The Daily Briefing Wednesday, March 28, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
The NFL has a new catch rule. Also, the Replay Center in New York can now eject players for acts caught by cameras, but not seen by on-field officials. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com:
NFL owners unanimously approved a new catch rule Tuesday, a change designed specifically to avoid a handful of controversies that have vexed the league for most of this decade.
Owners also approved two other rule changes, granting authority to senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron to eject players for non-football acts — even if it means overruling on-field referees — and making permanent a temporary rule that put touchbacks after kickoffs at the 25-yard line.
The catch rule, proposed by the league’s competition committee at the behest of commissioner Roger Goodell, will eliminate the requirement to maintain control of the ball throughout the process of going to the ground. Instead, it will define a catch with a simpler three-step process: A receiver must control the ball, establish himself in bounds and perform a football move such as taking a third step or lunging with the ball in hand.
Most important to the league, the change means that plays such as those involving Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson (2010) and Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (2014) will be ruled catches in the future.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James, who had a touchdown overturned in the final seconds of a December loss to the New England Patriots because he didn’t “survive the ground,” applauded the rule change.
“It should have been a touchdown either way,” James told Steelers.com. “Whether it was the old rule, or this new rule. To reverse something on review, it has to be clear cut. I feel like they didn’t do a good job on that. It’s nice to have the rule clearer.”
Riveron said earlier this week that “we’ve basically rewritten the rule.” Even so, the change is not likely to eliminate all controversies surrounding the catch. Former NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino suggested earlier this month to expect a swap of debates.
“If the receiver performs an act common to the game,” Blandino said, “if he performs a football move, whatever you want to call it, on the way to the ground, if you say that supersedes him having to hold the ball all the way to the ground, then that adds another layer of judgment for the official and in replay.
“You’re just shifting the debate from, ‘Was he going to the ground and did he hold on to it?’ to ‘Did he make a football move?'”
The rule to allow in-game ejections from the league’s officiating office was designed to address egregious hits last season by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans in separate incidents.
Both were penalized 15 yards, but referees declined to eject them. Referees will retain the authority to eject players as necessary.
The New York Jets, meanwhile, withdrew a proposal to make all defensive pass interference penalties 15 yards.
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Then, out of the blue, a previously unknown proposal passed unanimously that sounds like both a sound safety measure and an officiating nightmare. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
It didn’t appear on last week’s (supposedly) comprehensive list of proposed rule changes. By Tuesday afternoon, however, it passed with a vote of 32-0: “Lowering the head to initiate contact with the helmet is a foul.”
The rule came from Proposal No. 11 of the Competition Committee, which had made only 10 proposals in advance of the annual meetings.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the process began in Indianapolis, during the Scouting Combine. Last week, discussions continued among the members of the Competition Committee, with Saints coach Sean Payton (a first-year member of the committee) being very supportive of the rule.
As of Sunday, presentations began to be made to coaches and General Managers. Discussion occurred during Tuesday’s meetings, with the vote and announcement delayed to the afternoon due to efforts to firm up the language of the rule.
As of the morning session, however, support for the rule change already was universal among the owners and coaches. Which confirms just how seriously the league is now taking the effort to get the head out of the game whenever and wherever possible.
The fact that the potential change wasn’t known until the change was made invites speculation that the league wanted to make its decision without input from fans, media, and/or hot-take artists who potentially would try to shout down a revision to the rules that will further change, in a subtle but very real way, the manner in which the game is played and, more importantly, how the game looks.
While the goal surely will be to persuade lower levels of the sport to follow suit, the move represents another tangible difference to the game that, if/when enough total differences emerge, could set the stage for an alternative professional league in which all players know the risks, embrace the hazards, and play the game the way it used to be played.
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And this common sense rule proposal passed, as Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com reports:
In the aftermath of the Minnesota Miracle, there was mass confusion. The suddenly victorious Minnesota Vikings were giving on-field interviews, while the New Orleans Saints were slowly trudging off the field and into the locker room.
But there was unfinished business. With a five-point lead and no time left on the clock, Minnesota was still required to attempt the extra point. So the Saints trotted out a motley crew of defenders, including punter Thomas Morstead, to line up against Minnesota’s “two-point conversion attempt.”
