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NFL Week 1: Why the NFL Is Better When Cam Newton Is Good, The Year of Eli, Sam Bradford Is Gonna Be So Rich! (Again!)

Plus, the fates of teams that had Week 1 byes in the past, history made in the AFC East, preseason predictions and musical guest Soundgarden

1a. A quick disclaimer before we look at the following list: Sometimes words mean something. And sometimes they don’t. Lawnmower tangerine breadbox Ronnie James Dio elevator. Those words don’t mean anything, right? (Or do they? No, they don’t.) So when you look at the list below, know that I’m not implying that anyone is overpaid or underpaid or properly paid. It’s a billion-dollar industry, so the guys putting their brains and limbs and muscles and ligaments on the line should be well-compensated.

With that out of the way, this is the top-10 in per-game earnings among active players through 2016 (regular-season games only) for all NFL players who have gotten a second contract (career earning according to Spotrac).


​So, as you can see, Sam Bradford is already wealthy. And now, he’s in a contract year, set up for a monster season. (I begrudgingly admit) he’s a pretty good quarterback who has spent his career playing in some nightmarish circumstances. The Vikings were so bad up front last year that they had to scrap the entire offense and build a new one midseason. They corrected that in free agency (yes, Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers are huge upgrades, which tells you all you need to know about the Vikings’ offensive tackles in 2016). So now Bradford should have a full playbook available to him, not to mention a full offseason with the team, not to mention a dynamic back in rookie Dalvin Cook.

Franchise quarterbacks are now drawing a little more money than the GDP of many small nations. And here’s the thing: Bradford is frickin’ 29 year old. In a league where the speed of the defense, field dimensions and, therefore, geometry of the game make cerebral passers the most valuable assets in football, Bradford could easily be in line for two more franchise QB-type contracts before he’s done. And at the rate those contracts are growing, come, say, 2024, what will a franchise quarterback make? (Like, as much as 3-and-D wing in the NBA? Could you imagine!)

So I guess the preceding words to have a point: Sam Bradford will soon be so wealthy that he will be required by law to wear a top hat and a monocle at all times.

1b. Also, I said I wasn’t gonna pick on anyone for making a lot of money in this league, but man, get a load of Mark Sanchez! Brock Osweiler and Drew Stanton were also top-25. Backup QBing is nice work if you can get it, I guess.

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2a. Cam Newton is cruising toward a fascinating contract situation in a few years. As we’ve talked about in these parts, things are changing for Newton and the Panthers offense. They were going to have to at some point; even at his size, Newton was unlikely to last into his mid-30s taking the punishment he’s taken over the last couple seasons. Of course, if you take away his running ability, you’re left with a passer who’s pretty good at times, pretty bad at times, and is typically at his best playing late in the down and unleashing it downfield. If you want to limit the hits he takes, the ball has to come out of his hand more quickly and that seems like it’s the Panthers’ plan (thus, the arrivals of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel).

This is a big change! Not only is Newton coming off shoulder surgery, but he’s going to be asked to make short, quick timing throws. As Kurt Warner told our Jonathan Jones over the summer: “I’m not going to say he can’t do it, but it doesn’t seem to be what his strength is.”

So as Cam tries to redefine his game, his contract situation looms as a fascinating backstory. If Newon re-establishes himself as a star, his deal is a tremendous bargain for Carolina. While top QB contracts are creeping toward $30 million annually and climbing (from a cap hit perspective), Newton’s cap hit is $20.2 this year, then $21.5, $23.2 and $21.1 (numbers according to Spotrac). That’s a bargain for a franchise QB!

On the other hand, if the new Cam is an unmitigated disaster, the Panthers can get out of that deal after the 2018 season, at which point he’d be entering his age-30 season as a quarterback reliant on his legs.

2b. One other thing . . .

I’m not putting the NFL in hospice care, but you have to wonder, has the league shot itself in the ass with its years-long war on players and, specifically, war on players’ personalities? There was a time when the heavy player movement was a turn-off in the NBA, but now they’re building a strong and fast-rising brand on the backs of a handful of individual players rather than the teams. And, weirdly, that has lifted the fortunes of relatively small-market teams like Golden State, Cleveland and Oklahoma City, while the struggles of large-market behemoths like the Knicks and Lakers haven’t affected the league’s bottom line. The 2017 NBA playoffs were truly atrocious, yet interest in the league is at an all-time high thanks to the offseason drama that appeals to the Kardashian fan in all of us (well, I don’t have any Kardashian fandom in me, and you might not either, but many people do). I mean, the sporting event of the summer was an aging, defense-first boxer going against a guy who had never boxed before, and the actual fight was, as expected, non-competitive and unwatchable. So why did everyone tune in? And why would everyone tune in for a rematch? Because it took the approach of a convoluted reality series, where the real show was the press conferences that highlighted the “personalities” of the “boxers.” It was just like that show, Surviving Big Brother’s House Island vs. Road Rules Factor. Granted, it’s lame when a sport is all personality. But it’s reaching a point where football has to find some personality.

