Carson Wentz was burdened and in pain. Here’s how he left that behind

Carson Wentz was burdened and in pain. Here’s how he left that behind

PHILADELPHIA — To purge the angst that had stacked up inside him for months, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz turned to his pastor and unloaded.

It was December 2018 and Wentz had just learned he had a stress fracture in his back that threatened to end his season. He was searching for answers — attempting to regain control and stay in control — before he finally conceded the load was too great. So he loosened his white-knuckled grip and slowly started to let the weight slide away.

In a one-on-one conversation with the pastor, whom Wentz considers a spiritual mentor and close family friend, he let everything out. The anxiety accumulated from dealing with the injury, which surfaced earlier and bothered him more than he had been previously known. The disappointment over a lack of team success in 2018 under his stewardship. The frustration after being hurt for a second consecutive season. All of it.

“I don’t want to say that I was in a negative light, but I just sometimes let the stress get to me,” Wentz says now. “After I had those chances to get some things off my chest after the injury and everything that had compounded, it was kind of freeing for me.

“It allowed me to refocus my reason why I play this game, and making sure that I was still acting and living out the way I talked about. It allowed me to just release some things and have a change of attitude going forward.”

The transformation has been easy to spot. On reporting day at Eagles training camp in July, the office door on the first floor of the NovaCare Complex swings open to reveal Wentz, wearing a dark gray North Dakota State T-shirt, shorts and a backward trucker hat, lounging in a black leather chair and sneaking in one last bite from his to-go box during a small window of downtime. His schedule is packed, but Wentz is at ease, a state in which the public had not seen him for the past year and a half.

There is also less of him. Wentz is noticeably leaner, the result of a complete overhaul to his training regimen. He hired a nutritionist who put him on a gluten-free diet. An avid hunter and hearty North Dakotan, Wentz even stopped eating beef for two months.

Lighter and out of the bulky knee brace he wore after his ACL tear, Wentz is more agile and fluid on the field — his body language closer to a kid at recess than a grad student cramming for a final.

With his mental and physical load relieved, Wentz, 26, begins Year 4 rejuvenated, with the added peace of mind that comes with a four-year, $128 million extension secured this spring. He has made it through the woods. And yet the shadows cast over his career — by injury, critical comments from anonymous teammates, and his former backup turned Super Bowl hero, Nick Foles — are never far from view.


Late in 2017, word leaked out of the training room about a moment between Wentz and veteran running back Darren Sproles.

It was shortly after Wentz, in the middle of an MVP campaign, was lost for the season with a knee injury. It was a hard crash back down to Earth for the then-24-year-old, and it showed in the way he was carrying himself initially.

The scene unfolded on the treatment tables inside the training room, according to one source. The normally quiet Sproles, who was rehabbing from an ACL tear of his own, felt compelled to deliver a message to Wentz: Lift your chin up and put your focus on the team.

After all, there was still a championship on the line and a backup quarterback who needed support.

The exchange was described as non-adversarial by one witness, but it was tense enough to make people take notice and check on the players afterward.

“We actually helped each other in that time. We both wanted to be out there; we couldn’t. But I had seen him down. So we had a good talk,” Sproles says now, confirming a tough-love moment. “Because he was young and I didn’t want to see him down. I didn’t want to see that mess with him. I wanted to see him up, so I just felt like that was my time to get his spirits back up.”

Wentz doesn’t recall that moment specifically, but says it’s “natural to feel sorry for yourself when you’re injured,” that he believes he “got over that pretty good” — in fact, the encouragement he received from Sproles and the rest of the players with whom he was rehabbing was key.

Wentz compartmentalized his disappointment and went on to embrace the role of being Foles’ wingman. Wentz was so dedicated that he transferred whatever rehab he could from the trainers’ room to the quarterback room — his left leg fitted with portable modalities and compression devices so he could attend the early-morning meetings. He fought the medical staff to let him be on the sideline on game days, even though he was still on crutches. Eventually, they relented, under the following conditions: stay behind the ball, and if there’s a turnover, get back to the bench.

“That knucklehead would be out there in the huddle [if they let him],” one source joked.

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John Fox is very impressed by what he’s seen from Carson Wentz, while Jack Del Rio is expecting big things from Sam Darnold this season.

A few months later, Wentz wore a smile as he stood face-to-face with Foles on the podium at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, both their hands gripping the Vince Lombardi Trophy as green and white confetti fell around them. Wentz affectionately had his other hand on Foles’ championship baseball cap, gently pushing the lid down like a proud brother.

When he got back to the locker room, Wentz sat in front of his stall, buried his head in his knees, and prayed for the strength to fight against any jealousy he might feel toward his teammates. He rose a moment later, wiped his face and continued celebrating.

He spent the next six months rigorously rehabbing, desperate to regain his place with the team and climb back to that championship moment.

And then it happened again.


Wentz wasn’t listed on the injury report for a back ailment during the 2018 season until Oct. 17. But ESPN learned this offseason that Wentz’s back began bothering him multiple games before that designation, and it affected him more than he has generally let on.

His discomfort was apparent as early as an Oct. 7 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, his third game back from the ACL tear.

“Dude, I can’t sit,” said Wentz, according to a source.

“Why not?” his teammate asked.

“My back,” Wentz said.

Wentz played the next Thursday against the Giants. Working on a short week, he was listed as a limited participant with a “not injury-related-rest” designation that Tuesday. Otherwise practicing in full, and not considered to be hindered by the injury, he was not placed on the report with a “back” designation until the 17th.

Even after he joined the injury list with a back ailment, it was another two-plus months — despite regular testing, and during which Wentz completed 70% of his throws with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 11 games — before the stress fracture revealed itself on a scan, compelling the team to shut Wentz down for the season.

