$.01—Roger Goodell is in some turbulent water as NFL Commissioner. While he’s been a whipping boy of fans for several years, and wildly unpopular with players for his random acts of punishment and odd points of focus, now the men who sign his paychecks are showing their displeasure with Goodell. One owner in particular is leading the charge to keep Goodell from getting another contract.
That would be Jerry Jones, and the powerful Cowboys owner carries considerable weight. According to several sources across numerous platforms, Jones is hellbent on getting rid of Goodell. Never one to turn away from a conflict or attention, Jones is ruffling feathers with his anti-Goodell crusade.
Other owners are not thrilled with Goodell’s performance but are somewhere between reluctant and loathe to do anything about it, other than perhaps paying him less. Goodell earns around $40 million per year to serve as the owner’s blunt instrument. He is the public lightning rod by design, the man who takes the brunt of the criticism and willingly (some would say masochistically) absorbs the negativity so the owners don’t have to. Jones is leading the charge to at least rein in the cost of Goodell’s reign.
Jones wants the pay to be primarily incentive-based, which is not unreasonable at all. Goodell, ever tone-deaf, countered by demanding $50 million a year and a private jet at his constant disposal for the rest of his life (h/t Yahoo Sports). His ridiculous demands only help sway owners to Jones’ side, which is no small feat; many owners resent Jones and fear his boat-rocking style, even if they secretly appreciate it. Jones’ vitriol toward Goodell is perceived as too personal, given all the suspensions Cowboys players have racked up in recent time but none more integral to that belief than the Zeke Elliott case (see $.04 below).
Something will have to give. The smart money is that it won’t be Jones, certainly not if Goodell insists on asking for a massive raise when he should be singing for his supper. Goodell serves at the behest of the owners for the owners. If enough owners pinch their noses and side with Jones, Goodell’s run could end soon.
Two ideas for potential Goodell replacements: Former Raiders CEO and media-savvy pundit Amy Trask, or former Jets GM and well-connected current Sirius NFL Radio personality Pat Kirwan. Both have sane, progressive, feasible ideas and real vision for where the NFL needs to go and how to get there. That sure doesn’t sound like Roger Goodell, does it…?
$.02—The Thursday night game was significant on a couple of levels. Seattle bounced back from a bad loss at home to Washington last week by holding off Arizona in Glendale. Clad in their highlighter uniforms, the Seahawks prevailed 22-16 in a sloppy, largely unentertaining game save one amazing play by Seahawks QB Russell Wilson making one of the craziest escapes and throws you’ll ever see.
There were two significant developments from this game. On the football side, the Seahawks lost All Pro CB Richard Sherman to a torn Achilles. In real-time the incident looked fairly innocuous, but Sherman knew right away he tore it. It’s a devastating blow to a legit NFC contender, one which already lost starting DE Cliff Avril as well as several RBs. They will be on their fourth left tackle next week too, after newly acquired Duane Brown got his ankle rolled up badly from behind.
How the Seahawks handled another injury is going to be a source of consternation as well. And it should be. Russell Wilson took a big shot and was removed from the field by the officials for further examination about a possible concussion. Not one person watching the game found that an incorrect judgment either; even Seahawks faithful were tweeting about how Wilson might not be alright.
Wilson’s evaluation on the Seahawks sideline in the pop-up medical tent looked exactly like this…
Russell Wilson going into the medical tent. pic.twitter.com/cfQM9NjDTF— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) November 10, 2017
He sat for maybe a second—maybe—got up and was caught on camera dismissively saying, “I’m fine”. He trotted back into the game. To Wilson’s credit he looked no worse for the wear, but that’s beside the point. Wilson treated the highly-touted concussion protocol like a vegan given a rare ribeye.
The NFL has taken great pains to take concussions more seriously. The stringent protocols are in place to protect players, but also to reassure them they are not put at higher risk for post-football problems. Wilson and the Seahawks did exactly what we’re trained not to do as youth coaches—he determined his own status without any medical evaluation. If I did that in my local rec league, both myself and the kid I allowed back in would be banned. On national television, Russell Wilson crapped all over years of training and effort to raise concussion awareness. It’s been extraordinarily difficult to get as much progress as there is on concussion awareness and treatment, and the Seahawks flippantly piss all that progress away in literally 10 seconds. Seattle should be heavily fined for this, as should Wilson.
$.03—The only NFL game featuring two teams with winning records came in Buffalo, where the New Orleans Saints visited Bills. Raise your hand if you had both those teams with more wins than losses at this midseason juncture. Didn’t think so.
