The Daily Briefing Thursday, June 29, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

Chip Kelly showed up on Adam Schefter’s podcast and has some things to say of interest to fans of the Titans, Eagles and Colin Kaepernick.  First, on the quest for Marcus Mariota with Matt Lombardo of NJ.com:

 

The hypothetical about how the trajectory of the Eagles’ franchise could have changed had Chip Kelly been able to orchestrate a trade with the Tennessee Titans to draft quarterback Marcus Mariota is a fascinating one that has been pondered by fans and media alike ever since that fateful draft.

 

However, during an appearance on Adam Schefter’s Know Them From Adam podcast, Kelly admits that the Eagles and Titans were never close to coming to terms on a deal that would have paved the way for a reunion with Kelly and the quarterback he recruited and coached at Oregon.

 

“That question didn’t come up very often,” Kelly said, when asked by Schefter if he could have done anything more to facilitate a trade with the Tennessee Titans to acquire the No. 2 overall pick to draft Mariota. “With Tennessee, they weren’t moving off the pick. Rightly so. They were looking for the same thing we were, to get themselves a really top-quality quarterback.

 

“It really wasn’t like … We didn’t really get into a conversation of what we can offer or what we can’t offer, because they made it known that they really weren’t looking to trade the pick.

 

“That’s all speculation that’s out there, you hear stories that ‘we offered this, we offered that.’ We didn’t offer anything because they weren’t taking any offers for it.”

 

Kelly’s revelation Wednesday could offer further insight into what drove the Eagles to instead trade Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford in March of 2015, rather than aggressively pursue a trade with the Titans.

 

However, reports at the time suggested that the Eagles offered a strong package to Tennessee for the pick.

– – –

Despite the outcome, Kelly still speaks glowingly about Mariota’s potential in the NFL.

 

“You look at what Marcus has done in his first two years in the league,” Kelly said. “He’s one of the really, bright young quarterbacks int he NFL. There’s a reason the Titans didn’t move off that pick, because they had a chance to get themselves a really good quarterback.”

 

Instead of a potential renaissance in the NFL with Mariota in Philadelphia, Kelly is currently a college football analyst and the Eagles, of course, are excited about a future that includes head coach Doug Pederson and second-year quarterback Carson Wentz.

 

And Steven Ruiz of USA TODAY is excited that Kelly loves Kaepernick:

 

Before we get into Kelly’s comments, let’s review some of the theories on why Kaepernick doesn’t have a job…

 

He’d be a distraction

 

He doesn’t care about football

 

He doesn’t even want to play football

 

He’s not a good player

 

He hasn’t come out and said he wants to play football

 

OK, now that we have that out of the way, let’s see what Kelly had to say about Kaepernick during an appearance on Adam Schefter’s podcast.

 

Via ESPN.com:

 

“Kap was awesome.

 

“At the beginning of the year, he made a stance in terms of what he believes is right. We recognized and supported his ability to do that. But he never brought that into the locker room. We had a meeting the day after the Green Bay game that he did it in the preseason, and he explained to all the players his thought process and the mindset of what he was doing. There were some players that agreed with him and there were some players that didn’t agree with him. But after that point, we heard from the outside about what a distraction it is, except those people weren’t in our locker room and it never was a distraction. And Kap never brought that and turned it into a circus or whatever people think.

 

“[He] came to work everyday extremely diligent in terms of his preparation, in terms of his work ethic in the weight room, in terms of his work ethic in the meeting room.

 

“I really enjoyed Kap. I’ve talked to Kap maybe three or four times since we both left San Francisco. I know he’s working out hard in New York now. I think he’s a really good person and a really good player, and I really enjoyed coaching him.”

 

Schefter then asked Kelly what he would tell any coach who asked him about Kaepernick.

 

“Literally what I just said for the last two minutes. I think people that aren’t in there … when you’re not there, it’s easy to speculate on what it’s like, but he is zero distraction.

 

“I like Kap a lot. He’s a really good person. And he really wants to win and he’s highly competitive. He’s got a real good physical skill-set to play the position and has played it at a really high level.

 

“I also don’t think he played at his top level last year because he was coming off three surgeries. I think the Kap this year will be better than the Kap last year…

 

“I would tell anybody that he’s zero distraction and a really talented player who can help you win.”

 

And this on the trade of LeSEAN McCOY.  Tyler Jackson at BleedingGreenNation.com:

 

The first player Kelly discussed was former Eagle LeSean McCoy. When Schefter asked Kelly what he remembered about that night, he had regrets, but not for the reasons you would anticipate.

 

“The story got out before we got a chance to communicate specifically with the guys that were being traded and that’s the most important thing, so I never got a chance to talk to LeSean before he found out he was getting traded and I’ve always said that’s on us and it wasn’t handled the right way. It’s always bothered me, it wasn’t handled the right way and it was unfair to LeSean.”

 

It’s interesting that Kelly’s remorse came from the way the news was handled as opposed to the actual player he traded. During Kelly’s tenure in Philadelphia he received the reputation of being emotionally distant from his staff and players, so the fact that he he was upset he didn’t get the opportunity to deliver the news personally comes across a shock, but maybe he learned from his mistakes in Philadelphia

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Kevin Patra of NFL.com checks in with WR VICTOR CRUZ:

 

Victor Cruz hasn’t been the same player since tearing his patellar tendon in 2014, but he’s railing against those who believe he’s washed up.

 

The 30-year-old caught just 39 passes in 15 games in 2016 after missing the entire 2015 season. When the Giants moved on this offseason, the veteran signed with the Chicago Bears, hoping to revive a fading career.

 

Cruz said at his football camp on Wednesday that he’s out to prove he’s got a lot left in the tank.

 

“Every day,” Cruz said, via ESPN.com. “Even after a Super Bowl or after an injury-riddled two years, I always feel like I have something to prove. I’ll always strap up my laces and helmet and have something to prove, because you do.

