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ProFootballTalk: Sanders embraces being underrated
The biggest story of a slow month came from the all-that-that-implies image of Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel tightly rolling up a dollar in a nightclub bathroom. The Browns had no comment on the photo at the time, and Manziel’s camp (which had no qualms about calling B.S. on that phony lawsuit filed against Manziel in May) went silent.
Since then, most of the media has tread lightly regarding the image and the possible explanations for it, with the photo rarely if ever mentioned on outlets like ESPN and NFL Network. Now that the time has come to have access to Manziel, the specific questions raised by the photo have become absorbed into the general concerns relating to Manziel’s lifestyle.
Twice in the last two days, Manziel has met with the media. On neither day did anyone ask whether the photo is legitimate. On neither day did anyone ask why he was tightly rolling up a piece of paper money. At no point did anyone ask why the large necklace that was outside his T-shirt in other photos from that night had been tucked inside his shirt before he commenced the process of tightly rolling up a bill. At no point did anyone ask what happened after the dollar bill was rolled up.
Manziel may have short-circuited some of those questions on Friday by opening his press conference with this comment: “[T]o just save you guys a lot of time, Coach Pettine and [G.M] Ray Farmer and I have really talked about a lot of things that have transpired over the course of the offseason. For me, my main thing is the people in this building — my teammates, the coaching staff and the higher-ups in this organization — we’ve all been on the same page. We’ve all been good and are very eager to be moving forward. At the end of the day, I made some rookie mistakes — there are some things I wish I could have gone back and done a little differently — but I’m continuing to move forward and try and represent this organization and this team in a positive manner, in a positive light.”
Asked generally about the mistakes, Manziel slammed the door: “I think I just spoke on that a little bit. I’ve talked about that with Coach Pettine; I’ve talked about it with Ray Farmer and the people that I need to talk about that with. Moving forward, they’re good with everything and I’ve told them everything I need to. Everything’s been good. . . . I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me going out and having a nightlife and having a social life. I am 21 years old, and I do like going out. It was the offseason. It’s free time for us, and if I want to go out and hang out with my friends or go to nightclubs or do things like that, then I think that’s within my rights to be doing that. I think there are other guys throughout the league that are doing that. I’m not trying to compare myself to anybody else, but I think that’s within my rights to be doing that.”
A press conference perhaps isn’t the best way to push Manziel for more details, since it requires at least one of the reporters to be willing to ask a question that may draw the ire of the player, the team, other reporters, bloggers who thrive on members of the media asking stupid questions or saying stupid things, and/or the Twitter. So when a bunch of reporters in the same room are all thinking the same thing — What was he doing with that rolled up dollar bill? — it’s easy to wait for someone else to ask that awkward, uncomfortable question. Which increases the chances that the awkward, uncomfortable question will never be asked.
The media currently covering the team had another chance to ask the awkward, uncomfortable question today, when he addressed the lessons he has learned to date.
“The reason that I’m popular or the reason that people follow me and there’s been such a buzz around me is when I went out on Saturdays at Texas A&M, I played with an extreme amount of passion and I played with my heart on my sleeve, but more than anything, I had fun,” Manziel said. “I have fun playing this game. I have fun going out on this field playing football. It’s what I live for. It’s what I do, same way off the field. Whether I’m playing golf, going out having a night life, whatever it is, I have a lot of fun. That’s what my life is, and luckily for me I’m living out my dream of playing in the NFL having a ton of fun. My dream has come true, and I finally got some time to get some downtime and celebrate that with my family, with my friends. This is the greatest life that I could have ever imagined for me, and I’m loving that.
“Will I continue to get better being a professional and learn lessons about life? Of course, I’m 21 years old. Age is not an excuse, but I need to mature and I have done some immature things. Moving forward, I’m going to try and mature and get better and handle myself better as a professional. That’s really all I can say about that. My life is incredible. I’m blessed to be in this position. I’m going to have fun each and every day, whether it’s practice, whether it’s training camp, whether it’s during the season going out and playing a game which will be even better, or it’s going out in the offseason or playing golf or hanging out with my family. Life is fun. Enjoy [it] while it’s here.”
When he finished, there were still no questions about the photo. With each passing press conference, it will be more awkward and more uncomfortable for whoever decides to be the one to bring it up. At some point, however, someone needs to show him that picture and ask: (1) Is this you?; and (2) If it is, what were you doing?
