“It’s your time now.”
—Cleveland receiver Anthony Armstrong to Johnny Manziel in the huddle Saturday night, before the first play of Manziel’s career.
DETROIT — At his locker in the visitors’ quarters Saturday night, not long before the clock struck midnight at Ford Field, stood safety Donte Whitner, the ebullient Cleveland Brown. Not a lot of people would be thrilled to be a Brown. But Whitner, born in Cleveland and educated at Glenville High on 113th Street in the city and then at Ohio State, had to soak it all in Saturday in the bowels of this stadium. For eight years he’d played professionally in Buffalo and then San Francisco, and tonight he’d finally put on the white jersey with brown numbers of his hometown team. “I stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom for 10 minutes, just staring," Whitner said. “So strange. Like, I’m a Brown. My heart’s been here, and now I’m here."
I figured Whitner would be the best man in the room to ask about the quarterback—the phenom, Johnny Manziel, versus the unproven but decidedly more even-keeled vet, Brian Hoyer. Whitner knows what Cleveland the city wants. Whitner has played in a Super Bowl and was the leader of a Niners secondary that held up its end for three straight playoff seasons. Whitner said all the right things about the competition between Hoyer and Manziel, which does appear close in the wake of Saturday’s preseason opener here. Close, with Manziel gaining fast on the turn into home … which no one expected a month ago. This looked clearly to be Hoyer’s gig, at least to start the season. Not anymore. The gap has closed significantly, and Saturday night was Exhibit A why.
“It’s been fierce," Whitner said. “Two guys fighting for their lives. It’s close. I’d say is split about 50-50. We know they both can play."
Manziel outplayed Hoyer in the 13-12 loss to Detroit, but the rookie (seven of 11 for 64 yards and no touchdowns or picks, six carries for 27 yards) was a B and the vet a C or C-plus. Not enough to tip the scales, yet. But from the first throw of the two quarters he played—a lasered eight-yard out route to Anthony Armstrong—Manziel was the player he’d been at Texas A&M in terms of confidence and running the game his way. That helped on a couple of throws, and on a 16-yard scramble that parted the Red Sea on the Detroit line. But it hurt him on a fourth-and-short when he rolled right and ran for the sticks, bypassing what would have been a medium- to big-gain throw to fullback Ray Agnew; Manziel barely made the necessary yard for a first down. That was a clear case of Manziel playing the way he did at Texas A&M, taking the offense into his own hands and saying, I’ll get the first down. Everyone stand clear. That’s not a smart way in the NFL because it’s just going to get him hit more. And at his size, the object is to let the other offensive guys get hit, not him.
This looked clearly to be Hoyer’s gig, at least to start the season. Not anymore. The gap has closed significantly, and Saturday night was Exhibit A why.
The fact that Manziel is close heading into one of the last tests Monday night against Washington (Browns coach Mike Pettine ideally would like to name a starter by game three of the preseason) is surprising. When Hoyer and Manziel left Cleveland in mid-June for their pre-camp break, Hoyer had a comfortable lead over the rookie. Manziel wasn’t entirely sure of himself, and he was making a few mental errors and not playing with his usual confidence in practice. The Browns wondered if he’d come back in top mental and physical shape. He did, despite his Vegas dalliances. It’s probably true that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would prefer playing the veteran, at least early. But how much difference is Hoyer’s experience, really? He’s thrown 193 NFL passes and started four games. This isn’t the Arizona Kurt Warner we’re talking about.
One more “but" for Manziel: He can’t be running at Saturday’s rate—six times in six series—and survive. Which he knows. “Obviously," he said, “that’s not the plan, for me to get that many carries every week. The better I get at progressions, the more I get comfortable with the play calls and the scheme and what we’re trying to do and pre-snap looks, the more and more I continue to get better over time. And less and less running. Hopefully that will weed out."
I asked Whitner what he thought of Manziel after being around the celeb quarterback for a couple of months now.
“Very quiet," Whitner said. “Very respectful. He’s earning his keep so far. He’s not asking for any privileges. He’s just a rookie, and he’s acting like one. When we have the rookie show, he’ll sing just like the rest of them. As far as football goes, I’m seeing him put the ball on the money like a veteran. Sometimes the receiver drops it. Sometimes the receiver isn’t even looking for the ball and it bounces off him. He’s got the confidence a quarterback has to have."
Too much confidence? I saw the right amount on the field, and, for what it’s worth, humility off it. On the field, he was the spitting image of the Texas A&M Manziel, throwing BBs and running when he wanted. I thought he’d be a bit tentative and not as decisive as, say, he was against Alabama in his defining college games. Not at all. He was who the Browns drafted.
When he finished showering and dressing (white button-down Oxford shirt, dress jeans) after the game, he stood at his locker and quietly talked on his phone or talked to a couple of the team PR guys softly. In front of the press, it was all about the team, and about progress. “For me," he said, “it’s all about getting better. At the end of the day, what I want is what’s best for the Cleveland Browns. Whichever quarterback that is, whichever way I can help this team, that’s what I’m about. I need to soak in this game tonight, learn from the film, and things will work out the way they’re supposed to."
That’s the press-conference Johnny. That’s fine for the fifth quarter—the post-game message-sending—but for the first four quarters, Whitner and his mates want a different Johnny.
“We need him to be Johnny Football," Whitner said.
St. Louis: Michael Sam has to beat out two other contenders to make the Rams.
