The Daily Briefing Thursday, May 18, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Detroit is desperately hoping to host an NFL Draft. Kyle Meinke at MLive.com:
The Detroit Lions appear to be long shots to host the NFL draft next year, but the club hasn’t given up, and is already preparing to make bids for 2018 and ’19 as well.
The NFL is expected to begin rolling out their draft host cities three or four at a time, like they do with the Super Bowl, and Detroit is going to bid on whatever’s available when bidding opens in the fall.
“If it’s a three-year cycle, I would bid for all three and hopefully win one of them,” president Rod Wood said Wednesday night during the Taste of the Lions event at Ford Field.
Lions president Rod Wood has informed the NFL that Detroit would like to participate in the next round of bidding for the Super Bowl and NFL draft
Dallas has already emerged as the leader to host next year’s draft, according to ESPN, with Philadelphia, Kansas City and Green Bay also under consideration. Detroit wasn’t mentioned in the report.
But Wood said nothing has been officially decided, and he envisions the Fox Theater, a historic masterpiece located just a couple blocks from Ford Field in downtown Detroit, as the perfect host.
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Chris Chase at FoxSports.com defends the 10-minute overtime:
Next week at the NFL spring meetings, owners are expected to approve the biggest change to overtime in NFL history — shortening the extra session from a full 15 minutes to 10. Ostensibly the reasoning is player safety, as if playing 70 minutes instead of 75 is going to provide a major benefit for the players involved in the four or five NFL games per season that ever get past 10 minutes in OT. (If player safety is the aim, get rid of two preseason games: 120 minutes > 5 minutes.)
Though reaction has largely been negative to the expected rule change, I’m less skeptical. It sounds like a worthy plan.
Still, the truth is, until the change is implemented and the first OTs are played, nobody has any idea how it’s going to go. We think we know, but conventional wisdom doesn’t always hold to form when NFL coaches are involved. Moving the extra-point back didn’t lead to a surge of two-point conversion attempts. The kickoff and touchback changes were supposed to encourage fewer returns. Instead, the opposite happened. Remember when the NFL changed the rule that said defenders couldn’t push receivers out of bounds while they were in midair? People thought it’d lead to a new era of secondary play (sit back, wait and then bum-rush the WR in midair to force him out). It didn’t. Quarterbacks are still getting hurt despite the NFL doing everything but putting a red jersey on them. Teams adapt differently than rules committees believe.
Overall, though, I’m on board with this move, though not without some healthy concerns.
It might lead to more aggressive OT play
Overtime tends to be an anticlimactic affair, the most conservative quarter in a conservative game. Could a shorter OT change that? Right now, teams tend to play overtime like the second quarter. They obviously want to score and they want to defend, but there’s not as much urgency as there should be. Fourth quarters seem to have more of that than overtime, where one slip-up ends the game. Teams play to win in the fourth; teams play not to lose in OT. As a result, the pace of play can be glacial. But with the specter of a tie looming larger than ever, coaches might try to play more aggressive, knowing that a tie can be often be as devastating as a loss. The ideal would be having NFL overtime resembling the NHL’s frenetic 3-on-3 OT.
Or teams could play it even safer
The counterpoint to this is that rather than play for a win, there could be a certain moment in OT where the odds switch and a team could choose to play to avoid the loss. We know the value and harm of a win and loss, respectively, but a tie can go either way. Last year, the tie by the 8-7-1 Redskins was virtually the same as a defeat because Washington would have been in the driver’s seat for all of December with the additional win. (In the end, the tie didn’t matter though — the ‘Skins would have lost a 9-7 tiebreak to the Lions.) For the 10-5-1 Seahawks, their deadlock ended up being like a win because it gave them the No. 3 seed over the 10-6 Packers, who would have won a tiebreak had Seattle finished with the same record.
Ties are great
Don’t let the awfulness of 0-0 soccer ties affect your opinion of NFL deadlocks. Why does a game in a 16-week schedule need to have a winner? When you have an 82-game slate like in the NHL and NBA, it’s fan service to have a decisive conclusion to a game. But in the short NFL season (where, as mentioned before, ties can either benefit or hurt a team’s playoff hopes), a tie is a very reasonable outcome after 70 minutes and close to three-and-a-half hours of football. Ties enliven the NFL playoff picture – few things are worse than three teams finishing 9-7 and one making it into the playoffs based on a tiebreaker that has nothing to do with head-to-head record. We accept those results without stopping to ever ask if there’s a better way.
Consider last year: The Lions had what we consider a successful playoff season with a 9-7 record while the Bucs were left disappointed with the same exact 9-7 mark that wasn’t good enough for a spot in the postseason. It especially hurt because Tampa had great wins over Atlanta, Kansas City and Seattle while Detroit beat zero playoff teams, only going to the postseason based on the arcane tiebreaker of winning percentage in common games. So why exactly are we upholding wins as the only virtuous result in the NFL? Throwing some ties in there could help fans watch Weeks 16 and 17 without a slide rule to determine who’s in, who’s out and whether the Browns or Jags will get the No. 1 draft pick.
And these ties would be more exciting ties
Almost invariably, modern NFL ties are the result of gross ineptitude, mainly on the part of kickers. In the two ties last year, there were a total of three missed field goals (from 24, 38 and 34 yards) in the final 3:30 of each game. There’s really no such thing as a well-played tie. With 10-minute overtimes, however, you can envision a situation in which a team moves the ball, the defense makes a stop, the offense kicks a field goal and then it happens again, with a game-tying field goal in the final seconds. That’s far better than watching Chandler Catanzaro shank kicks on Sunday Night Football.
Or maybe it’s a disaster
Who knows? But there’s nothing so great about the current 15-minute overtime that makes it sacrosanct and untouchable. Give 10 minutes a try and see what happens.
WR MICHAEL FLOYD has been able to have the house he is considered to be arrested in transferred from Arizona to Minnesota. Ben Goessling at ESPN.com:
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd will be able to begin practicing with his new team sooner than he thought.
According to a league source, Floyd had the remainder of his 96-day house arrest transferred from Arizona to Minnesota and will start working out with the Vikings next week. Floyd, who was arrested for DUI on Dec. 12 in Arizona, was sentenced to 24 days in jail and 96 days under house arrest on Feb. 17. Until Wednesday’s decision, Floyd had to remain in Arizona. Now Floyd, a St. Paul native, can return to his home state and finish his sentence there.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Will QB DAVIS WEBB be the guy to take over from ELI MANNING? Judy Bautista at NFL.com:
The struggles of the Giants’ offense in 2016 led to inevitable and pointed questions about whether Manning’s decline had begun. That projection might still prove to be overly bleak. The offense, after all, had an almost non-existent running game and inconsistent offensive line play, and it was often painfully predictable. Key additions this offseason in receiver Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Evan Engram should help. Still, even general manager Jerry Reese said Manning is on the “back nine” of his career and acknowledged at the start of the offseason that it was time to start contemplating life after Manning.
That future is not expected to arrive anytime soon. Manning has three years remaining on his contract. Meanwhile, Webb is far enough from being ready — with a steep learning curve to navigate from the University of California’s spread offense — that the pressing concern with Webb’s arrival is not the creation of a quarterback controversy, but rather, how the Giants will find enough snaps for a player who almost certainly will be third on the depth chart (behind Geno Smith) to become comfortable in Ben McAdoo’s timing-based West Coast offense.
