Monday Morning QB: Roster Cuts, Surprising Trades and a Super Bowl 52 Prediction
- Two teams among the most active during an unprecedented cutdown weekend, the Patriots and Seahawks, also happen to be Peter King’s prediction for the last two teams standing in Minnesota in February
- Sections include: a breakdown of the Jacoby Brissett-Phillip Dorsett trade; a look at the ugly Ezekiel Elliott appeal case; an explanation of Matt Ryan’s competitor mindset; and more roster cut reactions
- Plus notes on the odd Su’a Cravens un-retirement saga, the Cleveland Browns’ penchant for hoarding draft picks, quotes of the week, tweets of the week, 10 things I think I think and so much more
I’m not saying New England and Seattle are smarter than everyone else in the NFL. Time will tell if they’ve made the right moves after each of them made a league-high five pre-cutdown trades in the NFL, on a weekend when more than 1,100 players got cut/traded/waived, the biggest transaction period in NFL history.
I am picking a New England-Seattle Super Bowl. The weekend put the exclamation point on that. But this weekend wasn’t the end of it.
“It never stops,” Seattle GM John Schneider said four minutes before stepping into a 6 p.m. Pacific Time meeting Saturday to see which of the 1,100 players on the street the Seahawks might be interest in claiming or bidding for. “This is a non-stop building of the roster now. We’re not smarter than anyone else—I can guarantee you that—so we’re just going to keep working.”
Briefly, I am picking a Super Bowl 49 rematch because—though each team has flaws—I like the quarterbacks, I like each coaches’ imagination, I like the offensive weapons (even the new and strange weaponry in New England), and I like the Seattle defense. A lot. The acquisition of three-technique defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson by Seattle on Friday clinched it for me; I look at a Michael Bennett/Richardson/Jarran Reed/Cliff Avril front, with Frank Clark the nickel rusher or more, as the best in the NFC. Just about unblockable.
With the NFL’s 98th season starting Thursday in Foxboro (Chiefs at Patriots), the unprecedented roster churn less than a week before puts significant pressure on the coaching side and the player-acquisition side to fold in new players quickly. The Patriots and Seahawks, under Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll, have track records of getting new players up to speed quickly. They’ll have to, with Week 1 challenges for New England from Kansas City’s pass-rush and its excellent special teams, and for Seattle from Green Bay’s passing game. But it’s going to be a competitive and typically mysterious season, and if you’d predict a Steelers-Giants Super Bowl, or Chiefs-Falcons, or Raiders-Packers, that’s no worse than my pick.
Let’s start with the weekend, and the most stunning trade, and then I’ll get to the two teams that fascinate me the most entering the NFL’s 98th season.
It was a text message from New England at 7 p.m. Friday that started the trade that, when it was complete at midday Saturday, knocked people off their beach chairs on this Labor Day weekend. On Friday evening, a Patriots operative texted the Colts and asked, and I am paraphrasing: Any interest in Jacoby Brissett for Phillip Dorsett?
In the previous five pre-cutdown periods, there was an average of 10.2 trades per year across the NFL. This year, there were 25. “There was a lot of trolling, because there were going to be so many players out there,” said one AFC GM, who was active in the week leading up to the Saturday 4 p.m. ET cut deadline. “There was a lot of, ‘Any interest in this guy? He’s not gonna get to you on the waiver claim system. You’re too low.’” In other words, if a young player, a rookie or impressive undrafted free agent was cut and hit the market, a team with a low waiver priority (a high-finishing team in 2016) would likely get undercut for the guy. That was a propellant for deals like the Patriots dealing a sixth-rounder for Cincinnati special-teams ace Marquis Flowers.
But that doesn’t account for what the Patriots did with the Colts in the stunning trade of the weekend. There was not a whisper of a rumor that the Pats would deal their No. 3 (but rising prospect) quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, this weekend, particularly with the absolutely unknown QB situation the Patriots have in 40-year-old Tom Brady and looming 2018 free agent Jimmy Garoppolo ahead of Brissett on the depth chart. And though Indy had talked to teams (Rams, Patriots, several others) this summer about trading the underachieving Dorsett—two years, 51 catches since taken as the 29th overall pick in 2015—most around the league thought the Colts would get a mid-round pick, or a pick plus a swap of higher picks.
So after the Patriots reached out, the Colts did their due diligence, watching tape of Brissett, especially liking his poise against a hard Houston rush in a September 2016 start. By noon Saturday the Colts had decided to do the deal. Interesting, really, to see how quickly deals developed on this weekend: When Indy staffers were at dinner Friday, they had no thought of doing anything significant at the quarterback position. By lunch Saturday they had upgraded their backup quarterback position—significantly, they thought. Brissett will be an upgrade over Scott Tolzien, who still will likely play at least the opener next week while incumbent Andrew Luck continues to heal from offseason shoulder surgery. The Colts did not make this trade out of a fear for Luck’s health. They did it to get a three-year solid backup/developmental quarterback at a manageable average salary of $735,000 through the end of 2019.
