Brock Osweiler to start again on Monday night

AP

The Browns may be excited to see how rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer looks under the bright lights against the Giants on Monday Night Football, but he won’t be the first quarterback in the game.

For the second straight game, the Browns will start Brock Osweiler at quarterback. Coach Hue Jackson made the announcement on Wednesday and said that Kizer would be the second quarterback in the game (and will play in the first half) with Cody Kessler getting the third slot. That’s a switch from the first preseason game, which saw Kessler relieve Osweiler in the second quarter.

The lack of a change at the top of the order suggests that left tackle Joe Thomas is on to something with his prediction that Osweiler will be the team’s starter in the first week of the regular season.

Jackson didn’t say if that was the case and said that the player who starts the third preseason game has a good chance to be the starter against the Steelers in September. Based on the way things are trending, it would seem that Kizer would be the other choice and Browns quarterbacks coach David Lee said this week that the rookie is “still not there.”

Rams started pursuit of Watkins when Bills didn’t exercise fifth-year option

AP

The trade that brought receiver Sammy Watkins to the Rams was more than three months in the making.

In an interview that will be included within Thursday’s PFT Live, Rams G.M. Les Snead explained how the team first became interested in Watkins.

“I think he landed on the radar screen when the Bills’ organization didn’t put the fifth-year option on him back in the spring,” Snead said. “At that point you can sense, OK, maybe they’re not satisfied. Maybe there’s a question mark or two because they didn’t do the fifth-year option. So to be honest with you, I probably made the first call within that week. From there it probably was a summer’s worth of calls to try to get this thing done. It was finally consummated on Friday.”

The discussions continued until last week, with talks at the “98-percent range” as the preseason opener for the Bills approached. But it still wasn’t done until after Buffalo’s preseason opener.

“I believe probably the night before their game we had discussed that, ‘Hey, if something gets done, it’ll be first thing in the morning after their game,'” Snead said. “I remember we had the Bills game up on the iPhone app or something watching the first quarter. Of course we got to see Sammy make those four catches. So two things go through your mind. Number one is, look, it’s good to see Sammy playing and healthy. Number two is, hey, he just had a relatively decently big game so this thing may or may not get done.”

But the Bills still went through with it, and while the deal was pending Snead didn’t know that the Bills were also talking about a trade with the Eagles. (The Eagles also didn’t know the Bills were talking about a trade with the Rams.)

Snead made it clear that the interest in Watkins traces directly to the offensive preferences of the team’s new head coach.

“I think it all started really with the hiring of Sean McVay and he’s got a system, he’s got an offensive philosophy,” Snead said. “He tries to keep it simple but at the end of the day he likes to attack people  in the passing game and he likes to do it with the running back, the tight ends, and all the different genres and flavors of wide receivers. And the one flavor after free agency, after the draft, was the flavor we were really missing was going to be somebody that is going to threaten you down the field which would then open up, let’s call it the intermediate, the short, and even the running game lanes that we haven’t had in the last couple years. So we felt like that was a missing piece that we needed. It was a perfect complement for what we added and we’re gonna go from there.”

Basically, then, Watkins will be the DeSean Jackson in McVay’s offense with the Rams. If they can get Watkins up to speed.

“‘[I]t seems like baseball trades are slightly easier to fit someone in,” Snead said. “If you trade for a pitcher he comes right in and starts the next few days. Where in football there is a system. It’s very systematic. And bringing in Sammy at this point in time is probably the toughest time to bring him in because Sean and his staff have installed the entire offense now twice. So we’re at this stage over these next two weeks  in preseason where it’s probably the hardest on the players because every play in the playbook is open game.”

For Watkins, the playbook is still a new challenge to be digested and conquered. And he’s trying to get comfortable with new coaches and teammates. And he’s in a contract year. Which means that a lot need to get accomplished, in not very much time.

