UPDATE: The three radio hosts named below have now all been fired, per the station's website. Why this wasn't the station's first response is beyond us.
If you're the kind of nimrod who thinks it's humorous to make fun of people suffering from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) -- a disease that mercilessly takes away nearly every bodily function most of us take for granted ... well, Atlanta radio "talent" Nick Cellini, Chris Dimino, and Steak Shapiro might be your kinds of guys.
For the rest of us, however, what these three chuckleheads did on their show Monday morning for the 790 The Zone station was outrageous, unprofessional, and most certainly fireable. After former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, penned a guest column for SI.com's Peter King that went up Monday morning (Gleason penned that column with his eyes, by the way), Cellini and Shapiro went on the air and made fun of Gleason. Yes, they did.
According to Katherine Terrell of NOLA.com, the hosts set up a skit in which they pretended that Gleason was a caller to the show and set up a fake caller with a robotic voice, because the disease has robbed Gleason of his ability to speak. They then wondered, on the air, whether Gleason would be alive by next week. You can listen to the clip here if you so choose, though you should be aware that it's pretty tough to swallow.
In an obvious "CYA" move, Cellini apologized via his Twitter account.
My apologies to everyone. It was a stupid attempt at humor that backfired. Emphasis on stupid.
The station first suspended all three hosts indefinitely, which was announced by way of a boilerplate statement that isn't really worth re-running here. What Rick Mack, Senior VP and General Manager of the station, should have been asking himself is why these two individuals still have jobs. When they were fired, hours after their suspension and the subsequent outrage their comments caused, the station issued this statement:
"We deeply regret the offensive programming that aired this morning on “Mayhem In The AM” on 790 The Zone, related to former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason and his battle with ALS. We suspended the three individuals involved immediately following their comments and have since terminated their employment. 790 The Zone, our owners, sponsors and partners in no way endorse or support this kind of content. We sincerely apologize to Mr. Gleason, his family and all those touched by ALS."
And since this happened on the Atlanta Falcons' flagship station, you can bet the Falcons franchise wasn't happy about it at all. The Falcons' statement:
“The Falcons are disappointed in the comments made about former Saints player Steve Gleason on a local Atlanta radio station Monday morning. The content concerning Mr. Gleason was completely inappropriate and is not representative of the views of the Falcons organization, nor does it represent the way we conduct our business on and off the field. To single out Steve the way he was this morning is totally lacking in taste and discretion.”
As Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com so eloquently wrote today, the station needed to make this right by firing the hosts, reaching out to Gleason with a public and heartfelt apology (if they can muster one up), and making a sizable donation to Team Gleason, which Gleason and his family established to help others suffering from ALS. (You may do so here, if you would like).
Nothing else will do. Formulaic apologies don't even begin to scratch the surface when you're dealing with disgusting behavior like this. This wasn't a slip of the tongue on a radio show -- this was a premeditated attempt to ridicule a man who has worked ceaselessly to maintain his dignity, his opponent a damnable disease that does everything possible to remove it. Gleason beat ALS in that sense, so he doesn't need to worry about a couple of sub-level radio goons. But the very idea that any of them could ever appear on that station again would be an endorsement of their repugnant actions.
Wade Davis played for three different NFL teams, and retired in 2003. In June of 2012, he came out, joining a small group of professional athletes who are publicly gay. This weekend, Davis attended Nike's LGBT Sports Summit, and talked to Shutdown Corner about the past year, Jason Collins, and helping youth.
Shutdown Corner: In the past year, NBA player Jason Collins and WNBA star Brittney Griner both came out. Other athletes have, too. Do you feel a change in climate in that one year?
Wade Davis: It feels different because there are so many conversations around LGBTQ athletes in sports. There's so many great organizations and people who are really making it their priority to make sure young people have spaces in sports that are accessible to people of all genders and sexualities. Also, there are so many athletes of all races and sexualities that are speaking out to add their voices to make sure that even pro athletes feel safe in sports.
SC: What was behind your decision to come out?
WD: There were two things. One, I was ready. I was in a point in my life where I knew enough about myself. I loved myself. There was so much self-hatred I lived with that I had to unlearn. Two, I was working with LGBTQ youth, and they really inspired me everyday. Just living in their truth and exhibiting so much courage that I was like, ya know, if these people can do this under insurmountable odds, an ex-NFL player who is draped privilege? I can also do it. I can also use the platform that was given to me to really share their stories.
SC: Now that it's been a year, how do you look back and judge the reaction?
WD: I would say 99 percent of the feedback was amazing. From ex-teammates, to college teammates, to high school teammates, they were all truly amazing. What I found kinda funny was that they were all a little bit mad at me. They said, 'Why didn't you tell me before? I would have loved you regardless, and I would have loved the opportunity to prove that to you. That I'd view you no different.'
What I think happens is that we grow up with these ideas of masculinity, and that it's so opposite of being gay that we think your friends will never accept you. I think that's stuff that the media perpetuates, and that we map onto person. It takes so long to unlearn that, that we don't give anyone a chance to show you that you they love you regardless.
SC: Do you think your coming out opened the door a bit for Jason Collins to do the same?
WD: I think I did a little bit of work. I actually called him before the president did, and he knew who I was. That's really cool. He said, 'I've been following your story. I've read a lot of your writings and the work you've been doing.' For him to tell me that my work has impacted him, and it really helped to give him a voice and frame the stuff that he's doing now, just really, it's scary that my story is that far-reaching.
It keeps giving me fuel, that there are athletes who are reaching out to me, as well, who may not be out but we can have those conversations and I can be a source of strength. I can be a person they bounce ideas off of, tell them how the world will receive them, and not judge them. Not tell them that living in the closet is a bad thing. I want people to understand that the idea that someone isn't out says less about them and more about society.
SC: What kind of work are you doing now?
WD: Currently, I work at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which is the founder of the Harvey Milk High School. It caters to people between 12-24, and the majority of them identify as LGBTQ. Also, it works with youth of color, and many of them are marginalized. They're homeless, or lack a quality education.
I've also recently launched the You Belong initiative, and that's where were going to have sports camps that will travel around the country through various sports. We're taking about 50 young people who identify as LGBTQ and straight young people, and have them become better basketball players, but also have workshops on becoming better leaders, civic engagement, health and wellness, anti-bullying, so that they can leave and be not just better athletes, but better people. Feel stronger so they can go back to their communities and do stronger work there.
SC: What is your advice to that 16-year-old football player who wants to come out to his team?
WD: My first advice is to find some people in his life who he can have the initial conversation with, just to get out of his own head for a little while. I know for me, living in my own head was the worst place. Find a person you can talk to, who you can find strength in, that if things happen to go wrong, you can fall back on. Then find people on that team who he knows and who will have his back. If he can get those players to rally around him, those players will have his back and will galvanize him, and the rest of the players and coaches will follow suit.
WD: Do you have advice for the straight kids on how to be better allies?
SC: Just show up. Show up with words and show up with actions. You have to be the person that is the shield. If there is any kind of bullying or any kind of backlash, you can step in-between there and say, 'This is my friend. You're not going to talk to that person that way.' Also, allow the space for that LGBT person to speak up for themselves, to assert their own strength and find their own voice.
After a brief hiatus, our good buddy Greg Cosell of NFL Films, ESPN's NFL Matchup, and Shutdown Corner is back to talk a little football. And with more than a month passed since the draft, we thought it would be interesting to review that selection process by division, now that teams have given a bit of insight into how their new players will be used. We've already covered the NFC West, and we'll move to the other conference's Western division for a look at how the Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, and Chargers did with their selections.
On Denver Broncos second-round pick RB Montee Ball: "I liked him in tape. He was such a volume runner in college -- you wouldn't call him spectacular, but I came away believing that he was a very solid player. A very loose-hipped kid -- very naturally smooth. He's a gliding runner with sharp change of direction. He didn't hesitate at all -- he was decisive as a downhill runner and he ran a lot of power, because that's what Wisconsin does. He also ran a lot of zone schemes, so he's very familiar with NFL rushing concepts. He was a player I liked the more I watched him, and I think he's a really good fit in Denver."
On Kansas City Chiefs second-round TE Travis Kelce: "He's an NFL tight end -- he's got that athleticism and movement. He's fluid -- I wouldn't call him explosive, but how many tight ends do we really say that about? They tend to be more measured and methodical in their movements, but he was fluid. I thought there was a toughness to him as well, and he was deceptive as a route-runner. He can threaten the vertical seam, there's no question. Look -- we know about the two-tight end element in the NFL now. A lot of teams are going that way, and that's tougher for defensive coordinators to defend that three receivers, because it gives the defense more questions that need to be answered."
On Oakland Raiders third-round OLB Sio Moore: "The big question for me with him is whether he's more than a sub-package player. Can he be a starter? He's clearly a versatile player -- he played a lot in space in Connecticut's defense, and he played a lot over the slot. He's an athletic mover, but is he a starting linebacker? I'm uncertain about that. He showed some quickness as a pass rusher, and there were times when he lined up in a three-point stance with his hand on the ground. He was used in a variety of ways, and he was effective in that defense in all those ways."
On San Diego Chargers second-round LB Manti Te'o: "I think the 3-4 is perfect for him - he's a 3-4 inside backer. They've tried to address with every press conference that he's a three-down linebacker, and why are they doing that? Because they're trying to convince themselves that he's a three-down linebacker. I'm not sure he is. He'll play in base personnel, but beyond that, I struggle. They'll find out Week 1, because they'll go through the offseason and training camp, and if he's not on the field in their sub packages, you've got your answer."
As with everything involving Greg Cosell, this podcast is a must-listen for those fans of advanced tape analysis. Subscribe to the Shutdown Corner iTunes link. You can also use the link below to either left-click and listen, or right-click to save to your computer.
Last summer, HBO and NFL films had a very difficult time finding an NFL team that was willing to let film crews into their facility to document training camp for the popular "Hard Knocks" series. The Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins passed on the series before the Miami Dolphins and first-year head coach Joe Philbin agreed to be the featured franchise.
Finding a subject 2013 was easier as HBO and NFL Films announced on Monday that the Cincinnati Bengals will appear on "Hard Knocks" for the second time in the last five years.
"We are delighted that Hard Knocks will be returning this summer and excited for our return to the AFC Central and the Cincinnati Bengals franchise," said Ken Hershman, president of HBO Sports. "With playoff appearances three of the past four seasons, the Bengals have built a terrific young team and we are extremely grateful to both Coach Marvin Lewis and the entire organization for agreeing to participate. The series has become captivating television with appeal far beyond the hardcore football fan. Hard Knocks is a cornerstone franchise at HBO Sports."
The Bengals won the AFC North after appearing on "Hard Knocks" prior to the 2009 season, but that was not a factor in the team's decision to let camera crews document their training camp.
"Some people say, 'Well, you won the division the last time you did this; is that a reason for doing it again?'," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "I really don't think that matters or figures much into the decision. Every day, every time is a new experience. As coaches and players, we just go into it knowing we have to do our jobs to the utmost. We have a grueling schedule, and expectations are very high, particularly among ourselves.
"We've got to take a workmanlike attitude from the very start. Hard Knocks is another element you have to be prepared to deal with. The NFL Films people are totally professional, so that's not a worry, but it's not like a normal day. One thing I did see as a positive last time was exposing our players to another group of people who are working hard every day the way we need to work. The diligence and the effort of the people on-site is very impressive."
News that the Bengals were the team to appear on this year's edition of "Hard Knocks" was first tweeted by Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News on Friday. That tweet quickly disappeared, but Domowitch is close enough to the Mt. Laurel, New Jersey-based NFL Films for his report to have the utmost of credibility. Confirmation would come later on Friday evening from Joe Reedy, who provides blanket coverage of the Bengals for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Reedy reported that official announcement was "likely to happen" next week.
Less than 72 hours later, that announcement has been made. The first episode of "Hard Knocks" will premier on Tuesday, Aug. 6 at 10 p.m. ET and the finale will be broadcast on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
A few of the highlights from the Bengals' first turn on "Hard Knocks" was Chad Ochocinco's colorful interviews and the Bengals attempts to sign first-round pick Andre Smith, who would miss most of training camp while his (now former) agent attempted to work out a suitable contract. Smith could be an early storyline in 2013, as well. The fifth-year right tackle was re-signed to a three-year, $18 million contract in April, but Smith skipped the team's OTAs and was a no-show for this week's mandatory three-day minicamp, which cost him $66,150 in fines as well as a $100,000 workout bonus. Another potential storyline is Adam Jones, who found himself in trouble with the law once again after being arrested following an incident at a Cincinnati bar where he allegedly slapped a woman who may have thrown a drink on him after he refused to take a picture with her.
Per multiple reports, Wanetta Gibson, the woman who falsely accused linebacker Brian Banks of rape when they were both students at Long Beach (Calif.) Polytechnic High School, has been ordered to repay $2.6 million in damages related to the $1.5 million she received from the Long Beach School District in a 2007 lawsuit, claiming an unsafe environment. Gibson was sued for the money she received, as well as court costs and a possible $1 million in punitive damages. Gibson was not present at the ruling and her whereabouts are unknown, per the Long Beach Press-Telegram, but the court gained authorization to recoup the money through her future wages and property.
It's important to note that Banks receives none of this money. He served five years in prison and another five years on probation as a result of the original verdict, and was released only in 2012 when Banks taped her admitting that the accusation was false.
"The court recognizes that our school district was a victim in this case," school Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser told the Press-Telegram. "This judgment demonstrates that when people attempt to defraud our school system, they will feel the full force of the law."
It is also possible that Gibson could face fraud charges, depending upon the court's opinion as to whether her 2012 recanting constitutes an admission of fraud. If the original accusation is the basis for such a charge, the three-year statute of limitations for fraud charges to be brought would void any such action.
Banks was a high school football star who had received a scholarship offer from USC and had made a verbal commitment to the school. After he was freed from prison, he reunited with Pete Carroll, who offered him that scholarship and had moved on to the Seattle Seahawks, for a tryout in June of 2012. He wasn't quite ready for prime time just yet, but he looked amazingly close for a guy who never played college football and had little time to prepare himself for the challenges of the NFL.
"I don't want nobody to take it easy on me out here," he said. "I know I have a lot of work to do and if that's what's required, then definitely give it to me. I'm ready for it. I've heard of his coaching style. It wasn't until that day of the tryout that I was on the way up here with one of the scouting coaches and he was like, 'I want to let you know, coach Norton — he's no joke.' But you know what? I like that intensity. I like that style of coaching. If it's not right, tell me it's not right. And if it needs fixing, tell me it needs fixing and let's fix it together. We'll get it done. I appreciate it."
Banks didn't make the team, but he got back to work, and made the Atlanta Falcons' roster in April of 2013. When that triumph was announced, Banks recalled some of the feelings he went through while in prison.
"It's almost impossible to explain, the feeling of not having freedom, to be stripped away of your freedom, of your dignity, the respect you once had. To lose it all and watch the world pass you by as you sit inside a prison cell, knowing you shouldn't be there, knowing you're there because of another person's lies, to lose it all and then get it all back, it's a very humbling, spiritual feeling that you just don't want to take anything for granted.
"I've had the opportunity to see both sides of the human spirit. ... My journey has been crazy but my journey has been a learning experience that is unlike any other."
And Banks is a person unlike any other. I've had the opportunity (I should actually call it a privilege) to speak with him on multiple occasions, and I've always been struck by his incredible persistence and generosity of spirit. Somehow, he managed to wade through a decade of defeat unmarked by its seemingly inevitable aftereffects, and he's been an inspiration to everyone who's been around him.
"I feel like what I've been through these past 10 years shows that I have a determination factor of not giving up, of keeping hope in whatever it is that you want to accomplish in life that you can," Banks said last June, when asked what he can offer to teammates in a mental and emotional sense. "And I'm more than willing to be that person on any team that if someone is feeling down one day, or someone is feeling like giving up, or someone is feeling like they can't get to that next step in their life, I'm definitely there to talk to them and be that person of encouragement.
"At the same time, I feel like my situation is no different from anybody else's experiences. I always say, 'It's not what you go through, but how that experience affects you.'"
One can only hope that Wanetta Gibson gets what's coming to her, but is a more lasting and positive sense, it's good to see that Brian Banks has beaten the odds and seems to be getting what he truly deserves. He was unavailable for comment regarding the Gibson ruling, because he was too busy getting ready for training camp.
Former NFL receiver Chad Johnson, sentenced to 30 days in a Florida jail on June 10, has gained his release after apologizing to a local judge, per the Associated Press. Johnson was on the verge of a plea deal last Monday with Broward County Judge Kathleen McHugh, in which Johnson would have avoided jail time after probation violations stemming from a domestic violence charge. However, as Judge McHugh was getting ready to adjudicate the matter, Johnson playfully slapped his attorney on the backside, the Judge thought Johnson wasn't taking the matter seriously, and she sentenced him to 30 days in the slammer.
A week later, McHugh accepted Johnson's apology and released him.
When Terrell Owens, who played with Johnson in Cincinnati in 2010, went to visit his friend over the weekend, it was about as sobering as you might expect.
Just visited the homie @ochocinco. He's in good spirits, he needs a haircut already tho. Lol. He sends his best regards to everyone.
