Monthly Archives: June 2017

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With a full NFL season under their belt, rookies often make a leap from Year 1 to Year 2. Braxton Miller hopes to do the same. The second-year wide receiver has spent the offseason understanding the game from a different perspective.

“I was talking to Braxton the other day and the thing that really helped C.J. Fiedorowicz last year was recognition of coverages,” wide receivers coach John Perry said June 7. “That’s what I’ve been really trying to spend a lot of time with Braxton on. I think that’s going to be – it’s much different when you’re under center recognizing coverages as opposed to being out wide and recognizing coverages. When he knows who he has to beat, he’s very good, but he has to keep working on that coverage aspect of it. You’ll see a lot more improvement there.”

Miller ended his rookie season on injured reserve, but made a healthy return for this offseason’s OTAs and minicamp. The 24-year-old quarterback-turned-receiver can add versatility to the offense, offering options in the slot or as an outside receiver, according to Perry. He has delved deeper into the playbook this offseason to better understand not only his role, but all the positions, including on the defense.

“It helped a lot,” Miller said on Texans Radio. “You know, your route is determined on the coverage they play so if you don’t know the coverage, it’s a slim-to-none chance that you get the ball. So before the play gets started, get lined up, you got to know the coverage, know the alignments, the indicators that give you the type of rotation that they are going to give you, so it plays a big part.”

Texans players report back to NRG Stadium for training camp next month. The Houston Texans Training Camp presented by XFINITY will begin on Wednesday, July 26. The 2017 training camp marks the first time in franchise history that the Texans will hold camp outside of the city of Houston.

Cheap Houston Texans Brock Osweiler NFL stitched jerseys from China 2017

Each week, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments.

First and 10: June 12

First: Brock Osweiler, Browns starter?

1. Decker to Titans | 2. Shanahans everywhere
3. Goodell on Kaepernick | 4. Redskins’ front office | 5. Cousins negotiations
6. No OT | 7. Blandino on celebrations
8. On the NFC East | 9. Prescott and Romo | 10. Johnny Who?

FIRST …

How totally crazy would it be if Brock Osweiler ends up as the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns?

Actually, how completely Browns-like would it be? Very Browns-like.

When the Browns traded for Osweiler in March, the move was viewed as the Houston Texans dumping Osweiler’s salary and the Browns cleverly facilitating that. There was little to no thought at the time that Osweiler actually might figure into Cleveland’s quarterback mix.

The Browns possessed the No. 1 and No. 12 overall picks in the NFL draft and the conventional wisdom at the time was that they’d turn No. 12 into their next quarterback, either selecting Mitchell Trubisky or Deshaun Watson, or trading for Jimmy Garoppolo.

But the draft ended with Garoppolo still in New England, Trubisky in Chicago and Watson in Houston. The Browns traded down from No. 12, passing up the chance to select Watson. They did choose a quarterback, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, in the second round. So Hue Jackson, the team’s second-year head coach coming off a 1-15 debut season, is left to pick from among Kizer, second-year pro Cody Kessler and Osweiler as his starter.

[For QB-needy Cleveland Browns, all options are on the table — including Brock Osweiler]

Osweiler no longer is an afterthought, in part because the Browns, puzzlingly, again failed to do whatever it took to land a prospective franchise quarterback, making these curious moves one year after they traded the No. 2 overall selection to Philadelphia rather than using it themselves on Carson Wentz. In addition, Osweiler has looked good enough in offseason drills to play his way into the starting mix, which doesn’t take all that much in Cleveland, after all.

Regarding Osweiler as a potential NFL starter didn’t used to be a preposterous notion. He played reasonably well for the Denver Broncos in 2015, throwing for 1,967 yards and 10 touchdowns with six interceptions in eight games, including seven starts. He had a passer rating of 86.4. But after the Broncos went back to Peyton Manning for their run to a Super Bowl title, Osweiler opted to exit via free agency for the $18 million-per-year contract offer from the Texans.

He wasn’t the answer in Houston. Far from it. He regressed to 15 touchdown passes, 16 interceptions and a 72.2 passer rating last season, becoming an NFL reclamation project.

Kessler remains the favorite to open the season as the starter for the Browns. He was competent at times last season as a rookie, making eight starts and posting a passer rating of 92.3 in his nine games. Kizer could take over at some point.

But Osweiler at least is in the conversation, and that is a development that few could have foreseen when the trade was made. The Browns have spent years being the NFL destination where quarterback reputations went to perish. Wouldn’t it be odd if, in Osweiler’s case, Cleveland becomes the place where a quarterbacking career went to be revived?

