Friday capped the strangest quarterback offseason I can remember. That’s when Jay Cutler, a C-plus quarterback with four or five years left in him (or so we thought) surprised a quarterback-needy league by jumping to the FOX broadcast booth. Not only is it downright weird to think of the perennially sour Cutler as some future aw-shucks Collinsworth. It’s weirder to think of the 34-year-old Cutler as not good enough to start anymore in the NFL. And weirder still to think of the employed and unemployed at the most important position in sports.
Tom Savage, Houston. Six years ago, he lost the job at Rutgers. After Brock Osweiler flunked out, and after Tony Romo picked TV over football, and after the Texans passed on the acidic Cutler, Savage, with two career starts and zero career touchdown passes, will try to hold off first-round rookie Deshaun Watson through a medium-tough September (Jags, at Bengals, at Patriots).
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Cody Kessler, Cleveland. The 2016 fifth-rounder showed promise last year, if you call not turning it over while going 0-8 “promise.” He should hold off rookie DeShone Kizer for a while, but such is life on the Browns quarterback depth chart that Kessler might not even be a Brown nine months from now.
Browns quarterback interlude
Cleveland’s QB depth chart in early May of recent seasons
2017: Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, DeShone Kizer, Brock Osweiler.
2016: Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, Austin Davis, Connor Shaw, Pat Devlin.
2015: Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, Thaddeus Lewis, Connor Shaw.
2014: Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Tyler Thigpen, Connor Shaw.
2013: Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Thaddeus Lewis.
Five Mays. Fifteen different quarterbacks.
Mike Glennon, Chicago. He last started a game three years ago, and the Bears showed so much faith in him that they used four draft choices to move up to pick the rookie quarterback that GM Ryan Pace thinks will replace him, Mitchell Trubisky.
Brian Hoyer, San Francisco. After looking scared in a four-pick playoff embarrassment for Houston 16 months ago, Hoyer slightly redeemed himself in a five-start, 67-percent relief stint with the Bears last year. Still, he’s a Kyle Shanahan stopgap with the Niners.
Josh McCown, New York Jets. The stats don’t show it, but he’s a good quarterback to have on the roster, a team-first guy who might be best suited getting Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg ready to play. Whoever plays, the Jets will be in the quarterback market in 2018. All in, in fact.
Tony Romo. He knows he could have quarterbacked Houston if he wanted. But he got a once-in-a-decade offer — walking off the field into a network’s top analyst job, for CBS — which sped his decision.
Jay Cutler. More below. The man with 134 more career passing yards than Kurt Warner and 14 more career touchdown passes than Ken Stabler drew scant interest from the only team that made sense — Houston. That probably told him everything. Cutler’s legacy will be that he underachieved (11 years, one playoff win) while being the most media-repellant quarterback of his era.
Colin Kaepernick. So Kaepernick has bought a place in downtown Manhattan and lives in the big city fairly anonymously. I spent a long draft weekend with the Niners in California, and there are those in the building who think Kaepernick might actually rather do social justice work full time than play quarterback. He emerges in New York City occasionally for noble cause work, last week donating 100 men’s suits to a parole office in Queens, so men recently out of prison would look more presentable when going on job interviews. I haven’t talked to Kaepernick, so I have no idea what his gut is telling him about what to do with his life. But it’s crazy that someone with such a great chance to be good long-term four years ago is unemployed with no hot prospects that anyone can see. If I were a pro scout or a GM with a starting or backup quarterback need, I’d be on a plane to New York to have lunch with Kaepernick to ask him where he sees his life going. And if he sees a football future, and if I had a great quarterback coach (Sean McVay with the Rams, Bruce Arians in Arizona), I’d sign him to an incentive-laden contract. Right now.
Robert Griffin III. He’s been unemployed for two months after the Browns cut him. The career of the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year is in more jeopardy than Kaepernick’s. Regardless of what he, his family or Washington owner Daniel Snyder thinks, Griffin’s biggest error was being the anti-Brady. Instead of simply being willing to be coached hard by proven quarterback developers Mike and Kyle Shanahan (and I understand all the divisive tributaries that go along with that), Griffin and his family thought they knew best. The resulting wedge driven between he and his coaches, plus his January 2013, have been factors he hasn’t recovered from.
Texans Quarterback Interlude
Romo, Cutler, Kaepernick and Griffin have all played in the playoffs in the past six years. The Texans have engaged none in serious contract discussions this off-season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick. Not so stunning he’s on the street. But like McCown, he’s a smart, low-ego guy who’d be a good fit on a team developing a young quarterback.
