The Daily Briefing Thursday, May 25, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

David Steele of The Sporting News notes the biggest change wrought by the NFL’s new cutdown policy:

 

The NFL keeps refusing to completely get rid of, or even cut back on, the abomination that is the preseason schedule. Even the players and coaches are recognizing the futility of the games by the way starters are and are not used every week. But the NFL keeps charging for them, and fans keep paying for them in spite of themselves.

 

Yet somehow, with its change in roster cut-downs this week — eliminating the 75-player date that came a week before the final regular-season 53-player reduction — the NFL managed to make the last two preseason games even more problematic and, likely, dangerous.

 

In the case of the last preseason week, it’s now either completely unwatchable or must-see TV, depending on whether the viewer is the Roman colosseum gladiator-type.

 

No rules. Everything goes. Survival of the fittest. Do what it takes to make the roster while competing with 15 more players than in past years.

 

It’s what the NFL is asking for, and it’s what they’re going to get. Who knows — you can’t put it past them that this is what they wanted, an extra reason to watch a preseason finale that’s otherwise highlighted by camera shots of starters in team logo sweats joking it up on the sidelines.

 

There are plenty of other problems this rule change raises. The 15 players on each team that would have been cut loose a week earlier will no longer have a chance to catch on with another team and get a week’s audition elsewhere before the final cut-down. Now they’ll all still be sweating it out until the end, then joining all the others on the market less than a week before opening day.

 

It seems patently unfair to players, but the NFL got rich on being unfair to players. And it’s still less of a threat to them than the free-for-all that will now take place in preseason Week 4.

 

And it all raises the question once again: Why are they playing these again?

 

The way teams are using them lately, they’re all being played to fill the bottom end of the roster. The illusion of getting key players used to the hitting, timing and pace of real action has pretty much been dispersed. Last preseason, coaches went out of their way to play their starters — especially their quarterbacks — as little as possible, even in the Week 3 tune-up.

 

Week 3 with this rule is now destined to look like every other week.

 

Which means no week is worth the risk to the players, no matter how far down the priority list they are. The Cart has always been the real MVP of the NFL preseason. It rolls out constantly in stadiums all over the nation starting Hall of Fame weekend (which, regrettably, will resume being played this year) and never slows. Every time it does, the thought leaps to mind that these games serve no purpose that can’t be served some other way.

 

That atmosphere will be supercharged in the last two preseason games, most of all in the final one. It won’t be for the better, though — not for the fans being charged for it, and not for the players being endangered by it.

 

But taking something that should be dumped completely, and only making it worse, is what the NFL does best.

 

– – –

Playing five extra minutes of overtime in about a half dozen games for year is a big safety problem says Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay in defending the 10-minute overtime.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

NFL Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay acknowledges that shortening overtime can lead to more ties and less exciting endings. But he says exciting endings aren’t the point.

 

“This rule is not intended to make the game better,” McKay said on PFT Live. “It’s intended to deal with what we think are some consequences that we’ve seen in the last couple years from a health and safety standpoint that we’re not comfortable with. We’re not comfortable with the idea that you could play a Sunday night game or Sunday afternoon at 4 game, go into overtime, play 15 minutes, pick up an additional 18 to 20 snaps, and then potentially play a Thursday night game. It bothered us when we talked to coaches, one in particular, he said, ‘We didn’t practice. We were worn out, we didn’t practice and we came to a Thursday night game.’ That made us uncomfortable.”

 

McKay said the NFL may see more ties in 2017, although he doesn’t think it will be a dramatic shift, and it will be worth it from a safety perspective.

 

“Could we get one more tie a year? Maybe. Do we want that? No,” McKay said. “The bottom line on the rule is we’re going to do it for player safety, not necessarily to make the game better.”

 

So the rule might not make the game better, but it’s a rule that’s here to stay, because the owners think it will make the game safer.

 

One supporter of the new rule is Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.  Darren Urban atAzCardinals.com:

 

Bruce Arians likes the new overtime rule cutting the extra period to 10 minutes.

“Will it lead to more ties? Hell, who knows?” Arians said following Wednesday’s organized team activity. “We’ll call the game a little differently. But I’m happy with it.”

The Cardinals had one overtime game last season, but it was a doozy – the 6-6 tie at home against the Seahawks that played out for the full 15 minutes. It left both teams beat up. Arians said his was a “tired football team” that played in Carolina the following Sunday.

 

 “We could not practice the next week (after the tie),” Arians said.

 

Certainly, having only 10 instead of 15 minutes on the clock would have changed play calls that happened in the game, although the way it played out it still could’ve worked out for the Cardinals. The final play at the 5:15 mark was a 40-yard catch-and-run to J.J. Nelson – he was tackled at the Seattle 5 with 5:05 left on the clock, and the Cards had a timeout left.

 

(Chandler Catanzaro later missed a chip shot field goal anyway, but that’s a story for another day.)

 

There were 13 total plays after the five-minute mark, including a missed field goal by each team.

 

“People are worried about 10-minute drives,” Arians said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a 10-minute drive. I guess there have been a couple. If you get the ball ran on you for 10 minutes, you deserve to lose anyway.”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

More on the injury from the auto accident that has RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT missing OTAs.  Conor Orr of NFL.com:

 

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday after he suffered a head injury in a “minor car accident” on Sunday night, the team announced.

 

Elliott worked off to the side of practice Wednesday as a precaution, NFL Network’s Jane Slater reported. After the session ended, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Elliott would not practice Thursday and would return on Tuesday. He said Elliott was the passenger in a car that was rear-ended on Sunday night. The team learned about the incident on Monday, Garrett added.

 

Garrett said the head injury isn’t serious, which makes sense given Elliott’s presence at the team facility. Due to the hands-off nature of offseason training activities and Elliott’s stellar grip on the offense, it makes sense to take all the precautions necessary.

 

 

WASHINGTON

RB MATT JONES is missing OTAs – and it appears to be with the Redskins’ tacit approval.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com on how he fumbled his chance in Washington:

 

Matt Jones is on the way out of Washington.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the Redskins running back will not attend OTAs. The 24-year-old doesn’t appear to be part of Washington’s plans, Rapoport added.

 

Jones started the first seven games of the 2016 season before being a healthy scratch the rest of the way.

 

The Redskins drafting Samaje Perine in the fourth round to team with Rob Kelley and third-down back Chris Thompson signaled the end of Jones’ time in D.C.

