$.01--Le’Veon Bell continued his holdout through the Steelers' 9th game, meaning the All-Pro running back cannot miss any more games before completely losing his 2018 season credit. Were that to happen, Bell would still be tethered to the Steelers control even though he never signed his franchise tag tender...maybe.
The holdout has cost Bell over $8 million this year, more than half of what he would have earned in guaranteed cash if he reported. He doesn’t appear dissuaded, as reports broke Saturday night that Bell will not report. If he doesn’t show, it sets up a massive battle about semantics and contractual interpretation that could forever change the league and free agency--and not in a good way for most players, either.
Bell has had the franchise tag applied to him twice. The CBA prevents a player from being tagged for three consecutive seasons, but if Bell sits out, the Steelers -- with backing from the league -- will argue it’s only been one so far because he never signed the 2018 tag and didn’t play. He’s technically not on the Steelers roster but on a special reserved list. The tolling of the contract is a thorny mess. I’ve heard smart people argue both sides of this argument in various media forums. The bottom line is both sides will be overly confident in their respective positions. One side will wind up looking foolish, if it comes to that.
It’s hard to imagine the Steelers using the franchise tag once again, but never underestimate the Rooney family, which proudly owns the franchise and will not cave to a player trying to be bigger than their beloved team. They have options to use the transition tag or the non-exclusive franchise tag. Either of those would allow Bell to sign an offer with another team and the Steelers would then get compensation in return.
The problem for Bell is that any offer sheet isn’t likely to be anywhere near as lucrative as what the tag value would be, which would be in excess of $24M for the year. It almost certainly won’t sniff the five-year/$70 million deal he reportedly turned down last spring. It’s hard to imagine another team giving up consequential draft assets to acquire Bell and then pay him $14 million a year after he hasn’t played and his old team didn’t miss him...
$.02--The Steelers sure didn’t miss Bell on Thursday night. Pittsburgh ran at will all over the Panthers defense. James Conner and the Pittsburgh offense ran out to a 38-14 advantage early in the 3rd quarter by converting third down after third down and scoring on explosive plays left, right and up the middle. Ben Roethlisberger completed a rare perfect QB Rating in the 52-14 whooping.
It was a tremendously impressive display by the Steelers in light of myriad distractions. All week the talk surrounded cryptic tweets from Bell and a sighting at a Pittsburgh gym. Thursday morning, star WR Antonio Brown was arrested for driving 100 mph on a residential-area highway. They blocked out all the noise and posted what might be the most impressive single-game effort by one good team against another good team we’ll see all season.
Carolina came into the game with loads of momentum and a group of personnel seemingly well-equipped to nip the Steelers. Give Mike Tomlin and his staff credit. Their Steelers were dominant from the first drive on offense and quickly snuffed out the Panthers offense after an opening-drive TD. They no longer resemble the self-destructive team that began the year 1-2-1. Pittsburgh hasn’t lost since and is now pulling away in the AFC North and the second-best point differential (+70) in the top-heavy AFC.
$.03--Dez Bryant loves being the center of attention. The veteran wideout did a great job staying relevant in the NFL news cycle in the last week, for better and for worse.
Bryant finally found a team willing to give him a chance. New Orleans signed the aging Bryant after he’d been unemployed for months. The Cowboys dumped Bryant in April, convinced their alpha male wideout was not capable anymore. Very public dalliances with the Ravens and Browns failed to consummate in any deal with Bryant. A common theme from both was that Bryant still failed to accept his body is no longer capable of doing what it could in 2014. That was one broken foot and one knee fracture ago, and his rushing back from the foot injury really cost Bryant any semblance of explosiveness.
The Saints were desperate for wideout help after losing Cam Meredith and Ted Ginn to injured reserve. Enter Bryant with considerable fanfare. His signing on Wednesday was the lead story on all the sports outlets. It even made the sports update on the BBC Worldwide broadcast. That’s quite a cache for Dez.
Unfortunately, his comeback story does not have a happy ending. Bryant tore his Achilles on the final play of his very first practice in New Orleans. He will be out for the year and this latest serious injury could very well end his NFL career. Bryant signed for little money on a partial-year deal, which will be all he gets as he goes onto injured reserve.
I’ve been a frequent critic of Dez during the past few months in covering his courtship of the Cleveland Browns. However, it sucks seeing anyone go down with an injury like that before he ever got a chance to prove me wrong. He could have helped the Saints with the depth, especially in the red zone (though they didn’t need any help in blowing out the Bengals). Get well soon, Dez. And yes he caught the ball...
$.04--Any Given Sunday, AFC East edition
I didn’t see one snap of either game so I can’t elaborate other than my reactions to seeing the final scores.
Buffalo Bills 41, New York Jets 10
Tennessee Titans 34, New England Patriots 10
I’m not sure which is more of a head-scratching shocker. The Bills started Matt Barkley at quarterback. He was signed off the street by the desperate Bills, replacing Nathan Peterman and Derek Anderson as substandard replacements for injured (and wildly unready) rookie Josh Allen. The Bills had scored a total of 46 points in the last 6 games, never topping 13 in any week. The opposing defense outscored their offense twice.
