Some Random NFL Thoughts as Week 11 of the Season Comes to a Close

I haven’t had a chance to post much other than game thoughts lately.  Things have been a bit hectic at work and though they show no signs of slowing down, I thought I’d try to get a post up on some NFL thoughts this week as Well 11 wraps up tonight.

      1. Jared Goff didn’t have a great game yesterday.  But that’s understandable.  He’s a rookie in his first start and yet he arguably out played Ryan Tannehill for most of the game yesterday against the Dolphins until a dramatic comeback in the last five minutes of the game stole it away from him..

        Notably Goff has a (perhaps natural at this stage) tendency to panic under pressure.  Whenever he even sensed that a blitz was coming he rushed the pass and it was usually inaccurate.  He’s going to have to settle down and learn to keep calm in those situations.

        I might add that Goff’s accuracy and ball placement were generally a disappointment this game.  In fairness he saw a fair bit of pressure from the Dolphins defensive front and he was throwing on the move quite a bit.  Though he’s certainly mobile, based upon what I saw, that is not his strength and he’s going to have to be given some time in the pocket if the Rams expect his to succeed.

        Many were surprised when Rams head coach Jeff Fisher decided to promote first overall draft pick, quarterback Jared Goff, to the starting lineup.  Reports were that reports that Goff wouldn’t play until the Rams were mathematically eliminated. They’re still alive at 4-5, and if Goff gives the offense a spark they could end up in the mix for a playoff berth.  But head coach Jeff Fisher has claimed that Goff is ready.

        “It’s was just Jared’s progress, and the progression week, after week, after week,” Fisher said. “Preparing to be a two, preparing to be a play away from going in. When he got the reps over the last three or four weeks, they were right, they were good, they were good decisions. So it was time.”

        That’s all nonsense, of course.  Goff struggled notably in the preseason and there’s hardly much reason to believe he’s gotten significantly better with no playing time since.

        The truth is that the Rams have little to lose at this point.  The offense had, in fact, done very little under former starter Case Keenum.   Keenum was not the reason the Rams have been so bad but he hasn’t helped. This season he’s completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,169 yards, with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was sacked 23 times and the Rams are 24th in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play.

        Keenum’s interception percentage is 31st in the NFL and the Rams are 31st in the NFL in touchdowns per game. In fact, the Rams have not scored more than one TD in each of the past three games.

        Given that is the case, Fisher wisely figured that he might as well let the offense be just as bad while developing their quarterback of the future.  As they have in all of their previous games, they will still rely on their defense to win.

        The real question is whether the Rams even can develop Goff.  Jeff Fisher is a defensive head coach and his Assistant Head Coach/Offense, Rob Boras is a former offensive line/tight ends coach.  That means the person who has been primarily responsible for overseeing Goff’s development is quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke.  Weinke has all of two years of NFL coaching experience – 2015 and half of 2016 with the Rams.

        Goff is a wonderful talent.  But at least as important is who is bring him along.  The Rams have been a waste land for quarterback play since Kurt Warner left St. Louis in 2003. With Sam Bradford being its most recent and notable failure at the position.  You have to wonder if Goff is about to get lost in those bad lands as well.

      2. Speaking of the Dolphins, more and more I’m coming to appreciate the play of Kiko Alonzo.  He’s all over the field and he’s largely responsible for what has been an improved (though still flawed) run Dolphin defense.
      3. One more quick Dolphins-related thought.  I was a bit disappointed when Dolphins center Anthony Steen, who played well in place of starting center Mike Pouncey (hip) today, decided to criticize Alabama head coach Nick Saban last week.

        Steen told the Palm Beach Post that he now regrets waiting until the end of his senior season to have the shoulder surgery he needed, and he thinks Saban’s approach leaves Alabama players hurt.

        “If you can work through pain, you can go. But at ‘Bama, that was the problem,” Steen said. “A lot of things you went through and you shouldn’t have. You should have stayed off of it. That’s why a lot of guys from ‘Bama are hurt.”

        If Steen was actually hurt or had done permanent damage to his shoulder by playing, I agree would with him. But as far as I can tell he hasn’t. So I question whether Saban actually pushed him too far.

        Indeed, it may well be Steen’s toughness and willingness to play hurt was one of the reasons he has made it to the NFL.  One scout from the Bleacher Report before the 2014 NFL draft called Steen “Possibly the very definition of ‘toughness’ as it relates to OL scouting purposes.”  CBS Sports said, “Steen’s technical consistency, toughness and instincts are exactly what NFL teams look for in the ideal guard prospect.”  The statements are ironic given that the Dolphins chose highlight their 2016 draft class by trying to make them into something that they weren’t, characterizing them as “alpha personalities” despite zero independent evidence that scouts ever viewed them that way.  Steen appears to the kind of guy they should have been touting all along if that’s what they wanted.

        In any case, if you ask me Saban did Steen a favor.  He pushed him to play and, while doing so, highlighted what was perhaps his greatest strength.

      4. Greg Hardy is gone but hardly forgotten.

        Hardy infamously was arrest for domestic violence after assaulting an ex-girlfriend by grabbing her, throwing her into furniture, strangling her, and threatening to kill her.  Only the Dallas Cowboys and their win at all costs owner Jerry Jones dared to sign Hardy after he hit the street (One wonders what he told his granddaughter.  “Don’t go dating an NFL player, now darlin’.  Unless he can rush the passer.  Heh, heh, heh.”  [slaps her on the behind]).  However, after a miserable season with the Cowboys in which he under-performed and was a locker room distraction, even Jones let him go.  Hardy has been waiting for another team to sign him ever since.

        Good luck with that.  If he ever had a chance – and I doubt very much that he did – its got to be gone now after he was indicted on one count of felony possession of a controlled substance after a September 25 arrest. He allegedly had 0.7 grams of cocaine in his wallet, which police detected after pulling him over for turning without signaling.

        Hardy was and is a blight on the National Football League, a product of a win at all costs mentality that results in animals like this getting rich off of fans who are forced to root for them against their better judgement.  You honestly wonder under the circumstances how the league has the nerve to wear pink in October while keeping men like Hardy  employed.  Fortunately, we’ll almost certainly never have to deal with watching this particular hard case anymore.  Let’s hope that its extended more and more to others whose behavior calls for sanction rather than adulation.

      5. I find the Green Bay Packers to be like a train wreck.  I can’t look and yet I can’t look away.  Some pundits were predicting that the Packers would be among the all-time best this year with the return of a healthy Jordy Nelson, who was supposed to be the major missing cog in the Packer wheel that caused the apparently decline of Aaron Rogers stats last season.

