New NFL Rule All About Image Not Substance

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com comments on the implementation of a new NFL rule that bars college players with a record of certain types of crimes from participating in the Scouting Combine, attending the draft, or appearing at any other league-sanctioned event before they are selected:

“…Does it make a difference if players convicted of domestic violence, sexual assault, or weapons offenses are banned from attending the Scouting Combine? Teams will still find out everything they need to know about the player, and teams will still draft talented players regardless of their personal history.

“The only way to ever change that would be to tie draft-pick forfeitures on teams who give a player a second chance and who then fail to ensure that the player doesn’t get in trouble again. To be clear, I’m not saying the league should do it that way; instead, I’m saying that any other approach is window dressing and/or P.R. spit-and-polish.”

I think Florio misses the point. Window dressing is exactly what this is. The image of the NFL takes a hit every time a player with this kind of history shows his face at a league-sanctioned event. This is meant to limit that until it can’t be helped.

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Super Bowl Teaches Us that Kyle Long Belongs on the Right Side

Nate Atkins at ChicagoFootball.com breaks down the Bears draft (and free agent) needs. This is one of many articles which we can expect to see on the subject but I think the top needs, defensive line, offensive line and inside linebacker, are well established. The only real question is what order you put them in. I do have one bone to pick with Atkin’s analysis, however:

Dave Magazu received all kinds of credit for his grooming of Charles Leno Jr. at left tackle last season. But Leno was a seventh-round pick for a reason, with limited athleticism, and his inability to play on the right side makes the position a priority even if Kyle Long finds a home at left tackle. The Bears also could improve their right guard spot, where neither Patrick Omameh nor Vlad Ducasse (sp) solidified down the stretch last season.”

“Could” is understating it. The Bears have a major need at right guard where neither Omameh nor Ducasse are starters. It’s possible that Atkins’ soft stance has more to do with doubt about whether you address it in the first round – which is certainly valid. But the need is beyond doubt.

But what I’d really like to focus on is the first part of this quote. Atkins implication that the Bears may move Long to left tackle is probably a reflection of the influence of Chicago Football publisher and respected football writer, Hub Arkush on his opinion. Whatever else you say about Arkush’s opinions, they’re always strong and he’s made it very clear in the past that he thinks Long’s move to left tackle is already overdue. I’m not so sure.

First, at least to my eye, Leno didn’t do too badly at left tackle. It’s obvious that he didn’t belong on the right side but for some reason the left side suited him. I can say this: I don’t know why Leno was a seventh rounder but it wasn’t because of limited athleticism. He moves extremely well. I’m not at all certain that isn’t what made him a better left tackle than right, where more power is required, nor am I convinced that he doesn’t have a future as a very good left tackle in the league.

I found the opinion of David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune that there was nothing for NFL teams to learn from Sunday’s Super Bowl to be amusing. There’s always something to learn from any game and, in fact, there was at least one thing that stuck out that could teach a lot of people a lesson. Watching Carolina right tackle Mike Remmers get beaten like a drum by Denver pass rusher Von Miller should have taught people that, though they generally make less money, very good right tackles are almost as valuable in the NFL as left tackles are. I’m not at all sure that your best athlete need be moved to the left, as both Arkush and possibly Atkins believe, especially when you’ve already got a decent guy on the left side who doesn’t seem to be as capable on the right.

The one thing you have to do as a developing team is use the draft to fill holes. Especially when you already have a lot of those holes to fill, creating holes moves you backwards not forwards as a team. Moving Long to left tackle creates two holes, right tackle and right guard, where only one existed before. If right tackle is where the need is, right is where you put your guy. That’s the case here.

Posted in Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos | Leave a comment

Cam Newton Still Has Lots of Growing to Do Before He’ll Be Truly Great

Jeffri Chadiha at nfl.com does a really nice job of evaluating the problems with the way Cam Newton handled Sunday’s loss in the Super Bowl.

