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The decision to extend Blake Bortles‘ contract doesn’t stem from the quarterback’s ability. It isn’t a product of what he showed in the postseason during two impressive games against the Steelers and Patriots or, alternately, in a dismal effort at home against the Bills.

Jacksonville’s decision to re-sign Bortles is a product of a questionable decision the Jaguars made last year — it seemed questionable at the time and has grown worse with some perspective. It’s also a reflection on where this team is going and whether the Jags can build upon an impressive 2017 season to take that final leap past the Patriots and into the Super Bowl.

Last May, the Jaguars decided to exercise Bortles’ fifth-year option, which gave the team another year of cost control on their enigmatic quarterback through the 2018 season. The fifth-year option for players taken in the top 10 of the draft is rather expensive for quarterbacks, given that it represents the average salary of the top 10 players at the position. For Bortles, that fifth-year option was more than $19 million.

The salary is guaranteed only for injury, so in most cases, teams that regret the move can just cut the player and move on without any penalty. Players who can’t pass a physical by the beginning of the new league year (in March) remain on the cap and get paid, even if they can’t play, as will likely be the case for Ryan Shazier in Pittsburgh. The Steelers naturally couldn’t have anticipated in May that their star inside linebacker would suffer a career-threatening spinal injury six months later, but for Pittsburgh, the reward of having another year of cost control over Shazier was worth the risk that he would suffer a serious injury.

Likewise, the Jaguars were about to be stuck paying Bortles $19 million for an injury he had when Jacksonville signed him to the extension. The UCF product suffered a wrist injury during the final month of the 2016 season, which the Jaguars elected to treat with shots in the hopes of avoiding surgery. The Jags then picked up Bortles’ option last May all while knowing he had a wrist injury that might require surgery after the 2017 campaign. The wrist got worse as the 2017 season went on, requiring Bortles to undergo surgery after the season ended in late January.

A move that seemed iffy at the time without public knowledge of the injury and looked downright foolish once the Jags briefly benched Bortles during the preseason for Chad Henne only looks worse now. Given the likelihood that Bortles would be unable to pass a physical and subsequently be guaranteed $19 million before hitting free agency next season, the Jaguars made the decision to tender him a three-year, $54 million deal with $26.5 million guaranteed at signing. The fifth-year option was a sunk cost, and the Jaguars didn’t make a terrible move by handing Bortles this deal, but it raises questions about their thought process heading into 2018 and beyond.

The details of the deal

There’s a slim chance Bortles will actually end up playing out this extension for all three years, as teams almost never let a veteran quarterback play into the final year of his contract. This is more realistically a two-year deal for somewhere between $30 million and $36 million, plus incentives, with the ability to renegotiate after 2019 without having to resort to the franchise tag.

To gain that concession, the Jags had to drastically increase the chances Bortles remains the starting quarterback for Jacksonville in 2019. The structure of this deal — namely, the $15 million signing bonus, which is spread over three seasons for cap purposes — means the Jaguars would pay a steep cost to dump Bortles after one season. Cutting the soon-to-be 26-year-old would leave a minimum of $10 million in dead money on their cap next year.

That number could rise as high as $16.5 million if Bortles can’t play; the Jags guaranteed $6.5 million of his $16 million base salary in 2019 with offsets, which another team would inherit as part of a new deal. If Jacksonville cut Bortles after 2018 and he signed a one-year, $3 million contract with, for instance, the Browns, the Jags would owe Bortles $3.5 million in cash and have $13 million in dead money on their cap for 2019.

It’s surprising that the Jags would structure Bortles’ deal in such a way. Under general manager Dave Caldwell, they have typically gone year-to-year with their contracts, guaranteeing money up front over the first two years of contracts with base salaries and roster bonuses while retaining flexibility afterward. That has come in handy when free agents such as Chris Ivory and Julius Thomas haven’t worked out, but it’s also how the Jags have operated in re-signing homegrown talent.

In the case of star linebacker Telvin Smith and the four-year, $45 million deal he signed in October, for example, the Jags guaranteed a $3 million base salary in 2018 and an $8 million roster bonus, all of which hits the cap next year. Smith’s $4.1 million signing bonus costs only about $810,000 in cap room per year, so the Jags could theoretically get out of Smith’s extension after next season and have only $2.4 million in dead money remaining on their cap.

The Jaguars didn’t give veteran stars such as Calais Campbell ($6 million) and A.J. Bouye ($10 million) huge signing bonuses as part of far larger and longer contracts when importing them in free agency last year. Either they’ve suddenly changed the way they do business and are going to approach the salary cap differently, or Bortles’ camp insisted they structure this extension in such a way as to make it more likely the former third-overall pick is around for another season.

