Why 2019 is so crucial for Panthers’ Cam Newton

The lengthening of superstar NFL quarterback careers in recent years has thrown out of whack the perspective that once informed where QB are in their arc, and how much time they have left.

In 2019, two NFL starting quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Drew Brees) will be over 40, and at least eight of them — 25 percent of the league’s presumptive Week 1 starters — will be at least 34 years old. Of those, only Eli Manning appears to show signs of decline or readiness to retire.

Once upon a time, a quarterback turning 30, as Cam Newton did last month, might have seemed like a significant milestone. Nowadays, however, it more than likely only means that a passer has another decade left of his career. Obviously, injuries and a few other factors can play a hand, especially for a quarterback who takes so much contact. But short of something catastrophic, there’s little reason to assume Newton should think his days are numbered.

Newton, coming off shoulder surgery in late January, is scheduled to throw in quarterback drills, though on a pitch count and aiming at stationary targets, when the Panthers open mini-camp Tuesday. This isn’t the first time Newton has thrown a football since undergoing the procedure, as the world found out earlier this month when a fan’s video of Newton throwing on a practice field made waves online, much to the dismay of Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.

After eight seasons, it’s fair to presume that Cam is right about at the midpoint of his career. Sadly, he’s beginning the second half returning from a serious injury, one that derailed what had been something of a comeback season for the quarterback. While Newton is among the league’s biggest stars, and has put together moments and short stretches of greatness, he has struggled to produce at the elite level on a year-to-year basis in the NFL.

Newton’s 2015 MVP season, albeit one where he fell just short of a championship, seemed to be a realization of the early career progression. He had reached the zenith and appeared at the time there to stay, until he wasn’t. Newton regressed considerably the following year, and didn’t return to dominating form again until 2018, even if the second half of last season was marred by struggle through injury. That dip in performance wasn’t entirely Newton’s fault, as Carolina has been frustratingly unable to surround its star quarterback with comparable talent in the receiving corps. The hire of Norv Turner last year, as mocked as it was at the time, inoculated life into play-calling that had become stagnant in Carolina.

Hopefully that means Newton can establish some consistency in the years to come. As Turner tells it, Cam has displayed urgency in his effort to be back on the field in time for the start of this coming season. “He’s really attacked this rehab, and he’s done everything he could possibly do physically to get back to where he is with the shoulder,” Turner told SI. “It’s been good for him to concentrate on the mental part of it. There’s only so much he can do, without throwing. And he’s really grown there, without being able to throw.”

That’s a significant leap from initial fears in January that Newton might have to miss a season to recover. Owner David Tepper tried to put a positive spin on it at the time, saying the wait would be worth it to get their franchise quarterback back to 100 percent. But there’s no denying that it would be a frustrating setback to Newton and those who want to see him realize his potential.

With the younger weapons in the Panthers’ offense starting to reach maturation,  there’s reason to believe Newton can make strides again this season if his health cooperates. Receiver D.J. Moore aims to build off an encouraging rookie season and Christian McCaffrey in 2018 proved himself worthy of the first-round pick the Panthers spent on him the year before.

This may not be a make-or-break season for Newton, but assuming he’s fortunate enough not to have his health be a deterrent for the second straight year, it can be pivotal and set him up for a back half of a career that might place him among the greats.

By: Michael Tunison

Original Article

One-on-One: If Troy Aikman’s in HOF, Donovan McNabb should be, too. Right?

Yardbarker NFL writers Michael Tunison and Chris Mueller address some of the hottest issues in the league. This week’s topic: Does Donovan McNabb have a compelling case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Mueller: There exists an old saying in sports talk radio that, on a slow news day, all a host must do, in any city, is say, “Pete Rose, Hall of Fame, yes or no?” Then watch as the callers flood in, taking care of several hours of airtime in one fell swoop.

We love to debate whether or not Player X does or doesn’t belong in their respective sport’s Hall of Fame because anyone good enough to be on the cusp can have a compelling case made for either side.

Typically, fans or media are the ones who bring up these arguments, but Donovan McNabb decided to cut out the middleman recently and make his case. That he used three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Aikman as his foil made things interesting, and even a little spicy.

Here’s the thing, though — if individual numbers matter, then he should be in over Aikman every day of the week and twice on Sundays. In fact, if the story compelled you, like me, to look up Aikman’s stats, you were probably shocked by how pedestrian they are. I grew up as a kid in the early 1990s thinking that Aikman was great, but maybe he was more along for the ride than anything.


