Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Preserving cap space: In a stunning shift, the Patriots went from having $200,000 in salary-cap space after signing quarterback Cam Newton about one month ago to $25 million when linebacker Dont’a Hightower, right tackle Marcus Cannon and safety Patrick Chung opted out of the 2020 season last week.
Which sparks an obvious question: What might the Patriots do with the extra cash?
Those envisioning a high-money pursuit of free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney might be disappointed, because the most likely answer is that there will be no headline-grabbing moves.
Here’s more on the reasons why:
Whatever space the Patriots picked up this year will be charged on their 2021 cap. And because the salary cap ($198 million this year) might go down in 2021 because of a loss of revenues from the coronavirus pandemic (the floor would be $175 million), having extra space to roll into next year has to be part of the team’s thinking.
Because of the pandemic, operating with an extra salary-cap cushion during the 2020 season is necessary. Consider unexpected expenses such as stipends, COVID-19 replacement players and extra practice-squad spots, among other things.
The Newton Effect. The Patriots barely fit Newton under the cap with a modest one-year deal because of their prior financial crunch, so if they were to pay big money for a free agent, it would probably mean having to sweeten Newton’s contract as well.
They’re invested in seeing what their younger players can do — at least initially. The Patriots have been forecasting the eventual departures of Hightower (with draft picks Ja’Whaun Bentley, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings), Chung (with 2020 top pick Kyle Dugger and free-agent signings Adrian Phillips and Terrence Brooks) and Cannon (2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste), and now the timeline is accelerated to see if their replacement plans are sound.
As for Clowney, some question whether he would be a scheme fit in New England, with Michael Lombardi — the former assistant to the Patriots’ coaching staff — a respected voice in that area.
If Clowney would consider a Newton-type deal to come to New England, maybe that changes things a bit. But there’s no indication he would do that, and at this point, no sense the Patriots are in any hurry to aggressively use some of their newfound cap space.
2. Four QBs breaks mold: When the Patriots reported for training camp last year, they knew getting ideal practice repetitions for four quarterbacks was going to be a challenge, so they moved Danny Etling from quarterback to wide receiver. Compare that to this year and how the Patriots signed a fourth quarterback — undrafted Brian Lewerke — and it’s a reminder of how COVID-19 is changing the traditional way coach Bill Belichick most often constructs his training camp roster. Lewerke might not get many reps in practice, but he’s a fourth layer of insurance at the game’s most important position. The most recent time the Patriots had four pure quarterbacks at the start of training camp was 2009: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Matt Gutierrez and Kevin O’Connell. Brady, of course, was coming off a torn ACL from the year before.
3. Slater’s decision to play: Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater‘s history with asthma, which has been well documented, was naturally on his mind as he considered whether to opt out of the 2020 season. He ultimately decided to play, ensuring that one of the team’s top spiritual leaders remains in place in a year when his locker-room presence could be as valuable as ever. If Slater opted out with his medical history in mind, would other players have followed? That’s hard to say, as each player’s situation is unique.
4. Troy Brown coaching the returners: When Belichick finalized titles on his coaching staff last week, one notable designation was Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown having the specific role of kick returners coach (in addition to assistant running backs duties). Brown knows a thing or two about returns; he is the franchise’s all-time leader for punt returns (252) and punt-return yardage (2,625).
The title piqued the interest of former Patriots special-teams coach Brad Seely (1999-08). “Good for Troy. He’s a great person,” said Seely, who retired in May after 31 years in the NFL. “Everybody has a guy that kind of coaches the returners, but teams never really label that guy. That’s a great thing to do. … I think that will be a big deal when the season starts. The guys who have naturally talented returners, they’re going to have a heck of an advantage over the coverage teams, because the coverage teams won’t have practiced much as a group. Where a guy that’s talented as a returner, his talent takes over.”
