RENTON, Wash. — Paul Allen’s love was basketball, and he delved into professional football out of loyalty to his hometown Seattle.
In the wake of his death Monday from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Allen’s ownership of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and NFL’s Seattle Seahawks has come into focus because of questions about how the franchises will move forward in his absence.
No one is providing many details yet about the succession plans for Allen’s franchise holdings. His primary franchises were the Blazers and Seahawks, although he also owned a small stake in Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders.
“Paul thoughtfully addressed how the many institutions he founded and supported would continue after he was no longer able to lead them. This isn’t the time to deal in those specifics as we focus on Paul’s family,” according to a statement from Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc. “We will continue to work on furthering Paul’s mission and the projects he entrusted to us. There are no changes imminent for Vulcan, the teams, the research institutes or museums.”
For now, Allen’s teams will continue to be overseen by Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, an arm of the company he created. His sister, Jody Allen, and executive Bert Kolde were the other members of the Seahawks’ board of directors with Allen. Jody Allen may take a more prominent role with the NFL franchise going forward.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s time to be engaging in that conversation. We’re more into the conversation about recognizing what took place and how to respect Paul and his desires and all of that,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday. “There’s plenty of time to talk about all that stuff. It’s not even a factor in our minds. I understand the interest but there will be plenty of time.
“Nothing is changing. Paul wouldn’t want us to do anything different than what we’re doing, which is to go for it and to represent it every way we can until you can’t. And we’re going to go for it just in that fashion.”
A similar message was being relayed in Portland, where Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey and Vulcan Sports and Entertainment CEO Chris McGowan spoke about Allen. The Trail Blazers are dealing with the death of Allen just a couple of days before beginning the regular season at home against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“At this point we’re just dealing with the death and we don’t have any imminent announcements,” McGowan said. “At an appropriate time I’m sure we’ll come and talk with everyone about what potentially could happen, but right now we’re just dealing with the grief.”
Olshey said his final phone conversation with Allen was in early October, with the owner asking if the Blazers GM was watching that night’s preseason games.
“He wanted to talk basketball,” Olshey said. “One of the things that is really unique about Paul is that everything was bifurcated. … If he wanted to talk hoops, he talked hoops. If he wanted to talk music, he called Mick Jagger. If he wanted to talk football, he called Pete Carroll. Who else gets that?”
FRISCO, Texas — A day later, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett still would have punted from the Houston Texans’ 42 on the first possession of overtime instead of going for it on fourth-and-1.
“It just made sense to us, to me at that time, to go ahead and play field position,” Garrett said Monday.
The Cowboys never got the ball back and fell to 2-3 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who made it to the AFC Championship Game last season and have a punishing defense, coming to AT&T Stadium on Sunday.
Questions about Garrett’s job security haven’t stopped since the end of the 2017 season. Before the first padded practice of training camp in Oxnard, California, this year, one fan yelled, “Coach Garrett, I love you, but this is your last year.”
The calls on social media grew louder after the 19-16 loss to the Texans and will grow louder still if the Cowboys are unable to put together any kind of winning streak.
Garrett is 70-58, including 1-2 in the playoffs, as Cowboys head coach. In 2016, he was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year. He has won two NFC East titles. He has the second-most wins in franchise history to Tom Landry, but the decision to punt is viewed by some as the last straw.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has been steadfast in his support for Garrett, even though he critiqued the decision to punt. He has long viewed Garrett as his Landry.
Jones opened camp by succinctly stating Garrett was not on the hot seat, but even he has a breaking point.
Here are factors to consider:
Why is this season different from others for Garrett?
Start with the financial ramifications. Owners don’t like to pay coaches not to coach.
Garrett is signed through 2019 at $6 million per season. Only wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal has a contract that goes past 2019.
After the Cowboys went 4-12 in 2015, there was some talk inside the organization that Garrett could be in trouble a year after a 12-4 record and the controversial loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in the divisional round of the 2014 playoffs.
Garrett was in the first year of a five-year, $30 million contract then, meaning Jones would have had to have eaten more than $20 million. Plus, quarterback Tony Romo started and finished two games that season because of a twice-broken left collarbone, offering up a good reason/excuse for the poor season.
The decision to stick with Garrett looked like a wise one in 2016, when the Cowboys finished 13-3 with a fourth-round pick in Dak Prescott substituting for an injured Romo. At the time, it looked like Jones’ willingness to stick with Garrett through the three consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2011-13 was going to pay dividends with a young team on the rise.
The Cowboys still have a young team, with only one position player older than 30, but they appear destined for another playoff-less season without a quick turnaround.
Would Jerry make an in-season move?
He has made one in-season coaching change since becoming the owner and general manager in 1989, elevating Garrett from offensive coordinator to take over for Wade Phillips after a 1-7 start to the 2010 season.
Garrett was viewed as a head-coach-in-waiting before Jones even hired Phillips as head coach in 2007.
Secondary coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard would be the most obvious candidate to take over if Jones made that kind of move. Richard has interviewed for head coaching vacancies in recent years while he was the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, but how would that help the offense?
How would a coaching change affect Prescott’s development?
The Cowboys entered this season hoping Prescott would play the way he did in the first 24 games of his career, when he had 39 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. In his past 13 games, he has 10 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.
The Cowboys can look to sign Prescott to a contract extension after this season, but there has been nothing through the first five games of this season to suggest they should. At present, their priorities would be signing DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones to long-term deals before Prescott.
Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan are the only voices Prescott has had in his three years. A new coach can bring fresh ideas, perhaps incorporating more creativity that has allowed young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz to excel early in their careers. Of course, that new coach might want to bring in his own quarterback, but in 2003 Jones convinced Bill Parcells to go with Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson to see what those young signal-callers could do. He could do the same with whomever he chooses as Garrett’s successor.
Is this all on the head coach?
Of course not. Contrary to popular opinion, Jones has always been heavily influenced in personnel by the coach. Always. He did not draft Randy Moss 20 years ago, in part, because then-coach Chan Gailey did not want Moss.
The perception Jones picks the players and tells the coach to make do is flawed. He will make decisions that might run counter to the coach’s wishes at times, but the majority of the organization’s decisions come from a group that includes Garrett, Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and vice president of player personnel Will McClay.
So far it looks as though the Cowboys went with a flawed approach at wide receiver and tight end in trying to replace Dez Bryant and Jason Witten by committee. Tight end Geoff Swaim has three of the Cowboys’ 10 pass plays of more than 20 yards on the season to lead the team. DeAndre Hopkins had nine catches for 151 yards for the Texans on Sunday, including the 49-yarder that set up the winning field goal. The Cowboys’ receivers combined for six catches for 80 yards.
The Cowboys tried to sign Sammy Watkins in free agency, but he opted to join the Kansas City Chiefs. Given the construction of the passing game, would Watkins have made that big of a difference?