        That hasn’t turned out to be the case.  Among their notable deficiencies this year has been their problems at running back.  The carousel of running backs in Green Bay this season has included Eddie Lacy, Knile Davis (acquired from Kansas City and released after two games), James Starks and Don Jackson (who was placed on injured reserve). Through it all, the most effective runners have been quarterback Aaron Rodgers (who’s averaging 6.3 yards per run and has three rushing touchdowns) and converted receiver Ty Montgomery (who was the team’s leading rusher in two different games this season).

        The latest hope at running back for the team is Christine Michael, who they picked up from waivers after the Seahawks surprised the league by releasing him.

        Michael had two different stints with the Seahawks, who drafted him in the second round in 2013 (one spot after the Packers picked Lacy at No. 61 overall). As recently as this summer, he had earned praise from his teammates who said he was a different player than he was the first time around.  Indeed, NFL pundits have marveled at Michael’s talent and production and it was thought that he was on his way to a fine season.

        At least publicly the Seahawks have only praise for Michael.  “He’s been busting his tail the whole time he’s been here,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Wednesday. “Everything we’ve said about him has been true and real, and he made a great comeback with us. He was the only guy there for a while, and we’re really grateful to the play that he gave us. He’s a good kid.”

        But privately things may be a little different.  Reports have indicated that Michael was too inconsistent for the Seahawks and that they couldn’t trust him to run within the offense.  He struggled to hit the right hole or trust the design of the play. Those are vital elements of any run game but particularly for the Seahawks. The running back is the conductor of the offensive line. His patience, the number of steps he takes, all those details help a run succeed or fail.

        Whether Michael will be better within the Green Bay offense is an open question.  But they are so desperate to find answers at the position, they may rather have a reasonably productive back who free lances than the answers that they currently have on the roster.  Such is the state of what was supposed to be a record breaking offense this year

      6. Of course, the other major problem is the play of Aaron Rogers, himself.  Rogers at his best drops back, hits the last step in that drop and fires the ball immediately to the open receiver.  But he hasn’t looked like that on a consistent basis for over a year now, preferring to hold the ball and play backyard football while trying to make a play.  Pundits have blamed the fact that his receivers can’t get open for the problem and the return of Nelson this year was supposed to solve it.

        For the first time in his career, perhaps ever, Rogers is taking significant criticism from former teammates and the press.  And he apparently hasn’t liked it much.  Even nice guy Tony Dungy has gotten into the act as both he and not so nice guy Rodney Harrison took off on Rogers on Thursday’s edition of Football Night in Carolina on NBC and NFL Network.  Dungy and Harrison particularly addressed Rodgers‘ recent habit of publicly criticizing teammates and/or coaches during post-game press conferences following losses.

        Dungy: “When you’re losing, you can’t make those kinds of comments. I remember my first year in Indianapolis when we lost a playoff game to the Jets 41-0. Mike Vanderjagt, our kicker, comes out after the game and says, ‘Tony Dungy doesn’t fire people up. He’s just an easy-going guy. We don’t need that.’ Well, that might have been true, but when you lose, it’s not the time to say that.”

        Harrison: “I’m going to say this as nice as possible — shut up and play football. Every time that you mention something in the media, it creates a sense of divide in that locker room. Everything that they think about – say it in-house, and don’t bring the media and everyone outside of that locker room into it.”

        Former Packer Jermichael Finley has also been among the latest to speak out with some particularly damaging comments.

        “Aaron Rodgers is so scared of what guys are going to say that he doesn’t say nothing at all,” Finley said. “He doesn’t get vocal. He goes into his little shell. He’s not a guy who hangs out with the fellas. He’s real self-centered.”

        Finley isn’t the first teammate (former or otherwise) to take his shots at Rogers.  Even when Rogers has apparently been playing well, other players have or are suspected to have done so and they haven’t lasted with the team.  Former Packer and Dolphin guard Daryn College was one such player who called out Rogers in a team meeting for not admitting that he was holding the ball too long when the offensive line was taking heat some years ago in 2009.  Current Bears guard Josh Sitton wasn’t known specifically for doing it but he was outspoken and he was known to have called out the coaching staff on at least one occasion last year.  It would certainly not be surprising if criticism of Rogers miserable play last year came with that

        Rogers isn’t just self-centered.  He appears to be sensitive to criticism.  If he continues to play like he is, he’d better get used to it because it won’t stop until he starts reading the defense, getting rid of the ball, playing within the offense and throwing more accurately.

      7. I know that it seems like it’s a long way away but the later we get in both the NFL and the college football season, the more it feels like NFL draft time.  Indeed, site are already starting to speculate about what teams will need what and none will be more prominent than those who will be desperate for quarterback help.  In that respect, I found this article on NFL.com to be quite interesting.  In the column, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah looks at six teams who he thinks will be targeting the quarterback position.  Most made sense – the Browns, 49ers, Bears and Cardinals.  However, a couple were, in my opinion, questionable.

        First off, the suggestion that the Jets will be looking to draft a quarterback and/or sign a veteran is popular right now and, I think, pretty suspect.  The Jets drafted Bryce Petty in the fourth round in 2015 and, though fourth rounders aren’t always slam dunk starters, I’m not sure they given up on him.

        But Petty isn’t the reason I find this opinion questionable.  You might argue about the Jets commitment to his future but there’s not denying that they are committed to 2016 draft pick Christian Hackenberg.  Like Jeremiah, I don’t think Hackenberg is the answer for them.  But the Jets have to believe otherwise.  To draft Hackenberg in the second round and then not commit to him as your future starter would be ludicrous.  They would be, and should be, a laughing stock.

        No, I can’t imagine the Jets not giving Hackenberg the starting next year.

        The other suspect team on the list was the Jaguars, who appeared to have an answer at the position with Blake Bortles.  Bortles started well as a rookie but has regressed this season.  His mechanics are a mess and during the bye week he even resorted to visiting QB guru Tom House, indicating that perhaps he wasn’t getting the help he needed from head coach Gus Bradley and his staff.

        Bradley may be gone after this season but Bortles isn’t going anywhere.  I have to believe that the Jaguars would rather spend the offseason trying to fix Bortles, who at least has showed potential for a couple years before regressing, than starting over by drafting a new quarterback.

      8. Before we jump too far ahead it should be mentioned that one or two of those teams listed above are going to go for a veteran replacement.  Especially if you are a team who thinks that can win now, as in Arizona or Denver (not listed), the possibility of adding Tony Romo is going to be tempting.

