The Daily Briefing Wednesday, June 6, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

They are already betting in Delaware – and support starts at the top.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

In a sign of how quickly sports gambling is getting legalized in states other than Nevada, today sports gambling began in Delaware — and it was the governor who placed the first bet.

 

Delaware Governor John Carney showed up at the first sports book to open in his state and placed the first bet, putting $10 on the Philadelphia Phillies to beat the Chicago Cubs tonight.

 

That the governor placed the bet is a demonstration of how much sports betting will be accepted in the mainstream: Politicians aren’t treating sports betting as a vice that they’d rather stay away from, but are instead celebrating sports betting as an activity that ordinary Americans can enjoy — and that will be good for business and for tax revenues in the states that legalize it.

 

By the time the NFL season kicks off, several states should have legal sports gambling in place, and that should be good for the business of the NFL, as people who have money riding on games are sure to watch with great interest. The NFL hasn’t felt the impact of widespread legal gambling yet, but it soon will.

 

It appears you have to lug your body to one of three spots in Delaware to place your bets.

 

The expansion gives gamblers an alternative to those NFL parlay cards and will allow for various bets on professional baseball, football, hockey, basketball, soccer, golf, and more at the state’s three casinos — Delaware Park, Dover Downs Hotel & Casino and Harrington Raceway & Casino.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

Former agent Joel Corry, writing at CBSSports.com, breaks down the talk that QB AARON RODGERS wants an “opt out” clause in his new contract.

 

When Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan signed a five-year, $150 million extension with an NFL record $100 million in overall guarantees in early May, he became the league’s first $30 million-per-year player. Ryan’s deal set a salary floor for Aaron Rodgers, whose contract with the Packers runs through the 2019 season. The expectation was the Packers and Rodgers would quickly reach an agreement on a new contract since Ryan’s deal further defined the quarterback market. Around that time, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst publicly expressed optimism that a deal could get done soon.

 

Four weeks later, a new contract doesn’t appear to be imminent. NFL Media’s Mike Garafolo reported late last week that Rodgers is seeking a clause in the extension allowing him to opt out of the deal at some point so he can better control his future. Rodgers characterized recent reports about negotiations as “just conjecture” but didn’t deny he was looking for such a clause when talking to the media on Monday. He also reiterated his desire to play his entire career with the Packers.

 

Opt outs in NFL contracts

Opting out or opting in contract years is fairly commonplace in the NBA. LeBron James opting out of the final two years of his contract with the Heat in 2014 led to him returning to the Cavaliers, who made him the first-overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. The threat of James opting out has forced Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to repeatedly go over the luxury threshold in player salary spending in order to placate the superstar. After the NBA Finals, James is expected to opt out of a contract that would pay him $35.6 million next season in order to explore his options in free agency next month.

 

In the NFL, it’s a rarity for players to have the ability to opt out or void remaining contract years at their discretion. Contract years automatically voiding on a specific date is an accepted practice. These types of clauses are usually put in contracts to allow a team to prorate a signing bonus over a longer period of time for salary-cap purposes (as was the case in quarterback Drew Brees’ 2016 extension with the Saints) than otherwise permissible.

 

Two backup quarterbacks, Chase Daniel and Nick Foles, have the power to void their contracts. Daniel can opt out of the second year (2019) of the two-year, $10 million contract he signed with the Bears in March by repaying $5 million during a 10-day window in February, right after Super Bowl LIII.

 

Foles’ renegotiated contract with the Eagles is more complicated than Daniel’s. The Eagles have an option to pick up Foles’ 2019 through 2021 contract years containing healthy salaries for a starting quarterback by the middle of next February. If the option is exercised, which isn’t the intention, the Super Bowl LII MVP can void the years with a $2 million payment to the Eagles.

 

Rodgers’ leverage

Rodgers is facing an uphill battle in getting a contract with a groundbreaking structure. Although Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, he doesn’t have the type of leverage Kirk Cousins had when he signed a fully-guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal (worth a maximum of $90 million through incentives) with the Vikings in March. Cousins’ power came from being an unrestricted free agent after playing the previous two seasons on franchise tags.

 

Rodgers is scheduled to make $42 million through the 2019 season — his salary is $20.9 million this year and $21.1 million next year.

 

The Packers could put an exclusive franchise tag on Rodgers, which would prevent soliciting offers sheets from other teams, in 2020. This number currently projects to $29.56 million. A second franchise designation in 2021 would be $35.472 million, a 20-percent increase over the 2020 franchise number. A third franchise tag with a 44-percent increase over the 2021 figure would be in excess of $51 million.