Garrett has coached a team that will follow one of his mantras and “fight,” but the Cowboys haven’t been able to follow another of his mantras and “finish.”
Bridgewater is still just 25, and his comeback from a brutal knee injury so far this summer has been as impressive/inspiring as the two years he spent as the Minnesota Vikings‘ starting quarterback from 2014-15.
So if this turns out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, then we might never care how much the New Orleans Saints paid to get Bridgewater.
But I’ll admit, I was pretty stunned to see the Saints send a third-round draft pick to the New York Jets on Wednesday in exchange for a sixth-round pick and just a one-year rental of Bridgewater, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March.
Even if Bridgewater decides that he loves New Orleans and Sean Payton’s playbook and is willing to give the Saints a sliver of a hometown discount on his next contract, he won’t come cheap now that he has shown the NFL that he is back healthy and playing at an efficient level again.
And who knows how long Bridgewater would have to wait for an opening in New Orleans. Brees, 39, hasn’t shown any major signs of drop-off yet and just signed a two-year, $50 million deal in March.
So let’s say this is just about 2018.
I get it. Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles reminded us all last season of how vital a good backup quarterback is. And New Orleans is surrounded by Super Bowl expectations this season.
The Saints have one of the most well-rounded teams in the NFL now that they’ve rebuilt their offensive line, run game and defense. They don’t want the ship to go down if Brees goes down.
If it’s possible to label a team as going “all-in” by acquiring a backup quarterback, well that’s exactly what the Saints just did.
But they could have decided that back in March, when they could have just signed Bridgewater in free agency without spending a draft pick on him. And better yet — Bridgewater would have had a full offseason to learn and develop in the Saints’ system instead of showing up cold a week before the season opener.
Bridgewater will cost at least $5 million this year (plus up to $9 million more in “not likely to be earned” incentives tied to playing time, yards and touchdowns — which will only kick in if they really, really need him). Those numbers are certainly palatable. But it’s no small investment considering the Saints started the day with less than $8 million in salary-cap space.
This is hands-down the biggest investment the Saints have ever made in a backup quarterback in the Brees-Payton era. The only thing that comes close is drafting Garrett Grayson in the third round in 2015, which didn’t pan out. And they came very close to drafting Patrick Mahomes II with the 11th overall pick last year before landing NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore instead. (Both of those examples make the idea of a long-term Bridgewater investment all the more enticing).
The Saints tried to go cheap at backup quarterback. But clearly they didn’t like what they saw from veteran backup Tom Savage or second-year dual threat Taysom Hill this summer.
Savage, who signed for close to the veteran minimum, was decent in practices in preseason games, but not particularly special.
Hill, meanwhile, was a roller-coaster ride. He flashed some exciting dual-threat potential (leading the team in rushing in each of the three preseason games). But he also looked very green at times — especially when he threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles in the first half of New Orleans’ second preseason game.
Hill will stick on the Saints’ roster because of that intriguing potential and because he is a core special teams coverage player. But Payton’s lofty hopes for Hill when he suggested last year that Brees’ successor could be “in the building” have lost some of their luster.
So now they turn to Bridgewater. It’s possible he could be an exciting part of the Saints’ future. It’s possible he could be an overpriced insurance policy.
But one thing that’s not up for debate: He’s the most exciting thing that has happened to the Saints’ backup quarterback position in over a decade.
We assembled our NFL experts to form a five-person panel and make their preliminary selections on whether 10 debate-worthy candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame should be in or out. Majority vote ruled: If a candidate got three of five votes, he’s in. We’re featuring current and retired players, too.
Here’s our panel: ESPN NFL writers and Pro Football Hall of Fame voters Mike Sando and Jeff Legwold, NFL writers Mina Kimes and Dan Graziano, and ESPN analytics writer Brian Burke.
Here are the guidelines they followed:
They made their votes informally and unofficially. There is much to debate among the Hall’s board of selectors once players are nominated.
They voted on whether each candidate will make the Hall based on his current résumé, and they didn’t note whether a candidate will get in on the first ballot.
We didn’t put a cap on the number of “yes” votes, as these players could be in separate classes after they retire.
Got it? OK, here we go, starting with the only player who got five votes from our panel. Skip to the bottom to cast your Hall of Fame votes.
Résumé at a glance:
Signed by Bills as undrafted free agent in 2004; has played 14 seasons (Bills, Eagles)
Two first-team All-Pro appearances (2011 and 2013)
Four second-team All-Pro appearances (2007, 2008, 2010, 2014)
Nine Pro Bowls
The HOF case for Peters: Andy Reid called Peters “the best left tackle in football” after the Eagles acquired him from the Bills in 2009. Peters, who began his career as a tight end, has continued to state his case over the past nine seasons. He is freakishly athletic for his size (6-foot-4, 328 pounds) and, though hampered by injuries of late, continues to dominate opponents well into his 30s. A mentor and dedicated student of the game, Peters, who goes by the nicknames “The Bodyguard” and “The Franchise,” has earned near-universal respect in his locker room and around the NFL. “I said, you need to change [your nickname] to the GOAT,” his former teammate Vinny Curry once said. “He’s automatically first-ballot Hall of Fame. There’s no argument about that. And he’s still out here working.” — Tim McManus, Eagles reporter
The verdict: 5 votes
The only unanimous selection by our panel, Peters has been first- or second-team All-Pro six times and has made nine Pro Bowls. Offensive linemen don’t get stats, but that kind of recognition drives Hall of Fame résumés. Anyone who watched Peters play left tackle during his extensive prime saw a dominator who could wreck the man in front of him efficiently and quickly enough to allow his inner tight end to get out and block effectively at the second level. Longevity is one thing, but Peters remained an unstoppable monster well into his 30s. — Graziano
Résumé at a glance:
No. 14 overall pick by Jets in 2007; played 11 seasons (Jets, Bucs, Patriots, Chiefs)
Four first-team All-Pro appearances (2009, 2010, 2011, 2014)
Seven Pro Bowls
29 career INTs
The HOF case for Revis: What separated Revis from other highly decorated cornerbacks was his ability to shut down the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver on a weekly basis, often with no safety help over the top. He dominated at the line of scrimmage with his bump-and-run technique and keen ability to read routes. The best example of the Revis Effect came in a 2010 wild-card game against the Colts, when he held Reggie Wayne (111 catches in the regular season) to one catch for 1 yard. Peyton Manning was so afraid of Revis that he targeted Wayne only once. The knock on Revis is that he finished with only 29 interceptions, which would be the fewest among corners in the Hall of Fame, but his coverage stats jump off the page. In 791 career targets, per Pro Football Focus, he allowed only 400 receptions — a 51 percent completion rate. Revis might not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer because of questions about his longevity, but he belongs because he revolutionized the position. — Rich Cimini, Jets reporter
