Each week, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments.
First and 10: Aug. 7
1. Tannehill’s status | 2. Is RG3 done in the NFL?
3. Who can compete with the Patriots? | 4. Brady’s concussion comment
5. Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson mending fences | 6. Notes from Cowboys, Chargers camp
7. More OT changes coming? | 8. Tomlin inks extension
9. Don’t buy into a D.C./Baltimore Super Bowl | 10. The Pats’ fighting policy
The Miami Dolphins made their quarterback choice, and it was the obvious one. Coach Adam Gase persuaded Jay Cutler to end his short-lived retirement and leave the Fox broadcast booth to head to South Florida and take over for the injured Ryan Tannehill. Now the issue becomes whether Gase can get the best out of Cutler again, as was the case in 2015 when Gase was the Chicago Bears offensive coordinator.
The other issue that matters, of course, is that Cutler’s one-year, $10 million deal leaves Colin Kaepernick still unemployed, with options dwindling and the regular season nearing. It raises the possibility: Are the Baltimore Ravens Kaepernick’s last, best hope to be signed by an NFL team before the season begins?
It’s not particularly surprising that Cutler ended his retirement and put broadcasting on hold to play for Gase. Cutler’s retirement came in part, it always seemed, because of the league’s lack of interest in him. The New York Jets appeared somewhat interested at one point. No other team seemed to pursue him very intently, and Cutler said his farewell to the game at age 34. Now he’s back with a deal that includes an additional $3 million in potential incentives.
It’s also not particularly surprising that Gase wanted Cutler over Kaepernick. The NFL is all about familiarity — when coaches relocate, they reunite the band by bringing in fellow coaches and players they know. Gase made things work relatively well two years ago when Cutler threw for 3,659 yards and 21 touchdowns, had a palatable-for-him 11 interceptions and posted a respectable passer rating of 92.3. Now Gase, coming off a playoff season in Miami as a rookie NFL head coach, turns to a known-to-him commodity to attempt to keep the Dolphins’ season from unraveling without Tannehill.
Gase is as good as it gets as an offensive coach. He made things work with Peyton Manning in Denver, with Cutler in Chicago and with Tannehill in Miami. The Dolphins have good players around Cutler on offense. Tailback Jay Ajayi is a productive runner. Resources have been poured into the offensive line. The receiving corps is strong with Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. As long as Cutler’s surgically repaired shoulder is sound and he does not revert to his pre-Gase (and post-Gase) recklessness, Gase should find a way to keep the Dolphins in the mix.
The Dolphins reportedly considered Kaepernick, but they passed him over, just as every other NFL team has done since Kaepernick parted ways with the San Francisco 49ers. For the Dolphins, though, any political considerations ran deeper than Kaepernick’s national anthem protest last season. Kaepernick also was booed by fans at a game in Miami last season after making comments praising some of the policies of late Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
“The internet might break when Dolphins sign Jay Cutler over Kaep even tho it’s the obvious, smartest choice,” former NFL quarterback Danny Kanell wrote Sunday on Twitter after news of the Cutler deal broke.
There is plenty of reason to wonder if Kaepernick will have a job in the NFL by Opening Day. The Ravens have considered signing him with their starter, Joe Flacco, sidelined by a back injury. Coach John Harbaugh said Saturday night after his team finished a practice at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis that he wasn’t sure yet when Flacco will resume practicing.
“I don’t really know the time frame on it,” Harbaugh said. “We haven’t talked about that … We just don’t know the time frame. They haven’t give us a time frame yet. He’s getting better every single day. Obviously we have a plan for him football-wise when he gets back. But we haven’t been told when yet.”
Ravens players had Sunday off. They’re scheduled to practice Monday and Tuesday at their facility in Owings Mills, Md., before conducting a walk-through Wednesday and playing their preseason opener Thursday night against the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium.
Veteran tight end Benjamin Watson was among the team’s players consulted by Ravens officials about the possibility of signing Kaepernick. Watson said Saturday night in Annapolis that, in his view, off-field considerations shouldn’t be a factor.
“I think it should be a decision like any player: Can this guy help your football team?” Watson said. “He’s obviously a player that has tremendous skill. He’s good enough to play in this league, obviously, because we’ve seen him play in this league. We’ve seen him play very well in this league. So his ability to play in this league is not in question.
“Obviously it’s the other thing that’s always talked about as to whether a team will bring him in or not. And I guess our organization made the decision at least for now not to bring him in. I don’t know if that could change. It could not change. I don’t know. That’s kind of above what I do. But the organization did ask a few players. I was one of them. [It was] just mainly what we thought about him coming into the locker room.”
