Fighting for Themselves, Fighting for the Game

September 2, 2013 by Peter King
For over 4,500 players and their estates, the fight with the NFL over the role of football in post-career head trauma has been a long, stressful battle that is now over.
For more than 4,500 players and their families, the fight with the NFL over the role of football in post-career health problems has been a long, stressful battle. (Matt Rourke/AP)

There’s only one story today, still. I know the season is three days away, and the concussion case settlement is four days old. But this head trauma issue was the nuclear cloud that hung over the game, and I think there are things you need to know—particularly you who would trash the settlement as being too meager. “Chump change,’’ I believe many of you called it on Twitter and elsewhere. We’ll have all week, and the bottom 3,500 words of this column, to trumpet the opening of the league’s 94th season. This morning, you need to hear the story of 44-year-old former battering-ram fullback and current ALS sufferer Kevin Turner, and of the lead plaintiffs’ attorney who woke up more than once at night thinking of Turner, and how men like Turner pushed this case to get settled.

“I have a policy of not getting involved with the plaintiffs in cases like this, whether it’s NFL players, ballerinas or regular people,’’ Chris Seeger, one of the lead attorneys for the 4,500 former players and estates of former players, told me Sunday night. “I like to keep a level head. But I met Kevin several times. Nobody had a bigger impact on me in this case than Kevin did. I’d wake up at night, sometimes in a cold sweat, thinking about this man and how important it was to him that he provide for his family, that his children get the college education they deserve.”

I spoke with Turner over the phone for an hour Sunday afternoon. His voice is often garbled, because amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—known by many as Lou Gehrig’s disease—is in the process of robbing all his muscles of their vitality, including the ones that form words in his tongue and mouth and vocal cords. But this was a pretty good afternoon; he’d taken medication to ensure he could be well understood.

Turner is an Alabama boy. He played for the Crimson Tide, then got drafted by the Patriots in the third round in 1992. He played eight years for the Patriots and Eagles, and retired following the 1999 season. He lives in Birmingham now. He is divorced with three children, the oldest of whom played his first varsity high school game ever on Friday night. That filled Turner with pride, knowing his son loved the game enough to pursue it, and now as a sophomore he was playing at a high level.

He knows what you’re thinking: How can he let his son play? And how he can he not hate the sport that very likely gave him—such a young man—this cruel disease with no cure?

“It’s not complicated,’’ Turner said. “I love football. I always will love football. I love football so much I let my oldest son play the game, because I knew he would love it too.’’

***

Table of Contents

What you'll find in this week's Monday Morning Quarterback:

Page 1—Think the players got a bad deal in the concussion settlement? Let them explain why they're happy with the deal

Page 2—Kevin Turner, former player and ALS patient, describes his feelings on the settlement and why he doesn't hate football

Page 3—Quotes of the Week; Tweets of the Week; Bill Belichick hasn't been very good at drafting defensive backs; Check out all the recent playoff turnover

Page 4—Ten Things I Think I Think, including my impressions of the final cuts and a look at the crapshoot that is drafting a quarterback; the Adieu Haiku

There are a few reasons this case settled when it did last Thursday morning, with a ruling by U.S. District Court judge Anita Brody announcing the mediated $765 million deal that she still must formally approve. The key points:

The deadline. Brody had told both sides they had until a date in July to reach a settlement. When they went to her at the appointed time nearly two months ago and said they were deadlocked, she assigned a mediator, Judge Layn Phillips, and told each side they had until Sept. 3 to reach a deal. If they didn’t have a deal by then, she’d rule, and she told both sides there would be parts of her ruling that could well be injurious to each.

Each side was motivated to settle. ESPN reported over the weekend that Brody “signaled” that she agreed with part of the NFL’s argument—that a large percentage of the plaintiffs, those who played from 1994 to 2010, should be omitted from the suit because the collective bargaining agreement precluded them from filing lawsuits over health issues. The players, instead, would have had to file cases with the NFL and go through the regular grievance process. No way they wanted that. The players also were pushing for a quick resolution because many of the sicker ones, Turner included, needed the money now and not years from now when the appeals had been exhausted. From the NFL’s side, there was no way it wanted the dirty laundry of stories of team doctors ignoring or minimizing concussions during games aired in depositions before the trial, or in testimony at trial. The NFL didn’t know what would or wouldn’t be admissible at trial. One rogue doctor or ruthless trainer would have been enough to turn all public sentiment against the league, whether it won the trial or not. And the league was motivated to get the focus on the field, instead of it continually getting pummeled by the bad publicity of a continuing black cloud of head trauma.