The verdict: 4 votes
When Revis Island finally closed for good this summer, the debate that ensued wasn’t over whether the famously well-compensated cornerback belonged in the Hall of Fame. It was over whether he was a first-ballot contender. At his peak, Revis was the best defensive back in the NFL; for several years, he ranked near the top. Revis played the game with a level of technique and intellect that enabled him to put the clamps on the league’s best wide receivers, forever defining what it means to be a shutdown corner. — Kimes
Résumé at a glance:
No. 10 overall pick by Ravens in 2003; has played 15 seasons (Ravens)
Seven Pro Bowls, one first-team All-Pro appearance (2010), one second-team All-Pro (2008)
125.5 sacks (17th all time)
2011 NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year
The HOF case for Suggs: The numbers indicate that Suggs is a Hall of Fame player. The only eligible pass-rusher in the top 16 of the NFL’s all-time sacks list to not reach the Hall is Leslie O’Neal; Suggs ranks 17th. He has been among the most disruptive defenders of his era. He is the only active player with 900 tackles, 100 sacks and 30 forced fumbles. Suggs is also ranked third in career postseason sacks, with 12.5. “I think [Suggs] is one of the greats of all time — not only for the Ravens but at his position,” said former Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas, a sure-fire Hall of Fame lineman. — Jamison Hensley, Ravens reporter
The verdict: 3 votes
Suggs has been a driving force behind an all-time great defense that drove Super Bowl success for Baltimore in the absence of a top quarterback. He has the production, longevity (213 games) and accolades to factor in this discussion. Suggs has not been just a compiler — at his best, he was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, which mitigates to some degree his low total of All-Pro selections. Suggs has not been just a pass-rusher. His 88 tackles for loss are more than that of Jason Taylor (76), Jared Allen (72.5), DeMarcus Ware (67.5), Julius Peppers (59.5), Dwight Freeney (39) and other notables. A nasty playing temperament adds to Suggs’ appeal. — Sando
Résumé at a glance:
No. 12 overall pick by Bills in 2007; has played 10 seasons (Bills, Seahawks, Raiders)
Five Pro Bowls, one first-team All Pro (2012) appearance, one second-team All-Pro (2014)
10,003 rushing yards (31st all time)
81 rushing TDs (18th all time)
Ranked in top five of total fantasy scoring for three straight seasons (2012-14)
The HOF case for Lynch: As productive as Lynch has been — he could move into the top 25 of the NFL’s all-time rushing list this season — testimonials might be as important as the statistics to Beast Mode’s case for the Hall of Fame. Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee might as well have been speaking for the majority of NFL defenders when he said of Lynch in an interview with the team’s website last year: “He’s maybe the hardest guy I’ve ever tried to tackle. Not only his strength, his speed, his elusiveness, but just how he brings it throughout an entire game. He never stops.” That rugged rushing style made Lynch the identity of the Seahawks’ offense during the most successful stretch in team history, which included the franchise’s only Super Bowl title and another conference championship. If a player’s impact on the game as a whole is any sort of HOF credential, then voters should consider how many times they’ve heard a young running back identify Lynch as the player after whom they model their game. — Brady Henderson, Seahawks reporter
The verdict: 3 votes
Lynch’s total rushing yards make him a marginal case for a modern Hall of Fame running back, but a season or two more will put him in the neighborhood of enshrined runners such as Thurman Thomas, Marcus Allen and Marshall Faulk. As the heart of a Seattle offense that depended on his bruising style to complement a dominant defense, he won one Super Bowl and reached another. He might be most famous for a play on which his number wasn’t called; if only the Seahawks had handed him the ball instead of throwing on the goal line, he might have two rings. Lynch’s unforgettable style and signature Beast Mode run in a January 2011 playoff game seal the deal. — Burke
Résumé at a glance:
No. 4 overall pick by Giants in 2004 (traded to Chargers); has played 14 seasons (Chargers)
Seven Pro Bowls, 2013 NFL Comeback Player of the Year
342 passing TDs (sixth all time)
50,348 passing yards (ninth all time)
48,633 yards of total offense (ninth all time)
94.8 passer rating (eighth all time)
The HOF case for Rivers: Durability and production are two things that stand out when evaluating Rivers as a candidate. Rivers, 36, has not missed a start since he took over as the starter in 2006 — a string of 201 consecutive starts, including playoffs, which makes him the NFL active leader. Rivers famously played with a torn ACL in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots in the 2007 playoffs. Rivers has shown no signs of slowing down, either. Aside from the highlights listed in the résumé above, he ranks seventh in NFL history with 4,171 completions and 10th in completion percentage (64.2 percent). Rivers is 106-86 (.552) as a starter, and he has led the Chargers to four AFC West titles and taken the team to the playoffs five times. — Eric D. Williams, Chargers reporter
The verdict: 3 votes
We lean toward “yes” because Rivers was great for an extended period. That is where these discussions begin. How many times was the player among the very best at his position? Rivers is one of six players in NFL history with at least four seasons of triple-digit passer ratings on 400-plus attempts. Drew Brees (seven), Tom Brady (six), Peyton Manning (six), Aaron Rodgers (six), Steve Young (four) and Rivers (four) comprise that list. Unlike Eli Manning, who chose which team he would play for, Rivers joined a Chargers organization that was so dysfunctional that it fired coach Marty Schottenheimer following a 14-2 season. Additional postseason success would put Rivers over the top. — Sando
Résumé at a glance:
No. 65 overall pick by 49ers in 2005; has played 13 seasons (49ers and Colts; Dolphins in 2018)
Five Pro Bowls, one second-team All-Pro appearance (2006)
14,026 rushing yards (fifth all time)
3,226 rushing attempts (fifth all time)
3,669 offensive touches (sixth all time)
The HOF case for Gore: All you have to do is look at the top 10 of the NFL’s all-time rushing list to see that Gore is on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Every retired player in the top 10 has made it. Gore is 76 yards shy of passing Curtis Martin for fourth on the list. He should be a Hall of Famer simply based on his putting up 961 and 967 rushing yards behind a bad offensive line in two of his three seasons with the Colts. — Mike Wells, Colts reporter
The verdict: 3 votes
At a time when teams are relying more and more on young running backs, the 35-year-old Gore stands alone. His longevity is key to his Hall of Fame case. He rushed for at least 1,000 yards in nine of his 13 seasons, and he will likely end his career as the league’s fourth-leading rusher. Gore’s detractors will point out that he was never regarded as the best back in the league, but he has been consistently good, averaging 4.35 yards per attempt despite his rushing volume. — Kimes
Résumé at a glance:
Signed by Patriots as undrafted free agent in 1996; has played 22 seasons (Patriots, Colts)
Three Pro Bowls, three first-team All-Pro appearances (2002, 2004, 2014)
2,487 points scored and 559 field goals (both second all time)
337 career games (fifth all time), 30 career playoff games (second all time)