“We all know it’s painful for players to lose Super Bowls. But Newton’s postgame press conference was hard to watch even with a compassionate lens. He trudged in with a black hoodie pulled over his head, then sat dejectedly for a few moments as reporters asked him questions that he clearly didn’t want to answer. Newton mostly gave responses that amounted to two or three words, as if he had no reason to explain his role in the Panthers’ second loss this season.”

“This is where Newton needs to grow next. He’s always had a problem dealing with losing, and it showed up often when the Panthers were struggling in his first two seasons. It’s one thing to be dejected after a defeat. (‘He came ready to win tonight,’ [head coach RonRivera said. ‘He didn’t come to lose.’) Newton, however, takes sulking to an entirely different level when things don’t go his way.

“People tend to notice that stuff more when you’re the guy who is rocking Versace pants on the way off a team plane or gleefully celebrating first downs. There’s nothing wrong with Newton doing those things until it’s juxtaposed against what we saw on Sunday in the Super Bowl. When that happens, those actions in the midst of success can be construed far more as being selfish and self-absorbed. They can make a good guy with serious talent and an eye toward making the game fun look like a front-runner.”

They’re the difference between a good guy who makes the game look like fun and a preening shmoe.

I have a bit of a problem with Chadia’s criticism of Newton for apparently not diving for a loose ball last in the game.   The guess here is that newton thought the ball way coming back his way.  But he’s right on point with the press conference.

Chadiha points out that some of the greatest quarterbacks of all time have faced the music after a Super Bowl loss with class. Seattle’s Russell Wilson even threw the game-ending interception in a Super Bowl loss to New England last season and handled the whole thing like the stand up guy that he apparently is.

I remember former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith having to sit Newton down and give him hell for moping after losses or during games when things weren’t going his way. It’s a shame that he hasn’t learned more from it. It’s a shame that he hasn’t grown up more. He won’t ever be truly great until he does.

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A Little Flattery Never Hurts

Mary Kay Cabot at cleveland.com describes the meeting between Browns coach Hue Jackson and quarterback Paxton Lynch. Lynch is one of the three top quarterbacks entering the 2016 NFL draft. The others are Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. Cleveland has the second pick after the Tennessee Titans, who don’t need a quarterback after drafting Marcus Mariota last year:

“Jackson met the quarterback at agent Leigh Steinberg‘s annual Super Bowl party, where Jackson won the Steinberg-DeNicola Humanitarian Award given to a head coach and Jimmy and Dee Haslam won it for NFL owners for their charitable efforts.”

Hmmm… Cleveland’s owners and their new head coach take the awards at a party hosted by Lynch’s agent. Coincidence? I think not.

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Tom Brady’s Legacy on Display Before Super Bowl 50

Jeff Howe at the Boston Globe describes the welcome that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady got when he was introduced as part of the Super Bowl MVP ceremony on Sunday:

“The Patriots quarterback was lustily booed by the crowd at Levi’s Stadium before the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers, 24-10, in Super Bowl 50. Of course, it probably didn’t help his cause that the crowd was dominated by Denver fans.”

Yeah, I really doubt that mattered much. The welcome that Brady got is an indication of what people think of the results of the “Deflate Gate” situation that dominated the offseason. Brady got off scott free after a court battle on what amounted to a technicality.

The irony of all of this is that Brady was fighting for his “legacy”. What he doesn’t realize is that fighting this investigation was the worst thing he could have possibly done for it. Had Brady simply explained that he instructed the New England equipment men to deflate the balls a little because he felt that the referees where over inflating them, breaking the rules without the actual intention of cheating, the whole thing would have blown over with minimal fuss. He may well have completely escaped suspension. As it is, his greeting in Santa Clara is an indication that fans aren’t likely to forgive or forget what happened any time soon.

