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Week 8: Teams That Need Wide Receivers and the Wide Receivers That Need Them

Also, hating that Dareus trade for the Jaguars (which probably means it will work out for them), get rid of the head-first dive vs. feet-first slide distinction, Cam can be the new Belichick if he wants to be (but he doesn’t want to be), and DeShone Kizer must stop doing everything. Plus, musical guest: Nirvana!

1. The Bears acquired Dontrelle Inman from the Chargers earlier this week. He’s a huge upgrade over anyone Mitchell Trubisky has to throw to, which is both insulting and entirely true. I can’t remember a time when there were so many teams trotting out such bad groups of receivers. Since, as friend of the show Rainbow Cave points out, it’s a week short on big-time games, and because I’m the kind of guy who lays on the horn at the Taco Bell drive-through if my order takes longer than 40 seconds, let’s all be impatient jerks and peek ahead to what should be a fascinating market for passing-game weapons this offseason.

Right now, the Bears, Bills, and Browns, as well as the injury-ravaged Giants and (while they’re now getting healthier) Ravens are running out receiving corps comprised of players who would most generously be described as “all having two hands and legal eligibility to work in the United States.” The lack of weapons has completely crippled each of those passing offenses. It’s been especially cruel for the rookies, Trubisky and DeShone Kizer. Remember how shaky Carson Wentz was during the dog days of the 2016 season? Part of it was opposing defenses making adjustments, but the issue was compounded by a lack of anyone who could make a play or draw double coverage. Similarly, Jared Goff was plagued by offensive line problems a year ago, but his struggles were also the result of life with Kenny Britt as your No. 1 target. Last winter, Wentz picked up Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, and while neither has lit it up Jeffery demands extra attention and Smith stretches the opposing secondary (plus, having them on the perimeter allowed Nelson Agholor to move to the slot where he has thrived). In L.A., rookie Cooper Kupp has provided Goff with a true security blanket possession receiver, while Sammy Watkins consistently tips coverages, making life much easier for the second-year QB.

For the teams desperately looking for help at receiver, they might not find it in the draft. SMU’s Courtland Sutton is the way-too-early consensus No. 1 wide receiver available (assuming he declares), and while he’s a physical marvel he’s also exceedingly raw. One year after a surprisingly soft market for receivers, the way to go might be a free-agent market with a wealth of high-risk, high-reward talent (listed here in no particular order):

Alshon Jeffery: He hasn’t found the chemistry with Wentz yet, but if you have a QB who’s comfortable with a contested catch receiver, this is your man.
Sammy Watkins: Don’t obsess over the numbers, he’s still a stud when healthy, and he’s trending toward his old self.
Jarvis Landry: There are few empty calories in his numbers; so many of his catches are in-traffic and come in key situations. The Dolphins can not afford to lose him.
Larry Fitzgerald: It’s either Arizona or retirement though, right?
Allen Robinson: Great in 2015, shaky in 2016, now coming off a torn ACL. He’s interesting on a one-year, prove-it deal.
Terrelle Pryor: His development was re-set when he changed offenses, but his upside is still enormous and he probably has three or four years left in his prime.
Jimmy Graham: I’m assuming it’s unlikely Seattle will reinvest in him. He’s 30, but could still be effective as a moveable chess piece for an offense that doesn’t need him to bang away as a blocker.
Davante Adams: I dunno, what is he without Aaron Rodgers? I suppose we’re about to find out.
Martavis Bryant: Not a free agent, but he’d like to be available. He can match-up with anyone on this list from a pure talent standpoint; someone should be desperate enough to take the plunge this winter considering Bryant will make less than a million in the final year of his rookie deal. It will just be a matter of Pittsburgh’s asking price (if the Steelers indeed have an asking price).

The market was soft last year, with Jeffery and Pryor settling for one-year deals. Considering how many teams are desperate for help in the passing game, I can’t imagine it will work out that way again.

2a. I can’t believe you can’t believe the Marcell Dareus trade! O.K., fair enough, no one ever gets traded, so you were right to spit-take. And, actually, it’s pretty stunning that now two teams have been willing to take on the albatross that is Dareus’s contract.

I could be wrong (I often am!), but I am bordering on physically ill over this deal from the Jaguars standpoint. (I also just ate 11 ounces of candy corn, which could be a contributing factor.) There are the obvious non-football concerns with Dareus; he’s been suspended twice under the league’s substance-abuse policy and the Bills sent him home from a preseason game this past summer for violating team rules. After that, he was made him available via a “free stuff” ad on Craigslist and a guy from West Seneca emailed to say he’d take him but then never showed to pick him up.

