Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem has ignited debate across the sport, and beyond. What’s next for the Niners QB? Plus much more on Tony Romo, Trevor Siemian and five impressive rookies
Politics. Sports. Cops. Race. The perfect combo platter to inflame America.
And inflame America is exactly what Colin Kaepernick did. The MMQB is in its fourth year. Never has a poll we’ve taken generated more than 1,000 responses, until last night. We asked if you supported Kaepernick’s right to sit during the national anthem. In two hours, 9,630 of you responded.
For MMQB, a Kaepernick poll. Do you support Kaepernick's right to sit during the anthem? (1 of 2)— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) August 28, 2016
It‘s unprecedented. On Sunday afternoon Kaepernick had what observers thought was the longest press briefing with Niners’ media of his five-year career—18-and-a-half minutes—to double-down on the statements he made to Steve Wyche of NFL Media on Friday night. Kaepernick will continue to sit during the national anthem, as his protest of the way blacks are treated in America, even if it costs him dearly as an NFL player. And he hammered away at police, and the training of police, and police brutality. “You can become a cop in six months,” he said by his locker at the Niners’ training facility, “and you don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist. That’s insane. I mean, someone that’s holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun and are going out on the street to protect us.”
For the CNN crowd wondering about the scope of this: It’s quite large. There are some 1,200 African-American players who will make NFL rosters this year, and you can count on one finger those who will take on the subject of race in America the way Kaepernick is. The reaction has been intense. Asked about it Sunday afternoon, one NFL head coach said, “My f---ing guys will stand for the anthem! And they want to!”
It also marks Kaepernick’s return to relevance. Three years ago this week, former NFL passer Ron Jaworski said Kaepernick “could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.” Since then, Kaepernick’s passer rating has steadily declined: from 91.6 in 2013 to 86.4 in ’14 to 78.5 last year. Early in his career Kaepernick made the kind of throws Brett Favre could make, and the kind of runs Steve Young used to make. But he’s fallen off a cliff the past couple years. He’s been mediocre to poor this summer for new coach Chip Kelly, Kaepernick’s third coach in three years. No one heard a thing of substance from him in months, until Friday night, after a poor performance against Green Bay, when he told Wyche he wouldn’t stand for the anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said. (As Wyche told me Sunday: “He spoke with absolute conviction, knowing there’d be backlash.”)
The Niners mobilized Sunday in Santa Clara to address an issue no team in my memory has had to address. Coach Chip Kelly’s 10-man team leadership council met in the morning to discuss the story, and Kaepernick addressed the group and found supportive teammates. Wisely, Kaepernick spoke to a media throng for a long time post-practice, because the issue’s not going away. He was eloquent, strident and not argumentative making some cogent points, while some of the beat people iPhoned video segments of the interview and sent it out on social media, virtually live. For this one American, I was glued to my laptop while the segments were parceled out.
Sunday night, I asked two questions on Twitter. In addition to the one referenced above, there was this:
For MMQB, a Kaepernick poll. Second question: Is Kaepernick right?— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) August 28, 2016
We also solicited reader comments on Facebook. There were more anti-Kaepernick comments than pro.
On Facebook, Shawn Overby Schmitz wrote: “He has the right. Having a right does not make an action appropriate. It was not wrong exactly but his protest is meaningless without true action on his part. He has the means ($$$) and public persona to DO something to work toward change. Be a part of Black Lives Matter. Actually RISK something by the protest. Fund charities and other organizations that are working toward true change.”
“It’s his right to sit,” tweeted @hitmeinthe8s. “And it’s my right to say he’s an a—hole.”
• Kaepernick might not make the team when final cuts are announced this weekend, which would inflame the situation even more, because the 49ers are rudderless at quarterback and Kaepernick used to be such a star. FOX’s Jay Glazer reported his tenuous roster spot Sunday, and he’s right. Kaepernick is 10-14 with a pedestrian 83.7 rating in the past two years, and he appears to have lost significant weight—he’d be the thinnest starting quarterback in football, for what that’s worth—and he wasn’t any better than his competitor for the job, Blaine Gabbert, in the offseason program and camp. Gabbert’s fairly certain to be one of the quarterbacks when the final roster is announced. Kaepernick, sixth-round rookie Jeff Driskel and veteran Christian Ponder are in contention for either one or two roster spots. Kaepernick may make it, but it would have to be on faith, because he’s shown Kelly little this summer.
• Money’s not much of a factor, but there’s an asterisk there. Kaepernick had his 2016 salary of $11.9 million guaranteed by being on the roster on April 1, but failing to make the roster would negate his $1.125 million roster bonus. The Niners might be thinking that if Kaepernick suffers an injury that would carry into 2017, he could force the team to pay him $14.5 million guaranteed in 2017; that salary is guaranteed next year on April 1.
• The Niners finish their preseason Thursday night at San Diego, where a heavy concentration of about 95,000 active-duty military personnel live. Though Kaepernick spoke on Sunday of his appreciation for the sacrifice of so many in the military, the fact that he’s not willing to stand for the anthem will anger the community there.
