The Daily Briefing Wednesday, July 25, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
DT DAVID IRVING has escaped the unholy trinity of NFL suspension offenses. He already has PEDs and substance abuse on his rap sheet, but a domestic violence suspension is avoided. Todd Archer of ESPN.com:
Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle David Irving will not be at the opening of training camp, and it is not clear when he will show up.
According to multiple sources, Irving has been excused from the start of camp in order to deal with personal issues that played a part in him missing most of the Cowboys’ offseason program in the spring.
It is not related to any legal issues or problems with the NFL. But it continues a tumultuous few months for Irving, who signed a one-year tender worth $2.9 million as a restricted free agent early in the offseason.
In June, he was hit with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
He escaped punishment by the NFL under the personal conduct policy stemming from a domestic violence allegation made in April by a former girlfriend that was later recanted, according to sources. He was cleared by the Frisco, Texas, police after it investigated a complaint by the former girlfriend, but the NFL can impose discipline, either with a fine or a suspension, even if a charge is dropped.
It will be the second straight year Irving will miss the first four games of the season, having done so in 2017 for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
Allegations swirl around Panthers DT VERNON BUTLER. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
Police in Dallas say they’re investigating claims that Panthers defensive tackle Vernon Butler pushed a woman down in a club, but no charges have been filed at this point.
According to the Charlotte Observer, Butler has been accused of Class C assault against a woman. That’s a misdemeanor charge, if it is ever levied by police.
The woman told Charlotte television station WSOC that Butler asked for her phone number, she refused, and he threw a drink at her and pushed her down the stairs of a nightclub. She was then escorted out of an event he was hosting.
Dallas police said the incident happened July 14 at 2 a.m., and that the woman reported the incident July 19.
“The victim said she was involved in a verbal altercation with the suspect at which point the suspect threw a drink in her face and pushed her,” the police statement said. “The victim was not injured during this incident. The victim provided the name of the suspect as Vernon Butler, but did not provide any other identifying information.”
The team issued the perfunctory “gathering information” statement. The Panthers report to camp today.
Ever since he left his Foxboro apartment at 5 a.m. last Halloween and boarded a plane to northern California, Garoppolo has been living in a sort of time warp. He was transported, in just a few short months, from being Tom Brady’s rarely used backup to being the highest-paid player in the NFL (for five weeks, at least). In this new world, a sloppy mid-summer practice is now a headline, and never mind the two banners that adorn one corner of Levi’s Stadium. Printed on one, under a photo of Hall of Famer Joe Montana, are the words “FAITHFUL THEN.” On the other, under a photo of Garoppolo: “FAITHFUL NOW.” No pressure, Jimmy.
After spending most of his career under the radar, Garoppolo, 26, has tried to limit his time in the newfound spotlight. He’s turned down multiple offers to pose for magazine covers, including from the outlet that inspired his Jimmy GQ nickname. (Like Brady, his idol and former teammate, Garoppolo has looks that created a buzz in some circles long before he ever made his first NFL start.) Through a 49ers spokesperson, he declined an interview request for this story, citing a desire to play more games and further prove himself on the field first. The biggest headlines he’s made since agreeing to a five-year contract extension in February were when cameras found him while on a mid-summer date in Los Angeles with an adult film star.
“He doesn’t have to be the star. Really, he doesn’t,” says his mother, Denise Garoppolo. “It’s just coming to him.”
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As a case study in the making of a franchise quarterback, Garoppolo is something of an anomaly. The first time he played the position was on the freshman team at Rolling Meadows (Ill.) High, after coach Doug Millsaps saw how the ball came out of his hand when he threw. In the class of 2009, seven QBs across the state of Illinois received scholarships from FBS programs; Garoppolo wasn’t one of them. Millsaps recalls personally driving Garoppolo’s tape to Northwestern and begging the head coach to offer him. No luck.
It wasn’t until his throwing coach, Jeff Christensen, a former Eastern QB who spent a few years in the NFL in the 1980s, called in a favor from EIU’s offensive coordinator, Roy Wittke, that Garoppolo even got a look from a college program. Wittke had coached Tony Romo, a four-time Pro Bowler, at Eastern Illinois, and Garoppolo was the first quarterback he’d seen since who bore a resemblance to his former star, from his humble Midwestern manner to his quick release and excellent balance. When Rolling Meadows’ coaches described the responsibilities Garoppolo took on before each snap, Wittke gave him an offer.
