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Michael Bush: Taking a knee would be smart, but I wanted a TD

AP

When Bears running back Michael Bush broke into the clear with 2:17 remaining in Sunday’s game against the Browns, he had an instant to make a decision: Run to the end zone for a touchdown that would give the Bears a 38-24 lead, or take a knee so the Bears could simply run out the clock and win the game?

Bush chose the 40-yard touchdown. But he acknowledged afterward that strategically, it would have made more sense to go down once he had picked up the first down. Cleveland was out of timeouts, so all the Bears would have had to do was kneel down three times after the two-minute warning and seal the win. Bush, however, has had a quiet season and wanted to make a big play.

“I know that I probably needed to go down, the smart play would have been go down and take a knee. But my plays are limited. I am going to take advantage of the opportunities I have,” Bush said, via the Chicago Tribune.

Bush is right: That would have been the smart play, and it’s a play that other running backs, including Brian Westbrook and Maurice Jones-Drew, have made. But Bush said the Bears’ coaches didn’t ask him to go down.

“No,” Bush said. “If they did I would have told them, ‘I’m sorry,’ with a smile on my face. It worked out for us.”

After Bush’s touchdown, the Browns got the ball back and scored a touchdown of their own with 59 seconds remaining. The Bears recovered the subsequent onside kick and ran out the clock. But if the Browns had recovered the onside kick, scored again and won the game, there would be some uncomfortable questions for Bush today about why he didn’t make the smart play.

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Andy Reid could move into the NFL’s Top 5 in coaching wins

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Andy Reid isn’t usually named among the great coaches in NFL history, but perhaps he will be by the time he serves out his newly extended contract.

The Chiefs and Reid have just agreed on a new five-year contract, and if the 59-year-old Reid coaches five more years at the 11-wins-a-year pace he’s been on in Kansas City, he’d move into fifth place all-time in career wins.

Reid is currently tied with Jeff Fisher for 11th on the career wins list, with 173. He needs 13 wins to tie Chuck Knox and move into 10th place. If he won 55 more games, averaging 11 a year for five years, he’d have 228 career wins, which would put him fifth all-time behind Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry and Bill Belichick.

That would put Reid into Hall of Fame consideration, even without a Super Bowl win. Although fans often think of the best coaches as the ones who have Super Bowl rings, the Hall of Fame selection committee doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Several coaches have made it to the Hall of Fame without winning a Super Bowl, including George Allen, Bud Grant and Marv Levy. With five more good years, Reid would have as good a resume as those three Hall of Fame coaches.

Reid, of course, is much more focused on winning a Super Bowl. If he does that in his remaining time in Kansas City, that would likely punch his ticket to Canton.

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Prosecutors appeal decision to void Aaron Hernandez murder conviction

AP

When Aaron Hernandez killed himself in prison earlier this year, he was still appealing his conviction for the murder of Odin Lloyd and that led a Massachusetts judge to void the conviction under the legal principle known as abatement ab initio.

That principle holds that a conviction can’t be finalized until the appeals process has been exhausted and resets the case to the beginning in the event of the defendant’s death. Prosecutors argued that doing so would reward Hernandez for killing himself and they are now appealing the judge’s decision to void the conviction.

Bristol District Attorney Thomas Quinn III called abatement ab initio “archaic” and noted that many other states have moved away from it to allow appeals to continue even after the defendant has died.

“A defendant who commits suicide should not be able to manipulate the outcome of his post-conviction proceedings to achieve in death what he would not be able to achieve in life,” Quinn said, via the Associated Press.

Hernandez killed himself shortly after being acquitted by a jury of two other murder charges.

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Michael Bidwill has concerns about having NFL team based in UK

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Cardinals President Michael Bidwill expresses doubt the NFL will have a team based in the UK in the near future. Bidwill, in London this week assessing facilities at Wembley and Twickenham ahead of the NFL’s games there this season, told Sky Sports News HQ that the league will “continue to study it, but I don’t think there’s any timeline out there.”

