The Daily Briefing Thursday, June 15, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Who knew that Bob Stoopes, allegedly “retired” as coach at Oklahoma, had not one, but two, homes in Chicago?  The Chicago Sun-Times:

 

Despite owning two Gold Coast homes, former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops doesn’t have his eye on any potential Bears job opening.

 

“That’s a simple deal,” Stoops told 97.1-FM, an ESPN Radio affiliate in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Tuesday. “I got one that fits our style and what we want to do with our family better, and I’m gonna sell the other one.

 

“I’m not looking to coach in Chicago.”

 

Stoops shocked the college football world last week when he retired after 18 seasons, one national title and a 190-48 record with the Sooners. He lives in Chicago part-time.

– – –

LB LEONARD FLOYD opens up on his unnerving experience with a concussion.  Patrick Finley of Chicago Sun-Times:

 

Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd’s rookie season ended Christmas Eve, when he suffered his second concussion in five weeks.

 

His offseason didn’t begin for months. He sat at home in a fog.

 

“You just don’t feel normal,” Floyd said after mandatory minicamp practice Wednesday. “You know, it’s this thinking part, like you don’t think the same.

 

“I wasn’t thinking like I normally would think. And then I’d be staring off in space sometimes instead of paying attention.”

 

When the season ended, the Bears told him not to work out until his concussion symptoms lifted. It wasn’t until February when he felt healthy enough to resume activities.

 

“It took me two months to really feel like I was back to myself,” he said in his first interview since Jan. 2. “I was just at the house, relaxing, getting my mind back together. After those two months, I felt back.”

 

He gradually improved in January and February and cleared the last hurdle when he was able to work out.

 

“Day by day, I was able to focus more, and my mind wasn’t all racing everywhere, and I was able to lock in on things,” he said.

 

It’s impossible to overstate the serious nature of his two concussions — for Floyd’s playing career and his quality of life.

 

He was carted off the field on a backboard after suffering a scary injury Nov. 20 against the Giants but was cleared by hospital doctors in time to join the Bears on their flight home from New Jersey. Then on Dec.   24 against the Redskins, he suffered his second concussion. He began getting headaches, which subsided within a few days.

 

In both cases, Floyd collided with teammate Akiem Hicks while trying to make a tackle. The Bears chalked both up to bad technique — he tackled with the crown of his head going forward. Floyd has worked with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio this offseason to improve his form.

 

“I definitely have to be aware because I don’t want to get another concussion and sit out games,” he said. “I have to make sure I play every game.”

 

 

DETROIT

The Lions trade for T GREG ROBINSON, a can’t miss prospect who missed under Jeff Fisher and company.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Rams have gotten rid of a former draft bust and the Lions have gotten a potential fill-in for their injured left tackle.

 

Greg Robinson, the second overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, has been traded to the Lions, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Detroit sends its 2018 sixth-round draft pick to Los Angeles in the deal.

 

That gives the Lions another player who can compete to start at left tackle in Week One, while starting left tackle Taylor Decker recovers from shoulder surgery. Robinson has played both guard and tackle for the Rams.

 

The Rams declined Robinson’s fifth-year option, which means the 2017 season is the final year on his rookie contract. He is due a base salary of $3.3 million.

 

The Lions have also signed another potential left tackle in former Bills second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio, according to Field Yates of ESPN. So it’s a busy day for the Lions, who know they need to find a better option to protect Matthew Stafford’s blind side.

 

 

MINNESOTA

The Vikings are putting Randy Moss in their Ring of Honor.  Ben Goessling at ESPN.com:

 

– Randy Moss told stories about his breakout game at Lambeau Field. He said he should have explained his famous “I play when I want to play” quote. He saluted his fans, acknowledged “the people I rubbed wrong” and thanked the ownership group that oversaw both his acrimonious split with the Minnesota Vikings and his collegial return this week.

 

And behind it all, as Moss reflected on his career during a freewheeling news conference to announce his induction to the Vikings’ Ring of Honor, was Dennis Green.

