Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t surprise you anymore, Cam Newton is a Patriot! The news broke early Monday morning that the Patriots and Newton had agreed on an incentive-laden 1 year deal which has led to a rather large split in the fan base.
Newton, 31, had been without a team since his release from the Carolina Panthers in March 2020 and questions will still be asked regarding his recent injuries and ability to perform. The former league MVP only managed to play 2 games in the 2019 season due to a Lisfranc fracture and he also required surgery for a shoulder injury in March 2017.
Regardless of the injury concerns, this deal just makes too much sense for both parties. In a league where every other starting quarterback job is occupied, the Patriots give Newton the most realistic opportunity to compete for a starting job. The Patriots may still believe in Jarrett Stidham as a starting QB but the chance to sign someone of Newton’s calibre was always going to be of interest to head coach, Bill Belichick.
The self proclaimed ‘Super-Cam’ has a resume that speaks for itself. In 2015, Newton lead the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl and was awarded the league MVP after a 15-1 season. He has been selected to three pro bowls, was the 2011 rookie of the year and holds numerous Panthers and NFL records.
Bill Belichick will be happy to have Cam on the Patriots roster. Newton has a 2-0 record against the Patriots throwing for 6 touchdowns and just 1 interception with a 72% completion rate! Furthermore, Newton has a great record against all of the AFC East teams boasting a 7-1 record with 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
This is a typical Belichick move. Heading into the 2020 season, the Patriots have no cap space and appeared to be ready to roll with Jarrett Stidham as their starter at quarterback but they have managed to work a deal that will cost the league minimum for a former league MVP! Newton can reportedly earn up to $7.5m with incentives.
The Patriots could have just come away with the bargain of the off-season, the risk versus reward just makes this a no-brainer. If Newton can return to anywhere near his 2015 form, both parties will be able to work out a longer deal. If Cam plays well and is picked up as a free agent at the end of the 2020 season, then the Patriots could get a 3rd round compensatory pick in the 2022 draft, and If Cam is cut then there isn’t a big hit to the salary cap.
So why is there such a split in the fanbase? To say Cam Newton is eccentric is an understatement. He is very outspoken to the point of arrogance and some people cannot get over the fact he didn’t try to recover a fumble in Super Bowl 50, where he appeared to shy away from taking a hit. Unfortunately for Cam, he is following Tom Brady who was always seen as a ‘team player’ restructuring contracts and making decisions to give the team the best chance for success.
Then we have the injury concerns.
A fit and healthy Cam Newton would not have been available for the league minimum and he hasn’t been healthy since the first half of 2018! With the current corona virus outbreak, teams haven’t been able to get Newton in for a workout so it was always going to be hard to get a team to commit to him as a starter on significant money.
Before the injuries in 2018, Cam Newton had started the season very well leading the Panthers to a 6-2 start. Newton had a passer rating of 100.8 (10th in the league) after Norv Turner adapted the offense and gave Cam shorter passes to throw. This led to his completion percentage rising to 67.3 percent and averaging 4 touchdowns to every interception. Newton then suffered the shoulder injury that would later lead to surgery.
However, one distinction that needs to be made is that Newton had fully healed from the shoulder surgery and during the pre season camp (following surgery) it was reported that Newton had rediscovered the deep ball and looked to be back in primary position to lead the Panthers offense. In fact, at the start of the 2019 season he was overthrowing receivers as he appeared to be struggling when planting his foot, not struggling to get velocity on the ball.
Cam Newton will head into camp to battle it out with Jarrett Stidham to be the starter come week 1 and right now it’s difficult to know which quarterback the Patriots will go with. Is it possible for Newton to fit into the current Pats offence or is Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick formulating a new playbook to maximise Newtons assets? Josh McDaniels managed to get to the playoffs with Tim Tebow playing quarterback, and actually win one game. Cam’s skillset is much higher than Tebow so the thought of a McDaniels offense with Newton under center is an exciting proposition, especially with a solid offensive line. The Patriots offence morphs from game to game, highlighting other teams weaknesses and putting their players in the best position to succeed so a new scheme wouldn’t be a big surprise.
One major advantage is that the Patriots had already been planning around a run heavy offense by investing in their offensive line, David Andrews returning from IR, signing fullback Danny Vitale and drafting two tight ends who can both block. The Patriots will surely utilise zone read option plays and may even look at what Baltimore did in the 2019 season as a blueprint.
Belichick is a coaching genius but he has never had a player with the skillset of Cam Newton. The 9 year vet has a great chance of starting week 1 and succeeding in the 2020 season. The former number 1 overall pick in 2011 may see this as his last chance and that may be bad news for the rest of the league.
Have the Patriots just become real contenders again or is ‘Super Cam’ now just ‘backup Cam’? If he is fit and healthy, the Patriots have their new man under Center!
It’s probably not that surprising that British athletes carving out a solid career in the NFL have been few and far between. Obviously, there have been a few: London-born running back Jay Ajayi played for the Dolphins before winning Super Bowl LII with the Eagles, while Osi Umenyiora, now a pundit on The NFL Show, is another Londoner with a ring, thanks to the Giants’ surprise win over the Patriots a decade earlier. Before him, Hertfordshire’s finest, Mick Luckhurst, played his entire career as a kicker with the Falcons before becoming the face of Channel 4’s NFL coverage in the Eighties.
But what about now? Who are the guys born or bred on this side of the pond that we should be rooting for in 2020? Here’s the low-down…
THE EIGHT-YEAR PRO
Jack Crawford – Defensive Tackle, Tennessee Titans
You gotta love Jack. Raised in Kilburn, the early claim for this 6’5”, 20-stone bald guy (due to alopecia) was being at school with Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe. He then moved to the States as a teenager with dreams of becoming an NBA star but due to international transfer rules, that didn’t pan out. Undaunted, he took up football in high school and after four years at Penn State, was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Not a bad plan B…
Crawford featured as a backup in his rookie season and appeared in 15 games the following year before being waived. He then enjoyed three-year spells with the Cowboys (you may have seen him at Wembley against the Jaguars in 2015) and the Falcons. Arguably not a starting-calibre lineman, Crawford, who has played at both defensive end and defensive tackle, has registered 136 tackles and 16 sacks to date.
A couple of months ago, Crawford signed a one-year deal with the Tennessee Titans. It’s hard to say how it’ll pan out for Jack as he enters his ninth year in the league, but he’s certainly able to fill in should Mike Vrabel need him to. With Austin Johnson signing with the Giants and five-time Pro-Bowler Jurrell Casey packing himself off to Denver during the off-season, there may even be a decent chance we might see him as a starting DT in 2020…
THE WORK IN PROGRESS
Jermaine Eluemunor – Offensive Guard, New England Patriots
Now 25, Eluemunor was born in Chalk Farm, London, to a Nigerian/English family and grew up in Camden. He played rugby and cricket as a youngster – preferring the former – but got into football because of the other football, and in particular, his beloved Arsenal (check out @TheMainShow_ on Twitter).
The story goes that in 2007, he was skipping through the channels looking for the Arsenal match when he stumbled on the NFL International Series game between the Giants and Dolphins at Wembley. His interest piqued, he started down a path that would lead him to play high school football in New Jersey before attending Texas A&M. He and his father briefly came back to England but Eluemunor was allowed to return Stateside, as long as he graduated and put everything into pursuing a career in football.
On the eve of the 2017 Draft, in which he was picked by the Ravens in the fifth round, Jermaine told The Independent“Wherever I get picked, I’m gonna work as hard as I’ve ever worked to make this happen and my dream come true. This is just the start.”
And that he did. Eluemunor made the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA) All-Rookie Team in his first year, and played 27 regular-season games and one postseason contest in Baltimore before being traded to the Patriots. The 335-pound offensive lineman played 10 times in New England last year and has been retained for the 2020 campaign. Sitting behind left guard Joe Thuney in the depth charts, he isn’t a starter but provides depth in the middle of the line and we should see him get a decent number of snaps this season.
