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ProFootballTalk: NFC divisional round recap
Reunited with his first NFL head coach but learning a new position, Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor has high hopes for 2016.
“[I’m] 10 times [better than last year],” Pryor said Wednesday, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I look at the film and it amazes me, and I give that to [receivers coach Al] Saunders, because just sitting there and doing the extra meeting time with him and him really breaking down certain routes to me and how he wants them run, it’s awesome.”
So what does Browns coach Hue Jackson’s former quarterback in Oakland want to do?
“I just really want to go beat up on some corners,” Pryor said. “Catch the ball over them, run past them, catch the ball, stiff-arm them, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Every time I touch the field, practice, game, I’m going to bring high energy, high effort.”
He also brings a high level of disagreement to the idea that he’s making the transition from quarterback to receiver.
“I don’t even call it a transition anymore,” Pryor said in comments distributed by the team. “I feel like I’m there. I already transitioned. It’s just now continuing to get better at my craft and try to be the best I can be and do the things every single day to be the best player — like Coach Al [Saunders] says in our meeting room to all the receivers – ‘to be the best player you can be, better than the players in the room, player in the league, player in the division.’ Obviously, there are great players around the league. There are great players in our room. It’s not going to always be like that, but you’ve got to have that mindset that you want to be the best every single day. We go out there like brothers and we go out there and we help each other and make sure we work hard.”
Pryor still has plenty of work to do to persuade the Browns and the rest of the league that he can become a receiver. Nearly five years after being drafted, however, he could finally be moving toward the rare feat of becoming a starter at both NFL quarterback and another position on offense.
For two seasons, Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert has been a first-round bust overshadowed by a flashier, better-known first-round bust in his own locker room.
Now, Johnny Manziel and everyone who drafted and coached Manziel and Gilbert in their first two seasons are gone. And Gilbert still has a chance to become a contributor.
The Browns are thin at cornerback, and top cornerback Joe Haden is sitting out this spring while rehabbing an ankle injury. That means Gilbert is getting plenty of snaps as he tries to prove he belongs in the NFL.
“We weren’t here and we don’t know what went on the last two years,” Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton told reporters Wednesday, per the team’s official transcript. “All we know is what went on film and tape from today. Everybody has a clean slate, and you go out and work hard. Is [Gilbert] a work in progress? Yes. Is he carrying anything from four months ago? Not in my book he’s not. He’s just one of the players that we want to help us win a championship here.”
The Browns drafted Gilbert with the No. 8 overall pick in 2014, 14 spots ahead of where they picked Manziel. And Gilbert’s struggles on and off the field the last two seasons were overshadowed by Manziel’s more public exploits.
Horton said the new Browns staff is treating Gilbert “fairly” but not differently and wants Gilbert to know he has a chance to turn his career around.
“He has a lot of God-given ability that was, as coaches, have to get out,” Horton said.
Gilbert faced team discipline multiple times over his first two seasons, had multiple injury issues last season and was involved in a road rage incident last fall. Though he had an interception for a touchdown against Andrew Luck as a rookie, he never earned much significant playing time. Gilbert has played in 23 games over two seasons. He played in nine, starting one, last season.
On the field, Horton said the Browns have tinkered with Gilbert’s “elongated” stance, and that Gilbert offered no resistance. Gilbert said the right things last offseason about growing up and learning from his mistakes, and maybe this year the fresh start inside the Browns’ building will help him get his career on track.
Perhaps no player since Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown capitalized on Super Bowl success in free agency the way Malik Jackson did.
But that also made the deal Jackson’s former Broncos teammate signed before the playoffs look that much worse.
Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe said Wednesday he didn’t regret the four-year, $36.75 million contract he signed in January, just before the Broncos won a title and Jackson hit the jackpot with a six-year, $90 million deal in Jacksonville. Had he waited for free agency, Wolfe would have certainly made more money, but he said he wouldn’t have changed things.
“Absolutely not,” Wolfe said. “I did what I felt what was right. I’m happy for Malik. He deserves it. I’m where I wanted to be.
“You can’t put a price on happiness. I’m happy and that’s all that really matters.”
That kind of loyalty is admirable, at least until the Broncos decide they don’t feel the same way. But Wolfe sounds like he’s OK with that reality.