Here’s the commonality I see: The five teams with weak or unproven starters (Browns, Jets, Texans, Bears, 49ers) all have coaches who want to do it their way — developing players they want to build around. Hue Jackson’s that way. Kyle Shanahan and Bill O’Brien too. And GMs Mike Maccagnan of the Jets and Ryan Pace of the Bears have made it clear they prefer to develop their quarterback of the future, either through the draft or by signing a young free-agent with a spotless record who is totally devoted to football.
Fair or unfair, Cutler’s got a reputation of being an island. When Hue Jackson coached Oakland, he wanted to draft Kaepernick but was trumped by the Niners; now Jackson has shown zero interest in him. Coaches want team guys, and they want football devotees. Not all great quarterbacks have had those traits, but look at teams that were desperate for quarterbacks entering this off-season. Houston and Cleveland chose to draft college players with question marks. Watson and Kizer, those teams figured, will be devoted to football, clay willing to be molded. We’ll see if those choices work. But if you’d told me three months ago the NFL would open 2017 with Romo, Cutler and Kaepernick in occupations other than football, I’d have been stunned.
• Players who have been crappy with the media have gone to work for TV and been good at it. Sterling Sharpe, for one. You know why Sharpe was better than anyone thought he’d be? Because he didn’t care who he skewered, in part. As a player, Cutler had an acidic personality. He was a Negative Nate. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be bad at TV. It actually means he’s got a good chance to be good, if he works at it and stays true to his real opinions.
• What convinced FOX execs in the Cutler audition that he would be good enough to plug in for John Lynch on its number two NFL team? Sounds like it was two things, from the audition Cutler had in Los Angeles with play-by-play man Kevin Burkhardt two weeks ago, when they sat in a quiet room on the FOX lot and voiced-over the Arizona-Seattle game from Christmas Eve. “Just being conversational,” Burkhardt said Friday. “Knowing when to talk and when to shut up. Some guys talk, talk, talk, talk. Jay said his piece and just stopped.” And being prescient, just watching the game. On one play, near the Arizona goal line, Cutler piped up that the pass play failed because Jermaine Kearse was supposed to “rub,” or legally screen, the defensive back, and he missed the rub, and the ball fell incomplete. “There was another play, Carson Palmer to J.J. Nelson for an 80-yard touchdown, that Jay made a great observation,” Burkhardt said. “As soon as they got to the line, Jay knew it. He said Palmer used his eyes perfectly to move the safety and keep him away from where he wanted to throw. When we got to the last replay, there was a head-on shot of Palmer’s eyes, and then he looked left right at the snap, and Nelson was to the right, and Palmer held the safety there. Palmer threw the bomb and the safety couldn’t get back in time to make the play. Overall, he had some really cool minutiae. He was so conversational.”
• Could Cutler play again? Who knows. “It seemed to me he’s checked out of football emotionally,” Burkhardt said. It’s odd that he isn’t playing, to be sure, but think of this from Cutler’s perspective. He’s made $73 million in the last five years alone. He doesn’t need a big payday. And for much of his eight Chicago seasons, he’s been beat up behind a shaky offensive line. Imagine talking to the Jets, for instance, or even Houston, and imagining playing again behind a porous offensive line. With the Jets, he had to be thinking: OK, I’ll make good money, and I’ll lose, and I’ll get sacked a lot. (And, though I doubt he was thinking this, add in this P.S.: He’d get the crap ripped out of him on the back pages of the tabloids as long as the Jets lost.) Why do that? Hard to think that would be a lot of fun, particularly considering you could make decent money sitting up in a booth — and maybe discovering a new vocation you actually might like.
• I didn’t know Cutler well, and hadn’t talked to him much since he was with the Bears. But I always thought he blew some good chances in getting to know some of the former quarterbacks who did his games. Troy Aikman, Dan Fouts, Phil Simms, Steve Beuerlein. Cutler used to view those production meetings as necessary evils instead of sucking knowledge out of those guys. Cutler was a little too smart for his own good.
• Thought the best game I ever saw Cutler play was on a Monday night in October 2011, when the mediocre Bears went to then-unbeaten Detroit and Cutler, in a loss, played as valiantly as a quarterback could play. The Detroit front seven (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson, etc.) must have hit him 20 times that night. He had not a moment’s peace. But he completed 28 of 38, threw no picks, and hung in against the most brutal of rushes. Chicago lost, but I thought that was the game of games in a career that had more disappointment than success.
