The Daily Briefing Wednesday, August 22, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

LB ROQUAN SMITH, after a contentious holdout, now has a hamstring problem.  Rich Campbell in the Chicago Tribune:

 

Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith stopped practicing Tuesday because of tightness in his lower left hamstring, coach Matt Nagy said. The first-round draft choice was shut down as a precaution and might practice Wednesday, Nagy said.

 

At the very least, though, the muscle tightness does nothing to further Smith’s readiness for the season opener Sept. 9 against the Packers. In fact, before practice, Smith was asked about his greatest hurdle to being ready for Week 1.

 

 “Just being in football shape,” he said. “You work out and do all the running you can, but it’s nothing like football shape.”

 

Smith missed all 16 training camp practices as part of a 29-day contract holdout that ended Aug. 14. Tuesday’s practice was just his fourth of the preseason and only second in pads.

 

After Smith signed, Nagy acknowledged the Bears needed to be measured in incorporating Smith into practices. With the team at full speed since late July, the Bears hoped to avoid subjecting Smith to injury before he was ready to match his teammates’ speed and physicality.

 

Smith’s injury Tuesday wasn’t a realization of their worst fear because it appeared to be minor. Nagy took it is as validation of the Bears’ deliberate approach.

 

 

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS is not going to QB TOM BRADY and take a deal way below market value, but he also signals reasonableness.  Zach Kruse at PackersWire.com:

 

Much has been rumored and reported regarding the contract negotiations between Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, ranging from a fully guaranteed deal to various structuring ideas capable of keeping the contract financially relevant in an ever-changing quarterback market.

 

The central goal of the negotiations has never changed, however: The two-time MVP wants to do a deal that makes both sides happy.

 

In 2013, that meant a record-setting amount of money structured in such a way that the Packers never had to endure a cap-strapped season.

 

“If you ask the team about the last deal that we did, and you ask me, both sides are happy,” Rodgers told the “Wilde and Tausch” podcast. “They paid me a lot of money, and they never had a major salary cap year. … So we’ve still been able to add guys to the mix and have a competitive team. And from my standpoint, they’ve paid me a ton of money. I’m super extremely financially blessed and very happy.”

 

Rodgers’ five-year, $110 million extension was, at the time, the biggest in NFL history, but it still doesn’t feature a single-season cap charge over $21.1 million. He’ll count $20.6 million against the cap in 2018, the 14th highest cap charge among NFL quarterbacks.

 

Five years later, the same mutual goal still applies, even if the terms will eventually look different. The “partnership” between Rodgers and the Packers should ensure that any deal he signs is good for him and good for the franchise.

 

If we do another deal, that obviously is the goal,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think they would want to nickel and dime me, and I’m not trying to screw them. This is a partnership. That’s the only way this is going to work, and the best way things work in this situation is we’re in this together. If they make that financial commitment, that’s what they’re saying. And also there’s an expectation I’m going to play well, and that’s my side of the bargain.”

 

Rodgers reiterated that both sides would still love to get a deal done, but he’s left all remaining negotiations to his agent, David Dunn. His focus is locked in on helping build a Super Bowl caliber team in Green Bay for the 2018 season.

 

“That’s what I care about,” Rodgers said. “The rest of the stuff is for Dave.”

 

Rodgers often talks about his legacy and how he wants to be remembered when he leaves the game. Finishing his career in Green Bay is a big part of that legacy.

 

Both sides of the negotiation must know how important his upcoming deal will be for keeping Rodgers in Green Bay for the duration of his playing career. It has to work long-term for both parties. Working off that premise should ensure that the eventual deal is fair and financially viable for both Rodgers and the Packers.

 

 

MINNESOTA

It looks like S GEORGE ILOKA, surprisingly cut loose by the Bengals, is going to land with Minnesota (whose head coach Mike Zimmer brought him into the league).  Kevin Patra of NFL.com sums up other reports:

 

The Minnesota Vikings’ loaded defense is set to add even more firepower.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Wednesday morning that free-agent safety George Iloka is headed to Minnesota and appears likely to sign with the Vikings, per sources informed of the decision.

 

Iloka was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer served as the Bengals defensive coordinator during the safety’s first two seasons, providing a comfort level to add the veteran at this late stage.

 

Iloka started 16 games for the Bengals last season, compiling 80 tackles, five passes defended and one pick. Pro Football Focus graded 2017 as Iloka’s best season, and the safety allowed only a 68.4 passer rating against last year.

