The Daily Briefing Wednesday, May 17, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

The NFL is looking to expand “IR-designated for return.”  Kevin Patra of NFL.com on a report from Judy Bautista on that subject and the return of the 10-minute overtime:

 

NFL owners are set to pass a regulation to give teams more flexibility to teams dealing with injuries.

 

NFL Network’s Judy Battista reported Wednesday that at next week’s Spring League Meeting, owners plan to vote on a proposal allowing a second player to come off injured reserve in a season. The proposal is likely to pass, per Battista.

 

The NFL began allowing teams to bring back one player from IR in 2012. Those players must sit out at least eight weeks. The first few seasons those players needed to be “designated for return” when placed on IR. In 2016, owners adjusted the rule, allowing teams to designate a returning player at the time they bring them back to the roster.

 

Adding an additional return designation should have plenty of support. Adding another returning player benefits team flexibility and pushes off difficult decisions on potentially shutting down injured players. It also provides hope to players injured in the offseason or early in the year that they will still have a chance to come back.

 

While the new return rule should get support from outside owner’s room, the league will also vote to reduce regular-season overtime from 15 to 10 minutes, which has garnered much more criticism.

 

Per Battista, owners are expected to approve the proposal that was previously tabled to condense overtime.

 

Slashing five minutes from the extra period comes with player safety in mind. When the idea was proposed in March, Battista reported the competition committee believed there was a “real disadvantage” for a team playing an entire 15-minute overtime period before having to turn around and play a Thursday night game the following week.

 

The concern for critics of the proposal is that it will lead to more ties. Per NFL Research, there have been 83 regular season overtime games in the last five season (since the league went away from sudden death), with 22 of them (26.5 percent) lasting 10-plus minutes.

 

The concerns led to the proposal being tabled. It appears that perhaps some of those anxieties have been calmed over the past several weeks.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS is all in for Wisconsin.  Jason Wilde at ESPN.com:

 

The Packers quarterback was being honored with the state’s “athlete of the year” award, and while Rodgers was perfectly fine with Pro Bowl tackle David Bakhtiari commandeering the conversation as a comedic mock protest for not winning the award himself, there was one thing he wanted to say to everyone before leaving the stage.

 

“The thing I love about Wisconsin is the people. We have such incredible people here,” Rodgers told the crowd. “It’s fun to recognize the incredible athletes and coaches and sponsors and people we have here tonight. But we also have incredible fans. And I know every team says that, but our Packers fans stuck with us when we were 4-6. … I’m talking about those who believed when we said we were going to run the table that we could actually do that — and you stuck with us and believed we could do that. And we appreciate that.”

 

Set to begin his 13th season with the Packers, Rodgers believes he understands Wisconsin sports fans because he’s become one of them. He embraced the Wisconsin men’s basketball team several years ago — he was there at Madison Square Garden in March when UW’s Zac Showalter turned to Rodgers and gave him his signature belt celebration after hitting a game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation against Florida — and he’s a semi-regular at Milwaukee Bucks games, having taken several teammates to one of the team’s recent playoff games. (Rodgers was actually wearing a Bucks cap while in the stands for UW’s loss to the Gators.)

 

Rodgers also was seen at more than a few Milwaukee Brewers games earlier in his career — until his friendship with Brewers slugger Ryan Braun dissolved after Braun admitted he lied about his PED use — and backstage at last week’s awards ceremony, he chatted with everyone from college basketball coaches (Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski, UW-Milwaukee’s LaVall Jordan and UW’s Greg Gard) to Wisconsin legends (athletic director and former football coach Barry Alvarez) to the high school athletes being honored.

 

But Rodgers’ connection to the state transcends sports, he says. For him, Wisconsin has truly become “home.” While he does spend part of his offseason in Southern California, he’s in Wisconsin for much more of the calendar.

 

“I just love living here. So you just get into it,” Rodgers said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people here in all the different sports. It’s fun. It’s fun to get involved where you live. And this is where I live. I’m a registered voter here. I have my Wisconsin driver’s license.”

 

And, he says, this is where he became, well, him.

 

“[Besides dairy], I’ve embraced just about everything else Wisconsin — especially when it comes to sports, but also the people and the interactions with our fans.”

 

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on spending more time in Wisconsin

Born and raised in Chico, California, and having stayed close to home for junior college (Butte College, in Oroville, California) and for two seasons at California-Berkeley, Rodgers seemed destined to stay in the Bay Area and play for the San Francisco 49ers. Instead, he fell to the Packers in the 2005 draft, spent three seasons as future Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre’s understudy, then took over as the starter after the Packers’ acrimonious split with Favre during the summer of 2008.

 

That transition was tough on him — Packers fans booed him at the Family Night scrimmage, which is normally a feel-good practice-turned-pep rally — and the Packers missed the playoffs that year. But as he left the field after a victory over the winless Detroit Lions in the regular-season finale — closing out a 6-10 season — he got a standing ovation.

 

“For me, 2008 was really impactful,” Rodgers said. “That’s when I really felt the fans embraced me. I’d always enjoyed living here. You know, I was only in college for five semesters [two at Butte, three at Cal]. So this was really my first time really out on my own, away from my home state. I grew up here, and I’ve grown up here. I’ve been here over 12 years and I love it out here.”

 

And other than removing dairy products from his diet, Rodgers believes he’s become a true Wisconsinite.

