The Daily Briefing Tuesday, July 10, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
The NFLPA is going all-in to regain the right to have its members protest on the field during the National Anthem. NFL Draft Scout:
The NFL Players Association filed a grievance on Tuesday against the league’s new national anthem policy.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced in May that the league would enact a national anthem policy for the 2018 season that requires players and league personnel to either stand for the anthem or remain in the locker room.
The policy subjects teams to a fine if a player or any other personnel do not show respect for the anthem.
“Our union filed its non-injury grievance today on behalf of all players challenging the NFL’s recently imposed anthem policy,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “The union’s claim is that this new policy, imposed by the NFL’s governing body without consultation with the NFLPA, is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights.
“In advance of our filing today, we proposed to the NFL to begin confidential discussions with the NFLPA Executive Committee to find a solution to this issue instead of immediately proceeding with litigation. The NFL has agreed to proceed with those discussions and we look forward to starting them soon.”
Under Article 43 of the collective bargaining agreement, franchises have the right to implement “reasonable club rules.”
The NFL will have 10 days to respond in writing to the accusations in the grievance.
TE TREY BURTON, who followed the money to Chicago from Philly, sees plenty of similarities between the teams. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
Trey Burton knows what it’s like to go from worst to first.
The tight end won a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles last year, a season after Philly ended up in the cellar of the NFC East.
This offseason, Burton signed with the new-look Chicago Bears. The 26-year-old told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday he sees a lot of similarities between his former team and his new one.
“We were picked to finish last place in the division last year in Philly,” Burton said. “There are a ton of similarities. You look at Philly two years ago, the majority of our games were lost by less than a touchdown. If you look at Chicago last year, there’s a good amount of those games that they lost. It’s just about getting over that hump. You have to be able to win close games. There’s so many small details that happen in order for you to lose those games.”
Of the Bears 11 losses in 2017, six came in one score games.
The offseason changes in Chicago made the Bears an enticing landing spot for Burton. The tight end mentioned the offensive-minded new coach Matt Nagy, the importing of talented pass-catchers in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and rookie Anthony Miller, and second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as reasons he signed in Chicago.
“Nagy is definitely one of the top reasons why,” Burton said.”A young quarterback who can play at a high level is definitely something I looked at…Also the offense, too. It’s completely the same as what we were doing in Philadelphia. A lot of similar terminology and if you don’t have to learn a whole new offense, that’s a game-changer for you.”
Added Burton: “Nagy obviously knows what it takes to win at a high level, [the Chiefs] were in the playoffs last year. There’s tons of talent on the roster from last year, guys like Tarik Cohen. I played with Darren Sproles for four years and I would never compare any player to Sproles, I would never disrespect, but Cohen is right up there with his abilities with how shifty he is and how fast he is and those guys are extremely smart as well. Obviously there’s Jordan Howard, too. I could go down the list of names of really good players in Chicago. We added a couple guys. Your second year in the league from year one to year two is the biggest difference, so Mitch is going on year two. I know I experienced that myself, so I’m just really excited to see when the live balls are flying just to see how him and those guys react.”
Of all the additions this offseason in Chicago, the Bears bringing in Nagy to replace the conservative coach John Fox is the biggest reason for optimism.
As Warren Sharp of Sharp Football noted, Trubisky and Howard perform more efficiently out of the shotgun formation. However, last season the Bears ran 50 percent of their plays from shotgun, 13 percent lower than the league average. In Kansas City, where Nagy was the offensive coordinator, the Chiefs ran more than 70 percent of their snaps from the gun.
A creative new offense in Chicago, to go along with a potentially underrated defense, should give the Bears optimism they can make a quick turnaround after four straight seasons sitting in the NFC North’s cellar.
Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com on RB ITO SMITH and his namesake.
Lance Ito grew up a Los Angeles Rams fan. He cheered from the L.A. Memorial Coliseum stands in October 1961 when five-time Pro Bowler Jon Arnett returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions.
Although his heart and loyalty remain with the Rams and the hometown UCLA Bruins, the 67-year-old Ito now has a legit reason to root for at least one player on a football team located outside Los Angeles. It’s a guy nicknamed after the famed judge from the well-publicized O.J. Simpson murder trial: Atlanta Falcons rookie running back Ito Smith.
“No, I was unaware of the existence of a pro football prospect by the name of ‘Ito’ Smith,” Judge Ito told ESPN. “Having looked him up and discovering he is a handsome and talented fellow, certainly not a bad thing. Pro football is a tough business, and I wish him a long and healthy career.”
Smith’s eyes bulged and his smile widened when told of Ito’s well wishes. The story behind Smith’s nickname, told countless times, never seems to lose its luster.
The Falcons selected running back Ito Smith in the fourth round. Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports
Smith, from Mobile, Alabama, was born weighing 7 pounds, 8.5 ounces on Sept. 11, 1995, the day Judge Ito ordered the prosecution to begin its rebuttal in the Simpson case. Smith’s given name is Romarius. But when Smith’s cousin, Brittney Smith, entered the hospital room, she saw her baby cousin’s features and blurted out, “That little baby looks just like the judge off TV.”
Brittney was just 4 years old at the time.
“I guess she had been watching the trial with her grandmother,” Smith said of his cousin. “And everybody in the family has been calling me Ito ever since.”
Smith’s mother, Raven Smith-Isaac, still laughs when recalling how her son’s nickname evolved.
“I’ve heard the story told about 20 different ways,” Smith-Isaac said, “and I’m the one who has to go into all the whole details. I’m just used to it now.
“Of course, everybody was paying attention to the trial because it aired day and night. But we didn’t know Brittney had really been paying that much attention. When she first saw the baby, it was the first thing that came out of her mouth, that he looked like Judge Ito.”
