- Plus, an injury to a key Eagles defender, Big Ben says he’s sticking around for awhile, a couple of surprises have their fifth-year options declined, and one ageless star returns while another is looking for a new team
The week’s 10 biggest stories in the NFL, and the impact of each...
10. Ben Roethlisberger Wants to Play Until He’s 40
After many months of retirement rumors, the Steelers quarterback said he wants to play “another three to five years” if his body and the Steelers’ offensive line can both stay intact.
Sure, the third-round selection of Mason Rudolph may have prompted Roethlisberger’s declaration—even though, if the Steelers really believed Rudolph had a strong chance to supplant their future Hall of Fame QB, they would have drafted him in the first or perhaps even second round, not the third. Five years ago, the idea of Roethlisberger playing into his 40s would have been absurd. A battering ram QB who dropped back and would maybe read the defense, maybe not, he was reliant on physicality and raw talent, traits that head for the exits when Father Time starts knocking. But throughout his 30s, Roethlisberger has become much more cerebral. He identifies defenses before the snap and gets the ball out quickly. He extends plays only when necessary, which is why his diminished ability to do so hasn’t been a big deal. As long as Roethlisberger keeps evolving (and in the NFL, if you’re not, then you’re falling behind), he can remain elite.
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9. Broncos Still Believe in Paxton Lynch
Denver GM John Elway said the team is “not kicking him to the curb,” as the third-year pro is poised to back up Case Keenum.
Maybe Elway was just giving lip service, but let’s remember: Coming out of college, Lynch was raw. Everyone knew he’d need at least a year to sit and learn. In his second season, he battled injuries and was caught in a Mike McCoy scheme that the Broncos organization did not believe in. Yes, Lynch was beaten out for the starting job by an equally youthful Trevor Siemian, so you can’t say he hasn’t been disappointing. But it’s a tad too early to fully deem him a bust.
8. Vikings Re-Sign the Immortal Terence Newman
It will be a 16th NFL season for the cornerback.
Cornerbacks rarely age gracefully. Newman was almost 25 when he joined Dallas as the 2003 draft’s fifth overall pick. Back then his game was built on speed and sharp change-of-direction ability. Now it centers around technique and awareness. He’s been a very solid player in Mike Zimmer’s system as a Cowboy, Bengal and Viking. Expect him to play 10-12 snaps a game this year.
7. Giants Tried to Trade Ereck Flowers
New York tried to trade the frustrating tackle during the draft but was unable to get its asking price of a mid-round pick.
NFC East edge rushers rejoice. Flowers actually improved markedly last season, but with his ugly, unwieldy technique (hands splayed wide, helmet dipped down), it’s hard to envision a smooth transition from left tackle to right tackle in 2018.
6. The Chargers Move on From Antonio Gates
The soon-to-be 38-year-old tight end will play for a new team in 2018 after Los Angeles GM Tom Telesco announced that the team will move forward with its current set of tight ends and give the top spot to Hunter Henry.
The future Hall of Famer’s unique athleticism cemented the basketball player analogies that reshaped how people viewed tight ends in the mid-2000s. Gates no longer runs well, but he still has an excellent feel for out-leveraging defenders, particularly versus zone coverage. There were certain situations last year, and especially in 2016, where defenses still doubled Gates. He can be a solid No. 2 or 3 TE in the right system.
5. Timmy Jernigan Has Back Surgery
The Eagles defensive tackle could miss the start of the regular season.
Jernigan is a classic better-than-his-numbers guy. His initial quickness constantly disrupts O-line blocking structures early in the down, making life easier on fellow defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and especially Philly’s linebackers. With Haloti Ngata aboard and Michael Bennett a dynamic interior player on passing downs, the Eagles can survive their fifth-year stud’s absence. Still, we’re talking about a talented member of the defending Super Bowl champs who played 48% of the team’s defensive snaps last year.
4. Fifth-Year Options Not Picked Up
The list: Broncos edge ruchers Shane Ray, Jaguars DE Dante Fowler, Bears WR Kevin White, Giants OT Ereck Flowers, Patriots DT Danny Shelton, Chiefs C Cameron Erving, Bengals OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Ravens WR Breshad Perriman, 49ers G Laken Tomlinson, Patriots WR Phillip Dorsett, Browns DB Damarious Randall, Dolphins LB Stephone Anthony, Patriots DT Malcom Brown.
Only one big surprise, and two mild surprises. The big one: Malcom Brown. Quietly, he’s one of football’s stingier run-defenders, and plays in a defense that really values gap control. One mild surprise: Shane Ray, who hasn’t quite blossomed in part due to injuries. But he is still a flexible front-seven piece on a Broncos D that, even with new first-round rookie Bradley Chubb, can use him. And the other mild surprise: Dante Fowler, who also hasn’t fully blossomed but still flashes explosive traits. Yannick Ngakoue’s development might be why the Jags felt they could not pay Fowler.
3. NFL Wants to Make Kickoffs Safer
Responding to safety concerns, the league office is strongly considering changes to the kickoff.
This inevitable move doesn’t compromise the sport’s integrity or disrespect its roots, it protects its future. Remember, if the NFL isn’t proactive about safety, an outside party (Congress?) will get involved. The league can’t risk losing control of its own sport. The new touchback rule implemented in 2016 already greatly diminished the kickoff anyway. This adjustment will be smaller than expected.
2. Matt Ryan Gets Massive Extension
The Falcons QB’s new deal is worth $100 million guaranteed.
Quarterback contracts are rarely as newsworthy as they sound for the simple reason that any QB who is above average will get a record-breaking deal. That’s the nature of the sport’s most valuable position. But even this one gives you pause. Nine-figures in guarantees. Ryan is worth keeping around. He’s elite, despite what his unfair Super Bowl critics say. And Aaron Rodgers should send him a gift basket.
1. Jason Witten to Retire
The Cowboys’ ironman tight end is expected to retire after a 15-year career. He’ll join Monday Night Football as a broadcaster.
Witten is a Hall of Famer for sure, if not just for receiving numbers that are second only to Tony Gonzalez’s among tight ends, but also for his blocking, which was awful as a rookie but spectacular by the middle of his career. Witten credits his first NFL coach, Bill Parcells, for that. “He was constantly teaching, he was very direct,” Witten told me when we sat down and watched film a few years ago. “There was nowhere to hide.”
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