The Daily Briefing Tuesday, August 28, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com notes that Jerry Jones has brought up the idea of an 18-game season once again:

 

Last year, the Commissioner suggested on at least three occasions that the preseason could be shortened. This year, he hasn’t mentioned it.

 

His in-house quasi-nemesis has.

 

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has dusted off the argument for shifting the 16-and-four season structure to 18-and-two, with a preseason cut in half and the regular season expanded.

 

“I was a big advocate in the last negotiation,” Jones said after Sunday’s preseason snooze fest against the Cardinals, via Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News. “I made the presentation. You can see how I did.’’

 

Jones actually believes that a longer regular season and a shorter training camp/preseason would result in fewer, not more, concussions.

 

“I can make the case that we have an uptick in concussions in the preseason,” Jones said. “If you look at it, I would contend there would be less exposure.”

 

There also would be more money. A lot more money.

 

“It would provide more than $1 billion to the players,” Jones said. “It’s certainly worth considering. It would direct more value for what the players expend to the players.”

 

With legalized gambling now beginning to spread, the league will eventually and inevitably make much more money during each week of the regular season, and two more weeks of the regular season will result in even more money for everyone.

 

At 53 players per roster, the league has 1,696 players. An extra billion dollars for those 1,696 players works out to, on average, another $589,622 per player per year. For 32 teams, it translates to another $31.25 million per owner per year.

 

The real question becomes whether that would be enough to get the players to agree to reduce the preseason from four to two and to increase the regular season from 16 to 18, knowing how much more the owners would make on the backs of their enhanced physical sacrifices and risks. But with fewer and fewer starters playing in the preseason, they’d be swapping two games in which they likely wouldn’t play at all for two plays in which they’d play the full game.

 

So the players still may not want it. Or, if they decide they’ll take it, they may want more than a 50-50 share of the extra cash.

 

Regardless, at a time when the NFL doesn’t say much about expanding the regular season (because it’s impossible to reconcile more games with supposed sensitivity to health and safety), Jones is willing to admit what many have suspected even as the NFL otherwise avoids admitting that it covets two more weekends of games that count.

– – –

Julius Thomas is now a former NFL tight end.  He has retired, although his career may have come to a cyclical end anyway.  He has big future aspirations per ESPN.com:

 

NFL tight end Julius Thomas is hanging up his cleats for a doctorate degree.

 

Thomas is retiring from professional football to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology, the 30-year-old announced in the Players’ Tribune on Friday.

 

Thomas said he will focus his doctorate on “investigating the effects of contact sports on brain trauma and neurobehavioral performance.” He will also participate in research to “identify early warning signs of brain disease.”

 

He said he felt particularly called to the study of CTE: “I knew I wanted to help and knew that this would be a great way to help football players, to be that person who could help them understand what we all are at risk of. I felt inside that this was stuff I needed to understand.”

 

Thomas wrote that he began to “take stock” of where he was in his life and had “work to do internally” during the course of his football career.

 

The two-time Pro Bowler made the decision “to follow my heart” and pursue football after playing Division I basketball at Portland State and was eventually drafted in the fourth round by the Denver Broncos in 2011. He had his breakout season in 2013, when he scored 12 touchdowns on 788 receiving yards and was selected to his first of two Pro Bowls. But Thomas wrote that he eventually had to “learn to accept that my identity was not my profession,” making the decision to study psychology.

 

“While making the decision to no longer play the game is difficult, I’m also incredibly excited about what’s next: studying therapy and becoming well trained in it so that I can help people heal from their emotional and mental pain,” he wrote.

 

After his success in Denver, Thomas joined the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015 on a five-year, $46 million contract. He was traded to the Miami Dolphins two years into the contract after recording just 736 yards and nine touchdowns in that span. The Dolphins released him in March.

 

He finishes his NFL career with 2,406 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

LB LEONARD FLOYD seems ready to play despite a broken hand.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd had surgery on his broken hand a little over a week ago and the feeling in Chicago is that he’ll be in the lineup against the Packers in Week One.

 

Floyd is expected to be back in practice next week and head coach Matt Nagy said he’s confident that Floyd will be able to play effectively even if he has a club on his right hand.

 

“I feel good that he’ll play,” Nagy said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “He’ll probably have that club on him, but he’ll be ready to play. … There have been some good players that have played with clubs. It prevents you a little bit from grabbing, but we feel confident he’ll be able to play.”

 

The Bears are looking for Floyd to play a leading role in their pass rush this season and it looks like the plan is for him to do that right off the bat regardless of whether he has the use of both hands.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Big money for WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr.  Josina Anderson of ESPN.com gets the scoop:

 

Odell Beckham Jr. has agreed to a five-year extension with the New York Giants that makes him the highest-paid wide receiver in football.

