AROUND THE NFL
The Commish shares your pain when an NFL broadcast “doubles up” with a 2nd round of commercials after a kickoff. Never again, he says, but that doesn’t mean less time away from the action. Tom Pelissero of USA Today:
Every NFL fan has seen an exciting game disrupted in a familiar way: a commercial break, then a kickoff, then … another commercial break.
Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t like it, either.
“It drives me crazy,” Goodell told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “We call those ‘double-ups.’ They actually occurred 27% of the time (on kickoffs last season). And that’s still too high for us.”
In the coming days, the league will roll out its plans for not only revamping the commercial structure within TV broadcasts, but also tweaking in-game timing, replay reviews and more — the product of experimentation and research the NFL took directly to fans before last season to find out what they liked and disliked, both in the stadium and on the couch.
Goodell said the changes aren’t tied to a pre-election TV ratings dip last season. But he acknowledged the expiration of the NFL’s current TV deals in 2022 amidst a changing media landscape is “top of mind for us on the broader picture” as the league continues to seek the best way to deliver a valuable commodity: three hours of content many viewers still consume live.
Beginning with the upcoming season, there will be subtle changes to the timing of the game itself, including standardizing the start of the clock after a player goes out of bounds and the duration of halftime. A play clock will be instituted after extra points (and perhaps after touchdowns, though that’s still under discussion). A vote is expected at the league meetings next week on a centralized replay system in which referees review plays on tablets, rather than sideline monitors, and provide input to officiating headquarters in New York, where the final call would be made.
There will be changes to TV broadcasts, including less frequent, but slightly longer commercial breaks — a standard pattern of four per quarter (rather than five, six, five and five), each extended from 1:50 to 2:20. (The NFL’s research shows fans notice fewer breaks, not how long they are, Goodell said.) Networks will be allowed to break during replay reviews. At times, a double box allowing viewers to see inside the stadium while an ad plays, or a sponsored break featuring one brand, could replace standard commercials. Some in-game promotion for NFL and partner initiatives will be replaced by more analysis, highlights and other content.
“We have seen commercialization maybe creep into the game in areas that we don’t think is appropriate,” Goodell said, “and we’re going to work with our network partners to try to pull that back, to make sure that we can create that compelling experience for our fans.”
Other changes — including a potential vote to eliminate coaches challenges after or late into a commercial break (another issue Goodell said frustrates him) and an actual reduction of ads and promotions — remain under consideration as well.
The goal isn’t to shorten games, though Goodell estimated the changes might shave five minutes off contests that lasted an average of 3:07:08 last season (down from 3:08:18 in 2015).
“What we’re looking to do is take that down time out, which is not entertaining,” Goodell said. “And in our research, we had biofeedback, so we could see what they were watching and you could tell when they’re not as interested in what’s happening in the broadcast.
“In today’s day and age, we have to give our fans every reason to watch what’s happening, find what they see on television and in the stadium as compelling. Don’t give them a reason to turn away.”
Other frequent targets of fan angst also are being addressed. Goodell confirmed the NFL intends to begin hiring some of the 17 full-time officials permitted under its labor deal. He also expects the league “will be loosening up the celebration rules to allow the players a little more expression of their enthusiasm,” though the competition committee continues to study that issue, as USA TODAY Sports reported last month, and discussions likely will extend beyond the next meeting.
Further changes to commercials, timing and other areas are likely in the coming seasons, Goodell said. As it does with everything, the NFL will roll out changes incrementally, gauge the impact and then determine what it should do next.
As for those obnoxious “double-ups” — Goodell said the goal is to eliminate them, though significantly reducing them by reducing the number of breaks would be a positive first step.
“You’re always going to be re-evaluating these areas and trying to say, what do we do better here?” Goodell said. “Whether it’s in our officiating mechanics, whether it’s in our commercial mechanics and how work with our TV partners, what we do in our stadiums — all those things are going to continue to be high priorities for us.”
Another possible change is adopting the NCAA’s controversial “targeting” rule with instant ejections. Tadd Haislop of The Sporting News is not confident:
The NFL’s continued efforts to improve player safety are fine and dandy. They should be commended, in fact.
But if the league wants certain penalized, “flagrant” hits to result in “immediate” ejections, as executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent suggested Wednesday, it needs to tread carefully.
Based in part on perpetual confusion over its catch rule despite multiple, public explanations, the NFL apparently has not learned that, sometimes, less is more when it comes to the rule book.
So before it creates another complicated rule, the league at least should examine the nightmare that has been automatic ejections for targeting penalties in college football.
“The Committee is exploring ways — including considering immediate ejections or suspensions — to take dangerous hits out of our game,” Vincent’s note read in full as part of a series of tweets that laid out the NFL Competition Committee’s agenda for next week’s annual league meeting in Phoenix. “We’ll communicate this to our coaches and players with video examples of flagrant hits that may result in ejection or suspension.”
NFL officials, of course, already have the option to eject players for illegal hits, and the league already can suspend players for such offenses. The rarity of those ejections and suspensions, though, apparently is not satisfactory.
Not that the NCAA was being proactive in 2008 (when it created the targeting penalty) and 2013 (when targeting began prompting ejections), but it’s ahead of the NFL on this one. And the college game already is having to amend its rule.
“As targeting ejections have doubled over three years,” writes Jon Solomon of CBS Sports, “the NCAA Football Rules Committee is looking at changing the replay standards so a targeting ejection only occurs if the penalty is confirmed. Currently, if replay doesn’t have enough evidence to confirm targeting but can’t rule it’s not targeting, the call on the field stands and the player gets ejected.”
