FRISCO, Texas — On Aug. 13, 2016, when Dak Prescott walked into the Los Angeles Coliseum for the first time, he was already envisioning what’s coming on Saturday.
Prescott was a fourth-round pick then, trying to show the Dallas Cowboys he could be Tony Romo’s backup, but the big picture was always on his mind. He was confident he would be a starting quarterback in the NFL. He was confident he would be in a position to take a team to a playoff game, as he will Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET, Fox) against the Los Angeles Rams.
It wasn’t something he dreamed; it was something be believed.
“I guess I couldn’t imagine it being back in the Coliseum against the team I started off my career,” Prescott said, “but I’ve always talked about the confidence I’ve had in myself and this team. Nothing has changed.”
The Coliseum was abuzz on that warm August day. It was the Rams’ first game back in Los Angeles. The stadium was full of fans and the game was nationally televised, with ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew calling the action.
Prescott was starting because Kellen Moore, who is now the Cowboys quarterbacks coach, had suffered a broken ankle 10 days earlier and, as a veteran, Tony Romo was not going to play in the first preseason game.
Jason Witten didn’t play, but Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams did. Tyron Smith didn’t play, but Travis Frederick and Zack Martin did. Ezekiel Elliott was kept out because of a hamstring strain, but three-time 1,000-yard runner Alfred Morris played.
“We were playing that game with the idea that we wanted to see what we had,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “It really was probably everybody’s first glimpse of what Dak’s about.”
Prescott had only a couple of practices with the first-team offense during training camp in Oxnard, California, with Romo resting every third day. He did not take first-team snaps during organized team activities and the minicamp in the spring. Back then, the Cowboys just wanted him to get better at taking a snap from center.
When he joined the first-team huddle in camp, a future Hall of Fame tight end (Witten), three All-Pro offensive linemen (Smith, Frederick and Martin) and the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdown catches (Bryant) were staring at him.
“Immediately off the bat, you could tell he was born to be a leader,” Frederick said. “And knew exactly what he was doing and what he wanted to be doing. He never struggled with calling the plays or you never saw him feel like the game was too big for him, even when you looked around the huddle and saw those guys that were there.”
So maybe it was not surprising to many that Prescott flourished against the Rams. He completed 10 of 12 passes in the first half for 139 yards and had touchdown throws of 10 yards to Bryant and 32 yards to Williams. He had a 14-yard run, too, and completely outperformed the No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft and his counterpart Saturday, Jared Goff.
“At the end of the day, it was so much better than we thought it would be,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said.
Twelve days after his debut against the Rams, Prescott became the Cowboys starting quarterback when Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back.
Prescott has started every game since, winning 33 games, including his first postseason game against the Seattle Seahawks last Saturday in the wild-card round. He has a Rookie of the Year award on his résumé as well as a Pro Bowl appearance.
“I’m not saying I always knew he was going to be where he is now,” Linehan said, “but I think we all had a gut feeling that he was going to be a hell of a player in this league.”
Now he has the Cowboys in position to advance to their first NFC Championship Game since 1995.
When he walks out on to the Coliseum turf on Saturday, his mindset will not be too different from the one he had when he took the field on Aug. 13, 2016.
“I don’t ever just go out to play the game,” Prescott said. “When I go out, I go out to play the game, I go out with the mindset to win, like I’m the No. 1, like I’m the guy whether I was then or not. It’s just kind of the way I have to approach it all. It all worked out.”
Manziel to play for Singletary on AAF’s Express
Johnny Manziel is headed back to the United States to play football, and it will be in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Alliance of American Football announced Saturday night that it signed the quarterback and that he was claimed on waivers by the Memphis Express after the San Antonio Commanders relinquished his rights.
The AAF, in its first season, said Manziel will report Sunday to Memphis, which lost to Salt Lake 22-9 on Saturday to fall to 1-5. The former first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns could be the fourth quarterback to play for the team this season. Christian Hackenberg started the Express’ first three games but was relieved by Zach Mettenberger, who was injured Saturday and replaced by Brandon Silvers. Silvers completed 23 of 37 passes for 242 yards, a touchdown and zero interceptions against Salt Lake.