 

The three-time Pro Bowler can receive a maximum $95 million over the course of the deal ($90 million base value plus $5 million in incentives), with $65 million in total guaranteed money, a source told ESPN’s Josina Anderson, including $41 million fully guaranteed at signing.

 

Over the first three years of the deal, Beckham will be paid $60 million for an average of $20 million a year over that earlier term. This means the new money average of the extension is $18 million a year over the five years, but his total average over the entire deal is $16.4 million a year over six years, which includes his previous option year (for this season).

 

The deal eclipses Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown’s $17 million per year average and tops Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans’ $55 million in total guarantees.

 

Beckham was set to make $8.4 million on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. The agreement reworks Beckham’s 2018 contract into a $1.459 million salary with a $20 million signing bonus. The Giants will save $3 million against the cap.

 

“We got him until he’s 108,” Giants general manager Dave Gettleman quipped. “I never worried whether or not we would get it done. I’m pleased, because the litmus test for a contract is that neither side is ticked off before the ink can dry, and neither side should be ticked off. It’s a very fair deal.”

 

Beckham has been seeking a contract extension for the better part of the past two years, and he was optimistic in recent weeks that a deal would work itself out. He is now under contract through 2023.

 

The deal opens the door for Beckham to make a return to the field for the Sept. 9 season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Beckham has not played in the preseason after breaking his ankle in October and with the likelihood of a new deal lurking.

 

“Honestly, I don’t even know how to explain it,” Beckham said in a statement. “I don’t know if it’s a relief, I don’t know — it’s a combination of everything. You’ve worked all your life to get to this point and it’s finally here.”

 

Beckham felt that securing a new deal would be just a matter of time.

 

“I knew that it would get done; it just was a matter of when. And I’m just so happy that it is finally done now,” he said.

 

Beckham, 25, had at least 90 catches, 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his first three professional seasons. The No. 12 overall pick in the 2014 draft was quickest to 200 receptions and 3,000 yards in NFL history, needing just 30 games to accomplish both feats.

 

 

WASHINGTON

The Redskins are hoping to have two key players ready for Week 1.  John Keim of ESPN.com:

 

The Washington Redskins’ offense, which hasn’t been together in full this preseason, should receive a boost for the regular-season opener. Tight end Jordan Reed and third-down back Chris Thompson are on pace to play Sept. 9 at Arizona.

 

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said both players, who fill important roles on offense, should be available. Thompson is recovering from a broken fibula; he also tore a ligament and had screws inserted into his leg. Reed played only six games last season and needed surgery to repair both of his big toes.

 

Thompson appears a little further ahead than Reed.

 

“Chris looks fantastic,” Gruden said. “He’s been great — his pass blocking and obviously his routes, and he’s hitting the hole. He looks great. He’s ready to go. Jordan is getting there. The more he works and more he runs … he had a great day today, just getting in and out of his cuts, getting a feel with [quarterback Alex Smith] and the different formations. He’s on pace to be ready.”

 

The Redskins’ running-back position has been hit with injuries this summer. Rookie Derrius Guice suffered a torn ACL in the preaseason opener, taking away one of Washington’s playmaking hopes. Backups Samaje Perine (ankle) and Byron Marshall (knee) then were hurt in the second game. Though Perine is now back practicing, Marshall remains sidelined.

 

Because of those injuries, the Redskins signed Adrian Peterson, who is expected to start the season opener. But Thompson plays a crucial role for Washington. Before getting hurt in Week 11, Thompson had rushed for 294 yards and gained another 510 receiving. There was some concern earlier in camp about how much work he could handle early in the season, but Thompson said Monday he can resume a full workload in the team’s third-down packages.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Has QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO been a little shaky in his first preseason as an anointed starter?  Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com:

 

Jimmy Garoppolo’s first preseason as the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback came to an end Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts. Barring a major surprise, Garoppolo won’t play in the preseason finale Thursday against the Los Angeles Chargers.

 

Which makes now a good time to take stock of Garoppolo and the first-team offense’s preseason performance.

– – –

In three preseason games, Garoppolo was 22-of-37 for 305 yards with a touchdown and an interception for a passer rating of 83.7. Those numbers came in what was roughly equivalent to a little more than three quarters of play. He played a single series against Dallas and two against Houston in addition to the extended look against Indianapolis.

 

Here’s a look at what went well and what needs work as the Niners head toward the Sept. 9 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings:

 

What went well

 

— For the most part, Garoppolo was his usual, accurate self. The completion percentage, just less than 60 percent, isn’t much to write home about, but drops played a big part in skewing those numbers. While Garoppolo said it’s on him to throw more accurate balls to help mitigate those drops, he usually was putting the ball in a spot that allowed his receivers to get yards after the catch. Evidence of that can be found in his 8.24 yards per attempt average, which is a bit below the 8.76 he put up last year and still would have ranked best in the NFL over the course of last season.

