Super Bowl rematch at Gillette we should know if the Falcons bounced-back from February’s embarrassment or if they have SBLS (Super Bowl Loser Syndrome).
6. AT BUCCANEERS, OCT. 5:
The Bucs are an upstart young team that’s probably not getting as much attention as it should. They have interesting pieces on both sides of the ball, so this Thursday night trip to Tampa may be tough for more reasons than just the short week.
7. AT SAINTS, SEPT. 17:
This battle of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in New Orleans will be a Week 2 test for the Patriots retooled pass defense that’s expected to be a strength of the team this season.
8. PANTHERS, OCT. 1:
9. TEXANS, SEPT. 24:
10. AT JETS, OCT. 15:
11. DOLPHINS, NOV. 26:
12. AT BILLS, DEC. 3:
13. CHARGERS, OCT. 29:
The new L.A. squad makes its first trip across the country to Foxborough with limited chances to pull the big upset. The Chargers were a banged-up, mistake-prone team last fall. New coach Anthony Lynn has a lot to prove and improve with his team.
14. BILLS, DEC. 24:
Sean McDermott is changing the culture in Buffalo. A win in New England on Christmas Eve would be a nice gift and step in the right direction. But it’s a gift Belichick’s Patriots are unlikely to offer up.
15. JETS, DEC. 31:
New York could win the season finale, but if that happens it’s probably due to how the Patriots choose to play things out more than what the Jets are capable of.
16. CHIEFS, SEPT. 7:
Andy Reid and Alex Smith are coming off a solid playoff season. But the duo simply isn’t ready to come to Foxborough for the NFL season opener and pull off the massive upset. Maybe it’s true that on “any given Sunday…,” but Thursday nights are for the home squad, especially with the emotion of a banner-raising in front of a raucous prime time crowd. The Patriots are already 1-0.
That’s a pretty good schedule. We understand what he is trying to say about the emotion of the opener. Still we couldn’t have the Chiefs game any lower than 10th on this list.
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QB TOM BRADY seems ready to give away his training secrets in a new book, but not reveal any of the secrets of his feelings during his pursuit by NFL Justice. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will begin his push for a sixth Super Bowl ring in September while he also tries to head to the top of the best seller list.
Simon & Schuster announced in a press release on Thursday that they have acquired the rights to The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance, which will be released in hardcover, digital and audio formats in September.
The “oversized, heavily illustrated, revealing yet deeply practical” book will focus on the approaches to training, nutrition and overall well-being that Brady has developed over the years. It will also include “step-by-step action steps” designed for readers to use in order to increase their own productivity in a way similar to the Patriots quarterback.
“We expect this book to become an essential source for the way athletes of all ages live and train, whether they are in high school or in retirement,” said Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster. “The fact that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time gives him the authority to write this book — but the fact that the principles that he’s espousing go well beyond sports is one of the reasons readers are going to pay close attention to his message.”
THIS AND THAT
Richard Dietsch of SI.com looks at FoxSports1 and the other FOX entities in the wake of Jamie Horowitz’s sudden departure.
The leadership of FS1 has changed, but the editorial ethos of the network will not. Multiple sources have told SI.com that Chief Operating Officer and Executive Producer Eric Shanks plans to continue the current editorial path of FS1, which features loud and brash sports opinion television. On Monday, Fox Sports fired Fox Sports National president Jamie Horowitz as a result of a sexual harassment probe by the company’s human resources department.
There are multiple factors why Shanks will stay with FS1’s current programming in the near term. If Shanks bails on Horowitz’s strategy, the thinking goes, it will be a concession that Fox Sports has once again failed to come up with a successful editorial strategy for its cable sports outlet. Shanks also has many existing contracts on the books that were negotiated by Horowitz, including some with millions of dollars remaining. For example, Skip Bayless makes $6.5 million annually, and Colin Cowherd is believed to be in the same area code. As recently as two weeks ago, FS1 hired Ray Lewis as an NFL analyst, and it has dozens of on-air talent with dollars remaining on deals. FS1 has also invested significant dollars in marketing its opinion-over-all enterprise and is starting a New York-based morning show in September with Cris Carter and Nick Wright (both of whom were given additional money from their existing contacts which initially did not include doing a morning show). The relative low ratings of FS1’s studio shows do not bother Shanks, sources said.