“I love the city, the fans,” he said in comments distributed by the team. “The people here are great. I couldn’t imagine playing in another city. I don’t really want to ever have to play in another city. I’ll probably just play here until I decided to just be done. That’s my plan. . . .
“To me, I have to prove my worth, prove that I was worth that much money. I have to go out there and prove to the fans, to the team, to the organization, to my teammates and to everybody that I’m worth that much money. To me, it puts a little bit more pressure on me actually.”
The real pressure might come when Wolfe is finished playing, since he’ll have far less in the bank than Jackson will, with a 27.5 million difference in guarantees in their deals ($17.5 million for Wolfe, $42 million for Jackson).
Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant isn’t working in full at OTAs this week as the team continues to bring him along slowly after January foot and ankle surgeries, but he’s catching passes and doing individual work while waiting for full clearance.
Bryant hopes to get that after another round of X-rays in the near future, but said Wednesday that even his limited workload leaves him feeling ahead of where he was while mired in a contract standoff with the Cowboys at this time last year. Bryant eventually signed a long-term deal, but a broken foot in the season opener set the tone for a disappointing season all around in Dallas.
The injuries have healed now, though, and Bryant said Tuesday that he feels like he’s rounding into form bit by bit.
“I feel fine; I’ve been working out real good,” Bryant said, via the team’s website. “I’m getting back to my old self. … It feels good. I’m right on time. I actually feel a little ahead of the game. But I’m going to stay patient.”
The Bryant of 2015 wasn’t the one that earned that big contract and it isn’t one that’s going to help the Cowboys moving back in a positive direction this season. The same could be said of quarterback Tony Romo, leaving little doubt about the players that the team will be counting on to lead them back to the right side of .500.
With the Jets and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick willing to continue their relationship but unable to work out a new contract, a trio of Fitzpatrick’s biggest supporters coincidentally have skipped the last two days of Organized Team Activities.
Via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, coach Todd Bowles downplayed the absences, pointing out that the workouts are voluntary.
Bowles said he doesn’t think the players are making a statement by staying away. Common sense suggests otherwise. With the team unwilling to pay Fitzpatrick an amount similar to what other starters make, it’s likely no accident that these three key members of the offense are choosing not to do something that most NFL players choose to do.
The development makes it even more important that the two sides get together as soon as possible, get in a room, lock the door, and work out a contract. Every days, parties engaged in acrimonious, hostile civil litigation submit to mediation sessions that result in a settlement of their claims. If two sides that hate each other can get in a room and resolve their differences, two sides that like each other surely can do the same.
If they don’t do it soon, these two sides that like each other could quickly end up not liking each other.
UPDATE 5:25 p.m. ET: Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that Mangold’s wife gave birth on Tuesday. This doesn’t explain the absences of Marshall and Decker, obviously.
The 49ers are getting a crash course in Chip Kelly during OTAs, learning in a hurry about the kind of pace he wants to keep.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the 49ers ran 24 offensive plays during an eight-minute team period today.
That’s an average of one snap every 20 seconds (#math).
If that sounds familiar, it should, as his first days with the Eagles were also about establishing his tempo, which is usually charming in the first days of any regime. Of course, when the results stopped showing his Eagles players quickly got tired of it (and tired).
If it works, the 49ers might be able to gain some kind of advantage on offense. But considering their quarterbacks are either Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert, it could also mean a lot of long days for their defense.
The first time that tight end Jerome Cunningham was waived this offseason, he didn’t have to move far to join his new team.
He’ll get a few frequent flier miles the second time around, though. The Titans announced on Wednesday that they used their top spot on the league’s waiver list to add Cunningham to their 90-man roster. Tennessee only had 89 players under contract so they didn’t need to make a corresponding roster move.
Cunningham was waived by the Jets on Tuesday when they signed running back Romar Morris. He joined the team earlier this month after being dropped by the Giants, who he played nine games for during the 2015 season.
Fourth-round defensive tackle Andrew Billings has signed his rookie contract with the Bengals.
A first-team AP All-American last season at Baylor, the 311-pound Billings was also named the Big 12’s co-Defensive Player of the Year. He should immediately see some snaps in the Bengals’ talented defensive line rotation.
The signing of Billings leaves only first-round cornerback William Jackson III unsigned among the team’s seven draft choices.
