The Daily Briefing Tuesday, August 21, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Pray for Richie Incognito, seriously.  Mike Florio:

 

Free-agent offensive lineman Richie Incognito has had a difficult and troubling few days, starting with the death of his father over the weekend.

 

The Scottsdale, Arizona police department has confirmed that Incognito was arrested Monday on counts of disorderly conduct and threats arising from an incident at Messingers Funeral Home in Scottsdale. As of this posting, Incognito remains in custody.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Incognito allegedly created a disturbance by “acting erratically and making the employees feel incredibly uncomfortable” while handling arrangements for his late father. Incognito allegedly made a gun gesture toward one of the employees, and he said that he has guns in his truck.

 

According to the source, weapons were indeed in his truck, and the weapons were impounded.

 

Incognito, a free agent who has expressed an interest in continuing his career, has had a variety of incidents and issues over the years. Those close to him have urged him to get the ongoing help he needs to avoid potentially threatening or troubling behavior.

 

We wish Richie Incognito and his family the best at this difficult time, and he hope that Richie Incognito gets whatever assistance he may need to move forward in a productive and positive way.

 

And while we are at it, so sad to hear of the confirmed death of U. of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.  Such a loss.

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

The Vikings are changing kickers as veteran PK KAI FORBATH is disposed of.  Andrew KRAMMER of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

 

Rookie Daniel Carlson will be the Vikings’ third kicker in three seasons.

 

The Vikings released veteran Kai Forbath on Monday, two days after he missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt off the right post in a preseason loss to Jacksonville. The Vikings kicker competition lasted until Aug. 20, and Carlson said the pressure should help his dive into the tension-filled NFL.

 

“That’s one of the things competition really helps,” Carlson said Monday. “Every kick is a pressure kick when your job is on the line. It’s probably going to be decided on a few different kicks.”

 

So begins the Carlson era in purple, less than two years after the Vikings cut former All-Pro Blair Walsh. Forbath, 30, stepped in during the middle of the 2016 season and went on to convert 50 of 57 field-goal attempts — including two fourth-quarter field goals against New Orleans in January’s NFC divisional match that became the Vikings’ first playoff victory since 2009.

 

 

However, Forbath missed eight 33-yard extra-point attempts in 1½ seasons, and he didn’t possess the leg strength the Vikings desired on kickoffs and long field-goal attempts. Forbath went 1-for-2 on field-goals Saturday against the Jaguars. Carlson made all six of his kicks — four extra points, two field goals — during the preseason opener at Denver.

 

“We just figured it was getting close to the last couple of preseason games,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Kai did a great job while he was here. He’s a great kid. We just decided to go with Daniel.”

 

The writing was on the wall for Forbath after the Vikings drafted Carlson this spring. The Vikings traded up to draft Carlson in the fifth round (167th overall), sending two sixth-round picks to the Jets while acquiring an additional seventh-round pick. Carlson is the highest-drafted kicker in franchise history, selected eight spots earlier than the No. 175 pick the Vikings used to select Walsh in 2012.

 

Now Carlson, the Auburn record holder and SEC’s all-time leading scorer, begins in earnest his role as Vikings kicker that comes with an infamous history and Super Bowl expectations. The 23-year-old said he’s not going to ignore pressure that comes with a team that made the NFC Championship Game last season.

 

NFC EAST

 

WASHINGTON

The Redskins have signed RB ADRIAN PETERSON.  John Keim of ESPN.com:

 

Running back Adrian Peterson has signed a one-year contract with the Washington Redskins, the team announced Monday.

 

He signed for the veterans minimum of $1.015 million, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Peterson gives the Redskins depth and options at running back after injuries to three key backs in the first two preseason games. They lost expected starter Derrius Guice for the season with a torn ACL. Backups Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall both suffered leg injuries in the second game. Perine is not expected to miss much time, while Marshall might be able to return within four weeks.

 

The Redskins still have Rob Kelley, who would start as of now, and Chris Thompson, their third-down back. They also have Kapri Bibbs, who is fighting for a roster spot. Those were the only three healthy backs on the roster — and the Redskins are reluctant to play Thompson in the preseason after he broke his fibula in November.

 

Peterson, 33, made seven Pro Bowls in 10 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, but the team made him a free agent when it declined to exercise an option in his contract after the 2016 season. Peterson signed a two-year deal with New Orleans, but he was traded to Arizona on Oct. 10. The Cardinals released him after the season.

 

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, among players with at least 150 rushes over the past two seasons, Peterson has averaged only 3.1 yards per carry — the third-fewest yards per rush attempt in that time.

 

Peterson ranks 12th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list with 12,276 yards. He has added another 2,015 yards receiving. In 2012, Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards — second most in a season after Eric Dickerson.

 

Last season with Arizona, Peterson had two games in which he rushed for 293 yards, but in four others he gained a combined 155. He was suspended by the NFL in 2014 for child abuse.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

Never noticed this in the Panthers logo until we saw an article on hidden things in sports logos.

 

 

The outline of North Carolina

 This is one of those ones I’ve always had a hard time buying into — but I’ll admit the Panthers logo at least vaguely represents the outline of North Carolina. Purists will claim it’s supposed to include South Carolina too — but I just don’t see it.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

The Rams spend some more money – and it is not on DT AARON DONALD.  Lindsey Thiry of ESPN.com:

 

The Los Angeles Rams have agreed to a four-year contract extension with right tackle Rob Havenstein, the team announced Monday.

 

The deal is worth $32.5 million, sources told ESPN.

 

“Really happy for Rob, he’s earned this,” coach Sean McVay said after practice. “Since we got here, especially with our staff, he’s represented everything that’s right about this organization. A guy that works consistently hard, takes coaching extremely conscientious.”

 

Havenstein, 26, started 15 games last season as the Rams won a division title for the first time in 14 seasons and made their first playoff appearance since 2004.

 

The Rams featured the only line to start the same five players for 15 games, and the unit helped spring Todd Gurley to 1,305 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns and allowed Jared Goff to pass for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns, while being sacked 25 times.

 

“I’m happy as hell to be a Ram,” Havenstein said. “Honestly, I’m just so thankful for the opportunity.”

 

The Rams selected Havenstein out of Wisconsin in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft. He started 13 games as a rookie, missing three because of injuries, and started 15 games in 2016.

 

 

SEATTLE

The Seahawks have made some decisions about their kicking game.  Bob Condotta in the Seattle Times:

 

The Seahawks settled their kicking positions for the 2018 season Monday, in the process closing the Seattle career of the team’s longest-tenured player — punter Jon Ryan.

