The Daily Briefing Tuesday, May 2, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
We don’t blame QB MIKE GLENNON for feeling like the Bears punched him in the gut. Rich Campbell in the Chicago Tribune:
Mike Glennon was, of all places, at Soldier Field on Thursday night when the Bears changed the course of franchise history and sent shockwaves through the NFL draft. The team had asked its starting quarterback to attend the Miller Lite Bears draft party on the club level.
So much for being a guest of honor, huh?
Because Glennon showed up, we can assume the Bears’ invitation didn’t include the part about trading up to draft North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the No. 2 pick.
Hey, Mike, can you make it out to Soldier Field for this thing Thursday? We need you to sign a few autographs and shake a few hands after we crush your hopes and make you a lame-duck starter before you take your first practice rep. Cool?
By now, most everyone has seen the video of how the draft party reacted to the Trubisky pick. There’s a smattering of shocked applause but mostly disbelief. There’s more than enough despair to keep the internet laughing and pointing at the bottom of the NFC North.
The man in front recording it on his smartphone sits down and throws his hands up. A guy one table over yells, “Oh, no!” before putting his head in his hands. Most cruelly, a kid in an Aaron Rodgers jersey starts laughing.
It’s a good thing there wasn’t a camera on Glennon when Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Trubisky’s name. If anyone ever needed Miller Time, the veteran quarterback did in that moment.
He found out as the rest of the world did. The Bears don’t believe in him as much as he thought, as much as they conveyed to him during his blissful first seven weeks on the job. Glennon felt as though he had been cheated on, according to people in the know. When admiration, affection and support abruptly become rejection, it hurts. And the pain cuts deep.
Of course, most people don’t get $18.5 million guaranteed for their heartache. Glennon, 27, is only slightly more proven at the NFL level than Trubisky. General manager Ryan Pace owes it to the Bears and the fans to examine every option to improve the most important position on the team. And in Trubisky, Pace believes he has found Chicago’s version of Drew Brees.
In fact, Glennon would be the first to acknowledge he hasn’t done anything on the field to stake an unchallenged claim to the Bears’ starting job. But that’s not the point.
The issue is about relationships. The trust between Glennon and the Bears’ decision-makers has been damaged. The Bears made him feel that he was their guy. As it turns out, he’s not even close. If Pace hopes to convince Glennon that nothing has changed for him and his opportunity, that would be an impossible sell.
This wouldn’t be as big a deal if Glennon were demoted to backup status. He could channel his pain into holding a clipboard, and the distrust wouldn’t affect the Bears on the field this fall. But Glennon is still the starting quarterback, as Pace said Thursday after the pick.
Pace called Glennon that night. Imagine how well that went over. Pace telling Glennon he’s still the starting quarterback while in reality handing Glennon a ticket to get back on the bus he just spent two years riding behind Jameis Winston with the Buccaneers. It’s only a matter of time before Glennon must retake his seat.
“I’m excited about Mike’s future here,” Pace told reporters Thursday.
That makes one of them.
The team’s plan, as far as Glennon knew, was to do everything to get the best out of him. To help the strong-armed passer reach the potential Pace saw when describing him as an ascending player. Drafting a defensive player or receiver at No. 3 would have helped. Giving him 100 percent of the first-team practice reps was a no-brainer.
Now Trubisky figures to cut into Glennon’s practice time because the organization has to develop him. Then factor in the opportunity costs in the draft of trading up for Trubisky, and the Bears won’t end up with the best version of Glennon they otherwise would have.
It matters because Glennon will be under center in the season opener. A regime with nine wins in 32 games hasn’t given its starting quarterback every resource at its disposal for 2017, instead prioritizing a bigger picture.
If Trubisky turns out to be the truth, any stumbles in 2017 would be a footnote on Pace’s resume. Coach John Fox, however, has to manage this sticky new quarterback dynamic on a daily basis. Glennon and Trubisky. Glennon and the organization.
Pace will get to see Trubisky’s chance through, whenever that occurs. But look no further than the man Fox referenced Saturday, his friend Jeff Fisher, to find an example of a coach who didn’t survive the season after his team drafted a quarterback at the top of the first round.
Fox at least understands Glennon doesn’t share Pace’s excitement about drafting Trubisky.
“You allow them that,” Fox said. “That’s something that you do, and you do talk that through. But they get over it. And then they start competing. It’s Mike’s team. He’s the starter. He feels really good about that.”
Yes, Glennon at least has an opportunity to prove himself in 2017 and play for his next job. He didn’t have that with the Buccaneers. Glennon will be motivated and determined because he’s a pro, he’s competitive and he wants a starting job somewhere. He’ll put the draft-party insult behind him. If he can’t, maybe he’s not wired for the starting job in the first place.
But the Bears must be mindful that human nature is now in play. They triggered the distrust and the disappointment in Glennon. He will say the right things publicly the next time he speaks to reporters, probably in late May, because that’s who he is. But the natural negativity doesn’t simply disappear. It’s going to take effort on everyone’s part.
No joke, the Packers have used the fifth-year option on a first round draft pick for the first time ever. Tom Silverstein in the Milwaukee Journal:
The Green Bay Packers never had exercised a fifth-year option on one of their first-round picks since the option became part of the collective bargaining agreement in 2011.
Of course, they never had a first-rounder like safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix during that span, either.
The Packers officially picked up the fifth-year option on their Pro Bowl safety Monday, according to two sources, marking the first time the team used the tactic to add another year to their first-rounder’s contract.