 

The 28-year-old safety could slide alongside All-Pro safety Harrison Smith. Pairing Iloka with Smith would give Minnesota a dynamic duo on the back end. The pairs’ versatility would give Zimmer scheme flexibility to get creative at the safety position.

 

The addition of Iloka thrusts into question the future of incumbent strong safety Andrew Sendejo in Minnesota.

 

Bringing in Iloka upgrades an already stout Zimmer defense that has no visible weakness. Adding a starting safety of Iloka’s caliber to a stud defense that already boasts Pro Bowlers at every level is akin to tossing bits of Oreo cookie into your double-chocolate fudge Sunday that is already topped with sprinkles, chocolate chips, candied nuts, whipped cream, and four cherries.

 

With the Vikings’ moves this offseason to lock up its in-house playmakers, and now bring in talent off the street, one thing is abundantly clear: Signing Kirk Cousins to a massive deal did not necessitate dismantling a dominant defense.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com thinks that even QB PAXTON LYNCH would be an upgrade in the Carolina QB room:

 

Paxton Lynch to the Panthers

Let’s play a game: Name the guys behind Cam Newton on the depth chart without Googling it. I dare you. And I admit I had to double check this myself. It’s Garrett Gilbert, who has been waived six times since entering the NFL in 2014, and Tyler Heinicke, who is on his fourth team since entering the NFL in 2015. That won’t cut it. Cam takes a lot of pounding and always comes back for more, but he’s not as young as he once was. Lynch might be a total bust, but trade a very late pick for him and let Norv Turner check him out. Regardless, he’s getting booed out of Denver — literally — and has to go. (If they are going to continue to berate the QB, some of the boos should be directed at the dude who drafted him in the first-round, too, no?)

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

RB TERRENCE WEST, who was thought to be a short-term replacement for suspended RB MARK INGRAM, has been waived.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

The Buccaneers appear to have dodged a long-term bullet with a knee injury to T DONOVAN SMITH.   Jenna Laine of ESPN.com:

 

Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith will miss the next two to four weeks with a sprained right knee, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Dan Graziano.

 

NFL Network earlier reported the extent of and timetable for Smith’s injury. Team sources told ESPN that they are “optimistic” that it won’t be a long-term injury.

 

Smith was injured at practice Tuesday morning when he got rolled up on during a team period.

 

“One of the defensive guys threw themselves into him, or got thrown into him,” said right tackle Demar Dotson. “I don’t know what happened, but we’ve just got to do a good job of staying up. When it gets late in training camp like this, people get tired and sloppy. That’s kind of what happened.”

 

Smith shouted in pain while being tended to by team trainers, and eventually walked off the field with some assistance.

 

“That’s a guy that we need,” Dotson said. “He means everything [to this team]. We don’t have [anybody] that can play left tackle the way he can play left tackle.”

 

Starting safety Justin Evans also suffered a right ankle injury that forced him to leave practice, but the team does not believe it’s serious.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

A foot injury for RB J.D. McKISSIC.  Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times:

 

Seahawks running back J.D. McKissic is out 4-6 weeks with a Jones fracture in his foot, the Seahawks confirmed. The injury was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.

 

McKissic apparently suffered the injury during the Seahawks’ practice Tuesday and the nature of the injury was discovered afterward.

 

A Jones fracture is described as a break between the base and middle part of the fifth metatarsal of the foot.

 

McKissic has been vying for a spot in the team’s tailback rotation and specifically as a third-down/two-minute back, as well as serving as the team’s backup kickoff and punt returner behind Tyler Lockett.

 

McKissic, in his third season with the Seahawks after arriving late in 2016, has five yards on two carries in the preseason and 14 yards on three receptions.

 

The revelation of his injury comes as the Seahawks had gotten good news on first-round pick Rashaad Penny, who the team thinks will be ready for the regular season opener at Denver Sept. 9 after breaking an index finger in practice last week.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

CB JIMMY SMITH gets one more game than QB JAMEIS WINSTON.  Jamison Hensley at ESPN.com:

 

The NFL on Tuesday suspended Jimmy Smith for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, sidelining the Baltimore Ravens’ top cornerback for the first quarter of the 2018 season.

 

Smith’s discipline stems from a petition filed by the mother of his first child that accused him of domestic violence. The NFL found evidence of “threatening and emotionally abusive behaviors” by Smith toward his former girlfriend, according to a statement released by the team.

 

“I would like to sincerely apologize to my former girlfriend, the NFL, the Ravens organization, my coaches, my teammates, my fiancée and all our fans. I’m very disappointed that my past actions have led to this suspension,” Smith said in a statement. “I promise that I have already learned much and will continue to learn more from this experience. I believe I am, and will continue to try to be, a better person and a better father because of this. I am committed to being the best I can be, both on and off the field.