5. Patriots and sports betting: There is a notable story off the field that continues to unfold regarding sports betting in the Patriots’ home state. The Boston Globe reported on how the Massachusetts Senate kept legal sports betting — which would create significant revenue for the state — out of the economic development bill it passed Wednesday. The Massachusetts House of Representatives had passed sports betting language as part of its economic development bill, which included an “integrity” provision that 1% of gross revenue generated by contests held in the state would go to the owner of whichever venue hosts the contest.
Specific to the Patriots, that would benefit owner Robert Kraft. Said a Patriots spokesman when asked by ESPN: “Neither the team nor the league asked for, as suggested, this ‘integrity’ fee. We’re focused more on the fan engagement elements of the bill.”
6a. Vitale opt-out in perspective: Of the seven Patriots players to opt out of the 2020 season, I viewed four as locks to make the initial roster — Hightower, Chung, Cannon and running back/core special-teamer Brandon Bolden. So fullback Danny Vitale and reserve center/guard Najee Toran, from my view, might not have been part of the mix anyway. While the Patriots were looking forward to seeing if Vitale could emerge as the replacement for the retired James Develin, my sense based on conversations with agents around the NFL was that he wasn’t their top free-agent target at the position this offseason.
6b. Scarnecchia on opt-outs: Retired Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was a guest on SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio on Saturday, with host Lance Medow, and touched on the Patriots’ high volume of players opting out of the season.
“I took everything that happened with these guys at face value. All these guys are really good guys, intelligent guys, hard-working people. Four of those guys really helped us win a lot of games, had a lot of success,” he said, referencing Hightower, Chung, Cannon and Bolden. “I think everything they’ve done relative to opting out has been with a lot of soul-searching, talking with their families, and coming up with the best decision for them. Even though it is a big hit — there’s no doubt about it, you’d be crazy to say it was any different – this is a different time we’re in. Yeah, it’s going to hit hard. But knowing Bill and that staff, they’re going to work like crazy to put out the best football team they can. I wouldn’t be really shocked if it [was] a really good football team.”
Louis Riddick is confident the skepticism about Cam Newton’s comeback season with the Patriots will fuel a strong performance by the determined quarterback.
7a. Watson excited to see Cam: Count retired Patriots tight end Ben Watson among those intrigued by Newton’s arrival. Speaking with hosts Bruce Murray and Brady Quinn on SiriusXM NFL Radio about all the changes the Patriots have undergone this year, Watson said: “One thing Coach Belichick always talks about, all the way to my first year here in 2004 to coming back [in 2019], is that there is always change in the league. I’m not sure he realized it would be this much change, but if anybody can deal with change it’s the coaches in Foxborough, because it’s something they always talk about. With Cam Newton coming in, I’m excited to see him play — a former MVP who has a lot of talent and is hopefully healthy now. He’s a real game-changer.
“That being said, it’s a whole new system [to learn]. So going from him all the way down to the last spot on the roster, this is a different look and team. With the Patriots, there’s been so much consistency — especially at the quarterback position — that it looks really, really strange now.”
7b. Measuring Patriots’ change: After an offseason of significant free-agent departures, and with four players opting out who had significant roles last season, the Patriots will return 59% of their total snaps from last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That’s the second-lowest percentage in the NFL, behind the Panthers (47%). For those who believe continuity will give teams an advantage, the Patriots’ challenge is that much tougher.
7c. Scar says Cam has edge: One more leftover from the Scarnecchia interview, on the Patriots’ quarterbacks, as he sees Newton’s arrival altering the outlook.
“I think he has a huge edge, because of what he’s done in the league. The guy was an MVP [in 2015]. We played against him a number of times, have a huge respect for him as a player and leader, and the things he’s done. This guy, from a skill set, a lot different from guys we’ve had in there at quarterback over the years,” he told Medow. “[Jarrett] Stidham has great feet and ability to move and avoid the rush, and create and do a lot of similar things. I don’t think he’s to Cam’s skill set, but this guy is a pretty good player. He also has a tremendous work ethic and he’s a smart guy. I know this, you have to be a smart guy to play quarterback in that system. Having said all that, the cupboard is not half empty by any means. I think there is a lot of enthusiasm. The situation looks a lot different than it did two months ago.”
