Mike Florio sits down with NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth to discuss the future of the NFL and its players. From the player perspective, what can be done to make the game safer now and in the future?This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
PFT Extra: Can the game be made safer?
The AFC North has generally been a strong defensive division over the years, but 2015 saw things go the other way.
None of the four teams ranked higher than 18th in total defense and the Steelers won the division thanks to their potent offense putting up enough points to overcome a lagging defense. Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will be tasked with trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again this season and it’s a task that he believes will be difficult.
One of the lead reasons why is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who Guenther thinks became even more effective last season. Roethlisberger was sacked less frequently in 2014 than in any other year of his career, leaving him able to take full advantage of the weapons at his disposal.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Guenther said, via ESPN.com. “He’s taken a lot of shots and keeps getting up … He was getting hit a lot in the past while trying to throw some stuff downfield. The ball’s coming out a little faster, particularly on third downs. That’s probably part of it. He’s not running as much and he has enough pocket presence where he keeps a play alive. You’re talking about tight ends and wide receivers and running backs and an improved offensive line, that’s a pretty good combination. They’ve gotten better up front and run the ball effectively, which helps them. The ability for them to run the ball, mix it up and keep teams honest probably got him more looks.”
The Steelers beat the Bengals twice last season, including a Week 17 win that clinched the division for Pittsburgh and left the Bengals as a Wild Card visitor to Indianapolis. The Steelers gained 889 yards in those games, 667 of them through the air, and Guenther will need to come up with a better answer this time around to keep Cincinnati ahead of their rivals.
Colts offensive lineman Todd Herremans is listed at 321 pounds. Anthony Castonzo is listed at 311. And Jack Mewhort is listed at 308. But unlike most 300-pounders, they have athletic bodies that they’re happy to show off.
The three linemen appear together, naked, in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue, saying they jumped at the chance because they want the world to see that offensive linemen are athletes, not just fat guys.
“I think the view of offensive linemen from the public is that we are all just fat slobs,” Herremans said. “Which is what it used to be, kind of. But now the game has evolved into more fit, athletic offensive linemen. So I would say that Anthony is probably the leanest out of all of us, and I’m probably the chubbiest. Jack is somewhere in the middle.”
Mewhort says his body moves much more fluidly than you’d expect for a guy his size.
“I’m pretty good at yoga, actually,” he said. “I’ve been getting into it recently. Anthony got me into it. I did a back bend the other day. I had some assistance from the instructor, but I still thought it was pretty cool.”
It’s pretty cool that these three big guys are willing to show off their physiques. They may not have washboard abs, but they have bodies to be proud of.
Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner was among the people impressed by the way that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater wound down his rookie season in Minnesota.
Turner said Bridgewater was “much more decisive” in his final six starts last season and complimented the rookie for making gains while playing behind a shifting offensive line and without running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson’s return from suspension, guard Brandon Fusco’s return from injury, the presence of a healthy Kyle Rudolph at tight end and the arrival of rookie T.J. Clemmings join the acquisition of wide receiver Mike Wallace as reasons for optimism that Bridgewater will continue on an upward trajectory this season.
Bridgewater said in early June that he was excited about the team’s offseason, but cautioned that it was too soon to talk about them as a contender. The final practices of the offseason didn’t do anything to make him change his mind about avoiding overly rosy projections well before the season gets underway.
“I have high expectations for myself, and this team has high expectations also,” Bridgewater said, via USA Today. “Right now, we’re not as good as what we think. We know that the ceiling is very high and the expectation level is very high — not only for the players, but from a coaching staff also. We know what’s being asked of us, but we have a long way to go.”
It’s not the kind of pom-pom waving we often see when the regular season is still somewhere over the horizon, but that’s not a bad thing for a Vikings team that has posted losing records four of the last five years. The Vikings have to prove they’re good before they can talk about being good, even though the need to toot their own horns won’t be too great if their on-field work lives up to expectations.
Albert Haynesworth was happy to take the money. But in hindsight, he wouldn’t have taken it from Dan Snyder.
The former defensive tackle, who was known as differently motivated during his playing career, wrote a first-person letter to his younger self for The Players Tribune in which he admits regrets over taking the $100 million contract Washington offered in 2009, saying: “You will lose your passion for football in Washington, and it will be impossible to get back.”