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Ron Rivera Recovers from Bears Departure and Lovie Smith Struggles with Himself

Dag Hammarskjöld once said, “It is when we all play safe that we create a world of the utmost insecurity.” I doubt he was thinking of former Bears head coach Lovie Smith when he said it. But Smith certainly seems to fit the expression.

Austin Murphy at SI.com details the history of Carolina head coach Ron Rivera with Smith. Smith let Rivera, his defensive coordinator, leave after the 2010 Super Bowl. Rivera has now climbed his way back to participate in Super Bowl 50. For some, this will be ancient history but I found it to be good reading:

Dan Hampton puts a finer point on [Rivera’s departure], as is his wont: ‘Lovie stabbed him in the back,’ says the former Bears defensive tackle and Hall of Famer.”

“They were not necessarily aligned, philosophically. Smith, who’d coached linebackers for Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay from 1996 to 2000, was a proponent of his mentor’s Tampa-2. Rivera preferred a more balls-out, attacking style. He’d played for Buddy Ryan, father of the famed 46 defense, then served a second apprenticeship as Eagles linebackers coach from 1999 to ’03, soaking up knowledge from the late, legendary Jim Johnson, a DC known for his ultra-aggressive, blitz-happy schemes.

“That creative tension seemed to be working. Blending elements of those schemes, the Bears limited opponents to 15.9 points per game during their Super Bowl run in ’06. ‘A dissenting voice in the room is a positive thing,’ points out ex-Bears wideout Tom Waddle, a one-time Rivera teammate who is now a prominent media presence in Chicago. ‘And I can guarantee you, Ron Rivera as a dissenting voice is not a negative or destructive voice.'”

Murphy goes on to detail Smith’s tendency to hire coaches out of “loyalty” and how this led to his downfall both in Chicago and, especially, in Tampa Bay.

To some extent, Murphy misses the point, either because he doesn’t see it or he doesn’t want to be too hard on Smith. Smith doesn’t just hire coaches out of loyalty. He hires them because, having worked with them, he knows what they think. You and I and Waddle see creative tension as a good thing. But a very proud and sensitive Smith sees it as insubordination and there would be none of that on a coaching staff littered with his friends.

Given that Smith was replaced in Tampa Bay by hiring his own replacement in Dirk Koetter, one of the few coaches on his staff that he’d never coached with before, I think it unlikely that he’ll be changing his ways if he gets another chance at a head coaching gig. Smith did a lot of good things in Tampa Bay and they were getting better. But you have to wonder if his insecurities will always limit his success.

Posted in Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Leave a comment

Don Coryell Misses Hall of Fame Once Again

Don_CoryellI’m disappointed that, once again, Don Coryell didn’t get voted into the Hall of Fame. Coryell changed the game with his down field passing offense as he coached the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Diego Chargers. Frankly, his impact was considerably higher than Tony Dunge‘s and he deserved the honor more. Hopefully its just a matter of time.

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No Place in the NFL for Manziel

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com speculates upon the future of soon to be former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel:

“The Browns reportedly will cut Manziel on March 9, the first day of the new league year. It’s widely believed that he wants to play for the football team in Dallas; it’s still unknown whether the Cowboys want Manziel.

“Owner Jerry Jones presumably does, but he wanted Manziel in the first round of the 2014 draft and was overruled. If Stephen Jones and coach Jason Garrett don’t want Manziel, they could block the move.”

First of all it has to be said that Stephen Jones and Garrett can’t “block” the move. No one can block a move that owner and general manager Jerry Jones wants to make. He can only be talked out of it.

I’m sure that the Cowboys actually are tempted.  Once Cleveland releases him, its a free look and you could argue that there’s nothing to lose.  But even as a guy who costs you nothing, is he really someone you want as a quarterback on your team?

Most people think that the Cowboys may try to “rehabilitate” Manziel. The elder Jones has made it clear that he thinks that the Cowboys are a destination for troubled players and he’s also made it clear, for instance when signing problematic defensive tackle Greg Hardy, that he thinks the organization is pretty good at turning them around.

