Tanking talk leads to heated baseball debate

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In the NBA, teams tank to get better draft position. In baseball, tanking has more to do with saving money, and in turn making money. As a result, tales of baseball tanking typically don’t land on the PFT radar screen, since NFL teams would (do) tank not to save money but to enhance draft standing. This specific story about tanking, however, is worth your time on a somewhat slow Saturday.

Via Deadspin, an upcoming interview of Marlins partial owner and CEO Derek Jeter by Bryant Gumbel of HBO includes a contentious exchange, with Jeter (who was beloved as a player and who quickly has become reviled as an executive) not taking well to talk of tanking.

It started with Jeter actually asking Bryant Gumbel “What is . . . tanking?” And it went downhill from there.

Jeter argues that the team isn’t tanking because the team is competing, and he refuses to entertain the distinction between bad players competing and good players competing. He also accuses Gumbel of being “mentally weak,” and Jeter glosses over the inherent difference between competing and contending.

The story caught my eye because of the clumsy, awkward, condescending manner in which Jeter handles himself, proving yet again that the mere fact that a person played a sport at a high level doesn’t mean he has any business running a sports team. It also underscores the reality that, regardless of the reason, a fundamental disconnect exists between the importance of making fans believe that winning is the only thing while also making decisions based on broader business considerations that sometimes run contrary to doing everything necessary to win.

For NFL teams, those business considerations are painfully obvious. If you’re already bad, be as bad as you can be, in order to lay the foundation to get better. As long as the draft is based on the worst teams getting dibs, the games will not have full and complete integrity, because some of the games at the end of the season will feature teams whose management realizes that the only way to truly win is to lose.

Sam Darnold could be the sixth USC player drafted first overall

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No college has produced more than five first overall picks in the NFL draft. But if the Browns take Sam Darnold first overall on Thursday night, he’ll be the sixth No. 1 pick from USC.

Southern Cal is one of three schools to have five first overall draft picks. The others, Auburn and Notre Dame, don’t have any players with a chance to go first overall this year. But Darnold remains under consideration for the Browns.

USC’s previous first overall picks were tackle Ron Yary to the Vikings in 1968, running back O.J. Simpson to the Bills in 1969, running back Ricky Bell to the Buccaneers in 1977, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson to the Jets in 1996, and quarterback Carson Palmer to the Bengals in 2003.

USC has also had the most first-round picks of any school since 1967, when the AFL and NFL combined their drafts. USC has had 69 first-round picks. Ohio State is next with 64, Miami has had 60, and no other school has had even 50 first-round picks in the common draft era.

Amnesty International gives Colin Kaepernick its Ambassador of Conscience Award


Colin Kaepernick knew that taking a stand would negatively impact his football career. He did it anyway.

On Saturday, Amnesty International recognized his sacrifice by giving him the Ambassador of Conscience Award.

“Racialized oppression and dehumanization is woven into the very fabric of our nation — the effects of which can be seen in the lawful lynching of black and brown people by the police, and the mass incarceration of black and brown lives in the prison industrial complex,” Kaepernick said, via the New York Times. “How can you stand for the national anthem of a nation that preaches and propagates ‘freedom and justice for all’ that is so unjust to so many of the people living there?”

Former 49ers teammate Eric Reid, who like Kaepernick is now experiencing the practical consequences of exercising a right given to him by the NFL to not stand during the national anthem, presented Kaepernick with the award.

“Eric introducing me for this prestigious award brings me great joy,” Kaepernick said. “But I am also pained by the fact that his taking a knee, and demonstrating courage to protect the rights of black and brown people in America, has also led to his ostracization from the NFL when he is widely recognized as one of the best competitors in the game and in the prime of his career.”

Previous recipients of the Ambassador of Conscience Award include Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai.

“In truth, this is an award that I share with all of the countless people throughout the world combating the human rights violations of police officers, and their uses of oppressive and excessive force,” Kaepernick said.

Regardless of who agrees or disagrees with Kaepernick’s cause or the manner in which he has chosen to advance it, none can credibly dispute the fact that he has lost his employment in the NFL because of it. Some continue to justify the NFL’s shunning of Kaepernick and Reid by explaining that players who choose to protest during the national anthem are “bad for business” (and by attacking those who speak out in support of them) without recognizing the reality that the NFL gave them the right to protest during the national anthem in 2009, the NFL confirmed the existence of the right to protest during the national anthem after Kaepernick was spotted doing so in 2016, and the NFL reiterated the right to protest during the national anthem when the President suggested that the NFL’s reaction as to any player who protests during the national anthem should be to “get that son of a bitch off the field.”