Garoppolo was EIU’s starter just four games into his true freshman season; the team struggled, winning just four games over his first two seasons. When Babers was hired in 2012, some members of the athletic department wanted to make a change at quarterback. After watching Garoppolo throw five passes, Babers concluded that his quarterback shouldn’t be at Eastern—he should be at an FBS school. The quickness of his release, Babers likes to say, is second only to Dan Marino.
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The passing records Garoppolo eventually broke at Eastern belonged to Romo and Sean Payton, but all along he was being modeled after another QB. In the film room, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert often pointed to Brady’s unflappability. Since high school, Christensen had worked with Garoppolo to replicate Brady’s impeccable mechanics. Garoppolo himself, meanwhile, wasn’t exactly shy about his adulation for the Pats’ All-Pro. Nine months before New England drafted him, Garoppolo tweeted: “Happy birthday to my boy Tom #livingLegend #Brady.”
“Brady was his idol,” says Babers. “Even when he was picking agents, he was so excited he was going to meet Brady’s agent [Don Yee]. And that’s the agent he picked.”
Four years later, Garoppolo’s new Niners teammate, Richard Sherman, assessing the QB from a defensive perspective, sees a guy “doing his best impression of Tom.” The veteran corner, who signed with San Francisco this offseason, is referring to Garoppolo’s quick release and reads, and his ability to neutralize the pass rush by speedily getting the ball out of his hands.
Staley, too, has watched enough TV to know that he’s sometimes hearing a bit of Brady in the 49ers’ huddle. “[Jimmy] does have a lot of the same sayings,” Staley points out with a smirk. “Like, ‘Whatchoo say now, 1-0? . . . Let’s go now, c’mon, 1-0.’ I’m always calling [Jimmy] out on that, like, ‘Hey, that’s not your saying—that’s Tom’s saying! Get something else!’ ”
Kyle Shanahan and Bill Belichick met at the scouting combine in Indianapolis in March 2017, less than a month after Belichick’s Patriots roared back from a 28-3 deficit to defeat Shanahan’s Falcons in Super Bowl LI. They had a lot to talk about: the game . . . Shanahan’s first head coaching job, with the 49ers, which he’d accepted that February . . . and a certain backup Patriots quarterback. San Francisco, at the time, had literally zero QBs on its roster. But when Shanahan inquired, he got the same answer Belichick gave everyone else: Garoppolo, in no uncertain terms, was not available.
Belichick’s insistence on holding on to his backup, after his then-39-year-old starter had just won his fifth Super Bowl, only served to stoke other teams’ desires. Part of the Garoppolo mystique has always been this implicit endorsement from Belichick, who is notoriously hard to please and who is wary of using high draft picks on QBs. (In 24 drafts with the Browns and Patriots, Belichick has never selected a passer with a top-60 pick.)
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Garoppolo had become something of a weekday legend in Foxboro. “One of the more enjoyable [parts] of practice was watching Jimmy rip ’em downfield on a tightrope [on the scout team],” says former Patriots center Bryan Stork. When the backup prodded the offense in his thick Chicago accent—“Let’s go fellas!”—Stork couldn’t help but think of the old Bears Superfans skit on SNL. In games, even in the preseason, Garoppolo brought a “whole next-level kind of competitiveness,” recalls Matt Patricia, then the Patriots’ defensive coordinator. And the team responded.
The surprise in New England when the trade went down echoed that respect. On one hand, a move had to be coming: Garoppolo’s rookie contract was set to expire after the 2017 season, and he hadn’t yet signed an extension. The Patriots could either franchise him, thereby paying their backup more than their legendary starter, or they could swap him before his contract expired. But Belichick had just traded Brissett, a move that suggested they had long-term plans for Garoppolo. So what changed?
ESPN reported in January that Patriots owner Robert Kraft had mandated that Belichick trade Garoppolo. (The team denied the story but has not commented on specifics. Belichick, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed for this story.) But even longtime players and staff members have no idea what went into the decision, and Belichick never addressed the trade with his team.
One thing is for certain, though: The coach didn’t go through his normal process. Which is to say, he didn’t milk the asset for every last drop. The Browns, as has been widely reported, were willing to offer more for Garoppolo than what the 49ers exchanged. Was Belichick’s hand forced? Was he determined to place Garoppolo where he’d have the best chance of success?
“Bill really, really liked Jimmy,” says Denise. “Not like they were warm and fuzzy—but they both knew it was there.”