 

Realistically, the Packers can control Rodgers’ rights over the next four seasons by paying him slightly more than $107 million. Rodgers wouldn’t get his first chance to potentially hit the open market until 2022 as a 38 year old with Green Bay going this route. It wouldn’t make sense for the Packers to give Rodgers an opt out, which seems unlikely anyway, until 2023 at the earliest because of this franchise-tag dynamic.

 

Generally, teams are extremely reluctant to establish new contractual precedents — which is what Rodgers wants — that will be used against them in future negotiations with other players. Green Bay probably already feels it has accommodated Rodgers by making structural concessions that are unique to him with their veteran contracts. Rodgers is the only player on the Packers with a veteran contract that has guarantees after the first contract year.

 

Rodgers would have been in a better position to take strong stand about his contract in 2013 as a 29 year old entering the prime of his career. Instead, Rodgers signed his current five-year, $110 million extension, which made him the NFL’s highest paid player, with two years remaining on his first lucrative veteran contract. If the Packers hadn’t been willing to meet the structural demands Rodgers is reportedly now making, he would have been able to name his price in free agency in either 2017 or this year after playing the franchise tag game for two or three years.

 

Alternatives

The Packers agreeing to tie Rodgers’ salary in the later years of the contract to the growth in the salary cap is about as likely as granting him an opt-out. A slightly more appealing concept to the Packers could be Calvin Johnson’s structure in his 2012 deal with the Lions that made him the NFL’s highest paid non-quarterback. The last two years of Johnson’s seven-year, $113.45 million extension were voidable. The Lions had the right to buy back 2018 and 2019 by paying a nominal fee and guaranteeing $3.5 million in each of those years. Rodgers would probably want a substantial buy-back payment and increased salaries in those years. These types of elements were typically in the deals of top draft picks during early to mid-2000s.

 

The big difference between Rodgers and Johnson’s situations is their leverage. The Lions couldn’t handle the wide receiver’s league-high 2012 cap number of approximately $21 million and were staring at a franchise tag for more than $25 million the following year without a new deal.

 

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a salary escalator in his contract that attempts to help him keep pace with changing market conditions. His 2018 and 2019 third-day-of-the-league-year roster bonuses increase by a maximum of $3 million and $6 million based on his regular-season MVPs, Super Bowl MVPs and Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl wins in the previous years of his contract. Roethlisberger has yet to earn any of the salary escalators because of the extremely high performance thresholds. Even if Roethlisberger had, the escalator wouldn’t have been sufficient because of the way quarterback salaries have grown since he signed his four-year extension in 2015.

 

Salary escalators aren’t a foreign concept to Green Bay. Several players, including wide receiver Davante Adams, offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, defensive lineman Mike Daniels and outside linebacker Nick Perry, have annual escalators ranging from $125,000 to $500,000 for being selected to the Pro Bowl. Presumably, Rodgers’ escalators would have to be more lucrative than Roethlisberger’s.

 

Final thoughts

Rodgers playing the 2018 season under his existing contract is the likely outcome if he is adamant about being able to opt out of his contract. Green Bay would probably want a much bigger buyout payment from Rodgers than Daniel has with a surprising concession on the voidable provision. For example, Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett could out opt of his 2011 extension after only one season. There was one catch. He had to made a $20 million payment to the Bears to do so, which obviously didn’t happen.

 

Rodgers knowing that the Packers agreeing to give him this type of control of his future with two years remaining on his current contract and the prospect of franchise tags afterwards is most likely wishful thinking, continually insisting on the voidable provision could be a good negotiation strategy to get a better conventional deal. If this is the case, Rodgers should eclipse Ryan’s $94.5 million fully guaranteed at signing and $100 million in overall guarantees by a decent margin.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

GM Dave Gettleman has a potentially-serious medical condition.  Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com:

 

New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman announced in a statement Tuesday that he was recently diagnosed with lymphoma that was discovered during an annual physical. Treatment is expected to start in the “very near future.”

 

According to the Mayo Clinic, lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s germ-fighting network.

 

The Giants hired Gettleman late last year to replace Jerry Reese as general manager. He previously spent four years as the Carolina Panthers’ general manager following a long run as an executive with the Giants.

 

Gettleman appears optimistic despite the news.

 

“The doctor’s outlook for the treatment and the prognosis is positive, and so am I,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to work as much as the treatment process will allow, and as they know, when I am not in the office, I will be in constant communication with [coach] Pat [Shurmur], [assistant general manager] Kevin [Abrams] and the rest of our staff.”

 

Abrams has been with the organization for 19 years. He interviewed for the general manager opening last year and is expected to handle a bigger role in the short term.

 

Gettleman, 67, was at the Giants’ OTA workout on Monday. He just completed his first draft as the team’s general manager this spring.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

It turns out that the White House “cancelled” a celebration that would have been meagerly attended if held.