                 Comp.- Att.  |   Yds.  |   Pct.  |   TDs   

McNabb   3170-5374       37,276     59.0      234

Aikman    2898-4715       32,942     61.5      165


Three Super Bowls is three Super Bowls, but McNabb didn’t have Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and an offensive line that dominated virtually every defense it came across. McNabb had Terrell Owens and Brian Dawkins, both in the Hall of Fame, and … Freddie Mitchell. Give him the former group, and something tells me he would have found a way to get over the hump.

So sue me, I think McNabb is right. It looks uncool to advocate for your own worthiness, yes, but the man still has a point.

The bigger discussion is also relevant here. What exactly is the best criteria for evaluating someone’s Hall of Fame candidacy? Do stats matter more than titles? And when one player at a position is clearly superior to another, but the man with inferior stats got to the top of the mountain three times, how much should that matter?

Mar 13, 2018; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles former quarterback Donovan McNabb in attendance of the Phoenix Suns game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tunison: I do feel for McNabb, even after his multiple DUIs and post-career propensity to be a social media irritant. He was a good to very good quarterback. What he truly excelled at, however, was making the right enemies, whether it was Rush Limbaugh calling him overrated as a result of the media’s desire for black quarterbacks to do well, or Eagles fans never quite embracing him or just being outright hostile to McNabb.

And, yeah, his numbers were better than Aikman’s. So what? The Hall has always been desirous of star players from dynasties. Steelers receiver Lynn Swann’s career numbers kind of suck (336 receptions, 5,462 receiving yards, 68 TDs), but he won four Super Bowls and made some exciting plays in them. It would ridiculous to claim championships don’t play a role in voters’ decision-making. I’m not saying it’s right. It just fits into several fairly arbitrary things that can decide borderline cases.

McNabb was certainly good enough to win a championship, and came awfully close once. What gets remembered about that Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance, though? T.O. playing through injury and having a great game, and McNabb allegedly throwing up and moving the ball too slowly in the fourth quarter. It’s a shame, because 2004 was by far McNabb’s best season (300-469, 3,875 yards, 31 TDs), and his only MVP-caliber one.

That McNabb’s numbers were on the whole better than Aikman’s has to also be put in the context that McNabb started his career just as Aikman’s ended, and offenses in the 2000s were opening up more than those of the ’90s. Awareness of concussions was still only burgeoning, but there were efforts by the league during McNabb’s playing days to make it harder for defensive backs to jam receivers.

Finally, here’s a good example to posit: Carson Palmer has comparable career numbers — see here —  to Donovan McNabb. Do you want  Palmer in the Hall of Fame?

Mueller: McNabb being a target of some of the worst people around never made me feel any sympathy toward him, probably because I was attending Penn State during his prime years, and had to deal with that obnoxious E-A-G-L-E-S chant because the team was very good.

If anything, I feel like reconsidering his Hall of Fame credentials is a mea culpa on my part, because I used to just make fun of him for throwing the ball at his receivers’ feet too often, and never winning the big one. If I overestimated Aikman’s greatness, I underestimated McNabb’s.

Oh, and he could run, too, especially early in his career. That feels pretty relevant to his candidacy, given that he piled up 3,459 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground. He was so dangerous as a passer that he never got slapped with the “running quarterback” label applied to any black quarterback who moved faster than a statue.

The Super Bowl is obviously important, and making huge plays on the way to victory should count for something, but not everything. The list of quarterbacks with similar careers to McNabb has a pretty striking line of Hall of Fame demarcation — if you won at least one title, congratulations, you’re in. If you didn’t, sorry, you’re not. Unless you’re Jim Kelly, in which case smashing into the same wall four straight times earns you a sort of lifetime achievement award.

Perhaps if McNabb had better NFC title game luck, or if he hadn’t very literally puked in the biggest moment of his career, he’d already be in. Neither factor should keep him out any longer.

Do I want Palmer in? No. He was a compiler, and ran the show for a handful of very good teams, but some truly mediocre to awful ones. Most of all, he doesn’t pass my most basic Hall of Fame worthiness test; did I watch him and say, “This man is one of the all-time greats?”

During his playing career, McNabb didn’t pass that test either. Unlike Palmer, I’m now ready to admit the error of my ways.

Tunison: Don’t feel too bad. After all, neither of us are actually HOF voters. I’m sure Canton will ask me  once I get 30 years’ experience happily granting NFL GMs anonymity to say nasty things about their players. 

Original Article

NFL stars looking to rebound from a rough 2018

Whether it was due to injury, age or just subpar play, many NFL players are looking to rebound after disappointing 2018 seasons. Here’s a look at 25 players hoping to bounce back.

