The Cowboys Are Now Fully Dak Prescott’s Team. He Says He’s Ready

The Cowboys Are Now Fully Dak Prescott’s Team. He Says He’s Ready

After a sophomore slump, Dallas’s QB has to step it up in Year 3—and he says he knows what he needs to do to make it happen. Plus, Philip Rivers still loves this game, the Rams try to keep ahead of the curve, the Browns’ Aaron Rodgers plan for Mayfield, and more as training camp powers on
August 06, 2018

OXNARD, Calif. — The excuses might as well be right there for Dak Prescott, sitting on the coffee table in this spacious Residence Inn guest room. He could tell you that his NFL sophomore slump was thanks to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten getting older. Or to some moving parts along the offensive line. Or to Zeke Elliott’s suspension. Or to the fact that expectations were out of whack coming off his starry rookie campaign.

The now-firmly-installed face of America’s Team reached for none of those. And that’s probably why the people around Cowboys camp talk about him like they do.

“It was me,” Prescott told me on Saturday, without a second of hesitation. “It’s just about being more consistent. I simply was trying to do too much last year. And as I was trying to do too much, I was getting away from my simple reads. I was maybe passing by my second read to try to get to my third read, or skipping over one or two, trying to get to the big throw early, rushing things.

“I was wanting to make that big play, I was wanting to do the spectacular. [Ex-Mississippi State] coach [Dan] Mullen told me when I was in college, a lot of being a quarterback is making a lot of unspectacular plays that don’t necessarily look great but turn out to be the right thing. And so I think in Year 2, I was simply trying to do too much.”

In some ways, the 2018 Cowboys will need more from Prescott, and he knows it. But it’s probably not in the ways you’re thinking.

That’s what he learned going through last year. The idea of taking over after losing a big name or two, and trying to be more as a quarterback? He’s been through that, and now, as he sees it, is when his growth will come through taking an approach counter to all of that.

“I have bigger and higher expectations for myself than anyone else does or ever will, so for me it’s not trying to live up to expectations,” Prescott continued. “But you want to win, and you want to make that play to win. It’s that, trying to win on every throw, I got myself out of position. Sometimes you want it too much. You look at some of my interceptions, it’s simple as that.”

So his hope is that his place as a player will, in a way, shrink. Conversely, his place on the team will have to grow, and we’ll explain that.

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James D. Smith via AP

In this week’s jam-packed MMQB, we’re going to take you through my August tour, with a look at Philip Rivers’s future, a wider-ranging peek into Rams camp, an explanation of the Browns’ quarterback decision-making, the culture Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are building in San Francisco, and some info on Odell Beckham and the officiating of the helmet rule as the Bears and Ravens staffs saw it.

But we’re starting with Prescott and his place within the league’s flagship franchise, and how the change there was signified by a phone call he got on May 1. On the line was Jason Witten and, whether it was intended that way or not, it became a passing-of-the-torch moment for a quarterback who was three months shy of his 25th birthday.

“It came out that he was retiring and he spent that week—I’m thinking about it, I’m figuring out what I’m going to do,” Prescott said.And it was then when he called me, two days before his actual retirement speech, he was like, ‘I’m making it official.’ We had a heart-to-heart about how great it was playing with each other, and he encouraged me to be that guy.”

There was a reason why that talk hit Prescott a certain way, too.

“Witt handled things in the locker room, off the field, on the field, he was the ultimate leader,” Prescott said. “He shaped me, shaped some other guys in the locker room to be that leader. [During that conversation], he was telling me, You’re that guy, you can be that guy, go be that guy. I’d credit a lot of the steps I’m taking to be a leader to Witt. It was great.”

It was also necessary, which Prescott knew well before that conversation. With the departures of Witten, Bryant and others, the Cowboys were left with just three players on the roster over 30—linebacker Sean Lee, kicker Dan Bailey and long-snapper LP Ladoucer. Star-studded as it is, the entire offensive line is 27 or younger. Elliott’s only 23. And as Prescott said, Witten cast a long shadow as a leader.