Webb spent the months before the draft and the two weeks before he reported for rookie camp with former NFL quarterback and head coach Jim Zorn. Zorn began Webb’s West Coast education from the ground up — focusing on reading defenses and understanding protections. When Webb finally reported to the Giants, they handed the rookie a playbook, and he retreated to the hotel room he shared with Engram to get to work.
“Let’s get after it,” Webb said to the assembled media, after being asked how he first reacted to getting the playbook. “I want to make it like my baby. I want to make sure that this is my thing, I want to treat this right and I want this to be my only part of life that I am focusing on, and really dive in and get focused with it and learn it like it is the back of my hand, because that is the most important thing for a quarterback.”
Webb shrugs off the burden of having to master the physical and mental challenges of the West Coast offense. The son of a Dallas-area high school football coach, Webb was drawing up plays he saw on television on index cards as a young child, played at two different high schools and two colleges (Texas Tech, before his one year at Cal). He understands the demands of learning new systems and quickly ingratiating himself to teammates — the flash cards are his idea, and after he was drafted, Webb went on YouTube to glean ideas for how he could improve. At Cal, he was named a team captain within weeks of his arrival on campus and then threw 37 touchdown passes. He has already been texting Manning with questions about the offense.
How the Giants landed Webb is unusual. Neither McAdoo nor offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan met Webb before the draft, in large part because vice president of player evaluations Marc Ross thought Webb — who was not expected to last beyond the second round and had garnered some first-round buzz as the draft approached — would be gone before the Giants were in position to draft him. That left them in getting-to-know-you territory even at rookie camp — Sullivan’s initial impression was that Webb is tall (6-foot-5) and has a good handshake.
What captured their attention before the draft were the leaps Webb made along the way, improving from his Cal game film (where his statistics in the team’s Air Raid offense were similar to Jared Goff’s) to the Senior Bowl (where he arrived two days early to practice with the receivers and emerged as the game’s most outstanding player). Webb improved further before the NFL Scouting Combine when he worked with Zorn on, among other things, taking the snap from under center. It all suggested that Webb is very much a work in progress, with a high ceiling still to be reached. The Giants feel many of his throws at Cal were all arm strength, for example. Consequently, as indicated by his early drills, they are focusing on teaching him about stepping into throws to generate more power, which should improve accuracy, one of his red flags.
QB KIRK COUSINS is fine with being year-to-year with the Redskins. Kevin Patra at NFL.com:
Cousins told Redskins Nation on CSN Mid-Atlantic this week he is “in a good place right now.”
“I like coach Jay Gruden’s quote [on Monday] where he said, ‘I’m not really worried about it because we got him for this year and that’s really all that matters,'” Cousins said, via the team’s official website. “That’s the way I’ve always felt. There are so many guys on this team on one-year deals. Even if it says it’s a three- or four-year contract, really the only guarantees are this year. Many of us are playing on one-year deals. I’m not the only one and we’re not going to have careers if we don’t have a great year this year, so we all don’t look much further than this season.”
The Redskins placed the exclusive franchise tag on Cousins, worth 120 percent of his 2016 salary, which comes in around $24 million for 2017.
The tone surrounding Cousins’ contract situation has softened since rumors swirled about the quarterback wanting to eventually join Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco.
In March, Redskins president Bruce Allen said the team was “100 percent” in consensus about Cousins being a long-term fixture under center in D.C.
Cousins’ comments this week are rational for a player set to take home almost $44 million for two years of work. The quarterback also owns leverage in contract negotiations with the ability to hit the open market next year or force the Redskins to tag him again for another increase in salary. Sides have until July 15 to agree on a long-term deal.
Conor Orr at NFL.com on the contract situation of RB DAVONTA FREEMAN:
Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has lofty financial expectations from general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
“I want to be the best,” Freeman told ESPN.com. “I want to be elite paid. Whatever that is, that’s where I want to be — straight up.”
He added that he will not hold out, given that Atlanta is already well aware of his wishes.
“Me and my team, we already said what we expected and wanted so there is no need for me to sit around here saying, ‘Why my contract not done?’ ‘Why is this, and why is that?’ I don’t have to do that. I don’t have those problems because realistically I am under contract already. I have to play my fourth season, so it’s no big deal.”
The hullabaloo about Freeman’s next deal was first given life by NFL Network’s Michael Silver, who spoke with both Freeman’s agent, Kristin Campbell, and Freeman in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. At the time, Campbell said, “It’s time for the Falcons to pay him like the elite back he is,” and added, “I expect them to make him a priority this offseason, as he’s been an integral part of the dynamic offense that has gotten them to the Super Bowl.”
The news and reaffirmation by Freeman to not hold out is obviously welcome for Atlanta, though the Falcons hold most of the leverage in this staredown-to-be. Freeman is wonderfully affordable at $1.838 million this year and there are dozens of tools in Dimitroff’s belt for 2018 to keep costs reasonable.
According to contract site Spotrac, the top running back salaries in the NFL after Le’Veon Bell’s franchise tag number of $12,120,000 are Jonathan Stewart and LeSean McCoy’s $8 million per year. Doug Martin’s latest deal averages $7,150,000 per year while Lamar Miller is getting $6,500,000 on average per year. McCoy leads all non-rookie running backs in money guaranteed at signing with $18,250,000 — or nearly half the deal.
So what does this mean for a player that has scored 11 touchdowns and amassed more than 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons? He’ll need to do it at least once more to achieve his goals.
His push to be a more violent running back may not be a coincidence.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
According to the media, Rams coach Sean McVay was a better high school football player than Calvin Johnson. Alden Gonzalez at ESPN.com on McVay’s high school years:
The genesis of Sean McVay’s renowned clairvoyance dates to December 2003, near the goal line of a state quarterfinal game, on third down, his high school team trailing by five with only a couple of minutes remaining. McVay, now the Los Angeles Rams’ head coach, was a short, stocky triple-option quarterback for Marist School in Atlanta, which on this night continued to get stuffed by a powerful Shaw team while trying to punch it in on a power formation they called “Wham.”
Timeout was called.
McVay, who had spent most of that week poring over film of his upcoming opponent, huddled the coaches together. He wanted to call a play the team had never run before — a naked bootleg off “Wham,” which involved McVay faking the handoff, hiding the ball, then rolling out and running with it all by himself, with no blockers in front of him.
“He just had this crazy ability to feel out plays,” McVay’s high school teammate and good friend, Chris Ashkouti, said. “He knew. I mean I’ve never seen anything like it. He walked in the end zone.”
Fourteen years later, those who knew McVay then still marvel at that play. At the outside defender selling out for a running back without the football. At other defensive players celebrating what they thought was a game-clinching tackle. At a packed stadium rising to its feet as the quarterback turned the corner. At the foresight and courage McVay displayed as a teenager.
McVay never played in the NFL and didn’t really stand out in college, but he was a Georgia high school football legend. He became the first player in program history to both rush and throw for 1,000 yards in back-to-back years. He led his team to a state championship during his senior year in 2003, playing most of the title game’s second half with a broken foot.
After it was over, McVay beat out former Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, a Hall of Famer in waiting, for Georgia 4A Offensive Player of the Year, an obscure piece of trivia many will chuckle at today. McVay calls it “more of a team award than anything else, because there’s no doubt about it when you were just looking at the recruit. He was a five-star receiver, he was special, and I was not of his caliber.”
Others will tell you McVay is being humble.
Todd Holcomb, an editor at Georgia High School Football Daily who has covered high school sports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2001, said McVay “might’ve been the most valuable all-around football player in a very strong football state” in 2003.
“There were much better college prospects,” Holcomb wrote in an email, “but nobody had a greater impact on a high school football game than he did.”
