The Daily Briefing Tuesday, September 4, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

52 weeks ago, few were picking the Saints, Vikings, Rams and especially the Eagles to dominate the 2017 NFC.  Try to find the predictor that chose the Jaguars to go to the AFC Championship Game. 

 

But now, Peter King is picking all four of the above to repeat as division champions.  The consensus is 2017 status quo, but we know something unexpected will happen, perhaps even the fall of the Patriots.  But what?  Danny Kelly of The Ringer goes out on some limbs in search of prediction gold:

 

Place Your Bets Week!

 

Every season, a handful of NFL teams emerge from the shadows and rise to surprise contender status. At around this time last September, one online sportsbook set the Rams’ win total over/under at 5.5. L.A. went on to win 11 games, lead the NFL in scoring, and win the NFC West. The Jaguars’ win total was set at 6.5; that squad finished 10-6, won the AFC South, and came up just short of a Super Bowl berth. After a fourth-place finish in the NFC East the year before, the Eagles went into last year with its win total set at eight—lower than 18 other teams. Philly ended up winning 13 games, and … well, you know the rest.

 

So, who will be this year’s out-of-nowhere playoff squad? A few months ago, the Texans or 49ers probably would’ve made the list, but no one’s sleeping on those teams anymore—there’s too much hype around the return of Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt in Houston and the upcoming Jimmy Garoppolo show in San Francisco. No, we’ve got to dig a little deeper to find the real surprise contenders. Here are a few bolder options for teams that could drastically outplay expectations in 2018.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Bovada over/under: 6.5 wins

Warren Sharp’s 2018 Football Preview projection: 7 wins

Football Outsiders Almanac mean projection: 7.4 wins

 

Look, I know it’s tough to get too excited about a team that’s (a) quarterbacked by Andy Dalton, (b) has averaged 6.5 wins over the past two years, and (c) finished third in its division twice in a row. But with an influx of key personnel, a little luck in the injury department, and strong performances from a couple of young players, Cincy could make a big jump this season.

 

Offensively, much of the Bengals’ struggles over the past couple of seasons can be attributed to poor performance from their formerly strong offensive line. That unit’s swift downfall was brought on by the team’s refusal to shell out the money to retain top-tier left tackle Andrew Whitworth (now with the Rams) or right guard Kevin Zeitler (now in Cleveland) and its inability to turn former high draft picks Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher into quality starters. However, the Bengals did make a few moves this offseason to address that weakness, trading for Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn, adding former Giants right tackle Bobby Hart in free agency, and drafting first-round interior lineman Billy Price, who’s slated as the starter at center after a strong preseason showing as a pass blocker. There’s still question marks at both guard spots, but the Bengals, under new offensive line coach Frank Pollack (who coached the Cowboys’ elite unit the past three seasons), have the chance to improve substantially up front.

 

Any jump there could pay enormous dividends for Dalton, who’s struggled passing under pressure for most of his career. Last year the Bengals were forced to design plays that got the ball out of Dalton’s hands quickly, and he finished with the third-shortest average time to throw last year among all regular starters (2.48 seconds). If the new-look offensive line can give Dalton an extra beat or two with which to operate, that could unlock the Bengals’ deep-passing attack: Dalton’s a strong vertical passer and has an elite pass catcher in A.J. Green to throw to downfield. And if second-year pro John Ross can stay healthy and earn himself a spot opposite Green, it’d make Cincinnati pretty daunting to match up with deep. Dalton and Ross have already had one promising connection this preseason:

 

Ross’s emergence would open up passing lanes in the intermediate areas and could provide a boost to the run game.

 

Speaking of the ground game, Joe Mixon will have a chance to make a sophomore jump as a runner (he’s been used split out wide as a receiver in the preseason, too), while Gio Bernard remains an elusive and explosive change-of-pace option. In the red zone, getting Tyler Eifert back into action could be a little bit like finding a $20 bill in your couch cushions. The big, athletic tight end hasn’t been able to stay on the field much the past few years, but did score 18 touchdowns during a 21-game stretch back in 2015 and 2016—and even if he’s playing a limited role, he’d provide Dalton with a mismatch threat in the red zone that the Bengals have been desperately missing.

 

Last season, Cincy’s offense ran a league-low 927 plays, fewer even than the glacially-paced Bears. This year, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, whose interim label was removed after the season, wants to speed things up. A former assistant under Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, Lazor’s new, faster scheme could put more stress on opposing defenses and keep them on their heels. It doesn’t hurt either that Cincy will face the eighth-easiest slate of pass defenses this year, per Warren Sharp’s 2018 Football Preview.

 

Cincinnati has the pieces to improve on defense, too. Geno Atkins is the best interior rusher in the NFL not named Aaron Donald. Carlos Dunlap is a reliable veteran off the edge. And don’t be surprised if you hear the name Carl Lawson an awful lot this year. Lawson racked up 8.5 sacks as a rookie last year while collecting 59 pressures (eighth among all 3-4 linebackers, per PFF), and looks poised for a big breakout this season. Add in Michael Johnson, Jordan Willis, and rookie Sam Hubbard, and Cincy’s got an underratedly deep defensive line.

 

In the secondary, William Jackson III looks poised to emerge as the NFL’s next shutdown corner (he gave up a 41.6 passer rating in coverage last year, second only to A.J. Bouye, and held some of the league’s best receivers in check). He’s bolstered by a pair of former first-rounders in Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard. That group will have to do more to create takeaways in 2018, as the Bengals finished with just 14 on the year, second-worst, but the talent’s there.

 

Cincinnati will have to get past the Steelers and Ravens, of course, but after two forgettable years, the Bengals could finally factor in to the playoff race in the AFC North.

 

Denver Broncos

Bovada over/under total: 7 wins

Warren Sharp’s 2018 Football Preview projection: 7 wins

Football Outsiders Almanac mean projection: 7.0 wins

 

The Broncos defense had a relative down year in 2018, but relative is certainly the operative term. After ending 2016 ranked first in Football Outsiders DVOA, Denver dropped to 10th in that metric last season—hardly a terrible performance—finishing tied for third in yards per play allowed (4.9—behind only Jacksonville and Minnesota), fourth in pass yards allowed (3,210), and first in yards per carry allowed (3.3).

 

Losing a Pro Bowl–caliber corner like Aqib Talib (traded to the Rams over the offseason) won’t help the vaunted Broncos’ “No Fly Zone” return to its former glory (in fact, it’s probably time to retire that name). But Denver still has some depth at the cornerback position: Chris Harris will bump to the outside opposite Bradley Roby on base downs, and the team has a few options in nickel situations, with recently signed veterans Tramaine Brock, Adam “Pacman” Jones (who played under Denver head coach Vance Joseph back in 2014 and 2015), and rookie Isaac Yiadom all set to vie for snaps, along with safety Su’a Cravens (acquired in a trade), who could help in “big-nickel,” three-safety situations. More important, the boost the team could get in its pass rush from rookie Bradley Chubb—who bolsters a group that already features Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray—could be more than enough to offset the loss of talent in the back end.

