The Daily Briefing Wednesday, June 21, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

Jerry Jones is leading an NFL group to the Vatican today.  NFL.com:

 

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

Jones and his wife, Gene, have been in Italy with a contingent from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

Jones, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 5, will be joined by six previous Hall inductees, including Curtis Martin, Ronnie Lott and Franco Harris, in his meeting with the pope.

 

The group also includes representatives from the Hall’s board of trustees, of which Jones is a member, according to the Dallas Morning News.

 

– – –

We don’t know the exact order, but the NFL is telling us that these are the current top 10 players in the NFL (8 offensive skill players, 2 pass rushers, no OLs) as picked in a vote of NFL players.

 

Aaron Rodgers: The QB was ranked at No. 6 last year. This is his fifth Top 10 selection.

 

Odell Beckham Jr.: OBJ was ranked at No. 10 last year. Three wide receivers made Top 10. Who will be ranked the highest?

 

Le’Veon Bell: This is his first appearance in the Top 10. He was listed at No. 41 last year.

 

Von Miller: The Super Bowl 50 MVP is back in the Top 10 after landing at No. 15 last year.

 

Tom Brady: It’s no surprise that the MVP of Super Bowl LI made top 10. Last year he was ranked No. 2. Will he go up or down?

 

Antonio Brown: Brown was ranked No. 4 last year. This is his third time making the Top 10

 

Matt Ryan: After a heartbreaking Super Bowl LI collapse, Ryan makes his debut on the Top 100 list.

 

Khalil Mack: 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year was ranked at No. 13 last year. This is his first time making the Top 10.

 

Ezekiel Elliot: He may not have won 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he’s the first rookie to ever crack the Top 10.

 

Julio Jones: The All-Pro wideout was ranked at No. 8 last year. This is his second Top 10 selection.

 

There are a number of scribes who are wailing about the lack of Rams DT AARON DONALD on the list.

– – –

Someone shot three men in Reno, perhaps just to watch them die, and one was a former NFL player.  The Reno Gazette-Journal:

 

Ryan Jones, a Hug High alumni who signed contracts with two NFL teams, was shot and killed Sunday evening, his former high school coach and the Washoe County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Tuesday. He was 26.

 

About 8:20 p.m. Sunday, officers were called to the 200 block of Talus Way, north of Rancho San Rafael Park, where they found three men who’d been shot. One of the men – later identified as Jones – died at the scene.

 

The other victims were transported to a local hospital with non-life threatening conditions.

 

Reno Police Department spokesman Officer Tim Broadway said he could not comment on the circumstances the led up to the shooting as of Tuesday afternoon.

 

“We can’t go into details yet because it’s an ongoing investigation,” he said. Broadway said “several people” were still being interviewed.

– – –

Jones was waived by the Ravens a month after signing and given an injury settlement. In 2015, Jones was signed by the New York Giants before being waived again with an injury settlement two months later.

 

After his football career ended, Jones spent time training in mixed martial arts at a local gym. His last fight was May 20 when he won a King of the Cage match at the Silver Legacy Casino Resort.

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

The Lions are acting like they expect to have a big money deal with QB MATTHEW STAFFORD in due course.  Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:

 

The Detroit Lions are targeting this summer to finalize a contract extension with quarterback Matthew Stafford, and all signs continue to point to the parties finding common ground on a deal.

 

Lions general manager Bob Quinn told SiriusXM NASCAR radio over the weekend that he’s “confident” a deal will get done.

 

“Nothing to report right now,” Quinn told Claire B. Lang at the Firekeepers Casino 400 from Michigan International Speedway. “We’re working towards that and hopefully we have some news later in the summer.”

 

The Lions are expected to make Stafford the highest paid player in the NFL at an average annual salary of more than $25 million per season.

 

Stafford, who has one year left on the extension he signed in 2013, has said repeatedly that he’s not worried about his new deal, though prevailing wisdom is that he’ll wait until potential contracts with Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr are done before finalizing his contract.

 

Cousins has until July 17 to get a new deal or he’ll play this season on the franchise tag, while Carr has a self-imposed deadline of the start of training camp for his new contract.

 

“I’m not too worried about what those guys do,” Stafford said at Lions minicamp last week. “I’m just worried about trying to get better out here. That’s pretty much all I can say. This time of year to me is football time. I’m out here playing football, trying to get better to help this team win.”

 

Quinn said the Lions have “a great working relationship” with Stafford’s agent, Tom Condon, and he said he believes the two sides will come to an agreement “eventually.”

 

Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com notes this from Detroit’s contract negotiator:

 

Given the going rate for quarterbacks, there’s a chance that the deal will make Stafford the highest-paid player in the league and he’ll certainly be somewhere right near the top if that’s not the case. Lions president Rod Wood was asked Tuesday if he’s comfortable with that.