 

“I wanted to really ingrain myself in the culture and the people. And I apologize about having an allergy to dairy products that gives me some irritable bowels,” he said with a laugh. “But other than that, I mean, I’ve embraced just about everything else Wisconsin — especially when it comes to sports, but also the people and the interactions with our fans.

 

“There’s a different type of connection there. I really feel like I embrace that. I love it.”

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

You can compete your way to a prime parking spot at Eagles camp.  Dan Hanzus at NFL.com:

 

Competition is at the very heart of football, and the Eagles’ coaching staff is looking to leverage that basic truth into extra juice during their offseason program.

 

A series of athletic competitions, including tug-of-war, agility tests and weight-lifting battles, have been introduced during the Eagles’ offseason program this year. The winners get a series of prizes, including T-shirts, premium parking spots (this is underrated) and music selection privileges in the weight room. You have to go back-to-back as a competition winner to earn that last one, which makes sense considering how powerful being the DJ for all your friends can make a man.

 

Each win is added to a point total. The player with the most points accumulated during the spring is awarded a “WWE-style championship belt,” according to the Eagles’ official site. Men have killed for lesser possessions.

 

“The guys are really buying into it and getting after it. There is a great desire to compete, and when there is a prize at the end, the guys really want to win,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “… They are competing like crazy for a T-shirt and a better parking spot, things we take for granted. But the players want to win and they love it.”

 

The belt will be handed out in about a month. The recipient should be allowed to wear the strap on the practice field and use it as a foreign object (to borrow a Gorilla Monsoon-ism) when the inevitable training camp scuffles break out.

 

And now RB LaGARRETTE BLOUNT will have a chance to win prizes.  The veteran RB is coming to Philadelphia:

 

The Philadelphia Eagles landed the NFL’s rushing touchdown leader from 2016.

 

The Eagles announced Wednesday that they have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with Blount. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the deal is worth a max of $2.8 million.

 

Blount becomes the battering ram in an Eagles backfield full of jitterbugs. Coming off an 18-touchdown season, the 30-year-old veteran immediately enters as the goal-line, short-yardage back Philly has missed the past few seasons.

 

The Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants both had contract offers out to Blount, per Rapoport, before the Eagles stepped up to secure the running back.

 

The move could signal the end for Ryan Mathews in Philly, who can save $4 million by clipping the oft-injured running back.

 

Blount’s joins a Philly backfield that boasts all-time great scat back Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and fourth-round rookie Donnel Pumphrey along with Mathews. Blount ran for 1,161 yards on 299 carries last season and can carry a load if needed while the smaller backs handle the pass-catching duties.

 

Last week, the New England Patriots saddled Blount with a little-used tender. The move allowed the Patriots to keep the running back’s departure as part of their compensation formula, despite the signing happening after May 9. Thus, Blount’s deal will work against Philly’s comp-pick formula.

 

As part of the Pats’ tender, Blount was set to earn a base salary of $1.1 million, with a max value of $2.1 million if he stayed in New England. Eagles GM Howie Roseman sweated that deal to get Blount to Philly as its big back.

 

Adding Blount continues Roseman’s offseason makeover of infusing veteran players to the roster on short-term deals. This offseason, the Eagles added receiver Alshon Jeffery on a one-year deal, Torrey Smith to a cuttable contract, and traded for defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan (on the final year of his contract).

 

 

WASHINGTON

Tough talk from Redskins DC Greg Manusky.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

 

Greg Manusky plans on bringing more fire to the Washington Redskins defense after taking over for deposed coordinator Joe Barry.

 

The former 49ers, Chargers and Colts defensive coordinator, Manusky wants his players to bring more attitude this season.

 

“We might not win a game, but we’ll sure beat the crap out of a lot of people!” Manusky said laughing, via the Washington Post.

 

Last season under Joe Barry, the Redskins own a milquetoast defense that ranked 28th in total yards per game allowed, 25th in pass defense and 24th against the run.

 

While Manusky won’t have his defense fully installed until later this month, it’s already clear to veterans players looking at the plan on paper that the new DC plans to get after the quarterback, adding a lot of pressure packages.

 

“You look at the install sheets for when we’re installing our defense, and you see a lot of lines going forward,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “That’s a cool [thing] for a guy that plays up front because it’s going to allow us to hopefully play in the backfield a little bit.”

 

Washington added pieces to the defense this offseason, including linebacker Zach Brown, defensive linemen Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee, and safety D.J. Swearinger in free agency. They then had defensive tackle Jonathan Allen fall to them in the first round of the NFL Draft, snagged linebacker Ryan Anderson in the second round, and got corner Fabian Moreau in the third round (who would have gone much earlier if not for a Pro Day injury).

 

“The players that are in that room that we have, we have to win with ’em,” Manusky said. “And we will win with ’em.”

 

And tough criticism from Bill Barnwell at ESPN.com as he reviews Washington’s offseason to date:

 

Washington

 

What went right

 

Washington massively upgraded its defensive front. Despite firing general manager Scot McCloughan (more on that in a minute), Washington basically conducted much of its offseason as if McCloughan were still in charge. The team generally avoided big splashes in free agency and built a deeper, stronger defensive line. It was 25th in rush defense DVOA and 27th in yards per carry allowed, so you can understand its need for help up front.

 

Free agency brought Terrell McClain over from the Cowboys, but more notably, the quietly effective Stacy McGee left the Raiders to head East and play nose tackle. While McGee has struggled to stay healthy as a pro, he has been an impact run-defender and beat the far more expensive Dan Williams for a job in Oakland last year.