Welcome to the 901 @JManziel2
— Memphis Express (@aafexpress) March 17, 2019
“We are pleased to welcome Johnny Manziel to Alliance of American Football, which we’ve always described as a league of opportunity for talented players to launch or revitalize their pro football careers,” league co-founder Bill Polian said in a statement Saturday night. “We completed extensive background work to determine whether it would be appropriate for Johnny to play this season, and after consulting with many people familiar with his situation, we concluded that it would be good for him to resume his pro football career here at The Alliance.”
Polian said he believes Manziel will benefit from “the coaching and mentorship” of Memphis coach Mike Singletary. A corresponding roster move was not immediately announced, but the league’s waiver rules stipulate that the team would have to make a move with a quarterback.
San Antonio had the rights to Manziel because he played college football at Texas A&M. But in a statement Saturday night, general manager Daryl Johnston said he was content keeping the Western Conference-leading Commanders as presently constructed, so the team relinquished Manziel’s rights. San Antonio quarterback Logan Woodside has completed 82 of 150 passes for 1,025 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions.
“One of the most important things I have already learned is when there is an opportunity to get better … you get better,” Johnston said. “The challenge is finding the balance in what I know and what I have learned and finding the best solution to get better as a team. I truly believe that the moves necessary to add Johnny to our roster do not make us better at this time.
“I wish Johnny all the best with the Alliance of American Football, and we look forward to competing against him in the future.”
Manziel was available to the AAF after the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL released him earlier this month and then said he could not play for any other team in their league.
He immediately becomes one of the biggest names in the AAF as one of its few former NFL first-round picks, notably among them Birmingham running back Trent Richardson. Other than Orlando, which has Garrett Gilbert at quarterback, most AAF teams have had some issues at the position.
Standard AAF contracts are for three years and $250,000. Players can earn more in incentives.
Manziel previously said on Barstool Sports’ Comeback SZN podcast that he was intrigued by the prospect of playing in either the AAF or the XFL, which begins operation next year.
“It’s great for football. It’s great for the guys who need more opportunity, need more film and time to play,” the quarterback said.
Manziel has dealt with several off-field issues. In 2016, a domestic assault charge against him in Dallas was dismissed after he took an anger management course and participated in the NFL’s substance abuse program. In a recent interview, he said he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has stopped drinking.
He was taken by Cleveland with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. But following two tumultuous seasons, the Browns released him in March 2016 after he posted a 2-6 record as their starter.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Patriots influence across NFL creates challenge for team in free agency – New England Patriots Blog
FOXBOROUGH. Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. With more coaches and general managers across the NFL who have strong Patriots ties, Bill Belichick has said in the past that is has helped facilitate trades, in part because there is an inherent trust and understanding in those conversations.
While that has been positive, such as when Belichick and his former director of college scouting Bob Quinn struck a deal that brought linebacker Kyle Van Noy from Detroit to New England in 2016, there is a negative side to it, too. With such Patriots-specific influence across the NFL, it means more competition for the same types of players on the open market in free agency.
The Patriots would have liked to re-sign defensive end Trey Flowers, but the Lions — with head coach Matt Patricia running a New England-based defense and seeing Flowers’ value in the scheme — upped the bidding to $18 million per season. That was beyond the level New England was willing to go.
Slot receiver Adam Humphries was a top target for New England, which found itself competing against the Titans, led by head coach Mike Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson. Vrabel, of course, knows the value of a slot receiver from his time as a player in New England (Troy Brown, then Wes Welker), while Robinson came up through the Patriots’ scouting ranks and elevated to director of college scouting.
The Patriots then checked in on slot receiver Cole Beasley, who said his final decision came down to staying in Dallas, joining New England, or signing with Buffalo. Beasley chose Buffalo, where former Patriots receivers coach Brian Daboll is offensive coordinator. The Bills, not surprisingly, were also an aggressive suitor for Humphries.
It’s unknown how the Patriots viewed a potential reunion with slot receiver Danny Amendola, but once the Lions were willing to offer $4.5 million, that possibility quickly went off the board.
Though the Patriots and tight end Dwayne Allen left open the possibility of his return after he was released for salary-cap purposes, that never came close to materializing as former New England defensive playcaller Brian Flores, in his first year as Dolphins head coach, saw the value in bringing him to Miami (two-year deal, maximum value of $7 million).
And on Saturday, valuable swing offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle was signed to a one-year deal by the Bills. The Patriots had kept an open dialogue with Waddle to possibly bring him back, but the Bills were ultimately willing to up the bidding to a higher level than the club was comfortable going.
