Plus, Le’Veon Bell’s obscene workload, Jermaine Gresham’s troubles, Jeremy Lane’s rise as a cheap-shot artist, bad TD celebrations and more heading into Week 17
1. For me, the most interesting contract situation of the New Year will be that of Sheldon Richardson, set to become a free agent after next season. Based solely on his play on the field, Richardson should be on the verge of obscene riches. He should be wearing a top hat at all times and purchasing as many monocles as a man could ever dream of owning. So, like, six monocles.
But off the field, he seems set on doing everything he can to destroy his own earning power. There was last year’s weed suspension. Then this year’s one-game ban for an arrest after leading police in Missouri on a high-speed chase back in 2015. Leading up to the Saturday nighter against the Dolphins, there was the impromptu Snapchat poetry (“Where the hoes at? F--- this game.”*… because he apparently lacks an inner monologue but not access to social media). And then there is the weird feud with teammate Brandon Marshall, which last week included lots of people saying “embarrassing” and “embarrassment” and Richardson responding with, no, you should be embarrassed… for secret reasons.
The funny thing is, Richardson was one of the few Jets who didn’t embarrass himself on the field in last week’s collective depantsing at Foxboro. He played quite well. Because he’s quite talented. How many near-300-pounders are capable of lining up as a stand-up edge rusher.
The Jets reportedly tried to move him at the trade deadline, so they’ll presumably try to move him again this offseason. It makes sense for a team looking at a lengthy rebuild. Richardson is 26 years old, unusually versatile and occasionally dominant. You’d figure at least one out of the other 31 teams would be willing to roll the dice.
*— I wonder if Sheldon ever was able to disclose the location of the hoes.
1b. In light of the fact that everyone loves unsolicited advice, if I were Richardson’s agent, this would be me with his phone.
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2a. Maybe the Bills are on to something. Maybe it’s not that the Cleveland Browns have cycled through coaches too quickly. Maybe it’s that they haven’t cycled through coaches quickly enough.
I spent most of this season sporadically trying to trace back the reason people thought the Bills were capable of winning 10 games with this roster. Best I can tell: GM Doug Whaley said it a lot. And I suppose that if there’s one thing we learned in 2016, it’s that we’re in a post-fact world. I’m embracing it; it’s why I’ve been telling everyone I’m a statuesque 6-foot-5. Hey, I’m 6-foot-5, y’know. Eventually, it’ll stick. Just like that “hey, the Bills’ roster is playoff-caliber” nonsense did. (I mean, the three best players on the front seven were the 33-year-old defensive tackle who missed 10 games a year ago and two street-free-agent linebackers. And then we’re shocked when they can’t stop the run.)
I’ll say this though: If Anthony Lynn stays on as head coach and they retain defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman to keep some semblance of continuity on a defense that is mid-rebuild, then this team is a Pro Bowl-caliber passer away from being a Wild-Card contender.
And, oh my goodness, look: If Teddy Bridgewater is healthy enough to open 2017 as Minnesota’s starter, and the Vikings put Sam Bradford on the block, then there’s a Pro Bowl-caliber that can be had! And for what, a first-rounder? The Bills haven’t made use of those the past couple years anyway. (Entering Sunday, a combined total of eight games started by Bills first-round draft picks from the past four drafts this season.) That’s a plan Bills fans should be able to get behind. Otherwise, it’s pray EJ Manuel has secretly developed into a replacement-level starter, chase another dart-throw developmental QB this spring, and be thankful you’re 7-9, mostly because the Jets are lagging even further behind in their rebuild. So, really, there’s nothing stopping Whaley from making the move for Bradford if the opportunity presents itself.
2b. Tyrod Taylor, by the way, is quite clearly done in Buffalo. (Though it would be nice if someone in the front office stood in front of the media and said it rather than making Lynn serve as their hatchet man.) If I were the Jets, I’d bring Taylor in on a one-year deal with a second-year option, similar to the deal they gave Ryan Fitzpatrick this past summer. Geno Smith should also be under consideration, but Taylor would be especially intriguing in Chan Gailey’s spread system. And whether it’s Christian Hackenberg or Mitch Trubisky, their developmental QB is not going to be ready to start the 2017 opener.
2c. I’m not convinced Colin Kaepernick and the Niners are headed for a divorce, for reasons I’ll get into next time. But if the Kaepernick era is over in San Francisco, I could see Taylor as a bridge option there as well.
2d. Well, scratch that last sentence. UPDATE! In light of this. A couple of quick thoughts:
i. I get the Baalke thing. But God's nightgown, why hire Chip in the first place?
ii. I’ll always wonder what Chip Kelly could have been had he not pulled off the power play that temporarily knocked out Howie Roseman. Kelly was utterly incapable of being a personnel man, and I don’t need to spend time running through his comical missteps with the Eagles roster. But I’m not convinced that Kelly isn’t a good NFL head coach.
iii. I wrote this last November when the Chip Kelly run in Philly was coming to an end. And I stand by it today.