 

Washington followed those moves by happily taking Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen when he fell to the 17th pick of the first round. Teams leaked concerns about Allen’s shoulders, and there are organizations around the league that believe Alabama products are beat up from the grind of playing under coach Nick Saban, but nobody can argue with Allen’s ability or production on the field. This isn’t a risk-free proposition — Washington could be in serious trouble if Allen and McGee struggle to stay on the field — but the upside is a suddenly effective defensive line imported overnight.

 

They bought low on a couple of high-upside free agents. For years, owner Daniel Snyder set and reset the top end of the market on free agents, paying premiums to sign disappointments such as Adam Archuleta and Albert Haynesworth. Washington’s cap was often bloated, and the team was stuck paying dead money to erase mistakes from years past.

 

Besides signing Josh Norman last year, Washington mostly avoided those pitfalls under McCloughan. After firing its general manager, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see Washington return to its former largesse. Instead, the team pieced together a coherent plan and gave short-term deals to players with limited but excellent track records. The key additions were Terrelle Pryor and Zach Brown, each of whom played at a Pro Bowl level in relatively new positions last year. Pryor excelled as a wide receiver in Cleveland. Brown was signed off the scrap heap by the Bills after struggling in Tennessee, he moved to inside linebacker, and suddenly he looked like a star. Washington waited out their respective markets and signed both to one-year deals. If Brown and Pryor can reproduce their 2016 form in the NFC East, they’ll be bargains.

 

What went wrong

 

They fired McCloughan. An embarrassing power struggle played out in the media and led McCloughan to leave town. McCloughan’s battle with alcoholism was a matter of public record heading into his time with Washington, and it certainly appears that the organization used his struggle as a pretense to fire him with cause at the first possible opportunity.

 

Ignore the fact that McCloughan is regarded as an excellent talent evaluator around the league, got rave reviews from players and went 17-14-1 with a team that had gone 7-25 the two seasons before his arrival. Imagine you’re a hotshot personnel executive in line for general manager interviews. Why would you want to go work for a team that ran a successful executive out of town and dragged his name through the mud? How would a job with that organization ever be appealing to you, unless you had no other way to become a general manager? It’s not a surprise that Washington still hasn’t hired a GM and expects to restructure its organization from within.

 

They punted the Kirk Cousins situation. McCloughan wasn’t able to sign Cousins to a long-term deal last offseason, and though that seemed like a prudent move, given Cousins’ relative lack of professional success before 2015, Cousins doubled down with another impressive season in 2016. It’s clear he’s worth big money now, but feeling insulted by Washington’s reticence to offer him such a deal last offseason, he seems hesitant to agree to a long-term extension.

 

After franchising Cousins twice, Washington is 12 months from what could be a franchise-altering offseason. It will be cost-prohibitive to franchise Cousins a third time, and Washington will have to pay a staggering sum to keep him from hitting the free-agent market, where teams such as the 49ers and Browns will be willing to hit new heights to get a franchise quarterback without having to give up multiple draft picks or develop a quarterback. Cousins’ leverage — and the chances that Washington loses its starting quarterback while getting no more than a compensatory third-round pick in return — grows with each passing day. By this time next year, Washington might have lost the two most important pieces of its organization.

 

What’s next?

 

Signing Cousins. It’s going to take an exorbitant, Joe Flacco-esque contract, but Washington doesn’t have much of a choice.

 

Grade: C

 

You can read his review of the other three teams in the NFC East here.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

RB DEVONTA FREEMAN wants to be more disruptive, on the field.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman wants to establish himself as less of a defender-friendly running back in 2017.

 

“Little things like breaking arm tackles,” Freeman told reporters Tuesday when talking about what he needs to improve on. “Running through — I feel like I could get better helping our offensive linemen out. They bust their butts. They don’t get to rotate. The only time they get a break is if we score a touchdown and the defense goes on the field. But if we have an 18-play drive, they’re on the field the whole game. Helping those guys out by giving them a blow by breaking a big tackle — last year I left some runs out there. Open field, continue to make guys miss. Punishing guys.

 

“I just want to be real disrespectful this year when it comes to football.”

 

While it will be difficult to quantify Freeman’s progress throughout the offseason given the relatively hands-off nature of the preseason and training camp, some of Freeman’s previous work should indicate that he’s already well on his way.

 

It’s nice of the running back to stick up for his offensive line, though there are also plenty of examples of Freeman tossing defenders in 2016. Two of our favorites can be found here and here.

 

Freeman was one of the NFL’s most prolific tackle-breakers in 2015 per Pro Football Focus — part of the reason he’s been able to fend off Tevin Coleman and maintain a slight 0.4 yards per carry advantage over the Falcons’ No. 2 back. Should he be able to expand on those capabilities somehow, Atlanta may be looking at more of a featured role for Freeman in 2017.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

QB CARSON PALMER figures he only has so many pitches left in his right arm and he doesn’t want to waste them.  Kent Somers in the Arizona Republic:

 

It’s not clear whose idea it was for Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer not to throw many passes this spring.

 

Palmer credited coach Bruce Arians for devising a plan designed to keep Palmer’s right arm strong throughout the upcoming season.

 

Arians said all he did was sign off on a plan that Palmer developed.

 

Either way, Palmer stood and watched four other quarterbacks take all the work Tuesday, the first of 10 “organized team activity” practices scheduled.

