The Daily Briefing Thursday, June 8, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
They are not identical twins, but the person filing the complaint against Rex Ryan may have the brothers mixed up. Jay Skurski in the Buffalo News:
An assault complaint has been filed against former Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan.
Don Aaron, the Metro Nashville Police Department public affairs manager, confirmed to The Buffalo News via a written email statement Wednesday that 30-year-old Matthew J. Havel of Pueblo, Colo., filed the complaint Sunday night.
“He alleges that he saw the Ryans in Margaritaville on Broadway, went up to their table, and that after being there for more than an hour, Rex Ryan reached across and grabbed at his neck,” Aaron wrote via email. “Havel alleges it was unprovoked.”
Video of the incident, which also involved Ryan’s twin brother, Rob, quickly spread via social media. Rob Ryan is only listed as a witness in the investigation, according to Nashville police.
“There are reports in the media from other persons who allege that a drink was thrown at Ryan,” Aaron’s statement continues. “This matter is under investigation by the MNPD’s Central Precinct. No arrests have been made and no charges are presently outstanding.”
Havel spoke with Bleacher Report on Tuesday about the incident.
“We didn’t say anything like, ‘You guys are bad coaches.’ We were sitting there for an hour, hour-and-a-half, talking, and then it wasn’t with them, it was with the son and the nephew,” Havel told the website. “Then we had pictures of Matthew’s championship ring on my wife’s hand. You don’t let that out of your hand for anybody.”
Havel went on to tell the website that he initially thought Rex Ryan was getting up to use the bathroom, but then “all of a sudden, they were coming at me in a blur. It happened so quick.”
“If you’re an average Joe, anybody else doing that, they would be in jail,” he said. “They just sat there, and nothing happened, taking pictures with people coming up to them.”
We’re not very impressed with Mr. Havel’s accounts.
LB PERNELL McPHEE expects more from the Bears LBs than most other observers. Jeff Dickerson at ESPN.com:
Pernell McPhee set lofty goals for the Chicago Bears’ outside linebackers — a position group ravaged by injuries last year.
“Dominate, destroy every opponent that we face,” McPhee said on Tuesday. “Just showing the world why they actually got these guys in the room. Me, Leonard [Floyd], Willie [Young], Lamarr [Houston] and Sam [Acho]. Just dominate in the NFL. That’s my focus. That’s what I want us to do, and that’s what I think we’re going to do.”
Any dreams of football domination require the Bears to stay healthy — something the team has never done under head coach John Fox. And that starts at outside linebacker, where McPhee, Houston and Floyd missed a combined 25 games in 2016.
McPhee, who spent the first six weeks of the regular season on the PUP list, lost weight in an attempt to take some pressure off his ailing knees.
The Bears listed McPhee at 273 pounds on their official OTAs roster. He played much heavier than that when he first arrived in Chicago in 2015.
“I still feel great, I’m moving around pretty good as I watch myself on film,” McPhee said. “I feel lighter than I was a couple of weeks ago when you saw me. So, you know, I’m still blessed, still feeling great.”
As Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com sees it, recent history tells us that MIKE GLENNON is not going to work out for the Bears (and BRIAN HOYER won’t for the 49ers). Below is a substantially edited version of his article which you can read in its entirety here.
Every offseason, teams desperate for quarterbacks sift through the free-agency wreckage looking for that player who, at worst, will serve as a bridge until the next face of the franchise can be unearthed. At best, this player might even be able facilitate a playoff run. More times than not, however, free-agent quarterbacks prove why they were free agents in the first place.
So with that in mind, what can outfits like the Bears and 49ers expect in 2017? Chicago signed Mike Glennon to a four-year, $45 million deal, and the hope is that he can make the team competitive while it waits for rookie first-rounder Mitchell Trubisky. Meanwhile, new 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan had enough confidence in Brian Hoyer to pass on a quarterback until the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The good news: The Bears went 3-13 last season and the 49ers were 2-14 — the bar is exceedingly low. The bad news: Recent history hasn’t been kind to free-agent quarterbacks joining new teams.
Here’s a look at the past five years of notable signings — along with a few trades worth mentioning because of the immediate (and sometimes lasting) impact they had.
Sam Bradford traded to the Vikings
With Bridgewater’s future uncertain, Bradford remains a critical cog in Minnesota’s offense.
Brock Osweiler signs with the Texans
Who knows if things would have worked out differently had Osweiler stayed in Denver, where he would have been the beneficiary of the NFL’s best defense. Instead, he wanted to escape Peyton Manning’s shadow and did so by signing a four-year, $72 million deal with a desperate Texans team.
Robert Griffin III signs with the Browns
Brian Hoyer signs with the Texans
Josh McCown signs with the Browns
Tyrod Taylor signs with the Bills
This was considered an under-the-radar signing primarily because Taylor had a whopping 35 regular-season attempts during his four years in Baltimore behind Joe Flacco.(In that sense, he’s atypical compared to the other names on this list because there really is no “before” to evaluate. Still, we’re including Taylor because he was signed as a free agent, earned the starting job with his new team and played relatively well.)
Ryan Fitzpatrick traded to the Jets
McCown signs with the Buccaneers
Fitzpatrick signs with the Texans
He stepped into the Titans’ starting lineup after former first-rounder Jake Locker went down with an injury and he was … replacement level.
Kevin Kolb signs with the Bills
Fitzpatrick signs with the Titans
If nothing else, Fitzpatrick is very popular. After four years in Buffalo, where he started 53 games while the team never won more than six games, the Bills cut bait.
Matt Cassel signs with the Vikings
Alex Smith traded to the Chiefs
The Chiefs have had four straight winning seasons and Smith is 41-20 in that time. The 49ers, meanwhile, hit a rough patch and Kaepernick is currently a free agent looking for work.
Manning signs with the Broncos
So yeah, this turned out to be well worth the $77 million the Broncos paid Manning during his four years in Denver.