Ezekiel Ansah, DE, free agent

Ansah had an injury-plagued year in 2018, likely his last in Detroit. He played only seven games, recording four sacks, and he struggled to find a market as a free agent this offseason due to a shoulder injury.

Vic Beasley, DE, Falcons

Beasley led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016, but that production looks more like a fluke after his last two seasons. He had only five sacks in each of the last two seasons and also had just 20 tackles last year as a situational pass rusher. Atlanta desperately needs a rebound from him this year.

Randall Cobb, WR, Cowboys

At one time Cobb was Aaron Rodgers’ top receiver, but he’s struggled in Green Bay over the last three years. After playing only nine games due to injuries last season, he signed with the Cowboys to replace Cole Beasley as the team’s slot receiver.

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals

Dalton’s last winning season as a starter was 2015. Last year he went 5-6 in 11 starts before a season-ending thumb injury. He also threw 11 interceptions during his time on the field. Bengals fans hope new head coach Zac Taylor can help Dalton take a step forward.

Joe Flacco, QB, Broncos

The writing was on the wall for Flacco in Baltimore after the team drafted Lamar Jackson. Despite adding several new receivers, Flacco went 4-5 as a starter with just 12 touchdown passes before giving way to Jackson due to a hip injury. Denver traded for Flacco in the offseason, but he’s in a similar situation after the Broncos drafted Drew Lock in the second round.

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars

Jacksonville’s return for selecting Fournette fourth overall in the 2017 draft hasn’t been great thus far. He had more than 1,000 yards rushing in his rookie season but averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. Last season was worse, as he played only eight games mostly due to injuries and had a terrible 3.3 yards per rush attempt. Fournette also had minor legal issues during the offseason.

Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons

Freeman has struggled to stay healthy over the last two seasons and played only two games last year due to foot and groin injuries. He’s still young enough to rebound going into his age 27 season, and the Falcons need him to be healthy after Tevin Coleman left in free agency.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Packers

Green Bay expected big things from Graham after signing him last offseason, but he was a relative disappointment with only 636 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Graham deserves credit for gutting out a thumb injury late in the year, but the expectation that he’d replace Jordy Nelson’s production didn’t come to fruition.

A.J. Green, WR, Bengals

Green has missed significant time in two of the last three seasons, sitting out seven games last year due to a toe injury. For the second straight year, Green’s production when he did play was also down significantly with only 77 receiving yards per game after averaging at least 80 yards from 2012-2016.

Full 25

By: Seth Trachtman

 

Why the Bills — yes, the Bills! — are a stealth playoff contender

Overlooking the Bills is usually easy. As one of American professional sports’ smallest markets, Buffalo has struggled to receive national media attention in the post-Doug Flutie years. In 15 of the past 17 seasons, the Bills have won from six to nine games, cementing their off-the-grid status.

Even Buffalo’s flashy quarterback maneuver last year came in a season when four other teams made major investments in rookie passers. With Lamar Jackson piloting a Ravens division title, Baker Mayfield mounting an offensive rookie of the year pursuit in Cleveland, the Jets’ market producing frequent attention and Josh Rosen spending this off-season in several NFL news cycles, Josh Allen is by far the least discussed member of 2018’s five-QB first round.

A post-draft Super Bowl odds list slotted the Bills in the John Mellencamp Oscar likelihood realm – the 10,000-to-1 figure better than only two franchises’ May outlooks – and only three AFC teams have worse playoff odds entering OTAs. Given the many high-profile off-season moves elsewhere and the Bills’ 21st-century M.O., this makes sense.

But the Bills won six games with a woefully understaffed offense last season. Football Outsiders graded Buffalo’s 2018 offense as the third-worst DVOA attack of the past five years –- better than only the 2018 Cardinals and 2016 Rams.

Considering the free agency and draft capital the Bills allocated to repairing their offense, and Ed Oliver joining a defense that finished second in yards allowed and DVOA last season, the Bills look like a 2019 deep sleeper.

Skepticism is obviously appropriate. The Bills beat no playoff teams in 2018 and finished with a minus-105 point differential. But they went 5-5 in contests in which Allen played throughout.

Although Allen outperformed Rosen, Jackson and Sam Darnold in Total QBR (52.2, 24th – one spot behind Mayfield), the project passer completed just 53 percent of his throws and was inconsistent as a rookie. How could he not be? Equipped with one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL and a bottom-tier offensive line, Allen cannot be properly evaluated yet. That will be easier to do this season.

