• Plus, the JPP trade, Mike Pouncey solidifies the Chargers’ biggest weakness, Burfict facing another season-opening suspension and more
By Andy Benoit
March 23, 2018

A look at the biggest stories in the NFL this week, and what it all means…

10. Giants trade JPP, landscape at the top of the draft shifts

By trading defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to the Bucs for a third-round pick (the two teams also exchanged fourth-rounders), Bradley Chubb, the draft’s top edge rusher, is now in play for the Giants.

Both clubs benefit from the deal. As a pure edge rusher, Chubb is almost sure to be better than JPP, who remains an upper-level defensive end but primarily for run-stopping purposes. The Bucs gain at least a semi-viable edge rusher joining recent free agent pickup Vinny Curry and third-year pro Noah Spence, who played just six games in 2017 because of a shoulder injury. A year ago, Tampa Bay’s only pass rusher was Gerald McCoy, and opposing quarterbacks had all day to pick apart the secondary’s passive zone coverages. With three meaningful forces now accompanying McCoy, the Bucs have a chance to look like the defense they did in the second half of 2016.

• GIANTS KEEP EYE ON FUTURE WITH JPP DEAL: Though GM Dave Gettleman can still prepare to win now.

9. Dez Bryant working to improve his route running

Bryant is looking to improve his route running by working with personal wide receivers coach David Robinson, who has helped stars like Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jordan Reed.

What Robinson can’t teach is speed and quickness—traits possessed by Brown, Sanders and Reed, but not Bryant. The “Dez Bryant 2018 question mark” story isn’t going away. Coming off three-straight years under 1,000 yards, he’s not worth close to what his $16-plus million cap number dictates. Most damning is that last season defenses started applying less safety help against him.

8. Frank Gore signs with the Dolphins

A one-year deal for the soon-to-be-35-year-old free agent running back.

Gore isn’t what he was five years ago, but he can still play. The NFL’s eighth all-time leading rusher is revered by players and coaches. He plays running back exactly how you’re taught. His defining strength is that preternatural ability to identify and slither through small cracks. Gore gives the Dolphins a sturdy Option B to pair with second-year man Kenyan Drake.

7. Mike Pouncey joins the Chargers

The three-time Pro Bowl center, recently released by Miami, signs a two-year contract.

The Chargers are the most talented team in the AFC West, and their only obvious weakness last season was the interior O-line. Pouncey gives them not just stability, but athleticism, which can expand their screen game and outside zone rushing concepts. The only concern is Pouncey had a few blunders against designer pass rush tactics last year, though Philip Rivers has always been one of the best at setting and clarifying protections for his blockers.

6. Marshawn Lynch restructures contract with Raiders

Lynch’s deal guarantees $4.5 million, and he is expected to be the lead back ahead of Doug Martin.

Don’t be surprised if Martin doesn’t make the squad. Incumbent backups Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington are better passing down weapons and special teams contributors.

• ERIC REID SHOULD ALREADY BE SIGNED: A look at what the safety would bring to a team.

5. NFL considers changing defensive pass interference

The NFL competition committee will consider changing defensive pass interference from a spot foul to 15 yards, like it is in college.

My boss Peter King is a strong advocated of making DPI a 15-yard foul. Respectfully, I’m a strong advocate for keeping the rule as-is. Yes, we get some maddening game-swinging penalties, but the harshness of spot-fouls compels defensive backs to play with honest technique snap after snap. Install a 15-yard penalty and you’d see a lot of corners grabbing and illegally nudging wide receivers deep downfield. This would lead to not just more pass interference, but more unflagged pass interference, which means fewer big plays. A compromise to DPI: Make it reviewable. Yes, it’s a “judgment call,” which the NFL doesn’t like reviewing, but come on, every call involves some form of judgment. “Judging” is precisely what Alberto Riverson does every time a replay is sent to New York. If they can review everything that goes into a “football move” for a catch, why not for a “football move” to prevent a catch?

4. Sam Darnold impresses at wet pro day

Potential No. 1 overall pick Sam Darnold impressed while working through driving rain.

Yes, every player in the history of pro football has been impressive at his pro day, including in (gasp) rain. From a pure throwing standpoint, Darnold is very similar to Russell Wilson. He has Wilson’s mini-windup over-shoulder motion. Not every coach loves that (it has some wasted energy), but what they will love is Darnold’s precision accuracy when throwing on the move. Wilson is the best I’ve ever seen here. Darnold flashed similar out-of-pocket throwing brilliance at USC.

3. Vontaze Burfict suspended again

The linebacker failed a drug test for PEDs and is suspended for the first four games of the 2018 season, pending appeal.

How many players in league history have begun three different seasons under suspension? (And for three different types of offenses, no less.) One thing the NFL’s strict PED policy has done is remove the stench from a PED suspension. Players have so many directions to shift blame, and the line between valid excuses and fabricated ones is blurry. (Burfict claims his failed test stemmed from medication that was prescribed to treat his 2017 concussion.) The NFL doesn’t toil in that blurry area, saying, “You’re responsible for what goes into your body—bottom line.” But that blurry area is enough to exhaust the public. Fans basically end up saying, Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, guess we’ll never know. See him in October. There’s no severe PR damage.

2. Suh cancels meeting with Raiders

Ndamukong Suh canceled his Wednesday’s meeting with the Raiders, leading to speculation that he is choosing between the L.A. Rams, New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans.

Imagine Suh playing alongside Aaron Donald, or even alongside Jurrell Casey. We’re not just talking about dominant pass rushers, we’re talking about dominant schemed pass rushers. These are three of the very best at setting up stunts and looping into designed pass rushing lanes. Their defensive coordinator would have a field day. No offense has the talent and experience at guard and center to handle this.

• WHO’S LEFT IN FREE AGENCY?: Suh and Eric Reid among the biggest names still on the market.

1. NFL simplifies catch rule

The league revises the catch rule to include just three elements: control, in bounds and a “football move.”

Where we once debated what it means to be going to the ground, we’ll now debate what it means to make a football move. The league has defined it as: taking a third step (fine, that’s black and white), reaching/extending for the line to gain (O.K., fairly black and white) or the ability to perform such acts (uh oh, grey as hell).

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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