That was the 1st time ever visiting someone in jail & hopefully the last. That's not a place anyone wants to be regardless of how many days. — Terrell Owens (@terrellowens) June 15, 2013
"I really didn't know what to expect but to see the homie locked up is a very humbling experience," Owens then tweeted. "To talk to him via vid conference let me know that's not where anyone wants to be. I know he's only in the county jail but to someone that has never been locked up...Jail is Jail!"
Owens later linked to a TMZ article in which Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi seemed to agree with those who believe that Judge McHugh overreacted.
"Although we never condone domestic violence, this event seems to question judicial temperament, not the subject matter before the court," Bondi is quoted as telling the website.
We tend to agree. Johnson may have acted outside proper court behavior, but 30 days did seem a bit excessive.
New England Patriots signed quarterback Tim Tebow to a two-year contract last week worth $1.385 million that included zero guaranteed money. As noted by Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, the New York Jets, Tebow's former team, will spend more in cash and salary cap dollars for the former backup quarterback/personal punt protector than the Patriots will spend over the next two seasons combined.
Here's the breakdown:
When the Jets acquired Tebow from the Denver Broncos on March 23, 2012, they agreed to repay the Broncos for a portion of a $6,277,500 salary advance that Tebow had received from Denver in 2011, an amount totaling $2,531,875. The Jets paid $1 million in 2012 and will pay $1,531,875 back over the course of the 17-week 2013 regular season after failing to trade the quarterback's contract to another club this offseason.
When they released Tebow on April 30, the Jets basically ate the $1,531,875 this season.
There are no guarantees that Tebow makes and stays on the Patriots' 53-man roster this season, but if he does, he will earn the league minimum base salary of $630,000. When you add in the $525 in workout bonuses Tebow earned from the Patriots for participating in last week's three-day minicamp, the Jets will be spending at least $901,350 more in cash and cap space on Tebow this season than the Patriots will spend on the former Heisman Trophy winner. Tebow currently has a $755,000 cap charge in 2014 ($730,000 base salary plus a $25,000 workout bonus), so overall, the Jets will spend just around $140,000 more on him this season than the Patriots are currently scheduled to spend on Tebow over the next two seasons.
After 14 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, wide receiver Donald Driver announced his retirement on Feb. 6. A little over four months later, Driver says that a few NFL teams have reached out, but only the Packers could coax him out of retirement, reports Paul Imig of FOX Sports Wisconsin.
"I think the thing is, if you have the itch to continue to play, then it doesn't matter who you play for, because that's what you want to do,” Driver said. "You just want to play the game. I love the game, but I only love one team. When you love the game, you'll play for anybody. Anybody who offers you something, you're willing to step on the field and play for them.
"I decided that I love one team. But I do love the game. At the end of the day, if I get that itch, it would only be for the green and gold."
Driver, 38, was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and is eligible to sign with any team that is interested in adding a veteran receiver to their roster. Seeing Driver in another uniform would certainly be strange, but it certainly wouldn't be any stranger than Brett Favre in Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets jerseys and Driver would hardly be the first player to finish his career in a different uniform. Franco Harris finished his carer with the Seattle Seahawks, while Joe Namath spent a season with the Los Angeles Rams and Johnny Unitas ended his career with the San Diego Chargers. A closer example for Driver could be Cris Carter, who is largely identified with the Minnesota Vikings, but had transitioned to a media role in 2002 before returning to the field to play in eight games for the Miami Dolphins.
Playing for one team for an entire career means something to Driver, though.
"I talked to so many different guys and every guy that I've talked to said they wish they never went to another team," Driver said. "They always wished they would've retired with that team that they played 10, 11, 12 years for.
"When I asked them, 'Should I go back?,' they say, 'If you don't have that love for another team, don't go back. You're not going to get the same love, you're not going to get the same respect that you got from them that you got from Green Bay.'"
Driver is currently the Packers' all-time leader with 743 receptions and 10,137 receiving yards, and his 61 receiving touchdowns are the third-highest total in the storied franchise's history. Driver topped 50 receptions in a season as recently as 2010, but took a steep pay cut to remain a Packer in 2012. Driver started one of the 13 games he dressed for in 2012, and caught just eight passes for 77 yards with two touchdowns while playing in 13.6 percent of the team's offensive snaps.
The top of the Packers' depth chart is filled as Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones fill the top three roles. The No. 4 receiver role will be decided between Jarrett Boykin, 2013 seventh-round picks Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey and a group of street and undrafted rookies. If the Packers suffer some injuries, though, or are not pleased with how those unknown commodities at the position are handling a larger role, they could ask Driver to don his No. 80 jersey once again.
When you've got three sons, you're going to have some activity in your house, and not all of it will be positive. That's what former NFL quarterback Archie Manning had to deal with -- his three sons Peyton, Eli, and Cooper were fairly active as kids. You may have seen the athletic exploits of two of Mr. Manning's sons once or twice along the way. But when the young Mannings were growing up, and there were only dreams of becoming the NFL's First Family, there were times when the boys got a bit too rambunctious. Eli, who's now a dad himself, remembered Archie's favorite conflict resolution technique in a spot for Dick's Sporting Goods.
"Any time you've got three boys in a household, an argument's going to break out. My dad would say, 'Alright, you two, put the gloves on -- we're going to box. And before you go, you've got to punch this bag for three minutes straight. So, your arms are just dead, and you're throwing shoulders at each other. You're on the floor laughing, and problem solved. You're back to having a good day. Now, when I see boxing gloves, I make sure dad's got some boxing gloves to solve issues with the grandchildren."
We imagine it looked a lot like this.
Now, of course, Eli appreciates everything his dad did for him, and tries to give back whenever possible.
"The greatest gift I could give my dad is time spent together," he concluded in the spot.
Plus, apparently, every Eli Manning replica jersey in the store.
The Super Bowl ring is one of the greatest symbols of athletic triumph. NFL players have been known to break down when they can finally fit that particular bit of jewelry on their fingers, and I've met enough former players, coaches, and executives who would never be separated from their rings to know that the buzz lasts forever. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has three such rings from his team's wins in Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, and XXXIX. The ring Kraft won for that last Super Bowl, at the end of the 2004 season, went missing in a very unusual way.
As the story goes, Kraft met Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gathering of business and political leaders at Konstantinovsky Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia, in June of 2005. Kraft and Putin talked a while, Kraft took off his ring to show it to Putin, and Putin promptly put the ring in his pocket and walked off.
"I showed the president my most recent Super Bowl ring,” Kraft said in a subsequent statement. Putin “was clearly taken with its uniqueness."
“At that point, I decided to give him the ring as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and the leadership of President Putin."
“I took out the ring and showed it to [Putin], and he put it on and he goes, ‘I can kill someone with this ring,’” Kraft said during the Carnegie Hall’s Medal of Excellence gala in New York City.“I put my hand out, and he put it in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out.”
On Sunday, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the allegation.
"What Mr. Kraft is saying now is weird," Peskov told CNN. "I was standing 20 centimeters away from him and Mr. Putin and saw and heard how Mr. Kraft gave this ring as a gift."
Through NFL.com, the team seemed to want this story to go away very quickly.
"It's a humorous, anecdotal story that Robert re-tells for laughs. He loves that his ring is at the Kremlin and, as he stated back in 2005, he continues to have great respect for Russia and the leadership of President Putin," a team spokesman said. "In particular, he credits President Putin for modernizing the Russian economy."
As Kraft told it more recently, were it not for the intervention of the White House, this could have gotten ugly. Kraft wanted his ring back, obviously not intimidated by Putin's alleged ability to kill somebody with it. The ring came in at 4.94 carats and was worth over $25,000, and Kraft was not amused. He said that he got a call from the George W. Bush-led White House, telling him that it would really be in the best interests of relations between the two countries if Kraft would change the story and say the ring was a gift.
Kraft was unmoved.
“I really didn’t [want to]. I had an emotional tie to the ring, it has my name on it. I don’t want to see it on eBay. There was a pause on the other end of the line, and the voice repeated, ‘It would reallybe in the best interest if you meant to give the ring as a present.’”
According to the Post, the ring is now kept in the Kremlin library -- presumably in the "Ill-Gotten Booty" section. No word yet as to whether Roger Goodell has fined Putin.
After losing Dustin Keller to the Miami Dolphins in free agency, the New York Jets have finally addressed the tight end position, signing veteran Kellen Winslow to a one-year deal, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com reports.
Winslow joins a tight end group that has been headlined by Jeff Cumberland, who stepped up for an injured Keller to post career-highs with 29 receptions, 359 yards and three touchdowns last season. Behind Cumberland, the Jets had Konrad Reuland and Hayden Smith, an Australian-born rugby player who is still adjusting to American football, so depth at the position has been an issue.
If Winslow can stay healthy — and that's a mighty big "if" — he has a good chance of winning the starting job during training camp. A chronic knee injury has limited Winslow's ability to practice in recent seasons, which is something the Jets will have to monitor throughout his stay with the club.
Winslow, who will turn before reporting to Jets' training camp in July, has caught 438 passes for 4,848 and 23 touchdowns during his 93-game career with the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots. Winslow is coming off a disappointing 2012 season that began with him clashing with first-year Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano. The Buccaneers traded Winslow to the Seattle Seahawks, but he would not make the 53-man roster as he was limited in practice and had just three reception for 34 yards in the preseason.
In September, the Patriots signed Winslow after losing Aaron Hernandez to a high ankle sprain. Winslow dressed for one game with the Patriots, catching one pass for 12 yards in four offensive snaps before he asked for and received his release. Winslow would sit out the remainder of the season and did not reappear on the NFL radar screen until he participated in the Jets' three-day minicamp on a tryout basis.
Winslow's signing does not come as a surprise. The team needed a veteran tight end and Jets GM John Idzik worked in the Seahawks' front office when Winslow was acquired last season. Reports out of New York were that Winslow looked good during the practices and his signing is a clear indicator that he passed the team's physical.
As the Jets wrapped up their offseason program on Thursday, Cumberland was making comparisons between himself and Winslow to Patriots tight ends Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, the best tight end duo in the league.
"With my size and his size...I would be more like Gronkowski, he would be more like Hernandez," Cumberland said, via Seth Walder of the New York Daily News.
From a size standpoint, yes, the duos are comparable. From production and potential for production standpoints, it's not even close.
In Rex Ryan's first two seasons as the New York Jets' head coach, his team went 20-12 in the regular season and booked trips to two straight AFC Championship games. In his most recent two seasons in that same role, however, a series of personnel disasters and bad coaching moves left the Jets with a playoff drought and a 14-18 regular season mark. Season five is Ryan's most meaningful, both for his future and his reputation, because 2011 and 2012 have taken some serious bites out of his name. Long a defensive genius as an assistant, Rex looked early on to be one of the better and more entertaining new head coaches in the game -- a bit of a modern-day John Madden -- but public perception seems to intimate that he's gone off the rails of late.
He is keenly aware of the problem, and with typical brio, Ryan believes that he is underrated and will be vindicated with time.
"I'm a hell of a lot better football coach than I'm given credit for," Ryan told Newsday's Kimberley A. Martin on Thursday afternoon, after the Jets' final OTA practice. "I don't care. I don't need the credit. But I can tell you one thing, when it's said and done, they'll look back and say, 'Oh man, this dude can coach his butt off.' And you know what? It's true. And I'll let the people that know best talk on my behalf about the kind of coach I am."
Early on, Ryan was able to balance a great defensive roster, a strong running game, and the management of young quarterback Mark Sanchez into a winning formula. But -- and this is more on former GM Mike Tannenbaum than it is on Ryan -- the defense got old, the running game atrophied, and Sanchez was asked to do more than his talent would allow. Last year's 6-10 disaster, led as it was by the unfortunate exploits of Tim Tebow and a knee injury that cost Ryan his best player in Darrelle Revis for most of the season, was the Jets' time to pay up for a lot of front office mistakes. Now, with both Tebow and Revis gone, and many believing that Ryan is coaching for his job, Ryan told Martin that last season still weighs on him.
"I'll never be able to erase that year," Ryan said, referring to 2012. "But I can learn from it. That unfortunately is going to be with me. It drives you to the point where you say, 'Look, I've learned.' And some way that might work for every other coach in the league -- 99 percent of them -- it doesn't work for me. I know what works for me now. How it will affect our team, result-wise, win-wise, all that stuff, we'll find out. But I'm certainly confident that I can help this team more in the capacity that I'm going to lead."
Ryan also said that he may not have been "driving the message" as much as he should have last year, which would seem to be true.Former offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and ex-defensive coordinator Mike Pettine seemed to lack the schematic acumen to put their players in optimal positions to win. That's less of a surprise on the offensive side, because Ryan knows what he's doing as a defensive coach, and he'll be the first one to tell you that.
"I don't have to brag, even though statistically, I can brag about anything I've ever done defensively," he told Martin.
As an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens from 1999 through 2008, absolutely. Ryan moved from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator with the Ravens in that time, and put a series of defenses on the field that never ranked lower than sixth in the league in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics when he was running them. And when he moved to the Meadowlands in 2009, the Jets went from 14th to first in the NFL in those same metrics. However, in 2012, that same defense ranked ninth, which is the lowest ranking of any defense in which he's played a major part.
So, yes. Defensively, Ryan is as good as there is. Few coaches understand the relationship between complex blitzes and front-gap responsibility better than he, and he's got a pretty long resume to prove it. However, as a head coach, his legacy so far is quite a bit more mixed, precisely because he seems to lack the overview and impulse control that all great head coaches have. That's not to say that he can't acquire those things, but as smart as he is, the most important bit of scouting Rex Ryan will do this year is on Rex Ryan. If he isn't able to fix what ails that particular prospect, few other things about the Jets will matter.
Cruz was tendered at the "first round" level, which carries a non-guaranteed base salary of $2.879 million for the 2013 season. Cruz skipped the Giants' voluntary offseason program and this week's mandatory minicamp, but since he had not signed a contract, he was not subject to fines by the team.
Had Cruz not signed the tender by June 17, the Giants would have had the option to replace the $2.879 million tender with a "reduced" tender, which would have been worth $630,000, the minimum base salary for a player with three accrued seasons. For a player like Cruz, who has pocketed $1.479 million in on-field earnings via base salaries, workout bonuses, performance-based pay bonus, the $2.249 million reduction would have been a steep price to pay for not signing the original offer.
Cruz, who hired Tom Condon of CAA Football (Eli Manning's agent) in the offseason, is still angling for a new long-term contract and signing the tender is no guarantee that he'll report on time for training camp.
According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, Cruz could be a no-show when the Giants open camp at the end of July. If Cruz doesn't show for the start of camp, he could be fined $30,000 per day, which is nearly the amount of Cruz's weekly game checks ($31,765, before taxes) from last season.
In its quest to improve security at all stadiums (and perhaps to pick up a few merchandising bucks in the process), the NFL has revised its policies for what fans -- mostly female fans -- can bring into stadiums. Here are the new parameters:
The NFL strongly encourages fans to not bring any type of bags, but outlined what is permissible. Beginning with preseason games, fans will be able to carry the following style and size bag, package, or container at stadium plaza areas, stadium gates, or when approaching queue lines of fans awaiting entry into the stadium:
Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12” x 6” x 12.” (Official NFL team logo clear plastic tote bags are available through club merchandise outlets or at nflshop.com), or
One-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc bag or similar).
Small clutch bags, approximately the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap can be taken into the stadium with one of the clear plastic bag options.
An exception will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection at a gate designated for this purpose.
Prohibited items include, but are not limited to: purses larger than a clutch bag, coolers, briefcases, backpacks, fanny packs, cinch bags, seat cushions, luggage of any kind, computer bags and camera bags or any bag larger than the permissible size.
“Our fans deserve to be in a safe and secure environment,” said Jeffrey Miller, NFL vice president and chief security officer, on the league's new "All Clear" site. “Public safety is our top priority. This will make the job of checking items much more efficient and effective. We will be able to deliver a better and quicker experience at the gates and also provide a safer environment. We appreciate our fans’ cooperation.”
This will not go over well with anyone who likes to carry a purse, to be sure. Of course, we're on board with the banning of man-purses, but that's more an overall style point. Female football fans, of which there are many, aren't happy at all.
From longtime Houston Texans blogger (and friend of Shutdown Corner) Steph Stradley:
The functional purse ban an inconvenience. @NFL doesn't care b/c run by men, & they know it won't stop fans from going to games
Melissa Jacobs of TheFootballGirl.com emailed a league spokesman after one of her readers brought up the issue of parents of very young children bringing diaper bags to stadiums, and she got this response:
"This is something that we contemplated. We are sports fans and attend events throughout the year, too, and took a long look at possible concerns people would have. Simply put the contents of the diaper bag into an approved bag. If there are necessary medical items for the child there would be an exception made after proper inspection at a gate designated for this purpose. The 12x6x12 bag is a decent size and can fit diapers, bottles, wipes, etc. I had a to go bag that size for my kids that worked well on day trips. And it's one bag per person so other family members would be able to help."
We certainly understand the need to establish effective security parameters, but at a time when the NFL is looking for more ways to keep fans going to stadiums as opposed to staying home and watching RedZone or watching games on their phones and tablets, the new policies seem a bit short-sighted -- especially in the ways they seem to inconvenience and exclude female fans.