EARTH CITY, Mo. — Michael Sam has been one of the most famous people in America over the past six months, since he announced he would try to become the first openly gay player to win a spot on an NFL team. The Rams picked him in the seventh round of the May draft, and now, to win that spot, he’ll have to beat out two green defensive ends who are not household names in their own households: Sammy Brown, a second-year undrafted player from the University of Houston; and undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks from West Texas A&M.
That’s the football news coming out of St. Louis on Sam. The social news is better than I thought it would be. Far better. Sam’s been like wallpaper. Unnoticed, fits in well. He’s said no to every national interview request—Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, everyone—and will continue to do so, I’m told. “The only time we talk about the story,’’ Jeff Fisher said, “is when someone from the media comes in and asks about it. I can’t emphasize enough how smooth and uneventful it’s been. Mike has been great.”
“I think some people on the outside look at him like he’s some kind of alien," Sam Bradford told me. “He’s fit in so well. He’s just a guy trying to make a football team.”
He’s managed to be one of the guys, I’m told, by not being overly sensitive. “What he’s doing,’’ said former NFL player Wade Davis, who came out as gay after his short pro career, ‘is saying, ‘Everyone knows I’m gay, and let’s not make it the secret no one talks about.' It’s Michael Sam fitting in. I give the team lots of credit too. When I went there after the draft to talk to the team, one player raised his hand and asked me, ‘How do we make Michael Sam comfortable on this team?’ That tells me the Rams were ready, and the league was too.’’
“I told the team if anyone wanted to talk about it, anything about it, come talk to me,’’ Fisher said. “No one has."
The Rams made no special accommodations for Sam, and he asked for none. He has spoken to the local and national press once this summer, in a group, and then again after Friday’s game against the Saints. The most impressive of the three marginal competitors in the loss to New Orleans was the aforementioned Westbrooks, who had three tackles and two quarterback hits. Sam: one tackle, one quarterback hit, one pressure. Sam played 33 snaps and seemed to tire near the end of the game. But he had two strong rushes, one on a fast outside move—he dropped 13 pounds to 257 in the month before camp. He needed to be faster, he thought, and so he lost weight and got a smidge quicker.
I think some people on the outside look at Michael Sam like he’s some kind of alien," Sam Bradford says. “He’s just a guy trying to make a football team.
When Sam’s first game was over, he found a group of friends in the rotunda outside the Rams’ locker room—two were wearing his No. 96—and embraced them and howled, “This is the REAL DEAL!” Then, he repeated it at least four times. It was the raw excitement of a rookie who had just gotten his first taste of real, live pro football. The fact that he had just made history, as the first openly gay player in the league, was secondary in his mind all night. “I was focusing on the guy in front of me,” he said. After the game, he was running through his mind two plays on which he thought he should have had sacks. One: He chased down New Orleans quarterback Ryan Griffin outside the pocket and got a hit on him, and another when he pulled up too soon, thinking it was a screen. Sam’s NFL debut began with about five minutes left in the first quarter, during the Rams’ second defensive series, giving him plenty of chances to prove he belongs. The first time Sam’s name was announced over the Edward Jones Dome PA system came late in the first quarter—“Under pressure from No. 96, Michael Sam”—and a cheer rose from the crowd. Trailblazers draw more attention than your standard seventh-round pick: Sam’s jersey was the sixth-best selling in the NFL since April, and when he got off the rookie bus three hours before kickoff Friday night, he was met by a security guard and filmed by a cameraman. But his takeaway from his first NFL game was exactly what every late-round rookie is trying to prove: “I can play in this league,” he said.
Barring injury, eight St. Louis defensive linemen (Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Williams Hayes and Eugene Sims at end, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Aaron Donald and Alex Carrington at tackle) are likely to make the team. Jeff Fisher is likely to keep nine defensive linemen, though depending on special-teams contributions from other spots he could keep as few as eight or as many as 10. Say it’s nine. That means Brown, the versatile Westbrooks and Sam are probably fighting for one spot on the 53-man roster. There is the eight-man practice squad that Sam could make as well, if he doesn’t earn a spot on the 53-man roster. I’d be surprised if he didn’t at least make that.
If Sam doesn’t make the practice squad, you’ll know he had a poor camp and was a non-factor on special teams. As of now, he’s slated to play one kicking team—as a wedge blocker (one of the two interior blockers) on the kickoff-return team, and he debuted there against the Saints. The fact that he lost 13 pounds to, in part, be faster for special-teams play was not lost on Rams GM Les Snead or Fisher.
Sam’s doing everything right. Now he needs a big hit on a quarterback in the final three games, or a few pressures from his lighter weight making him faster. Said Rams VP of football operations Kevin Demoff last week: “He’s got four games to prove he belongs.” Three now. Every snap’s an opportunity. Every snap for his competition is an opportunity too.
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Stories of the weekend...
Flagville. Good work by John Clayton, adding up the illegal contact and defensive holding penalties from the first 17 preseason games. The league wants defensive players to have hands off after the five-yard bump zone at the line of scrimmage, and to not hold or grab at all. Rest assured it won’t be called as closely in week one of the regular season as it was over the weekend; the theory is players will get used to the new strictures and will stop all the clutching and grabbing mostly naturally. Back to the numbers: There were 37 illegal contact penalties all of last regular season; there have been 27 in the first 17 preseason games. There were 171 defensive holds calls. So far this preseason, 53 defensive holds have been whistled. The Bills have their defenders practicing with boxing gloves; St. Louis defensive backs take the field in scrimmage holding tennis balls, so they’re tempted to not grab. I’m told the league plans to officiate tight in the preseason, but I cannot imagine the same ticky-tack stuff being called once the regular games start. We’ll see.