The John Brown and Cole Beasley arrivals did not move the needle like Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams did in Oakland, but they give the Bills competence at wide receiver and bring complementary skill sets. Adding a reliable slot target and deep threat, along with mid-level tight end investments in Tyler Kroft and third-rounder Dawson Knox, will be critical to Allen’s development.

Three of Allen’s top four targets last season were either undrafted (Robert Foster and Jason Croom) or currently unemployed (Kelvin Benjamin).

John Brown is an injury risk but played 16 games last season. The Ravens’ switch to Jackson harpooned Brown’s effectiveness. On pace for more than 1,100 receiving yards after nine games, the speed merchant went from 66.8 yards per game with Joe Flacco to 16.2 with Jackson. Brown will make Allen’s deep-ball affinity more fun than it was last year.

Brown, Beasley, Foster and Zay Jones represent a more reasonable aerial crew for Allen. Buffalo’s new offensive line will help, too.

The Bills led the NFL in rushing by a substantial margin in 2016; their offensive line deteriorated into one of the league’s worst by the end of last season. After deploying Pro Football Focus’ No. 26-rated line, the Bills signed six offensive linemen and drafted Cody Ford in Round 2. Ford compiled quality marks as a run- and pass-blocking right tackle at Oklahoma last season and should be a Week 1 starter at right tackle or right guard. Placing him next to new center Mitch Morse would allow dependable ex-Washington swing tackle Ty Nsekhe into the lineup over a trending-down Spencer Long.

By: Sam Robinson

Full Article

Treated unfairly with Cardinals, Rosen must quickly deliver for Dolphins

The world of pro football hasn’t been exceedingly kind to Josh Rosen in the year and change he has spent in its confines. A new beginning has presented itself in Miami, yet for a quarterback, such constant upheaval early in a career often has dire results.

Rosen may not have been the only quarterback in the 2018 class to be unfairly maligned coming into the draft — Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson can attest to that. The knocks on Rosen, however, were the sort of things that show that the league’s media apparatus saw him as unlikable from the get-go.

Rosen was said to be too much of an independent thinker who didn’t possess the single-minded obsession with the game that football culture has come to not only revere but demand of its quarterbacks. It didn’t help that his former college coach, Jim Mora, made comments almost tailor-made to alienate Rosen from the NFL fandom, which tends to skew older and more culturally conservative than other major sports leagues.

“He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored. He’s a millennial. He wants to know why,” Mora said last spring. “Millennials, once they know why, they’re good. Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire. He has so much ability, and he’s a really good kid.”

Those weren’t meant to be entirely damning words. Yet in the mind of football people, who often view a detail-obsessed micro-manager like Peyton Manning as the be-all, end-all of quarterbacking, they certainly seemed like it. Obviously, a pro team doesn’t — and shouldn’t — want its most important player to be a complete scatterbrain who can’t focus, but it’s probably not great for anyone to insist that a player not care about anything other than his sport and have no outside interests.

If those criticisms set some fans on edge, they didn’t hurt Rosen’s draft position much. He was taken 10th overall by Arizona, the fourth of five QBs selected in the first round last year. Rosen ended up having a lousy rookie season, posting atrocious figures in critical categories such as completion percentage (55.2), yards per attempt (5.8), and passer rating (66.7), yet one would have a hard time arguing he wasn’t set up for failure. His first offensive coordinator in the pros, Mike McCoy, was fired at mid-season. Arizona’s offensive line was rated the worst pass-blocking unit in the league by Pro Football Focus. His best and most productive weapon was a 35-year-old Larry Fitzgerald, who put up career-worst yardage numbers (734) as retirement creeps closer.

Even if Rosen had stayed in Arizona, he was going to have to learn a new offensive system and deal with new coaches in 2019. So in that sense, going to a new team isn’t that much of a departure. How it happened, though, was a disaster that is likely to unfairly dog Rosen. Just as the Giants recently made assurances they wouldn’t trade Odell Beckham before doing exactly that, Arizona earlier this year brushed off talk of dealing Rosen, which the Cardinals ended up doing 2 1/2 months later.

Much was made of the fact that Rosen unfollowed the Cardinals on various social media platforms after the team made quarterback Kyler Murray the first overall pick in this year’s draft. In terms of pettiness, it’s relatively minor and passive-aggressive, and you could easily argue deserved on the part of Arizona. Yet it was enough in the content-starved expanse of the NFL off-season to become a controversy. NFL Network’s Steve Smith, no stranger to public outbursts in his playing days, lambasted Rosen during live draft coverage about what the former receiver saw as immaturity and a lack of desire to compete.

Full Article

By: Michael Tunison

 

NFL stars who could be traded during the 2019 draft

The NFL Draft is when the league meets its newest young stars. As for those already established, some of them may find new homes too.

