We’re just about at the midpoint of the regular season. Before the site dives fully into midseason stories, here’s what’s going on this Monday of Week 9 …
• I want to make this much clear: I’m not blaming the city of Las Vegas for what’s happened over the last week with Raiders’ 2020 first-round picks, Henry Ruggs and Damon Arnette. What those guys did, they’re very obviously responsible for, and they’re paying the price now. But there is something that’s lingering under the surface here that’s worth exploring when it comes to the dynamic of having a team there. For years and years, GMs and coaches in Miami have operated knowing that, when it comes to vetting character and maturity in players, they have to set a higher bar than their counterparts in, say, Indianapolis or Minnesota or Buffalo might. That’s meant, for the Dolphins over the years, finding guys with a history of putting football first, are naturally well-grounded and have interests outside the game that aren’t taking place at 2 a.m. And it’s pretty obvious why. In a place like Miami, there’s trouble out there and readily available for 20-somethings 24/7. Where coaches in other places might have to be concerned about players on their bye weeks, or on a Friday night, in a destination city like Miami, the temptations are constant, and it takes a certain type of player to be able to handle that. Same thing, to a degree, goes for New Orleans. And in Vegas? Well, there’s more there for a young player just starting out to stay away from than just about anywhere else.
• The release of Arnette, as I see it, might also be the first sign of a difference in the way the Raiders are doing business with GM Mike Mayock now having the trigger. Arnette lost an ally in the building when Jon Gruden resigned a couple weeks back. It’s possible that if Gruden were still around, the Raiders might not have been so quick to cut the ex-Ohio State star.
• Odell Beckham Jr. is on the waiver wire, and teams need to put claims in by Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, then he’ll either be awarded to the team claiming him with the highest priority or he’ll clear waivers and become a free agent. If a team lands Beckham via waivers, it’ll pick up the remaining $7.25 million left on his deal. There are 10 team with enough cap room to do it without engaging in further gymnastics. Those 10 are:
1. Jaguars: $28.0 million.
2. Eagles: $26.1 million.
3. Broncos: $14.4 million.
4. Seahawks: $12.0 million.
5. Panthers: $10.9 million.
6. Chargers: $10.4 million.
7. Steelers: $10.4 million.
8. Washington: $10.0 million.
9. Browns: $8.6 million.
10. Bengals: $8.0 million.
Obviously, you can cross the Browns off that list. And the four others with winning records there (Broncos, Chargers, Steelers, Bengals) are pretty much set at receiver. Which is really why there’s a likelihood Beckham will clear waivers, and be able to pick his team Tuesday after 4.
• Before Sunday’s game, Broncos RB Melvin Gordon caught his rookie teammate Jonathon Cooper—the guy taking Von Miller’s spot in Denver’s defensive front—staring up at the massive videoboards at AT&T Stadium. “And I was like, ‘Bro, lock in,’ ” Gordon told me after the Broncos’ 30–16 win there. “I was like, ‘You know what would be better? Is if you go get you some sacks, and everybody in this stadium is about to look at that screen and see you.’ And he went and did it, man. And it’s crazy how that conversation went.” Indeed, the seventh-round pick out of Ohio State wound up with two sacks playing Miller’s position in the Broncos’ first post-Miller game. And while that was a nice part of the story line on Sunday for Denver, there was also something bigger at work—the Broncos look like they’ve got a rookie class that can really play. In fact, Cooper costarred in Arlington with a draft classmate of his, second-round tailback Javonte Williams. The North Carolina product went for 111 yards on 17 carries against Dallas, and that was plenty to prompt Gordon to point out Williams’s potential (“It’s to the moon, man”), and that he’s still a rookie. “You’re really in your bag [in Year 2], and he’s only a rookie. My second year, I went to the Pro Bowl, and it was just crazy, I just figured it out, it clicked. It clicked. And it seemed like it clicked for him a little earlier than it did for me, but the sky’s the limit. He’s just so hard to tackle.” So you’ve got those two, and adding Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Patrick Surtain and starting linebacker Baron Browning (a third-round pick who played every snap Sunday) to the mix, and considering the potential with Quinn Meinerz and Caden Sterns, and it’s easy to see that with his first draft class, Broncos GM George Paton seems to have laid down something he can really build on.
