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For franchise quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford, breakups with teams are hard to do



Joe Namath went to dinner with Leon Hess and his wife early in 1977. They’d been together a dozen years and Namath, the New York Jets‘ Super Bowl-winning quarterback, needed to have a talk with the owner he cared about so deeply.

It was a tough conversation, one Namath didn’t necessarily want to have but had to. The Jets were in the midst of a transition with a new coach — Walt Michaels was replacing Lou Holtz. New York had drafted a young quarterback, Richard Todd, and Todd needed reps. Michaels wanted to play him.

Namath knew the team would take a few years to rebuild and it just seemed like it was time for a break. Tears were shed, Namath said, by quarterback and owner.

Everyone understood it was time for a player-franchise divorce.

“Had Lou Holtz stayed with his staff another year, I might have stayed with the Jets,” Namath said. “Whenever he left, I knew, I just felt like it was a better move for everyone involved if I got out of the way.

“When I say for everyone involved, coaching staff especially. I knew Richard needed to work, wanted to work and the right thing would be for me to sit because that team that year wasn’t going to go anywhere. They were going to try and win games and they did, the next couple years they improved. But it was tough.”

When the Jets waived Namath, whose legs were already beat up, he signed with the Los Angeles Rams.

These were different times and Matthew Stafford is a different quarterback than Namath, even though they both were in their mid-30s — Stafford 33, Namath 34 — when the decision to move on was made. It’s hard for any quarterback who becomes the face of a franchise for more than a decade to move to a new team, which Stafford will do in March when his trade from Detroit to the Rams is finalized.

Rare is the quarterback who plays his entire career with one team. Tom Brady didn’t do it. Neither did Peyton Manning, Namath or countless others who were pivotal to their franchises. It’s the harsh reality of sports, figuring out the time to move on — whether it’s the decision of the quarterback, the franchise or a mutual understanding.

Some quarterbacks see the end coming in advance. Others don’t truly know until the end of the year. In some cases, it comes abruptly midseason. And when the quarterback — or those close to the quarterback — can recognize it, it makes that last season in a place that’s become home a little bit different.

Stafford, in his only public comments since the trade, told the Detroit Free Press he and his wife, Kelly, started a conversation about possibly having to move before the 2020 season. If things went poorly, Stafford knew the Lions were going to head into a massive rebuild.

Like Namath, he knew a rebuild wasn’t the best situation for him — or the franchise — at that stage of his career.

“Anytime you switch GMs and a head coach, you know that they’re going to want to bring their own people in, and that’s going to take time,” Stafford told the Free Press. “And I, frankly, didn’t feel like I was the appropriate person to oversee that time.”

Which likely means sometime around Thanksgiving — whether it was before Detroit fired general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia or after — Stafford had to have an inkling his time in Detroit would end.

It would better explain his insistence on playing through a multitude of injuries the final month of the 2020 season. Perhaps he knew it was time.

“I did not know in my last year that it was my last year necessarily,” said Matt Hasselbeck, who played 10 years in Seattle. “It kind of took me by surprise. But it’s only because all throughout the year I was being told that we’re happy with you and building something with you, but at the same time I wasn’t like blindsided and I understood it completely because, hey, a new regime means brining in their people and I’m not offended by that at all.”

Hasselbeck is thankful for what others around him did during his last Seattle season in 2010. The Seahawks made the playoffs and played New Orleans at home. The legendary ‘Beast Quake’ game.

After it was over and Seattle won, Hasselbeck had the ball in his hands. One of his teammates’ wives went to a police officer and asked to bring his kids on the field — something that hadn’t happened before.

“I’m there, got the game ball, getting ready to shake hands, do interviews, all that stuff. And all of a sudden my three kids show up,” Hasselbeck said. “Right there. My youngest is like four or five. And I’m like, ‘Uhh, OK.’ So I put my son on my shoulders. I give the ball, which is the Beast Quake ball, give that to my middle daughter and I’m walking off the field with my kids.

“There’s these awesome pictures, and I’m staring at them now, and they were on the cover of the paper. That was my last game in Seattle and I had no idea.”

Stafford might have sensed it, too. The Lions had him wired for sound in the season finale. Throughout the video the team posted, from his embraces with Matt Prater, Marvin Jones and Darrell Bevell, it felt maybe Stafford knew this was the end, too.

Just because Stafford went to the Lions and suggested a split doesn’t make it less difficult. He went from a 21-year-old No. 1 overall pick to a married father of four during his dozen years in Detroit. Even if the intent is never to stay in a place for the rest of your life, after a decade you inevitably grow some roots.

There’s a life there.