Many around the NFL believe the move came from Belichick’s respect for Kyle and Mike Shanahan (he and Mike had ascended the coaching ladder concurrently, and Mike defended him to the NFL during the Spygate scandal) and from his belief that Garoppolo would thrive under Kyle’s tutelage. And “if that is true,” says the elder Shanahan, “it’s the biggest compliment you could receive as a coach.”
Last December, following the trade, a sort of weekly ritual began: After each of Garoppolo’s starts for the 49ers, he received a text from the coach who had traded him, congratulating him on another win.
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Garoppolo and three teammates—Celek, tight end George Kittle and guard JP Flynn—have assembled what they call “the Dream Team.” Only this is no nod to the 2011 Eagles; the Dream Team is their squad name in the popular multiplayer video game Fortnite. “Jimmy is the guy that saves everybody,” Celek says. In the game, “there’s a thing called the storm, and it hurts you every second you’re in it. And he always runs into the storm, hurts himself, but saves all of us.”
If this all sounds too good to be true, then the same could be said of Garoppolo’s five wins in five starts for the previously 1-10 team he joined in the middle of last season. And he seems determined to make sure this idyllic image holds up. Note the offseason throwing sessions at San Jose State. And the time spent with Celek watching a Brady-Rob Gronkowski highlight reel, discussing the possibilities of being creative within their playbook. (“I have never talked so much with a quarterback about every route, which is awesome,” says Celek.) And the extra 20 minutes spent on his cadence on the next-to-last day of the Niners’ offseason program.
Watching this all puts into perspective what Garoppolo accomplished last season. Some of Shanahan’s play calls are eight or nine syllables long, and there are 100 different cadences. Yet the QB became conversant enough in this complicated language to win every game. On his first day with the 49ers he stayed at the facility until midnight with QBs coach Rich Scangarello, learning the offensive formations. Just a few weeks later he was leading a two-minute march against the playoff-bound Titans as an NFL Films microphone caught him advising his receivers on how to get open against Tennessee’s safeties. Gilbert, Garoppolo’s old EIU coordinator who’s now at South Florida, watched the tape in his office and recognized the Brady-like demeanor he’d so often held up as an example.
“I’ve been around here a couple offseasons where we’ve just been like, Man, I hope this year goes well,” says Staley, a 49er since 2007. “But now we’re working for something. Have a bad play and it’s like, We have to get this right.” The last time he felt like that? “Probably [Jim] Harbaugh’s last year,” he says, back in ’14. “But even then, there was some stuff going on that was just like, all right, this is going off the rails a little bit. It wasn’t so much the QB situation or anything like that, but [now] you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Now the question being asked across the Bay is: How can you measure improvement from 5-0? From a completion percentage north of 67? From a passer rating of 96.2? “I don’t know how you live up to that,” says Kyle Shanahan. “Does that mean we have to have 600 [yards in] these first five games to improve? I don’t know what the numbers will be. I think we’ll be a better offense. I feel pretty confident in that.”
On the final day of minicamp Garoppolo is again lingering on the field, this time for some extra red-zone reps, after some misfires in practice. A few throws later, he’s satisfied that he and his receivers have gotten the timing right. As he finally heads inside he passes Celek, who pauses mid-sentence in a conversation with a reporter. “I was telling her all your deepest and darkest secrets,” Celek says to his quarterback.
“Just the good ones, right?” Garoppolo jokes. He flashes his cover-model grin and excuses himself, letting that air of mystery linger. While he still can.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
A big contract for the Rams – but it is not for DT AARON DONALD. ESPN.com:
The Los Angeles Rams and Todd Gurley have agreed to a four-year contract extension that, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, resets the market for running backs.
The Rams announced Tuesday that the extension keeps Gurley under contract through 2023 but did not disclose financial terms. A source told Schefter that the deal is worth $60 million and includes $45 million guaranteed, the largest guarantee given to a running back.
Gurley also will receive a $20 million signing bonus, the source told Schefter. It is the largest per-year average for any running back, providing a new benchmark for other running backs looking for new deals, such as Arizona’s David Johnson and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott.
The deal was noticed by Steelers star running back Le’Veon Bell, who has been unable to agree to a long-term contract with Pittsburgh and has received a franchise tag in back-to-back years.
