Since it’s still a couple of weeks until training camp really gets fired up, here’s a 10-pack of quick-hitters on what’s going on in the NFL.
$.01—DeMarco Murray retired this week when the veteran running back could no longer find any team willing to pay him what he believes he deserves.
Murray was a victim of his own fantastic success in 2014. That year in Dallas, Murray was incredible. As a 26-year-old in his fourth NFL season, Murray led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards and 13 TDs…but it came with a heavy price.
Dallas fed the Oklahoma product the ball an astonishing 392 times, the seventh-most in NFL history for a single season. Only one other RB has come within 25 carries of that mark in the last decade, Michael Turner in 2008. His career splits before and after the enormous output reflect just how much all those touches took out of Murray:
Carries per game
Yards per carry
It’s not that Murray was bad after his epic campaign, and changing teams twice certainly throws in a variable. He remained a fantastic receiver out of the backfield and could still hit the home run even in his final season in Tennessee (see his 75-yard TD scamper vs. Seattle last September). But at 30 years old, NFL teams just aren’t that interested in paying big money for runners with his extensive work history. It’s not fair to Murray, who could certainly fill a capable role in a backfield-by-committee in 2018, but that’s the reality of the NFL today. The stigma of the big workload and Murray’s desire to get more than the league minimum played against him.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see him unretire, but for now Murray is off the market. And his departure leaves the free agent RB market painfully thin. It’s either oft-injured has-beens like Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and James Starks or flashes in the pan like Alfred Morris, Andre Ellington and Branden Oliver.
$.02—Adam “Pacman” Jones has yet to formally retire, but after the video of him involved in wild fisticuffs at the Atlanta airport, he might as well. The truculent veteran cornerback threw down with an airport employee, which you can watch via TMZ Sports.
I don’t know the circumstances that led to Jones getting into a fracas in public. I don’t know who instigated the brouhaha. The police did arrest the airport worker and not Jones, but that doesn’t matter.
Jones must be smarter than that. He’s proven once again he is not. This needs to be the end for the 34-year-old cornerback. It’s his 10th (or 12th depending on your source) incident with police involvement since being drafted in 2005. The Bengals finally threw in the towel last season, a year he began by serving a suspension for a different violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Enough is enough.
$.03—The Houston Texans quietly cut the cord with one of the more unheralded free agent flops of recent times. Offensive lineman Jeff Allen was dumped with an injury settlement this week.
Allen signed a four-year, $28 million deal with the Texans with the hope he would help solidify a line which had just lost Brandon Brooks to Philadelphia. Instead of getting the coveted Allen who had capably started at both guard and tackle in Kansas City, they got a dilapidated and injury-prone bust. Allen was inadequate for the Texans on his best days, which were few and far between. An ankle injury which never healed after surgery and a concussion pockmarked Allen’s brief Houston tenure.
He'll never get the notoriety for being such a flop because then-Texans GM Rick Smith signed Allen the same week he signed Brock Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contract. That’s $100 million Smith spent on two players who produced – at best – replacement-level play in three combined seasons on Houston. Meanwhile, the man Allen replaced was the starting right guard for the Super Bowl champion Eagles and earned a Pro Bowl berth. Houston’s offensive line remains the team’s glaring hole on an otherwise loaded roster. New Texans GM Brian Gaine needs free agent linemen Zach Fulton and Seantrel Henderson to pan out better than Allen did for his deposed predecessor.
$.04—Former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo validated the “ex-coach” title in a recent interview with the New York Post. McAdoo revealed his personal QB big board for the most recent draft.
The man who could not fashion a functional offense with Eli Manning throwing to Odell Beckham Jr. and a host of promising young supporting talent declared Josh Allen was his No. 1 quarterback. The strong-armed but accuracy-challenged Wyoming gunslinger is currently behind Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron on Buffalo’s laughable QB depth chart. Lamar Jackson from Louisville was McAdoo’s No. 2, which might turn out to look good; Jackson has impressed in Ravens minicamp and appears to be readier for the NFL than many expected. Even though he dissed Sam Darnold’s hitchy delivery, the USC QB was No. 3, just ahead of UCLA rival Josh Rosen. Mason Rudolph was his No. 5, an interesting evaluation for Pittsburgh’s third-round pick.
