The Daily Briefing Wednesday, August 2, 2017
LT RYAN CLADY, currently unsigned after ending 2016 on the Jets’ IR list with a shoulder injury, has announced his retirement. He said there were several teams interested in signing him.
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Ara Parseghian, a great coach and better man, passed away today at age 94. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
After five seasons and a 39–6–1 record, Parseghian left Miami of Ohio to coach at Northwestern.
The team Parseghian took over had gone 0-8-1 the previous season, but he immediately improved them to 4-4-1 in his first year and by his third year had Northwestern ranked in the Top 20 of the coaches’ poll. After eight seasons at Northwestern, Parseghian left for Notre Dame.
That was where he saw his greatest success. Notre Dame was coming off one of the worst seasons in its history when Parseghian took the job, finishing 2-7 in 1963. Parseghian immediately turned the team around, going 9-1 in 1964. In his third season, 1966, the Fighting Irish won a national championship after Parseghian made the controversial decision to run out the clock and play for a tie against Michigan State in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2. Parseghian would also win a share of the national championship in 1973, and his teams finished in the Top 15 in all 11 of his seasons as head coach.
After retiring from coaching, Parseghian became a broadcaster. In 1980 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
He left Notre Dame at age 51 and never coached again in the remaining 43 years of his life. In 24 years as a head coach, he was 170-58-6. So he is not one of the 81 coaches who have compiled 200 wins in college, but if he had coached another say 12 years he probably would have been in the 270-290 range, somewhere in the top 15 or so (Frank Beamer won 280 in 35 years, mainly at Virginia Tech).
The Lions and QB MATTHEW STAFFORD still have a way to go before settling on a new contract. Justin Rogers of the Detroit News:
The expectation has long been that the Detroit Lions and quarterback Matthew Stafford will hammer out an extension this offseason, but according to the NFL Network, the two sides are still far apart on a potential deal.
“There’s still a pretty substantial gap,” Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network wrote on Twitter.
Representatives for the Lions and for Matthew Stafford did not respond to requests from The Detroit News for comment.
Stafford, entering the final year of a three-year extension he inked in 2013, is poised to sign the largest contract in NFL history, topping the five-year, $125 million pact recently inked by Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
Prior to the start of training camp this past weekend, Stafford said there was no timetable to get a deal done, but the sides continue to talk. If the Lions are unable to work out an extension, they would likely use the franchise tag next offseason.
The franchise tag would pay Stafford more than $26 million in 2018.
TE JORDAN REED has a toe injury. The AP:
Tight end Jordan Reed has left Washington Redskins training camp to see a specialist about his toe injury.
Coach Jay Gruden says Reed traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to see Dr. Robert Anderson on Tuesday. It was a planned visit.
Reed has been on the physically unable to perform list with a big toe injury since the start of camp. Gruden said there’s no timetable for Reed to join practice and considers him day to day.
The 27-year-old has been on the field during afternoon workouts, playing catch or practicing his footwork. Gruden said the team is not going to rush Reed’s recovery.
Should we be worried? “Shoulder soreness” for QB CAM NEWTON. David Newton of ESPN.com:
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton didn’t throw during Tuesday’s practice after complaining of soreness during warm-ups.
This comes on the heels of the 2015 NFL MVP being held out of the final two sessions of team drills Sunday after team trainer Ryan Vermillion and others noticed fatigue in the shoulder that was surgically repaired in March.
Is there reason for concern?
Coach Ron Rivera said the team simply is being cautious with its franchise quarterback.
“He started warming up this morning and he said was still feeling a little bit sore, so we figured why push it, why have him throw with a sore arm and make it even sorer?” Rivera said. “So [Vermillion] thought it would be better not to have him throw.”
Rivera didn’t speculate on whether Newton would be held out of Wednesday’s practice.
Mike Triplett of ESPN.com reports that WR MICHAEL THOMAS regards his 92 receptions in 2016 as a mere jumping off point.
Michael Thomas had one of the greatest rookie seasons of any receiver in NFL history last year. His 92 receptions were the second-most all time among first-year players.
But he missed his mark.
“I mean, honestly, I was going for all the rookie records. I was going for all the NFL records. I kind of hit a speed bump,” said Thomas, who played only 15 games for the New Orleans Saints because he was sidelined by a foot injury in a Week 14 loss at Tampa Bay.
“I was gonna get there for sure,” said Thomas — which might sound like a little bravado, since the NFL rookie record was 101 catches, set by Anquan Boldin in 2003. But then again, Thomas did finish his rookie season with a 10-catch, 156-yard performance against the Atlanta Falcons.
Regardless, the point is clear. Thomas is not a guy who lacks confidence or a desire for greatness.
“I had to pause, regroup and figure out how I’m still gonna hit my numbers and still do what I do, because I’m a guy that sets goals and attacks ‘em,” said Thomas.
When asked what his plans are for an encore, Thomas said: “More. Find ways to get more — 93, 100, 120 [receptions],” Thomas said. “Just get more yards, catches, missed tackles, touchdowns. In an unselfish way; I put my numbers to the side [compared to team goals]. But leaving my mark in this game is what I’m trying to do.”
LOS ANGELES RAMS
DT DOMINIQUE EASLEY, a projected starter, gets carted off the practice field. Rich Hammond in the Orange County Register:
The Rams’ situation at defensive line, already tenuous because of the holdout of star Aaron Donald, took an ominous turn Tuesday when Dominique Easley had to be carted off the field.
Easley apparently hurt his knee during an 11-on-11 drill during training-camp practice at UC Irvine and never put weight on the leg. Easley needed help as he hobbled a couple steps to an electric cart, and both Coach Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips came over to check on him.
McVay said he didn’t have an update on Easley immediately after practice, but Easley was scheduled for an MRI on Tuesday evening. Easley suffered two ACL tears while in college, most recently in 2013. A team source on Tuesday called Easley’s previous knee issues “worrisome.”
The Rams already have been somewhat thin on the line, as Donald’s contract holdout reached its fourth day, and now the Rams could be without two of their three starting defensive linemen in coordinator Wade Phillips’ new 3-4 scheme.
The Raiders already have a beat writer from Las Vegas, as Michael Gehlken (formerly of the San Diego Union-Tribune, now of the Las Vegas Review-Journal) checks in from Napa on CB GAREON CONLEY’s first statement:
Gareon Conley addressed the public Tuesday for the first time since a grand jury declined to indict him on any charges following a monthslong investigation into allegations of rape.
Conley said via a statement posted on Twitter he’s “thankful that this burden has been lifted.” He also expressed gratitude to those who supported him and acknowledgment he can learn from the experience. The Raiders drafted the former Ohio State cornerback in the first round on April 28 despite having learned days earlier about a Cleveland-based rape investigation involving him.
After the pick, general manager Reggie McKenzie said the team completed “miles and miles of research” and was confident in his innocence. A Cuyahoga County grand jury ruled Monday not to pursue the case.