Fan abuse continues. Fans in Washington (average ticket price: $218) didn’t see healthy scratch Tom Brady when the Patriots came to town Thursday. Fans in Tennessee (average ticket price: $113) didn’t see healthy scratches Aaron Rodgers or Jordy Nelson Saturday night. Fans in Detroit (average ticket price: $153) didn’t see healthy scratch Calvin Johnson on Saturday night.
Extra points from the 15. Two got missed in 16 games over the weekend. Good. The extra point should be harder, and I don’t consider kicking from the 33 much of a hardship. “Listen,’’ said Sean Payton after Saints kicker Shayne Graham missed a PAT Friday night, “we’re not talking about hitting a 50-yard field goal here.” Right on. Discussing it Sunday at Vikes camp with Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh, a charter member of the Kickers United Party, he said, “I understand the Competition Committee wants to make it more of a challenging play, but especially if they move it out to the 43, like they have been talking about, you definitely will have game decided by a made or missed extra point. I’m not sure that’s what the Competition Committee intended.’’ Yes it is. The Competition Committee wants it to be a play that matters, with something on the line—not a 99.6 percent sure thing, which it is now.
What a night for the Cardinals. The first-team offense had two drives. Carson Palmer (five of five, TD pass) led one, Drew Stanton (four of four, TD pass) the other. Arizona skunked Houston 32-0. That’s a garish-enough score, but just think of the way the Cards’ offense went through a team with pretty good defensive talent. Said in some form for the 949th time summer (and it’s only Aug. 11), “The NFC West could be all-time great.”
The honeymoon is on for Baltimore offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. He likes the screen game! He likes to play smashmouth! Three screens (according to Pro Football Focus) Thursday night against the Niners, all complete, for 33 yards. And the Ravens rushed for 237 yards, lots against backups, but the will was there. Kubiak’s more the kind of play-caller and offensive philosopher to fit John Harbaugh’s style of play.
Revelations: Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, a burner, sprinted 69 yards with a touchdown pass, leaving Bengals in the dust … Just saw a few Giants’ highlights, and Jason Pierre-Paul was the beast the Giants need so badly in the pass-rush game … Mark “Contract Year” Ingram steamrolled some Rams. Looked terrific … Dri Archer, the Steelers’ rookie version of Darren Sproles, wowed the Giants.
Matthew Stafford had better stay healthy. I can’t imagine the Lions doing anything but mailing in the rest of the season if Dan Orlovsky, a heck of a nice guy, had to play. He just can’t do it, as Saturday night’s performance at Ford Field illustrated.
Tennessee: Fixing Jake.
Completion percentages, by season, in Jake Locker’s college (University of Washington) and NFL (Tennessee) career:
Average completion percentage across the NFL last year: .612. In six college and pro seasons, Locker has never reached that number.
“His stats are what he is,’’ said new coach Ken Whisenhunt. “But that doesn’t mean he can’t change.”
Whisenhunt has participated in the career upturns of Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner and Philip Rivers. In his office one recent day before practice, he got up from his chair and demonstrated one of the off-season lessons for Locker: widening his stance before throwing, and shortening his stride. “Jake was here,’’ Whisenhunt said, with his feet close together, “and when he threw with that long stride, I think it caused him to overthrow. I don’t want that giant stride. He’s fixed that … We’ve asked him to do a lot out of his comfort zone this offseason, and he has responded well. When he works hard and pays attention to his in-the-pocket mechanics, they’re really good. And that has a lot to do with your accuracy.’’
“Do you think Jake’s your quarterback of the future?” I said.
“I hope so,’’ Whisenhunt said. “I feel good about what I see out here . But you’re not getting hit out here either. The question is, can you do all the right things when you’re about to get hit?”
I saw the Titans scrimmage inside their stadium when I was in Nashville, and Locker’s improvement showed some—but as Whisenhunt pointed out, the quarterbacks wore the red don’t-hit-me jerseys. He hit two nice out routes to Nate Washington, and a longer seam throw to Washington up the left side. Two zits: At the line of scrimmage before one snap, safety Bernard Pollard yelled out to corner Jason McCourty, “Watch the double move!!” Immediately, Locker straightened up and called time. Not good. He’s got to process information quicker—defenders are going to be doing things like that every play during the season. And in the red zone, he threw a pass that was picked by linebacker Wesley Woodyard at the goal line, an awful throw that looked like it was intended for Woodyard. He completed six of seven on the drive, but that seventh throw, in a game, would have been a dagger.
Make no mistake: This is a proving year for Locker. He’s got this year, his fourth in Tennessee, to convince Whisenhunt and GM Ruston Webster he’s the quarterback for the long haul. He’s going to have to stay healthy—injuries have curtailed both of his last two seasons—and show Whisenhunt that he can move the chains with accuracy and intelligence. “I have tremendous confidence in what we’re doing, and I think if you throw the ball with conviction you’re going to be a more accurate thrower,’’ Locker said.
Whisenhunt, who was hired to replace Mike Munchak in January, inherited Locker. Over the next five months Locker will show the Titans whether they’ll need to be in the 2015 quarterback market. His history shows it’s going to be a tough task, but certainly not impossible. He’s a mobile player and good leader, and if he takes coaching well, he’s got a chance to stay.
