Plus thoughts on Cam Newton’s scuffle, the NFL draft returning to Chicago and why the league would be smart to drop the whole L.A. thing
1) I think there was a lot of head-scratching when Cris Carter made the seemingly knee-jerk comment about Geno Smith’s lack of leadership contributing to his getting punched in the face, but here’s why I think Carter is right about the Jets quarterback. First, his opinion in full: “It's a lack of leadership on Geno Smith's part that he would put himself in harm's way to get sucker-punched.” Here’s why that makes sense to me: You know why guys like Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo never have and never will have their jaws broken by a teammate? For starters, players in leadership roles don’t have plebeian disputes with teammates, at least not in public. They recognize they’re being watched at all times—and that when any franchise player in the NFL raises his voice, it has to mean something, like the time Earl Thomas saw signs of complacency among Seattle defensive linemen last November and let them have a piece of his mind. That Geno Smith even entertained the notion of a public argument with IK Enemkpali over something as trivial as a $600 debt is the clearest indication to date that Smith doesn’t have the makeup of an NFL quarterback.
2) I think I liked Cam Newton’s unapologetic response to critics of his scuffle with teammate Josh Norman after the cornerback’s interception in practice this week. Said Newton: “It's football. ... Emotions are going to flare. ... From the outside looking in, you might see a scuffle. But there's more to it than that.” Here’s the thing: If a cornerback intercepts a shallow pass and the quarterback catches up to him at any point during the return, that corner was dogging it. In football, it’s the equivalent of slow-jogging across the bases after a home run. Newton didn’t strike Norman with an open or closed hand—he grabbed him and mushed him to the ground—so you can scrap all that talk about him risking a broken hand. Newton’s was a fair response, if a rare one, and it sets a tone for the Panthers’ training camp and the season.
3) I think I have one reaction to the NFL draft returning to Chicago in 2016: This is hogwash. I always envisioned a new city every year, including a stop in Los Angeles next May as the NFL prepares to send a franchise to Southern California. Hollywood and the NFL’s marquee offseason event were meant for each other. [Correction: an earlier version of this story said the NFL was permanently relocating the draft from New York to Chicago. A league spokesman told The MMQB that the draft venue will be reevaluated for future years.]
4) I think it was disappointing to discover that the Saints are among the teams with the least media-friendly environments. I recently dropped by their summer home at the Greenbrier in West Virginia, where there was no open locker room or access to players walking off the field, a real rarity in the NFL. (Most teams provide, at the very least, the opportunity to interview players walking off the field). Maybe you don’t care about beat writers and visiting reporters having it hard, but I like reading about NFL players and their unique stories, like this one by ESPN’s Michael Rothstein on Lions receiver Ryan Broyles’ frugal spending habits. We get these stories by hanging around locker rooms and cultivating relationships with players. These stories help make individual players marketable in their cities and beyond, and they help connect fans to a league that made its bones in the early days by being extraordinarily accessible to fans via the media. When teams freeze out certain organizations and make life hard for others, it does a disservice to the fans and the league, not the media. The great irony in all of this, to me, is the trend of teams getting caught for bad behavior (Saints, Patriots) and subsequently clamping down on access. If you’re accused of wrongdoing and believe yourself innocent, isn’t the right response more transparency, not less?
5) I think my favorite part of the training camp tour so far—I’ve seen 12 teams in 16 days—has been watching Browns quarterback Josh McCown spend up to 20 minutes after practice playing catch with his sons, Owen, 12, and Aiden, 11, and then moving to the lines of fans along the adjacent fences and signing seemingly hundreds of autographs for the Browns faithful. McCown, a father of four, joins his ninth NFL team this season. One of the big reasons why coach Mike Pettine brought in the 36-year-old is his dedication to the craft and appreciation for the opportunity, a quality Johnny Manziel has at times failed to show.
Josh McCown's youngest daughter begs him for a puppy at Browns camp. pic.twitter.com/Dw5ExS3cGE— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) August 11, 2015
6) I think a lot of players were shaking their heads at news of Steelers kicker Sean Suisham tearing his ACL in the Hall of Fame game, the first of the year but ultimately a fifth preseason game for the two teams that play in it. No matter what players say about how grateful they are to play in this game and have the opportunity to see the Hall, behind closed doors veterans gripe about it. Said one lineman on an AFC North rival of the Steelers, “I would hate playing in that game. No upside. Four preseason games is already too much.”
7) I think it’s easy to say IK Enemkpali squandered a huge opportunity when he slugged Geno Smith and was shortly thereafter released by the Jets, but who can say he would’ve made it this far in football if he wasn't wired that way? Bill Parcells once said “football is not a game for well adjusted people.” That’s not making an excuse for Enemkpali’s actions; that’s just putting them in context. There are plenty of normal guys who play the game well enough to compete at the highest level, and then there are men who use this game as an outlet for a proclivity toward violence. Enemkpali is a sixth-round pick with three career tackles, who, at 19, punched a police officer in a bar fight. That’s the kind of guy you settle a $600 debt with posthaste.
8) I think my big takeaway from the Hall of Fame game between the Steelers and Vikings was the electric play of Minnesota rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who nearly scored on a weaving 62-yard punt return in the third quarter. If you read my April deep dive into Maryland’s Pro Day, you already knew that Maryland alum and Dolphins defensive tackle A.J. Francis considers Diggs “the best player I’ve ever played with, college or pro.” I think Diggs has the opportunity to be the kind of kick returner the Vikes thought Cordarrelle Patterson would be when they picked Patterson in the first round two years ago.
9) I think the NFL would be perfectly happy if this whole Los Angeles bid for the near future fell through. Its teams have been getting their money’s worth from local municipalities by using the threat of a move to stir support for public funding of new stadiums. The reality of a team actually moving to L.A. eliminates that bargaining chip for future teams looking to squeeze every resource possible out of their home city. I’ll be happy to see Los Angeles get a team, if only for the prospect of NFL teams paying something close to a fair share for their own stadiums.
10) I think the Browns would have preferred to see Geno Smith as the Jets’ starting quarterback in their Week 1 matchup instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will now take over as Smith recovers from a broken jaw. Fitzpatrick is well-versed in Jets coordinator Chan Gailey’s offense after the pair spent three seasons together in Buffalo, whereas Smith will face a learning curve in a new offense.
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