Matt Flynn signs with the Seahawks
So which QBs have been free-agent successes? Manning certainly qualifies, but he’s one of the best QBs of all-time. Taylor and Hoyer had some level of success in Buffalo and Houston, but neither were signed to big contracts, and Taylor wasn’t even plucked off the market to be the starter. The Smith deal has paid dividends for the Chiefs if we include trades, but we’re stretching to find positives for the QB acquisitions of the past five years.
For Hoyer’s 49ers and Glennon’s Bears, that doesn’t bode well.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com speculates on how much filthy lucre WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. will soon be hauling in:
The Brink’s truck is loaded, and the GPS is set to Odell Beckham Jr.’s primary address in Hollywood. It’s a long trek, and one that might not be made for quite some time.
Maybe it will be before the start of this season. Or maybe it will have to wait until next year. It’s only a matter of time before a player with Beckham’s transcendent talent and ability gets paid by the team that chose him 12th overall in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft: the New York Giants.
He’s their best player and biggest star, and he happens to be sitting out OTAs and part of the offseason program, in part because of his contract. It raises questions about when he will be paid, and how much.
The Giants aren’t ready to sit down and discuss numbers just yet, partly because they still have Beckham under contract for two more seasons, with the potential for an additional two years on top of that with the franchise tag. Why make such a massive financial commitment now when they have him under their control for another two to four years?
For one, the price is likely only to head north as he inches closer to free agency. Every year means millions more destined for the Beckham vault, already flush with fresh Nike money.
Beckham is at the point in his career where he is ready to bank. He’s entering his fourth professional season. This is the first offseason he’s eligible under the collective bargaining agreement to be extended. After three Pro Bowl seasons in three years, all indications are that he would like negotiations to have begun yesterday.
When they do, it will be for a deal that league sources involved in negotiations, although not specifically with Beckham, insist will be “huge” and “massive.” They agree it should be record-setting for a wide receiver.
One source is confident that when the deal is made, it will dwarf what Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown received earlier this offseason. Think in excess of $100 million and more than $20 million per season, and possibly even bigger than the $113 million total package negotiated by former Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2012.
Brown netted an extension worth four years and $68 million, with $19 million guaranteed earlier this offseason. All four sources believe that Beckham’s new deal should top the $17 million average per year (APY) Brown received in his third contract with the Steelers.
Beckham, 24, is still playing on his rookie deal. He will make $1.8 million in 2017, a number significantly below his market value or production level. He will make somewhere in the $8 million range if he plays under his fifth-year option next season.
One source predicted Beckham’s deal will approach a net value of $17.5 million per season, with somewhere in the range of $55 million guaranteed total.
This is because of what Beckham brings as a player. None of the sources seem to think Beckham’s dollar value will be inflated much, if at all, by his popularity and/or marketability. Among NFL players, he was the only non-quarterback on ESPN’s fame list.
But the sources believe that’s negligible when it comes to contract negotiations, in part because of the salary cap. What’s more likely a significant factor is when he signs.
Beckham is part of a wide receiving quartet that includes his best friend, Jarvis Landry, of the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins. All appear destined for impending new deals with their respective teams. None may be at Beckham’s level on the field, but the more the market sets — and likely with big numbers — the more the last one to sign will pocket, one source predicted.
OC Steve Sarkesian credits CC Sabathia, the Yankees pitcher who had a nice game last night, with helping him confront his demons. Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com:
Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian pointed to an ESPN commentary about New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia for inspiring him to seek treatment for alcoholism.
The video aired in October 2015, and commentator Scott Van Pelt commended Sabathia for entering rehab for his alcohol problem. Van Pelt also shared how his own father succumbed to alcoholism.
Sarkisian was fired as the head coach at USC during the same month the video aired. (Sarkisian filed a $30 million wrongful termination lawsuit against the school that remains unresolved.)
“I was actually at home on a Sunday night and I was watching SportsCenter, and Scott Van Pelt was doing his editorial,” Sarkisian said. “That night was when CC Sabathia had decided to go to treatment before the Major League Baseball playoffs. I thought to myself: ‘Whoa, here’s somebody who is like me, who is in a very high-profile position in sports — ace pitcher of the New York Yankees — and was being relatively commended or almost celebrated for going to do what he did.’
“I knew I needed to [go]. I didn’t know how to go about it. But that thing gave me a feeling of, ‘There’s a like person that is going to do this. I know I need to do it. Now how, what, when.’ So I made the decision to go do it. It’s been the best decision of my life.”
Sabathia said Sarkisian had reached out to him about his rehab decision.
“It means a lot,” Sabathia said after he threw eight shutout innings in an 8-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. “I means I feel like I made the right decision. Me and Sark have been talking, so it is great to see him doing well. That is not why I made the decision, but I’m happy that people will take a little bit from it.”
Sarkisian is in a treatment program now, although he declined to discuss the details of his schedule. Falcons coach Dan Quinn, of course, spoke with Sarkisian at length about the issue before deciding to hire him to replace Kyle Shanahan, now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Sarkisian was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Alabama before joining the Falcons.
“It’s going great,” Sarkisian said of his treatment program. “I don’t really want to get into the specific side of that stuff, but it is going really well. I think, again, the flexibility that Dan, that we’ve worked out, has been one that has fit well with our schedule. It’s a position where I’m comfortable with it. It is something that is daily, and there’s varying degrees of what I do each day. But the reality of it is, it’s gone really well. And I’m in a great place.”
Sean Payton took team-bonding activities to a new level. Josh Katzenstein at NoLa.com on the mysterious scavenger hunt:
Don’t be surprised if you see a group of New Orleans Saints players running around the city today.
The team cancelled its organized team activities session Wednesday to compete in a scavenger hunt, according to quarterback Chase Daniel’s Instagram story. Defensive end Cameron Jordan’s Instagram story shows some of his teammates dancing in a park, too.
A few fans tweeted about seeing players around New Orleans, too.
A team spokesman declined comment on when asked about the change of plans.
