When former Dolphins Nick Buoniconti started falling, he knew something was wrong. What he and his family didn’t know was that they’d take a winding path to figuring out what.
1. I think it’s important to keep in mind the continued stigma around players self-reporting symptoms of brain injuries as we sift through the facts of Tom Brady’s apparent unreported concussion last season. We don’t know all the details; we just know that Brady’s wife, Gisele Bündchen, told CBS This Morning that Brady suffered a concussion during the 2016 season. Brady, however, was never listed as being in the concussion protocol, and the NFL issued a statement saying they have no record of Brady exhibiting or complaining of concussion symptoms. There are a few potential explanations, among them Bündchen misstating the facts or the Patriots lying on the injury report filed to the NFL. But another very real possibility is something that happens more often than we’d like to think: a player hiding his symptoms from the medical staff. There are safety nets in place to prevent that from happening at games, including the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant on each sideline and two athletic trainers working as eye-in-the-sky injury spotters, but it’s still possible for a player to obscure symptoms that aren’t obvious to onlookers. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case here—but if that did happen, and it was done by the NFL’s best-known player, it’s a disheartening benchmark in the progress of culture change.
2. I think the NFL needs to adopt a version of the short-term concussion list used by Major League Baseball. Next week at the league meetings, owners are expected to vote on a proposal, from Dan Snyder’s Washington team, to let clubs place players who are in the concussion protocol on the exempt list, and replace them on a game-by-game basis until they are cleared. The counterargument has been that the NFL already has built-in roster flexibility, with the game-day inactive list, plus the IR designation for return (which NFL Media’s Judy Battista reports will soon be extended from one to two players per team per season). But concussions warrant different consideration, for many reasons, particularly that recovery times are hard to predict, can vary greatly based on the individual and rely heavily on players reporting their own symptoms. Such a list would relieve at least some of the pressure for concussed players to return quickly.
3. I think there are a lot of things to like about the Eagles signing RB LeGarrette Blount. The bruiser scored more rushing TDs himself last season (18) than the Eagles did as a team (16). His addition fortifies a backfield heavy on change-of-pace runners and will take pressure off Carson Wentz. Plus, the team can get back the cap space (and more) by cutting Ryan Mathews.
4. I think, on the other hand, it’s fair to question two things about the Blount move. First, will he be as effective outside of the Patriots structure under Bill Belichick? Blount’s last stint on a different NFL roster didn’t end well; you probably remember the Steelers cutting him in the middle of the 2014 season after a rocky few months during which he was arrested for marijuana possession and walked off the field during a game before the clock had expired. During our Super Bowl road trip in January, I talked to one of his former coaches at East Mississippi Community College, Roger Carr, who had much praise for Blount but also added, “My question early on was, could he be disciplined enough, could someone corral him enough to keep him going straight? He’s found his fit up there [in New England].” The second question regards the Eagles’ strategy of upgrading around Wentz with a series of short-term veteran signings, also including WRs Alshon Jeffery (one-year deal) and Torrey Smith (three-year contract with an out after one year). The Eagles are clearly looking to win now, but Wentz needs some offensive pieces he can grow with in the long term.
5. I think ‘tis the season for unsigned veterans, like Blount, to sign with teams. Post-draft, pre mini-camp and, most importantly, past the early May deadline when free agent signings no longer count against the compensatory pick formula. Among the bigger names still out there: cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Alterraun Verner; linebackers Gerald Hodges and Perry Riley; defensive linemen Dwight Freeney and Jared Odrick; center Nick Mangold; offensive tackles King Dunlap and Ryan Clady; receiver Anquan Boldin; and, oh yes, quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
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6. I think I see a Los Angeles Chargers roster that is playoff-caliber. Yes, they’re coming off a 5-11 season, but nine of those 11 losses were by one score or less. They spent the offseason doing exactly what they needed to do: Supplementing Philip Rivers. They added three new offensive linemen—Russell Okung in free agency, and interior linemen Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney with their second- and third-round draft picks—and used their top pick on a big receiver, Mike Williams, to pair with Keenan Allen. It’s a tough division, but they have the QB, and the roster, to contend in the AFC West. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to play a fourth-place schedule.
7. I think, for the Falcons, perhaps the biggest question after how they’ll rebound from their Super Bowl collapse is how well Matt Ryan and Steve Sarkisian mesh. Remember that Ryan had a bumpy first year in Kyle Shanahan’s offense before skyrocketing in year two. No matter who the QB is, his first year with a new OC is bound to hit some snags. Picking up where you left off from the previous season is no easy task with a new OC, a new QBs coach and a new system.
8. I think I don’t see any real downside in shortening the OT period from 15 minutes to 10 minutes, as NFL Media’s Battista reported owners are also expected to approve at next week’s meetings. Could there be more ties? Maybe. But 10 minutes is still a long time, and offenses will simply start going up-tempo sooner.
9. I think what stood out most in the report released on Monday by researchers at Harvard Law School, comparing the NFL health and safety practices to five other professional sports leagues, was the relative injury rates. The mean number of injuries suffered in each NFL game, per the report, is about 4.9 times the combined sum of MLB, the NBA and the NHL. And, NFL’s per-game concussion rate is about 6.9 times the combined sum of four other non-football leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL and the Champions League in soccer). Obviously, the NFL plays many fewer games, so for example, an NHL player is more likely than an NFL player to suffer a concussion over the course of a season. But the takeaway for me is that these per-game injury rates is a strong argument against extending the NFL regular season to 18 games.
10. I think I was disappointed that, upon retweeting Richard Deitsch’s report Sunday night that Beth Mowins is set to become the first woman to call an NFL game since 1987, the first two replies on Twitter referenced sex organs. I look forward to a time when congratulating a woman for breaking a barrier—and, quite simply, scoring a premier assignment in sports broadcasting—no longer results in some people feeling the need to compensate by demeaning the female gender.
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