THE INTERNATIONAL PATHWAY PROSPECT
Efe Obada – Defensive End, Carolina Panthers
Obada had a tough start in life. Born in Nigeria before moving to the Netherlands, Obada and his sister got moved to London, where they slept rough and ended up in foster care. He fell into football when he saw how a college friend transformed himself playing for the London Warriors.
Looking for some cameraderie, Obada joined him and was taken under the wing of Aden Durde, who told his Dallas Cowboys contacts about Efe. Obada had only played five games for the Warriors when he was offered the chance to work out for Dallas, ahead of their Wembley game against the Jaguars. Despite his lack of experience, Efe was signed as an undrafted free agent a year later. It didn’t work out, nor did it with the Chiefs and Falcons, so his last hope was the NFL’s inaugural International Player Pathway Program, which placed him with the Panthers’ practice squad.
The following year, Obada become the first player from the program to make a 53-man roster, and played his first regular season game in Week 3 against the Bengals, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance. Last October, Obada posted a career-best 24 tackles and played in all 16 of Carolina’s games, including the Buccaneers game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Obada was named an honorary team captain for the 37-26 victory that day, a fitting tribute in front of a ‘home’ London crowd.
Having signed a one-year contract extension in January 2020, Obada is heading into his third season with the Panthers. He’s shown promise so far but has yet to start in any of his 26 appearances to date and hasn’t recorded any sacks. By his own admission, he hasn’t established himself yet and, with a new HC Matt Rhule – let alone 2020 NFL Draft pick Yetur Gross-Matos jumping the queue at DE – he has his work cut out this season. It could be the most important of Obada’s career; he’s set to enter free agency in 2021 so let’s hope he can do enough to earn a longer contract.
THE FIRST-YEAR SUCCESS STORY
Jamie Gillan – Punter, Cleveland Browns
Growing up in Inverness, Scotland, Jamie’s all-consuming passion for rugby took him to Merchiston Castle, a boarding school in Edinburgh with a reputation for fast-tracking players into the Scottish national squad. As a promising fly-half, he developed a talent for kicking – one that would eventually stand him in good stead.
When his RAF dad was posted to Maryland, the Gillan family, including a 16-year-old Jamie, moved too. He had never watched football and initially, had no intention of playing it, but he asked to join the high school team, purely to keep fit during the rugby off-season. With a few tweaks to his technique, Gillan soon became an accomplished kicker and offers began to trickle in.
“All my mates were telling me you could get scholarships for kicking a ball and I didn’t believe them at first,” he told the BBC sport website last year, “but I thought I’d give it a try after I saw the guy missing field goals.”
Well, the punt – if you’ll excuse the pun – was worth it. A year ago, the undrafted rookie was brought in by the Cleveland Browns as a back-up to Britton Colquitt. And whaddya know, after some impressive pre-season turnouts – including a 74-yard punt and some robust, rugby-style tackles on punt returners – he took the starting job from the 10-year veteran.
Known as “The Scottish Hammer” for his solid physique, the long-haired Scotsman soon got the fans and the pundits onside. Gillan was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month in September, and his debut campaign – 63 punts for 2913 yards, including a 71-yard season’s best – earned him a place on the PFWA All-Rookie team.
I have to hold my hand up to this one: before researching this article, I had no idea that Gano was born in Arbroath, Scotland. But his dad, a US Navy man, was stationed there when Graham was born.
Apparently, young Graham was a decent goalkeeper, and supported Bayern Munich and Scotland. Prior to attending high school in Florida, he was approached by a scout at the end of a summer tournament in which he’d excelled but he rejected the chance to move back to the UK… and join a little outfit called Manchester United.
Gano broke all sorts of Florida State records in his senior year, prompting a pick-up as an undrafted free agent in 2009 by the Ravens (they do like a Brit!). Alas, he was soon released and flirted with the inaugural United Football League, scoring the Las Vegas Locomotives’ championship-winning kick and leading the league in scoring and field goals.
Finally breaking into the NFL in 2009, Gano experienced an up-and-down three years at the Washington Redskins, where he earned a reputation for nailing game-winning field goals in overtime, yet had to compete for his job more than once.
Since 2012, Graham has been a Panther. In his time, he hit the upright in Super Bowl L in the loss to the Broncos, and was named to a Pro Bowl in 2017, having made 96.7% of his FG attempts that year. Having sealed yet another OT win, against the Giants, in early October 2018 with a career-best 63-yard kick, he was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury and missed the entire 2019 campaign, prompting the 32-year-old to have surgery.
Speaking to Panthers.com last August, he said “Whatever my future holds, I’m excited about it. I’m always going to keep a positive attitude, no matter what’s going on.” Gano’s a decent kicker – he only missed three FG attempts during 2017 and 2018 – so if he can battle back and compete for his old job again, there’s a chance he’ll be a rock-solid leg again in 2020.
THE PRACTICE SQUAD HOPEFUL
Christian Wade – Running Back, Buffalo Bills
Christian Wade is currently on the Buffalo Bills practice squad, with hopes of another year of development ahead of him, but he’s already had an impressive career in rugby.
The lad from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, played for Wasps since his school days and went on to score 82 tries for them, which puts him fourth on the Premiership’s all-time list. He also represented England at all levels (alas, only the one national appearance though), and was also called up to the British and Irish Lions squad.
Frustrated with the lack of England opportunities, he decided to switch codes, clubs and countries and try out as an NFL running back, despite having zero experience. He came through the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, and spent last season in upstate New York on the Bills’ practice squad. Almost immediately, he made headlines, with a 65-yard TD run with his first-ever touch in a preseason game against the Colts, and a 48-yard run with his first catch.
Despite his undoubted speed and athletic ability, Wade failed to make the active roster last year and is yet to appear in a regular-season game. But he’s undaunted, telling The Telegraph“It has been a success to come across, learn the game, participate in practice at full speed and to play in preseason. I just want to keep improving. I’m going to give it the same energy as I did this year and see where that gets me.”
THE 2020 ROOKIE
Julian Okwara –Defensive End, Detroit Lions
Okwara was born in London, when his mother was visiting family, but grew up near Lagos in Nigeria. He moved to North Carolina aged eight and eventually took up football, following his older brother Romeo through Ardrey Kell High School and Notre Dame on his way to the NFL. Romeo (also a defensive end) signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and was claimed off waivers by the Lions in 2018.
Julian was a standout at Notre Dame, making 19.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks over his last two seasons. And now, he finally catches up with Romeo, having been selected by Detroit in the third round of the 2020 Draft. According to Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus, Okwara could prove to be the steal of this year’s class, after a broken leg toward the end of last season impacted his Combine and quelled any first-round chatter.
Helping to address one of the Lions’ biggest weaknesses last year, their pass rush (tied for second-last with just 28 sacks), Okwara – also considered an outside linebacker – may end up competing with Trey Flowers and Austin Bryant, as well as his big brother, for starting snaps.
Matt Patricia is getting a versatile player who can drop back into coverage or rush the passer. On signing with the Lions, he told Detroit Free Press reporters “They’re getting a pass rusher, great defensive end, someone who wreaks havoc in the backfield.” So look out for Okwara to come out from his brother’s shadow and make a name for himself in the NFC North next season.
THE FREE AGENT
Josh Mauro – Defensive End (No current team)
Mauro began his journey to the NFL in that hotbed of American football, St Albans, but started to play football at Stanford after he moved to the US.
The lad impressed the Steelers enough for them to sign him up as an undrafted free agent but he was released, kickstarting a tour of the league in subsequent seasons that took in the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants (where he got caught up in some controversy over the use of a banned substance) and, finally, Los Angeles. With his one-year deal with the Raiders now at an end, the 6’6”, 290-pound run stuffer is currently looking for his next landing spot.
He’s made 30 starts in five seasons but now aged 28, the clock is ticking and I’m not sure we’ll see him take the field in the season ahead. Fingers crossed.
Every year the NFL sees players breakout and become stars and fan favorites, either due to being on a new team or just getting the right playing time. With that in mind I’m going to give you my list of player who I see becoming big stars this year and having a breakout year. So if you play fantasy, maybe take a give these guys a look when picking your team.