It’s a dynamic Belichick and the Patriots have been challenged with in the past, such as when Romeo Crennel became head coach in Cleveland (2005), Eric Mangini with the Jets (2006) and Josh McDaniels with the Broncos (2009), but one could make the case it has never quite been as prevalent as it is this year.
2. For a franchise that takes pride being on top of the smallest details, it was surprising to me how things unfolded with the Patriots and Humphries. The Patriots were willing to offer more than what Humphries signed for in Tennessee, according to league sources, but that offer didn’t come until after Humphries had verbally committed to the Titans. Humphries grew up in South Carolina, attended Clemson, and landed in the NFL because Titans general manager Jon Robinson vouched for him after he took part in a rookie tryout with the Buccaneers when Robinson was Tampa’s assistant GM. Because of that, coupled with Tennessee not having state income tax, the Patriots had to know they had some geographical/football-roots/financial factors working against them in their pursuit of Humphries. But they seem to have realized it too late, as they didn’t come with their best and most aggressive pitch until after Humphries verbally committed to the Titans. Humphries acknowledged to Tennessee reporters that, as tough of a decision as it was after the Patriots came back to him, he wasn’t turning back once he gave the Titans his word. In the end, Humphries still might have signed with the Titans, but at least the detail-oriented Patriots would have known they gave themselves the best chance to land one of their top targets.
3. A few follow-up thoughts on the Patriots’ aggressive pursuit of Humphries:
It is an acknowledgment that the receiver position needs an upgrade.
Humphries checked off all the boxes in terms of the team’s willingness to make a big financial investment — age (25) and NFL experience, style of play, scheme fit. After he was off the board, it was Beasley (29) and Golden Tate (31) as top slot options, and my sense is that the Patriots didn’t seem to be as enthused at the same financial level.
If they landed Humphries, it’s hard to believe it wouldn’t have coincided with an adjustment/increase for Julian Edelman. So I wonder if that could still be on the radar.
Hello, Braxton Berrios. Could the 2018 sixth-round pick from Miami be the next Humphries? He spent his rookie season on injured reserve and has a nice opportunity ahead of him in New England.
Similar to how the Patriots missed out on receiver Marvin Jones (Lions) in the offseason leading into their 2016 Super Bowl championship season, not landing their target doesn’t mean the team can’t recover and win big. As Belichick often says, there are multiple ways to acquire players (e.g. trades, free agency, waiver wire), and the first game that counts isn’t until early September.
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4. When the Browns acquired receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants early last week, the immediate reaction was that a Patriots-Browns season opener (probably on Sunday night) would have more appeal. I thought the Browns were a top candidate for that spot before the Beckham trade, but now I wonder if that game would have too much appeal to be the pick. The thinking is that the opener is going to draw a huge audience regardless of the opponent so the networks might prefer to save it for later in the year. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Patriots-Jets game picks up more momentum for that spot, especially with Le’Veon Bell landing in New York.
5. With the Giants trading Beckham, and then signing Tate to a four-year, $37 million deal, it sparks a question as to their future plans with receiver Sterling Shepard, who enters the final year of his contract. Shepard is a Patriots-type receiver. Perhaps the Patriots could entice the Giants with a second-round draft pick, and then take the money they were going to invest in Humphries and direct it to a Shepard extension one year before he hits the market. Just thinking out loud on a potential win-win-win scenario for the two teams and player involved.
6. It would be a great story if receiver Josh Gordon is ever reinstated to the NFL, as it would mean his rehabilitation went well, but that isn’t something the Patriots can count on from a team-building perspective because of the fragile nature of the situation. So even though the team made him an original-round tender as a restricted free agent, and is willing to take a $2 million salary-cap charge for it, the smartest approach for the Patriots is to build their pass-catching corps with the expectation Gordon isn’t part of it, almost viewing it as a $2 million insurance policy.
7. The Patriots have five of the first 102 picks in the 2019 draft (32, 56, 64, 98, 102), and with Flowers (Lions) and Trent Brown (Raiders) signing big deals in free agency this year, the club is projected to receive two third-round compensatory picks (per OverTheCap.com) in 2020. So that means the Patriots will have five picks in the first 100 or so slots in two straight drafts. That’s significant ammunition, serving up a reminder that they are well positioned to keep feeding the pipeline while also acknowledging they need to be on the lookout for a potential heir to Brady and have draft capital to package if they find a target they want to pursue.
