Each week, the Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth Monday morning NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments from a weekend of action.
First and 10: April 11
1. Goodell’s power | 2. Will Fitzpatrick ever land with Jets?
3. Clady’s durability | 4. Schedule mania
5. Knighton’s weighty issue | 6. Would Bills really take a QB early?
7. Paxton Lynch impresses | 8. Twitter and the NFL
9. Can we stop slamming Cam? | 10. Aldon Smith, Greg Hardy and Johnny Manziel
The best solution for the Tennessee Titans, who possess the top overall selection in this month’s NFL draft, clearly would be to find a team willing to offer enough to make it worth the Titans’ while to trade down.
The Titans already have their franchise quarterback, having used last year’s No. 2 choice on Marcus Mariota. They have plenty of other needs that could be addressed via additional picks. And while players such as Ohio State pass rusher Joey Bosa, Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey are well regarded prospects, there is not an overwhelmingly obvious choice for the No. 1 pick. That is particularly true for a team not desperate for a quarterback.
So trading down seems like a fine option for the Titans. But that, of course, is only part of the trade-down equation. There must be a team sufficiently eager to trade up to the No. 1 spot to make Tennessee a viable offer. It does not necessarily have to be a king’s ransom of picks like the Washington Redskins surrendered to the St. Louis Rams in 2012 to move up to the No. 2 spot for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. But it must be enough to entice the Titans to make the move.
That’s where Carson Wentz and Jared Goff come in.
Goff, from Cal, and Wentz, from North Dakota State, widely are regarded as the top two quarterbacks available in this draft. One of them could go to the Cleveland Browns, who have the second pick on draft night. So for the Titans to receive a tempting trade offer for the No. 1 selection, it probably would have to come from a quarterback-deprived team wanting to move ahead of the Browns to get the passer they prefer.
“I think it would have to be for one of the quarterbacks if there’s going to be a deal,” a front office executive with one NFL team said. “I don’t think you move up to No. 1 in this draft for a non-quarterback.”
It remains to be seen if any team likes Wentz or Goff enough to trade for the Titans’ pick. The San Diego Chargers have the third overall choice and could get an eventual successor to Philip Rivers. The Dallas Cowboys have the No. 4 pick and could land Tony Romo’s future replacement. The San Francisco 49ers have the seventh selection and have been in talks to potentially trade Colin Kaepernick to the Denver Broncos.
The Philadelphia Eagles, at eighth, re-signed Sam Bradford and added Chase Daniel but might not be done at quarterback. The Los Angeles Rams, at 15th, have a clear quarterback need. The Buffalo Bills, at 19th, have been exploring quarterback options. The New York Jets, at 20th, still haven’t re-signed their free agent quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Would any team be willing to surrender the three first-round picks and second-rounder that the Redskins sent to the Rams in 2012 for the No. 2 overall choice used on Griffin? Probably not. The downward spiral of Griffin’s career following his brilliant rookie season probably will have a chilling effect on any such deal for the foreseeable future.
But there are teams who do seem sold on Wentz and Goff as productive NFL starters-to-be. Now it’s up to the Titans to try to parlay those beliefs into something more tangible to benefit themselves.
… AND TEN
Has the leverage shifted in the negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association over potential changes to the sport’s system of player discipline and Commissioner Roger Goodell’s role in it?
It appears that the NFL believes so.
The NFLPA, as part of those negotiations, has been seeking independent arbitration for players’ appeals of discipline imposed by the league in cases under the personal conduct policy and involving the integrity-of-the-game rules.
The leverage clearly seemed to be on the union’s side after it successfully challenged disciplinary measures taken by the league in cases involving Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson and Tom Brady. Some owners, it seemed at one point, were prepared to have Goodell surrender some of his disciplinary authority simply to break the cycle of the players’ side going to court and prevailing.
But now some things have gone in the league’s favor.
When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard the NFL’s appeal of last year’s ruling by a federal judge overturning Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension, many courtroom observers felt the appeals-court judges questioned Brady’s attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, more sharply than they did the NFL’s lawyer, Paul Clement. That could indicate that the three-judge panel of the appeals court is leaning toward overturning the decision by U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, although some legal experts warn against reading too much into such courtroom lines of questioning.
On Sunday, in a separate matter, arbitrator Jonathan Marks ruled that the NFL’s policy of placing players on paid leave via the commissioner’s exempt list with cases pending under the personal conduct policy is valid. Peterson and Hardy spent most of the 2014 season on the exempt list, being paid by their teams not to play.
The union filed a grievance in January 2015, the month after the owners ratified the league’s revised personal conduct policy. That grievance, which challenged the permissibility of paid leave on the exempt list, was resolved by Marks.
League counsel Jeff Pash, in a memo sent to the 32 NFL teams, wrote that Marks’s 54-page decision “upholds the new [personal conduct] Policy in all material respects.” Pash also wrote that the arbitrator’s ruling “recognizes and confirms the broad authority that the Commissioner has to define and impose discipline for conduct detrimental.”
Pash wrote that the league “negotiated at length with the union to try to resolve this grievance” at Marks’s urging.
“As part of those negotiations, we offered to make changes in the Personal Conduct Policy that would have benefitted players in ways that the union could not obtain from the Arbitrator,” Pash wrote. “Those proposals included giving suspended players credit for a substantial portion of the time spent on the Exempt List (so-called ‘time served’), refraining from imposing discipline until a player’s underlying criminal case was resolved, and expanding the scope of permitted activities and club contact for suspended players. The union elected to terminate negotiations because we would not agree to fundamentally limit the Commissioner’s authority by using third-party appeal officers in all disciplinary matters. The result is that players have obtained very little from the grievance — certainly much less than was available as part of a negotiated resolution — and the authority of the Commissioner has been reconfirmed and strengthened.”
