- After Tampa Bay cut the kicker it traded up to draft, the man behind the decision reflects on the disappointment: ‘We’ve ripped off the band-aid ... and we’re moving forward.’
- Sections include: Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, and what it says about commissioner Roger Goodell; the future of the Bills after trading away Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby
- Plus notes on the highlights of Week 1 of the preseason, Marshawn Lynch sitting for the anthem, Andrew Luck’s Indianapolis beer recommendations and much more
ATLANTA — So many stories on the NFL training camp trip. One actually happened on the phone in my hotel room, late Saturday afternoon. Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht, internet punching bag du jour, sounded defeated.
“How do you feel?” I said to Licht, half a day after he cut Roberto Aguayo, the kicker he traded up to draft in the second round just 16 months ago.
“You never feel good when you shatter someone’s dream,” Licht said. “That is always tough, especially someone you had such high hopes for. You don’t have good feelings about that. It is a little bit of a sense of, I don’t want to say relief, but we’ve ripped off the band-aid, and we move on. We’re moving forward.”
Huge news dump late in the week: Ezekiel Elliott suspended six games for domestic violence, the Rams trading for the disappointing Sammy Watkins, the Bills making moves to own the 2018 draft, and the Saturday whopper: the sacking, after one lousy preseason game, of one of the most controversial draft picks in recent history. And the Sunday post-script: The Bears claimed Aguayo and will try to resuscitate his career.
“It's officially the worst draft pick in NFL history,” ESPN’s Trey Wingo tweeted Saturday. Quite an over-the-top take about the 59th overall pick in 2016, and seeing that the NFL has held 82 drafts. But Wingo had company over the weekend. Licht got avalanched for dealing third-round and fourth-round picks in 2016 to move into the second round to draft a kicker. He, and the world, watched Aguayo turn into football’s Rick Ankiel before our eyes. Just as phenom pitcher Ankiel couldn’t find home plate for the St. Louis Cardinals 16 years ago, Aguayo was the kicker who internalized the pressure, tried to please everybody and, apparently, just blew a mental fuse.
Friday night in Cincinnati, Aguayo boinked a PAT off the right upright, and shanked a 44-yard field-goal try. The kicker entered this year with Nick Folk as competition and had close to zero room for error. After the game, Licht and coach Dirk Koetter talked about it, and the GM said: “Let me sleep on it,” Licht said. When he woke up Saturday morning, Licht knew Tampa Bay had to get off the kicker-go-round. With HBO’s “Hard Knocks” in the house Saturday morning—I’m told NFL Films got the whole scene and will show some of it Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET—Aguayo was released.
Hours later, his reputation punched in the jaw, Licht faced the music.
“I’m owning up to it,” he said quietly. “I’m owning up to it by releasing him. It was a bold move and it didn’t work out. I don’t know what else to say. I know I have the support of my coach and my ownership.
“At the time, I was bound and determined to get the best kicker we possibly could. I thought Roberto had the chance to be a special kicker in the league for a long time. That’s a position that had been a rough spot for us. What did I learn from this? I’ve said this before, but when we took him, we essentially anointed him. If I could do it again, I would have gone back and brought in competition to challenge him. I look back on that a lot. Roberto is a great kid, but the magnitude of that position, and the pressure on a 21-year-old—his performance is affecting the lives of men who have families to support. That got tough.”
When we spoke, I got the impression—through his words and his tone—that he didn’t want the Aguayo pick to make him gun-shy. This is a flame-out, and a big one. Using the 74th and 106th picks to trade up for a kicker who’d been just 71-percent accurate from beyond 40 yards in college. The 74th and 106th picks are team-builders. Licht used the 61st and 124th one year earlier on a couple of players (Ali Marpet, Kwon Alexander) who should be Bucs cornerstones for a while.
“Look, I want to digest this for a while,” Licht said. “But this is not going to make me afraid of making bold moves. You can’t make decisions, or not make them, based on fear. I will say that you have to learn from things that didn’t work out. Whatever that is in this case, we’ll figure it out.”