McAdoo then got to Baker Mayfield. You know, the No. 1 overall pick and NCAA record-setter in efficiency. Mayfield’s lack of height and smallish hands were specifically cited by McAdoo as reasons for rating him so lowly. Juxtapose that with Allen, whose big, athletic frame and rocket-launcher arm are straight out of NFL central casting for quarterbacks…in the 1970s.
Some teams and coaches have evolved. Others, like McAdoo, have simply lost. Relying solely on impressive physical traits instead of actual football ability is the biggest mistake evaluators make, both in the media and in the NFL. Refusing to consider Drew Brees because he’s too short but proclaiming Zach Mettenberger the Next Great QB because he looks great in his underwear workout remains far too prevalent. Teams caught in the latter mindset might want to consider McAdoo for a coaching position.
$.05—The NFL officially severed ties with Papa John’s Pizza as the official pizza sponsor earlier this year when the chain’s founder claimed the NFL players and their national anthem protests were damaging his company’s bottom line. John Schnatter followed that up by using a racial slur in a conference call and has now resigned as the chairman of the company he has owned and steered into one of the biggest chains in the country.
Not all NFL teams have ended their relationships with Papa John’s, but the Falcons and Seahawks notably stripped away all vestiges of their corporate relationships following Schnatter’s latest embarrassing episode. They stuck with him through prior controversies, including an episode of extreme public drunkenness in 2013. Schnatter lashed out again at the NFL in a post-removal interview, attacking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and saying he was happy to not be doing business with him anymore.
Sometimes you just want a good meal without political discourse. Sometimes you just want to watch football and escape from the partisan debates. It’s getting harder to find either, unfortunately.
$.06—The NFL Network branched out a little by showing some flag football games. The American Flag Football League, or AFFL, featured several teams with instantly recognizable names playing the same game we all were self-proclaimed legends at in college intramurals. Chad Johnson, Jahvid Best, Fred Jackson, Jacoby Jones, Seneca Wallace and headliner Michael Vick all participated among many others.
The games were entertaining and slickly produced by the network. Seeing lithe athletes operate in space and the pure speed of the game unencumbered by rampant holding and suffocating pass rushes was beautiful. The action moves quickly and the individual skills on display were a keen reminder of why many of us fell in love with football video games back in the day. It didn’t look like NFL football, and for a change that was great.
I don’t know if there’s a future for the AFFL without heavy NFL support. As far as gimmicky offshoots go, I prefer the Big 3 basketball to the AFFL. But for entertainment in the summer, this was just what the football doctor ordered.
$.07—Monday is the deadline for teams to reach long-term agreements with players who have been franchise tagged. For Pittsburgh and running back Le’Veon Bell, Detroit and EDGE Ziggy Ansah, Dallas and EDGE Demarcus Lawrence, and the Rams and safety Lamarcus Joyner, it’s almost foregone the players and teams will reach no accord.
Bell has already indicated he will play on the tag, which will pay him $14.5 million. He seems to understand that the money will still come next year, barring an unforeseen massive workload or a catastrophic injury. Ansah and Lawrence will each earn $17.1 million and do so happily knowing the market for premium pass rushers only goes up year after year. The franchise tag figure is more than either would earn as a base salary in 2018 and it’s fully guaranteed, with the promise of unrestricted free agency – or an even more ridiculously lucrative franchise tag figure –waiting at the end of the year.
In conversations with some agents and players over the last couple of years about the franchise tag, it does seem like the perception is changing. Kirk Cousins and his expert manipulation of using the franchise tag to get more signing bonus and more cash from Washington (and now Minnesota) has opened some eyes and impacted some attitudes. The only real downside, one recently retired player told me, is the injury risk. “It could be the last contract you ever get,” he told me.
I don’t want to discount that very real possibility, but unless that sort of career-ending injury occurs, history has proven time and again that playing on the franchise tag and then hitting free agency the following year is a fantastic windfall for players.
Bell and Ansah do figure to test that proven theory. Bell is approaching the age where most RBs typically fall off and lose high-end earning capacity. Ansah has battled numerous injuries and is already at the age where teams become reluctant to pay long-term deals. That’s a big reason why the Lions tagged him in the first place.
Don’t expect any last-minute breakthroughs with any of these players.
$.08—Two players were selected in the Supplemental Draft this week. Western Michigan cornerback Sam Beal was tabbed in the third round by the New York Giants, and Virginia Tech CB Adonis Alexander went to Washington with a sixth round pick.