8a. Media interest is high: Belichick held his first videoconference with Patriots reporters since the NFL draft on Friday, and here’s a number that was hard to miss: 87. That was the total count of all who logged in to monitor Belichick’s remarks. Wow.
8b. Belichick’s sandwich: While there was plenty of football ground to cover with Belichick, the coach cleaned up one loose end from the lighter side: He knows he’s going to get roasted by players for a Subway commercial he shot July 14 in which he sat on a park bench eating a sandwich. He said one of the benefits of the commercial is that Subway is supporting initiatives of the Bill Belichick Foundation at a time when it’s been challenging for charities to raise funds. One other benefit? “Everybody loves sandwiches,” he said with a smile.
9. Chung not thinking retirement: When veteran Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty was asked earlier in the offseason about possibly opting out of the 2020 season, he noted his age (32) and essentially said that if he did, his NFL career would likely be over. The thinking is that it’s hard to skip a season at that age and come back one year later. That’s precisely what Chung, 32, is hoping to do. “It’s not over, it’s just postponed a bit,” Chung said of his playing career on “CBS This Morning.” There have been no such public declarations from Cannon, who is also 32.
10. Did You Know: Chung is the only player in NFL history to begin his career by playing in a playoff game in each of his first 11 seasons (2009-12 with the Patriots, 2013 with the Eagles, 2014-19 with the Patriots). Overall, in terms of consecutive years playing in playoff games, Chung is tied with Brady and Slater for the longest streak at 11 years. Patriots safety Devin McCourty (10) is next on the list.
Football historians talk about the game in a previous pandemic
Football — college and the NFL — is wrestling with how to play amid the coronavirus. A look into the pages of history reveals some of the same questions surrounding travel restrictions and the desire to play just over a century ago.
The H1N1 virus — called the Spanish flu when it broke out in 1918 — is estimated to have infected 500 million people worldwide, with 675,000 deaths in the United States, according to information from the CDC.
Longtime Pro Football Hall of Fame historian Joe Horrigan and curator and historian at the College Football Hall of Fame Jeremy Swick have spent time over the past several months looking back at football during the 1918 flu pandemic.
“Something that struck me right away, that the circumstances, a time of social unrest, a health emergency like most had never seen and people trying to navigate all of that,” Horrigan, 68, said. “You see there is a sense of people wanting, really wanting, to try to get back to normal and that sports, even in those early days of pro football, pro football was going to try to have a role in that.”
Horrigan, who retired in June 2019 after 42 years with the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is considered the leading professional football historian. He says the impact of the Spanish flu on sports included a list of cancellations and schedule changes, such as the Cubs and Red Sox ending an abbreviated baseball season by playing the World Series in September 1918, a series that featured a young left-handed pitcher named Babe Ruth for the Red Sox. Players, coaches and umpires wore masks during the games.
Pro football in 1918 — the NFL wasn’t formally organized until 1920 — was largely a regional affair in the Midwest’s Rust Belt, with an irregular quilt of locally organized teams. Most of those teams elected not to play or were prevented from playing by local guidelines as men were being pulled into the military for World War I, as well as the effects of the pandemic. There also were travel restrictions and limitations on crowds.
There were just a few professional teams that played limited schedules, including in the Ohio League, which included what would be one of the NFL’s original teams: the Dayton Triangles, who won the title in the abbreviated 1918 season.
But if you’re looking for a record of professional football in 1918, the Hall of Fame lists no 1918 entry in its historical timeline.
“You just see the difficulty teams were having because of the difficulties the communities they were in were having,” Horrigan said.
College football was king at that time but many schools did not play in 1918, while others elected to play a limited schedule of three or four games. Because of the restrictions, few games were played until late October or early November.
“A lot of teams that were able to play, were able to play because perhaps many of their players had not yet shipped out — World War I was a relatively short war for those in the United States when compared to, say, World War II, so the cycle of men leaving and returning was different,” Swick said. “There were a lot of travel restrictions in place, however, for the war and the virus, so it became a local affair.”