Drew Lock – QB, Denver Broncos
It seems that Denver may have finally found their guy in Drew Lock, the former Missouri signal caller was taken in the second round of the 2019 draft by the Broncos but unfortunately suffered a broken thumb in the pre-season and was placed in injured reserve in September.
He was cleared for practice mid November and activated to the full roster on November 30th and named as the starter for the game the next day against the Chargers. Throwing for 134 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception wasn’t what people focused on though. In the last 15 seconds of the game Lock lead the Broncos down the field and set up a Brandon McManus field goal leading the Broncos to a 23-20 win in his first NFL start. Lock continued to show his skills and went 4-1 in 5 starts.
Equaling franchise legend and current Broncos GM John Elway for most franchise wins by a rookie quarterback. What makes this more impressive is that it took him 5 games to accomplish this feat. It took Elway 10. This is what makes Lock so exciting, especially if you’re a Broncos fan.
With impressive play and decent stats and provided he stays healthy Lock is going to have a great year with the full 16 games to ply his trade. Oh…and Jerry Jeudy is going to be lining up next to him. Look out for Lock this season…he’s going to be fun to watch.
N’Keal Harry – WR, New England Patriots
After what can only be described as a disappointing rookie year on a struggling Patriots offence N’Keal Harry is going to look to breakout as a legit number 1 target in his sophomore season in New England.
The Canadian born receiver injured his ankle during training in September and was placed on injured reserve until November 2nd when he finally got activated to the full roster. As a rookie Harry played in 7 games for 12 catches, 105 yards and 2 touchdowns. Safe to say this was not even close to what harry is capable of.
Going into second year he will be catching passes from fellow sophomore in quarterback Jarrett Stidham, a man who it is reported he has some serious chemistry with…well if reports from Patriots training camp is to believed.
I see Harry putting up double digit touchdowns and close to 1000 yards as he looks to be the number 1 wide out on this new look patriots offence.
Derrius Guice – RB, Washington Redskins
When I say the name Derrius Guice the first word that comes to mind is injury. Not many players have had luck this bad with injuries in recent years which is a shame because Guice is easily capable of being a top running back in the league.
Drafted in 2018 Guice, tore his ACL in his first ever pre-season game causing him to miss his whole rookie season, in 2019 he was once again injured against the Eagles in week 1 of the regular season…and later again when he made his return in November.
So it’s been a tough road for Guice. I watched him play while he was at LSU and believe me when I tell you this bad luck has lit a fire under Guice going into the 2020 season. He’s going to be a serious threat on this offence as sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins needs serious help in the backfield.
Look for Guice to put up double digit touchdowns and 1000+ yards if he manages to stay on the field for the full 16 games.
Teddy Bridgewater – QB, Carolina Panthers
After going 5-0 as a starter while future Hall of Famer Drew Bree’s was injured in the 2019 season Teddy Bridgewater earned his way back to a starting job taking over from a declining Cam Newton.
Teddy has had a somewhat tumultuous path to get to where he is now. Drafted in 2014, 32nd overall Bridgewater struggled to perform at the level he did at college and ended up bouncing to the New York Jets in 2018 and the New Orleans Saints in 2019. He really shined and showed how much he’s grown as a player while filling in for Drew Brees.
Carolina swooped in and picked him up in free agency with and gave him a 3 year $63 million contract. With a full 16 games at the head of this Carolina offence it’s pretty easy to see Bridgewater taking this team to the playoffs.
Ed Oliver – DT, Buffalo Bills
Seeing as Bills quarterback Josh Allen had a massive breakout year last year I figured I’d shout out another great Bills player due to blow up and that’s Defensive Tackle Ed Oliver.
Selected 9th overall in the 2019 draft, Ed Oliver was a highly sort after draft prospect that in my eyes didn’t even get close to touching his potential in his first year in Buffalo with only 5 sacks and 43 tackles.
So look for Ed Oliver to go hard this year and rack up double digit sacks and at least 70 tackles. Also given the way this team is playing look for Oliver to be a difference maker when it comes to the playoffs and his work rate will give a lot of offensive lines headaches.
The 2020 NFL is only months away and one of the biggest questions still remains unanswered… Is Jarrett Stidham any good?
This is uncharted territory for the Patriots. They’ve not had uncertainty at the quarterback position for 20 years. I think the biggest question here is how good can the patriots be without Tom Brady? If we look at it objectively then the Patriots can be just as good with Jarrett Stidham under center given how he stacks up and his coachability. Let’s run through what the Patriots offence has to work with and what makes Jarrett Stidham the Patriots quarterback of the future.
Who is Jarrett Stidham? Is he the next Tom Brady? I’m not sure anyone will be, but he isn’t a scrub that will fall flat on his face. Let’s take a bit of a deeper dive on the Auburn QB entering his 2nd year in the NFL.
Let’s look at his College profile:
The numbers look OK, but he wasn’t asked to do too much of anything. Screens and short passes (Stidham had one of the greater target shares of passing attempts behind the line of scrimmage in his class). His accuracy anywhere near downfield was average at best, and struggled when pressured. However, that doesn’t usually bother New England the Patriots, just look at Tom Brady and his knocks as he was picked #199 overall. We all know the patriots look at what a player CAN do, rather than what they can’t.
Next, I’m going to start by laying out Stidham’s preseason stats for you so you can get some numbers on him. Stidham completed 61 of 90 passes for 731 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception. He also tallied 17 carries for 88 yards on the ground. In the regular season, everyone will remember his pick 6 to safety Jamaal Adams against the Jets and ultimately being benched after being brought in to see the game out, but the foot was hardly on the accelarator. If only Bill and co. had let Stidham try and play some meaningful snaps. It’s hard to draw any conclusions from 4 regular season pass attempts, even if you completed 2 to your team and 1 to the other.
Like I always say though, stats are only half of the story and watching Stidham is where you really get a sense of how he operates.
During his 4 pre-season games he displayed solid pocket awareness knowing when to step up and when to tuck and run if needed. While accuracy was solid he does sometimes need to let his passes go a second or two earlier to hit players in stride. He does have great arm strength and a great understanding on how NFL defenses operate. This IQ allows Stidham to make the right calls in high pressure situations that would avoid turnovers and keep the ball in the Patriots hands.
However, a year behind Brady and learning from Belichick/McDaniels will do wonders for Stidham and he couldn’t really be placed any better to overcome his flaws.
So what has Stidham got to work with? And what state are the Patriots in?
The Patriot’s 2019 offence ranked 8th is passing yards, 18th in rushing yards and 7th in points for. They were 21st in yards per play (5.2), but 13th in total 1st downs (338) and 3rd in total plays. This shows what we all knew about the Patriots offence last year; methodical and efficiently effective, maintaining drives and usually came away with points.
This is all with Tom Brady under center of course, can Jarrett Stidham come in and elevate his game to the level required? And what of those weapons still at his disposal?
Well the first name that comes to mind is veteran wide receiver and Patriots folk hero, Julian Edelman. Despite battling injuries last year Edelman was still Tom Brady’s number one target throughout the season, hitting the century mark for receptions for just the second time in his career which probably says more about the offence in general rather than Edelman’s achievement.
You look at the stats, you’ll see that Edelman’s 2019 was pretty much the eptiome of his career: about 11 yards per target, 6 or 7 TDs and over 3 first downs per game. Edelman is as reliable as they come and it will be interesting to see if Edleman stays with the Patriots with Tom gone, and whether Stidham utilises him in the same way.
Next up 1st round draft pick N’Keal Harry. Sidelined until week 8 of the 2019 campaign Harry did not live up to his 1st round draft capital investment and looked to struggle on the field. Reports from camp last year did seem to show some significant chemistry between him and Stidham though which is a good sign going forwards. Many are also predicting a massive leap forward in year 2.
Now lets move to some of the lesser known guys or players with more things to prove at wide receiver; Jakobi Meyers.
