So I’ve been away for awhile, a bit on vacation (I highly recommend reading, “When Breath Becomes Air,” about the life lessons of a dying neurosurgeon), a bit drumming up business for this site, a bit settling into a new Manhattan apartment. I owe major thanks to MMQB fill-ins Jenny Vrentas, Robert Klemko, Emily Kaplan, Jake Plummer, Geoff Schwartz and Mike Florio for being smart, topical, prolific, clever and did I say smart? And here we are again, at the dawn of another season.
Today is the start of my 20th year writing this column, which is daunting. I’m going to tinker with some new things in the column this fall; more about that down in 10 Things. I’ll need your help in deciding my direction on several fronts.
The MMQB’s training camp trip starts Tuesday morning in Green Bay, where I’ll be on the sidelines for the first NFL practice of the new season. I’ll have my camp slate in this column, so come and say hi out on the road—or throw tomatoes. Or better yet, buy me a beer.
I’m going to use the top of the column today on 32 issues for 32 teams, and I’ll get to that in very short order. But there’s something right at the top, in the wake of the death of Dennis Green on Thursday, that I want to broach first. It’s about black coaches, and about Mike Tomlin, and the Rooney Rule. While I was away, Mike Sando of ESPN.com wrote an excellent, enlightening piece about how progress in the hiring of black coaches has stalled (that’s putting it mildly), with one first-time African-American head coach hired in the past five years, and only five of the 85 offensive coordinators, quarterback coaches or offensive quality-control coaches (men who have influence over the most important position in the game, quarterback) being African-American.
Today at The MMQB, you’ll read Tony Dungy’s tribute column on Green. Dungy writes about Green taking significant time during the season to coach coaches. It’s a compelling read. Over the weekend, I asked Dungy—the first African-American Super Bowl-winning coach—what he’d do to fix the hiring process.
“I’d tell owners and people in position to make hires to slow down, and study what the Steelers do,” said Dungy, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in two weeks. “They’ve had three coaches in almost 50 years. They don’t fire coaches. They back their coaches when times are hard, and you’re always going to have some of those times when you coach. This last time , when they hired Mike Tomlin, he wasn’t the ‘hot’ guy. [Owner] Dan Rooney took his time, and he knew exactly what they were looking for in a coach. That’s what Dan does. He hires the best person for his team, and he does it on his schedule. I think the problem lots of times with the hiring process is, teams have one or two guys in mind and they rush through the process to get one of those guys without looking at more candidates. I think that can lead to mistakes.”
Tomlin, of course, is African-American. One of the reasons he was hired, at 34, was the Rooneys’ belief that this is a young man’s game, and a younger coach has a better chance to identify with players. Just watch Tomlin run a Steelers practice, which I’ve done eight or 10 times at training camps over the years. He screams, runs, cajoles, challenges, sidles up to 24 players in two hours … he’s so into it. It’s a labor of intense love. As it was, in a different way, with Chuck Noll for 23 years and Bill Cowher for 15. And now with Tomlin, for his 10th. It’s been 10 years? Already? The man’s only 44. The Steelers invested wisely.
Two numbers interest me about this issue. One: Noll won 57.2 percent of his games, including the postseason. Cowher won 61.9 percent. Tomlin has won 63.2 percent. Would you have guessed Tomlin won at a higher rate than either of his storied predecessors?
And this one, about tenure, and about success. The longest-tenured coaches have to win, and they have to play in January. Here are the four coaches in the NFL who, including this season, will have coached at least 10 consecutive years with their current teams:
The NFL has five black head coaches. Two of them are among the four longest-tenured.
On Thursday, Tomlin will welcome 90 players to his 10th camp, and he’ll begin the trek to try to make the playoffs for the seventh time. He’s repaid the Rooneys well for their faith in him. “I appreciate the fact that I have had my job a length of time where I can gain a little perspective on issues,” Tomlin said this month to Mark Kuboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “Maybe sit some fights out or have patience to let things play out. That is what experience gives you … I am not really a reflective guy. I always think that the greater days and challenges lie ahead.”
Sounds like a guy you’d want running your team.
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Let the camps begin
This is always a fun time of year. Thirty-two teams, 32 fan bases thinking, This could be our year! In order of significance—in other words, in order of importance toward determining a team’s performance—here are the factors I view as most important for each of the 32 teams.
1. DENVER: Can the Super Bowl champs win with Mark Sanchez playing quarterback? Or Trevor Siemian? (I keep hearing the heretofore totally invisible Siemian is neck-and-neck with Sanchez for the job, but come now: Can Gary Kubiak really start a quarterback whose Wikipedia bio is 119 words long?) This is a team that’s going to have win with the league’s best defense, and you’ll hear all sorts of quotes about the defense not caring who plays quarterback. But at some point, a player with a number 19 or lower is going to have to make a play in the fourth quarter of a close game for Denver to win. This camp’s vitally important to figure out who that might be, and how long a leash that person will have before Paxton Lynch plays.