 

“I’m comfortable in getting a deal done with him, and we’ll see where that ends up,” Wood said, via Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com. “It’s going to be whatever it takes, I think, to make it happen from both sides and whether he becomes the highest-paid or not, it’ll be a short-lived designation because, as Bob said, and I think it’s true, if you’re in the top whatever of quarterbacks, when your time comes up, your time comes up and then somebody else’s time comes up, and they become the highest-[paid player]. It’s a premium position, and you need to have a very, very good player at that position to be credible and be competitive, and I think we do have that, and we’re working on getting a deal done.”

 

If the Lions are comfortable going to the top of the pay scale to keep Stafford in Detroit for several more years, there’s little reason to think that Quinn’s confidence in an eventual deal will wind up being misplaced.

 

– – –

Lions DT KHYRI THORNTON abused at least one substance and will miss six games..

 

More from Charean Williams, now of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Khyri Thornton’s suspension will cost him more than $300,000.

 

Thornton, suspended for the first six games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, will lose $247,058 in salary during his suspension, or 6/17ths of his $700,000 base salary. He also will lose another $75,000 of the $200,000 he has in per-game roster bonuses written in his contract, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

 

Thornton also has $150,000 in playtime incentives that become harder to reach.

 

The defensive tackle re-signed with the Lions in March, agreeing to a two-year, $3.3 million deal that included a $325,000 signing bonus. He started six games last season and played in seven others, making 18 tackles and one sack.

 

The Lions will have a decision to make when Thornton’s suspension ends.

 

 

GREEN BAY

Dan Hanzus of NFL.com on what kind of woman appeals to a Green Bay fan.

 

Some men spend their life obsessing about their family name. How can it be established? What should it represent? How will it carry on? Ryan Holtan-Murphy never worried about any of that. He just likes the Packers.

 

Like many men his age, Ryan spent a portion of his single years in bars, looking for a good time — and if things broke right — a good mate. One day at a karaoke establishment in Madison, he met a fetching woman named Marie. Marie Packer.

 

“Marie is beautiful, strong, hilarious. And then she told me her last name,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America. “I didn’t believe her and made her show two forms of ID and a credit card.”

 

The name was legit and the relationship took off from there. The two lovebirds married last weekend and Ryan took the ultra unorthodox move of taking his wife’s maiden name. Holtan, Murphy and the hyphen that bonded them was all gone. In its place — Ryan and Marie Packer. He called it a “no-brainer” to take Marie’s name.

 

The couple married in a Packers-themed celebration atop Willis Tower in Chicago. The groom slipped into a custom Green Bay suit for the afterparty. We wish the Packers the very best.

 

“We’re the Packer family now,” he said.

 

Congrats guys … though now we need the children to become Bears fans to really spice this thing up.

 

Need we say more.

 

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

With RB LeGARRETTE BLOUNT in the fold, the Eagles want to pound the ball.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Eagles hope they drafted their franchise quarterback last year in Carson Wentz, but this year they think the best way to help him develop is not to ask him to do too much.

 

Toward that end, Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley said, head coach Doug Pederson wants to make sure there are plenty of carries to go around for the newly arrived running backs LeGarrette Blount and Donnel Pumphrey.

 

“Oh, Doug communicated it himself,” Staley said, via ESPN. “He talked about running the ball: ‘We’re not bringing these guys in here just to sit them up on the shelf. We want to run the ball and we want to impose our will.’”

 

Staley said Blount’s size and power should make him an imposing problem for opposing defenses.

 

“Just get back to pounding the ball a little bit, just imposing your will on these defenses, being able to get Blount out there in the secondary,” Staley said. “I’m pretty sure those safeties will think twice about hitting him.”

 

With safeties thinking twice about Blount, life may be a little easier for Wentz.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says the contract situation of QB KIRK COUSINS won’t come to a head for another month or so.

 

Much has been said in recent weeks about the negotiations between Washington and franchise-tagged quarterback Kirk Cousins. From dramatic reports on the suddenly positive tone to percentage-based predictions suggesting the glass is well more than half full, reporters are desperate to get ahead of something that necessarily remains premature.

 

“So much noise,” said a source with knowledge of the situation on Tuesday.

 

As to whether progress has been made, the source added, “Nothing to report. Will be interesting to see what happens mid-July.”

 

PFT noted over the weekend that the July 15 deadline for doing a long-term deal bumps to Monday, July 17 because the 15th lands on a Saturday. So the two sides have 27 days to get something done.

