The Daily Briefing Tuesday, August 29, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

All hail QB MATTHEW STAFFORD, for now the Highest Paid Player in the NFL.  Dave Birkett in the Detroit Free Press:

 

Matthew Stafford’s deal is done, and the Detroit Lions quarterback is – for now, at least – the highest paid player in NFL history.

 

Stafford and the Lions agreed to a five-year contract extension worth $135 million on Monday, a person familiar with the contract told the Free Press. The person requested anonymity because the deal hasn’t been announced by the team.

 

Exact terms of the deal are not yet known, but Stafford will make an average annual salary of $27 million over the life of the contract, more than Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr ($25 million) got on the five-year extension he signed in June.

 

The Lions opened negotiations with Stafford around the NFL combine in March, and they bridged what one person familiar with the talks described as a “significant” gap in recent weeks.

 

Stafford said in April that he would “love to” sign a long-term extension with the Lions, his third contract with the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft, and Lions general manager Bob Quinn had long pointed to the summer as the time he expected a deal to get done.

 

Stafford, 29, already holds most franchise passing records including yards (30,303), completions (2,634), attempts (4,285) and touchdowns (187), and he’s coming off arguably his best season as a pro.

 

Last year, Stafford, playing for the first time in his career without Calvin Johnson, led an NFL-record eight come-from-behind victories as the Lions finished 9-7 and made the playoffs as a wildcard for the third time in his nine NFL seasons.

 

The Lions haven’t won a playoff game since 1991, and Stafford is 51-61 in his career as a starter, including 0-3 in the postseason.

 

Still, Stafford has shown enough that the Lions believe he will be the quarterback that finally leads them to sustained success. He’s dramatically raised his completion percentage and lowered his interception rate in recent seasons, and he ranks as one of the league’s leading ironmen with 96 straight starts.

 

Last year, the Lions began the season 9-4 and lost their final three regular-season games after Stafford sprained the middle finger on his throwing hand. He declined what would have been his second Pro Bowl appearance as an alternate to rest his injured finger.

 

“Even though you’ve seen him play well, I think you’re going to see him play even better,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said earlier this spring. “He’s got an extraordinary amount of ability, not only just in terms of what he does from a physical standpoint, delivering balls from different angles and things of that nature, but then also from a leadership standpoint, which I think is equally important and he demonstrates that.

 

“He’s taken ownership of what we do and how we do it and I think that certainly without question bodes well for the future.”

 

Stafford, who was scheduled to make a base salary of $16.5 million this fall on the extension he signed in the summer of 2013, already has pocketed more than $110 million in career on-field earnings.

 

His contract now becomes the standard by which other quarterback deals will be judged. Washington’s Kirk Cousins will be a free agent after this season after he failed to reach a long-term extension before the franchise tag deadline July 17, and Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan are other quarterbacks who could be up for extensions soon.

 

Before this summer, Andrew Luck was the highest paid quarterback in the NFL at $24.6 million per season. Luck received $47 million fully guaranteed at the time he signed his contract, and $87 million in overall guarantees.

 

Former Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh set an NFL record with nearly $60 million in immediate guarantees when he signed with the Dolphins as a free agent in 2015.

 

For the Lions, Stafford’s contract continues a recent history of handing out summer contract extensions under Quinn.

 

Last year, the team signed Darius Slay, Theo Riddick and Sam Martin to extensions when they were about to enter the final season on their contracts, and in July, the Lions inked Glover Quin to a two-year contract extension.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com with a further look at the contract’s details, pointing out that his five-year extension covers the next six years, through 2022:

 

The five-year contract extension signed by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has a total value of $135 million, per multiple reports. That gives the deal a new-money average of $27 million per year.

 

The full value at the time of signing will be less than that. With Stafford due to make $16.5 million in 2017, the new six-year deal has a total value at signing of $25.25 million.

 

That puts him north of the prior new-money record, secured last month by Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who has a new-money average of $25 million but whose total six-year deal is worth roughly $21 million per year.

 

Critical factors still need to be evaluated, including signing bonus, full guarantee at signing, cash flow, and whether the deal contains any type of protection against ongoing spikes in the cap. By 2022, $27 million may be a middle-of-the-pack number, in the same way that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ $22 million per year in new money has faded from the top of the stack.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The DB wonders if it is really a good idea for attorney Jeffrey Kessler to be representing RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT in his appeal before Harold Henderson.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Yes, the Ezekiel Elliott case is about to get nasty.

 

The NFLPA has tapped lawyer Jeffrey Kessler to handle Tuesday’s appeal hearing, according to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports. Kessler also will be involved in the litigation that is expected to follow, if arbitrator Harold Henderson upholds the six-game suspension.

 

Fueling the potential legal attack on the suspension is the fact that the NFL declined to name an arbitrator that the union regards as being truly independent. Henderson has refused to compel the league to make Tiffany Thompson available for cross-examination at the appeal hearing, and he has refused to force the league to produce the interview notes and transcripts generated by the league when interviewing Thompson.

 

Robinson points that out procedural flaws “opened the door for the union and quarterback Tom Brady to sue the NFL” after the league suspended Brady four games in 2015. But here’s the thing; the NFL actually sued first, picking a forum that it believed would result in victory (eventually, it did) before the union and Brady could sue.

