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Why this is Drew Brees’ best shot to win another Super Bowl – New Orleans Saints Blog


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.

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.

Here are the three biggest reasons why:

He’s surrounded by cheap talent

The way the Saints (4-1) are built right now is kind of the opposite of how the Philadelphia Eagles were built with quarterback Carson Wentz on his rookie contract last year, or how the Seattle Seahawks were built when they had Russell Wilson on the cheap.

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.

Running back Mark Ingram becomes a free agent after this season. A year later, receiver Michael Thomas and offensive linemen Max Unger and Andrus Peat are all scheduled to hit the open market (as will Brees).

In 2021, running back Alvin Kamara, DE Cameron Jordan, safety Marcus Williams and Pro Bowl guard Larry Warford will be free agents, while CB Marshon Lattimore and OT Ryan Ramczyk are due for big raises with fifth-year option bonuses.

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).

Other expected contenders such as the Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers have gotten off to much slower starts. And the Saints need to take advantage.

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.

And oh, by the way, the Saints are playing their best football heading into a Week 6 bye. The pass defense got off to a dreadful start in the first three weeks, but it has tightened up quite a bit over the past two weeks — even after losing Lattimore to a concussion in the first quarter of Monday night’s 43-19 rout of the Washington Redskins.

Brees might not play forever

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?

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.



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Philadelphia Eagles unveil Super Bowl championship banner


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.



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Philadelphia Eagles behind several teams in odds to win Super Bowl LIII


The defending champs aren’t getting much respect in Las Vegas.

Entering the first week of the NFL regular season, a number of teams — including the Houston Texans and Los Angeles Chargers — had better odds to win the Super Bowl than the Philadelphia Eagles did.

The Eagles were listed at 14-1 on Thursday to win the Super Bowl at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. The New England Patriots, at 6-1, are the consensus favorite for a third straight season, with significantly better odds than the Eagles, who beat the Patriots in last season’s Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams are each 10-1, followed by the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chargers and Texans at 12-1.

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.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills are the biggest Super Bowl long shots on the board at the Westgate, each listed at 300-1.



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Everything you need to know about betting the NFL this season from Super Bowl bets to every coach’s record ATS


The point spread was invented in the early 1940s by math teacher-turned-bookmaker Charles McNeil. It is the great equalizer of the NFL.

In fact, over the last 15 regular seasons, NFL favorites have gone 1,859-1,860 against the spread, with 111 pushes, according to odds database BetLabsSports.com.

Also during that timeframe, 1,890 games have gone over the total and 1,886 have stayed under the total, with 64 games landing squarely on the over/under.

What we’re trying to say is that it’s very difficult to bet on the NFL. Good luck taking on the oddsmakers who have produced the above results.

As we enter the first NFL season with expanded legalized sports betting in the U.S., here are some numbers and notes to know as you make your bets:


Where the money is going

• More bets have been placed on the Los Angeles Rams to win the Super Bowl than any other team at the Westgate SuperBook. The Green Bay Packers have attracted the second-most Super Bowl bets, followed by the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers.

• 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.


Coaching nuggets

• 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.



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Jarvis Landry’s quest to make the Cleveland Browns a Super Bowl contender


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.”

Cerqueira chimes in. “They’ve got Jarvis now.”



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Tom Brady, Nick Foles finally connect after missed Super Bowl handshake


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles never connected on the field after Super Bowl LII, but they made sure to do so after Thursday’s preseason game between the teams at Gillette Stadium.

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.”



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Indianapolis Colts attract little Super Bowl action, and more preseason betting storylines to follow


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.


Notable Week 1 line movement

Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens (-6, 40.5): Baltimore opened as 3-point favorites, but the number was bet up all the way to -6 in late July.

“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.”

Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5, 46.5): This line got as high as Eagles -5.5 in early May but came back down in July at the Westgate.

“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.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-9.5, 49.5): The line opened at New Orleans -7 and was adjusted up 2.5 points after Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for the first three games. Veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick is expected to start for the Bucs against the Saints. The total has come down from 52 to 49.5.

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-5, 47.5): The point spread opened as high as Pittsburgh -7 but has been bet down to -5 this week.