 

And the two sides most likely will take nearly the full amount of the 27 days. There’s no reason not to; neither side will move toward its bottom-line position until the clock is close to striking 4:00 p.m. ET on the 17th. If either the team or the player puts the best number on the table now, the other side will wait it out, hoping that the offer will get better before the real deadline.

 

The math remains simple. Anything less than this year’s cash in hand ($23.94 million) and next year’s transition tender (a 20-percent raise, amounting to $28.7 million) fully guaranteed at signing will not get a deal done — unless Cousins decides to do a Tom Brady-style deal by usurping the agent and, in turn, hurting the agent’s ability to retain and recruit clients.

 

The agent, Mike McCartney, is hardly being unreasonable by expecting more than $52 million fully guaranteed at signing. Cousins has played (and won) the game to the tune of nearly $44 million over two years, and he’s one more year in the Year-To-Yearopoly away from $28.7 million for the transition tag in 2018 (which would give Washington only the right to match an offer sheet signed elsewhere), $34.47 million for the franchise tag in 2018 (which would allow Washington to keep or trade him in 2018), or a free and clear shot at the open market.

 

Cousins has both the leverage and the financial security. There’s no reason for him to do anything other than the kind of deal that his circumstances would suggest, taking the Peyton Manning/Darrelle Revis-style position that it’s not on Cousins to manage his team’s salary cap. That falls on team management, and team management badly bungled the situation by not immediately offered Cousins a long-term deal at $18 million or so per year the moment the franchise decided that, like Gus Frerotte supplanting Heath Shuler more than 20 years ago, Cousins would be bumping Robert Griffin III out of the starting lineup and, eventually, off the roster.

 

Cousins quite possibly will be joining Griffin as a former Washington quarterback by next year, unless team president Bruce Allen (who holds the real power in the wake of the recent restructuring) cries Uncle and pays the piper as July 17 approaches.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Bruce Arians sings the praises of aspiring coach Byron Leftwich.  Chris Wesseling at NFL.com:

 

At this time last offseason, Byron Leftwich was just settling into his post-playing career as a coaching intern with the Arizona Cardinals.

 

Head coach Bruce Arians was initially unsure if he would have the services of Leftwich beyond last summer.

 

“After that, we’ll see,” Arians explained last May. “Hopefully I can keep him all year. I think he’s got a great, bright future in coaching.”

 

As it turns out, Arians created an opening at quarterbacks coach in January, transitioning Freddie Kitchens to running backs coach as Stump Mitchell’s replacement.

 

Just how bright is Leftwich’s future in the coaching ranks?

 

Five months into his new job, Leftwich is already being touted as head-coach material.

 

“He’ll be a head coach early and fast,” Arians assessed recently, via Darren Urban of the team’s official website.

 

A slow-footed signal-caller with an especially deliberate throwing motion, Leftwich believes he was forced to see the game from a coach’s point of view in his decade as an NFL quarterback.

 

“I played the game as if I was a coach,” Leftwich said. “I never really had the physical ability to run around. I could throw the ball, but I had to think my way through the whole time. I think (Arians) understood that and appreciated my knowledge, how much work I put into the game.”

 

Leftwich spent three years learning Arians’ offense when the two were together in Pittsburgh. Now the former Jaguars and Steelers quarterback is charged with instructing Carson Palmer, a player drafted No. 1 overall in the same year that Leftwich was selected with the seventh pick.

 

“I’ve been around long enough to know I need it, I need coaching, tips and help and pointers,” Palmer said, per Urban. “I know when someone knows it and they don’t, and he knows it. I don’t care if he’s five years younger or 15 years older, he knows what he is talking about. And he played in the same exact system and he played for B.A., so there are a lot of positives with him.”

 

It will be interesting to watch Arians’ coaching tree grow over the next few years.

 

Former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles finally got his chance to run his own team as Jets coach in 2015. Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin interviewed for the openings of the Jaguars, Rams and Bills last January.

 

Now it appears that Leftwich is on the fast track toward joining that duo as a legitimate head-coaching candidate.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

A former Chiefs player comes out as gay.  Blair Kerkoff in the Kansas City Star:

 

Ryan O’Callaghan lived a tortured existence throughout his four-season NFL career, including two with the Chiefs, and considered suicide.

 

Such was the life of a gay man who hadn’t told anyone of his sexual orientation.

 

O’Callaghan’s life began to turn in a positive direction with the help of conversations with a woman who currently serves as a UMKC vice chancellor and then-Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli.

 

O’Callgahan’s story is detailed in an OutSports.com story by Cyd Zeigler titled, “Former Patriots and Chiefs tackle Ryan O’Callaghan comes out as gay.”

