NFL ICYMI: June 2019

By Curtis Clayton
Jun. 30, 2019

When it comes to news, there's not that much. For the diehard football fan, the month of June is the time of minicamps and the countdown to training camp begins in anticipation of the coming season. And our news bits on this day will have ramifications with the related team, be it for the 2019 season or beyond.

The Philadelphia Eagles have extended QB Carson Wentz's contract to ensure his spot as the team's franchise quarterback For some, it may feel peculiar that head personnel exec Howie Roseman would already be extending Wentz, the #2 overall draft pick in 2016. But the time is right, as the young signal caller would be entering his fourth year on his rookie deal in 2019 with that ominous fifth year option looming. Add to this that Roseman needed to navigate the Eagles through a sticky salary cap issue for 2019 and looks to encounter another one in 2020, and there is a sense of urgency to be assured that the most expensive and most crucial roster keystone has been sorted out in terms of cap layout. While the average salary for Wentz has jumped up to the league's elite ($32 million per year), the meat and potatoes of the money has been backloaded to 2021, giving the Eagles desperately needed cap flexibility for the short term and preparation for Wentz's cap number escalation down the line. Despite the fact that the bulwark of that cash won't start hitting Wentz's bank account until 2021, the pressure will be on for him to deliver the goods. And for some, those goods may only be viewed as a Lombardi Trophy. There was already pressure on him once veteran backup and Super Bowl LII MVP signed with Jacksonville, leaving Philadelphia without a Plan B if Wentz is felled by injury for a third straight season. Roseman has been among the best general managers in the league, and with this transaction, he is betting that Wentz can avoid being bit by the injury bug yet again & lead this franchise to another Super Bowl title. It's just a matter of Wentz putting it all together from September through January, and hopefully through February.

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur is working on building team cohesion and implementing his philosophies... with reportedly mixed results Chalk this headline under the heading Slow News Day. There were reports that the team is engaging in team building exercises, such as pick up basketball games and movie screenings, to help the Packers, both new and old, to get acquainted with one another and find relatability. While some of the Cheesehead faithful have scoffed at the Bleacher Report article that excoriated the culture of the Packers' locker room under previous head coach Mike McCarthy in his final years, there must have been a ring of truth to it if LaFleur went to such a length to try to get his new troops to engage one another. Fans have rolled their eyes over such menial activities, but if it translates into a turnaround 2019 campaign, that cynicism will quickly fade. But what made headlines and created buzz was a perceived rift between LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers. What was reported was a difference between the two regarding Rodgers' input into the new offense, specifically an alleged prohibition on audibles at the line of scrimmage. For the record, neither the coach nor the player has addressed this publicly, which means the issue is serious enough to not speak of out in the open (which is plausible given Rodgers' penchant for going rogue on play calls last year) or it is so patently untrue that it's not even worth dignifying with a response, and it seems as though the latter is more accurate. Rodgers, for all intents and purposes, has operated with only one coach & one system his entire pro career. With LaFleur bringing in his system, which is a significant departure from Rodgers' wheelhouse, friction between the two will be natural. It is preposterous to conclude that they have reached an impasse before the first training camp! While this humble scribe remains very critical of the Packers franchise, it would be premature to proclaim their demise into the depths of the NFL hierarchy. While Green Bay may be more middling than a Super Bowl contender at the moment, Rodgers offers them their best chance to enjoy a rebound season. And unless he suffers a debilitating injury or is inexplicably rendered ineffective (highly unlikely, but still possible), betting against him should be done so at one's peril. The result of the 2019 season will be the true litmus test of all this. If Titletown returns to the playoffs, the positives will be lauded, while a slide or no improvement will only amplify the criticisms of this signature NFL franchise.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper has said his goal for 2019 is 2000 receiving yards. Ummm.... One thing we tend to forget as fans is the fact that the athletes we watch are young, driven individuals who strive to be their best, either for personal and/or financial enrichment. However, when one young man makes a particular proclamation that seems outsized for his production, it does garner attention, but not the desired form. In an interview with ProFootballTalk, Cooper said that his goal for this season, which will be his first full campaign with the Dallas Cowboys, is to catch for 2000 yards. Just to put it out there, no one in NFL history has eclipsed 2000 receiving yards in a single season, the closest was Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions in 2012, with 1964 yards. Cooper's previous production doesn't exactly engender confidence in achieving that lofty goal. His 14.07 yards per reception, if extrapolated out to a 2000 yard season, would require Cooper to catch at least 143 balls over 16 games. That number is nearly double his career high for receptions in a season (83 in 2016). Moreso, he would need to make nearly 9 catches a game just to attain that pace. His 5.9 receptions per game with Dallas in 9 games was a career high, so his output would need to increase by a third just to make that many receptions. So let's go the other way: base achievement of 2000 yards by yardage per catch within range of Cooper's performance. If he were to make 85 catches, which would be a professional high mark in a campaign, Cooper would need to average 23.5 yards per reception. Just to put that number into perspective, there have been a total of six receivers in the last 30 years that have reached or exceeded that average. But beside the astronomical numbers Cooper would have to reach, does anyone foresee new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore diverting the offense away from Ezekiel Elliott's rushing effectiveness? While 2000 receiving yards seems out of reach, consider the Cowboys single season record (1603 yards by "The Playmaker" Michael Irvin in 1995) not only an accomplishment unto itself, but would more than likely show a dynamic offense that would make America's Team a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Maybe Cooper will prove us Chicken Littles wrong, but Cowboys fans measure their best players in Lombardi Trophys and little else. While the individual accolades would be special, it's the team successes that this rabid fan base recognizes and respects.

Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has passed away at the age of 75 from complications from Alzheimer's disease In the world of professional sports team ownership, we as fans notice the bombastic, the inept, and the familial legacies. The great man who is now with the ages was an exception to all those. He purchased majority ownership of the Broncos in 1984, the same year future Hall of Famer and franchise legend John Elway joined the team out of college. While Elway made the Broncos must see TV with his late game heroics, Bowlen built the franchise brand from one that was a quiet NFL outpost to an institution in both the Mile High City and the state of Colorado. When one thinks of Denver, most will reflexively respond to identify the home of the Broncos. That build was done both off the field and on. The accomplishments of the Broncos in Bowlen era are incredible: 3 Super Bowl championships (XXXII, XXXIII, & 50), 7 AFC titles (1986, 1987, 1989, 1997, 1998, 2013, & 2015), and a .597 winning percentage that has only been beaten by four teams in major American team sports (New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, & the National Basketball Association's San Antonio Spurs). While Bowlen enjoyed being around his team, he never sought the spotlight like some of his contemporaries. His influence both in ownership circles and the Broncos' impressive run of success for the vast majority of 35 years garnered him induction into Canton later this summer (an honor long overdue in the opinion of this humble scribe), one that will now be regrettably posthumous. But more telling than what he did for the Broncos was how he was viewed by others who knew him: a respectful, generous human being who made a lasting, positive impression on just about every person he met. While he strived for excellence with his NFL franchise, he never betrayed his own beliefs in his interactions with people, regardless of what capacity they were occur. There is a particular sadness that is felt when we lose someone special, even if it is someone we've never personally met. And Pat Bowlen certainly fits that description. Rest in peace, Mr. Bowlen. And thank you for all you have done.