Although the NFL expressed strong disagreement with that message at the time it was delivered, it’s precisely what the NFL has done to Kaepernick and Reid.

Alleged victim in Reuben Foster case could be planning to refuse to cooperate

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Most domestic violence cases ultimately hinge on the willingness of the alleged victim to cooperate. In the case involving 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster, some are speculating that the alleged victim will not be cooperating.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reports that the alleged victim in Foster’s case has hired a lawyer. The lawyer, Stephanie Rickard, has confirmed her role, but she declined to say why the alleged victim, Foster’s former girlfriend, has retained counsel.

As Barrows explains it, some victims in domestic violence cases hire lawyers in order to explore and to understand their rights, if they want to not testify or not cooperate with the authorities.

If the alleged victim won’t cooperate, it becomes much more difficult to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal court, especially if the only witnesses to the incident were the two people involved in it. If the alleged victim in this case refuses to cooperate with the NFL, it becomes virtually impossible to find the player to be in violation of the Personal Conduct Policy.

In Ezekiel Elliott‘s case, the alleged victim submitted to multiple interviews with the league, making it easier for the league to harvest evidence that supported his suspension. If the alleged victim in Foster’s case refuses to speak to the NFL, the NFL will be required to find other evidence of wrongdoing.

It all means that, regardless of guilt or innocence, Foster could end up avoiding both a conviction and a suspension. Which could explain why the 49ers have opted not to make any quick decisions about the situation. In the end, there may be nothing that keeps Foster from continuing his NFL career.

Some TNF games scheduled for FOX could end up on FS1

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The NFL changed Thursday Night Football from a cable-only operation to a part-cable-only, part-broadcast-simulcast package in order to reach a larger audience (and to make more money) with its late-week prime-time game. For the next five years, there’s a chance that some of those broadcast simulcasts will end up being cable simulcasts.

John Ourand of SportsBusiness Journal reports that up to two of the 2018 Thursday night games scheduled for FOX could be bumped to FS1 due to potential conflicts with World Series games. Those conflicts would arise if late-October weather impacts baseball’s championship round.

A problem would arise if one of the early games results in a World Series contest shifting to Thursday, October 25. If that happens, Dolphins-Texans would move from broadcast to cable. And any delay of any game could result in Game Seven moving from Wednesday, October 31 to Thursday, November 1, forcing Raiders-49ers off of the parent network.

Regardless of the chances of a conflict occurring (the geography of the games and, obviously, the weather will determine this one), it’s something that could happen in any of the five years that TNF will be televised by FOX. And while the NFL surely knew about the possibility before doing the deal — and undoubtedly won’t be getting any less money if it happens — a risk remains that the games will generate much lower ratings if they are moved from broadcast to cable. While that can be explained away easily if it happens, the fact remains that fewer people will have seen games that the league clearly wants as many people as possible to see.

Of course, there’s a much more important question arising from this situation: Why would the NFL lose a showdown with baseball? Yes, it’s the World Series. But pro football remains king (despite those who would love that it not be), and the past 60 years have proven that, in the rock-scissors-paper game that is the American sports landscape, the NFL is all three.

Gronk: I won’t be at Patriots’ workouts, I’ve got dirt biking to work on

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Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski isn’t planning to show up for the team’s voluntary offseason workouts, and he isn’t shy about explaining why: Right now his focus is dirt bikes.

Gronk was at Gillette Stadium today not for the Patriots but for a Supercross Foxboro event, and when asked what he’s been up to recently, he answered, “I’ve been training for this dirt biking.”

Wearing full Supercross gear, Gronkowski was asked whether he’ll be at the Patriots’ upcoming voluntary workouts.

“No,” Gronkowski answered. “I’ve got dirt biking skills to work on.”

Gronk was kidding (we think) about dirt biking being his top offseason priority, but he still hasn’t said whether he’s going to play another season in the NFL or retire from football. Gronkowski acknowledged after the Super Bowl that he’s going to take some time to think about his future, and right now he seems to be enjoying life away from the field.

