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Marcus Mariota has the NFL’s best-selling jersey in May

Marcus Mariota AP

Titans fans are eager to throw their support behind new quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Mariota has the NFL’s best-selling jersey for the month of May, Titans director of finance Stuart Spears told Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.

A study by a sports marketing company also found that Mariota ranks as the 39th most marketable athlete in the world. That may sound rather shocking for a player who hasn’t played a professional game yet, but Mariota was a popular Heisman Trophy winner at Oregon who enters the NFL with a significant fan base. It also helps that Mariota (unlike the only player drafted ahead of him, Jameis Winston) has a squeaky-clean image off the field.

So for now, Mariota is among the NFL’s top stars. But that popularity won’t last long unless he can prove himself on the field.

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Pats fan takes belief in Brady’s innocence to the grave

Tom Brady AP

Deflategate has taken a lot out of Tom Brady’s reputation across most of America. But in New England, Brady is as beloved as ever.

In fact, the extent to which some in New England are rallying around Brady has reached new highs — or lows, depending on your perspective.

We now have the late Patricia Shong of Auburn, Massachusetts, who passed away on Monday at the age of 72. Shong’s obituary ran in the local paper and told the story of her life, her family, her career and her favorite activities. And then it included a line about Shong’s continuing support of Brady.

“She would also like us to set the record straight for her: Brady is innocent!!” the obituary says.

That’s a popular sentiment in New England. But this is the first time we’ve heard it expressed from beyond the grave.

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Stephen Ross told Dolphins’ execs to go into win-now mode

Baltimore Ravens v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is tired of building for the future. He wants to win now.

That’s the message Ross has given his front office staff from Day One — and even before Day One. Dolphins G.M. Dennis Hickey says that when he was interviewing for the job, Ross said the time to win is now — and Ross vowed to pony up the money to make that happen.

Hickey said on 104.3 The Ticket that everyone in the front office and the coaching staff has been on the same page about the way to build the Dolphins, and that starts from the top, with Ross making clear from the beginning where his expectations were.

We’re a process-driven organization,” Hickey said, via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald. “Part of the process is collaboration, getting our coaches together with our scouts and getting them together to do their due diligence. The process is about making good, sound decisions that make sense.”

The Dolphins spent a fortune to sign Ndamukong Suh, and they’ve also spent a lot on players including Ryan Tannehill, Mike Pouncey, Cameron Wake, Branden Albert, Brent Grimes and Jordan Cameron. Those moves may help the Dolphins win now, but a day of reckoning is coming. Next year, the Dolphins are projected to be $17 million over the cap — putting them in by far the worst cap shape for 2016 of any team in the NFL. If the Dolphins don’t win now, they may regret the way they’ve structured their salary cap — because all those expensive contracts are going to make it harder to make more big moves in the future.

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Staubach on Hardy: I wouldn’t want an abuser as a teammate

Staubach Getty Images

If it were up to Hall of Fame Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, Greg Hardy wouldn’t be in Dallas.

Staubach said on KTCK-AM that while he admires the way Cowboys Executive Vice President Charlotte Jones Anderson has taken a leadership role in the NFL’s efforts on domestic violence, he still has a hard time justifying allowing a player like Hardy on the team.

“Well, it depends on getting a chance to understand the red flags . . . like the Hardy situation,” Staubach said. “Charlotte Jones is fantastic. She’s involved with the NFL on the committees. I think she had a hand in trying to understand that this guy deserves a second chance. I don’t have any tolerance toward domestic violence. If I was making the decision, it probably wouldn’t have been good for the Cowboys.”

Hardy missed 15 games last year and is suspended for 10 games this year for a domestic violence incident. Staubach said that’s not the kind of person he’d want as a teammate.

“I wouldn’t really enjoy being in the locker room with someone I knew was a domestic violence person. That’s how I feel,” Staubach said. “Today you know more about the personal lives of players. Back in the old days, there were some issues. But we never really had a domestic violence, smoking marijuana or . . . I’m sure it happened though, we just didn’t know about it. I would have really had a hard time with a teammate that you look at as a courageous, tough guy on the football field . . . to abuse a women in any shape or form, there’s just no excuse for it.”

The Cowboys have taken a lot of criticism for signing Hardy, but this criticism may sting the most. Few people are more respected in Dallas than Staubach, and Staubach doesn’t think Hardy belongs in the Cowboys’ locker room.