NFL teams have 10 OTAs practices each year, but it’s not uncommon for a team to cancel one of the sessions. The Pittsburgh Steelers regularly cancel one of their days of OTAs, including one last year, according to Steelers Wire.
Throwing less is making QB CARSON PALMER throw better, says Coach Bruce Arians. Marc Sessler at NFL.com:
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer acknowledged in May that he had “no idea” if he would play beyond this season.
To keep Palmer fresh, the team has taken a different approach with their 37-year old signal-caller this spring — vastly reducing his throwing days — and the results have paid off.
“I think (his arm) is stronger than ever,” head coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday during mandatory minicamp, per FoxSports.com. “He threw a couple of deep balls today that were the old Carson, 55 yards, dropped them in a bucket.”
Midway through last season, Arians began giving his quarterback Wednesdays off, a pattern seemingly linked to Palmer’s surge down the stretch. The veteran also went without throwing during March, April and early OTAs.
“It’s done great things for him, plus all the strengthening he did weight room-wise with all the trainers,” said Arians, who went on to attribute some of Palmer’s issues with deep passes last season to the fact that “[wideout] John Brown couldn’t run [due to illness] and [pass-catcher] Michael Floyd dropped about five.”
As for concerns over his age, Palmer insisted Wednesday that his senior status comes with a few benefits.
“I think it’s easier to play the quarterback position later on in your career because of the repetition,” Palmer said Wednesday. “… Guys can have success into their 30s just because you rely so much on experience, so much on ‘been there, done that’ type of situations.”
The Ravens have understandably given up on TE DENNIS PITTA. Jamison Hensley at ESPN.com:
Dennis Pitta was released by the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday, five days after the veteran tight end reinjured his right hip, the team announced.
This move clears $2.5 million in much-needed salary-cap space for the Ravens, who could look to add a wide receiver in the coming days. Baltimore didn’t have to give an injury settlement to Pitta because he signed a waiver after fracturing his hip in 2013 and 2014.
This is a potentially career-ending injury for Pitta, who led all NFL tight ends last season with 86 catches. In Friday’s offseason practice, he hurt his hip without any contact, falling to the ground after trying to make a catch.
Quarterback Joe Flacco is now without three of his top four targets from last season: Pitta (released), wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. (retired) and fullback Kyle Juszczyk (signed with 49ers in free agency).
The Ravens now have only one player (wide receiver Mike Wallace) who had more than 34 catches last season, which increases the need to add a receiver such as recently released veteran Jeremy Maclin or likely to be released veteran Eric Decker.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com explains that Pitta gets sent out the door without any parting gifts:
Of the various buzzwords that apply to the departure of a player from an NFL team, “injury settlement” gets used repeatedly. “Injury waiver” rarely applies.
It applies in the case of former Ravens receiver Dennis Pitta, whose departure indeed came pursuant to an injury waiver. PFT has obtained a copy of the injury waiver, and it means that the Ravens owe Pitta nothing further due to the fact that the injury relates to his past issues with his hip.
Typically, when a player suffers an injury during offseason workouts, he continues to be paid until healthy, and if he’s out for the year he receives his full salary. But since Pitta had a pre-existing hip problem, he agreed that if he were to suffer another hip injury he wouldn’t be paid.
None of this means Pitta will have to pay back money he has previously earned, but it seals off any further payments to Pitta from the Ravens. Given the repeated nature of the injury, it’s possible if not likely that Pitta’s career is over.
WR DeANDRE HOPKINS is comfortable with the Texans as he closes in on a big payday. Aaron Wilson in the Houston Chronicle:
Through his penchant for making acrobatic catches in heavy traffic and reliable hands, Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has positioned himself for a lucrative new contract.
Hopkins is expected to eventually cash in with a blockbuster contract this offseason. What remains to be determined is the approximate timing for a deal to culminate and how rich a payday it will be.
No deal is imminent, but Texans general manager Rick Smith has reiterated several times that securing Hopkins on a long-term deal is a major priority for the AFC South franchise. Hopkins is entering a fifth-year option season and is due $7.915 million this season.
“Those talks are between the Texans and my agent, but this city has embraced me just like my hometown in South Carolina has,” said Hopkins, who’s represented by Creative Artists Agency. “I love being here. I love playing for this team, great organization. Bob McNair and Cal McNair, they do a great job at having an organization that speaks for itself. I thank those guys all the time for picking me 27th when nobody knew who DeAndre Hopkins was.”
The most significant wide receiver deal of this offseason was signed by Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown received a four-year, $68 million deal that included a $19 million signing bonus for an average annual salary of $17 million.
The financial stratosphere for a wide receiver like Hopkins is a rich neighborhood, including upper echelon deals for the Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones (five years, $71.256 million, $12 million signing bonus, $47 million guaranteed), the Dallas Cowboys’ Dez Bryant (five years, $70 million, $20 million signing bonus, $45 million guaranteed) and the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas (five years, $70 million, $11 million signing bonus, $43.5 million guaranteed).
Andrew Walker at IndianapolisColts.com on Pro Football Focus saying WR T.Y. HILTON was the NFL’s best deep threat last year.
T.Y. Hilton’s consistency has been a huge reason why he has established himself as one of the top wide receivers in the National Football League since becoming the Indianapolis Colts’ third-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Hilton so far has amassed 5,861 career receiving yards, a number that ranks him ninth in NFL history over the first five years of a career. He’s currently outpacing current Colts Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison (5,554 receiving yards through five seasons) and future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne (4,164) in that category, and very few others’ names — Jerry Rice and Randy Moss among them — were able to start their careers even better than this Florida International product.
Hilton has racked up the yards in a variety of ways; he’s got tremendous footwork to get open on short routes, and he has the hands and the concentration to be able to haul in some tough catches in the more intermediate areas.
