A very busy week, and weekend, in the life of the NFL, and a sad Sunday for me. My brother Ken died suddenly of a heart attack in a small village in England, and I’ll tell you a bit about him in a few paragraphs. Most of the following was written before I got the phone call, so here it is.
DeSean Jackson starts his meetings in Washington tonight. If history is a judge, I would expect owner Dan Snyder and GM Bruce Allen to put on the hard sell to sign Jackson when he arrives in Virginia late today—or at least sometime before he leaves for his second meeting somewhere in the NFL. Snyder is a gambler. He does not like to lose players he wants, and why would he not be aggressive in pursuing Jackson? Washington is $7 million under the cap—not a lot of dough, but consider that its three best offensive weapons now (Pierre Garçon, Alfred Morris and newly signed wideout Andre Roberts) count for a reasonable $12.55 million on the cap this year.
This is contingent, of course, on Allen and coach Jay Gruden and Washington assistants asking around about Jackson’s attitude, work ethic and off-field stuff. The most logical conclusion, after the NJ.com report on Jackson’s off-field associations followed by the Eagles’ release of him, is that Jackson has some friends who are gang members but is not a gang member himself and hasn’t been detained by the police in any sort of gang-related activities. I can see Allen, as good a contract-writer as there is in the business, putting in enough insurance to protect Washington—and I also think Allen will be the calming influence on Snyder so the owner doesn’t throw so much money at Jackson to prevent him from seeking other options. And there will be more suitors.
So what happened in Philadelphia? I don’t think there was one specific event. I think there was a feeling internally in Philadelphia that Jackson should have been one of the team leaders, and an argument on the sideline would crop up, and he wasn’t the best work ethic guy, and I always got the feeling that old and new administrations weren’t crazy about Jackson being in position to influence some of the younger players on the team. Yes, Chip Kelly wants everything done his way; maybe Jackson chafed at that. Whatever, it’s clear that if you’re not a good fit in the Kelly puzzle you’re not going to last in Philadelphia. But I want to stress that I don’t think this was a Kelly decision alone. I think this was organizational, brought on some by the negative publicity that came with the damaging NJ.com article released Friday.
One more thing: Many of you asked Friday why the Eagles didn’t just try to get something, anything for Jackson. Just my feeling, because neither Kelly nor GM Howie Roseman were talking over the weekend, but I’d bet a lot that the Eagles, once the NJ.com story got out, didn’t know if there was going to be more bad stuff coming out on Jackson, and didn’t want any team coming back to them saying, “What were you hiding?” Plus, no team would have given anything for Jackson after that story hit the internet Friday—even though there was nothing damning in it, just a lot of smoke.
Replacing Jackson. The loss of Jackson will be softened by two players Chip Kelly has never had a chance to coach in the regular season: Jeremy Maclin and Darren Sproles. Maclin tore his right ACL in the first week of Eagles camp last summer and was lost for the season; he has rehabbed well and should be ready to play by the summer at full speed. Sproles, of course, was acquired in a trade earlier this month from New Orleans. I’d be excited about the prospect of those two players joining Riley Cooper to form a strong receiver/slot combo platter, with LeSean McCoy wheel-routing as a good option out of the backfield. But the difference between Jackson and the Maclin/Sproles combination is easy: Jackson’s a legitimate top-five-in-the-league deep threat. Maclin’s not. In their last two healthy seasons, Maclin (2012) and Sproles (2013) averaged a combined 10.4 yards per catch. Jackson averaged 16.2, and caught five passes a game. That’s a big hole to fill. I don’t doubt Kelly can accommodate Jackson’s absence, but it’s not going to be easy.
Belichick leads on instant replay. More than a few people at the NFL meetings in Orlando took note of how engaged New England coach Bill Belichick—not normally a big speaker at league meetings—acted in the discussion on instant replay. Belichick believes every call should be replay review-able, and I’m told he gave a reasoned, cogent explanation of his position to the league when the matter was discussed last week. “Let’s open it up,” he said—meaning let’s allow any call to be reviewed. Instead of the focus being on controversial calls that were wrong and by rule reviewable, he advocated for any call (with still a max of two per team) to be subject to a challenge. There’s growing sentiment for that position, and Belichick is obviously a respected voice in the room, but there’s certainly not the necessary 24 votes right now for what would be a major change to replay. I’m in favor of that, by the way. There were 1.65 replay reviews per game last season. Even if that were to go up to, say, 2.65 per game with the Belichick initiative, I don’t see much time being added to the average length of games, because most of the reviews (65 percent last year, officiating czar Dean Blandino said) can be done in conjunction with TV timeouts.
And some movement on the PAT too. Good idea by Competition Committee member and noted conservative-football guy Mike Brown of the Bengals: Put all conversion tries at the one-yard line. The kick would be a piece of cake, of course, but the shorter distance would motivate more teams to go for a two-point conversion. A team with a power running attack or a great spread scheme might be emboldened to go for two consistently. (For that I pray. How fun would it be?)
