The Daily Briefing Thursday, September 13, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Could Matt Patricia already be on the hot seat in Detroit?  It seems inconceivable, but so too does taking a backwards lurch from a Jim Caldwell coached team.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Patricia was hired to replace Jim Caldwell, the former Lions head coach who was fired after back-to-back 9-7 seasons. When you fire a head coach after back-to-back 9-7 seasons, you’re saying that 9-7 isn’t good enough. Which means you expect your new coach to get double-digit wins. And the Lions looked far from a 10-win team on Monday night.

 

It would be an overstatement to say that Patricia is on the hot seat if the Lions get blown out again on Sunday at San Francisco, as no head coach is on the hot seat after two games. But it wouldn’t be too much of an overstatement: The Lions’ ownership and front office has indicated that they believe the pieces are in place, starting with quarterback Matthew Stafford, for the Lions to compete right now. They weren’t expecting Patricia to have a massive rebuilding project. And they’re not going to accept Patricia inheriting a 9-7 team and turning them into one of the worst teams in the league, which is what they looked like in Week One.

 

Smith also sent out this Tweet earlier in the week:

 

@MichaelDavSmith

Patriots when Colts offered Josh McDaniels: “Please don’t go! We’ll make you the highest-paid assistant in NFL history if you stay!”

Patriots when Lions offered Matt Patricia: “Nice working with you. Good luck in your future endeavors.”

 

 

GREEN BAY

“No layup” that QB AARON RODGERS will play against the fierce Vikings on Sunday per Coach Mike McCarthy.  Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reports:

 

While the feeling in the Green Bay Packers’ locker room is that quarterback Aaron Rodgers will try to play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings despite his ailing left knee, the team isn’t ready to say that just yet.

 

Rodgers won’t practice again on Thursday but will try to do more in the rehab portion of his work than he did on Wednesday, according to coach Mike McCarthy.

 

“This is no layup,” McCarthy said Thursday morning. “That’s why it’s a day-to-day situation.”

 

Rodgers said Wednesday that he would have no issue playing Sunday without any practice reps this week.

 

“The vibe feels like he’s going to try [to play],” one Packers player told ESPN.com.

 

Rodgers has been going through his normal week of off-the-field preparation while backups DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle have taken the actual snaps in practice.

 

“You’ve got two types of environments to prepare you for games — you’ve got the classroom environment, and you have obviously the practice environment,” McCarthy said. “So with him in the rehab group, he’s full bore ahead in the classroom and all the different meetings. Today’s a very heavy situational day, so that’s where his involvement is.”

 

Who is TIM BOYLE?  Brian Jones of 247Sports.com:

 

Tim Boyle was Aaron Rodgers on Monday. No, Boyle did not take the place of Rodgers in practice, but the undrafted rookie QB from Eastern Kentucky was wearing a Rodgers No. 12 jersey at the team facilities per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. So that led to the question of why was Boyle, who is the Packers No. 3 QB, was wearing a Rodgers jersey?

 

“No, I did not lose a bet,” Boyle said. “I’m wearing it because it’s a badass jersey.

 

One would think that Boyle would have been able to get the jersey from the team since he’s on the roster, but Boyle told reporters that he bought the jersey at the Packers Pro Shop and it cost him $150.

 

Boyle wearing the Rodgers jersey comes on the heels of Rodgers leading the Packers to a 24-23 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night. The entire country was talking about the comeback because the Packers were down 17-0 at the half and Rodgers was out of the game because of a knee injury. However, Rodgers was able to return in the second half and HE threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.

 

The Rodgers fan was one of the seven players inactive on Sunday night since he’s the No. 3 quarterback. However, the Packers are uncertain if Rodgers will play so it’s likely Boyle will see more snaps in practice this week and he could be active for Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings even if Rodgers is able to play.

 

Boyle originally started his career at Connecticut where he played sparingly from 2013-2015. In 19 games with the Huskies, Boyle completed 48 percent of his passes and threw for 1,237 yards one touchdown and 13 interceptions. Boyle transferred to Eastern Kentucky in 2016 and he did not play that season as he took a redshirt. In 2017, Boyle played in 11 games with 11 starts and completed 50 percent of his passes for 2,134 yards, 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

 

11 TDs, 13 INTs is not a very good ratio.  Neither is 50% completion percentage.  For Eastern Kentucky.  We don’t like the chances of anyone wanting to buy a Boyle Packers jersey.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The Cowboys have a cheap QB in DAK PRESCOTT, but Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com isn’t pleased with the rest of their spending, much of it to players no longer on the roster.  It’s a long piece, excerpts below:

 

The story of this NFL offseason was teams spending money to build around effective quarterbacks on rookie deals. The Philadelphia Eagles, of course, won the Super Bowl after surrounding Carson Wentz with talent. The Rams loaded up with stars on both sides of the ball to help Jared Goff. The Bears spent big in free agency and then traded for Khalil Mack. The Buccaneers, Chiefs and Titans all handed out big contracts as they built rosters around their young quarterbacks.

 

One team was noticeably absent from the fray. Despite the fact that they have the cheapest starter in the league in former fourth-round pick Dak Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys mostly sat out free agency and didn’t go after many veteran additions this offseason. Their most significant addition was former Jaguars wideout Allen Hurns on a two-year, $12 million deal, but even Hurns serves as a replacement for Dez Bryant, who will have a larger cap hit ($8 million) than any Cowboys wideout in 2018 despite being released by Dallas in the spring.