The growing number of targeting ejections in college football — 144 in 2016 compared with 72 in 2014, per CBS Sports — is due to awareness and enabled officiating more so than it is to an increase in the frequency of illegal hits.
And in college football, the frequency of the ejections has not been the issue. It’s the inconsistency of the targeting rule’s interpretation (not to mention the harsh nature of the repercussions) that has people such as American football coaches association executive director Todd Berry fired up.
“There are certainly some (hits) that are deserving (of ejections),” Berry told CBS Sports. “But there are also some where the receiver is up in the air and the defensive player doesn’t launch, but he’s also changing his vertical plane. Where do you gauge hitting that person? That’s a tough thing to do instantaneously.
“Athletically, I don’t even know if they’re capable of doing that at the college level. Even the NFL guys can’t pull that off, either.”
That — the arbitrary nature of a human official’s call in the moment — is the tricky part. At least the NFL has acknowledged that intent often is impossible to judge. That’s the case even upon replay review.
Which is why, if the NFL does establish immediate ejections and suspensions, it better be crystal-clear not only on what types of hits warrant such punishment, but for Cam Newton’s sake, how liberally those penalties are to be enforced.
Forgive the pessimism, but the league already struggles with both.
Should varying degrees of brutality be punished by varying suspension lengths? Is a player who uses the crown of his helmet to make a hit more or less offensive than a player who, as the NCAA puts it, “makes forcible contact to the head or neck area” of a defenseless opponent?
There’s plenty of gray area for the NFL to fill with its colorful legislature.
Let’s just hope those colored pencils have been sharpened.
And, according to Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com there is going to be a particular emphasis on speeding up Thursday Night Football:
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the NFL is working on improving the quality of Thursday games by reducing the number of commercial breaks.
“I felt the increased commercialization, particularly on Thursday night, where we’re going to have more aggressive changes — we’re going to reduce that,” Goodell said.
Goodell said he didn’t realize how many commercial breaks there were during Thursday games last season and admits there were too many. Goodell seemed to be referring both to commercials from sponsors and to the networks taking time during games to promote their other shows.
“To my surprise last year, we put some more commercialization in there — there were some more spots in that I was not aware of and we saw that and we’re going to get that back out of the game,” Goodell said.
“So many mentions that are not related to the game on the field, we’re going to reduce that, we’re going to take that out.”
Fans will appreciate that. Especially fans who have to get up early for work on Friday morning, and aren’t keen on staying up late on Thursday nights to watch a lot of commercials.
And, The Commish says Dean Blandino will become lord and master of all he surveys, at the expense of the game referees.
For the first time ever, the NFL is moving to a rule that will give the league’s head of officiating — not the referee — final say on replay reviews.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said on Mike & Mike that under the 2017 rules, the replay review will go to head of officiating Dean Blandino, and although Blandino will consult with the referee on the field, it will be Blandino who makes the final decision. Although the NFL has already implemented the procedures that allow the referee to communicate with the league’s officiating office, in past years it was still the ref who had final say.
“We are going to centralize the replay back here in New York,” Goodell said. “Dean Blandino will have the final decision. We think that will move it much quicker.”
Goodell also said referees will be told to announce the replay decision immediately in the stadium, rather than waiting for the end of a commercial break, so that the ball can be spotted and the teams can be lined up and ready for the next play as soon as the commercial break ends.
“We want to get going. We want to be ready to play,” Goodell said.
The NFL has said that a major priority this season is speeding up games and cutting down on unnecessary delays. Streamlining replay is one way to do that.
With EDDIE LACY loaded up in Seattle, the Packers are re-signing ex-Seahawks RB CHRISTINE MICHAEL. Field Yates at ESPN.com:
Free-agent running back Christine Michael has agreed to rejoin the Green Bay Packers, a source told ESPN’s Field Yates.
The Packers claimed Michael off waivers on Nov. 16 to help offset the loss of Eddie Lacy and James Starks to injuries.
Lacy signed this offseason with the Seattle Seahawks. Starks was released by the Packers.
The Vikings say that ankle surgery for RB LATAVIUS MURRAY was all part of the plan. Ben Goessling at ESPN.com:
The Minnesota Vikings announced that running back Latavius Murray, who signed a three-year, $15 million deal with the team on Thursday, underwent ankle surgery Wednesday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Vikings said in a statement that they knew about Murray’s need for an operation before they signed him last week, and they added that they expect him to be ready for training camp. The surgery could mean, however, that Murray will miss most of the team’s offseason program, which begins next month.
Murray’s ankle condition was made known to teams in free agency, a league source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. He had injured the ankle early last season against Denver and played through it, but needed a ligament repaired.
The team signed Murray at the end of a two-day free-agent visit last week and told Adrian Peterson after the deal was done that they would be moving on from him. Murray figures to team with Jerick McKinnon in the Vikings’ backfield, but general manager Rick Spielman has called this year’s running back class the deepest he has ever seen, and the Vikings could look to add to their group in the draft next month.
Murray received a $1.8 million signing bonus from the Vikings and has a guaranteed $900,000 base salary and $700,000 roster bonus for 2017. Only $1.1 million of his 2018 base salary is currently guaranteed against injury, and the full $5.15 million would not become guaranteed until the third day of the 2018 league year, which means the Vikings could move on from the 27-year-old after this season with little financial risk.
John Keim of the Washington Post brings us up-to-date on Washington’s QB situation:
The Washington Redskins have their starting quarterback under contract for this season. Beyond that, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding Kirk Cousins’ future in Washington. That’s why the Redskins must have backup plans.
