NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees didn’t just break the NFL passing yardage record Monday night. He did it with his foot slammed down on the gas pedal.
Sure, the New Orleans Saints‘ 39-year-old quarterback relished every moment of his record-breaking night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, eyes welling up with tears as he shared the love with teammates, family members and the home fans.
QB Drew Brees is now the NFL’s all-time passing leader after surpassing Peyton Manning (71,940 yards) during Monday night’s Redskins-Saints game.
And sure, his football immortality is now intact — as if it wasn’t already. Forget “first-ballot” Hall of Famer. They should just hand Brees his gold jacket and bronze bust the day he retires and skip the five-year waiting period.
But Brees wants more than that. He wants a second Super Bowl win. And this season might be his best shot.
Brees is making $25 million per year, but he is surrounded by lower-priced, Pro Bowl-caliber talent throughout the roster, thanks to some outstanding draft selections in recent years. And that won’t last forever.
They probably can’t afford to keep everyone on that list. And on top of all that, the Saints have already traded away their first- and third-round draft picks for next year.
In other words, this is probably as loaded as this roster is ever gonna be around Brees. So this window of the next one to three years probably represents the Saints’ best opportunity to win a Super Bowl.
The NFC is off to a rough start
This could change quickly, but for now, the NFC standings are stacking up in New Orleans’ favor. The Saints are one of only four NFC teams with a winning record (Los Angeles Rams at 5-0, Carolina Panthers at 3-1 and Chicago Bears at 3-1).
On the flip side, back in 2011, the Saints might have had their best team ever — arguably even better than the 2009 Super Bowl championship team. That was the season they set the NFL record with 7,474 yards. But somehow they wound up as the No. 3 seed despite a 13-3 record, and they lost on the road at San Francisco in an epic 36-32 divisional-round playoff game.
This is the obvious one. Brees turns 40 in January, and at some point the skill level or desire is bound to drop off, right?
Brees has talked often about believing he can still thrive at age 45. And I’m not going to be the one to doubt him after he just completed 23 of 26 passes for a career-best 89.7 completion percentage on Monday night, with 363 yards and three touchdowns.
He has the highest passer rating in the NFL this season at 122.3, with 331.6 yards per game, 11 TD passes and zero interceptions.
Sure, Brees doesn’t hit the deep ball with quite as much zip as he did in that 2009 to 2011 prime. But arm strength was never his greatest asset. And he obviously finds ways to manage the game just as effectively. He just set the NFL record for completion percentage for the third time last season at 72.0. And he’s on pace to break it again this year at a whopping 77.9 percent.
But in theory, some of those numbers are bound to start declining at some point. Maybe.
When I asked Brees on Monday night if he feels like he’s playing as well as ever, Brees joked about how his youngest son, Callen, always tells him he’s not throwing the ball in the right place when they try to make diving one-handed catches on the sofa at home.
“So they’re my toughest critics,” Brees said. “They keep me honest.”
Brees has also said that having his four children growing older and getting to appreciate the experience of being around him for all these special moments is one of the things that keeps driving him. So maybe he will play until he’s 45.
But as long as he’s got that foot on the gas pedal the way he does now, he might as well try to drive straight on through to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta just to be safe.
PHILADELPHIA — It took 51 years, and an extra 45 minutes due to weather, but the Philadelphia Eagles finally have a Super Bowl championship banner hanging in their stadium.
It was unveiled before the home opener against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night, all lit up and about twice the size of the other 13 banners in the Lincoln Financial Field rafters. A rabid fan base was in full throat with the ceremony about to begin, but a severe weather advisory went into effect, delaying the start of the game from 8:20 p.m. to 9:05 p.m.
The Eagles asked that the open seating areas be cleared because of lightning and high wind gusts in the area, and they mostly were, with the exception of a handful of reveling souls who decided to take their shirts off and dance in the rain instead.
When the skies cleared, the bowl filled back up and a giant Lombardi Trophy replica was wheeled onto the field near a group of kids and members of the armed forces standing behind a platform, where Eagles legend and recent Hall-of-Fame inductee Brian Dawkins stood to fire the crowd up and welcome owner Jeffrey Lurie, who was holding the real trophy.
Dakwins led a rendition of “Fly Eagles Fly.” Fireworks were set off as the banner reading “2017 World Champions” was revealed.
The Eagles captured their first Super Bowl title by defeating the New England Patriots 41-33 in the championship game in February.
The party in Philadelphia has been ongoing ever since. Fans were lined up outside the parking area well before the gates opened at 1 p.m. ET in anticipation of the Eagles’ first game as Super Bowl champs.
At 14-1, the Eagles have the worst preseason odds for a defending Super Bowl champion since the Baltimore Ravens kicked off their title defense in 2013 at 30-1.
Even at the longer odds, bettors haven’t shown much interest in Philadelphia. As of Tuesday, 10 teams had attracted more bets to win the Super Bowl at the Westgate than the Eagles, including the New York Giants.
Ed Malinowski, sportsbook director for Stratosphere in Las Vegas, described the betting interest on the Eagles at his shop as “middle of the road.”
“There are a ton of teams that have a lot more action [than the Eagles],” Malinowski said.
That includes Philadelphia’s opener Thursday night at home against the Atlanta Falcons. The betting action has been lopsided on the underdog Falcons — even at the new sportsbooks in New Jersey that are just a few hours’ drive away from Philadelphia. At William Hill sportsbooks in Nevada and New Jersey, 78 percent of the money bet on the game was on Atlanta. FanDuel and DraftKings each reported at their New Jersey sportsbooks Tuesday that more than 80 percent of the money on the game was on the Falcons.
The line on Falcons-Eagles had shrunk as low as Philadelphia minus-1 as of Thursday morning. It had been as high as Eagles minus-5.5 this summer.
A lot of the line movement is caused by the Eagles’ quarterback situation, according to Ed Salmons, head football oddsmaker at the Westgate.
“No one knows when [Carson] Wentz is going to be back,” Salmons said. “And it became pretty clear to everyone in the preseason, when he didn’t play at all, that he wasn’t going to play Week 1.”
Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will start at quarterback until Wentz is cleared to return from a knee injury.