 

So with Elliot’s side making it more and more clear that litigation is coming, the NFL could once again issue the appeal ruling and immediately file suit to defend it.

 

That dynamic should prompt Kessler and company to at least consider a preemptive lawsuit after Tuesday’s appeal hearing, arguing that the process was a ruse and that Henderson will be simply rubber-stamping the decision, with the league then rushing to court to prevent the player from pursuing justice in the forum of his choosing.

 

Kessler is a brilliant advocate who has a long history of making NFL attorneys look like fools and knaves in the press coverage after hearings.  His record on actually convincing judges and arbitrators is more mixed.  And Harold Henderson is one of the NFL attorneys that Kessler has victimized in the press in the past.  Not a recipe for a favorable ruling at this stage for Elliott.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles have lost some magic as LS JON DORENBOS is deemed expendable.  Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

 

The Eagles traded long snapper Jon Dorenbos to the New Orleans Saints on Monday night for a 2019 seventh-round pick, parting ways with their longest-tenured player and one of the organization’s most popular figures. They will now turn to Rick Lovato as their long snapper.

 

Dorenbos, 37, signed with the Eagles late in the 2006 season. He twice went to the Pro Bowl and tied Harold Carmichael for the franchise record with 162 consecutive games played. It’s the sixth-most games played in franchise history. He also became a fan favorite off the field, popular for his magic tricks and inspirational story to reach the NFL. Dorenbos won the Eagles’ Ed Block Courage Award in 2008 and was nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2016.

 

“Jon is one of the most inspiring people I have ever known,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. “He gave everything that he had to this organization for more than a decade, but his legacy in Philadelphia goes far beyond his performance on the field, his Pro Bowl selections or the consecutive games streak. His true impact is measured by the number of people in this city that he connected with, the lives he has been able to change and the courage he displays every day after battling such tremendous adversity as a child. Jon’s enthusiasm and positive outlook are contagious; he’s one of the most genuine, caring people you could ever meet. I speak on behalf of the entire organization when I say we are incredibly proud to have called him an Eagle and our doors are always open to him in the future.”

 

By trading Dorenbos, the Eagles opened $825,000 in salary cap space. They signed him to a three-year, $3.4 million contract extension last season, although he was replaced by Lovato after an injury sidelined him for the final three games. Lovato, 24, has played in seven career NFL games for three teams. The Eagles are now trusting him as their long snapper. He follows Dorenbos and Mike Bartrum, who also played more than 100 games for the Eagles. Dorenbos replaced Bartrum midseason because of an injury and eventually secured the job, too, so Dorenbos is losing his job in a similar way to how he earned it.

 

Dorenbos transcended the Philadelphia sports scene last year when he appeared on “America’s Got Talent.” At age 12, Dorenbos’ father, Alan, killed his mother during a dispute in their home. Alan Dorenbos was convicted of second-degree murder and went to prison for 11 years. Dorenbos was sent to foster care, and he’s shared his story as an inspirational speaker.

 

During the Eagles’ open practices when special-teams players weren’t on the field, Dorenbos could often be seen interacting with fans. After he signed his contract extension last year, Dorenbos spoke affectionately about his relationship with Philadelphia fans and learning “what the Eagles’ logo means to a lot of people.” He will now wear the Saints logo, leaving Philadelphia after 11 years.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

Tyler Dunne in Bleacher Report finds a comparison for QB DEREK CARR that transcends the NFL and goes all the way to ESPN’s favorite sport.  It’s a long piece (here) with excerpts below:

 

When Derek Carr senses weakness, when he smells blood in the water, the momentum is palpable. He fist-pumps, violently. Screams, loudly. Saliva spews from his mouth, and those baby blue eyes burn.

 

His belief he’ll prevail is downright contagious.

 

His belief is an extension of the most diabolical competitor of this generation.

 

Since anyone can remember, the Raiders quarterback could not get enough of Kobe Bryant. He was addicted to the fadeaways at the buzzer, the snarl, the scowl, the villain persona. Carr first met his idol in junior high before a Lakers-Rockets game in Houston and, for Christmas, his brother David gave him a signed Kobe jersey that still hangs on a bedroom wall.

 

Eighty-one? The five championships? Carr was glued to it all. Whereas Kobe repeatedly annihilated one high school teammate in games to 100—their closest duel being 100-12—Derek never has a problem throwing disrespectful jams over nephews half his age.

 

So there was Carr last season, after the first of seven fourth-quarter comebacks, declaring to the masses that he’s driven by a “Mamba Mentality.” And moments later, the self-anointed Black Mamba approved on Twitter.

 

When an actual black mamba bites, you collapse in 45 minutes. Fail to treat the bite and, good night, you’ll die in seven hours. This venomous snake found in sub-Saharan Africa is one of the deadliest creatures on Earth.

 

That’s Kobe. That’s Carr.

 

The quarterback sank his fangs into opponents all season. Until, well, he was bitten himself. On Christmas Eve, Carr was sacked, told everyone in earshot “It’s broke. It’s broke!” and that contagious belief he built throughout the team was smashed to smithereens. The Raiders knew the moment Carr broke his fibula they were done. Anything to the contrary is PR blather.

 

“I’ve never felt the wind sucked out of a team like that,” running back Jalen Richard says. “On the sideline, the wind was just pulled out of everybody. All of us saw DC and were like, ‘This can’t be happening.'”

