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NFL morning after: Peyton’s place in history

AP

The list of players who have won at least five MVP awards in the major sports reads like a who’s who of the greatest athletes in history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan in the NBA. Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky in the NHL. Barry Bonds (perhaps with an asterisk) in Major League Baseball. And that’s it.

Peyton Manning, who almost certainly clinched the fifth Most Valuable Player award of his stellar NFL career, is about to join that list.

We could debate where Manning ranks among the all-time great quarterbacks in football history, but I almost think that’s too narrow a debate. Perhaps the discussion needs to be where Manning ranks among the great competitors in the history of sports.

Think about all Manning has accomplished. He’s already the only NFL player who has ever won four MVP awards. He already owns several NFL records and will most likely own every significant career passing record before he’s finished. In addition to his fifth MVP award this year, he’s also going to get his 13th Pro Bowl selection and his seventh first-team All-Pro selection and perhaps his eighth offensive player of the year award. Last year he added a comeback player of the year award to his trophy case. In college he was a first-team All-American and winner of the Sullivan Award as America’s greatest amateur athlete. In high school he was the national player of the year.

Manning broke the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season in Sunday’s win over the Texans, with his 51st touchdown pass of the year giving the Broncos their final score in an easy win. Next week he’s likely to break the NFL record for passing yards in a season, as the Broncos just need to beat the Raiders to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They’re one win away from heading into the postseason as the favorites to come out of the AFC and go to the Super Bowl. But as I was watching that unfold on Sunday, I was thinking two somewhat contradictory things.

First, I was thinking that it’s undeniable how great Peyton Manning is. He’s been an American sports star since he was a teenager, and he’s the best player in the NFL today at age 37. He’s about to get his fifth MVP, and there are another few seasons when he had a good case for the award (including last year, when he came in second). He’s just consistently amazing.

But the second thing I was thinking is that, no matter how much he does individually, he won’t be remembered as the greatest ever if he doesn’t get a second Super Bowl ring. That’s not right — football is the ultimate team sport, and no one wins or loses alone — but that’s the way it is. If any team other than the Broncos is hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the first Sunday in February, this will be remembered as another year when Peyton Manning didn’t get it done.

To me, though, Manning’s place in history is secure. He’s the best quarterback who ever lived.

Manning was the player who impressed me most on Sunday. Below are some other thoughts:

Dallas has a badly coached defense. We’ve been talking all season about what a bad job Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is doing, and there are many examples of that, but I was particularly struck by how ill-prepared the Dallas defense was when Washington showed a new formation on Sunday. With Washington’s offense lining up four receivers to the left side early in the second half, the Dallas secondary didn’t know how to line up in coverage, and so they blew a timeout — and then Dallas gave up a touchdown pass two plays after that timeout. If your defense is wasting timeouts because you can’t figure out what the other team’s offense is doing, and if you can’t get your coverage straightened out even after you’ve called timeout, you’ve got serious problems. Firing Rob Ryan and hiring Kiffin was a huge mistake for the Cowboys.

Weird call that I liked: Longtime Jaguars center Brad Meester had never caught a pass in his NFL career, but because he was playing his last home game after announcing that he’ll retire at the end of the season, the Jags decided to call a trick play with Meester as an eligible receiver. Sure enough, Meester caught the pass and then made a nifty little move to run for a first down. The Jaguars have had a rough season, but they haven’t quit on coach Gus Bradley, and plays like that pass to Meester show why: Players enjoy playing for a coach who makes football fun, and what’s more fun than letting a 300-pound 36-year-old catch a pass?

Weird call that I disliked, Part 1: With the Broncos facing fourth-and-3 in Houston, the offense stayed on the field, and I liked that decision — Denver’s offense should be able to pick up three yards on Houston’s defense. But I hated the play they ran, with Peyton Manning throwing a short pass to tight end Julius Thomas, who was tackled for a two-yard gain. If you’re throwing on fourth down, throw past the line to gain.

Weird call that I disliked, Part 2: With the Titans facing fourth-and-goal in Jacksonville, the offense stayed on the field, and I liked that decision — you’ve got nothing to lose, why not go for it? But I hated the play they ran, with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing it out the back of the end zone. If you’re throwing on fourth down, don’t throw it away.

