Jimmy Garoppolo was a bit scatterbrained on Friday afternoon as he tried to recall all of his activities and the scores of people he was meeting.
“Sorry, drawing a blank on these names,” he said. “There’s been a lot going on today.”
No, Garoppolo wasn’t in Foxborough practicing with his Patriots teammates on Friday. And while he has been absorbing his new playbook and the Patriot Way nonstop since being drafted three weeks ago, that wasn’t what was keeping him busy the last few days.
Instead, Garoppolo was in Los Angeles with 35 of his fellow rookies to participate in the Rookie Premiere, an event organized by the NFL Players Association that serves as an introduction into the business side of football. Held from Thursday to Saturday, the event helped Garoppolo and his peers realize that they’re in the pros now, and money and image matter.
“These guys are so focused on just making it to the NFL, which is really about performance on the field, but the average career being 3½ years, they have to think about what they’re going to do when their football days are over,” said Keith Gordon, president of NFL Players Inc. “It’s our job once they get here to really get out that personality and story and make it just as important as the performance on the field.”
The event was invitation-only, and Garoppolo was joined by most of the biggest stars in this year’s draft, including Jadeveon Clowney, Blake Bortles, Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack, Johnny Manziel, and Teddy Bridgewater. The NFLPA also invited five players who participated in the 2014 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl all-star game, including Patriots tight end AsaWatson, an undrafted rookie, and former Boston College running back Andre Williams, now with the Giants, participated as well.
Garoppolo may not play much in his early years, but the NFLPA earmarked him as a potential star.
“We identify who is showing up as potentially marketable and desirable, and that the commercial community is going to want to associate with,” Gordon said. “This is an orientation specifically about television deals to sponsorships to licensing of consumer products and the way in which this sport is brought to life through these young guys.”
Garoppolo was forced to miss the Patriots’ OTAs on Thursday and Friday — don’t worry, he squared everything away with Bill Belichick and brought his iPad to California to study the playbook — but the education he’s getting in Los Angeles is arguably just as important.
The event is now in its 20th year, and began as a way for the NFLPA’s official trading card company, Panini America, to get all of the top rookies in one location to hold photo shoots for their rookie cards.
The photo shoot is still one of the highlights of the weekend, and was held Thursday at the LA Coliseum.
But now the Rookie Premiere is so much more — a sort of pre-orientation to the NFL Rookie Symposium, an event for all 255 drafted players that addresses similar topics and will be held June 22-28 in Ohio.
In addition to the photo shoot and meeting sponsors from major brands such as Nike, Pepsi, FedEx, and EA Sports, the players at the Rookie Premiere are getting tutorials on life as a pro football player from ex-players such as Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt. Garoppolo said Faulk’s stories of escaping a harsh inner-city childhood in New Orleans were the most enlightening, but he is learning a lot from all of the different seminars.
“The main thing these speakers are trying to stress is just how to be professional, how to make the most out of the opportunities that we’re given at such a young age,” said Garoppolo, 22. “It helps to just open your eyes up to everything the NFL has to offer. The NFLPA does a great job with the players in helping us become professionals, and that’s what this weekend is all about.”
Garoppolo certainly seems to be soaking up a lot of new information. He was described by his coaches and professors at Eastern Illinois as someone who always sat in the front of the class, paid attention, and participated in discussions, and apparently did much of the same in LA.
“He’s been paying very close attention, taking copious notes during the day,” Gordon said. “He’s taking it very seriously, and you can see the wheels in his head turning already.”
Garoppolo has spent a lot of time around his fellow rookies, from the Senior Bowl to the combine to the NFL Draft in New York, and is again developing lasting bonds at the Rookie Premiere.
“It’s a cool experience, going through the whole process with this rookie class,” Garoppolo said. “We’ve really become closer and got to know each other on a personal level, and it’s always cool to build relationships like that.”