The Bengals also announced the signing of undrafted rookie fullback Andrew Bonnet, who signed with the Panthers after the draft and was released last week. To make room on the roster for Bonnet, kicker Jonathan Brown was waived-injured.
Jets quarterback Geno Smith has heard teammates like Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall talk about their desire to see Ryan Fitzpatrick back with the team for the 2016 season, but says that he doesn’t “really pay much attention to it” because he doesn’t think they’ve said anything negative about him.
In fact, Marshall said recently that the Jets will “be OK” if Fitzpatrick doesn’t return and Smith heads into the regular season as the starter. On Wednesday, Smith made it clear that his focus is on preparing himself for that possibility and not on watching to see if Fitzpatrick and the Jets bridge their gap and agree on a deal for this year.
“I believe that I do have an opportunity here, and I’ve just got to take advantage of it,” Smith said, via NJ.com. “If anyone has watched football over the years, it’s always been a process with quarterbacks. Every single quarterback has a different learning curve. Some come right in and blow it away. Some come in and struggle a little bit, and then they get it. For me, my confidence has always been there. I think the knowledge of the game, execution, having the game slow down for me, is something that will continue to grow.”
With no other teams sniffing around Fitzpatrick and the quarterback saying this week that he’ll be playing this season, it continues to look like he and the Jets will find their way back to one another. That will mean either a trip to the bench or the waiver wire for Smith, although there’s not much reason for him to worry about crossing that bridge until the Jets put him at the edge of it.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady continues to fight the NFL’s effort to suspend him four games. The Patriots finally have gotten directly involved in the matter and, in so doing, have taken aim at the manner in which the Commissioner and the rest of the league office handled the case.
On Wednesday, the Patriots submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in connection with Brady’s petition for a rehearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, calling the suspension of Brady a “highly manipulated and fundamentally unfair process designed and used by the Commissioner to reach and justify a predetermined outcome in violation of the” labor agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
Yes, the Patriots, one of the 32 members of the NFL, has argued in an eight-page court document that the NFL violated its duties and obligations under the CBA. While the team’s position isn’t surprising, it’s nevertheless jarring to see such an open and official challenge to the league by one of its teams.
From the first sentence, the brief submitted by the Patriots cuts sharply against the league’s interests, arguing that the controversy “presents an issue of exceptional importance [relating to] the extent to which settled precedent and fundamental fairness operate as a check on the broad authority of arbitrators,” and that the existing ruling “threatens to undermine vital principles governing arbitration of collective bargaining agreements throughout the national economy.” The NFLPA surely is thrilled by that observation, especially with a fresh round of full-scale labor talks less than five years away.
The brief points out that the Patriots “stand to lose their All-Pro quarterback for 25 % of the upcoming regular season based on a severely flawed process,” and that “[u]nfairness has permeated the entire handling of this matter by the League.” Again, it’s not a shock that the Patriots believe this, but it’s a big deal to see it reduced to writing and submitted to a federal appeals court.
The Patriots specifically argue that the Commissioner “treated Mr. Brady’s appeal not as an appeal but as a continuation of the investigation,” which resulted in “new findings” that “shifted the basis for his discipline of Mr. Brady in a decision from which Mr. Brady then had no appeal rights.” At footnote 2 to the brief, the Patriots allege that “the League’s conduct reflects less a search for the truth than pursuit of a pre-determined result,” and points out that the NFL “leaked materially incorrect PSI information and refused to correct it for months, allowing public misperceptions to fester.”
That’s a direct reference to the ESPN report that 11 of 12 footballs were measured at 2.0 pounds under the minimum PSI level of 12.5, which the Patriots (and anyone else paying attention) came directly from league employees. The Ted Wells report, issued roughly three months later, demonstrated the gross inaccuracy of the ESPN report.
The Patriots also focus on the Commissioner’s refusal to give Brady access to notes of interviews with league officials who observed the testing of the footballs during halftime of the January 2015 AFC title game and the flawed science of the Wells Report. The Patriots explain that, without the interview notes, it was impossible for Brady to test the assumptions that were made regarding the critical issue of the timing of the PSI measurements during halftime.
“That left Mr. Brady unable to challenge the fundamental premise of the Wells Report,” the Patriots contend, “that science alone does not explain the PSI of the Patriots footballs.”