 

— Garoppolo appears to be on the same page with most of his targets. The Niners used many different receivers with the starting group throughout training camp and that appears to have helped create chemistry with Garoppolo and all of his targets. Garoppolo completed passes to nine skill-position players in his playing time. He is undoubtedly still in sync with receivers Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and tight end George Kittle, but his timing with Pierre Garcon also improved each week.

 

— Along with that, Garoppolo seemed to get more and more comfortable with the deep ball throughout the preseason. Garoppolo and Goodwin connected on a perfectly placed deep ball against the Texans and narrowly missed on another against the Colts. He also had more success with the deep ball in practice as training camp rolled on. Garoppolo has maintained that the deep ball is always one of the last things to come, and though he still needs to prove he can be consistent with it in games, progress was apparent.

 

— More often than not, Garoppolo had time to throw and he didn’t take many big hits. Yes, Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence delivered a big hit early in the opener. Aside from that, Garoppolo was mostly upright and the only sack came when he scrambled away from pressure against the Colts and ran out of bounds for a 1-yard loss. With some moving pieces on his offensive line, that group did a solid job in pass protection and Garoppolo continued to get rid of the ball quickly.

 

What needs work

 

— Garoppolo had one interception in the preseason but an argument could be made that it wasn’t his fault, as wideout Dante Pettis failed to come down with a pass that was a bit too high. Pettis did get his hands on it and was unable to bring it in. Still, Garoppolo was high on a number of throws in preseason games and was fortunate not to have a few other attempts intercepted. Garoppolo threw five interceptions in five starts last season, some of which also were not his fault. But he also benefited from some drops by defenders. Turnovers are always something to monitor and will be moving forward.

 

— Despite Garoppolo’s strong performance against the Texans, coach Kyle Shanahan wasn’t overly impressed. Shanahan cited the need to improve on the details and, in Garoppolo’s case, the need to get through his progressions faster. As Garoppolo grows more comfortable in Shanahan’s scheme, that’s something that should come, and Garoppolo acknowledged the need to trust his knowledge of what’s happening on the backside of the play.

 

All told, Garoppolo’s first offseason with the Niners allowed him to gain a deeper understanding of Shanahan’s offense and build further chemistry with his teammates. The question now is how it will all translate as he embarks on his first season as a full-time starter.

 

“We hold ourselves to a high standard,” Garoppolo said. “We are trying to be perfect on everything and I think it’s good to have that mindset.”

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Good news for G JEREMY FOWLER:

 

The initial fear from a knee injury at training camp left Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard Ramon Foster wondering if he’d get another chance to play football.

 

Now, he’s back on the practice field and eyeing a Week 1 return.

 

“I thought it was over,” said Foster, who’s 32 and in the last year of his contract. “I thought it was the worst. But we got the MRI and it’s one of those things where you’re calm now, you’ve got a shot. To say I’d be ready for Week 1, I honestly didn’t think that, either. But the body’s weird.”

 

Foster was carted off the practice field July 28 after falling backward during a team drill. Doctors diagnosed Foster with a right-knee MCL strain and a bone bruise, estimating a four- to six-week recovery.

 

That meant no ligament damage, which is exactly what a nine-year veteran wanted to hear.

 

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Congratulations to DE J.J. WATT.  Sarah Barshop at ESPN.com:

 

A year after J.J. Watt set up an online fundraiser to aid those affected by Hurricane Harvey, the Texans star’s foundation announced that the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund raised $41.6 million, making it the largest crowd-sourced fundraiser in history.

 

The YouCaring.com page originally raised more than $37 million, but according to the Justin J. Watt Foundation, money continued to come in after the deadline, pushing the total to $41.6 million.

 

The money raised was distributed to eight nonprofits: All Hands and Hearts, Americares, Boys & Girls Clubs, Baker Ripley, Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity, Save the Children and SBP.

 

“As I reflect on the events of Hurricane Harvey one year ago, the memories of destruction and devastation remain, but they are accompanied by memories of hope, selflessness and the beauty of the human spirit,” Watt said in a statement released by his foundation. “I was fortunate enough to witness that generosity first hand, as the fundraiser that I started with a simple goal of $200,000 turned into an unbelievable outpouring of support from people all around the globe.”