While there is a lack of interest in the defending champions, bettors are flocking to the Rams. More bets had been placed on the Rams to win the Super Bowl than on any other team at the Westgate, and more money has been bet on coach Sean McVay’s team than on any other team at William Hill books.
• More money has been bet on the Packers to win the Super Bowl than has been bet on any other team at the SuperBook. The Rams have attracted the second-most money, followed by the Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles.
• Station Casinos’ largest Super Bowl liability is on the Cleveland Browns. A Browns’ Super Bowl victory would be five times worse than any other team for Stations’ sportsbook.
• At the new FanDuel sportsbook located at the Meadowlands racetrack, across the parking lot from MetLife Stadium, more bets have been placed on the New York Giants to win the Super Bowl than any other team.
The Buffalo Bills have attracted the fewest bets of any team to win the Super Bowl at the Meadowlands sportsbook.
Notable Super Bowl bets at William Hill
• $12,000 on the Falcons at 22-1. Would net $264,000. • $10,000 on the Raiders at 20-1. Would net $200,000 • $5,000 on the Lions at 40-1. Would net $200,000 • $4,000 on the Titans at 50-1. Would net $200,000 • $1,000 on the Jets at 100-1. Would net $100,000 • $1,000 on the Browns at 100-1. Would net $100,000
• “Train wreck:” That’s how one Las Vegas oddsmaker described Bills’ season. In fact, the SuperBook intentionally dropped the Bills’ win total down to 5.5, the lowest number in town, to encourage bets on the over. “We’re daring people to bet over on the Bills,” said Ed Salmons, head football oddsmaker at the SuperBook.
• Favorites are 97-66-5 ATS on Thursdays since 2003.
• The Patriots are 69-46-5 ATS at home and 72-42-3 ATS on the road since 2003.
• Six times more bets have been placed on the New Orleans Saints to go over their season-win total of 9.5 than have been placed on the under at Caesars sportsbooks. There have been six times more bets on the Denver Broncos (7.5) and Houston Texans (9) to go under their season-win totals than there have been on the overs.
• More bets have been placed and more money has been wagered on the Giants to win the Super Bowl than any other team at the DraftKings sportsbook in New Jersey. The Giants are also No. 1 in overall Super Bowl bets at the FanDuel sportsbook at the Meadowlands, although more money has been bet on the Saints than any other team.
• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have attracted the fewest bets and the least amount of money to win the Super Bowl at DraftKings.
Week 1 notes
Falcons at Eagles (-2.5, 45): At DraftKings in New Jersey, 87 percent of the money wagered is on the underdog Falcons. FanDuel is seeing similar lopsided action on Atlanta, with 86 percent of the money bet on the game backing the Falcons.
Jaguars (-3, 43.5) at Giants: At DraftKings, 71 percent of the money is on the Giants, while 76 percent of the money is on New York at FanDuel.
Jets at Lions (-6.5, 45): Only 43 percent of the bets at FanDuel are on the Jets, but 84 percent of the money is on New York.
Buccaneers at Saints (-9.5, 49.5): Including spread bets and parlays, there are five times more bets on the Saints than the Bucs at Caesars sportsbooks in Nevada, the most lopsided ticket count of any Week 1 game.
By the numbers
• 10: The number of teams that have better odds to win the Super Bowl than the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas. The Eagles are 14-1. The Patriots are the favorites at 6-1.
There have been more bets on the New York Giants to win the Super Bowl than there have been on the Eagles.
• $4,000: The amount of the bet placed on the Washington Redskins to win the Super Bowl, at 100-1 odds, at a William Hill book in late June. The ticket would net $400,000, the book’s largest liability on a single ticket.
• $240,000: The amount on bettor placed on the Minnesota Vikings at -200 to make the postseason at the SuperBook.
• 137: The number of games that stayed under the total during the regular season last year, the most in at least the last 15 seasons.
• 43.44: The average number of points per game last season, a four-year low. The average over/under last year was 44.11, also a four-year low.
• 117: The number of games over the last four regular seasons that have ended with a margin of victory of 3.
• 158: The number of games with a closing point spread of 3. The favorites went 72-71-15 ATS in those games.
• 70: The number of games the last three regular seasons that have ended with a margin of victory of 7.
• 80: The number of games the last three regular seasons that have had a closing spread of 7. Favorites went 33-31-6 ATS in those games.
• 52.7: The percentage of games the favorite covered during the 2017-18 regular season, the second-best rate in the last 15 seasons.
• 53.0: The percentage of games that have gone over the total in October, the highest percentage of overs for any month during the regular season over the last 15 seasons.
• 52.1: The percentage of games that have stayed under the total in December, the highest percentage of unders of any month during the regular season over the last 15 seasons.
• 54.1: The percentage of Week 1 games that have stayed under the total since 2003.
• 73: The number of outright upsets by underdogs during the regular season last year, the third-fewest of any season since 2003.
• 52.7: The percentage of games the favorite covered during the 2017-18 regular season, the second-best rate in the last 15 seasons.
• 53.0: The percentage of games that have gone over the total in October, the highest percentage of overs for any month during the regular season over the last 15 seasons.
• 52.1: The percentage of games that have stayed under the total in December, the highest percentage of unders of any month during the regular season over the last 15 seasons.
• 54.1: The percentage of Week 1 games that have stayed under the total since 2003.
• 55.8: The percentage of first halves that Patriots coach Bill Belichick has covered the spread in during the last 15 seasons.
• 38-22-4: The Houston Texans‘ record against the spread in second halves under coach Bill O’Brien, the best such mark of any current head coach.
• 16-29-3: Browns’ coach Hue Jackson’s record against the spread in second halves, the worst such mark of any current head coach.
• 71.8: Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick’s ATS winning percentage as an underdog over last 15 seasons, the best such mark of any current head coach with at least three years experience.
• 38.0: Jaguars coach Gus Bradley’s ATS winning percentage as an underdog over the last 15 seasons, the worst such mark of any current head coach with at least three years of experience.