 

A day after canceling the Philadelphia Eagles’ scheduled Super Bowl LII celebration visit, the White House provided further explanation as to why it decided to scrap the visit.

 

In a statement released by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House said it decided to cancel the event after learning that only a “tiny” number of players planned to attend the celebration. The Eagles tried last week to reschedule it, per Sanders, but the dates offered by the team conflicted with President Trump’s schedule.

 

“The White House, despite sensing a lack of good faith, nonetheless attempted to work with the Eagles over the weekend to change the event format that could accommodate a smaller group of players,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, the Eagles offered to send only a tiny handful of representatives, while making clear that the great majority of players would not attend the event, despite planning to be in D.C. today. In other words, the vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans.”

 

The White House said the Eagles initially told them that 81 individuals connected to the club — players, coaches, executives and other team personnel — would attend the celebration.

 

More from Michael Sheer of the New York Times:

 

President Trump doubled down on his war with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday, hosting a short celebration without the team as his spokeswoman accused the Super Bowl champions of turning their White House invitation into “a political stunt.”

 

Mr. Trump, his hand over his heart, sang along as the United States Marine Band and the Army Chorus performed the national anthem on the South Lawn. In brief remarks, Mr. Trump did not mention the Eagles as he urged Americans to always stand for the anthem.

 

“We love our country, we respect our flag and we always proudly stand for the national anthem,” Mr. Trump said. “We stand to honor our military and to honor our country and to remember the fallen heroes who never made it back home.”

 

The message from the president was clear: a denunciation of football players who knelt during the anthem or have said they would stay in the locker room when it is played — even though none of the Eagles players did either of those things during their winning season.

 

In tweets earlier, Mr. Trump also made his meaning crystal clear, saying, “NFL, no escaping to Locker Rooms!”

 

And moments before the 10-minute celebration, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, unloaded on the Eagles, flatly accusing them of engaging in what she repeatedly called “a political stunt” by declining to attend the White House celebration at the last minute.

 

 “The Eagles are the ones that changed their commitment at the last minute,” Ms. Sanders said.

– – –

Several players have taken issue with Mr. Trump’s assertion, saying the protests were about social justice and police brutality against black people, not any issue with the national anthem.

 

But Mr. Trump and his aides continued to insist that the anthem was at the root of the controversy — a stand that Ms. Sanders said resonated with the president’s supporters.

 

It was a continuation of a cultural controversy that Mr. Trump inflamed with repeated attacks on N.F.L. players for kneeling during the anthem. N.F.L. owners barred players last month from kneeling, but allowed them to remain in the locker room.

 

Mr. Trump said in his tweets on Tuesday that other professional sports teams had been eager to visit.

 

“We have had many Championship teams recently at the White House including the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Penguins, New England Patriots, Alabama and Clemson National Champions, and many others,” the president said. “National Anthem & more great music today at 3:00 P.M.”

 

Ms. Sanders said in a statement that discussions with representatives of the Eagles about a visit with the president had begun in February, shortly after the team beat the New England Patriots.

 

Ms. Sanders said that on May 31, the Secret Service received the names of 81 people connected to the Eagles who would need clearance for the June 5 visit. She said the Secret Service cleared those individuals to attend.

 

But she added that the team contacted the White House on Friday to say that very few people from the team would be attending, and requested to reschedule the celebration. That was not possible because the president is leaving on Friday for overseas trips to Canada and Singapore, Ms. Sanders wrote.

 

“The White House, despite sensing a lack of good faith, nonetheless attempted to work with the Eagles over the weekend to change the event format that could accommodate a smaller group of players,” she said. “Unfortunately, the Eagles offered to send only a tiny handful of representatives, while making clear that the great majority of players would not attend the event despite planning to be in D.C. today.”

 

She added, “In other words, the vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans.”

 

White House officials said 1,000 people had been invited to attend the South Lawn celebration of the Eagles victory, many of them die-hard fans of the team, which won the Super Bowl for the first time this year.

 

After the president disinvited the team, officials said the fans were told they could still come to the “celebration of America” instead. There was a large crowd of people on the South Lawn on Tuesday, though it was unclear how many people attended or whether they were the same people who had been invited originally.

 

Dan Rather, the legendarily impartial newsman, is appalled, especially as summer approaches and “the planet warms” in the Northern Hemisphere:

 

@DanRather

Trump disinvites Eagles from White House – while millions of Americans hurt. Puerto Rico suffers. Allies fret. The planet warms. He uses our National Anthem to sow disunity in what’s supposed to be the UNITED States of America. I think history will mark it as akin to McCarthyism.

 

But this from somewhere on the Internet:

 

“If the eagles showed up to play a game with only the Owner, a mascot and 2-3 players they would forfeit the game just as they did the White House invite. 2-3 players does not constitute a “team”. Trump was right to cancel the “Team’s” invite.”