“Chip Kelly made the NFL a lot more interesting, and that’s a good thing. It’s a copycat league, and because of that it’s a cookie-cutter league. Kelly was trying to do something different. Maybe if he had tweaked his management style he could have prolonged his stay; and maybe what he needed was five or so years to make this work. But I hope more coaches like Kelly (or maybe even Kelly himself) get a shot in the NFL. After all, plucking assistants from Bill Belichick’s staff hasn’t exactly been part of a winning recipe.”
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3. Over four games in the month of December, the Steelers used a tailback on 281 snaps. Le’Veon Bell was that tailback on 276 of those snaps. They gave 129 touches to tailbacks. Le’Beon Bell took 128 of them. That’s absurd, and a testament to Bell’s talent and stamina. And it’s also a big reason why he’ll never get a lucrative long-term deal.
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4. The reaction to news of Michael Bennett’s three-year extension should have been along the lines of, “great deal for Seattle… so how much?”
Even at age 31, $31.5 million and $17.5 million guaranteed is well worth it for the Seahawks. Bennett is elite against the run, and he and Cliff Avril work off each other beautifully in one of the best pass-rushing combos in the NFL.
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5. Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham is surely skating on thin ice in light of his (a) middling talent and (b) propensity for committing really stupid penalties after the whistle. There was the 15-yard taunting penalty that short-circuited a drive during their for-all-intents-and-purposes-season-ending loss in Miami, and there was last week’s penalty for removing his helmet (more on that below), which pushed the Cardinals out of field-goal range after a third down in Seattle.
Among tight ends, Gresham ranks 24th in receptions, 26th in receiving yards, and first in penalties and penalty yards. The Cardinals are clearly an organization that believes their culture can win over talented but troubled players like Gresham. But they seem to be on the wrong side of the cost/benefit analysis with their tight end, one of many things that went wrong for the Cards in 2016, but can’t be tolerated going forward.
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6. So here’s the lead up to Gresham’s bone-headed penalty in Seattle last week.
Notice the cheap shot that led to it? That’s Jeremy Lane.
Here’s Jeremy Lane a few weeks ago right before the half of a game in which the Seahawks received a metaphorical swirly in Green Bay.
So at the risk of drawing a broad conclusion based off of two plays, is Jeremy Lane looking to become Vontaze Burfict’s apprentice? I mean, two plays, but wow, that is some cheap BS. While I never played a down in the NFL—because of politics, all because of politics—I can appreciate the value of setting a physical tone. But repeatedly hitting people when their backs are turned, that’s not being physical. That’s just being a dirtbag.
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Your New Year’s resolution should be to follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page. Because it’s a very easy resolution to keep. And I really dislike social media, so I won’t be posting much stuff to fill up your feed anyway.
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7. Celebrations are mostly bad. Not for the reasons that NFL flags them, but because most of them are just kind of lame. Really, the problem is that Ickey Woods perfected the touchdown celebration in 1988, so there was no point in anyone ever trying another celebration. It’s kind of like how, after Michael Angelo painted the Mona Lisa, no one ever painted anything again. Or so is my understanding of art history.
But in 2016, we might have hit a new low point in NFL celebrations. And last week brought two of the all time worst.
We’ll start with Rishard Matthews.
The “shush” has to stop. Unless your ears are literally bleeding from the opposing crowd’s noise, there’s no reason for it. And in this instance… who are you shushing, guy? It’s late December in Alltel Stadium, with more of your team’s fans in attendance than the 2-12 Jaguars’ fans.
Here’s the approximate decibel levels of the crowd Matthews was shushing, plus some other common sounds to give it some context:
110 dB: Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” solo
95 dB: Gas-powered leaf blower
60 dB: Automobile engine
40 dB: The late George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”
20 dB: Somebody else’s careless whisper
12 dB: Alltel Stadium on Titans’ third-and-goal
8 dB: Wind blowing through blades of grass
Anyway, I’m glad Ben Jones stole that ball from you, Rishard Matthews.
The other one was Mark Ingram. Specifically, striking a “Heisman pose.”
First of all, that’s not what the Heisman Trophy looks like, guy. Not even close. And you have one. You know what it looks like. Second of all, even if you had properly struck a “Heisman pose,” nobody cares. You’re in the NFL now. I don’t carry my Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby trophies around my workplace showing them off. Or at least had I ever won one, I wouldn’t. Probably wouldn’t.
If that’s the best you can do to celebrate a touchdown, why even bother scoring them at all?