Here are 12 veterans who could be traded during the 2019 NFL Draft:

Derek Carr

Most of the signs point to the Raiders keeping their young quarterback. For one, the team staged Antonio Brown meeting the signal-caller at Carr’s house. That would be all for not if Oakland now deals Carr. Every other move this offseason — signing Tyrell Williams and Trent Brown — has also been made under the assumption the Raiders already have their quarterback in place. But Raiders general manager Mike Mayock is sending mixed signals. He said, “we love Derek (Carr)” and yet has also repeated that the Raiders will “do all of our due diligence” at quarterback like every other position. It sounds like if the quarterback Mayock and Jon Gruden really like in the draft is available to them, Carr could be gone.

Leonard Fournette

Trade rumors were circling the third-year running back in January after executive vice president Tom Coughlin criticized Fournette for his actions on the team’s sideline during the season finale. The two sides appeared to make up, but then on April 11 police arrested Fournette for speeding and “knowingly driving with a suspended license.” Coach Doug Marrone told the media on April 16 that Fournette will not face team discipline for the arrest. Apparently, he’s ready to let the incident blow over, but will the front office feel the same way if a team offers the Jaguars an interesting deal for Fournette at the draft?

Tyreek Hill

Similar to Fournette, Hill is facing off-the-field problems this offseason that could jeopardize his tenure with his current team. Hill’s situation, though, is a lot more dire. Police are currently investigating Hill’s connection with two incidents of suspected child abuse. This is an extremely complicated situation because even if Hill isn’t charged with a crime, he could face a suspension.  The Chiefs didn’t waste any time dumping Kareem Hunt last fall, and it’s worth wondering if they might garner a trade for the speedster at the draft. The Athletic’s Jay Glazer reported that Hill was at the center of trade talks during the NFL combine, but if a trade is done now, Kansas City would be getting pennies on the dollar for Hill, who, in addition to possibly facing a suspension, wants a new contract.

Frank Clark

The Seahawks placed the franchise tag on Clark this offseason, but despite the possibility of making some $17 million in 2019, Clark has threatened to hold out if he doesn’t receive a long-term agreement. No team wants a Le’Veon Bell situation, and the Seahawks would like to avoid the Earl Thomas distraction they had last year too. This could lead to Clark getting traded at the draft, although as of April 14 Jay Glazer reported trade talks for Clark had “died down.”

Jack Doyle

The Colts tight end posted career bests in 2017, recording 80 receptions for 690 yards and four touchdowns. But then with the arrival of Eric Ebron in 2018, Doyle saw his targets decrease from 7.2 per game to 5.5 each contest. Doyle also missed 10 games because of injury, which led to him catching only 26 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. If the Colts are comfortable with Ebron and Mo Alie-Cox at tight end, they could shop Doyle at the draft.

Josh Rosen

Although technically not a star yet, Rosen qualifies for our list because he was the No. 10 overall pick a year ago. Rosen threw for 2,278 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while averaging 5.8 yards per attempt as a rookie in 2018. As of right now, there’s no telling whether Rosen is truly going to develop into a star or not because he had little help with the Cardinals last year. It might not matter, though, as Arizona is rumored to be selecting quarterback Kyler Murray at No. 1 overall. If that happens, Rosen will be one of the hottest topics during the first round of the draft.

Duke Johnson

The Browns seemed to like the idea of three strong backs on the depth chart after they signed Kareem Hunt, but Johnson apparently wants no part of it. On April 8 Johnson requested to be traded, according to cleveland.com. Johnson has also refused to show up to the beginning of Cleveland’s offseason program. The best time for the Browns to address this issue is during the draft with a trade.

A.J. Green

Trading Green would almost guarantee the Bengals will finish in the AFC North cellar, but with Cincinnati seemingly in rebuilding mode, dealing the seven-time Pro Bowler is not the worst idea. Green turns 31 this summer and hasn’t been able to finish two of the last three years because of injuries. In 2018 he recorded 46 catches for 694 yards and six touchdowns in nine games.  Because of the injuries, his value is already on the downswing. It might be wise to embrace a full rebuild and see what value Green has on the trade market.

Full List

By: Dave Holcomb

Johnny Manziel set to get another shot at the NFL?

Johnny Manziel hasn’t been on an NFL roster the past three seasons, but he could be getting a second chance to play in the league heading into the 2019 campaign.

Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report wrote in his weekly 10-point stance column that “the sense I get from people in the NFL is that Manziel may well get another chance to play on football’s main stage.”