… AND TEN

1. Decker to Titans … You have to like the way the Tennessee Titans are going about building their team around quarterback Marcus Mariota. They devoted resources to giving Mariota a reliable offensive line and a running game. And now, they are giving him receivers. Tennessee used the fifth overall selection in April’s draft on wide receiver Corey Davis. On Sunday, the Titans agreed to a one-year contract with veteran wideout Eric Decker, who was released by the New York Jets as part of that team’s roster purge. The Titans have made themselves respectable again and are inching ever closer to contender status.

[The Titans are among the teams to have benefited from devoting resources to building an offensive line]

2. Shanahans everywhere … Mike Shanahan spent time at the offseason practices of the San Francisco 49ers, now coached by his son Kyle. But there remains no official role in the organization for the elder Shanahan. The Shanahans seem to be sticking to what Kyle, then the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, said at the Super Bowl: Mike will be only an unofficial adviser.

“I always anticipate asking my dad for advice and stuff like that, just like I think anybody would in their profession if their dad had done the same thing and been successful at it,” Kyle Shanahan said at Super Bowl media night. “As far as him working in the building and doing stuff like that, that’s definitely not been in discussions. My dad’s, to me, basically retired. And I know he enjoys football. So I don’t want to use that word because he’s definitely working at it a lot. You can ask my mom. But no, I’ve never envisioned him [in that role]. We did our deal in Washington and I wouldn’t take that back for the world. But that was pretty much the end of it.”

[The offense that Kyle Shanahan is taking to San Francisco borrows from his mentors but is uniquely his own]

3. Goodell on Kaepernick … NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to take the public stance that Colin Kaepernick is not being blackballed for his political statement last season. Goodell’s consistent response has been that teams make individual decisions about what makes them better. That’s fine. The league can say that teams are not colluding to keep Kaepernick out of work, and there’s no evidence to contradict that.

But if the contention is that teams are individually making wise, football-centric decisions by keeping Kaepernick unemployed, that simply is not the case. Kaepernick had 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions last season for the 49ers. If it’s about football, he belongs on a roster.

4. Redskins’ front office … The Washington Redskins, as expected by many people around the league, opted against overhauling their front office in the aftermath of the firing of Scot McCloughan as general manager. They didn’t hire a GM, and instead gave fancier titles to Doug Williams and Eric Schaffer while essentially keeping intact the power structure that has Bruce Allen, the team president, firmly in charge. That surprised almost no one and, in some ways, represented business as usual for the Redskins.

Still, the Redskins are to be praised for the confidence shown in Williams and Schaffer. Both are respected within the league and deserving of their promotions. Now, if the Redskins actually give them increased influence along with their bolstered titles, that would really be something.

5. Cousins negotiations … As the July 15 deadline for the Redskins to strike a long-term deal with Kirk Cousins nears, the question is, what reason is there to believe that an agreement will be reached?

None, basically.

Cousins, to this point, has conducted all of his negotiations with the Redskins in a strictly businesslike manner. There has been no indication that he is willing to accept significantly less than his market value to remain in Washington. And, frankly, good for him. Teams make business decisions regarding players. Players should take the same approach in negotiations. They don’t owe teams anything and loyalty needn’t be part of the equation.

The Redskins, by failing to get a long-term deal done with Cousins long before this and resorting to franchise-tagging him twice, have given all the leverage to Cousins. The numbers now become too big and unwieldy for the Redskins to strike a long-term deal with Cousins that doesn’t include a hometown discount.

Negotiations are deadline-driven and anything can happen. But, in reality, there’s a very good chance that the Redskins’ best chance to complete a long-term contract with Cousins has come and gone.

[A local sports-talk station had a better Kirk Cousins strategy than the Redskins]

6. No OT … Dean Blandino, the NFL’s former senior vice president of officiating who left to become a rules analyst for Fox, told Colin Cowherd in a radio interview that he argued in favor of eliminating overtime altogether.

In May, the owners ratified a proposal by the league’s competition committee to reduce overtime from 15 to 10 minutes in preseason and regular season games. Blandino told Cowherd that he’d been in favor of taking that player-safety measure to the next logical step.

“We started talking about overtime and reducing it from 15 to 10 because we were worried about additional snaps, players playing a full quarter more of football and then potentially having to go play on Thursday,” Blandino said. “Well, if we’re worried about player safety, then eliminate overtime and play to win in regulation. It would make the last two minutes that much more exciting.

“If a team’s sitting there with 30 [seconds] to go and the ball on their 20[-yard line], and they know the game could end in a tie because there’s no overtime, they’re going to go for it, take chances, take risks. We did talk about that. I think there would be some serious backlash from the fans if we got rid of overtime … but when you really break it down and you say, ‘Okay, you’ve got to play to win in regulation,’ I think ultimately that would be a good thing.”