Dorsett is undervalued now. Brissett had a good two-year run in the Patriots’ system, and New England probably maximized his value in part by his four-TD preseason game Thursday night. Trading Brissett is risky, but the way New England looked at it, I’m sure, is they’ll worry about the quarterback of the future in 2018, not now. Now is time to maximize a malleable receiver group. “If you want to get something, you’ve got to give up something,” Bill Belichick said Sunday.
A week before the season, New England found itself suddenly in big trouble on special teams with arguably the best kicking-game units in football, Kansas City’s, coming to Foxboro this week. Thus the trades for special-teams aces Marquis Flowers and Johnson Bademosi before final cuts. I don’t expect Dorsett, who is not a good returner, to be in play as a punt returner; if he plays Thursday night, I expect it to be in the regular offense, and I expect him to be used exclusively as a receiver this season.
What the Patriots have done on offense since the end of the season, even with the ACL tear suffered by reliable Julian Edelman, is bolster their capacity to play positionless football. This is probably the fastest receiver group Belichick has ever coached. Dorsett and Brandin Cooks, both sub-4.4 guys in the 40-yard dash, could line up wide, stretch the field and open up the intermediate areas like never before. Chris Hogan is a 4.45 guy and figures to be in the slot with Danny Amendola a lot. I doubt Rex Burkhead, who is capable of playing the slot, will play much if at all there; I figure he’s going to be a versatile presence in the backfield only. Rob Gronkowski could be more of a move player than he has been, now that solid blocking tight end Dwayne Allen is in the house—we’ll see.
New England has the ability to be so much different on offense than the explosive team that put up 34, 36 and 34 points, respectively, on three postseason foes. Who knows what they’ll do. This is a team that has the potential to be much better on offense later in the season than in September … and I take you back to my conversation with Brady in February to explain why. I marveled at the precision of the timing routes to first-year Patriots Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell at crucial times in the Super Bowl, and this is what Brady said: “That's a lot of throws. That's 111 practices that we had. That's however many games. Films, meetings. It's got to be like clockwork. You're throwing it to a spot, he's turning, those are the ones the DBs have been covering all year too. It took great execution.”
Cooks, Dorsett, Burkhead. Allen, Mike Gillislee. When I think of folding in so many new guys to the New England offense, I think of 111 practices. It could take a while before it all fits together. The Patriots could change more than any offense in football between today and December. That’s not a bad thing.
More cutdown weekend thoughts
• On the Sheldon Richardson trade. (Richardson and a seventh-round pick from the Jets to Seattle for wideout Jermaine Kearse, a second-round pick and a seventh-round pick.) Good for both teams. Might be great for Seattle. The Seahawks plan to try hard to sign Richardson beyond this year, and it’ll cost quite a bit; Richardson will be supremely motivated to play great in Seattle. Next March, at 28, could be the last chance he’ll have to do a mega-deal in the NFL. The Jets can use the low second-round pick they’ll get for a player or as ammo to help them move up for their quarterback of the future next April. And Kearse is a good place-holder with a great worker-bee rep.
• The Seattle pre-cutdown haul. Six trades, with the biggest chip dealt being their second-round pick in 2018. When the picks that flew back and forth cancel out, Seattle might have gotten marginally better on the offensive line (Matt Tobin from the Eagles, Isaiah Battle from the Chiefs), but Richardson is the big key, particularly with the future of the rookie the organization loved, three-technique tackle Malik McDowell, in doubt after an ATV accident. One thing that GM John Schneider does with his scouting staff is stress that, yes, he knows the offensive line needs help. But Anthony Muñoz is not walking through that door, so let’s not cry about it. Let’s find bodies better than the bodies we have.
• Brock Osweiler’s a Bronco. John Elway wanted to sign Osweiler as Denver’s quarterback of the future in March 2016 for about $16 million a year. He signed him Saturday night for 4.8 percent of that. But Osweiler’s better suited as a third-stringer or backup now; his accuracy is not NFL-effective. Elway made it clear Osweiler will be the backup to Trevor Siemian until Paxton Lynch returns from a shoulder injury in about a month. After that? That’s in Siemian’s hands. If he plays well in the first month, the Broncos may be inclined to cut Osweiler and use the roster spot on another position of need. If not, Osweiler could have an on-field second act in Denver. Man, how weird it’s going to feel for Osweiler this week, back in that locker room after he made it clear he was happy to leave there 18 months ago.