“Were there things throughout the season — soreness and stuff? Absolutely. There’s no denying some of that,” Wentz says. “But there was never, like, ‘Hey, we found out early in the year his back is broken and he’s played through it. They screwed up.’ No, that was never the case. No, when they found it, we shut it down.

“Looking back, there’s really nothing I’d do differently throughout the process other than just finding ways to cope with stress.”

Most teammates understood Wentz’s complicated mental space. He had had an MVP run cut short, then had to watch as his backup delivered Philadelphia its first Super Bowl. It only added pressure on top of the megatons that Wentz — described as a perfectionist by those close to him — was already putting on himself. Plenty of NFL players could relate to the feeling of isolation that comes with being physically separated from most of your teammates during the rehab process, during which you’re around the action but not in it. Wentz was pressing to regain command and playing hurt. The combination of all of that, coupled with the team’s success under Foles for a second straight season, made it difficult for Wentz to function at his normal levels in the locker room and on the field.

Others read his struggles differently and offered a harsh assessment — anonymous voices in a PhillyVoice article labeled Wentz as “selfish,” “uncompromising” and “egotistical,” while charging the quarterback with “bullying” offensive coordinator Mike Groh and playing favorites by overtargeting tight end Zach Ertz. Many teammates rushed to his defense, and Wentz refuted several details in the piece — while also acknowledging he could have been a better teammate at times.

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Stephen A. Smith sees Nick Foles having a bigger lasting impact on Philadelphia than Carson Wentz because of the Super Bowl run that Foles led.

“Initially I’m like trying to figure out who could it have been. In your mind, you play detective. But then you’re like, ‘Does it really matter?'” Wentz said in February. “I’ll learn from it and we’ll all learn that (A) things shouldn’t kind of come out the way it did, and (B) the pieces that I can learn from it and be a better teammate and player and all that stuff I will grow from. But other than that, just turn the page.”

In March, Eagles coach Doug Pederson told Wentz he could take the next step as a leader by being a little more “vulnerable” and “accessible.” He cited two quarterbacks with whom he had shared a locker room, Brett Favre and Dan Marino, and how they thrived when they reached across the aisle to lead the entire team.

And so, this offseason, the quarterback once described by a staffer as a “ghost” in the facility — because he was always there but holed up grinding game tape — has become more engaged.

Veterans have noticed that he’s making an effort to establish a bond not only with the regular contributors on offense, but everyone on the Eagles’ depth chart. On the practice field during warm-ups, Wentz stops to chat up a couple of defensive backs at the bottom of the roster before jumping in line. He had groups of offensive and defensive players over to his house for a barbecue this summer. He took his offensive linemen out to dinner, knowing the best way to endear himself to the men up front. He brought his receivers out to his Texas home to bond and work out for the week.

“We spent a lot of time back in the spring and obviously in the summertime just trying to get together, connect, working out and just bonding off the field,” receiver DeSean Jackson says. “We spend so much time here, but as long as you can get off the field sometimes and not have the playbook involved and just having conversations about life in general just to kind of build [that bond] — he does that, too.”

Wentz has made gestures like this in the past, but he’s casting a wider net and connecting on a more personal level now. This development, he says, wasn’t prompted by one thing but rather happened organically as he continues to grow in his role.

“Carson is a leader of this football team, and what I’ve seen from him has just been excellence on and off the field,” Pederson says. “The way he prepares, how he’s engaging with more and more people on the team. It’s something that takes time.

“He’s maturing now, going into his fourth year, and he’s embraced that.”


Every time Wentz walks off the practice field and heads to the locker room, he passes through a corridor where a life-size image of Foles stares back at him from the wall, part of a tribute to the Super Bowl championship of which Foles was named MVP. Down the street at Lincoln Financial Field, there is a giant bronze statue of his former backup awaiting him.

He doesn’t talk about it much, but safety Malcolm Jenkins acknowledges the circumstances would be a lot for anyone to deal with — that as a competitor, he knows Foles’ success “has to have some kind of effect on you.”

Only a title run of Wentz’s own will provide proper balance.

“Anybody that’s following up what Nick Foles did has got something to prove. He went and took us to the Super Bowl,” Eagles left tackle Jason Peters says. “Me and [Wentz] and everybody else that missed the Super Bowl and didn’t play in it, we’ve still got something to prove. Unfinished business.”

With Foles’ presence still looming large (literally) over the Eagles facility, his offseason departure for Jacksonville might be a healthy development as Wentz works to solidify himself as the team’s north star.

Not that Wentz would say that — in fact, he evoked Foles’ name unprompted when talking about the ways he has changed entering Year 4.

“This offseason for me, getting healthy was big, but just the mental approach to the game and keeping it simple,” Wentz says. “And there’s some things that I’ve learned from Nick and his approach to the game. He was just so easygoing with stuff, and for me, I was always probably the opposite — uptight and just Type A. And there’s good and bad to both, and just finding that balance I think, and just keeping life in perspective.”

The biggest breakthrough Wentz had, through his outpouring to his pastor in December and the conversations with his wife, Maddie, that followed, was “learning to surrender the control.”

He stopped trying to play doctor in his dogged quest to get back onto the field late last season and relented to the medical advice of experts. He hired trainers to tailor a workout regimen for him that replaced his “high school/college mindset of just lift, lift, lift, work hard, work hard” with an approach that focuses on mobility, flexibility and range of motion, all of which are designed to aid in injury prevention. And he brought on a nutritionist to shape his diet.

“I’ve been to a few vegan restaurants now and every time I do I feel very weird,” Wentz says. “I literally have an outdoor show where we hunt and we eat. I feel weird, like I’m almost leaving my man card at the door, but there is some great vegan food.

“For me, it was taking all of the guesswork out. It was taking all of the stress off of me that I didn’t have to [have].”

Back on the field, Wentz has a lighter air about him. After a touchdown pass during practice last week, he and Sproles ran up to each other and did a leaping side bump, joking as they made their way back to the rest of the team. The summer has been filled with those kind of moments, more so than in any other offseason since Wentz joined the NFL.