2. INDIANAPOLIS: Will the real Andrew Luck stand up? His mechanics were often shoddy. He exposed himself to too many hits. He took too many dumb chances downfield. Brian Hoyer had a higher passer rating in 2015—by 16 points. And then the Colts paid Andrew Luck the richest contract in NFL history. From the first practice of the preseason on Wednesday, Luck has to show that 2015 was a bad dream.
3. SAN FRANCISCO: Will Chip find redemption—and a quarterback—in his second chance? Heard frequently in the spring that Kelly likes Blaine Gabbert a lot, so it won’t be surprising to see Gabbert win the job. Kelly’s a smart guy. He’ll take what he learned in Philadelphia (and though he’s not likely to admit it publicly, he’ll probably be more collaborative after his Philly nightmare) and be a better coach with the Niners. But in a very tough division, that may not show up for a couple years, until he can get good play out of the quarterback position and be competitive on defense in a very good defensive division.
4. OAKLAND: They’re America’s preseason darlings, but are the Raiders ready to win? Everyone loves Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack, and the free-agent signing of Bruce Irvin to help Mack rush the passer was widely praised. But being loved in August and winning in Denver late in the fourth are two different things. The Raiders are talented enough. Now Carr has to make big plays with games on the line, and training camp’s not going to show much there. But chemistry gets built in the summer. Without Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck, now it’s up to the kids to take the reins.
5. HOUSTON: Is Brock Osweiler a keeper? The Texans guaranteed $37 million to a player they never interviewed, never sat down with, never said more than “How ya doin?” to in a training camp two years ago. But you understand why they did it. A team has no chance to play deep into January without a quarterback, and the Texans didn’t have one. The price was the price. This camp—while the J.J. Watt back injury will be very big news—will be all about whether O’Brien can get Osweiler up to speed to play better than he did in his screen test for Denver last fall.
6. JACKSONVILLE: Is this finally the year the Jags have enough defense to contend? No AFC team did more to build a defense than the Jaguars, who were horrible last year on D. Malik Jackson, Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey, Prince Amukamara, Tashaun Gipson … that’s five men who, at some point this year, should all start. The clock’s ticking on the combo platter of GM Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley, who are 12-36 in their three years in north Florida. I can’t think of two finer men in those jobs in the NFL. But they’d better show significant progress this year, or owner Shad Khan will be tempted to find two different fine men early in 2017.
7. PITTSBURGH: Can DeAngelo Williams and Markus Wheaton—and maybe undervalued newcomer Ladarius Green—make up for two huge missing pieces? Deep threat Martavis Bryant and franchise back Le’Veon Bell will miss a combined 20 games this year (assuming Bell serves the reported four-game suspension), which puts tremendous pressure on Ben Roethlisberger (in his 13th season) and Antonio Brown. Question is: Is it too much pressure, particularly on Roethlisberger, who must survive a ferocious rush weekly and play 16 games for the Steelers to be legit Super Bowl contenders.
8. CAROLINA: Will Dave Gettleman’s gamble pay off? Gotta hand it to Gettleman, in trading the onerous (he thought) contract of Josh Norman for three unproven draftees and significant cap room for the future. Carolina will use this summer to get rookie cornerbacks James Bradberry (second round) and Daryl Worley (third) ready to play, and hope that fifth-rounder Zack Sanchez will challenge for playing time and perhaps earn time at nickel. It’s a transition game for the NFC champs, and Gettleman doesn’t mind that.
9. DALLAS: I get the Romo collarbone issues, but is the defense going to be competent enough for that to matter? Dallas had a crummy pass-rush to begin with, and 17.5 of the team’s 31 sacks from last year came from players either suspended to start this season or let go. I trust Rod Marinelli to make something out of very little, but the most important thing for Dallas to do during camp is get a suit of armor to fit Ezekiel Elliott—because he’d better be ready to carry it an Emmitt-like 375 times this year. Dallas needs to keep its D off the field.
10. NEW ENGLAND: Can Jimmy Garoppolo go at least 2-2? Many people making a list of the crucial training-camp stories would have this as number one. Not me. New England plays three of the first four at home (with winnable games against Miami, Houston and Buffalo in Foxboro in that stretch), and I’d be surprised if Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Garoppolo don’t figure out a way to steal two of those four games with Tom Brady serving his Deflategate suspension. By the way, Patriots at Browns, Week 5. I sort of like Brady to win that one.