• It’s not logical to suggest to Kaepernick that he sit in the locker room each week until the end of the anthem, so that that every camera in the stadium in this week and in future weeks won’t be focused on him. That would be seen as stifling his right to protest, and the Niners said over the weekend he can do what he wants while he’s on the team. If San Francisco brass told him to stay in the locker room until the end of the anthem, that’s not exactly allowing players to exercise free speech.
• Some teammates could find Kaepernick’s stand a problem. Football’s a team game, emphasizing togetherness. What if the left and right tackles are staunch America-right-or-wrong guys and there’s a rift in the locker room or on the field because of it? Now there’s a problem a coaching staff never thought it would face.
The next chapter in this? No one knows. Expect the Niners to be buttoned up for the next few days; they don’t want to be the MSNBC live shot all week. Expect Kaepernick to focus mostly on trying to make the team this week. And expect other players to be opinionated, and not just in a totally positive way.
Said Tampa Bay tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins: “If you live in America, you have the right to express yourself freely. This is not a Communist country. It’s the land of the free and the home of the brave, and people sacrifice their lives so Americans can have the freedom of speech that he chose to use—regardless how people feel about it. But I think if he’s serious about the problem, he should invest in the black community. He should invest in education. He should invest in Oakland. People have been standing up and saying things, but we need action.”
A postscript: I like Kaepernick’s action. We want players to speak freely and tell the truth—until they do it, and then we want them back in the same boring mold. Good for Kaepernick to exercise his First Amendment right of free speech, which you rarely hear a current player do. For his sake, I hope he has some thick skin this Thursday and on days following, when he’s sure to get pushback on his recent actions.
For people who know the man, this weekend wasn’t a big surprise. Three years ago, Kaepernick told me: “I want to try to break that perfect football mold. I don’t want to be someone who can be put into a category.” In one weekend, he accomplished that.
There is nothing certain about Tony Romo
After a rough tackle early in the preseason game at Seattle on Thursday night, Tony Romo, 36, got an MRI Friday and discovered he’d fractured a vertebra in his back. The starting job falls now to the 135th pick in the 2016 draft, Dak Prescott of Mississippi State. Romo faces the frustrating madness of a fourth straight year with a significant injury (disk surgery, two fracture back bones, fractured clavicle, re-fractured clavicle, and now a fractured vertebra), but he did tell one club official over the weekend: “I’m gonna be in Dak’s back pocket to help him. We’re gonna win games with Dak.”
Brave talk. Hasn’t worked that way in the past in Dallas.
Two important points here, from Cowboys COO and director of player personnel Stephen Jones on Sunday afternoon:
• Dallas is all-in with Dak Prescott. Remember the draft-day obsession with Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch? As I reported last spring, the Cowboys spent 67 minutes and 19 phone calls with at least nine teams trying to move up in the draft to take Lynch late in the first round. They failed, settling for Prescott late in the fourth round. Now? “I don’t think our guys would even consider trading Prescott for Lynch right now,” said Jones. “No, I know they wouldn’t. That’s how much they like Dak right now.” Look for Dallas to pick up a veteran body as a backup—but only to back up Prescott—as players get waived and traded in this week of roster movement.
Romo’s very likely to get his job back when he’s healthy, but … “I can’t imagine a scenario where Tony’s not our quarterback when he’s ready,” Jones said. “But things happen. You know that. You know what happened to Bledsoe and Brady. [In 2001, Drew Bledsoe was KO’d with internal bleeding for most of the season. Unknown Tom Brady relieved him and never gave back the job.) I’m sure Tony’s aware of that. But the reality is, Tony’s going to come back for us and play great, we believe.”
What would have to happen for Prescott to stay under center? No one knows. Dallas doesn’t have a killer early slate (vs. Giants, at Washington, vs. Chicago, at San Francisco, vs. Cincinnati, at Green Bay), but you can’t sit here and say if they go 4-2 or 5-1 Romo wouldn’t get his job back. Put it this way: It’s highly likely that Romo returns as the starter. But that probably shouldn’t be the question. Romo missed 12 games with the twice-fractured clavicle. He’ll miss up to six games this year with the back break. That would be 18 missed games in one-plus seasons. He’s 36. Romo’s at the point in his career—and has been so abused since mid-2013—that nothing is guaranteed, except again the backup quarterback is more important in Dallas than anywhere else in football.
Backups in Dallas are 1-13 in the past three years.
“It’s a different feel around here this time,” Jones said. “We like what we’ve got behind Tony now. This is still a gut punch. It hurts bad. But I can tell you this time we’re not going to be sitting around worrying when Tony gets back. We can’t say, ‘We need to go 3-3,’ or whatever, with Tony gone. The hell with that. We gotta have a game plan to beat the Giants, and to win every game without him.”
