Ellen. SNL. Courtside at the NBA All-Star Game. It’s been a wild week for the MVP of Super Bowl 50, which turned on a crafty play everyone missed. Plus the latest on Peyton Manning, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy and more
We’ve all missed something on the play that clinched Super Bowl 50 for Denver. I know I never saw it until about the fifth or sixth time I watched the fourth-quarter strip sack of Cam Newton by Von Miller. We’ve been so laser-focused on Newton backing away from the free ball on the ground at the Carolina 17 with 4:10 to play and the Panthers down six that we failed to see something Miller did that, in retrospect, was gigantic.
Miller rightly earned the MVP of Super Bowl 50 for the two strip sacks that led to both of Denver’s touchdowns. He could have been the MVP of the AFC title game and the Super Bowl for what he did to Tom Brady and Newton: five sacks for 42 yards in losses, two forced fumbles producing 15 Denver points, and an interception.
But there’s this one other part of his final play, a tributary that shows how crafty a player Miller is, how he understands how to play on the edge of the rules the way a good cornerback knows how to do. It’s a good reason why Denver got a touchdown to clinch the gamem and not just a field goal.
Watch closely as Miller steams around Panthers tackle Mike Remmers and swipes the ball from Newton’s passing hand just as the hand is about to go forward. The ball lies on the ground, and Newton avoids it, and a pile begins to form trying to get it. Miller, from behind the play, tries to go for it too, but Newton is in his way. Miller, again with his long left arm, reaches down and in the one millisecond the ball lies free, swipes it backward toward the Carolina goal line. You can barely see him do it; it’s almost like a sleight-of-hand trick by a magician. But it’s crystal-clear if you’re watching for it. The ball bounds back from the 17 to the 9, and T.J. Ward comes up with it and is downed at the Carolina 4. Instead of someone, anyone, falling on it at the 17, the Broncos have the ball at the 4-yard line. C.J. Anderson scores a touchdown moments later, and the game’s over.
Now, it’s illegal for a defensive player to bat the ball back toward the opposing goal line, the way Miller did. And if an official had seen it happen, he would have been within his rights to flag Miller and the Broncos for an illegal bat. The play is not replay-reviewable because it is considered a judgment call. So when ref Clete Blakeman, the nearest official to the play, didn’t throw a flag, the penalty wasn’t going to be called. Miller, in my view, was doing what cornerbacks and receivers do all the time in downfield passing plays. They hand-fight and hope it’s not called. The disadvantage of having no contact going downfield is too big not to risk lightly pushing and clutching.
“I was being held for a minute,” Miller said over the phone Friday. And true—Remmers had a slight grasp of his jersey in the mayhem right after the strip sack. “So I couldn’t get to the ball right away. I thought Cam was going to jump on it, but I guess, I mean, he didn’t want to dive down there on it. I couldn’t fall on it, so I was just trying to, I don’t know, get it to one of our guys.”
Directionally. With no one seeing. And no one did, until long after the game. A smart move by a dynamic player, as it turned out.
I noticed something on his first play, the sack/mugging of Newton, where the ball that bounded away and was recovered by Malik Jackson in the end zone for a Denver touchdown. We all saw that one—Miller steamed past Remmers and plowed into Newton. Did you notice Miller didn’t just sack Newton? He stole the ball from him. “Whenever I get a clean shot at the quarterback,” said Miller, “I never think, ‘Crush the quarterback.’ I am not that big. I mean, Cam’s bigger than I am. I think, ‘Get the ball.’ The previous week, when I had the sack on Tom Brady, that’s what I was thinking. I wanted to get in there and get the ball and go in and score. It didn’t work against Brady, but I got the ball out of there against Cam.”
Touchdown. The first of two Miller produced in the biggest game of the year. Von Miller, not yet 27, is the best edge rusher in football; he produces with speed outside or (to a lesser degree) power inside, and he could teach a college class in the position. With the presumed retirement of Peyton Manning after his skills eroded over the past 14 months, Von Miller is not just the Super Bowl MVP. He’s the most valuable player on the Super Bowl champs, period.
Funny to think the man Miller may have to thank for this the most is a high school football coach on Cape Cod who piloted his team to a 1-10 season last fall.
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“I told you you’d be MVP!” Washington Wizards guard John Wall told Miller last week, when Miller’s world was spinning.