Louis Riddick applauds Dont’a Hightower and other players for opting out of the NFL season instead of putting others at risk.
ESPN senior writer Ivan Maisel, whose personal library includes about 300 books on college football, said information about the 1918 season is hard to come by.
“You see a lot of the information, the war and the pandemic are treated largely as one thing in the discussion about college football,” Maisel said. “And the fact is they were. They were very separate things, but you also see the pandemic isn’t really talked about in much detail. But the differences in who played, how many games they played, how the season looked for each school, I think that’s something we could see in the season to come.”
The Army-Navy game was not played in 1918, for example, and the Missouri Valley Conference, which included Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas at the time, canceled its conference season. LSU did not play football in 1918 and later honored it’s now-named “silent season” a century later in 2018 with a commemorative uniform.
Knute Rockne, in his first year as Notre Dame coach, saw his team’s travel restricted because of the flu outbreak and the war. The Fighting Irish finished the season 3-1-2. At one point, Notre Dame played a game — against Wabash — that had been scheduled the same day.
But President Woodrow Wilson, who later cited a need to improve “morale” in the country, ordered football teams to be created at military posts around the nation and those teams played some of college football’s powers in 1918.
John Heisman’s Georgia Tech team played almost a full schedule — it went 6-1 that season. Tech surpassed 100 points three times, with six games at their home field, including games against the Georgia Eleventh Cavalry and Camp Gordon, a camp built in Georgia for World War I that was closed in 1920.
“The NCAA did exist then, so there were guidelines for schools to follow to play, but I’m certain nobody was checking IDs on all of the players from those military teams,” Swick said. “It’s certainly possible there may have been some older players, players who might have been the age of those on professional teams at that time. There were likely a variety of players in some of those games.”
A photograph that has resurfaced plenty in recent months — taken by a Tech student during the 1918 season — shows fans at a game wearing masks.
The only away game Georgia Tech played that year was Nov. 23 at Pitt, which was coached by Glenn “Pop” Warner. Pitt won 32-0 and reports from the time list a crowd of about 30,000 at Forbes Field. That win had many declare Pitt as the national champion.
“I would say, in looking back at it, you see the teams that succeeded were simply more fortunate,” Swick said. “It’s a virus, it didn’t pick and choose then and know who was coaching the team or how organized you were or how much talent you had or if more of your players had simply not shipped out to war yet. It was far more of a roll-of-a-dice thing about who won and lost.”
Pro football took the uncertainty of the schedule, travel and scarcity of players as a sign it needed to be better organized.
“And in looking back, you see a sense of the pandemic, as World War I was ending, having somewhat of role in everything that was happening in the country, having a role to push people to organize in pro football,” Horrigan said. “That the need for organization for teams, for players, could clearly be seen by those trying to make pro football a reality as they tried to navigate everything that was going on … and in 1920, just two years later, the NFL is born.”
Swick said he has found references to some college campuses “using correspondence to hold classes,” so students were not allowed on campuses for part of the 1918 school year.
“It’s hard to tell fully what it was like because the culture sometimes wasn’t to save things,” Swick said. “Some things are lost in someone’s attic right now or have been thrown into a dump long ago, but you see places where the students weren’t on campus, but there were attempts to have school so that impacted the ability for some to play sports, including college football, beyond simply having many able-bodied males fighting a war.”
To get a sense of life and the reach of pro football in those pre-NFL years, Horrigan has mined newspaper clippings to see how people grappled with the desire to return to games and gatherings as the virus was active.
A notice about school closures in an October 1918 issue of the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal said teachers were trying to find the best way to limit their contact with students as “some of them have declined to go into homes where there are serious cases in influenza and pneumonia fearing they might contract the disease.”
A notice in the Ransom (Kan.) Record in December 1918 offered “considerable pressure has been brought to persuade the health board to remove the ban from public gatherings, in view of the approaching holiday season that the people may indulge in Christmas-tree festivities and other social entertainments” and that people would be allowed to return to some gatherings if there wasn’t a “serious turn in the course of the prevailing pandemic scourge.”