11. NEW YORK JETS: Who plays quarterback? If I’m GM Mike Maccagnan this morning, I’m biting the bullet and making a take-it-or-leave-it one-year, $12 million offer to Ryan Fitzpatrick. In 2015, Fitzpatrick had: 3,905 passing yards, 31-15 TD-to-pick ratio, 88.0 rating. That’s more passing yards than Cam Newton, more touchdown passes than Philip Rivers, fewer picks than Ben Roethlisberger. In other words, very much good enough to win. Will the Jets stretch for him, then make way for Christian Hackenberg in 2017? It’s their move.
12. NEW ORLEANS: Can the Saints finally build a pass rush, or will they waste Drew Brees’ last year or two of great production? Rookie pass rusher Sheldon Rankins will have as much focus on him in September as any non-quarterback or rookie not named Ezekiel Elliott in football. Rankins is the late-bloomer from Louisville whom new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will let loose early to try to scare three good quarterbacks in the NFC South.
13. ATLANTA: Does Dan Quinn have enough talent on defense? The Falcons have been trying to get more pressure from the front seven for years, and they still look a little shy in that area to me … unless Vic Beasley has an explosive second season. The Falcons lost eight of their last 11 games last year. Matt Ryan threw a relatively middling 21 touchdowns. They’ve got to take some of the pressure off his shoulders, starting this summer.
14. ARIZONA: Can the Cardinals find a pass rush? Bruce Arians has always been a Father Flanagan type, welcoming players other teams won’t touch. That’s why Tyrann Mathieu has become one of the most versatile and important defensive players in football, a three-position marvel (who enters this season off ACL surgery), and that’s why the best landing spot for question-mark defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche was with Arians and the Cardinals. It helps, too, that Chandler Jones was gotten for a low second-round pick from New England (plus disappointing guard Jonathan Cooper). Nkemdiche will need to help immediately, particularly if the Cards do not re-sign Dwight Freeney, who wants to return to the Cards.
15. DETROIT: Will life after Calvin Johnson be tolerable? Marvin Jones was in a stable of good pass-catchers in Cincinnati; now he will be the man in Detroit, or, with Golden Tate, the co-men. Those two guys are vital, of course. But if Stafford, who has been sacked more than any other quarterback over the past two seasons (89 times) doesn’t have time to throw, Detroit’s in trouble. The Lions have spent too much draft capital on the offensive line for it to be this leaky.
16. LOS ANGELES: How soon can Jared Goff be any good? I think the Rams have too many holes to contend for the playoffs in their first year back in California after 21 gone. But this year is about getting Goff ready to be good. I like the fact that he overcame a 1-11 rookie year at Cal to be a very good college quarterback. With the Rams, he should hand it to Todd Gurley 400 times and try to survive his bad receiving corps and hope his defense, with the loss of four cornerstone players, can be as good as it was last year. (Still feels funny, by the way, writing LOS ANGELES now.)
17. CINCINNATI: Can the Bengals, minus some key parts, have a smooth-enough summer/fall to finally win a playoff game. Oh-for-seven. That’s Cincinnati’s playoff record in 13 seasons with Marvin Lewis as head coach. Now the Bengals have to replace Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, who took the pressure off A.J. Green, and they have to find a way to keep the sometimes-brittle Tyler Eifert on the field for 16 games. And of course there’s the question, which will be answered in short order, of how much Andy Dalton will miss departed offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who was very good for Dalton. Interesting year in Cincinnati.
18. NEW YORK GIANTS: Will the absolutely anonymous Ben McAdoo make the transition to head coach fast enough for the Giants to contend? August will mean some on-the-job training for the quiet guy from western Pennsylvania, trying to replace a two-time Super Bowl winner and a coach his players grew to respect and like a lot. Leadership is a moving target for a coach. It’s vital the new defensive pieces play well right away, but it’s vital that McAdoo proves his mettle in August too.
19. GREEN BAY: Eddie Lacy’s lighter—he’d better be—so can he be the back to carry the heavy load and help Aaron Rodgers? The Packers got fed up with Lacy ballooning last season (he reported to training camp weighing 260 in 2015), and if he hadn’t devoted himself to an off-season of health and smart eating, he might not have been in the team’s plans this year. He looked better, and thinner, in minicamp, and the Packers will be very interested to see how he performs in camp and in the preseason with the pads on and his weight in the 235 range. They need him to be the impact back he was two years ago.
20. PHILADELPHIA: Can someone play quarterback well enough, in a very winnable division, for the Eagles to win 11 games? Sam Bradford is over his funk, and you’d assume he’d keep the job as long as he stays upright. But that’s always an issue. This camp will be a lot about Doug Pederson showing he’s up to such a big job in such a tough town, and about whether Carson Wentz can force his way into competition for playing time with a strong summer.