Here’s what it is: You should take only an extraordinary kicker in the second round, a generational kicker. And Aguayo, fairly average on the long college kicks, hadn’t proven himself to be one at Florida State. He also hadn’t kicked in an unusually high number of high-stress situations with games on the line—which is what NFL kickers have to do eight or 10 times a year. It’s good to be bold, but not for bold’s sake.
But bigger names than Licht have made worse picks, as it turned out. Hall of Famer Al Davis chose JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007. Bobby Beathard, up for the Hall this year, picked Ryan Leaf second overall in 1998. Licht is right: He can’t allow the Aguayo mega-mistake to make him skittish on future draft days.
“I gotta snap [out of it],” Licht said. With the opener four weeks away, he’s got no choice.
On the Ezekiel Elliott Decision
The NFL gave Baltimore running back Ray Rice a two-game ban initially; howls of protest. The NFL gave Giants kicker Josh Brown a one-game ban; howls of protest. The NFL draws a line and says “a baseline suspension of six games” for league employees found to have engaged in domestic violence. Then the NFL gives Ezekiel Elliott a six-game ban. It’s stunning, and Elliott will fight it, but it’s not unexpected. This is what America, and the owners, wanted: action on domestic violence. Maybe not the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, but the other owners do. They want domestic abuse punished, and significantly.
This story can go so many ways … but the first thing I thought of when I heard about the Elliott ban was the future of Roger Goodell. In his first 11 years as commissioner, Goodell has had—in my estimation—five major influential owners as the cornerstones of his power base: Pittsburgh’s Dan Rooney, Carolina’s Jerry Richardson, Jerry Jones of Dallas, Robert Kraft of New England, and the Giants’ John Mara. Rooney died this year. Richardson, 81, has declining influence. Jones, as Adam Schefter reports, is furious with the commissioner for the Elliott suspension, and as I believe, thinks the commissioner is too suspension-happy. Kraft is still wounded over the Brady suspension and verdict. Mara’s still in Goodell’s corner—rock-solid, I believe.
That’s quite a change in the Goodell power base. How much will that factor into Goodell’s long-term future? We’ll see.
Now to the Elliott story. First, the legal expert for Sports Illustrated, Michael McCann, gives us a weekend update of where we stand after the league’s suspension of the defending NFL rushing champion.
MMQB: So many are asking: How can the NFL suspend a guy for six games when he was never charged with a crime by investigating authorities in the case?
McCann: The relevant standard is the key. In a court of law, probable cause is required for a criminal charge. In the NFL system of justice, probable cause is not required. The NFL standard for whether someone committed a wrong is up to the discretion of the commissioner, on a case-by-case basis. The authorities have not charged him; the NFL would say that’s irrelevant. They would say the reputation of the league is at stake, and the commitment to curbing domestic violence … Without having seen the evidence, it’s hard to draw the conclusion that the league [made the correct ruling]. The key question is what’s the guiding force for the NFL here? Is it a PR strategy? Does the league want to appear tough in the wake of Ray Rice and Josh Brown? That said, the panel that Roger Goodell used is very credible; they are authoritative voices. We have reason to believe that outside experts of that caliber would be committed to make the right decision.
MMQB: The league points to significant forensic evidence in suspending Elliott. Did the local authorities not have that evidence?
McCann: It’s a little hard to think a private company that does not have subpoena power would be able to obtain more evidence and better evidence than law enforcement. That said, the NFL may have the capacity to get people to talk—people who might be unwilling to talk to law enforcement. They may have access to additional electronic evidence than law enforcement.
MMQB: What’s next?
McCann: It appears Elliott will file an appeal. After an appeal is filed, the NFL would have 10 business days to hold a hearing. I think the appeal will be influenced by whether Elliott expresses contrition. This commissioner has lowered sanctions when players have voiced contrition or said they’ve done something. If there is an appeal that doesn’t have the outcome Elliott wants, he would have the option of filing a federal lawsuit. The NFL will rush to court, to the New York Southern District federal court, most likely. They would have the positive Brady verdict from the Second Circuit there as precedent. So we’ll see.
MMQB: Do you believe it’s most likely Elliott starts the season suspended?