“All I can tell you is this: Carson is operating really well,” Groh says. “He’s free of mind, body and heart right now, and he’s a leader of our team.”

Published at Tue, 20 Aug 2019 16:31:36 +0000

Preseason Power Rankings: Who’s on the hot seat entering 2019?

Preseason Power Rankings: Who’s on the hot seat entering 2019?

It’s been said that the NFL actually stands for “Not For Long,” as it’s not only tough to make it into the league, but also to maintain your employment status within it.

That’s what our NFL Nation reporters focused on while evaluating the 2019 preseason Power Rankings. How we rank: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

While almost everyone in the league is on some sort of notice heading into the 2019 season, there are some league personnel who need to excel more than others to emerge from their “hot seat.” No one, except for possibly the owners, is exempt from the scrutiny that comes from being on the hot seat.

So while you might be counting down the days until the season starts because you miss all the action, these guys are eager for things to start so they can prove their worth to their respective franchises.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN | CLE
DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC
LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ
OAK | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Who’s on the hot seat: Josh Gordon, WR

Why his seat is warm: As Roger Goodell said when announcing that Gordon would be reinstated on a conditional basis, everyone is rooting for Gordon personally and professionally, with more folks gaining a better understanding of all that goes into mental health and addiction issues. The NFL has given Gordon several chances over the years, and if things don’t work out this time, there’s no guarantee of another chance after that. So in an organization where there aren’t any “hot seats” in the coaching and executive ranks, Gordon is the most obvious choice among the players. — Mike Reiss

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Stephen A. Smith contends that Bill Belichick has a soft spot for Josh Gordon because he keeps bringing him back.

Who’s on the hot seat: Sammy Watkins, WR

Why his seat is warm: Watkins’ 2020 contract has a cap charge of $21 million. The Chiefs would save $14 million of that by releasing Watkins. Kansas City, which is facing contract showdowns or extensions with Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones, could very well need that money. So Watkins needs to be more productive in 2019 than he was last season, particularly since the Chiefs drafted wide receiver Mecole Hardman with their top pick this year. — Adam Teicher


Who’s on the hot seat: Patrick Robinson, CB

Why his seat is warm: The 10th-year veteran revived his career by leaving New Orleans in 2015 and reinventing himself as one of the NFL’s better slot cornerbacks. But he broke his left ankle last September after returning to the Saints in free agency. So far this summer, he has been playing behind veteran P.J. Williams and rookie Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in nickel and dime packages. Robinson will need to regain a prominent role to play out his four-year contract. — Mike Triplett


Who’s on the hot seat: Marcus Peters, CB

Why his seat is warm: Peters struggled through the first half of last season but was able to turn it around during the second half and into the playoffs. He is set to go into the final season of his rookie contract without a new deal in place. Peters is in no danger of finding himself without a job after the 2019 season, but he must play consistently and prove that he still has big-play ability to earn a big payday. — Lindsey Thiry


Who’s on the hot seat: Mike Groh, offensive coordinator

Why his seat is warm: The Eagles dipped from second in the NFL in points per game in 2017 (28.6) to 18th in 2018 (22.9) under Groh, who took over as offensive coordinator last season when Frank Reich departed to become the Colts’ coach. There were several reasons for the offensive regression, including quarterback Carson Wentz not being himself as he returned from ACL/LCL surgery and dealt with a bad back. But that doesn’t fully explain why Philly consistently had difficulty scoring early in games. This year, there’s no reason why the offense shouldn’t take flight now that Wentz is healthy and surrounded by playmakers. — Tim McManus


Who’s on the hot seat: Cardale Jones, QB

Why his seat is warm: Jones is showing signs of reaching his vast potential, but is it enough for him to stick on the final roster? The Ohio State product had his best game as a Charger against the Saints in the second preseason game, according to Chargers coach Anthony Lynn. Jones completed 11 of 14 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He wasn’t sacked and didn’t throw an interception. Lynn said Jones has matured and been helped by playing in the same system for three seasons. However, the Chargers took a flier on Easton Stick in the fifth round and Tyrod Taylor is entrenched as the No. 2 quarterback, which means the Chargers will have to choose between Jones and Stick if they keep three QBs. — Eric D. Williams

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Bears coach Matt Nagy praises Mitchell Trubisky’s progress during training camp and expects him to have a great sophomore season.

Who’s on the hot seat: Mitchell Trubisky, QB

Why his seat is warm: Trubisky is under intense scrutiny as he enters Year 3. The Bears believe they have a team good enough to win a championship, but for that to happen, Trubisky must play better. The quarterback, who turns 25 on Tuesday, had a good year under coach Matt Nagy in 2018, but there is considerable room for growth. Despite having one of the NFL’s best defenses, the Bears will go only as far as Trubisky takes them. — Jeff Dickerson


Who’s on the hot seat: Adam Vinatieri, K

Why his seat is warm: This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Vinatieri. It’s a matter of him being 47 years old in December and not having much else to accomplish in his career outside of winning another Super Bowl. Vinatieri is already the NFL’s all-time leading scorer with 2,598 points. His recent contracts with the Colts have been one-year deals because he likes to evaluate how he feels mentally and physically at the end of each season. — Mike Wells


Who’s on the hot seat: Jason Garrett, coach

Why his seat is warm: His contract expires after this season. It doesn’t get any hotter than that. The last time Jerry Jones put Garrett under such heat came in 2014. In response, the Cowboys went 12-4 and won a playoff game before a controversial loss in the divisional round. A week after that loss, Garrett signed a five-year, $30 million deal. Garrett has won the division in two of the past three seasons and made it to the divisional round twice. While he needed only to make the playoffs in 2014, that might not be enough this time, as he might need to make it to the NFC Championship Game. Of course, this could set up a very interesting dynamic. If the Cowboys make it that far, or even to a Super Bowl, Garrett could be a highly sought-after free-agent coach. — Todd Archer