Through middle school, Smith’s peers called him Romarius. His mother called him the same only when she was angry and had to yell Ro-marius with emphasis. But by high school, Ito had caught on with everybody as Smith started to establish himself on the football field.
“I always was good,” Smith said. “But when I got to high school, I started getting more serious about it. I used to work out every day by myself. Then I got to college and started working even harder.”
Telling the story behind his name became almost as routine as going for a workout. Smith admitted to not knowing much about Judge Ito and the Simpson trial until he started watching documentaries on Netflix.
Does he agree he looked like Judge Ito as a baby?
“A little bit,” he said with a laugh. “I guess I looked like a little Japanese baby.”
What Smith might not know is that Judge Ito, who is of Japanese descent, was a standout athlete himself. He won the senior scholar-athlete award from L.A.’s John Marshall High School in 1968. It was given to the sports letterman graduating with the highest grade-point average. Ito played tennis.
“Although I was a better-than-fair athlete, I was a little guy, and football was not a realistic possibility,” Judge Ito said. “No, I did not receive any college athletic-scholarship offers.”
Attending law school at the University of California, Berkeley worked out rather well instead.
Although Judge Ito is sure to always have a place in American history, the future will determine whether Ito Smith makes himself a household name in the NFL. The fourth-round draft pick from Southern Mississippi joins an already crowded backfield, with Devonta Freeman the starter and Tevin Coleman the backup, though Coleman has just one year remaining on his contract.
We love the name Ito, but it’s a shame to waste the nickname on this guy because Romarius is a cool name in the first place.
David Tepper moves in as owner of the Panthers, COO Tina Becker moves out. Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
David Tepper’s purchase of the Carolina Panthers is in the books.
The team announced Monday that the sale of the franchise to Tepper, the billionaire hedge fund manager, has closed.
“I am thrilled to begin this new era of Carolina Panthers football and am humbled by the overwhelming excitement and support for the team,” Tepper said in a statement released by the club. “On behalf of the fans and myself, I thank Jerry Richardson for bringing the team to the Carolinas and for entrusting me with its future.”
Said Tepper: “Winning is the most important thing both on the field and in the community, and I am committed to winning a Super Bowl championship together. I look forward to being part of the Panthers’ family and to supporting this flourishing region.”
In addition to Tepper’s ownership being finalized, the Panthers announced the resignation of Tina Becker, the team’s chief operating officer. Becker, a 19-year employee with the team, was promoted to the position in December after Richardson announced he was selling the team on the heels of an NFL-led investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct against him.
Richardson was ultimately fined $2.75 million in June as a result of the NFL’s investigation, which substantiated those claims of workplace misconduct.
Tepper was approved as Carolina’s new owner at the Spring League Meeting in May. He purchased the Panthers from Richardson, the former majority owner, for $2.275 billion — the most ever paid for a North American sports franchise.
Michael Bidwill thinks it is common decency to support an old high school buddy who is in line for a big promotion. But Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com takes umbrage:
The NFL is desperate to get #BackToFootball. Except, of course, when it isn’t.
Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill openly supports — via his team’s official website — the appointment of high school classmate Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. Although Bidwill’s quotes and the letter he has signed supporting Kavanaugh says nothing about politics and espouses no political causes or ideologies, everything about the appointment of a Supreme Court justice is political.
Bidwill’s support for Kavanaugh comes at a time when players advocating political causes routinely are told to “stick to football,” and the league seems willing only to listen to a vocal minority of fans on the hotly-contested national anthem issue. Bidwill’s gesture follows last year’s effort by Broncos G.M. John Elway to publicly support the candidacy of Neil Gorsuch, the most recent justice appointed to the Supreme Court. (And, yes, Elway said, “Take the politics out of football” only six months later.)
Regardless of political views, the point here is that the NFL and its fans shouldn’t be able to have it both aways. If it’s OK for owners to advocate political causes, it should be OK for players to do the same, without consequence.
And if it’s regarded as “bad for business” when players push their political interests on company time, it should be regarded as “bad for business” for an owner to use his team’s official online media platform to do the same.
It will be interesting to see whether other owners follow Bidwill’s lead in the coming days and weeks, and whether players will have something to say about this apparent double standard.
Bidwill and Kavanaugh were classmates at Georgetown Prep in Rockville, Maryland in 1985.
The Arizona Republic sends three reporters after Bidwill, scanning social media for criticism.
Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill went to prep school with Judge Brett Kavanaugh and was among the classmates who sent a letter to ranking U.S. senators to vouch for his character.
President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Kavanaugh to the high court during a primetime ceremony at the White House.
About an hour later, Arizona’s NFL team tweeted out a story that carried the headline, “Michael Bidwill Backs Classmate For Supreme Court.”
The tweet drew a backlash from fans who said it was inappropriate for the team to weigh in on a divisive, political issue.
The article was written by a writer for the team’s website, Azcardinals.com. The story recounted Bidwill’s decades-long friendship with Kavanaugh, and quoted from a letter he and other Georgetown Prep alumni emailed to Senate leaders to vouch for Kavanaugh’s professional talent and personal character.
Bidwill and three other classmates led the effort to reconnect with classmates and send the letter, the Azcardinals.com story said.
Bidwill, a political power player who frequently takes active roles alongside Republicans like Gov. Doug Ducey — and not so long ago, U.S. Sen. John McCain — waded into a divisive nomination Monday evening.
The tweet from the Cardinals account drew swift condemnation by dozens of followers, who said the team should keep politics out of football. It was “liked” more than 200 times as of 7:30 p.m. Monday.
The Arizona Republic could not reach a team spokesman Monday evening.
