With Peter King on vacation, our guest columnist begins with the tragic events in Florida. Plus football items on Jameis Winston’s development, five rookies with big opportunities, MMQB retreat notes and much more
We’ve got a true potpourri of an MMQB column, which I’m writing in relief of the boss, Peter King, who took a deserved vacation during a slow news week in the NFL. Today, we check in with new Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter on his plan for Jameis Winston in Year Two; we discuss the first-round rookies with the most on their shoulders, with some insight from a Browns rookie who wants to be Robert Griffin III’s No. 1 target; we take a look at Pro Football Focus grades and why they irk quarterbacks in particular; and we tackle much more.
But first, a necessary word about the tragedy gripping our nation: the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
We realize you don’t come here for world news or politics; for two decades the MMQB column has largely been an escape from that sort of talk. Yet this column has at times been a forum for Peter’s personal thoughts and politics when the occasion called for it.
I won’t write the millionth take on responsible gun laws because you all know that story, and you know where you stand. I figure you may know less about the world of gay bars and nightclubs like the one Omar Mateen stormed on Saturday night, killing 49 with an AR-15 assault rifle and injuring dozens of others before police rushed the room where he was holed up and killed him. Mateen’s father said Sunday his son’s disgust with homosexuality may have motivated his choice of target.
I’ve never been to Pulse in Orlando, but I’ve been to Nellie’s in D.C., for the sweet potato fries, and I went to Copa in Oklahoma City on June 26, 2015, the night the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal nationwide. Just last month I visited the Denver Wrangler, where my all-inclusive rugby team, the Colorado Rush, typically parties with the opposing club on Saturday afternoons after matches. Those experiences are why one line in President Obama’s strained remarks on Sunday rang particularly true.
“The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub,” Obama said. “It is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.”
I can't tell you how accurate those words are; you’d have to visit Nellie’s or Copa or the Wrangler or any number of gay clubs around the country to really get it. You’d have to see straight-backed, tight-lipped suits melt into dancing machines. You’d need to have a perfectly normal conversation about rugby strategy with a man wearing only Chuck Taylors and designer briefs, to be auctioned off later for charity. You’d have to walk among people occupying a space that is, for many of them, the only place away from the privacy of their homes where they can be themselves. I imagine it’s something like being an African-American during Jim Crow and walking into one of those discreet all-black jazz clubs and sweating through your only suit, on the only dance floor in your world absent of judgment or threat of violence.
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The Continued Development of Jameis Winston
I spoke with Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter on Wednesday, well before the Orlando shooting made talking and writing about football feel trivial, regarding the progress of Jameis Winston and the process of the second-year quarterback taking full ownership of the offense in the months and years to come.
Last fall, Winston had the benefit of matriculating from a Florida State pro-style offense that many in league circles believe to be at least as complicated as some in the NFL. Still, Koetter, at the time the offensive coordinator, slowly brought along Winston, limiting him to half-field reads and beginner-level pre-snap duties early last season. Like millions of high school and college kids across the country, Winston is graduating this summer.
Koetter says those pre-snap duties weren’t as limited as people think during Tampa's 6-10 season. Though Koetter worked to keep protection calls off Winston’s mind by using more max protection scenarios than most teams, the rookie did have play packages at his disposal. (For example, Winston had the option to call either a certain run play or a certain pass play based on the defense’s alignment and apparent coverage.) In 2016 Winston will be asked to do more. Where there were two-play packages that Winston could call at the line in 2015, there will now be three-play packages plus a blitz audible.
Plus: More no-huddle is planned for 2016, one of Koetter’s signatures when he took the Tampa coordinator job in 2015.
“Jameis is a good communicator at the line, good at the no-huddle, studies like a wild man, and that’s what we love about him,” Koetter says. “I trust my judgment, and I trust the judgment of our coaches. We’re around Jameis every day, and we know what he’s capable of.”
The first-time NFL head coach, who turned 57 in February, draws from his experience with former first-rounder Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville when deciding what to put on Winston’s plate and when. Koetter was in his fifth season as offensive coordinator when the Jags drafted Gabbert 10th overall in 2011. Gabbert started 14 games that season, completing just over half of his passes, with 12 touchdowns, 11 picks and 14 fumbles. Gabbert was gone after three seasons.