Prescott, of course, has been a godsend. A DUI arrest in March (he was later cleared) pushed him down draft boards, and he’s been the best quarterback by far in the NFL preseason—whatever that means. His 137.8 rating and .780 accuracy rate have blown away the Cowboys. In some ways, he’s almost been too perfect. This story from training camp reflects that: In an 11-on-11 period late in practice, the offense had 10 seconds left to score, and Prescott was the quarterback with the first unit. He passed to Dez Bryant, and Bryant was supposed to out of bounds immediately so the clock would stop or go to the ground so the offense could call a timeout. But Bryant tried to score instead, was stopped, and the clock ran out. Prescott ran to him and said words to this effect: We know you’re the best receiver in the world and you MIGHT score, but we can’t take that chance. You gotta use your head and get the clock stopped. That’s a rookie, talking to Dez Bryant. And Bryant, to his credit acknowledged Prescott was right. Prescott grew a lot in the eyes of the starting offense, and the coaches, that day.
What’ll happen now? Prescott wasn’t a great deep-ball thrower at Mississippi State, but he’ll have to do that some to keep the Giants honest on opening day. In a way, this reminds me a bit of the Ravens in 2008. That year, first-year coach John Harbaugh wasn’t planning to start rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, but incumbents Kyle Boller and Troy Smith were hurt, and Flacco had to play. Baltimore had a great run game and an excellent offensive line, and reliable targets in Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. Dallas is similar with Bryant and Jason Witten. Where the teams differ is that Baltimore’s defense was terrific; the Dallas unit will struggle.
If you saw the Cowboys on Thursday night in Seattle, you saw a preview of how I think Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will play: bashing first-round running back Ezekiel Elliott even against the most physical of defenses—Elliot didn’t shy away from challenging Kam Chancellor in the hole—with Prescott relying inordinately on Witten for security. They don’t offer insurance for this kind of thing, as former Cowboy coach Bill Parcells once said, and this is a bad injury for Dallas. But that why this game’s so maddening to predict. Who can really say Prescott’s not ready? Watching the preseason so far, I’d take my chances opening day with Prescott over Jared Goff, the first pick in the draft. Jerry Jones likes great theater. Well, this isn’t the way he envisioned it, starting the 135th pick in the 2016 draft at quarterback. But he’s got the reality show of the year to open the new season.
The Trevor Siemian interview
Barring a major surprise, Peyton Manning will be succeeded as quarterback of the Super Bowl champions by a 2015 seventh-round pick who was lucky to be that. Trevor Siemian is the heavy favorite to take the first snap for Denver in the NFL opener in 10 days against the Panthers and reigning MVP Cam Newton. A bit of a stunner for a guy who, entering the 2015 draft process in Denver, was listed on the scouting department’s “Others’’ category, not even one of the primary 15 prospects the Broncos were investigating for the draft. I talked to Siemian in Colorado on my camp trip.
MMQB: So you tear your ACL late in your senior year at Northwestern. How in the world did you prove to anyone you were draft-worthy?
Siemian: I had my surgery, I think, Dec. 7. I’m thinking about what is going to happen next. My senior year wasn’t going the way I thought it would. It started getting a little bit better toward the end, but then I got hurt. I interned in commercial real estate in college and I interned in medical device sales, and I was thinking, ‘This is why I went to Northwestern. I have a chance to get a job if making it to the next level doesn’t work out.’ I was hedging my bets, if you want to say that. I think I could have had a job [in commercial real estate] after college somewhere, somehow. But as I was rehabbing, probably my third month of rehab, Denver reached out. Obviously I couldn’t do much with the knee anyway. So I had a little workout where I just did dropback stuff. This is four months after my ACL surgery. My thought was, I’m a fringe guy anyway. So I have to do everything I can to take advantage of every opportunity I can.”
MMQB: When did you first have the idea that you might really have a chance to play here and you weren’t just some insurance policy?
Siemian: Probably OTAs that spring [in 2015]. I was only getting a couple reps; my knee still wasn’t fully right yet. I strung a few throws together in seven-on-seven team drills, and I said, Shoot, I can do this. I have a chance here. As a quarterback you have to have confidence, and I was always confident I could do it, but I just figured I’d try to just get better each day and see where it takes me.
MMQB: I saw you in your first preseason game at Chicago, and your first four throws were downfield—like Gary Kubiak is trying to see right away if you’ve got it in you to play at this level.
Siemian: That’s why I like playing for Kubes and the way we call plays here. I remember last year—my second preseason game—we were at Houston and we get the ball backed up, and the first play he calls is a seven-step play-pass out of the end zone and I’m thinking, Whoa, was that the right call? I loved it. You get in there, cut it loose and be aggressive. That’s our mindset as a team.
MMQB: There’s no way the Super Bowl champs can start a guy with a 119-word Wikipedia page at quarterback, is there? What do you want people to know about you?
Siemian: Not too much. I love playing the game. I love the process, I love being around my teammates and coaches, and I just want to be the best teammate I can be, really. Every game that I go into is the most important game I’ll play.