 

Seattle also waived kicker Jason Myers, meaning rookie Michael Dickson will be the punter for 2018 and Sebastian Janikowski the placekicker.

 

Ryan first revealed the news Monday morning, announcing via Twitter that he had been released by the team, losing out on the punting battle to Dickson, a move many had seen coming since the moment the Seahawks traded up in the draft last April to take Dickson, who won the Ray Guy Award in 2017 as the nation’s best punter while at Texas.

 

A source said Ryan, 36, met with the Seahawks on Sunday following the defeat Saturday night against the Chargers and it was “mutually” agreed he would be released now because he wasn’t going to make the final roster, and being released now allowed him a few weeks to find a new team before the regular season begins. Ryan confirmed that information Monday in an interview with Mike Vorel of The Seattle Times.

 

Officially, Ryan had his contract terminated, which makes him an immediate free agent, able to sign with any other team. Late Monday night, a source told the Times that Ryan is expected to fly to Buffalo to meet with the Bills, who lost punter Cory Carter to an ACL injury over the weekend. Buffalo also has its starting punter from last year, Colton Schmidt, on its roster. But the Bills appear to want competition for Schmidt and they also have former Seahawk Stephen Hauschka as their kicker. Ryan held for Hauschka for six years in Seattle.

 

The waiving of Myers means the 40-year-old Janikowski will be Seattle’s kicker in 2018. Janikowski was viewed as the favorite, due in part to a $600,000 guarantee in his contract. Myers did not have any guarantees. The Seahawks filled the two open roster spots by re-signing cornerback Eljah Battle and receiver Marvin Bracy, who were both in training camp with Seattle.

 

Ryan came to Seattle after being waived by Green Bay in 2008, and he played in 15 games that season — the last for Mike Holmgren as coach — and has taken part in every Seahawks game since.

 

He was the only player left on the roster who predated the arrival of Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. Ryan’s departure means just eight players remain on the roster from the Seahawks’ Super Bowl championship-winning team following the 2013 season. But only six of those eight have been with Seattle continuously — Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. (Chancellor won’t play this season but remains on the roster on the reserve list). Byron Maxwell and J.R. Sweezy played for other teams at some point after the Seahawks’ Super Bowl season but have since returned to Seattle.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

The Bengals surprised by cutting S GEORGE ILOKA over the weekend – and there are plenty of teams looking to add him.  He could be re-united with an old friend in Oakland.

Michael Gehlken in the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

 

Since March, the Raiders have signed several defenders who played under coordinator Paul Guenther with the Cincinnati Bengals.

 

They hope to add another.

 

The team plans to make a run at safety George Iloka, whom the Bengals released Sunday, a person familiar with the situation said Monday morning. Talks were considered preliminary, with no contract imminent.

 

Should he sign, Iloka projects to start in the Sept. 10 opener against the Los Angeles Rams. His familiarity with Guenther’s scheme likely would enable a smooth transition. Iloka started 76 games the past six seasons under Guenther.

 

Safety Reggie Nelson, cornerback Leon Hall, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and defensive end Frostee Rucker also are ex-Bengals.

 

CincyJungle.com tries to explain the move which caught most Bengals followers by surprise:

 

Reports suggested production was an issue, with subtle offseason hints about the team’s view at safety after chatting with Eric Reid and Kurt Coleman, and eventually drafting Jessie Bates. A handful of reports cite “financial” reasons. Some of us believe the reason could have been his activity in discussing social issues on social media, and an ol’ bird like Mike Brown, who is facing a complaint from Reid after Bengals ownership asked his intentions regarding the anthem protest, not liking that.

 

There are other theories.

 

Responses on Twitter and comments on this site provide some, many of which are good, logical thoughts. Before we continue, keep in mind that these theories are inter-connected weaves of the same pattern.

 

1) George Iloka didn’t fit into Teryl Austin’s scheme:

 

Jeff Riley

@JeffRiley4

I just think what Iloka brings to the table isn’t what Teryl Austin wants. Iloka wasn’t the same after Reggie Nelson left. Replacing RN w/ Williams put Iloka in a spot that should be ball hawking & that isn’t his strength. Williams/Bates makes more sense complimenting each other.

 

This became a popular theory — one that makes you think… this explains a lot. It doesn’t require an argument against production (rather a different kind of production). Simply put, Austin wants a free flowing center fielder who has stronger instincts against the pass.

 

2) It’s the new helmet rule!

 

A fellow Bengal fan complained to me about Iloka’s playing style. Always trying to land a huge hit rather than playing the ball – Kevin.Evans.77377.

 

The NFL implemented a new 15-yard penalty this offseason in which players cannot lower their heads to initiate contact. From the NFL:

 

Penalties for Violation: Loss of 15 yards. If the foul is by the defense, it is also an automatic first down. The player may also be ejected. Ejection standards:

 

1. Player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet.

 

2. Unobstructed path to his opponent

 

3. Contact clearly avoidable and player delivering the blow had other options

 

Let’s just say that the new rule has caused anger and alarm among defensive players.

 

One player this could impact is Iloka, a hard-hitting safety who looks for the next big shot. In a way, this also relates to the point that defensive coordinator Teryl Austin wants a safety who is more wide-ranging, looking to react to a pass rather than plow a ball-carrier.

 

3) Reggie Nelson departure impacting the current team

 

Since Reggie Nelson left the Bengals have been playing with two strong safeties. Neither Iloka or Williams plays like a free safety. – Rob Lewis.

 

Since Reggie Nelson left for Oakland (well, wasn’t re-signed and thus left for Oakland), the Bengals moved Iloka into his free safety role. The problem is that Iloka’s style is more geared toward that of an enforcer, rather than a centerfielder. Essentially the Bengals tried placing a square box into a circular hole.

 

Between 2011-2015, Nelson’s opposing quarterback rating was 73.9, 59.7, 102.5, 50.0, and 61.8. He allowed a high percentage of completions (over 60 percent every year except for one), but he was also really good as positioning himself to secure 23 interceptions during his Bengals career.

 

When Iloka took over as the center fielder in 2016, he allowed quarterbacks to complete 64.2 percent of their passes, with a passer rating of 85.3 and 68.4 in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Last year, Iloka only intercepted one pass (only one defensive player had more than one interception), but Cincinnati was obviously disappointed in his (lack of) production.

 

Was the lack of production because he was out of place once Nelson left? Same say yes.

 

More on the Iloka move from Jason Marcum at Cincy Jungle:

 

Obviously, Iloka’s release was good news for several Bengals, but it was also bad news for a select few. We’re here to break down who benefited the most and least from Iloka’s surprising departure.