Running back Ryan Mathews hasn't always produced at the level the San Diego Chargers expected when they traded up to select him with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Mathews has struggled with consistency, injuries, fumbles, and has admittedly fallen short of what expected from the player chosen to replace a legend like LaDainian Tomlinson.
Unfortunately, Mathews' struggles have occurred in the Twitter era, and he's been the subject of the most vile criticisms on social media, which he shared with Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"I’ve had people say they hope me and my mom get AIDS and die," Mathews said on Wednesday.
Seriously people, get a grip.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to fill LT’s shoes," Mathews said. "I was trying to live up to those expectations — what he was doing in his prime, all the yards he’s getting, all the touchdowns he’s getting, just trying to live up to that.
"I knew I was the first-round pick, (the Chargers) moved up (16) spots and all that, and I was just trying to do more than what I should have been doing. I think I took all the fun out of it and stressed myself out over it."
While Mathews has been a fairly pedestrian NFL running back, he hasn't been that bad. Mathews has averaged 4.4 yards per carry during his career, totaling 2,476 and 14 touchdowns with 111 receptions for 852 yards out of the backfield. In 2011, Mathews went over 1,000 yards and was sixth in Football Outsiders' DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric.
According to Acee, Mathews is leaner entering this season and plans to get back to what he was doing at Fresno State.
"I’m just gonna be myself," said Mathews. "In practice, I’m just trying to focus on what I do. I’m not trying to focus on what would (Tomlinson) do? I’m just gonna go back to like I was playing at Fresno State — just running the ball catching the ball and scoring touchdowns."
Former Chicago Bears receiver David Terrell would like you to know that he is NOT the biggest draft bust in Chicago Bears history, and he would like you to know exactly why. Selected by the Bears with the eighth overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft out of Michigan, Terrell caught just 128 passes for 1,602 yards and no touchdowns in four seasons with his first NFL team. After the Bears cut him loose, Terrell tried to catch on with the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, and Kansas City Chiefs, but it didn't happen. He played in one game and caught no passes for the Broncos in 2005, and that was the last we really heard of Terrell in a relevant football sense.
When Redeye Chicago recently placed him high on a list of the franchise's all-time draft mistakes, Terrell contacted the site via e-mail in an effort to provide his own defense. Terrell set up an interview with the site, and blamed his issues in the Windy City on ... well, just about everybody. Mostly, Terrell cited a lack of quarterback talent during his time with the Bears.
"My first year, we was one game from the Super Bowl, and I think I was a big, big piece in a lot of those wins. I think I may have won four, five games for my team. I mean, hey, maybe I didn’t win ‘em all by myself, but I sure played a big part. The next year I went to Bourbonnais [training camp] and I kicked the season off with what? Like four touchdowns in three games? Then I broke my foot. Then I was done for the whole year. Then my third year I couldn’t play ‘cuz my foot was just broke and they had my time limited. Then the last year, I led the league for like the first four games with Rex Grossman at quarterback. Until Rex Grossman breaks his foot against Minnesota. Did you forget that? I think you musta’ forgot about that. Man, I led the league in like every category basically until Rex broke his foot. When Rex broke his foot, after that, the season was over. I caught, I mean, I had nine different quarterbacks after Rex Grossman. I caught a ball from nine different quarterbacks in one year. Did you forget that?"
Well, not quite that many quarterbacks. But the list of people who threw passes to Terrell on a regular basis from 2001 through 2004 was hardly a Murderers' Row. There was Jim Miller, Shane Matthews, the 37-year-old version of Chris Chandler, Henry Burris, Kordell Stewart, the aforementioned Mr. Grossman, Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, and Jonathan Quinn. That makes for ... hey, Terrell was sorta right. That's nine quarterbacks total in four seasons (not after Grossman), and not a semi-stud among them.
So now, you're thinking, Terrell must watch the Bears with Jay Cutler at quarterback and wonder what might have been? You're darn right he does. When asked what he would have given to play with a quarterback of Cutler's talents, Terrell REALLY didn't mince words.
"(Laughs, for a long time) I would have cut off both my balls. I’d give those up, no problem. You could have neutered me. I woulda been neutered with a smile. [Bleep], man, for real."
Well, alrighty then. Of course, Terrell spent time in the Broncos' training camps in 2006 and 2007, and Cutler was also on the roster, and that didn't exactly work out. But as it was when John Blutarsky gave his famous "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" speech, Terrell was on a roll.
"Jay Cutler is without a doubt a top 10 quarterback in the league. No doubt about that. His knowledge of the game, his pocket presence makes him that. I never witnessed that in the NFL. I could have with Rex, but I had limited time with Rex. I only had four games with Rex, you know what I’m saying? Great quarterbacks know what’s going on before the play. My last year here was just in disarray ‘cuz the quarterbacks didn’t even know the play calls. So it takes out some camaraderie, yeah. You look at Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, they have camaraderie cuz they were in Denver together. The [bleep] that Jay and Brandon have going on, that [bleep] is unstoppable. They can look at each other one time and know what’s going on. … It’s like eye contact [bleep]. They be like, “Yup, yup”--and Boom! Fade route. I didn’t have that anywhere but at Michigan with Tom Brady and with that quarterback Drew Henson or Hanson, or whatever."
That would be Drew Henson, but as we said, the man was on a roll. Terrell also talks about his regret in not waiting to be selected until the supplemental draft, how a staph infection almost caused him to have one of his legs amputated while he was trying to make the Patriots, why former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo didn't like him, and his newfound respect for single mothers. This interview really is a must-read, though it is decidedly NSFW...
On the final day of their offseason program, the Denver Broncos have announced that they have released veteran running back Willis McGahee.
"It’s never easy to part ways with a veteran player who made so many positive contributions to our team and community," Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway said in a statement released by the team. "I appreciate all of the competitiveness, toughness and leadership Willis brought to the Broncos. He was an integral part of our team’s turnaround during the past two seasons, and I wish him the best as he continues his NFL career."
McGahee joined the Broncos in 2011, signing a four-year, $9.5 million contract after the 2011 lockout was lifted. McGahee started 14 of 15 games in his first season in Denver, leading the team with 1,199 rushing yards and earning a Pro Bowl nod for the second time in his career. McGahee added 137 yards and a touchdown in the Broncos' two playoff games in 2011.
McGahee, 31, was well on his way towards another 1,000-yard season in 2012, racking up 731 yards and four touchdowns before suffering a torn MCL in his right knee Week 11. McGahee underwent surgery and was expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with the Broncos placing him on their "Injured Reserve-Designated For Return" list. McGahee would not be activated before the Broncos' playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 12.
By releasing McGahee, the Broncos save $2.5 million in cash and cap space in 2013, leaving them with around $10.5 million under their 2013 cap with their top three picks in the 2013 NFL draft to sign. The Broncos are also working on a long-term extension with franchised left tackle Ryan Clady.
Because the release of McGahee comes after June 1, he will take up $500,000 in "dead" space on the Broncos' 2014 cap.
The Broncos do have plenty of depth at the running back position.
The Broncos used a 2013 second-round pick on Montee Ball, who ran for over 5,100 yards with 77 touchdowns during a 49-game career at Wisconsin. With McGahee spending most of the offseason workouts on his own in Miami, Ball has been getting a lot of work with the first-team offense and could open the season as the starter. Also competing for the starting running back job is Ronnie Hillman, a 2012 third-round pick out of San Diego State who played sparingly (18.2 percent of the snaps) as a rookie.
Then there's 2009 first-round pick Knowshon Moreno, who went from game day inactive to starter following McGahee's injury last season, rushing for 510 yards on 130 carries with three touchdowns over the final six games. Moreno actually finished the season slightly ahead of McGahee in Football Outsiders' DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric. McGahee and Moreno were also 1-2 in FO's "Success Rate", which "represents the player's consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays".
The Philadelphia Eagles wrapped up their offseason program last week. Less than a week later, offensive tackle Jason Peters has shown up in the police blotter, arrested on Wednesday morning in Monroe, Louisiana on charges of drag racing and resisting a police officer by flight.
According to Tabby Soignier of the Monroe News-Star, Peters was arrested following what appeared to be a drag race that began at approximately 4:45 a.m.. Peters, who was operating a white Camaro, and another sedan both accelerated when a traffic light turned green. A police officer who had observed the two vehicles began his pursuit, signalling for both vehicles to pull over.
The sedan pulled to the side of the road, but Peters allegedly continued, with the officer stating that his vehicle exceeded speeds of 100 mph. Peters stopped his vehicle in the parking lot of a local shopping center. The five-time Pro Bowler was then arrested and transported to Ouachita Correctional Center.
Peters, 31, missed all of last season after twice tearing his Achilles' tendon, an injury that ended up costing him $3.9 million in base salary. Peters was paid at a lower, "split" rate of $4 million, instead of the $7.9 million in base salary he was scheduled to earn last season.
St. Louis Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan has certainly been one of the more feisty players in the NFL in recent years.
When he was with the Tennessee Titans during the 2010 season, Finnegan slugged it out with Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson that earned both players an ejection and $25,000 fines. Late in the fourth quarter of a game last September, Finnegan goaded Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Morgan to throw the football at him after the whistle, resulting in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Morgan that took the Redskins out of field-goal range and ultimately cost the Redskins the game.
Finnegan's latest target is safety Craig Dahl, who left the Rams this offseason and signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers. The Rams went 7-8-1 last season, but played the eventual NFC champion 49ers tough. The two teams played to a 24-24 tie on Nov. 11 before the Rams upset the 49ers 16-13 in overtime on Dec. 2.
On Wednesday, Dahl told reporters in San Francisco that upon signing with the 49ers, he immediately told the coaching staff that the Rams were successful against them last season because they were able to diagnose run or pass based on the personnel and formation.
"We had a few tips off of film that we were able to differentiate between run and pass early," Dahl said, via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. "So that kind of gave us an added benefit on defense.
"It was a few different things. Some different personnel and alignment stuff really were the big keys, as far as our giveaways."
Of course, this sort of information gathering is nothing new and happens all the time in the NFL. Offensive coaches will pick the brains of defensive players coming in from other teams (and vice versa) on a variety of things, including tendencies that the coach's own self-scouting might have overlooked.
However, Dahl "spilling the beans" to the 49ers was not something that Finnegan could let slide.
In response to a ProFootballTalk tweet, Finnegan wrote "Craig Dahl is lame and weak for that glad he with another squad we know how he play thanks for the tips we know who 2 go at".
"Craig Dahl we know how you play thanks for the tips we know who to attack early and often", Finnegan added.
The first of two meetings between the Rams and 49ers this season will be in St. Louis on Sept. 26.
The Washington Redskins have a pretty good starting running back in second-year man Alfred Morris, but head coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen let a rookie rusher hit the field for one play during practice on Tuesday, and nobody minded at all. The back in question was eight-year-old Lateef Brock, who was born with chronic kidney disease and had a kidney transplant last November. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Redskins Charitable Foundation, the pint-sized Redskins fan got a call from Shanahan, telling him that he had been drafted by his favorite team, and that he was to report to Redskins Park for Tuesday drills.
Brock said that he was up for the challenge, but he was also a tough negotiator. Before he would report, he wanted unlimited candy. The Redskins agreed. Scott Boras, you have met your match.
“Man, I need to renegotiate my contract,” Morris said. “I want candy.”
Brock got to hang out in the locker room with Morris and his teammates, got a few punting tips from Sav Rocca, tried on London Fletcher's very large helmet, and enjoyed a private passing tutorial with Robert Griffin III. And on the last play of practice, Brock hit the field, took a red-zone handoff from backup quarterback Rex Grossman, and eluded several Redskins defenders for a touchdown.
“We told him he was a first-round pick and that we would give him a play, but he’d have to make it into the end zone if he was going to make [the team],” Shanahan told the Washington Post. “He’s pretty quick, too. I asked Bruce if we could sign him to a two-year contract instead of [one day].”
It would be tough for Allen to prorate an unlimited candy bonus over two seasons, but according to Morris, the kid might be worth it.
“He said he was going to take my job,” Morris said. “I said, ‘Okay, but it’s not going to be easy. I’m not a pushover' ... He’s just the type of running back the NFL wants. One cut and get up field, and he did just that. He’s got some speed behind him, too.”
"I’m glad he came, and my heart does go out to him. He’s so young to deal with so much.”
Brock's time with the Redskins seemed to affect Griffin most of all, as he told Sarah Kogod of the Post.
“I feel blessed that he chose me to be the guy he came out to practice with and hung out with,” Griffin said. “I don’t have any kids, but a lot of the coaches do and they say that when you have a kid, you get more sensitive to things that happen with little children. It’s sad to see what he’s gone through, but I’m glad that we could make his day on this day.”
Brock's day with the Redskins will be featured in ESPN's "My Wish" series in August. At the end of practice, he was surrounded by cheering teammates, received an autographed football, and went home with a whole lot of memories.
On April 1, the New Orleans Saints signed outside linebacker Victor Butler to a two-year, $3 million contract to be a pass-rushing presence in Rob Ryan's defense. That plan is now on hold as Butler suffered what is likely a season-ending torn ACL on Tuesday, Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune reports.
According to Holder, the injury occurred when Butler collided with running back Mark Ingram, who had hauled in a swing pass during a team drill during Tuesday's practice. Butler's injury stings even more as this is the last week of offseason practices for the Saints, who canceled Wednesday's practice as the team is taking a field trip.
The 6-foot-2, 241-pound Butler was a fourth-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2009. In 63 games in largely a part-time role, Butler recorded 11 sacks with four forced fumbles. In two seasons with Ryan as his defensive coordinator, Butler had six sacks and 12 quarterbacks hits while playing in just 516 of 2,046 defensive snaps (25.2 percent).
Butler drew interest from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns during free agency before reuniting with Ryan by signing with the Saints.
According to a source with knowledge of Butler's contract, he received a $750,000 signing bonus and his $750,000 base salary in 2013 is fully guaranteed. Butler could have voided the second season of the contract and become an unrestricted free agent (with the Saints retaining the "right of first refusal") by playing in 57.5 percent of the Saints' defensive snaps or by recording 6.5 sacks this season, but neither of those scenarios will play out as Butler is expected to be placed on injured reserve. Butler also could have added $225,000 to his $1.4 million base salary in 2014, but that will not happen, either.
Butler was penciled in as a starting outside linebacker and his injury means the Saints now need 2011 third-round pick Martez Wilson, veteran Junior Gallette or 2013 sixth-round pick Rufus Johnson to step up and earn the job during training camp.
Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett unveiled a new facemask at the team's FanFest at University of Phoenix Stadium on Tuesday night. As the photograph above shows, it will be very difficult for opposing offensive lineman to grab hold of Dockett's mask if he wears that this season.
The mask, which was the handiwork of Bad-Ass Masks, features six horizontal bars and one vertical in the middle that divides a whopping 18 diagonal bars, nine on each side of the vertical bar. According to the Facebook page for Bad-Ass Masks, this model is named the "Freight Train".
Dockett's mask bears resemblance to the Schutt-designed mask worn by New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, who began wearing a mask with 12 diagonal bars and five horizontal bars last summer. Tuck began wearing that mask to prevent offensive linemen from grabbing his mask and aggravating a neck strain, though that the mask looked cool certainly expedited the change.
"Everybody is like, 'Can I get that facemask?' No, it’s exclusive to me, no one else can have it," Tuck told the Giants' official website last year. "But it’s a copycat league in everything people do so I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few of those floating around before we play."
Since it is a copycat league, we wouldn't be surprised if more and more players start unveiling more elaborate face masks this season.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – The biggest distraction and arguably the biggest letdown in franchise history signed with their divisional rival on Monday afternoon and the New York Jets produced a collective shrug.
Yes, Tim Tebow overshadowed the franchise much of last year by merely being himself. And yes, it can be argued that he was misused and perhaps even better than Jets incumbent starting quarterback Mark Sanchez. And finally, yes, it can be argued that cutting him this past April was both a waste of his talent and yet a shrewd decision by the franchise to move on from the failed experiment.
But what is truly shocking is that Tebow’s signing with the New England Patriots barely registered with the Jets, a team whose penchant for the outlandish produced the very trade that sent Tebow last March from the Denver Broncos to New York in the first place.
On Tuesday prior to the start of the first day of minicamp, Jets head coach Rex Ryan dedicated more time to addressing Tebow questions from the media than his counterpart Bill Belichick would end up spending in New England. In fact, Ryan even included in his opening statement that “I have a funny feeling there’s going to be more questions about former players than there are current players.”
When asked, Ryan also said that he wasn’t concerned or even intrigued about what role Tebow might play for the Patriots. It does raise the question of if the Patriots can find a role for Tebow – whether in the Wildcat or personal punt protector or another position entirely or simply as a quarterback behind starter Tom Brady– and make it work whereas the Jets obviously couldn’t or maybe simply wouldn’t.
“Not really, no,” Ryan said when asked about his curiosity as to how New England might use Tebow. “If they want to replace Brady with him, that’s fine.”
That attitude seems somewhat appropriate from Ryan. If Tuesday’s first day of minicamp is any indication, it is clear that Ryan has enough concerns at the quarterbacks on his own roster than to go on worrying about one that no longer is in his locker room.
To a man, no one on the Jets bashed Tebow or his signing with the Patriots – they might be waiting to do that anonymously later on – but the move didn’t create waves in Tebow’s old locker room with his old teammates.