It’s not about the money in Bortles’ pocket. The Jaguars could have offered Bortles the same three-year, $54 million deal but replaced the $15 million signing bonus with a $6 million signing bonus and a $9 million roster bonus payable on the first day of the new league year. In that scenario, Bortles sees the money hit his bank account at exactly the same time, but the Jags would owe a minimum of $4 million and a maximum of $10.5 million by getting rid of Bortles after one season.

The other prescribed reason the Jaguars structured the deal this way might be to create cap space in 2018, but that doesn’t make much sense. Jacksonville already had about $30 million in cap space with Bortles under contract at the $19 million mark. Their free-agent class includes star wideout Allen Robinson, fellow starting wideout Marqise Lee, nickel cornerback Aaron Colvin, veteran linebacker Paul Posluszny, and Henne. The Jags are unlikely to pay serious money to Colvin given their investment in Bouye. Henne and Posluszny will likely get modest one-year deals. Lee has pieced together one healthy, productive season as a pro. The Jags rightly want to keep around Robinson, but they could have franchised him for one year at $16.3 million or extended him with whatever structure they wanted without having to free up 2018 cap room.

If the Jaguars wanted to free up cap space in the short term for whatever reason, they could have cut struggling wideout Allen Hurns and saved $7 million. Alternately, Caldwell could have turned $12 million of Bouye’s upcoming base salary into an option bonus and freed up $9 million, a move the Jags don’t often do but one that would have entailed less risk than redoing Bortles’ deal.

Borrowing from the future to create cap savings now also ignores the reality that the Jaguars are going to need cap room in the very near future. The Jags have just $17.1 million in free space next year before accounting for rollover or re-signing Robinson. Jacksonville also will be looking at extending Myles Jack and star edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue in 2019, given that they’re both free agents after the 2019 campaign and due for hefty raises on the combined $3.1 million they’ll account for on that year’s cap. Caldwell can create cap room by cutting one of his expensive defensive linemen at that time, but the argument for the Jags clearing out space immediately at the cost of a totally different deal structure with Bortles doesn’t really add up.

So, with the cap-space argument aside, the Jags made this move because they’re comfortable betting that Bortles will be worth running out as their starter into the 2019 season, but not so comfortable that they were willing to give him the sort of five-year extension players such as Andrew Luck and Cam Newton signed before their fifth-year options actually played out. Is that wise?

Is Bortles worth it?

Depends on which guy shows up. Bortles had his best season in 2017, but it was topsy-turvy. Among the league’s regular quarterbacks last season, only Cam Newton had a higher standard deviation in terms of game-to-game Total QBR than Bortles. Those numbers don’t include the postseason, when Bortles was borderline unplayable as a passer against the Bills but used his legs to pick up first downs in the second half. He followed that with great games against the Steelers and Patriots, which clearly left a lasting memory in the minds of the Jacksonville front office.

When I evaluated Bortles after the 2015 season, I noted that what looked like impressive numbers were mostly hot air. A disproportionate amount of his success came in garbage time as the Jags faced defenses that were mostly concerned with holding on to leads. His biggest plays were a product of throwing up 50-50 balls to Robinson, who was developing into a top-tier wideout.

I can’t make those arguments about Bortles this time around. Robinson went down with a torn ACL in Week 1, and the team’s other nominal starters — Hurns and Lee — were each battling injuries for stretches of 2017. Bortles’ best run came when he threw for 901 yards and seven touchdowns without a pick over a three-week stretch in December, with much of that damage coming on throws to fourth-round pick Dede Westbrook and undrafted free agents Keelan Cole and Jaydon Mickens.

Indeed, Bortles also wasn’t padding his stats. In 2015, he dropped back 163 times on drives that started with his team possessing a win expectancy at or below 10 percent, which was the third-highest total in football. He posted a 98.6 passer rating on those drives. Last season, Bortles had 68 such dropbacks, which was 25th in the league. He also didn’t derive much benefit from those situations, posting a passer rating of 75.0.

Instead, Bortles dominated teams when he got to throw without having to worry about dragging his Jags back into the game. On drives that began with the Jags enjoying a win expectancy of 75 percent or higher, Bortles was a monster. He completed nearly 67 percent of his throws, averaged 8.8 yards per attempt and threw eight touchdowns without a pick. His passer rating was 115.9 and his Total QBR was 82.0, which was second in the league in those situations behind Russell Wilson (91.2).

I don’t bring this up to criticize Bortles — there’s nothing wrong with throwing the ball effectively when your team is ahead, of course — but it’s also fair to wonder how much of his perceived improvement from a team that benched him during the preseason is the context in which he played. After years of investing in running backs, the Jags had their best running game with Leonard Fournette in tow. The Jacksonville defense posted the best DVOA in the league, forced the opposing team to punt on a league-high 50.7 percent of possessions and allowed the Jags to run 191 meaningful possessions on offense, second behind the Cardinals. Bortles was facing plenty of tired defenses in 2017.

