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.
Two weeks later there are still more questions than answers about former NFL player Phillip Adams
ROCK HILL, S.C. — Robert Lesslie loved playing the bagpipes. He loved practicing medicine, his community, his faith, his wife, Barbara, and their big family. Barbara Lesslie loved her husband, their church, leading bible study, singing hymns and mentoring kids with disabilities at Camp Joy. They each loved their grandchildren, including Adah and Noah, and were proud of the warmth the two kids showed regularly to others. Adah Lesslie loved books, she loved singing, handmade cards and hugs. Noah Lesslie loved physical comedy and horses, so much so that he frequently asked if one day he would be able to ride a horse in heaven, particularly Artax from The NeverEnding Story.
In his memorial service for the Lesslies last week, Rev. Dr. J. Barry Dagenhart said it is important to remember these things as we grieve, because by grieving this way, we make hope a living thing. And, Dagenhart told the audience, hope will be particularly important as we wrestle, in the months and years to come, with the question of why such a terrible thing happened to them, even though it ultimately won’t change the reality of the tragedy.
On April 7, a former NFL football player, Phillip Adams, emerged from the woods behind the Lesslies’ property in Rock Hill with two handguns — a .45-caliber and 9 mm — and opened fire. He shot and killed Robert, 70, Barbara, 69, Adah, 9, and Noah, 5. He also shot and killed two air conditioning repairmen, James Lewis and Robert Shook, both 38, working at the house before Adams fled to another location, where police said Adams shot and killed himself after a standoff. He was 32.
No known motive exists, and the connection between Adams and the Lesslies, if even one existed prior to April 7, remains unknown as well. The police report was expected to shed new light on what happened and why, but added few details when it was released last Friday. A community in which the Lesslies were beloved for their generosity, their charity and their connection to their church, remains shaken. Lesslie was the director of the emergency department at Piedmont Medical Center, Rock Hill’s general hospital, for nearly 15 years, and had founded two urgent care clinics. During his time there, he’d treated many people in Rock Hill, including Adams’ own father.
“They were such peaceful, good people,” said Ralph Norman, a congressman who represents Rock Hill. “[Robert] treated everybody in town at some point. … His wife and my wife were in a singing trio that went over and sang at different functions, and we went skiing and were in the same church for a long time. They were some of our best friends. This is just horrific, unbelievable.”
Adams’ friends and family are also grieving, wrestling with memories of the person they thought they knew, and a reality of the monstrous acts he committed. “I just can’t fathom it,” said Kevin Smith, a three-time Super Bowl-winning cornerback with the Cowboys who was a mentor and friend to Adams during his career. “I don’t know what the situation was, but I just can’t imagine him shooting kids.”
In the absence of answers, people who knew Adams can’t help but contemplate the inevitable question: Was he suffering from some form of psychological illness, perhaps set in motion by collisions and concussions during his football career? His father, Alonzo, gave a brief interview to Charlotte television WCNC-TV after the shooting, indicating as much: “I can say he’s a good kid — he was a good kid, and I think the football messed him up.”
The family has made few public statements since but agreed as part of the autopsy that his brain be sent to Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center for further study. Adams’ sister, Lauren, declined to comment to ESPN until the CTE results are back from BU. “Right now, we’re just trying to grieve and wrap our heads around everything,” she said.
Even that effort likely won’t provide definitive answers. In the last research from BU’s CTE Center, researchers found CTE in the brains of 223 of 266 amateur and pro football players that they studied. But there has never been a link established between CTE and violence.
This much is known about Adams, though: The local standout had always been a quiet introvert who could be hard to track down. Once his football career was over in 2015, he’d done some volunteer coaching at a nearby high school in recent years, and tried starting up a health food shop with a friend. But in the past year to 18 months, family members had a harder and harder time finding and connecting with him.
Adams’ longtime agent, Scott Casterline, said he can’t help but feel a little haunted by a missed call the morning of the shooting, wondering if he could have done something that would have prevented the situation. There is a mixture of guilt and sadness in his voice when he talks. “Phillip’s dad had called me and it went straight to voicemail,” Casterline said. “I didn’t realize it. I guess it was right before all this happened. His tone was normal. It was like ‘Hey Scott, this Alonzo, I’m just trying to touch base with you to talk a little bit about Phillip.’ And it wasn’t alarming or like, ‘Hey man, Phillip is in trouble.’ It was normal, because Phillip was a loner. Even when he played, he was really private. He was hard to reach unless he wanted to talk to his parents, to me, to everybody.”