Maybe those questions will be asked by whoever CBS or ESPN or NFL Network sends to Cleveland for a sit-down interview before the team’s Week One visit to Pittsburgh. Or maybe CBS or ESPN or NFL Network will be told that, without an agreement that those questions won’t be asked, there won’t be an interview. And maybe whoever agrees not to ask those questions will get the “exclusive” with Manziel.
UPDATE 3:35 p.m. ET: Lindsay Jones of USA Today contends via Twitter than Manziel was asked about the rolled-up bill on Friday, by Pat McManamon of ESPN.com. The transcript generated by the Browns doesn’t reflect that (which may be a story in and of itself), and none of the TV coverage on ESPN or NFL Network has focused on the question or the photo or any of the questions that the photo logically gives rise to.
As a rookie in 2012, Colts tailback Vick Ballard played an important role for a playoff team, leading Indianapolis in rushing.
But since then, Ballard has had simply awful injury luck. A right ACL tear ended his 2013 campaign after just one game. And on Friday, Ballard suffered a left Achilles tendon tear, an injury that ends his 2014 season, coach Chuck Pagano confirmed.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who was the Colts’ offensive coordinator and interim head coach in Ballard’s rookie season, took the news of the tailback’s injury hard, telling reporters he “cried” after hearing of Ballard’s plight, according to Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ website.
Publicly, Ballard has stayed upbeat after his latest setback. On his verified Twitter page, he linked to a photo of him being carted off with the caption: “Gonna have a great story to tell one day…”
And Ballard will have no shortage of supporters as he works to get back on the field to author a happy ending to that story.
At a time when the Jaguars have plenty of reasons for optimism, a mild amount of rain has fallen on a parade that potentially will lead the franchise quickly to relevance.
Via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times Union, receiver Cecil Shorts has a hamstring strain that will keep him out for at least the next two weeks. Shorts likely will miss the first two preseason games.
Shorts, who missed the first two preseason games a year ago with a calf strain, suffered the injury during practice on Friday.
“I think it frustrated him more than anything,” coach Gus Bradley said, via O’Halloran. “He really wanted to come out here. We trust Cecil so much as far as being ready mentally. He knows what to do so we have enough time. We’ll be OK.”
Shorts’ absence gave rookie receiver Allen Hurns, among others, some opportunities with the first-team offense.
Apart from the obvious questions regarding whether Boone will show and whether the 49ers will be able to replace Hunter’s contributions as a ball-carrier and blitzer-picker-upper, here are five questions that underpin the broader question of whether the Niners can kick in the door on which they’ve been knocking for the last three years.
1. How much longer for Harbaugh?
Coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly wants to be paid like a guy who has won a Super Bowl even though, you know, he hasn’t. That difference of opinion has lingered for more than a year, and Harbaugh is now a year and five months away from becoming a free agent.
Some believe that, unless a new contract is signed before the 2014 season ends, the end of the road will come after the coming season, with the 49ers allowing Harbaugh to leave or trading him to one of the six or seven franchises that inevitably will be hiring a new head coach. (Those trade talks with the Browns from earlier this year won’t make the phone any less likely to ring.)
Plenty of other on-field and off-field issues have pushed the Harbaugh angle into the background. It won’t stay in the background for a lot longer.
2. Was Kaepernick underpaid, or overpaid?
Misguided reports based on false characterizations of the Colin Kaepernick contract created the impression that Kaepernick’s package resides among the best in the league. And that triggered a strong backlash when the true numbers emerged, showing that Kaepernick did a team-friendly deal that allows the 49ers to keep him for up to seven years at a reasonable rate or to dump him if they find a better option.
Lost in the debate over whether Kaepernick did a really good deal is whether he’s a really good quarterback. After torching the Packers to start the 2013 season with 412 passing yards fueled by Harbaugh’s rope-a-dope complaints about the hits Kaepernick takes in the read-option, Kaepernick averaged 185 passing yards per game over the rest of the regular season. In seven post-Packers games before the bye week, Kaepernick threw six total touchdown passes and five interceptions.
A strong postseason performance (but for a misfire pass to Michael Crabtree with the season on the line . . . again) renewed his reputation as one of the great young quarterbacks in the league. That could change again once the 2014 season begins.