By the numbers: sports betting legalization
• 5 – The number of states with legal sportsbooks heading into the NFL season. In addition to Nevada, Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey and West Virginia are offering Las Vegas-style sports betting at some casinos and racetracks. You can even bet on your phone in New Jersey, even from the parking lot of MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants are home underdogs to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Sunday’s opener.
• There are minimal differences in the point spreads in different states. The Giants are 3-point underdogs at books in New Jersey and Nevada.
• Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are expected to be among the next states to enter the bookmaking game, potentially before the Super Bowl.
• 0 – The number of losing Septembers that Nevada sportsbooks haves suffered in the last 30 years, according to state gaming control.
• $1.35 million – The net win from sports bets the FanDuel sportsbook at the Meadowlands in the 17 days it operated in July.
• 2021 – The year New Jersey’s regulated sports betting market is expected to surpass Nevada’s in terms of sportsbook win. In 2017, Nevada books enjoyed an all-time high $248.7 million net win off of $4.8 billion in bets. Research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming projects New Jersey books could be in store for a $442 million net win in 2021, eclipsing Nevada’s win along the way.
• Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 7-3 ATS in season openers.
• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has the best winning percentage against the spread (68.3 percent) of any active head coach.
• Cleveland’s Hue Jackson is the only active coach with at least two seasons under his belt to have winning percentage against the spread of less than 40 percent.
• The Cowboys are 23-36-1 ATS at home under coach Jason Garrett, the worst such mark of any current head coach.
• The visiting team on Thursday games are 75-87-5 ATS since 2003.
• The Texans are 4-0 ATS after a bye under coach Bill O’Brien.
• The Ravens are 8-3 ATS after a bye under coach John Harbaugh.
• The Packers 10-4-1 ATS after a bye under coach Mike McCarthy.
• 10-6: Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s straight-up record as an underdog.
• 7-36: Browns coach Hue Jackson’s straight-up record as an underdog.
The first hard-earned lesson of being a Cleveland Browns fan is to never get too far ahead of yourself. In the summer of 2014, the city was so enthralled with its new quarterback that his jersey sales zoomed all the way to No. 1 in the NFL. Johnny Manziel‘s No. 2 is now getting tattered 580 miles north with the Montreal Alouettes.
So wince or gulp, if you will, at this nugget: Jarvis Landry‘s brother, who also serves as his manager, says he inquired recently about the possibility of putting an image of Landry on a giant banner that would adorn the side of the Sherwin-Williams building in downtown Cleveland — the same building on which LeBron James‘ iconic 10-story banner hung before he left for Los Angeles.
“I think that’s what he lives for,” Gerard Landry says. “[The pressure of] ‘Man, I’m gonna put, just like LeBron, I’m going to put the city on my back and carry us through.’ I think he’s up for it.”
Jarvis Landry has yet to play a regular-season game for the Browns, a franchise that has not won a game since Barack Obama was president. But Cleveland is a city of eternal optimism, and even if Landry’s image never makes it to the side of that building, he is the fresh face of hope. He was acquired in an offseason trade with Miami to help change the culture of the franchise.
And in the past month alone, Landry has:
Called out his teammates in a speech that featured about 30 cuss words.
Pissed off the Buffalo Bills with a block in a preseason game that has been called everything from “monster” to “dirty.”
Talked about the Browns winning a Super Bowl, under no apparent impairment and with a straight face.
“He’s confident,” Browns linebacker Joe Schobert says. “He knows he’s good. I wouldn’t say he’s overly arrogant or puts people off, but you can just tell by the way he carries himself that he’s confident in his abilities and he knows what he can do. If more people could be like that, I think we’d have a really good team.”
“He’s going to will us to some victories,” coach Hue Jackson says. “There’s no question about that in my mind.”
The pressure is on Landry regardless of whether he gets the banner. In an offseason rife with change, Landry was general manager John Dorsey’s first big move, and Dorsey showed his belief in the 5-foot-11 receiver by signing him to a five-year, $75.5 million deal.
If Landry helps turn the franchise around, he’ll be a legend. He’ll get the respect that he believes has eluded him. If he can’t? “I’m a winner,” he says, “and that’s all I believe in.”
It’s late-July, the day before training camp starts in Berea, and Landry sits next to a window at a seafood restaurant, watching the hustle of downtown Cleveland. He has been in town for just a couple of months, long enough to buy a house on three acres but not long enough to avoid the parking ticket he’s about to get on his Range Rover.
He has not yet packed for camp, but he doesn’t seem all that concerned. He’s about to play football. What does he really need? He stares at a plate of oysters on the table.
“So,” Landry asks a lunch guest seated across from him, “what are your initial thoughts on Cleveland?”
Landry is told that in the winter, when the wind whips off Lake Erie, it can be brutal. Landry says the first time he came to Cleveland, it was snowing. In April. It was not a welcome sight for a man who grew up in Louisiana and spent the first part of his career in Miami amassing 400 catches — the most by any NFL player through his first four seasons.
But he believes he was meant to be here. He loves the wide-open space of the Midwest and the fact that everyone cares so much for the football team. He has a big backyard for his 1½-year old daughter, Joy, to play in. Sometimes, he stands outside the house, staring at it, and he can’t believe all of this is his. It sounds clichéd, but Landry says he feels a connection to the city because Cleveland is an underdog. Like him.
He grew up in a trailer in Convent, Louisiana, and went without water or electricity on occasion. His father wasn’t in his life. One month, times were tough enough that Landry subsisted on egg sandwiches.
His mom, Dietra, worked long shifts to make ends meet, and Jarvis spent much of his free time playing sports with his brother, who’s seven years older. Gerard, a local star football player, used to pick Jarvis on his teams to give him confidence.
All those long, hot days trying to measure up to boys who towered over him toughened Landry. In his true freshman season at LSU in 2011, he went up against a bigger and stronger safety from Georgia in the SEC championship, and coach Les Miles pulled the kid aside and told him they were going to teach the safety a lesson.
“We told Jarvis on this play, which was going to be play-action, ‘You go right after the safety and knock him right on his back,'” Miles says. “‘You tell him that the Tigers are coming.’ He did that exactly.”
Landry played alongside Odell Beckham Jr. at LSU, and the best friends pushed each other. In 2014, both Landry and Beckham decided to forgo their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft.