“Hey, wait,” wrote a Twitter follower with the name, Rum Doodle. “I thought we were supposed to keep politics out of sport?”
Wrote Erick Fernandez, “Why the bloody hell is the Arizona Cardinals social media account tweeting this? This is completely insane.”
Why the bloody hell is the Arizona Cardinals social media account tweeting this?
This is completely insane.
Wrote Adam Schallenberger: “I love you guys but gotta delete this.”
Wrote AwesomeBamon, “Ummm, what is an NFL account doing tweeting about the SCOTUS pick?”
Mark Willard responded to the team tweet, “An owner. On team platforms. Tough blow to the ole ‘stick to sports’ crowd.”
And ESPN reporter Jemele Hill, a vocal critic to the NFL’s handling of players’ decision to kneel during the National Anthem, also weighed in on the Cardinals’ tweet and story.
“Owners to players: Stay out of politics,” she wrote on Twitter. “It’s hurting the bottom line.”
The classmates’ letter about Kavanaugh recounted his professional credentials, and dedication to others outside of work. It concluded that the senators would soon decide he is an “excellent jurist who is singularly qualified” for the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We represent a broad spectrum of achievements, vocations, political beliefs, family histories and personal lifestyles,” said the letter, which was posted on social media by a sports reporter. “We unite in our common belief that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh is a good man, a brilliant jurist, and is eminently qualified to serve as an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Here is some of the article about Kavanaugh by Darren Urban of AzCardinals.com:
The Georgetown Prep letter, which was e-mailed Monday as soon as Trump made the announcement, was the first to be sent to Senate leaders overseeing the process.
“The purpose of the letter is to talk about Brett as a person,” Bidwill, out of the country on vacation, said in a phone interview. “We have known him and known what a brilliant mind he has. He’s eminently qualified.
“I think now that he’s been selected by the President, he will go through a thorough vetting process and as they go through that process they will learn about the great person we know. He is a man of high character, high intelligence, excellence and independence. We want to speak up and show our support as former classmates and long-time friends.”
The letter was spearheaded by four members of the 1983 class – Bidwill, DeLancey Davis, Paul Murray and Don Urgo Jr. – who spent time tracking down not only other 1983 class members but also Georgetown Prep products who knew Kavanaugh on either side of his graduating class.
The letter reads, in part, “We represent a broad spectrum of achievements, vocations, political beliefs, family histories and personal lifestyles. We unite in our common belief that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh is a good man, a brilliant jurist, and is eminently qualified to serve as an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The letter features more than 150 signatures. Among them is Brian Cashman, General Manager of the New York Yankees, who attended Georgetown Prep with the newest Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch in the Class of 1985. Kavanaugh is currently a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he has spent the last 12 years.
Bidwill, who attended Kavanaugh’s wedding, remarked on Kavanaugh’s dedication as a husband and a father, noting Kavanaugh coaches sports teams of his two daughters. Being a lawyer and former federal prosecutor himself, Bidwill has also watched Kavanaugh’s legal career develop.
“I’ve known him for more than 37 years,” Bidwill said. “We stayed in close contact over the years – we have a pretty tight high school class – and we all knew Brett was pretty special. He’s got a sharp mind. He’s been a brilliant jurist for a long time.”
Letters attesting to the character of judicial nominees used to be pretty standard and their issuance non-controversial.
But here’s Nancy Armour of USA TODAY piling on Bidwill:
It’s not mixing football and politics the NFL finds so distasteful. It’s mixing football with politics the league and its owners find distasteful.
That was made abundantly clear Monday night, when the Arizona Cardinals posted a story on their website lavishing praise on new Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh from team president Michael Bidwill. Shortly after, it retweeted a post by Adam Schefter with the letter Bidwill and fellow high school classmates are sending to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Kavanaugh.
So much for sticking to sports.
Bidwill has every right to be enthusiastic about a longtime friend’s new career opportunity, and even to stump for him. They go back almost 40 years, to their days at Georgetown Prep, and have remained good enough friends that Bidwill was a guest at Kavanaugh’s 2004 wedding.
But Bidwill was not promoting Kavanaugh’s nomination as Mike Bidwill, anonymous rich white guy from Phoenix. He was doing it as the owner of the Arizona Cardinals, giving the team’s endorsement to a Supreme Court candidate who, given the gaping divide in this country, is being viewed by many with suspicion and fear.
Did Bidwill survey his season-ticket holders to see how they’d feel about their team throwing in with Kavanaugh? Did he consider that the team’s promotion of Bidwill’s support might alienate and even anger some of the people who pay the Cardinals’ bills?
Did he not stop to recognize the bald hypocrisy of an NFL owner dragging his team into a charged political debate less than two months after the league muzzled player protests during the national anthem because, as Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said, “Our playing fields — that’s not the place for political statements.”
Now, some will say that the Cardinals’ promotion of Bidwill’s support for Kavanaugh is different than the player protests because it didn’t occur on a game day. But that’s splitting hairs — and badly, I might add. If the league wants to declare the game a politics-free zone, it has to apply to everything and everyone associated with it, and that line of separation has to be blindingly bright.
But surely an NFL player could have written a character letter in support of Kavanaugh or one of Barack Obama’s appointments with whom they had a relationship without media criticism. And surely a team website would have done a story impressed with that player’s commitment to society and the courts without criticism.
This from Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
As President Trump continues to blast the NFL over its national anthem policy and boast that he has helped bring down the league’s television ratings, NFL owners continue to support Trump anyway.
The latest example came this morning on conservative radio host Mike Broomhead’s show, where Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill appeared this morning to talk up Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.
Bidwill, who has known Kavanaugh since they went to prep school together, said he’s eager to see Kavanaugh confirmed.