“I think when we had Blaine Gabbert in his first year—and I’m not criticizing anybody—but there’s an example where Blaine maybe got forced into situations a little bit too early,” Koetter says. “I’m a fan of Blaine and I wish him the best, except when he plays us.”
One of Koetter’s biggest challenges has less to do with Winston and more to do with the makeup of his team—the Bucs were the 11th-youngest team in the NFL last season and figure to rank high on that list again. A snapshot: On the phone last week, Koetter and I spoke about the potential of Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, the third-year tight end who has missed about half of the past two seasons due to various injuries. Koetter would like to see the former second-round pick be the kind of tight end you can split out on one side of the formation by himself, creating mismatches and helping the quarterback identify coverages the way Tony Gonzalez did when Koetter coached in Atlanta.
“I love that package,” Koetter says. “Thing is, roles on a young team are ever-changing based on production and health. We’ll see how it works out on the field.”
Several hours after Koetter and I spoke, the coach kicked Sefarian-Jenkins off his practice field.
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Rookies With Big Loads to Shoulder
In keeping with the theme of youth, I had the pleasure of speaking with one rookie out of Baylor who will be among those NFL newbies who are asked to contribute in a big way on Day One. Browns first-round wideout Corey Coleman, he of the 4.37 40-yard dash, joins an offense whose top two returning receivers, Taylor Gabriel and Andrew Hawkins, caught a combined 55 passes in 2015. (Hawkins missed half the season because of injury.)
Also: Hawkins is 5-7 and Gabriel is 5-8.
The rest of Cleveland’s receivers room is made up of a former NFL quarterback (Terrelle Pryor) and a handful of rookies—two fifth-rounders, a fourth-rounder and the 5-11 Coleman, who caught 74 passes and 20 touchdowns in his fourth year in Waco. In an effort to sniff that sort of production as a rookie and help keep afloat a Browns offense led by Robert Griffin III, Coleman has been keeping odd hours. A typical morning for him during OTAs consisted of a 6:50 a.m. breakfast with Griffin or rookie QB Cody Kessler to go over the practice script, with some of those days ending as late as 11 p.m., walking through routes in his hotel room in Berea, Ohio.
“I learn better by seeing it,” Coleman says. “So I fake line up in the hotel room and imagine I’m in my place in the formation, and I act like I’m running the play in the hotel room. Instead of running a full slant route, I might take three small steps and a turn after the bed.”
Coleman says Hawkins and senior offensive assistant Al Saunders have been especially helpful with the acclimation from the Baylor offense. While the Bears ran the full route tree or something like it in practice, many of the long routes used in the NFL were scaled to shorter distances in college, Coleman says, and the out-breaking routes weren’t utilized as much. Last week Browns coach Hue Jackson said he was riding Coleman “pretty hard, because he has so much ability and I want to get it out of him.”
Said Coleman: “I’m excited for the opportunity. It’s really about just listening to the coaches, putting extra time into the playbook, and focusing in on small things.”
Excluding the three quarterbacks drafted in the first round—Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch—here are the five first-rounders with the most on their shoulders and the biggest opportunities to contribute in 2016:
1. Corey Coleman, WR, Browns.
2. Jack Conklin, OT, Titans. Tennessee gave up 38 sacks in 2015, and Byron Bell, who replaced Jeremiah Poutasi at tackle when the latter switched to guard, suffered a nasty dislocated ankle in March and has been ruled out for 2016.
3. Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Bucs. Tampa finished 26th in points allowed last year facing the likes of Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan. Should be a fun welcome to the NFL.
4. Karl Joseph, S, Raiders. Defensive back play has been Oakland’s biggest problem as it assembles one of the NFL’s brightest young rosters. A lack of cornerback depth doesn’t do Joseph any favors.
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About Those Rookie Quarterbacks…
Bovada is currently taking bets on how many games No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz will start for the Eagles; they’ve set the over/under at 3.5. I couldn’t find any prop bets for the other two first-round quarterbacks, so for fun I asked some of my favorite reporters and bloggers close to all three teams for their opinions. Spoiler: The Philly guys believe Vegas is being somewhat optimistic.
Rams: Set the over/under on how many games Jared Goff will start.
