1. The always-sexy backup QB
In Washington, Joe Theismann said that backup Kirk Cousins was outplaying Robert Griffin III and suggested that maybe Cousins should start. Then Theismann remembered he's on the team's payroll and changed his tune, via The Washington Post's Scott Allen.
It was an instructive moment as we enter a season in which backup quarterbacks will be as big a draw as starting ones, maybe more so than any other season in recent NFL history.
Across the NFL, these situations will create both opportunities and tension.
Washington is one of those situations. Griffin has long been insecure about Cousins, almost paranoid, actually. Now, with Griffin struggling all preseason, with his once-invisible doubters becoming impossible to ignore, and with Griffin limping around by the second preseason game, this situation will be the one to watch the closest.
Griffin's preseason numbers:
|Washington QBs preseason stats|
|Robert Griffin III||13-of-20||141||0||2||46.0|
His quarterback ratings for the three preseason games were 56, 77 and 27. In the third game, the one that's supposed to basically be simulating a regular-season contest, Griffin's longest pass was seven yards. Yes, that situation will be interesting to watch.
And there are others:
Geno Smith and Mike Vick: My belief has been that Smith will be an excellent quarterback. Players on the Jets point to Smith's intelligence and strong work ethic. Those qualities will pay great dividends.
Yet bringing in an established, still-talented veteran like Vick was a mistake, because no matter what the Jets coaches say, if Smith struggles at some point, Vick will replace him. Vick isn't there to sit on a bench for the season.
Chad Henne and Blake Bortles: This is the easiest one to predict—Bortles will be starting by midseason if not sooner.
Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel: The most scrutinized of these situations. I think Hoyer will play well this season, delaying Manziel's taking over of the team.
Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater: The Vikings are being extremely careful with Bridgewater, which is smart. But from what I hear from coaches on that staff, the team won't hesitate to use Bridgewater should Cassel struggle.
These are just some of the situations. The backup is always watched closely, and now maybe more than ever.
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2. Statistical pyrotechnics
There's an interesting (and continuing) debate happening over the role Pro Football Focus plays in the sport. For the record, I love PFF.
The NFL, a source confirms, has cleared Richie Incognito to return to the NFL. Which is ridiculous in many ways. Let me explain.
First, I know that Mike Vick ran a criminal enterprise in which dogs were abused and killed. He was let back into football. I know that NFL players have killed people while driving drunk. They were let back in. Ray Rice knocked a woman unconscious. He was suspended a measly two games. So I get all that.
But this was a perfect time for the NFL to make a statement. Incognito's transgressions go back a decade. It wasn't a moment in time. It was many moments. This isn't a second chance. This is his sixth, seventh, eighth chance.
In college, he spit on a player. He got in brawls in games and on the field. He got into a fight at a house party. It got pretty ugly. He was found guilty of misdemeanor assault. There was a fight in the Nebraska locker room. He basically got kicked off that team. He went to Oregon and a week later got kicked off that team.
In the NFL, he received almost six figures in fines for various cheap shots, fights and overall dirty play. And none of that includes the bullying scandal.
Oh, and he once allegedly molested a woman with a golf club.
No, Incognito didn't kill anyone, but by all accounts he is a fairly despicable human being.
This was a perfect time for Roger Goodell to say: "Sure, we screwed up with Rice, but we're not going to in this case. We're not going to allow Incognito back into our game, because we're trying to, you know, clean it up a bit."
And Incognito, should he sign with a team, will screw up again. Because that is what he does.
4. Steelers discipline?
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, one of the good guys in all of sports, is considering disciplining his two idiot running backs over marijuana charges, according to ESPN.com's Scott Brown. The speculation is that the Steelers would suspend both players for the opening game against Cleveland. This would leave Pittsburgh with almost no experienced backs.
If Tomlin does this, it would be almost unprecedented. I can't remember the last time an NFL team took an action that led to the suspension of its top two players at the same position. Not saying it's never happened—I just can't remember it.
This would indeed send a message. Such a suspension could seriously hurt the offense, but if the Steelers did it, it would be one of the more sincere messages a team could ever send. We'll see if it happens.
5. "Philip Rivers will dominate the league this year"
From an AFC general manager: "I've seen almost every quarterback play this offseason, and Philip Rivers will dominate the league this year. You can see it on tape. He's playing at a level above everyone. I don't care if it's preseason. He looks better than any other quarterback right now."
6. Then there's Kaepernick
The same general manager, on Colin Kaepernick: "I believe there's something physically wrong with him. Everything looks off from last year, and it goes beyond the poor play of his offensive line. Usually when a guy looks so different from last year, it's something physical."
7. The Mankins trade
Trading Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers—for tight end Tim Wright and a 2015 fourth-round pick—is a classic Bill Belichick boss move. Like one of those Gotham City bosses.
Mankins is still effective, but Belichick basically traded high—dumping Mankins, getting some value for him and helping the franchise in the process. Is it coldblooded to do this to Mankins? Yes. Is unfair? Yes. But football isn't fair. Never has been.
8. Sean Gilbert platform
One of the more fascinating subplots to this NFL season is a former NFL player named Sean Gilbert. Gilbert is working to replace the head of the union, DeMaurice Smith.