 

So why does it feel like the defense was such a disappointment last season? The Broncos did give up 23.8 points per game (24th) and surrender 29 passing touchdowns (28th)—but some of the blame there goes to a turnover-prone offense, whose 34 giveaways (second-worst) helped give their defense far, far too many short fields to defend. Put it this way: The Broncos defense ranked second in yards allowed per drive and three-and-outs forced per drive—but with the worst average starting field position of any defense in the league, finished 14th in points surrendered per drive.

 

So while veteran journeyman Case Keenum may not be the sexiest signing ever, he could be absolutely crucial to the team’s resurgence in 2018. Keenum doesn’t need to light it up and throw the ball all over the field; he just needs to take care of the football like he did last year for Minnesota. The former Viking threw 22 scores and just seven picks in a breakout performance, leading all quarterbacks in DVOA while registering a 1.5 percent interception rate, tied for fourth in the NFL behind Tyrod Taylor, Alex Smith, and Tom Brady (he didn’t fumble, either). Compare that to the three-headed monster Denver had at quarterback: Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch combined to throw 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, a turnover bonanza that hamstrung the entire team. Simply cutting down on turnovers could be worth an extra win or three.

 

Of course, Keenum had a great support system in Minnesota and played for a smart coordinator in Pat Shurmur, who designed a passing game that took advantage of the contested-pass talents of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Denver’s offense isn’t as complete—the offensive line remains a concern—but Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are both big-time playmakers, and Sanders in particular could be in for a bounce-back year after struggling through a high ankle sprain for most of 2017. It would help Keenum too if Denver can make a jump in the run game under rookie Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker; Freeman has looked explosive in the preseason, an element that the offense missed last year (with just eight rushes of 20-plus yards).

 

Bill Musgrave, now officially the offensive coordinator after finishing last year in an interim role, would do well to implement many of the same concepts Shurmur leaned on to help Keenum to a career year in 2017: run-pass balance, personnel and formational diversity, plenty of play-action, and some college offense concepts. Musgrave has a proven history of designing schemes that play to his quarterbacks’ best strengths; in Oakland, he incorporated spread concepts, run-pass options (some of which he picked up under Chip Kelly in Philadelphia), and plenty of deep shots to help Derek Carr post break-out seasons in 2015 and 2016. Helping matters is that, per Sharp, Denver will face the seventh-easiest schedule of opposing pass defenses this year.

 

Chris Harris, for one, is a believer in what the team’s new play-caller can do. “We used to hate going against him,” he said. “We used to call him ‘Mad Scientist’ when he was in Oakland, so [we] have a great offense. It fits Case well.”

 

Washington Redskins

Bovada over/under total: 7 wins

Warren Sharp’s 2018 Football Preview projection: 7 wins

Football Outsiders Almanac mean projection: 7.8 wins

 

Most people probably assume that Alex Smith is going to fall back to earth after putting together a career year for the Chiefs in 2017, posting 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions, averaging 8.0 yards per attempt, and registering a league-best 104.7 passer rating. But a regression is anything but a given. It’s going to take a smart plan from head coach and play-caller Jay Gruden—they may borrow a few concepts from the Chiefs’ scheme—and Smith will need mismatch tight end Jordan Reed to play most of the year, but the wily veteran passer proved last year he has the upside of a top-10 quarterback, throwing with the type of aggressiveness and confidence he lacked earlier in his career.

 

Smith had elite playmakers around him in Kansas City, but it’s not like he’s going to a talent-barren scheme in Washington. In addition to Reed, Smith will be throwing to one of the most dynamic slot receivers in the game in Jamison Crowder, a field-stretching contested-ball specialist in Paul Richardson, an elusive open-field missile in running back Chris Thompson, and, if he can finally break out in Year 3, a jump-ball red zone threat in Josh Doctson. He’ll be playing behind a very talented line (which should improve in 2018 after being racked by injury last year). And while the loss of rookie running back Derrius Guice to an ACL tear certainly doesn’t help, Smith will be handing off to a slimmed-down Rob Kelley and a 33-year-old Adrian Peterson, who sure looked like he’s got some gas left in the tank in last week’s preseason action.

 

One changeup for Smith this year, though, is that he might have the luxury of leaning on a strong defense too. Washington’s quietly built what could be the most underrated defensive line in the game: On the inside, they’ve got Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Stacy McGee, and rookies Daron Payne and Tim Settle; and off the edge, we see Ryan Kerrigan (13.0 sacks, three forced fumbles, one pick last year), Preston Smith (8.0 sacks), Anthony Lanier (5.0 sacks), Ryan Anderson (who may play a little bit inside), and Pernell McPhee. That group is promising, and will have a little insurance downfield in shutdown corner Josh Norman. Washington finished last season 11th in defensive DVOA, and with more pressure and improved run defense up front, they could make a jump to the league’s elite.

 

One issue for Washington is a very tough schedule. The Redskins draw the ninth-toughest slate, per Sharp, with home matchups against the Packers, Panthers, Falcons, Texans, and division-rival Eagles, and road tilts against the Saints, Jags, and Titans. It’s anything but an easy road, but Washington’s got the pieces to surprise some people.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Riley McAtee of The Ringer on the Bears going for it now:

 

The Bears are the latest team, after the Eagles, Rams, and Seahawks, to realize that a quarterback on a deflated rookie contract is the greatest asset in football. Mitchell Trubisky will have a cap hit of less than $10 million in each of the next three seasons, while Raiders QB Derek Carr will top $20 million every year in that span. That’s a big reason why the Bears can afford Mack and why the Raiders had to trade him.

 

Mack will immediately improve the Bears defense. His accolades speak for themselves: He was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, has been named a first-team All-Pro twice in four seasons, and had 40.5 sacks to his name. As Ringer colleague Robert Mays pointed out last year, Mack is an expert at using the “long arm” to gain leverage over tackles, and Kevin Clark wrote in December 2016 about how Mack mastered the fundamentals of the position. Mack is one of the best players in all of football, full stop.

 

The Bears can now build their defense around Mack and first-round linebacker Roquan Smith and have solid contributors in cornerback Kyle Fuller, defensive end Akiem Hicks, linebacker Leonard Floyd, and a few others. The defense ranked 14th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA last year, and with Mack on board, it could be in position to make a jump to the NFL’s elite on that side of the ball.

 

The move is the biggest sign yet that the Bears are going all in while Trubisky is still a bargain. The team signed wide receiver Allen Robinson, tight end Trey Burton, and wideout Taylor Gabriel in free agency as the offense retools under new head coach Matt Nagy. The team also drafted receiver Anthony Miller in the second round, and he’s already showing promise. On defense, veteran corner Prince Amukamara was the Bears’ only notable signing, but they needed less help there than on offense.

 

The Bears now have to get a deal done with Mack, and once they do, the spotlight will turn to Trubisky. The UNC product threw for just seven touchdowns against seven picks with a 77.5 passer rating as a rookie, but the Bears are building around him. They’ll need him to make a Jared Goff–like leap in the next season or so, because while building around a cheap QB contract is a nice, that strategy only works if the quarterback is effective, and Trubisky just wasn’t in 2017. But there’s reason to believe that’ll happen: Trubisky was playing under an archaic scheme last year, while Nagy will no doubt bring a more forward-looking approach from Kansas City.

