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.
Biggest Week 3 injury questions for all 32 NFL teams
Elsewhere, the status of a pair of star receivers is in doubt with the Green Bay Packers‘ Davante Adams (hamstring) and the Atlanta Falcons‘ Julio Jones (hamstring) nursing injuries. The injury-ravaged San Francisco 49ers likely won’t get quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) back for their game against the New York Giants, but tight end George Kittle might return.
Here’s a look at the biggest injuries for every team:
Are Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano healthy enough to play? The Bills were gashed by the Dolphins in the middle of the field in Week 2, in large part due to the absences of their two starting linebackers. Both players were at practice Wednesday — a positive sign with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee coming to town on Sunday. Buffalo will need all hands on deck to control the Rams’ passing attack. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
CB Bryon Jones (groin/Achilles) is out for Thursday’s game against Jacksonville and the Dolphins are also dealing with CB Xavien Howard being bothered by a knee injury. Rookie first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene likely will start in Jones’ place. It’s not a good time to have issues in the secondary because the Jaguars are averaging 294 yards per game passing and QB Gardner Minshew ranks in the top 10 in completion percentage and passer rating. — Michael DiRocco
Starting center David Andrews missed Wednesday’s practice with a hand injury. He’s been solid the first two weeks of the season, and his potential absence would be a setback Sunday. “He’s the piece that holds it all together,” starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn said. — Mike Reiss
The Jets have major issues at wide receiver. Breshad Perriman (ankle) is expected to miss two games. Jamison Crowder (hamstring), who sat out last week, is a question mark. It leaves Chris Hogan, Braxton Berrios and Josh Malone as their starting three, which could make for another long day for QB Sam Darnold. — Rich Cimini
The Ravens didn’t practice, so there was no official injury report for Monday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The most high-profile injury is OT Ronnie Stanley, who played last week despite dealing with hip and ankle injuries. Asked about his status for Monday’s game against the defending Super Bowl champions, Stanley said Wednesday, “It’s going to take a lot to keep me out of this one.” — Jamison Hensley
Will the Bengals regain the services of Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels against the Eagles? Last week, the absence of the two defensive tackles was very notable as the Browns racked up 215 rushing yards. If the Bengals are without both again, shoring up the rush defense could be a big problem. And if that happens, that will also affect the Bengals’ pass rush, which has also struggled through the first two weeks. If neither player can practice by Thursday, it’s hard to see either playing in Philadelphia. — Ben Baby
After sitting out Week 2 with an ankle injury, right tackle Jack Conklin said he expects to be 100% again by the end of the week and will play against Washington’s talented defensive line. — Jake Trotter
David DeCastro is back at practice, but will he play in Sunday’s game against the Texans? The veteran guard practiced for the first time since training camp on Wednesday, but he was sporting a hefty brace on his left knee. Earlier in the week, coach Mike Tomlin said DeCastro’s participation this week would be their guide for his availability. If DeCastro has any setbacks the Steelers showed last week they have a solid backup in rookie Kevin Dotson, who didn’t allow a sack. — Brooke Pryor
Matthew Berry explains that Gardner Minshew going up against the Dolphins’ defense gives fantasy managers a better shot at winning than Deshaun Watson, who will be facing the Steelers.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt played only 68% of defensive snaps in Week 2 because he was dealing with a groin injury last week. “As the game kind of got away from us at the end, just being very smart about what had to be handled moving forward,” Watt said. He felt “great” at practice on Wednesday and said his groin “feels much better this week than it did last week.” — Sarah Barshop
Tight end Jack Doyle continues to be out with a knee and ankle injury. Coach Frank Reich has yet to go into any details on when he expects Doyle back. The good news for the Colts is that Mo Alie-Cox is coming off a career game against Minnesota as Doyle’s replacement. Alie-Cox had five catches for 111 yards against the Vikings to show that he’s capable of continuing to fill in as the starter. — Mike Wells
C Brandon Linder (knee) and K Josh Lambo (left hip) are out for Thursday’s game. The Jaguars do have experience behind Linder in Tyler Shatley. He has started 15 games in seven years with the Jaguars. However, the Jaguars are going with rookie Brandon Wright to replace Lambo. Lambo has made 95% of his field-goal attempts in his four seasons with the Jaguars. — Michael DiRocco
The Titans managed to score 33 points without WR A.J. Brown last week. Brown was limited in practice last Wednesday before being held out of practice the rest of the week and ruled out for Week 2. Brown missed his third consecutive practice on Wednesday due to a bone bruise. If Brown is unable to go on Sunday, the Titans will have to rely on a more balanced attack against the Vikings. — Turron Davenport
