The Daily Briefing Tuesday, May 16, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

John Kostko at ProFootballFocus.com has five names from which he expects the 2017 Comeback Player of the Year to emerge:

 

Pro Football Focus’ 2016 Comeback Player of the Year differed from the Associated Press award, as Miami Dolphins edge defender Cameron Wake was more dominant from start to finish than Packers WR Jordy Nelson, who had a great season himself. While the top three vote-getters in 2016 all returned from injuries of different natures, our 2015 award winner, Eric Berry, made his comeback from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The comeback award can go to players who missed significant time due to injury, poor play, or in Berry’s case, a serious health issue.

 

The AP award was largely dominated by quarterbacks between 2002 and 2013, but no QB has claimed it since Philip Rivers took home the honor in 2013. While there were several QBs that struggled in 2016 after finding success in 2015, notably Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, no one at this early stage looks poised to change the non-QB trend.

 

With roughly four months still remaining until the start of the 2017 season, here is an early look at five players likely to make a run at the award.

 

1. J.J. Watt, DI, Houston Texans

The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year came back from back surgery much too quickly and struggled before needing another surgery to fix his ailing back. There really isn’t much more to say about Watt, as he’s been a dominant force since entering the league in 2011. In his five fully healthy seasons, he amassed an impressive 85 sacks and 151 QB hits, as well as 316 defensive stops.

 

With an entire year to rehab his back, Watt should be the favorite to win this award if he can return to even 80 percent of his former on-field self. The Texans’ defense, especially former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, made tremendous strides without Watt in the lineup. With a healthy Watt back, though, the Houston defense has the potential to become the best in the NFL, and his disruptive nature will be a big reason for that climb.

 

2. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

A recipient of the 2014 award, Rob Gronkowski should be a heavy favorite in 2017 as he looks to return from back surgery on a herniated disk. In his active weeks of the 2016 season, Gronkowski graded as the best tight end in the NFL, while teammate Martellus Bennett earned the third-best grade among TEs in the same timeframe. As good as the Patriots are without him — obviously still able to win the Super Bowl — Gronk transforms the New England offense like no player in the league can.

 

Averaging an astonishing 21.6 yards per reception, Gronkowski was having arguably the best receiving season of his career. After losing Bennett in free agency (signed with Green Bay), having a healthy Gronkowski for the entire 2017 will be vital for the Patriots, and if he can put up similar numbers to his award-winning 2014 season — 98 catches on 152 targets, 1328 yards, 15 TDs, 21 forced missed tackles — he will make a strong case for the Comeback Player of the Year award again.

 

3. Joel Bitonio, G, Cleveland Browns

While an offensive lineman has never won the award in the eyes of the AP, the big men up front are just as important as the quarterbacks, skill players, and sack artists. Bitonio graded as one of the best guards in the NFL in 2014 as a rookie, but injuries have plagued the former Nevada standout since then, with his 2016 season getting cut short after just five games with a foot injury.

 

With Bitonio paving the way, RB Isaiah Crowell was grading as one of the best runners in the NFL early last season, as he averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 3.8 yards per carry after contact; he forced 11 missed tackles in addition to rushing for over 100 yards in two games. In the final 11 games — without Bitonio on the line — Crowell broke 100 yards just twice, graded as the No. 47 of 54 RBs, averaged 4.3 yards per carry, 2.8 yards per carry after contact, and forced just 12 missed tackles. Bitonio was also grading as one of the better guards in pass protection, as he surrendered just one sack and eight total QB pressures. While Bitonio will almost assuredly not win the 2017 AP award, his ability and improved line around him will likely have the fourth-year veteran in the running for PFF’s recognition.

 

4. Reshad Jones, S, Miami Dolphins

On his way to arguably the best season of his career, Reshad Jones tore his rotator cuff in Week 6 and was placed on injured reserve. A playoff team in 2016, Jones’ presence could have been vital down the stretch and in the postseason. Fresh off a five-year, $60 million contract extension this offseason, Jones will have a lot to prove post-injury. He’s never put up the gaudy coverage stats that defensive backs get recognized for, but is rarely out of position in coverage and is one of the best run-defending safeties in the NFL. If Jones can be a playmaker in 2017, he might win the AP award, but his excellent all-around play will get him recognition at PFF.

 

5. Jason Verrett, CB, Los Angeles Chargers

A former first-round pick, Verrett has seen his career marred by injuries, but has played well when healthy and on the field. In fact, his only full season healthy (2015) was the best season in coverage of any cornerback in the NFL. With just five career interceptions and seven pass breakups, Verrett will likely need to replicate those numbers in just one season to get consideration for the AP award. What Verrett does well is play consistently with close coverage to prevent big plays and catches. If his first two seasons are any indication, he has the talent to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but just needs to stay healthy. The Chargers’ defense is playoff capable, and a healthy Verrett can push them there.

 

Honorable mentions

Jamaal Charles, RB, Denver Broncos

Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons

Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets

Adrian Peterson, RB, New Orleans Saints

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Looking at the Giants projected lineup, Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com says that ELI MANNING has never had such a wonderful group of receivers to throw to:

 

WR: Odell Beckham Jr.