Somehow, Barkley and the Bills managed to hang 41 on the Jets. New York hasn’t been great on defense but was near the league average in a number of categories. Barkley hasn’t played since 2016 when he threw eight TDs and 14 INTs in losing five of his six starts for the Bears. It strikes me as the most unlikely heroic return since the T-rex at the end of the original Jurassic Park movie.
Then there’s the Titans walloping the Patriots. The student in Mike Vrabel bested the master in Bill Belichick. New England played without Gronk, but the stories about the game all surround the former Patriots playing in Tennessee. Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Dion Lewis all played key roles in beating the team which decided they were dispensable.
The Titans have rebounded nicely after their bye week, beating Dallas on Monday night and now pounding the Patriots. At 5-4 they’re right back in the race in the AFC South. The other outcome in that division--the Colts dropping the Jaguars into last place with a 29-26 win despite not scoring after halftime--deserves some mention in the “Any Given Sunday” section, too.
$.05--John Harbaugh’s time as coach of the Baltimore Ravens appears to be ending soon. Reports surfaced on Sunday morning that the team will make a coaching change after the 2018 ends.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard of trouble for Harbaugh in recent weeks, but this was the first widely disseminated report of imminent change. The decision makes sense, unfortunately for Harbaugh. His fates, and that of the franchise he’s coached since 2008, have starkly turned in the wrong direction of late.
The Ravens are currently 4-5 and sat out Week 10 on a bye. They are just 21-21 in the last three seasons. Add a 5-11 outcome in 2015 and Harbaugh’s record drops well below .500 since the team’s last playoff berth. Since winning the Super Bowl after the 2012 season, the Ravens are just 44-45 and made the postseason only once.
The timing makes sense for big changes. Longtime GM Ozzie Newsome is stepping aside. He and Harbaugh made a lot of beautiful music together, but the roster is disjointed and old. Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle remain the best players on the defense. They’re 36 and 33, respectively. The most consistent CB on the team is 32-year-old Brandon Carr. Joe Flacco is 33 and remains an average QB on his most elite day. Top wideout Michael Crabtree is 31 and leads the league in dropped passes.
Harbaugh will land on his feet quickly. He instantly jumps to the top of the available coaching candidate list whenever he hits the status of availability. Don’t expect it before the end of the season.
$.06--Things are getting rough on the pirate ship in Tampa Bay. Coach Dirk Koetter had a testy postgame press conference following his team’s latest ugly loss, a 16-3 home skunking by the visiting Skins from Washington.
Koetter’s exasperation is understandable. His offense racked up over 500 yards and somehow managed to translate that into just 3 points. That’s really difficult to accomplish.
Tampa Bay did it with some untimely turnovers, starting on the first drive when QB Ryan Fitzpatrick somehow found Josh Norman just as the Washington CB was getting up off the ground at the goal line. There was another interception thrown by Fitzpatrick where the Washington defender (Greg Stroman in this case) appeared to be the intended receiver. Chandler Catanzaro missed two field goals. Tampa’s final two full possessions ended with lost fumbles.
After the game, a visibly bothered Koetter admitted in his presser that he took back play-calling duties from OC Todd Monken. It’s the first time in 2018 Koetter, who has an offensive background, called the plays. His change produced loads of empty calories and a lot of frustrated fans in Raymond James Stadium.
Koetter’s action was that of a desperate coach. He’s now 8-17 in the last two seasons despite having an offense loaded with impressive weapons. The 2-0 start this season seems years ago as the last-place Bucs sink to 3-6 in epically inept fashion.
$.07--One of the perks of my job is that I get to vote on all sorts of college football awards. This week was the first wave of All-American voting for the FWAA. We got to vote for the defensive players as well as the offensive line. My ballot looked like this:
Quinnen Williams, Alabama
Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech
Ed Oliver, Houston
Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois
It was tough leaving Michigan’s Chase Winovich off but the stat production just isn’t quite there. Smith and Oliver are repeat nominees from me. Oliver makes it despite missing a couple of games because he’s the most dominant defensive player on the field at any position I’ve seen this year. Ferguson leads the nation in tackles for loss and sacks and does so without much help. He’s not a big name nor a top 100 draft prospect (he’s currently No. 138 for me as a 3-4 OLB) even though he’s got a legit chance to set the NCAA record for career sacks.
Josh Allen, Kentucky
Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington
Devin White, LSU
This was the easiest position group. All three stand out as all-around talents and have the gaudy production to match.
Bryce Hall, Virginia
Deandre Baker, Georgia
Julian Love, Notre Dame
Kris Boyd, Texas
These are not specified to the traditional two CBs and two S, so I loaded up on CBs. Teams will in the NFL draft, too. Hall leads the nation in plays on the ball. Boyd has popped off the screen every time I’ve watched the Longhorns.
Sam Mustipher, Notre Dame
Dalton Risner, Kansas State
Jonah Williams, Alabama
Ben Powers, Oklahoma
Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
We are required to vote for one center (Mustipher). The rest are not specified by position. There is no truth to the allegation I voted for Risner because of our similar surnames.