* * *
Kansas City: You had to see this to believe it.
Moment of the week on The MMQB Training Camp Tour, Thursday night, as The MMQB team stood on the sideline late in the fourth quarter of Bengals-Chiefs:
The Kansas City quarterbacks witness Bengals quarterback Matt Scott puke through his facemask. Taking a shotgun snap, he pukes again.
“The dude’s projectile-vomiting!" quarterback Tyler Bray said.
Timeout, Cincinnati, Fifty-three seconds left. Scott goes to the sidelines. Look out below! Another stream of vomit. Trainers hover, concerned. Scott wipes his mouth and heads back to the field. Third-and-one. Bengals down 10. Scott, in the shotgun, takes the snap, and fires a line drive to the gut of post-running wideout Conner Vernon, a Chiefs corner draped on him. Touchdown. Good catch. Better throw. Bengals go for two. Scott takes the snap, looks to throw, sees an opening, sprints up the middle. Conversion good.
Who throws up for three times in a few minutes, comes back on the field, makes a perfect throw on the next play, then runs in the two-point conversion?
“I did it before," said Scott, the former Arizona Wildcat, still energized, walking off the field a little wobbly after the game. “Against USC. I got hit hard, puked, and threw a touchdown pass on the next play. Then they took me out." Turns out he shouldn’t have been in the game after the hit. He’d been concussed.
I asked him what happened tonight. “Been sick all week," said Scott, a 2013 undrafted free agent who spent last season on the Jaguars' practice squad. “Some kind of virus, some sinus thing. I’ve been taking antibiotics. Felt awful all week. But there’s no way I wasn’t playing tonight. No time to be sick."
In the Kansas City locker room, the quarterbacks couldn’t believe what they’d seen. Much respect to the vomitous Bengal.
“Really impressive," said Alex Smith. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
Tyler Bray said: “He projectile-vomited, and he threw a dime. Who does that?"
Fast-forward two days. Tough business, the NFL. Scott is already number four on the Bengals' QB depth chart, and Cincinnati signed another passer, Tyler Wilson, for camp competition on Saturday.
* * *
It’s a good day when Football Outsiders Almanac comes out.
The usual good job has been done by editor Aaron Schatz and his Football Outsiders crew (Mike Tanier, Doug Farrar, Jason Lisk, Christopher Price, Chase Stuart) on “Football Outsiders Alamanac 2014.’’ Some prime tidbits:
- FO projects college receivers to the NFL with a system called Playmaker Score. In general, the mark of a really good prospect is a Playmaker Score above 80 percent. This year, 13 rookie receivers hit this mark. FO's database goes back to 1996, and there had never been a season with more than eight such players. FO actually projects Brandin Cooks, not Sammy Watkins, as the top prospect among this year's wide receivers. (The highest Playmaker Score ever belonged to Randy Moss.)
- The Minnesota Vikings had the worst offense on second-and-short (1-2 yards to go) of any offense in FO's play-by-play database, going back to 1989. Yes, they did this despite having Adrian Peterson. Yes, this is an indicator of likely improvement in 2014. Yes, it's particularly an indicator of likely improvement because it's the kind of problem that a new offensive coordinator would likely attack first.
- My favorite of their stats in this year's book: Arizona used shotgun formations (including pistol) on 38 percent of offensive plays last season, less than any other team. To show you how much the NFL has changed, that would have LED THE LEAGUE just 10 years ago. (Indianapolis used shotgun on a league-leading 32 percent of plays in 2003.) Philadelphia used shotgun or pistol on 86 percent of its plays last year, the highest rate in NFL history.
- Speaking of Chip Kelly’s influence, the Eagles averaged 6.6 yards after catch, the highest figure since FO started tracking YAC in 2005. Particularly impressive was their average of 12.1 yards after catch on passes thrown at or behind the line of scrimmage (NFL average: 8.9). However, the Eagles weren't just about the short pass. They threw 28 percent of their passes deep (at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage). No other offense was above 24 percent.
- Chicago used six offensive linemen on 16 percent of plays last year—no other NFL team was above 10 percent—and they were excellent on these plays. In general, teams pass about one-fourth of the time when using an extra lineman, but the Bears passed on 47 percent of these plays. The Bears averaged 6.2 yards per play; of the 10 teams to use an extra lineman most often, the closest in yards per play was Atlanta at 5.0.
- Andy Reid Self-Parody Department: Pre-Reid, Kansas City ranked first in the league, running on 50 percent of first downs in 2012. That plummeted to 33 percent (30th) last season, Reid’s rookie Chiefs’ year.
- Patriots receivers dropped 38 passes, more than any other team except Detroit. But the Patriots' defense benefited from 40 opponent drops, more than any defense except Green Bay's.
Quotes of the Week
"Scholarships are enough, bro!"
—Leatherlunged fan at a Vikings' practice in Mankato, Minn., to free-agent wide receiver Kain Colter of Northwestern. Colter is the lead player in an attempt by college athletes to unionize, the theory being, of course, that scholarships are not enough compensation for players who are the employees in a multimillion-dollar college sports business.
“I thought we’d come out and be sharper than that and execute better than that. Disappointed in the way that we played."
—Oakland coach Dennis Allen, after Matt Schaub’s three series in the first preseason game at Minnesota ended in punt, punt, punt … and without a first down.