Brandon Bate, Turf Show Times: 12
Vinny Bonsignore, L.A. Daily News: 13
Sam Farmer, L.A. Times: 14
Derrik Klassen, Turf Show Times: 16
Myles Simmons, TheRams.com: 16
Nick Wagoner, ESPN: 16
Sam Farmer’s June take: “It’s going to be somewhat surprising if Goff is not the Week 1 starter, IMO. By saying 14, I’m building in some flexibility.”
Eagles: Set the over/under on how many games Carson Wentz will start.
Zach Berman, Philadelphia Inquirer: 2
Les Bowen, Philadelphia Daily News: 3.5
Adam Caplan, ESPN NFL Insider: 4.5
Jeff McLane, Philadelphia Inquirer: 1
Josh Paunil, Birds 24/7, Philly Mag: 3
Eliot Shorr-Parks, NJ.com: 2.5
Les Bowen’s June take: “It all revolves around Bradford’s health. He looks good out here in practice, and if he can stay healthy I think there's a chance that he plays nearly the entire season, but I don't have a lot of confidence in his health. You watch Wentz, and he does something tremendous every day, but you can tell that after 23 games at the [FCS] level, there’s a lot he needs to catch up on. The fans will want to see him, but the coach also brought in Chase Daniel, a guy he likes, and paid him $7 million. It would not surprise me if Wentz didn't play at all this year, but I’ll put the number at 3.5 because I do believe there’s a good chance Bradford’s health doesn’t stand up.”
Broncos: Set the over/under on how many games Paxton Lynch will start.
Nicki Jhabvala, Denver Post: 4
Lindsay H. Jones, USA Today: 4
Paul Klee, Colorado Springs Gazette: 2
Mike Klis, 9News Denver: 6
James Palmer, NFL Network: 0
Cameron Wolfe, Denver Post: 2.5
Mike Klis’ June take: “It appears Kubiak is pushing Lynch to get ready ASAP. He’s getting personal coaching, lots of reps. He’s got some kind of arm and can move. But coming from a spread, he’s not ready. They’ll muddle through with Mark Sanchez as long as they can. The Week 11 bye makes sense to get Lynch ready. They want him playing at some point this year. Six games is a good test going into the playoffs. He’ll play with handcuffs on the rest of the year and hope the D can win a game or two.”
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PFF Makes the (QB) Grade
Apropos of nothing, I made a few calls this week on a topic that’s always interested me: How do players and coaches feel about Pro Football Focus grades?
You may remember back in September when Aaron Rodgers went for 333 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions in a win over the Chiefs and Pro Football Focus gave him a -0.8 grade. PFF, a player grading and football analytics site, was so cognizant of the inevitable backlash they published a 708-word explainer justifying the grade. The backlash didn’t waver, but at least PFF got in a word.
Commentators called it clickbait. SB Nation’s Cheesehead blog said it was “amateur hour.” Chris Chase at For The Win wrote: “Advanced metrics don’t work in the NFL.”
Privately, some NFL quarterbacks and their coaches feel similarly when it comes to independent grading of the most vital position on the field. The nuances of playing the position, they argue, aren’t visible to PFF’s graders, or anybody outside the locker room for that matter.
“You can't have an accurate grade on a guy unless you're on the sideline, in the QB room, understanding what was discussed about particular plays,” said one AFC offensive coordinator. “I've been sitting in the lunch room and matched up my grades with PFF grades, and they're fairly accurate, but less so when you're talking about quarterbacks.”
I floated that quote by PFF senior analyst Steve Palazzolo, who believes PFF QB grades are a strength of the site. Numerous NFL teams subscribe to PFF for access to player data beyond the grades.
“There are no other metrics that properly divide credit on passing plays,” Palazzolo says, “whether it’s an easy throw in which the wide receiver does all of the work for a big gain or a blatant misread of coverage that is dropped for a would-be interception.
“As far as knowing the play call, I believe our system ultimately accounts for it, even if we don't have intimate knowledge of the nuances of each play. Plays that may constitute a ‘good read’ by the quarterback may go down as ‘expected’ for us and a 0-graded throw, so any disconnect with coaches may have to do with how we weigh those types of plays.”
