FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — While coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio were at Ohio State’s pro day on Thursday, it wasn’t the only place the New England Patriots were monitoring. One of the more intriguing developments came at the University of San Diego, where area scout Jonathan Howard was keeping a close eye on the proceedings.
In many ways, it was standard operating procedure for Howard and the Patriots, who were one of 13 NFL teams on hand to gather more information on players such as receiver Justin Priest and tight end Ross Dwelley.
But the presence of quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was invited by Priest and Dwelley to throw to them, created more buzz than the norm.
It would be a big upset based on how far Manziel has fallen, and also because the team didn’t seem to have a favorable report on him coming out of Texas A&M in 2014. But acknowledging that the only thing predictable about Belichick and his staff is unpredictability, let’s look a bit deeper at both sides of the ledger.
Why it won’t happen
Belichick has said in the past that when a team brings on a player, it gets everything that comes with the player — on and off the field.
This year’s draft class at the quarterback position is deeper than the norm, so that is the most likely avenue for them to pursue. Safer, too.
Accuracy and decision-making are two of the traits the Patriots value most at quarterback, and they haven’t traditionally been Manziel’s strengths.
He hasn’t played in two years and there are better developmental options. In the end: Too risky.
Why it could happen
They once signed Tim Tebow, who brought with him a whole nother level of attention as a No. 3 quarterback. If they were willing to do it with Tebow, why not Manziel?
Belichick often thinks outside the box (e.g. Super Bowl and Malcolm Butler).
The Patriots have 10 former first-round picks on their roster (seven of whom entered the NFL with other teams), as they traditionally target players with unique traits, and pedigree. Manziel checks that box.
If he truly is committed, the presence of a former first-round pick trying to work his way up from the bottom of the barrel could be a positive add to the locker room dynamic. And again, the quarterback room in New England is short on a third option right now.
Aaron Rodgers — Think I’ll be back with Green Bay Packers but there are no absolutes in NFL
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Two days after Aaron Rodgers opened up speculation about his future with the Green Bay Packers, the presumptive NFL MVP said Tuesday that he has reason to think he will be back with the only team he’s ever played for during his 16-year NFL career.
However, he put an emphasis on the word “think” during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show and SiriusXM Radio.
“I don’t think that there is any reason why I wouldn’t be back,” Rodgers said. “But look, there’s not many absolutes in this business. So to make an absolute statement about something that is not an absolute, I didn’t do it. And I guess that’s why it went kind of nuts.”
Rodgers included himself in a group of players with uncertain futures in his comments after Sunday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game. Leading into the game, he called his future “a beautiful mystery.”
On Monday, Packers president Mark Murphy said on WTAQ-WNFL radio in Green Bay: “I’ll say this, there’s no way in heck that Aaron is not going to be on the Packers. He is going to be the MVP of league. He might have had his best year ever. He’s our unquestioned leader, and we’re not idiots.”
But the Packers are the team that drafted Jordan Love in the first round as Rodgers’ possible replacement last year.
“I don’t feel like I said anything that I hadn’t said before,” Rodgers said on the show. “I said it the first time I talked to the media (after the draft). It just, it was more a realization I think that ultimately my future is not necessarily in my control. That was what just kind of hit me in the moment. I was just thinking of Aaron Jones, Corey Linsley, other guys we have under contract, Big Dog [Marcedes Lewis], guys who I don’t know what their future is going to be, and myself included.”
Rodgers, 37, has said he wants to play into his 40s much like Tom Brady has but acknowledged after the draft that Love’s arrival meant he might not be able to do that with the Packers.
“Naturally, there’s time when you let your mind go to maybe, ‘I’m going to be a Packer for life,'” Rodgers said Tuesday. “Or, ‘I’m going to be like a Tim Duncan or (Derek) Jeter or Kobe (Bryant) and play with one team my entire career.’ Naturally, you dream about that. That’s kind of like a dream scenario. I’ve talked about that for much of my career.
“When they drafted Jordan, it was more the reality kicking in. Like, hey, that’s actually never the case. There are no absolutes in this business. I think it’s a beautiful thing to sit with and to wrap your head around. And I did. I got to a beautiful place about it. It doesn’t mean that that’s not still a reality. I think that’s the only reality, is that there is no absolutes in this business. I just reiterated that after the game. I get it, some people were like, ‘You just threw 48 touchdowns and probably going to win MVP.’ Yeah, I understand that, but, again, there’s no absolutes in this business. I gave a real answer in the moment.”