Said Horrigan: “Those are the kinds of cities, especially in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, in that part of the country, where pro football is operating. And while large public gatherings were banned at times and the football season, college and pro, was largely canceled, you do see these attempts to play. And in looking at it, you really have to believe that with the aftermath of war, of the pandemic, those events put people in a position to try to reorganize things, and the NFL is one of the things that came out of that.”
Jets join Raiders in dreaded oh-fer club, shifting focus to future No. 1s – New York Jets Blog
A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Empty cupboard: Even though the Jets’ poor drafting record is well known, the trade of All-Pro safety Jamal Adams shined a particularly harsh light on the issue. And maybe, just maybe, it factored into Jets general manager Joe Douglas’ decision to deal away his best player. Let’s explain.
By trading Adams, drafted No. 6 overall in 2017, the Jets joined the Las Vegas Raiders as the only teams that don’t have a single one of their first-round picks from 2011 through 2017 on their rosters, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
That factoid is more damning in the Jets’ case because they made eight selections in that window, the Raiders five.
The Jets’ 0-for-8, compiled by the three previous regimes, consists of four terrible picks (Darron Lee, Calvin Pryor, Dee Milliner, Quinton Coples), one mediocre pick (Leonard Williams), one solid pick (Sheldon Richardson), one good pick that went bad (Muhammad Wilkerson) and one excellent pick (Adams), whose relationship with the organization fractured.
A team doesn’t have to consistently ace the first round to have success — look no further than Adams’ new team, the Seattle Seahawks — but it’s more the exception than the rule. The lifeblood of a team is, and always will be, the NFL draft. The Jets’ failures are a big reason why they haven’t made the playoffs since 2010, and the many misses are hampering the rebuild because the picks from the mid-2010s — the players who should be the nucleus — are nowhere to be found. Quarterback Sam Darnold (Class of ’18) is the longest-tenured No. 1 pick on the roster, for crying out loud.
Douglas did not want to trade Adams — he mulled Seattle’s offer for weeks — but the potential upside was too good to ignore. By acquiring first-round picks in 2021 and 2022, he gave himself four No. 1s in the next two drafts. The last time the Jets had this much draft capital in a one- or two-year span was 2000, when then-GM Bill Parcells made four first-round selections. After not having first-round picks in 1998 (swapped for Curtis Martin) and 1999 (Parcells compensation to the New England Patriots), he pulled off a franchise-altering draft.
This is Douglas’ Parcells moment, spread over two years — a chance to atone for the sins of his predecessors.
2. Did you know? Other than the Jets, the only other teams to part ways with at least eight first-round choices they picked from 2011 through 2017 are the Cleveland Browns (10 out of 12 picks) and Minnesota Vikings (eight out of 10), per ESPN Stats & Information.
3. History repeats: I hate to keep digging into the past, but I must say the Adams trade blockbuster reminds me of the Keyshawn Johnson trade in 2000.
Back then, the Jets dealt away a brash, charismatic, Pro Bowl talent who demanded a new contract and didn’t get along with the coach (Al Groh). They received two No. 1s for Johnson and used a third-round pick to take another wide receiver, Laveranues Coles. The Jets can’t cash in their Adams picks until next year, but they do have a third-round pick at his position, safety Ashtyn Davis.
Parallels aside, what remains to be seen is how the Jets respond to the Adams trade. In 2000, the Johnson deal galvanized the team. It motivated the players to prove people wrong, to show critics they could survive, even thrive, without their No. 1 receiver. History looks upon that season as a bust because of the 9-7 finish, but let’s not forget the Jets started 6-1, including the historic comeback win against the Miami Dolphins.
The current, post-trade spin from the Jets is how they’re “hungry” and “motivated.” They should be. Adams was a terrific player for the Jets, but they should be able to withstand the loss of a safety.