The players’ side controls the payout pool. This was important to the players. They didn’t want the NFL controlling which doctors would examine the players in baseline testing, which would be the base provision for determining how much money each injured player is awarded. And the players’ side got accountants and actuaries—professionals who use statistics to assess risk and figure long-term disbursements for huge cash pools—to figure out fair payouts to former players depending on their individual cases. The experts tried to figure a way this payout pool would be financially viable for 65 years, so the last player who could file a claim generations down the road would be one cut this preseason.

It’s complicated. But at the end, the attorneys for the players felt they got as much as they could from the NFL before the two sides would have had to appear in front of Judge Brody on Tuesday—at which point the players knew the case could have been weed-whacked if Brody removed all the players who had played since 1994.

So the deal got done: a $685 million pool for compensation (a $5 million individual ceiling for ALS sufferers, $4 million for Parkinson’s, $3 million for Alzheimer’s or dementia), $75 million to fund baseline testing on retired players to see if they’ve been cognitively impaired, and $10 million for research. In addition, the NFL will pay lawyers’ fees for the plaintiffs, which will likely be $200 million or more. Over the next 20 years, then, NFL teams will pay out about $1 billion, half in the first three years to fund the compensation pool.

Nobody had a bigger impact on me in this case than Kevin did. I’d wake up at night, sometimes in a cold sweat, thinking about this man and how important it was to him that he provide for his family, that his children get the college education they deserve. —Chris Seeger, Kevin Turner’s attorney

Kevin Turner’s payout, depending on his exam and findings, will be maxed out at $5 million. When he was asked in confidence by one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys about the deal—with all details, including the part about the judge possibly throwing him out of the case because he played during the 1994-2010 time period—he was clear with his desire.

“I told him [the attorney] I was happy with it,’’ Turner said. “I really wasn’t expecting closure of this within my lifetime, honestly.”

I’m told a large majority of NFL owners approved the details of the settlement in conversations with commissioner Roger Goodell in the last couple of weeks. (But it was not unanimous.) And why wouldn’t they approve? For about $16 million per team all told in the next three years and $12 million over the following 17 years, nuclear winter was averted. If individual players are unhappy with the amount of compensation and want to file claims, they’ll run into some of the best litigators in America, the NFL’s, and it’ll take years and millions of dollars to fight the fight. So for now, most experts feel the crisis has been averted, and the game will go on.

Seeger was one of the lead attorneys in the Vioxx case that won $4.8 billion from the pharmaceutical giant Merck. He’s been down this road before, figuring how hard he can push a giant company. He’s heard the criticism of what the players got, and he’s hot about it.

“I would love to debate any sane person about this settlement,’’ Seeger said. “We plotted how much these players who need the money now and in the future, and who are eligible for it, would need, and we got it. We got it now, not 10 years from now. I’ve heard the criticism. A pittance … chump change. That is stupidity. We got exactly what we needed for the players and the families who need it most.

“I’ve seen people say because the NFL has $9 billion in [annual] revenue, that $765 million is too little. Suppose we sued GE, and GE has $50 billion a year in revenue, and we didn’t get $50 billion. Would that have been a bad settlement?

“It’s easy to sit in the cheap seats and have a conviction that the settlement is no good. You weren’t in the game. You just don’t know. What I asked myself at the end as a lawyer was, ‘Is this enough? Is this enough for Kevin?’ ‘’

Kevin Turner
Kevin Turner didn’t think he’d see the day when resolution between the former players and the NFL was reached. (Matt Rourke/AP)

I asked Turner if he’d ever gotten a concussion during a game and played through it.

“Sure,’’ he said. “The year after Green Bay won the Super Bowl, I was on the Eagles, and we played them in Philly. I remember the opening kickoff, and then I remember, maybe late in the first quarter, going up to our backup quarterback and saying, ‘You’ll think I’m crazy, but are we in Green Bay or Philly? And how are we doing?’ He went and got a doctor. Turns out I had played a bunch of plays on automatic pilot. The doctor said, ‘Remember these words,’ and I couldn’t. And he gave me the test three or four times, and finally I think it was the fourth time, I remembered the words and they let me back in the game. You can’t imagine the fit I would have thrown if they wouldn’t have let me back in the game.”