Count that instance as the last of its kind.
Among the seven competitive rule changes adopted by the NFL at the Annual League Meeting this week is a law that eliminates the possibility of that awkward encounter occurring again.
It reads, “By Competition Committee; Eliminates the requirement that a team who scores a winning touchdown at the end of regulation of a game to kick the extra point or go for two-point conversion.”
This law should have no effect on the outcomes of games going forward, but will matter to those in the sports universe who care about point differential.
Now, what if a TD is scored on the final play of a game – that was not “the winning TD.”
Say, the Chargers score on the last play to cut the Rams lead to 31-16. Must they kick the PAT or go for two? Sounds like they still could since the rule as written says “winning TD”
Owner Jeffrey Lurie is amazed and gratified by the reaction of Philadelphia fans, even as we near two months since the Eagles hoisted Lombardi. Les Bowen of Philly.com:
Sometimes it feels as if every week is the week after the Super Bowl for Jeffrey Lurie, when the Eagles’ chairman encounters fans whose lifelong dreams he helped fulfill.
“It wasn’t just the parade, it wasn’t just on the field with the confetti, it’s every day since. And the stories — I can’t tell you how many times people come up to me wherever it is, there’s always Eagles fans everywhere — and they may just see you and start crying,” Lurie said Tuesday evening at the NFL meetings. “They may see you and start hyperventilating. The stories they have with their mothers, their fathers, who they got to experience it with.
“I don’t know if you could explain it to fans everywhere in the country, but those of us who know the passion and the love for this football team, and how much they’ve wanted the Eagles to win a Super Bowl, it’s like it gets played out every day in a real emotional, personal way.”
Of course, the quest was personal for Lurie as well, having pursued a championship since he bought the Eagles from Norman Braman in 1994. At age 66, he finally was able to share the moment he’d dreamed of with his 90-year-old mother, Nancy.
“One of my dreams was to be able to win the Super Bowl while my mom could still enjoy it, and she’s 90, it’s the first time she’s been out of her house and out of her neighborhood in a couple of years. She was able to make it on Saturday to Minneapolis and be with me for the Super Bowl, and afterward, she partied till 2 in the morning. … It meant just so much to me personally … the team, in so many ways, represented the best in her. Resiliency is a huge part of her life, and to give trust and unconditional love to her kids,” who lost their father, Morris, at age 44, in 1961.
A Canadian-American steelmaker named Alan Kastenbaum is among the leaders to buy the Panthers and he’s visiting Charlotte. This from WCNC-TV:
A serious bidder interesting in purchasing the Carolina Panthers will visit Charlotte this week, NBC Charlotte has confirmed.
Alan Kestenbaum, the CEO of Stelco Holdings Inc., will visit with the Panthers on Wednesday in Charlotte, league sources said.
Stelco Holdings is a steel company based in Ontario, Canada, but Kestenbaum is from the United States. His company, Bedrock Industries, recently bought Stelco Holdings.
Those sources say this is the first such meeting in Charlotte between a potential owner and the Panthers since Jerry Richardson put the team up for sale in December.
NBC Charlotte sports reporter Kelsey Riggs confirmed the news at the NFL meetings in Orlando, FL.
Three serious bidders remain in the race to purchase the team from Richardson, who is still under league investigation for workplace misconduct.
David Tepper: Hedge-fund billionaire and 5 percent owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Navarro: Charleston-based founder of Sherman Financial Group
Alan Kestenbaum: CEO of a Canadian-based steel company
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Monday that the league’s owners were presented with an update on the team sale in Orlando, and expect a new owner to be fully vetted and voted on at the spring meetings in Atlanta this coming May.
Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com says GM John Lynch is counting on 49ers fans welcoming the once-hated CB RICHARD SHERMAN:
There was a time, not long ago, when Richard Sherman might have been the most-hated player among 49ers fans. But that time is now over.
San Francisco General Manager John Lynch said on PFT Live that while 49ers fans may have hated Sherman when he was the star cornerback on the rival Seahawks, he fully expects San Francisco to embrace Sherman now that he’s on their side.
“There’s a lot of Niners fans that didn’t know what to think because they’ve really not liked Richard Sherman,” he said. “My message to them is, I think you’ll love him now.”