Bell, who will make $14.5 million this season with his franchise tender, congratulated Gurley on Twitter and added a reference to his own demands in a second tweet.
lol and ppl thought I was trippin?…
Gurley’s deal comes a week after the Rams signed wide receiver Brandin Cooks to a five-year, $80 million extension. Rams general manager Les Snead was asked Tuesday about what the deals mean for the negotiations with star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who sat out training camp last year and offseason activities this year over his contract.
“Each situation is different. Different players, different agents,” Snead told reporters. “You work on everything simultaneously, but you really don’t know when you’re going to get something done or not because it’s case by case.”
Snead said that negotiations to extend Gurley began in the spring, “to get ahead of the curve” with the fourth-year player.
“He’s a big weapon for us,” Snead said Tuesday.
“Last year’s production isn’t really a reflection of the value that he provides because he did such a great job, but he’s so much more than that to our team,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “The way that he competes in protection, the way that he works and the way that rubs off on his teammates.”
After being selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Gurley was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Year in 2015 after rushing for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns.
But he struggled in his second season after the Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles, failing to rush for more than 100 yards in a single game and finishing with 885 rushing yards and six touchdowns as the team stumbled to a 4-12 record under coach Jeff Fisher, who was fired.
Gurley completed a major bounce-back last season playing in McVay’s explosive system, rushing for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching 64 passes for 788 yards and six more TDs. The former Georgia star won the league’s Offensive Player of the Year award in 2017.
Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com explains how and why the Rams are signing all these big deals.
The Rams have given big contracts to Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley in recent days, and an even bigger contract for Aaron Donald is likely coming soon. They’ve also acquired expensive players like Ndamukong Suh and Aqib Talib, and four of their holdovers from last year — Andrew Whitworth, Lamarcus Joyner, Michael Brockers and Mark Barron — have cap hits in excess of $10 million.
So how can the Rams afford all this talent?
The answer is that their franchise quarterback, Jared Goff, is on his rookie contract, which makes him a bargain this year, with a salary of less than $3 million and a cap hit of less than $8 million. Goff is a bargain again next year, with a cap hit of less than $9 million, which will be nice when another recent acquisition, Marcus Peters, sees his cap hit balloon up from less than $2 million this year to more than $9 million next year.
In 2020, the Goff bargain comes to an end: He’ll likely be playing either on his fifth-year option, which would be well over $20 million, or be playing on a lucrative new contract, which would also likely pay him well over $20 million a year. At that time, with Goff taking up more cap space, the Rams are going to need to make some tough decisions about where to save cap space elsewhere on the roster.
The best bargains in the NFL are quarterbacks on their rookie contracts. Teams like the Rams with Goff, the Eagles with Carson Wentz, the Texans with Deshaun Watson and the Cowboys with Dak Prescott are set at quarterback and are able to spend far more money on other positions than the teams with quarterbacks on veteran quarterbacks, many of whom make well over $20 million a year.
The Rams recognize what a bargain Goff is, and they want to win now, before that changes.
S EARL THOMAS is now not expected to report to training camp. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:
Don’t expect a resolution in Earl Thomas’ contract impasse with the Seahawks.
The six-time Pro Bowl selection will not be reporting to Seattle’s training camp on Wednesday, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, via a source informed of the situation.
Thomas’ expected absence comes as no surprise after the veteran safety’s recent pay-me-or-trade-me statement released through his Instagram account.
Scheduled to earn $8.5 million in the final year of his contract, Thomas has vowed to skip all team activities until his contract is addressed. The Seahawks, on the other hand, have shown no inclination to negotiate a new deal while he’s delinquent.
Until those stances soften, Thomas’ name will continue to headline the NFL trade-rumor mill throughout camp.
Mike Brown, who may have exposed his 31 partners to liability with his frank question about the anthem to Eric Reid, has shut the barn door. Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com:
Bengals owner Mike Brown was asked about the national anthem policy today. Brown indicated that the owners had been advised not to discuss it. He said: “The league and the union are talking on this and we’re instructed to stand down while that’s ongoing. I’m not going to sit here and stir the pot. They don’t want to hear from me right now. Let’s see how this bubbles up and I hope they can come up with some kind of answer that is acceptable to not just the clubs and the players but more the public.” He added with a laugh: “And let’s not forget the president!”
This from Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
Eric Reid remains without a job, and Bengals owner Mike Brown remains at the center of the safety’s grievance against the league.
During Reid’s free agent visit to Cincinnati in April, Brown asked Reid about kneeling during the anthem. Reid declined to commit to standing.
The Bengals didn’t offer him a deal, and Reid filed a grievance.
Brown was asked whether he regretted bringing in Reid.