They could always opt to trade him later this spring. They have told him they won’t do so, but sometimes thinking changes when reality sets in. Or Cousins could play out this season and, barring a third use of the franchise tag, hit the open market next offseason.
Either way, the Redskins need alternatives. Here’s a look at their current options:
Colt McCoy has thrown 26 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions in limited playing time since being drafted in 2010. Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
Pro: He knows the offense well and has earned the trust of the coaching staff. If not for a neck injury late in 2014, he would have ended the season as the starter. McCoy plays with a moxie that coach Jay Gruden appreciates. It gives McCoy the ability to lead and also to extend plays when nothing is available. His knowledge of the offense helps compensate for shortcomings, allowing him to throw with anticipation. At times in training camp practices, for example, he’ll throw an out route and the ball will arrive just as the receiver turns around — and the defensive back has no shot. McCoy has worked for several offseasons with Tom House, a former major league pitcher. That work, focusing on resistance bands, medicine balls and dumbbells, has “significantly helped me as far as throwing the ball,” McCoy said. It also helped fully heal the shoulder injury he suffered in college.
Con: He hasn’t shown for a full season what he can do. He started 13 games in his second season, throwing 14 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions for Cleveland. He’s viewed by most as a solid backup. Questions persist about his arm strength and durability. Those doubts will remain until he gets another chance to sink or swim. McCoy said his arm is stronger, thanks to his work with House. His ability to extend plays also leads to more hits. In 2014, for example, McCoy was sacked 17 times in 128 pass attempts while Cousins that same year was sacked eight times in 204. It will lead to some good plays; it also will lead to more potential injuries for someone who is 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. Teammates say McCoy has more of a gunslinger mentality than Cousins, which can lead to big plays, both good and bad.
Pro: Former Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan liked what he had in Sudfeld, a former sixth-round pick. Word spread that he could develop into a starter after a year or two. That might be a bit optimistic, but such was McCloughan’s faith in Sudfeld. He’s considered a hard worker — a film junkie, always a good description for a quarterback — and is smart. Those traits stood out to the coaches. Sudfeld has a good arm, so that won’t be an issue. And his 6-6 height allows him to play from the pocket and see over the rush. He has a good personality, allowing him to develop relationships with many.
Con: Coaches felt he played better in preseason games last summer than he did in practice; that was noticeable to most who watched the practices in Richmond. As a late-round pick, he’s clearly more of a developmental player, so struggles in practice weren’t surprising. At this point, there’s hope he can develop into a starter, but that’s different than expecting him to do so. Sudfeld isn’t a scrambler, so he must show coaches he has the upper-body suddenness to make the sort of quick-twitch throws necessary to win. That will be a key part of his development this summer.
Draft a quarterback
If the Redskins view Cousins as unlikely to sign a long-term extension, they could opt to draft someone in the upper rounds this spring. The top names are Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes II. During a conference call, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay focused on three quarterbacks as possibilities beyond those most mentioned: Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs (he shares the same agent as Cousins) and Davis Webb.
Pro: The Redskins would get Cousins’ successor, so if this indeed is his last year in Washington then the Redskins have the heir apparent already in the system. And if the draft pick is not yet ready, they could roll with McCoy until that happens. Though it’s not considered a great quarterback class, there are traits that make some of these quarterbacks intriguing — and worth developing. Most need time; the Redskins could provide that luxury.
Con: The Redskins like Sudfeld, so drafting another quarterback high would likely lead to his release (unless Cousins is traded). If they feel he’s worth developing, they might as well see how he progresses this summer and then, if needed, draft a quarterback high in 2018. Even in that scenario, with Cousins assumed to be elsewhere, the Redskins could hang on to Sudfeld as a No. 3. Also, if the Redskins drafted a quarterback in the higher rounds this spring, any early struggles by the team — even if it’s not Cousins’ fault — would lead to calls for playing time. That’s not a good reason necessarily to dismiss drafting one. But this situation already is potentially awkward without adding more scenarios.
The DB didn’t notice trade/sign JIMMY GARAPPOLO among the options.
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says a “yes” vote at the owner’s meeting won’t be a full confirmation of the Raiders making a move to Vegas.
The NFL owners’ vote will be “yes” on Monday. We pretty much understand that now.
But “yes” to what?
Sunday afternoon, self-important NFL owners will begin assembling in Arizona to decide the fate of humanity and the Raiders, which are basically the same thing in the eyes of many Oakland fans.
Monday morning, following some committee reports and discussions, a vote of the 32 team owners will be conducted on whether Raiders’ owner Mark Davis should be permitted to pack up his football team and move to Las Vegas in 2019 or 2020.
At this point, the vote’s outcome is all but guaranteed. For the resolution to pass, 24 of the 32 owners must vote “yes.” Numerous credible reports from league sources, including one I trust from the Raiders, suggest that the support is there for Davis. This makes sense. If the Raiders sensed a rejection was imminent, they would not even ask for a vote.
In fact, the “yes” or “no” part is not even the issue at this point. The issue is: When the owners do vote, what exactly will be in the resolution they approve?
It can’t be a complete and final deal. Because right now, in spite of the $750 million in public funds that Nevada has committed to the project, the Raiders have no lease agreement with the Las Vegas Stadium Authority Board or the city itself. There’s merely a general outline with several unresolved issues.
One of those issues is the stadium location, although the team’s preferred spot for the $1.9 billion venue is on a piece of property west of the Strip, just across the interstate from the Mandalay Bay and Luxor Casinos. Also, infrastructure costs have not been finalized, not to mention who will pay for them.