 

Moss became emotional as he talked about the late coach, taking nearly 30 seconds to compose himself before thanking Green for taking him 21st overall in the 1998 NFL draft.

 

Green, who died at age 67 following a heart attack last July, oversaw Moss’ electric debut in Minnesota during the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. On Wednesday, Moss lamented the fact that he’d never gotten a true chance to say goodbye, while thanking Green for giving him a chance after he slid from the top of the draft due to concerns over his legal history.

 

“I was 6 years old [when I started] playing this game,” Moss said. “I really don’t know why I was treated the way I was treated on draft day, but Coach Green gave me an opportunity, man. And I told him, ‘Coach, you’re not going to regret this.’ So, you asked me what I would say to him? Man, I’d probably just fall in his arms and give him a hug. There’s no words that I can tell him.

 

“The man passed away without me really, really, really giving him my love and thanks for what he was able to do for me and my family. There’s a lot of teams out there that passed on me for wrong reasons. Coach Green gave me that opportunity. So when all you Vikings fans are sitting up here, going back in the past, remembering the teams that I played on … man, however you feel about me, you can feel. But if you feel a good way about me, Coach Green brought me here. And whatever talents I was able to showcase, he helped me do that. You see how emotional I am about him? I’m very thankful to have crossed paths with Coach Green.”

 

Moss, who now works as an NFL analyst for ESPN, ranks second in Vikings history with 9,316 receiving yards and 92 touchdown catches. He reached five Pro Bowls in his first seven seasons with the Vikings, but was traded to the Oakland Raiders before the 2005 season, and his short-lived return to the team in 2010 ended with Moss being waived a day after he criticized coach Brad Childress and the team following a loss to the New England Patriots.

 

The Vikings involved Moss in their pregame ceremonies before their second home game at U.S. Bank Stadium last year. And when Moss was in town for business meetings related to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis next February, the team surprised him by telling him he would join the Ring of Honor.

 

“I walked down the hallway [in the team’s offices]; I’m looking at [Mick] Tingelhoff, I’m looking at [Cris] Carter, I’m looking at [Chris] Doleman,” Moss said. “I know my history, I know my players to be able to see them. So when I come out of a meeting, I didn’t see my jersey on that wall [before].

 

“So when I come out, I’m like, ‘Hold on, wait a minute — did y’all just put this up here?’ I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say, but the one thing I will tell you is, the love, the passion I put into this game … to some, it might have been arrogance. But to me, I was just focused, because I always wanted to play the game of football.”

 

The Vikings announced both Moss and Ahmad Rashad, who played for the team from 1976 to ’82, will be inducted into their Ring of Honor this season, joining 21 other former players. The two receivers will be the first players to join the Ring of Honor since the team’s final season at the Metrodome in 2013.

 

Moss will also be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018, when electors debate his candidacy during Super Bowl weekend in Minneapolis.

 

Moss said it would be special to reach the Hall of Fame in Minnesota during his first year of eligibility. Receiver Terrell Owens was denied entry during his first year of eligibility, however, so Moss could have to overcome a difficult precedent, while also answering for the more controversial aspects of his career, such as his 2002 arrest for bumping a Minneapolis traffic officer with his car.

 

He made efforts to do so Wednesday, saying he needed to be more aware of the business aspects of football when he was traded and praising the Wilf family for helping U.S. Bank Stadium to be built last year.

 

He also referenced the “I play when I want to play” comment he made in the fall of 2001, saying he should have done more to clarify what he meant at the time.

 

“I think that was just mixed up over the years,” Moss said. “As you mature, you grow, and I think that I really should have spoke about it, what I really meant. But that’s in the past. I love the game so much. I sacrificed so much. I really honestly think I got traded out of here because I only cared about the game of football.

 

“I know that sounds weird, but I didn’t do anything outside of the game of football. I didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t like to mingle a lot. I only cared about football, and I think that was one of my worst attributes, trying to branch outside of the game of football. But hey, that’s all I knew. That’s what I grew up believing. And to this day, I still carry that same chip [on my shoulder].”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY on whether or not QB DAK PRESCOTT will endure a sophomore slump:

 

Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson is a believer in the sophomore slump … just not for the Cowboys’ second-year star, Dak Prescott.