 

Now the NFL’s Black Mamba returns.

– – –

“Derek is a fiery guy,” says NBA star Paul George. “He has that passion. He has that fire. He plays with that edge. I definitely see that he has that Kobe mentality in him.”(Getty Images)

Harper guarded Carr dozens of times. He says the QB planted himself in the corner to launch threes…and he always had to take the game-winner. Ederaine likens Carr to Chris Paul, calling him a “facilitator” with a “fire.” Whenever the Raiders enter the fourth quarter, that look in Carr’s eyes is just what Ederaine remembered at The Rec.

 

No, no, no. Paul George makes it clear his basketball team never lost to Carr’s football team.

 

But, heck yes, Carr is wired like the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer.

 

“He’s always, since Fresno, been confident,” George says. “He’s always carried himself very, very professional. He’s always been a great leader since Fresno. Now, he’s really taking his game to the next level. He’s become a student of it. You can tell he does his film.

 

“You can tell he really locks in.”

– – –

That killer instinct cultivated at Fresno reached a new level in the pros. He puts his own profanity-free “twist,” players say, on the Mamba Mentality. He’s humble yet doesn’t play humble. He plays angry. Pissed. With swagger. And that’s the weird thing about Carr. He was this same way through the 10 straight losses to start his pro career.

 

It didn’t turn off veterans, either. Left tackle Donald Penn, eight years older, loved it.

 

Instead of curling into the fetal position, loss after loss, Carr barked orders.

 

“We went into every game thinking we could win with him. He gave us that mentality,” Penn says. “When we go into those last drives, there’s no fear in his eyes. He’s ready to go win. And when we see that, we’re ready to go win with him.

 

“He’s always had that mentality—’I can do anything. I’m confident. I don’t care what anybody says.'”

 

There’s no statistic for this, no metric that reflects how his belief becomes your belief. But it does. And it’s why this franchise comprised of so many spare parts—D-II gems, reborn vets, a 39-year-old kicker and two potential Hall of Famers (Marshawn Lynch, Khalil Mack)—has gone from laughingstock to the team now most equipped to slay the Patriots.

 

They started to believe.

– – –

“It’s just a knack,” Richard says. “DC has a knack for when the game is on the line, he freakin’ shows up. He could’ve had a bad game all game…when you have a guy on your team like that, that when it’s crunch time you know he’s going to be on the money? That makes you say, ‘S–t, I’ve got to be on the money, man!'”

 

Richard also knows that Carr wants to be a pastor with his own church one day. They’ve already discussed taking mission trips together, making tentative plans with teammate Karl Joseph to head to Joseph’s native Haiti. That Carr talked about wanting to help other people immediately after signing a $125 million deal made some players do a double take—they’re not sure they would’ve said that. Then again, this is someone who spoke to player…after player…after player about winning in the playoffs minutes after his own season ended.

 

If football ended tomorrow for Carr, Richard says, he’d be perfectly fine.

 

Then, Richard clenches those fists again. His eyes blaze. Carr isn’t done yet.

– – –

Safety Reggie Nelson, who’s in his 11th year: “He leads by example, and when he gets on you, he gets on you. He’s way beyond where he needs to be with the number of years he’s been playing. When he grows up, he’s going to be…he is a great quarterback right now.”

 

Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, who’s met Carr many times: “The intangibles set him apart. For a young quarterback to become such a good leader for the team—he plays with a lot of passion. That rubs off on a lot of his teammates. … More of the same. He’ll be even more motivated and determined this season.”

 

Richard, biting that lip: “I see DC every day. Yeah, I would say DC is the best quarterback in the league. And I feel like he plays with that demeanor just like anybody should and would.”

 

Fully expect to see Carr go airborne again when a first down or touchdown is in sight. Nobody senses hesitancy in his game. The future pastor has been at work all summer, Downing assures, “investing” in teammates. He’s always in the ear of Lynch, of tight end Jared Cook, teaching the nuances of this offense.

 

Carr has the keys this season. Downing will let him change more plays before the snap.

 

Here’s one thing Downing will never do: debate the best basketball player of all time with his QB. To Carr, it’s no contest.

 

“He loves Kobe,” Downing adds, “and he definitely wants to emulate that tenacity and ferocity that Kobe had his whole career.”

 

At the podium, Carr reflects on his appreciation of two good legs. It killed him that he wasn’t able to help his kids if they fell in January. Now he can. And on the field, he says he’s having more fun than ever.

 

But, no, he doesn’t have a clue why he’s so clutch late in games.

 

“I wish I had a secret or something to tell somebody,” Carr says.

 

Of course he wouldn’t know. It’s part of who he is.

 

He’s the NFL’s Black Mamba.

 

And he’s back.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Even though Baltimore’s results have been kind of mixed lately, the Ravens have given John Harbaugh an extension (although only for one year).  Which is not to say that it is wrong, just different than how they do it some other places.  Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:

 

The Baltimore Ravens announced a contract extension for John Harbaugh on Monday, giving the 10-year head coach a vote of confidence just before the start of the regular season.

 

The Ravens added one year to Harbaugh’s current contract and he is now signed through the 2019 season, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Harbaugh, 54, led the Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2012, but the Ravens have failed to reach the playoffs in three of the past four seasons since.

 

Owner Steve Bisciotti recently praised Harbaugh during this year’s training camp.