Elsewhere in the brief, the Patriots claim that the Commissioner “misstated” evidence regarding Brady’s explanation of his interactions with team employee John Jastremski on the key question of Brady’s credibility as a witness. The Commissioner had said that Brady claimed he spoke to Jastremski only about preparation of footballs for Super Bowl XLIX, which in the Commissioner’s view made Brady’s testimony not believable. However, the transcript shows that Brady testified he spoke to Jastremski about both the preparation of footballs and the then-new allegations of potential tampering with footballs. The not-so-subtle point is that the Patriots are directly attacking the credibility of the Commissioner’s attack on Brady’s credibility.
Finally, the Patriots challenge the Commissioner’s decision that Brady’s “non-retention of his cell phone was evidence of guilt without acknowledging that” investigators already had said they didn’t want to take possession of the phone or remove information from it, that Brady supplied the NFL with a full list of persons with whom calls and texts were exchanged, and that the league already had the phones of the two alleged culprits in the tampering scheme, Jastremski and Jim McNally.
The Patriots conclude by arguing that the pending decision of the Second Circuit “endorsed the outcome of a highly manipulated and fundamentally unfair process designed and used by the Commissioner to reach and justify a predetermined outcome in violation of the CBA and this Court’s precedents,” that the ruling “renders meaningless the vital protections afforded by a bargained-for right to appeal and to obtain and present pertinent evidence,” and that “[i]ts impacts will be felt far beyond the NFL.”
Whether the impact of the Patriots’ aggressive maneuver will be felt beyond the confines of this specific case remains to be seen. Regardless, the Patriots — who opted not to pursue an appeal of their own penalties arising from the deflation allegations in the hopes that Brady would be shown lenience — have finally done what their fans have wanted them to do for months.
In an official legal document, the Patriots have pointed a finger directly at the behavior and agenda of the Commissioner and his inner circle.
Few college football players have suffered an injury as devastating to their NFL prospects as former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who was viewed as a first-round prospect before blowing out his knee in December of 2014 and ultimately fell all the way to the seventh round. Ekpre-Olomu hasn’t played in an NFL game yet, but he says he’s now been given a clean bill of health.
Ekpre-Olomu told the Miami Herald that his doctor “said I’m perfectly fine.”
The Browns waived Ekpre-Olomu this offseason, suggesting that the new regime in Cleveland doesn’t believe his knee is ever going to be perfectly fine. But he was claimed by the Dolphins on waivers and says he’s happy where he is.
“It was something with new management; they wanted to go in a different direction,” Ekpre-Olomu said of the Browns. “And I guess I wasn’t in that direction. I’m happy I’m here.”
If Ekpre-Olomu ever returns to the form that he showed at Oregon, the Dolphins will be happy to have him in Miami, too.
The Broncos are down to one unsigned draft pick.
Second-round defensive tackle Adam Gotsis agreed to a four-year deal with the team on Wednesday, leaving quarterback Paxton Lynch as the only one of the team’s eight picks without a contract. Gotsis was born in Australia and became the highest drafted Australian in league history when the Broncos tabbed him with the 63rd overall pick.
Gotsis will be in the mix of players vying for playing time up front on defense after the departure of Malik Jackson as a free agent this offseason. His attempt to nail down that playing time will be delayed until training camp as Gotsis is going to be on the sideline until training camp as a result of a torn ACL he suffered while at Georgia Tech last year.
Dwight Freeney is in Cincinnati on Wednesday to meet with the Bengals, but it doesn’t look like that will be the end of his search for a home for the 2016 season.
Jim Trotter of ESPN reports that Freeney told him that he expects to visit with the Falcons next week.
The Falcons came into the offseason with a need to boost the pass rush provided by their front seven. They signed linebacker Courtney Upshaw and defensive end Derrick Shelby, drafted a couple of linebackers and are moving Vic Beasley from defensive end to linebacker.
Freeney had eight sacks in 11 games after signing with the Cardinals during the 2015 season. That led Arizona and it would have led Atlanta by a comfortable margin — Beasley topped the team with four sacks — which makes Freeney the kind of established pass rushing threat that the Falcons still don’t have on hand for the coming season.
It didn’t take a long listen to owners leaving yesterday’s league meeting in Charlotte to realize that a major PR push was in effect, and that someone — cough, Joe Lockhart, cough — seems to have leaned on all NFL personnel to push the “Mom” button as often as possible while talking about player safety.