ADAMS’ PATH to the NFL was, for years, seen as one small part of a football pipeline coming out of Rock Hill, a sleepy, bedroom community 25 miles south of Charlotte that manages to produce an inordinate number of talented football players. Jadeveon Clowney, Stephon Gilmore and Cordarrelle Patterson are among those the city has sent to the NFL in recent years, inspiring one local sports editor to dub the 75,000-population town “Football City, USA,” a moniker that stuck.
Adams wasn’t a star on the level of Clowney, but he was well-known for his athletic prowess. He won a state championship in football and in basketball at Rock Hill High School, and earned a scholarship to South Carolina State. His classmates nicknamed him “Fresh” because he was always so sharply dressed and well-groomed. “His whole family is actually very naturally gifted athletically,” said Lawrence “Snoop” Brown, one of Adams’ high school teammates. “His brother was an all-ACC wrestler. His sister played volleyball and basketball. And Phillip was no different. Always a very good athlete. From the get-go, he has always been super talented.”
Casterline says Adams talked sparingly about his childhood in Rock Hill, but when he did, he usually described it as a happy time in his life. His father, Alonzo, worked as a commercial truck driver who typically limited his work to local routes so he wouldn’t have to spend nights away from his family. Sometimes Phillip, the youngest of three kids, would accompany him on trips. His mother, Phyllis, worked for many years as an educator in the Rock Hill school system until 2009, when she was involved in a serious car accident that left her paralyzed. A community fundraiser brought in more than $15,000 for her after the accident.
Adams was in college at the time, and said it was only after he and his mother prayed together in the hospital that he decided to continue playing football. She was to be part of his motivation to make it to the NFL. “This just makes you appreciate the people in your life,” Adams told a reporter in 2010, discussing his mother’s accident. “It makes you … not worry about material things. It brings you closer to God. That is what it did for me. It helped me out in that aspect. It made me work harder. It can either change you for the worst or the best. Because of my family and the strength that I have, it changed me for the best.”
Adams was a standout cornerback and punt returner at South Carolina State, tying for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference lead in interceptions as a junior and earning first-team all-conference honors as a senior in 2009. But an NFL career was no sure thing. No South Carolina State player had been drafted in a decade. A friend put Adams in touch with Casterline prior to the NFL Draft, and the two clicked in a brief conversation over the phone. Adams moved to Dallas to train, hoping to improve his draft stock, primarily by working with Smith, who was a key member of the Dallas dynasty. “He was just a young, quiet kid, and he wanted all the information,” Smith said. “I used to get on him a little bit. He overworked. It was information overload. He studied it, he dreamed it. It was a long shot coming from South Carolina State, but he had the talent. I told him, ‘Man, you got something.'”
It wasn’t long before Adams and Casterline built a bond that went beyond a professional relationship. “Phillip was like a little brother to me,” Casterline said. “Initially, I put him up in a hotel, but then I said, ‘Why don’t you come over to my house?’ I’ve got a big house. He just started staying with me. We’d go eat and train together. We even took jiu-jitsu together because we took a class and it would be me versus him because we were both beginners. We were both very competitive. Over time, we just became really good friends. I wish I could have foreseen the future. … I just can’t imagine him shooting anybody, especially two kids. That’s just not in his nature.”
Adams was drafted by the 49ers in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, but he managed to make the roster because of a relentless work ethic and willingness to play special teams. But late in the year, in a game against the Rams, Adams suffered a compound ankle fracture on the field, an injury that required emergency surgery and screws inserted into his leg, and it turned his football career into a nomadic existence. For the rest of his time in the NFL, he was a fringe roster player, moving from city to city, barely hanging on from one week to the next with little to no job security. Still, Adams did better than most, scratching out a six-year career that paid him upward of $3.6 million.
The Patriots signed him in 2011, but they ultimately cut him three times in the same season. He spent two full seasons with the Raiders, even cracking the starting lineup for four games over two seasons, but that too came to an unceremonious end because of injuries. It was during his time with the Raiders that he suffered two concussions in a short span. “I remember one of them was really bad,” Casterline said.
Adams had one-year stints with the Jets and Falcons, but he could never move up from being considered a fringe NFL guy. “That does a lot to the psyche of a player,” Casterline said. “Every time he’d get released, I’d pick him up and tell him, ‘Hey, we’ll find your place. Your time will come.’ But he kept bouncing around. I know that frustrated him because he was such a competitor. He wanted to win and be great.”
