The Daily Briefing Wednesday, April 18, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Get ready!  We get the 2019 NFL schedule on Thursday night to answer some questions and pose others about the new FOX/NFL Network relationship – among other things. 

 

How hard will the NFL support last year’s emerging teams?  What about teams that faltered like Dallas and Green Bay – will they still get lots of big games (answer – yes).

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The “when” will be attached to the “who” and the “where” soon.

 

The NFL has announced that the 256-game regular-season schedule will be released on Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. ET.

 

At that time, the question of who plays whom and where will be enhanced with when the ball will be kicked. Which will be big news, even though it really isn’t much news at all.

 

The key dates to watch will be the Sunday night games (of course), the Thursday night games, the Monday night games (including the Week One doubleheader), the Thanksgiving games, and the all-important season-opening Thursday game, to be played in Philadelphia.

 

We’ll break down the new schedule from every angle here at PFT as soon as it’s out, and we’ll continue the process of getting you ready for the season to come.

 

– – –

With Colin Kaepernick in the room, Commissioner Roger Goodell sat for a deposition Tuesday concerning the one-time QBs contention that his controversial political activism, including disrespecting the National Anthem, has unfairly cost him employment.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS mounts something of a defense for the Packers offseason moves.  Ryan Wood of USA TODAY-Wisconsin:

 

Over the years, their conversations turned to planning. Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson, having started their journey together back in 2008, having grown old(er) with the Green Bay Packers, wanted to finish their careers in the same place.

 

No, it was never guaranteed. Rodgers has seen friends move on before. A.J. Hawk, his long-time locker neighbor, last played for the Packers in 2014. John Kuhn left for New Orleans after 2015. Nelson, it seemed, could be different. As more and more friends departed each year, he remained. In the locker room, Nelson was the last vestige of Rodgers’ early career.

 

So it was jarring when Rodgers learned Nelson was released. He was driving to his workout March 13 when his long-time receiver contacted him. Rodgers didn’t know what would happen later that day, that losing Nelson was the price for joining another friend, tight end Jimmy Graham. Nobody, really, could replace Nelson, the chemistry they’d established over a decade.

 

The disappointment – Rodgers called that day “bittersweet” – lingered more than a month, into Tuesday’s start of the Packers’ spring program.

 

“You lose a close friend who you had a lot of success with,” Rodgers said, “and gained another guy who you’ve been friends with.”

 

Whatever discontentment Rodgers felt this spring, it’s disconnected to Graham’s arrival. Rodgers knows Graham well – better than he knew Jared Cook in 2016, or Martellus Bennett last year. They met at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, and Rodgers said he has wanted to play with his new tight end for years.

 

 “Seven years ago now,” Graham said of their first encounter. “He basically got into the bus and gave me the belt, and then sat down. So that was my first interaction with him. We’ve been pretty good friends ever since.

 

“We had been talking about this for a long time.”

 

The issue is over how “this” happened, and at whose expense. Back on March 13, new Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said he informed Rodgers of Nelson’s release only after the fact. There was no conversation, no warning.

 

“This is a professional environment,” Rodgers said, “but as humans we have personal connections to people. Obviously, he was one of my closest friends in the locker room for a number of years, and played together for a long time and talked about really finishing his career here and together, and making the most of the opportunities. The disappointment is when you get close to your teammates, and they’re not here anymore – and especially when they’re not here, they’re playing somewhere else.

 

But the organization is making decisions that they feel like are in the best interest for our team, and you’ve got to trust the process.”

 

Rodgers had already expressed dismay over his position coach’s departure. At the Super Bowl, Rodgers mentioned how he wasn’t consulted before coach Mike McCarthy allowed Alex Van Pelt’s contract to expire. It was another example of Rodgers not having input.

 

Rodgers’ lack of involvement in personnel decisions isn’t surprising. McCarthy opened this offseason making clear any changes on the horizon would be made free from his quarterback’s influence.

 

“I don’t think this is really fair to Aaron,” McCarthy said four days after the Packers’ season ended in Detroit. “Players play, and coaches coach. I clearly understand where Aaron is in his career, the magnitude of what he brings to our organization. But it would be really ignorant to try to think, to put any of these changes on him. That’s not right.

 

“He wants what everybody wants here. He wants to win.”

 

Rodgers did not ask for more input Tuesday. Yet his disappointment reopens a philosophical debate: whether franchise quarterbacks should be consulted with personnel decisions, especially transactions directly affecting them. It’s a question Rodgers now faces himself, having grown comfortable in his role as face of the franchise.

 

In the past, Rodgers has declined to publicly hand out directives to former general manager Ted Thompson. That didn’t change Tuesday, now that Gutekunst is in charge. Rodgers said he understands his role within the Packers chain of command, even when decisions made above him are disappointing.