Horowitz’s editorial vision, though hugely cynical and anathema to sports journalism, has reduced costs for the company given Fox Sports already owns the studio space and its biggest outlays for these shows are talent (whose costs are already baked in) and a small production staff. (News-gathering costs far more money than airing hosts blasting LeBron James, the Boston Celtics and Colin Kaepernick all day.)
Horowitz, who was hired by Fox Sports in May 2015, also further reduced costs by letting go of more than 20 digital staffers including executives brought over from USA Today with years of digital experience. Said one current Fox Sports staffer: “Think of it this way in sports terms: You bring in Chip Kelly as your coach, and he brings in his players. Then you fire Chip Kelly but you still have his players. What are you going to do? You have no choice at the moment but to play with what you have. Shanks is stuck.”
Shanks, via a Fox Sports spokesperson, declined to comment.
Regarding a permanent replacement for Horowitz as both the head of FS1 and Fox’s digital arm, Shanks has already heard from potential candidates and is said to be working through a list. The person coming in for that job will have a massive cleanup on his or her hands. Multiple current and former Fox Sports executives confirmed morale is terrible at the moment. The new head of FS1 will have to figure out how to make the synergy between Fox Sports’s remote or event production (the group that produces live sporting events) and FS1’s studio shows more palatable. The digital arm is more challenging: The staff has been gutted and even if one attempted to hire back those who were let go, how many staffers would commit to the place that disposed of them so easily?
“How bad is morale? Well, what is shittier than shitty?” said one Fox Sports staffer. “There are people I know who have worked at Fox Sports a long time who say it’s not the same place as before. These are people who were here before FS1. A lot of that has to do with the quality of people who were let go.”
“There is a big disconnect between the studio group and the remote group,” said another Fox Sports staffer. “It’s like it’s separate companies.”
“Everybody is miserable,” said a former Fox Sports executive, who speaks regularly to people at the company. “I was blessed to work with David Hill and Ed Goren and they encouraged you to stick your neck out for innovation and creativity. You could try 10 things and maybe four would work, but that made you a .400 hitter. But it’s a volume business, and that changes the playing field a bit.”
One of the few Fox Sports employees with the standing and job security to talk publicly about the divide between studio and remote was Troy Aikman, who told SI.com last September upon Horowitz hiring Bayless: “To say I’m disappointed in the hiring of Skip Bayless would be an enormous understatement,” Aikman said. “Clearly, Jamie Horowitz and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to building a successful organization. I believe success is achieved by acquiring and developing talented, respected and credible individuals, none of which applies to Skip Bayless.”
For those editorial romantics who believe Fox Sports execs would be appalled by having hot talkers as the editorial face of the network, guess again. As one sports media executive recently said to me: “They are not Disney. Look at the history of their reality shows.”
One current Fox Sports staffer remains hopeful that a management change at the top of FS1 will set things on a better course heading forward.
“There are a lot of us who hope you’ll see more synergy and more promotion of the games during the week,” the staffer said. “ESPN’s great at that. We have not been. There has been a divide between the two sides, and hopefully that changes.”
Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing weighs in:
The shocking firing of Jamie Horowitz has shaken Fox Sports and the industry as a whole. Horowitz was already under pressure after the FoxSports.com website rollout was one of the most widely panned in recent sports media history. Just last week, Awful Announcing published the inside story of Horowitz’s Fox Sports Digital transformation that was much more flop than flip.
At least 20 sources from Fox Sports Digital chronicled Horowitz’s tumultuous takeover of the online brand that turned Fox Sports from one of the mainstream sports leaders on the web to a mishmash of Fox branded potpourri. While Horowitz’s vision for Fox was certainly under fire from all sides, both on television and online, nobody could have ever envisioned that he would be abruptly gone from the company less than seven days later.
Now Horowitz and Fox appear to be headed for a drawn out and acrimonious divorce with accusations of sexual harassment at the center of his controversial departure. It’s just the latest harassment claim at a Fox company after Fox News has been embroiled in scandal after scandal that has taken down Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes. And don’t forget that FS1 reporter Colleen Dominguez was also at the center of an age and gender discrimination lawsuit on the sports side. First and foremost, Fox now has to deal with serious questions about their culture as an entire company across multiple networks.
But from the sports media side, given how much Fox Sports has invested into Horowitz and Embrace Debate 2.0, it can’t be overstated how much of a disaster this is for the company and for their increasingly futile quest to take on ESPN.