21. KANSAS CITY: Yes the Chiefs are fortified; can they finally win the division in Andy Reid’s fourth year? Justin Houston back. Tamba Hali is back. Jamaal Charles is back. Alex Smith the master of Reid’s offense. Kansas City will never have a better chance to dethrone the Broncos, particularly with the question marks at quarterback in Denver. I think it comes down to whether Houston and Hali can be the feared rush pair they were two years ago, when they combined for 28 sacks.
22. MIAMI: Can Adam Gase save Ryan Tannehill? It’s stark and face-slapping, but let’s face it: Tannehill is 12 mediocre starts from being an endangered species. Stunning, really, for a guy with 51 touchdowns and 24 picks in the past two years, and two straight 4,000-yard passing seasons. But he hasn’t played well enough when it mattered—1-3 down the stretch in 2014, 2-5 down the stretch last year. Gase is a smart, patient, low-pressure coach of the position, just what Tannehill needs. But Gase can’t play for Tannehill in December.
23. SAN DIEGO: How much will the relocation Sword of Damocles hurt this team, starting in camp? Coach Mike McCoy is very good at being steely and undistracted. He’ll need that. While in a normal year the emphasis would be on fixing the offensive line and finding the optimum spot and get-off locations for first-round pick Joey Bosa on the defensive front, the Chargers will be buffeted starting with the first day of camp by questions on whether they’ll be in Los Angeles or San Diego long-term. Not a good thing for a team coming off a 4-12 year in a division that will be competitive.
24. BALTIMORE: Can the refurbishing of the offense finally begin? Explosive 2015 first-round wideout Breshad Perriman, still trying to come back form the most minor-looking knee injury I ever saw (on the first day of camp last year), starts the summer on PUP, but the Ravens think he’ll be ready to start the season. He’d better be. The Ravens can’t rely on Steve Smith forever, and Joe Flacco needs to find a good receiving corps for the second half of his career. It should start with Perriman.
25. SEATTLE: Will the loss of Marshawn Lynch be a big factor? Seattle still hasn’t fixed the offensive line, and without decent left tackle Russell Okung, the job for last year’s rookie find from Central Michigan, Thomas Rawls, will be more difficult. For the second straight summer, there’s no more important position coach in football than Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable, who has to get pretty average talent up to speed quickly.
26. TENNESSEE: Will Mike Mularkey (and DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry) be the kind of helpful pieces to make Marcus Mariota a star? Mularkey was a surprise pick as Titans coach; early on, his calm personality has been a good fit with Mariota, who’s the same kind of guy. The Titans will experiment with different backfield combos in training camp, and I won’t be surprised if Mularkey goes from a 38 percent running team (Tennessee’s number last year) to 50-50 run-pass this year.
27. TAMPA BAY: Can Dirk Koetter justify the faith GM Jason Licht placed in him? There were a few prominent Bucs not happy to see Lovie Smith get whacked after the season. Koetter now has the job of ushering Jameis Winston into his maturing year as starting quarterback and making sure he shows 53 players he’s up to the head-coaching task. He’ll need cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, the rookie, to show up big early to boost a flagging secondary, so Winston doesn’t have to score 31 a week to have a chance.
28. BUFFALO: Apart from the Rex Ryan drama, can Tyrod Taylor win the quarterback job? Ryan doesn’t even have to try to draw the focus to him anymore, and there’s no question that a 5-11 stinker this year (barring extreme extenuating circumstances) will force Terry and Kim Pegula to fire him. I’m more interested in camp to see Taylor grab hold of the quarterback job and not leave the door open an inch for a lesser player to take it. Without Taylor playing well, this offense is doomed.
29. CHICAGO: Will the Fox Factor be big in John Fox’s second season? In his previous two head-coaching stops, Fox’s teams were significantly improved in year two: Carolina by four wins in 2003, Denver by five wins (thanks, Peyton Manning) in 2012. Fox is a guy players get to trust, and his defense (particularly now, with the vastly underrated Vic Fangio running the unit) should be markedly better this year. GM Ryan Pace is really good, and he’s getting Fox some players (such as linebacker Danny Trevathan) the coach really wanted.
30. CLEVELAND: Will there ever be a light at the end of the tunnel? One man’s opinion: Hue Jackson was the perfect man for this job. Absolutely perfect. One: Whoever plays quarterback—and I’m not convinced Robert Griffin III wins the job this summer—will be better because Jackson’s his coach. Two: Jackson will be fine dealing with the new world of analytics/different thought in the front office; he truly won’t care, as long as he’s left alone to coach the team. Three: The town will be patient with him, because he’ll be the kind of coach fans will like—no desperation, real talk, and with players who will understand he’s in it for the long haul. Jackson’s got as good a chance as anyone to fix the Browns. Leave him alone. Let him coach. Give the franchise a chance. Do what the Steelers do. Patience. Patience.