Smith says he’d travel to Atlanta a couple times a year after Adams signed with the Falcons, mostly just to check in with his friend, and would usually stay with Adams for a weekend. What he saw always perplexed him. “All he would want to do is watch film,” Smith said. “That was it. He had film of every NFL receiver he was going to face the next year, and he’d sit there watching that film all day long. I’d tell him, ‘Phillip, you’re overdoing it. You can’t be working out three times a day. You’re going to ruin your body. You have to preserve your body. The longer you’re in the NFL, it’s about preserving your body and recovery.’ But he was one of those guys who was going to push it to the edge. He was all football.”
After Adams’ contract with the Falcons expired in 2015, the fire that burned inside of him to hang on to an NFL career seemed to wane. He moved back to Rock Hill and started volunteering as a coach at Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, SC, telling Casterline he felt like he was important again, that he was making a difference. He told friends he was also trying to be a present father to his young son, even though he and the boy’s mother were no longer involved.
Casterline got a call from the Colts during training camp in 2016, inquiring about Adams’ availability. They wanted to sign him, but they needed an answer immediately. A cornerback had been injured, they liked Adams’ experience and wanted him to fill in, but only if Adams could be on a flight to Indianapolis that night. Casterline couldn’t reach Adams, which wasn’t unusual. Eventually, Adams’ father got in touch with his daughter, and she tracked down her brother at his old high school, putting him on the phone with Casterline. “I said, ‘OK, your sister is going to take you to the airport right now, we’ll send you clothes,'” Casterline said. “And he started hesitating. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. That’s not like Phillip. But I think he had clocked out of the experience of being signed and cut so many times. It wears on a player. He ended up going to the airport after I talked to him, but he got there late and missed the flight. That was it. The Colts moved on. They signed somebody else. I could tell he wasn’t really into it anymore.”
ADAMS’ FRIENDS insist he wasn’t ashamed of the way his NFL career ended, but it also wasn’t a subject he liked discussing. When he decided to open a Rock Hill smoothie shop in 2019, dubbing it “Fresh Life,” he refused to use his past NFL career as part of the marketing. He saw food as medicine, according to Tynetta Moore, a long-time friend who ran the business for Adams. He wanted to provide healthy fruits and vegetables to a predominantly Black part of town that didn’t even have a grocery store.
He had big ideas for the community that didn’t involve football. He talked of starting a podcast about wellness, and a mentorship to teach people a trade, like plumbing. His dream, he told Moore, was to grow his own food eventually. He had visions of her running the store while he spent his days riding a tractor. “He was just wanting to live a very quiet life,” Moore said. “He was not a flashy guy in the first place. If you bring up something about the NFL, he was, ‘I don’t want to talk about that.’ It was like that was off limits to him.”
Adams’ ambitions, however, once again clashed with his reality. Moore says business was slow, and foot traffic was nonexistent. The store ended up closing, Moore says, even before COVID-19 arrived and began devastating small businesses. Outwardly, Adams tried to shrug it off, but friends and family started to notice small changes in his demeanor. “I sensed standoffishness, kind of retreating, but nothing that popped in my mind and thought, ‘Oh, he’s depressed.”’ Moore said.
He became harder and harder to get in touch with. He’d always enjoyed being by himself, but it had progressed recently, worrying his family and friends. He’d been arrested for carrying a concealed weapon in 2016, but that charge was dismissed. According to published reports, in the days leading up to the shootings, Adams had been convicted of driving under suspension and failure to maintain proper insurance.
“He was just doing weird things,” said Aaron Neely, one of Adams’ cousins. “Like, his mind wasn’t right. He was doing weird stuff. Like riding a four-wheeler in the woods at night with no lights on. That’s dangerous. People would talk to him, he’d look at you and not say nothing. All kinds of weird stuff.”
Casterline says Adams called him in the fall of 2020, asking if he could help him find a job. His agent was eager to help. “I said, ‘You move to Texas, I’ll put you to work immediately,'” Casterline said. “He said, ‘No, I can’t leave South Carolina.’ I assumed because of his son.”