The Jags’ defense is unlikely to be quite as effective next season, if only because of health; including their 11 starters and key reserves such as Colvin, Posluszny and Marcell Dareus, their defensive core missed all of three games during the regular season. Jacksonville also was dominant on offense in the red zone, scoring an average of 5.5 points per trip. That, too, is difficult to pull off on a recurring basis. Bortles is likely to shoulder a more meaningful part of the load and won’t be in such passing-friendly situations.

On the other hand, he’s likely to have Robinson back in the fold. If Robinson comes back with Cole and Westbrook, Jacksonville’s top receivers will each be entering their age-25 campaigns and should improve. Fournette should be healthier after a midseason ankle injury kept him out and slowed him for much of the subsequent campaign. Cam Robinson was projected to end up as a right tackle, but he over-delivered as a rookie left tackle and allowed just two sacks in 15 games. He should continue to grow into his role.

The problem with judging Bortles gets back to that variance issue. The Jaguars didn’t have any idea which quarterback they were going to get from week to week. After that incredible three-game stretch, Bortles threw five interceptions over the final two games of the year, although one was in a desperate, game-ending situation. He followed that with an awful game against the Bills in the wild-card round before looking impressive against two of the best teams in football.

If the Bills had mustered up anything on offense — or stopped the Jags on the fourth-and-goal, play-action touchdown pass that ended up winning the game for Jacksonville — Bortles’ season would have ended with three straight ugly games and there’s virtually no chance the Jaguars are picking up this option. Then again, if the ball doesn’t bounce off a defender’s hands before a field goal try at the end of the first half or his defense doesn’t come up with a fourth-and-goal stop to win the game, Nick Foles never has the opportunity to have those two incredible games against the Vikings and Patriots, either.

The best way to evaluate Bortles is by looking at the entirety of his season and the way he has played over his entire career as a starter as opposed to looking at those two most recent games or the three beforehand. In that vein, it’s hard to make a case that the Jags should be committing to playing Bortles past 2018. This is a guy who might not even have started in Week 1 if Henne had been more impressive during the preseason. Bortles’ mechanics, which were a problem heading into the draft, fell apart in virtually unprecedented fashion under heavy pressure in 2016 before staying solid last season. With the Jags investing in weapon after weapon for their quarterback, Bortles ranks 29th in Total QBR and 30th in passer rating over the past four seasons among the 30 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 pass attempts.

The Jags proved that they can win with Bortles, and if not for a questionable call or two, they might have advanced to the Super Bowl with their much-maligned passer calling signals. It’s also true that there might not be a guaranteed upgrade to Bortles waiting in the marketplace. Kirk Cousins could go elsewhere, and as ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando noted on my podcast Monday, Cousins’ Total QBR in 2017 (52.3) was below that of Bortles (55.6). The Washington star was also the third-most inconsistent quarterback of the season. Eli Manning appears to be staying in New York and hasn’t been very good over the past two years. Sam Bradford hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Case Keenum has one year of success on his track record, and, like Bortles, it came during a 2017 season in which a good running game and a dominant defense did a lot of the work.

At the same time, though, it’s not difficult to imagine that a Jaguars offense whose job is first and foremost to avoid turnovers might very well be better with Alex Smith at the helm, and Jacksonville could have topped Washington’s offer if so inclined. Cousins has a far longer track record of success than Bortles and likely has a higher long-term floor. The Jags were reportedly actively exploring the quarterback market days before extending Bortles.

I think Bortles deserved to come back into 2018 as the team’s starter on that fifth-year option. Simultaneously, it’s difficult to understand how a team that didn’t believe enough in Bortles to hand him a meaningful long-term deal also thought it was worth the risk of being stuck with a $10 million-plus dead-money hit in 2019. It’s also extremely unlikely any team would have given Bortles two years and $36 million fully guaranteed on the free-agent market given the other options available.

This is a Jaguars organization that, rightfully buoyed by the success of 2017, is doubling down on the guys who took it to the AFC Championship Game. Caldwell, Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone were under contract through the end of 2019, but ownership just gave each new deals running through the 2021 campaign. Bortles was part of that success, and while he wasn’t the most important contributor, he also held his own for stretches of time. The Jaguars don’t advance past the Bills without their defense making up for a terrible game from the quarterback, but they also wouldn’t have made it past the Steelers without several big throws from him, too.

It’s also fair to look back 12 months ago, when the two most promising up-and-comers in the AFC were the Raiders and Titans. One year later, both Jack Del Rio and Mike Mularkey are gone and the teams they left look to have major holes.

The Jaguars should be good again in 2018 — they actually underperformed their Pythagorean expectation of 11.8 wins with a 10-6 mark — but there’s also a chance that everything goes south against a harder schedule if the defense’s injury rate regresses toward the mean. If that happens, the Jags might very well be looking at the decisions they made this offseason and wonder why they were so adamant about bringing everyone from 2017 along for the ride.

