Lots to get to after the first Sunday of the NFL season …
• In MMQB, we detailed Lamar Jackson’s big 2019 debut, and left on the cutting room floor Sunday night was a quick exchange I had with Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who’s pretty proud of how far his quarterback has come. We mentioned in the column how his accuracy, field vision and processing have improved, and Harbaugh brought up the improvements Jackson’s made in another year.
“I was really impressed with the way he handled all the blitzes,” Harbaugh said. “He was poised and made numerous plays against a lot of different types of blitzes.” Dolphins coach Brian Flores, of course, was one of the more aggressive blitzers in the NFL calling the defense in New England last year, so that’s no surprise. But it’s absolutely another good step in an afternoon full of them for the 22-year-old.
• Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins told me on Sunday night that he was anticipating Tyreek Hill to be out six or seven weeks, and that estimate isn’t far off. The team is waiting for clarity on Hill’s collarbone, and has resisted putting him on injured reserve (which would shelve him for eight weeks), holding out hope for the best case here. But depending on how the injury develops, the team might consider IR again.
• Meanwhile, for very different reasons, the team did build protection into its contract with Hill. The three-year, $54 million extension is basically a year-to-year deal, with just $18.34 million fully guaranteed as of tomorrow (a guarantee made up of a $5.8 million signing bonus, minimum base salaries this year and next, plus a ’20 roster bonus of $11 million that becomes guaranteed tomorrow). Hill will make $6.52 million this fall, and is on the books for $16.2 million in 2020 and $15.4 million ’21, with a lot of his cash tied up in roster bonuses that he’ll have to get to down the road. So the team has flexibility to move on for non-injury reasons. The flip side is that Hill gets $22.7 million between now and the end of ’20, which easily beats the math is adding what he was set to make this year ($2.05 million) to next year’s project franchise figure for receivers ($16.79 million). And Hill is protected against bad luck, with a $35.26 million injury guarantee.
• Speaking of contracts... While the Cowboys hammer out Dak Prescott’s deal, it’s worth noting that Amari Cooper’s contract negotiations were paused more by the player than the team. Deals for Atlanta’s Julio Jones and New Orleans’ Michael Thomas should help further define Cooper’s market, and maybe they becomes a catalyst for the sides to reconvene soon.
• Antonio Brown’s contract with the Patriots, in the end, looks much like the one Darrelle Revis signed with New England in 2014. One-year deal with big number, and with a dummy year after it to spread the cap hit out and create a pathway for the player to get to free agency. It was set up as an option so the team can collect a comp-pick for him if he walks next spring.
• I doubt the Jaguars expected Gardner Minshew to go 22-of-25 for 275 yards and two touchdowns when he entered the game for an injured Nick Foles in the first quarter against the Chiefs on Sunday. But they did like him coming out of Washington State (obviously, since they drafted him), and really saw a sincere confidence in the East Carolina transfer. They loved his smarts, presence, energy and passion for football. Nothing seemed too big for him. So maybe the numbers surprised Jacksonville, but Minshew’s poise didn’t.
• A bright spot in the Colts’ loss to the Chargers—S Malik Hooker looks like he’s all the way back, and it’s noticeable to the staff how locked in he is, and how hard he played on Sunday. Yes, he had the spectacular pick of Philip Rivers, but it was more than that. Two years ago, Chuck Pagano’s staff felt like Hooker was starting to take off as a player just as he got hurt (he had picks in his first three games as a starter). Last year, he wasn’t the same. Now, it looks like he might be.
• The Falcons are putting starting RG Chris Lindstrom on IR, after he suffered in a broken metatarsal in his foot. He’ll be in a boot for eight weeks, and the team’s hope is that he’ll be back at 100% around Thanksgiving. Not great news for a staff that put so much this offseason into rebuilding its offensive front.
• The Titans didn’t get as much credit as the Browns did criticism for their beatdown of Cleveland on Sunday, but internally the staff was thrilled with how disciplined and opportunistic the players were in the win. That showed in the disparity in penalties (the Browns had 18 for 182 yards, the Titans had six for 54 yards), and turnovers (the Browns had three, the Titans had none). Good start for Tennessee.
• Bucs DC Todd Bowles didn’t do enough to win on Sunday, but that shouldn’t obscure how his guys played—Tampa held the Niners to 256 total yards, bottling up San Francisco’s run game and keeping Jimmy Garoppolo at bay. Ultimately, two pick-sixes provided the difference for the Niners in their 31-17 win, but they only got in the end zone once on offense against Bowles’s crew.
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