3. Can Aldon Smith stay out of trouble?
With a likely suspension coming after getting 12 days on a work crew and three years of probation in response to no-contest pleas to weapons and DUI charges, Aldon Smith may not be adding to that 42-sacks-in-43-regular-season-games performance during the first few weeks of the 2014 campaign. The number of additional sacks and games that he racks up as a 49er depends largely on whether he can stay out of trouble.
The 49ers considered not picking up the fifth-year option on his 2011 first-round contract, a potentially hollow gesture aimed at getting Smith’s attention. If they don’t have it, Smith eventually will drop that last straw onto the camel, and Smith’s career in San Francisco will be over.
At which point someone else will give him a second chance, not because of humanitarian concerns but because he can play at a high level. If/when it’s determined he’s no longer a difference-maker, he’ll be making a living in a different profession.
4. How much longer can Gore carry the load?
Not surprisingly, veteran running back Frank Gore isn’t ready to yield to Father Time, who continues to be a muther when it comes to tailback longevity. With Kendall Hunter done for the season, the Niners will need Gore to be able to do more, in the event that Marcus Lattimore can’t get healthy or Carlos Hyde can’t get ready.
Gore has shown no signs of slowing down despite an expectation for several years that the wheels will come off. Maybe they won’t for Gore, at least not for the next few years.
5. Who emerges as the top target in the passing game?
Two years ago, Harbaugh boasted that the team had five No. 1 receivers. Today, only Michael Crabtree remains from that quintet.
After a rocky start in 2012, Vernon Davis has become a Kaepernick favorite, which has bolstered Vernon’s quest for a new contract. Crabtree, who held out into the 2009 season as a rookie, enters a contract year of his own. Anquan Boldin had a solid season after a salary-dispute trade from Baltimore. Supplanted by Sammy Watkins, Stevie Johnson arrives via trade from Buffalo. Brandon Lloyd returns, 11 years and five teams after he was drafted in San Francisco.
It’s a vastly underrated group of weapons for Colin Kaepernick. If Tom Brady had that group, they’d already be engraving his name on the regular-season and Super Bowl MVP awards.
The Seahawks signed two young defenders to the back end of their roster Saturday, reaching deals with linebacker Brandon Denmark and safety Steven Terrell, according to the club’s website.
An undrafted rookie from Florida A&M, Denmark (6-3, 244) recorded 59 tackles and four sacks in 2013. The 22-year-old Denmark began his collegiate career at Illinois.
Terrell, 23, had stints on the Jacksonville and Houston practice squads in 2013. The Texans waived him in May. Terrell (5-10, 197) played collegiately at Texas A&M.
No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney has met his first goal in Texans training camp, getting back on the field.
He was out there for Saturday morning’s workout, after coming back from offseason sports hernia surgery.
“I feel good,” Clowney said, via Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle. “Get everybody back out here, back learning (the) playbook. Just look forward to getting back into and mixing. Looking forward to the season.”
Of course, there are varying degrees of “good,” as Clowney hedged when asked if he’d be ready for the full-contact portion of practice Monday. Coach Bill O’Brien said he was working with restrictions.
“I don’t know the percentage but I know I ain’t 100 percent,” Clowney said.
Getting him closer to that point will be important for the Texans, as they’re going to have to be dominant on defense this year to make up for an offense full of question marks.
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Dolphins center Mike Pouncey will be fighting fire with fire. In response to the lawsuit filed against them on Friday, they’ll be exercising their right to sue the persons who have sued them.
“The allegations in the complaint about my clients are completely false,” attorney Jeffrey M. Ostrow tells PFT via email. “As I previously stated, Mike and Maurkice Pouncey had absolutely no involvement whatsoever in the alleged incident that evening and did nothing wrong. This claim is a complete sham. The plaintiffs and their lawyer are perpetuating these lies in a bid for notoriety and financial gain. We intend to defend this case through trial if necessary and will be filing a counterclaim for malicious prosecution and defamation.”
It’s a strong position to take, especially with the list of accusers tripling from one man who claims he was assaulted to the original alleged victim, a woman who allegedly was punched in the face and knocked out by Maurkice Pouncey when she tried to intervene, and another woman who suffered among other things a leg laceration as a bystander to the melee.
Any available surveillance video will shed light on the truth about what occurred during the Pounceys’ most recent birthday party at Cameo nightclub in Miami. Ultimately, it’ll all be hashed out in a court of law.
The 49ers appear to have lost one of their top reserve running backs for the season.