What will the Broncos do to adjust to the short-term loss of quarterback Drew Lock (shoulder), who they built an entire offseason plan around on offense? Jeff Driskel, who played 64 of the Broncos’ 77 snaps on offense in last week’s loss to the Steelers, will get the start against Tampa Bay. He is fairly mobile, but they may have to adjust in pass protection or they’ll be replacing Driskel as well given they surrendered seven sacks and 19 quarterback hits against the Steelers. The Broncos should give Driskel snaps in two tight end looks and add rollout and play-action to slow the Buccaneers’ defensive front. — Jeff Legwold
The Chiefs protected veteran RB DeAndre Washington on their practice squad this week, an indication they don’t feel backup Darrel Williams will be ready to go on Monday night against the Ravens. Williams injured his ankle last week. The Chiefs also have starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire and backup Darwin Thompson but they have no one else quite like the 224-pound Williams, their best power runner. In his third season with the Chiefs, Williams has seniority over the other backs and the trust of the coaching staff in all situations. — Adam Teicher
Stephania Bell explains that Josh Jacobs looked good after returning to the game against the Saints and that she isn’t overly concerned about an injury limiting him in Week 3.
Raiders trainers put in a lot of work on Josh Jacobs during the home opening-win against the Saints Monday night. With the second-year running back missing practice on Wednesday with a hip issue, alarm bells are ringing. Yes, quarterback Derek Carr is in control of the offense and tight end Darren Waller is a force who also sat out practice with a knee issue. But the offense flows through Jacobs. If he cannot go on a short week in New England, they turn to Jalen Richard, who is more a change-of-pace pass-catching back, and Devontae Booker, who has a lot to prove in the Raiders system. — Paul Gutierrez
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor will not start because of a chest injury and a pain-killing injection that accidentally punctured his lung. Rookie Justin Herbert will make his second straight start. — Shelley Smith
The Cowboys will be challenged at cornerback this week with starter Chidobe Awuzie expected to miss a couple of weeks with a hamstring strain. The Cowboys lost Anthony Brown last week to broken ribs suffered in practice. Daryl Worley took over for Awuzie last week vs. Atlanta but it is possible Brandon Carr could also see some action at cornerback although his focus had been at safety since signing prior to Week 1. In training camp, Worley played both cornerback spots as well as the nickel spot and safety. His versatility is a plus but now he likely will be counted on as the right cornerback. — Todd Archer
The Giants have injury concerns but not really for this week. Star running back Saquon Barkley (knee) is out for the season and WR Sterling Shepard (turf toe) landed on injured reserve. That will keep him out at least three weeks. The only players on this week’s injury report are reserve safety Adrian Colbert (quad) and rookie outside linebacker Carter Coughlin (hamstring). Colbert was limited at Wednesday’s practice and Coughlin was a full participant. — Jordan Raanan
Rookie receiver Jalen Reagor will be sidelined multiple weeks with a UCL tear in his thumb. That puts the onus on JJ Arcega-Whiteside and fellow rookie John Hightower to produce. The Eagles lean on two tight end sets more than any team in the NFL, and that certainly won’t change now. — Tim McManus
Washington receiver Steven Sims, who doubles as a returner, missed practice with a toe injury suffered in Sunday’s loss at Arizona. It’s uncertain how bad the injury is at this point, but it’s certain that if he misses time it would be tough to replace him. Sims has caught six passes for 103 yards. Also, Washington lacks legitimate receiver depth. There are options, including Terry McLaurin, who could move inside more while rotating others at the spot. Washington can also incorporate the running backs more in the pass game — Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic can run routes from this spot. Still, if Sims is lost, it’s a blow. — John Keim
The Bears have stayed relatively healthy, but veteran outside linebacker Robert Quinn‘s (ankle) snap count is worth monitoring in Week 3. Quinn, who was inactive in Week 1, played just 25 of 65 total defensive snaps against the Giants. Quinn finished the game with a sack and forced fumble. “He’s got really long arms, and he cuts that leverage down,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “Robert has that bend going around the edge and stays so low. It’s hard for tackles and then he has some counter moves off of that.” The Bears ideally want to pair Quinn with Khalil Mack as much as possible. Mack played 54 snaps against the Giants.— Jeff Dickerson
With Kenny Golladay returning to practice Wednesday and seemingly on track to play barring a setback, the main concern for Detroit has to be its No. 1 cornerback, Desmond Trufant. He didn’t work out Wednesday — his fourth straight missed practice — and on a defense struggling against the pass, he is needed. Detroit would likely again go with Amani Oruwariye and Jeff Okudah if Trufant can’t play. — Michael Rothstein
Field Yates, Matthew Berry and Stephania Bell discuss the severity of Davante Adams’ injury, and they delve into the streaming options should Adams miss any time.