 

“I like the message that he brings,” Bisciotti told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “He doesn’t talk like a guy that’s been here 10 years. It’s amazing how he tends to rejuvenate himself and his message. And I’m lucky to have a leader like him.”

 

Harbaugh is currently the sixth-longest tenured head coach in the NFL and just became the longest-tenured coach in Ravens history. Bisciotti fired Brian Billick as coach after his ninth season in Baltimore.

 

Of the six coaches with the longest tenure in the NFL, three are in the AFC North.

 

1 – Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000

2 – Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals): January 14, 2003

3 – Mike McCarthy (Green Bay Packers): January 12, 2006

4 – Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints): January 18, 2006

5 – Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers): January 22, 2007

6 – John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens): January 19, 2008

 

And, you might wonder, how many coaches have the Browns had in that time?  The answer would be 6.

 

Romeo Crennel          2005–2008      24-40  

Eric Mangini                2009–2010      10-22  

Pat Shurmur               2011–2012        9-23  

Rob Chudzinski*         2013                  4-12  

Mike Pettine*              2014–2015      10-22 

Hue Jackson               2016–present     1-15 

 

So the last five coaching changes in the NFC North have been made by the Browns.

 

To pick on some other teams, the Buccaneers have changed coaches four times since 2008.  As have the Jaguars, if you count an interim. 

 

There are probably others in that range.  Heck, the Broncos have changed coaches five time (counting an interim) since 2008.

 

 

 

CINCINNATI

It is easy to be against LB VONTAZE BURFICT.  His long record speaks for itself on what kind of sportsman he is.  But Bill Bender in The Sporting News thinks the NFL missed the mark with its impending five-game suspension threat:

 

Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict does not get the benefit of the doubt.

 

No player who accumulates more than $800,000 in fines and racks up 16 unnecessary roughness, personal foul and roughing the passer penalties in his career will get that, even when he should. The NFL is making an example out of Burfict with his latest five-game suspension after an illegal hit on Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman in a preseason game Aug. 19.

 

Is the NFL suspending Burfict’s hit or his reputation? In this case, it looks too much like the latter. Way too much.

 

Five games for this? Any other player does that, and it’s a penalty and a fine. This is excessive punishment at least. At most it’s the NFL targeting Burfict as the don’t-do-it poster child for a new rule under which any running back, wide receiver or tight end running a route is considered defenseless.

 

In real time, Burfict’s hit looks like a cheap shot, a flag and a fine. If you want to suspend him for one game or at most two based on his history, that’s fine. But five games — almost a third of the season — is excessive and sets a ridiculous precedent.

 

If Burfict gets five games, does that mean other offenders will get one, two or three games for a play that wasn’t penalized during the game? If so, many defensive players are going to get suspended or fined for similar hits, and the situation will become the NFL’s version of college football’s hard-to-define targeting rule, which causes a fresh controversy every Saturday.

 

Emphasizing player safety is important, but there’s a slippery slope.

– – –

Burfict will appeal the suspension, and he’ll probably lose based on the spirit of the new rule and his reputation as a dirty player. That begs a question: What does a five-game suspension really accomplish?

 

The Bengals are behind Burfict: “The film shows that the hit was legal, that Vontaze engaged his opponent from the front, and that contact was shoulder-to-chest. The Club will support Vontaze in the appeal process,” the team said in a statement.

 

Burfict is behind Burfict, too. He’s an over-the-edge player who just admitted to slowing down so he could stiff-arm Kirk Cousins on a pick six in a preseason game. Burfict doesn’t help himself because of that reputation.

 

The NFL took a stand on that reputation. What would the NFL do if Burfict ended a player’s career on such a hit? That’s probably a question the league wrestles with every time he starts trending on Twitter for such a play. Is that the spirit of the new rule?

 

It shouldn’t be. A five-game suspension isn’t the right answer. There are enough gray areas. It doesn’t look like Burfict hits Sherman in the head or neck.

 

This is about perceived reputation, of both Burfict and Cincinnati. That’s not fair. If it’s anybody other than Burfict, it’s not a suspension. Sure, Burfict earned that reputation after a three-game suspension resulting from a hit on Antonio Brown in a 2016 AFC wild-card game, but this seems like way too prior history. Given the NFL’s inconsistent history of selective punishment off the field, it only creates a trap.

 

If the suspension is not overturned or at least taken down a few games, this creates a we’re-getting-screwed narrative out of Cincinnati. It looks that way, too. Imagine Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension being appealed down to three games, or if a Pittsburgh linebacker has a similar hit in a game and isn’t suspended. The comparative tweets will come by the thousands.

 

 

At that point, Cincinnati and Burfict will have learned absolutely nothing from the exercise. If that’s the intent of the punishment, it’s doomed to fail. The Bengals lost their best defensive player for a third of the season because of a questionable play that will happen a lot, especially in the black-and-blue-is-encouraged AFC North. How many hits like that does one see during a Steelers-Ravens game?

 

When more questions like that are asked, it becomes more clear that this punishment misses the mark.

 

We saw this tweet from Will Brinson of CBS Sports, and beg to disagree:

 

@WillBrinson

Don’t think Vontaze Burfict hit is dirty in “traditional” sense but clearly a violation of new NFL rule making receivers defenseless.