31. WASHINGTON: Now that the RGIII circus has left town, can Kirk Cousins be good enough to have a long run in Washington? This is the most drama-free team in the nation’s capitol for some time. The only controversy, really, surrounds Cousins signing for the long term. He may not. GM Scot McCloughan won’t be cowed into giving Cousins the kind of deal he thinks will hurt the franchise. I say Cousins will pick up where he left off last year, and with one more rookie of the year candidate weapon: wideout Josh Doctson.
32. MINNESOTA: Can Teddy Bridgewater, with enough weaponry, lead an explosive offense? Laquon Treadwell, the best big receiver in the draft, should help, along with a healthy and determined Adrian Peterson. There’s no reason the Vikings shouldn’t be a top-10 offensive team. Which means they’d challenge Green Bay for the division title, because a Mike Zimmer defense is always going to be good enough. This should be a fun team for the new stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
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The MMQB’s Training Camp Trip is going to be, well, frenetic
My portion of the trip usually is. I try to see as many teams as I can in a month, and it’s impossible to see all. Luckily, now, I have a staff and we’ll be blanketing the camp circuit between Tuesday and Aug. 27. In various combinations—with Jenny Vrentas, Robert Klemko, Emily Kaplan and Tim Rohan, along with videographer John DePetro and social-media coordinator and tour director Kalyn Kahler—we’ll be at a few spots. On their own, Albert Breer, Klemko, Kaplan and Vrentas, along with our Andy Benoit, will be at others (including the few camps I won’t manage to hit). A brief list of the main portion of the trip:
July 26-27: Green Bay
July 28: Indianapolis
July 30: New England
July 31: Philadelphia
Aug. 1: Baltimore
Aug. 2: Washington
Aug. 3: Atlanta
Aug. 4: Carolina
Aug. 5: Jacksonville
Aug. 6: Tampa Bay (morning), Miami (evening)
Aug. 7-8: (part of crew) Houston
Aug. 8: (part of crew) Tennessee
Aug. 9: Detroit-Pittsburgh joint practice (Latrobe, Pa.)
Aug. 10: Minnesota-Cincinnati practice in Cincy; Tweetup in p.m., details TBD
Aug. 11: Denver-Chicago preseason game, Soldier Field
Aug. 12: Detroit-Pittsburgh preseason game, Heinz Field
Aug. 13-14: off
Aug. 15-16: Seattle
Aug. 17: Dallas
Aug. 18: San Francisco-Denver joint practice (Englewood, Colo.)
Aug. 19: Arizona-San Diego preseason game, Qualcomm Stadium
Aug. 20: Oakland (morning), Kansas City-L.A. preseason game, LA Coliseum (evening)
Aug. 21-22: Arizona
Aug. 23-26: off
Aug. 27: Giants-Jets preseason game, MetLife Stadium.
Please try to find us on the road, at the camps. We’d love to say hi. You’ll be able to identify us pretty easily. We’ll be the exhausted ones.
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Three questions with Dean Blandino
Mike Florio took time away from writing MMQB last week (how dare he do anything else!) to examine the new wording about the NFL catch rules, and his interpretation at Pro Football Talk was interesting. Florio wrote, and I agree, that the replay center now will make it tougher to overturn a call on the field.
And in my opinion, the league should go to centralized replay, just to get more consistency in plays like the Dez Bryant catch/no-catch ruling. (Which, of course was ruled not a catch in the 2014 playoffs.) Consistency is paramount in officiating. And it would be most consistent if two men in New York (or three, if one is added) are making the calls on all plays that are appealed. Nothing can change my mind on that. It’s just common sense. Seventeen crew-chief referees versus two or three officiating experts in New York? No contest. Give me Dean Blandino and Alberto Riveron (his assistant), and maybe add a smart young official unafraid of putting his guts on the line in a very big game. Give me those three, and I think there will be fewer major mistakes.
The crux of the difference this season—and there really won’t be a major difference—is that the league has tried to make more specific what a receiver has to do with the ball once he has possession to make a catch legal. The new wording says a catch is legal when a player maintains control “until he has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps.”
So a couple of things for Blandino.
The MMQB: Do you consider the re-wording any sort of a rules change?
Blandino: The rule itself hasn’t changed. What we’ve really tried to do is study it, look at it, tweak it. We didn’t change it—just further clarified it to tell game officials exactly what they should be looking for. It will affect decisions in replay. The key to the rule is control, then two feet down, then time to make progress as a runner. There has to be some indication of making progress as a runner.
The MMQB: Would the Dez Bryant catch still be ruled an incompletion?