        In addition, another quarterback that Dolphins fans are pretty familiar with might be enticing for one of these teams.  Tyrod Taylor entered the weekend needing to show that he could be the future in Buffalo badly.  Time could be running out for Taylor in his quest to convince management to activate the next phase of his five-year, $90 million contract, which would cost them $27 million for next season alone if they decide to kick in the second year.

        Buffalo beat the Bengals on Sunday but they did it with only an average effort from Taylor who went 19 for 27, 166 yards and a passer rating of 70.9.  Hardly the stuff that characterizes a $90 million quarterback.

        The bet here is that Taylors talent and mobility leads someone to sign him in the hope that he will be the future.  We shall see if it comes true.

 

 

Quick Game Comments: Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys

Defense

  1. Cowboys came out in 11 personnel and that seemed to be their base most of the time.  They often stacked almost everyone inside at the line of scrimmage.  The Bears played 8 in the box to defend it but got hurt for big chunks of yardage in the passing game, especially on play action.
  2. Adrian Amos had a heck of a (clean) shot on Cole Beasley in the first quarter.  Harold Jones-Quartey also hit some people pretty hard.  Bears fans had to like the look of that.  The defense needs more of it.
  3. I’d like to say that the Bears once again had trouble getting off the field on 3rd and 4th down.  But the truth of the matter is that there were a lot of drives where they simply never got to third down.  That’s how badly they were getting beaten.
  4. I don’t think the Bears are going to get far putting guys like Leonard Floyd in single coverage on Jason Witten.  I’m like most people in that I don’t know what the answer to Witten is but that ain’t it.
  5. Ezekiel Elliot looks like the rookie of the year to me.  He’s eventually going to rack up a lot of yardage behind that offensive line.
  6. The Bears front seven really got dominated in the running game.  There was no penetration by anyone to stop Elliott and the linebackers were really getting sucked up in the play action passing game.  The Cowboys ran for 5.6 yards per carry in the first half when the game still mattered.
  7. I think the Bears missed nose tackle Eddie Goldman a great deal.  Will Sutton got pushed about quite a bit in his place.
  8. Anyone else getting tired of cornerbacks like Jacoby Glenn trailing wide receivers by two yards after getting beaten off the line of scrimmage?  Me, too.
  9. The Cowboys really picked on those younger cornerbacks.  They hardly threw at Tracy Porter, though he did give up a touchdown to Dez Bryant in the fourth quarter.
  10. Leonard Floyd continues to look active out there but he’s not having much of an impact.
  11. First Cowboy punt of the game?  It came with 5:00 left in the third quarter.

Offense

  1. The Bears also came out in 11 personnel.  The Cowboys played 6 in the box.  So they obviously didn’t respect the Bears running game much.  For the most part they were right not to.
  2. Brian Hoyer certainly does have a quick release.  But if he was throwing with anticipation, I didn’t see it.  His accuracy was OK.  He overthrew Cameron Meredith on a potential big play late in the game.
  3. I don’t know if Jordan Howard is just that much better or what but things seem to happen when he comes into the game.
  4. Also note that the Bears are rotating running backs within a series now instead of giving the running backs all of the downs in one possession, as they did last year.  Interesting that Dowell Loggains chose to change this.
  5. I swear it’s like the Cowboys knew the Bears plays at times.  Defensive players literally ran to where offensive players were going and beat them to the spot.  Is Loggains’ offense that predictable?  It appears to be so.
  6. Hoyer appeared to finally find Zach Miller late in the first half after the Cowboys defense loosened up the coverage with a big lead.  The needs to happen more.
  7. Cody Whitehair looked fine.  Kevin White looks like he might be getting better to my eye.  I liked that Hoyer kept going to him late in the game.
  8. The Cowboys did a pretty good job of limiting Eddie Royal after two good games to start the season.
  9. I thought the offensive line did a decent job of giving Hoyer time against a reputedly weak Cowboys defensive line.
  10. The time of possession at halftime:  Cowboys – 21:47, Bears – 8:13.  First downs:  Cowboys 19, Bears 4.  And I’m honestly surprised the Bears had that many.

Miscellaneous

  1. Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Michele Tafoya were your announcers.  Collinsworth is usually the best color man in the game but this game was so bad it even made him ordinary.
  2. Had to like the fact that John Fox apparently learned his lesson last game.  After not challenging a crucial spot then, he challenged one in the first quarter of this game and won it.  He did the same thing late in the game and won again.  Generally speaking I didn’t think that penalties hurt the Bears that badly as such things go.  A hands to the face penalty by Charles Leno spoiled a great catch and run by Kevin White in the first quarter.  It also stopped the first Bears possession cold.  Willie Young got called for a roughing the passer in the fourth quarter but there was no call on Jason Witten who literally pulled his helmet off and had it left in his hand as Young got by him.
  3. Special teams were fine.  Dan Bailey missed a kick for the Cowboys in the third quarter that kept the Bears within two touchdowns of the lead.  The Bears went with  a surprise onside kick in the second quarter.  It didn’t work.  The Bears were offside and had to re-kick.  It was typical of the night in general.
  4. The Bears didn’t drop the ball that much and the Cowboys didn’t drop it at all.  Jeremy Langford had a big drop on the first quarter on third down.  That killed a possession.  It hard to say if the events were connected but we started seeing a lot of Jordan Howard shortly after that.  White had a drop of a nearly perfect deep pass in the fourth quarter.
  5. There weren’t many turnovers in this game either way.  Glenn had a nice strip at the beginning of the second half that resulted in a turnover.  Cameron Meredith gave up a fumble in Bears territory late in the third quarter.  Brian Hoyer turned the ball over trying to make a play late.  That effectively ended the game.
  6. For those of you who were forced to watch this travesty, the Bears are also on in prime time for two consecutive weeks next month.  Enjoy.

On the New Old Jay Cutler and Other Points of View

1.  The names on the injury report are accumulating to form a long list in what has apparently been a tough, competitive camp.  Two names that have been on the list for the majority of camp continue to slip under the radar, OLB Roy Robertson-Harris and ILB Nick Kwiatkoski.

Robertson-Harris hasn’t been seen on the field since the first practice.  That’s a long time to be ill.  He’s an undrafted free agent at one of the few positions that is deep with talent.  I have to believe that his chances of making the roster, not good to begin with, are now virtually nil.  His chances of making the practice squad are rapidly slipping away.

Probably more disturbing to the Bears is the absence of Kwiatkoski with a nagging hamstring problem.  Though the Bears are talented up front at inside linebacker with the acquisition of Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, they are not particularly deep and the Bears drafted Kwiatkoski to fill that role and play special teams as he develops behind the veterans.  That plan is flying out the window and he’s going to be a liability on the roster if he doesn’t recover soon.