Turner played the rest of the game. He remembers a long drive in the fourth quarter—being the lead blocker for Ricky Watters on play after play—that led to the winning touchdown. Nineteen plays, 80 yards, touchdown. Block after block. “That’s just what you did then,’’ he said. He watched film with his mates the next day, and there was a series of plays he had no idea had happened. He was back at practice Wednesday, and played the next week.

That wasn’t the only time he played when he shouldn’t have. But he blames himself as much as he blames the football culture of the day. “Football didn’t do this to me,’’ he said. “My ignorance did it. That, and maybe others who should have known better.”

On Aug. 22, Turner had a surgical procedure. A doctor implanted six electrodes on his diaphragm. “That should give me 24 to 36 more months breathing on my own,’’ Turner said. Before he needs a ventilator to breathe for him. He’s spending “darn near every cent’’ of his disability payments on treatments and doctors and medication and equipment.

“From the get-go,’’ he said, “I was worried about how long this would drag out. I didn’t think I’d see anything, but I was hopeful my kids would.

Kevin Turner's body isn't what you'd expect from a former NFL player.
Kevin Turner’s body isn’t what you’d expect from a former NFL player. (Gary Bogdon/SI)

“I didn’t do this for a public hanging of the NFL. I never wanted to kill the NFL. The past is the past. What’s more important? Hanging the NFL for the sins of the past? Ruining the lives of people who, I’m guessing, most of them don’t even work in the NFL anymore? Or doing something to really help people, and then really working to make the game safer?’’

“How,’’ I said, “can you still love the game?”

“I think even moreso I’m excited about the game now,’’ said Turner. “Now, you see doctors, trainers and coaches who have the knowledge about concussions and head injuries treating them different than when I played. We should be excited about the game now. It’s the most beloved game in the country, and they’re making it safer now. Now, a guy wobbles back to the sidelines, and it’s likely he’s done for the day. But they’ll examine him now. Refs are looking now. Trainers, doctors are looking. Hopefully, after 10 years, after maybe one more generation of players understands it’s okay to say you have a concussion, players will learn a different game. Tackling with your head up, with your shoulders, not lowering your head.’’

I never wanted to kill the NFL. The past is the past. What’s more important? Hanging the NFL for the sins of the past? … Or doing something to really help people, and then really working to make the game safer?

With the money he gets from the settlement, Turner said he hopes to help his 70-year-old father so he can stop working. He wants to put enough money away so his three children will be well-educated—something he knows he would have been able to provide were it not for the ALS. He wants to seek treatment for himself, in the hopes that some new ALS treatment might be found. “Then,’’ he said, “if there’s anything left over, I’d like to help fund some research into ALS. I honestly believe we will find something to stop this in the next five years.’’

That was repeated to Chris Seeger Sunday night. “That’s why Kevin Turner was a driving force for me in this case,’’ Seeger said. “These are the people we should really admire in life.”

Quotes of the Week

I
“He looked good. He looked good. If we can have him practicing on Wednesday and we feel that he’s good enough and mentally ready to play, then he’s going to play [against New England in Week 1].”

—Bills coach Doug Marrone on Sunday, after watching rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel do individual drills at practice for the first time since minor knee surgery two weeks ago.

And so, apparently, ends the Jeff Tuel Era in Buffalo.

II
“It probably wasn’t fair to Vince. We threw a lot on his plate and the fault is probably mine. I probably should have had him in here earlier.’’

—Green Bay GM Ted Thompson on Sunday, after releasing quarterback Vince Young over the weekend. Young was signed Aug. 5, and couldn’t assimilate to the Packers offensive system with the proper mechanics in time to earn the backup job to Aaron Rodgers.

III
“Players don’t want to be reminded about their concussions. They don’t want to be known as the guy who went down with one. They downplay it. Then it happens to me and I start wondering how these guys go back to being hit, taking all that punishment, a week or two later.”

—FOX sideline reporter Pam Oliver, who suffered a concussion when hit by an errant pass from Colts quarterback Chandler Harnish during warmups before an Aug. 18 preseason game, in a New York Daily News column by Bob Raissman Sunday. For days Oliver said “the sun was completely my enemy’’ and she had to stay in darkened rooms. She hopes to return for the network’s opening regular-season nationally televised game Sunday, Green Bay at San Francisco.