Saturday one-liners

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The Dolphins will go 8-8 or 2-14, depending on how the predictions from ESPN are interpreted.

Despite retirements and a trade, the Bills still have some offensive linemen left.

A look at the most memorable calls from the late Gil Santos, who worked 743 games over 36 seasons for the Patriots.

The Jets like their options at No. 3. (Given that they traded up from No. 6 to get there, that’s encouraging.)

The Ravens are holding a Draft Fest next Saturday at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore.

Does the Bengals’ schedule translate to a breakout year for RB Joe Mixon?

Mike Mayock has a gut feeling the Browns will draft QB Sam Darnold with pick No. 1.

The Steelers are hoping to draft a replacement for LB Ryan Shazier.

Texans G.M. Brian Gaine wants high-character players.

With the Colts shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3, LB John Simon will play right defensive end.

The Jaguars are way-too-early four-point favorites for the Week One return of Tom Coughlin to New York.

The Titans’ secondary showed up on Friday night to support the local hockey team.

The website owned and operated by the Broncos is arguing that the Broncos should trade down from No. 5.

Chiefs G.M. Brett Veach wasn’t bashful about admitting that he’s looking for defensive help.

The Raiders won’t go to England early before their October 14 game against Seattle.

Chargers CB Casey Hayward says he’s the best cornerback in the game. (The unofficial list of cornerbacks who believe that is 25.)

Coach K visited the Cowboys.

Giants coach Pat Shurmur plans to bring back joint practices.

The Eagles have plenty of receivers, but maybe they’ll add one in the draft.

Here are five options for Washington’s first-round pick.

Bears DE Akiem Hicks hates the draft, since it means that someone could be coming to replace him.

The Lions could land S Glover Quin‘s eventual replacement in the draft.

The Packers want defensive line depth.

50 years ago, the Vikings tried to land RB O.J. Simpson with the first pick in the draft.

The Falcons have an obvious need at defensive tackle.

TE Greg Olsen most likely will play for the Panthers in 2018; after that, who knows?

With six picks looming on day three of the draft, the Saints will be hoping to find more diamonds in the rough.

Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston and WR Mike Evans sat courtside for a Miami Heat game.

Deone Bucannon is suddenly the second most senior member of the Cardinals defense.

Will Philly fans once again take over the Coliseum when their team visits the Rams in December?

The media is doubting the Seahawks.

The 49ers are looking for some lean, mean, fighting machines on the offensive line.

Huge week coming for PFT Live, PFT PM

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It’s draft week, which means there will be plenty of news, analysis, etc. right here at ProFootballTalk.com. Including our first (and only) mock draft of the year.

It’s also a huge week for the official PFT radio/TV show and podcast, with a cornucopia of first-round prospects.

The guest list for either or both shows includes Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, Calvin Ridley, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Roquan Smith, and possibly more. (Previously, we’ve talked to Derwin James, Derrius Guice, Denzel Ward, and Leighton Vander Esch.)

Since the Josh Allen interview already has been taped, you don’t have to wait until Monday to hear it. It’s attached to this post.

You also won’t have to wait to hear the podcast for either show. Subscribe here to PFT Live. Subscribe here to PFT PM. And remember to rate and review both of them.

Tom Coughlin, Dave Caldwell lavish praise on Lamar Jackson

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The Jaguars signed Blake Bortles to a three-year contract. Which leaves the door open for the drafting of a quarterback this year or next year.

Which makes anything the team says about this year’s crop of quarterbacks even more intriguing. Especially when most teams never say much of anything about any incoming player.

I think he’s an outstanding young man,” Jaguars executive V.P. of football operations Tom Coughlin said Friday during a pre-draft press conference, via Phillip Heilman of the Florida Times-Union. “I think he’s an extremely talented athlete.”

G.M. Dave Caldwell echoed Coughlin.

“He’s a rare athlete,” Caldwell said. “As a quarterback, he’s a good player. He won a lot of games at that position. [Drafting him] depends what your scheme is, what you want to do and how you want to play and how he fits. I can’t say he’s the prototypical pocket passer, but you can win games with a guy like him.”