Goodell said at the conclusion of that owners’ meeting that there had been no serious discussion or consideration of eliminating overtime. So while the league is willing to live with the possibility of a few more tie games to shorten overtime, the prospect of getting rid of it entirely apparently had little support.

[Would more tie games freak everyone out?]

7. Blandino on celebrations … Blandino also told Cowherd that the NFL’s relaxation of its illegal celebration rules is related to an attempt to appeal to younger fans.

“I think that part of it is trying to reach the millennial and this new age of fans and having more fun,” Blandino said. “And there was a committee, I was part of that committee with different people at the league office in looking at our game, looking at in-game down time, looking at how our fans watch the game, looking at eye-tracking technology and where their eyes are going.

“It definitely has been something that’s ramped up. I would say it started even earlier than six to 12 months. This has probably been two to three years in the making.”

It was only this offseason, however, that there was movement on the issue, as Goodell led the push to reverse decades of tightening of celebration rules.

8. On the NFC East … Yes, the Dallas Cowboys will enter the season as the favorite in the NFC East, and perhaps the entire NFC. There are issues on defense, particularly in the secondary. But the presence of quarterback Dak Prescott and tailback Ezekiel Elliott, along with their powerful offensive line, ensures that the Cowboys have a chance to build upon last season’s success.

[Will the Cowboys enter training camp as the Super Bowl favorite in the NFC?]

But the Cowboys should be challenged within the division. You can make an argument for both the New York Giants and the Redskins winning it. Arguing that the Eagles will win the division might be a stretch, but you could certainly argue they’ve significantly improved from last season.

It has been a while since the NFC East looked this good and this competitive.

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9. Prescott and Romo … Tony Romo’s decision to retire and head to the CBS broadcast booth rather than sign with the Texans gives the Cowboys, theoretically, an advantage. What if Prescott were to get hurt? The Cowboys could turn to backup Kellen Moore. But they also could attempt to lure Romo back from retirement. Romo has not ruled out playing again, and the temptation to step right back into the lineup in Dallas surely would be strong if the circumstances were right.

[Who’s more likely to make a comeback, Tony Romo or Jay Cutler?]

It’s a scenario that probably never will come up. But if it does, it would make for plenty of intrigue.

10. Johnny Who? … When was the last time that you heard the name Johnny Manziel in relation to a possible return to the NFL? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

But at the same time, it also has been a little while since his name has been linked to any further off-field misbehavior. So that, at least, is an encouraging development.

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President Donald Trump put his scouting hat on for a moment Monday during Clemson’s visit to the White House, predicting NFL greatness for Houston Texans rookie QB Deshaun Watson.

“He’s going to be a great NFL player,” Trump said during a ceremony to honor the team’s national championship.

Trump called several Tigers to the podium for a handshake during his remarks about the Tigers’ title win, beginning with Watson. Clemson defeated Alabama, 35-31, in January in the College Football Playoff title game, and Watson capped a comeback with a game-winning touchdown pass on the last play of the game.

“Offensive MVP, quarterback Deshaun Watson, took some very, very hard hits (against Alabama). But he never rattled,” Trump said. “He’s great under pressure. I’ve seen that, I’ve heard that. He always got right back up. And he fought, and he fought, and he kept winning. Now he’ll bring that toughness together to the Houston Texans.”

Houston traded up in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft to select Watson with the No. 12 overall pick. The Texans helped make Watson’s White House appearance possible, along with that of fellow Texans rookie Carlos Watkins, by flying the pair to meet their former teammates for the event.

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Texans veteran linebackers Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus were sidelined Tuesday during an organized team activity.

Cushing underwent shoulder surgery following the Texans’ playoff loss to the New England Patriots. He worked on the side along with several teammates.

That included cornerback Kevin Johnson (foot surgery), safeties K.J. Dillon (anterior cruciate ligament) and Eddie Pleasant and rookie running back D’Onta Foreman. An unsigned third-round draft pick, Foreman is dealing with a hamstring injury and is still working to get into optimal football shape.

Starting tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz didn’t practice and went inside for treatment along with Mercilus.

Braxton Miller wasn’t practicing along with fellow wide receivers Chris Thompson, Deante’ Gray and Justin Hardee.