Conley’s statement read in full:
“I am thankful that this burden has been lifted as I enter training camp with my new teammates and organization. I am thankful to the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland police for reaching a conclusion based on the facts, not speculation. I am thankful to the Raiders organization for believing in me, drafting me, and supporting me. Finally, I am thankful to my agent and my team for never relenting in their defense of me as a person and client.
“The past few months have been extremely trying for me and my family. Although I was the target of malicious and false accusations, I do realize however that I coud’ve exercised better judgment and that there are still lessons for me to take away and grow from.
“I look forward to earning my role with The Raiders and hopefully rewarding them for believing in me.”
Does it just seem that all Ravens tight ends do is get hurt? TE CROCKETT GILMORE is done for 2017. Ryan Mink at BaltimoreRavens.com:
Ravens tight end Crockett Gillmore had his MCL repaired, which is a five-month recovery.
Gillmore had his medial collateral ligament (knee) repaired, which requires a five-month recovery.
It’s the latest in a string of major injuries for the Ravens early in camp. Baltimore has already lost tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), cornerback Tavon Young (knee) and running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) to season-ending injuries.
The tight end position has, in particular, taken a hit with Pitta and Gillmore’s injuries and Darren Waller’s year-long suspension. What was a deep group has now thinned.
Gillmore, 25, was competing for the starting job with Benjamin Watson (returning from Achilles) and Nick Boyle. The Ravens signed veteran Larry Donnell Saturday.
LB VONTAZE BURFICT can’t help being aggressive/dirty even when playing against his own teammates. Conor Orr of NFL.com:
The Bengals are already in midseason form when it comes to practice intensity.
While training camp scuffles are par for the course this time of year — especially when soreness sets in and the heat ramps up — the one that took place Tuesday afternoon in Cincinnati felt noteworthy.
Mercurial linebacker Vontaze Burfict met running back Giovani Bernard just behind the line of scrimmage and finished the tackle low, wrapping his arms between Bernard’s knees and calves. Bernard, for those who don’t remember, tore his ACL in November but did seem to hop up unscathed after the tackle.
The hit was met with some loud protests from the offensive staff. Video taken by Cox Media Group during the play seems to show running backs coach Kyle Caskey fly in to scold Burfict before a few dozen players join the scrum.
According to ESPN.com, tight end Tyler Eifert also made his thoughts clear to Burfict.
After practice, however, Burfict and Bernard shared a laugh and Bernard downplayed what happened. “He slipped,” Bernard told reporters, via The Cincinnati Enquirer.
The hit illustrates, at times, how difficult it is for a linebacker to find the perfect target on an offensive player at full speed. With severe penalties attached to headshots, defenders are forcing themselves to go lower — in Burfict’s case, he simply went too low. Given Bernard’s injury history, the hit takes on a different meaning, which is why Caskey and Eifert were likely so upset. Head coach Marvin Lewis knows that he didn’t sign Burfict for anything but his penchant for playing the game at full throttle. These are the cringe-worthy side effects Lewis knows he must deal with from time to time.
Shutdown Corner says it is the Steelers, not the Raiders, who have the best chance of denying the Patriots a return trip to the Super Bowl:
The Pittsburgh Steelers might be the best candidate to stop the No. 1 team on our countdown (spoiler alert: it’s the New England Patriots) from rolling to another Super Bowl.
If you can imagine any team going into Foxboro and knocking off the Patriots in a playoff game, it’s probably an explosive Steelers team capable of putting up 30 or more points at any time. Heck, the Steelers might be the only team in the AFC capable of grabbing a higher seed than New England.
Maybe that’s asking too much of the Steelers, and they might be a little overrated on this list too. Pittsburgh was good last season, especially in the second half of the season, but not great. The Steelers were 11-5 and won the AFC North by inches last season, literally. But we all are drawn in by the siren song of offensive stars, and it’s easy to get excited about this group.
The Steelers have an incredible set of skill-position players. The challenge is actually keeping them on the field together. Thanks to suspensions and injury, Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant have played 21 snaps together over the past two seasons. Bryant, one of the best deep receivers in the NFL, is reinstated from suspension. Bell might not be happy playing on the franchise tag this season, and he is holding out of training camp, but he’s arguably the best running back in the NFL. Roethlisberger is probably going to the Hall of Fame someday. Brown has 481 catches since the beginning of the 2013 season, an NFL record for most catches in a four-year span. Now we finally (hopefully) get a chance to see what they can all do together over a full season.
Bryant’s return allows Steelers fans to dream big. Roethlisberger has played 19 games with Bryant in the lineup, and his numbers in those games have been phenomenal. Roethlisberger has averaged about 336 passing yards per game when Bryant is on the field, according to NumberFire.com. The Steelers have averaged 29.3 points per game with that combination in the lineup. Bryant, who averages 17.3 yards per catch over his career with 14 touchdowns, opens up the field. As Rotoworld’s Evan Silva pointed out, Brown’s numbers are much better with Bryant (8.9 catches, 113.7 yards, 0.8 touchdowns per game) than when Bryant doesn’t play (7.1-93.7-0.7). The Steelers offense was good without Bryant. It might be the best in the NFL with him back. And Pittsburgh’s defense improved a lot in the second half of last season, which was the catalyst for a long winning streak. Even though the Steelers lost the AFC title game, they had to feel the arrow was pointed up for this season.
The question is if the Steelers have enough to make it to a Super Bowl. That likely means they’ll need to knock off the Patriots. Dating back to the AFC championship game at the end of the 2004 season, the Steelers have lost eight of 10 meetings and four in a row. The Steelers were overwhelmed in a 36-17 loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship game last season (and as we’ll talk about in the next preview, the Patriots have improved over the offseason). If the Steelers have closed the gap, it’s because Bryant will improve the offense and a young defense continues to get better. It would still have to be a big leap for a Steelers team that was 11-5 last season and needed a last-second stretching touchdown from Brown to beat the Baltimore Ravens for the division title.
But if the Steelers can’t knock off the Patriots in the AFC, who can?
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Jacob Feldman of Sports Illustrated on the importance of WR MARTAVIUS BRYANT to Pittsburgh’s 2017 aspirations. It’s a longer profile with some good background info edite out but you can read the whole thing
One morning during the Steelers’ 2015 training camp, Martavis Bryant went missing. Before a string of failed drug tests endangered his career, the second-year receiver was already in trouble. “Where is he?” coaches asked QB Tajh Boyd, a camp invitee who’d thrown to Bryant at Clemson. “I don’t know,” Boyd responded. “Martavis is his own man.”
When Bryant finally showed up—he says he overslept—he was greeted with what was becoming the usual punishment. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley issued a few stern words, 68-year-old wideouts coach Richard Mann produced another dressing down and head coach Mike Tomlin cut to the chase: Now you owe me some money.