Palazzolo says PFF asked an NFL offensive coordinator to sit down with an analyst and go over grades on a play-by-play basis, and those grades were in “lockstep.” They’ve also worked with ex-NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer on grading high schoolers at the Elite 11 camp for the past two years, and those grades also were in lockstep with Dilfer and the coaches’ evaluations. What it comes down to, Dilfer says, is a misunderstanding. PFF evaluates what the ball does, he says. It’s not the entirety of a quarterback’s job, but the last phase. In this interpretation, a PFF grade can only be seen as a partial grade on a quarterback’s performance, not a comprehensive metric.
“The QB coaches value the vastness of the job of quarterbacks, which is bigger than what the ball does,” Dilfer says. “There’s no way to know the 30 layers that are part of the job, and that’s not what PFF set out to do. A few times each season there’s this aberration where a guy has a great game and PFF said he just did his job. I think both sides are right.
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New Vibe in Jacksonville
I consider the Jaguars one of the most intriguing teams of 2016 in large part because of that rapidly improving offense. Blake Bortles seems primed for stardom in Year 3 after improving from 11 touchdowns in 13 starts as a rookie to 35 in 16 in his second season with roughly the same amount of interceptions (18) and poor decisions. The development of receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson and a competent offensive line has been critical. But what about that defense?
A mastery of the other side of the ball was supposed to be Gus Bradley’s greatest trait when the Jags hired him away from Seattle in 2013, but since that year the team has finished 28th, 26th, and 31st, respectively, in points allowed while the offense has more than held up its end of the bargain. The team fired defensive coordinator Bob Babich in the offseason and promoted defensive line coach Todd Wash.
And while there’s not usually much to glean from watching OTAs and minicamp practices without pads, I’m a firm believer that coaches and players can set a tone for the season and clearly define expectations for success in these spring sessions. One guy who’s loving the tone being set in Jags camp is linebacker Telvin Smith, who is probably the best defensive player in football you’ve never heard of. Drafted in the fifth round out of Florida State in 2014, Smith hovers around 220 pounds and has emerged as one of the great do-it-all linebackers in football on a defense that has otherwise lacked playmakers.
Smith says Wash has improved communication on the field and raised expectations immediately.
“He puts that red dot on you in the meeting,” Smith says. “We start off the meetings and go right into watching film. He’s got a laser pointer, and he’ll put the dot on you and say, You didn’t do what you’re supposed to do. Just putting you out there in front of the team like that. It gives you that sense of, Oh, OK, now I know it’s on me.
“That wasn’t a big emphasis this time last year. We were worried about everybody getting an understanding, trying to learn the defense. We’re raising that bar; we've got to make these plays.”
The Jaguars as a franchise raised eyebrows and expectations by straying from their recent home-grown approach to sign Malik Jackson away from the Broncos for six years, $90 million. They’ll also get back 2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. from a season-ending ACL tear suffered this time last year. Yet Smith, the defense’s pragmatic spokesman, isn’t ready to raise any banners.
“Everyone wants me to say or just want us to say like, Yeah we got the talent we’re going to do this and this and this,” Smith says. “You still got to put that work in; it looks great on paper but the chemistry on the field is totally different. At the end of the day, when we get in these game situations, we have to know we’re all fighting for the same thing.”
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Quotes of the Week
“I’d stop spending billions of taxpayer dollars on stadiums and probably get us out of debt and maybe make the billionaires who actually benefit from the stadiums pay for them.”
—Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, asked to detail his hypothetical presidential platform in an interview with 710 ESPN in Seattle.
He has my vote.
“Everybody’s been babied growing up, especially my era of growing up, and I’m only 23. We’ve all been babied, we need someone to tell us what’s real and what’s not. So Jim Bob does that. He lets us know and brings the best out of us.”
—Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron, referring to Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter in comments to reporters on Thursday.
Jim Bob Cooter is 31 years old.
“I don’t need to see it for me to understand the grief or backlash that I got from it. I’m admitting that I’ve learned from it. And that’s the first step.”
—Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to Charlotte’s 610 AM The Fan, breaking radio silence on his much scrutinized post-Super Bowl press conference.
I believe we can all move on now, yes?
“At this point everything is football, I’m a 49er and excited to work with Chip and his coaching staff. I’m excited about what’s to come.”
—49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick following his return to action after a tumultuous offseason during which he required three surgeries and requested a trade.