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8. I was told I went a little overboard with last week’s praise of the Texans’ current brain trust. And perhaps writing that I wished Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith were my real mom and dad was a bit over-the-top. And it made for an awkward Christmas dinner (dad was offended, but mom was mostly confused).
Seth Payne and Mike Meltser, the fine gents of SportsRadio 610 down in Houston, were nice enough to have me on after some… constructive criticism of my column. And after a good cry, I took them up on their offer (and they were far too nice to me, it really lacked the edge of a convoluted ESPN debate show).
But just to be clear, last week’s piece was more of a correction (or overcorrection) for what I wrote about O’Brien and the Texans last year, and last October. I stand by the fact that I think they deserve a firm pat on the buttocks for winning the (albeit weak) AFC South with no J.J. Watt and the worst quarterback play in the NFL. Wins over NFL teams aren’t easy to get, especially under those circumstances (and, along with potentially running the table in the division, the Texans have victories over Kansas City and Detroit this season).
But, of course, O’Brien deserves all the heat he’s been getting over the Osweiler signing and the QB situation in general. He’s not telling anyone to shut up when they refer to his QB guru… ing. But the more I cover this league, the more often I come to this conclusion: There aren’t really QB gurus. Maybe there are guys who can tip the odds slightly in your favor (Andy Reid, Adam Gase). But, for example, the two best teams in football right now are the Patriots and Cowboys. The Cowboys took Dak Prescott when Plan A and Plan B both fell through on draft weekend. Prescott picked up a pro-style offense faster than anyone could have imagined. There’s no way Dallas could have expected that kind of lightning-fast learning curve. The Patriots stumbled onto Tom Brady with a sixth-round pick, and the offseason before he led them to the Super Bowl they had signed Drew Bledsoe to the biggest contract in NFL history. They did not know what they had. Hell, Bill Walsh, possibly the greatest offensive mind of all time, took two QBs in that 2000 draft, and neither of them was Brady, the local kid. Every team passed on Derek Carr in 2014, allowing the Raiders to fall into their franchise QB. Nearly everyone passed on Aaron Rodgers, so he fell into the Packers’ lap. The Seahawks, like everyone else in the NFL, will tell you how much they loved Russell Wilson coming out of Wisconsin, but even they waited until the third round to pull the trigger.
So my biggest criticisms of the Texans are that they, at the very least, should have taken developmental QBs in the 2015 and ’16 drafts (they took Tom Savage with a fourth-rounder in ’14). And that they were foolish to think Brock Osweiler, with a fringy starter skillset in a generic offense, would be able to find success upon being dropped into O’Brien’s complex system.
If you’re running a team that needs a quarterback, you should be drafting one every year until you find one. Like the Packers used to do. Because ultimately, I think Ron Wolf has it right:
“People would come to me, show me tape, and we’d discuss this and that. There’s just no question it has always been a difficult position to evaluate… Sometimes you don’t know what a guy is until you bring him in. Take [Matt] Hasselbeck—we always thought he had a good arm and he was smart, but once he was in our building we realized we had someone a heck of a lot better than a sixth-round draft choice.
“It’s blind luck. If I knew how to put together a quarterback, I’d have my own island somewhere.”
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9. I enjoy all aspects of college bowl season: bowl pools… placing bets… uh, gambling on amateur athletes. So it’s upsetting to see another first-round prospect, Michigan tight end Jake Butt, go down with a major knee injury in a game that would decide, oh, fifth place I guess.
A couple things about Butt:
a. According to Darren Rovell, Butt had taken out an insurance policy.
b. Butt was also a guy who passed up a chance to enter the draft a year ago in order to play his senior season. So while non-playoff bowls mean very little to many players, playing in the Orange Bowl seemed to mean something to him.
c. Alabama’s O.J. Howard is a freak. Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges is a freak. Butt was going to appeal more as a throwback type of tight end, not a dynamic downfield threat but a guy who gets open on short and intermediate routes, and adds value as a blocker. Depending on the diagnosis, this could affect how teams feel about his ceiling. But it would be a more devastating injury for a player considered a raw, freak athlete.
d. I’m Emily Kaplan’s editor on The College Column, and I assure you that we giggle incessantly every time the subject of Jake Butt comes up (because we are age 11 and 9, respectively). But (1) I’d rather be named “Jake Butt” than “Gary” anything, since Gary is scientifically proven to be the worst first name in the Western Hemisphere (in high school I once planned on going to the courthouse to legally change my name, but you have no idea how much pressure it is to name yourself). And (2) He seems to take pride in his name. I suppose if you’re a tall, physically fit, soon-to-be millionaire professional football player who is considered aesthetically pleasing by the opposite sex, it breeds a certain amount of self-confidence.
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10. I think, at 12:58 p.m. ET, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play…
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