They’re voluntary workouts, but the superstar receiver’s decision to work out with Johnny Manziel in L.A. instead is definitely worth talking about. Plus, why you have to look to the middle ground for the actual answer in the Kaepernick debate, how the Lions are becoming Matthew Stafford’s show, and a quick look at the NBA Finals and NBA draft
1. I think Odell Beckham Jr.’s absence from organized team activities is no big deal in a vacuum—but in the larger context of his last two years in the NFL, it does matter, and he has to be self-aware enough to know that. His hotheadedness was a theme in 2015 and ’16, his trip to Miami to hang out with Justin Bieber and Co. on New Year’s preceded a four-catch, 28-yard performance in the Giants’ playoff ouster, and this offseason is the first during which he’s eligible for a life-altering second contract. So under those circumstances, he’s gonna skip out to work with Johnny Manziel in Los Angeles? Look, I know what voluntary means. I also know that each player’s situation is a little bit different than the next guy’s. And everyone should know that if you have a history of defiance, deciding to skip work, even if it’s not mandatory, is going to resonate a certain way. Now, if the Giants do a monster extension with him, and he has a big year, no one will remember any of this. But he’s putting the spotlight, and the pressure, on himself here. That’s his doing, in the same way it was his doing back in January. So is it the end of the world that he’s in California and not Jersey right now? No. But don’t tell me it’s not a story.
2. While we’re there, I think the spring is actually more important than it used to be—and the new-CBA calendar is the reason why. I’ve got an example, too. Tom Brady used to spend a big chunk of the offseason with family in Los Angeles. But with work in the summer scaled back (true two-a-days were eliminated), and the totality of the offseason program cut from 14 weeks to nine weeks, Brady made the decision in 2013 to go back to being a full participant in the spring work. The truth is that OTAs, as they’re structured now, really are the first phase of training camp.
3. So we’ve established that it’s not always a non-story if a guy misses out in May or June, right? Sometimes it’s an injury causing an absence, and that would be a story. Other times it’s a contract situation, and that’s one too. Other times, it’s simply a player having a training routine or an off-site trainer he prefers (as is the case, I’m told, with Giants pass-rusher Olivier Vernon), and that’s much less of a story. All of that said: Missing spring and/or summer work isn’t exactly a great predictor of what’ll happen in the fall. Rookies would presumably need those reps more than anyone, and somehow the 2014 Offensive (Beckham) and 2016 Defensive (Joey Bosa) Rookies of the Year managed to mitigate the damage done when they missed their summer work before their first seasons.
4. I think the problem with the Colin Kaepernick debate is there are too few people willing to allow for a middle ground—and there very much is one. It doesn’t have to be either (a) Kaepernick sucks or (b) Kaepernick is being blackballed. It can be, as I believe it is, that Kaepernick’s problems in finding a job start with his play, and become bigger because of scheme fit and, after that, the anthem protest. It’s not hard, folks. If Kaepernick became the player many expected him to become back in 2013, then he’d still be a Niner. If he were still viewed as a potential long-term solution for a team, and made it to free agency, he’d have been signed quickly. But he is neither of those things, and that changes his circumstances completely. That makes scheme fit a bigger problem, because no one is building their scheme around a stopgap or backup. And it makes the anthem protest an issue because most football people want their backups to be seen and not heard. You can argue whether that’s right or wrong all you want. But the middle ground most certainly is why he remains unsigned.
5. I think Matthew Stafford has a big year coming, and it’s a culmination of the process coordinator Jim Bob Cooter put in motion after being elevated from quarterbacks coach in the middle of the 2015 season. The idea was to make it Stafford’s show, the same way the Colts and Broncos offenses were Peyton Manning’s show during Cooter’s stops in Indy and Denver. Down the stretch in ’15, Cooter cut back the verbiage and ramped up one- and two-word calls to allow Stafford more flexibility at the line. Last offseason, the Lions emphasized putting Stafford out in front of his teammates. During the ’16 season, the coordinator and quarterback held Tuesday game-planning sessions (like Manning used to) designed to give the triggerman ownership of the plan for Sunday. And now, as I understand it, the coaches are actually teaching the offense through Stafford. What does that mean? Stafford gets coached, and he coaches his teammates through that coaching, which would seem to be that process coming full-circle.
6. I think the elimination of the 75-man cutdown is good for everyone, except for maybe the Hard Knocks crew. If teams want to cut the roster down a week early, they still can. It’s just not mandatory. And while it may be more of a headache for personnel departments to have 1,200 or so players (potentially) hitting the market at once than it is to have waves of 500 and 700 hit separately, the chance to get an extra look at down-the-roster guys in a fourth preseason game, and get an extended look at your own players, should more than offset that. Also, it’ll certainly give coaches more leeway to sit starters en masse during that final preseason week, which won’t help the PR disaster that is those games, but could be valuable in taking a few miles off the bodies of players who’ve won spots and have a long season ahead.
7. I think David Quessenberry had slipped from my consciousness over the last couple years, and so it was good to see Peter check in with him on Monday. And it’s great to see that a happy ending to a very tough story could be on the horizon for a guy who everyone in the Texans building seems to like a lot.
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8. I think if the Falcons were willing to sign Mike Vick to a one-day contract to retire with the team that drafted him, that would be a pretty amazing about-face. Vick’s dog-fighting scandal quite literally tore the franchise apart, with the ex-franchise quarterback having broken the trust of owner Arthur Blank, and having contributed to Bobby Petrino bolting less than a year after taking over for Jim Mora Jr. That Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith, and later Matt Ryan, were able to stabilize the organization so quickly may have softened the blow. But those who were there have never been shy about explaining how bad it was at the time. And so, should Blank and team president Rich McKay extend the ceremonial gesture to Vick, it would be a pretty incredible act of forgiveness. Based on Vick’s personal growth (and acknowledgement of how horrible his actions were), I can understand why Blank and McKay would go forward with it. And based on what they went through, and the team went through, I’d also understand if they decided not to.
9. I think Seth Wickersham’s story on the tension inside the Seahawks illuminated what’s been a fairly open secret in NFL circles for a long time. Seattle hasn’t just survived, but thrived as a powder keg over the last half-decade. Marshawn Lynch’s relationship with the coaching staff was always up and down. The acquisition of Percy Harvin ignited a number of flare-ups before one final blowup led to a pennies-on-the-dollar trade of the mercurial offensive weapon. The defense has felt, and even lashed out at, the burden of carrying an inconsistent offense through its growing pains. And yes, there has been resentment of Russell Wilson—some teammates certainly feel he’s gotten an undue amount of credit for Seattle’s run. The interesting thing is, of course, how all this developed to become a part of the edge of the Pete Carroll Seahawks. And the question, then, is when it becomes too much to manage. I don’t think we’re there yet.
10. And I think this will be me weighing in on the NBA: Give me the Warriors in 7 in the Finals. And give me Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball or Josh Jackson if I’m the Celtics or Lakers. To me, it makes sense for teams like that (and the Sixers are in there too) to build a foundation with guys in their late teens and early 20s. Selling out to get a Paul George or a Jimmy Butler puts you on the same championship-window timeline as Cleveland and Golden State, which makes sense for maybe one (San Antonio?) of the other 28 teams in the league. By bringing in younger guys, you set yourself up for the post-LeBron/KD NBA. To me, that’s the logical play. And that’s what the Superteam concept has done to that league; the logical play for most teams isn’t very good for the sport as a whole.
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