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Just the same, it wasn’t unnatural. There was no question that Prescott was capable of taking charge, a belief Jason Garrett and the staff had going back to intel they got in the spring of 2016 from Mullen’s staff, and one that was solidified in the Dallas locker room right away after Tony Romo got hurt that August. Garrett always had Romo address the offense before games, and he had no problem plugging Prescott in to do that.

“Saturday night, his first game, he stepped up there and talked for about five, 10 minutes and it was as smooth as can be, as confident as can be, and guys realized he was for real,” All-Pro guard Zack Martin said. “Rookie, Week 1, opening with the Giants on Sunday Night Football, it was like he had been doing it for 10 years. He’s just got it. I don’t really know what ‘it’ is, but he’s got that ‘it’ factor as a quarterback.”

This offseason, though, he realized he had to get to a point where he’d be a little more vocal in the room, a little more willing to tell teammates truths that might not be so comfortable—an approach that, after talking to Witten and thinking on it, he believes may have helped last year.

“We went 9-7. A lot of teams would pay to go 9-7 and be one game out of the playoffs, but it was a sh---y year for us,” he said. “The way things went down, there were things we could’ve fixed as leaders on and off the field. And going into Year 3, I’ve just said to myself, ‘I’m gonna do everything the right way.’ If I see something I don’t like, I’m gonna say something about it. If it causes conflict, well, it causes conflict.”

That brings us back to his play, and Prescott knows that walking the walk remains the most vital piece of talking the kind of talk he’s planning to come the season. So he took me through two examples of what precipitated a year-over-year drop in passer rating (104.9 to 86.6), TD-INT differential (23-4 to 22-13), completion percentage (67.8 to 62.9) and yards per attempt last year (8.0 to 6.9).

• On a third down in the second quarter against the Eagles on Nov. 17, Prescott was pressured, and rather than play it safe and take the sack or throw it away, he threw the ball up to Bryant, who broke deep on a double move. In his words, all it took “was a fair catch” for corner Ronald Darby, so much so that, if you watch the play, Malcolm Jenkins could’ve picked it off too.

• Against the Chargers the next week, down 22-6 in the fourth quarter, and on a first down in the red zone, Prescott took the snap and had room to scramble right. Instead, he turned to his left and threw against his body to Cole Beasley. Without his body behind throw, he didn’t quite get everything on it. Desmond King picked it off, and went 90 yards for the game-sealing pick-six.

On the former play, Prescott failed to cut his losses. On the latter, he declined to take what was there. On both, devastating blows were delivered by the opponent, when the quarterback could have lived to see another throw. That Prescott is so up front about what he did wrong on those plays is part of why, when you watch the Cowboys in camp, you might not see anything that jumps off the practice field about the quarterback.

In his words, this summer’s been for focusing on “basics,” emphasizing going through his reads, and making the right play, even if it’s not the big one: “Trying to get there faster … Is it there? … Do I want it? … Boom, boom, boom, boom.” And his teammates can see the work he’s doing, too, which is part of why everyone here sees him as having such rare ability to lead.

“That’s just who he is,” Garrett says. “He just has an amazing way of coming to work everyday with just an incredible spirit—‘We’ve had success, OK, here we go, that’s behind us, we gotta keep going to the next one.’ And similarily, if things don’t go well, he’s very accountable—‘I didn’t do a good job, I should’ve made that throw. I’ve got to play better.’

“He’s a great example for me as a coach, and a great example to his teammates, about how to go about it. The approach he takes is remarkably good. It’s beyond his years. He’s really an impressive guy, and we’re lucky to have him as our leader.”

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Will Prescott rebound, and make up for the big-name losses, with Elliott, that line and a new defensive core around him? I don’t know. But one thing that’s obvious here is that coaches and teammates are behind him, and it’s just as obvious why— because he’s behind them, and accountable to them too. It showed again when I asked if, with the old guard mostly gone, he feels a heightened sense of responsibility.

“I definitely feel a responsibility, playing the quarterback position, ever since I was moved to the position in middle school,” Prescott said. “I’ve always felt like there’s responsibility that comes with being the quarterback. You’re the face of the team. You’re the leader of the team. And a lot of the time, wins and losses depend on what you do. Of course, there’s a responsibility level there. “

And he’s certainly embraced it.