 

“You’re only as good as your last catch, your last game, your last year of production. That is what you’re marketed as. That is what they categorize you as, whatever your last showing is on the field.”

 

Cruz walked back claims earlier this spring that the Giants purposely avoided throwing to him last season.

 

Rather than believing the Giants would purposely sabotage their own offense, which struggled to move the ball for major portions of last season, Cruz should realize a large portion in his production drop was tied to his move from the slot to the outside. With Sterling Shepard taking over the slot role, Cruz struggled as an outside receiver.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

DE DAVID IRVING will be sitting out the first four games of 2017.  ESPN.com:

 

Dallas Cowboys defensive end David Irving has been suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season for violating the NFL’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs, the league announced Wednesday.

 

Irving, who started two of 16 games last season and finished with four sacks, will be eligible to return to the Cowboys’ roster on Oct. 2. He is able to participate in all offseason and preseason practices ahead of the regular season.

 

Irving appealed the suspension in May, after a source told ESPN that the issue stemmed from an over-the-counter substance Irving used in an attempt to endorse the product.

 

He also had five tackles for loss, a team-high 26 quarterback pressures, five pass deflections and four forced fumbles last season.

 

Irving signed his exclusive free-agent tender earlier in the offseason and is set to become a restricted free agent after the 2017 season.

 

He is the Cowboys’ second defensive lineman penalized by the league this year. Randy Gregory will miss the entire regular season for multiple violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

We should commend the honesty of QB DREW BREES.  Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

 

Drew Brees didn’t mince words when discussing the potential season-ending shoulder injury sustained a couple of weeks ago by New Orleans Saints left tackle Terron Armstead.

 

“Listen, that’s a big blow. I’m not going to lie,” Brees told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Tuesday.

 

Armstead tore the labrum in his shoulder during minicamp and will miss 4-6 months. The earliest prognosis would have an Armstead return in October, while the latter would put the left tackle back in December.

 

The fifth-year tackle has been hampered by injuries since 2015 with knee, hip and quad issues. Armstead said a couple of weeks before the shoulder injury that he felt like he was on his way back to full strength. He had been nearly full blast in organized team activities and minicamp before the labrum issue.

 

“He worked so hard to come back and to have something like that with a freaky injury, I’m really saddened for him and for our team,” Brees said. “He plays a huge role. We always find ways and we have to have these young guys step up. We don’t know exactly how that shakes things up.”

 

Veteran Khalif Barnes took the bulk of the snaps with the first-team offense in place of Armstead. The Saints’ second 2017 first-rounder Ryan Ramczyk also found a couple of first-team reps by the end of minicamp. Brees even mentioned the possibility of looking for a tackle outside the Saints facility to fill in for the short term.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

It is more a testament to the transitory nature of the QB position for Tampa Bay over 40-plus seasons, but JAMEIS WINSTON might have team’s record by Christmas.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Jameis Winston’s first two seasons have provided the Buccaneers with plenty of reason to believe that they found their franchise quarterback when they drafted him with the first overall pick in 2015.

 

That is something that the Bucs have been trying to find for much of the franchise’s history, something that is well illustrated by how high Winston ranks on the all-time franchise list in several areas after just two years in the league. Winston ranks seventh in completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns and, as Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times points out, is within reach of the touchdown record this year.

 

Winston has 50 touchdowns through his first two seasons and Josh Freeman has the franchise record with 80 touchdown passes during his time in Tampa. If that seems like a low number, there’s good reason because no other team has a record holder with less than 124 touchdown passes. That team is the Texans, who are led by Matt Schaub and started play in 2002. The Bucs, meanwhile, have been around since 1976.

 

The notion of Winston throwing 31 touchdowns in 2017 isn’t outlandish given the jump he made from 22 to 28 scores last year and the addition of DeSean Jackson to the receiving corps.

 

Winston also ranks seventh in career interceptions, but has a lot more ground to make up even after throwing 33 picks in his first two seasons. Vinny Testaverde’s 112 interceptions should remain the Tampa record for a while even as Winston takes over the top spot in several other areas.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

QB CARSON PALMER hints that this is his swan song.  But he has felt that way every year for a while now. Kyle Odegard of AzCardinals.com:

 

There is a part of Carson Palmer that seems to be looking forward to retirement.

 

The Cardinals’ quarterback can spend plenty of time with his family, golf regularly and help tutor young football players at the high school level. When the 37-year-old is done playing in the NFL, he pledges to be fully done with the NFL.

 

“The hours I watch our coaches put in, I don’t want to work that hard in retirement,” Palmer said on a conference call Tuesday to publicize next month’s American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in Lake Tahoe. “I want to have a life.”

 

While Palmer figures to be content in his post-playing days, he is also having a tough time reaching them. When Palmer was chosen No. 1 overall by the Bengals in the 2003 draft, he envisioned a nice career spanning 10 or 12 years.

 

Over the past three seasons – his 12th, 13th and 14th in the league – he has thought a lot about walking away, going as far as to tell his wife, Shaelyn, that each year would be his last, before then changing his mind.

 

“She continues to not believe me every time I say that,” Palmer said.

 

Palmer has now learned to hedge his bets. As he enters his 15th season, Palmer understands others would prefer a definitive declaration on his playing future, but he’s not being sly when he responds.

 

“That’s a great question,” Palmer said, “and I don’t have an answer.”

 

At the end of each season, Palmer is worn down physically, which, as he’s gotten older, has made him more open to the idea of retiring. But his mind has always been invested, and eventually his body has bounced back.

 

It’s this time of year when he’s reminded how much he loves the game, when the aches and pains have not yet arrived, and he’s immersed in preparing for another season.

 

“I love every facet of it,” Palmer said. “I don’t want to stop. But I’ll have to wait and make that decision after the season.”