As for Newton, he is a unique talent on the field and a true showman off it. The NFL is better when he’s one of its best players. Let’s hope he finds some magic in 2017.

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3. This isn’t particularly original, but the game I most want to see is the Sunday nighter, for a couple reasons. First, both teams are really good. Second, the Cowboys were outstanding last season but scored just 26 points over two losses to the Giants, and I’m curious to see if they can find some answers against one of the few teams in football that can hold their run game in check. This is a big early test for Dak Prescott, who can certainly move himself near the top of the second tier (basically the best of guys who aren’t Brady or Rodgers) of franchise QBs this season.

But, most of all, I’m curious to see if the Giants now have the offense to match their defense and make them a Super Bowl contender. It is your birthright to make fun of Eli Manning. And he deserves a lot of it; he certainly makes his share of confounding mistakes, those what-in-God's-name-was-he-thinking interceptions, and if you were doing a power ranking of quarterbacks most likely to forget to put on pants before taking the field, he’d be near the top.

But Eli was, very quietly, very good last year. Ben McAdoo’s offense, along with being comically stagnant in terms of personnel groupings a year ago, is predicated on receivers winning on isolation routes. Put simply: They have to beat the man in front of them. So when that system includes the 2016 version of Victor Cruz and Will Tye playing the bulk of the snaps, you’re in trouble. Not to mention, they were constantly in that 11 personnel grouping (one back, one tight end), and don’t have the offensive line to run out of it. So the fact that Eli threw for 4,000 yards last year is actually fairly exceptional. Now, the Giants have upgraded to Brandon Marshall (who still has something left in the tank when he’s healthy) and rookie tight end Evan Engram (a monster talent as a pass-catcher) over Cruz and Tye. I feel like I might have been a little too bullish on Manning this offseason, but if he can throw for 4,000 yards in a broken offense a year ago, he should be in for a big year in 2017.

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4. Yeah, it’s a bummer to have a Week 1 bye, Bucs and Dolphins fans. (Though—and I apologize for the borderline meaningless platitude—take care of yourself if you’re in Irma’s path.) But sitting out Week 1 wasn’t particularly problematic for the three teams that had Week 1 byes during the 31-teams era.


1999 Chargers: Improved from 5-11 to 8-8 (with Jim Harbaugh beating out Ryan Leaf for the starting job! It’s fun to remember things!), and they certainly weren’t affected by fatigue late in the year. They won four of five to finish the season, including a win in Seattle as 9.5-point underdogs. Which is a perfect time for this:

2000 Bengals: They went 4-12, which in a way sounds bad. But Akili Smith started 11 games that season, so in another way they’re kinda like a better version of the ’85 Bears. Like the Chargers, the Bengals were also fine late in the year, getting two of their wins in December.

2001 Cardinals: Coming off a 3-13 season, they got blown out at home against the Brian Griese-led Broncos to start the year. But the Cards also finished strong; Arizona went 2-6 in the first half of the year before finishing 5-3 down the stretch. (Also, in college I bought a slightly irregular Jake Plummer jersey at the Champion outlet store and was later wed in it, though the second part of that sentence is a redundancy.)

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5. Not that there aren’t countless things more important than football, but this is a football column and it’s Week 1 and I think this should take on something of a festive atmosphere. Because I like football, and you probably like football too. So I won’t spend too much space dwelling on the latest debacle created by the NFL’s wrong-headed policies on domestic violence.

I wrote about Josh Browntwice last year, and the passage of time hasn’t made the league’s treatment of Molly Brown any less appalling. So, one season after proving they’re capable of trampling a domestic violence victim, the Ezekiel Elliott case highlights the NFL’s struggle to interpret evidence. (I honestly wonder if, three years ago, folks around the league thought all incidents of domestic violence would be captured on video like Ray Rice, so they’d be open-and-shut cases.)

The personal-conduct policy as a whole should be put into a giant drill that burrows into the Earth’s crust then left there for eternity; there is no place for a sports league’s kangaroo court in our nation’s criminal justice system. The only good that has come out of the league’s involvement in domestic violence is heightened awareness, and that’s only because Rice was caught on tape, not because of any action taken by the league.

At some point, the league has to have the humility—and, frankly, the decency—to admit that domestic violence is a far too complex issue to be treated as a private company’s public relations issue. What can the NFL do if it really wants to help? Get out of the way. Then send a few of those billions to people who are infinitely more equipped to deal with domestic violence issues. And, if they really want the PR bump, write a press release about it.