• Dot dot dot … I like Sammie Coates in Cleveland—a big, imposing receiver who got trumped by Martavis Bryant’s return. Coates and Kasen Williams (waiver claim from Seattle) are intriguing weekend catches for the Browns … One of my favorite waiver claims: running back Alex Collins, by Baltimore. The Ravens’ backfield is the land of opportunity, and Collins runs hard … Like the T.J. Ward signing by the Bucs. Good leader, hard hitter. Julio Jones will know where he is on downfield throws, to be sure … The Eagles’ offensive line got better with the one-year extension for Chance Warmack, who’s having a good second act with the Eagles after flopping in Tennessee … Interesting the Texans choose to go with Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson and no number three quarterback—though I’m sure Brandon Weeden will keep his phone handy for a call if Savage goes down … And the Niners kept only two quarterbacks, with Iowa rookie C.J. Beathard, camp star, being number two.
Ezekiel Elliott Case: There Are No Winners
Whatever happens Wednesday—by which time the league should hear the results of the Ezekiel Elliott appeal of his six-game suspension for abusing girlfriend Tiffany Thompson in 2016, and by which time we should know if a Texas court will grant Elliott a restraining order so he can play Sunday against the Giants—both Elliott and the NFL will not look good after this case.
We know now that Elliott admitted having rough sex with girlfriend Tiffany Thompson, admitted using illicit drugs (“in college,” he said), could not stay away from a relationship with a woman he says got pregnant by him on purpose (the woman who alleges that his drug use included “doing a bunch of coke”), and says he had sex with a woman (not Tiffany Thompson) whose breasts he exposed in public.
We know now the NFL, which should have learned from previous errors in sex-abuse investigations, did not allow the investigator—who interviewed Thompson six times and reportedly had questions about Thompson’s credibility—to report her findings directly to commissioner Roger Goodell. In fact, Goodell should have demanded to speak with lead investigator Kia Roberts. Her findings were reported to Goodell, but not personally by Roberts. She should have been allowed to tell him exactly what her concerns were, since she was the investigator who would have the most informed opinion on Thompson’s credibility. The NFL must at all costs in cases of abuse do everything right. Everything. Because the league knows the microscope of appeal will delve thoroughly into every aspect of its case. And the aspect of Roberts knowing the accused better than anyone in the league and not conversing with Goodell about that is a blatant error, even if the chain of command in this case does not require Roberts to report to Goodell.
I don’t know if Elliott is guilty, or worthy of a six-game ban. But from reading the reports of this case, I sincerely hope the Cowboys do not simply fight for his freedom so he’ll be able to play the maximum number of football games this year. This guy needs to grow up. He needs to go to the Dak Prescott school of maturity. I am reminded of my conversation with coach Jason Garrett in training camp, when Garrett told me of his offseason admonitions to Elliott.
“I’ve had a number of talks with him,” Garrett said. “I’ve asked him, ‘What do you want to be?’ My point to him is, ‘If you maximize your abilities, you night be able to make $200 million off the field, like LeBron. Or you could make a million.’ I mean, say you’re AT&T, or you’re Pepsi. You’re looking for a spokesman for your product. What would you do right now? You’d probably say if you’re one of those companies, ‘Oh, we’ll go with Dak. Or we’ll go with Jordan Spieth.’ But that’s in his control.”
It’s not just about the money. It’s about Elliot’s career, and about his life.
For now, it’s also about his fate. Kia Roberts raises enough doubts about the case, and the veracity of Thompson’s testimony, that unless the metadata is crystal clear that Elliott abused Thompson, a six-game suspension seems excessive. That’s why the evidence, and the forensic examination of the data, is so vital in this case. And the appeals officer in the case, Harold Henderson, has to determine in very short order whether the metadata can be trusted. And if he thinks it can, then Elliott will have to convince a Texas judge the data is flawed—and quickly.
It’s hard for me to imagine Henderson erasing the suspension. But the sheer volume of conflicting stories between Elliott and Thompson makes it realistic to think Henderson could knock the suspension down a couple of games. And though you never know what could happen in a court of law, it's also hard to believe Elliott could win this case on its merits. But there’s so much conflicting evidence in this case that any predictions you make on it are done at your own peril.
Matt Ryan: The Competitor’s Mindset
I hadn’t spoken with Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan in the offseason until I saw him in mid-August in training camp. In fact, the last time I saw him before camp was in the postgame mosh pit of the Super Bowl interview room, where he handled himself well after the worst loss of his career.
I’d heard the Falcons had zipped their lips about the Super Bowl, but I wanted to find out for myself. As usual, Ryan, sitting on a bleacher in the shade in back of the Falcons’ training complex, didn’t disappoint. I didn’t have to ask a lot of questions. Here’s Ryan, stream of consciousness...
“When you hear Michael Jordan talk about a big loss, or J.J. Watt, Peyton or Eli Manning, Serena Williams—it's one of those things, it's always there a little bit,” Ryan said. “It's always the thing that burns or makes you want to get up and do the work that you have to do in order to be successful. It's not all-consuming. I think that is probably the best way to describe it. For me I knew I had moved on when I started training again and working toward what I wanted to accomplish this year, and I was able to answer questions and talk about it and really not go back to that place of being frustrated or disappointed with the outcome. That's really where I felt like I could move on. I feel good now. It's in there somewhere and you use it as motivation to get up out of bed to go to work.
