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  • Also, the Broncos need Paxton Lynch to do something, it was only a matter of time before Jay Ajayi was out in Miami, punt returns are no longer a danger we can live with, fixing the Thursday Night Football problem and making everyone happy, the correct take on Candy Corn and Papa John. Plus, musical guest Sparta!
By Gary Gramling
November 04, 2017

1a. Don’t get carried away, but it’s O.K. to be a little bit giddy about the Jimmy Garoppolo trade if you’re a 49ers fan. We don’t know exactly what Garoppolo is going to be (well, aside from unsettlingly handsome in a Brandon Routh-as-Superman way). He was quite reigned in when New England beat the Cardinals in last year’s opener (his big plays were a result of obvious coverage busts), and then he looked sharp in executing a more aggressive, expansive game plan the next week against Miami before getting hurt. Basically, there’s two quarters of film to go off of.

But the Patriots’ body language is encouraging. Bill Belichick seemed desperate to keep him, which suggests he believes a coach can design an expansive offense around Garoppolo. The physical tools are there, so the question is whether he can find the coach that makes him comfortable and the system that allows him to play with confidence and ultimately thrive. It’s in Kyle Shanahan’s hands now.

The 49ers have everything working in their favor in terms of a contract. They can sign Garoppolo to a long-term deal that’s entirely to their liking, because since they’re sitting on a Browns-like amount of cap space for 2018 they can franchise-tag him with little consequence. And if they tag him and then they have to give him a record contract because he played like Aaron Rodgers in 2018, that’s not the worst problem to have. As far as the second-rounder they gave up, they still have their first-round pick, and if it ends up being a top-two pick they can cash it in for a load of picks as teams try to get their hands on Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen, the consensus clear-cut top-two QBs right now.

On top of that, the 2018 draft is shaping up to be one that lacks elite non-QB talent but has good depth throughout. The Niners still own four picks likely to be in the top 75, as they own the Saints’ second and the Bears’ third. So it’s good to be the Niners right now. At least as long as you don’t pay attention to any of the games they play in 2017.

1b. Garoppolo is the first domino to fall in what should be an awesomely outrageous QB market this offseason. With Garoppolo and the 49ers crossed off the list, here’s how it’s shaping up:

IN DESPERATE NEED
Cleveland
Denver (probably, Paxton Lynch is the wild card)
Jacksonville
Minnesota (unless they retain Bradford or Bridgewater)
New Orleans (unless Brees gets long-term deal)
N.Y. Jets
Washington (unless Cousins gets long-term deal)

COULD (SHOULD?) BE CONSIDERING A LONG-TERM CHANGE
Baltimore
Buffalo
Cincinnati

SHOPPING FOR QB OF THE FUTURE
Arizona
L.A. Chargers
N.Y. Giants
New England
Pittsburgh

Veteran QBs potentially available: Drew Brees, Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, AJ McCarron, Tyrod Taylor


2. I have questioned the Browns front office on their overall approach (putting together a group that goes 2-30 or so over two seasons and then expecting an eventual turnaround with that same nucleus seems like a bad idea). And on the specifics of it (no matter what your spreadsheets say, $33 million for Kenny Britt and a second-round pick is not money well spent). But the fact remains: Jimmy and Dee Haslam put the organization on this path. They have to give it more than two years to play out.

Whatever happened with Sashi Brown and Co. with the doomed AJ McCarron deal email they sent from clevelandbrowns1@hotmail.com, I have to think that two picks for AJ McCarron was not in the front office’s rebuild plans. Because if the rebuild plan is we’re gonna pass on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson and then trade two picks for AJ McCarron, that’s a bad plan. (One clue that McCarron maybe isn’t worth the price: the Bengals were more than willing to send McCarron, whom they’ve never given a chance to unseat Andy Dalton, to a division rival. Well, division opponent. I’m not sure the Browns are anyone’s rival right now.) This was obviously a Hue Jackson move, and that’s troubling.