Lynch is right about that: As Jerry Seinfeld said, You’re actually rooting for the clothes, when you get right down to it. You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. San Francisco fans booed Sherman because he was wearing Seattle’s clothes. They won’t boo him anymore.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
A nickname for the new Rams defense with NDAMUKONG SUH, MARCUS PETERS and AQIB TALIB added.
Bill Plaschke nicknamed these new Rams “The Legion of Goon.”
The Seahawks have parted ways with QB TREVONE BOYKIN who is in hot water yet again.
The Seattle Seahawks have released backup quarterback Trevone Boykin in the wake of a report that he’s under investigation for alleged domestic violence.
The Seahawks announced Boykin’s release Tuesday morning. The move came less than two hours after WFAA-TV in Dallas reported on its website that police in Mansfield, Texas, are investigating Boykin after allegations from his girlfriend, Shabrika Bailey.
Bailey told WFAA that Boykin attempted to choke her and broke her jaw in two places during an incident that occurred at his home last week. She said she blacked out while Boykin was attempting to choke her and then came to in a “puddle of blood on the kitchen floor.”
Bailey said Boykin drove her to Dallas Regional Medical Center in Mesquite, Texas, and that he fled when hospital staff began questioning the two separately. The woman was airlifted to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas for further treatment because she was having trouble breathing and spent three days there, according to the report.
In a statement released to NFL Network, Boykin called Bailey’s allegations “false.”
“I understand the Seahawks’ decision to release me. The story that was reported casts a bad light on the organization and on me. I want to be clear that the story is false. The police have taken statements from the accuser, another witness and me. All of these statements confirm that I was not involved in the physical altercation. This woman has lied about me and it has cost me my job. I know guilt by association is real. This person has fabricated a story and I am suffering the consequences. I will let the legal system run its course and I know I will be vindicated,” he said.
Bailey told WFAA that she and Boykin have been in a relationship since high school and that their argument last week started when she refused to show Boykin a text message that he wanted to see on her phone.
Detectives from the Mansfield Police Department told WFAA after interviewing Bailey and her brother that Boykin was under investigation, according to the report.
Boykin, 24, has spent his first two NFL seasons with the Seahawks after they signed him as an undrafted free agent out of TCU in 2016. He backed up Russell Wilson as a rookie, then spent last year on the Seahawks’ practice squad. They signed him to a future’s deal at season’s end.
His release leaves Wilson as the only quarterback Seattle has under contract. Last year’s backup, Austin Davis, is still unsigned.
Boykin was arrested a year ago Tuesday on misdemeanor charges of public intoxication and marijuana possession after a car he was riding in drove onto a sidewalk and crashed into a Dallas bar, injuring eight people.
That incident triggered another arrest a week later because Boykin had been on probation stemming from a 2015 arrest, when he was a senior at TCU and allegedly struck a police officer at a bar in San Antonio two days before the Horned Frogs were set to play in the Alamo Bowl. Boykin pleaded no contest to resisting arrest and received a year of probation.
The marijuana charge was recently dismissed.
Bailey told WFAA that she was driving the car that Boykin was riding in during the Dallas incident and that the car crashed because Boykin was attacking her. She said she covered for Boykin, calling it an accident at his request, and that Boykin asked her to explain her recent injuries by saying she either fell or got jumped by another person.
So, is Boykin claiming that someone else (her brother?) broke her jaw. But he took her to the hospital and it was there she decided to turn on him to cover up the real attacker?
Not buyin’ it.
Apparently last year’s draft pick JOSHUA DOBBS isn’t the guy, as the Steelers say they are looking for a QB in this year’s draft. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
Ben Roethlisberger is still the Steelers’ franchise quarterback, but they might be in the market to draft his successor.
Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said on PFT Live that the Steelers would love to have Roethlisberger on the team for years to come, but they’d also like to acquire the heir apparent in advance, the way the 49ers did when they went from Joe Montana to Steve Young, and the way the Packers did when they went from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers.
“You want to give Ben the best opportunity to win a Super Bowl while he still can,” Colbert said. “You also want to recognize that great franchises that go from generation to generation and still are successful, they usually pass it on because of great quarterbacks. San Francisco from Montana to Steve Young, Green Bay from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. You’d like to be able to do that.”