I wonder if Dennis Allen ever wakes up in a cold sweat and says, “Mark Davis is going to fire me after three years and I never had a quarterback who gave me a chance to win.”
“We don’t have any glaring holes. We do have a glaring lack of experience.”
—Les Snead, the general manager of the Rams, to me. St. Louis had the youngest roster in the NFL last season, and likely will again this year.
“When you go out there—and I would just encourage people, the politicians that have fun with our football team's name—I would encourage them to go out there and learn and listen to really what's happening in Indian Country so they can help Indian Country. This is not PR. We do not have PR people doing this stuff. This is really genuine."
—Washington owner Dan Snyder, talking to former tight end and current radio voice Chris Cooley on the team’s flagship radio station, on the charitable efforts of a foundation started by the team to help some needy Native American causes around the country.
Stats of the Week
Interceptions thrown by Nick Foles:
|44 regular-season quarters, 2013||2|
|1 preseason quarter, 2014||2|
St. Louis is finished spending its draft choices from the Robert Griffin III trade with Washington, so now some other team, or teams, will be dominant in the 2015 draft.
Cleveland is the obvious one. The Browns have their seven picks intact plus:
- Buffalo’s first-round pick, from the 2014 trade that allowed the Bills to take Sammy Watkins.
- Buffalo’s fourth-round pick, from the same trade.
- Baltimore’s sixth-round pick, from Cleveland sending its seventh-rounder in 2014 to the Ravens.
That leaves Cleveland with this lineup of picks:
First round: 2
Second round: 1
Third round: 1
Fourth round: 2
Fifth round: 1
Sixth round: 2
Seventh round: 1
Total (tentatively): 10.
But do not forget Kansas City, which had its veteran roster pillaged in free-agency. The Chiefs could collect the maximum four compensatory picks from lost 2014 free-agents. Nothing is set in stone until the off-season, because the compensatory formula relies on how free-agents play and how much they play, as well as the amount of money they signed for. But here’s guessing what the Chiefs will get as compensatory picks in what could be a very rich 2015 draft for them:
|Lost player||Contract terms||Est. 2015 comp. pick|
|T Branden Albert||5 years, $47 million||3rd rd|
|DE Tyson Jackson||5 years, $25 million||5th rd|
|G Jon Asomoah||5 years, $22.5 million||5th rd|
|G Geoff Schwartz||4 years, $16.8 million||6th rd|
Look for Kansas City GM John Dorsey to push one of his tight ends (the Giants need one) and a kicker (either reliable vet Ryan Succop or strong rookie Cairo Santos) for a low-round pick sometime before the final cutdown. He won’t get anything better than a sixth-, and probably just a seventh-, if he’s able to make a deal.
If the compensatory numbers pan out—and again, they are best estimates—and a deal for a seventh-round pick goes through, this could be the Chiefs’ standing in the 2015 draft:
First round: 1
Second round: 1
Third round: 2
Fourth round: 1
Fifth round: 3
Sixth round: 2
Seventh round: 2
Total (tentatively): 12.
Much debate about the value of the Andy Dalton contract in Cincinnati, but let’s look at what he’ll get in the first three years, if he quarterbacks the Bengals and wins a Wild Card game this season. If that’s the only playoff game he wins in the first three years of the contract, here’s the essence of what Dalton will earn in each of the six years of the deal:
|Earnings by year||Total as of each year|
|Year 1: $17.99 million||$17.99M|
|Year 2: $8.0 million||$25.99M|
|Year 3: $11.7 million||$37.69M|
|Year 4: $14.3 million||$51.99M|
|Year 5: $17.2 million||$69.19M|
|Year 6: $18.7 million||$87.89M|
Note: The Bengals can cut Dalton after the fifth year of the contract and have no cap debt. So, more accurately, if Dalton wins one Wild Card game this year and no more playoff games in his first five seasons of the deal, it’s a five-year, $69-million deal ($13.8-million a year) with no cap hit should the Bengals release him then. There are other bonuses if he wins more playoff games. And if he never wins a playoff game, you can lower the years 2 through 6 totals by $1 million each year. I just did it this way to show you a realistic look of what the contract could be over the next few years if he wins one playoff game. As coach Marvin Lewis told me, “We hope he makes every dime of the deal at the top end—that’ll mean we’re winning a lot.”
Chip Kelly Wisdom of the Week
I started this last week, and I’ll use something from the Eagles coach every week he’s got some wisdom to dispense. This week, Kelly on preseason depth charts:
“Seriously, the depth chart, I don't care. I think Derek did it. I mean, it's absolutely nothing. I know we're going to get questions on it, and I'll be honest with you, I do not care how that's listed. I said a long time ago, it's written in sand, it's written in water, it can be written in anything. That depth chart means absolutely nothing. The only reason we make one is because they tell us to make one.’’
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Label this the Remarkably Coincidental Factoid of the Week:
Kansas City coach Andy Reid has always been an offensive-line-lover, and so it was with a bit of a heavy heart that after last season he and GM John Dorsey allowed tackle Branden Albert and guard Jon Asomoah to walk in free-agency—Albert to Miami and Asomoah to Atlanta.
In March, Reid and wife Tammy planned a trip to Turks and Caicos for a short vacation. They were in the airport in Miami, ready to board a short flight to the Caribbean island, when Reid spied Albert—who, incredibly, was on the same flight as the Reids to the island. Even stranger, Reid sat down on the plane and right next to him, across the aisle, was Albert.