 

The DB thought the hit was “dirty” in that it was pointless to the play, just a chance for Burfict to deliver a macho hit.  But was it a violation of the rule?  We don’t see “head” and we don’t see “from the back or side.”

 

Let’s see what Mark Maske of the Washington Post, who has strong sources in the NFL Office thinks.  Hint, he sort of agrees with the DB:

 

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict maintains his hit on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman during a recent preseason game was perfectly legal, and his team is backing him in that contention. But in the NFL’s view, the hit checked every box for what type of hit should warrant stringent disciplinary action. To that end, it suspended Burfict, as a repeat offender, for five regular season games.

 

During the offseason, the NFL’s rule-making competition committee put a directive into effect mandating an increased emphasis on ejections and suspensions being given to players guilty of certain illegal hits in games. The measure was enacted as a point of officiating emphasis, meaning no ratification vote by the owners of the 32 NFL teams was required. The directive is aimed at illegal hits so egregious that they should bring swift and meaningful action, whether the offender has a history of illegal hits.

 

According to a person familiar with the NFL’s deliberations, the league believes that Burfict’s suspension is warranted under the new directive. It also believes that Burfict’s suspension would have been warranted even without the new measure given it was an illegal hit, in the NFL’s view, delivered by a player with a long history of on-field infractions. Discipline also might have been warranted based merely on the unnecessary roughness of the hit, in the league’s view. So, to the NFL, it was a straightforward decision and a relatively easy call.

 

Burfict is appealing the penalty, and the Bengals are offering public support.

 

“The Bengals are aware of the NFL’s letter to Vontaze regarding a play in last weekend’s game,” a written statement issued by the team said. “The film shows that the hit was legal, that Vontaze engaged his opponent from the front, and that contact was shoulder-to-chest. The Club will support Vontaze in the appeal process.”

 

Burfict also says the hit is legal.

 

“The rules say you can eliminate a receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage as long as you don’t hit him in the head, and I don’t think I hit him in the head,” he told the Bengals’ website.

 

Burfict was not penalized during the game for the hit on Sherman, but that does not preclude the league from imposing discipline after reviewing the hit.

 

Sherman was cutting across the field while running a pass pattern. That makes him a defenseless player under NFL rules, and he cannot be hit in the head or neck area. Nor can the defender launch himself at a defenseless player or lower his head to deliver a blow with the crown of the helmet. Under the rules, a receiver running a pattern is a defenseless player “when the defender approaches from the side or behind” even when the football is thrown elsewhere and the receiver in question is not in the process of making a catch.

 

The ball was not thrown to Sherman. That does not affect his defenseless player status under the rules; Sherman still is protected by them. But given that Sherman was not involved in the play, it brings unnecessary roughness into the equation. The rules prohibit “unnecessarily running, diving into, cutting, or throwing the body against or on a player who is out of the play or should not have reasonably anticipated such contact by an opponent, before or after the ball is dead.”

 

The replay appears to show Burfict using his shoulder to hit Sherman primarily in the chest. It is not clear from the video publicly available if there also is contact to Sherman’s head or neck area. But the NFL determined that such contact took place, according to those familiar with the league’s review.

 

There are a few things worth noting. Under the rules protecting defenseless players, it does not matter where the primary point of contact is. Even if Burfict hit Sherman initially and primarily in the chest, he cannot also make contact to the head or neck. Also, it doesn’t matter what Burfict intended, under the rules. All that matters is what happened.

 

Burfict is a repeat offender. He was suspended for the first three games of last season for a series of violations of player safety rules, including a hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown during the AFC playoffs at the conclusion of the 2015 season. According to ESPN, which first reported Burfict’s pending suspension, Burfict has been fined nearly $800,000 during his NFL career and penalized 16 times for unnecessary roughness.

 

Burfict’s hit clearly was dangerous and probably unnecessary, given Sherman’s distance from where the pass was thrown. Whether it was illegal under the defenseless player rules is a separate matter, and that is what is at question. All of this comes against the backdrop of the sport dealing with concussion issues and attempting to get certain types of hits out of the game.

 

Burfict’s appeal will be heard by James Thrash or Derrick Brooks. They are the sport’s appeals officers for discipline imposed for illegal hits, chosen and paid jointly by the league and the NFL Players Association.

 

“I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best,” Burfict said, according to the Bengals’ website. “I feel like I’ve let down my teammates, but I also feel like I’ve done a good job with this. I only had one personal foul last year. We feel like this was a legal hit. I hit him in the shoulder. I hit hard, so it may have looked like I hit him in the head, but it was the shoulder. I helped him up and he said he was good and I asked if he was good on the next series and he said, ‘Yeah, that was a legal hit.’ ”

 

The NFL had the right to discipline Burfict for general “unnecessary roughness” but as has previously been the case (see Bountygate, Deflategate) they piled on with unsupported justifications for the punishment that undermine the original sin.

 

The DB thinks a one-game suspension based on “unnecessary roughness” would have been more palatable and sent a message to all NFL defenders.  This is perceived as “getting” Burfict.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Jason B. Hirschhorn at Sports On Earth drools over QB DeSHONE KIZER, both for his down the road potential and his 2017 pulse:

 

The Browns made the decision to start Kizer ostensibly with an eye on future seasons. The brain trust of general manager Sashi Brown, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and head coach Hue Jackson spent their first 20 months in Cleveland purging the roster of bad contracts and stockpiling draft assets. The process produced a woeful 1-15 record in 2016, but it also yielded several coveted prospects, including Kizer. Deciphering whether the Notre Dame product can thrive in an NFL setting could dramatically alter plans for next offseason — namely allowing the team to use its top pick at another position — and beginning the year with him under center should expedite the evaluation.