IV
“Pretty much every facet of my life was in turmoil, and I was basically waging war against myself at that time. I didn’t realize that the battle was within me. It was a lot easier to blame everybody else. And it was a lot easier to be mad at everybody else and not be mad at myself. I placed blame anywhere blame could be placed. It was a coward’s way out.”

—Miami guard Richie Incognito, to NFL.com’s Jeff Darlington, in a superb piece about how Incognito has gotten his life under control—or, at least more under control than it was when he first entered the NFL.

Stat of the Week

newplayoffsLast season broke a 16-year streak of at least five new teams qualifying for the playoffs. Only four new teams—Indianapolis, Minnesota, Seattle and Washington—made the postseason in 2012.

You can see the number of new playoff teams per season over the past 10 years to the right.

Thus: In 10 years, 61 of 120 teams—almost exactly half of the total playoff teams—have made the playoffs after being out of the postseason the year before.

Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me

I
It’s likely New England coach Bill Belichick will one day walk into Canton wearing a yellow jacket. But it won’t be because of his drafting acumen in the secondary. Belichick drafted seven defensive backs in the first two rounds of the six drafts between 2007 and 2012, and of those seven, only one is a starter today: Devin McCourty, and not at the position he was drafted to play. McCourty, a corner taken in the 2010 draft, will open the season as the starting free safety.

The ignominious seven:

patsdbs

Now, to be fair: Belichick has gotten Stevan Ridley, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes and Sebastian Vollmer in the top three rounds since 2009 too. It’s just that, clearly, the defensive backfield is a blind spot for Belichick, which is very strange, considering his career as a defensive maestro.

II
Counting the game coming Thursday, three of Denver’s most recent five games have been against Baltimore.

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week

I went to Boston Tuesday night to catch a Red Sox game. Nothing of great substance happened, other than a good night out with some friends and family. And a wonderful meal—at Eastern Standard, around the corner from Fenway Park on Commonwealth Avenue. If you like a place with a fine menu and a better beer menu—and a place where the wait staff can talk about the beer the way Italian waiters can talk about wine at a restaurant in Italy—Eastern Standard’s the place for you.

Tweets of the Week

I
“@profootballtalk there is no conspiracy. I pulled the plug.”

—@JedYork, the 49ers’ CEO, after the Pro Football Talk piece about Ray Lewis saying he didn’t think it was a coincidence that there was a blackout when the Ravens were spanking the 49ers in the middle of last year’s Super Bowl.

That, by the way, might be the silliest thing I’ve heard a player say in a long, long time. And that encompasses a lot of silliness. Lewis said he had no facts to back up his accusation, made in the NFL Films’ America’s Game show, which will be shown tonight on NFL Network. “But,’’ Lewis says on the show, “you cannot tell me somebody wasn’t sitting there and when they say, ‘The Ravens [are] about to blow them out. Man, we better do something.’ … “ Lewis doesn’t need advice from me, but he should have stopped at, “I’m not going to accuse nobody of nothing.”

II
“Drake Nevis released by the Colts, claimed by the Chargers. Goes from Chuck Pagano to John Pagano”

—@brian_mcintyre, an NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports, after a defensive tackle cut by the Colts and head coach Chuck Pagano got picked up by the Chargers and defensive coordinator John Pagano.

III

Talk Back

Have a question or comment for Peter? Email him at talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in Tuesday's mailbag.

“This experience has shown me a piece of life that was once taken, and where things (football wise) would have been if it wasn’t for the 10 years of life loss.”

—@BrianBanksFREE, the Atlanta free-agent linebacker, who was waived by the team Friday. Banks, a star high school linebacker on the verge of accepting a USC scholarship, was imprisoned for five years on a rape charge that was later proven false.

IV
“@TimTebow ; Stay the course brother, your day will come & the crow feast will be glorious! #prevail”

—@KyleTurley, the former NFL tackle, after Tebow was cut by the Patriots Saturday.

V
“Do I have a football problem if I am sitting at a middle school football game and none of my kids are playing? I paid”

—@chris_spielman, the former Lions, Bills and Browns linebacker. I assume he meant “I paid” for a ticket.