Derrick Henry says the NFL is “a little bit faster” than the SEC

AP

Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette raised some eyebrows when he said after his first preseason game that NFL play is slower than he thought and “really easy” after playing in the SEC at LSU. Another recent SEC star isn’t willing to go quite as far.

Titans running back Derrick Henry, a second-year player who won the Heisman Trophy at Alabama, said if it’s easy for Fournette, that’s because of Fournette’s superior athletic ability.

“Some guys adjust faster, but it was probably a lot easier for him because he is a once-in-a-lifetime back,” Henry said.

Henry said he found playing in the NFL just a bit harder than playing in the SEC.

“For me, the NFL was a little bit faster than college because you’ve got guys who played five, six, seven years and knew all the ins and out of the league,” Henry said.

Henry had a solid rookie season as the backup to DeMarco Murray last year. Fournette will be counted upon to be a big-time starter, and not just a solid backup. We’ll find out when the real games start if it’s as easy as he thinks it is.

NFLPA accuses NFL of “stooping to new lows”

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It’s been obvious all week that the Ezekiel Elliott case will become ugly and nasty and mean. An unexpected skirmish emerged on Wednesday when NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart (who previously served as White House Press Secretary for Bill Clinton) accused the NFL Players Association of spreading derogatory information about Elliott’s accuser, Tiffany Thompson.

“The public statement issued on behalf of every NFL owner is a lie,” the NFLPA said in response to Lockhart. “The NFLPA categorically denies the accusations made in this statement. We know the League office has a history of being exposed for its lack of credibility. This is another example of the NFL’s hypocrisy on display and an attempt to create a sideshow to distract from their own failings in dealing with such serious issues. They should be ashamed for stooping to new lows.”

Stay tuned for the inevitable response to the response.

NFL accuses NFLPA of shaming Ezekiel Elliott’s accuser

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The NFL is firing back at what they consider victim-blaming in the case of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.

The league just put out a statement from executive vice president of communications Joe Lockhart which pointed the blame directly at the players union for spreading the information.

“Over the past few days we’ve received multiple reports of the NFLPA spreading derogatory information to the media about the victim in Ezekiel Elliott discipline case,” the statement read. “It’s a common tactic to attempt to prove the innocence of the accused by discrediting the victim — in this case Ms. Thompson — when coming forward to report such abuse. Common or not, these tactics are shameful. Efforts to shame and blame victims are often what prevent people from coming forward to report violence and/or seek help in the first place.”

It’s a pretty bold move for the league to lay claim to the high ground, and to directly implicate the NFLPA in the process, by suggesting they’re the source of such reports as the one which portrayed Tiffany Thompson as extorting Elliott with a sex tape.

Elvis Dumervil: Rashard Robinson can be better than Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson

AP

As a rookie last season, 49ers cornerback Rashard Robinson started six games and recorded one interception. This year, teammate Elvis Dumervil thinks Robinson is going to take a big step forward.

Dumervil, the 33-year-old pass rusher who’s in his first season in San Francisco, told reporters he thinks Robinson is going to be an elite player.

“I’m excited about Rashard Robinson,” Dumervil said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think he can be the best corner in this division.”

It was pointed out to Dumervil that if he’s saying Robinson can be the best corner in the division, he’s saying Robinson can be better than Arizona’s Patrick Peterson and Seattle’s Richard Sherman.

“That’s what I’m telling you,” Dumervil said. “I know who the corners are.”

That’s some high praise for Robinson. Dumervil is giving his young teammate a lot to live up to.

Harold Henderson isn’t a truly impartial arbitrator

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Harold Henderson is an independent arbitrator. Unless he isn’t.

It’s an issue that has come up in the past, and with Henderson now appointed to handle the Ezekiel Elliott appeal it will come up again.

The NFL and NFLPA have disputed whether Henderson, a former NFL executive, is truly independent. While he isn’t a current league employee, he is routinely appointed by the league to handle hearings of this kind. The gig pays, it likely pays well, and he’d presumably hope to keep doing it.