 

“I take full responsibility for my past conduct. Moving forward, I will work with the NFL and the Ravens to ensure that what happened in the past will never happen again. I will take all necessary steps to be a positive role model for both my sons, for the NFL and for the entire Ravens community.”

 

The Ravens indicated Smith would be welcomed back after his suspension ends. He can return to the team on Oct. 1.

 

Things are vague as to whether or not there was a physical assault, and the fact that Smith was being investigated apparently stayed under wraps until the NFL made its announcement.  TMZ.com:

 

The woman involved in the incident has a child with Smith. The two had been in a custody dispute that begin in 2015.

 

Details on any specific incident are unclear … but NFL insider Mike Garafolo reports the punishment stems from court docs filed by Smith’s ex, claiming “physical violence.”

 

While the league found no evidence of Smith putting his hands on his baby mama, the Ravens believe there was enough evidence to punish Smith for the first 4 weeks of the season.

 

Smith served a four-game suspension late last year for PED use, a “suspension” the NFL allowed him to serve while on injured reserve.  So he lost money, but the Ravens never lost any on-field services they otherwise would have enjoyed.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Dan Hanzus of NFL.com is a “Hard Knocks” junkie and his review of Episode 3 with the Browns is here.  This part is on the interaction of Dez Bryant’s visit and the return of WR JOSH GORDON:

 

Bryant goes on, pitching himself while simultaneously answering to the drive-by offseason criticism from his former team. You listening, Snake Lee?

 

“I feel like I’m an easy person to talk to,” Bryant says. “I love learning. I want to know things. If there’s something I’m not doing right, I want to know those things ’cause I feel like we all deserve that. We all deserve that opportunity.”

 

Having watched Bryant on the most recent season of “All or Nothing,” one can imagine certain Cowboys coaches unleashing a tidal-wave level eye-roll at the receiver’s comments. But Bryant speaks with directness and conviction to Jackson, who seems sold on the veteran. Jackson tells Bryant he “needs guys like you” to help flip the culture that led to 1-31. Did I mention Hue seems in on Dez? The man is smitten. When Bryant leaves Berea without a contract, it feels like a peek at the limitations the head coach has in matters of personnel.

 

“Twenty-one days, baby,” Jackson tells Bryant. “Pittsburgh Steelers. Right here at home in front of the Dawg Pound. It’ll be unbelievable. This will be the greatest turnaround in sports history.”

 

Say this about Hue Jackson: The man has lost — a lot — but it has done nothing to diminish his indomitable belief in self. That wasn’t just a puffed-up pitch to a glitzy name-brand star. Hue believes it. Do you?

 

So why isn’t Dez on the Browns right now? It’s probably the timing — the very convenient timing — of Josh Gordon’s return to the grid. We get only a brief glimpse of Gordon during Episode 3, the increasingly familiar shot of a Browns player gathering belongings at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport’s baggage claim. Prior to kickoff of the Browns’ preseason game against the Bills, Jackson tells offensive coordinator Todd Haley that “the bird has landed.”

 

Haley’s deadpan reply says it all: “Has he been working out?” Two weeks away from Week 1 and Gordon remains a man of mystery — and perhaps suspicion — in Berea.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

It seemed curious that longtime Colts radio voice Bob Lamey would announce his retirement shortly before the start of the regular season, after he had done a preseason game.  Now, we are starting to find out the rest of the story. Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Bob Lamey spent much of the last 35 years serving as the play-by-play voice of the Indianapolis Colts on radio before announcing his retirement on Sunday.

 

It turns out there may have been an impetus for the retirement announcement.

 

According to Jennie Runevitch of 13 WTHR, a radio employee accused Lamey of using a racial slur in the days preceding the announcement.

 

The employee said Lamey was telling a story about his time working at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a conversation Lamey had at the track.

 

“He had asked me if the mics were off and I said, ‘Yeah, I turned everything off. You’re fine’,” the employee recalled. “Bob Lamey’s describing this person saying he was asked in an interview, ‘Do you think anyone’s holding back their speed at [Indianapolis Motor Speedway] during quals? Do you think anyone’s holding back?’ And that person had replied ‘There aren’t any ‘blank’ in this race.”

 

“Blank,” in this instance, was the n-word.

 

The accusation was substantiated by a statement by Lamey’s attorney to Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star Tuesday night acknowledging that Lamey had used “an inappropriate word” in the retelling of a story to a friend off-air.