 

Jones, a bruising 6-foot-2, 232-pound runner showed promise as a rookie, toting 144 times in 2015 for 490 yards and catching 19 passes for 304 yards. He immediately fell out of favor in Washington in 2016, with Kelley taking over the big-back role.

 

Fumbles sealed Jones fate. In two seasons, the running back coughed up the ball eight times, losing six. Coaches do not suffer running backs who fumble.

 

Jones skipping OTAs feels like the first step in the third-round pick’s eventual release. Whether the Redskins grant him that discharge now or make him wait remains to be seen.

 

Given his youth and natural talent, Jones should latch onto another squad once he’s cut loose. If he can’t fix the fumbling problem, however, his second chance won’t last long.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Falcons president Rich McKay says the new stadium in Atlanta will be good to go on schedule.  Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

They can probably go ahead and tear down the Georgia Dome.

 

Falcons CEO and president Rich McKay tells PFT Live in an interview to be aired Thursday morning that the team’s new stadium will be ready to go for the preseason home opener, on August 26.

 

McKay also said there’s no truth to persistent rumors that the unique retractable roof will remain closed for the entirety of the first year of the stadium’s operation. McKay said that the unprecedented multi-piece roof, with an array of 500-ton segments that slide open and closed simultaneously, will function as planned in 2017.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com gives the Cardinals only a middlin’ grade for their offseason actions:

 

Arizona Cardinals

 

What Went Right

 

They re-signed Chandler Jones. The Cardinals were exceedingly likely to hold on to Jones, but there’s a huge difference between franchising their star pass-rusher and signing him for years to come. Even better, the deal they signed him to is actually reasonable, given what other edge rushers are getting. Jones racked up $51 million over the first three years of his new contract. That’s $1 million less than interior penetrator Kawann Short got in the first three years of his deal and narrowly more than the $49.3 million Jason Pierre-Paul picked up from the Giants. Given that JPP is older, less productive and has far more of an injury history (even without considering the fireworks incident), the Jones deal should be considered a victory for Cardinals general manager Steve Keim.

 

Carson Palmer is returning. While Palmer, 37, couldn’t follow up his career-best 2015 season, he is still clearly the best quarterback on Arizona’s roster and the only realistic option for a team built to win now. Had Palmer retired, the Cardinals might have been forced to rebuild, given that they would have owed a staggering $30.8 million in dead money on their 2017 cap after extending Palmer last August. Now, if Palmer retires or moves on after this year, Arizona would instead owe $6.6 million in dead money in 2018.

 

They did a reasonable job of piecing together defensive replacements, given the offseason exodus. The Cardinals were never going to be able to keep their defense together, given that six of their top seven defenders in terms of snap count from last season were unrestricted free agents. They prepared for losing Calais Campbell by drafting Robert Nkemdiche in the first round last year, although Nkemdiche spent most of his rookie year in Bruce Arians’ doghouse. D.J. Swearinger and Marcus Cooper were always likely to leave. The only question was whether the Cardinals would be able to hold on to Tony Jefferson and Kevin Minter. In the end, both left town.

 

It’s not easy for a defense to replace five starters overnight, but the Cardinals have viable options across the board. Arizona signed Antoine Bethea away from San Francisco, where Bethea was excellent in 2015 before slipping at age 32 last season. He could start next to Tyvon Branch. The Cardinals recruited Karlos Dansby to make his third stint with the team at inside linebacker. Arizona gets more out of these veterans under Arians than just about any other team in the league.

 

Arizona also took a pair of typically freakish athletes in the top two rounds. Linebacker Haason Reddick and safety Budda Baker are versatile enough to play a variety of spots around a defense. Baker might take over as Arizona’s free safety by the end of the season, and Reddick should combine with Deone Bucannon to give the Cardinals a pair of relentless blitzers capable of holding up in coverage at linebacker on passing downs.

 

By mostly avoiding free agents who weren’t cut by other teams, the Cardinals also racked up compensatory selections. Arizona is projected to receive the maximum of four compensatory picks in the 2018 draft, including a third-rounder for Campbell and a fourth-rounder for Jefferson.

 

What Went Wrong

 

Cornerback is still a major problem. The Cardinals have Patrick Peterson locking down one side of the field, and Tyrann Mathieu is more likely to spend his season back in the slot after being forced to play free safety for long stretches while recovering from his torn ACL last year. When healthy, those are two great cornerbacks.

 

The third cornerback spot, though, is likely to be the most obvious weakness on Arizona’s defense. The Cardinals started Brandon Williams in the 2016 season opener, only to have the Patriots ruthlessly exploit the third-round rookie in a 23-21 victory. Williams was sent to the bench shortly thereafter. Cooper spent most of the year as the starter, but he left for Chicago in free agency. Special-teams dynamo Justin Bethel has been badly exposed at corner, with Arians calling him a failure in progress.

 

Williams, Bethel and sixth-round pick Johnathan Ford will be competing for an every-down spot at corner. It would hardly be a surprise to see Keim add a veteran during training camp.

 

The Cardinals misread the market on tight ends. Jermaine Gresham is a perfectly competent, if not dominant, tight end. He’s spent the past two years in Arizona on one-year deals, earning a total of $6.6 million over that time frame.

 

After he caught 37 passes for 391 yards and two touchdowns last year, though, the Cardinals locked Gresham up for the long term. In doing so, they spent far too much. Gresham signed a four-year, $28 million deal before free agency opened in March to stay in Arizona, one that offers him $21 million over its first three seasons. That’s identical to what Martellus Bennett picked up from the Packers. Most teams would rather have Bennett, even with his injury concerns.

 

What’s Next?

 

Sign John Brown to an extension. With Larry Fitzgerald’s contract expiring after this season and Michael Floyd released after an alleged DUI, the Cardinals are suddenly awfully thin at wideout. Brown had a lackluster 2016 season, but the team has placed the blame on injuries, most notably a cyst on his spine. If Arizona really thinks Brown will get back on the path to stardom this year when he’s healthier, it would behoove the Cardinals to make him a buy-low offer in the hopes of locking in a discount before he breaks out again this season.

 

Grade: C+

 

His other NFC West grades were B- to both the Rams and 49ers while the Seahawks get a C.

 

You can read the reasoning here.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News on QB BRIAN HOYER:

 

Brian Hoyer is in the first week of official practice as a 49ers quarterback. You can already see why he’s here.

