Bucs-Jags becomes lowest rated ESPN preseason game since 2005

AP

While it’s too early to start wringing hands and/or gnashing teeth about TV ratings for 2017, ESPN’s debut broadcast did not fare well. At all.

Via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, Thursday’s games between the Buccaneers and the Jaguars generated  a 1.6 rating. Based on numbers from Sports Media Watch, that’s the lowest rating for a preseason game since 2005.

Twelve years ago, a tape-delayed showing of a Falcons-Colts game produced a 1.5 rating.

Yes, Thursday’s game featured a pair of teams who haven’t been to the postseason in a decade. But the Jaguars have their annual “maybe they wont’ stink this year” buzz, and the Bucs are the 2017 Hard Knocks darlings.

So it should be a little alarming that so few tuned in to watch the game — even if the ongoing hemorrhaging of subscribers probably has something to do with the dip in the ESPN audience.

Bengals waive Cedric Thompson with injury settlement

Getty Images

The Bengals announced they waived safety Cedric Thompson with an injury settlement on Saturday. He had signed with the Bengals on July 31 after safeties Derron Smith and George Iloka were injured.

Smith and Iloka have returned to practice since.

During his four seasons at the University of Minnesota, Thompson made 205 tackles, five interceptions and three forced fumbles. The Dolphins made Thompson a fifth-round choice in 2015.

He spent nine games on the Vikings’ practice squad last season. They waived him May 4.

Thompson spent the 2015 season on the Dolphins’ practice squad.

Saturday one-liners

Getty Images

When it comes to the anthem protests, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has opted to say nothing.

Ravens TE Maxx Williams has been dubbed a “sneaky athlete” by coach John Harbaugh.

Bengals LB Hardy Nickerson Jr. participated in 34 total snaps in the preseason opener.

One specific moment from Browns QB DeShone Kizer in the preseason opener caught the attention, and drew the praise, of quarterbacks coach David Lee.

The Bills have not yet considered moving rookie second-rounder Dion Dawkins to LT.

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi had no issue with an illegal hit he absorbed while out of bounds on Thursday night; “It’s football,” he said.”

DT Lawrence Guy hopes to be more than just another guy (couldn’t resist) with the Patriots.

Jets special-teams coach Brant Boyer calls the kicking competition a “dog fight.” (Hopefully the loser won’t be electrocuted or drowned.)

 

The Texans have bid adieu to West Virginia.

Lost in the concern about the Jaguars’ quarterbacks is the concern about the players who block for them.

Troymaine Pope has gone from working at a Honda plant for $9 an hour to playing RB for the Colts.

Titans coach Mike Mularkey calls WR Harry Douglasinvaluable,” adding that he’s a “coach in the locker room and on the field.”

Perhaps the final audition for the Broncos’ starting QB job is coming against San Francisco.

New Chiefs G.M. Brett Veach put QB Patrick Mahomes on the team’s radar before Veach had that job.

The Raiders have plenty of issues that could impact their ability to be as good as everyone expects them to be.

The Chargers’ joint practices with New Orleans were far less violent than the joint practices with their new neighbors.

The Madden game has given one Bears QB a three-point edge over the other.

Could Greg Robinson be the answer for the Lions at left tackle?

The Packers want to see LB Kyler Fackrell translate thought into action.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer expects LT Riley Reiff to play in the third preseason game.

12,000 fans per day are expected to watch the Cowboys practice at The Star.

Some think Davis Webb is starting to look like the Giants’ eventual successor to Eli Manning.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson has no concerns about K Caleb Sturgis.

Is Washington practicing hard enough?

 

Wes Schweitzer will start at RG for the Falcons in Pittsburgh.

Here are five things to watch in the Panthers’ second preseason game.

Saints coach Sean Payton has yet to decide whether his veteran stars will play on Sunday.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter on Jameis Winston‘s wing-and-a-prayer toss to the end zone while falling down backward: “Elite quarterbacks don’t make that play.” (Doug Williams begs to differ.)

QB Drew Stanton has earned the trust of Carson Palmer.

New Rams WR Sammy Watkins continues to study the “ins and outs” of the playbook.

Here are 10 winners and 10 losers from the first 49ers training camp under Kyle Shanahan.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is “ready to role” and “excited about the season.”

Dolphins add Rey Maualuga

Getty Images

The Dolphins are adding some depth at linebacker.

Rey Maualuga has agreed to terms with Miami, according to multiple reports.

The Dolphins became interested in Maualuga after losing rookie Raekwon McMillan for the season to a torn ACL. Maualuga and Mike Hull will compete for the starting middle linebacker spot.