Fourth-year pro Kendall Hunter has suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the team said Saturday morning. The injury seems likely to end Hunter’s campaign, assuming the standard recovery of close to a year for an ACL tear.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, Hunter sustained the injury after catching a short pass in Friday’s practice.
With Hunter out for an extended stretch, rookie tailback Carlos Hyde seemingly has a chance to push for a key backup role in his first NFL season. LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore are also in the mix for carries behind starter Frank Gore.
The 25-year-old Hunter racked up 358 yards and three TDs on 78 carries in 2013. Overall, he’s rushed for 1,202 yards and seven TDs in regular season play since entering the NFL in 2011, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt.
This is the second major leg injury Hunter has suffered in less than two years. He sustained a torn Achilles tendon in 2012, but he returned to play all 16 games last year.
The list of NFL owners who are receiving the benefit of a double standard when it comes to discipline could be getting longer.
According to the Associated Press, a new indictment against California Senator Leland Yee accuses him of offering him to help pass league-friendly workers’ compensation legislation “in exchange for campaign contributions from an unidentified NFL owner.”
It’s unclear whether the unidentified NFL owner actually offered contributions in exchange for Yee’s support of the bill of whether the unidentified NFL owner was ever approached about the possible quid pro quo arrangement.
Either way, there’s a lot more to this story. And if the authorities ever believe they can provide that the unidentified owner broke any federal laws, someone may be forking over a $92 million fine to avoid prosecution and the inevitable NFL suspension that goes along with it.
The 26-year-old McGrath appeared in all 16 games for Kansas City a season ago, catching 26 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs claimed him on waivers from Seattle on September 1, and he quickly became a contributor in the Kansas City offense, which had injury issues at tight end.
A Eastern Illinois and Henderson State product, McGrath signed with the Seahawks after the 2012 NFL Draft, and he appeared in two games for Seattle as a rookie.
The Seahawks might be missing the engine to their offense at the moment, but they do have another key part back.
A year ago this time, Harvin was going on the PUP list and having hip surgery. Now, he’s healthy and ready to contribute for a full season.
“Oh man, it’s immensely good,” Harvin said, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. “The trainers today were saying last year this time I was in there consulting with a whole bunch of doctors looking through the mirror and hearing all the music and seeing all of the fans and wanting to be out here so bad. So this year, being able to get my foundation back and go through the whole off season with no problems, OTA’s, minicamp, and then to this camp. As long as I keep practicing and building my foundation, I’ll be fine.”
Asked the last time he was fully healthy, Harvin replied: “It’s been a while. But I don’t know if any football player can say they’re fully healthy playing football, but this is the best I’ve felt in a long, long time.”
The Seahawks paid a ransom, in draft picks and cash, to enjoy Harvin for parts of three games. He showed in those cameos that he has game-breaking talent, now they just need him on the field on a more regular basis.
Packers receiver Jordy Nelson wanted $10 million per year. He nearly got it, depending on how his new contract is analyzed.
The Packers have announced that Nelson has signed a contract extension. Per multiple reports, it’s a four-year deal that will pay him $39 million. Coupled with his $3.50 million compensation for 2014, he’s now under contract for five years, $42.5 million. That’s an average of $8.5 million per year.
Nelson, a second-round pick in 2008, signed a team-friendly second contact in 2011, getting $13.35 million over three years. This time around, the Packers came much closer to breaking the bank.
The deal reportedly includes an $11.5 million signing bonus. The rest of the details, including key factors like fully guaranteed money, injury-only guarantees, and the annual triggers (if any) for flipping injury guarantees to skill/injury/cap guarantees, aren’t currently known.
The signing of Nelson at the front end of a contract year allows the Packers to focus on whether they can work out a contract for receiver Randall Cobb, who’s entering the final season of his rookie deal. In March, veteran James Jones left for Oakland via free agency, a year after Greg Jennings jumped to the Vikings.
The Dolphins’ work-in-progress offensive line didn’t make much progress on the first day of work, giving up six sacks in team drills.
Steelers S Sharmarko Thomas got a rare invitation to work out with S Troy Polamalu in the offseason; Thomas called the sessions “like a karate movie.” (Which may or may not mean that Polamalu instructed Shamarko to sand the floor, wax the car, and/or paint the fence.)
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley says QB Blake Bortles has “no fear of failure” which is a “cool sign” for a quarterback. (Under that standard, JaMarcus Russell is as cool as the other side of the cup of purple drank, allegedly.)