 

Mostly, he is not Colin Kaepernick. Or for short. the Anti-Kap.

 

Oh, the 49ers won’t say it that way. But when they acquired Hoyer as their all-but-certain starter for the 2017 season, new general manager John Lynch and new head coach Kyle Shanahan knew what they were getting. Hoyer is a mostly steady, non-spectacular quarterback with a usually accurate arm who will provide zero drama away from the field.  He is 180 degrees different from Kaepernick, who could be either mercurially thrilling or strangely ineffectual–and as we know, a lightning-rod personality after taking off his helmet.

 

We’ll see how that plays out for the 49ers in the long term.  In the springtime getting-to-know-you term. Hoyer is fitting in as planned. He is a 31-year-old professional eager to do his job. At Tuesday’s practice, he performed his repetitions efficiently. He couldn’t be more pleased to be working in Northern California.  He has acquired a dwelling in Saratoga that permits a reasonable commute. This is Hoyer’s seventh NFL team. He loves the scenery. Literally.

 

“When you’re playing other places, you hear guys who have played out here,” Hoyer said. “And they talk about how great it is and they tell you how much you’ll love California. And you go, ‘Yeah, okay.’ And then you move here and experience it and say, ‘Okay, you’re probably right.’ There’s so much to like . . . other than the traffic and cost of living, I guess. But you walk out there for practice in this weather and look around and say, ‘That’s our view for practice?’ ”

 

Hoyer did not mean the theme park roller coasters next door at Great America.  He meant the Diablo Range mountains and bright blue sky on a gorgeous spring day.

 

In Hoyer’s eyes, all of that is fresh. The 49ers clearly wish him to perform the same freshen-up function for an offense that went nowhere last season under Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, both now gone.

 

Years from now, historians will document Kaepernick’s 2016 season as one where his anthem-kneeling protests made more news than his football. For 49ers season ticket holders, the bigger issue was the team’s losing record with Kap the last two seasons. How much of it was his fault? We can sit here and take phone calls all night to argue about that. But there was a parenthetical issue with Kaepernick that must have caused the 49ers to sigh and clinch their teeth. And it had nothing to do with pregame kneeling.

 

Sports fans like to take the ride with a player and his team. Kap never made it easy. In his early years as a 49ers starter, he gave short clipped answers and generally behaved at postgame pressers as if he wanted to be anywhere else. This fed the false impression that Kaepernick he was a surly, non-deep thinker. That was hardly the case, as we saw in 2016. When Kaepernick began his activism, he took on all questions and gave lengthy answers. His teammates voted him the Len Eshmont Award for inspirational play and courage, hardly an honor for a surly man.

 

Yet for all that, Kaepernick’s personality and football remained hard for fans to access and embrace — in the same way that, say, Stephen Curry will allow the Warriors’ tribe inside his life to some degree so they can share his joy of competition. In slightly different ways, Madison Bumgarner of the Giants and Derek Carr of the Raiders do the same.

 

Hoyer, upon initial read, is also willing to open the door a little bit, as witnessed by those remarks about the view from the practice field. He has not uttered a political word but has already made a hospital visit to sick kids. He entered the NFL as an undrafted player out of Michigan State, signed by New England to sit the bench behind Tom Brady. That can make a man humble.  It’s a small thing.  But if the 49ers are going to lose more than they win this season — and they are — then Sundays can be more tolerable if the team’s quarterback is more engaging and willing to explain himself rather than repeating the phrase “poor execution” over and over.

 

So far, Lynch and Shanahan have also done well for themselves by opening the door to their thinking. The two’s obvious chemistry was one reason Hoyer signed on with the 49ers.

 

“Having a general manager and coach who are on the same page is so important,” Hoyer said. “I’ve seen places that aren’t that way and that causes a lot of problems.”

 

Hoyer was not specific. But it’s easy to guess one of those “places.”  Shanahan and Hoyer have a previous relationship. In 2014, the two men were together in Cleveland, where Shanahan was the Browns’ offensive coordinator and made Hoyer a starter until the front office began agitating to see rookie Johnny Manziel on the field and eventually ordered coaches to play him.

 

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (6) talks with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan during practice at NFL football training camp in Berea, Ohio Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. Coach Mike Pettine is expected to name his starting quarterback for Saturday night’s exhibition opener in Detroit. Hoyer is listed first on the team’s depth chart, but rookie Johnny Manziel may be gaining on him. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (6) talks with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan during practice at NFL football training camp in Berea, Ohio Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. Coach Mike Pettine is expected to name his starting quarterback for Saturday night’s exhibition opener in Detroit. Hoyer is listed first on the team’s depth chart, but rookie Johnny Manziel may be gaining on him. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Shanahan’s choice here was all his own. Back in March, he was asked why the 49ers didn’t try to retain Kaepernick (who has still not found employment with another team) as opposed to picking up Hoyer, who was in Chicago last season.  Hoyer does own a better winning percentage as a NFL starter (16-16, .500) than Kaepernick (25-29, .463). But that’s not why Shanahan said he didn’t want to keep Kaepernick..

 

“I think Colin has a certain skill-set that you can put a specific offense to it that he can be very successful in,” Shanahan told reporters in March. “That wasn’t necessarily the direction I wanted to go . . .The type of offense I want to run was somewhat different.”

 

Tuesday afternoon, we received the first glimpse of that offense as quarterbacked by Hoyer and his presumptive backups, Matt Barkley and rookie C.J. Beathard.  It was all basic foundational stuff on just the 49ers’ second day of Organized Team Activities. (Why don’t they simply call them practices?)

 

Shanahan says his depth chart is “not locked in.” But in the scrimmage portion of the day, Hoyer definitely threw downfield with more authority than Beathard and with more accuracy than Barkley.

 

“I feel it’s been a smoother transition than in Cleveland,” Hoyer said, explaining that Shanahan’s play calling terminology requires “a lot of words.”

 

With Shanahan responsible for the reboot of so many other areas of the 49ers roster, it’s understandable that he would prefer a quarterback who knows the system. Persistent rumors have it that Shanahan and Lynch will find a way to get Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to the 49ers for the 2018 season. So Hoyer’s window of opportunity here could be short. But he seems comfortable with that, as well as with Shanahan’s new role.

