The Daily Briefing Tuesday, August 7, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
NEW YORK GIANTS
Amidst tales that the Giants won’t give WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. as much love as the Chiefs gave SAMMY WADKINS, OBJ’s agent leaves town. Josina Anderson of ESPN.com:
New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s agent has left the New York area with no deal in place after face-to-face meetings with the team last week, a source told ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
A team source told Anderson that agent Zeke Sandhu and the Giants worked diligently to consummate a deal but could not agree on Beckham’s market value.
The Giants are valuing Beckham at a total average annual value — when including his 2018 salary of $8.5 million — below Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins, who has an average annual value of $16 million in his current deal, a source told Anderson.
On Saturday, Beckham said at a news conference that his contract situation is trending in the right direction.
“Optimistic? Yeah. I’m optimistic,” Beckham said. “I’m confident it will all work itself out. It always does.”
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com with a more positive Tweet:
Over the past several days, Odell Beckham Jr’s agent Zeke Sandhu & the #Giants engaged in good-faith negotiations on a deal that would make him the highest paid WR in the NFL, sources say. They aren’t there yet, but the sides are encouraged a deal could be done before the season.
A hockey game has broken out at Eagles camp per Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Nick Foles is experiencing some “soreness,” per the #Eagles. Asked where, “Upper body.”
The Redskins, once home of a long season tickets waiting list, have tickets to sell. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
One of the biggest pieces of #fakenews in Washington died in June, when the local professional football team admitted there wasn’t a waiting list to buy season tickets.
Now, they’re scrambling to sell single-game seats. According to Scott Allen of the Washington Post, they’re sending out mass emails to all their list subscribers. In previous years, they’d sell a few single-game tickets under the guise of returns from visiting teams, but this campaign is a new thing.
The team once claimed that as many as 200,000 people were on the waiting list, now there’s a concerted effort to get fans into FedEx Field.
To encourage that, they’ve made a number of changes, including offering discounts on food purchases for season ticket members. They’ve also taken some seats in the cavernous stadium off the market, including obstructed view seats. That’s at least the fourth time the team has removed seats since 2010.
“We identified a lot of seats in those areas were being resold or had a high volume of visiting team fans, so when you take that out of the mix, that really helps preserve the value of our tickets for our season ticket holders,” said senior vice president of consumer sales and marketing Jake Bye.
Single-game tickets remain available for their opener.
S RICARDO ALLEN has a three-year extension. Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
Few teams in the league draft and develop their own talent like the Atlanta Falcons.
That point was hammered home Monday when the team agreed to terms on a three-year, $19.5 million extension with contract-year free safety Ricardo Allen, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The deal keeps him under contract through 2021.
The Falcons have worked tirelessly to keep their playoff-level core of talent together for years to come. This offseason has seen Atlanta furnish extensions to quarterback Matt Ryan, left tackle Jake Matthews and kicker Matt Bryant, while handing a pay raise to All-Pro wideout Julio Jones. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett looms as the next target for new money.
The team also handed extensions to coach Dan Quinn and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, ensuring the club’s heady nerve center will remain in place deep into the future.
Allen was a priority for the Falcons after the 2014 fifth-rounder appeared in all but two games over the past three campaigns. Previously tendered at the second-round level as a restricted free agent, Allen has improved against the run while logging six picks over the past three seasons.
If Allen’s not a star safety or household name, he certainly fits in well with Quinn’s scheme and remains a reliable presence for one of the NFL’s top defenses.
At just 26, Allen is heading into his prime — and the organized Falcons weren’t about to let him get away.
The Cardinals have lost their starting center for the season. ESPN.com:
Arizona Cardinals starting center A.Q. Shipley tore his ACL in practice Saturday and is done for the 2018 season, coach Steve Wilks said.
Shipley missed four offensive snaps in the last two seasons, playing 2,141 of the Cardinals’ 2,145 (99.8 percent) offensive plays.