 

“I think it’s a real thing, but I don’t think it’s a real thing with Dak,” Wilson told USA TODAY Sports after the team’s minicamp practice Wednesday.

 

“He is just so dialed in. He’s so motivated. His intangibles are off the hook. I don’t even think it’s a concern for him.”

 

A lot has changed from a year ago, when Prescott — a fourth-round draft pick and not even Dallas’ first choice to develop at the position — was scraping for offseason reps behind veterans Tony Romo and Kellen Moore. Romo is retired (for now) to the broadcast booth. Moore is backing up Prescott, who replaced injured Romo late in training camp and never gave back the job.

 

But anticipation inside the league of some kind of backslide from Prescott lingers even after he silenced doubters last season by throwing 23 TD passes with four interceptions and a 104.9 passer rating — a rookie record — on the way to an NFC East title and offensive rookie of the year honors. But the more tape opponents have, people figure, the sooner they’ll figure out how to make the young quarterback’s life difficult. Yet Prescott never really hit an extended rough patch as a rookie.

 

 “And even if he had an off game, he found ways to win,” said Wilson, an NFL QB himself for 19 seasons.

 

“He didn’t have his fastball in Minnesota (a 17-15 win on Dec. 1), and he ran on third down and converted, found a way to win at the end of the game. Even the playoff game, Green Bay’s kicking our ass and we’re down big (21-3) — he didn’t blink. We’re back, and then we’re right there (tied at 31) at the end. It should’ve been an overtime game.”

 

Clearly, the presence of league rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott and the NFL’s best offensive line made a big difference in getting Prescott going. Because defenses regularly ganged up to try to stop Elliott last season, Prescott had more favorable passing looks and he took advantage.

 

What Prescott did wasn’t just a function of the system or the people around him, though. His poise, pocket presence and toughness were evident every week. When teams tried to confuse him — showing different fronts, bringing pressure, etc. — he showed a veteran’s calm. And that has carried over to the offseason.

 

“He’s had a great approach and mindset so far,” receiver Cole Beasley said. “He’s the type of guy that’s going to grind no matter what and continue to get better no matter how good he gets.”

 

In other words, Prescott’s not the type to have one good season and decide he’s made it.

 

“Not one shred of that. Not one shred,” Wilson said. “In fact, just the opposite. It’s like, ‘I’ve tasted it, it’s an appetizer, I want to get better.’ “

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Can Sean McVay work magic with WR TAVON AUSTIN?  He sounds like he’s planning on it.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Rams receiver Tavon Austin, the eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft, has for the most part underachieved during his time in the NFL, despite securing a contract extension a year ago. Now, a new coaching staff has arrived, Austin has been absent after wrist surgery, and plenty of new receivers have been added. So what does it mean for Austin?

 

“I think we have ideas of the way that we want to utilize him,” coach Sean McVay told reporters on Wednesday. “I think he’s done a lot of great things on tape, but until you’re actually able to get out on the grass with him, watch him do some of the things that we’re asking him to do, it does make it a little bit more difficult. But we’re certainly projecting him to be a big part of our offense. How exactly we use him is to be determined, but we have discussed those things as a staff. We’ll get a chance to see that early on in training camp.”

 

For now, McVay and company haven’t been able to study Austin because he hasn’t been able to practice, due to the wrist surgery.

 

“I think he’s done a good job of controlling what he can control and that’s working and doing as much as he could with the limitations that he had with the wrist,” coach Sean McVay told reporters on Wednesday. “I think he’s done a great job in meetings, where he knows exactly what’s going on. Then, when you get to those physical reps, as soon as he’s able to with [head athletic trainer] Reggie [Scott] and the training staff, catch footballs from a quarterback and do some of those things that you’re going to do, the better. He’s a guy that’s real conscientious, he’s going to get himself ready to go. I think that’s some of the things he can do in the meantime to kind of give himself a jump start so the first time catching live routes and things like that instead of just the Juggs [machine] or a tennis ball machine isn’t going to be once we report.”