Landry had more catches, touchdowns and receiving yards than Beckham did in their final season. Beckham was invited to attend the NFL draft in New York. Landry was not. But that was fine. Landry would do his own thing with his family and friends. The Landrys rented out a ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, catered in food and got a cake for the big celebration.
Beckham was selected 12th by the New York Giants. Four receivers went off the board, then five, and then the first round was over, and Landry’s name wasn’t called. Landry couldn’t hide it. He was crushed.
“He thanked everyone for coming out and told them he’d see them all tomorrow,” Gerard Landry says. “He went to his room and cried his eyes out.”
Gerard stopped at the hotel the next morning to check on him, but Jarvis wasn’t there. He was at the gym working out.
Later that day, Miami drafted him with the 63rd overall pick. Eleven receivers went before him.
Landry most likely dropped because he ran a 4.77 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, because a guy who’s considered short for a receiver needs to compensate by being fast. But did the metrics show that Landry has spent his whole life compensating? That he watched film when he was 10 with Gerard, because the only thing he ever wanted to do was play football?
One of the easiest ways to get a rise out of Landry is to ask him whether he has ever made a catch like the signature one-handed grab that vaulted Beckham into elite status his rookie season.
“I made that catch in college,” Landry says. “But this is my thing — I never want to discredit my brother or my friend to make it seem like, ‘Oh, I did it already.’ That’s his glory. But have I made that catch? A thousand times.”
Miles says he can pull up game film and find instances where Landry has made The Catch. Landry actually started a one-handed catch drill in practice at LSU, and Beckham soon joined him.
“We had a lot of really special players at LSU during my time,” Miles says. “Jarvis was easily one of our best players. And when your best players work the hardest, your team improves exponentially.”
He went to Miami and became a fan favorite for his one-handed catches and his passion. He went to three Pro Bowls and blocked with the intensity of a man trying to prove himself, trying to survive.
Landry paid off his mom’s trailer with his rookie deal. But that next contract, he thought, would really take care of his family. He and his agent, Damarius Bilbo, believed his next deal should be commensurate with those of the other top receivers in the league. The Dolphins had other thoughts. Their hesitancy apparently had nothing to do with any off-the-field issues. In 2017, Landry was investigated for an alleged domestic violence incident involving his girlfriend, Estrella Cerqueira. Cerqueira, who is the mother of Landry’s child, issued a statement at the time saying Landry never harmed her. He was not charged, and the NFL did not take action against him.
“[The Dolphins] stood by me,” Landry says. “They supported me.”
The real issue was paying superstar money to a slot receiver who averaged 8.8 yards a catch in 2017.
In mid-January, a Miami Herald report painted a picture of a player who didn’t pay attention to detail, didn’t always run the right routes and didn’t seem to respect his coaches. The story called him “a pain” to deal with.
The Dolphins eventually strapped Landry with a $16 million franchise tag. He signed it in early March, allowing the Dolphins to pursue trading him. Landry, hurt that the team he’d given so much to was willing to let him walk away, thought about not playing on the tag.
He wonders — well, he knows — that his strained relationship with coach Adam Gase didn’t help. (Gase, through the Dolphins’ public relations department, declined to be interviewed for this story.) They’re too much alike, Landry says now — two overly competitive people who wanted the same things but inevitably rubbed each other the wrong way. Like when the offense struggled and Landry put in his two cents on what they could do differently, it probably sounded like a player telling his coach what to do. But Landry only did it, he says, because he wanted to win.
“I used to talk to him about it,” Landry says. “Can I be more of a leader? Can I stay after practice more? I’m trying to literally figure out what I can do to help us win, to help him understand that he could trust me.
“He wanted me to trust him, but he really didn’t want to trust me.”
There was a joke, Landry says, that Gase used to tell his players. If a guy got in his doghouse, he’d tell the player to straighten up or he’d ship him to Cleveland. The joke, according to Landry, is in reference to the infamous Jamie Collins trade. On Halloween day in 2016, Collins, a talented New England Patriots linebacker who drew coach Bill Belichick’s ire, was sent from a Super Bowl team to a Browns squad that won one game in 2016.
“I just felt like, for some reason, Adam sent me here to die,” Landry says.
Landry says he never really thought about Cleveland being a place where football players’ careers die. He was so focused on his career in Miami that he didn’t think about Cleveland much at all. That changed on March 9. Bilbo called him that afternoon and told Landry he had three suitors — the Tennessee Titans, the Baltimore Ravens and the Browns. Thirty minutes later, Tennessee was out and it was between Baltimore and Cleveland.
He thought about how Hue Jackson was an offensive-minded coach, and he knew that the Browns had just hired Todd Haley as their offensive coordinator. Haley had worked with Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant in Pittsburgh, and Landry loved watching them play. He also thought about how much Baltimore likes to run the ball.
“Let’s do Cleveland,” he told Bilbo.
His mind was swirling. He was excited and nervous. He couldn’t believe he was actually leaving Miami, a city that had become his home. Shortly after news of his trade broke, Landry looked down at his phone and saw that the Browns had traded for Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Then came another alert: Green Bay Packers defensive back Damarious Randall was joining the Browns, too.
He felt a wave of anticipation. The Browns weren’t messing around. Dorsey and Jackson laid out their plans for Landry almost immediately: Take control of the receivers’ room and help build a winning mindset. Though Landry is just 25, he’s one of the most seasoned veterans on a team loaded with rookies and second-year players.
His first big message, at least publicly, came on the premiere of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” earlier this month. The show captured Landry giving an expletive-laced speech in the receivers room about not taking days off, and Browns fans were in love. A high school basketball coach in Louisiana pinned the words of his speech — minus the swearing — on his Twitter account.
“I couldn’t be more happy with how he’s come into training camp,” Dorsey says. “I think he’s infectious, and you can’t have enough of those type of guys on your team. He’s consistent. Day in and day out. He comes to work with a purpose. He’s very prideful in how he plays the game. That speaks volumes in my world.”
There’s a scene “Hard Knocks” in which Haley pulls Landry aside in a preseason game after rookie Antonio Callaway scores a touchdown. Callaway, a troubled receiver from Florida, had recently been cited for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license.