 

O’Callaghan appeared in 10 games for the Chiefs in 2010 but the team placed him on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury before the 2011 season. O’Callaghan wouldn’t play again.

 

That’s when the spiral accelerated. In the story, O’Callaghan said prescriptions were easy to obtain and one day he downed 30 Vicodin.

 

“I was abusing painkillers, no question,” O’Callaghan said in the story. “It helped with the pain of the injuries, and with the pain of being gay. I just didn’t worry about being gay when I took the Vicodin.”

 

His thoughts turned to suicide. O’Callaghan started to make plans, including building a small cabin on his property outside Kansas City, where he intended to end his life.

 

In 2011, O’Callaghan was encouraged by the Chiefs to visit Susan Wilson, a UMKC official who has counseled players on drug abuse. Wilson is a licensed clinical psychologist and serves as the Vice Chancellor of the Division of Diversity and Inclusion.

 

Wilson told The Star that she soon realized the issue wasn’t simply pain killers, and Wilson became the first person O’Callaghan told of his sexual orientation.

 

“We talked about how his fear was driving him to want to commit suicide,” she said, “and it was a fear of what the team would say, what his parents would say, fear about what his friends would say.

 

“What I told him was, before taking that drastic step that has no return, the best way to confront fear is to gather information. First start with someone you feel comfortable with and see if your worst fears come true. See if they reject you or scorn you.”

 

O’Callaghan put in a call to Pioli.

 

They had worked together in New England, the team that had drafted O’Callaghan from California and where he spent his first two seasons. Pioli was the vice president of player personnel there when he was hired by the Chiefs as general manager in 2009. The Chiefs claimed O’Callaghan off waivers from the Patriots in September 2009, and he was in the starting lineup at right tackle within one month.

 

This time, O’Callaghan would reach out to Pioli, who had known about the drug abuse, according to the story. O’Callaghan, then 27, informed Pioli that he was gay.

 

“People like me are supposed to react in a certain way,” Pioli told OutSports. “What Ryan didn’t know is how many gay people I’ve had in my life.”

 

Their conversation, Pioli told O’Callaghan, changed nothing. They were friends and Pioli said he was there to support him.

 

O’Callaghan started coming out to family and friends and found support. Among those he shared his story with was Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt.

 

O’Callaghan’s life has turned. Today, lives near his family in Redding, Calif., and has done work for a local LGBT organization. He told OutSports that he wanted to share his story to help other gay people who struggle in communicating their concerns or fears, especially those who, like him, considered suicide.

 

“I see it as a final form of liberation,” Wilson said.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

There was a New Years Eve beating in the condo building of Cleveland WR COREY COLEMAN, but Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports he has avoided any criminal charges.  However, the fact sequence outlined in the indictment, derived from a surveillance video, does not reflect well on Coleman.  He could (and should?) feel the pain of NFL Justice.

 

– A probable cause affidavit filed with the indictment charging the brother of Browns receiver Corey Coleman in a New Years Eve attack says the player took part in the beating. But Coleman himself is not charged in the encounter at his downtown Cleveland condo that left a man unconscious and bleeding in a parking garage stairwell.

 

His brother, Jonathan Coleman, a 25-year-old former Kansas State University football player, and Jared Floyd, 24, both of Dallas, Texas, are charged with felonious assault, a second-degree felony.

 

The indictment handed up Tuesday by a Cuyahoga County grand jury only charges Jonathan Coleman and Floyd. However, a probable cause affidavit says all three men attacked the 26-year-old man.

 

Jonathan Coleman and Floyd are scheduled for arraignment on July 5. 

 

Corey Coleman’s attorney, Kevin Spellacy, previously told cleveland.com that Coleman had nothing to do with the fight. Spellacy did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

 

Court records do not list an attorney for Jonathan Coleman or Floyd.

 

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s spokeswoman Kathleen Caffrey said the investigation is on-going.

 

Jonathan Coleman and Floyd are accused of attacking the man on Dec. 31 in the lobby of Coleman’s downtown Cleveland condo at the Pinnacle Condominiums on West Lakeside Avenue.

 

The man, Adam Sapp of Mayfield Heights, said in a phone interview with cleveland.com that he never saw Coleman hit him.

 

Sapp was getting on the elevator when an argument broke out between him and several men who were getting off the elevator, police reports say. Sapp said the fight was broken up by several people.

 

Sapp walked away from the group. Corey Coleman and the two others followed him, surveillance video shows, according to Sapp and police.

 

Sapp was attacked from behind and didn’t see his attackers. He said he never saw Corey Coleman.

 

The men knocked him unconscious and left him with a burst eardrum. Jonathan Coleman and Floyd then carried Sapp’s unconscious body through the parking garage and left him there, according to court records.