WR: Sterling Shepard

WR: Brandon Marshall

TE: Evan Engram

LT: Ereck Flowers

LG: Justin Pugh

C: Weston Richburg

RG: D.J. Fluker

RT: Bobby Hart

 

DE: Jason Pierre-Paul

DT: Damon Harrison

DT: Dalvin Tomlinson

DE: Olivier Vernon

MLB: Keenan Robinson

OLB: Devon Kennard

CB: Janoris Jenkins

CB: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

CB: Eli Apple

S: Landon Collins

S: Darian Thompson

 

» This is the best receiver group of Eli Manning’s career, and he’s had some sweet ones. Manning just needs to prove he can still hit the deep pass, and the Giants need to do a better job protecting him …

 

» The Giants surprisingly didn’t touch their offensive line until the sixth round of the draft. They are publicly hoping that their young tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart take huge leaps in 2017 or all the offensive talent in the building could go to waste. Another option would be for free-agent pickup D.J. Fluker to take over for Hart at right tackle, with John Jerry at right guard.

 

» Tight end Evan Engram was a surprising selection in the first round if only because the team is already stocked with receivers from the slot. Engram is not so different in size or skill set than Brandon Marshall. It will be fascinating to see how the Giants deploy Engram, Marshall and Sterling Shepard together, with Engram possibly a part-time player as a rookie.

 

» Paul Perkins might still have some competition from a veteran free-agent pickup, such as LeGarrette Blount. Perkins’ best games last year came when teams were begging the Giants to run out of shotgun.

 

» New York could be the best run-stopping team in football with Damon Harrison and second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson playing next to each other. JPP and Olivier Vernon are excellent run stuffers at defensive end, too.

 

» The Giants go cheap at linebacker year after year. It’s a strategy they can pull off when the defensive line and secondary are both so loaded.

 

You can see what Rosenthal has to say about the other NFC East lineups here.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Here is a Fantasy Football sleeper at the running back position, COREY CLEMENT, from Robert Molnar of YahooSports.com

 

Having a combination off the field trouble and on the field injuries throughout his career at Wisconsin, Corey Clement went undrafted during the 2017 NFL Draft. Despite putting up some excellent numbers in college, teams were not willing to use a draft pick on a guy that had a history of not being on the field come gameday.

 

However, given his college production, many knew that Clement was not going to be without a home for long. Signing with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent, Clement has a chance to be the top performing undrafted free agent this season due to the situation that exists in the Eagles inconsistent backfield.

 

While the Eagles added running back Donnel Pumphrey during the draft, Pumphrey looks to be a true replacement option for Darren Sproles once he retires. Unlikely to be the number one running back in Philadelphia, this leaves an opening for Clement to compete not only against Mathews for a roster spot, but also the number one running back spot.

 

With Wendell Smallwood expected to land the starting job as of now, Clement should have an above decent chance at landing the power back role in the Eagles offense. Such a position would keep Sproles and Pumphrey in the third down and pass catching role of the offense while it would also relegate Ryan Mathews to an expendable position on the roster.

 

Such a move would also save the Eagles some cash going forward. Still in salary cap hell due to some of the bigger contracts that the team has given out, opening up room in the cap needs to be a priority. While the opening would be small, it would give the Eagles some wiggle room in the case that they needed to sign a mid season free agent due to injury or need.

 

However, this cannot happen until Corey Clement proves himself. Should he play like many expect him to and perform well, Clement will be on the Eagles roster come Week 1. Should this happen, the same will not be said for Ryan Mathews though.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Whatever happens in the future, Coach Jay Gruden is glad to have QB KIRK COUSINS now.  Liz Clarke in the Washington Post:

 

Two months before the July 15 deadline for signing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a long-term contract, Washington Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said Monday he’s not spending time worrying about the status of talks and is focusing instead on the season at hand.

 

“My approach, really: I’m not gonna be concerned about it,” Gruden said before taking part in the Ryan Kerrigan Leukemia Golf Classic at Lansdowne Resort. “I know he’s gonna be here this season, and that’s all I care about.”

 

Cousins, who will turn 29 in August, is assured of returning for his sixth season with the Redskins and his third as the squad’s starter, via a second consecutive NFL franchise tag that will pay him roughly $24 million this season. A long-term contract brokered by the NFL’s deadline would supplant that agreement. If no such deal is reached, Cousins would be free to sell his services on the open market in 2018. And on the heels of setting back-to-back single-season records for passing yards, there is a market for Cousins.

 

“Whatever happens, happens with him and his agent and our organization,” Gruden said of Cousins. As head coach, his focus is on helping Cousins continue to elevate his play in his third season as an NFL starter.

 

“He has got two good years under his belt in our system, and I think it’s gonna be very good for him. You’re gonna see major growth from him again.”

 

In 2015, his first year as a starter, Cousins threw for 4,166 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and led the Redskins to the NFC East title. Last season, he threw for 4,917 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions but, with a playoff berth at stake, struggled in the regular-season finale against the New York Giants. The Redskins missed the postseason, finishing 8-7-1.

 

While Gruden made plain he’d love to have Cousins signed to a long-term deal, he noted: “This is the year I’m worried about.”

