The Daily Briefing Tuesday, June 13, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

NFC EAST

 

WASHINGTON

The Redskins announce that Doug Williams, a Super Bowl-winning QB, is a GM in everything but name.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Doug Williams has been named the team’s senior vice president of player personnel.

 

“You want somebody that’s of unquestionable character, great leadership skills, a great teammate for everyone around him. And that pointed to Doug,” team President Bruce Allen said in introducing Williams this morning.

 

Williams’ crowning achievement as a player was leading Washington to a championship and winning the Super Bowl XXII MVP award. Since retiring as a player he has been a college head coach and an NFL personnel executive. He has been in Washington’s front office since 2014.

 

Meanwhile, Eric Schaffer has been named vice president of football operations and Scott Campbell will become senior personnel executive.

 

What’s unclear at the moment, on a team without a General Manager, is who has final say over draft picks, player signings, trades and other deals — including how much money to offer Kirk Cousins on a potential long-term contract. It appears that Allen is the boss of everyone else in the front office, and so it will ultimately be Allen’s call, with Williams as his right-hand man.

 

Just to remind you of the long, winding, post-playing road that Williams has taken to his near-GM position at age 61:

 

As coach:

Southern University (1985) Consultant

Northeast High School Head Coach (1993)

U.S. Naval Academy (1994) Running backs coach

Scottish Claymores (1995) Offensive coordinator

Morehouse College (1997) Head coach

Grambling State University (1998–2003, 2011–2013) Head coach

 

As executive:

Jacksonville Jaguars (1995–1996) college scout

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2004–2008) Personnel executive

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2009–2010) Coordinator of pro scouting

Virginia Destroyers (2010–2011) General manager

Washington Redskins (2014–2017) Personnel executive

Washington Redskins (2017–present) Senior vice president of player personnel

 

At Northeast High School in his hometown of Zachary, Louisiana, he guided the team to a 13-1 record and the state semifinals.  The game before that lone loss, the 13th win, was memorable as Williams beat Peyton Manning and Isidore Newman School of New Orleans:

 

In 1993, Manning’s senior year, Newman played in the second round of the state playoffs at Northeast High School. The Northeast field sits in the woods outside Baton Rouge, surrounded by nothing but pine trees.

 

Everyone who was in the pines that night remembers the size of the crowd. Some fans had to park more than a mile from the field. They stood three-deep on the sideline. “You couldn’t even tell who was on your team,” Tony Reginelli, then the Newman coach, said.

 

On his sideline were several Southeastern Conference recruiters; they were watching Manning. On the opposite sideline was Doug Williams, the 1988 Super Bowl most valuable player, who was the head coach at Northeast.

 

“Peyton had thrown three interceptions all year,” Williams said. “But we blitzed him like crazy, and he threw three in the first half.”

 

Newman trailed in the fourth quarter, but the game was still within reach for Manning. On a punt deep in its own territory, Northeast bungled a snap. Newman broke free for the block. Manning was going to get the ball inside the 20-yard line.

 

But with all the people on the sideline, Newman had mixed up a substitution. Twelve players were on the field. A flag was thrown. Northeast was given a first down and drove to clinch the game. “After that,” Reginelli said, “I retired.”

 

As a college coach, Williams was 65-39.  At Grambling, he won five SWAC West titles with one 4-year stretch where he went 40-8.

– – –

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com looks at the huge payday heading to QB KIRK COUSINS.

 

At some point soon — maybe this summer, maybe next spring — there’s a strong chance Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins will be the highest paid player in the NFL.

 

Yes, Kirk Cousins, drafted in the fourth round in 2012, the same year his team traded up to take Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall pick. The same Cousins who sat behind Griffin during the latter’s brilliant rookie season but ultimately took his job. Cousins, whose current financial circumstances and contract leverage are unique in NFL history, because his team hasn’t yet been willing to make the long-term commitment to lock up its franchise quarterback.

 

Is Cousins a franchise quarterback? This is a topic for debate. What’s not is that Cousins is an incredibly wealthy young man (he made almost $20 million last year) who’s about to become much wealthier. Because Cousins is Washington’s designated franchise player, the team faces a July 15 deadline to sign him to a long-term deal. If no deal happens by then, he will play out the 2017 season on a fully guaranteed, one-year, $23.9436 million contract and become eligible for unrestricted free agency in March. Because of that, and because of the size of the numbers, Cousins’ case is being watched closely and with great anticipation by people in all corners of the NFL contract landscape.

 

Agents — especially those with top quarterbacks whose contracts are up soon — want Cousins to break the bank. The NFL Players Association, which loves to see the market move upward, would love to see Cousins get to free agency and have teams be able to bid for his services. Quarterback-starved teams such as the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns yearn for the chance to make those bids. NFL owners will watch to see whether Washington decides to set a new precedent for guarantee structure.