“Wish him all the best except for twice a year but I’ve got bigger issues to worry about in New England, specifically Vince Wilfork,” center Nick Mangold said. “I don’t know if you’ve seen him; he’s a force to be reckoned with. What goes on on the offensive side of the ball is not too much of my concern.”
Last season with the Jets, Tebow completed 6 of 8 passes for 39 yards and failed to run or throw for a touchdown. None of his snaps as a quarterback came in the conventional offense but only in the Wildcat. He was also used as a personal punt protector and a decoy on offense.
When the Jets acquired Tebow last year, they instantly made him the backup behind Sanchez before even the first snap of the offseason, a move which did nothing to calm the backpages of the New York tabloids from tracking the supposed quarterback competition. But despite Sanchez’s struggles, including a season where he threw more interceptions than touchdowns and saw his QBR rank among the worst in the league, Tebow was never given a chance to start or play beyond a niche role in the offense.
With the Patriots, it is likely that Tebow comes in behind Brady and current backup quarterback Ryan Mallett on the depth chart.
Kristian R. Dyer contributes to Yahoo! Sports and covers the Jets for Metro New York. @KristianRDyer
It was certainly one of the most interesting plays of the 2012 AFC Championship game. With 26 seconds left in the first half, the New England Patriots had a 10-7 lead over the Baltimore Ravens, and the ball at the Ravens' 10-yard line. On second-and-7, Tom Brady scrambled to the left sideline, and extended his leg as if he was giving Ravens safety Ed Reed a karate kick. Brady went down at the seven-yard line, and through Reed appeared to be favoring his hip area after the play, no flag was thrown. Brady was later fined $10,000 by the NFL for the kick. No harm, no foul, it seemed at the time, because Reed's Ravens beat Brady's Patriots and went on to win the Super Bowl.
As it turns out (or, at least, according to Reed), that kick was the reason Reed has struggled to see the field again. He signed with the Houston Texans in the offseason, had hip surgery seven weeks ago, and told the Houston media on Tuesday that it could be a while before he's ready to roll.
“If I go back to it, man, the only play I can look at is when I got kicked by a certain quarterback,” Reed said. “You know it happened, and Brady called me afterwards and apologized, but that’s neither here nor there. What happened happened and we’re moving forward."
Reed had five tackles, an interception, and a deflected pass in Baltimore's 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, and as he said, he was playing through a lot of pain.
“I played in the Super Bowl and you saw what happened there ... I had two MCL sprains, a second degree one in my left [knee] that happened in the Super Bowl in the first quarter and played through that. So if you've got any questions, I think that can answer your questions about my heart and how I play and how I work.”
Few would question Reed's heart, but it may be a while before Texans fans can see him play. The future Hall-of-Famer said that he wasn't aware that he would need surgery when he signed a three-year, $15 million contract with $6 million guaranteed on March 20.
“I knew there was something there, but it didn’t seem major at all,” Reed told the Texans' official website. “It was a slight tear, and we did due diligence on both sides – me, my doctor, Kap [Texans head athletic trainer Geoff Kaplan] and the head doctor here. We all put our heads together to make the best decision, and that [surgery] was the best decision.”
The Texans hope that Reed can return to action sometime during training camp.
“We’re going to keep working out this offseason, and once training camp comes, I’ll have a better beat on it as far as my progress. Right now, I could tell you it’s going well, going really good. No setbacks. It’s looking really good right now.”
Reed will once again see the alleged cause of his injury when the Patriots travel to Reliant Stadium to play the Texans on Sunday, Dec. 1.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll have been tweaking each other since Harbaugh was at Stanford, Carroll was at USC, and the Pac-12 was the Pac-10. Their rivalry (which seems to go beyond the traditional coaches rivalry to something more closely resembling light contempt) has accelerated this offseason, with many experts claiming that the two teams may be the best in the NFL coming into the 2013 season. Carroll's team has been in the news over the last few years for the wrong reasons more than Harbaugh's, and the cause has been a string of player suspensions related to violations of the league's substance-abuse policy. Defensive end Bruce Irvin became the sixth Seahawks player since 2010 to be suspended in May. Unprescribed use of the ADD drug Adderall has been the primary violation.
Asked about the Seahawks' extracurricular issues at the end of the first day of his team's minicamp on Tuesday, Harbaugh couldn't resist another tweak at Carroll, and a clear definition of his own coaching philosophy.
''Is it a concern? I've definitely noticed it,'' Harbaugh said of the Seahawks. ''You don't know what it is. Even when people say what it is, you don't know that that's what it is. I've heard this thrown out or that, but that's usually the agents or the players themselves saying it's, for example, Adderall. But the NFL doesn't release what it actually is, so you have no idea. You're taking somebody at their word that I don't know if you can take them at their word, understanding the circumstances.''
Harbaugh was clearly referring to the fact that some consider Adderall to be a masking agent for other, more dangerous performance-enhancing substances like steroids. Harbaugh made it clear that such activity would not be tolerated on his team, and even invoked the name of the late Bo Schembechler, the Michigan coaching legend who Harbaugh played for at the college level.
''It has no place in an athlete's body. Play by the rules,'' Harbaugh said. ''You always want to be above reproach, especially when you're good, because you don't want people to come back and say, 'They're winning because they're cheating.' That's always going to be a knee-jerk reaction in my experience, ever since I was a little kid. We want to be above reproach in everything and do everything by the rules. Because if you don't, if you cheat to win, then you've already lost, according to Bo Schembechler. And Bo Schembechler is about next to the word of God as you can get in my mind. It's not the word of God, but it's close.''
Carroll has said that the Adderall problem is something he and his front office need to get their arms around, but there are limits to what a coach can do after the fact. Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson recently led a players-only meeting in which the team's veterans let the younger players know that they're just hurting their colleagues in the locker room when they take these mis-steps. We don't yet know if this will have an impact. Irvin was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season, including the first of two matchups with the 49ers.
It's also unknown what would happen if a current 49ers player was suspended for such a violation, especially a high-profile player. By a stroke of good fortune, and possibly a more authoritative hold on his players, Harbaugh hasn't had to deal with such things.
On April 26, offensive tackle Andre Smith signed a three-year, $18 million contract to remain with the Cincinnati Bengals, ending his six-week stint as an unrestricted free agent. But since signing that contract, Smith has skipped the voluntary OTAs and will be a no-show for this week's mandatory minicamp.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis does not sound pleased and intends to fine Smith for missing the mandatory practices.
“I think we all have to make choices once in a while in life that we pay a cost for," Lewis said, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "In this case I have to do it that way. I have to be fair, I mean, we are not necessarily dealing with a death in the family or something like that or your wife is having a baby or so forth. In this case, this is something there has to be ramifications from this."
The guaranteed portion of Smith's contract has already been paid out. Smith received a $3 million signing bonus at the time of the contract's signing and banked a $2 million roster bonus on May 2. Smith is due a $1.9 million base salary and can earn up to $1 million in "per game active" roster bonuses this season. A $100,000 workout bonus was also available, but since Smith did not participate in the workout program, he will not receive that bonus.
Smith will be fined the maximum amount — $66,150 — for missing the three-day mini-camp, bringing his total financial losses to just over $170,000 when you factor in the $175 per day that the collective bargaining agreement requires teams to pay players for participating in the offseason workout program.
Lewis added that Smith's absence is not tied to a January arrest for possessing a handgun in an Atlanta airport or a family issue, which might normally result in an excused absence. By fining Smith, it's clear that Lewis feels the cause of the absence is something the No. 6 overall pick of the 2009 draft could have avoided.
"He’s really dealing with something he’s got to get through," Lewis said. "We would have hoped he would have been here and picked up on some of the things we felt like were good to work on this point in the year for himself personally with football. But he’s got some personal things he’s dealing with. Obviously, there’s certain things that come with not being here these three days, so, that’s unfortunate for him."
It was one of the more embarrassing defeats in the long history of the Green Bay Packers. When the Pack matched up against the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the 2012 season's playoffs, and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw a pick-six to cornerback Sam Shields early in the game, it appeared that Kaepernick's hot streak had cooled precipitously. Not so. One 45-31 final later, the Packers had been served.
Through the game's first 30 minutes, Kaepernick amassed 148 yards passing (on just 11 completions in 23 attempts) for two touchdowns and that pesky interception. But his real value to the team showed up in the rushing totals; 107 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown, on just 11 carries. Only Ray Rice and Warrick Dunn had more rushing yards in the first half of a playoff game in the last 10 years.
In the second half, Kaepernick stayed on a higher plane. He finished the game with 17 completions on 31 attempts for 263 yards. On the ground, he befuddled the Packers even more, amassing 181 yards rushing. No quarterback has ever rushed for more yards in a single game, and to put that final number in its proper perspective, Kaepernick finished with the 14th-highest single-game rushing yardage total in the league's postseason history.
The Packers had no answers for the 49ers' option packages, which led their great defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, to experience a lot of heat this offseason. According to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Capers barely addressed the option in practices the week before the game, which was a bit silly, as Kaepernick had been riddling the league with it for weeks. Green Bay faces Kaepernick and the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III in the first two weeks of the 2013 regular season, so Capers is taking no chances this time. Not only is the option at the top of his "to-do" list, but he recently took his entire defensive staff to the Texas A&M campus to spend a day with the Aggies' coaching staff, and he spent a day with Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Arnada, who was part of the Hawaii staff when Kaepernick played for Nevada. As a result, Arnada was intimately familiar with the ins and out of the Pistol formations Kaepernick ran then and runs now.
"We're going to do more," Capers told Dunne. "We're going to do more than we have because we know the first two teams we play run it. There will be a number of teams that have a little element of it in. How much it takes off, I don't know. It's like everything else. Things go in cycles. Over 28 years, I've seen a lot of cycles in the league."
When the Packers' coaches visited the Aggies, the two staffs spent an entire day drawing up plays and watching film. A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder told Dunne that he had watched the loss to San Francisco, and called it a "perfect storm."
"They hadn't done much of it," Snyder said. "It'd be like any offense you haven't prepared for all week. It makes it difficult. Us as coaches, anytime something like that happens to us, you learn about it. That's what you do."
And that's what the Packers are doing. Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene met with Illinois State assistant head coach/defensive line coach Spence Nowinsky, and Nowinsky told Greene that the third read in the progressions the 49ers used was the one that kept tripping them up. You read the tackle, then the back, then the tight end.
"The Packers were playing outside of that blocker. When you play outside of that blocker, that's fine. But now you have to set the edge. If the quarterback keeps the ball, he can't run outside of that blocker. With your inside linebacker, outside linebacker and your safety, you have to decide who's going to slide inside and who's going to slide outside."
"You have to make the game of football a half-court game. It doesn't matter what the backfield set is — if it's the pistol or if he's in the gun set strong or weak — you have to take one of the reads away."
Another problem the Packers had, which other NFL defenses are starting to adjust to, is that when you task your pass rushers to pin their ears down on every play, they will often miss those option reads as a matter of course. The Packers have an additional handicap in that their cornerbacks play a high percentage of tight man coverage, in which the defender turns his back to run with his receiver. As a result -- and this happened over and over in the 49ers game -- the running quarterback has a distinct advantage at the second level, because his potential tacklers have to turn back, adjust, and pursue. You give a guy as fast as Colin Kaepernick that much time, and you get what the Packers got.
"In the NFL, you get paid a lot of money to rush the quarterback — going up the field," Snyder told Dunne of the edge-rusher's natural instinct. "That's what these teams want you to do. That's where the creases, the seams are created for the offense. It's just a little bit different mind-set. You have to take a different mind-set into those games and play a little bit more at the line of scrimmage than up the field."
That's one of the many things that makes a well-planned read-option attack so dangerous at any level -- coaches have to put their defenders in positions that are not natural to them, without sacrificing their primary attributes. It's why the current schemes, as practiced by Kaepernick, Griffin, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and the next generation of NFL quarterbacks, will not fade away as the Wildcat did.
And it's why you'll most likely see more NFL coaches going back to school -- literally and figuratively.
The purge of veterans from the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl champion roster continued on Tuesday as the team announced that they had terminated the contract of All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach.
Leach joined the Ravens in 2011, signing a three-year deal worth $11 million. In 32 games for the Ravens, Leach played in 1,026 of a possible 2,171 offensive snaps for a playing time percent of 47.3, and his skills as a blocker earned him Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors after each season. Leach was a Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in 2010, his final season with the Houston Texans.
Leach turns 32 in November and was scheduled to earn $3 million in base salary that would have become fully guaranteed had he been on the roster in Week 1. The Ravens signaled that they were leaning toward going younger (and therefore less expensive) at the position when they used a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft on Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who is scheduled to earn $705,584 in 2013, of which only $300,584 is guaranteed.
Leach saw the writing on the wall, declined a pay cut and on Monday night announced on Twitter that he was being let go.
"Thank @ravens organization for a great two years. I came here and did what we set out to do and that's win the Super Bowl," wrote Leach. "My time here is up but what we accomplished, we will be forever linked. Thank the fans for accepting me and my family to Bmore. #newchapter#samegoal."
By releasing Leach, the Ravens will save $3 million in cash and cap space, though some of that has been used to sign blocking tight end Billy Bajema.
With teams moving toward tight ends and away from pure fullbacks, it is doubtful that the 6-foot, 250-pound Leach will find someone willing to pay him anything close to the $3 million in base salary he was scheduled to earn from the Ravens in the final season of his most recent contract. Leach could get a deal that could allow him to recoup some of the earnings via incentives, but in all likelihood, he will sign a "minimum salary benefit" contract, where Leach will earn the league minimum ($840,000) base salary with a cap number of between $555,000 and $620,000, depending on whether or not he receives a signing or roster bonus.
That deal could come from the Ravens, who have not closed the door on bringing Leach back.
"There could be an opportunity for him to return to the Ravens once he explores the free-agent market, and we could re-visit this before or during training camp," Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said on Tuesday.
All right, first off: congratulations to Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler and Kristin Cavallari. Those two crazy kids got married this weekend at a ceremony in Nashville. And clearly, everyone's favorite smokin' QB was in classic form. Check the shadow there; no sense shavin' when there's marryin' to be done!
Brides of the 21st century, you have our respect. First there was the bride creating the JJ Watt wedding cake, and now we have a full Seahawks-themed wedding party. That's some gamesmanship, ladies. (Gentlemen who benefit from this, we don't expect to hear any whining from you about shopping trips, foreign films or wine tastings anytime soon.)
Behold the 'Hawk-themed nuptials of Ryan and Janna Willmaser. Ryan's been a season ticketholder since 2005, and when the time came to plan their wedding, well, a theme emerged:
“Janna liked a nice spring green and black for the wedding colors, so when we were out shopping for the guys shirts, naturally the lime green kept pulling me in,” Ryan told the Seahawks' official blog. “I guess the human mind gravitates toward what it thinks about most.”
The couple got married last weekend in Auburn, Wash., and yes, the Seahawks were part of their wedding vows: “I asked her if she would vow to always love the Seahawks and she replied with the promise to always root for the Hawks,” Ryan said. “We got a good laugh out of everyone in attendance.”
Fortunately for the groom, the bride did not utilize a Russell Wilson-style read-option offense, and ended up going with her No. 1 target.
New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has not be present for the team's voluntary OTA practices, but did arrive at the team's facility for the start of this week's mandatory three-day minicamp.
Giants punter Steve Weatherford was kind enough to provide photographic evidence of Nicks' presence on Tuesday morning.
Nicks, a 2009 first-round pick out of North Carolina, is entering the final season of his five-year, $11.025 million rookie contract and is scheduled to earn $2.725 million in non-guaranteed base salary. There have been whispers that Nicks' absence during the voluntary OTAs was due to him angling for a long-term extension, but Nicks' agent, Peter Schaffer, has repeatedly denied that the absence was contract-related.
Had Nicks skipped the mandatory minicamp, he could have been subjected to fines totaling $66,150.
Victor Cruz remains absent
While Nicks is present for the minicamp, unsigned restricted free agent wide receiver Victor Cruz remains absent and is not expected to show up for the workouts. Cruz has also passed on attending the voluntary OTA dates and since he has not signed his $2.879 million tender, he cannot be fined for skipping this week's mandatory minicamp.
Cruz changed agents this offseason, hiring Tom Condon of CAA Football (Eli Manning's agent) to handle his football contract, while Jay-Z's Roc Nation agency addresses his off-field pursuits. If Cruz does not sign his one-year tender by June 17, the Giants will have the option to rescind the tender and replace it with one worth 110 percent of Cruz's previous year's salary. Cruz earned $540,000 while catching 86 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, which means a "reduced tender" would be worth $630,000. The Giants may elect to not do that as a $2.249 million reduction in pay may be steep enough to prompt Cruz to skip training camp and perhaps the start of the regular season.
Franchised left tackle Ryan Clady won't attend the Denver Broncos' mandatory minicamp this week, but the Broncos and Clady have discussed a long-term contract for the first time since last July, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports.
Clady, who has three Pro Bowls on his résumé, is reportedly seeking a deal similar to the seven-year, $80.5 million extension that Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas signed on Aug. 22, 2011. Thomas' deal included $44 million partially guaranteed money and averaged $14 million per year in "new money" over the all-important first three seasons of the contract.