 

“They’re paying me to play quarterback to the best of my abilities,” Rodgers said, “and their job descriptions are to handle those type of things. So I think you just act accordingly in those situations.”

 

It’s unlikely Rodgers’ disappointment will have any tangible influence on his negotiations this offseason regarding a contract extension. Players come and go all the time in the NFL, where friendship outlasts employment. In months, if not weeks, the Packers likely will be paying Rodgers more than any NFL team has ever paid a player.

 

Given the historical significance – not to mention the money at stake —  it’s hard to see an extension not happening this offseason. Gutekunst has indicated he isn’t open to the type of watershed contract that would really catch attention around the league, namely a fully guaranteed contract such as Kirk Cousins signed with Minnesota, or an annually escalating deal tied to a percentage of the salary cap. Still, Rodgers’ extension could set new marks in annual average salary and total guaranteed money.

 

Rodgers said there’s “mutual interest” for an extension to be signed this offseason. He knows his peers are watching, hoping his new contract continues to push the standard, much as they did with Cousins’ deal. Money is one area off the field where Rodgers can still carry tremendous influence.

 

“That’s a conversation to be had down the line with my agent,” Rodgers said. “But ultimately, like the last time, although it was large financial numbers, it was a deal that myself and the team was happy with. It gave us the ability to do some things and made my cap number never go above an unmanageable level.

 

“So, obviously, I want to finish my career here. I’ve said that a number of times, and still have two years left on my deal. So we’ll see what happens this offseason.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

It seems incongruous that even as TE GREG OLSEN is contemplating working in television this fall, he’s asking for an extension.  But so be it.  David Newton of ESPN.com:

 

Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen is prepared to become a free agent in 2019 or consider potential opportunities in television this season if the Carolina Panthers don’t extend his contract.

 

Olsen, who last month interviewed for the Monday Night Football analyst job previously held by Jon Gruden, is entering the final season of a three-year extension signed in March 2015.

 

Olsen, 33, said his first choice is to remain with the Panthers through the end of his career. He believes he can continue to play at a top level for another three to five seasons.

 

But Olsen, the first tight end in NFL history to have three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons, could have other options if ESPN or another network offers a job for this season. ESPN is two weeks to a month from making an announcement on Gruden’s replacement and the rest of the MNF crew.

 

“My preference would be to continue to play,” Olsen told ESPN.com as the Panthers completed the second day of offseason workouts. “I still love playing for the Panthers and I would prefer to finish my career at Carolina. I wouldn’t see myself love to go play elsewhere.

 

“But this is the last year of my contract. A lot of that plays into what the future holds. Where we are in all of that, I’m not really sure. As the offseason plays out, it would be nice to kind of know what my future is past this year here in Carolina. That would make a lot of the other decisions easier.”

 

Olsen admitted if ESPN were to make him an offer, it is something he would have to at least consider.

 

“Obviously, ESPN, that Monday Night gig is a big deal,” he said. “You don’t just easily dismiss that. But how things play out, my preference would be for things to play out here at Carolina beyond this year. If that’s not the case, then other doors remain open is the best way to put it.”

 

Olsen is scheduled to count $9.75 million against the 2018 salary cap, so the Panthers could lessen that figure if spread out over several years with an extension.

 

Olsen said his agent and general manager Marty Hurney “haven’t gotten into anything significant” as far as an extension. But Olsen said he was upfront and honest with Hurney and coach Ron Rivera about the interview with ESPN, making it clear to them his preference was to continue to play even though his long-term goal is to be in sports broadcasting.

 

“I told them, ‘Obviously you guys know I love to play. I still feel I can play at a high level,'” Olsen said. “I would love to continue to play here past this year if that is in the cards.

 

“That will be kind of the domino that kind of makes all the rest of the decisions easy. What is my future after this year? After that, everything kind of takes care of itself.”

 

Olsen missed nine games last season with a broken foot suffered in Week 2. It was the first time since the 2007 season with the Chicago Bears that he missed a game and the first time since his first season with the Panthers in 2011 that he missed a start.

 

Prior to this past season, Olsen had gone over 1,000 yards receiving three straight years. Seeking to be paid among the league’s top tight ends and wanting to avoid the situation he’s currently in, Olsen sought an extension before the 2017 training camp.

 

“We tried. We tried,” Olsen said. “It just didn’t work out.”

 

Instead, the Panthers added $2 million in incentives to Olsen’s deal if he reached certain numbers in receptions, average yards per catch, receiving yards and postseason honors. Because of the injury, Olsen didn’t come close.

 

That adds to the sense of urgency to get an extension done before the final year of his contract.

 

“How it works out, I don’t know,” Olsen said. “It’s not always what you want. It takes two sides to put things together.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

The Ravens have appeared on some lists as a stealth team (kind of like the Chiefs last year) that might make a move for a first round QB.  The incumbent JOE FLACCO says he’s not worried as he starts his second decade with the team.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

With Joe Flacco struggling in recent seasons, the Baltimore Ravens might be looking to the future. The Ravens already added Robert Griffin III to the quarterback room and could import a rookie in next week’s draft.