Rodgers still has three more seasons left on his current contract, but the deal has reached the point where the Packers could now move on and gain salary-cap space. If Rodgers does not want his status to become year-to-year and wants assurances that he’s in their long-term plans, he could ask for a contract extension or for his deal to be restructured to include more guaranteed money in the remaining years.
He indicated that he would meet with Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst at some point soon but stopped short of saying he would give any ultimatums.
“There’s conversation to be had; I’m going to have them with the right people,” Rodgers said. “It’s the same conversation we have every single year. There’s no big, ‘I’m going to the table with I need this and this and this.’ Look, we have honest conversations about where we’re at every single year, whether that’s with Brian, Matt, Mark. I’ve had these conversations for years. That’s part of being a leader on the squad and having a pulse of the team and a direction that we’re going, and we’ll have the same conversation we do every year. I always look forward to those conversations.”
Sources — Kansas City Chiefs’ Le’Veon Bell, Sammy Watkins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Antonio Brown, Antoine Winfield Jr. expected to play in Super Bowl
Chiefs running back Le’Veon Bell (knee) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf), as well as the Bucs duo of wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) are all expected to be ready for Feb. 7, sources told ESPN’s Dianna Russini.
Each missed their team’s championship game victories on Sunday.
Watkins played in 10 games for the Chiefs in the regular season. He was out earlier in the season with a sore hamstring and later with a calf injury. He did not play in either of the Chiefs’ postseason games. Watkins finished the regular season fifth on the Chiefs with 37 catches for 421 yards and two touchdowns.
Bell joined the Chiefs in October after he was released from the New York Jets. He had a lesser impact for the Chiefs than was anticipated when he arrived. After the Chiefs lost Clyde Edwards-Helaire for a stretch, they passed over Bell and made Darrel Williams their featured back in a Week 16 game against the Falcons and in the divisional round playoff game against the Browns. Bell during the regular season rushed for 254 yards in nine games for the Chiefs.
Winfield popped up on the Buccaneers’ injury report late last week as he failed to practice Friday. The rookie tested the ankle out in pre-game warmups, but it was deemed that he would not be able to play in the team’s NFC Championship Game win over the Green Bay Packers.
Brown suffered a knee injury against the New Orleans Saints and played just a handful of snaps in the second half of the Bucs’ divisional round win. He did not take part in practice Thursday and was not present for Wednesday’s walk-through. Though the team had planned for Brown to be a game-time decision, he was ruled out on Friday. Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians explained that Brown “wasn’t as close as we’d hoped, so we’ll get him ready for the next one.”
Information from ESPN’s Adam Teicher was used in this report.
NFL 2020 all-short-guys team – Drew Brees, Aaron Donald and more
Let’s get this straight from the jump: This is a celebration, not a list making fun of short players. It’s not a hey-isn’t-it-cute pat on the head, it’s a by-gawd confetti-tossin’, piñata-bustin’ celebration.
Why? Because as any of the hundreds of NFL players I have interviewed have seen, I am short.
Vertically challenged. Front row in the class picture — every year — short. Even as a coach, front row of the team photo alongside a roster of middle schoolers.
The “just a second,” as the first date changes from heels to flats kind of short.
For well over three decades the NFL draft has been a part of my day. It has included calls, sit-downs over lunch (remember those?) and breaking down film over breakfast while folks at the neighboring tables ask if the bacon is really that good.
Countless times during those discussions a player’s ridiculously good résumé will be tarnished with the line, “Well, he’s short.”
It’s why Kyler Murray‘s height became a social media event at the 2019 NFL scouting combine. It’s why Trindon Holliday, all 5-foot-5 of him with turn-out-the-lights speed, will always be one of my favorite Denver Broncos, scoring touchdowns for a Super Bowl-bound team.
While NFL short and real-life short are two very different things, it’s clear the league’s decision-makers are far more inclined to take a shot on a shorter running back, cornerback or safety than they are an offensive lineman, tight end or even punter.
But skipping over a player because of his height is not always the smartest move, just ask perennial Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Aaron Donald (6-0 ¾ at the 2014 combine, or short for a generational defensive lineman).
So as the Kansas City Chiefs‘ Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ Antoine Winfield Jr. prepare for the Super Bowl, we decided to put together a team of these somewhat overlooked players, an I-told-you-so team. A big tip of the cap to those who were told, at some point, by somebody, they would not make it in the NFL because, well, they couldn’t quite see eye-to-eye with those making the decisions.