– – –

LB ROQUAN SMITH may have held a long holdout, but it looks like he will play in the opener.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Bears have a shiny new toy on defense now, so it takes some of the shine off Roquan Smith.

 

But their first-round pick is also on track to play some role in Sunday’s opener against the Packers, after missing most of training camp and the preseason following his protracted contract negotiation and a hamstring strain.

 

“There hasn’t been a setback,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said of Smith, via Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune. “He’s been going well. Again, let’s keep being cautiously optimistic with him. But we like where he’s at.”

 

Nagy acknowledged that Smith might not be ready for an every down role, after getting such a limited amount of work in the preseason.

 

“Who knows? It could be the entire game. It could be 10 plays. I don’t have that answer,” Nagy said.

 

After showing up for camp 29 days late, Smiuth got six practices in before his left hamstring strain. He hasn’t practiced fully since. It would probably get more attention, except the Bears acquired some guy named Khalil Mack, who is definitely expected to have a role, even though he hasn’t participated in the preseason either.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

After one year, the Giants have admitted to a mistake with Cal QB DAVIS WEBB in 2017.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com on their QB outlook:

 

The Giants made it clear when they didn’t use the second overall pick in the draft on a quarterback that they still considered Eli Manning their quarterback of the immediate future.

 

But any succession plan they might have had went away when they cut 2017 third-rounder Davis Webb, leaving an odd lot of backups and journeyman workouts on the way.

 

“At this point, we do [have one] right now,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said, via Howie Kussoy of the New York Post, when asked of the importance of a post-Manning plan. “It’s just not what everyone outside our building predicted what the plan was.”

 

It’s clear that Shurmur and new General Manager Dave Gettleman just didn’t think Webb was any good, as they booted him to leave them with rookie Kyle Lauletta and Alex Tanney, while they work out Matt McGloin. Nothing about that suggests that they’re thinking down the line.

 

Then again, the 37-year-old Manning has been durable, and by using the second pick on Saquon Barkley and paying Odell Beckham, it’s obvious they thought the best plan was to insulate him with parts to make him productive right now.

 

Even for the short term, Shurmur wasn’t very forthcoming about Manning’s backup, though from his comments it doesn’t seem like it would be Lauletta. That suggests either the 30-year-old Tanney (and his one game of NFL experience) or McGloin might be in that role.

 

“Here’s the thing with a veteran backup quarterback: They can go in and function with very few reps,” Shurmur said. “I think that’s an attribute that I look for in a guy that could potentially be a backup to a guy like Eli, because they don’t get that many reps during the training sessions.”

 

And considering Manning only needed time off when a since-fired coach made a bad decision, they’re hoping they don’t have to worry too much about that spot.

 

The DB is not surprised that Lauletta was thought to be a better prospect than Webb.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The Cardinals tout a “major” press conference for this morning, but based on this, we will wait until tomorrow to tell you about it.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Cardinals announced on Monday that they will be holding a “major” press conference at 11 a.m. local time on Tuesday, but the topic remains unknown.

 

One potential major announcement in Arizona would be a new contract for running back David Johnson, who is in the final year of his rookie deal and has expressed interest in extending his working relationship with the team. Such an announcement will have to wait, however.

 

PFT has learned, via a league source, that Tuesday’s press conference is not about a new deal for Johnson.

 

Longtime Cardinals reporter Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic made his own prediction Monday night that the press conference will concern naming rights for the Cardinals stadium. The University of Phoenix purchased naming rights in 2006, but terminated the deal last year.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

For S ERIC BERRY, it seems especially inauspicious that he is questionable with a “heel” injury.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Chiefs safety Eric Berry has not played in a game since Week One of the 2017 season and it remains unclear if that will change this weekend.

 

Berry has been out of practice for three weeks because of a sore heel, which is the same injury that hindered him last summer before he tore his Achilles against the Patriots in the opener. Head coach Andy Reid sounded optimistic notes about Berry about a week into his absence, but gave a vaguer answer on Monday.

 

“We’ll see,” Reid said, via the Kansas City Star. “It’s day-to-day. We’ll see how it goes.”

– – –

Sarah Spain of ESPN.com has a long takeout on the search by Chiefs RB coach Deland McCullough for his birth family here.  Early in the piece, we learn that his adoptive mother lived in Youngstown, Ohio and that the birth mother was 16-year-old Carol Briggs of Pittsburgh who never told the biological father about the pregnancy.

 

So the mystery is who is that biological father – and if you don’t want to know yet, avert your eyes.  Here is the first big hint, halfway through the piece when McCullough was in high school:

 

As a junior defensive back, Deland saw himself playing football at a small school or enlisting in the Navy, but an opportunity to show his talent at the running back position his senior year drew the eye of college recruiters. Suddenly, he was being pursued by the likes of Jim Tressel, then the head coach at Youngstown State; Bob Stoops, then the defensive backs coach at Kansas State; and Sherman Smith, then the running backs coach at Miami of Ohio.

 

DELAND MCCULLOUGH LOOKED out the window of his third-period English class at Campbell Memorial High School and saw a tall man emerge from a candy apple red Mercedes-Benz with tan interior and tricked-out gold rims. A few minutes later, he got a pink slip message to leave class and go to the office, where the tall man stuck out his hand and said, with a firm handshake, “I’m Sherman Smith, the running backs coach at Miami University.”

 

A former star quarterback at Miami, Smith was a second-round draft pick at running back for the Seahawks and went on to play eight years in the NFL. He had a booming voice, thick arms and broad, square shoulders. He walked and talked and carried himself like a former pro; McCullough was immediately drawn to him.

 

“It was just something about his personality,” McCullough says. “The way he presented himself. He had things that I hadn’t seen out of a man or mentor. He was on top of his details. He was successful. He had played in the NFL. He got his degree. I wasn’t around that type of person.

 

“The Mercedes was nice, too, you know?” he laughed. “That was slick.”

 

As a Youngstown native himself, Smith thought guys from the area were tough, but the coaches told him McCullough was special — a thin kid, but when he couldn’t run around people, he’d go through them. McCullough was serious that day in the office, offering few smiles and answering with a lot of “Yes, sir” and “No, sir,” but he was also intelligent and expressive. Smith thought he’d very much like to work with him.

 

The feeling was mutual. Despite interest from other schools, the decision to attend Miami University was easy for McCullough, especially after the home visit, during which Smith charmed Comer as well.

 

“Well, Coach Smith was hard not to love,” Comer says, laughing. “I fell in love with him the first time. He was just a gentleman. And he was very attentive and respectful to me.”

 

Smith drove them to visit the school and was back at Campbell Memorial a few months later for signing day, when McCullough signed his letter of intent to play at Miami. When McCullough arrived on campus, the coaches tried to turn him into a wide receiver, but he pushed for an opportunity to work with Smith and the running backs, accepting a redshirt freshman year to pursue the position he believed he was meant to play.

