The Daily Briefing Thursday, September 6, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

As the NFL season opens tonight, the New York Times has an unsigned article about helmet tackling:

 

Football season is starting on Thursday with a not-so-small problem. The players don’t know what to do with their helmets.

 

Alarmed by rising concussion rates and the lasting effects of repeated hits to the head, the N.F.L. adopted a new rule — 49 indistinct words — prohibiting any player from lowering his head to make contact with an opponent.

 

Put simply, it outlawed using the helmet as a weapon. And it applies to everyone, including the running back digging in for the extra yard and the lineman bowing to prevent it.

 

Violating the rule would draw a 15-yard penalty or, possibly, an ejection from the game, plus a fine or a suspension.

 

It was another, perhaps tortuous step by a league fighting for its future as awareness and research deepen about the long-term consequences of large men crashing into each other.

 

Yet the helmet rule, directed at such an elementary piece of equipment and focused on the basic idea of the game to knock down the guy with the ball, has touched a particular nerve.

 

It has infuriated players, baffled coaches and placed the league’s already embattled game officials under greater scrutiny and pressure.

 

Some players who do a lot of the hitting have insisted it will lead to more injuries, not prevent them.

 

Richard Sherman, the San Francisco 49ers’ Pro Bowl cornerback, called the new rule a “disaster” and mocked the notion that every tackle could be made without helmet contact.

 

“There are going to be times when players tackle with their shoulder, as they should, but the fact is your head comes before your shoulder,” Sherman said. “If there was a way somebody could pull their head back and only lead with their shoulder, I’m sure they would — but your body doesn’t work that way.”

 

Jets Coach Todd Bowles, noting that the new rule applied to every player on the field, wondered how it could be policed.

 

“I don’t know if we have enough referees to call all that,” Bowles said.

 

In Chicago, the Bears’ 2018 first-round draft pick, Roquan Smith, refused to sign a rookie contract for 29 days until there was language in the deal that prevented the team from withholding his salary should he be suspended for violating the new rule.

 

Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison feared the rule exposed players to debilitating, career-threatening knee injuries — and a rules quandary, too.

 

“Guys will be afraid to hit up high now, so they’ll have to lower the target,” Harrison said. “That causes more lower-leg injuries. And there’s already a rule against those kinds of hits.”

 

And John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens, said he had prepared his players for botched calls and inconsistencies.

 

“I told our guys that there are going to be some penalties called that they’re going to come back and say shouldn’t have been called,” Harbaugh said. “There are going to be others not called that they’re going to say should have been called.”

 

Harbaugh added, “The officials on the field, they expressed that it’s tough.”

 

Football has always been governed by a plethora of exacting rules. Every year nothing seems to agitate and unnerve the sport like tampering with them.

 

It is still figuring out what a catch is.

 

For several recent seasons, the N.F.L. has attempted to legislate the most jarring collisions out of the game, hits that were once not only legal but celebrated. The league has instituted penalties for hits on what it calls “defenseless” players. Nearly an entire page of the rule book is now devoted to what defenders cannot do to the quarterback, painstaking instructions that even ask defenders to avoid falling on the quarterback while tackling him.

 

The N.F.L. has also zeroed in on the safety of the helmet itself, with laboratory testing this spring leading to the banning of 10 helmet models and the ranking of 24 other models.

 

But none of these efforts have provoked the kind of tumult that this year’s helmet rule has spawned as the league tries to balance its inherent ferocity with the practical imperative of keeping its high-priced work force functioning.

 

Since the passage of the rule in the spring, the N.F.L. has worked to inform players, coaches and fans about what everyone in the league is calling “the helmet rule.” Alberto Riveron, the league’s senior vice president for officiating, delivered a presentation on the details of the new edict at the league’s annual meeting in May, and the N.F.L. also posted a video of Riveron’s talk on its website.

 

As Riveron emphasized, while other recent, new rules on contact have forbidden the most brutal helmet-to-helmet hits — and almost exclusively penalized defensive players — the 2018 rule pertains to any offensive or defensive player who initiates contact with his helmet against any part of an opponent, from the head to the lower body.

 

If that message did not get through, in August, on the eve of the first preseason games, the league tried another informational salvo when it issued a fact sheet about the rule that also included a series of explanatory videos prepared by N.F.L. head coaches to elucidate what is an accepted tackle and what is now unacceptable.

 

But the uproar has continued unabated, in part because the contact that was flagged in last month’s preseason games varied greatly and at times seemed to contradict the rule as written. Less than five minutes into the first game of the preseason, Baltimore linebacker Patrick Onwuasor was penalized under the rule in what was clearly a headfirst hit. But later in the game, two other Ravens were whistled for the same infraction and at least one appeared to be a shoulder-first tackle with incidental helmet contact.

 

On Aug. 11, an Indianapolis Colts safety, Shamarko Thomas, became the first player ejected from a game under the rule after an egregious helmet-to-helmet hit on a diving, defenseless wide receiver (see video below). In what may or may not have been a statement, two days later, Thomas was cut by the Colts.