And we’re already seeing that message spread out from the member clubs.
The Cardinals sent out a press release today advertising a “Football Skills and Education Camp” this weekend at University of Phoenix Stadium. As part of the camp, they’re hosting a “Mom’s Football Safety Clinic” aimed at “mothers of the high school football players participating at the camp.” The Cardinals are also trotting out Dr. Javier Cardenas, a neurologist at Barrow Neurological Institute to speak to the football camp and the mom’s clinic about concussions. It’s not the first such event they’ve held, but it’s hard not to see the timing.
Of course, it’s all a good and noble effort, steps taken in good faith to make sure all those connected with this great and glorious game know how safe it is. And Bills General Manager Doug Whaley decided after a good night’s sleep that he didn’t really mean it yesterday when he said football wasn’t a game meant to be played by humans.
Again, this is the tip of the spear, the beginning of a major public relations effort on the part of the NFL, which isn’t even ashamed to admit it.
In fact, Jets owner Woody Johnson summed up their plan yesterday better than we ever could.
“Things have a way of changing when they go through other people’s mouths,” Johnson said. “We have to do a better job of explaining ourselves — this is what we’re doing, this is our intent and to convince people we’re honest in what we’re trying to do and that we have integrity. . . .
“The press try to spin one way or the other. Trying to get the real story out without spin is difficult.”
So obviously, they’re going to take up that challenge on their own. Buckle up, moms, the NFL is coming for you.
On Monday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association filed a petition for rehearing of the ruling that reinstated Brady’s four-game suspension. On Tuesday, a group of professors of physics and engineering submitted a brief in support of Brady’s position.
The eight-page document, filed by 21 professors at MIT, Cal, Michigan, USC, Stanford, Delaware, Purdue, Penn, Boston College, Minnesota, focuses on the application of the Ideal Gas Law to the footballs used by the Patriots during the AFC championship game played in January 2015. It strongly disputes the conclusions made by the NFL in the investigation that resulted in a finding that tampering with footballs had occurred.
The argument is fundamentally no different than the point PFT has made consistently since the official PSI numbers were released in May 2015: With the Ideal Gas Law necessarily causing the air pressure in the footballs to drop during the first half of the game, tampering with the footballs would have resulted in dramatically lower readings than the actual numbers measured by the NFL.
Included with the written presentation is a claim that the professors have obtained field-temperature date for more than 10,000 outdoor NFL games played since 1960, and that approximately 61 percent of all games would have included footballs that dropped in air pressure below the minimum of 12.5 PSI, if the footballs were inflated to 13.0 at kickoff. For footballs inflated (as the Patriots were) toward the low end of the range, roughly 82 percent of all games would have included footballs below the minimum.
“As professors, we cannot fathom how it is permissible to impose punishment for the possibility of a negligible increment of pressure loss, when underinflated footballs are common to NFL games, when laws of physics cause much larger pressure drops, and when the very possibility of an additional increment of pressure loss was generated from assumptions of the league’s choosing rather than data,” the brief concludes. “In the name of science, we support the petition for rehearing.”
Technically irrelevant to the issues pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the brief contains the kind of commonsensical information that could persuade a judge to take a more favorable view of the overall case. And while footnote No. 1 to the brief points out that “[n]o party’s counsel authored this brief in whole or in part” and that “[n]o party, no counsel for any party, and no person other than [the professors] or their counsel contributed money that was intended to fund preparation or submission of this brief,” it’s a development that Brady and the NFLPA surely welcome. It also wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the legal team representing Brady and the NFLPA instigated the filing.
Why shouldn’t they? The scientific principles articulated in the brief are accurate, but those same principles haven’t received nearly the attention they deserve, at any stage of the disciplinary process or the litigation.
The numbers measured by the NFL were in line with what the science would have predicted. If air deliberately had been removed from the footballs, the PSI readings necessarily would have been much, much lower.
Thus, to the extent that Brady’s suspension arises from tampering with footballs used in the January 2015 AFC title game, the evidence of tampering remains inconclusive at best. Even if that dynamic is never mentioned by any judge serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in any further documents generated by these proceedings, the 13 judges who will be determining whether to grant the request for a rehearing need to process and digest the information provided by these 21 professors.