McVay didn’t have the strongest arm, but he was quick and explosive, and he was tougher and smarter than everybody on the field. Longtime Marist coach Alan Chadwick remembers a particular designed run where McVay’s responsibility was to read the 3-technique and decide where to go with the football. He pulled it, got into the B-gap and exploded through the hole “like he had been shot out of a cannon,” then ran nearly untouched for 60 yards.
Ashkouti’s favorite plays came immediately after interceptions, on nights when McVay also played defense.
“We would all stand back and watch,” Ashkouti said, “because he was on a mission to crush the guy who picked him off.”
McVay arrived at Marist as a standout soccer player with great football bloodlines. His grandfather, John, was the former 49ers general manager who teamed with Bill Walsh for five Super Bowls. His father, Tim, was an all-state quarterback in Ohio who played defensive back at Illinois. After starting as a cornerback his sophomore year, McVay was the starting quarterback for Marist as a junior and senior, finishing his final season with 1,128 rushing yards, 1,107 passing yards and 375 punting yards.
McVay received scholarship offers to play option quarterback at Rice, Air Force and the Naval Academy, Tim said, but instead chose to be a slot receiver for Miami of Ohio. He broke his ankle early in his redshirt freshman year and was never the same.
“It’s one of those things where you look at the doctors and they’re like, ‘You can mess this up for the long term,'” McVay said from Rams practice this weekend. “You kind of had a realistic approach that you wanted to be involved in football, and that opportunity opened up.”
McVay was hired by Jon Gruden, something of a family friend, to be a coaching assistant on his Buccaneers staff in 2008. He went on to coach tight ends in the United Football League in 2009, then spent his next seven years with the Redskins, working with tight ends and eventually becoming the offensive coordinator. Now, less than four months removed from his 31st birthday, he is the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, presiding over a team desperate to re-establish itself in the vast L.A. market.
Many still know him best from his high school days.
Tim McVay laughs at how his son used to stay up late in the coaches’ office studying opponents during the week.
Chadwick saw Sean McVay as a “vivacious, energetic, outgoing, mature-beyond-his-years type of personality” who was exceedingly comfortable in his own skin. Ashkouti called McVay “a beast” and “a stone-cold killer” on the field, but beamed at the way he inspired others.
New coach Vance Joseph talks about the criteria that are important to him as he picks a quarterback. Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:
The Broncos aren’t putting a timetable on their quarterback decision and coach Vance Joseph says he’s “not opposed” to the competition running all the way up to the start of the season if that’s what it takes to make the call.
If it doesn’t, it will be because Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch makes the decision an easy one by showing a clear edge in making the right decision.
“I’d say decision-making is going to be a major factor in who wins the job,” Joseph said, via Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com. “That’s the position in the NFL — the guy who makes great decisions with the football, not turning the football over, and the guy who lets his teammates play for him, that’s the guy I want to lead our football team. Obviously, ball placement in the pass game, the ability to get us into the best play, those things are important. But it comes down to decision-making — that’s the biggest factor in this decision I’m going to make.”
Joseph said Siemian has patience, confidence and “throws the ball where it should go most of the time” while his praise of Lynch focused on physical tools. That would seem to point to last year’s starter having an edge in the decision-making arena, but it’s one Lynch will get a chance to overcome in the coming months.
WR BRESHAD PERRIMAN thinks you should put him on your Fantasy Football team. Kevin Patra at NFL.com:
Breshad Perriman is flirting with the overused, unfair ‘bust’ label in Baltimore.
After missing his entire rookie season, Perriman earned just 33 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns in 2016. Most expected more from the first-round pick out of the gate.
He’s already being termed a bust by some, but Perriman has an idea what Ravens fans will be saying about him a year from now.
“He’s the real deal,” the receiver told the team’s official website on The Lounge Podcast when asked what fans would be saying about him next offseason.
Perriman earned the third-most targets on the Ravens last season and started just one game. With Steve Smith Sr. retiring and Kamar Aiken leaving in free agency, Baltimore needs Perriman to morph into the No. 1 receiver.
“I can’t wait. I’ve been waiting for this moment all along,” Perriman said. “I’m expecting a huge year from me, to be honest with you.”
Browns draft pick LB CALEB BRANTLEY, a Gator, walks after an investigation in Alachua County to an allegation that he punched a female unconscious. He used the Stand Your Ground defense and relied on the drunkenness of his possible victim. Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Browns defensive tackle Caleb Brantley came to rookie minicamp with a chip on his shoulder last weekend from a battery probe against him, and it rolled off his back Wednesday.
The sworn complaint against Brantley filed by the Gainesville Police Department last month was dismissed Wednesday by State Attorney William P. Cervone in Florida, citing “insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.”
Brantley, the defensive tackle from Florida who tumbled from a projected second-round pick to the sixth, had been facing a potential misdemeanor battery charge for allegedly punching fellow Florida student Chelsea Austin in the face and knocking her unconscious outside a Gainesville bar on April 13.
“Based on our information, we understood there was a reasonable chance that the charges would be dismissed,” Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown said in a statement. “As we have previously discussed, the allegations made regarding the incident were not something we take lightly. Caleb understands that we have an expectation and standard for every member of our organization.
“He’s a talented young man with a great opportunity in front of him. Caleb must grow as a person from this situation. He is now able to move forward and focus on earning a spot on this roster.”
Brantley, who admitted during minicamp last week that he had a chip on shoulder from the accusation, said he’s grateful for the ruling.
“I won’t take the opportunity the Browns have given me for granted and now I can shift all my focus on working hard to make this football team while also showing my teammates, coaches, the organization and this community the type of person I really am,” he said in the release.
Browns’ Caleb Brantley on playing with chip on shoulder over character issues
In press release from the State Attorney’s office, Cervone, via spokesman Darry Lloyd, stated there was no “reliable evidence” on which to arrest or charge Brantley and the complaint was therefore dismissed.
Because of “the notoriety involved in this matter,” the release outlined four reasons for not charging the 6-2, 307-pound defensive tackle:
* The alleged victim had been drinking heavily despite being underaged, and was initially un-cooperative. He said she initially denied being assaulted and has little or no memory of what actually happened.
* Witnesses on her behalf had also been drinking and provided conflicting accounts of the incident, which called “into serious question the accuracy of what they say.”
* Their testimony contradicted that of Brantley and witnesses on his behalf, and “most importantly an apparently neutral witness who supports Brantley’s version of events.”
* Finally, Cervone said reports of a significant injury to the alleged victim were inaccurate and that any minor injury she sustained was “inconsistent with any great force having been used against her.”
He added that the victim’s friends engaged Brantley in an unpleasant verbal exchange, “during which the alleged victim began to physically punch or assault Brantley, causing him to shove her away.”
Citing Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Cervone said “Brantley had the legal right to defend himself by pushing away someone who was punching and assaulting him. While it may not be popularly approved of or morally appropriate, that the alleged victim is a female of smaller stature than he, does not change that.”
Cervone stressed that “there is a clear lack of evidence to prove guilt of any criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He said it would be inappropriate to file charges, and closed the case.
Brantley’s attorney, Amy Osteryoung, said in a release, “It is obvious the State Attorney’s office did a thorough investigation into this case. It should be equally apparent that we agree with his decision.
Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com looks at the Steelers offseason and gives it a “B”:
What went right
Ben Roethlisberger didn’t retire. It seems weird to give the Steelers praise for this — after all, it’s not as if we’re crediting the Patriots because Tom Brady didn’t retire, or congratulating the Seahawks because Russell Wilson didn’t go play baseball — but there was certainly discussion that Pittsburgh’s longtime quarterback would vacate his position this offseason. That discussion ended up mostly serving to fill column inches, as every indication is that Roethlisberger will be returning for the 2017 season. Pittsburgh still needs to come up with a coherent post-Roethlisberger plan, as Landry Jones has been ineffective as Roethlisberger’s backup over the past two years. (His best game, notably, came against a Browns team that might not have been trying too hard to win in Week 17.)
Martavis Bryant is back. The Steelers waited out Bryant’s suspension and should get another target for Roethlisberger in the passing game. In his past 16 games, Bryant has caught 60 passes for 993 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s not going to fundamentally change the Steelers’ offense, but when you consider that he was doing that after Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell were getting touches, it’s an impressive level of production. The next step for Bryant is to stop dropping deep passes, because few players in the league seem to get themselves open easier than the Clemson product.
The Antonio Brown deal is done. It’s a shame for the Steelers to no longer benefit from one of the best contracts in football, but there are plenty of teams who would have happily lined up to give the league’s best wideout the four years and $68 million Brown signed for this February. The Steelers ended up paying Brown $37.3 million for the five-year stretch between 2012 and 2016, which is roughly what the Rams gave Robert Woods this offseason. Money just doesn’t go as far as it used to.
James Harrison is back. Quietly one of the best deals in football, the Steelers perennially get a discount from a player who wants to play only in Pittsburgh. Harrison was somehow one of the league’s most terrifying pass-rushers again by the time the postseason arrived. He finished the season with 7.5 sacks (2.5 in the playoffs) — all for the grand total of a $1.3 million base salary. Harrison responded by signing a two-year, $3.5 million deal with just $500,000 in guarantees and a $1.2 million base salary in 2017. Every team in football would sign up for that production.
What went wrong
They weren’t able to lock up Bell. As is the case with Kirk Cousins, every day Bell gets closer to free agency just increases his leverage. The Steelers franchised Bell by giving him a one-year deal worth $12.1 million. Even if you think Bell is the best running back in football (and that’s a very reasonable opinion), Bell is being paid an enormous premium. LeSean McCoy is the only running back with a cap hit of more than $7 million.
I can’t fault the Steelers for wanting Bell on a one-year, $12.1 million deal. It’s going to be really tough, though, to justify franchising him for a second time in 2018 and paying him $14.5 million, which will be more than double the cap hit of any running back short of McCoy. Bell’s representation knows that, which makes the cost of keeping Bell off of the free market prohibitive. If the Steelers can’t negotiate a long-term deal by the July 15 deadline, this could be Bell’s last season in town.
Bringing in a backup running back who can catch the ball. Bell’s one weakness is his susceptibility to injury, meaning that Pittsburgh needs to plan as if they’ll be without their starter for some stretch of the 2017 season. Third-rounder James Conner gets mixed reviews for his receiving ability, and while he can certainly improve as a pro, the Steelers might want to have someone around if he struggles in camp. Pittsburgh let DeAngelo Williams leave in free agency, and Williams might still be a logical fit to return, given that he’s still available. Chris Johnson, who rebuilt his career in Arizona, also could be an option for close to the minimum.
In the AFC North, Barnwell also give the Browns a B, the Ravens a B- and the Bengals a C+. You can read his reasoning in full here.
Field Yates of ESPN.com has a list of 6 candidates for the best offensive moves around the NFL (each proposed by an NFL front office exec). The hiring of Chris Ballard as Colts GM is one of them:
Indianapolis’ hiring of general manager Chris Ballard
Ballard, who was hired after four seasons in the Chiefs’ front office, replaced Ryan Grigson and has immediately reshaped the Indianapolis Colts’ defense.
“[I] just think he’s going to do a really good job there,” a front-office executive said. “[He] has already done a nice job adding some quality players to that defense through both free agency and the draft. The Colts will be a really tough team to beat here in two or three years if he builds that team like I think he will (heavy on defense with lots of pass-rushers and corners like Kansas City).”
Among Ballard’s notable moves: the free-agent additions of outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and John Simon and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and the recent additions of safety Malik Hooker (first round) and cornerback Quincy Wilson (second round) in the draft.
“That team will always be good as long as [quarterback Andrew] Luck is there, but just imagine what they could do with a legit defense,” the exec said. “Could be a legitimate contender within a couple years.”
Those who have worked with Ballard speak exceedingly highly of both his character and his scouting acumen. Indianapolis hit a home run with this hire.
The other five are:
Cleveland’s offensive line investments
Houston’s getting out of the Brock Osweiler contract
The Browns’ drafting Jabrill Peppers
The Packers’ bucking their free-agency habits
Minnesota’s retooling its running game in the draft
Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report discusses whether the media created QB BLAKE BORTLES:
The year was 2015. It was the year of Blake Bortles.
Other quarterbacks were having better seasons, but Bortles was doing something that seemed almost impossible. So many teams struggle to find a true “franchise quarterback,” particularly the dregs of the league like the Jaguars, but Bortles looked like just that. It seemed as if the Jaguars had found the passing star teams like Cleveland and Chicago hadn’t seen for years.
Bortles exploded that season. He set team records for touchdowns (35) and passing yards (4,428). Many people—be they fans, team executives or people in the media like me—saw him as a QB of the future.
“He is part of a Jaguars offense that in just a few years could be one of the very best in football,” I wrote at the time. “Yes, Bortles is getting that good.”
Then came last season and one of the worst regressions we’ve ever seen a quarterback have. There were times you watched Bortles and could have mistaken him for JaMarcus Russell. All of the pocket awareness and skill he demonstrated just one season earlier had vanished.
I was on the Bortles train. To some degree, I still am. But I have to say that as Bortles was having that excellent 2015, several team executives from both conferences cautioned that it was a media creation.
Those words were used. “Media creation.”
They said this to me privately as Bortles rose, as the media and others crowned his ass. They said he would eventually fail because, while many in the media became enamored with his numbers, they were failing to notice Bortles’ poor mechanics.
They said Bortles was able to get away with poor throws and decisions in 2015, but as teams studied him more and broke him down extensively on film, they would be able to dismantle him, as they did in 2016.
Those people believe the same thing will happen in 2017.
Blake Bortles Stats
Year W-L Yds TD Int
2014 3-10 2,908 11 17
2015 5-11 4,428 35 18
2016 3-13 3,905 23 16
This is the cruelty of the NFL. As quarterbacks get better and get more exposure, they are studied more intently and defenses find more weaknesses. This, personnel men say, is mostly (not all) what happened to Bortles. He was overwhelmed by smart defensive coaches and players who spent an offseason studying his every move.
Now Bortles must counter the countering. In the NFL, it’s 3-D chess.
Thus it’s not an exaggeration to say that this coming season might be more important for Bortles than for any other player in the NFL. Was 2015 a fluke, or was last year the fluke? Can he be a franchise player or not?
Bortles is an example of why teams get so desperate—and hopeful—at the quarterback position. It’s why teams hang on to terrible quarterbacks like Jay Cutler for too long or make insane moves like the Bears did to move up in the draft and get Mitch Trubisky.
The position remains so hard to fill that the Jaguars have to stick with Bortles despite an absolutely putrid last year, in which he regressed so far his blood type is pleistocene.
Bortles and the team have said he’s been working on his mechanics this offseason. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone indicated Bortles has improved dramatically from last year.