 

Team performance could be a factor. The Cardinals were expected to be Super Bowl contenders last season, and thus it made sense for Palmer to return. The season never went as planned, and now the expectations have dropped considerably.

 

“I kind of prefer the underdog role, and that’s where we are now,” Palmer said.

 

If the Cardinals bounce back, maybe Palmer doesn’t retire at the end of this season. If he is kept upright the majority of the time, maybe Palmer feels fresher than he did at the end of 2016.

Then again, that inner fire could one day extinguish, making the thought of another offseason of preparation sound daunting. Palmer could move on to his next phase, playing in celebrity golf tournaments like the American Century Championship year-round and finding other hobbies.

Palmer is back for 2017 and determined to make the most of it, because no one knows what will come after it – not even him.

 

“There’s always urgency, especially as you get to the second half of your career,” Palmer said. “You just never know when your last year is going to be.”

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

This year’s “All Or Nothing” team was a lot of the latter as HBO’s cameras and mics dogged the 2016 Rams.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com on one of the best moments in the upcoming series.

 

In a rare behind-the-scenes look at a coach’s reaction to losing his job, the forthcoming NFL Films/Amazon show All Or Nothing provides a look at Jeff Fisher on his last day as coach of the Rams.

 

In a clip released by the NFL, Fisher chokes up as he tells his shocked staff that he was fired after the Rams’ Week 14 loss to the Falcons.

 

“Unfortunately, I won’t be there this weekend,” Fisher said. “I was just fired. I appreciate everything you guys have done for this football team and for me, and the loyalty that you’ve shown. Sorry if I let you guys down. You guys haven’t let me down. You’ve busted your ass every single day for me. Sorry. I will do whatever I can for every single one of you. I will be there for you when the season’s over, recommend you and call to the end of the night to help you guys find work.”

 

Special teams coordinator John Fassel, who would serve as interim head coach for the final three games of the season, looked particularly shocked. After Fisher finished speaking, defensive assistant Mike Singletary walked to the front of the room to shake his hand and thank him. That ended an emotional meeting that is sure to be one of the highlights of All Or Nothing.

 

 

SEATTLE

Was QB RUSSELL WILSON ill-conditioned last year?  He’s vowing an upgrade.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s devotion to healthy eating habits have drawn a fair amount of attention in recent years, which likely helped his $200 nutritional guide sell out when it was released last year.

 

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson may not have bought one of those tomes, but he has spent this offseason working on improving his conditioning with the help of a new eating plan. Nutritionist Philip Goglia told Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com that Wilson has been working with him since March and has been “an animal about” getting in better shape.

 

Goglia bumped up the number of calories that Wilson is eating each day from 2,700 to 4,800 because the metabolism of an athlete demands that “you have to eat a certain amount of calories to generate enough heat to burn fat.” Wilson eats throughout the day and recently weighed in at 214 pounds with 10 percent body fat after being 225 with 16 percent body fat when he started working with Goglia.

 

“Still doing it religiously,” Wilson said. “Just trying to really focus on trying to eat really, really well and have great nutrition. I think it’s critical. It allows you to wake up feeling good, feeling strong. It allows you to excel throughout the day and have tons of strength and energy. So I think it’s really important for me. And I love food. I’m from the South, Virginia. So for me, I have to be really conscientious of what I eat. And also, my dad had diabetes. So I try to really pay attention to what I eat and try to do a really good job of that.”

 

Last year’s injuries played a role in Wilson putting on weight and his ability to avoid more of the same this year will have something to do with how well the Seahawks are protecting him along the offensive line. If they can, Wilson will likely be starting his offseason conditioning from a better place in 2018.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Is there gas left in the 30-year-old body of RB JAMAAL CHARLES who once burned the best high test?  Troy Renck of The Denver Channel:

 

Jamaal Charles never lacks for confidence. He grew up as a nationally-ranked sprinter, attending meets that included world record holder Usain Bolt. He starred at the University of Texas, and rushed for 7,260 yards in nine seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

 

At 30, he has reached a crossroads. He has a new baby boy, a new team, and old criticism that he is finished as an impact player. Charles joined the Broncos in May, stung after the Chiefs “fired” him. While expectations remain tempered, Charles flooded the conversation with optimism Tuesday. In an exclusive interview with Denver7, Charles revealed that he sits ahead of schedule in his recovery from left knee surgery.

 

“I am doing everything. I have been cutting the last couple of days with the guys during the offseason workouts. I feel like the way I am cutting that I am back to the normal me, man. It feels good to be moving around again,” said Charles, who was limited to eight games the past two seasons because of knee injuries. “I have been knowing this the whole offseason (that the knee was fine). Nobody can take nothing away from me except God when my time is up. I am still 30 years old. I still have a lot of special stuff to do.”

 

I told Charles I might have undersold his signing. Given his age, usage and leg issues, I viewed him as a complementary third down back. He might end up in that role. But he’s not buying it. Charles, echoing what former teammates have told Denver7, remains driven to write the proper ending to his career.

 

“When people say you can’t do something, you want to prove them wrong. That’s always been on my mind since I signed with the Broncos,” Charles said. “The last time I had to prove people wrong was when I came back from ACL (surgery) and when I came back from hurting myself here in Denver (on Sept. 14, 2014). We played New England (next) and I had an incredible game (92 yards rushing, 15 receiving, three touchdowns). I like proving people wrong. It keeps the fire going, it keeps the spark going. I am excited about just getting back to where I was before.”

 

Charles couldn’t stop smiling Tuesday as he provided instruction at the Broncos Moms Football Safety Clinic. His wife Whitney held the couple’s three-month old son — born as Charles was joining the Broncos — as his two daughters participated in drills. Charles stared around the stadium, practically hearing the cheers he anticipates this season.