Blandino: Still an incomplete pass. He was going to the ground before he completed those three elements. … The Larry Fitzgerald play [when he fell out of bounds with questionable control last year against Green Bay, ruled complete] is an interesting play, one that’s right on the line. He controlled the ball, turned upfield, then lost it when he hit the ground. [Ruled complete on the field.] Our decision in replay was it was too close to change. Had they ruled it incomplete, we’d have stayed with the call. I was on the headset back and forth with [ref] Clete Blakeman, and we agreed. Not enough to change the call.
The MMQB: So is there a real shot for you to move all replay decisions to the officiating command center in New York—for consistency?
Blandino: (pause) That’s an interesting thought. For consistency purposes, when you reduce the number of people involved … you know, we’re not infallible. We’ll continue to look at that. It continues to come up.
My last point: The NFL can’t be perfect on this. Just can’t. There are too many excruciatingly close calls among the 18,000 pass plays per year, give or take a few. Five or six are going to be 50-50 calls. People want crystal clarity. It can’t happen. My point about two or three people in New York controlling replay is from the too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen school. Fewer decision-makers means fewer people controlling game-changing plays.
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Quotes of the Week
“Don’t look so sad! Good Lord! This ain’t a funeral!”
—Longtime NFL cornerback and former NFL Man of the Year Charles Tillman, 35, at his retirement ceremony in Chicago on Friday.
“The Bears are what we thought they were. They are what we thought they were. We played them in preseason—who the hell takes a third game of the preseason like it’s bull—-? Bull—-! We played them in the third game—everybody played three quarters—the Bears are who we thought they were! That’s why we took the damn field. Now if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let ’em off the hook.”
—Then-Arizona coach Dennis Green, in one of the most famous tirades in NFL history, in 2006, after the Cardinals blew a 23-3 late third-quarter lead by giving up three touchdowns to the Bears. Green died of complication from a heart attack on Thursday.
“The decision I made was wise to no longer destroy my body and accumulate any brain damage from the sport of football. Hopefully the damage, if any, is not there or insignificant.”
—Former first-round tackle Eugene Monroe, who retired last week in part because of health fears, on “Tiki and Tierney on CBS Sports Radio.”
“Here’s the big problem with complaining about the rules as an NFL player: We agreed to it. What Goodell gets wrong in the eyes of many NFL players, and fans of aggrieved teams and favorite players, can often be chalked up to what we as players agreed upon in the collective bargaining process in 2011 during the lockout.”
—Washington defensive lineman Kedric Golston, in a column in The MMQB on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Roger Goodell’s being elected commissioner (Aug. 8, 2006).
Many players (most, in fact) complain about Goodell having disciplinary power that includes the appeal process; Golston put the blame on the union for not negotiating that clause out of the CBA in 2011.
“Things go like that. Then some other girl that I may have been talking to hears about it, and now it’s more drama, more commotion … I’m sitting here trying to explain my situation to somebody, and it’s not even a situation.”
—Odell Beckham Jr., in GQ, (I think) trying to explain away what appeared to be flirtations with one of the Kardashians (who can keep them straight?) that Beckham said was actually not anything romantic, and how that impacts his relationship with another potential partner.
Love and fame and football. It’s all very confusing.
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Stat of the Week
Arian Foster, who will be 30 next month, signed a one-year contract with Miami last week after sitting on the open market for five months. He’ll have to fight history. His career trajectory looks so much like the trajectory of a classic running back in decline as he turns 30. Numbers from his last three seasons compared to his previous three are stark.
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Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
The chief sculptor of the busts for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Blair Buswell, takes about 50 to 60 hours to do each one. Buswell finished Tony Dungy’s with an eight-hour session in Dungy’s Florida home in the spring.
Dungy had to sit, without moving much, for those eight hours. Buswell asked questions, examined and measured Dungy’s face and head, and sculpted, then examined some more, then sculpted. You know, sculptors sculpt. Dungy could see none of it. Buswell had the bust shielded from Dungy’s view.
Late in the afternoon, Buswell finally said he was finished. Dungy went around to where Buswell was working and got his first look at his bronze self.
“It was like looking in the mirror,” Dungy said.
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
The food and drink items devoured by the 35ish man—slim, fit, pleasant—next to me deep in coach on a New York-to-Los Angeles flight last week:
• One bulging to-go turkey sandwich from an airport bistro.
• One bag of salt-and-vinegar chips.
• One airplane cheeseburger with tomato, lettuce and pickle.
• Five cans of Diet Coke.
• Four cups of water.
• One bowl of cold beef chili, also from an airport bistro.
• One Starbucks chocolate muffin.
We were penned in for six-and-a-half hours, including taxiing.
Total bathroom visits: one.
