The Daily Briefing Wednesday, June 28, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
The NFL Players Association sees a way to make money out of the biometric data of its members. Tom Taylor of TheMMQB.com:
When Giants linebacker Devon Kennard wakes up each morning, he checks his phone to see what the day might hold. He’ll have text messages and emails, of course, but what Kennard really cares about are his sleep stats: Did he hit his eight-hour target? How good is his recovery score? And, most importantly, how hard can he push his body today?
If knowledge is power, NFL players may have just shifted the balance between them and the league over control of their own bodies. On April 24, the NFL Players Association announced a five-year partnership with WHOOP, a wearable device company that can track the health and performance data of the league’s athletes.
Players will be given a WHOOP Strap 2.0 device that can be worn on their wrist, forearm or bicep. It’s designed to monitor the strain they put on their bodies and how well they recover between games or workouts. For now, the league is unlikely to permit players to use it during games (more on that later). According to the NFLPA and WHOOP, the players—not the league—will control the data and have the opportunity to sell it to third parties. The theory behind using WHOOP is that the information should help players avoid overtraining, reduce injury, perform at their best, and even enjoy healthier lives after retirement.
“I’ve always had an avid interest when it comes to sports analytics,” says Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung, who serves as an athlete advisor to the OneTeam Collective, the NFLPA’s startup accelerator (WHOOP is the first company in the Collective’s portfolio). Okung has suffered from multiple soft tissue injuries in his career, and has tried using different devices to understand why. “[WHOOP] was the next step for me,” he says.
But with power comes responsibility. “If applied judiciously, responsibly, and ethically, biometric data technologies in professional sport have the potential to reduce injuries, improve performance, and extend athletes’ careers,” bioethicists Katrina Karkazis and Jennifer Fishman wrote in an article published in the January issue of The American Journal of Bioethics.
“However, these same biometric data come with the risk of compromising players’ privacy and autonomy, as well as the confidentiality of their data. Moreover, they also have the potential to disadvantage players in contract negotiations and to harm, and even cut short athletic careers.”
Outside of sports, more and more people are wearing some kind of fitness tracking device. Companies are issuing them as part of corporate wellness programs. Data from them is being used to help diagnose diseases and even solve crimes. “The forces of Big Data are reshaping all of the major institutions in our society,” say the authors of a 2016 report by the Center for Digital Democracy on wearable devices, “disrupting the structures and operations of government, commerce, health, financial markets, education, and the workplace.”
The NFLPA-WHOOP partnership might only be a sports case study with a small sample population of 1,700 football players, but its ethical, legal, and medical consequences may reach far beyond the field of play.
* * *
WHOOP is the cool kid in the world of wearable devices; even its name grabs attention. It is a discretely distinctive wristband, black on the outside and bright red, blue, or green on the inside. The band won a Red Dot Design Award in 2016. Unlike some bulky competitors, it has no screen or buttons, and it can be charged while you wear it—you never need to take it off. The heart rate, motion, skin conductivity, and ambient temperature data it records are transmitted via Bluetooth to a user’s mobile device, and from there to the cloud. Those metrics are condensed into three scores, assessing strain from exercise, recovery and sleep, that can monitored in an app.
The device first gained mainstream attraction for its use among NBA players. In spring 2016, then-Cavaliers point guard Matthew Dellavedova started wearing it in games. More than a dozen games later, once the NBA had worked out what the band was, the league banned its use in games. But Clippers center DeAndre Jordan reportedly skirted that ban this past season, wearing WHOOP on his wrist beneath a black sweatband in a February game against the Knicks.
WHOOP remains barred by the NBA during games, but the new collective bargaining agreement, which goes into effect on July 1, may open the door to both it and other technologies. Under the terms of the new CBA, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association will form a joint committee “to review and approve wearable devices for use by players.” The CBA, however, stresses that using any devices will be voluntary, and that the data cannot be used in contract negotiations.
Meanwhile, baseball has formally embraced WHOOP. Last season, 230 minor leaguers were tracked using the wearable from June through November. WHOOP found a correlation between recovery and fastball velocity for pitchers, and ball exit speed and recovery for hitters. In early March, MLB approved the use of WHOOP during big-league games this season. According to WHOOP, players such as Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and Yankees centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury are using the device.
In essence, the NFLPA partnership with WHOOP puts football at the forefront of the wearables debate. All players from the 2017 NFL draft have been set up with a WHOOP band, and the company is now in the process of getting all active players onboard before the season begins.
“This [deal] demystifies wearables as not necessarily a Big Brother approach, but as a way to really educate the players as well as show that there is really value in using wearables to optimize performance [and] minimize the risk of injury,” says Isaiah Kacyvenski, a former NFL linebacker and a co-founder of the Sports Innovation Lab, a market research firm. Kacyvenski serves on both the OneTeam Collective’s executive and athlete advisory boards.
However, the partnership between the NFLPA and WHOOP does not include the NFL league office or any of the 32 teams. Without NFL approval, WHOOP is not supposed to be used in games—and depending on team rules, players might not be able to use it in training either. But that might not stop some players. Last season, Chargers safety Darrell Stuckey wrapped thick white tape around his wrists and forearms. Under the tape on his right wrist was a rectangular bulge. Just like in the NBA, NFL players may be willing to flout uniform rules to wear WHOOP.
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy declined to comment about the NFLPA deal; team insiders were similarly reluctant to talk. The reason: the NFL has had a deal in place since 2014 with Zebra Technologies, which uses radio-frequency identification tags to track the players’ location, speed and acceleration during games. The NFL, not the NFLPA, controls these data sets. While the WHOOP and Zebra databases are not identical, there would be overlap between them that could lead to conflict between the NFL and NFLPA.
In October 2015, the NFLPA filed a grievance against the NFL over reports that teams had been using sensors to monitor players’ sleeping habits. In a memo to players written at the time, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith explained that “because the use of such technology occurs outside of games and practice, we believe such use violates the Collective Bargaining Agreement.” As a result, teams need to seek approval from the NFLPA before using sleep trackers. WHOOP’s founder and CEO, Will Ahmed sees that as a powerful opportunity for his company. Perhaps the simplest way for teams to access that type of data will be to go through the NFLPA’s Official Recovery Wearable: WHOOP.