 

They will devote just $1.8 million of their cap to quarterbacks this season, comfortably the smallest total in football and less than 10 percent of the league average of $18.3 million. In a league in which every other team is investing in talent for their young quarterbacks, the Cowboys are lining up what is probably the worst set of receivers in the league for Prescott, who will be due for an extension next offseason.

 

The Cowboys are wasting one of the most valuable assets in all of football, and they have nobody to blame but themselves.

 

The Dak deal, and what’s around him

Even when you compare him to other rookie-contract quarterbacks, Prescott is a bargain. Wentz’s initial rookie contract is fully guaranteed for four years and $26.7 million, for an average of just under $6.7 million per season. Deshaun Watson, taken a year later in the middle of the first round, picked up a four-year, $13.8 million deal, which puts him at $3.5 million per season. Prescott’s entire four-year contract pays him only a total of $2.7 million, and most of that wasn’t even guaranteed.

 

Assuming that the Cowboys rip up the final year of that deal and hand Prescott an extension before the 2020 campaign, they will end up paying Prescott a shade over $2 million for three years as their starting quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo will make more than $2.6 million per game this season. Prescott will pocket an additional $950,000 or so via the league’s performance-based pay system, but that doesn’t touch the Cowboys’ cap.

 

And yet, curiously, the Cowboys have essentially sat out free agency since Prescott emerged during the 2016 season. Their biggest signing during the 2017 offseason was the three-year, $10 million deal they handed cornerback Nolan Carroll, who was released after 81 defensive snaps. Hurns is the only player they added this offseason at a cap hit or average annual salary of more than $3 million.

 

You might argue that Dallas is sitting out free agency to generate compensatory picks, and that could be part of the equation. After failing to accrue a 2017 compensatory pick, the Cowboys racked up four this past offseason, although none of them were third-round selections. (They turned one of those picks into veterans Tavon Austin and Jamize Olawale via trade.) Dallas also isn’t projected to pick up any compensatory picks in 2019, as it canceled out the mid-round pick it might have earned for Anthony Hitchens by signing swing tackle Cameron Fleming. If the Cowboys wanted to protect comp picks, they could have signed free agents who were cut by their teams and therefore wouldn’t count against the compensatory equation, which was the case with Hurns.

 

In reality, though, they aren’t spending because they find themselves in a difficult cap situation, even with the benefit of Prescott’s minuscule salary. For years now, they’ve operated with a unique strategy designed to pay their top stars market-value contracts while simultaneously keeping their cap hits relatively team-friendly. It might sound like a great plan, and it is when everyone stays healthy and effective.

 

The downside is that when those players become ineffective or are otherwise unable to play, teams end up paying the price. While most teams can move on from veteran deals without incurring significant costs, the Cowboys have been stuck paying uncomfortable amounts of dead money. After Prescott’s breakout season in 2016, the Cowboys have devoted more than $54 million of their cap space to dead money. Only the Bills, Browns and 49ers — all teams that have undergone regime changes in the middle of rebuilding their rosters — have paid more. The median team has paid just over $23 million over that same time frame. Instead of surrounding its young quarterback with game-breakers, Dallas has been stuck giving $27 million per season to ghosts.

– – –

To use round numbers, let’s say a player has a base salary of $11 million in 2018 and his team needs cap space. The organization can convert $10 million of that base salary into a bonus, leaving him with a $1 million salary and a $10 million bonus, all of which the player actually takes home during the 2018 campaign. The bonus gets charged to the cap at the cost of $2 million per season, so our player’s 2018 cap hit would fall from $11 million to $3 million, representing his $1 million base salary and the prorated $2 million of the signing bonus. Our team suddenly has $8 million in cap space to burn without losing anybody off its roster.

 

While a player is on the roster, teams can continue to pay the prorated bonuses on an annual basis. Once the team decides to move on from a player, though, the bonuses accelerate onto its current cap. Let’s say that this same organization decided to cut this player after one season under that contract. Instead of paying $2 million per year for the next four seasons, all the cap charges accelerate onto the current year of the cap, resulting in a $8 million cap charge for a player who isn’t even on the roster. The $8 million amounts to what’s commonly known as dead money.

 

The Cowboys have operated this way for years. During Romo’s first contract, they restructured his deal three times to re-sign draftees such as Marion Barber and Jay Ratliff, and retain imports such as Terrell Owens and Ken Hamlin. In many cases, these extensions became albatrosses, leading them to restructure more contracts to both absorb the dead money of the players they were cutting while maintaining a competitive roster. The organization hoped to use the uncapped 2010 campaign to absorb some of the contract costs, but the league deemed this to be an unfair advantage and controversially docked it $10 million in cap space.

 

Unsurprisingly, the Cowboys structured Romo’s deal with the expectation that they would convert more of his base salaries into signing bonuses. By giving Romo a six-year deal, they maximized the amount of space they would have for spreading out the bonuses. They would restructure Romo’s deal twice, reducing his base salary in 2014 and 2015 to $1 million while converting $28.5 million of combined base salaries to bonuses. The 2015 restructure, notably, probably allowed them to sign Greg Hardy.

 

Romo missed 12 games during the 2015 season and underwent collarbone surgery, which probably discouraged them from restructuring his deal again before the 2016 season. By then, though, the cap damage was done.