“I’ve known Brett since I was 16 years old. We were high school football teammates. We’ve grown up in life together,” Bidwill said. “People are saying stick to sports? You know what? We ask our players 20 days a year — game days — to restrict their statements. The rest of the days, we want our players to get engaged in the community.”
Bidwill attempted to portray his advocacy of Kavanaugh as non-political, but Bidwill obviously knew going in that he’d have a friendly interviewer in Broomhead, a Trump supporter who said before the interview that criticism of Bidwill getting involved in politics is “idiocy.” At a time when Trump’s top priority is getting his Court pick confirmed, Bidwill is rallying support — not just support for Kavanaugh, but support for a president who has never missed an opportunity to bash the NFL.
If Bidwill holds up a “Confirm Kavanaugh” sign during the playing of the anthem at a Cardinals game, we would say we have a story.
But merely saying you have known a political or judicial figure all their life and that they are a good person?
New Jersey senator Cory Booker played football at Stanford and it would not be surprising and we think completely appropriate for NFL figures who knew him then to comment on their positive feelings of his character or personality, should that become a matter of national relevance in a few years.
Adam Schefter creates a stir in Cleveland. Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Maybe Adam Schefter just swung and missed. It can happen.
Or maybe he was just tweaking the Browns. Perhaps he had a bad experience on Dollar Dog Night at Progressive Field.
Whatever the reason, in the wake of LeBron James’ exit from the Cavs, Schefter, ESPN’s NFL Insider, Tweeted on Monday “And so now, Cleveland’s hopes rest with the Browns.”
The Browns? Would that be the 0-16 edition from 2017 that was so bad their head coach was forced to jump into Lake Erie? Or the 1-15 version in 2016?
What that says about the Indians, who went to Game 7 of the World Series in 2016; won an AL best 102 games last year and entered Tuesday night’s game against the Royals with a 9 1/2 game lead in the AL Central title, can be taken several ways. A bemused look, a shrug of the shoulders or a revival of Rodney Dangerfield’s old take about respect, as in not getting any. . .all of them would make sense.
Or it could be something like what appeared on Tribe third baseman Jose Ramirez’s Twitter feed on Tuesday. Ramirez, the leading recipient of All-Star votes for AL third basemen, Tweeted “Are we invisible?”
So are the Indians invisible? Are they Cleveland’s most successful professional sports team, while being the easiest to forget?
Like the mailman, bag boy at the grocery store or the the friendly lady at the drive thru window at McDonalds. Nice people to be sure, but 10 minutes after you’ve exchanged pleasantries, you can’t remember what they look like.
“I don’t think anybody forgets about a club that is in first place and went to the World Series two years ago,” said second baseman Jason Kipnis. “It’s a hard thing to forget about if you did. It shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
“I think we’re very comfortable about where we are right now. We’ve got a good chance of making it back to the postseason. I think we might get there before the Browns.”
While other sports are defined by highly-skilled individuals, Mike Clevinger thinks the Indians may suffer some facial recognition because of the team concept they exude.
“Other sports promote individual athletes,” said Clevinger. “We’re more represented as a team and I kind of like that aspect of us. A lot of sports are about one individual. That’s not what the Indians are about. We’re more a unit.
“So potentially we may get overlooked in a popularity contest.”
Clevinger still thinks Cleveland is a good baseball town.
“It still has that town vibe to every game,” said Clevinger. “The people around the ballpark, you can tell they’re passing their love for the Indians from generation to generation. That’s really cool to see.”
Said Rajai Davis, “It is what it is. I guess you’ve got to make a name for yourself. And then they don’t forget like LeBron did. He made a name for himself and now he’s moving west. Going to Hollywood. I thought was already Hollywood in Cleveland, but I guess there’s another step.”
Tyler Naquin missed the Tweet entirely. He doesn’t have a Twitter account and didn’t really care all that much.
“People can say what they want,” he said. “People can write what they want. All I know is I’m here every day trying to get better and help us win games.”
Manager Terry Francona did not see the Tweet, but when told about it, he smiled and said, “Obviously, Adam Schefter does not follow baseball a lot. He’s the football writer, right?”
As for the Indians being invisible, Francona said, “I wouldn’t penalize the fans of Cleveland because Adam Schefter Tweeted something. Who knows, maybe he just whiffed. I wouldn’t spend two seconds thinking about that.”
The next name to be discussed vis a vis the NFL’s domestic violence policy will be RB LeSEAN McCOY. The New York Post:
The user @Miamor_i_adore posted a disturbing picture Tuesday morning that showed a woman, who she says is Delicia Cordon, McCoy’s apparent girlfriend, with cuts, bruises and blood on her face with a caption that alleged, among other things, domestic assault by the Bills running back.
McCoy quickly denied the allegations.
“For the record, the totally baseless and offensive claims made against me today on social media are completely false,” he said in a statement. “Further more, I have not had any direct contact with any of the people involved in months.”
According to ESPN, the Bills are aware of the allegations against McCoy and are looking into it.
“@shadymccoy is THE DEVIL!!! YOU ARE AN ANIMAL!!!!!!” the caption read. “We didn’t say anything about how you beat your dog “Henny” into kidney failure. Let’s not talk about all the times my best friend had to stop you from VICIOUSLY beating your son for small things like peeing in the bed. We kept quiet about your drug usage … all the ILLEGAL steroids and needles you were using, but we will not keep quiet about this!!!!!! I can’t believe you did this to my best friend!!!!! YOUR KARMA IS GOING TO BE SO REAL!!!!!! The world needs to know what type of animal you really are!!!!!!! This was just her yesterday on the left and now this morning this is her on the right!!!! #WomanBeater #AnimalAbuser #ChildAbuser”
Both women had recently posted pictures of themselves in London, but further details of the alleged incident were not immediately clear.