Tomlin kept an eye on his debtor all afternoon, which meant he was watching when Ben Roethlisberger unleashed a deep ball—presumably too deep given the curse word Big Ben let fly as it left his hand. But there was Bryant, showing off his 4.4 speed, 6’ 4″ frame and 79-inch wingspan, diving to catch a pass that even Boyd thought was out of the receiver’s reach. Said Tomlin, “That’s why we need him, right there.”
Within a month the NFL would slap Bryant with his first suspension, banning him four weeks for repeated failed drug tests. (Bryant says it was marijuana; the NFL doesn’t comment on drug tests.) When Bryant returned with a two-TD performance against the Cardinals in Week 6, Haley hunted him down on the sideline. “I’ve never seen anybody with what you have,” he said. “I’ve been with [Larry Fitzgerald], and God gave you something different. Don’t f— it up.” Haley then leaned in to hug Bryant, who over the years has grown used to being alternately berated and embraced by his coaches.
“That’s what I admire about him,” says Corey Crawford, a teammate at Clemson and at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. “He plays [his life] like a game. You mess up in a game, and the next time you get an opportunity, you do something with it. He messes up, he comes back stronger.” Few have been stronger through the first 21 games of their NFL careers: Bryant scored more TDs (14) in that span than did Julio Jones or A.J. Green (both 13), and he had more receiving yards (1,314) than Dez Bryant (1,146) or Calvin Johnson (1,287). The last time he played, in a divisional-round loss to the Broncos in 2016, he had a career-high 194 yards from scrimmage, leading CBS’s Phil Simms to compare Bryant with Randy Moss. Alas, two months after the Denver game, he was suspended again, this time for a minimum of one year, for skipping multiple tests.
When agent Tom Santanello called to deliver that news, a weary Bryant said he was done with football. Santanello reminded his client of his potential. “You’re too f—— good to quit.”
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Character concerns contributed to Bryant’s slide to No. 118 in the 2014 draft, and he justified all of those doubts at his first OTAs. The 22-year-old rookie knew nothing about the NFL’s drug program until he received a note on his locker after one of those first practices: He would be tested sometime within the next four hours. Bryant says he had marijuana in his system, and he failed. And still. . . . He didn’t stop. “I smoked because I was able to,” he says. As for the drug program, “I never really paid it no mind.” He kept failing tests, earning himself two fines and then the four-game suspension.
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Those around Bryant offer several different explanations for his continued marijuana usage. Some blame friends and hangers-on from his small hometown. Others point to new acquaintances he picked up when he settled into a rental home in Hermosa Beach, Calif., after the 2014 draft. One teammate suggests it’s his way of dealing with the NFL’s overwhelming pressures. There’s also the claim by Bryant’s former agent—denied by the receiver—that he suffered from depression. Bryant’s explanation is simpler. “I was young and dumb.”
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Bryant says he vividly remembers when he stopped smoking marijuana a year ago, how the withdrawal kept him up all night. “I would get frustrated,” he says. “I’d yell, ‘Why can’t I sleep!?’ ” Bryant says he came to understand why the best players are often the ones who are the least accessible, and so he ditched his pad in Hermosa Beach and abandoned the friends that came with it. He resettled in Henderson, Nev., 20 minutes from the Las Vegas strip, which he largely avoids. “It feels really quiet here,” he says. Plus, there’s ample space to explore on his black-and-red Raptor 700R ATV when he needs to clear his mind.
Sometimes he goes to nearby Green Valley High, where he began working with the team’s receivers last summer. Bryant talked to them about reading defenses and demonstrated how to get off the line of scrimmage. He counseled players on picking a college and dealing with girls. He even offered up his own jewelry to one player if he scored three TDs in a game.
And then there were the days spent at league-mandated drug counseling in Vegas, where he listened to the stories of fellow addicts and found a sense of perspective. “Seeing other people’s situations,” he says, “I saw mine wasn’t as bad as I thought. Two people in my rehab died this year. One lady was at home using heroin and didn’t wake up—in front of her daughter.”
Bryant spent Halloween carving pumpkins with his girlfriend, Deja, and on his birthday played video games on the couch. In December, as the Steelers built toward a playoff run, he travelled to Virginia for his and Deja’s baby shower and donned a medal that declared dad to be. Then it was off to Christmas at his grandmother’s house in South Carolina, where an NFL drug tester showed up and followed Bryant to the bathroom. Just as he has up to three times a week, Bryant peed in a cup—and passed. Roberta Bryant is starting to believe again.
Others may take some convincing.
Martavis Bryant’s return to the Steelers started with tears. On May 23, the first day of OTAs (one month after reinstatement), his two-month-old son, Kalle, woke him up at 6:30 a.m. Despite a steady rain, Bryant decided to walk that morning from his apartment to the Steelers’ facility, and as he set forth, his mind shifted from his increasingly damp clothes to his teammates and how they would receive him. He was nervous.
During his suspension, several Steelers expressed disappointment in Bryant. Roethlisberger went so far as to say the wideout had lied to his face, adding that the receiver needed to “grow up.” Even owner Art Rooney II joined in, saying of Bryant, “I’m not sure at this point you can use the words ‘count on him.’ ”
Handshakes and hugs welcomed Bryant at Pittsburgh’s facility that first day back, but he knows that just being back doesn’t mean his relationships are fully repaired. There are Steelers, like lineman Ramon Foster, who saw Bryant decide not to appeal his suspension and took that as a sign that he was ready to face his demons. Now that Bryant is here—his locker, he says, went totally untouched in his absence—all he can do is stay sober and ball out, like he did during a one-on-one drill that first week at OTAs, when he got a jump on a cornerback and bolted by him for a long reception. One field away, offensive line coach Mike Munchak gushed, “That’s pretty.”
Pittsburgh needs that wow factor. During last year’s playoff loss to the Pats, the Steelers—absent a playmaker who’s scored nearly once every five touches—converted just one of three red zone trips. Says Boyd, “There’s no doubt in my mind: If Martavis was playing, the Steelers would have been in the Super Bowl.”
Bryant couldn’t bring himself to view that game; he watched very little football during his exile. Instead he’d call his mother. “I’m ready to go back,” he’d tell her. “I’ll be glad when you go back,” she’d answer. And on some of those days he’d get off the couch and grab his Raptor, riding before sunset through the Nevada hills, carving his own routes into the dunes.
Sell your TOM SAVAGE stock. Another positive review from Coach Bill O’Brien for rookie QB DeSHAUN WATSON. Marc Sessler at NFL.com:
Bill O’Brien has authored three straight nine-win seasons in Houston without any hint of a legitimate signal-caller.
Once billed as a quarterback whisperer, the Texans coach has struggled to develop a franchise arm, which comes as no surprise when you examine the laundry list of milquetoast talent throwing the ball during O’Brien’s tenure.
Brian Hoyer, Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage? Good luck unearthing a more humdrum, soulless patch of passers.