Given that the Jaguars have won games with a guy like Blake Bortles, plenty of Jaguars fans secretly hope that Jackson ends up in Jacksonville. Still, it’s unlikely that the Jaguars will get a crack at Jackson, since the team holds the 29th overall pick in the draft. But if he slips, a trade becomes theoretically possible, and things could get very interesting for a team that nearly made it to the Super Bowl with Bortles. If Jackson plays in the NFL like he did at Louisville, the Jaguars could become the league’s next dynasty.

NFL has no comment on Eli Manning’s pending fraud trial

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With Giants quarterback Eli Manning facing a fraud trial in New Jersey Superior Court, he apparently doesn’t have a problem in the Court of Roger Goodell. Yet.

The NFL had declined comment regarding whether the latest development in the memorabilia fraud case against Manning and the Giants pulls the situation within the Personal Conduct Policy or has sparked an investigation under the policy. A Thursday ruling from the presiding judge determined that Manning will be the only defendant who faces a claim of common-law fraud before a jury.

The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy specifically prohibits “[c]rimes of dishonesty such as blackmail, extortion, fraud, money laundering, or racketeering.” (Emphasis added.) More generally, the policy forbids “[c]onduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL personnel.”

Eli Manning is one of the most liked and respected players in the NFL. I like and respect him. But if a jury finds that he perpetrated a fraud regarding game-used helmets that weren’t actually game-used, those two portions of the Personal Conduct Policy can’t be ignored.

The league may, if Eli eventually is found to have committed fraud under New Jersey civil laws, contend that there’s a difference between civil and criminal fraud. However, fraud is fraud.

Under New Jersey civil law, fraud happens when someone lies about an important factual matter (“this helmet I’m selling was game used”), when the person knows or believes he’s lying (“this helmet I’m selling was never actually game used”), when the person wants someone else to rely on the lie (“I hope they accept this helmet as game used even though it isn’t”), when someone else relies on it (“I’ve pulled it off“),  and when the person who relies on it experiences a loss of money or other tangible harm. Under federal law, fraud becomes a crime when the means to perpetrate it are the mail (mail fraud) or electronic communications (wire fraud).

In this case, the question of whether a New Jersey civil fraud becomes federal criminal wire fraud may hinge on that one specific email sent by Eli Manning requesting “2 helmets that can pass as game used.” Technical defenses could include an argument that the email message never actually crossed state lines. Even if the sender and recipient are located in the same state, it’s hard to imagine every email ever sent not crossing state lines as it moves from sender to server to another server to recipient.

And even if Eli Manning is never charged with wire fraud, Ezekiel Elliott was never charged with a crime, either. Which underscores one of the major problems that the NFL created for itself when establishing an in-house operation that investigates, prosecutes, and convicts under a vague, shadowy, confusing process that seems to be guided more by P.R. than by notions of fairness and justice.

While the NFL’s “no comment” doesn’t mean the NFL isn’t investigating the situation, the NFL typically isn’t bashful about acknowledging when a Personal Conduct Policy investigation has been launched. In this case, “no comment” could instead mean something like, “Oh crap we’ve created a monster that could force us into taking action against someone we don’t really want to take action against.”

Colts remain high on Jacoby Brissett, have turned down trades

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Early in the offseason, the Colts turned down two trade offers for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. And although they insist Andrew Luck will be healthy and ready to start this season, they remain committed to keeping Brissett on the roster as well.

Colts G.M. Chris Ballard heaped praise on Brissett and said he’s the perfect backup to Luck, meaning the Colts would have to be bowled over with an offer before they’d be willing to part with Brissett.

“He’s committed, he’s a great teammate, he’s got juice, he holds people accountable, he holds himself accountable. I love Jacoby,” Ballard said, via Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star. “Jacby Brissett is going to play in this league a long time. If I learned anything last year, it was the value of a backup quarterback who can get it done, and I think Jacoby can do that.”

Brissett still has two years left on his rookie contract, at salaries of $735,000 this year and $890,000 next year. Those are bargain prices, which makes it easy for the Colts to stay committed to Brissett as the backup, and not have to worry about what they’ll do if Luck gets hurt again.

Jets pick up Leonard Williams’ fifth-year option

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Unsurprisingly, the Jets won’t be letting defensive lineman Leonard Williams leave any time soon.