 

At the center of it all is Cousins, who stands to benefit regardless of how this turns out.

 

While he waits for a resolution, let’s take a look at the different ways this could break and which groups are rooting for which outcomes. After consulting with sources around the league, I broke down the two main possibilities and potential offshoots of each:

 

If Washington does not sign Cousins before July 15

 

The first questions will be: “Why not?” Did the team not offer enough? Or did Cousins decide he would rather hit the market?

 

The latter possibility isn’t as crazy as it sounds. If Cousins does not sign, the soon-to-be-29-year-old will have made a total of $43.8966 million in fully guaranteed money over the fifth and sixth years of his NFL career. As one agent I interviewed for this story pointed out, that’s pretty sweet for a fourth-round pick whose team’s draft-day hope was that he would never have to play for them.

 

You could argue that he has made enough that he doesn’t need any more and that playing out this year and chancing an injury that costs him his long-term deal is a risk he can afford to take.

 

Another agent told me it’s important to factor in the psychology that goes with these kinds of deals. The Oakland Raiders’ Derek Carr, for example, is slated to earn $1.53 million in 2017, the final year of his rookie contract. If Oakland were to offer him $24 million a year and say “take it or leave it,” he almost certainly would take it. But Cousins is already at $24 million for this year, fully guaranteed. It’s going to take a lot more than that to blow his mind.

 

Which means he might be better off waiting, since the agents for Carr and Matthew Stafford are looking for extensions this summer and would want to work off (read: beat) Cousins’ number. Which means he might not be the highest-paid player for more than a couple of weeks. But waiting until next spring, after the Carr and Stafford deals have moved the market, could end up being more lucrative.

 

If you’re the NFLPA or the agent for someone such Matt Ryan (two years left on his deal) or Aaron Rodgers (three), you would love to see a star quarterback hit the open market and have teams bid on him. That’s only really happened twice in the franchise-player era, and both of those cases (Drew Brees in 2006 and Peyton Manning in 2012) came with special, injury-related circumstances. The franchise tag was basically established for the purpose of keeping star quarterbacks off the market.

 

But the franchise rules in the new collective bargaining agreement require a 44 percent pay raise if teams want to use it a third straight year, which is what would happen in Cousins’ case. That means franchising him again in 2018 would cost Washington $34,478,784 — fully guaranteed. Even in an era of rising salary caps, that’s a prohibitive figure. The highest-paid quarterback in the league in terms of average salary is Andrew Luck at $24.6 million. The highest quarterback salary-cap figure in the league is Joe Flacco’s $24.55 million.

 

“I can’t see them giving Cousins a third franchise tag in 2018,” said one league source familiar with NFL contracts and the salary cap. “That’s just suicide [from a cash perspective], forget cap for a second.”

 

If Cousins plays out the 2017 season on the tag, Washington would have to sign him between the end of its season and the start of the league year. Otherwise, it would end up in a bidding war with the 49ers (whose new coach is former Washington offensive coordinator and noted Cousins fan Kyle Shanahan), Browns, Cardinals, Jets and maybe the Rams and Jaguars — and name a team that’s going to be looking for a quarterback next year and has a ton of cap room to spend. Washington would have to give Cousins a top-of-market quarterback deal to keep him from turning free agent, since hitting the market and sparking a bidding war could drive up his price into the range of $30 million per season.

 

If you look at Rodgers’ 2013 extension in terms of percentage of the salary cap, his number this year would be $29.869 million. And the cap is expected to shoot up again next year, from $167 million to something in the $180 million range. A quarterback on the open market with multiple teams bidding would sail past $30 million a year.

 

“It feels like a mistake for Washington to let it get this far,” another source said. “If they’re going to end up making him the highest-paid player, they should have done it by now. It’s costing them more to wait.”

 

The answer to that is, possibly, that Washington doesn’t want to make Cousins the league’s highest-paid player because it doesn’t think he’s that good. That gets to the issue of who’s making the decisions in Washington, and things might have changed with general manager Scot McCloughan getting fired in March and owner Dan Snyder having taken a larger role in the Cousins negotiations this offseason.

 

But regardless, market scarcity drives these things. The facts are that there aren’t enough quarterbacks to go around, and Cousins is 28 years old with 9,083 yards and 54 touchdown passes over the past two seasons.

 

So, if Washington can’t get Cousins signed by July 15 and doesn’t want to make him the league’s highest-paid player, that leaves a few possibilities:

 

It could franchise him again next year.

 

This would keep him off the 2018 market and allow Washington to try to land its new franchise quarterback in a draft people seem to think will be stuffed with them. If that happens, Washington can rescind the franchise tag post-draft and make Cousins a free agent. The issues with this are that (A) he could thwart the plan by signing the tag and guaranteeing him nearly $35 million for 2018, and (B) Washington would have to carry his $35 million cap charge throughout free agency and would be hamstrung in its efforts to sign anyone else.