 

WINNERS

Brandon Wilson

While Jessie Bates is the guy likely to start thanks to Iloka being cut, he wasn’t the biggest winner. After all, his roster spot is secured for this year and probably the duration of his rookie contract.

 

The same cannot be said of Brandon Wilson, as the second-year safety has already been cut once in his career, and he was firmly on the roster bubble prior to this news. Wilson had a good showing in training camp and the preseason thus far, enough to think he was on the right side of the roster bubble entering Week 3 of the preseason, but he was still going to sweat it out going into cutdown day.

 

Now, Wilson has a little room to breath as he’s in good shape for one of the final spots at safety. Heck, he may even end up playing defensive snaps this year vs. just being relegated to special teams, which is what would have happened had he made the final roster with Iloka on it.

 

Josh Shaw

With Josh Shaw attempting to make the full-time switch to safety after spending most of his career at cornerback, he too was firmly on the roster bubble prior to Iloka being cut. The final safety spot was likely coming down to Wilson vs. Shaw, and for now, it looked like Shaw was the odd man out.

 

Now, it may be a scenario where the Bengals keep both guys, especially since Shaw can play two positions. He is now much closer to seeing the field while also giving them emergency depth at cornerback.

 

Trayvon Henderson

Arguably the Bengals’ best undrafted free agent signing this year, Trayvon Henderson has had a relatively quiet training camp and preseason since making noise in OTAs. It seemed like his best hope of staying in Cincinnati was on the practice squad, but with Iloka out of the picture, there’s an outside shot at the 53-man roster.

 

Bengals.com reporter Geoff Hobson even mentioned Henderson as a potential benefactor from the departure.

 

Not only does the move promote the 21-year-old Jessie Bates III to a starter, it may also open a roster spot for another rookie safety who turned 23 last week in Hawaii’s undrafted Trayvon Henderson.

 

Henderson has a great opportunity to make the Week 1 roster. Now, it’s just a matter of seizing the opportunity and running with it.

 

Jessie Bates

As Hobson mentioned (and as common sense suggests), Jessie Bates is now the favorite to be the Bengals’ starting free safety in 2018. Bates has had a solid preseason after going relatively unnoticed in training camp, so the coaches must really like what they’ve seen in him to this point.

 

Even though Bates was a second-round pick, this coaching staff has typically brought rookies along very slowly and waited for veterans to leave before handing the young guns a starting job. For the team to go out of its way to cut a veteran like Iloka may speak to how much they like Bates (or there are some deeper-seeded issues, which is also totally possible).

 

LOSERS

Michael Johnson

How can a defensive end be a loser because of a safety being cut?

 

Simple. Johnson is just another aging veteran with young studs breathing down his neck for playing time, and possible a roster spot. We saw the rise of Auden Tate, Josh Malone and John Ross lead to the release of Brandon LaFell.

 

Then we saw the Bengals cut Iloka to seemingly pave the way for Jessie Bates to start.

 

Johnson is in a very similar situation with Sam Hubbard, Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson all looking like superior edge defenders at this stage, not to mention the Bengals signed Chris Baker to help shore up the interior, while Andrew Billings is also coming along nicely, negating the need to keep Johnson solely because of his nickel pass-rushing ability on the inside.

 

That’s not even accounting for Andrew Brown, a promising fifth-round pick who is recovering from injury and probably doesn’t make the final roster if Johnson is kept. If Johnson is cut, the Bengals can keep Willis, Lawson, Hubbard and Carlos Dunlap on the edge, then Billings, Baker, Brown, Ryan Glasgow and Geno Atkins on the inside.

 

The Bengals’ image of ‘taking care of our own’

One of the biggest themes of the Marvin Lewis/Mike Brown regime has been the Bengals drafting, developing and re-signing their own. Whether it’s All-Pros like A.J. Green and Geno Atkins or questionable starters like Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko, Dre Kirkpatrick and Russell Bodine (they tried extending him this offseason, despite him being one of the NFL’s worst centers), the Bengals have been one of the league’s best at DDR.

 

That is, until they cut Iloka less than three years into the big five-year contract they signed him to when he was a prized free agent in 2016, which made him one of the league’s highest-paid safeties.

 

That’s a big hit to the Bengals’ DDR image, though it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s been painfully clear this approach has burned them more times than it’s helped them, so maybe they’re finally changing their approach.

 

Is DDR a widely-used term that the DB just hasn’t heard before?  We like it.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

Would the Jaguars purge themselves of QB DANTE FOWLER?  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It seems apparent that Dante Fowler probably isn’t a long-term fit in Jacksonville.

 

Now, we have to see if the Jaguars want to cash in their chips now, or hope for a salary drive from the former No. 3 overall pick.

 

According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the Jets called the Jaguars to inquire about the potential availability of Fowler.

 

The Jaguars didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on Fowler’s rookie deal, which means he’s playing out a contract year. He’s also coming off a week’s suspension for fighting with fellow defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, and will be suspended for the first week of the regular season after last year’s arrest for assaulting a man, stepping on his glasses, and throwing his groceries in a lake.

 

But, he also has 12.0 sacks in two seasons, and in the Jets lineup, that would make him a high-profile addition. They’ve ranked in the bottom five in the league in sacks each of the last two years.

 

The Jaguars might prefer to have the insurance of a talented pass-rusher than a future draft pick, to keep a strong defense deep in options. But the Jets are smart to ask, if only to see if the Jaguars are sick enough of his antics to trade him for pennies on the dollar.

 

The DB wonders if a Fowler for QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER trade would make sense.

 

CODY KESSLER is the current back-up to the less-than-inspiring BLAKE BORTLES.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

QB A.J. McCARRON did not separate his shoulder after all, but he is out this week and rookie QB JOSH ALLEN gets the start.  First, Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com on the new diagnosis for McCarron:

 

The news from late Friday night didn’t sound good for AJ McCarron‘s bid to win the Bills’ starting quarterback job. As it turns out, McCarron will return to the competition soon.

 

A second opinion revealed McCarron did not fracture his collarbone, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

 

That means he will get to resume his competition with Nathan Peterman and Josh Allen. Allen will start this week’s dress rehearsal game.

 

McCarron still might not win the job, but he won’t lose it by default.

 

The Buffalo News reported after Friday’s game that McCarron had a hairline fracture of the collarbone. Bills coach Sean McDermott refuted McCarron was injured, although he added that tests are “not totally conclusive.”

 

That’s what prompted McCarron to seek a second opinion.

 

James Johnson of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on Allen:

 

Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen will start the team’s third preseason game Sunday, the team announced on Twitter.