Clady has yet to sign his franchise tag, which carries a fully guaranteed base salary of $9.828 million. Though unsigned, that tender currently counts against the Broncos' 2013 salary cap. As of Monday, the Broncos had just over $8.5 million in available cap space with their top three 2013 draft picks left to sign.
A thaw in the negotiations does not come as a surprise as the two sides have less than five weeks to reach agreement on a multi-year extension. This year's deadline for teams to sign franchised players to a multi-year extension is 4 p.m. ET on July 15. Once that date passes, Clady, and the other seven franchised players, can sign only a one-year contract that cannot be extended until after the regular season finale on Dec. 29.
Since Clady does not have a signed contract, he is not required to attend this week's mandatory minicamp and will not be subject to fines by the club. Head coach John Fox does not seem concerned about Clady's absence, telling season-ticket holders in a Monday night fan forum that Clady probably would not be participating in the practices even if he were in attendance.
"On Ryan Clady, as I tell everybody, these offseason workouts are voluntary and there really is no recourse," Fox said. "Ryan is a sharp player, a very big part of our offense. He’s basically a cornerstone at the left tackle position. He’s also rehabbing an offseason surgery so he technically or physically would not be able to participate in the practices anyway.
"So he’s taking care of business that way and he’s a guy that I know wants to be a Bronco and the Broncos want Ryan Clady and that’s something that will eventually get worked out."
Clady could skip training camp, too, but if a long-term deal is not reached and he is forced to play out the season under the franchise tag, there is little chance of Clady missing any regular-season games for the first time in his career. Under the tag, Clady's weekly game checks in 2013 would be worth $578,118, which means he'll be on the field when the Broncos host the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 5.
Should the Broncos use the franchise tag on Clady again in 2014, it would be worth $11.7936 million in salary. A hypothetical third franchise tag would be worth $16,982,784, which means playing out the nightmarish (for all sides) scenario of three franchise tags would cost the Broncos over $38.6 million, which is likely close to the amount of guaranteed money that Clady's agent, Pat Dye, is seeking now on a multi-year deal.
Moving past the obvious "WTF" factor, the inevitable media circus that will now hit Foxboro hard, and his clear limitations as a quarterback, one must now ruminate as to precisely how one Tim Tebow fits into the New England Patriots' plans. He could be a fullback, an H-back, a personal punt protector, or any number of other ancillary things, but let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Tebow is going to New England to be what offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels drafted him in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft to be -- a quarterback, and damn the torpedoes. First, we must get past the fact that the Pats already have a pretty decent quarterback in the person of Tom Brady -- this will make no sense to the Tebowites, some of whom are still seriously ticked off that John Elway and John Fox jettisoned their guy aside for that Peyton Manning bum.
No, we must now ask ourselves about Tebow the quarterback. That's what he's ostensibly signing with the Patriots to be, to whatever degree. And we must remember a few things about that possibility: First, the Pats went 11-5 in 2008 with Matt Cassel as their quarterback after Brady injured his knee early in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. Second, New England head coach Bill Belichick is the same guy who once tasked receiver Troy Brown to play defensive back, and set linebacker Mike Vrabel up to catch a bunch of touchdown passes. As everyone is telling you today, Belichick thinks outside the box, and at his best, he's a trend or two ahead of the mainstream. Third, Brady did run 23 times for 11 first downs and four touchdowns in 2012, but one doesn't generally want one's 36-year-old quarterback to keep beating the odds against stacked fronts in short-yardage situations. And for all his glaring limitations as a quarterback, Tebow is actually a pretty decent red-zone threat -- he scored 12 rushing touchdowns in his two years with the Broncos, and the fact that the Jets didn't use him in those types of situations last season was just a matter of the Jets being stupid.
So, moving past the lost year Tebow suffered through with the Jets in 2012, how seriously should we take him as a backup quarterback in an offense that is as complex as anything you'll ever see?
When Tebow started down the stretch for the Broncos in 2011, McDaniels had already been fired, and it was up to offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to weld concepts Tebow could execute to those the other offensive starters could pick up in a hurry. As with other option quarterbacks over the last few years, this was done with a heaping helping of option plays, but in Tebow's case, McCoy aspired as much as possible to set things up so that Tebow's first read was always open, and easily attainable. The Patriots would have to adjust their passing concepts pretty severely to make something like that work, because Belichick and McDaniels currently have the NFL's most complex series of option routes.
Most of what Tebow did in 2011 was a series of simple run-reads in which the imperative was to get the first-read guy open, and cut Tebow loose as a runner if not. The overtime touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in Denver's wild-card win over the Pittsburgh Steelers was actually a good example of Tebow's nebulous ability to process multiple reads on the run. In the Broncos' 17-13 Week 11 win over the Jets -- the game former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum referred to when speaking of Tebow as an ideal Wildcat quarterback -- the Broncos ran all kinds of traditional and spread plays, with far more diversity than the Steeler/Power/Counter package.
On the first play of the Jets game, Tebow hit Thomas for a 28-yard gain from an empty-backfield formation in which four receivers were lined up on the right side. And of the 20-yard fourth-quarter Tebow touchdown run that was the game was a designed shotgun run play, Tebow certainly faked the pass well -- he took the ball in a single-back set, clearly looked downfield, and decided to run to his left after the Jets' run containment completely broke down. The Jets were playing Cover-0 (man coverage with no deep safety), but they played pass on Denver's three receivers, and they didn't play straight run up the middle -- they sent two defenders on a dual A-gap blitz.
Tebow can read more than one defender in a progression; he's proven that. What he hasn't proven, at least to date, is the consistent ability to make the kinds of throws into that fire that define the best quarterbacks. The reason is simple -- he hasn't been mechanically set up to do it.
Chief among the quarterback's responsibilities in a heavy option route offense is to acquire a keen sense of timing with his receivers -- the quarterback's targets must trust him to zip the ball in at the right time with all those different choices, and the quarterback must know that his receivers are going to read coverages correctly and respond appropriately. Tebow has always had a pretty severe lag to his throwing motion, which led/forced him to expand the improvisational aspects of his game. If he is to master (or even survive) the kind of complex offensive the Patriots run, the bridge between thought and action will have to be much, much, shorter.
And according to Chris Weinke of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., who's been working with Tebow since his release from the Jets, there are new -- or fewer -- wrinkles to Tebow's game as a quarterback. Weinke has upgraded the mechanics of everyone from Cam Newton to Matt Barkley in the last few years, and he told Tebow that he's ready to accept a new level of challenge.
"Do I think he can play the quarterback position in the NFL? Yeah, no question,'' Weinke told USA TODAY's Jim Corbett on Monday. "Like I told Tim when I found out (Monday) that he signed, 'You're locked and loaded, ready to go.'"
What Weinke told Corbett about his fixed to Tebow's mechanics very much mirrored what he told me about his tweaks to Newton's throwing motion in 2011.
"I made an adjustment to his lower half and invariably that's where the quickness came from,'' Weinke said of Tebow. "What I saw was, when his feet were in good position, he was throwing the ball with great accuracy, great velocity. And the ball was coming out much quicker."
Similarly, you can expect that Weinke worked with Tebow to become a better pocket passer, because that's what he does with mobile quarterbacks -- he convinces them that they need to be comfortable in that smaller space when things break down from the outside.
One of my philosophies is that I teach quarterbacks to work in a telephone booth," Weinke told me in 2011. "And the reason you do that is that you're going to have people all around you. You must be able to be mechanically sound in that 'telephone booth' — in essence, the pocket. You have to do that to be successful."
Weinke has no question that the New England environment is perfect for a relatively young player (for all the time he's spent in the fishbowl, Tebow's still only 25 years old) working to become a better-than-baseline NFL quarterback.
"The guy has played quarterback his whole life,'' Weinke said. "None of us has a crystal ball. But that's what he's done his whole life. He's proven he can win at that position. He has had great success. He does things the right way and has a guy in Tom who is one of the elite quarterbacks to ever play the game that he'll be able to spend time with every day.
"The things we worked on down here are going to pay dividends in New England.''
There are two things to consider when placing the Tebow fit in New England in one's mind -- Belichick has already studied and mastered the NFL version of the no-huddle, high-tempo offense, and he's just as cognizant of the league's recent trends favoring mobile quarterbacks as you'd imagine. So, as much as people would be shocked if Belichick ever took Brady off the field, a "Tebow package" could resemble the "Colin Plan" Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman had for Colin Kaepernick back in the day when Alex Smith was the San Francisco 49ers' starter. San Francisco beat the Jets over the head with that "Colin Plan" in their Week 34-0 drubbing of Tebow's former team -- Kaepernick and running backs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter all ran for touchdowns, the 49ers amassed 245 yards on the ground, and the Jets -- who fancied themselves the ultimate Wildcat franchise -- were utterly powerless to stop that more multiple running game.
"Colin's been practicing the game plans every week, and we've always had a little 'Colin Plan,' whether or not we chose to bring it out," Roman told me in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVII. "We chose to bring it out against the Jets this season for the first time, and it worked. Colin's an adaptable guy -- he can run a lot of different styles of offense, and we're always going to push the envelope with what we put in and ask our players to do. Keep them stimulated, keep things fresh, and teaching as we go.
"They've got to figure out where everyone is, and where they're going. Advantage: Us. We'll take it."
Belichick was ahead of the game on the shotgun formation (the 2007 Pats were the first modern-era team to run Shotgun sets on more than 50 percent of their plays) and the revamped multi-tight end sets for ultimate productivity. Why wouldn't he want some read- and speed-option in the palette? He's not the sort to sit back and let others take advantage of an expanded playbook.
Also, if Belichick projects Tebow as some sort of tight end/H-back/fullback combo, you can bet it's been discussed, and the signing would not have happened if Tebow had an issue with playing other positions. Vrabel, who caught 12 touchdown passes for the Pats in his career as a red-zone option, and now coaches Ohio State's defensive line for longtime Tebow believer and Belichick buddy Urban Meyer, believes that the atypical paradigm can work again. You don't know where you'll see Tebow in this offense, but that doesn't mean it won't succeed.
"There's a model he looks for," Vrabel told ESPN's Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic on Tuesday. "He's looking for guys who will put the team first, and have a competitive spirit. He's not going to sign guys that he doesn't think can help them win. Bill's looking for creative ways to stay ahead of the game. [If they] go up-tempo, or Wildcat, and put Tom somewhere else -- Tom's not a spring chicken, and I'm sure he could use some snaps off. I'm not sure of the plan, but I know Josh liked him enough in Denver after working him out to draft him as his quarterback."
Would Tebow balk at the affront to his supposed quarterback dreams?
"Not if he wants to get a check with a little Patriots logo on it," Vrabel concluded. "That's the deal. You want to do it? It's 'Yes, coach," or 'No, coach." Kind of like that."
Just as the 49ers proved with Kaepernick that it's possible to bring the mobile quarterback to new heights with unusual power and counter blocking schemes, the Patriots could maximize Tebow's abilities in new ways. And if he has to spell Brady, just as Kaepernick had to replace a concussed Alex Smith in November? Well, at least we won't have to worry about the Patriots faithful calling for the starter's head.
Tim Tebow's tenure as a free agent will come to an end this week as ESPN's Ed Werder reports the former Heisman Trophy winner will sign with the New England Patriots in time for this week's mini-camp.
The Patriots had one roster spot open, but made room in the quarterback meeting room by placing Mike Kafka on waivers. By signing with the Patriots, Tebow reunites with Josh McDaniels, New England's offensive coordinator who was Tebow's head coach when the Denver Broncos selected him with the No. 25 pick in the 2010 NFL draft.
Tebow appeared in nine games, including three starts, for McDaniels, passing for 654 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions while rushing for 227 yards and six touchdowns. McDaniels was fired after the 2010 season and replaced with John Fox, who turned to Tebow to replace an ineffective Kyle Orton as the Broncos opened the 2011 season with a 1-4 record.
With Tebow at quarterback, the Broncos won seven of their final 11 games to win the AFC West and advanced to the divisional playoffs following an overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round. Despite the team success, Tebow completed just 46.5 percent of his pass attempts, prompting the Broncos to pursue and sign future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning to a five-year, $96 million contract on March 21.
Two days later, Tebow was traded to the New York Jets for a pair of draft picks.
Tebow had a forgettable season with the Jets. Not only did he fail to seriously push Mark Sanchez for the starting job, his role on the team was split between back-up quarterback and decoy as a punt protector on special teams. Tebow played just 73 snaps on offense, completing six of eight pass attempts for 39 yards and rushing for 102 yards on 32 attempts. When Jets head coach Rex Ryan chose to bench Sanchez for a game in December, he tabbed 2011 seventh-round pick Greg McElroy to start, a sign that Tebow would not return in 2013.
The Jets released Tebow on April 29, just days after selecting West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith in the second-round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Tebow passed through waivers and remained a street free agent throughout the OTA period. Dave Fleming of ESPN the Magazine wrote that Tebow's camp believed he was done in the NFL, but several NFL reporters were quick to point out that Tebow believed he still had a future in the league. Michael Silver of Y! Sports reported that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick wasn't going to go near the Tebow circus and that the legendary coach "hates" Tebow as a player.
Belichick, who has a close relationship with former Florida head coach Urban Meyer, refuted that report to Field Yates of ESPN Boston and has now proven it with his actions by actually signing Tebow to a contract. With the corresponding release of Kafka, Tebow is now the No. 3 quarterback behind future Hall of Famer Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett, a 2011 third-round pick who sat his entire rookie season before attempting four passes in the 24 snaps that Brady did not play in 2012.
Fresh off their official name-unveiling ceremony Saturday, the Ottawa Rouge et Noir (or RedBlacks for those who prefer less-than-grammatical English) have got themselves into another controversy. The RedBlacks name's been unpopular enough, with many fervently criticizing it since it first popped up in January (this could easily turn into Canada's version of the Washington Redskins controversy), and the official unveiling of the name Saturday created plenty of further Internet mockery (including this superb "Ottawa Rod Blacks" logo), but that had largely died down by Monday morning.
The franchise apparently stuck their foot right back into the sarcastic fire of the web, though, reportedly sending out a note requesting that media spell their name with ALL CAPS. That produced the expected Internet reaction, from CFL media, CFL fans and even some other sports types who wanted to join on the MOCKERY:
So Ottawa's CFL entry wants to make sure media spells team name REDBLACKS in all caps. Good luck with that.
The Heat always spell their name in all caps. No one else does it, but they try. So take that, CFL. — Sean Deveney (@SeanDeveney) June 10, 2013
Why's this such a punchline? Well, beyond the obvious silliness of adding further ungrammatical elements to RedBlacks, ALLCAPS has long been associated with shouting and trolling on the web. Thus, this has gone over about as well as Dan Gilbert's repeated use of Comic Sans. Media are under no obligation to comply with these kinds of dictates, too, so the Rouge et Noir (or their more silly name!) are just SHOUTING into the Internet ether and making themselves a more obvious joke. This might be the easiest and most widespread CFL punchline since two separate teams (one in Ottawa!) drafted dead players. The organization's unveiling ceremony Saturday was impressive, and they've made smartfootball hires, but they might want to work on this whole being a punchline thing. So far, it's like the Ministry Of Silly Naming Decisions...
Andrew Bucholtz is the main man behind Yahoo's CFL blog, The 55-Yard Line. He has not yet demanded that we spell his name in all-caps, but that could change at any given time...
On the same day that former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson was sentenced to 30 days in jail after slapping his lawyer's butt during a court appearance, current Bengals cornerback Adam Jones will be placed under arrest following an incident at a Cincinnati bar.
Jones' agent, Peter Schaffer, tells Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com that Jones was at a bar following last Thursday night's Cincinnati Reds game when two females approached the cornerback and asked to have their picture taken with him. Jones deemed the two women to be intoxicated and declined to pose for a photo. One of the women threw a beer bottle at Jones, striking him in the head. Jones reacted by slapping the woman.
Jones claimed on Twitter that he will be arrested for defending himself. Schaffer adds that multiple witnesses have corroborated Jones' version of events, but police have not properly investigated the incident and it's his client's reputation that has triggered the arrest.
“If it was anybody other than Adam Jones, they would have investigated it,” Schaffer told Florio. “If it was anybody other than Adam Jones, they wouldn’t have arrested him."
Jones was a first-round pick (No. 6 overall) by the Tennessee Titans in 2005 and established himself as one of the more electrifying return men in the game. Jones had punt returns for touchdowns over his first two seasons of a career that would be derailed by off-field incidents, most notably a shooting at a Las Vegas strip club on Feb. 9, 2007 that left two security guards injured and prompted the NFL to suspend Jones for the entire 2007 season. Last June, Jones was ruled to be financially responsible for those injuries and was ordered to pay $11.6 million to the victims.
Jones joined the Bengals in 2010 and has started 13 of 29 games with 82 tackles, one sack and one interception. Jones has two previous off-field incidents in Cincinnati, including a 2011 arrest for disorderly conduct while intoxicated and resisting arrest outside a Cincinnati nightclub. Jones plead guilty to disorderly conduct, received one year of probation and community service while the resisting arrest charge was dropped after Jones apologized to police.
Jones started five games in 2012 and averaged nearly 12 yards on 26 punt returns, a performance that earned him a three-year, $5.35 million extension that included $1 million in guaranteed money in March.