Colbert noted that the Steelers are unlikely to draft one of the elite prospects, however, simply because as long as they have Roethlisberger they’re probably not going to have a Top 5 pick.
“At some point you may draft a quarterback higher but as long as you’ve got Ben Roethlisberger playing for you, you’re hopefully not going to be able to get a guy that high,” he said.
So the Steelers aren’t in the market for a Sam Darnold or a Josh Allen. But they might be in the market for a quarterback who can replace Roethlisberger, even if it’s not a quarterback who can replace Roethlisberger immediately.
Chris Wesseling of NFL.com looks at what the Dolphins are up to, jettisoning their most visible players.
Whether it’s labeled retooling or rebuilding, the Dolphins are undergoing another in a long line of renovations after losing their No. 1 receiver, Pro Bowl center and most dominant defender, respectively, in Jarvis Landry, Mike Pouncey and Ndamukong Suh.
What is it the Dolphins are searching for and why can’t they find it?
In a sit-down interview at the Annual League Meeting in Orlando, coach Adam Gase acknowledged that his team is still seeking an identity as he embarks on his third year at the helm.
“That’s a tough question,” Gase told the Around The NFL Podcast. “Hopefully we’re developing the kind of team that figures out the right way to win the game for that week.
“It’s tough to explain as far as exactly what we’re looking to be because we’ve changed a lot of our personnel and every week is so different. You’re playing all of these different styles of teams and you have to be able to morph into what you need to do to win that game.”
If that sounds eerily similar to Bill Belichick’s opponent-specific approach, it’s no coincidence. Gase’s football philosophy has been influenced by his dynastic AFC East rival.
“The beginning of my career was [Alabama coach] Nick Saban,” Gase explained. “I think Mike Martz had a big impact on me. Then you look at, I think, Josh McDaniels had a big impact on me. And two of those guys are from that tree. That has allowed me to kind of learn from their experiences.”
While the Patriots have succeeded with Belichick and Tom Brady as twin Goliaths, the Dolphins have no such pillars to function as reliable underpinnings for their own structure.
Here’s what else we learned from Gase’s appearance on the Around The NFL Podcast:
1. Gase expressed a level of frustration with the business decisions that ended Miami’s relationships with Suh, Pouncey and Landry.
“The whole process of all of this is not easy,” Gase said. “In this day and age, there’s a different relationship there. I think it’s not so much here’s who’s in charge and there’s this hierarchy there. Players and coaches and front offices, everybody’s kind of in it together. And when somebody leaves it’s tough. I mean it’s tough for everybody.
“When Mike Pouncey gets released, that’s not easy to go through. It’s horrible. That’s somebody that this organization has been with for a long period of time. … All he’s been trying to do is help this organization win. He’s given everything he has to it. And when that time comes and we wend up doing that, that’s a brutal phone call to have to make and have that conversation.”
NEW YORK JETS
Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com on the strategy of the Jets, based on their decision to settle at number 3 with the Colts.
When the Jets were looking to move up from the sixth spot in the draft, they called the Browns about the top spot, before settling on the Colts and the third overall choice.
They did not, however, call their roommates in MetLife Stadium who own the second pick.
Via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY, Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan indicated that the value at three wasn’t different than the value at two.
“We feel very good about what may potentially be there at three for us with the players at all the positions we’ve evaluated,” Maccagnan said. “We feel pretty good about it. We feel it’s in a good spot. We feel a little bit that we can kind of control our own destiny a little bit. We feel pretty good about where we are. We feel it’s a good spot to be in.”
For that to be true, it follows that they’re comfortable with the three top quarterbacks in the draft, and have them stacked on their board in close proximity.
So if Sam Darnold goes in the top two, there are at least two other guys they’d feel comfortable pairing with Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater for the future.
Whether those other two are Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, or Baker Mayfield remains unknown. But coach Todd Bowles said earlier this week there were six or seven choices they were comfortable with. He’s obviously speaking in generalities, otherwise they wouldn’t have given three second-round picks to go from six to three (unless they’re just a disjointed mess).