 

“For me, he’s calling my plays just like he did before, with the Browns,” said Hoyer, the Anti-Kap.  “The only difference is, sometimes I turn around to ask a question and he’s with the defense.”

 

If memory serves, Kaepernick never spontaneously offered up an anecdote like that. But of course, he was the Anti-Hoyer.

 

 

SEATTLE

Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com on the relationship between CB RICHARD SHERMAN and QB RUSSELL WILSON:

If the hardest thing in football is to manage the celebrity that attends a Super Bowl win, the next-hardest thing is to forget a catastrophic Super Bowl loss. Something complicated and vital to the chemistry of a great team was broken on that interception. According to interviews with numerous current and former Seahawks players, coaches and staffers, few have taken it harder than Richard Sherman. He has told teammates and friends that he believes the Seahawks should have won multiple Super Bowls by now. And with just one trophy and the window closing fast, he has placed responsibility for that failing on the two faces of the franchise: Wilson and Carroll. Sherman, who like Wilson declined comment for this story, thinks Carroll hasn’t held Wilson or many young Seahawks to the defense’s championship standard. He’s been disillusioned not only by that single play more than two years earlier but also by his coach’s and quarterback’s response to it.

 

“You got me coming off the practice field, and I’m really pissed off,” Carroll says from his office overlooking Lake Washington after a May minicamp. “I worked up a lot of energy, and I’m really pissed off.” He pauses. Inhales, exhales. “OK, let’s have a nice conversation.”

 

Carroll is joking, though it would have been easy to buy. It’s been a tense offseason. In mid-March, word emerged that Sherman was available for a trade. Normally, a team would try to squash such a bombshell involving an iconic player beloved by fans. But general manager John Schneider later admitted the team was taking calls. And Carroll had been unusually blunt, saying at the league meetings that many of Sherman’s issues — he seemed to go off the rails at the end of last season as his anger boiled over — were “self-inflicted.”

 

No trade materialized, and Sherman is now back at his usual spot at left corner. Carroll seems refreshed and energized, but this year may test the powers and limits of his coaching style. In his book, Win Forever, Carroll argues that the only way to actually win forever is to let go of failure. Most of the teaching points are not from the hundreds of wins in an outstanding career but from moments when he’s been broken. When Carroll was a quarterback at Redwood High in Larkspur, California, his coach, the late Bob Troppmann — Coach T, Carroll calls him — ordered him to run the ball late in the fourth quarter of a game seemingly in hand. Carroll instead called a pass, which, you guessed it, was intercepted. To this day, he remembers Coach T’s fury. More than that, he remembers that Coach T quickly believed in him again, a forgiveness that allowed Carroll to forgive himself.

 

When in doubt — when doubted — Carroll always has plugged into an extremely positive mindset that borders on New Agey. One of his rules for answering questions in interviews is “no negatives,” something he learned from the late Jim Valvano. The mentality has helped Carroll survive while coaching 42 of the past 43 years. It helped him keep faith after being fired twice in the NFL. It helped him process the 2006 Rose Bowl loss to the University of Texas that denied him a third straight national title at USC. And it helped with the Butler interception. “The instant that play occurred, I knew what I was dealing with,” Carroll says. “I had to get back to business as soon as possible.”

 

It’s a competitor’s challenge, really. A game within a game. How quickly can Carroll flush pain? He’s so good at it, so smooth, so positive, that it’s easy to forget he’s trying to somehow take his team back in time this season, to exchange the current mistrust for a moment when everyone still believed in one another.

 

Tension flared at strange times last season, blowing little issues into big ones. One day, Sherman walked into a team meeting and found rookie guard Germain Ifedi sitting at a desk. That’s a no-no. Rookies sit on the floor; veterans get the desks. Sherman lorded over him, but Ifedi did what Sherman might have done as a rookie: He stayed at the desk.

 

Finally, Sherman broke: “Get up.” Ifedi stood up and knocked over the desk, tossing it aside. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Ifedi stared at the 6-3, 195-pound Sherman as if ready to throw down. Ifedi eventually stepped aside, but Sherman later told friends that he saw the incident as emblematic of a bigger problem. The offense, led by Wilson, was in the midst of a season in which it would score fewer than 13 points five times, but the only players being held to the lofty standard created by the defense were the members of it.

 

Sherman, of course, is the face of a defense that stands out in the free agency era, having been assembled in a run of straight-flush drafts and unheralded free agent signings that allowed players to bond like a college crew. They were underdogs together, became great together, changed a franchise together, got paid together, won a Super Bowl together — and lost one together. They shared an ambition for excellence, impossible to articulate but as palpable as the hits they delivered in practice. They’d war with offenses, both opposing and their own, and often with one another. Free agents who sign with the Seahawks are always shocked at how savage the locker room can be, a violence at odds with Carroll’s laid-back persona. There was a fistfight between Seahawks receivers the night before they beat Denver in the Super Bowl, and nobody was punished. In fact, many considered it a sign of unity that news of the fight didn’t immediately get out. No matter what, by kickoff, Sherman would stand in the middle of a circle, brothers in arms, and yell, “We’re all we got!” To which his teammates would reply, “We’re all we need!”

 

The pain of the Butler interception wasn’t just the pain of losing a Super Bowl. It was destiny unraveling, the defense losing its claim as greatest ever for toppling Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive years. Never mind that the defense missed 11 tackles in that game, allowed New England to convert a third-and-14 in the fourth quarter and blew a 24-14 lead — even after linebacker Bobby Wagner turned to safety Earl Thomas and said, “We’ll be considered the best D, bro. We got to stop them now.” That failed throw at the goal line is all anyone remembers — and it’s what Sherman can’t forget. He’d trash-talked his way through the game with an elbow injury, inspiring and irritating as always. He’d gotten in Julian Edelman’s face and yelled, “You’re all weak! We eat y’all!” In the end, though, there was a viral video of his face, jaw dropped in disbelief after the fatal play: Sherman Crying.

 

Sherman has always been a man of extremes, of loud arrogance and quiet desperation, who plays as if his self-worth were at stake. It’s how a skinny kid from Compton who shied away from contact in youth football willed himself to Stanford and became one of the most physical corners in football history. He’s famous in the building both for being a teammate you can go to with any personal problem and for pointing fingers.

 

“He’s always looking at what other people are doing,” says a former assistant coach who has had many talks with him. “He’s made it personal. It’s your fault we’re not winning. It wears guys thin.”