 

“Can I get your autograph?” a mom asked. “I am so happy you are in Denver.”

 

The conversation turned back to track. He believes it makes him different as a player. It also provides a subtle reminder. Charles has never run from any challenge, his career defined by crossing the finish line on his terms.

 

“I have that chip on my shoulder, man. But why am I still playing? It is to get that ring. I am on a nice team. I really think we can make a run,” Charles said. “We have a nice schedule. Our defense is nice. Our offense is going to be nice. We’ve got the coaches. I know a lot of people are probably not counting us in. But we know behind the scenes. We are definitely counting ourselves in.”

 

 

KANSAS CITY

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com, an unabashed admirer of John Dorsey, digs into his departure:

 

If I know John Dorsey, he is up in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin, on a river, in a giant inner tube, splashing around with his kids. He’s trying to find a spot to ship him some authentic, Maryland-style steamed crabs (preferably from the Chesapeake Bay) for an old-school crab feast and trying not to let football consume his thoughts.

 

But it probably is. And for good reason.

 

I learned long ago that anything is possible in the NFL and to expect the unexpected. But now, even with close to a week to process it, the Chiefs firing Dorsey about 10 days before the Fourth of July — and months after the draft; when even a change at general manager then would have raised a few eyebrows — still qualifies as something of a shock. Most, including Dorsey, figured the GM was in line for a new contract, with owner Clark Hunt finalizing a five-year extension for coach Andy Reid, and those men shepherding this franchise from a spiraling, two-win team with a toxic culture at the end of Scott Pioli’s reign into a perennial playoff force.

 

Alas, that was never going to be the case. Hunt, I’ve heard repeatedly, was the driving force behind this unusual decision — parting with a successful GM with a year left on his deal at the end of the offseason program in late June — and that Reid was more or less a passenger in the process. It was not the coach’s impetus and he and Dorsey maintained a solid — though perhaps not spectacular — working relationship. Instead, I’m told, ownership had some concerns about how Dorsey — more comfortable in a sweatshirt than a suit and tie — presented himself. They worried if he was the right guy to get this franchise over the hump to a Super Bowl. Did he negotiate strong enough player contracts? Was he organized and corporate enough? Would he put the right people around him? Was he the right kind of communicator? Is he a super-scout, or the long-term solution at GM?

 

In fact, Dorsey, who did not respond to inquiries seeking comment for this column, was eminently more qualified for the job last Friday, when he was let go, than he was when he was hired four years ago. His relationships with agents and experience negotiating contracts are far greater. His managerial skills are far superior.  He’ll never be a football approximation of a CEO, and he maintains the occasionally gruff and colloquial vocal stylings of a scout, sure, (which is part of why I’ve enjoyed talking to him over the years), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t the brain of a corporate leader tucked under that Chiefs ballcap. Dorsey always struck me as a wolf in sheep’s clothing — and I mean that in the best way possible — perfectly content to be labelled however you like, not caught up in airs or pretension of being the kind of politician often required to climb the NFL’s managerial ladder, but cunning enough and certainly more than able to do the job.

 

Much is made of the deal he gave Justin Houston, but let’s recall that Houston was healthy and arguably the best defender on the planet on the time. Others point to the contract for Eric Fisher, though he has continued to emerge as a starting tackle and I would posit you this: Was Dorsey right to take Fisher, from a small school, over the more hyped Luke Joeckel, when in need of a tackle at the top of the 2013 draft, his first at the helm? (Hint: He was and everyone knows it).

 

In hindsight, the contract the Chiefs negotiated with starting quarterback Alex Smith — as well as the trade to land him from San Francisco — was more than worth it, as was the inherent admission that the experiment had run its course after this season, solidified by trading up to select quarterback Pat Mahomes in the first round this spring. That Travis Kelce extension is going to serve the Chiefs for years after Dorsey has departed. Should they have got the Eric Berry deal done a year sooner? Let’s not forget the sensitivity of the medical situation the star safety was dealing with at the time as well. That was an anomaly for team and player alike.

 

I’ve talked to numerous agents who did deals with the Chiefs over the past four years, both as contracts were getting done and after the Chiefs announced their parting with Dorsey, and never once got the sense he was some overwhelmed lightweight. Anything but that.

 

“He’s wily,” one highly successful NFL agent said. “He’s guile. He plays like he doesn’t know, but he knows. He’s creative in his approach to negotiations and he can be strong willed when he has to be. He’s a very smart negotiator. He’s going to get another job, I’m sure, and he’ll show why he is one of the best GMs in the league. He already has to be one of the top evaluators in the game.”

 

I got texts expressing shock and surprise from several rival executives and top agents through the weekend. The Chiefs had certainly become a legit franchise again, with a deep talent base. People wanted to work there again after the despot-like Pioli era. But the more some thought about it, and considered that since Hunt took over his family’s historic franchise he has been accustomed to type-A, suited up, highly stylized GM’s like Carl Peterson and Pioli, the less surprised they became. That’s more like the model they expect the owner to seek this time around (it’s also worth noting that this will be Hunt’s fourth general manager in just over a decade at the helm of the Chiefs).

 

As for talent evaluation, knowing when to make difficult decisions to part with franchise stars like Jamaal Charles seemed to come naturally to Dorsey. Several teams were scared away from Marcus Peters due to his off-field concerns. Dorsey took him in the first round and he has been an impact, shutdown corner — without incident — and leads the NFL in takeaways the past two seasons. I believe what Tyreek Hill did in college was reprehensible, but he was going to get an opportunity somewhere despite his domestic violence arrest, and he was a difference maker for Kansas City in 2016 after being selected in the fifth round (to the point they could let their highest-paid receiver, Jeremy Maclin, go).