“[Coach] Dan Quinn was really good about it following the game. His attitude was, ‘Hey, let's watch this thing. Let's deal with it now, when the wound is still fresh.’ Really smart, rather than to wait and wait and wait to watch it because you’re so angry. So we got back Monday and I was in here Tuesday, watching it and going through it. His advice was, ‘Flush it from your system as fast as you can and start getting focused on what is in front of you as fast as you can.’
“I watched it here at the facility, on my own. I watched it three times.
“When it doesn't go your way, everybody is going to second guess how you went about it. I thought we went about it the way we went about it all year. From that standpoint, you have to feel good about yourself in some way. We went out, we attacked, we made some plays, they made one or two more at the end of the game than we did, and that's kind of the way it goes. It was a weird game offensively for us, because I don't know how many snaps we had in that game, but it wasn't a lot. With them having so many offensive plays, we didn't have that many and we created a ton of explosive plays offensively. We fell a little bit short, deal with it and move on.”
I asked him how hard it was to be civil 20 minutes after a game like a Super Bowl loss when your team blows a 25-point lead.
“Obviously you are disappointed and angry and frustrated and pissed, all those things. But you know, I have always been taught and learned from a lot of different people, that there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. I felt like it was the right way to handle it at the time. It's not always easy to do the right thing, but it's part of our job, right? That's part of what we do. Usually you are better off just dealing with it and moving forward. That's how I think. Rip the Band-Aid. Go do it, and be done with it and then get out of there.”
Around the Falcons, there was change on both sides of the ball, with new coordinators Marquand Manuel on defense (very familiar with the Dan Quinn defense) and Steve Sarkisian on offense (an imaginative sort who will meld his philosophy with the Kyle Shanahan way that was not broken). There has been a steadiness of approach emanating from Quinn, who hasn’t ignored the Super Bowl but hasn’t harped on it either.
Quinn believes there are ways to get incrementally better each year—which every coach should believe, of course. He also believes that football players are not necessarily like the public or the sports media, in that losses don’t haunt players the way those in the outside world think they might. When I think about this, I think about Julio Jones, for instance. Great player. Also not a big football fan. When he goes home, he doesn’t relax by watching two college games on Saturdays. He just lives. So will there be a hangover? There could be; we’ll see. If I’m Atlanta, I like my opening month: at Chicago, Green Bay at home (to open the new $1.6-billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium), at Detroit, Buffalo at home, bye; and I like four of the last six at home.
Ryan thinks the balance between reflection on the loss and why it happened, and not obsessing over it, has been the right thing. Around the team, the players seem to have moved on.
“It happened, you deal with it, you learn from it and then you move on,” Ryan said. “I think we have the right group of guys to move forward, as opposed to keep looking back at what could have been. It might not be normal for people to think that. I think that everybody might think we keep hanging onto these things. We're not like that.
“What I’ve been more about, especially as I get along in my career, is finding a way to get 1 percent better. It's harder to do, the longer you play, to get those incremental improvements. But for me, it was going back to the same things. As the year goes on and you get hit, and you move more, you kind of get out of position a little bit with how you throw and your mechanics and getting your feet underneath you. And I think when you get back to work, I went out to California again and worked with [quarterback mechanics gurus] Adam Dedeaux and Tom House and just got back to the fundamentals. It's amazing that in all sports, regardless of what it is, however long you play, when you get the fundamentals correct and you get everything going from the ground up, how quickly you get back to your best form. And that was it for me, trying to get back to where I was and trying to get a little better. And sleep. One of the things that I have gotten more and more into, in all honesty, is getting enough sleep. I'm like a 9-to-6, super-early-to-bed guy now.”
I told Ryan I recalled Jim Kelly, at training camp after Buffalo’s fourth Super Bowl loss, looking at me incredulously when I asked if he’d considered walking away from football because the pain of losing was so acute. Kelly said, basically, You’re kidding, right? I love this game. I couldn’t think of doing anything that’s a tenth as fun, even when you lose Super Bowls.
“That's the competitor's mindset, right?” Ryan said. “My thing is, what else would you rather be doing? This is a pretty good gig if you can get it.”
Stats of the Week: Cleveland Browns Continue to Hoard NFL Draft Picks
Before we get to the stats of the week, let me preface by saying I have come to (semi-) praise the Browns, not bury them. That is because of the man at the top, Jimmy Haslam, who along with co-owner and wife, Dee Haslam, has practiced patience through some more lean times in the past year and a half. I mean, they haven’t fired a major player in the football hierarchy for a whole 20 months, and reports are that coach Hue Jackson and football architects Sashi Brown, Andrew Berry and MLB alum Paul DePodesta are getting along pretty well in making the football calls.
Jenny Vrentas and I met with Jimmy and Dee Haslam in Cleveland in August, and I asked them what was the most important lesson they’d learned. Dee Haslam brought up something she’d heard the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, say: “Hire for where you want to be, not for where you are.”