The Packers had until Wednesday to decide whether to add the fifth year (2018) to Clinton-Dix’s contract.
Previously, the Packers had declined the option on Derek Sherrod (2011), Nick Perry (2012) and Datone Jones (2013), allowing each to become unrestricted free agents after four seasons. The fifth-year option is included in every first-rounder’s contract, but teams that exercise it have to guarantee a salary about four times what the player was scheduled to make in his fourth season.
As a result of the option, Clinton-Dix will receive around $6 million in 2018, all of which is guaranteed against injury. Clinton-Dix is scheduled to make $1.55 million during the 2017 season.
Meanwhile, two veteran running backs were sent packing. Michael Cohen in the Milwaukee Journal:
The Green Bay Packers decided they no longer needed running backs Christine Michael and Don Jackson after selecting three running backs in the NFL draft.
Both were informed of their release Monday morning.
The only guaranteed money the Packers will have to count against their salary cap as a result of the moves is the $25,000 signing bonus Michael received in March. Both players’ minimum-wage base salaries will be wiped off the books.
With Jamaal Williams (Round 4, Pick 134, BYU), Aaron Jones (Round 5, Pick 182, UTEP) and Devante Mays (Round 7, Pick 238, Utah State) all en route to Green Bay, what had been a barren cupboard suddenly was stocked to the brim.
The Vikings will not exercise their fifth-year option on QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER. Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY:
The Minnesota Vikings informed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on Monday they’re declining the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. But it’s not a sign of any new revelations about Bridgewater’s injured knee or setbacks in his rehab.
Bridgewater continues to make progress and is participating in voluntary conditioning work with teammates, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports.
Picking up the option wasn’t a realistic possibility at all, though, since that would have guaranteed for injury an eight-figure salary in 2018 at a time Bridgewater is still not healthy, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Also Monday, the Vikings exercised the fifth-year option on linebacker Anthony Barr’s contract.
The Vikings know well the perils of the injury-guaranteed option year. When they exercised defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd’s option last year, they couldn’t have known that complications from knee surgery in September would cause a nerve issue that now has Floyd’s career in jeopardy. They owe him $6.757 million this season regardless of whether he plays a snap.
The likely plan is for Bridgewater to start training camp and the regular season on the physically unable to perform list, buying time for him to continue recovering and allowing the Vikings to re-evaluate his status come October. If Bridgewater stays on PUP all season, his contract would toll, meaning he’d still be under contract for 2018 anyway.
The Vikings publicly have declined to put any timetable on Bridgewater’s return from the injury, which occurred Aug. 30 during practice two days before the preseason finale. His left knee dislocated, leading to a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament and other structural damage – a major injury that’d require much more recovery time than just an ACL tear.
The good news was Bridgewater didn’t suffer nerve damage, and the nerve remains a nonissue, the person said.
Days after Bridgewater’s injury, the Vikings traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford, who enters 2017 as their starter. In March, the team signed former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Case Keenum.
Flush with their success in hosting the draft, the City of Brotherly Love has bigger fish to fry now – getting the Super Bowl for the Sestercentennial. Christine Schiavo of the Allentown Morning Call:
If Philadelphia can’t get to the Super Bowl, perhaps the Super Bowl can come to the city. That’s the plan, former Philadelphia mayor and avid Eagles fan Ed Rendell told Sportsradio 94 WIP Saturday morning.
Rendell, who also is a former Pennsylvania governor, said Philadelphia will bid on the 2026 Super Bowl.
That happens to be the year the nation will mark its 250th anniversary.
What better way to celebrate the Sestercentennial than with a Super Bowl in the city where it all started?
Rendell said the city shouldn’t stop there. He suggested the MLB All-Star game also should be played in the city that year, as it was in 1976 when Philadelphia was the center of the nation’s bicentennial events.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
CB TROY HILL starts the season with a two-game suspension. Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com:
Los Angeles Rams backup cornerback Troy Hill has been suspended without pay for the first two games of the 2017 regular season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Hill won’t be eligible to return to the active roster until Sept. 18, following the Rams’ Week 2 home game against the Washington Redskins. But he can participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games until then.
The league did not specify a reason for the suspension, but Hill was arrested on suspicion of DUI the Saturday morning before the Rams’ Nov. 20 home game against the Miami Dolphins. The Rams made him inactive for that game, then later stashed him on their practice squad and didn’t activate him again until the middle of December.
During the incident, Hill was driving on an L.A. freeway at around 8 a.m. PT when his Mercedes swerved over multiple lanes and crashed into the back of a semi truck. Hill, who suffered a busted lip during the crash, was given a field sobriety test and arrested on the spot.
An undrafted free agent in 2015, Hill initially signed with the Bengals and played in spurts for the Rams last season, starting four games.
The Broncos are interested in finding out if RB JAMAAL CHARLES has anything left. Jeff Legwold at ESPN.com:
Jamaal Charles, who has caused the Denver Broncos plenty of headaches over the course of his touchdown-filled career, will meet with the Broncos on Tuesday.
If Charles passes a physical and the Broncos’ medical staff gives a favorable prognosis, the expectation is for the Broncos and Charles to try to close out a contract for the veteran running back.
Charles, 30, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in October 2015, played in just three games last season because of pain in his knees. He had just 12 rushing attempts for the season before the Chiefs put him on injured reserve in November.
Jamaal Charles, center, might be running for the Broncos instead of against them if his visit goes well Tuesday. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
He had arthroscopic surgery on both knees, which prompted the move to injured reserve. The Chiefs could have activated Charles and moved him to the active roster for their final regular-season game, but they chose not to.