Ten Things I Think I Think

Two veterans, two directions: Antoine Winfield chose to retire after being released from the Seahawks, while the Saints kept Jonathan Vilma despite rumors that the health of his knee would put his job in danger.
Two veterans, two directions: Antoine Winfield chose to retire after being released from the Seahawks, while the Saints kept Jonathan Vilma despite rumors that the health of his knee would put his job in danger. (Elaine Thompson/AP :: Phelan Ebenhack/AP)

1. I think the roster moves that caught my eye this weekend included:

a. Linebacker Adrian Robinson joined his third team in 10 days Sunday. He was dealt from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia Aug. 22, then got cut by the Eagles Saturday, and claimed by Denver Sunday. Robinson should either be a special-teams staple, or a weekly decision whether he’s active for Denver.

b. The starter at quarterback for the last Vikings game (playoffs versus Green Bay) was Joe Webb. He made the team as one of five wide receivers.

c. Your favorite undrafted rookie free-agent, fullback Zach Line of the Vikings (thanks, Jenny Vrentas) looks like a Week 1 starter as Adrian Peterson’s personal protector. Follow along as Line chases his NFL dream all season.

d. Matt Simms, an absolute roster afterthought with the Jets, is one of their four quarterbacks this morning. Stay tuned, but son of Phil wowed the coaches with his 33-of-44 preseason finale against Philadelphia. “Quite honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player make the improvements he’s made,’’ said coach Rex Ryan.

e. One of the game’s best corners for the last decade-plus, Antoine Winfield, will retire instead of playing one more season, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said after the Seahawks released him. Terrific outside and slot corner; much more physical than one of the game’s smallest corners should have been.

f. Daniel Adongo, a rugby player the Colts are trying to turn into a pass rusher, signed with the Indianapolis practice squad Sunday. He’s a Kenyan, and played in the world’s best rugby league, in South Africa, before being coaxed into giving football a try earlier this summer.

g. Defensive lineman Austen Lane wrote that wonderful piece for The MMQB, What It’s Like To Get Whacked, after getting cut unexpectedly by the Jaguars in June. We promised you a part two. Lane, picked up by Kansas City when Jacksonville cut him, was waived by the Chiefs Saturday. We’ll see what happens in the coming days, and Lane will certainly write a part two soon.

h. Jonathan Vilma stuck on the Saints’ 53-man roster despite being hobbled by an August knee procedure. New Orleans kept six inside linebackers, which could be a nod toward accounting for the rehabbing Vilma.

i. Curtis Painter beat out David Carr at the Giants’ backup quarterback. Somebody’s got to sign Carr.

j. What a disaster the Eagles’ 2011 first-round firefighter, Danny Watkins, turned out to be. Good example of reaching for a guy who never really loved the game. Watkins never played football until he was 22.

k. Austin Collie’s future has to be in doubt after being cut by the Niners. He has a history of concussions.

l. Geno Smith’s two favorite receivers at West Virginia, Tavon Austin (of course) and Stedman Bailey, were two of five wideouts kept by the Rams.

m. The Bucs signed Lawrence Tynes to be their kicker, but he came down with a serious infection, MRSA, that is resistant to antibiotics. So Rian Lindell won the kicking job, and Tynes, trying to get healthy, is bitter the team put him on the non-football injury list rather than injured reserve. The non-football injury status means Tynes won’t have this year count toward his NFL pension. His wife, Amanda, tweeted that the Bucs informed Tynes of the designation via email. That didn’t go over well in the Tynes household.

n. Pat White was the fourth Washington quarterback kept. Seems excessive, until you realize White is a mobile left-handed quarterback, and can play the mobile left-handed quarterback the team faces in Week 1, Michael Vick, on the scout team this week.

o. The San Diego offensive line, in Philip Rivers’ 10th season, will be bookended by two new tackles: monstrous King Dunlap on the left and rookie D.J. Fluker on the right.

p. The Chargers chose not to keep veteran tackle Max Starks after he gave up three sacks in the preseason finale.

q. Lousiana Tech’s Ryan Allen, with a monster leg, beat out Zoltan Mesko to punt for the Patriots.

r. The Raiders kept two punters on the 53-man roster Saturday, and unable to scare up any interest in a trade for Chris Kluwe, waived him Sunday. The Oakland punter is youngster Marquette King, who, when I was at Raiders camp, was punting the ball at high as the ancient evergreens around the training camp fields in Napa, Calif. Kluwe wrote about fighting for your NFL life, and being a good person to your competition, for The MMQB last month.

s. I wrote about agent Joe Linta driving through a snowstorm to work out Southern Illinois linebacker Jayson DiManche, a very marginal prospect not invited to the Scouting Combine … while Linta was in the middle of negotiating the largest contract in NFL history for Joe Flacco. Linta signed DiManche. Kept saying DiManche was one of those classic players lost in the cracks, a guy who should have been drafted. DiManche got signed by Cincinnati after the draft, and that wasn’t a great place for a linebacker to sign, because the Bengals were stocked in the front seven. Well, DiManche made it. He was one of five linebackers (a thin class, meaning he’ll play special teams and probably some from scrimmage) kept by head coach Marvin Lewis.