Jimmy Haslam said about the challenges of the NFL versus the truck stop business: “It’s a lot harder than you think. Having been in business and having done at least okay there, to come into the NFL and think that’s necessarily going to transfer to running a pro sports franchise, it doesn’t work that way. The important thing is to get the right people in place, and … leave them there for a long time. And, in this league, you gotta have a quarterback.
“The group is working very well together. We have very healthy debate. If you and I went to dinner, I would predict we would have a lot of good and vigorous debate on subjects, which is good. If we agree on everything, there’s something wrong. We’ve put together a diverse group of skill sets—smart, work hard, bring a lot to the organization. This year, I don’t think we’ll be 15-1, but we’ll be better. We spend time talking about small victories.”
My biggest problem with the people who run the Browns—and it surfaced again last week with the cutting of Joe Haden—is they continue to build for the future by again and again letting go of good players. Not saying Haden was great (he’s fallen off from his two-time Pro Bowl status), and not saying he was worth his scheduled $11 million a year over the next three seasons. But the list of good players sent away is long, and these are not cancers—they’re good football players. Taylor Gabriel, Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Terrelle Pryor, Tashaun Gipson, Andy Lee since New Year’s Day 2016 … players who would contribute to a winning team; Gabriel, Mack and Schwartz were key guys in the NFL playoffs last January. One contributing player was acquired Saturday, when the Browns got the better end of a deal, trading a sixth-round 2018 pick to Pittsburgh for a 2015 third-round receiver from Auburn, Sammie Coates, plus Pittsburgh’s seventh-round pick in 2019.
Part of the constant churn of the roster comes from the constant churn of club architects. The Browns have employed six GMs since 2008. Haslam’s most significant words in this interview: get the right people in place and leave them there for a long time. I’m hoping for the sake of Browns fans and the sheer misery of nine straight losing seasons (4-28 the past two years) that Sashi Brown gets the significant team-building time Ray Farmer and Mike Lombardi and Tom Heckert and George Kokinis and Phil Savage didn’t.
Now for the Stats of the Week.
In the eight drafts between 2008 and 2015, Cleveland had five general managers and five head coaches who made 10 first-round draft choices.
Nine of those ten first-round picks, who would now be between 24 and 33 and theoretically be in the prime of their careers, forming the backbone of a team for the long haul, are gone: Alex Mack, Joe Haden, Phil Taylor, Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Barkevious Mingo, Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel and Cam Erving.
One, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, a 2015 pick, is still on the team.
The Browns are drafting enough players over a 37-month period to field a full game-day roster, and have two players left over. The Browns’ draft haul, annually, from 2015 to 2018:
|2018 (As of Sept. 3)||12|
Total: 48 (after the Sammie Coates acquisition on Saturday). Average NFL team’s picks over those four seasons: 32. (Teams get seven draft choices per season, and in the NFL, another 32 picks per year, approximately, are awarded as compensatory picks for teams that lose monied free agents.)
Assume the Texans finish with a better 2017 record than the Browns, and this will be true, if nothing changes about the 2018 draft between now and late April next year:
Cleveland will pick six players before Houston picks one.
None of the eight quarterbacks and wide receivers on Cleveland’s roster as of this morning was on the roster in March 2016.
Quotes of the Week
“I’m kind of chasing him around. You know, like chasing a girl in high school.”
—Rams coach Sean McVay, as the team continues to deal with the holdout of its best player, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who wants to be the highest-paid defensive player in football.
“We did the study and the research and we weren’t interested. No, I’m not explaining it.”
—Jacksonville executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin to the Florida Times-Union, on whether the team would sign Colin Kaepernick as a backup quarterback.
“There’s nothing that compares to it. You need a great starting pitcher, a great closer in baseball. You need a great point guard in basketball. But there’s not one position that comes anywhere close in sports, I don’t think, to quarterback in football. If you ask any one of our football people, they’d all say getting the quarterback right is number one. I can tell you this: It’s on the top of our list daily. Once you get that, the game’s much easier.”
—Cleveland co-owner Jimmy Haslam, to me and Jenny Vrentas, on the search for a quarterback to lead the Browns out of the wildnerness. They’ll give 2017 second-round pick DeShone Kizer his shot starting Sunday against the Steelers.
Haslam, later in the same interview: “Who knows? We could have [the right quarterback] on the roster right now.”
“Roger [Staubach] gave me something one time, it was great. He goes: ‘They are going to try and coach you out of making plays. Coaches are always going to try to coach that out of you. Don’t let them. What makes the best quarterbacks is always the ability to go above and beyond what the coaches ask. The coaches are going to coach it out of you, but the guy who can makes plays, that is a rare gift. Just make sure you don’t stop being aggressive.’”
—Tony Romo, to Kalyn Kahler of The MMQB, in her “Talking Football” interview.