Less than a week into training camp, has O’Brien finally found an answer? His enthusiasm for first-round quarterback Deshaun Watson appears to grow with each practice.
“Deshaun is ahead of any rookie quarterback I’ve ever been around,” O’Brien said Tuesday following the team’s latest camp session.
Mike Florio hears the Colts still think QB ANDREW LUCK will be good to go in the regular season opener.
A week into camp, the Colts still haven’t activated quarterback Andrew Luck from the physically unable to perform list. G.M. Chris Ballard said last week that it will happen before Week One; according to George Bremer of the Anderson (Ind.) Herald Bulletin, that assessment still stands.
Even if Luck is ready for Week One, he’s missing valuable reps in practice. Last week, former NFL coach Kevin Gilbride joined PFT Live to discuss among other things the importance of the reps Luck isn’t able to take.
“I think it’s very important,” Gilbride said. “Obviously I look at it through a special lens because as a coach you believe every rep is important, every practice, every meeting. And it’s critical to development. It’s probably not as important as coaches always thought it was. But in truth there’s no doubt that this is an important time frame in terms of getting a guy ready”
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Gilbride provided a good comparison that crystallizes the problem that will arise if Luck tries to play without practice.
“I always liken it to when you rehearse for a speech,” Gilbride said. “Well the first time you give that speech you’ve worked and you’ve worked and you’ve worked and it comes across pretty well. But the second time you’re a little bit better. The third time you’re even better. By the time you give it the fifth or sixth time you’re really — all the pauses, all the intonations, all the points of emphasis, you’ve really got it down. You’re not even thinking about it anymore. And that’s certainly where you wanna get your quarterback to. The difference between success and almost being successful is very, very small. I think every rep you can get as a quarterback, just like any position, but the quarterback position specifically that you can get in the OTAs and in your training camp and in your exhibition season, you gotta get them now. Because once the season starts it’s all about the opponent.”
Luck is surely smart enough and skilled enough to eventually get himself ready, and he’s surely putting in plenty of work without practicing. But with no reps in the offseason program and no reps thus far in camp and uncertainty as to when he’ll be able to practice, there’s reason for Colts fans not to worry about whether he’ll be able to go in September, but whether he’ll be ready to go.
Not good. RB I’TAVIUS MATHERS exits practice on a board. The AP:
Jacksonville Jaguars running back I’Tavius Mathers was strapped to a board and carried off the practice field Tuesday after experiencing “neurological symptoms.”
Mathers collided with defenders during training camp drills. He raised both arms as trainers removed his jersey. He was taken to a hospital for further evaluation, and the Jaguars say he was conscious during the move.
Mathers is a 5-foot-11, 203-pound rookie from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He spent three years at Mississippi before transferring to Middle Tennessee State for the 2016 season. He ran for 1,561 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior last year, averaging more than 120 yards a game.
RB JAY AJAYI did indeed sustain a concussion on Monday. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi has a concussion and will be sidelined from practice.
The Dolphins confirmed the concussion today, after he experienced symptoms following a couple of hard hits on the practice field yesterday.
The collisions that led to Ajayi’s injury caused coach Adam Gase to face some questions about whether it’s wise to have such an important player taking hits in training camp. But Gase defended the decision to have full-contact practices, saying they’re an important part of getting players ready to play when the games count in September.
Ajayi is one of the Dolphins’ most important players, so keeping him healthy is an important priority. It seems unlikely that he’ll see full contact again any time soon.
THIS AND THAT
TEAMS LIKELY TO RISE AND FALL
To figure out what’s likely to happen in 2017, we have to take a step back and look at what really went down in 2016. Several underlying metrics have historically been effective in projecting whether teams are likely to improve or decline in the upcoming season. The games aren’t played on paper, but the paper can tell us a lot before the games even begin.
Last year, we took a look at those predictive measures and found that the Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Tennessee Titans were likely to improve, while the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers were probably going to decline. This year, we’re going to take a deeper look at the individual teams likely to see their fortunes shift in 2017 and use the numbers to explain why.
Below are the five teams most likely to improve and five teams most likely to decline in 2017, sorted by the gap between their win total and their Pythagorean expectation from a year ago.
Five teams most likely to improve
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)
Point differential: -82
Pythagorean expectation: 5.9 wins
Record in games decided by seven points or less: 2-8 (.200)
Strength of schedule: 0.497 (14th-easiest in NFL)
I’ll forgive you if you’re sick of hearing that the Jaguars are about to take a leap forward. The reality is that they’ve already taken two modest leaps forward. In 2015, they jumped from 3.7 expected wins to 6.4 wins, a mark they mostly maintained last season with those 5.9 Pythagorean-projected victories.
While it was a season with an ugly record, the poor results are mostly explained by that ugly 2-8 mark in games decided by one touchdown or less. You might attribute that to some element of a young Jaguars team not knowing “how to win,” but the Jaguars were a totally unremarkable 9-10 in one-score games over the previous three seasons under Gus Bradley.
Teams that are really bad in one-touchdown games often improve the following season.
2. Los Angeles Chargers (5-11)
Point differential: -13
Pythagorean expectation: 7.7 wins
Record in games decided by seven points or less: 1-8 (.111)
Strength of schedule: 0.505 (16th-toughest in NFL)
The numbers were mostly onto something last season. The one notable exception was the Chargers, who seemed likely to vault forward after a 4-12 season in 2015 in which they went 3-8 in one-score games.
While the 2016 Chargers did improve by one win, nobody could argue that they looked better in those close contests. San Diego was an incredible 1-8 in games decided by one touchdown or less. It’s one thing for the Chargers to blow a league-high five games they led at halftime. It’s another to give away four games in which they either led or were in a tie game with the ball at the two-minute warning. Some of these losses blend together, but it’s worth reiterating how many ways the Chargers blew games last season:
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That’s an unreal string of brutal losses, with three in the first month of the season alone. There was a decent team here. Four of their five wins came against teams with winning records, including a 33-30 victory over the Falcons in Atlanta. They were 13th in DVOA at the midway point of the season before injuries caught up to them, and Mike McCoy’s team eventually finished just ahead of the Vikings and Bucs in 20th.
The Chargers are 4-16 (.200) in one-score games over the past two seasons. I understand if anybody who watched the Chargers collapse on a weekly basis in 2016 doesn’t believe they’re going to be better in close games this season. It’s hard for me to believe. It’s also extremely likely to happen.
I went ahead and looked at teams that posted particularly brutal records in seven-point games over a two-year stretch. No organization since 1989 has lost more one-score games over a two-year span than the 2015-16 Chargers. Maybe that’s the way you describe a bad team. Their .200 winning percentage in those games is the 19th-worst mark, a figure topped by the 2001 Panthers and their 1-13 (.071) record over a two-year stretch. By any measure, the Chargers have been bad at this.