Terron Armstead wasn’t ready. Armstead, the rookie left tackle inserted into the Saints’ starting lineup for the first time on Sunday, looked pretty much the way you’d expect a rookie from a small school like Arkansas-Pine Bluff to look in his first NFL start. The Saints have had problems on their offensive line all year, and I understand why Sean Payton wanted to see if Armstead could help protect Drew Brees’s blind side, but Armstead simply wasn’t up to the task. The Panthers’ pass rush terrorized Brees all day.

Luke Kuechly is amazing. The flip side of the Saints’ offense struggling is that the Panthers’ defense was incredible in Sunday’s win over New Orleans. Kuechly, the second-year linebacker, had an unbelievable day: His 24 tackles were tied for the most the NFL has ever recorded by one player in a game, since tackles began being tracked as a statistic in 1994. Kuechly also became the first player since Derrick Brooks to record 20 tackles and an interception in the same game.

How can teams play so badly, with so much on the line? The Bears entered Sunday night knowing a win would clinch the NFC North. They lost 54-11. The Ravens entered Sunday knowing that if they won out they’d make the playoffs. They lost 41-7. The Lions entered Sunday knowing they needed to win to stay alive. They lost at home to the woeful Giants. The Dolphins entered Sunday knowing that if they won out they’d make the playoffs. They were destroyed by the hapless Bills.

We have an exciting Week 17 ahead of us. Some years all of the top teams are locked into their playoff spots before the season’s final Sunday. But not this year. Only one team, the Chiefs, knows its playoff seed (No. 5 in the AFC). Every other contender still has something to play for. We’re going to see some great football on Sunday. Including, I expect, Peyton Manning to set a new NFL record for passing yards in a season while leading the Broncos to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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Report: Seahawks to sign linebacker Michael Wilhoite

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Even with the signing of Arthur Brown last week, the Seattle Seahawks still see a need for depth at linebacker.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Seahawks are addressing that need by signing former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite.

It has essentially led to a swap of middle linebackers between the two teams as backup middle linebacker Brock Coyle signed with the 49ers in the first few days of free agency.

Wilhoite has appeared in 65 games with San Francisco over the last five seasons and has started 34 games in the last three seasons. However, unless he can transition to playing strong-side linebacker in Seattle’s 4-3 scheme, Wilhoite is joining the Seahawks as a backup to Bobby Wagner and special teams contributor.

Mike Morgan – Seattle’s starting strong-side linebacker from last season – remains unsigned.

Wilhoite recorded 55 tackles in 16 games played for the 49ers last season. He joins Kevin Pierre-Louis, Dewey McDonald, Ronald Powell and Brown as depth at linebacker behind Wagner and K.J. Wright.

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Competition Committee proposes change to hiring procedures for coaches

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The NFL has plenty of rules that often are ignored. Unless those rules are going to be enforced, they should be changed.

Case in point: The current rules prohibit teams from hiring head coaches employed as assistants by other teams whose postseasons have not yet ended. Twice in the last three years, however, the worst-kept secret in the NFL centered on a team having a deal in place with an assistant from a Super Bowl team.

And so the rule could be going away. The Competition Committee has proposed a rule change permitting a club to “negotiate and reach an agreement with a head coach candidate during the postseason prior to the conclusion of the employer club’s season.”

It’s a rule that is long overdue. It was overdue two years ago, when the Falcons had a wink-nod deal in place with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. And it’s even more overdue now, after the 49ers had a wink-nod deal in place with former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Will it be a distraction for the assistant coach? Nope. If anything, it will remove the potential distraction that arises when a guy who knows that, if his team keeps winning, he won’t get hired. That happened five years ago, when the Buccaneers decided they could no longer wait for former Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

And, yeah, that’s Gantt in the background of the photo. After putting up a photo of the new guy earlier, I need to find a way to make it up to the rest of the crew.

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Eagles propose allowing teams to have second helmet

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Several years ago, the NFL eliminated the ability of teams to have multiple helmets, based on the notion that keeping players in the same helmet all year long in some way helps manage or minimize concussions. The NCAA, with teams like Oregon that have a different helmet every week, clearly disagrees.

The Eagles do, too. They have proposed te rule change that, if passed, would allow teams to have an alternate helmet in a color that matches their third uniform.

Barring convincing medical evidence that having multiple helmets a health risk beyond the health risk already assumed when playing football, it makes sense to let teams have a second helmet. And I say that fully aware of the potential abominations that Nike will concoct if/when it acquires the ability to do so.