 

Watt started the fundraiser from his hotel room in Dallas, where the team had to be rerouted after they could not get back after their Week 3 preseason game in New Orleans. He raised the first $200,000 in two hours, and three weeks later, had topped $37 million.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Not to worry say the Colts about another injury, this time to the foot, for QB ANDREW LUCK.  Mike Wells of ESPN.com:

 

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck did not practice Monday because of a “minor” foot injury suffered in Saturday’s preseason game against San Francisco, coach Frank Reich said.

 

Reich said Luck could practice Tuesday and would play if the Colts had a game on Sunday. They wrap up the preseason against Cincinnati on Thursday. It was previously determined that Luck would not play against the Bengals before he was injured.

 

Luck, according to Reich, suffered the injury when he scrambled for 15 yards before being caught from behind by 49ers linebacker Dekoda Watson in the second quarter. Luck threw a touchdown on the next play before sitting out the Colts’ final series of the first half.

 

Reich said he had no problem with Luck running on the play on which they believed he was injured.

 

“Really, once you look back at that play, you’re at the point of no return once you take it up inside,” Reich said. “If you’re going toward the boundary, that’s one thing — you can protect yourself. But once you kind of take it up the middle and there’s a guy chasing you from behind, you’re kind of committed to go finish that thing out. I think it was the right decision.”

 

Luck, who has missed 26 games over the past three seasons, including all of 2017 with a shoulder injury, played in the first three preseason games.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

The Jaguars lost WR MARQISE LEE to a knee injury after a low tackle.  Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com:

 

Defenders often say that if you restrict them from tackling up high, with rules to protect offensive players, the low hits they have to give will be just as dangerous.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey believes that’s what we saw with his teammate Marqise Lee’s season-ending injury. Specifically, Ramsey thinks the controversial new helmet rule is to blame.

 

Lee was hit low by Atlanta Falcons safety Damontae Kazee on a pass over the middle. It was immediately apparent Lee had suffered major knee injury. The Jaguars confirmed Monday that Lee will need season-ending surgery.

 

Ramsey didn’t blame Kazee for the hit, but rather the new rules that force defenders into awkward situations.

 

Ramsey isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and he let loose on the NFL’s new rules saying that defenders are “scared to tackle normal.”

 

“You can’t be mad at 27 (Kazee),” Ramsey said, according to the Jaguars’ transcripts. “You have to be mad at the NFL; not mad at them but that is how the rule is. People are scared to tackle normal because I guess they don’t want to do helmet-to-helmet and get flagged. That was not even flagged and [you could] potentially get thrown out of the game. Game-changing stuff could happen. You don’t really want to blame anyone, but you feel bad for him. I don’t know, man, that’s just tough to see it happen to one of my teammates, period. But you can’t really blame 27.”

 

Ramsey said Kazee wasn’t flagged, but that’s not true. Kazee was penalized for lowering his helmet to initiate contact. But the new helmet rule is an easy target these days.

 

Replays showed Lee’s knee buckling, and he was carted off. It was obvious right away he had a serious injury. Kazee expressed concern for Lee right after the game.

 

@Damontaekazee

 Before i go out on the field i pray for both teams to stay healthy , i was just trying to make a football play, i will never ever try to hurt anyone, i just want to reach out to you bro and tell you that you’ll be in my prayers everyday 🙌🏾🙏🏾 @TeamLee1

 

Defenders have been put in a tough spot. They are restricted to a very small area in which they can hit an offensive player with the ball. If they miscalculate and dish out an illegal hit, the NFL will fine them a small fortune because it can, regardless of intent.

 

If we take Kazee at his word, he wasn’t trying to injure Lee. Presumably he wasn’t trying to deliver a hit that would be penalized and could cost him five figures. But, as Ramsey alluded to in a bit of an incorrect manner, defenders truly are “scared to tackle normal.”

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com says that QB JOSH ALLEN and the Buffalo offense is not a good situation.

 

The Buffalo Bills‘ starting quarterback in Week 1, whoever it will be, should get ready to take some hits.

 

Rookie Josh Allen didn’t do anything on Sunday to earn the opening-day start. The Bills offense did nothing with Allen in the game. That isn’t all his fault. He was under pressure just about every snap. Allen’s day ended with his head slammed to the turf and spotters calling down to the field for Allen to be removed and checked for a concussion.

 

Allen was cleared after being checked for a concussion, but he didn’t play in the second half. It’s notable that Allen was on the bench but the rest of the starters began the second half with Nathan Peterman at quarterback.

 

Josh Allen struggles in first preseason start

The stats from Allen’s first half were ugly. He was sacked five times. The Bills had 81 total yards of offense and were down 20-0 to the Cincinnati Bengals at the half. The most glaring number might be that the Bills had minus-5 net passing yards in the first half.

 

Bills coach Sean McDermott blamed the supporting cast when he spoke with Fox sideline reporter Pam Oliver. According to Oliver, McDermott said Allen didn’t have any help, that the receivers didn’t fight for contested balls and the line didn’t block for him.