THIS AND THAT
KAEPERNICK & MANZIEL
After a year off, will Colin Kaepernick be less radioactive and get a contract. Jon Gruden thinks so. Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com:
Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden has an inkling as to why Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed.
“I think there’s a lot of intrigue there,” Gruden said Tuesday at the coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meetings. “His performance on the field wasn’t very good, on tape. I think, Robert Griffin, a rookie of the year, [I’m] surprised he’s out there. Tim Tebow takes a team to the playoffs, there’s some surprise that he never came back. You know, Johnny Manziel, he’s out there.
“Back to Kaepernick, he got beat out by [Blaine] Gabbert to start the  season. I think that says something. [But] I am surprised he’s not in camp with somebody. He probably will be soon.”
Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback when they played in Super Bowl XLVII, last played in the NFL in 2016 and was recovering from three surgeries when Gabbert beat him out. Kaepernick reclaimed the starting gig after getting healthy.
Kaepernick’s 96.2 passer rating in his last six games of that season was the same as Jimmy Garoppolo’s in his six games of the 2017 season; Garoppolo signed a record five-year, $137.5 million contract in February. Gabbert signed with the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday.
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And how is that comeback going for JOHNNY MANZIEL? Andy Fenelon of NFL.com:
– Four years ago, to the day, Johnny Manziel entered the McFerrin Athletic Center on the campus of Texas A&M surrounded by pomp and plenty of circumstance.
With Drake blasting from the speakers, Manziel came out at his pro day dressed in a black jersey, camouflage shorts, shoulder pads and a helmet. It was unprecedented for a pro day, and an overflowing crowd that included high-ranking representatives from 30 NFL teams, as well as President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, were there as witnesses. As was a captive national television audience.
“It was epic,” recalled Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, a former A&M teammate of Manziel’s who was the recipient of several of the quarterback’s completions that day in 2014.
Evans was in attendance for Texas A&M’s pro day on Tuesday, at the same indoor facility, but Manziel entered the workout under very different circumstances. No longer was he the star putting on a show, trying to impress team GMs, coaches and scouts. Instead, he was one of two quarterbacks throwing to receivers, dressed in a black hoodie and shorts like every other player on the field, blending in like a chameleon.
Manziel split reps with Texas A&M-Commerce QB Luis Perez, the 2017 Harlon Hill Division II Player of the Year, and threw approximately 35 passes in a workout supervised by New Orleans Saints senior offensive assistant/wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson.
“I thought he looked better throwing the ball today than he did four years ago,” said a veteran NFC scout who was at Manziel’s pro day in 2014 and his Tuesday workout. “Better velocity, pretty good accuracy.”
“The ball came out quickly,” noted another scout who was also there four years ago and again on Tuesday. “And he looked relaxed.”
These days, Manziel is much more relaxed. He hasn’t played football since suffering a concussion in Week 16 of the 2015 season, and subsequently being released that off-season by the Cleveland Browns, who made him the 22nd overall pick of the 2014 draft.
It’s all been downhill for Manziel since that pro day four years ago, but recently things have been looking up. He recently got married, was diagnosed and is being treated for bipolar disorder, has reconciled with family members, and has participated in two pro days in the last week. He also looks to be in great shape, unlike the lost soul who was showing up regularly on TMZ the last few years.
“I sit back today and have a multitude of regrets in my life,” Manziel told NFL.com following the Aggies’ pro day on Tuesday. “I got lost in a lifestyle, got caught up in the wrong things.
“I look back at it today, and the people that gave me advice, whether that was (businessman) Maverick Carter or LeBron (James), or anybody that I crossed paths with, including other quarterbacks in the NFL, it was in one ear and out the other. I couldn’t genuinely feel it or understand it. And when I sit here at the bottom, especially a few months ago when I was really at the bottom, and I reflect back on my life, I’m now able to hear and understand what those people were trying to tell me. I sit here 25 years old and I have a lot of life experience. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice, and I’m trying to learn from what I did wrong in the past.”
His performance on Tuesday, and last week in the rain at the University of San Diego’s pro day, are small steps toward what he says is the ultimate goal — getting a second chance with a team in the NFL. Teams aren’t exactly knocking down his door, even though he says he’d sign a contract that calls for no guaranteed salary. Last week at USD, only 13 teams bothered to send a scout to check on his progress, and on Tuesday, while 31 teams were represented (only the Bengals failed to send someone), there were no front office executives or head coaches in attendance. With the exception of the Saints, Cowboys and Eagles, no team even sent a position coach.