Was Jackson ever really on board with the front office’s approach? Or did he simply get impatient when Wentz and Watson turned out to be stars? Is Jackson going rogue, and/or are the Haslams going to stick their hands in this again? And if they do, isn’t that the worst scenario possible: Ownership interfering with the rebuild to make a questionable long-term plan a half-baked plan as well? Right now, it feels like the Haslams are in front of King Solomon as he says, “Cut the child in two,” and they're just like, “Yeah, we’re cool with that.”


3. As soon as Adam Gase took the job in Miami two winters ago, I thought Jay Ajayi was a goner. He wasn’t this regime’s pick, and he wasn’t a fit for a coach who deep down wants to throw, throw, throw. Good on Ajayi for performing so well that Gase had no choice but to keep feeding him.

Of course, Ajayi’s disappointing performance this year opened the door for the Dolphins to make the move. Last year he had five rushes of 35 yards or more, including three of 50-plus. This year, his season long run is 21 yards. I’m not sure what he is long-term, but it feels like his 2017 numbers are probably a little more indicative of his future than his ’16 stat line.


4a. The reaction to the Deshaun Watson ACL tear was a bit over the top. Like the kind of reaction you’d expect if everyone in the world’s dogs simultaneously passed away.*

It’s disappointing, for sure, as Watson was an absolute joy to watch. (Will Tom Savage be able to replicate Watson’s rare brand of athletic playmaking? Only time will tell.) But it’s a torn ACL. In an unlikely and absolute worst case scenario, a slow recovery and conservative approach to rehab, he’s not back until the 2019 opener. At which point he’ll be a week or so shy of his 24th birthday.

But the injury does move up a conversation that we were going to have in January or February: What’s next for Watson? Everything the Texans have done since Week 3 has been brilliant and worked almost perfectly. It’s been heavy on motion and misdirection though, and it’s fair to expect opposing defenses to handle it better with a full offseason to break it down.

Whether it’s paranoia or not, Houston now has a franchise player with a, let’s say, “less than Cam Newton” frame and a tendency to be reckless with his body, coming off a torn ACL. It’s not just a matter of limiting designed runs, it’s the question of whether they can get the ball out of his hand quickly on a consistent basis.

The good news is that the Texans will have a full offseason to cook something up. The better news is that Watson improved at breakneck speed as a passer, and coming into last year’s draft people in the league seemed to love everything about him from an intelligence and intangibles aspect. Plus, as our Albert Breer consistently points out, at Clemson Watson already had to go through the process of having opposing defenses adjust over an offseason and take parts of his game away. The future is promising, even if we’ll miss him over the course of the next nine games.

* — GAMEDAY 10 THINGS POP CULTURE CROSSOVER UNDENIABLY TRUE FACT BROUGHT TO YOU BY SHASTA COLA: Everyone in the world’s dog dying simultaneously was actually the original plot for the film All Dogs Go to Heaven. Lars von Trier, fresh off the breakthrough success of The Element of Crime, was on board to direct a film examining the darkness of the master-pet dynamic and normalization of grief. But the suits at Disney—always with the notes!—decided it was not going to be the heart-warming children’s film they had hoped for and put the film on hiatus before reviving the project as an animated film. As always, be sure to share that fact at your next social gathering and insist that it is true. And drink plenty of Shasta Cola, now available in a single-serving four-liter bottle.

4b. I don't want to imply that this has some bigger, deeper meaning, but this is my favorite play of Watson’s rookie year. This is a third-and-14 from last Sunday in Seattle. He takes off with the ball, and three Seahawks defenders have eyes on him. There is no way he should get to the sticks here:

And yet:

It’s like, after six quarters, he had managed to fully recalibrate and adjust to the speed of the NFL and can now map out these escapes on the fly. Or maybe he was just incredibly lucky here. Either way, it was neat.

4c. I was fairly sure the Watt/Mercilus injuries ended the Texans’ playoff hopes, but now the Watson injury surely does. Which is disappointing, because with the animosity between players and management in Houston right now, I was looking forward to the Texans attempting to Major League this thing. I like to think that, somewhere in a storage room at NRG Stadium, there’s a life-sized cardboard cutout of Bob McNair with peel-away clothes. (Wait, I don’t like the thought of that at all.)


