ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Daniel Vogelbach sat in the stands of The Swamp when he watched it all start to fall apart. He had driven to Gainesville so he could watch his best friend, Jeff Driskel, play quarterback at the University of Florida.
Driskel had won the starting job and felt good about where the 2013 season might go. Then, after throwing an interception, he was dragged down — and his right fibula broke.
Season over. Everything else in doubt.
With his season as a minor league baseball player over, this was Vogelbach’s chance to be of assistance. He took Driskel to rehab and sat with him on the couch for hours, watching movies and television, doing what he could to take Driskel’s mind off what had just happened and what it could mean for his future.
“It was a really rough time for him,” Vogelbach said. “That was a year he was really looking forward to and it ended, obviously, really early.”
Driskel’s path to the NFL and starting for the Detroit Lions on Sunday was circuitous. Once a sought-after high school recruit, he came back from his injury and didn’t play as well as before. He was benched before transferring to Louisiana Tech for his final year of college football. It took nearly three seasons for him to start a game in the NFL.
Even when he signed with the Lions on Sept. 17, it was an afterthought — the latest shuffling by general manager Bob Quinn of backup quarterbacks behind starter Matthew Stafford, who hadn’t missed a game since the end of the 2010 season.
There was no reason to believe when Driskel signed he’d ever see a meaningful snap. Stafford had been playing well and is considered one of the toughest quarterbacks in the NFL. It would take a lot for Driskel to see a play, let alone a start.
Then Stafford took a hit in the fourth quarter against Oakland two weeks ago. He finished the game and went through the week of practice as if he would start — until Saturday, when Stafford was ruled out.
Last Sunday morning, despite receiving few reps during the week, Driskel found out he’d be the starter.
“That’s just been my mindset the whole time is, ‘Hey, you could be called on at any time,'” Driskel said. “And be ready to go.”
Driskel, in some ways, has been preparing for his current situation almost his entire career.
It started at Florida, where Driskel was often touted as the next Tim Tebow because they came from the same state, went to the same university and had a similar skill sets as runners and as passers. Driskel never discussed it much, but Tebow’s legacy was evident — a statue was built to honor him in 2011, months after Driskel stepped on campus.
Driskel always tried to remain himself, whether it was frog gigging or airboating in his free time. Florida was tough on him, though he did meet his wife, Tarin, there.
“I learned you have to be able to come back from rough times, because I definitely had them there,” Driskel said. “With not playing so well, getting benched and overcoming injuries … you have to keep moving forward and learning.
“Don’t put your head in the dirt, but learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to fail.”
Getting a foothold in the NFL took some time. He was cut by San Francisco in September 2016 and claimed by Cincinnati. He missed almost all of 2017 and then replaced Andy Dalton after Dalton was injured in November 2018. Starting five games, Driskel went 1-4 with 1,003 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions.
Cincinnati cut him in September. Detroit signed him a week later and less than two months after that, he had to be the guy to replace the guy again — this time filling in for an injured Stafford against the Chicago Bears.
When Vogelbach got the call that his best friend was starting, he tried to figure out if he could get a ticket to Chicago and to the game. With a few hours’ notice, it was impossible — even for a player who became an All-Star for the Seattle Mariners this year. Vogelbach started reaching out to their close group of friends.
Jered Goodwin, Driskel’s high school baseball coach, happened to be close by. A lifelong Packers fan, he was at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, taking his wife there for the first time. Had he been alone, he might have changed his plans and driven to Soldier Field. Instead, he found himself in Lambeau early, staring at one of the Jumbotrons before the 4:25 Panthers-Packers game kicked off.
“I got to watch that one,” Goodwin said of the Lions-Bears game. “Pretty much the whole fourth quarter on one screen in Lambeau.”
He might have been the only person in Lambeau rooting for the Lions last Sunday, watching Driskel complete 27 of 46 passes for 269 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a 20-13 loss.
Vogelbach said is not easy to watch games with him when Driskel is playing. He gets intense. People know not to talk to Vogelbach because he gets “more nervous and more psyched up than I do to play my own games.”
Vogelbach will be a wreck on Sunday. He’s planning on making the trip to Detroit when the Lions face the Dallas Cowboys (1 p.m. ET, FOX). He understands what his friend went through to reach this point.
“A lot of people never thought Jeff would be taking snaps at quarterback in the NFL,” Vogelbach said. “And it’s just pretty cool how he’s really stuck to himself and put his head down. … We always had people who would doubt us. He always had people he would hear that said he wouldn’t play in the NFL.