 

The Chiefs are coming off an AFC West title, finally shook their long postseason winning jinx, believe they can win it all and amassed a 43-21 record the past four seasons (again, after inheriting a two-win team). Reid deserves immense credit and is building a Hall of Fame résumé and the Chiefs are well positioned for the future and in good hands with him there. He has earned every bit of that five-year extension.

 

But we would be remiss to dismiss Dorsey’s involvement. The Chiefs have 23 wins the past two seasons — matching their all-time two-season high (and you have to go back to the dynasty teams of 1968-69, when they won their only Super Bowl, to do that). It’s also the first time in 20 years the Chiefs have produced four straight years with a winning record.

 

So, yeah, the timing was beyond odd, and also speaks to the fact that if Hunt et al believed former executive Chris Ballard was the perfect man for the job, this change is likely made before the combine and before Ballard had the chance to interview for other GM jobs, like the one he took in Indianapolis.

 

Frankly it’s all still a little bizarre, though it doesn’t mean Hunt won’t be proven right and the Lombardi won’t come back, finally, to Kansas City. And Dorsey, like all GMs, is far from perfect. In this league, general managers tend to have a short shelf-life in their career trajectory and many don’t get a second opportunity to sit in that seat. Dorsey will. It’s only a matter of time.

I would be shocked if he rushed into a lesser job elsewhere this close to the start of training camp, and his best move would be to savor some family time, enjoy a rare holiday season with the wife and kids and get ready for his phone to start ringing in January. Other owners will be quite aware of that quick turnaround in Kansas City. He won’t miss many paychecks, and only time will tell if he misses out on a parade for the team he helped construct.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

TENNESSEE

Incumbent Titans TE DELANIE WALKER says his replacement is on the scene in the form of JONNU SMITH.  Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:

 

The upstart Tennessee Titans are emerging as a trendy favorite in the AFC South, thanks in large part to a renovated receiving corps featuring veteran Eric Decker and the rookie duo of Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor.

 

For all of the attention on the wideouts, though, third-round tight end Jonnu Smith shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

Delanie Walker, ranked No. 75 on NFL Network’s The Top 100 Players Of 2017 countdown, believes the former Florida International star has the potential to become one of the most productive tight ends in franchise history.

 

“One day he will be better than me,” Walker said recently, via Jason Wolf of USA Today. “And that’s his ultimate goal. And if he didn’t feel that way, I wouldn’t want him here.”

 

Owner of the franchise single-season records for most catches (94) and receiving yards (1,088) by a tight end, Walker has been a Pro Bowl selection in each of the past two seasons.

 

At an athletic 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds with impressive run-after-catch ability and experience as an in-line blocker, Smith drew pre-draft comparisons to Walker entering the draft. More than just a top-notch SPARQ sensation, Smith led all tight ends nationally with 61 catches for 710 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore in 2015.

 

With Anthony Fasano no longer around to complement Walker in two-tight end formations, Smith will battle former Jets second-round pick Jace Amaro and special teamer Phillip Supernaw for snaps.

 

“He’s made less mistakes. He’s playing faster,” coach Mike Mularkey said during organized team activities. “This young man wants to do [well]. It’s really fun to coach him because everything’s important. He looks you dead in the eye; he takes every word in; and he wants to please you. He wants to do right for his teammates. So he’s a fun guy to coach.”

 

General manager Jon Robinson went a step further, praising Smith as a “phenomenal young man.”

 

It’s a testament to the depth Robinson has compiled over the past 18 months that a rookie as promising as Smith will enter the season no better than the fifth or sixth option in Marcus Mariota’s exciting aerial attack.

 

We looked up Smith and found out that he was involved in a case of domestic violence while at Florida International – as the victim.  Wikipedia:

 

As a senior in 2016, Smith played 11 games with 506 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

 

On October 31, 2016, Smith was involved in an altercation with his girlfriend, Mary Gaspar, who was five months pregnant. The argument took place at their campus dorm room, where Gaspar used a kitchen pot and poured boiling hot water onto Smith. Smith suffered burns, and was ruled out for the rest of his senior year. Gaspar was arrested for aggravated battery, and entered a not guilty plea.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

The Dolphins are optimistic about the return of C MIKE POUNCEY.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Dolphins have been cautious with center Mike Pouncey, after hip problems cost him most of last season.

 

But there’s at least some indication that he’s doing well enough to be ready for this year.

 

According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, a source “very close” to Pouncey said the expectation is that he’ll be ready for the start of the regular season, barring an unforseen setback.

 

Pouncey didn’t participate in the team’s offseason program because he hadn’t been cleared. He underwent a stem cell procedure in April to help overcome what has become a perennial problem. He hasn’t played 16 games since 2012, and played just five last year.

 

Pouncey also reportedly had to be treated for a bacterial infection in his inner thigh, but that has cleared up.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

A scary story about former RB Clinton Portis, who contemplated murder.  Scott Gleeson of USA TODAY:

 

Former NFL running back Clinton Portis recounted a strong desire to commit murder after entrusting his fortune to investors who helped drive him into bankruptcy.

 

Portis, who turned over a large portion of his earnings to a group of men promising safe investments to secure his retirement, described sitting outside a Washington office building intending to confront one of the individuals.

 

“It wasn’t no beat up. It was a kill,” Portis told Sports Illustrated in an in-depth recollection of his darkest days in 2013.

 

Portis’ bankruptcy filing notes at least $11 million lost through his dealings with the group, money he’d intended to use for the care of his mother and children. Those men included financial advisers Jeff Rubin, Jinesh Brahmbhatt and Fuad Ahmed. Both Rubin and Brahmbhatt were registered financial advisers with the NFL Players Association, while Ahmed’s ponzi scheme unraveled in 2013.

 

“No jail time, no nothing. Living happily ever after,” Portis said of the investors, describing the rage he felt from his lost fortune.

 

One of Portis’ close friends convinced him not to hurt anyone, but he admitted to SI that if he’d encountered his betrayer, “we’d probably be doing this interview from prison.”