The men of summer
This season, The MMQB will partner with the think-tankers at Pro Football Focus to give some morning-after analysis of the most significant events of Sunday’s games in Monday Morning Quarterback. This weekend, always the weekend with the most first-unit snaps of the preseason, I asked PFF founder Neil Hornsby for the five young players who impressed him the most in the first month of their pro careers. His starting five, amazingly enough, begins with a fourth-round quarterback and a fifth-round wide receiver:
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas. Looking at the box-score numbers—39 of 50, 454 yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions—it’s easy to see Prescott as the heir apparent to Tony Romo. But as our Steve Palazzolo points out in this article, there are at least a few cautionary signs. That said, for a rookie to grade as well under pressure as when kept clean (as Prescott has) is a very encouraging sign and one that has Cowboy fans staying away from the ledge.
Tajae Sharpe, wide receiver, Tennessee. One of the most predictive stats we have for receivers is yards per route run (YPRR). You take a receiver’s yards (163, in Sharpe’s case), divide it by the number of routes he’s run (34), and you come up with 4.79—the highest in the NFL this preseason. This stat worked well last year in assessing the potential of Jordan Reed. But it’s not just the numbers; operating almost exclusively on the outside, Sharpe is also our third-graded receiver overall, operating in the upper echelon with the likes of Allen Robinson and Mike Evans. Not bad for a guy who played for UMass in the Mid-American Conference.
Ronnie Stanley, left tackle, Baltimore. Three games, three starts, 81 snaps (51 in pass protection) and only a single quarterback-hurry allowed. He’s also not been penalized and blocked pretty well in the running game. It’s pretty hard to conceive how the first-round pick from Notre Dame could have expected a better introduction to NFL life.
Chris Jones, defensive tackle, Kansas City. Playing mostly the disruptive three-technique spot (53 of 61 snaps), Jones has been by far our top-rated interior defensive lineman. The second-round choice from Mississippi State (37th overall) has gotten consistent pressure (at least two hurries in every game) and been PFF’s fifth-rated run defender as well. If this continues, Jones may end up being the steal of the draft.
Vernon Hargreaves III, cornerback, Tampa Bay. The Bucs traded down in the first round to get Hargreaves at No. 11, and he has more than justified his spot so far. It’s rare for stat lines to tell an adequate story but maybe this is one of those times. Playing right corner and in the slot, Hargreaves has been in coverage for 54 opposition dropbacks. He’s been targeted eight times, allowed one reception for two yards, intercepted two balls and knocked down another. The passer rating against him: 0.0.
Pro Football Focus grades every player on every play, and 23 teams buys their services. You can too, for fun or for fantasy football prep—or both.
Notes from Preseason Week 3
Keeping in mind that the preseason should be conclusion-free...
• Embattled rookie Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo lasered a 48-yarder Friday night at home, which is good—because he would have been booed back to Tallahassee had he shanked another one. Would have been plenty good from 60.
• Ben Roethlisberger’s in November form: 14 straight no-huddle plays, scoring drive, first series of the preseason.
• Impressed with three first-unit defenses: New England, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. It took a ridiculous catch by a Steeler-blanketed Willie Snead for the Saints to get off the schneid after 20 frustrating offensive minutes Friday night. The Patriots frustrated Cam Newton from the jump in Charlotte, shutting out the Panthers in the dress-rehearsal first half. And Buffalo, with several front-liners hurt, shut out the opposition (Indy, Giants, Washington) for the first 11 possessions of first unit-versus-first unit this summer, until Kirk Cousins strafed the Bills late in the first half Friday night.
• The Chiefs have had a good summer in terms of getting healthy—and, presumably, that means Eric Berry playing opening day against San Diego after his summer holdout—and the defense will be good enough. But everyone who’s been through Chiefs camp says Alex Smith, in his fourth season with Andy Reid, has had a boffo off-season. If Smith is efficient and can stay healthy and focused on making three or four more downfield throws a game, Kansas City will be a January factor.
• The Demaryius Thomas one-handed, in-stride-while-his-left-hand-is-being-held, incredibly routine-looking catch Saturday night? Insane.
• Forget the anthem controversy: Colin Kaepernick played poorly against Green Bay on Friday night, and Blaine Gabbert was barely better. Chip Kelly will probably start Gabbert, but with the Rams, Panthers and Seahawks in the first three games, the Niners have a chance to be really bad in the passing game early and often.
• One of the quiet storylines from the preseason has been the quick adjustment of Ryan Tannehill to Adam Gase’s offense in Miami. You can tell when a quarterback’s comfortable in an offense, and when I watched Tannehill on tape in Week 2 at Dallas, I saw a decisive player making the right decisions. The interesting thing about this is how multifaceted the Gase offense is, and how quickly Tannehill has taken to it. Gase’s offense has some Tom Moore/Peyton Manning inventiveness to it, some Josh McDaniels/Patriots chameleon to it, some West Coast to it. “One of the things Peyton said to me in Denver was, ‘You can always know how much a guy can see in an offense by not drawing it up—but just by talking about it,’ ” Gase told me Saturday. “So you know a guy knows it, just when you talk about it and you’re on the same page and it’s clear. That’s how I am with Ryan. He embraced everything in the offense from day one. He was, How do I do this better? Right away I knew how much he was invested. Already it’s showing up. His decision-making has been good—he’s been getting the ball out quick. He has a feel when he can change something, and I’m trusting him with that. We’re all still learning. It’s going to be a while before we get too exotic. But it’s encouraging, what we’ve seen so far.”