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For However Long It Lasts, Philip Rivers Is Loving It

Tom Brady has long said he wants to play until he’s 45. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers told me last week, “Minimum is 40.” And others, like Drew Brees, have made mention of a belief that quarterbacks can play well into their 40s.

That’s why I was surprised when, the other day in Costa Mesa, I asked Chargers QB Philip Rivers how much football he has left, and he didn’t give what has become the stock answer.

“I’m super excited about a handful more years,” Rivers told me. “I don’t have a number in my head. I laugh when I hear Drew, Brady’s already 41, when I hear them say mid-40s, I go, ‘Y’all can have that. I have no desire to get there. One thing I am thankful about is I know what I’m gonna be doing when I’m done. I’m gonna be coaching high school football somewhere, maybe the very next season.”

Tom Walko/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rivers turns 37 in December, so a handful more seasons would actually get him a couple years into his 40s. But that wasn’t really his point.

“It could be two, my contract’s up in two, but I’d like to get in that new stadium,” Rivers continued. “Could it be four, five? I don’t know. I feel good. I don’t want to hang on, but I don’t feel like I’m there by any means right now. I want to stay aware, so when it does become that, I’ll know. And it’s a two-sided deal—they have to want me to still be here when it gets to that.”

Now for where Rivers stands going to this season. None of the Chargers coaches want to say there’s momentum carried over from last year, but all the guys I talked to conceded there’s a lot to build off of, based on how the team that went through a move, spent half its offseason as a sort-of about-to-be-evicted tenant of San Diego, played in a stadium often filled with visiting fans, started 0-4 and managed to get to 9-7.

Rivers feels it too, to be sure. Anthony Lynn being back for a second year doesn’t hurt. Nor does the development of 2017 first-round wideout Mike Williams within the offense—he could replace some of what Hunter Henry brought to the table—or a growing offensive line that adds center Mike Pouncey.

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As much as anything, and as much as he doesn’t want to call playing quarterback in the NFL easy, Rivers says he can let the game come to him more than he ever has, which has made everything easier.

“I felt like last year was probably as consistent as I’ve been in four or five years,” he said. “Steady is the word that comes to mind, not trying to do too much, taking care of the ball but making a bunch of big plays. We made a bunch of big plays. It wasn’t playing scared, but it also wasn’t trying to will us to win. Trust everyone else.”

And he’s doing that from a leadership standpoint, too. Where in the past Rivers might have pushed and prodded teammates, he’s now just as content to pass that torch to young vets like Melvin Ingram—which has allowed him to soak in being player, while he still is one.

“I’m trying to enjoy every part of it,” Rivers said. “Norv [Turner] told me back when he was here, gosh, five, six, seven years ago, that there’s going to come a time, and it happened to [Dan] Fouts, when all your guys are going to be gone and you’re still playing, and it can be a little bit of a transition. Me and [Nick] Hardwick and [Antonio] Gates, all these guys, it hits you because that’s one of my favorite parts of being a teammate, just being one of the guys.

“I feel like after 15 years, you understand things like the coaches do, so you can coach and help them, but I want to be one of the guys. I don’t want to lose that.”

You watch the way Rivers bounces around the practice field, and you definitely get the feeling he hasn’t lost that, even if doesn’t want to do this forever.


The Rams Try to Stay Ahead of the Curve

There’s a lot going on at Rams camp. You have the Aaron Donald holdout. The offseason haul of Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Brandin Cooks. Year 2 for Sean McVay in L.A. Year 3 for Jared Goff in the NFL. Todd Gurley coming off an Offensive Player of the Year season, and signed to a massive contract extension.

Expectations are high—and on the day I was in Irvine, those expectations looked justified in the efficient, high-energy, quick-paced practice McVay and his staff ran. At least for now—and no one’s lost a game yet—the Rams looked hyper-organized and effectively blended together. But what struck me was how the team was focused on getting ahead of potential potholes. Here are three I think worth looking at …

Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

• First, there was a real acknowledgement that the players may have caught some teams off-guard last year with McVay’s innovations on offense. Goff mentioned to me that all the motion and formationing and movement in the scheme crossed defenses up last year. He expects the teams on the Rams’ 2018 schedule to be more prepared this time around. Which means it’s on McVay, Goff and company to keep it moving.