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Houston “Hard Knocks” lets NFL put Watt front and center

Watt AP

J.J. Watt is just the kind of player the NFL wants to market, a fierce warrior on the field who turns into an easygoing, likable guy as soon as the game ends. So with process of elimination seeming to leave the Texans as the team that will be featured on this year’s Hard Knocks, it’s a good bet that NFL Films will put Watt front and center.

Watt is the NFL’s best defensive player but is not as well known to a mass audience as some of the league’s biggest stars. Hard Knocks is a way for the league to humanize Watt and bolster his popularity.

Hard Knocks also needs Watt because the Texans are, frankly, not as compelling a team as some of the past teams featured on the show. Coach Bill O’Brien isn’t made for reality TV the way Rex Ryan is, and although the Texans’ quarterback competition will be a major element of training camp, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett don’t exactly make for appointment television.

So it will be Watt around whom the upcoming season of Hard Knocks will be featured. At a time when many well-known players are getting attention for the wrong reasons, the NFL will like that.

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NFL may see its first one-point safety

safety AP

A little-noticed aspect of the NFL’s new extra point rule is that we could see, for the first time in league history, a one-point safety.

If the defense gets the ball in the field of play on a conversion attemp, and then a defensive player takes the ball into his own end zone and is tackled, the result will be a one-point safety: The offensive team will get one point. That has never happened before in NFL history.

It had never happened before because it was virtually impossible: In the past, any time the defense took possession of the ball on a point-after attempt (either a one-point kick or a two-point conversion), the play was blown dead. A one-point safety was theoretically possible before, but it would have happened only if the defensive team had illegally batted a fumbled ball in the end zone.

One-point safeties have happened in college football, most notably in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, when Kansas State blocked an Oregon extra point and a Kansas State player picked up the ball and ran it into his own end zone. The college rule that gives the defense the opportunity to score two points by returning an interception, fumble or blocked kick to the opposite end zone means that defensive teams that take possession of the ball will try to run it back for a score, and sometimes those players end up getting tackled after backtracking into their own end zones.

With that rule now in place in the NFL, it will happen in the NFL eventually as well: Some defensive player is going to reverse field, get caught in his own end zone, and give up the first one-point safety in NFL history.

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Report: Goodell rejects NFLPA request to recuse himself from Brady appeal

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During an appearance on ESPN Friday, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said that the union would “certainly increase the volume of the request” didn’t get a response from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to their request that he recuse himself from hearing Tom Brady’s appeal by the end of next week.

According to multiple reports, the union has gotten their response and it is the one that most people were expecting after Goodell said at the league meeting this week that he wanted to hear from Brady himself. Goodell will not be turning the appeal over to a neutral arbitrator, which is a decision that’s sure to increase the volume from the union all by itself.

A date has not been set yet for the appeal and Smith said Friday that the union has not decided whether to file a lawsuit asking that Goodell be removed as the arbitrator before the appeal is heard. The NFLPA has said it intends to call Goodell as a witness, which is among the issues they feel demands that he recuse himself from the proceedings.

Goodell said that he looks forward “to hearing directly from Tom if there’s new information” that can help in “getting this right.” That’s raised speculation that the suspension could be reduced if Brady agrees to hand over the text messages that he was unwilling to provide Ted Wells during the investigation that preceded his report and Brady’s discipline.

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Union hasn’t heard from Commissioner on recusal request, yet

Smith Getty Images

In a wide-ranging interview with Bob Ley of ESPN’s Outside the Lines, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith addressed the status of the union’s request that Commissioner Roger Goodell recuse himself from the appeal hearing in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for being “at least generally aware” of a scheme to deflate footballs.

Smith told Ley that the union has yet to hear anything in response to the formal request that Goodell step aside, due both to his status as a witness in the case and his inability to be impartial. The request apparently will be reiterated if a response doesn’t come soon.

“If we don’t get a response by the end of next week, we’ll certainly increase the volume of the request,” Smith said.

Goodell’s comments from Wednesday indicate fairly clearly that he still intends to handle the appeal personally. Smith declined to divulge whether a lawsuit challenging Goodell’s intent to serve as the arbitrator will be filed before or after Goodell issues a ruling on the appeal.

Earlier on Friday, the league office told PFT that a date has not yet been set for the Brady appeal hearing.