 

Speaking of Cousins, NFL.com is asking its experts if the Redskins signalcaller is a “franchise” QB:

 

Is Kirk Cousins a franchise quarterback?

 

Jeffri Chadiha

Cousins isn’t elite, but he’s most definitely someone to build around

Yes. It’d be a different story if you were asking if Cousins is elite. That is rarefied air he might never catch a whiff of during his career. But he already has shown that he is a franchise quarterback.

 

Cousins led the Redskins to the playoffs in his first year as a full-time starter. He set the team record for passing yards in a season — and ranked in the top 10 in passer rating — in each of the last two years. Cousins also has done all this while trying to prove to his bosses that he deserves a long-term deal.

 

People need to stop wondering if the Redskins will be lucky enough to find their own Tom Brady someday. The guy they have has given them plenty already.

 

Bucky Brooks

Does Cousins elevate those around him like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady?

So much of Kirk Cousins’ success is dependent on his supporting cast, so I would say he’s not a franchise quarterback. He’s had the opportunity to play with one of the best receiving corps — with DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed and Pierre Garcon — and a talented offensive line. Also, the last two years, he was playing in a system that was tailor-made to his game. With the departure of Jackson and Garcon, we get a chance to see if Cousins is good enough to carry a team. Franchise QBs are expected to raise the level of play of their teammates. Can that happen in 2017? I’m skeptical.

 

Will he be a franchise quarterback in the future? I don’t think he will be. I don’t see him as a $30 million quarterback.

 

Willie McGinest

Cousins has the potential to become a franchise QB — in time

The need for a quarterback in this league is so high. There just aren’t a lot of good signal callers out there, to be honest. I still have so many questions about whether Kirk Cousins can carry a team. I think he could become a franchise quarterback in time, but I wouldn’t say he is right now.

 

Daniel Jeremiah

R-E-S-P-E-C-T? Cousins doesn’t get the credit he deserves

Yes, I think Cousins is a franchise quarterback. He has proven to be an accurate signal caller and his production the last few seasons speaks for itself. Granted, he’s been surrounded by playmakers, but still — let’s give the guy some credit.

 

I believe Cousins is underrated in the minds of most. Yes, he’s had a few awful games during his career, but the good far outweighs the bad.

 

Heath Evans

This signal caller has shown me everything I need to know

Ever since establishing himself as the full-time starter in Washington, Kirk Cousins has continued to play better every season. A lot of people doubted him when he was named the starter, but he’s proven them wrong. There’s been a lot of turnover in the organization — and Cousins’ playmakers have had some injuries, as well. With all of this going on, Cousins has played well. Therefore, I think he’s very much so a franchise quarterback.

 

Shaun O’Hara

Cousins represents what a franchise quarterback should be

Washington has tagged him twice, so I’d say yes. He represents everything you want in a franchise quarterback. He wants the ball in his hands, lives for the fourth quarter and loves the big moment. He’s a leader and teammates gravitate toward him. The tough thing is disassociating the contract aspect from his play because he’s played well the last two seasons. The business side has just been tough.

 

How many “franchise” QBs are practicing their trade right now?

 

Well, TOM BRADY of the Patriots, AARON RODGERS of the Packers, DREW BREES of the Saints seem to be slam dunks and the 2005 trio of ELI MANNING of the Giants, BEN ROETHLISBERGER of the Steelers and PHILIP RIVERS of the Chargers seem to meet the most restrictive definition.

 

After that, we would be inclined to consider MATTHEW STAFFORD of the Lions, MATT RYAN of the Falcons, JOE FLACCO of the Ravens, RUSSELL WILSON of the Seahawks, DEREK CARR of the Raiders (probably just over the hump), ANDREW LUCK of the Colts and CAM NEWTON of the Panthers as likely possibilities.  Somewhere below them are Cousins, RYAN TANNEHILL of the Dolphins and ANDY DALTON of the Bengals.

 

JAMEIS WINSTON of the Buccaneers, MARCUS MARIOTA of the Titans, CARSON WENTZ of the Eagles and DAK PRESCOTT of the Cowboys seem on their way, although it may be too early to declare them franchise.

 

ALEX SMITH of the Chiefs, CARSON PALMER of the Cardinals and SAM BRADFORD of the Vikings are veteran caretakers after failing to achieve franchise status elsewhere (or falling from it in Palmer’s case).

 

Teams that are looking – Buffalo, the Jets, Cleveland, Houston, Jacksonville, Denver, Chicago, San Francisco and the Rams (JARED GOFF didn’t do enough in 2016 to go to the “on their way” category).

 

So 6 slam dunks, 7 likely, 3 just below likely, 4 on their way, 3 veteran caretakers, 9 teams looking.

 

What say you?

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

S SHILOH KEO has lost his battle to stay on the Saints roster and is one step closer to retirement. Herbie Teope of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

 

With six players signed after the rookie minicamp, the New Orleans Saints needed to make room on the roster and conducted the first of many expected transactions to free space Monday.

 

The Saints released safety Shiloh Keo, a source familiar with the situation confirmed.

 

ESPN’s Field Yates first reported the news.

 

Keo returned to the Saints in March on a one-year deal at the veteran minimum after joining the team as a free agent on a one-year deal in November.