The undrafted free agent had a very pedestrian season last year but he does have a ton of potential and a crazy work ethic which really puts him in a good position inside the patriots organization. The additions of Will Hastings (Jarrett Stidham’s slot receiver from Auburn) former Jaguar Marquise Lee and former Cardinal Damiere Byrd adding some extra veterans to the roster probably doesn’t inspire confidence, but the Patriot way has never really been to have household names unless you are named Randy Moss or Rob Gronkowski.
A name slightly more well known though is Mohammed Sanu, someone who really disappointed last year. I know, I know…he got injured but even then…average at best. While I expect Gunner to see the field too, I don’t think he’ll do more than return punts and kicks in 2020.
At running back we really have some better options and great variety. Let’s start with a personal favorite of mine, James “Sweetfeet” White. White gives this patriots offence a ton of options. He can catch, run and is a real problem for teams in this regard. I expect him to be a great checkdown option for Stidham and a guy who will probably have more receiving yards than he will rushing yards just due to guys like Sony Michel and Damien Harris being a better fit to carry the rock.
Can the Patriots feed Michel, Harris, White and Bolden? That remains to be seen but it’s a bonus for Stidham to have such a wide range of support on the ground. I know I didn’t mention Rex Burkhead but it’s a belief of mine that he’ll be cut before the season begins.
Lastly, let’s talk about tight ends. If I’m being 100 percent honest, I don’t think Ryan Izzo and Matt Lacosse make the final 53 and fully expecting Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene to be the starters come opening week. Both Asiasi and Keene are massive upgrades over Lacosse and Izzo with solid hands but some shortcomings in their blocking game.
To summarise, this Patriots offence is just one or two pieces short of being elite. I can easily see the Patriots slipping into a wildcard slot this year giving Stidham is first taste of post season action. I think 10-6 is a very fair record prediction and not at all a reach like many people would have you believe. I have my ear very close to the ground when it comes to the Patriots and everything I’m hearing is good going forward.
So whilst we know Stidham won’t be asked to come in and be Tom Brady, what will he be, and what will he be asked to do?
Given his play at Auburn it’s clear Stidham can lead and offence and win games, the NFL is different in many ways. This season Stidham won’t be held back though, the coaching staff has belief in him and will expect him to make plays. He’s going to have veteran Julian Edelman in the slot for him, man mountain N’Keal Harry who will be able to high point ball in the endzone and tons of help in the backfield allowing Stidham to check down for 3 to 5 yards when there’s no other options. The offence the Patriots ran with Tom Brady is gone. Due to Stidham being more mobile and having a bigger arm than Brady, look for the play calling to open up a bit more for some designed quarterback runs and some deeper passes down field.
I could talk forever about what Stidham is capable of but the proof is in the pudding. I’m going to throw out some prediction numbers for his first season as an NFL starter and would love to hear what you guys think over on our social media channels, even if it’s to hurl abuse at me!
With Stidham at the helm I see the Patriots going 10-6, Stidham will pass for 3,500 yards, 27 touchdowns and 15 interceptions along with 300 yards on the ground and 5 touchdowns with his feet. Optimistic? Sure, but unrealistic? No, not with the greatest coach to ever do it backing him. Let’s get hyped for the 2020 season Patriots fans, and let’s enjoy life after Tom.
That’s my opinion, but what’s YOURS? Let us know on the social media. Do you think Stidham will be a success? Or is it time for the AFC East have a new king atop of its mountain.
If you enjoyed this article please remember to give it a share and follow me on social media, find me on Instagram @DustCoveredCleats and on twitter @DCCYTFootball and I’ll see you guys in the next article.
Don’t forget to go and find out about some other winners and losers from the fallout of the NFL draft with Sean’s articles posted recently. Do I agree with his selections? Let’s find out:
With almost every single pick in this entire draft being perfect besides a couple on the back end it’s hard to argue against Cincinnati having probably the strongest draft class this year.
Adding superstar LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick and giving him Tee Higgins with the first pick on day two was just fantastic. AJ Green’s future past 2020 (or maybe even before?) is uncertain so grabbing Higgins ensures that their new shiny toy has a bit of time to perfect his craft before the armbands are taken off.
Later in day two they added stud linebacker Logan Wilson, a player who I’d spoke very highly about in the weeks leading up to the draft. Going into day 3 the Bengals then picked up Linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither, Edge Rusher Khalid Kareem, Offensive Lineman Hakeem Adeniji and Linebacker Markus Bailey.
These are some fantastic picks which give the Bengals a ton of young talent going into the 2020 season.
Coming out of this draft the Miami Dolphins are a scary looking team. Not only did they add a ton of free agent weapons they went crazy in the draft and picked up a ton of talent (honestly, it could’ve been harder to do bad considering they had three first round picks).
They started with a marquee name and picked up though in Alabama Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, grabbed Austin Jackson at tackle to protect him and Noah Igbinoghene to pair with Byron Jones at cornerback.
Going into day two and three they managed to pick up Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley, even more protection for Tua. Meanwhile adding Raekwon Davis, Brandon Jones, Jason Strowbridge and Curtis Weaver to augment the defense. They added the LSU long snapper Blake Ferguson and Navy wide out Malcom Perry to finish up their draft.
Yes, there were a lot of darts to throw at the board for Brian Flores and company, but the Dolphins managed to hit the bullseye on multiple occasions rather than the floor.
This Miami team is going to be a real problem for the rest of the AFC this year.
Green Bay Packers
This might be one of the most inept drafts I’ve ever seen from a team. They entered a draft rich in wide receiver talent and didn’t draft one.
They could’ve really used some help for Aaron Rodgers but decided to use their first round pick on a below average quarterback with below average stats to sit behind a guy who probably has 3-4 years left at the helm. I can see why Packers fans are calling for blood.
With their remaining selections they picked up AJ Dillon a semi decent running back from Boston college, Cincinnati Bearcats tight end Josiah Deguara. Defensive picks were just as much of a mess picking up Kamal Martin, Vernon Scott and Johnathan Garvin, All very average players. They also added Jon Runyan and Simon Stepaniak to their offensive line but I don’t see either of these guys making a start.
Sorry cheeseheads, it’s going to be a tough season in Wisconsin.
New England Patriots
The Patriots really surprised me by trading out of the first round considering the talent available and the holes we needed filled, regardless on day two we starting making our picks and it wasn’t pretty. With the ESPN coverage indicating it was Bill’s dog Nike making the picks, they really did woof this draft!
The first selection the Patriots made was Kyle Dugger a safety from a DII school who while impressive would’ve been available much later one. Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings went next with Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene being two tight ends we picked up in the same round. Next off the board was a kicker in Justin Rohrwasser, a man with seriously questionable right wing tattoos and average at best stats.
In the final two rounds, the Patriots picked up Micheal Onwenu, Justin Herron and Dustin Woodard too add to the trenches while defensively we picked up team mate of Logan Wilson, Cassah Maluia. Now we know the Patriots love to pick players who can do one thing extremely well but given the amount of talent available when Bill had to call in his picks, this was extremely poor drafting.
Let’s hope we can have our returning veterans really help elevate these guys come season time.
I will be making another part to this article if you guys enjoyed it! Please let me know your winners and losers from the NFL Draft and more importantly, if you disagree with mine!
Remember to follow me on Instagram @DustCoveredCleats and on twitter @DCCYTFootball
If you believe the main commentators, most of the 32 NFL teams had a decent draft. There were a lot of A grades bandied about, with the Ravens, Cardinals, Cowboys, Vikings and even the Bengals getting praise for their hauls. But which teams raised a few eyebrows, had us wondering what they were thinking or just messed with our minds? Here are five teams that were more conundrum than consensus.
1. What are the Packers trying to tell Aaron Rodgers?
As we approached the draft, the general feeling was that the Packers needed more offensive weapons for Aaron Rodgers to throw to. And, with one of the deepest receiver classes in a long time, it was easy to predict that they’d pick one or two to keep Davante Adams company. But rather than finding Rodgers offensive tools to elevate his game, Green Bay opted for his heir apparent, Utah State QB Jordan Love, instead. I would not have wanted to be the pet cat in the Rodgers household on Thursday evening.
