The NFL really doesn’t have a choice on this Tampa Bay-Miami game scheduled for Sunday, with one of the most powerful hurricanes in the history of the region forming in the Caribbean. The league can play at a neutral site far away from the southeastern United States (because the path of the storm could go up through Florida and then along the East Coast on Sunday and Monday), or the league can move the game to Week 11 when the Bucs and Dolphins each have a bye on Sunday, Nov. 19.
There are three reasons why I expect the NFL on Wednesday to move the game to Nov. 19, in Miami, even though that would leave the Bucs and Dolphins with a bye that neither team wants (in Week 1), and would give most of the starters on each team three full weeks off before opening their seasons:
• It’s the humane thing to do. Irma could be a historic hurricane. The NFL spoke with the Miami mayor and the Florida governor Tuesday, and though I don’t know the scope of their conversations, it’s a pretty sure bet Florida officials told the NFL they don’t want resources from a Level 1 crisis (with many public servants on 12-hour shifts) diverted to a football game, even if the game would be played Thursday or Friday. On Tuesday, an email was circulated to all University of Miami students telling them classes would be cancelled for the rest of the week, and a friend who has a child in school said his daughter was advised on campus to “leave the state” if possible. The Dolphins and Bucs should be worrying about health and family this weekend. It’s just not time for a football game.
• It’s the business thing to do. Because the Dolphins had already OK’ed the moving of a home game this season to London to aid the league’s initiative to boost the game overseas, that meant owner Stephen Ross would have only seven home games in south Florida this year. For Ross to lose another home game to a neutral site when it’s possible to play at home on a mutual bye Sunday later in the season is not fair. There will be those who complain, with cause, about players having to play 16 straight weeks. I don’t think the strain of moving the game to the midwest or further west before a tiny crowd is worth it—never mind doing all that while worrying about family and property back home.
• Playing 16 straight games isn’t unheard of. Byes are good. They’re healthy for players, without a doubt. But the league played 13 straight years, from 1978 to 1990, without them: four preseason games, followed by 16 regular-season games, all in 20 weeks. Then into the wild card weekend without a break, if a team made the playoffs without securing a first-round bye. This is not optimal. It’s just smarter than the alternative.
In a football sense, not playing this weekend would be a blow to both teams, but probably more to Miami. Quarterback Jay Cutler is still acclimating himself to Miami’s offense, and now he will go 24 days without playing in a football game. He last played (four series) at Philadelphia on Aug. 24, and now he won’t play till Sept. 17 at the Los Angeles Chargers.
In addition, the Dolphins now won’t play their first game in Miami this year till Oct. 8 against Tennessee. Although the Oct. 1 game is listed as a home game, the Dolphins will play New Orleans that day in London.
The coaches and players won’t be happy about not playing the weekend, most likely. Listen to Miami receiver Jarvis Landry, on the prospect of essentially losing his team’s bye: “It’s a long season. Let’s be honest about it. It’s a long season, and I think the stretch after our bye week is probably one of the toughest—if you want to be real about it—probably the toughest in the NFL. That bye week will give us an opportunity to kind of get some guys healthy. In this NFL, in the league, you’re going to get banged up week in, week out. For us, that bye week, it comes at an appropriate time. For us, to keep it there would be huge; but I know there are unfortunate situations and it’s out of our hands and it’s up to the NFL and the teams to decide what happens. But we could use that bye at that time.”
Good of Landry to understand. My take: Players, particularly players who have experienced hurricanes, should understand a game pales in comparison to the looming impact of Irma on so many people’s lives. The inconvenience of a bye’s timing won’t be significant come Monday or Tuesday, when the scope of the storm could be devastating.
Now for your email...
IN DEFENSE OF THE BROWNS
Peter, I wanted to shed some light on the various Browns players you mentioned and why they are no longer on the team's roster:
• Taylor Gabriel: He's only 5'8", and the Browns kept a similar sized player on their roster in 2016 in Andrew Hawkins.