 

For his part, the longtime starter isn’t fretting over the possibility of general manager Ozzie Newsome using his final first-round pick on a quarterback.

 

“It is what it is. It’s a business,” Flacco said, via the team’s official website. “Eventually, at some point, that’s going to have to happen. It’s not really for me to worry about.”

 

Flacco has four years remaining on his contract, but after this season Baltimore could get out of the deal, and the dead money on the salary cap is not prohibitive if they moved on in 2020.

 

The 33-year-old struggled through a back injury last offseason and put up one of the worst years of his career. Flacco completed 64.1 percent of 352 pass attempts for 3,141 yards and a career-low 5.7 yard per attempt average with 18 TDs and 13 interceptions.

 

Playing in an offense that doesn’t exactly accentuate his skill set with a mishmash collection of talent surrounding him, Flacco has been an inefficient mess the past couple years. With the light at the end of the contract tunnel, the Ravens must think toward the future.

 

Like any team leader, the QB isn’t looking past this season.

 

“I come in here and you worry about what’s here and now, and doing your job — which is for me right now, getting guys out there working hard and making sure we’re moving towards our goal of getting to that championship,” Flacco said.

 

It’s Flacco’s job to chase a playoff bid after three seasons missing the tournament. It’s management’s job to look toward the future. Those two tasks don’t have to live on incongruent planes.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com is another expert who thinks the Browns really will go after QB JOSH ALLEN of Wyoming with the top pick.

 

Production or potential?

 

That’s the debate waged in every war room around the NFL during this time of year, as general managers and personnel directors put the finishing touches on their respective draft boards. With rumors and reports circulating out of Cleveland that the Browns are strongly considering using the No. 1 overall pick on Wyoming QB Josh Allen, we could be on the verge of seeing another set of evaluators go for upside over proven performance on the draft day.

 

Now, we don’t really know if Allen is the top player on the Browns’ board, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the team take a flier on the gunslinger based on the track record of their general manager, John Dorsey. The well-respected team builder has frequently opted for prospects with prototypical physical dimensions and game-changing potential over productive performers.

 

One year ago, we saw Dorsey, then GM of the Kansas City Chiefs, move up the board to pick rocket-armed Patrick Mahomes over two-time Heisman finalist and national championship hero Deshaun Watson. While most observers considered the Texas Tech product a developmental prospect with A-plus arm talent and a sandlot game, Mahomes wasn’t nearly as accomplished or polished as Watson as a collegian. Moreover, he didn’t appear to have the pocket discipline to play within the structure of an NFL offense, especially when compared to his counterpart.

 

In 2013, Dorsey again opted for potential over production when he picked Eric Fisher over Luke Joeckel as the No. 1 overall pick. The Central Michigan tackle wasn’t nearly as polished as the Texas A&M star, but he was a better athlete with the size and length that matched the dimensions of the prototypes at the position. Despite concerns regarding the level of competition Fisher faced as a Chippewa, Dorsey believed he was a transcendent talent capable of playing at an elite level if he maxed out his potential. Furthermore, there are plenty of potential-over-production examples from Dorsey’s time in Green Bay, where he served as director of college scouting and director of football operations: Nick Perry over Courtney Upshaw in 2012; Aaron Rodgers over Jason Campbell in 2005; Ahmad Carroll over Chris Gamble in 2004; Javon Walker over Jabar Gaffney and Josh Reed in 2002.

 

Thus, it is reasonable to assume Allen could rank ahead of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield on the Browns’ draft board.

 

That might be hard for some of us to understand, based on the tape evaluation, but the physical tools Allen possesses could be too enticing for Dorsey to pass on. Remember, Dorsey was with the Packers when Brett Favre won three straight MVPs in the mid-1990s on the strength of a spectacular game that mixed sandlot football with pure gunslinging from the pocket. Watching No. 4 produce highlight after highlight while showcasing exceptional athleticism and arm talent certainly made an impression on the Browns’ top executive during his formative years.

 

Not to mention, Allen possesses the kind of frame (6-foot-5, 237 pounds with 10 1/8-inch hands) and athleticism (he tested among the top quarterbacks at the NFL Scouting Combine in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump and three-cone drill) that make him a scout’s dream at the position. In a business where scouts are encouraged to think about what a prospect could be at his best (Hall of Fame inductee Ron Wolf used to direct scouts: “Don’t tell me what a player can’t do, tell me what he can do and how he can be successful in the league”), Allen has the potential to be a game changer at the position if he can improve his accuracy and judgment in critical moments.