 

Portis earned more than $43 million during a nine-year career split between the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins. A lot of his earnings were spent on a lavish lifestyle that also significantly contributed to his financial demise, including money spent on cars, houses and expensive trips. Portis believes he can still earn a substantial amount through a broadcasting career and public appearances.

 

Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie told USA TODAY Sports in a text message that Portis is again slated to do radio and television work for the team this upcoming season.

 

Portis, who claims to have suffered 10 concussions as a player, is eligible for financial coverage as part of the NFL’s concussion settlement but would first have to agree to medical testing that would confirm a diagnosis for a neurological problem.

 

However he doesn’t presently seem willing to undergo any kind of evaluation.

 

“F— that concussion money,” he told SI. “I’m scared. I’m really scared of the results.”

 

This appeared in Forbes back in 2013:

 

Despite the media attention paid to the most debilitating and largest financial fraud in U.S. history (the Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Bernie Madoff that led to his 2008 arrest) the Ponzi remains a favorite crime of many who work with money.

 

In 2009, before the dust had even settled on the Madoff case, a Washington, DC investment firm allegedly started its own Ponzi scheme, a scheme that would eventually cost dozens of professional athletes millions of dollars.

 

The case became public earlier this year when, on April 10, 2013, regulators accused Success Trade Securities (STS) of fraud. STS is an online trading company based in Washington, DC. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) ordered the CEO and president, Fuad Ahmed, to stop raising money, accusing him of misrepresenting and outright misleading investors, mostly professional basketball and football players. The complaint by FINRA alleges that, beginning in March 2009, Fuad swindled more than $18 million from nearly five-dozen clients by misrepresenting or omitting key facts about investments.

 

The FINRA report alleges that Fuad used the proceeds from the promissory notes sold to investors to pay interest on notes issued to previous investors, the classic Ponzi scheme. Additionally, he used the funds to pay personal expenses (including the lease on his Range Rover) and provided $82-thousand in interest free loans to his brother.

 

Though not specifically named in the complaint, many of the 58-clients are known to be current or former NFL and NBA players represented by Jinesh “Hodge” Brahmbhatt, who was a Registered Player Financial Advisor with the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). His company, Jade Wealth Management, based in McLean, Virginia and established in 2008, accrued high profile investors such as Victor Cruz, Vernon Davis, Jared Odrick, and Brandon Knight. FINRA’s report alleges that Jade investment managers recommended athletes to STS; some introductions to STS were made directly by Brahmbhatt, himself. In return, since March of 2009, STS is alleged to have made at least $1.25 million in payments to Jade.

 

Though he admits that more than 30 of his clients purchased more than $12 million worth of fraudulent notes from STS, Brahmbhatt says he wasn’t involved in STS’s scheme, maintaining his innocence and ignorance. “We don’t have [STS’s] books,” he told Yahoo! Sports, in April. “People say, ‘Man, you’re stupid. You should have looked at [STS’s] last two or three years of income statements.’ But you know what? We didn’t. You know why we didn’t? Because he never missed a damn payment, and we never really thought about it.”

 

Despite Brahmbhatt’s claims, STS’s ties to Jade remain questionable; there are a number of red flags, including…

 

1)   Jade is indicated as a “Division of Success Trade Securities” on a monthly report (obtained from Jared Odrick’s attorney, Jeff Sonn of Sonn & Erez, co-firm: Aaron Resnick).

 

2)  Three of the STS representatives who sold the allegedly fraudulent notes to investors were registered with Jade.

 

3)  Jade’s offices were listed in the same suite as an STS branch (now closed) in McLean, Virginia.

 

At one time Jade boasted more than 70 NFL players and counted former stars such as running back Clinton Portis and defensive end Adewale Ogunleye among the ranks of its clients. Also listed among these clients is Miami Dolphins defensive end Jared Odrick, currently the only player who has filed a FINRA arbitration claim against STS, Ahmed and Brahmbhatt. Other players including Indiana Pacers forward Sam Young are expected to follow shortly. Odrick’s attorneys allege that Ahmed and Brahmbhatt not only offered a three-year 12.5% STI note, but also a three-year 10% CFP Group note.

 

According to the NFLPA, Brahmbhatt failed to provide information requested to determine what role, if any, he played in the alleged activities. This was a violation of his obligations under the NFLPA Player Financial Advisors’ Regulations. The NFLPA has, as a result, revoked Brahmbhatt’s registration in its financial advisor program.

 

 

2017 DRAFT

Elliot Harrison of NFL.com, who thinks the 2017 edition of John Fox is a better head coach than Dan Quinn (hattip to our man in Delaware), now offers up a list of MVP votes that he questions:

 

Was Russell Westbrook your NBA MVP?

 

Right. This is an NFL site, making that an odd way to start a column. Well …

 

Many clamored for James Harden to receive basketball’s most prestigious award. Kawhi Leonard could have been a solid choice. Still, I think the NBA got it right. That’s not to say these things don’t go south sometimes. As a kid, I vividly remember voters handing Robin Yount the 1989 American League MVP award when everyone and their mother (my granny, too) knew Ruben Sierra was the best player in the A.L. I’m not bitter — just a disgruntled Rangers fan, 28 years later.

 

But all of the recent hoopla around the NBA’s MVP award made me ponder this league’s top individual honor — specifically, when voters might’ve gotten it wrong.

 

The Associated Press began handing out the NFL MVP award back in 1957. And we’ve seen a number of debatable choices over the past 60 years. In fact, that’s what I’m here to discuss! Let’s dive into this juicy subject matter with a judgment on an MVP race that’s still quite fresh in the mind …

 

Last season’s MVP debate: Did the voters get it right?

 

2016 MVP: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons.

Alternative options: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots OR Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys.