Super Bowl odds and over/under movement



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NFL teams copying Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl blueprint


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 Rams went 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.

Teams that copied them this offseason: The Chicago Bears are the obvious favorites here, given that they will likely be starting a new tight end in former Eagles third-stringer Trey Burton and as many as three new wideouts — Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and second-round pick Anthony Miller . Unlike the Eagles, who had significant turnover at running back, the Bears should be fine with their one-two punch of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.

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.



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Malcolm Butler refuses to be defined by his Super Bowl moments – Tennessee Titans Blog


VICKSBURG, Miss. — Malcolm Butler tried to turn the world off. Dozens of calls and texts went unanswered. These were the most difficult 24 hours of his NFL career and the then-New England Patriots cornerback wanted room to breathe.

Images of tears flowing down his face during the Super Bowl LII national anthem filled sports talk shows. These tears, much different than the ones he shed after Super Bowl XLIX three years before, carried more pain than anyone will know. Rumors drug Butler’s name through the dirt. He felt a range of emotions, from anger to frustration to bewilderment.

Then a Mississippi number he couldn’t ignore popped up on his cell phone. His former Vicksburg High football coach, Alonzo Stevens, was calling to deliver some succinct advice.

“Sometimes we gotta sit back when we really feel like lashing out,” Stevens told Butler. “If it weren’t for [Patriots] coach [Bill] Belichick, it wouldn’t have been a Malcolm.”

“Oh, you right, Coach. You know, Coach, you always got that right word,” Butler responded.

Butler went from a last-ditch tryout for the 90th spot on the Patriots’ roster to becoming New England’s improbable and beloved Super Bowl XLIX hero, but his last memory in New England will be of the game he didn’t have an impact on.

“I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me,” Butler repeats several times. “I don’t want a feel-sorry-for-me story.” It’s unclear whether Butler realizes, after the big contract he signed with the Tennessee Titans in March, that the world has 61 million reasons not to feel sorry for him.

“No bad blood between me and Bill Belichick. One of the greatest coaches ever and I care about him …”

Malcolm Butler

Many sports fans are still seeking an answer for why Belichick didn’t play Butler for a single defensive snap against the now champion Philadelphia Eagles. Even on Wednesday, nearly six months after the game, Belichick wouldn’t talk about Butler’s benching. Butler isn’t interested in those questions, either. He doesn’t want to be defined by Super Bowl LII or even Super Bowl XLIX. He believes he has more to offer the world, and the NFL, than those two moments.

He brushes off his white T-shirt, takes a sip of a 32-ounce orange Gatorade, that he jokes is “neckbone juice” after sitting for an hour in the sun, and says: “I want people to know Malcolm Butler.”

A trip to the Mississippi Delta, where Butler was shaped by Popeyes chicken and walking a mile through backwoods shortcuts every morning to school, tells you exactly what he means.

Back home

Butler looks up and down for several seconds sizing up a large pear tree in the front yard of his low-income childhood home. The tree is one of the few things that has changed in Vicksburg. It was much smaller when he used to live here.

“I used to love to eat the pears,” Butler said. “Wash them off real good and just chow down.”

Butler’s four years in Foxborough, Massachusetts, made him a star. His latest stop in Nashville made him rich. But Vicksburg is still where he feels most comfortable.

Vicksburg is a primarily African-American blue-collar town of 23,000, built on people who’ve made a routine of survival. There’s more poverty than wealth and more failure than success. The median household income is $28,000. The stories here are of perseverance, loyalty and pride. And Butler, now a millionaire with a household name, is still the epitome of a Vicksburg man.

“Someone who ain’t never been to Vicksburg, you would probably have to adjust — your mindset gotta be ready to adjust for something much slower,” Butler said. “You work for everything you want here.”

Butler’s mom, Deborah, taught him how to grind early. Pops wasn’t around. As a single mother, Deborah worked two jobs at nursing homes with little pay to support Malcolm and his four siblings.

Sports kept Butler out of trouble. He was always a good cornerback, but he lit up Vicksburg High as its secret offensive weapon. About once a game, he’d get the rock and make a splash play. He had 13 carries for 344 yards and six touchdowns as a senior.