 

But Kizer’s enticing down-the-road potential too often overshadows the impact he can have on the Browns in 2017. The offense, which hasn’t produced so much as a top-20 finish in DVOA since 2007, could realistically climb out of the NFL cellar. Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter augment an offensive line that trails only that of the Dallas Cowboys on paper. The ground attack led by Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. remains potent, and could benefit from the added strength in the trenches. Even Corey Coleman returns from an injury-shortened rookie campaign and has flashed game-breaking ability in the exhibition games.

 

However, all of those pieces amount to little more than fantasy fodder without the right man under center.

 

That player certainly didn’t seem to be Brock Osweiler, the failed franchise signal-caller whose contract was so onerous, the Houston Texans traded away a second-round pick just to unload it on the Browns. Osweiler unsurprisingly stumbled during the preseason this year, completing 12 of his 22 passes for a meager 67 yards and an interception. Cleveland did not even play Osweiler during its most recent preseason game, a precursor to their decision to head a different direction.

 

Likewise, while Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan have produced stretches of competency, their skillsets strongly suggests futures as backups. Kessler largely avoids costly errors, but does so at the exclusion of bigger plays. At 6-foot-1 with average-at-best arm strength, he also comes with physical limitations not generally associated with starting passers. Hogan, with his 6-foot-3 frame and surplus mobility, offers more upside in that regard. Still, he remains maddeningly inconsistent and cavalier with regards to his on-field decision making.

 

Already, Kizer appears like a more appealing option than any of the Browns other three quarterbacks.

 

Physically, Kizer has every desirable tool at his disposal. His 6-foot-4, 233-pound stature can withstand the punishment of NFL defenders, and his quick feet allow him to evade pass-rushers better than most of his peers. That mobility doesn’t create passing issues as it does for others, as Kizer can deliver the ball with zip from multiple arm angles and platforms. However, most of the time Kizer doesn’t evacuate the pocket, choosing instead to allow routes to unfold while progressive through his reads.

 

Those traits served him well during his extended preseason outing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kizer opened the game with a 10-play, 57-yard drive that included a 32-yard bomb to Coleman. That play showcased Kizer’s patience under pressure, as he worked the pocket for well over four seconds to allow his receiver to separate from his defender. Kizer delivered those types of moments more consistently than any other quarterback on the Browns roster.

 

At multiple points during the upcoming season, Kizer’s rookie mistakes will leave his team trailing three or more scores with no realistic hope of a comeback. Such is the nature of rookie signal-callers, especially ones with his aggressive playing style.

 

But the Browns don’t expect to compete for a playoff berth in 2017 nor do they look at the season through that lens. They will evaluate the year based on the defense changes under new leadership, the performance of the offseason veteran acquisitions, and, of course, how far Kizer progresses over the course of 16 games. With a player so green, the positive moments carry more weight than the lowlights.

 

Fans understandably want an answer to the big question: Whether Kizer can end the Browns’ 18-year wait for a savior under center, a stretch that saw nearly 30 different quarterbacks start for the franchise. Finding out could take several years. In the interim, Kizer can make Cleveland’s offense dangerous for the first time in a decade, a more than meaningful accomplishment for a rookie.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The Texans’ final preseason game with the Cowboys has been flipped to Arlington.  Mike Florio echoes the DB yesterday in calling for Houston’s opener to flip sooner rather than later:

 

The Texans are scheduled to open the regular season at home against Jacksonville in 13 days. However and whenever the facts play out, chances are that won’t happen.

 

An easy solution for the league would be to flip the home games in the annual two-game Jaguars-Texans series. The Texans would play at Jacksonville to start the season, and the Jaguars would come to Houston on December 17. Yes, that would result in three straight home games in December for the Texans and three straight road games to start the season. It also would give Jacksonville a pair of home games (followed immediately by a “home” game in London) to start the season and three straight road games to end it.

 

Still, it’s the quickest, easiest, and most sensible fix. Even if Reliant Stadium would be able to host the game, who would attend? With Houston and the surrounding area suffering through an unprecedented weather disaster, there’s no way Houstonians and those from neighboring communities will be willing or able to attend a football game in 13 days.

 

Flipping the games would buy more than a month of time, with the next game due to be played in Houston on October 1. While a month may not matter given the magnitude of the situation, it would allow the league, the Texans, and local governmental officials to make good decisions about the eight games scheduled to be played there.

 

As we pointed out yesterday, the Texans second scheduled regular season home game, against Tennessee, is also flippable.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

The Colts may not be Jets bad, but Danny Heifetz in The Ringer thinks they will be conventionally bad if ANDREW LUCK doesn’t show up soon:

 

Years ago, Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski were visiting an Indianapolis Colts practice ahead of a Monday Night Football game when the two noticed something strange—the backup quarterbacks weren’t taking any reps. Gruden asked Tom Moore, Indy’s longtime offensive coordinator and the architect of the Colts offense, why Peyton Manning was the only quarterback practicing.

 

“Fellas, if 18 [Manning] goes down, we’re fucked,” Moore said. “And we don’t practice fucked.”