McCann: I think that’s extremely likely—unless his appeal works with Roger Goodell and it’s totally vacated. He would have to get an injunction, and it’s hard to imagine that happening in this case.
Elliott will appeal, of course, and he should if he believes he’s been wronged. We shouldn’t pass judgment until the Elliott team has had its day in the appeals process. But what could the Elliott side have left? I’m reminded of the Saints’ bounty case, when New Orleans owner Tom Benson and coach Sean Payton flew to New York to make their case fervently and with finality before Roger Goodell issued his ruling. It was impassioned, I was told afterward, with Payton, in particular, saying he wasn’t aware of many of the bounty-related charges the NFL felt were solid. Payton threw it all on the table, but Goodell still suspended him for a year. When Elliott and his representatives met with the NFL weeks ago to argue their side, surely they used their most persuasive arguments and evidence. So what’s left now? Elliott must hope there’s something.
As one legal expert told me over the weekend, the Elliott side must hope to be able to poke holes in the NFL “metadata” points, and in the fact that the alleged victim, Tiffany Thompson, had some inconsistencies in her story.
Goodell relied on the metadata—quite literally, a collection of data about data—to make this call. In this way: When you take a picture on your smartphone, the photo has a time stamp. But the time stamp, and the location on the photo, can be doctored. What can’t be doctored are the GPS coordinates and the information embedded in the phone that show when and where a photo was taken, and also some information on data (photos, texts) shared by the phone-owner. That’s the metadata discovered by the analysts who looked at Thompson’s phone, and the phones of those with whom she shared her texts and photos. As for the incriminating photos of bruises, the league relied on two medical authorities who established the medical equivalent of time stamps on when the bruises on Thompson occurred. There’s no question that the Elliott side, in its appeals and attempts to make Elliott able to play on opening night, will attack the credibility of the experts attempting to link the time Elliott and Thompson spent together in July 2016 and the bruises she suffered and photographed as proof of his alleged abuse.
If you think an appeal is open-and-shut in the league’s favor, don’t. The Greg Hardy 10-game domestic-assault ban was reduced to four games in 2015. So let’s give Elliott his due process. The league has fumbled frequently in the domestic-violence arena, so make no predictions here. But the Cowboys have good running back depth (Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris), and I’m not buying the gloom and doom predictions if Elliott misses six games.
Let’s give Elliott his fair chance to prove his innocence. If he can’t, let’s acknowledge the fact the NFL had a major problem in image and morality and moved to address it, and did exactly what it said it would do.
Trades Like This? In August?
“We researched trades at this time of year,” Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane said Sunday afternoon, “and there’s aren’t many like this.” Trades for picks, the Bills’ GM meant. There was Sam Bradford from Philadelphia to Minnesota last year for first- and fourth-round picks, Vontae Davis from Miami to Indy for a second-rounder in 2012, and Greg Olsen from Chicago to Carolina for a third-rounder in 2011 … all in the preseason. Beane did two of them in one day. On Friday he sent wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Rams for a second-round pick plus cornerback E.J. Gaines; then he traded cornerback Ronald Darby to Philadelphia for a third-round pick plus wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Everyone would say Darby is a better corner than Gaines, and Watkins is a better wideout than Matthews. I don’t worry about the Darby deal for Buffalo, because he hadn’t bought into the new administration of Beane and head coach Sean McDermott, and because he wasn’t a great scheme fit for McDermott’s zone coverage. Buffalo did get a gutty, durable (Matthews played 46 of 48 games in three NFL seasons) possession receiver who will take Watkins’ spot in the Bills’ offense. The Watkins deal could hurt in the long run, for two reasons. He’s healthy this year after being plagued by a nagging foot injury. And the veterans on the Bills loved him, and won’t be happy with this deal. I can’t imagine LeSean McCoy singing kumbaya over this trade for the future. He wants to win now.