“How can this young man, as skinny as he is, be as fast as he is? Malcolm was running 4.3s and 4.4s back then, you know? Always a very confident kid,” said Stevens, who was the head coach at Vicksburg High from 2001 to 2011. “I told him, ‘Man, you too little to play football. Hey, I got some manager spots.’ He said, ‘I’m a football player.'”

Butler played during only his freshman and senior seasons because of grades, and it was poor academics that prevented him from getting college offers. Butler was content with becoming a barber, cutting hair at the local shop for a living.

It was one of many forks in the road that paved the way for NFL star Malcolm Butler.

Stevens, then-Vicksburg High assistant coach Tim Hughes and community alumni pulled strings to get Butler a full scholarship at Hinds Community College 40 miles up the road.

Now Butler returns to his old stomping grounds as a legend.

Kids run up to him in waves asking what kind of car he drives, what it’s like with the Titans and why he played just one snap in his latest Super Bowl. Grown men stop him in the street asking for pictures as Butler heads into the barbershop. A middle-age woman jogs over to the car trying to shake his hand and asks him if he remembers her. (He doesn’t.)

A reminiscent walk into the old Vicksburg locker room brings out the feels. He stops at a locker with “M. Butler” penned in black on the top shelf. He retraces his name with his finger, sits down in his old locker and shakes his head. For a while, it looked like he would be another statistic. Sometimes, Butler still doesn’t believe the outcome is real.

A fork in the road

“Let me get a two-piece with a biscuit and extra honey.”

A weekend trip to Vicksburg requires a mandatory stop at Popeyes. It’s still one of Butler’s favorite spots to eat.

Damn, they’re out of honey.

“I had to eat it dry,” Butler said. “I hate it eating it dry, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Butler can eat these meals just as fast as he made them back in the day. Now, he takes pride in the fact he worked at Popeyes for four years. He did it all, running the fryer, manning the cash register, doing the dishes, changing the signs outside and sometimes all in the same day.

Returning to Popeyes is like a family reunion. It’s rush hour, so he skips going into the back. He asks for Shennelle Parker, his former manager, but she’s off on this Friday. Patrons take pictures of Butler.

Back in December 2009 when Butler started working at Popeyes, there wasn’t much pride in it. He did it because it was his only legal choice to make it.

A common theme in Butler’s life has been how he responds to different, often self-inflicted trials. The plan was to ball out at Hinds for two years, get his grades right and land a Division I scholarship. He lasted five games.

A Hinds campus police officer wrote Butler a $25 ticket for not having a visible student ID. Emotions and egos got involved, resulting in an explosive altercation that “got way out of hand,” according to then-Hinds assistant coach Dwike Wilson. Butler was kicked off the football team, out of school and ultimately banned from the Hinds campus for three years.

Butler’s football dream reached another fork in the road.

He enrolled at nearby Alcorn State taking classes during the week, then driving back to Vicksburg to work at Popeyes open-to-close on the weekends. Then he started working fulltime at Popeyes and taking night classes at Alcorn State. His minimum-wage salary had to cover tuition and help his mom with bills. He trained at Vicksburg High, running the same hills he did during his two-year high school playing hiatus.

Stevens and Wilson often visited Butler at the Popeyes window, each ordering a two-piece and a biscuit while checking on Butler and motivating him to stay on the right track as he waited for another chance. Butler was always upbeat.

“Coach, I’d do anything to come back,” Butler pleaded to Wilson. The Hinds assistant got Parker to write a report on Butler’s performance at work. Butler’s grades were good and he matured quite a bit.

“I got a man in 18 months,” Wilson said. “The world had toughened him up a little bit and he understood that life ain’t fair. They ain’t gotta do right by you; they just gotta respect you.”

There were many kids like Butler who turned to crime or drugs when faced with this sort of situation. One day after returning from visiting Butler at Popeyes, Wilson broke down crying to then-Hinds head coach Gene Murphy. He was worried that Butler’s circumstances could lead him down a similar path.

“He grew up right by my mom’s house. He’s going to only work at Popeyes so long,” Wilson recalls telling Murphy through tears. “Six dollars an hour is only going to go so far. My mom has the biggest house on the road. He’s going to break in her house one day.”