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How the Falcons use Bill Walsh fellowship to emphasize coaching diversity

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Tessa Grossman was about to get into her mother’s white Mazda on May 3 when a notification popped up on her cell phone. Home in California for a couple of weeks after the spring semester of grad school at Illinois State, she saw whom the email was from and started getting nervous before she even opened it.

Five days earlier, she completed a first interview with the Atlanta Falcons for a Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship during training camp. Her interviewers said they’d be in touch. This email from Sarah Hogan, Atlanta’s assistant director of coaching operations, could be good news. Or bad.

It was good. Atlanta wanted a second interview.

“I remember sitting down in the car and going, ‘Oh my god, the Falcons just emailed me for a second interview,'” Grossman said. “Basically, like, holy s—, this is crazy.”

She took a deep breath. She had to plan to impress one more time. The email said to pick an interview time and Marquice Williams, Atlanta’s special teams coordinator, would reach out with details.

What started as a cold email to Hogan on April 10 introducing herself and informing Hogan she had applied for the fellowship led to Grossman’s selection as one of eight finalists for four internship spots in a program designed to increase the number of NFL minority coaches.

Processes differ from team to team, but all across the country calls and emails like this occurred for candidates for the introduction to the NFL through participation in training camps or offseason workouts.

It’s a competitive gig — often, like Grossman, potential fellows have full-time or graduate assistant jobs in college or high school. Venessa Hutchinson, who helps run the program for the NFL, said approximately 1,000 people applied this year.

Most years, the NFL has full participation. In Atlanta, this meant a comprehensive interview process run by Hogan and Williams, which whittled the Falcons’ in-house database of 50 applicants to the four they selected: Grossman (strength and conditioning), Erick Capetillo (tight ends/running backs), Darryl Jackson (special teams) and Cliff Matthews (outside linebackers), a former Falcons player.

“The Falcons have been a team that has always been at the forefront,” Hutchinson said. “Even when the old regime was there, they were bringing in female coaches and things like that, a lot earlier than a lot of the other clubs.

“They were always trying to be more progressive.”


In one of her first conversations after head coach Arthur Smith was hired by the Falcons this offseason, Hogan brought up the Bill Walsh program. She had been instrumental in its implementation under former coach Dan Quinn and wanted to continue.

She’d represented the Falcons at league meetings about the fellowship. She had plans. Smith agreed. The process became hers.

Then she met with special team coordinator Williams, who received his NFL start with Bill Walsh fellowships in Chicago and Detroit. Hogan happened to have her database of potential candidates open. Williams asked about it. They discussed his experiences and how it helped his coaching growth.

“Right after that conversation [I told him] that, ‘Hey, I talked to Coach [Smith] and I’m spearheading this thing. I’d love for me and you to do it together,'” Hogan said. “He was all for it. It made it so much better.”

In years past, Hogan had worked with a member of the scouting department. Now, she’d be working with an assistant coach. She also implemented changes. Hogan had suggestions from her prior experience running the program. Williams had ideas from his own Bill Walsh experience.

Together they streamlined the process of name collection and took candidate suggestions from their coaching staff. They scoured the NFL database and did their own research. If someone — like Grossman — reached out cold and showed initiative beyond clicking the Falcons box on the NFL application, they received consideration.

Due to the timing of the program with FBS training camps and wanting fellows to receive the full experience, they decided they wanted one high school coach, one small-college coach, an Ivy League coach and a fourth wild-card spot. They wanted a woman to fill at least one role. Each candidate was logged into Hogan’s tabbed-out, color-coded database containing information for this year and future seasons.

Williams and Hogan communicated regularly through email, text, phone calls and in-person meetings. Any time an idea came up, they fired off a note, working a handful of hours each week for about a month outside of interviews on the program.

Using their metrics, they narrowed down their database to 16 candidates who would receive 25-minute first interviews by phone. From there, they selected eight candidates to participate in Zoom interviews with Hogan and Williams. If he could, Smith would sit in. Otherwise, he’d watch recordings later.

“We wanted someone who is a total go-getter, who would do anything and everything,” Hogan said. “They would wash jerseys. They would pick up equipment. It had to be someone who was really enthusiastic about the whole program and the idea of it and learning.

“Someone who could take what we were teaching them and take it back to their current job. We weren’t necessarily looking for someone just to take the internship to put on their résumé to say that they did it.”

That was important to Hogan and Williams because of how they came up through the NFL.


Hogan grew up around football. Her formative years were spent in Merrick, New York, where her father, Greg Gigantino, was Hofstra’s defensive coordinator. The closest she came to playing or coaching was in eighth grade at Merrick Avenue Middle School, where she and her best friend considered trying out for football after their track season was moved to spring. But they decided not to.

In college at James Madison, she had no intention of working in football. Her father told her he helped land her a job in the football office. She didn’t think anything of it, just that she’d be going to help people they’d known over the years.

At the time, she didn’t know anything about football operations. She thought the only gig for women in sports was athletic training.