“You’re with one franchise. You’re doing one job,” said former Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who spent all 16 years of his career in New York before retiring after the 2019 season. “And you’ll change teammates some, you’ll change coaches but a lot of the trainers, the equipment staff, the media, the people in the PR, those people don’t change.

“Those people become like your family and that’s kind of who you grew up being around. And when that comes to an end, it’s tough.”

The COVID-19 pandemic kept Manning away from the facility more than he might have otherwise been, but he knew it was time to go. And that feeling of loss and pain isn’t singular.

“It was devastating to leave,” Hasselbeck said. “Everything about it was hard. You give everything.”

Their situations were different. Unlike Stafford, neither Hasselbeck nor Manning asked to leave. It was clear their times were concluding and the choice would not be completely theirs to make. It might not have been totally Stafford’s either, but he made it clear he wanted to move on.

He told the Free Press he was disappointed to not have won a championship in Detroit and his initial intent was never to play elsewhere. He said he didn’t want anyone to think he was giving up on Detroit because “I gave it everything I possibly had here.”

Which echoes the feelings of Namath, who like Stafford went to Los Angeles and had more of a mutual agreement to break up instead of the one-sided conclusion so often seen in pro sports.

“The toughest part, I didn’t want to leave New York,” Namath said. “I didn’t want to leave my friendship with so many familiar people that I had been around for 12 straight years and change. I didn’t want to leave Mr. and Mrs. Hess. They were wonderful people, really, the whole family.

“It was all tough.”

Equally hard is Stafford’s new reality. He’s excited about the new opportunity in Los Angeles and the chance to play potentially meaningful games late in seasons.

But like anyone going into a new situation, what they don’t know, they don’t know, whether he realizes it or not.

“It’s strange. Not only were you somewhere, it was who you were for a long time, for 10 years,” said Ken O’Brien, the Jets quarterback from 1984-92 before going to Philadelphia. “You look forward to going there all the time. You just fit in. You’re part of the whole Jets deal and then you go somewhere else, and no matter where you go, everything is totally different.”

Maybe that energizes Stafford, who will have more overall talent around him with the Rams than most of his years in Detroit. Football is still football. And as it did with Hasselbeck, the challenge of taking what he learned in Seattle and applying it to Tennessee “was refreshing in a way, too.” But Hasselbeck also learned to appreciate things he had in Seattle — nutrition, for instance — that wasn’t exactly the same in Tennessee.

After his first year with the Titans, he said he owed a handful of Seahawks employees calls because it was only then he realized their importance to helping his success and Seattle’s success.

Hasselbeck said one of the trickiest things was his family and their transition. His kids, for instance, loved Blitz, the Seattle mascot. When they arrived in Tennessee, they still loved Blitz more than T-Rac, Tennessee’s mascot. Hasselbeck had to explain while they had ties in Seattle, Tennessee was the team to root for now.

“It’s like, no, no, no, this is our new team,” Hasselbeck said. “It was like giving up our family dog and being like, ‘This is our dog now. You don’t like that dog anymore.’ It’s like, ‘What are you talking about, dad? That’s our dog.’

“It was hard. Definitely hard.”

But that’s all part of what happens when your world shifts and you uproot from one life to another. It’s change. It’s life. And for the Staffords — and for new Detroit quarterback Jared Goff — it’s the first time they are about to really experience it.

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Tom Brady rookie card sells for record $1.32 million



A Tom Brady rookie card sold for a record $1.32 million on Thursday on PWCC Marketplace, an online auction house and repository for cards.

The autographed 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket card was graded an eight with a 10 grading on the signature. It was purchased by James Park, a known card collector and noted Brady fan.

“I lived in Boston for 10 years and so am a huge fan of Brady,” Park said in comments posted to PWCC Marketplace’s Instagram account. “I’ve also had a love of collecting cards since I was a kid. Given Brady’s uncontested status as GOAT in football, this card is an important piece of sports history and of any collection.”

The $1.32 million price tag is believed to be the highest price paid for a football card, eclipsing the previous record by nearly $500,000. As the card marketplace continues to rise in interest and value, this sale soared past a recent Patrick Mahomes card that sold for $861,000 in the beginning of February.

The 2017 National Treasures autographed Mahomes card was graded a nine and was one of only five of that specific card. That sale broke the previous record, which was held by another Brady card that sold for $555,988 in January.

This most recent record might be short-lived given the way the industry is headed, and considering there is already a similar card being sold at Lelands auction house. The same Brady card is up for auction, but it’s graded an 8.5 with the signature graded a nine.

The card at Lelands currently has a bid at $707,565 with 29 days still remaining in the lot.