Maualuga previously played for Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke in Cincinnati, so he likely won’t need much time to get up to speed.

The 30-year-old Mauluga has spent his entire career with the Bengals. He started six games last season.

Calls for NFL boycott emerging from Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment

Getty Images

The crowdsourcing effort by teams like the Ravens to determine whether Colin Kaepernick should have a job now has another factor to consider: Fans who believe Kaepernick is being unfairly shunned may shun pro football.

In addition to online petitions that have lingered for the past few weeks, the Atlanta NAACP announced on Friday a boycott of the NFL.

“There will be no football in the state of Georgia if Colin Kaepernick is not on a training camp roster and given an opportunity to pursue his career,” said Gerald Griggs of the Atlanta NAACP at a Friday press conference, via fox5atlanta.com. “This is not a simple request. This is a statement. This is a demand.”

The owner of the local NFL team in Atlanta has issued a statement that states, essentially, “Don’t blame me for this.”

“I have a long record of active opposition to any symbol or behavior that represents exclusion or discrimination, both personally and in keeping with the core values of our businesses,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement provided to fox5atlanta.com. “I, along with our Family Foundation, the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United have never and will never waver from that stance.”

Another group has launched a #blackout in response to the situation with a video posted at YouTube.

“Kaepernick engaged in a silent, non-violent protest,” says Senior Pastor Deblaire Snell of the First SDA Church in Huntsville, Alabama. “He did this to raise awareness to the number of brown and black individuals that have been beaten and killed at the hands of law enforcement across this country. Since the end of last season, as a result of this protest, Colin Kaepernick has been unable to find employment in the NFL. I find that strange, seeing that the NFL has employed individuals that have been convicted of sexual assault, domestic violence, cruelty to animals, along with driving while under the influence. A number of NFL owners have come out and stated the reason they cannot employ him is because of a fear of a backlash from sponsors or a certain segment of their fan base. And it’s interesting that they’ve capitulated thus far to a certain segment of the fan base while fearing no backlash from the African-American community. . . .

“My belief is simply this. If Colin Kaepernick was willing to take a stand for those of us who are non-celebrities that would have to interact with law enforcement on a day-to-day basis, if he’s willing to take a knee for us, certainly we ought to take a stand, and stand with him.”

Over the balance of the video, various others explain that there will be a refusal to watch the NFL, a refusal to purchase NFL merchandise, and a refusal to participate in fantasy football.

“We want you to know this protest is not anti-flag, because people of color love the Stars and Stripes,” says Dr. Leslie N. Pollard, president of Oakwood University. “This protest is not anti-American, because people of color have loved this country, even when this country has not loved us back. And this protest is not anti-veteran, because we support those who have made sacrifices so that our liberties have been secured. This protest is to ensure the rights of all Americans regardless of color and creed to be heard.”

It’s one thing to launch the effort. It’s another thing for the effort to have an impact.

Regardless, the effort officially has been launched. And now the NFL and its teams will have to decide whether to risk angering one side over potentially alienating the other side.

Ideally, the NFL and its teams would forget about who it’s going to upset and instead make a decision based on the core question of right vs. wrong.

De Smith on Roger Goodell’s handling of changes to conduct policy: “He lied”

Getty Images

With still four years to go until potential labor strife, the relationship between the NFL and the NFL Players Association seems as strained as ever.

In an interview with Bryant Gumbel that debuts Tuesday night on HBO, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith addresses among other things the changes to the Personal Conduct Policy that happened after various high-profile off-field incidents in 2014.

Asks Gumbel, “When Roger Goodell can stand up there as he did and say, ‘We’re drafting a new NFL Personal Conduct Policy. We’re gonna do so in conjunction with the union,’ and then doesn’t consult the union, comes up with a new policy, that says what?”

Responds Smith, “That says he lied.”

(NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told HBO: “We repeatedly tried to engage the union but they had no interest in developing a tough and enhanced personal conduct policy.”)

Smith’s beliefs on that point suggest that the relationship between the two men isn’t good.

“He has a job,” Smith said. “And I have a job. My relationship with Roger I would argue is irrelevant.”

But does Smith trust Goodell?

“I don’t have the luxury of trust, now do I?”

Ideally, there would be mutual trust between management and labor, in any industry. Folks can disagree on fundamental issues regarding the business but ultimately be willing and able to believe what the other side says. Without that, every single thing about managing the relationship becomes harder.