 

It could trade him during the season.

 

Let’s say we get to the 2017 trade deadline and Washington is having a bad season. It could trade him to, for example, the 49ers, who have more than $70 million in 2018 cap space and might be happy to sign Cousins to a whopper deal in the time between the end of their season and the start of the 2018 league year. Knowing the relationship Cousins has with Shanahan, San Francisco could be reasonably confident of getting Cousins signed before he hits the market. And, worst-case scenario, it could afford to carry that $35 million cap charge if it had to franchise him to buy time for a long-term deal. Perhaps a team like that is willing to cough up a big package of picks to Washington at the trade deadline.

 

It could use the transition tag instead of the franchise tag.

 

This would cost “only” about $28.8 million, which means some cap savings in the short term, but it also increases the chances that a cap-space-wealthy team such San Francisco or Cleveland could offer a monster deal that Washington can’t match. And again, the transition tag puts Cousins at the top of the quarterback market, which is a place Washington so far hasn’t wanted to be.

 

If Washington does sign Cousins before July 15

 

The question then becomes: What does the deal look like?

 

One source with knowledge of the talks told me Washington is optimistic that it can get a deal done for something in the range of $22 million per year. But an agent to whom I mentioned that said Cousins would be crazy to do a deal for $22 million per year when he already gets $24 million this season — fully guaranteed — by signing the one-year franchise tag. So I said, “Well, what if he gets it all guaranteed?” And the agent said, “Yeah, then you could do that deal.”

 

This is the white whale of NFL contract negotiations: the fully guaranteed veteran deal. Many agents and NFLPA types hoped Luck or Russell Wilson would take a stand and push for full guarantees in their recent deals, but neither did. Luck’s deal, which he did prior to his fifth-year option season, was worth up to $122.97 million over five years, but only $47 million of that was guaranteed at signing. “Only?” you ask? Yes, “only.” As in, $13 million less than the $60 million in full guarantees defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got from the Dolphins when he reached the free-agent market in 2015.

 

Luck’s deal is huge, and in terms of average annual value, it makes him the league’s highest-paid player. But he agreed to it at a time when the Colts had at least two more years of cost control over him, and he never maximized his leverage. Holding out for a fully guaranteed deal — at a time when he already was guaranteed a $16.155 million salary for 2016 and it would have cost the Colts $21.268 million to franchise him in 2017 — could have made Luck a historic figure in the NFL. But he’s not alone in failing to see that as motivation.

 

“When you put numbers like that in front of guys, it’s hard to see them on, ‘Oh, but take yourself to the open market and it’ll be even more’,” one agent said. “When the teams are offering $40 million guaranteed, you’re not going to find too many ‘Norma Rae’ types.”

 

Could Cousins buck the trend? Another agent suggested that if Washington wants to do the deal at $22 million per year, Cousins should tell them, “Sure, as long as it’s all guaranteed.” Something like $66 million for three years or $88 million for four. Or if not a full guarantee, a historically significant percentage. Perhaps three years, $70 million (which the team can sell as a relative bargain at $23.3 million per year), with $60 million guaranteed (which the player, agent and union can celebrate as a record). If he beats Luck’s deal, the market will take off, because surely the more accomplished Stafford (with one year left on his deal) can go to the Lions and demand more than what Cousins received. If Cousins gets a fully guaranteed deal, the effect on NFL contracts could be even more major.

 

The NFLPA hears criticism because its players don’t have guaranteed contracts, while players in the NBA and MLB do. But multiple NFLPA sources pointed out that nothing in the NBA or MLB collective bargaining agreements requires guaranteed contracts, just as nothing in the NFL’s prohibits them. Those other leagues got guaranteed deals because, at some point, a player with leverage took a stand and his team agreed. That has yet to happen in the NFL, but the union and the agents can hope. Cousins, who is in a unique position of leverage and already has made money that exceeds his wildest dreams, could be in a position to deliver that kind of landscape-altering history.

 

Since Rodgers signed his current contract in 2013, the NFL’s salary cap has risen from $123 million to $167 million — a 44 percent increase. The top quarterback salary has risen just 5.9 percent over that same period of time.

 

Cousins could be a part of helping kick-start that critical part of the NFL salary market. Whether it’s by July 15 or by March, he has a strong chance to be the highest-paid player in the NFL. If he doesn’t end up becoming that, it’s almost certainly because he didn’t want to be.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Michael Vick and Roddy White ride off into the sunset together.  Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com:

 

Falcons owner Arthur Blank honored both Michael Vick and Roddy White in a ceremony Monday and said the team will consider retiring their jerseys.

 

Neither player signed a one-day contract to retire as Falcons. During the event, Blank was asked about the possibility of both players having their jerseys retired and being inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.