“And then I just kind of really liked doing it,” Hogan said.

Hogan interned with the Jets — the team held training camp at Hofstra — and changed her major to sports management and kinesiology. She went to grad school at Georgia State for sports administration and became the director of football operations at Northeastern and then Georgia State.

In 2015, she landed with the Falcons as the coordinator of scouting administration. Eight months later, Quinn made her the coordinator of head coach operations and she’s now essentially the deputy chief of staff assisting Smith and director of coaching operations Brian Griffin.

She works with various staff members to coordinate logistics and put everything together — from rookie travel to the Bill Walsh program.

“We just carry out the head coach’s wishes and make it easy for him to get his agenda and get the team ready to win games,” Hogan said. “That’s my bottom line.”

In working on the fellowship, she was also able to fulfill an objective she adopted from her father: taking interest in younger coaches and trying to match jobs with candidates. It’s what she wanted to do: make a difference behind the scenes, ever since she moved from college to the NFL.


Williams could relate. Had it not been for the Bill Walsh program, he might not be where he is now.

Williams was a defensive line coach at South Dakota in 2013 when he wrote 32 letters — one to each NFL head coach — and mailed them along with a copy of his résumé and his business card.

A Fresno, California, native and former defensive back at the University of Mary in North Dakota, he had few connections to the league. He’d spent time in small colleges — Winona State, Central Oklahoma before South Dakota — when he decided to apply for the fellowship program.

He figured the personal touch could stand out, perhaps catch the eye of application collectors. The extra effort worked. He landed with the Bears in 2013 and 2014 and then in 2015 with the Lions under Jim Caldwell.

Working with the Bears gave him his first exposure to special teams under coordinator Joe DeCamillis. With Caldwell he gained insight into almost everything.

“I learned more about different ways on teaching the values and different ways to practice on presenting certain topics,” Williams said. “Concepts and how to structure a practice, how to structure meetings. And Coach Caldwell did a great job of exposing us to the overall big picture of becoming a servant-leader.”

Before Williams’ Lions internship, Caldwell brought him for a two-hour interview. One hour was to interview as a linebackers coach and the other as a special teams coordinator. Williams thought it was for the internship, but Caldwell treated it like it was for a full-time job.

Essentially, his internship began during the interview, where Caldwell asked about Williams’ approach as a teacher and communicator, quizzed him about his personality, asked how he installed plays and ran practice. He inquired about special teams philosophy and how special teams complements offense and defense.

“That helped me and to this day I still use a lot of the tools that I learned from that interview and then the feedback I got from that interview,” Williams said. “When I interviewed with Coach Smith or whatever organization it may be, my base foundation came from that mock interview with Coach Caldwell.”

In 2016, Williams became the assistant special teams coach with the Chargers and in 2018 was moved to a defensive assistant role. Then he spent two seasons back in Detroit under Matt Patricia as the assistant special teams coach before Smith hired him as his coordinator this year.

It started with the fellowship.

“It was a platform to show who I am as an individual and show what I could bring to the table, but the bigger thing was it gave me the opportunity to learn the game of football,” Williams said. “That’s first and foremost.”


When Williams spoke with Grossman on May 5 to set up final interview parameters, he said half of the 20-minute final interview would be a presentation on anything she wanted. Drawing from a lesson learned from his interview with Caldwell, Williams wanted the candidates to teach him and Hogan something.

“They wanted you to install a play or something that I run in my offense,” Capetillo said. “And that was a little bit exciting, but also nerve-racking.”

Capetillo explained an inside run play his Las Vegas High team uses frequently with him as the head coach. Matthews, the defensive line coach at Reinhardt College, presented on the concepts of blocks defensive linemen might face and how to counter them.

Jackson, the special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach at Brown, did a brief introduction of himself followed by a replica of a directional punt coverage presentation he’d use at a meeting with his players.

Grossman, an Illinois State strength and conditioning graduate assistant, practiced her presentation six times the morning of her May 6 interview. She talked about the concept of cognitive restructuring and the importance of positive self-talk over negative self-talk.

While Capetillo, Matthews and Jackson had years of playing and coaching experience, Grossman had never held a full-time job. She graduated from Dartmouth a year ago, her senior softball season wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. She used material from her final presentation for Motivation and Sports last semester — a presentation she got an A for — in her interview with Hogan and Williams.

The four candidates were Hogan and Williams’ first choices, and all four aced their final interviews.

The process worked. Hogan and Williams had their fellows. Williams and Hogan divided the calls to the candidates they chose not to hire — but encouraged them to stay in touch and to apply again next year — and the congratulatory calls.

There were reasons they chose to call the candidates they did: Capetillo was Williams’ college teammate. Matthews had been to Flowery Branch before and Hogan was his liaison when he’d come to watch film. Jackson coached with Hogan’s father. Only Grossman, who reached out to Hutchinson for preparation tips throughout the process, had been unknown to Hogan or Williams prior to the process.