“Do I regret stepping into it the way that I apparently did? I think you know the answer to that,” Brown said, via Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It has become a grievance, a lawsuit. I don’t want to get into that matter here. I think my counsel would appreciate my silence on the matter here and suggest I say what I have to say to him.”
“Stepping into it” describes the situation perfectly. Brown, though, didn’t see the firestorm coming.
“Am I a bit surprised about how it formed up? It was a quick-forming thunderhead,” Brown said. “I didn’t expect it, yes.”
This from food snob Paul Dehner, Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer on other aspects of Brown’s comments:
The Bengals’ annual media luncheon suffocates with sameness. The meal consists of the same five courses since, perhaps, the Nixon administration.
The salad, the mock turtle soup, the mashed potatoes stuffed between the salmon and beef. The chocolate stick in the orange sherbet has probably been around longer than Cincinnatus.
The pods of reporters form in the same spots across the wide expanse of the east club lounge. Team President Mike Brown wears the same tie and offers his same sincere thank yous to the media who cover the club. The same head coach offers up the standard optimism and excitement for a 16th consecutive year.
That’s why the shift of Brown hammering home a message of change sticks out like an uneaten orange sherbet.
“We have had a dramatic change with our team,” Brown said. “It isn’t fully understood. We have changed our whole offensive system. We have changed our defensive system. Usually, that is associated with hiring a new coach. We did it a little bit differently.”
He’s not wrong in that respect. There actually might be more change on offense, a side which retained 2017 interim coordinator Bill Lazor, than on defense with a new coordinator in Teryl Austin.
The files of the Jay Gruden-Hue Jackson-Ken Zampese playbook have been dragged to the recycle bin. Austin brings fresh eyes and concepts to a unit that middled the last two years.
There are more new position coaches than any year since head coach Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003. Brown looks at that as necessary, but also reason for trepidation early in the year.
“We brought in new coordinators and let them have their chance at it,” Brown said. “This will make us look different. It will be a challenge to digest for our players. It usually takes a little time. I will be holding my breath some as we start out with it. There will certainly be a few ups and downs with it. It should produce real change with the football team and we are trying to have change. We are trying to see if something a little different won’t be better.”
Inevitably, selling change of a franchise often defined by patience and consistency feels out of place. It’s been met nationally with doubters from Bristol, Connecticut to Las Vegas. Particularly when the most notable storyline of the offseason was retaining a coach now closing in on two full decades in Cincinnati and lacking a playoff victory.
Inevitably, Brown says he hears those doubting the first decision he made this offseason to bring back Lewis and opt to make changes to his staff, but stands by his method of putting forth the change he was comfortable with.
“We have been through ups and downs,” Brown said of Lewis. “We have had times when we didn’t agree on things yet we would work through it. I know last year didn’t satisfy our public. I know the year before didn’t. We had five pretty good years before that.
“I think I know that the success and failure in this business isn’t always the head coach. He’s a big part of it but he’s not all of it. I think that’s true when you succeed and when you are maybe a little short of what you want to be. I have come to be a little more patient. Maybe I am not right. There are people who think that way. I’ve put my bet down. We will see how it turns out.”
The BAKER MAYFIELD Era is contractually ready to begin. Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield, the Browns’ quarterback of the future, signed his four-year rookie contract worth $32.68 million guaranteed just in time to avert a holdout.
Players report on Wednesday and begin practicing on Thursday. Mayfield won’t miss a beat.
The contract includes a signing bonus worth $21,849,440 million, and a fifth-year club option. The fully guaranteed amount is $32,682,980. It includes offset language, which enables the Browns to subtract the amount of a new contract from this guaranteed deal if he signs elsewhere before it expires.
Mayfield and his family were eager for him to get into camp and not miss any practice time, so they urged agent Tom Mills to accept the offset language, a source told cleveland.com.
In exchange, the Browns improved some of the language in the deal.
Offset language might seem insignificant, but the last time the Browns drafted a quarterback in the first round, Johnny Manziel, they cut him after two seasons. In fact, their last three first-round QBs since 1999 were cut before their rookie deals expired. Of course they’re not expecting that in this case.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner was one of five remaining unsigned first-round picks. One of the others is Browns No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward. Offset language is believed to be the sticking point there too.
The other three are Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (No. 3), Bills quarterback Josh Allen (No. 7) and Bears linebacker Roquan Smith (No. 8).
