Nick Caserio: Tyrod Taylor has experience with our coaches, offensive system

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With Deshaun Watson facing lawsuits from 22 women, there’s a decent chance that Tyrod Taylor will begin the 2021 season as the Texans starting quarterback.

When Taylor signed with Houston in March, it was widely viewed as a contingency plan for if Houston ended up trading Watson. On Friday, General Manager Nick Caserio said the Texans brought in Taylor in part because there was a clear need for numbers at QB on the roster.

“In his particular case, he has experience with coaches on our staff, or has some experience in this type of offense or system,” Caserio said during his press conference. “So regardless, that was a position where quite frankly we didn’t have very many numbers. A.J. [McCarron] was a free agent. Josh [McCown] retired. So when you have one player at any one position on the team, you need more than one person. So I think that’s kind of how we approached it and just went through our process and evaluated it accordingly.

“I’d say generally speaking when you look at the whole roster construction in the offseason program, what we try to do just at all positions with the entire team is try to identify players we thought we liked that may have had some experience with our staff that were looking for the opportunity to compete, to be in a good situation, that wanted to be in Houston. So he certainly fell into that category, like a lot of other players.”

Taylor played under Texans passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton in 2020, when Hamilton was the Chargers’ QBs coach. Taylor has started 47 games since entering the league as a sixth-round pick in 2011, and won the first game of the season for L.A. last year.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wants to keep playing

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Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie turned 35 last week. He hasn’t played since 2019, and he played only nine games total in 2018-19. So Rodgers-Cromartie’s career appears over.

But the cornerback has not given up on playing.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports Rodgers-Cromartie “hasn’t given up on the idea of playing . . . and has workouts scheduled post-draft.”

Rapoport adds that Rodgers-Cromartie will coach only if he gets no playing opportunities. In January, Tennessee State announced Rodgers-Cromartie as a volunteer coach for the 2021 season.

Rodgers-Cromartie played at the school before the Cardinals drafted him in the first round in 2008. He played for six teams over 12 NFL seasons.

He announced his retirement in 2019 before changing his mind and signing with Washington. Rodgers-Cromartie lasted only two games before landing on injured reserve, though.

Marshawn Lynch becomes part owner of professional soccer team in Oakland

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Former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch continues to have very close ties to his hometown of Oakland.

Via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News, Lynch has become part owner of the Oakland Roots of the USL Championship league.

“Growing up in The Town, we always could count on the pro teams in this area, but with most of those ones that I grew up with gone, I knew the minute I heard about the opportunity to join Oakland Roots, it wasn’t just something I wanted to do, it was something I had to do,” Lynch said in a statement, according to Inman.

The Roots play a 32-game season, from May 8 until October 30. They play at Laney Stadium. Their home opener happens on June 19, against Sacramento Republic FC.

The best news for Lynch is that his signature gesture, for which he was fined multiple times, is a fairly common move in soccer.

Steelers players say they will not attend voluntary in-person workouts

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Continuing the trend from around the league, the Steelers players announced in a statement released by the NFLPA that they will not participate in voluntary in-person workouts during the offseason program.

This is now the 10th team to have players make an announcement that at least some players will not attend the offseason program, following the Raiders, Browns, Giants, Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks, Lions, Bears, and Buccaneers.

“We should not be made to compromise our health and safety,” the statement reads. “With the current pandemic still affecting our communities and country, and the lack of clear protocols and protections regarding returning to work at full capacity, the players of the Pittsburgh Steelers have decided to exercise our right to not participate in voluntary in-person activities.

“A virtual offseason helped keep us safe to not only start, but finish the regular season as safety as possible and it makes no sense for us to risk infection or injury in the spring if we don’t have to. The protections we had in place last year are not fully in place now and remain unclear. We are professionals and are committed to being in the best shape possible. Our team holds each other accountable to the highest professional standards and we will prepare as we always do to be the best for Steelers Nation.”

Phase I of the offseason program is slated to begin on Monday, which will consist of virtual meetings and go for an extended period of four weeks. Teams won’t be able to begin their set of 10, on-field OTA practices until late May.

Oddsmakers project Chiefs for best record in the NFL

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The betting odds say the Chiefs are heading into the 2021 season as the favorites to finish with the best record in the NFL.

The win totals posted by William Hill today have the Chiefs’ over/under at 12 wins, which is the highest in the NFL.