Study Up

Everything you need to know about all 32 teams and their prospects for the 2013 season, courtesy of Andy Benoit.


You can also check out everything The MMQB learned on the road with our Postcards From Training Camp.

2. I think the most underrated roster move of the weekend was Denver placing desperately needed pass rusher Quanterus Smith on injured-reserve because he was slow to return to full speed after undergoing ACL surgery late last November. “The knee just never came back,’’ said John Elway. “He was favoring it the whole training camp.” Smith was the defensive end from Western Kentucky who had three sacks against the vaunted Alabama offensive line last season before tearing the ACL in a later game. Now this is what would worry me the most if I were John Fox approaching the Thursday night opener between his Broncos and the Ravens: Last season, his two best pass rushers, Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, combined for 29.5 sacks, 26 additional quarterback hits and 89 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. Dumervil has left for Baltimore in free agency and Miller, of course, is suspended for the first six games of the season. The four men who will start—presumably—Thursday night are Derek Wolfe and Robert Ayers at end and Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan at outside linebacker. Those four players combined for nine sacks, 17 hits and 26 hurries last year. Obviously, the best nickel rusher Denver has is free-agent signee Shaun Phillips (9.5-6-23), who should add some edge pressure. But he’s 32 and who knows what he has left. Fox told me in camp he’s confident he can develop a way to get pressure. We’ll see what he has up his sleeve Thursday. That’ll be a major storyline to the game.

3. I think it wasn’t a good weekend for bonus baby quarterbacks, and not just ones named Tebow. Five quarterbacks picked in the top 50 of the last seven drafts were cut: Vince Young and Matt Leinart (2006), Brady Quinn (2007) and Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen (2010). Brian Billick says picking a quarterback is no better than a 50-50 proposition between success and failure. Let’s see, based on the five drafts between 2006 and 2010. (It’s too early to make definitive judgments on quarterbacks in the league for two or fewer years.) Let’s look at the quarterbacks picked in the top two rounds from 2006 to 2010, and their fate:

draftqbs

Of the 21 quarterbacks drafted in the top two rounds of these five drafts, six are solid starters, and eight are out of football.

Let’s now cut it down to first-rounders only. Billick, it turns out, is on the money. If you don’t count Sanchez as a starter—and I don’t see how you can term him a starter right now—six of the 12 first-round picks over a five-year period are starting in the league. So it’s still a crapshoot. Six players in the first two rounds of the ’11 draft will be opening-day starters, but let’s see if Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder, among others, can stand the test of time.

ICYMI

Highlights from the last week at The MMQB:

A Lesson from the Inside
—Robert Klemko

Pay Us for the Preseason!
—Richard Sherman

The Fall Guy
—Don Banks

Decision Day Looms
—Jenny Vrentas

Your 2013 NFL Broadcast Guide
—Richard Deitsch

Welcome to Clowneyland
—Andy Staples

A Starter from the Start
—Andrew Brandt

Concussion Settlement: The Debate Resets
—Jenny Vrentas

No Pryor Restraint
—Jim Trotter

4. I think if there was any doubt the Panthers are shaping the roster in new GM Dave Gettleman’s image, here’s proof: Only one of the eight 2011 draft picks from the Marty Hurney regime is on Carolina’s active 53-man roster this morning. The last man standing from a two-year-old draft class is Cam Newton.

5. I think the Ravens will be a very interesting chemistry experiment. Has there ever been a Super Bowl team that changed seven defensive starters? This one will. Joe Flacco will have a new snapper, Gino Gradkowski, after the retirement of Matt Birk; and he’ll have two new targets in Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley. I’m fascinated to see how different this team will be Thursday night in Denver.

6. I think the most daunting task of Week 1—even playing at home—would be Jeff Tuel (4-22 as a Washington State starter) trying to beat Tom Brady. But as coach Doug Marrone said Sunday, if the rehabbing E.J. Manuel (August knee surgery) can move well by Wednesday, the Bills obviously will start Manuel against the Patriots Sunday.