And by any measure, the teams who were bad at this got better. The 29 teams who lost 12 or more one-win games over a two-year stretch were a combined 154-423 (.267) during their period in the wilderness. The following year, those same teams posted a winning record in close games, going 123-113 (.521). They improved their overall win-loss record by an average of 2.2 wins.
3. Cleveland Browns (1-15)
Point differential: -188
Pythagorean expectation: 3.5 wins
Record in games decided by seven points or less: 1-5 (.167)
Strength of schedule: 0.522 (Fifth-toughest in NFL)
I’m not going to waste your time by arguing that the Browns were secretly good last season. They weren’t. Cleveland finished with the league’s worst point differential, and only the Jets posted a worse DVOA. The Browns were bad.
I will argue, though, that they weren’t quite as bad as that 1-15 record suggests. Cleveland played a brutally tough schedule; I have them facing the fifth-toughest slate in football, while DVOA pegs it as the most difficult schedule of any team last season. FPI estimates the Browns will have a league-average schedule this season.
And while the Browns didn’t win until Week 15, they were competitive in other spots. They led the Ravens during the fourth quarter in September. They were a 46-yard field goal away from beating an eventual playoff team in Miami one week later. The Browns weren’t historically awful. They were just a run-of-the-mill terrible team. There’s a difference there, although it’s academic for last year’s team.
In part, the Browns were flummoxed by a nearly unprecedented revolving door of quarterbacks. Cleveland probably wasn’t going to look good under any circumstances, but coach Hue Jackson was down to third-string rookie Cody Kessler by the end of Week 2 after both Robert Griffin and Josh McCown suffered injuries. In the end, five different quarterbacks threw 20 passes or more for the Browns last season.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)
Point differential: +36
Pythagorean expectation: 9.0 wins
Record in games decided by seven points or less: 1-8 (.111)
Strength of schedule: 0.544 (Toughest in the NFL)
No team has a better stat-nerd case for jumping into the postseason in 2017 than the Eagles. Advanced metrics suggest Doug Pederson’s team was already playoff-caliber last season; the Eagles finished fourth in DVOA (just ahead of the Steelers) and had the sixth-best point differential in the NFC, which should have been enough to push them into a wild-card spot.
Instead, the Eagles became one of five teams in 2016 to post a losing record despite a positive point differential, which is a particularly weird feat because it hadn’t happened once in the league across either of the previous two campaigns. Philadelphia’s gap between expected wins and actual wins was the largest of those five, owing to that 1-8 record in games decided by a touchdown.
5. Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1)
Point differential: +56
Pythagorean expectation: 9.4 wins
Record in games decided by seven points or less: 2-5-1 (.313)
Strength of schedule: 0.472 (Fourth-easiest in NFL)
This should technically be the 49ers, but I hope you’ll forgive me in discussing a team that might have slightly more relevance in terms of 2017 contention. (If you’re a Niners fan, you can watch the conversation I had about the 49ers with ESPN’s Louis Riddick on NFL Live here.)
The Cardinals are an example of why it’s dangerous to believe that some coaches or teams have an innate ability to win a disproportionately high percentage of their close games. If you include his run as interim coach of the 2012 Colts, Bruce Arians had won 78.5 percent of his one-score games as a head coach, posting a 22-6 mark over four seasons in charge of Indianapolis and Arizona. Last season, Arians and the Cardinals were 2-5-1 in those same contests, and even those wins were frantic. They needed last-second field goals to beat the 49ers and Seahawks, the latter of which included Arizona’s defense blowing a 13-point lead with four minutes to go.
It was a strange season in many ways for Arizona. The Cardinals faced one of the league’s easiest schedules and somehow fell off significantly. Not only did their record fall by 5.5 wins, but their Pythagorean expectation declined from the dominant 11.9-win heights of 2015 to 9.4 victories last season. They did this despite returning virtually everyone of note from their 2015 team. In total, they fell from third in DVOA to 16th.
So what happened? The passing offense collapsed, going from third in DVOA in 2015 to 27th. Carson Palmer came back to earth after a career year in 2015. Palmer’s sack rate rose behind an offensive line that struggled to protect him at times, as expected starters Jared Veldheer (out for eight games) and Evan Mathis (done for the year after four) missed significant time. Only one of his top three wideouts was useful (Larry Fitzgerald), as Michael Floyd was anonymous before being released after a DUI, while John Brown struggled with sickle cell issues and had a cyst removed from his spine after the season.
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Arizona might have a wider range of outcomes than just about any team in the league, and given that franchise icon Fitzgerald is set to hit free agency after the season, it may have as much to lose in 2017 as any team. If the offense reverts back to its usual self and Arizona’s defensive stars stay healthy and play like Pro Bowlers, the Cardinals could be a juggernaut and Super Bowl contender.
Alternately, there’s a chance Palmer is toast and the defense spends half the year trying to replace the players who left town. The first six weeks of the season might be reasonably tough, and Arizona ends with the Giants and Seahawks, but between Week 7 and Week 14, there’s an easy slate. The Cardinals play the Seahawks during that period, but they otherwise get a bye, three games against the AFC South, and matchups against the Rams and 49ers. If the Cards can get to that stretch at 3-3, they’ll probably go on enough of a run to make it to the postseason.
Five teams most likely to decline
1. Oakland Raiders (12-4)
Point differential: +31
Pythagorean expectation: 8.7 wins
Record in games decided by seven points or fewer: 8-1 (.889)
Strength of schedule: 0.526 (Fourth-hardest in NFL)
To put what the Raiders did last season in context, that gap of 3.3 wins between their actual win total and their expected win total is the fourth-largest since 1989. Of the 10 teams with the largest gaps between their actual win total and their Pythagorean win total between 1989 and 2015, seven declined, with three maintaining their previous record. The average drop was 3.4 wins:
Most of the decline for those teams came in close games. During the season in which they seemingly defied math, those 10 teams were a combined 60-12 (.833) in games decided by one touchdown or less. The following season, they didn’t just regress toward the mean; they regressed precisely to the mean, going a combined 31-31 (.500) in close games. Their fall-off in the games that weren’t close wasn’t anywhere near as significant, as they dropped from a .671 win percentage to a .551 clip.
The Raiders, not coincidentally, were one of the best teams in close games in recent memory. Jack Del Rio’s team went 8-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer. You won’t be surprised to hear me say that teams with that sort of record also struggle to keep it up. The Raiders have one of the 25 best records in one-score games from 1989 on. During their standout seasons, those other 24 teams were a combined 131-6-1 (.953) in one-score games. The following year, those same teams — stocked with quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Steve Young — went a combined 87-88 (.497) in games decided by seven points or fewer. They won an average of three fewer games each.