“Hey, you need to take that kid on,” Haley says in the episode. “I don’t care if he’s f—ing living at your house. We can’t have him f— up. Can you do that?
“You’ve got all this passion. Just take the kid under your wing.”
“Yes, sir,” Landry says. He believes the Browns have the pieces necessary for a turnaround, and that they just need to “rewire” their mindset. They have to expect to win. He points to the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. He says nobody thought they’d beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but look what happened.
He knows that it will take more than positive thinking to turn 0-16 into a Super Bowl. But the people who lived through 2017, and the 1-15 campaign in ’16, say they see a change in the pace and the mood of summer. The Browns are young and ready. Maybe they say that every year. But Landry believes things will be different, and even has the audacity to worry about the Browns getting complacent if they get off to a huge start.
“You think about this: Could you imagine going into November, December, 10-3 in Cleveland? You can’t. But it could be a reality for sure. 10-3? That s— will look like a Super Bowl out there. This is what they write movies about. This is ‘Rudy’ right here. Not only that, but how much does this city need this?”
A few of weeks after lunch at the seafood restaurant, Landry calls back. He says he wants to clear up some of the things he said about Miami. He doesn’t necessarily regret what he said; he just wants to “get the right message out there.”
“I wear my heart on my sleeve,” he says. “I’m human, and everything doesn’t go right all the time. Despite everything, I love Miami. I love the people. I’m grateful this organization drafted me, and I think people should know that. I’m not bitter or anything. I love it there.”
The lesson, for Browns fans, is that Landry is so passionate that once he gets going, it’s hard to stop. In a city stuck in the doldrums of more than a decade of losing, that passion is probably a good thing.
On Wednesday, Gerard Landry texts and says that the banner idea on the side of the Sherwin-Williams building isn’t happening, at least not now. (A call to Sherwin-Williams’ corporate headquarters was not returned). Gerard Landry says they’ll revisit the idea later. He didn’t elaborate.
But Jarvis wants to be the face of the city, his new city. He talked about it in late July, before the fame of “Hard Knocks.” He sat with Cerqueira and Joy, whose sippy cup rested on top of the booth behind him. On several occasions, as Landry was getting fired up for the season, Joy let out a giant scream. She unloaded an especially loud one after he mentioned the Super Bowl.
“I’ve been working this offseason to put myself in place to earn the respect of all the Clevelanders,” he says, “and to have the opportunity to be recognized as another great player that has touched the city of Cleveland.”
He might not know the street names yet or be completely versed on the sports scene — and how the Indians are leading the American League Central and cruising toward another postseason. But forget that for a minute, because he’s on a roll.
“I think the stigma over this place is LeBron, and that’s all they’ve got is LeBron,” he says. “And now they don’t even have that anymore.”
Brady relayed that he was never trying to avoid Foles after the heartbreaking Super Bowl defeat.
“That was kind of made up to me because that was never my intention that I would be a bad sport,” he said after the Patriots’ 37-20 win in the rematch. “But, I have a lot of respect for Nick and Carson [Wentz], all those quarterbacks, and that team and the way they played. They’re a great team.
“I know how hard it is to win that last game, and they did it and congrats to them. But, we’re on to 2018. We’ve got our goals ahead of us. We’re going to try to go out and put together a great year.”
Brady had visited the field before the game, which he seldom does before the full-team warm-up. He might have been looking for Foles at that point, but Foles was still back in the Eagles’ locker room. Brady spoke with Carson Wentz for a brief period.
As for the postgame meeting between Foles and Brady, the Super Bowl MVP said, “I think everyone’s made a big deal about it. There’s a lot of craziness. I’ve always respected Tom, I met Tom several times and it was great to see him.
“But like I said, I think everyone made a bigger deal, because at the end of the day, he’s a great dude. He’s a heck of a player, one of the greatest of all time, and you know, to say hi, that’s what quarterbacks do after games. I know everyone made a big deal of the Super Bowl, but the Super Bowl’s chaos after. But he was nice, as he always is, so I wished him the best of luck this season.”
NAPA, Calif. — Three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn has agreed to a restructured contract with the Oakland Raiders, according to numerous reports, after the team requested a pay cut less than a year after giving him a two-year, $21 million extension.
Per the NFL Network, it is a “small pay cut,” while the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Penn will “receive more guaranteed money over the final two years in exchange for accepting new, team-friendly parameters.”
Penn, 35, is on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing Lisfranc surgery on his right foot in December. Under his previous contract, Penn carried a salary cap number of $8.38 million for 2018 and was due base salaries of $6 million in each of the next two seasons. Per ESPN Stats & Information research, Penn was guaranteed $3 million this season with a $300,000 workout bonus based on six weigh-ins, with $50,000 per weigh-in.
Under the parameters of that contract, he was due a $1 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year in 2019 and his salary became fully guaranteed if he had 75 percent playtime in 2018.
With Penn unable to practice — coach Jon Gruden said Monday that Penn’s health was an “ongoing process” — first-round draft pick Kolton Miller has been starting at left tackle. Penn was giving Miller sideline advice during the Raiders’ exhibition opener against the Detroit Lions on Friday.
The NFL preseason has arrived, a monthlong warm-up for the regular season that almost always has a significant impact on the betting odds.
Big-name quarterbacks who missed the end of last season to injury are returning, including Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Houston’s Deshaun Watson, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz. Quarterback competitions in Arizona, Cleveland and New York with the Jets could leave rookie signal-callers in starting roles. And you can count on unfortunate injuries to key players that change a team’s outlook and the landscape of its division.
Here are some of the storylines ESPN Chalk will be following in this file that will be updated throughout the preseason:
Andrew Luck’s progress
In April, the Colts opened as low as 1-point home favorites against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1. As optimism grew about Luck’s recovering shoulder, the line moved to Indianapolis -3, and the Colts’ season win total also grew.
Luck was sidelined last season with a shoulder injury, and the Colts went 4-12. He began throwing again in the spring and reportedly will play the first quarter of the Colts’ preseason opener against Seattle.