If this is Friday, it must be Toronto. For Miller, that’s how last week was. Every day, something he’d never done before. Monday: Accept the Super Bowl MVP trophy from Roger Goodell in San Francisco. Tuesday: Ride in the Super Bowl parade in Denver. Also Tuesday: Appear on the “Ellen” show in Los Angeles with Ellen DeGeneres. Early Wednesday: Appear on “The Late, Late Show With James Corden” in Los Angeles. Thursday: Appear on “The Charlie Rose Show” in New York City. Friday: Hang out with NBA players at the beginning of All-Star weekend in Toronto. Saturday: Back to New York, for a cameo on “Saturday Night Live” at 30 Rock. Sunday: Courtside seats at the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto. Tonight: Acting as a presenter at the Grammys in Hollywood.
“I really haven’t had time to sit back and think about what’s happened to my life,” Miller said on Friday evening from Toronto. “So it really hasn’t sunk in. But I do reflect on one thing my mom said to me. You know, moms of NFL players, they all have their favorite NFL players. And so she told me, ‘I gave birth to my favorite NFL player.’ And that is what has meant the most to me all week. When your mother says something like that, at least for me, it starts to tell me what’s happened.”
The Super Bowl itself is a bit of a blur to Miller. He does remember sitting around with some of his teammates—Emmanuel Sanders, Aqib Talib, others—beforehand, arguing about who would be the Super Bowl MVP. They all stated their cases. And then Miller left them in the dust.
Miller took time Friday to reflect on how it all happened. He credited his uncle, Gary Lusk, his first youth football coach, who made him a pass-rusher. Miller wanted to play running back—he wanted to score touchdowns—but Lusk told him he could influence the game on defense too. He credited his mother and father, in a Dallas suburb, with making him stay on track when he might not have. He credited his first NFL position coach, Richard Smith, with teaching him the fundamentals to be able to beat quicker and stronger tackles than he was used to facing. “Having him coach me was a catalyst to everything I’ve been able to do,” Miller said. He credited DeMarcus Ware, his teammate of two years, for teaching him how to be a better person and more consistent player.
And he credited Mike Sherman, his second head coach at Texas A&M, the one who once kicked him off the team, the one who prompted Miller to pack up his car and begin driving home—and the one who threatened to make him a fullback or tight end if he didn’t start producing.
Sherman, the former Packers coach, replaced Dennis Franchione in 2008 at A&M and began butting heads with Miller, who wasn’t a serious student and liked to have too much fun. “He was young and immature, and he was screwing up—missing class, missing study hall, generally being a pain in the ass,” Sherman said the other day. “I kicked him out that spring. I told him, ‘Get outta here.’ I think he was shocked. He loaded up his truck and left. But I always credit his dad. If his dad had given him a soft landing and let him come home and transfer, I don’t believe he’d have won the Butkus Award and gone so high in the draft.”
Miller’s father told him he’d better go back to College Station and make this work with his coach. “I was just a 19-, 20-year-old kid,” Miller said, “stuck in the ways of my old coach. But Coach Sherman, he was 100 percent consistent across the board. Be on time, get to class, do everything right. He was the best thing that happened to me. I began to stack good days on top of good days, good habits on top of good habits. Coach Sherman was an NFL coach at a college job, and I needed to hear what he was saying. What I’ll always remember him saying to me is, ‘You can’t lead double lives.’ ”
“Sounds about right,” said Sherman.
Sherman wanted more consistent production out of Miller, and when it didn’t come as quickly as he wanted, he threatened to move him to offense. “He had tears in his eyes, I remember,” said Sherman. “He told me, ‘I’ve been dreaming of being a linebacker all my life, coach.’ And I said, ‘You gotta show me.’ ”
Sherman and his staff created a hybrid outside ’backer/defensive end position for Miller, and in his third season he led college football with 17 sacks. He wanted to turn pro. Sherman went to Miller’s home near Dallas to have a family meeting and discuss what Miller should so. Sherman didn’t want Miller to go pro—and he says it’s easy to sound selfish as a coach saying that, but he told the Miller family that Von had more to learn. There was the knock of his size (just 6-3) and having been a top player only one season. Sherman thought he’d be a second-round pick. To his surprise, the family agreed. Miller stayed. And after his senior year, Miller was a more compete player—and became the second overall pick, by Denver, in the 2011 draft.