• Gase, by the way, is very high on fourth-year wideout Kenny Stills, who has had a big summer in South Florida.
• After Giants kicker Josh Brown was suspended one game by the NFL for domestic abuse, how exactly does USA Today find out more about the case than the league? And why is a player not suspended longer for violating terms of a protective order issued to protect his wife? Brown allegedly violated that order in 2015. One game for Brown is just too light.
• Ezekiel Elliott visited a marijuana dispensary while the Cowboys were in Seattle. Memo to Zeke: You probably don’t want to be random-tested in the NFL’s substance-abuse program. Sort of cuts in on your freedom, being tested up to 10 times a month.
• Teddy Bridgewater looked terrific in the first football game at the new Vikings stadium Sunday afternoon. The San Diego defense did not.
A training camp postscript, from Green Bay
Ted Thompson the GM wouldn’t have had much patience, and probably not a roster spot, for Ted Thompson the player. Thompson started eight games in nine Houston Oilers seasons in the ’70s and ’80s. He played special teams for his whole career. On the 90-man Packer roster, there are two players in their ninth year or later (Jordy Nelson, Julius Peppers) from among the traditional special-team position groups—linebacker, defensive back, wide receiver, running back, tight end. And neither will be playing much if at all in the kicking game, of course.
“Come to think of it,” said Thompson, “if I was the general manager of the Houston Oilers when I played, I’d have cut myself.”
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Quotes of the Week
“Regardless of how you feel about things that are going on in America today, and the things that are going on across the world with gun violence and things of that nature, you’ve got to respect the flag, and you’ve got to stand up with your teammates. It’s bigger than just you, in my opinion. I think you go up there, you’re with a team, and you go and you know you pledge your allegiance to the flag and sing the national anthem with your team and then you go about your business, whatever your beliefs are.”
—Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, on Colin Kaepernick.
“He has a lot of courage for that. I’ll give it to him. But if it was a full game, it would have been a bloodbath.”
—Seattle safety Kam Chancellor, after multiple collisions Thursday with Dallas rookie back Ezekiel Elliott in Elliot’s professional debut.
“Hashtag sign Bosa.”
—Chargers radio voice Josh Lewin, also a play-by-play man on the New York Mets radio crew, during the Mets-Cardinals game Wednesday night. That's the day the Chargers announced they were pulling the offer they had on the table for the third pick in the draft, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, the only unsigned 2016 draft choice in the NFL.
“Nobody believes anything that comes out of the league office right now as it pertains to pretty much everything. You always feel like there’s an agenda at play and nobody’s ever telling you the truth. So I think that’s the real issue here, the lack of trust.”
—Saints quarterback Drew Brees, on the “Tiki and Tierney” show on CBS radio.
“You suck 75! What the f--- is that 75?!!! Shouldn’t be in the league!!!”
—Rams offensive line coach Mike Waufle, in last week’s “Hard Knocks’’ episode on HBO, screaming at number 75 for the Chiefs, tackle Jah Reid, after a questionable block by Reid of the Chiefs knocked Los Angeles defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks from the game.
“What am I supposed to do? Buy a spaceship?”
—Super Bowl MVP Von Miller of the Broncos, to Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated, in the magazine's NFL preview issue, on plans for his money after he signed a contract with $70 million in guarantees, the highest non-quarterback deal in league history.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Cleveland drafted six players in the first round from 2011 to 2014.
None start for the team in 2016. Five are gone. The remaining one is a hugely disappointing backup—cornerback Justin Gilbert.
Gone: Phil Taylor, Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Barkevious Mingo, Johnny Manziel.
That’s an astounding, all-time level of draft failure. But you knew that already.
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Stat of the Week
Cleveland! I’ve got good news!
The only team in the past quarter-century to have 21 draft choices in the first five rounds over two drafts combined is the Cowboys, in the 1991 and ’92 drafts.
Cleveland is slated to have 21 draft picks in the first five rounds of the 2016 and 2017 drafts.
The Cowboys used many of those 21 players to help the franchise win three Super Bowls.
Dallas had 12 such in 1991 and nine in 1992, and used those picks to buttress the offensive triplets. Key guys: Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper, Erik Williams, Dixon Edwards, Kevin Smith, Robert Jones and Darren Woodson. (They also got Leon Lett and Larry Brown late in ’91.)
Cleveland had 13 picks in the top five rounds last spring. After dealing Barkevious Mingo to the Patriots on Thursday for a fifth-round pick in 2017—another horrible waste of a high pick—the Browns are scheduled for eight picks in the first five rounds next year. (That could change, based on compensatory picks next year and the end of a trade with Philadelphia.)
So now, in order to win three Super Bowls, all the Browns have to do is choose as well as Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones did at the start of their great run in Dallas. And make up for the fact that Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith were the Cowboys’ top picks in the three drafts before ’91. Unless Corey Coleman, Cody Kessler and Duke Johnson turn into Hall of Famers, of course.
