The Daily Briefing Tuesday, January 23, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Jason Owens of Shutdown Corner has some “prop” bets for you to consider for Super Bowl 52:
With the Super Bowl comes Super Bowl prop bets.
And as with most thing pop culture or otherwise today, many of the prop bets announced on Monday by BetDSI touch on Donald Trump and other controversial subject matter.
Trump appears four times in the list of bets. You can wager on whether he shows up for the game, whether he conducts an interview with NBC, bet the over/under on how many times he tweets during the game and bet whether halftime act Justin Timberlake utters Trump’s name.
You can also wager on whether New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski clears concussion protocol before the game (he’s a favorite to suit up) and if another player will see his Super Bowl end early with concussion symptoms (oddsmakers are betting no).
And, of course, the most obvious prop bet of our current football/political climate. Will any player kneel during the national anthem? Oddsmakers don’t think so and are paying +275 if a player does.
Of course it’s not all POTUS and pondering life-altering brain damage. There’s plenty of fun to be found in the prop bets, too.
You can bet the Puppy Bowl, where Team Fluff and Team Ruff both pay -115.
There are five different bets to make on whether NBC commentator Al Michaels will make gambling references during the broadcast.
Oddsmakers are laying long odds on Tom Brady and Bill Belichick retiring postgame, but believes that Brady is twice as likely to call it quits after the game. A no bet pays -2500 for Brady announcing his retirement, while bettors must lay a whopping -5000 to get paid on Belichick declining to retire during the NBC broadcast.
You can even bet on how much total money will be bet on the Super Bowl with the over/under set at $4.5 billion. In theory, if you have the means, you could bet enough money to push that number over. But we’re guessing the prop bet cap on that wager falls well short of $4.5 billion.
An edited list below:
Will Rob Gronkowski be medically cleared to play?
Will Tom Brady be wearing a bandage on his right hand?
Will Tom Brady announce retirement after game? (Must be shown on broadcast)
Will Bill Belichick announce retirement after game? (Must be shown on broadcast)
Will Donald Trump attend the game?
Will Donald Trump take part in pregame interview on NBC?
Total number of Donald Trump tweets during game?
Over 2.5 (-115)
Under 2.5 (-115)
Will any players take a knee during national anthem?
Will Tom Brady win Super Bowl MVP
Will Nick Foles win Super Bowl MVP
Color of liquid thrown on winning coach
+750 No liquid thrown
Will Al Michaels say “underdog”?
Will Al Michaels say “odds”?
Will Al Michaels say “pointspread”?
Will Al Michaels or Cris Collinsworth say “GOAT”
Will Al Michaels or Cris Collinsworth say “Pro Football Focus”?
Will Al Michaels or Cris Collinsworth say “Rocky”?
Who will Tony Dungy predict to win?
New England Patriots +240
Philadelphia Eagles -300
Who will Rodney Harrison predict to win?
New England Patriots -300
Philadelphia Eagles +240
Length of America the Beautiful (Leslie Odom Jr.)
Over 80.5 seconds (-115)
Under 80.5 seconds (-115)
Justin Timberlake first appears in headware during halftime show
Justin Timberlake first song during halftime show?
Can’t Stop The Feeling! +150
Rock Your Body +400
Cry Me A River +500
True Colors +800
Love Never Felt So Good +900
What Goes Around…Comes Around +1000
Suit & Tie +1500
Field – Any Other Song +200
Will Britney Spears make a halftime show appearance?
Will Janet Jackson make a halftime show appearance?
How many commercials will Peyton Manning appear in during broadcast?
Over 2.5 (-115)
Under 2.5 (-115)
Will Eli Manning appear in commercial during broadcast?
How many Anheuser-Busch commercials will be aired during broadcast?
Over 4.5 (-150)
Under 4.5 (+120)
How many times will word “Dilly” be said during broadcast?
Over 12.5 (-115)
Under 12.5 (-115)
The Vikings are in uncharted waters with not one, not two, but three “starting” QBs all eligible for free agency. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com:
The Minnesota Vikings are entering the offseason with complete uncertainty at the quarterback position, rare for a team that won 14 games and advanced to the NFC Championship Game this season.
And at the moment, at least, few — if any — know how they will address it.
As they packed up their belongings one day after a 38-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, two of the Vikings’ quarterbacks said Monday they had no indication whether the team wanted them back.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” said Teddy Bridgewater, who spent eight weeks as the No. 2 quarterback but was deactivated for the playoffs in favor of Sam Bradford. “Still dealing with the 24-hour rule with yesterday, still dealing with that. So just going to take it one day at a time.”
Bradford was not in the Vikings’ locker room Monday during the media access period. Meanwhile, Case Keenum — who started 16 games, including the playoffs, and ranked second in the NFL with a 69.7 Total Quarterback Rating — said he had no insight into the Vikings’ plans.
Asked if the Vikings had provided an indication, directly or indirectly, whether they wanted him back, Keenum shook his head and said: “Nope.” He added later that Monday wouldn’t necessarily have been the day for such a commitment.