The reality of this situation, though, is that the Bills are not going to win now, even if Darby and Watkins had been playing great. Playing for 2018 is smarter. And Buffalo also had to worry about Watkins and the cap. Because the team didn’t exercise the fifth-year option for Watkins, ensuring that he’d be a free agent after this season, Beane would have had to try to sign Watkins late this season (when the team has just $8.1 million remaining under the cap) or likely face franchising him next spring. So they risked Watkins playing great this year and looking dumb for letting him go … or trading him now for real value. A pick around number 40 or 45 in 2018 appealed more to Beane.
Interestingly, Beane didn’t tell McDermott about his tentative deal with the Rams before their game against Minnesota. Imagine the Rams’ shock when, on the first four plays of the game on offense for Buffalo, Tyrod Taylor threw to Watkins. Beane wanted McDermott, in his first game as coach, not to be shackled but rather to be able to use his 90 players the way he saw fit. They didn’t discuss the chance for the trade until after the game.
The trades leave Buffalo and Cleveland with a league-high six picks in the first three rounds next year. “The onus is on me and my staff,” Beane said on Sunday. “We have to draft well. We’ve taken the first step—accumulating high picks.”
Interestingly, Beane said: “If this was baseball, we’d probably have kept Sammy, because we wouldn’t have had the cap to worry about. But every decision you make in football, with the cap, is a calculated risk. We had four inquiries for Sammy, and three offers, and got to a point where the Rams were willing to give a high pick, and we thought it was the best thing for us.”
The Rams, with speed threat Tavon Austin idled by a hamstring injury, now could have a three-man starting receiver set of all new guys: vets Robert Woods and Watkins, and rookie Cooper Kupp. With the uncertainty surrounding 2016 top overall pick Jared Goff, it’s hard to envision Watkins putting up premier-receiver numbers. So the Bills may not look bad. But at some point they’ve got to start keeping their top picks. That’s a big reason why Buffalo hasn’t been in the playoffs in 17 years.
The Bills Have to Stop Blowing Up Their Team
First thing I thought Friday when I saw Beane had traded Watkins and Darby: Owners Terry and Kim Pegula have to mentally commit to Beane and McDermott for the next five years. Period. The mayhem in Buffalo must stop.
• Five general managers in the past decade. GMs of the Bills since 2007: Marv Levy (2007), Russ Brandon (2008-09), Buddy Nix (2010-12), Doug Whaley (2013-17), Brandon Beane (current).
• Six coaches in the past decade. Coaches of the Bills since 2007: Dick Jauron (2007-09), Perry Fewell (2009), Chan Gailey (2010-12), Doug Marrone (2013-14), Rex Ryan (2015-16), Sean McDermott (present).
Of the 20 players Buffalo chose in the top four rounds between 2012 and 2016, only six remain on the team—and a couple of those could be on the chopping block on cutdown weekend. The three solid players that remain from the top of the five drafts between 2012 and 2016: defensive end Shaq Lawson (though still unproven because of injury), guard John Miller and tackle Cordy Glenn. Three of 20. That’s a .150 batting average. That’s absolutely awful.
That happens when you have four franchise architects and three head coaches in that period. Philosophies change, sometimes drastically. Thus the dealing of wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Rams and cornerback Ronald Darby to the Eagles in a quick flurry that changed three teams. But the carnage from these drafts will set the Bills back for years, as this chart illustrates:
|2016||QB Cardale Jones||4||139||L.A. Chargers|
|2015||CB Ronald Darby||2||50||Philadelphia|
|2014||WR Sammy Watkins||1||4||L.A. Rams|
|2014||T Cyrus Kuondijo||2||44||Detroit|
|2014||DB Ross Cockrell||4||109||Pittsburgh|
|2013||QB EJ Manuel||1||16||Oakland|
|2013||WR Robert Woods||2||41||L.A. Rams|
|2013||LB Kiko Alonso||2||46||Miami|
|2013||WR Marquise Goodwin||3||78||San Francisco|
|2013||S Duke Williams||4||105||Indianapolis|
|2012||CB Stephon Gilmore||1||10||New England|
|2012||WR T.J. Graham||3||69||Carolina|
|2012||LB Nigel Bradham||4||105||Philadelphia|
|2012||CB Ron Brooks||4||29||Philadelphia|
Preseason PSA of the Week
The absurdity of paying legitimate NFL prices for preseason games cannot be overstated. When is a responsible owner going to do something about it and slash prices to preseason games? The following players did not play in their teams’ first preseason games, which fans paid to see from coast to coast, and they paid for parking too ($40 in Foxboro, for instance):
Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Julian Edelman, Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, Jeremy Maclin, Jordy Nelson.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer, Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Mike Pouncey, Joe Thomas, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten.