Before that, in the fall of 2017, Smith had connected Adams with Paul Scott, a former NFL executive who now owns and runs Benefits Huddle, a small business he runs by himself that helps NFL veterans submit the right paperwork to be approved for disability benefits from the league. It’s a complicated, often frustrating process, and one that Scott knows all too well because he used to work on the other side of the aisle, denying benefit applications on behalf of the NFL. He has grown to be seen as something of an angel in the world of retired NFL players, because he knows how the league thinks and can anticipate the red tape they use to discourage or reject claims.
Adams was interested in applying but didn’t know where to begin. “I think he was looking at applying for the line of duty disability benefit at the time, but with line of duty disability, you have to have your team medical records to support your claim,” Scott said. “He was having a difficult time getting his records from teams.”
Scott called an executive he knew with the Raiders, who said he was busy but promised to get in touch with Adams in a few weeks. Scott exchanged emails with Adams a few weeks later, and Adams said he still hadn’t received his records. Scott told him to keep trying. If he was approved for line of duty disability, which is usually granted only to players who suffered on-field injuries that required surgery (such as Adams’ compound ankle fracture), he’d be eligible to receive at least $4,000 per month. “I assumed that he got the records or whatever,” Scott said. “I don’t like to push these guys. I’m not like a salesman. In my experience, a lot of these guys get annoyed at me if I push them. I’ll remind them one time, and then if they don’t respond, I assume they’ve chosen to do something else or found someone else to help them, whatever.”
At no point, Scott said, did Adams inquire about seeking neurocognitive benefits. He just wanted to know, if he was approved, how long it would be before he started getting a check. “Usually what happens with these guys when they come to me, they’ve already exhausted all of their friends and family business associates,” Scott said. “They don’t want to apply for disability, but this is their last chance. And when they’re strung along like this, they feel kind of desperate. They feel it. When they’re approved, great. Because they usually have some debt to repay people. But when they’re denied, they got no other place to go. And there’s nothing else out there for them because they have to wait a full year before they’re able to reapply.”
When Scott saw the news of the shooting, the name sounded familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. “I looked him up in my contacts and was like, ‘Yup, talked to him before,'” Scott said. “He just never followed through. I needed authorization. If he’d sent back authorization forms that I had sent him and some of the teams had sent him in order to send the records to me, then maybe things would have been easier on the disability end. I don’t know. He may have had someone helping him. I don’t know.”
ON APRIL 7, 2021, the York County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call at 4:46 p.m. from a 80-year-old man reporting a “bad shooting” at his neighbor’s house on Marshall Road. That man said he’d been outside cutting his grass when he heard “about 20” gunshots. He’d just seen someone he suspected was the shooter — a man dressed in a black hoodie — run out of the house carrying something under his arm (police would later include burglary among the charges against Adams). There were at least two people in the yard who’d been shot, he said, and likely more inside.
When officers arrived on the scene, one of the HVAC workers — Shook, a married father of three — was still alive, and conscious, despite wounds that would eventually kill him. Shook told the officers a Black male wearing camouflage pants and a black sweatshirt had emerged from the woods outside the Lesslie house and just started shooting. He went inside, fired more shots, then exited the house and disappeared into the same woods. Shook was rushed to the hospital but died three days later. James Lewis, a single father of three, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police haven’t said how they identified Adams as a suspect. But the officers soon surrounded his parents’ house, just up the road from the Lesslie residence, where he had barricaded himself inside. A standoff that lasted several hours ensued, with police eventually getting Adams to let his mother, Phyllis, come out safely, according to a neighbor. When officers finally entered the house, they found Adams dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. “It’s disheartening hearing people call him a monster,” Moore said. “Don’t get me wrong. Nobody is trying to excuse the acts. It’s just the acts don’t match the person that we know.”
It’s still unclear what kind of relationship, if any, Adams had with Lesslie. Norman gave an interview on April 8, the day after the shooting, in which he said law enforcement officials had told him that Adams had been a patient of Lesslie’s and been upset that Lesslie stopped giving him medication. But law enforcement officials never confirmed that, and Norman has since walked back his initial statement.
On April 15, a small crowd gathered to say goodbye to Phillip Adams at the Robinson Funeral Home. The family held a private service beforehand, welcoming the public to pay their respects after they’d gone home. The parking lot sat mostly empty for an hour before a few mourners trickled in. Kevin Davis, 54, a friend of the family, was one of the first to arrive. “I didn’t really know Phillip,” he said. “I knew the grandmother and father. We were church members.”
