AROUND THE NFL
Conor Orr at NFL.com with a helpful look at the overall state of the free agent market:
We have arrived at the second wave of free agency.
A manic, unpredictable, big-spending frenzy highlighted the opening of the 2017 league year, but in a lot of ways, the best is yet to come. One marquee quarterback could be on the move, while another former marquee passer starts to scope out his market. There are All-Pros, upstarts and first-round picks galore waiting to find out where they’ll play next.
In that spirit, here are eight things to look out for as we head into the next phase of the free agency period:
1) What will become of Tony Romo?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Dallas is looking to recoup value, potential suitors are deciding what they might want to offer and, as NFL Network’s Jane Slater noted, Romo is deciding exactly what he wants to do. Is retirement still on the table? Will Jerry Jones just release Romo after all? This item leads the list because of the profound impact a singular move could have on whichever franchise lands Romo. While the swirling drama is artificially inflating Romo’s mystique to something on the Montana scale, he would be a considerable upgrade for a team like Houston, which already possesses a championship-caliber defense. Over the coming days, the wall-to-wall coverage has the potential to tire observers out, but it exists for good reason: If he is healthy, there is no one left on this list who can alter the NFL season as significantly as Tony Romo.
2) How will the veteran running back market shape up?
When it comes to star power, there are few positional groups that will drive as much attention as running back. Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Latavius Murray are all making the rounds at the moment — all of them making visits to Seattle, where Eddie Lacy agreed to terms on a one-year deal Tuesday — and there’s a solid chance all of them end up with new teams. While NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport had noted that Peterson’s best spot may end up being a return to Minnesota, his desire to contend for a Super Bowl could lead him to a team imaginative enough to incorporate his throwback rushing style into its repertoire. All of these players, when healthy, can add a punishing dynamic to their respective clubs, yet complementary running backs like Danny Woodhead, Mike Tolbert and Kyle Juszczyk were the first to ink deals. The picture might change now that Lacy has signed a one-year “prove it” deal, opening the door for the rest of this year’s backs to start filtering in.
3) What to make of the interior defensive line market?
Brandon Williams flew off the shelf and didn’t do much to lower the market value of interior run-stoppers, staying with the Ravens on a five-year, $54 million deal, including $27.5 million guaranteed. As NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo noted, Williams wanted a contract at or above what the Giants paid interior ace Damon “Snacks” Harrison last year, and he got it. So where does that leave former first-round pick Dontari Poe and former second-round pick Johnathan Hankins, among others? These are immediate-impact starters who have had excellent success against the run. And Poe can line up across the defensive line. Poe has already made visits to the Colts and Jaguars, with the Falcons coming up next, if Jacksonville lets him leave. Bennie Logan signed with the Chiefs on Monday, perhaps as an indication that Poe and Hankins need to lower their prices a bit before we see activity.
4) Clarity on Jay Cutler coming?
Depending on how you feel about the future prospects of Colin Kaepernick — remember, he did go off against a good Dolphins defense last year, putting up 296 yards through the air and 113 on the ground in Week 12, and he still might have that ability — Jay Cutler is the best free-agent quarterback currently on the market. The general public has grown weary of the maybe this offensive coordinator can make it work scenario, but the truth is, he’s above replacement-level and has had some good seasons in recent years. As Rapoport noted, Cutler and the Jets are keeping an eye on one another for now, but as the offseason goes on, we might see some movement. Should Cutler come in and be expected to start, he’s going to need some time with a playbook and his new weapons. Voluntary workouts are coming sooner than we think.
5) Can Dont’a Hightower just return to New England already?
The financial Stockholm syndrome Bill Belichick is able to create among players who remain in New England is something, and it seems like all signs are pointing toward the Patriots star linebacker coming home to win more championships. A market certainly exists, with the Jets among the stable of interested buyers, but the prospect of winning another Super Bowl title might be too great — and worth a hometown discount. Belichick has shown this offseason that he’s certainly not cheap — Stephon Gilmore is reportedly coming in at around $13 million per year — but he’s also not emotionally attached. Just ask Malcolm Butler.
6) Speaking of Malcolm Butler …
Rapoport believes the Patriots would welcome another team coming in and signing Butler to an offer sheet. New England would surely like to recoup a first-round pick after trading one away to the Saints for Brandin Cooks. Unhappiness is relative at this time of year. Players like Butler who start the month of March in that state usually end the month with a long-term deal, or at least some clarity on their future. Butler could easily be considered the best defensive back “on the market,” even if the hurdle is quite high to get him.
7) Do the Jaguars continue shopping at the top of the market?
Jacksonville has, once again, used its treasure trove of cap space to buy at the top of the free agent market this year. Deals with A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell could just be a prelude to a busier spring. The Jaguars have also been tied to Latavius Murray and Dontari Poe. The mandate from ownership seems to be clear: This version of the Jaguars must be significantly better than anything Shad Khan has seen before.