Life takes funny turns. Sherman and his wife moved to Cape Cod after his last NFL job, with the Dolphins in 2013. He decided to take a job in 2015 coaching a woebegone high school team, the Nauset Regional Warriors. They went 1-10 last fall, and the man who coached Brett Favre for five years found himself teaching the game to kids who barely knew it. But Sherman, after Favre, had Miller at Texas A&M, and he’s glad his coaching career led him to work with Miller for three years.
“He’s always been respectful,” said Sherman, “even when we clashed. And he was a tremendous leader on our team, a tremendous influence to our players. I really enjoyed coaching him. What you’re seeing now is what we knew could happen if he applied himself. And I’ll tell you what I appreciate: At the top of his profession, at the biggest moment of his life, he remembers the people who helped him get there. I can tell you Richard Smith, who is a heck of a coach, was huge for him—a great influence. And his dad. I saw that firsthand.”
Miller is just happy he’s survived it all—including a torn ACL, and a substance-abuse suspension in 2013—to get to the precipice of the biggest off-season of his life. He’s a free agent, and he could surpass the richest contract ever for a defensive player, the six-year, $114-million deal signed by Ndamukong Suh last year. Miller knows he’ll be franchised by the Broncos if the two sides can’t reach agreement on a long-term deal. “What can I do?” he said after the Super Bowl. No one knows now, but Miller joins J.J. Watt as the most disruptive defensive forces in football. At some point he and the Broncos will be wed long-term.
For now, he’ll live the life of a megastar. “It’s like what I envisioned,” he said. “It’s what I wanted. I am truly blessed.”
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On Peyton Manning and the 20-year-old incendiary device unearthed Saturday
On Saturday, writer Shaun King of the New York Daily News published a story of events that allegedly happened 20 years ago involving then-Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning. While being examined by a female associate athletic trainer for an injured foot, Manning is accused of placing his naked groin area on the face of the trainer, Jamie Naughright. She pushed him away, according to court documents. Later, an investigation of the case charged that the university conspired to have Manning say he was actually “mooning” another athlete instead of forcing himself on the face of the trainer. Naughright and Manning, after an investigation in which Manning was not charged, signed a confidentiality agreement after a settlement in the case was reached. But King reported that in a 2001 book, Manning placed some blame on Naughright for the incident, violating the confidentiality agreement and re-opening the case. You can read the Daily News story here.
I think the story is tilted toward Naughright. It’s one-sided. It could well be true. But the document King (no relation) uses here is from an attorney for Naughright, with the kind of incendiary language lawyers use to make cases. There is nothing from Manning’s side in the story.
A couple of points to make: Manning was part of a story 20 years ago that, if true, is on its face reprehensible and indefensible. It’s been in the public eye several times over the years, first in USA Today in 2003, and in other media since. The accusations are ugly and, if true, there is no defense for what he did.
But 20 years have come and gone since the events of that day in Knoxville, and Manning was not charged with a crime, and Manning was not convicted of a crime. The authorities in Tennessee and later in Florida, when Naughright pressed her case, did not find Manning guilty of anything. Observers of the case can think what they want after reading the affidavits, and that cannot change. You may well find it hard to think of Manning the same way as you did before.
We may find out in the years to come that Manning is guilty of what Naughright charges. But more and more today, that doesn’t seem to matter. What matters is the court of social media convicting Manning the day the Daily News story comes out. I may join it someday, if it’s proven that Manning did assault Naughright. But not today.
Many of you will think, after the last few years when I’ve written a lot about Manning and gotten the kind of access to him that most media people don’t get: You love Manning. You’re on Manning’s side. You don’t want to burn the relationship you have with him. I’m not going to change your mind about me or Manning in six paragraphs. But what I truly don’t want to do is burn a person based on one side of a he-said, she-said story, a story that has resulted in no criminal conviction or charges in two decades.