They then released him after season’s end. Charles also tore his left ACL in 2011, so the Broncos’ medical staff will likely be a big voice in the decision. But the Broncos are poised to try to sign Charles, as a situational player, if they get a favorable medical report.
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News with questions concerning their first round draft pick CB GAREON CONLEY:
Gareon Conley looks you in the eye when he answers your question about what he has learned over the last few weeks.
“To keep the faith,” he says. “Have a tight support system. And never lose your faith.”
And that is all. Conley, after arriving at Raiders headquarters on Friday, utters no more words about the April 9 incident that shook up his NFL draft prospects. A woman has accused him of raping her at a Cleveland hotel that night. A police investigation is still proceeding. The Raiders decided to draft Conley anyway with the 24th overall pick of the first round because at Ohio State, he was a great cornerback who helped the Buckeyes win a national championship and a bunch of other games. Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders’ general manager, says the team has done its own inquiry into the hotel episode and is comfortable that Conley will be cleared.
“We addressed the issue last night,” McKenzie tells reporters at Conley’s first media availability as a Raider. “Let’s just talk football with Garreon, all right?”
McKenzie certainly had the right to make that request. It doesn’t mean reporters had to comply. Because one of us–okay, me–wanted to ask Conley that question, the one about what Conley had taken away from the past month’s events off the field. Would he fall back on McKenzie’s words and decline comment? No. Conley gave the direct-eye answer about faith and his support system.
So that provides a little insight. Not much. But some. Conley realizes that April 9 will be part of his resume until it is not. And until it is not, he will definitely have to answer these questions.
But so will the Raiders if they turn out to be wrong about the police investigation. In 2015, owner Mark Davis announced “an organizational effort to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault” by forging a partnership with the Fred Biletnikoff Foundation. The Raiders’ Hall of Fame receiver adopted that cause after his daughter, Tracey, was murdered by a stalker and sexual predator.
That loud and firm stand by Mark Davis is why Conley’s selection raised so many Bay Area eyebrows. It is why, no matter what the Raiders say, they will hold their breaths and hope they’re right about Conley. McKenzie seems to imply that the April 9 matter will be settled as soon as next week, with Conley facing no charges.
“I don’t want to get into all the details about who we talked to, all of that stuff,” McKenzie said after drafting Conley. “But the bottom line is we’ve done miles and miles of research to make sure we were totally comfortable with our decision, which we were.”
Gee, you know what would be really great? If, some year, an entire round of the NFL draft could be held without one team having to make at least one hold-your-breath-and-hope-you’re-right pick. Instead, players who sit through “education sessions” at their colleges about treating women with respect and avoid trouble . . . still manage to find trouble.
In the meantime, anyone can check the police report. Cleveland cops say that Conley and a 23-year-old woman were riding an elevator at approximately 3 a.m. inside the Westin Hotel. She then followed Conley to a suite. On that, all agree. After that, versions diverge.
The woman told police that when she and Conley entered the suite, Conley asked if she wished to have sex with another couple that was already in the bathroom. The woman told Conley she only wanted to watch and not have sex with anyone, including him. The report then says she and Conley walked into the bathroom before he assaulted her sexually and asked her to leave the room. Police also say they interviewed two witnesses who were in the suite–presumably, the bathroom couple–disagreed with the woman’s description of events. One witness said Conley “never touched” the woman. The other witness said the woman and Conley were “on the bed together, but nothing happened.”
Except that even if nothing happened, something happened. Here is what happened: Conley, knowing that he was just weeks away from being in position to make millions of dollars as a projected first round pick, decided to get off an elevator at 3 a.m. with a woman he evidently didn’t know–although video evidence has surfaced that they might have interacted earlier in the evening–and take her to the hotel room.
“Like I said in my statement, I could have made way better judgment,” Conley said Thursday in his conference call after being drafted, referencing a statement he had issued about the situation. “I mean, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into — but I definitely could have made a better decision.”
Whatever turns out to be true, you’d think Conley’s admitted bad judgment would be enough to give the Raiders pause. It wasn’t. Teams in the NFL have money to hire investigators and have contacts in law enforcement everywhere. So it’s not inconceivable that the Raiders do possess information that the rest of us don’t.
It is true that cases like this can melt away. Three years ago, 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick was under scrutiny for a Miami hotel incident when a woman accused him of taking advantage of her in his room. Police investigated and found no evidence to back her up, so filed no charges. But the hunch is, after that incident, Kaepernick was much more careful about his off-field life. If Conley is not after this, shame on him.
And remember, his situation is still in flux. This could get a lot worse if the Raiders are wrong and Conley must face prosecution. What would the Raiders do then? It proves once more that in the year 2017, the most valuable pre-draft person in any NFL organization is the hold-your-breath-and-hope-you’re-right assessor.
Paul Daugherty in the Cincinnati Enquirer is tired of the Bengals being the team that drafts the bad boys.
We like to think our sports teams represent who we are. It doesn’t matter how silly that sounds. It’s what we believe. These guys get paid to play games in Cincinnati, not be Cincinnatians. No matter. We want them to make us proud.
How do you feel about the Cincinnati Bengals today?
How did you feel when you saw Anthony Munoz at the podium Friday night, announcing Joe Mixon as a Cincinnati Bengal? I felt like crying.
Get on the Internet. Google “Joe Mixon punch.’’ Watch the clip. Ask yourself how you’ll feel cheering for this guy. Your guy.