Factoid That May Interest Only Me
Eleven years ago, a 12-year-old Korean boy named Younghoe Koo moved with his family to New Jersey. He didn’t speak English. He thought one way to make friends would be to take up football, and he began placekicking. He kicked well enough at Ridgewood High to get a scholarship to Georgia Southern, and then he got signed as a free agent with the Chargers for training camp this year. Koo out-kicked incumbent Josh Lambo, and now Koo is going to start his NFL career on Monday Night Football, Chargers at Broncos, Week 1.
Monday Night Football in Korean:
• 월요일 밤 축구
• Wol-yoil bam chuggu
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
Hope He’s a Delta Frequent Flyer Dept.: In the past 11 months, Bene’ Benwikere has gone from a starting cornerback in Carolina to the bench in Miami, to the practice squad in Miami, to the post-season practice squad with Green Bay, to Cincinnati as a free agent, and, on Saturday, to Dallas, which sent a conditional draft choice to the Bengals for him.
Tweets of the Week
The NFL is going to turn this 90->53 day into a major event within five years.— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 3, 2017
One thing I will say on Dorsett: you could tell Pagano was getting annoyed w his muscle strains and pulls. Missed too much practice time.— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) September 2, 2017
Browns down to just 4 players on the roster from 2014 season. Cray.— Andrew Hawkins (@Hawk) September 1, 2017
Hawkins was on that 2014 Cleveland team.
Just had an idea: Really need limit on roster spots in salary cap league? If teams want to carry 58 dudes and fit them under $170M why not? https://t.co/QNH3owij0g— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) September 1, 2017
2:38 pm— GB Crime Reports (@GBCrimeReports) September 1, 2017
Lambeau Field - black male insists he's there to try out for the Packers - is refusing to leave
From the new season of “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week: a special podcast with tributes to Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, as well as a conversation with LeBeau. The Hall of Fame former Detroit defensive back turns 80 on Saturday, a day before he’ll become the first 80-year-old coordinator in NFL history.
• LeBeau on the best wideout he ever covered: “Paul Warfield was as good as any of them … I covered Bob Hayes, who was a great player and an Olympic 100-meter champion. When he ran, half the stadium shook because he was so powerful. As a guy trying to run with him, you just had to watch and feel, and you knew when he was opening up, and you knew damn well you better give him some room. But Paul, you couldn't do that with him, because if you took your eye off him for a second, he was already five yards somewhere else and there was never any physical exertion, seemingly, that this guy is really trying to run hard. Paul was like Fred Astaire in football cleats, man.”
• LeBeau, who imported the Zone Blitz to the NFL in 1984, on how he found it: “I was … out on a scouting mission for the Bengals in the early ’80s … and I was probably only talking to [LSU assistant coach] Bill Arnsparger for 15 minutes, but I admired what he had done as a defensive coach and some of the various movement patterns that he had started, and I'll never forget this, but he said, ‘All I was looking for was a safer way to create pressure.’ And that sentence was the atom that split for me, because I was going to Texas and I had an airplane flight and I got the gal to give me a supply of cocktail napkins and I started drawing right away on a safer concept of pressure. Blitzes up to that time were all what we call zero coverage, where everybody had a guy and you overloaded the protection by sending an extra guy … I thought, Wouldn't it be nice to be able to get that pressure at least from one half of the defense and still keep a free safety where if something went wrong, he could tackle the guy and we could play the next down? I'm not sure that's what Bill meant, but that's how it focused into my mind right away.”
• LeBeau on calling plays at 80: “I never think about it. I'm just a football coach and I'm going to try to do my job. I never think of stuff like that. The secret for being able to work this long is I have had some wonderfully good players. I could name a ton of them that have played well for me and kept me working. I have great genes. My mom was 96, my dad was 88, my dad's sisters all went way into their 90s. LeBeaus are hard to get off the planet.”
10 Things I Think I Think: On Su’a Cravens, Adrian Peterson, the Dr. Z Memoir and More
1. I think the Su’a Cravens story, is, as one person close to the Washington hierarchy said Sunday, “just plain weird.” But also, as people begin to dig deeper on it, not as much of a shock as you’d think at first glance. Cravens, drafted at age 20 by Washington out of USC in the second round in 2016, told the organization Sunday morning he planned to retire. The Washington Post reported that club president Bruce Allen talked him out of it, and the team placed him on the exempt list, which will allow him one month to decide whether he’ll come back to football. Still, this was the projected starting strong safety, walking into the office of the team president seven days before the opening game of the season, saying he was retiring. A stunner to the public, to be sure.
But as our Albert Breer reported in March, some teammates were skeptical that Cravens, who missed the final three games of last year with a biceps injury, was injured to the point that he couldn’t play. And his absence was a factor (one of many) in the team losing to the Giants in Week 17 and missing out on the playoffs. So even if Cravens chooses to come back to football, it’s fair to wonder how he would be received in the locker room by his teammates, some of whom may feel Cravens picked an inopportune time to quit.