 

Austin has never had 1,000 yards from scrimmage at the NFL level, and his career high as a receiver came in 2016, with 509 yards. Former coach Jeff Fisher’s staff used Austin in ways similar to his deployment at West Virginia, where it was simple enough to put him in space against defenders who couldn’t catch him. At the next level, they can — and so it will take more than bubble screens and jet sweeps to get the kind of production to justify not only the top-10 selection but the four-year, $42 million contract that the Rams gave Austin last year.

 

 

SEATTLE

CB RICHARD SHERMAN admits to fighting – but he says he’s fighting for RUSSELL WILSON, not against him.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

 

The Seattle Seahawks continue to circle the wagons following an ESPN report that pitted the offense versus the defense.

 

On Wednesday, defensive end Michael Bennett defended Russell Wilson during an interview on KIRO-AM, noting the Seahawks wouldn’t be Super Bowl contenders without Wilson.

 

“On a team with competitive people, there’s going to be issues that are going to happen,” Bennett said, via MyNorthWest.com. “There’s just a lot of alpha males running around. But everybody supports Russell Wilson. We cannot win a game without Russell Wilson. Russell Wilson is a top-five quarterback in the NFL. We cannot win a game without a guy like that.”

 

Bennett’s comments follow fellow teammates Doug Baldwin and Richard Sherman dismissing any locker-room issues.

 

Part of the ESPN report revolved around how some defensive players viewed a difference between how Wilson and the offense were treated compared to the defense.

 

“We fight for one another just like I’m fighting for the other 52 guys out there. I’m fighting for him and he’s fighting for us,” Sherman told reporters Wednesday. “We have great appreciation for how tough our quarterback is and what he’s playing through. You know, last year he played through a number of injuries…. He’s doing that for the guys next to him, and we appreciate that.”

 

Bennett said Wednesday that it’s nothing new for quarterbacks, at every level, are treated differently.

 

“Everybody knows quarterbacks are treated different,” he said. “Even when I was a quarterback when I was like 7 or 6, I was treated good. I used to get more snack boxes, I used to get more Capri Suns than the other players.”

 

Continued Bennett: “But back then I used to get treated better than the rest of the players. I got more Lunchables than the next guy. But that’s just the story. Quarterbacks are treated better in the NFL simply because they are the organization. If you go on a team and another player, if the receiver is the highest player on your organization, you’re not a winning team. If the quarterback is the best player, the most predominant player that everybody knows, most likely you’re a playoff team.”

 

One thing is certain: We could all use more Capri Suns.

 

AFC WEST

 

OAKLAND

Will WR CORDARELLE PATTERSON break out as a Raider?  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Rams have gotten rid of a former draft bust and the Lions have gotten a potential fill-in for their injured left tackle.

 

Greg Robinson, the second overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, has been traded to the Lions, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Detroit sends its 2018 sixth-round draft pick to Los Angeles in the deal.

 

That gives the Lions another player who can compete to start at left tackle in Week One, while starting left tackle Taylor Decker recovers from shoulder surgery. Robinson has played both guard and tackle for the Rams.

 

The Rams declined Robinson’s fifth-year option, which means the 2017 season is the final year on his rookie contract. He is due a base salary of $3.3 million.

 

The Lions have also signed another potential left tackle in former Bills second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio, according to Field Yates of ESPN. So it’s a busy day for the Lions, who know they need to find a better option to protect Matthew Stafford’s blind side.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Chargers QB PHILIP RIVERS says the end is not in sight, at least as far as he’s looking.  And then he will be a high school football coach.  ESPN.com:

 

Philip Rivers says he believes he has several years left as an NFL quarterback, but that when he does retire, he’d like to become a high school football coach for his sons when they are older.

 

The 35-year-old Rivers, who is under contract with the Chargers for three more seasons, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on his Know Them From Adam podcast that he feels good physically and still enjoys the preparation needed to be an NFL quarterback.