 

The 5-11, 208-pound Keo appeared in seven games and contributed mostly on special teams, where he logged 130 snaps.

 

Keo was with the Denver Broncos for three games in 2016 before he signed with the Saints.

 

He entered the league in 2011 out of Idaho as a fifth-round pick of the Houston Texans, where he spent three seasons before signing with the Broncos in 2015.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

The Seahawks have peeled off $55,000 cash for RB EDDIE LACY.  Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times:

 

When the Seahawks signed free agent running back Eddie Lacy in March, they did so with a contract that famously included incentives to meet monthly weight goals during the offseason and into the regular season.

 

Monday, Lacy’s agents reported via Twitter that Lacy had passed his first test, weighing in at 253 — two pounds under the 255 that his contract called for him to be in May to earn an additional $55,000. Lacy signed a one-year deal with Seattle that could be worth as much as $5.5 million if he meets all incentives but has $2.865 million guaranteed.

 

As reported in March, Lacy will get $55,000 for each month that he achieves a specific weight — 255 in May, 250 in June, July and August and 245 from September through December — or essentially, for the regular season.

 

Seahawks general manager John Schneider said in March that he was a believer in incentives in general while saying he didn’t want to talk specifically about Lacy’s contract.

– – –

It’s unclear whether or not Peter King knew that the Seahawks had made a phone call to COLIN KAEPERNICK’s agent last Friday when he wrote Monday’s piece extolling what a wonderful match the coffee-consuming city and the socially-charged quarterback would be.  Michael Silver of NFL Network, who also would want Kaep to find a home, tweets this:

 

@MikeSilver

Seahawks GM John Schneider reached out to Colin Kaepernick’s agent last Friday. Interest in him as potential backup is legit.

 

But Kaepernick does have a rival for Seattle’s attention.  Cameron DeSilva at FoxSports.com:

 

Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III have generated little to no interest on the free-agent market this offseason, but that could change soon. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said on Monday that both veterans are being considered by the Seahawks as backup quarterback options.

 

“We’re looking at everybody. We really are,” Carroll said, via ESPN. “We’ve been tracking everything that’s going on, and we’ve got cap and roster issues and stuff like that that we’re still trying to manage properly. But quite frankly, yes, we are looking at all those guys.”

 

The Seahawks could use a No. 2 behind Russell Wilson, especially after Trevone Boykin was arrested twice in 11 days back in late March and early April. He hasn’t been cut yet, and he may not be, but Seattle can’t exactly trust him going forward, and he’s a raw player.

 

Kaepernick is the best remaining free-agent quarterback on the market, having thrown 16 touchdown passes and just four interceptions in 2016. There’s obviously the fact that he protested the national anthem last season, but several Seahawks players spoke out at the time in support of Kaepernick’s stance, including Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.

 

Griffin, on the other hand, endured a disastrous season with the Browns in which he played just five games and had two touchdown passes with three interceptions. He also comes with durability concerns and has trouble staying on the field.

 

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com, like Silver a member of The Resistance, isn’t ready to give the Seahawks or any team brownie points for signing Kaepernick.

 

At some point, amid a small but vocal backlash, the platitudes will come. Some owner will be lauded for being “gutsy” enough to sign Colin Kaepernick. Or he will be applauded for being “progressive” enough to sign the overly qualified backup quarterback. We’ll likely hear about this team not being a sheep, and breaking from the NFL herd, which is often tainted by backward groupthink anyway.

 

I wouldn’t believe much of it.

 

Whenever some team is desperate enough to sign a 29-year-old former Super Bowl quarterback who thinks beyond himself and is on a quest to try to make his community, and the world, a better place, it will be a business decision. Pure and simple. Whenever Kaepernick is extended a contract offer, it won’t be because some organization has reached a point where it is now willing to send a signal to the rest of the league about what is right or wrong, or what should or should not be held against a qualified potential employee. It won’t be because some owner now sees the inherent hypocrisy of teams welcoming in a stream of rookies with significant legal or criminal issues at a time when a quarterback with a lifetime rating of 88.9 with 85 combined total touchdowns to 30 interceptions can’t get a phone call from a general manager.

 

It will be because Kaepernick was seen as the last, perhaps only, thing between salvaging a season and it falling into the abyss. It’s clear now that Kaepernick is only going to be signed once he’s viewed as the last man standing in the weak and tattered backup quarterback market, and the fact that this will come months after guys like Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, EJ Manuel and Case Keenum were given another shot is downright preposterous. While the league’s collective decision to turn its back on Kaepernick, after his stance regarding police brutality and kneeling during the national anthem last season, is clearly in large degree political, let’s not pretend that whichever team loses its starting passer and eventually pays Kaepernick to play football is making anything other than a business decision.

 

The time to make a political statement of any sort regarding Kaepernick and his right to free speech and protected protest has long passed. Had someone stepped to the fore months ago, when guys like Matt Barkley and Landry Jones were getting multiyear deals, then maybe an owner could take a bow for breaking free from the apparent statement being made in regards to one’s right to expression in the NFL. Seeing the Arizona Cardinals extend a contract to Blaine Gabbert, the embodiment of NFL quarterback privilege for some — over-drafted, an absolute failure as a starting quarterback in several locales and who finally lost his job to Kaepernick in San Francisco a year ago despite anyone in a position of power in that franchise trying to prop him up as long as possible — felt like another breaking point.