As of November 2014, Henderson had handled 87 player appeals since 2008. Still, the union consistently has objected to Henderson’s appointment.

“A long-time NFL Executive and current legal consultant cannot, by definition, be a neutral arbitrator,” the union said in a statement released to PFT three years ago, in connection with the decision to appoint Henderson to handle Adrian Peterson‘s Personal Conduct Policy appeal.

Many (including some league employees) already are claiming that Henderson is independent by pointing out that he reduced Greg Hardy’s suspension from 10 games to four. But that was a grossly over-the-top penalty in light of the controlling precedent at the time — a two-game suspension for first-offense domestic violence. In coming up with 10 games, the league took Hardy’s interaction with Nicole Holder from a single evening and broke it down into four separate incidents: “First, he used physical force against her which caused her to land in a bathtub. Second, he used physical force against her which caused her to land on a futon that was covered with at least four semi-automatic rifles. Third, he used physical force against her by placing his hands around Ms. Holder’s neck and applying enough pressure to leave visible marks. And fourth, he used physical force to shove Ms. Holder against a wall in his apartment’s entry hallway.” (Obviously, these are despicable acts. But Hardy still has rights as it relates to efforts by his employer to punish him for things that happened away from the workplace.)

Though the statement announcing the Hardy suspension didn’t say it expressly, the league created the impression that the punishments were stacked based on the multiple incidents. Henderson ultimately decided to reduce the suspension to four games, without much of an explanation as to his reasoning. As PFT wrote at the time: “Henderson doesn’t know whether the NFL used the old policy (which produced a two-game suspension for first-offense domestic violence incidents) or the new policy (which moved the baseline to six), Henderson doesn’t think it matters to the resolution of Hardy’s case, and then Henderson relies on the new six-game baseline as proof that 10 games is too many, reducing it to a number below the new baseline.”

Based on existing precedent, Hardy arguably should have been suspended only two games, which was the standard penalty at the time. This time around, Henderson will be applying a policy with a standard penalty of six games. With Elliott being suspended exactly six games, it’s hard to imagine Henderson reducing it to three or four games — unless of course that’s what the NFL ultimately wants him to do.

Indeed, some believe that the league office won’t be all that upset with a reduction of the suspension, since the Commissioner obtained the appropriate P.R. cover by suspending Elliott six games. If Henderson or anyone else reduces it, no one can accuse the Commissioner or anyone employed by the league office of being soft on the issue of domestic violence.

Which, of course, overlooks entirely the question of whether Elliott actually committed domestic violence.

NFL announces Harold Henderson will handle Ezekiel Elliott appeal

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The first, and most important, decision regarding the Ezekiel Elliott has been made.

The NFL has announced (as a practical matter) that Harold Henderson will handle the Elliott appeal.

Under the labor deal, the Commissioner has the ability to handle the appeal personally or delegate it to someone else. Many believed Goodell would handle it on his own; however, because he made the initial decision (even though he wasn’t present for the hearing), it was unlikely that he would have been the one to review it.

Goodell could have assigned the matter to a truly independent party. Goodell ultimately opted not to surrender the outcome to someone who would have been handling the case as a one-and-done project. Henderson, by virtue of the fact that the league regularly hires him to provide appeal services, is viewed as someone who will be inclined to rubber stamp the decision from the league — even if he hasn’t always done that. (More on that in a subsequent post.)

As a practical matter, the chances of Elliott completely overturning the suspension have dropped significantly. (At best, he’ll get a mild reduction.) As a result, this increases significantly the possibility of a lawsuit eventually being filed.

Roberto Aguayo set kicking back half a century

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Younger fans of the NFL might not realize the extent to which kicking has improved through the years. Field goals that seem relatively easy today were a long shot in the 1970s.

To illustrate that, I tweeted yesterday comparing the success rate on field goals last season to the success rate in 1974, the first year that the NFL moved the goal posts back from the goal line to the end line. It’s a stunning difference.