• Eleven seasons, one playoff victory. He had some great moments, and too often we think quarterbacks can lift teams by themselves. But they can’t. However, one playoff win is one playoff win. I expected more out of Cutler when I first saw him play in Denver a decade ago.
As an homage to nine-day-old Thanksgiving food that you’ve got to either eat or throw away, here are a few niblets from the draft still hanging out there:
• Every year there are some players with injury questions, and some players ruled undraftable due to injury concerns. There were many this year, and most teams pushed two Alabama players (defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, linebacker Reuben Foster) down the draft board because of shoulder issues. I’ll preface this by saying in 1980, the Cincinnati Bengals drafted USC tackle Anthony Munoz third overall despite the fact that an injured knee caused 14 NFL teams to flunk him on his physical. Munoz became one of the great offensive linemen of all time. Before the draft, one smart scout told me his team wouldn’t draft Foster; the team feared his post-season rotator-cuff surgery would have to be re-done. The Niners, prior to his medical re-check with the team, labeled him a 2-minus on their medical scale, meaning they had concerns requiring another examination. After that examination, team physical Dr. Timothy McAdams and the Niners were satisfied with Foster’s healing, GM John Lynch said, and the medical grade was changed to a 2-plus. “He’ll be fine for training camp,” Lynch said. “We feel as strong as ever about his health, and really, we’ve never wavered. Our medical people are confident in him.” Foster’s shoulder will be monitored as closely as any injury entering training camp, because of everything said about it before the draft and since.
• With the fifth pick in the first round, many in the league were stunned to see Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis go so high. Tennessee picked him. We’ll see if the pick ends up working out. But with the draft riches he’s accumulated, and knowing wide receiver was his top priority, GM Jon Robinson figured it was smarter to pick his top wideout at five rather than risk missing on the top three before he had a chance to make another pick. Sure enough, Mike Williams went to the Chargers at seven, and John Ross to Cincinnati at nine. And there was the run of the top three wideouts, finished in the first nine picks.
• Arizona and San Francisco and the New York Jets (and perhaps Cleveland, depending on the rookie season of DeShone Kizer) pushed off their quarterback-of-the-future choices till 2018, when vets Kirk Cousins of Washington and Jimmy Garappolo of New England could be free agents, and the college crop of passers could be better than this year. I like that.
• I covered the New York Giants in the eighties, and wrote about first-round draft pick George Adams, a running back from Kentucky who struggled because of a hip injury for much of his career. He wore number 33. His son, LSU safety Jamal Adams, got drafted by the cross-stadium New York Jets, also in the first round, this year. Jamal’s number with the Jets: 33. “It’s always been a family number,” Jamal Adams said.
• Applause to the Browns, for closing ranks in the first round and keeping alive the perception that they might trade from 12 to two to pick up North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. That, in part, forced the Bears, who wanted Trubisky badly, to deal from three to two and throw in a third draft choice to assure they’d get their man. The Browns at times have been a leaky sieve during drafts. Not this time.
• I repeat: As I pointed out in my column inside the 49ers draft room last Monday, most often, the other 31 teams don’t know when a team gets on the clock during the draft which player that team is going to choose. So it’s easy to kill the Bears for trading three picks to move one spot. Easy, and short-sighted.
• The Jags fell into left tackle Cam Robinson with the 34th pick, and I make him the favorite to beat out Branden Albert (who’s not been at Jacksonville’s offseason program) for the starting left tackle job. Tom Coughlin’s not a big fan of wildcat-strikers.
• Underplayed story of the draft: Seattle drafting a corner (Shaquill Griffin) and three safeties (Delano Hill, Tedric Thompson, Mike Tyson), respectively, at 90, 95, 111 and 187 overall, a clarion call to the not-as-young-as-they-used-to-be back end of the defense — Earl Thomas (age 28), Kam Chancellor (29) and Richard Sherman (29).
Joe Dumars is a big football fan. He’s also one of the only people in the world who could fairly judge what San Francisco GM John Lynch just did in Lynch’s rookie NFL draft. Dumars walked off the basketball court — after what turned out to be a Basketball Hall of Fame career — in the spring of 1999. A year later, three weeks before the NBA draft, Dumars was hired by the Detroit Pistons to be their president of basketball operations, a role he served for 14 seasons. In 2003, he was voted NBA executive of the year.