 

“It should be noted that Bob does want to acknowledge that while repeating a story whole off-the-air last week to a friend at a local radio station, he used an inappropriate word that had been used in the story,” attorney James H. Voyles said. “Bob immediately apologized to the people involved for the comment and would hope that this error in judgment would not tarnish his long-held reputation in the sports community where he has been known as an accurate and passionate reporter.”

 

The employee filed a complaint with the human resources department at Emmis Communications, which followed up with the Colts about the incident.

 

“No legend. No person you look up to uses that kind of hurtful language at all,” she said. “It made me sick to my stomach.”

 

The statement from Lamey’s attorney also denied that Lamey was fired by the Colts.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com is on the same page as the DB in thinking that TEDDY BRIDGEWATER is a good fit in Jacksonville.

 

Teddy Bridgewater to the Jaguars

Sure the Jaguars kinda-sorta believe in Blake Bortles enough to do a faux-extension with him after their playoff run … but the results have been far below average and this team has Super Bowl expectations. Bridgewater would be the best QB on their roster and could play if/when Bortles struggles or if he gets hurt. I don’t see that defense suffering foolish play at quarterback, and the Jets exploring Dante Fowler’s availability from Jacksonville begs the question of who they may have been shopping as part of a package for the linebacker. Hmm? I wonder who? Bridgewater could solve a short- and long-term issue, and he comes dirt cheap right now.

 

 

TENNESSEE

The Titans have extended WR RISHARD MATTHEWS for another year.  He had just 2018 left at $5 million. 

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

The Bills have signed P JON RYAN who was waived earlier this week after a long run with the Seahawks.

 

 

MIAMI

DT NDAMUKONG SUH, now in L.A., is still watching (and commenting) on his former team, the Dolphins.

 

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said Tuesday that he has “no hard feelings” toward the Miami Dolphins after he made an Instagram comment poking fun at their run defense.

 

Now that Ndamukong Suh is with another team, he finds the Miami Dolphins’ soft run defense funny.

 

“I got an opportunity to comment like any other person on Instagram,” Suh said. “Really made an observation any blind man could see.”

 

The play that caught Suh’s attention was a 71-yard touchdown run by the Carolina Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey in a preseason game against the Dolphins that was posted to the NFL’s Instagram account.

 

“Right up the Gut lol,” Suh wrote in the comments.

 

The Dolphins released Suh, a five-time Pro Bowler, in March and less than two weeks later he signed a one-year deal worth $14 million with the Rams.

 

Suh said Tuesday that he recently spoke with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

 

“It’s a business,” Suh said. “And how I look at it is they had to move on from me and I’m happy where I’m at right now.”

 

Suh is expected to see his first preseason action with the Rams on Saturday when they play the Houston Texans.

 

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

The lawyer of the late Aaron Hernandez tries to blame Bill Belichick for the former tight ends twisted pathology.  Ben Volin of the Boston Globe with that and other takes from a book by attorney Jose Baez:

 

Jose Baez dishes plenty of dirt in his forthcoming Aaron Hernandez biography, which hits shelves Tuesday.

 

In “Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez,” the attorney who got Hernandez acquitted of a 2012 double murder squashes the rumor about the jailhouse letters, sheds fascinating new details about Hernandez’s trade request to Bill Belichick, and describes Hernandez’s final days as an inmate and suicide victim.

 

But Baez, who also successfully defended Casey Anthony in 2011, is also adept at creating reasonable doubt. And readers hoping to get a clearer picture of Hernandez will instead find themselves further confused about Hernandez’s secret off-field life, as well as whether he was involved in the 2012 Boston double murders and the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, of which he was convicted.

 

Hernandez was acquitted of the double murders on April 14, 2017, and hanged himself in his jail cell five days later at 27 years old. Baez presents an entirely different side of Hernandez than the one portrayed in courtrooms and the media.

 

 “I try my best to paint an accurate picture of him,” Baez said in a phone interview Friday. “There are some negative things that I write, but the overall purpose is to show the other side for what’s already been written.”

 

Baez certainly portrays Hernandez in a positive light. He says the rumors of Hernandez being in a gang are nonsense, and that his gun tattoos are simply “symbols of strength.” Baez says Hernandez was such a criminal novice that he had to buy his guns from Florida, because he didn’t know where he could get any in Connecticut. But Baez does write that Hernandez was put in an isolated cell and had nearly 100 disciplinary offenses in his stays at Bristol County Jail and Souza-Baranowski Correctional Facility.

 

And Baez has an alternative theory or explanation for everything, often using the “I’m not saying, I’m just saying” technique.