But in 2016, Hilton took advantage of the deep ball, especially, to lead the NFL with a career-best 1,448 receiving yards.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Hilton was the top deep threat in the entire league last season, as his 51.5 percent deep pass catch rate — numbers based on targets of 20 yards or more — was No. 1 over the likes of A.J. Green and DeSean Jackson (50 percent), Brandin Cooks (45.8 percent) and Rishard Matthews (44.0 percent):
Throwing it deep? You could do worse than T.Y. Hilton. pic.twitter.com/sIDuKlGnKZ
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 22, 2017
Hilton also played a huge role in the success of quarterback Andrew Luck, who enjoyed a highly-successful comeback effort in 2016 after injuries forced him onto the sidelines for a good chunk of the previous season. According to PFF, Luck in 2016 completed “39 passes of 20-plus air yards (tied for the most in the league) and (threw) 11 touchdowns to just four picks on those shots. His adjusted completion percentage on those deep shots was 54.1 percent, the fourth best mark in the league.”
The PFF Analysis Team dove even deeper into the numbers when looking at the Luck-to-Hilton connection deep down the field last season:
• Colts WR T.Y. Hilton recorded the most catches of more than 20 yards downfield in the NFL (17) last season.
• Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck tied Washington QB Kirk Cousins for the most completions on throws more than 20 yards downfield (39).
• Luck’s NFL QB rating was no lower than 92.0 when throwing to Hilton anywhere on the field beyond 20 yards.
• Only 68 of Hilton’s 528 deep receiving yards came after the catch.
• Hilton and Luck will be the top returning QB/WR teammates in deep-passing yards next season, with 1,689 combined yards.
If the Colts’ offensive line can continue improving at keeping Luck’s jersey clean each and every week, expect this trend to continue — and perhaps get even better — in 2017.
Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets that an extension for WR JULIAN EDELMAN is happening.
Patriots and WR Julian Edelman are moving toward a contract extension that should be completed in the next day or so, sources say.
THIS AND THAT
Andy Benoit of TheMMQB.com says Colin Kaepernick is just following the path of Tim Tebow. And he sticks to football until the next to last paragraph:
First off, what you’re about to read has zero to do with Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the National Anthem. For proof, here’s an article that I wrote in March 2016, before the protest, saying that Kaepernick would be out of the NFL before he won another 10 games as a starter.
That forecast appears to be coming true, because Kaepernick can’t even find work as a backup. And it’s mostly due to the same reason he couldn’t find work as a starter: teams don’t think he’s good enough. Twitter went up in arms earlier today when I tweeted this:
Amidst all the Kaepernick talk, let’s not overrate the man. He’d be the 32nd best starter in NFL or the 15th best backup.
10:02 PM – 6 Jun 2017
Let me amend myself—there are actually 15 backup quarterbacks better than Kaepernick, and that doesn’t even include rookies Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Davis Webb.
The list, in no particular order:
Jimmy Garoppolo, Patriots
Matt Moore, Dolphins
Colt McCoy, Washington
A.J. McCarron, Bengals
Chad Henne, Jaguars
Geno Smith, Giants
Drew Stanton, Cardinals
Brock Osweiler/Cody Kessler, Browns
Chase Daniel, Saints
Derek Anderson, Panthers
Nick Foles, Eagles
Ryan Mallett, Ravens
Matt Barkley, 49ers
Landry Jones, Steelers
Matt Cassel, Titans
Kaepernick is talented enough to be an NFL backup. In fact, I think he’s better than almost half of the backup QB in the league, but that’s it. With zero hesitation, I would take any of the 15 backups I listed before I’d take Kaepernick, because those 15 quarterbacks are all willing and able to play from the pocket. A few of them have even shown they can make throws from a cluttered pocket. That’s a trait most starters have and one Kaepernick is nowhere near possessing.
Inside the NFL, this is where 90% of the discussion about Kaepernick begins and ends. Playing from the pocket is not a quarterbacking attribute; it’s a prerequisite. If a team’s QB can’t play from the pocket, the vast majority of the play designs won’t work. Coaches can’t draw up plays that call for the quarterback to break down, run around and hopefully find an open guy. Today’s defenses are too good for that.
Is Kaepernick capable of dropping back and releasing the ball at the top of his drop? Sure, but usually only when the play design has an either/or read—when Kaepernick has just one or two receivers to consider and doesn’t have to read the entire field or full coverage. But even on these, Kaepernick tends to get off track in his dropback with unsettling regularity. He’ll move needlessly, creating pressure that wouldn’t have existed. Or at the very least, his needless movement will get him out of sync with the timing of his receivers’ routes.
Also, when Kaepernick moves, he ceases to be a throwing threat. Watch Tom Brady—he moves with subtly and nuance, his eyes stay downfield and he almost never sacrifices his readiness to throw. Watch Aaron Rodgers—he moves a lot, sometimes unnecessarily, but he never sacrifices his readiness to throw. Stylistically, most NFL starters are like this. (The Bradys and Rodgerses of the world, of course, do it at a much higher level.)
Kaepernick, on the other hand, brings the ball down, gets out of his throwing stance, takes his eyes to the pass rush and immediately assumes a runner’s mindset. Sometimes after this, he’ll try to go back into a passer’s mindset, which means taking his eyes back to the field and spontaneously reevaluating a defensive look that has now changed and that he hadn’t fully processed in the first place.
Imagine playing wide receiver with a quarterback like this. Or blocking for that guy. You have no chance at establishing rhythm. The timing and detail that you’ve practiced over and over goes out the window.
Exacerbating matters, Kaepernick is not a proficient passer on the move. A coach of his once told me, “He only has one club in his golf bag.” What the coach meant was Kaepernick can throw fastballs, but only fastballs. When he nails those, they look as good as anything you’ll see. His arm can be incredible. But touch passes? Anticipation passes? They’re not in his bag.
Kaepernick is a talented athlete. (Though it’s worth noting that his athleticism was significantly diminished by rapid weight loss last offseason. Teams are surely wondering whether he’ll ever recapture it.) But he’s not a talented quarterback. His weaknesses happen to be the very weaknesses that an NFL quarterback can least afford to have.