The contract, signed in 2015, was absolutely toxic, one of the worst deals for any team in football, hefty and inescapable for a player who can be great but more often . . . well. But a 2018 cap hit just north of $10 million for a high-risk player is only part of the problem. There is incredible depth at interior defensive line across the NFL right now. Remember what happened to Johnathan Hankins this past offseason? He’s a quality interior D-lineman, and he eventually had to settle for course credit as compensation with the Colts, and he’s not even sure those credits are gonna transfer. I kid, he got a three-year $27 million deal with the $10 million in guarantees due up front—essentially a one-year deal with two one-year options for the team—which means he has a more palatable deal than what remains on Dareus’s contract. Hankins, of course, isn’t quite the talent Dareus is. But he also doesn’t bring the baggage.

The point is, it’s a buyer’s market on defensive tackles these days. The Jaguars didn’t have a lot of options for a mid-season upgrade. They wanted help against the run (I wouldn’t say “needed,” especially because they could find more snaps for Paul Posluszny at Myles Jack’s expense if they wanted to upgrade their run D), and they think Dareus gives them that help. Plus, Doug Marrone had Dareus for the two best seasons of his career and surely knows what he’s getting himself into here. But this is a team that’s built to be good beyond 2017 (football’s best CB tandem and they’re both young, Leonard Fournette, a sustainable pass rush, etc.).

The Jaguars were already setting up to be snug against the cap in 2018, and there’s still the little matter of quarterback as they approach an offseason in which multiple quality QBs could be available for the first time in a long time. (There’s also the matter of the Jaguars finding people for that quarterback to throw to; Allen Robinson is a free agent and coming off a torn ACL, Marqise Lee is also a UFA and Allen Hurns is a potential cap casualty, even more likely with this acquisition). They’ll presumably move on from Abry Jones, and might have to do the same with Malik Jackson to make space for Dareus in 2018. Even if they free up $19 million by letting Blake Bortles go, that basically covers their 2018 draft class. If, say, Drew Brees (who can not be tagged in New Orleans) follows through on his professed love for all things Doug Marrone and wants to come to Jacksonville, or if Eli Manning, who has some kind of past relationship with Tom Coughlin (I don’t know the details, I think they were roommates in Bayonne, New Jersey), want to come to Jacksonville, the Jaguars would presumably figure out a way to make it work. But it just got a lot more difficult, and much more likely that they’d have to part ways with quality players for it happen.

This feels like the move of a franchise panicking as the window closes. Punting any remaining 2018 cap flexibility for a team that’s built to last, plus the potential headaches that come with Dareus, is a steep price to pay for the hope of a short-term run D upgrade.

2b. In case it wasn’t clear, congrats to Brandon Beane for getting anything in exchange for getting out from under Dareus’s deal. The man is doing God’s work.

3. There’s no good solution to the Joe Flacco near-decapitation play on Thursday night. A scrambling quarterback running for what might be a big third-down conversion, he slides late . . . it’s a lot to ask a linebacker coming at a full sprint to find a way to hold up. (It’s fair that Kiko Alonso was penalized—I wouldn’t object to a suspension—I also think it’s fair that Ryan Jensen tried to decapitate Alonso after the play because two severe concussions make a right.)

One common-sense rule change that could at least contribute to preventing hits like this would be adapting the college rule: Once your knee hits, you’re down. If Flacco dives head-first, he has a first down. If he slides, he doesn’t. You’re asking the tackler to anticipate what the QB is going to do, especially difficult on a third down in what was (at that point) a competitive game. If the play is over once a knee touches no matter what, then the tackler has more reason to hold up. It also eliminates the occasional people’s elbow (that’s the only thing I know about post-80s pro wrestling) on a player who has slipped. The only thing you lose is the once-in-a-season hilarity of a receiver making a diving catch, the defenders forgetting to touch him and the receiver getting back up and running. Or the hilarious-er young receiver goes down then leaves a live ball on the ground (though when Victor Cruz did that a couple years ago the officials decided they’d call it differently than they ever had before, so what’s the point?). It’s an archaic rule that unnecessarily creates a gray area for a defender and puts players in danger for no good reason.

4. I have missed Josh Norman tremendously and, considering the lack of big matchups in a 13-game week, am very happy to have him back to face off against Dez Bryant. And not just because of the commercials where they draw stuff on their phones. I’ve been drawing on phones for years. Ruined a lot of phones that way.

5. Cam Newton can present himself to fans and the public at large however he sees fit, but just a couple of notes on “Cam vs. The Media IV: This Time It’s . . . Not Really Any More Interesting Than the First Three Times But We’re Going to Talk About It Anyway.”

a. Is it unfair that Belichick and Popovich can get away with it, but when Cam does it we all get nuts? Yup! But then, Belichick and Popovich don’t show much interest in the entertainment business and don’t have a show on Nickelodeon and don’t have a bunch of national endorsement deals. Cam can do the curmudgeon thing full-time if he wants, but from what I can tell that’s not him and if it was him he wouldn’t have these opportunities off the field. He is an absolutely magnetic personality; I’ve only been in this industry for a decade-plus and I’ve only been around Cam for two days (for a TV show, at that), but I’ve never seen anyone else like him (Karl-Anthony Towns is the only one who comes close). If you put him in a room of 100 people, spread across demographics, and told him he had 20 minutes to make every one of them smile, he could do it with about 12 minutes to spare. That’s why it’s so jarring when he gets into these press conferences and goes positively turdular for—as far as most of us can tell—no good reason. So, sure, Cam can go the Belichick route, but if he does he’s really got to go the Belichick route 24/7. (And, just a reminder: Belichick’s approach wasn’t charming until he started winning Super Bowl rings on a fairly consistent basis.)