Davante Adams says it’s “too early to tell” whether his hamstring injury will be healed enough to play Sunday against the Saints. Adams wanted to go back into last Sunday’s game against the Lions but coach Matt LaFleur held him out with the Packers up big in the second half. Adams did not practice Wednesday but said in hindsight not returning against Detroit was the right call. “It’s feeling better,” Adams said. “I think we’re making good progress every day. But we’re just going to wait it out and see. It’ll probably be a decision that’s made later in the week most likely, just to get a full assessment, give me the full amount of time I need to get right.” Remember, as valuable as Adams is to the Packers’ offense, they went 4-0 without him last year when he had a turf toe injury. — Rob Demovsky
Injuries are piling up on Minnesota’s defense. Cornerback Cameron Dantzler (ribs), who did not play in Indianapolis after missing three days last week, was absent from Wednesday’s practice along with Mike Hughes, who has a neck injury. With linebacker Anthony Barr on injured reserve, the Vikings want to expand Troy Dye‘s role, but the rookie is dealing with an injured foot that kept him sidelined on Wednesday. If Dye can’t play, it appears Hardy Nickerson Jr., who was called up from the practice squad, could be in line as the No. 3 linebacker. — Courtney Cronin
Star wide receiver Julio Jones did not practice Wednesday after straining a previously injured left hamstring during last Sunday’s loss at Dallas. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said they will take it all the way through the week with Jones to determine his availability. Jones said he couldn’t run like he wanted to against Dallas, but he fought through it. Jones typically fights through injuries, but this is worth keeping an eye on. If for some reason he can’t play against the Bears, the Falcons and Matt Ryan would rely more on receivers Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage as well as tight end Hayden Hurst. The Falcons might have to run the ball more anyway with Todd Gurley against Khalil Mack and the Bears defense. — Vaughn McClure
Everyone knows star running back Christian McCaffrey (high ankle sprain) is out 4-6 weeks, so the attention returns to the defensive front and tackle Kawann Short. Short (foot) was on the field in sweats for Wednesday’s practice and coach Matt Rhule is encouraged enough to think the two-time Pro Bowl selection could be ready for the Chargers. The Panthers need Short next to first-round pick Derrick Brown to help a defense that has an NFL-low zero sacks and six pressures. — David Newton
Receiver Michael Thomas‘ status remains uncertain after he missed last week’s game with a high ankle sprain. The team didn’t practice Wednesday, but they listed Thomas as a DNP on their “estimated” injury report. We’ll learn more when they actually practice on Thursday and Friday. This week would be a surprisingly-early return from that type of injury. But the Saints didn’t place Thomas on injured reserve, which means they hope he can miss less than three games. — Mike Triplett
The Bucs are actually in much better shape with injuries compared to the last two weeks. Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin cleared the concussion protocol Monday and is expected to play in Denver, while their other Pro Bowl wideout, Mike Evans, is no longer even on the injury report with a hamstring injury. — Jenna Laine
Christian Kirk missed Wednesday’s practice with a groin injury that he suffered Sunday against Washington that, at the time, coach Kliff Kingsbury said was just “a little tightness.” But Kirk wasn’t in uniform on Wednesday and was seen working out on the side with a trainer. If he can’t play against the Lions this week, the Cardinals will have the option of using either Trent Sherfield, Andy Isabella or KeeSean Johnson, who’s returning from the reserve/COVID-19 list. — Josh Weinfuss
Rookie running back Cam Akers separated rib cartilage in the opening series of a Week 2 win over the Eagles and is now considered day to day, according to Rams coach Sean McVay. Through two weeks, Akers has been the starter, but he’s playing in a rotation with Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson. If he is unable to play Sunday, look for Brown or Henderson to start, but expect that carries will continue to be shared. — Lindsey Thiry
Stephania Bell updates the status of a bevy of injured 49ers and says guys such as George Kittle and Jimmy Garoppolo might decide to not play on the turf at MetLife Stadium.