Who’s on the hot seat: Kareem Hunt, RB

Why his seat is warm: Hunt is on the hot seat, though not for anything on the field. Hunt, the NFL’s 2017 rushing champ, was released by the Chiefs last November after video surfaced showing him shoving and kicking a woman months earlier at his residence in Cleveland. As a result, Hunt was suspended for the first eight games of this season. Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam and GM John Dorsey are giving Hunt a chance to reset his life and his football career. But he’ll have to hold up his end. — Jake Trotter


Who’s on the hot seat: Kevin Colbert, general manager

Why his seat is warm: Colbert basically placed himself on the hot seat when he opted to go year-to-year on his contract, citing his age (62) and the need to assess his future with his family. His deal expires in May. The fact that Mike Tomlin earned a one-year extension last month while Colbert didn’t raised questions because the two usually sign in tandem, representing a lack of security for a key figure in an organization that thrives off stability. Both parties have one year to see whether the roster Colbert built will return to the playoffs after falling short last season. — Jeremy Fowler

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Vikings running back Dalvin “The Chef” Cook walks us through how to make one of his favorite meals and describes his influence for the dish.

Who’s on the hot seat: Dalvin Cook, RB

Why his seat is warm: Cook has played only 15 games in two seasons because of injury, so a breakout year is critical in determining his future. Should he be the versatile threat the Vikings anticipated when they drafted him in the second round in 2017, Cook will have the leverage to negotiate a new deal ahead of his fourth season. If he struggles, or if injuries occur again, Minnesota might follow the trend set by others and turn to the draft to find its next lead back. NFL teams look for any reason to not shell out money for running backs — look at the Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon situations. A season in which Cook tops 1,000 yards rushing and is an active threat in the passing game will give him the backing he needs for a lucrative second contract in Minnesota. — Courtney Cronin


Who’s on the hot seat: Mark Murphy, president and CEO

Why his seat is warm: In the past year and a half, Murphy changed general managers — demoting Ted Thompson and hiring Brian Gutekunst — and put himself at the top of football operations. That meant it was Murphy’s call to fire Mike McCarthy in December and hire Matt LaFleur in January. If those moves don’t reverse the Packers’ downward trend — they’ve missed the playoffs the past two seasons — then perhaps the team’s board of directors will start to question whether Murphy should be so heavily involved in the football decisions. Previous team president Bob Harlan hired the GMs but always let them have total control over the football operations. — Rob Demovsky


Who’s on the hot seat: Will Fuller, WR

Why his seat is warm: The Texans’ front office typically tries to extend its first-round picks before their fifth season, so if Fuller cannot stay healthy, he’ll likely have to play on his fifth-year option instead of getting a new deal. Fuller has played in only 31 games in his first three seasons and spent the offseason rehabbing after he tore his ACL last October. Deshaun Watson called Fuller “a threat every time he steps on the field,” but if he cannot stay healthy, the Texans likely can’t trust him with a big contract extension. — Sarah Barshop


Who’s on the hot seat: Justin Britt, C

Why his seat is warm: This has less to do with Britt’s performance and more to do with his contract getting awfully expensive in its final season. Britt has been a good, perhaps above-average, center since switching to that position in 2016. He also has been reliable, missing only one game in five seasons. But that might not be enough in the Seahawks’ eyes to justify an $8.25 million, non-guaranteed base salary in 2020. That’s part of an $11.67 million cap charge that ranks a hair behind Travis Frederick‘s as the highest among all centers in 2020, according to Spotrac. — Brady Henderson


Who’s on the hot seat: Vic Beasley Jr., DE

Why his seat is warm: Beasley hasn’t been the same player the past two years that he was in 2016, when he led the league with 15.5 sacks. But Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a defensive line guru and the new defensive playcaller, firmly believes he can get the best out of Beasley. Beasley himself said he expects nothing less than double-digit sacks. If he doesn’t reach that and fails to be a disruptive force, don’t expect the Falcons to sign the former first-rounder to a long-term extension as he enters his $12.81 million, fifth-year option. — Vaughn McClure


Who’s on the hot seat: Patrick Onwuasor, MLB

Why his seat is warm: Onwuasor is facing a huge challenge entering his contract year. He takes over a legacy position on the Ravens’ defense, stepping in at middle linebacker and following the likes of Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley — who combined for 17 Pro Bowls. Onwuasor has to prove he can become the quarterback of the defense. If not, Baltimore will have to look elsewhere to fill the void at the heart of a defense that has finished ranked in the top 10 an astounding 16 times over the past 20 seasons. — Jamison Hensley

Who’s on the hot seat: Ron Rivera, coach

Why his seat is warm: Rivera is a two-time NFL Coach of the Year, so there’s no doubt he’s good at what he does. Players respect him as a former player and a highly regarded defensive mind. But if the Panthers don’t have a winning season, that will make it two straight seasons and three of four of not making the playoffs. New owner David Tepper has been patient thus far. He has given Rivera the players to transition to a 3-4 defense and built him a much-needed indoor practice facility. So there are no excuses. And if there’s no trip to the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine Tepper not making a major move. — David Newton


Who’s on the hot seat: Leonard Fournette, RB

Why his seat is warm: This is a make-or-break season for Fournette, who must prove he has matured, has a stronger work ethic and can stay healthy. All of those things were major issues in his first two seasons — last season especially. So far he has had a great camp and has done all the right things, but that’s how last year began, too. The Jaguars drafted Fournette to be a franchise back and are counting on him to be that this season — offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said Fournette will be a major reason the offense succeeds — or they’ll be willing to move in a different direction. — Mike DiRocco