5. Vance Joseph toggling back and forth between Siemian and Osweiler early Tuesday morning:

 

The offensive line and the run game have been a disappointment again, even after investing two big free-agent deals and a first-round pick to help up front. They have two game-manager quarterbacks in Siemian and Osweiler, but don’t have the run game to prop up either one. Paxton Lynch was expected to be a multi-year project, but Denver never found the right bridge guy (remember the heady days of Mark Sanchez: Denver Bronco?). All of this is out of Lynch’s control, but he needs to get back on the field and show something in the second half of the season. Because if he doesn’t prove he can be the answer, the Broncos have to make another move at quarterback this offseason. They can’t waste another year with a D this good.


6. A public service announcement: There have already been 45 fumbled punt returns this season, on pace for 96 on the year, which would be the most in a season since Sport Radar360 started tracking the stat in 2000. Last year there were only 50 all year. There is a fumble once every 25.1 punts this year. Last year it was once every 46.7 punts.

Make no mistake: This is an epidemic. Should you or a loved one encounter a punt this weekend, do not try to engage with it. If you can, run away while screaming hysterically in order to warn others of the danger. If it’s too late to run, curl into a fetal position and stay as still as possible, like you would if you encountered a T-Rex. (Well, a T-Rex from the Jurassic Park films; in reality a T-Rex likely had very good if not excellent eyesight.)

In conclusion: An absurd number of punts are being fumbled, and Jurassic Park needed more stegosauruses, which is the best dinosaur. Stay safe out there.


7. Richie Incognito is the latest player to point out the obvious: Thursday Night Football is even crappier for players than it is for fans.

Of course, it’s good for owners, who like the money it generates in the short-term (even if the over-saturation of the product and consistent crumminess of a primetime game has consequences). So that said, here’s the solution that works for everyone when the league and the players sit down to negotiate the next CBA:

a) The players agree to extend the regular season one more week, creating a second bye week for all teams. Thursday Night Football continues, with the matchups confined to teams who did not play the previous Sunday or Monday.

b) The owners agree to eliminate the personal-conduct policy, doing away with a kangaroo court that is often unfair to the players and, more importantly, has fueled a PR nightmare for the league. Individual teams can handle off-the-field incidents and deal with the fallout themselves.

Both sides win. And calculating the billable hours (one-fifth of an hour) at my rate, both sides now owe me a bag of candy corn.


8. The first week of November is, without a doubt, the best time of the year. Because it’s when you’re going to get your best deals on candy corn.

I’ve seen all the objectively incorrect candy corn takes, including from Mike Leach, the now-disgraced (as far as I’m concerned, because of both the candy corn take and incorrect use of the phrase “begs the question”) head coach at Washington State:

So I wanted to take a moment to clear up a couple of misconceptions:

a) Candy corn is served only seasonally for quality-control reasons. Big Candy Corn (your Brach’s, your Jelly Belly, to a lesser extent your Sunrise) could produce it year-round to keep up with the demand, but the product would suffer.

b) A lot of people claim they can’t eat a lot of corn because they get sick. That’s only if you quit too early. With candy corn, once you get the first wave of nausea, the only way you can offset it is with more candy corn. You have to power through to your second wind. (But at that point be careful, because if you eat too much you will get violently ill.)

Some would argue that not liking candy corn is actually a sign of cowardice. And they would be correct. If you’d like to learn more, I teach a candy-corn eating class at the learning annex every Tuesday night during the spring and summer.


9. I was gonna write something on Papa John this week, but I’m still wrapping my head around this. The guy’s poor PR people now have to deal with being branded the go-to pizza of white supremacistsI’m not a multi-millionaire and don’t plan on becoming one, but between John Schnatter and Jerry Jones, I wonder if there is a certain amount of wealth you accrue after which point you no longer realize that your words have consequences.


10. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Sparta!

 

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