Donta’ Hightower, Sean Lee, Malcolm Butler, Tyrann Mathieu, Devin McCourty, Patrick Peterson.
Madness. Just madness. The madness isn’t premier players being kept out of the games. The madness is fans paying big-league prices to watch backups.
By the way, if you attend home games in Green Bay or Foxboro, and you go to preseason games, there’s a good chance you won’t see Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers play in person this summer. The Patriots and Packers have home games in weeks one and four, and those two players didn’t play in week one and are unlikely to play in week four.
Quotes of the Week
“Talked to Marshawn trying to make sure we're on the same page. He said, ‘This is something I've done for 11 years. It's not a form of anything other than me being myself.’ I said, ‘So you understand how I feel, I very strongly believe in standing for the national anthem. But I'm going to respect you as a man. You do your thing. We'll do ours.’ It's a non-issue for me.”
—Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, on Marshawn Lynch sitting on a cooler on the sideline for the national anthem in the Raiders’ preseason game Saturday night.
Lynch has sat for the anthem throughout his career? News to me.
“We saw what that movie was like last year. We’re just not going to go in that direction anymore.”
—Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter, after the team cut kicker Roberto Aguayo on Saturday.
“I should probably have four or five rings if those two would have just gotten along … People were pissed because we knew we could have made history. And those two blew it. Flat out. Plain and simple. They blew it.”
—Former Dallas safety Darren Woodson, on “The Doomsday Podcast” in Dallas with Ed Werder and Matt Mosley, on the divorce of Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson with the Cowboys after Dallas’ second Super Bowl title in the ’90s.
A really good podcast, by the way. Woodson also said of the Cowboys’ current off-field problems, many centering around Ezekiel Elliott: “This is not an excuse, and I don't want people to think this is an excuse, but if we would have had social media, Twitter, Instagram, back in the ’90s, half our team would have been suspended. Not for PEDs and not for any drug enhancement. Just for what we did off the field.”
“There is no penalty on the play. My mistake.”
—Ref Jeff Triplette, on his stadium mike, during Saints-Browns.
The cynic among us would say that won’t be the last such Triplettism this year.
“You hear about all these huge CEOs who are the first guys to blame somebody else. If you start taking ownership and taking blame, that’s how you get people on your side.”
—USC redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold, a very hot NFL prospect, to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated for his profile in this week’s college football issue. Very good reading.
Stats of the Week
Robert Aguayo, amateur and professional, in PAT efficiency, keeping in mind the NFL PAT is 13 yards longer (includes NFL preseason games):
|Team||PAT Made||PAT Att.||Pct.|
Aguayo clanked an extra point off the right upright Friday night in Cincinnati and was cut by the Bucs on Saturday.
If Adam Vinatieri stays healthy and plays the first two games of the season (at the Rams, Cards at home), he will wake up on Sept. 18 having played 177 games in his NFL career for Indianapolis, and 177 games in his career for New England, including playoffs.
Playoff games played by kicker Adam Vinatieri: 30.
Playoff games played by wide receiver Brandon Marshall: 0.
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
Someone Who Knows told me Justin Timberlake—who played for one hour and 45 minutes at Jerry Jones’s Hall of Fame party in Canton 10 days ago—was paid between $2 million and $3 million for the gig.
Someone Who Has Been To 50 Hall of Fame Parties told me: “Greatest Hall of Fame party ever. Not even close.”
Tampa Bay has employed seven kickers since 2013.
Connor Barth tore his Achilles in 2013; gone for the year. Lawrence Tynes developed MRSA in 2013 and never kicked in a game. Rian Lindell kicked for the 2013 season. Patrick Murray kicked in 2014. Kyle Brindza and Barth kicked in 2015. Roberto Aguayo kicked in 2016. Nick Folk, so far, is the kicker in 2017. Rent, Nick. Don’t buy.