The 49ers have many injury questions right now but with it looking increasingly unlikely that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) will play against the Giants on Sunday, all eyes turn to tight end George Kittle and his sprained left knee. Kittle was limited in practice Wednesday and will be evaluated as the week goes on. In normal circumstances, Kittle would probably be able to return this week but given the 49ers’ concerns about the artificial surface at MetLife Stadium, they might opt to err on the side of caution and hold him out another week. — Nick Wagoner
Defensive end Rasheem Green has yet to be cleared from the neck stinger that forced him to miss Seattle’s win over New England last week, so his status for Sunday’s game against Dallas is up in the air. “He’s not feeling that bad but he’s still got a little something going on that we’ve got to wait through it and see which day it turns,” coach Pete Carroll said. Green’s iffy status is magnified by the loss of Bruce Irvin to a season-ending knee injury. — Brady Henderson
Vacuum the floor? Workout at 5 a.m.? Cardinals’ bolder Kyler Murray stays humble – Arizona Cardinals Blog
TEMPE, Ariz. — There are parts of Kyler Murray‘s life that are well known. The Arizona Cardinals‘ franchise quarterback has been in the spotlight since he was a sophomore in high school. He’s a Heisman Trophy winner, a first-round draft pick in two sports and a rookie of the year.
But there are other parts of his life that very few people know, such as the fact that he’s a clean freak.
In May, Geno Pierce — the CEO of Performance Course, the gym Murray has trained with in his hometown of Allen, Texas, since high school — tweeted a video of Murray vacuuming the gym floor with the caption: “You want a role model @K1 is the all timer. Most have no idea the level of character this guy is. He inspires me! He cleans our place after training at 5:30 am. R you kidding me?! This dude is THE GUY on all levels. Humble and down to earth as they come. #realrolemodel.”
My guy!💪🏽 https://t.co/1uDabrkM7A
— Kyler Murray (@K1) May 25, 2020
Moments such as that reveal a lot about a person. That kind of humility has defined Murray even as he has begun to shed his reputation for being soft-spoken and quiet and has become more vocal by the day with teammates.
When Murray talked about the vacuuming during a video conference call in May, he said there were “some bugs” on the carpet.
“What it really is, he’s very OCD — he’s super clean — and I get it because I am, too,” said Stephen Baca, Murray’s trainer, who clarified that there was just one fly. “But when he walks in, he hand sanitized six times. He’s got his gloves on. He’s not touching the weight unless he sprays it down.
“I mean, we don’t fist bump. He wore gloves the first three months. Like, he’s just clean.”
When Murray didn’t want to get on the floor to do some hip mobility movements following the fly’s departure, Baca told him he had one option.
“I literally told him to go get the freakin’ vacuum and vacuum if you want to,” Baca said. “I’m not doing it for you. He ain’t a first-round draft pick in that barn. He’s just Kyler. He’s not the rookie of the year. He’s just a guy.
“And so, just shows you: He doesn’t need anything fancy. He’s not a prima donna, even though I give him a hard time for sometimes being one.”
Murray has carried that kind of do-the-work mentality with him into his second season as the Cardinals’ quarterback. Through two games, his 155 rushing yards are the most by a quarterback since Michael Vick opened the 2006 season with 175. Murray has a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown in each of the first two games, and the Cardinals are 2-0.
‘Comfortable in his role’
After spending last season trying to figure out life in the NFL — from defensive coverages to managing his free time to having teammates who are grown men and rely on him for a paycheck — Murray seems more mature now, wide receiver Christian Kirk said.
Murray organized and paid for a throwing session in Dallas with about 20 Cardinals teammates over the course of a few days this summer. He sent random text messages to teammates, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said, and joined others for lunches.