“Everybody’s still got a lot on their minds from yesterday,” Keenum said. “There’s a lot going through everybody’s heads. This is just a weird day. It’s the last time I’m going to be in the locker room with a lot of these guys. You want to make sure you enjoy that than trying to worry and stress about other things.”
Keenum said he had no priorities in terms of picking his next team but made clear that he “loved” playing for the Vikings.
“I love this team,” he said. “I love these guys. I love the coaching staff. I love this whole organization. The Wilfs [the team’s owners] are awesome. The day I signed, I got a call from the owner welcoming me to the team.
“From the top down, that trickles down — just the attitude, the character, just the culture they have around here is awesome. Not to mention Minnesota itself. The people here have been great. My biggest fear coming here was the snow, and I didn’t even shovel that. It’s been a great year.”
Bridgewater, on the other hand, spoke for the first time about the team’s decision to demote him to No. 3 quarterback for the playoffs. The decision suggested he might not be in the team’s long-term plans after two largely inactive seasons following an August 2016 knee injury.
Bridgewater said he did not read into the decision but made clear he would have preferred to be in uniform.
“It happens,” he said. “This year, I think, the biggest test for me was a test of my character. In a perfect world, I would have love to have dressed. But I understand that decisions are made to give this team the best chance of winning. I understand that, and I’m a pro. I know what it takes. It just happened, and I dealt with it.”
Asked if he views himself as a starter in 2018, Bridgewater said: “Definitely, without a doubt.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is scheduled to speak with reporters Tuesday morning.
You could argue that in terms of ability when healthy. the three rank Bradford, Bridgewater, Keenum (although Keenum had a passer rating of 98.3 this year, 7th in NFL).
On the other hand, you could argue that the health prognosis based on past experience is Keenum, Bridgewater, Bradford.
Tough, tough decision.
Is this a sign that WR DEZ BRYANT has worn out his welcome in the Metroplex? Clarence Hill in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:
Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones has been the bad guy before and he will be the bad guy again, if necessary.
It was son Stephen who worked over owner Jerry Jones before he gave Deion Sanders a $13 million signing bonus in 1995.
It was Stephen who convinced his father to cut Terrell Owens and it was Stephen who led the charge to veto Jones’ plan to draft former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2015.
And now it’s Stephen Jones who is setting himself up to be the heavy in the looming decision on wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Or the “Dez situation” as he called it on the Hangin’ with the Boys podcast on the team’s website Monday _ given the veteran receiver’s advancing age, declining production, his distracting antics and his $12.5 million base salary for next season
Bryant led the team in receptions (69), receiving yards (838) and touchdown catches (six) this season, but he also was among the league leaders with 12 dropped passes.
He looks nothing like the player he was from 2012-2014 when was considered one of the top five receivers in the game, prompting the Cowboys to give him a five-year, $70 million contract extension before the 2015 season.
Injuries have played a huge role in his decline in production, but so has the quarterback change from Tony Romo to Prescott.
It all has presented the Cowboys with some questions to answer as they consider what to do about Bryant and his contract going forward.
Asking him to take a pay cut or be cut is a definite possibility.
Stephen Jones readily acknowledges that some hard decisions regarding Bryant have to be made.
On the Dak Prescott and Dez chemistry:
“The Dez situation has a lot of moving parts to it,” Jones said. “The chemistry between Dak and Dez is different between Tony (Romo) and Dez. Tony and Dez had their game tailored to one another. Dak doesn’t play the way Tony played. It hasn’t hit on all cylinders on how the connection works. It’s a work in progress.”
On Bryant’s sideline antics:
“The other thing that we all see and it is certainly visible to anyone who watches our games, watches our sideline, is Dez is certainly a fiery guy who plays with a lot of emotion both on and off the field,” Jones said. “Sometimes that can be a distraction. It can be a distraction for Dez. It can be a distraction for other teammates.
On Bryant’s future:
“And we just have to really get our hands around, when you put all the full body of work together, where that’s headed,” Jones said. ”Of course, we pay Dez a lot of money, and he knows that. He’s as aware of it as anybody. … He knows when you get paid that kind of money there’s high expectations in terms of the productivity. … Those are all things we have to look at as a team, as an organization when we start to put our team together for next year.”
Jones seems prepared to carry the big stick again.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Pat Shurmur is indeed the coach of the Giants. Another Pat, Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News, with the story:
The Giants made Pat Shurmur’s hiring official early Monday evening and stressed his “leadership,” his ability to develop young players, and his preparedness to handle the New York stage as standout traits that qualified him to become the 18th head coach in franchise history.
“We are pleased to welcome Pat to our organization and look forward to the leadership he will provide for our team,” co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said in a joint statement in their first on-the-record public comments about Shurmur. “He has an outstanding track record in developing young players, and it is clear his players respond to his guidance and direction. We interviewed six talented and qualified candidates, and we feel like Pat, with his vision and experience, is the right person to lead our team.”
