NFL training facilities are mostly quiet now as the calendar approaches July. Players, coaches, and team personnel disperse for five weeks to relax and get mentally and physically ready for training camp at the end of the month. The only football being played right now puts us to sleep before halftime.
But even though there wasn’t much “real” football over the last three months — teams were allowed to hold 10 weeks of practice, but with strict and specific non-contact rules — plenty of interesting story lines developed across the league.
Before flipping ahead to the 2014 preseason, let’s take a look back at the most important developments of the offseason:
■ Significant injuries — Not much good can happen during the offseason workouts, but playoff hopes can be derailed with one broken bone or torn ligament. And as usual, there were a handful of significant injuries this offseason, taking some of the league’s noteworthy players off the field this fall.
The Falcons lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, their 2010 first-round pick and a budding star, to a torn Achilles’ and placed him on injured reserve. Colts defensive tackle Fili Moala tore his ACL and was put on IR, and journeyman receiver Domenik Hixon tore his ACL and subsequently retired. Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee, the team’s defensive captain, tore his ACL on May 27, but the Cowboys are holding out hope that he could return before the end of the season. The Cowboys didn’t put Lee on IR, and have the option of putting him on short-term IR when the season begins.
Elsewhere, two notable free agent signees got off to bad starts with their teams by going under the knife this offseason — Dolphins running back Knowshon Moreno had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, as did new Redskins pass rusher Jason Hatcher. And veteran Giants linebacker Jon Beason broke a bone in his foot and tore a ligament, but the team announced he did not need surgery and hopes to have him back early in the regular season.
■ Staying out of trouble — A lot was made last offseason of the NFL’s problem with off-field arrests (the Aaron Hernandez arrest certainly put the subject in the crosshairs).
It’s only fair to note, then, that the NFL’s arrest numbers were cut in half this offseason and were the lowest among the last five years. From January 1 through Friday (June 27), when players have a lot of free time to get in trouble, there were a total of 19 arrests involving 18 players, according to a database compiled by USA Today. Compare that with 36 arrests over the same time frame in 2013, 23 arrests in 2012, 24 in 2011, and 28 in 2010. With approximately 2,880 players on offseason rosters, only 0.6 percent of players have been arrested.
This year’s arrests included a few head-shaking acts — Ray Rice arrested for assaulting his girlfriend, Marcel Dareus getting arrested twice in one month for drugs and drag racing — as well as four DUIs, four assaults/battery, three drug arrests, two domestic-violence charges, and two for guns/weapons.
Compare that with last year, in which the arrests were more eye-popping — a murder charge, one attempted murder charge, nine DUIs, five domestic violence, five guns/weapons, and two for assault/battery.
Perhaps last year’s arrest numbers were abnormally high, and this year represents a regression to the mean. And NFL teams can’t rest easy yet because arrests certainly happen in July before camp — 4, 13, 6, and 4 over the last four years. But the NFL has also spent a lot of time trying to educate players, management, and even owners about acting like responsible citizens off the field, and this year’s arrest numbers reflect that.
■ Jim Irsay arrest — The most significant arrest this offseason, for once, wasn’t of a player. It was of Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was arrested near his home in March when police found a wide array of painkillers and large stacks of cash in his SUV after he was pulled over during an early-morning traffic stop. Irsay was charged with two misdemeanors related to operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has been mum about any potential discipline against Irsay. But in our view, he already failed his first test when the NFL allowed Irsay to participate at the league meetings in May, stating several times that he wouldn’t act on Irsay until the legal “process” played its course. Our view, shared by many league owners, is that owners should be held to a higher standard than players. Any punishment less than an eight-game suspension, seven-figure fine, and even the loss of a mid-round draft pick will be too light in our opinion.