There has also been public blowback over the Raiders’ requests to keep virtually all stadium income from other events — potential Final Fours, Wrestlemanias, political conventions, college bowl games and the college football national championship. Maybe even a Super Bowl.
The vote, therefore, will have to carry some tentative language. There will surely be certain stipulations which must be met by the team and city of Las Vegas before the agreement becomes final. A deadline may be set to have everything resolved by the next NFL meetings, scheduled for May.
Is it strange for an owners’ vote to be full of so much ambiguity? Hardly. It’s strategy. The Raiders can carry Monday’s vote language back to the Las Vegas negotiators and say: “If you want our team, you must agree to these terms. Or else.”
The NFL, as always, remains the 500-pound gorilla of sports, gleefully indulging in 500-pound gorilla behavior. When the vote is positive on Monday, tens of thousands of Las Vegas citizens will be excited, overwhelmed with the idea that the NFL is coming to town! Would politicians and leaders of Las Vegas dare puncture that balloon by playing hardball with the Raiders?
I think we know the answer to that question.
The blunt truth: If the people of Oakland have any hope to retain the Raiders, they’ll need something to go amiss from the Raiders’ side of the equation. That’s because the NFL has more or less squashed the East Bay’s recent effort to assemble a stadium proposal.
The NFL looks at that effort, organized by Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott and the Fortress Investment Group, and sees more of an undeveloped, vague concept rather than an actual plan. And the league isn’t even keen on the vague concept.
If Oakland truly wanted to contend in this sweepstakes, it should have put Lott and Fortress on the case four or five years ago instead of just a few months ago. But the East Bay politicos dawdled for years. At one point, they handed over the steering wheel to a smooth-talker from San Diego named Floyd Kephart who produced nothing meaningful.
Then the city of Oakland and Alameda County, who jointly control the Coliseum complex, could not agree on a unified proposal until Lott finally herded the cats and got them to sign on belatedly with his mission.
Is there anything at all, then, that could derail the Raiders’ road to Las Vegas? Only a few things:
♦ Also to be decided in Arizona next week is the precise “relocation fee” that the Raiders must pay the other owners to make the Nevada move, as payment for rights to the Las Vegas market. For example, the Rams and Chargers franchises were each assessed a $650 million relocation fee when they received permission to move to Los Angeles.
One report by Sports Illustrated’s MMQB.com suggests that owners will charge Davis just $325 million to $375 million for the move because the Las Vegas market is much smaller. The fee can also be paid out over 25 or 30 years, making the financial hit more palatable to Davis, who is not among the league’s wealthiest owners.
But if owners believe the fee will put too much of a burden on the Raiders — who are already committing $500 million of their own money to the Las Vegas project — then it is possible the deal’s approval could be delayed.
♦ The Raiders’ debt service on the Vegas project is going to be enormous. The original $1.9 billion framework was simple: Nevada was providing the $750 million from a hospitality tax, the Raiders were kicking in their $500 million and the other $650 million was coming from either casino mogul Sheldon Adelson or Goldman Sachs. When Adelson was cut out of the deal and Goldman Sachs also withdrew, the Raiders wound up leaning on Bank of America to fill the $650 million gap.
But that’s presumed to be a loan, possibly with equity in the team or stadium as collateral. It’s a risky formula if projections for ticket sales, luxury suites and corporate sponsorship do not pan out in the desert. Will NFL owners permit Davis to take that risk, knowing a bank could end up owning one of their franchises?
“Every single thing they made an assumption on has no prior experience anywhere else,” said Roger Noll, Stanford economics professor emeritus.
Of course, the NFL may have already addressed those two looming possible potholes in the Las Vegas journey. Jason La Canfora or CBSSports.com has reported that Los Angeles billionaire Ed Roski may be appointed the project overseer.
Roski is an experienced real estate hand who has had previous dealings with the NFL and could supervise the stadium construction as well as the marketing efforts in Vegas. He may be a big key to getting the positive vote on Monday.
But here is another important thing to know: None of what you hear about the Raiders’ move will matter until those doors close on Monday morning and the owners begin their discussions. Before then, it’s all gossip and drivel.
Last year when the NFL was trying to settle which teams should move to Los Angeles, the preliminary committee conclusion and recommendation was that the Chargers and Raiders plan to build a stadium jointly in Carson was superior to the Rams’ proposal to build in Inglewood. That was all the gossip. Then the doors closed. When they opened, the Rams had received the owners’ approval.
Yet in the moments after that rejection, Davis may have set the stage for his Las Vegas approval. The other owners were impressed that Davis did not express bitterness or threaten a lawsuit. He was a good team player. He went along with the owners’ decision. In exchange, he is now asking for those owners to support his Las Vegas quest, even if some of them are leery about shifting the Raiders from the larger Oakland/East Bay market or going to a city associated with gambling.
That’s another big reason why Monday’s vote will be “yes.” But the devil will still be in the details. Alas, for East Bay Raiders’ fans, the devil may already be lining up to buy a stadium personal seat license in Las Vegas.
The Chargers are looking at quarterbacks. Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:
The Chargers know that Philip Rivers will be their starting quarterback in 2017 and he’s under contract for a couple more seasons, but they have started thinking about what comes next at the position.
General Manager Tom Telesco didn’t rule out drafting a quarterback early in the draft when asked about the future at quarterback earlier this month and the team got an up-close look at one that’s expected to be off the board fairly in April’s proceedings. Eric Williams of ESPN.com reports that the Chargers held a private workout with Patrick Mahomes in Lubbock, Texas recently.