Getting all kinds of heat for this pick (our very own Kieran gave it an ‘F’) asx well as the draft as a whole (‘D’ and ‘loser’ grades were not uncommon), you have to question why they traded up to #26 to pick a high-risk guy with 17 interceptions last year. OK, Rodgers is 36 and on the back nine of his playing career (to mix my sporting metaphors), but there’s still plenty of life in the old dog yet – he’s still contracted for another four years.
They made matters worse by failing to pick a single WR – criminal, given the number of pass-catching options available in the 2020 class. Instead, they opted for a power running back (AJ Dillon) and then reached for a TE (Josiah Deguara).
With roster needs at receiver and offensive tackle, as well as linebacker and defensive line, it seems odd that they wouldn’t want to push on from reaching last season’s NFC championship game. But it seems the Pack have a longer-term vision and may be planning for the post-Rodgers era rather than building around him with a Tee Higgins or a Michael Pittman Jr. They could still have win-now aspirations and may just have wanted a decent backup in case the old boy gets crocked, but you can’t help but feel that Green Bay wasted their picks this time around… and upset their franchise QB to boot.
2. Did the Patriots make a dog’s dinner of the draft?
Bill Belichick doesn’t do templates; he does things his own way, ploughs his own furrow as it were. Being the coaching guru he is, what often seems like an odd pick to the rest of us usually works out OK. But even for him, this year’s draft seemed a little off-script. Maybe we should take more stock from the video feed from Belichick HQ that suggested Bill’s dog Nike was in charge of making the picks.
With Tom Brady, Danny Shelton, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and the once-retired Gronk all leaving town this spring, conventional wisdom would be to fill some of those holes with the Patriots’ 12 picks. But somewhat unconventionally (at least for everyone else bar Belichick), there was a bit of horse-trading, they moved back out of the first round and made their first pick at #37 instead of #23. Small-school safety Kyle Dugger – at least we’ve all heard of Lenior-Rhyne now – was followed by defensive linemen Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings: decent enough picks, but defence was never the issue here.
We were left with a few questions after New England’s business was done. We all expected tight ends to be on the shopping list but were Devin Asiasi (#91) and Dalton Keene (#101) the right selections at the time? Given their limitations last year, they also needed help out wide so, just like the Packers, why didn’t the Pats pick up at least one receiver, especially from this deeper-than-deep class?
They also didn’t take a QB, so we have to assume they trust former fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham to pick up the reins in TB12’s wake. They could have a Gardner Minshew on their hands or he could be more of a Ryan Finley – eek. Apparently, not going after Jalen Hurts, Jacob Eason or Jake Fromm to reduce the risk “wasn’t by design, it just didn’t work out that way”… not words you usually hear Belichick utter. (Then again, he may yet trade for Cam Newton or Andy Dalton and all this conjecture would be pointless.)
Not only did they ignore the quarterback prospects, they did so in favour of a kicker no one had heard of in Justin Rohrwasser. Without one on their roster, a kicker was always a need but was he the best value at #159, especially with Tyler Bass and Rodrigo Blankenship – arguably the two top options – still available? Apparently, his familiarity with playing and training in bad weather was a key selling point but even so, it still seemed a bit odd that the first kicker off the board was ranked about 12th in his position.
3. Did the Eagles get Hurts in case Wentz gets hurt?
I don’t recall any mock drafts pairing the Eagles with Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts, but that’s who they used their second-round pick on. Philly have already coughed up a cool $137 million on extending Wentz’s contract so they obviously see him as their QB1 for a fair while yet. So is investing the #53 pick in his understudy a wise move?
Their first pick, WR Jalen Reagor from TCU, gives Wentz a new target to throw to, and they got more speed later in the draft, as well as through a trade for the 49ers’ Marquise Goodwin. But opting to bring in a new backup at quarterback, rather than address corner, safety and linebacker, or give their current QB more playmakers to aim at, was an unexpected move.
GM Howie Roseman obviously believes in his current play-caller but also stated that he wants to make Philadelphia “a quarterback factory”. They do like a strong second choice, be it Nick Foles, Chase Daniels or Josh McCown, and it’s saved the day of late, especially with Wentz twice suffering season-ending injuries. But unless they use the athletic QB in a Taysom Hill-like way, as a Swiss Army knife on special teams, Hurts’ only hope of seeing the field in the short term will be if Wentz fails to suit up for some reason over the next three or four years. That may not happen for some time, if at all, so not waiting till Day 3, when Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason came off the board, seems like a reach with their second pick.
4. Just how many tight ends does Chicago need?
Having passed their first-rounder to the Raiders as part of the Khalil Mack deal, the Chicago Bears didn’t have many picks and only joined the draft at pick #43. Many were expecting them to use their two second-round selections to fill gaps at corner and safety. However reasonable the choice of Utah CB Jaylon Jennings was at #50, many of us were surprised that at #43, Chicago plumped for Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet with their first pick.
Don’t get me wrong: seen in a vacuum, he’s a great pick – Kmet was very much a top TE choice and will give Mitchell Trubisky or Nick Foles a viable red zone target. However, the Bears had added Jimmy Graham to an already-crowded tight end room during free agency, so the selection of Kmet only muddies the waters further. Unbelievably, his arrival means the Bears now have ten (yes, 10!) of ‘em – maybe someone’s getting TE and TEN confused?
5. Houston, do we have a problem?
One of the lasting images of this year’s remote draft will be Texans Head Coach – and now General Manager – Bill O’Brien losing his cool and storming off when a potential trade with Detroit fell through at the last minute. Not the personification of poise and professionalism maybe, but that frustration only mirrors how Houston fans must feel about O’Brien.
The fact that he has traded away two big stars, Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins, without getting a first-round pick for either are black marks against his record. The friction between him and Hopkins, and the arrival of a sub-par David Johnson in his stead, were part of the most puzzling free agency move this off-season. They also gave up a fourth-round pick in that deal, as well as a second-rounder in exchange for the LA Rams’ Brandin Cooks and a first-round spot (plus two top picks in 2021) when acquiring former Miami left tackle Laremy Tunsil. That may yet prove to be as high a price as the $66 million extension they’ve just forked out.
Those shenanigans left them with just five selections this weekend. Having seen DJ Reader leave for Cincinnati in free agency, at least DT Ross Blacklock was a sensible choice with their only selection in the first two rounds. Linebacker Jonathan Grennard in Round 3 was probably a reach, and neither CB John Reid nor WR Isiah Coulter seem to be immediate impact players, given the Texans’ depth at both positions.
Rather than roster-building, O’Brien seems to be slowly doing the opposite, leaving Houston fans increasingly frustrated with his unpredictable choices.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the big live NFL Draft event planned in Las Vegas has been shelved and, rather than sitting together in physical “war rooms”, team representatives are now preparing to dial in remotely from home. Obviously, all 32 teams could do with a successful haul come close of business on 25 April but if they can master Zoom or Skype, which teams really need to nail this first-ever virtual draft?
(7 picks: #1, #33, #65, #107, #147, #180, #215)
The league’s worst team last year obviously need as good a draft as any but it’s not quite as crucial as usual. In Cincy terms at least, they had an active free agency and filled a few holes, especially in defence. That said, with Andy Dalton still under contract, and Dre Kirkpatrick and Cordy Glenn released, Cincinnati’s best chances of acquiring extra picks didn’t come to fruition so they’ll just have to make the seven they do have count.
Trades notwithstanding, the Bengals are due to pick first in every round, giving them the next 10 days or so to decide what to do with the first overall pick (as if we didn’t know) and several hours each evening to consider any trade offers they receive before starting Days 2 and 3. They shouldn’t mess this up but you only have to go back 12 months to see how a draft can be a total washout. With injuries (Jonah Williams) and underperformance (Drew Sample, Ryan Finley) in abundance, only LB Germaine Pratt came out of the class of 2019 with any credit.
After, we assume, Ohio native Joe Burrow becomes their new franchise quarterback, the Bengals should get a couple of skill-position weapons for him to work with (as AJ Green and John Ross both hit free agency next season), at least another offensive lineman for protection and probably another linebacker.