I reached out to Dumars to see how he felt Lynch did in his first draft, particularly as it pertained to the fourth-round pick, running back Joe Williams. A quick recap, if you missed last week’s column with the lead on me embedding in the 49ers’ draft room for the first draft of Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan as they set out to rebuild the 49ers. After Friday’s second day of the draft, Shanahan was desperate for the team to draft Williams — who wasn’t even on their draft board because in college he’d had significant bouts of depression, been diagnosed with manic depression, stole and used a former teammate’s credit card, and quit his team at Utah for a month last fall. Shanahan wanted him. Lynch didn’t. So on Saturday morning, a few hours before the draft began, Lynch came into the office early and phoned Williams and spent a half-hour going over his life story. He now believes Williams’ troubles date back to when he was 13, when Williams blamed himself for the death of his sister. He never got sufficient treatment to overcome the guilt until last fall. Williams has been a good citizen since then. So Lynch thought about it, and he changed his mind. The Niners picked Williams in the fourth round.
Dumars read the story.
“I thought it was great, the back and forth you described between him and Kyle. That is the essence of trying to acquire players, the back and forth, the relationship between the coach and the guy acquiring players for the coach. There has to be a trust. There has to be respect. It is a perfect story for why the back and forth and all the background checks are really important.
“It’s easy to look at the actions. But what Lynch did was, he listened to his coach. He wanted to know the whys. Why did Joe Williams behave like that. I thought it was fascinating. Been there, done that. If you don’t know the background, and if you don’t know the reasons for the background, or you don’t want to try to learn the reasons, you can’t understand.
“One of the things that’s great about sports, for me, is the stories behind the stories. Each person has a story line. After I read what you wrote, from this point forward, I will follow Joe Williams’ career. I will be pulling for him. I will be pulling for this to work.
I asked Dumars: “Any advice for Lynch? You been in his shoes.”
“First: Trust your instincts. You’ve been in the game as a player and been around the game for a long time. He know players. Be instinctive, and stick to your guns. Then, when there are things you don’t know, seek the advice of others who have been though it. Don’t try to know it all. Because you don’t. Get on the phone, seek the advice of elders. That’s what I did. I’ve been there.”
This week in SI the magazine is running something that will really move you, and I wanted to bring you a taste of that story here; then The MMQB will give you the whole thing, plus a sort of spinoff tale, over the next two days. You’ve read before about the cracks in the NFL veneer, the old vets, so many of them in a bad state. But what Scott Price found is a really punishing story about the guy at the heart of the defense for the revered, undefeated 1972 Dolphins. Nick Buoniconti is 76, and his body is just completely falling apart, to the point where something like putting on a T-shirt is not just complicated—it’s near impossible. Nick and his wife, Lynn, shared a video with The MMQB, and you can take a look below at just where this old Hall of Famer is today. Here’s what’s different: This story isn’t Nick Buoniconti has CTE. We’re not at that point yet with science. This is, Nick Buoniconti’s doctors know something is really wrong with his brain…but no one can tell him anything definitively, and that’s a terrifying place for anyone. What’s even scarier: Nick brought that story to SI, and when Scott started looking around that revered team he found more of the same. We’ll get to Jim Kiick (the guy who scored every rushing touchdown for Miami in that ’72 postseason) on Wednesday, but first here’s a tease of the Buoniconti story, which we’ll give you in full Tuesday.
“Teddy!” Nick Buoniconti yells across the lobby of The Inn at Spanish Bay, near Pebble Beach.
It is a November Sunday in 2016, past twilight. The Hall of Fame linebacker, 75, but only slightly bent, is sitting with his wife, Lynn, at a polished table. The fresh faces behind the front desk don’t know Buoniconti; it has been 44 years since he co-captained the Dolphins to three straight Super Bowl seasons. He’s not alone: Nearly two dozen greats from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s are here, wandering through the lobby toward the Grand Ballroom for the 26th annual Legends Invitational dinner.
In the next few hours a roster of venerables will pass through — Paul Warfield, Jan Stenerud, Jim Hart — and each will utter a small shock at being remembered at all. This will at first seem odd, but it makes sense once they speak of how they missed out on free agency, or spent years fighting the league for better pensions, or are scrambling now to hack through the thicket of the NFL’s $1 billion concussion lawsuit settlement.
“Teddy!” Buoniconti yells again, and over comes Ted Hendricks, 69, along with his longtime partner, Linda Babl. Hendricks, the 6’ 7” linebacker, played 15 years in the NFL, partied epically and never missed a game. Nick and Lynn stand.
“How are you doing, Teddy?” Lynn asks.
“Good,” says Ted, grinning. At that, Buoniconti unleashes a deep sigh, one so operatic that at first it seems involuntary; but later, after spending hours with him, one comes to know it as his fallback signal of dismay and, quite often, a looming explosion. Linda’s head pivots.