When winning is all that matters, winning no longer matters.
The Bengals have forfeited any and all rights to the word “character’’ as a descriptive. They have lost all remaining sympathy from anyone who still believed Cincinnati’s miscreants were no different than any other team’s miscreants.
They have perpetuated an image and they have done it willingly. They have done it for a quarter century. At least. Mike Brown picked up Jess Phillips from prison in August 1968. Phillips had done time for check forgery. Mike drove him to training camp.
This isn’t a rant against Joe Mixon. His actions were despicable. That doesn’t make him despicable today. No one’s life should be defined by a heinous act at age 18. It’s about the Bengals. Your hometown football team.
We could list the conga line of second-chancers and probationers the Bengals have enabled over the decades. We could remind everyone that the Bengals have been a punch line for what they’ve done and who they’ve been. But you know that already.
In situations like this, a team needs to get at least half the equation right. It’s like a college football or basketball coach whose team lands in NCAA jail. If his team wins a championship by cheating, most fans would take the punishment. The Bengals haven’t won a championship.
My e-mail and Twitter exploded last night. Most writers expressed indignation. Some praised the pick. “Just win, baby,’’ one person typed. But this isn’t war. It’s not cancer. It’s football. Victory at any cost isn’t the objective. There has to be some connection greater than winning games.
We take our sports personally here. When Baseball went on strike in 1994, some of us never came back to the game. Baseball was doing this to us, and our guys were complicit. Not surprisingly, our favorite Bengals have been good people, too. Or at least that was our perception. Ken Anderson, Isaac Curtis, Reggie Williams. Dave Lapham. Boomer and Sam and so on. And Anthony Munoz, bigger than life, in all ways. These were good players who stood for something larger than winning football games.
We didn’t just embrace their football triumphs, because their teams didn’t have many of those. We embraced them as people. Especially if they stayed here after their careers were over. They were who we liked to think we were.
Think of the Big Red Machine. What’s the image? Accomplished, modest, responsible, professional, diligent. Us.
Who are the Cincinnati Bengals today?
What sort of connection do you feel with them?
Who knows the Bengals actual thinking when it came to drafting Joe Mixon. Who knows where coaches and front-office types stood. Mike Brown doesn’t like being told he can’t or shouldn’t do something. He enjoys doing the opposite. Marvin Lewis said, “I don’t know who isn’t disgusted with what they saw’’ on the restaurant video. But he made the pick, anyway.
“That’s one day in a young man’s life, and he’s had to live that since then and he will continue to have to live that,’’ Lewis said. “He gets an opportunity to move forward and write his script from then on.”
As he should. It just shouldn’t have been here.
(And by the way, the woman’s name is Amelia. Amelia Molitor. No one mentioned her Friday night. Her life matters, too. Her future counts.)
On his conference call to the media, Mixon said the punch that broke four bones in Amelia Molitor’s face and sent her to the hospital, “changed me a lot as a person, the way you think, the way you carry yourself, go about things.’’
Then last November, he tore up a parking ticket, threw it in attendant’s face and according to the complaint, “inched (his vehicle) at the officer. . . to intimidate the officer.’’
The Bengals own Joe Mixon now. They deserve everything they get.
It turns out Warren Sapp isn’t the only one with doubts about number one overall pick MYLES GARRETT. Scott Davis at BusinessInsider.com:
Shortly before the Cleveland Browns took Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the No. 1 pick, ESPN analyst and former NFL head coach Jon Gruden declared Garrett “is not the best player in the draft.”
Garrett was the consensus top pick throughout the entire pre-draft process, and sure enough, the Browns, after some reported waffling, took him with the top pick.
And while Garrett is an athletic force who wreaked havoc on offensive lines in college, Gruden believes there’s a red flag when it comes to Garrett’s effort.
“I think he has all the talent in the world,” Gruden said. “He’s a genetic freak. But he’s not the best player in this draft.”
As ESPN began showing footage of former Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis, Gruden ripped Garrett’s effort, saying he should study the intensity with which Mathis played.
“There’s just too many plays where he just doesn’t cut loose the 4.6 [40-yard dash] speed,” Gruden said, as a play of Garrett not chasing down a loose running back played on air. “He can make this play if he turns it all on. There’s just too many lapses.”
Of course, prior to Gruden’s criticism, ESPN’s draft expert Mel Kiper defended Garrett against such criticisms.
“He can play like no other when he is at 100% physically, which he wasn’t this year,” Kiper said.
“My point the last month has been, he can be as good as he wants to be. You can say, ‘Well, anyone can be as good as they want to be.’ No, they can’t. Because they don’t have freakish talent like Myles Garrett, and if he wants to be great, he can be great.”
Kiper also pointed to the higher number of downs in college football, noting that Garrett may have taken some plays off, which is not unusual. Kiper said many scouts said the same thing about Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who has been one of the NFL’s best pass rushers during his career.
There was very little competition for the No. 1 spot, meaning scouts and executives still believed that Garrett, despite any flaws, was the best player in the draft. However, at the first sight of laziness during an NFL game, people are sure to jump on him for any lack of effort.
Texas A&M’s opponents attempted 462 passes. Garrett had 8.5 sacks.
Texas A&M’s defense recorded 553 primary tackles on the season, Garrett had 18 – which ranked 12th on the team. That would appear to be about 10 tackles all season against the run or upon receivers.
He may be a freak, but his production is suspect.
By comparison, in 2010 – Von Miller had 38 primary tackles for the Aggies, 10.5 sacks.