 

“I don’t want to hang on at the end and just be a guy that’s hanging on. But if I still feel like I can help a team and I enjoy it the way I do and more importantly, if the team feels that I can help them. … I don’t see myself shutting it down any time real soon,” he said.

 

He said the team’s move to Los Angeles doesn’t affect that view of his future.

 

“I’m thankful to be a part of this organization and while it’s hard for so many people, I’m excited about the challenge and the newness and the unknown that’s going to come with being in a new community and playing in a new stadium,” he said. “But we’re going to still have that bolt on my helmet and I’m excited about what’s ahead.”

 

Rivers was selected to his sixth Pro Bowl last season after throwing for 4,386 yards with 33 touchdowns and an NFL-worst 21 interceptions. He has tied or led the league in interceptions in two of the past three seasons, but he also has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in four straight seasons. With 45,833 career passing yards, he ranks 12th on the all-time list.

 

Rivers, a father of eight children, has two sons, Gunner (age 9) and Peter (5). Rivers said he’s “almost certain” that he wants “to be a head high school football coach,” just like his own father, Steve. Rivers said he “doesn’t want to put a number” on how many years he has left in the NFL, but he hopes “it’s going to time up just right” so he can coach his sons and impact the lives of other young people.

 

“I want to coach my boys and coach those boys that are 15 to 18 years old,” Rivers said.

 

But Adam Stiles of SBNation.com says the Chargers shouldn’t count on Rivers:

 

Rivers has started 176 consecutive games for the Chargers, never missing a game since he took the reins from Drew Brees in 2006. But 13 seasons after landing Rivers in the 2004 NFL Draft — via a trade with the New York Giants involving Eli Manning — the Chargers are close to facing the reality that he won’t be their starter for much longer.

 

Los Angeles didn’t land a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft, though. For the fourth season, the team’s top option if Rivers gets injured is Kellen Clemens, a journeyman backup who has thrown 10 passes in his first three seasons with the Chargers. It’s a bad situation for a team that needs a contingency plan soon.

 

It’s not that the Chargers didn’t have the chance.

 

The team drafted wide receiver Mike Williams with the No. 7 selection in April. Quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes were each taken in the next five picks.

 

The only quarterbacks drafted by the Chargers since the team acquired Rivers are Brad Sorensen (seventh round in 2013), Jonathan Crompton (fifth round in 2010) and Charlie Whitehurst (third round in 2006).

 

That hasn’t been a problem for the Chargers with Rivers playing the role of iron man, but it may be an issue soon. Rivers dealt with a bulging disk in his back and a rib injury in 2014, and he was among the top 10 most sacked players in the NFL in each of the last three years.

 

Even if he continues to stay healthy, Rivers may already be showing signs of regression. He led the NFL with a career-high 21 interceptions in 2016 and completed 60.4 percent of his passes — his lowest mark since 2007 and the 24th among NFL starters in 2016.

 

Adding Williams and maybe getting a healthy season out of Keenan Allen may allow for a bounce back. But the Chargers would be wise to not push the hunt for their next quarterback four or five years into the future just because Rivers hopes to play that long.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

The number one pick of the draft is hurt.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Sirens went off late in Browns minicamp Wednesday, even before the ones signaling it was time to move inside because of lightning.

 

Just minutes before thunder crackled in the dark sky, No. 1 pick Myles Garrett fell to his knees with his head on the ground after a would-be sack of Brock Osweiler in a two-minute drill, immediately clutching his left foot. Garrett remained down a few moments before coach Hue Jackson and a trainer pulled him up.

 

He limped to the sidelines, where he took off his left shoe and rubbed the bottom of the foot before the medical staff examined it. Within a few minutes, he was up walking along the sidelines, but with an obvious limp.

 

Garrett, who went down apparently without contact, knelt for most of the rest of practice, and at least one player came over and patted him on the head. When the lightning sirens screeched, he slowly limped into the fieldhouse for the final three plays of practice. Afterwards, he hobbled slowly to the locker room.