Shurmur’s contract with the Giants reportedly is for five years,. The Giants fired Ben McAdoo on Dec. 4 with two years remaining on a four-year deal.
“I want to thank John Mara and Steve Tisch for giving me the opportunity to be the head coach of the New York Giants,” Shurmur said in a statement released by the team. “I am looking forward to getting to work with Dave Gettleman and (assistant GM) Kevin Abrams and starting the process to once again build a championship team. I have been fortunate to work with many great coaches and players, and I am thankful for those relationships. I would like to thank my family and friends for their tremendous support.”
Gettleman, the Giants’ new GM, expressed confidence that Shurmur could handle New York, a valid question after former Browns president Mike Holmgren told the Daily News recently that Shurmur let the Cleveland media bother him too much in his only previous head coaching stop, from 2011-12 with a 9-23 record for the Browns.
“I can’t wait to start working with Pat,” Gettleman said. “I know he will provide the type of leadership we need to take our team back to where it belongs. I have followed Pat’s career for many years, and he has had great success wherever he has been. What struck me during our conversation is that being the head coach of the New York Giants is not too big for him. He is made for this moment and this opportunity.”
Shurmur, 52, the Giants said, will join Gettleman at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., from Tuesday to Thursday. Then the team will hold an introductory press conference on Friday. The team would have held a news conference sooner but the weather in Minneapolis affected Shurmur’s ability to get out Monday night.
Reuben Frank of NBCSports.com on DE CHRIS LONG, RB LeGARRETTE BLOUNT and the Patriots.
Imagine how rare it is to win a Super Bowl with one team, then sign with another team, then wind up reaching another Super Bowl the next year only to face your previous team once you get there.
The Eagles have two guys who’ve done that.
LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long, two offseason free-agent acquisitions who have meant so much to the Eagles’ 2017 run, will face their former team Feb. 4 in Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis a year after winning Super Bowl 50 with the Patriots over the Falcons in Houston.
“Me and L.G., we made a pact,” Long said at his locker, long after the Eagles finished off the Vikings 38-7 to reach the third Super Bowl in franchise history (see Roob’s observations).
“We talked about it, that we’d travel together. He’s one of my favorite teammates I’ve had. Obviously, he was a big part of so much of their success there and he’s brought a lot to this team.
“I signed here first and then I hit him up. I was so excited when he signed. Just in a year there, we got to be pretty good boys and we’re traveling companions now.”
Blount and Long both played key roles Sunday night, Blount with the go-ahead touchdown, an 11-yarder midway through the second quarter and Long with a fumble recovery after Derrick Barnett strip-sacked Case Keenum deep in Eagles territory, also in the second quarter.
The Patriots have gotten big-time contributions from former Eagles Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola.
Now the Eagles are returning the favor.
“It’s extremely special,” Blount said of making consecutive Super Bowls with different teams.
“I came here for an opportunity to do something special and we’re doing it. We’ve had a long season, we lost warriors on the way, and we kept grinding and fought through it.”
The game was tied 7-all when Blount burst up the middle, trampled Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo and scored to give the Eagles a 14-7 lead.
The Vikings never recovered.
“It was blocked perfectly,” Blount said. “Always going to be one guy left for the running back, which was the safety, and you’ve got to either make him miss or make him make a tackle.
“It gives you a spark on your team, those kind of runs. Just the mentality that we run with, that our running backs run with. A mean mentality with a chip on our shoulders. Runs like that spark a run or the defense getting going. A lot of energy transfers.”
Blount’s touchdown run was his 10th in the postseason, seventh-most in NFL playoff history behind six Hall of Famers — Emmitt Smith, Franco Harris, Thurman Thomas, Terrell Davis, John Riggins and Marcus Allen.
But don’t expect him to get excited about that stuff.
“There’s not really enough time to go for a walk down memory lane,” he said. “We’re going to enjoy this one and we’ve got two weeks to prepare for a really, really good Patriots team.”
Blount spent most of the last four years with the Patriots and is the 10th-leading rusher in Patriots history. But he said facing the Patriots in Minneapolis doesn’t mean anything.
“No more special than anyone else,” he said. “We play against faceless opponents every week.
“I don’t care nothing about that.”
Blount is one of those guys who carries a bit of a bad reputation with him. And certainly, there are some things in his distant past he’s probably not proud of.
But he’s been nothing but an exemplary teammate in this year with the Eagles.
“You hear certain things about everybody but one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, man,” Long said. “He’s just got a bad rap a little bit. I love him. Everybody around here loves him, everyone in New England loves him. Everywhere he goes, people love him.”
The last spot on the head coaching carousel, at least for the moment, belongs to Steve Wilks. Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:
Science has proved that lightning can, in fact, strike the same place twice.
The Arizona Cardinals just hope that electricity can find its way to their headquarters in Tempe, Arizona, for the second time in five years. On Monday, the Cardinals named Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks as their head coach. Wilks replaces Bruce Arians, who retired on Jan. 1. For their second straight coaching search, it took time before the Cardinals were linked to their new head coach.