 

That’s true, but the rookie didn’t help himself out either.

 

While Allen had a lot of pressure on him throughout the first half, at times he held the ball too long. A veteran might have known to get the ball out before the rush got home, though on some plays Allen didn’t have much of a chance.

 

Allen acknowledged his role in those sacks.

 

“I didn’t do a good enough job getting the ball out on time and getting it to my playmakers,” Allen said, according to ESPN’s Mike Rodak. “Holding onto the ball is not going to be too great, most of the time.”

 

Allen misfired on some passes too. There was a sequence in which Allen underthrew a deep receiver and was almost picked off. That was surprising considering the rookie already has one of the best arms in the NFL. He overcompensated on the next pass, and threw his best fastball over the middle when he should have taken something off it. The pass sailed past his receiver for an incompletion.

 

Allen finished 6-of-12 for 34 yards.

 

It would be hard to justify giving him the starting job after that, if the Bills had any hopes he would make the decision easy for them.

 

Allen’s day ended when he was under pressure, threw the ball away but was brought down by Bengals end Carlos Dunlap. Allen slammed to the turf and he immediately reached for his head. The spotters didn’t catch it right away, because Allen stayed in to hand it off on the next play, but then the game was stopped and he was removed.

 

Even though Allen was cleared for a concussion, there wasn’t much positive to take from his day. Allen got the start, in part because AJ McCarron is hurt but it also seemed the Bills wanted to see if he could do enough to earn the starting job. After the Bills posted four first downs in his half of work and didn’t come close to scoring, the Bills would have to ignore everything they saw Sunday to give Allen that Week 1 start.

 

McCarron could be ready by then, since he didn’t have a broken collarbone as first feared when he got hurt last week.

 

Peterman is still an option, though he’s not exciting. He made some plays against the Bengals’ backups on Sunday, but he’s unlikely to have much success with the Bills’ below-average offensive cast.

 

The Bills also have to consider what’s best for Allen’s development. Everyone assumed, coming out of Wyoming, Allen would need time to sit and learn. Playing behind a terrible offensive line, which lost three starters since last season, wouldn’t be ideal. Even if the Bills believe Allen is their best quarterback already, it might not be prudent to let him get pounded in regular-season games like he did on Sunday.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com wonders if the Patriots will turn to WR DEZ BRYANT.

 

It just wasn’t happening for Eric Decker with the New England Patriots.

 

The reports on Decker through camp weren’t positive, and it seemed like at age 31 he was at the end of the line. Decker made it official on Sunday, retiring after an eight-year career spent with the Denver Broncos, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans.

 

The Patriots have a void at receiver, and that will lead to speculation regarding free-agent Dez Bryant.

 

Bryant has been unsigned since April. He visited the Cleveland Browns, but then Josh Gordon came back to the team and Bryant became less of a priority. It seemed, once it didn’t work out for the Browns right away, Bryant’s best chance was to wait for an injury and then sign with a team in need.

 

Decker didn’t get injured, but the Patriots have a need.

 

Julian Edelman will be suspended the first four weeks. Kenny Britt was recently cut. Cordarrelle Patterson has never been much of a factor at receiver, though he’s a very good returner. Phillip Dorsett has never been productive in the NFL.

 

Other than Chris Hogan, the Patriots don’t have a ton at the receiver position at the moment. And there’s a former Pro Bowler looking for a job.

 

As USA Today pointed out, Bryant seemed to be dropping hints that he wanted to land on the Patriots recently. He complimented Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the comments of an Instagram post. Why wouldn’t Bryant want to land on the Patriots, in a great offense with the most accomplished quarterback in NFL history?

 

We’ll see how desperate the Patriots are. Signing Bryant now, after three preseason games are in the books, probably means he won’t be up to speed in a new offense before the end of September. That doesn’t make sense for the Patriots, who need to cover four games without Edelman. The Patriots also would have to wonder about Bryant’s fit in the locker room.

 

The Patriots with a long term extension for G SHAQ MASON, whose middle name is Olajuwon.  Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:

 

The New England Patriots and starting right guard Shaq Mason have agreed to a five-year contract extension worth up to $50 million, a league source confirmed.

 

Mason, a 2015 fourth-round draft choice out of Georgia Tech, will receive $23.5 million in bonuses and guarantees as part of the deal. That total includes the $1.9 million base salary he was scheduled to earn in 2018.

 

Of the $50 million pact, a total of $5 million is tied to incentives and honors. Mason, who turns 25 on Tuesday, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2018 season.

 

While head coach Bill Belichick didn’t confirm the extension on Monday, he acknowledged that Mason has improved each season.