2.  Amongst the many question marks that were looming this, the play of center Hronis Grasu may loom as the largest.  Grasu struggled last year at center, being over powered far too often for anyone’s taste.  There are some generally positive reviews of Grasu’s performance on the training camp practice field in the press and head coach John Fox seems to think that things are looking up.

“He’s a very sharp kid,” Fox said. “[With regard] to develop the pro body, he’s added some bulk and strength. He is athletic ready. Combining that with some of the speed and the strength of his game is at a higher level. I like what I’ve seen from him so far.”

This is all moot now that it looks like Grasu will be out for the year with a torn ACL.  But looking forward to next year, one subtle thing that may help Grasu is a possible shift in the primary blocking scheme.

Speculation in the press is that one reason why popular left guard Matt Slauson was let go is that he didn’t fit what the Bears ideally wanted to do in that area.  Last year the Bears went with a mixture of schemes but the thought is that they’d like go go more zone blocking this year.

That could be good news for the still slightly under-sized but very athletic Grasu, who may find himself in a more comfortable position next year with techniques that better fit his style.

3.  Another big question is running back Jeremy Langford.  Langford is stepping into an offensive backfield without veteran Matt Forte and he’s being targeted to take up some of the slack.

Much was made of a few big pass drops last season but the biggest concern for Langford may be his 3.6 yards per carry.  He averaged only 1.13 yards after contact.  That’s second to last out of 47 players with at least 100 carries, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Coaches have been stressing to Langford the need to finish plays and have been trying to get him to fall forward for more yards.

“It’s just having that mindset to get yards after contact,” Langford said. “You do a lot of different drills in practice to keep your base wide, so in the games it kind of comes naturally.”

Langford’s yards per carry will be something worth monitoring during the preseason into the early regular season.

4.  Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times notes that “[quarterback Brian] Hoyer’s struggles in camp are starting to mount”.

Hoyer is with a completely new team and getting every think straight in terms of timing and cohesion with his receivers are expected to be slow.  These thing have a habit of rapidly coming together as he gets more reps to iron out his difficulties and to work with his teammates.  I’ll be more concerned if we’re seeing poor performances from him in the fourth preseason game.

With tight end Zach Miller entering the concussion protocol Monday, general manager Ryan Pace acknowledged that the team is more than a little concerned with its depth at the position:

“To be honest with you guys,” Pace said, “in Year 2 with where we’re at, you’re addressing a lot of needs and sometimes you don’t hit every single one of them. But there’s still a lot of avenues to continue to do that.”

I’ve already credited the Bears with showing some creativity when it comes to solving the problem at this position by converting defensive lineman Greg Scruggs to tight end.  We need to see more of that in the coming days and years.

In the mean time look for them to scan the waiver wire for pick ups as cuts start to be made on other teams.  One pro personnel boss has said that there were some teams with an excess at tight end but not many.

“Dallas, Green Bay, NYG, and Washington are heavy at tight end but don’t know if they are shopping anyone. Miami has a lot of bodies at TE but not great talent.”

The Bears traded a draft pick for Khari Lee last season and you have to think they are hoping that he’ll show something this year after serving basically as a blocking tight end last year.  So far he reportedly hasn’t had a good camp, having sprained his shoulder.  Nevertheless, its not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears will take another bite at the apple and try it again.

5.  Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune says that the young safeties, Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey are making great strides through camp.

That may be true but in scanning the camp reports, I think it’s a bit worrying that I rarely see Amos mentioned.  He wasn’t around the ball much in pass coverage last year and the Bears are looking for him to take the next step.  He will be worth watching closely during the preseason.  It was somewhat comforting to see an interception mentioned here.  But I’d like to see more and I’m sure the Bears would, too.

6.  With Rolando McClain being suspended for the first 10 games of the regular season and not having reported to training camp, the Cowboys are on the search for linebackers.  One such option was examined Tuesday in former Eagle Emmanuel Acho, younger brother of Bears linebacker Sam Acho.

The coinciding Acho’s reminded me that, while the Bears will be scanning the waiver wire looking for cast offs from teams strong at tight end, other teams will be looking carefully at their cast offs from one of their strongest position groups – outside linebacker.  One such cast off might be Sam Acho and it brings up the possibility that one brother may replace another on the Cowboys roster.

Awkward.

7.  Reporters are finally getting past the puff pieces and taking a good look at the BEras roster.  Not surprisingly, Hub Arkush at Pro Football Weekly is getting a good start by justifiably questioning the offensive line.

Hub’s doubts about the offensive line are probably overly negative, which is not uncommon for him.  He suggested that Bobbie Massie “will be an upgrade over Jordan Mills – and maybe even [Kyle] Long at right tackle”.  Maybe?  He absolutely will.  Or he had better  be because Long was definitely not good last year.  And I can not emphasize enough how much of an upgrade Long is at right guard over Vladimir Ducasse and Patrick Omameh.

But where Hub hit the mark – and this won’t be the last we hear this and offensive line won’t be the last position we hear it about – is when he points out their lack of depth.  Once the starters go down virtually anywhere except running back and outside linebacker, we’re talking about a big dip in talent.

The guess here is that once the injuries start to hit, the Bears won’t fair well this year.  But no one is going to want to play them early.

8.  Though my worries about Robbie Gould aren’t big, I am mildly concerned.  He did miss some big kicks last year.  From Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune on Thursday.

“[Gould] attempted field goals today in a team period for the first time in training camp. By my count, he made 5 of 8 tries, all from inside 42 yards. He hit the left post on the first attempt from about 35 yards. The second attempt was blocked by safety Harold Jones-Quartey, and the third attempt hit the right post but went through the uprights. The Bears can get Gould attempts at Soldier Field on Saturday at the practice there.”

Gould did, however, make 14 of 14 at Soldier Field Saturday during Family Fest.

Nevertheless, Gould might concentrate better with a little competition in camp.  Watching him in warm ups before games, he loves to set up his kicks right next to the opposing kicker and compete with him on how many warm up kicks he can make from a given distance.  That kind of competition might be worth a roster spot early in the process in August.

9.  Guard Ted Larsen has been in four fights in nine practices and Fox says he’s getting tired of it.

“It was disappointing today,” Fox said. “That kind stuff happens a little bit at camp, but we’re getting too close to games. You’ve got to be able to control that and not lose control of your emotions. We’ve got work to do.”

Larsen didn’t do any fighting when he was a member of the Cardinals because players had to do gassers immediately.  If Fox really wants to prevent them, that might not be a bad policy.

10.  One Final ThoughtDavid Haugh at the Chicago Tribune and I don’t often agree but I’m on board with him when he expresses some doubts about how quarterback Jay Cutler will fare with new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.