In 2016, McCoy was accused of assaulting two off-duty cops at a bar in Philadelphia. The cops later filed a lawsuit but no criminal charges were pressed at the time.
You can see the photo here.
This from ESPN.com:
Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy has denied accusations of domestic violence, child abuse, animal cruelty and performance-enhancing drug use in a statement posted on his Instagram account.
Earlier Tuesday, an unidentified Instagram user posted a graphic image of a woman with cuts and bruises on her face along with a message that accused McCoy of beating the woman. The post also included allegations that McCoy beat his son, beat his dog and used “illegal steroids.”
McCoy responded shortly after noon ET Monday on his own Instagram account, saying that the “totally baseball and offensive claims made against me today on social media are completely false.”
The Bills also are aware of the allegations, a source told ESPN’s Dianna Russini.
If the grope by JAMEIS WINSTON is worth three games, and the photo is not a cruel fraud, then McCoy should never play in the NFL again. That said, to reveal it on Instagram through a third party seems suspicious.
THIS AND THAT
OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS
The NFL usually has five teams fail to repeat in the playoffs and Will Brinson of CBSSports.com has a list for 2018. The Eagles are the one that gets your attention:
The NFL features far more parity than any other professional sports league. There will be roughly five new playoffs teams in the NFL, all with a shot at the Lombardi Trophy, whereas the NBA features maybe five teams total who can win the championship.
Last year was a perfect example, too. After seeing an average of five new teams in the postseason over the past three years, a whopping eight new teams jumped up and made the playoffs last season. The Bills, Jaguars, Titans, Eagles, Vikings, Saints, Panthers and Rams were all on the outside looking in after the 2016 season, but all had fairly viable championship hopes just a year later. Three of those four teams made conference championship games and Philly took home the title.
Conversely, the Dolphins, Texans, Raiders, Cowboys, Giants, Packers, Lions and Seahawks all tumbled out of the postseason. Three of those 2016 playoff teams fired their coach a season later.
Assuming anyone will make or miss the playoffs is a fool’s errand — last year I nailed four of my five predicted teams who would fall short, but I still only hit on half the teams! I went just 2-3 on teams who would jump up and make the playoffs, which is not terrible until you realize a quarter of the NFL went from being out of the postseason to being in and I got only a quarter of that group. So, yes, an eighth for you math majors.
Somehow, despite all that turnover, this year feels even more difficult than last season to predict teams who will fall short of the playoffs. At least one squad looks kind of obvious, but it’s hard to nitpick with some of the teams from last year’s field. Let’s try anyway.
2017 Record: 9-7
2017 Expected Wins: 6.4
2018 Vegas Win Total: 6.5
Overview: The Bills had no business being in the playoffs, a testament to an excellent job by Sean McDermott and his staff. Take away the inexplicable decision to plug Nathan Peterman in the starting lineup against the Chargers in the heat of a playoff race — with Tyrod Taylor playing just fine, no less — and he would have received more attention for COY. Buffalo leaned on a scrappy defense and an excellent season from LeSean McCoy to make a run in a watered-down AFC. The Bills got lucky with the Chargers losing their first four games and Andy Dalton stealing Baltimore’s soul on the final play of the Bengals regular season. The Bills had a pair of just confusing wins — against the Falcons in Atlanta, against Kansas City in Buffalo — and a wild overtime victory against the Colts in a blizzard. They then rebooted the quarterback position this offseason, adding the raw-but-talented Josh Allen in the draft and AJ McCarron in free agency. Those two guys and Peterman are going to start 16 games this year, barring a trade.
Why They Won’t Make the Playoffs: The quarterback position does not inspire immediate confidence. Allen could totally shock the world and play at a high level as a rookie, but there is not a precedent for someone completing 56 percent of his passes in college and becoming an efficient quarterback at the pro level. McCarron is a career backup and Peterman was a fifth-round pick. The skill positions are a major problem as well, outside of McCoy. Kelvin Benjamin is the Bills WR1 and Zay Jones is next in line. After that it gets really thin. Charles Clay is an underrated tight end weapon but not the focal point of an offense. Three of the first four games are on the road, with the Ravens, Chargers, Vikings and Packers serving as a brutal opening stretch for Buffalo. The Bills might be averaging under 10 points a game a quarter into the season.
Why They Might Make the Playoffs: The defense has a chance to be much better than anyone expects. The key offseason additions for Buffalo — Star Lotulelei, Tremaine Edmunds and Vontae Davis — should make this unit better at every single level. McDermott showed last year he is a very capable coach in terms of immediately turning a group of hodgepodge players into a quality unit. Despite being left a bunch of different players from different systems, the Bills were an above average defensive team in 2017. If the AFC is as weak as it was last year and Buffalo gets some seriously surprising play from one of its quarterbacks, this team could make another stunning run to the postseason. But they certainly look like the top regression candidate in 2018.
2017 Record: 13-3
2017 Expected Wins: 11.8
2018 Vegas Win Total: 10.5
Overview: HEY NOW, JUST A SECOND, PLEASE PUT THOSE BURNING PITCHFORKS DOWN. The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles are listed here and it feels weird for me to do it, because they looked like the second coming of an NFL dynasty during their run to the title. They lost their franchise quarterback and still won the damn Super Bowl. That doesn’t happen often. And there’s nothing in this offseason, at least from a roster-movement perspective, that would indicate the Eagles won’t be good again in 2018. Carson Wentz is coming back, Nick Foles is there as insurance, Haloti Ngata was added to shore up the defensive line and Mike Wallace is a nice upgrade over Torrey Smith at receiver. LeGarrette Blount is a sneaky loss in the running back department, but Jay Ajayi should be able to step up and be a feature back. I love what Howie Roseman has done and think the Eagles could easily win the Super Bowl a second year in a row. I firmly believe they are the favorites to win the division again, but that’s what people said about the Cowboys before 2017 too.