* * *
The most intriguing part of the partnership between the NFLPA and WHOOP is the announcement that players will have the opportunity to sell their data. “We want to incentivize players to not only opt in, but to opt in and participate,” explains Ahmad Nassar, president of NFL Players, Inc., the licensing and marketing subsidiary of the NFLPA. “Because that’s the only way it’s going to be valuable.”
The NFLPA has become an investor in WHOOP, meaning that players have a stake in the company’s success, including the sale of each $500 band. According to Ahmed, the company will also share a percentage of revenue from the sale of player data.
Athletes may now face a conflict of self-interest. “The players are actually going to receive revenue from the value of their data,” Ahmed says. “So as the data gets more invasive, it also potentially gets more lucrative.” Sharing data publicly might generate immediate income, but once a team knows how well an athlete recovers, that might have consequences the next time his contract is up for negotiation.
“Analytics is sort of like an arms race,” Nassar says. “It’s certainly, in the wrong hands, capable of being misused, or being used against athletes. The beauty of the deal that we have with WHOOP is that it’s not in the wrong hands. It is in the athletes’ hands directly.”
– – –
* * *
Digitizing data makes it a formidable resource, easily stored, shared, and analyzed. But Big Data is also much easier to steal in large quantity than paper records, and it can be mined and processed by powerful algorithms to discover unexpected, and often unwanted, insights.
“These are high-value individuals and privacy is and will be a concern,” Sansiveri says.
In April 2016, a laptop was stolen from the car of a Washington trainer. On its hard drive were 13 years of password protected, but unencrypted, healthcare records for thousands of NFL players. The league, which asserted that there was no evidence the data had been accessed by the thief, ultimately avoided sanction by the Department of Health and Human Services for the breach. Last summer, the Russian hacking group Fancy Bear broke into the World Anti-Doping Agency’s computers, stealing and then publishing confidential medical data on at least 29 athletes. WADA believes the attack was in retaliation for investigations into Russia’s state-sponsored doping program, and that employees were duped into handing over login information by phishing emails that appeared to come from friends or colleagues.
Russell credits the fact that WHOOP has 27 privacy levels that allow him to determine exactly who sees what data as a key reason he is comfortable using the device. Kennard, a NFLPA player representative, is unconcerned even if information does leak out. “This isn’t data that’s some huge secret to me,” he says. “I wouldn’t want anyone to get access that I didn’t approve, but at the same time it’s not some top secret data.”
But even adequately protected data raises ambiguous privacy concerns. “My prediction is once the players start to understand some of the issues, they may drop the agreement and revisit it later,” Caplan says. Big Data allows powerful conclusions to be drawn from the most benign-seeming information.
Private data can also be subpoenaed and dragged into the public setting of a courtroom. In April, computer network administrator Richard Dabate was charged with murdering his wife, Connie, in part because her Fitbit data appears to contradict his story. Dabate had told police that an intruder had broken into their home in Ellington, Conn., in December 2015, tied him up and shot his wife. Activity data from Connie’s Fitbit allegedly shows that she was walking around the house at the time Dabate claimed they were being held captive. (Dabate has been charged with murder, tampering physical evidence and making a false statement; he is currently free on $1 million bond awaiting trial.)
There were 26 arrests of NFL players reported last year; 17 so far in 2017. If NFL players extensively begin wearing WHOOP, the data collected may end up being a part of future criminal trials. For instance, it has accelerometers and heartbeat sensors. If a player said he was at home watching TV, but he was clearly running around, that would affect his alibi.
– – —
“WHOOP today is not entrusted at diagnosing medical conditions,” says the company’s chief technology officer, John Capodilupo, “[but] it’s not that the data can’t do that, it’s that we’re not doing that.”
Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and one of the leading voices on digital medicine, is doubtful of the medical relevance of WHOOP. “All of the metrics,” he says, “just really scratch the surface—none of them would be considered medical. They’re very pseudo-health.”
There is, however, evidence that WHOOP-like devices are medically relevant. In 2016, health data from wearables alerted Stanford genetics professor Michael Snyder to the fact that he had contracted Lyme disease (he was using seven different devices). Snyder noticed changes to his heart rate and blood oxygen levels, and sought antibiotics even before tests confirmed the diagnosis.
“Here’s what is clear,” says Travis McDonough, founder and CEO of Kinduct, “performance data and medical data are connected by an insoluble meshwork that’s impossible to de-tangle.” (Kinduct is an athlete data management platform used by a range of pro sports teams across the Big Four leagues including the Vikings, Warriors, Red Sox and Sharks.)
Okung has been using WHOOP for the past four months, Kennard for about two. Both use it to track sleep, which UCSF sleep specialist Cheri Mah has demonstrated can be linked to better athletic performance. According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep is important for both mental and physical health. Kennard and Okung say they have generally performed better in training when their sleep and recovery scores have been higher.
– – –
Perhaps the biggest concern about wearables is that in the absence of comprehensive regulation and conclusive science, consumers may be putting too much faith in the abilities of wearable device companies to handle and analyze their data. “Until that grey area is closed,” Sansiveri says, “I think the most important piece is that the individual . . . is the owner and controls this information.”
Heck, even the DB knows he slept 6 hours and 9 minutes last night after walking 6,848 steps yesterday. But no one wants to buy that data.
Big news for Dallas fans if true. Conor Orr at NFL.com:
Dallas Cowboys third-year cornerback Byron Jones isn’t worried about being an elder statesman on a depleted defense with low expectations.
That’s mostly because he’s high on a pair of players Dallas fans have yet to see on the field.
On NFL Total Access on Monday, Jones said rookie Taco Charlton and second-year linebacker Jaylon Smith are way ahead of expectations. Smith, who missed all of last season while recovering from a serious knee injury he suffered at the end of his college football career, has been especially impressive.