* * *
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I know what you’ll say next: In 2012, Kaepernick went to the Super Bowl! Yes. It was on an uber-talented 49ers team, and Kaepernick stepped in midseason. His style of play was extremely unconventional, especially considering 2012 was the year the read-option burst onto the scene. Defenses had not seen a quarterback like him and, in the middle of the season, they didn’t have time to figure out a full response.
But after the Super Bowl, teams had time to study Kaepernick and the rest of the league’s flawed-but-mobile quarterbacks, including Robert Griffin (who is also now unemployed—as that same March 2016 article predicted). The more of Kaepernick they saw, the more ways they found to exploit his failings. Not coincidentally, until last season, Kaepernick’s passer rating, TD-INT ratio, sack rating and yards per attempt declined steadily from 2013–15.
Last season’s statistical rebound was mostly artificial. The Niners went 1–10 in games that Kaepernick started, and each week, the tape revealed a startling number of plays where Kaepernick’s read was clear, but he didn’t attempt the throw. This has always been an issue with Kaepernick, and it’s one that fans can never see on paper. There’s no way to statistically capture the impact of balls that should be thrown but aren’t.
To coaches, unattempted open throws are a huge problem, probably worse than everything except turnovers.
Each backup has his own limitations, but none of them have an utter inability to operate on schedule and from the pocket, like Kaepernick does. Are (most of) these guys great in the pocket? Of course not—that’s why they’re backups. But stylistically, they’re all capable of consistent pocket quarterbacking. The last thing a coach wants to do is rewrite his offense for a backup QB. When the backup is in, your hope is to continue running the bulk of your system. Kaepernick’s unique but flawed style does not fit many systems. The closest one would be Seattle’s, and the Seahawks decided this week that they’d rather have Austin Davis.
Maybe this indirectly takes us to the anthem protest. The fallout from the protest has made Kaepernick a distraction, not because of what he did, but because of the attention that follows him for it. Most people in the NFL probably have no problem with Kaepernick’s protest. They may not have liked it, but they accepted his right to do it and his commitment to the movement. Still, because of it, Kaepernick, who was already polarizing to begin with, has become a lightning rod. To sign Kaepernick, a team must be willing to take on the distraction that follows lightning rods. And the team must be willing to alter its entire offense (for worse). It’s not worth it, just like it wasn’t worth it a few years ago with Tim Tebow.
Tebow, in fact, was virtually the exact same scenario as Kaepernick, only more extreme. Tebow’s supporters were more ardent than Kaepernick’s, and Tebow was a markedly worse QB. NFL teams don’t care which end of the spectrum the distraction comes from. They only care that the backup quarterback brings any sort of distraction. But more than that, they care that the quarterback can’t play the way they need him to play.
Drew Magary of Deadspin fires off a profanity-laden rebuttal:
This week, the Seahawks signed Austin Davis to back up Russell Wilson. I don’t need to tell you that Austin Davis is a (crummy) quarterback. He didn’t play a single snap in 2016, and in 2015 he started two games for Cleveland and promptly committed five turnovers. In terms of statistics, physical attributes, and professional accomplishments, Austin Davis is indisputably worse at quarterbacking than Colin Kaepernick, with whom the Seahawks briefly flirted and who passed for a respectable 4:1 TD:INT ratio last season on one of the NFL’s worst teams, doing so despite the supposed weight-loss issues that are still brought up when discussing Kap’s inability to get a job.
Now, when Pete Carroll was asked about Kaepernick, he did his characteristic gushing, because that’s what Pete Carroll does. Pete Carroll acts like a human Labrador in public and like Frank Underwood when the cameras go off. So of course he declared that Kaepernick was good enough to be a starting quarterback, causing a great deal of confusion among pundits who openly wondered why a team wouldn’t want an extra starting-caliber quarterback on its roster. But it’s clear to me that Carroll was either lying (i.e. he doesn’t really think Kap is a starting-caliber quarterback), or committed the sin of omission (i.e. he thinks Kap is talented but not worth the fuss, and he hopes some other team decides to make him their problem).
Frankly, it doesn’t matter either way. All that matters is that Seattle, despite being one of the more progressive franchises in football, decided that Austin f—–g Davis was a better fit for them than a guy who once was a few botched playcalls away from winning the Super Bowl, a game in which his offense racked up 468 yards despite Colin Kaepernick starting out the season as a—you guessed it—backup QB.
This fits with the rest of the league’s behavior toward Kaepernick over the offseason. You already know that NFL teams have already gone out of their way to employ a string of horrendous quarterbacks while Kap has been left out on the curb with his d— in his hand. Josh McCown—who was somehow WORSE statistically for Cleveland last year than Austin Davis was the year prior—is currently entrenched as the Jets’ starting quarterback. And you already know how many writers out there are willing to push out excuse after excuse as to why Kaepernick has been shunned. Just today, the MMQB’s Andy Benoit put on his best Albert Breer mask and tweeted out this:
Backups better than Kap: Garoppolo, Matt Moore, Colt McCoy, McCarron, Henne, Geno Smith, Stanton, Osweiler/Kessler, Chase Daniel…. https://twitter.com/Cianaf/status/872274281404694529 …
Andy Benoit ✔ @Andy_Benoit
….. Derek Anderson, Foles, Mallett, Barkley, Landry Jones, Matt Cassel https://twitter.com/Cianaf/status/872274281404694529 …
10:53 AM – 7 Jun 2017
Look at some of those names. Matt Moore and Chad Henne are a combined 100 years old. Houston just gave away a second-rounder to be rid of Brock Osweiler, who got some Schefter polish on his nuts this morning nevertheless. And Ryan Mallett? Ryan f—- Mallett? F— you, Andy. Go sit on a f—— pineapple, kid. Of course, when people yelled at Benoit about the supreme ridiculousness of this list, he spewed a bunch of boilerplate Hoge-isms, as if his assertiveness would alchemize his garbage takes into fact:
Andy Benoit ✔ @Andy_Benoit
Your offense would operate worse with Kap than with those other guys. So yes, essentially. https://twitter.com/Cianaf/status/872482274020913153 …
11:58 AM – 7 Jun 2017
Andy Benoit ✔ @Andy_Benoit
Kaepernick is more talented than maybe all of those backups, but he’s not a better QB. Those are two related, but separate, things.