8) When does the veteran market pick up?
There are some very good players in their 30s who can definitely help a team on the cusp of making the playoffs. Anquan Boldin, Chris Long, Jairus Byrd, DeAngelo Williams, Nick Mangold, Dwight Freeney and Mario Williams are all available and could probably all be had on affordable one-year contracts. While veterans sometimes wait the process out and skip OTAs, there are plenty who seem eager to jump right back into football.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com on the possibility that KIRK COUSINS will be traded from Washington to Cleveland:
At a time when there’s a growing belief in league circles that the Browns will try to trade for Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Browns “aren’t expected” to do it.
Cabot cites an unnamed league source in support of the report, and presumably the source is someone with the Browns who is in a position to directly know the team’s thinking. The specific phrasing — “aren’t expected” — provides wiggle room for the expectations to change; indeed, it was hardly a total categorical denial of the possibility.
Supporting the “aren’t expected” report is a contention that three other teams have tried over the past 10 days to get Cousins but they were “immediately turned down.” Assuming that the source for the first half of the report is the same source for the second half of the report, how would someone from the Browns know that three other teams have tried to trade for Cousins and were “immediately turned down” if the Browns weren’t either talking to Washington about it — or monitoring the situation sufficiently closely to know how many other teams have tried to get him?
It’s also not clear why the other three teams were “immediately turned down.” It’s one thing to slam the door before an offer is made. It’s quite another to “immediately turn down” a specific offer that was regarded as insufficient. Without knowing whether Washington will not trade him under any circumstance or whether they merely rejected a trio of lowball offers, it’s impossible to know whether Washington would entertain a reasonable trade proposal.
Cabot also presumes that the Browns would make a trade contingent on an extension. While that would be the ideal outcome, the Browns don’t need to do it. They can acquire Cousins for one year at $23.94 million (i.e., only $7.94 million than they’re paying a quarterback to not play for them) and they can apply the transition tender in 2018 at a 20-percent increase, giving them the right to match any offer Cousins receives elsewhere and guaranteeing at least two years with Cousins.
Along the way, Cousins may decide to love the one he’s with. Since finishing his rookie contract, Cousins has not played hardball, opting instead to take the safe approach and pouncing on the money that has been put on the table. Indeed, one day after news surfaced that Cousins had requested/demanded/whatever a trade, he chose to take the money and sign the tender — despite knowing that he risked being traded to Cleveland or any other team once he did.
Bottom line? The belief persists that the Browns may try to get Cousins, Cousins continues to be keenly aware of the possibility that he’ll be traded, and all that’s left to figure out is (1) whether the Browns want him; (2) what Washington wants for him; and (3) whether Cleveland will surrender it?
Sharon Grigsby takes to the editorial pages of the Dallas Morning News to chastise RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT in the wake of a recent incident that casts doubt on his judgment:
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s aggressive yanking of a woman’s shirt to expose her breast to a crowd of St. Patrick’s Day party-goers in Dallas Saturday was no frat-boy prank. It was vile, mean and disgusting; any 21-year-old who thinks otherwise shouldn’t call himself a man.
Much of what’s terribly wrong in this story — both Elliott’s actions and the aftermath of apologists’ comments — already has been documented in the day or so since the video emerged.
I want to add just this:
The Elliott camp has attempted to make this all OK by assuring us — through an anonymous source to TMZ — that the victim in this incident wasn’t mad at the football player for his behavior and, in fact, she continued to hang out with him and his friends.
That explanation — which echoes the same kind of sketchy excuse-making you’ve heard from other athletes involved in acts against women — reeks of some kind of implied consent or permission.
Elliott’s argument, as supposedly relayed by his spokesperson — “she was good with it” — is the same chilling line athletes fall back on in rape, assault and domestic violence cases. Even on a first look at the video you can see she was not OK with it.
Nothing can be implied or assumed when you are about to pull a woman’s shirt away from her body. No one can look at that video and see any evidence of permission to invade another person’s privacy.
If the woman wanted to give the crowd a flash of her cleavage, that’s her business. (A second video shows she did.) Elliott would have been best-served to immediately walk away from the sure-to-be-videoed scene. Instead, he decided to step in and take charge of her body for his and the crowd’s amusement.
How cute was that?
It’s important to remember all this alongside the domestic violence charges against Elliott that the NFL is still looking into. Those allegations, dropped by Columbus, Ohio, prosecutors because of “conflicting and inconsistent information,” involve a woman named Tiffany Thompson who says Elliott abused her on five occasions over a period of several days in July 2016.