Another Brady rookie card from the 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket collection, graded a Mint 9 with a 10 grading on the autograph, sold for $400,100 just two years ago. At the time, it was the highest auction price in history for a football card.

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Kansas City Chiefs FB Anthony Sherman retires after 10 NFL seasons



KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman announced his retirement from football on Thursday.

“Kansas City, thanks for all the memories,” Sherman said in a video he posted to Twitter. “It’s been a great run: eight years, Super Bowls. But it’s on to the next chapter.”

Sherman, 32, played eight seasons for the Chiefs, mostly on special teams. Occasionally, the Chiefs would get him the ball, and he often delivered. He rushed for 73 yards, caught 53 passes and scored five touchdowns.

Sherman was selected in 2018 to play in the Pro Bowl.

He joined the Chiefs in 2013 in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals, for whom he played two seasons.

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GM George Paton says Denver Broncos want Von Miller back in 2021, pending legal issues, contract



ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With a decision about Von Miller‘s future looming, Denver Broncos general manager George Paton said Thursday that the team wants the linebacker back for 2021 but is waiting to hear more on potential legal issues Miller may have and did not rule out a discussion about a pay cut for him to return.

“We’re still working through it with Von, his agent, and in regards to the legal process, we’re just going to let the legal process play out,” Paton said. “But obviously it’s a serious situation, but we want to let it play out before we comment on that.”

Miller, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and the Super Bowl 50 MVP, has an option clause in his contract that if the Broncos pick it up would guarantee $7 million of Miller’s $17.5 million base salary and engage the final year of a six-year, $114.5 million deal he signed in 2016.

The Broncos, as well as Miller, are still waiting on a decision from the district attorney in the 18th Judicial District in suburban Denver to determine whether Miller will be charged in the wake of an investigation by the Parker, Colorado, police department. Neither the police nor the district attorney’s office has released details of what specific charges Miller could face.

Miller has not responded to requests for comment. If charges are filed, Miller could face the prospect of league discipline as well.

Asked whether Miller’s return could also hinge on a salary cut, Paton said:

“We want to bring Von back; we’re still working through that, I don’t want to get into everything, but we want to bring him back. Obviously the legal process, what he’s going through, it’s a serious situation, obviously, and I don’t know all the details, but we respect what’s going on. We do want Von back.”

Miller missed all of the 2020 season after an ankle injury just days before the season opener. At the time, coach Vic Fangio said he had expected Miller to have “a hell of a year.”

Miller’s eight sacks in 2019 were his lowest total since 2013, when he finished with five sacks after serving a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and then suffering a torn ACL in December of that year.

Miller leads all active players who were on NFL rosters last season with 106 sacks.

Miller is the longest-tenured Broncos player and was John Elway’s first draft pick as the team’s top football executive. Elway stepped away from the general manager’s role earlier this year before Paton was hired in January.

Other topics Paton and Fangio addressed Thursday:

“[I] did a deep dive with Drew … very talented, was inconsistent at times, has a lot to work on, but I’ve spoken with Drew … he really wants to be great,” Paton said. “We’re always going to bring in competition at every position, quarterback as well, but I like the track Drew’s on … He does have all the traits you look for in a quarterback.”

“We’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to be in every deal, doesn’t mean we’re going to make that deal, but we’re going to look into everything, whether it’s a quarterback or a defensive lineman, anything to help our football team, we’re going to pursue it.”

Paton also said that he would not publicly discuss any quarterback on another team’s roster, such as Deshaun Watson, and that the Broncos would consider using the No. 9 pick in the draft on a quarterback “if it’s the best player on the board, we’re going to take him.”

  • On re-signing safety Justin Simmons, who played on the franchise player tag last season and is poised to be an unrestricted free agent, Paton said: “Justin is one of our core guys, and our goal since I got here was to sign him to a long-term deal. We’ve had good discussions with his agent. I don’t know if we’ll get a deal done or not, but that’s our goal. He’s the type of guy we’d want to extend.”

  • The return of right tackle Ja’Wuan James, who opted out this past season over concerns with COVID-19.

Both Paton and Fangio said that they had spoken with James and that James was set to return to Denver area in the coming weeks to train.

Paton said the Broncos would tender three of their most prominent restricted free agents — running back Phillip Lindsay, wide receiver Tim Patrick and linebacker Alexander Johnson.

Paton added that he was already trying to re-sign defensive end Shelby Harris, who will be an unrestricted free agent, and that he has talked to safety Kareem Jackson‘s representatives. Jackson has an option year in his contract for 2021 that the Broncos have to decide to exercise by the start of the new league year.

“We’ve got to work through some things; we’d like Kareem back,” Paton said. ” … We’ll see if we can do that.”

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