 

“We have a process that we have to go through with that, and certainly, given their records as Falcons players and their careers, they would certainly be considered for that,” Blank said.

 

According to the team, six players have had their jerseys retired: No. 10 Steve Bartkowski, No. 31 William Andrews, No. 57 Jeff Van Note, No. 58 Jesse Tuggle, No. 60 Tommy Nobis and No. 78 Mike Kenn. All six are in the team’s nine-member Ring of Honor.

 

White, a four-time Pro Bowler and the franchise’s all-time leading receiver with 10,083 receiving yards and 63 touchdowns on 808 catches, was grateful for Monday’s ceremony but also wants to see his No. 84 jersey retired.

 

“Yes, I care if I get my jersey hanging up,” White told ESPN. “Yes, I do want that. At this point, I’m the franchise’s all-time leading receiver. And I probably played one of the longest tenures as a Falcon. I’ve been pretty successful. Deep down in my heart, I would love that. I want it all. Yes, I want my jersey retired. The Ring of Honor, I think that goes along with it.

 

“I think I’m a good candidate for it. Hopefully it goes my way. If it doesn’t, I won’t be mad. I know Bartkowski has his number retired because when I first got here, I tried to get the No. 10. They told me it was retired, so I couldn’t get it.”

 

Vick, who spent his first six NFL seasons with the Falcons, was the first and only quarterback to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a season in league history. His time with the Falcons came to an abrupt end when he was sentenced to 23 months in prison for running a dogfighting operation. Vick was asked if he cares about having his No. 7 jersey retired or being inducted into the Ring of Honor.

 

“This is what means the most to me right now: I can forever say I’m retired as an Atlanta Falcon,” Vick said of Monday’s ceremony. “Whatever comes along with it, comes along with it. I’d be more than glad to fulfill any obligation that I’m asked to fulfill or be anywhere that I’m asked to be. But right now, I’m happy … I’m happy.”

 

Former Falcons center Todd McClure, who introduced Vick on Monday, referred to him as the “King of Atlanta” and said Vick changed the culture. He spoke up on behalf of both players regarding jersey retirement.

 

“I’m not the one who makes the decision, but both of those guys deserve to be hanging in those rafters,” McClure said. “If I were to ask you with this franchise who do you think of, you’d think about this guy right here, Michael Vick. You think about Roddy White. Those are guys that impacted this city and impacted this organization. And I think they should be hanging in the rafters.”

 

Vick and White, joined by a host of family members during the ceremony, both expressed a fondness for Blank for his support throughout the years.

 

White was introduced by former teammate and fellow receiver Brian Finneran, who broke into tears while describing what White meant to the franchise.

 

 

CAROLINA

No approved throwing yet for QB CAM NEWTON.

 

Cam Newton won’t throw at Panthers minicamp after all.

 

Just days after saying he anticipated the star quarterback making his return to throwing after offseason shoulder surgery during Carolina’s three-day camp this week, coach Ron Rivera “got ahead of himself by one week,” Bill Voth wrote on the team’s official website.

 

Though Newton won’t throw on the side with head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion as Rivera anticipated, it’s important to note the quarterback is still on schedule with his recovery. The plan for Newton, per Vermillion, was to throw on the side after 12 weeks (June 22), throw with the team 16 weeks after surgery and be ready for training camp in July. The 12-week recovery time for Newton is next week, and the plan for the QB is to make his on-the-side throwing with Vermillion as scheduled then.

 

@MikeGarafolo

Not a setback for Cam. I mentioned last week Rivera got a little out in front of himself and doc hadn’t yet cleared Cam. Still on track.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

The Saints are going to sign QB RYAN NASSIB, once a Giant.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

Nassib will have an uphill battle during mandatory minicamp and training camp after that. The Saints have Chase Daniel entrenched as Drew Brees’ backup and are also invested in 2015 third-round pick Garrett Grayson.

 

No stranger to the training camp competition, Nassib battled both Curtis Painter and former No. 1 overall pick David Carr for roster spots over the course of his Giants career. He’ll need a strong July and August to make his case.

 

With Drew Brees sitting at 38, it’s never a waste of time to comb the free agent market to see what is out there. Head coach Sean Payton has kept an open mind about the future at quarterback, and adding another arm for camp couldn’t hurt the evaluation process long-term.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com says the Rams like to de-round the numbers in their contracts:

 

Negotiations between the Los Angeles Rams and receiver Tavon Austin were nearly complete last summer when the real fun began. The sides had agreed to a four-year contract extension worth between $10 million and $11 million annually. Now it was time for Tony Pastoors, the Rams’ senior assistant and lead contract negotiator, to work some magic.

 

When it was over, Austin’s deal averaged exactly $10,555,501 per year.

 

Look at that number carefully.

 

See anything?

 

If you recognized it as a palindrome — a sequence that reads the same forward or backward — you win a prize.