“He’s a lot more open,” Fitzgerald said. “I think he’s a lot more comfortable in his role, and I think that was validated when his teammates voted him as a captain. He has done a great job of not just being a leader and letting his voice be heard. I’m really happy in the direction he’s going.”
Murray called being voted a captain a “great honor” and said it was a “huge deal for me.” He wants his teammates to know that he cares about them, but he’s also trying to lead by example. It’s clear to Murray’s teammates that he is different than he was last season.
Running back Chase Edmonds, who got close with Murray in 2019, quickly noticed how much more vocal Murray has become. It’s a vast change from last season, when Edmonds said Murray “didn’t say too much.” The change started toward the end of 2019, Edmonds said, but Murray is “speaking up a lot more now” and is doing so in ways to motivate his team.
“He’s going to grow with that as he gets older and as he gets more games under his belt and more wins under his belt,” Edmonds said. “… It’s good to see that in the early stages right now.”
Brett Hundley, who was Murray’s backup last season and is the team’s third-string quarterback this year, said Murray “looks relaxed. He feels relaxed. He’s playing relaxed. He’s looking good.”
It started showing in Week 1, when Murray led the Cardinals to a win over the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. Coach Kliff Kingsbury saw Murray take a step against the Niners, as the Cardinals didn’t take a lead until the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know if we could have hung around last year,” said Kingsbury, who has known Murray for eight years but said Week 1 was the proudest he has been of his QB. “I think that speaks to his maturity, his leadership, being able to hang in there mentally because it wasn’t pretty early.
“That’s the step we talked about taking.”
Left guard Justin Pugh has seen the leadership part of being a quarterback — commanding a huddle, determining the pace of play, getting the call to his teammates, making adjustments at the line — become second nature to Murray.
Fellow offensive lineman D.J. Humphries, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2015, added, “You can tell that he’s not worried about anyone messing with him because he’s a young guy. It’s a lot easier to joke around with him. I’m a big joker. I like to play around. I think last year, he was so concerned with figuring everything out, he couldn’t really tell when the O-line was being sarcastic and joking around with him. I think he’s starting to figure that out a little bit more. He’s picking back with us a lot. It makes it fun.
“It’s been fun to see him become so much more personable.”
Part of Murray’s humility comes from his self-awareness.
“He knows who he is and what he is and what he’s accomplished and what he has the ability to accomplish,” Kingsbury said. “He keeps that to himself, and that’s just who he is. He’s not a very outward-spoken guy who’s going to put a lot out there, but he is very, very confident, and he’s very, very competitive.
“It’s just the way he rolls.”
‘The kind of dude that he is’
In mid-March, as the coronavirus pandemic lockdown began, Murray was already entrenched in a weekly routine with Baca.
They met four days a week at 9 or 11 a.m. at Performance Course, keeping up a schedule that Murray began two weeks after the 2019 season ended, when he was named rookie of the year after throwing for 3,722 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
But early in the pandemic, as the quarantine went into full effect, Performance Course had to close for most of a day to shoot instructional videos for its online platform as a way to continue driving at least one revenue source. Baca texted Murray that he could fit him in at 5 a.m. It wasn’t an unusual request. Baca had made it clear to Murray over the years that he’d have to work out around Baca’s schedule.
In March, Murray’s response to Baca’s text was the same: “OK, whatever you need.”
Months later, Baca was still blown away by Murray’s “level of flexibility” and “unentitlement.”
“You get a guy that’s that talented, like, he can easily say, ‘Man, I’m the Rookie of the Year. I need to be there at 9 a.m. I’ll come when I want to. You bend for me,'” Baca said. “But he understands the situation that we’re in as a company, and he bends and makes concessions for us, and that’s the kind of dude that he is.”
One officer indicted by grand jury in Breonna Taylor killing
Athletes across multiple sports expressed frustration about Wednesday’s grand jury decision in Kentucky not to move forward with charges against any officers for their roles in the death of Breonna Taylor.
A grand jury in Louisville indicted one police officer for shooting into neighboring apartments. Officer Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment in connection to the police raid that resulted in the death of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, on the night of March 13.
Neither the grand jury nor the presiding judge elaborated on the charges. Bond was set at $15,000 for Hankison.