Factory of Sadness Factoid That May Interest Only Me
In the three sections in front of me as I sat in the press box at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Thursday night, I saw 14 fans in the one-third-filled sections with replica Browns jerseys. The jerseys:
• Two each: Joe Thomas, Peyton Hillis and Myles Garrett.
• Single jerseys of: Josh Cribbs, Ozzie Newsome, Braylon Edwards, Trent Richardson, Colt McCoy, Brian Hoyer (!), Joe Haden and Isaiah Crowell.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
Ran into the rehabbing Andrew Luck at the Colts’ facility Friday afternoon. He’s a fellow beer nerd, and found out I was going to lunch in Speedway, near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “You gotta go to Daredevil,” he said. Daredevil Brewing is a couple of long blocks from the speedway, and across the street from the A.J. Foyt wine bar (who knew?). It’s a cute place, with a long bar and tables surprisingly full on a Friday afternoon. Daredevil, as most brew pubs do, sells growlers—the large containers filled with the brew of your choice. But Daredevil also sells “Crowlers.” I asked what that was, and the guy behind the bar held up an aluminum cylinder and said it held 32 ounces of beer. “It’s a canned growler,” he said. I had no idea how he was going to do it, but I said sure, I’ll take the USA Wheat in a crowler. He put the beer in it, then capped it with a regular aluminum cap, the kind with the flip-top you see on all cans of beer, and took a rectangular sticker with the Daredevil logo and carefully wrapped the aluminum with the sticker and voila! There was my 32-ounce Daredevil USA Wheat to go.
The beer business is incredible. Crowlers.
Tweets of the Week
Just a little swelling pic.twitter.com/iCz1TL7FhE— Derek Wolfe (@Derek_Wolfe95) August 12, 2017
New chapter in life everything happens for a reason... Buffalo thank you for all the memories.. Rams nation get ready..— King Me (@sammywatkins) August 11, 2017
Wow @Mtrubisky10 .— Mike Vick (@MikeVick) August 11, 2017
Mike Tolbert looks like he ate Mike Tolbert— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) August 10, 2017
From the new season of “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week: Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn and Green Bay receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery.
• Lynn, who is black, on the Rooney Rule, which mandates every NFL team interview at least one minority when it has a head-coaching vacancy: “The first interview was with the Jets. This was after Rex got fired. I did not want to do that interview because I knew what that interview was all about. You had to interview a minority before you hired the guy you wanted. I wouldn't do it, and Rex called me and said, ‘Do it for the experience.’ Todd Bowles called me and said do it. So I finally did it, knowing that it was a token interview, but the knowledge and the experience that I got from that interview … we connected, and it was really a good interview. I learned a lot about what they were looking for, and it helped me prepare for the next interviews. Those guys spread the word, and that’s how this thing got started. … The Rooney Rule has some very good intentions, but I just believe that a lot of organizations abuse it, and I don't want to be a part of that. I told two teams to interview a minority before you call me. And one team did, and the other team didn’t call back, so I knew what they were all about.”
• Lynn on coordinators not making the best head coaches: “I just think it is a different skill set, coordinating and leading a team ... I tell people all the time, and I've told some owners this. Look at the criteria right now, for how we are hiring head coaches. Everyone thinks it has to be tied to a coordinator position. It does not. Look for a guy that can lead men, get the most out of men, relate, communicate, guy they can trust, organize. Look for those things in a head coach; that is totally different than calling plays.”
• Montgomery on preferring running back as a position over receiver: “It’s just me. It feels natural. It’s fun. I like being back there. From the running back position, I can still motion out and go run a route, go run a 15-yard comeback. I think of the perfect drive I want to have in a game. I want to be able to have a few good runs, have an explosive run inside and outside. Go get the yards on a third-and-short. Motion out from the backfield, run a route, catch a football. Stand in there and pick up a few blitzes as Aaron [Rodgers] throws a touchdown pass. Or if that doesn’t happen, we get to the goal line and then I get a goal-line score. Just to be able to do everything. Running back gives me the ability to do everything.”