In 2013, Jadeveon Clowney had just 3 sacks for South Carolina and 28 tackles.
– – –
Michael Silver of NFL.com was embedded with the Browns and his BFF Hue Jackson. He emerges with this (edited) report:
Now, in the hours before the draft, Brown’s strategy was settled; he might as well have been carrying a green piece of crumpled-up paper with the words “Myles Garrett No Matter What” scrawled upon it. Yet Cleveland’s opening night — and, for that matter, its entire draft — would not be devoid of drama. And when the three-day spectacle had concluded, the reviews were resoundingly positive, both inside and outside the team’s training facility.
And with good reason: Not only had the Browns become a better football team, but the power brokers charged with lifting the franchise out of a longstanding cesspool of dysfunction and futility — chiefly Brown, vice president of player personnel Andrew Berry, owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam and head coach Hue Jackson — were more aligned and mutually appreciative than they’ve ever been.
As Jackson would tell me while sitting in his office Friday afternoon, about seven hours before the start of the second round, “We’re starting to understand each other better. Sashi and his people are getting a better idea of what we as coaches are seeking, and their process is starting to make more sense to me. And Jimmy and Dee are doing a great job of making sure everyone is heard, and creating an environment where we can execute a plan without rushing things. There was a lot of passionate discussion during the pre-draft process, and there were some tense times in the war room [Thursday] night. It wasn’t easy, but I love the way we came out of it. And now we can kind of sit back and let things come to us.”
The Browns emerged from Thursday night with a trio of first-round picks who they feel can make an immediate impact — beginning with Garrett, the freakishly talented edge rusher from Texas A&M — and an extra first-round selection for 2018. On Friday, they used a second-round pick on Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, once viewed as a potential No. 1 overall selection before a rough 2016 season for the Fighting Irish. And in Saturday’s sixth round, they took a chance by drafting Florida’s Caleb Brantley, a talented defensive tackle who slid in the draft after being arrested last month for allegedly punching a woman. (Charged with misdemeanor battery, Brantley was told the Browns may later renounce his rights, pending the results of the case.)
To be honest: We can hold off on planning that Super Bowl parade. However, when the weekend had ended, there was renewed hope that the Browns, coming off a 1-15 season that exposed an alarming lack of talent, might not only be on the road to recovery, but also on a potential path to eventual prosperity.
It is no secret in NFL circles that some teams — and owners, in particular — enjoy the attention that comes from holding the No. 1 overall pick. Yet in the case of the Browns, the prolonged glare of the national spotlight during the first three months of the 2017 offseason left its share of painful singe marks.
For one thing, there was a great deal of outside skepticism about the unconventional marriage between the Brown-led front office, which espouses an analytics-heavy approach evoking comparisons to the “Moneyball” maneuverings of the early-2000s Oakland A’s, and the coaching staff directed by the emotional, instinctual and decidedly old-school Jackson. That there was internal debate about the No. 1 pick — to a far greater degree than existed in virtually any other NFL facility, with Garrett on the top of just about every (if not every) draft board — further fueled the skepticism and scrutiny.
Jackson, one of the league’s most renowned offensive strategists, had nonetheless become hell-bent on drafting Garrett, an edge rusher he viewed as a supreme centerpiece for newly hired defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ aggressive scheme. Brown and some others on the personnel side were intrigued by the talents of North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who’d grown up in nearby Mentor, Ohio; they, along with Jimmy Haslam, wondered whether he might be the answer to their longstanding run of futility at the sport’s most important position.
That nearly all of the NFL’s prominent talent evaluators and coaches believed Garrett was far and away the top player in the draft set the stage for a potential onslaught of rebuke and ridicule on draft night and beyond, should Trubisky be the pick.
“I’ve heard there is quite the battle going on!” one AFC team’s accomplished GM told me four days before the draft, in a text message typical of those I received from his counterparts across the league. “Only they could screw this up. The only exciting part will be how bad they will screw it up!”
Since January of 2016 — when Brown, a Harvard Law graduate, was promoted to become the organization’s chief decision maker on the football side — the 40-year-old EVP has provoked cynicism within NFL circles, especially after assembling a team of analytics enthusiasts that includes former baseball front-office executive Paul DePodesta. Berry, now 30, was hired away from the Indianapolis Colts, where he was trained in more traditional scouting. However, he, too, has embraced Brown’s philosophy, which heavily values draft choices and methodically building a roster without overextending.
Jackson, hired 10 days after Brown’s promotion in the wake of an impressive stint as the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator, arrived with an open mind. However, after Mack and three other starters were allowed to depart during free agency, he fielded a depleted roster that was overmatched from the outset, and a season of haplessness took an emotional toll.
There were reasons for optimism in the months that followed the 2016 campaign, beginning with the hiring of the impetuous Williams to replace the fired Ray Horton as the team’s defensive coordinator, a move that Jackson soon told me was “exactly what I needed … He’s a perfect match for me.” Then, in free agency, the Browns beefed up the interior of their offensive line, giving lucrative contracts to Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler and Packers center JC Tretter while signing holdover guard Joel Bitonio to a rich extension.
Garrett, in Jackson’s eyes, was the difference maker the defense desperately needed. And while he saw positive attributes in each of the quarterbacks regarded as the top three draft prospects — Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Trubisky — Jackson didn’t believe any of them would make nearly as big an impact.