None of it seems to faze Manziel, who says his focus in College Station was showcasing wide receiver Christian Kirk and Kirk’s former teammates at A&M. In fact, Manziel’s presence was only secured 10 days ago when Kirk was in Los Angeles working out with Manziel’s trainer. The two met, and when Manziel discovered Kirk had no one to throw to him at his pro day, he volunteered. New Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher gave it his blessing, and a script was hastily put together.
According to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, Peyton Manning will not be the face of FOX’s Thursday Night Football.
Peyton Manning will not become the lead game analyst on Fox’s new Thursday night package, sources told The Post on Tuesday. Manning’s decision caps a fruitless two-network pursuit for one of the most sought-after former NFL players.
Manning, 42, has been recruited by all the networks for the past two years since retiring because of his Hall of Fame stature and his established TV persona from his playing career and his countless commercials, but has continued to say no.
In the wake of Tony Romo’s rookie success as CBS’ lead analyst, both ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” and Fox’s “Thursday Night Football” went hard after Manning, feeling he is a bigger name with the potential to match Romo’s success. Fox and Manning TV’s agent, Sandy Montag, both declined comment.
Fox wanted Manning to give its new 11-game Thursday night package a big-game feel after the network paid $3.3 billion for the five-year deal. The network does not have a clear Plan B. Hall of Famer Kurt Warner is expected to be considered, while Fox has had current Cowboy Jason Witten, retired quarterback Carson Palmer and retired offensive lineman Joe Thomas in for auditions.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, whom The Post reported tried out for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” also is a possibility. He impressed Fox with the game he called last year during a bye week. Olsen could continue playing.
Fox also has its own roster of game analysts, beginning with Troy Aikman, the network’s Sunday lead game analyst.
ESPN is still looking to replace Jon Gruden, who left the Monday night booth for a $100 million contract to coach the Raiders. ESPN moved its play-by-play man, Sean McDonough, to college football, while The Post has reported it is promoting Joe Tessitore to Monday night.
ESPN is considering Olsen, Warner, Matt Hasselbeck, Louis Riddick, Randy Moss and others. Brett Favre is considered a long-shot candidate. Riddick is said to be a strong candidate if ESPN opts for a three-man booth.
However, Manning was the only potential difference-maker in the eyes of executives from Fox and ESPN.
Manning first turned down ESPN before further considering Fox. If Manning had gone to Fox, it is unclear who his partner would have been. Since Fox’s lead play-by-play man, Joe Buck, is tied up with a busy fall schedule, the network looked into borrowing NBC’s Mike Tirico, sources said. Manning has a strong relationship with Tirico, but NBC had privately expressed reluctance to let Tirico, the new face of its sports division, work for another network.
Tirico is under a long-term deal with NBC, which called for him to succeed Bob Costas as the host of the Olympics. Tirico did that last month for the first time. It also makes him the eventual successor to Al Michaels on “Sunday Night Football,” but Michaels, 73, has shown no signs of hanging it up anytime soon.
Tirico could end up calling the seven extra games (mostly on Thursday) that will air exclusively on NFL Network and not on Fox.
Earlier Tuesday, Dan Patrick told The Post he is leaving NBC’s “Football Night in America” pregame. Tirico is the leading candidate to be the solo host. This made it even further unlikely NBC would let Tirico do double duty with Fox.
A tweet from Field Yates of ESPN.com with some facts about the teams that are going to dominate the draft. A whole lot of early draft picks will be taking up residence near Lake Erie (or Lake Michigan):
The NFL draft is one month from tonight. As things currently stand:
* Most overall picks: Packers (12)
* Fewest picks: Eagles, Giants, Jets, Lions, Titans (6)
* The Browns & Colts combine to have 10 of the first 67 picks
* The Bills have an NFL-best 6 Top 100 selections
– – –
So long, NFL free agency. That means team needs are much clearer, and we know which teams have gaping holes in their rosters. That’s where the NFL draft comes in.