Here’s how it creates real problems within the context of negotiations. If, in theory, Goodell and Smith were to talk through issues informally and Goodell or Smith were to tell the other that a proposed deal or term is acceptable and then, for whatever reason, fails to deliver a binding agreement on that point, it becomes impossible for agreements to be reached in expedient fashion between two men who: (1) should know what’s best for their constituencies; (2) should be able to make tentative commitments on behalf of their constituencies; and (3) should be able to deliver on finalizing those terms.

As more broadly applied to labor negotiations, a lack of trust forces each side to constantly read each and every letter of each and every page of each and every written document that reflects agreement made at the table, not simply to confirm that the deal says what it says but to scan for any intentional additions or omissions that alter the deal in a non-obvious way. Those tactics aren’t uncommon in business relationships, but when those things happen, it’s hard to trust.

Making it even harder for the NFLPA to trust the NFL is the skirmish that emerged in early 2016, when the league was caught with its hand in the revenue-sharing cookie jar.

“The players have seen examples over and over and over now of them skirting the rules, of them trying to go around something that was clearly intended, clearly written in a certain way,” NFLPA president Eric Winston told PFT Live at the time. “Whether it’s in personal conduct, whether it’s financial matters. I mean those things ring very loudly to players, and I field a lot of calls about this. I field calls from former players, from current players about this, and they’re upset. I mean, one of those things that go right to the core of our business is money and you can’t take from somebody and expect not to be some hard feelings, expect to be upset. It hurts everything going forward and it’s unfortunate.”

From conduct to money, these specific examples underscores the NFLPA’s belief that “trust but verify” has been replaced with “don’t trust and verify, verify, verify.” And that attitude definitely complicates things as the next round of CBA talks approaches.

Ryan Shazier back on the Steelers’ practice field

Getty Images

Injuries have slowed Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier down at times in every one of his three NFL seasons, and they kept him out of the start of camp this season as well. But he’s finally good to go for the Steelers after having to sit out most of this summer.

Shazier, who has missed the last two weeks with a hamstring injury, got back to work on Friday and said afterward that he feels fine.

“I was telling the guys on the sideline that I was so thankful to be back in the mix,” Shazier said. “It was great to be back out there, running around and seeing football from the inside of my helmet instead of from the sideline.”

Shazier missed seven games in 2014, four in 2015 and three in 2016, but despite those injuries in his past, he wants to do some hitting before the regular season starts, rather than taking it easy and keeping himself healthy.

“I missed a lot of reps in camp this year, so I’m trying to do everything I can to improve,” Shazier said. “I haven’t tackled anybody in camp, so you have to get used to tackling people and the feel of getting banged up and getting in the grind with everybody.”

Now the Steelers hope Shazier can stay healthy, and play the first 16-game season of his career.

Best of PFT Live for the past week is available right now

PFT

Every week, the folks at NBC Sports Radio take 15 hours of PFT Live and reduce it to a two-hour “best of” show. In some weeks, it may be a challenge to find two hours worthy of a label other than “caa-caa.” This week, it was a little easier, thanks to a guest list that included four General Managers (Roseman, Snead, Beane, Spielman), Dolphins coach Adam Gase, UCLA coach Jim Mora, Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, and much more.

You can hear the first hour right here and the second one right there.

And you can download every hour of every show (including the special midweek PFT Live afternoon podcast that focused on the Ezekiel Elliot case) at Apple Podcasts, audioBoom, and plenty of other places. In all places, you’re guaranteed to get your money’s worth.

Starting Monday, Chris Simms joins the program. We’ll have plenty to discuss on the other side of a full weekend of preseason games, plus whatever else may happen between now and then.

Blair Walsh: They taunted me first

AP

I know your are. But what am I?

Seahawks kicker Blair Walsh, spotted gesturing at former Minnesota teammates after nailing a pair of 52-yard field goals on Friday night, said after the game that he taunted them because they had started it.

I simply was just responding to getting taunted,” Walsh said, via ESPN.com. “I didn’t say anything. When you’ve got guys who were your teammates for five years yelling at you when you’re trying to kick, it’s just odd. And I hope they were in jest. And I hope they didn’t mean it because I didn’t mean anything with mine, but it was definitely not out of nowhere.”

So what did the Vikings say to him? “Nothing I can repeat here. That’s for sure.”

Here’s one thing that Vikings fans likely hope the players said: “Thanks for derailing a very promising season by missing a kick you should have been able to make in your sleep.”

The Vikings and Seahawks won’t play each other in the regular season. Maybe they’ll square off in the postseason. And maybe Walsh will have a chance to win the game with a 27-yard field goal.