 

After practice, coach Hue Jackson confirmed it was likely a foot injury.

 

“Obviously I’ll know more once we get inside, but I think it’s his foot, so we’ll see,” he said. “I don’t know how it happened. Those things happen. Hopefully everything’s OK, and we’ll see once I get a chance to go inside.”

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Steelers LT ALEJANDRO VILLANUEVA sees a difference between life in the military and life in the NFL.  Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:

 

Last week, Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva — who’s currently without a contract as he awaits a long-term deal — said NFL employment can be challenging.

 

On Tuesday, I asked Villanueva what he meant by that comment. The Army Ranger and business student at Carnegie Mellon dove in on corporate America, military life and illusions.

 

“That’s a very broad question. It involves a lot of things, from the CBA to the big concept of what it is to be an entertainer in the entertainment industry,” said Villanueva, who hasn’t signed his exclusive rights tender but is practicing with the team anyway, thanks to a waiver. “I come from an organization like the military, which only cares about the goodness and the development and the opportunities of every member. Then you come to the NFL and you have to fall into these rules, to these sort of agreements between owners and players that sometimes might seem or might appear to be unfair to certain players. Honestly, I really don’t get caught up in thinking about this stuff too much. I have no control over it.”

 

For Villanueva to assume he knows everything about NFL interworkings would be “arrogance,” he said, preferring to see things from a “humble point of view.” But he’s thought out a few common differences between the military and the NFL.

 

“Ninety-nine percent of these players, their only course of action to be successful is to play football. It’s very one-sided,” Villanueva said. “In the military, for example, you can’t do that. You put too much pressure on [someone] and they can go be cops or do something else to make more money and be more successful. That’s what’s happening in most corporate America [settings]. If you’ve applied to one job and all of a sudden that one job has a transformation or is unfavorable for a worker, he’s going to do something else. In the NFL, you can’t do that. We only have one National Football League. The rules of the National Football League are set in motion. But it is what it is. It’s a gravitational sort of problem. You can’t do anything about it. It’s something maybe I identified early on, that’s why I started my business degree. You try to have as many options as you can in life.”

 

The NFL business model has caused Villanueva to feel insecure and defensive about the way he supports his family, he says. The military offers the backdrop of comfort. Want to work more or less hours? The system accommodates that, he said.

 

Fortunately for America, Villanueva says, the need for combat leaders started to dwindle years ago. Otherwise, Villanueva might still be in the Army. He didn’t grow up dreaming about becoming an NFL player. But he played at West Point and figured he had enough athletic ability to try professional ball. He bounced around several training camps at various positions before the Steelers saw a fit at left tackle.

 

NFL players make a good living, but Villanueva admits transition from military to civilian life is “extremely complicated.”

 

“It’s actually the hardest thing service people do — I’m in the same boat,” Villanueva said. “I’m trying to have a successful transition to civilian life. I don’t think I’ve done it yet. It is the No. 1 biggest challenge for veterans in the United States. You go from a completely different world to a completely different universe. … For me to get educated is when I put all the leverage on my side.”

 

Asked if he dealt with post-service depression, Villanueva said staying busy staved any potential issues. Working toward his MBA has helped. In recent years, he’s found himself battling naivete.

 

“I always have this Michael Scott mentality where I lie to myself — I’ll imagine a world, but the reality is very different,” Villanueva said, referencing a principal and often naive character from the NBC sitcom The Office. “I can’t really slow down, because the moment I slow down is the moment I might look back and kind of regret [things].”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

WR DeANDRE HOPKINS takes part in Early Voting.  He casts his ballot for QB TOM SAVAGE.  Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com:

 

Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien has said Tom Savage is the team’s No. 1 quarterback, and on Wednesday, star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said Savage has “earned” that role.

 

Savage will compete with rookie Deshaun Watson during training camp to open the season as the Texans’ starter under center, but O’Brien has made it clear that Savage has the advantage right now.