But there’s an aspect of the Manziel situation that makes it completely different from, for instance, Hardy’s. Whatever else you say about Hardy, he’s always done everything he can to perform on the field. He’s a dedicated warrior. Manziel is not. He’s admitted himself that he didn’t work hard enough his rookie year and he was completely unprepared to play when called upon late in that season.

Admittedly he looked better last season so you might be thinking that he put himself back on track to at least some extent. But he was still a short quarterback who has yet to demonstrate to anyone’s satisfaction that he can throw from the pocket.  And then Manziel committed what might be his cardinal sin. He failed to show up for the last game of the season. Yes, he was injured, but he was expected to be there as part of the team. Instead, he went the “me first” route in an apparent  effort to get himself released by the team.  As far as anyone can tell, Manziel completely checked out for the last week.

There is a fundamental truth in the NFL that Manziel apparently doesn’t grasp. It’s a team game and the one thing you absolutely must do above everything is show that you are on board with that. There are 22 players out there and if they aren’t all working together as one, the team fails, regardless of the level of talent (which in his case is questionable, anyway). In the NFL you can beat up dogs and women, rape, steal and even be implicated in a murder and there’s always a possibility that someone will give you another chance. But if you expose yourself as someone who is not a team player regardless of circumstance, there’s no place for you. And in this case, I think there’s a good possibility that there’s no longer a place for Manziel at any price.

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Re-Examining the Bears Situation at Tight End

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune addresses the Bears negotiation with tight end Zack Miller:

“Miller, who had a breakout second half of the season for the Chicago Bears, is asking for $5 million per year in a new contract, sources with knowledge of the situation told the Tribune. Unless that target figure drops in negotiations, it’s difficult to imagine a deal getting done before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in March.”

“The Bears have decisions to make at the tight end position. Martellus Bennett, who will be 29 next month, has one year remaining on a four-year contract that averages $5.1 million per season, pretty much the range Miller is seeking.”

“Just because Miller is seeking more than the Bears want to pay doesn’t mean a deal can’t be accomplished. Sometimes it helps the team for a player to venture into free agency to find out what his true market is. Of course, a lot of times that path leads to the player heading elsewhere. It’s worth wondering if [former bears offensive coordinator Adam] Gase, now the coach of the Miami Dolphins, will have interest. Miami got limited production from Jordan Cameron at the position last season.”

This is a fairly important issue for the Bears. Right now they have two talented tight ends and it’s one of the few positions where they don’t have a need. But if they cut Bennett, they have to keep Miller. Or, more to the point in this case, if they lose Miller, they need to keep Bennett. Anything else and you are going the wrong direction as a developing team, creating a need that has to be filled in the draft rather than filling the ones you have.

This decision isn’t a slam dunk. Miller has been a good soldier, the type of guy you want to be around a young, developing team. But a multiyear contract for significant money is tough to give to a 31 year old player with Miller’s injury history.

On the other hand, Bennett has been a headache for the last two years.  He’s immature and he doesn’t appear to be on board with the current coaching staff or his situation with the Bears. But despite his down year in 2015, his talent is undeniable. If the Bennett situation is at all salvageable, you have to step back and objectively wonder if the Bears are better off sticking with him at his current salary with the idea that you can bring him around and make a deal next year. Indeed, it’s possible that a contract extension for him this off-season instead of a contract for Miller will make Bennett happy and solve many of his problems with the Bears.

In any case, the Bears are between a rock and a hard place at the tight end position. Neither option is ideal. But the only thing worse than picking one is to not pick one.

Posted in Chicago Bears | 1 Comment

Don’t Hold Your Breath on the Bears Drafting Their Quarterback of the Future

When the question of whether the Bears will take a quarterback in the first round comes up, the answer is almost always something on the order of “doubtful”. And I would agree for a number of reasons.