For the 10th consecutive season, the NFL will play games in London. The Cardinals will play the Rams at Twickenham on Oct. 22, while the Vikings face the Browns there on Oct. 29. Wembley will host the Ravens and Jaguars on Sept. 24 and the Dolphins and Saints on Oct. 1.

But scheduling teams to play one game in the UK obviously is much different than having a team based there.

“We’re getting a lot of support for the NFL over here, but I think one of the big things is going to be the travel; the different time zones and how it might impact the athletes playing here and traveling to play here,” Bidwill said, via Sophie Morris of Sky Sports News HQ. “One of the things we really care about is our players’ health. We want to see how this is going to impact the athlete and we want to make sure that there is no competitive imbalance.”

Patriots owner Robert Kraft appears more optimistic, insisting the NFL will have a team in London. It is a prediction he has made for several years now.

“Now we play four games a year in London and sell tickets to 80,000 people and we’re going to have a team in London,” Kraft said, speaking at Cannes Lions as part of an interview with WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell via the New York Post. “We’re playing the Raiders in Mexico and have plans to play in Germany, Canada and Brazil and China. I don’t know why not France?”

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Derek Carr wants to splurge at Chick-fil-A

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Derek Carr should seek a marketing deal with Chick-fil-A. He gave the fast-food restaurant a shoutout Friday during a press conference officially to announce his new deal with the Raiders, getting it plenty of free publicity.

Carr’s five-year, $125 million deal makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history, prompting a question about where the quarterback will spend his newfound riches.

“Chick-fil-A,” Carr answered to laughter. “Probably Chick-fil-A. I’ve been eating clean. I’ll probably get some Chick-fil-A.”

Carr actually has big plans to use some of the money for the greater good. He said he will continue to tithe, something he has done since college, and hopes to help the less fortunate.

“The exciting thing for me money-wise, honestly, is this money’s going to help a lot of people,” Carr said. “I’m very thankful to have it, that it’s in our hands, because it’s going to help people not only in this country but in a lot of countries around the world. That’s what’s exciting for me.”

He does have one important shopping trip ahead.

“I’ll probably give my wife something nice, even though she begs me not to,” Carr said.

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Federal appeals court seems to accept evidence of CTE in living patients

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One of the most widely-accepted realities of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy has been undermined by one of the highest courts in the United States.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, one of various appellate courts that sit one step below the Supreme Court, has ruled in a case involving former NFL linebacker Jesse Solomon that the joint NFL-NFL Players Association Disability Plan abused its discretion in denying Solomon’s claim for disability benefits. In so doing, the court seemed to accept the notion that Solomon, who was involved in 69,000 high-speed collisions while playing football, has “CTE-related disability” and “CTE injuries.”

While hardly a medical finding that CTE can indeed be diagnosed without examining the brain tissue of a deceased patient, the court’s 13-page ruling seems to accept as a given the notion that CTE can be diagnosed based on a combination of MRIs and an assessment of symptoms.

It’s possible that those observations slipped in to the final written decision because the lawyers representing the Plan didn’t sufficiently focus on that point in written materials or while arguing the case in the courtroom. As to the former, it’s possible the lawyers regarded the inability to firmly diagnose CTE in living patients as a given. As to the latter, and based on a press release issued by Solomon’s lawyers, it’s possible the lawyers were too busy taking flak from judges to quibble with medical and scientific niceties.

“Why is the Plan fighting him so incredibly hard?” Judge Dennis Shedd said. “And when he makes the claim through your own doctor that he’s got a problem? . . .  Why in the world would you – I guess current players don’t want money to come out for past players, or something? . . . Why in the world would any player playing professional football . . . look at this and go, ‘This is one heck of a great deal for players.’ We play as hard as we can, give everything we got, get banged up — I saw something in the record [about] 69,000 tackles, that’s incredible.  We do all we can, and then we apply and when doctors say I have a problem based on those hits, and they say, ‘You’re not orthopedically disabled, go away.’ . . .