Former NFL receiver Chad Johnson was all set to avoid jail time with a plea deal in a Broward County, Fla., courtroom. He and his attorney were on the verge of striking a plea deal with Judge Kathleen McHugh that would have Johnson avoiding the slammer despite probation violations. Last August, Johnson pleaded no contest last August to a domestic violence charge after he allegedly head-butted his then-wife, reality TV star Evelyn Lozada, during an argument. Johnson was arrested in May for failing to meet with his probation officer.
Johnson had his day in court Monday morning, but things went south very quickly just after he playfully slapped his attorney on the butt on Judge McHugh's time. McHugh accused Johnson of failing to take the proceedings seriously after the entire courtroom broke out in laughter, sentenced him to 30 days in jail, and extended his probation to Dec. 21, 2013.
"I don't know that you're taking this whole thing seriously. I just saw you slap your attorney on the backside. Is there something funny about this?" McHugh said, slapping the plea deal document down on her desk. "The whole courtroom was laughing. I'm not going to accept these plea negotiations. This isn't a joke."
Johnson tried to apologize, to no avail. "This is your courtroom. I have no intent to make this a joke. It's not funny," Johnson told McHugh. "My life is in a shambles right now, and I try my best to laugh and keep a smile on my face."
Johnson told ESPN last Friday that he understood the gravity of his current situation, and that there was no room for error.
"I'm going to be OK," he said. "I'm OK now, but I put myself in this situation and I have to deal with everything. With life, I'm at peace with everything. I would love to finish my career off the right way. If it happens, I'm not sure. But I would like to."
Johnson played for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2001 through 2010, and for the New England Patriots in 2011. He was signed by the Miami Dolphins in June of 2012, but was released in August after his arrest. Johnson's release from the Dolphins was captured by NFL Films cameras for the "Hard Knocks" series.
"I let you down a little bit -- a lot," Johnson told Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. " I understand what you're doing -- you got the message across loud and clear the first day we met. I [understood] what you wanted out of me and what you expected of me. I apologize for embarrassing you and this organization."
Former NFL linebacker Shawne Merriman was rushed to the hospital following what was described as a "medical emergency" at a Hollywood club on Sunday night, Andrew Blankstein of the Los Angeles Times reports.
Blankstein would later add that Merriman apparently overdosed after ingesting an unspecified combination of alcohol and drugs.
Merriman is apparently okay as he was reportedly spotted back out on the town after the medical emergency and has been active on Twitter. Merriman has bemoaned the loss of a pair of sunglasses and a ruined "Lights Out" shirt, while expressing excitement about seeing The Game at The Greystone Manor in West Hollywood last night. Merriman posted a photo of their meeting on Instagram.
Merriman, 29, announced his retirement from the NFL in March. In eight NFL seasons with the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills, Merriman posted 45.5 sacks, including an NFL-high 17 sacks during the 2006 season, earned Pro Bowl honors three times and was the 2005 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Injuries would force Merriman to miss 47 of 80 games over the final five seasons of his career. During that time, Merriman was released by the Chargers, who had selected Merriman in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft. Merriman was picked up by the Bills, where he recorded two sacks in 15 games over the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Merriman had been scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but instead chose to pull the plug on a once promising career.
"I retire today not because I don't feel I can go out there and still play the game at a very high level, I am retiring because I want to retire on my own terms and leave while I know I can still physically play the game," Merriman wrote on his website in March. "I am stepping back to pursue other great opportunities that have been afforded me."
The Chicago Bears have traded 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
According to Jahns, the deal is contingent upon Carimi passing a physical with the Buccaneers, which could take place on Monday. Multiple reports indicate that the Bears will receive a sixth-round pick in return for Carimi.
Carimi was selected with the No. 29 pick in the 2011 NFL draft and was signed to a four-year contract worth $7,056,046, of which $5,343,859 was guaranteed. A knee injury limited Carimi to just two games as a rookie, but the 6-foot-7, 314-pound Carimi started 14 of 16 games, seeing time at both right tackle and right guard.
On the opening days of free agency, the Bears signed two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod to five-year, $36.965 million contract, a move that will push J'Marcus Webb to right tackle. The Bears considered moving Carimi to guard on a full-time basis, but the former Wisconsin standout was a no-show at the voluntary OTAs, opting instead to work out on his own in Arizona.
Carimi was to be welcomed back "with open arms", GM Phil Emery said in a recent interview on SiriusXM radio.
"This is a voluntary situation and every player has to make his own decisions," Emery said. "Gabe has made a decision that he wants to stay in Arizona and train, and we respect that. And he'll be welcomed with open arms when he comes back."
In Tampa, Carimi will likely compete with Demar Dotson for the starting right tackle position and improves the Buccaneers' overall depth at the tackle position. Behind Dotson and starting left tackle Donald Penn, the Buccaneers have Mike Remmers, who spent last season on their practice squad, and a group of undrafted free agents on the tackle depth chart.
Carimi has two seasons remaining on his rookie contract and has a fully guaranteed base salary of $1,016,458 in 2013. Next season, Carimi has a roster bonus of $592,187 due on the third day of the league year, a non-guaranteed base salary of $645,000 and a $100,000 workout bonus.
Terrell Owens has not retired. He reminds you of this, even though he hasn't caught a pass in a regular-season game in two and a half years. He reminds you of this because, as he told CBS Sports, if he doesn't catch on this year, he'll really retire for real.
"If I play this year, that'd be awesome," Owens said. "If I don't play this year, I'm retiring ... That's just me being realistic. I want to play again. I want to go out on top with a team. I think I can still play, but if I don't sign with a team, it would be time to retire. I have to be honest with myself."
Owens, like many receivers of the 2000s, has a public persona that's all but overwhelmed his astonishing on-field achievements. He ranks second only to Jerry Rice in receiving yards, and ranks third behind Rice and Randy Moss in touchdowns.
But he's also widely perceived as toxic; one general manager told CBS that the chances of an NFL team signing Owens were zero. (Another put the odds at 40 percent, but only if a team loses a receiver to injury.)
These days, Owens makes most headlines for his attempts to become a professional bowler. He last signed an NFL contract last August, when he ran a 4.46 40 for Seattle, but was cut later that month. He still believes he wasn't given enough of a chance, and would like the chance to retire on his own terms.
"I haven't been given the opportunity to go out the way I should go out," he said. And he may not get the chance.
It's a subject that has been debated in and around the Emerald City over the last few months. Who is Seattle's most transcendent sports star: Felix Hernandez, or Russell Wilson? The Seattle Mariners pitcher and Seattle Seahawks quarterback were able to hang out a bit on Friday evening, when Wilson threw out the first pitch at the M's-Yankees game.
Wilson got a little bit of heat on the ball with Hernandez as his catcher (though it was nowhere near the Safeco Field scoreboard reading of 98 MPH -- more like 75), and that should come as no surprise to those in the know about Wilson. Before he made a total commitment to football at Wisconsin in his senior season of 2011, Wilson was a second baseman at North Carolina State -- and was good enough to be selected in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB draft.
“It was awesome,” Wilson told Seahawks.com about the experience. “This is my childhood right here. I used to play baseball all the time.”
He did, but when NC State football coach Tom O'Brien demanded that Wilson stick to football alone, the headstrong quarterback transferred out, used a rule that allowed graduating players to play for another Division I team immediately, and the rest was history -- at least from a football perspective.
Upon his return to the diamond, did Wilson have any thoughts of what might have been?
“Nah. God works things out in the right way, always. So being an NFL quarterback is very, very special. I love it. I love being the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks.”
The Seahawks would agree. Selected 75th overall in the 2012 NFL draft because there seems to be some sort of bias against quarterbacks who stand a hair under 5-feet-11, Wilson went on to tie Peyton Manning's rookie record for touchdown passes with 26, and completely redefined Seattle's quarterback situation now and into the future. There's no telling whether he could have been the next Todd Helton, who was drafted by the Rockies in 1995, and was once ahead of Manning on the Tennessee quarterback depth chart.
The M's won the actual game, 4-1, as pitcher Jeremy Bonderman picked up his first victory since 2010.
The Baltimore Ravens may have lost the two most important players in franchise history in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed this offseason, but that certainly wasn't bringing anyone down on Friday. Just about everyone on the team that won Super Bowl XLVII received the ultimate tangible reward relating to such a victory -- Super Bowl rings. Lewis, who retired after the win, and Reed, who signed with the Houston Texans, attended the ceremony at the team's headquarters in Owings Mills, Md.
"I always told them I wanted them to really feel what the confetti felt like," Lewis said. "Now to be here, to have something that symbolizes it, it's the ultimate because now it connects us forever. It took me 12 years to get back and get another ring. I want them to cherish what this moment feels like right now while we're world champs."
Lewis was the lone player who was able to wear the two rings the franchise has earned -- this new one, and the one the 2000 team won with a 34-7 thrashing of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. For the younger guys, it was the first ring, and the experience was surreal.
"To have it so close, it finally hit me, what exactly we accomplished together," defensive end Terrell Suggs said after the rings were presented. "It didn't take a year. It took me 11 years to get it. It took Coach [John] Harbaugh [from] when he got here in 2008. It finally paid off, all that blood given. There's not a word that describes what I'm feeling and all the emotions. The journey was long, but it was worth it. I will tell you this -- I damn sure want to feel like this again."
Lewis and quarterback Joe Flacco, who put up an MVP performance in the Ravens' 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers, had input on the design of the ring. Designed by Jostens, the ring has 40 round-cut diamonds outlining the Ravens' logo, and the franchise's two Lombardi trophies. Inside the ring, one will find one of Harbaugh's mottos -- "The team, the team, the team" -- and the scores of the Ravens' playoff wins.
"It's kind of un-wearable," Flacco said with a smile. "When I see people for the first time, I'm sure they're going to have some interest in seeing it or at least I'm going to have some interest in showing it off to them. So, I'm definitely going to bring it a couple of places. I wouldn't necessarily say I'm going to wear it, but it's pretty special."
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti ensured that John and David Modell, sons of the late former team owner Art Modell, were present for the ceremony and received rings. However, receiver Anquan Boldin and safety Bernard Pollard did not attend. Boldin was traded to the 49ers in the offseason, and Pollard signed with the Tennessee Titans, Those were two moves in a post-Super Bowl roster shake-up that also saw star outside linebacker Paul Kruger sign with the Cleveland Browns.
"It really symbolizes that this is the last time we're all going to be together as a team, and it's definitely a special moment," receiver Torrey Smith said. " I didn't cry or anything, but I can see how women feel when they get a ring. It has a lot of different meanings. There will never be another season like this. We can win the Super Bowl every year while I'm in the league, and there will be nothing like this one."
Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden recently talked up perhaps his most intriguing target, second-year receiver Josh Gordon, who caught 50 passes for 805 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie season after the Browns took in the 2012 supplemental draft.
"He's a guy that has the ability to be a top-three receiver in this league," Weeden said after his team's practice on Thursday. "He has big-play capabilities. He can run by guys. He can do so many different things. He's got a ton of ability. I'm glad he's on our side."
Weeden will have to wait a bit longer than he would have liked to find out just how good Gordon can be. As first reported by ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi, Gordon has been suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season, and fined the first four games, for a violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Grossi also reported that the suspension would have been longer but for the fact that collegiate violations of substance abuse policies can't be factored in to NFL suspensions.
In a statement, Gordon said that he had strep throat in February, and took a cough medicine that he did not know contained codeine, which is prohibited per NFL rules.
"Policy terms are strict about unintentional ingestion, but NFL has not imposed the maximum punishment in light of the facts of my case," Gordon said. "Therefore, I have chosen to be immediately accountable for the situation. I sincerely apologize for the impact on my team, coaches, & Browns fans. I look forward to working hard in training camp and pre-season and contributing immediately when I return in week three."
Gordon could have been suspended four games for the violation.
“Obviously we are all disappointed in this news," Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski said in his own statement. "In our short time with Josh, he has done everything that we’ve asked him to do and he has exhibited substantial improvement. We believe that he will continue to work diligently through training camp and the preseason. I am confident that others will step up in his absence.”
Gordon was suspended from the Baylor squad before the 2011 season after a marijuana arrest and a history failed drug tests, which denied him the opportunity to catch a bunch of passes from Robert Griffin III in RG3's defining college season. He transferred to Utah, sat out the season, and was taken by the Browns in July, 2012, in a move that cost Cleveland its 2013 second-round pick.
"Despite everything I've been through, despite being a kid with a spotty background, the Cleveland Browns stuck their neck out and risked taking me and put their faith and belief in me, and I won't let them down," Gordon said in a phone interview with the Cleveland media on the day the Browns took a chance on him. "I'm grateful, and I know I can't go back to being the person I used to be."
It's not known what substance got Gordon in trouble, but this isn't a good sign. At the 2012 Gatorade Sports Star of the Year banquet, Griffin was asked about Gordon's future by myself and Y! Sports colleague Mike Silver, and his response seemed uncertain at best.
"He's been a kid that's been in a bunch of unfortunate situations," Griffin said, "and he knows that he was the reason that those [situations] happened. So I think any team that gets him, of course they're gonna feel like they're rolling the dice on the kid. I think that in the end, he'll be successful if he wants to be successful. That's all on him. And he knows that. He knows he's used up all his chances and everybody's watching him."
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has not been in the league very long, but in two short seasons, the 2011 fifth-round pick out of Stanford has earned a reputation of being a player who is quite eager to provide an opinion of himself and his opponent and colleagues.
Therefore, Sherman was a natural choice to be interviewed as part of the NFL Network's "Top 100" series and the 2012 All-Pro disagreed with the placement of the No. 39 player on the list, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White.
"Roddy White. Ah, Top 100? No," Sherman bluntly said. "In my book, he's just not a Top 100 player."
White is arguably one of the top receivers in the game, catching 92 passes for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns in the 2012 regular season before adding 12 receptions for 176 yards and a touchdown in two playoff games. White's streak of four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances did come to an end last season, but his "back of the bubble gum card" numbers were rock solid and he ranked ninth among wide receivers in Football Outsiders' receiving DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric.
Sherman did have a mischievous grin when he made his comments on White, so perhaps he was not willing to pump White's tires, instead using his turn in front of the cameras to engage in a little psychological warfare with a player he knows he'll be matched up against next season. After all, Sherman spoke glowingly of White's teammate, Julio Jones.
"Julio Jones is high on my list," said Sherman, "because they have to account for him."
White was in the NFL Network for their reaction show — flanking Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports — and acknowledged that Sherman, who came in at No. 50 on the list, belongs among the Top 100 players in the game. However, the 31-year-old pointed out that he is higher on the list than Sherman and later saying that Sherman talked his way onto the All-Pro team.
"I'm not going to come out and say he shouldn't be a Top 100 player because he should be a Top 100 player, but he talks too much," White said. "He has talked himself into a place where he has to play some really good football this year. I have no problem when he says I'm not that good or I can't do this or I can't do that. But I know the rest of the players in this league know what I can do, and that's why I'm higher on this list than he is.
"He would actually be the first guy that I would want to face. Frankly, I watch film and I know what I can do. I know what my ability is, I know what his ability is. I sit there and watch him, and I'm like, 'Okay'. So I'm not sitting there losing any sleep getting ready to play Richard Sherman.
"He's a front-runner," said White. "When things are going good, he's all good. When things ain't going his way, he has nothing to say — that's just how he is. You let him talk in the offseason because that's what he likes to do. You let guys like that talk, but at some point when September rolls around, you got to come play football."
White had five receptions for 76 yards and beat Sherman for a 47-yard touchdown in the second quarter of the Falcons' thrilling 30-28 win over the Seahawks in the 2012 divisional playoffs. The aftermath of that play somewhat contradicts White's assessment, though, as Sherman began jawing with White following the touchdown and gave him a sarcastic golf clap as he slowly walked away from White and other Falcons who were celebrating the touchdown.
Fortunately, we won't have to wait too long into the 2013 season for the rematch as Sherman and White will renew acquaintances when the Seahawks travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons on Sunday, Nov. 10. That game will be played eight days after White's 32nd birthday. We suspect that Sherman's invitation to White's birthday party will be lost in the mail.
This week, the Baltimore Ravens traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Obama at the White House. It's a longstanding tradition; the team lines up behind the president, the president makes a few corny jokes about needing his own offensive line or whatever, photographers snap some easy shots, everyone goes away happy.
Not every Raven made the trip; Anquan Boldin, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams were all occupied with their new teams' OTAs, and Bernard Pollard is not exactly on speaking terms with Baltimore after his release. And Matt Birk? Well, Matt Birk had his own reasons for not attending.
This is Washington, after all, where every move has some political significance. Birk, who retired after the season, told KFAN in Minnesota that he declined the invitation to the White House following some Planned Parenthood comments by the president.
"I would say this, I would say that I have great respect for the office of the Presidency," Birk said. "But about five or six weeks ago, our president made a comment in a speech and he said, 'God bless Planned Parenthood.'"
Birk disagrees with Planned Parenthood's stance on reproductive rights. "Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year," he said. "I am Catholic, I am active in the Pro-Life movement and I just felt like I couldn't deal with that. I couldn't endorse that in any way ... For God to bless a place where they're ending 330,000 lives a year? I just chose not to attend."