 

In the weeks and months after Ifedi was slow to give up his seat, Sherman and Carroll had a series of conversations about old wounds that seemed fresh. Sherman had exploded on coaches and teammates on the sideline after a series of blown coverages in a two-point win over the Falcons on Oct. 16. A week later, against the Cardinals, Sherman was on the field for 99 snaps, including four on special teams. He was so exhausted and dehydrated, shivering with a fever, that he leaned on Wagner from the shower to his locker and drained two IV bags. It was a warrior effort wasted. Before overtime, Wilson’s offense had managed only five first downs and nine punts. The game ended 6-6. The offensive line was manhandled, but Carroll complimented Ifedi’s play after the game, privately setting off many Seahawks defenders as an example of Carroll seeming too positive.

 

Carroll felt that Sherman was putting too much pressure on himself. “It was beginning to mount,” Carroll says. Some in the building felt that Sherman had a point about Carroll not holding everyone to a high standard, but many assistant coaches shook their heads at the notion. “Pete is consistent,” says Sherman Smith, the seven-year Seahawks running backs coach who was let go after last season. “He treats the rookies the same way Richard was treated.”

 

Richard Sherman told some that he felt better after chatting with Carroll, but the feeling was temporary. “He was in a bad place,” a Seahawks source says. It was clear that he felt the culture he helped build was being eroded, an erosion that predated the Butler play and traced back to the months after the Super Bowl win in February 2014, when the defensive players noticed Russell Wilson seemed to be the favored son.

 

Wilson is an extremist too. He claims to flush bad plays right away, speaking of letting go so confidently that it seems rehearsed — and probably is, considering Wilson has been practicing news conferences since age 7. Wilson has said that he, like Carroll, made peace with the Butler interception immediately, chalking it up to the plan of a higher power. That spring Wilson chartered a trip for the entire team to Hawaii. He later framed it to Sports Illustrated not as a therapy session but rather as a forward-looking exercise. That made no sense. After all, the story detailed the hours players spent on the trip at the edge of a cliff, rehashing the play, airing grievances. Wilson, in the vein of Carroll, doubled down by saying that he’d throw to receiver Ricardo Lockette again.

 

The division remained, but then again, Wilson has been a divisive figure almost from the moment he earned the starting job, long before he became the most famous and highest-paid Seahawk. It seems to go beyond the normal jealousy aimed at most star quarterbacks. Teammates privately seem to want him exposed, but ask them why, or on what grounds, and their reasons vary. A man who vowed to live in transparency — Wilson famously announced that he was refraining from premarital sex with his then-girlfriend, Ciara — required guests to sign nondisclosure agreements before entering his box at Mariners games. After the Super Bowl against Denver, team management “fell in love with Russell,” in the words of a former high-level staffer; defensive players would see him in executives’ offices and wonder, “Why not me?” Pettiness grew. In 2014, Bleacher Report reported that some black teammates “think Wilson isn’t black enough.” Every Christmas, Wilson gives each player two first-class tickets on Alaska Airlines, one of his endorsements. “It didn’t cost him anything,” one Seahawk told an assistant coach last year. “Big deal.”

 

But all the resentment was manageable — until the 1-yard line. The Butler interception gave it a life of its own. Carroll hosts “Tell the Truth Monday” during the season, when he breaks down film. Some Seahawks joke that it should be renamed “Tell the Truth to Certain People,” because Wilson seems exempt from criticism. For as great as Wilson has played at times, for as well as he serves as the face of the franchise, for as tough as he is — last season he played through a sprained MCL, a high ankle sprain and a strained pectoral on his throwing side — only twice in his five years have the Seahawks finished in the top 10 in points scored. Sherman and the defense know the difference between very good quarterbacks and great ones. They see how Wilson, only 5-11, struggles to anticipate open windows; they see the offensive staff breaking down film of the Saints’ offense to figure out ways to deploy tight end Jimmy Graham, an All-Pro in New Orleans and a highly paid, ineffective red zone weapon in Seattle. It galls the defense to hear Wilson, ever positive, stand behind a podium and insist that the offense “made some great plays” after games in which the Seahawks barely score — and then be propped up as if he were Aaron Rodgers.

 

“Guys want Pete to call out Russ in front of the team,” Smith says. “That’s not what Pete does. Pete will single out a guy, but he does it the right way.”

 

Wilson’s determined self-belief in the face of crisis is as unbreakable as Sherman’s and Carroll’s. It helped him transcend his physical limitations, the death of his father, coaches who didn’t believe in him — and the loss to the Patriots. But the more Wilson spins obvious locker room strife into unrelenting positivity, the worse it seems to become. “A lot of guys, not just on defense but on offense, want Russell to fit into a mold that’s not him,” Smith says. “Why is everyone allowed to be themselves but Russell?” Wilson and Sherman are neither friends nor enemies, people who know them well say. They simply coexist — until they don’t. In Week 15 against the Rams last season, Wilson was almost intercepted at the LA 1-yard line. Sherman unloaded on Carroll on the sideline. Carroll tried to calm him down. It didn’t work. In the locker room afterward, Sherman heatedly talked to Carroll. “Yeah, I was letting [Carroll] know,” he later told reporters. “We’ve seen how that goes.”

 

Carroll followed up with a few meetings with Sherman. The coach believed that many intense, high-profile matchups had taken a toll. “He was keyed up, competing his ass off,” Carroll says. Sherman apologized to Carroll but publicly said he had no regrets. When questioned about it, he threatened to pull a reporter’s press credential. Sherman was asked how he would react if an offensive player jumped on a defensive coach. “If we had something like zero blitz in the Super Bowl and got bombed for a touchdown to lose, then I’m sure [it would] be understandable,” he said.

 

It was unbelievable: Less than three weeks before the playoffs, Sherman was bringing up the Butler interception. Some players felt that if Carroll had just once stood before the team and apologized for not ramming Marshawn Lynch into New England’s front from the 1-yard line — a front that had stuffed him on short yardage twice earlier — they would have had closure. But Carroll never apologized. And won’t. By calling a pass, he wanted to maximize his scoring chances and preserve his last timeout. Bill Belichick has backed the rationale more than Carroll’s own team.