8. From the media department: Unlike many clubs across the NFL, who hold news conferences to tout big free-agent signings, the Patriots take a different approach by forgoing them all together. The players might be available on a conference call in future weeks, which is a low-key, no-frills approach reflective of the team’s head coach.
9. When Gregg Williams became Browns defensive coordinator in 2017, run-stuffing defensive tackle Danny Shelton wasn’t viewed as a solid fit for his scheme, which was a catalyst for the Patriots to acquire Shelton last offseason. Now that Williams has moved on to the Jets, big-bodied defensive tackle Mike Pennel wasn’t viewed as a solid fit for his scheme and didn’t have his option picked up in New York, which led the Patriots to make him a free-agent priority. While things didn’t work out as well as the Patriots hoped with Shelton, they’ll try again with Pennel, as the back-to-back examples highlight how the club targets players whose value has lessened to their prior teams because of scheme changes.
10. The Patriots’ locker room seemed like a good one in 2018, which was highlighted in public remarks by two players who landed elsewhere this offseason:
Brown (introductory Oakland news conference): “I think what took my game to the next level, because I was playing pretty well in San Fran, was just going to an organization who believed in me, a locker room full of guys that believed in each other, pushed each other, we worked hard as a team every day, no egos. My confidence shot through the roof.”
Allen (via Sirius XM NFL Radio): “The fun in this game comes in winning, but it also comes with the people you have around you … When you have something special in the locker room, where the guys love each other, where the guys care for one another, you’re able to go out there with great coaching and accomplish feats like that, going on the road to beat a Kansas City team and then going to the Super Bowl and going up against a team that everybody picked would be in that game, and beating them; the locker room is so special, full of guys that love the game of football, that love going to work, and that love each other.”
Green day: Jets’ blockbuster trade with Colts still resonates a year later – New York Jets Blog
It started with beers in Mobile, Alabama, and it ended two months later with one of the most important trades in New York Jets history. It happened on St. Patrick’s Day 2018. Fifteen minutes before the holiday’s annual parade commenced on the streets of Manhattan, the Jets announced their blockbuster trade with the Indianapolis Colts — a stealth move that was bold, unconventional and shook up the top of the NFL draft.
One year later, it wouldn’t shock anyone if the decision-makers at One Jets Drive hoist a pint of Guinness to celebrate the anniversary of the trade that begat their franchise quarterback.
“We feel very good about Sam Darnold and, obviously at that position, we feel we have a very good young player to work with going forward,” Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan said at the recent NFL scouting combine.
The trade was gutsy and somewhat reckless, yet brilliantly conceived. Does that make sense?
The Jets paid a premium to move up three spots in the draft, not knowing which quarterback would be available with the No. 3 overall pick. In a way, it was a blind leap, but they felt comfortable in making the move because of the intel they had gathered on the top quarterbacks and the top quarterback-needy teams. Their best-case scenario unfolded, as Darnold — the No. 1 player on their draft board — fell to them at No. 3.
In retrospect, the trade might have saved Maccagnan’s job. It also has factored into the team’s aggressive spending this offseason because, without the three second-round picks that went to the Colts, they felt compelled to buy starting-level talent in free agency. Let’s be clear, though: Then and now — and 15 years from now — the trade will be graded on Darnold.
“I think the Colts are very happy with it, but I love Sam Darnold and I think he’s going to be a really, really good quarterback for them if they can start putting enough pieces around him,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “Any time you can get your quarterback, you did the right thing, in my opinion. It’s cut and dried, as far as I’m concerned.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in that building that wouldn’t go back and do it again. I think when that’s the case a year later — and, hopefully, three or four years later — then it doesn’t matter if the other team had a great pull from what you gave them in terms of picks. As long as you got what you needed, and it was at that quarterback position, it really doesn’t matter what you gave up. I truly believe that.”
Maccagnan & Co. feel the same way, obviously. They were willing to give up a chunk of owner Woody Johnson’s fortune to sign a proven starter, but free agent Kirk Cousins spurned their $90 million, fully guaranteed offer. Several weeks before the rejection, the Jets had mapped out their strategy, deciding Plan A was Cousins, Plan B the draft.