■ Suspensions — Two of the league’s top players didn’t get in trouble with the law but are slated to miss the 2014 season because of an inability to lay off of marijuana. Browns receiver Josh Gordon, coming off a breakout second season with 87 catches, 1,646 yards, and nine touchdowns in 14 games, can appeal his yearlong suspension — last year his four-game suspension was appealed down to two — but Johnny Manziel is likely going to start his career without his best receiver. And Cardinals fifth-year linebacker Daryl Washington, a 2012 Pro Bowl selection, accepted his yearlong ban, further weakening a linebacker corps that lost Karlos Dansby in free agency. Washington’s suspension was announced two months after the Cardinals picked up Washington’s $10 million option bonus. Whoops.
■ Holdouts — Rookie holdouts are now a thing of the past, thanks to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. As of Friday morning, 252 of the 256 draft picks were signed, with Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert (eighth), Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan (11th), Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee (39th), and Dolphins offensive tackle Billy Turner (67th) the lone holdouts. The Bears had their entire draft class signed by May 15, five days after the draft’s conclusion.
But several notable veterans are disgruntled with their contracts and faced fines of about $70,000 by skipping mandatory minicamp. In training camp, an unexcused absence will cost a player $30,000 per day.
Most notably, All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson is unhappy for two reasons — the Texans did nothing at quarterback except sign Ryan Fitzpatrick and draft Tom Savage in the fourth round, and he’s only the eighth-highest-paid receiver, behind guys such as Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, and Percy Harvin. But Johnson will soon realize that his contract is untradeable this year, and he won’t get out of Houston until next offseason at the earliest.
In San Francisco, tight end Vernon Davis is set to make $4.7 million but said, “It’s all about getting paid what you deserve.” And guard Alex Boone, set to make $2 million, skipped minicamp in search of a new deal and has barely had any contact with the 49ers.
Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston, set to make $1.4 million in the last year of his deal, held out after registering 21 sacks the last two seasons. And no one quite knows what’s going on with Cowboys backup quarterback Kyle Orton, who still has three years and $10.25 million left on his contract but didn’t report for minicamp and is reportedly mulling retirement.
■ Jimmy Graham case — The Saints and star tight end Jimmy Graham are locked in a contract dispute that could have long-term ramifications on NFL economics and how players are labeled. The sides are fighting over a franchise tag designation — the Saints contend that Graham is a tight end, while Graham, who lines up as a receiver on about two-thirds of snaps, argues that he is a wide receiver — with $5 million at stake initially, and millions more down the road.
If the arbitrator who heard the case in New Orleans last week sides with the Saints, Graham’s franchise tag salary will be $7.053 million and serve as the starting point for any long-term negotiations. If the arbitrator sides with Graham, his franchise tag salary will be $12.132 million and serve as a much higher launching point for long-term negotiations.
If Graham wins, it could create a new position designation for pass-catching tight ends (rookie Eric Ebron suggested “Joker” last week). It could also open Pandora’s box for, say, pass-catching running backs such as Darren Sproles or Shane Vereen to get wide receiver designations in their contract negotiations, or a safety such as Devin McCourty to compare himself to a cornerback.
Patriots add nothing to hype involving Revis
Two Patriots thoughts as the team heads into what it hopes will be a quiet, incident-free offseason:
■ Darrelle Revis did a few ESPN interviews last week while in Orlando for Drew Brees’s passing camp, but otherwise the hype and media attention around Revis joining the Patriots has been incredibly subdued. That starts at the top with Bill Belichick, of course, who has been impressively understated about Revis’s impact with the Patriots, even by his standards.
“I think he’ll help our team,” was his reply at the owners’ meetings in March. “He’s a good player . . . We’ll see how it comes together with us. I mean, I don’t know.”
With SiriusXM, Belichick said of Revis and Brandon Browner: “Looking forward to seeing them on the field and letting them compete with some of the other players. We’ll see how it goes.”
And Belichick didn’t offer much more during minicamp two weeks ago.
“Revis is a good player,” he said. “I’m glad we have him. We’ll keep working with him. There’s still a lot for him to learn — a new system and all that.”