 

“Shaq has done a good job for us from the time he got here,” Belichick said. “He came from an [option-based] offense that was quite different from ours and he adapted quickly. He did a real good job of learning new techniques. He’s an athletic player and has good strength, good balance, an excellent run-blocker. He can pull, run and hit.”

 

The 6-foot-1, 310-pound Mason, who often tweets that he’s “thankful for another 24,” has played in 46 regular-season games for the Patriots, with 41 starts. He’s also started eight postseason games.

 

His full name is Shaquille Olajuwon Mason, given to him by his mother as an ode to former NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon.

– – –

Dan Wetzel of YahooSports.com tries to figure out what’s going on with QB TOM BRADY’s strength guru Alex Guerrero:

 

During the second half of last season, Alex Guerrero, Tom Brady’s personal trainer and a business partner, did not travel on the New England Patriots’ team plane or appear on their sideline. Guerrero previously enjoyed both privileges.

 

The banishment helped make public what was reported and rumored to be a rift between Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, who supposedly preferred Patriots players used team athletic trainers. As speculation ramped up whether Brady would retire, the battle was a classic NFL soap opera. In the end, after lots of banter, nothing happened, Brady returned and last weekend, Guerrero was even back on the team plane.

 

Still, it was newsworthy and any person with knowledge of how the media works would know that it was newsworthy when Guerrero was back in the apparent good graces of Belichick and the Pats.

 

That’s what made Brady’s appearance Monday morning on WEEI’s “Kirk and Callahan Show” so strange.

 

No one in the NFL prepares better than Brady, not just for his opponents each week, but everything in his life. He can probably tell you what he’s going to have for breakfast, what time he’ll go to bed and what exercises he’ll do the first Wednesday of October. That’s why he’s not just still playing at age 41, but is the reigning MVP who threw for over 500 yards in the Super Bowl. Guerrero is a big part of that.

 

Yet on this, Brady acted surprised the subject was broached and wasn’t ready with a prepared answer that would’ve brushed the controversy/non-controversy aside. He had to have known that given the intrigue over his relationship with Belichick, and by proxy Guerrero’s relationship with Belichick, that this question was coming in one form or the other.

 

Instead, he stumbled through a fair line of questioning by host Kirk Minihane.

 

Minihane: What changed in him not being on the team plane last year and this year? Was that just communication back and forth, or was that an understanding of other things? What led that to being able to happen this year?

 

 Brady: Yeah, I am not getting into all that.

 

Minihane: OK, when I ran into him at the Super Bowl last year in Minneapolis, I remember talking to him at the time — when I talked to him there, he had said in his opinion that all this stuff had been overblown, and he and [Bill] Belichick had a pretty good relationship even then. Would you say that is true?

 

 Brady: I said I don’t want to get into it. … Everyone knows, it is well-documented the work he and I do together.

 

Minihane: I understand that. I am just trying to figure out because I saw the reports this weekend that he’s traveling with the team. Was he on the sideline Friday?

 

Brady: Yeah. All right, guys. Have a great day. I’ll talk to you later.

 

And dial tone.

 

Look, Brady has the right to answer or not answer any question he wants. He’s the quarterback, not the president. That isn’t the issue.

 

He chooses, though, to go on WEEI every week. It’s a paid gig, although the money hardly matters. This is how he chooses to convey information to fans (there is also an NFL obligated weekly news conference and, of course, postgame availability). He likes it. He stuck with WEEI even after a different host criticized his daughter earlier this year.

 

Brady is a smart guy. He understands media and messaging. He is entering his 19th NFL season. He is well aware that the drama about he, Belichick and Guerrero is a major topic of conversation among fans and media.

 

This wasn’t some sneak attack question. This wasn’t some random interviewer. How he wasn’t ready for it, or why he feigned shock that anyone would bring it up is puzzling.

 

How can someone who sees everything coming keep pretending he doesn’t expect questions about Guerrero, who is a massive part of his football life?

 

Earlier this year he ended a news conference when asked about Guerrero and his work with wide receiver Julian Edelman, who was suspended for the first four games of the season due to a violation of the NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

 

Again, it wasn’t that he declined to answer, but how he declined to answer. The more Brady makes these things so dramatic, the more times he isn’t ready to diffuse the subject, the bigger it gets.

 

And the more reasonable it is to ask why the subject of Alex Guerrero is so problematic?

 

That’s what hanging up on Monday did. The questions and speculation and discussion didn’t end. They got bigger. And they’ll get bigger still as long as Brady acts and answers in a very non-Tom Brady fashion when it comes to this specific person, a strange blind spot for a guy who otherwise has none.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

TRAGEDY AT THE LANDING

This in the aftermath of Sunday’s tragic events in Jacksonville.