Birk may draw some heat for his decision, but regardless of your political persuasion, you have to respect him for standing up for his beliefs. Visiting the White House is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; credit to Birk for standing firm for his faith.
Now, should he have injected politics into sports? That's a whole different story. Many of the people who charged that gun control should not have been a part of an NFL discussion last year likely fall on the end of the political spectrum that agrees with Birk; should this topic too be off limits? Simple truth is that nothing, not even sports, is free from politics. It's up to each of us to decide if that's going to interfere with our enjoyment of what these guys do Sunday afternoons.
Packers football and its history means a lot to the people of Wisconsin, maybe even a little too much. I understand that, because I'm from there.
And it's arguable no player meant more in that state than Brett Favre.
The last few years have been awkward. Favre going to the Vikings wasn't unforgivable to Packers fans, although it was pretty close. If you're not from the Midwest, you really can't understand how personal the Bears-Packers-Vikings rivalry is.
But he was still Brett Favre, the player who saved the franchise from decades of losing and embarrassment to finally bring a Super Bowl back to Green Bay. Everyone knew at some point the ice would thaw and he'd come back to be honored, but the big step was Favre expressing that he wanted that. And Packers fans probably wanted some sign that Favre wanted to return and be cheered as much as they wanted him back.
Well, finally Favre is starting to show that it would mean plenty for him to come back to Lambeau Field, as the good guy this time.
In an interview with WGR 550 AM in Buffalo (and relayed by the Green Bay Press-Gazette), Favre said "I was at fault" for the messy breakup between himself and the team, and more importantly, he discussed returning to Green Bay in very positive terms.
“I don't know of any player who would not want that to happen. I'm honored just by the thought,” Favre said. “Obviously there was, if you want to call it, 'bad blood' or whatever, I just think that people started picking sides and really I'm over that and have been over it. Mark Murphy and I have talked on numerous occasions. I never expected them to do anything. I'm not one to sit here and say I think they need to do this, do that. They have a very good ball team and that's their primary focus and it should have always been, which it has.
“As time goes, it heals a lot of things. I know for me as I've gotten further and further removed from the game, I think about for example the statistics and things of that nature, which I don't know any player where that didn't matter some. It matters a whole lot less now. So the things that transpired that led to us 'breaking up' if you will, to me, are over and done with.
"When will that happen? I don't think either side is trying to push the issue. I think Mark Murphy – and Mark really came in the last few weeks of my career in Green Bay – so he kind of came into a hornet's nest if you will. But he's been extremely great in trying to make this work. In our discussions, it will happen. We just don’t want it – we’re going to do it here. I think both sides are genuine. I know they are. And that's the way it has to come across because that's the way it should be. We don't want to go out there waving to the crowd with our backs to each other. And I don't think that's going to happen. Aaron has said some very nice things. He and I have a good relationship. I had a chance to present an award with him at the Super Bowl and that was for real. It wasn't for show. And so I think everything will be fine."
Nationally Favre might still be a punchline for the never-ending waffling he did on retirement, but in Green Bay he's still an icon, and I assume most fans want to welcome him back. This is a place that still celebrates a coach from 50 years ago. History is important there. Booing Favre when he came back with the Vikings couldn't have been the most pleasant experience for anyone.
Now it's pretty apparent Favre wants to return, too. It took a while for him to say that publicly. For a while it looked like the hard feelings over his departure might last long enough to still be lingering when Favre went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore.
Favre will come back to get his number retired, and that will be a fitting ending. Then in Green Bay he won't be the guy who couldn't decide if he was retired, or even a Viking. He'll be a Packer again. That will mean a lot to the people there.
If you've been out to New York Jets OTAs and it feels like you need a program to name the receivers ... well, don't worry. You're not alone. His main targets out with all kinds of injuries, alleged starting quarterback Mark Sanchez has been playing catch-up with the identities of the guys he's throwing to.
“We’ve come up with some funny nicknames for some of them, because you don’t even know their names and they’re just in there,” Sanchez told Brian Costello of the New York Post on Thursday.
As Lou Brown might have said in "Major League II," Santonio Holmes has a foot thing, Stephen Hill has a hamstring thing, Jeremy Kerley has a heel thing, and Clyde Gates also has a hamstring thing. That leaves some new guys to pick up the slack.
They've got Ben Obomanu, a former Seattle Seahawk who was signed last week. There's Jordan White, who has two games of NFL experience. He and Obomanu are the only receivers going through practice who do, and at one point during the team's recent practices, there were three receivers on the first team -- Joseph Collins, Zach Rogers and Thomas Mayo -- with no real NFL experience at all.
Sadly for the Jets, their current receiver injury situation mirrors what happened in the 2012 season. Holmes was lost for the season with a Week 4 foot injury, and Hill couldn't stay healthy in his rookie year. Kerley led the team with 56 catches and 827 yards, while Hill and tight end Jeff Cumberland tied for the team lead with three receiving touchdowns.
That doesn't excuse Sanchez's frequently sub-par play in 2012, but it certainly helps to explain it.
“Looking back on the whole season, we didn’t have a healthy receiver from the beginning of the offseason to the very last game we played,” Sanchez said. “We never had everybody out on the field that was, on paper, a starter.”
Sanchez put together his worst season to date. He threw just 13 touchdowns to 18 interceptions and ranked dead last among all qualifying quarterbacks in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics. The Jets selected Geno Smith in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft to challenge Sanchez for the starting spot, but no matter who's playing that position, the lack of depth at receiver is a major concern to the coaching staff. Receivers coach Sanjay Lal has a particularly tough job right now.
“It’s hard in the sense that these reps are invaluable right now, especially with a developing group. They’ll never get these reps back. It’s very hard in the sense that you could have been coaching these guys to a different level and you never got the opportunity. But the only way to look at it is you’re building some other guy up that maybe wouldn’t have had the quality reps that they’re getting now.
“You just channel your energy into who’s there. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy thinking, ‘What if?’’’
Rex Ryan said that he expects Kerley, Hill, and Gates to be up for next week's minicamp, but Holmes may have to ride the Physically Unable to Perform list, and none of this does anybody any good right now.
“If we had to play [this week], obviously there would be major concerns,” Ryan said.
When your quarterback doesn't even know who he's throwing to, that's concern number one.
Dallas County, Texas prosecutors are once again attempting to revoke the bond of Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent, filing a motion on Thursday alleging that the 25-year-old has tested positive for marijuana, Selwyn Crawford of the Dallas Morning News reports.
On May 24, prosecutors sought to revoke Brent's $100,000 bond, filing a motion accusing the troubled defensive lineman had either been drinking alcohol or was around it, both of which are violations of his bail. Brent has been wearing a SCRAM bracelet on his ankle, which failed to log data on 22 occasions. At that time, State District Judge Robert D. Burns III declined to revoke Brent's bond, but did order further alcohol monitoring for Brent, who submitted a urine sample that day.
According to the district attorney's office, the urinalysis conducted on May 24 confirmed that Brent had "tested positive for marijuana and marijuana metabolite".
A hearing for the latest motion will take place on June 21.
Brent is awaiting trial on an intoxicated manslaughter charge following a Dec. 8 incident that claimed the life of Jerry Brown, a linebacker on the Cowboys' practice squad and Brent's former teammate at the University of Illinois. Brent's blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit when his Mercedes S600 struck a curb, overturned and caught fire.
The Cowboys placed Brent on the "non-football injury" list at the end of last season and the 2010 supplemental draft choice remains on the 90-man offseason roster. Brent, who established career-highs with five starts and 1.5 sacks in 2012, has been around the team's Valley Ranch headquarters, but is not expected to play for the team this season.
Brent faces up to 20 years in prison and his trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 23.
"Without a doubt," Griffin said of being ready for training, via Mike Jones of the Washington Post. "One, it’s a mind-set, and two, it’s how I felt and how it’s progressed."
Griffin was planting and throwing during the first week of the Redskins' OTAs. The goal was for Griffin to be ready for his team's Sept. 9 season-opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year feels he's made enough progress that he's set his sights on being back on the field much sooner.
"Over the last three weeks, I’ve had a lot of progress and I feel a lot better. If you think training camp is a month, month-and-a-half away, two months, I feel really good about that. And the start of the season is even farther than that, so I feel good about that, and that’s why I say, 'without a doubt'."
Griffin acknowledged last month that he needed to work on "explosive sprinting" and "cutting" before he could play. According to Jones, Griffin has made progress on his explosive sprints and is moving and throwing during his workouts.
"I’m throwing on the run a lot more, doing a lot more planting out of the play-action – the type of throws we do in our offense," Griffin said. "That’s the encouraging part. I also bumped up the long-distance running, as you all saw today. I ran a little bit more. That’s all good. I’m feeling more comfortable doing everything, and coaches are saying I look a lot better – when they do get to chance to sneak a peek in there. They say I look a lot more comfortable throwing the ball, I look relaxed and it shows."
As much as Griffin wants to be on the field in late July, it is more important to the Redskins, as well as Griffin's bright future, to not rush things. Fortunately for Griffin, and for head coach Mike Shanahan (who was criticized for how the team handled Griffin's injury last season), the final decision on when Griffin is cleared to play will be made by the team's medical staff.
"I don’t think anyone knows for sure. I like that goal," Shanahan said of Griffin being ready for camp. "You always want somebody to have goals, that’s for sure. You want him to come back, assuming he’s ready to go, but the doctor’s got to okay him. From the beginning, they talked about the recovery time being seven months to nine months. I think Aug. 9 is seven months, so we’ll just have to wait and see."
Things have been relatively quiet on the Tim Tebow front of late, and you know we can't have that for too long. Neither could ESPN Boston, who recently got in touch with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick to ask him about a recent story from Y! Sports' Mike Silver.
In that story, about the fact that many NFL teams are shying away from signing the quarterback-at-large because of the media goofiness he would bring wherever he goes, Silver heard from a source with the Pats who told him that Belichick won't be joining the Tebow Fan Club (if there still is one):
While there's plenty of media chatter that Tebow could land with the Patriots (whose offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, was the man behind the Broncos' decision to draft Tebow in the first round), my organizational sources tell me that's very unlikely to happen, with one going so far as to say that Coach Bill Belichick "hates" Tebow as a player. As for the prospect of employing Tebow as a change-of-pace quarterback — and asking Tom Brady to come off the field in those situations — the source says, "No chance. Plus they wouldn't like the circus that comes with it."
On Wednesday, Belichick took that report to task.
"I wouldn't get into the probability of us pursuing any free agent," he told ESPN Boston's Field Yates. "Every single player has strengths and weaknesses but regardless of that, for anyone to have represented that is the way I feel about Tim Tebow is completely untrue, baseless and irresponsible. It is unfortunate that something so inaccurate was reported."
Well, that's interesting. Like most coaches, Belichick understands the power of the media to bend and twist things (yes, we're including ourselves here), especially where a popular subject is concerned. But Mike is generally pretty right on with his reporting, to the point where he tends to annoy some NFL higher-ups with his accuracy. And he seems to have done so in this case.
Another possibility: Belichick and Urban Meyer are close friends, and Meyer, who coached Tebow at Florida, has long been an advocate for Tebow's NFL greatness, the facts notwithstanding. Perhaps Belichick was poked by Meyer to "set the record straight" and do a solid for his buddy. Perhaps Tebow also recently stopped by Meyer's new digs at Ohio State.
Of course, Belichick could put this all to rest by signing Tebow, but wethinks that won't be happening anytime soon.
Oh, Philly fans. Have you looked up I-95, in the direction of the Meadowlands, and thought, "You know what? We may be a mess, but at least we're not the Jets." Got some bad news for you, friends. There might be a little turmoil under center in the City of Brotherly Love, too.
Chip Kelly has indicated that he's not yet ready to name a starting quarterback. And Mike Vick says he's fine with that. Per the NFL Network, via PFT:
"That is up to coach to decide what is best for this football team, but as of right now, I am very pleased with my progress," Vick said. "Today, I felt like I had some throws I wanted back, but for the most part I have done good. I got some balls in the end zone and just playing the position the way it is supposed to be played."
Well said, sir, even if you were definitive a couple months back that the QB job was all yours. Now, Nick Foles is getting a good hard look.
Kelly, of course, is under immediate pressure to perform in his Philly debut, but he's a smart enough guy to know that conservatism doesn't always win out ... or help you keep your job, as his predecessor found out. So Kelly's been working with Vick from the ground up, even teaching him how to hold the freaking football, hoping to do what others couldn't and point that world-class talent in the proper direction. For Vick's sake, we hope that direction isn't toward the sideline.
And hey, if Kelly can't settle on a starter from his current bunch, You Know Who is still available for any team. Just saying.
To most, new Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is seen as a placeholder player -- a bridge guy who can keep the passing offense relatively mistake-free while head coach Andy Reid and new general manager John Dorsey fill in the personnel holes in a roster that produced a 2-14 season in 2012 despite several Pro Bowl-level performances on defense. That's not a knock on Smith; simply a recognition of his physical limitations. The first overall pick in 2005 floundered around in San Francisco until Jim Harbaugh became the 49ers' coach in 2011 and directed Smith to maximize his attributes and eliminate his liabilities.
Basically, Harbaugh wanted Smith to throw away every pass that wasn't a sure thing, and it worked. The 49ers went 13-3 in 2011, and Smith had the NFL's best passer rating when he suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams on November 11. Harbaugh replaced Smith with second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick and saw a serious uptick in his offense with Kaepernick's rushing ability and consistent deep-ball acumen. Smith was the odd man out, so the Chiefs got him in a February trade.
Now, with Reid running his offense, one would assume that Smith will once again be directed to keep it vanilla and mistake-free. But during the team's recent string of practices, Reid said that he wants Smith to test the waters and see what he can get away with downfield.
“If it ends up being an interception, OK, it’s an interception," Reid told the Kansas City Star. You learn from it. These are smart guys so they learn from it and once they get into the season, they’re not experimenting with it on game day and they know what they can get away with and know what they can’t.
“It’s a new offense. I would tell any quarterback that comes in new that that’s what you need to do. I’ve told them all that. Go ahead and take your shots and see what you can get away with, within reason. But if it’s a close throw, there are going to be a few of those in the National Football League on game day, so you need to know what you can get away with on each route.”
Reid is frequently thought to be a West Coast Offense-or-bust guy from his days with LaVell Edwards at BYU and Mike Holmgren in Green Bay and on his own in Philadelphia, and he does subscribe to many of those theories. But while the WCO is generally marked by a higher percentage of short and intermediate managed timing throws, Reid has liked his quarterbacks to sling it deep -- especially in the last few seasons, when he had DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to test pass defenses at a higher level with the Eagles. In that regard, Smith has some work to do.
“You want to stay aggressive,” Smith said. “But in the end I’m always trying to make the right read and throw where the defense is telling me to throw. You don’t come out here and predetermine anything, like ‘Oh, I’m going to chuck it deep on this play.’ I’m constantly trying to just trust my eyes and what I’m seeing out there, trust my reads and what I’ve prepared for and then come out here and throw good balls.”
In 2012, Smith threw the ball 21 or more yards downfield 17 times in 218 total attempts. He completed eight of those passes for 273 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. By comparison, Nick Foles, who started six games for Reid' Eagles after Michael Vick was hurt, attempted 27 passes of 21 yards or more in 265 attempts, and Vick threw it deep 42 times in 351 attempts.
Smith has the hypothetical ability to get the ball downfield -- anyone playing in the NFL can throw it at a basic level. But it's rare that he's been able to make long stick throws into tight windows; the kinds of plays than define the best signal-callers in the game.
“Everybody is all on board,” Reid said of his new quarterback. “He’s a good football player. He’s showing that good leadership. I’m asking him to do a ton of things. He’s handling it. We’ve had an interception here or there, but that’s all part of this thing. You’ve got to find out about the offense and you can’t do it with your hands in your pocket. You’ve got to go out and try things and experiment. That’s what he’s doing now.
“It’s just good stuff. He’s staying aggressive with the ball, and I appreciate that.”
We'll see how that appreciation manifests itself on game day -- and in the 2014 NFL draft.
In his second NFL season, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder finished 21st in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics among qualifying quarterbacks and threw 18 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions. But more will be expected of Ponder if the VIkings are to get further in the playoffs than they did in 2012, when Ponder suffered an elbow injury in the regular-season finale, and the Vikings lost to the Green Bay Packers, 24-10, in the wild-card round. The Vikings have taken Adrian Peterson's greatness about as far as any team can take the efforts of any running back. And in the interest of moving Ponder along, head coach Leslie Frazier has taken an unusual step in bringing former NFL quarterback Jeff George in as a "guest coach" during this week's OTAs.
"We told our players just to be able to pick his brain, our quarterbacks, and talk with him about some of the things he saw as a young quarterback and what he saw as a veteran and just his maturation over the course of his career," Frazier told 1500ESPN.com's Tom Pelissero. "He was a very good player for a long time, high draft pick, and I think he can really help our players with some of his background and his knowledge as well."
Ah, but there's more to the story, in George's case.