 

Now, personally, I don’t necessarily believe Allen can improve in those areas and have reservations about his inability to perform on a big stage. But I can understand why Dorsey and others would be fascinated by the Wyoming star’s potential and upside. I’ve compared Allen to Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger in the past, based on his unique combination of skills and potential to grow into a Pro Bowl-caliber player. That’s definitely a possibility in an offense that’s designed to maximize his skill set (think: vertical passing game built of play-action).

 

Sure, the sub-60 percent completion rate and the dismal performances against Power Five teams are alarming, but the possibilities are intriguing. And swinging for the fences is part of Dorsey’s DNA. With that in mind, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see Allen walk across the stage as the No. 1 overall pick with a Browns jersey and hat in hand.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Whoa.  QB TOM BRADY may not be back in 2018.  Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:

 

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady still has not committed to playing in 2018, even though people who know him believe he will back for the coming season, league sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

 

The lack of any official word from Brady, either privately or publicly, has left some to admit that, while they do believe he will play in 2018, they cannot say that for sure.

 

“My money would be on him playing football for the foreseeable future, but what goes on away from the football field, I don’t know,” one source told ESPN. “I don’t know.”

 

There’s no question that Brady wants to play football, but he turns 41 in August, wants to spend more time with his family, and there are people around him who would rather see him retire, sources told ESPN.

 

Even those who expect him to play know there are circumstances that do not make it automatic that he will return.

 

“I believe he’s going to be there,” another person who knows Brady told ESPN. “However, having said that, we’re dealing with a human being. Things can change. But I do believe he will be playing.”

 

There also are questions about the future of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has not attended the opening week of the team’s offseason workout program.

 

Brady also was not present for the start of New England’s offseason program, and he’s not expected to take part much, if at all. It’s not the first time he has missed part of the offseason program; it also happened in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

 

Brady is planning to spend more time this offseason with body coach Alex Guerrero. The five-time Super Bowl champion and three-time NFL MVP has talked about wanting to play until he is 45, and the Patriots believed in him so much that they traded quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers last October.

 

While Brady stays away — he was in Qatar over the weekend — New England is carrying on without him. Even in the seemingly unlikely event that Brady were to retire this offseason, New England’s plans at the quarterback position would not be radically altered.

 

A lack of clarity from Brady won’t alter New England’s need at the position, but it could affect how aggressive the Patriots will be in acquiring one. The Patriots have been examining options in next week’s draft, and many around the league believe New England — armed with two first-round picks and two second-round picks — will use one of its high picks on a quarterback.

 

Other than Brady, the only other quarterback on the Patriots’ active roster is veteran Brian Hoyer, who signed a three-year deal with the team after the trade deadline last season.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

Andrew Marchand of the New York Post with an update on ESPN’s search for a Monday night analyst to replace Jon Gruden – and why it won’t be Brett Favre.

 

After striking out on Peyton Manning for “Monday Night Football,” ESPN has considered big names, like Brett Favre, and not as big, like Booger McFarland, while holding auditions as if it were “American Idol.”

 

Favre recently came in for one of the auditions, according to sources. Though it was unclear if Favre would even want the job, sources said he was not great during the tryout and has been told he is no longer under consideration. Favre’s agent, Bus Cook, did not return a call. ESPN declined comment.

 

Late Tuesday, Favre tweeted that he felt he had a good meeting with ESPN and was intrigued by the opportunity, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to do it, if ESPN had chosen him.

 

“Wanted to clear something up from today’s press on me & ESPN. Truth is I had a good meeting about possibly joining the MNF crew. I was intrigued when they called yet not sure I want to pursue a broadcasting career right now. I wish them the best of luck and a great season. Brett”

 

Favre likely would have been able to demand the same type of salary as Jon Gruden. ESPN was prepared to offer Manning the same $6.5 million salary as Gruden with possibly even a little room for negotiation, according to sources.

 

The analyst competition remains open as ESPN has lined up Rex Ryan and McFarland for upcoming auditions, sources said. Ryan, a “Sunday NFL Countdown” analyst, called a Monday night double-header game with Beth Mowins to begin last season. McFarland is a college football analyst, who was on the first week of “Get Up!”

 

ESPN has had All-Pro tight ends Jason Witten and Greg Olsen in for auditions. Both are under contract to play next season, while the network also has considered Kurt Warner, Matt Hasselbeck, Louis Riddick and the recently retired Joe Thomas, among others.

 

The auditions have been done with Joe Tessitore on play-by-play. The Post reported more than a month ago that Tessitore would replace Sean McDonough on Monday nights; however, ESPN has not made it official yet as its search for his partner or partners continues. Network executives are considering a two- or three-man booth, but want to make sure the group meshes.

 

A decision of this magnitude may be the first major personnel move for new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro. Pitaro is charged with repairing ESPN’s relationship with the NFL, which suffered under John Skipper’s leadership. Skipper resigned at the end of last year, telling the Hollywood Reporter he was being extorted by someone he bought cocaine from.