• While we’re there, the Patriots’ issues drafting were a big reason why they had so many holes to fill, and so much money to spend, this offseason. But signs are good that the 2021 class will signify a pretty good rebound by Bill Belichick, first-year personnel chief Dave Ziegler and their scouts, and that’s coming just in time. Obviously, quarterback Mac Jones has been a huge part of it—with his ability to deal with in-game pressure in the pocket, and the external pressure of being a Day 1 starter in Tom Brady’s old spot having impressed everyone, and his ability to process and make decisions on the field translating seamlessly to the pros (even faster than they expected). But second- and fourth-round picks Christian Barmore and Rhamondre Stevenson have made this anything but a one-man show. The intel Belichick got from Nick Saban on Barmore, who dropped out of the first round due to character flags, certainly helped the Patriots feel comfortable that he would be fine in the right environment (and had the “football character” that Belichick prizes), and his ability to be disruptive from the interior in the passing game has added a different dimension to the Patriots’ defense. And Stevenson—a player without a ton of college production, whom New England drafted on traits—is starting now to make his presence felt, as a big, strong back who can make defenders miss, create on his own and catch the ball like a much smaller skill player. The team’s excited about where fifth-round pick Cam McGrone could be in 2022 (he’s basically redshirting this year after tearing his ACL last year), too, in potentially adding athleticism to a linebacker group that needs it. So we’ll see where that one goes. And on the first three guys, remember, Belichick doesn’t love playing rookies. So he’s telling you what he thinks now of the guys the Patriots drafted six months ago, and that’s why it’s not bonkers to think it could wind up being a tide-turning class.
• I really enjoyed talking with Arthur Smith about his 4–4 Falcons for the morning column, and I had one leftover to pass along here. I mentioned to Smith how, at 1–3, it looked like Atlanta might be in for the normal, bumpy Year 1 for a new head coach and GM, even though he and the GM he came in with, Terry Fontenot, were adamant they weren’t planning for a rebuilding year in 2021. And he took exception with the idea that it’d be acceptable to look at this year that way. “You take any team in the NFL, go back to ’19 at Tennessee, we were 2–4, we made a quarterback change. And you’re going to have to win some of these grimy games, which we did. So that’s just one example,” Smith said. “I go back on the flip side of it, in Washington, ’08, I was defensive quality control, we start 6–2, we finish 8–8. You see the same stories every year. You see the teams that start 3–0, they fall apart. You see the teams that start 0–2, make a run. And so you just gotta stay in the present. And sure, when you’re changing over, first year, those are easy narratives, to lower the expectations. But that’s not what we believe in. We have a plan, and we’re trying to build a winning culture here.” They’ve taken some pretty good steps the last few weeks.
• While we’re there: Second-year Falcons corner A.J. Terrell is fast becoming one of the league’s top players at his position. Fontenot and Smith were pretty impressed with how quickly he made his presence felt in camp in the summer, and that promise has bled over into a lot of production the last two months.
• I think one area where you have to give the Titans credit is in how they’ve overhauled their defensive front, more or less, completely over the last three offseasons. Jeffrey Simmons, the team’s 2019 first-round pick, is, of course, the centerpiece. They drafted Larrell Murchison and signed Teair Tart as a college free agent in ’20. They added Naquan Jones as a college free agent this year. And they signed ex-Colt Denico Autry to a three-year, $21.5 million deal in March. And that group, plus edge rusher Harold Landry (an ’18 second-round pick) wreaked havoc on the Rams’ offense all night, pressuring Matthew Stafford into a slew of ill-advised decision, and more or less taking the game over. It’s a good example, in my mind, of a coach, in Mike Vrabel, knowing how he wants his team built, and a GM, in Jon Robinson, making that vision a reality. The Titans aren’t going to be easy for anyone to deal with the rest of the year, even without Derrick Henry.
• Jordan Love deserves time, and no one should be passing final judgment on him after one start, on the road against the defending AFC champion (even if that champion isn’t what it has been the last two years). That said, I think it’s fair to say the Packers had to be hoping for more from him in that spot. What exactly? Well, I was a Cowboys beat writer back in 2007, and so I was there for Aaron Rodgers’s first significant action as a pro, on a Thursday night that fall. Brett Favre went down in-game, and the Packers lost. But even without the benefit of having the week to prepare to start (as Love had), or having much time to build a rapport with his teammates, Rodgers made clear that he had a lot of playmaking ability. He ran the ball a few times. He threw for 201 yards, a touchdown, and a 104.8 rating. Could anyone have said he’d become a Hall of Famer that night? Of course not. But there was definitely something there. And I just feel like we should’ve gotten a little bit of that feeling from Love on Sunday. It’s unfortunate we didn’t.
• Losing Mike McGlinchey is a sneaky big one for the 49ers. Fifth-round pick Jaylon Moore, a natural left tackle, could wind up being an important part of the fix there, as the Niners try to dig out of last place in the NFC West.
More NFL Coverage:
• MMQB: Lamar Jackson Is Proving He Can Come From Behind
• Jordan Love’s Starting Debut Was a Lose-Lose Day for the Packers
• Week 9 Takeaways: The Real Browns Stand Up
• The Problem Is Aaron Rodgers Thinks He Has All the Answers