I wrote not long ago that head coach John Fox is all in on offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, letting a proven, productive coach in Mike Groh go in favor of Loggains and new quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone. But the truth is that Fox is really all in on Jay Cutler. Keeping Loggains as coach is largely to cater to Cutler in an effort to try to keep him comfortable. Those of us who are Cutler doubters know where this has led in the past. But Fox and general manager Ryan Pace haven’t been here watching Cutler for the six years he was here prior to their arrival. If all you really thought you knew of Cutler was what you saw last year, you might think that this was the smart move. We shall see.

In any case, from Fox’s point of view, Cutler’s your guy. But he’s aging, you say, and the Bears need to start developing a starter behind him sooner rather than later. Well, I agree with the developing part if for no other reason than past history tells me not to trust Cutler to perform consistently at a high level year in and year out. I also am constantly reminded every year that the Packers took Aaron Rogers when they still had a more than very functional Brett Favre playing.

The problem is with the “aging” part of the above thinking. Cutler will only be 33 years old when the 2016 season starts. That’s not that old and you can figure most quarterbacks now a days will have a minimum of three or four more good years left. If you are Fox and you are really all in with Cutler and you don’t buy into the “draft a quarterback even though your starter is still good” philosophy (which most teams don’t), drafting a quarterback at number eleven overall is at or near the bottom of your list.  The Bears have needs everywhere and Fox and Pace are almost certainly much more focused on getting better in other areas with that pick right now.

But having said all of that, let’s imagine that the Bears will, indeed, seriously consider one of the top three quarterbacks in the first round.

It’s very, very early to be speculating on how this draft will go but I’ll go ahead and throw out a theory and we’ll see how it turns out.

I think Carson Wentz and Jared Goff are your top two quarterbacks and that they are long gone before the Bears pick. Cleveland will almost certainly take one of them and one of the teams I’m about to mention will take the other. I think the Bears maybe – might – have a shot at Paxton Lynch being there when they pick in the first round. From what I’ve seen, Lynch needs more work than Wentz and Goff.  Teams that want a starter who is lower risk and closer to a finished product right now might not want to draft such a project. The above aside, with Cutler around for a few years yet, the Bears might be willing to look ahead and draft Lynch to develop into a franchise guy.

Here’s the problem. The San Diego Chargers draft third. Like the Bears, they’ve still got a 34 year old Philip Rivers to start in front of a project for a while if they really like Lynch. The Cowboys draft 4th. Tony Romo is 35. The Giants draft 10th. Eli Manning is 35… I’m sure you see the problem. All of these teams might be thinking that they might never draft this high again and that they’d better draft the future now in the same way that you and I are thinking the Bears should.

I think we have to start looking at those second and third round quarterbacks. And so far… well, I’m very unimpressed. I haven’t seen anyone yet that I think might develop into a starter no matter how much time you give them. One name to keep in mind that might give you some hope is former Arkansas Razorback quarterback Brandon Allen. As Arthur Arkush at chicagofootball.com points out in this video, Allen is someone who apparently stood out at Senior Bowl practices (along with Wentz, naturally). What I saw during the game backed that up. Allen is supposedly only 6’1″ but he certainly doesn’t look like a short quarterback when he plays. And I’ve pointed out before that if there’s a general manager in the NFL who might be inclined to take a risk on a shorter prospect to develop, based upon his background it’s Pace.  The guess here is that Pace is one of a number of general managers going back to the college tape to take a closer look at Allen after his performance last week.

The problem is that Pace may well have to draft Allen with the Bears second round pick if he wants him. I could be wrong but I can’t see him doing that. But if he trades back a bit or if Allen falls into the third round, you might see him go to the Bears.

But the truth is that’s unlikely.  And I’m sorry to say that with the commitment to Cutler along with needs in other areas all over the field, I think we may be looking at another draft that goes by without the Bears drafting their future at quarterback.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, San Diego Chargers | Leave a comment