In 2016, NFL kickers went a combined 85-for-150 (57 percent) on field goals from 50 yards and beyond. In 1974, NFL kickers went a combined 4-for-30 (13 percent) from 50 yards and beyond.

After tweeting that, I heard from a couple readers who joked that all Roberto Aguayo would have to do to be a good kicker is build a time machine and go back to 1974. But there’s one problem with that: Even by 1974 standards, Aguayo wouldn’t have been a good kicker. Aguayo, the 2016 second-round draft bust cut by the Buccaneers over the weekend, didn’t make any 50-yard field goals during his disastrous year with the Bucs. And even on field goals of 40 to 49 yards, he was worse than the average kicker of 1974: Aguayo went 4-for-10 (40 percent) from 40 to 49 yards, while NFL kickers as a whole went 75-for-169 (44 percent) from 40 to 49 yards.

If you go back half a century, to the 1966 NFL season, you can finally find a time when Aguayo might have been a decent kicker: That year, NFL kickers as a whole went 35-for-102 (34 percent) from 40 to 49 yards, and 1-for-17 (6 percent) on field goals from 50 yards and beyond.

When the Buccaneers traded up in the second round of the draft to select Aguayo, they thought they were getting a future star. They were actually getting a kicker who wouldn’t even have been a star in the distant past.

NFL report shows Tiffany Thompson suggested blackmailing Elliott over sex videos

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The NFL won’t be releasing the 160-page investigative report generated in the Ezekiel Elliott case. And maybe we’re starting to see why.

Via Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, the report contains a text-message exchange in which Thompson discusses with a friend the idea of selling sex tapes of herself and Elliott. At one point, the friend says, “[W]e could blackmail him w[ith] that.”

Says Thompson in response: “I want to bro.”

Thompson also admitted to registering an email address with the title “ezekielelliot sex vids.”

Here’s the full text exchange, from the NFL’s report as obtained by Robinson:

[Thompson]: What if I sold mine and Ezekiel’s sex videos

[Friend]: We’d all be millionaires

[Friend]: We could black mail him w that

[Thompson]: I want to bro

[Friend]: Let’s do it

[Thompson]: Scared

[Friend]: Sh-t

[Friend]: Id be like look give me 10k or I’ll just sell our sex videos for the same amount flat

[Friend]: Me and my friends tryna go on vacation and get boob jobs . . . .

[Thompson]: 10k Bitch I want 20k

[Thompson]: Go big or go home

[Friend]: That’s fine too

None of this means that Elliott didn’t commit domestic violence. But these kinds of schemes go directly to Thompson’s credibility. As PFT previously has explained, Commissioner Roger Goodell met in person with neither Elliott nor Thompson to assess their credibility before deciding that Elliott was guilty as charged.

Jameis Winston had words with backup linemen after Ryan Griffin’s injury

AP

Buccaneers backup quarterback Ryan Griffin suffered a shoulder injury during the team’s first preseason game, and starting quarterback Jameis Winston let the team’s backup offensive linemen know he wasn’t happy about it.

As shown on this week’s Hard Knocks, backup offensive linemen James Stone and Jarvis Harrison were on the bench talking and seemingly laughing after Griffin’s injury. Winston approached them and sarcastically told them that he was glad they were enjoying themselves while a teammate was in the locker room having the medical staff attend to him.

“I’m happy y’all are having fun, but Ryan just hurt his shoulder. So keep having fun,” Winston said.

Stone and Harrison knew better than to say anything back to their franchise quarterback, so they both simply wiped the smiles off their faces and remained on the bench as Winston walked away. Stone and Harrison probably didn’t appreciate it, but the rest of the team knows that Winston takes his business seriously.

Blake Bortles says arm is fine

AP

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was pulled from Sunday’s practice after throwing a pair of interceptions because, per coach Doug Marrone, it looked like he had a tired arm.