America’s Team apparently isn’t California’s team; the Cowboys drew a total of 3,503 fans during the first two days of training camp in Oxnard.
Thunderstorms disrupted the first day of training camp for the Buccaneers under Lovie Smith.
Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to play, but he jokes that teammate Larry Fitzgerald will be able to play longer; “He plays wide receiver. Can play that [expletive] as long as you damn want. Jerry Rice played what, 18 years and [expletive]? . . . Larry can probably be 20 years in the [expletive] league. He never gets hit. He always falls down. He don’t get tackled.”
Generally, the Jets currently enjoy a strong (and increasingly loud) sense of optimism. Specifically, the team still has some players about whom there is concern.
Atop the list sits receiver Stephen Hill. The 43rd overall pick in 2012, taken two spots before Alshon Jeffrey (yes, Jets fans, Alshon Jeffrey), Hill faces a likely up-or-out training camp and preseason in 2014.
Some Jets fans already are casting a vote for out. Via Jane McManus of ESPNNewYork.com, a fan at training camp on Friday expressed a sentiment of that sort to Hill. And Hill responded.
“Take me out of the game?” Hill shouted to the fans behind him as he ran to the field. “You act like I didn’t hear that sh-t.”
Hill is tall and he’s fast and he went to Georgia Tech. And that’s where the similarities with Calvin Johnson end.
Through 23 games in two seasons, Hill has caught 45 passes for 594 yards and four touchdowns. The man who drafted Hill, G.M. Mike Tannenbaum, is long gone, and it was clear from the get-go that, like Friday’s heckler, coach Rex Ryan doesn’t belong to the Stephen Hill fan club.
“Well, nothing told me he would [contribute],” Ryan said in 2012. “Nothing. When I saw the tape [of his collegiate play] I was concerned. But Mike Tannenbaum and [senior personnel executive] Terry Bradway and all our scouts were adamant about this guy. They were adamant that this guy can do it. He can run all these routes, he had good hands and he’s got 4.2 speed at 6-foot-5. He was the guy they all wanted, but honestly, when it came down to it, a wideout? Not my dream pick. But now that we have him, of course, I want to claim him: ‘Oh, that was my pick.’ But it really wasn’t.”
Through two years, Hill has proven Ryan right. Which could mean that Ryan will finally get his wish.
But even if Hill has joined Tannenbaum as a former Jets employee before the season starts, Ryan will be reminded of the decision to take Hill over Jeffrey when the Bears come to MetLife Stadium for a Week Three Monday night game.
At a time when the jury seems to be out on whether Eagles quarterback Nick Foles will perform at the same level he did in 2013, a former Eagles quarterback is ready to entering a verdict, beyond a reasonable doubt.
Recently appearing on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia, Jaworski was asked whether he’d want Foles or Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who like Foles entered the NFL via round three of the 2012 draft.
“I’m taking Foles,” Jaworski said. “Not even close. Russell Wilson is just . . . because of that system he is in. Russell Wilson plays with that defense, the best in football. He just managed the game very well. I think Russell Wilson has played terrific, a great maturity, but I’m going to take Nick Foles.”
While Jaworski is entitled to his opinions (and ESPN is entitled to milk three days or programming out of each of them), this one seems a little kooky.
As to Foles, it’s possible his success can be attributed in part to working with Andy Reid ad a rookie and Chip Kelly in 2013. Also, since Mike Vick was the starter entering the 2013 season, defenses didn’t have tape on Foles, giving him an advantage during his truncated first tour through an NFL schedule.
As to Wilson, he’s hardly a game manager. By all accounts, he’s a dynamic and driven young leader who has done a lot more for the Seahawks than hand off the ball and throw safe, first-read passes. Wilson threw for more yards in 2013 than Colin Kaepernick, who helped ESPN create several days of news churn last year when Jaws declared Kaepernick could become one of the best to ever play the position. Also, Wilson’s passer rating exceeded 100. (Kaepernick’s didn’t.)
More importantly, Wilson wins. Yes, it’s a cliché and it’s not very insightful and it draws a fine from producer Matt Casey if it’s uttered on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk when we return from hiatus on Monday. But the game is about winning, and Wilson has shown from the outset of his career that he can and does.
Wilson also has shown that he can continue to perform at a high level even after opposing defenses have had seven months to break down everything he did in his first season of action. Foles will have to do the same thing in 2014 before there’s even a fair debate as to whether he’s in the same conversation as Russell Wilson.