 

Despite paying $1.9 billion per season, ESPN has been left with a schedule that even McDonough said consisted of one of the worst games each week. Pitaro will attempt to receive better games to help justify the largest outlay of any network.

 

Shall we see if that is true?  The DB would think that ESPN got very few games that would be “one of the worst”.  That is, if we look at the perception of the team at the time the schedule was made last spring.

 

So here’s the schedule from last year – we will boldface games we think are “good” and redface games that could be seen as “one of the worst”

 

Regular Season

 

 

Sept. 11

6:55 p.m.

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

 

10:15 p.m.

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos

Sept. 18

8:15 p.m.

Detroit Lions at New York Giants

Sept. 25

8:15 p.m.

Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals

Oct. 2

8:15 p.m.

Washington Redskins at Kansas City Chiefs

Oct. 9

8:15 p.m.

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears

Oct. 16

8:15 p.m.

Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans

Oct. 23

8:15 p.m.

Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles

Oct. 30

8:15 p.m.

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs

Nov. 6

8:15 p.m.

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers

Nov. 13

8:15 p.m.

Miami Dolphins at Carolina Panthers

Nov. 20

8:15 p.m.

Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks

Nov. 27

8:15 p.m.

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens

Dec. 4

8:15 p.m.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

Dec. 11

8:15 p.m.

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins

Dec. 18

8:15 p.m.

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dec. 25

8:15 p.m.

Oakland Raiders at Philadelphia Eagles

 

Remember, Oakland was a hot team one year ago.  Basically we see that every good team showed up once and a few teams (the Eagles who would win the Super Bowl championship, the Vikings who made the NFC Championship game, the Chiefs, the Falcons coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the Lions, the Broncos, the Redskins) showed up twice. 

 

We view it as a solid schedule, but not great.

 

 

 

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

 

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com wants us to get to know TE DALLAS GODDERT, the unicycle-riding tight end from the prairies who could go in the first round thanks to phone call from a pastor.

 

Our story begins with a miracle. Pastor Carl Larson happened to be sitting in the stands in fall 2012, watching his Milbank Bulldogs host a high school team from the tiny town of Britton, South Dakota. The game was forgettable, but he couldn’t take his eyes off a skinny, 6-foot-5 senior on the opposing team who “was so much better than everyone else.”

 

So Larson phoned a friend.

 

South Dakota State University coach John Stiegelmeier took the call, but only because Larson had coached with him before entering the ministry. “We get that type of plug a ton around here,” Stiegelmeier said. “But when Pastor Carl calls, he has some authority.”

 

Larson had delivered Dallas Goedert, a program-changing star who would go on to be a projected first-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft. Stiegelmeier, however, wasn’t feeling it.

 

“The tape was really rough, actually,” he said. “I saw a big guy who could control his body, but I did not see a dominant football player.”

 

There was no time to waste on a single prospect from a town of 1,250. Stiegelmeier stopped at Britton-Hecla High School once to watch Goedert play basketball but continued recruiting elsewhere. A few months later, Larson called again. He had just volunteered at a track meet where Goedert was tossing the discus like it was a piece of bread.

 

“I just kept telling Coach Stieg, ‘This kid stands out,'” Larson said.

 

Finally, Stiegelmeier relented. He offered Goedert a chance to walk on, and redshirt, as a tight end.

 

Life can turn on the chance of a random gift. Goedert wouldn’t have made it to South Dakota State without Larson’s repeated intervention. And if Goedert hadn’t made it to South Dakota State, albeit an FCS school, he would never have stuck the one-handed catch that catapulted him into the national consciousness. He wouldn’t have competed against FBS opponents such as Kansas and TCU. And, without a doubt, he would never, ever have become a projected first-round pick.

 

Goedert could be the first tight end selected when the draft opens April 26. The team that takes him will get 256-pound tight end with 10-inch hands like Odell Beckham Jr. and an affinity for dramatic plays. It will also take on a unique character who rides a 6-foot unicycle for fun, is ready to bust out from small-town stereotypes and isn’t opposed to wearing a leopard-print Snuggie to embarrass his sisters in public.

 

“I like to bring the flair,” he said. “Fans of the city I go to will like it. If people are wondering what they’ll be getting, I’d say to think about how much fun and how much energy I’ll bring.”

 

You can trace Goedert’s elite receiving skills to the nighttime routine he began as an 8-year-old, when he would refuse to sleep until his stepfather, Gary Carlson, agreed to throw him footballs from his bedroom doorway.

 

“A stalling tactic,” his sister Megan said.

 

Not so, said Goedert.

 

“I’d have him keep throwing me the ball,” he said, “so I could do one-handed catches. That’s where it all came from.”