b. It’s not outrageous to ask an NFL team’s quarterback to hold a post-game press availability and a mid-week press availability during the season. In baseball, the starting pitcher is almost always available at his locker after a game. In basketball, the superstars hold court with varying degrees of frequency and then after every postseason game. Every other quarterback in the league does these press conferences, and they’re largely uneventful because you stand out there, act civil, give some boilerplate answers then everybody goes home . . . not so much happy, but at least feeling nothing.

c. There’s always criticism of the questions at these press availabilities (and often from people who have never been to one). Every reporter would love to sit down and have a weekly, in-depth one-on-one with the quarterback of the team they cover. But instead, they sit in a media scrum in which they might only get one question off, and try to phrase it both softly enough to not offend and openly enough to get an expansive answer. The question that seemed to really—as the kids say—biff Newton on Wednesday: “Big plays, big chunk plays, kind of get to that energy I think that you were talking about. Does this offense—I know you had several in Detroit and New England—do you think you guys have the wherewithal to do that consistently, week in and week out?”

That’s a gentle, courteous phrasing of what a lot of people around the league and I’m sure a lot of Panthers have been wondering. The more honest phrasing would have been: “You guys were really good when you were turning in big plays against the Patriots and Lions, but the last two weeks you’ve been really s---ty because you haven’t gotten any big plays. Why is that, how can you go about getting more big plays and therefore being less s---ty, or do you think you’re just going to be s---ty for the rest of 2017?”

d. If everyone agrees that press conferences are obsolete and that the lamestream media isn’t up to the task and Twitter is the future old man (or whatever, I don’t deal with young people unless I’m cursing them for trampling my lawn), I’m all for any alternatives that get interested parties (i.e. fans) the information they want. If we don’t like the press conferences, I suggest allotting 15 minutes, twice a week, for unscreened questions directly from fans (which I’m sure would go over great after, say, a 17-3 loss in Chicago).

e. Again, these press availabilities can be whatever you make of them. As head coach of the Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr has to talk to the media all the time. On the same day Cam was doing a spot-on Liz Lemon impression because someone asked him about problems with an offense that just created 14 points for an opponent and only three points for themselves, Kerr opened his media availability by praising his organization for the spirit of openness, inclusion and respect for fellow humans created by the Warriors’ LGBT night. Especially now that everyone’s going to be paying at least slightly more attention to these press conferences, Cam should open with a monologue about the Cam Newton Foundation, Make-A-Wish Weekend, his 7-on-7 series. It’s all great stuff, and a lot of people don’t hear about it. They just see Newton at a press conference sulking about something or berating someone or bristling at some question that doesn’t warrant getting upset. These press conferences are a platform. He should use it.

6. We finally got that long-awaited apology from DeShone Kizer for being in a bar two nights before a game. Where he was standing. Presumably like Rory Calhoun.

Kizer has played poorly for a myriad reasons, but being out at a bar two nights before a game is not one of them. However, I look forward to future apologies from Kizer: the time he substituted double fries for a side salad (nutrition is important!), and the time in May he binge-watched House of Cards Season 5 (when he could have been studying the playbook!).

7a. Correct me if I’m wrong (seriously, I’ve looked and haven’t found this but maybe I just missed it), but it seems pretty telling that not one Houston Texans player has said anything in defense of Bob McNair. Not in defense of his comment specifically, but something along the lines of he said a dumb thing but he also does good things. The ownership/union relationship has been contentious across the league, but perhaps this serves as a lesson for owners to have a little more of a human touch with the players on their team.

7b. One aside on the fantastic Van Natta/Wickersham ownership meeting tick-tocks: Dan Snyder always seems to make an appearance, but only as the comic relief. There was the “$40 million” comment in the last one, and this time the “96%” line. Maybe he has a habit of saying dumb things in these meetings. Or maybe one of the sources really dislikes him. But probably both those things.

8. Just a quick commendation for my podcast co-host and personal stylist Andy Benoit. This piece on the emergence of Alvin Kamara and similar multi-purpose running backs—relating to spread concepts and the struggles of teams to block on offense and cover on defense—is immensely interesting, easily digestible and thoroughly enjoyable if you want to gain a better understanding of football. Andy is the best at what he does because he’s not just a film junkie, he is also always talking to people around the league because he knows there are things that he doesn’t know (scorching hot take: crowd-sourcing NFL coordinators will make you a more knowledgeable analyst than crowd-sourcing Twitter will). The Kamara piece is some of his best work.

9. Ladies and gentlemen, Nirvana!

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