“The MRI confirms that it is an ACL [injury]. Very unfortunate situation for him and the team,” Wilks said. “Tremendous leader, hard worker. When you talk about the DNA that I look for, [he’s] a guy that loves the game. Very passionate, gritty. Really was a leader up front, and it’s going to be an opportunity for others to step up that this particular time.”
The six-year NFL veteran started all 16 games in each of the past two seasons and has been a stalwart for the Cardinals.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
No fireworks when CB AQIB TALIB (now of the Rams) met WR MICHAEL CRABTREE (now of the Ravens) in a joint practice. Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:
Receiver Michael Crabtree and cornerback Aqib Talib were on their best behavior during Monday’s joint practice between the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Rams.
In the first of two practices between the teams, Crabtree lined up against Talib seven times, and it didn’t appear that they spoke once. Crabtree was targeted only once for a pass, and Talib broke it up.
Crabtree and Talib have had two altercations in the past two years over Talib pulling the chain around Crabtree’s neck. Last November, they were ejected for fighting and each received a one-game suspension.
“Aqib is a smart player, he’s a leader,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “I think he knew that there would be a lot of eyes on that specific situation and [I] trusted that based on our conversations he’d be smart about it. And he certainly was.”
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said fighting was discussed before the practice.
“Having said that, you never know what’s going to happen once you get out,” Flacco said. “So it’s always tough to tell. I think the guys did a good job feeling each other out in the first few periods.”
Flacco wasn’t aware of any words exchanged between Crabtree and Talib.
“Nah, not that I noticed,” Flacco said. “I don’t want to make anything of it. Nothing really.”
On Monday, Talib played press coverage on Crabtree only once, pushing him to the sideline. But that was the most physical contact between the two players. Round 3 just never came close to occurring.
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Coach Sean McVay isn’t expecting to see DT AARON DONALD anytime soon. Lindsay Thiry of ESPN.com:
Aaron Donald’s holdout continues.
The Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle will not join the team by the NFL’s Tuesday deadline for players to report to earn an accrued season for free agency, nor will he be with the team anytime soon, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Rams coach Sean McVay echoed a similar sentiment when he spoke with reporters Monday after a joint practice with the Baltimore Ravens in Owings Mills, Maryland.
“I don’t think anything is going to change with that in the near future,” McVay said when asked about Donald’s status. “I’ve had a little bit of dialogue with Aaron and we’re hopeful that we’ll get something done, but I don’t think there’s any realistic deal to August 7th being a date that changes really anything, but you never know.
“Things remain the same. I’m looking forward to trying to connect with him later on today, and we’ll see where we’re at.”
Rams teammates have expressed support for Donald, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but defensive lineman Michael Brockers said Monday he has had no contact with Donald.
“You kind of leave him alone when he’s in the offseason,” Brockers said. “I know he’s working, I know he’s grinding. No real contact. I know he’s getting the work done, doing everything possible where he’s in shape when he comes here. That’s all I can look forward to. Whenever he gets here, he’s ready to roll.”
Donald is scheduled to earn $6.9 million in the final season of his rookie contract but is thought to be seeking a deal that would pay him in excess of $20 million per season, which would make him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history and would rank his salary among quarterbacks.
Selected with the No. 13 overall pick in 2014, Donald sat out of training camp last season, then reported on the eve of the season opener without a new contract in place. Because of that holdout, he did not earn an accrued season toward unrestricted free agency. Now in his second consecutive holdout, Donald will not accrue the required four seasons to become an unrestricted free agent after the season and will remain a restricted free agent.
There is at least one linebacker who likes the NFL’s new helmet rule. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Plenty of NFL players have spoken out against the new rule against lowering the helmet to initiate contact, and it has even contributed to the holdout of Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith. But not all NFL players oppose the rule.
Raiders linebacker Tahir Whitehead said he supports the rule and doesn’t think it will stop him from being a physical player.
“It’s pretty much self-explanatory,” Whitehead told Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “You don’t lower your head to initiate contact. At the end of the day, it’s protecting the offensive guy, but most importantly, you’re protecting yourself. We’ve all seen what happened countless times last year where guys lower their head and risk not only injuring the guy on offense but exposing yourself to injury. It just makes sense. As a defensive player, you’re always taught, ‘You need to see what you hit.’ When you’re taking on a block, you don’t duck your head because you’re exposing yourself to neck injuries. That’s always the way I’ve played the game, so I don’t think it’s necessarily going to affect the way I play personally.”