In a revealing story about the Cravens departure Sunday, Mike Jones of the Post reported an eerie detail about how Cravens told those in his defensive backfield group: “Saturday night, Cravens informed his fellow defensive backs in a group text message that he was retiring, a second person familiar with the situation said. Cravens, in the group message, praised each of his teammates for their skills and expressed gratitude for them and their role in his life. He said that he had enjoyed playing with them, but was retiring on Sunday and ended the text message with, ‘Peace out,’ and then removed himself from the group chat. Members of the group chat were both shocked and angered by Cravens’s decision, players said. Some felt like in a sense, Cravens had let them down.” Good reporting by Jones … and in the culture of a locker room, it explains how it could be difficult if Cravens wants to come back to the team a month from now.
2. I think you can’t underestimate the kind of damage a player quite important to the welfare of a team can do by walking away after all the hay is in the barn preparing for a game. I don’t know if the Washington defense had been given the game plan yet for Philadelphia (usually that happens on Wednesday morning before a Sunday game, but with the last preseason game having been played on Thursday, the defensive coaches surely had most of the plan already prepared), but defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was surely planning for Cravens—a physical run-support player at 6'1" and 222 pounds—to be a major part of the plan.
3. I think the Jets can say whatever they want, but very action since the end of 2014—shedding Sheldon Richardson, Brandon Marshall, David Harris, Eric Decker, Breno Giacomini, the diminished Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold, and adding a second-round pick in 2018—says this team is all about 2018 and ’19, with 2017 being only a bridge to happier days. They hope.
4. I think the Vikings punctured one of the feel-good stories from the 2016 draft. You remember wide receiver Moritz Boehringer, the German kid who blew away a U.S. pro day before the draft and got lots of dratniks fired up about him … and he was one of the Vikings’ cuts over the weekend. Turns out he just didn’t make the adjustment to the pro game in terms of receiving mechanics and instincts.
5. I think the best response to the recent news about the release of the Paul Zimmerman book, “Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer,” came from an old journalism friend of his and fellow Hall of Fame voter, Frank Cooney from San Francisco. I’ll share some of it: “Paul and I shared a lot of similar perspectives, and probably disagreed on just as many others. We each saw football a bit differently than our journalistic brethren, whom he once referenced as ‘semi-pro,’ which I thought was hilarious. We both played minor league football and cherish those memories and the perspective offered by the experience. We both love the game, our game, and passionately care about preserving the realities of history, despite not always agreeing on those realities. Paul reduces an impassioned antagonist to a mere foil. But it was as much fun as it was frustrating. Paul was THE VOICE in our Hall of Fame selection meetings.
“Paul: ‘Dave Casper is the greatest tight end ever to play in the NFL.’ Done.
“Paul: ‘Howie Long reinvented how to play on the defensive line.’ Done.
“Although he often beat me up in those meetings, I miss THE VOICE. I was lucky to be able to disagree and agree with him face to face from the middle 60s until we were prematurely robbed of his unique self expression. So, thanks for bringing back a flood of memories.”
6. I think Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune got Adrian Peterson to talk some truth Sunday. There’s no way (and the Vikings know this) that Peterson was going to take his exile from Minnesota well, when the Vikings wouldn’t pay him his option-year salary with a cap cost of $18 million. Who could blame the Vikings with a 32-year-old running back? I can’t think of one GM in the league who would have carried Peterson for that money, or anything close. But it has provided motivational fodder for Peterson this offseason, as he told Craig. The Vikings host New Orleans and Peterson in Week 1, and the Vikings are the host team for Super Bowl 52 as well. “In my mind, we’re starting and ending the season in Minnesota,” Peterson told Craig. “Of course I want to stick it to them. I want to stick it to everyone we play. But going back to Minnesota, playing the Vikings? Yeah, I want to stick it to them.”
7. I think the one under-the-radar acquisition I loved over the weekend was the Giants dealing a low-round pick for Steelers cornerback Ross Cockrell. New York gets a feisty and physical insurance policy at a vital position. Watch the Steelers practice, as I did one day in August, and Cockrell really stands out for his run-support and fearlessness. He'll come in handy at a position that always needs reinforcement during a 16-game season.
8. I think Dallas has the most interesting quarterback roster in football. Imagine 13 months ago if you’d told anyone with the Cowboys that the 2017 opening-day Dallas depth chart at quarterback would read: 1. Dak Prescott; 2. Cooper Rush. End. Just amazing how fast things change in the NFL. Rush, by the way, is a Central Michigan Chippewa who completed 32 of his last 36 passes in the preseason and made Kellen Moore instantly obsolete.