Is it possible that the Raiders, as the phrase often goes, learned how to win? Maybe. When we talk about teams learning how to win, the idea is that a team will hold a lead in the fourth quarter with excellent defensive work and a running game that burns out the clock. There were examples of that later in the season, but early on, the Raiders won a few games that seem incredibly unsustainable:
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The arrival of Marshawn Lynch might help the Raiders grind out the clock in the fourth quarter, but the perfectly timed offensive pass interference penalties and failed field goal holds won’t stick around. Oakland also got a healthy season from its wildly expensive offensive line, with its five starters playing 74 of 80 games. Five of those missed games were from right tackle Austin Howard, who was generally considered to be the line’s weakest link before being cut on Friday. Key backup Menelik Watson is also gone, to Denver, so a less effective season from the line could cancel out any improvements from luring Lynch out of retirement.
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Even if the Raiders decline, though, they probably will still be good. The most plausible outcome is that Oakland takes a step back and ends up as a nine- to 10-win team, which should still keep it in line for both the division title and a wild-card spot.
2. Houston Texans (9-7)
Point differential: -49
Pythagorean expectation: 6.5 wins
Record in games decided by seven points or fewer: 8-2 (.800)
Strength of schedule: 0.512 (12th-hardest in NFL)
One of the way those Colts teams held on to their throne was by dominating a mostly putrid AFC South. Indianapolis was 12-0 vs. the division between 2013 and 2014, and the Texans filled the void once the Colts dropped off. The 2014 and 2015 Texans were genuinely good teams, but the 2016 Texans are about as bad as a division winner can get. Consider that they ranked a lowly 29th in DVOA, safely ensconced between two teams that fired their coaches, the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.
While Houston was in a relatively easy division, it didn’t play a particularly charitable schedule; by my accounting, the Texans faced the 12th-toughest slate in the league. The Texans did beat the Kansas City Chiefs by seven points, and they had another seven-point victory over the Detroit Lions, although the latter team ranked 27th in DVOA. Otherwise, Houston was eking out wins against the AFC South and the likes of the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals.
Meanwhile, its average loss came by 13.3 points, including a 27-point loss to the Patriots with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback on a short week. The Texans were really 8-1 in meaningful one-score games, given that they lost a meaningless Week 17 game to a Matt Cassel-led Titans team — and even that required a late Brock Osweiler rushing touchdown to make it close. Houston’s largest win of the season was over the lowly Bears in the opener by nine points. Meanwhile, it had three losses of 18 points or more.
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Of course, the other argument revolves around a serious upgrade at quarterback, where Osweiler was deposed after one season. Will the Texans get better play from their passers at 2017? I find it hard to believe Tom Savage is likely to be better than Osweiler over any stretch of time.
Remember that the Texans drafted Savage in the fourth round of the 2014 draft and thought so highly of him that they signed Brian Hoyer and gave him and Ryan Mallett the passing reps in 2015, then gave Osweiler a huge deal during the subsequent offseason. After a 73-pass sample in which Savage averaged a pedestrian 6.3 yards per attempt, the Texans were sufficiently convinced by Savage to trade two first-round picks and move up for Deshaun Watson this April. If Savage is a viable pro quarterback, it will be a surprise to the franchise that keeps trying to replace him.
It’s more plausible that Houston would get better quarterback play from Watson. Osweiler averaged 4.3 adjusted net yards per attempt last season. There have been 10 other passers since 1990 taken between picks 11 and 20 of the first round who have thrown passes as a rookie. Those passers have combined to average 4.9 ANY/A. Watson is certainly a higher-upside option than Osweiler or any of the replacement-level quarterbacks the Texans would have brought in on a backup’s salary to compete.
As a rookie, Watson is a high-variance option, as is the case for any debuting quarterback. That’s hardly unreasonable, but it doesn’t necessarily push the Texans forward more often than it holds them back. As a team built to win now, the Texans should be able to rely upon a dominant defense and put together a passable offense. If they’re right about Watson, they could angle for a Super Bowl spot, but it’s more plausible that the team goes with Savage before turning to Watson, who mixes flashes of brilliance with the sort of mistakes you make when you’re a rookie in a new league.
3. Miami Dolphins (10-6)
Point differential: -17
Pythagorean expectation: 7.6 wins
Record in games decided by seven points or fewer: 8-2 (.800)
Strength of schedule: 0.480 (Eighth-easiest in NFL)
The 2016 Dolphins were, more than most teams, defined by their schedule. It’s not just that the Dolphins were 8-2 in one-score games; it’s that they were 8-2 with the vast majority of those wins coming against the worst teams in the league.
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Against upper-echelon competition, the Dolphins looked ordinary. They were 1-4 against teams with a winning record, with a notable 15-point victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Jay Ajayi’s breakout game. The Lions were the only playoff team with a worse record in those games. Several of their losses were hardly close: It’s one thing to lose by 17 points against New England, but the Dolphins also lost by 32 points to the Ravens, 15 points to the Bengals and 13 points to the Titans. Oddly enough for a team that rode a second-half winning streak to the playoffs, their best loss was in Week 1, when they couldn’t come up with one of two fourth-down stops to beat the Seattle Seahawks.
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Is it possible that Gase has the ability to exceed his team’s point differential via game management? I would be skeptical. Gase’s teams as an offensive coordinator in Denver shot past their Pythagorean expectation twice in two years, but that was also with Peyton Manning at quarterback, and Manning’s Colts teams often did the same thing. The Bears actually undershot their Pythagorean expectation by a half-win during Gase’s lone season in Chicago.
Furthermore, while there have been plenty of promising young coaches to break out and exceed their Pythagorean expectation as rookies, those same coaches haven’t been able to keep it up the following year. There are 12 coaches since 1989 who preceded Gase and posted a win total which was at least 1.5 wins greater than their expected win total. The following year, those coaches produced a combined 108 wins against a Pythagorean expectation of 107.8 wins.
One coach would be familiar to Dolphins fans: Tony Sparano, who led Miami to a shocking division title at 11-5 in 2008 despite posting just 8.8 Pythagorean wins. The following year, the Dolphins fell to 7-9. Gase appears to be a good hire, but he probably doesn’t have the ability to defy history. The Dolphins will either improve their underlying performance or see their record suffer for it in 2017.
4. New York Giants (11-5)
Point differential: +26
Pythagorean expectation: 8.8 wins
Record in games decided by seven points or fewer: 8-3 (.727)
Strength of schedule: 0.506 (15th-hardest in NFL)
The numbers suggested the Giants were likely to improve in 2016. Ben McAdoo’s first team as head coach was a little better than Tom Coughlin’s final squad from 2015, but the results were dramatically different. Both the 2015 and 2016 Giants were 3-2 in games decided by eight or more points, but by flipping its record in close games from 3-8 to 8-3, Big Blue pushed its way back into the postseason.
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The New York defense improved from 30th to second in both points allowed and DVOA, which is unprecedented in the case of the latter. The previous record was a 27-rank jump, which was pulled off by the 2011 Jaguars. The following year, the Jags fell all the way back to 28th and didn’t bound back up toward league average until 2016.