 

“I would tell the players, ‘You may not be looking for a father, but I’m going to treat you like you’re my sons,'” Smith says. “And so I just looked at every guy like my son. I just wanted to be a positive role model for Deland and exemplify what I thought my father exemplified for me.”

 

“He was everything,” McCullough says. “If anything was going on, I was going to talk to Coach Smith. Everybody in that room gravitated towards Coach Smith just because that’s the type of person he was. What he’s about rubs off on you, so I always wanted to be around that.”

 

Smith left Miami University after that season to be the tight ends coach at the University of Illinois, but he and McCullough stayed in touch. He watched from afar as McCullough put together a Hall of Fame career in Oxford, rushing 36 touchdowns and setting a school record with 4,368 rushing yards. McCullough was surprised when his name wasn’t called in the 1996 draft, but he was invited to a few workouts and ended up signing with the Bengals. He was leading the NFL in preseason rushing before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Cincinnati’s final exhibition game. After a few more looks in the NFL, a couple of seasons in Canada, several more knee surgeries and a brief flirtation with the XFL, McCullough finally accepted in 2001 that the dream of pro football was over.

 

And the big reveal, years later:

 

McCullough was overjoyed to find his birth mother, though a mother had never been what he was missing.

 

“Within probably the first five or six minutes, he says, ‘Who is my father?'” Briggs says.

 

She took a breath. She had probably told only three people the man’s name. After making the decision to not tell the father all those years ago, she had been determined to never let him learn of the baby years later because of careless gossip.

 

She hesitated but decided McCullough had a right to know.

 

“Your father’s name is Sherman Smith,” Briggs told him.

 

McCullough, leaning against a wall in the hallway, felt as though he might pass out.

 

He started flashing back to all of his memories with Smith and all the times people had joked about him being a carbon copy of his coach. Throughout college, when he returned to coach at Miami University, during his internship with the Seahawks.

 

“‘Man, you and Coach Smith look alike.’ ‘Man, you all walk alike.’ ‘Y’all this, y’all this,'” McCullough says. “There’s no reason to connect those dots because you weren’t even thinking about them. A sense of pride that went through me, like, ‘Wow, that explains these things.’ And then I also start thinking about all the similarities of our path. That just blew me away.”

 

Not only had he known his father for 28 years, but Smith was also his mentor, the man he had looked up to since he was 16 years old. McCullough thought of a photo of him and Smith at Campbell Memorial High, both beaming as he signed his letter of intent to play at Miami University. The same photo he had pinned to the corkboard that hung in his college dorm room. The same photo that was at that moment sitting in a Ziploc bag in the drawer of his nightside table, a bag that had traveled with him through every job and every move.

 

“If you would have told me to pick who my father was, there’s no way I would have picked him because I might have thought I wasn’t worthy for him to be my father,” McCullough says. “I felt like my blessings came full circle because I’d always wanted to be somebody like him.”

 

Now you know the rest of the story.  But please read the rest of the piece for how Smith found out.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Violence in Baltimore has cost a Ravens rookie a chance to hook up with another NFL team.  Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com

 

Undrafted rookie Kaare Vedvik would be kicking in the NFL this season if not for the head injuries he suffered Saturday in a late-night incident in Baltimore City, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

 

Baltimore City Police said Vedvik was found at approximately 4 a.m. ET on Saturday suffering from “upper body injuries” but could not confirm how his injuries occurred. Vedvik, 24, a native of Norway, was sent to Maryland Shock Trauma and is now listed in stable condition.

 

“It was disappointing for him because I think it cost him a chance to kick in this league,” Harbaugh said Monday. “He would’ve had a shot. There were plenty of trade talks.”

 

Vedvik was 8-of-9 (89 percent) on field goals in the preseason, hitting a 56-yarder in Thursday’s preseason finale. He repeatedly hit long field goals in training camp, but he didn’t have a shot to make the Ravens because of Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history.

 

Teams were showing interest in Vedvik entering the final preseason, game, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Harbaugh visited Vedvik in the hospital on Sunday, along with vice president of security Darren Sanders.

 

“He told what he could remember what happened. it’s not up to me to get into the details of that,” Harbaugh said. “He’s trying to remember as best he can. I think they’re trying to piece some of it together based on some video stuff.”

 

Vedvik’s face remains swollen and was “kind of stitched up,” Harbaugh said.

 

“We’re just grateful and I think he’s very thankful that he’s OK,” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to be fine. That’s the most important thing.”

 

The Ravens will keep Vedvik on the non-football injury list. He can train at the team facility once he recovers.

 

Vedvik will also serve as a lesson to the younger players.

 

“My dad said, ‘Nothing good ever happens after midnight.’ And it was well after midnight,” Harbaugh said. “So, we’ll be talking to the young guys next year. Be a little smarter. Be more aware of your surroundings. Don’t be by yourself. Understand that there are people out there that have maligned intentions, especially when you’re a young guy and maybe even if you’re a Raven football player.”

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Mike Rodak of ESPN.com defends the decision of the Bills braintrust to start QB NATHAN PETERMAN.

 

The Buffalo Bills’ decision to start Nathan Peterman in their regular-season opener Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens will be mocked by some, much like Bills coach Sean McDermott was jeered for his call to start Peterman in a disastrous 54-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last season.

 

At first glance to those who only know Peterman for his five-interception starting debut last November, the move looks odd.

 

The Bills are starting Nathan Peterman? Really?

 

Really. To anyone who has watched the entire Bills preseason and followed training camp closely, it should not come as much of a surprise.

 

Trading Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns in March, signing AJ McCarron as a free agent and then trading up in April’s draft to select Josh Allen with the No. 7 overall pick led some to assume the starting race this season was between McCarron and Allen. To some, Peterman was an afterthought, his career permanently tainted by his performance in one game last season.

 

Indeed, Peterman’s 2017 season could not have gone much worse. Out of 52 quarterbacks who threw at least 40 passes last season, Peterman ranked last in Total QBR and interception percentage, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He also finished with a 49 percent completion rate (51st) and averaged 5.1 yards per pass attempt (50th).

 

Peterman, a fifth-round pick in 2017, still faces an uphill battle to become a successful NFL quarterback. Few late-round quarterbacks ever become established NFL starters, and Peterman will eventually lose his job to Allen in Buffalo. The Bills did not spend upward of a first-overall pick in draft capital to take Allen only to have him sit behind Peterman for an extended period.

 

But in the short term, Peterman made the most sense to McDermott, who was involved in drafting Peterman last year.

 

McDermott praised Peterman for his maturity late last season, saying the then-rookie quarterback had a “set of core values” and “great support” from his family and wife. Peterman further impressed McDermott in their exit interview after the season by presenting his coach with a detailed plan for his offseason, something that McDermott cited in explaining why Peterman is a “DNA” fit for his team. In June, McDermott came to Peterman’s defense by saying he did not get enough credit for starting in a December win over the Indianapolis Colts, while calling him a “winner.”