“He’s healthy, he’s 100 percent,” Jones said. “His mind — he doesn’t worry about what happened two years ago. He doesn’t care about that. What he’s trying to do, I think his motto is clear-eyed vision. He’s doing well at that. He’s balling out for us so far. He’s learning the playbook and he looks healthy running around.”
“We like him. He’s a big dude,” Jones said. “I didn’t realize he’d be that big. He’s a solid guy. We’re excited to have him coming off the edge. We’ve got some good pass rushers so far and we have good young talent as well. So we’re excited about what we’ve got on our d-line and they’ll be a good unit for us this year.”
And this on a natural side deal for Charlton. Drew Davison in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:
Dallas Cowboys rookie defensive end Taco Charlton is bringing in the endorsements.
A day after landing a deal with Big Red soda, the former Michigan Wolverines standout has fittingly landed a taco deal with Dallas-based Taco Bueno.
The fast-food chain announced the deal Tuesday. Terms were not disclosed.
Charlton, selected by the Cowboys in the NFL Draft’s first round at No. 28 in April, was given the nickname Taco by his grandma. His given name is Vidauntae, but he was born premature with his grandma saying he was “running for the border,” a take on a Taco Bell slogan at the time.
In a statement, Charlton said, “In my short time here, I have discovered that Texas is THE PLACE for tacos.”
NFL.com notes that Charlton grew up in Pickerington, Ohio, “more than 600 miles away” from the nearest Taco Bueno.
Taco Bueno was founded in 1967 in Abilene and operates 184 restaurants in Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Louisiana.
Will RB LeGARRETTE BLOUNT get 50 large? Find out in about 30 days. Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:
After running back LeGarrette Blount signed with the Eagles in May, he said that he was the “weight I need to be at” when asked about his physical condition.
He reportedly has some financial incentive to get to the weight the Eagles want him at for the coming season. Field Yates of ESPN reports that Blount will make $50,000 if he weighs between 240-245 pounds when he reports to training camp next month.
Blount was listed at 250 pounds while with the Patriots last season, which doesn’t leave him with a tremendous amount of weight to drop if he was around that number this offseason. A minimal drop in weight makes sense as Blount’s greatest value to the Eagles comes as a battering ram and the team wouldn’t want to make him less effective in that role by losing too much of his bulk.
Players start reporting to Eagles camp on July 24 with the first full-team practice set for July 27.
With just over two weeks to go, those in the know are now leaking pessimistically about nailing the Capitol’s biggest target – QB KIRK COUSINS seems unlikely to get his longtime deal by the July 17 deadline. Adam Schefter and Diana Russini of ESPN.com team up for some rumor-mongering:
There is an improved tone in talks between Cousins and the Redskins, but a long-term deal still is considered a long shot for the time being, according to sources. As a result of this being the second straight year of being franchised — something no quarterback has ever endured — Cousins is the NFL’s most leveraged player.
Despite the more positive discussions, sources tell ESPN’s Dianna Russini that there are deeper issues at play between Cousins and the Redskins, and there is no price that would make the quarterback happy.
Cousins signed the exclusive franchise tag he received from the Redskins on March 10. If he plays this season under his tender, he will receive $23.94 million.
On the one hand, there is “an improved tone” but on the other there are “deeper issues at play” and “no price that would make the quarterback happy.” Sounds like he still may wish to find his way to Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco.
First up on the season preview of Adam Woodard of USA TODAY is the wonderment of whether the Chiefs, tabbed for six, six national TV games by the NFL, will break out with John Dorsey ditched.
1. Firing Dorsey was a major break from the status quo
The Chiefs made the biggest shake-up of the summer so far when they announced last Thursday they would be parting ways with general manager John Dorsey. Despite reaching the playoffs in three of four years during Dorsey’s time, Kansas City decided to move in a different direction after determining not to offer an extension past this season. Coach Andy Reid, however, was given an extension last week.
2. The draft class might not pay immediate dividends
While most draft classes require time before proper evaluation, the Chiefs’ haul might need additional patience. Kansas City gave up next year’s first-round pick to move up for Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, arguably the most physically gifted rookie passer. Sitting behind starter Alex Smith affords Mahomes time to adjust to learn the intricacies of the NFL and rework his mechanics. Second-round defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon might also require some time to find his footing. The 6-7, 289-pound rookie was a highly accomplished player at Villanova, but he’s facing a substantial jump in quality of competition.
3. The offense is still looking for a breakthrough
Despite tight end Travis Kelce’s career year and the emergence of big-play threat Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs ranked 20th in total offense last season. Smith has been known as more of a game manager, making it hard to keep up with more explosive AFC outfits, including the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders. Kansas City has won 43 regular-season games in four years under Reid but hasn’t made a deep postseason run. The receiving corps also must replace Jeremy Maclin, who was released earlier in June after being hampered by injuries last season.
4. Ware is still dependable, but he has help
Spencer Ware ran for 921 yards last season, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and helping set the pace for the Chiefs offense. Though he struggled in the second half of the season, Ware is a reliable runner between the tackles and takes care of the football. Third-round pick Kareem Hunt, who rushed for nearly 5,000 yards and more than 40 touchdowns at Toledo, should be an early contributor who can ease Ware’s workload. Charcandrick West also returns in the backfield.
5. The front seven has to step up against the run
The Chiefs frequently struggled up front in 2016, ranking 26th in rushing defense with 121.1 yards allowed per game. The team signed Bennie Logan to take over at nose tackle for Dontari Poe, who later signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Defensive end Chris Jones could be in for a big year after a promising rookie campaign, but Kansas City needs linebackers Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson at full strength to limit opportunities in the ground game.
The implication is that Oakland’s OC Todd Downing didn’t think he’d be getting much help from aged RB MARSHAWN LYNCH. Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:
The true measure of how much running back Marshawn Lynch has left in the tank after sitting out the 2016 season will come once the Raiders take the field in September, but it sounds like what the team has seen so far is a bit more than they may have been expecting.
During an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan, Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing was asked about the impression the running back made during his offseason work with the team.