“I tell him all the time, it’s two sides of a mountain. There’s a smooth side and a rough side. God just took him around the rough side.”

Alonzo Stevens, Malcolm Butler’s high school coach

“We are about getting people out of the ditch,” Murphy responded. “His family works their butt off. I’m gonna give him the opportunity.”

Murphy went to the president and campus police to make a lengthy pitch to get him back on campus and the team. Butler apologized. They succeeded in bringing him back on a short leash.

Eighteen months later, Butler was back at Hinds and on the team. He got a hard time from the campus police, but he avoided trouble for a year and got enough credits to transfer to Division II West Alabama, where he played for two seasons.

“I tell him all the time, it’s two sides of a mountain. There’s a smooth side and a rough side. God just took him around the rough side,” Stevens said. “But see, that makes him still humble.

“He never quit on himself, and that’s what I’m so proud about.”

Life-changing interception

It was man coverage and he knew the ball was coming his way. Butler still doesn’t know why the Seahawks called a pass play on the goal line when they could have used Marshawn Lynch to carry the ball, but he’s glad they did.

Butler recognized the bunch receiver formation, guessed slant and jumped the route. He beat Seattle receiver Ricardo Lockette to the ball and secured the interception.

“I just said, ‘Bleep it man.’ I just cut loose,” Butler said. “It was a great play, man. It changed my whole life overnight.”

That Super Bowl XLIX-clinching interception was just as improbable as the guy who made it. Butler started the season as the Patriots’ sixth cornerback on a stacked depth chart that included Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard.

Patriots cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer decided he wanted Butler in for that goal-line play instead of Arrington, the team’s starting slot corner. That decision changed everything.

“There was every reason for the moment to be too big for an undrafted tryout rookie, but the moment wasn’t too big for him,” said Ryan, Butler’s teammate with the Patriots from 2014 to 2016 and now with the Titans. “He had to earn that trust. He kept his head down and worked. When he looked up, he made the biggest play in Super Bowl history.”

Butler became an instant star. He got Tom Brady his fourth ring, and Brady gave him the Chevy Colorado truck he won for being Super Bowl MVP. Butler presented an award at the Grammys. He met Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z. He appeared on several talk shows and national TV hits.

Vicksburg threw him the largest parade in city history, and about 10,000 people — nearly half the town’s population — attended.

“What’s funny about it, we was in hard recruiting at Hinds at that time, you know, we was in houses. Super Bowl Sunday, I’m talking to recruits and all that. And I was like, ‘Yeah, my boy, 21. You need to check him out,'” Wilson said. “When he picked that ball, I got six commitments. I was close on about six of ’em. I got ’em — all six of ’em. I say, boy, he made our year that year.”

On the back wall of Butler’s old high school weight room resides a framed Vicksburg Post newspaper with the headline: “Super hero.”

Butler put a lot of people on the map with that play — from Vicksburg to Hinds to Derek Simpson, a small-time agent out of Alabama. Butler was Simpson’s only client who had signed an NFL contract.

Earning his spot the hard way

Titans general manager Jon Robinson, then with the Patriots, remembers Butler caught his attention at the 2014 Medal of Honor Bowl, a lower-level college all-star game for draft-eligible prospects. Butler, one of the few from a Division II school, kept flashing talent and breaking up passes.

Simpson and trainer Johnny Jackson got Butler prepped for the draft and a spot at Alabama’s pro day. They figured a good workout could put him on the late-round draft radar or at least secure a contract as a priority undrafted free agent.

Butler ran a 4.62 40-yard dash and measured as a 5-foot-10, 187-pound cornerback. That screamed not-NFL material.

“I told him I could run 4.6 in my church shoes,” Simpson said.

Two days later, Butler hoped for redemption at North Alabama’s pro day. When he got in line to run, scouts told him they didn’t want to see him work out.

“That was kind of crushing. He had to regroup,” Jackson said. “He didn’t know if he wanted to do this anymore.”