The HOF case for Vinatieri: This should be an easy call. Vinatieri, 45, will likely retire as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, as he enters this season just 58 points shy of passing Morten Andersen (2,544). Vinatieri has scored at least 93 points in 21 of his 22 NFL seasons. His résumé also includes four Super Bowl rings and 26 game-winning field goals, including two in Super Bowls. — Mike Wells, Colts reporter
The verdict: 3 votes
We’ll remember those two Super Bowl-winning kicks, but Vinatieri has kicked for four title teams. He was the kicker on the All-Decade team for the 2000s. When it’s all said and done, ending up as the leading scorer in NFL history means something. You can stick around into your late 40s and take a run at that, but Vinatieri’s performance in the biggest of spots for some of the very best teams stamps him as much more than a compiler. It makes him a good bet to become the fifth kicker inducted into the Hall of Fame. — Graziano
Résumé at a glance:
No. 1 overall pick by Chargers in 2004 (traded to Giants); has played 14 seasons (Giants)
Four Pro Bowls, two-time Super Bowl MVP (2007 and 2011)
339 passing TDs (eighth all time)
51,682 passing yards (sixth all time)
49,754 yards of total offense (seventh all time)
Started 210 consecutive games from 2004 to ’17
The HOF case for Manning: The list of players who have won multiple Super Bowl MVPs is exclusive. It’s Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and … Eli Manning. Talk about elite company. This is what makes Manning’s career special. His playoff performances are legendary in those two playoff runs, when he threw 15 touchdown passes and two interceptions. He took down the Packers (once with Brett Favre, once with Aaron Rodgers) and the big, bad Patriots with Brady and Bill Belichick twice. Also, Manning will finish his career in the top 10 of pretty much every major statistical category as he enters his 15th season as the Giants’ starter. There have been ups and downs throughout his career, especially early and in the regular season, but Manning’s overall résumé is impressive, especially in the postseason. — Jordan Raanan, Giants reporter
The verdict: 2 votes
The HOF debate for Eli will be fiery, but Manning’s four Pro Bowl appearances will pale in comparison to his peers, and his career interceptions (228) will weigh heavily in the discussion as well. It’s also important to note that he and Roethlisberger, who was also drafted in 2004 and has two Super Bowl titles, will likely be considered at roughly the same time, so that will potentially split some votes among the Hall’s board of selectors. Ultimately, the voters will be asked if Manning was one of the best quarterbacks in an era of Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Rivers and Roethlisberger. He could find himself the Jim Plunkett of his time, with two Super Bowl rings, a pretty good argument and no gold jacket. — Legwold
Résumé at a glance:
Signed by Steelers as undrafted free agent in 2002; played 15 seasons (Steelers, Bengals, Patriots)
Two first-team All-Pro appearances (2008 and 2010), two second-team All-Pros (2007 and 2009)
Five Pro Bowls
2008 NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year
84.5 sacks (52nd all time)
The HOF case for Harrison: Harrison has more sacks in a Steelers jersey than any other player to don the black and gold, many of whom already own a Canton bust. He has many qualities typically found on a HOF résumé. He has a signature Super Bowl moment: the 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII. His game aged well, as Harrison set trends for late-30s conditioning and weightlifting. Harrison is beloved by Steelers fans and is one of the NFL’s best success stories for undrafted players. — Jeremy Fowler, Steelers reporter
The verdict: 2 votes
Harrison’s résumé might add up to the proverbial “Hall of Really Good” status, as one of those productive, successful players with long careers who don’t get the call for Canton. His sack total puts him well down the list; there are 14 retired players with at least 100 sacks who have not been enshrined and 10 more retired players with at least 90 sacks who have not been enshrined (a few aren’t eligible just yet). While sacks certainly aren’t everything, they have proven to be a powerful statistic when it comes to the Hall’s board of selectors. Harrison had a high peak — 36.5 sacks from 2008 to ’10 — but he reached double-digit sacks in only those three seasons, and he didn’t have a 50-tackle season from 2010-17. — Legwold
Résumé at a glance:
No. 1 overall pick by Bengals in 2003; played 15 seasons (Bengals, Raiders, Cardinals)
Three Pro Bowls, one second-team All-Pro appearance (2015)
46,247 passing yards (12th all time)
294 passing TDs (12th all time)
87.9 passer rating (19th all time)
The HOF case for Palmer: No ring? No problem. Palmer put up Hall of Fame-worthy numbers throughout his career. Everywhere you look to describe Palmer’s career — except for Super Bowls — his case for a gold jacket strengthens. He ranks 12th in yards and touchdowns thrown — two of the most illustrious lists in league history. All those ranked ahead of him either are in the Hall of Fame or are likely to end up in Canton. Palmer threw the second-most touchdowns by a quarterback to never start in a Super Bowl, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He’s also one of four quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 100 touchdown passes for two different teams. The other three were Kurt Warner, Fran Tarkenton and Peyton Manning — two Hall of Famers and a surefire inductee. — Josh Weinfuss, Cardinals reporter
The verdict: 0 votes
Unfortunately for Palmer, he played in a golden age of NFL quarterbacks. His career overlapped with at least six other Hall of Fame passers — two already in and four waiting or still playing. He was an efficient and effective passer, but this isn’t the Hall of Efficiency. Palmer’s teams had just four winning seasons in that span, and he played in only four playoff games, notching one win and one torn ACL. It’s regrettable to say for such a reliable player, but this was an easy vote for our committee. — Burke
Where did our panel get it wrong? Cast your votes
Tell us whom you’d vote into the Pro Football Hall of Fame below:
Evaluating veteran NFL quarterbacks is challenging enough. The rookies belong in another category altogether.
With my 2018 QB Tiers survey set to publish Tuesday, we kick off the week by sizing up the five first-round quarterbacks teams drafted three months ago. None of these quarterbacks is currently scheduled to start Week 1, but history says that will likely change. At least one rookie quarterback has started a regular-season opener in each of the past 10 seasons.
Here we handicap the five rookies — Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson — by their chances for starting in 2018. We sprinkle in comments from coaches and evaluators regarding these quarterbacks’ initial readiness and prospects for ascending to the upper tiers.
Note: Quarterbacks are ordered by most likely to start right away. Tier 1-2 prospects notes their chances of ascending into the top two of five tiers used to evaluate starting QBs in the annual QB Tierssurvey.
Path to lineup: Easy. The Bills paid a heavy premium to move up to draft Allen seventh overall. They shipped out proven veteran Tyrod Taylor, replacing him with AJ McCarron, whose modest salary is in line with what Mike Glennon and Matt Schaub are getting. That is a low bar for Allen to clear.
Readiness: “He’s the most talented, but among the top guys, he is also the furthest away as far as throwing on time with anticipation, the little things a quarterback does,” a personnel director said.
Chances of being Tier 1-2: “I think there is a decent chance he becomes that because he is tough, so big and physical, he is smart enough and he has the want-to,” an offensive coach said. “He is just not accurate yet.”