“How’ve you been?” she says.
Buoniconti doesn’t explain that he can’t figure out how to knot a tie or towel his back. He doesn’t speak of his increasingly useless left hand, the increasingly frequent trips to the emergency room or how, just a few days earlier he hurtled backwards down a staircase and sprayed blood all over the hardwood, screaming afterward at Lynn, “I should just kill myself! It doesn’t matter!”
And he’s right. Like most everyone who’s close to a former NFL player, Linda is living some variation of the same story. They’ve all seen the big-budget concussion movie and the news clips; they’ve read about the deaths of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson; they’re comparing notes on Facebook about the damage caused by repeated head trauma. They study their men. They accompany them to brain studies and name-drop superstar CTE researchers.
“We went to see Dr. [Julian] Bailes last month,” Linda says. “He’s really impressive, as far as one-to-one.”
Buoniconti releases another sigh.
It’s so random. Hendricks has only minor memory lapses. Some of Buoniconti’s Dolphins teammates, meanwhile, are crumbling. Quarterback Earl Morrall, the supersub so key to the Perfect Season, died at 79, in 2014, with Stage 4 CTE. Running back Jim Kiick, 70, lived in squalor until he was institutionalized last summer with dementia/early onset Alzheimer’s. Bill Stanfill, a defensive end who long suffered from dementia, died in November at 69.
“Everybody’s searching,” Buoniconti says, dropping his voice. “Some go to North Carolina, some to BU, some to UCLA. And it’s all related. That’s why it’s so unnecessary, what the NFL is putting the players through by making us document the neurological deficiencies. Not everybody can afford to go through that. And they say they’ll pay for it — but do you know what that’s like, actually getting the money?”
Ted and Linda leave for the ballroom. Nick and Lynn sit. Hall of Fame Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman stops by. He talks about how even the most familiar routines have become confounding, how he wakes up in his own bed wondering, Am I in a hotel? “And I’m 55,” he says.
“At 55, I was very normal,” Buoniconti says. “I’m not normal anymore.”
This is hard, at times, to believe. Everyone tells Nick he looks “great.” Indeed, he’ll soon get up before a packed ballroom and emcee the night’s program, tick off the names of every co-host, sponsor and speaker, tell war stories.
But few saw Buoniconti teeter as he walked off the stage, perhaps because of the atrophy to his right frontal cortex. Fewer noticed Nick motioning for Lynn as he bolted from the ballroom, perhaps because of his neurodegenerative dementia — or the yet-unspoken opinion that his condition could actually be corticobasal syndrome, complicated by an atypical Parkinsonian Syndrome or CTE or Alzheimer’s. He had to pee. And Lynn had to stand by to unbutton and unzip him and ensure that he’d emerge from the men’s room dry and unexposed.
And no one here saw him before all that, when Buoniconti stood up in the hotel lobby and headed toward the ballroom. “I feel lost,” he said. “I feel like a child.”
The full version of Price’s story on Buoniconti will run Tuesday at The MMQB.
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Gil Brandt has been involved with the NFL draft since 1960, as a young pup with the Dallas Cowboys. Now, traipsing from combine to pro day to pro day to the draft, he gathers information from every team in the game, and herds the top prospects around at the draft.
MMQB: Pretty surprising draft. What surprised you the most?
Brandt: Nothing. Actually, no surprises to me. Two weeks before the draft, I knew there would be a bunch of picks that would shock people. I said then that the eighth pick in this draft could be someone else’s 50th-ranked player, and the 50th player for another team could be your eighth guy.
MMQB: Do you think the Bears made a bad trade, dealing two threes and a four to move up one spot for Mitch Trubisky in the first round?
Brandt: No. Everyone has what-ifs in every draft. I’m not sure San Francisco didn’t play blind man’s bluff a little bit, but whatever they did, Chicago couldn’t know exactly what was going to happen if they don’t move up to two. I think the Bears were concerned Cleveland had all that ammunition and could move up. Plus, the agent [for Trubisky] was making it clear he knew his guy would go second. I understand what [Chicago GM] Ryan Pace went through. If you’re not proactive in this league, you die. Without a quarterback, you can’t win. The thing about everybody saying Chicago made a bad move … all those people, if they’re wrong, we’ll never see a retraction. And no one knows now it’s a good move or bad move.
MMQB: It seemed like Dallas was the favorite to host the 2018 draft until the league saw the job Philadelphia did. You live in Dallas. You love Dallas. Thoughts on where the draft will be next year?