Then again, the Eagles previously did a pretty good job of screwing up an alternate helmet without Nike’s help.

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Report: Bears finalizing deal with Mark Sanchez

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Whatever cure is required for the quarterback situation in Chicago, it seems, won’t be found at this late stage in free agency. The best hope for remedy on the current roster comes in the form of Mike Glennon, he of 11 passes the past two seasons combined.

Depth, though, is depth.

The Bears appear on the brink of adding some.

Veteran journeyman Mark Sanchez is on the cusp of signing with the Bears, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported. This will be the fifth NFL team for the ex-USC quarterback, who has bounced from the Jets to Eagles to Broncos to Cowboys and now Bears since 2014.

Sanchez, 30, completed 10 of 18 passes in his lone season with the Cowboys, notching 93 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

But it’s all relative.

Elsewhere on the Bears’ QB depth chart today, Glennon threw 11 passes in 2016, and Connor Shaw threw none. So 11 compared to Sanchez’ 18.

See, things are starting to look up. And Donald Trump won’t tweet about this one.

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Joe Greene didn’t want to play in Pittsburgh

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Strange as it may sound to folks who have followed football for most of the last five decades, the Steelers at one point stunk. They stunk bad. The turning point, in hindsight, came with the hiring of coach Chuck Noll in 1969.

When Noll and the Steelers made defensive tackle Joe Greene the fourth overall pick in the ’69 draft, no one knew that things were going to change. As a result, Greene wasn’t happy to learn he’d be coming to Pittsburgh.

Greene explained his adverse reaction to becoming a Steeler during a Thursday visit to PFT Live. He also talked about the one time that he was actually intimidated on an NFL field, via a story that is well worth your time.

It will also be worth your time to check out Greene’s memoir, Mean Joe Greene: Built By Football. It’s available early next month; you can pre-order it now.

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Rams add DT Tyrunn Walker

AP

The Rams aren’t necessarily among the NFL teams that scream in need of defensive-line help.

On Thursday, they add a veteran and will hope he helps.

Los Angeles announced it agreed to terms with veteran defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker. He started eight games in 2016 for the Lions but underperformed, going from starter to a reserve player who was benched for a midseason game. He’ll work to gain favor with a fresh start on a line featuring Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Dominique Easley.

Walker, 27, played 353 defensive snaps in 2016. He appeared in 15 games, finishing the season with 26 tackles and no sacks.

The 2012 undrafted free agent from Tulsa missed all but four games in 2015 to a broken leg.

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‘It’s good?’ Possible bonus for kickoff between uprights

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Two referees stand beneath the goal post before a field-goal or extra-point attempt, waiting there to determine if a kick sails beyond the crossbar and between the uprights for a successful conversion.

Imagine that for kickoffs, too

Such is one rules-change proposal that will be considered next week at the NFL owner meetings. This one, proposed by Washington owner Dan Snyder, stands to reward a team whose kickoff is ruled “good” with field position, as its opponent would start the ensuing drive at the 20-yard line as opposed to the expected 25.

This is not the first time something like this has been discussed. Last November, the Ravens banged the drum for a one-point scoreboard incentive on such straight-shot kicks. (Note: We need to find a name for these. Kickoff conversions?)

Snyder’s rule proposal is a tamer version, albeit one that still incentivizes touchbacks and thereby furthers the NFL’s player-safety cause.

Potential drawbacks to the rule, other than its ease for video gamers, appear few. One potential concern that could be raised, however, is whether or not the monitoring of a “good” kickoff will compromise the crew’s ability to position itself properly for a returned kickoff.

Currently, one referee stands near the goal post for kickoffs. If kickoffs are to be judged like field goals and extra points, a second official would have to join him or her. If a converted kickoff is a one-person ruling, this concern is rendered moot.

Secondly, there is the matter of doing too much. Last year, the league made the extra point more interesting — and, some might argue, too interesting — when turning a gimme try into a 33-yard attempt. “Kickoff conversions” would be the latest example of making a wrinkle of something that once was routine.

Too many wrinkles can be off-putting.

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Dan Snyder wants to be able to opt out of “Color Rush”

Washington did not play a Thursday night game last season, which means Washington did not wear a “Color Rush” uniform. Dan Snyder would like to keep it that way.

Among the 2017 NFL rules proposals announced today is one by Washington which would change league bylaws to allow teams to opt out of the Color Rush uniforms.