“The tape’s out there,” Goff  “That’s number one. Number two, we’ve evolved. We’ve tried to implement new stuff. This guy’s pretty smart over here [nodding toward McVay], and he’s come up with some good stuff. And we’ve got some new wrinkles that should give teams fits. That starts with him, the dialogue he has with all the other coaches, and then with us giving him feedback on what we’re seeing, he’s very, very good in listening to us.

“He’ll listen to anybody, and any sort of feedback we can give him he loves. I thought last year we were always evolving as the season went on. It felt like teams were always one week behind on what we were doing offensively.”

• Second, and this plays off that notion, McVay hasn’t wasted time to troubleshoot anything he can. It may be picking up something to evolve the offense one day, and picking up something else to maintain the culture he’s established the next. To that end he’s tapped into new relationships with people like Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Pats coach Bill Belichick and L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti to try to continue to innovate.

And from all that networking, McVay says the best advice he’s gotten is, “There’s power in saying, ‘I don’t know’, and let’s figure out a way to collaborate together and find the best approach for our players, and for our team. And fortunately you’re in a situation where you have a lot of people you can lean on. You feel so fortunate to be surrounded by our coaching staff, with a lot of veteran coaches that have done a great job, that have been through experiences that I just haven’t been through.”

• Third, there’s clearly confidence here. You can see it in the way McVay carries himself on the field, and the way his coaches are teaching and correcting on the fly, and in how the players are competing. GM Les Snead told me the difference between last year and this year, is evident in that belief – “What we earned last year, which Sean couldn’t give in a team meeting or with a great speech, is confidence.”

And all the same, McVay’s monitoring it.

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“We’ve talked about it—‘Like the confidence, like the swagger, but make sure it doesn’t border on arrogance,’” McVay said. “It’s understanding you have to earn that confidence every day. Previous success helps you have that confidence, but also continuing to work. We talk about it every single day. Our whole process is committed to that daily improvement, getting one percent better.”

Of course, every team that comes off a playoff year and has an aggressive offseason like the Rams did is going to feel good in August. And plenty fail to live up to expectations. Which, give them credit, is something these guys seem pretty aware of.

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Baker, the Browns and the Aaron Rodgers Model

I always have a hard time believing teams when they draft a quarterback in the first round, then say that they plan to redshirt him. The idea—taking pressure off the kid, giving him time to learn, etc.—sounds good. It almost never gets carried out. I’ve used this stat here before: From 2008 to ’17, 27 QBs went in the first round. Only two, Tennessee’s Jake Locker and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, weren’t eventually given the job as rookies.

So the Browns saying that Tyrod Taylor is their starting quarterback is one thing. Actually keeping Baker Mayfield on the bench is another. But after visiting Berea this week, I have a little bit of a better understanding why both coach Hue Jackson and G.M. John Dorsey have been so steadfast about that stance. For Jackson, it starts with the experience he had starting Cody Kessler as a rookie in 2016, and DeShone Kizer last year.

Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

“I’ve had two players here in the past who’d never played in the National Football League, and we put them out there,” Jackson told me. “That didn’t do anybody any good. So why take a guy who we know is going to be our future and put him in that situation? We understand how hard it is to play in this league, how much you need to know, what your supporting cast has to be for you to have success.

“Why put him in a situation where maybe he wouldn’t flourish? That would make no sense.”

At that point, I brought up to Jackson his experience coaching Andy Dalton, a Year 1, Week 1 starter who made the playoffs his in first five years in Cincinnati (though Jackson didn’t get back to Cincinnati until Dalton’s second year). The Browns coach nodded and reminded me he was also the Ravens quarterbacks coach in 2008, the year Joe Flacco got Baltimore to the AFC title game as a rookie.

This, as he sees it, is a different situation. The team he has now carries the baggage of 1-31 with it, and Mayfield is the fifth quarterback taken in the first round in the New Browns era, following Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel.