Head coach Anthony Lynn, who also went to Texas Tech, attended the workout along with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen.
Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that the Chargers also had a private workout with Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who is projected to be a third day pick next month. Getting picked at that point wouldn’t make him the heir apparent for Rivers, but would give the Chargers a prospect to develop as they begin life in Los Angeles.
For what it is worth, the DB liked what he saw of Dobbs at the Senior Bowl.
He’s not out of the legal woods yet, but at least CB ADAM JONES is not facing a felony for spitting on a nurse. The AP:
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones faces three misdemeanor charges, including assault, but no longer is being charged with a felony for a January confrontation with hotel security guards, police and a nurse.
A felony charge of harassment with a bodily substance, for allegedly spitting at a nurse, was dismissed at the prosecuting attorney’s request, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said in a statement Wednesday. The felony charge carries a potential sentence of six to 12 months in jail upon conviction.
Deters said the misdemeanors also include disorderly conduct and obstructing official business. Those charges will be referred to Hamilton County Municipal Court in Cincinnati for prosecution by a city prosecutor, according to Deters.
The 33-year-old veteran football player, whose career has been marked by off-the-field legal issues, was jailed early Jan. 3. Authorities said Jones tangled with hotel security late at night.
Cincinnati police said he pushed a security employee and poked him in the eye, then kicked and head-butted as officers tried to put him into a police vehicle. They later released a video showing Jones in the back of a police vehicle repeatedly using profanity toward the officers and telling one: “I hope you die tomorrow.”
The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office reported that after Jones was taken to jail, he spit on a jail nurse’s hand. Surveillance video released Wednesday shows Jones acting aggressively during his intake process.
NEW YORK JETS
Mike Lupica in the New York Daily News encourages the Jets, owned by Donald Trump’s ambassador to England, to sign QB COLIN KAEPERNICK:
Things got political with Colin Kaepernick all over again this week, as political as they ever could, when he was called out by President Donald Trump. It means that a guy who says he’s going to be a big jobs president was reveling in the fact that Kaepernick doesn’t have one right now.
“It was reported,” Trump said, “that NFL owners don’t wanna pick [the free agent Kaepernick] up because they don’t wanna get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Can you believe that?”
Then Trump, who keeps trying to make nasty tweets more of a national pastime than baseball, said that he was only sharing this news with his fans in Louisville, Ky., because people in Kentucky “like it when people actually stand up for the American flag, right?”
So what the president of the United States was saying about a currently out-of-work quarterback, somebody who was once one pass attempt in the corner of the end zone at the Superdome away from winning a Super Bowl for the 49ers, was this: that Kaepernick’s own politics are scaring off potential employers. And if that is true, if this isn’t simply a football decision because of Kaepernick’s performance — or lack of it — the past couple of years, then it means that there are enough NFL owners and general managers suffering from a severe stomach problem:
Lack of guts.
There is nothing surprising about this, of course. Once Kaepernick began to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem, I said that it might be the beginning of the end of his football career, especially with free agency looming for him. I didn’t mean that it should be. I didn’t say it was moral or right. No. It was the reality of a league when way too many executives are more scared of their own shadows than Donald Trump is of an unspoken thought.
But the idea that the New York Jets — just to pick one team that needs a quarterback the way the rest of us need oxygen — think that 37-year old Josh McCown is a better bet for them than Kaepernick, as much trouble as he started to have once opposing defenses started to keep him in the pocket, is as silly as most quarterbacking decisions they have made across the last several years, and why the Jets are as far away from a Super Bowl as they’ve been since Joe Namath.
Come on. Can it possibly be true that even with Kaepernick’s soft numbers last season, that he can’t even get a job as a backup quarterback in the current NFL? The Giants just signed Geno Smith. Smith’s best day is a bad day for Kaepernick, who once played games in the NFL postseason for the San Francisco 49ers, certainly against the Green Bay Packers, that made him look like a combination of Joe Montana and Steve Young. Oh, sure. A little over four years ago, Kaepernick ran for 181 yards against the Packers in the playoffs, averaging 11.3 yards on 14 carries, and threw for 263 yards and a couple of touchdowns, and if you’re keeping score at home, that is 444 yards in total offense.
Jim Harbaugh was his coach then. Then the geniuses in charge of the 49ers ran him off. Once they did, things turned to slush for the Niners, and Kaepernick was on his way to the bench before he began to take a knee. The kid who dazzled the Packers and nearly won a Super Bowl started to look like what Bill Parcells used to call a JAG: Just Another Guy. But look at those numbers he put up, even against a bad Packers defense that day, and ask yourself how many guys have quarterback jobs in the NFL these days who will never come closing to having a game like that in their lives.
Now Kaepernick isn’t even worth a chance? Certainly there’s no equivalency between his political statement and what Ray Rice once did in an elevator in Atlantic City, when Rice threw a punch at the face of his then-fiancée that the whole world ended up seeing. Ray Rice’s career had gone into decline the season before that, because of injuries. But once he threw that punch, the NFL essentially threw him out of the league. Rice was 27 at the time. They hid behind the fact that Rice’s numbers had fallen in his last year with the Ravens. But how did anybody in the league know whether or not Ray Rice could still play or not if no team would even give him a tryout?