Bortles has been back to a full workload the last two days and said on Tuesday that he has taken more reps this summer than in any other year, but that his arm feels fine despite that workload. While the work hasn’t left him feeling worn down, it also hasn’t resulted in the kind of consistency that the Jaguars would love to see from their quarterback.

Bortles didn’t throw any interceptions during the joint practice with the Buccaneers, but missed several throws including one that elicited a negative response from wide receiver Allen Robinson. Bortles said there are things he’d like to improve, something Marrone agreed with while noting the inconsistent play he’s seen at practice.

“There are some throws that I’ll think, ‘Hey, that’s a good throw,’ and then I’ll be like, ‘That’s a horse-s— throw,'” Marrone said, via the Florida Times-Union. “At the end of the day, I’m just trying to get more and get better. So we rested him the other day. I thought he came back and really had no issues for these two days. That was the goal was to get him out here and get him all that work. I think he’s gotten good work, and I think that him along with the rest of the guys on offense, I want those guys to get better.”

There comes a point where you have to wonder if flaws in a player are a feature that will be there forever or a bug that can be erased to make for a smoother run. For Bortles, this season is shaping up as his final chance to convince the Jaguars of the latter and the summer hasn’t provided much evidence that things will turn out that way.

Gregg Williams has never seen a rookie like Myles Garrett

AP

Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has coached in the NFL for 27 years, and he’s never seen a rookie adjust to the NFL as quickly as Myles Garrett.

“I’ve never had a chance to draft the first overall pick ever, but I’ve had some pretty high draft picks,” Williams said, via Cleveland.com. “He’s the one that has jumped out and fit in faster than any of the other ones, and I have had some really, really good ones.”

Williams rattled off all the things he likes about Garrett’s adjustment to the NFL.

“How do you handle the locker room? How do you handle the meeting room? How do you handle the field? How do you handle the walkthroughs? How do you handle being humble? How do you handle being respectful? He’s a really good young man and a pretty good player, too,” Williams said.

The Browns think they drafted a very good player, one who will be ready from Day One.

Jerry Jones says Jaylon Smith will make debut this week against Colts

AP

It been nearly 600 days since Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith last played in a football game. His wait will come to an end on Saturday.

According to Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after practice on Tuesday that Smith will play against the Indianapolis Colts this week.

Smith last played for the University of Notre Dame against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day last year. He sustained a traumatic set of injuries to his knee that left him with nerve damage and a case of drop foot. But Smith has seen regeneration in his damaged nerve since the Cowboys took a chance on him, drafting him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

He’s been able to return to practice this year and participated throughout training camp. However, the Cowboys held him out of the team’s first two preseason games.

Smith was thought to be possible Top 5 draft pick before the knee injury brought his football career into question. Just shy of 600 days later – 597 days to be exact – Smith will get the chance to play once again.

Browns will name Week Two starter on Wednesday

AP

The Browns play their next preseason game on Monday night. Their starting quarterback for the game has not yet been named. He will be soon.

Coach Hue Jackson told reporters on Tuesday that the starter will be announced Wednesday. In recent days, Brock Osweiler and rookie DeShone Kizer have been splitting first-team reps in practice.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes that Kizer actually moved ahead of Osweiler, who started the preseason opener, in some of the drills.

As Cabot handicaps it, Osweiler and Kizer currently are the primary contenders to be the Week One starter, with Cody Kessler now “effectively out of the mix.” If, however, Kessler and Osweiler are now competing to be the No. 2, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Kessler gets the short-notice start against the Giants under the same reasoning that applied to the decision to start Osweiler last Thursday. If Kessler is going to be the backup, the Browns need to see how he’ll respond when thrust into the starting lineup on short notice.

However it plays out for the balance of the preseason, Kizer is performing well enough to make it hard to justify not pinning the team’s hopes to him. With an improved offensive line, Kizer could have the time necessary both to protect himself and to build confidence, ensuring that he’ll be better prepared for 2018 and beyond.