LT Chuma Edoga (6-foot-3), Jets: At a position where the league’s talent evaluators take the fewest chances on shorter players, Edoga started four games for the Jets this season.
LG Will Hernandez (6-2), Giants: Plenty of scouting reports before the 2018 draft included words “short arms” or “squatty,” but he’s started 39 games in three seasons for the Giants.
C Rodney Hudson (6-2), Raiders: One of the bigger Pro Bowl snubs this year, Hudson has made three Pro Bowls and played in 143 games during his career.
RG Damien Lewis (6-2), Seahawks: The rookie has been a find for the Seahawks and even got a start at center this season, the first at that position in his football life.
RT Mike Onwenu (6-3), Patriots: The rookie has played at both guard spots for the Patriots as well as right tackle and has even played as an extra blocker at tight end.
TE Irv Smith Jr. (6-2), Vikings: Missed two games with a back injury, but second-year player was third among the team’s pass-catchers with five touchdowns.
WR Jamison Crowder (5-9), Jets: Was the top of the to-do list for opposing defensive coordinators as he led team in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns.
WR Cole Beasley (5-8), Bills: Money in the bank on third down and was second in receptions and yards receiving for one of the league’s high-impact offenses.
WR KJ Hamler (5-9), Broncos: Slowed by a hamstring injury early in the season, but flashed plenty of big-play potential, including two-touchdown game in the team’s win over Carolina.
QB Drew Brees (6-0), Saints: The 13-time Pro Bowl selection, with five 5,000-yard seasons, is the patron saint of all of the 6-foot and under throwers. During the final draft he evaluated players, Jack Elway — John’s dad — just kept touting the Purdue quarterback some folks said was too short.
QB backups: Kyler Murray (5-10), Cardinals; Russell Wilson (5-11), Seahawks
RB Aaron Jones (5-9), Packers: At a position where the league’s evaluators have been the most forgiving to the vertically challenged, Jones was just named to his first Pro Bowl and has had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
DE Shelby Harris (6-2), Broncos: A guy who measured 6-foot-1 1/8-inches tall at his pro day in 2014 has been one of the NFL leaders in batted passes this season.
DT Grady Jarrett (6-0), Falcons: Also a Pro Bowl selection this season — his second — with his fourth 50-tackle season and fourth season with at least four sacks.
DT Poona Ford (5-11), Seahawks: He’s started 31 games over the past two seasons and has emerged as a quality interior pass-rusher.
DE Aaron Donald (6-1), Rams: The gold standard on defense with seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections as he consistently devours double teams with at least 11 sacks in five of the last six seasons.
LB Bobby Wagner (6-0), Seahawks: Nine consecutive 100-tackle seasons with six career 130-tackle seasons, he continues to be one of the league’s best.
LB Eric Kendricks (6-0), Vikings: Do-it-all guy who has had five consecutive 100-tackle seasons as one of the best coverage players at the position.
CB Bryce Callahan (5-9), Broncos: Callahan, who was moved to injured reserve last month (foot), was having one of the league’s best seasons when he suffered his injury.
CB Mike Hilton (5-9), Steelers: He would be the slot corner in this group — though Callahan is a high-end player there as well — and has three interceptions and three sacks this season.
S Antoine Winfield Jr. (5-9), Buccaneers: Rookie has 94 tackles, three sacks and has forced two fumbles as part of Todd Bowles’ attacking defense.
S Tyrann Mathieu (5-9), Chiefs: Was selected to his second Pro Bowl this season with six interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown against the Patriots in Week 4.
KR Deonte Harris (5-6), Saints: Has missed time in recent weeks with a neck injury, but a Pro Bowl selection in 2019, has a 75-yard kickoff return this season.
PR Jakeem Grant Sr. (5-7), Dolphins: Has five career touchdown returns (three punt, two kickoff), and led the league in punt returns this season, including and 88-yarder for a score.
K Younghoe Koo (5-9), Falcons: A Pro Bowl selection this season and finished tied for first in scoring among the league’s kickers with a five-field goal game against the Raiders.
P Cameron Johnston (5-11), Eagles: He’s been one of the busiest in the league with 71 punts and still finished with a 40.6 net yards per punt average and was tied for sixth in punts inside the 20.
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