No one called before or after the 2014 draft. Butler prepared to look into CFL options. Former Patriots scout Frantzy Jourdain and Boyer kept an eye on Butler even after the poor performances. Boyer called Simpson saying Belichick would let him sign one guy to be the 90th man on the roster, but there will be a tryout with two to three dozen other players and Butler has to run faster than a 4.6.

Butler ran a 4.4, Simpson said. The Patriots signed him. He forced the Patriots to make a roster spot for him.

“I just remember this guy Malcolm making plays every day. He didn’t talk. He wore the same cleats every day,” Ryan said. “He made the most interceptions and plays against Brady and all the quarterbacks that year.”

The rest is history.

“When you want an American story, this is an American story. This is rags to riches. This is self-preservation,” Stevens said. “This is not a silver spoon in your mouth. This is hard work. This is determination. This is all the things that the fiber of America is about. It can be achieved.”

Giving back

It’s the end of a four-hour workout session on a humid 90-degree day, but the kids want to end with one-on-ones. Butler, drenched in sweat, obliges.

He lines up at receiver across from a kid the group calls, “New Vicksburg.” Butler runs a curl and gets separation. The ball hits him in stride right in the hands, but the kid recovers to get a hand in there and Butler drops it.

The kids go wild, mobbing New Vicksburg. Butler flashes a wide smile. He was tired, but he admits he wasn’t taking it easy on him.

That’s what makes returning home to host a free football camp for the fourth consecutive year so special. Butler sees himself in these kids running hills, chasing a dream the world assures them they won’t realize.

“If you work real hard at whatever you want, it will come to you. I promise you. I promise you,” Butler proclaims to a group of attentive kids. “I used to work at Popeyes. Now I can buy one.”

Butler’s flaws make him real for many of these Vicksburg kids. Everyone’s life is filled with ups and downs, good and bad, even a Super Bowl champion.

“I’ve coached Steve McNair, Donald Driver and Malcolm Butler. They got the same demeanor, drive, humility and personality,” said Stevens, who coached McNair and Driver during his time as an assistant coach at Alcorn State from 1990 to 1998. “Give them a pair of shorts, flip flops, and a fishing rod and they’ll be good. They never got too good for anyone. Always ‘Yes sir, yes ma’am.’ He reminds me so much of Mac.”

Ryan added: “I gained so much respect for him because he didn’t change as a person. He’s still the same guy as he was when he was a nobody trying to make the roster.”

Right after his youth camp, Butler went to see one of his former coworkers at Popeyes who was paralyzed after a stroke. The reunion was raw and emotional. Butler never mentioned it. He didn’t want cameras there. He didn’t want any credit. He just felt it was right to be there for the young man. That’s also who Malcolm Butler is.

A ‘football decision’

The Titans did their homework, but never directly asked Butler about Super Bowl LII before signing him.

An ascending organization headed by Robinson, a former Patriots scout, and coach Mike Vrabel didn’t hesitate to make the big five-year, $61.25 million investment in Butler.

“You have to make enough contacts to figure out what makes a guy tick. We did our work there,” Robinson said. “You get a comfort level with a decision that you’re going to make and either back up or move forward. We moved forward.”

“Tennessee trying to win. We’re trying to win,” said Butler, who chose the Titans over the Chicago Bears. After what happened in Super Bowl LII, Butler said there was no chance he would re-sign with the Patriots.

The stated facts of the curious Butler benching are this: Butler was sick with flu-like symptoms. Team doctors thought Butler could put other players at risk, so they cautiously had him stay behind one day when the team left for Minneapolis on Monday. Butler missed Super Bowl media night but arrived in time to attend the week’s practices. Butler, who played 98 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps during the 2017 season, admittedly fell behind a bit on the game plan and had a rough week in practice. He was rotating in practice with Eric Rowe, who started in place of him.

“This the biggest game of the year, so you gotta shoot your best gun or your best shot,” Butler said. “Preparation is the best way to win. And maybe they didn’t see 100 percent, mentally or physically, Malcolm Butler that they usually see.”

“You have to make enough contacts to figure out what makes a guy tick. We did our work there.”

Titans GM Jon Robinson on signing Malcolm Butler

Butler denies all speculation that off-the-field issues such as missing curfew or attending a Rick Ross concert occurred during Super Bowl week. Butler planned to stay quiet, but the rumors started to get to him.