 

The numbers were no accident. In recent years, the Rams have used palindromes as one of several ways to lighten up the otherwise gray world of NFL finance. Their bag of tricks includes submitting contract proposals via haiku and personalizing the titles of incentive clauses.

 

This quirky habit, one that earned mention in ESPN’s roundup of 10 unusual contract clauses, originated with executive vice president/chief operating officer Kevin Demoff. The idea, Pastoors said in an interview last week, is to send players a simple message of humanity during a stressful and contentious moment.

 

“It’s also just a fun thing to do,” Pastoors said. “Football is supposed to be fun. It should be fun if you work in the NFL, and if you can’t have fun, you’re doing something wrong. This lets the players know that we put some thought into it rather than doing a basic minimum deal. It’s a pretty simple way of having players think, ‘Hey, someone thought of me as a person.'”

 

There are other examples of similar creativity across the NFL landscape. In 2015, for example, the New York Jets worked out an average salary of $14,024,212 in cornerback Darrelle Revis’ new deal. As noted in the book “Crunching Numbers,” by Jason Fitzgerald and Vijay Natarajan, the “24” stood for Revis’ jersey number and the “212” for his area code in New York City.

 

The Rams, however, take it to a more intense level. Pastoors, who joined the franchise in 2010, estimated that about half of the approximately 1,000 contracts he’s worked on include at least one element of personalization.

 

Defensive end Robert Quinn received a signing bonus of $4,776,774 as part of his new deal in 2014. Center John Sullivan’s one-year contract this year is worth $999,999, including a base of $900,000 plus a roster bonus of $99,999. When cornerback Trumaine Johnson signed his rookie deal in 2012, his bonus was $671,176.

 

Often the goal can be achieved by manipulating base salary numbers. Austin’s base was $1,111,111 in 2016. (His jersey number: 11.) The Rams made the math work with two randomly assembled base salaries in the final two years of the contract. Austin would earn $9,561,773 in 2020 and $9,222,024 in 2021. To complete their shenanigans for rookie deals, the Rams occasionally exceed the projected slot, Pastoors said — but always in favor of the player.

 

“It’ll cost us maybe $13 more,” Pastoors said. “That $13 over four years is worth it to us.”

 

As their reputation has grown, the Rams have found agents playing along and sending numeric suggestions of their own. Occasionally players themselves have offered possibilities.

 

In Los Angeles, of course, palindromes are only part of the fun. In naming incentive clauses, the Rams will dip into franchise history. Their contracts have included Vince Ferragamo or Norm Van Brocklin incentives. Punter Johnny Hekker wound up with a Johnny Kickball incentive, a play on Johnny Manziel’s “Johnny Football” nickname, a review of the contract by ESPN sources revealed.

 

Some player names do the work for them. A player like tight end Jared Cook, who signed with the Rams in 2013 and remained through 2015, might get “He went to Jared” for one of his incentives, a reference to the jewelry store’s advertising slogan.

 

I know. I get it. By now, you’re hammering at the Rams for focusing more on cute incentive titles and math tricks than winning. Indeed, the Rams haven’t made the playoffs since 2004 — the NFL’s third-longest active drought — and haven’t had a winning season in 14 years.

 

If you’re inclined to connect contract tomfoolery with winning percentage, my suggestion is to lighten up. The two exist independent of each other. It’s OK to have a little fun now and then. We should all try it sometime.

 

 

SEATTLE

RB EDDIE LACY earned his weight bonus.  Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com:

 

Seattle Seahawks running back Eddie Lacy earned a $55,000 incentive Monday tied to his weight, a league source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

 

The Seahawks have not announced that Lacy made weight, but SportsTrust Advisors, the firm that represents Lacy, seemed to confirm the news on Twitter.

 

Lacy’s contract with the Seahawks includes a clause that could earn him up to $385,000 based on the results of seven different weigh-ins. In May, Lacy had to be at 255 pounds or less to earn the incentive, which he did, weighing in at 253.

 

On Monday, he had to be at 250 or less.

 

During the season, Lacy’s weight clauses are tied to him being at 245 pounds or less, according to a league source. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has said he wants Lacy to play big — just not too big.

 

“Whatever he likes, that’s what I like,” Lacy said earlier this month.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Cameron Wolfe of the Denver Post looks at CB AQIB TALIB:

 

Front and center stands Broncos all-pro cornerback Aqib Talib, full of energy, rocking a gray Yellow Jackets United long-sleeved shirt, representing the youth football organization he helps run and finance. On this recent Sunday, he is “Coach Aqib” to more than 100 grade-school children hanging on every word of his postcamp speech, during which he tells them to chase their dreams and emphasizes the importance of staying out of trouble.

 

It’s odd to hear this message from Talib, who has had his share of off-the-field incidents extending back to his college days at Kansas. But that’s exactly what makes him real to the kids.