Brandt: As much as I want the draft to come to Dallas, it’s going to be very hard for Philadelphia to lose the draft after the job that city did. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. That city did a job that was off the charts. And the fans were so great — 100,000 people that one day, and I bet there were 99,999 different jerseys, with fans from everywhere.
—Jay Cutler, on his move to broadcasting, to ESPN’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” in Chicago on Friday.
It didn’t sound all that permanent, from Cutler’s voice. But we’ll see. It’s interesting that he also said in the interview that when he first thought of doing TV, he thought: “There’s no way in hell I’m doing it. This is literally the last thing I want to do.”
—Via CBS Boston, words from the suicide note of Aaron Hernandez to his fiancée Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez.
“He’s the NBA’s version of Mr. Irrelevant. Do you realize that Isaiah Thomas was the last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft?”
—Former NBA GM and Hall of Fame Piston Joe Dumars on the Celtic guard taking the playoffs by storm.
“You grow up reading Frank Deford and Rick Reilly and Gary Smith and … you think you can just be a sports writer like they were and have that same kind of career. But now, you want to make yourself as multifaceted as possible. The more you can do, the more desirable you’ll be. We’re trying to adapt on the fly, which is tough. Because we don’t really know what we’re adapting to.”
—University of North Carolina senior journalist Brendan Marks, on the effect of the dismissal of 100 TV journalists by ESPN on the current crop of sportswriter hopefuls entering the job market.
“This is one thing that I really just dislike about the NFL and kind of how a lot of people try to put guys in a box. Especially running backs after that 30-year-old mark. One, they make it seem like guys are going downhill and that’s not necessarily the case and so in my mind I feel like I have a lot of years left. I feel like I will have an opportunity to retire when I feel like I’m done playing ball and that’s just the mentality that I have. Yeah, I have several years left to play.”
—New New Orleans Saints running back Adrian Peterson, 32, who has one good season in his past three.
“When I get to, one day—Lord willing—be 50, [I’ll] turn around and say, ‘Dang, man, I’ve been getting after it, I’ve been living life, I’ve been pursuing this.’ The stories I can tell. The life I’ve lived.”
“I just want to say congratulations. Being a former player and doing what you did for so long … it’s unfathomable to be honest. I’m going into year 15 and to think that you played 18. … It’s an honor to be a quarterback for this organization because of players like you. It’s truly amazing what you did and I’m in awe of it.”
—Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, calling into the “Doug and Wolf” show on 98.7-FM in Phoenix, when former Cards quarterback Jim Hart was a guest to announce that the franchise will honor Hart by inducting him into the team’s ring of Honor this season.
Jay Cutler Quote of the Era That I’ll Never Forget
From then-Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, Oct. 4, 2015, in the midst of a rocky stretch for the Bears’ quarterback:
“They threw rocks at Jesus, and Jesus was an excellent guy who did a lot of awesome stuff.”
Apropos of studying the current quarterback market, I looked at some recent seasons of passer play. Eight quarterbacks had passer ratings of better than 95.0 in 2012. See if any of these makes you do a triple-take:
2012 Passer Rating
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
2. Peyton Manning, Denver
3. Robert Griffin III, Washington
4. Russell Wilson, Seattle
5. Matt Ryan, Atlanta
6. Tom Brady, New England
7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
8. Drew Brees, New Orleans
Just amazing that Griffin, at 27, fully healthy, is on the street with no takers five years later.
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The last five picks in the 2011 NBA Draft:
56. Lakers: Chukwudiebere Maduabum, Nigeria.
57. Mavericks: Tanguy Ngombo, Qatar.
58. Lakers: Ater Majok, Australia.
59. Spurs: Adam Hanga, Hungary.
60. Kings: Isaiah Thomas, University of Washington.
Maduabum plays in Japan’s professional minor league. Ngombo plays in the Qatari Basketball League. Majok plays in the Lebanese Basketball League. Hanga plays professionally in Spain. Thomas scored 53 points Tuesday night in the NBA playoffs.
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I went nowhere in the past seven days, which was welcome … considering in the previous five weeks I have been to the following places to report things and/or watch baseball and/or talk to students:
U.S.: Phoenix, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chapel Hill, Santa Clara, San Francisco.
England: London, Liverpool, Nottingham.
I made fine progress toward Delta Platinum Medallion status for 2018 and did some really fun things between March 26 and April 30. The photo adjoining this section shows part of the fun—sitting so close to the Rangers’ dugout we could have reached out and touched Rougned Odor in a spring-training game. But I’ve been quite pleased to spend eight straight nights at home.
