RG3 Out, Tyrod Taylor In and Amari in Oakland
1. I think perhaps the strangest part of the RG3 drama in Washington is that all this is happening just four months after the team elected to pick up Griffin’s $16 million-plus fifth-year option for 2016. That was a roll of the dice by the organization, particularly because that full sum is guaranteed for injury, and Griffin has already dealt with serious injuries during his three-year career. It seemed to indicate that the organization believed Griffin would be a part of the team through ’16 and didn’t want to give up on trying to make it work. Now that Jay Gruden has publicly declared it “Kirk [Cousins’] team” for 2015, Washington has a back-up quarterback whose $16 million injury-guaranteed option makes it near-impossible to trade him or play him. What a bizarre about-face.
2. I think the Bills naming Tyrod Taylor the starting quarterback, as FOX’s Jay Glazer first reported, is a bit of an upset. Veteran Matt Cassel, whom the Bills traded for in March, would have been the safe option for a team looking to ride its run game and aggressive defense. But Rex Ryan has always been intrigued by dual-threat quarterbacks, believing from firsthand experience that they give defensive coaches headaches. The selection of Taylor has Rex written all over it—he’s not going for safe this year, he’s swinging big. The challenge for Taylor will be turning the promise he showed this summer into a full season of production when opponents are game-planning for him. A key to Taylor’s success will be the coaching staff coming up with ways to move the pocket around, like the Seahawks do with Russell Wilson. Like Wilson, Taylor is athletic and, at 6-foot-1, on the small side.
3. I think, speaking of the Bills, that the decision to release Fred Jackson was one wrestled with at all levels of the organization, dating back to March when reports of Jackson’s uncertain future led to the creation of Facebook groups and fans lobbying with signs at One Bills Drive to “Keep Fred Jackson In Buffalo.” If you spend any time in Western New York, you know that Jackson may be second only to Jim Kelly in terms of how much the city loves him. No one wanted to be responsible for cutting him. But the team separated emotion from business, choosing to save about $2.75 million against the cap by cutting a 34-year-old back-up running back who doesn’t play on special teams, an understandable move. It will make for great theater if he ends up on an opposing team this year. Back in April, Jackson told me a great story of his sparring with Rex Ryan during years of AFC East contests. Once, during a Bills home game when Ryan was the Jets’ coach, Jackson was split out wide and targeted on a fade route near the Jets sideline. The safety covering him knocked him out of bounds, and Jackson petitioned the official for a pass interference call. Ryan, standing nearby, scoffed. “It wasn’t pass interference,” he told Jackson. “You’re just being soft.” Jackson fired back: “Soft? I’ll show you soft.” A few plays later, Jackson ran over a linebacker and went back to Ryan. “That’s what a soft player looks like,” Jackson said. “I’d hate to see a hard one.”
• THE REX EFFECT: After a turbulent final act with the Jets, Rex Ryan is starting fresh in Buffalo. Jenny Vrentas’s SI cover story on Rex, how it ended in New York and how the Bills landed the coveted head coach.
4. I think I agree with former NFL scout Dan Hatman that the roster cut-downs from 90 players to 75 before the fourth preseason game robs teams of a prime opportunity to get live game film on hundreds of edge-of-the-roster players around the league. Most coaches and personnel people already feel like they’re short on opportunities to evaluate and develop young players; that includes those who may not be in contention for the 53-man roster now but could be options down the road. Players 76 to 90 probably didn’t get very many live reps over the first three preseason games, and if the NFL is going to have four preseason games rosters should be kept at 90 through all four.
5. I think watching Amari Cooper work one on one against Patrick Peterson Sunday night reinforced why scouts across the board agreed he was the most NFL-ready receiver in this year’s draft: His route-running looks like that of a seasoned pro, not a rookie.
• RAIDERS ARE FINALLY IN GOOD HANDS: After drafting Amari Cooper and signing Michael Crabtree to catch passes from rising star Derek Carr, the Oakland offense might finally be headed in the right direction.
6. I think one of the best signs that Khalil Mack would be a disruptive pass rusher in this league was how industrious he has been about learning and perfecting new pass-rush moves since he arrived in the NFL. After sacking Carson Palmer off a spin move Sunday night, he told reporters the move was "something I’ve been working on.” When he got to Oakland as a rookie, he peppered vets Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley for ways to expand his repertoire and advice on what works in the NFL, as he wrote in his guest MMQB column last summer. Mack seems to understand that physical ability is only half the battle for greatness.
7. I think Victor Cruz’s calf injury is getting more concerning by the day. Calf injuries often sneakily sideline players for a longer period of time than you might expect. Cruz, who suffered the injury before the second exhibition game, won’t see any live action this preseason and told reporters yesterday he still isn’t jogging. It’s not an ideal way to ease back in after last year’s season-ending patellar tendon tear, and it’s hard to imagine that he would be allowed to play in the regular-season opener if he isn’t able to practice next week.
8. I think you should read—and watch the video—of Star-Ledger sports columnist Steve Politi’s encounter with Donald Trump at The Barclays this weekend. Politi, who is threatened (facetiously, we think) by Trump to write “well” about him, serves up a slice of the craziness that is The Donald. You’ll laugh, until you remember that this man is a legitimate presidential candidate.
9. I think this factoid, tweeted by Newsday’s Neil Best, is almost hard to believe: The Giants have not had a head coach whose birthday was not Aug. 31 since 1996. They’ve only had two head coaches since then (which is unbelievable in itself), Jim Fassel from 1997-2003, and Coughlin from 2004 to the present. And both share an Aug. 31 birthday, Fassel in 1949 and Coughlin in 1946. What an odd little coincidence.
• TOM COUGHLIN Q&A: There’s a spring in the step of the NFL’s oldest active head coach, as he bounds from topic to topic, including the Jason Pierre-Paul saga, the Giants’ win-or-else mentality and his rare longevity in New York.
10. I think the shift to running backs-by-committee over the past few years has made the first few picks in fantasy drafts even more valuable. I’d venture to guess that fantasy football owners who pick at the end of the first round, when the few surefire bell-cow running backs have long since been taken, have lower odds of winning the league than ever. Am I right? Someone’s gotta have stats on this, right? Signed, the person who got the 12th pick in her 12-team league this weekend.