So Rice got the death penalty from the brave souls making personnel decisions in the NFL. It is unlikely that the same will happen to a still-young quarterback like Kaepernick, in a quarterback league. He will eventually get a job somewhere. But he should have a job already. He is so much better than anybody the Jets have on their roster, including McCown, that there is nothing to discuss. Maybe the Jets’ owner, Woody Johnson, big Trump supporter, is one of those worrying about a nasty tweet from a guy who thinks that being tough is doing it in 140 characters or less.
Everyone understands what a polarizing figure Kaepernick became, standing up the way he did for his beliefs by kneeling down. He caught a beating for that, and then caught another beating when he announced that he would be standing for the anthem next season, provided he gets another job, that is. It was as if he had somehow failed all the people who had treated him like he was the second coming of Rosa Parks, as if he had let them down, and was no longer as virtuous as his supporters had led us to believe.
He was never Rosa Parks, despite the some of the rhetoric of the moment. It turned out the whole thing started dumb for him when he was photographed wearing socks that depicted policemen as pigs. Later there was all the conversation about the political conversation he had started, even though those conversations never last very long in America.
But he backed up his beliefs with his own money. He donated $50,000 recently to Meals on Wheels, a program that Donald Trump’s new budget is about to run over with one of his limousines. Even that gesture was briefly attacked on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page as shameless politic opportunism – and, let’s face it, what better forum for political opportunism than Palin’s? — before the item was taken down, and Palin disavowed sanctioning it.
I read a terrific piece by Jarrett Bell at USA Today on Tuesday, one that included these two sentences that tell you everything about what is really going on with Kaepernick:
“‘As a player, I think he can still be great,’ a pro personnel director for one team told USA Today under the condition of anonymity. He did not wish to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.”
You don’t have to like Colin Kaepernick’s beliefs. You don’t have to agree with him making the political statement that he did. That is as American as people making statements like the one he made this past season. But what he did, like it or not, took courage on his part. The opposite of that goes on right now with teams that need a quarterback who are afraid to even consider signing him. The Jets go for Josh McCown instead. Really? Who wants to stand and salute that?
THIS AND THAT
Senator Peyton Manning (R-Tennessee) will not happen says Peyton Manning. Conor Orr at NFL.com:
Peyton Manning, in a public appearance at the Las Vegas Adobe Summit on Wednesday, did his best to downplay all the juiciest rumors surrounding his life after football.
For the record, he says he is not looking to run a football team or represent the state of Tennessee in the U.S. Senate.
“I don’t know where that came from. Last week I was going to run a team, this week I going to apparently run for Senate, and next week I’ll be an astronaut,” Manning said, via the Denver Post. “I have no interest in the political world, but would like to continue serving communities.”
He added: “The best advice I got was to not sign up for something full-time right away that you can’t commit to,” he said. “I’m taking my time and seeing what my options might be.”
The best part about the persona Manning created for himself over a 17-year NFL career is that he can essentially aw-shucks his way out of just about anything. That includes any potential political aspirations or a desire to one day be a general manager or team executive like former boss John Elway.
It is hard not to support him taking his time. Manning has a second life to live and a world’s worth of options. Pragmatism is essential to happiness, and he’s not caving to pressure just yet.
Another dip into the NFL world would be fascinating, given how some former players have been fast-tracked into management positions of great significance lately. Would Manning be the next? Or, as he did on the football field, would he revolutionize the situation altogether?
“I miss the camaraderie of teammates,” Manning said when asked what he misses most about the game. “You do everything together. You practice together, you eat together, you sit in these team meetings together. And I miss the plane rides after a win.”
RB JOE MIXON has undeniable talent – and a troubling history. He is getting some visits, including most recently with the L.A. Chargers. Dan Parr at NFL.com with his travel schedule:
Joe Mixon is adding a third leg to his pre-draft visits with AFC West teams.
After making stops to meet the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders earlier this month, Mixon will next visit the Los Angeles Chargers, per ESPN’s Jim Trotter.
It’s no surprise that Mixon, who has also visited the Cincinnati Bengals, is keeping a busy schedule of team meetings. He’s one of the most talented RBs in the 2017 NFL Draft. However, clubs didn’t get a chance to interview him at the NFL Scouting Combine, as he was barred from the event under a conduct policy.
Mixon punched a female OU student in 2014 and was charged with acts resulting in gross injury. The case was settled with a plea agreement, and Mixon, who was suspended for the 2014 season, served one year of probation, counseling, and 100 hours of community service.
He’s viewed as undraftable by some NFL teams, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, but it appears clubs have high interest in getting a chance to speak with him before making a final evaluation.
Mixon met with representatives from the Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns and Bengals on the eve of his pro day two weeks ago.
The Chargers lost backup RB Danny Woodhead to the Baltimore Ravens in free agency this offseason, leaving a hole to fill behind Melvin Gordon.
– – –
Today’s Mock Draft from Chris Burke at SI.com offers five trades to shake up Round 1 in addition to the traditional selections:
On April 13 of last year, when it was obvious the Titans were trying to unload the No. 1 pick, our mock suggested this deal:
Rams get: No. 1, take Jared Goff
Titans get: Nos. 15, 43 and 45, plus a 2017 first and third, take Jack Conklin
One day later, the Rams and Titans completed a trade—the Rams sending picks 15, 43, 45 and 76, plus 2017 first- and third-rounders to Tennessee for 1, 113 and 177. Los Angeles took Goff; Tennessee took Conklin.
I make no promises that any of this year’s proposed mock trades will come to fruition, but … well, we had to try. There are five trades included in this mock (on top of the four involving first-round picks that already have gone down), and all five involve a team moving up to land a skill-position player.