As to the arguments in support of a reversal of the suspension, Smith opted not to share many details. Most significantly, he pointed to the decision to embrace the recollections of referee Walt Anderson on all points except the question of which of the two pressure gauges he used when setting air-pressure levels before the game. The gauge that Anderson recalled using generated halftime PSI readings that are almost entirely consistent with the operation of the Ideal Gas Law.

Smith also provided this general assessment of the 243-page document generated by independent investigator Ted Wells: “The Wells report delivered exactly what the client wanted.”  As to the independence of the Wells investigation, Smith added, “You can’t really have credibility just because you slap the word ‘independent’ on a piece of paper.”

Many still wonder why the NFL would have wanted to find the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady guilty. At one level, this was about re-establishing the Commissioner’s role as “The Enforcer,” proving to the world that he’ll never again go too easy on anyone suspected of wrongdoing. At another level, it created an opportunity for one or more league officials with a bias against the Patriots to initiate the launch sequence for full-blown investigation and punishment by, most significantly, leaking false PSI information to ESPN, which created the impression that someone must have messed with the air pressure and which placed the Patriots, who didn’t know the true readings until March, on their heels.

After ESPN reported that 11 of 12 New England footballs were two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum, the NFL never corrected the record. The real numbers ultimately appeared in May, as part of a lengthy report that never even acknowledged the false leak that ultimately allowed Ted Wells and company to milk millions from the league’s coffers in an investigation that, if the real numbers had been released at the outset, probably would have never happened.

This didn’t start as a grand conspiracy. It started based on halftime readings below 12.5 PSI and ignorance to the application of science to football air pressure, and it grew into an occasion to re-establish the potency of the Commissioner.

At a time when many believe the Commissioner’s strings are manipulated from above, this case may have been sparked by his strings being manipulated from below. And now the NFLPA is hoping to get the case resolved by someone who has no strings attached to the league or any of its teams.

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Patriots keep Wells report website active

Wells Getty Images

Yes, the Patriots decided not to appeal the punishment imposed against them by the NFL. No, the Patriots haven’t changed their minds about the outcome of the Ted Wells investigation.

The strongly-worded, 20,000-word rebuttal to the Wells report remains active with a link from the front page of the team’s official website, three days after owner Robert Kraft explained that the Patriots won’t be exercising the right to appeal the $1 million fine and the loss of a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-round draft pick in 2017. The response to the Wells report likely will remain active indefinitely.

If it remains active indefinitely, it also could be updated and supplemented based on additional information and analysis of the 243-page report that failed, in the opinion of many, to adequately prove that tampering occurred prior to the AFC title game.

So while the Patriots have dropped their appeal rights, they haven’t dropped their concerns about the process, the investigation, or the conclusions.  Those concerns presumably will continue to be on display, during quarterback Tom Brady’s appeal and beyond.

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Mike Shanahan: Injuries aren’t why RGIII has struggled last two years

Robert Griffin III,

When Robert Griffin III landed in the NFL in 2012, the Redskins closed the regular season with seven straight wins to take the NFC East and advance to the playoffs.

Griffin missed one of those games with a knee injury, which served as a preview of the more serious knee injury he’d suffer in the playoff loss to the Seahawks. Griffin rehabbed through the next offseason and then struggled in 2013 in an offense that was designed to limit Griffin’s runs in hopes of having him develop into a more traditional quarterback.

It didn’t happen, which led to squabbling with Mike Shanahan before Shanahan was fired as the team’s head coach. Griffin had another serious injury last year and continued to struggle in Jay Gruden’s offense, but Shanahan doesn’t think the injuries have been the quarterback’s problem.

“I don’t think getting hurt has anything to do with it,” Shanahan said of RG3 on the Grant and Danny Show on 106.7 The Fan, via CSNWashington.com. “In college he didn’t have a route tree, didn’t have a playbook. That does take some time. … If you take a QB like that you must run the kind of system that allows them to be successful … I really believe Robert thought he was more of a drop back quarterback. He hasn’t done things the NFL asks you to do. It does take some growing pains. You better really work on it inside and out.”

No one who has watched Griffin the last two years would argue that he looks as comfortable in the offense as he did as a rookie, although you have to wonder why the Redskins made such a big play for Griffin if they weren’t willing to give him that time or run an offense more suited to his needs. The answer to the latter is largely because of the injury risk involved with running a smaller quarterback repeatedly against NFL defenses, but the failure to do the former may lead to the end of Griffin’s time in Washington without much to show for the investment they made in him.