That would project to a record of 12-5, a strange-looking record we’ll have to get accustomed to now that the NFL is playing 17-game seasons.

The Chiefs were also the early favorites to have the best record in the NFL a year ago, with their win total over/under set at 11.5 wins in a 16-game season. The Chiefs hit the over, going 14-2.

Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t be the first NFL player to host a game show

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As Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers concludes his two-week stint as guest host of Jeopardy!, he seems to have a real shot at the permanent gig. He wouldn’t be the first NFL player to land such a job.

Rob Demovsky of takes a trip down memory lane to the time that former Chargers kicker Rolf Benirschke served as the host of the daytime version of Wheel of Fortune.

Benirschke, as it turns out, caught the attention of show producer Merv Griffin while appearing on an L.A. morning TV show on behalf of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Benirschke followed an animal act.

“This guy comes out with 30 different rabbits on the stage, these cute floppy-eared rabbits,” Benirschke said. “Well, they start doing what rabbits do: they start humping each other. . . . The two hosts lose total control of the show and it ends with the host saying, ‘Back in a moment with Rolf Benirschke.’ They come back from break, bring me out and we had some fun with that.”

Benirschke did it for a year, until the show moved from NBC to CBS.

“We taped a month worth of shows in a week,” Benirschke said. “Five on Monday, five on Tuesday, five on Wednesday, break Thursday and do the last five on Friday. So I’d go up there a week a month to do that. People probably don’t know that’s how it works. It’s an interesting situation. I remember I got laryngitis, I got hoarse one week and America thought I was sick for a month because you’re taping 20 shows in a week.”

Rodgers has said that he can pull double duty as Jeopardy! host and Packers quarterback. I wouldn’t bet against his ability to do it, and I definitely wouldn’t bet against his chances of getting the opportunity to do so.

Martin Mayhew: WFT “very confident and comfortable” with our QBs

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Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera said recently that the team is not feeling pressure to find their long-term starting quarterback this offseason and General Manager Martin Mayhew sent a similar message during a Friday press conference.

Ryan Fitzpatrick joined the team as a free agent last month and sits at the top of a depth chart that also features Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, and Steven Montez. On Friday, Mayhew said that the team is content heading into the season with that group of players.

“We do feel very confident and comfortable with the quarterbacks on our roster now,” Mayhew said, via Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post.

That comfort level doesn’t rule out the possibility of Washington adding a quarterback in the draft, but it would seem to make it less likely that they’re going to package other assets with the No. 19 pick to move up the board for one of the top prospects.

Penei Sewell training at right tackle in addition to left tackle

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It’s not clear what team will draft tackle Penei Sewell in the first round, so Sewell is preparing for that possibility that he might join a club with an established left tackle.

That’s where Sewell played at Oregon before opting out of the 2020 season, but Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that he is also training as a right tackle in order to familiarize himself with playing on the other side of the line.

One of the top tackles in last year’s draft class made the opposite move when he hit the NFL. Jedrick Wills played right tackle at Alabama, but moved to the left side with the Browns and started every game during his rookie season.

Sewell’s work this offseason should help make for a smoother transition to a new spot, although we’ll have to wait another couple of weeks to see if that will be in the cards.

DeVonta Smith laughs off those who question his size

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When the first round of the 2021 draft gets underway in under two weeks, wide receiver DeVonta Smith likely won’t have to wait long to hear his name called.

The Heisman Trophy winner is widely projected to be a top 10 pick after catching 117 passes for 1,856 yards with 23 touchdowns. He also ran in a TD and returned a kick for a score in 2020.

If there’s been any knock on Smith, it’s been his size. Alabama head coach Nick Saban has dismissed those concerns, saying Smith’s performance speaks for itself.

Smith, who says he weighs 170 pounds at 6-foot-1, feels that way now, too. But that wasn’t always the case.

During an interview with Bleacher Report’s Master Tesfatsion, Smith said he was doing 100 pushups a day in high school in an effort to get bigger.

“In high school I used to feel some type of way when people would tell me that [I was small],” Smith said. “But now, I really don’t care. If somebody says that, I’m just gonna look at them and laugh. I mean, it is what it is. At the end of the day, I know that when I get on the field and line up, I’ll do what I’ve gotta do.”

Smith noted that in some ways he’s been able to take advantage of defensive backs underestimating him.

