NFL ICYMI: May 2019
We're in that quiet time as minicamps in May have come and gone with the countdown to training camp at the end of July at hand. There has been some newsworthy instances over the course of this past month, but fortunately nothing sensational or scandalous. We will cover a player speaking on his new team, an executive getting bounced from his, a potential rule change that could have disastrous consequences, and the passing of a true legend. So let's get started.
Odell Beckham Jr has extolled the virtues of his new team, the Cleveland Browns, claiming they can become "the new New England Patriots" Football players, we tend to forget, are young men who can be swept away by emotion when everything looks like their destiny is coming up roses. Combine that with a persona that is not shy about articulating their feelings, and you come up with the occurrence that happened with OBJ in a GQ interview. Beckham proclaimed that he envisions himself in Cleveland for five years, doing his part to turn the once woebegone Browns into "the new Patriots." This is a bold statement, but certainly foolhardy. There is a level of excitement in northern Ohio surrounding their beloved NFL team thanks to the aggressive maneuvers by general manager John Dorsey that has not been felt there since the team's rebirth in 1999. And given the state of the AFC North, where the Baltimore Ravens are retooling around a new quarterback, the Cincinnati Bengals have a new head coach, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are still contending with turmoil after the departure of two of their highly talented offensive players, it's hard for any Browns follower not to believe their time to walk out of the shadows of the division cellar is now. But the NFL landscape is littered with immensely talented teams and rosters that never came close to meeting their potential. There is a difference between a collection of talent and a team. The latter are the ones hauling home the championship hardware, while the former are left wondering why their rings are missing. Despite the fact that Beckham has walked back the statement and said statement was taken somewhat out of context, openly saying that your team will be the next NFL dynasty is often a kiss of death. Be it as bulletin board material for all 31 of their competitors or a karmic smackdown for putting the proverbial cart before the horse, players who call the shot of their own teams, no matter how well meaning, often fall well short of their lofty standard. The spotlight entering 2019 was already new focused on the Browns as they look to post a winning season for the first time in five years. The heat has only been intensified by Beckham's comments.
The New York Jets fired general manager Mike Maccagnan shortly after the draft, with differences with new head coach Adam Gase as the primary factor in Maccagnan's ouster There have been established natural points in which coaches and executives are dismissed from their assigned duties, most often at the conclusion of a season. But in the more recent springs and summers, general managers have been handed their pink slips as there are more days in the rearview mirror of the off-season than in the windshield, and this was the case with Maccagnan being shown the door. This has been a puzzling story. Maccagnan was big on hiring Adam Gase as head coach once Todd Bowles was fired at the conclusion of the season. However, tension between the two men built to the point that acting owner Christopher Johnson felt it necessary to remain at the Jets home facility in Florham Park, NJ when Gase and Maccagnan were on the grounds simultaneously. According to various sources, two instances put the coach and exec at odds. The first was the signing of free agent running back Le'Veon Bell, or more specifically, Gase's displeasure for the size of the contract Bell signed to join Gotham Green. Gase was reportedly convinced that Bell could have been acquired for less than what Maccagnan signed him for in the early days of the free agency period. This is presumptive at best and arrogant at worst on Gase's part. Yes, Bell did have concerns, as injuries and disciplinary suspensions have limited his availability over the years. But make no mistake, Bell would have signed a contract beneficial to him regardless of team than accept lesser money from a team in the Jets who are three years removed from their last winning season, playing with a second year quarterback, and a newly installed head coach. A lowball offer most assuredly would have soured Bell and his representatives on the Jets to the point ending any negotiations from that point forward. The second square of tension, which may have manifested from the first, was Maccagnan shutting out Gase during the duration of the draft. While Maccagnan may have felt justified in putting Gase on ice for his criticism of the Bell signing, the GM still needed to work in concert with his head coach to select the most compatible players for the systems that Gase plans to employ. Despite the positive press the Jets got from their draft, it was clear to Johnson that the Jets franchise wasn't big enough for the pair of them, so Maccagnan, architect of the 24-40 team that enjoyed only one winning season in four years, was sacked. In this peculiar turnover, Gase has been named interim general manager as Johnson search for Maccagnan's successor. The big question going forward is how much power will this new GM get. Gase has been involved in interviews with candidates, which suggests that the coach will have some level of autonomy in regards to personnel decisions. If Gase does have that type of input, it seems very curious for a franchise to hand over that type of responsibility to a head coach whose track record is lackluster is unique, to say the least. The person hired to be GM will go a long way in ascertaining the structure and direction of the Jets for the foreseeable future.
The NFL's Rules Committee is contemplating exempting "Hail Mary" plays from the newly implemented official review on pass interference calls and no-calls. Resistance came from an unlikely source Among the many gripes about the NFL today is the fact that they are reactionary; rules, policies, and procedures are often enacted hastily in response to a public relations nightmare of some description. The rule change to permit review on pass interference calls (and no-calls) was implemented on the heels of the controversy in this past year's NFC Championship game. Now, compounding this is news that the Rules Committee will offer a proposal to owners where "Hail Mary" plays (for the uninitiated, a desperation pass thrown into the end zone where receivers and defenders alike vie for the ball at the end of a half, often done as the final play of the game) would be exempt from the review process. This concept was widely panned, with one individual speaking out through social media. And that person was Hall of Fame head coach and NBC Sunday Night Football commentator Tony Dungy, proclaiming the notion "ridiculous", asking why one would suspend the rules of the game for even one play, and especially for the final play of a game. While your humble scribe has absolutely nothing else to add to such an eloquent statement, that Dungy felt it necessary to speak his mind on this subject is stunning unto itself. The former player and coach often keeps to himself, focusing on his works around the country while remaining a positive influence with his public platform and Christian faith. So for Dungy to feel it worthwhile to offer commentary on a league rule change should raise enough red flags to land planes at Heathrow Airport for a week. And if this understated man was galled by this, imagine the rest of us who are not as apt to hold our tongues. Without repeating Coach Dungy, let it be written that there is hope that the NFL ownership body comes to its senses and deposits this idea into a trash bin.
Legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr has passed away at the age of 85 For Packer fans of the last two generations, they have witnessed greatness in the gunslinger Brett Favre and the technician Aaron Rodgers. But for many of the Green Bay faithful, the greatest quarterback in franchise history was Bart Starr. His leadership of the Vince Lombardi led teams in the 1960's is the stuff of legend. His Packers won five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls, with him being named MVP in both games. Starr was the NFL MVP in 1966, led the league in passer rating five times, named to the 1960's All Decade Team, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. For all his accolades, what stood out to anyone who ever met him was that he was a gentleman, a man of character. In this day and age, there's times we accept that the most talented of athletes are also imperfect human beings, and we try to reason with ourselves as to how that fits as a spectator in this sport and in this league. But when someone like Starr comes around, liking him and his team is made easier (exception noted for all divisional rivals and their respective fans). So as Starr becomes one with the ages, we grieve not only for the loss of a gridiron legend, but also for a legend among humankind. Rest in peace, as you will never be forgotten, Mr. Starr.