That’s an extreme example of what Bill James called the Plexiglass Principle, but teams that suddenly improve like the Giants did often give back some of their gains. Sixteen teams preceding the Giants improved their DVOA rank on defense by 20 spots or more between 1987 and 2015. Those teams declined the next year by an average of just over eight spots in the rankings.
5. Dallas Cowboys (13-3)
Point differential: +115
Pythagorean expectation: 10.9 wins
Record in games decided by seven points or fewer: 7-2 (.778)
Strength of schedule: 0.491 (12th-easiest in NFL)
The Cowboys were the poster boys among teams likely to improve last season, but part of that enthusiasm involved replacing Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden with Tony Romo. The situation looked less exciting once Romo went down in preseason, only for Dak Prescott to emerge as one of the more unlikely superstars in recent memory. Throw in a dominant running game and the Cowboys rode an irresistible offense to their best season since Bill Parcells was in town.
Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are back for another go-round, so why should the Cowboys be any worse in 2017? Well, even if we assume that Elliott will avoid a suspension for a domestic abuse accusation, the engine powering the Dallas offense is undergoing repairs. The vaunted Cowboys offensive line is rebuilding. Right tackle Doug Free retired and guard Ronald Leary left in free agency for the Broncos after excelling in La’el Collins’s stead last season. Collins will move to right tackle, while 2015 third-round pick Chaz Green seems first in line to start at left guard. The Cowboys are also thinner in the case that anyone gets hurt. The line will not be bad as long as Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick are still around, but there’s going to be an adjustment period.
Comebacks: Even if the Cowboys do decline, their margin for error is higher than everyone else’s on this list. Even if their record was a little inflated, their 10.9-win Pythagorean Expectation suggests they were the third-best team in the league last season, behind the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons. DVOA has them just ahead of the Falcons and behind the Pats in second.
The Cowboys could regress toward the mean and still be favored to come away with a playoff spot, if not the NFC East. Barring a serious injury to Prescott, they’ll be a good team in 2017.
COLLEGE KICKERS RUN AFOUL OF ADMINISTRATION
A pair of administrative controversies are keeping UCF PK Donald De La Haye and USC PK Matt Boermeester sidelined this year.
In the case of De La Haye, it is a combination of the NCAA and UCF that has denied him the right to make some money outside of football. Dan Wolken of USA Today:
In fewer than 24 hours, Donald De La Haye’s YouTube video titled “I lost my full DI scholarship because of my YouTube channel” had been viewed more than 153,000 times. It was 5 minutes, 39 seconds of raw emotion from a backup kicker at Central Florida none of us would have known about had NCAA rules not intervened this summer, threatening his eligibility for making money off his videos.
“Every time I step in that compliance building,” he said, voice quivering, “I hear nothing but bad news.”
Indeed, De La Haye will no longer play college football at UCF after he declined to accept a compromise with the NCAA on the monetization of his YouTube channel, thus rendering him ineligible.
Though NCAA staffers tried to do some emergency spin in the wake of another public relations disaster, tweeting at reporters that it was the school and not Indianapolis that ruled him ineligible, it’s a distinction without a difference.
Stacey Osburn @NCAAStacey
To clarify media misreporting, UCF declared Donald De La Haye ineligible, not the NCAA.
The issue here isn’t who ruled De La Haye ineligible, nor is it the way they sliced and diced the rule so that he could continue making videos — but only if the ones he made money off of didn’t reference anything about being a football player at UCF.
The problem here is that the NCAA has built an entire brand on the theme that “most of us will go pro in something other than sports.” And yet, when someone has the audacity to get a head start on that while in college, we have to strain it through so many bylaws and compliance interpretations that a kid at the end of a roster in the American Athletic Conference has to make a choice between his football scholarship and his slightly lucrative hobby.
“In the end, I don’t feel like there was any compromising really happening,” De La Haye said in the video. “They wanted me to give up the money I made, wanted me to take down my videos, which I worked so hard for and wasn’t comfortable doing. It was just very unfair in my opinion, and now I’ve got to deal with the consequences. And the consequences are no more college football. And since I can’t play college football, no more scholarship. Damn. Life hit me fast, very fast.”
From the NCAA’s perspective, this decision isn’t about De La Haye. Nobody could reasonably connect the popularity of YouTube videos for a backup kicker at UCF to any sort of recruiting advantage or breach of the NCAA’s sacred notion of amateurism.
I lost my full D1 scholarship because of my Youtube channel..: http://youtu.be/Fh69-X6X55w?a via @YouTube
It is, however, about laying down the precedent in case some enterprising assistant coaches at an Alabama or Ohio State figured out a way to guarantee recruits that they could make money on the side by posting videos on a social media site.
While that argument might make sense within the construct of the NCAA’s current model, it’s not one that can hold up forever.
The collateral damage to people like De La Haye and embarrassment that has piled up over every one of these decisions in the last decade has turned the public against the purity of amateurism and unnecessarily made the NCAA into a punchline. Every instance of outrage draws the folks in Indianapolis closer and closer to a critical mass of legal and public opinion that endangers their very existence.
Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R – Fla.) tweeted, “The @NCAA is out of control” on Tuesday morning, and regardless of what you think about Rubio’s politics, it’s probably not good news for the NCAA when U.S. senators are calling your organization “out of control.”
Marco Rubio ✔ @marcorubio
The @NCAA is out of control. They ruled Central Florida kicker ineligible over YouTube videos https://usat.ly/2vmPr20
The NCAA said Donald De La Haye could make money off his videos, but not those that showed his athletic endeavors
Moreover, the De La Haye kerfuffle is a prime example of why more and more powerful people inside college sports are coming around to the idea that they’re simply on the wrong side of the name, image and likeness debate.
Though few will talk about it publicly — after all, it would undercut years of litigation the NCAA has been fighting — more and more young, rising administrators in college sports seem to understand that prohibiting athletes from cashing in on their notoriety is a fight they will lose over the long haul and probably need to lose if college sports is going to continue with anything close to the model it now enjoys.
While reasonable people can debate whether college athletes should be paid and all the consequences of that from employment/tax issues to whether you pay the left tackle the same as the quarterback, there is no good argument for restricting the earning potential of athletes based on their popularity, charisma, or in De La Haye’s case, their talent in something besides football.
If Subway thinks USC quarterback Sam Darnold is worth a $200,000 marketing deal, on what grounds would a university legitimately be able to restrict that opportunity? If McDonald’s wants to make reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson a $500,000 offer to be in commercials, what business is that of Louisville’s or the NCAA’s?
Lifting those restrictions would immediately relieve many of the NCAA’s legal and public relations problems — no more need to have a staff of people scrutinizing a backup kicker’s YouTube videos — while having little to no impact on the competitive landscape of college sports.