Nice to see Colin in good spirits; the league is more fun when he’s jacking up his receivers’ fingers with 96 mph fastballs. Now all he has to do is beat out Blaine Gabbert.
“I’m just throwing it away. Coach asked me to work on those things, so if he says to throw it away, I’m going to throw that thing as far as I can—all the way away.”
—Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has responded to the insistence of his coaches that he learn to throw the ball away rather than put himself at risk by tossing it over the 16-foot fence surrounding the practice field, sometimes hitting the neighbors’ garages.
Robert can’t just quietly and constructively respond to coaching or criticism. He has to make a thing out of it.
This exchange between former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and L. Jon Wertheim, executive editor of Sports Illustrated:
Wertheim: “Everybody I’ve spoken to about you has referenced your financial savvy. What’s the source of that?”
Lynch: “You ate cereal before?”
Wertheim: “I’ve eaten cereal.”
Lynch: “Alright. Have you ever had a roach in your cereal before?”
Lynch: “You haven’t, right?”
Wertheim: “I have not.”
Lynch: “If you came from eatin’ cereal with roaches in it before, Dawg . . . Feel what I’m sayin’? You wouldn’t want to do that again, right? Once you’ve seen the lowest of the low, you don’t want to go back.”
“I’ll get a bunch of bibles in the mail I’m sure. Rightfully so.”
—Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians to NFL Network’s Dan Hellie following a screening of the upcoming Amazon series All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals.
More Arians, on Arizona’s recently completed minicamp:
“We just probably finished up the best 13 practices I’ve ever been around in the NFL. This is my 22nd year, and our last two days it scared me how hard we were competing against each other.”
* * *
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
I’m not actually a Starwood guy (Marriott whatupppp!) but I did go on a tremendous work-related vacation to a lake house in Pound Ridge, N.Y., along with the rest of the ever-expanding MMQB staff, for our annual off-season retreat. We welcomed new hires Albert Breer and Tim Rohan into the fold, expanding our editorial staff by about 15%, give or take. We’re a small site, but we have big ambitions, many of them centered around bringing you unique content—video and written—in 2016. I’m particularly excited about two proposed projects on football lifestyle and the Super Bowl’s return to football mecca (Texas).
Highlights from the two-day summit:
1. I caught a fish in Lake Kitchawan. It was a five-pound bass, and there are witnesses, plural.
2. Breer won an intense game of survivor flip cup. (In case you’re not familiar, it’s an every-man-for-himself game in which the last person to drink a few ounces of beer and flip his/her cup in each round is knocked out of the game). I was eliminated after being assessed a three-second penalty for being in the bathroom too long between rounds. (That’s a draconian and prejudicial judgment if ever there was one.) Breer and flip cup rookie Andy Benoit advanced to the finals, which was won on Breer’s second flip. The whole thing was an elaborate sham.
3. After many tries, Peter successfully stood up on a paddle board, but refused do so beyond the safety of shallow water near the lake’s edge. Sad!
4. SI Kids managing editor Mark Bechtel prepared an incredible meal for the team, including smoked ribs, spicy-sweet chicken wings, pulled pork, homemade pickles and perfectly cooked steak. Top five barbecue experiences of a life spent not eating nearly enough barbecue (because how much is enough, really?).
5. During the drive back to the city, Chris Stone, our host for the two-day retreat, was officially promoted to editorial director for the Sports Illustrated Group. Congrats, Chris!
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Tweets of the Week
It amazes me how ppl hear, "let's make it tougher for bad ppl to get guns" and turn it into --> ban all guns! Screw the 2nd amendment.— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) June 12, 2016
If one more politician takes advantage of these tragedies to promote their political agendas I'll puke. So repulsive, it's why I won't vote!— Nate Boyer (@NateBoyer37) June 12, 2016
The NFL commissioner, making light of the @NFL hack on Twitter that announced Goodell’s death.