The matchup wound up being one of the most lopsided outcomes all season. The Saints ran, trampled, sprinted, (insert action verb here) over the hapless Bills, who looked very much like the team with the season win over/under total of 5.5. New Orleans cruised 47-10 and they did so by running down the throats of the heretofore solid Bills run defense.
Heading into today, the Buffalo Bills defense was giving up just 94.4 rushing yards-per-game and had allowed 8 rushing touchdowns.— Jody Smith (@JodySmithNFL) November 13, 2017
The New Orleans Saints put 298 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns on Buffalo today.
Both Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara topped 100 yards, with Ingram scoring 3 TDs. Buffalo’s own offense rushed for just 69 yards and produced a measly 10 first downs.
Count the 7-2 Saints as legit contenders. When they can post 47 points and Drew Brees throws for just 182 yards and no TDs, yeah, that’s legitimacy. Their offensive line has quietly upgraded, and it has paid dividends with the run game. Having Michael Thomas (9 catches in 10 targets, 112 yards) as a true game-changing wideout helps too.
But it is the incredibly improved defense which is why New Orleans is a threat to win come January. Marshon Lattimore is the best rookie cornerback in a very long time. He might already be the best cover CB in the league. With more depth and punch up front to the pass rush, Lattimore’s presence puts everyone else where they belong on the DB depth chart. His presence and importance cannot be overstated.
Ask the Bills, who could do nothing. Now 5-4, this was a crushing defeat. Buffalo needed a rebound from the Thursday night loss to the Jets in Week 9. Instead, they got worse on their mini-bye. That first potential playoff berth this century (seriously, it’s been since 1999) is quickly slipping away, even in a middle-heavy AFC where 9-7 probably earns both Wild Card spots.
$.04—This week’s edition of “Is Ezekiel Elliott playing?” came up negative. The on-again, off-again suspension of the Dallas Cowboys star running back was back on, and now the dynamic rusher is out for the next six games.
The first of those came Sunday against Atlanta, and the Cowboys sorely missed his contributions. Unfortunately for Dallas, they missed left tackle Tyron Smith even more. Atlanta’s defense sacked Dak Prescott 8 times (more on that below) and forced two fumbles. Alfred Morris got little going in Elliott’s stead outside of a 20-yard scamper as the Falcons’ defensive front dominated in the 27-7 win. Both teams now sit at 5-4 in the very crowded NFC playoff race, where head-to-head and conference win/loss tiebreakers are crucial.
If Elliott doesn’t get another reprieve from his suspension, it’s hard to see the Cowboys factoring into that picture. Right now they’re 10th in the conference standings. This latest turn in his prolonged suspension/appeal saga might not be the last, but now that’s Zeke has physically served a game of the suspension it will take a highly unexpected act of legalese to stop the sitting. Then again if Smith isn’t back soon, Elliott might as well serve his time.
$.05—The Green Bay Packers parted ways with disappointing tight end Martellus Bennett. The genesis of his departure is the stuff of debate. Bennett claims the team was forcing him to play while injured, but the team vociferously denies this. The veteran TE took to Instagram to slam the Packers, crying foul at their team doctor and using his recent admission that he might retire as incentive to cut him.
Normally, I ally with the players when it comes to trying to protect themselves and their bodies. Not this time. I’m firmly on the side of the team on this one.
It doesn’t help Bennett that his brother Michael got caught in a bold-face lie earlier this fall about his treatment by the Las Vegas police. While it’s not fair to judge one brother on the actions of another, it’s also hard not to let that influence your thoughts. When so many other Packers past and present stand up for the team doctors, it doesn’t help his credibility either. But what really killed it is that Martellus got claimed by the New England Patriots and passed their physical. If the Packers are the most notoriously conservative team with the cautionary medical staff, the Patriots are a close second. He was active for Sunday night’s game in Denver.
If he claims he was so injured and the Packers were evil for forcing him to play, but then Bennett subsequently turns around and passes a physical and willingly keeps playing, he has effectively called his own damn bluff. If Bennett was so concerned about his injured shoulder, why not take the rest of the season off and get the surgery? It now appears the Packers are going after some of the money they paid Bennett, as they should.
Green Bay didn’t miss him. The Packers rolled the Chicago Bears 23-16 to avoid falling to the NFC North cellar. While the tight ends did next to nothing for the Packers in the game, they weren’t part of the problem either. Between Bennett’s declined play and obvious attitude issues, that’s a win for the team.
$.06—This weekend’s collegiate slate was far more interesting than the NFL, so the collegians get an extra couple of cents this week.
