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Democracy in action in the Broncos’ backfield

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The precision of Peyton Manning last night limited the amount of impact the Broncos’ running game was going to have.

But when there was a chance, they all wanted in on it.

According to Gray Caldwell of the team’s official website, the Broncos running backs used the only just method to decide who’d get the ball from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter.

Ronnie Hillman had just run 19 yards, and while the ball was being spotted and measured, Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball started trying to horn in on his action.

So naturally, it was rock-paper-scissors time.

“We were just messing around on the sideline,” Hillman said. “Just something to do. Have fun.

“Luckily I won. So it all worked out.”

Hillman went rock, while Ball and Moreno called scissors. So Hillman deserved the touchdown on the next carry, because who calls scissors, really?

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Albert Haynesworth: Washington cost him his “passion for football”

Albert Haynesworth AP

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.

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Giants yank long-term offer Pierre-Paul wasn’t inclined to accept

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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.

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Trump compares Patriots to China, in a good way

Donald Trump

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.

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Pierre-Paul still in hospital

PierrePaul Getty Images

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.

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UConn tight end Sean McQuillan hoping to convince an NFL team

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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.

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PFT Live: Frank Wycheck, Broncos talk with Mike Klis

Marcus Mariota AP

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.

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Tug of war could be emerging for Vikings headquarters

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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.

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Geno Smith: Brandon Marshall is “a quarterback’s best friend”

Geno Smith, Brandon Marshall AP

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.

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Manti Te’o thinks he’s becoming a playmaker under Mike Nolan

Manti Te'o AP

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.

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Unnamed exec “still confused about” Eagles trading for Sam Bradford

Chip Kelly, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow AP

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.

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Von Miller on contract: Do good things and it takes care of self

Josh Watson, Von Miller AP

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.

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Still no interest in Ray Rice

Ray Rice AP

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.

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As Mariota, Titans haggle over offsets, history says it’s a non-issue

Marcus Mariota AP

The Titans and first-round draft pick Marcus Mariota haven’t come to terms because they haven’t agreed on whether his rookie contract will include offset language. Which is an odd issue to become a stumbling block, because history says it will almost certainly be a non-issue.

Offsets only come into play if a player gets cut by the team that drafts him and then signs on with a new team. Although first-round picks’ contracts are guaranteed, if there are offsets in his contract, the team that drafted the player can deduct whatever he makes with his new team from the money the team that drafted him has to pay. In other words, if Mariota’s rookie contract calls for him to make a base salary of $615,000 in 2017, he’s guaranteed to get paid that money even if the Titans cut him after the 2016 season. But if some other team signs Mariota and pays him $615,000 in 2017, the Titans don’t have to pay it to him. If there are no offsets in the contract, Mariota can “double dip” and collect $615,000 from both the Titans and his new team.

Here’s why it doesn’t matter: Mariota would have to be so bad that the Titans cut him in the next four years, but not so bad that some other team wouldn’t sign him. and that almost never happens. In the 21st Century, only one quarterback has been drafted in the first round, cut in his first four years, and then signed with another team. That quarterback was Brandon Weeden, who lasted two years in Cleveland and then signed in Dallas after the Browns cut him.

Other first-round quarterbacks have been cut in the first four years but not signed anywhere else (JaMarcus Russell), or been traded away by the teams that drafted them (Blaine Gabbert, Tim Tebow). But only Weeden has been cut and then signed elsewhere, which means Weeden is the only first-round quarterback for whom offsets have been an issue.

The Browns did convince Weeden to agree to offsets in his rookie contract, which meant they were allowed to deduct the league-minimum salary he earned from the Cowboys last year from the amount Cleveland still owed him on his rookie deal. The Titans want Mariota to agree to offsets so that if they cut him and he’s playing for some other team in 2017, they can also deduct his salary with his new team from the amount he gets paid by Tennessee.

But if Mariota is as bad for the Titans as Weeden was for the Browns, the Titans will have bigger problems than saving a few hundred thousand dollars.

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Bengals quietly shifting Onterio McCalebb from corner to receiver

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In college at Auburn, Onterio McCalebb played running back, becoming one of only two players in SEC history with more than 2,000 yards rushing, 500 yards receiving, and 1,000 yard returning kickoffs.

And he wasn’t drafted.

The Bengals signed him, with an eye toward making the 4.34-in-the-40 speedster into a cornerback. While he’s still listed as a cornerback after spending most of the last two years on the practice squad (he has appeared in one career regular-season game), McCalebb is getting a new opportunity in Cincinnati.

During last month’s mandatory minicamp, the Bengals switched McCalebb from cornerback to receiver. And that’s apparently where he will be when training camp opens.

“The transition to corner maybe was not as smooth as we had hoped,” Bengals receivers coach James Urban told Bengals.com, via Mark Inabinett of AL.com. “But he’s a great kid who can run, and it’s obvious he’s natural with the ball in his hands since he’s played offense his whole life. Let’s see what he does at training camp when everybody is starting from square one.”

McCalebb is far from square one in his NFL career. Eventually, he’ll run out of practice-squad eligibility, which means that, at some point, it’s up or out for McCalebb.

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Khiry Robinson “all good” with role in crowded Saints backfield

Khiry Robinson AP

With Pierre Thomas on his way out and Mark Ingram headed for free agency, Saints running back Khiry Robinson may have had moments early this offseason when he saw himself playing a prominent role in the Saints backfield in 2015.

He’d performed well when given opportunities late in 2013 and early in 2014, although an arm injury last year kept him from building on that early success. Assuming he was healthy, it looked like Robinson would get that chance this year.

Ingram re-signed, however, and the Saints added C.J. Spiller as a free agent after parting ways with Thomas, which presents a different scenario for the third-year running back. Robinson isn’t complaining about how things played out, however. He says he’s “all good” with the current pecking order in New Orleans.

“I’m the type of person, I’m gonna get what I get and do what I do with it. So whether it’s 20 carries or one carry, I’m gonna do the best of my ability every play,” Robinson said, via ESPN.com. “I just gotta keep working. It’s all love in the backfield. We all work together, try to help each other. So I think it’s a good thing we’ve got a full backfield again. So if anybody goes down, we’ve got another player right up there to do the same thing.”

Robinson may be third on the depth chart, but that doesn’t rule him out of the mix for playing time. The Saints have played three or more backs throughout Sean Payton’s tenure as head coach and all the talk this offseason in New Orleans has been about maximizing the output of all the team’s skill position players along with a renewed focus on running the ball. That philosophy and Robinson’s attitude about the situation should bode well for the back once the team starts getting serious about divvying up playing time later this summer.

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