11:53 AM – 7 Jun 2017
Benoit is clearly an idiot, but what’s dismaying here is that his idiocy is in lockstep with the rest of the NFL. Coverage like this exists to reinforce the dopey values that the NFL already holds dear. The insiders who talk to access merchants have lots of reason to go on about nuance in the pocket and unread reads and generally make throwing a ball seem like a task on par with flying a fighter jet, and the access merchants have lots of reason to take them seriously. The execs and coaches get to posture like they’re generals; the writers get to posture like they’ve seen into the hidden and ineffable complexities of the sport, which the average fan could never see with their own eyes. All of these people have incentive to talk about how Kap just doesn’t get the subtleties of the game like they do.
You can see this dynamic in Benoit’s followup post, where instead of doing anything to actually back his assertions about how a bunch of shitty QBs are better than Kap, he claims that 90 percent of the league agrees with his take that Kaepernick is not a proper pocket passer, a bit of racially-coded language that had its varnish stripped away years and years ago. (The man Kap hoped to back up, Russell Wilson, is not a traditional pocket passer and still does quite nicely for himself.) Benoit also says that his opinion of Kap has nothing to do with the anthem protest, and then IMMEDIATELY says this:
To sign Kaepernick, a team must be willing to take on the distraction that follows lightning rods. And the team must be willing to alter its entire offense (for worse). It’s not worth it.
NFL teams may scheme relentlessly against one another and claim to have their own best practices, but deep down, they are all a sadly uncreative lot, and easily influenced by what other teams are doing. Just last month, Giants owner and spineless tit John Mara said his team got more angry calls about potentially signing Kaepernick than they did about any other issue, which is weird because a) this is the team that re-signed Josh Brown after a horrifying DV incident, and b) why on Earth should any team give a F— what fans think when making vital personnel moves?
I can guarantee, though, that the Giants are hardly alone in turtling away from Kap, whose greatest sin was openly decrying institutional racism in America, out of fear. (By the way, the Giants opted to sign Geno Smith, who has more INTs in 33 games than Kap has in 69. In today’s NFL, apparently you’re better off just throwing the ball to the other team as long as you stay in the cherished pocket.)
I’m not here to make the statistical argument for Kaepernick, and I’m not here to make the moral argument for him either. I’m just here to say that I give up, and that any valid argument made on his behalf is a waste of time when presented to a league that has already decided to wash its hands of him. You may as well be arguing with a f—— wall.
It doesn’t matter why the NFL doesn’t want Kaepernick (He’s too frail! He wants too much money! His girlfriend is a militant! DURRRR SOMETHING ABOUT TEAM CHEMISTRY DURRRRR!). All that matters is that it’s been decided. All that matters is that any excuse to cast out Kaepernick will be deemed valid by people like Breer and Benoit. I mean, look at this sorry s—:
No. And no. Kap does not have elite arm talent (he just has a strong arm) and struggles from the pocket. https://twitter.com/GoldBlooded44/status/872543005516767232 …
All that matters is that Kaepernick is a man without a job who just saw the only iron he had in the fire get dunked into a vat of ice water. No other team has expressed interest in him. No other team has shown anything resembling the backbone to BECOME interested in him.
And now that the Seahawks have bailed, I think it’s safe to say no one else is coming for Kaepernick. That was his last chance, and it’s gone. Maybe he’ll get a flyer this summer when someone gets hurt in training camp, but to me, it’s more likely that a desperate team turns to an even more obscenely unqualified alternative instead. F—— Rex Grossman will get a sniff before Kaepernick does. Because to think you can win ANY argument against the NFL is foolhardy. The league never changes. The machine always wins. And when football decides it doesn’t want you, there are no second chances. Honestly, I bet Kaepernick knew all this well before the rest of us did.
Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune on the belief that the return of All My Rowdy Friends is an olive branch from ESPN to Trump’s America:
Are you ready for some political football?
ESPN is welcoming Hank Williams Jr. back on “Monday Night Football,” and it probably wouldn’t mind if all his rowdy friends who cheered his criticism of then-President Barack Obama came with him.
The cable network says politics has nothing to do with bringing back Williams, who opened the NFL prime-time telecast from 1989 until his 2011 remarks on Fox News about Obama.
That may be true. But divisions have deepened in Trump Era America. ESPN can’t afford to exacerbate erosion of its reach already imperiled by consumers abandoning traditional cable TV service. And politics is the prism through which practically everything everywhere is viewed these days.
To be sure, ESPN is eager enough to dispel the perception among some on the political right that it tilts left that it has been commissioning research to examine the matter over the last two years or so. The study’s latest findings — that the vast majority of viewers detect no bias — were made public this week at about the same time as news broke of Williams’ return from six years in purgatory.
Make of that what you will.
For its part, ESPN said, “Fans told us they missed it, so we’re excited to bring this popular segment back to ESPN for the 2017 NFL season with some new twists.”
The weekly variation of Williams’ “All My Rowdy Friends” will return with the season opener Sept. 11 when the Vikings meet the Saints in Minnesota.
ESPN pulled the plug on Williams six years ago after a Fox News appearance in which the singer compared Obama playing golf with House speaker John Boehner with Adolf Hitler taking to the links with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Comparing someone to Hitler at the time was unusual enough to make someone sit up and take notice. Ditto for Williams’ declaration that Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden were “the enemy,” which again barely registers in today’s coarsened, supercharged environment.
ESPN was probably not averse to change, either, seeing both Williams and his song as dated and diminished assets after more than 20 years.
An apolitical rationale for reinstatement would be an eagerness to evoke nostalgia for a time when “Monday Night Football” was distinctive and appointment viewing for fans and non-fans alike, not merely one of three prime-time games per week.