Belichick won’t say it, so we will: The Belichick-Revis pairing is the most impactful upgrade of the NFL offseason, assuming Revis is fully back from his ACL injury, and could singlehandedly alter the Super Bowl race. It’s been a long time since Belichick coached a player of Revis’s caliber.
■ Answer: Logan Mankins, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo, Dan Connolly, Danny Amendola, and Stephen Gostkowski.
Question: Name the seven Patriots set to make more money than Tom Brady in 2014, whose $2 million base salary is tied for eighth on the team with Sebastian Vollmer and Kyle Arrington. That list doesn’t include Revis, who has a $1.5 million salary but makes $10.5 million more in bonuses, nor the bonus money recently given to Julian Edelman, Browner, Brandon LaFell, and Rob Ninkovich.
Don’t exactly feel sorry for Brady, who pocketed $33 million last year from an extension that created cap space for the Patriots. But the remaining money on his contract through 2017 is ludicrously low for a player of his caliber — $2 million this year and $27 million over the final three years. If Brady honors the contract, the Patriots will be getting an elite quarterback for $9 million per season when the going rate is climbing higher than $20 million.
That’s why it was so interesting to hear Belichick, who always chooses his words carefully, say, “We know what Tom’s age and contract situation is” on May 9 after he drafted Jimmy Garoppolo. Brady hasn’t said or done anything to indicate a contract dispute is coming, but are the Patriots bracing for one just in case?
Manziel could benefit from dialing it back
Johnny Manziel confirmed Friday that he’s going to keep doing his thing. “I’m not going to change for anybody,’’ he said via Cleveland.com. “I’m going to enjoy my time off.’’
The partying isn’t really an issue — tons of players like to go out to clubs or party in Vegas. But Manziel’s seemingly desperate need for attention — making videos with a “money” phone, floating on a swan with a big bottle of liquor in Texas, wearing a Tim Tebow jersey to a party — is definitely strange and has to be more than a little disconcerting to Browns leadership.
Hall of Famers including Joe Montana, Warren Moon, and Emmitt Smith have chimed in to tell Manziel to tone down his act.
“All guys are going to go out and have a good time,” Moon said on SiriusXM. “But you don’t want to make it as public. You want to keep it more of a low profile when you are out having a good time. He tends to make it more of a high-profile thing when he’s out, so that just opens up all this speculation and criticism by everybody.”
Speaking of Manziel, credit his agent, Erik Burkhardt, for negotiating a good rookie deal. Manziel, picked 22d, got more total guaranteed money ($7.707 million) than the players picked 20th (Brandin Cooks, $7.601 million) and 21st (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, $7.560 million). Manziel is the only player drafted between 20-32 to get any money guaranteed for the fourth season (a little more than $1 million) . . . Best of luck to two NFLers facing cancer scares this offseason. Texans backup tackle David Quessenberry, a sixth-round pick out of San Jose State in 2013, is undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed with lymphoma earlier this month, but he was able to watch minicamp practice from the sideline. “Being out there today breaks up the dog days of chemo for me, and feeling the love from my teammates really makes me feel like I have an army behind me during this process,” Quessenberry told the Houston Chronicle. And Panthers backup tackle Andrew McDonald revealed two weeks ago that he underwent surgery in May for testicular cancer. McDonald, 25, said he is expected to make a full recovery and return for training camp . . . Former Patriot Joe Andruzzi will hold his sixth annual golf tournament on Monday at Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth, with Rob Ninkovich, Matthew Slater, and others expected to attend. Last year’s event raised $278,000 for Andruzzi’s foundation, which provides monetary support for families of cancer patients. Visit joeandruzzifoundation.org for more information . . . If it feels like the NFL season is right around the corner, it is. Perhaps it’s just the way the calendar fell, but the offseason is shorter than ever this season — less than five weeks from the end of most minicamps (June 19) until the start of most training camps (July 23-24), compared with six or seven weeks in most years. Of course, that’s one or two fewer weeks in which unsupervised players can get in trouble or fall out of shape.