 

Allen, the No. 7 pick overall in the 2018 NFL draft, is in competition with Nathan Peterman to become the Bills starting quarterback. The rookie’s performance so far in two preseason games is cause for excitement to build among some Bills fans.

 

“He’s a lot better right now than I thought he was going to be,” Henrietta resident Kenneth Burrows said. ” I’m very excited, I really wanted to see what he can do with the ones (first-string offensive team).

 

“We already know what Peterman can do, let’s do this.”

 

There were three players who hoped to take the position for the Bills’ season-opener at Baltimore, but A.J. McCarron suffered a shoulder injury in the team’s second preseason game Aug. 17 against the Cleveland Browns.

 

All three quarterbacks will have taken a turn as the first quarterback to play in the Bills offense during a preseason game, when the Buffalo hosts the Cincinnati Bengals, 4 p.m. Aug. 26.

 

Peterman was the Bills starting quarterback in Buffalo’s preseason opener Aug. 9, and completed all but one of his 10 pass attempts, including a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers.

 

Allen replaced McCarron in that game, and was 9 of 19 for 116 yards with a 14-yard touchdown throw to Ray-Ray McCloud III. The rookie quarterback’s first pass attempt during a game in a Bills uniform excited fans, despite the 65-yard throw being caught out of bounds.

 

McCarron was the starter against the Browns, the second of four preseason games, and was followed by Allen in the second quarter. Allen was 9 of 13 for 60 yards, with another touchdown, a 2-yard toss to Rod Streater.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

The anonymous sources of Manish Mehta of the struggling New York Daily News whisper about interest in QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER:

 

Teddy Bridgewater’s days with the Jets might be coming to an end.

 

The Daily News has learned that at least two teams have expressed interest in trading for Bridgewater. The News reported two weeks ago that Gang Green has made it clear to teams across the league that they’re amenable to dealing the quarterback for the right price.

 

Although the Jets have had several potential trade discussions with interested teams, there have been no concrete offers as of Monday afternoon that would prompt a move yet, according to sources.

 

Bridgewater has been impressive in the first two preseason games, showing no limitations on his surgically repaired knee that cost him the better part of two seasons. He’s completed 17 of 23 passes for 212 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in his first extended work since tearing his ACL and dislocating his knee in a non-contact injury in practice two years ago.

 

 “He’s never showed me that he was injured,” Todd Bowles said. “He did everything in the spring and everything in the summer. He hasn’t taken a play or a day off or show any limp or any hitch to his giddy-up. I’ve never seen it, so I just keep it out of mind. He’s always smiling and doing everything full speed, so I don’t even worry about it. I’m just happy for him.”

 

Although folks on One Jets Drive have been exceedingly pleased with Bridgewater since the moment he arrived four months ago, the organization hopes it can get a fair offer to create a win-win for the player and team, according to sources.

 

The league landscape obviously would be tilted if a team suffers an injury to a signal caller over the next couple weeks. Such a scenario would accelerate a team’s need (i.e — desperation) and significantly increase Bridgewater’s trade value. Short of that, a playoff-caliber team looking to take a page out of the Eagles playbook and upgrade its backup quarterback position would be a viable destination for Bridgewater.

 

My understanding is that many teams have inquired about Bridgewater — and that the Jets have made it abundantly clear that they are open for business and would like to reduce their quarterback surplus — but Gang Green is still waiting for a reasonable offer.

 

Frankly, there are two intriguing possibilities within the AFC East with the Dolphins and… the Patriots.

 

The odds, however, of the Jets trading Bridgewater to Bill Belichick’s Evil Empire are about as realistic as the NFL abolishing the new helmet rule, according to people familiar with the situation.

 

Here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice: Keep an eye on the Broncos, who are looking to upgrade their backup quarterback spot.

 

It would be a coup if the Jets turned their $1 million investment in Bridgewater, to this point, into a premium draft pick (first three rounds). Depending on the quality of offers, my understanding is that the Jets would even consider trading Bridgewater for a fourth-round pick.

 

It makes sense given that Gang Green almost certainly will not get a 2020 compensatory pick when Bridgewater walks in free agency given all the money they will be spending in free agency next year. The team has no plans of placing the franchise tag on Bridgewater after this season (barring a serious injury to Sam Darnold in the next few weeks, obviously), according to sources.

 

The Jets are all-in on Darnold, who has been impressive the past few months. As The News previously reported, Darnold is in line to be the Week 1 starter barring a significant regression in the third preseason game against the Giants. It would be an upset if he regressed given everything that he has shown the team in the past few months.

 

“He’s progressing fast,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said about Darnold on Monday. “He’s owned the playbook.”

 

There is no trade market for Josh McCown, who signed a one-year, $10 million deal this summer. Bridgewater’s one-year, $6 million deal includes $9 million in incentives, but keep this in mind: If he earns any of those playtime and performance incentives (like $2.5 million for taking part in 50 percent of the snaps and the team making the playoffs and $1.25 million if he throws for more than 3,000 yards), that money will count toward the 2019 salary cap.

 

There are some folks in the building who would prefer to keep Bridgewater, but it simply doesn’t make much sense given their belief and trust in Darnold. It would be enough to have McCown as the backup. Keeping three signal callers would be overkill.

 

Bridgewater has been a portrait of professionalism amid rumblings that he could be dealt.

 

“This is all about opportunity,” Bridgewater said. “I am blessed with the opportunity to continue to do what I love to do. That’s what is most important to me right now. Just waking up every day knowing that I get to continue to play football. I get to come to work every day and challenge these guys to be the best men that they can be and the best football players that they can be. What more could you ask for?”

 

His comeback story has been an inspiration to everyone in the organization.

 

“One of the coolest stories that I have of summer was when Teddy went in against Atlanta,” Bates said. “Everything he’s been through. Then you get to know him. And everything you hear is the truth. He’s grinding and working in the training room… You get all the way to the point in the Atlanta game and his number is called. He just had the biggest smile. I got goosebumps on the sideline. It was like a little kid going and playing Pop Warner because he finally got to Saturday. It was just really neat to be a part of that experience with him, getting him back on the field. He’s been incredible. He’s a grinder. He’s great for the room. He’s a leader in the whole building. Man, I just enjoy being with him and watching him play the game, because he’s really talented.”

 

Bridgewater is a starting-caliber quarterback who deserves a chance to have a pathway to success again. The Jets are aware of that, too. They’re looking for a win-win.

 

There are at least two teams close to ready to make a move with several others that have inquired.

 

Now, the Jets will wait for an offer that makes sense.

 

But Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, who seems to assume Bridgewater and his representatives have some say in the matter, wonders about the whole idea of flipping the ex-Viking.