Ravens try 304-pound rookie defensive lineman Patrick Ricard at fullback

AP

Patrick Ricard is listed as a defensive end on the Ravens’ roster, but the 304-pound undrafted rookie’s best chance at a roster spot may come in the offensive backfield.

The Ravens have given Ricard some playing time at fullback in the preseason, and the early returns are positive. Ricard says he’ll play wherever he has to to earn a roster spot.

“Right now, honestly, I just fill in and play where they need me,” Ricard told the Baltimore Sun. “I want to get on the field and enjoy the opportunity. I love this. I used to play fullback in high school. It feels great just going out there and slamming people.”

Ricard played his college football at Maine, wasn’t invited to the Combine and was viewed as a long shot to make it in the NFL. But now he looks like he has a chance to play in the NFL, and play on both sides of the ball.

LeGarrette Blount brushes off preseason struggles

Getty Images

Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount has struggled this preseason. Which he says matters not at all.

After carrying five times for 18 yards and losing a fumble on Thursday night against the Bills, Blount said he has never been a big-time preseason player.

“You go back and look at my preseason performance and then go look at my regular-season performances, and you tell me,” Blount said, via Philly.com. “There’s nothing that we’re doubting or that we feel like we’re lacking. I feel like we got all the pieces we need to be a good running team.”

Actually, last year Blount played fairly well in the preseason, with 25 carries for 115 yards and two touchdowns. But Blount is right that he sometimes hasn’t done much in the preseason. In 2015 he averaged just 2.3 yards a carry in the preseason, but then averaged 4.3 yards a carry in the regular season.

Blount acknowledged that fumbling is something he needs to work on. But generally speaking, you can add Blount to the long list of veteran players who think the preseason doesn’t matter.

Seahawks confirm George Fant needs ACL surgery

AP

The Seahawks need to find a new left tackle.

George Fant, who was carted off the field during Friday night’s game against the Vikings, has to have ACL surgery, coach Pete Carroll said.

“Really broken-hearted about George Fant getting hurt,” Carroll said. “Just unfortunate. He’s done so much, come so far and everybody’s cheering for him and rooting for him all along. He’s going to be in trouble getting back this season. He’s got a knee injury that’s going to require surgery, unfortunately. Kinda takes a little something out of it for everybody.”

Although the Seahawks haven’t said Fant is out for the year, that’s almost always the case with ACL surgery.

A former college basketball player, Fant signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent last year and became their starting left tackle despite having very little football experience. The Seahawks thought he had the potential to keep improving and bolster their shaky line this season, but now it appears that he won’t play at all this season.

Blair Walsh makes it a point to show Vikings he’s back

Getty Images

It wasn’t like the Vikings cut kicker Blair Walsh for no reason last season. They had, after all, trusted him enough to sign him to a four-year, $13 million extension before the season.

But he went 12 for 16 on field goals and missed four extra points, and the Vikings released him after nine games.

He insisted this week he has no ill feelings toward the Vikings, but judging by his reaction after two made field goals Friday night, Walsh was less than honest.

Walsh, now with the Seahawks, taunted his former team after making not one, but two 52-yard field goals in the third quarter. He pointed at the Vikings bench after both field goals, and Richard Sherman ran onto the field after the second to join Walsh in saying a few words to the Minnesota sideline, according to Bob Condotta‏ of the Seattle Times.

Walsh, 27, appears to have corrected whatever was wrong in Minnesota. He went 2-for-2 on field goals in the first preseason game and 6-for-6 on extra points. He did miss a field goal in the first half Friday night, but it was a 53-yard attempt that hit the crossbar.

George Fant carted off for the Seahawks

Getty Images

The games that don’t count routinely result in injuries that do. For the Seahawks, left tackle George Fant has an injury that may keep him out for a while.

A day after being named the Week One starter, Fant exited Friday night’s game against Minnesota with a right knee injury that appears to be serious.

Fant’s right leg was placed in an air cast, and he was carted off.

The former basketball player had gained 20 pounds in the offseason, in an effort to grow into the job. His knee buckled when a teammate inadvertently fell into his leg.

Kasen Williams makes a splash with the first team

Getty Images

Receiver Kasen Williams, a Washington native who played for the Huskies, is hoping to finally make an impact on the local NFL team.

In his third season with the Seahawks and limited contributions in the first two, Williams has made a major impact in the 2017 preseason. Of his six catches for 147 yards and a touchdown, two for 28 yards and a score came on the opening drive of Friday night’s preseason game against the Vikings.

And then he made the tackle on the ensuing kickoff, for good measure.

Williams, who lost 10 pounds in the offseason, may be playing his way in to the rotation for the Seahawks, a team that covets competition and rewards production.