“It’s the makeup of the team,” Jackson said. “When I was in Baltimore, you’re talking about Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs and all those guys on defense—that was a different team. Here, quarterback’s gotta drive the train right now. Let’s be honest about where we’re coming from. That’s a lot of pressure, a lot of things would have to go right for him. So why do that, why force that?”

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And then there’s Dorsey’s experience. He drafted Mahomes last year with the intention of sitting him. Dorsey was in Green Bay for the three years Aaron Rodgers spent sitting and waiting for his time. So he can paint a picture of the benefit—and he did for me, raising a hypothetical where a safety creeping into the box can force a quarterback to adjust in a split second, and throw out his best-laid plan on the fly.

“Aaron actually demonstrated that when he got in there, that he could do that. He couldn’t do that his rookie year,” Dorsey said. “Understand the speed of the game, it slows down for you. You understand the concepts the defense is trying to run into you. He’s under new terminology. It takes time to digest that type of information.”

Only time will tell if the Browns stick to their guns on this one. For now, and through a week of camp, they haven’t budged much, even as Mayfield’s play has improved.

“We needed somebody to come in our locker room who’s been an NFL player, who’s won games, who understands what we’re trying to accomplish right now, today, and start to lead this organization away from where we’ve been,” Jackson said. “We got the right guy in Tyrod. We drafted the right guy for the future of the organization, there’s no question in my mind about that.”


… OF THE WEEK

TWEET

I honestly wish I saw this tweet before I saw Wade Phillips on Wednesday, because this basically confirms that the Rams’ DC, at 71, is more with it than I am, at 38.

QUOTE

“When I played, crime went lower in Baltimore. It’s like nobody needs to be mad now. It’s like everybody wants to be happy and celebrate.” — new Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.

Look, I don’t want people to think our site is picking on the guy (ICYMI: Our man Robert Klemko wrote insightfully on Lewis the other day). But this isn’t the first time that Lewis has placed the NFL in society as a crime-fighting force. And here I’ve been thinking we all just get to cover a kid’s game.

CLIP

More on this in a minute.

MEME

Like I said … we’ll get to the helmet rule in the Takeaways.

S/O to …

The Jets for giving 6-year-old cancer survivor Gio Toribio a moment he won’t soon forget – Toribio took a handoff from Josh McCown and went 50 yards for a touchdown at Saturday night’s annual Green and White Scrimmage at Rutgers. Toribio was diagnosed with lymphoma two years ago, at 4 years old, and declared cancer free in 2017, a few months before he met Jets linebacker Darron Lee. The two have grown close, and that’s facilitated a growing relationship between the young fan and his favorite team. As for the touchdown meant to Lee, after the scrimmage, he said, “It meant everything. Everything’s been through, he’s the ultimate warrior in my eyes. Like I told everyone before, he’s my hero.” My wife works in cardiac ICU at Boston Children’s, and so I’ve heard first hand what these sorts of uplifting experiences can mean for kids who are going through incredibly difficult times. So credit to the Jets, and Lee, for providing Gio with one.


OFF-FIELD ISSUES

1. Because I’m pretty vocal about my alma mater, I’ve been asked plenty about what’s going on at Ohio State this week. And I’d say this—I hope my school is as thorough as possible, gets to the truth and reacts by doing the right thing. It should go without saying that getting to that point over the next week or two should be a bigger deal for everyone involved than winning football games.

2. I’ve learned from covering the NFL that it’s best to be patient and wait for facts before coming to conclusions in domestic violence cases. I think we all underreacted in the Josh Brown case two years ago, and then his ex-wife’s journal came to light. Conversely, a lot of conclusions were drawn in the Rueben Foster situation before they should have been. We knew way more about Greg Hardy and Ray Rice months down the line than we did initially. All evidence that making immediate sweeping judgments is probably a bad call.

3. I don’t blame the Nationals for gauging the market for star outfielder Bryce Harper. They’re hovering around .500 and stand to lose him for nothing after the season, and he has an agent who takes everyone to the market. Even if he’s a 26-year-old ubertalent whom you should probably just hand a blank check to.

4. I’ll admit it. I think Very Cavallari is hilarious, and I’ve missed it the last couple weeks on the road. That show is exactly what FOX saw in Jay Cutler, and the Cutler you see when his guard is down. Here’s a text I got from one of his old coaches got while I was watching it a couple weeks ago: “I told Cutty he’s going to be a way bigger star than Kristin! That’s who he is every day.”

5. In a weird way, I bet the NFL is kind of hopeful that LeBron James has become Donald Trump’s new piñata to swing at. For obvious reasons.


TEN TAKEAWAYS

1. We’re going to have more on the Niners next week (I think), but since I did spend Sunday there I figured it’d be worth passing along something from their camp. And while I was there, I couldn’t help but remember how misunderstood I felt Kyle Shanahan was a few years ago, which is why I did a story with him on in in 2016. “I don’t think a lot of people know me,” he said then. “There are misconceptions. I know it’s not all great. But I can’t control it.” Amazing how quickly those have melted away. The culture in San Francisco couldn’t be much better than it is, which has a lot to do with the partnership between Shanahan and G.M. John Lynch. It’s also why Lynch believes his team is ready to handle expectations well beyond those of most 6-10 teams. “One of Kyle’s great strengths is that he’s honest with these guys,” Lynch told me. “What you put on tape is going to be talked about. He’s not dressing guys down. When they’re doing well, he’ll praise them and show why they’re doing well, and use it as education. When they need to pick it up, he’s very effective at doing that. It’s authentic and it’s real. Not that you need to knock them down, but he does a real effective job of keep things real.” Truth is, through some tough times, Shanahan’s always been himself. And that’s benefitting him now.

2. I know you guys love the intel on rookies. So here’s some underground info I picked up talking to coaches and personnel people at the six camps I was at this week. The Browns are convinced their first four picks (Mayfield, Denzel Ward, Nick Chubb, Austin Corbett) are direct hits, but the guy to watch might be fifth-round linebacker Genard Henry. Heard more than one person call him a “b---h” for the offense to deal with, in a good way for the defense. … Colts sixth-rounder Deon Cain has been spectacular. Some off-field issues, and a subpar 2017, caused him to fall, but there’s an internal belief he’s a second-round talent—and it’s shown so far. … Rams third-round OT Joe Noteboom is already in the mix for playing time at guard and tackle, as is fifth-round LB Micah Kiser. … Chargers fourth-rounder Kyzir White played safety at West Virginia, but L.A. drafted him to play linebacker, and he’s since looked like an ideal athletic fit in Gus Bradley’s defense, while putting on about 10 to 15 pounds of solid weight. … Cowboys second-rounder Connor Williams has taken all first-team snaps from the day he arrived at right guard, and third-round receiver Michael Gallup has flashed his potential, but fourth-round DE Dorance Armstrong has been the real revelation through the first week of camp, positioning himself for a role in September. … Niners second-round pick Dante Pettis will contribute right away in the return game. The acumen for football and natural intelligence he’s shown (FWIW, he had a high Wonderlic score) is giving him a shot to carve out a serious role on offense too.

3. OK, so now to the helmet rule. From what I heard, the Ravens believed two of the three calls against them were officiated correctly, with the outlier being the one against Bennett Jackson that we showed you (via Jac Collinsworth) above. The Bears coaches, for their part, were expecting more calls as the officials work their way through the new rule—and didn’t get a good look at the kind that’ll occur inside the tackle box, which they believe are going to be the drive killers/starters to result from the change. And the concern for staffs coming out of the Hall of Fame Game is that it’s hard for the officials to call the rule in real time, which leads to fear on their part that they’ll miss violations and get downgraded. We’ll see what kind of feedback the league gives Baltimore and Chicago this week.

4. A sign of how good the Eagles feel about EVP Howie Roseman and coach Doug Pederson: Those deals through 2022 were done way before it was necessary. Pederson had three years left on his existing deal, and Roseman had two, which is a nod to the job they’ve done in building a championship outfit over the last 31 months.