“If he does anything in that first quarter, looks decent, we’ll probably go to 3.5,” Westgate SuperBook oddsmaker Ed Salmons said of the Bengals-Colts Week 1 line, “because we would view the Colts as a better team than the Bengals.”
The Colts’ win total opened at 6.5 (-130 under) in late April and attracted respected action at the Westgate. The number had been bet up to 7 as of Thursday.
“If [Luck] plays better in the preseason, that number is probably going to go to 7.5,” Salmons said.
The Colts, at 60-1, have attracted the fewest bets to win the Super Bowl of any team at the Westgate.
Buying the Browns?
There are mixed opinions on Cleveland. Some see a team poised for significant improvement. Others struggle to get past the Browns’ 1-31 straight-up record the past two seasons — not to mention a putrid record against the number in 2017.
After opening at 5.5, the Browns’ win total is up to 6 (-130 under) entering the preseason.
“The public has been hard on the under on the Browns,” Salmons said. “One of our house players made a significant bet on the over. I really like Cleveland this year. I bumped the number up to 6 and really think that they’ll go over that number.”
Experienced quarterback Tyrod Taylor, acquired this offseason from Buffalo, is expected to hold off No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield for the starting nod and the right to orchestrate an upgraded offense.
“The Bills are like last year’s Jets,” Salmons said. “We started at 7 under with their [season] wins, went to 6.5 under, now we’re 6 under. That’s been mostly wiseguy money driving that down. And it makes sense.”
“We had a guy who we respect a lot make two big-sized wagers on Atlanta at +4.5 and +4,” Salmons said.
Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered in December, may not play during the preseason, and his status for Week 1 remains up in the air. If Wentz sits out, backup Nick Foles, who led the Eagles to a win over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, would be expected to start.
The NFL is a copycat league, and after the 2017 season, the Philadelphia Eagles are playing the role of the cat. Doug Pederson’s team went from last place in the NFC East to league champions in 12 months, exceeding even the wildest expectations of most Eagles fans in the process. While there were those around the league who were looking at the Eagles as surprise contenders last season — and underlying statistics suggesting Philadelphia was likely to take a step forward — nobody expected to see a parade on Broad Street in February of 2018.
Of course, there are some things teams can’t steal. All the tape study in the world isn’t going to turn a mediocre quarterback into the Carson Wentz we saw last season, with the second-year passer playing like an MVP winner before going down with a torn ACL in December. In a way, though, the fact that the Eagles did end up winning a championship with Nick Foles under center makes their blueprint even more relatable. It’s a lot easier to find someone Jeff Fisher couldn’t do anything with than it is to find a young MVP candidate under center.
Naturally, the league noticed. Nothing the Eagles did was in itself revolutionary, but the way they focused their spending and were willing to take certain risks might very well have steered organizations more aggressively toward the directions I’ll mention below. Let’s identify where the Eagles concentrated their own plans in building their roster, find which teams emulated those plans this offseason, and see if any team seems to be following things particularly closely. And let’s begin with an obvious one.
Paying a premium for a backup quarterback … just in case
How the Eagles did it: Once general manager Howie Roseman wrestled back personnel control after the end of the Chip Kelly coup, his Eagles were heavily invested in quarterbacks. The Eagles re-signed Sam Bradford to a two-year deal and traded up to grab Wentz with the second overall pick of the 2016 draft. In between, they signed former Chiefs backup Chase Daniel to a three-year, $21 million deal with $12 million initially guaranteed, presumably under the logic that Daniel was familiar with Pederson’s scheme from Kansas City and had some untapped upside after throwing just 77 professional passes over six NFL seasons.
One year later, they changed their mind. They cut Daniel, who would eventually receive $11.1 million from the Eagles for a total of one regular-season pass — it was a 16-yard completion! On the same day, Roseman signed former Eagles starter Nick Foles to a two-year, $11 million deal with $7 million guaranteed at signing. You know what happened next. It was a big bet on a player who had nearly retired after a dismal 2015 season in St. Louis and whose decent numbers over 55 passes in Kansas City bore little resemblance to some ugly tape. Foles struggled during his regular-season stint replacing Wentz, but from the second half of the divisional-round victory over the Falcons and on, he etched his name into Philly lore.
Teams that copied them this offseason: The Chicago Bears couldn’t sign Foles, but they settled for the next best thing: Daniel, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal with $5 million guaranteed after spending 2017 on the Saints bench without throwing a pass. The 31-year-old Daniel has still yet to start an NFL game before Week 17 and has an 81.1 passer rating in his 78 career attempts. Daniel presumably gives the Bears a competent veteran behind Mitchell Trubisky and some semblance of an insurance policy if Trubisky struggles mightily or gets injured. At the same time, though, Daniel is one of the few passers Trubisky actually tops in terms of recent experience.
You also could make a case for the Buffalo Bills, who added AJ McCarron, although the former Alabama starter has a more feasible path to starting games in 2018 than Daniel did in 2016. Another team that emulated the Eagles’ plan in 2016 in terms of stacking the roster with quarterbacks would be the New York Jets. Like Philadelphia, Gang Green re-signed last year’s starter (Josh McCown) to a short-term deal for relatively big money. Just as the Eagles traded up for Wentz, the Jets moved up to grab their quarterback of the future in Sam Darnold. While the Eagles spent serious money to acquire Daniel, though, the Jets guaranteed Teddy Bridgewater only $500,000 as part of his one-year, $6 million deal. The Eagles dealt Bradford to the Vikings once Bridgewater went down with his knee injury in 2016; the Jets will likely be shopping Bridgewater this month in the hopes of avoiding that $6 million deal.
Protect your quarterback with an expensively assembled, talented O-line
How the Eagles did it: The offensive line was in place before Wentz even arrived in town. Andy Reid once traded a first-round pick for left tackle Jason Peters all the way back in 2009, while Kelly and Roseman used the fourth overall pick on right tackle Lane Johnson before handing him the biggest contract for any right tackle in football. Center Jason Kelce emerged after being drafted in the sixth round and signed a six-year, $37.5 million extension in 2014, while the Eagles reached out to sign former Texans guard Brandon Brooks to a five-year, $40 million deal in free agency in March 2016.