 

“We talked quite a bit about it,” Palmer said, “and as you know, he’s pretty persuasive, and came with a plan. I’m sticking with the plan, which is to hold off for now.”

 

Palmer threw less in March and April than he has in the past, and he won’t participate in the first two weeks of offseason practices. The plan is for him to throw in the last six practices, including the last week of OTAs and a three-day mandatory minicamp (June 6-8).

 

“This was kind of his idea this time,” Arians said. “Kind of asked him, ‘When are you going to work?’ He said, ‘I have a plan.’

 

“I said, ‘Perfect.’ “

 

The genesis of the plan actually came about midway through last season. Around the off week in the middle of the season, Arians suggested to Palmer that he start skipping Wednesday practices and take limited snaps on Thursdays.

 

It wasn’t an easy sell. Palmer loves the preparation required to play: watching video, hours of meetings and practices.

 

But last year statistics suggested Palmer’s arm strength wasn’t what it had been. Early in the season, several of his deep throws were short, and after eight games, he had just 10 touchdown passes and six passes intercepted. The Cardinals’ decline in offensive production wasn’t all Palmer’s fault, but coaches thought his arm didn’t look as live as usual.

 

MORE: NFL’s highest paid quarterbacks, where is Carson Palmer?

 

Regular days off were prescribed, and over the last half of the season, Palmer had 16 touchdowns and eight passes intercepted.

 

Palmer, 37, quickly noticed that the rest did wonders for his arm, so he’s no longer resistant to a throwing regimen that requires skipping workouts.

 

“I’m really doing everything except for throwing a football,” he said, “working out, lifting, foot work. All the muscles around the shoulder you can work without throwing a football. I’m just cutting back on all the throws.”

 

Wisdom doesn’t always accompany age, but it does for Palmer in this case.

 

“I don’t think I’ve done a good job the last eight or nine years of my career,” Palmer said. “I’ve treated the last eight or nine years like I was 24, 25, 26, like the first eight or nine years of my career.

 

“You’ve got to adapt. It’s difficult for me to do. It’s just not natural to not throw and not do the things you’ve been doing and enjoy doing. All the work you put in, you feel like you’re missing out on stuff because you don’t get to throw. But we’re going to stick with the plan.”

 

During the season, skipping Wednesday and going through a light day on Thursday meant throwing between 200 and 300 fewer passes a week, Palmer said. In the offseason, Palmer usually threw a lot in March and April.

 

Not this year.

 

May won’t be a heavy work month, either. Palmer will tune up during the six practices, most of them in June, and then be ready for training camp in late July.

 

With an extra week of training camp due to the Hall of Fame game, he’s likely to skip several days of practices then, too.

 

“I think it will make a big difference,” Palmer said. “Like (Arians) said, ‘How many curls do you have to throw in March?’

– – –

LB DEONE BUCHANAN is going to have some late surgery and is likely to miss the start of the regular season.  Josh Weinfuss at ESPN.com:

 

Cardinals linebacker Deone Bucannon will be out until September after having surgery to repair a lingering ankle injury, coach Bruce Arians said after Tuesday’s first OTA.

 

Bucannon initially suffered an ankle injury in November and re-injured it in Week 14 in a loss at Miami. He then went on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Arians said in December that the Cardinals were contemplating surgery as a precautionary procedure that would tighten the ligaments.

 

Arians is hopeful Bucannon could return by September. If the rehab goes “perfect,” Arians said the fourth-year linebacker could be back by Week 1 in Detroit.

 

“There’s always that chance that it won’t,” Arians said.

 

With Bucannon out, first-round pick Haason Reddick will work with the first team, taking over Bucannon’s reps.

 

“He’s starting,” Arians said.

– – –

And this on an injury that WR JOHN BROWN played through from Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Cardinals receiver John Brown struggled through a disappointing season last year, having career lows in every statistical category. A significant health issue may have been the reason.

 

Brown told ESPN today that a cyst was found on his spine and that when it was drained after the season he felt better instantly.

 

“I’m feeling like myself,” Brown said. “I’m feeling good. I’m ready to help the team again.”

 

Brown said lifting weights and even eating had been difficult, and it was wearing on him mentally.

 

“It was painful,” Brown said. “Not only I couldn’t help the team, I wasn’t the person that my family knew I can be.”

 

Now, the Cardinals say Brown looks great in offseason workouts. Getting him back up to speed could be an important part of the Cardinals getting back to the playoffs.

 

 

SEATTLE

Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com is another media member urging the Seahawks to ink COLIN KAEPERNICK:

 

For all intents and purposes, the Seattle Seahawks have a litany of factors that make the franchise a suitable free-agent fit for Colin Kaepernick. A strong veteran locker room anchored by a culture of free-thinkers. A front office willing to embrace talent in the face of unpopularity. And an offense styled toward quarterbacks with mobility and a penchant for improvisation.

 

But if the Seahawks sign Kaepernick, there is one overriding factor that sets them apart: Multi-billionaire owner Paul Allen – who allows head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to shape the football team as they wish. For many other NFL teams, such autonomy between ownership and management doesn’t exist. But in the case of a player who evokes strong debate in the NFL’s collective fan base, a sovereign football operation might be what ultimately gets Kaepernick onto a roster.

 

Perhaps as much as any NFL team on the map, the Seahawks’ coaching staff and front office has the freedom to make roster decisions without getting ownership sign-off. Could Kaepernick be one of the rare special circumstances? Yes. But if Allen’s history is any indication, he’ll leave the decision in the hands of his coach and general manager. That’s what Allen has done during the entirety of Carroll and Schneider’s tenure together – with the owner following his self-professed belief in hiring smart leaders and letting them do their jobs.