I read everything I could find about the Thompson story when I discovered it amid all the Dak and Zeke hoopla last season. Looking back, was I too quick to buy into the certainty of those who said Thompson’s accusations were without merit?
I knew of other instances — for instance, Elliott’s text messages referencing his anxiety about passing a scheduled drug test — that indicated he didn’t have the best judgment.
But perhaps blinded by my own fan fervor, I focused instead on Zeke’s on-the field delights and the off-the-field Zeke who opened his heart and his wallet for abandoned dogs.
Shame on me. But I won’t make that mistake again.
At Sports On Earth, Ross Tucker takes Jerry Jones to task for holding QB TONY ROMO hostage:
Jerry Jones can’t have it both ways.
He can’t publicly claim he’s going to “do right” by Tony Romo, yet hold onto his rights several days into free agency angling for some kind of trade value in return for his now former starting quarterback.
It is totally within his right to hold onto Romo and try to get some NFL Draft pick compensation in return from a team that is interested in the veteran quarterback’s services such as the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos. This is, after all, a business, and Jones believes he has an asset that teams want and doesn’t feel compelled to just release Romo and hand him to a team without getting anything in return. He wants to get something for the significant financial investment he has made in Romo.
He just doesn’t get to also pretend that he’s doing what is in Romo’s best interests at the same time.
Jones was quoted in early March as saying, “… when you’ve got a situation like we got, we’ll do the do-right rule. That’s it. Very important. We do the do-right rule. We have that kind of relationship.”
Except Jones has already gone against his publicly stated “do-right” rule. Every day he holds onto Romo only serves to reinforce that fact. Doing right by Romo would have been giving him his outright release at the start of free agency like Jones reportedly told Romo he would. Multiple league insiders, including Jane Slater and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, reported that Romo would be released at the start of the new league year last Thursday.
Evidently, something happened between that Wednesday afternoon meeting and when the time came to release Romo on Thursday of last week, and many suspect that it was the Texans’ decision to trade former free-agent bust Brock Osweiler to the Browns and thus open the door for Romo to go to Houston. The idea of Jones just giving the other Texas team a guy who had been the quarterback in Dallas for a solid 10 years is likely just too much for him to stomach.
Thus, Romo is still a member of the Cowboys and has not been released.
Cowboys fans will insist that Romo and Jones are on the same page and that Romo is being kept up to date on the team’s plans. Whether that’s true is immaterial, because it is not “doing right by” Romo.
That’s especially the case if Jones told Romo one thing and then went back on it.
“It was always in Romo’s best interest to get released right away,” David Moore of the Dallas Morning News told me Monday. “That way he could pick the team he wanted to and sign the contract he wanted to.”
As of now, it looks like that’s not going to happen. At least not anytime soon.
QB KIRK COUSINS says his conversation with Redskins owner Dan Snyder was not to demand a trade. Josh Keim of ESPN.com:
Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins says he never demanded a trade to owner Dan Snyder but rather inquired what the team planned to do after placing the franchise tag on him.
Cousins told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on his Know Them From Adam podcast that his only reason for reaching out to Snyder, as well as team president Bruce Allen, was to gauge their intentions.
“I did inquire if there was any interest in trading me to get an understanding of their perspective,” Cousins said. “The answer I got back was Mr. Snyder communicated his belief in me and desire for me to remain a Redskin.”
Cousins said he first heard of his trade demands — sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that Cousins had asked about a trade — when a shoe store employee asked him about it while fitting his wife for shoes.
“I laughed and thought, ‘I don’t know where that comes from because that wasn’t the case,'” Cousins told Schefter. “Somehow it got twisted to where an employee of the store is using the word ‘demanded.’ That’s not the approach I took.”
Cousins’ future has been a dominant story in the NFL this offseason. The Redskins placed the franchise tag on him for a second consecutive year; he signed the tender Friday, thereby guaranteeing a $24 million payday this season.
The quarterback’s side wants that figure to be the baseline average on a new contract. However, the Redskins’ best offer, which was made before the scouting combine, was for $20 million per year with what one source described as “low guarantees.”
Cousins could make $24 million in 2017 and, if not tagged for a third straight year, he would hit the open market and receive more than twice that in guaranteed money. If he is tagged in 2018 — for $34.5 million if it’s the franchise tag or $28 million if it’s the transition tag — then he still stands to make at least $52 million over the next two seasons.
“This entire process from a contractual standpoint has been framed by the franchise tag rules,” Cousins told Schefter. “It hasn’t been framed by my market value. I would be content to go to the market and see what the value is and settle for what that is. But because of the tag rules and the team’s use of the tag, that just hasn’t taken place. … So until that system of the tag is removed from the equation or from the collective bargaining agreement altogether, that will frame the entirety of my agent’s approach.”