Lots of plots, subplots to Patriots-Broncos
Forget 49ers-Seahawks, Ravens-Steelers, Bears-Packers, DeSean Jackson-Eagles, or any of the NFL’s other top rivalries. As Aqib Talib generously reminded us last week, the fiercest, juiciest, and most fascinating rivalry of the upcoming season will be Patriots-Broncos. The number of plotlines between the teams feels like something straight out of Hollywood.
You have the old favorites, of course — the battle for AFC supremacy, Tom Brady vs. PeytonManning, Wes Welker vs. his old team, Manning vs. Bill Belichick.
But this offseason, the rivalry has gotten even spicier. The Broncos signed T.J. Ward, the former Browns safety who doled out the vicious hit to Rob Gronkowski that destroyed his knee last December.
A hero turned into a villain when Talib not only left the Patriots for the Broncos, but on his way out the door, Talib accused Belichick and the Patriots of misreporting his injury so as to decrease his value in free agency (the NFL found no evidence of any wrongdoing). And the Patriots’ decision to pay Darrelle Revis instead of Talib will certainly be examined closely throughout the season. Revis, almost two years removed from ACL surgery, signed for one year and $12 million (plus an option year), while Talib got $25 million guaranteed from the Broncos over three seasons.
“Bill sure didn’t want to give me that money,” Talib said last week on NFL Network. “Hey, man, he gave it to Revis. It is what it is.”
Broncos at Patriots, Nov. 2 at Gillette Stadium. As Terrell Owens would say, get your popcorn ready.
Crowded field involved in painkiller lawsuit
Two more points to consider about the painkiller lawsuit filed by more than 500 players against the NFL last week.
■ The players will use individual tales of woe — such as that of former 49ers center JeremyNewberry, suffering from mid-grade kidney failure because of too many team-administered injections of Toradol, he claims — to win in the court of public opinion. But individual cases won’t be brought up in a court of law.
The players filed a class-action lawsuit, claiming that drug abuse and the lack of “informed consent” was systemic throughout the NFL and not specific to any team or incident. The players sued the NFL because the league has the deepest pockets, but they are not suing any specific teams or doctors, and cannot use individual cases such as Newberry’s to bolster their lawsuit.
“They want to blame this on an NFL culture, and that’s why they’re not going after individual doctors,” a league medical source said.
That the players don’t want to have their personal experiences with drugs put under an intense microscope in court calls into question whether many of these claims are legit, or whether players are simply looking for a monetary handout. Former offensive lineman Ross Tucker wrote last week for the Sporting News that he recently received an e-mail “recommending that players who attempted to sign up for the lawsuit . . . do so again because the website registering all of the names crashed as a result of so many former players trying to sign up.”
Even if this is a money grab, the negative PR could still force the NFL to settle quickly.
■ The abuse of Toradol will come up a lot in this lawsuit, but the team physicians were just as confused about Toradol’s effects as the players were.
Toradol is not a painkiller, but an anti-inflammatory that is classified by the FDA as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Other NSAIDs include Advil, Motrin, Aleve, and several other over-the-counter medications.
The FDA’s warning label says to not use Toradol for more than five consecutive days, but is otherwise muddled.
“It doesn’t say, use for five days, rest for five days, and then it’s safe again,” the source said. “It doesn’t say rest for one day. It doesn’t say anything. It just says, no more than five days of consecutive use.”
NFLPA should look into Lee’s knee injury
Even if Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee does put the blame squarely on himself for tearing his ACL last week at organized team activities, the NFLPA owes it to its constituents to examine the situation thoroughly and make sure the Cowboys aren’t at all accountable.
After all, “increased player safety” is one of the few victories the NFLPA can take away from the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, in which rookie pay was slashed, veterans lost contract leverage, and owners are making huge profits. The quality-of-life improvements include strict rules about what is and isn’t allowed in offseason practices to help players rest their bodies and remain in good health.