That wouldn’t be an issue, according to Watson.
“We have a very open locker room,” Watson said. “We have a locker room of guys with a lot of different opinions — right, left, conservative, Democrat. It doesn’t matter. We’re here to win football games. And it’s a locker room where we express ourselves but we respect each other. And so I have no doubt he would fit into this locker room if the coaches and the front office and Ozzie [Newsome, the Ravens’ general manager] and the owner [Steve Bisciotti] choose to bring him in. If not and they don’t bring any quarterback in, that’s fine as well. That’s their decision that they have to make.
It probably would not have made sense for the Ravens to have signed Kaepernick before the weekend, with their trip to the Naval Academy pending.
Will it make sense now?
… AND TEN
1. Tannehill’s (non) surgery … Tannehill could be headed toward season-ending surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He hurt the knee in practice last week, reportedly suffering a setback after opting against surgery last year for what was described as a partially torn ACL.
There undoubtedly will be second-guessing of Tannehill’s decision from last year. Whether that was a mistake, Tannehill now faces a less certain future with the organization. Yes, he played well last season and got the Dolphins into the playoffs. And yes, Cutler only agreed to a one-year deal.
But Cutler now gets his chance to work with Gase a second time. And while he’s no youngster, Cutler could have some productive years left if this ends up being a positive situation for him. Tannehill’s injury, at the least, has created the possibility of Cutler reviving his career in South Florida.
2. RG3? Anyone? … It doesn’t appear that signing Robert Griffin III was a serious consideration for the Dolphins, and it’s unclear if the Ravens would consider it either if they don’t add Kaepernick. At this point, it’s probably a long shot that Griffin will be on an NFL roster come Opening Day. The initial thought when things didn’t work out for him in Cleveland was that he’d get one more chance in the NFL. But that, it seems, is far from a certainty now for the former Redskins offensive rookie of the year.
3. Patriots’ competition … So the New England Patriots and their quarterback, Tom Brady, now will face these quarterbacks this season in the AFC East: Cutler in Miami, Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo and, most likely, Josh McCown with the New York Jets. Have the Patriots already clinched the division title?
4. Brady’s concussion comment … Brady told reporters last week that it’s none of anybody’s business whether he suffered a concussion last year, as his wife Gisele Bündchen said previously.
Is that really the message the greatest quarterback in history should be delivering at a time when researchers in Boston just released a study that found evidence of CTE in the brains of 110 of 111 former NFL players studied?
NFL leaders like to say they’ve changed the culture within the league regarding concussions. It was significant that Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said in an interview last week with The Washington Post in reaction to the latest CTE findings that it is “very clear that there are long-term health risks associated with repetitive head injuries.”
That represents progress given the mixed public messages delivered last year on the issue of whether a definitive link has been established between football and CTE.
Brady’s lack of transparency on the topic, however, does not.
5. Jerry and Jimmy … It was good to see Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones take such a conciliatory tone toward his former coach and once-close friend, Jimmy Johnson, at Saturday night’s enshrinement ceremony for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They accomplished great things together. Their professional parting was unnecessarily acrimonious. And Johnson, at the very least, deserves to be in the Cowboys’ ring of honor, even if he never joins Jones in the Hall of Fame due to the relative brevity of his NFL coaching career.
— So are the Chargers and Rams business partners or business competitors in Los Angeles? They will share a stadium in Inglewood, Calif., beginning in the 2020 season. But there is room to wonder whether both franchises can be successful in L.A., especially early on, or if the success of one might come at the expense of the other. The Rams got a head start, playing in L.A. last season. But the Chargers are conceding nothing, as their marketing slogan — “Fight for L.A.” — suggests.
John Spanos, the Chargers’ president of football operations and son of team chairman Dean Spanos, said as he watched a practice last week: “I think by and large we look at the Rams as partners. I think each of us wants each other to be successful, especially as the new stadium opens in Inglewood. It benefits us in regards to the stadium to have both of us be successful in that way. But, of course, the football side of me will tell you that we’re competing against all 31 other teams, especially out on the field.”
— Tight end Antonio Gates was given clearance to be in Canton for the Hall of Fame induction of former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson after a brief mini-controversy over whether the team’s first-year coach, Anthony Lynn, was blocking Gates and quarterback Philip Rivers from attending.
For Gates, it was a sneak preview. He undoubtedly will be back in Canton soon enough for his own enshrinement.