Before Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell hit the NFL and went "splat," George may have been the biggest draft bust in the league's history. Selected with the first overall pick in the 1990 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. George had a decent rookie season, but things soon fell apart. He held out, argued with head coaches Ron Meyer and Ted Marchibroda, and eventually demanded a trade. The Colts acquiesced after the 1993 season, trading him to the Atlanta Falcons. George threw 41 touchdowns and 46 interceptions in his four-year Colts career. He was a bit better in Atlanta, but he's best known for a sideline tirade in the 1996 season involving head coach June Jones. He moved on to Oakland for the 1997 season and impressed with a 29-touchdown season on a 4-12 squad, but his time in the league was soon to be over.
George had a nice little ride for the Vikings in 1999, replacing Randall Cunningham and starting 10 games in a totally stacked offense, but he signed a large contract with the Washington Redskins in 2000 after Vikings head coach Dennis Green told him to "shop around." He never played in a regular-season game after the 2001 season, though he made noises about comebacks through the next decade.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to get back in, and it just amazes me that I’m not on somebody’s roster,” George told Y! Sports' Michael Silver in 2009. “I’ve been throwing two or three times a week, and every time I go out there to throw, I can’t believe I’m not a backup somewhere. I know it’s a young man’s game, but you can’t tell me I’m not better than some of the quarterbacks that are out there. I look at teams like Minnesota or Chicago, and I want to scream at the people in charge, ‘What are you thinking?’”
What teams may have been thinking was that whatever George had left, it wasn't worth the trouble.
The great Ralph Wiley may have put it best in a 2001 article about "Coach Killaz."
My own all-time personal favorite. Did Ron Meyer in Indy, then June Jones in public on the sidelines in Atl when he was with the Falcons (and only with them because they went Run and Shoot, inflating his stats and ego). Where Magic and Elway had real philosophical differences with the coaches they offed, and were vindicated when their teams won multiple world titles, Jeff George's big concern is not how well the team does; it's how well and deep and often he throws the ball regardless of how the team does. And he does throw a beautiful ball. Just look at it, or ask him.
Once a season, with each new team he joins, like clockwork, some media-friendly DB like LeRoy Butler gets beat by one of George's 45-yard deep seam bullets, then after the game says, "Yeah, I got beat, but Jeff George is the only man in football who can throw that pass," which might or might not be true but definitely takes the heat off the DB for not getting there in time. Of course, they usually do get there in time, because George has this annoying habit (it must be annoying to his receivers, anyway) of holding the ball long after they've come out of their break, holding it, holding it, holding it, so he can challenge himself by getting the ball there deeper downfield, and coincidentally after the DBs have begun to recover. He hates to throw little checkdowns. Blitz him up the middle and his raison d'etre is gone.
It's interesting that George may mentor Ponder in any capacity, because the one thing Ponder can't really do is throw the ball deep consistently, and that's the one thing George could always do. From the perspective of intangibles, Ponder has George beaten, hands-down.
"We haven't talked a whole lot," Ponder said. "He has come up to me a few times. He understands the game. Obviously, he was around for a while. He's got a great knowledge of the game. He's sat in the meetings and stuff with us. Just another guy that you can bounce something off of him, and he's good to have around."
George may be good to have around now, but this sounds more like a favor to the old guy than something to benefit Ponder. Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was the Raiders' quarterbacks coach in 1997 and worked well with George, so it's possible that Musgrave is doing a solid for his old buddy. Frazier said that George is interested in coaching, which would be an interesting karmic exercise for a man who tortured most of the coaches he played for.
The Houston Texans moved their OTA schedule around on Wednesday, and they did it for all the right reasons. Head coach Gary Kubiak switched the team's start of practice from 11:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. so that everyone could attend the memorial service held for four Houston firefighters -- Captain Matthew Renaud, Engineer-Operator Robert Bebee and firefighters Robert Garner and Anne Sullivan -- who lost their lives in a May 31 motel fire in southwest Houston. The memorial service, held at Reliant Stadium, was attended by all Texans players, coaches, and football personnel.
“Our community means so much to us as an organization; that goes without saying,” Kubiak told the team's official website. “These players, they come from all over the country and they become a Houstonian. We put a team together and get very close to our city, and it's something that we talked about as a team with the players the other day. We get so much support from them, and it’s time for us to show our support for these families and the people that serve our city on a daily basis.”
The Texans team stayed for the whole three-hour ceremony, which included remarks from Texas governor Rick Perry, Houston mayor Annise Parker, and Houston fire chief Terry Garrison. The American flag and the IAFF Medal of Honor were presented to the families of the four who lost their lives, and a procession of fire engines moved slowly up Kirby Drive.
13 other firefighters were hospitalized when a restaurant connected to the Southwest inn caught fire, and Renaud, Bebee, Garner, and Sullivan were among the first responders. They died when the roof of the restaurant collapsed.
“It’s something that as players, we talked with the coaches and just tried to work it out when we found out it was going to take place in our building," Texans quarterback Matt Schaub said. "It’s important for us, being members of this community, to be a part of that community, and when something like this happens, we all rally around each other as citizens. I think it says a lot about what’s important to us as a football team and an organization.”
Many of the wounded firefighters attended the memorial, and hundreds of their colleagues walked more than a mile in a dawn procession.
“We’ve had a few things happen this offseason with coaches’ families and a few things going on,” Kubiak concluded. “It kind of makes you stop, and we’ve got a lot of other things other than football going on in our lives that we’ve got to handle, too. We want to help these families handle this situation. Obviously, you know something’s going on all morning and to see the fire trucks lined up down Kirby as we walked over. I think it keeps things in perspective.”
The Texans donated $25,000 to the 100 Club Survivors Fund , which helps families of fallen firefighters in need. The Fund has already disbursed $20,000 to the four families for immediate expenses.
The Denver Broncos family suffered a major blow when the parents of running backs coach Eric Studesville, 67-year-old Alfonso Studeville and 68-year-old Janet Studesville, died in a motorcycle accident on Tuesday afternoon. According to a report from ConnectAmarillo.com, the Studesvilles were driving a motorcycle on Highway 54 in Texas when a truck towing a grain trailer moved into the wrong lane (eastbound to westbound) and struck the motorcycle head on. The Studesvilles were thrown from their motorcycle into a ditch.
According to the report, Anthony Dewayne Buck, the driver of the truck, was uninjured. The Texas Department of Safety is investigating the accident.
The Broncos issued the following statement on Wednesday morning.
“Our most heartfelt condolences go to Eric Studesville and his entire family following the tragic loss of his parents, Al and Jan Studesville. We were devastated to learn of their passing today. Our thoughts and prayers are with Eric and his family, and our organization will support them however possible during this difficult time.”
The Broncos cancelled their scheduled press conferences on Wednesday with defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
Studesville is in his fourth season coaching the Broncos' running backs. He was also the team's interim head coach for the last three games of the 2010 season after former head coach Josh McDaniels was fired. Studesville's father was a frequent visitor to practice when his son had that position, and he talked about the role his parents played in his success in a Dec., 2010 article for the Denver Post.
"I'm a teacher, and I teach the game of football," Eric Studesville said. "What my parents instilled in me are the same things important to me today. Those are the qualities I try to push now, and what I'm trying to express to the players. I just want your best. Let's go out and play as hard as we can for as long as we can, and see what happens."
On Wednesday, the Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens boarded nine buses and traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet President Barack Obama at the White House and inform the Commander-in-Chief that they plan to be back next summer.
"I want you to know we have plans to be here next year, too," head coach John Harbaugh told Obama, who received a No. 44 Ravens jersey "Mr. President" stitched on the back.
With the players in suits behind him, Obama mentioned how different his entrance to Wednesday's event on the South Lawn was compared to how the Ravens enter M&T Bank Stadium.
"No smoke machines. No fire cannons. Obama didn't even tear up chunks of turf and rub them on his suit," Obama said, the first of two references to Ray Lewis' "squirrel dance" he'd make on Wednesday. "That reminds me...please don't do that on the South Lawn."
Obama detailed how the Ravens, as both a team and as individuals, overcome adversity throughout the regular season and pulled some late-game heroics to continue to advance through the playoffs to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. Obama also congratulated Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco for his performance in the playoffs, even using the "E" word.
"Good timing with that contract, huh?" Obama asked Flacco, who signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract extension on March 4. "Capped off one of the greatest postseasons ever by a quarterback. More than 1,100 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions. I don't know about you, Joe, but I would say that qualifies as 'elite'. And I have to say that if you keep on playing like that, you're going to challenge (Vice President Joe) Biden as the most popular person from Delaware."
Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, two former members of the Ravens, were also singled out by President Obama.
"These two won't be wearing purple next year. Everybody is going to have to get used to that," said Obama. "It's welcomed news for quarterbacks. Ray retired on top, coming back from a triceps injury, which I believe was caused by that dance he does. (The injury) caused him to miss most of the regular season. Ed sprained ligaments in both of his knees during the Super Bowl, but he still made the game's only interception. And before he left Houston, where he'll be playing next year, Ed took out a full page ad in the Baltimore Sun to thank Ravens fans, saying 'I have such deep love for all of you'. So that's a class act."
Obama declined to Lewis' invitation to do the squirrel dance, but was happy to point out that the 34-year-old Reed is getting some gray in his hair.
"I'm not the only one," Obama said while turning back to address Reed. "You look like an old man...That makes me feel better. I thought I was the only guy."
Obama also noted the Ravens' off-field efforts, mentioning how they donated over $1 million to charity, helped youth stay active through the league's "Play 60" campaign, connected with a Maryland National Guard unit that was stationed in Afghanistan and are donating brand new uniforms for 42 varsity football and basketball (both boy's and girl's teams) teams at high schools in the Baltimore area.
Of course, no football event involving President Obama can come and go without a reference to his hometown team, the Chicago Bears.
"Congratulations again on your Super Bowl championship. Best of luck next season. You're going to need it in Week 11 when you go to my hometown of Chicago to play the Bears," Obama said, drawing cheers from the crowd. "I brought some Chicago fans in here just so we weren't overwhelmed."
After a brief hiatus, our good buddy Greg Cosell of NFL Films, ESPN's NFL Matchup, and Shutdown Corner is back to talk a little football. And with a little more than a month passed since the draft, we thought it would be interesting to review that selection process by division, now that teams have given a bit of insight into how their new players will be used. We'll start with the NFC West, go through the divisions, and wind up just in time for training camp.
On how new Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles might use defensive back Tyrann Mathieu: "A thought came to mind when you talked about how often the nickel cornerback will play. I wonder, in the NFC West, if it might be fewer snaps than for other teams [in other divisions]. San Francisco plays with two and three tight ends fairly often, Seattle has multiple tight ends and can use them, and the Rams signed Jared Cook. And, they still have Lance Kendricks. We don't know the answer to this, but he might play fewer snaps as the nickel corner. As far as the safety situation, I think they feel that he's a quick kid who's around the ball a lot, and they're trying to get him on the field. He's not going to start at corner. So, if he's a nickel corner, that's great. How many snaps? We don't know that, but if they want him on the field for 90 percent plus, he'll have to play safety."
On where Seahawks running back Christine Michael could fit into Seattle's plans: "He's a really intriguing running back. He's got size, lateral quickness, and natural power. He's got acceleration. He's got really explosive feet for a 220-poound back. I thought he was really decisive downhill. I liked him a lot. It's a pick where I'm sure they'll say that they had him highly rated and they had to take him, and I can understand that. But what's really fascinating about it is that here's a league in which running backs are not theoretically valued, and here's a guy who hardly carried the ball [in 2012], and he gets taken with the 62nd pick in the draft."
On the 49ers' selection of LSU safety Eric Reid: "Every year, there's one safety I struggle to analyze because of the way he's used. This year, it was Eric Reid. Clearly, San Francisco felt really strongly about him, because they traded up to get him. You don't make the trade they did without the expectation that he steps in as your starter. It's not that I didn't like him; it's more that I never got a great feel for him, and I watched a ton of LSU tape. I'd say that he's a very nice mix of size and overall athleticism, but his question mark, based on what I saw, would be stiffness in coverage. He's pretty fluid once he gets running in a straight line, but I'm not sure about the change of direction."
On how receiver Tavon Austin will change the Rams' offense: "As soon as they made that pick, and I was doing radio that night at the draft, I said that the Rams [will go with a more wide-open offense." Keep in mind what the Rams' personnel is. They have two tight ends who can move in Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks. They've got Tavon Austin. They've got Chris Givens, who a lot of people have forgotten about, but that kid can run. Everyone's talked about Chip Kelly and the speed offense, and taking nothing away from him, but in Sam Bradford's Heisman year, Oklahoma scored 60-plus points five or six weeks in a row, and I think they averaged 82 plays a game. Bradford's played in that, and they don't have what you'd call a feature back. So to me, everything about their skill positions signifies hurry-up, spread, tempo, speed to get guys in space."
As with everything involving Greg Cosell, this podcast is a must-listen for those fans of advanced tape analysis. Subscribe to the Shutdown Corner iTunes link. You can also use the link below to either left-click and listen, or right-click to save to your computer.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can been added to the list of NFL stars — which also includes New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul — who have undergone, or will undergo, surgery this month.
According to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Roethlisberger was absent during the team's penultimate OTA practice on Wednesday as he was having surgery on his right knee.
"Earlier today, Ben had minor surgery on his right knee that was the result of slight discomfort this offseason," Tomlin said in a statement released by the Steelers' PR department. "We advised him to get the surgery done to ensure he will be completely healthy for the start of training camp. This surgery will have no long-term effects on his health."
ESPN's Ed Werder reports that Roethlisberger's surgery was to repair meniscus, an injury that he could have played through, but doctors wanted to fix now, two months before the preseason opener against the Giants.
Injuries are nothing new for the 31-year-old Roethlisberger, who is entering his 10th season in the NFL and has played in all 16 regular season games just one time (2008). Roethlisberger missed three games in heart of the 2012 regular season due to a right shoulder injury and missed four games with injuries to both knees during the 2005 season.
The Steelers conclude their OTA practices on Thursday and will have a mandatory mini-camp from June 11-13. With Roethlisberger out until training camp, quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski, John Parker Wilson and 2013 fourth-round pick Landry Jones will get additional work during next week's mini-camp.
Former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell will be among a quartet of free agent quarterbacks who will work out for the Chicago Bears on Friday, reports Michael C. Wright of ESPN Chicago.
Wright is quick to point out that the Bears are planning to conduct workouts for players at several positions, which teams normally do to prepare their "emergency list" when injuries occur. Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune reports that Trent Edwards and Jordan Palmer will join Russell for Friday's workout.
Last week, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Russell had slimmed down with the hopes of attracting interest from an NFL team. Russell's weight had ballooned to over 300 pounds, but he dropped 50 pounds and recently weighed in at 265 pounds, the exact same weight he had at the 2007 scouting combine.
Selected by the Oakland Raiders with the top pick in the 2007 NFL draft, Russell missed training camp and the start of the regular season as he did not sign his six-year deal worth up to $68 million with over $31 million in guaranteed money until mid-September. In three seasons with the Raiders, Russell completed 52.1 percent of his 680 pass attempts for 4,083 yards with 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. Russell was also sacked 70 times and lost 15 of 25 fumbles before the Raiders released him in May of 2010, two months before he was arrested in his Mobile, Alabama home for possession of codeine syrup without a prescription.
A grand jury declined to indict Russell on those charges, but the former LSU standout has been out of football ever since. The 27-year-old Russell has been working with former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia at TEST Academy in San Diego, California.
The top of the Bears' quarterback depth chart is set with Jay Cutler as the starter and veteran Josh McCown as the veteran back-up, but the team is only carrying three quarterbacks on the 90-man roster and could bring in an additional arm for training camp. The current No. 3 is Matt Blanchard, a 2012 undrafted rookie from Wisconsin-Whitewater who had a 47.4 passer rating in two preseason games before spending most of the 2012 season on the Bears' practice squad.
Next season, the NFL will be installing cameras in locker rooms for fans at stadiums to get a look at their teams while off the field. The ideal scenario, of course, is a revealing behind-the-scenes look at teams in preparation, exultation or darkest defeat. The reality will be long, intensely boring stretches of silence, with only a third-string linebacker taping his ankles as entertainment.
Even so, Green Bay's Clay Matthews is flat-out livid about the idea. "You think 'cameras in the locker room' and what does that conjure up images of?" he said in an interview with USA Today. "It's a privacy issue. I know they're trying to give the fans more of an experience, but what more can you do? We do interviews on the sideline, there's social media. You can't leave the parking lot without people swarming your cars. I'm not a fan of it."
Calling the locker room a "sanctuary," Matthews protested that he's been stalked all the way home, and he's unhappy with giving up another layer of personal space. (You could argue that he's paid plenty to give up his personal space, but we wouldn't recommend doing that to his face.)
Matthews also offered up a defense that doesn't exactly help his cause: "I've always thought throwing a camera in the locker room is perversion," he said. "They want to give fans an inside glimpse, but if people actually saw the way we interact in the locker room, like young kids, they wouldn't like it." Clay. Come on. This is the NFL. Packers fans would like to watch you clipping your toenails ... which is exactly what this camera might end up catching.
The cameras will feature video but no audio, and will be broadcast within the stadium, not over the networks. Cameras will only be in the home team's locker room, and the home team will control how the content is distributed.
USA Today noted that the cameras were installed without the input of the NFL Players' Association, and the union could raise privacy concerns about them. Because if the locker room cameras are a hit in the stadium, how long do you think it'll be before they're broadcast all over the country?