Mayfield returns to Berea after an eventful summer break that included getting engaged to Emily Wilkinson, a trip to Hawaii, working out with teammates at USC, and winning an ESPY for the nation’s best college athlete.
Promoted to second-team offense during the final week of organized team activities in May, Mayfield will try to win the starting job even though Hue Jackson has told him it’s Tyrod Taylor’s.
“I’m always competitive,” Mayfield said during rookie camp. “It wouldn’t matter what (Jackson) was saying in regards to the competition. I’m still going to compete and try and win that job. So I’m going to listen to him, but I’ve got to go compete, and first and foremost, I’ve got to go learn my job.”
Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner sees a high ceiling for the 2018 Jaguars as he ranks them at number 6 in his preseason countdown:
The Jacksonville Jaguars reached a 90.7 percent win probability in the AFC championship game, according to NumberFire.com’s methods. If you prefer ESPN’s model, the Jaguars’ win probability was as high as 93 percent. They were practically a lock to upset the New England Patriots and go to the Super Bowl. It was that close.
The problem with letting a chance like that pass is you’re never assured of making it back. The Jaguars forced the Patriots into a third-and-18 with less than 11 minutes left. They led 20-10. That was when their win probability reached its peak. Then the four-man rush couldn’t get close to Tom Brady, Danny Amendola found a soft spot in the Jaguars’ zone, and Brady hit him for 21 yards before safety Tashaun Gipson could get there and break it up. That was the first of many plays the Jaguars didn’t make down the stretch as the Patriots staged a great comeback.
The Jaguars went from a 90 percent chance of making the Super Bowl to having their season end in 11 minutes.
“That [Patriots’ loss], I’m always going to be sick every time I see it,” Calais Campbell told Jacksonville.com.
Defensive end Malik Jackson said he didn’t watch the tape until May 14.
“I couldn’t bring myself to watch it before then,” Jackson said, according to Jacksonville.com. “You look back and say, ‘We should have beat those guys. We were better.’ It took me a long time to get over it.”
The Jaguars weren’t lucky to be in that spot. While their 2017 was a massive improvement, it was built on a solid foundation. Jacksonville had either the best or second-best defense in the NFL last season, depending on how you feel about Minnesota. This season, 10 defensive starters return.
Even with a tremendous defense that returns mostly intact, it’ll be tough to repeat. The offense was better than most people probably realize, but the staff still doesn’t seem to trust quarterback Blake Bortles all that much. Bortles’ inconsistency doesn’t seem to be an issue that will ever go away. Leonard Fournette has talent and played well at times, but he wasn’t efficient last season. And the defense was mostly healthy through last season, and that’s never guaranteed to repeat.
The Jaguars suddenly have to play as a favorite, too. Jacksonville won 22 games over six seasons before 2017. They went from being one of the worst teams in the NFL to its sudden success story.
“People are going to want to go back to last year,” coach Doug Marrone said, according to Jacksonville.com. “Last year, we wrapped that in a box. There are lessons we learned from it. We appreciate the season, we appreciate what went on, but now we’re sitting here 0-0.”
There’s not a lot of faith in the Jaguars. According to OddsShark, oddsmakers set the Jaguars’ win total this season at just nine. Their Super Bowl odds of 22-to-1 is tied for 11th best in the NFL. That’s a huge leap from where the Jaguars were a year ago, but it’s also a long way from being a 90 percent shot to make a Super Bowl.
Everything is in place for the Jaguars to make another run. Bortles might be maligned, but he has played well for stretches and has good talent around him. Fournette will probably be better, especially since he’s in great shape coming into the season, and help carry the offense. The defense has the talent to end up on the list of all-time great defenses that carried a team to a title.
The challenge is climbing all the way back up the mountain, and not falling down right before they reach the top this time.
Only one team added a 2017 first-team All-Pro player this offseason. It was the Jaguars, who signed guard Andrew Norwell from the Panthers. Jacksonville made other moves, like grabbing cornerback D.J. Hayden, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and receiver Donte Moncrief, but Norwell was the prize of the offseason. The Jaguars did lose some good players. Receiver Allen Robinson, who was out most of last season with an ACL injury, signed with the Bears. Cornerback Aaron Colvin signed with Houston. The draft was solid, mostly with players who should be able to contribute right away, led by defensive tackle Taven Bryan. The Jaguars helped themselves.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
In a passing league, the Jaguars have the best pass defense. Their cornerbacks, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, are both top 5-10 players at their position. The pass rush, which had 55 sacks, helps. Last season the Jaguars allowed a 68.5 passer rating. Among all NFL quarterbacks with more than 160 passes last season, the only one that had a passer rating worse than 68.5 was DeShone Kizer. On average, the Jaguars basically turned every quarterback they faced into the second-worst quarterback in the league. With 10 defensive starters returning, the Jaguars should be stifling against the pass yet again.