 

Baez doesn’t explicitly point to Hernandez’s Stage 3 CTE, which was discovered postmortem, as the cause for his unpredictable behavior. He just drops casual hints. (Baez is currently suing the NFL on behalf of Hernandez’s daughter for concealing the effects of CTE.)

 

 “When did Aaron decide this would be his last night on earth? Maybe the disease CTE knows,” Baez wrote. And, “You can’t hold anyone with a serious brain disease responsible for their actions any more than you can a four-year-old child who pulls the trigger of a gun and kills a sibling.”

 

While the meat of the book focuses on the 2012 double murder trial, New England readers will be most interested in the details about the Patriots, who declined to comment for this story, and their handling of Hernandez’s murder trials and off-field issues:

 

■  Hernandez’s troubles began in February 2013, a week after Alexander Bradley was shot in West Palm Beach, Fla. Hernandez was at a photo shoot in Phoenix, and Bradley repeatedly sent him threatening text messages. Hernandez contacted Belichick and set up a meeting in Foxborough, but Hernandez didn’t show. They then agreed to meet at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

 

At this meeting, Hernandez told Belichick he feared for his safety, and requested a trade, ideally to a team on the West Coast. Baez wrote, “Aaron told me the coach was incensed by the idea, and reminded Aaron that the team had made a significant investment in him.” Belichick told Hernandez to contact the Patriots’ director of security, and to get a new residence.

 

Baez remains upset at the Patriots for not taking Hernandez’s trade request seriously.

 

“Had they taken it seriously, how would things have worked out?” he said.

 

■  Hernandez then didn’t speak with Belichick until May, when Hernandez asked when he should arrive for offseason rehab work. After the Lloyd murder in June, Belichick and Hernandez had a five-minute conversation, in which Hernandez said he was “absolutely not” involved.

 

■  After the Lloyd murder, Belichick met with police in his office with his attorney present, and refused to be recorded. The police obliged. That “made it clear the cops were there as fans, not investigators,” Baez wrote.

 

■  Baez subpoenaed Belichick to testify in the Boston double murder case while he was at the University of Miami Pro Day in 2017, but Baez decided not to call him to the stand.

 

“Given the complexities of Belichick’s schedule, I made the decision that we didn’t call him,” Baez said. “It would have been a pain in the ass to get him there, and I’m sure he would’ve fought it as much as he could to prolong it.”

 

■  Baez blasts Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft for rushing to judgment and releasing Hernandez as soon as he was arrested.

 

“You’re innocent until proven guilty in this country, but not in that organization,” Baez said.

 

■  Before the 2011 season, Hernandez sold his No. 85 jersey to Chad Ochocinco for $50,000, then “floated” the money to a drug dealer and got back $120,000.

 

■  But Baez wrote that Belichick liked Hernandez as a football player because Hernandez “did things exactly the way he wanted.” And Hernandez told Baez that he was close with quarterback Tom Brady.

 

“Brady always wanted to know where I was at all times,” Hernandez said, via Baez. “He would always tell me, ‘Stop hanging with those guys, get your [expletive] together.’ One of the things I regret is not listening to him more.”

 

Baez casts plenty of doubt on several prominent episodes in Hernandez’s life. He provides evidence attempting to squash the “spilled drink theory” in the 2012 double murders, and wonders whether the violence inflicted upon the two victims was actually drug-related. (Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said after the acquittal that the two murder victims were “two good young men” who had no connection to drug dealing or any other crime.)

 

Baez has an alternative theory for the 2013 incident when Hernandez supposedly shot Bradley in the face, costing Bradley his eye. Baez has an alternative theory for the 2007 shooting Hernandez was allegedly involved in in Gainesville, Fla.

 

Baez also casts plenty of doubt on the rumors of Hernandez being gay.

 

Shayanna Jenkins, the mother of Hernandez’s daughter, wrote in the foreword, “Aaron was very much a man with me. I saw no indication he was gay or homosexual.” But Baez writes that the police found a man known to both Hernandez and Jenkins, and he “confirmed to the police he had a romantic relationship with Aaron.”

 

One rumor that Baez squashes definitively is the one that Hernandez left a jailhouse letter to a boyfriend. Baez publishes the three letters, which are addressed to Baez, Jenkins, and Avielle, Hernandez’s daughter. The inmate who started that rumor was seeking a financial payout and made up the story.

 

Baez also casts doubt on Hernandez committing suicide, saying it caught him and everyone completely off guard. Baez mentions the lack of a toxicology report. “What if Aaron was poisoned in prison or given a sedative and then a hanging was staged?” he wrote.