Though that feeling wasn’t necessarily unanimous, the Browns seemed to straddle the line between debate and division. When Brown, in a press conference eight days before the draft, was asked about the reports of internal conflict, his reply was devoid of defensiveness: “Even if we all agree on a particular player or a decision, we constantly are pushing each other to think about what we are not thinking about. Our job really isn’t to agree; our job is to get decisions right.”
As the draft approached, Jackson, having already stated his opinions to Brown and Jimmy Haslam, largely insulated himself from the process. With players in for organized training activities Monday through Thursday of draft week, he threw himself into a coaching cocoon and left the draft board to Brown and his scouts. By Wednesday afternoon, their work was done — and Brown was loose and unguarded as we spoke for about 30 minutes at the team’s headquarters in Berea.
“We’ve formulated our plan, prepared for a lot of different scenarios and we’re very excited about the possibilities,” Brown said. “I’m ready to get this thing rolling. I wish we could start this thing now.”
Brown told me he knew which player he’d pick first — presumably to kick off the draft, barring a trade down — and that he’d made that decision two weeks earlier.
How many other people know? I asked.
“Probably three,” he said. “Maybe four.”
Does that include members of your family?
“I haven’t told them,” Brown insisted. “I try to keep work and family separate.”
When it came to detailing the decision-making process, Brown, who has the final say over all personnel moves, struck an inclusive tone. He said he valued Jackson’s expertise when it came to assessing players, especially at the quarterback position, an area in which the coach’s mentoring skills are renowned. “It would be foolish not to tap into that resource,” Brown said. “We are fortunate to have him to lean on.”
And while Brown said he wasn’t afraid to make choices that would be unpopular with some dissenters in the building — “If you worry about that stuff all the time,” he said, “you can become paralyzed in your process” — he also portrayed himself as anything but an autocrat.
“If you have to be right and get your way every time,” he said, “then you become one of those people we don’t hear very flattering things about.”
Naturally, Brown said he welcomed input from his bosses, which is the Haslams’ prerogative. There was a sense in league circles that part of the push for Trubisky might have been spurred by Jimmy Haslam’s enthusiasm, especially given the appealing (and marketing-friendly) storyline: local kid as franchise savior. True or not, Haslam had good reason to be sensitive about that perception. Three years earlier, after the team picked former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round, the owner shared an anecdote with an ESPN reporter about a homeless man having urged him to take the polarizing Heisman winner, creating the impression that this had influenced the selection. Given Manziel’s inglorious and immature two-year stint with the franchise, the story’s notoriety had only grown.
– – –
To Brown’s credit, he and his fellow war-room dwellers were prepared for a plethora of scenarios, largely because of the groundwork he had laid. For one thing, they had extra picks in the first and second rounds, including the 12th overall selection, the byproduct of last year’s pre-draft deal that allowed the Eagles to land quarterback Carson Wentz second overall.
In the hours before this year’s draft, I’d reported on NFL Network that the Browns had contacted at least five teams with picks in the top eight to gauge the possibility of executing a dream scenario in which Cleveland could select Garrett first overall and then trade up from 12th to get Trubisky, too. This was something that likely would have had to happen in real time, when the teams in question were on the clock, with the Tennessee Titans (fifth overall) and New York Jets (sixth) the most realistic trade partners.
That became moot when the Chicago Bears, in a move that shocked the rest of the league, traded up from third to second while the San Francisco 49ers were on the clock and took Trubisky — even though, it turned out, the Niners were not planning to take him, nor were any potential trade partners believed to have been interested in him at that spot. With the dream scenario off the table, the Browns waited to see what their options were at 12, and Brown already had created an enticing one.
After the Kansas City Chiefs traded up to 10th and selected Mahomes, the quarterback who Jackson felt had the biggest upside, that left Watson as the highest-ranked QB on Cleveland’s board. Watson, in Jackson’s eyes, was the passer best suited to play right away, but he was not the man he hoped the Browns would select with the 12th pick. Instead, he was looking to provide Williams with another potential star: Ohio State safety Malik Hooker. “To me, he has a chance to be another Ed Reed,” Jackson would tell me later. “When I coached in Baltimore, I saw firsthand what kind of impact a great safety can have.”
Yet Brown knew the Houston Texans, who had the 25th overall pick, were intent on finding a quarterback, and were willing to give up their 2018 first-round selection to move into position to snag Watson.
“We do a lot of due diligence,” Brown told me early Friday morning. “I talked to every GM in the league this week.”
So Brown and Texans GM Rick Smith made a deal for the second time in two months, having previously completed the unorthodox trade that allowed Houston to move on from 2016 free-agent signee Brock Osweiler (who’d flopped miserably) and shed his $16 million salary for this season while giving Cleveland an additional 2018 second-round pick.
After Brown, with his team on the clock, pulled the trigger on Thursday’s trade, he admitted that he became uneasy. “It was a long, long wait from 12 to 25,” he said. Jackson, too, was unnerved. The previous year, Brown had traded down repeatedly (including moving from second to eighth to 15th overall) and ended up with 14 rookies, all of whom he kept on the final, 53-man roster. However, there were precious few standouts from that draft class in Year 1, and this time, Jackson was eager to bolster the roster with difference makers.
The hope in the war room was that Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, another safety with a multi-faceted skill set (he’s a dangerous kick returner who might moonlight as a running back or slot receiver), would still be on the board at 25. Sure enough, Peppers, who’d tested positive at the NFL Scouting Combine for a dilute sample, was there for the taking. And when Brown called in the pick, there were hand-slaps and broad smiles.