 

Talib probably is a little bit of whatever you think he is — rough around the edges, a special talent, authentic, a loose cannon — but here he is the man.  And, at age 31, entering the twilight of his NFL career, the word legacy has been eating at him. He is beginning to wonder how he will be remembered.

 

It was just over a year ago — on June 5, 2016 — that Talib accidentally shot himself in the right leg during a wild early morning in Dallas. It was a taste of his old life, but it was a reminder of just how volatile his career has been, and how his legacy might be tarnished by bad decisions.

 

“To judge somebody, you go off what you hear or what you know. We grew up rough. We made a bunch of mistakes. We still do. But we’re real people,” said Aqib’s brother, Ya’qub “Q” Talib. “When you get the full picture, you’ll see what the real Aqib Talib is.”

 

Respect and loyalty are so ingrained in the Broncos star that he jokingly says those words may be his next tattoo. His competitiveness, which shows its horns on and off the field, led his former defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, to compare his game to Hall of Famer Bruce Smith. Talib admits to fantasizing about wearing his own Hall of Fame gold jacket someday.

 

To his youth team, Talib is the one who made it big out of Richardson, a beacon of hope, a teacher, a coach, a big brother and a friend. To fans of teams he has played for, Talib is a game-changing playmaker with a propensity for pick-six touchdowns and having an unpredictable, short fuse.

 

To his local community back here in Texas, Talib gives back more than he takes and has enough street cred to run every block. That’s an image that may have tempted Talib years ago. Not anymore, he said.

 

“It’s a lot of sides to everybody,” Talib said “You can read about what you want to read about.”

– – –

Dallas has been home since the eighth grade when Q, older than Aqib by three years, convinced their mother, Okolo, to move there so he and Aqib could be exposed to a higher level of football.

 

Those traits Bowen spoke of were established from early childhood, growing up in the roughest neighborhoods of Cleveland and Trenton, N.J. Aqib and Q, the two youngest opposite their two older sisters, learned how to survive and even thrive amid chaos.

 

“That’s where a lot of that ferociousness came from, that not scared of nothing, defend yourself,” Talib said. “There was so much stuff going on in Trenton, you either stayed in the house or you were in the mix of all of that.”

 

As Talib ages, he spends less time in those types of neighborhoods and more time at home. He married Gypsy, his girlfriend for the better part of a decade, in March 2016. She has been his rock and his voice of reason. They raise their son Jabril, 4, and her son Fabian, 10, in Allen, an upper-middle class suburb of Dallas. Talib’s 9-year-old daughter, Kiara, lives with her mother in California.

 

Gypsy trusts Talib’s maturation, particularly since the shooting incident, but it would be foolish to assume he is beyond another headline-grabbing incident. All it takes is one flashpoint to challenge his resolve.

 

“Some people see trouble and they take off running,” Bowen said. “Aqib ain’t a runner. If one of his boys are in a fight, he ain’t gonna leave him there. He’ll deal with the consequences later.”

 

Gypsy still has nightmares of the phone call from her husband in the early morning hours of June 5 last year in Dallas.

 

Talib offered few details, other than he was shot and was headed to Medical City Dallas Hospital. She immediately thought the worst: Is this how it ends? Once she arrived, the hospital wouldn’t let her see or talk to her husband.

 

“It freaked me out; I thought he was dying,” Gypsy said. “It was really an eye-opener. I can move forward with life without him, but the kids are who needs us the most. Without a dad, a lot of kids are dysfunctional. He’s so involved with our children that it scares me if they were to lose him. Where would they go? How would their childhood and adulthood be?”

 

Talib was lucky. The self-inflicted gunshot went through his right thigh and calf and avoided major arteries. He didn’t need surgery, wasn’t charged with a crime, wasn’t suspended by the NFL. He recovered quickly and was named to the all-pro first team last season.

 

Gypsy and her husband said the shooting incident was more a byproduct of too much alcohol and bad decision-making compared with previous scrapes that involved violence or anger issues. No matter the reason, it once again was time to question who Talib hangs around with.

 

It’s a long piece that you can read in full here.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

WR JEREMY MACLIN did not come to terms with the Bills, and so he is now a Raven.  Conor Orr of NFL.com:

 

Jeremy Maclin is headed to Baltimore.

 

The 29-year-old Pro Bowl wide receiver made his choice between the Ravens and Bills on Monday, opting to join quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg on a two-year contract. Mornhinweg held the same position in Philadelphia during Maclin’s early years in the NFL.

 

While no veteran available this late in the offseason can make or break a season, the Maclin decision will have a significant ripple effect for the Bills. Desperate to add punch to their passing game alongside Sammy Watkins, Maclin represented the type of experienced veteran coveted by coach Sean McDermott and running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy openly lobbied for the Maclin signing over the last 10 days.