Capetillo, 32, was at his high school’s track practice when Williams called. He stepped aside for a minute and had to contain his excitement. He’d applied for the program before, but this was the furthest he’d gotten in the process.

He already had spoken to his wife — they were high school sweethearts — about the possibility of being away from home for three weeks. His goal, his dream, has been to work for an NFL team. This would be the first step on his path.

After he got off the phone, he quickly called his wife and went back to coaching track to unsuspecting kids who had no idea what just happened to their coach.

Jackson, 52, applied only to the Falcons. His connection with Hogan and his brother living in the Atlanta area made the Falcons an attractive possibility. He’d been part of the internship program before — in 2007 with Jacksonville, 2003 with Detroit and 1999 with Philadelphia. He applied again not because he was looking for a way to the NFL, but to increase his knowledge base. He found out he got the job sitting in his office at Brown.

“It was time for me to branch back out,” Jackson said. “Re-network and learn at the highest level and have an opportunity to listen and work with coaches and players at that level.”

Matthews, 31, was in his suburban Georgia home working on his other passion: cooking. He was in the middle of making collard greens — one of his specialties — when Hogan called. Fancying himself a master chef, he kept cooking. When he hung up, he sat down, told his wife the news and called his head coach at Limestone to tell him.

Grossman, 23, had been told after the interview to expect a call from Thomas Stallworth, Atlanta’s head strength and conditioning coach. They spoke for an hour while Grossman, still on Pacific time, was in her bedroom. At the end, Stallworth let it slip the Falcons were offering her the fellowship — followed by a call five minutes later from Williams making it official.

“It was just really shock at first,” Grossman said. “The whole experience felt like a bit of a fairy tale to be honest.”

She had not expected this in her first attempt at applying, even though she interned with the Rams. Matthews and Capetillo had hoped for this since they entered coaching. For Jackson, it’s a way to keep learning. It’s an opportunity, a chance. All they need to do is look at Williams to understand where it could lead.

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New England Patriots rookie Mac Jones earning teammates’ respect – New England Patriots Blog

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Mac’s work ethic: Rookies are supposed to be seen more than heard with the Patriots, but that can be hard to do when it’s a first-round quarterback such as Mac Jones.

Through the first four days of training camp, Jones is striking that delicate balance and earning the respect of his teammates.

“It’s not easy to play quarterback in the NFL, it’s not easy to play it here. He works his butt off and he cares a lot. I get text messages from him at 6 a.m.,” Patriots veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer said.

Jones, who has exclusively taken No. 2 reps behind Cam Newton through the first stretch of practices, has shown promise when it comes to processing information and releasing the ball on time.

He also has experienced predictable growing pains, and it has been commonplace to see him going over unsuccessful plays with teammates on the field after they unfold — such as what he did Friday after a missed long connection to wide receiver Nelson Agholor, or on an incomplete pass in the flat to running back J.J. Taylor on Thursday that could have been an easier pitch-and-catch.

Jones is notably hard on himself at times, and Newton said he is still learning how best to approach him in those situations. In the Patriots’ second practice, Newton saddled up next to him for a chat after a rough patch.

“I told Mac this, he doesn’t know me yet and I don’t know him yet, as far as comfort,” Newton said. “A couple months with Mac, he’s a person that over time you’ll get to know. He may be a guy you have to [fire up], or he may be a guy you leave alone and let him come back to himself. Everybody is just trying to learn each other and be the best teammates we can.”

Along those lines, teammates have taken notice of Jones’ accountability on the field, and how much he’s investing in them in the locker room.

“He’s a great guy off the field, so it makes it easy to play with him on the field,” wide receiver Jakobi Meyers said. “Guys who want to get better, it makes it really easy to play football with them.”

2. Gilmore’s status: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore‘s desire to have his contract addressed by the team remains in the same spot it was at the start of training camp — no resolution. Gilmore, who is coming back from surgery on his partially torn quad, has been working on the lower practice field with rehabbing players, and at one point last week he walked up with others to watch the final stretch of the regular practice. The dynamic is such that Gilmore can slow-play his potential return to practice, if he so desires, until the business side is resolved. In his absence, big-money free-agent signing Jalen Mills has been taking cornerback reps opposite J.C. Jackson.

3. Harris as RB1: Coach Bill Belichick said last week that running back Damien Harris has “been here since the day after the season was over,” a level of dedication that made a positive impression on him. The coach doesn’t often talk about expectations with roles, but with Harris, he allowed: “He has an opportunity to compete for a lead spot and has embraced that. … I’ve been impressed by the commitment he has shown.” Harris’ primary competition is 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel, who wasn’t present during voluntary spring workouts, with fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson joining the mix after being removed from the active/non-football injury list on Friday. Taylor, Brandon Bolden and Tyler Gaffney round out the depth chart.