– – –

The Cowboys’ other cap issues

Romo wasn’t the only player responsible for dead money on the Cowboys’ cap. While he cost $10.7 million in 2017, Dallas also devoted an additional $15.9 million in dead money to a bevy of other players. The most notable deals were to free-agent missteps Cedric Thornton ($3.5 million) and Carroll ($2 million) as well as longtime Cowboys Brandon Carr ($2.7 million) and Doug Free ($2.5 million). Both Carr and Free had restructured their contracts once to create cap space; by 2017, Carr was on the Ravens, and Free had retired.

 

This year, Romo’s $8.9 million hold amounts to less than one-third of the dead money on Dallas’ books. The Cowboys are responsible for $8 million after cutting Bryant, which represents one of the rare Dallas extensions that didn’t involve any restructuring. The $8 million amounts to two years of accelerated signing bonus. Thornton and Carroll are back for a combined $4.5 million. Deonte Thompson, who signed a deal with a $1 million signing bonus in March, was cut before the season before re-signing. Benson Mayowa is also on the books for $1.1 million in dead money.

 

The two other veteran Cowboys on long-term deals who were released this offseason were Orlando Scandrick ($2.3 million in dead money) and Dan Bailey ($800,000). Scandrick has his deal restructured once to create cap space, and Bailey was on the sort of long-term deal that only Jerry Jones & Co. hand out. Dallas gave its kicker a seven-year, $22.5 million deal before his fourth season, remarkable in a league in which only two other kickers (Mason Crosby and Ryan Succop) are on five-year pacts. The deal looked great when Bailey was healthy and kicking at a high level, but the Cowboys paid $7.3 million over the past two seasons for declining play before cutting him and eating the $800,000 in dead money.

 

Bailey’s deal was low stakes, but the Cowboys structure their contracts to go longer than anybody else in the league by a significant margin. The NFL has established a precedent of handing out extensions of six years or more to quarterbacks and pass-rushers, in part because their deals are so expensive. Just 11 players who don’t suit up in one of those roles across the NFL were signed to extensions of six years or more. Four of those players — Travis Frederick, Sean Lee, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith — are on the Dallas roster. (Bailey was the fifth.) Of the 19 players under contract for the 2023 season, three are Cowboys.

 

Those four veterans are the most notable veteran Cowboys after Jason Witten retired this offseason to become a color commentator on Monday Night Football. Dallas has repeatedly restructured each of these deals outside of the Martin contract, which only came into existence this June. They probably plan to turn most of Martin’s $10 million base salary in 2019 into a signing bonus. (Dallas was doing this with Witten’s contract as recently as this past March, but the most recent restructure was made in such a way as to protect the organization from Witten’s retirement without incurring dead money.)

 

Again, this strategy is great as long as the players stay healthy and productive. Asking any NFL player to stay healthy and productive for eight years is betting against history and randomness.

– – –

What’s next?

The Cowboys will find themselves at a crossroads in 2019. They’re currently ticketed to have $64 million in cap space. They could have more if they decide to move on from veterans such as Lee and Tyrone Crawford, although they’ll incur dead money charges after previously restructuring their deals. It’s not difficult to piece together a scenario in which the Cowboys could end up with $80 million in cap space.

 

Unfortunately, a good chunk of that space isn’t going to last long. Lawrence will be a free agent, and while the Cowboys could try to franchise him for another season at $20.6 million, the Boise State product doesn’t want to play on the tag for a second consecutive year. If Lawrence comes close to his 15-sack total from a year ago, the Cowboys probably will have to pay him something close to $20 million per season on a long-term deal.

 

There’s Prescott, who is in line for an enormous raise. Unless the third-year passer totally falls on his face in 2018, Dallas will almost certainly have to top the five-year, $137.5 million extension the 49ers gave Garoppolo as Jimmy GQ finished the fourth year of his rookie deal. The Cowboys will get a bit of a cap discount by virtue of signing Prescott in advance of the final year of his contract, allowing them to spread the bonus over an extra season, but he’s not going to be on the books for the $815,849 he’s currently posted at for 2019.

 

And, just in case you were wondering, there’s no strong case to be made against giving Prescott a significant contract extension. Few rookie passers have been more impressive through two seasons. By the adjusted net yards per attempt index (ANY/A+), which accounts for era, he is off to the fourth-best start to a career since the merger, trailing only Dan Marino, Jeff Garcia and Russell Wilson. (Garcia, who spent most of his 20s in the CFL before taking over in San Francisco, isn’t even a good comparison.) That metric doesn’t even take into account Prescott’s impact as a runner, which has seen him rack up 658 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons.

– – –

Following Lawrence and Prescott off the board is Elliott, who will be eligible for an extension after completing his third season. The Cowboys could wait to sign their star back to a new deal, but as we saw with the Rams and Todd Gurley, teams are trying to get ahead of whatever Bell is going to get as a true unrestricted free agent next March. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Cowboys try to get an Elliott deal done in February in a deal that could top Gurley’s four-year, $60 million extension.

 

The Cowboys can use these deals to make a change. While other teams restructure deals out of desperation (the Ravens) or foolishly aggressive spending (the Saints before 2017), no team manages its cap like Dallas. At this point, what evidence do we have that the Cowboys are gaining some sort of significant benefit from this plan? This is an organization that hasn’t made it out of the divisional round in 23 years. It has been paying too much in dead money for players like Roy Williams and Jay Ratliff, let alone stars like Romo. Dallas simply hasn’t run its cap in a responsible manner.