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think, catching up on the notables of the preseason weekend:
a. The most interesting thing about the impressive debut of Chicago quarterback Mitch Trubisky (18 of 25, 166 yards, one touchdown, no picks) was how he threw on the move. Watch that reel of all 25 throws. Three or four times, once in the middle of a dead gallop, he whipsawed a perfect throw for a completion. The book on Trubisky didn’t have a big chapter on mobility and being accurate on the run, but in this game, at this time, that trait is huge.
b. DeShone Kizer throws a better deep ball than we thought. Two excellent ones against the Saints, including a perfect touchdown bomb at the end. On the evidence of the first preseason game, and nothing else, it would be surprising if Kizer doesn’t start more games than any other Browns quarterback in 2017.
c. Another big receiver shines for the Lions—6'4" third-round rookie Kenny Golladay from Northern Illinois. He scored twice and was the best player on the field Sunday in Indianapolis.
d. Anyone wonder why the Steelers used their late first-round pick on T.J. Watt? After one season of major-college pass-rushing, Watt walked into Steelers camp and has looked like a vet from the start. His two sacks against the Giants were no surprise.
e. Injury of the weekend: Detroit defensive end Kerry Hyder, who tore his Achilles at the Colts. Not only is he one of the 10 most important (and versatile) Lions, he’s the kind of player Jim Caldwell can point to as a great example of what hard work can do to his middle-class roster. A shame he’s injured.
f. Good weekend for young quarterbacks. Christian Hackenberg was mostly protected by safe play calls, but he looked sure of himself and impressive. And Andy Reid said first-round rookie Pat Mahomes will begin to get second-string reps because of his impressive play against the Niners. Deshaun Watson, in his preseason debut against the Panthers, looks like it’s a matter of time before he beats out Tom Savage.
g. Jimmy Garoppolo? He’s going nowhere—until at least 2018. Best backup quarterback in football.
h. Less than 22,000 for the Chargers’ first preseason game, and that is not a good sign. Still, it’s the preseason. Let’s see the numbers in the regular season before we pass judgment.
2. I think the Dolphins got some very good news this week with word that running back Jay Ajayi, out for two weeks with a concussion, is cleared to practice. In this Miami offense, with a quarterback still needing name tags for his teammates, the offensive regularity provided by Ajayi, the Dolphins' physical and productive starting running back, is vital. In games in which Miami called runs on 50 percent or more of the plays in 2016, the Dolphins were 7-0, and coach Adam Gase is a huge believer in offensive balance. (This note was clarified from my early-morning post, and thanks to all for pointing out Ajayi should be ready to go this week.)
3. I think it’s good that players choose to support Colin Kaepernick, and choose to protest things like the events in Charlottesville this weekend. Michael Bennett of the Seahawks joined Marshawn Lynch in sitting during the national anthem this weekend. Aside from backing Kaepernick, it’s a sign that some players won’t sit idle while they fervently disapprove of what’s happening in the country.
4. I think Mike Glennon blutarskied his debut for the Bears: He recorded a 0.0 passer rating against Denver on Thursday night.
5. I think, in case you’re having trouble understanding “blutarskied,” I leave this YouTube clip, from the best movie in the history of movies, “Animal House.” In the 1978 classic, John Belushi’s student character, Mr. Blutarsky, ran afoul of the academic standards at august Faber College with a grade-point average that just didn’t get the job done.
6. I think I’ll be surprised if Brock Osweiler makes it out of Browns camp with a job. In his four series of plays in the preseason opener, he threw seven passes wildly high. He’s just not accurate enough to be trusted with a starting job, and probably not a high-profile backup job either.
7. I think my first reaction after reading what Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette told James Palmer of NFL Network after his preseason debut was this: The kid’s going to regret saying that, and he’ll regret it opening day. Fournette told Palmer, about the speed of the NFL: “It’s a lot slower than I really thought.” I’m all for guys telling the truth in their talks with the media—and I’m sure this is what he believes. Jacksonville opens against Houston, and the Texans had the number one defense in football last year, and J.J. Watt returneth. I know a few Texans. And you can be sure they have heard Fournette’s words as of this morning—or they soon will.