 

Kaepernick can barely get anyone to kick his tires and make an exploratory phone call, despite still having a huge arm and athletic upside and better accomplishments than virtually any quarterback signed this offseason — including Mike Glennon at $18.5 million guaranteed in the first year of his deal with Chicago. Sorry folks, this ain’t just about football. Hardly.

 

As I pointed out early in this offseason when writing about Kaepernick, his career rating of 88.9 is 15th best in the NFL since 2011, when he entered the league, which puts him ahead of guys like Andrew Luck, Eli Manning, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Ryan Tannehill. Yeah, ahead of some of the league’s media darlings. He has 72 touchdown passes in 69 career games. For his career, Kaepernick has an interception percentage of just 1.8, which is behind only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Alex Smith (yeah, the guy he beat out in San Francisco as a youngster). Pretty elite company.

 

Is he the most accurate passer in the league? Nope. You would prefer he be better than 60 percent. But his body of work, even last season — when he managed to account for 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions on a horrible 49ers team — is far superior to what we are seeing other, less “controversial” quarterbacks be rewarded for in the market. And in the meantime, while Kaepernick makes service trips and donates millions and stays out of trouble and isn’t seen partying or hitting a cop or being accused of striking a female, others who have major red flags get that nice big bear hug from Roger Goodell on draft day, or at least a cozy phone call from an NFL owner, or general manager or head coach.

 

And in the meantime, an entire cottage industry emerges regarding faux reasons why an NFL team can’t possibly sign this quarterback, often fueled by false narratives about his supposed wants or desires . It seems like some in the Bay Area can’t just let this one go. After so many years of trying to impugn the quarterback’s character through half-true-at-best leaks, I suppose old habits die hard. So we might as well sort through some of that as well while we’re at it, as troubling as it is to wade into these muddy waters.

 

Was Kaepernick, early in his career, the model teammate? No. He was shy and introverted and wore his earphones around the hallways of the team facility and turned some veterans off. He was immature and came out of obscurity from a small college program and like a lot of young quarterbacks he had growing up to do. He found his conscience and he found his voice and he handled what was a bitter and ugly situation in San Francisco a year ago — one instigated by management — with aplomb despite smears about everything from the extent of his many injuries to his work ethic. The inferior Gabbert played for weeks on end ahead of him, and nary a bad word from the backup.

 

Is Kaepernick trying to sign a massive contract? Um, no. In fact, he has never even gotten into any substantive talks with NFL teams, so the very fact that there are alleged contract demands from him making the rounds in media reports for weeks is shady. This kid is giving away money left and right to the homeless and at-risk kids and to lead an aid mission to Somalia … but now I’m supposed to believe he is hell-bent on making $12 million per year or else. Please. His representatives are well aware of what the market constraints are, particularly at this point with the real money long ago spent in free agency and every GM operating under a tighter budget now. Would it make sense to take a $1 million deal, plus incentives? Hell no. But had someone come at him with an offer in the range of Brian Hoyer or Josh McCown, there would have been plenty to talk about.

 

Would Kaepernick just prefer to roam the earth anyway, like David Carradine in “Kung Fu,” walking barefoot from town to town to solve social injustices with his mind, body and/or soul? Come on, man. Consider the motives of the people who spread this stuff around, especially if they are in the proximity of Santa Clara, California. Yes, Kaepernick clearly has a worldview that goes beyond his next endorsement deal — heaven forbid! — and he long ago gave the back of his hand to the NFL’s lust for overly corporate, buttoned up, CEO quarterbacks who serve as fiscal extensions of the league’s pursuit of profits. But that doesn’t mean he loves football any less.

Football is a vehicle to affect change and impact the youth, and if a guy like Jim Harbaugh of all people thought Kaepernick was some sort of phony, exploiting the game for his own gain with a true love of it, he wouldn’t be campaigning this hard for his former pupil. No one should be surprised that there was a significant backlash, especially in this sport, for what Kaepernick did last season. But let’s also not pretend that he is naïve or some sort of stooge. He knew his life was about to get a lot more complicated and he made the difficult decision. Whatever you think of his politics, he was willing to put his mind above his wallet.

 

And let’s also not pretend that Kaepernick hasn’t already paid a price. Without him taking a knee, no way the NFL market speaks out as definitively as it did in March, when millions were being thrown around by the second on marginal or speculative talent at every position on the roster, to say nothing of the most important position in all of team sports. If this were a run-of-the-mill legal matter, no way the market speaks this consistently. Think back to how much humiliation the Browns were willing to endure to try to keep Johnny Manziel on the field every Sunday — despite the domestic abuse issues and him being MIA at times — and that for a far lesser player who had never accomplished anything in the pro game.

 

The idea that there would be coordinated public protests against a team, if some needy franchise had signed Kaepernick for $6 million plus incentives as a potential starting quarterback in March, is ludicrous. He played last season and while some in the media tried to blame him for everything from the results of an election to the NFL’s sagging television ratings, the reality is all of that was far larger than him and there were no large-scale uprisings at NFL games against him. And there is a long time between March and September. Sorry, I refuse to believe Kaepernick merits being an NFL pariah for this.