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6. As you might have deduced if you’ve read this column in the past (or if you read the words right above the words you’re reading now), I’m not a big fan of Roger Goodell’s commissioneering. He’s deserved approximately 98.4% of the criticism he’s gotten over the past five years or so. On a personal level I don’t know the guy at all, but I imagine that if we went on a date it wouldn’t go well enough to warrant a second date and it would also confuse our respective wives.

But these shirts, man…

First, how does one come up with such a creative idea? Is it an all-night brain-buster? Does it pop into your head while you’re in the shower? Does it come to you in a dream, jostling you awake in the dead of night and sending you scrambling for a pencil and paper before the inspiration slips away and vanishes into the ether?

And with the wide range of anti-Goodell apparel available, who is the market for this shirt? Bostonites who happen to have BMed themselves nearby and are looking for a garment to either wrap around their waist (or waste), or perhaps step their legs through the arm holes and wear as pants?

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Anyway, unless Roger Goodell ran over your dog or upper-decked your guest bathroom—and really, even if he did—don’t buy this shirt.

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Some programming notes about this column in 2017 that aren’t specifically about football . . .

A quick brochure on what to expect from the column this year, for Gameday 10 Things readers new and old. So listen up, all 16 of you . . .

VIDEOS: First, this will be the last column that runs sans video at the top. (My contract stipulates that I shall be shot out of a cannon if I do not include a video at the top of every column. Yes, I do regret not reading it before signing.) But here’s the thing: Those videos pay the bills around these parts, since everything on our site is free. I know the ol’ auto-play videos have a reputation on the world wide web, mostly because a lot of them on other sites are afterthoughts. But that won’t be the case here. I’m writing a series of five-minute shorts; I’ve written three scripts and plan on doing somewhere between 10 and 15 over the course of the season (we’ll have some repeats). I think they’re good-ish. The scripts are good, my delivery is . . . you’ll understand why I’m not in broadcast. And they tested well with my focus group of weird friends. But mostly, I am putting a ton of thought and effort into them. Like, my wife can confirm, an absurd amount of thought and effort. I’m trying to make them weird and different and unlike what you’d normally see. The first one will debut in Week 2. You might think it’s really funny. You might think it’s literally the least funny thing you’ve ever seen. I promise you will not fall anywhere in between those two extremes. I just ask that you give them a chance. And if you have any feedback, fire away. Metaphorically. Please do not fire a weapon at me.

HOW MANY THINGS?: I dunno. Ten things per week has been a lot over the years. I need my 14 hours of sleep. And my late-morning nap. And my mid-afternoon nap. And those 80 minutes where I just stare into the middle distance. And there’s so much good TV these days. So will I do 10 things every week this year? Probably not. I’ll try to keep it all killer, no filler.

BUT LIVE BLOG!: To make up for the prospect of fewer things, I’ll run The MMQB live blog during the games on most Sundays. Starting with Week 1! So if, like me, you have no friends, follow along on the live blog. (I’ll see if I can just attach it to the bottom of the column here, but no promises.)

I STILL HAVE A PODCAST: Andy Benoit, the best analyst in media (because he’s actually skeptical enough of his own assessments to check his work by crowd-sourcing experts rather than spewing out whatever is bouncing around the Twitter echo chamber), co-hosts The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast with me. We stay up absurdly late to tape on Sunday nights to get it out to you first thing Monday morning. And, like everything else in these parts, it’s free! Subscribe and have it for your Monday morning commute, breaking down everything that happened on Sunday before you even have a chance to look at the boss’s column.

YOU CAN SEND ME FANTASY FOOTBALL QUESTIONS: I’m not writing the Fantasy 40 column this year (too much on my plate, and we have great stuff from Michael Beller and the 4for4 guys anyway), but if you have fantasy questions you can hit me up on Twitter and Facebook and I will do my absolute best to get to them.

BUY MY BOOK!: So ever since you started reading this column today I’ve been meaning to tell you, you look like you’ve dropped some serious weight since the last time you were here. Oh, you gained weight? Huh, well, must be that sharp new haircut, it’s really working. Very slimming. Oh, male pattern baldness? Well, then, your face is just glowing, radiant. Oh, your face was disfigured in an unspeakably horrible accident involving a rogue lawn tiller? Oh God . . . Huh . . . Well, why don’t I just get to the point for which I was buttering you up . . .

I wrote a book. It’s aimed at tweens and teens who are football fans but want to know more about football than the adults in their lives. People who have purchased it have seemed to like it very much. (And it’s significantly less profane than these columns.) So if you have a daughter/son/nephew/niece/grandson/granddaughter who is into football and might want to get really into football, I’m not going to make you buy it. But I would kindly suggest that you consider buying it. Thanks!