In each of the past two offseasons, the Redskins have not offered Cousins a contract equal to his tag number. Last offseason, their best offer was for $16 million per year with $24 million guaranteed. He instead made $19.95 million on the tag.
The contract impasse is why the trade speculation exists. His preferred destination in such talk has been San Francisco because of his relationship with new coach Kyle Shanahan. But the Redskins have said they won’t trade Cousins.
If the Redskins don’t trade him and let him hit the market next year, they stand to receive a third-round compensatory pick in 2019. Therefore, they might eventually view it in their best interest to try to recoup more.
“In this league, things change so fast and players can get blindsided all the time with decisions,” Cousins said. “They’ll cut you on your birthday. They’ll cut you on the day your child is born. They’ll cut you on Christmas Eve. You never know what will happen.
“I’ll always keep an open mind so I won’t get blindsided, but from what I heard in conversations, I felt very much supported and felt the owner and president of the team want me to be the quarterback there and to be the quarterback there for a long time.”
Whoever Cousins is playing for come the fall, there could be complications for his availability in Week 2.
Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins already is hoping for something other than a long-term deal: a home game in Week 2. That way, there’s a better chance of him being around for the birth of his first child. Otherwise, he’ll be presented with a difficult decision.
Cousins’ wife, Julie, is due during the second week of the NFL regular season. The schedule won’t be released until next month and Cousins isn’t sure how he’ll handle the situation.
“That’s not the ideal time, but we’ll find a way to make it work,” Cousins told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on his “Know Them From Adam” podcast. “She’s been a phenomenal football wife. She loves following the games and the team and loves the guys on the team. She said if it conflicts with the game, you go play the game and you get there when you get there.”
That might not be Cousins’ desire.
“I don’t know how I want to handle it,” he said. “I certainly want to be there for the birth of my first child.”
Cousins wouldn’t be the first player to be confronted with this situation. He also knows if you play in the NFL long enough, and have kids, chances are one would be born during the season. Last season, backup quarterback Colt McCoy’s wife was induced to avoid the original due date of Thanksgiving Day — when Washington was in Dallas for a game.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed and see what happens,” Cousins said. “But there’s no doubt we’ll be looking at the schedule the first few weeks of the season to see where we are. Hopefully it’s a home game. If it’s an away game, hopefully it’s somewhere like Philadelphia or New York and not too far away.”
The Cardinals have added a defender. Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com analyzes the signing of LB JARVIS JONES:
Once outside linebacker Alex Okafor signed with the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday, the Arizona Cardinals needed to find his replacement.
It didn’t take them long to agree to a deal with Jarvis Jones, as his agent tweeted out Tuesday afternoon. Jones may have taken a reduced role to come to Arizona, but as a backup he’ll fit into Arizona’s three-linebacker, one-defensive tackle set.
Terms: One year, money not yet known.
ESPN 150 ranking: 71
Grade: B-plus. Jones fills a need. The Cardinals were looking to add depth to their pass rush after Okafor signed with the New Orleans Saints on Monday. Even though Jones never lived up to the expectations of a first-round pick after being drafted by the Steelers 17th overall in 2013, he still has the talent to be effective contributor to the Cardinals’ pass rush in a backup role.
What it means: Even though Jones didn’t flourish in Pittsburgh, he might find a better role in Arizona and have a breakout year behind Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. Jarvis Jones will also give the Cardinals talent on their second line of pass-rushers, which Arizona likes to use in a three-linebacker, one-defensive tackle package. With Jarvis Jones on the roster, Kareem Martin will continue to have time to develop after moving to outside linebacker from defensive tackle two years ago. With Jarvis Jones being agreeing to a one-year prove-it deal, as ESPN NFL Nation reporter Jeremy Fowler reported, he could be motivated to turn in an impressive season in order to cash in.
What’s the risk? Jones had only seven sacks in Pittsburgh in four years — disappointing numbers for a former first-round pick. The risk with signing Jones is two-fold, yet related: He may not get a lot of playing time behind the starters, and if he does play, he may not produce like expected. The Cardinals took significant steps in upgrading their pass rush last offseason, and a move like signing Jarvis Jones will be looked at as a way to bolster that effort, but only if he can contribute.
The Seahawks have signed RB EDDIE LACY – and don’t seem too concerned about his propensity to grow. Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:
After weighing a few options, the Seahawks have signed running back Eddie Lacy as a free agent.
Shortly after word of that deal came from Lacy’s agents, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Lacy weighed in at 267 pounds during a recent free agent visit. Lacy visited with the Vikings and Packers in addition to the Seahawks and it’s not clear which team got that weight, but the Seahawks don’t seem put off by Lacy’s girth.
During an interview with 710 ESPN, via Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said that the team will make a “concerted effort” to make sure Lacy is in shape and that they have set a weight in the 240-pound range as the target for Lacy in the 2017 season.