Who’s on the hot seat: Marcus Mariota, QB

Why his seat is warm: Mariota is the obvious choice. The Titans truly believe Mariota is their guy this season, but they brought in Ryan Tannehill as an insurance policy in the event of an injury. As a team, the Titans are looking to take the next step. They can’t do that if Mariota doesn’t elevate his game. Mariota is playing in the final year of his rookie deal. If he’s unable to stay healthy or guide the offense to a better season, don’t be surprised if Mariota is not under center for the Titans in 2020. — Turron Davenport


Who’s on the hot seat: Rick Wagner, RT

Why his seat is warm: Wagner has been decent in his first two seasons in Detroit, but a $11.9 million cap hit in 2020 and the possibility of saving up to $9 million for next season (if he’s a post-June 1 designation) mean his standards will need to be higher if he wants to avoid being a cap casualty after the season. He’s a good player, but the Lions have Tyrell Crosby (rough preseason opener aside) waiting as a possible replacement if they aren’t happy with Wagner’s level of play. If he does well in 2019, though, there’s little reason to think he won’t be back in 2020. The Lions are a team with largely reasonable contracts at this point. — Michael Rothstein


Who’s on the hot seat: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB

Why his seat is warm: It’s not that Garoppolo is on the hot seat as much as he needs to stay healthy and prove himself over the course of a full 16-game season, something he has yet to do in the NFL. Garoppolo has just 10 career starts and has never started more than five games in a season. The Niners want to see what he can do in a much larger sample, and Garoppolo has acknowledged the importance of proving himself with a more robust body of work. If Garoppolo gets hurt, struggles or both, the Niners could find themselves in another quarterback quandary in the offseason when they could, in theory, part with Garoppolo at the cost of just the $4.2 million in salary cap proration remaining on his deal. — Nick Wagoner


Who’s on the hot seat: Emmanuel Sanders, WR

Why his seat is warm: It’s not that the Broncos don’t think Sanders is a key part of their offense — he’s their most proven receiver by far and is expected to be among the team leaders in every receiving category — or don’t believe he’s ready to return from December Achilles tendon surgery. It’s simply business, and no matter how many receptions or touchdown passes Sanders finishes with this season, the Broncos face a tough choice about his future with the franchise. He’s 32 — will be 33 in March — coming off the most significant injury of his career and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. — Jeff Legwold


Who’s on the hot seat: Trumaine Johnson, CB

Why his seat is warm: Johnson received one of the biggest free-agent contracts in franchise history in 2018 ($34 million guaranteed). He was expected to be a lockdown corner, but that hasn’t materialized. After a disappointing 2018, which included five missed games due to a leg injury, he’s hurt again, trying to recover from a pulled hamstring before Week 1. The Jets would get stuck with a $12 million cap charge in 2020 if they cut bait after the season, but they might not have a choice because his $11 million salary in 2020 becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster the third day of the league year. Unless Johnson does a 180, this will go down as one of their worst signings. — Rich Cimini


Who’s on the hot seat: Zay Jones, WR

Why his seat is warm: Jones is one of the first draft picks of the Sean McDermott regime and is one of the players Buffalo needs to transition from “developmental piece” to “franchise cornerstone.” Standing in the way for Jones are free-agent signings Cole Beasley and John Brown and a diminishing role after three weeks of training camp. Jones doesn’t need a record-breaking season, but with two years left on his rookie contract, his spot on the team after the 2020 season will be in question if he fails to impress in 2019. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

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Marcus Spears argues that Raiders GM Mike Mayock traded for Antonio Brown for his production while not taking into account his past actions.

Who’s on the hot seat: Antonio Brown, WR

Why his seat is warm: Brown’s helmet histrionics have weighed on the team to the point where general manager Mike Mayock felt compelled to issue the enigmatic wideout an ultimatum after he left camp for the second time in a huff. “So, from our perspective,” Mayock told reporters Sunday afternoon, “it’s time for him to be all-in, or all-out, OK?” There is no question Brown is a unique, all-world talent, one the Raiders gladly parted with third- and fifth-round picks to acquire before signing him to a $30 million deal in March, But patience is obviously wearing thin. As Brown himself said, when asked when he might practice again, “Stay tuned.” — Paul Gutierrez


Who’s on the hot seat: Jameis Winston, QB

Why his seat is warm: Winston enters the fifth and final year of his rookie contract. While he has enjoyed the full support of ownership, general manager Jason Licht and coach Bruce Arians and continues to be the first one to enter and last one to leave the building (at times, they’ve had to kick him out), he still has to deliver on that promise. The past two seasons have been marred by a shoulder injury, a suspension and a benching. The good news for him: He has some really strong targets in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate and might finally have a defense to help him out. — Jenna Laine


Who’s on the hot seat: Andy Dalton, QB

Why his seat is warm: The seat may not be piping hot, but Dalton is under a decent amount of pressure to perform well this season. Dalton is looking to recover from an injury-shortened 2018 and show the Bengals he still has enough in the tank to be the franchise’s quarterback. He’s currently on a team-friendly deal that runs until 2021. — Ben Baby


Who’s on the hot seat: Jay Gruden, coach

Why his seat is warm: Easy: It’s Gruden’s sixth season in Washington and the Redskins have made the playoffs once, in 2015, when they lost in the first round. That’s been followed by three straight non-playoff seasons, partially explained by injuries, as they’ve placed a total of 52 players on injured reserve the past two seasons combined. They can’t afford another year in which injuries serve as a primary excuse; the fan base won’t buy it and no one else should, either. The Redskins have gone 31-32-1 in the past four seasons, and short of rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins excelling down the stretch, it’s hard to imagine another sub-.500 year being acceptable. — John Keim

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Ryan Clark explains why Jay Gruden will be under pressure in Washington, while Marcus Spears says Kliff Kingsbury will have to prove himself and improve Arizona’s offense.