Why They Won’t Make the Playoffs: One of the biggest reasons involves the team’s biggest strength: the quarterback position. Wentz is coming from an ACL injury and Foles is notoriously streaky. Wentz failing to recover, or dealing with a setback of some kind, doesn’t automatically mean Foles comes in and wins MVP. This is a team that lost its offensive coordinator (Frank Reich) and quarterbacks coach (John DeFillipo). There are a slew of other injuries to monitor as well. Jason Peters is returning from an ACL injury at the age of 36. Darren Sproles is coming back from a broken arm and a torn ACL. Jordan Hicks is coming back from an Achilles tear. Alshon Jeffery is returning from shoulder surgery after battling through to play the entire year. Timmy Jernigan is suddenly dealing with back issues, no easy issue for a big man who battles in the middle. Philadelphia was 13th in adjusted games lost last year, so it’s not like it dealt with tons of injury issues overall. And the NFC is going to be really tough this year. Every single division has at least one legitimate Super Bowl contender and most of them have two. Someone could win 10 games and miss the postseason in this conference.
Why They Might Make the Playoffs: Because Roseman’s built a really deep and talented roster, one clearly capable of overcoming attrition to win a lot of games and make a deep playoff run. The Foles thing has been a hot-take topic this offseason, but the reason the Eagles don’t want to trade him is a fear of Wentz not being healthy and the importance of the quarterback position. Doug Pederson is a good enough coach where the Eagles can keep right on cruising despite some injuries. He proved as much last year. It’s difficult to find an area of weakness for the Eagles and it’s fair to assume the secondary (don’t forget about Sidney Jones) and receivers (Mack Hollins, ahem) could continue to only get better. Wentz will be going into his third season — expectations will be huge and he has managed to meet them every step of the way. This is, by far, the weakest NFC division in my opinion. The Eagles could steamroll everyone again. We thought the Cowboys would do the same last year too.
2017 Record: 9-7
2017 Expected Wins: 7.4
2018 Vegas Win Total: 8
Overview: The Titans were one of the teams we identified last year who could take a step and make the playoffs, but sometimes the results don’t justify the process and that’s the case with Tennessee. This offense regressed and couldn’t run the ball as effectively, and the Titans were just flat lucky to make the playoffs. They profiled as a sub-.500 team. The offense was below average and the defense was worse. Hence the wholesale changes last year, pushing out Mike Mularkey even after he won a playoff game, and finding a coach in Mike Vrabel willing to try and develop Marcus Mariota. The addition of Matt LaFleur, who studied under Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, as offensive coordinator could pay big dividends. GM Jon Robinson went full New England in the offseason, signing Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis. The Titans have a really nice set of secondary now, with Butler, Logan Ryan, Adoree Jackson, Kevin Byard and Jonathan Cyprien.
Why They Won’t Make the Playoffs: First off, the AFC South is a really difficult division. The Jaguars look like a loaded team — even if the quarterback position is problem, they are not going to fall off a cliff on defense. The Texans should be getting Deshaun Watson back. Andrew Luck should be returning for the Colts. We’re assuming everything will run smoothly in a new offensive system, but that’s largely the McVay factor. Mariota might have hit his ceiling, and combining Derrick Henry and Lewis sounds great on paper, but it could certainly have some growing pains. The pass catchers on this offense — Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, Delanie Walker, Taywan Taylor — also look OK on paper, but the Titans’ passing game doesn’t have to be explosive. Tennessee added Dean Peas as defensive coordinator and I see it as an upgrade, but the impressive secondary won’t be worth much without a pass rush up front. The Titans have a lot of pieces in that regard, but we’re not sure how the front seven fits with the addition of Rashaad Evans and Harold Landry from the draft. I’m a touch leery of Taylor Lewan holding out and how it might impact the offense.
Why They Might Make the Playoffs: To be clear, I am actually very high on the Titans this year. I like all of their offseason changes, I like Mariota a ton, I am completely all in on Henry and I think Davis has a breakout season. To me, their defense is a sleeper to be a top-10 or maybe even a top-five unit this year. I’m tempted to go on a half-cocked notion and pick the Titans to make the Super Bowl. I like them that much. But there are definitely underlying concerns when it comes to the possibility of them taking a step back this season, especially from a statistical standpoint. The point differential is a major red flag — the Titans finished with a -22 point differential on the season. They finished 5-4 in the regular season in one-score games and picked up another win against the Chiefs in the playoffs. If the offensive line clicks and LaFleur turns them into a poor man’s Rams, they’re going to be dangerous. I see that as the likely outcome, but the reality of their situation makes them a potential non-playoff team.
Kansas City Chiefs
2017 Record: 10-6
2017 Expected Wins: 9.9
2018 Vegas Win Total: 8.5
Why They Won’t Make the Playoffs: The Chiefs added Sammy Watkins this offseason to a group of players that features Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce. It’s hard not to get excited about what this offense can do when it’s clicking. But the reality is Patrick Mahomes might struggle to acclimate to life as a starter. Making matters more difficult for that transition is the schedule: the Chiefs get the Chargers (road), Steelers (road), 49ers (home) and Broncos (road) to start off Mahomes’ career as a starter. Woof. The next four games aren’t much easier: Jaguars (home), Patriots (road), Bengals (home), Broncos (home). They’re not going to go 1-7 in that stretch, but 4-4 isn’t off the table. The division looks easier on paper, but the Chargers could be legit, the Raiders could surprise with Jon Gruden and the Broncos defense could be back to Super Bowl levels with the addition of Bradley Chubb and the health of Derek Wolfe. I’m a fan of what Kansas City did with the defense, at least in terms of getting faster up front — the linebacking corps looks like it could really shut down the run this season. But the secondary has major question marks and they’re going to be facing some tough passing offenses early. The Chiefs could win nine games with Mahomes, put up a couple 40 burgers and we might all be wondering how they missed the playoffs and picking them as a sleeper next year.