“I want him big,” Carroll said.
Lacy’s issues with conditioning over the last couple of years with the Packers weren’t a secret, so the Seahawks would have to have been flying totally blind not to consider it before making the deal. Carroll’s answer makes it clear that they wouldn’t and that they believe playing on a one-year deal after an injury-shortened 2016 season will be enough motivation to get Lacy closer to Beast Mode than Feast Mode.
You can go home again, if you’re T ANTOINE SMITH. Jeff Darlington of ESPN.com:
After spending 2016 with the Minnesota Vikings, tackle Andre Smith will rejoin the Cincinnati Bengals, a team source told ESPN.
The Buffalo Bills also tried to sign Smith, but he ultimately decided he wanted to return to Cincinnati, where he spent his first seven seasons, the source said.
After an injury-shortened season with the Vikings, tackle Andre Smith is signing with Cincinnati, a source tells ESPN’s Jeff Darlington. Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire
Smith staked his claim to the Vikings’ starting right tackle job last season after lingering Achilles issues forced Phil Loadholt to retire in July. Smith played just three games before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn triceps muscle.
An eight-year veteran, Smith had signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal last March with the Vikings, reuniting him with head coach Mike Zimmer, who was Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator for Smith’s first five seasons there.
Smith, who turned 30 in January, struggled at the beginning of the season as the Vikings sought to improve an offensive line that had been their biggest weakness in 2015. Injuries to Smith and Matt Kalil, however, had the Vikings shuttling through tackle options for the rest of the season, and their line once again became their biggest problem on offense.
Smith has made 77 career starts in his eight NFL seasons.
DT DONTARI POE has been taking his time finding a new team. His latest stop is Miami. Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:
If free agent defensive tackle keeps making free agent visits and going out to nice dinners with prospective teams, he might end up as big as Eddie Lacy soon.
According to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins will become the latest stop on Poe’s tour, after he left Atlanta without a deal.
In addition to the Falcons, Poe has visited with the Colts and Jaguars.
The Chiefs have already replaced him, signing Eagles defensive tackle Bennie Logan.
Pairing Poe with Ndamukong Suh would provide a huge boost for the Dolphins defense. The two-time Pro Bowler could lean toward a one-year deal, allowing him to reset the market this year after failing to find the payday he was looking for.
Jordy McElroy at FanRagSports.com opines on the haul the Patriots could pull in if they aggressively marketed QB JIMMY GARAPPOLO:
Everybody has a price.”
The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase made that line famous long before New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could even hold a football, much less throw one. There is hardly anything less reliable than dusty catchphrases, but this one, in particular, has permeated through the NFL this offseason with the Cleveland Browns nose-deep in draft picks and in desperate need of a young quarterback.
Garoppolo is hotter than a Bruno Mars ticket right now, and every quarterback-deprived team is shaking their piggy banks and praying they have enough to foot the bill. What quantifies as enough has been an ongoing topic since the Patriots unleashed him on the league last September. In those one-and-a-half regular season games, Garoppolo proved his worth was immeasurable to the Patriots and thus set the bidding price for his contract.
We soon learned it would take more than a few coins to pry away the heir apparent of Tom Brady. If ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter’s sources are correct, the entire piggy bank may not even be enough. The Cleveland Browns have been the one team with the available assets linked to a potential blockbuster trade for Garoppolo, but according to Schefter, the Patriots wouldn’t even deal him for multiple first-round draft picks.
“We could ask this question from now until draft day and beyond. Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be on the Patriots roster come training camp,” Schefter said, during an appearance on The Rich Eisen Show. “They’re not trading him. I do not think there’s any amount of picks that Cleveland [can offer to get him].”
We are beyond the scope of a swap of the No. 12 overall draft pick for the 25-year-old quarterback. The Patriots shouldn’t accept anything less than Cleveland’s No. 1 overall pick and various other assets to go along with it if they are actually considering dealing him.
It’s difficult to place a price tag on a potential superstar playing at the most important position in football. Imagine a do-over of last year’s draft knowing what we know today. How much would teams be willing to give up to go after rookie quarterback Dak Prescott?
Finding a legitimate franchise quarterback is about as likely as stumbling on a sheet of ice in the Sahara desert. They are the most vital component to a championship team, but they are also few and far between. That’s why trading Garoppolo might not necessarily be in the Patriots’ best interest. Brady plans on playing past 40 years old, but history shows him to be at the age when Father Time kicks down the door and ends careers.
Garoppolo may or may not be the next great quarterback, but he is already great coach Bill Belichick’s system. He was Brady-like when carving up the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins last season. The Patriots’ hesitance to trade him for potential first-round offers is further proof of the franchise’s unwavering belief in his talent. Of course, they run the risk of receiving nothing for him if they fail to trade him this year.