 

Apparently some of the players who were not going to go the White House still planned on being in Washington doing “community events”.  For some reason, they opted not to do these rival events to the chagrin of the NFLPA which may have organized the whole protest.  Mike Florio:

 

By cancelling the Eagles’ trip to the White House a day before it was due to happen, the President likewise pulled the plug on associated events that were planned in connection with the visit to D.C.

 

“Our union is disappointed in the decision by the White House to disinvite players from the Philadelphia Eagles from being recognized and celebrated by all Americans for their accomplishment,” the NFL Players Association said in a statement issued Tuesday morning. “This decision by the White House has led to the cancellation of several player-led community service events for young people in the Washington, D.C. area.

 

“NFL players love their country, support our troops, give back to their communities and strive to make America a better place.”

 

Of course, the player-led community service events for young people could have proceeded. And maybe the better approach would have been to follow through with those plans. Given, however, that the NFL and its teams have decided to choose running and hiding and appeasing and capitulating over standing and fighting, it’s no surprise that the Eagles ultimately decided to just scrap the whole trip, and to hold an OTA day instead.

 

Going to D.C. and participating in community events easily could have been interpreted as a hostile act by the White House, prompting more of the same vitriol that, frankly, is going to flow in the direction of the NFL, regardless of whether the NFL pushes back.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

Richard Velotta of the Las Vegas Review-Journal took a trip to the stadium construction site:

 

It’s fairly easy to see the progress made by the 450 construction workers who are on the site of the $1.8 billion, 65,000-seat indoor football stadium being built in Las Vegas by a subsidiary of the Oakland Raiders.

 

Just wait until there are 1,500 of them there when the project hits its peak next year.

 

As of mid-May, more than 11 percent of the concrete had been poured for the stadium in areas where 1 million cubic yards of dirt — more than 35,000 double truck loads — have been excavated.

 

More than 20 cranes, some capable of lifting more than 1,000 tons and reaching more than 600 feet high, will soon be on the site.

 

The Raiders recently reported the team has spent $172.4 million, 19 percent of its commitment, on the stadium project. Another $43.6 million, or 22 percent of the total commitment, has been paid by the NFL’s G-4 loan program, and $30.6 million, or 4 percent, of the public’s $750 million contribution has been spent to date.

 

The stadium is scheduled to be completed in two years, in time for the 2020 NFL and UNLV football seasons.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Will Brinson of CBSSports.com thinks the Bengals are a bounce back candidate in 2018.

 

Even though the end result was a total disaster for the Bengals, they almost got back into the playoff race in 2017. Beating the Steelers on Monday night late in the year — and they had a 90 percent chance of winning midway through the fourth quarter — and they would have been 6-6 and firmly in the mix. Cincy promptly laid down like a bunch of dogs the next two weeks, scoring 14 total points against the Bears and Vikings. The Bengals would close with two wins, including a franchise-altering win over the Ravens in Week 17 that convinced Mike Brown to keep Marvin Lewis for one more season.

 

The world will end and our robot cockroach overlords will be building our their new vision and they still won’t be able to get rid of Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati. There’s reason for hope in 2018, though, with the Bengals having spent the offseason investing in a solution to their biggest problem: protecting Andy Dalton.

 

Cincinnati traded down in the draft with the Bills to acquire Cordy Glenn and then used their first-round pick on Ohio State center Billy Price. Both guys should start in 2018 and theoretically offer upside over Cedric Ogbuehi/Russell Bodine.

 

If the offensive line is good, there’s reason to believe the offense can bounce back. Dalton’s proven himself a capable signal caller when he’s not being sacked 35-plus times per season. A.J. Green is a stud. Joe Mixon/Giovani Bernard/Mark Walton can do damage in the running game. A healthy Tyler Eifert is a red-zone monster. John Ross can’t be worse!

 

Defensively this team has been good under Marvin Lewis on a consistent basis and should be good again next year. Carl Lawson was a steal in the draft, Jordan Willis flashed and they added Sam Hubbard to a pass rush with Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson. Geno Atkins remains an anchor and if Vontaze Burfict is on the field and not taking cheap shots, he’s a top-tier linebacker. (It’s a small sample size.) The secondary is loaded with first-round talent like Dre Kirkpatrick, Williams Jackson and Darqueze Dennard.

 

Vegas isn’t buying in on a bounceback though, because the Bengals are only sitting at seven games for their over/under.