Millions of dollars were splashed on the likes of Colin Cowherd, Skip Bayless, and Jason Whitlock. Outside of live events, FS1 became the home for hot takes. And while these big personalities have increased FS1’s ratings somewhat, they still lag far behind ESPN. All of the talking head programs routinely draw below 100,000 viewers, which is a mere blip on the cable radar.
From the beginning, it’s been easy to see that this is not a winning strategy in the long run. Fox turning the reins to Horowitz gave the network minimal short term gain with minimal long term potential for growth. There has to be only a handful of sports fans that are willing to change decades long viewing habits and switch from ESPN to FS1 to watch Bayless, Cowherd, and Whitlock debate the same topics into the ground, continue personal feuds, and tout conspiracy theories. Dollar per viewer, it’s difficult to say Embrace Debate 2.0 is worth it when so many fans are equally as turned off from FS1 in the process.
Now without Horowitz guiding the ship, what happens to all of his former ESPN cohorts who came to the network to work with him? Do they try to plod along without the man responsible for putting it all together at the helm? Do their contract statuses allow for changes to be made without Horowitz in charge? If so, what happens if Bayless, Cowherd, etc. actually want out and want their spots back at ESPN after finding out the grass isn’t actually greener on the other side? What happens if Fox tries to go in a different direction to try to get the bad taste from the Horowitz Era out of their mouths? These talking heads literally fill almost the entire day of programming for FS1 between live airings and replays. Is it too late to bring back The Best Damn Sports Show, Period?
FS1 has already tried being “The One for Fun.” They’ve now tried Embrace Debate 2.0. Neither has worked out too well. Approaching their fourth anniversary, do they dare try to make yet another pivot and go in yet another direction? If trying to surpass ESPN is like running a marathon, FS1 can’t even figure out how to get to the starting line.
And that’s just on the television side. What about the website? The ruins of FoxSports.com is part of Horowitz’s lasting “legacy” at Fox Sports. By now, you hopefully know the story of how Horowitz took over the website and left it as nothing more than a promotional vehicle for the television channel by going to an all-video strategy and completely ridding the website of written content.
After a week of seeing what’s on the all new FoxSports.com it’s safe to say that the company found one of the quickest and most effective ways to destroy the relevancy of a website overnight.
It’s not like Fox can just go back to all those writers and content creators and say, “Let’s just pretend none of this ever happened. See you next Tuesday!” The toothpaste is already out of the tube. Bruce Feldman is already writing for SI.com. It’s not just as easy as hitting the rewind or reset button.
Horowitz may be gone, but what about all the changes behind the scenes that are already in place? What about hiring new writers and content creators? What about executives that Horowitz brought in himself across the company? Does Fox just forget the website for now and try to stabilize their television network? FS1 is between the ultimate rock and a hard place because the longer they go with the website in the current shape it’s in, the harder it will be to win fans back that have already checked out.
We’re talking about layers and layers of structures and systems and staffing that might take months, if not years, to rebuild if Fox even wants to bother trying to take that on. And even if Fox Sports does find a way to bring their website back to where it was, the damage will have already been done.
What’s possibly next for Fox Sports and FS1?
Speaking of damage being done, it’s going to take a long time for Fox Sports to recover from the Horowitz Era. Yes, Horowitz had success at ESPN. But after he was let go by NBC before even starting at the Today Show in one of the shortest and most disastrous executive tenures in network television, Fox had to know that an implosion of epic proportions was a distinct possibility. The hard truth is that the network has nobody to blame but themselves for creating a house of cards that could tumble at any moment.
This is what Fox has left for themselves after refusing to play the long game. Instead of sticking with it and trying to build FS1 as a true alternative to ESPN, Fox got impatient after just a couple years of slowly building FS1.
It’s going to take decades for Fox to realistically challenge ESPN and build a rights portfolio that can really compete with Bristol. With the entire industry going through significant turmoil and change, why not save the money invested on Bayless, Cowherd, Horowitz, etc. and invest it into digital or live streaming or actual sports rights? Why not slowly build up your rapport with sports fans until the major rights deals become available? Why not be patient and do almost anything else but putting all your chips behind Embrace Debate 2.0 for your entire company? Because Fox is currently seeing how that decision is playing out.
Coming up on their fourth anniversary next month, it’s hard to imagine a worse week for any sports network than Fox has just experienced. Yes, ESPN laid off dozens of on-air personalities earlier this year in one of the darkest times in that network’s history, but at least ESPN still has an identity. The Horowitz Era has left Fox in the wilderness wondering which way to go from here.