Book of the Week
Win Forever: Live, Work and Play Like a Champion, by Pete Carroll with Yogi Roth
Recommended by Dolphins coach Adam Gase
“Talk about a guy with an interesting life and a lot to say,” Gase said of Carroll. “Pete said, ‘This is the way I’m going to do it, because this is what I believe in.’ The ups and downs of coaching … he’s been fired, he’s won a lot, he’s lost, he’s moved to new jobs. I just love his addiction to always trying to get better. I underlined so much in that book when I was reading it.”
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Now that I’m back from the training camp, one observation from the journey was about the progress of so many cities in bringing people back downtown. Cincinnati, with a vastly improved riverfront, is one, and I wrote about the Queen City a couple of weeks ago. There are others: Milwaukee, with a terrific and livable Third Ward, home to more than 400 businesses downtown; Houston, a good walking city when it’s not stiflingly humid, with the revitalized area around the baseball stadium; Baltimore, with the new construction (much by Under Armour) in needy areas, plus the classic old restaurants in places like Little Italy; and San Diego. I can’t say enough about how great San Diego has become, particularly around Petco Park. Two other gems in smaller cities: Green Bay has done a terrific job with brew pubs and restaurants downtown, and Spartanburg, S.C., (summer home of the Panthers) has some nice places featuring local fare and great walks.
I know zero about urban planning, but I know progress when I see it. And there’s a lot of that happening out there.
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Tweets of the Week
I will be STANDING during the National Anthem tonight. Thank you to ALL (Gender,Race,Religion)that put your lives on the line for that flag— Justin Pugh (@JustinPugh) August 27, 2016
If Dak doesn't work out maybe Jerry can turn to his grandson. John Stephen Jones threw for 325 yds and 4 TDs for Highland Park HS last night— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) August 27, 2016
Flat rate taxi fare from Charlotte airport: $25.— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) August 27, 2016
Uber fare back to the airport: $11.44.
Competition is a good thing.
Dak would start in SF— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) August 26, 2016
Alex Rodriguez had seven doubles and nine homers this year before being released. And now so does Gary Sanchez, in 20 games.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) August 27, 2016
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Awkward Magazine Cover of the Week
From last Tuesday:
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think you’ll see some fun new things at The MMQB this fall, and one of the things I’m excited about is Emily Kaplan’s weekly college football column (with a twist), beginning this week. I say with a twist because I’ve asked Emily to write each week about college football with an eye on the NFL—who’s the hot coach we might see next in pro football, who’s the next Carson Wentz, etc. Emily has the kind of reporting style that just finds good stories, so I’m excited to see her sink her teeth into a college column. That showed up in her debut column, which we’ll publish this week. She interviewed Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa, and here’s a sneak preview—Saban, after a decade away, on whether he’d return to the NFL one day:
“I guess there was a time, when I said, ‘Okay, if you win a national championship in college, because I was a pro coach for however many years, it's time to go win the Super Bowl.’ That would make my career complete. But when I did that [went to the NFL, with the Dolphins in 2005], I found out that I missed some of these things about college that were really important to me. So you learn about yourself. I just decided when I came back here, I wasn’t going to think about [pro football] anymore. I used to think at the end of the day, being a head coach in the NFL was the number one thing. But when I got to that, it was like, well, maybe you already had the number one thing for you and what you like.”
Much more Saban on Wednesday at The MMQB.
2. I think, not to be repetitive (see my Aug. 1 column), it’s remarkable how MIA Roger Goodell has been this summer. Goodell’s 10-year anniversary of taking office as commissioner (voted into the job on Aug. 8, 2006; officially replaced Paul Tagliabue on Sept. 1, 2006) is Thursday, and the commissioner has been downright invisible this preseason. No notation of the Goodell anniversary by the league—not a word. No public appearances by him in training camp. A brief public sighting and local TV interview in the first game in Los Angeles. But none of the usual klatches with reporters that has marked his tenure. I’m guessing the NFL figures there’s no point in sending him out to face the same line of questioning that has gotten him nothing but headaches in the past two years. But somehow the NFL’s got to change the narrative with Goodell and put him out there for the public to see.
3. I think the NFL is interested in the NFL Players Association seriously engaging in a deal to chip away at Goodell’s disciplinary power. Maybe that’s why the NFLPA isn’t being aggressive in seeking that right now; the union knows it has the upper hand publicly with Goodell under attack.
4. I think it is far too early to sound any alarms—three preseason games are just that—but I would like to see Jared Goff a little better than completing 48 percent of his throws, with one touchdown in 13 possessions, and a shaky presence (at least last week against the Chiefs) when he’s hanging on to the ball trying to make plays. That’s a good trait at times, but it can also make a young quarterback turnover-prone. The Rams almost certainly will start Case Keenum to open the season, and there’s no question it’s the right call by Jeff Fisher.
5. I think this is not what the Bears had in mind entering the season, under the new offensive regime of Dowell Loggains in the three exhibitions so far: 12 series, six three-and-outs, two games with the first offense shut out, one touchdown, one field goal. Chicago opens at Houston, which had the best defense statistically in the last nine weeks of last season.