“[S]omebody ought to scratch their head and say, Does this really look good?  We don’t have much of a legal argument, but we’re willing to fight it to the death to deny somebody . . . Does that make sense to you? . . . Do you think that looks good to players, what’s going on in this courtroom today?  It’s not necessarily part of the determination, I’m just asking a real-world question.”

The real-world outcome is that Solomon will receive disability benefits, because the panel unanimously concluded that the Plan “relied on no evidence at all” in rejecting Solomon’s claim. It’s a stunning observation given the supposed sensitivity to brain injuries. Perhaps more importantly, the ease with which the judges seemed to agree that Solomon proved that he has CTE while still alive raises renewed questions about whether the massive concussion settlement should have allowed players to secure benefits if they can sufficiently prove that they suffer from CTE.

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Vikings hire new strength and conditioning coach

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The Vikings were left with an open slot on their coaching staff earlier this month when strength and conditioning coach Brent Salazar left the team in order to work for the United States Tennis Association.

They filled it on Friday. The team announced that Mark Uyeyama will be heading up the strength and conditioning department for the 2017 season.

Uyeyama spent the last nine years working for the 49ers under a succession of different head coaches before being dismissed upon Kyle Shanahan’s arrival in Santa Clara. He worked at Utah State before making the move to the 49ers in 2008.

Barring any other unexpected shifts from the gridiron to other pursuits, that should be the final change to Mike Zimmer’s staff before the 2017 season.

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Bronson Kaufusi ready to contribute after missing rookie season

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The Ravens drafted defensive end Bronson Kaufusi in the third round last season, but they have yet to see him on the field. Kaufusi broke his left ankle early in training camp and missed all of last season rehabbing.

“Injuries are always frustrating, but you also have to look for the silver lining in it,” Kaufusi said, via the team website. “So, for me, it was a chance to learn, grow and take everything in that I could so I could be ready for this upcoming year.”

Kaufusi, now fully healed, took some first-team reps during offseason practices in his bid to replace Lawrence Guy, who left in free agency. Veteran Brent Urban remains the favorite to win the starting job, but Kaufusi will compete with Urban and rookie Chris Wormley for playing time at the position.

“I want to make a difference,” Kaufusi said. “No matter where it is on the field, I want to get out there and make plays for our team, for our defense and just contribute.”

The Ravens drafted Kaufusi for his pass-rush ability. He had 11 sacks in his senior season at BYU and 26.5 for his four-year career.

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Maliek Collins wants to be next great DT in Rod Marinelli’s system

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With Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in the same draft class, Maliek Collins got overshadowed and overlooked. But the defensive tackle quietly had a successful rookie season, which has defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli excited about Collins’ future.

Collins’ 656 snaps — 61.9 percent of the defensive plays — were the most of any Cowboys defensive lineman. In fact, among the team’s defenders, only linebacker Sean Lee and four defensive backs received more. Collins, a third-round pick in 2016, made 31 tackles, five sacks and 14 quarterback pressures last season.

Collins, though, expected more and wants more.

I never meet my own goals,” Collins said, via the team website. “My goal is to be the best player I can be so that I always keep improving. That’s how I set my goals. I don’t really do it statistically. Then you’re out there chasing stats. The goal is to improve every day. If I’m not improving every day, then I’m doing something wrong.”

Collins plays the three-technique, one of the most important positions in Marinelli’s scheme. Hall of Famer Warren Sapp manned that position for Marinelli in Tampa Bay. Collins has studied some the best three-techniques ever, including Sapp, in hopes of becoming the next great one.

“The standards are basically written,” Collins said. “Me being a three-technique, the standards are in the history books of what three-techniques have done in this system. I like to say that’s the standard. The people like John Randle, guys like Warren Sapp or [Keith] Millard, who started the system. [Anthony] McFarland, those types of players.”

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With Derek Carr signed, Reggie McKenzie moving on to other extensions

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At the start of a Friday press conference to discuss quarterback Derek Carr’s contract extension, General Manager Reggie McKenzie called it a “big day” for the organization.