“If nothing else, listen to me on this, Albert: Do not leave the Tennessee Titans,” he wrote (such that players write for themselves there). “Your defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is a mastermind. No matter how much I tell you this, you’ll probably never realize it until your career is over, but it’s true. You’re like a system quarterback. You thrive in a very specific scheme.”
Haynesworth also said the Buccaneers offered him a $135 million deal, but called the contract a “huge burden,” saying: “Take less and stay in Tennessee where you belong.”
Haynesworth suggests that he was dismayed when then-coach Mike Shanahan asked him to clog up the middle of the field rather than rush the passer as he had done with the Titans.
“You’re going to look at this famous NFL head coach in total disbelief and say, “You want to pay me $100 million to grab the center?” the letter read. “And he’s going to say, with a straight face, “Albert, if you have more than one sack this season, I’m going to be pissed.”
“The last thing you’ll say before walking out of the office is, “Can’t you just pay someone $300,000 a year to do that?”
The piece also mentions the fact that much of that money was gone, blaming an unscrupulous financial advisor. But it also portrays a player who now realizes the grass isn’t always greener, years after he took all the green.
With Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul still hospitalized two days after a fireworks accident, the Giants have commenced the process of protecting the franchise from its current franchise player.
Via Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, the Giants have removed the pending offer on a long-term deal for Pierre-Paul.
And so the $60 million deal is gone; whether a five-year or four-year package, Pierre-Paul wasn’t going to accept it, not with $14.8 million for 2015 and $17.76 million for 2016 as a starting point. That’s $32.56 million over two years on the franchise tag, and quarterback money or $25.5 million for 2017. Which equates to nearly $60 million in only three years.
The question now becomes whether the Giants will make another run at signing Pierre-Paul to a contract that takes the uncertainty regarding his health into account, or whether he’ll sign the franchise tender and play for $14.8 million this year and, if they tag him again, 20 percent more than that in 2016.
The possibility that the Giants could place Pierre-Paul on NFI and not pay him a single penny for the 2015 season could prompt Pierre-Paul to stay away until he gets a clean bill of health, missing regular-season games not as a leverage play against the Giants but to ensure that, when team doctors examine his fingers, they’ll give him a thumb’s up.
Last month’s campaign announcement from presidential hopeful Donald Trump made plenty of waves for his remarks about Mexico. He also said something about China. And the New England Patriots.
Via Boston.com, Trump favorably compared the Patriots to China.
“People say, ‘Oh, you don’t like China.’ No, I love them,” Trump said, via Steve Silva of Boston.com. “But their leaders are much smarter than our leaders, and we can’t sustain ourself with that. There’s too much — it’s like — it’s like, take the New England Patriots and Tom Brady and have them play your high school football team. That’s the difference between China’s leaders and our leaders.”
It’s an odd comparison for Trump to make, and the fact that it went largely unnoticed for so long underscores the controversial nature of his remarks about Mexico.
It remains to be seen whether Trump is a truly serious candidate, and if so whether he has a chance to win. If he wins, no one should be surprised if he runs the U.S. like China. Or the Patriots. Or both.
Whatever the extent of Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul’s injuries following a Saturday fireworks mishap, they’re bad enough to keep him in the hospital.
Via Jordan Ranaan of NJ.com, Pierre-Paul remains hospitalized in Miami, two days after burning his hands on the Fourth of July.
Mixed reports have emerged since news of the mishap first broke, which isn’t surprising. Apart from medical privacy, Pierre-Paul has $14.8 million riding on his ability to play this year.
Even if the Giants don’t withdraw the franchise tender (and they likely won’t), the Giants can deem Pierre-Paul unfit to play due to the burns, placing him on the non-football injury list and opting not to pay him a penny for the 2015 season.
While that would seem like a harsh outcome, the extent to which the Giants and anyone else will have sympathy for Pierre-Paul depends on the details of the accident. If he failed to follow the “light fuse and get away” mandate that applies to anything more potent than sparklers, the Giants may be more inclined to opt for NFI and no salary.
None of that will matter if Pierre-Paul is fully healed sooner than later. For now, though, the fact that he’s still in a hospital underscores the reality that this was a major incident.
Connecticut tight end Sean McQuillan has already earned his degree, and might have been a team captain if he had returned for his final year of eligibility.
But an arrest this spring following a fight with his roommate cost him his entrance into school, leaving him no choice but this week’s supplemental draft, which he’s confident he’ll be chosen in.