“This is being as genuine as I can be,” Downing said. “He has pleasantly surprised me at every turn. It’s been really neat to be around him. … So everything that we’ve seen on him thus far — and, of course, we’ve only been in pajamas out there practicing — but what we’ve seen has been fantastic. And I’m as excited as the rest of Raider Nation to see what he’s got.”
Lynch will have to continue to impress once he’s out of pajamas and into full pads, but his past success and the quality of the Raiders’ offensive line provide reason to believe Downing won’t have to seriously downgrade his read on Lynch down the line.
Adam Schefter has this to report on the negotiations for franchisee RB Le’VEON BELL:
In Bell’s situation, there has not been much, if any, discussion on a new contract in recent weeks, so any potential deal would be expected to come down to the final days and hours. Both sides have motivation to get it done, but no deal is in sight now, which is why a push before the deadline is expected from both sides.
Bell is the only player who has yet to sign his franchise tender or reach a long-term deal this season. As such, he didn’t participate in the Steelers’ mandatory minicamp; he would have had to sign a waiver to do so. If he doesn’t reach a long-term deal, he will be paid $12.12 million in 2017.
– – –
Former NFL GM Jeff Diamond, writing in The Sporting News, admires the Steelers:
I learned early in my NFL career that the key to consistent success is strong ownership and management. The Patriots’ run over the past 17 years during the Robert Kraft/Bill Belichick era is a prime example.
But for sustained success that has lasted almost 50 years, the best organization in the NFL — and perhaps all of the sports world — resides in the Steel City.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a storied, iconic franchise with a championship pedigree fueled by terrific ownership and management. The team has stayed in the Rooney family for 84 years, transferred from founding owner Art Rooney to his son Dan, who passed away in April. Today, Art Rooney II is lead owner and president.
For the NFL franchise with the most Super Bowl titles (six), success starts at the top. The Rooneys are tremendous people and great franchise operators. I’ve known, liked and respected Dan and Art II for more than 30 years. They were bred to run the Steelers and, despite all the winning seasons and championships, have remained friendly, humble, low-ego and never in panic mode.
The Rooneys’ management philosophy has carried over to their heads of football operations through the years, including current leader Kevin Colbert, who is the first to hold the general manager title. It’s about drafting well, making key free-agent and trade acquisitions and then developing the players with excellent coaching staffs. And not overreacting to anything negative.
Patience is key for this team. That explains it having just three head coaches in the past 48 years: Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. All three went through occasional losing periods, but those were followed by multiple playoff seasons and Super Bowls.
And the Steelers consistently rise above the same kinds of storm clouds that encompass all teams and overwhelm many.
– – –
Selecting players from smaller schools is part of the Steelers tradition of finding diamonds in the rough. Four Hall of Famers from the dominant Steeler teams of the 1970s fell under that description: Mean Joe Greene (North Texas State), Terry Bradshaw (Louisiana Tech), Jack Lambert (Kent State) and John Stallworth (Alabama A&M). Other Steeler greats were from big schools, such as Lynn Swann and Troy Polamalu from USC.
It’s interesting how such low-key owners have operated a team with such a colorful history. Think of these iconic visions: the Immaculate Reception that sealed Pittsburgh’s first playoff win (over Oakland); the photo of the senior Art Rooney puffing on a victory cigar after the Steel Curtain defense crushed the Vikings’ offense in the Steelers’ first Super Bowl win in 1974 (a heartbreaking day for me as a Minnesotan and life-long Vikings fan).
Mean Joe’s famous Coke commercial; Swann’s acrobatic Super Bowl catch against Dallas; Frenchy Fuqua’s flashy shoes; Lambert’s toothless snarl; Polamalu’s wild hair; and of course, the symbol of one of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports, the Terrible Towel of Steeler Nation.
All the while, the franchise churns on with more winning seasons and playoff berths (now at 22 division titles and 29 playoff berths to go along with the six Lombardi Trophies over the last 45 years). And with the talent and solid organization firmly in place, the Steelers should win another AFC North title and contend for the Super Bowl once again in 2017.
Along with the Steelers’ on-field success, I respect them for being a great contributor to community causes in the Western Pennsylvania area. And for being a team that looks out for the NFL as a league, whether it’s agreeing to leave the NFC and join the AFC as part of the 1970 merger, taking a lead role in helping to settle CBA negotiations, as Dan Rooney often did, or being active on league committees. (Art II is on four, including one of the most important, the Chairmen’s Committee.)
But the lasting impression of the Steelers for me is from Dick LeBeau’s 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, when the entire team came to Canton to see their then-defensive coordinator honored. I have attended many Hall of Fame inductions, but I’ve never seen such a display from a team toward a player or coach being honored.
That showed all of us what a close-knit family the Steelers truly are. Which is just the way the Rooneys have always run their franchise.
CB LOGAN RYAN seems like a nice, responsible young man. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Logan Ryan signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Titans this offseason, and one of his first orders of business was to pay off his brother’s student loans — and to speak up about a system that leaves millions of Americans with serious debt.
Ryan posted a picture on Instagram of an oversized check representing the $82,000 he paid to get his brother’s loans paid off. With it, he posted a message about how crippling student loan debt can be.
“Surprised my big bro and paid off his student loans for his 29th Bday!” Ryan wrote. “My man got accepted to college, graduated with honors, and now works as an engineer. He did everything the right way and still lives with a ridiculous amount of student loan debt. The system is broken and makes no sense! I’m Fortunate and blessed to be able to take care of that for him.. Love you big bro you deserve it!”
Ryan, a cornerback who played the last four seasons for the Patriots, also did a good deed recently when he and his wife asked all the guests at their wedding to donate to an animal shelter instead of buying gifts.
They dug into CB JALEN RAMSEY’s core a few weeks ago, but he’s back up and running. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey appears to be making good progress in his recovery from core muscle surgery.
Ramsey had surgery to repair an injury suffered during the team’s Organized Team Activities less than two weeks ago and he’s hit one milestone in his path back to the field. Ramsey announced on Twitter Tuesday that he ran for the first time since having the operation.