Unfortunately for the Jets, they also lost Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, who has opted out of the 2020 season because of coronavirus pandemic concerns. The silver lining is the Jets played 14 games without him last season and still finished seventh in total defense, but that was with Adams. No one said circling the wagons would be easy.
4. Reality check: Even though the Adams trade created no cap room in 2020, some folks might be wondering if Douglas will respond with a big-name, crowd-pleasing acquisition to make people forget about Adams.
That’s not how he operates.
Unless a great opportunity comes along, Douglas probably will roll his cap surplus (currently $21 million, per Over the Cap) into next year.
Jadeveon Clowney? We’ve been down this road before; the answer is no — still.
Yannick Ngakoue? The Jacksonville Jaguars probably will wind up trading their disgruntled pass-rusher, but I would be surprised if it’s to the Jets. They won’t trade a first-round pick and pay $17.8 million for a (likely) one-year rental on the franchise tag. They see him as a one-dimensional player. He is productive in that one dimension (37.5 sacks in 63 games), but he’s not an ideal fit in Jets coordinator Gregg Williams’ base front.
5. Bell is ringing: If you follow Jets running back Le’Veon Bell on social media, you know he is fired up for the season. He’s predicting a career year, which would be a remarkable turnaround after last season’s disappointment. The man should be highly motivated because he knows he almost certainly will enter the job market again next offseason.
“He’s not a guy I would ever doubt, just seeing what he’s done throughout his career,” Jets coach Adam Gase said.
Gase said Bell’s knowledge of the system is “completely different than it was last year,” so he expects him to have quicker reactions than before. He also talked about how Jets coaches used the offseason to study different ways they can get him the ball in the running and passing games.
Haven’t we heard this before? Enough lip service; let’s see it happen.
6. QB questions: Gase said they have had extensive internal discussions on whether to have a “quarantine quarterback” during the pandemic, a newfangled insurance policy that seems to be gaining momentum around the league. It’s an interesting concept.
Think about it: What if the entire quarterback room tests positive two days before a game? What, then? The smart play would be to have an arm in the bullpen, a quarterback who participates in the meetings virtually, trains away from the facility and could step into the huddle at a moment’s notice.
The logical candidate is David Fales, who already knows the Jets’ playbook, but there are some logistics that need to be worked out. Would he count on the roster or the practice squad? What about salary? As Gase noted, the Jets have three games on the West Coast, which complicates matters. He said there’s no urgency to make a decision.
7. Delay of game: For those wondering about the training camp schedule, the teams are having an extended ramp-up period that emphasizes strength and conditioning. The first non-pads practice is Aug. 12, likely open to the media, followed by the first padded practice Aug. 17. After 30 years of covering training camps, it certainly feels weird to spend the first two weeks at home.
8. The last word: “My first reaction when I saw the call [from Seahawks GM John Schneider], I thought I was in trouble. Then I realized I hadn’t done anything. Then I was like, ‘OK, this is weird. You don’t really talk to a GM every day.’ All I remember is him saying, ‘We traded you to the Jets.’ It was almost like his voice echoed in my ear. He continued for speak for two more minutes and all I heard was, ‘Jets … Jets … Jets.’ At first, I was kind of stunned. I felt abandoned, like they just kicked me out, like they didn’t care about me or valued me there. Then I started to think about how much of a blessing this was, another opportunity.” — safety Bradley McDougald on his reaction to being traded.
Sources — NFL opt-out deadline expected to move up
The opt-out deadline for NFL players is now expected to be moved up to either Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on talks this weekend, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The NFL is pushing to move up the deadline from one week after the new collective bargaining agreement side-letter is signed, and it now is expected even sooner, sources told Schefter.
Those deemed to be high risk to COVID-19 would receive $350,000 and an accrued NFL season if they opt out of the season. Players who aren’t deemed to be at risk but don’t feel comfortable playing can receive $150,000 if they opt out. Those numbers could change slightly based on circumstances.
If games are canceled, players won’t be paid. But there will be a fund/benefit established to pay back any benefits eliminated as a result of COVID-19 up to 2023, as well as paying back any lost guaranteed money to players.
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