Whitehead said he’s confident from looking at his own film that he already doesn’t lower his helmet to initiate contact and won’t be penalized. Whether he continues to support the rule once it’s been implemented remains to be seen, but for now he sees it as a positive step toward player safety.
The Bengals will be playing LB VONTAZE BURFICT in the preseason even though he, like JAMEIS WINSTON, is headed to a season-opening suspension. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
Vontaze Burfict returned to practice Monday, his hamstring healed, but the Bengals linebacker needs some time before playing in the preseason.
Burfict will play in the preseason.
He needs reps before serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy.
“I would say it’s important just to be out there with my teammates,” Burfict said, via Geoff Hobson of the team website. “Even when I’m not out there I’m going to be on the sideline, being a coach for some of the young guys. But it is important for me to play, but I’m pretty sure the Bengals and Mr. [Mike] Brown will make sure I’m ready to go before I get out there and not hurt anything.”
Burfict is only two pounds off his playing weight, according to linebackers coach Jim Haslett, but he still needs to get into playing shape.
“There are not too many guys that have been around that don’t need a lot of reps. He’s one of them,” Haslett said. “He looked like Tez. He’s not ready to play a game. He’s seeing things and reacting. He’s a good player. All that is still there. He’s in better [shape] than you would think. This guy is a good player. He’ll get his reps.”
According to Peter King, a name to know at Colts camp is WR DEON CAIN.
“Look for him early on to make a big impact,” was one of King’s main takeaways from Colts camp. The buzz surrounding Cain has been steadily growing ever since the Colts took him in the sixth-round out of Clemson this May and he wowed everyone during OTAs and minicamp.. The next step will be to see if Cain can translate his stardom in practice to actual game action this preseason. If he plays well during the exhibition season, he will likely start stealing snaps and targets from a wide receiver corps sorely lacking in star power outside of T.Y. Hilton. A lot of teams may end up deeply regretting that they passed on Deon Cain.”
RB FRANK GORE has plenty of love for his backfield partner RB KENYAN DRAKE. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
During the 2017 season the Dolphins traded their starting running back, Jay Ajayi, to the Eagles. That left Kenyan Drake as the starter in Miami.
This year the Dolphins signed Frank Gore to pair with Drake, and Gore says that after working with Drake in training camp, he understands why the Dolphins moved on from Ajayi last season.
“I was like, ‘Man, I kinda see why they traded Jay Ajayi,’” Gore said, via the Palm Beach Post. “He’s very talented. Jay Ajayi was a great back, too, but Kenyan is a very talented guy. He’s smart. He can do everything on the field. I think that me and him can really help this team be successful this year.”
The 35-year-old Gore thinks sharing a backfield with the 24-year-old Drake will be good for both of them.
“I love it,” Gore said. “That’s the way I train. I train with younger guys in the offseason just to be honest and keep myself sure, to let myself know if I’m ready and will I be ready. If I can go compete with the young guys during training in the offseason, I should be fine during football.”
The Dolphins struggled to move the ball last year, but they think they’ve found the right 1-2 punch at running back this year.
The Patriots part ways with another wide receiver. Mike Reiss of ESPN.com checks the depth chart:
The New England Patriots’ decision to part ways with third-year wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell on Monday appears to be a situation where the club waited as long as it felt it could for his knee to reach a point where both were comfortable before making a roster move. Time just ran out.
Until Mitchell practiced regularly, his place on the team’s depth chart was questionable. The receiver position has been one of the top stories of training camp as the Patriots transition without Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks, and plan for life without Julian Edelman for the first four games. Here are some of my thoughts on the way the depth chart looks:
Edelman (5-foot-10, 198 pounds): The clear-cut No. 1 option, he has been hard on himself for a few drops in practice and said this past Friday that his legs aren’t yet where they need to be as he returns from a torn ACL that cost him the 2017 season.