(7 picks: #2, #66, #108, #142, #162, #216, #229)
Picking second after a terrible 2019, it should be no surprise to anyone that Washington also feature in this article. They have a sackful of needs, even after a busy free agency, just the standard seven picks with which to address them and a new Head Coach in Ron Rivera who’s going to want to make progress PDQ. So this draft matters.
Almost everyone has the ‘Skins taking Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young at #2 overall and while the defensive line isn’t their most pressing need, it would be hard to pass on a player widely regarded as a “generational talent”. Then again, they may trade the second spot away to someone like Miami, and grab one or two other first round picks. After that, the Redskins don’t pick again until #66, so they’re not going to get the pick of the bunch. They’ll need a tight end or two after Jordan’s Reed’s departure and Vernon Davis’ retirement, and a WR mate for Terry McLaurin: Chase Claypool or Antonio Gandy-Golden maybe?
If Trent Williams decides he’s washed his hands of the franchise after sitting out last year, left tackle will suddenly become a pressing need too.
The Dolphins opted for a total reboot last year, trading away the likes of Kenyan Drake and Minkah Fitzpatrick in exchange for a million draft picks (OK then, just 14, including three in Round 1 alone). Having acquired all this capital in exchange for bombing last year out, the Dolphins can’t afford to waste any of it now they have so many holes to plug.
With Josh Rosen probably not the guy and Fitzmagic a stop-gap at best, the Fins will probably take Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert, and have the ammo to move up from #5 if they need to. Their woeful pass rush has been bolstered in free agency with LB Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Shaq Lawson, and they now have the highest-paid corner in the business in Byron Jones, so that leaves their O-line as the other main priority. Picking at #18 may mean they miss out on the top-tier OL talent and have to wait for someone in the second wave, like Isiah Wilson or Ezra Cleveland, or they may double-dip on Days 1 and 2.
Los Angeles Chargers
(7 picks: #6, #37, #71, #112, #151, #186, #220)
On paper, the Chargers don’t look in bad shape so suggesting they need a blinding draft might seem to be over-stating it. But many of their best players –DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, TE Hunter Henry and centre Mike Pouncey among them – are entering the final year of their contracts. It’s time to put some successors in place now, as they won’t be able to keep them all.
In Philip Rivers’ wake, Tyrod Taylor is the bridge QB for now but LA are touted to pick their playcaller of the future at #6; whether that’s Tua, Herbert or Love remains to be seen.
Free agency signings such as corner Chris Harris and right tackle Bryan Bulaga suggest the Chargers might be going all out this year. Another lineman or two are on the cards too, so expect a tackle in Round 2 – a Josh Jones or a Lucas Niang maybe. Later rounds will give the Chargers the chance to fill out the wide receiver room and beef up the secondary.
Having shelled out $33 million for Teddy Bridgewater, a full-scale rebuild seems to be on the cards in Carolina under new HC Matt Rhule.
Jets WR Robby Anderson joined during free agency, so their offensive focus can probably be directed towards O-line help to support the running game of Christian McCaffrey, and a TE to replace Greg Olsen. That said, they’re more likely to look at their immediate defensive needs. With Luke Kuechly’s retirement, only one starting cornerback of note and the D-line needing help, just picking the best defensive player available for several rounds might not be a bad tactic.
They have more than enough picks to haul in a strong draft class this year. They’re out of the gate at #7, behind three QB-needy teams so they’ll be spoilt for choice when their time comes: at least one of LB Isiah Simmons, CB Jeff Okudah and DT Derrick Brown should be there for the taking.
You could argue that the salary-cap-strapped Jags need help pretty much everywhere and anywhere. HC Doug Marrone is in one of hottest hot seats in the NFL and needs his 12 picks to pay off if he’s to avoid another losing season.
Jacksonville’s defence has more holes than a block of Emmental, having lost Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye and Calais Campbell, so they’ll need to use some of their extensive draft capital early on. With picks #9 and #20, they could start at corner and on the edge. If Okudah falls to them, they’ll snap him up and Yetur Gross-Matos would be a solid pick at 20. Gardner Minshew may yet get some competition on Day 2 if the Jags consider Jacob Eason at #42.
Las Vegas Raiders
(7 picks: #12, #19, #80, #81, #91, #121, #159)
Las Vegas made some decent FA pick-ups, including LBs Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and safety Jeff Heath, so a few more shrewd selections could propel them from also-ran to playoff contender.
Now that the draft is online rather than at a massive public event, there’s slightly less need for the former hosts to make a big splash in their new home. Nonetheless, the Silver and Black have two first round selections with which to make some Day 1 headlines, with wide receivers like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and CeeDee Lamb being widely mocked to the Raiders. If they go that route, their selection would probably leapfrog Nelson Agholor and Zay Jones in the pecking order.
Cornerback could bethe other likely first-round target while Days 2 and 3 will likely see them hone grab a defensive tackle and added depth at safety and linebacker.
A contract extension for QB Kirk Cousins can only mean one thing: the Vikes are in “win-now” mode. But if they are going to go a step or two further than last year, they’ll have to address several areas, on both sides of the ball, with their dozen 2020 picks.
Offensively, the Stefon Diggs trade to the Bills means a viable #2 wideout to support Adam Thielen is vital. The WR class is deep this year but I suspect pick #22 or #25 could well be used on someone like Tee Higgins or Laviska Shenault.
A guard or two might be wise, having released Josh Kline, but addressing the defence is arguably as pressing. They could do with two or three corners to fill the vacancies left by Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander (both Bengals now) and Xavier Rhodes, now with the Colts. There’s also no depth at safety and with Eversen Griffen also off to pastures new, a defensive end like Iowa’s AJ Epenesa is also on Minnesota’s shopping list.
There was a time, not that long ago, when suggesting the Pats really need to nail this draft would’ve been considered heresy, or even the first signs of madness. But for a change, they need a lot of their 12 picks to hit the target.
With the untested Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer their only choices at QB, Bill Belichick suddenly has much to ponder in the post-TB12 era. Are they happy with their options or will they be in the market for someone like Jordan Love at #23 or even Jalen Hurts in a later round?
Both are possible, but their offense could really benefit from a track star who can take the top off a defence. If they go WR in Round 1, Henry Ruggs could be available, or they might wait for Denzel Mimms or Chase Claypool. Post-Gronk, there’s also been a noticeable TE-shaped hole in the Patriots’ ranks so the top dog here, Cole Kmet, might even be the first selection.
In later rounds, New England really need some of those compensatory picks to find viable replacements in their defence, having lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, and defensive tackle Danny Shelton, during free agency. And they don’t have a kicker on their roster, so a top prospect like Tyler Bass may well be Boston-bound.
(7 picks: #43, #50, #163, #196, #200, #226, #233)
In complete contrast to the Dolphins, the Bears don’t pick till midway through Round 2. Having had limited cap space to play the free agency field, Chicago are going to have to play a canny game to make the picks they do have count.
Having already acquired Nick Foles to give the troubled Mitchell Trubisky some competition, they’re not likely to consider anything but a late-round ‘project’ at QB. Therefore, expect the gaps in the backfield left by departing safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and corner Prince Amukamara to be the ones the Bears fill at #43 and #50. Could Grant Delpit fall that far, for example, or maybe Antoine Winfield Jr?
It won’t be until staggering 113(!) picks later that Chicago will get the chance to do anything else, like find a wideout to complement Allen Robinson or add a piece to their O-line, but they’ll probably need to do both with their Day 3 choices.
Looking back at last season, there were some great games and some awful ones. Amazing throws, catches and runs. Incredible touchdowns. Last-ditch tackles. But that’s the case every year. So what were the events that really defined the campaign? Here’s the @Full10Yards take on what 2019 should be remembered for.
1. Luck finally runs out as Colts’ QB retires
The first headline of the 2019 season was written during Indianapolis’ preseason game with the Chicago Bears, when 29-year-old franchise quarterback Andrew Luck suddenly announced his retirement. Sadly, he was booed off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as the news leaked out.
The reasons cited at an emotional press conference in August centred on the mental and physical toll of the injuries sustained during his career. Referring to the seemingly endless cycle of injury and rehab, he said “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game… and the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football. It’s the hardest decision of my life but it is the right one.”