 

Not much has changed in Indy: The Colts are still screwed without a star signal-caller under center. Andrew Luck underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder so long ago that Obama was still president, and there’s still no timeline for Luck’s return. It’s looking increasingly likely that Luck will miss the Colts’ opener, meaning that Scott Tolzien and his career two touchdowns and seven interceptions will likely lead Indianapolis to start the season.

 

Fans and fantasy football owners may clamor for Luck’s return, but there’s 123 million reasons over five years that Indianapolis should not push him to start the season before he’s ready. Let’s not forget that the man drafted right after Luck, Robert Griffin III, put his career in jeopardy by being “all in for Week 1.” Colts owner Jim Irsay has been clear that he’s thinking about the next decade of Colts football when weighing decisions regarding Luck’s shoulder. If 2017 September football is the cost, then so be it.

 

 

“I can’t emphasize how much time I’ve spent with Andrew, saying, ‘You have to make this decision in the best interest of the franchise, the fans, your teammates, etc. Not just your competitive juices,’” Irsay said.

 

That stance from ownership makes it even more surprising that new general manager Chris Ballard didn’t sign a veteran backup quarterback in the offseason. Irsay said the team attempted to sign a mystery quarterback in his mid-to-late 30s, but the move never panned out. Back in 2015, the team went 5-3 after veteran Matt Hasselbeck took over the starting spot in October while Luck was hurt. Instead of acquiring a similar insurance plan this year, the team stuck with Tolzien, who is now fighting former undrafted free agent Stephen Morris for the starting job. If Tolzien can’t beat out other undrafted free-agent quarterbacks, beating any NFL team will be an upstream battle. The Colts defense looks like it will have seven new starters this year, which will hopefully improve the unit, but could also require some early-season fine-tuning.

 

The good news is that in the first five weeks of the season, the Colts play three of the worst teams in the league—the Rams, Browns, and 49ers. The bad news is they also play Seattle and Arizona. It is within the realm of possibility that if they blow those easy games, they’ll be playing the Jaguars on October 22 for the title of Worst Team in Football.

 

If the Colts do earn that title, the blame will largely fall on former general manager Ryan Grigson, who was fired in January. Grigson landed a franchise quarterback in Luck and promptly squandered the opportunity. For much of Luck’s tenure in Indianapolis, the Colts roster has been among the least talented in football, probably because the team hasn’t drafted an impact player since 2012. The most egregious sin committed by Grigson was the construction of the offensive line, which has failed to adequately protect the franchise’s new hope since he came into the league. Ballard now has the opposite problem most new general managers have: He has a generational talent at quarterback, but must do triage everywhere else.

 

Even when Luck returns, he’s going to be rusty. He hasn’t practiced in eight months, the longest stretch he’s gone without playing football since middle school. Fortunately, the Colts are returning most of their starting 11 on offense so Luck should have some continuity, but he’ll also be playing behind the same line that allowed him to be sacked 41 times last year, tied for the second-highest mark in the league. Luck isn’t anyone’s idea of fragile, but he clearly can’t take punishment forever. He’s already missed an entire offseason of preparation that can’t be recaptured in a few weeks.

 

“Think about all the time quarterbacks spend with their receivers in the offseason,” Jim Sorgi, who backed up Manning for years in Indianapolis (without getting reps in practice!) and is now a Colts radio analyst, told the Indianapolis Star. “That time is invaluable. … I don’t think it’s just gonna be pick up and go.”

 

With a healthy Luck, the Colts would have a serious chance to win the AFC South. Without him, they could resemble the flailing 2-14 mess that landed them Luck in the first place. And even when Luck does return, we might not see him play like himself until Thanksgiving—and that’s assuming his shoulder is healthy.

 

The Colts could be in trouble without Luck. Hopefully they’ve been practicing.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

The Jets act like QB CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG didn’t flub his chance to take the starting job as they name veteran JOSH McCOWN to start the opener.  Brian Costello in the New York Post:

 

Todd Bowles made it official Monday — naming Josh McCown the Jets starting quarterback for Week 1 against the Bills.

 

It was the expected conclusion to the months-long competition between McCown, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty.

 

“He gives us the best chance to win right now,” Bowles said.

 

What does that tell you about the Jets’ quarterback situation? McCown is 2-20 in the last three years as a starter. But it became apparent Hackenberg was not ready as the preseason wore on, finishing up with two pick-sixes on Saturday against the Giants.

 

Petty never seemed to get serious consideration as the starter, getting reduced practice reps and no time with the starting offense during the preseason. Bowles did not say who the No. 2 quarterback will be in Buffalo.

 

McCown will be the 30th starting quarterback the Jets have had since Joe Namath left town after the 1976 season. He is the fourth different starter the Jets have had on Opening Day since 2012 — joining Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

 

“I feel like I can go out and have my best year yet,” said McCown, a 15-year veteran. “They’re going to get everything I’ve got.”

 

The 38-year-old has played just one series in the preseason — the opening one against the Titans on Aug. 12. Bowles said it is possible McCown could play in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Eagles. Traditionally, the starters sit out the final preseason game.

 

The Jets gave the majority of the game reps to Hackenberg, the second-year quarterback from Penn State. Hackenberg had a

strong start to training camp, but tailed off and struggled in his two preseason starts.