Sitting at No. 6, with so many teams salivating over a class that featured Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen, the Jets knew it would be risky to sit tight and do nothing. So one night in mid-January, vice president of player personnel Brian Heimerdinger met with his Colts counterpart at the Senior Bowl in Mobile. Sitting at a hotel bar, he told Ed Dodds they might be interested in the third pick.
On March 13, the Jets got word that Cousins was going to the Minnesota Vikings. It was on to Plan B. That night, on the drive home, Heimerdinger phoned Dodds and told him they wanted to talk trade. In the meantime, they purchased two insurance policies, re-signing Josh McCown and signing Teddy Bridgewater (who was later traded during the 2018 season). Heimerdinger and Colts GM Chris Ballard finalized the trade on Saturday morning, March 17.
The city was shaded green for St. Patty’s Day. The Jets had their own shamrock, a three-leaf clover of Darnold, Mayfield and Rosen — the three quarterbacks they deemed worthy of the third overall pick.
“We felt, with all the research we did, three was kind of the spot,” Maccagnan said.
It was beautifully orchestrated for two reasons: Placement and timing.
Instead of waiting until the week of the draft, or the night of the draft, the Jets made an early move because they felt the price would only increase. Things get crazy on draft night, and teams tend to make panic moves, overpaying. They didn’t want to leave themselves vulnerable while on the clock.
“Sometimes, I think people historically tend to pay a little more in those environments,” Maccagnan said.
The mid-March trade was a surprise attack, as they beat other quarterback-hungry teams to the sweet spot in the draft. It was a Shaq-like box-out. The Buffalo Bills, picking 12th, were said to be furious upon learning of the trade. In the end, they wound up trading up to No. 7 to select Allen.
The Jets got an early start on their pre-draft evaluations because, responding to an edict from CEO Christopher Johnson, they emphasized the quarterback position in their fall scouting. Focusing on the Big Four, they dispatched scouts to as many of their college games as possible. Maccagnan himself flew to the West Coast on four consecutive weekends to watch Darnold play.
By St. Patrick’s Day, while other teams still were in the evaluation process, the Jets already had strong convictions on the four quarterbacks. Maccagnan flew out to the Mayfield and Rosen pro days, just to make sure.
Three was the ideal spot because the Jets knew, based on their back-channel snooping, the New York Giants were locked on running back Saquon Barkley and wouldn’t trade out of the No. 2 position. NFL teams are like reporters; they gather information, trying to sift through the smoke. Maccagnan trusted his “Deep Throat” and was convinced the Giants, contrary to intense speculation, weren’t in the quarterback market.
The Jets never even called the Giants about swapping places because they figured their cross-town rival would demand their 2019 first-round pick. Maccagnan also felt confident the Cleveland Browns, picking first, would stay put because of the exorbitant cost to trade to the top of the draft.
Bold move, Cotton.
In his mind, the worst-case scenario was he would get the second quarterback. Like most observers, he figured the Browns would pick Darnold, leaving the Jets with a choice of Mayfield and Rosen. (They probably would’ve taken Mayfield.) The Browns stunned everyone with Mayfield, allowing the Jets’ dream scenario to unfold.
Oh, it was costly. The Jets gave up the 37th and 49th picks in the draft, plus their second-round choice this year — 34th overall, thanks to a 4-12 season. Using the points-value chart that many teams use as a guideline for trades, the Jets gave up 3,100 points, the Colts only 2,200. On paper, it was a lopsided trade.
“We paid a slightly above-average price to get the pick, with the extra two,” Maccagnan said. “But we didn’t give up the future one, which we felt very good about. It actually worked out very well for us.”
Overcoming midseason growing pains, Darnold finished with a league-high 80.9 QBR over the final four games. The Jets didn’t need that to validate their faith in him, but it certainly helped. They’ve seen these flashes before — Geno Smith posted a 79.0 QBR in the last four games of his rookie season — but you would be hard-pressed to find a talent evaluator who believes Darnold will pull a Geno-like fizzle.
“I broke his tape down throughout his season, [and] he very seldom made the same mistake again — and that shows me he was receptive to coaching,” ex-quarterback and former ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said. “You make a mistake in the NFL, you’re going to get embarrassed, you’re going to get humiliated. It’s how you handle that, and I thought Sam Darnold handled the negative experiences very well.
“He has all the God-given talent in the world to be a great NFL quarterback. I say, ‘great NFL quarterback.’ He has that kind of talent.”
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