Touted as a generational talent, the Stanford QB was selected as the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft as the successor to Peyton Manning. He immediately delivered, leading the Colts to the playoffs in his first three seasons without missing a start. His best season, 2014, saw him throw an NFL-leading 40 touchdowns as Indy reached the AFC Championship game.
But during his final four years, he missed 26 games and played in pain most of the time. He tore abdominal muscles, rib cartilage and a labrum, lacerated a kidney, suffered concussion and, in what was probably the final straw, endured a mystery ankle issue that was never resolved.
Despite an injury-blighted 2015, he signed a $140m extension to become the highest-paid player in the NFL, but then missed all of 2017. The four-time Pro-Bowler came back with a career-high 4,593 yards in 2018, and finished his career with 23,761 yards (third on the Colts’ all-time list) and 171 touchdowns.
2. Player holdouts become a thing
The 2019 season saw more NFL holdouts than ever before. Skipping training camp seemed to be an increasingly common and effective tactic as players tried following in the footsteps of Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack.
There are several reasons why players hold back their services and demand a trade: it’s usually about money so each franchise needed to weight up whether keeping the player active benefits either party in the long run. And in 2019, the results were mixed.
Take Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon from the LA Chargers. With two years left on his rookie deal, Zeke held out through August and got a six-year, $90m contract extension for his troubles. Gordon didn’t. He was looking to prove his value though his absence but the Chargers dug their heels in and leaned on Austin Ekeler instead. Gordon, in the fifth year of his rookie deal, caved after a few weeks of cat and mouse, and slinked back into the fold in late September when his request fell on deaf ears.
Despite being set to make a paltry $1.1 million in 2019, Saints star wideout Michael Thomas was adamant that he wouldn’t hold out, but he did. But boy, did it pay off. Negotiations led to a $100m, five-year deal – a new record for a receiver.
The Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney also had a deal below market value so he sat out all of preseason, prompting a trade to the Seahawks days before the start of the campaign, while the Jaguars’ defensive end Yannick Ngakoue refused to attend minicamp and preseason workouts until his contract was resolved.
There were also two holdouts not driven by the dollar: Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey demanded a trade after a touchline bust-up with head coach Doug Marrone during their Week 2 game against Houston, and Washington tackle Trent Williams sat out the entire year due to the way he believed the Redskins medical staff handled a health scare.
To me, saying you won’t play till you get what you want feels like a spoilt child sulking and stamping their feet. Then again, it might be worth a try if you’re gonna get paid $100 million to zip it.
3. Antonio Brown quits the NFL
The former Pittsburgh wide receiver had a difficult 2019 to say the least. Having bounced around three different teams in under a year, he tried to claim back around $40 million in unpaid wages, fines, guarantees and bonuses from the Raiders and the Patriots.
Oakland acquired him from the Steelers but cut him before Week 1, creating a flurry of complaints concerning fines, lost guaranteed money and a $1m signing bonus voided because he was axed prior to playing a regular season game. Picked up by the Patriots just hours later, Brown is also attempting to salvage his unpaid Week 1 salary plus another $9m signing bonus, accusing the franchise of breach of contract. Then there’s the two (unsuccessful) grievances he filed against the NFL while disputing the ban on his preferred style of helmet.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Brown was also accused of sexual assault by his former trainer, Britney Taylor, while another woman accused him of sexual misconduct and sending intimidating text messages. Brown strenuously denies the charges but that final claim tipped the scales for the Pats. He was released after just 11 days and one game.
Soon after, AB84 hit social media saying he wasn’t going to play in the NFL any more, as team owners can obviously cancel whatever deals they liked. He also took pot-shots at Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Steelers teammate Ben Roethlisberger, who had both been linked with scandals in the past without much fall-out.
The investigations rumble on but whatever the eventual outcome, the league has lost a star. The 31-year-old was one of football’s most prolific offensive players with the Steelers, where his 686 catches and 9,145 receiving yards were the highest totals for a receiver over a six-year span. But it has also lost a troubled soul. Let’s hope he gets the support and professional help he needs.
4. Kaepernick holds a weird workout
Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly a divisive figure. At his peak, the quarterback led the 49ers to consecutive NFC championship games but in his last season, the Niners went 2-14. He has been out of the league since 2016 after kneeling during the national anthem – a protest against police brutality on people of colour. Since then, there has been no love lost between the player and the NFL.
Having settled a lawsuit with the NFL in February after claiming teams blanked him in retaliation for his protests, the league organised an out-of-the-blue, take-it-or-leave-it tryout for Kaepernick in mid-November. He was given just two hours to accept. A work-out for 25 teams was scheduled to start at the Atlanta Falcons’ training complex but amid bickering over terms and conditions, Kap pulled out and held his own private workout at a high school in Georgia, 60 miles away. About six representatives made it to the new location in time.
The workout was clearly a PR stunt by the NFL – probably in an attempt to deflect criticism of their treatment of Kaepernick – but it was his only shot to get in front of scouts. As a free agent, he is eligible to sign with any team and at the time, several potential suitors were being mooted.
Regardless of the motivations behind it, one guy did something out of it but it wasn’t Kaepernick. Jordan Veasy, one of the receivers used in the workout, was subsequently signed to the Redskins’ practice squad, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.
5. A new position is invented: the quarterback-up
How many quarterbacks saw game time in 2019? Would you believe 57? Most teams had to rely on at least one stand-in and in a few cases, more than one. Every week or two, it seemed like a franchise QB was replaced by a stand-in for one reason or another, and with varying degrees of success.
Injuries were obviously the main reason for a swap and for some, there was hardly a blip. 41-years-young Drew Brees lost five weeks but the Saints’ stand-in Teddy Bridgewater held the fort admirably, going a perfect 5-0 in his stead. Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes also missed game time when he dislocated his kneecap against Denver, but veteran Matt Moore ably took over.
Alas, it didn’t always work out so well. Jets back-up Trevor Siemian – pressed into action when Sam Darnold contracted mono – didn’t even complete two quarters before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Luke Falk’s two subsequent starts produced 0 TDs, 3 INTs and 14 sacks. Likewise, after Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow surgery, Pittsburgh were forced to call upon Mason Rudolph and then Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges (both underdelivered) while Matthew Stafford’s deputies were Jeff Driskel (0-3) and then David Blough. The undrafted rookie had a blinding first few minutes, throwing TD passes against the Bears on his first two possessions, but the rest of his five-game run was ‘sub-optimal’.
Retirement also played it part, with the Colts forced to start Jacoby Brissett after Andrew Luck retired, while the Giants hastened the changing of the guards just two weeks into the season, subbing in Daniel Jones at the expense of the outgoing Eli Manning.
But for many teams, starting QBs were benched left, right and centre purely due to their performance. After a mediocre stretch in Miami, Ryan Tannehill took the Titans’ starting job from an underwhelming Marcus Mariota in mid-season and promptly went 9-4, including two on-the-road playoff victories at New England and Baltimore. With 22 TDs and 6 INTs, Tannehill went from ‘work in progress’ for the Dolphins to Comeback Player of the Year in Tennessee.
Back in Miami, Josh Rosen floundered for six games, leaving Ryan Fitzpatrick to pick up the pieces and win five games (despite the team being in full rebuild mode) while in Washington, journeyman Case Keenum paved the way for young buck Dwayne Haskins, the possible future of the franchise. In contrast, Ryan Finley really isn’t the future in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton was benched with the Bengals at 0-8 but the rookie was beyond terrible. After three more painful losses, Dalton was restored.
Likewise for the Panthers, Cam Newton’s injury gave Kyle Allen his chance. After four wins in four starts, he was sacked seven times by the 49ers (with a painful 28.9 passer rating) in Week 8, and was replaced by Will Grier. But he was even worse in his two starts: amid a flurry of interceptions, fumbles and sacks, Carolina lost both by 32 points.
