Jesse Pantuosco

Bump and Run

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The No-Shows

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


This week, we begin with a quote. That’s allowed, right? Anyway, the floor is yours, AI:

 

“We’re talking about practice. Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We’re talking about PRACTICE!”

 

This rant was an all-timer. It went viral before viral was even a thing. And did I mention Iverson said the word practice 20 times in a two-minute span? Forget Robert Frost—my favorite poet is Allen Iverson.

 

Iverson may not be high on the list of guys you’d seek out for life advice, but he does have a point. Nobody channel surfs looking for a nice practice to watch. That would be ridiculous. “Hey, you want to come over and watch Game 7?” “Nah, I’m good. I’m just going to stay in and watch OTAs.”

 

Practice will never be very interesting. But it’s necessary and because we’re stuck in this weird football purgatory between the Draft and the start of the regular season, let’s talk about practice! The NFL is full of big egos staring at dollar signs and often the only leverage players truly have over their respective teams is the threat of not playing. It doesn’t usually work—the only thing NFL teams are better at than making money is calling players’ bluffs—but a man can dream, can’t he? Holdouts are a yearly occurrence, but this year it feels like tensions are unusually high. With voluntary OTAs in session (mandatory minicamps aren’t for another few weeks), let’s take inventory of some of the league’s disgruntled stars.

 

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Le’Veon Bell: Say what you will about Le’Veon—at least the man is consistent. Bell held out all of training camp last year and if his no-show at the opening of Tuesday's OTAs was any indication, the All-Pro halfback looks poised to do the same in 2018. It’s important to distinguish Bell from some of the other names on this list. Bell has yet to sign his franchise tag and until he does, he can’t get fined for blowing off minicamp in June or training camp the following month, which are both mandatory for players under contract.

 

Bell has been extra feisty this offseason. At one point, he even threatened retirement if the Steelers hit him with another franchise tag (bluff called). Under the tag, Bell will earn a $14.5 base salary, making him easily the league’s highest-paid running back (the next-highest is LeSean McCoy at $8.95 million). Going year-to-year can be a hassle, but it certainly worked for Kirk Cousins, who netted a combined $44 million playing under the tag before cashing in this offseason with a fully guaranteed $84 million contract. That seems livable. 

 

So what exactly is Bell’s angle? The year-to-year route is fine for quarterbacks but the shelf life for a running back is much shorter, which is why Bell is trying to milk his next deal for all it’s worth. Unfortunately for Bell, there isn’t much precedent for running backs breaking the bank on long-term extensions. The biggest payday we’ve seen recently at the running back position came from DeMarco Murray, who landed an impressive five-year, $42 million deal from Philadelphia in 2015. Three years and two teams later, Murray is out of the league. That’s what happens to running backs—unless you’re Frank Gore, the wheels usually fall off around age 30. Perhaps the Steelers and Bell will find a middle ground in contract negotiations before the July 16 deadline, but if not, the 26-year-old will be looking at another extended summer vacation.

 

Tom Brady: Nobody has caused more of a ruckus this offseason than Touchdown Tom. Many will argue that Brady skipping OTAs is meaningless. These sessions are optional, after all, and at age 40, Brady has likely put in more OTA practices than most of his Patriots teammates combined. Shouldn’t he be exempt by now? Spending April and May kicking back with Gisele and the kids seems like a pretty fair trade-off for leading New England to eight Super Bowl appearances. Except Brady NEVER misses OTAs, so why start now?

 

Brady can say what he wants about his absence, but we all know the real reason he’s keeping his distance. The Patriots usually like to keep things behind closed doors but last year news leaked that Bill Belichick had banned Brady’s personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, from the team’s facility. Their relationship hasn’t been the same since. The five-time Super Bowl winner may also carry resentment over New England’s handling of Jimmy Garoppolo, who Belichick evidently had no intention of trading (though he later did amidst pressure from owner Robert Kraft). It would have been a betrayal for the ages if Brady abandoned the Patriots after forcing out Garoppolo and for a while, it seemed like that might actually happen. Well not really, but Adam Schefter did report that Brady was still on the fence about playing as recently as April. He confirmed his return in a sit-down interview with Jim Gray but not before throwing some serious shade at Bill and the boys. When Gray asked if he felt “appreciated” by the Patriots, Brady did his best Tron Carter impression by pleading the fifth.