 

“I like his leadership,” Hopkins said. “From last year, when he wasn’t playing on the field, he was still showing the guys, telling us what we should do, helping us out like he was the starting quarterback. Now that he’s in that role, it’s no surprise to anybody on this field that he deserves that role. He has earned it, not just from playing, but from the chemistry he has built in the locker room with everybody.”

 

The bond between Savage and his wide receivers is one Hopkins has mentioned multiple times this offseason, citing the importance of not only getting the reps on the field but spending time together off the field as well, calling it a “huge key” this offseason. Hopkins said he thinks that relationship “makes a big difference.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com makes a small distinction about the state of the Jets.  They are awful, just not intentionally so.

 

The New York Jets are not tanking.

 

They aren’t secretly hoping to lose the most games in the NFL, or flirt with 0-16. They aren’t counting down the days until the 2018 draft. They aren’t covertly coveting future compensatory draft picks and pretending that somehow equates to success. They won’t be donning tank tops for training camp (rim shot!).

 

They are, most definitely, transitioning away from a veteran-heavy, middling team, to a much more youthful, cheaper roster. And it’s going to be ugly and uncomfortable for a while, especially taking place in one of the world’s sports and entertainment hubs. It’s going to elicit plenty of hearty responses from fans and media alike. It won’t be easy and it will be messy, but if done correctly it could result in a legitimate window into sustained winning by 2019. It must include the acquisition of a franchise quarterback through some means — unless Christian Hackenberg defies the odds and makes substantial strides this season — and it will require a new core of locker room leaders to emerge with the likes of David Harris and Nick Mangold among those exiled in this much-needed purge.

 

Difficult, yes. But impossible, it is not.

 

Before we run rampant with talk of “tanking,” let’s examine how the Jets got here in the first place, because context is paramount. Let’s go back to January 2015, when owner Woody Johnson — spurned by top candidates during coach and GM searches in the past and with his team reeling in the aftermath of the chasm between Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum and then Rex Ryan and John Idzik — hired rookie head coach Todd Bowles and rookie GM Mike Maccagnan.

 

At the time ownership was sick of the chaos and the leaks — think Tebow running shirtless at camp and Mark Sanchez imploding after being gifted a contract extension he hadn’t earned and the butt fumble; recall the untenable cap “management” and perpetual fistfights at camp; remember mounting empty seats and fan unrest and Fireman Ed boycotting home games.

 

Then, after a few years of being tight with his wallet, Johnson was ready to make a splash or two.

 

The signings of the new coach and GM weren’t particularly sexy — he’d had enough of larger-than-life personas on the sidelines — but Johnson’s ambition was. It was clear to most football people that this franchise was in need of a teardown — to part with or trade some aging talent (like Harris and Mangold), to try to find a young QB and make calculated forays into free agency.

Johnson had other ideas.

 

He was fed up with getting abused in the media and for letting stars get away — corner Darrelle Revis in particular — and reuniting with the mercurial defensive back became something of a requirement in 2015. The owner had heard enough about being overly pragmatic and too slow on the draw under embattled GM John Idzik, and he craved a very different sort of action. And he craved it rightbleepingnow.

 

Woody wanted Revis Island back in Jersey. Revis knew it, and the Patriots weren’t going to go crazy to keep the free agent fresh off yet another Super Bowl win. But they would go deep enough into talks to result in Johnson effectively guaranteeing three years of salary (which explains Revis getting a $6 million parting gift from Gang Green this offseason when he was inevitably let go).

 

So, if Johnson is backing a win-at-all-costs mentality in that negotiation, for an already-then 29-year old corner, it tends to color the entire direction of the organization. If that’s the mandate, and the owner has made it clear he intends to “compete” now, and with the dynastic Patriots still in the AFC East, Maccagnan and Co. have their work cut out for them. After years of poor signings and wasted draft picks by prior regimes, again, this team screamed out for a teardown, but that’s incongruous with guaranteeing $32 million in salary to Revis alone for the next two seasons (and that $6 million more in 2017).