On the return flight to Kansas City, the Reids had to change planes in Atlanta. On his way to the gate for the KC leg of the trip, he saw a familiar face, and body. It was Asomoah, leaving his new home as a Falcon to return to Kansas City for a few days. Reid couldn’t believe it. But that’s not the end of the story.
Reid boarded the plane and sat down. Asomoah boarded the plane and sat down. Asomoah was seated across the aisle, right next to Reid.
The man battling Michael Sam for a roster spot in St. Louis, West Texas A&M defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks, has a tattoo next to his left eye. It says, “Laugh now, Cry later,’’ and has a small happy face and small sad face there, tattooed forever on his face.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Just one personal note as we reach the three-week mark of The MMQB’s training camp trip: I have turned the television on in my room once as we move from camp to camp. That was the night of the baseball trading deadline, and I watched ESPN’s coverage for about 45 minutes late that evening. Otherwise, zippo TV. I have to say I like the quiet a lot.
One note on the tour, as we darted 718 miles from Detroit (post-game Saturday night) to Mankato, Minn., for a Sunday practice: We earned traffic tickets in two different states—a real ticket for something called “misuse of lanes” in Coral Township, Ill., at 3:53 a.m. Sunday, and a warning ticket for driving 13 miles over the speed limit at 7:58 a.m. in Hamilton, Wis. Quite an accomplishment, two tickets in four hours.
KANSAS CITY-Our @andy_benoit on the scene at Arrowhead. pic.twitter.com/6uO23DpE6S
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) August 8, 2014
Now a staff note: It has been interesting to have Andy Benoit of The MMQB on our trip for a few days. Andy has been mostly a stay-at-home, game- and tape-watcher and writer as an NFL analyst, and I wanted him to get out and meet some of the people he’s seen only on tape and watched only on TV. It will be interesting to read some of his analysis this week on the site. He’s going to have some good interpretive stuff from talks with Kansas City safety Eric Berry and Chicago running back Matt Forte.
But Andy is an engaging fellow to travel with. We’ve kept track of his best quotes as we’ve rolled from Cincinnati to Indianapolis to St. Louis to Kansas City to Chicago to Detroit and, Sunday, to Mankato to see the Vikings.
Benoit on milk: “I used to drink five gallons of milk a week until my girlfriend made me stop. I figured, milk’s healthy … I assured my family now I would drink only two gallons a week.’’
Benoit on struggling to kick the milk addiction: “Monday, after we saw the Colts, it was maybe 9:45 at night, and I went to a supermarket and purchased a half-quart of milk and drank it in the parking lot. I felt like an alcoholic.’’
Benoit on a favorite of The MMQB road crew, Corn Nuts: “Corn Nuts aren’t something you can force. It takes maybe 10 or 12 nuts before you can really like them.”
Benoit on snacks: “If anyone is hungry, I have a pear in my bag.”
Benoit on his two cats, Mr. Fizzles and Othercat: “Mr. Fizzles is out of shape. His stomach sways back and forth when he walks. Othercat has come into this preseason in the best shape of its life.”
Benoit, who likes to eat every two hours, at about midnight Thursday: “What time are we going to stop for lunch tomorrow?”
Benoit on Taylor Swift: “No one has mastered the art of vengeance better than Taylor Swift.”
Benoit on a certain West Coast rapper: “I met Snoop Dogg five years ago, and I still work that into every conversation I can.’’
Benoit, who is woefully uneducated when it comes to rock music, on Springsteen: “I just heard ‘Born to Run’ for the first time.”
Tweets of the Week
Season two of True Detective is going to focus on how Caldwell got a sixth-rounder for Gabbert.
— Hays Carlyon (@HaysCarlyon) August 8, 2014
The Jags beat man for the Florida Times Union, on Jacksonville GM Dave Caldwell’s trade of the seemingly hapless Blaine Gabbert to the 49ers in the off-season for a sixth-round draft pick.
Gabbert’s 49er debut at Baltimore Thursday night: 3 of 11, 20 yards, no touchdowns, one pick, a passer rating of 1.7.
I can go back to rooting for the @Browns now, like I did growing up.
— London Fletcher (@LFletcher59) August 9, 2014
The ex-linebacker played 16 years for St. Louis, Buffalo and Washington before retiring after the 2013 season. On Saturday, Fletcher could root for the Browns for the first time since he was a John Carroll linebacker in the mid-’90s, cheering on Bill Belichick’s old Browns.
10 penalty flags now this quarter. 4:55 remaining. Help.
— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) August 9, 2014
The Bears beat man during the first quarter of Philadelphia-Chicago. Flags flew inordinately (17 in the first half of Eagles-Bears) on the first full weekend of football everywhere because of new points of emphasis.
Spotted Kenny Bania at Yankee Stadium. Sudden craving for Roundtine. #ItsgoldJerrygold
— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) August 8, 2014
Sorry if you don’t get it. If you go to Mendy’s and get the soup, you will understand.
So if Johnny football kill tonight y'all gonna say "it's just preseason". If he doesn't y'all gonna say he don't belong. Smh
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) August 9, 2014
The Oklahoma City Thunder basketball player, before Johnny Manziel made his NFL debut Saturday night in Detroit.