FS1 has little left to sell for sports fans aside from recycled talking heads from ESPN arguing about the same things you can see people on ESPN argue about. They have no reporters. They have no writers. They have no highlights. They have no website.
It looked so promising for FS1 at the start. The network had so many hopeful and optimistic fans hoping that their presence would not only provide an alternative on the national sports scene, but challenge all of their competitors to be better. At least FS1 still has some decent sporting events to try to hang their hat on, like the World Cup coming up next year, but the brand has been unmistakably tarnished through this drama with perhaps more fallout to come.
How does Fox Sports even begin to pick up the pieces? What happens to FS1? What happens to FoxSports.com? Where does the network even try to go from here? These are questions that don’t have easy answers right now, if they even have any answers at all.
WOMEN IN THE NFL?
A topic for Alex Marvez in The Sporting News as he talks to Samantha Rapoport of the NFL:
The day will come when a significant number of NFL positions are not only filled by women, but such hires are touted as a “next” rather than a “first.”
At least that’s how Samantha Rapoport sees it.
As part of her role as the NFL’s director of football development, Rapoport is tasked with helping ensure females are afforded chances to prosper at all levels in a male-dominated league. The groundbreaking advancements of women in scouting, coaching and officiating this offseason have Rapoport feeling bullish about the progress made in her first full year on the job.
“We’ve received resounding support from both the league office and club level,” Rapoport told Sporting News in a recent telephone interview. “If there are people here who don’t believe in women in football, I sure have not come across them.”
By the NFL’s count, 55 women are now working for teams in football operations. This includes what will be a record-high four female coaching interns in NFL training camps — Odessa Jenkins (Atlanta), Phoebe Schecter (Buffalo), Katie Sowers (San Francisco) and Collette Smith (New York Jets).
Outside of team settings, longtime team executive Dawn Aponte was recently hired by the league office to fill a newly created position as chief administrator of football operations. Terri Valenti also became the first woman hired as an instant replay booth assistant.
Rapoport said she has received calls from teams this offseason asking her for qualified applicants for vacancies. The list she has built comes largely from participants in the Women’s Career in Football Forum that Rapoport created.
One of the speakers at this year’s event was Bills co-owner Kim Pegula, who has proven a strong NFL advocate for female advancement.
“Kim shared at the forum that female resumes don’t come across her desk for football operations jobs,” Rapoport said. “She explained that not every job is about coaching or scouting. There’s equipment manager, video, officiating and analytic opportunities among others.”
Nineteen of the 220 women who attended the summit have landed football-related internships or jobs at the high school, college and pro levels. Others are putting themselves in positions to potentially secure similar opportunities by participating in USA Football coaching certification programs and scouting academies.
“A lot of women have applied for jobs and didn’t get them,” Rapoport said. “That speaks to the person who’s best available being hired.
“Not everyone is going to be the best. But if you include the whole pool of candidates in the hiring process, you’re going to land on women who are best qualified for the job.”
That’s how the Vikings unearthed Kelly Kleine, who was recently promoted to college scouting coordinator. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told Sporting News that he initially hired Kleine to a full-time position because she was “twice as good” as some of Minnesota’s other male interns despite her lack of playing experience.
Whether coincidental or not, women began rising in the NFL ranks in 2015 following the league’s mishandling of Ray Rice’s domestic violence case and the subsequent fallout. Sarah Thomas and Jen Welter (Arizona) became the NFL’s first full-time officiating crew member and coaching intern, respectively.
At the inaugural 2016 Women’s Summit, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced expansion of the “Rooney Rule” to require at least one female is interviewed for vacancies inside league headquarters. Ex-Bills coach Rex Ryan then made Katherine Smith the NFL’s first female on an NFL coaching staff last year by adding her as an assistant on special teams. Smith was fired from the position along with other members of Ryan’s staff following his dismissal at the end of the 2016 season.
While those hires spurred headlines highlighting the strides women were making, they also generated extra pressure and attention for those involved.
“What we don’t want is the spotlight on one female and her feeling it rests on her shoulders for women to succeed or fail,” Rapoport said. “That really is bad.”
Another challenge that comes with introducing more females into football operations is the possibility of sexual harassment; however, Rapoport says she hasn’t seen or heard evidence of that happening from her time in the NFL and conversations with female peers.
