Monthly Archives: April 2017

Niners select Solomon Thomas with third pick

The 49ers are building a monstrous defensive line for new coordinator Robert Saleh.

After trading down one spot with Chicago, San Francisco selected Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

The 49ers also collected picks Nos. 67 and 111 in this year’s draft as well as the Bears’ third-round pick in 2018.

This marks the third consecutive year in which San Francisco has chosen a Pac-12 defensive lineman in the first round. The past two drafts brought Oregon defensive tackles Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner.

How well does new 49ers general manager John Lynch know Thomas? The two were in the same Management Science and Engineering class during Thomas’ freshman year. In fact, Lynch and Thomas worked together on a project, according to The MMQB.

A versatile lineman, Thomas has received high marks for his effort, lateral range and explosive first step.

“He’s a little bigger and probably more explosive than (Eagles pass rusher) Brandon Graham,” one scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “He’s not Aaron Donald but he’s like that.”

Lynch is off to a sterling start in San Francisco, adding an impact player to his defensive front seven while picking up a trio of draft picks to bolster a relatively barren roster.

Here’s what Jabrill Peppers’ positive drug test means

Former Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers tested positive for a dilute sample at the NFL scouting combine in March, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Here’s what that means and how it could impact his upcoming professional career.

Peppers did what?

Every draft prospect invited to the combine is asked to take a drug test. Peppers’ urine sample returned with a water content high enough to qualify as “dilute,” as specified in the NFL policy and program on substances of abuse. The policy defines a “dilute” sample as one that has a specific gravity less than 1.003 and a creatinine concentration of less than 20 mg/DL.

What’s wrong with having a dilute sample?

One way to mask the presence of drugs in a urine sample is to dilute it by consuming excessive amounts of water. In other words, a person could attempt to beat a drug test that way. The NFL is sensitive to that and considers a certain level of dilution to be the equivalent of a positive drug test.

Couldn’t dilution be coincidental or unintentional?

It’s possible. Players preparing diligently for combine workouts, in essence for their first job interviews, could overdo it with the water and Gatorade. Sources told Schefter, in fact, that Peppers fell ill on the way to the combine and drank eight to 10 bottles of water to prepare for his running drills. The NFL policy attempts to set a threshold high enough to avoid the possibility of unintentional violations.

Is this the same thing that happened with Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster?

Yes. Foster told NFL.com that he fell ill with what he believed was food poisoning in the days leading up to the combine. He drank excessively to recover and rehydrate from vomiting, cramping and suffering from diarrhea.

Does this put Peppers (and Foster) into the NFL’s drug program?

Yes. Per the policy, both Peppers and Foster will be placed into Stage One of the program. There is no discipline involved and each will be discharged within 180 days if they cooperate with a treatment policy and have no further violations during that period. If they do, however, they would advance to Stage Two. Violations while a part of Stage Two lead either to a fine equivalent to four weeks’ pay or a four-game suspension, depending on the circumstances.

Do teams really care about a dilute sample?

Yes. Multiple violations of the drug policy, no matter the cause, take players off the field. At the very least, teams will need to look closer at those prospects to determine whether the combine test was an anomaly or if a potential problem exists. If nothing else, some teams also will question whether the player was simply too brazen to limit drug use, or be careful enough in hydration to avoid a dilute result.

Previewing the 2017 Thanksgiving Day slate

The NFL is making history on Thanksgiving this season. After the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys host their annual Turkey Day contests and in between your tryptophan trip and sweet potato plunge, one team will host a Thanksgiving Day game for the first time in its franchise history.

The Washington Redskins will host their NFC East rivals New York Giants in the third game on November 23. The ‘Skins are no stranger to Thanksgiving games — this will be their 10th appearance — but they often played at Texas Stadium or AT&T Stadium.

Now, Thanksgiving will be good for four things: football, food, family and — in the case of Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman — friendly fireworks.

Here’s a quick preview of this year’s Thanksgiving slate:

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m. ET, FOX

The first divisional game of the day, this will be the Vikings and Lions’ second straight Thanksgiving Day tussle and their second meeting of the 2017 season; they first face off in Minneapolis in Week 4. Detroit swept the two-game set last year, best remembered for Golden Tate’s game-winning overtime spin-and-score. The clubs have only split their season series twice in the past nine seasons. A Sam Bradford-Matthew Stafford duel might not be the flashiest way to start your holiday Thursday, but it should make some high-stakes display of passing efficiency.