Who’s on the hot seat: Steve Keim, general manager

Why his seat is warm: Hot seat may be an understatement. The Cardinals’ general manager might be on the hottest seat in the NFL after Arizona had the worst record in the league a year ago, which gave it the first overall pick. Keim took a risk and hired Kliff Kingsbury as his coach and drafted Kyler Murray as his quarterback. The Cardinals haven’t had a winning record since 2015, when they went 13-3 — the polar opposite of last season’s 3-13 record — and played in the NFC Championship Game. Arizona’s trajectory has been straight downhill ever since. Keim has tied his future to Kingsbury and Murray, so if they don’t pan out and Arizona finishes a fourth straight season without a winning record, that could be the end of Keim’s tenure. — Josh Weinfuss


Who’s on the hot seat: Eli Manning, QB

Why his seat is warm: He’s 38 years old, in the final year of his contract and his successor is already on the roster. If Manning wants to even make it through this season as the starter, he’s going to have to produce at an extremely high level — with a lot of victories. He hasn’t been able to do that for several years. The pressure is on more than ever, with those two Super Bowls further in the distance and his football mortality in question. — Jordan Raanan


Who’s on the hot seat: Josh Rosen, QB

Why his seat is warm: It’s a bit unfair that Rosen is on the hot seat after being on two teams in his first two NFL seasons, but this is his reality. It seems 2019 will function as a tryout year for Rosen to prove his worth as the Dolphins’ long-term answer at quarterback, and if he’s not able to do so, the Dolphins will likely be in great position to select a quarterback high in the 2020 draft. In that situation, we could see Rosen moving on to his third team in as many years. To avoid that, Rosen first has to win a starting quarterback battle with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and show consistent improvement. — Cameron Wolfe

Published at Tue, 20 Aug 2019 12:40:23 +0000

Preseason Power Rankings: Who’s on the hot seat entering 2019?

Preseason Power Rankings: Who’s on the hot seat entering 2019?

It’s been said that the NFL actually stands for “Not For Long,” as it’s not only tough to make it into the league, but also to maintain your employment status within it.

That’s what our NFL Nation reporters focused on while evaluating the 2019 preseason Power Rankings. How we rank: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

While almost everyone in the league is on some sort of notice heading into the 2019 season, there are some league personnel who need to excel more than others to emerge from their “hot seat.” No one, except for possibly the owners, is exempt from the scrutiny that comes from being on the hot seat.

So while you might be counting down the days until the season starts because you miss all the action, these guys are eager for things to start so they can prove their worth to their respective franchises.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN | CLE
DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC
LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ
OAK | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Who’s on the hot seat: Josh Gordon, WR

Why his seat is warm: As Roger Goodell said when announcing that Gordon would be reinstated on a conditional basis, everyone is rooting for Gordon personally and professionally, with more folks gaining a better understanding of all that goes into mental health and addiction issues. The NFL has given Gordon several chances over the years, and if things don’t work out this time, there’s no guarantee of another chance after that. So in an organization where there aren’t any “hot seats” in the coaching and executive ranks, Gordon is the most obvious choice among the players. — Mike Reiss

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Stephen A. Smith contends that Bill Belichick has a soft spot for Josh Gordon because he keeps bringing him back.

Who’s on the hot seat: Sammy Watkins, WR

Why his seat is warm: Watkins’ 2020 contract has a cap charge of $21 million. The Chiefs would save $14 million of that by releasing Watkins. Kansas City, which is facing contract showdowns or extensions with Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones, could very well need that money. So Watkins needs to be more productive in 2019 than he was last season, particularly since the Chiefs drafted wide receiver Mecole Hardman with their top pick this year. — Adam Teicher


Who’s on the hot seat: Patrick Robinson, CB

Why his seat is warm: The 10th-year veteran revived his career by leaving New Orleans in 2015 and reinventing himself as one of the NFL’s better slot cornerbacks. But he broke his left ankle last September after returning to the Saints in free agency. So far this summer, he has been playing behind veteran P.J. Williams and rookie Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in nickel and dime packages. Robinson will need to regain a prominent role to play out his four-year contract. — Mike Triplett


Who’s on the hot seat: Marcus Peters, CB

Why his seat is warm: Peters struggled through the first half of last season but was able to turn it around during the second half and into the playoffs. He is set to go into the final season of his rookie contract without a new deal in place. Peters is in no danger of finding himself without a job after the 2019 season, but he must play consistently and prove that he still has big-play ability to earn a big payday. — Lindsey Thiry


Who’s on the hot seat: Mike Groh, offensive coordinator

Why his seat is warm: The Eagles dipped from second in the NFL in points per game in 2017 (28.6) to 18th in 2018 (22.9) under Groh, who took over as offensive coordinator last season when Frank Reich departed to become the Colts’ coach. There were several reasons for the offensive regression, including quarterback Carson Wentz not being himself as he returned from ACL/LCL surgery and dealt with a bad back. But that doesn’t fully explain why Philly consistently had difficulty scoring early in games. This year, there’s no reason why the offense shouldn’t take flight now that Wentz is healthy and surrounded by playmakers. — Tim McManus


Who’s on the hot seat: Cardale Jones, QB

Why his seat is warm: Jones is showing signs of reaching his vast potential, but is it enough for him to stick on the final roster? The Ohio State product had his best game as a Charger against the Saints in the second preseason game, according to Chargers coach Anthony Lynn. Jones completed 11 of 14 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He wasn’t sacked and didn’t throw an interception. Lynn said Jones has matured and been helped by playing in the same system for three seasons. However, the Chargers took a flier on Easton Stick in the fifth round and Tyrod Taylor is entrenched as the No. 2 quarterback, which means the Chargers will have to choose between Jones and Stick if they keep three QBs. — Eric D. Williams

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Bears coach Matt Nagy praises Mitchell Trubisky’s progress during training camp and expects him to have a great sophomore season.