 

A week later, Arizona’s Travell Dixon appeared to be going out of his way to keep his head up and made an open-field tackle on a wide receiver by lunging forward with his chest and shoulder. A millisecond later, Dixon’s helmet, inches from his shoulder pads, made contact with the opponent as well. A yellow flag fluttered to the turf.

 

Dixon rose from the tackle and waved his hands in the air as if to say: What more could I have done to avoid using my head?

 

By Aug. 22, the N.F.L. issued a clarification. While standing by the new rule, league officials added that “inadvertent or incidental contact with the helmet and/or face mask” would not be a foul.

 

It did not quell the controversy, probably because finding a way to completely remove head contact from football has proved to be more challenging than N.F.L. officials may have expected, especially when it comes to tackling. Also, the clarification asked game officials, in a split-second, to determine whether a helmet-first hit was intentional or inadvertent, a slippery slope generally avoided.

 

“The more layers you add, the more difficult it becomes to implement a rule consistently,” said Dean Blandino, a Fox Sports rules analyst who until last year oversaw officiating for the N.F.L.

 

Even the wide receivers, who stand to benefit the most from the rule, are expressing some sympathy for their defensive counterparts.

 

“Some of those calls we’re seeing, you say, ‘Come on, man,’ ” Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead said last month. “I get it that they’re trying to be safe and protect players, and I can appreciate that because I’ve taken a big helmet-to-helmet hit.

 

 “At the same time, it’s hard to take the aggressiveness out of the game. It’s about not dropping your head on both sides of the ball, not just the defensive side.”

 

This summer, when the N.F.L. sent its referees to team training camps to help assuage the concerns of players and coaches, the move often backfired, with more exasperation and confusion ensuing.

 

One of the referees on the training camp tour, Carl Cheffers, acknowledged that the rules enacted for the N.F.L. in 2018 represented “a pretty significant cultural change for the football community.”

 

If that is true, the shift in the landscape continues to happen slowly, with some willing to adapt and others less accepting of change.

 

“These things take time,” Zak DeOssie, the Giants’ long snapper and a vice president of the Players Association’s executive committee, said. “So you have to start somewhere.”

 

Andrew Sendejo, a hard-hitting safety for the Minnesota Vikings who was suspended for one game last season for a collision that sent an opposing receiver into the N.F.L.’s concussion protocol, has taken a different approach.

 

Early in the Vikings’ training camp, he wore a baseball cap embossed with a message: Make Football Violent Again.

– – –

ESPN.com’s correspondents on the scene make some bold predictions for their clubs.  We have edited some, eliminated others – all can be seen here (predictions that are actually bold are bolded.

 

AFC EAST

 

Buffalo Bills

The Bills’ defense will finish among the top 10 in points allowed per game…The Bills’ defense allowed 22.4 points per game last season, 18th in the NFL. — Mike Rodak

 

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins will have a 1,000-yard receiver (Kenny Stills) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Kenyan Drake)..The last time the Dolphins had a pair of 1,000-yard playmakers (Landry and Jay Ajayi in 2016), they made it to the playoffs. — Cameron Wolfe

 

New England Patriots

Trent Brown will earn Pro Bowl honors at left tackle.. — Mike Reiss

 

New York Jets

For the third consecutive year, the Jets won’t have a 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,000-yard receiver or a double-digit sacker. — Rich Cimini

 

AFC NORTH

 

Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco will surpass his single-season passing mark of 4,317 yards and reach 30 touchdowns for the first time in his career. Teammates say the drafting of Lamar Jackson has lit a fire under Flacco, who’s also healthier than he has been since 2014. All signs point to Flacco delivering a career year. — Jamison Hensley

 

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals’ offense will bounce back in a big way — Katherine Terrell

 

Cleveland Browns

Hue Jackson will coach the Browns for 16 games. As unlikely and illogical as it might seem on paper, Jackson does not seem to be on any kind of leash (short or long) from the people who matter most — the owners. — Pat McManamon

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger will win his first MVP award. Roethlisberger entered camp in better shape and plans to set a tone. — Jeremy Fowler

 

AFC SOUTH

 

Houston Texans

DeAndre Hopkins will end the season as the NFL’s most productive wide receiver. — Sarah Barshop

 

Indianapolis Colts

The Jaguars are the team to beat in the AFC South, but the Colts will finish second in the division and make a run at one of the wild-card playoff spots. — Mike Wells

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Yannick Ngakoue will lead the league in sacks. — Mike DiRocco

 

 

Tennessee Titans

Rookie Harold Landry will lead the Titans in sacks and flirt with a double-digit-sack season. — Turron Davenport

 

AFC WEST

 

Denver Broncos

Von Miller… is poised for a huge year. — Jeff Legwold

 

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs will lead the NFL in scoring after finishing sixth last season. — Adam Teicher

 

Los Angeles Chargers

Mike Williams will finish with 10 touchdowns. Yes, I understand the Clemson product is the fourth receiver on the depth chart. — Eric D. Williams

 

Oakland Raiders

the Raiders will catch fire late to challenge in a winnable AFC West. — Paul Gutierrez

 

NFC EAST

 

Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott will lead the NFL in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage. — Todd Archer

 