• San Francisco CEO Jed York on whether he regrets not signing Jim Harbaugh to a contract extension before their ugly divorce: “We tried a lot of times to get an extension done with Jim and for whatever reason those didn’t culminate. And, ultimately, as successful as it was here, I think Jim is very happy and he’s doing an unbelievable job at Michigan. We obviously didn’t have success after Jim left. I don’t know that we’d be sitting here with John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan if something happened. And I don’t know if it would have worked long-term if we did get something done. I regret how we performed the last two years. I regret how the relationship was frayed between me and a coach that did a lot of great things for this franchise. And I actually talked to his brother [Ravens head coach] John [Harbaugh] briefly at the owner’s meetings and he said, ‘You know, you guys need to get together some time and have dinner.’ And I said, ‘I’d love to do that.’ I’d love to get together. And I think enough time has kind of passed where you can let whatever issues that were there be buried and just truly be thankful for three great years. When nobody expected us, certainly in 2011, to beat the Saints the way we did. To get close and be two muffed punts away from going to a Super Bowl in ’11. And just all the things that happened. You know, I’d love to sit down with Jim. Not in front of cameras, not in front of anybody else, but just share an evening with him and truly say thank you. And wish him the best of luck.”
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1. I think we’re left to wonder what-if with Jay Cutler. A lot.
2. I think this is the first what-if: What if he’d signed with Houston, and hands-on quarterback coach Bill O’Brien, this off-season? One of the things about Cutler I’ll miss is the last act of his NFL career—I was pretty sure there would be one, and now it seems unlikely. Had he gone to Houston, for instance, we’d have been able to see him with good receivers and buttressed by a top-three NFL defense; he wouldn’t have had to be bombs-away Cutler to have a chance to win. I’d have loved to see him play with O’Brien. They’d have butted heads a few time, for sure, but O’Brien would have liked Cutler’s attitude and toughness.
A decade ago, I was working on an assignment for Sports Illustrated prior to Cutler’s first starting season in Denver (after a rookie year in which he’d played some), and Mike Shanahan, his coach, told me this: “Jay thinks he’s just good, but he’s better than good. As time goes on, I think he’ll be great. You know why? He’s not afraid to stand in there and make plays and throw it downfield. Some quarterbacks, not mentioning names, want to dump it all the time rather than look downfield because the pressure of the game is so great or because they want to protect their quarterback rating. The guys who have confidence, who really believe in themselves, want to be Elway. You can teach a guy to dump the ball off. You can’t teach a Vanderbilt guy to be the MVP of the SEC, which Jay was. He’s got to have something inside him to accomplish that.” That guy was still there. Is still there.
3. I think this is the second what-if: I always will think that Cutler unnecessarily picked a fight with rookie coach Josh McDaniels in 2009 that got him traded from Denver to Chicago. Stupid move by Cutler—even in retrospect, dissing owner Pat Bowlen at the time, and even though McDaniels made some huge mistakes in his ill-fated tenure. What if Cutler stayed in Denver, and been willing to be coached by McDaniels the way Tom Brady has been willing to be coached by McDaniels? Cutler’s career in Denver could have changed drastically.
4. I think I just realized something about all the ESPN layoffs, thinking about my football Sunday: Do not, I repeat do not, tell me that the “NFL Matchup” show is in danger. That is the one staple to my Sunday morning that I simply cannot do without. Smart football, put into words the average fan can understand, by really smart and likeable football people—Ron Jaworski, Merril Hoge, Sal Paolantonio. I love that show. It educates without talking down to people. It is a vital part of my football week. ESPN: It must stay. It simply must stay.
5. I think Christian McCaffrey made a few positive impressions at the Panthers’ rookie camp, particularly when he was split wide and ran efficient and fast routes. One impression came after he signed his rookie contract, with $10.7 million in signing bonuses, meaning, if he handles life right, he’ll have some form of security for the rest of his life. “He celebrated by going to bed,” Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer reported. Said McCaffrey: “I signed, tried to get some sleep to get ready for [practice]. Never get comfortable.”
6. I think Phil Simms has handled his demotion a lot better than I’d handle mine.
7. I think this was the most interesting statement I have heard in the past week. It came from Gil Brandt, when we were talking about the 49ers’ draft, and I asked him about Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, selected 31st overall by the Niners. “Foster’s the most competitive linebacker I’ve seen come out of the draft since Jack Lambert,” said Brandt, who has studied 58 drafts.