 

Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow, and the University of Florida also get wrapped up in Hernandez’s story. Baez writes about Hernandez having little regard for the rules while in college.

 

“Every time I was on the field I was high on weed,” Hernandez said, via Baez. “I would not play without weed.”

 

Baez writes that Hernandez’s behavior was so bad at Florida that Meyer wanted to kick him off the team before his junior season (2009), but Tebow stepped in and said if you kick Hernandez off, you have to kick Tebow off, too. Meyer relented, but said Hernandez had to leave the program after 2009.

 

This story sounds a bit dubious given Meyer’s history of recruiting troubled but talented football players, and giving them extra chances.

 

“All I can tell you is what Aaron told me,” Baez said.

– – –

Zoltan Buday of ProFootballFocus.com has some thoughts on the New England receiving corps:

 

Who will Tom Brady throw to in 2018? This question was asked numerous times over the last 18 years in Foxboro and while the New England Patriots have been set at the wide receiver position over the past couple years, their fans may consider the group to be a weak link of the team once again. The Patriots traded deep-threat Brandin Cooks to the L.A. Rams this offseason, veteran wide receiver Danny Amendola left for Miami in free agency, the team released oft-injured Malcolm Mitchell after just one healthy season and Julian Edelman has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season.

 

So really, who will Tom Brady throw to this season?

 

THE FAMILIAR FACES

New England will have just two receivers this season – Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett – who played more than 40 snaps for the Patriots last year. Furthermore, even they failed to combine for more than 1,000 snaps during the regular season. However, Dorsett never really seemed to be on the same page with Brady as he struggled to get into rhythm all season. Eventually, he finished 122nd among 158 qualifying wide receivers in yards per route run at just 0.95. Despite reports that the Patriots had high hopes for Dorsett in 2018, his struggles have continued in the preseason. Dorsett has run a pass route 31 times over New England’s first two preseason games and he has been targeted five times but caught just one pass for four yards. As a result, even though he has experience in the Patriots’ system, it cannot be taken for granted that he’ll even make the final roster.

 

Hogan on the other hand is considered to be New England’s No. 1 receiver, especially in the absence of Edelman. While he was also out for an extensive period in 2017, Hogan finished the season with a career-high seven receiving touchdowns. However, once we look beyond those touchdowns, we can see that he didn’t necessarily had an excellent season. Hogan struggled coming up with plays as he caught a career-low 58.1 percent of the passes coming his way and broke a career-low one tackle after the catch in 2017. He also dropped four of his 47 passes while averaging 13.7 yards per reception, which was a significant decrease from his average of 18.4 in 2016. Although Hogan is a lock to make the Patriots roster and Brady will have to heavily rely on him, especially in the first month of the season, he too has struggled so far this preseason. He’s dropped two of his seven catchable targets while his longest reception has been for just eight yards as he’s averaged 1.0 yards after reception.

 

THE VETERANS

Although the Patriots brought in Kenny Britt late last season, the veteran is still seemingly unfamiliar with New England’s system as he played just 40 snaps last season and was a healthy scratch for all three playoff games the Patriots played. The former first-round pick had his lowest-graded season since 2013 as his overall grade of 56.2 ranked just 99th among wide receivers in 2017. He turns 30 years old as the season starts and has yet to play in the preseason as he has been sidelined with an injury. While Britt’s experience might give him the edge over some of the younger receivers, his roster spot might be in jeopardy if he cannot dress for the third preseason game.

 

Similarly, Eric Decker showed signs of decline last year in his lone season at Tennessee as he recorded his lowest grade since 2011. However, his overall PFF grade of 69.4 still ranked 48th among all wide receivers. The Patriots signed Decker just before the preseason started, but he has failed to impress so far. Decker has reportedly struggled in Patriots practices while he was targeted just twice on 16 pass routes in the first two preseason games, dropping his lone catchable target and is the lowest-graded Patriots receiver so far this preseason. At this stage it does not seem like Decker has much to offer and he too probably faces an uphill climb to make the roster.

 

THE WILD CARD

Cordarrelle Patterson, considered to be more of a returner throughout his entire career, might be the biggest positive surprise of New England’s training camp so far. Patterson’s overall PFF grade of 79.7 ranks 14th among wide receivers with at least five targets this preseason. Furthermore, Patriots quarterbacks have a passer rating of 135.9 on the nine passes thrown his way. The latter would project to 72 targets through an entire season, which would tie his career-high from all the way back in his rookie year. While it’s always risky to draw conclusions from preseason, the Patriots putting the ball into the elusive Patterson’s hands about four-to-five times a game could add an extra element to the New England offense. He’s viewed as a roster lock already because of his return skills, but he might make the roster with his contributions as a wide receiver alone.