New York Giants

Saquon Barkley will catch 80 passes. — Jordan Raanan

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Zach Ertz will supplant Rob Gronkowski as the most productive tight end in football. — Tim McManus

 

Washington Redskins

The Redskins’ defense will finish in the top half in points and yards allowed. While this might not seem like a great accomplishment, consider it has been 10 years since they’ve achieved this feat. They were 27th in points and 21st in yards last season. — John Keim

 

NFC NORTH

 

Chicago Bears

Anthony Miller will become the type of game-changing receiver the Bears have needed for years. — Nick Friedell

 

Detroit Lions

The Lions will get off to a bad beginning — a tough early schedule combined with a lack of pass rush will send Detroit to a 1-4 start. — Michael Rothstein

 

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers will win his third NFL MVP. OK, maybe that’s not so bold when you consider this: The last time he broke his collarbone (2013), he came back the next season to win his second MVP. — Rob Demovsky

 

Minnesota Vikings

If injuries along the offensive line can be remedied, Minnesota should have no problem giving Dalvin Cook what he needs to lead the league in rushing. — Courtney Cronin

 

 

NFC SOUTH

 

Atlanta Falcons

After his three total touchdowns a season ago, Julio Jones will reach double-digit TDs in 2018. — Vaughn McClure

 

Carolina Panthers

Second-year running back Christian McCaffrey will emerge as the best all-purpose back in the league in Norv Turner’s system. He’ll get 25 to 30 touches per game (twice what he had a year ago) and surpass 1,000 yards rushing in addition to leading the team in receptions. He’ll make the Panthers an explosive offense like they were in 2015, when they led the NFL in scoring. — David Newton

 

New Orleans Saints

Instead of being remembered as the victim of the “Minneapolis Miracle,” Marcus Williams will become known for overcoming his infamous missed tackle on Stefon Diggs. — Mike Triplett

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chris Godwin will surpass DeSean Jackson for the second-most receiving yards — Jenna Laine

 

NFC WEST

 

Arizona Cardinals

David Johnson will win MVP. — Josh Weinfuss

 

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams will win the NFC championship and advance to the Super Bowl. — Lindsey Thiry

 

San Francisco 49ers

DeForest Buckner will reach double digits in sacks and finish in the top five of Defensive Player of the Year voting. — Nick Wagoner

 

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks will have a top-five rushing offense and Chris Carson will lead the way. — Brady Henderson

 

Now some bold opinions from the DB.

 

The Buccaneers will win more games than the Panthers.  They will be among the NFL’s top scoring teams and will be in the playoff mix.

 

The Cardinals will also surprise if Sam Bradford and David Johnson stay healthy – and we are boldly predicting they will.  Arizona was 8-8 last year with the very average Carson Palmer and some less than average replacements at QB after he got hurt.  They also lost a lot of close games.  We see 2nd in the West behind the Rams.

 

The Patriots will only go 9-7 – but still win the AFC East.  They will not represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.  Neither will the Steelers.

 

Vikings over Chargers in Super Bowl 53.

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

The Vikings almost went to the NFC Championship Game without a wonderful runner.  Now, DALVIN COOK is back.  Dane Mizutani of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press:

 

As the final minutes leading up to Sunday’s kickoff count down, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook will be in the locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium, blasting music in preparation for the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

 

“I’ve got to play Future,” Cook said with a smile when asked about his pregame playlist. “Any type of Future will get me hype. He’s got hype music. Period.”

 

 

Not that the 23-year-old will have any trouble getting hype in his first official game in 11 months. He’s been focused on this moment ever since he crumbled to the turf in a game last October, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. And, just like that, the rookie out of Florida State saw his terrific start end in a flash.

 

“I just want to go out there and play up to the potential that I know I have in me,” Cook said, downplaying any questions about his expectations. “I just want to go out there and play up to my potential and help this team with football games.”

 

Cook attacked the recovery process with vigor during the offseason, then got his first taste of live contact a couple of weeks ago in a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks. He only carried the ball twice for one yard, but his numbers that night weren’t the point.

 

“I got it out of the way and now it’s time for me to hone in on what we’re doing as an offense,” Cook said of returning to game action. “My knee is fine. It’s ready to go. I’m ready to play.”

 

Still, there are concerns whether Cook will be able to handle a full workload right off the bat.

 

“Well, we’re going to find out real soon,” Cook said with a laugh. “It’s different, man. In practice, I’m trying to help myself by finishing runs and finishing plays to get myself in that type of shape. Once the game comes around, it’s a different story. It’ll be a mental thing on the other side with pushing through and wanting to get it done.”

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com talks to QB SAM BRADFORD as his first start with the Cardinals approaches.

 

Days from his debut with the Arizona Cardinals, quarterback Sam Bradford said his oft-injured left knee is healthy, which has let him embrace another opportunity to play after missing 15 games last season with the third major knee injury of his career.

 

“I know that right now, it does feel as good as it has felt in a long time,” Bradford said.

 

Coach Steve Wilks checks in on Bradford daily to see how he and his knee are holding up. After months of daily chats, Wilks said he feels Bradford is “at a great place right now.”