In a playoff game against the Bills last season, Blake Bortles completed 12 passes for 87 yards. He was the first quarterback this century to win a playoff game with fewer than 100 passing yards on at least 20 attempts. Bortles is never going to be the type of quarterback to carry his team. The Jaguars hope he can keep the chains moving and doesn’t make mistakes, and perhaps he hits a hot streak in the postseason. There will always be a concern that Bortles will have one of his shakiest games at the worst time, however.
The Jaguars are in an uncomfortable spot with Blake Bortles. It’s hard to reset at quarterback in the NFL, because good quarterbacks are almost never available. And Jacksonville came so close to the Super Bowl last season, they don’t want to make the wrong choice at quarterback and screw up what they have. So Bortles got a three-year, $54 million extension. The deal actually lowered his cap number for this season, and it’s a contract the Jaguars can get out of if he craters this season. But it’s another reminder that teams often make suboptimal decisions with mediocre quarterbacks, because they fear the unknown.
STAT TO REMEMBER
Guess which team was fifth in the NFL in scoring and sixth in total yardage? That’s right, it was the Jaguars. Having the defense create a lot of three-and-outs and good field position helped, but the offense doesn’t lack talent. Young receivers like Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole played well, and Marqise Lee is a solid if unspectacular No. 1 option. Leonard Fournette averaged just 3.9 yards per carry as a rookie and his 44 percent success rate by Football Outsiders’ metrics ranked just 26th among NFL backs, behind guys like Frank Gore, Orleans Darkwa and Jonathan Stewart. We all know Fournette has the talent to be much better. Additions like tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, receiver Donte Moncrief and especially guard Andrew Norwell will help. The offense could be even better this season, and it was already better than you remember in 2017.
IS JALEN RAMSEY THE BEST CORNERBACK IN THE NFL?
The Dallas Cowboys would have been better off drafting Ramsey instead of running back Ezekiel Elliott two years ago. Elliott had the better rookie season, but Ramsey is now one of the best players in football.
Ramsey was considered by many the best player regardless of position in the 2016 draft, and that seems to be coming to fruition. Ramsey had seven games last season in which he gave up 20 or fewer yards, according to Pro Football Focus. There are several great corners around the NFL. Ramsey’s teammate A.J. Bouye is one. But if I had to pick one cornerback, it would be Ramsey. He’s going to be the best in the league for a long time.
BEST CASE SCENARIO
We know what the defense brings to the table. It’s championship quality. If Leonard Fournette is better in his second year and Blake Bortles finds a groove and stays there, the Jaguars can win a Super Bowl. We’ve seen teams ride a defense-first formula to a title. There will always be concern over a Bortles meltdown, but his peak isn’t bad. It’s just hard to predict what you’ll get game to game. Bortles doesn’t need to be the best quarterback in the NFL. It’s still a run-first offense with an elite defense. It’s not too hard to imagine Bortles becoming a more reliable quarterback, in the middle of the pack of NFL QBs, and the Jaguars taking off.
I don’t like to talk about injuries in this space often, because that’s an obvious worst-case scenario for every team. However, we have to acknowledge that the Jaguars’ defense went through last season with some great injury luck. A major injury or two this season might knock that unit back a bit, and I don’t think the offense could make up for it. Don’t forget that last August people wanted Chad Henne to start over Blake Bortles. If we see more Bad Bortles than Good Bortles this season, and the defense takes even a slight step back, the Jaguars could find themselves fighting with the Texans and Titans for the division. That’s a steep drop from being on the verge of a Super Bowl.
It’s hard to get over the fact that the Jaguars, for a few moments, had a 90 percent chance to make a Super Bowl and couldn’t close the deal. That’s tough to bounce back from. It could be motivation (“Now, coming out here with these guys, you can still see they’re angry and they have a lot to prove,” receiver Donte Moncrief, signed in the offseason, told the team’s site), but it’s tough to reach those heights again. I think the Jaguars are built to win in the regular season, when their great defense can make up for the bad days by the offense over 16 games. But I think the offensive inconsistency will cost them in a single-elimination playoff situation. Maybe it’s just because it’s hard to think of the Jaguars as a Super Bowl favorite, no matter how close they got last season.