No. 1 Georgia went down. Hard. Auburn blew the doors off the Bulldogs 40-17 in a major upset. The Tigers absolutely throttled Georgia’s vaunted rushing attack, smothering the box and swarming to the ball with both speed and discipline. Georgia scored first and then the rout was on. Auburn was ranked No. 10 but was a decided underdog at home, and it was hard to trust their offense after they sputtered in losses to Clemson and LSU. On this day, Auburn was beating just about anyone in the nation.
They would have thrashed No. 3 Notre Dame, but unbeaten Miami took care of that too. The Hurricanes passed around the turnover chain like mono after a co-ed 10th grade sleepover. The Hurricanes defense barely allowed 100 first-half yards as the Canes raced out to a 34-0 lead. At that point the only folks who stayed with the game were either Hurricane fans or Notre Dame haters, who haven’t had that epic of a day in quite some time. Most people switched to Mississippi State and No. 2 Alabama, which was the most competitive and entertaining game on the evening slate.
Mississippi State had this game won, until they lost it with poor clock management and bad decisions late. Alabama prevailed 31-24 thanks to QB Jalen Hurts being the coolest cucumber, leading a masterful pair of late drives when it appeared the home team had them beaten. Hurts was at his best when the pressure was the highest, and the Bulldogs couldn’t figure out that trying more in-your-face pressure was even less effective on the Tide’s winning drive.
Alabama will be No. 1 now after their narrow escape. For my money, the new No. 2 should be Miami. Oklahoma rises up to No. 3 after a thorough whipping of previous No. 8 TCU in a game where Baker Mayfield likely cemented his trip to New York as a Heisman Finalist and to Dallas as a top QB prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft. Wisconsin survived a pair of pick-sixes to stay unbeaten by pounding Iowa, the first ranked team they’ve played.
Who else still has a chance? Clemson has just one loss and their win over Auburn looks even better now. Ohio State has to be the top 2-loss team after they annihilated a ranked Michigan State team. If the Buckeyes can beat an unbeaten Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and one of the other above teams slips up, it will be hard to keep them out even though the blowout loss to Penn State is a glaring mark. TCU needed a better showing vs. Oklahoma and for Iowa State to keep winning, but the Cyclones lost. The PAC-12 is out after Washington lost to Stanford. Georgia can still get there by winning the SEC Championship. So can Auburn, but that entails beating Alabama along the way.
$.07—FWAA All-American ballot
My ballot for the first portion of the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) All-American ballot. It gets split into two, with the first covering the entire defense as well as the offensive line. The offensive skill position players and specialists come next week.
For defensive line we choose four and there is no designation between end or tackle. I leaned on productivity at end with these choices:
Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois
Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest
Austin Bryant, Clemson
At linebacker, the choices were difficult to sort. I value consistent productivity and reliability over splashes with misses, and I lean towards off-ball LBs more than pass rushing outside backers.
Josey Jewell, Iowa
Micah Kiser, Virginia
Joel Lanning, Iowa State
Note that at this position especially, being an exceptional college player does not necessarily equate with being a great NFL prospect.
For defensive backs, there is no separation between cornerbacks and safeties. I elected to choose two of each, and these were pretty easy choices.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Armani Watts, Texas A&M
Darius Phillips, Western Michigan
Josh Jackson, Iowa
The offensive line is a little different. We vote for a center on his own, and then add in four other linemen regardless of position. The choice at center came down to a coin flip, and the other spots here wound up making me watch a few guys more than I had to make sure I wasn’t missing anyone.
Billy Price, Ohio State is the center
Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Braden Smith, Auburn
Cody O’Connell, Washington State
Jonah Williams, Alabama
This is also nomination season for finalists for most awards. I vote for just about every award except the Heisman trophy, and I’ll follow up with my final ballot choices on those once we get closer to the actual awards.
--Thursday night saw the advent of a new camera angle from slightly above field level right behind the QB. Video game enthusiasts recognize it well. I love the QB-eye shot but not as a full-time development. Let me view this on a streaming channel or in game pass, but not as a primary option.
Teddy Bridgewater was in tears sitting on the sidelines as he's active for the first time since 672 days ago. What a return. pic.twitter.com/YMqBEeLZoa— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) November 12, 2017
--Meanwhile in Buffalo…
That’s the second time in the past two Bills seasons we’ve seen a dildo on the field— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) November 12, 2017
Shortly after that they had a streaker too, and he got his 15 seconds of naked fame before being corralled.
--John Fox’s ice is getting thinner in Chicago after a humbling loss to the Packers. This won’t help…
John Fox, when he realizes he just challenged his own team into a turnover pic.twitter.com/PiVybx8D0n— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) November 12, 2017
Fox initially challenged the play to try and get something positive, but the review revealed Tarik Cohen fumbled prior to the goal line. D’oh!