7. I think this is the one stat of the weekend that says the most about the Philadelphia Eagles, courtesy of beat man Reuben Frank of CSN Philadelphia, after they waived 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins: The Eagles drafted 94 players between 2003 and 2012, and four of those 94 made the Pro Bowl. Maybe that’s the big reason why Andy Reid wanted so badly to divest himself of personnel duties in Kansas City. He just wasn’t very good at it in his last few years in Philadelphia.

8. I think I got to thinking when I saw the Colin Kaepernick/Russell Wilson EA Sports/Madden commercial, the one that has little Colin and little Russell training in weird ways to be NFL quarterbacks: A year ago today, people had barely heard of these guys. If you don’t think the NFL can invent stars out of whole cloth, look at the story of the second- and third-round picks who might own the future of the quarterback position. It’s amazing how fast things change in the NFL.

9. I think The New York Times has made a smart hire in retaining Scott Fujita as a regular correspondent. Fujita’s first column (I’m guessing his take on the settlement between the league and the 4,500 players over head trauma) will appear this week. The reason it’s a smart hire is that Fujita’s one of those players who always saw every side of the game—from the league’s perspective, the union’s perspective and the player’s perspective. That, plus he can write a sentence. Looking forward to reading what he has to say regularly. He’s also writing for FOXsports.com, including this gem on what cutdown day is really like, including the memory of a teammate throwing a chair when he heard he was about to be cut.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Welcome to the world, Taylor Mattingly Eisen. The third child and first daughter of Rich and Suzy Shuster Eisen came into the world Friday. And yes, the middle name is for the first baseman Rich has sort of a thing for. And Mattingly knows. Rich believes it’s not the first time someone has named a child for him.

b. Saw a cool indie film over the weekend, In a World, written by and starring Lake Bell. Never thought I’d find the dog-eat-dog world of voice-overing making a good film, and I never knew Lake Bell before Saturday. But the movie’s good, and she’s a star.

c. The Red Sox have a 5.5-game American League East lead with 24 games to play. They wouldn’t be fixing to break hearts from Millinocket to Woonsocket, would they?

d. I hate the one-game Wild Card in baseball. It devalues the 162-game season. Having said that, a sudden-death playoff game in the National League Central, with Cincinnati playing at either Pittsburgh or St. Louis, will be pretty dramatic. And that’s how it’s shaping up.

Talk Back

Have a question or comment for Peter? Email him at talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in Tuesday's mailbag.

e. I want Miguel Cabrera to get healthy, fast. I want him to win two straight Triple Crowns.

f. So … are you actually trying to convince me that Teddy Bridgewater is better than my alma mater’s Tyler Tettleton? Is that what you’re trying to say?

g. One request about Week 1 of the college football season: Can we wait a few more games—one or two at least, please—before saying Jadaveon Clowney has blown the No. 1 pick in a draft that is 36 weeks away? Thank you. Clowney, by the way, is tops on Andy Staples’ draft board.

h. Coffeenerdness: Sunday marked the last three-espresso-shot day of the season. From now on, it’s a minimum of nine per Sunday. Let the all-nighters begin next Sunday for this column.

i. Beernerdness: I have no idea what it means to be a Double Imperial IPA, but I do know it tastes very good—a classic IPA. Had one the other night: Calalyst Double IPA, by Backlash Beer Company in Holyoke, Mass., and if it hadn’t been so lethal (8.5 percent alcohol), I’d have had more than two.

j. For those saying, “How can you pick Robert Griffin III to be the Comeback Player of the Year?’’ (Which I did.) He played through the end of the season, then had knee surgery. So he actually played the 2012 season. A couple of things. There are no rules for the Associated Press voters for postseason awards (I have one of those votes) concerning the Comeback Player. A player can be coming back from major surgery, or from a lousy year the previous season. And there is precedent for voting for a player who gets hurt late in the previous year. In 2012, Adrian Peterson got 17.5 of 50 votes for Comeback Player, suffered his injury in the second-to-last game of the 2011 Vikings season.

k. Now for all the rest of my picks … I accept all over-ripe tomatoes, right in the forehead.

l. Good luck in surgery, Jack Bowers. You’re in good hands.

The Adieu Haiku

Long U.S. nightmare?
Over. Next 20 Sundays
Are football Sundays.