It is the second straight year Ramsey has had surgery in the offseason. Ramsey had knee surgery after the Jags made him the fifth overall pick of last year’s draft, but never missed a game and turned in a strong rookie year.
You have to admire Jim Kelly’s enthusiasm for the Bills. Kevin Patra at NFL.com:
The Buffalo Bills are just beginning their latest rebuild in a string of rebuilds that has seen the franchise miss the postseason every year this millennium.
Jim Kelly, the Bills’ most famous alum, is on board with the different approach new coach Sean McDermott imported to Buffalo this go-around.
“I’m excited about the 2017 Buffalo Bills. Coach McDermott brings discipline to the table that we haven’t had in a while,” he said Tuesday at the Jim Kelly Football Camp, via the Bills’ official Twitter feed.
It’s not the first time Kelly has been “excited” about a coaching change. The Hall of Fame quarterback was invigorated by the Rex Ryan hiring in 2015 before things went sideways.
The thing to note from Kelly’s comment this time around is the discipline factor. McDermott’s approach swings the pendulum to the opposite end from how Ryan managed things.
Kelly’s comment suggests he believes the discipline change could be beneficial to the Bills. Whether McDermott has the talent at this stage to swiftly carry out the team rebuild remains to be seen.
THIS AND THAT
Vince Young feels he is out of work prematurely. And he thinks others had a role in it. Jenna Laine of ESPN.com re-channels a story from Sports Illustrated:
Former NFL quarterback Vince Young took a shot at Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup Ryan Fitzpatrick when questioning why some quarterbacks have continued to get opportunities in the NFL and he hasn’t.
“I’d see a quarterback and be like, ‘Dude is garbage, and I’m over here in the kitchen cooking turkey necks!?'” Young told Sports Illustrated.
“I hate to name-drop, but [Ryan] Fitzpatrick is still playing!? He leads the league in interceptions, and he’s still f—— getting paid? I mean, what the f— is going on?”
Fitzpatrick’s 17 interceptions last season for the New York Jets were actually third-most in the league, behind Philip Rivers (21) and new Bucs teammate Jameis Winston (18). Fitzpatrick threw an NFL-high 23 interceptions for the Buffalo Bills in 2011.
Young, 34, recently attempted a comeback with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, but he suffered a torn hamstring in training camp and was waived earlier this month.
Young’s last shot with an NFL team came in May 2014, when he signed a one-year contract with the Cleveland Browns; he was released less than two weeks later, after they drafted Johnny Manziel. Young announced his retirement the next month, having thrown 46 touchdown passes and 51 interceptions during his NFL career.
Young led the Texas Longhorns to a BCS National Championship and was the third overall pick of the Tennessee Titans in the 2006 NFL draft. He was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and reached the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2009, but he struggled to maintain that level of success. His last regular-season action came in a six-game stint with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011.
Besides the Browns, he has had offseason looks from Buffalo and the Green Bay Packers.
He filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2014.
Young also told Sports Illustrated that his former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher took all the fun out of football.
“I’m going to expose his ass,” Young said.
Young described an incident in which he was left behind on a road trip to Philadelphia after he left his ID at home and went to retrieve it.
“I feel like Fisher did that s— on purpose,” Young said, adding that Fisher had held the plane for other players in the past. “I’m pulling in, seeing them pull the door down. I can hear the team yelling.”
Young later told Fisher, “Where I’m from, that’s like saying F you.”
The whole SI story by Greg Bishop is here. Somehow he spent $15,000 on one meal at The Cheesecake Factory:
Young would earn the league’s Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2009 by taking over the 0–6 Titans and leading them to an 8–8 finish. But any progress with Fisher was temporary. In Week 11 the following season, at home against the Redskins, Young tore the flexor tendon in his right thumb. When Fisher refused to put the QB back in, he threw his shoulder pads and helmet, chucked his jersey into the stands and stalked into the locker room. As Young prepared to leave the stadium, Fisher tried to stop him. “You’re walking out on your team,” he said.
“I’m walking out on your motherf—— ass,” Young yelled back.
Fisher banned him from team meetings the following week. Young never again played for the Titans, who in turn fired Fisher that spring. (Adams would run the team until his death in 2013.)
Years later, Young says he sent Fisher a letter, apologizing for his immaturity, lamenting what might have been. Fisher never responded, and Young still vacillates between shouldering and assigning blame. He says, “I forgive him” and “I still regret it.” He also says, “I guess he doesn’t give two s—- about me.”
After a three-game stint with the Eagles and then training camp one-offs with the Bills and the Packers, Young was released in May 2014 by the Browns, who’d just drafted another Texan doomed to be swallowed by celebrity, Johnny Manziel. That Young didn’t get the news directly from Cleveland’s general manager or coach crystallized how far he’d tumbled, but he surprised even himself when the word retire came out of his mouth that June. Mostly he needed a break, and so he hopped a plane to visit Shawn Abboud, a friend and mentor who ran a hedge fund in Dubai.
There Young bunked in a hotel for 10 days. Abboud scheduled meetings for him with entrepreneurs, executives, members of the royal family, startup CEOs and high-powered lawyers. Young sat with Abboud at the trading desk and listened to his phone calls. He filled two notebooks with ideas and came away with a sense of what he might be able to accomplish outside the game that spurned him. “He was sitting in a country that 40 years ago didn’t exist,” Abboud says. “For a guy who was leaving football to rebuild his life, it was the perfect metaphor. He saw, Holy s—, anything is possible.”
Inspired, Young returned to Austin to sort out the disaster that was his finances. By then he’d already filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, despite the $35 million he’d earned in the NFL, plus endorsements and other revenues. In court documents recorded in January 2014, he listed assets between $500,001 and $1 million and debt between $1,001,000 and $10 million.
He sat down with his lawyer, went through thousands of pages of financial records and, he says, identified forged signature on dozens of documents used to obtain loans without his knowledge. In one case, $600,000 of his money had gone toward a business started by a Hollywood actor. Young knew the actor but says he’d never heard of the company. Seeing the numbers and the signatures, he began to understand what Packers general manager Ted Thompson had told the QB during his short stay in Green Bay: In order to play football he needed to “clean all that stuff up.” Young saw the debt collectors seeking to siphon his wages, seize his trophies, his five cars, his Houston mansion and the steak house he’d opened in Austin. This, he rationalizes, is why several teams had released him.