--This makes me smile warmly:
Very proud and happy for @AJaClay tonight. SIX, yes six sacks against the Cowboys today. He's battled they so many injuries and frustrations with dignity and class.— Mark Dominik (@MarkdominikNFL) November 13, 2017
I was a fairly harsh critic of Clayborn back in his draft process in 2011. He was born with a nerve condition in his shoulder that left him weaker than he looks, and he’s battled through loads of various maladies and has generally been a big disappointment. Good for Clayborn for having a day few NFL players will ever even sniff!
--Tennessee finally pulled the plug on the failed Butch Jones experiment at coach. Losing to Kentucky and Missouri in back-to-back weeks was enough for the university to stop the hemorrhaging under the increasingly unpopular Jones, who has not done a good job protecting the dignity and heritage of one of college football more successful programs. Ex-Michigan coach Brady Hoke takes over, perhaps for good if he can somehow win a conference game or two.
--My Ohio Bobcats seized their own destiny in the MAC East by pounding MAC West-leading Toledo 38-10 in the midweek #MACtion. If Ohio beats Akron on Tuesday, the Bobcats will win the East with one more week to play. Kudos to Coach Frank Solich, and to the students and fans who showed up for a decent crowd on a bitterly cold weeknight to watch one of the most impressive victories in school history.
--I watched most of the North Carolina State/Boston College game, which was close and compelling if not very good football. This game solidified my take that NCSU defensive end Bradley Chubb is a top 10 overall draft prospect. He takes over games in waves at a time akin to how Jadeveon Clowney or Von Miller did in college. Chubb might wind up being my No. 1 overall prospect for 2018 when all is said and done.
The man who lines up inside Chubb at tackle, B.J. Hill, also has a future playing on Sundays. He’s powerful and stout at 315 pounds but also has some 2-step burst to the ball and can disengage to make tackles. He reminds me of former Clemson and current Houston Texans DT D.J. Reader, who is quietly playing quite well for the Texans. Another DT, Justin Jones, is probably draft-worthy too.
--The Senior Bowl has come out with the first members of the invite list. Or rather, they’ve been leaked and not shot down. The names on the list are mostly smaller-college players, but two FBS players on the list already figure to shine in Mobile in late January: New Mexico State WR Jaleel Scott and UTEP OG Will Hernandez.
Scott is a legit 6’5” with a ridiculous catch radius and decent athleticism, enough to make a spectacular catch like this:
Hernandez is getting some first-round mentions, though in the two UTEP games I’ve watched this year he seems more like a middle-round guy. He has the brute power and reliably takes care of business, but his punch can be high and early and he doesn’t have great range. I liked Gabe Jackson and Larry Warford—similar-style players in college—more than Hernandez, though I’m open to him being upwardly mobile in Mobile.
$.10— Saturday was Veteran’s Day. As an NFL writer, my mind immediately shifts to where the worlds of football and military service converge. That is Pat Tillman.
Pat Tillman is my hero. Even before he left the NFL to fight for our country in the wake of 9/11, Tillman was someone I greatly respected. He was a free thinker, someone who wasn’t afraid to put the “student” in student-athlete or climb the light towers at Arizona State’s stadium to find a place to read. He was a self-made player who maximized his effort and made plays because he was smarter and faster to anticipate and process the play than anyone else.
Tillman gave up a big NFL payday to join the Army because he was so moved by his patriotism. But he wasn’t satisfied just being a regular soldier. He busted his butt to become a Ranger, and along with his brother, succeeded.
Tillman gave his life for his country. He was killed by friendly fire thanks to poor communication, and the Bush Administration shamefully tried to capitalize off his tragic death. If you have never seen The Tillman Story, you owe it to yourself and your country to watch it. Jon Krakauer’s book on the subject is a must-read too. Tillman was a complicated man of virtue, patriotic spirit, and conflicted emotions. He did precisely what so many flag-waving Americans would never even consider doing: actually serving and doing something positive for the country he loved. Too many sacrifice too much without appreciation, and we treat them like political pawns and props in return. One of my bucket-list items is to get a photo at his statue outside the Cardinals stadium in Arizona to pair with the one I had taken at his exhibit in the College Football Hall of Fame.
It reminds me to thank more of my family and friends who served. People like my fraternity brother Steve Temple, my cousin Chris Cartwright, my long-lost friend Gail Dreitzler and so many others. I cannot thank them enough for selflessly putting their country above all else. My hope is that I remember to appreciate their service beyond Nov. 11 every year. I hope everyone else does too.