Other takeaways from the meetings…
- One of the stars of the show in Orlando was Wade Davis, the former NFL player who came out as gay after he retired. He’s consulting with the league on gay issues. Davis left several coaches and GMs a bit open-mouthed when he told them: “Every one of you guys has two or three gay guys on your team. I know. I talk to them.”
- Denver coach John Fox said “high on his list,” when his team gets back together in April, will be talking to the group about locker-room inclusiveness. “I thought [Davis’ talk] was the most incredible thing I’ve seen here [at a league meeting], and I’ve been coming to these a long time.”
- I asked Pete Carroll abut the continued development of Russell Wilson, and he told me two interesting things: He thinks Wilson can be a 70-percent passer, and Wilson and Percy Harvin are already throwing together this offseason. And also this: Carroll will not be going light on Wilson now that he’s won a Super Bowl. “He needs all the attention that everyone else needs, and he’s gonna get it,” Carroll said. “Russell’s just a young guy figuring it out. Of course, he applies himself so well that you think that he’s okay. I think that would be a tragic mistake. He’s just developing. He’s just coming on. He needs work fundamentally. He needs work on the principles of what we’re doing. He needs repetitions with the guys he plays with. All of that will just continue to add to his play. So we’re not going to treat him any differently than anybody else. We’re gonna battle like crazy to make him push his game as far as he can take it. So that’s what this offseason is about. He’ll be available as much as a guy can be available. He’s already traveling with our guys. Throwing with our guys. Working out with guys all over the country. He’s ringing the bell now. Wherever he goes, they know he’s coming. He’s gonna get them out and get them on a field somewhere, and throw the ball around, and do something with the fellas.’’
Divining the Draft. The five teams that intrigue me—for movement possibilities and volume—in the wake of the release of the official draft order the other day:
- Cleveland. With eight picks in the top 150 (4, 26, 35, 71, 83, 106, 127 and 145), Browns GM Ray Farmer can surely move around with that fourth overall pick if there’s one player he can’t do without. If Farmer wants Sammy Watkins or Jadeveon Clowney or one of the two great tackles, no question he has the draft-pick currency to do it.
- Detroit. Now the free-agent losses of Cliff Avril and Gosder Cherilus last year pay off, with two fourth-round compensatory picks. The Lions have six picks in the first four rounds (10, 45, 76, 111, 133, 136). GM Martin Mayhew can get the corner of his dreams in the first round and still get a good receiver in round two, or by moving higher with his trove of picks.
- St. Louis. The Rams are open for business, with an extra first-round pick again (they pick at 2, 13, 44 and 75 on the first two days), but this might be the year they sit and take one of the two top tackles and be thankful that Washington (from whom they got the No. 2 pick) was so bad last fall.
- Baltimore. The Ravens, with six picks in the top four rounds (17, 48, 79, 99, 134, 138), might be lucky enough that a great player at a position of not-so-great need (wideout Mike Evans?) falls into their laps early. But Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome always has the trade market pegged well, and he could move up if there’s a player of his dreams (Anthony Barr? Khalil Mack?) hanging around low in the top 10.
- New York Jets. Your move, John Idzik. The Jets GM has been conservative in free agency, not wanting to pay big at a need position like corner, and with six picks in the top four rounds (18, 49, 80, 104, 115, 137) he can finally put more of his stamp on the team. Expect a corner in the first two rounds.
One last note about Ralph Wilson. I wrote the other day how you always got the unvarnished version of events when you talked to Ralph Wilson. “ ‘Unvarnished’ would be quite an understatement,’ ’’ said his long-time PR man, Scott Berchtold, who still manages media affairs for the Bills. “He didn’t listen to me often, and I have to say 99 percent of the time he was right. I mean, this is a man who served our country in the Pacific theater in World War II as a mine-sweeper. And I’m going to tell him, ‘Watch what you say?’”
Want an example?
Late in the 1998 season, two controversial officials’ calls went against Buffalo, and the Bills lost a 25-21 game to New England. Wilson criticized the officials afterward. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue fined him $50,000, saying his comments about the officials were “corrosive.” Wilson issued this statement:
“The commissioner lecturing to me as if I were a novice, instead of one who has been involved in football infinitely longer than he has, contends that criticizing a call has ‘destructive and corrosive effects on the game.’ What is more destructive and corrosive—errant calls in front of millions of viewers or my statements of opinion? People all over the country registered shock at the way the officials, however honorable their purpose, took the game away from us. Even the league has admitted to us that the calls near the conclusion of the game were incorrect. On Monday morning, the commissioner can sermonize on destruction and corrosion, but he has never experienced the pain of blowing a crucial game due to officiating. I have yet to decide whether I will pay or challenge the fine. But, at 80, I know I don’t need pompous lectures from the commissioner and I feel that the $50,000 is not only unwarranted, but punitive in nature. The next time he may ask me to sit in the corner.”
That is what I call a statement from the heart—something we never, ever see anymore in the NFL.