 

This is the Cowboys’ chance to start running their cap like the rest of the league. They can’t redo those offensive line contracts, but they should start structuring the deals they’re going to give Elliott, Lawrence and Prescott in a traditional fashion. They are costing themselves opportunities by either being too naive to think their long-term contracts might not work out or by being too shortsighted to imagine what the future might hold. It already has cost them an opportunity every other team in the league is desperately trying to create. No team has done less with a star quarterback making peanuts than the Cowboys have with Dak Prescott.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

ESPN’s Fantasy expert Matthew Berry thinks you should like QB DREW BREES on Sunday:

 

1a. On Sunday, Drew Brees is at home.

 

1b. He faces a Browns team that just gave up 313 passing yards.

 

1c. … in a storm, to a quarterback who turned over the ball six times in that game.

 

2. Last season, there were six instances in which a QB totaled 21-plus fantasy points against the Browns.

 

3. Among the QBs to accomplish that feat last season were Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett, Brett Hundley and Joe Flacco.

 

3a. Drew Brees is a lot better than those guys. #analysis

 

 

TAMPA BAY

QB RYAN FITZPATRICK says he is at the peak of his prowess.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick strongly considered retirement after a disappointing 2016 season with the Jets. He told me after Sunday’s win over the Saints that he continued his playing career at the behest of his sons.

 

His sons knew what they were talking about.

 

“You know I’m better right now than I’ve been at any point in my career and lot of that is mentally and whatever else,” Fitzpatrick said Thursday, via JoeBucsFan.com. “But there’s a lot of different throws and things that are so much ingrained in you, so much muscle memory from working and doing it for a long time. Truly I feel like the older I’ve gotten the better I’ve become.”

 

That eyebrow-raising snippet came in response to the question of whether the Buccaneers’ offense this offense suits him, and that perhaps he’s coming into his prime and that Tampa is the right place for him.

 

“Every stop for me has been different,” Fitzpatrick said. “Every offense has been different, some tailored to my strengths, others I’ve just kind of had to fit in. But, you know, I think the places where I’ve done well they’re able to play at the line of scrimmage a little bit, you’ve got some veteran guys on the outside, that kind of understand the game and can take the next step in terms of what we’re trying to do. And also, I think all the different experiences I’ve had, I just continue to become a better player whether people think that or see that

or not. . . . Truly I feel like the older I’ve gotten the better I’ve become.”

 

The longer a quarterback plays, the more thoroughly he understands how to play well, particularly when it comes to reading defenses and adjusting to whatever they seem to be giving him. As a result, Fitzpatrick gave the Saints hell in Week One, and the Eagles now have to treat Week Two as something other than the bye they may have believed it was going to be.

 

Fitzpatrick won the NFC offensive player of the week award for his efforts against New Orleans, and his old teammate Carson Palmer definitely is a believer, as Palmer explained earlier this week during a visit to the #PFTPM podcast.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

Matthew Berry of ESPN.com offers some reasons why QB RUSSELL WILSON is not a good play at Chicago this week:

 

5. Between current Packer Jimmy Graham, current Redskin Paul Richardson and the injured Doug Baldwin, 64.1 percent of Russell Wilson’s red zone targets from 2017 will not be on the field when Seattle plays in Chicago Monday night.

 

16. Last season, the Chicago Bears allowed the third-fewest touchdown passes in home games.

 

16a. They allowed six.

 

16b. In eight home games.

 

16c. Six.

 

16d. They allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing QBs.

 

16e. That was without Khalil Mack.

 

16f. … but with an offense that wasn’t very productive and often left the defense with poor field position.

 

17. Since the start of 2014, Wilson averages 4.6 fewer points per game on the road than at home.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

RB JOE MIXON, who once knocked out a woman, is on his way to stardom.  Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com:

 

Bengals running back Joe Mixon has waited an entire season for his chance to be “the guy” in Cincinnati.

 

If his performance against the Baltimore Ravens at home on Thursday night is anything like his performance against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1, he’ll be well on his way.

 

Mixon rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for 54 yards against the Colts. His 149 yards from scrimmage were the most by a Bengals running back in a season opener since Essex Johnson had 142 in 1973.

 

“He looks like a big leaguer,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Looks like he does it all well. Big, fast, elusive, tough. Pass protection. Catches out of the backfield. Screens. I don’t know what he didn’t do well. I’d like to say he’s a guy you have to stop, but you have to stop everybody on that offense.”

 

Last season, Mixon was competing with teammate Jeremy Hill for snaps, but now it’s his time to shine.

 

“Last year, he was in a different position. He wasn’t the starter. It wasn’t his position,” Bengals running back coach Kyle Caskey said. “Now it is his position and he’s taken ownership of it. He’s not worried about when the next carry is going to come or when he’s going to get back in the game due to the rotation. He’s playing consistently because he knows the chances are going to be there.”

 

And this from John Breech of CBSSports.com:

 

According to Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, Mixon is already so good that it’s not unfair to compare him to two of the NFL’s best running backs: Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley.

 

“You mention him with Le’Veon or Gurley,” Green said this week, via the team’s official website. “He’s there with those guys.”

 

Of course, Mixon actually comes with one advantage over each of those players: Unlike Bell, Mixon is actually playing right now, and unlike Gurley, Mixon doesn’t cost a fortune. The contract extension Gurley signed during the offseason pays him an average of $14.38 million per year, which is far more than Mixon is making under his rookie deal. Mixon’s rookie contract pays out an average of $1.36 million per year through the 2020 season.