There are similarities between the Cardinals’ searches in 2013 and 2018.
Both times, the franchise was coming off a forgettable season. Both times, seven teams were looking for new head coaches. Both times, Arizona was among the last teams to be linked to a new head coach.
Cardinals president Michael Bidwill hopes those similarities lead to his franchise capturing lightning in a bottle again.
With Arians, whom the Cardinals gave his first head-coaching job at age 60 (he was interim head coach for the Colts during the 2012 season), Arizona struck coaching gold. In five seasons, he set the franchise record with 50 wins and led the Cardinals to the playoffs twice — including a run to the NFC Championship Game in the 2015 season.
In the 48-year-old Wilks, the Cardinals get a younger coach who, like Arians when he was hired, had yet to be an NFL head coach. However, Wilks doesn’t have the extensive résumé that Arians had.
But obviously that didn’t dissuade Bidwill.
He went into the coaching search willing to take his time. This was his plan all along.
– – –
As other teams created a clamor in their search for coaches such as Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur or New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia (both of whom Arizona interviewed) or even Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Cardinals stayed at the back of the room and watched how it all unfolded in front of them.
After Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak publicly declined a second interview with Arizona, the Cardinals were left with a group of six coaches: current defensive coordinator James Bettcher, Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, Atlanta Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and Wilks.
To Bidwill and the Cardinals, Wilks was the best of the bunch. But whether that’ll hold up to be true will take time to determine.
There are plenty of questions still to be answered.
Who will be Wilks’ offensive coordinator? This is especially important since the Cardinals don’t have a quarterback under contract for 2018.
What kind of scheme will Wilks, a former defensive back at Appalachian State, run in Arizona? He ran a 4-3 last season as the Panthers’ defensive coordinator. The players he’s inheriting have run a 3-4 — and with much success — over the past five seasons. Wilks’ new defense finished in the top 10 in yards allowed the past three seasons — one of two teams to accomplish the feat.
Which leads to this question: Who will be his defensive coordinator? Will he have one in title only, like Arians did with Harold Goodwin, and call plays on his own or will he surrender the defense to someone else?
As with everything, with Wilks becoming an NFL coach for the first time, Bidwill, the Cardinals and their fans wait and see.
And so Todd Haley will bring his combustible personality to Cleveland. Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
The Cleveland Browns have landed a new offensive coordinator.
NFL Network’s Michael Silver reported Monday that Todd Haley is taking the job, according to sources familiar with negotiations.
Haley spent the past six years as Pittsburgh’s play-caller, but the Steelers decided not to renew his contract following last week’s 45-42 playoff loss to the Jaguars. Not helping matters, the 50-year-old Haley reportedly struggled to get along with star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
A former head coach for the Chiefs, Haley will take over an offense that habitually flat-lined over the past two seasons under coach Hue Jackson. It’s unclear if Jackson will retain play-calling duties, but it’s impossible to imagine the hyper-experienced Haley joining the staff without full power to call his own plays.
His relationship with Big Ben aside, Haley’s offense thrived in Pittsburgh, finishing top-10 in points over the past four seasons and consistently whipping defenses with the likes of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
Cleveland doesn’t offer that brand of star power, but the Browns boast a talented offensive line, a handful of playmakers — Duke Johnson, Isaiah Crowell, Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman and David Njoku — and a boatload of valuable draft picks.
Haley is likely to be working with a rookie quarterback if (and when) the Browns select one with the first- or fourth-overall pick in the draft. The team also houses DeShone Kizer and Cody Kessler under center, but neither have done enough to prevent Cleveland from heat-seeking their choice from the college ranks — or pursuing a veteran in free agency or via trade.
The question here is what sort of scheme we can expect from the Browns. Will it be Haley running Jackson’s offense, his own playbook or a mixture of both? Cleveland went without a coordinator over the past two seasons largely because Jackson — an experienced play-caller — was brought in under the assumption that he alone could rescue the offense.
One win and 31 defeats later, all assumptions have been scattered to the wind. Haley will be given the chance to put his fingerprints on an attack sorely in need of a savior.
Do the Jaguars re-up with QB BLAKE BORTLES who played just good enough to just barely lose on Sunday? He hopes it is so. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
While speaking to reporters on Monday, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles reflected on this year’s success and said “we have an opportunity to build on that and try to make it a consistent-year-in-year-out thing.”
Bortles isn’t exactly guaranteed to be back for the next year of Jaguars football, however. The team exercised an option on Bortles’ contract for the 2018 season that calls for a salary of around $19 million, but they can walk away from it before it becomes guaranteed in March.
As Bortles’ forward-looking view of the Jaguars’ fortunes suggests, he’s hoping they don’t walk away.
“I’ve enjoyed my four years in Jacksonville and I would love to play here for as long as they let me,” Bortles said, via the Florida Times-Union. “What they decide and all of the decisions they make are outside of my control. I would be thrilled to be able to stay here and play here. Hopefully that can happen.”