 

Goedert showed up on the Brookings, South Dakota, campus in 2013 amid little fanfare. He redshirted his first year, then caught 34 passes over his next two seasons as he added 60 pounds. From the beginning, however, Goedert brought with him undeniable assets: big hands and a star’s mindset in deploying them.

 

To find gloves that fit, the school submitted a special order to Under Armour for size XXXL. With those mitts, attached to 34-inch arms on a 6-5 frame, Goedert could reach over any FCS defender.

 

Never was that more apparent than on Sept. 10, 2016, when he swallowed up a 3-yard touchdown pass with his right hand while a 5-8 linebacker from Drake University pinned Goedert’s left arm to his body. The high floater stuck on Goedert’s fingers as if it were a Nerf ball. Instead of pulling it in, Goedert held the ball aloft — and away from the defender — as he fell to the ground.

 

Amid a wild celebration at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium, the ensuing extra point was delayed. The referee wanted to see the replay on the scoreboard for himself.

 

“I have really big hands, but I try to use all of my fingers,” Goedert said. “I feel like when the ball hits my hands, it sticks. A lot of the one-handed catches you see, people bring it to their body and don’t completely catch it one-handed. I feel like I’m really good at … being a hands-catcher.

 

“That catch made people say, ‘Whoa, who is this guy?’ Is this a one-time deal or is he a good player?”

 

The answer was clear as he neared the end of a 92-catch season. He was one of the most dominant skill players in FCS, with a body that was easy to project at the next level. NFL scouts, perpetually in search of mismatch opportunities, began showing up in Brookings.

 

“The winter after that season,” Stiegelmeier said, “a pro scout asked me, ‘Is he going to leave early?’ Well, everything here is small. I didn’t know what he was talking about. You don’t think about our players ‘leaving early.’ Then it dawned on me: Was he going to enter the draft?”

 

Goedert opted to stay for his final season, and Stiegelmeier’s assistants dug in to supplement their offense with plays that could maximize a tight end who had the advantage in any matchup. They used him as an “X” receiver in the red zone. They studied how the Kansas City Chiefs deployed tight end Travis Kelce, adding a tight end shovel pass to the playbook. They even made plans to hand Goedert the ball as a true running back; as a junior, he had taken a handoff 17 yards for a touchdown against Southern Illinois.

– – –

In truth, if there is any question about Goedert as the draft approaches, it’s that his recent tape doesn’t show much of the traditional in-line blocking NFL teams like to see. South Dakota State coaches had too many ideas for him as a receiver and scheme-buster to give him conventional blocking assignments.

 

“I’m not going to say it would have been wasting him,” offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness said, “but it would have been almost like wasting him.”

 

Goedert is honest about his priorities. “Any tight end that says blocking is his favorite part of the game,” he said, “is lying to you.” But he is willing, he said, and scouts who have studied him don’t have much of an issue.

 

Steve Muench, who spends the year evaluating draft prospects for ESPN, gave Goedert an above-average grade for blocking.

 

“There’s room for improvement,” Muench said. “[But] he’s a willing run-blocker with the size and strength to compete as an in-line blocker and engulf smaller defenders as a move blocker in space. He’s got the length to push linebackers past the hole when he climbs up to the second level, and he’s competitive in pass pro.”

 

Conventional wisdom suggests Goedert will be in play late in the first round and almost certainly off the board midway through the second. Who will take him? His pre-draft visits were scheduled to include the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins.

 

There is some lineage to consider, as well. Named “Dallas” by his biological father, a Cowboys fan, Goedert grew up rooting for the Green Bay Packers.

 

The walls in his boyhood bedroom are painted a distinctive green, and a Brett Favre poster still hangs. Goedert long dreamed of playing in Green Bay and catching passes from Aaron Rodgers, but the Packers’ decision to sign Jimmy Graham in free agency makes the connection unlikely.

 

“The last few years, I thought it would be really cool to go play with Aaron Rodgers because he’s one of the best and the way he can fling it,” Goedert said. “But now I’ll go anywhere. Any franchise that picks me up, I’ll be more than happy to play for.”

 

He grinned wistfully as he mentioned Rodgers. For much of an hourlong conversation, though, he rarely cracked a smile. Goedert earned an operations management degree from South Dakota State’s engineering school in December and responded to every question with a precisely formed answer.

– – –

Much like his one-handed catches at bedtime, everything develops into a game. Part of the reason Goedert is a Packers fan, he admits, is to give him a competitive foil. Most of Britton, and South Dakota for that matter, is Vikings territory.

 

“When the Vikings played, I would bet my buddy a pop,” he said, using the Midwestern term for soda. “And if I was a Vikings fan, I wouldn’t be able to bet him — or anyone.”

 

Watching television? Let’s do a push-up contest during commercials. Jumping on the trampoline? Let’s play “500.” Swimming? Let’s race.

 

When he was 8, Goedert set six state records in swimming. When informed that he had broken the previous records, the boy — known for demolishing household objects during competitions — burst into tears.