“‘I hate saying this, but I think we’re a little more similar than I’d like to be,’ Loggains said.

“In one of the strangest sentences you will read about the Bears in preseason, Cutler actually could have a calming effect on Loggains.”

I very much doubt that.  Cutler is handling off field matters better than ever.  I’ve pointed out before that he has grown since he got married and started having kids.  The last time I did that was January, 2014 – the offseason before he helped get Marc Trestman fired.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me seven times…

Nevertheless, I will continue to give Cutler credit for handling these situations correctly.  But that doesn’t mean that once the bullets start flying, he is going to be the calmest person on the field (nor should he have to be).

Outwardly he’s generally stoic but every Bears fan knows that Cutler generally needs some reassurance that the Bears coaching staff, particularly the offensive coordinator, know what they are doing and can guide him and the team out of whatever hole they find themselves in.

Most players need that.  But the guess here is that Cutler really needs it.  Otherwise, subconsciously or not, he’s going to conclude that its hopeless.

Adam Gase was obviously able to give that confidence to him and that enabled Cutler to show a resilience and mental toughness last year that we haven’t seen before from him.

Like Gase, when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, I assure you that Loggain is going to have to be the calm, logical voice with a plan.  If not, this won’t work.

Random Post-Draft Thoughts

Now that the NFL draft is behind us I thought it might be time to wrap it up with some odds and ends left over in the wake of the annual selection process.

  • I for the most part agreed with the assessment of the Dolphins post draft roster roster for the Sun-Sentinel on Tuesday. But I have to take exception of his assertion that the defensive backfield is weaker than it was in 2015. The additions of Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard have transformed an under-sized unit into one with considerable more length that should be able to better deal with the rigors of divisional play with some huge tight ends and wide receivers on the docket. Rashad Jones remains with the team and the addition of Isa Abdul-Quddus is being under-rated.

I’m more in line with Armando Salguero at the Herald when he says that the the success of the Dolphins draft class rides on how well Howard develops. The Dolphins paid a steep price to get him, the 42nd overall pick along with a fourth-round pick (107th overall) to move up four slots in the second round. If he works out it will be well worth it as the Dolphins should be very solid across the board on the back end. If it doesn’t, it will go down as just one of a series of draft failures for the team at the position.

  • Quarterback Cody Kessler may be the luckiest player in the NFL right now. Most believed going into the selection process that he was a late-round pick, if not an undrafted free agent. But all it takes is one and Kessler found an NFL coach that apparently believes in him.

Drafted in round 3 by the Cleveland Browns, presumably at the recommendation of head coach Hue Jackson, Kessler has none of the dominant physical tools that most coaches believe they need to mold a less instinctive quarterback into the next star (see Christian Hackenberg below). Instead, Jackson is betting on savvy and decision making. It will be interesting to see how Kessler develops and, if Jackson is right, if it won’t affect the way that other teams approach drafting the position in the future.

  • This draft was widely believed to be among the deepest ever in terms of defensive tackles and players that would have gone in the first round in other drafts were available as late as the third round. The Dolphins decidedly under-performed opposite Ndamukong Suh at this position and you have to wonder if they won’t regret simply sticking with Deandre Coleman and Jordan Phillips.

The Dolphins have staked a lot on the effect of another year’s experience and better coaching when it comes to these players. There’s little hope that the run defense will be better unless there is improvement in the play at defensive tackle.

  • If you’re already tired of seeing new Minnesota Viking Moritz Boehringer on your TV screen, I’ve got some bad news for you. You’re going to see a lot more of him this summer and, heaven help us, into the fall.

Boehringer is a German born wide receiver who saw a video of Adrian Peterson when he was 17 and decided that he wanted to be a NFL football player. He comes to the league as a former member of the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns of the German Football League.

Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer was apparently thrilled as he said, “That’s kind of what the draft is all about — making dreams come true.”

Zimmer has been around long enough to know that is most certainly not what the draft, or anything else associated with the NFL, is about.

Dollar signs appeared in owners eyes all over the league as an opportunity to further promote football in Europe presented itself on a silver platter and the NFL Network has run with it, making it one of the stories of the draft.

If Boehringer had been Chinese, commissioner Roger Goodell would have probably had to change his pants.

We can only speculate about what precipitated this release but it wasn’t the draft as the Dolphins failed to select a defensive end. Perhaps the reason had something to do with this explanation from Salguero .

It’s also worth noting that Moore was released from the Giants after violating team rules, reportedly after an altercation with Cullen Jenkins over headphones. Jay Glazer at Fox Sports reported that it was only one of many such altercations.

Similar incidents would be a pretty good reason to release such a player in Miami. The release may also be a sign that the Dolphins are counting on the return of troubled player Dion Jordan more than they ought.

  • The Cowboys have received a lot of good publicity for taking linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round.   Smith was widely believed to be amongst the best players in the draft until he suffered a brutal knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl. The images of Smith’s relief at being drafted so high were heart warming but ultimately the Cowboys may pay a high price for the good feelings this evoked.

Smith’s injury included a damaged nerve similar to what running back Marcus Lattimore suffered in 2012. Lattimore was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft and never played a down for the 49ers.

This is the trouble with nerve injuries. There’s nothing you can do to fix them. Either the body heals on its own or it never heals at all. Before the draft I figured that there were 32 team doctors all telling 32 general managers the same thing: “We don’t know. It could come completely back or it might not.” I was wrong. It was 31 team doctors.

That’s because the surgeon who fixed Smith’s knee is the Cowboys team doctor. The assumption here is that owner Jerry Jones thought he was getting inside information on this injury but he really should know better.

Surgeons as a group are a different breed. They carry a confidence about them such that I’ve never met one yet that would look you in the eye and say, “Naw. He may never recover.” That confidence is part of what makes them good surgeons. But it makes the advice that Jones got in this case highly questionable.

Feel good or not, Smith should have never come off the board before the fourth round.  The guess here is the his recovery is a coin flip at best.

Here’s the problem with that theory. Fuller is an under-sized body catcher who had 21 drops the last two seasons. Miller made the conversion from quarterback to wide receiver last year at Ohio State and was very athletic. Unfortunately he too has trouble not only with running routes but with just holding on to the ball as demonstrated graphically by his less than stellar performance in the Senior Bowl.

Sure these players are athletic. But how much help are they going to be if they lack the hand-eye coordination to perform the most basic function of any wide receiver: catching the ball.

  • One Final Thought: Message to the New York Jet, who pulled off one of the surprises of the draft when they took Hackenberg in the second round. It’s not a good thing when the NFL Network flashes up a graphic about your pick and under “Weaknesses” it simply says, “Game Tape”.