 

If the Jets don’t want to play him, why would he welcome the chance to go to another team and, you know, not play? Bridgewater may prefer staying on the New York roster until a starting quarterback gets injured and an opportunity arises for Bridgewater to play, somewhere.

 

If Bridgewater makes it known that he has no interest in being the No. 2 with another team, said other team may not want him. Which would keep him on the roster in New York.

 

An acceptable Plan B could be to simply get cut and then wait for the next opportunity to emerge. Of course, getting cut would mean giving up $5 million in salary to go along with the $1 million he already has earned. That’s money he may never earn, especially if no starting quarterback gets injured and/or if any team whose starter gets injured opts to stay in house.

 

But look around the league. Plenty of teams don’t have a No. 2 who would inspire anything other than dread if the starter gets hurt. From New England to Miami to Pittsburgh to Jacksonville to Carolina to Seattle and beyond, Bridgewater would be the ideal break-glass choice in the event of a QB1 emergency. So he can either wait for that to happen while playing (not playing) for the Jets, or wait on his own while not getting paid by anyone.

 

Either option may be preferable to Bridgewater than being foisted onto a new team with the new season only days away.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

HELMET HEADS UP

The consternation over the new helmet rule has reached a point where league officials will have a Wednesday conference call to discuss the chaos.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com seems to be operating with some pretty good inside info here:

 

With the start of the regular season little more than two weeks away, the NFL will be discussing the preseason experiences with the new helmet rule on Wednesday.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, a previously-scheduled conference call will take up the issue of the suddenly-controversial new rule, which had been hiding in plain sight but which didn’t become an issue until preseason games began. But while the call wasn’t scheduled specifically to discuss possible fixes to the rule, it’s expected that participants in the call will lobby for potential tweaks.

 

Possibilities include expressly limiting application of the rule to the top/crown of the helmet. As currently written, the rule applies to any portion of the helmet — front, top, side, anywhere. The rule also could be adjusted to, for example, require forcible helmet contact, to exempt incidental helmet contact, and/or to specifically eliminate from the reach of the rule hits from the side, which happen as defensive players chase the offensive player with the ball.

 

It’s also possible that replay review will be made available to serve as a fallback for mistakes made by officials who are trying their best in real time to identify what is and isn’t happening.

 

The overriding goal will be to come up with ways to narrow the focus for the officials. For now, the trigger seems to be spotting the linear posture, with a player lowering his head and flattening his back. Once a player assumes that demeanor, the foul becomes automatic if he initiates contact with the helmet. The better approach may be to focus on the quality of the hit, a know-it-when-you-see-it-type assessment aimed at wiping out instances where the helmet truly is being used as a weapon, not as a piece of equipment that from time to time happens to get in the way as players are trying to do their jobs.

 

Even Mike Zimmer, the coach of the Vikings, couldn’t believe it when his team benefitted for 15 yards on a penalty called on a steam-rolled Jaguars defender.  Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com:

 

Concerns over the implementation of the NFL’s new helmet rule continue to mount through the preseason and have drawn frustration and concern from players and coaches alike.

 

The new rule, which penalizes offensive and defensive players for lowering their head to initiate contact with their helmet to any part of an opposing player’s body, was designed to make the game safer. How it’s being enforced by officials in the preseason is generating stark controversy. Some, including Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, even believe it might end up leading to how games are decided.

 

“It’s going to cost some people some jobs — playoffs, jobs, the whole bit I’m guessing,” Zimmer said. “We haven’t had any called on us so far. It’s just hard to figure out. No one has ever said to me, ‘Hey. Don’t worry about it, we’re going to call it less or we’ll get it straightened out in the regular season. Or we’re going to come up with a revised rule.’ No one has ever said that.”

– – –

The Jacksonville Jaguars were on the receiving end of such a call in the first quarter of Saturday’s preseason game when Vikings fullback C.J. Ham caught a pass from Kirk Cousins and lowered his shoulder into cornerback A.J. Bouye. Because the Jacksonville defender appeared to lower his head while bracing for contact, Bouye was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul.

 

The NFL is preparing an updated teaching video about the new helmet-contact rule, and discussion of the rule is expected to dominate a previously scheduled conference call involving league officials Wednesday, sources told ESPN.

 

Zimmer said he turned that play in to the league because he wanted to understand why that was a penalty. Zimmer was asked whether he has a better understanding of what’s a penalty now.

 

“Quite honestly, no. The one that they had called on them, the guys is tackling around his legs and he had his head to the side for the most part. I actually sent that in to ask them, ‘Why was this called?’ Then you see other places, because I go through the tape, and I’m saying, ‘I wonder if this is a penalty. I wonder if this is a penalty.’ I think it’s very hard to tackle a guy,” he said.

 

Smith said he doesn’t believe Bouye could have done anything differently.

 

More from Mike Florio:

 

It remains to be seen whether Wednesday’s discussion regarding the new rule against lowering the helmet results in any changes to the rule. However things play out tomorrow, the league eventually will be providing more specific information about what it and isn’t allowed.

 

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that the NFL will prepare an “updated video tutorial that will be distributed to game officials, coaches and players once the final preseason games are played and in time for teams preparing for their regular-season openers.”

 

The league previously disseminated a series of videos prepared by five NFL coaches, targeting specific positions. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn addressed running backs. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone handled offensive line. Falcons coach Dan Quinn dealt with defensive line play. Titans coach Mike Vrabel looked at linebackers. And Jets coach Todd Bowles did defensive backs.

 

I’ve watched each of them. Although they have yet to be rated by Rotten Tomatoes, one league source who has extensive knowledge of the manner in which the rule was passed and the way it has been enforced said, “I hated them.”

 

There’s nothing wrong with the videos from a technical standpoint. The coaches do a nice job of showing what the league is trying to do, when it comes to removing the helmet from the game. The objection to the videos comes from the fact that the league is trying to do so much more than simply eliminate the use of the helmet as a weapon.

 

Watch the videos, the links to which are embedded above. They emphasize a linear posture, with the back flattened and the helmet down. Once the player assumes that specific body alignment, the foul happens if it initiates contact with an opponent, with the rule assuming that the player intended to use the helmet as a weapon.

 

Remember when NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent proclaimed that the league had watched 40,000 plays and only three potential ejections under the new rule were identified? That talking point helped fuel the buy-in from coaches, glossing over the reality that, of those 40,000 snaps, there would have been a lot more than only three flags thrown.