“If there is harassment, it would be dealt with by the human resource department,” she said. “In my experience, the NFL has been an absolutely incredibly open, welcoming place to work.”
Rapoport, though, says she is sometimes asked by outsiders “what qualities women possess that allow them to be beneficial to NFL culture.”
“One reason is women make up a big portion of the fan base,” Rapoport said. “They love football and some now play football. Why shouldn’t they work in it?”
Rapoport allows that opportunities in personnel evaluation are more readily available than in the permanent coaching ranks. That imbalance may gradually shrink as female football leagues at both the amateur and professional levels grow.
“We see (scouting) as an easier opportunity for females to break into football ops,” Rapoport said. “Coaching is more difficult because of the experience necessary, but we’re planting the seeds right now.”
MORE: Why women must be treated like the NFL fans they are
Rapoport speaks from experience — and the heart.
Now 36, Rapoport fell in love with football as a 12-year-old in Ottawa after she joined a female youth team and was inserted at quarterback despite initially wanting to play wide receiver.
Rapoport became a member of Canadian national women’s team before she branched out into jobs with the NFL and USA Football, which is America’s national governing body for the sport.
During her six-year stint at USA Football, Rapoport spearheaded the effort to create a flag-football league framework for girls. More than 20,000 are now currently participating nationwide, with five states even sponsoring high school championships.
Rapoport hopes the program establishes the groundwork that can help others fulfill their own pigskin dreams.
“The game has afforded me everything — all my friends, my wife, an incredible relationship with my father before he died,” Rapoport said. “It’s an absolutely beautiful sport.
“One of the more remarkable things, too, is how it brings our country together in times when we’re seemingly so polarized (politically). One of the things the majority of the country agrees upon is that football is phenomenal. I wanted to be a part of that.”
As reflected by the NFL’s female revolution, Rapoport isn’t the only woman who feels that way.
Jane McManus of ESPN.com wrote this when Rapoport was hired last September:
With 52.6 million women viewing the Super Bowl this past February, according to the NFL, the league wants to expand opportunities for women in, for example, officiating and as athletic trainers.
“In such a strategic hire as this, we needed to have an individual that is passionate and knowledgeable in this space,” NFL EVP of football operations Troy Vincent said. “Sam is an excellent fit.”
Currently, 30 percent of the NFL’s front-office employees are women. Football operations jobs are a different story. Sarah Thomas became the first woman hired as a full-time referee last year, and Kathryn Smith is a full-time quality-control coach for the Bills.
Rapoport, as a former player, is plugged into a network of women who have played the game known as professional women’s football even though players generally don’t get paid to play. Jen Welter, the first woman to coach in the NFL through a coaching internship with the Arizona Cardinals, had a background in women’s tackle and later played and coached men. Similarly, the NFL wants to mine that talent and train women for possible jobs in coaching and scouting.
“Playing tackle football obviously is not a prerequisite to being an excellent coach,” Rapoport said. “Adam Gase coaches the Dolphins and never played (in college or the NFL), and there are others. It’s not a prerequisite, but in order to be a good coach, you have to have a general knowledge of football and you have to be able to relay that info in a coherent way to players. And, to me, that translates to male or female. Do you know your stuff, and are you able to relay that in a coherent way?”
Connecting qualified women with NFL teams may be a bigger challenge. Rapoport has been calling general managers and owners to set up a committee on gender inclusion. With just two months on the job, she is in the early stages, but the goal is to create connections that can lead to jobs in a field where many hires are based on previous relationships in men’s football.
“That’s how any job — not just football, but any job that’s a prestigious job — is acquired,” Rapoport said. “That’s our biggest barrier. We didn’t grow up in the male tackle football world, so we don’t have a friend who is a coach, or, ‘I played for him, so he’ll recommend me for a job.’
“That’s a reason this position exists, and that’s a big-time focus for me, just connecting owners and general managers to women who are very qualified and very passionate and ready to go.”
Rapoport played flag and touch football growing up in Canada and was a member of the Canadian national flag team. She has worked in football since 2003, first with a marketing internship with the NFL and later developing a national flag football program for girls during her six years with USA Football.
In 2003, as a quarterback for the Montreal Blitz, Rapoport applied for her NFL internship by sending her résumé along with photo of herself in pads and a football. She wrote on the football with a Sharpie, “What other quarterback could accurately deliver a football 386 miles?”
She got the internship.
“I was told it stood out among the other applicants,” Rapoport said.