 

Although Eagles coach Doug Pederson said last week the team wouldn’t sign him, Philly did take a shot a signing Maclin, sources informed of the situation told NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. There was some interest on Maclin’s part in returning to Philadelphia, where he played his first five NFL seasons.

 

So it goes for the Ravens, who have had success with late-career additions at the wide receiver spot. Both Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith were productive in their early to mid-thirties, ushered in by the experienced and steady-handed Flacco.

 

The two-year deal signed by Maclin should help him get back on his feet. An injury-riddled 2016 broke up what had been a two-season stretch where Maclin caught 172 passes for 2,406 yards and 18 touchdowns.

 

Unable to add much offensively this offseason, the Ravens lucked out. Their reputation as a perennial contender had to be a deciding factor for Maclin, who has almost exclusively played for teams in the mix since entering the NFL in 2009. One of the more dependable receivers on the market, Maclin’s last full season yielded a career-best catch percentage of 70.2.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Pat McManamon of ESPN.com looks at Cleveland’s QB situation:

 

Heading into Tuesday’s three-day minicamp, the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback situation remains as murky as it did when the offseason began.

 

DB Aside – When the offseason began, which the DB defines as the day after the last game, neither Brock Osweiler or DeShone Kizer were with the Browns, so the situation is actually quite different.  But we assume McManamon is talking the OTAs after the draft.  Let’s move on.

 

Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler and DeShone Kizer are all competing for the starting spot. While no player has separated himself from the pack and seized the position outright, no one has lost the job, either.

 

Hue Jackson isn’t saying who will line up with the first team once minicamp starts. As the Browns evaluate the three candidates, they must take stock of both their present contributions and future potential. Rather than planning for the future, the Browns have made it clear that this season is about winning games, meaning they don’t want to spend 2017 grooming a quarterback or preparing for the 2018 draft.

 

Kessler entered OTAs talking about gaining muscle strength so he could better drive the ball. His arm strength remains a question, as does his ability to stay healthy; the QB suffered two concussions and multiple rib injuries during his rookie season. Kessler had positive moments in practices open to the media, but his progression — or lack thereof — will be more evident in training camp and in preseason games.

 

Osweiler was a pleasant surprise to Jackson, who admitted his expectations for the former Texan were not high based on what he had read and heard. Osweiler came in with a good attitude and has done what has been asked of him. He’s a big guy, so he can see defenses better than Kessler. He has also made some nice throws and taken advantage of his time under center. Osweiler is the most experienced of the three quarterbacks, and he has won games. Starting him would not be a terrible idea.

 

If Osweiler doesn’t end up starting, the Browns have a tough decision to make. Should he stay and become the backup ahead of Kizer, he’ll take reps away from the rookie. If he’s relegated to third team, he’d be expensive at $16 million — a figure the Browns have to concede, given it’s guaranteed.

 

Kizer’s skills are evident. He’s big and strong-armed, and when he sets his feet properly and uses the right mechanics, his throws are eye-opening. Ideally, Kizer would develop in camp, seize the starting job and have a season like Carson Wentz had last year in Philadelphia. If that happened, the Browns would be overjoyed. But Kizer has room to grow, as understandable rookie inconsistency affected him in OTAs. He’d have to mature during camp and in the preseason to win the job, but the Browns won’t hesitate to start him if he shows he’s ready.

 

Where does that leave the Browns?

 

Probably in the same place they were when OTAs started.

 

Kessler figures to leave minicamp as “the guy who lines up first,” to use Jackson’s words. While he fights to keep his spot under center, the Browns will rely on aggressive defense, solid rushing and the occasional conservative pass to win games in 2017.

 

Osweiler will continue to prove he belongs, and perhaps snatch the starting job away from Kessler.

 

And Kizer will try to accelerate the learning process, showing he has the mental game to match his physical gifts.

 

While this minicamp is unlikely to determine who will lead the Browns’ offense in Week 1, it might provide clues as to who is separating himself from the pack heading into to training camp.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

In two events that are probably not related, QB DeSHAUN WATSON gets some words of praise from President Donald Trump and there is a media report that rival QB TOM SAVAGE is now ascendant.

 

First Watson.  Chase Goodbread at NFL.com:

 

President Donald Trump put his scouting hat on for a moment Monday during Clemson’s visit to the White House, predicting NFL greatness for Houston Texans rookie QB Deshaun Watson.

 

“He’s going to be a great NFL player,” Trump said during a ceremony to honor the team’s national championship.

 

Trump called several Tigers to the podium for a handshake during his remarks about the Tigers’ title win, beginning with Watson. Clemson defeated Alabama, 35-31, in January in the College Football Playoff title game, and Watson capped a comeback with a game-winning touchdown pass on the last play of the game.