Chris Hogan (6-1, 210): He has usually aligned opposite Edelman in the two-receiver set and has also taken some punt returns. Given his familiarity with Tom Brady, he figures to be leaned on a bit more during Edelman’s absence.
Phillip Dorsett (5-10, 192): He’s been one of the notable performers of the first 10 practices — at times breaking off to a second field with Brady and a few others — and it’s hard to imagine him not on the initial 53-man roster at this point. His versatility to align in all the spots adds to his value and he’s clearly more comfortable in 2018 after having a full offseason with the Patriots.
Cordarrelle Patterson (6-2, 228): His primary value comes as a kickoff returner and covering punts, but there have been multiple “wow” touchdown catches, the most recent of which was a one-handed grab this past Friday. He projects as a niche No. 3-5 option at receiver, with gadget plays to get the ball in his hands likely part of the plan.
Eric Decker (6-3, 214): Signed to a one-year deal on Friday, he has taken part in just one practice with the team as he fills the void created by the release of Jordan Matthews. While he struggled to separate at times last year and had some notable drops, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ creativity and knack for effective route combinations should create opportunities for him to make plays.
Kenny Britt (6-3, 230): More of a traditional outside receiver, he has been working his way back from a hamstring injury and is not yet participating in 11-on-11 drills. He spent some one-on-one time with Brady this offseason on the West Coast, getting a jump start on attempting to be in the quarterback’s circle of trust.
Riley McCarron (5-9, 198): A first-year player from Iowa who spent last year on the practice squad, he saw an increase in repetitions with Brady over the past week. He’s more of a pure slot receiver who also returns punts, with his ability to do the latter likely his best chance to stick.
Braxton Berrios (5-9, 190): After missing most of the spring with an undisclosed injury, the sixth-round pick from the University of Miami has been working mostly behind McCarron to this point. He is similar to McCarron in that he plays the slot and returns punts, and seems to have a top-notch attitude and approach.
Devin Lucien (6-2, 200): While a long shot to stick on the roster, the 2016 seventh-round pick has made a few notable plays in practice that reflect why he’s still worthy of the coach’s time from a developmental standpoint.
Paul Turner (5-10, 193): The Louisiana Tech alum was put in a tough spot after being signed a few days into training camp, so he’s learning on the fly. He is competitive in drills.
Extra Point: Special-teams captain Matthew Slater (6-foot, 205) also warms up with the receivers, but his primary role is in the kicking game.
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Gregg Rosenthal tries to get to the bottom of the unusually upbeat Bill Belichick of August, 2018:
Bill Belichick opened training camp this year by noting that “our players really, overall, had a real good spring.” He lauded the players’ “big, strong jumps” in the offseason, and then volunteered it was “a little bit more than normal or maybe we anticipated.”
This is the closest Belichick gets to trash talking. When a player loves his team a little too much, he boasts about going undefeated or “owning” the division. When Belichick likes his team, he parcels out an unusual amount of praise for his young players. The man once nicknamed “Doom” is positively sunny this training camp.
In fairness, this is always one of Belichick’s favorite times of the calendar. These are the weeks he talks about to his legendary biographer or to NFL Films. These are the weeks closest to football distilled, where installation turns to competition, where the team takes its shape.
Fabled Patriots scribe Mike Reiss speculated that Belichick is more willing to share praise with reporters this year because he respects how his players handled a difficult offseason. That sounds about right, although I think there’s more to it. So why does Belichick seem so happy?
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Belichick starts every offseason with a speech about starting over from scratch. Asked about the previous season, Belichick comes up with various ways to say that last year’s team no longer exists. It holds lessons, but not any meaningful connection to this year’s team. The Patriots seemingly go out of their way to disrupt continuity, with the departures of Nate Solder, Malcolm Butler, Brandin Cooks and Dion Lewis feeling as on-brand as a sleeveless hoodie. Other teams talk about moving on, but Belichick lives it. Cliches become cliche because they are true, and starting over represents Belichick’s truth.
