Every week, the Ten-Point Stance takes a look inside the NFL. This week, the insider news, notes and quotes cover Antonio Cromartie's maturity, quarterbacks who can't win, Matt Millen's revisionist history and more.
1. A New Cromartie
Everyone you talk to says it. Players on the New York Jets privately do. Coaches on the team. People who know Antonio Cromartie. They all say the same: He isn't the guy you think you know. He's changed. More mature. Then you speak with him, and you understand what they're all talking about.
"The biggest thing I guess people should understand is that before you judge someone, get to know someone," Cromartie said in an interview with Bleacher Report. "Understand where a person was then, and where they are now."
Where he was: known as much for off-field issues as his athletic greatness. We know these things. No need to go back over them.
Where he is now: mature, team leader, quite possibly the best cornerback in football, with a new-found depth on and off the field.
"There was a time I was young and dumb, and then I grew up," he said. "To me, I've grown up as a husband and father. I used to let football define me. Now it doesn't. I've been in the league a long time [since 2006] and I understand life isn't just about football. I didn't know that before."
You may read this and smirk, but again, all I hear from those around him is that his change has been ongoing and it's real.
The reason the Jets stand at a surprising 3-2, in many ways, is Cromartie. His athleticism is obvious, but his maturity in a locker room that had previously, at times, lacked it has made the Jets almost impervious to the drama and shenanigans that once punctured their exterior. The Jets have grown up because players like Cromartie have.
What's happened to Cromartie is as interesting as the Jets themselves. He came into the NFL like many young players who didn't fully understand how actions and imagery can shape either positively or negatively. It's a lesson he fully gets now.
It's one the Jets fully understand as well. As quarterback Geno Smith has matured exponentially in just a matter of weeks, the Jets are progressing similarly. There are no more Super Bowl guarantees from head coach Rex Ryan, and the leaks from the management and coaching side have been reduced.
In the locker room, the team's veterans, among them Cromartie, have emphasized unity. The locker room was once also a place besieged by anonymous leaks. Those have slowed as well.
"We have one of the youngest teams in the NFL," Cromartie said. "We tell the young guys, 'Don't let anyone tear the team apart.' If there's a problem, players go to each other and talk it out.
"When Mark (Sanchez) went down, it was tough. One of the things that happened is from a team standpoint, we bonded more, because we then knew it was going to be Geno. As talented as he is, he's a rookie, and there were going to be ups and downs, so we all understood we had to play even better."
When Darrelle Revis departed via free agency for Tampa Bay, it was Cromartie who became the team's top corner. He's responded well, and the defense overall gives up the second-fewest yards per game in football (299) despite having an offense that has consistently turned the football over. The Jets' 12 turnovers are the second-highest in football.
These statistics from ESPN say a great deal about Cromartie's effectiveness. He joined the Jets in 2010 and hasn't missed a game since. The percentage that quarterbacks complete passes outside the numbers against the Jets—it is on the outside, of course, where corners roam the most—is the lowest in football. The Jets and Houston Texans are the only two teams that allow a completion percentage of less than 50 on those outside throws.
"I used to say, 'I'm the best corner,'" Cromartie explained. "I don't say that anymore. I just want my team to be good. The only label I want now is Super Bowl champion."
Yes, he's grown up. This is a new Cromartie to be sure.
And I like it.
2. Mike Vick to the bench?
When Mike Vick got hurt against the Giants, it was the least surprising thing in the history of humankind. Shock jock making a fat joke is more surprising.
There is something else that's shaping up to be predictable, at least when you speak to personnel men around the sport. There is the belief this is the last season Vick will be a regular starter in the NFL.
They outline the following scenario.
Vick is under contract for just the rest of this season. Even if the Eagles extend him, unless they give him a large amount of guaranteed cash—highly unlikely for an injury-prone 33-year-old—it would make the extension basically meaningless.