 

That’s not to say other NFL front offices don’t have the juice to sign Kaepernick on their own. At least a handful would. The Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals have owners who spearhead their personnel departments, streamlining decisions to a fairly simplistic level. In other franchises, a significant level of power has been granted from above. The New England Patriots are one, with owner Robert Kraft giving Bill Belichick the final say over all roster moves. The Denver Broncos are another, with owner Pat Bowlen’s health struggles essentially giving general manager John Elway authority over the entire organization.

 

While Carroll and Schneider don’t have that kind of juice on the business end, they have historically added talent with the total authority granted to them by Allen. It’s most apparent around draft time, when the Seahawks are often seen as one of the “port in the storm” franchises for players with concerning character flags. Perhaps none more obvious than defensive end Frank Clark, who was dismissed from the University of Michigan on the heels of an ugly police report stemming from a domestic violence allegation. Clark was ultimately selected by the Seahawks in the second round of 2015 draft, leaving Schneider to answer to some controversy that followed the selection.

 

Clark has been the most widely debated red-flag pick for Seattle but he wasn’t the first or last. Indeed, the team’s first pick in this past draft – defensive lineman Malik McDowell – was a first-round talent who fell to Seattle in the second largely because of questions about his effort and locker room demeanor. Several teams had serious concerns about how coachable McDowell would be in the NFL. But Seattle has made a living taking risks on players who others shy away from.

 

Not that Kaepernick falls into the traditional “red flag” category. His only real transgressions – or “baggage” – in the eyes of NFL teams relate to some mixture of health, ability, money or social advocacy pursuits. For whatever reason teams have chosen from that set, Kaepernick has been unemployable to this point. He’s in need of a team that fit the right set of factors to bring him aboard. Specifically, Kaepernick requires a team to surface with not only a deficiency somewhere on the quarterback depth chart, but also a set of power brokers who weren’t worried about the noise or media attention bound to initially surround him. A bonus in that equation might be a locker room with leaders who would embrace him from the start.

 

Enter Seattle, which seems to be a solid fit in three of the most important respects.

 

First, there is no pressure for Kaepernick to come in and be a starter. Russell Wilson is the unquestioned franchise quarterback, allowing Kaepernick to come in and focus on regaining the form that made him one of the NFL’s most exciting young players from 2012-2013. Wherever he goes, Kaepernick has a significant amount of that work ahead of him – both physically and mentally.

 

Second, from an offensive fit, Kaepernick’s game dovetails with a fair amount of what the Seahawks do with Wilson. That means there wouldn’t be a need for any remastering in terms of what he does. The biggest concern would be improving his accuracy and mechanics inside an offense that his skills are already suited for. It’s pretty much the same story for every backup quarterback in the NFL. And as much as Trevone Boykin has been an intriguing project, his experience pales in comparison to Kaepernick (not to mention Boykin’s off-field behavior, which has resulted in a pair of arrests this offseason).

 

Third, even with his social advocacy being a significant part of his life, Kaepernick will blend right in with a locker room that has a never-ending string of strong voices and opinions that stretch beyond the football field. In the measure of public profile, he will have to get in line in Seattle. Guys like Michael Bennett (who called Kaepernick a good fit for his team on Tuesday), Richard Sherman and others have all been there and done that. And if the worry is about additional questions from the media, Carroll chews through those faster than his favorite pack of Bubble Yum. A couple Kaepernick questions and some initial griping from a portion of the fan base isn’t going disassemble the franchise.

 

Those are three solid pillars to start with, making Seattle a sensible option. But again, it’s Allen’s position at the top of the organization that makes the Seahawks a more likely destination than most. While Kaepernick likely has enough talent to open doors elsewhere, the overriding factor of ownership approval hangs over most destinations. And with the collective of NFL owners still unsure of what caused some of the TV ratings schisms last season, there’s little doubt that the public relations aspects of Kaepernick are going to weigh heavy in many locales.

 

That could still be the case in Seattle, too – even with the line of credit that Carroll and Schneider have earned from ownership and the fan base. But it’s worth noting that the Seahawks have made a lot of headway going against the grain in recent years. Indeed, they won a Super Bowl largely because of it. It’s also why owner Paul Allen has continued to grant Pete Carroll and John Schneider such roster autonomy.

 

And if they see Colin Kaepernick as a reasonable use of it, his search for a job will end in Seattle.

 

AFC WEST

 

OAKLAND

In QB DEREK CARR’s master scheme, he would have a lucrative contract extension by now, but according to Michael Silver at NFL.com, not all is going according to plan.

 

Despite a strong desire by Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr to hammer out a lucrative contract extension before the start of training camp, there has been no significant communication between his agent and the Oakland Raiders within the last several weeks, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

 

Carr, heading into the final year of a rookie contract that will pay him $977,519 in 2017, has been waiting for the Raiders to initiate serious discussions on a new deal since the completion of last month’s draft. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, through a team spokesman, declined to comment, citing an unwillingness to discuss ongoing negotiations. Carr’s agent, Tim Younger, also had no comment about the negotiations, other than to state that “there is nothing new to report.”

 

However, two sources said Carr, given his previously stated desire to be a “Raider for life,” has grown frustrated with the slow pace of discussions and is extremely eager to get the deal done before the start of training camp.