 

THE YOUNGSTERS

Third-year receiver Devin Lucien was drafted by New England in 2016 but was waived by the Patriots in 2017. The former Arizona State player spent time on the practice squads of four different teams before returning to New England a month ago. Lucien impressed already in the Patriots’ first preseason game this year as he caught four passes for 71 yards and broke a tackle en route to a PFF overall grade of 84.0 in that game. However, he failed to catch his only catchable target against Philadelphia in the second game for New England. While his inconsistency might hurt him, his contributions on special teams make him a surprise candidate to make the Patriots roster.

 

Rookie receiver Braxton Berrios, who was drafted in the sixth round by the Patriots, might seem like a natural fit to replace Danny Amendola and play in place of Edelman in the first four weeks in the slot. Berrios recorded nine touchdown receptions from the slot last season at Miami, which was tied for the third most in college football. However, much like the other New England receivers, he’s failed to stay healthy in August, which resulted in him missing the Patriots’ second preseason game against Philadelphia. In addition, Berrios finished his lone game against Washington with just one reception for three yards. The rookie seems to be on the roster bubble and in need of an impressive performance against Carolina to make the team.

 

Riley McCarron was signed to the Patriots practice squad early last season and has failed to do enough to suggest he could be more than a practice squad member in 2018. While McCarron was on the field for 70 snaps, including 31 pass routes, so far in the preseason – the most among New England receivers – he was targeted just twice and dropped one of those passes while he gained just six yards on his other reception. With the other receivers making more of their opportunities, it would be a surprise to see McCarron make New England’s final roster.

 

PROJECTING THE PATRIOTS RECEIVERS

Overall, it might make the most sense for the Patriots to keep at least one receiver from each of the aforementioned groups to form a diverse mix at the receiver position. As a result, we could very well see New England keeping Hogan, Dorsett, Britt, Patterson and Lucien based on what they have showed so far.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER’s surgeon wants you to know how far the QB has come. Ian O’Connor of ESPN.com with a long take here with excerpts below:

 

Dan Cooper knows Teddy Bridgewater’s heart like few people do, because Cooper cut open the quarterback’s leg on Sept. 8, 2016, when pro football’s most stunning comeback began inside a Dallas clinic.

 

Amputation was no longer a feared possibility, and yet what the surgeon faced that day was something one might see on the set of a sci-fi film.

 

“It was just a horribly grotesque injury,” Cooper said.

 

The good doctor was talking about the quarterback’s left knee, which had exploded without warning nine days earlier while Bridgewater was dropping back to pass, untouched, in a Minnesota Vikings practice.

 

“It’s mangled,” Cooper said. “You make the skin incision, and there’s nothing there. It’s almost like a war wound. Everything is blown.”

– – –

New Yorkers should understand what they’re looking at while they still have the chance. Bridgewater is a not-so-minor miracle, a walking advertisement for the power of the human spirit.

 

“This surgery was an absolute gut test, a test of what you’re made of, and I’ve seen it break people down,” Cooper said. “I never saw it break Teddy down. … Most people have no idea the volume of the workload this kid had to put in. He had a toothpick of a leg he had to rebuild.”

 

Bridgewater gave his doctor permission to talk to ESPN.com about the surgeries — there were two — that granted him access to a second NFL life. Cooper, the Cowboys’ team physician, remembered the first surgery lasting about four and a half hours, and the second one — eight weeks later to treat stiffness around the knee — lasting about an hour. Both were performed in the Carrell Clinic in Dallas.

 

Bridgewater had been referred to the surgeon by former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who had become something of a father confessor to the quarterback. Parcells told the doctor that Bridgewater was one of the greatest kids he’d ever met.

– – –

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer immediately canceled practice. He worried that Bridgewater would never walk again, never mind play again.

 

The coach grew emotional that day when talking about the devastating injury, even referencing the unexpected loss of his wife in 2009. Zimmer said he leaned on a spiritual connection with his late father and on the secular bond he shared with his professional mentor, Parcells.

 

The Vikings’ training staff and first responders stabilized Bridgewater, who did not suffer the kind of arterial or nerve damage that could’ve cost him his leg.

 

“But it’s certainly the worst knee dislocation in sports I’ve ever seen without having a nerve or vessel injury,” Cooper said. “It’s an injury that about 20-25 percent of NFL players are able to come back from. … It’s a horrific injury. You’ve torn every single thing in your knee and it’s hanging on by one ligament on one side like a hinge.”

