This is my 15th season here at RealGM, and I’m proud to present the weekly ten cents every Monday AM once again. If you’re just finding this for the first time, welcome to the party. It’s pretty straightforward. If you’re one of the folks who have been longtime supporters, thank you for helping this dream to remain a reality.
Now let’s talk some football!
$.01--The biggest story of Week 1 involves a player who didn't play in Week 1, or perhaps at all in 2019. Antonio Brown has gone from All-Pro wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers to ex-Oakland Raider to New England Patriot, albeit one with serious questions about his future and his mental well-being in the span of six months.
The Raiders had enough of Brown’s bizarre behavior and dumped him on Saturday morning. He never played for the team. After cryogenically burning his feet, posting private letters on his social media, railing against getting a new helmet, (perhaps illegally) recording and broadcasting a phone call from Raiders coach Jon Gruden, calling GM Mike Mayock a racial slur, racking up over $200K in fines and voiding all the guaranteed money in his $50M contract, the Raiders finally quit drawing lines in the sand for Brown to cross and sent him away.
It didn’t take long for the Patriots to decide he wasn’t that crazy. And just like that, the narrative largely changed. Brown went from being an unstable lunatic with worries about CTE to being a cunning genius for orchestrating his way out of Oakland and onto the reigning world champs...while recouping up to $15M in the process.
That sea change bothers me. A lot. Normally, I support players using whatever power and leverage they have to get theirs. But that’s not the case here. Brown either played the Raiders for fools or something is legitimately wrong with him mentally. Neither of those conditions should be venerated or cheered.
I’m very curious how it will play out in New England for Brown. Bill Belichick has never been shy about taking on troubled players, but he’s also never been shy about quickly severing the relationship if it’s not helping his team win. Remember Chad Ochocinco? I have reservations about Brown sharing the spotlight with Josh Gordon, who has his own laundry list of addiction issues to contend with. I do think it’s worth the risk for the Patriots, but I’m not as cocksure as most that it will result in a happy ending.
$.02--Ezekiel Elliott held out the entire summer, spending his time getting in shape on a beach in Mexico while his Dallas Cowboys teammates worked out as a group. Jerry Jones rewarded his holdout with a huge new contract on a roster where those are both prevalent and increasingly complicated to issue.
All is well for now. Elliott did score a TD in Dallas’ 35-17 romp over the rival Giants, netting 53 yards on 13 carries. For comparison, backup and preseason fanboy favorite Tony Pollard got just 24 on the same number of carries, though several of his came late when the Cowboys were just milking the clock.
This game was Dak Prescott’s time to shine and prove he deserves a new contract. He carved up the Giants like a surgeon, methodically slicing off yardage wherever the New York defense offered some flesh. He finished the game with a perfect QB Rating, throwing for 405 yards and 4 TDs with no real mistakes.
And so the good vibes flow in Dallas. Everything is hunky-dory. Winning promotes that. This was a very big win in that sense; aside from spanking a heated rival, the offensive explosion proved there are enough balls to go around to keep everyone happy. If Jason Garrett can keep that up and get the balanced run with Dak being dynamic, Dallas is going to be a tough out in the NFC.
$.03--Falcons WR Julio Jones also got a new contract befitting his status as one of the NFL’s best at his position. Atlanta and Jones agreed to a new 3-year, $66M extension that will lock up Jones through his prime years. The entire value of the extension is guaranteed, according to reports.
Jones did not hold out. He did not take his desire for a new contract public, or build any public acrimony with his team. With two years remaining on his current deal, he didn’t even make it known he was aggressively seeking an extension.
It’s a noticeably different course than Brown or Elliott chose. And in getting his full value guaranteed, it’s a better deal than either got despite their histrionics and drama.
I love that the entire three-year extension is fully guaranteed. It follows the trend of Kirk Cousins and continues the growing realization that signing more short-term contracts with higher percentage of guaranteed value is a smarter play than signing a six-year, $108M deal that only serves the agent while the player gets cut after four seasons and collecting less than $50M.
Good for Jones and good for the Falcons. It’s nice to see a player can get what he wants--and deserves--without being a public spectacle.
$.04--I have had the perverse privilege of covering both the 0-16 team in NFL history. I know some bad football. So when I say I might not have ever seen a performance worse than the utterly talentless ineptitude witnessed in Miami. The Dolphins got obliterated 59-10 by the Baltimore Ravens.
It was not nearly as close as the final 49-point margin would lead you to believe.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson posted a perfect QB Rating of 158.3. As he snarkily joked after the game, “not bad for a running back”, a reference to the haters in the 2018 NFL Draft process (notably Bill Polian) who declared he had no NFL future as a QB. He threw for 5 TDs on 20 passes and did not have an incompletion in the first half. Just for good measure, the resurrected bag of bones that is Robert Griffin III was also perfect in garbage time...which began very early.