 

During the annual league meeting in March, McKenzie told CSN Bay Area that “serious talks” on a new deal for Carr would begin after the draft.

 

The two sides previously discussed parameters on a new deal, which could vault Carr to the top of the quarterback market, ahead of the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck ($24,594,000 annual average). Carr has elected to be patient over the past several months, allowing the Raiders to work through various other issues, including free agency, owner Mark Davis’ quest to move to Las Vegas (approved at the league meeting in March), the signing of former Seattle Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch, and the draft.

 

However, two-and-a-half weeks since the draft’s completion, the Raiders have yet to reach out to Carr or his agent — and the quarterback’s patience, sources say, is wearing thin.

 

The Raiders are also working on an extension for guard Gabe Jackson, and might want to get that done before turning to Carr’s contract. However, the 26-year-old Carr, a second-round draft pick in 2014, believes he should be a priority, especially given his highly successful 2016 season (3,937 yards, 63.3 completion percentage, 28 touchdowns, six interceptions). Carr’s value to the team was underscored after he suffered a broken right leg in the Raiders’ second-to-last regular season game and the offense struggled in his absence, managing just 161 passing yards in a 27-14 playoff defeat to the Houston Texans. It was Oakland’s first postseason appearance since the 2002 season.

 

The Raiders’ impending move from Oakland to Las Vegas, which could occur as early as 2018 or as late as 2020, adds a further wrinkle to the negotiations, according to one of the sources. Given that there is no state tax in Nevada — as opposed to a relatively high state tax rate in California — Carr hopes to push a significant portion of the guaranteed money he’d receive into the latter portion of the contract.

 

The Raiders are set to report to training camp in Napa, Calif. in late July. From Carr’s perspective, that gives the two sides a month and a half to get the deal done — and increases the urgency to resume discussions.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Thomas George at SBNation.com on the advice given by Hall of Famer Bruce Smith to first overall pick DE MYLES GARRETT:

 

NFL teams in recent camps — with exhaustive scouting and drafting complete — gained a first hands-on, up-close look at their rookies. Those initial moments can generate utter ecstasy or grave anxiety.

 

NFL coaches past and current will tell you there is nothing more vexing that plopping a rookie in their system for the first time and walking off the field worrying, “What in the heck have we done? This guy can’t play!”

 

It happens. It is a dreadful feeling.

 

New York Jets coaches told me in 2008 after the Jets used their first-round pick, No. 6 overall, to select defensive end Vernon Gholston that they knew there were issues and buyer’s remorse after his first handful of practices. Gholston lasted three inconsistent seasons with the Jets. Philadelphia Eagles coaches said the same about defensive end/linebacker Mike Mamula, who in 1995 was selected in the first round, No. 7 overall, and lasted five bumpy Eagles seasons.

 

It happens. Teams scout and select and surmise one thing and quickly upon arrival in practices, in the classroom, and in the locker room fret that they have something else.

 

Now what?

 

***

 

Chicago Bears head coach John Fox said that was not the case with the practice debut of rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Fox said Trubisky “had a great camp.” Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer offered on rookie running back Dalvin Cook: “He showed acceleration, good feet, good vision, a lot of the same things we saw on tape.”

 

The draft’s No. 1 pick, defensive end Myles Garrett, strolled into the Cleveland Browns’ den and turned heads and raised eyebrows when he said that Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith told Garrett he was slow off the ball.

 

What?

 

Not the type of stuff you want to hear about the top pick. Fortunately for the Browns, head coach Hue Jackson did not label Garrett a bust after initial workouts.

 

“He’s athletic, fast, big, fun,” Jackson said. “He has to earn the right to be what we think he can be. He’s got to put his head down and work.”

 

Bruce Smith heard the furor over his analysis.

 

Smith delivered a more comprehensive examination in a Tuesday morning phone interview.

 

He said Garrett’s mother, Audrey, is from the Hampton Roads area near Smith’s home. He said she reached out to him via the NFLPA to counsel her son.

 

So, Smith traveled to the Garrett home in Arlington, Texas, on draft day.

 

“I met a quality young man,” Smith said. “He had a thirst for knowledge. He was like a sponge. We studied film for about an hour and a half. I could see that he is ready to play in the National Football League from a simple playing perspective. The conditioning, nutrition, proper study habits, those things must come. But nobody, I mean nobody, comes into the league being a polished pro. It takes a year or two and sometimes longer. But the ones that develop faster make a quicker impact and more meaningful contribution to the team and its success.

 

“To that end, where I tried to give him meaningful advice, I said he was slow off the ball at times, and what I meant by that term is you have to come off that edge in simultaneous movement with the ball. The word slow is not as important as saying he is a little late, a little hesitant at times at the snap. I encouraged him to use that advantage where he knows tendencies, he knows formations and he has the ability to get a quicker jump, especially playing in his own stadium when the crowd noise makes it difficult for the offense to hear signals. A fraction of a second can make a difference in getting a quality hit on the quarterback. And we know that maybe the most valuable play for a defense is the sack/fumble.”

 

Smith said Garrett “has a bright future.”

 

And he thinks his pairing with Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Jackson, one of Smith’s former NFL coaches, places Garrett in a good place.

 

Smith said he gave Garrett more important advice than seeking an increased burst off the edge.

 

***

 

In 1985, Smith was the draft’s No. 1 overall pick. The Buffalo Bills in the season prior were 2-14. The Browns last season were 1-15.