--Frank Gore topped the 500-yard rushing mark on the season in the Dolphins loss in Green Bay. It’s the 14 straight season Gore has hit the mark. As you might guess, that is an NFL record.
--This block from the same game is despicable.
ESB blindsided McCain on the way to the sideline. Yikes. pic.twitter.com/uMQETa8ijM— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) November 11, 2018
St. Brown should be heavily fined. If this were the college game he would have instantly been ejected. It will be interesting to see if the NFL values the health and protection of defensive players as much as it does offensive players. If it does, St. Brown will be suspended in Week 11. Don’t bet on it…
--Kudos to the Browns and Baker Mayfield for a commanding victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta came to Cleveland having won 3 in a row, but the Browns controlled this one from the opening kickoff in a 28-16 win. Mayfield hit his first 12 passes and finished 17-for-20. Fellow rookie Nick Chubb uncorked a 92-yard run, the longest in the history of a franchise that employed Jim Brown for a decade. New OC Freddie Kitchens’ star is rising quickly in Cleveland.
---Meanwhile in Oakland…
One Raiders veteran to another, on his way out of the locker room past three reporters, including myself: “I gotta get the f*** outta here.”— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) November 12, 2018
--RIP Wally Triplett, the first African-American player drafted by the NFL to play in the league. A 19th-round pick by the Lions in 1949, he got on the field before the two African-Americans drafted before him in that draft did. He still has a couple of long-play ranks in the Lions record books too, including a kick return that held the team’s record for over 30 years. He left the Lions after 2 seasons to fight for our country in the Korean War in the Army. Triplett was 92.
--Louisville fired coach Bobby Petrino on Sunday morning in the wake of another ugly loss, this one to Syracuse. At 2-8 and with an embarrassing defense, there was no reason to keep the controversial Petrino any longer. Perhaps the most fitting coda was the scene of the announcement of Petrino’s firing coming across the crawl at the bottom of the screen of his coach’s show. Shame on any college that hires him as a head coach again.
--Clemson’s win over Boston College wasn’t as clean or easy as the 27-7 score would indicate, but that makes the Tigers road win on Saturday night even more impressive. The Clemson defense smothered the Eagles, who had to play with a backup QB most of the night. Clemson’s front, all of which has NFL futures, completely dominated. It proves the Tigers can win on a night where their own offense wasn’t clicking except for a few big plays. They’re clearly the No. 2 team in the nation.
--I intently watched Boston College DE Zach Allen for scouting purposes in this game. He did not disappoint. His body type and style of play do indeed recall J.J. Watt, as the broadcast reminded you on every possession. His ability to use his strength and length at the same time to shed blocks is very reminiscent of Watt coming out of Wisconsin. I don’t see as explosive or as agile of an athlete, but he’s a reasonable enough facsimile to merit draft consideration in the first round. He fits a 3-4 front nicely. Staying in New England with the Patriots would be a great match.
--Bowling Green beat Central Michigan for its first win over an FBS opponent this season. The loss almost guaranteed the Chippewas will fail to win a game against an FBS foe this season for the first time in school history. I only bring this up to shake some salt at my Sunday morning radio co-host Jim Costa, a proud CMU grad who was the team’s sideline reporter in the not-too-distant past. I can’t brag too much, however; my Ohio Bobcats flopped at archrival Miami on Thursday night.
--Bedlam was a thrilling game that ended with Oklahoma hanging on for a 48-47 win over Oklahoma State. The Cowboys scored a TD with just over a minute left and went for 2 and the win. The pass from erratic QB Taylor Cornelius was behind target and crashed to the turf to the raucous delight of the Sooner fans. I like that Mike Gundy and the Cowboys went for the win even though it didn’t work.
$.10--November 11th is Veteran’s Day. It’s also the weekend of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, a monumental event almost completely ignored by contemporary history education. As someone with a degree in history (BA, Ohio University, 1996) who took several classes on that wretched conflict, that troubles me very much.
We as Americans tend to take all wars fought on foreign soil too lightly, especially contemporary ones. Sure, we pay lip service to them when we stand at sporting events or during parades. We need to do more. I personally need to do more. Many good friends have served and I don’t respect that experience enough from those who put their lives on the line for our country.
I’ve taken several opportunities to use this space to profess my admiration of Pat Tillman. What he did, selflessly throwing away a burgeoning NFL career millions of us dream about to go fight in a country most Americans can’t find on a map and die there for no other reason than his sense of what was right and wrong, is too rare. I have a mutual friend with the late hero, and thankfully he never tires of telling me stories about what Pat was like and how he believes Pat would react to certain events going on today. Tillman will always be my hero in part because I know I could never give of myself all that he did.
So thanks to everyone who served, from my fraternity brothers (too many to name, believe it or not) to my cousins in the Air Force, Coast Guard and Navy, my high school friends who enlisted just before the first Gulf War and acquaintances like my neighbor and my meat guy at Meijer. To all those on active duty, may we be able to celebrate Veteran’s Day with you alive and well when your career transitions to civilian life.