The FBI is still investigating potential violations of federal law in the case.
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Taylor’s family, tweeted that the charges involved “NOTHING for the murder of Breonna Taylor. This is outrageous and offensive!”
The WNBA dedicated its season to Taylor and the Say Her Name movement. Before the opening game of the WNBA season in July, the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm held a 26-second moment of silence. Taylor’s name is on the back of WNBA jerseys and has been inked on shoes in both the WNBA and NBA.
“Sadly, there was no justice today for Breonna Taylor,” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said in a statement. “Her killing was the result of a string of callous and careless decisions made with a lack of regard for humanity, ultimately resulting in the death of an innocent and beautiful woman with her entire life ahead of her. Our players and I once again extend our deepest sympathies to her family and we vow to continue working in her honor and to always say her name.”
After a $12 million civil settlement was reached between Taylor’s estate and the city of Louisville last week, WNBA players again pushed for the officers’ arrest.
“This is why police need to be defunded and ultimately abolished!” Liberty player Layshia Clarendon posted on Twitter. “We time and time again hope for a sliver of justice but why would we get that when the system is designed to protect the very folks that are murdering and terrorizing us. This isn’t a bad apple, it’s a rotten tree.”
This is why police need to be defunded and ultimately abolished! We time and time again hope for a sliver of justice but why would we get that when the system is designed to protect the very folks that are murdering and terrorizing us. This isn’t a bad apple, it’s a rotten tree.
— Layshia Clarendon (@Layshiac) September 23, 2020
Disappointed & disgusted. My heart goes out to Ms Tamika Palmer & the rest of Breonna’s family #JusticeforBreonnaTalyor
Please vote! Everyone!
— Sue Bird (@S10Bird) September 23, 2020
Not surprised just disappointed . We’re sorry Breonna 💔
— Isabelle Harrison (@OMG_itsizzyb) September 23, 2020
My heart is with the family of Breonna Taylor right now. My god. This is devastating and unfortunately not surprising. Black and brown folx in this country deserve so much more. #BlackLivesMatter #JusticeforBreonnaTalyor #DefundPolice #RegisterToVote
— Megan Rapinoe (@mPinoe) September 23, 2020
The WNBA players’ union called Wednesday’s grand jury decision “offensive and outrageous.”
“No one needs to live in the Commonwealth of Kentucky to understand this case,” the players’ union said in a statement. “We won’t stop pressing for full transparency and full and complete justice. There are far too many questions left unanswered.”
NFL players were allowed to wear a helmet decal with Taylor’s name during season openers.
“If it was my sister or my mom or my dad — or, if I have kids one day, any of my kids — I’d be pissed off. Very pissed off,” Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins said Wednesday. “… The biggest thing with that case is understanding that life isn’t fair. We have to understand you don’t always get the things you want. It’s really disappointing because justice should be served for her death, Breonna Taylor and this movement in general, this Black Lives Matter, and understanding the neglect of not only Black people but people of color in general.
“The injustices, police brutality and systemic racism and everything of that nature, it’s bigger than just sports or politics or the color of your skin. It’s how you treat people. I was always taught growing up from my mom and my dad, you treat people how you want to be treated. If I treat people how they’ve been treated, then no one respects that, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. … We have to do better as a country and as a people.”
“It’s just so demoralizing. It’s so discouraging. I just keep thinking about the generation of American kids, of any color, is this the way we want to raise them? Is this the country we want to live in?” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Wednesday’s news. “There’s just so much violence. There’s so much shooting. It comes in so many forms, whether it’s school shootings or vigilantism or police brutality, neighbor to neighbor. There’s just so much violence, and it’s demoralizing when we can’t be accountable or hold anyone to account for it.
“The really demoralizing thing is we have a really powerful movement that’s happening. We have so many people who care about this country and so many people who want change and believe in equal justice for Black and brown communities, and yet we don’t have it. It’s such a tough hill to climb, but this long history of racism that we have in our country continues. And it continues in the form of this kind of violence, state-sanctioned violence, over and over again that we’re seeing. And it’s devastating.”
The cops that murdered Breonna Taylor knew this is how it would play out from the moment it happened. They were never worried about justice being served.