 

Early Schedule Analysis

This is a rough schedule to start — even if the Colts (Week 1) are a theoretically easy opponent, they’re on the road and could be tough if Andrew Luck is ready to play. Week 2’s home opener against the Ravens will be a grind and then the Bengals are on the road against the Panthers and Falcons in Weeks 3 and 4, respectively. They get the Dolphins (home), Steelers (home), Chiefs (road) and Buccaneers (home) before their Week 9 bye, so if they can go 2-2 during that early stretch they should be able to hover around or above .500 heading into the break. The home/road splits are similar closing out too. Three home games against the Saints, Browns and Broncos have a Week 11 matchup in Baltimore spliced in. And the final four games feature three road trips (at the Chargers, Browns and Steelers) with a Week 15 contest against the Raiders serving as their last home game. That’s a ton of road games to start and end the season.

 

Why They’ll Go Over

This requires some belief that the Ravens and Browns won’t be great or that the Steelers will take a step back. If those things happen, the Bengals should be a wild-card contender, even with the schedule. They’re a very undervalued team here — the schedule is tough but the matchups aren’t that bad. And people are sleeping on this offense, especially with Dalton getting a full offseason of Bill Lazor as offensive coordinator. The line really is key: if Glenn and Price start all 16 games each and contribute average to above-average play at their positions, the Bengals will be a .500 team. It’s not hard to believe in this defense or this running game working with an offensive line. Dalton having time to throw and getting healthy production from his wide receivers will come with the line working. The Bengals can also just tread water out of the gate and try to steal a bunch of home games before and after the bye. Hold serve and they’ll hit this over.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Coach Hue Jackson is more impressed with the progress of rookie QB BAKER MAYFIELD than Mayfield.  Pat McManamon of ESPN.com:

 

Head coach Hue Jackson and rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield had differing assessments of the first overall draft pick’s progress as Cleveland Browns offseason practices hit Week 3.

 

“I think he’s right on schedule,” Jackson said Tuesday.

 

“The pace has been a little bit slower than I’ve really wanted,” Mayfield said.

 

Mayfield said that despite working with the second team during Tuesday’s practice, which was open to the media. Both Mayfield and Jackson downplayed that, saying it was just a chance for Mayfield to work with some different teammates.

 

The varied evaluations come from point of view. Jackson said Mayfield is learning the NFL game while Tyrod Taylor, the starter, gets all the first-team reps.

 

“The game’s not too big for [Mayfield],” Jackson said. “He demonstrates the ability to throw the ball and make decisions with the ball in his hands and [in] learning our system. I think he’s on schedule.

 

“But is he a finished product? No. He’s not supposed to be, either.”

 

In that regard, Jackson emphasized that he likes what he sees of Taylor and that the team feels good knowing he is the starter. But the coach did say that Mayfield has improved noticeably taking snaps under center, something he did not have to do a lot in college.

 

Mayfield’s self-assessment came from a competitor, someone who wants to play as soon as he can.

 

“There’s always a learning curve,” he said. “There’s always bumps in the road. It’s not going to be perfect, that’s for sure. When you learn a new offense and you’re going up against the best competition possible, yeah, there’s going to be a learning curve.”

 

He emphasized incremental improvement, saying “you’re not going to complete the whole puzzle at once.”

 

One teammate has caught the eye of Mayfield.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield played with some good players at Oklahoma, but no one like Josh Gordon.

 

Mayfield told Andrew Gribble of the Browns’ website that throwing to Gordon during Organized Team Activities has been a unique experience.

 

“I’ve never seen anybody like him,” Mayfield said.

 

Gordon might be the most talented wide receiver in the NFL. In 2013 he caught 87 passes for a league-leading 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games, despite catching passes from the likes of Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer. Unfortunately, Gordon has had multiple drug offenses and has played in just 10 games in four seasons since then.

 

Now Gordon is saying all the right things about being back with the Browns and firmly committed to football. Mayfield’s development as a quarterback will go much more smoothly if he has Gordon on his side.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

QB TOM BRADY participates in the mandatory mini-camp to differing perceptions from the Boston press.  Karen Guregian in the Boston Herald sunnily sees harmony:

 

When attendance was taken during Patriots practice yesterday, there was no need to grab the worry beads or down a pack of Rolaids.

 

On the surface, all seemed right, which hadn’t been the case during the past seven weeks of practices and OTAs.

 

With the start of mandatory minicamp, everything was back to normal. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, who had decided to take a sabbatical during offseason workouts, finally returned.

 

Better than that, they looked great, and the offense, with the exception of an offside by the left side of the offensive line that caused Bill Belichick to blow a gasket, also looked terrific.

 

There had been some pre-practice anxiety over how Belichick would handle the return of his prodigal sons.

 

Let’s just say he didn’t ruin the pretty picture of having Brady and Gronk back with their teammates.

 

He could have let the stories of friction with him and Brady continue to fester. He could have provided more evidence of players not having fun if he openly punished Brady and Gronkowski for their absences.

 

Granted, offseason workouts are voluntary, but it’s strongly encouraged for players to attend.