 

Carroll tried to rally the team before the playoffs, but Sherman dismissed the effort as a routine “kumbaya” meeting. Even some of Sherman’s defensive teammates privately felt he had crossed a line. At Wilson’s next news conference, he opened with a canned shot at Sherman: “Don’t make me take y’all’s credentials, all right?” Three months later, after a second straight loss in the divisional round and increased chatter that an almost immortal team might be near the end of its run, the Seahawks and Sherman began to wonder whether a fresh start elsewhere would be best for both sides.

– – –

Sherman and Carroll go back to Sherman’s junior year at Manuel Dominguez High in Compton. Carroll saw a great defensive back in Sherman and recruited him hard to USC, but Sherman, as strong-willed as he was gifted, saw in himself a great wide receiver and chose the more academically prestigious Stanford. Something about Sherman always stuck with Carroll. “A big-thinking guy,” Carroll says. In 2011, when Carroll was in the NFL and Sherman was desperate to get there, the coach personally scouted him, leading to a fifth-round selection. Sherman struggled early as a rookie and then took off, showing the skill set that Carroll had proudly spotted in its infancy. He backed Sherman when he became a national debate topic for screaming into Erin Andrews’ mic about receiver Michael Crabtree. “We’ve been through a lot together,” Carroll says. “I’ve invested in him.”

 

As Carroll speaks, he sounds as he always does in the face of conflict: sincere — and a little too rosy. When the Seahawks’ huge comeback against the Panthers fell short in the 2015 playoffs, Carroll told the team, “We had a lot of momentum, and if we had one more minute, we’d be going to the next round.” But sunny-side-up talk gets under the skin of some defensive players. They are running out of minutes.

 

This offseason Sherman and Carroll held several private conversations. Sherman had told friends that he allowed himself to imagine playing for the Cowboys, maybe the Patriots, hoping Lynch would come out of retirement and join him in New England. But unless bad teams like the Bills or Browns gave up two first-round picks, he wasn’t going anywhere. By the draft, both sides were tired of the drama. The conversations turned into Sherman asking, “How do we get back to playing at the highest level?” It’s a new team this year: The coaching staff is younger, and Carroll has pledged to get back to running the ball more, to returning the offense to the version that won it all four seasons ago. The night before reporting for offseason workouts, Sherman sent a few tweets that ended with an affirmation that couldn’t have been said better by Carroll: “Honestly a lot of times nightmares come before the dream.”

 

Carroll seemed to have done it again, flipping despair into hope. People in the building wondered how Sherman would respond to a hit to his pride, returning to Seattle after he had set the stage to be shipped. But he went about his job as if nothing had happened. All business. He’s tutoring the young defensive backs, drafted to carry on his legacy. Maybe Sherman needed to dream of playing elsewhere to realize how good he has it. Or maybe it’s all just believable now in spring but breakable come autumn, after the inevitable incomplete throw at the goal line.

 

It never quite goes away, that enduring love between teammates. It’s still in Sherman, buried under the rage. In the Super Bowl XLVIII win over the Broncos, Sherman left the game after hurting his ankle. When the team ran onto the field under confetti, Sherman was on crutches, left behind. Two men noticed. From the stage, during the crowning achievement of his life, Carroll made a point to spot Sherman and pump his fist, no words needed. Then a player fought through the crowd, walking away from the stage, to see him. It was Wilson.

 

“You straight?” Wilson asked.

 

“I hope I didn’t break it,” Sherman said.

 

“Love you, man.”

 

“Appreciate you.”

 

They hugged and shook hands and their eyes locked. Sherman held his look for an extra beat, the way teammates do. Wilson then left to raise the trophy. Sherman watched the celebration from the field through tears, back when everything he got and everything he needed were one.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

John Elway tells Broncos fans not to worry that his contract is running out.  The AP:

 

John Elway insists he’ll sign a new contract with the Denver Broncos before the start of the season.

 

Entering the final year of his contract as general manager and executive vice president of football operations, Elway said there were no hang-ups in negotiations.

 

“We’re continuing to work at it. I don’t see any problems with that. I look forward to being here with the Broncos for a long time,” Elway said before receiving the 2017 Community Enrichment Award at the Mizel Institute’s annual dinner.

 

Elway said, “I don’t think there will be any doubt” that the deal will get done by the time the Broncos begin the season Sept. 11 against the Chargers.

 

That would mark nearly a year since the club first approached Elway about an extension in October.

 

The issue came up throughout last season and again over the winter. Team president Joe Ellis had hoped to get a deal done earlier this year, saying at the league’s winter meetings that his wish was that “we can get this thing resolved sooner rather than later.”

 

Elway, however, was focused on hiring a new coach following Gary Kubiak’s surprise retirement and replenishing his roster after Denver’s five-year reign as AFC West champs ended with a playoff-less 9-7 season in 2016.

 

Asked about his contract at the NFL combine, Elway said, “it’s just not a huge rush.” He then sidestepped questions about his contract status when pressed during the NFL draft last month, insisting he was focused on improving his roster and not dealing with his own situation.

 

Elway was honored for his “outstanding contributions in sports, business and philanthropy and his work to significantly enhance the lives of others,” according to the Denver-based Mizel Institute, which consists of a Jewish art, culture and history museum and the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab.

– – –

LB VON MILLER has certainly taken note of The Commissioner’s decision to encourage celebrations.  Nicki Jhabvala in the Denver Post:

 

It should come as no surprise that Broncos outside linebacker and “Dancing With the Stars” alumnus Von Miller is among those excited about the NFL’s relaxed celebration rule. Although his infamous Key & Peele “three pumps” are still banned, Miller is now free to get creative in his celebrations and he wants to take full advantage of the opportunity.

 

“I think that is a wonderful thing,” he said of the rule change. “It’s so hard to score a touchdown and it’s so hard to get a sack. The fans, they want excitement. I think a rule change would be great. We have to get a choreographer in here now to for us to really take advantage of the opportunity we have. We have this opportunity and we should really — the entire National Football League will not be able to take advantage of it. But the five percent that do take advantage of it, it could be big. I’m happy with it. Just think about it.

 

“You get a touchdown and you got five offensive linemen and they have a little Temptations routine. It’ll be great. We have to get a choreographer once a week to help all of the guys out because everybody can’t move like me. I think it’s a wonderful thing, not only for the Denver Broncos, but for the entire National Football League.”

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Rookie WR MIKE WILLIAMS has a back injury.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

Is the Chargers’ No. 7 overall pick Mike Williams already behind the eight ball?