Good luck with that.

Greg Hardy Is Angry that Aldon Smith Was Signed Before He Was

Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com notes that Greg Hardy got upset when he saw that fellow free agent Aldon Smith got signed before he did.

“Who’s worse, Hardy or Smith? That’s a hard question to answer. But Smith got no signing bonus and nothing guaranteed from the Raiders, and Smith remains suspended by the NFL and won’t even be eligible for reinstatement until November. So the Raiders weren’t taking much of a risk when they signed him.

“NFL teams do think, however, that signing Hardy is a risk. He was suspended after an ugly domestic violence accusation in 2014 with the Panthers, he clashed with teammates and coaches in 2015 with the Cowboys, and he showed no remorse for his actions in an interview that aired this week on ESPN.”

It’s evident that Hardy has no idea just how radioactive he is right now. Smith has had a long list of legal issues but they’re nothing compared to a remorseless animal who beats women. The NFL wears pink in October in support of breast cancer victims and is trying desperately to increase its appeal to women. signing Hardy sends a bad message that dmages not just the reputation of the team that signs him, but that of the whole league.

There is one other thing that is affecting Hardy’s ability to find a team to take him on and it is arguably more important to at least some of the teams with a reputation for signing dodgy players. Given a chance to show that he can still perform on the field, Hardy produced just six sacks and only 1.5 after Thanksgiving.

It was bad enough that Hardy found a place with the Cowboys last year. But combine his performance in 2015 with his past and the bet here is no team will sign him now no matter the financial risk.

Ten Thoughts on the Bears Offseason Midway Through Free Agency

Spring brings renewal and never more so than with major league baseball and spring training. Like most sports, the offseason in baseball is a time to unwind and relax. The suspense builds as another season draws near because fans miss the sport after literally not thinking about it for at least four months.

Not so with professional football, which has a yearly calendar like no other sport. Football fans find interesting things to think about year around and it’s often the happenings in the offseason that introduce the issues that are most interesting to follow as the season begins. Football fans never stop thinking about football.

With that in mind, here are ten thoughts on the Bears offseason midway through free agency.

1. The Bears now have two long snappers on the roster: the newly signed Aaron Brewer and the long snapper that the Bears finished with last year, Patrick Scales. Scales, a journey man who has bounced around the league since he went undrafted to the Baltimore Ravens in 2011, was signed in late November by the Bears to replace Thomas Gafford in as effort to upgrade the position. He’s still on the roster and apparently will be given a chance to compete to win the starting job but it’s now evident that the Bears still aren’t happy with the performance at the position since Patrick Mannelly retired before the 2014 season.

The Bears evidently hope that the 25 year old Brewer, who spent the last four seasons snapping for the Broncos including three under Bears head coach John Fox, will solve the problem though it isn’t obvious that he will have the edge going into camp. It isn’t evident why Brewer was released by the Broncos.

“There are always decisions being made at the end of the season as you get ready for free agency,’’ Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “Aaron did a good job for us. … He’s been a consistent snapper. We’ve got to go replace him and it will be tough.’’

Scales is slightly older at 28  and has a salary of only $525,000 this year and none of that is guaranteed while Brewer signed a one-year deal for $760,000, also not guaranteed.

Long-snapper is an underrated position in that you never notice it until something goes wrong. It may be instructive to pay a bit more attention to the fine details this year like the strength of the snap and the ball placement as fans handicap the competition. In the end, though, consistency will be the major factor and that will come across only in camp as each man makes snap after snap under the watchful eye of special teams coordinator Jeff Rogers.

In any case, may the best man win.

2. Two things are worth noting about the Bears approach to free agency this year. The first is that the Bears have been unrelenting in their pursuit of strictly young talent.

Danny Trevathon (26), Jerrell Freeman (29), Bobby Massie (26), Nick Becton (26), Akiem Hicks (26), Jacquizz Rogers (26) and Mitch Unrein (29) are all under the age of 30 and the three major signings (Trevathan, Massie and Hicks) are 26 years old. Only Zack Miller (31) and Tracy Porter (30) are 30 or older and the Bears have extensive experience with both as resignings.

It’s now evident that the Bears are trying to make up for poor drafts in the past in a particular way. Had those drafts from a few years ago been good, the Bears would now be trying to sign their own rather than dipping into free agency. So they’re doing the next best thing – signing young players as if they were signing their own draft picks to second contracts.

The Bears are basically betting on their coaching staff to get these players in and to make them into better values than they were with their previous teams, who chose not to re-sign them.

Given the way the team over achieved last year given their talent, I like the approach.

3. The second thing to note is that the Bears approach to free agency has been a cautious one and, to their credit, they haven’t overpaid for some of the young talent that they’ve signed. But it’s also worth pointing out that they have kept the price down by addressing easy to find needs in free agency.

Inside linebacker has been a major focus and rightfully so. It was a major weakness last year and Trevathan and Freeman will be huge upgrades this season over Shea McClellin and Christian Jones. Addressing right tackle with Massie could pay huge dividends if for no other reason than it move Kyle Long back to right guard, at minimum making that position considerably stronger. Massie will be no worse than Long was last year in his first year at right tackle. and promises to improve the run game considerably.

But holes remain at the hard to find positions, pass rusher, defensive back, and, Unrein and Hicks aside, defensive line where an impact player is still needed.

For instance, assuming the Bears wanted to stay young at the position, the price of a pass rusher would have been unbelievable. Olivier Vernon only had 7.5 sacks last year but signed a contract for an astounding $85 million with $52.5 million guaranteed with the New York Giants. Admittedly most of those sacks came late in the year in an fantastic salary drive in a contract year for Vernon. If he keeps up the pace he finished with, he’ll earn that money. But most people think the Giant overpaid and I tend to agree. It’s a huge risk and the Bears evidently wanted no part of it or anything like it.

Look for the Bears to remain economical by drafting heavily at these positions in April’s main event.

4. Speaking of defensive backs, the Bears apparently liked Tashaun Gipson of the Browns but the sense was his market went higher than they were comfortable with when he signed in Jacksonville for $35.5 million over five years. If the Jaguars get the Gipson that was a Pro Bowl performer in 2014 for the Browns, it’s money well spent. If they get the Gipson that was on the field last year, it’s not going to end well.

This will be a situation to keep an eye on next year as it will interesting to see if the Bears should have pursued Gipson harder, particularly given their troubles at the safety and that they haven’t made any signings to fill the hole.