 

Sapp suffered a concussion, a ruptured ear drum and multiple bruises during the attack, according to police. He was taken to St. Vincent Charity Hospital.

 

Sapp said the attack left him unable to work. He is a personal trainer and was unable to work for several months while he recovered.

 

“That’s peak weight-loss time, too,” Sapp said, pointing out that he was attacked on New Year’s Eve.

 

He lost out on a job opportunity as a trainer at a boxing gym in Parma Heights, he said.

 

Sapp said he’s been upset with how long it has taken to get charges brought in the case. He said he believes it would have been a quicker case had it not involved a Browns player.

 

“It’s been an aggravating six months,” Sapp said. “I’m going to keep fighting for justice no matter what. If they’re not treating all citizens the same way, that’s disappointing. I just want an equal shake.” 

 

AFC SOUTH

 

TENNESSEE

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com on the hype surrounding the Titans.

 

The Titans weren’t ready last season. Before Nashville was famous for catfish, before Marcus Mariota’s broken leg, Tennessee was being pushed around in a decisive Christmas Eve game in Jacksonville. The franchise traveled the NFL road from laughingstock (five wins combined in two years) to competitive (9-7 in 2016) in a hurry, outmuscling two AFC contenders in December wins while joining the NFL’s middle class in scoring defense and offense. Parts of the roster remained undercooked, however, and general manager Jon Robinson knew it.

 

The signing of Eric Decker on Sunday evening completed a dramatic overhaul of the Titans’ receiver group, matched only by wholesale changes in the secondary. The contract, and the ready-made feature stories touring Decker’s Nashville home, cemented the Titans’ status as this season’s AFC It Team. Ready or not, it’s their time on center stage.

 

Quick fixes

Robinson had the luxury of inheriting a franchise quarterback when he arrived in Tennessee last January. That allowed the Titans to use draft capital on building up the team’s offensive line and running game. Top-five rushing numbers immediately followed, but that didn’t change the fact that Mariota’s No. 1 wide receiver was Rishard Matthews. Mariota essentially didn’t have a second perimeter option and it showed as the team’s passing game decayed late in the year. Mariota completed fewer than half his passes in December, averaging just 5.9 yards per attempt in the three games before his Week 16 injury. A playoff trip would have been nice, but this team was only going so far with players like Tajae Sharpe and Harry Douglas getting too many snaps.

 

Robinson saw enough. He showed conviction taking Western Michigan’s Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick in April’s draft, then doubled down by snatching up versatile wideout Taywan Taylor and athletic tight end Jonnu Smith in the third round. With erratic receiver Kendall Wright banished, Mariota finally has a group of pass catchers he can grow up with. Decker, last seen as one of the best red-zone receivers and No. 2 options in football, completes the group. It’s difficult to totally fix an organizational problem in one offseason, but Robinson’s track record with the running game last season should give Titans fans hope.

 

The reconstruction of the secondary was no less dramatic. Tennessee has two new starting cornerbacks in former Patriots spitfire Logan Ryan and first-round playmaker Adoree’ Jackson from USC, in addition to a new starting safety in free-agent pickup Johnathan Cyprien. The most exciting player of the group is second-year safety Kevin Byard, who flashed star potential in a part-time role as a rookie. After running out of defensive backs last season, the Titans look far more well-stocked this time around. Then again, the Titans aren’t buzzy because of their defense.

 

Mariota’s time

Mariota has developed as a pro mostly out of the national spotlight, a rare luxury for a top-two pick in this media climate. That’s what happens when you play for an organization that has been off the radar since Kerry Collins’ fever dream 13-3 season. (It doesn’t help that the next quotable item from the lips of Mariota or Titans coach Mike Mularkey will be the first.) The Titans don’t drive television ratings or page views, so media decision makers were happy to ignore the franchise until they had no other choice. It’s time.

 

Still just 23, Mariota will face the difficult task of integrating all these new offensive pieces without the benefit of a full offseason. He surprised the Titans by taking snaps during OTAs, just five months removed from a plate being inserted into his broken leg. But Mariota was not able to cut or practice at full speed in June after failing to close out the regular season healthy for a second straight year.

 

The familiarity between Mariota and Mularkey should limit the damage of the injury. Mularkey took over as interim head coach of the Titans halfway through Mariota’s rookie season. And last year, after being promoted to the full-time gig, Mularkey helped shepherd Mariota’s improved vertical passing. For all the hype about Tennessee’s additions this offseason, the foundation of the Titans’ offense remains unchanged. Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin comprise the nastiest tackle duo in football. DeMarco Murray and underrated second-year back Derrick Henry might be the toughest one-two punch in the backfield. Tight end Delanie Walker is still a physical freak at age 32. Tennessee’s offense comes harder than Mularkey’s jawline.