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A few in the NFL hierarchy were angered by the bombs thrown by “Concussion” neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu’s claims in this column last week, mostly that if you’ve played pro football, there’s a 90 to 100 percent chance that you’ll have some form of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease found in some deceased former players. Even one of the league’s most fervent recent critics on the subject, Chris Nowinski of Boston’s Concussion Legacy Foundation, disagreed with Omalu. “It’s a bit of an irresponsible statement,” Nowinski said. “In our experience at Boston University, we have found CTE in 96 percent of our cases, but we also know we have a biased sample. We report the 96 percent because we want to report our experience to the world. But if you ask us what is the actual incidence, we will tell you that it is between 10 and 96 percent. We get around 10 percent of the brains of former NFL players who have passed away. No one knows where it is between 10 and 96 percent.” Nowinski’s point is simple: Most who have asked that their brains be examined for CTE had debilitating mental conditions late in their lives, and either they or their families gave the OK for the brains to be examined for CTE, which only can be found posthumously.
The league, as Omalu said, has not engaged him in conversation. But NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee has engaged other leaders in the field. Some of this is because Omalu isn’t currently active in examining brains of deceased players, “but I’m sure the committee has read the papers he has had published,” said the league’s senior vice president of health and safety, Jeff Miller. Still, I find it lacking that the man who discovered CTE in some of the first men diagnosed—Mike Webster of the Steelers most notably—wouldn’t have been debriefed by a league going to great levels to study CTE.
“Where the science goes, the science goes,” Miller said. Omalu said he doesn’t know of a pediatrician who thinks football is safe for children, and he said tackling should not be allowed before 18. I read an October 2015 paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics last week (“Tackling in Youth Football”) that didn’t put an age on when beginning tackling would be smart. And the paper stated that it’s possible that by delaying tackling and tackle-training, young players could be so ill-prepared when they finally begin tackling that it could cause more injuries than early tackling would cause.
This same paper, though, made a good point about the justified rise of interest in flag and touch football: “The expansion of non-tackling leagues for young athletes who enjoy the game of football and want to be physically active but do not want to be exposed to the collisions currently associated with the game should be considered by football leagues and organizations.”
The movie “Concussion,” which bombed at the box office (earning $39.9 million worldwide in its first six weeks in theaters), will be out digitally from Sony Pictures March 15, and will be sold on DVD and Blu-ray March 29.
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A strong woman gets rewarded
In 2008, the Cleveland Browns got into a tiff with star tight end Kellen Winslow, who was upset at the team stemming from his coming down with a staph infection, likely at the Browns’ training facility. Because Winslow was an occasionally incendiary interview, the Browns often placed a media relations staffer near him when he did post-game interviews. After one game in 2008, he asked that staffer, veteran director of communications Amy Palcic, to leave before he did an interview. She said, “Talk. I’m not going to cut you off.” During the interview, Winslow said some negative things about the team, including that he felt like “a piece of meat” and was upset that GM Phil Savage hadn’t reached out to him while he was in the hospital. Winslow got a one-game suspension for what he said, and the resulting tension between him and the team—and between him and Palcic—helped move Palcic down the club’s PR food chain. When Eric Mangini was named coach after the season, Palcic was offered a less-desirable, less-important job in corporate PR, out of football. But that wasn’t her preference, so she chose to leave. In the next seven years, Palcic did various PR jobs, including with the Texans. And last week, she was named the Texans’ senior director of communications.
Palcic becomes the only woman among the NFL’s 32 PR chiefs in charge of a team’s media-relations staff.
Why do I write about Palcic? Because I thought what happened to Palcic in Cleveland—while understandable (a player will always be deemed more important than a PR person, even a 10-year employee such as Palcic)—was unfair. She was very good at her job with a franchise adrift. And when she left to work for a PR firm in Los Angeles, she could have ripped the Browns but didn’t. She just worked. She found her way back to the Texans three years ago, and when PR chief Kevin Cooper left to head up media-relations efforts with the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston, owner Bob McNair named Palcic to replace Cooper. “We promoted Amy because she was the most qualified,” McNair told the Houston Chronicle. “Amy’s hardworking and knowledgeable. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
There’s a great lesson in Palcic’s promotion, and I say that because it applies to people of any gender. Eight years ago, something happened to Palcic that she felt was unjust. But a PR person either demoted or forced out because a team takes the side of a player engenders no sympathy from the public. She knew that. So she went back to work, climbing the ladder that she had once climbed successfully in Cleveland. She didn’t complain, at least publicly, or talk about how she got jobbed. The Texans saw her apolitical skills and promoted her when there was a job big enough.
I knew some players from that Browns team who shook their heads when Palcic got bumped out of the football side and chose to leave. One was Donte’ Stallworth. I asked him Friday about Palcic getting the chance again to run a media team.