 

Head coach Anthony Lynn sounded a tiny bit concerned about his first ever first-round pick in Los Angeles, who injured his back two weeks ago and still remains sidelined during organized team activities.

 

“I’d like to see him out there next week because he’s getting behind right now, and we’ve got to get him back out on the field,” Lynn said, via ESPN.com. “If he wasn’t a rookie it would be different. But he has so much to learn, and some of this you can only learn on the field.”

 

Added Philip Rivers: “Obviously, it’s nothing he can’t catch up on. But this to me is valuable time, especially at his position. With all of the things we ask for from our receivers formation-wise and all of the things we do like no-huddle, it would be good for him to be out there doing this.”

 

Each year we seem to have at least one frustrating, nagging injury to a potentially explosive skill position rookie with vastly different outcomes. At this point a few years ago, then-Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was agonizing over a recurring hamstring injury in Odell Beckham that eventually cost him a few games of his rookie season.

 

He turned out to be worth the wait.

 

Lynn now has to find the balance between getting his rookie’s feet wet and keeping him in bubble wrap in case the back injury sprawls into something more serious. It underscores the tenuous situation the Chargers have with their pass catchers at the moment. With Williams falling behind, the spotlight turns to Keenan Allen, who played in just one game last year following an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear (the season before, his year ended prematurely following a kidney issue).

 

Should they both make it to the regular season in football shape, this has to be one of the scariest offenses in the division. If Lynn has to go free agency-diving for pass catchers this early, the coach of the trendiest team in football all-of-a-sudden has a big problem on his shoulders.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

No one is a bigger fan of the Houston performance of Brock Osweiler than BROCK OSWEILER.

 

Speaking to reporters Wednesday for the first time since he was traded to the Browns on March 10, Osweiler said he didn’t want to dwell on his season in Houston. If he doesn’t want to rehash a coaching staff or a system that didn’t fit him — or whatever he may think about last year — that’s fine. We’re not asking him to criticize the Texans if he doesn’t want to.

 

But there was room for self-reflection or self-evaluation. His only dip into what he learned from Houston was basically to ignore outside criticism and “worry about the things that matter to you,” like your teammates and preparation and practice.

 

OK … but what about the play that caused the outside criticism? Osweiler isn’t a victim here. He signed a four-year, $72 million contract to start for the Texans, and was dumped on the Browns with a second-round pick and will make $16 million from Cleveland this season no matter what he does.

 

He played a big role in his own problems. But when I asked him if the way he played a year ago would be good enough to help the Browns win, or whether he needs to improve, he didn’t really answer.

 

“I’m not going to compare the two situations,” Osweiler said. “One, they’re two different teams. They’re two different systems, offensively, how we do things. My sole focus right now is on this system, this team and being my absolute best I can possibly be for the Cleveland Browns.”

 

What is the same? The quarterback. So that’s what we have to judge. A quarterback who wasn’t good enough a year ago, and a quarterback we have no reason to expect will be good enough now.

 

When I asked Osweiler if he was good enough to be a starter in this league, regardless of the system, he said “absolutely.”

 

Twice.

 

So … why?

 

As Osweiler stood off to the side of the Browns practice fields in Berea after the second day of OTAs, in a drizzle and surrounded by Cleveland reporters, that’s what mattered.

 

 

Ryan Grigson finds a job with a former subordinate.  The AP:

 

The Browns have hired former Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson as a senior personnel executive.

 

Grigson was with Indianapolis from 2012-16, and helped the Colts win two AFC South titles and make the playoffs three times. He was named the NFL’s top executive in 2012 by Sporting News.

 

Colts owner Jim Irsay fired him in January.

 

With the Browns, Grigson will report to Andrew Berry, the team’s vice president of player personnel. Berry worked with Grigson in Indianapolis.

 

“Ryan brings valuable experience to our personnel group,” said Sashi Brown, Cleveland’s vice president of football operations. “He was raised as a road-scout and has been evaluating talent in this league for almost 20 years. We place a premium on that experience and on his passion for football. Ryan has much to offer to any personnel department and we are pleased that he chose to join our staff.”

 

Dan Hanzus at NFL.com points out another connection:

 

Grigson and the Browns have … history. In 2013, Grigson pulled the trigger on the infamous trade that sent a first-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for running back Trent Richardson. Richardson was a massive bust for the Colts and the move left a permanent yolk stain on Grigson’s grill. The Browns did their part to minimize the bad PR by taking Johnny Manziel with the pick they gained.

 

Neither player is currently in the NFL.

 

It’s perhaps eyebrow-raising that the Browns would now hire the man they once fleeced so publicly. This is the Browns though. They do this stuff, even when they’re in the midst of one of their bi-annual cycles of optimism.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The return of T DAVID QUESSENBERRY after a battle with lymphoma.  Aaron Wilson in the Houston Chronicle:

 

Quessenberry is participating in his first practices since being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins T lymphoblastic lymphoma three years ago.

 

He celebrated the completion of his chemotherapy treatment at MD Anderson by ringing a bell earlier this spring off the wall.

 

“When I finished my intensive treatment I felt like the furthest thing from a football player – no hair, skinny – but your body is an amazing thing,” Quessenberry said. “We just took it slowly. We just did one workout at a time, one treatment at a time and eventually here we are.”

 

During the Texans’ first team meeting when workouts resumed in April, coach Bill O’Brien singled out Quessenberry for praise.

 

“In the team meeting he called me out and he showed the team the video of me ringing the bell,” Quessenberry said. “He has had my back through this whole thing. We’ve gotten close. He has had a lot of wisdom on the way to approach things when it’s your body and you’re going through your own fights.”

 

Quessenberry has worked diligently to regain his strength and weight to get back to the point where he could play again.

 

“That’s what they’re working on right now,” Quessenberry said. “We’re in uncharted territory. But I feel great and it will be very soon where I can play.

 

“I’m definitely not the same person, probably physically and mentally. But I think I came out of this stronger, both physically and mentally.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Jordan Heck of Omnisport on the decision by WR ANDREW HAWKINS to pass up bigger offers for the chance to be a Patriot:

 

Former Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins revealed Wednesday that he signed with the Patriots after passing up on deals from other teams that “were probably double the compensation.”

 

The 31-year-old receiver said money was never his motive in trying to find a team this season.