 

While there has been some typical young-quarterback streakiness, Mariota has handled himself like a pro while throwing for 45 touchdowns against only 19 interceptions over the last two seasons. Now he has the teammates to take the next step to omnipresence, not to mention the schedule.

 

AFC South is there for the taking

The NFL’s hipster division is perpetually on the verge, a favorite of writers looking for what’s next. It’s also ripe to be conquered decisively.

 

The Texans are at least two years behind Tennessee in developing a franchise quarterback, coming off a season where they won nine games with smoke and mirrors. No one knows when the Colts’ leader will be able to throw a football again, and how swapping out an entire defense will play out in 2017. Jacksonville looks intriguing on paper again, but Robinson is the newcomer who stole the show from the Jaguars and their fancy beach house. Rebuilds don’t have to take five years.

 

Tennessee’s coaching staff might have more to prove than its well-rounded roster. Since walking away from the Bills’ head-coaching job, Mularkey has waited more than a decade to run a team like this. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau turns 80(!) before the season opener and oversaw a middling group last year.

 

Still, don’t fall for any hot takesmen who try to claim the Titans as some surprise team. (My friend Chris Wesseling smartly staked out that ground last year.) This time around, they should be the clear favorites in their division and get used to the spotlight.

 

Their Week 1 matchup against the Raiders should be the national game on CBS, a sentence that would have sounded bizarre one year ago. The Titans have prime-time games against Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. A closing stretch against the 49ers, Rams and Jaguars screams “hot team heading into the playoffs.”

 

Decker’s signing was just the final reminder to the football cognoscenti that Tennessee is this year’s consensus trendy team in the AFC. After an offseason attacking weaknesses on the depth chart, the Titans should be ready to attack this weak division.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

DT SHELDON RICHARDSON vows to fight what may be the team goal of Jets management. But in this case, that would seem to be a good thing. Daryl Slater at NJ.com:

 

Defensive end Sheldon Richardson’s eyebrows raised when he was asked the question: What does he think of those who say the Jets are tanking this season, after cutting so many veteran players?

 

“Tanking for what?” he told NJ Advance Media last week at minicamp.

 

For a high draft pick in 2018, perhaps to select a quarterback, as the thinking goes.

 

“Whatever,” Richardson said. “I mean, I don’t tank nothing. So that’s all opinions outside of this organization. We don’t come here — and we’re not going to go through training camp, and have 14-hour days — to go tank a season. I’ll be damned.”

 

Richardson said fans who want the Jets to tank this season “don’t ever see the grind” that players go through, as they prepare for the season. 

 

The Jets tanking conversation gained steam earlier this month when the organization cut two more veterans: wide receiver Eric Decker and middle linebacker David Harris.

 

Jets’ Sheldon Richardson: ’15 reasons’ why locker room is easier to get along with now

“Nothing is certain around here,” said Richardson, whom the Jets have dangled in trade talks this offseason and during last season. “When you’re a team in transition, I don’t want to say nobody’s safe. That’s a little joke.” 

 

Still, Richardson believes the Jets “most definitely” can field a competitive team in 2017.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

KAEP

Jeff Diamond, once an NFL GM, writes in The Sporting News on what could make him sign Colin Kaepernick:

 

To those who believe Colin Kaepernick’s status as an unemployed NFL quarterback is due to his political statements, I’m here to tell you they’re only part of his problem. Kaepernick remains unsigned because he has a triple whammy working against him.

 

Despite the issues Kaepernick faces, however, I believe he will be signed no later than the early stages of the upcoming regular season. If I were an NFL general manager today with a shaky starter or a questionable backup, I certainly would consider the 29-year-old veteran.

 

Any of the following issues could derail a player’s chances to be signed. The combination of them is why Kaepernick has made just one team visit in free agency.

 

Problem 1: Most GMs consider Kaepernick a descending player whose best years were 2012 and 2013, when he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl and then back to the NFC title game. The perception among many is he went downhill when Jim Harbaugh left after the 2014 season; that his mobility might be declining while his passing ability remains suspect. (His pass completion percentage averaged 59.1 percent over the past two years while the league leaders were close to 70 percent.)

 

Problem 2: According to ESPN, Kaepernick is looking for a job that would pay in the range of $9 million-$10 million. (Pro Football Talk has countered that report.) That range would be OK if Kaepernick were signed as a starter, but most GMs consider Kaepernick a good No. 2 who could be signed in the range of $3 million-$5 million plus incentives.