 

That’s why coaches are frustrated. They were told one thing, and something else has been happening. The problem is that what’s happening meshes with what the rule says, and that unless the powers-the-be (as we understand it, the Management Council) are willing to adjust the language of the rule, what the rule says is what the rule will be: No lowering of the helmet to initiate and make contact, with no limitation as to the portion of the helmet that can strike an opponent, no requirement that the blow be forcible, no exception for incidental helmet contact, no exemption for tackles that happen from the side, and no allowance for replay review to assist the officials who are trying to figure this all out in real time.

 

PFT is reporting that through 2 weeks and the Hall of Fame Game the toll is 51 helmet penalties in 33 games (43 defense, 8 offense).  No word as to how many of them the league office deems to have been thrown properly.  Or how many infractions in the NFL’s eyes were missed by slowly adjusting officials.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Mike Tirico is in, Dan Patrick is out as host of Sunday Night Football.  The AP:

 

Mike Tirico is adding to his many duties at NBC by taking over as studio host for “Football Night In America.”

 

Tirico, who also does play by play on Notre Dame games and a slew of other hosting assignments, replaces Dan Patrick. Tirico joins Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison on the Sunday night program that has been the most-watched studio show in sports since 2006.

 

For the past two seasons, Tirico co-hosted “Football Night In America” from the game site. That role will now be filled by Liam McHugh.

 

NBC’s first regular-season telecast actually will be on a Thursday when the schedule kicks off with Super Bowl champion Philadelphia hosting Atlanta on Sept. 6. The opening prime-time Sunday nighter is Chicago at Green Bay on Sept. 9.

 

– – –

FOX numbers guru Michael Mulvihill tweets this nugget:

 

@mulvihill79

In 2017 the NFL alone accounted for 71 of the year’s 100 most-watched telecasts.

 

In 2007 that figure was 22 of 100.

 

He then adds this thread:

 

If you’re thinking about the future of the NFL as a media property, I’d suggest giving some thought to these four questions:

 

One, is the NFL likely to account for a greater or lesser number of each year’s 100 most-watched shows in the future? This gets to the heart of long-term fragmentation trends.

 

Two, is more or less money likely to be spent on video advertising in the future?

 

Three, are people likely to watch more or less high-quality entertainment content on ad-free streaming services in the future?

 

Four, are people likely to watch more or less high-quality entertainment via DVR, which makes ad avoidance easy?

 

There are other important questions, obviously – some of which are questions about the game itself – but I tend to think these are probably the *most* relevant questions.

 

And these questions also apply to live sports generally, but clearly the biggest piece of that puzzle is the NFL by a very wide margin.

– – –

ESPN, trying to undo the blunders of the late John Skipper Era, is going back to the status quo on the Anthem:

 

ESPN has found a way to keep from being in the middle of any national anthem controversies on their air this year — by not putting it on their air.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

According to Sara Fischer of Axios.com, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said their intention was to not show players doing whatever they may or may not be doing during the song during their Monday Night Football presentations.

 

“We generally have not broadcasted the anthem and I don’t think that will change this year. Our plan going into this year is to not broadcast the anthem,” Pitaro said. “Again that could change. It’s unpredictable what could happen in the world but as of now, we’re not. We have communicated that back to the NFL. They have not asked but as courtesy and good partners we have let them know what our plans are.”

 

That’s one way to avoid the attention, at least until the President decides to start tweeting at ESPN about how unpatriotic they are because he knows it riles up the people he wants riled.

 

Of course, it’s also reasonable to wonder whether Pitaro came up with this idea all on his own, or whether it stemmed from conversations with his “good partner” who very much wants this to go away.

 

Remember, ESPN only started showing the Anthem last year when their cameras could zoom in and publicize the protestors.  But some are still mad at the decision to go back to the way things used to be.

 

More from the Washington Post’s Ben Straus on Pitaro’s effort to steer ESPN back to the middle while repairing the network’s relationship with the NFL:

 

Jimmy Pitaro has been president of ESPN for a little more than five months and made clear Friday that he wants the network to focus more on sports and less on politics.

 

Pitaro said one of his top priorities has been to improve relations with the NFL. Those ties have been strained by ESPN investigations into player concussions and the sports network’s coverage of players protesting racial injustice and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem — issues that sometimes painted the league in an unflattering light.

 

“I’ve spent a lot of time with league executives,” Pitaro said Friday. “The relationship is incredibly important to us. That programming cuts across everything we’re doing on the studio side, on the original content side. And we’ve made that very clear to the NFL.”

 

The sports behemoth has battled the head winds of an all-consuming political climate. Prominent personality Jemele Hill was suspended from the network last year for calling President Trump a white supremacist. The White House responded by calling the tweet “a fireable offense,” which fueled conservative critics of the network.

 

Pitaro said he prioritizes limiting political commentary. “If you ask me is there a false narrative out there, I will tell you ESPN being a political organization is false,” he said. “I will tell you I have been very, very clear with employees here that it is not our jobs to cover politics, purely.”

 

Pitaro also has told the league that ESPN does not plan to air the national anthem ahead of its Monday night telecasts. The policy is not a change from previous seasons, but the network articulated its plans directly to the league for the first time.

 

“They have not asked,” Pitaro said. “But we have proactively just as a courtesy and as good partners let them know what our plans are.”

 

Asked about Pitaro’s comments about the national anthem, Stephanie Druley, ESPN’s senior vice president for event and studio production, noted that the policy could be adjusted if news warranted, but said, “We’ve seen data — fans want the game. That’s where we will keep our focus.”

 

Pitaro, 48, was named ESPN’s president in March just a few months after the sudden resignation of John Skipper, who had led ESPN since 2011. Before being named to the position, Pitaro was chairman of consumer products and interactive media at Disney, ESPN’s parent company.

 

Pitaro also made clear that, as part of the network’s relationship with the NFL, he wants better games for its “Monday Night Football” schedule. ESPN, which pays $2 billion annually for the broadcast rights, has chafed at having to air ho-hum matchups.

 

Pitaro said he is pleased with the slate of Monday night games ESPN will broadcast this season. In Week 1, ESPN has the Oakland Raiders vs. the Los Angeles Rams in Raiders Coach Jon Gruden’s return to the sideline. Later in the season, it will broadcast the Kansas City Chiefs and the Rams from Mexico City.

 

“We have 11 out of the 12 teams that made the playoffs last year,” Pitaro said. “We are very pleased with the schedule.”

 

The NFL has aired on ESPN since 1987, and the league helped the network grow into the cable giant it has become. But the tensions, along with the future business model of cable TV, have led some to wonder whether ESPN and the NFL would not renew their “Monday Night Football” deal, which expires in 2021. Pitaro said he has not engaged in day-to-day negotiations but neither has he imagined ESPN’s future without the NFL.