 

Belichick could have easily made examples of Brady and Gronkowski, and had them take reps with the second team. He did it before with Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler for missing a flight during OTAs.

 

The Patriots coach, who lives by the mantra of doing what’s best for the team, did just that. Having either one go to the back of the line would have served no purpose aside from stoking the fire, and kept thoughts of inner turmoil alive.

 

While there still may be issues, having it play out on the field on Day 1 of minicamp wasn’t best for the team in this instance.

 

What was best for the team is exactly what played out. The issue was buried, the two practiced normally and looked terrific while Brady was in total command of the offense and the proceedings. He was his usual omnipresence at quarterback, barking instruction and encouragement. The whole place seemed uplifted just by him being on the field.

 

“Tom looked great. That guy, I don’t think he’s ever going to look bad,” Gronkowski told the media after practice. “I mean, he’s always looking good, he’s never tired, his arm strength is always up there, so he’s looking good.”

 

Cody Rivera of Pats Pulpit is not so sanguine:

 

I recently indulged in a Dan Shaughnessy column from the Boston Globe.

 

In that column, Dan talks about how Brady may or not feel appreciated by the Patriots, and that these days, the team just doesn’t seem to be at the top of his priorities anymore, as proven by the fact that Brady skipped the voluntary workouts and went to the Monaco Grand Prix. And it’s an unusual thing, because Brady always attended the optional workouts in the past. Now suddenly, football isn’t always on his mind, even coming off of that brutal Super Bowl loss in February.

 

I don’t want to agree with Dan and say that he’s right, but unfortunately, things just don’t seem the same with Brady anymore. I have to admit that it was a little jarring when Brady was asked if he felt appreciated by the Patriots, and he responded with, “I plead the fifth.” I mean, in what world does that mean anything other than no?

 

If he doesn’t feel like he’s appreciated, it could be because Bill Belichick might have wanted to give the reigns of the team to the much younger Jimmy Garoppolo, but was ultimately overruled by Robert Kraft and was forced to trade him. It could be for a number of other reasons too. Whether or not any of it is true, Brady seems like a different guy now.

 

I also have to admit that it’s very strange that Brady didn’t show up to any of the voluntary workouts when it’s something he’s always done in the past, and it’s generally what all the other starting quarterbacks in the NFL do. I don’t want to read too much into it, but it’s hard not to. It really doesn’t seem like the Patriots are at the top of Brady’s priority list.

 

We’re used to seeing Brady’s life being dominated by football, and he’s ALWAYS been a team-first guy. When he won his first Super Bowl MVP award at the age of 24, he immediately said it was now a team award. We’ve always known Brady as a guy who would always do anything to help the team. Whatever was in the best interest of the team, that was always Brady’s top priority.

 

Well, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the team for Brady to be at those voluntary workouts? It’s always been that way in the past. Wouldn’t it be better for the receivers to practice catching passes from the guy that will actually be throwing to them during the regular season? Wouldn’t it be better for the running backs to take handoffs from the guy will actually be handing off to them during the regular season? And above all else, as a 41-year-old quarterback with 18 NFL years under his belt, and as the undeniable captain and leader of this team, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the team just to have him there for those workouts? Even just merely for his presence alone?

 

That doesn’t seem to be his mindset anymore. Now, it seems like he’s thinking: If they don’t appreciate me, then I’m not going out of my way to be there for them. I’ll show up for the mandatory practices, but that’s it. I’m not saying that’s for sure what he’s thinking. I’m just saying it seems like something is off. Brady doesn’t seem to be the same guy that we’ve grown to love over the last almost two decades – the guy that would be the first one to show up to practice, and the last one to leave.

 

Dan mentions in his column that Brady seems to now be much more interested in his own personal ventures, such as his TB12 business and his training programs with his personal trainer Alex Guerrero. He said it seems like those are the things he’s now 100 percent committed to, not the Patriots. While it might be a controversial statement, I don’t think it’s completely off base.

 

Brady is still the fiercest of competitors, which is why when he’s on the field, he’s going to give it everything he’s got. That’s just who he is. But is Brady still a diehard Patriot? Does his heart still belong to this team? I’m not so sure.

 

The only thing I am sure of is that the 2018 season will be a very interesting one for the Pats. It’s not really a secret anymore that there supposedly is some kind of friction between Brady and Belichick, and I really don’t know what to expect this year.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Not a good start for a rookie tight end from Miami, FL, CHRIS HERNDON.  Darryl Slater of NJAdvancedMedia:

 

Jets rookie tight end Chris Herndon was arrested for driving while intoxicated early Saturday after crashing into a 76-year-old man’s vehicle in Rockaway Township, a New Jersey State Police spokesman confirmed to NJ Advance Media.