 

“Broke?” he said, according to his mother. “Is that bad?”

– – –

The story of how Goeddert became a unicycle enthusiast goes back nearly 50 years, when Mary’s father noticed one in a North Dakota parade and thought it would be fun for his family to try. Five of his daughters learned, including Mary, and when Goedert was old enough, his grandfather offered $50 to the first grandchild to learn.

 

Goedert taught himself in a day, bracing the side of a wall until he felt balanced. Then he took off down the family’s downhill driveway. There are no brakes on a unicycle, of course, so dismounting is perhaps the most difficult part. Essentially, you slow down and jump off the front.

 

“It’s harder than a bicycle,” Goedert said, “but once you learn it, it’s the same thing as a bike. You don’t forget how to do it. You figure out where your body position needs to be.”

– – –

His pending move is a reminder of the arbitrary nature of life. What if Carl Larson, a stranger most of Goedert’s family has not met, had skipped that Milbank game five years ago? What if he had stopped with one call to Stiegelmeier?

 

Goedert probably would have wound up at Northern State University, a Division II school in Aberdeen that hasn’t had a player drafted in the NFL’s modern era. Instead of preparing for the draft, Goedert would have been hoping — at best — to find work as a rookie free agent.

 

“Life is full of things that just happen,” Mary said. “I do think there is intervention or reasons that they happen. I don’t know what would have happened for Dallas. He would have been successful at Northern. Would he have had the same success? Highly unlikely.”

 

As it turns out, Larson provided the best kind of gift. It was anonymous, without recognition or the expectation of reciprocation. For years, no one in Goedert’s family even knew about it.

 

“I was under the assumption that coaches find athletes,” Gary said. “I kind of thought that’s probably what happened and how he ended up at South Dakota State.”

 

It wasn’t until years later that the parent of another player, who knew Larson, relayed the story. Larson, who recently moved to a congregation to Brainerd, Minnesota, waves off any responsibility for Goedert’s football life.

 

“He would have been a star wherever he went,” he said.

 

But that’s not always how life works. Sometimes, the cream needs a little shove while rising to the top. Dallas Goedert got a determined boost from a man he had never met. His football story began that night. The rest was up to him. Let it be a lesson for us all.

 

Some info on Britton, South Dakota which sits in northeastern South Dakota, about 40 miles west of I-29 and about 15 miles south of the North Dakota line.

 

As of the census of 2010, there were 1,241 people, 574 households, and 313 families residing in the city.

Britton is home to a thriving economy. Several industries reside in the town including a roof and floor truss plant, a prefabricated wall plant, a fan clutch manufacturing facility, and a machine shop manufacturing company. Britton also has a hospital with attached clinic, assisted living, and new 24 hour wellness center. Britton also has a nursing home.

 

Britton is home to three gas stations, two restaurants/steak houses, three motels, a water park, softball fields, a bowling alley, a movie theatre, a recently built library, and many other conveniences.

 

The Dakota, Missouri Valley and Western Railroad provides rail service to Britton.

 

The Britton-Hecla school district covers Britton. There is one elementary school and one high school on the same premises.

 

 

– – –

This is the first time we’ve done a draft by former NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew, posted at NFL.com.  He has a “crazy” idea for the Browns, that might actually make sense:

 

1 – CLEVELAND

Saquon Barkley – RB, Penn State

He is the best player in the draft. Period. The Browns are in win-now mode; only adding guys who can play at a high level right now will help them do that.

 

2 – NY GIANTS

Josh Rosen – QB, UCLA

Eli Manning is nearing the end of his career, which works out, given that the Giants get the top young passer in this draft.

 

3 – NY JETS

Sam Darnold – QB, USC

Darnold can sit behind veteran Josh McCown until he’s ready to roll. Plus, he will have a young, talented defense to help.

 

4 – CLEVELAND

Bradley Chubb – DE, N.C. State

Teaming Chubb with Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi will make Cleveland’s defensive line a problem for years to come.

 

5 – BUFFALO

 Josh Allen – QB, Wyoming

PROJECTED TRADE WITH BRONCOS. The Bills package the 12th and 22nd picks to move up and nab the guy they love: Allen, a quarterback with the arm strength to throw in all weather conditions.

 

6 – INDIANAPOLIS

Quenton Nelson – OG, Notre Dame

Indy’s O-line has been a problem for years. Nelson will be an instant starter with an attitude.

 

7 – TAMPA BAY

Derwin James – S, Florida State

He’s a physical safety with the cover skills of a cornerback. Tampa gets a jack of all trades.

 

8 – CHICAGO

Mike McGlinchey – OT, Notre Dame

With all the new weapons added in free agency, Chicago needs to protect its franchise quarterback. McGlinchey, whose college O-line coach (Harry Hiestand) is now with the Bears, will help do just that.