“I feel like some people approach it [thinking], ‘Oh he’s too little, so it ain’t much I’ve gotta do,'” Smith said. “But then when we get out there, it’s a whole different story. It’s not what they expected. So now it’s like, they’ve gotta react to me.”

As fast and explosive as Smith is, there’s every reason to expect his play will translate to the game’s highest level.

“Tri-exclusive” sports book deal underscores the power of gambling on pro football

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When watching an NFL game, you never see a commercial touting Bud Light, Coors Light, and Michelob Ultra as the official light beers of the NFL. Whether it’s beer, car, soda, pizza, candy bar, or whatever else the league plausibly (or not) can slap the “official” label on, there’s only one.

That’s the benefit of being official. That’s the value of being exclusive.

When it comes to sports wagering, however, more is more. The league that for decades treated gambling like a family secret to never be discussed has fully embraced it, licensing its names and logos and audience to not one nor two but three sports books, in what the league calls a “tri-exclusive” relationship.

It’s really not unprecedented when the sponsorship is more functional than ceremonial. With the shoes used by players, for example, the NFL has multiple deals. Although players will never be allowed to let their fingers do the walking on the Caesars, DraftKings, and/or FanDuel apps, having three partners instead of one allows the NFL to establish a broad footprint when it comes to connecting with major gambling companies that will be taking billions of dollars in bets on football games.

The cash component is good not great, but then again it’s more gravy. A money for nothing grab that, per CNBC, will pay out nearly $1 billion to the league over five years. But the NFL also has the ability to pull the plug after three or four years, and the league doesn’t negotiate opt-outs without an intention to use them.

As more and more states adopt legalized sports wagering, more and more money will be legally wagered. More and more revenue will be available to the NFL. Eventually, the league could dangle one exclusive sports book partnership, squeezing the three partners to parlay their piece of the pie into the whole damn thing.

Or the league could continue to take multiple pieces from three — or more — sports books.

However it plays out, it will mean more and more pie for the NFL and the NFLPA, which is essentially an equal partner in all of these deals, whether media or gambling or whatever else the league can get for trading the right to attach the names and logos of the NFL and its teams to a given product. As time passes, the gambling-related pie will grow and grow and grow, and the league already is very well positioned to fully monetize an industry that the league refused to even acknowledge until the Supreme Court decided three years ago next month to legitimize gambling on sports.

Bill Belichick on spending in free agency: “It averages out”

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The Patriots typically don’t spend a bunch of money in free agency. This year, they uncharacteristically did.

Meeting with reporters on Thursday, coach Bill Belichick was asked whether the spending spree reflects an indication that they didn’t surround Cam Newton with enough talent in 2020.

“Well again, the process this offseason was to, as it always is, to try to improve the team and do everything we can to make ourselves as competitive as we can this year, which is what we try to do every year,” Belichick said. “We had several years in free agency where we were one of the least cash spending teams in the league and then this year that changed and balanced it off. That’s really what you have in the NFL — teams that don’t spend then spend and teams spend and then there are years when they don’t spend. It averages out over a period of time and that’s part of the averaging process came this year. But ultimately, we’re trying to do what we can to improve the team like we do every year and that’s what we’re going to continue to do as we work through the draft process and other team-building opportunities that may or may not come along during the season but I’m sure there will be others somewhere along the line. We will evaluate those when they present themselves.”

He’s right about the averaging process, but the Patriots have never been on the side of writing big checks for veteran players. This year, a lack of talent combined with a huge amount of cap space to allow the Patriots and Belichick to make a move or two or eight or nine.

Whether it works remains one of the most interesting questions of the 2021 NFL season. With the book closed on the team that won six Super Bowls from 2001 through 2018, can they get back there without Tom Brady at quarterback? We’ll find out starting this year, when the opponents include among others Brady’s Buccaneers.

Sean McVay: I’m really excited about collaborating with Matthew Stafford

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With the dust settled from the Rams trade for Matthew Stafford, the team has reason for optimism about what his addition can do for the team’s offense.

Wide receiver Robert Woods made his excitement clear during a Thursday appearance on PFT Live. And in an interview on the Rich Eisen Show this week, Rams head coach Sean McVay discussed how Stafford’s skillset factors into the scheme.