Perhaps Belichick looks lighter because the accumulated weight of last season is gone. The Jimmy G question no longer looms, however questionably it was answered. The explosive ESPN article by Seth Wickersham about the Patriots is further in the rearview mirror, along with perhaps Tom Brady’s best postseason. Brady’s trainer Alex Guerrero is at the facility on a daily basis, Rob Gronkowski is healthy and camp is mostly quiet once more. Most importantly, Belichick has the opportunity to build a competitive defense again.
The Patriots finished second-to-last in defensive efficiency last season, according to Football Outsiders. While the team did a remarkable job preventing points late in the regular season, the team’s offensive dominance, Belichick’s coaching and the fifth-easiest schedule in football were huge reasons why. It was not a talented or deep Patriots defense. It was among the worst defenses of the Belichick era. When the team finally faced a dangerous offense in the playoffs, the Patriots gave up 41 points and wasted a record-setting day by Brady.
The trade acquisition of Browns nose tackle Danny Shelton and the free-agent signing of Adrian Clayborn were made in response. Shelton was installed to open camp as a starter at defensive tackle and will be part of a rotation on the interior that includes third-year pro Vincent Valentine, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, as well as last year’s starters, Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy.
Clayborn provides a significant upgrade on the edge for a team that was starting players picked up from the Bills practice squad (Eric Lee) or from the waiver wire (James Harrison). Even if you remove Clayborn’s career-making game against Dallas, no Falcons defender had more pressures in 2017. That’s potentially three new starters on the defensive line, while defensive captain Dont’a Hightower returns at linebacker, perhaps the unit’s best player.
Belichick’s baffling decision to bench Butler in the Super Bowl helped to overshadow the team’s awful run defense and total lack of depth. The Patriots were forced to play nine starters over 60 snaps (out of 73) in the Super Bowl, a problem that shouldn’t be the case again, provided they enjoy even a modicum of good health. Derek Rivers, a third-round pick in 2017 who tore his ACL last August, provides another edge pass-rushing option, and Belichick is also high on second-year pro Deatrich Wise, who played 545 snaps as a rookie.
“Those two kids are here all the time,” Belichick said last week. “They’re the first ones in, the last ones out. They’re extremely diligent hard workers in the weight room and in the classroom and on the field. I think they’ll both make a good jump this year.”
Belichick is so happy with this group that he’s suggesting candidates for our Making the Leap series. And the praise has spread throughout the roster. Belichick said second-year tight end Jacob Hollister, who has been seen working extra with Tom Brady, has a “great future.” Belichick said it has been great to work with new left tackle Trent Brown, comparing him to the team’s entrenched right tackle, Marcus Cannon. All of this individual appreciation is unique in camp for Belichick, but he only throws bouquets out to players he thinks can handle it.
The Patriots are deep at nearly every position except cornerback and perhaps wide receiver. If the season were to begin this week, Reiss suggests that Phillip Dorsett would probably be starting opposite Chris Hogan at wideout. That could leave Hollister with a big role as a second receiving tight end and plenty of receptions for running backs James White, Rex Burkhead and first-round pick Sony Michel. The offense will look rather different than last year’s attack, which featured a lot of vertical passing, but Belichick seems to prefer different every season.
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The Patriots have done so much of their best work over the years while in upheaval. Belichick can no longer foster an underdog outlook after eight Super Bowl appearances in 17 seasons, but composing such a distinct roster each season helps to prevent the team’s success from getting too stale.
Belichick’s tinkering with the coaching staff achieves some of the same effects. The departure of Matt Patricia — whose run as defensive coordinator could best be described as bend but don’t break — will allow linebackers coach Brian Flores to call plays. (Like Patricia, he’ll have to wait at least a season before getting a coordinator title.) Belichick has also brought in former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema as a consultant and martial arts expert Joe Kim to help with the team’s pass rushers.
After coaching a trio of Belichick favorites in college (White, Wise and Trey Flowers), Bielema was brought aboard for some fresh eyes. Kim has worked with a number of NFL teams, starting with Belichick on the 1992 Browns.