– – –

Todd Bowles and his offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates, have raved about Darnold’s maturity and presence, but they have also expressed a certain degree of awe over what Bridgewater has already accomplished. Bowles said that the former Louisville star is forever smiling and projecting the vibe of a perfectly healthy player.

 

“He’s never showed me that he was injured,” Bowles said.

 

Bates said he had goosebumps on the sidelines when Bridgewater entered the game against Atlanta.

 

Darnold? He called his chief competition “a cool cat” with an even disposition who’s always telling him, “Hey bro, we’re out here playing football. Doesn’t really get much better than that.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

HELMET UPDATE

The NFL is prepared to dig in on the controversial helmet rule.  Mark Maske of the Washington Post:

 

Amid the uproar among some players and fans over the NFL’s new helmet rule, league officials plan to discuss the rule in the coming days but are unlikely to make major changes to it before the regular season.

 

According to one person familiar with the league’s inner workings, rulemakers do not expect to significantly change the language of the rule, nor do they plan to expand the use of instant replay to include all penalties assessed under the rule — and not merely those resulting in ejections.

 

If any changes are made, they apparently would be minor modifications meant to clarify the existing rule.

 

The rule, ratified by NFL owners in May and enacted for this season, makes it a 15-yard penalty for a player to lower his head and use his helmet to hit an opponent. A player is subject to a possible ejection, reviewable by replay, and could draw a fine or suspension for an egregious violation.

 

Some players have complained about the application of the rule by officials in the early weeks of the preseason. The NFL has acknowledged there will be an adjustment period for players, coaches, officials and fans, comparing it to the adjustment that accompanied the league’s rules addressing hits to the head of defenseless players being put into place in the 1990s.

 

There has been speculation in recent days that the league might make significant adjustments to the rule before the regular season. But while discussions are expected to take place this week, the person familiar with the thinking of league leaders said: “No language will be changed.”

 

That person also said the use of replay in conjunction with the rule will not be expanded in a meaningful way.

 

Pro Football Talk reported Monday that the rule is to be discussed in a conference call Wednesday. ESPN reported that the league will issue a new teaching tape to update teams on the application of the rule in an attempt to clarify it.

 

A second person close to the situation also said that “no major changes” to the rule are expected. According to that person, Wednesday’s conference call of competition committee members will include an update of what has been learned through the first two weeks of preseason play and efforts will be made to achieve clarity and consistency in the application of the rule. But league leaders remain committed to eliminating that hitting technique from the game.

 

More thoughts from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Given the manner in which the rule was adopted, via the secret addition of the proposal to the previously-published list of Competition Committee suggestions and the characterization of the proposal to owners and coaches as a simple extension of the rule prohibiting lining up and ramming of an opponent with the top of the helmet, the forces that decided to push this provision through surely knew there would be pushback — and they surely knew it would be easier to deal with it after at least 24 votes had been harvested to make the permanent change to the rules. If the league office and/or Management Council had been frank and candid about the impact and breadth of the rule before presenting it to the membership in March, it may have been hard to avoid at least nine “no” votes. Now, it will take at least 24 votes to change the rule in any meaningful way.

 

Given that the regular season starts in 16 days, it becomes very easy for the league office and Management Council to hide behind rules, regulations, and bylaws regarding quorums and voting in order to avoid the opportunity for owners to make real changes to the rule before the games that count begin and the rule locks in through at least the full 2018 season.

 

That doesn’t mean there won’t be an effort to refine the rule when the conference call convenes on Wednesday. As written, the 21 words sweep much more broadly than most coaches thought it would, with no specificity regarding the portion of the helmet that can’t contact an opponent, no requirement of forcible helmet contact, no exception for incidental helmet contact, and no allowance for replay review to fix the mistakes made as hits happen or don’t happen in real time.

 

But if the people who run the league decide to dig in and hunker down, there simply won’t be a way to bring the matter to the kind of vote that could make the kind of changes that need to be made to keep the rule from being something different than what owners and coaches thought it was going to be, even if the rule is exactly what the league office and Management Council wanted it to be from the moment the 21 words were first written.

 

The best/only practical hope at this point will be the reaching of an informal consensus as to how the rule will be interpreted and applied, the plain language notwithstanding. Also, some believe that senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron may receive wink/nod approval to guide the referees regarding proper application of the rule which officials are caucusing on the field as to whether a foul will be called.

 

While that’s better than nothing, the best thing would be to adopt a fix that makes the rule much more clear than it currently is.