Does that mean that the negotiations between the league and union toward a potential player-discipline accord are finished? Probably not. Clear differences remain and the Brady case is not resolved.
But the dynamic of those deliberations clearly has changed, at least in the league’s view.
The Jets have resolved their left tackle issue, trading for Ryan Clady following the abrupt retirement of D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
But still, they have not resolved their quarterback situation.
The Fitzpatrick negotiations drag on. Fitzpatrick has not had the Jets or any other team meet his asking price in free agency. The Jets have not moved on by signing someone else to be their starter. It’s not clear at this point what will force a resolution.
But doesn’t common sense dictate that it’s about time for the Jets and Fitzpatrick to work it out?
The Jets got a good player at a reasonable price when they sent a fifth-round draft pick to the Broncos for Clady and a seventh-round selection.
Clady is a four-time Pro Bowl selection but became expendable in Denver when the Broncos signed Russell Okung.
The issue has been his inability to remain healthy and in the lineup. He missed all of last season because of a knee injury. He played only two games in the 2013 season because of a foot injury.
With the Jets, he takes over for Ferguson, who missed only one snap in his 10-year NFL career. It will turn out well for the Jets only if Clady can stay on the field.
The NFL has announced its preseason schedule. The next move over the coming weeks is to announce the schedule for the 2016 regular season.
The schedule announcement is an annually over-anticipated event, given that each team already knows its list of opponents to be played at home and on the road the following season. The schedule announcement merely is an exercise in putting dates to already known matchups.
Still, this is the NFL so everything is just so important. The most interesting thing will be the Broncos’ opponent for the league’s season-opening game in Denver. The NFL has plenty of good options, given that the Broncos are to host the Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans (who signed former Denver quarterback Brock Osweiler in free agency) at some point during the season.
Redskins officials could not have been particularly pleased to hear defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who signed with the Patriots after spending one season with Washington, say that he is in much better physical condition now than he was last year.
“Last year I was obviously heavier than I am right now,” Knighton said in a conference call with Boston-area reporters, according to a transcript provided by the Patriots. “I’m in a lot better shape than I was last year. Contractually I have things, weights that I need to hit. Whatever [weight] the coaches want me to play at, then that’s what I’ll be at. I’ve worked really hard this offseason and I’ll continue to work throughout the offseason program and get acclimated to the new strength coaches and the nutritionists and the way things are done in Foxborough. I’m looking forward to it. And that’s something that obviously it’s been a tag on me my whole career, about my weight. But it’s something that I’ve paid a lot of attention to this offseason. It won’t be a problem.”
Knighton declined to specify the weight at which he played last season.
“Obviously when it becomes a factor in you playing football, your performance on the field, it’s something that you have to pay attention to,” he said. “I have a lot of football left and I don’t want anything to hinder me from that. I put last season behind me. I’m happy about being in New England. Like I said, working with a great strength coach and a nutritionist, I had a long talk with him on my visit, looking forward to putting the plan together that they have for me and executing it and having a new start and a refresh on my career.”
The Bills are said to be doing their homework on a list of quarterbacks that includes Goff, Wentz, Paxton Lynch, Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg and Cardale Jones.
That’s fine. Teams need to be prepared and some of those quarterbacks will be taken later in the draft.
But if the Bills are looking to use an early-round pick on a quarterback, it is a bit curious.
Tyrod Taylor is 26. He threw for 20 touchdowns and 3,035 yards in 14 games last season in his first year as an NFL starter. He had a passer rating of 99.4 and also ran for 568 yards.
Taylor’s play is not the reason the Bills were a disappointment last season. Perhaps they should commit to Taylor, if they have not done so already, and focus on upgrading the team around their young quarterback.
Lynch was impressive to many scouts and NFL talent evaluators at his pro day last week, throwing the ball strongly and accurately in windy conditions.
It’s not clear if he is threatening to dislodge either Wentz or Goff to be among the draft’s top two quarterbacks. But he seems to have solidified his status in the minds of many decision-makers around the league as, at least, the third-best quarterback available.
And this is a draft in which three quarterbacks could come off the board quickly, perhaps by the time the 49ers choose seventh.
“I don’t think it would be shocking to see him go in the top 10,” an executive with one team said.
Much was made about the NFL’s deal with Twitter for online streaming of Thursday night games during the 2016 season.
But the deal is worth only about $1 million per game for 10 games. That is a small amount by NFL rights-fees standards.
The deal was significant because of what it says about the NFL’s approach to the future distribution of its product to consumers through means other than television and the in-person stadium experience.
But in terms of digital-media rights having a significant effect on the economics of the sport, that is at least a little ways off. This deal reinforces that.
Many observers immediately made the comparison Sunday of how golfer Jordan Spieth handled the aftermath his back-nine Masters meltdown to the approach that quarterback Cam Newton took at his postgame news conference following Carolina’s Super Bowl defeat.
Is it valid? Perhaps. Newton certainly could have handled things in a more professional manner following the game. His subsequent justification that he simply is a sore loser and that’s how he wants it, plus the defenses offered by Panthers Coach Ron Rivera, reinforced that the point hasn’t quite gotten across.
But the ongoing disparagements of what Newton did are unnecessary. His postgame approach was a little bit immature and just a bit unprofessional. But it wasn’t a major offense. Media members deal with far worse from less prominent players on a regular basis. The chances are that Newton, at least eventually, will learn from the experience and deal with his professional obligations differently.
Aldon Smith has a contract for the 2016 season after re-signing with the Oakland Raiders despite the fact that he is suspended at least until November.
Hardy remains unsigned.
So, too, does Johnny Manziel.
That tells you all you need to know about just how wary teams league-wide are at this point of Hardy and Manziel.