Lee tore his ACL on Tuesday when he engaged with offensive lineman Zack Martin during a screen pass. The CBA expressly prohibits any live contact, OL vs. DL pass protection drills, and WR vs. DB bump-and-run drills during OTAs. Lee, one of the Cowboys’ captains, said his injury was nothing more than a freak accident, and it’s unclear whether the Cowboys violated any rules. But the NFLPA owes it to the 2,800 other players — especially those who don’t have the same roster security as does Lee — to investigate the situation to the fullest and raise questions about what is going on at the Cowboys’ practices. Given all that the union lost in the new CBA, it needs to protect the few chips it has left.
Dolphins’ strategy sounds familiar
Feels like a serious case of déjà vu in regard to the Dolphins talking about a new offense.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin in January 2012 at his introductory news conference: “We will incorporate an aggressive, up-tempo attack in all three phases of the game.”
Then-Miami quarterback David Garrard in June 2012: “It’s definitely different in respect to the tempo you are normally used to. It is basically like a two-minute drill the entire game. It is going to give the defense a lot of problems.”
Philbin last week in regard to new coordinator Bill Lazor: “We want to see an offense that plays fast with tempo . . . we want to see an offense that’s explosive.”
The Dolphins finished 28th in offensive snaps in 2012, and 24th in 2013. We’ll believe the “tempo” thing when we see it.
June 1 is a magic date on the NFL calendar, and don’t be surprised to see a little free agent movement this week and maybe a handful of trades. If a team waits until after June 1 to cut or trade a player, it allows the team to spread the remaining dead salary cap money across two years instead of absorbing it all this year (example: Andre Johnson would have counted $11.9 million against the Texans’ salary cap in 2014 had they traded him before June 1, but would carry charges of $4.6 million and $7.3 million the next two years if they trade him now). Players who are signed after June 1 also don’t count toward the compensatory pick equation. A few notable free agents available include tight ends Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley, running backs Ronnie Brown, Michael Bush, and Willis McGahee, receivers Santonio Holmes and MilesAustin, cornerback Asante Samuel, and safety Steve Gregory . . . It’s great that Michael Vick is trying to squash controversy by calling Geno Smith the Jets’ unquestioned starting quarterback. And it’s great that the Jets are calling it an open competition, so that Smith doesn’t get lazy or complacent. But the reality is that the Jets need only marginally competent quarterback play this year to compete for the playoffs, and they better not marry themselves to Smith just because they drafted him in the second round last year. They have a phenomenal defense under Rex Ryan, a stout offensive line, and a solid running game with Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell. All they need is a quarterback to not make mistakes, and who would you feel more comfortable with, Vick or Smith? I know who I’m taking, and it’s not the kid who threw 12 touchdown passes and 21 picks last year . . . So much for the NFLPA’s contention that the salary cap is going to spike over the next several years. Texans owner Bob McNair told Sports Business Journal that the rise in the salary cap from $123 million to $133 million this year was an anomaly because of the new Thursday night package from CBS, and that the cap should level out perhaps as soon as 2015 . . . The NFL perhaps has never seen as much upheaval in its ownership ranks as it has undergone this past season, with Lions owner William ClayFord, Bills owner RalphWilson, and Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer dying over the last few months. Add in former Titans owner Bud Adams dying last year, and the NFL will now have four new primary owners next season. Now, all four owners were elderly and didn’t participate much in league meetings the last few years, and only one team (Buffalo) will not be passed along to family members. But there will be several fresh faces and new voices in the league meetings next spring . . . The charitable foundation for ex-offensive lineman Matt Light is hosting its second annual Cornhole Commotion tournament on June 14 at the Dana-Farber Field House at Gillette Stadium. Visit http://www.mattlight72.com for more information. And the foundation of Patriots safety Patrick Chung is hosting its second annual Summer Music Camp for Real Teens for Boston area kids age 12-15. Visit chungchanginglives.org for more information.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.