Among the holes (mostly) filled in free agency: wide receiver in Chicago, cornerback in L.A. (Rams), left tackle in New York (Giants) and quarterback in Minnesota.
So we’re on to Mock Draft 3.0 — click the links for 2.0 and 1.0 — with several changes on the board based on how free agency impacted the first round. Let’s go 1-32. (My new Big Board and position rankings can be found here.)
Two reminders before I get started, same as always:
There are no trades allowed in this projection, and several of these picks are based on who I think is the best player available. In some cases, I have identified a few needs that could be targeted.
1. Cleveland Browns
*Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
No change here from my first two mock drafts. The Browns are zeroing in on a quarterback with the first overall pick, and Allen has crushed the pre-draft process. The addition of Tyrod Taylor allows Allen, who is the most raw of the top quarterback prospects in this class, to sit on the sideline and adjust to the speed of the NFL. Cleveland doesn’t have to play Allen immediately, which really hurt DeShone Kizer in 2017.
2. New York Giants
*Sam Darnold, QB, USC
The Giants are in a good spot here. If they don’t love one of these quarterbacks, they can solicit trade offers to move down and pick the best player available. They have needs at several positions, including pass-rusher (they just dealt Jason Pierre-Paul) and running back (I went with Saquon Barkley here in Mock Draft 2.0). New York, however, also needs its quarterback of the future, and new coach Pat Shurmur was among the Giants contingent that met with Darnold before his pro day workout. The G-Men could stick with Eli Manning in 2018 and move on to Darnold in 2019.
3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis Colts)
*Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The Jets traded up with the Colts to get a quarterback. Now the question is: Which ones will be available? There’s a legitimate chance the Jets have to settle for their third option, but it’s possible they like three quarterbacks in this class. Rosen has rare arm talent and is the most NFL-ready of this group, but his injury history (shoulder in 2016, concussions in 2017) has been a point of discussion among teams.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans)
*Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
I suspect general manager John Dorsey would be thrilled if he got his quarterback at No. 1 and Barkley at No. 4. My top-ranked prospect in this class, Barkley would make the Browns better on day one as an elite back who will help in the passing game. If Dorsey & Co. decide to try to grab a running back later in the draft, this scenario would allow Cleveland to target the top defender on its board. Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and NC State edge rusher Bradley Chubb are both in play here.
5. Denver Broncos
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Count me among the people who believe the Broncos are still in for a quarterback at No. 5, even after signing Case Keenum to a two-year deal. That’s a short-term commitment with only $25 million guaranteed, and Denver can’t pass up a guy it thinks could be the face of its franchise for at least a decade. General manager John Elway was among the people in attendance at Mayfield’s pro day on the first day of free agency. The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner put up huge numbers at Oklahoma, and he has moxie that NFL teams love. If Denver decides against a quarterback, Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson fills a major need.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from New York Jets)
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
So the Colts trade down from No. 3 and still end up with the prospect I’ve given them in my first two mock drafts. Chubb is the best pass-rusher in this class, and Indianapolis badly needs edge rushers for its expected move to a 4-3 defense. This fit is too perfect — and the Colts added three second-round picks (two in 2018, one in 2019) in their trade with the Jets.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
*Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Quenton Nelson might have been in play here, but the Bucs signed center Ryan Jensen in free agency and can move Ali Marpet back to guard. I think this pick has to be a defensive back — the Bucs had the league’s worst passing defense in 2017. Tampa Bay could choose from the best corner or safety on its board, and Ward is the top corner in this class. Former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III has not impressed, and Brent Grimes will be 35 when the season begins.
8. Chicago Bears
*Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
I like what the Bears have done in free agency, adding weapons for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel. Now go get Trubisky some more protection in Nelson, a dominant interior blocker who can slot in Josh Sitton’s spot. Another thing to note: Chicago hired Harry Hiestand, Nelson’s position coach at Notre Dame, this offseason to coach its offensive line.
9. San Francisco 49ers
*Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
San Francisco picked up Richard Sherman before free agency started, but its defensive backfield still isn’t set. The 49ers could take the versatile Fitzpatrick and use him in a hybrid safety role in which he plays some slot corner too. He’s a true playmaker with the size and athleticism to play any position in the secondary. General manager John Lynch showed last year that he isn’t afraid to make draft-day trades, so this is a spot to watch for teams moving up.