But that’s a risk they are willing to take at the quarterback position. If Brady gets injured or suddenly regresses, they already have an in-house replacement groomed and ready to take over the team.
Many will obviously snub their noses at the idea of rolling the dice when there are so many unknowns with a player. That’s certainly fair considering how badly the Houston Texans missed on Brock Osweiler a year ago. But there is always some risk that comes with every great reward. Even if a team doesn’t offer the jackpot for Garoppolo this year, they’ll have to do so next year if they have any hope of landing him in free agency. That’s if the Patriots decide not to use the franchise tag on him.
People tend to set outlandish prices for things they really don’t want to give away. Garoppolo is talented enough to keep the winning tradition going long after the Brady era in New England.
That kind of worth is invaluable.
THIS AND THAT
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post catches up with Brent Musberger in Las Vegas:
For more than half of his 77 years, Musburger lived inside living rooms. He anchored the pioneering “NFL Today” pregame show, provided play-by-play for six NBA Finals and seven college football title games, always reminding the audience they . . . were . . . looking . . . LIVE at some of the biggest spectacles in sports. He remarked upon fetching women in the stands and made not-so-oblique references to point spreads, sharing insights he had gleaned from “my guys in the desert.” He grew into a distinctly American character, one of the most recognized faces and voices in sports, ahead of his time in regard to gambling early in his career and behind it in his outlook toward women later.
In late January, Musburger left ESPN despite the network’s attempts to retain him for . . . what, exactly? Musburger hosts “My Guys in the Desert,” a daily two-hour show on the Vegas Stats & Information Network. He sits in a glass box in the middle of a casino and discusses sports gambling in insider vernacular, a patter of point spreads and line movements. He interviews bookmakers and gamblers, quants and touts, most of them old friends.
Monday’s show was a big one, the first day after the NCAA tournament bracket reveal. Musburger sat in the middle of a desk, flanked by co-host Ron Flatter and looking into five television screens above a gaggle of producers and assistants. To the side, an old blackjack table served as a desk. People scurried around. Musburger felt fired up.
“Here we go now!” Musburger yelled. “In five, 10, we got it! Move fast, boys!”
Musburger had driven to the South Point from his new apartment. Before he found the place, the South Point simply gave him a room upstairs in its hotel for three weeks. Literally, the first thing Brent Musburger did after four decades in broadcasting was live in a casino.
For those weeks, Musburger would head downstairs at 6:30 a.m., to drink his first cup of coffee in the lounge just off the sportsbook. As he read the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Los Angeles Times, he could catch the early crowd coming in and the late crowd straggling out. His wife would sometimes wonder how Musburger felt about his semi-retirement project.
“ ‘How you doing?’ Arlene would say to me,” Musburger said. “ ‘Oh, Arlene, you can’t believe it, I can’t wait to get out of here.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Whoa, if she only knew. I’m right in the middle of all this!’ But she really does know. We’ve been married 55 years. She gets it. She gets it.”
She must. In 2002, Musburger invited Flatter, his longtime ESPN Radio producer, to attend the Belmont Stakes in the afternoon and then watch a prizefight between Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis at ESPN Zone in New York that night. On the limo ride back into Manhattan, after a day of betting races, Musburger blurted, “Hold on, I have to give Arlene a call.” Musburger pressed his cellphone to his ear, and when Arlene answered, Flatter heard him shout, “Happy anniversary!” It was their 39th.
The eclectic nature of Musburger’s broadcasting career owes to the same characteristic that ultimately led him to Las Vegas. Try to imagine Joe Buck or Jim Nantz, years from now, calling the Little League World Series or a random midweek NBA tilt on the radio. Long after he had covered championship games, golf majors and Olympics, Musburger not only accepted those assignments; he reveled in them.
“I like being around action,” Musburger said. “I love action, okay?”
Musburger started Monday’s show without his signature. He said he believes “You are looking live!” does not work for the conversational, intimate show. Instead, he relayed a story he heard on the radio on his drive into the South Point, about how the Statler Brothers recorded “Flowers on the Wall.”
“I’ve had days like that,” Musburger said later. “ ‘Smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo.’ I totally got it, man.”
Musburger has long been fascinated by the culture around sports wagering. In his career-launching role, starting in 1975, Musburger hosted “The NFL Today” alongside commentator Jimmy Snyder, better known as Jimmy the Greek. Snyder introduced Musburger to associates from his days as an oddsmaker.
“I came to believe that the professional sports bettors and bookmakers are the most knowledgable sports fans in the country,” Musburger said. “I love sitting around talking to them.”
He admired their expertise and insight, and the risk and stakes thrilled him. He started placing his own bets through friends in Vegas, $50 or $100 at a time, maybe up to $500.