 

“I believe they want to be in business with us,” he said. “We’re optimistic not just about the next four years but about the long-term viability of this partnership.”

 

Pitaro spoke for nearly an hour with reporters at ESPN’s sprawling Bristol campus. The discussion comes at a moment of transition for ESPN and the rest of the cable industry. ESPN has seen subscribers drop from more than 100 million in 2011 to fewer than 87 million, and the company laid off about 100 employees last year. Cord-cutting is particularly painful for ESPN because the network receives around $8 for each cable subscriber, the most of any cable channel.

 

 

BEST AND WORST QBs

Stat geek Scott Kachsmar breaks down the NFL’s best and worst at specific things.  His version of “valuable” leads to some unexpected results (TOM BRADY is NOT in the top 10).  The version below is edited:

 

Football is the ultimate team sport, and while the quarterback is the most important player, he still has only limited control of what his team does each game.

 

We wanted a way to isolate a quarterback’s value when he threw or ran the ball relative to what the rest of his team did on every other play. The method for this was to collect data on expected points added (EPA) from ESPN Stats & Information research. Every play has an expected point total based on factors such as down, distance to go, field position, home-field advantage and time remaining. The higher the EPA, the more successful that play was at helping the team score the game’s next points.

 

Basically, if a quarterback had a great season despite not getting much help from his running game or defense, then he’ll have a much higher EPA relative to his team’s EPA, showing his value, and suggesting that he needs more help around him. Even if the quarterback had an average individual season, a terrible team EPA will prove that he’s likely far less of the problem than the rest of the team’s flaws.

 

The following is a look at which 10 quarterbacks were the most valuable relative to their team’s performance in 2017. Each quarterback’s total EPA (on his passes and runs) was compared to the sum of his offense’s EPA on plays not involving him (essentially the running game) and EPA from the defense, special teams and penalties. Things like pass blocking and yards after the catch were not accounted for in the QB’s EPA total. Only games where that quarterback played were included in the data.

 

We want to stress that this is not a traditional value analysis such as what one would look at to decide the league MVP (won by Tom Brady last year). In that case, Brady finished first in EPA by a quarterback (120.4), but because the Patriots were so strong in certain areas (rushing, special teams and penalties), the team EPA was 62.8 (ranked sixth). Thus, Brady produced 57.6 more EPA than his team, which ranked 11th in 2017.

 

Most valuable

 

1. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

When the Chiefs were 5-0 with the No. 1 offense in the league, Smith was arguably the MVP of the league. Had the defense not blown late leads to Oakland and the Jets in games in which Smith was excellent, he might have gotten a stronger push for the award. Despite the offense’s brutal November, Smith finished 2017 with the highest passer rating (104.7) in the NFL to go with his first 4,000-yard season. He finished third in QB EPA behind only Brady and Carson Wentz, but is first here mainly because of how far the defense (ranked 25th) fell after losing Eric Berry in Week 1. If the Chiefs continue to play defense like they did last year, then success won’t be tied to switching from Smith to Patrick Mahomes. Things have to get better on defense first.

 

2. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Like Smith, Wilson was a dark horse candidate for MVP last season, finishing first in touchdown passes (34). He set an NFL record with 19 fourth-quarter touchdown passes in a season and led his team in rushing with 586 yards. Wilson may have had the most valuable quarterback effort of 2017 when he threw for 452 yards in a 41-38 win over Houston. Seattle’s ground game that day produced 3 yards on 17 carries. It’s no surprise that Wilson had the second-worst EPA support from his offense (minus-64.9) last year due to no running game, but the Seahawks also had the worst penalty EPA (minus-32.8) of any team studied.

 

3. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Winston’s third season was not great, but he still finished 13th in EPA despite missing three games to injury. The bigger problems in Tampa Bay were a poor running game, as Doug Martin failed to crack 3.0 yards per carry for the second year in a row, and the defense finished 32nd in DVOA. Out of the 28 quarterbacks/teams studied, Winston and Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer were the only two who had a defense (26th) and special teams (21st) both ranked 20th or worse in EPA last season.

 

4. Josh McCown, New York Jets

Few would have expected the Jets to name McCown as their team MVP in 2017, but by the numbers, he had a strong case. McCown finished 14th in EPA, which was higher than the Jets’ non-QB EPA (25th), defense (20th), special teams (16th) and value in penalties (26th). McCown not only had respectable passing numbers, but he rushed for five touchdowns at age 38. This will be Sam Darnold’s team any day now, but McCown turned in a quality season when it was least expected of him.

 

5. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills

Since we used data in games the quarterback played, the non-QB EPA for Taylor includes the five-interception atrocity that Nathan Peterman had against the Los Angeles Chargers when he started in Taylor’s place. Taylor got into that game after it was out of reach, but that is a big reason why he had the worst help from his 2017 offense in EPA (minus-67.4). (In 2016, by comparison, Taylor had the most EPA help from his offense.) Taylor also didn’t get much help from a defense that ranked 18th in EPA and middling special teams (ranked 14th). An imperfect playoff system got Buffalo into the playoffs more than Taylor’s individual play did, but he leaves behind a team that had a lot of flaws last year despite a 9-7 record.

 

6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

7. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

8. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

9. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

10. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

 

Least valuable

 

1. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Not only is Flacco a two-time highest-paid player in NFL history, but he’s also a two-time least valuable quarterback in the NFL. In 2016, the Ravens had the second-highest team EPA while Flacco was 49.4 points below that. In 2017, the Ravens had the highest team EPA while Flacco was even worse, creating a staggering difference of 180.9 EPA. Baltimore had the No. 4 rushing attack, No. 4 defense, No. 5 special teams and was No. 8 in penalties, but the Ravens also had a bottom-three quarterback. It’s no surprise they now have Lamar Jackson on the roster.

 

2. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos

In his first season as a starter (2016), Siemian was the third-least valuable quarterback, but that had more to do with Denver’s No. 1 defense outpacing his mediocrity as a passer. In 2017, everything in Denver regressed with Siemian’s turnovers and the worst special teams by EPA combining to put the defense (still third in EPA) in terrible field position. That led to the Broncos ranking 14th in points per drive, but they allowed the second-fewest yards per drive in 2017. The Broncos had to make a move to Case Keenum because Siemian was never going to be the long-term answer.

 

3. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

4. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars

5. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears

6. DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns

7. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

8. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

9. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

10. Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins

 

Most aggressive

Inspired by conservative passer Alex Smith, ALEX measures the average difference between how far a quarterback threw a pass (air yards) and how many yards he needed for a first down. If a quarterback throws a 3-yard pass on third-and-10, then that would be minus-7 ALEX. The best application of ALEX is to look at third down, when it’s really crucial to get 100 percent of the needed yards to extend the drive.