9. I think I’m glad we can be done with all speculation to the contrary. One weekend of college football tells us Josh Rosen is the top pick in the 2018 draft. At least that’s what Twitter informed me late last night/early this morning. Good to know. Kidding, sort of. Hats off to Rosen for a ridiculous comeback performance (292 passing yards, four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter) to beat Texas A&M. Seven more months to determine who's going number one to the Jets. Or Browns. Or Niners. Or whichever team.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: by Scott Simon of National Public Radio, reporting for CBS News, entitled “When disaster relief brings anything but relief.” It’s a little cruel-sounding, but read or watch this (both possible), and you’ll understand why at times of disaster such as the Texas flooding, money is precisely what you should send—not food or drink or clothing.
b. Amazing But True Story of the Week: by Mark Arsenault and Jessica Rinaldi of the Boston Globe, about the man who set the record for quickest hike of the Appalachian Trail, Joe McConaughy.
c. The numbers on McConaughy’s hike: 2,190 miles on the trail from Georgia to Maine, 45.6 days, an average of 48 miles a day, walking/running through seven ankle sprains, seeing 16 bears, avoiding four rattlesnakes, being stung by wasps twice, consuming 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day.
d. McConaughy did the trail nine days faster than anyone in recorded history. (He did an unsupported hike, which is with no aid of food or water along the way from others waiting at pre-arranged spots on the trail. McConaughy stopped in towns to get supplies, and pre-mailed himself care packages of things like Oreos and shoes that he picked up at delivery sites along the way.)
e. Now that’s what I call the Player of the Week.
f. C. C. Sabathia is ticked off that the Red Sox’ Edwin Nunez bunted on him Thursday. Sabathia is a mediocre fielder, very heavy, doesn’t move well, and has a bad knee. Why wouldn’t you bunt on this guy! That is one of the dumbest things I’ve heard an athlete complain about. As you know, I am a Red Sox partisan. But if Chris Sale said it, I’d grill him too.
g. RIP Shelley Berman. Many roles, but the one I’ll recall him for is Larry David’s father on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
h. Larry shows up to visit his father at the family place in Los Angeles after being in New York for a few weeks. His father (Berman) greets him. Pleasantries are exchanged. Larry wonders: Where’s Mom? This ensues.
i. “She didn’t want to bother you! ‘Don’t bother him! He’s in New York.’”
j. “Curb” returns Oct. 1, and believe me, I’ll be plugging that the way the internet has plugged “Game of Thrones.” In other words, you’ll be annoyed.
k. Coffeenerdness: Matt Ryan on coffee: “I’ve cut back. Like, I don't have any in the afternoon. For me, I'll have a little bit of coffee in the morning, but no caffeine in the afternoon. I'm a venti Pike guy, and I probably drink about three quarters of it, so I should move to the grande. Black. I've been black with coffee for probably seven or eight years. I try to get away from sugar. As much as you can. I don't care who you are, everybody cheats once in a while, right? I try and not have a ton of sugar.”
l. Beernerdness: From The MMQB executive editor Mark Mravic, pinch-drinking for me this week, after a group of Colorado brewers sent along a bunch of beers to The MMQB: “I swung by Peter’s apartment Thursday for a grab bag of 10 beers; literally, he had them in a big plastic bag. So far I’ve tried eight, ranging from a Helluva Caucasian Stout from Living the Dream in Littleton, brewed with peanut butter, chocolate, coffee and vanilla (tasted like a delicious, delicious pudding) to a Salted Scotch Ale from Mockery Brewing in Denver (rich, caramel, hint of brininess) to an Imperial Kentucky Common from Factotum Brewery, aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels (way too big for me, should be poured in a shot glass). My favorite, surprisingly, was the gluten-free Fat Randy’s IPA, from Holidaily Brewing in Golden. I don’t have the need and hence the call to drink gluten-free beers, but this one—made with millet, buckwheat, rice and Belgian candy syrup—was full-bodied, crisp and easy-drinking. Not as challenging a beer as some of the others in the grab bag, but a refreshing and satisfying quaff. Note to The MMQB’s Matt Gagne and Jenny Vrentas: There are good gluten-free beers around.”
m. Good to see Michael Irvin’s son catching passes for Miami.
n. Good to see Michigan’s unis. They’ll be able to play night games without the lights on with those.
o. Great to see USC give long-snapper Jake Olson, who is blind, the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream—playing in a game for the Trojans. Olson snapped the ball for the final extra point in a 48-31 victory over Western Michigan. “Something I’ll remember forever,” Olson said afterward. Kudos to USC coach Clay Helton for making it happen, to Olson for having the resolve and sticking with a lonely pursuit, and also to Western Michigan coach Tim Lester for having his team not rush on the PAT when the game was out of reach. Very cool moment.
p. It is Sept. 3, and an injury-ravaged Matt Harvey was embarrassing Saturday in Houston, and is 4-4 with a 5.97 ERA. That is so grim.
q. RIP, Walter Becker. Thanks for founding Steely Dan. You continue to give me lots of listening pleasure.
The Adieu Haiku
Dorsett for Brissett.
It’s a trade that almost rhymes.
Labor Day haiku.
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