Sunday’s loss to the Patriots featured a fair summary of where things wound up with Bortles this season. He had a strong first half as the Jaguars took a 14-10 lead into the break, but the team didn’t show much confidence in his ability to keep it going at the end of the second quarter or in the second half as the Patriots pressed their way back into the lead.
Bortles could still return if the Jaguars rescind their option if the two sides find common ground at a lower price, but that would be further sign that the team isn’t convinced he’s the right guy for the job as they try to move at least one step further than they advanced this season.
Mike Vrabel, who scored a TD on all 12 of his career receptions, thinks he’s the man to get the most out of QB MARCUS MARIOTA. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
The ex-Houston Texans defensive coordinator said Monday in his introductory press conference that his success won’t be all about Marcus Mariota, but he’s fortunate to have the QB established.
“There’s ways to win games in this league without a franchise quarterback,” Vrabel said. “We got one, we’re going to develop him. So I don’t think that that’s a critical factor. I think what it is is that it has to be the right fit.”
Vrabel noted the fear in which his Texans defense approached a dual-threat like Mariota last season, noting one big touchdown run the Titans quarterback pulled off.
“We were scared to death,” the new Titans coach said. “He pulled a football on Jadeveon Clowney and ran 40 yards. Thank god he pulled his hamstring running 40 yards. That game wouldn’t have been what it was that day in Houston. He’s a special talent, a special kid, and I can’t wait to work with him and help him through taking that next step in his career. But you get a quarterback that pulls it on J.D., you better have some cojones because J.D. normally swallows those guys up.”
The question is what type of coordinator Vrabel will tap to help guide Mariota into the next stage of his growth. Developing the quarterback became the focal point behind the coaching change from Mike Mularkey (who didn’t want to switch offensive coordinators) to Vrabel.
Vrabel said Monday he wants to run a diverse offense that takes advantage of Mariota’s strengths.
“I believe in screens, I believe in play-action — things that he does well. … He’s averaging 17 or 18 yards a completion in play-action. Those things scare you as a defensive coordinator, those are big plays that change field position. Those are things we believe in, but we’re going to run the football and do it a few different ways.”
He added: “We never want to put him in harm’s way. We don’t want to sit there and run him for the sake of running him. But we want to make sure people know he’s back there.”
The above quote should be music to the ears of Titans fans. Far too often the previous coaching staff attempted to shove a round peg into a square hole. Mariota was at his best in an up-tempo offense utilizing his legs when his reads broke down. Sadly, it took trailing in most games for Mularkey to deploy such a game-plan.
Vrabel was asked if he plans to run an offense that utilizes more spread and college concepts.
“The NFL has the greatest farm system in the world. We pay those coaches $10 million to be our farm system. Nick Saban is our farm system. Urban Meyer is our farm system,” Vrabel said. “We’re going to find those types of players, but that’s where the game is at. You have to try to be creative with what you’re doing. You have to cause conflict. That’s what (college coaches) are doing. They’re taking great athletes and putting them in good positions to succeed. We’re going to do similar things, but again we’re not going to put our quarterback in harm’s way.”
The balance between incorporating college schemes and utilizing the mobile quarterback while keeping the signal-caller healthy will be the biggest challenge for Vrabel’s incoming offensive coordinator.
If Ohio State OC Ryan Day was Vrabel’s first choice, he’s going to have move on down his list. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Titans coach Mike Vrabel wants to put Marcus Mariota in an offense more like the one he ran in college, but Ryan Day will not be coordinating that offense.
Day will remain at Ohio State rather than take the Titans offensive coordinator job, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.
Vrabel had reportedly been interested in Day because he’s a protege of Chip Kelly, who coached Mariota at Oregon. Vrabel, whose experience is on the defensive side of the ball, has indicated he’s looking for an offensive coordinator who can help Mariota look more like the quarterback he was when he won the Heisman Trophy.
– – –
Vrabel and the Titans will be moving on from 80-year-old DC Dick LeBeau. Jason Wolf of USA TODAY:
Legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, 80, will not return to the Titans next season, a team source told The Tennessean, perhaps ending one of the most storied careers in NFL history.
A different source, with direct knowledge of LeBeau’s thinking, told The Tennessean last week that he’d likely “be comfortable retiring if it doesn’t work out in Tennessee.”
The Hall of Fame former defensive back just completed his 59th consecutive season as a player or coach in the NFL, but he was informed at a meeting Monday morning that he would not be asked to join the staff of new head coach Mike Vrabel, who was introduced at a press conference Monday.
One of the luminaries of the game, LeBeau is credited with innovating and refining the famed “zone blitz.” He has two Super Bowl rings from his 13 seasons as defensive coordinator with the Steelers and continued to exude boundless energy this season, despite being the oldest coach in the league.
The Titans fired coach Mike Mularkey on Jan. 15 after he guided the team to a 19-15 record, including a playoff victory, in his two full seasons as head coach. He was 21-22 since taking over for coach Ken Whisenhunt midway through the 2015 season.