Left guard was the only place the Eagles tried to get by for relatively cheap last season, but Philly had plenty of depth with Stefen Wisniewski, Chance Warmack and swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who grew in strides after Peters went down with a serious knee injury in October. The offensive line came in handy after Wentz went down with his own knee injury; Foles, who had struggled to stay healthy during his career, was sacked just twice in 106 postseason pass attempts.
Teams that copied them this offseason: We can start with the San Francisco 49ers, who have their own talented young quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. The Niners re-signed Daniel Kilgore at center but then traded him to Miami after signing Giants center Weston Richburg to a five-year, $47.5 million deal with $30 million due over its first three years. Coach Kyle Shanahan saw his offense take flight in Atlanta after the Falcons signed Alex Mack, so it shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise that the Niners targeted Richburg.
San Francisco then swapped massive right tackle Trent Brown for Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, whom they took with the ninth overall pick. The 49ers don’t have any guarantees at guard, but they can choose between three former first-round picks in Jonathan Cooper, Joshua Garnett and Laken Tomlinson, the latter of whom was signed to a three-year, $16.5 million extension this offseason.
If you consider both draft capital and free-agent acquisitions, few teams have spent more on their offensive line over the past four seasons than Tomlinson’s former employers. The Detroit Lions drafted Tomlinson with their first-round pick in 2015 before using their first-round selections in 2016 (left tackle Taylor Decker) and 2018 (center Frank Ragnow) on offensive linemen. The right side of their line includes a pair of highly paid free-agent acquisitions in guard T.J. Lang and tackle Rick Wagner, with Wagner coming in just behind Johnson among three-year compensation for tackles. Matthew Stafford isn’t a young quarterback at this point, but I’m sure he appreciates the efforts nonetheless.
There are other expensively assembled lines, but one more that comes to mind in terms of recent investment would be the Oakland Raiders, who already had a trio of big-ticket free agents in guard Kelechi Osemele, center Rodney Hudson and left tackle Donald Penn. Last June, the Raiders re-signed one of their own by giving guard Gabe Jackson a five-year, $55 million deal. After a dismal season, though, new coach Jon Gruden added to the bunch by using the 15th overall pick on raw tackle Kolton Miller, who should start on the right side before presumably taking over for the 35-year-old Penn in the near future. Derek Carr can’t ask for much more.
Add defensive linemen, and then keep adding defensive linemen
How the Eagles did it: During Roseman’s first tenure in charge, the Eagles used first-round picks on end Brandon Graham and star tackle Fletcher Cox, along with a second-round pick on Vinny Curry, all of whom were signed to extensions. They found a useful rotation tackle in 2014 seventh-rounder Beau Allen, but infamous first-rounder Marcus Smith never found his stride in Philadelphia and was cut during the offseason. Veterans Bennie Logan and Connor Barwin also left.
To that Allen-Cox-Curry-Graham core, the Eagles added a handful of contributors from all kinds of places last offseason. They signed Chris Long to a two-year, $4.5 million deal, then moved down 25 spots in the third round to acquire Tim Jernigan from the Ravens. Roseman finished up by using his first-round pick on Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett, giving the Eagles seven regular contributors for their rotation. Each of them would play at least 40 percent of the defensive snaps, with Graham topping the group at just 64.6 percent.
Teams that copied them this offseason: No team emulated the buy-in-bulk approach more than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who got some help from Eagles leaving the nest. The Bucs signed both Allen and Curry to multiyear deals, where they’ll step in for the departed Robert Ayers and Chris Baker. The Bucs made higher-profile moves in trading for Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and using their first-round pick on nose tackle Vita Vea, who will rotate with Allen alongside star interior disruptor Gerald McCoy. Tampa finished the collection by signing Bears defensive lineman Mitch Unrein, who started 17 games over the past two seasons.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have already gone all-in with their defensive line in recent seasons, but they added to the bunch by using a first-round pick on tackle Taven Bryan. The Minnesota Vikings added to an already-dominant line by signing Sheldon Richardson to a one-year deal. There’s also the Eagles themselves, who doubled down on their own habit this offseason. Philly cut Curry and let Allen leave for Tampa, but they re-signed Jernigan, traded for Michael Bennett and signed Haloti Ngata to a one-year, $3 million deal.
Invest in young players on short-term deals, and trust that you’ll find a way to re-sign them
How the Eagles did it: I just mentioned Jernigan, whom the Ravens traded away for what amounted to the 169th pick in a typical draft because they didn’t think they could re-sign him. The Eagles dealt for Jernigan and found a way to re-sign him, although the four-year, $48 million extension they handed him was restructured after he underwent back surgery.
Likewise, the Eagles convinced Alshon Jeffery to turn down a long-term deal from the Vikings to sign a one-year, $9.5 million deal to serve as Wentz’s top wideout. Jeffery battled through a torn labrum and impressed the Eagles, who signed the former Bears standout to a four-year, $52 million extension in December, although just $14 million of that deal is guaranteed. Next on this list might be Jay Ajayi, whom the Eagles acquired for a fourth-round pick during the 2017 season.
Teams that copied them this offseason: The Los Angeles Ramswent with a higher-risk version of this plan by trading for both Brandin Cooks and Marcus Peters. They’ve already re-signed Cooks, and while it seemed like the Rams would wait to re-sign Peters until the 2019 offseason, the move to lock up fellow 2015 first-round pick Todd Gurley after three seasons suggests that Peters could sign an extension sooner rather than later.
The New England Patriots also went this route, although it’s less clear whether they intend to re-sign their additions. Bill Belichick moved down from 95 to 143 in acquiring the aforementioned Trent Brown, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal and is the favorite to start at left tackle in Week 1. The Pats also dealt a 2019 third-rounder for a fifth-round pick and Browns nose tackle Danny Shelton; while they declined Shelton’s fifth-year option for 2019 at $7.2 million, they could still choose to bring the former first-round pick back if he shores up the league’s second-worst run defense.