 

Electronic Arts has canceled the final three qualifier events for its “Madden NFL 19” esports tournament after Sunday’s shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, in which two competitors were killed.

 

CEO Andrew Wilson cited “a comprehensive review of safety protocols for competitors and spectators” in a statement announcing the cancellations.

 

“We’ve all been deeply affected by what took place in Jacksonville,” Wilson said Monday night in the news release. “This is the first time we’ve had to confront something like this as an organization, and I believe the first time our gaming community has dealt with a tragedy of this nature. Please take time to support each other through this challenging time.”

 

Wilson pledged to “work with our partners and our internal teams to establish a consistent level of security at all of our competitive gaming events.”

 

In the statement, Wilson called the two men who were fatally shot — Taylor “SpotmePlzzz” Robertson, 28, and Elijah “Trueboy” Clayton, 22 — “two of our top Madden competitors.”

 

“They were respected, positive and skilled competitors, the epitome of the players and personalities at the heart of our community,” Wilson said in the statement. “Their love of competition was evident through their participation in our events over the past few years. We are committed to supporting Taylor and Elijah’s families through this difficult time, and we send our deepest sympathies to their loved ones, to those injured yesterday, and everyone affected.”

 

Clayton was engaged in a game in the tournament when shots were fired and caught in a video that has gone viral. His family spoke to reporters earlier Monday.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

NBC seeks to revolutionize the display of the distance needed to get a first down by altering the color of part of the field.  So far the world of Twitter is not impressed according to Jaclyn Hendricks of ESPN.com:

 

he brain trust of “Sunday Night Football” did not impress some fans during Sunday’s Cowboys-Cardinals preseason broadcast.

 

NBC introduced the “green zone,” implemented to show viewers just how far players need to go to convert on a third down. The field area is visibly altered to a different hue on screen, a different way of illustrating the first-down distance than the yellow line.

 

It didn’t take long for the Twitterverse to come charging for “Sunday Night Football’s” Twitter account, which showed the “green zone” being utilized in the game.

 

“The green zone is for all the idiots who couldn’t understand the yellow line — What Al Michaels wanted to say,” one user tweeted Sunday evening.

 

“Coming next week from NBC, The Yellow Zone, we fill the space between the goal posts with yellow so u can see if PAT’s [points after touchdown] and Field Goals are good!!!!” replied another.

 

“The ball and yellow line were pretty good indications …” one follower pointed out.

 

Since the field is also a shade of green, the new device is actually the Darker Green Zone.

 

 

 

ROOKIE QB REPORT

ESPN offers this on the first six QBs drafted in 2018 as we head down the homestretch of preseason. QB SAM DARNOLD will start the first game for the Jets, QB JOSH ALLEN is next in line for a chance to join him:

 

How do the top six rookie quarterbacks look this preseason? Who’s going to start in Week 1 of the regular season? A couple of QBs are trending up since our most recent progress report.

 

With three full weeks of games done for Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph, we have updates from our NFL Nation reporters on the ground:

 

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

What he did in Weeks 2-3 of the preseason: Mayfield was 8-for-12 for 76 yards passing and one interception in the Browns’ 5-0 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The No. 1 overall pick was slated to play in just the second half, but saw two series with the first-team offense while Tyrod Taylor was out of the game during the first quarter having his dislocated pinkie put back in place. Against the first-team Eagles defense, Mayfield was 2-for-4 for 19 yards and took a sack. Mayfield was cleared after being evaluated in the fourth quarter for a concussion, but did not play the final two series.

 

Chances to start in Week 1 of the regular season: 5 percent

Taylor is still the starting quarterback for the Browns as they approach the opener against the Steelers. The only way Mayfield will start is if the injury to Taylor’s left hand does not allow him to play, but Taylor has not missed any practice time. — Ryan Isley

 

Sam Darnold, New York Jets

What he did in Weeks 2-3 of the preseason: Darnold started both games and played a total of four-plus quarters. Facing mostly starters, he completed 16 of 27 passes for 148 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the two games. The statistics don’t show it, but he played with veteran-like poise, displaying superb pocket presence and flashing the ability to find his second and third reads in the progression. Most rookies can’t do that. The only unanswered question: the deep ball. Darnold didn’t take any deep shots, as his longest completion was only 16 yards.

 

What has been said about him: “I’m thinking along the same lines as everyone who has watched Sam carry himself, conduct himself and play since he’s been here. We’re absolutely thrilled. … I love the way he moves. He’s really able to move around nicely — not only move around, in and out of the pocket, but throw running to his left and still get the ball down the field accurately. He has a really good overall presence on the field.” — Jets legend Joe Namath (via NJ Advance Media).