 

Hence, the buy-low trades on other aging players like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall, and the free-agent flurry including Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine. But even then, if you parse through those contracts, there was complicit recognition by the new front office. All were structured so the Jets could break free — with no brushback, save for that 2017 Revis guarantee — within two years. If there was any real window to win with this group, it was short-lived — a nod to the advancing age of Revis, Harris, Mangold, Marshall and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, et al. Johnson understood this as well, I’m told, as he comprehended the risks of staying old in the short term, realizing that the eventual bloodletting would be even more cumbersome in, say, 2017.

 

Sure, Johnson’s plan resulted in a 10-win season and nearly a playoff appearance in 2015, but that feels hollow now after age and injury ravaged the 2016 Jets. That delayed rebuild looks even more shortsighted today. Just don’t lose sight of how they got there, and how ownership set the template for the opening salvos of the Maccagnan/Bowles regime.

 

If the Jets had begun going increasingly young, stockpiling draft picks and soliciting trade partners for their older core back then, no one would have questioned them. It wouldn’t have been thought of as a “tank job” or waving white the flag — just smart football sense. So, I’m going to view it through that same prism now. Has it been more awkward than it had to be, and should the Jets have just gone ahead and made the Harris and Eric Decker decisions earlier in the offseason when the original purge began? Yes. That could have been handled more adroitly.

If anything, however, maybe give this front office some credit for finally getting ownership backing for that long-needed wrecking ball to the roster. Johnson is finally embracing the fact that it may take a three-win season to eventually truly contend, rather than falling into the fool’s gold trap of more 6-to-10-win seasons with teams not constructed for postseason success but with other older vets to keep from falling too far down the standings.

 

New York didn’t let multiple starters depart in their prime — guys in their mid-20s — over a few hundred thousand dollars here or there at a time when they had an egregiously low payroll already and more cap space than they could expend in three offseasons much less one. They didn’t sell out for draft picks and then ensure all 15 of them made the team — including five at one position alone (receiver) — and treat comp picks like they were more valuable than wins. The Jets didn’t take someone who was originally brought in to be a lawyer and elevate him to head all of football operations.

 

They didn’t undermine their one discernable strength — offensive line — to the point where a quarterback was getting hurt like once every three quarters the team played. They didn’t shun an elite kicker midseason when a need arose to sign a minimum-salary upstart with no track record. They didn’t re-hire a defensive coordinator who they had just run out of the building a few months back amid turmoil and tumult. They didn’t sign RGIII and then prop him up as the Opening Day starter.

 

In other words, don’t paint the Jets with a Brown brush.

 

You don’t have to love what New York is doing or how they’re doing it, but I’d ask you — what other approach can they take now? Does it make any sense to cling to guys with a season — or possibly less — of quality football left in them given the overall nature of this roster and coming off that dreadful 5-11 campaign last year? Given the nature of the NFL salary cap, it’s time to clear the deck, create more opportunity for players from the last few drafts and assess long-term needs.

 

It will probably result in Hackenberg starting games by midseason. Wins will be few and far between … but let’s not pretend that’s merely a Jets phenomenon. Ask people in Jacksonville, Cleveland, Buffalo, Los Angeles (and St. Louis), San Francisco, Chicago and Tampa (though they are certainly now on the come up) what that football looks and smells like. And, ultimately, it may result in Bowles taking the hit and being relieved before the 2018 season, though based on all of my reporting I don’t foresee Maccagnan being imperiled given ownership’s backing of this painfully fresh rebuild (and the GM didn’t get to hire this coach in a traditional fashion, as he and Bowles were brought in more or less at the same time).

 

No matter what the future holds, the Jets had no recourse but to fully embrace a different path. And while mistakes have certainly been made — letting Fitzpatrick hold them hostage in contract talks for six months last offseason was an unforced error of the highest degree — I believe the defense will be better than some might suggest as soon as this season. And gains, for 2017, will be more accurately assessed in terms of player development than in what the standings indicate.

The Jets will undoubtedly be looking up at most teams in the AFC, but they won’t be reveling in it, and I’m not sure there was any real alternative to that impending reality anyway.