Under current rules, teams playing on the “Color Rush” Thursday night games have to wear the uniforms. Washington didn’t have to because its only Thursday game was on Thanksgiving afternoon, so the only visual evidence we have that Color Rush uniforms were designed for the team is the promotional photo you see here.

In general, the league doesn’t like to allow teams to opt out of league-wide endeavors like “Color Rush,” so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Snyder’s fellow owners vote down his idea. But if an owner doesn’t like how “Color Rush” looks on his team, it’s a little odd that the league can force it on him.

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Saints re-sign DL Darryl Tapp

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Two days after the Saints acquired linebacker Manti Te’o, they re-signed someone they hope can make his New Orleans debut a bit easier.

New Orleans added more help up front, striking a one-year deal with defensive end Darryl Tapp. This depth signing caps an active two-week stretch for the Saints’ defensive line, as it also secured Nick Fairley and Alex Okafor.

Tapp is entering his 12th NFL season and second in New Orleans. The 32-year-old hasn’t missed a game the past three years. In 2016, he logged 17 tackles and half a sack while playing 292 defensive snaps.

The Saints look to improve the NFL’s 27th-ranked defense from 2016.

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NFL to consider 15 new rules, 6 new bylaws, 3 new resolutions

AP

NFL owners will vote on a wide variety of potential new rules, new league bylaws and new resolutions, covering everything from whether a player can leap over the line of scrimmage on a field goal to whether a team can opt-out of the league’s “Color Rush” uniforms.

2017 rule proposals

1. By Philadelphia: Gives additional protections for long snappers on kick plays.

2. By Philadelphia: Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays.

3. By Philadelphia: Expands the “crown of helmet” foul to include “hairline” part of helmet.

4. By Philadelphia: Amends the challenge system by granting a third challenge if a club is successful on at least one of its initial two challenges, and expands reviewable plays outside of two minutes of each half.

5. By Washington: Eliminates the limit of three total challenges per team per game and eliminates the requirement that a team be successful on each of its first two challenges in order to be awarded a third challenge.

6. By Washington: Moves the line of scrimmage to the 20-yard line for any touchback where the free kick travels through the uprights.

7. By Buffalo and Seattle: Permits a coach to challenge any officials’ decision except scoring plays and turnovers.

8. By Competition Committee: Makes permanent the rule that disqualifies a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.

9. By Competition Committee: Changes the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line for one year only.

10. By Competition Committee: Reduces the length of preseason and regular season overtime periods to 10 minutes.

11. By Competition Committee: Gives a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection.

12. By Competition Committee: Makes crackback blocks prohibited by a backfield player who is in motion, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped.

13. By Competition Committee: Replaces the sideline replay monitor with a hand-held device and authorizes designated members of the Officiating department to make the final decision on replay reviews.

14. By Competition Committee: Makes it Unsportsmanlike Conduct to commit multiple fouls during the same down designed to manipulate the game clock.

15. By Competition Committee: Makes actions to conserve time illegal after the two-minute warning of either half.

2017 bylaw proposals

1. By Washington: Amends Article XVII, Section 17.1 to eliminate the mandatory cutdown to 75 Active List players.

2. By Washington: Amends Article XVII, Section 17.14 to place a player who has suffered a concussion, and who has not been cleared to play, on the club’s Exempt List, and be replaced by a player on the club’s Practice Squad on a game-by-game basis until the player is cleared to play.

3. By Washington: Amends Article XIX, Sections 19.8(B) and 19.9(B) to permit clubs to opt out of the “color rush” jerseys created for Thursday Night Football.

4. By Competition Committee: Liberalizes rules for timing, testing, and administering physical examinations to draft-eligible players at a club’s facility for one year only.

5. By Competition Committee: Changes the procedures for returning a player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness to the Active List to be similar to those for returning a player that was Designated for Return.

6. By Competition Committee; The League office will transmit a Personnel Notice to clubs on Sundays during training camp and preseason.

2017 Resolution Proposals

1. By Philadelphia: Amends the NFL’s On-Field Policy to allow clubs to have an alternate helmet in a color to match their third uniform.

2. By Competition Committee: Permits a club to negotiate and reach an agreement with a head coach candidate during the postseason prior to the conclusion of the employer club’s season.