 

Chances to start in Week 1 of the regular season: 99 percent

The so-called open competition is over. While it could be argued that Darnold was outplayed by Teddy Bridgewater, the rookie played well enough to earn the trust of the coaches. Darnold has taken 75 percent of the first-team reps in three games, so it would be hard to start anyone but him. All that’s left is for coach Todd Bowles to make it official. — Rich Cimini

 

Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

What he did in Weeks 2-3 of the preseason: 15-of-25 for 94 yards and one touchdown. Coach Sean McDermott wanted Allen to simulate a regular-season week as the Bills’ potential starter by starting him in Sunday’s game against the Bengals, giving him an opportunity to audition for the job with a full half of action with the first-team offense. After going 9-of-13 for 60 yards with the second-team offense in the second preseason game against Cleveland, Allen’s results in his starting debut were disastrous. He was sacked five times behind a problematic offensive line and overall the offense lost 5 passing yards in Allen’s eight possessions under center.

 

What he said: “Getting out there with the 1s, obviously it’s moving very fast and to see that speed, it was eye-opening. They have a really good defense and they came out and they brought it. But at the same time we have plays in place where they could have worked if I got the ball out in time. You know that just didn’t happen enough tonight, but like I said, we’ll just continue to grow.” — Allen after the loss to Cincinnati.

 

Chances to start in Week 1 of the regular season: 40 percent

With AJ McCarron fading in the Bills’ quarterback competition because of his shoulder injury and shaky performance in his lone preseason start, the question for McDermott is whether he wants to risk starting Allen in the season opener or stick with Nathan Peterman as a steadier option. Peterman has statistically been the Bills’ best quarterback this preseason, completing 33 of 41 passes for 431 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Given the struggles of Allen and the Bills’ first-team offense in Sunday’s game against the Bengals, it appears Peterman has the edge. — Mike Rodak

 

Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals

What he did in Weeks 2-3 of the preseason: Rosen didn’t play Sunday against the Cowboys. He suffered a hand injury to his right thumb Monday when he hit it on a teammate’s helmet. He was a game-time decision, coach Steve Wilks said earlier in the week, but, apparently, the Cardinals didn’t see enough out of Rosen’s ability to throw or grip the ball, as Wilks wanted, to let him play. Against the Saints in the second preseason game, Rosen completed 10 of 16 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

 

What has been said about him: “Josh Rosen has been nothing but amazing for us so far.” — cornerback Patrick Peterson.

 

Chances to start in Week 1 of the regular season: 0 percent

As long as Sam Bradford is healthy, Rosen will sit and learn as he’s done all offseason and preseason. And it’s benefited him thus far. Rosen has proved to his coaches and teammates that the hype about his higher-than-average football IQ was warranted, all while impressing on the field. — Josh Weinfuss

 

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

What he did in Weeks 2-3 of the preseason: For the first time this preseason, Jackson provided a glimpse of how dangerous he can be in the NFL. As decisive as he was elusive, Jackson combined for 137 yards of total offense in five drives against the Dolphins, throwing a 21-yard touchdown and running 19 yards for a score. Jackson, who was the least accurate passer in the first two weeks of the preseason, was on target in Miami, completing 7 of 10 passes for 98 yards.

 

What has been said about him: “I think today was his breaking out in a game. We’ve seen it in practice, where he’s done some really good things. We hadn’t really seen it in a game yet. Today just kind of fell in place for him a little bit.” — Ravens coach John Harbaugh after a 27-10 win in Miami.

 

Chances to start in Week 1 of the regular season: 0 percent

Joe Flacco is the unquestioned starter after having one of the best training camps and preseasons of his 11-year career. He won’t be playing in the preseason finale, which means he is all set to start the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills. There is a chance Jackson will get on the field for Week 1. At the start of training camp, Harbaugh said Jackson would be active on game days. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Baltimore use Jackson in some special packages against Buffalo. — Jamison Hensley

 

Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers

What he did in Weeks 2-3 of the preseason: 12-of-23 passing for 112 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Coach Mike Tomlin wanted Rudolph to cut it loose more after a tentative performance at Green Bay on Aug. 16, and Rudolph did that Saturday against Tennessee. He didn’t hit any big plays, but he moved out of the pocket and off script when necessary, looking to compete. The Steelers consider that a positive sign, and they have been encouraged by Rudolph’s professional demeanor.

 

Chances to start in Week 1 of the regular season: 2 percent

There’s always the tiniest possibility Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones get hurt over the next 10 days. Rudolph is set to become the No. 3 quarterback after Josh Dobbs didn’t play Saturday. The Steelers could try to trade Dobbs or sign him to the practice squad, depending on what happens in the preseason finale.