“There are certain things, as far as his elbow and his arm, that are much improved,” Marrone told the team’s website. “I think there are still other things we’re still working on as well as everyone else at this stage. … If we’re throwing 100 footballs to 150—if we throw 150, he’ll be better. If we throw 200, he’ll be better—250, he’ll be better. What we’re doing now is trying to build him up and build the arm strength and all the other things, along with all of our quarterbacks to get there. The more he throws, the better he’ll be.”
Yet, I have to say, the same team executives who cautioned me about Bortles in 2015 as he was lighting the league up—trusted talent evaluators who stressed Bortles would eventually fall apart—are telling me now the same thing they always have. We created him in the media, and he will always be more about wishful thinking than actual skill.
I’m not sure I agree with this, mainly because the Jaguars are putting more weapons around him, like rookie runner Leonard Fournette. And I think Bortles understands that he must evolve.
I think Bortles bounces back. Then again, I’m in the media, and maybe good Bortles was just a figment of my imagination in the first place.
Gary Myers of the New York Post on the complications arising from Gisele Bundchen claiming her husband, QB TOM BRADY, has suffered previously unreported concussions.
If Tom Brady, the five-time Super Bowl champion, is so worried about his job security and is hiding concussions, then Roger Goodell’s league is really in trouble.
Brady should feel as secure in his job as Goodell is in his, but he never allows himself to think that way. It goes back to his days at Michigan, when he had to wait three years to get on the field and then spent two years looking over his shoulder at Drew Henson and then, despite a 20-5 record, he wasn’t drafted until the sixth round.
Once he was promoted to the Patriots’ starting job after Drew Bledsoe suffered a serious chest injury in the second game of the 2001 season, Brady has fiercely protected his turf, never wanting to give up first-team practice snaps, never wanting to come out of blowout games.
He is competitive. He is paranoid. He’s going to be 40 in August and wants to play until he’s 45.
Now his wife Gisele Bundchen revealed Wednesday on “CBS This Morning” that Brady suffered a concussion in 2016 and has suffered concussions in the past. He has never been listed on the injury report in his 17-year career with a concussion — Bill Belichick once listed him every week for three straight years with a shoulder injury — and he’s never been removed from a game with a concussion.
So, if Gisele’s medical information is accurate, then either the Patriots violated the NFL’s strict concussion protocol last season by not checking out Brady and taking him out of the game and revealing he suffered a concussion, or Brady got his bell rung, the old term for concussions in the days before CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) became a three-letter curse word, and didn’t tell anybody but his wife.
“He had a concussion last year,” Bundchen said. “I mean he has concussions pretty much — I mean, we don’t talk about (it), but he does have concussions.”
The NFL released a statement later Wednesday saying it had no records of Brady suffering a concussion that season.
“We have reviewed all reports relating to Tom Brady from the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants and certified athletic trainer spotters who worked at Patriots’ home and away 2016 season games as well as club injury reports that were sent to the league office,” an NFL spokesman said. “There are no records that indicate that Mr. Brady suffered a head injury or concussion, or exhibited or complained of concussion symptoms.”
If Brady is hiding concussions to stay on the field, then imagine what players with less stature and security than him are doing. Once a player enters the league’s concussion protocol, he loses control when he is able to return to the field. That opens the way for his backup to make a strong impression on the coaches and take his job. It would be ridiculous for Brady to think this way, but that’s how his mind works. He takes nothing for granted.
Players need to be protected from themselves. If it’s up to them, they are always going to play. Most of the time it’s to protect their job and future contracts. They don’t worry about what’s going to be 10, 15, 20 years later.
How many former players do you have to hear about shooting themselves in the chest so that they can have their brains checked for CTE before you take this seriously?
Any team cheating the system is cheating the player. Any player cheating himself is asking for trouble. Even though the Patriots have been known to bend a rule or two or three, it will be hard to blame them if Brady didn’t show any outward signs of being banged up or didn’t complain of a headache or dizziness and kept his condition to himself. If they did and they overlooked it, it will be Goodell vs. Kraft 2.0.
Players have been allowed to stay in games even when it appears they have suffered concussions.
Case Keenum two years ago. Cam Newton last year.
This must be a cooperative effort. Players must be honest. Trainers and doctors need to be more attentive. The independent neurologists at each game must be more assertive.
Bundchen’s revelation should set off alarms at 345 Park Avenue.
Why? If Brady is overlooking head injuries to remain in the game, then what is a fifth-round rookie safety with a chance of a lifetime to make a name for himself doing if he feels nauseous after taking a shot to the head? What about a 27-year-old corner or wide receiver looking for one more big contract? If it’s good enough for a five-time Super Bowl champ, then why not me?
“I don’t really think it’s a healthy thing for your body to go through,” Bundchen said. “That kind of aggression, like, all the time, that cannot be healthy for you. I’m planning on having him be healthy and do a lot of fun things when we’re like 100, I hope.”
Brady has lots of money, a supermodel wife, three kids. But Bunchen has certainly given a reason to believe he loves football a little too much.
– – –
Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report hears 19-0 chatter in credible locations:
We’ve all heard offseason “Patriots 19-0” chatter before, but not to the decibel you hear now when you talk to team executives and assistant coaches around the league.
They think this is the year the Patriots win all their games, including the Super Bowl. This isn’t completely crazy since the Patriots came within a crazy helmet catch of doing it before.
They believe the Patriots are set up for perfection better than maybe any team in history—including the only team to do it, the 1972 Dolphins, and the Patriots team that lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl after the David Tyree catch.
They point to Tom Brady, of course, who is at the top of his game. They also note that coach Bill Belichick has built maybe the fastest, deepest version of the Patriots yet. They also point to how the rest of the division has yet to make significant gains on the Patriots in terms of finding a quarterback who is even in the same solar system as Brady.
NEW YORK JETS
According to ProFootballFocus, T BRANDON SHELL has not allowed a sack since Week 12 of 2014, back when he was in college at South Carolina. So that covers 15 games with the Gamecocks and three games as a rookie last year with the Jets.
They also claim he did not allow a single QB pressure in 109 pass drops last year with NYJ.
THIS AND THAT
Tony Dungy with a good explanation on what has kept QB COLIN KAEPERNICK unsigned. His radical social activism is a factor, but not an overwhelming one if he was perceived as a better player. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy says Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed both for on-field and off-field reasons, but of the two, the on-field reasons are more important.
Asked on the Dan Patrick Show what the biggest reason is that Kaepernick is still not on an NFL team, Dungy answered, “I think it’s the perception of his talents.”
Dungy added that Kaepernick’s decision to knee for the national anthem last season certainly affects teams’ opinions of him, but Dungy believes that if a team thought Kaepernick was good enough to start, he would get a contract regardless of the anthem controversy.
“Yes, it all stems back to not [standing] for the national anthem and the reaction that that’s going to get from fans. But if people perceived Colin Kaepernick as a difference maker, as a guy who could be their starting quarterback and help them win games, he would be signed now and people would deal with the repercussions,” Dungy said. “I think everybody sees him maybe as a backup. Is he a guy who can really help us? Am I just going to get three or four games a year? If that’s the case, it’s not worth the headache, it’s not worth the distraction, it’s not worth the number of fans we would turn off.”
Asked whether he would want Kaepernick if he were still coaching, Dungy said it would depend on the type of offense his team ran. Dungy said a team that wants a pocket passer wouldn’t see Kaepernick as the right player, but he thinks Seattle could be a good fit because Kaepernick can do some of the same things Russell Wilson does.
So far, the Seahawks have been the only team reported to show any interest in Kaepernick at all.