 

“From a physical standpoint, I think he’s great,” Wilks said. “I think the knee is strong. He’s at a good place right now, and he had a good practice today.”

 

The status of Bradford’s knee has given him a new lease on football yet again. Bradford, who has missed 48 games — the equivalent of three full seasons — has a renewed appreciation for playing football.

 

“I think at this point, you just realize how special each game is,” Bradford said. “It truly is a blessing to be out there every Sunday, every time you get on the field with your teammates after having gone through some of the injuries that I have.

 

“Having not been able to be out there, I don’t think you take it for granted at all. You realize how special it is and how unique of a position we’re in to be able to do what we do, and really with the mindset of just trying to make the most of it.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

No preseason injury may have altered a team’s 2018 fate than the non-contact ACL tear for RB JERICK McKINNON.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The 49ers spent more than five months making plans for how they would deploy running back Jerick McKinnon, but they can be put in a drawer and filed away for 2019.

 

McKinnon tore his ACL last weekend and will spend his first season with the team rehabbing rather than contributing to their offense. On Wednesday, head coach Kyle Shanahan said that the loss has led to a lot of shuffling of plans within the organization as they prepare to face McKinnon’s former team this weekend.

 

“Since the day we signed him, we’ve been game planning for Minnesota,” Shanahan said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “So I’m not going to lie — it changes things pretty drastically. That was [our] first target in free agency, so once you do it, you have a plan on how to use him, especially going into Week One.”

 

Shanahan didn’t reveal what the plan will be in McKinnon’s absence. Matt Breida is fully participating in practice after injuring his shoulder in the first preseason game and Alfred Morris joins him as the top backfield options now available to the 49ers.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

The Rams say they tried to get LB KHALIL MACK which perplexes Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Wade Phillips’ L.A. Rams defense has pretty much everything but a Von Miller. It almost got one, apparently.

 

Via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, Rams COO Kevin Demoff admits that the Rams made a play for the 2016 defensive player of the year, who would have been paired with the 2017 defensive player of the year, Aaron Donald.

 

“We offered a pretty aggressive package and they came back and said, ‘We just think you’re going to pick too low,’” Demoff said.

 

It’s hard to imagine that the Rams could have found a way to pay Donald, who’s getting $22.5 million per year in new money, and Mack, who got $23.5 million per year in new money from the Bears, along with the other stars they’ve already paid (Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks) and those still to come (Jared Goff). It’s even harder to understand why the Rams admitted this publicly.

 

This feels like more than an effort to create sizzle in the City of Angels by bragging about failed attempts to land a key player. Maybe the general message is that the Rams will be in play for every major player who is unhappy with his current contract and who may want out.

 

The specific message may be intended for someone who currently plays in L.A. With Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa being the next defensive player who is poised for a potential contract fight with his current team, the admitted pursuit of Mack represents a signal to Camp Bosa that, if the Chargers won’t pay Bosa what he wants, maybe the Rams will.

 

 

SEATTLE

LB SHAQUEN GRIFFIN will start Sunday in Denver.  Nick Shook of NFL.com:

 

Shaquem Griffin’s inspiring path to the NFL is receiving a new, unexpected wrinkle this week.

 

In his first regular-season game, Griffin will be starting at linebacker.

 

In speaking to reporters Wednesday, coach Pete Carroll made the announcement that usual starter K.J. Wright (knee) will miss Seattle’s Week 1 contest against the Denver Broncos. That leaves Griffin to step into Wright’s place in the starting lineup, a change Carroll confirmed.

 

Griffin was a standout defender at UCF as part of a Knights team that finished undefeated in 2017. Notable for his success achieved despite having only one hand, Griffin has served as an inspiration for countless people nationwide, with a highwater moment arriving when the Seahawks drafted him with the 141st pick in the 2018 draft.

 

Griffin’s twin brother, defensive back Shaquill Griffin, is also a member of the Seahawks. Both will start for Seattle on Sunday in Denver.

 

– – –

S EARL THOMAS is reporting to the Seahawks, apparently intending to play for the Seahawks.  Shalise Manza-Young of YahooSports.com:

 

According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, Thomas is ending his summer holdout, reporting to the team on Wednesday. The safety had returned to the area over the weekend to bring his daughter to her first day of school.

 

According to the schedule laid out in the collective bargaining agreement, Thomas has amassed $1.5 million in fines for his six-week holdout, which stretch through training camp and preseason games. It’s up to the Seahawks whether they collect that money.

 

In an Instagram photo he posted Wednesday, Thomas is sitting on a weight bench, visibly sweating.

 

The caption seems to affirm that he’s back: “I worked my whole life for this….. I’ve never let me, teammates, city or fans down as long as I’ve lived and don’t plan on starting this weekend. With that being said, the disrespect has been well noted and will not be forgotten. Father Time may have an undefeated record but best believe I plan on taking him into triple overtime when it comes to my career.”

 

Dallas offered a second-round pick

ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted on Wednesday that the Dallas Cowboys, the most-talked-about landing spot for Thomas, have upped their offer to Seattle to a second-round draft pick from a third-rounder.

