Monthly Archives: May 2017

Will Stewart lose carries to McCaffrey? ‘Who cares?’

Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart does not seem concerned about the presence of a highly drafted rookie who happens to play the same position as he does.

“Stop talking about that. Who cares?” Stewart said Tuesday to ESPN.com on whether first-rounder Christian McCaffrey might see more touches. “We want to win the Super Bowl, right? That’s the bottom line. It’s not about people getting carries. It’s not about people getting catches or touchdowns.

“It’s about what can you contribute to get us to the Super Bowl.”

These are tricky situations because Stewart either A.) is already tired of answering the question because he knows his touches will go down, B.) knows that he’ll be used in tandem with another back like he has for a majority of his career and wants to end any “unhappy veteran” narrative early, C.) is trying to be the veteran in the offensive meeting room and make it so no one person is more important than the other or D.) some combination of A through C.

I’m inclined to believe Stewart has good intentions. Most of the retained veterans on this team during the Ron Rivera era have brought a significant amount of emotional maturity to the table. Rivera has always been good at recognizing extra qualities that can elevate a locker room. The combination of Stewart and players like Jerricho Cotchery, Greg Olsen, Thomas Davis and Charles Johnson have been largely responsible for Carolina’s success over the years.

So while it’s tempting to dig into Stewart’s eyebrow-raising quote, it really does seem echoed by a player who means well. There’s always been room for more than one running back in Carolina.

Bruce Arians ‘happy’ with change to 10-minute OT

A taxing, 6-6 tie between the Seahawks and Cardinals in late October last year served as one of the stronger arguments in favor of a shorter 10-minute overtime period. As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told the team’s website Wednesday, the team wasn’t able to practice all week following the game.

Needless to say, Arians is all for the owners’ decision at the Spring League Meeting to make the change official.

“Will it lead to more ties? Hell, who knows?” Arians said. “We’ll call the game a little differently. But I’m happy with it.”

He added: “People are worried about 10-minute drives. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a 10-minute drive. I guess there have been a couple. If you get the ball ran on you for 10 minutes, you deserve to lose anyway.”

With all the extra physical stress on a player from week to week, lessening the burden even by a small amount makes sense. These are athletes already battling Sunday-Thursday turnarounds, so even a few extra minutes on the sideline can make a difference.

It will be interesting to see just how different an overtime looks if the team who wins the coin toss doesn’t immediately capitalize and score a touchdown. Will the inclination be to control the football and inch it across the goal line?

The best part about these rule changes are that they are individually driven. For Arians, who experienced the slog of a brutal overtime game, the change is meaningful. For Redskins coach Jay Gruden?

Zimmer: Vikings provide Floyd ‘good support system’

Michael Floyd is hoping to rejuvenate his career in his home state. His new coach thinks he has the infrastructure in place to do so.

Floyd signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Vikings earlier in the month, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The former first-round pick played for two teams last season — he joined the Patriots after he was dismissed from the Cardinals in December.

“We understand [his legal history]. We always try to weigh every situation,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Saturday at his youth football camp. “But you know, he’s from here. I think he has a good support system with [former Notre Dame teammates] Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph, partly. A lot of those things were factored into it.”

According to a police report obtained by NFL.com, Floyd was “unconscious behind the wheel of his running vehicle at the intersection in Scottsdale” just before 3 a.m. He pleaded guilty to an extreme DUI charge in February and was sentenced to jail and counseling.

The St. Paul native, however, reportedly had the remainder of his 96-day house arrest transferred from Arizona to Minnesota, per ESPN. This means that Floyd can start working out with the Vikings in organized team activies — which start on May 23 — rather than having to wait until June 13-15 for mandatory minicamp.

Zimmer mentioned Saturday it was “important” Floyd can start practicing with the team earlier than expected, and have a few extra weeks to develop chemistry with Sam Bradford. Even with juggling his legal situation, Zimmer doesn’t think it will be difficult for the big-play threat to adjust to his third offense in less than a calendar year.

“Michael’s a very, very intelligent person, so I don’t think he’ll have any problem catching on to the system or anything like that,” Zimmer said. “But to get out here and do it, and be around the other guys, and be around the quarterbacks, I think that will help him.”

The addition of the 6-foot-2 target gives Bradford another weapon to work with. Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Rudolph each accumulated at least 800 yards through the air in 2016. Floyd, a five-year veteran, averaged more than 800 receiving yards in his first four seasons in the league.

The Vikings also signed tailback Latavius Murray along with offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers this offseason. Their first two picks in the draft were tailback Dalvin Cook and center Pat Elflein. It’s clear that the main goal for general manager Rick Spielman was to significantly address the issues on the offensive side of the ball, which cost the team a playoff spot last season.

“We put a special emphasis in trying to get the offense better,” Zimmer said. “We’re looking for players that can flip the field. We’re looking for players that can score touchdowns. I think somebody told me when we’ve scored 21 points, our record is [20-3] or something like that. That’s what we’re trying to do: Score 21 points, however we can do it. But I feel good about the things we’ve accomplished.”

Falcons’ Devonta Freeman: ‘I want to be elite paid’

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has lofty financial expectations from general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

“I want to be the best,” Freeman told ESPN.com. “I want to be elite paid. Whatever that is, that’s where I want to be — straight up.”

He added that he will not hold out, given that Atlanta is already well aware of his wishes.

“Me and my team, we already said what we expected and wanted so there is no need for me to sit around here saying, ‘Why my contract not done?’ ‘Why is this, and why is that?’ I don’t have to do that. I don’t have those problems because realistically I am under contract already. I have to play my fourth season, so it’s no big deal.”