 

Blaming and shaming is easy, and in this vulnerable situation Kaepernick was — and is — an obvious target.

 

And in the aftermath of 2016, despite Kaepernick apologizing for some comments and clarifying his stance (this never, ever, ever had anything to do with the military, but that’s all many people seem to believe it was ever about), the easy thing for NFL teams to do was the pretend he wasn’t an unrestricted free agent at all. The easy thing to do is pay has-beens or never-will-bes a few million to hold a clipboard and never even call Kaepernick’s agents. Just ignore him … and maybe he will go away.

 

Except, it’s still very early. Teams haven’t even put the shells on for OTAs. Injuries are inevitable and they will come and possibly they will come in droves. And with Tony Romo and Jay Cutler opting for the broadcast booth, Kaepernick and Ryan Fitzpatrick are clearly, without doubt, the two best options out there (after that were talking Robert Griffin III and Thad Lewis and Christian Ponder, and, gulp, Charlie Whitehurst).

 

Somewhere, at some time, someone is going to need Colin Kaepernick. Badly. Eventually the reality of what he has been on the field will matter more than any interpretations of his constitutional expressions. Suddenly, with a season potentially in the balance, a call will come with real money on the line to quarterback a football team. Kaepernick is, sadly, one injury away from becoming an NFL commodity again.

 

And when that happens, let’s just call it what it is — another NFL transaction in the ultimate league of attrition. It won’t be a cause célèbre. It won’t be worthy of fawning or praise. It won’t be about anyone all of a sudden finding a social conscience or considering some bigger picture beyond football. Frankly, it won’t be about any feeling or emotion at all: It will simply be about trying to win football games.

 

Tony Dungy has some thoughts as recounted here by Andrew Joseph of USAToday.com:

 

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick still has not signed with an NFL team. The theories as to why have been thrown across the NFL community, but it generally comes down to his season-long protest during the national anthem.

 

And according to Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, Kaepernick would be on an NFL roster if he didn’t carry out the anthem protests. Sure, that opinion isn’t groundbreaking, but Dungy took it a step further by comparing Kaepernick’s situation to that of Michael Vick and Joe Mixon.

 

He said via newsday.com:

 

“Without that national anthem [protest], someone would have signed him by now. If you’re seen as a distraction off the field, for whatever reason, you better have a lot of talent going for you. People will overlook it. They always sign talent if they think he’s going to upgrade your team.”

 

He continued:

 

“Michael Vick went through a lot of that and had some teams say no [to signing him],” Dungy said. “Andy Reid was the one coach who said, ‘Hey, we’ll do it. We think enough of him as a player, and we know we’re going to take some criticism.’ With Joe Mixon, you had the same thing. That’s what happens.”

 

Vick struggled to find a team because he had just served 21 months in federal prison for his role in an illegal dogfighting ring. Mixon merely dropped to the second round despite serving a season-long suspension in 2014 for punching a woman in the face.

 

Kaepernick, though, didn’t break any laws. He took a knee and used his platform to voice an opinion. But despite Vick’s prison sentence and Mixon’s violence against a woman, they found spots on NFL rosters.

 

Kaepernick still hasn’t.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com wonders if the Seahawks (and Peter King?) are doing the NFL’s bidding:

 

On Monday, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll mused publicly about the possibility of signing quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick of Robert Griffin III. Then came the report from NFL Media that the Seahawks had recently reached out to Kaepernick’s agent about a possible backup job.

 

One league source with knowledge of Kaepernick’s situation posed this queston to PFT in response to the news: “When do teams publicize that they’re interested in a player who is available for other teams to sign as well?”

 

The answer may be this: The NFL wants it out there that someone/anyone is talking to Kaepernick about a job.

 

In recent days, questions have intensified regarding Kaepernick’s ongoing unemployment. With weeks of flawed assumptions and false narratives regarding Kaepernick’s demands, abilities, and objectives, no one had actually gone to the source to acquire the information necessary to reaching a decision about whether to sign him. With word emerging that the Seahawks have spoken to Kaepernick about being a backup, the glaring failure of anyone to reach out to Kaepernick has now been addressed.

 

The real question is whether the Seahawks will offer Kaepernick a job, and if so under what terms. If the Seahawks are indeed interested in signing him, it’s a change from late March, when Pete Carroll sounded lukewarm about Kaepernick at best.

 

“Well, we’ll see,” Carroll told PFT Live at the league meetings in Arizona. “We’ll see about the quarterback position. Colin has been an effective player, and he’s had some ups and downs in his playing career. I hope he finds a spot. I don’t know if it’s going to be with us.”

 

So the real questions now become: (1) whether the Seahawks’ interest in Kaepernick is legitimate; (2) if so, whether they will offer him a job; (3) if so, how much they will offer; and (4) why would they make it publicly known that they’re making a move on signing Kaepernick as a backup given that other teams could be inclined to jump into the fray?

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

The latest legal problem for CB ADAM JONES ends with a whimper, as he pleads guilty to “obstructing official business.”