Because the NFL is so talent poor at the quarterback position, Freeman added, “if he can show even a modicum of skill, someone will have him in for a tryout or on a training camp roster.”

Most recently, Manziel appeared in two games for the AAF’s Memphis Express. He had an electric first game with the club before suffering a concussion in his second game. Then, of course, the league shut down to the surprise of many.

Prior to his quick stint in the AAF, Manziel spent a season in Canada playing for the Montreal Alouettes. He did little to impress, passing for 1,290 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Once a first-round pick by Cleveland, Manziel’s off-field issues derailed his career in short order. Since that time, he seemingly has cleaned up his life and remains committed to making his way back into the NFL.

But if that doesn’t pan out, he has an alternate set of plans to remain connected to the sport he loves.

Original Article

By: Jesse Reed

Patriots great Rob Gronkowski announces his retirement

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has announced his retirement via his Instagram page. Gronkowski released a lengthy statement in the caption to the post, saying in part:

“It all started at 20 years old on stage at the NFL draft when my dream came true, and now here I am about to turn 30 in a few months with a decision I feel is the biggest of my life so far. I will be retiring from the game of football today. I am so grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick gave to me when drafting my silliness in 2010. My life experiences over the last 9 years have been amazing both on and off the field. The people I have meet, the relationships I have built, the championships I have been apart of, I just want to thank the whole New England Patriots organization for every opportunity I have been giving and learning the great values of life that I can apply to mine.”

Gronkowski has flirted with retirement in the past, but it felt especially sincere this time around, and the recent increased chatter about retirement turned out to be accurate. The surefire Hall of Famer was reportedly nearly traded to the Lions last offseason, but threatened to retire in order to block it. We heard earlier this morning that the Patriots “aggressively courted” tight end Jared Cook before he decided to sign with the Saints, which in hindsight might’ve foreshadowed this move.

Gronkowski, 29, entered the NFL as a second-round pick out of Arizona in 2010. He immediately became a star, and was a generational talent at the tight end position. But he was done in by injuries the past handful of seasons, with recurrent back problems and other ailments. Gronkowski is hanging up his cleats as a three-time Super Bowl champion and a four-time first-team All-Pro.

Gronk had some big moments this past season, but overall didn’t look like his old self. He appeared in 13 games, catching 47 passes for 682 yards and three touchdowns. For his career, he’ll finish with 521 receptions, 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns (third all-time among tight ends). He wasn’t just a pass-catcher, as the Patriots’ running game always ran through his blocking. He’ll go down as one of the best tight ends of all time. Gronkowski has numerous off-field interests, and has signaled an interest in going into acting.

The Patriots signed former Broncos tight end Matt LaCaosse earlier this month, but are almost certainly not done adding to the position. They’re armed with 12 draft picks, and should be a good bet to take a tight end.

By: Dallas Robinson

Original Article

The Best & Worst Quarterback in Each NFL Team’s History

Best: Arizona Cardinals – Jim Hart

The Arizona Cardinals franchise has been around for almost an entire century, at least in some capacity. But over that time, the team has had only six quarterbacks ever selected to the Pro Bowl, and only one of them who was selected to the NFL’s All-Star game more than twice.

That would be Jim Hart, who was the team’s full-time starter between 1967 through 1981. Hart threw 209 touchdowns in that span, which is over 70 touchdown passes more than any other quarterback in franchise history.

Worst: Arizona Cardinals – Ryan Lindley

Fans of the Arizona Cardinals have probably blocked out as much of the Ryan Lindley experience from their collective minds as possible. In his first season in Arizona, Lindley finished the year with a 46.7 passer rating, having thrown seven interceptions and no touchdowns.

After entering the NFL in 2012, Lindley didn’t throw his first official touchdown pass until 2014, when he rejoined the Cardinals after a one-year stint on the practice squad of the San Diego Chargers. In four seasons of professional football, including one season in the Canadian Football League, Lindley threw 4 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Best: Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan

The Atlanta Falcons have had a few good-to-very good quarterbacks since the start of the 1990’s, ranging from guys like Chris Miller (a former Pro Bowl selection) to Michael Vick (once the most exciting player in the NFL). But none of those guys could hold a candle to what Matt Ryan has done for the Falcons’ franchise.

Worst: Atlanta Falcons – Randy Johnson

Long before a near-7-foot baseball pitcher made the name famous, Randy Johnson was a starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons back in the late 1960’s…. And he was a terrible one to boot.

After winning only three games in his rookie year in 1966 (out of 11 starts), he actually managed to win even less games the following four years in Atlanta, winning a grand total of 5 times in 26 starts in the ensuing four years he was the starter.