10. Oakland Raiders
*Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
This pick has been the same since Mock Draft 1.0 because Smith just makes sense as the new face of Jon Gruden’s defense (with Khalil Mack, of course). Oakland’s linebacker play was abysmal in 2017, and Smith is the type of sideline-to-sideline player that every defensive coordinator covets. Smith can play all three downs, and he could also pitch in and rush the passer.
11. Miami Dolphins
*Derwin James, S, Florida State
12. Buffalo Bills (from Cincinnati Bengals)
*Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
13. Washington Redskins
*Vita Vea, DT, Washington
14. Green Bay Packers
Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas San Antonio
Cornerback is a need for Green Bay, but Davenport would be hard to pass up. He’s the second-best pass-rusher in this class and a 6-foot-6, 264-pound quick-twitch athlete with a high ceiling. The Packers need to get younger at outside linebacker — Clay Matthews will be 32 this summer — and Davenport could be a part-time player while he gets up to speed at the NFL level. Davenport also fits as a defensive end with his hand in the dirt in a 4-3.
15. Arizona Cardinals
*Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Surprised? Don’t be. Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon are short-term solutions for a team that has seen a talent drain since it went to the NFC title game in the 2015 season. There are holes all across the Cardinals’ roster, particularly at wide receiver, as Larry Fitzgerald will be 35 when the season begins. Jackson is one of the most dynamic quarterback talents I’ve ever scouted, but he’s raw. As I wrote in my updated Big Board, if a smart offensive coordinator builds his offense around Jackson’s strengths, the former Heisman Trophy winner could be a star.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
McGlinchey is a plug-and-play right tackle who would be playing on the same line as his college teammate Ronnie Stanley.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
*Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
This is another pick that has stayed the same across my first two mock drafts, and the Chargers haven’t done anything in free agency to address their porous run defense
18. Seattle Seahawks
*Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Seattle is set at one corner with Shaquill Griffin, a steal in the third round of last year’s draft. But after releasing Richard Sherman, the other corner spot is far from settled.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama
20. Detroit Lions
*Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
This pick is all about projection, as Bryan is a freakish talent who didn’t produce to his ability at Florida.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo Bills)
*Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
Miller impressed at the combine, running a 4.91 40 and jumping 10-foot-1 in the broad jump. Did I mention he’s 6-foot-8, 309 pounds?
22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs)
*Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
23. Los Angeles Rams
*Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
The Rams’ defense has undergone several changes this offseason. Robert Quinn, Trumaine Johnson and Alec Ogletree are gone, and Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Sam Shields and Ndamukong Suh are in. Cornerback is no longer Los Angeles’ top need, which is why I’m going with an athletic inside linebacker here to replace Ogletree. Vander Esch is versatile enough to be an every-down player. Trust in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to develop him.
24. Carolina Panthers
*Justin Reid, S, Stanford
Reid is another fast riser after the combine, and he stands out on the Stanford tape.
25. Tennessee Titans
Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College
Landry is the top 3-4 outside linebacker in this class, an elite edge rusher when he’s at his best.
26. Atlanta Falcons
*Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Finally, a receiver comes off the board..
27. New Orleans Saints
*Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
As I noted in Mock Draft 2.0 when I pegged Hurst to New Orleans, Drew Brees needs a No. 1 tight end. Coby Fleener was a free-agent bust, and we thought the Saints might try to bring back Jimmy Graham.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Georgia
Yes, the Steelers took an edge rusher in T.J. Watt in the first round of last year’s draft, but I still think this is a position of need.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
*D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
30. Minnesota Vikings
*James Daniels, C/G, Iowa
Daniels is my top-ranked center, but in this scenario he’d slot in as an immediate starter at guard for the Vikings, who already have Pat Elflein at center.
31. New England Patriots
*Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
My best comp for Goedert after watching him closely in 2017? Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. So this pick would mean the Eagles get a ready-made replacement for Trey Burton (and Brent Celek). Philadelphia showed last season that there are plenty of snaps available for multiple tight ends. Goedert is an adequate blocker who will be a threat as a pass-catcher. This is a great situation for him.