 

The performance against the Colts was a big one for Mixon, who spent most of his rookie year sharing snaps with the now departed Jeremy Hill. In 2017, Mixon only had one game the entire season where he topped 149 total yards, the number he reached against Indy.

 

Mixon’s performance against the Colts definitely turned some heads in the Bengals locker room. Not only was Green impressed, but so was quarterback Andy Dalton.

 

“He made some explosive runs and he is so talented, he can do it all,” Dalton said.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

The Steelers are miffed that the NFL won’t admit it muffed a critical call on Sunday.

 

The NFL said its officials wrongly flagged Browns defensive end Myles Garrett for roughing the passer, but the Steelers would like to see such transparency on another call that affected Sunday’s overtime tie in Cleveland.

 

Officials reviewed but failed to grant the Steelers a punt recovery in the fourth quarter, despite the ball ricocheting off Browns running back Nick Chubb’s helmet while covering Pittsburgh’s punt. Steelers safety Sean Davis recovered the ball but, despite coach Mike Tomlin’s challenge, officials deemed Davis simply downed it.

 

“Why that play was not corrected, I have no idea. Ask New York,” said Mike Tomlin from his weekly news conference Tuesday. “They felt comfortable talking about the hit on Ben was inappropriately officiated. I’d be interested to see the comments regarding that play. I haven’t taken time to ask because I’ve been busy preparing for Kansas City.”

 

The NFL has not commented on the punt play, but NFL director of officiating Al Riveron told NFL Network this week that Garrett did not put all of his body weight on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after knocking him down early in the second quarter.

 

Garrett’s penalty negated a third-and-7 and led to a Steelers touchdown on the next play.

 

The league implemented new tackling rules this offseason aimed at improving player safety.

 

Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show he had no problem with the hit, only why the league corrected it a day later and didn’t discuss the punt. Several Steelers said they clearly saw the ball bounce off Chubb’s helmet, and Browns safety Jabrill Peppers quickly lunged for the ball before Davis recovered it.

 

“I don’t understand. Why do they need to come out and say that?” said Roethlisberger of the Garrett play. “They sure as heck didn’t come out and say the ball hit [Chubb’s] helmet on the punt. Every call that they make wrong in games, do they come out and say it? I don’t understand that play in particular; they have to come out and say it was wrong.”

 

Roethlisberger said he has become disenchanted with the increasing number of penalties leaguewide. The Browns-Steelers matchup drew 23 penalties for 203 yards, while Thursday night’s Falcons-Eagles affair included 26 flags for 236 yards.

 

“They are all in the 20s. Every play is a flag,” Roethlisberger said of Week 1. “I thought the point of reviewing plays is to get it right. That ball got that guy’s helmet on the punt. It was crazy.”

 

The play is SBNation’s “Worst Call of the Week” and you can see it here.  The DB has looked at it, and we don’t quite think it is as obvious that the ball hit Chubb’s helmet.  It sure might have, but is there enough evidence to say so conclusively?  Take a look.

– – –

WR ANTONIO BROWN flared up over an ESPN story (haven’t we all) and now issues an apology.  Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com explains the contremps between Brown and one of his colleagues:

 

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has apologized for threatening an ESPN reporter on Twitter over a story about the playmaker.

 

A team spokesman delivered an apology to ESPN senior writer Jesse Washington on Brown’s behalf, and Brown issued a statement to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday.

 

Washington, a senior writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated, published a story last week titled, “Antonio Brown is an Instagram All-Pro. But is that the full picture?” On Friday, the day the story ran, Brown tweeted directly to Washington, “wait to I see you bro we gone see what your jaw like.” Brown eventually deleted the tweet, but not before it had been circulated online.

 

“I made a mistake in judgment with my tweet last week, and I apologize for that,” the statement to the Post-Gazette said. “It is not OK to threaten anyone, and I need to be better spiritually and professionally. Though I do not agree with the negative parts of the story about my personal life, I need to have better control over my actions to use social media as a way to engage with my fans, rather than use it improperly.”

 

These are not Brown’s first incendiary remarks toward a reporter this season. In August, Brown called veteran Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette a “clown” on Twitter for Bouchette’s observational tweet that Brown was limping off the practice field in training camp.

 

“I made a mistake in judgment with my tweet last week,and I apologize for that,” Antonio Brown said in a statement to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It is not OK to threaten anyone, and I need to be better spiritually and professionally.”

 

Asked about the matter at his news conference Tuesday, coach Mike Tomlin said he didn’t want to address “social media things.”

 

“You know, we could talk all day about things that are online or on the internet or on social media,” Tomlin said. “I just choose to stay away from it because it’s a waste of my time. There’s very little accountability, there’s very little journalistic integrity, etc. Guys say things they don’t mean. I talk to my teenagers about it all the time. Let’s keep it professional and in the real. I think that’s appropriate in this setting.”

 

What could Washington have written that so riled Brown?  We looked at the story here.  Brown, a Nike athlete, has a messy personal life and Washington tries to get to the bottom of it.  Here is a chunk from the middle of his tale:

 

I spoke briefly to Brown by phone the day the cover was released (the only time he agreed to talk to The Undefeated) and asked why he posts so many of his workouts.

 

 “I want to encourage the world, encourage everyone watching to work, inspire everyone watching and be a good example,” he said. “Encourage everyone watching to never get content, you know what I mean. Inspire the world in my actions as far as working.”

 

The commercials have a similar motivation, he said. “Obviously I’m not only just a great athlete, a football player, I got good charisma. … I just want to keep inspiring not only on the field but off the field as well.”