This from Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report:
It’s been 30 years since a woman last called play-by-play for an NFL regular-season contest. Three decades. The last one to do it was Gayle Sierens in 1987.
Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated was the first to report that strange, sexist legacy of NFL play-by-play calls is about to end. Beth Mowins will call the Chargers-Broncos Monday night game on Sept. 11. She’ll be joined by Rex Ryan (who will guarantee the Chargers and Broncos will both win).
This is a huge deal. It’s disgraceful it’s been so long, especially considering such a large swath of NFL viewership (and the journalists that cover the sport) consists of women.
Disgraceful implies that network executives were keeping a large cadre of aspiring female play-by-play candidates down. We’re glad for Mowins, and she has called a lot of games in all sports including football, but are there really that many more aspiring female play-by-play hopefuls who have paid their dues and are waiting for a deserved NFL chance?
QB DEPTH CHART RANKINGS
Dan Graziano of ESPN.com ranks the NFL’s QB Depth Charts 1 to 32:
These are the factors that go into our occasional feature called the “QB Confidence Index.” Here, we examine each of the 32 NFL teams’ quarterback pictures, throw them into tiers and rank them based on how confident each team is right now. This list changes throughout the year, and again, it’s intended as something more than just a ranking of starting quarterbacks. Keep that in mind before you get mad about where your guy is sitting.
Let’s start with the top tier:
1. New England Patriots
If there’s any cause for worry here, it’s that Tom Brady turns 40 in August and there isn’t a lot of history of quarterbacks who thrived after doing that. But Brady seems impervious to time, having just thrown 28 touchdowns and two interceptions in 12 regular-season games and won a Super Bowl at age 39. Besides, the Patriots have covered their bases by holding on to backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who drew heavy interest on the trade market from teams that were told repeatedly that he wasn’t available. Patriots officials will tell you that they feel completely confident that they can win if Garoppolo has to play, and they also like third-stringer Jacoby Brissett. This is the clear No. 1 quarterback situation in the league.
2. Green Bay Packers
At halftime of the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta, I encountered a Falcons front-office official and asked how he was doing. “I’ll be better in an hour and a half,” he said. “That No. 12, he’s not human.” At the time, the Falcons led the Packers 24-0. “That No. 12” is Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who didn’t have enough that day to bring Green Bay back but obviously strikes more fear in opponents’ hearts than anyone else on this list.
Rodgers hasn’t missed a game since 2013, which means backup Brett Hundley hasn’t seen any real action. But Hundley’s preseason work — combined with the high regard the rest of the teams around the league have for the Packers’ coaching staff’s work with quarterbacks — makes him a respected backup and possible 2018 offseason trade target.
3. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan is the reigning MVP. Backup Matt Schaub, who knows this Kyle Shanahan-designed offense as well as any quarterback in the league, stuck around instead of following Shanahan to San Francisco. There might be some concerns about the transition to Steve Sarkisian as coordinator and playcaller, but there’s nothing but confidence in the men taking the snaps. Ryan has missed a grand total of two games in his nine-year career, is coming off his best season and has Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and an array of weapons around him to help keep things humming in Atlanta.
4. Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford hasn’t missed a game since 2010. Although he doesn’t chuck it as much as he used to, people around the Lions rave about the way he and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter have connected. Stafford is enjoying his role at the helm of Cooter’s offense, which relies more on shorter, quicker throws than the offenses Stafford used to operate. It would be a big drop-off to backup Jake Rudock, but sixth-round pick Brad Kaaya offers interesting possibilities if he can develop quickly into the No. 2.
CONFIDENT … FOR NOW
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
When Ben Roethlisberger is on the field with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, there’s no team more confident about the high-end potential of its offense. But Roethlisberger is 35, flirted openly with retirement this offseason and has played 16 regular-season games only three times in his 13-year career. This is not a player on whom Steelers fans can rely the way fans of teams in the first tier can rely on their starters.
Landry Jones is what he is as a backup — a guy you hope doesn’t have to play more than a game or two. Fourth-round pick Joshua Dobbs is an intriguing long-term prospect. If you’re going to have a young quarterback in a position where he needs to spend some time learning, it’s nice to have as qualified a student as Dobbs. The Steelers like their quarterback situation, but it comes with enough questions to keep it in the second tier.
6. New Orleans Saints
Like the Patriots, Packers and Steelers, the Saints boast a surefire Hall of Famer at quarterback. Drew Brees just posted his fifth career 5,000-yard passing season (the rest of the known universe has combined for four — ever), and he has missed a grand total of two games in 11 years with the Saints. The Saints are here instead of higher because Brees is 38 years old and not signed beyond 2017.
Surprisingly, the Saints did not draft a quarterback this year, though they did bring in Chase Daniel as a free-agent backup option they like a lot. Former third-round pick Garrett Grayson remains as a potential developmental prospect.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Sensing a theme here? Well, these are supposed to be tiers of similarly categorized players. Philip Rivers is 35 and coming off his worst season of the past nine, having thrown a career-high 21 interceptions to go with a 60.4 completion percentage that’s four points south of his career average. Behind him are only Kellen Clemens, Mike Bercovici and undrafted rookie Eli Jenkins. The only reason the alarming backup situation doesn’t knock the Chargers down further is that Rivers hasn’t missed a game since he became the Chargers’ starter in 2006 — way back when the team played in San Diego.
8. New York Giants
Speaking of durable 2004 draft picks whose backups don’t matter … Eli Manning hasn’t missed a game since he became the Giants’ starter midway through his rookie season. His production dipped in 2016, but some in the Giants’ building believe a lack of non-Odell Beckham weapons and poor pass protection had more to do with that than anything else. Manning did just turn 36, though, and the team is thinking about the future.
One member of the coaching staff said third-round pick Davis Webb “has a ways to go to be the No. 2,” which means that the Giants likely will carry three quarterbacks and either Josh Johnson or Geno Smith sticks as the backup. Again, though, Manning’s backup exists to run the scout team.
CONFIDENCE IS A TWO-WAY STREET
9. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts believe strongly in Andrew Luck and are paying him a salary that reflects that. He is 27 years old, has a career record of 46-30 (including his six playoff games) and is coming off his best statistical season, which included career highs in completion percentage (63.5) and Total QBR (71.2). But he has never had enough protection from his offensive line, and the Colts have not assembled a sufficient array of skill-position helpers to keep Luck from having to do it all himself.
New general manager Chris Ballard seems to understand the roster’s deficiencies and is at work trying to keep Luck upright and productive as he reaches his prime. But Luck has dealt with injury issues the past couple of seasons, and the backup options right now are Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris and undrafted rookie Philip Walker. Confidence here would get a boost from an encouraging season by the offensive line.
10. Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson is 28 and has never missed a game in his five-year career. But man, did it look as if he might have benefited from missing one or two last season. Seattle’s persistent refusal to invest in the offensive line cost Wilson a fully healthy season and limited the offense throughout 2016. He showed in 2015 that he’s capable of carrying the team when things are OK in front of him. But until we’re sure they are, it’s tough to have confidence in Seattle’s ability to keep Wilson as healthy as he needs to be to perform at that ’15 level. Trevone Boykin is a backup with major question marks, which is why there’s so much Colin Kaepernick-to-Seattle buzz right now.
11. Carolina Panthers
There are so many questions around Cam Newton right now, not least of which is his timetable for recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. One season after he rampaged his way to a Super Bowl and a league MVP award, Newton saw his completion percentage dip to a Mark Sanchez-ian 52.9. The worst season of Newton’s career coincided with fresh concerns about his ability to protect himself — and the ability of his team and the officials to protect him — on the field. The shoulder surgery this offseason kept those concerns front of mind.