“Well, first of all, I’m going to make it, and second of all, there isn’t a backup plan,” McQuillan said, via Desmond Conner of the Hartford Courant. “I’m confident I’m going to be able to do this thing. I’m prepared for this. I’m going to show them I’m athletic, I’m versatile, I can do a bunch of different things. I’m confident and I’m ready for this next step, so I haven’t thought about anything else.”
Of course, he has other things on his plate, namely a July 17 appearance in court for his second degree assault and disorderly conduct. But he’s hoping that his workout Wednesday will convince some team to take a chance on him.
“I want people to know I’m strong and I’m going to get through this,” McQuillan said. “Perseverance is the word. Bad things are going to happen sometimes. When you get knocked down it’s about how you respond and I’m going to respond, recreate my brand, get that respect back from everybody which is very important to me because I love Connecticut and I love the people here.
“I want to be someone people for years and years are looking up to, not based on a couple things that happened in college. I want them to look at me and say he’s a great person. He persevered through some tough times to get where he wanted to be. At the end of all this, it’s how I want to be seen and I know I can get there. I’m not going to get outworked. If things don’t go my way I’m just going to keep chugging along until I get it right.”
McQuillan has some basketball background as well, though not much in the way of stats in football. He caught 16 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown last season, though he did score the only touchdown in UConn’s spring game this year.
That might not be enough to make a team draft him, but without a backup plan, it’s what he has to work with at the moment.
We’re kicking off the week of PFT Live with a guest host, but you’ll still get your dose of Mike Florio.
Paul Burmeister will be sitting in for Florio as host, which frees PFT’s founder to join the show as a guest early in the program. They’ll talk about the latest news from around the league before moving on to more specific looks at several teams.
Former Titans tight end and current radio analyst Frank Wycheck will fill us in on the team’s attempt to finish up Marcus Mariota’s contract and Mike Klis of NBC 9 in Denver will bring updates on the Broncos as we close in on the deadline to sign wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to a long-term contract. Rich Tandler of CSN Washington and Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press Gazette will also be on hand during the show.
We also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.
It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app.
Next year, the Vikings will have a new stadium next to the site of their old one. The next project could be a new team headquarters. For that, the Vikings could be moving to a new city.
For 34 years, the facility known as Winter Park (named for team co-founder Max Winter, not because it’s always Winter in Minnesota) has kept the Vikings in Eden Prairie. Via the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Vikings could move to a new building in Chanhassen. And that has folks in Eden Prairie concerned.
“The recognition of Winter Park, headquartered in Eden Prairie . . . it’s a good way for people to know where Eden Prairie is,” Pat MulQueeny, president of the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce, told the Star Tribune. “If the Vikings were to leave, it’s a loss. Definitely we’d like to keep them here.”
Chanhassen wants to grab the Vikings for the same reason — to increase awareness of a town few beyond the borders of Minnesota know exists.
That gives the Vikings leverage, allowing the team to play one town against the other in order to get the best deal. At a time when that approach no longer is working for other teams trying to get public stadium financing, the last team to finagle major taxpayer dollars for a new place to play could end up squeezing major concessions for their new place to practice.
Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall recently left Jay Cutler, who threw Marshall passes in Denver and Chicago, off a list of his favorite teammates from his various stops around the NFL over the years.
Geno Smith didn’t make that list either, which isn’t much of a surprise since the two men haven’t played a game together since the trade that brought Marshall to Jersey. Smith doesn’t feel the need to wait until September to talk about how much it means for him to play with Marshall, however.
“He’s a quarterback’s best friend … For one, he’s a veteran guy,” Smith said, via the team’s website. “He understands the game on and off the field. He’s a beast of a player. You can’t say enough good things about him.”
The arrivals of Marshall, Stevan Ridley and Devin Smith give the Jets the deepest cast of characters at skill positions they’ve had since taking Geno Smith in the second round of the 2013 draft. That’s part of the reason why Ron Jaworski and others think the needle is pointing up for Smith heading into the 2015 season, although that optimism is tempered by those who think the problems of his first two seasons have had more to do with Smith than with the players next to him on offense.
After entering the NFL following a high-profile college career (and an even higher-profile story surrounding his personal life), Manti Te’o has been relatively quiet in his two years with the Chargers. A part-time starter, Te’o hasn’t been a bust of a second-round pick, but he hasn’t been an impact player, either.
This year, Te’o thinks that’s going to change. With new linebackers coach Mike Nolan in San Diego, Te’o says he feels like he can be a playmaker more like he was at Notre Dame, where he was widely regarded as the best linebacker in college football.