There was one other guy I deliberately haven’t mentioned, as he deserves an entry of his own, so let’s move on…
6. Minshew Mania
Having signed a $88m deal to become Jacksonville’s QB1, Nick Foles went down with a shoulder injury in Week 1. The Jaguars needed a new hero. Step forward sixth-round draft pick Gardner Minshew II.
The rookie put the Jags’ first W on the board in his second start, a Thursday night win over the Titans, and by the end of September, he’d been named Offensive Rookie of the Month, having thrown for 905 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in four games. The Jags were 4-5 when he handed the reins back to Foles but not before “Minshew Mania” had taken hold.
Not all heroes wear capes; some wear helmets and cleats. And on their days off, they wear aviators, headbands and cut-off denim ‘jorts’. Aided by giveaways of fake moustaches at home games, fans dressed themselves and their kids as Minshew. His distinctive look even became the Halloween costume of choice. With plans for his own fashion range, Minshew has since filed trademark applications for several terms, including Minshew Mania.
Somewhat appropriately for our moustachioed maverick, the mania ended in November (see the UK men’s health campaign Movember to see why), when Nick Foles returned. However, Minshew wasn’t quite done, replacing the former Eagle halfway through a 28-11 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 13.
Looking beyond the hype and hysteria, Minshew racked up 3,217 yards, 21 TDs and six INTs in 14 appearances, and oversaw all six of Jacksonville’s wins. Solid enough production to reassure fans, should he be called upon again.
7. Myles Garrett loses his head
As we all know (*cough*), Rule 12, Article 17 of the NFL rulebook states: “A player may not use a helmet … as a weapon to strike, swing at, or throw at an opponent.”
Well, eight seconds from the end of Cleveland’s fractious 21-7 victory over Pittsburgh in November, that’s exactly what occurred. Steelers QB Mason Rudolph had just completed a pass when he was engulfed by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. The players shoved each other, then wrestled and grabbed each other’s face masks. The top draft pick from 2017 pulled Rudolph’s helmet off and clobbered him over the head with it.
The ensuing melee led to three immediate ejections, followed by fines for both teams and suspensions for the main protagonists. Garrett’s indefinite ban for his actions – termed “totally unacceptable and inexcusable” by coaches, players and pundits alike – was only rescinded after the season ended. And he had previous: Garrett had already been handed a $50,000 fine for punching a Titans player and two roughing-the-passer penalties against the Jets, one of which ended Trevor Siemian’s season.
At the time, Garret said: “I lost my cool and I regret it. I hurt my whole team.” He later stated: “A win’s a win. I don’t think it’s overshadowed by what happened.” Yeah right, fella – we’re only going to remember the result.
Contrite at the time, Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens added: “I’m embarrassed. Myles is embarrassed. It’s not good. He understands it’s totally unacceptable.” But just a couple of weeks later, Kitchens was pictured wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt, reigniting tensions just 48 hours before the teams’ rematch. Smart.
8. The Patriots play i-spy (again)
There’s a well-known saying: “To get caught spying on your opponents once is unfortunate; to get caught twice is foolish.” OK, there isn’t, but given New England’s track record, there should be.
In early December, the Patriots acknowledged that a video crew working for them filmed the Bengals’ sideline during their game with the Browns, violating league rules in much the same way they did in 2007 during the original Spygate scandal. The Patriots admitted that a crew, making an online series titled “Do Your Job”, inappropriately filmed the field from the press box, and failed to inform the Bengals and the league of their intentions. They did, however, hand over all footage. In a statement, the Patriots accepted full responsibility for the incident (blamed on an error with credentials) but Bill Belichick distanced himself and the team from the shenanigans.
When confronted by security, the video guy reportedly said he was an employee of Robert Kraft, not the team itself. That’s very interesting, as a key witness 12 years ago told investigators that was exactly what he’d been told to say if caught.
The seized tape apparently showed eight minutes of footage focusing on Bengals coaches signalling during the game. Sounds incriminating enough to me, especially with a game with Cincy coming up. Yet according to the NFL investigation, there was no clear evidence of the Patriots trying to gain a competitive advantage.
Maybe it was just a communication breakdown but with the Pats also at the centre of the 2015 Deflategate scandal, I can’t help thinking “there’s no smoke without fire” – and that is a well-known saying.
9. Tough Mudder comes to the NFL
In October, the Super Bowl-bound 49ers faced the Redskins at FedEx Field, holding them to 154 total yards and zero points in a 9-0 win. The game was played in appalling conditions: driving wind and rain turned the already substandard field into a quagmire, with many players struggling to keep their feet in the pooling surface water.
Not surprisingly, literally nothing of any note happened during the regulation 60 minutes (check out the box score if you like). ‘Skins QB Case Keenum made nine throws for 77 yards and Washington had -7 net yards in the fourth quarter. On the other side, Jimmy G only made 12 of 21 attempts and the game’s only points came courtesy of Robbie Gould’s boot.
That’s why the game will be remembered for what happened after the last play. Nick Bosa sacked Keenum as the clock hit zero and celebrated with a headfirst slide 10 yards across the grass. Fully embracing the conditions and their inner child, several teammates joined in. Before you knew it, a pack of white jerseys (OK, brown) were skimming across the sodden field like body-boarders.
Niners defensive end Deforest Buckner said. “It was a lot of fun. It was definitely worth it. Everybody started sliding around. It was like a bunch of little kids out there. That’s part of the game, having fun. Right now, we’re having a lot of fun.” Cornerback Richard Sherman added: “It takes you back to being a kid: you’re sloshing around and your shoes are full of water and mud. Guys had a lot of fun slipping and sliding out there.”
10. A new UK venue earns its spurs
Coming to London for regular season games since 2007, the NFL continues to grow over here. British fans sport flags, foam fingers, face paint and the jerseys of all 32 teams. We hang out like old friends, then scrap like alley cats for the merchandise fired into the crowd by the ‘party patrol’. And then there’s the possibility of a London-based franchise.
In 2019, we got four games for the first time as the all-singing-and-dancing Tottenham Hotspur Stadium joined Wembley as a UK International Series venue. In early October, the Oakland Raiders saw off the Chicago Bears in front of 60,463 people. The Raiders led 17-0 at half-time, the Bears fought back with 21 unanswered points but Oakland eventually triumphed 24-21.
But it wasn’t Josh Jacobs’s late TD or Gareon Conley’s game-ending interception that will stand the test of time. It was the authentic experience created by an arena built to NFL specifications that went down so well with players, coaches and fans. The dual-purpose venue has a grass football pitch (used just five days earlier for Spurs’ 7-2 Champions league defeat to Bayern Munich) that retracts beneath the stand, revealing a synthetic, NFL-ready surface. Then there’s the bespoke, super-sized locker rooms and conference suites for both teams.
No wonder Raiders QB Derek Carr liked it so much. “Everything is first class, every little detail,” he said afterwards. “This is definitely one of, if not the best, stadiums I’ve ever been at.” Bears coach Matt Nagy concurred, adding: “It blows you away – it’s absolutely phenomenal.”
Rather than borrowing a ‘soccer’ stadium like Wembley, the NFL may just have found its spiritual home on these shores.
11. And one more for luck…
We started with a story about Luck so for a purr-fect finish, we should end with one too, even if it takes us over our designated 10 items.
During the second quarter of Dallas’ Monday night game at the Giants’ MetLife Stadium on 4 November, play was delayed for a few minutes when a black cat trotted onto the field. Displaying Amari Cooper-esque speed and agility, the elusive feline evaded players, officials, stewards and security with some neat route running and play-action before heading off under one of the stands.
Game caller Kevin Harlan had a ball, providing play-by-play commentary on the moggy’s progress: “Now he’s at the five… he’s walking to the three… he’s hit the two. A state trooper has come on to the field and the cat runs into the end zone! That. Is. A. Touchdown!”
The black cat seemed to give the Giants instant bad karma, as the home side threw away a 9-3 lead to eventually lose 37-18. And for weeks afterwards, superstitious fans clocked the fact that the ‘cat’ teams – the Lions, Panthers, Bengals and Jaguars – couldn’t buy a win for love nor money. In fact, it took almost a month, when Cincy beat the Jets on 1 December, for the hex to be lifted.