8. I think I tip my cap to you, Frank Deford. After your final NPR commentary Friday, after 37 years of making us think on public radio, it’s over, and as a daily NPR devotee, I mourn your retirement from the airwaves. But I’m grateful for years and years of common sense. As my wife and I raised our kids, and since they’ve left the nest, from Cincinnati to New Jersey to Boston to New York, “Morning Edition” has been a part of our lives … for 37 years, the same number you’ve graced NPR. I didn’t hear all 1,656 commentaries, but I bet I heard 1,200. And they were voiced the way you wrote: brilliantly. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
9. I think there is one more bit of thanks I owe this morning. Thank you, Bob McGinn, for making me a much smarter football writer, and for respecting the business the way you did for so long. Everyone who reads about football, and everyone who writes about football, owes you thanks. (McGinn retired from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week, the dean of Packer beat men and, truly, the dean of football beat men in America as far as I’m concerned. “It’s kind of sad,” Packer president Mark Murphy said Friday. “Bob is an icon. He was so important to Packer fans and football fans in this state, and beyond. His knowledge of football is excellent. I didn’t always agree with him, but he was a real professional. He did his homework. He worked at it, took great pride in it. It is very hard for me to imagine him not working. His dedication was so impressive. He timed the hangtime of punts! He timed the hangtime for the snapper to get it back. He was meticulous … Absolutely people will miss him. The vast majority loved him, swore by him. I can measure his impact. When he would write a critical article about us, I would get letters quoting Bob McGinn. That always told me he had a strong following.”
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: by Corey Kilgannon of the New York Times, about a New York man determined to flush his good friend’s ashes down the toilets of ballparks across America.
b. Investigative Story of the Week: John Barr and Nicole Noren of ESPN for this stunning report of a depraved University of Arizona track coach and an athlete he preyed upon.
c. Video of the Week: Titans GM Jon Robinson, at a juvenile diabetes gala in Nashville, with his 11-year-old daughter Taylor.
d. My Lord: Isaiah Thomas is one of the best athletes on this planet. Watched the second half of his 53-point piece of artistry in game two of the playoff series against Washington. The man is 5-9. He was playing on his late sister’s birthday. And he was unstoppable when all the Wizards were doing was trying to stop him. A genius performance.
e. Are any Mets’ pitchers healthy?
f. Good on Adam Jones for calling out the race-baiting Boston fan or fans. It’s got to stop, and you don’t stop this by ignoring it. You stop it by drawing attention to it, focusing outrage on it (as the Red Sox have done now), and making whoever would even consider doing this know that he or she will forever carry a scarlet R (Racist) on his/her chest, for all to see.
g. Really good work by the Boston announcing team, when, in the middle of a heated series between the Red Sox and Orioles, Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman plunked Hanley Ramirez with a 76-mph curveball and home-plate ump Sam Holbrook tossed Gausman. The Red Sox gained the edge, but their announcers on TV saw the reality.
h. “That’s just unfair,” said the play-by-play man Dave O’Brien. “Not a hint of intent there.”
i. “That’s embarrassing. If I’m Holbrook, I’m embarrassed,” said the color guy, Dennis Eckersley.
j. They’re right. It was silly to throw a pitcher out for hitting a batter with a curveball in the hip with tempers inflamed. But the unwritten rules of baseball are asinine. And that it is just stupid for teams to hold grudges and to plot revenge when one team had a baserunner run into a second baseman too hard, and then the second baseman’s team got revenge by plunking the baserunner’s team—it should have been over then—and then it just kept going and going. Dumb move by Holbrook, but he’s almost forced to do something like that to stop the insanity of two teams that simply won’t stop trying to hurt each other. This junior-high revenge business, as it’s been done for years and years, has to stop.
k. Love John Harbaugh checking in Saturday, defending his Orioles. “It was a curveball,” he said. “That’s a love tap.”
l. If I had the first pick of any current player in baseball to start a team with, I’d pick Manny Machado. Two: Mike Trout. Three: Clayton Kershaw. Four: Mookie Betts.
m. Give me your top four. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org … with one sentence (and no more) of your reason why. I plan to run the best ones in my mailbag this week.
n. Beernerdness: Winenerdness this week. While in California last week, I had a chance to try the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon of Charles Woodson Wines (Calistoga, Calif.). Very full bodied, a little more subtle than a Zinfandel, but with excellent fruit and a smooth finish. Charles, you’ve got a good business going there.
q. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play is one of the beautiful things in sports.
r. And finally: Photo of the Week … this leaping dog, Detective Elliot Stabler, the young Golden retriever of one Mary Beth King, in Seattle. The dude even has an Instagram page, with photos straight from the Puget Sound.