 

“It’s all about winning for me at this point, and putting myself in the best position to do so,” he said on Uninterrupted. “I have my work cut out for me, it’s an opportunity, and that’s how I’m approaching it: Go in there, seeing how I stack up with the best, and try to earn my keep and prove my worth. Hopefully I can be a part of something special and kind of join that Patriots legacy.”

 

Hawkins started his career for the Bengals and has played his last three seasons with the Browns. He has shown talent as a slot receiver in the past with his best year being in 2014 when he caught 63 passes for 824 yards. His stats may not have been spectacular, but Hawkins meant a lot to the Browns, as evidenced by the kind words Hue Jackson said in a statement after his release this offseason.

 

“It’s tough to say goodbye to men like Hawk, that have done everything you’ve asked of them and gone above and beyond when it comes to leadership,” Jackson said in February. “Hawk was a rock for us last season. He kept our locker room together and led by example as he gave everything he had on the field. Our young players are going to be better players and better people because of the time they spent with Andrew Hawkins.”

 

While the Patriots gave Hawkins a contract, there’s no guarantee he’ll make the final 53-man roster. He joins an extremely crowded receiving corps, which currently has 11 other receivers. The most notable names are Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks (acquired this offseason), Danny Amendola (who just renegotiated his contract), Chris Hogan (who played a big role last year) and Malcolm Mitchell.

 

After those five, there’s a chance for Hawkins to make a role for himself, but it could be difficult. The fact he passed up other, bigger offers to join New England speaks to the fact he believes in his ability to outwork other players on the team and earn some playing time on the reigning Super Bowl champs.

 

Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post demands that QB TOM BRADY confess to the crime revealed by his wife, Gisele.

 

Isn’t it fun, this game of hide-and-seek that NFL quarterbacks are playing with concussions. Maybe Tom Brady had one, or maybe he didn’t — find his symptoms, win a free prize. Drew Brees says he would conceal one from his own wife, which conjures an image of him popping in and out of the linen closet, while she looks for him behind the kitchen door.

 

Excuse the sarcasm; it’s a result of exasperation. If Brady and Brees want to calculate the exchange rate between winning a game and how many neurons must be sacrificed to stay on the field, that’s their personal choice. The problem is that they have signaled to four million high school and college football players that hiding symptoms is what the great ones do, and that it’s okay not to tell the woman in your life, or to tell her to keep quiet about it, even though she may have to wipe the food from your chin one day.

 

NFL players have a difficult calculus to make in weighing the cost vs. benefit of reporting a concussion. Some of the factors that affect their willingness to be honest range from letting down teammates, to fear of stigma, to how receptive their coach is to injury reports, to their own flawed perception of how serious their symptoms are. And then there are the contractual issues. Have a few too many “dings” noted on your chart, and pretty soon you could be feeling the headache in your next salary negotiation, or on your way out of the league like Wes Welker.

 

“The unfortunate part of concussion awareness is that the financial consequences at the NFL level for reporting them have gone through the roof,” says Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

 

But if anyone has leverage in this situation, Brady and Brees do. This is the perfect moment for a new tone and message, a more honest if complicated answer from players who are influencers. Honest is what Gisele Bündchen tried to be during her appearance on “CBS This Morning,” when she let it drop that her husband has played with head injuries and had one just last season.

 

“I mean, we don’t talk about — he does have concussions,” she said.

 

The responses she prompted have not been especially informative, or clarifying. The NFL issued a statement that no “records” indicate Brady had any kind of head injury, while his agent, Don Yee, said that Brady had not been formally “diagnosed” with one. The Patriots quarterback himself has been utterly silent.

 

If only someone, a Brady or a Brees, would say the following: “Yeah, I played through a concussion. It was a poor decision I made because I felt responsible to so many other people whose livelihoods depend on the game’s outcome. I won’t know for years whether it was the wrong decision for my long-term health, but what I do know is that no one at the high school or college level should ever make the decision I made, because protecting against neurological diseases is not about eliminating one big hit, but reducing the number of smaller blows you take over a career. That’s why I’ll pull my kids from a game the minute they see stars, and why they won’t be allowed to play tackle football before the age of 14. I advise you to do the same with yours.”

 

But that’s not what anyone said. Instead, what you heard was a lot of guy-frequency dog-whistling and tacit approval about what’s tough. Brees, now with the New Orleans Saints, acknowledged that he played with a concussion in 2004 with the San Diego Chargers even though, “I knew something was not right,” as he told ESPN. Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson said he had multiple concussions over his nine-year career even though he never submitted himself to treatment. “I know I got a job to do,” he said. “The team needs me out there on the field.”

 

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the rare exception who has pulled himself from a game, but even he admitted to Sports Illustrated, “I haven’t reported things before either.” The subtext to these statements is, “I’m too important to come off the field.”

 

All of this is a tremendous missed opportunity. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma showed that only one in every six football concussions is actually diagnosed, and now we know why. The study surveyed 730 college football players and found that for every concussion they reported to their team, they experienced 21 so-called “dings” or symptoms they failed to report. What was so discouraging about the study was that it showed the NFL ethos leaching downward to players who aren’t being paid, for whom football is a game and not a job. Denial is simply considered the thing to do.

 

This is a failure on the part of NFL players. It is not a form of strength; it’s weakness — and dumbness, and egotism. And it’s based in a deep-seated fear of someday being replaced on the field.

 

The NFL as an organization has tried to change the paleo culture of “playing through” concussions. It has hired certified independent neurologists. It has stationed spotters in press boxes. It has increased penalties for vicious headhunting, and put limits on practice time and contact drills. But what is any of that going to matter if a player won’t meet the eye of his own wife?

 

Here is the truth that no one wants to speak aloud: The NFL concussion crisis is all but unsolvable. The game is violent, and competing pressures on players from financial to peer influence compel them to hide injuries of all sorts. We simply can’t expect all of them to self-report, and the league is never going to be able to devise rules or protocols that make their concussions diagnosable from the sideline. The problem is here to stay, and all the league can do is to provide them with the best medical care and brain health information available.

 

But there is a lot more that can be done at other levels. NFL players have a responsibility not just to themselves, but to the younger versions of themselves, their mini-me emulators. And they are not living up to it. If they decide to take risks with their health, that’s fine; they are adult professionals. But when they, by word or act or complicit silence, encourage thin-chested, bobble-headed boys to take risks with their brains, that is not fine, not at all, not one bit.