Vick could miss two weeks with a hamstring injury. In that time, Nick Foles will start. Foles is terrible, but he could play just well enough to unseat Vick and send him to the bench. That likely won't happen, but it's not impossible.
The problem for Vick is that, even if Foles doesn't beat him out, why would coach Chip Kelly invest in Vick for the long term? The 2014 draft is overrun with talented throwers. Several team executives believe six quarterbacks could go in the first round. Kelly could draft a much younger player—his player, his guy—and move away from Vick. He also has Matt Barkley on the roster.
So under this scenario, Kelly releases Vick and drafts another quarterback. One team executive estimated the chances of this happening at 75 percent.
Then Vick enters the free-agent market. He faces the same issues he did as an Eagle. The teams that will need a starting thrower will look to the draft. If the draft were held today, the top picks would be held by the New York Giants, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. Why would any of those teams sign Vick as a starter? Go down the list. The entire AFC East—no. The AFC North—no. The AFC South—the only possibilities are Houston and the Jaguars. Still likely a no and no.
The AFC West—no. The NFC East—no. The NFC North—no. The NFC South—no. The NFC West—no.
If he doesn't start in Philly, there really is no legitimate spot for him to land as a starter. Not a one.
It seems we are fast approaching the end of Vick's career as a starter. Vick was a phenom. Then he was a felon. Next he was a repentant thrower and a cautionary tale. In many ways, his career has been spectacular and a spectacle. Few players have reached such heights, and then lows, and then heights again as Vick.
Vick has had a good season, and if he can somehow miss just a week, and then not get hurt again, and win the division, and have a great rest of the season, maybe he changes the league's mind about him as a starter next year.
Or maybe things go the way we think, and he's on the bench.
3. Classy Josh Freeman and family
If I were quarterback Josh Freeman, I'd be pretty ticked off. Someone leaked private medical information about me to the media. They leaked that I was late for meetings or missed the team photo. Now, I'd take the hit for doing that because, well, I did it. He deserves his fair share of blame, but the drip-drip-drip of leaks was ugly and done with malicious intent. It's impossible to say exactly who did it, but there are only a few possible culprits.
How has Freeman responded? With great class. No heavy returning of fire. No punches returned. Just moved on.
I spoke to his father via text this week, and Ron Freeman was just as classy.
"Let's just say Josh is moving forward," he said. "I think when he looks back on things, on balance, there were a lot of positives there for him. He played with some great teammates and made some good friends there. There are a lot of good memories. Now he's looking forward to playing for the Vikings. We're going to leave the past in the past."
4. Gronk returning at perfect time?
New England tight end Rob Gronkowski hopes to play this weekend, a source close to the situation told me. It's not definite, and the Patriots are like the NSA when it comes to injuries, but Gronkowski feels like this is the healthiest he's been, I'm told.
The timing of his return, if it indeed happens, could not be better for the team. He's missed five games because of a multitude of surgeries, and the offense has struggled without him. With that huge threat possibly returning, the Patriots would have more receiving options—which is good since the Patriots receivers are either average or constantly hurt. Or stink.
5. Why the Cowboys lose
This stat from the Dallas Morning News' Brandon George explains a great deal:
There's your problem with these Cowboys. Entering this year, the team talked about running the ball more, but it has again fallen into the trap of falling for the sexiness of Tony Romo's arm.
So the offense relies on Romo, puts more pressure on him, runs the ball less and then comes the Romo turnover. Now, I realize Romo has fewer turnovers this season, but without the legitimate threat of a running game, the Cowboys are doomed to mediocrity. Maybe Peyton Manning or Drew Brees can get away without a substantial ground component, but not Romo and the Cowboys. No way.
They need to take pressure off Romo, not put more on him. And the way you do that is to run the ball.
6. Putrid Jaguars
ESPN's Bill Simmons just absolutely eviscerates the entire Jaguars franchise in this column. As much as I love that franchise and many of the people and players who are a part of it, I can't argue with a single word. I'm hugging you, Jaguars fans.