 

“AB has a charismatic personality; his energy, attitude and focus is infectious. … His love of fashion combined with his dedication to his family allows us to leverage him as a partner who can connect with many different Nike consumers,” said Nike spokesman Josh Benedek. “AB shows his most authentic self in his social media.”

 

Following Brown’s personal and business relationships is like defending him in single coverage: You’re likely to pretzel yourself into a knot trying to keep up.

 

Eleven-year-old Antonio Jr. is the son of Shameika Brailsford, an aspiring rapper with two Nicki Minaj-type songs on Soundcloud. Ten-year-old Antanyiah, a budding track star, is the daughter of a hairstylist. Brown does not follow either of their mothers on Instagram. Autonomy, Ali, and 1-year-old Apollo are the sons of Chelsie Kyriss, Brown’s current girlfriend.

 

“I’ve got a lot of kids, so my sperm count is good,” Brown boasted in an interview for ESPN’s Body Issue, where he posed naked with a football over his sperm-production equipment.

 

In February 2017, Brown signed the massive new contract that included a $19 million signing bonus. Two months later, Kyriss, who was pregnant with Apollo, hopped on the ’Gram to vent about Brown’s new relationship with Instagram model Jena Frumes: “you do not look at someone the night you walk out and tell them you appreciate them and love them and to go turn around and do what he’s done to someone … y’all only know what social media shows y’all don’t know what goes on behind closed doors in a good or bad way,” Kyriss wrote.

 

Brown soon reconciled with Kyriss. Frumes tweeted her heartbreak — plus Brown’s phone number.

 

Last summer, Brailsford aired Brown out on her Instagram, accusing him of not paying proper child support, failing to send Antonio Jr. to private school and calling their son “that boy.” She also posted screenshots of text messages where Brown, clearly instigated, called her all sorts of names. “Make your own son b—-,” Brown texted, according to Brailsford’s posts. “I got three more boys here.”

 

Brown fired back by posting bank statements showing $197,000 in child support payments, plus a Story showing Kyriss holding their newborn son, Apollo, with his tiny middle finger flexed and the caption, “My son sums it up.”

 

Smith, the trainer, also quit in August 2017, posting an acidic resignation on Instagram. ‘Be a MAN of your WORD and own up to your WRONGS as a MAN should,” Smith wrote.

 

“I don’t want to say nothing bad, but he got character issues,” Smith told me recently. “You act family, always talking God, you not really on that. Stop acting. Got people think you really living that life when you acting. You putting on for social media, bruh.

 

“He’s an amazing football player and amazing athlete. As far as character, he fooled me.

 

“It’s probably some s— he went through as a kid he’s still holding onto,” Smith said.

 

Smith’s departure was not unique. Brown had a difficult separation with chef Nicholas Hasapoglou in 2016 — “I thought he was my friend, and that’s not the case I guess,” Hasapoglou said in a video. This spring, during a dispute over a marketing fee, Brown sent a series of profane text messages to a former business associate, who showed the messages to a reporter but asked that they not be quoted. This summer, Brown distanced himself from still another marketing company, KCB Sports, and went to STB Athletes. Brown’s representatives at STB and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

 

The family arguments continued this year. On June 4, Brown accused Kyriss on Instagram of not taking care of the two children she had with another man before connecting with Brown. “She has two older kids … she hasn’t seen or claimed in 4 years running around and chasing me!” Brown posted.

 

In August, I direct-messaged Brailsford, the mother of Brown’s first child, on Instagram and asked for an interview.

 

“You sure you wanna talk to me? cause he nothing like he portray on the internet,” she responded. We then spoke briefly by phone. She was reluctant to publicly call out her son’s father but wanted people to “know my truth.” We made plans to meet. She texted the day of the meeting to postpone. That same day, Brown posted a back-to-school photo of Antonio Jr. — the boy’s first photo on Brown’s Instagram in five months. I never heard back from Brailsford.

 

I emailed Frumes, the Instagram model with 3.4 million followers of her own. Four days later, I received a direct message on Instagram. It was from @ab.

 

“Bro stop hitting my people up looking for stories stay in your lane.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

RB LEONARD FOURNETTE did not practice again on Thursday.  He says he is a “game time decision” as the battle with New England looms.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2019

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announces 102 “modern era” nominees for next year’s Hall of Fame class.  Of that number, 98 have been considered previously and four are newly eligible.

 

The four newcomers are TE Tony Gonzalez, S Ed Reed, LB London Fletcher and CB Champ Bailey.  The DB likes all four of them to some extent.  We would think that Gonzalez will indeed be a first-year enshrinee, that Reed could be a first-year guy and will definitely get in and that the other two will move into the line of otherwise solid candidates that now includes folks like John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Edgerrin James, Isaac Bruce, etc.  Here is the whole list:

 

QUARTERBACKS

(5) – Randall Cunningham, Dave Krieg, Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair

 

RUNNING BACKS

(14) — Shaun Alexander, Tiki Barber, Earnest Byner, Larry Centers, Corey Dillon, Eddie George, *Edgerrin James, Darryl Johnston, Eric Metcalf (WR/KR/PR), Clinton Portis, Fred Taylor, Herschel Walker (also KR), Chris Warren, Ricky Watters

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

(9) — *Isaac Bruce, Gary Clark, Henry Ellard (also PR), Torry Holt, Chad Johnson, Derrick Mason, Sterling Sharpe, Rod Smith, Hines Ward