 

Problem 3, which for some teams might be Problem 1: There’s the image question fueled by Kaepernick’s political views. He’s considered a player with off-field baggage from his activism, which has not stopped. When a player is no longer considered an elite talent, the reality is his image becomes more of a determining factor in the minds of team execs.

 

When I look at Kaepernick, I see a player who should have plenty of good years left. I see a player who suffered from a lack of offensive support and an organization that did not believe in him over the past two seasons. His 1-10 record as a starter last year is a negative, but it’s also misleading. He threw 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions. His QB rating was 90.7, which ranked 20th among starters. He also rushed for 468 yards.

 

I wouldn’t sign Kaepernick today to be my starter unless I had no proven quarterbacks, but I believe he is potentially one of the best No. 2 quarterbacks in the NFL. And I’ve always believed a team must have a quality backup ready to step in and win with the injury factor so prevalent for quarterbacks.

 

During my time as an NFL exec, I saw our excellent No. 2 QBs save several seasons. Bob Lee led our Vikings to the NFC title game in 1977 after Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton broke his leg. Wade Wilson stepped in for our 1987 Vikings, who made it to the NFC championship.

 

Randall Cunningham had an MVP season for our 15-1 Vikings in 1998 after he replaced injured starter Brad Johnson in Week 2. The following year with the Titans, I saw Neil O’Donnell go 4-1 as a replacement for the injured Steve McNair during our Super Bowl season.

 

Kaepernick is fully capable of such heroics coming off the bench.

 

However, in order to join my team, he would have to accept a few conditions.

 

Kaepernick would need to come aboard as a good team player and be supportive of the current starter if one were established. If not, Kaepernick would need to be ready to compete. He would need to accept coaching. He would need to play under a one-year contract befitting a top backup quarterback, structured with big incentives for playing time and team success.

 

And yes, he must agree not to be the lightning rod of controversy he was last season.

 

Kaepernick reportedly will stand for the national anthem if and when he plays again. But it’s more than that. He would have to promise not to tweet or be quoted on the subject of police and political issues in general. I’d tell him to financially support causes he believes in but stay under the radar with his comments.

 

The reason: It doesn’t help him or the team to bring on controversy, and it alienates many fans, sponsors and some teammates. Right or wrong, that matters to NFL execs who are judged by their team owners on who they sign and how those players reflect on the team.

 

It would have been difficult for me as an NFL exec to muzzle a player, because I believe in freedom of speech. But I would have asked such a player to cease and desist due to the likely negative repercussions. If I were Kaepernick’s agent or 49ers management, I would have advised against the high-profile actions he took last season, especially the disrespect for the national anthem.

 

I respect people who are willing to take a stand for what they believe in, but there’s a time and place to do that.

 

There absolutely are far worse things players have done — think Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Joe Mixon, Tyreek Hill, Adrian Peterson — that would deter me from signing or drafting them. Yet all those players, except Rice, were given additional chances.

 

Kaepernick still sits and waits.

 

When his call comes — and it will when a team loses its starter to injury or grows impatient with its lackluster No. 2 — Kaepernick will need to come in at the right price and with the mindset of becoming a playoff quarterback once again, not a political figure, until his NFL days are truly over.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Ray Lewis will be spending time with Skip Bayless and others this fall.  Michael McCarthy of The Sporting News:

 

Ray Lewis and Fox Sports confirmed Sporting News’ exclusive story that the two-time Super Bowl champion is joining Fox and FS1 as an NFL analyst.

 

PREVIOUS:

 

Ray Lewis is joining Fox Sports as an NFL analyst, sources tell Sporting News.

 

The two-time Super Bowl champion with Ravens will analyze the league for both Fox Sports and the FS1 cable network.

 

Fox declined to comment. Lewis, a 13-time Pro Bowler, was expected to announce the move during a Tuesday appearance on FS1’s “Undisputed” with Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe and Joy Taylor.

 

Lewis will appear on FS1’s Los Angeles-based studio shows: “Undisputed” (9:30 a.m. ET); “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” (noon ET); and “Speak for Yourself,” with Cowherd, Jason Whitlock and Jason McIntyre (5 p.m. ET).

 

Lewis also is expected to show up frequently on FS1’s first ever national morning show, “First Things First” with Cris Carter and Nick Wright. That new show will premiere from New York in time for the 2017 NFL season on Sep. 5 (6 a.m. ET).

 

Lewis will be the latest former ESPNer to join Fox, following Bayless, Cowherd, Whitlock, Carter, Charissa Thompson and sideline reporter Erin Andrews.

 

The Ravens linebacker had a rocky three-year TV stint with ESPN following his retirement in 2013. Hired with great fanfare, Lewis was given prominent roles on “Monday Night Countdown,” “SportsCenter” and other shows.