Also, the season-ending injury to Luke Joeckel has been described as a high right ankle fracture, but it's actually more complicated than that.
7. Racist Nickname
Not sure why exactly the Washington franchise thinks hiring a D.C. flack to help them defend their bigoted nickname was a good idea. The commissioner is softening his stance on the ugly nickname. The president has chimed in. Attitudes are changing, except...that of the one stubborn man who could make things better, owner Dan Snyder. Hiring flacks doesn't make things better. It hardens the attitude of everyone involved.
Anyone can point to a number of surveys about how American Indians feel about the nickname, but I like to point to at least one survey done in American Indian media. There is also the fact that 10 Congressional figures did this. Those things mean more than what a PR hack says.
Also, look at how easy it is to come up with something that isn't bigoted or disrespectful. It's simple, really. Everyone can be happy.
8. Dalton going backward
One fact about the Bengals is becoming quite clear: The team will not win a Super Bowl with quarterback Andy Dalton. They just won't.
Teams have won Super Bowls with average quarterbacks before. Trent Dilfer turned his average-ness into a Ravens Super Bowl win and a career as an ESPN analyst. Average works. What does not work is bad. What fails to work are turnovers and numerous mistakes. This is the island Dalton currently inhabits.
Dalton is on pace to throw a career-low 16 touchdowns and career-high 16 picks. I was one of the suckers who believed Dalton was going to elevate his game. He's done the opposite. If he went backward any faster, he would time travel to the 1800s.
The problem Cincinnati faces is that this team is ready to become an elite one. You rarely hear "Bengals" and "elite" in the same sentence, but it's true. The team is erratic, but that defense is no joke, and the offense has numerous weapons. The Bengals are ready to make a Super Bowl run, but they won't with Dalton. He's the weak link. He's the weakest link.
What do the Bengals do? There's little they can. There's too much invested in Dalton to bench him now, and what's behind him might be worse. This will still be interesting to watch. If Dalton continues to devolve, would the Bengals feel like they would be forced to make some sort of change?
Probably not, but the situation is fast approaching desperate.
9. Hard Knocks to the groin
This is just...weird:
Does the league understand that by forcing teams to do the Hard Knocks show, coaches will go absolutely ballistic? I texted one head coach about the possibility of being required to do the show. His response: "I would rather be punched in the d— than do that show." My guess is he's not alone in that sentiment.
The show is fun to watch and well done, and it mostly shows the team and league in positive light. Check that—always shows the team and league in positive light. But many coaches still despise the idea of doing it because it's another thing they have to worry about. Most coaches hate adding things to their to-do list they don't have to.
So no, this will not go over well with many head coaches. Not at all.
In fact, it isn't sitting rightly with those other than coaches. Giants owner John Mara voted against the initiative, saying in a statement, in part, that he believes "participation should be voluntary, not compulsory."
10. Matt Millen's revisionist history
Just don't believe it. At all. In any way. It goes contrary to what I've heard for so long about what used to happen in the draft room. Millen was the one often bullying scouts and others, not the scouts getting him to change his mind. I've spoken to scouts who worked for Millen. They have long said it was Millen who wanted the wide receiver and others wanted pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware.
Maybe Millen is telling the truth. Maybe he did want Ware all along. It just seems highly suspicious that all these years later, now we hear this.
And something like this is important. It's history. That decision to go with Williams was one of the key components that sent an entire organization into a tailspin. Williams is one of the top five draft busts of all time. He was just cut from the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Ware is one of the premier defensive players in football.
The Lions under Millen would go 0-16—the only team in NFL history to do so. Millen did have some good picks, but busts like Charles Rogers and Joey Harrington demonstrably hurt the franchise.
The great thing about historical facts is that there's always an accounting, good or bad. We know how the Packers were built, or the 49ers under Bill Walsh or Shula's 1972 Dolphins. We also know how the bad teams are built.
Millen was a great player, but his screwups can still be felt by the Lions today. I think he is now also screwing with history.
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