“It was real tough,” Butler said. “Most the time I’m not gonna say anything, I’m just gonna chill, play football. I usually just swallow my L or take whatever the treatment dealt, whatever the situation. But it was getting out of hand. I had to say something.”

Butler released an emotional statement on social media addressing the situation two days after Super Bowl LII. Belichick called it strictly a “football decision.”

Much of the sports world is convinced there’s more to the story. The assumption is there’s a smoking gun being kept secret. Butler has stopped trying to figure it all out and concludes it was another example of Belichick making a strong decision. This one just didn’t pay off.

“Everybody was surprised that happened in the Super Bowl. But I’m not surprised that happened over there. Sometimes it’s like that over there for whatever reason it may be,” said Ryan, who considers Butler one of his closest friends. “What they do works in their own way. It didn’t work that day. Stuff has been done like that in the past and it’s worked. Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of all time. But I’m not surprised with that. Everybody is replaceable in the NFL. That’s one thing you’ll definitely learn over there. It’s a lesson for everybody.

“He didn’t need to defend himself. He didn’t get the chance to defend himself or say his side, which is fine. I know it was a tough year for him. We talked on the phone and via text. I was very aware of the situation. I felt terrible for him. I know he’s hungry. I know last year it wore on him with the contract and added pressure, but I think he’s back to his free self and excited to prove people wrong.”

The Patriots play the Titans on Nov. 11 in Nashville. They don’t want to look too far ahead, but Butler, Ryan and another former Patriot now with the Titans — running back Dion Lewis — have already circled that date on the schedule.

Belichick called Butler to say congratulations and thank Butler for his contributions after he signed with Tennessee. Butler appreciated it. Belichick also praised the organization he picked.

“No bad blood between me and Bill Belichick,” Butler said. “One of the greatest coaches ever and I care about him, I know he care about me. And this a hurtful game sometimes and it can look different than what it is. But that’s my guy. … I got a lot of respect for him.”

‘New team, new city, same hungry guy’

Vicksburg’s Headquarters Barber and Beauty Shop has to change its color scheme again.

This has been Butler’s barbershop since he was a kid. “It feels like home,” Butler says. The floors are checkered with Patriots blue. The window linings and barber capes are all Patriots blue, too.

“You a Steelers fan, ain’t you,” Butler asks Geno Williams, the shop owner.

“Man, I’m your fan,” Williams responds. “Titan Up. I was a New England fan, now I’m a Tennessee fan. I’m going to change the colors to Titan blue soon.”

Butler already likes Nashville. It’s a slower pace, more like Vicksburg than Boston. Contract pressure, which negatively affected his play last season, is gone. He plans to play free again.

Vrabel’s brutal honesty and hands-on approach intrigues Butler. He’s having more fun with the Titans’ secondary than he has in a long time. Many of his teammates have similar underdog stories.

“If I had first pick from anybody to ever play with, it would be Malcolm,” Ryan said. “He fears nobody. We pick each other up. He competes. He finishes everything. He’s a smaller guy, but he’s got a huge heart and plays with a chip on his shoulder. I got a lot of respect for him.”

That jibes with what sold Robinson on Butler. Robinson loves his film, story and workmanlike approach to the game. Everyone he talked to kept mentioning two things about Butler: he’s highly competitive and he cares about his teammates.

One day after signing his big Titans contract, Butler was at the facility weight room working out at 7 a.m. and on the field running at 8 a.m.

“I feel secure with my contract. And I can put everything behind me. I can go out there and just focus on football,” said Butler, who has eight interceptions and 44 passes defensed over the past three seasons. “Not only clean plate, new team, new city, same hungry guy. So it’s time to run it up again.”

Butler’s story is more than just his two Super Bowl moments, and he’s eager to write the next chapter in Tennessee. He plans to play like the Malcolm Butler who worked the fryer at Popeyes waiting for just one small chance to make an NFL team.

“Oh, yes, yes. I got a lot to prove and actions speak louder than words. But you’ll see me this year,” Butler said. “I got some pressure built up, so I’ll be ready.”





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