Miami could not tackle. They could not cover. They could not run (21 yards on 12 carries). And after the game, several outlets reported the veterans on the team are already trying to jump off the sunken ship and orchestrate trades out of Miami. Maybe they should get in touch with Antonio Brown…
Back to Baltimore, because winners deserve the spotlight. Obviously they took advantage of a terrible team, but you could sense they wanted to prove something to themselves and to the world. Building around Lamar Jackson was not an easy or popular decision, but thus far it seems to be the right choice. There won’t be many days like this, and to kick off a season with such an astonishing and thorough victory is sweet, sweet music.
$.05--The season kicked off in Chicago on Thursday night with the Bears hosting the Packers in a game that looked more like another week of preseason than a primetime display of NFL greatness. The Packers won, 10-3 when former Bear Adrian Amos picked off Mitchell Trubisky in the end zone in one of the few plays near an end zone for either team.
Trubisky did not play in the preseason. Aaron Rodgers didn’t either. It showed. Both QBs were missing easy throws and looked out of sync. Both defenses certainly played a big part in making the offenses look so awful, too.
The Packers invested heavily in upgrading the defense. Adding Preston Smith and ZaDarius Smith up front and drafting safety Darnell Savage looked brilliant in Chicago. As Aaron Rodgers quipped late in the game, “we’ve got a defense”. That should be reason for celebration in Green Bay and for Rodgers in particular. The Packers cannot rely on him to keep pulling rabbits out of hats, and it’s worth watching if he struggles to get enough oomph and distance on deep throws like he did against the Bears.
Chicago, the reigning NFC North champs, cannot panic after one week. But they do need to be careful with Trubisky. He’s a player who needed to take a step forward in order for the Bears to sustain last year’s surprising success. Instead, he played arguably the worst game of his adult life. Coach Matt Nagy needs to get him comfortable and confident quickly.
$.06--At one point in the early Sunday afternoon game window (3:34 p.m. ET to be exact), all seven games in action had a margin of greater than a touchdown with all the games in the fourth quarter. The most stunning of those was in Minnesota, where the Vikings held a 28-0 lead on the visiting Atlanta Falcons.
Minnesota having 28 was not a big surprise. Atlanta not having any was a stunning development. They did eventually get a TD from Julio Jones and another from Calvin Ridley, but the Falcons could do little to threaten the Vikings defense all afternoon. The Vikings dominated the game early, blocking a punt, picking off Matt Ryan and forcing a fumble in three of Atlanta’s first four possessions. Anthony Harris was all over the field, and he’s normally one of the last Vikings that fans think of on that defense.
Dalvin Cook looked spry, rushing for 111 yards and showing the burst that made him so coveted in the 2017 NFL Draft. Kirk Cousins kept the trains running on time and made a couple of big-time throws. He took a big-time hit too, but it didn’t phase the Vikings QB. It was exactly the debut Vikings fan needed after last year’s underwhelming inconsistency. I still believe the Falcons are going to be a good team, but the Vikings were demonstrably better on both sides of the ball in Week 1.
$.07--The Cleveland Browns were heavily hyped this offseason. Orange (and brown) was indeed the new black, what with adding Odell Beckham Jr., Olivier Vernon, Kareem Hunt and more to a lineup already featuring Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Nick Chubb and Baker Mayfield. I’m guilty of it, for sure; covering the team for Browns Wire at USA TODAY, it’s hard not to get excited about the abundance of top-end talent and what they can do for the fervent fan base desperate for a winner.
No team laid a bigger egg in Week 1 than the Browns. Tennessee, a decent but largely nondescript team with one of the lowest Q-ratings in the league, blew out the Browns in Cleveland, 43-13. Mayfield was shaky, throwing 3 INTs (including a pick-6) and consistently holding the ball too long. The Browns committed 18 penalties, their most in a game since 1951. Starting left tackle Greg Robinson got (deservedly) ejected for kicking safety Kenny Vaccaro in the head.
I wrote quite a bit about the game and Freddie Kitchens’ flop of a coaching debut at Browns Wire, so I don’t want to cover too much here. I spent quite a bit of time in Berea with the team this summer, and what I saw on Sunday is the worst-case scenario. Don’t write them off just yet, but watch very carefully how they respond to adversity. It’s a youth-dominated team with a rookie head coach. They’ll need to grow up quickly from this abominable start if they are to avoid becoming the major disappointment their vociferous critics so desperately want them to be.