“Coach Nolan brings an old-school feel to not only our position, but to the defense as a whole,” Te’o said, via ESPN. “He’s all about making plays. He’s all about doing whatever it takes to put each piece in a position to make a play. It’s definitely a good thing to have him here.”
The Chargers’ defense struggled through a rough 2014 season, but Te’o believes they’re ready for a course correction this year.
“We all can do a better job, especially up front,” Te’o said. “Just being more stout, knowing where everybody’s going to be and just having that mindset that we’re going to make a play. Definitely each one of us can do better at that.”
Te’o looked better in college than he has looked so far in his NFL career. Nolan might be the coach who can get the most out of Te’o’s talent.
When training camps open in a little under a month, one of the most-watched storylines will be the progress of Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, coming off a pair of torn ACLs.
But some are wondering whether too much has been made of his arrival by trade already.
Via Mark Eckel of NJ.com, “one of the league’s top executives in personnel” was skeptical of the impact Bradford will actually have.
“I understand they gave up on Foles,” he said. “But I don’t know why they’re building up Bradford so much. I’m still confused about that whole deal. You can only talk about him being the first pick of the draft for so long. What has he done since then?
“If Bradford had gone anywhere else you wouldn’t even be talking about him. He’s been hurt the past two years and even when he was healthy, he was just average. But he’s with Chip Kelly, so there’s hope I guess. Chip Kelly is the one guy who can make Bradford a success.”
That might be because of Kelly’s magic milkshakes, which may have helped make his team the healthiest in the league over the last two years. But Bradford has played in just 49 of 80 possible games in his five seasons, so unless there’s something in the smoothies to keep him ACLs intact, it will be hard for Kelly to transform him.
Bradford has been a good quarterback at times, but he was stuck on some bad teams as well. If Kelly can polish him up, his reputation will only grow.
The Broncos have nine more days left to hammer out a long-term deal with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas before the deadline to sign such contracts with players who received the franchise tag.
However things wind up playing out with Thomas, the process could serve as a practice run for next offseason. That’s when linebacker Von Miller will be eligible to become a free agent and the Broncos will have to make the same kinds of calculations that they’ve made with Thomas in order to hold onto the second overall pick of the 2011 draft.
If Thomas signs a multi-year deal, Miller can get the franchise tag but no new deal for Thomas would leave the Broncos with two key free agents and one tag after the 2015 season. For now, Miller’s not sweating those scenarios.
“But I just want to play the best I can,” Miller said, via ESPN.com. “Everything takes care of itself if we do good things and I play like I want to for this team … I think guys here worry about winning. The time for all that other stuff is after the season.”
Miller has plenty of company on defense when it comes to playing out the final year of a contract. Defensive linemen Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe, linebackers Danny Trevathan and Stephen Johnson and safety David Bruton are also headed toward free agency in what will likely be another busy offseason in Denver.
Three years ago this month, running back Ray Rice signed a contract with the Ravens that paid him $24 million over the first eight months. In the eight months since Rice’s indefinite suspension was overturned, Rice hasn’t gotten a single sniff from any of the NFL’s 32 teams.
Plenty of people have said Rice deserves a second chance, but no one has given him one. The stigma arising from his brutal assault on then-fiancée (now wife) Janay Palmer lingers, and Rice lacks the talent to overcome it. His age (28) works against him, as does the fact that Rice’s play dropped dramatically in his most recent full season of action, with 660 yards rushing and an average of 3.1 yards per carry — the lowest of his career by 0.9.
Many think if Rice’s name were Adrian Peterson, he’d still be playing. But it would be hard even for Peterson to overcome the video evidence that emerged only four days before Rice’s two-game suspension was due to end. Even though anyone with any degree of common sense and/or basic human empathy knew what a man knocking out a woman looked like without having to see it, seeing it changed everything for Rice.
With the offseason program over and training camp looming, the only question remaining is whether Rice’s name shows up on any team’s list of players to call if/when injuries happen to running back already on the roster. Even if he’s a candidate to be contacted, the ultimately challenge will be to get the owner to sign off on signing Rice.
So far, no one has. It would be naive not to at least wonder whether the league office has put out the word to shy away from Rice, given the controversy his conduct sparked — and the consequences it nearly caused. Still, the league always consists of a team or two that is inclined to stick it to 345 Park Avenue; the bigger question is whether the rush that would come from defiance would outweigh the ruckus that Rice’s arrival could cause for the team that gives him a job.