 

But “Seattle wasn’t interested; it wants more,” Schefter wrote.

 

Getting a second-round pick back in exchange for Thomas seems like a good deal; the San Francisco 49ers gave the Patriots a second-round pick for Jimmy Garoppolo and he’s a franchise quarterback.

 

Perhaps after seeing what the Oakland Raiders got for Khalil Mack over the weekend the Seahawks think they can get more, but Mack plays a more coveted position.

 

Tacoma News Tribune Seahawks reporter Gregg Bell wrote that Seattle was looking for a first-round pick, another high-round pick and perhaps another player in a trade.

 

Looking for an extension

If he plays this year, it will be the final year of the four-year, $40 million extension Thomas agreed to in 2014. At the time, it made him the highest-paid safety in the NFL. He’d like to stay at or near the top of his position in terms of pay.

 

Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs and Eric Berry agreed to a six-year, $78 million contract; Berry’s $13 million annual average makes him the highest-paid safety.

 

Tacoma News Tribune reporter Gregg Bell wrote that the Seahawks are reluctant to extend Thomas in part because the team paid Kam Chancellor last summer, only to see Chancellor suffer a career-ending neck injury. The Seahawks will pay Chancellor $12 million for this season, which was guaranteed money.

 

Thomas and Chancellor aren’t the same player, however.

 

Thomas is 29 years old, but he was named to the Pro Bowl after last season, his sixth.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Three days out and the Browns do not have a successor to left tackle Joe Thomas.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Browns avoided persistent questions about who will be their starting quarterback this season by naming Tyrod Taylor the starter after acquiring him in a trade and then sticking to that choice after drafting Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick.

 

They have not been as steadfast when it comes to their left tackle. Joe Thomas‘ retirement left the team with an opening that they have yet to officially fill. They moved Joel Bitonio to the position at the start of training camp, but head coach Hue Jackson left open the possibility that rookie Desmond Harrison could start there against the Steelers.

 

Jackson didn’t close the door on Wednesday.

 

“Still working through it,” Jackson said, via Ohio.com. “Probably Friday. Friday I’ll know for sure. I just want to get through practice and kind of go from there before I make that choice.”

 

Harrison was listed as a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice due to a knee injury. If that isn’t enough to keep him from getting the nod, Bitonio will move back to left guard.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

It is dawning on the Steelers players that RB Le’VEON BELL is playing things different this time – and they don’t like it.  Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:

 

Steelers players are livid over Le’Veon Bell’s extended absence, which might last months.

 

“He f—ed us,” one veteran told ESPN as he walked out of the locker room on Wednesday.

 

Barring an unforeseen development, the All-Pro running back is not expected to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, according to a source, and agent Adisa Bakari hinted that Bell might be willing to wait it out longer to preserve his long-term health.

 

Bell hasn’t signed his $14.5 million franchise tag and can become a free agent in 2019 as long as he signs it by Week 11.

 

“If you don’t want to be here, it is what it is. Hold out 10 weeks,” center Maurkice Pouncey said.

 

On Monday, Pouncey told ESPN that Bell would show up to work on Wednesday, and to “count on it.”

 

“I just felt confident that he was gonna come,” Pouncey said Wednesday, “But now that he didn’t, obviously it’s Le’Veon over the Steelers, and we’re the Steelers and we’re going to play as the Steelers. … Now when it’s game time and you that you have $14 million looming out there, and you’re still not here and your team really wants you here? At this point, we got [James] Conner.”

 

Conner will start in Bell’s place in Week 1 against the Browns.

 

The team hoped Bell would show up for work this week, but Bakari told NFL Live that Bell is “going to do the things necessary to protect his value long-term.”

 

A source told ESPN that the Steelers have no plans to rescind Bell’s tender, and league sources say a trade would be difficult to execute because of Bell’s position and teams’ unwillingness to inherit a franchise-tagged player.

 

General manager Kevin Colbert — who issued a statement Monday that the team was “disappointed” Bell hadn’t signed the tender — will not be made available for comment, but the Steelers issued a statement through director of communications Burt Lauten.

 

“We are not going to discuss any conversations through the media,” Lauten said. “If Adisa would like to talk further, he has the phone number to our offices.”

 

But players — especially those who block for Bell — have no issues discussing.

 

“In the ultimate team sport, we’ve created a league of individuals,” guard Ramon Foster said. “I know the league is all about get your money, get paid, I love it. … But at least let us know [you weren’t coming].

 

Mike Florio hears (per Ian Rapoport) that Bell won’t be granted free agency:

 

As the relationship between the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell reaches (or passes) the point of no return, there’s reportedly no doubt as to whether the Steelers would unilaterally end it.

 

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Steelers won’t be rescinding the $14.54 million franchise tender. Rapoport also asserts that Bell will definitely be playing for the Steelers this year, and that it’s just a question of when.

 

That last part assumes plenty of facts not necessarily in evidence, as the lawyers would say. It assumes that Bell will show up at all; maybe after Wednesday’s comments from teammates, he won’t. It also assumes that the Steelers wouldn’t trade Bell to another team.