Los Angeles Chargers at Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS

If this matchup appears on face value rather unusual, it is. The transplanted Chargers haven’t played on Thanksgiving since the merger in 1970; the Cowboys haven’t played an AFC team on Turkey Day since 2013 when they beat the Raiders, 31-24; and this will be just the 11th meeting between the two teams. Philip Rivers vs. Dak Prescott. Melvin Gordon vs. Ezekiel Elliott. Keenan Allen vs. Dez Bryant. Prepare for points. (This game will also mark the return of former Cowboys QB and recently hired CBS color man Tony Romo to Jerrahworld. Tune in for some verbal gymnastics.)

New York Giants at Washington Redskins, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC

The night’s marquee matchup will rehash one of the league’s oldest rivarlies and dive into some intradivisional beef. Last year, the Redskins’ playoff bid was thwarted by Big Blue at FedEx Field in Week 17, when Kirk Cousins threw a late pick to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Late in the season and in prime time, Cousins will need to make a statement to overcome last year’s demons and prove he’s Washington’s QB of the future. And then there’s OBJ vs. Norman, Episode IV: A New Hope. With more Giants receiving weapons to account for this time around, we might not see as many fireworks from Norman, but you never know.

Broncos seek more speed for roster — and in a hurry

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Vance Joseph has had plenty of time to look at the Denver Broncos’ roster since he was hired as the coach in January. That means he’s had plenty of time to make a wish list as the team goes about its offseason repairs.

Beyond the vacant left tackle spot, the most glaring need on offense is more big-play pop, especially in the running game. With a desire to find a consistent No. 3 receiver and a player who might fill either of those needs and be a returner, keep an eye on speed as the Broncos make their selections during the draft weekend.

“Overall to our offense in general, [we need] to add more juice there, whether it’s a receiver or a running back,” Joseph said. “Every good offense needs a guy who can take the ball from the [line of scrimmage] and go the distance with it. It’s important to have that aspect of an offense. Running back, receiver, wherever it comes from, but definitely having more juice on offense is a must in my opinion.”

Joseph has consistently said the run game will get plenty of attention in the new playbook. After all, the Broncos were 27th in the league last season in rushing, and within those disappointing numbers was the fact they had just four runs of more than 20 yards. Two of those came in the Week 1 win over the Carolina Panthers.

“And running the football is the ultimate way to put the defense at risk,” Joseph said. “I truly believe that.”

In the end, a multi-tasker like Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who could also line up at wide receiver and present a speed option in the return game, would check off all of the proverbial boxes for Denver in one player. But the Broncos don’t pick until No. 20 in the first round, and McCaffrey isn’t expected to be on the board by the time that pick rolls around.

The Broncos did have McCaffrey in this past week for one of their pre-draft visits, so they are at least mulling the scenarios that would have to unfold for the suburban Denver native to end up on the roster. USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who has played on offense for the Trojans and is one of the most electric returners on the draft board, is another who would fit the speed-upgrade profile.

But the Broncos simply need more speed at receiver to keep teams from ganging up on Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and the need in the return game has largely gone unfilled the last three seasons. Thomas did not have a game with multiple touchdown catches last season; Thomas and Sanders each had a six-game stretch without a scoring catch.

Thomas’ touchdown drought covered the final six games, when the Broncos teetered on the edge of the postseason field until December losses against Tennesee and Kansas City.

“We shall see what’s next and who they bring in from the draft or who we might go out and pick up,” Thomas said. “The guys we have right now, I think they’ll bring enough juice. If we add somebody, that we will be even better.”

With 10 picks to work with at the moment, it will be a good idea to keep an eye on the speed numbers as the Broncos pull some of the names off the board.

“We just want to have impact guys,” Joseph has said. “As a defensive coach, I know those guys who can take the ball the distance every time they get it in their hands are the guys who worry you. You flip the field, you flip the game.”

T.J. Watt will visit Broncos

Many of those who visit Washington, D.C., come as tourists, eager to take in the sights and all the storied history.

But not T.J. Watt. He’s there on business, readying instead for the next step in his path to the 2017 NFL Draft.

Watt is spending his first night in the nation’s capital studying outside linebacker coverages and assignments in his hotel room. The night before a job interview with the Washington Redskins, his second visit to a team’s facility, the linebacker-defensive end hybrid isn’t stressing.

“You just got to be relaxed,” Watt told NFL.com on Tuesday. “I’m just trying to be myself and don’t try to be anyone else.”
Trying to be T.J. Watt these days is a busy endeavor. Fresh off four workouts with teams in Wisconsin, Watt scheduled workouts with the Saints, Dolphins and 49ers this week and has locked down a flight to Mile High to visit with John Elway and the Broncos on April 18. Teams’ interest, most of it coming after a lull in workout requests, came as a welcome surprise to Watt.