6. I think one of the underrated X-factors of the early season is the availability, or lack thereof, of Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert after May ankle surgery. The Bengals think Eifert could be ready to play as early as Week 4, which is probably optimistic. But the problem is Cincinnati’s first three games: at Jets, at Steelers, Denver at home. The Jets had the fourth-rated defense in the NFL last year, the Broncos ranked first, and the Steelers, well, that’s the kind of rivalry game where you can throw the personnel out the window. (Can’t help it: That’s how an old coach once referred to a rivalry game with me, and I’ve never forgotten it.) I’m just saying: The Bengals need all hands on deck, including their second-biggest target, and won’t have Eifert through much or all of September.
7. I think it’s always a good day when “Football Outsiders Almanac” arrives. Why? Here are a few examples why I love what Aaron Schatz and his crew do:
a. The Seattle Seahawks have been by far the best drafting team of the past five years, according to Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value stat. Seattle has 637 games started from 2011-2015 draft picks, more than any other team.
b. The Giants have had the worst health in the league for three straight years, according to Football Outsiders' Adjusted Games Lost metric, which measures starters and important situational players based on how they are listed on each week’s injury report.
c. Adam Vinatieri, who turns 44 in December, has 27 field goals of 50-plus yards in his career. He's had more of these long field goals in the past four years (15) than in his first 16 NFL seasons combined (12).
d. Cards cornerback Patrick Peterson led the NFL in both of the cornerback metrics that Football Outsiders figures from game-charting data—adjusted yards per pass and adjusted success rate. Arizona opponents threw a league-low 19.5 percent of passes to their No. 1 receivers.
e. New Orleans had the worst defense measured by Football Outsiders' DVOA since at least 1989, a remarkable feat (remarkably sad feat?) considering that DVOA is normalized to each season’s offensive level and therefore corrects for the fact that offenses in general are better now than they've ever been in NFL history.
f. Warning for Chicago’s Kevin White and Baltimore’s Breshad Perriman: You would think one lost season would not torpedo a player's entire career, but the record of first-round wideouts who miss most of their rookie seasons is terrible. Including White and Perriman (both out all last season with knee injuries), there have been 25 first-round wideouts who played in fewer than 10 games in their rookie seasons. Only four of those receivers (Santana Moss, Haywood Jeffires, Mike Quick, Frank Lewis) eventually had a 1,000-yard receiving season.
g. The rate of pressure faced by Tom Brady has gone up for three straight seasons: 15.5 percent of pass plays in 2012, 20.3 percent in 2013, 22.5 percent in 2014, and 25.7 percent in 2015.
h. The Eagles ran zero draw plays in 2015.
i. If you like to see good tackling, don't go to a Tampa Bay game. Based on Football Outsiders’ charting, the Bucs ranked fifth in the league in broken tackles on offense last year, but also missed more tackles than any other defense.
8. I think, for one week at least, crisis averted with Roberto Aguayo.
9. I think the outpouring of support for Don Banks—laid off last week at SI.com and Sports Illustrated after a 16-year run at the company—was so notable that I asked him to jot down his thoughts about the reaction. I did this because every time I’d talk to him in the wake of the stunning news, he’d tell me about all the people who’d reached out with such support. Here’s what he sent me:
“The small, neat envelope arrived on Friday, and contained a warm, handwritten note of encouragement from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, in the same unmistakable Tomlin-speak we’ve come to know so well. On Thursday afternoon, there was an out-of-the-blue phone call, this time from an old friend who wanted to wish me well, offer me his help, and let me know he was thinking of me during this difficult week. You wouldn’t think ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, waging his months-long battle with throat cancer, would have time to worry about much of anything else. But he made time, and that’s part of what makes Mort the kind of guy anyone would be lucky to claim as a friend. Welcome to my world these days, which has routinely left me blown away and overwhelmed by the well wishes and support of so many good people. It seems counterintuitive, but the reality is, I’ve just experienced one of the best weeks of my life, even though I just got let go.
“If you ever require a self-esteem boost, strangely enough, try getting canned. Because that’s when you find out who your real friends are, and I’m almost speechless when I take a recent head count. I’ve started to think that everyone should go through this at least once in his career, although I realize how ridiculous that probably sounds. But for me, losing a job has been a little like getting a preview of one’s eulogy, with time enough to appreciate and enjoy it. At a dizzying pace, via text, email, Twitter, Facebook, phone or mail, I’ve heard from scores of media colleagues, NFL club front office members, coaches, agents, team public relations officials, old friends, loyal readers and listeners, and even one former Super Bowl-winning quarterback. (Thank you, Brad Johnson. You always were a class act.) My week unexpectedly morphed into one long Don-apalooza, and every time I think I’ve heard from everyone I could possibly hear from, some one else checks in on me, in an effort to help me through this first-time career event. Like the AFC general manager who called me while I was waiting in line at our neighborhood sandwich shop, inviting me to come and spend a couple days around his club if I so desired. Or the NFC club executive who reminded me of a talk we had at the Super Bowl in February, about the new opportunities and career paths he foresaw in media in the years ahead. That chat seems much timelier now.