The reason behind it: The way this draft class stands, it will be more logical to sit and wait on defenders than it is to hope the right quarterback, running back or wide receiver falls into your lap. There is depth at RB and WR, to be sure, but also undeniable Round 1 talents at those positions. If a GM glimpses the opportunity to pounce on one, he will.
All we can assume for now, though, is that there will be movement during the draft’s opening round on April 27. Will that movement include any of the trades offered up in this week’s mock?
DE/OLB, TEXAS A&M
There are a dozen or so players I’d consider in Tier 1 of this draft class and, like, 60 in Tier 2. It’s a very deep group, especially on defense. So, if the Browns were to break off a curveball and go QB here, they could do so knowing they’d be able to load up on potential impact defenders with picks 12, 33, 65 and 108. They still should, and probably will, take Garrett. But …
2 SAN FRANCISCO
If the Jets don’t want this pick to take a quarterback, the odds are stacked against San Francisco being able to unload it. And the 49ers only would be looking to trade if they don’t want a QB here themselves, in which case it’s up for debate which prospect falls directly behind Garrett in the pecking order. Pencil in Thomas as another option for the 49ers’ growing stockpile of young talent along the defensive line.
The Bears improved at safety by signing veteran free agent Quintin Demps, but neither he nor any of the incumbent options (Adrian Amos, Deon Bush, Harold Jones-Quartey) are pieces around which to build a defense. Adams can be just that.
4 CLEVELAND (from Jacksonville)
QB, NORTH CAROLINA
(Mock trade with Jacksonville. Jaguars get: No. 12, No. 33, No. 175. Browns get: No. 4, No. 187.)
Blockbuster No. 1. The worry for the Browns in taking Garrett is that they might miss out on the quarterback they want. Rather than cross their fingers and wait for pick 12, they go on the offensive. For their part, the Jaguars would pick up the first selection on Day 2, move into Round 5 from Round 6 and still be within that aforementioned top tier of talent at the No. 12 spot.
5 PHILADELPHIA (from Tennessee)
(Mock trade with Tennessee. Titans get: No. 14, No. 43, No. 118. Eagles get: No. 5, No. 164.)
The Eagles have hosted both Fournette and Dalvin Cook on official visits in recent days. If they want the former LSU star as a focal point of their offense next season, they’ll have to go get him. This would drop the Titans nine spots in Round 1, but it would add a second-rounder (which they currently don’t have). Three picks in the top 43 would make for a nice weekend in Tennessee.
6 NEW YORK JETS
The Jets stay put and land the most NFL-ready of the top quarterback prospects. Watson could push newly-signed veteran Josh McCown for the starting job in 2017, take it over permanently in 2018 … and allow GM Mike Maccagnan to bury his Christian Hackenberg pick from last year.
7 LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
S, OHIO STATE
This is close to the ideal scenario for the Chargers: two QBs and a running back in the top six; Hooker, Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster and every wide receiver still available. Hooker is a game-changing presence against the pass, landing in a league that’s airing it out more than ever.
Two things about Howard to Carolina: 1) Pairing him with Greg Olsen would make for a lethal combination; 2) His blocking would help set up the ground game and protect Cam Newton. Howard does come with bust potential relative to expectation, but he also has All-Pro upside.
The Bengals’ recent addition of LB Kevin Minter does not rule out the possibility that they draft a linebacker, but it does make it harder to see them spending a top-10 pick on one. The pass rush is a more pressing issue now.
CB, OHIO STATE
Buffalo lost Stephon Gilmore to New England and, as of March 22, still needs a replacement for him atop the depth chart. Lattimore comes with a history of hamstring injuries, but he is a physically assertive cornerback ready-made for NFL success.
11 NEW ORLEANS
Talent isn’t everything, and there is genuine concern about Foster’s persona, but the fact remains that he is clearly one of the top prospects in this class. The Saints have a fearsome front four backed by a mediocre linebacking corps (including 2015 first-rounder Stephone Anthony). Foster could clean up on the second level.
(Via mock trade with Cleveland, via Eagles)
The Jaguars are not hurting for D-linemen—Calais Campbell just joined a depth chart already boasting Malik Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue, Sheldon Day, Dante Fowler and Abry Jones. The value on Allen at this point would be too high to pass up, though. He would add depth across the board up front.
13 BALTIMORE (from Arizona)
(Mock trade with Arizona. Cardinals get: No. 16, No. 99. Ravens get: No. 13, No. 197.)
If the top receivers—Williams, Corey Davis and John Ross—start getting pushed down the board, the Ravens have to consider making a move for one. Joe Flacco cannot live on the speed of Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace alone. He needs a true No. 1 option, and Williams can become one.
14 TENNESSEE (from Philadelphia)
WR, WESTERN MICHIGAN
(Via mock trade with Philadelphia, via Minnesota)
In our last mock, Davis was the Titans’ pick at No. 5. Because of the ankle injury Davis is dealing with, which kept him out of the combine and Western Michigan’s pro day, he may still be there for the taking in the middle of Round 1.
In this mock draft trade frenzy, I considered moving Indianapolis up the board for Allen. But the desperation that may exist for teams at the skill positions likely won’t be there on defense—there is too much talent on D to be had later. Reddick has had a magnificent pre-draft build-up, and he’s the type of athletic chip Indianapolis needs at inside linebacker.
QB, TEXAS TECH
(Via mock trade with Baltimore)
If the Cardinals really have their hearts set on a QB, maybe trading down shouldn’t be the play. Counterpoint: Sliding back a handful of spots likely still would leave them in range for at least one of Mahomes, Watson, Trubisky or DeShone Kizer. Armed with the extra top-100 pick they added from Baltimore earlier in the mock, they can roll the dice on a tantalizing talent to develop behind Carson Palmer.