For die-hards, today’s “MNF” sometimes is the tail end of an NFL week of watching one game Thursday night, another Sunday morning, two more plus bits and pieces of other games Sunday afternoon and yet another game Sunday night. And that doesn’t count college football and other sports.
Rather than a question of being ready for some football, it’s verging on how much more can anyone take.
Anything that makes “MNF” more than just another game has value. If some people want to hear it as Barney the Dinosaur’s “I love you, you love me …,” ESPN isn’t likely to complain.
But the network isn’t copping to anything, dismissing suggestions of a political tie as little more than media commentary. This is a network that would love to go back to the days when the big bias accusation it faced was its obsession with the Yankees and Red Sox to the exclusion of everyone else in baseball.
Historically a phenomenal moneymaker for parent Walt Disney, ESPN has raised concerns among Wall Street analysts lately, despite continuing to be a ratings powerhouse in demographics that set advertisers all aflutter. Among men and all adults ages 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54, it finished No. 1 last year for a third successive year.
Its problem is rights payments to carry the NFL and other major sports continue to rise. Plus its business model is threatened by consumers who may choose to pull the plug on cable subscriptions that have them subsidizing ESPN whether they watch it or not.
The so-called cord-cutters, who bypass traditionally bundled cable subscription packages, have eaten into revenue and the number of homes ESPN is in. This has spurred staff cuts, pushing out several popular and talented journalists, and scaling back some programming ambitions.
Some conservative critics have said another factor in its shrinking reach is political bias. They point to how ESPN covered the national anthem protests of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others, honored Caitlyn Jenner, fired analyst Curt Schilling and featured gay Rams draft pick Michael Sam.
There’s also a belief among some that viewers miss the idea of ESPN as some sort of all-sports oasis from the angst of issue-driven news found elsewhere.
“I felt that the old-school viewers were put in a corner,” longtime ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Linda Cohn said earlier this spring in a radio interview, as reported by the New York Times. “If anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”
The latest ESPN-sponsored study on perceptions, conducted last month by New York-based Langer Research Associates, found perceptions of political bias have not hurt its business in a substantive way.
Barry Blyn, ESPN’s vice president of original content and brand intelligence, pointed in a blog post to the fact that 64 percent of those surveyed believed ESPN was striking the right mix of sports news and political issues, 10 percent didn’t have an opinion and 8 percent believed it didn’t do enough when it came to political issues.
People who identified themselves as strong conservatives ranked ESPN 7.2 on a scale of 1 to 10, while Republicans scored it a 7.1, each 0.5 higher than in an October version of the survey. Strong liberals and Democrats each reportedly pegged the network at 7.0.
Blyn said of those who discerned a bias in ESPN’s programming, 30 percent felt it was too conservative. But left unmentioned was what percentage of the total that represented and how many thought ESPN had a liberal slant.
It turns out only around 30 percent of the survey group cited a bias. So that 30 percent too conservative figure is about 9 percent of the total. Among those who felt there was a bias, an ESPN spokesman said 63 percent believed it to be liberal, which translates to around 19 percent.
More interesting, perhaps, is that the 30 percent figure for those who saw bias remained flat between October and May despite accelerated talk of political bias since the presidential election in November on stories such as whether the Super Bowl champ Patriots would visit the White House.
ESPN fares better in some respects than the news media at large. A Gallup poll of U.S. adults released in April found 62 percent believed the media favored one political party, up from around 50 percent back in 2000, while just 27 percent said the media don’t play favorites.
As with ESPN, however, among those who perceived political bias in the news media, 64 percent told Gallup they believed the tilt was toward the Democrats and 22 percent believed the media favored Republicans.
Not everyone is going to buy ESPN’s research. “Liberal ESPN Commissions Survey to Prove ESPN Has No Liberal Bias,” a Breitbart.com headline said.
Not everyone is going to buy its rationale for bring back Hank Williams Jr.
But smarting from the loss of households and valued on-camera personalities, it has every reason to want to go back to the days when accusations of bias focused on its obsession with the Yankees and Red Sox to the exclusion of everyone else in baseball.
Whether an old tune everyone knows can transport anyone to another time is uncertain.
Change is inevitable in the NFL.
But now it seems it happening faster all the time. Consider this: On my list of the top 100 NFL players from last summer, 38 players are not on this year’s list. That includes Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who was 12th last season but is coming off a miserable post-MVP year.
Newton looked like a shell of himself last season, which is why he’s not on the top-100 list this season.
The top 10 hasn’t changed much, though. Of the players in the top 10 a year ago, eight are back again, led by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the top spot. He gets the edge over Tom Brady, who is the greatest quarterback of all-time, because I think Rodgers is the better player right now.
The biggest riser up the list is Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. A year ago, he was 90th on the list — and I took heat for that — but after his MVP season he is all the way up to the No. 8 spot, the third quarterback on the list.
Ryan was sensational last year in leading to the Falcons to the Super Bowl with the top-ranked offense.
The players who fell out of the top 10 from a year ago were Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, and each had some injury issues last year. The two new entries are Ryan and his receiver, Julio Jones, who is up from No. 13 to the No. 6 spot.
When I do my list, I take into account the 2016 season, but it’s mostly looking ahead to the 2017 season, which is why Houston’s J.J. Watt and New England’s Rob Gronkowski are both in the top 10. When healthy, and they are said to be healthy now, they are both top-10 players.
Both players coming off back injuries, which is concerning, but indications are both will be fine when the season begins.
So dive into the list, moan and groan about how it’s put together, and send all your complaints into the social media world. I’m sure I will see them.
1 Aaron Rodgers GB QB
There was misguided talk early last season that he wasn’t the same player as he had been in the past. That changed when he led his team to the conference finals. He isn’t slowing at all.
2 Tom Brady NE QB
At his age, to be doing what he’s doing is simply amazing. Some are expecting him to slow down soon, but I don’t. He’s a machine and the greatest quarterback of all time.