Best: Baltimore Ravens – Joe Flacco

Even though the Baltimore Ravens were really the reincarnation of the relocated Cleveland Browns, since the Browns were awarded a new franchise with the same name, we’re treating the Ravens as a separate franchise in and of its own.

Given that the Ravens haven’t really had an illustrious history at the quarterback position, it’s hard to give this designation to anyone other than Joe Flacco.

Flacco is the only quarterback in team history to play in more than 53 games for the franchise, and no other quarterback in team history has come close to his total career touchdown passes, passing yards, and total wins as a starter.

Worst: Baltimore Ravens – Elvis Grbac

A year after the Baltimore Ravens dumped quarterback Trent Dilfer after taking the team to the Super Bowl, they qualified for the postseason once again with Elvis Grbac under center. Prior to that, Grbac had spent four season nas the starter for the Kansas City Chiefs, where he never won more than nine games as a starter.

Grback and the Ravens defeated the Miami Dolphins by a 20-3 score in the Wild Card roung of the playoffs, before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week. The Ravens released Grbac in a salary cap move after he refused to renegotiate his contract, and Grbac retired after being released.

Best: Buffalo Bills – Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly might be tied for third place in most Super Bowl appearances by an NFL quarterback, and he might be one of only seven quarterbacks in NFL history to make it to the Super Bowl four times, but no quarterback in the history of the game has led his team to the Super Bowl four straight years. None, that is, except Jim Kelly.

The maestro of the Buffalo Bills’ “K-Gun” offense terrorized opposing defenses from 1989 and 1992, perennially leading the Bills to the highest offensive ranks each year. He finished his career with over 35,000 passing yards, currently sitting in 25th place all time. But for all those Super Bowl appearances and all those passing yards, Kelly will never have a ring to show for them.

Worst: Buffalo Bills – Alex Van Pelt

Despite the fact that Alex Van Pelt left the University of Pittsburgh having broken many records established by some guy named Dan Marino, Alex Van Pelt started his career as a backup quarterback, but took over as the starter of the Buffalo Bills in 1994 after Jim Kelly would suffer a major knee injury.

But that would be one of the only times that Van Pelt actually started; in nine years in Buffalo, Van Pelt started 11 games, finishing with a career 3-8 record in those starts.

Best: Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton

Unless you happen to be relative of Kerry Collins or Jake Delhomme, it’s hard to believe anyone could think this designation would belong to anyone other than Cam Newton. The #1 overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton is the only quarterback in franchise history to be named to an All-Pro team (2015) and be selected to the Pro Bowl multiple times.

In 2015, Newton ran roughshod through the NFL, throwing 35 touchdowns and running for 10 more, leading the Panthers to Super Bowl 50, and being named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.

Worst: Carolina Panthers – Jimmy Clausen

Never in history has there been a player for with the combination of breathtaking hype and incredible failure like Jimmy Clausen. The most over-recruited player in NCAA history to date, Clausen’s lackluster career at Notre Dame led him to fall to the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

The Carolina Panthers, who selected him, decided to throw him to the proverbial wolves in his rookie year, and Clausen got eaten alive: three touchdowns and nine interceptions in 10 games as a starter. He had a huge hand in the Panthers finishing with a 2-14 record, and Carolina saw enough of him in that one year to decide to draft his replacement — Cam Newton — just one year after taking Clausen.

Best: Chicago Bears – Sid Luckman

Though the Chicago Bears franchise has had some of the most iconic names in NFL history on its roster, including Walter Payton, Dick Butkus, and Mike Singletary, they haven’t had anything close to that at the quarterback position. The franchise forever known for its “Monsters of the Midway” defense haven’t boasted a truly elite NFL quarterback since Sid Luckman played under center for them in the 1940’s, under legendary coach George Halas.

Though Luckman’s passing yardage and touchdown pass totals were eventually surpassed by Jay Cutler, the latter is not — and will never be — a five-time All-Pro selection and Hall of Fame inductee like Luckman.

Worst: Chicago Bears – Bob Avellini

For all the glory the Chicago Bears have had on the defensive side of the football (and at the running back position), that hasn’t been shared at the quarterback spot. The history of the Bears franchise is filled with guys like Bob Avellini, who had one winning season during his first four years in the NFL.

Avellini finished his nine-year career in Chicago with more than a 2:1 ratio of interceptions to touchdowns (throwing 69 interceptions to only 33 touchdowns).