Throw some cornerbacks at the wall and see what sticks
How the Eagles did it: With the Eagles spending heavily on both sides of the line of scrimmage, rebuilding their receiving corps and investing in free-agent safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, cornerback seems like an obvious place for Philadelphia to cut back and save money. Indeed, the Eagles did not have a cornerback with a cap hit of more than $1.2 million in 2017, and that was second-round pick Sidney Jones, who redshirted until Week 17 while recovering from a torn Achilles.
Instead, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz managed to get contributions from all kinds of places. Jalen Mills, a 2016 seventh-round pick, made one side of the field his own and started all season. The Eagles traded for Ronald Darby, but the Bills corner missed half the season after dislocating his ankle during the opener. Schwartz then turned to rookie third-rounder Rasul Douglas. In the slot, Philly got a career year out of free-agent addition Patrick Robinson, who was on a one-year deal for $775,000. All but Robinson return for 2018.
Teams that copied them this offseason: Let’s start with the Green Bay Packers, who overhauled their cornerback depth chart by signing former flame Tramon Williams to a two-year, $10 million deal and used their first two draft picks on Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. They’ll team with 2017 second-rounder Kevin King. While the youth movement isn’t a guarantee — we’re only a couple of years removed from the Packers using their top two picks in 2015 on Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins — it’s a badly needed infusion of talent for a team that has been burned by bad cornerback play since letting Casey Hayward leave for California.
The Kansas City Chiefs also qualify here, although the move to trade Peters to Los Angeles deprived a team that already was struggling at cornerback of its best player at the position. They’re rebuilding by signing former Raiders cornerback David Amerson to a one-year, $2.2 million deal and trading for cornerback Kendall Fuller as part of the Alex Smith trade. Fuller excelled in the slot in Washington but might move outside in Kansas City if the Chiefs prefer to use incumbent Steven Nelson on the inside.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also could be in the discussion, although the decision to give the ageless Brent Grimes a one-year, $7 million deal makes it a stretch. Otherwise, the Bucs have devoted significant draft capital to cornerback, including 2016 picks Vernon Hargreaves (first round) and Ryan Smith (fourth round) before drafting Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart in the second round this year. Hargreaves struggled last season, and the moves to draft Davis and Stewart may be telling.
Rebuild the weapons for your young quarterback
How the Eagles did it: This wasn’t quite as big of a deal as it seemed to be last offseason, in part because the Eagles were able to recycle Nelson Agholor as an effective slot receiver. In the end, though, just over 46 percent of Philadelphia’s targets during the regular season went to receivers who weren’t on the team in 2016, with Jeffery racking up 120 targets and Torrey Smith picking up 67. The Eagles ranked sixth in the league in terms of new-target percentage, way behind the top-ranked 49ers, who were up over 80 percent under Shanahan.
While the Baltimore Ravens added a bunch of weapons, it wasn’t until draft day that they realized GM Ozzie Newsome had been spending his last offseason building for a young quarterback. The Ravens signed Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead to overhaul their wide receivers this offseason, then supplemented oft-injured tight end Maxx Williams by using a first-round pick on Hayden Hurst and a third-round selection on Mark Andrews. Four of Baltimore’s top five targets from a year ago are no longer in town, with Javorius Allen as the lone exception.
Who stands out?
What I found after looking through the Eagles’ plan is that there isn’t really one team following Philadelphia wholesale as much as there are teams stealing elements of Philly’s roster-building structure. The closest we got to teams following Pederson & Co. in multiple ways was even split by sides of the ball.
On offense, the Chicago Bears seem to be the closest match to what the Eagles were doing. They hired the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator by grabbing Matt Nagy, who took over in K.C. once Pederson left for Philadelphia. The Bears traded up for their quarterback of the future in the 2017 draft and then surrounded him with new weapons in 2018. They also added Daniel for depth. Chicago doesn’t have the offensive line that Wentz enjoys in Philadelphia, but you can see the similarities in planning here.
Defensively, meanwhile, we’re looking at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the closest thing to what the Eagles built last season. Tampa is building its defense around a rotation of defensive linemen and a series of young, cheap cornerbacks, Grimes aside. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith is even a former head coach like Schwartz, but he hasn’t been as effective of a defensive signal-caller. Smith inherited a defense that ranked 18th in DVOA under Lovie Smith in 2015, and while he took it to 13th in 2016, Tampa fell to dead last last season. Schwartz, meanwhile, inherited the 17th-ranked defense and has subsequently delivered fourth- and fifth-place finishes in DVOA.
Can the Eagles keep it up?
Finally, it’s also worth wondering whether the Eagles can keep producing division-winning seasons with this strategy. For now, I think they can. Wentz is still going to be a relative bargain for two more seasons, as his salary will more than double in 2020 as a result of either his fifth-year option or an extension. The scenario under which Wentz isn’t worth paying a significant amount of money in 2020 is both remote and even more worrisome for Philadelphia.
Once Wentz gets his raise from $8 million to more than $20 million per season, the Eagles will have to make some allowance elsewhere. Their offensive line will be ready for a refresh — Peters will be 38 and likely out of football, while Kelce will be turning 33 — but I don’t think Pederson and Roseman will want to play it cheap along the line of scrimmage. The core of this team is going to be Wentz and the big boys up front on either side of the ball.
At that point, then, the Eagles will have to cut some of their luxury spending elsewhere. Jeffery will have just $1 million remaining in guarantees on his deal, although cutting him could be complicated if the league doesn’t negotiate a new CBA before then. Jenkins and McLeod will both be entering the final year of their respective deals, and the Eagles could move to save money there. It’s tough to see Nigel Bradham on the roster with a $9 million cap hold in 2020.
The key to any plan in the NFL, of course, is drafting and developing young talent. Look at the Seahawks, who looked to be in a dominant position after winning the Super Bowl during Russell Wilson‘s second season in 2013. They made it back to the Super Bowl the following year, but the wheels slowly came off as they whiffed on a number of trades and draft picks. Once Wilson and the rest of Seattle’s stars got expensive, there were no rookie-contract players coming through at a similar level to fill in the holes in the roster. Now, with most of that core either retired or playing elsewhere, the Seahawks’ plan to save money along the offensive line and invest in their defensive stars looks like a mess. We won’t know whether the Eagles can keep this up as a long-term proposition until we get there.