“She is truly the most genuine, selfless and caring soul that I've met in my life,” Stallworth said. “But just as important, she knows the game of football, inside and out. She understands the players and how they operate. People in the Browns organization would be hesitant, or afraid, to approach certain players, so they'd ask Amy to do it because they knew she could get through to anyone. She’s worked extremely hard to place herself in the position that she’s in now. She deserves this job. It wasn’t handed to her because of gender.”
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Quotes of the Week
“Despite my wishes, my days as a member of the Chicago Bears have sadly come to an end. I was informed earlier this week from the GM [Chicago general manager Ryan Pace] that they will not be attempting to re-sign me in free agency. I will remain forever grateful for my time in Chicago and being able to play for an organization with such a rich history … God bless and Bear Down!”
—Running back Matt Forte, second on the Bears’ all-time rushing list to Walter Payton, with 8,602 yards, in a statement to Bears fans.
“We can win in all kinds of ways!!!”
—Denver coach Gary Kubiak to the man who hired him a year ago, Denver GM John Elway, in the celebration after the Super Bowl victory over Carolina, on NFL Network’s coverage of the game.
“BAD ASS D ON THREE! One-two-three!
“BAD ASS D!!!”
—Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, captured by NFL Films cameras and wires, during the Super Bowl, getting his mates to break the huddle with one of Davis’s favorite sayings.
“You’re a hell of a player. Have a great career.”
—Peyton Manning to Carolina cornerback Josh Norman, on the field after the Super Bowl, via an NFL Films wire and camera.
“If he wants to pound our officers and stomp our officers, then he needs to pay the price and answer for his actions.”
—Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney, on the alleged altercation between a group of men including Bills running back LeSean McCoy and off-duty police officers, to CBS TV in Philadelphia. Investigators in Philadelphia are determining whether to charge McCoy over the incident.
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Stat of the Week
No one thinks of spending truly big money on kickers in free agency. But there are a couple of interesting kickers in the 2016 crop, assuming they don’t get re-signed before the free market opens in March: Baltimore’s Justin Tucker and the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein. Tucker is 26 and probably a more reliable and trusted option that Zuerlein, who has the ability to hit 60-yarders but trails Tucker by 10 percentage points in career accuracy.
But what I find amazing about the kicker crop is that it includes a kicker who is 17 years older than Tucker—and has been slightly more accurate over the past four years, the full NFL career of Tucker. Adam Vinatieri, 43, wants to play several more years, and all indications are that he’ll re-sign with Indianapolis. Keeping in mind that Vinatieri kicks indoors at home and Tucker performs outside, check out their numbers over the past four years in field-goal accuracy:
|Player, Team||FG-FGA||Pct.||FG-FGA (50-plus yards)||Pct.|
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Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Great news to hear Matt Hasselbeck wants to play another season, likely as Andrew Luck’s backup in Indianapolis, in 2016. At this point in his career, Hasselbeck is a classic backup, the kind who can win two or three games if need be on a team with a strong supporting cast. He won five of them in eight starts in place of the injured Luck in 2015. Though Hasselbeck will be 41 in 2016, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a Plan B backup this year. Assuming both Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning are gone in 2016, Hasselbeck would be the last member of the draft class of 1998 in the NFL. Hasselbeck was the 187th overall pick, drafted by Green Bay in the sixth round out of Boston College. Among those gone, and with how long they’ve been out of the game:
• Round 6, pick 178 overall: Chris Fuamatu Ma’afala, running back, Pittsburgh. Been out of pro football 11 years.
• Round 5, pick 142 overall: Ike Reese, linebacker, Philadelphia. Out of the game for nine years.
• Round 4, pick 96 overall: Az-Zahir Hakim, wide receiver, St. Louis. Out of the game for nine years.
• Round 3, pick 91 overall: Brian Griese, quarterback, Denver. Out of the game for seven years.
• Round 2, pick 33 overall: Corey Chavous, safety, Arizona. Out of the game for seven years.
• Round 1, pick 2 overall: Ryan Leaf, quarterback, San Diego. Out of the game for 14 years.
Man, just think of the money you could have made betting that the 187th pick in the draft in 1998 would last 14 years longer than the the number two pick in 1998.