“When you look at what he can do, you’re able to execute and activate your play actions, your movements, those things,” McVay said. “But when you get into the known-passing [situations] — the third downs, the two-minute drills at the end of the half, end of the game — the way that he’s able to move and manipulate the pocket, the way he’s able to recognize and understand coverage and make all five eligibles come alive, the way that he can create off-schedule, in the pocket, out of the pocket, and just his overall competitiveness and command, those are the things I think he brings to the table.

“When you’re really playing that position, when you’re asked to get through progressions, recognize, read, solve problems protection wise, you’re seeing him do a lot of those things. And to be able to work together, to collaborate, I’m really excited about that collaboration because he’s got a lot of good film and a lot of exposure to different systems that ultimately, you’ll see us bring into our arsenal because it starts with the quarterback always in everything we do.”

After finishing in the top two in scoring in each of McVay’s first two seasons, the Rams fell to No. 22 in 2020. Time will tell if bringing Stafford aboard will help Los Angeles’ offense get back to its earlier levels.

Chris Carson: Russell Wilson “definitely was in my ear” about staying in Seattle

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Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson wasn’t shy about expressing his desire to see the team make some changes this offseason, but he wasn’t looking for a whole new set of teammates.

Running back Chris Carson became a free agent last month and said on Thursday that “there were definitely some teams that made it tough” to re-sign with the Seahawks. One of the reasons why he eventually made his way back to Seattle on a two-year deal was what he was hearing from Wilson before and after he hit the open market.

“He was definitely in my ear,” Carson said, via the team’s website. “We talked about it before the season ended that we didn’t want this to be the last year we played with each other. He definitely was in my ear during the offseason.”

Wilson and the Seahawks may not be together for the long haul, but the comments made by Carson and defensive end Carlos Dunlap after re-signing with the team certainly point to him being around for the near future.

Belichick says Patriots’ draft evaluation “is definitely different” after unusual 2020 NCAA season

2020 NFL Draft - Round 1
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The 2020 college football season was unusual, with COVID-19 canceling many games, teams playing shorter seasons, players having less practice time, players opting out, and some small programs canceling their seasons altogether. For Patriots coach Bill Belichick, that has resulted in an unusual pre-draft process.

“The evaluation is definitely different,” Belichick said. “No question. We’ve hd a lot of conversations about it.”

Belichick said the 2019 season was more like a normal college football season and therefore arguably better for evaluating players, although he also noted that many players showed improvement in 2020 and he wouldn’t want to overlook that.

“In some respects the ’19 film is probably better, more of an apples-to-apples comparison of where players were,” Belichick said. “But at the same time we all know players get better with another year of experience, so there were a lot of players who improved from ’19 to ’20, as they would normally do, and there were a lot of circumstances surrounding the ’20 season. So that made the evaluation a little bit different, and you just have to try to figure out what you think a player can do for your team, what his role will be and what the rate of development, or what the process will be when you get him on your team. There’s a little less information than we normally have, but all teams are working with the same level of information.”

In a few years, we may find that teams did worse than usual at evaluating talent in the 2021 NFL draft, thanks to that most unusual of 2020 college football seasons. Belichick knows this year provides some unique challenges.

Ryan Kalil: Jets didn’t let Sam Darnold evolve or make decisions on his own

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Sam Darnold did not perform as hoped during his three seasons with the Jets and the quarterback is now with the Panthers after they sent three draft picks to the AFC East team in a trade.

That move is a bet that Darnold’s troubles were based more on the situation he was in rather than shortcomings of his own. A longtime Panthers player who closed out his career as Darnold’s teammate with the Jets thinks that’s a good wager.

Center Ryan Kalil played for the Jets in 2019 and said that he believes former Jets head coach Adam Gase’s scheme bears a lot of responsibility for the lackluster results.

“It was a system that didn’t allow a lot of individual freedom. It was very, ‘You do it this way and that’s it,'” Kalil said, via Joseph Person of “A lot of the scheme was pre-determined based on what they thought they were seeing from the sideline. It didn’t give Sam a lot of room to grow, in my opinion, to make decisions on the fly. It worked in some instances, but it handicapped him in the long run. It wasn’t a system that allowed him to evolve and make decisions on his own. I think that was the hardest thing. And I think that’s why ultimately the Jets made some [coaching] changes, too.”

Coaching isn’t the only external factor cited for why Darnold flopped with the Jets. The lack of talent around him has also been a major talking point, which leaves the Panthers hoping that their situation will solve both problems and allow him to break out.