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While so much changes within these Patriots, Belichick and Brady remain. And after a markedly different approach to offseason practices and open questions about his conviction to play, Brady sounds ready to roll. In an interview with the new “Religion of Sports” website that he started with Michael Strahan and Gotham Chopra, Brady credits his travel and extra time with his family for helping him “recharge and get emotionally ready for another football season.” Brady says that he “found my conviction. It’s football season — LET’S GO!!!!”
Who am I to doubt a man who goes quadruple-exclamation-point?
“Over the last few seasons I’ve become a lot more aware of time, in general,” Brady said, echoing many who are hitting 40. “It’s not just training camp or football — it’s everything.”
Time can feel warped when it comes to these Patriots. The first Is the Dynasty over? articles came in January of 2010, after a blowout playoff loss to the Ravens and some rare doubt the team would even make the playoffs the following season. One of the team’s most innovative, surprising offenses emerged the following season, setting the table for seven straight AFC Championship appearances this decade, where the only constants were dramatic roster reconstructions.
All of the Patriots’ hardware didn’t make last February’s loss to the Eagles any easier. It made the aftermath even worse, because Belichick and Brady know better than anyone how difficult it is to make it back. They are aware, deep down, how improbable and historic their entire trajectory has been. But they can’t admit it yet, or the whole operation falls apart.
The Patriots prove there is no such thing as a happy ending in sports. There are no endings at all, unless you count retirement, which is a sort of death to someone like Belichick or Brady. There is only struggle, the slow climb to the top and the rebirth of training camp. Nothing makes Bill Belichick happier than starting over.
NEW YORK JETS
The DB could have told you this, did Adam Schefter really need an anonymous “source”?
Rookie Sam Darnold “has a very fair shot” of winning the Jets’ starting quarterback job for the regular-season opener, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Darnold, 21, has to keep progressing, and the preseason will be critical for him. But the Jets like what they see; according to the source, he is further along than they thought.
He arrived in camp July 30, signing a four-year contract for the slotted amount of $30.2 million after a three-day dispute over offset language in the deal.
Darnold, drafted third out of USC, is competing against veterans Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater for the job.
THIS AND THAT
Tom Heckert, a second generation personnel guy, is gone too soon. NFL.com:
Tom Heckert, a former personnel executive for the Denver Broncos who also served stints as general manager for the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles, has died following a long illness, the Broncos said. He was 51.
Heckert stepped away from the Broncos after last season after being diagnosed in recent years with amyloidosis, a rare disease that causes a buildup of amyloid proteins in the heart, kidney, liver and other organs. He died Sunday night.
Heckert spent 27 years in the NFL, including the last five in the Broncos’ personnel department. He was the teams’ director of pro personnel from 2013-16 before becoming senior personnel adviser in 2017.
“Tom was an integral part of our organization and we’re all incredibly saddened today,” general manager John Elway said in a statement. “With his many years of experience and time as a GM, Tom was a tremendous resource and a key member of our team. He was a very good evaluator. He had an eye for talent, and we always trusted his voice.”
Before coming to Denver, Heckert was the general manager for the Browns (2010-12) and the Eagles (2006-09).
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Tom Heckert and share our sincerest condolences with his family and friends, including the many lives he impacted with the Browns organization and throughout the entire NFL during his established career,” the Browns said in a statement.
Heckert began his NFL career in 1991 as a scout with the Miami Dolphins, who promoted him to assistant director of pro personnel/college scout in 1999 and director of pro personnel in 2000. He was hired by the Eagles as their player personnel director in 2001 and was promoted to vice president of player personnel in 2003.
“We are saddened to learn of Tom Heckert’s passing,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. “Tom gave everything he had to this organization for nine seasons and played a major role in the construction and success of our team during that time. In addition to being a talented evaluator and respected voice, he was a mentor and friend to so many within our organization and around the league. He will be greatly missed by all who knew and worked with him and our hearts go out to his family during this difficult time.”
His father, Tom Sr., worked for more than 20 years as an NFL player personnel executive before retiring in 2007.