 

General manager Brandon Beane, who was hired after Peterman was drafted last year, has also lauded Peterman for being “super smart,” noting that he performed well in meeting-room quizzes by new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

 

The Bills clearly hold Peterman in a high regard despite his being written off in some circles after his five-interception disaster last season. McDermott gave Peterman every opportunity to win the starting job by having him split first-team reps with McCarron beginning with organized team activities in May and continuing into training camp this August.

 

It was Peterman’s strong performance in OTAs and June minicamp that led to my prediction in June that Peterman should be considered a serious contender to start, and Peterman’s statistics this preseason did little to slow that momentum. He finished the preseason 33-of-41 passing for 431 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, including a 9-of-10 stat line when leading the Bills’ first-team offense against the Carolina Panthers’ first-team defense.

 

From OTAs in May through Peterman’s final preseason appearance Aug. 26, there were no meltdowns and few errant passes that would suggest he has not recovered from what was one of the worst starting quarterback debuts in NFL history.

 

That steadiness made Peterman the best choice to at least begin to navigate a schedule for the Bills that includes five out of their first eight games on the road before Buffalo hosts the New England Patriots on “Monday Night Football” in Week 8.

 

McDermott’s mistake in starting Peterman last season on the road against the Chargers should be reason for McDermott to turn to Peterman again to start this season instead of Allen, a rookie.

 

While McDermott’s call to bench Taylor for Peterman might have come out of the blue to some outside of Buffalo, the idea had been hotly debated around town since Peterman showed flashes of potential last preseason and in leading the Bills on a touchdown drive late during a blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints a week prior to starting in Los Angeles.

 

McDermott faced pressure from some segments of the fan base in turning to Peterman last year, much like some Bills fans will be upset Allen is not the opening-day starter after he wowed fans with his arm strength and pocket presence at times this preseason.

 

But overall, Allen’s body of work from spring practices through the preseason was not nearly as consistent as Peterman’s. Throwing Allen into the fire during a road-heavy first-half schedule and behind an offensive line that allowed Allen to be sacked five times during his lone preseason start Aug. 26 would be a recipe for trouble and, perhaps, grumbling in the locker room.

 

Like last season, the Bills have one of the oldest opening-day rosters in the NFL. Even though some consider Buffalo to be in rebuilding mode, the reality is the team made the playoffs last season and owes it to veterans such as defensive tackle Kyle Williams, defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander to do their best to get back to the postseason.

 

Allen clearly has a higher ceiling than Peterman, and if the Bills are going to eventually become Super Bowl contenders, it probably will be with Allen and not Peterman under center. But the floor for Allen, especially as a rookie making the jump from Wyoming to the NFL, is lower than that of Peterman.

 

If McDermott started Allen to begin this season and was forced to bench him to satisfy a cultural need around the team to win and not simply develop for the future, it would be difficult to turn back to Allen.

 

Since 2007, no quarterback selected in the first round has ever recovered from being benched to again become a full-time starter.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

NIKE SIDES WITH KAEPERNICK

The DB believes that one of the reasons that no NFL team has employed Colin Kaepernick is not so much the personal prejudice of the individual owner, but the sense (perhaps the research to back it) that he is toxic to the brand on any NFL team that signs him and not worth the hit as a player whose skills are worthy of a contract, but no longer of a level to make a positive difference towards winning.

 

If he were a baseball player he would have a minimal WAR, but at a significant cost to your relationship with your local police force, many of your sponsors, many fans.  Baltimore backed away when confronted with this, as did even Seattle.

 

But Nike has either decided that the reaction will be different for them or they have decided that their market is different.  This from the Washington Examiner:

 

Sportswear company Nike is making expelled NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick the face of its 30th annual Just Do It campaign, according to a tweet the athlete posted Monday afternoon.

 

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #Justdoit,” Kaepernick tweeted along with a photo of an image from the ad campaign.

 

“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand for North America, told ESPN.

 

As the official face of Nike, Kaepernick joins a small group of others who have held the coveted position, including Serena Williams, LeBron James, Odell Beckham Jr., and Shaquem Griffin.

 

Fisanotti said the campaign is specifically directed at 15- to 17-year-olds.

 

“We wanted to energize its meaning and introduce ‘Just Do It’ to a new generation of athletes,” Fisanotti added.

 

Kaepernick has been on Nike’s payroll since 2011, but had not been used as a spokesman or model in two years since his controversial move to take a knee when the national anthem was played at the start of football games.

 

The then-San Francisco 49ers player said the move was meant to protest racial injustice. Other players on other teams began kneeling, too, and Kaepernick became known as the father of the movement.

 

President Trump slammed Kaepernick for not showing patriotism and pressured the NFL to take punitive action. No team signed him as a free agent ahead of the 2017 season. Kaepernick sued the NFL owners on grounds of collusion to keep him out.

 

Kevin Draper and Ken Belson of the New York Times provide insight into Nike’s thought, including the fact that the company apparently did not consult the NFL.

 

Colin Kaepernick, the former N.F.L. quarterback who inspired a player protest movement but who has been out of a job for more than a year, has signed a new, multiyear deal with Nike that makes him a face of the 30th anniversary of the sports apparel company’s “Just Do It” campaign, Nike confirmed on Monday.

 

The first advertisement from Nike, one of the league’s top partners, debuted Monday afternoon, when Kaepernick tweeted it, assuring that his activism and the protest movement against racism and social injustice he started would continue to loom over one of the country’s most powerful sports leagues.

 

Nike will produce new Kaepernick apparel, including a shoe and a T-shirt, and if the merchandise sells well, the value of the deal will rival those of other top N.F.L. players, according to people close to the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because Nike had not formally announced it. Nike will also donate money to Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights” campaign.

 

The N.F.L. did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The ad and the campaign, coming a few days before the start of the N.F.L. season on Thursday, is likely to annoy the league’s top executives and its owners. On Thursday, Kaepernick won a victory in his grievance against the league when an arbitrator let his case, in which he accuses the league of conspiring to keep him off the field because of his activism, advance.

– – –

Kaepernick and Nike already had an endorsement deal, dating to when he entered the league in 2011, but it was expiring soon and has now been extended.

– – –

When asked if Nike had run the campaign by the N.F.L., a spokeswoman, Sandra Carreon-John, responded: “Nike has a longstanding relationship with the N.F.L. and works extensively with the league on all campaigns that use current N.F.L. players and its marks. Colin is not currently employed by an N.F.L. team and has no contractual obligation to the N.F.L.”

 

The new contract was negotiated by Kaepernick’s lawyers, Mark Geragos and Ben Meiselas, and Nike executives.

– – –

Nike’s decision to make new Kaepernick merchandise and to make him the face of a campaign could, if they are successful for the company, undercut the argument from N.F.L. owners that he is bad for business. Previously, Nike stated that it “supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society,” but the company had not used Kaepernick in any recent ad campaigns.