The Jets announced on Saturday morning that they have picked up the fifth-year option on Williams’ contract.

Williams was the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, and he’s developed into a quality starter who hasn’t missed a game. So picking up his option was an easy decision.

This year Williams remains a bargain, with a salary of $2.975 million. Next year, with his fifth-year option picked up, his salary skyrockets to $14.2 million.

First overall pick Jameis Winston, second overall pick Marcus Mariota, fifth overall pick Brandon Scherff and 13th overall pick Andrus Peat have also had their fifth-year options picked up. The full list of fifth-year option decisions from the 2015 first round is right here.

Reggie McKenzie says he and Jon Gruden are on the same page in the draft

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Who’s really calling the shots in the Raiders’ draft room, General Manager Reggie McKenzie or coach Jon Gruden? McKenzie says he doesn’t see it ever coming to a head.

McKenzie told reporters Friday that after three months of working with Gruden, he’s confident that the two of them are close enough in the way they evaluate draft picks that they’re not going to disagree when the Raiders are on the clock next week.

“I’ve got a feeling for Coach Gruden. We like the same type of players,” McKenzie said. “Just good football players. It’s not about height, weight, speed or where they come from. It’s about who they are as players, do they love playing football. All those characteristics you truly like about football players.”

Although McKenzie has the title that would seem to give him the authority on draft day, the reality is the coach who negotiated a 10-year, $100 million contract directly with the owner is probably going to be the one who gets to call the shots if push comes to shove. Fortunately for McKenzie, he believes that is not going to happen.

Alabama heading for a 10th straight draft with a first-round pick

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On Thursday night, Alabama has four players who are likely to go in the first round of the NFL draft: safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, linebacker Rashaan Evans and defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne. When Roger Goodell calls one of those names, it will mark 10 straight years with an Alabama player in the first round.

That’s a rare thing: Alabama currently has nine straight drafts with a first-round pick, tying it with Florida from 1983 to 1991 for the second-most consecutive drafts for a school to have a player chosen in the first round.

But once Alabama moves to 10 straight years, it will still be a ways away from the all-time record: Miami had 14 consecutive drafts with a first-round pick, from 1995 to 2008.

Given the talent Alabama recruits, there’s every reason to believe that Alabama players will keep going in the first round in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. That’s when Alabama would tie Miami’s record for the most consecutive drafts with a first-round pick.

Aaron Rodgers buys stake in Milwaukee Bucks

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When the inevitable comparisons happen in July between no-name NBA players who make millions more as free agents than star players in the NFL, one star player in the NFL will have a unique perspective on the issue.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has become one of the owners of one of the teams that will be giving those huge contracts to mid-level pro basketball players. Specifically, Rodgers has become a minority owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.

“I have proudly called Wisconsin my home for the past 13 years, and I am thankful for the friendships and the opportunities I have been given to live and play here,” Rodgers in a statement released by the Bucks, via ESPN.com. “I am excited and honored to deepen my connection to the region by joining Wes Edens, Marc Lasry, Jamie Dinan, Mike Fascitelli and the ownership group of the Milwaukee Bucks. As a huge fan of the NBA and the sport of basketball, this is a dream come true for me, and I look forward to furthering my affinity for Wisconsin sports as a minority owner in a team I love and support.”

At a time when friction reportedly has emerged between Rodgers and Wisconsin’s only NFL team, his decision to buy a piece of Wisconsin’s only NBA team coupled with a statement in which he reconfirms his commitment to Wisconsin makes it clear that, if he ever leaves the Packers, it won’t be his decision.

The comments also could get more Packers fans behind Rodgers in the slowly-simmering back-and-forth that ultimately flows from the team’s failure to address a contract that has Rodgers woefully underpaid in comparison to other quarterbacks — specifically in his own division, where Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins makes $28 million per year and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford earns $27 million annually. Rodgers, at $22 million per year, has accomplished more than both of them, combined.

Indeed, Cousins and Stafford have combined for zero career postseason wins.

While this transaction likely won’t be the catalyst for Rodgers getting the $30 million per year that he deserves, it’s definitely a factor to consider at a time when player and team occupy an awkward posture as he enters the final years of his career. If he ends up finishing that career elsewhere, he’s doing what he can to make it very difficult for any Packers fans to blame him for it.