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Tweets of the Week
— First Take (@FirstTake) July 18, 2016
In the august history of Ridiculous Tweets That Are Insults To Humankind, this one is so far and away number one that there is nothing close for second place.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 23, 2016
— David J. Chao, MD (@ProFootballDoc) July 23, 2016
That is former NFL team medic David J. Chao, after news surfaced that the Texans’ All-Pro defensive lineman had surgery to repair a herniated disk.
— Hope Solo (@hopesolo) July 22, 2016
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think Charles Tillman was one of the best players of this era, and he compares favorably to the great corners of his day. He’s probably a long shot for Canton, but this physical corner did one thing better than anyone else who played the secondary recently—force fumbles. I think he compares favorably to the other great defensive back who retired this year, Charles Woodson. (I said compares favorably, not exceeds or is an equal to; Woodson was a better player for a longer period.) But let’s compare the two players in four impact-player categories for defensive backs. Combining interceptions, forced fumbles, sacks and passes defensed, here’s how the two men stack up, per season:
2. I think if I’m the Steelers, there’s one moral of the story to the looming (per ESPN’s Dan Graziano) four-game suspension for Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell for a missed drug test: There’s no more hand-wringing about a jillion-dollar contract for Bell. Not after a two-game suspension last year and four-gamer this year (if it happens). If it does, the Steelers are going to have one of the game’s best bargains, running back DeAngelo Williams, who had rushing games of 127, 170 and 134 last year … and signed for a $2 million base salary this year. Seriously: The Steelers shouldn’t keep Bell on anything but a year-to-year deal now. He’s just not reliable.
3. I think I’m trying not to be a fan boy here, but I really wish some team would give Ray Rice a shot in training camp. Here’s a guy (via Tom Pelissero of USA Today) who would work for free in 2016 by giving his salary to abused women’s causes. Think of this: There will be 2,880 players in NFL training camps. Invites get made to camps for various reasons, some of which are due to teams being nice; the Seahawks giving a shot to long-snapper Nate Boyer, 36-year-old former Green Beret Army hero, last season comes to mind. I believe a team signing Rice wouldn’t get picket signs at training camp. Rather, I believe there’s a good chance fans of a team would see this as a redemptive chance for a person deserving of one. That’s certainly how I would see it, after the former pariah has done the right things to try to get his life in order over the last two years.
4. I think one of the under-the-radar events, but an event that shouldn’t be under the radar, happened last Monday in Boston, when Patriots owner Robert Kraft appeared at David Ortiz’s charity function and made a surprise $100,000 donation. Observers say Ortiz was blown away.
5. I think one of the coolest events of training camp—one I’m very sad to be missing—is the San Francisco 49ers practice Aug. 10 … at Kezar Stadium in the city. The 49ers played there for the first 25 years of the franchise, and the final game was a doozy—the 17-10 NFC title game loss to Dallas in January 1971. But did you know that, also in 1971, chunks of “Dirty Harry” were filmed at Kezar? And Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan played there? And the Oakland Raiders’ first four games were played there in 1960? It’s fantastic that the Niners are paying homage to The City, and to their roots, by practicing there after 45 years away.
6. I think Tom Brady did what he did—give up the fight, accept a punishment he bitterly disagrees with—because if there’s a 2 percent chance you’ll prevail, and it would have a 15 percent negative effect on your team’s chance to field a normal team with a lesser quarterback in the first month, you surrender. I think Brady realized it’s better for the team to know what it’s going to be facing.
7. I think, by the time the Raiders-to-Las Vegas comes to a vote eight or 10 months from now, the 31 NFL owners not named Mark Davis will vote about 28-3 in favor of Davis moving the team to Vegas. Times change. Attitudes about sports gambling change. Just not that big a deal to owners in the NFL right now.
8. I think Eugene Monroe and Jake Plummer need to keep pushing to get the league, and the union, to accept having some form of medicinal marijuana available to active and retired players in need of pain relief that doesn’t come from opiates.
9. I think there was something in the form of mass confusion when I wrote on Friday: What I’d do if I were Roger Goodell. (The column includes email from you, and you’re unsparing in your anger toward Goodell.) Anyway, I made four suggestions in the column, about what I’d do if I were in his shoes. That’s exactly what I meant—what I’d do, not ordering or even strongly suggesting that Goodell do it. For instance, I’d give most of my salary back to something like research and development of devices and equipment to reduce head trauma in football games, which wouldn’t bother me much if I’d made $111 million the previous three years. That is Goodell’s compensation package from 2013 to 2015. Anyway, I know many of you don’t like telling another man what to do with his money. To be clear, it’s me saying what I’d do if I were commissioner.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I worry, after Dallas and Baton Rouge and Nice and Munich, and after the shooting of citizens by police, that we’re going to learn to turn the page too quickly, that we’re getting inured to the violence and the terror. Maybe we already are. We can’t be.