 

“He is going into a similar situation, the first player picked, a team statistically the worst in the league,” Smith said. “Big shoes to fill. He needs to hit the ground running but not ignore the process. There are going to be frustrations. There are going to be times he needs to talk to someone with experience who can help in his ability to grow. That type of maturity must take place each and every day and in it he must become more confident each and every day. I understand he will be spending most of his time in Cleveland this offseason. That is smart. Get acclimated to the job.”

 

When Garrett’s name was called on draft night, Smith was in the room and saw the joy and relief of the entire Garrett family. It reminded him of 1985, that wondrous feeling of a dream fulfilled with realization that it is only a beginning.

 

“These young players have access to so much, and that’s great,” Smith said. “When I came out, football was not necessarily a year-round job. Look at the weight rooms today, the nutrition programs, the tablets and technology they use now. We had projectors. But these young men still have to work. I know the safety of the game is important, but putting on pads and hitting is a necessary evil and if you don’t, the quality of the game, the execution and fundamentals are compromised.

 

“The NFL should use former players and Hall of Famers more. It is our duty to help these young men. There are invaluable lessons to be taught. I wish I had a Deacon Jones in my first or second year in the league. I hope the time spent with Myles will help him become an impact player faster in the league.”

 

Slow motion has its place in the NFL learning curve.

 

But the Browns urgently need rapid contributions from Garrett that endure.

– – –

The Browns seem to have made a reasonable veteran signing with CB JASON McCOURTY.  Marc Sessler at NFL.com:

 

The Cleveland Browns need help in the secondary. On Tuesday, they found it.

 

Free-agent cornerback Jason McCourty told NFL Network’s Courtney Fallon he’s signing a two-year, $6 million with the team. The deal includes $2 million guaranteed, the defensive back said.

 

The former Titans starter had dinner with Browns coaches and team brass Monday night, paving the way for a signing.

 

McCourty was tossed into the free-agent pool in April after the Titans released him following eight seasons with the team. He started 90 games in Tennessee and piled up 13 interceptions. A sixth-round selection out of Rutgers in the 2009 NFL Draft, the 29-year-old veteran was a three-time team captain with the Titans.

 

In Cleveland, McCourty lands as an instant starter alongside Pro Bowl cover man Joe Haden. The Browns also have Jamar Taylor and Briean Boddy-Calhoun at the position, but McCourty adds something else: proven experience in coordinator Gregg Williams’ scheme after the duo worked together in 2013.

 

Cleveland was victimized by opponents last season, finishing the year as the 21st-ranked defense in the NFL.

 

After fourth-round cornerback Howard Wilson suffered a fractured kneecap at rookie minicamp, the need for help was real at the position. McCourty fits the bill.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Giselle Bunchen tries to praise her husband, but the result will be to get the Patriots in hot water with the League once again.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Officially, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has never had a concussion. Unofficially, it appears that he has.

 

Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen, appeared on CBS This Morning and had this to say to Charlie Rose regarding whether she wants her husband to retire from football.

 

“I just have to say, as a wife, I’m a little bit — as you know, it’s not the most — let’s say [it’s] an aggressive sport. Football, like he had a concussion last year,” she said. “I mean, he has concussions, pretty much, I mean, we don’t talk about [it] but he does have concussions. I don’t think it’s a healthy thing for your body to go through like — you know, to that kind of aggression all the time. That cannot be healthy for you, right? I mean I plan on having him be healthy and do a lot of fun things when we’re like 100, I hope.

 

If he had a concussion last year, he apparently hid it from the teams and any/all doctors and/or athletic trainers responsible for spotting concussions and keeping concussed players out of action until they have recovered. While the knee-jerk reaction will be to claim that the Patriots lied on the injury report, the truth very well may be that the team didn’t know and the doctors didn’t know and the athletic trainers didn’t know — and that Brady successfully hid the symptoms to allow himself to continue to play.

 

The Patriots have not immediately responded to a request for comment. If they ever do comment, they’ll likely say they have no knowledge of any concussion that Brady ever suffered. The real question will be whether Brady has had concussions and what he has done to hide them, or whether his wife is simply misinformed or making bad assumptions.

 

Either way, the issue presents a complication for Brady that he’ll need to fully and completely address, sooner than later.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

AARON HERNANDEZ

Jay Busbee at Shutdown Corner:

 

Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, fiancée of the late Aaron Hernandez, used the second day of her two-day appearance on Dr. Phil’s syndicated daytime talk show to criticize rumors that Hernandez was gay.

 

Hernandez, a former New England Patriots tight end convicted of the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, committed suicide in prison in the early hours of April 19. Prison officials indicated that Hernandez had left behind three notes. According to one report, one of the notes was meant for Kyle Kennedy, a fellow inmate at Sousa Baranowski Prison in Shirley, Massachusetts, whom Hernandez allegedly called his “brother.” Hernandez had written to Kennedy’s family and allegedly said that a $50,000 watch Hernandez had bought in Vegas was intended for Kennedy.

 

Jenkins-Hernandez dismissed much of that information. The three suicide letters, she said, were addressed to her, to their daughter, and to Hernandez’s defense team, not to Kennedy.

 

“There’s nothing for Kyle Kennedy,” she said. “It’s nonexistent.”

 

Furthermore, Jenkins-Hernandez said, Kennedy had no place in Hernandez’s life of which she was aware. “I don’t know who this Kyle Kennedy is. I’ve never heard of him, honestly. Aaron has never mentioned him,” she said. “And Aaron liked to be in a single cell, from my knowledge.”