 

Brady is fully expected to report for mandatory minicamp but man—you could cut the tension in Foxboro with a knife. Maybe Brady and Belichick can coexist—if Mick and Keith can still tour together why can’t Bill and Tom? Winning is the great equalizer and as long as the Patriots keep getting W’s, Brady and Belichick will remain civil to each other. Having long-time OC Josh McDaniels—who nearly bolted for a head coaching job in Indy this offseason—as a buffer can’t hurt. A word of advice for Brady though—don’t expect an apology from Emperor Bill.

 

Teammate Rob Gronkowski has also been a no-show at OTAs, though the Patriots are addressing his contract as we speak. Gronk knows he’s a relative bargain at his current $8 million salary and the Patriots should be able to sweeten his deal by throwing in a handful of performance incentives. The injury-prone tight end considered calling it quits this offseason but eventually came to his senses and announced his return last month. Injuries will take a toll on anyone and he’s taken more punishment than most, but at age 29, Gronk would have regretted walking away in his prime.    

 

Aaron Donald: I’m sure most of you are familiar with the work of New Orleans rapper Mannie Fresh. Here are some of the lyrics from his hit song, Real Big: “House real big, cars real big, belly real big, everything real big.” In other words, Mannie Fresh supports capitalism. So does Aaron Donald.

 

Donald, who one would aptly describe as real big (look at this behemoth), wants a raise. He deserves one too after taking home Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2017. The Rams were a breakout team last season and could ascend to juggernaut status this year following the offseason additions of Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh and Aqib Talib. The future looks bright in L.A., but for how long? Donald, Todd Gurley and Jared Goff are all due huge paydays in the near future and even with the salary cap rising, keeping all three could prove difficult.

 

But one thing’s for certain—Donald needs to be taken care of first. The former Pitt Panther will likely take the summer off, just as he did last year, before being slapped with the inevitable franchise tag when he hits free agency next offseason. Assuming he plays at his current $6.892 million base salary, Donald will be one of football’s biggest bargains.

 

Julio Jones: Summer Julio is always a good time. Remember what he did last year? Jones embraced his inner Kenny Powers by going jet-skiing on Lake Lanier, losing a $150,000 diamond earring in the process. Life is good when you can afford earrings that cost the same as a college education, but apparently Jones isn’t satisfied with his earnings. Julio’s 2018 salary is seventh-highest among wide receivers, trailing Mike Evans, Larry Fitzgerald, Jarvis Landry, DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green and T.Y. Hilton. That’s not good enough for Jones, who is reportedly looking for a “correction or update” to his contract. To get his message across, Jones will skip the voluntary portion of OTAs, which began on Monday.

 

Julio may not have a Super Bowl ring (don’t click on this if you’re a Falcons fan) but he’s a gold medalist when it comes to passive aggression. Like a scorned ex, Jones scrubbed his Instagram of any Falcons-related photos. Jones no doubt took notice of teammate Matt Ryan’s $169.25 million megadeal and is eager for a payday of his own. Addressing Julio’s contract demands isn’t a top priority for Atlanta—he still has three years remaining on his current deal and has little leverage—but perhaps the Falcons will throw Jones a bone by sprucing up his contract or at least buying him a new set of earrings.

 

Earl Thomas: The Legion of Boom is no more. The Seahawks ousted Richard Sherman and Jeremy Lane this offseason while Kam Chancellor’s NFL future looks murky at best following a career-threatening neck injury. And that’s just the secondary. Elsewhere, the Seahawks lost Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson and Sheldon Richardson to free agency while trading Michael Bennett to Philadelphia. This is the bad time, as Henry Hill from Goodfellas would say. Which begs the question: is it time for the Seahawks to blow it all up?

 

You hate to waste Russell Wilson’s prime but if the Seahawks want to press the reset button, trading away Earl Thomas would be a good start. He seems to want out anyway—extension talks have gone nowhere and the 29-year-old has openly acknowledged his interest in playing for the Cowboys. Thomas can still bring the heat—he earned PFF’s No. 8 safety grade out of 89 qualifiers last year while adding another All-Pro selection to his resume. That means the Seahawks should be able to get a decent return for him, though any team that trades for Thomas would just be getting a rental. The Seahawks dangled the contract-year safety as trade bait during the draft but never found a deal to their liking. Thomas has yet to appear at OTAs and had this to say about his contract in January: “As far as my future in Seattle, I think if they want me, you know, money talks.” Your move, Seahawks.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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