What happened next was somewhat surprising: The Browns held the first pick of the second round (33rd overall), which often serves as prime trade bait, given the many hours between the end of Thursday’s first round and the start of the second round the following night. However, Brown — the Titan of the Trade-Down — went against type. With the Green Bay Packers on the clock with the 29th selection, Brown swung a deal in which the Browns gave up a fourth-round pick to move up four spots and select Miami’s David Njoku, an athletic tight end who should bolster the team’s downfield passing attack.
And yet, even though the Browns closed out the night with a trio of first-round selections and an additional first-round pick for 2018, many fans and media members remained focused on who would be throwing those downfield passes — with good reason. As Brown told me shortly after midnight on the draft’s opening night: “It’s something that we think about a lot. Until we get to the point where we can solidify that position, we’re always gonna be thinking about quarterback — frankly, it’s the most important position on our team.”
– – –
Knowing what they know now, it’s fair to wonder whether Jackson and Brown would like to take back some of their previous decisions. For example, shortly after getting hired nearly 16 months ago, Jackson set his sights on Cal’s Jared Goff, believing (as he still does, despite a choppy rookie season for the Los Angeles Rams) that he had star potential. As the owners of the second overall pick in 2016, the Browns could have traded up with Tennessee for the top selection, thus ensuring they’d land Goff. However, Jackson was blown away by former Washington starter Robert Griffin III in a private workout. After the Browns signed RGIII, Jackson became less desperate to draft Goff, and the Rams swooped in with a trade to secure the top pick.
The Browns still could have used the second pick to select North Dakota State’s Wentz, regarded as the other top quarterback prospect in the 2016 draft. However, neither Jackson nor Brown were as convinced about Wentz, nor was Brown’s analytics team (chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta said publicly the Browns didn’t believe he was a “top 20” quarterback). Instead, Cleveland shopped the pick, swinging a blockbuster deal with the Eagles. Four months later, they watched Wentz begin his career in impressive fashion, including a season-opening victory over the Browns.
Griffin, meanwhile, fractured his left shoulder in that game and missed most of what was a miserable season, especially for the star-crossed men under center. Cleveland ended up using six quarterbacks in its first seven games, including rookies Kessler (a third-round draft pick) and Hogan (drafted in the fifth round by the Chiefs), and all of them struggled. Not surprisingly, the Browns chose not to re-sign veterans Griffin and Josh McCown at season’s end.
When I asked Brown the day before the draft if he felt like he was “chasing ghosts” — in other words, trying to make up for having missed out on Goff and Wentz — he shook his head and insisted otherwise. In fairness to him, the Wentz trade is the gift that keeps on giving: thus far, the Browns have parlayed the haul they got from the Eagles into nine drafted players, with two more picks remaining in 2018.
One of those nine turned out to be Kizer, a player with some obvious attributes (size, athletic ability) whose stock plummeted as the Irish wheezed to a 4-8 record in 2016. Though it’s hard to envision him being regarded as a viable answer in 2017, he does have potential. That said, Kizer’s selection was somewhat of a surprise.
When the second round began on Friday, there was hope that Florida State running back Dalvin Cook might fall to the Browns (he didn’t, as the Vikings traded up to take him with the 41st overall pick). Williams, meanwhile, had defensive back Obi Melifonwu atop his wish list should the former UConn safety still be on the board (he was, ultimately going 56th overall to the Raiders). However, as Jackson had suggested, the Browns let the draft come to them, stayed true to their board and ended up with a quarterback they didn’t expect to be available at No. 52.
– – –
By draft’s end, it also was apparent that the Browns have made some organizational strides, with ownership, the front office, the coaching staff and the scouting department appearing more aligned. There had been collaboration and compromise, and the roster was undeniably better — and that extra first-round selection in 2018 could turn out to be a pretty significant chip. Given the collection of highly regarded quarterback prospects expected to be draft-eligible next year, the Browns know they’ll have some leverage toward positioning themselves to acquire one.
“Having that extra pick, that might turn out to be huge for us,” Jackson said. “I’m starting to appreciate how nice it is to be in that position, because it gives you options.”
In a tricky decision, the Jaguars decided to exercise their fifth-year option on QB BLAKE BORTLES. This from Jacksonville.com:
Ahead of Tuesday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline, the Jaguars announced Monday they have exercised quarterback Blake Bortles’ fifth-year contract option.
Bortles’ 2018 salary of $19.053 million will become fully guaranteed if he is on the Jaguars’ roster next March. It is also guaranteed for injury.
If the Jaguars cut him before the first day of the league year, they will owe Bortles nothing and he becomes a free agent.
“This is a smart business decision for the team for several reasons,” executive vice president Tom Coughlin said in a statement. “It makes sense for us going forward and it’s good for Blake and for the Jaguars.”
Bortles’ salary cap number this year is $6,571,983. His entire $20,654,802 contract was fully guaranteed upon signing three years ago.
The Jaguars would not have been criticized for declining the option since Bortles’ play regressed in 2016, his touchdown total falling from 35 to 23 and turnover total remaining steady (23 interceptions/fumbles in ’15 and 22 last year). Bortles’ career record is 11-34 and he has won only two road games.
“I thought it could go either way,” said Joel Corry, a former player agent who does contract and salary cap analysis for CBS Sports.
The Jaguars likely had three reasons for picking up the option.
*If Bortles’ play reaches new heights, his 2018 salary will still put him middle-of-the-pack among NFL starting quarterbacks and represent a semi-bargain.
