Muhammad Wilkerson’s contract dilemma, Eugene Monroe’s gripe with the Ravens, and who impressed most in spring workouts—that and other hot topics heading into a June weekend in the NFL
1) I think it shouldn’t be “shocking” to Muhammad Wilkerson—who is sitting out of team activities while contemplating signing his $15.7 million franchise tag—that the Jets have been hesitant to commit the kind of money he’d like to see in a new contract. Last year’s addition of highly capable first-round pick Leonard Williams to the interior defensive line considerably damaged Wilkerson’s bargaining power and all but eliminated the prospect of the sixth-year player earning the type of contract ($63 million guaranteed) that he wants. Sure, Wilkerson “deserves” Fletcher Cox money, as teammate Sheldon Richardson put it, but deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
2) I think this is my All-Minicamp Hype Team. Let’s remember to check back in January to see how these guys fared.
QB: Andy Dalton, Bengals — “Way better than advertised,” says wideout Brandon LaFell.
WR: Sterling Shepard, Giants rookie — “He's going to be a phenomenal player,” says wideout Odell Beckham.
WR: Dezmin Lewis, Bills — “For my money, Dez Lewis is the guy that stood out,” says Rex Ryan.
WR: Jaelen Strong, Texans — “Turned it around 180 degrees,” says Bill O’Brien.
TE: Ladarius Green, Steelers — “A brand-new Ferrari in the impound lot that I'm just looking through the fence at,” says QB Ben Roethlisberger.
DT: Sheldon Day, Jaguars rookie — “Could be an impact player for us,” says linebacker Telvin Smith.
DE: Danielle Hunter, Vikings — “The big thing for him is to use what God gave him and he'll be unstoppable,” says defensive end Everson Griffen.
DE: Leonard Williams, Jets — “Hopefully, the world is his,” says Jets DL coach Pepper Johnson.
LB: Preston Brown, Bills — “Gonna be a star,” says Bills assistant coach Rob Ryan.
CB: Leodis McKelvin, Eagles — “The guy that's really stood out the most to me,” says Doug Pederson.
S: Keanu Neal, Falcons rookie — “His ability is out of control,” says Falcons DB coach Marquand Manuel.
3) I think Eugene Monroe is barking up the wrong tree with the suggestion that he was on the outs in Baltimore because of his pro-medical marijuana stance. Coach John Harbaugh said the tackle’s release this week was 100% a football decision, and I’m inclined to believe him. Harbaugh carried the politically vocal Matt Birk and Brendon Ayanbadejo for as long as they could contribute.
4) I think it’s worth remembering when Ron Rivera was a coach on the hot seat after going 13-21 in his first two seasons in Carolina. The Panthers were 1-3 in that second season when the NFL Network reported that new GM Dave Gettleman was laying the groundwork for replacing Rivera. (Gettleman has repeatedly and insistently denied that report over the years.) Back in October 2013, an unnamed Panthers player told Mike Silver something prescient: “The guy who can save Rivera's job is Cam Newton. If he plays like he did last game, we've got a shot.”
Three years later Newton is the reigning league MVP and Rivera is the owner of a three-year, $19.5 million contract extension; what a difference the quarterback makes.
5) I think we should be as upset with the prospect of Darren Sharper being sentenced to just 15-20 years in August for raping nine women in four states as we are with Brock Turner’s several-months sentence for sexual assault. Sharper, the former Saints cornerback, has struck a deal with federal prosecutors that included an admission of guilt and testimony against his two co-defendants.
6) I think I had a blast trekking across the country this week to visit mini camps in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Kansas City in a three-day span. These sorts of trips become an exercise in comparing and contrasting coaching styles, but one thing each of these coaching staffs seem to have in common is a profound sense of urgency. Favorite moment: The Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, in June, emphatically arguing with referees over the game clock during two-minute drill and later, lecturing an offense comprised of backups on all the potential scenarios for a running clock with 16 seconds left.
7) I think that in all three of the cities I visited this week, tight end play will be absolutely critical for playoff success. In Pittsburgh, Ladarius Green is sprinting to get up to speed with his new team; Cincinnati is cautiously optimistic about Tyler Eifert, still on the mend after ankle surgery; and Kansas City QB Alex Smith has big hopes and big plans for Travis Kelce, coming off his first Pro Bowl nod. I could see two out of these three joining Rob Gronkowski in the upper echelon of pass-catching tight ends in 2016.
8) I think it’s always entertaining to see fans slam their favorite players on Twitter and Instagram for holding out for the best possible contract. Von Miller’s mentions have been filled with vitriol every time he makes a public comment about his contract standoff with John Elway and the Broncos. You can disagree with multi-million dollar contracts for athletes on a societal level, but how can you blame a guy for aspiring to be paid what he’s worth?
9) I think the Patriots are unique in so many ways, but one of the most impressive has to be the way former problem children get in line after they arrive in Foxborough and meet Bill Belichick.
Here’s free-wheelin’, straight-shootin’ Bears tight end Martellus Bennett in the summer of 2015:
“Why does everyone always assume the quarterback is the leader? Leading the offense and leading the team are two different things. Sometimes I like Cutty, and sometimes I don’t… There are veterans that people follow, and then you’ve got guys that lead the offense, get everyone lined up, get to your spot, do what you need to do, let’s do our plays.”
And here’s model Patriots employee Martellus Bennett in the summer of 2016, discussing his role as second fiddle to Rob Gronkowski:
“I really don't mind being Robin, you know? So right now it's just working every day and just trying to get better. He's an excellent player, and I'm gonna be able to get a lot of single coverages with him.”
10) I think I’m excited to read Emily Kaplan’s debut as guest MMQB columnist next week. As my colleague Jenny Vrentas will tell you, writing what is traditionally Peter King’s 6,000-plus word weekly opus on football is a fun exercise—provided you only have to do it once a year.
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