Path to lineup: Potentially easy. Patrick Peterson‘s glowing remarks about Rosen mirror what coaches around the league have been picking up through back channels. The rookie has impressed everyone in Arizona with his smarts and passing ability. Throw in Sam Bradford‘s injury history and there’s a great chance Rosen will see the field quickly, either by winning the job or through an injury to Bradford. However, if Bradford plays well and stays healthy — he started 15 games for Minnesota in 2016 — he could start most or all of the season.
Readiness: “Rosen is the most ready to play,” an offensive coach said. “They would feel fine about playing him early because he can handle it.”
Chances of being Tier 1-2: “Everybody recognizes the talent, but he was not the top guy in the draft because of the personality,” a former head coach said. “It’s easy to have an opinion based on what you saw on college tape. The mental makeup and personality are the interesting variables because you are going to be paying him $130 million a few years from now. How does he react to that?”
Path to lineup: Potentially easy. Josh McCown has never started 16 games in a season, while the other veteran on the roster — Teddy Bridgewater — is coming off a catastrophic knee injury. It’s plausible to think that the Jets’ leadership will want to see Darnold at some point this season, which is the fourth year for coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan.
Readiness: “He has great anticipation, but it’s going to take a while for his football IQ to catch up. He doesn’t process well enough yet,” an offensive assistant said. “He was able to power through it at USC simply because he’s talented, but when things get complicated, the processing slows down.”
Chances of being Tier 1-2: “The path to the top tiers is the same for Darnold as it is for these other guys. On top of that, he had a propensity to turn the ball over in college, at least relative to these other quarterbacks,” a defensive coach said. “That must be corrected because turning the ball over has the highest correlation to losing the game.”
Path to lineup: Obstructed. Tyrod Taylor has 51 touchdown passes with just 16 interceptions while ranking 13th in Total QBR over the past three seasons. He also has a winning record as a starter over that span. In other words, there’s a relatively strong chance Taylor will start most or all of the season. However, he has not yet started all 16 games in a season.
Readiness: “His specific challenge in the short term is very interesting,” an evaluator said. “They have a playoff quarterback on their roster, so how much work does Mayfield get with the No. 1 offense in preseason? Quality reps against a live defense are so scarce. If Mayfield doesn’t get enough of them, his initial readiness could suffer.”
Chances of being Tier 1-2: “Mayfield did a good job with his accuracy and was a productive player leading his team to victories — comeback wins, shootouts, you name it. He has a bunch of these boxes checked,” an evaluator said. “He has to learn to throw through windows with his height, and he must learn that every solution can’t be to win with his feet. It has to be learning reads and the timing of the pro passing game.”
Path to lineup: Obstructed for now. Starter Joe Flacco has a $12 million salary and $24.8 million cap number on a deal that doesn’t give Baltimore an easy out until next year. The Ravens probably aren’t interested in making a switch right away.
Readiness: “He can play right now in a certain style of offense, but that style of offense is completely different from the Joe Flacco style of offense, so there would be some challenges in the short term,” a personnel director said.
Chances of being Tier 1-2: “If he is used right, there is a path for him to get to Tier 2,” a personnel director said. “How long he sustains it, I cannot tell you, because the runners take a beating. As athletic as he is, it’s not like he is Michael Vick with that cannon.”
Our panel of ESPN NFL Insiders is looking ahead this week, identifying teams and players poised to dominate over the next few years. They’ll answer a question every day.
Monday’s question: Thirteen quarterbacks were drafted this year, including five in the opening round. Which one is in the best spot?
Which rookie QB is best positioned for long-term success?
Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns. The No. 1 overall pick most likely will sit at the start of the 2018 season, but this is about long-term success. That’s why I’m looking at how Mayfield’s game meshes with today’s progressive NFL offenses. He’s an accurate thrower with a quick release and the intangibles needed to lead a pro team.
KC Joyner, NFL writer:Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers. Unlike every other team that has one of the star rookie quarterbacks, the Steelers don’t ask their field general to be a savior. They know how to surround their passer with top-flight skill position talent and know how to build strong offensive blocking walls. Rudolph also should have the luxury of time before he ends up taking over for Ben Roethlisberger.
Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders:Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens. I trust Baltimore’s coaching staff more than I trust the other coaching staffs that were handed first-round quarterbacks this season. I also trust the Ravens to put a defense on the field that will keep Jackson from having to carry the team early in his career, and special teams that will constantly give him advantageous field position.
Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer:Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals. Coaching and roster talent are critical factors in long-term success, but nothing is more important than individual skill. Based on scouts’ assessments, Rosen is the best decision-maker and the most accurate passer in this year’s draft class. The Cardinals’ roster looks bare at the moment, but offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has a history of making the most of the talent available.
Field Yates, NFL Insider:Sam Darnold, New York Jets. There are so many factors that play into a young quarterback’s development and eventual success, many of which are unpredictable at this juncture. So let’s go with the player who — entering the draft — I felt was most capable long term. Darnold could provide the stability Jets fans have long coveted at quarterback.
As part of their contingency plan, the Bucs re-signed backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal in the offseason. Beyond that, there are major question marks surrounding Winston, who was drafted first overall in 2015, despite unwavering support from the organization.
“All members of our organization are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the Personal Conduct Policy of the NFL,” the Bucs said in a statement released Thursday. “We are disappointed that Jameis put himself in a position that has been found to violate the policy and accept today’s decision by the Commissioner.”
Three seasons into his career, Winston’s work on the field, not the issues off it, should be doing the talking.
And his work on the field has been average at best.
In his first three seasons, Winston has started 45 games with an 18-27 record, and the Bucs have yet to make the playoffs. If Winston can control his turnovers (44 interceptions and 15 fumbles lost in three seasons) and become more consistent as a pocket passer, there is every possibility he could become a top-10 quarterback.
And finding a franchise quarterback in this league is not easy. The Bucs, who started 10 different quarterbacks in the decade leading up to drafting Winston, are well aware.
Despite his shortcomings, Winston likely will remain a member of the Buccaneers through at least the end of the 2018 season. The team already owes him $3.89 million. The only way that might change is if they found a willing trade partner between now and the fifth day of training camp.
That’s not to say general manager Jason Licht wouldn’t cut a player owed money. The Bucs ate $7 million in dead money to cut underperforming Michael Johnson after one year in 2015. They also paid Dashon Goldson $4 million and Anthony Collins $3 million to go away.
But as first-overall draft pick and face of a franchise, Winston is different.
If they decide to re-sign him to a long-term deal now, they might be able to lower their cap charge in 2019. That would assist them in retaining other top players like linebacker Kwon Alexander and offensive linemen Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith. Instead, the organization has had to halt that process to await the league’s findings.