“But not on the games I was doing,” Musburger said. “Everybody thought so.”
In the mid-’80s, Musburger began sprinkling his broadcasts with references to point spreads and over/unders (a bet on the total number of points scored in a game). He said he believes it started during Oklahoma football broadcasts, when then Sooners went on a streak of covering large spreads. Late in an otherwise uncompetitive contest, he may have remarked, “Some scores mean more than others.” Some viewers missed the references. Others nodded, in elation or grief. Out on the road, fans started approaching Musburger to ask, “Are we going to cover the spread?”
Not everyone shared their enthusiasm. Sports betting long has been taboo in the eyes of leagues that worry about the perception of how it might damage the integrity of games. At “The NFL Today,” Musburger and Snyder couldn’t reference spreads directly. When he moved from CBS to ESPN, “one of the executives took me in a back room and took me to the woodshed over giving an over/under on Notre Dame and Ohio State in a Fiesta Bowl,” Musburger said. After he called an NFC championship game, he read the initial point spread for the Super Bowl — gleaned through a call to acquaintance Jimmy Vaccaro, now an oddsmaker at the South Point — on the air. Later, an NFL executive scolded him.
Over his career, the sports world moved to his view. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called for federally regulated, nationwide legalization of sports betting in an editorial. ESPN routinely runs point spreads on its crawl. Sports leagues have partnered with daily fantasy sports websites that, by any reasonable definition, allow customers to bet money on the outcome of sporting events. The need for Musburger to wink and nod slowly vanished.
“It’s only about 10,000 times what it used to be,” Vaccaro said. “The walls have started to crumble.”
Musburger’s energy, even at 77, carried the show. He called everyone “lad” or “kid” or “mate.” A longtime viewer of Musburger could have discerned no difference between his enthusiasm for calling a game on ESPN or asking a statistical expert about the World Baseball Classic.
“I don’t care if it’s one person, or one million,” Musburger said. “That never entered into my mind. You owe them your best shot. I’m as enthused as what’s going on with this as the Sugar Bowl or SEC basketball.”
Musburger extended his contract with ESPN in early 2016, and he assumed he would work there until he no longer could. ESPN had moved him down the pecking order in college football, assigning him to night games on the SEC Network rather than ABC’s “Saturday Night Football.” In an industry dense with ego, Musburger could have revolted. He never minded.
“I always view it as change,” Musburger said. “There’s no need getting upset if they decide to go in a younger direction. What the hell? What was better than SEC football and the fans I dealt with? I never get bitter at anything.”
Four years ago, his nephew, Brian, hatched an idea for a show that could take advantage of sports bettors, a massive and largely untapped television audience.
As Musburger continued his ESPN career, Brian convinced Michael Gaughan, the owner of the South Point and a longtime friend of Musburger’s, to build the studio. A year ago, Sirius XM agreed to broadcast VSiN’s content, a degree of legitimacy that Brian felt enabled him to ask his uncle if he wanted to become the fledgling network’s face.
“He knew my weak spot,” Musburger said. “The truth of the matter is, I was going to move to Vegas, anyway.”
The morning after Musburger called the Sugar Bowl in January, he had breakfast with John Skipper and Stephanie Druley, two of the highest-ranking executives at ESPN. They made one last attempt to keep him. Musburger discussed it with Arlene and made his final decision. He told his brother Todd, who doubles as his agent, he was leaving.
When his Monday show finished, he laughed as he told a reporter, “It’s great working for a group that, when I see a beautiful woman, I can call her a beautiful woman.” Musburger had, over the years, rankled many by referring to the attractiveness of female fans. (“Fifteen hundred red-blooded Americans just decided to apply to Florida State,” he once said after the camera showed three scantily clad Seminole football fans.)
During the Sugar Bowl, many decried Musburger’s comments that seemed to defend Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, who two years ago punched a woman on tape. Musburger said the criticism had nothing to do with his departure.
Per Brian Musburger’s data, more than 200,000 viewers streamed Sunday’s show on VSiN’s website. “We may have beaten FS1,” he said. “I believe those numbers put us right in that area.”
Musburger has committed to broadcast for VSiN for two years. “If I’m having as much fun as I did today with the guys,” he said Monday, “I may do it a lot longer.”
The DB has long expected DeSHAUN WATSON to be the first QB off the board, ahead of one-year wonder MITCHELL TRUPINSKY, and probably in the top 5. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com in his latest Mock Draft is coming around to that thinking. He also sees, like the DB, the rise of RB CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY who used to be a staple in the bottom of the round:
In the latest version of my top 50 prospects list, I noted how so many of the top prospects in this draft carry similar grades. More than anywhere else, mock drafts are reflecting this. From one to the next, a player could land in the top 10 to the bottom third of the first round, and vice versa. Throw in the effects of the combine, pro days and free agency, and it’s almost like throwing darts.