3 Aaron Donald LAR DT
It’s too bad the Rams haven’t been good in his time with the team. He’s a force on their line who doesn’t get the due he deserves.
4 J.J. Watt HOU DE
He’s coming off a back injury that shortened his season in 2016, so there is uncertainty. But if he can come back to full strength, he will again be one of the game’s best defensive players — if not the best.
5 Von Miller DEN OLB
He had 13.5 sacks last year and was again really good against the run. He is a disruptive player who has to be accounted for on every snap.
6 Julio Jones ATL WR
It helps Matt Ryan to have the best receiver in the league. Jones is big, strong, fast and a handful for any defensive back who dares cover him in a one-on-one situation.
7 Khalil Mack OAK DE
His sack numbers fell from 15 to 11, but he was still a dominant force off the edge with a lot of pressures. He’s good against the run and is the current NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
8 Matt Ryan ATL QB
The league MVP last season quieted a lot of doubters by leading the Falcons to the Super Bowl. He’s among the best passers in the game right now and showed just how good in 2016.
9 Antonio Brown PITT WR
For a guy his size, he does some amazing things. He can also kill you in the return game. Brown is one of the great draft values in the league coming in the sixth round.
10 Rob Gronkowski NE TE
He is coming off an injury-shortened season, but he remains the game’s best tight end when he’s on the field. I expect him to get back to that level in 2017.
11 A.J. Green CIN WR
12 Joe Thomas CLE T
13 Drew Brees NO QB
14 Ezekiel Elliott DAL RB
15 David Johnson ARZ RB
16 Luke Kuechly CAR MLB
17 Chris Harris DEN CB
18 Zack Martin DAL G
19 Marshal Yanda BAL G
20 Le’Veon Bell PIT RB
21 Joey Bosa LAC DE
This is a star in waiting. He was special as a rookie once he got on the field, getting 10.5 sacks in 11 starts, and I think he could be the league’s next great pass rusher. This might seem high, but when I put Khalil Mack high on the list two years ago, people scoffed as well.
22 Odell Beckham NYG WR
23 Eric Weddle BALT SS
24 Ndamukong Suh MIA DT
25 Landon Collins NYG SS
26 Cameron Jordan NO DE
27 Geno Atkins CIN DT
28 Patrick Peterson ARZ CB
29 Aqib Talib DEN CB
30 Tyron Smith DAL T
31 Trent Williams WAS T
32 Mike Evans TB WR
33 Leonard Williams NYJ NT
34 Eric Berry KC SS
35 Ben Roethlisberger PITT QB
36 Richard Sherman SEA CB
37 Vic Beasley ATL OLB
38 Larry Fitzgerald ARZ WR
39 Michael Bennett SEA DE
40 Philip Rivers LAC QB
41 Andrew Luck IND QB
42 Russell Wilson SEA QB
43 Travis Kelce KC TE
44 Bobby Wagner SEA MLB
45 Gerald McCoy TB DT
46 Mike Daniels GB DE
47 Travis Frederick DAL C
48 Kam Chancellor SEA SS
49 David Bakhtiari GB T
50 Devin McCourty NE FS
51 Jadeveon Clowney HOU DE
52 Malcolm Butler NE CB
53 Kawann Short CAR DT
54 Andrew Whitworth LAR T
55 Kelechi Osemele OAK G
56 K.J. Wright SEA OLB
57 Reshad Jones MIA FS
58 Earl Thomas SEA FS
59 Greg Olsen CAR TE
60 T.Y. Hilton IND WR
61 Cameron Wake MIA DE
62 Calais Campbell JAX DT
63 Derek Carr OAK QB
64 Jordy Nelson GB WR
65 LeSean McCoy BUF RB
66 Fletcher Cox PHI DT
67 Melvin Ingram LAC OLB
68 Alex Mack ATL C
69 Dont’a Hightower NE MLB
70 DeAndre Hopkins HOU WR
71 Brandon Graham PHI DE
72 Janoris Jenkins NYG CB
73 Justin Houston KC OLB
74 Dez Bryant DAL WR
75 Harrison Smith MIN FS
76 Marcus Peters KC CB
77 Brent Grimes TB CB
78 Julian Edelman NE WR
79 Sean Lee DAL OLB
80 Jalen Ramsey JAX CB
In a few years, he might be the best corner in the league. He is long and athletic and can run. He doesn’t back down from a challenge either.
81 Jordan Howard CHI RB
82 Jack Conklin TEN T
83 Olivier Vernon NYG DE
84 Chandler Jones ARZ OLB
85 Jason Pierre-Paul NYG DE
86 Jurrell Casey TEN DE
87 Jamie Collins CLE OLB
88 Jason Peters PHI T
89 Malik Jackson JAX DT
90 Muhammad Wilkerson NYJ DE
91 Markus Golden ARZ OLB
92 Cliff Avril SEA DE
93 Everson Griffen MIN DE
94 Jay Ajayi MIA RB
95 Grady Jarrett ATL DT
96 Matthew Stafford DET QB
97 David DeCastro PITT G
98 Devonta Freeman ATL RB
99 Taylor Lewan TEN T
100 Deion Jones ATL MLB
Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins; Malcolm Jenkins, S, Philadelphia Eagles; Terron Armstead, T, New Orleans Saints; Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins; Desmond Trufrant, CB, Atlanta Falcons; Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers; Casey Hayward, CB, Los Angeles Chargers; Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta Falcons; Tony Jefferson, S, Baltimore Ravens; Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Houston Texans; Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins; Nick Perry, OLB, Green Bay Packers; Ryan Kalil, C, Carolina Panthers; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, New York Giants; Brian Orakpo, OLB, Tennessee Titans; Noah Spence, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Bud Dupree, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers; Bruce Irvin, OLB, Oakland Raiders; Matt Paradis, C, Denver Broncos; A.J. Bouye, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars; Tyrann Matheiu, S, Arizona Cardinals, Josh Norman, CB, Washington Redskins, Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings