BEREA, Ohio — We just got a little bit better.
The text hit Baker Mayfield’s phone late in the afternoon on March 12, and the then-23-year-old face of the Browns franchise didn’t need any further explanation from the sender—his coach, Freddie Kitchens—for what that meant. Everything was about to change.
After a couple weeks of the quarterback hearing that it was going to happen, then that it wasn’t, then that it was again, Odell Beckham was Cleveland-bound.
“Just pure excitement, knowing what kind of guy he was, because I knew him personally before that,” Mayfield said, in a quiet moment after the Browns’ first training camp practice. “Obviously, the talent speaks for itself. Knowing him, and talking through things with him, people say he’s misunderstood, I wouldn’t say that’s correct. I’d just say it’s not knowing who he is. He’s a real-life superstar. And that’s just the truth.
“A lot of people recognize him, his talent speaks for itself, and he wants to win. That’s the biggest thing about it—he wants to win. And he wants to be here.”
His acquisition has ignited the most dyed-in-the-wool football town in America. There have been blips of optimism since the Browns came back into the league 20 years ago. But this is unlike anything Cleveland’s had since at least Bill Belichick was coach in the 1990s, and maybe going all the way back to Bernie Kosar’s rise as a local icon a decade before that.
Day 1 of Browns training camp reflected all of it. I was one of a mass contingent of national media types starting their trips here. The neighborhood streets around the team facility were full of adults and kids in jerseys over an hour before practice started.
The Browns, on paper, have the horses now. But the buzz on the ground in this sleepy suburb was about more than that. The Browns also lead the league in interesting. And part of the interesting here is the challenge ahead—meshing all the outsized personalities and big talent together to make a real Super Bowl contender in Northeast Ohio for the first time in a generation—all of which was set into motion as Kitchens hit send on that text.
“You’re right—big personalities, everyone’s trying to make what they need to, but there’s also a little bit of sacrifice,” Mayfield said. “That needs to be understood, and I think it is. A lot more is earned and received if you win. We’re here to win. And that’s the best part. We’re not all looking for a marketing thing here and there, we’re looking to win. And win Super Bowls and create our own legacy. To be able to do that together, work for that together, I think it’s truly special that we all understand that.”
And if you really listen to what Mayfield’s saying—that Beckham truly wants to be in Cleveland, and that there’s an understanding on subjugating egos—it may just be enough to justify the runaway train of optimism that’s struck this place over the last six months.
Camp’s here! I’ve got four in the books, and plan to see 20 or so teams in person by the time the preseason’s winding down. And you’ll get the benefit of that in this week’s jam-packed MMQB, which includes:
• A quieter Steelers camp—or is it?
• Andy Dalton, AJ Green and Zac Taylor on relationship-building.
• The Colts’ bullyish roster
• Why I love something the Honey Badger did last week.
And much more. But we’re going to start in Cleveland, because it makes sense to start in Cleveland this July.
At the beginning of the Browns’ first training camp practice, barely 20 minutes in, Mayfield launched the kind of back-shoulder dart to Beckham that takes a ton of timing and trust. And especially in this situation, because there was a cornerback all over the Browns’ new star receiver. What resulted was Mayfield showing the fans—who exploded into cheers when Beckham skied for the ball—what he’s learned: Even when 13 isn’t open, he actually is.
“It looked like he jumped while he was already in the air,” Mayfield said. “I don’t know. It was really weird. Back-shoulder on our left side. Coverage is there, yeah, he makes a play. Guy’s draped all over him. He caught another ball on the sideline, he bobbled it, then got his feet in. That stuff you’ve seen on film every day with him. But the jump in the air … is special.”
Mayfield shook his head as he continued: “He can do things I’ve never seen before. The pure talent is unreal. As we grow chemistry together, it can be pretty special. He makes my job easy. I’m happy to be able to be at camp with him and get better every day.”
And that is where the Browns keep reminding themselves they are right now, amid all the noise—at training camp, with zero wins, and still lots to prove. But also, a ton of promise, and it’s not just Mayfield and Beckham. It’s a young pass-rushing terror, in Myles Garrett. It’s a young shutdown corner, in Denzel Ward. It’s a deep crew of tailbacks. It’s Beckham’s best friend, Jarvis Landry. It’s a promising group of linebackers.
All of it is so different for this star-crossed organization. But there’s that catch too: How will it all work together? We’ve seen teams roll the dice and crap out before in gambling on the idea that big names could assimilate on the fly. The 2011 Eagles are one example. The 2015 Cowboys are another.
Kitchens, to be sure, is trying to get out in front of that, and mostly by preparing for those moments that he knows are coming, when things go sideways and a team’s composition is tested.
“What are you gonna do at that moment. Are you gonna splinter? Are you gonna be like five fingers? Or are you gonna be like a fist?” Kitchens said, spreading his five fingers out first, then balling them together. “And that’s what we’re trying to figure out. Teams fall apart because they splinter. They go their different ways. And everybody’s looking for how it’s going to affect me, and not how it’s going to affect we.”
The obvious follow up: Is he confident that won’t happen here?
“I think so,” he answered. “But I also told them, those kinds of things are going to dictate what kind of season we’re going to have. I’m telling them up front what’s going to happen. And if we handle those situations, if we stick together, we will be fine, we’ll come out the other side of it. If we don’t, we’ll just be average.”
Of course, there’s no plan here for average. And after talking with coach, quarterback, and GM John Dorsey, a few questions and answers can get to the heart of how the team is dealing with expectations with Beckham on board.
Why the risks were in-bounds. This isn’t Dorsey’s first rodeo—his teams in Kansas City took fliers on guys like Marcus Peters and Tyreek Hill. And there is a dividing line that all the players he acquires have to land on the right side of.
“You can let them show their personalities,” Dorsey said. “But at the end of the day, are they truly passionate about the game of football? Are they ultra-competitive? Do their teammates truly like them? And then, can they thrive outside the game of football to a high degree? And do you think not only that they’ll be better football players, but will they be better men?”
So one of the bets here was that the drive of the players involved will hold the group together. Another is on the background work the team did on all its acquisitions. Beckham’s, in fact, was easier with Landry and the former receivers coach from LSU, Adam Henry, in house in Cleveland.
“[They said] he’s a good dude, that he likes to work,” Kitchens said. “Adam Henry coached him before. He just wants to work his ass off and play football. Outside the building, that’s Odell. He’s a megastar, or whatever you’d call those guys on that web-site stuff. But in the building, here with us, on the phone, during the summer, he’s been great. I haven’t seen anything that you would run from.”
Who’s coaching him. This is a bet on infrastructure. Dorsey told me he felt comfortable taking risks in Kansas City largely because of Reid, and the individual position coaches he was trusting with those players. Which is an implicit compliment to Kitchens and Henry, in the case of Beckham.
And buoying the GM’s confidence in Kitchens was his own experience with last year’s Browns, when chaos struck. Asked what he got observing Kitchens navigate those stormy waters, Dorsey laid his hand out, and motioned in a flat line—“There was no up and down, no ebb and flow. He was pretty steady.”
“When he shifted into the role as offensive coordinator, you watched him galvanize the offensive side of the ball,” Dorsey said. “That was pretty good. It wasn’t just being able to call the game of football, it was instilling a belief, a pride on the offensive unit that had them come together even closer. And I think that’s pretty cool. He’s good at building relationships.”
It was proven again with his quarterback. Mayfield grew close to backup QB Drew Stanton. He and Kitchens were together in Arizona, and Stanton explained the way things worked there, which helped to narrow all the voices in the then-rookie’s ear.
“A lot of that was new to me, and I was being coached by three different people,” Mayfield said. “So just trying to find how to correctly do it, or how I was really comfortable doing it. Talking through that, I related the most to how Freddie was doing it. We clicked. And just through that, we got on the same page.”
Who the quarterback is. I told Mayfield that I thought he had an uncanny ability to not give a you-know-what about stuff ancillary to what he’s doing. He laughed. And agreed.
“Nah, I don’t,” Mayfield said. “I think the easiest answer for me [about why] is being told I couldn’t do certain things growing up. It just developed into focusing on controlling what I can control. And some of those opinions on the outside, they’re not going to influence me every day. If I let them, I’m focusing on the wrong things. I have to be getting better.”
The hope here, then, on the part of Dorsey and Kitchens, is that when the train slides off the tracks a little, a player who’s been through a lot to make it here won’t be deterred in getting things righted. The ability to do that is also why, when I said I’ve heard him referred to as a culture-changer, Mayfield said he’d agree with that label.
“I would,” he said. “It’s being the same guy every day, not really giving a sh-- about what’s going on on the outside, setting the expectations, and working for it. Really, taking pride in being a good teammate. … And speaking my mind.”
What the atmosphere is like. Kitchens consulted with Bill Parcells and Nick Saban this summer. Both told him, as he thought they would, that a key would be coming out of camp physical and tough. And as he brought that up, I said to him that it was hard for me to imagine either of those guys leading a team quite like the one Kitchens is about to.
“I learned a lot of valuable things from coach Parcells. But under no circumstance am I going to try to be Coach Parcells,” Kitchens said “I think a lot of times that’s where people get it wrong. They don’t take the lessons they learned from them. They try to be them. And I’m not going to try to be him. I’m not going to try to be Coach Saban. But I’m going to take the things I learned from them, and incorporate them and make sure that’s at my foundation, at my core of what I believe in.
“All that other stuff, as long as it doesn’t affect the team, as long as it doesn’t come in the locker room, I want them to be themselves.”
Or to boil that down, Kitchens is going to be himself, and he wants his players to be themselves too. Which should make for a more palatable environment for guys that bring big profiles with them.
All of this is a projection. We don’t know what Mayfield’s going to be in Year 2 (he told me he’s a “much better” quarterback than he was at the end of last year, and “I’m hoping by the end of camp, I’ll be tremendously better”). We don’t know what happens when the first metaphorical bomb goes off. We haven’t even seen Kitchens as a head coach yet.
But this is clear—as high as the bar’s been set outside the building, it rests higher inside it. So all that hype out on those streets? The Browns are running toward it, not from it.
“Freddie said the goal, the expectation, is always Super Bowl. That’s mine as well,” Mayfield said. “But I know just from experience, from the long journey of seasons, we gotta take it one game at a time. We need to split up the season, focus on certain things, getting better each day, each week, and not looking up until we’re at the end.”
And his personal goals?
“I just wanto win a lot of games,” Mayfield said. “I’ll be honest with you, the NFL game’s a little different, it’s managing the clock, the game, it’s not as much stats or touchdowns. So my individual goal is to lead this team to a lot of wins.”
More than just a goal, it’s an expectation now. Which is probably why Day 1 was such a big deal in a place where football is always a big deal.
For Once, No Drama in Steelers Camp
LATROBE, Pa.—There’s an overriding storyline at every camp, and it’s easy to spot the one hovering over the Steelers. Gone is the Le’Veon Bell drama—he faced suspensions at this time of year in 2015 and ’16, then skipped camp in ’17 and ’18 on the franchise tag. Gone are the grand Antonio Brown entrances and camp theatrics.
And in their place, the narrative goes, is a sense of quiet. That’s what everyone is saying anyway, so I wanted to give coach Mike Tomlin the chance to call BS on it. He didn’t stutter.
“Bullsh--,” he said, laughing. “It’s just a process, man. We’ve got 90 men here working, different personalities coming together. It’s just Day 1. I understand where you’re trying to go with it. I haven’t seen enough of that to confirm that as reality. We’ve been getting asked that a bunch. And really, everyone’s just like, whatever.”
What’s the reality then? The team that took the field here on Friday, at one of the NFL’s few remaining true old-school camp settings, is different. Just not to the degree you might think.
Bell last played for the Steelers 18 months ago, so the team has already dealt with his loss, and replaced him effectively with James Conner, who amassed 1,470 scrimmage yards in 13 games last season. Bruising rookie Benny Snell is in the fold too, now, behind Conner.
And Brown plays a position that the Steelers have developed at an absurd level over the last decade, with Juju Smith-Schuster being the latest example of it. Veteran Donte Moncrief had a strong spring, the team loves how natural rookie Diontae Johnson looks out there, and ’18 second-rounder James Washington has cut weight and figures into the mix. Bottom line, the Steelers should be fine at receiver.
Which brings us back to where we started here, and that’s in what actually has changed. And while Tomlin would prefer the boat get rocked a little before lauding the togetherness of the group—“That never gets tested until you play games”—his players do feel like the lack of drama and storylines coming in has been good for the overall operation.
“We haven’t addressed that, but I think we all kind of feel it,” Ben Roethlisberger told me, after the team’s first practice. “We’re under the radar, no one’s picking us to do anything, and we’re just going to come out and play football. That’s what it’s about for us, coming out here and being part of it, being here for each other, and playing and trying to be the best.”
So yeah, it’s quieter. But that doesn’t mean everything’s settled. With that in mind, here are three things I picked up on my visit.
Ben Roethlisberger’s longevity. When I asked Steelers owner Art Rooney about the team’s sense of urgency with their quarterback at age 37, he said he didn’t want to overreact, and that “that might not be the last contract extension we do for Ben. As you know, there are quarterbacks playing into their 40s these days. And from what I see of Ben, at least physically, there’s no reason to think he’s not capable of doing that.”
Roethlisberger’s thoughts on that? Well, he hired a trainer this offseason for the first time in his career, and he did just sign an extension through 2021, with a $68 million added over the additional two years, and a $37.5 million signing bonus. But …
“Honestly, I haven’t thought about the endgame,” he said. “I’ve always honored my contracts, and we just did three years, so that’s my goal right now is to make it three years. When that’s up, I guess we’ll start thinking. But so much can happen in three years. It’s really about your health and how you feel. My kids keep me busy too, I don’t want to be away from them too long either.”
The general sense of urgency. Yup, Roethlisberger is 37. Kevin Colbert is 62, in a contract year, and told the Pittsburgh media Saturday he plans to go year-to-year from there. Tomlin, believe it or not, is at 13 years with the Steelers, just two short of Bill Cowher’s tenure.
And so while Rooney has emphasized, again, not overreacting to circumstances—“Every year is important, you have to take advantage of your opportunities every year”—he and Colbert both acknowledged that the current setup isn’t going to last forever, something that was underscored with the departures of the last six months.
“You don’t really focus on it when you’re worried about getting ready for New England,” Colbert told me. “You understand, ‘Hey, we have a Hall of Fame quarterback.’ And we know he’s not going to play forever. Sure, that increases your urgency. It’s not like Ben’s a third-year rising superstar. No, he’s a superstar rising into the Hall of Fame. So how much longer will we have him? We don’t know. But the goal is to win the Super Bowl every year.”
The Antonio Brown storyline. I definitely noticed, in talking with Tomlin, Colbert and Rooney, an effort among Steelers brass to move past what happened over the winter. When I asked what they could take from it, both Colbert and Rooney talked about learning more about today’s athlete, and how social media plays into that understanding (we’ll plan on a story on that down the line). Roethlisberger, meanwhile, did shoulder some blame.
“The good thing about it, it’s in the past,” he said. “We can move on. Was I perfect? No. None of us are. I’m human, I make mistakes. Do I wish we still talked and were friends? Absolutely. But relationships, they’re 50/50.”
And one thing I thought was interesting as our conversation moved from one topic to the next is how Roethlisberger said he’s trying to become a better leader by becoming a better listener. This wasn’t specific to the Brown situation. But you can see where it applied.
“I’ve become a better communicator,” Roethlisberger said. “Listening is huge to becoming a better communicator. And when you communicate, so many things can be accomplished, and other things can be avoided. I told the guys when I spoke to them, over the last four or five years, I’ve been a better communicator at home with my wife, it’s made me a better husband, a better father, because you listen. When you listen, it helps you communicate. When you communicate, and things aren’t out there, you can resolve problems.”
Expectations remain high. For some of the reasons we outlined, and because, as Tomlin is fond of saying, the standard is the standard in Pittsburgh. A bevy of near-misses turned the 13-3 team of 2017 into a 9-6-1 outfit last year. “Not making the playoffs was horrible for both of us,” said Colbert, meaning both him and Tomlin. Part of fixing that, Tomlin told me, will be creating tense moments in camp to try to recreate the late-game situation the Steelers failed in last year.
The rest, as the coach sees it, is in place.
“We got plenty of talent,” he said. “For sure.”
A Rams Vibe in Cincy
Before A.J. Green went down with a sprained ankle on Saturday (more on that in the takeaways), I got a few minutes with him, quarterback Andy Dalton and coach Zac Taylor together on the partnership among the three of them.
MMQB: What was the first thing you did to learn them, Zac?
Taylor: Well, I’d watched these guys forever. Being in Miami for four years, we played them twice, they were on crossover tape all the time. I’d watched Andy since he was in college, because I was local with him. So these two guys, I felt like knew as well as any players I hadn’t coached that there were in the league. And then you call and find out a little bit more on what their personalities are. And of course, they’re both top-notch leaders, total pros, great family guys. It’s a perfect fit.
MMQB: Did you guys start look at the Rams offense then?
Dalton: Yeah, I’d say that’s the closest starting point to what we’re going to be doing. So I’ve seen a lot of Rams film.
Green: Of course, I watched a lot of their receivers, Robert [Woods], Brandin Cooks, try to learn as much as possible, because I wasn’t doing a lot at OTAs. I watched a lot at their tape.
MMQB: What jumped out about it?
Green: For me, I loved Robert Woods. I always thought he was good, and that he was good in Buffalo. But just watching him in that Rams offense, he was the best one to me.
MMQB: And for you, with Jared Goff, are you close enough skillset-wise where it translated?
Dalton: I enjoyed watching Jared. He does a lot of really good things, with all the play-action, and nakeds, and different stuff that they’ve done. He obviously had a great year. I’ve enjoyed watching him, seeing what he’s done since he’s been in that offense.
MMQB: So what’s goal for you, Zac, in building the offense for them?
Taylor: I think they’d tell you, all the routes are similar to stuff they’ve done. It’s formationed a little differently, phrased a little differently. They’ve done all the stuff before. At the same time, I liked what we did with the Rams, but we have continue to evolve and grow, and that’s why you hire all these coaches from different backgrounds, so you can add to it and grow and that’s what we’re striving to do.
Is it what you thought it would be?
Dalton: We’re not the Rams in Cincinnati. The experiences with Brian and Alex Van Pelt, there’s a lot of guys bringing pieces of what we’ve done. And some of the stuff we’ve done the past, stuff we’ve had success with that we like too. It’s piecing together the Bengals offense.
MMQB: I’d think when anyone gets a new boss, the first question is “what’s my future?” You guys think about that at all?
Green: Not really. I’m blessed to even think about getting an extension. I’m gonna let my work speak for itself. I’m not a guy that looks ahead. I’m always in the moment. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m just happy to be out here with my teammates. I missed all of OTAs, so I’m excited to be back out here.
Dalton: I think the first thing is you want to get to know Zac. When he was up [for the job], you hear all the rumors so you try to do your research. And to know that he’s a quarterback to start off, he’s got the offensive background, and then you get to talking, it’s been an easy thing. The whole contract situation—we expect to play well, we expect to do good things, and the rest will take care of itself.
MMQB: As a coach, did you want to show commitment to him?
Taylor: You want to prove yourself to them as well. So you want to come in prepared, and the veteran guys who’ve proven themselves on the field, you want to show them that you can help them continue to play as good as they can play in their careers. That’s been the mission of the coaching staff. Come in prepared and let these guys have the same belief in the system that we have. That’s when this thing is will really take off.
MMQB: Has change generated any sort of spark in the building?
Dalton: Naturally when you change something, it’s going to feel different, it’s going to feel new, there’s going to be a certain energy with it. And then everything that Zac’s doing, he’s just increasing it. So I think a lot of the guys feel it. Everyone wants to talk about that—There’s a new energy here. It’s a good thing, that’s how it should be.
Green: Zac is younger, coach Lewis was a little older, not that it’s a bad thing. But Zac wants music in the locker room at away games, stuff like that—young guys love that. We love that. That’s one of the little things that these guys notice.
Taylor: As long as it’s country music.
MMQB: How important is your relationship with these two?
Taylor: It’s critical. They’re two of the leaders on the team, they’ve been here a long time. They mean a lot to the Bengals, they mean a lot to the city. So for us to work hand-in-hand is critical to our success.
MMQB: What excites you guys most out here today?
Dalton: Just the ability to get so many different guys involved. It’s not just gonna be AJ, it’s not just gonna be Joe Mixon, it’s not just gonna be Tyler Boyd. It’s gonna be everybody. And so that’s what excites me.
Green: Same. Getting a lot of people involved so they can’t just key on one person. You see the receivers from the Rams, you see their stats. I’m excited for the other guys, TB [Tyler Boyd], John [Ross], for everybody to get involved.
How the 2019 Draft Helped Set Up the Colts
WESTFIELD, Ind. — There’s really no need for caveats on this one. The team camping here looks stacked. And that’s a result of the job GM Chris Ballard’s done the last three years finding talent, and coach Frank Reich has done the last 18 months harvesting it.
There was a moment, too, when I think you could actually see what’s happening here come together. During the Colts in-house production that took you inside the team’s war room, there was a shot where a fired-up Reich when rifling down the line of scouts and coaches in there, yelling and high-fiving everyone in sight (it starts in the 12th minute here). So I had to ask him about that.
“Well, just for context on that, that celebration, Chris and I specifically said, ‘If we can get these guys, that would be unbelievable,’ ” Reich told me after practice on Sunday. “And we literally got every single one of them. So I forget where they showed that in that piece, might’ve looked like it was one after the other, but that burst was at the end of the day when we said, ‘Hey, we had four guys we wanted in the first three rounds, and we wound up with all of them.’ … It fell exactly as we wanted it to fall.”
Those four: CB Rock Ya-Sin, DE Ben Banogu, WR Parris Campbell and LB Bobby Okereke.
And to Reich, that sort of strike signifies more than luck, even if a little luck was involved. More so, it was an example of how Indy’s building is humming right now—“the vibe and the relationship, respect and trust between can’t be any better”—in everyone getting on the same page and coming up with a detailed plan of attack.
“It’s preparation,” Reich said. “Chris does a phenomenal job with that, him and his staff, just tireless. You have to put realistic expectations on who you think you’re going to get. And I thought Chris and his staff did a great job of that so then we could all zero in on the players in those groups, who were our players, who fit us, who fit our scheme, who fit our locker room. The scouts and the coaches really worked together on that.”
The result is on the field now, in the optimism that the 2019 class has a shot to come close to what last year’s group—fronted by first-team All-Pros Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson—did. That’d qualify as a tall order, of course. But the signs so far are good.
All you have to do is ask Reich for an example of how things have come together, between his staff and Ballard’s.
“All those guys,” Reich said. “Rock was highly thought of, it’s not like we took him earlier [than people thought he’d go]. But we want corners with his length and his toughness. He’s tough, tough, tough, and that’s just a premium for us, even at the corner position. At linebacker, Bobby’s got intelligence and length. You look at Darius, he’s the same way. And we drafted E.J. Speed later—E.J.’s long and fast. They fit our system.
“And then on offense, with Parris, I was jumping up and down about that one. That was the one receiver, the one guy, I was like, ‘We gotta get this guy.’ We just saw it—A, his speed, but everyone saw that. What we saw was this guy’s more than what people say he is. Yeah, he can play in the slot. But we think he can play outside, we think he’s a legit NFL receiver. His footwork, his hands, the way he runs routes, how smart he is, the kind of person he is, he fit into our mold.”
So what we all saw on that video in April? There might be a few more of those types of celebrations to come in Indy.
1. I took note of Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette’s comments to Jacksonville reporters on Saturday. The third-year bell cow said “I think last season kind of woke a lot of guys up”, and “last year kind of humbled a lot of us in some ways.” Fournette was suspended for a game last year after a fight at Buffalo, and the team voided the guarantees in his rookie contract in the aftermath, something that I don’t believe it would have done if there weren’t other issues with the former fourth overall pick. The knock on Fournette coming out of LSU was that he was more concerned with becoming a star than a great football player, and that’s played out, to a degree, in his two years in the NFL. So if he means what he’s saying, that’d qualify as a good sign.
2. The surprise holdout of Saints WR Michael Thomas didn’t come as much of a surprise to those who know him well at all—he can be stubborn and is strong-minded on these sorts of things. And surely, he’s well-aware that something needs to give at his position, with A.J. Green and Dallas’s Amari Cooper in contract years, Julio Jones basically promised a deal in Atlanta, and a receiver market that hasn’t moved much in recent years (Green’s 2015 deal is just $3 million per off the high now). You also have the Saints history in how they’ve structured their cap, and the fact that they’ve never given an offensive skill player, outside of Drew Brees, more than $10 million per on a long-term deal. All of that said, I don’t think Thomas’ holdout will engender any sort of ill will after it’s over. His relationship with the team, the coaching staff and his quarterback especially are too strong for that.
3. Here’s Chiefs owner Clark Hunt on Tyreek Hill: “So I had a good visit with him earlier in this week. I’m not going to get into the details of that conversation, but it was a very frank conversation, talking to him about responsibility as he comes back to be a Kansas City Chief.” The team wasn’t allowed to communicate with Hill during the investigation, so that was really the first chance Hunt got to talk to the receiver since the disturbing “you need to be terrified, b----” audio surfaced in April. Hunt also said that the team didn’t consider levying its own discipline (it’d have been tough to do by rule, anyway, since Hill was cleared by the league). But my opinion hasn’t changed on this. Adding Hill’s history with his fiancée to the audio and to the reality that something happened with his son was plenty for the league to take action, at the very least to cover itself and the team against the possibility that more information comes to light.
4. Probably worth reiterating something we wrote a while ago—I’ve heard Redskins LT Trent Williams has considered his legal options on his medical care, and it goes beyond the cancer scare of earlier this year. It’s certainly possible that an adjustment to his contract would fix this. His four-year-old deal now ranks seventh among tackles, by APY, more than $3 million per behind Tennessee’s Taylor Lewan. But I don’t think that was the motivator for his absence.
5. Speaking of contracts, Tom Brady’s was in the news this week, and for good reason. This is just the second time he’s reported for training camp in a contract year (the first was in 2010, ahead of the 2011 lockout). The vibe coming from the team all along is that there’s nothing to worry about. The player’s side may have something to say about that, after the Patriots gave Brady a bump coming off his 2017 MVP campaign, but tied everything to incentives. He had $1 million triggers tied finishing top-five in passer rating (he was 12th), completion percentage (18th), yards per attempt (13th), yards (7th) and touchdown passes (10th), and he hit none of those, largely because the Patriots offense struggled the whole season to find an identity with Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman in and out of the lineup. Granted, $5 million isn’t the same to you or me as it is to Brady, but it’s still $5 million. And even winning the Super Bowl couldn’t get him that cash. So now would he be a little less willing to play ball the way he always has? I doubt he’ll hold the team hostage, but I could see him wanting some of that money back, on principle. And he has leverage here in that, because of his $27 million cap number for this year, his tag number for 2020 will be at least $32.4 million, which would put him in the top five in pay among quarterbacks.
6. My understanding is that Rams owner Stan Kroenke was a driving force behind the deals for coach Sean McVay and GM Les Snead—with two primary motivations. First, Kroenke didn’t want McVay to enter his third year with the Rams as one of the NFL’s lowest-paid coaches, after he spent his first two years in that category. So rather than adjust his old deal, it made sense to do a new one. Second, it was important for the club to tie coach and GM together. Snead was entering this year with fewer than the three years that McVay had left on his existing contract, and now the two are synced up through 2023 together. Smart business by the Rams, with another big one, Jared Goff, to take care of, probably early next year.
7. On the collective bargaining front—the NFL and NFLPA will meet again on Tuesday. And it’s important to remember where they guys. Though the July 17 meeting was the fourth (they had meetings in April, May and June, as well), it was the first in which the two sides traded proposals. As we mentioned last week, that scheduled three-day meeting was cut to a single day, because the sides were too far apart on the economics after diving into the revenue split for the first time. The idea was to give both sides a chance to return to their corners with knowledge of the other’s position, and try to find flexibility in their own proposals. The tone and tenor of the meetings to this point has been amicable. Where it is after Tuesday is important, of course. The league and union do have another meeting set for mid-August as well.
8. The NFL distributed data to teams recently that showed a spike injuries over the first seven to 10 days of training camp. So if you see your favorite team is ramping up players with bumps and bruises more slowly than in the past, or giving veterans some rest days the start of camp, that could be one reason why.
9. Along those lines, we do have one more detail on the Green injury—the Bengals star will seek separate opinions today, is hoping to avoid injury, and is expected to be out for six to eight weeks. You already know about the condition of the field in Dayton, because you read our Saturday story on that (right?). So in addition to how that Saturday session was scheduled and handled as part of the NFL’s 100th anniversary celebration, the Bengals also asked for two extra days ahead of the practice so they would be in Dayton on Day 3. Unfortunately for the team, they were scheduled against the Chiefs, and the Chiefs couldn’t move their first game preseason off the Saturday of the weekend. Which meant that, since NFL rules dictate a team can start practice two weeks before its first preseason game, the Bengals couldn’t start camp earlier than the date set for the Dayton trip.
10. As part of the story I did with Gary Patterson last week, on NFL defensive coaches looking for answers to college concepts with college coaches, I asked the TCU coach how much he believes the NFL has changed as a result of these trends that started with the Wildcat a decade ago. His answer: “I think there’s been a lot. Now, there’s still some old NFL, where they’re in two-back, play-action, get after you. Jacksonville’s like that. But just look at the quarterbacks that are getting taken. People wouldn’t have taken Kyler Murray or Baker Mayfield 15 years ago, 20 years ago. Drew Brees was not that guy. Think about Doug Flutie. You had guys who weren’t agile, who would sit in the pocket. What everybody’s finding out is you have to play your coverages a lot different if you know that quarterback can take off and run on you. Playing a ball game where the quarterback can run versus a a sit-in-the-pocket guy, it’s two different animals in how you play defense.”
... Of the Week
“I felt disrespected. This team has not been good for the last six years. Period. It’s just all bad. I felt like I was a main reason at keeping that brand alive. They were getting prime-time games, still, as a 5-11 team. Why? Because people want to see the show,” Beckham continued. “You want to see me play … I felt disrespected they weren’t even man enough to even sit me down to my face and tell me what’s going on.” —Odell Beckham, on the Giants trading him, in GQ.
We’re in the business of getting athletes to be honest, so I’d never tell one not to speak his mind. I appreciate that about this quote from Beckham. That said, the issue I’d have here is that he doesn’t take responsibility for anything that went wrong in New York. If he prefaced what he said here with, “I’m not perfect, and I definitely handled certain things the wrong way,” I think the comments come off a lot differently.
Ereck Flowers back out at left tackle with the first team. It’s going how you think it’s going— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) July 26, 2019
There’s a reason why the top left tackles have cracked into a pay range that only quarterbacks, receivers and pass rushers have reached.
Love this. Good job, Broncos.
Not gonna muddy this with my take. Just watch it.
Good job by First Coast News’ Ben Murphy getting this gem out quick—and I actually think it would’ve worked if Jalen Ramsey just showed up in the Brinks truck. The hype man yelling at roughly seven reporters/cameramen was what put it on the wrong side of the street. “A” for effort, though.
You knew the pioneer of the absurd camp entrance was going to nail it again. And he did.
Patrick Mahomes doing this in a game is now atop my wish list for the 2019 season.
I’m with Will on this. It’s still hilarious.’
Six from the Sidelines
1. I’m a sucker for a good arena/stadium/ballpark rendering. And the ones the Clippers unleashed last week are doozys. Looks like the Rams are going to have a palace across the street from their … palace.
2. Just to reiterate what I said a while back, make sure you go check out Chernobyl. Just an amazing display of how different the world was in the ’80s. And while we’re there, Euphoria is pretty crazy too, if you have the stomach for it.
3. One college coach you consistently hear good things about, to the point where NFL teams might try and poach him soon: Nebraska’s Scott Frost. In fact, I know he was on one team’s list during the last hiring cycle. It’d be awfully hard to pry him from his alma mater. But if he takes that program where people think he will, I’d bet the pros will come calling.
4. Amid all the noise over his comments, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh actually had a good idea—giving players a one-time chance to transfer without having to sit out. Given how arbitrary the waiver process has gotten, that makes all the sense in the world to me.
5. The soccer transfer business is crazy. Read this story right here. In it, they have the Real Madrid manager saying he wants a star player off the team. And it’s presented like a footnote.
6. Awesome to see Seattle’s NHL team come to life, and hopefully it leads to the NBA landing back there next. No reason why that city shouldn’t have teams in all four of the major sports. Or why it hasn’t for so long.
S/O to …
Chiefs S Tyrann Mathieu. He and close friend/former teammate Patrick Peterson gave $1 million apiece to their alma mater, LSU, to help upgrade the program’s facilities. And what an amazing story it is—Mathieu was thrown off the Tigers by then-coach Les Miles back in the summer of 2012. Lots of people would hold a grudge over that. The Honey Badger—a Heisman finalist for the Tigers in 2011—grew from it. And clearly he recognized the value in what he went through in Baton Rouge.
It’s great to see something like that come full circle, especially with the knowledge of what kind of guy Mathieu has become.
What You Need to Know…
When you read this, we’ll be three days away from an NFL game being on television, with the Falcons and Broncos set to face off in Canton. And while 2008 draft classmates Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco will be there, and maybe even get the chance to catch up, I wouldn’t expect see much, if anything, from either on the field.
So what will there be to watch? Drew Lock, who’s had fits and starts early on in Denver, would give you one reason to tune in. And Cris Collinsworth does a bang-up job as an analyst. And … it’s football.
(Yeah, I’m probably tuning in too. See you there.)
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