*If the Jaguars want to keep Bortles beyond this year and don’t reach an agreement on a new contract, he is still under their control for 2018 and they can use the franchise or transition tags on another player instead of Bortles. Center Brandon Linder, linebacker Telvin Smith, cornerback Aaron Colvin and receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee are all entering the final year of their rookie contracts.
*And let’s say Bortles helps the Jaguars to an improved record (7-9 or 8-8 range). The team can let him play out 2018 instead of being boxed into a long-term extension before they really want to go that route.
Basically, the Jaguars view the option as a low-risk place-holder.
If Bortles proves he is not the answer, the Jaguars can position themselves to draft a quarterback next year or explore the free agent market.
“Bortles won’t see [the 2018 salary] with a repeat of last season,” Corry said. “If the option wasn’t picked up and he had a good season, the Jags would be looking at a franchise tag in the $23 million neighborhood.”
The franchise tag figures, if the Jaguars used the option on Robinson, Lee, Smith, Linder or Colvin, would be significantly lower.
Picking up a player’s option and then cutting him is not unprecedented. Last year, the then-San Diego Chargers picked up guard/tackle D.J. Fluker’s $8.821 million option for 2017 but released him March 7 and owed him nothing. Fluker signed a one-year, $3 million contract this off-season with the New York Giants.
More than half of the first-round draft picks in Bortles’ 2014 class have had their fifth-year options picked up. Second overall selection Greg Robinson had his declined by the Los Angeles Rams. Three players – Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel and Dominique Easley – aren’t eligible because they’ve been released. Last year, 17 first-round picks from 2013 had their options picked up.
Since the new rookie salary system was implemented in 2011, it is the first time the Jaguars have picked up a player’s fifth-year option. Blaine Gabbert (2011) was traded to San Francisco before a decision was required, Justin Blackmon (2012) is under suspension so his contract is frozen and left tackle Luke Joeckel (2013) had his option declined and he left for Seattle in free agency.
The Jaguars’ commitment to Bortles – although not the option pick-up – crystallized when they did not use any of their seven draft picks on a quarterback.
Although Coughlin has been loathed to discuss Bortles, general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone praised Bortles for his off-season approach.
After Friday’s third round, Caldwell said: “We’ve got a lot of new eyes on Blake from the new coaching staff and have gotten good feedback from those guys – guys that haven’t been around [the Jaguars] and don’t have anything vested in the kid.”
After the draft wrapped up Saturday, Marrone said: “As far as his attitude and sense of urgency … he’s come in, he’s in shape, he’s lean and it seems like he’s ready to go. I’m excited to see him on the field and see him out there throwing.”
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says he would have gone the other way:
The Jaguars waited nearly as long as they could to decide whether to pick up the fifth-year option on quarterback Blake Bortles‘ contract. Some would say they made a mistake.
That argument arises from the fact that Jacksonville has now planted a $19.05 million flag in the ground for 2018, which becomes the baseline for any long-term talks that may occur after the coming season. So if the Jaguars want to sign Bortles in 2018, he should seek a full guarantee at signing in the amount of $19.05 million for the first year and a 20-percent raise for 2019 ($22.86 million), which would be the amount of the franchise tag that year. (The quarterback tag likely would be even higher.) That’s $41.91 million, at a minimum, over two years.
Alternatively, the Jaguars could have rolled the dice, allowing Bortles to enter a contract year with the franchise tag as the worst-case scenario for 2018. With the 2017 quarterback franchise tender at $21.26 million and assuming a $12 million increase in the $167 million salary cap, the 7.1-percent increase in the cap would increase the tender by 7.1 percent, to $22.78 million for 2018.
Thus, the Jaguars are putting $19.05 million at risk in order to potentially save $3.7 million.
And here’s the true nature of the risk. With the 2018 salary guaranteed for injury only until the first day of the 2018 league year in March, the money becomes fully guaranteed for Bortles if he ends the season with an injury that keeps him from passing a physical by the middle of March.
Potential savings arise for the team only if the Jaguars and Bortles end up doing the year-to-year Kirk Cousins dance. Picking up the option delays the 44-percent spike in the player’s salary until 2021. Without the extra year on the rookie deal, Bortles would be eligible for the gigantic increase in 2020.
To realize that potential savings, the Jaguars are embracing the possibility that they’ll be stuck with the $19.05 million salary in 2018, even if after one year of the Tom Coughlin/Doug Marrone regime they decide to move on.
But don’t take our opinion for it. Express your own in the poll question below.
NEW YORK JETS
If things go as the Jets brain trust plans one of these three quarterbacks will be a starting quarterback in the NFL in 2017. In related news, the Jets have gone to 200-1 to win Super Bowl 52. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Jets didn’t draft a quarterback, passing up perhaps their biggest need and signaling that they’ll go into the 2017 season with the guys they have.
Those guys — Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg — will all get an opportunity to compete for the starting job. Jets coach Todd Bowles said after the draft that the quarterbacks’ performance in minicamps and Organized Team Activities will determine what the depth chart looks like at the start of training camp, and all three quarterbacks will get plenty of reps with the first-string offense.
“That will determine itself in OTAs and the spring, going forward, how we line up in the summer,” Bowles said, via ESPN.
Hackenberg was a second-round pick last year who never got on the field in the regular season, Petty was a fourth-round pick two years ago who hasn’t shown much, and McCown is a veteran who is probably the favorite to start because he’s the only one of the three who has ever shown himself capable of being an NFL starter.
It’s not an exciting group of quarterbacks for Jets fans, but after the draft, it appears to be the group of quarterbacks the Jets will have in the 2017 season.