 

9 – SAN FRANCISCO

Josh Jackson – CB, Iowa

He gets to learn from the 49ers’ marquee cornerback signing, Richard Sherman — a player with similar size, ability and ball skills.

 

10 OAKLAND

Roquan Smith – LB, Georgia

Smith’s instincts and range are something the Raiders haven’t had in recent years. He’ll be the missing piece in Paul Guenther’s defense.

 

11 – GREEN BAY

Denzel Ward – CB, Ohio State

PROJECTED TRADE WITH DOLPHINS. Ward falls to No. 11 and the Packers, who are dying for a lockdown corner, make a move to get what they need.

 

12 – DENVER

Baker Mayfield – QB, Oklahoma

PROJECTED TRADE WITH BILLS. The Broncos trade down and still get their QB. Mayfield might sit early on, but he’ll eventually take over because of his accuracy and ability to throw deep.

 

13 – WASHINGTON

Tremaine Edmunds – LB, Virginia Tech

He’s a sideline-to-sideline player who’s fluid in coverage and adds some pass-rush ability.

 

14 – MIAMI

Minkah Fitzpatrick – DB, Alabama

PROJECTED TRADE WITH PACKERS. Fitzpatrick’s versatility allows him to play anywhere in the secondary and make an immediate impact.

 

15 – ARIZONA

Isaiah Wynn – OG, Georgia

Arizona gets a big-time player who can start at tackle or guard because of his size. Regardless of where he lines up, he makes the offensive line better.

 

16 – BALTIMORE

Harold Landry – EDGE, Boston College

He’s an explosive pass rusher who could be Terrell Suggs’ successor.

 

17 – LA CHARGERS

Vita Vea – DT, Washington

Gus Bradley’s defense made huge strides throughout the 2017 season but struggled against the run. Vea allows the linebackers to run, taking pressure off the pass rushers.

 

18 – SEATTLE

Isaiah Oliver – CB, Colorado

Long, rangy corner who fits the mold in Seattle. Oliver can play in press or off coverage.

 

19 – DALLAS

Calvin Ridley – WR, Alabama

Dallas needs a WR2 and a guy who can eventually take over for Dez Bryant. Ridley is the most polished receiver in the draft and will do what the Cowboys need.

 

20 – DETROIT

Marcus Davenport – EDGE, UTSA

He’s an athletic pass rusher who can learn from Ziggy Ansah and make an immediate impact for Matt Patricia’s unit.

 

21 – CINCINNATI

Will Hernandez – OG, UTEP

An old-school guard who can move guys around, Hernandez has the ability to anchor this rebuilding O-line.

 

22 – DENVER

Da’Ron Payne – DT, Alabama

PROJECTED TRADE WITH BILLS. Payne becomes an instant starter on the interior. He’s great against the run and will provide inside pressure. Think Malik Jackson.

 

23 – NEW ENGLAND

Mike Hughes – CB, UCF

Hughes is an athletic cornerback who fits the press-man scheme of the Patriots. He can also help in the return game.

 

24 – CAROLINA

Derrius Guice – RB, LSU

Guice is a tough, hard-nosed runner who pairs well with Christian McCaffrey. Now the Panthers have two young backs who can take pressure off Cam Newton.

 

25 – TENNESSEE

Harrison Phillips – DT, Stanford

He’s a former wrestler with a rugged style. Phillips fits this 3-4 defense and allows others around him to be singled up.

 

26 – ATLANTA

Maurice Hurst – DT, Michigan

He’s a penetrating DT in the run game and a quick, explosive rusher in the pass game.

 

27 – NEW ORLEANS

Sam Hubbard – DE, Ohio State

The Saints can now move Sheldon Rankins to his natural position as a 3-technique and add an explosive pass rusher opposite Cam Jordan.

 

28 – PITTSBURGH

Rashaan Evans – LB, Alabama

He’s a physical linebacker who’ll provide immediate help at Pittsburgh’s position of need.

 

29 – JACKSONVILLE

Jaire Alexander – CB, Louisville

The top defense in the league lost a huge piece when Aaron Colvin left in free agency. Alexander steps in and Jacksonville doesn’t miss a beat.

 

30 – MINNESOTA

Orlando Brown – OT, Oklahoma

His performance at the NFL Scouting Combine didn’t help his stock, but the game tape shows Brown is a physical run blocker who flattens defensive ends.

 

31 – NEW ENGLAND

Kolton Miller – OT, UCLA

He’s an athletic tackle who will be a plug-and-play guy from the start. His length will help keep defenders away from Tom Brady.

 

32 – CLEVELAND

 Lamar Jackson – QB, Louisville

PROJECTED TRADE WITH EAGLES. The Browns trade up to get the fifth-year option for their QB. He gets to sit and learn behind a quarterback who has similar abilities, and he’ll have a package or two in the offense as a rookie.