 

The arrest happened at 4:45 a.m. Herndon was handcuffed and taken away from the scene on Interstate 80 westbound, said Sgt. Lawrence Peele.

 

Herndon, 22, allegedly crashed his Nissan Armada SUV into a Toyota Land Cruiser SUV driven by Albert Elliott, 76, of Manalapan.

 

Peele said a police report was unavailable for release, since it is still being finalized. Herndon failed a breathalyzer test, but Peele declined to say what he registered on the test.

 

It is unclear if Herndon was injured in the accident. Elliott bruised and cut his arm, according to the Miami Herald.

 

So at 4:45 a.m. we can assume that Herndon was heading home.  The question is was the 76-year-old man heading out or heading in?

 

Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News with more:

 

“it’s a pending legal matter.”

 

That’s a phrase uttered often in Florham Park these days. Herndon’s arrest is the seventh for the Jets in the past 13 months, and the second one for DWI since February — linebacker Dylan Donahue was charged after he allegedly caused a head-on crash while driving the wrong way in the Lincoln Tunnel just more than three months ago.

 

Donahue, who was also arrested for drunken driving in Montana last May, addressed his latest DWI two weeks ago. Now it was Herndon’s turn. The fourth-round pick didn’t provide any details about the accident, but he did have a message for Jets fans.

 

“That’s not who I am,” Herndon said.

 

According to state police, Herndon was driving west on Route 80 in Rockaway Township, New Jersey at 4:45 a.m. Saturday when his Nissan Armada slammed into a Toyota Land Cruiser driven by 76-year-old Albert Elliot.

 

Elliot wore a bandage on his left arm when the Daily News approached him at his home Monday evening. “I gotta go to the doctor,” he said. “I got a big hole in my arm and my knee is killing me.”

 

Herndon, meanwhile, emerged from the wreck more or less unscathed. The former University of Miami standout practiced fully both Monday and Tuesday.

 

“I don’t feel too bad right now,” Herndon said Tuesday. “I’m just dealing with everything and trying to stay focused.”

 

“I feel like I’m fine,” he added.

 

Herndon said he had a conversation with head coach Todd Bowles about the arrest.

 

“It was personal,” Herndon said. “But we handled it.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

TRUMP AND THE ANTHEM

The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump wanted to use tax policy to advance his political agenda – by socking 32 millionaires with more taxes.

 

When some players continued to kneel during the anthem, Trump told White House officials they should punish the NFL as part of a GOP-tax plan, according to White House and Hill aides. Some aides even began researching how to punish the lucrative league, and ideas trickled over to Capitol Hill.

 

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment. Another White House official noted that Trump’s ideas were never implemented and described his orders more as venting.

 

Robert Klemko of SI.com has some thoughts on what Trump is about:

 

The President knows this sort of thing is red meat for his base. Sticking it to uppity black millionaires has been good for business since the first cretin came up with the lie that the first black president wasn’t born in this country, and well before that even. But that’s not what Monday’s statement was about. This was play-action. This was John Elway faking the handoff to a migraine-addled Terrell Davis in the Super Bowl. This was Dan Marino faking the spike and tossing it into the waiting hands of Mark Ingram Sr.

 

Monday, if you hadn’t heard, was a Bad Day for the President. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders dodged questions about her statement last August that the President “certainly didn’t dictate” a misleading statement Donald Trump Jr. released regarding a reported meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign, a statement disputed by a letter sent in January by the President’s lawyers to the special counsel investigating him. But that was just the appetizer.

 

Next there came two bombshells, a veritable surf-and-turf on a fun-filled Monday. There was the late-breaking news that a review of documents seized in an FBI raid of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s home and office found that just a small fraction of them—less than 200 of nearly 300,000 documents and files—are privileged or partially privileged according to a court-appointed watchdog, contrary to arguments made by lawyers for Trump who are not under federal investigation. On top of that, special counsel prosecutors accused former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of tampering with witnesses in the tax and money laundering case against him. He could face jail time.

 

The fight with the NFL is fun. It gets the people going. And it concerns NFL owners so much they made a rule against demonstrations during the anthem that’s likely done more to divide protesting players and conservative-leaning owners than Trump ever could. Of course, Trump found a way to criticize the NFL for that measure, tweeting that staying in the locker room during the anthem—an option the league offered to players without punishment—was just as unpatriotic as kneeling.

 

He’s keeping the fight going, because down in Washington, the house of cards is tipping over. Don’t look away.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

In a related story FOX News was caught using deceptive images.  Tom Schad of USA TODAY:

 

Hours after Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and defensive lineman Chris Long criticized Fox News for showing footage of Eagles players praying before games — during a segment about protests during the national anthem — the network apologized for what it described as an “error.”