“You don’t necessarily get to the NFL and say, ‘Oh, I want to go to the Hall of Fame,’ ” Gates said. “It’s something that’s done over a duration of time. And then when you have the opportunity to be an arm’s length away, then you say, ‘Wait a minute. I’ve got a chance of doing something special.’ Before then, it’s one step at a time. It’s one season. It’s one game. Prior to that, it’s one practice. And then you just keep going.
“However you want to paint that picture, I always thought of it like I took it one year at a time. I tied the years together, year in and year out. I said, ‘Okay, it’s a new year, a new season. It has nothing to do with what I did last year. Let’s put together a big year this year.’ You put forth the best effort you possibly can, and then after that you tally up a whole bunch and see where you’ve been.”
— Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant made it clear which inductee he considered the featured attraction. It was Jones.
“It’s his show,” Bryant said. “Congratulations to all the other guys that’s in the Hall of Fame, too, as well because that’s a huge accomplishment. It’s why you play the game. But this is Jerry’s stage. It’s his. It’s his moment.”
More from Bryant on Jones: “Jerry is everything. I’ll tell you this, and I feel like the rest is self-explanatory: When people counted me out, he counted me in. That alone showed me how much love he had for me. He gave me an opportunity to show who I am, and I’m gonna forever respect him. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. No owner, nobody on this earth is better than Jerry Jones.”
— Bryant also had words of praise for Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.
“If you want to know how to do something right, just look at Wit,” Bryant said. “The people love him. The coaches love him. Staff members love him. Our neighbors love him. I live down the street from Wit. Everybody loves him. At the end of the day, that’s what you want to follow.”
And why, Bryant was asked, do the neighbors love Witten?
“Because,” Bryant said, “he’s Jason Witten, man.”
— Bryant on the Cowboys’ wide receivers: “We’re not just trying to be the best receiving corps in the league. We’re not trying to be that. We’re going to be that. We want to be great for all 16 [games] and throughout the playoffs. We want to be great. We need to set that standard.”
7. More OT deliberations … Cowboys executive Stephen Jones, a son of Jerry, is a member of the NFL’s competition committee. He said the league’s reduction of overtime from 15 to 10 minutes does not mean the committee is done trying to figure out the right format for the extra period.
“The rule change we made is a great step,” Jones said. “I don’t think we’ll stop looking at it in terms of what’s the best way, what’s in the best interests of our game. We’ll continue to look at the way college does it. It’s obviously exciting in terms of what they do and all the stats show that they probably play less plays in overtime than we do. So I think we’ve still got work to do. I think we’ll continue to look at it and see if there’s a better way to do it.”
He won’t be irked, Jones said, if the shortening of overtime produces more tie games, although he doubts that will happen.
“It doesn’t bother me — although I think there will be very few of them — that a game ends in a tie,” he said. “I think it’s a great way for [playoff] tie-breakers to take care of themselves and things of that nature. I know the old saying you’d rather kiss your sister than to walk out of a stadium with a tie. But that doesn’t really bother me. And I just think the urgency that comes with trying to win a game as time’s starting to run out — it’ll happen. It’ll find its natural course. I don’t necessarily see us having more ties than we’ve had in the past.”
Not bad for a cheerleader, huh?
9. D.C.-Baltimore Super Bowl bid … Do not get the least bit carried away with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking at a fan forum in Baltimore, calling the possibility of a joint bid by Washington and Baltimore to host a future Super Bowl “an interesting idea.”
Even if the two teams involved could work out the particulars for such a cooperative venture, there is next to no chance that the bid would be chosen by the NFL owners.
When the owners awarded a Super Bowl to the New York area, that was a New York-centric vote. It was about playing a Super Bowl on the grand New York stage. It was not about opening the door for future Super Bowls in other cold-weather cities with outdoor stadiums. There is little to no support among the owners for that.
10. Patriots’ fight … Wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Stephon Gilmore were ejected from a Patriots’ practice last week after getting into a fight. That’s a long-standing policy of Coach Bill Belichick, who reasons that fighting during a game brings an ejection so fighting during a practice shouldn’t be any different.
Contrast that to the boys-will-be-boys attitude taken by so many other teams.
As Bryant said last week following a fight in which he was not involved during a Cowboys’ practice: “It’s the nature of football. Before the day was even over with, all that stuff was squashed. It’s not an issue. … It’s football. It’s not a big deal. It’s one of the smallest issues we’ve dealt with since we’ve been here.”