5. I think analytics are a very useful tool for NFL teams, but Corey Coleman’s failure to make any dent in Cleveland is probably a good example of relying too much on numbers. He ran a sub-4.4 40 at his pro day, and was incredibly productive at Baylor—he notched 74 catches for 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015. It was a priority for Cleveland to find guys who could get in the end zone, and Coleman clearly showed he could in Waco. But on the flip side, there were questions about his football IQ coming out of a simple offense, and his route-running ability, and that’s why there are more than a couple teams that aren’t very surprised at how his time in Cleveland ended, with Sunday’s trade to Buffalo for a bag of pylons.

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6. One other thing to take from Cowboys camp: Ezekiel Elliott’s in a very different place than he was before. Watching him move in drills, it was clear he had more of a hop in his step than we saw last year. And when I asked Zack Martin about it, he didn’t want to compare this year to last, but said he absolutely sees an edge to the Elliott of 2018. “It has jumped off the tape how he's been practicing, Martin told me. “He's been kind of a quiet professional, maybe more than normal this year, like he’s on a mission. Shoot, he went through so much last year, and I can't imagine how that was, all that weight on his shoulders. So he's coming in determined this year to get after it and have a big year.”

7. I wouldn’t be totally shocked if Paxton Lynch isn’t a Bronco by the end of the summer. When I was turning over rocks before the draft, word was that the team would have viewed each of the four quarterbacks at the top as an upgrade over Lynch, their 2016 first-rounder, even if they didn’t see all of them as worthy of the fifth pick (I believe Sam Darnold is the only one they would have considered). To me, that’s a sign that they’ve recognized their mistake. And so if 2017 seventh-rounder Chad Kelly, who was injured last year, continues to show progress, there could be a decision to make there.

8. Full disclosure: I still haven’t gotten to watch the Hall of Fame speeches, since I was with the Cowboys until late on Saturday, then flew to San Jose to see the Niners Sunday morning, then drove to the Raiders camp in Napa after that. But one thing that caught my attention: Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft making the trip to see Randy Moss go in. Before Moss got to New England, I always thought he was a guy who got by on raw ability, which would make him a funny fit as a Patriot. And I remember after he arrived—I was a Patriots beat writer at the time—how Belichick kept explaining how intelligent and evolved Moss was as a player. Proof positive was how Belichick and Josh McDaniels moved Moss around. It’s very difficult to learn one receiver position in that offense. If you can get them all down, you’re pretty sharp. And Moss was.

9. I’ve continued to get great feedback on how Odell Beckham has carried himself at training camp. He looks healthy to the staff and is on board with Pat Shurmur’s program. Doing a contract will, to be sure, be challenging. The team could make the argument that it has him at about $45 million (his fifth-year option, plus two franchise tags) over the next three years, while he can point to the exploding receiver market (his draft classmates Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks are both making $16 million per) and ask for a lot more. That’s why the good feeling between the new Giants regime and Beckham is, at least, a necessary starting point as the sides seek a middle ground.

10. Johnny Manziel deserves a lot of credit for doing what a lot of other quarterbacks have refused to, in going to Canada to try and pump life into his career. And I’m not giving up on him yet. But that was pretty ugly the other night.


FIVE-DAY FORECAST

We’ve got a full slate this weekend!

And like you guys, I’m looking forward to seeing the first-round quarterbacks go. So all eyes will be on MetLife Stadium, as Mayfield and the Browns will visit the Giants on Thursday night, and Sam Darnold and the Jets host the Falcons on Friday night. Meanwhile, Josh Allen and the Bills get the Panthers at home on Thursday, and Josh Rosen and the Cardinals host the Chargers on Saturday. And we get a second look at Lamar Jackson on Thursday with the Rams wrapping up a week in Baltimore.

What do you want to watch? In each case, it’ll be interesting to see if the coaches get the first-year guys reps with the 1s. That can be a tell that they’re at least toying with the idea of starting the rookie right away—and we know that three of the five teams (Jets, Cardinals, Bills) have been open about the idea of doing that.

And here’s a stat to file away: The last time there wasn’t a rookie quarterback starting in Week 1 of a season was 2007. That was the year JaMarcus Russell went first overall.

See you guys next week.

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

 

 

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)