World Champion Denver Broncos has a nice Ring to it! pic.twitter.com/Hvnm3w1fln— Wade Phillips (@sonofbum) June 13, 2016
Agent Leigh Steinberg, relentless Paxton Lynch cheerleader, on some of the rookie’s good deeds.
welcome to college football saturday— Jon Bois (@jon_bois) June 11, 2016
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think I enjoyed my day-trip to Philadelphia last week to watch the burgeoning QB competition between Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz and to get a feel for what practices will be like under Doug Pederson, whose coaching style appears to lean closer to Andy Reid than Chip Kelly. No more deafening techno at the NovaCare facility; just modern hip-hop, at a moderate volume. And rather than players going nonstop in five or six groups at once, there’s a lot more standing around and listening. It seems to be a welcome change for the vets. Here’s cornerback Nolan Carroll: “Things are a lot more slowed down this year compared to last year. They don’t want to give us a bunch of information and throw you on the field; that’s like a wasted day. I understand his mindset from last year. He wanted us to not think and just react, but guys need the mental reps first.” I wonder if Chip can hear that 2,500 miles away in San Francisco…
2. I think if you made a list of the top head-coaching candidates at the moment, which I like to do from time to time, it would look something like this (with a high degree of variation around the league):
a. Sean McDermott, Panthers defensive coordinator: Money in the bank, provided he has the opportunity to interview.
b. Teryl Austin, Lions DC: a lot to prove after defense languished in 2015 with key injuries.
c. Josh McDaniels, Patriots OC: Comfortable, and picky.
d. Matt Patricia, Patriots DC: Ditto.
e. Jim Schwartz, Eagles DC: Could vault to the top by turning around Philadelphia’s D.
f. Todd Haley, Steelers OC: Already making noise about scoring 30 a game.
g. Mike Shula, Panthers OC: Will need to nail his interviews, should probably hire an agent.
h. Darrell Bevell, Seahawks OC: Managing the fourth-best offense, despite OL woes, washes away some stink of goal-line failure in Super Bowl.
i. Doug Marrone, assistant head coach/OL coach, Jaguars: Went 0 for 5 in interviews last winter, could use an OC gig.
j. Tom Coughlin, unemployed: Will be 70 in August.
3. I think congrats are in order for Gio Bernard, son of Haitian refugees, one of the league’s good guys and owner of a three-year, $15.5 million contract extension in Cincinnati, a true rarity these days for a running back. Bernard’s playmaking ability is well-documented—he upped his yards per carry to 4.7 last season and caught 49 passes—but it’s his improved pass-blocking since being drafted out of North Carolina in the second round in 2013 that makes him so valuable in today’s NFL.
4. I think if you asked me to project the agenda of the 2021 CBA talks, salaries for top-tier players as a percentage of the cap as opposed to a fixed number will be a major point of contention.
5. I think cropping your boss out of an Instagram photo is pretty childish. Then again, I’d be pretty peeved if I’d just single-handedly turned the tide of a Super Bowl and my bosses couldn’t afford or didn’t want to pay me considerably more money than the Giants gave Olivier Vernon. Of course, if you’re looking for someone to blame for this contract standoff between an All-Pro and his Hall of Fame GM, look no further than Jerry Reese, the Giants GM who paid $52.5 guaranteed for a defensive end with 14 sacks in the past two seasons.
6. I think if I were Rams owner Stan Kroenke, I’d wait a few months before talking contract extensions with Les Snead and Jeff Fisher, the GM-coach combo that has 34 losses in four seasons together. Granted, drafting a rookie quarterback No. 1 overall gave the pair new life, and it would probably take a disastrous 2016 performance to justify canning both, but still, where’s the urgency to re-sign them?
7. I think kudos are in order for Vikings quarterback Shaun Hill, who heard his hometown rec league was switching from tackle football to flag football for its younger players, and not only penned a letter of support, but also decided to sponsor the league so children could play for free. A native of Parsons, Kan., and father of two boys, Hill has football’s future in mind. “To me, it's a preservation thing for this game,” he told ESPN’s Kevin Seifert. “We're really losing a lot of kids to other sports, and they just don't come back later on. So this is an opportunity to give those kids an outlet to play football and to learn the game if maybe their parents are holding them out.”
8. I think you should check out the delightful tale of Jets rookie free agent Helva Matungulu, a Kenyan immigrant who says he took a wrong turn on his way to class at Western Carolina in 2011 and happened upon a football practice. He’ll be a guy to root for come August.