Young admits that he never closely examined his own finances until after his career ended. Instead, he trusted a financial adviser and an uncle whom he appointed as his manager. (Neither responded to requests from SI for comment.) That negligence, along with unchecked generosity—the two cars he bought one relative, the house he built for his mom in Houston, the reported $15,000 tab he covered for one meal at The Cheesecake Factory—doomed him. (Young cops to the Cheesecake Factory story—“Most I ever spent on a meal in my life,” he says, noting the teammates who downed expensive shots of Louis XIII cognac or left with top-shelf wine bottles in hand—but not the widespread anecdote that in 2007 he paid for every seat on a Southwest Airlines flight to avoid sitting near other passengers.) Through it all, his family continued to worry about him. “I was grateful he didn’t do anything to himself,” his mom says.
The process of righting his finances took Young three years, and in that time he heard from interested CFL and Arena league squads—but not a single NFL franchise. He hired Abboud as his financial manager, cleared his debts (according to Young and Abboud) and began to rebuild. He went back to UT and obtained a degree in applied learning and development. He took a broadcasting job with the Longhorn Network and landed another gig at his alma mater, where he’s paid, essentially, to be himself: give speeches, shake hands, tell his story. More recently he partnered in a trucking business and a real-estate firm (having earned his license last December). After three long years, he told Abboud that he finally felt like himself again. He had straightened out his books, positioned himself for the future and, he hoped, changed his reputation.
Or most of it. He’d still failed in one place.
This is right around the time Young received a call from Roughriders coach Chris Jones, who’d reviewed the game film, taken note of Young’s winning NFL record and determined that the QB merited a closer look. “Quite honestly,” says Jones, “I don’t know why he was on the street.”
Young was at home for Christmas. He’d never heard of a CFL team from . . . “Sask-uch-a-what?” he asked. But after some research he warmed to the idea. He always knew why he wanted to play football again. With his life in order, now he knew how.
Jones asked if Young wanted to rewrite the ending to his career. “Hell, yes,” Young said.
– – –
Having lived through that and several TMZ tsunamis, Young then chooses a peculiar superstar to identify with. He points to Tiger Woods as one of the few people on earth who can fully understand his life. The two superstars met after that 2006 Rose Bowl, at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas, and then saw their careers collapse at roughly the same time. Now they’re both closer to the end than they are to their halcyon days, trying to make sense of the fall.
The week I’m in Canada, Woods is arrested for driving under the influence (later revealed to be tied to prescription painkillers), and Young brings up the incident, umprompted. “Tiger made a mistake,” he says. “How can anyone say they know what he’s going through? He’s probably f—— down [that] he can’t play golf. But [the media] wants to make an example out of him. Judges, lawyers, all kinds of people get DWIs.”
Young himself was arrested in January 2016 and pleaded no contest to driving while intoxicated after he was pulled over in Austin with a blood-alcohol level (.246) more than three times the legal limit. As part of his plea he had to perform 60 hours of community service, pay a $300 fine and spend 18 months on probation. Young says he felt horrible for his family. He issued an apology on Facebook but didn’t feel that it was accepted by the public. He thought back to advice he’d received from Kobe Bryant in ’09, when the Lakers legend told him to “do you” and “don’t give a s— about those that judge you.” But Young found it wasn’t easy, not caring. He could turn off the TV and ignore the headlines, but he couldn’t disappear forever. One day after his DWI he was scheduled to give a speech as part of UT’s African American Male Research Initiative. He considered backing out; he felt “like a hypocrite.” But Candice told him to go: “You need to show them that when you make a mistake, you stand up and you own it.”
In the time I spent with Young, it seemed he most wanted for people to see him and his NFL career the way that he sees them. He had spent the first half of his life becoming famous and the second half wrestling with the consequences of that fame. He longed to be respected for his accomplishments, given the due he earned. He hated how his name had been used as a punch line, his career forgotten in some places. And he appeared so vulnerable in those moments, so human, wishing for what we all wish for—recognition, appreciation, reverence. Life in public view rarely works like that, of course. There’s then and there’s now.
It’s late June and Vince Young is back in Austin, his comeback having ended on a routine play when he was scrambling under pressure. An MRI revealed a tear, and although initial reports indicated he’d been released, the Roughriders actually placed Young on their retired list. They still own his CFL rights.
For all the skepticism that followed him to Canada, Young remains consistent in his messaging: He came back because he loved the game, he says, and he wanted to play free of the mess that he believes ended his NFL career. He admired the fans in Saskatoon so much that he’s considering opening up another steak house there. “I was having a blast,” he says. “A lot of people don’t understand: The best part of sports is the camaraderie. I’m blessed I was able to be around those guys.” The last time he felt that free on the field was during year two as a Titan.
It stings, of course, this ending. Young wishes his teammates good luck and jets to Cozumel, Mexico, by himself, shutting off his cellphone for four days, ignoring emails. He plays golf and fishes and prays, processing another imperfect conclusion. Then he decides he’ll continue rehabbing his injury. One minute, he says he’s moving toward acceptance, ready to move on. The next. . . .
“Maybe I’ll play football again,” he says. “You never know.”
BEST OFFENSIVE LINES
ProFootballFocus.com ranks the OLs 1-32. The rankings are below with edited comments, the whole thing is here. As you’ll come to see, the ratings are driven by a stat formula that spits out some counter-intuitive results that surprise author Michael Renner. Such as the Browns at #2, well ahead of the Cowboys.
We’ll start with the offensive line, where we are taking a purely grades-based approach. We came up with a multi-year grade based off snap counts and performance and then summed those up across all five positions, right tackle, right guard, center, left guard and left tackle. Unknown quantities – like rookies or new starters – were assigned a slightly below-average number.