“Through the whole first half of this whole thing, my schedule had been set and nothing had really changed. Then, to have coaches call in late and kind of pack the whole weekend and have multiple workouts back to back, some people would shy away from it,” Watt said. “But at the same time, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. If a coach is going to take the time to fly all the way up to Madison, Wisconsin, to see me work out, I’m going to do whatever I can to show him I can play ball for their club.”

The most memorable meeting of this draft process for Watt has been his “surreal” trip down to The Star in Frisco, where he met with Cowboys brass, including owner Jerry Jones owner, who made quite an exit from the meeting.

“Halfway through the conversation (with Jerry Jones), I had to pinch myself almost just to know the conversation was actually happening. It was kind of a surreal moment,” Watt said. “Then to see him fly away in his helicopter afterwards was also a really cool moment.”

Watt’s relishing the opportunity to get to know some of decision makers he’s followed for so long.

“Obviously, you hear about Jerry Jones and (defensive coordinator) Rod Marinelli,” Watt said, “and to finally sit down and talk with them and see how much they care about football and seeing them have a plan for if I were to be drafted to fit into the defense is pretty cool.”

Finding the perfect fit would be nice, but Watt is well aware that this isn’t the college recruiting trail and that, in the professional ranks, you don’t get to choose your destination; the fit finds you.

“It is really cool to go to these really different facilities and see what they have to offer. But it’s not like college where I get to pick,” Watt said. “So I’m just kind of checking out the facilities and seeing how they do things and I’ll just be extremely grateful if they pick me.”

Still room for LeGarrette Blount in New England if contract expectation is lowered

Thomas, the Patriots absolutely have room for at least one more running back, if not two or three. Expect them to make those additions between now and when the 90-man roster is ultimately filled by the end of April or early May. So the potential return of LeGarrette Blount has less to do with space on the roster than it does a difference of opinion on his value as it relates to a contract.

As Blount said Wednesday night at the Celtics-Cavaliers game, he is looking for the Patriots to give him “some money.” I’ll take it one step further: What he’s most likely looking for is more guaranteed money after a season in which he rushed for 18 touchdowns.

The sides obviously haven’t reached a compromise in that area, and my sense is that the Patriots won’t be budging much off where they are, even if Blount ultimately gets a better offer elsewhere. With that, they assume the risk of losing Blount, who hasn’t decisively been connected to any other club.

This year’s draft features a deep running back class, and even if Blount is ultimately back, I still think the Patriots will strongly consider adding a running back.

Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett call Tony Romo one of Cowboys’ ‘greatest’

FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys made the release of Tony Romo official Tuesday afternoon, with owner and general manager Jerry Jones wishing the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdown passes and passing yards all the best in his new venture with CBS.

“As an organization, we did what he asked us to do in terms of his release, and we wanted to do what was ultimately in his best interest and in the best interest of his family,” Jones said in a statement. “Tony has been a wonderful representative of the Cowboys organization for 14 years, and he left everything he had on the field. He will leave us with many great memories and a legacy of being, truly, one of the greatest players in Cowboys history. We are thrilled for him and his family that he will be able to continue working as a professional in the game he so dearly loves.

“He is a young man who is just getting started on a long journey in life. All the best my friend.”

Romo and Jones developed a close relationship since Romo joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and ascended to the starting role in 2006. Jones has called not being able to win a Super Bowl with Romo one of his biggest regrets.

Jason Garrett had coached Romo since 2007, first as an offensive coordinator and then as the head coach from 2011-16. Garrett opted to stick with Dak Prescott last season, even when Romo’s back injury was fully healed, which led to a strain in a relationship that was tight. They attended numerous basketball games together, and a year ago, Romo was a guest of Garrett’s at a Bruce Springsteen concert celebrating the coach’s 50th birthday.

Garrett lauded Romo in a statement released by the team.

“Tony Romo has a unique combination of athletic ability, arm talent, vision and instincts for the game,” Garrett said. “What separates Tony from many other players, however, is a rare competitive spirit. Tony loves to play. Tony loves to compete. The best ones always do. In practice. During games. On the field. Off the field. Tony competes to the end in everything that he does.

“That relentless spirit that Tony plays with is contagious. He makes his teammates better. He makes his coaches better. He makes his team better. He has grown so much as a player and as a person over the course of his career and has made a significant impact on the lives of so many. I consider myself fortunate to be at the top of that list. It has been one of the great privileges of my life to work with Tony Romo, one of the greatest players in Dallas Cowboys history.”