9. I think I have two follow-up thoughts on my quarterback story from last month:
a. There were a few people who responded to the piece—which focuses on how socioeconomic privilege so heavily impacts a child’s opportunity to become a quarterback at any level—with what amounts to a ‘Duh.’ Said one commenter, “Next you should write a story about how water is wet.” I think I may have failed to convey just how many more resources are needed to become an NFL QB than to become, say, a cornerback. Part of the reason for that is a lack of data: The NFLPA has never done a survey of players’ socioeconomic backgrounds, and if the NFL has, they’re not sharing. Anecdotally, I can tell you the NFL locker room is a collection of rich, poor and everything in between, but the QB room is decidedly not. I made this argument in the story, but if I could do it over again I would’ve made it in the first 500 words.
b. I had a fellow journalist on Twitter question why I do not mention race even once in this story. He and I discussed that question in a series of emails. Here’s part of what I wrote: One of my ambitions was to help people understand why there are so few black quarterbacks, and how the problem is systemic and generational. But I also wanted to avoid saying the word black in the text. If people were going to come to the realization, I wanted it to be organic; I wanted to avoid mentioning race and having people read the story from a defensive or an offensive mindset, depending on their political leanings. I felt like, if anybody can read that and believe black quarterbacks have just as much a shot as white quarterbacks, or that the underprivileged at-large had just as much a chance as the privileged, then they were unreachable as readers to begin with.
c. With all that said, thank you to those of you who took the time to read the story; it was a true pleasure to report.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week.
a. Happy birthday to the boss, Peter King, who turned 59 last week. Peter told me four years ago at the Indianapolis combine that he was starting a website, and he thought I’d be a nice addition to the staff. He declared, as is his custom, “I don’t know if this thing will work, but we’re gonna try it!” He is the life force behind our site, and his unique dedication to developing young journalists has had a profound impact on my life. Thanks, PK.
b. I was struck by the progression of the Stanford rape story, which, in my opinion, went from a 5 out of 10 on the viral outrage scale to a 10 out of 10 when the victim posted her incredibly moving statement to her attacker, Brock Turner, to Buzzfeed. In this age of elevated media saturation, the potential impact of source material, presented the right way, cannot be understated. In sports media, this is the appeal of the Players Tribune and many of the player essays we publish here on this site. (Most recently, AJ Tarpley shared his pained words on his decision to retire from the game.) I believe getting the info straight from the source, sans interpretation or mischaracterization, will be a large part of the future of our industry. More importantly, I think Brock Turner and all the other convicted rapists should receive sentences commensurate with their crimes.
c. As you contemplate what the largest mass shooting in American history means for us as a people, I think you should read this incredibly deep dive into Chicago’s daily gun violence, which puts names and faces to the madness on the city’s south and west sides. A small army of New York Times reporters spent a weekend in the city, chronicling every shooting and the lives of those affected in print and with a variety of stunning multimedia. This quote, from a local barber, stuck with me: “You’re talking about poverty and families broken up and people not having opportunity and losing their way. Violence is what we talk about in these chairs. We talk about it. We analyze it. But we don’t have easy answers.” I lived in Chicago for three years before moving to Denver this winter. I won’t pretend to know anything about what specifically ails the city’s impoverished neighborhoods, but I do know there are two very distinct Chicagos—one is white, the other black and brown, and never do the twain meet.
d. Congrats to Danny Kelly on his new post at The Ringer, and to Jenna Laine on her new job covering the Buccaneers for ESPN; I love seeing two good journalists and better people get well-deserved promotions. And good luck to the rest of The Ringer’s staff as it embarks on an ambitious and important effort in our field.
e. I’m excited to get started on Mike Klis’ new book, Crossing the 101, which he and I have talked about at length over the past two years. It’s the story of an impoverished Polynesian community in East Palo Alto and the rugby coach who molded an at-risk group of young men into a national champion.
f. Congratulations are in order to one of my best friends, Michael Campanaro (a cousin of the Ravens WR by the same name), who married his high school sweetheart, Mandy, last Sunday in front of 120 friends and family. Michael entrusted me to perform the ceremony, which proved disastrous: I froze under pressure and had to consult my smartphone for the right words. Said the gracious and gorgeous bride: “It’s okay Robert. It made it more real.”
g. Finally, happy 60th birthday to my mother, Dr. Lisa Bradley Klemko, who once told me I ought to get down on my knees and thank my lucky stars I was born of her womb. I did, and I am thankful.
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The Adieu Haiku
I don’t do haikus.
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