One of the remaining playmakers on offense would be mighty tempting here, but Washington still has holes to fill on defense. Cunningham would help there, as he’d give them a three-down defender at inside linebacker.
Sidney Jones tore his Achilles during Washington’s Pro Day, then Fabian Moreau reportedly suffered a pectoral injury at UCLA’s workout Tuesday. So, this year’s loaded cornerback class has taken a couple of hits. Tennessee is in much better shape at the position now that Logan Ryan’s on board, but that signing should not keep the Titans from adding more talent. Wilson and Jason McCourty could pair outside, allowing Ryan to man the slot as he did during his best New England days last season.
19 TAMPA BAY
RB, FLORIDA STATE
Cook may be the draft’s toughest riddle right now. He is a brilliant talent, but struggled at the combine and carries both off-field and injury red flags. He could go top 10; he could slide to Day 2. Let’s split the difference and reunite him with Jameis Winston. The Buccaneers would have their Doug Martin replacement.
The Broncos certainly could nab a defensive prospect here. Between Ross, Christian McCaffrey and TE David Njoku, they would be better served making sure they have enough weapons on offense. Ross immediately would provide Denver a home-run threat from the slot and on special teams.
21 KANSAS CITY
(Mock trade with Detroit. Lions get: No. 27, No. 104. Chiefs get: No. 21.)
This would be another move up for an electrifying offensive star. This time, it’s the Chiefs going to get McCaffrey, who would help them replace Jamaal Charles in the backfield while also giving Alex Smith another dangerous catch-and-run receiver.
G/T, WESTERN KENTUCKY
Finally, the first lineman off the board. With Laremy Tunsil’s planned move out to tackle, the Dolphins are lacking starters at guard and depth at OT. Lamp may be viewed more as an interior option in the long-term, but his ability to swing into either spot gets him the nod.
23 NEW YORK GIANTS
It could come down to Njoku or an offensive tackle here (although don’t sleep on an edge rusher like Taco Charlton to give the Giants more options on defense). New York’s need may be greater along the O-line, but the possibilities of Njoku creating mismatches in the passing attack might tickle the Giants’ fancy.
While the jury remains out on Peppers’s ultimate draft value, his combine performance and unique versatility still point toward a Round 1 landing spot. This is a good one. The Raiders would be able to mix and match like few other teams can if they partnered Peppers and 2016 first-rounder Karl Joseph.
For the moment, we’re still operating under the assumption that Tony Romo somehow, some way, winds up in Houston. If not, this spot becomes a definite QB match. (Even with Romo, the Texans could justify it.) No matter the signal-caller in charge for 2017, though, the Texans need to settle their tackle situation. Bolles or Ryan Ramczyk would be plug-and-play candidates within Bill O’Brien’s scheme.
White has just enough size to be able to hold his own against bigger NFL receivers, but it’s his assertiveness when the ball is in the air—from the slot or outside—that will appeal to teams in Round 1. DeShawn Shead’s playoff ACL tear and Jeremy Lane’s up-and-down 2016 make this position one Seattle could address.
27 DETROIT (from Kansas City)
(Pick via mock trade with Kansas City)
Charlton is a player Detroit no doubt would consider at 21, meaning he’s a great option at 27. He isn’t as polished a player as the ongoing hype around him might have one believe, but he does have the upside to justify that buzz. This is a value-meets-need pairing.
Defense has to be the heavy favorite when it comes to which side of the ball Dallas addresses in Round 1. Having the option of Robinson or Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk at 28, however, would force a little reevaluation. Doug Free’s retirement opened up a starting spot at right tackle, and either rookie could step in. Does Dallas see 2015 pick Chaz Green as Free’s replacement or a swing tackle?
29 SAN FRANCISCO
QB, NOTRE DAME
(Mock trade with Green Bay. Packers get: No. 34, No. 109, No. 161. 49ers get: No. 29, No. 172.)
The final imagined trade of this mock sees the 49ers climbing back into Round 1 to snag their QB of the future. GM John Lynch praised Kizer at the combine, and the likely cost to move up five spots would be worth it if Lynch and Kyle Shanahan are sold on the Notre Dame product.
The previous 49ers regime executed a similar trade at last year’s draft, sending picks 37, 105 and 178 to Kansas City for Nos. 28 and 249. The pick there: G Joshua Garnett.
Between McKinley, Charles Harris, Derek Rivers, a potentially falling Tim Williams and others, there should be pass-rushing talent to go around late in Round 1. That’s great news for the Steelers, who have to find a little more pop, even if James Harrison plays into his 50s. McKinley’s unrelenting motor would make him a fan favorite in Pittsburgh.
DT, MICHIGAN STATE
Perhaps the questions about McDowell’s drive keep him on the board into Day 2. Talent-wise, McDowell belongs in the conversation much higher than that. Atlanta has the personnel in place, including new addition Dontari Poe, to limit the pressure on McDowell to dominate early. Dan Quinn could pick his spots with the gifted, if enigmatic, prospect.
32 NEW ORLEANS (from New England)
The Saints should not go out of their way to lock themselves into a pass rusher-cornerback combo with their two first-round picks. Those are clearly positions where they will be focusing, though, and they definitely have CB choices here: Humphrey, Kevin King, Gareon Conley, Teez Tabor, etc. Humphrey checks off a ton of boxes.