4. Stidham’s standing: Belichick broke from his usual stance of not addressing injuries and timelines when he shared that quarterback Jarrett Stidham “will miss a little time,” which led to the team’s waiver claim of Jake Dolegala. After undergoing surgery on his back Wednesday, Stidham will now land on the reserve/physically unable to perform list to start the season and he would be eligible to return by late October. The scenario could be a win-win for Stidham and the team: He gets himself right physically, doesn’t count against the initial roster, and could provide depth later in the season depending on how things unfold with Newton and Jones.

5. Judon’s sprint: When Patriots players retreat to the conditioning hill at the end of practice, outside linebacker Matt Judon has been running with the wide receivers, his blue No. 9 jersey standing out among all the white jerseys. Judon’s immersion into the Patriots’ culture is in its early stages — he wasn’t around for the majority of the spring — but he talked about already developing a connection with fellow linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Josh Uche and others. Summing up his transition from the Baltimore Ravens, he said: “Now, I’m not in enemy territory.”

6. Red zone blues: The Patriots had 26 touchdowns in 48 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line last season, a 54.2% success rate that ranked them 24th in the NFL. Not ideal, and one might say perhaps that is a driving factor as to why the first four days of 2021 training camp were spent almost exclusively in the red zone. But as Belichick pointed out, the Patriots always have a heavy emphasis on that area early in training camp — a reminder of its importance to any team’s success.

7. McCourty’s future: Longtime Patriots captain Devin McCourty turns 34 on Aug. 13, enters his 12th season with the team, and is in the final year of his contract. So could this be his final NFL season? McCourty said last week he hasn’t had time to think along those lines, but acknowledged he has entered the past couple of years with the mentality that any season could be his last. “I will say I feel great going into the season. I had a good offseason training,” McCourty relayed, before joking that training camp would be a relief with kids aged 4, 3 and one month at home. In that case, McCourty might want to play until he’s 40.

8. Mac’s courtesy: It was a small gesture, but one that was hard to miss. Newton had just started his post-practice news conference Friday, which drew a large crowd of reporters, when Jones arrived for his. At that point, Jones could have stepped up to one of the open microphones and started his news conference, but he elected to wait for Newton’s 15-minute session to finish, presumably out of respect to Newton and (possibly) the media.

9. Tuesday’s checkmark: The Patriots have had their first four practices of training camp, although Belichick essentially said camp begins Tuesday in his view. That’s when the team can first wear full pads and the tempo ramps up. So any pure evaluations are on hold, which explains his answer when asked how Jones is doing retaining information in the playbook. “We’ll see,” Belichick said. “We haven’t really got to that yet in training camp. That’ll be coming. So I don’t know. We’ll find out.”

10. Did You Know: The Patriots of 2003 and 2004 were the last teams to repeat as Super Bowl champions, and the current stretch of 16 consecutive seasons without a repeat champion is the longest in history.

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Young leading young in Jets’ QB room; how will it impact Zach Wilson? – New York Jets Blog

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Lots of green: The Jets probably have the youngest quarterback room in the NFL. How young? Let’s put it this way: No one can tell first-hand stories about the days of the rotary phone, and that includes the coaches.

The tragic death of assistant Greg Knapp, 58, the resident sage, has left the Jets without an experienced quarterback coach. It’s noteworthy because, as everybody knows, the development of prized rookie Zach Wilson is priority No. 1 for the organization.

The group is led by Mike LaFleur, 34, a first-time offensive coordinator and playcaller. The Jets’ quarterbacks coach is Rob Calabrese, 31, a first-time position coach.

Coach Robert Saleh, whose expertise is on the other side of the ball, was counting on Knapp to groom Wilson, Mike White and James Morgan, none of whom has regular-season experience. Their average age is 23.7. Knapp brought 25 years of experience to the room, having coached an impressive group of quarterbacks that includes Pro Football Hall of Famers Steve Young and Peyton Manning.

Former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky believes the lack of experience could affect Wilson.

“Imagine having to learn how to ride a bike with no one who knows how to do it, how to teach you, nor anyone to show you how to do it,” Orlovsky said.

The Jets aren’t going to replace Knapp, per se, but they will re-distribute the workload for the coaches. Saleh said they will revert to a traditional set-up, with the coordinator and position coach working with the quarterbacks. Knapp’s position, passing-game specialist, was a “bonus” on the staff, according to Saleh. Perhaps, but Knapp was the primary voice in the room.

Saleh is leaning on LaFleur, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur, to coach beyond his years. After seven years at the side of San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, LaFleur is on his own, with no veteran sounding board.

“I know he’s a very young coach, but he’s advanced in terms of what he’s learned and the people he’s been around since he started coaching,” Saleh said.