— 🏁 Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) September 23, 2020
I lived in the VILLE for three years of my life and it became another home to me, but wow what’s happen? These are the charges you actually come up with? 😔🤦🏿♂️ Nothing to say but WOW SPEECHLESS!
— Montrezl Harrell (@MONSTATREZZ) September 23, 2020
I don’t have many words right now…. but all I can say is I’m praying for the city of Louisville right now!!! 😔😔
— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) September 23, 2020
Other NBA and NFL players took to social media to react to the grand jury news.
“The cops that murdered Breonna Taylor knew this is how it would play out from the moment it happened,” Brooklyn Nets guard Jamal Crawford posted on Twitter. “They were never worried about justice being served.”
“Breonna Taylor’s killers getting off scot free without even a trial is exactly the systemic rot that people are protesting for,” Los Angeles Chargers running back Justin Jackson posted on Twitter. “All those protests, all the outcry for justice, and can’t even get a trial. Angry doesn’t even come close to how im feeling. #BreonnaTaylor.”
“Just crazy,” Watson said. “… And I’ll just speak more about that with my teammates and the people like that because right now this is definitely a football interview. But, yeah, it was just something that … it’s just crazy, honestly.”
Breonna Taylor’s killers getting off scot free without even a trial is exactly the systemic rot that people are protesting for. All those protests, all the outcry for justice, and can’t even get a trial. Angry doesn’t even come close to how im feeling. #BreonnaTaylor
— Justin Jackson (@J_ManPrime21) September 23, 2020
Wow…can’t even say I’m surprised on how they ruled the Breonna Taylor case…😓
— Davontae Harris (@wichkid) September 23, 2020
At a news conference Wednesday, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Hankison and the two other officers who entered Taylor’s apartment announced themselves before entering and did not use a no-knock warrant.
“According to Kentucky law, the use of force by Officers [Jonathan] Mattingly and [Myles] Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves,” Cameron said. “This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Miss Breonna Taylor’s death.”
Protesters have consistently pressured the attorney general to act, and celebrities and pro athletes joined them in calling on the attorney general to charge the police who shot Taylor. At one point, demonstrators, including Texans receiver Kenny Stills, converged on his house and were charged with felonies for trying to intimidate the prosecutor. Those charges were later dropped.
After the grand jury’s decision broke Wednesday afternoon, demonstrators who spent months calling for justice for Taylor resumed their protests, which appeared to be largely peaceful. Still, streets in downtown Louisville were cleared of cars and many businesses were boarded up well ahead of the announcement.
As the afternoon wore on, police in protective gear clashed with the growing number of protesters in some areas and used batons to push some of them down. Officers detained at least four people, who sat on the ground with their wrists bound behind them.
Taylor, an emergency medical worker, was killed at approximately 12:40 a.m. on March 13 after police served a search warrant on her apartment for a narcotics investigation. Taylor was not the target of the investigation and had no criminal record.
Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire when police burst in, and his shot hit Mattingly. Walker later said he was afraid that assailants were breaking in. Three officers responded with multiple shots, with six hitting and killing Taylor in her hallway.
Hankison was fired, and Mattingly and Cosgrove were assigned to administrative duties. Joshua Jaynes, the detective who sought the warrant, was reassigned. The police contend that they announced their presence before breaking in.
“The decision before my office as the special prosecutor in this case was not to decide if the loss of Ms. Taylor’s life was a tragedy,” Cameron said. “The answer to that is unequivocally yes.
“I understand that Breonna Taylor’s death is part of a national story, but the facts and evidence in this case are different than others [involving police shootings]. If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice. Justice sought by violence is not justice. It just becomes revenge.”
Haskins said he wanted to give himself a day to reflect on the grand jury decision and figure out what he and his teammates will do.
“People are dying every day, and it’s very important for us, but we want to come to an actual change and figure out ways to resonate with people in the community,” Haskins said. “People are looking at us and want our opinion and our perspective. We want to actually have something worth doing, not just doing it because it’s easy to do.
“We want to do the best we can as the Washington Football Team to bring change throughout the country. It’s just tough because you don’t want anyone to die, and you don’t want anyone to be killed, for that matter. And to be killed and not to have any justice be served is extremely disappointing. … I can’t be insensitive toward this because I have family and friends who have been through this before. I’ve been through things like this before. It’s tough. It’s hard to deal with.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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