With that said, here’s the latest iteration of how I think the first round could play itself out:
Myles Garrett – DE, Texas A&M
The Browns are still in search of their franchise quarterback, but they can’t pass up the opportunity to land a premier pass rusher.
Solomon Thomas – DE, Stanford
Thomas has the versatility to play up and down the line of scrimmage, and he seems like a perfect match for what John Lynch is trying to build.
Jamal Adams – S, LSU
Adams is a special talent who would provide the Bears with outstanding leadership in the secondary.
Jonathan Allen – DE, Alabama
The Jaguars already added Calais Campbell in free agency, but Tom Coughlin and David Caldwell both understand the importance of loading up on the defensive line.
Malik Hooker – S, Ohio State
The Titans added Johnathan Cyprien in free agency, but Hooker is a far superior talent who would add some much-needed playmaking skills to the backend of the defense.
Marshon Lattimore – CB, Ohio State
Lattimore’s durability is a concern but he is the most gifted cornerback in this draft class.
Deshaun Watson – QB, Clemson
The Chargers start preparing for life after Philip Rivers by selecting Watson. He’s not ready to play right away but he’ll have time to sit and learn behind one of the best in the business.
Leonard Fournette – RB, LSU
This seems like the perfect fit for both Fournette and the Panthers.
Derek Barnett – DE, Tennessee
Barnett isn’t a great tester but he’s a heck of a football player.
Gareon Conley – CB, Ohio State
Conley is a rock-solid football player on tape and his combine workout was outstanding.
Christian McCaffrey – RB, Stanford
The Saints have holes on the defensive side of the ball, but selfishly I’d love to see McCaffrey in this system.
O.J. Howard – TE, Alabama
The Browns coached Howard at the Senior Bowl, and he’s one of the safest players in the draft class.
Reuben Foster – LB, Alabama
Foster would be a steal if he fell this far in the draft.
Tre’Davious White – CB, LSU
The Eagles upgraded the receiver spot in free agency, and now they need to address the cornerback position in the draft.
Forrest Lamp – OG, Western Kentucky
It’s not a sexy pick, but Lamp would team up with last year’s first-round selection (Ryan Kelly) and Jack Mewhort to provide a rock-solid interior offensive line.
Charles Harris – DE, Missouri
Harris is a very productive edge rusher who is plenty athletic enough to drop in coverage if needed.
Jabrill Peppers – S, Michigan
Peppers is a unique athlete, with the ability to excel at the nickel position as well as play as a high safety. He will also be a major difference-maker on special teams.
Corey Davis – WR, Western Michigan
Davis has all of the tools to develop into a true No. 1 receiver.
Chidobe Awuzie – CB, Colorado
I’m a big fan of Awuzie’s game; he is another player with the versatility to play cornerback or safety.
Cam Robinson – OT, Alabama
Robinson has some flaws on tape but he has excellent size, length and power.
Takkarist McKinley – DE, UCLA
McKinley would be ultra-productive playing opposite of Ziggy Ansah in the Lions’ defensive front.
David Njoku – TE, Miami
I know the Dolphins are bringing in Julius Thomas, but Njoku is too good to pass up at this point in the draft. He is a matchup nightmare.
Haason Reddick – OLB, Temple
Reddick has the ability to play any of the three linebacker spots and he can provide some pass rush off the edge if needed.
John Ross – WR, Washington
This isn’t a big need for the Raiders but Ross could take this passing game to a new level with his big-play ability.
Garett Bolles – OT, Utah
Bolles is not only ultra-athletic, but he plays with a nasty streak in the run game.
Kevin King – CB, Washington
King is the perfect fit in the Seahawks’ scheme. His stock continues to soar following an outstanding combine performance.
Dalvin Cook – RB, Florida State
Cook is the perfect fit in Andy Reid’s system, and he would be a tremendous value at this point in the draft. The Chiefs could then turn around and trade one of their current backs for an extra draft pick.
Evan Engram – TE, Ole Miss
Engram would be a matchup nightmare in the Cowboys’ offense and he’d help Dak Prescott continue to develop into a top-tier signal-caller.
Taco Charlton – DE, Michigan
The Packers lost Julius Peppers in free agency; Charlton has the tools to develop into a double-digit sack artist at the next level.
Mike Williams – WR, Clemson
The Steelers can’t rely on Martavis Bryant; Williams would be an incredible value if he were to slip this far down the board.
T.J. Watt – OLB, Wisconsin
Watt has tremendous upside as a pass rusher and his motor never stops running.
Mitch Trubisky – QB, North Carolina
The Saints need to start planning for life after Drew Brees, and Trubisky has plenty of upside at the position.