 

TIGHT ENDS

(4) — Mark Bavaro, Tony Gonzalez, Brent Jones, Jay Novacek

 

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

(15) — Willie Anderson (T), *Tony Boselli (T), Lomas Brown (T), Ray Donaldson (C), *Alan Faneca (G), Chris Hinton (G/T), Kent Hull (C), *Steve Hutchinson (G), Mike Kenn (T), Olin Kreutz (C), *Kevin Mawae (C/G), Tom Nalen (C), Chris Samuels (T), Richmond Webb (T), Steve Wisniewski (G)

 

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

(7) — La’Roi Glover (DT/NT), Russell Maryland (DT), Leslie O’Neal (DE), Simeon Rice (DE), Richard Seymour (DT), Neil Smith (DE), Bryant Young (DT)

 

LINEBACKERS

(14) — Carl Banks, Cornelius Bennett, Tedy Bruschi, London Fletcher, Seth Joyner, Wilber Marshall, Clay Matthews, Willie McGinest (also DE), Karl Mecklenburg, Sam Mills, Chris Spielman, Takeo Spikes, Darryl Talley, Zach Thomas

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

(18) — Eric Allen (CB), Steve Atwater (S), Champ Bailey (CB), Ronde Barber (CB/S), Bill Bates (S), LeRoy Butler (S), Nick Collins (S), Thomas Everett (S), Rodney Harrison (S), *Ty Law (CB), Albert Lewis (CB), *John Lynch (S), Tim McDonald (S), Ed Reed (FS), Dennis Smith (S), Troy Vincent (CB), Adrian Wilson (S), Darren Woodson (S)

 

PUNTERS/KICKER

(3) — Jason Elam (K), Jeff Feagles (P), Sean Landeta (P)

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

(2) — Brian Mitchell (KR/PR also RB), Steve Tasker (ST also WR)

 

COACHES

(11) — Don Coryell, Bill Cowher, Tom Flores, Jim Hanifan, Mike Holmgren, Jimmy Johnson, Richie Petitbon, Dan Reeves, Marty Schottenheimer, Clark Shaughnessy, Dick Vermeil

 

 Eighteen finalists will be presented to the full 48-member Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee during its annual meeting on “Selection Saturday,” the day before Super Bowl LIII. The finalists will consist of 15 Modern-Era finalists, the recently named Senior Finalist, Johnny Robinson, and the Contributor Finalists, Pat Bowlen and Gil Brandt.

 

 

EFFECTING SOCIAL CHANGE

The Commish hadn’t been seen for a while, then he showed up in New Orleans to “help effect social change.”  Here is how ESPN.com is helping the NFL “effect social change.”

 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell joined New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson and a trio of Saints players on Tuesday for an in-depth look at New Orleans’ criminal justice system.

 

Also, Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill joined three of his players in a Tuesday meeting with Arizona governor Doug Ducey as part of the NFL’s ongoing efforts to effect social change.

 

Goodell’s visit to New Orleans was the latest in a series of “Listen & Learn” tours that have taken place around the league over the past year — one of many initiatives introduced by the Players Coalition in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest and the social movement that followed.

 

Although anthem protests have created a firestorm, Saints tight end and Players Coalition member Benjamin Watson said what matters most is “how can we take this, which is now something people are talking about, and steer it in a way that is productive and creates the change that we want.”

 

“So I am proud of the way that no matter how we got to this point, I’m proud of the way that players have continued to educate themselves and the way that the NFL has come alongside us and helped us in this way,” Watson said, “because good can come from however something like that starts.”

 

To that point, the Players Coalition penned an op-ed in The Players’ Tribune last week that implored fans, media, politicians and owners to stop focusing solely on who is protesting during the anthem and to “refocus attention back on the systemic issues that plague the lives of millions of Americans.”

 

They wrote: “The Coalition’s actions are motivated by a deep patriotism, a desire to ensure that the realities of this country match its stated ideals, and that we live up to America’s foundational promise of opportunity and equality for all.”

 

Watson, Saints linebacker Demario Davis (who is also a member of the coalition) and Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan joined Goodell, Benson and Saints president Dennis Lauscha as they spent a full day sitting in on bail hearings and meeting with public defenders, former prisoners and leaders of grassroots organizations dedicated to criminal justice reform.

 

Watson and Davis already lent their support to a law that was passed in Louisiana earlier this year, restoring voting rights to felons on parole or probation after five years.

 

Other topics discussed Tuesday included Louisiana’s law that juries need only 10 out of 12 votes for a life-sentence conviction, and the unfairness of a user-funded court system when it comes to setting bail.

 

At one point, according to reports from NOLA.com and The New Orleans Advocate, Benson offered up office space in Benson Tower to Syrita Steib-Martin, the executive director of Operation Restoration, which helps women and girls re-entering society after prison stints.

 

 

TRAVIS ANDERSON OF FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA

This is from Fantasy Writer Matthew Berry of ESPN.com.  Initially, you might wonder why he’s writing about Travis Anderson and his Fargo, North Dakota fantasy football league, but stay with it.

 

Formed in 2005 in Fargo, North Dakota, the “Win the Battle” league is a 10-team non-PPR keeper league comprising a bunch of high school buddies. The teams play three WRs, no flex and you can keep up to two players a year, costing you a draft pick three rounds better than where you got the player the year before.

 

Their commissioner, Travis Anderson, has been playing for close to two decades in a lot of different leagues, but this league — the one he’s been in for more than a decade, the one filled with many of his closest friends, the one he runs — is the most special to him.