 

A week ago, few believed that the Raiders would actually trade Khalil Mack. And then they traded him. Right now, few believe the Steelers would trade Bell. After Wednesday’s events, that may be the only option.

 

Of course, anyone who trades for Bell can’t sign him to a new contract. He can be signed, however, after the regular season ends. Which raises the possibility of a wink-nod situation where the team that trades for Bell makes it clear (unofficially) that he’ll be offered X dollars on the Monday after Week 17.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

PEYTON WITHDRAWAL

Dan Wetzel of YahooSports.com offers a theory on NFL ratings decline, a one-man theory:

 

NFL television viewership has fallen the past two seasons, although trying to figure out exactly how much isn’t an exact science since television executives will point to streaming numbers that offset some losses.

 

Regardless, pure television viewership is down. In 2015, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” averaged 22.522 million viewers. In 2017 it was 18.175 million, a decrease of 19.3 percent.

 

“Monday Night Football” saw a 17.2 percent drop (12.986 million to 10.757 million) over the two seasons. “Thursday Night Football” was down 11.9 percent (12.425 million to 10.937 million).

 

The reasons are myriad. Protesting players. Colin Kaepernick not being signed in 2017. CTE discomfort. President Donald Trump’s rips of the league. There is also the fact that a surge in popularity for daily fantasy in 2015 may have pushed numbers to unsustainable highs. Plus technology has decreased viewership of all television.

 

It’s any of these things. It’s all of these things.

 

There is one other reason that has gotten scant attention but may be a bigger contributing factor than most realize.

 

Peyton Manning.

 

Or more specifically, no Peyton Manning.

 

Traditionally the NFL hasn’t relied on a single star to drive ratings. As such, when one retires, as Manning did following the 2015 season when he led Denver to the Super Bowl, the numbers don’t take a hit the way they can for the NBA, PGA or other sports when a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods isn’t around.

 

Manning might be an exception. The uber-popular personality drew in casual viewers in ways that no one else in the league could, or can.

 

While NFL ratings are still extremely high, the league is missing that pop. Sports Illustrated noted that in 2017, just one regular-season game scored more than a 15.0 rating – the Dec. 17 New England-Pittsburgh game during the late Sunday window on CBS.

 

In 2015, there were 13 such games.

 

Denver lacks the big market to make 15.0-plus games easier to attain – the way Dallas, New York and New England can. But Manning lifted the Broncos up into a sure-bet 20-million plus viewership figure.

 

Manning was injured for part of the 2015 Broncos season but in his five times on national network broadcasts that year, Denver never scored lower than 21.1 million viewers. The games averaged 22.7 million, which is above even the “Sunday Night Football” average in 2015 and way higher than anything in 2017. There was also an appearance on “MNF” in Week 16 when he returned from injury that drew 15.8 million. It was the only time more than 15 million people watched “MNF.”

 

In 2014 the viewership was even stronger when Manning and Denver averaged 23.98 million viewers across nine national network broadcasts and 16.03 million in one “MNF” appearance.

 

Again, the ratings surge wasn’t all Manning and the ratings drop isn’t all no Manning. However, for the NFL to deliver the truly big event numbers, it needs more than its core audience that tunes in for nearly everything. It needs the more casual fan to flip on the game, see a recognizable name or brand, and watch.

 

Manning delivered that. He’d been around since 1998, when he was drafted first overall by Indianapolis. His late-career return from neck surgery and push for a second Super Bowl title, and past his rivalry with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, was a griping storyline.

 

Manning had always been recognizable and well-liked. He was the son of Southern football royalty; his father Archie was a star for the University of Mississippi and the New Orleans Saints. Peyton was a sensation growing up in New Orleans and then at Tennessee. His younger brother Eli played at Ole Miss and is still with the Giants, where he has won two Super Bowls of his own. Older brother Cooper was such a presence that at one Super Bowl the NFL actually handed out quote sheets from him even though he never played in the league.

 

Through his long career, Peyton was used extensively in commercials ranging from Nationwide to Papa John’s, Gatorade to the NFL Sunday Ticket. His comedic acting ability was considerable. He hosted “Saturday Night Live,” appeared on “The Simpsons,” “American Idol,” “The Tonight Show,” “Live! with Kelly” and “Fox News Sunday,” among others. Just consider the breadth of those audiences.

 

From 2011-2015, he ranked as the No. 1 most popular player in the NFL per ESPN’s research department, when it first began polling the question. He was either the No. 2 or 3 most popular athlete in any sport (Michael Jordan is No. 1).

 

“Peyton Manning was the most popular NFL player consistently until his retirement in 2016 where he dropped to No. 2. Last year he dropped four spots to being the sixth favorite NFL athlete among fans,” ESPN’s Josh Krulewitz, summing up the research, said.

 

So last year, despite not being a football player for two full seasons, there were only five players more popular in the game than Peyton Manning.

 

You can’t just replace a guy like that. And the NFL hasn’t, at least not yet. The ratings tell part of that story.

 

We would say that last year’s TV star power was hurt by injuries to AARON RODGERS, ANDREW LUCK, J.J. WATT, DESHAUN WATSON and other who might have made for compelling television.  And in each of the last two years, NFL Justice has elected to sideline headliners TOM BRADY (possible knowledge of possible deflation) and EZEKIEL ELLIOTT (possible domestic violence) for long periods of time.