LeBeau, who joined the Titans’ staff under Whisenhunt in 2015, remained under contract through next season, as do all of Mularkey’s assistants.
THIS AND THAT
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Adam Rank at NFL.com looks at the Winners and Losers in the Battle with Expectations in 2017:
They are who we thought they were.
The Minnesota Vikings have suffered another crushing loss in the NFC Championship Game, and I pity the poor Vikings fans — especially you, Marshall Eriksen. But mostly, it made me think of the late, great Dennis Green. And once I start thinking of Green, who took the Vikings to the playoffs — including two NFC title games — in eight of his 10 seasons as their coach, my mind goes back to the Bears’ epic comeback against Green’s Cardinals on “Monday Night Football” in 2006. You know the game: Hall of Famers Peanut Tillman and Devin Hester rallied the Bears from a late 13-point deficit that set the stage for our — I mean, the Bears’ — Super Bowl run.
Afterward, Green launched into one of the most memorable postgame tirades in NFL history — no, sports history — no, the history of the world. Like, I wish Green had been in charge of construction of the Tower of Pisa, because the press conference after it started leaning would have been lit!
The hallmark line from Green’s diatribe was, of course, “They are who we thought they were.” But because this is a contrarian column by nature, we’re not going to crown those who simply did what was expected of them. (Although, you know, if you wanna crown ’em …) We’re going to go in the opposite direction — as in, highlighting those who are NOT who we thought they were, based on the 2017 season. (Well, some are who I thought they were, but not who we thought they were, as in the collective us.)
The list below is broken into two sections: those who showed they’re MORE than we thought they were (by outperforming expectations) and those who showed they’re LESS than we thought they were (by underperforming).
MORE than we thought they were
Receivers out of USC: USC receivers, am I right? The position group was given a dismissive wave of the hand by fans, analysts and fantasy dorks for years, which always bugged me because it was lazy. But damn, when even assistant coaches got into the act … Then-Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley admitted in November that he didn’t think much of rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster because of where the former Trojan went to school. Good one, dude. It’s hard for me to believe somebody with this mentality wouldn’t call a QB sneak for a guy the size of a typical NFL lineman in a crucial situation. But I digress. JuJu ended up with 58 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He wasn’t the only USC product who had a great year. Nelson Agholor (62 catches for 768 yards and eight TDS with the Eagles), Robert Woods (56 catches for 781 yards and five TDs with the Rams) and Marquise Lee (56 catches for 702 yards and three TDs with the Jaguars) all excelled for playoff teams this season. Sorry, your narrative is ruined.
Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams: Goff’s struggles during his rookie season stood out, even in a locale where box-office bombs are a part of doing business. Not only had the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft failed to deliver on the field, putting up 1,089 yards and a TD-to-INT ratio of 5:7 in seven games, his inability to realize the sun sets in the west, as revealed by an episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” might have been the biggest on-screen goof since Jessie Spano told Zack Morris she was so excited, so excited, so … scared. And some Rams fans might have been frightened coming into this season with Goff at the helm, which was just silly because Sean McVay is a genius. Goff posted a passer rating of 100.5, an increase of nearly 37 points from his rookie season. He also tossed 28 touchdowns and 3,804 yards and became your new leading man in Los Angeles. Man, this town loves a redemption story.
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys: Back injuries had the 2014 second-round pick on the cusp of being a bust after totaling 9.0 sacks in his first three NFL seasons, including just 1.0 in a suspension-shortened 2016. Then he went out and recorded 14.5 sacks in 2017, three of which came in a Monday nighter against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3 that served noticed that Lawrence was going to be a force. His best performance might have been against the Redskins in Week 13, when he dominated an overmatched offensive line. Now, a cynic would point out this breakout season came during a contract year. A cynic would point that out, but not me. I’m not going to mention his contract year at all.
Kansas City Chiefs offense: All right, let’s put this out on front street. The Chiefs suffered another horrific loss in the playoffs that seemed as inevitable as you spilling coffee on yourself anytime you wear tan pants. But don’t let that take away from the fact the Chiefs were only the second NFL team in history to have a quarterback with more than 4,000 passing yards, a running back with more than 1,000 rushing yards, a wide receiver with more than 1,000 receiving yards — right now, you might be saying to yourself, “Rank, some team has to have done that before,” which is rude, and you should let me finish — and a tight end with more than 1,000 receiving yards. The other team was the 1981 San Diego Chargers, which was loaded with Hall of Famers. Yes, Kansas City fielded a top-five offense while relying on a rookie running back (Kareem Hunt), a receiver some viewed as a gimmicky, one-trick pony (Tyreek Hill) and Alex Smith, the most-maligned good quarterback in NFL history. Before you say, “Hey, Tony Romo was a maligned good quarterback,” well, I think of him as an announcer.