 

A controller for a local bank and a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan, Travis is 37 years old. He and his wife Donna have three sons: Andrew will be 6 in December, Jackson will turn 3 in January and Ethan is two weeks from his first birthday.

 

Husband, father, fantasy junkie.

 

Travis Anderson is one of us.

 

Like us, he drafted a team he likes. And like for many of us, Week 1 was tough. Other than Drew Brees, it was a poor start for his team, The Dirt Merchants. Kareem Hunt could only watch as Tyreek Hill went nuts, Leonard Fournette left early with an injury, and bad matchups and shaky QB play led to disappointing season debuts for Amari Cooper, Allen Robinson and Devin Funchess. But while you were cursing your team, cursing yourself for drafting them, cursing me for recommending them, Travis Anderson was busy dealing with something else.

 

You see, in early August, he started getting headaches. This was weird — he’s never gotten headaches before. The back of his neck was hurting a little bit, so he figured it might be spinal. Visits to chiropractors didn’t help and not only did it not go away, he started having difficulty communicating complicated thoughts and explanations, something he often needed to do as part of his job. When we spoke this week, he told me he felt emotionally distant and he knew something was wrong. So he decided to make an appointment to get a CAT scan. Frustratingly, it took him a while to get one, but eventually the day arrived.

 

While driving to get the scan, he got a call from his doctor’s office. Travis’ insurance wouldn’t cover it. Don’t get me started on this one, but the insurance would, however, cover an MRI, so they scheduled him for a MRI a week later. Travis turned around and drove home. But in the middle of that week, encouraged by his father, Travis couldn’t wait any longer, so he went straight to the ER and got an MRI.

 

It was Aug. 23. Travis had a league to set up, keepers to decide, and a draft to prep for. Instead, he was sitting in a doctor’s office, where he learned he had a brain tumor.

 

Within 24 hours, Travis was in surgery, where Dr. Alexander Drofa had come in from out of town to find, and ultimately remove, the tumor.

 

As you can imagine, people wondered if Travis would keep the league going. Certainly, no one would blame him if he wanted to shut it down, or even take a year off.

 

But to Travis, that wasn’t even a consideration.

 

“I wouldn’t not be able to keep the league going,” he said. Travis was told to take it very easy for the next six weeks, and that was a big factor in keeping the league going. “I really enjoy fantasy,” Travis said. “It gives some excitement to Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Thursday nights. It gives me something to do each day, each week.”

 

The league, and fantasy football, provides Travis with an escape and comfort. Something happy to focus on. Last year, another member, Mike, had been diagnosed with cancer. He, thank goodness, is in remission now, but it was a long year. That is why the league is named “Win the Battle.”

 

Travis had spent the previous year being a rock of support for Mike. Now it’s Mike’s turn.

 

Personally, I don’t know how Travis did it. The day after his draft was the day he would go see his oncologist to get the pathology results from the surgery. Can you imagine having to draft a team knowing what was on the schedule the next morning?

 

Me either, but Travis is a better man than I. He drafted a strong team and the next morning he went to see his doctor.

 

He tells me that while they got 99 percent of his tumor, they didn’t get everything. Most importantly, the tumor was not benign.

 

Travis has brain cancer. A grade IV glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) to be exact.

 

Thirty-seven years old. Wife, three kids under 6 and The Dirt Merchants, four-time champions of the Win the Battle league. Travis has a lot to fight for, so fight he does.

 

It won’t be easy. He is looking at six weeks of radiation and lower-dose chemo, five days a week. When he is done with that, he will do six different cycles of higher-dose chemo at a five-days-on, 23-days-off schedule. And after the first six weeks, he will need to wear an Optune electrical stimulation cap for, well, basically forever. But to the extent you can be with something like this, he told me doctors have been encouraged by what they have found in subsequent tests. And as he said toward the end of our conversation, “There are people that beat this. And I intend to be one of them.”

 

I have no doubt, Travis. Because he is not going into this battle alone. Donna, of course, has been a rock. As has his family. And his league, especially “Tweets,” as everyone calls Mike.

 

And now he has all of us. I have often spoken of the power of fantasy football, the community and love that family, friends and strangers alike have for this game we play. How it brings people together, lifts them up and can shine light into even the darkest of places. This is one of those times.

 

Travis is on Twitter @TMA2112. He doesn’t tweet much, he tells me, but I am sure he’d love to hear from you and read your words of support, encouragement and love.

 

Travis will “Win the Battle,” and he will do it with all of us behind him. That’s a group that includes Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

 

I asked Travis if I could write about his story, so he obviously knew this article was coming, but this part he doesn’t know until now.

 

When Travis and I spoke, one of the things I found out is that, due to living in Fargo — approximately 235 miles from Minneapolis – he has never seen a Vikings game in person.

 

So when Kirk Cousins heard about Travis’ story, he said he immediately wanted to rectify this. Kirk, and the entire Minnesota Vikings organization, asked me to pass along that they would love to host Travis and his family at a game, along with on-field passes for the pregame and anything else they can do to make Travis’ first Vikings game a special one. Kirk specifically asked me to tell you, Travis, that he can’t wait to meet you and your family.

 

Here at ESPN, we are getting Travis in touch with The V Foundation to see if there’s anything we can do to help.

 

Because, you see, Travis Anderson is one of us.

 

Which means he’s busy getting The Dirt Merchants ready for Week 2. Just like we all are.