Everyone’s an expert. Everyone’s a media expert. I do believe, Kevin, that there won’t be much of finality judged after a first preseason game.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the eye-opening story of the week was CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora reporting several team officials were upset that NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino was captured by TMZ getting off a Dallas Cowboys luxury bus in Los Angeles recently while the Cowboys were in Southern California for training camp. The problem, LaCanfora reported, is that Blandino, who is obviously supposed to be wholly impartial, should not be on a Cowboys party bus. I am told this is the story Blandino (whose honor I’ve never heard questioned inside the league or by any club officials) was telling in the wake of the TMZ footage: He met Stephen Jones, a member of the league’s Competition Committee, for dinner in Los Angeles. After dinner, Jones suggested they get a drink. Blandino accepted. They went to a bar and had a drink. From there, Blandino parted ways with Jones and others in his party. TMZ got some shots of several people, including women, through the windows of the Cowboys bus, but Blandino was not among the group at that time. He was gone. On Friday morning Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported the league had received no complaints from any club officials about the alleged impropriety. On Saturday afternoon I checked with two league officials, who confirmed Florio’s report and said in the day-and-a-half since it appeared there were still no complaints about Blandino’s behavior.
I’m fine with Blandino dining (and wining, to some degree) with key team officials; it’s part of the job. But I’d draw the line at late-night beering or club-hopping. This doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it does these anonymous people quoted by LaCanfora, because officiating czars are going to pal around with significant league and team officials. But if I’m Roger Goodell, I’m telling Blandino: Dinner fine, revelry beyond that not so fine.
2. I think these three things struck me about the Washington-New England joint practices last week:
- Crowds of more than 20,000 two days in a row? In Richmond, Va.? That's the power of the NFL, and of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and the Washington brand in Virginia. Startling still, though.
- Some great observations by my buddy Don Banks of SI.com from the scene: “Nothing prepared me for the frenzied scene at Washington’s Bon Secours Training Center early last Monday morning. The Patriots were in town for the first of their three days of joint workouts with Washington, and to say the presence of Bill Belichick and his perennial AFC powerhouse had created a bit of a buzz qualified as massive understatement. The front page of Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch had heralded the impending arrival of Tom Brady and the Patriots like visiting royalty, and thousands of fans lined up hours before the 8:35 a.m. workout started. Everywhere you looked there were cars circling the area and vying for parking spaces that now seemed non-existent. Washington’s burgundy and gold was in no short supply, but you could say the same thing about the sea of Patriots’ red, white and blue, with maybe four of out every 10 fans sporting the enemy colors of the visiting New Englanders. Through five-plus hours of practices Monday and Tuesday, a gaggle of media members from New England, Washington, Richmond and plenty of national outlets were there to cover every last snap of it, and I’ve never seen a training camp setting where the reporters had to fight for space like it was Super Bowl media day. My favorite snapshot? The sight of about 50 reporters/cameramen huddled tightly in a horseshoe configuration around one goal post, waiting for Brady to climb into the middle of all that for his post-practice press conference on Tuesday. I watched Brady survey the mob scene as he approached, then slowly shake his head and laugh … I’ve been to dozens of preseason games, and even some meaningless regular season affairs, that lacked the excitement and energy of these joint workouts. The Patriots consistently got the better of Washington during the workouts, with Brady slicing up Jim Haslett’s defense in the two-minute drills, and New England’s much-improved cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner keeping Robert Griffin III and Washington’s receivers largely under wraps. But that’s about what you’d expect from the teams that finished first in the AFC East and last in the NFC East. The real winners seemed to be the city of Richmond and all those people who were more than ready for some football."
Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston isn’t just good on the Patriots. He’s strong on the ancillary things. Such as this, after the Patriots’ trip to Richmond: “One of my biggest takeaways from Patriots-Redskins joint practices was surprise that Robert Griffin III didn’t look like the best quarterback on his own team. In fact, I thought Kirk Cousins was better than him, from the perspective of running the offense, fine-tuned mechanics and how decisively the ball came out of his hand. I wondered if I was alone, and then heard the same sentiment echoed by some others in the Patriots organization."
- To me, Cousins is worth a second-round pick from a quarterback-needy team.
3. I think you could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard the Scott Mitchell news the other day. NBC announced that the former Dan Marino backup and free-agent millionaire (five years, $25 million) Detroit quarterback Scott Mitchell will be a contestant on “The Biggest Loser” show. Mitchell is 6-foot-6. He weighed 238 pounds as a player. He weighs 366 now. That’s a 128-pound inflation. Twenty years ago this season, Mitchell signed a five-year, $25-million contract with the Lions. I covered his free-agent search for Sports Illustrated, and I remember he was the hot guy in free agency that year. And look at this season he had in 1995 with the Lions:
That year, Mitchell outdueled Steve Young on a Monday night in the Silverdome. He threw three touchdown passes to beat Brett Favre and the Packers. He beat Warren Moon and the Vikings with a 410-yard, four-touchdown afternoon. Two years later, in the midst of Green Bay’s 13-3 NFC Championship season, Mitchell and the Lions were one of the three blips on the Packer record, with a 26-15 win. In a dramatic Sunday-nighter in Miami, Mitchell had a memorable duel with his Miami mentor, Marino. The situation: With five minutes left, Miami had a 30-22 lead. Detroit was backed up on its four-yard line. Mitchell led Detroit on a 13-play, 96-yard drive, finishing with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Herman Moore with 1:14 left. Then he threw a two-point conversion pass to Moore to tie. Marino came right back and led a winning field goal drive. The final: Miami 33, Detroit 30. I mean, for a while, Scott Mitchell was a player. Thus the triple-take when you hear, “Scott Mitchell weighs 366 and will be on ‘The Biggest Loser’ this season.”