3. By Competition Committee: Permits a contract or non-contract non-football employee to interview with and be hired by another club during the playing season, provided the employer club has consented.

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Goodell wants to cut five minutes of down time from NFL games

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell thinks the league can make games about five minutes shorter without eliminating anything fans will miss.

Goodell said on NFL Network that he believes some of the league’s ideas for cutting delays during the game can reduce the length of game from last year’s average of three hours and seven minutes to an average more like three hours and two minutes.

“We were 3:07 and change this year,” he said. “We think we probably can get probably close to five minutes of down time out of the game, so that would get somewhere in the 3:02 range.”

Goodell said he worries that if the league doesn’t eliminate down time, fans will decide to turn games off.

“There’s a lot of wasted time in there,” Goodell said. “You don’t want to give them an excuse to step out and do something else.”

Some of the NFL’s ideas include fewer commercial breaks (though not fewer commercials, as each break will now be one commercial longer), speeding up replay reviews and moving more quickly between touchdowns, extra points and kickoffs.

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Robert Kraft thanks Mexican, American authorities for finding jerseys

Tom Brady’s Super Bowl jerseys are back in New England, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement thanking authorities in both the United States and Mexico for tracking the stolen jerseys down.

“We want to thank the FBI, the Mexican authorities and the many different local agencies that were involved in the investigation and ultimate recovery of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey,” Kraft said. “Working along with the Patriots and NFL security, those agencies collectively coordinated an investigation that also led to the recovery of Tom’s missing Super Bowl XLIX jersey. It was great to have both jerseys returned to Gillette Stadium today. I don’t know that any agency could have accomplished this independently, but collectively multiple agencies – both in the U.S. and in Mexico – worked together to achieve the goal of retrieving the stolen property. It is another example of the importance of teamwork and what can be accomplished when everyone works together. We appreciate the effort of everyone involved and look forward to returning these jerseys to Tom when he gets back to New England.”

By stressing the importance of American-Mexican cooperation, Kraft could be subtly attempting to distance himself from President Trump, whom Kraft has described as a friend. The Patriots have received some criticism for the support that Kraft, Brady and Bill Belichick have given to Trump.

An employee of a Mexican newspaper who has attended multiple Super Bowls on press credentials has been identified as the suspect in the thefts, although he has not been criminally charged.

Photo via Patriots.com.

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Packers sign DL Ricky Jean Francois

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A team not usually known for its free-agency activity made a 313-pound splash Thursday.

The Packers signed former Washington defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois to a one-year, $3 million contract, a source confirmed to Pro Football Talk. ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported the story, earning an undisclosed number of Markman points.

Jean Francois, 30, appeared in all 32 games of his two-year tenure in Washington. The versatile run stopper started seven of them with 57 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

He previously visited the Seahawks and Bears before committing to Green Bay.

The Packers, known for developing and re-signing their own talent, do make the occasional exception. They bolstered their tight end position with two signings earlier this month, signing Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks.

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Jets land WR Quinton Patton after visit

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There was little in the 2016 Jets passing game to tantalize free-agent wide receivers this spring, the trio of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty and Geno Smith combining for a league-low 67.6 team quarterback rating.

But the NFL is a relationship business.

One of Quinton Patton’s led him to New York.

The former Niners wide receiver has signed with the Jets, the club announced Thursday. He reunites with offensive coordinator John Morton, who was San Francisco’s wide receivers coach during Patton’s first two years in the league.

Patton visited the organization last Saturday.

The 2013 fourth-round pick from Louisiana Tech set career highs last season with 37 catches for 408 yards. He becomes the Jets’ first wide-receiver signing since Brandon Marshall’s release on March 2. Marshall went on to sign a two-year deal with the Giants.

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Welcome, Michael Gehlken

Five days ago, we said farewell to Zac Jackson. Today, we say hello to Michael Gehlken.

The former Chargers reporter at the San Diego Union-Tribune, whose position there went away when the team did, joins us on an open-ended arrangement with the understanding that he may soon secure another opportunity to cover a West Coast franchise.

A San Diego native with a degree from UC Davis (and maybe a Ken O’Brien jersey), Gehlken joined the Union-Tribune in 2012. We’ve long admired his work, and we are very fortunate to have him (and we probably won’t be fortunate enough to have him for very long).

Please give him a warm welcome in the comments. Or make him feel at home by treating him like you treat the rest of us.

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