Of course the big-time programs with more rich boosters would have more “arrangements” with recruits in that world. But what’s the point of worrying about a landscaping business in Alabama offering a backup safety $20,000 to appear on a billboard when they get the best players every year anyway? And if a business doesn’t get value from paying players to appear in commercials or for autograph signings, they probably won’t do it.
The reality is, not much would change. Superstars would probably be paid like superstars. The rest would be lucky to get some free sandwiches. And the same teams that win most of the championships now would continue to do win championships.
The problem is, the current power structure is more concerned about that than the reality someone like De La Haye — whose fame on the Internet has nothing to do with his college football ability — is facing today.
“It’s about time I head down another road, I guess,” he said.
Maybe the NCAA should consider doing the same.
Left unsaid here is how De La Haye “monetizes” his YouTube videos. Are we missing something here? After some research, we think we know that some random ads through a service pop up before his videos. We have no idea whether or not we’re talking nickels or thousands here.
As far as Boermeester goes, he was kicked out of USC in a farcial Title IX procedure with no evidence, no hearing, a “victim” who adamantly denies there was a crime (and even if there was a crime, it might have been a shove). Lawyer Clay Travis at OutkickTheCoverage.com walks us through the known facts with help from the L.A. Times:
I have written for several years on my belief that Title IX investigations on campus are fundamentally broken.
But even I’m stunned to see some of the stories emerging from college campuses these days — like the one involving USC kicker Matt Boermeester, who made the winning kick in the Rose Bowl and was shortly thereafter kicked out of school based on flawed Title IX processes. We’ll get to that in a moment, but first let’s get this out of the way early: anyone with a functional brain is in favor of equal treatment under the law and everyone is against rape. Just like everyone is against murder and assault and any other crime that injures another human being.
Now that this is out of the way, let’s ask a big question that never gets asked: why are universities responsible for investigating rape accusations? The answer is because they’re required to conduct investigations under the auspices of Title IX. It’s a well intentioned application of federal law — premised on the idea that sexual assault on campus is a problem that needs to be treated seriously — but it creates as many, if not more, problems than it actually remedies. Because it sets up two different simultaneous investigations with two different standards of proof, two different investigative procedures, two different consequences and two divergent potential outcomes.
Let me explain.
If a murder happened on campus every single person who has ever been to college anywhere would find it ludicrous if a university was conducting a simultaneous campus murder investigation alongside police, right? Any time there’s a serious allegation of a crime, campus cops call the real cops and let them investigate. That’s because campus cops are equipped to give out parking tickets and respond to noise complaints, they aren’t there to solve murders or bank robberies or kidnappings.
If a serious crime happens on campus just about everyone would say that it’s the job of local police to investigate that crime. That’s because we understand that conducting criminal investigations is time consuming, difficult, and freighted with the obligations to implement that investigation consistent with applicable state and federal law. No college or university has an adequate investigatory staff to determine who committed a murder and assess guilt or innocence. Moreover, the very idea of a college conducting a hearing based on whether a murder happened and applying its own standard of proof, rules of evidence and confrontation rules in that case is laughable.
Yet that is exactly what happens on campuses today when sexual assault allegations are made.
You have a criminal investigation occurring at the same time that a school investigation is occurring. And there are two potential outcomes when a criminal investigation ensues:
1. Criminal charges are brought.
2. No criminal charges are brought.
The first case is simple — if criminal charges are brought students are expelled from school and the campus investigation is effectively moot. But the bigger issue occurs in the second situation, when a criminal investigation takes place and no charges are brought. Then the campus conducts its own Title IX investigation and a student can be kicked off campus if an investigative body on campus finds it 50.1% likely that a rape happened.
If that determination is made then a student, typically male although it can happen to females too, is branded a rapist and kicked off campus.
You would think with these kinds of consequences that Title IX investigations would be fair and impartial. But you’d be wrong. All too often they are kangaroo courts lacking procedural safeguards, protections for both accused and accuser, and lacking in all elements of fairness.
Which brings us to USC.
Just look at the fact pattern of this case.
According to the LA Times:
“The Title IX investigation began…after a neighbor witnessed Boermeester (USC’s kicker) and Zoe Katz roughhousing. The neighbor told his roommate, who told a coach in USC’s athletic department that Boermeester was abusing Katz. The coach then reported the incident to the Title IX office.
Katz said she was summoned to a mandatory meeting with Title IX officials, where she told investigators that the two were playing around. Katz was subsequently told that she “must be afraid of Matt,” she said. She told officials she was not. Boermeester has not been arrested or charged with a crime.
“When I told the truth about Matt, in repeated interrogations, I was stereotyped and was told I must be a ‘battered’ woman, and that made me feel demeaned and absurdly profiled,” Katz said. “I understand that domestic violence is a terrible problem, but in no way does that apply to Matt and me.”
Katz said that she has “never been abused, assaulted or otherwise mistreated by Matt.” Katz said the Title IX office made her feel “misled, harassed, threatened and discriminated against,” and caused her to hire an attorney.
“The Title IX office’s response was dismissive and demeaning,” she said.
In the statement, Katz said she is coming forward now to clear Boermeester’s name and lobby for change in the Title IX office’s investigative procedures.
“Matt Boermeester did nothing improper against me, ever,” Katz said. “I would not stand for it. Nor will I stand for watching him be maligned and lied about.”
This fact pattern should stun everyone.
Here you have a boyfriend and girlfriend in a one year relationship who are allegedly playing around and roughhousing outside their apartment. An unnamed witness sees this — we know nothing about this witness — tells a USC athletic department official and then a Title IX investigation ensues.
Neither the man nor the woman says anything improper happened and police bring no charges, but the USC investigator refuses to believe either party to this case and USC’s kicker is expelled from school.
All because one anonymous witness saw the duo playing around outside their apartment.
And now the alleged “victim” in this case is so upset at the outcome that she has hired her own attorney and feels compelled to release her own two page letter to the media to get her side of the story out.
Welcome to Title IX.
It’s a broken system.
And if you think Matt Boermeester at USC is the only innocent victim, you’re wrong. There are thousands of other students just like him all over this country. It’s way past time for reasonable people to acknowledge campus Title IX investigations are broken and return some sanity to the system.
Police should investigate crimes, not campus officials.
It should be noted that USC is hinting that there might be more to the story than Katz has put forward and dares Boermeester to allow his records to be released:
A spokesman for USC, in an emailed statement to The Times, said that “the university has concluded its investigation. Student disciplinary records and proceedings regarding any matter of student conduct are confidential and protected by law. Per the registrar, he is no longer enrolled at the university.”
On Monday, USC issued another statement: “USC stands by its investigation and the accounts provided by multiple witnesses. As previously stated, student disciplinary records are confidential. If the students involved waive their confidentiality rights, the university will offer a detailed response.”
So we are outraged if Katz is telling the whole truth, but we do note that Boermeester has been as silent as Colin Kaepernick on the matter, allowing Katz to carry the ball so far.