 

“Everything he was seeing, going out there against some great defenses the past two weeks, he saw for the first and second time,” Bowles said. “He got better mentally and he got better in some things to learn from. It wasn’t disappointing. It was just a learning experience.”

 

Hackenberg said he does not view losing out on the starting job as a disappointment. He tried to remain positive about it.

 

“I’m confident in what I can do,” Hackenberg said. “You never know what’s going to happen, and you never know how things are going to shake out. I have to keep preparing that way and keep that mindset.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

KAEP

The MMQB.com, ever at the social vanguard, has a long, long piece on one-year of anthem protests since Colin Kaepernick was first spotted sitting on a bench.  You can read it here.  A gang of correspondents talk to what they purport to be a cross-section of players and fans on the issue.

 

Here is what the Browns did last Saturday in Tampa:

 

The Browns had another influential voice in their ear this week, too: Hall of Famer and longtime civil rights activist Jim Brown. In an interview with The PostGame, Brown said he wouldn’t “desecrate my flag and my national anthem” the way he felt Kaepernick had by kneeling. Brown also spoke to the team and gave his opinion as to how they should protest. “Jim Brown’s message to us was really that it’s important to be unified as a team and as an organization because that’s really where you make a difference, and that’s where your voice becomes very powerful,” DeValve says. “So that’s kind of the goal right now.”

 

This week, the Browns didn’t kneel. Instead, about 30 of them, DeValve included, stood side-by-side with their arms interlocked during the anthem. They chose not to kneel, DeValve says, because they’re “working on defining what exactly the points are that we want to get across, and then agreeing upon them as a team and doing it all together as a team.”

 

In Philadelphia, there is a “coalition of 40 players” determined to do all they can to bring about their version of social justice (still to be determined) led by CB MALCOLM JENKINS:

 

In the coming weeks they’re going to be increasingly vocal, Jenkins says. They’re going to write op-eds, reach out to more politicians and speak up about specific issues in their communities. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Jenkins wants to throw support behind a bill that would give people convicted of minor offenses the chance to seal their records after a certain period of time, which would help them get jobs—and he also wants to oppose a piece of legislation that’s being discussed that would reintroduce minimum mandatory prison sentences.

 

This movement that Kaepernick started has grown to encompass many other issues beyond police brutality. “It’s about people dying at the hands of police officers when they don’t need to. It’s about mass incarceration and the effects that it has on communities of color, on poor communities. It’s about the divide in quality of education in communities. The financial gap. All of these things kind of coincide,” Jenkins says. These are the things that are being discussed in locker rooms more now; this is why more players are joining in and kneeling or sitting or raising a fist. “We’re seeing an awakening [around the NFL], a realization that you can make things happen,” Jenkins says. “Guys are learning, working their way through this. We’re football players; we’re not activists, so we’re learning as we go.”

 

Here is Matthew Cruz, a sergeant in the U.S. Army in Detroit:

 

This past year, whenever Cruz, 27, saw Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem, he says, he turned off the TV. “I may not be the biggest impact—like I’m just turning off my TV; they get millions of views—but I would never sit, I don’t care who you are,” Cruz says. “I’m actually stationed here. It hit us pretty hard. I do the military funeral honors for the state, so the flag, we plays “Taps” at all the veteran funerals. So when that stuff happens, it’s kind of like ‘Damn, I love football’ but dude, like, you’re playing a game. Football is not a worldwide sport, it’s an American sport.”

 

And this guy in Jacksonville wants to see Kaep in Jaguars teal:

 

One of them is Sam Long, a new season-ticket holder who wants the Jaguars to sign Kaepernick, for football reasons.

 

“I think this is all about the NFL sending a message to players—stay in your lane,” Long says. “I love the game. This is my first year with season tickets. This club they have here is just beautiful, and I wanted to be a part of it and have tickets for what I hope will be a turnaround. But we need a quarterback. There’s not many better than Kaepernick. Young, got a strong arm. He’s won before.

 

“I think he could really put people in the seats. Some people think the fans would be angry if he got signed—either here or wherever. You know how people are—if he won a couple of games, they’d be behind him. People would change their tune.”

 

The next day the Jaguars’ owner, Shad Khan, would say in a radio interview that is he “absolutely” O.K. if his front office wants to sign Kaepernick — making him the first owner to come out and speak publicly on the subject.

 

The summary paragraph:

 

This movement that Kaepernick started has grown to encompass many other issues beyond police brutality. “It’s about people dying at the hands of police officers when they don’t need to. It’s about mass incarceration and the effects that it has on communities of color, on poor communities. It’s about the divide in quality of education in communities. The financial gap. All of these things kind of coincide,” Jenkins says. These are the things that are being discussed in locker rooms more now; this is why more players are joining in and kneeling or sitting or raising a fist. “We’re seeing an awakening [around the NFL], a realization that you can make things happen,” Jenkins says. “Guys are learning, working their way through this. We’re football players; we’re not activists, so we’re learning as we go.”

 

To the DB, the National Anthem is more about our aspirations, about the traditional desire for Americans of different backgrounds to come together in peace and something approaching a consensus on the general form of a proper government that has helped achieve the most prosperous and internally peaceful country in the history of the world. 

 

If it is to be a referendum on individual aspects in parts of the current version of that country, all of us would have reasons, widely varied, to sit down.