Alex Collins, RB, Baltimore Ravens: We haven’t all been bearish on Collins, but do you want to know who was? The Seattle Seahawks, who gave him the boot in September. (Although vintage LaDainian Tomlinson might have struggled behind that Seahawks line.) The Irish-dancing superstar had a pretty good year for the Ravens, as he rushed for 973 yards (a 4.6 yards-per-carry average) and six touchdowns. I’m still of the mind that John Harbaugh and the Ravens coaching staff will continue to try to make Kenny Dixon a thing. But Collins should get a chance next season. Unless, you know, the Ravens don’t want to be successful or anything.
Here’s the thing, though. Sometimes this can go the other way …
LESS than we thought they were
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders: Local boy comes out of retirement to lead his team to the Super Bowl, just a few years before said team is set to be uprooted and shipped to Las Vegas. I know, this sounds like a reboot of “The Goonies,” so it stands to reason that I would buy into this version of how Lynch’s return to the NFL to play for the Raiders would go. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work out. Lynch did contribute seven rushing touchdowns, but he totaled just 891 yards on 207 carries (4.3 yards per carry). The Raiders, meanwhile, ranked 25th in rushing offense, and the team never seemed to click. Oakland finished the season with a disappointing 6-10 mark, and coach Jack Del Rio was fired. But then, the team hired Jon Gruden, and damn it, I’m in for the sequel.
Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington Redskins: All I remember hearing when Pryor signed in Washington is that he was amazing in Cleveland, and though the former quarterback had just four receiving touchdowns to his name, he was going to play with one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL in Kirk Cousins. A one-handed grab in practice made the world lose its damn mind. And then you probably lost your fantasy season if you drafted him. Pryor played in nine games for Washington in 2017 and started just two. He was targeted 37 times and nabbed 20 receptions for 240 yards and a touchdown. At times, he even looked like a former quarterback still learning to play wide receiver.
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers: I’m guilty of being a huge fan of Hyde when he was drafted by the 49ers. He hit this amazing spin move against the Minnesota Vikings in the Monday night opener (the late one) in 2015 and again, everyone lost their damn minds over it. Not much happened after that — Hyde finished that game with 168 yards and has topped 100 rushing yards just three times since — but we still believed. I finally jumped off the bandwagon, but heading into 2017, the pro-Hyde people were talking about how Kyle Shanahan was going to be the one to finally get Hyde over the hump. Really? His career arc is much like that of Coldplay. One hit. A couple of nice tunes, but mostly just overhyped. The only difference is that Coldplay has performed in the Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense: Thank goodness the Bucs fired Lovie Smith to promote offensive wizard Dirk Koetter. That was the kind of move the St. Louis football club would make, like when the Rams let Dick Vermeil walk out the door less than a day removed from a Super Bowl win so they could hire Mike Martz full-time. Koetter did get this team to nine wins in 2016. And then this squad went out and added DeSean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard, which was going to take this offense to the next level and make Mike Evans the best receiver in the game. Instead, while the Bucs were ninth in total offense, they were 18th in scoring, and quarterback Jameis Winston looked lost at times. Tampa also never found a running game (27th in rushing). And Evans did not become the best receiver in football. Which I found troubling.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers: But Rank, you say, he lost Aaron Rodgers. And that’s true: Rodgers missed nine games after suffering a broken collarbone. But this guy did nothing with Brett Hundley. He went from being a top-five receiver with Rodgers — from 2011 to ’16, Nelson caught 57 touchdown passes, which was more than anyone but Rob Gronkowski and Dez Bryant in that span, despite missing all of 2015 with a torn ACL — to barely even cracking the top 100 in the NFL without him. There hasn’t been an athlete this lost without their partner since Shawn Michaels threw Marty Jannetty through the Barber Shop window. In his five prior seasons, Nelson averaged 80.2 yards per game — a figure he failed to clear even once in 2017, when his average dropped to 32.1 yards. And remember, Rodgers did play in seven games. Nelson was also scoreless the last 10 games of the season, one year after posting 1,257 yards and a league-high 14 touchdown catches. Rodgers carried him. And Davante Adams is ready to assume the position of top receiver for the Packers.
Jay Cutler, QB, Miami Dolphins: Damn it, Jay. I wanted to believe.
The Mouse is out, but FOX is indeed going after the Thursday Night Football package. The bids are in with the winner to be announced shortly. Alex Putterman of Awful Announcing:
With NFL ratings in decline, the bidding process for next season’s Thursday Night Football package provides an instructive look at how TV networks view the league’s near-future prospects.
According to Sports Business Daily, only three networks have bid for TNF, with CBS and NBC offering a lower rights fee than they paid in 2017, when they spent a combined $450 million on the package. Fox was reportedly the lone network to submit a bid that would increase the current rights fees, though the amount is unknown at this time.
SBD reports that Turner Sports (which has bid for TNF in the past) and ESPN (which had been rumored to have interest in the package), declined to make an offer. ESPN reportedly balked at the last minute after deciding “they were not able to develop a profitable business plan given the current rights fees.”
On the digital side, Amazon and Twitter, which have streamed TNF in the past, have bid once again. Facebook has opted not to bid per SBD, which reported last week that the NFL would entertain digital-exclusive offers.