 

The charge Jones pleaded guilty to is a second-degree misdemeanor and he was sentenced to time served — two days — by the judge. He could face league discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy as a result of the incident.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Eliot Crist of ProFootballFocus.com on a free agent visit to Cleveland:

 

Free agent CB Jason McCourty and the Cleveland Browns are meeting with a physical scheduled for Tuesday.

 

In 2015, teams looked to target McCourty quite a bit as he was targeted once every 5.4 snaps in coverage, 12th highest among 79 qualifying cornerbacks. He allowed 1.35 yards per snap in coverage which was 18th among those corners.

 

While McCourty gave up receptions, he did a good job of keeping his man out of the end zone and limiting yards after the catch. He allowed a touchdown on 3.13 percent of his targets which was 22nd among corners and his 2.95 yards allowed after catch per reception was ninth of 79 qualifiers.

 

Stemming from his ability to limit yards after catch, McCourty has proven to be one of the league’s best tacklers at corner. He had a tackling efficiency of 23.7 which was fourth best among 81 cornerbacks.

 

The Tennessee Titans kept McCourty at right cornerback on 91 percent of his snaps, while the Browns moved Joe Haden around. Haden played only 56 percent of his snaps at left cornerback, so McCourty may need to adjust to moving around the field should the Browns sign him.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Big Ben’s BFF says the QB nearly called it quits.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger publicly mused about retiring this offseason, and it wasn’t just talk.

 

Former Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon, a teammate of Roethlisberger’s for seven seasons, said this morning on PFT Live that Roethlisberger was seriously considering retiring before ultimately deciding to play the 2017 season.

 

“I got to sit down and talk to him and one thing he told me is he did take it seriously,” Colon said. “He’s dealt with a lot of injuries.”

 

So will the 35-year-old Roethlisberger consider it again in 2018, and maybe even walk away? Colon said he believes the Steelers’ offensive line will have a lot to do with that decision.

 

“He’s passionate about playing, but one thing that keeps his fire going is that offensive line,” Colon said. “You have to worry about the health of Ben Roethlisberger. Can you keep him upright, can he stay healthy for the duration? They have the offensive line, they have the pieces around him to make it work.”

 

The Steelers signed backup quarterback Landry Jones to a two-year, $4.4 million contract this offseason, and they took quarterback Joshua Dobbs in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Those moves may suggest that the Steelers are also taking seriously the possibility that Roethlisberger’s retirement could come sooner than most people expect.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Bill Belichick doesn’t see the advantage of having a horde of assistant coaches.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

With 15 assistants, the Patriots have one of the smallest coaching staffs in the league. And Bill Belichick says that’s the way he likes it.

 

Belichick said on Paul Rabil’s podcast that running a staff with only people he knows he can count on to do whatever he throws their way is the best way to stay on top of everything.

 

“My philosophy, really, is that less is more, so I’d rather have fewer people doing more work than more people doing a little more work,” Belichick said, via ESPN. “As long as everybody is busy, as long as everybody feels productive, they feel good about what they’re doing and they feel like they’re contributing; I think when people have lag time and kind of not enough to do, that leads to getting distracted and complaining or being less productive. So even though you have more people, sometimes less work gets done.”

 

Belichick also wants to make sure he doesn’t have his assistants giving players conflicting instructions.

 

“From a ‘getting everybody on the same page’ standpoint, which is critical, the fewer people you have to manage, the easier it is to get everybody on the same page,” Belichick said. “So if you’re talking to 10 people, it’s hard to get all 10 people doing the same thing or doing the right thing. Now you make that number 20, instead of 10, it’s even more difficult. If you have five people supervising another 15 people, now you have another layer there where you’re not dealing directly with everybody, and now you’re somewhat dependent on other people to relay the message the way you want it done and to monitor it that way. Certainly, there’s a degree of that, but as much of that I can eliminate, I think works better for me.”

 

Smaller coaching staffs have worked very well for Belichick, and yet most coaches have gone in the other direction, with coaching staffs consistently growing. All three other AFC East teams, for instance, have more than 20 assistant coaches. Belichick has a smaller staff and a more effective staff.

 

The DB, showing his age, can remember when 12 was a high number of assistant coaches.

 

Even if you had coordinators who didn’t double up – you often had OC, QB, RB, WR, TE, OL, DC, DL, LB, DB, Special Teams and Strength for a total of 12 (and sometimes the OC also did the QBs, or the TE also did the special teams). 

 

Here are the 15 current Patriots coaches:

 

Josh McDaniels

Offensive Coordinator / QB

 

Matt Patricia

Defensive Coordinator

 

Dante Scarnecchia

Offensive Line Coach

 

Ivan Fears

Running Backs Coach

 

Chad O’Shea

Wide Receivers Coach

 

Nick Caley

Tight Ends Coach

 

Brendan Daly

Defensive Line Coach

 

Brian Flores

Linebackers Coach

 

Josh Boyer

Cornerbacks Coach

 

Steve Belichick

Safeties Coach

 

Jerry Schuplinski

Assistant Quarterbacks Coach

 

Joe Judge

Special Teams Coach

 

Ray Ventrone

Assistant Special Teams Coach

 

Moses Cabrera

Head Strength and Conditioning Coach

 

James Hardy

Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

MEDIA NEWS

ESPN is pairing a female play-by-play announcer, Beth Mowins, with a Trump supporter in their Week 1 doubleheader game. 