The Houston Texans defensive line including Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) and defensive end Brandon Dunn (92) during the Houston Texans OTAs at the Methodist Training Center in Houston, TX on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Photo: Tim Warner, For The Chronicle / Houston Chronicle

Photo: Tim Warner, For The Chronicle
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The Houston Texans defensive line including Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) and defensive end Brandon Dunn (92) during the Houston Texans OTAs at the Methodist Training Center in Houston, TX on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.
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The Houston Texans defensive line including Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) and defensive end Brandon Dunn (92) during the Houston Texans OTAs at the Methodist Training Center in Houston, TX on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

“I feel good about the health of this team,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “We do have some soft-tissue injuries that always occur during this time of the year. Some hamstrings, some quads, but nothing that’s major or serious.

“Guys are coming back from offseason surgery, like Brian Cushing is not participating right now. He’s played a lot of football for us. He’ll be ready for training camp.”

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The Houston Texans took to the field on Tuesday morning, sans pads, for the first session of organized team activities (OTAs) in front of assembled reporters. Overall, there was a lot to like — J.J. Watt was fully healthy and cleared for all activities, as was center Nick Martin, while rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson looked as comfortable as he could in an OTA-level pocket with an OTA-level pass rush.

More than anything else, it was nice just to have some form of football back. However, not everything was puppy dogs and ice cream across the street from NRG Stadium yesterday. While there was near perfect attendance at the voluntary session, the one big name absent from the festivities was the Texans’ best offensive lineman, left tackle Duane Brown.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle , Brown is unhappy with his contractual situation, and skipping the voluntary workout is his way of sending the team that message. Let’s examine the particulars of this situation.

What is Brown’s current contractual situation?
After the first four years of his original five-year rookie deal signed in 2008, Brown signed a six-year, $53.4 million extension in August of 2012 that would take him through the 2018 season. The extension included guaranteed money of more than $22 million, which is still one of the highest guarantees ever for an offensive lineman. So there are two years remaining, neither guaranteed, at $9.65 million for 2017 and $9.75 million for 2018.

Here is the spotrac.com overview of Brown’s deal:
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What exactly is Brown seeking?
Well, Brown hasn’t spoken publicly, but it doesn’t take an agent or an accountant to figure out what he is likely seeking. As a player who will be 32 years old when the season starts, and coming off a season where he recovered from a traumatic 2015 quad injury to regain near Pro Bowl form, Brown likely wants some or all of the remaining $19.4 million on his contract guaranteed. Currently, none of it is guaranteed.

Additionally, the average annual salary of the top left tackles in the game right now is hovering in the $13 million range. Brown’s deal averages $9.7 million over the final two seasons, so it’s logical to think he’d like a bump up to his annual salary as well. (Who wouldn’t want that?) If I had to guess, the guaranteed money is the biggest hangup, since much of any additional overall money in NFL contracts becomes “funny money,” especially for players in their thirties (as Brown is finding out, to some extent).

Why is Brown doing this?
Again, I am guessing here, but looking at the situation from a micro and macro perspective, first specific to Brown, he is probably looking for some security (injuries like Brown’s in 2015 can scare guys) and some recognition of what he’s accomplished on the field and off the field (rehabbing from the injury, stature with the franchise, etc.).

From a broader perspective, Brown may look around and see a locker room with other guys who are about to get PAID, specifically wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and think “O better get mine now.” Also, while J.J. Watt still has several years remaining on his deal, he will likely always be in front of everyone in line when it comes to any reworking of a veteran’s contract. Brown may think, “It’s now or never to strike one last time.”

Who has the leverage here?
In the short term, unfortunately for Brown, the team always has the leverage when there’s a contract in place. Brown only gets the $9.65 million for this season if he plays, so if the team digs in and does nothing, he will need to come to grips with that at some point. That overrides everything.

Now, if Brown does have any leverage here, all he needs to do is have someone point out who the best available tackle was at OTAs yesterday, with Brown and Derek Newton unavailable. Who was it? Kendall Lamm? Breno Giacomini? Dear God, NOT Chris Clark! In other words, Brown is far and away the Texans’ best lineman. At what point does his absence disrupt the installation of the offense with either a relatively inexperienced starter (Tom Savage) or a rookie (Deshaun Watson) at quarterback? And do you really want one of the aforementioned names protecting Watson’s blind side, even in a preseason game?

The last Texans player to make a statement like this was Hopkins, who held out of training camp for one day last summer. Will Brown dig in, or even speak publicly about his stance? At this point, he isn’t breaking any rules. These workouts are voluntary. If he is still out when the practices are involuntary, then it gets juicy.

Prediction: The Texans and Brown rip up the last two years of this contract and eventually agree to a new three-year deal that makes Brown a Texan for the rest of his career, something like three years, $33 million with $13-$15 million guaranteed. Brown gets some security and a slight bump in pay and the Texans have left tackle tied down for the next three seasons.

Boom, make me the general manager.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast
Sean is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.