2. Silver lining playbook: White and Morgan split the reps during Wilson’s absence, giving the coaches and front office an extended look at the two young quarterbacks. White wasn’t great, but he outperformed Morgan, and it wasn’t close. Unless they import a veteran — Saleh seems opposed to that idea — White is the favorite to be the regular season QB2.

That would set up an interesting decision: Would they cut Morgan with the idea of bringing him back for the practice squad? He’d be exposed to waivers, and general manager Joe Douglas might not want to risk one of his draft choices. The alternative is to carry three QBs on the 53-man roster, but that seems like a waste of a spot.

Morgan, a 2020 fourth-round pick from Florida International, was a curious pick at the time. And it hasn’t aged well.

3. Money matters: In case you’re wondering, Wilson’s $35 million guarantee (his entire contract) is the fourth-highest in franchise history, behind C.J. Mosley ($43 million), Darrelle Revis ($39 million) and Muhammad Wilkerson ($37 million). These were the amounts that were guaranteed at signing.

Wilson landed the richest rookie deal, surpassing defensive tackle Quinnen Williams ($32.5 million).

4. Incredible shrinking linebacker: Mosley, listed at 250 pounds when he last played in 2019, reported to training camp at 231, his college weight at Alabama. He looks like a different person.

After opting out in 2020 and missing 14 games in 2019, Mosley has a lot to prove and he sounds highly motivated to show he’s still the player who made four Pro Bowls with the Baltimore Ravens. Whenever he sees highlights of himself on TV, it’s always the same game — his impressive Jets debut in the 2019 opener against the Buffalo Bills. That seems so long ago.

“Honestly, I’m tired of seeing the same highlights for the past two years, so I’m ready to put new highlights on tape,” he said. “Different body type, different body feeling, different defense, different mentality, different mindset. Everyone saw that game, it’s going to be way better this year and years to come.”

Mosley has made a lot of money ($29 million) while accumulating a lot of rust over the past two years. It might take him a few weeks to chip it off, but he will surprise some folks in 2021.

5. Musical kickers: It wouldn’t be Jets training camp without a story about the search for a place-kicker. They’ve gone through four regular-season kickers in the past two seasons — Kaare Vedvik, Sam Ficken, Sergio Castillo and Chase McLaughlin. There will be a new kicker this season now that Ficken, erratic in camp, is gone. The current competition is between rookie Chris Naggar and newcomer Matt Ammendola, who spent a couple of months with the Carolina Panthers earlier this spring

The Jets haven’t had a good kicker since Jason Myers made the Pro Bowl in 2018. They let him walk as a free agent, and they haven’t recovered.

6. Carter country: After four padless practices, the Jets will put on the full equipment Monday — the true start to training camp, according to purists. The player I’m most eager to see is rookie running back Michael Carter, who looked terrific over the first few days. He displayed a knack for finding daylight, with an ability to slide through holes and get vertical with a nice burst.

Let’s hold the applause, though. It’s hard to evaluate running backs when there’s no real hitting. The intensity will be raised on Monday, and it will go higher in the preseason games. The fourth-round pick from North Carolina, who could have a prominent role, is one to watch.

7. Big Blue in ’22? The Jets are having joint practices with two of their preseason opponents, the Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. Why not the New York Giants, too? Actually, they had talks with the Giants about practicing together. Saleh said he hopes they can make it happen next year.

Longtime fans will remember the last Jets-Giants practice. It was 2005, in Albany, New York, a day marked by several fights and a shouting match between Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson and Giants coach Tom Coughlin. I was there and witnessed the entire mess; it was as if the Jets were hellbent of playing the role of neighborhood bully. Ah, memories.

The Jets open the preseason Aug. 14 against the Giants.

8. Motown to Big Apple: Linebacker Jarrad Davis is the classic “change-of-scenery” player. The 2017 first-round pick had a tough time with the Detroit Lions for four seasons, so tough that he revealed, “I contemplated walking away, I really did, man.”

He got benched and “burned out,” saying he let football overtake his life. It couldn’t have been much fun playing for coach Matt Patricia, a gruff, Bill Belichick wannabe who was in over his head. In short, Davis was miserable. Players have talked that way about the Jets, most recently quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who said his second season with the Jets (2016) nearly destroyed his love of football.

Davis, who saw a therapist to help him deal with some emotional issues, said he feels revitalized under the charismatic Saleh, also noting the Jets’ 4-3 scheme is ideally suited to his skill set. Culture and scheme fit are so important in the NFL. Davis, the Jets’ starting strong-side linebacker, has a fresh start. A career turnaround would certainly help the Jets’ reputation, which has been Lions-like in recent years.

9. Crystal ball: Denzel Mims is no better than fifth in the pecking order at wide receiver. He was a 2020 second-round pick. This is a storyline worth following this summer.

10. The last word: “He had this light that he let shine, that attracted people to him. Just in the short time we were together in OTAs, he never had a bad day. I wish I had more time with him. I think everybody does.” — guard Greg Van Roten on Knapp.

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