4. I think it’s early (about three months early) to start talking about 2015 head-coaching candidates, but I hope Kansas City special-teams coordinator Dave Toub gets a legitimate chance next year. You never know if a special-teams guy can follow in John Harbaugh’s footsteps, but Toub’s such an impressive coach and person. In the first quarter of a new preseason Thursday night, his kick-return team had a 65-yard return, and his punt-return unit had an 80-yard touchdown return. Not surprising that Toub would have his guys ready, even after just two weeks of the preseason. And that De’Anthony Thomas, the rookie from Oregon … that was his 80-yarder, and it was a thing of return beauty. He bounced off one tackler immediately, and used a ridiculous burst to the outside to run past Cincinnati’s entire team.
5. I think I learned one thing on this trip that’s yet another reason why so many football people are against a permanent team in London. Last year, when the Jaguars were in London, GM David Caldwell was looking at the waiver wire and saw a linebacker, Martez Wilson, he liked on waivers. It was Thursday of a game week. Caldwell, number one, didn’t want to cut a player on his roster in London and unceremoniously ship him home from Europe before the game. Number two, he didn’t know what kind of game shape or mental shape with the Jags’ playbook Wilson would be in if he arrived, let’s say, on Friday evening in London. So Caldwell passed on the waiver claim (and because the Jags had waiver priority with the worst record in football, they would have gotten Wilson). Wilson was then claimed by the Raiders. Wasted chance. So I wonder how often a competitive issue like that would come into play if a London team was trying to do business in competition with the other NFL teams on this side of the Atlantic.
6. I think this is what I was talking about all along with the Jets’ quarterback situation: We’ll see what happens in the preseason. That’s the only way you’ll tell who is better, and who wins the job. And in Mike Vick’s only drive with the first team, he led a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Geno Smith didn’t hurt his case Thursday. But Vick excelled.
7. I think I’m not sure which quote I hear more from players of these two:
- “I am in the best shape of my life at this training camp.”
- “I learned that a supplement I took caused the positive test. I deeply regret not investigating the supplement.” (Miami safety Reshad Jones said that Friday afternoon, when the league suspended him for the first four games of the season for a positive PED test.)
8. I think I’m long past questioning the intelligence—or the honesty—of these players who test positive for banned substances. I question the intelligence of someone who innocently says, “I want to take this over-the-counter product to get me in better shape even thought I’m not sure if it will trigger a positive PED test.” I question the honesty of players who want us to believe it was an innocent mistake. Sometimes, clearly, it was an honest mistake. But not every time.
9. I think I won’t be shocked if the Patriots cut Ryan Mallett ... or get a seventh-round pick for him from someone.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Good for federal judge Claudia Wilken, for ruling major-college football and basketball players should get at least $5,000 per year in compensation for the millions of dollars the players earn for lucrative college sports teams. In my opinion, it’s not enough to give semi-pro players full scholarships to school, not when they’re raising the amounts of money they are for the schools.
b. Get to know Indians pitcher Corey Kluber.
c. Clayton Kershaw’s last nine starts: 8.0 innings per start, nine earned runs allowed.
d. Corey Kluber’s last nine starts: 7.2 innings per start, nine earned runs allowed.
e. Felix Hernandez’s last nine starts: 7.2 innings per start, 10 earned runs allowed.
f. I screened “When the Game Stands Tall," the movie about California high school football coach Bob Ladouceur and his impact on the players he coached, based on the book by Neil Hayes. I liked it. Really good lessons in it for players and coaches in team sports, and for their parents. If I’m a high school coach of any sport, I’d take my team to it.
g. Coffeenerdness: Raise your coffee game, Marriott Towne Place Suites.
h. Beernerdness: Good to see so many parts of this country we’d never see if we flew over it. Case in point: The Bell’s Brewery restaurant and garden in Kalamazoo, Mich., where we had lunch on our way to see the Lions-Browns Saturday. If there’s a better brew on draft than Bell’s Oberon, I haven’t tasted it—at least this summer. Great place and food and beer in the town where Derek Jeter spent his youth.
i. Went to my first funeral with full military honors, for my uncle, Andy Keir, an Army veteran, in Enfield, Conn., last week. Hadn’t heard the Star-Spangled Banner in a church before, and had never seen the flag being handed to the widow, and had never heard graveside taps at a funeral. I have to say, I loved it all. Very moving, particularly the taps. Uncle Andy would have loved it.
j. A note on the discourse in this country, and on social media, in the wake of my Cam Newton column last week. I accept the fact that some people won’t agree with what I write, or find ulterior motives about why I wrote about an olive branch Newton offered to me. But can we disagree and be critical without telling me to go bleep myself 19 different ways?
k. Finally, here’s the good of social media: Donations to ALS research have jumped significantly with the Ice Bucket Challenge, thanks to stars like Andrew Luck, Sidney Crosby, Matt Lauer, much of the Boston Bruins team and, seemingly, half of New England dumping ice water over their heads and challenging three friends/peers to do the same; if the friends/peers do or do not, it’s strongly suggested they donate to ALS research.
l. So, prodded by buddy Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated, I did it Sunday at Vikings camp. It was cold, and it was not pretty.
The Adieu Haiku
to lose QB job pre-Sept?
Money's on Matt Schaub.