 

Jenkins-Hernandez also said Kennedy had no claim on the watch, calling his request “a crock of bull.”

 

Asked if she knew or believed Hernandez was gay, Jenkins-Hernandez was firm in her belief. “I had no indication or any feeling that he was such,” she said. “He was very much a man to me. I don’t know where this came from. It’s embarrassing, in a sense. It’s hurtful, regardless if it’s true or not. It’s just not something that I saw. It’s not something that I believe. It’s just not him.”

 

There’s also a rift between Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez and the rest of Hernandez’s family. “I don’t talk to them. I think the last time we had an encounter was the funeral,” she said. “We don’t see eye-to-eye.”

 

Hernandez’s murder conviction was vacated in the wake of his death, but numerous court actions remain to be litigated.

 

 

 

2017 DRAFT

Former Packers contract negotiator Andrew Brandt, writing at TheMMQB.com, explores the new world of rookie contract negotiations:

 

It’s mid-May, which means it’s signing season. Teams are locking up their rookie classes with CBA-mandated four-year contracts at a record pace (the Panthers had all their picks signed in a week).

 

When I negotiated rookie contracts for the Packers, from 1999 through 2009, I would call agents in May and June and try to do deals, only to hear that they wanted to wait until the market filled in and they would be “safe.” Some teams wouldn’t even call agents until the week of training camp.

That was then; this is now. The 2011 collective bargaining agreement assigned a value to each pick, meaning the only negotiable item fans and media tend to care about—the money—is basically preset based on where a player is drafted. Then why don’t all players sign quickly and easily? Well, “backside” issues could be equally or more important than the money. And with such limited opportunities to show their value, agents can separate themselves in these subtle and impactful areas. Here are a few.

 

Deferrals

Media reports about a bonus rarely detail payment terms, which are often the source of tense negotiations. Agents want all or as much of the bonus as possible now, or hopefully within the calendar year. Teams prefer to hold on to the money for both interest reasons and for any issues that may come down the road, giving them a level of control with the player having to chase the money. If the team is chasing money from the player, a judgment in their favor can be a pyrrhic victory; good luck collecting it. For example, the Patriots have consistently denied paying the last installment of Aaron Hernandez’s $12 million signing bonus from his 2012 contract, a $3.25 million amount that was due in March 2014. Whether justified in withholding payment or not—to be decided by an arbitrator—the Patriots’ lengthy deferrals have given them leverage here.

The deferral issue played out last summer in the long-running contract dispute between the Chargers and Joey Bosa, until the Chargers moved up some money (after saying they wouldn’t), although it was much less than Bosa desired. This year, the Chargers had another top-10 pick (Mike Williams) represented by the same agency as Bosa (CAA), but the deferral negotiation moved swiftly, with Williams to receive 75% of his bonus now and 25% of it next March.

I treated deferral as a negotiable item: I would sometimes offer one bonus with payment now and another, slightly larger bonus with extended deferrals. There were mixed results. If players needed the money, they often would take the smaller but immediate bonus.

 

Guarantees

Though the CBA drastically reduced pay for top rookies, agents have extracted a measure of redemption with guarantees. Most first-round contracts are fully guaranteed for all four years. Second-round contracts are usually guaranteed for the first two years, although late in the round it appears only the first year is fully guaranteed, with a partial guarantee in 2018. Below the second round, only the signing bonus is guaranteed.

 

Guarantees for rookie players are a nice development since the 2011 CBA, although that positive outcome is tempered by…

 

Offsets

In simplest terms, offset language allows teams to recover future guarantees if the player is released and then signs elsewhere. Teams enforce/demand offset language arguing 1) past precedent and 2) their own veteran contracts have offset language. There are a few teams that choose not to enforce offset in their rookie contracts; the Rams are a notable outlier.

Offset language is now becoming non-negotiable by teams who can exert their leverage here.

 

Split contracts are another way teams leverage players to protect against injury risk.

 

A split contract reverts to a “down” amount (far below league minimum) if the player is placed on lists such as Injured Reserve or PUP (Physically Unable to Perform). As with offset, splits for players taken below the second round are becoming less and less “negotiable.”

 

So far this year, signed third-round contracts have 2017 splits. Some fourth-round contracts have full splits in 2017 and 2018, although a handful of agents have wrangled a “preseason split” in 2018, applicable only if placed on the injured lists before the season. For lower rounds, full splits for 2017 and 2018 are common.

 

On the positive side for players, a couple of them have negotiated that if they are placed on NFI (Non Football Injury) this year—due to injury or illness not due to playing football—they will be paid full salary. NFI allows teams to pay any amount from zero to full salary; players such as John Ross and Sidney Jones have been ensured full pay. This is another area where agents can work the margins going forward.

 

Voiding

A more sinister trend is developing: teams are negotiating language that voids—erases—future guarantees not only for suspensions, but also for a fine! Think about this scenario: a player is late to a meeting (perhaps because his car broke down or he had an accident) and is fined for being late, triggering the void of millions, or even tens of millions of future guarantees!

I always teach that negotiations are primarily about allocation of risk. Teams are forging terms that increasingly protect them from any and all future risk with the player. Why? Because they can.

 

NFL player agents are now in a business with downward pressure on fees due to rookie contracts that are preset financially. The “backside” is where they can separate themselves.