Carolina’s backup situation is better than those of the other teams in this tier, given that Derek Anderson seems to know how to keep the ship afloat when Newton can’t play. But the Panthers sit behind Indy and Seattle in our rankings because the health concerns with Luck and Wilson are projected, while Newton’s are current.
12. Oakland Raiders
Derek Carr spent the bulk of the 2016 season as a swashbuckling, fourth-quarter-comeback-making MVP candidate, and we’re left to wonder what might have been of the Raiders’ season had he not broken his leg in late December. The late-game heroics and the 28:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio masked his middle-of-the-road completion percentage (63.8), yards per attempt (7.0) and Total QBR numbers (62.1), but Carr has shown improvement every season, and at 26 years old, he is in line for a confidence-boosting contract extension this offseason.
The Raiders added EJ Manuel and bring back Connor Cook to back up Carr, but the hope is that he continues to ascend and move into higher tiers.
Brady, Ryan and Dak Prescott (who has played only one year) are the only quarterbacks with a higher Total QBR since the start of the 2015 season than Kirk Cousins. Washington didn’t extend Cousins last year because it wanted to see another season like the one he had in 2015, and he gave them one. Washington still hasn’t extended him, and if it doesn’t by July 15, it’s almost sure to lose him next March.
Sources say there have been discussions about a long-term deal, and the team is interested up to a certain salary level. But due to the deadline and the lack of clarity in the Washington front office following the early March firing of general manager Scot McCloughan, there isn’t a lot of optimism from either side that something will get done in the next two months.
This is what keeps Washington in this part of the rankings. If it were truly confident about its situation, Cousins would have his long-term deal already. Instead, Washington backs him up with Colt McCoy and Nate Sudfeld and risks the possibility of starting from scratch in 2018.
14. Arizona Cardinals
When your performance declines in your age-36 season, that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Carson Palmer’s completion percentage last season was his lowest since 2011, when he was a Raider. (Remember Palmer as a Raider?) His yards per attempt were his lowest since 2010, when he was a Bengal. (Remember Palmer as a Bengal?) Touchdowns down, interceptions up, fumbles way up … it was alarming stuff all the way across the board for Palmer in 2016.
The Cardinals didn’t draft a quarterback, but they added Blaine Gabbert and undrafted rookie Trevor Knight to a backup corps that already included Drew Stanton and Zac Dysert. The only other teams with five quarterbacks right now are the Vikings (if you count injured Teddy Bridgewater) and the Bills (we’ll get to them in a second).
If Palmer is healthy and throwing it the way he was in 2015, the Cardinals are as confident as anyone. But there isn’t a real solid feel to the quarterback situation in the desert right now.
15. Kansas City Chiefs
Sources close to the situation say the Chiefs’ coaching staff hasn’t lost faith in Alex Smith, who is expected to be the starter all season while first-round pick Patrick Mahomes II learns the NFL game. Tyler Bray or Joel Stave would be in line to fill in if Smith were to get hurt early in the season. But Smith is signed for only two more years, and the Chiefs can get out of his contract very easily next offseason.
Smith is fine for what the Chiefs are doing right now, and it appears that they believe they can win with him. But in today’s AFC West, winning isn’t easy. At some point, the Chiefs are going to look to Mahomes to elevate their ceiling at the most important position.
16. Cincinnati Bengals
One of a few teams (including Carolina and Tampa Bay) whose draft seemed to be aimed at making its quarterback’s life easier, Cincinnati used a top-10 pick on speedy wide receiver John Ross and a second-rounder on controversial but talented running back Joe Mixon. You can draft like that when you’re confident in your quarterback situation, and the Bengals are. Andy Dalton’s performance ticked downward a bit in 2016 from its excellent 2015 levels, but he still completed 64.7 percent of his passes and averaged 7.47 yards per attempt in spite of major injuries to — and free-agent defections from — his skill-position group.
Backup AJ McCarron has some experience and is valuable enough that the Bengals turned down trade offers this offseason. This is one place where the Bengals have no worries.
17. Minnesota Vikings
As long as he’s paired with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Sam Bradford knows how to do what the team asks him to do. The Vikings are quite confident that Bradford, who set the NFL’s single-season completion percentage record last season (71.6), can deliver, and they hope that their new tackles, running backs and receiver Michael Floyd can help him flourish to a greater extent than he did in his first season in Minnesota.
They still don’t know what to expect health-wise in the long term from Teddy Bridgewater, but in the meantime, Case Keenum is there as a veteran backup in case something happens to Bradford. The team is also high on Taylor Heinicke, a 2015 undrafted free agent who struggled with his own health issues last season.
18. Baltimore Ravens
Yes, there are a lot of guys who have already been discussed here who don’t have a Super Bowl ring like Joe Flacco does. Flacco’s 2012-13 postseason run was a delirious romp no Baltimore fan will ever forget. But the Ravens have played four whole NFL seasons since then, and over that time, Flacco ranks 21st in Total QBR, behind the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler and Ryan Fitzpatrick. His 2016 season was his best yet in terms of completion percentage (64.9) and passing yards (4,317). But still, 20 touchdowns against 15 interceptions? Yawn. Given how painfully thin the Ravens are at receiver, it’s hard to think backup Ryan Mallett would offer much if he had to play. This might be the league’s dullest decent quarterback situation.
LET’S SEE SOME MORE
19. Dallas Cowboys
There is nothing about Dak Prescott’s first season to discourage confidence, other than the size of the sample. There is no reason to fear a Prescott tail-off, other than the history that tells us to pump the brakes. After 16 games, Robert Griffin III looked like a sure thing. After 13 games with Chip Kelly, Nick Foles looked like the quarterback of Eagles fans’ dreams. I think Prescott should be fine as long as his offensive line stays together, but a 16-game sample (no matter how brilliant) isn’t enough to erase all doubt.
Cowboys coaches are working in the film room with Prescott, studying the second games he played against division opponents for clues on how teams will attack him with a year’s worth of NFL tape to study. Complacency is among Prescott’s biggest enemies, and it’s encouraging that he doesn’t seem the type to cave to it. Kellen Moore is a backup whom offensive coordinator Scott Linehan likes, but Moore hasn’t played enough to inspire any confidence.
20. Tennessee Titans
Neck and neck with the next team on this list, Tennessee gets the slight edge because of how much more careful Marcus Mariota is with the ball than Jameis Winston is. Like Prescott, Mariota is in a good situation behind a strong, young line and with an excellent supporting run game. He has shown strides as a leader and as an operator of the offense in his two seasons. He threw 26 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions in his second season and looks the part when he’s on the field.
There’s some concern about health, as he was unable to finish either of his first two seasons, but at age 23, he seems to be coming along at least as well as the Titans could have hoped. Backup Matt Cassel surely could do fine handing the ball off to DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, if need be.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winston is a couple months younger than Mariota and so far has a higher Total QBR and a better win-loss record. The Buccaneers’ brain trust believes that he’s a tough player who commands the huddle and has his teammates’ loyalty and that the new weapons they got for him this offseason (including DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard) will help him elevate his game to the next level.
The interceptions remain a concern, as only Philip Rivers and Blake Bortles have thrown more than the 33 Winston has thrown since the start of 2015. And there’s almost nothing behind him, as the backup right now is either Sean Renfree or Ryan Griffin. Winston is the Bucs’ guy, and they’d love for him to justify and keep building up the confidence they have in him.