The hullabaloo about Freeman’s next deal was first given life by NFL Network’s Michael Silver, who spoke with both Freeman’s agent, Kristin Campbell, and Freeman in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. At the time, Campbell said, “It’s time for the Falcons to pay him like the elite back he is,” and added, “I expect them to make him a priority this offseason, as he’s been an integral part of the dynamic offense that has gotten them to the Super Bowl.”

The news and reaffirmation by Freeman to not hold out is obviously welcome for Atlanta, though the Falcons hold most of the leverage in this staredown-to-be. Freeman is wonderfully affordable at $1.838 million this year and there are dozens of tools in Dimitroff’s belt for 2018 to keep costs reasonable.

According to contract site Spotrac, the top running back salaries in the NFL after Le’Veon Bell’s franchise tag number of $12,120,000 are Jonathan Stewart and LeSean McCoy’s $8 million per year. Doug Martin’s latest deal averages $7,150,000 per year while Lamar Miller is getting $6,500,000 on average per year. McCoy leads all non-rookie running backs in money guaranteed at signing with $18,250,000 — or nearly half the deal.

So what does this mean for a player that has scored 11 touchdowns and amassed more than 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons? He’ll need to do it at least once more to achieve his goals.

His push to be a more violent running back may not be a coincidence.

Payton expects Max Unger (foot) back by preseason

The New Orleans Saints are optimistic that a key cog of their offensive line will be ready for the start of the regular season.

Coach Sean Payton told reporters Saturday that he expects center Max Unger, who recently underwent surgery on an injured foot, to be ready by Week 3 … of the preseason.

“At the end of the season, on the X-ray, he had a little bit of a space there, where you call a Lisfranc,” Payton explained. “You can make one of two decisions. Dr. Anderson … felt like, hey, let’s rest it. No need for procedure. When we got back started in the offseason program, it had increased a little bit. So he felt like putting a screw in it now is going to allow him plenty of time to rehab.

“We anticipate probably early August. I see him being able to possibly get into the preseason. Our goal would be Week 3.”

This is a far more hopeful estimate than Unger’s original diagnosis. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported at the time of the surgery that Unger was expected to miss at least five months, keeping him out of the lineup until around October. Payton’s estimate has Unger back six weeks earlier.

Under Payton’s timeline, New Orleans would have its anchor in-line for the opening quarter of the season, which includes games against their new back’s old team in the Vikings, the Super Bowl champion Patriots, the division-rival Panthers and the playoff-hungry Dolphins in London. Whether Unger would be the difference maker in any or all of those games is as of now presumptuous. But it never hurts to open the season with all of your starters.

If anything, the expected mid-August return makes New Orleans less likely to go after a replacement center in free agency. Nick Mangold had been whispered as a potential target, but those rumors should fade away.

Tony Romo falls short in return to U.S. Open qualifier

Tony Romo will not shock the world at the U.S. Open — at least not this year.

The retired Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo shot a 75 at an 18-hole local qualifier at Split Rail Links & Golf Club in Aledo, Texas, and will not advance to the sectional qualifying round.

Romo had an up-and-down day at Split Rail. His moment of glory came on the 14th, where he scored an eagle that dropped him to one-over and placed him back in contention to advance to a regional qualifying round.

Hold onto your butts because we have footage of Romo banging the 6-footer for eagle …

Tony Romo sinks eagle putt to get to 1-over. Hit it stiff from 225 with a 6-iron. pic.twitter.com/oRnfBtu2D8

— Drew Davison (@drewdavison) May 8, 2017
It all went to hell minutes later, when Romo put his tee shot on 15 into the water and finished with a triple-bogey (cue the fourth-quarter choke references). I don’t have any footage of that catastrophe, so here’s a still shot of Romo stretching out that jacked up back of his during a break in action. Retirement still seems like a wise decision.

Tony Romo stretching out his back on No 12 before his birdie try. pic.twitter.com/SbZ199UKEj

— Drew Davison (@drewdavison) May 8, 2017
Romo was one of 9,485 players to submit entries to the United States Golf Association to participate in 113 local qualifying rounds. Back in 2010, Romo actually advanced out of the qualifier round but had to withdraw when a long weather delay led to the round conflicting with Cowboys practice.

Even Mother Nature doesn’t want Tony Romo to win the big one. Better luck next year.

Malcolm Butler makes statement with attendance at Pats’ voluntary workouts

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler made a statement this week by showing up at the team’s voluntary offseason program: Disappointment over not receiving a lucrative long-term extension won’t be a factor in his making a full-fledged investment to the club in 2017.

This isn’t necessarily a surprise based on Butler’s first three years with the Patriots. From an on-field and pure competitiveness perspective, he has been exemplary.

But sometimes business-based matters can complicate things, and this has been a different offseason for Butler, which has been well-documented at this point. Yet his decision to join teammates for voluntary work, at a time when coaches can now work with players on the field, confirms that he is all-in for 2017 in New England despite an uncertain future beyond this year.

On April 25, when it became clear he had little leverage and a return to New England was a reality, Butler posted a tweet that seemed to reflect his mindset, which he later deleted: “you got to be productive no matter where you at or what you do….”

With Butler diving in this week — he attended the Boston Celtics’ thrilling overtime victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night with teammates — the question now remains: With Butler pairing with Stephon Gilmore as the team’s projected top cornerback tandem, could this be the best 1-2 duo the Patriots have had in Bill Belichick’s tenure?

Ty Law and Otis Smith from the early 2000s warrant consideration in the discussion, while in 2003, Law and Tyrone Poole teamed up for one of the most impressive wire-to-wire seasons the Patriots have seen from their top corners.

Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs (2007) are a cut below, but the 2014 tandem of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner might be the best of all. More recently, the Butler/Logan Ryan combination held its own.

How the Gilmore/Butler combination stacks up will be one of the fun storylines to follow in 2017.