If the Bucs decide they have grown tired of Winston, they could cut him before 2019. The team exercised his fifth-year option in May, meaning it would pay him $20.9 million in salary if he’s still on the team in 2019. But they could still part ways with zero financial penalties if they cut him before March 13, 2019, when the new league year begins. That is, as long as he doesn’t get hurt in the games he’ll play in 2018, since that money is guaranteed for injury only.
But it’s Winston’s off-field behavior that likely will determine his future.
In a statement released Thursday, Winston apologized to the Uber driver, organization, teammates and fans, adding: “In the past 2 1/2 years, my life has been filled with experiences, opportunities and events that have helped me grow, mature and learn, including the fact that I have eliminated alcohol from my life.”
In 2012 at Florida State, Winston was investigated for sexually assaulting a female student. He was not charged with a crime, which was enough for some to grant him a clean slate. Nevertheless, the Tallahassee Police Department was criticized for its handling of the investigation. FSU agreed to pay $950,000 to Winston’s accuser and make a five-year commitment to awareness, prevention and training programs concerning sexual assault on campus. Winston also settled a civil suit with his accuser in 2016.
The Bucs’ front office has demonstrated a willingness to give second chances but draws the line when there is a pattern of poor behavior, even if that pattern goes back to college. It happened with former Bucs tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a second-round pick by Licht in 2014. Sefarian-Jenkins, who served a day in jail after pleading guilty to DUI in college, was released by the Bucs after a DUI arrest in September 2016. He has since come out publicly and admitted to a problem with alcohol.
Right after he was drafted, Winston was asked what he’d say to those who had doubts about him and his character. He looked reporters in the eye and responded: “I look forward to earning their trust.”
Now the Bucs must decide if he has lived up to that pledge. If they plan to re-sign Winston beyond the 2019 season, the deal could be in excess of $100 million, the going rate for top quarterbacks in today’s league.
Given his suspension, the question the Buccaneers will have to answer is whether the risk is worth the reward if they sign Winston to a long-term deal.
Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor, speaking publicly for the first time since he suffered a career-threatening neck injury last season, said he wants to continue playing if his health permits.
“If my body says I can play, I’m playing,” he told 13News Now in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia, before repeating that line. “If my body says don’t play, I’m not playing. I’ll listen. I’m a very good listener.”
The 30-year-old Chancellor added: “I don’t see myself as old. I feel like I’m still in my prime, so it’s not an age thing at all. It’s just a matter of structural issues in the neck and if they change or not.”
Chancellor, a four-time Pro Bowler, missed the final seven games of last season after he was injured while making a tackle late in a November win over the Arizona Cardinals. He has yet to be cleared to resume playing football, and coach Pete Carroll had an ominous comment about Chancellor’s football future when he said at season’s end that Chancellor as well as defensive end Cliff Avril would “have a hard time playing football again.”
Avril, who also suffered a serious neck injury last season, was released by the Seahawks earlier this month with a failed-physical designation.
While updates from the team on Chancellor’s status have been infrequent, general manager John Schneider said before the draft that he was scheduled to have a scan in late June or early July that would provide some clarity to his future. In an apparent reference to that scheduled scan, Chancellor later wrote on Instagram, “After this exam, God will direct me on which way to go. He always has, always will. I listen, and I follow.”
With Chancellor’s future up in the air, Bradley McDougald is projected to start at safety for Seattle alongside Earl Thomas. Seattle signed McDougald to a three-year deal in March after he made seven starts for the team in 2017, including the final seven for Chancellor at strong safety.
Chancellor’s comments came during his annual event in Norfolk, Bam Bam’s Spring Jam. According to the station, this year’s event raised $10,000 in scholarship money for his alma mater, Maury High School.
The search for a franchise quarterback can be grueling. Ask the Cleveland Browns. They have been stuck in a franchise quarterback-less vortex for 25 years, and they are hardly alone in their search to find the one.
Finding that quarterback can be a thankless journey seemingly without end. It can take years, decades even, if teams pick the wrong players or make flawed decisions.
But creating a succession plan to replace a franchise quarterback can be just as hard. With a franchise quarterback in place, a team has a limited window in which to capitalize on its financial and draft resources. It also could have a quarterback with an ego, who might not appreciate the task of grooming his successor.
Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf was known to draft a quarterback almost every year, even with Brett Favre on his roster. He selected seven quarterbacks in the 10 drafts after trading for Favre.
“I had determined that the one position that determined your welfare in the game was the quarterback position. And you better protect yourself as best you can at that position,” Wolf told ESPN in a recent telephone interview. “You want to keep adding to it. Always want to get better at that position. I didn’t think two was enough. I thought you needed three.”
But like most good things, there will be an expiration date. Quarterbacks can’t last forever. And recent history shows most teams don’t properly prepare for the end.
The Miami Dolphins signed the undrafted Jay Fiedler to replace Dan Marino in 2000. They’re still looking for their first Pro Bowl season at the position since Marino.
The Buffalo Bills had Todd Collins and Alex Van Pelt ready to step in when Jim Kelly retired in 1997. They signed Doug Flutie from the CFL in desperation the following year, and are hoping this year’s first-round pick, Josh Allen, develops into the franchise quarterback they have been looking for ever since Kelly retired.
The Denver Broncos‘ answer for John Elway was third-round pick Brian Griese. That didn’t work out long term. It took until Elway signed Peyton Manning as a free agent 13 years later for the Broncos to solidify the position.
The Seattle Seahawks had Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst set to replace Matt Hasselbeck, who played in three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl in 10 years in Seattle. Fortunately for the Seahawks, they hit the jackpot with Russell Wilson in the third round in 2012.
Only the Packers, with Aaron Rodgers replacing Favre, and the Indianapolis Colts, with Andrew Luck taking over for Peyton Manning, have seamlessly transitioned in the past 24 years from legend to Super Bowl-caliber franchise quarterback. And even the Colts have hit a roadblock in recent years with Luck’s shoulder injury.
Making the transition from one quarterback era to the next has proved difficult, and in many cases frustrating, no matter the approach. The Tennessee Titans drafted Vince Young third overall to replace Steve McNair and that didn’t work out. The Patriots had second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo waiting in the wings to replace Brady before finances forced him to be traded.
This is what the Giants, Steelers, Patriots, Chargers, Saints and Packers have to look forward to. They are trying to win now while simultaneously positioning themselves for the future. They are walking a delicate line, and it’s likely to be an even bigger challenge when the time comes to replace their franchise quarterbacks.
“I listened to one big press conference from [Gettleman] talk about Eli and I said to myself immediately there is no way this guy is drafting a quarterback in the first round. No way. No chance because that is his guy.”
The Giants’ approach
With the No. 2 overall pick, this year appeared to be a golden opportunity for the Giants to solidify their future at quarterback. They have a new coach and general manager and are installing new offensive and defensive schemes coming off a 3-13 season with a 37-year-old quarterback. Eventual top-10 picks Sam Darnold, Allen and Josh Rosen were all there for the taking.