8. I think I’m not being critical of the NFL’s decision to make at least 21 officials full-time employees for the 2017 season. But I don’t think it’s going to affect officiating very much. Mistakes are made because of the speed of the game and the instantaneous calls human being have to make. Having officials do more studying, and even having them work on reaction time (if that’s possible), is not going to make the game significantly cleaner in officiating. And the league is not mandating that officials who become full-time give up their other jobs entirely. So are these officials really full-time? If Ed Hochuli, for example, is one of the full-timers but allowed to keep his lawyer job in Arizona, is he really a full-time NFL employee? Roger Goodell’s a full-time commissioner; it’s all he does. Seems a little misleading to call employees full-time when they keep their other jobs—even if they’ll do those jobs less than they did previously.
9. I think I want to share this reaction from Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB, who felt strongly that the NFL’s initial verdict on Ezekiel Elliott is fair and fact-based: “Elliott will appeal the discipline, and that is certainly his right to do so. But from everything we know at this point, the NFL followed the evidence to make a decision. And that’s exactly the standard for which the media and the public has been calling for the past three years.”
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. We cannot let what happened in Charlottesville pass without condemnation from every corner of this country. Even if our president will not single out the white supremacists who were the incendiary devices for this riot, we all must. Such a total, absolute disgrace to see.
b. Thank you, Chris Long of the Philadelphia Eagles, and a Charlottesville resident: “I like to use social media like I was a regular guy because I think I am. I don't tell people to stick to their job when they want to talk politics. And this isn't political. This is right or wrong. I believe you're on one side or the other. For me, being from Charlottesville, no one wants to see you sit idly by and watch that stuff happen and not say anything. And I wish there was more categorical denial from some very important people in this country who have had the opportunity to strike it down but didn't.”
c. Mark Purdy—my old boss in Cincinnati at the start of my career—is a wonderful writer. And how much the sports writing world will miss him. Here’s his last column for the San Jose Mercury News over the weekend, after 33 years there.
d. Purdy on San Jose: “It is a most awesome mongrel, an urban-suburban experiment in shopping mall terror and great ethnic restaurants.”
e. Purdy on the NFL: “The NFL once consisted of 16 football games with a little sizzle wrapped around them. Now the league seems to be 16 marketing opportunities with a little football wrapped somewhere deep inside.”
f. Purdy on the football team in Oakland: “The Raiders are eternally portable.”
g. I’m so lucky he influenced my life. Good luck the rest of the way, Mark.
h. Cardinals-Pirates next Sunday in Williamsport as the Little League World Series is happening. … Now whoever thought of that needs a raise. Right now. Great idea: “The Little League Classic.”
i. Nice interview, Jessica Mendoza, on the ESPN Sunday night game with former Little League hero Todd Frazier of Toms River, N.J., Little League fame.
j. Derek Jeter, the boss of Don Mattingly. Now that’s odd.
k. How Bryce Harper doesn’t have a season-ending knee injury after that fall at first base is incredible.
l. Coffeenerdness: I tried the vanilla sweet cream cold brew at Starbucks, and I will be back. Often.
m. Beernerdness: From Quaff On! Brewing in Speedway, Ind., comes a delightful wheat beer, the Hoverweizen. A light and tasty beer, easy to drink and excellent for a broiler of a Midwestern day. Recommended.
n. Thanks, Bengals, for the halftime cheese coneys on the press-box spread. Man, that brought back memories.
o. I’ve been on the road, and sorry—I haven’t read very much this week other than football. I will send along a few links next Monday.
p. Here’s one—my informative story of the week. I do not know Kansas City offensive coordinator Matt Nagy. But I feel like I do after reading this piece from the Chiefs’ website, by B.J. Kissel.
q. How’s anyone beating the Dodgers?
The Adieu Haiku
Cowboys take chances.
Always have. Heed this warning:
Game’s a privilege.
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