All right, back to the regularly scheduled column . . .

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7. Because the Dolphins don’t play, and because the Jets and Bills can’t both lose in Orchard Park on Sunday (they can’t, can they?), the Patriots will finish a week out of first place in the AFC East (alone or tied) for the first time since the end of Week 2 of the 2014 season (when Doug Marrone’s 2-0 Bills led the division and the Pats were 1-1).

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8. When everyone on The MMQB staff ignored me for a week, I thought it was because they were planning a surprise birthday party. But instead, for the second straight year, they were just out partying and making preseason predictions without me. So here are mine . . .

Super Bowl LII: I’ve still got Patriots, beating the Vikings (in Minneapolis!).

Season MVP: Aaron Rodgers. I’d go Derek Carr, but I feel that between their weak defense and a stacked AFC West the Raiders are going to slide back to 9-7 or 10-6. And a nod to darkhorses Jameis Winston and the aforementioned Sam Bradford.

Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller. I mean, in reality, it’s Miller, Khalil Mack, Luke Kuechly and, if healthy, J.J. Watt. Those four are untouchable among defensive players. I’ll guess Miller wins it this year.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Joe Mixon. I know, no one is going to feel warm and fuzzy about it. (It’s also cheating if I pick Kareem Hunt at this point.)

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Takk McKinley. I think he’s awesome, and I think he’s gonna have a ton of opportunities as teams try to deal with the studs Atlanta has on the interior of their D-line. And if Dan Quinn and company can manufacture opportunities for McKinley like they did for Vic Beasley last year . . .

Coach of the Year: Mike Zimmer. Because the Vikings are going to the Super Bowl. And, ironically, he coaches those very same Vikings.

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9.This is not directly about football, so if you don’t want to read it skip ahead to No. 10. Though No. 10 is just a YouTube embed of a Soundgarden song, so in that case you’d actually be done reading for this week . . .

We played 10 home games during my senior season of high school basketball, and for every one of them my teammates and I took the court to Rage Against the Machine’s “Down Rodeo.” (That’s “Rodeo” as in the street in Beverly Hills, not the thing with cowboys.) The song features the Zack de la Rocha-penned hook: “So now I’m rollin’ down Rodeo with a shotgun/These people ain’t seen a brown-skinned man since their grandparents bought one.”

Now, we represented the high school of a town with a racial makeup that was 97.36% white and a median household income of $135,398 (according to the 2000 census). So I know what you’re thinking: Yes, “Tire Me” is the best track on Evil Empire and would have made a better intro song. And, yes, the irony of introducing ourselves with that particular song was lost on my teammates and me. It was the late-90s and we all loved Rage, even if most of the lyrics flew over our bad haircuts (they’re about, like, f--- the government . . . and breaking things and stuff). Though there was one thing we all found difficult to understand at the time: How could a band be so critical of a nation that is enabling them have obscene commercial success? Or, simply: They’re rich, what are they complaining about?

The answer, of course, is the same reason many NFL players will demonstrate during the national anthem on Sunday. Because of their talent, they’ve been blessed with a platform. And many see it as not just their right, but their duty to speak up for those whose voices can’t be heard.

When you grow up in a homogeneous bubble as I did, empathy doesn’t come naturally. I was fortunate enough to become a sports reporter, which, while not the most enlightening or admirable line of work, exposed me to people of different backgrounds who I otherwise might have never interacted with. My worldview changed—for the better, I believe—with each new person I had the opportunity to spend time with.

The social activism conversation, like so many important conversations in this country, has been hijacked by the loudest voices and dullest minds in media, peddling outrage because it’s the only language they speak (and, for many, because outrage is what draws clicks and viewers and listeners). There are important voices with more nuanced messages being drowned out—we were fortunate enough to have Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan Boldin share their messages on The MMQB earlier this week. (You don’t have to skip the games this afternoon. But, maybe, when you have some downtime Tuesday evening or Thursday afternoon, read some of the work The Marshall Project has done on the criminal justice system. Or, if you’re more of a podcast fan, Inivisibilia did a great show on implicit bias earlier this year, specifically the segment about a St. Louis police lieutenant training officers to recognize and deal with their unconscious biases.)

The U.S. is an exceptional country. We also have some problems, many of which have solutions. We can get even better. I encourage you to—at a minimum, and you don’​t have to do it on Sunday—listen to what some of these players have to say about their causes, and understand why they feel the way they do.

O.K., back to the column . . .

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10. Ladies and gentlemen, Soundgarden! (I realize there’s an official music video for this song, but they edit out the best line) . . .

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