 

There is reason to believe that Kaepernick, despite not playing, will move merchandise. During the second quarter of 2017, his officially licensed jersey was the 39th-best selling in the league. As an unsigned free agent, he was the only player in the top 50 of those rankings not signed to a team.

 

With Kaepernick seemingly having little chance of playing in the N.F.L. again, Geragos was eager to try to portray him as something more than a football player.

 

“I give Nike credit for understanding that he’s not just an athlete, he has become an icon,” Geragos said.

 

We wondered if Geragos had used the word “icon” correctly.  Presumably, he meant this definition – : an object of uncritical devotion : idolPerhaps there are some who view Kaepernick in this fashion, some.

– – –

Yet this happened earlier this year per CNN Money:

 

The two brands announced on Tuesday that they would be extending their partnership for another eight years. The new deal will take place when the current one expires in 2020 and will run through 2028.

 

As part of the deal, Nike will set up all 32 teams with game-day uniforms and sideline apparel that bears the swoosh logo.

 

Nike will also provide gear to the NFL players it has individual contracts with, including two of its newest signs: Top rookie prospects Saquon Barkley and Baker Mayfield.

 

“Nike has been a long-time and trusted partner of NFL and we’re thrilled to extend our relationship with them,” said Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer.

 

“The NFL and Nike are a powerful combination and we anticipate working closely with them on several programs, including youth and player initiatives,” he said.

 

With this deal, Nike solidifies its role as the official game-day uniform supplier for both the NFL and the NBA.

 

In the word/words of Mr. Spock, “Fascinating.”  Marketing to 15-to-17 year olds on one hand, but thinking it won’t affect the total sale of jerseys on the other.

 

As one might imagine, Clay Travis – whose new book is “Republicans Buy Sneakers Too” – has an opinion:

 

@Clay Travis

This is the dumbest move @nike has ever made in the history of its brand.

 

@ClayTravis

This is also why having people with different opinions in your board room matters more than having people who look different, but all think the same. This will be a PR disaster for Nike. Insanely dumb.

 

@ClayTravis

I’d also like to thank @nike for ensuring my new book, “Republicans Buy Sneakers Too,” has the perfect title and book cover. It’s like Nike PR is trying to make me rich(er). Absolutely fabulous.

 

@ClayTravis

Hey @nike “sacrificing everything” to “believe in something” is dying while serving your country to defend all our freedoms. It isn’t getting paid millions to star in your advertising campaign. Pathetic.

 

More from John Hindreker at PowerlingBlog.com:

 

Nike has chosen the star of its 30th anniversary #JustDoIt advertising campaign: Colin Kaepernick. At first glance, it seems weird for an athletic shoe company to select as its corporate icon someone who is no longer an athlete, and was never a star. At second glance, it gets weirder:

 

Nike apparently thinks Kaepernick has sacrificed everything, which tells you something about 21st century corporate America. Kaepernich is a multimillionaire whose “sacrifice” consisted of kneeling during the National Anthem, wearing socks depicting police officers as pigs, and generally denouncing his country. Which has led to a second career as a leftist spokesman. That is not exactly a contender in the annals of Greatest Sacrifice Ever.

 

Further, Nike’s tag line, “Believe in something,” naturally raises the question: Does it matter what you believe in? Any normal person would say that it does. After all, the worst monsters in human history–Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Nero, Hitler, Amin, bin Laden, Castro–all believed in something. It was just the wrong thing.

 

ESPN has paid a price for taking Kaepernick’s side in the culture wars and is now trying to backpedal to the middle to re-build its brand.  Interestingly, as of Monday morning, the DB sees nothing about Nike’s choice at ESPN.com.

 

Even CNN’s Nathaniel Meyersohn seems puzzled by Nike following in that networks footsteps and taking sides.

 

Four days before a new NFL season gets underway, Nike is throwing its weight behind one of the most polarizing figures in football, and America: former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

 

Kaepernick will be one of the faces of Nike’s 30th anniversary commemoration of its iconic “Just Do It” slogan. The campaign will also feature athletes such as Serena Williams, NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and Shaquem Griffin, a rookie linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks whose left hand was amputated when he was a child.

 

Kaepernick tweeted out a photo from the campaign on Monday. Over a black-and-white picture of his face, a caption reads, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

 

In backing Kaepernick, whom the company has sponsored since 2011, Nike is making a high-stakes gamble that its customers support his protest, or at least that enough of them do. The company is also betting its brand can withstand criticism from conservative corners, including the White House.

 

Nancy Armour of USA Today seems to reflect an attitude that will soon be prevalent in the media – that if Nike doesn’t think Kaepernick is poison to their brand, surely the NFL should do “the right thing” and designate a team to sign him and get back on the proper side of history.

 

Decades from now, when Americans look back at the NFL player protests and wonder how anyone could have seen them for anything but the plea for equality they are, Colin Kaepernick’s new Nike ad will be one the enduring images.

 

For two years now, the NFL and its owners have desperately tried to silence Kaepernick and the movement he began. They blackballed the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and teammate Eric Reid. They threatened to fine or cut the players who joined them in protest. They created a ridiculous policy that only served to confuse matters more.

 

And for what? To go down on the wrong side of history? Because that’s how future generations will see it, as the Nike ad released Monday made clear.

 

“Believe in something,” the tagline reads. “Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

 

This is not some small, left-leaning company that has decided Kaepernick is on the side of angels in this fight. It is one of the world’s largest conglomerates, a setter of trends and arbiter of what’s cool.

 

And it is one of the NFL’s biggest partners, the official apparel company of the league.

 

For Nike to choose Kaepernick sends a message even Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones cannot ignore. This is bigger than a hot-button issue in an election season, bigger than a segment of fans who choose to be angrier at the method of protest than the message behind it.

 

This is about America, and whether we actually honor the ideals we champion or simply pay lip service to those notions of liberty and justice for all.

 

While the NFL and its owners have been trying to contain the issue, Kaepernick and the other players have been playing the long game. The civil rights protests were wildly unpopular when they were occurring — go back and research the polls and opinions of the time — but are now viewed as righteous and essential to our ongoing struggle for equality. The NFL protests will be viewed much the same way through the lens of history.

 

Nike has recognized as much, betting a very large and prominent endorsement deal that Kaepernick will one day be seen much like Muhammad Ali. A rabble rouser who outraged the establishment in his heyday, Ali eventually became a widely admired and influential figure once society caught up.

 

Cynics will say this is simply a marketing ploy for Nike, a way to capitalize on an issue everyone is already talking about. Perhaps. But that doesn’t lessen the burden on the NFL.

 

Or the stakes.

 

The league can continue to dither, trying to appease everyone while pleasing no one, and be remembered as an organization that put expedience ahead of equality. Or it can be bold.

 

By signing Kaepernick — and I mean a team giving him a legitimate chance to compete, not hiding him on the depth chart as a No. 3 quarterback — the NFL can tell the entire country that fighting for a truly equal society is a fight worth having. That while it recognizes the passions the player protests have produced, there is nothing dishonorable about holding our country to account.