22. Buffalo Bills
It’s difficult to figure out how to write about Tyrod Taylor. Did you know that, among quarterbacks who’ve played at least 20 games the past two seasons, he ranks fourth in touchdown/interception ratio, seventh in Total QBR and 11th in yards per attempt and has the third-fewest interceptions? No, I’ll bet you didn’t know that.
Taylor is clearly a better player than a lot of people want to believe he is, yet he hasn’t risen to the point where he inspires any level of confidence that he’s a franchise guy. Add an all-new coaching staff and front office in Buffalo, and the team itself probably doesn’t yet know how it’s supposed to feel about its quarterback situation.
New general manager Brandon Beane wasn’t exactly blowing kisses to Taylor in his introductory news conference, and though Taylor is surely the starter right now, it isn’t difficult to imagine them trying out Cardale Jones, T.J. Yates or even fifth-round rookie Nathan Peterman if Taylor isn’t doing what they want him to do.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
It was exciting that Carson Wentz was ready to play and play as well as he did out of the gate as a rookie. But in the end, Wentz didn’t have anything beyond a somewhat encouraging rookie season. He had 16 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and ranked 29th among qualifying quarterbacks with a paltry 6.23 yards per pass attempt. Was the experience valuable? Absolutely. Are Eagles fans justified in being optimistic? Without a doubt. Is it reasonable to expect things to get better with Alshon Jeffery and a bunch of new helpers around him? Completely reasonable, yes.
But this gets back to what we said at the beginning about optimism versus confidence. Wentz offers a ton of the former but has a ways to go before he offers reason for the latter. Old friend Nick Foles returns as the backup, and Matt McGloin is there as well.
WATCH YOUR BACK
24. Miami Dolphins
There’s no one ostensibly pushing Ryan Tannehill for the Dolphins’ starting quarterback job. Perpetual backup Matt Moore is of course still there, as is David Fales. Tannehill would have to get hurt or become totally incompetent to lose the job. But the Dolphins played fine with Moore in there last season after Tannehill got hurt.
Although Tannehill is technically signed through 2020, the only remaining guarantee after this season is an injury-only guaranteed $5.525 million of his $17.475 million 2018 salary. The Dolphins can escape the Tannehill contract next offseason. He set a new career high in completion percentage (67.1) in his first season under coach Adam Gase, but he has yet to elevate his game to a point that justifies a $20 million-per-year cap charge.
The Dolphins didn’t draft Tannehill’s eventual replacement, but that doesn’t mean they’re 100 percent confident with what they have for the long term.
25. Denver Broncos
It’s probably still Trevor Siemian to start the offseason, but the new coaching staff offers a clean slate, and it isn’t crazy to imagine a scenario in which 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch plays well enough this summer (or, if not, this fall) to win the job. The Broncos like Siemian more than everyone else seems to, and they can afford to roll with a caretaker type while Lynch develops, especially with the way they lean on their defense and run game. Their confidence in their quarterback situation is rooted in the fact that they don’t ask their quarterback to do as much as other teams do.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
A new coach (Doug Marrone) and new VP of football operations (Tom Coughlin) mean the heat is on 2014 first-round pick Blake Bortles. He had an absolutely rotten 2016 season and has thrown more interceptions (51) than anyone in the league the past three years other than Philip Rivers (52). Like the Dolphins, the Jaguars didn’t draft anyone to compete with or pressure Bortles. Like the Dolphins, they have an eternal backup option in Chad Henne if things don’t work out.
They picked up Bortles’ 2018 contract option, but until next March, that is guaranteed only against injury, which means they can cut Bortles loose next spring if they don’t feel that he is worth $19 million in 2018. It’s a prove-it year for Bortles in Jacksonville, and the organization is looking for reasons to feel confident.
27. Houston Texans
It’s another tough call here between this team and the next one, but I’m going with Houston because I like their first-round pick better than I like Chicago’s. Tom Savage opens as the starter, but he’ll face immediate pressure from Deshaun Watson, the collegiate champion the Texans moved up to take in the first round of the draft.
People who have worked with Watson believe he’ll win over the locker room and the coaching staff sooner rather than later, and of the rookie quarterbacks, he’s the one most likely to start a significant chunk of 2017 games. Savage can hold him off if he plays well, but Houston coach Bill O’Brien changes quarterbacks all the time, and it’s entirely possible that he goes back and forth between those two (with maybe a little Brandon Weeden thrown in) a few times this season.
28. Chicago Bears
They signed Mike Glennon as a free agent and then traded up to draft Mitchell Trubisky No. 2 overall. If they really want to replicate the Eagles’ 2016 quarterback offseason, they need Trubisky to make Wentz-level progress this summer and for someone else’s starter to get hurt a week before the season and trade them a first-round pick for Glennon. That seems farfetched, but hey, you never know.
Mark Sanchez and Connor Shaw are even there to compete for the Chase Daniel role. Assuming the current depth chart holds, one Bears source said “Mike would have to really mess up” to lose the job to Trubisky this year. All bets are off in 2018, when the remaining guarantee on Glennon’s deal drops to $2.5 million. How confident will the Bears be in Trubisky — and in Glennon — when it’s time to make next year’s plan?
NO EARTHLY IDEA
29. Los Angeles Rams
A year ago, the Rams were confident enough in Jared Goff to make him the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. They traded up to do it, even. But Jeff Fisher and his coaching staff are gone, and Goff is starting over with a new coach (Sean McVay) who is only nine years older than he is and has plenty of his own ideas about offense and quarterbacks. The organization is committed to Goff for at least a couple more years, and the only backup right now is Sean Mannion.
As such, the story of the season (and the Rams’ seasons to come) will be how McVay and his staff mesh with Goff and manage the early part of his career. It remains to be seen how confident either side of that equation should or will be with the other.
30. San Francisco 49ers
We can be reasonably confident about what Brian Hoyer offers if healthy. We also, unfortunately, given his history, can be reasonably confident that Hoyer won’t stay healthy. Behind him are Matt Barkley and third-round pick C.J. Beathard, and new coach Kyle Shanahan almost certainly has his eyes on the likely 2018 free agency of Kirk Cousins.
First-time head coach Shanahan and first-time GM John Lynch got six-year deals, and they won’t be in any real trouble until at least 2019. Their ultimate quarterback answer could be playing high school football right now.
31. Cleveland Browns
Multiple sources said the Browns’ offseason quarterback plan was to add a veteran (ideally Jimmy Garoppolo or AJ McCarron via trade) and draft one in the first round. They did neither, unless you count the trade that brought them Brock Osweiler (which they instead announced as a trade that brought them a second-round pick).
Osweiler’s still there, and at this point, he could end up starting for the Browns. So could Cody Kessler, who is the current favorite of the coaching staff’s, or Kevin Hogan, who was in the mix last year. The Browns did draft former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer in the second round, though everyone seems to agree that he needs time before he’ll be ready.
This looks like another mess of musical quarterback chairs, but at least in Osweiler the Browns have someone who has won high-level games and in Kizer they have someone they can reasonably groom as a high-end future prospect. So … trending upward?
32. New York Jets
The Jets brought in Josh McCown, who’s in line to start until they figure out what they have in Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. Officials from three teams whom I spoke with for this project called the Jets’ quarterback situation the worst in the league, and more than one speculated that the Jets would be in prime position to take advantage of next year’s well-regarded quarterback draft class. That, obviously, does not scream “confidence,” but someone has to come in last.