Davis said the impact on the community has been tough, particularly for people like him who knew the Lesslie family as well. “It’s just all messed up,” he said. “It’s odd for him just to go into that doctor’s house and do that. It’s really hard. They’re a great family. It’s sad.”
Inside, Adams was laid out in an open casket. A large arrangement of red and white roses was draped on the lower half of the casket. A framed picture of Adams wearing his No. 35 San Francisco 49ers uniform from 2010, was displayed next to the casket. Visitors were not allowed to linger, or sit in the pews. They moved past slowly and went out another side door. “The only one that can make sense of this is the Lord Above,” said a woman directing visitors.
One of Adams’ cousins, who did not want to be identified, quietly spoke to the sentiment of the room, and for so many others who knew Adams. “None of us understand.”
AT THE LESSLIE family memorial, Rev. Dagenhart did not attempt to explain the inexplicable. Instead, he told stories about the Lesslies, about how important their faith was to them. They regularly invited the entire church to their property for picnics. It was Robert Lesslie who encouraged the congregation, even before America’s recent racial unrest, to forge a connection with a Black church in town, Mount Prospect Baptist in Rock Hill.
Every year for the past 20 years, they spent a week volunteering at Camp Joy, a place where teenagers and adults with disabilities retreated for a respite in the North Carolina mountains. Barbara led bible study and Robert served as the camp doctor, but he threw himself into every activity he could: canoeing, horseback riding, playing bagpipes. “They were encouragers,” Dagenhart said. “They would pray with you. They’d try to make a tense situation better.”
So many mourners came to pay their respects to the Lesslies, the service was held at the cavernous West End Baptist Church instead of the First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, where the Lesslies were members. The building was packed, the parking lot full, an hour before it began. Dagenhart asked the congregation to pray not just for the Lesslies, the Shook and Lewis families, but also for Adams’ family members, a reminder that, hard as it was to understand, they had lost someone as well. He asked the congregation to join him in singing “Beneath the Cross of Jesus,” a hymn that was special to the Lesslie Family. It was Adah’s and Noah’s bedtime song.
“Why questions have no answers,” Dagenhart said. “But one question we can pose in which we, as believers, can know. The question is: ‘Do I serve a master that I trust? Do I serve a lord I can trust?’ If the answer is yes, then you can be about the next thing that needs doing. Keep doing the next thing until the day is done, trusting all else, the next day start all over again. Time gives you the peace and strength you need.”
When the memorial ended, the Lesslies’ friends and loved ones slowly gathered their things and began to leave the church. As they packed into vans outside, they all passed a man walking back and forth amongst the crowd, filling the air with the sound of bagpipes.
This story was reported and written by ESPN’s Michael Fletcher, David Newton and Kevin Van Valkenburg.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers bring back QB Ryan Griffin of viral video fame
TAMPA, Fla. — After re-signing all 22 starters on offense and defense from their Super Bowl LV win, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally have a backup quarterback on their roster for the 2021 season, re-signing Ryan Griffin.
Sources told ESPN that the deal, which the team announced Tuesday, is for one year.
Griffin, 31, will enter his seventh year with the Buccaneers and second backing up future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, whom Griffin infamously whisked away from cameras after the Super Bowl boat parade, a moment that went viral on social media, and something Brady chalked up to “just litTle avoCado tequila.”
Noting to see her…just litTle avoCado tequila https://t.co/vew2otBw5T
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) February 10, 2021
Griffin served as the Bucs’ No. 3 quarterback last season behind Blaine Gabbert, who remains unsigned. A source told ESPN that Gabbert is still an option for the team to bring back.
Griffin has seen action in two regular-season games, both in 2019, completing 2 of 4 passes for 18 yards. He originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints in 2013 after serving as a four-year starter at Tulane.
Alex Smith’s NFL career defined by his impact and overcoming obstacles – Washington Blog
That was never more evident than last season when, in only six starts, he helped transform a franchise that many had come to dislike into one fans could root for again. Just as it was never more evident than two years earlier, in 2018, when the Washington Football Team fell apart after he was injured.
In 2020, Smith’s comeback from that gruesome 2018 leg injury captured the imagination of the sporting public and, for maybe the first time in his career, turned him into a national figure whose story could, as they say, move the needle. But what he showed last season, with a return to the field few thought possible, was just a summation of his career.
The toughness. The competitiveness. The leadership.