 

There will be some backlash, sure. Just as some folks angered by Nike’s stance will no doubt express their outrage with their wallets, refusing to buy shoes, shirts or anything else with a swoosh on it.

 

So be it.

 

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, especially in the moment. But this moment, and who stood for what during it, will be remembered for generations to come.

 

It’s time to take a stand, NFL. Go ahead and do it.

 

Early reaction from the markets.

 

Nike Inc. (NKE – Get Report) shares traded lower Tuesday after the sportswear giant unveiled a new advertizing campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, a former NFL quarterback who inspired a series of nation-wide protests against police brutality and social injustice but courted controversy by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem.

– – –

Nike shares were marked 1.83% lower from their Friday close in pre-market trading, indicating an opening bell price of $80.69 each, a move that would still leave the stock with a year-to-date gain of around 30%.

 

Let the record show NKE was trading above $82 at the time of the announcement.

 

This early reaction tracked in the Washington Post:

 

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” read a teaser for an ad Kaepernick tweeted.

 

Some Kaepernick critics took that to mean sacrificing their Nike products.

 

Immediately, some people began posting pictures of socks and shoes being defaced or destroyed, or declaring they would be soon switching allegiances to Adidas, Brooks or Converse. (Nevermind that Nike owns Converse.)

 

Country star John Rich showed off a pair of Nike logos that had been removed from his soundman’s socks.

 

John Rich

@johnrich

 Our Soundman just cut the Nike swoosh off his socks. Former marine. Get ready @Nike multiply that by the millions.

 

Video of a pair of shoes being burned went viral.

 

Sean Clancy

@sclancy79

 First the @NFL forces me to choose between my favorite sport and my country. I chose country. Then @Nike forces me to choose between my favorite shoes and my country. Since when did the American Flag and the National Anthem become offensive?

 

The anti-Nike puns came next.

 

“Just Don’t,” posted one Instagram user.

 

“Just Blew It,” posted another.

 

Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com delves into the Nike mind.

 

Last spring, when NFL team owners were privately battling the collusion case brought against the league by former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a curious debate began in some corners of the multibillion-dollar sports apparel industry.

 

It orbited around two questions: Was Kaepernick a sleeping giant as a marketing centerpiece; and if he was, why wasn’t Nike doing anything with him?

 

In the wake of Kaepernick’s new endorsement deal with Nike, which stands to pay him millions per year plus royalties, at least part of that debate has been resolved. The shoe and clothing giant definitely has big plans for Kaepernick, which one insider told Yahoo Sports includes a line built around him encompassing shoes, shirts, jerseys and other apparel.

 

Other suitors for Colin Kaepernick

Whether that gamble pays off remains to be seen. But Nike apparently wasn’t the only shoe company that eyed a larger platform for Kaepernick. Industry insiders told Yahoo Sports that Adidas and Puma were among multiple brands that had conversations about potentially building around Kaepernick if Nike failed to renew his deal following a long stretch of endorsement inactivity.

 

“We talked about Colin in March. A lot, actually,” one shoe industry executive said. “We all know the specific kind of deals NFL players are on with each other. His deal was running out and he had a shoe commitment that hadn’t been done for whatever reason. I’m sure it was because of everything that was going on around him. But it looked like Nike was running out the clock on [his deal] because he didn’t have a lot of time left and nothing was really happening with him. So there were some discussions for us about what kind of an endorser he could be.

 

“It’s apparent that, you know, even though he isn’t playing, he’s still connecting with a lot of people. I also think he’s exponentially more popular, and in some cases unpopular, than he ever was in the NFL.”

 

Nike’s enormous risk

Talks between Kaepernick and the executive’s shoe company never materialized, apparently because Nike made a somewhat unexpected commitment to retain the quarterback in the late spring. But on Monday night, the executive applauded the Nike deal on a number of fronts. Chief among them: Putting a lightning-rod endorser on a centerpiece platform in spite of negative reaction, and doing it in spite of a lucrative deal with the NFL – whom Kaepernick is accusing of colluding against him in an ongoing arbitration case.

 

That can’t be underestimated when Kaepernick’s saga ages over time, either. If history looks back and finds the NFL settled on the wrong side of the ledger, Nike will sit in a much more favorable position. But it will have come with a risk that most corporations like Nike refuse to take.

 

“It’s the most controversial move [with an endorser] that Nike has ever made – especially if you’re going to craft something substantial around him,” the executive said. “I can’t think of anyone in the history of Nike that would come close. Especially when you consider where the country is at and the fact that [President Donald Trump] will be very critical when big companies do things he doesn’t like.

 

“Trump could tweet tomorrow for everyone to boycott Nike. I’m sure that was one of the first considerations before a new deal. … But there’s the other side, where Colin Kaepernick could be the most powerful social persona that Nike ever signs. Not necessarily the most lucrative, but just the most powerful in terms of moving the social needle. That’s definitely part of the allure.”

 

Early impact on social media

Social media left little doubt of the impact the move could have on the brand, with Kaepernick and Nike dominating Twitter’s “trending” section from the moment the new endorsement plan was announced. It drew praise on Twitter from former CIA director John Brennan and, via Instagram, from NBA superstar LeBron James.

 

Nike had well over 1 million unique tweets in the first eight hours after news of the deal broke Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, Kaepernick’s first tweet about it hit 176,000 retweets and nearly 416,000 likes in that same span.

 

And those numbers don’t scratch the surface of the protracted debate that surrounds them – arguments that now include Nike as part of the equation. Undoubtedly, this is part of what Nike was looking for with this announcement. Possibly the first rousing moment of the sleeping marketing giant. It took Nike a few years of inactivity with Kaepernick to arrive at Monday’s seismic news, but that silence came to end in resounding fashion.

 

The DB is reminded of the statement – “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”

 

We find it funny that this strategy is playing out today, except sub in “twitter” or “social media” with a guy still often spelled “Kapernick”.

 

 

SUSPENDED

ESPN.com compiles a primer on all the players benched by the NFL Office to start the season (presented below with some editing:

 

There will be several big names sitting out Week 1 not because of injury but because of suspensions handed down by the league. A lot happens during a long NFL offseason, so here’s a reminder of who you won’t see in Week 1 and how that player’s absence might affect his team.

 

Baltimore Ravens

Jimmy Smith, CB

Suspension: Will miss four games for violating league’s personal conduct policy.