Why They Might Make the Playoffs: Andy Reid should not be counted out. He’s criminally underrated because he doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring, which makes people forget he has more first-place finishes with the Eagles and Chiefs than he has finishes below second place. That’s absurd over a 19-year span. And Reid has a history of developing quarterbacks too, including Alex Smith, which is exactly why he’s trustworthy on the Mahomes front. We did see the Eagles randomly drop off one season six years into his tenure in Philadelphia, though, so anything is possible. It just doesn’t seem likely given what he’s done on the offensive front — Hunt is a second-year back and should be in for another large season, Watkins/Hill/Kelce is a loaded offensive weaponry. But they’ve got a nasty-looking schedule and a quarterback they’re working into a new system, with a lot of new defensive personnel. It wouldn’t be stunning if this team went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. I won’t personally be betting on it, but I think they qualify here.
2017 Record: 11-5
2017 Expected Wins: 9
2018 Vegas Win Total: 9
Overview: The Carolina Panthers finalized their sale from Jerry Richardson to David Tepper this week, excellent news for a franchise in a bit of flux this offseason. Moving past the Richardson era and focusing on 2018 is key. But there is still a lot to handle on the field. It starts with the offense, which is completely in flux, thanks to the firing of Mike Shula and the hiring of Norv Turner. All told, it’s an upgrade. And it should pay off in the long haul for Cam Newton. But I’m concerned the learning curve for Cam with a fairly new offense — it sounds like Norv wants to utilize a similar offense to what Rod Chudzinski had in place when he was Cam’s first OC — and playing behind a bad offensive line overcoming the loss of Andrew Norwell could cause some issues out of the gate. Adding D.J. Moore is a benefit and Devin Funchess remains underrated. Greg Olsen is a stalwart at the tight end position. Defensively, picking up Dontari Poe is a very notable addition, and part of Marty Hurney’s strong offseason.
Why They Won’t Make the Playoffs: Part of the problem here is the division and the conference. This could easily be the Falcons or the Saints — and it might be two of them who miss the playoffs — because the NFC South is loaded. The NFC in general is loaded. Carolina doesn’t have a horrible schedule — they get the Cowboys, Falcons and Bengals out of the gate — but a Week 4 bye is brutal. They also close with three games against the Saints and Falcons. Thomas Davis is going to miss the first four games of the season with a suspension. Ryan Kalil and Olsen are critical pieces of the offense but have to stay healthy and that’s been an issue for them. Will the running game be effective again this year? C.J. Anderson was a great signing, but it also indicates Christian McCaffrey probably can’t be a heavy between-the-tackles runner. When the running game wasn’t there last year, the Panthers struggled on offense. Luke Kuechly hasn’t been on the field 100 percent of the time lately because of concussions and he’s a Jenga Piece (copyright Dameshek) for this defense. The secondary is a major concern if Julius Peppers, Mario Addison, West Horton and Daeshon Hall can’t get home. Vernon Butler has to help fill the void on the interior with Poe and Kawaan Short. There’s just a lot of things that need to break right for the Panthers to repeat last year’s success.
Why They Might Make the Playoffs: But, honestly, anything is on the table for this team. We’ve seen Cam take the Panthers to the Super Bowl with Olsen and Ted Ginn as his top weapons, winning MVP en route. He has a ceiling like no one else in football, and remember Cam got hurt the next season and was recovering last year. A full season from Kuechly and an impact year from James Bradberry plus rookie Donte Jackson stepping up immediately along with another dominant Peppers year would make this a top-tier defense again. I think Anderson is undervalued and McCaffrey might be a perfect fit for his role in Norv’s offense. Ron Rivera doesn’t get enough credit for the amount of wins he has as a head coach. Everyone on this squad is playing for their jobs — David Tepper could completely clean house after this season if the Panthers struggle. It’s possible that inspires everyone to another successful year.
The DB is not convinced by Brinson’s take on the Eagles. First you would have to find a team to deny them the division title – maybe the Giants if SEQUON BARKLEY and ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. form an unstoppable run-catch tandem? But if that happens, maybe the Minnesota/Green Bay and the Atlanta/New Orleans losers can beat them in a Wild Card scramble.
Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com with a primer on tomorrow’s supplemental draft:
The NFL’s 12-month dominance of the sports calendar is nearly complete. Its mid-July supplemental draft, usually a snoozer, will be more than worth your attention this year.
Five players are eligible for the Wednesday draft, including one — Western Michigan cornerback Sam Beal — who could be selected within the first three rounds. If so, he’ll be the first player selected in the supplemental draft since 2015 and the highest since the Cleveland Browns used a second-round pick on receiver Josh Gordon in 2012.
It has been a minute, so let’s review how this draft works. We’ll also lean on Steve Muench, who spends the year scouting college players for ESPN, for insight into Beal and other players under consideration.
What’s the purpose of this thing?
The supplemental draft accounts for players who did not declare for the traditional spring draft but are eligible to enter the NFL; they are at least three years removed from high school. Usually their college circumstances have changed in some way since the January declaration window, be it NCAA discipline or academic troubles, or both. Such players can petition for supplemental draft eligibility.
I’ve never seen this broadcasted. Where do they stage it?
On this great big thing called the internet. During one of the few quiet periods of the year, no one wants — or needs — to travel to a central location. Instead, the NFL provides teams with a list of eligible players. A modified bidding process then takes place.