 

Ryan won the prestigious honor by 15 votes over Brady. Patriots fans thought it B.S., and I get their point. One of the main arguments for Ryan in a tight race was, well, he started all 16 regular-season games. Didn’t necessarily outplay the Patriots QB, but unlike Brady, Ryan wasn’t absent four games. Essentially, voters had a built-in tiebreaker provided by the league. And of course, fans in New England felt the NFL should have never handed down the four-game suspension to their franchise QB in the first place, thus making the “Brady played less games” point moot.

 

While I personally think the voters chose the right MVP in Ryan, it is difficult staining a player’s MVP-caliber season with something he allegedly did two seasons prior. More egregious: Ezekiel Elliott receiving only six votes. Who was better than the rookie last year? Dude led the NFL in rushing by more than 300 yards — despite being rested for 1.5 games — as the motor of the NFC’s top seed.

 

* * * * *

 

Now let’s move on to some other occasions when the MVP winner was less certainly — and in some cases, FAR less certainly — the most deserving party. Which way would I go, with all the knowledge I have today? Answers below!

 

* * * * *

 

Fans’ choice: The MVP ‘injustice’ I’ve heard about most

2014 MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers.

Alternative option: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans.

The recent MVP result that fans (and many people who cover the league) complain about the most? Aaron Rodgers taking home the hardware in 2014. Rodgers was outstanding (112.2 passer rating, 38:5 TD-to-INT ratio), but Watt enjoyed perhaps the finest campaign of any defensive player since Lawrence Taylor won MVP from his OLB spot in 1986. Watt secured 20.5 sacks and scored five touchdowns, three of which came on offense. Meanwhile, Rodgers didn’t even boast the season’s highest passer rating; Tony Romo did. (Romo finished in a tie for third in the voting, with his backfield mate, DeMarco Murray.)

 

Counterpoint: For those aggrieved folks who spent years spouting the oft-heard “Where would Houston be without J.J. Watt?!” … Well, we found out last season. 9-7 and in the playoffs. Again.

 

My pick: Rodgers — by a hair — over Watt.

 

Overlooked

2008 MVP: Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts.

Alternative option: Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona Cardinals.

A good argument can be made here for Drew Brees, who became the first player since Dan Marino in 1984 to eclipse 5,000 yards passing. And Adrian Peterson led the NFL with 1,760 rushing yards, carrying the Gus Frerotte/Tarvaris Jackson Vikings to the postseason.

 

But me, I would have taken Warner over Manning. The latter’s 4,002 yards, 27 touchdowns and 95.0 passer rating were nice, but this was far from his best season. Meanwhile, Warner beat out Matt Leinart in an unfair quarterback competition where the tie would have gone to the kid, posted a line better than Manning’s (4,583/30/96.9) and took the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. (Yes, I’m well aware voting was done before Arizona’s magical playoff run — but hindsight’s one of the real nice benefits of practicing revisionist history!)

 

Don’t think of Bruce Arians’ Cards here. This franchise had only been to the playoffs four times in the previous 59 seasons before Warner directed Arizona to the postseason in 2008.

 

My pick: Warner over Manning.

 

* * * * *

 

1961 MVP: Paul Hornung, RB, Green Bay Packers.

Alternative option: Sonny Jurgensen, QB, Philadelphia Eagles.

Paul Hornung was the “Golden Boy” in every sense: He played under the golden helmet of Notre Dame, sported beautiful blonde curly locks and was one of the most popular players on the NFL’s best team of the era. Yet, in 1961, Hornung was not the league’s most important player, despite his scoring 146 points as halfback and kicker.

 

Hornung and his Packers teammates lost to the Eagles in the NFL title game the year before (Hornung’s best season). Philly’s quarterback in 1960, Norm Van Brocklin, called it a career after the game, leaving some pundits to think Philadelphia would plummet. Instead, Jurgensen guided the team to a 10-4 record, throwing for 3,723 yards and 32 scores — absurd numbers for that era. Jurgensen is one of the top arm talents in football history. He still serves as analyst on the Redskins’ radio broadcast, too.

 

My pick: Jurgensen over Hornung.

 

Badly overlooked

2002 MVP: Rich Gannon, QB, Oakland Raiders.

Alternative option: Priest Holmes, RB, Kansas City Chiefs.

I’m not sure what’s most egregious: Holmes receiving three votes for his stunning 2003 season, one vote for the greatest fantasy year ever in 2002 or NO votes despite leading the NFL in rushing yards in 2001. Guess I’ll go with ’02, when the hardest working stud this side of Walter Payton paced everyone with 2,287 scrimmage yards and 24 touchdowns despite missing two games. Sure, Holmes’ 8-8 Chiefs missed the playoffs that year. Gannon took the Raiders to the Super Bowl. The latter also played with Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and peak Charlie Garner.

 

Yes, Gannon was a quarterback, so some of you will argue his output had more impact on a playoff team. Well … Holmes’ season was still unbelievable. He averaged 163.4 yards and almost two touchdowns per game. And got one stinking vote. Come on.

 

My pick: Close, but Holmes over Gannon.

 

* * * * *

 

1982 MVP: Mark Moseley, K, Washington Redskins.

Alternative option: Dan Fouts, QB, San Diego Chargers.

While I have always been a staunch supporter of the kicking game globally — and kickers, specifically — no way Moseley should have been the MVP of the league in 1982. Moseley made 20 of his 21 field-goal attempts for the 8-1 Redskins, who went on to win it all in the strike-shortened season. He also missed three extra points. Meanwhile, Fouts was in the midst of changing pro football with the “Air Coryell” passing offense. Fouts averaged 320.3 yards passing per game, which would put him well over 5,000 yards passing in a 16-game season (in 1982!). He led the Bolts to a viable 6-3 record and a postseason berth. Alas, he lost the MVP to Moseley by two votes.