General manager Dave Gettleman passed on the game’s most important position (at least for a few rounds) to select the top player on his board: Saquon Barkley. The Penn State running back was the only player since Peyton Manning in 1998 to receive a perfect grade from Gettleman.
Gettleman’s view: If you have to sell yourself on a player at No. 2, he probably isn’t the right move. That’s how he felt about the draft’s top quarterbacks.
The Giants put their quarterback succession plan on the back burner. They took Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta in the fourth round and now have Eli Manning backed up by last year’s third-round pick Davis Webb and Lauletta. It’s a similar approach to the Steelers, who have two midround picks — Josh Dobbs from the fourth round last year and Mason Rudolph from the third this year — behind Roethlisberger. The difference is the Steelers also have veteran backup Landry Jones.
“Kill a mosquito with a sledgehammer” is how Hasselbeck, currently an ESPN analyst, explained the approach. It is similar to how Wolf, who drafted Hasselbeck with the Packers in 1998, went about addressing the quarterback position.
Gettleman doesn’t appear concerned with gambling the long-term future on two midround picks with Eli Manning still on the roster.
“What’s the long-term plan with the quarterback?” he said after passing on a signal-caller in the first round. “[Manning’s] going to play. What do you want me to tell you? He’s our quarterback. We believe in him. He threw the hell out of the ball for three days [at minicamp]. He has not lost one bit of arm strength and I’m coming back five years later, watching a quarterback in his prime, and now he’s 37. You have to stop worrying about age.
“Oh, by the way, Julius Peppers played last year at 38. … There are some guys that are just freaks. [Tom] Brady is 41. I mean c’mon. [Manning] is our quarterback.”
It will take only a few years to determine whether Gettleman was right to be bullish in his approach. Eli Manning will be 38 before the end of this season. Only three quarterbacks (Brady, Elway and Peyton Manning) have started a Super Bowl at 38 or older.
The Giants will get another year or two (maybe three) out of Manning before Gettleman’s succession plan will be put to the test. Webb or Lauletta might bail him out, but recent history shows that third- and fourth-round picks probably aren’t the best option to replace a franchise QB. Seattle’s Wilson and Dallas’ Dak Prescott are outliers.
The other approaches
The Giants and Steelers at least have some possibilities in place for their aging quarterbacks. The Saints and Patriots do not at this point. New Orleans contemplated it last year but couldn’t land Patrick Mahomes in the first round. The Patriots had their succession plan in place with Garoppolo, except Brady outlasted the plan and his successor.
Brady, 40, is a freak. He is the rare ageless wonder who won the MVP award and reached the Super Bowl last season. With no end in sight for Brady, Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers.
It’s back to the drawing board for coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots. They will likely unveil their new succession plan next year.
The Chargers have some kind of contingency in place, more in line with the Giants and Steelers. They have 2016 fourth-round pick Cardale Jones and Geno Smith on a one-year deal behind Rivers.
“Teams today are not investing,” Hasselbeck said. “They don’t have their succession plan on the roster. They’re basically like, ‘You know what, that is somebody else’s problem. We don’t have NFL Europe, we’re not developing a third quarterback.’
“So I just think teams are like, ‘Somebody else needs to develop a quarterback for us and we’ll trade for him, overpay for him or just draft a new one.’ Very few people are developing a stable of young quarterbacks.”
The salary cap, lack of practice time and cost of a quarterback are some of the reasons. Both Wolf and Hasselbeck feel it’s a cop-out. Teams need to find ways to make it work given the importance of the position to the overall health of the franchise.
The Ravens were the only team to start their process with a first-round pick this year. General manager Ozzie Newsome’s final draft included trading up to select Lamar Jackson with the final pick of the first round. Jackson is now Baltimore’s future after Joe Flacco.
“Lamar is going to have a great chance to develop,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I think you get to this stage in a quarterback’s career — you’ve seen it done in New England, we’ve seen it done in a lot of places — it’s time to start thinking about drafting a quarterback. When the opportunity came to get a really good one, I think you have to jump on it and take it.”
The past 24 years do show that using a first-round pick to supplant the franchise QB is the best path to travel, even if it’s not foolproof.
Not so easy to replace a franchise QB
It’s rare that a team with a franchise quarterback, like the Giants, gets to pick second in the draft. It takes a perfect storm of events (injuries, poor play, internal strife) for it to happen. Not everyone is as fortunate as the Colts, who stunk just enough in the right season to land Luck, in a year Peyton Manning sat out because of a neck injury.
Most teams with proven quarterbacks don’t get picks that high in the draft to stabilize their succession plans. Even when they do, they’re faced with several factors that could steer them in another direction.
Gettleman and the Giants wanted to surround their quarterback with the best possible talent. It’s a win-now rather than big-picture philosophy that puts the long-term health of the franchise on the backburner.
Applying draft and financial resources with a quarterback isn’t ideal for the short term when there is a quarterback already on the roster. And then teams have to worry about the dynamic that drafting a quarterback would create. The Steelers are already getting a taste after selecting Rudolph in the third round, at No. 76 overall.
“I was surprised when they took a quarterback because I thought that maybe in the third round, you know you can get some really good football players that can help this team now,” Roethlisberger said in a post-draft radio interview. “Nothing against Mason; I think he’s a great football player. I don’t know him personally, but I’m sure he’s a great kid. I just don’t know how backing up or being a third [string] — well, who knows where he’s going to fall on the depth chart — helps us win now.
“But, you know, that’s not my decision to make. That’s on the coaches and the GM and the owner and those kind of things. If they think he can help our team, so be it, but I was a little surprised.”
Roethlisberger later extended an olive branch by texting Rudolph and wishing him luck before rookie minicamp.
But drafting a quarterback is a tricky situation that forces teams to tread carefully. The frosty relationship between Favre and Rodgers has been well-documented. Favre wasn’t exactly welcoming to a player who was inevitably coming for his job.
Sentimentality is also a factor. It’s difficult to sever ties with a player who has meant so much to a franchise. The Giants saw firsthand the backlash an organization can face. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning was benched late last season but reinstated as the starter immediately after the coach and general manager were fired.
“I listened to one big press conference from [Gettleman] talk about Eli and I said to myself immediately there is no way this guy is drafting a quarterback in the first round. No way. No chance because that is his guy,” Hasselbeck said. “If someone else had gotten the job … you might be talking about a whole other situation.”
The best successions
The San Francisco 49ers had Steve Young on their bench behind Joe Montana for five seasons. Those days are gone. The salary cap won’t allow it to happen.
This leaves only the bold, brave and lucky capable of making the successful transition from franchise QB to successor. The only two cases that have worked for more than a few years are the Packers and Colts, with Rodgers and Luck, respectively. Both were first-round picks. The jury is still out on Prescott (fourth-round pick).