LB KEVIN DODD quietly heads to the infirmary in Bustville. Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
The Titans are moving on from Kevin Dodd.
The outside linebacker was informed of his release on Tuesday, the team announced
The 26-year-old Dodd was a second-round pick of the Titans in 2016, but managed only 285 snaps over his first two seasons. He failed to show up for the offseason program after Tennessee drafted his replacement in second-rounder Harold Landry.
Landry reportedly “flashed” this summer while taking snaps alongside veteran outside ‘backers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan.
“I definitely want to make the vets here proud, and make the front office and coach (Mike) Vrabel and all the coaches out here proud for selecting me in the draft,” Landry told the team’s official website last month. “So every day I definitely come out here and bust my ass because I want to definitely make an impact as a rookie and be able to help this team win a Super Bowl.”
Dodd — avoiding the club at all costs this offseason — took an opposite approach and paid the price. With just one sack over two pro campaigns, Dodd’s career is on the ropes.
THIS AND THAT
Another sexual harassment suit at NFL Network. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
Last year, former NFL Network employee Jami Cantor filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the league-owned broadcasting operation, resulting in the suspension of three on-air analysts. Another former NFL Network employee recently has filed a similar civl action.
Erin McParland, who previously told her story to Tim Rohan of SI.com, filed a lawsuit on July 24 in Los Angeles County Superior Court against NFL Enterprises, Eric Davis, and various unknown (for now) potential defendants.
In the lawsuit, McParland alleges generally that she was “subjected to ongoing and continuing sexual harassment by current and former on-air talent and other employees of NFL.” She specifically contends that Davis made unwanted advances in person and via Instagram messaging, including unwelcome physical contact.
“Davis during these encounters would also force his genitals against Plaintiff and he would also rub his genitals on Plaintiff’s leg,” the complaint alleges at paragraph 12(b). “Davis also groped Plaintiff’s rear extremities with both hands including a specific instance where Davis grabbed Plaintiff’s buttocks and inserted his fingers up into the area between Plaintiff’s buttocks on either side. These contacts were against Plaintiff’s clearly stated wishes for . . . Davis to keep his ‘hands off’ her.”
The complaint makes specific allegations against only one other employee: Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin.
“On the set of Defendant NFL’s television show ‘GameDay,’ former on-air talent on NFL Network, Michael Irvin, made inappropriate gestures and comments to Plaintiff,” the complaint alleges at paragraph 12(c). “Irvin once grabbed Plaintiff’s waist against Plaintiff’s wishes while Plaintiff was ‘powdering [Irvin] on set during a commercial break’ in front of other staff members and network personnel, ‘[m]ortifying’ Plaintiff. Plaintiff went out of her way to avoid Irvin after this exchange and reminded Irvin to ‘not touch’ Plaintiff every time Plaintiff was forced by Defendant to interact with Irvin.” (Curiously, the complaint refers to Irvin as “former on-air talent” at NFLN, implying that he no longer works for the league-owned network.)
McParland alleges that she complained to NFL Network about both Davis and Irvin, and that the NFL only took action against Davis after another employee complained about him. McParland contends that the league never took action against Irvin in response to her complaints.
The lawsuit makes claims of negligence, assault, battery, false imprisonment (arising from Davis allegedly confronting McParland about her complaints against him), harassment, and gender discrimination. McParland seeks a wide variety of compensatory damages, along with punitive damages.
In response to the claims made in 2017 by Cantor, NFLN immediately suspended Heath Evans, Marshall Faulk, and Ike Taylor. Davis previously had left his job at NFLN; after Cantor’s lawsuit was filed, ESPN Radio parted ways with him. ESPN also severed ties with Donovan McNabb in the aftermath of the Cantor filing, and former NFLN executive Eric Weinberger left his employment with the Bill Simmons Media Group.
We found this:
McParland started working as a makeup artist for the NFL Network in 2014. In the interview with Sports Illustrated, she described an incident she says occurred with Cantor when she first started working there. According to The New York Daily News, Erin McParland is “a makeup artist who has worked at the network for three seasons.”
“Jami Cantor pulled me aside to offer some advice. At this time, Jami had been head of the network’s wardrobe for nearly a decade. Although she didn’t get too specific, she left me with a warning: You’re new. You’re pretty. You’ll be targeted. Be careful,” SI reported.