--I did not watch a lot of the Sunday night game (I watched the fantastic U.S. Open final between Medvedev and Nadal) but my one takeaway from the game was this:
Man does Ben Roethlisberger look old as he plays. Not bad, just old.
--T.J. Hockenson was not a popular or particularly well-received selection by Lions fans with the No. 8 overall pick. That narrative has quickly changed. Hockenson set the NFL record for yardage by a rookie TE with 131 yards on 6 catches in Detroit’s hellish nightmare of a tie (blowing a 17-0 lead) in Arizona. He’s very, very good already.
Jamison Crowder just became the first WR in NFL history to have 14 or more catches and *not* hit the 100-yard mark.— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) September 8, 2019
--Jaguars QB Nick Foles broke his left collarbone in the opener. It’s a crushing blow for Jacksonville even though backup Gardner Minshew acquitted himself nicely for a rookie against Kansas City. A team many--and certainly many in Duval--believed was just a competent QB away from getting right back to where they were in the AFC Championship in 2017 lost the closest thing they’ve had to that since David Garrard’s good season in the first half of Week 1.
--From that game: Jaguars LB Myles Jack got ejected, and when he found out he was ejected, he needed to be restrained by multiple teammates from going after the official who tossed him. The NFL had better handle that with extreme severity.
--DeSean Jackson back in Philly looks like one of the smartest offseason moves. I know, I know, it’s one week. But damn, how well he and Carson Wentz attacked Washington in the Eagles’ comeback win sure looks sustainable.
--RIP Don Banks:
--LSU and QB Joe Burrow put on a heck of a show in ravaging self-proclaimed “Defensive Back U.”, better known as Texas. In a battle of top-10 teams that stood out like a giraffe in a meerkat field of nonconference lightweight matchups, Burrow was spectacular. The arm strength, the mechanics, the anticipation, the aggressiveness, it was the kind of performance to make draft evaluators look a lot more fondly at the Ohio State transfer. Entertaining game all around. More of these and less SEC vs. FCS matchups, please…
--That game followed another thriller, Colorado’s energetic comeback win over Nebraska. Coach Mel Tucker pushed all the right buttons with his Buffaloes, including a ballsy flea-flicker from their own end zone that resulted in a 96-yard TD which completely flipped the game. That’s how you bring back a program and a great rivalry that has faded in recent years after the demise of what used to be the traditional Big 8.
--Ohio State bombarded a decent Cincinnati unit 42-0 to solidify themselves as the B1G frontrunner. So far, so good for new coach Ryan Day and exciting QB Justin Fields. The Bearcats blew out UCLA a week earlier.
--Speaking of UCLA, things are not good for Chip Kelly’s program. A stadium not even half-full watched them get spanked by San Diego State to fall to 0-2. It’s one thing to be bad, it’s another entirely if you’re bad and nobody cares anymore...which seems to be what’s happening for the Bruins.
--It could be worse, UCLA fans: you could be Kansas. Les Miles’ Jayhawks lost at home to Coastal Carolina, 12-7 in a game where neither team topped 120 passing yards.
--It could be worse, Kansas fans: you could be Tennessee
--I don’t yet know how good Maryland, but in curb-stomping a ranked Syracuse team 63-20 they played an entertaining kind of aggressive ball that is going to be very attractive to potential recruits. Contrast that with Michigan, which survived a game Army team in overtime after playing a gameplan straight out of 1957 that left Wolverines fans equal parts bored and angry.
$.10--Much of my free time is dominated by youth sports these days. My kids are avid basketball players, with my 14-year-old son heavily involved in the AAU circuit and my 11-year-old daughter (writing this on her birthday, no less) just getting to that point. Volleyball practices, soccer games, tennis matches. That’s life as a sports parent and my wife and I enjoy it.
This week will be a new experience for us on the sporting front. Football. Our son has taken up football as an 8th grader. He’s never played any formal football at any level, but there he is playing wide receiver and defensive back for his middle school team.
We never pressured him one way or the other about football. He’s smart enough to know the risks, and as a 6-foot-6, 170-pounder he’s aware his atypical build leaves him at a bigger risk. But he loves it so far. The team, the peer group, the practices, the opportunity to be an inexperienced role player instead of the featured talent like he is in basketball, it’s been a fantastic experience for him...
Except he hasn’t played a game yet. That changes this Wednesday. I’m nervously excited to catch it. Our expectations for him are nothing more than to have fun, listen to his coaches and respect his opponent. I’m hopeful that all the parents see it that way with their kids, too. But I have to admit, it’s pretty exciting and rewarding to see my son playing the game I cover, and enjoying himself in doing so.