And with that, your rankings for all 32 NFL team’s offensive line units:
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Out of all the offensive lines in the NFL, the Eagles currently have the fewest holes. Their biggest question mark heading into 2017 is center Jason Kelce, who is a former PFF All-Pro (2013) in his own right. They also have dominant players like Lane Johnson, who was the best right tackle in the NFL a season ago when on the field.
2. Cleveland Browns
The offseason free agent spending spree could pay off huge dividends in Cleveland. J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler both bring well above-average grades from a season ago at center and guard, respectively. The only question mark comes at right tackle where Shon Coleman looked at least competent in his 62 snaps as a rookie.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
If you’re projecting purely off the final nine games from a season ago, the Steelers would be the No. 1 line in the league. Alejandro Villanueva came on extremely strong over that period, but his poor play from 2015 drags them down a bit. Over that final nine-game stretch, he allowed just 12 pressures. If that level of play continues, Ben Roethlisberger will be a happy man.
4. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee is in the midst of building something special along its offensive line. First-round tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin have lived up to the hype and then some, while former undrafted guard Quinton Spain has turned into a gem of a find.
5. Chicago Bears
Fifth might seem steep for Chicago, but at the moment there isn’t a better interior offensive line in the NFL. Left guard Josh Sitton, center Cody Whitehair, and right guard Kyle Long are all Pro Bowl-caliber players. The issues arise at tackle where Charles Leno and Bobby Massie have never proven themselves more than below average starters.
6. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons finished as our sixth-ranked offensive line a season ago and they’ve replaced by far their biggest issue in right guard Chris Chester.
7. Oakland Raiders
If the right tackle position didn’t exist, this would be the best offensive line in football.
8. Green Bay Packers
While Green Bay still has two of the best pass-protecting tackles in the NFL in David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, the interior has taken some lumps over the past two offseason.
9. Dallas Cowboys
They’ve been the class of the league for so long, but a line can only survive so many hits. Ronald Leary and Doug Free weren’t at the caliber of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, or Zack Martin, but they were quality players in their own right. The big question mark is La’el Collins moving to right tackle. Tackle was his more natural college position, but his below-average performance at guard isn’t too encouraging.
10. Buffalo Bills
After the right tackle position in Buffalo had been a wasteland the past few seasons, they addressed it in a big way in Temple tackle Dion Dawkins in the second round of the draft this past April. Every other position along the line was solid a season ago, so the rookie right tackle will likely make or break this line’s ranking.
11. Washington Redskins
Continuity doesn’t really play a role in theses rankings, but if it did the Redskins would get a bump.
12. Carolina Panthers
The interior of the Panthers line is solid, but the tackle position is still a concern.
13. Jacksonville Jaguars
This might be the most surprising ranking of any that our grades spit out.
14. Minnesota Vikings
Truthfully, I’m surprised myself at the Vikings’ ranking here. Realistically, they shored their line up enough to where there aren’t any glaring weaknesses, but at the same time there’s little in the way of high level play either. They finished 29th in our end-of-year 2016 rankings so this would be quite the bump up.
15. Kansas City Chiefs
This is one line that I could very well see sneaking into the top 10 by the end of the season.
16. New Orleans Saints
The injury to Terron Armstead torpedoes the Saints’ rankings.
17. Arizona Cardinals
The success of this line will be largely dependent on 2015 first-round pick D.J. Humphries.
18. Los Angeles Rams
Going from Greg Robinson to Andrew Whitworth should make Jared Goff’s life considerably easier. Whitworth had the highest pass-blocking efficiency of any tackle in the league last year.
19. New England Patriots
This ranking is purely a quirk of the system we used to compile it. Since they were compiled off two-year sample, players like right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon — who both drastically improved a season ago — get underrated. Realistically, this is the same line that finished last year ranked 10th and should only keep improving.
20. New York Jets
The Jets rank this highly solely due to the fact that each player along the line has proven as least competent.
21. Los Angeles Chargers
Is it possible that Chargers won’t be dreadful once again on their offensive line? It’s been 10 straight years that San Diego has had its offensive line grade out below average.
22. Indianapolis Colts
For the Colts, it’s more of the same along the offensive line. They made it through the offseason without seriously addressing any starting position, which means they’ll be relying on improvement from youngsters to boost this ranking.
23. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are rock solid at left tackle (Ronnie Stanley) and right guard (Marshal Yanda), but every other position is a big question mark.
24. Detroit Lions
The loss of Taylor Decker crushes the Lions ranking here.
25. Denver Broncos
Much of the Broncos projection comes down to how first-round pick Garett Bolles performs.
26. Miami Dolphins
After finishing with the league’s two lowest-graded guards in 2015, Laremy Tunsil brought some semblance of competency to the position last year.
27. San Francisco 49ers
Left tackle Joe Staley is the only saving grace for the 49ers, but at 32 years old, even he isn’t the All Pro force he once was.
28. New York Giants
Few teams have larger chasms on their offensive line than the left side of the Giants line.
29. Houston Texans
The emergence of Nick Martin and Julie’n Davenport could work wonders for this line.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While Tampa’s line has the potential to be much better than this ranking, they have yet to prove anything.
31. Cincinnati Bengals
No line can lose two Pro Bowl-caliber players and expect to still perform at a high level.
32. Seattle Seahawks
Even with the addition of Luke Joeckel, there’s little reason to think this won’t yet again be the worst offensive line in the NFL.
NFL COACHES OF 2030
An interesting list from the legendary Gil Brandt:
When Bruce Arians singled out former NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich as a future NFL head coach, it got me thinking …
Who in the league today has the potential to run a team down the road?
Former players have a record of significant success at the head-coaching level. Consider that seven of the 10 winningest coaches in NFL history are also former players, including No. 1, Don Shula. Consider also that 10 of the current 32 head coaches — Jack Del Rio, Doug Pederson, Todd Bowles, Sean Payton, Mike Mularkey, Vance Joseph, Anthony Lynn, Jason Garrett, Ron Rivera and Doug Marrone — have experience as NFL players. And at least one former player, ex-Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, is on track to join their ranks someday.