 

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

2017 ALEX: Plus-4.0

Rodgers is as consistently aggressive on third down as anyone in the NFL. He has ranked in the top six in ALEX every season since 2008. However, not everything was rosy in 2017, even before the collarbone injury that shortened his season. Rodgers actually had the NFL’s lowest completion percentage (51.0 percent) and second-highest sack rate (13.8 percent) on third down last year. He still finished sixth in conversion rate, thanks to attacking the sticks more than anyone. Only a league-low 21.6 percent of Rodgers’ throws were short of the sticks. No matter what changes in Green Bay, you can expect Rodgers to keep this mindset on third down.

 

2. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

2017 ALEX: Plus-3.3

In his rookie season, Carson Wentz was only plus-0.2 in ALEX, but he took a much more aggressive approach in 2017. Wentz threw the deepest third-down passes in the league, at 10.9 air yards per attempt. He connected a lot, too, with the second-highest conversion rate in 2017. While Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith helped Wentz raise his ALEX, it was the breakout year by Nelson Agholor that really helped the offense be so successful on third down, where Wentz led the league with an 11.3 touchdown pass rate. Wentz also had the fourth-highest blitz rate (39.6 percent) on third down last year, so defenses may want to back off a little more this season, even though testing that repaired knee in September could be enticing to defensive coordinators.

 

3. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2017 ALEX: Plus-2.9

Winston joins Wentz and Rodgers as the only quarterbacks to throw their average third-down pass more than 10 yards down the field last year. This has been a fairly consistent part of Winston’s three-year career in Tampa Bay. He finished fifth in ALEX in 2016 (plus-3.0). The addition of DeSean Jackson did not really help the offense last season (plus-11.4 ALEX, but a 25 percent conversion rate), but Winston still has a deep receiving corps to work with.

 

4. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

2017 ALEX: Plus-2.5

Brady’s ALEX was at its highest since 2009, his last full season with Randy Moss. On average, he held the ball longer in the pocket (2.49 seconds) on third down than any quarterback. We expected some of this with Brandin Cooks serving as the No. 1 wide receiver, but Brady’s ALEX on third-down targets to Cooks was a staggering plus-11.2. However, that didn’t work out so well (27 percent conversion rate) and Cooks was traded to the Rams. Julian Edelman is facing a four-game suspension to start 2018, and Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis are gone. The 41-year-old quarterback still has All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Bill Belichick always finds a way to adjust, but we would expect Brady to dial things back a little this season.

 

5. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

6. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

7. Tom Savage, Houston Texans

8. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

9. Brett Hundley, Green Bay Packers

10. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

 

Least aggressive

 

1. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears

2017 ALEX: Minus-2.4

Before we blame conservative coach John Fox for Mitchell Trubisky having the lowest ALEX as a rookie, let’s recall that 2016’s most aggressive passer was Chicago’s Matt Barkley. To his credit, Trubisky was stuck in a limited offense and faced the toughest third-down situations, with an average of 8.8 yards needed for a first down. Still, he was far too timid on those plays, relying heavily on YAC while also taking the highest sack rate (14.4 percent) on third down in 2017. This is something Matt Nagy will have to fix, but even in Alex Smith’s best season last year in Kansas City, his ALEX was still only plus-0.7 (ranked 22nd).

 

2. Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos

2017 ALEX: Minus-1.9

Osweiler’s return to Denver did not go well. He has gotten increasingly more conservative since 2015 and bottomed out last year when he threw 59.6 percent of his third-down passes short of the sticks, the highest rate in the league. Osweiler is in Miami this year to replace the next quarterback on the list.

 

3. Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins

4. Brian Hoyer, San Francisco 49ers

5. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Brees has a reputation for throwing a pretty deep ball, but he has also loved the short throw to his running back. It used to be Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, but now it’s the electrifying Alvin Kamara.

 

6. Blaine Gabbert, Arizona Cardinals

7. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

8. Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings

9. Josh McCown, New York Jets

10. Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts

 

Most accurate

 

Football Outsiders has used game-charting data to create a stat called passing plus-minus, which estimates how many passes a quarterback completed compared to what an average quarterback would have completed based on each throw’s distance, the yards needed for a first down, and which side of the field the pass was thrown to.

 

This is turned into a rate stat, denoted as C%+, that shows how many percentage points better than average the quarterback was at completing passes. Here are the 10 most accurate QBs from the 2017 season by C%+.

 

1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

C%+: 7.6 percent

Brees now has four of the top eight seasons in C%+ since 2006. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Brees was off-target on only 11.1 percent of his passes, the third-best season since 2009. Brees also has the top two seasons (9.9 percent in 2016 and 10.9 percent in 2014). While Brees did throw much shorter passes in 2017, he was still by far the leader in C%+ (a blistering plus-14.3 percent) on throws that traveled more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. You know you’re doing something right when you help Ted Ginn Jr. to the best C%+ in the league.

 

2. Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings

C%+: 5.1 percent

Keenum had one of the most surprising breakout seasons in NFL history at quarterback. Prior to 2017, Keenum’s C%+ was minus-3.9 percent, one of the worst rates since 2006. Yet he finished 2017 as No. 1 in passing DVOA, No. 1 in QBR under pressure and No. 2 in C%+. Keenum was wildly successful in throwing to Minnesota’s two great wideouts in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen (plus-6.1 percent C%+). The duo in Denver (Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders) is not quite as good right now, but they should be serviceable for Keenum to try repeating this success. Skepticism is warranted.

 

3. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

C%+: 4.5 percent

Winston actually set a lot of career-highs in passing in 2017. One of the main reasons his C%+ was so high is that he threw the deepest passes in the league, at an average depth of 10.3 yards. He also was efficient with almost every player he targeted, save for departed running back Doug Martin (minus-20.7 percent C%+) and deep threat DeSean Jackson (minus-0.1 percent C%+). With O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin entering their second seasons, Winston could be poised for even better numbers once he returns from serving a three-game suspension.

 

4. Josh McCown, New York Jets

5. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

6. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

7. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

10. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

 

Least accurate

 

1. Brian Hoyer, San Francisco 49ers

2. C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers

3. DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns

4. Tom Savage, Houston Texans

5. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears

6. Eli Manning, New York Giants

7. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

8. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos

9. Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts

10. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

 

The accuracy lists pretty much meet your eyeball expectations, so it is interesting to see JAMEIS WINSTON so surprisingly high.