 

The second game of the Week One Monday Night Football doubleheader, with the Broncos hosting the Chargers, will indeed feature Beth Mowins as the play-by-play announcer and Rex Ryan as the analyst. ESPN made the announcement on Tuesday.

 

“Beth has been an important voice in our college sports coverage and she has experience calling NFL preseason games. She deserves this opportunity,” ESPN events and studio production senior V.P. Stephanie Druley said in a press release. “ESPN is committed to putting talented women in high-profile positions and we look forward to Beth and Rex’s call of this game on our MNF opening night.”

 

And also there is this from Richard Dietsch of SI.com:

 

ESPN formally announces @espngolic & @wingoz today as new 6-10AM ESPN Radio show. Will simulcast on ESPN2 at start before ESPNU permanently

 

– – –

Sorry to hear this from Charean Williams, now no longer of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

 

@NFLCharean 

 I have been laid off from the FW Star-Telegram, my employer since 1999. Life sometimes throws you a curve. I just have to learn to hit it.

 

 

2017 DRAFT

NFL.com’s experts are asked who is the “biggest wild card” in the draft?

 

Who is the biggest wild card of the 2017 NFL Draft?

 

Daniel Jeremiah

Patrick Mahomes was a risky pick for Chiefs’ front office

No question, this answer is quarterback Patrick Mahomes. I think he has the highest ceiling and the lowest floor of any player in the draft. Fortunately for him, I think he went to the right spot: Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey have the job security to take their time in developing Mahomes.

 

This decision could have a huge payoff down the line, but make no mistake: It was a risky pick.

 

Bucky Brooks

No surprise here: Joe Mixon’s off-the-field decisions are worrisome

The biggest wild card in the 2017 draft is Joe Mixon. As a football player, he’s probably a top-15 talent who has All-Pro potential at the running back position. His skill set reminds me of Arizona’s David Johnson, a guy who can run inside and outside and catch balls out of the backfield. The biggest question is, can the Bengals trust his decisions off the field? Will Mixon be available down the stretch?

 

If Mixon keeps his nose clean, he definitely can be a game-changer for Cincinnati.

 

Jeffri Chadiha

Is Deshaun Watson the missing piece in Houston?

Everybody knew the Texans had to find a quarterback in this draft. In taking Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, they selected a player who could be this year’s Dak Prescott. Watson is a proven winner with the smarts and athletic ability to be an effective NFL quarterback — the question is, how long it takes him to get there this season.

 

Houston added speed to its offense last offseason, and its defense remains stellar, especially if J.J. Watt can stay healthy this year. The only thing missing is a quarterback who can fill the void that has kept this team from reaching the next level. If Watson can become that guy, the Texans should be hard to stop.

 

Heath Evans

Mixon’s past decisions could lead to drama-filled locker room

I have to go with Joe Mixon. We don’t know what protests will look like; they might be monumental or nonexistent. Despite the massive talent on the Bengals’ roster, how much outside distraction can this team handle? And how much emotional strain and stress from poor attention will Mixon take? This locker room might implode before the season even starts.

 

Adam Rank

Like his new teammate Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel spawns great wonder

If you know me at all, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Christian McCaffrey and feel like he’s going to be the balls this year. And if you don’t know me, well, pleased to meet you. My name is Adam. I like Star Wars, professional wrestling and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

 

But my answer is not McCaffrey. Because that’s too easy. I will, however, go with his new teammate, Curtis Samuel. He, like McCaffrey, is going to bring a whole new dimension to this offense. And that’s what I think of when you say “wild card.” I’ll be honest: At first, I was worried about McCaffrey going to Carolina, because my perception of these Panthers is that they aren’t very imaginative. I mean, we did have “Riverboat Ron” and all of that stuff. But that came off more like your dad having a mid-life crisis and buying a leather jacket. Bringing in McCaffrey and Samuel is like taking that to a whole new level where your dad also buys a motorcycle and joins a club!

 

It’s going to be a fun year for the Panthers, and I’m really pumped to see what the Sons of Anarchy are going to be able to do.

 

Willie McGinest

A lot of uncertainty surrounds Mitchell Trubisky in Chicago

Mitchell Trubisky is such a question mark. He played well at North Carolina in a small sample of games, but it’s risky taking a quarterback at No. 2 overall who doesn’t have a ton of experience. When a team takes a player that high in the draft, it wants to be sure about the prospect. I’m not saying Trubisky can’t be the Bears’ guy, but we just don’t know what we’re going to get.

 

Gil Brandt

Samuel’s a bigger, stronger version of Percy Harvin

I’m taking this question in a bit of a different direction. I just think Curtis Samuel is such a threat. I believe this is a bigger, stronger version of Percy Harvin who can run just as fast (if not faster). Samuel has great hands and really good running ability. He’ll be very difficult to defend — the Panthers will line him up on third down and he’ll catch passes out of the backfield. He’ll also be dangerous on draw plays and even standard runs.

 

The DB thinks that WR COREY DAVIS, picked 5th overall by the Titans, should be under consideration.  Not sure he will be the best wide receiver in the draft as his draft position would dictate.