Plus more notes from around the league, including the Von Miller and Eric Berry negotiations and a no-look catch from an old Carson Wentz target
1. I think I’m a sucker for any athlete’s musical endeavors, and I can’t stop listening to Le’Veon Bell’s new song, “Focus.”
Bell raps about his health: “I guess I’m only supposed to worry about my knee/Look don’t worry about my focus/focus/focus/focus/focus…” and lays groundwork for contract negotiations (he is on the last year of his rookie deal): “I’m at the top and if not I’m the closest/ Ima need 15 a year and they know this.” Though Bell backed away from his $15-million-a-year demand in comments to ESPN last week, I am curious what Bell could command. Gaudy running back contracts are out of vogue—consider that Adrian Peterson’s average annual value of $14 million a year is five million more than the second-highest running back contract AAV, belonging to Jamaal Charles—but a healthy Bell, who will be 25 if he hits the open market next offseason, could seduce a general manager into spending foolishly. That said, I expect the Steelers to extend Bell during the season or us the franchise tag next winter and stall for a year. As for the rapping? Le’Veon, from a fellow creative, here’s some advice: Don’t read the comments.
2. I think I am curious about Paul Hornung’s lawsuit against helmet manufacturer Riddell. While the NFL has settled most of its concussion-related suits, companies like RiddelI are still vulnerable, and it is rare for a player of Hornung’s era to file such a complaint. The outcome of this could persuade other players to come forward. And while I was initially struck by the relatively low amount of damages Hornung claimed—$50,000—Sports Illustrated legal expert Michael McCann explained to me that that number is only a minimum pleading requirement for the Circuit Court of Cook County (Ill.) to hear his case. So Hornung will likely seek more money when, or if, the case continues.
3. I think the Kansas City Chiefs are going to pay Eric Berry, as they should. Harrison Smith’s five-year, $51.25 million extension with the Vikings is the baseline for Berry, who will play 2016 for $10.8 million under the franchise tender if he doesn’t strike a deal by Friday. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chiefs negotiate right until the deadline, just as they did with Justin Houston last season.
4. I think the ping pong match of media leaks between Von Miller and the Denver Broncos made for entertaining offseason fodder, but this saga is inching toward the inevitable: a long-term deal ahead of the Friday deadline. Essentially: We could have savored an offseason of Miller dancing, gallivanting around Hollywood and chicken farming rather than scrounging for information nuggets on the negotiations.
5. I think I am disappointed for Marquise Goodwin, who failed to qualify for the Olympics in the long jump. Throughout his journey, Goodwin always battled a cold reality: His track sojourn jeopardized his NFL security. By skipping Rio, Goodwin’s status in Buffalo is much sturdier. Mack Brown, Goodwin’s football coach at the University of Texas, told me it took Goodwin about four games to regain football shape after he returned from the 2012 London Olympics. The Bills might not have exercised similar patience.
6. I think the NFL’s inability to properly address its catch rule continues to be a disservice to coaches, fans and players—let alone its officials. And by “properly address,” I mean overhauling it. The nebulous term “football move” has been removed, but for the second straight year, the rule’s wording has been augmented with unnecessary clunkiness: “after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps.” The specificity is baffling to me. Last season officials were hamstrung because of the massive gray area for subjective judgment. Common sense says the fix would mean making the rule simpler. Instead, the NFL muddled the rule by expanding that gray area.
7. I hear you, Michael Bennett. You’re doing important and intimate community service work in Hawaii, which you have adopted as an offseason home with your wife, an Oahu native. You host a free football camp, which impacts locals. It must be frustrating to see a fellow celebrity, like NBA star Steph Curry, parachute in and host his own camp, charging $2,250 per camper, a price point that alienates many. But venting to a local TV station isn't a flattering look. “I see a lot of different athletes come through Hawaii, whether it’s Steph Curry or whoever it is,” Bennett said in an interview with KHON. “They all come here and it makes me mad, because I live in this community and I understand this community, that there’s so many kids who can’t afford to pay such a high amount of money. In my mind it’s like, How much money do you need before you start giving back for free? And I think a lot of athletes should start focusing on that.” Instead of disparaging Curry, let’s commend Bennett and dozens of other athletes who have spent their off seasons volunteering. As Robert Klemko pointed out in his story on the demographics of this year’s quarterback class, there are inherent advantages for young athletes who come from money. Anything that makes sports more inclusive should be celebrated.
8. I think the league’s evolving attitude on marijuana will carry weight in 2016, especially as the NFL grapples with a decades-old issue concerning another form of pain-management: opioid painkillers. In fact, I think we’ll be hearing a lot about the prevalence and abuse of painkillers in the coming months. Calvin Johnson’s admission to ESPN’s Michael Smith that in the first half of his career, players could procure painkillers like they were “candy” resonated with many, considering the wide receiver’s stature and that his NFL career began so recently (2007). A few days earlier, a federal judge in the Northern District of California denied the NFL’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by more than 1,500 players alleging NFL teams’ medical staffs intentionally duped them on the health risks of painkillers. A similar suit, led by Richard Dent in 2014, was dismissed.
9. I think the Eagles should take a look at Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Ryan Smith. Carson Wentz’s former teammate at North Dakota State made this ridiculous no-look catch in a 28-24 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (you know you miss football when you find yourself watching CFL replays over the weekend). Then again, maybe video game moves like that only work in Canada.
10. I think Lovie Smith will be treated like a rock star in Champaign—at least until the Illini lose a few games. I drove through campus recently and spotted no less than three Lovie-related merchandise items supporting the coach, whose unceremonious dismissals defined his last two NFL gigs.
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