“It’s pretty cool. I know how much it means to him.”
NFLPA seeks opt-out clauses for at-risk players, conditional stipends, source says
The NFL and NFLPA continue to negotiate terms for a return to work and players are requesting financial backing in case they decide to sit out the season.
Among the requests in the players’ recent proposal to the league, according to a source involved:
An opt-out clause for at-risk players to receive salary (but not bonuses) if one decides not to play.
An opt-out clause for players with at-risk families to earn an accrued season and benefits if they decide not to play.
An opt-out clause for players who leave the team after reporting (terms uncertain).
A $250,000 stipend guaranteed to all players if they show up to camp and everything is shut down because of COVID-19 concerns. That amount rises to $500,000 if the season starts, only to be shut down.
The definition of “at-risk” is part of the discussion, and procedures for applying for medical opt-outs are not yet finalized.
The league’s June 7 memo listed the following as considerations for high-risk individuals:
Players also want, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, no salary in escrow for 2020 and no reduction in the 2021 salary cap despite projected revenue loss, which they’d prefer to spread over multiple years.
A source told Graziano there are no further conversations scheduled between the NFL and NFLPA on Wednesday, after the two sides talked each of the past two days.
Chris Jones’ deal with Chiefs the latest move toward a dynasty
The headline-snaring contract numbers handed out by the Kansas City Chiefs are these: $503 million over 12 years for quarterback Patrick Mahomes and as much as $85 million over four years for defensive tackle Chris Jones.
But the more important numbers for the Chiefs are these: 24 and 26. Those are the ages for Mahomes and Jones, respectively, when they put ink to paper — meaning both will play the primes of their careers in Kansas City.
Jones and Mahomes are just the latest important young players the Chiefs have invested in heavily. The Super Bowl champions have all of their core players now signed through at least 2021 while playing in the primes of their careers, setting up a possible dynasty run. Reciever Tyreek Hill is 26, defensive end Frank Clark 27, safety Tyrann Mathieu 28.
Throw in other good, young players such as receiver Mecole Hardman (22) and safety Juan Thornhill (25) and it’s reasonable to conclude the Chiefs will be on the top of their game not just again in 2020 but for years to come.
It’s why the Chiefs’ unofficial mantra this offseason has been “Run it back.”
— Chris Jones (@StoneColdJones) July 14, 2020
Many of the Chiefs’ other top players also have at least one more seasons in Kansas City. Players such as receiver Sammy Watkins (27), running back Damien Williams (28) and cornerbacks Charvarius Ward (24) and Bashaud Breeland (28) are in the final years of their deals. But the Chiefs have already prepared for their possible departures. Hardman could eventually replace Watkins. First-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire could replace Williams. The Chiefs took two cornerbacks in the lower rounds of the 2020 NFL draft but they believe they got bargains in L’Jarius Sneed and BoPete Keyes.
As for Jones, the Chiefs had to keep him off the free-agent market by naming him as their franchise player, iron out a deal with Mahomes and beat the Wednesday deadline before reaching a long-term deal. But they eventually felt comfortable making him their third player behind Clark and Mahomes to get a contract with at least $60 million guaranteed. The Chiefs are the only team with three such contracts.
They gave Jones one of those contracts because they allowed six more points per game without an injured Jones last season than when he was in the lineup. They did it because opposing quarterbacks had a 32 QBR against the Chiefs when Jones was in the game and a 59 QBR when he wasn’t. They did it because he led them in sacks in each of the last two seasons.
But they paid Jones as they did mostly because he’s only 26 and he should continue as one of the NFL’s best defensive players for the life of this deal.
Dak Prescott extension with Cowboys unlikely before deadline, sources say
Barring unforeseen momentum over the next 24 hours, the Cowboys anticipate Prescott playing on a $31.4 million franchise tag.
Sources told ESPN’s Todd Archer on Monday that no talks were scheduled before the deadline between the Cowboys and Prescott’s agent, Todd France.
Prescott signed the exclusive franchise tag tender on June 22, which guaranteed he would not miss any of training camp — whenever it will begin. Without a long-term deal by 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, Prescott will have to play the season on the tag and the sides can’t talk again about a long-term deal until January.
If the Cowboys were to put the tag on Prescott again in 2021, he would make $37.7 million.
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