Who’s on the hot seat: Mitchell Trubisky, QB

Why his seat is warm: Trubisky is under intense scrutiny as he enters Year 3. The Bears believe they have a team good enough to win a championship, but for that to happen, Trubisky must play better. The quarterback, who turns 25 on Tuesday, had a good year under coach Matt Nagy in 2018, but there is considerable room for growth. Despite having one of the NFL’s best defenses, the Bears will go only as far as Trubisky takes them. — Jeff Dickerson


Who’s on the hot seat: Adam Vinatieri, K

Why his seat is warm: This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Vinatieri. It’s a matter of him being 47 years old in December and not having much else to accomplish in his career outside of winning another Super Bowl. Vinatieri is already the NFL’s all-time leading scorer with 2,598 points. His recent contracts with the Colts have been one-year deals because he likes to evaluate how he feels mentally and physically at the end of each season. — Mike Wells


Who’s on the hot seat: Jason Garrett, coach

Why his seat is warm: His contract expires after this season. It doesn’t get any hotter than that. The last time Jerry Jones put Garrett under such heat came in 2014. In response, the Cowboys went 12-4 and won a playoff game before a controversial loss in the divisional round. A week after that loss, Garrett signed a five-year, $30 million deal. Garrett has won the division in two of the past three seasons and made it to the divisional round twice. While he needed only to make the playoffs in 2014, that might not be enough this time, as he might need to make it to the NFC Championship Game. Of course, this could set up a very interesting dynamic. If the Cowboys make it that far, or even to a Super Bowl, Garrett could be a highly sought-after free-agent coach. — Todd Archer


Who’s on the hot seat: Kareem Hunt, RB

Why his seat is warm: Hunt is on the hot seat, though not for anything on the field. Hunt, the NFL’s 2017 rushing champ, was released by the Chiefs last November after video surfaced showing him shoving and kicking a woman months earlier at his residence in Cleveland. As a result, Hunt was suspended for the first eight games of this season. Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam and GM John Dorsey are giving Hunt a chance to reset his life and his football career. But he’ll have to hold up his end. — Jake Trotter


Who’s on the hot seat: Kevin Colbert, general manager

Why his seat is warm: Colbert basically placed himself on the hot seat when he opted to go year-to-year on his contract, citing his age (62) and the need to assess his future with his family. His deal expires in May. The fact that Mike Tomlin earned a one-year extension last month while Colbert didn’t raised questions because the two usually sign in tandem, representing a lack of security for a key figure in an organization that thrives off stability. Both parties have one year to see whether the roster Colbert built will return to the playoffs after falling short last season. — Jeremy Fowler

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Vikings running back Dalvin “The Chef” Cook walks us through how to make one of his favorite meals and describes his influence for the dish.

Who’s on the hot seat: Dalvin Cook, RB

Why his seat is warm: Cook has played only 15 games in two seasons because of injury, so a breakout year is critical in determining his future. Should he be the versatile threat the Vikings anticipated when they drafted him in the second round in 2017, Cook will have the leverage to negotiate a new deal ahead of his fourth season. If he struggles, or if injuries occur again, Minnesota might follow the trend set by others and turn to the draft to find its next lead back. NFL teams look for any reason to not shell out money for running backs — look at the Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon situations. A season in which Cook tops 1,000 yards rushing and is an active threat in the passing game will give him the backing he needs for a lucrative second contract in Minnesota. — Courtney Cronin


Who’s on the hot seat: Mark Murphy, president and CEO

Why his seat is warm: In the past year and a half, Murphy changed general managers — demoting Ted Thompson and hiring Brian Gutekunst — and put himself at the top of football operations. That meant it was Murphy’s call to fire Mike McCarthy in December and hire Matt LaFleur in January. If those moves don’t reverse the Packers’ downward trend — they’ve missed the playoffs the past two seasons — then perhaps the team’s board of directors will start to question whether Murphy should be so heavily involved in the football decisions. Previous team president Bob Harlan hired the GMs but always let them have total control over the football operations. — Rob Demovsky


Who’s on the hot seat: Will Fuller, WR

Why his seat is warm: The Texans’ front office typically tries to extend its first-round picks before their fifth season, so if Fuller cannot stay healthy, he’ll likely have to play on his fifth-year option instead of getting a new deal. Fuller has played in only 31 games in his first three seasons and spent the offseason rehabbing after he tore his ACL last October. Deshaun Watson called Fuller “a threat every time he steps on the field,” but if he cannot stay healthy, the Texans likely can’t trust him with a big contract extension. — Sarah Barshop


Who’s on the hot seat: Justin Britt, C

Why his seat is warm: This has less to do with Britt’s performance and more to do with his contract getting awfully expensive in its final season. Britt has been a good, perhaps above-average, center since switching to that position in 2016. He also has been reliable, missing only one game in five seasons. But that might not be enough in the Seahawks’ eyes to justify an $8.25 million, non-guaranteed base salary in 2020. That’s part of an $11.67 million cap charge that ranks a hair behind Travis Frederick‘s as the highest among all centers in 2020, according to Spotrac. — Brady Henderson


Who’s on the hot seat: Vic Beasley Jr., DE

Why his seat is warm: Beasley hasn’t been the same player the past two years that he was in 2016, when he led the league with 15.5 sacks. But Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a defensive line guru and the new defensive playcaller, firmly believes he can get the best out of Beasley. Beasley himself said he expects nothing less than double-digit sacks. If he doesn’t reach that and fails to be a disruptive force, don’t expect the Falcons to sign the former first-rounder to a long-term extension as he enters his $12.81 million, fifth-year option. — Vaughn McClure


