The week’s 10 biggest stories in the NFL, and the impact of each...
10. Johnny Manziel eyes comeback
Newly married and sober, Johnny Football worked out at Texas A&M’s pro day and spent extra time meeting with the Patriots.
Here’s hoping Manziel stays on track and leads a fulfilling life. But from a pure football standpoint, even if he does, understand that this by no means makes him a potential NFL starter … or even backup. Besides not having played in 2 ½ years, Manziel’s style is not a natural fit for the NFL. For a pro QB, mobility must be an appetizer, not an entrée. As a Cleveland Brown, defenses giddily game-planned to keep Manziel in the pocket, where he struggled to overcome his limited height (i.e. vision) and meager arm strength. It’s foolish to think that Manziel might one day be Tom Brady’s heir. The Patriots take unconventional chances, yes. But they win Super Bowls because they only play with guys who can, you know, actually play.
9. Andrew Luck is throwing
Colts head coach Frank Reich told the media that the star quarterback is throwing the football again and is expected to be with the team at offseason conditioning starting April 9.
With Indy’s failures and Luck’s absence, it’s easy to overlook how significant this is. Luck is a top-five quarterback. If he’s healthy, the Colts are contenders in what’s shaping up to be a loaded AFC South.
8. Cardinals trade Jared Veldheer to the Broncos
The eight-year offensive tackle, who is experienced on both the left and right side, goes to Denver for a sixth-round pick.
This is small news for Arizona; 2015 first-round pick D.J. Humphries has become their left tackle and recently-signed free agents Justin Pugh and Andre Smith can both play guard or tackle. For Denver, it’s potentially big news if Veldheer is here to compete for snaps on the left side. That would suggest a deep dissatisfaction with last year’s first-round tackle, Garett Bolles, who had an up-and-down rookie season. Most likely, Veldheer is here to stabilize matters at right tackle, where the Broncos were a turnstile in 2017.
7. Broncos trade for Su’a Cravens
The Broncos essentially got the safety, Washington’s 2016 second-rounder, for a fifth-round pick. (The full trade: Washington receives 2018 fourth (109 overall), 2018 fifth (142 overall), 2018 fifth (163 overall), conditional pick in 2020; Denver receives Cravens, 2018 fourth (113 overall), 2018 fifth (149 overall.)
Cravens was M.I.A. due to injuries and personal reasons in 2017, and his NFL future at this point doesn’t appear to be one you’d eagerly bet on. If he can fulfill his potential, however, the Broncos will have scored a young new age hybrid linebacker/safety, a la Mark Barron for the Rams or Deone Bucannon in Arizona. Players like that do a lot for your rotations and nickel/dime sub-packages.
6. Browns say they will start Tyrod Taylor all year
Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said the team is close to a consensus on who to take at the top of the draft, but they plan to be “very disciplined” in sitting that player behind Taylor for all of next season.
Yeah, we’ll see. As I wrote this week in why the Giants shouldn’t take a QB at No. 2, the number of times in the last dozen years that a first-round QB has actually sat out his rookie season and then gone on to be that team’s long-term starter is zero. It hasn’t happened since the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in 2005. Brett Favre kept Rodgers on the bench. Tyrod Taylor, like 99% of the league’s other quarterbacks, isn’t Brett Favre.
5. Bennett Brothers in the news
Martellus retires, Michael turns himself in on charges of assaulting the elderly after allegedly shoving a 66-year-old paraplegic security guard to the ground following Super Bowl LI, when he was trying to get on the field to congratulate his brother.
On Martellus, would you believe that over his 10-year career, he played for five teams and averaged just 43 catches and 457 yards receiving annually? Add in his stalwart blocking and you have a quality starter, but I would have guessed his statistical production was higher. (After leaving Dallas, where he underachieved as a backup to Jason Witten from 2008 to ’11, Bennett did average 58 catches and 621 yards a year. Still.)
On Michael, we need to learn more. There are questions to ask from many directions.
4. Kickoffs changed permanently, could soon be extinct
NFL owners voted to keep spotting kickoff touchbacks at the 25-yard line after testing the idea last year. Packers president Mark Murphy also said that if the coaches and players don’t figure out a way to make kickoffs safer, the play will be eradicated.
Removing kickoffs would kill two birds with one stone by making the game safer and by making it shorter. If kickoffs disappear, we’ve heard that the NFL would almost certainly replace the onside kick with an untimed fourth-and-10 situation for the “kicking” team. Fourth-and-10 feels a bit easy. The success rate for expected onside kicks is 15% (over the last three years, via Elias Sports). The league must find the fourth-down to-go distance that correlates with that. Fourth-and-10 conversions happen 22.7% of the time (over the last three years, via ProFootballReference; and 24.6% since 1994). Making it fourth-and-15 (15% last 3 years, via ProFootballReference; 16.2% since ’94) would be better.
3. Rams sign Suh
The L.A. Rams signed defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh to a one-year deal worth $14 million, creating a terrifying tandem with Aaron Donald.
A great addition, but this still is not a totally complete defense.
2. OBJ on the trade block?
The Giants are reportedly asking for two first-round draft picks for the receiver after owner John Mara criticized Odell Beckham's off-season behavior and made it clear that no one on the team is “untouchable.”
After Mara spoke, Giants GM Dave Gettleman said, “You don’t quit on talent.” A lot of people cried hypocrisy, citing that Gettleman quit on Josh Norman when both were in Carolina. Josh Norman is not what Gettleman means by “talent.” Norman is a high-quality player. Beckham, from a talent standpoint, is generational. Guys like him come along maybe once every five years. That’s not to say he’s worth the headaches in New York (and let’s understand, there are almost certainly minor headaches he causes behind the scenes that never become public). But it is to say the Giants must tread very lightly when considering a separation. Beckham is one of the maybe dozen talents in pro football who change the entire makeup of both teams’ strategies simply by being on the field.
1. NFL bans helmet hits, adds targeting rule
There will now be a 15-yard penalty and possible ejection for any player who lowers his head and makes helmet contact with another player.
Yes, this new rule will create leaguewide chaos for the beginning of the 2018 season. And there will be snippets of chaos after that, probably through ’19. Tough.
The NFL had no choice here. Besides the personal side of things (aiming to create long-lasting lives of comfort and wellness for players, as opposed to lives riddled by the horrors of CTE), there’s the business side. Concussion concerns are toxic to the game’s future, and the bell could toll on it any day.
Picture this: Congressman Joe Jackass learns that early polling data shows his re-election is in question. I need some publicity, he thinks, Why not go after the NFL for all this head safety stuff? Imagine how great it’d be to wag a finger at Roger Goodell during a congressional hearing! The moral high ground would already be mine—I’m the pro-brain safety guy sermonizing about the health of the players, and especially our children and their future … Goodell, whom people love to hate anyway, would be a hired apologist for a bunch of billionaires, forced to sit there and take it. Sure, I’d know little about the entirety of the issue (just like my predecessors in 2003 knew so little about steroids and the landscape of Major League Baseball), but that’s actually to my advantage because asking oversimplified, misleading questions would frame the conversation in ways voters can understand. And, it’d force Goodell to bumble his way through answers, making me look powerful and imposing. It’s perfect!
If the NFL isn’t proactive and aggressive on the head-safety issue, an outside party will be. And just like that, the league would risk losing all control of its own game.
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