When teammates talk about him, they don’t talk about big throws or flashy runs; they mention everything else. His former college coach, Urban Meyer, raved about his toughness and also called him the “most intelligent player I’ve ever coached.”
All those qualities made Smith a popular player in every locker room.
An anecdote after he suffered his compound leg fracture on Nov. 18, 2018, was telling. At the time, nobody realized how devastating the injury was, but there’s no doubt those in the ambulance headed to the hospital knew — they saw the bone had pierced his skin. Yet, as he headed to the hospital, Smith’s mind was on the game, not himself: How was his backup, Colt McCoy, doing? What was the score?
Considering what we know now, it’s an even bigger example of selflessness than was thought at the time. After the 2018 season — Washington went from a 6-3 mark with a healthy Smith to a 7-9 finish — players to a man said everything changed once Smith was hurt.
They said that even though Washington’s offense wasn’t humming with Smith. At the time, it ranked No. 26 in yards per game and No. 27 in points. Washington was boring and ranked No. 26 in yards per pass attempt.
Smith and then-coach Jay Gruden were still trying to find common ground, about what to do or call at times. Yet, players felt Smith’s impact. He made them feel confident with his presence in the huddle. During tense times he stayed calm. He became known for what he didn’t do — turn the ball over — a trait that contributed to winning games. Quarterback wins and losses can be a misleading stat, but consider this: During his time in Washington, the franchise went 11-5 when he started and 6-27 when he didn’t. This past season, Washington’s young wide receivers mentioned how he would remind them of the routes to run after breaking the huddle, allowing them to play more freely.
Former Washington long-snapper Nick Sundberg recalled being on the sidelines during a game and seeing Washington in a third-and-real-long situation. He worried about being backed up deep in their own territory for the ensuing punt. Punter Tress Way did not share that fear; he told Sundberg Smith would do something. Sure enough, Washington completed a play long enough to set up a far better punting situation. Those little plays weren’t exciting, but they added up.
It’s why Sundberg, discussing Smith this offseason, recalled a game from last season when he and Way were again on the sidelines together. Washington was trailing, but both agreed their team would still win. Sundberg asked Way why he thought that, knowing his answer would be the same. “Because of that man,” Way said, pointing at Smith.
Though Smith’s place in NFL history became secure this season, his career was filled with overcoming obstacles. It’s partly what made him such a strong leader. He went through it all: He knew the pressure of being a high pick, having been selected No. 1 overall in 2005. He knew the burden of failed expectations as he was largely considered a bust for his first three pro years. He knew about dealing with injuries, being benched, losing his job because of an injury and being traded — twice.
Yet he played 16 seasons.
During team meetings, Smith made it a point to sit in a different seat each time so he could get to know another player. Little things.
In San Francisco, he lost his job to Colin Kaepernick while out with an injury in 2012. The 49ers were 6-2-1 with Smith starting. He had thrown 13 touchdowns to five interceptions. But the team stuck with Kaepernick when Smith was healthy. Rather than pout, Smith did what he always did: Show up, work and help his teammates. He even would remind his coaches before games about plays Kaepernick was comfortable running.
In Kansas City, after the Chiefs traded up to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes — his eventual replacement — Smith didn’t change his approach. He showed Mahomes the blueprint for how a quarterback must prepare to succeed in the NFL. Smith said it was more about doing things the right way and leading by example than lecturing someone about what to do. When people chose to pay attention, they could learn.
Washington had become a franchise many had come to dislike, whether because of the ownership, the former team name or the failed expectations that exasperated its fans. But Smith’s comeback and coach Ron Rivera’s cancer diagnosis gave fans something to root for because their recoveries became about more than just football.
Alex Smith details visiting with the Jaguars and possibly playing under Urban Meyer before ultimately deciding to retire.
In the end, though, Smith had nothing left to prove. Despite starting only six games last season, he had crafted a fairy-tale-type script. His return was a key reason Washington overcame a 2-6 start to win the NFC East. It didn’t result in a Super Bowl sendoff à la John Elway, but it did result in a career capped with an exclamation point.
After announcing his retirement, Smith told ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap on Outside the Lines about going snowboarding with his kids and how that helped cement his decision.
Smith had nothing left to prove in football; he showed his kids how to overcome adversity and not be deterred from a dream or a goal. Now, he can just hold the two jobs he seems to love the most: father and husband.
It’ll be interesting to see what Smith does next. For sure, he’ll make an impact. It’s what he always has done.
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