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Had a swell get-away-from-it-all weekend in Charleston, our first trip ever to the South Carolina city. I can tell you that no city in the nation has a higher percentage of polite and helpful people (the car-rental fellow asked me three times if the Camry was okay, and if not, please look over the other mid-size cars they had and I could take any one). A great walking city, except for the narrow sidewalks, and great walking environment in a cool beach place like Sullivan’s Island.
Two things stood out.
My wife and I visited the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the 200-year-old church where the slaughter of nine parishioners took place last summer. As we entered the foyer of the church, we noticed there was a service in progress. We turned to leave, and a woman sitting in the foyer said, “No—go in! You are welcome.” So we went in and sat about 15 pews from the front, where that emotional service that the nation watched in June took place, and saw we were at a funeral. An emotional funeral. We felt like we were imposing and shouldn’t be there, but we stayed and watched. Wow. What a service. Singing and crying and emotionally wracked … so incredibly moving. And that was our 50-minute exposure to this important institution.
We ate Saturday night at a place called Husk, a farm-to-table southern restaurant that had come highly recommended by two food people—editor of this column Dom Bonvissuto and writer wife Danny Bonvissuto. Other than telling me, “Don’t write so long,” this might be the best advice Dom has given me. Husk is in a refurbished Southern Victorian home, and the south is everywhere—in the décor and the home itself and the ingredients. I had the Kentucky ham with tiny buttermilk biscuits, then the cornmeal-coated North Carolina catfish with smoked tomato and roasted fennel. I turned down the Tennessee rib-eye. Next time, perhaps. And there will be a next time. That was one tremendous meal. My wife had the southern vegetable plate, and I stole a few of her wood-fired slices of sweet potato. They were officially a wow, as was this food experience.
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Tweets of the Week
For the record- think Goff is most polished QB and love his tape..Ranked Wentz 1 cause think he could be special by year 3....— Mike Mayock (@MikeMayock) February 10, 2016
Mayock ranked Carson Wentz of North Dakota State number one at quarterback, with Jared Goff of Cal two and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch three.
The former NFL receiver is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
Isaac Bruce had 1,024 catches, 15,208 receiving yards, 91 TD and wasn't even a HOF finalist. No way Ochocinco with 766/11,059/67 gets in.— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) February 14, 2016
It's funny how we use the word funny, for those times that actually aren't too funny.— Steve Gleason (@TeamGleason) February 12, 2016
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think LeSean McCoy could be in a world of trouble with the law over a bar fight with off-duty police officers that he is alleged to have participated in while in Philadelphia earlier this month. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk points out, the difficult thing for the Buffalo Bills, McCoy’s current team, could be the league’s new paid-leave policy. If McCoy chooses to fight any charges or lawsuit, the Bills might have to place him on paid leave, meaning they’d potentially be paying him while he fights the case but won’t have his services. And if he’s found guilty of any charges, the league could choose to impose discipline on McCoy taking him away from the team for more games. A tough call for the Bills, but the smart thing for McCoy might be to take a plea deal and the resulting suspension from the league if his case looks bleak. It also raises the specter of whether the Bills could simply cut McCoy now, take the cap hit, and look for a running back in free agency or the draft. Or both.
2. I think the football world should be pleased that the Raiders will play in Oakland in 2016, now that it’s been confirmed. The only better news would be if the Raiders got a new stadium, a new deep-pocketed partner for owner Mark Davis, and a long-term commitment to northern California.
3. I think neutral arbitrator Derrick Brooks did the right thing in upholding the three-game Vontaze Burfict suspension. Burfict’s aggressive, playmaking brand of football is something the Bengals need to keep winning. But his crossover brand of vigilante football is something the Bengals and Burfict must eliminate if he’s going to have a long career in the league.
4. I think the dark horse for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2017 will be wide receiver Hines Ward. Many will decry his candidacy, saying he was never one of the top two or three receivers in the league. But think of this: Ward’s one of the best blocking wide receivers in NFL history, and he caught 1,000 passes, and he was the MVP of the Super Bowl 10 years ago. Maybe he won’t make it. I don’t know that he’ll have the momentum to do so especially in year one of eligibility. But to say he’s a weak candidate is specious and foolish.
5. I think Charles Woodson has a chance to be very good on TV. (The Big Lead reported he’ll be a new face on ESPN this fall.) He’s grown in his insightful ways over the year, and his willingness to be open and a good storyteller. If he’s really good at those aspects, he’ll have a long TV life. To be great, though, and he knows this, he’s going to have to be willing to be critical when the time calls for it—critical of those he’s known and played with and against over the years.