I previewed all the players before the draft and my take there on Beal thusly makes me excited for Giants fans. The point of landing a Supplemental Draft player is to essentially get your next year’s draft pick into your system a year earlier. With apologies to my friends in Kalamazoo, Beal wasn’t going to develop much more playing in the MAC on a fading Broncos team. He’s not ready to contribute much as a rookie until he gains some much-needed bulk and continues to learn how to see the field quicker. Now the Giants get a chance to mold him in their own vision. He makes for nice long-term insurance against Eli Apple’s personal volatility and Janoris Jenkins’ peculiar summer. Just don’t expect instant impact. I’m confident the Giants know that.
Alexander to the Skins is interesting. He joins Virginia Tech teammate Greg Stroman, the team’s 7th-round pick in April, and has a path to early playing time behind Josh Norman, Orlando Scandrick and Fabian Moreau. If he keeps his head on straight and also gains some necessary bulk, the potential is there for Washington to have stolen some value here. A little birdie told me just before the Supplemental Draft that Washington was going to bid on the CBs, and they did just that.
$.09-- I just started working on some preliminary evaluations for draft prospects in 2019. I’ll be publishing more in-depth thoughts on several of these players in the form of a watch list and “what I want to see in 2018” from the players in terms of their development. I’ve found that’s much more intellectually honest than coming up with rote rankings or fill-in-the-blanks mock drafts at this time of year.
My early impression on the class as a whole:
The defensive line is absolutely loaded. I like the player currently at No. 5 on my DT list (Jeffery Simmons of Mississippi State) more now than I did any of the potential DT draft class of 2018 at this point last year…and I was a big Vita Vea fan too. This DT list does not even include Michigan’s freaky athletic Rashan Gary, who is down to about 270 and is purportedly looking to be in the low 260s by draft season to play end.
Nick Bosa is eminently worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick if he continues to play the way he has at Ohio State.
There’s decent potential with the running back class, but I don’t see anyone who screams “first round” this early.
I have only dipped a tepid toe into the QB waters, but when the guy who most intrigues me from an NFL standpoint is Nick Fitzgerald and his hideous Egg Bowl ankle injury, let’s just say I hope your team got it’s QB of the future already…
I haven’t looked hard at the offensive line or the defensive backs yet. Look for my preseason scouting reports over the next few weeks.
$.10—The football offseason is a time to get caught up in other sports. Many years this can be a challenge for those of us who can’t name 5 MLB players anymore.
Not this year. The last two weeks were a veritable treat for sports fans. Namely, Wimbledon and the World Cup.
I am a longtime tennis fan, so Wimbledon was a natural. And the men’s draw produced one of the most exciting and intriguing tournaments I can recall. The Isner/Anderson semifinal going to 26-24 in the fifth set was epic, one I made sure my kids watched with me. It wasn’t great tennis per se (unless you like aces), but the emotional intensity and the fragility of so many shots being decided by millimeters was captivating to watch. Nadal/Djokovic in the other semi was a warrior’s call, too. Federer’s surprising loss to Anderson, Raonic going bombs away with 140 MPH serves, Nishikori’s inspired run, it was a wonderful tournament for the men. Which is good, because the minefield of upsets blew up the women’s draw early and the only real reason to watch was to see if Serena Williams could pull off her first win since becoming a mother.
Then there’s the World Cup. I am not a long-term soccer fan, certainly not of the men’s game. And the first match I watched—Spain/Portugal on the opening day—confirmed exactly why. The flopping and overwrought overacting was disgusting. I was embarrassed to watch a world-class athlete get brushed in the right shoulder and go down holding the left side of his forehead like he’d just been hit with a medieval mace. Seeing Neymar go down like he’d been shot by a high-caliber rifle for incidental contact that takes place on every single LeBron James jump shot instantly turned me against Brazil, too.
But I stayed with it…when tennis wasn’t on. I harkened to my English and Swiss ancestry to pull for those respective nations, and they both played spirited styles that kept me engaged. The French speed and willingness to attack was fun, and I was happy to see them deservingly win the Cup. There were some terrible officiating decisions, ones that even my soccer novice brain knew smelled fishy. I’ll watch again in four years, probably, but it didn’t win me over and paled compared to the more familiar sport.