b. Bill Rhoden is retiring from his full-time gig as a New York Times sports columnist today. He’s been terrific and conscientious and smart and important, and we’ll miss his point of view.
c. What’s it like to patrol with the police of America right now, in such tense times? This story is a perfect illustration of exactly what cops face.
d. So, it’s impossible to transition to the lighter side, the what-I-did-on-vacation side, but I’m going to do it anyway.
e. Go see Gleason. Please. It’s important and honest and good, and you can find it in some theaters across the country Friday, and more theaters in August. Take my word for it. You’ll be affected, in a good way. This week on this site, I’ll have my review and story on the movie. Please check back and see what the commotion is about.
f. So I have this nerdy habit when I go to baseball games. I keep score. Here you’ll see my scorebook (thanks, Bob Carpenter) from a Pirates-Mariners game in Seattle on June 29, when we were on vacation. I learned when I was 7, and my father took me to Fenway Park for the first time, and I learned to color in the diamond when Bob Tillman hit the first home run I ever saw. Anyway, it gives me some fun at the ballgame, and it allows me to go back and flip through the book months or years later and remember the great night I had at the ballyard. On this night, an 8-1 interleague win by the Bucs, Jameson Taillon won his second big-league game and was so impressive; he made Robinson Cano look feeble on one K. It’s a good way (for me, anyway) to think about lots of things other than work, and that’s always a good thing, a few times a year. It just connects me to the game, and makes me think about it more too. On this night, a guy behind me said, “What are you doing?” When I told him, he said, “You don’t see people doing that these days.” I know. But I’ll do it till they put me in the cold ground.
g. Read “When Breath Becomes Air,” by the late neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. I implore you.
h. Imagine the best person you know at a job. That could have been Kalanithi in neurosurgery at 36. Then imagine that person is given a death sentence, just a very few short years into the career that he was put on the planet to do. Then imagine how many lives won’t be saved because of the cancer that will kill him. Disastrous, awful, hopeless story, right? No. Hopeful story. Some of the last words Kalanithi wrote as he lay dying: “Time for me is now double edged: Every day brings me further from the low of my last relapse but closer to the next recurrence and eventually death perhaps later than I think but certainly sooner than I desire. There are I imagine two responses to that realization. The most obvious might be an impulse to frantic activity: to “live life to its fullest,” to travel, to dine, to achieve a host of neglected ambitions. Part of the cruelty of cancer, though, is not only that it limits your time; it also limits your energy, vastly reducing the amount you can squeeze into a day. It is a tired hare who now races, and even if I have the energy I prefer a more tortoiselike approach. I plod. I ponder. Some days I simply persist.”
i. Imagine writing so brilliantly as you lay dying. Wow. Just wow.
j. His wife, Lucy, finished the book—with dignity and clarity.
k. A few baseball thoughts …
l. Great speech, Mike Piazza. Loved it, especially the emotion.
m. If I could pick one baseball player to watch every day for six months, it would be Jose Altuve.
n. I saw a big black bear on vacation in British Columbia. Saw it on the side of the road near Whistler, north of Vancouver, and daughter Mary Beth got a great short video of it with her window rolled down. If you’ve not been to that area of the world, go someday. You will have some happy days there.
o. Beernerdness: Found myself in Manhattan Beach, Calif., on a business trip last week, and I saw a witbier on the menu: Blood Orange Wit, from Refuge Brewery in Temecula, Calif. Delicious. Fairly light, with a good bit of hops and coriander and citrus.
p. Coffeenerdness: Hey, Starbucks at 50th and Second Avenue, I realize I moved away without thanking you properly for the five years of great coffee. If Seattle is listening, just know that the chain has a lot of stores around the country that are assembly lines. Not saying I didn’t get the occasional clunker at this store, but I will say this was a coffee shop that cares about what it’s making, with very good, very friendly people. Thanks for all the great conversation and the great coffee.
q. Finally: So I’m going to do a few new things in the column this season, and I want your suggestions on what you’d like to see starting opening day. I’m open to anything—new categories (Dr. Z Technical Note of the Week), new fun (Tweet of the Week That Rips the Crap Out of Me) … anything. Send your ideas to email@example.com. The best idea or ideas will be folded into the column, and you’ll win something. What? Don’t know. Maybe a T-shirt from The MMQB (I believe we have 11 left), or a visit from one of our staffers. We’ll see. But in this joyous 20th season (the first column appeared in the fall of 1997), I want to make the readers and experiencers more a part of the column than ever. Help.
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The Adieu Haiku
The training camp trip!
A rite of summer. So great.
Spotted Cow tonight!
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