 

 

KAEP AND NIKE

Get used to seeing Kaep’s face on NFL broadcasts.  He’s been paid to have his image used to tell how he sacrificed everything.  Darren Rovell of ESPN.com previews Nike’s “edgy” campaign that will appeal to those who value “edginess.”

 

Nike is doubling down on its investment in Colin Kaepernick.

 

The world’s largest shoe and apparel brand, which got the attention of the world by utilizing the quarterback-turned-activist in advertisements published on social channels on Monday, is scheduled to debut a “Just Do It” commercial during the NFL’s regular-season opener featuring the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles on NBC on Thursday night.

 

The ad is voiced by Kaepernick and features him, along with NBA star LeBron James, tennis champion Serena Williams, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., marathoner Eliud Kipchoge and skateboarder Lacey Baker, and inspirational athletes such as NFL linebacker Shaquem Griffin, wheelchair basketball player Megan Blunk, boxer Zeina Nassar and legless wrestler Isaiah Bird.

 

Kaepernick tweeted the commercial Wednesday.

 

Colin Kaepernick

@Kaepernick7

 Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt

 

A Nike spokesman told The New York Times that the ad also will air during tennis, college football and Major League Baseball coverage this week.

 

Kaepernick’s protests of racial injustice — which began in August 2016 with sitting and later kneeling during the national anthem — launched a movement across the NFL. No team signed him as a free agent in 2017 or 2018.

 

The Kaepernick ad revealed on Monday predictably polarized people, with some vowing to boycott Nike products.

 

Even on the Labor Day holiday, Nike dominated social media. There were 3.4 million mentions of Nike on Twitter in the first 21 hours after Kaepernick tweeted the initial ad, social media management tool Sprinklr said. The #JustDoIt hashtag had more than 400,000 mentions; #BoycottNike and #Nikeboycott combined to have garnered more than 120,000 mentions. Kaepernick had 1.5 million mentions over that time period, Sprinklr data revealed.

 

Kaepernick signed with Nike in 2011. Sources told ESPN that Nike kept the fact that Kaepernick would be involved in a future campaign from many key players internally and outside Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. The company did not share the news ahead of time with the NFL, even though Kaepernick has a collusion lawsuit against the league’s owners. Nike recently signed a new multibillion dollar, 10-year deal to remain the official apparel supplier of the league.

 

Sources also told ESPN that Nike’s other big partners, including its largest sponsored teams and retailers, were not privy to the use of Kaepernick in the ad campaign.

 

The commercial is 2:06 long.  It features many truly inspiring athletic heroes some lesser known such as Canadian soccer player Alphonso Davies and other big like Lebron and Serena, with inspiring ad copy read by someone with a distinctly non-announcer voice who apparently is Kaepernick.  Kaepernick himself appears for six seconds in the middle, somberly rotating from a back to front view, while the narrator says “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”  At the end, he walks down a street and says “So don’t ask if your dreams are crazy, ask if they are crazy enough.”

 

Watching it, the DB wondered what had happened to Tiger Woods who is in the process of achieving something athletically heroic after coming back from personal depths.  But not political.

 

This just in – Morning Consult, a brand tracking service, says its surveys have shown a sharp increase in negativity towards Nike in general, without the positive bump Nike is counting on from “edgy” younger consumers who buy tee-shirts and overpriced shoes made by slave labor.

 

A new report from Morning Consult reveals consumer opinions of Nike have shifted rapidly since announcing their new campaign with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Across nearly every demographic, perceptions of Nike’s brand have fallen, including among key consumer groups.

 

The report features over 8,000 interviews conducted among American adults, including 1,694 interviews pre-campaign launch (8/26/18 – 9/3/18) and 5,481 interviews post-campaign launch (9/4/18 – 9/5/18). Additionally, Morning Consult conducted a study among 1,168 adults in the U.S. about Nike’s ad and the decision to choose Kaepernick as the face of the campaign.

 

Key Findings

 

Nike’s Favorability Drops by Double Digits: Before the announcement, Nike had a net +69 favorable impression among consumers, it has now declined 34 points to +35 favorable.

 

No Boost Among Key Demos: Among younger generations, Nike users, African Americans, and other key demographics, Nike’s favorability declined rather than improved.

 

Purchasing Consideration Also Down: Before the announcement, 49 percent of Americans said they were absolutely certain or very likely to buy Nike products. That figure is down to 39 percent now.

 

The Effect on the NFL Seems Small, For Now: Forty percent of consumers said Nike’s campaign does not make them more or less likely to watch/attend NFL games — 21 percent said more likely and 26 percent said less likely (14 percent didn’t know).

 

Nike’s Reputation Takes A Hit Overall and Across Key Demographics

Before Kaepernick was revealed as the face of Nike’s campaign, only two percent of Americans reported hearing something negative about Nike. After the launch, that jumped to 33 percent. As the negative buzz set in, consumer sentiment followed, with favorability and purchasing consideration dropping.