“Many contacted me to just tell me what my work has meant to them over the years, and to remind me that a new chapter awaits somewhere else. Saying thank you doesn’t say nearly enough. But my heartfelt thanks is what I had to offer. This too shall pass, and no two weeks are ever the same, but it’s humbling to know that so many people care. And to try to make sense of how I managed to add almost 1,000 new Twitter followers since announcing the news of my departure last Sunday. Clearly I should have tried this years ago. My popularity seems to be in direct proportion to my dwindling days left at SI, but then again, maybe that’s the right time to make an exit.
“I’ve had a week to absorb the news, and I still can’t believe it. Not the job. Those will come and go. What I have lived through this week, I wish everyone could experience at least once.”
Very good on you, people.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. TV Story of the week: CBS correspondent Steve Hartman, with as heartwarming a tale as I’ve seen in a while, about a 93-year-old World War veteran who jogged 3,000 miles, the Pacific to the Atlantic. What an incredibly admirable person, to make that commitment at 93, just so he can raise awareness of World War II—and the fact that Americans should know more about it, and realize how fortunate we all are for the men and women who sacrificed and made it possible for us to win that war.
b. Print Story of the Week: Denver coach Gary Kubiak’s mini-stroke and recovery, told by Stroke Smart, a site devoted to stroke news and treatment of stroke victims. Harrowing time for Kubiak three years ago when he dropped to his knees at halftime while coaching Houston. That time, and the aftermath, is told well by writer Sam Adams. Really educational, particularly if (like me) you know little about strokes.
c. San Diego Chicken Story of the Week (just because I think the Chicken is one of the cool stories in sports): Not only is this a terrific story by Pete Croatto of The New York Times, but it’s also a great tribute to the best/funniest mascot of all time. What an opening picture too. Wow. The Times has some beautiful website design.
d. All-time MLB doubles list, in part: 9. Honus Wagner, 643; 10. David Ortiz, 625; 11. Hank Aaron 624
e. Sort of amazing that Ortiz, a lumberer, is 10th all-time in doubles. I’m guessing you won’t guess who’s fifth. (Answer lower in this column.)
f. Daniel Murphy, as of Sunday noon: .390 on-base, NL-high 37 doubles, 25 homers, 98 RBI.
g. Nah. Would have been such a waste of money for the Mets.
h. Mookie Betts, with five weeks left, as of Sunday noon: 100 runs (second in baseball), 174 hits (second), 34 doubles (seventh), 29 homers (15th), 94 RBI (sixth), 21 steals (12th), .561 slugging percentage (ninth). Betts’ slugging percentage exceeded Anthony Rizzo, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera and Mark (39 homers) Trumbo.
i. Looks like Brian McCann got Wally Pipped by Gary Sanchez.
j. Man, firing Hope Solo seems harsh.
k. Interesting story by Marc Tracy of The New York Times on the Hawaii football team, which opens the season in a couple of far-flung places: Sydney, Australia, and Ann Arbor, Mich.—in a span of eight days.
l. I see you on the CBS Evening News, James Brown. Nice job Friday night.
m. Not a big fan of MLB instant replay. I mean, I like the concept of replay, and it certainly should exist. But the other day, watching the Red Sox-Rays game, it took 3 minutes, 20 seconds from the time a play happened until the time it was adjudicated by the umpires … and another 48 seconds before the next pitch was thrown. The timeline: Dustin Pedroia steals second on a close play; Rays manager Kevin Cash decides to challenge the call. Two umps put the headsets on 68 seconds after the call on the field is made. They stand there, connected to the umpire command center while the call is replayed remotely. And stand there. And stand there. Two minutes and five seconds after the umps put their headsets on, Cash gestures his arms, as if to say, Come on! Whatever the call is, just make the damn thing! Five seconds later, the umps take off the headsets and make the safe sign. It’s just too long.
n. Coffeenerdness: Starbucks Italian Roast, 5:30 a.m. Sunday, no noise, no media, just writing. It’s a pretty good way to exist.
o. Beernerdness: One of the best (lighter) summer beers I’ve had: Montauk Summer Ale (Montauk Brewing Company, Montauk, N.Y.), out of the can, and a fine can it is—silver and Carolina blue. I’m not a fan of heavy beers this time of year, and this one’s perfect, an ale that’s got a strong ale taste but is easy to drink. Highly recommended.
p. NPR is on fire. What a news source. Last Thursday on Morning Edition: a detailed report on the future of national parks on the 100th anniversary of the Park Service; a live report from a devastated town at the epicenter of the Italian earthquake; a live interview with the president of the American University of Afghanistan, after the terrorist attack there that left seven students dead; a report from the Oneida tribe’s annual powwow in Green Bay; and a report on the limited contact between Hillary Clinton and the press during the campaign. So good, all of it. So smart.
q. Answer to Doubles Quiz: Craig Biggio is fifth, with 668 doubles. Ty Cobb is fourth.
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