 

What it means: The Ravens lose their top cornerback, which has been troublesome in the past. Over the past two seasons, Baltimore has limited teams to 212.6 yards passing and a 76.9 passer rating in 23 games with Smith, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In nine games without him, the Ravens have allowed teams to produce 250.4 yards passing and an 85.7 rating. Baltimore believes it’s better suited to handle Smith’s absence. Brandon Carr, a 10-year starter in the NFL, will fill in for Smith and play alongside former first-round pick Marlon Humphrey. Without Smith, the challenge is trying to match up against the likes of Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green and Antonio Brown. — Jamison Hensley

 

Carolina Panthers

Thomas Davis, OLB

Suspension: Will miss four games for violating league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

 

What it means: Outside linebacker Shaq Thompson has been groomed the past couple of seasons to be the future replacement for the 35-year-old Davis in a two-linebacker set when Davis retires. So that has been fast-forwarded. Thompson was in this role some last year and displays the same qualities in terms of being able to blitz and drop into coverage that made Davis one of the best all-around linebackers in the game. The question is who will shift into Thompson’s role in a three-linebacker set? That probably will be David Mayo. — David Newton

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Vontaze Burfict, LB

Suspension: Will miss first four games for violating league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

 

What it means: This is the third straight season the Bengals will open September without Burfict. He was suspended to start the 2016 and 2017 seasons as well. His likely replacement will be either second-year player Jordan Evans or veteran Vincent Rey. Rey has sat out part of the preseason because of an ankle injury, but he normally assumes Burfict’s spot. — Katherine Terrell

 

Dallas Cowboys

David Irving, DE

Suspension: Will miss first four games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

 

What it means: This is the second straight year Irving will miss the first four games because of a suspension. He missed the first four in 2017 for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy. While he is eligible to return Oct. 1, he has not been with the Cowboys during training camp and the preseason, and his absence might be more than only four games. The Cowboys have different options at defensive tackle.—Todd Archer

 

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Jones, RB

Suspension: Will miss first two games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

 

What it means: More work for Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery. Coach Mike McCarthy had pledged a running-back-by-committee approach but then raved about Williams, who appears best suited to be the workhorse back.. — Rob Demovsky

 

Indianapolis Colts

Robert Turbin, RB

Suspension: Will miss first four games for violating league’s policy on using performance-enhancing drugs.

 

What it means: Turbin’s suspension hurts the Colts because they’re dealing with depth/injury problems at the position. Second-year running back Marlon Mack, who would start in Turbin’s place, missed the final three preseason games and is not guaranteed to be ready for the Week 1 game against Cincinnati because of a hamstring injury. Rookie Jordan Wilkins is the likely player to start if Mack isn’t back yet. — Mike Wells

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Dante Fowler Jr., DE

Suspension: Will miss the season opener for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Fowler pled no contest to charges of battery, criminal mischief and petty theft relating to a July 2017 incident and arrest.

 

What it means: Fowler isn’t a starter, but he is a key part of the rotation and lines up opposite Yannick Ngakoue in the third-down rush package. — Michael DiRocco

 

Kansas City Chiefs

Demetrius Harris, TE

Suspension: Will miss one game for violating league’s policy on substance abuse.

 

What it means: Harris is the top reserve to starter Travis Kelce, but he’s still a prominent figure to the Chiefs given how much they like to utilize multiple tight end formations — Adam Teicher

 

Los Angeles Chargers

Corey Liuget, DT

Suspension: Will miss first four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

 

What it means: The Chargers gave up a league-worst 4.9 yards per carry last season, so Liuget’s absence could further hurt their run defense through the first quarter of the season.. — Eric Williams

 

Los Angeles Rams

Jamon Brown, RG

Suspension: Will miss first two games for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse.

 

What it means: The Rams will start third-year pro Austin Blythe or rookie Joseph Noteboom in Brown’s absence. — Lindsey Thiry

 

Minnesota Vikings

Kentrell Brothers, LB

Suspension: Will miss the first four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

 

What it means: With its lack of linebacker depth, Minnesota decided to keep only five at cut-down day. Seventh-round pick Devante Downs gets the final spot for now while Brothers serves his suspension. – – Courtney Cronin

 

New England Patriots

Julian Edelman, WR

Suspension: Will miss first four games for violating league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances

 

What it means: There isn’t one receiver who can step into Edelman’s role, so the Patriots will lean on multiple receivers and also could call on more two-TE sets (Rob Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister) and two-RB sets (James White and Rex Burkhead). — Mike Reiss

 

New Orleans Saints

Mark Ingram, RB

Suspension: Will miss first four games for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

 

What it means: Obviously this hurts, considering Ingram just had the best season of his career when he and Alvin Kamara became the first running back duo in NFL history to both surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage. But the best way to absorb the loss of a Pro Bowl running back is to have two Pro Bowl running backs. Sean Payton has insisted that it would be a “mistake” to just double Kamara’s workload while Ingram is gone, so the Saints will probably spell him at times with backups Mike Gillislee and Boston Scott. — Mike Triplett

 

New York Giants

Josh Mauro, DE

Suspension: Will miss first four games for violating league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

 

What it means: Mauro is in the mix at defensive end. The Giants will start rookie B.J. Hill alongside Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson early this season. If Hill, a third-round pick out of North Carolina State, plays well, expect Mauro to fall in as a reserve upon his return. — Jordan Raanan

 

New York Jets

ArDarius Stewart, WR

Suspension: Will miss first two games for violating league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

 

What it means: Stewart will be lucky to have a roster spot when his suspension is over.

 

Rashard Robinson, CB

Suspension: Will miss four games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

 

What it means: Robinson is a physically gifted, but undisciplined player who is hanging on the fringe of the roster. The Jets won’t miss him. When he returns — if he returns — he’ll have a small role. — Rich Cimini

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Nigel Bradham, LB

Suspension: Will miss one game. The discipline stems from an incident in 2016 that resulted in Bradham being charged with aggravated assault. He accepted a deferred prosecution program in July and the case was closed in January.

 

What it means: The Eagles will be without their leading tackler from 2017 for the opener against the Atlanta Falcons. A group that includes Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry and Joe Walker will try to help fill the void next to middle linebacker Jordan Hicks.

 

Deiondre’ Hall, DB

Suspension: Will miss one game for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse.

 

What it means: This won’t have much impact on Thursday’s game. Down the road, he might be able to make an impact on special teams, but the Eagles are set at safety with Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, and have been prepping all offseason without Hall in the fold. — Tim McManus

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Eli Rogers, WR

Suspension: Will miss one game for violating league’s policy on substance abuse.

 

What it means: Rogers is a strong candidate for the physically unable to perform list as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, so the Steelers had planned without him for Week 1 anyway. — Jeremy Fowler

 

San Francisco 49ers

Reuben Foster, LB

Suspension: Will miss the first two games for violating league’s policies on substance abuse and personal conduct.

 

What it means: The Niners gave Foster plenty of work in the preseason, knowing that he would miss the first two weeks though he suffered a concussion in the third preseason game against Indianapolis. Without Foster, the 49ers figure to look to some combination of Malcolm Smith, Brock Coyle and rookie Fred Warner to handle their two inside linebacker spots — Nick Wagoner

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jameis Winston, QB

Suspension: Will miss first three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy stemming from an incident with an Uber driver in March 2016.

 

What it means: Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick will start in his place. Though he doesn’t have the sizzle Winston brings as a playmaker, he can get the job done if he doesn’t have to force things. — Jenna Laine

 

The DB struggles to come up with any consistency in the NFL’s policy as we compare the personal conduct charges against the suspensions issued.  Bradham (2 games) was charged with aggravated assault, there were no police charges at all for Winston (3 games).  Foster had long term personal conduct issues, plus substance abuse issues and got 2 games.