What does all of this mean? Well, it sounds more likely than not that Thursday Night Football will wind up on Fox next season for the first time. Even if the NFL was not otherwise inclined to simply accept the highest offer, Fox’s bid allows the league to avoid the embarrassment of accepting a fee that is less than what it got last year. Amid concern that the sports rights bubble is about to burst, Fox seems to have rescued the NFL from essentially admitting that its product is less desirable than it was before. Rights fees may come back to Earth sometime soon, but that apparently won’t begin with this package.
It sounds like FOX is going for the whole enchilada and not interested in sharing.
It’s Senior Bowl Week – and here is what Todd McShay of ESPN.com is looking for from the quarterbacks clustered in Mobile:
1. Josh Allen, Wyoming
Team: North | Uniform number: 17 | Overall QB ranking: 3
This week is a great opportunity for Allen to showcase his elite skill set on a level playing field. Mayfield faced better competition throughout his career, but Allen never had the clean pockets or the reliable pass-catchers that Mayfield was afforded at Oklahoma — especially in 2017. With that in mind, Allen needs to show more consistency with his footwork (and subsequently his accuracy). His career 56.1 completion percentage in college will be a frequent discussion topic during the pre-draft process. The tape shows a quarterback who can make the tough throws look ridiculously easy at times; now he needs to show he can make the routine throws consistently. As a side note, I think Allen will do well in the classroom and his experience in a more pro-style system should give him a mental edge over some of the other spread-based QBs. — McShay
2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Team: North | Uniform number: 6 | Overall QB ranking: 4
I’m actually more interested in seeing Mayfield’s numbers at the weigh-in than anything he does on the field this week. Is he really 6-foot-1 or is that a stretch? Based on standing eye to eye with him, my guess is he’s a little under that number. Is his hand span 9 inches or less? The five-year NFL combine average for QBs is 9.5 inches, and anything under 9 is concerning. It won’t define his career, but the list of sub 6-foot QBs who have had sustained success in the NFL is a short one. — McShay
3. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Overall QB ranking: 5
A foot injury will keep Rudolph from competing in Mobile, but I’m including him here because he’s expected there for weigh-ins and interviews. Even if he can’t work out, it’s important for Rudolph to show he can handle the classroom part of being an NFL quarterback. Coming from that system at Oklahoma State, it will be important to show NFL teams that he can quickly digest and process information at the chalkboard. — McShay
4. Luke Falk, Washington State
Team: North | Uniform number: 4 | Overall QB ranking: 7
Falk has slipped a bit from where I had him before the season (fourth-ranked QB), so I’ll be interested to hear what he tells NFL coaches and scouts about his inconsistent senior season. Coming from that Mike Leach system, I’m interested to study Falk’s consistent timing and ball placement on intermediate and vertical throws (with receivers running an NFL route tree). He flashes the ability to drive the ball down the field accurately, but that system features an unusually high percentage of throws that travel less than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. — McShay
5. Kyle Lauletta, Richmond
Team: South | Uniform number: 5 | Overall QB ranking: 8
Jimmy Garoppolo is an example of a small-school quarterback who impressed at the Senior Bowl and eased scouts’ concerns over the jump in talent level from Eastern Illinois. Lauletta faces the same issue coming from Richmond. It was sometimes difficult to gauge the velocity of Lauletta’s drive throws on tape, so I’m also interested to see his arm strength in person. — McShay
6. Kurt Benkert, Virginia
Team: South | Uniform number: 6 | Overall QB ranking: 9
Another guy with a low career completion rate (57.7 percent), I want to see Benkert consistently win with throws from inside the pocket. He has a good combination of size (6-2, 218), athleticism and arm strength, and he throws accurately on the move. — McShay
7. Mike White, Western Kentucky
Team: South | Uniform number: 14 | Overall QB ranking: 10
He comes from a system with a lot of quick throws, so I’m looking to see how White handles the timing of five- and seven-step drops with wide receivers consistently running deeper routes. I also want to see him stand tall in the pocket when it collapses. That’s a weakness that has shown up on tape. — McShay
8. Brandon Silvers, Troy
Team: South | Uniform number: 12 | Overall QB ranking: 11
Silvers, who started 48 games for the Trojans, has a quick trigger and adequate arm strength. But I think he has the most to prove of the QBs in Mobile. Specifically, I’m interested in seeing how he adjusts to working under center (footwork, reading coverages while dropping back and more) after playing almost exclusively in a shotgun offense. I also want to see better touch and trajectory on downfield throws. — McShay
9. Tanner Lee, Nebraska
Team: North | Uniform number: 13 | Overall QB ranking: 13
Lee, a transfer from Tulane who is replacing Rudolph at the Senior Bowl, put up decent numbers for the Cornhuskers in 2017, with 23 touchdown passes, 16 interceptions and more than 3,100 yards. At 6-4, 220, he has a good frame and some tools but needs refinement. I’ll be most interested to see how he progresses over the course of the week and how he responds to NFL coaching. — McShay