 

Calls for boycotts have drawn heavy media attention, and Morning Consult’s data suggests they may be more than empty threats. Among Republicans, those likely to purchase Nike goods dropped from 51 percent to 28 percent.

 

Along with being split on the appropriateness of the campaign, there was also a divide on the question of whether or not Nike’s intentions were pure or if they just wanted publicity.

– – –

Over the last month of tracking, the NFL’s net favorability stands at +20, up from a low of +9 in November of 2017. However, the league has yet to fully recover from the initial blowback to the anthem-kneeling: In the spring and summer of 2017, the NFL’s net favorability was consistently in the mid to high 40s.

 

 

BETTING BILLIONS

BILLIONS FOR THE NFL says the headline, but does that mean billions will be bet on the NFL with the profit going to state governments or will it actually go to the NFL.  Let’s see if Darren Rovell at ESPN.com explains:

 

Nielsen projects NFL could make billions annually from gambling market

 

The number: $2.3 billion.

 

That’s how much Nielsen says a fully mature U.S. sports gambling market could be worth annually to the NFL.

 

The report, released Wednesday, was commissioned by the American Gaming Association, the trade group that represents the gambling business.

 

The projections are based on a survey of fans. It assumes that regulated betting across America will boost media rights fees due to increased interest in the game, sponsorship by betting operators of teams and ancillary advertising, as well as the purchasing of official data from the league.

 

A nationwide, legal sports betting product available to all would affect annual media rights fees by nearly 18 percent, sponsorship by more than 7 percent and ticket sales by more than 6 percent.

 

Nielsen’s report does not factor in so-called “integrity fees,” where the league — and perhaps the union — would get a cut of the handle of what is bet on NFL games. The AGA has staunchly opposed such a model.

 

“So much time has been spent on talk over integrity fees,” said Sara Slane, the senior vice president of public affairs for the AGA. “We think these numbers are conservative and show that the league is frankly tripping over dollars to pick up pennies.”

 

Annual purchasing of league data, mostly for live in-game betting, would result in $30 million a year in revenue to the league, the report projects. The AGA isn’t opposed to the idea of betting operators purchasing the official league data, as it helps increase speed from the action on the field to the operator, but the organization is opposed to the idea of being forced to buy league data.

 

In a memo sent to teams obtained by ESPN in July, the NFL wanted to force any casino brand that advertises with an NFL team to buy official league data.

 

There’s a long way to go until the sports betting market is fully mature. Since the Supreme Court nullified the Professional and Amateur Sports Act of 1992, which then allowed states to make their own sports gambling decisions, four states have opened up to sports gambling: Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia and Mississippi.

 

David Purdham of ESPN drops some preseason trends for those of you inclined to bet:

 

• More bets have been placed on the Los Angeles Rams to win the Super Bowl than any other team at the Westgate SuperBook. The Green Bay Packers have attracted the second-most Super Bowl bets, followed by the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers.

 

• More money has been bet on the Packers to win the Super Bowl than has been bet on any other team at the SuperBook. The Rams have attracted the second-most money, followed by the Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles.

 

• Station Casinos’ largest Super Bowl liability is on the Cleveland Browns. A Browns Super Bowl victory would be five times worse than any other team for Stations’ sportsbook.

 

• At the new FanDuel sportsbook located at the Meadowlands racetrack, across the parking lot from MetLife Stadium, more bets have been placed on the New York Giants to win the Super Bowl than any other team.

 

The Buffalo Bills have attracted the fewest bets of any team to win the Super Bowl at the Meadowlands sportsbook.

 

Notable Super Bowl bets at William Hill

 

• $12,000 on the Falcons at 22-1. Would net $264,000.

• $10,000 on the Raiders at 20-1. Would net $200,000

• $5,000 on the Lions at 40-1. Would net $200,000

• $4,000 on the Titans at 50-1. Would net $200,000

• $1,000 on the Jets at 100-1. Would net $100,000

• $1,000 on the Browns at 100-1. Would net $100,000

 

• “Train wreck”: That’s how one Las Vegas oddsmaker described the Bills’ season. In fact, the SuperBook intentionally dropped the Bills’ win total down to 5.5, the lowest number in town, to encourage bets on the over. “We’re daring people to bet over on the Bills,” said Ed Salmons, head football oddsmaker at the SuperBook.

 

• Favorites are 97-66-5 ATS on Thursdays since 2003.

 

• The Patriots are 69-46-5 ATS at home and 72-42-3 ATS on the road since 2003.

 

• Six times more bets have been placed on the New Orleans Saints to go over their season-win total of 9.5 than have been placed on the under at Caesars sportsbooks. There have been six times more bets on the Denver Broncos (7.5) and Houston Texans (9) to go under their season-win totals than there have been on the overs.

 

• More bets have been placed and more money has been wagered on the Giants to win the Super Bowl than any other team at the DraftKings sportsbook in New Jersey. The Giants are also No. 1 in overall Super Bowl bets at the FanDuel sportsbook at the Meadowlands, although more money has been bet on the Saints than any other team.

 

• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have attracted the fewest bets and the least amount of money to win the Super Bowl at DraftKings.