5. Tight end also remains a position to be addressed in the draft. Khari Lee came over in a trade with the Texans just before the start of last season and Gannon Sinclair was the only player to spend the entire season on the team’s practice squad. Both of them are more blocking tight ends than they are receivers like Zach Miller. Veteran Rob Housler can also block a little.

The obvious assumption is that the Bears will draft a tight end this year and though the draft is thin at the position, there is talent to be found there.  It’s just a risky pick because very few players are asked to block in the spread offenses that are predominant in college.

In particular, Ohio State’s Nick Vannett impressed me at the Senior Bowl as a guy who has the skills to be a receiving threat and at 6’6″, 260 lb, has at least the size to be a blocker.

The 6’4″, 230 lb Lee was a disappointment last year. He came for a sixth round pick and the assumption was the he would contribute immediately. He did play in each of the 16 games but his impact on the offense was minimal. Apparently last year was a red shirt year for the 24 year old and I’m looking for a major jump from Lee this year.

6. One major reason that the Bears are remaining economical in free agency is that they have the contract for Alshon Jeffery yet to be worked out. The efforts to resign Jeffery are ongoing and persistent.

“We’re actively and aggressively negotiating right now,” Pace declared at NFL scouting combine.

The Bears placed a $14 million-plus franchise tag on Jeffery on Feb. 29. The fact that Jeffery signed that offer was critical to his offseason because his salary is now fully guaranteed against skill, injury and salary cap maneuvers.  If he gets hurt, he still gets paid.  Though Jeffery might still fail to show up for workouts because his salary will not be guaranteed beyond this year, the fact that he signed the offer indicates to me that he probably will.  Otherwise there’s little reason to sign the offer and give up the right to negotiate with other teams.

Jeffery has had soft tissue problems over the last few years and there is a plan in place to solve the issue.

“I think being in Year 2 with a player helps a lot in just understanding his body and his body mechanics,” Pace said. “I know (Alshon) and his agent are doing some things, too, to improve on that. So when he gets back, we’ll have a plan in place. It’s important.”

It is.  And getting Jeffery in for those workouts will undoubtedly be a part of it.

Dez Bryant signed a 5 year contract for $70 million with $45 million guaranteed before the 2015 season and Jeffery’s contract will likely equal or exceed that. Presumably some of that will appear as easy to reach incentives for Jeffery to remain with the program to avoid injury.

7. Look for Jeffery’s contract to be at least a little front-loaded in terms of the cap hit.

First, this is the way that the Bears like to work anyway. It allows them to easily get out of any contract with minimal dead money on the cap. But there is an even better reason for it this year than that.

The last season of Long’s four year rookie contract is 2016. Though the Bears will undoubtedly pick up Long’s fifth year option, it is highly unlikely that they will allow him to play out that contract and hit the market in 2018.

The Bears are undoubtedly thinking about the extension that they’ll be negotiating for Long next offseason and they are planning their cap space, which should still be ample, accordingly.

8. The running back situation for the Bears is a curious one.

The Bears spent a good part of the offseason convincing us that their future lay with 2015 fifth round pick Jeremy Langford and hold over Ka’Deem Carey. For a long time there was doubt that Carey would remain on the team but his development on special teams allowed the Bears to get him onto the game day roster the second half of the season and he responded by running well. Rogers was actually ahead of Carey on the depth chart last year before getting hurt.

The Bears will undoubtedly continue to favor the multi-back system that they ran last year and based upon their comments the assumption was that Langford, Carey and Rogers were the guys.

But the Bears pursuit of Denver running back C.J. Anderson changed all of that and many are wondering now if they might be interested in picking up another running back in the draft.

Indeed, Pace has a history of collecting running backs and he’s been known to pull major surprises by drafting players such as Mark Ingram in the first round of the 2011 draft (under general manager Mickey Loomis).

With this in mind, I’ve seen some thoughts floated that the Bears might draft Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. Indeed, the NFL Network‘s Charles Davis has Elliot going to the Bears with the 11th pick.

but I very much doubt that will happen as my gut tells me that Elliot will be gone before the Bears are on the clock. Although there are some who think that it is a mistake to draft a running back that high, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Elliot isn’t the reason why the Eagle traded up with the Dolphins to the eighth position as free agency began this year.

Many have looked at where Todd Gurley was drafted last year and figured that is the highest Elliot will go, putting the Bears in a position to draft him but I don;t believe it. Gurley is a wonderful runner but Elliot is a smooth, all around athlete that can do it all: run block and catch. He’s not just a running back. He’s a weapon.

I might add that after years of being de-valued, the running back position is experiencing something of a renaissance this year. Anderson, Matt Forte, Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, Doug Martin, Lamar Miller, and Bilal Powell to name a few all got signed in a decent market this year.

The Eagles have already traded running back Demarco Murray and they have reportedly made it known that remaining running back Ryan Matthews is also available. Though Andy Reid often threw the ball an inordinate amount of the time as the Eagles head coach, he relied much more heavily on the run when current head coach Doug Pederson was his offensive coordinator in Kansas City. Expectations are that Pederson will carry that philosophy over from the Chiefs. But that can’t happen if he trades his starting running backs away. The bet here is that he has Elliot in mind as a replacement and will draft him at eighth overall.

9. The NFL’s 32 owners were busy when they convened in Florida last week for their annual meeting given the number of proposed rule changes that had to be considered.

One rule that is not changing despite a mass of confusion is the catch rule.

One of the most memorable quotes of the 2015 season was uttered by frustrated Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy after a playoff game against Arizona in January.

“I don’t know what the hell a catch is anymore,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Despite this statement and many like it, the NFL persists in believing that the relevant people associated with the league understand the rule. They believe that the problem might simply be in communicating the rule more clearly to fans and to the broadcasters who influence their opinion.

The league might continue to delude itself but the rest of us are more apt to believe the evidence of our eyes.

The good news is that, despite their declarations, the league might be taking steps to clarify the situation for the referees on the field. The first of those was having Dean Blandino on the phone for replay reviews to inject some consistency into the interpretation.

In January, during the divisional round playoff game between the Packers and Cardinals to which McCarthy is referring above, Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught a pass while going to the ground. He lost possession when he hit the ground, and the official on the field determined that Fitzgerald had caught the ball. Unlike previous calls which had been reversed in such a situation, this one stood as the referee (and Blandino) ruled that “indisputable visual evidence” to overturn the ruling on the field that Fitzgerald had the ball long enough to become a runner was lacking.

The situation caused confusion because it was exactly the same as one that existed in the playoffs the previous season. In that case, the ruling was incorrectly reversed and Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was ruled to have not made a crucial catch. It arguably cost them the game.

The truth is that though the league never acknowledged that the Bryant ruling was incorrect, the Fitzgerald catch was effectively an admission of it.