• Alex Mack: The Browns' front office made little effort to keep Mack when he became a free agent in 2016, but he was gone regardless. Mack was simply tired of all the losing and wanted to play for a contender.
• Mitchell Schwartz:The Browns made a terrible mistake by not re-signing him in 2016. The right tackle position remains the biggest question mark on their offensive line.
• Terrelle Pryor: The Browns were right to not overpay him significantly, especially based on just one year of production as a receiver.
• Tashaun Gipson: The Browns were wise not to overpay him in free agency; Gipson's stats with Jacksonville in 2016 were much closer to those in 2015 compared to 2013-14.
• Andy Lee: The Browns traded him to Carolina just before the start of the 2016 season and received a fourth-round draft in pick in 2018 as part of the deal. Since then, the Browns' punting has been solid. Meanwhile, Lee was just cut by the Panthers.
So out of the six players you mentioned, I fault the Browns with only failing to keep Schwartz. I certainly don't think their front office is perfect, but I also don't think they should be blamed for releasing players with little past production (Gabriel) or failing to overpay those who are unproven (Pryor) or regressing (Gipson).
—Steve, Strongsville, Ohio
Good points, Steve. I guess I figure it this way: Gabriel, Mack and Schwartz left and were good players on playoff teams. Mack, in particularly, was the leader of the NFC champion’s offensive line—and still is. Pryor was developed by the Browns into the kind of receiver every team is seeking. He was young and tall and athletic and sure-handed, and the Browns had him—and let him go. I understand the money reasons, but at some point the weight of the losses starts to take a toll.
If you’re a team with a lot of cap money like the Browns, you’ve got to build the kind of culture and develop the kind of team where players want to play. I’ve been amazed at how even the best Browns fans over time have said, essentially, that player X and Y (let’s say Mack and Gabriel) either weren’t that important, or had decided they weren’t going to re-sign, and thus the fans absolve the Browns of the responsibility to keep winning players in the locker room. I think that’s the wrong attitude. You should be ticked off when Mack wants to leave, and when the team drafts four receivers in 2016 and lets Gabriel walk.
IS OSWEILER THE NEW MATT FLYNN?
Do you see Brock Osweiler ending up as a Matt Flynn redux with a similar career path after leaving Green Bay?
Osweiler is going to have a chance to stay in the game as a backup by being a great student of the Denver offense (or whatever offense he’s playing in) and by helping the starter unselfishly. This is such a weird place for him now. When the Broncos were trying to re-sign Osweiler in 2016, Trevor Siemian was miles behind Osweiler on the team depth chart. Now Osweiler walks back in the building and has to carry the clipboard and help Siemian win. I don’t care what words come out of Osweiler’s mouth about being willing to do whatever it takes to help the Broncos win. He’s human, and that’s got to sting.
SU’A CRAVENS’ TIME OFF
Unless Cravens has an issue that we are unaware of (something like severe depression), I do not see him returning to Washington. The day after the final cuts is not when a teammate should decide to do “what makes him happy.” He should have done that at least before the first preseason game so the team could go forward with the knowledge that they needed to replace one of their starters.
—Steve N., Washington D.C.
I agree, Steve. I found it irresponsible. Not to say it’s the kind of thing that’s unprecedented, but the way Cravens did it seemed so cavalier. And you’re right--I have no idea what’s going on with the man; I hope to find out soon. But for now, it comes off as selfish.
THE DR. Z BOOK
I just got my copy of the book. I miss hearing Dr Z; his voice was so unique. Thanks for saving his memoirs from the dustbin of history, Peter.
When you read the book, Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer, you’ll see what I was thinking when I read it for the first time: This thing has to see the light of day! I read sections of it to my wife and kids on vacation a few summers back. They’re not sports nerds. They loved it too.
We’re all fortunate that Linda Zimmerman was so persistent, and that Triumph Books saw the potential in a book so many people are going to devour. Get your copy through Triumph Books, Amazon, IndieBound, or Barnes and Noble.
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