McKenzie also said that he’s now going to turn his attention toward more big days and big extensions in the future. Carr said during his opening remarks that it was important for him to “structure [his deal] in a way to help the Raiders” hold onto other players and McKenzie said that the contract accomplished that. 

“The bottom line is we’re able to continue to move forward to be to keep all the players that we need to keep in the correct timing,” McKenzie said. “This affords us to do that. We’ll start on that ASAP.”

Defensive end Khalil Mack and right guard Gabe Jackson, both of whom joined Carr in the 2014 draft class, are expected to be the next two players up for extensions in Oakland. The team picked up Mack’s option for the 2018 season and Jackson is set for free agency if he can’t agree on a deal before the start of the next league year.

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Raiders make Derek Carr’s five-year contract extension official

It’s official: Derek Carr will be the Raiders’ franchise quarterback through the remainder of their time in Oakland, and when they move to Las Vegas as well.

The Raiders announced today that Carr has signed a five-year contract extension and is now under contract with the team through the 2022 season. They even posted the standard photo of the player putting pen to paper.

Carr was the Raiders’ second-round draft pick in 2014, earned the starting job in training camp, and started every game until he was injured at the end of last season. He has steadily improved and had his best season in 2016, with 28 touchdown passes and six interceptions.

Although Carr was injured and unable to play in the postseason last year, the Raiders believe he’s going to lead them to many more playoff berths, for many more years. And they’ve given him a contract that currently makes him the highest-paid player in the NFL.

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Get ready to see Jamison Crowder in various roles

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Washington’s plans for receiver Jamison Crowder don’t simply include making him a full-time starter. The team also intends to deploy him in multiple different ways.

“I’ve said all along Jamison can play anywhere,” coach Jay Gruden recently said, via Mark Bullock of the Washington Post. “He can play outside, inside. He can play running back probably if he wanted to. So we’ll utilize Jamison and try to get him more involved, not just in the passing game and the running game.”

Ultimately, whether Crowder plays running back depends on whether Gruden wants him to. If he does, things could get very interesting.

Crowder primarily has played in the slot for his first two seasons, with DeSean Jackson (gone to the Bucs) and Pierre Garςon (gone to the 49ers) on the outside. Starting this year, Crowder will be all over the place — despite being only five feet, eight inches tall.

“He just continues to prove every day why we like him so much,” Gruden said. “He’s great on option routes, he can run vertical stems. He can run just about anything you ask him to run. . . . He gets himself open because he’s got a great feel. He’s got quickness in and out of his breaks. He plays a lot longer than his size. He has got really long arms. He goes up and gets balls. Sometime he plays bigger than a taller receiver because he uses his height [and] he’s got great jumping ability and times the jumps extremely well. Some tall guys you see, they misjudge it and they don’t jump. But Jamison, he times them perfect and makes big plays.”

Crowder caught 67 passes (second on the team) for 847 yards (third) and seven receiving touchdowns (first) in 2016. With both a full-time role and the opportunities that may come from being on the outside, in the slot, and in the backfield, Crowder could make Washington fans quickly forget the two high-priced receivers that got away. And he could be on his way to becoming a high-priced receiver.

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Robert Kraft on Deflategate: “I don’t hold grudges but I never forget”

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this week that his relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft “was never strained” despite the #Deflategate investigation.

Kraft may not be reading off the same script.

One of the commissioner’s 32 bosses told Claire Atkinson of the New York Post a slightly different version.

I don’t hold grudges but I never forget,” Kraft said. “Sometimes people mess up at when they’re doing their jobs, but it most organizations people make bad decisions. I’m about the present and the future.”

So, yeah, no strain. Ever. Clearly.

As much as Goodell might want to believe (and sell) the idea that he and Kraft are arm-in-arm again, it’s clear that the Patriots owner hasn’t fully let go of what he seems to have perceived to be a witch hunt. If only he had a Twitter account with which to talk about it more.

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CFL QB Bo Levi Mitchell hopes for NFL chance

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It has been a while since the NFL has seen a quarterback make a successful jump from the Canadian Football League, but it certainly isn’t without precedent.

Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia and Joe Theismann all starred in Canada before thriving in the U.S. and Doug Flutie did the same after returning from the CFL for a second NFL stint. Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell hopes to get a chance to do the same thing.

Mitchell was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player last year while taking Calgary to the Grey Cup and was the MVP of Canada’s title game after the 2014 season. That success has the Texas native and Eastern Washington product with a desire to see if he can make it in the NFL as well.

“I think about it all the time,” Mitchell said, via Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. “Just now in training camp, there were seven or eight scouts who came in. I know there’s been some talk in the NFL about me. When my time comes, the NFL has been my dream since I was a kid. I’ll take that shot. … I know it’s not the easiest thing. I’ve seen a lot of guys attempt to do it. But I feel I can play. I feel like I can be a Warren Moon, a Garcia, a Doug Flutie, a guy who comes from the CFL and plays in the league for a long time.”

Mitchell is under contract for two more years, so a jump over the border isn’t imminent. It may also be a long shot.

Mitchell, who opted for a CFL contract over a tryout with the Texans coming out of college in 2012, says he’s also looking for “a perfect situation” and a better one than his current standing with the Stampeders may not develop even if he continues to thrive in Calgary.

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Drew Stanton thinks NFL has a QB development problem

AP

Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton entered the league as a second-round pick of the Lions in 2007 and has spent the last decade serving as a backup in Detroit, Indianapolis and Arizona.

Stanton has seen a lot of quarterbacks move through the league over that time and that experience has left him with strong views about how the league handles the development of young quarterbacks. Like a lot of other people, Stanton believes they aren’t doing a very good job and points to the move away from having a third quarterback on the inactive list on Sundays as a particular problem.

“It’s so hard to develop as a quarterback in this league nowadays,” Stanton said, via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com. “The NFL is, unfortunately, heading into a bad trend. When I first got in the league, you could be an inactive third on game day like I was when I was younger. That transitions into now, they’re trying to save spots and get guys to the practice squad.”

Stanton’s coach Bruce Arians made it clear that’s the case in Arizona when discussing Cardinals backups Stanton, Blaine Gabbert and Trevor Knight. Arians said keeping a third quarterback on the active roster comes down to whether he’s “the best player, regardless of position” and the fact that quarterbacks don’t play special teams plays a role in that decision.

Even if the league were to revert to the old inactive arrangement, there would still be limits on how much work quarterbacks down the depth chart get with teams preparing their starter to win games every week. That’s one of the reasons why there have been frequent calls for a true developmental league in the vein of the departed NFL Europe, although those calls haven’t led the league to take action at this point.

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NFL’s OTT service could let it cut out the middleman

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While Amazon may indeed become a key part of the NFL’s immediate future when it comes to the so-called OTT broadcasting of games, there’s another option that the league quietly is considering: Cutting out the middleman and streaming games directly to customers.

As recently explained by John Ourand of SportsBusiness Journal, the NFL has been selling live games directly to consumers in Europe, and the league currently is focused on growing the product. While the league currently doesn’t sell live game action to domestic consumers, it could just be a matter of time before the NFL creates a similar product that would allow the league to manage the experience and retain all revenue.

The question becomes whether a service like Amazon will offer enough money for the ability to stream games in order to make it more financially viable for the league to simply collect the rights fees in lieu of creating its own in-house streaming business.

But here’s the one thing to keep in mind. Even with OTT being a big part of the league’s future, broadcast TV via free over-the-air networks won’t be going away, especially since the NFL would risk losing its broadcast antitrust exemption if the league stops making football available on free TV, a practice the NFL championed several years ago while stubbornly (and clumsily) defending the blackout rule.

Regardless of how it all plays out, big changes are looming for the way live NFL games are consumed, from the way that we watch to the way that the league gets paid for it to, ultimately, how much money the NFL continues to make. Despite the league’s popularity, the NFL has benefited over the years from the willingness of networks to overpay for pro football. If/when that ends, it will be difficult for the league to continue to grow the multi-billion-dollar pie.

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