The Giants are among the teams that will be positioning themselves in the coming years to be added to that list. They can’t afford to get it semi-right or wrong.
“You’re not going to go anywhere in this game unless you have a quarterback,” Wolf said. “And you better have more than a quarterback. You better have a championship-caliber quarterback.”
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger saves some of his most explosive quotes for his in-season weekly radio show. When he joined 93.7 the Fan for an impromptu session just six days after the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a quarterback who might one day replace him, he came out firing like a deep out to Antonio Brown.
Just about everyone got mic-checked:
The Steelers, who surprised Roethlisberger by taking a quarterback instead of someone who can “help this team now.”
Third-round draft pick Mason Rudolph, whose remark after the draft that it’s not Roethlisberger’s job to teach him prompted the veteran QB to pull away, saying with a laugh: “…he said he doesn’t need me. If he asks me a question, I might just have to point to the playbook.” Roethlisberger eventually said he’d answer the rookie.
Even opposing quarterbacks weren’t safe, with Roethlisberger noting the massive money given to signal-callers around the league “whether they’ve proven it or not.”
The session left much to unpack about a star player’s relationship with a storied franchise, football immortality at the game’s most important position and how quarterback transitions aren’t always smooth.
While some fans might see the comments as cold, a former teammate sees something heavier at play with a 36-year-old.
“He’s still in his prime, he knows the clock is ticking and he wants to win a third Super Bowl,” said Trai Essex, part of two Super Bowls as a Steelers offensive lineman from 2005 to 2011. “He’s not going to beat around the bush. He’ll tell you how he feels. Why does he need to toe the company line? When I was there, he was nothing but the epitome of a great teammate. He puts everything on the line every week, so you go to battle with that guy.”
Technically, the Rudolph pick is the Steelers’ chance to examine a potential down-the-road starter as insurance in case Roethlisberger retires, gets injured or experiences an unforeseen decline in play.
Subtly, it wasn’t lost on the franchise that the Rudolph selection might fire up Roethlisberger, who already enters a de facto contract year.
For as well as Roethlisberger played at the end of the 2017 season — averaging almost 350 passing yards and three touchdowns per game over the final seven outings — the Steelers know players are at their best when pushed, even if Rudolph won’t actually push him for playing time any time soon.
The franchise drafting quarterbacks in consecutive years has the attention of Roethlisberger, who publicly flirted with retirement last offseason.
Josh Dobbs, a fourth-round pick in 2017, sees the Rudolph acquisition as “another opportunity to have competition.”
As if chasing the franchise’s seventh Super Bowl and a new deal in his late 30s wasn’t motivation enough, Roethlisberger can manufacture more of it if he chooses to feel overlooked or slighted by the Rudolph pick. That’s a well-worn formula for many great athletes, and one Roethlisberger utilized early in his career after getting drafted behind Eli Manning and Philip Rivers in 2004.
Drafting a quarterback won’t change the Steelers’ plans to build around him, general manager Kevin Colbert said.
“We’re never going to lose sight of making sure we can compete each and every year,” he said.
Always know where he stands
The Steelers aren’t about to respond to Roethlisberger’s words publicly. That’s not their style, plus they are used to his pointed comments. For example, he was critical of Brown for last year’s Gatorade cooler flare-up and has subtly criticized coaching in the past.
Essex believes the Steelers organization is successful in part because of the way it handles different personalities, and even if players have mixed emotions about Roethlisberger’s comments, they always know where he stands.
“This isn’t their first rodeo dealing with Ben. He knows what to expect from the Steelers,” Essex said. “They take care of him. They talk to him. They wouldn’t shy away from approaching him if they need to. It’s been a great relationship for these 15-odd years. (Roethlisberger) talks. He’s candid. It’s no secret to (Mike) Tomlin, who coaches the same way. You always know where he stands as a player.”
The criticisms will pass as long as Roethlisberger keeps playing well and the Steelers’ offense keeps churning.
The Steelers are counting on that, with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner publicly hoping for four to six more years from Big Ben and Colbert diffusing any attention with post-draft praise of his veteran quarterback.
“If (drafting Roethlisberger in 2004) wasn’t the case, who knows what would have happened because, obviously, without Ben, we’re probably not winning as many Super Bowls as we’ve been able to,” Colbert said.
Look to Brees for contract clues
A new contract would turn Roethlisberger’s current $20-million-per-year clip into a steep discount. The quarterback market has ballooned almost 50 percent since Roethlisberger signed his five-year, $99 million contract in 2015.
Roethlisberger said on the radio that “Aaron Rodgers is probably licking his lips right now” after the Atlanta Falcons finalized Matt Ryan‘s $150 million contract last week. Rodgers and the Packers are negotiating this offseason, setting the table nicely for Roethlisberger the following year.
“To me, there are more important pieces that need to be taken care of beside myself,” said Roethlisberger, who is a free agent in 2020, during his show. “I’ve got two years left, this one and one more. I want to go out and do the best I can. To me, it’s about addressing it next year. But if they want to talk and address something this year, we will obviously talk and listen.”
Roethlisberger’s financial outlook could look similar to Drew Brees‘ in recent years.
In his late 30s, Brees has signed a pair of two-year deals that pay out roughly $25 million per year, with the 39-year-old admitting in March that he could have held out for more.
QB inflation would push Roethlisberger into a higher bracket than that. Roethlisberger wanting to finish his career in Pittsburgh will most likely be a factor in negotiations.
Working a new deal seems a formality at this point, but the Steelers must secure their franchise QB while eventually planning for a future without him.
Based on the last week, that might not be easy.
ESPN’s Jeff Darlington notes that Ben Roethlisberger has benefited from Pittsburgh drafting for value, which also resulted in the pick of Mason Rudolph.
Maximizing his final seasons
From a roster perspective, there’s a case that Roethlisberger has a legitimate beef with the team trading away one of his best playmakers (Martavis Bryant) for a third-round pick that won’t play quarterback for a while.
To be sure, the Steelers took receiver James Washington in the second round to help offset the loss of Bryant, who kept safeties honest for Brown and others. And Roethlisberger has been around for more than a dozen trust-the-board Steelers drafts, which works out well most years.
Perhaps the Steelers could have gotten more help for the defensive front seven. But what’s clear is the Steelers need to maximize Roethlisberger’s last years.
Steeler great Joe Greene saw that coming back in December when ESPN asked him about keeping up with the New England Patriots. These comments are pertinent five months later.
“We got a fantastic quarterback that in my view can do things that nobody else in the league can do,” Greene said. “You name them, he can make the passes just like anybody else, better. But none of them can stand in the pocket and take the heat that he takes and make the plays.
“And he has the heart to play, but he has to believe in his team, that they feel the way he feels. Football is a hard game, very tough, and you got to love it. And if you don’t, you can’t give your very best and you can’t play. You got to love it.”