6. I think the interesting thing about running-back desirability these days is that the more productive you are, the more you get dinged in the eyes of some NFL teams because they think you’ve got less tread left on the tires. Take Matt Forte. Since 2008—Forte’s rookie year and Adrian Peterson’s second—Forte has more rushing/receiving yards than any back in football (715 more than Peterson, who is second), yet when he hits free agency next month he’s going to be a relative afterthought. The Patriots might pay him something decent for a back of his stature ($5 million per on a short deal?) but the eight-year, $62-million deal signed by Shaun Alexander 10 years ago signaled the beginning of the end of gaudy running back contracts. You’ll still see some backs get big deals who don’t perform (DeMarco Murray, 2015), but mostly veteran backs with good résumés will be disappointed in the next few years.
7. I think Jared Goff does not lack for confidence. That’s what I found out when Gatorade made him available to a few media people recently, and I got a chance to talk to him about his pro prospects for 15 minutes. His plus-66 touchdown-to-interception differential in three years at Cal is obviously a credit to him, as is the fact his completion percentage increased each of his three seasons—from 60.4 percent to 62.1 percent to 64.5 percent last fall. “I think my accuracy is as good as it gets at this level,” Goff said. “I think my pocket presence and my ability to extend plays speak for themselves. I’m confident I’ll be the best quarterback in the draft.” Now for the “C” question: How about the specter of getting selected by Cleveland, which has the second overall pick? Cleveland’s the place quarterbacks go to die. “I’m not worried about it,” he said. “I’m excited about it. Whatever team I go to, I’ll be excited to go. I want to be the future of a franchise. I think I can be a guy who can make an impact right away.” Goff is being trained for the combine by former NFL passer Ryan Lindley. Goff will be in the battle to be the first quarterback picked, with North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch of Memphis.
8. I think for Cam Newton’s own good, I hope he’s got someone inside the Panthers who, once the pain of the Super Bowl wears off, can tell him the truth about some of his Super Bowl gaffes and he’ll listen. “I win my way,” he said on Instagram the other day. Well, OK. There aren’t categories of your way and other ways in the win-loss columns of the NFL, though. There a win, and there’s a loss.
9. I think this was really good insight on the NFL’s move to Los Angeles by Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham of ESPN. Bottom line in the NFL’s move to L.A.: The owners wanted glam and money in Los Angeles, and regardless how much they wanted to help Dean Spanos out of his San Diego morass, glam and money was the winning bet.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Cool story by Nick Ironside of Irish 247 about Notre Dame wide receiver Corey Robinson, who ran for student body president and won, on a campaign that included training nurses at the campus’ health-service facility to be resources for sexual-assault victims.
b. Factoid I liked from Ironside’s story: Robinson plays eight musical instruments.
c. Pretty soon NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson might be better known as Corey’s father.
d. You don’t read this column for NBA thoughts, but I really liked what San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said about the Warriors the other day to ESPN Radio. “I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. When I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.”
e. Local news in Charleston on Friday evening … 6:28 p.m. … Four straight political commercials on one of the local affiliates … All concern Marco Rubio … The first and fourth make Rubio seem like he’d be a better president than Lincoln … The second and third make Rubio seem like he couldn’t win the race for a six-member city council in a town of five.
g. Beernerdness: Tried White Thai of the Westbrook Brewing Company (Mount Pleasant, S.C.), a classic witbier with one exception—it’s got a lemony taste without the typical other flavors normally associated with it. But I enjoyed it. Very easy to drink, and tasty.
h. Good luck, Craig Kelley, in your new world. Kelley, the longtime Colts PR chief, is now selling real estate for Sotheby’s in an area he always wanted to settle— Naples/Marco Island.
i. Come to The MMQB’s Scouting Combine Tweetup in Indianapolis, on Friday, Feb. 26, from 7-9 p.m. at the Sun King Brewery. Tickets are $10, and the event will benefit local nonprofit Nine13sports to influence at-risk youth. You can buy tickets here. More information on the event will be coming next Monday. I’d love to see you in Indianapolis.
* * *
The Adieu Haiku
It is almost time
for Mike Mayock’s Christmas morn.
It’s Combine Eve Week!
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