 

Christopher Wallace, the executive producer of Fox News @ Night, apologized for using the footage in a statement provided to USA TODAY Sports, explaining that it was “unrelated” to the matter of the segment.

 

“During our report about President Trump canceling the Philadelphia Eagles trip to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win, we showed unrelated footage of players kneeling in prayer,” Wallace said in the statement. “To clarify, no members of the team knelt in protest during the national anthem throughout regular or post-season last year. We apologize for the error.”

 

The Fox News segment in question, which has since been deleted on social media, aired less than 12 hours after President Donald Trump announced that he was rescinding the Eagles’ invitation to the White House. The president cited the team’s desire to send “a smaller delegation” to the ceremony and framing it in the context of protests during the national anthem, which the president has made a major issue.

 

The depiction of praying players in the context of national-anthem protests quickly caught the attention of Ertz, who took to social media to blast the Fox News segment as “propaganda.”

 

“This can’t be serious,” Ertz wrote on Twitter. “Praying before games with my teammates, well before the anthem, is being used for your propaganda?! Just sad, I feel like you guys should have to be better than this…”

 

Long added his own criticism about an hour later.

 

“Imagine wanting to please the boss so very badly that you run stills of guys knelt down PRAYING during pregame,” Long wrote. “Not one Eagles player knelt for the anthem this yr. Keep carrying his water to sow division while misrepresenting Christian men. Aren’t many of your viewers.. nevermind.

 

“You’re complicit in PLAYING America. This is just another day at the office for you, though. Most players (and there were many players, many players…) that wanted to opt out had decided long b4 the anthem rule came down. It wasn’t discussed once in our meetings about the visit.”

 

 

THE NEW KICKOFF RULE

The Panthers’ special teams coaches, a pair of former players, talk to Max Henson of Panthers.com about the new kickoff rule:

 

Before getting into the ins and outs of the NFL’s new kickoff rules, one thing should be made clear: Special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn believes the kickoff belongs in the game.

 

“Obviously, you want to keep it,” Blackburn said after a recent OTA practice. “You take that away and you take away a very electric part of this game.”

 

The NFL recently announced changes to the kickoff for the 2018 season, and many have speculated that it could be the first step toward eventually eliminating the play entirely due to safety concerns.

 

“It’s such an integral part of the game,” said Blackburn, who is entering his first season as coordinator after two years as an assistant. “It can impact the outcome; it can create an instantaneous momentum shift. Guys are making careers from it or using it as a starting point. It creates opportunities for guys and also makes it exciting for the fans.”

 

Blackburn is a perfect example of one of those guys who made a career out of special teams. He beat the odds as an undrafted linebacker with the Giants in 2005 by proving to be an impact player on coverage units. Over the years, he contributed more and more on defense and finished his career with 45 starts.

 

It all started with special teams, and Blackburn doesn’t want to see those opportunities eliminated for guys trying to prove they belong. But he also understands the importance of making the game safer, especially as it pertains to head injuries.

 

“We’re taking out some of those big collisions,” Blackburn said of the rule change, which prohibits the coverage team from taking a running start and prohibits wedge blocks. “By taking away some of those collisions, I think it will reduce head injuries.”

 

Added special teams assistant coach Heath Farwell, who, like Blackburn, played on special teams from 2005-14: “We want safety. That’s what is best for the game in general. We want it safe for kids playing it, safe for the players here. We can fine-tune it and make it safer.”

 

The hope for everyone involved is that the play becomes safer while remaining exciting and impactful – like Damiere Byrd’s exhilarating 103-yard touchdown return this past season against Tampa Bay.

 

Speaking of impact, how exactly these rules impact kickoff strategies across the league will keep Blackburn and Farwell very busy during the preseason and into the regular season.

 

“Preseason is going to determine a lot,” Blackburn said. “It’ll be a copycat league like it always is. We’ll see what strategies are working and look at the timing and spacing. Hopefully, we’ll be the team that people are copying.”

 

Blackburn is eager to see what the play looks like with more speed and space on the field. No wedge blocking means no more 300-pound linemen blocking on the return team. We’ll see more linebackers, tight ends and big wideouts/defensive backs. Another change, which states that at least eight players on the returning team must be in a 15-yard setup zone closer to where the ball is kicked, should create more space for playmakers to maneuver.

 

“It will still be a really exciting play, I have no doubt,” Blackburn said.

 

And as has been the case for a few years now, teams will continue to weigh the risk/reward of hanging the ball in the air to force a return as opposed to booting it through the end zone for a touchback that comes out to the 25-yard line.

 

“It goes by strategy and how you feel about it,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “You have to be careful too, now. You do that against the wrong guy and it could be a quick six.”

 

The DB thinks the changes will increase returns – or at least the length of them.  It should be interesting to follow.