Gilbert held a conference call with a handful of football writers, and it was captivating. He laid out his platform. These are Gilbert's points, directly from the file he sent to select media:
TERMINATION OF THE CBA - Pursue the right to terminate the Collective Bargaining Agreement under Article 17 and Article 69. (ANTI-COLLUSION)
PLAYER HEALTH AND SAFETY – We will never negotiate the health and safety of our Players. The health and safety of NFL Players is priceless and should be respected by both the Union and the Owners.
$1,000,000 MINIMUM SALARY – The current system discriminates against older Players while exploiting younger Players. Increases in the "Minimum Salary" will be tied to the growth in revenues.
UNION DUES – Dues will revert to $10,000 rather than the present $15,000, which was a 50% increase this past year.
GROW THE GAME/SALARY CAP – Not only do we expect to recapture much of the BILLIONS OF DOLLARS that have shifted from the Players to the Owners under the current agreement, we expect to significantly grow the game.
ROOKIE CONTRACTS THREE (3) YEARS – All Rookie Contracts shall be three (3) years (no option for First Round Selections).
FREE AGENCY AFTER THREE (3) YEARS.
FRANCHISE DESIGNATION — A Player may only be "FRANCHISED" once in his career.
ELIMINATE THE TRANSITION DESIGNATION.
ELIMINATE TWO (2) PRE-SEASON GAMES.
ELIMINATE COMPENSATORY DRAFT SELECTIONS — Teams shall not be rewarded for refusing to sign their own Free Agents.
RENEGOTIATION OF PLAYERS CONTRACTS CAN COMMENCE AFTER ONE (1) YEAR INSTEAD OF THE CURRENT THREE (3) YEAR RULE. See — Russell Wilson
NFL PLAYER JOB CREATION — We shall add 224 NFL PLAYER JOBS — Roster size shall increase from 53 to 57 Players and Practice Squad shall increase from 8 to 11 Players.
PRACTICE SQUAD SALARY INCREASE — Practice Squad Salary shall increase from $6,300 per week to $20,000 per week.
ELIMINATE "CONTRACT SPLITS" DURING THE REGULAR SEASON.
ELIMINATE EXCLUSIONS FROM "ALL REVENUE" (AR) — Eliminate exclusions from "AR" such as, Dallas Cowboys Merchandising (in excess of $80 million), PSL fees for the New York Jets and Giants (in excess of $43 million) and revenues derived from real estate development opportunities in conjunction with Stadium lease etc.
ELIMINATE THE "BUCKET/BAND" SYSTEM — Eliminate the band/bucket system (Article 12, Section 6, page 79-80) and advocate a true equitable partnership between the Players and Owners.
100% CASH SPENDING — A Team must spend 100% of the "SALARY CAP" each year. Any shortfall shall be paid by the Team having such shortfall, directly to the Players who were on such a Team’s roster at any time during the season, pursuant to the reasonable allocation instructions of the NFLPA.
LIMITATION ON ROGER GOODELL'S POWER — Goodell will no longer be allowed to serve as judge, jury, and executioner on matters of Player’s discipline.
"FINE MONEY" SHALL BE GIVEN TO "NEEDY" RETIRED PLAYERS
"CONTRACT DISSOLUTION BENEFIT" — Purpose is to eliminate fictional contracts and create respect for the sanctity of the Contract. Except for "Rookie Contracts" or One-Year Contracts, if a Team terminates the Contract, the Player shall receive 10% of the remaining money due under the Contract. Player shall receive such amount upon submission of his "Retirement Papers." The "Contract Dissolution Benefit" will not be counted as a "CAP CHARGE."
TRUE TRANSPARENCY – Between the Union, Players & Agents, e.g. "Player Performance Pool"
Super Bowl will be played on President’s Weekend (pushes majority of Post-Season in "TV Sweeps Month")
Bid out Super Bowl like the Olympics
Annualized Salaries from 16 Games to 18 Games — For example, if Player's Base Salary is currently $1.6 Million, under 18 Games it shall be $1.8 Million.
Guaranteeing the Difference — For example, the Player has Four (4) years left on his Contract that pays him an annual Salary of $3,200,000, you must annualized his Salary like above. Therefore, his new "Annualized Salary" shall be $3,600,00 per year. The subsequent year Team terminates Players' Contract with 3 years remaining; Player shall receive $1,200,000 ($3,600,000 less $3,200,000 multiply by the 3 years remaining). Player shall receive such amount upon submission of his "Retirement Papers." When paid, such amount shall be included in the "Player Benefits Costs."
9. Gilbert Part II
Gilbert's platform is ambitious, but it's also smart. It would in many ways change the NFL landscape dramatically. That's not necessarily a bad thing.
Owners would also never approve much of what he wants to do. Never. So that means Gilbert would have to be ready for a fight, and that fight would have to mean some sort of work stoppage. And a stoppage of just a few weeks wouldn't do it. It would take a stoppage of a season to get the owners' attention.
Gilbert's big claim is that he has proof owners have illegally colluded, and this proof could be used to force the owners to the negotiating table. Gilbert won't say what this proof is, and frankly it sounds a little Area 51-ish.
What I do know is that Gilbert is gaining some momentum among the player base. He has privately met with dozens of key veterans, and some of them are buying into his message.
10. Belichick imitator
Enjoy Matt Cassel's excellent imitation of Belichick:
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.