Bottom line, the key to clarifying the catch rule isn’t educating the fans and broadcasters. It’s educating the referees. Once that’s done, the standard will be consistent and complaints will tail off.

10. The Browns have decided to hitch their wagon to Robert Griffin III at quarterback. They signed the still young 26 year old to a two-year, $15 million contract with $6.75 million in total guaranteed money.

Most assume that the Browns will still draft a quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2016 draft and, indeed, they might. Conventional wisdom says that the odds of rediscovering the player that took the league by storm in 2012 are not good. Drafting a quarterback to play behind Griffin, Josh McCown, Connor Shaw and/or Austin Davis to develop for a year would seem to be the way that most teams would play it.

But the Browns aren’t most teams and that may be especially true this year.

The Browns hired Paul DePodesta away from the New York Mets as the team’s chief strategy officer. DePodesta is expected to help members of the team’s player-development, sports-science, high-performance and analytics departments maximize their efforts – think money ball for the NFL.

This development could be a fascinating one because it indicates that the Browns may be going all-in on analytics, something that other teams are experimenting with but which is combined with the more traditional approach to building a team.

So though conventional wisdom says draft a quarterback with the pick, what if the analytics say “No”? There have been plenty of busted quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the draft and its generally ruined multiple careers from the general manager down when it’s happened. What if DePodesta has run the numbers and his version of reality indicates that the odds are better of developing a recycled quarterback into a success?

And better yet, what if he’s right?

Things are never dull with the NFL.

Cowboys Record Belies Their Claims of Good Intentions

Remember Randy Gregory, the defensive end that the Cowboys drafted last April in the second round after he tested positive for marijuana at the Combine? Well he’s become a cautionary tale now that he’s been suspended for four games in 2016 after testing positive for drugs four times, three during the 2015 season. Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com comments:

“Gregory consistently has failed to choose football over whatever substance for which he has been testing positive. But the Cowboys necessarily failed to provide him with the resources and assistance necessary to keep him from continuing to fail tests. And Gregory’s agents, who did a great job of puffing him up to a scoop-hungry media before the draft (at one point he was being sold as a top-10 pick despite the failed drug test), apparently haven’t communicated to Gregory the critical importance of getting clean.”

This news came right before another player associated with the Cowboy found himself in hot water. Joseph Randle was arrested for the fifth time in the last 18 months, this time on three counts of aggravated battery, one count of drug possession and one count of criminal damage. The Cowboys had previously  released Randle but not until they absolutely had to after his sixth game in 2015 and not until the NFL suspended him.

Both incidents bring to mind comments made by Jerry Jones at the time of the Greg Hardy signing when he trumpeted the Cowboys as the destination for wayward players, saying that the team was focused upon providing an environment where they could be rehabilitated.  You have to wonder at what point after Gregory’s third faied drug test was this still about “rehabilitation”.

As Florio implies above, it’s now evident that this was hogwash. Jones is simply running an outlaw program where signing risky players and putting up with deplorable off field behavior until there’s simply no way to keep them on the roster is the priority.

“Talent trumps all” is a common philosophy in the NFL. No one follows that mantra more than the Cowboys. Perhaps it’s time for Jones to pull back and take a look at his franchise and decide if this is really the image that he wants “America’s Team” to project. Regardless, he needs to stop spouting off nonsense about nurturing his players to conquer whatever demons haunt them off the field. It’s all too evident that either there’s little or nothing behind it or it’s not working.

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.

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.

To Re-Sign or Not to Re-Sign? That is the Question.


Mike Mulligan
at the Chicago Tribune speculates about Alshon Jeffery‘s future with the team:

“Franchise tags won’t be set until the 2016 salary cap is set in March, but Corry, writing for CBSSports.com, recently predicted it will grow about 7.5 percent to $154 million. With big-money deals for Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas added to increases for Julio Jones and A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson‘s top-dollar deal, the franchise number for a wide receiver is projected to jump from $12.8 million to just over $14.5 million.

“The number will be the richest at any NFL position other than quarterback (projected $19.75 million) and defensive end ($15.5 million).

“Is Jeffery worth that kind of money? “

Aishon_jeffreyYes, he probably is.

The real problem with Jeffery is that he’s been injured so often this season. Worse, he’s been out with exactly the kind of soft tissue injury that head coach John Fox mentioned as the major issue with Jeffery after he was hired in the off-season.

But the truth is that franchising Jeffery for a year minimizes the risk. Sure, the Bears will try to sign him at their price, which will take the injury risk into account. But even if Jeffery refuses and decides to try to prove to the Bears that he can, indeed, remain healthy, its only a one year contract with a rebuilding team that will have plenty of cap room to absorb the hit. Over the next off-season, I would expect the Bears to talk a lot to Jeffery about how to manage these injuries. If he responds, he’s going to see his pay day with the Bears. If he doesn’t, he’ll see it elsewhere. But probably not until 2017.

The real problem that the Bears will face in the off-season isn’t what to do with Jeffery. Its what to do with cornerback Tracy Porter. Porter has been healthy this year but has a brutal history of injuries as documented by Dan Wiederer, also at the Chicago Tribune:

“Through the summer, the biggest thing Porter seemed to have a knack for was getting hurt and bouncing around. When he signed with the Bears on June 8, shortly after being released by the Redskins, Porter joined his fifth team in five seasons.

“His resume came loaded with red flags, most notably the durability concerns of a player who had missed 23 games the previous three years.

“A mysterious seizure episode in Denver had been a culprit in the 10 games he missed in 2012. Last season, hamstring and shoulder injuries sidelined Porter for 13 games with the Redskins.

“Then, on Aug. 11, in the third week of Bears training camp, Porter tweaked a hamstring. He doesn’t remember how.”

Porter is a problem. He’s currently the Bears’ best corner but he’s 29 years old and, though he probably has some good years left, that’s not young for a cornerback. Will this be the year he breaks out and never looks back? Or will this be the exception to the rule, one of the few where he remained healthy? It’s a critical question because if he continues to play the way he has, he could demand a reasonably large amount of money on the open market.

What you do with Porter, of course, depends on the situation. If he’s healthy the rest of the year and he’s willing to be reasonable, maybe you give him a two year contract with most or all of the guaranteed money in the first year and see how it goes. If he’s going to require top dollar, though, you have to let him go. There’s little reason to roll the dice on a player in Porter’s situation when you are still at least a couple years from making a deep playoff run. Whether they sign Porter or not, the Bears will undoubtedly continue to look for younger cornerbacks in the draft. And that, not taking risks on free agents like Porter, has to be their primary focus.