Best: Cincinnati Bengals – Ken Anderson

Most people might associate Boomer Esiason or Carson Palmer when thinking of the best quarterback in Cincinnati Bengals history, but that honor quite certainly belongs to Ken Anderson, the team’s starting quarterback from 1972 through 1984. Anderson has thrown for more yards and passing touchdowns than any quarterback in team history, and has 24 more wins than any other quarterback as well.

During the 1981 season, Anderson had a career-best 3,754 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, leading the Bengals to a 12-4 record and their first-ever Super Bowl appearance (when they’d lose to the San Francisco 49ers).

Worst: Cincinnati Bengals – Akili Smith

A one-year wonder who parlayed that brief success into the #3 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, Smith’s NFL career was an unmitigated disaster. First, the Bengals turned down the “Godfather” offer from the New Orleans Saints; Mike Ditka was selling the farm to move up to grab Ricky Williams, allegedly offering the Bengals a whopping nine draft picks (Cincinnati turned down the offer). He started off his tenure in Cincinnati completely on the wrong foot, missing a substantial portion of the team’s training camp, which many believed irreparably stunted his development in the NFL.

Of course, once he did sign, his off-the-field habits didn’t help either. Smith was later quoted as having given in to the temptations of his high draft selection, flying back and forth between Cincinnati and San Diego to party with his friends and multiple women regularly; he’s called himself “a complete embarrassment off the field.” Smith played in 22 NFL games and posted a career passer rating of 52.8. In one year at Oregon, he threw for 30 touchdown passes; in four seasons in the NFL, he threw for a total of five.

Full List

By: Raj nanavati

NFL has a chance to show leniency on marijuana before the political movement does it first

Pointing out the NFL hypocrisy on marijuana use is hardly new. The league has caught flak for years for pushing addictive and harmful painkillers on players while banning them from using weed for medical or recreational purposes.

Up until the last seven years or so, this was at least a tenable position, as popular opinion and laws nationwide aligned with the established protocol. After all, if weed is both illegal and not viewed favorably by the majority of Americans, what risk is there to a pro sports league being against it?

But the last decade has seen a rapid shift in the legality and the mainstreaming of marijuana. A decade ago, there were no states with legalized recreational marijuana. Now there are 10. In 2009, a majority of Americans did not yet support legalizing weed. Now more than 60 percent do.

Weed has made its way so sufficiently into the mainstream that celebrities, including former NFL players like Calvin Johnson, are setting up roots in the burgeoning industry. It strikes fans as more and more ludicrous that the league continues to test for — and punish players who use — marijuana.

About a year ago, tight end Martellus Bennett, who has recently said he wants to unretire and join the Patriots with his brother Michael, estimated that 89 percent of players in the league use it, often just to deal with the grueling pain of the sport.

“There are times of the year where your body just hurts so bad,” Bennett said in a podcast interview. “You don’t want to be popping pills all the time. There are anti-inflammatory drugs you take so long that they start to eat at your liver, kidneys and things like that. A human made that. God made weed.”

Former Cowboys defensive tackle David Irving was suspended indefinitely on March 1 for repeated violations of the league drug policy. That marks the third straight season Irving has been suspended.
Rather than trying to appeal to the league or grovel for forgiveness, Irving took to Instagram Live to announce he quit football while smoking weed and explaining why he finds it a more preferable way to manage pain than with opiates, which he said he’s seen wreak havoc on others.

Beyond Irving, there are plenty of players, including a handful of stars, who have missed significant playing time solely because of suspensions stemming from testing positive for marijuana. If nothing else, this harms the on-field product for an infraction that seems justified in the eyes of most fans. There are enough serious injuries that sideline players. Football doesn’t need help removing some of its more exciting contributors, so why should the NFL seek to make it harder for players to be on the field?

In some ways, the debate over the NFL cracking down on weed echoes in what Colin Kaepernick was drawing attention to in his protests. Marijuana enforcement has always been more strict for people of color than for whites. Prosecuting weed offenses has long been viewed as a means for authorities to keep minorities imprisoned. This is why progressives insist that any broad legalization of marijuana must be attended with an expungement of convictions for marijuana possession.

That the NFL continues testing for marijuana, when it’s legally available in large swaths of the country and has demonstrated pain management benefits, comes off as a method of unnecessary control.

What happens when the NFL doesn’t have the cover of the law? Every candidate so far in the 2020 Democratic primary has voiced support for legalization. Even if the Democrats don’t recapture the White House, polling has found a majority of Republicans also support legalization, the policies of the now former attorney general Jeff Sessions notwithstanding. If President Donald Trump is re-elected, descheduling marijuana could be one of the few ways he could garner positive coverage and not alienate his own base.

Full Article

By: Mike Tunison