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Montreal Alouettes sign Michael Sam

Michael Sam AP

Michael Sam is bound for the Canadian Football League.

Sam, the former Rams and Cowboys defensive end, has signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Alouettes, the club announced Friday.

“With the signing of Michael Sam, we have become a better organization today,” Alouettes General Manager Jim Popp said in a team issued-statement Friday. “Not only have we added an outstanding football player, we have added even a better person that brings dignity, character, and heart to our team.”

Joining Montreal gives the 25-year-old Sam a chance to jump-start his career in a professional league that occasionally serves as a launching pad back to the United States, with Miami’s Cameron Wake and Cleveland’s Andrew Hawkins among the CFL alumni currently in the NFL. Sam’s pass rush ability — he notched three sacks in four preseason games in 2014 — should serve him well in a fast-paced league.

Sam, who became internationally known after announcing he was gay in February 2014, has not been with an NFL club since being released from the Cowboys’ practice squad in October.

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Cowboys, Orlando Scandrick agree to new contract

Scandrick Getty Images

The Cowboys and cornerback Orlando Scandrick have come to terms on a new deal.

Scandrick had skipped the early part of offseason work because he was unhappy with his contract, but Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Scandrick will sign his new contract today.

The 28-year-old Scandrick still had four years left on his old contract, so the Cowboys had plenty of leverage if they wanted to tell him he wasn’t going to get more money. But the team has apparently decided that it’s important to keep its best cornerback happy.

Scandrick has played his entire eight-year career in Dallas, and now there’s a good chance that he’ll retire a Cowboy.

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Chargers’ Nick Novak thinks new rule makes kickers more valuable

Nick Novak AP

NFL kickers have been split on the league’s new rule moving extra points back 13 yards, with some saying it’s an unnecessary attempt to make them less relevant, while others say it will reward the league’s better kickers.

Count Chargers kicker Nick Novak in the latter camp.

“I think it makes my job that much more exciting,” Novak told U-T San Diego. “There could be games where I may not get any work, just lighting up the scoreboard and scoring touchdowns, which is a good thing. Now, I have the privilege of kicking 33-yard field goals, maybe four of five a game — I call them field goals because they’re from 33 yards. And I may kick four or five field goals. My workload is going to go up. It’s exciting to showcase what I can do. I think it increases the value of a kicker, too.”

Novak may be right, although the reality is that a 33-yard extra point is still an easy kick for every NFL kicker. A kicker who would struggle with the longer extra point wouldn’t be in the NFL in the first place, and so this new rule won’t change kickers’ jobs much one way or the other.

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Zimmer says he has an idea when Peterson will show up

Adrian Peterson AP

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson still hasn’t participated in any offseason work, but coach Mike Zimmer thinks he has an idea when Peterson will show up.

Zimmer declined to give a specific date he’s expecting to see Peterson, but he told 1500 ESPN that he does have a sense for when Peterson will get to work.

“I think I do have an indication,” Zimmer said. “It’s up to Adrian, really. He’s the guy you should ask. . . . We’d like all our players here. It’s the voluntary time of year right now and it’s his decision in what he wants to do.”

Offseason work stops being voluntary on June 16, when the Vikings open their mandatory minicamp. If Peterson skips that, the Vikings can fine him $70,000. Which might mean June 16 is when Zimmer expects to see Peterson.

And if Peterson doesn’t show up to the mandatory minicamp, there’s no telling when Zimmer might see Peterson. If Peterson is so disgruntled that he’s willing to cost himself money to stay away, this already uncomfortable situation could get really ugly.

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NFL suspends Marcell Dareus for Week 1

Marcell Dareus AP

Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will miss the season opener against the Colts.

The NFL announced today that Dareus has been suspended without pay for the first game of the regular season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Dareus can participate in the offseason and preseason, but he won’t be able to practice or play during Week One.

Dareus, who was arrested last year on charges of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, acknowledged that the suspension was warranted.

“Last year, I made a mistake involving possession of a banned substance,” Dareus said in a statement. “The NFL’s discipline for this conduct is part of the drug policy, and I apologize to my family, my teammates, the entire Bills organization and Bills fans that I will miss one game as a result of my mistake. I will work intensely that week and will be extremely happy to contribute to a win in week two for the Bills.”

Dareus has been to the Pro Bowl the last two years. He’ll be missed by the Bills in the first game of the season.

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