I talked to three current coaches in the NFL, one of whom is a former head coach, and all three singled out a player’s ability to teach as an essential indicator of potential future head-coaching success. For this reason, players who aren’t as naturally gifted — who require the teaching of others to succeed on the field — are often more promising coaching prospects than great players, who often don’t really need help from anyone to thrive. As someone who watched Tom Landry — who played for the Giants — rack up wins and trophies while prioritizing teaching as coach of the Cowboys, I can personally testify to the importance of tutelage. There’s another reason you don’t see a lot of elite players become head coaches these days: They tend to earn so much money during their playing careers that they aren’t necessarily motivated to work long, hard hours after hanging up the cleats.
Below, in no particular order, are 11 players who would make strong head-coaching candidates:
Philip Rivers, quarterback, Los Angeles Chargers
Rivers has a big family to keep him busy and has made plenty of money, but if he wants to enter the head-coaching realm, he’d make a great candidate. He absolutely loves football and is very competitive. He’d have an excellent rapport with the players as a tough and capable teacher. I know Rivers well. Some guys only care about their positions, but Rivers knows what’s expected at every position: receiver, offensive tackle and so on. He’s immersed in the whole football scene and knows everything from A to Z on offense. Plus, he’s always coaching on the Chargers’ sideline and between plays and series. It can only help that his father, Steve, was a high school coach in Decatur, Alabama. While there are plenty of incentives for Rivers to pursue a less-demanding path, for some strange reason, I feel like he’ll take a coaching job at some point.
Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
This will be his 10th NFL season. He’s very smart, has great leadership qualities and would be fantastic in the role of head coach. Every time I have a chance to visit with a quarterback after his last game of college football and before his first NFL season, I try to quiz him about players he played against in his last college campaign. Ryan was the Michelangelo of this exercise. I try to talk to all these kids to see how sharp they are, and Ryan was off the charts. He’s a natural leader. For the second straight offseason, Ryan organized a players-only camp in South Florida. If Ryan decides to go for a head-coaching position, I think he will be very, very good.
Terence Newman, cornerback, Minnesota Vikings
Though Newman is still making an impact as a player, he’s also serving as sort of an on-field defensive backs coach for the Vikings. Thanks to his lengthy resume as a player (this will be his 15th NFL season), Newman will have the respect of his charges if and when he lands a coaching job. He’s a smart, hard-working leader who knows football from top to bottom. When someone’s been in the NFL as long as Newman has, nothing comes as a surprise. He also had to fight to stay in it this long, and that experience no doubt taught him valuable lessons he could apply to a coaching gig.
Josh McCown, quarterback, New York Jets
McCown knows offense, he knows defense, and his attitude and teaching ability seem to keep him in constant demand, despite the fact that the soon-to-be 38-year-old has posted a winning season as a starter just once (in 2013, when he went 3-2 for the Bears). The Jets are the latest team to make McCown the experienced veteran in an otherwise-young quarterback room. McCown has already done some coaching at the high school level and been singled out by Browns head coach Hue Jackson as a future head man. I could see McCown being a coach in the mold of an Adam Gase — who is just a little more than a year older than McCown.
Chase Daniel, quarterback, New Orleans Saints
As with McCown, teams seem to want Daniel for his knowledge, and they’ve been willing to pay for it. He has a great attitude and recently spent time under QB-turned-head-coach Doug Pederson in Kansas City and Philadelphia, where he presumably watched Pederson apply his playing experience to the sideline. Though Daniel left Philadelphia after one season, the fact that Pederson was effusive in his praise of Daniel’s teaching ability is promising.
Matthew Slater, special teams ace, New England Patriots
Not only is the nine-year veteran the best special teams player in the NFL, but he also plays receiver and defensive back, meaning he has a thorough knowledge of the game. The son of Hall of Famer Jackie Slater (who coached in the NFL), Matthew possesses great leadership skills — he has coaching success written all over him. Playing under Bill Belichick — and on the same team as Tom Brady — can only help.
Kellen Moore, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
There is a ton of knowledge packed into Moore’s head — he’s a tremendously smart guy. The fact that he won 50 college games at Boise State without exceptional physical characteristics is a testament to his ability to flourish with intelligence. He’s another great teacher and communicator. His first year after retirement, I expect Moore — whose father, Tom Moore, was a successful high school coach — to become a quarterbacks coach somewhere in the NFL, with a head-coaching job on the horizon.
Mike Adams, safety, Carolina Panthers
You don’t make it your 14th year in the NFL without having the kind of strong leadership skills and work habits Adams has. He’s an excellent teacher, the kind of guy who will make a team better because of the on-field coaching and guidance he provides to the other players on the roster.
Colt McCoy, quarterback, Washington Redskins
McCoy has enough ability as a player to be respected; after all, I think his presence gives the Redskins a sense of security despite the possibility that starter Kirk Cousins could be gone after this season. But I think his real value comes from his mental acuity. He knows where he’s going and how to get there, and he has strong leadership abilities. Whatever he does today, most people are thinking about doing tomorrow — he’s a day ahead of you. Also, he’s been in a variety of different situations, starting for a struggling team in Cleveland and having an intimate view of the ups and downs of Robert Griffin III and Cousins in Washington.
Paul Posluszny, linebacker, Jacksonville Jaguars
Posluszny is another prime model of the type of overachieving player who makes for good head-coaching material. He’s the type of person who wants to help others — including his successor, Myles Jack — get better by learning the game. He would be an aggressive type of head coach who places a premium on teaching.
Anquan Boldin, wide receiver, free agent
If he lands a contract with someone, this will be Boldin’s 15th year in the NFL. He’s very smart and possesses great leadership ability. The fact that he produced at prodigious levels — his 13,779 receiving yards are the 14th-most in NFL history — as a former second-round pick will go a long way toward building up credibility with a team.
Six quarterbacks out of 10. Of the three, Rivers, McCoy and Moore are the sons of high school football coaches.
Only three of the 10 current NFL coaches who were players were quarterbacks and Sean Payton, Doug Pederson and Jason Garrett made a total of 26 career starts.