 

But Lewis never seemed comfortable at ESPN. He and Carter were let go by ESPN during a TV talent shakeup in 2016.

 

His involvement in an unsolved double-homicide in Atlanta in 2000 still hangs over his personal image.

 

ESPN and Fox continue to duel for TV talent. ESPN has re-signed college football analyst Jesse Palmer, whom Fox tried to hire as an NFL game analyst. Palmer chose to stay with ESPN, where he’s expected to move back into the studio for Saturday college football coverage this season.

 

He also has a separate deal with sister Disney network’s ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

 

 

MOST FEARED UNITS

It’s that time of year where NFL writers fill space with lists.

 

Hear is Buck Brooks at NFL.com with the most feared units.  We have edited his comments which you can read in full here.

 

Whenever an NFL coach begins to prepare for a future opponent, he surveys the talent at every position group to see which areas might present the most problems. While you can’t necessarily avoid those players for the entire game, they are talented enough to give you pause before attempting to attack them on either side of the ball.

 

With that in mind, I wanted to survey the league heading into the 2017 campaign and figure out which position groups would create the most fear in the minds of opposing coaches. Here’s my top-10 list:

 

10) New England Patriots’ running backs

The Patriots have long taken a committee approach in the backfield, but their current collection of talent might be the most difficult to defend. Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead are interchangeable playmakers capable of doing damage as pass catchers and change-of-pace runners. Meanwhile, Mike Gillislee is a hard-hitting runner with the combination of size, strength and power to pick up the tough yards on short-yardage and goal-line situations.

 

9) Carolina Panthers’ linebackers

Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis completely control the game as destructive defenders with exceptional instincts, awareness and athleticism. … Not to mention, hyper-athletic youngster Shaq Thompson has flashed enticing potential in his first two pro seasons.

 

8) Atlanta Falcons’ running backs

The Falcons’ ultra-explosive RB tandem sparked the team on what could be the first of a series of Super Bowl runs. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are electric playmakers with similar games.

 

7) Seattle Seahawks’ safeties

The “Legion of Boom” secondary as a whole might be nearing the end of a historic run, but that doesn’t stop quarterbacks from shaking in their boots at the prospect of facing Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

 

6) Los Angeles Chargers’ pass rushers

Get used to seeing Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa dotting this list as one of the most terrifying pass-rushing combinations in the league.

 

5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ receiving corps

When the Buccaneers paired one of the best young WR1s in the game with one of the most prolific big-play threats in NFL history, they guaranteed defensive coordinators around the league will hear plenty of frustrating cannon fire when they stand on the sidelines of Raymond James Stadium. The combination of Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson is arguably the best 1-2 punch in the league, with each pass catcher capable of flipping the field with a big play against one-on-one coverage.

 

4) Denver Broncos’ cornerbacks

Despite the loss of coordinator Wade Phillips (now with the Rams), the Broncos’ D will continue to ground high-flying aerial attacks with Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby comprising the “No Fly Zone” on the perimeter.

 

3) New York Giants’ receiving corps

It was already quite a challenge to slow down the Giants’ passing game last season with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, but it might be impossible to stop Big Blue with Brandon Marshall joining the fold. …If rookie tight end Evan Engram can also carve out a niche as a matchup weapon, the Giants’ offense could light up the scoreboard like a pinball machine in 2017.

 

2) Houston Texans’ pass rushers

How do you block a front line that features a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, a former No. 1 overall pick with explosive strength and power and a high-energy pass rusher with a versatile game? That’s the challenge the Texans’ pass rush presents to opponents with J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus harassing quarterbacks from every conceivable angle along the line.

 

1) Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line

Say what you want about the immediate impact of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott on the Cowboys’ return to prominence — the team’s recent success has been fueled by dominance from the offensive line. The Cowboys’ quintet demolishes defenders at the point of attack in the run game, resulting in huge lanes for the NFL’s reigning rushing king, while also providing a cocoon of protection for the 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year on passing plays. Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin are all former first-round picks — and all three were named first-team All-Pro in 2016. La’el Collins was a first-round talent in 2015, but he went undrafted after his name cropped up in a murder investigation (although he was never considered a suspect and was never charged with any crime). The Cowboys scooped him up as an undrafted free agent, and now he’s in line to be a full-time starter in 2017.

 

Defensive lines loaded with Pro Bowl personnel routinely submit at the hands of this Cowboys offensive line. It’s quite a thing to see. Considering how the sight of those submissions on film can leave a lasting impression on future opponents, the sheer dominance from Dallas’ front line makes the unit worthy of the top spot on this list.