 

“Offensive MVP, quarterback Deshaun Watson, took some very, very hard hits (against Alabama). But he never rattled,” Trump said. “He’s great under pressure. I’ve seen that, I’ve heard that. He always got right back up. And he fought, and he fought, and he kept winning. Now he’ll bring that toughness together to the Houston Texans.”

 

Drew Dougherty of HoustonTexans.com:

 

10 different players have been in the quarterbacks meeting room since 2014. Some have overlapped. Only one, Tom Savage, has been there through it all. And according to his current position coaches, he’s remained unflappable despite the three years of change.

 

“He’s just come in with a very down-to-earth work ethic with it,” quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan said. “If he’s thought about it a lot, it hasn’t come through to me, in terms of what his role will be or how it’s changed from a year ago.”

 

Deshaun Watson will be the 11th quarterback in the room over the last four years, and the 2017 first rounder brings a championship pedigree after guiding Clemson to a BCS Title last season. Savage has welcomed the challenge, though, and was the first Texan to send Watson a congratulatory text after the club selected him this May.

 

“He’s just coming in every day saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to work to get better, I’m going to work to have an even greater understanding of the offense, a greater understanding of defenses and what they’re trying to do to us and how that affects my job,’” Ryan said.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Mike Reiss of ESPN.com sez WR JULIAN EDELMAN is having an affair – with the City of Boston.

 

– One of the most poignant moments in the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl LI, as Patriots players and their families celebrated on the field, was receiver Julian Edelman locked in a long embrace with his father Frank.

 

“I know, son. Just hold on to Daddy,” Frank Edelman said in that moment.

 

“You gotta believe,” Julian said as he locked in tight.

 

“You gotta believe,” Frank repeated.

 

That emotional exchange highlighted the strong bond between them, and with that in mind, I reached out to Frank late last week after Julian signed a two-year extension with the Patriots that gives him a chance to earn a maximum of $19.5 million over the next three seasons. The conversation confirmed what I thought: Edelman pushed hard for the deal because of how happy he is with the Patriots.

 

“Boston loves their athletes, and if you’re in, you’re in. Boston is also all about what Julian is; you just go to work and grind it out,” Frank said. “He loves Boston and everything about the Patriots. There are also a lot of off-field opportunities if you stay in Boston. We’d love to be a Patriot for life.”

 

Julian, 31, reinforced those thoughts in a tweet after news of the extension became public.

 

In some ways, the situation reminds Frank Edelman of where his son’s football journey began, with the Redwood City (California) 49ers Pop Warner team. There was a special camaraderie on that team, a loving bond between the players that also extended to coaches and families. Winning obviously helps and both teams did that. The culture on both teams was also similar.

 

One of the Edelmans’ favorite sayings is, “The early bird catches the worm and the night owl sees it all.” That is in reference to the round-the-clock work ethic required to succeed, and explains why Julian is often the first Patriots player at the facility each day, and also why he values a hard-driving environment like New England’s in which players compete at everything.

 

Frank Edelman also talked about their appreciation for an organization that gave Julian his NFL start by drafting him and developing him. When contract talks began about two months ago, Frank and Julian talked about how they never wanted to see the talks get to the point where anger or jealousy entered the equation, because the Patriots have a reputation for hard-line stances.

 

“For a time, you’re thinking maybe it won’t happen,” Frank said. “So it’s always nice when it does, even when you get a feeling that it might have been hard for them to do it.”

 

Reiss also receives a leak from the Patriots secret ring ceremony.

 

One aspect of the Patriots’ private Super Bowl ring ceremony on Friday that was different from the previous four — and added a unique twist to what was being celebrated — was how each player received his precious hardware.

 

(While the ceremony was private, the following information is based on my conversations with those at the event.)

 

Each ring was enclosed in a case that included a three-digit combination lock, and once owner Robert Kraft revealed the combination, everyone could open theirs at the same time (in the past, there was simply a countdown to when the rings could be opened). As anticipation built Friday night, Kraft introduced the combination by noting that it was the amount of time on the clock when the Patriots first possessed the ball in the third quarter after falling behind 28-3, and also the same amount of time on the clock in the fourth quarter when linebacker Dont’a Hightower strip-sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Kraft then explained the “8:31” combination this way:

 

8 — Consecutive months the team was together from the start of training camp

 

3 — Representing the three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams — that have to excel to win a championship

 

1 — How the 2016 team will be remembered — as No. 1

 

3. Kraft had 283 diamonds set in each Super Bowl ring, which the club confirmed to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, as another unique way of having the ring tell the story of what the team accomplished (specifically, coming back from a 28-3 deficit). Yet it was notable to me that the Patriots — attempting to not draw public attention to it — didn’t advertise that fact in their initial press release, which stated that each ring had “more than 280 diamonds.” The exact number of diamonds, and the significance of the number, became public only after it was explained Friday night at the ceremony.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

The rumored departure of WR ERIC DECKER has happened.  He has been waived.