At 1 p.m. ET on the day of the draft, teams are notified that the first round has started. Teams then have 10 minutes to respond if they wish to draft a player in that round. The league compiles the responses, if any, and awards the player to the team with the highest priority. All 32 teams are notified electronically of the selection, and the process repeats for each round.
How is the priority determined?
With a weighted lottery based on the April draft order. Teams learn the supplemental draft order shortly before it begins.
Are teams given a separate set of supplemental draft picks?
Nope. If a team wins its bid, it forfeits the corresponding draft choice for the following spring’s draft. For example, a team that uses its third-round pick in the 2018 supplemental draft would lose its third-round pick in the April 2019 draft. And a team that doesn’t own a 2019 third-round pick can’t participate in the third round of the 2018 supplemental draft.
Got it. Let’s get to the players. What’s so great about Beal?
He is a big (6-foot-1) corner who ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash during a recent workout and has demonstrated high-end ability to cover on the outside. “I think he’s going to be a starter within three years for whatever team drafts him,” Muench said, “and a really good starter at that. You have someone with that frame and those skills, and that’s what teams look for.” Muench gave Beal, who was ruled academically ineligible this spring, a second-round grade in terms of talent.
Who are the other notable guys?
Virginia Tech cornerback Adonis Alexander and Mississippi State safety Brandon Bryant are names to know.
Let’s start with Alexander. What about him — other than his great name?
Alexander had some early media momentum as a 2019 first-round pick. He certainly looks the part, with the kind of 6-foot-3 frame that scouts increasingly have been tasked with finding. But opinions are mixed now after a poor workout that included only nine reps of 225 pounds. “So you know there isn’t great upper-body strength there,” Muench said. “When you watch him play, you see some speed concerns. He does not recover well. He is a good tackler though. He is a challenge for people going through the evaluation process. To me, he’s a versatile defensive back who can help out on special teams. Do you take a guy like that in the supplemental draft? I don’t know.”
OK, moving on to Bryant …
Muench gave Bryant a fourth-round grade, putting him on the fringe of being selected in the supplemental draft. He ran a 4.49 in a recent workout and, Muench says, tracks the ball well. He is, however, on the smaller side (5-foot-11) for a safety. “You watch the tape and you definitely see a guy who flashes,” Muench said. “His tape is pretty good.” Teams will need to do their homework on Bryant’s background, which includes an absence from spring practice because of academic issues and a January 2017 drunken-driving arrest.
That’s three. Who are the two other players?
Your math is excellent. The remainder of the list includes Oregon State linebacker Bright Ugwoegbu and Grand Valley State running back Marty Carter.
Ugwoegbu, according to Muench, almost certainly is too small to be under serious consideration for a supplemental draft pick. According to multiple reports, he weighed in at 205 pounds during a June workout and ran a 4.95 40. “We value tape over everything else,” Muench said, “but the reality is this is still a height, weight and speed exercise. He’ll have a tough time overcoming those numbers. If you’re running a [4.95] at 205 pounds, what are you running if you bulk up to an NFL linebacker’s weight?”
Carter was a late addition to the eligibility list. Per Muench: “He’s an efficient runner with above-average patience and vision in addition to a good feel for cutback lanes and good open-field instincts. … He has the potential to develop into a reliable checkdown in the passing game, but he hasn’t proven to be a big-play threat after the catch at this point.”
So you’re talking about one and probably two players likely to be drafted? And the rest is a toss-up? Is this really worth getting excited about?
Old-timers like me remember when the supplemental draft was pretty dramatic. Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter was a fourth-round supplemental pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1987. For a number of years, teams like the Cleveland Browns (Bernie Kosar in 1985), Phoenix Cardinals (Timm Rosenbach in 1989) and the New York Giants (Dave Brown in 1992) tried and sometimes succeeded in finding their starting quarterbacks through this draft. It’s an oldie but (occasional) goodie.
THE NEW OFFICIALS
The NFL has hired seven new officials. Here is the league’s officiating roster:
The NFL roster of game officials for the 2018 season will include seven first-year NFL officials among the group of 121, the league announced today.
Field judge Land Clark (Pac-12), field judge Matt Edwards (Big Ten), side judge Chad Hill (SEC), field judge Anthony Jeffries (SEC), back judge Tony Josselyn (SEC), line judge Mark Stewart (Big 12) and field judge Don Willard (Big Ten) will make their NFL officiating debuts this season.
Four officials — Shawn Hochuli, Alex Kemp, Clay Martin, and Shawn Smith — have been promoted to referee for the upcoming season. Each of them were referees at the highest level of college football prior to entering the NFL at different positions and have been part of the NFL’s Referee Training Program from their first season in the league.
Both Shawn Hochuli (Ed Hochuli) and Alex Kemp (Stan Kemp) are the sons of former NFL referees.
Two sets of fathers and sons are included among the roster of officials — Walt Coleman, the dean of NFL officials entering his 30th season, and his son, Walt IV; and Steve Freeman and his son, Brad — and three sets of brothers — Allen and Rusty Baynes; Jeff and Jerry Bergman; and Carl, Dino & Perry Paganelli.
Steve Freeman and Phil McKinnely are the only current game officials to have also enjoyed NFL playing careers. Freeman played for 13 seasons, including 12 as a defensive back with the Buffalo Bills from 1975-86. McKinnely played for seven seasons on the offensive line from 1976-82, including five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons from 1976-80.
We spotted this on twitter from someone who bleeds Garnet and Gold:
So the NFL does a call up for 7 new officials. Four of the five power five conferences had men chosen for the honor. The ONLY league not having anyone chosen. Yup, the ACC. Drop the mic.