 

Fun fact: The Chargers led the league in passing six straight years (1978-83), which was an astonishing feat, considering there were 28 teams in the NFL.

 

My pick: Fouts over Moseley.

 

Transcendent season, no hardware

1990 MVP: Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco 49ers.

Alternative options: Randall Cunningham, QB, Philadelphia Eagles OR Derrick Thomas, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs.

 

Montana commandeered the defending champion 49ers to a 14-1 record as a starter, but he didn’t come close to his top three seasons (1984, 1987, 1989) in terms of production. Montana passed for 3,944 yards and 26 touchdowns (six in one game). He also tossed a career-high 16 picks, while his 89.0 passer rating was the sixth-best of his career.

 

Cunningham’s 3,466/30/91.6 passing line was comparable to Montana’s, while his 942 rushing yards (8.0 yards per carry) were, well, otherworldly. Cunningham’s electric play pushed the Eagles to the playoffs during a season where Buddy Ryan’s legendary defense wasn’t at its best (12th in both total D and points allowed).

 

Thomas deserves equal acclaim, as the 20 sacks he produced marked the second-most ever by a linebacker at the time. Only Lawrence Taylor, with 20.5 sacks during his MVP campaign of 1986, had posted more as an OLB. Thomas’ speed — and biomechanically-challenging body lean — changed the way scouts looked at 3-4 outside linebackers. If Taylor was the Beatles of the British Invasion, then Thomas was the Rolling Stones. The freakish pass rusher helped propel the Chiefs into the postseason for only the second time since 1972.

 

My pick: Cunningham edges DT and Montana.

 

* * * * *

 

1987 MVP: John Elway, QB, Denver Broncos.

Alternative option: Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers.

Many fans and media types have either wondered why Rice never won MVP or were surprised to find out he didn’t. Of course, it’s been 30 years now, but everyone over 40 remembers the year Rice caught 22 touchdown passes in 12 games. Although he was a different kind of player, Rice’s ability to score made him Randy Moss-like early in his career. Rice lost out on the award in ’87 to Elway, despite the fact that the receiver scored 23 times (he had one TD rushing, for good measure) in the strike-abbreviated campaign. So when Moss broke the record for most touchdown catches in a season with 23 in 2007, he had four extra games in which to accomplish the feat.

 

In fairness to Elway, the Broncos would have been nowheresville without him. Rice was playing with Montana, Roger Craig and Dwight Clark. Elway had “The Three Amigos.” We’ll let you look that group up. (HINT: The movie was better.) The Hall of Fame quarterback managed to push Denver to a Super Bowl, despite merely a good season, not a transcendent campaign. Rice’s incredible year is what morphed him from a Pro Bowl wideout to Jerry Rice.

 

My pick: Elway keeps his MVP trophy, but shares the honor with Rice.

 

The most interesting debate

1971 MVP: Alan Page, DT, Minnesota Vikings.

Alternative option: Roger Staubach, QB, Dallas Cowboys.

Pore over the MVP winners since 1957, and the most unusual name you’ll find beyond Mark Moseley is Alan Page — a defensive tackle! Page was unstoppable in the early ’70s, an off-the-charts smart interior defender who could disrupt blocking schemes before they ever got going. Why was this so important? Because the early ’70s were the deadball era of the NFL, a time when teams rushed the football more than half of the time and threw the deep ball less than they did in the 1960s. According to AP reports from the time, he recorded 109 solo tackles (with 35 assists) and 11 sacks. Wow.

 

So, was he really more important than Roger Staubach?

 

The Cowboys quarterback endured — then triumphed in one of the craziest seasons an elite player could ever have. Staubach rotated with Craig Morton — first by game, then play by play. Read that last line again. After Dallas sputtered to a 4-3 start, head coach Tom Landry (mercifully) decided on Staubach. Voila! Staubach led Dallas to 10 straight victories, including the triumph in Super Bowl VI. No one would equal Staubach’s 104.8 passer rating over the next dozen years, until Dan Marino produced the greatest offensive season of all time in 1984. (Marino did win the MVP that season, thankfully.) Oh, and back in ’71, Staubach averaged 8.4 yards per scramble, to boot.

 

Also worth mentioning: Staubach led the Cowboys to a playoff win over Page’s Vikings.

 

My pick: Staubach over Page. But this one’s agonizing. Defensive players do belong in the MVP race.

 

Tough argument, but I’ll give it a good college try

1997 Co-MVPs: Brett Favre, QB, Green Bay Packers AND Barry Sanders, RB, Detroit Lions.

Alternative option: Barry Sanders, RB, Detroit Lions (alone).

Like Elway’s Broncos in ’87, who knows how the Packers would’ve fared sans Brett Favre in 1997? Educated guess: They wouldn’t have been playing an older Elway’s Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. Now, I like the Co-MVP more than most other people I know, but this was one year when Favre could have been left at the door. After all, he already won the award in both 1995 and ’96. By ’97, the media love affair with the Packers quarterback was somewhere between “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Ghost.” Meanwhile, Barry Sanders ghosted enough dudes to make any girl on Bumble proud.

 

The 1997 season represented the apex of the most elusive running back the NFL has ever known. Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards at an astonishing 6.1 yards per carry. While the ’90s Lions had a few solid teams — Sanders was not always the one-man army revisionist historians claim he was — there were times Sanders carried Detroit. In ’97, he went over 100 yards in each of the last 14 regular-season games (averaging 22 carries for 143 yards in that span). But when the Bucs sold out on defense to shut down the running back in the Wild Card Round, Scott Mitchell couldn’t pick up the slack. The Honolulu Blue went down, 20-10.

 

And what of the would-be solo MVP? Played one more season, then squirted and darted off into the sunset.

 

My pick: I’ve convinced myself! Sanders doesn’t Co-MVP with anybody.