Who’s on the hot seat: Patrick Onwuasor, MLB

Why his seat is warm: Onwuasor is facing a huge challenge entering his contract year. He takes over a legacy position on the Ravens’ defense, stepping in at middle linebacker and following the likes of Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley — who combined for 17 Pro Bowls. Onwuasor has to prove he can become the quarterback of the defense. If not, Baltimore will have to look elsewhere to fill the void at the heart of a defense that has finished ranked in the top 10 an astounding 16 times over the past 20 seasons. — Jamison Hensley

Who’s on the hot seat: Ron Rivera, coach

Why his seat is warm: Rivera is a two-time NFL Coach of the Year, so there’s no doubt he’s good at what he does. Players respect him as a former player and a highly regarded defensive mind. But if the Panthers don’t have a winning season, that will make it two straight seasons and three of four of not making the playoffs. New owner David Tepper has been patient thus far. He has given Rivera the players to transition to a 3-4 defense and built him a much-needed indoor practice facility. So there are no excuses. And if there’s no trip to the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine Tepper not making a major move. — David Newton


Who’s on the hot seat: Leonard Fournette, RB

Why his seat is warm: This is a make-or-break season for Fournette, who must prove he has matured, has a stronger work ethic and can stay healthy. All of those things were major issues in his first two seasons — last season especially. So far he has had a great camp and has done all the right things, but that’s how last year began, too. The Jaguars drafted Fournette to be a franchise back and are counting on him to be that this season — offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said Fournette will be a major reason the offense succeeds — or they’ll be willing to move in a different direction. — Mike DiRocco


Who’s on the hot seat: Marcus Mariota, QB

Why his seat is warm: Mariota is the obvious choice. The Titans truly believe Mariota is their guy this season, but they brought in Ryan Tannehill as an insurance policy in the event of an injury. As a team, the Titans are looking to take the next step. They can’t do that if Mariota doesn’t elevate his game. Mariota is playing in the final year of his rookie deal. If he’s unable to stay healthy or guide the offense to a better season, don’t be surprised if Mariota is not under center for the Titans in 2020. — Turron Davenport


Who’s on the hot seat: Rick Wagner, RT

Why his seat is warm: Wagner has been decent in his first two seasons in Detroit, but a $11.9 million cap hit in 2020 and the possibility of saving up to $9 million for next season (if he’s a post-June 1 designation) mean his standards will need to be higher if he wants to avoid being a cap casualty after the season. He’s a good player, but the Lions have Tyrell Crosby (rough preseason opener aside) waiting as a possible replacement if they aren’t happy with Wagner’s level of play. If he does well in 2019, though, there’s little reason to think he won’t be back in 2020. The Lions are a team with largely reasonable contracts at this point. — Michael Rothstein


Who’s on the hot seat: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB

Why his seat is warm: It’s not that Garoppolo is on the hot seat as much as he needs to stay healthy and prove himself over the course of a full 16-game season, something he has yet to do in the NFL. Garoppolo has just 10 career starts and has never started more than five games in a season. The Niners want to see what he can do in a much larger sample, and Garoppolo has acknowledged the importance of proving himself with a more robust body of work. If Garoppolo gets hurt, struggles or both, the Niners could find themselves in another quarterback quandary in the offseason when they could, in theory, part with Garoppolo at the cost of just the $4.2 million in salary cap proration remaining on his deal. — Nick Wagoner


Who’s on the hot seat: Emmanuel Sanders, WR

Why his seat is warm: It’s not that the Broncos don’t think Sanders is a key part of their offense — he’s their most proven receiver by far and is expected to be among the team leaders in every receiving category — or don’t believe he’s ready to return from December Achilles tendon surgery. It’s simply business, and no matter how many receptions or touchdown passes Sanders finishes with this season, the Broncos face a tough choice about his future with the franchise. He’s 32 — will be 33 in March — coming off the most significant injury of his career and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. — Jeff Legwold


Who’s on the hot seat: Trumaine Johnson, CB

Why his seat is warm: Johnson received one of the biggest free-agent contracts in franchise history in 2018 ($34 million guaranteed). He was expected to be a lockdown corner, but that hasn’t materialized. After a disappointing 2018, which included five missed games due to a leg injury, he’s hurt again, trying to recover from a pulled hamstring before Week 1. The Jets would get stuck with a $12 million cap charge in 2020 if they cut bait after the season, but they might not have a choice because his $11 million salary in 2020 becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster the third day of the league year. Unless Johnson does a 180, this will go down as one of their worst signings. — Rich Cimini


Who’s on the hot seat: Zay Jones, WR

Why his seat is warm: Jones is one of the first draft picks of the Sean McDermott regime and is one of the players Buffalo needs to transition from “developmental piece” to “franchise cornerstone.” Standing in the way for Jones are free-agent signings Cole Beasley and John Brown and a diminishing role after three weeks of training camp. Jones doesn’t need a record-breaking season, but with two years left on his rookie contract, his spot on the team after the 2020 season will be in question if he fails to impress in 2019. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

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Marcus Spears argues that Raiders GM Mike Mayock traded for Antonio Brown for his production while not taking into account his past actions.

Who’s on the hot seat: Antonio Brown, WR

Why his seat is warm: Brown’s helmet histrionics have weighed on the team to the point where general manager Mike Mayock felt compelled to issue the enigmatic wideout an ultimatum after he left camp for the second time in a huff. “So, from our perspective,” Mayock told reporters Sunday afternoon, “it’s time for him to be all-in, or all-out, OK?” There is no question Brown is a unique, all-world talent, one the Raiders gladly parted with third- and fifth-round picks to acquire before signing him to a $30 million deal in March, But patience is obviously wearing thin. As Brown himself said, when asked when he might practice again, “Stay tuned.” — Paul Gutierrez


Who’s on the hot seat: Jameis Winston, QB

Why his seat is warm: Winston enters the fifth and final year of his rookie contract. While he has enjoyed the full support of ownership, general manager Jason Licht and coach Bruce Arians and continues to be the first one to enter and last one to leave the building (at times, they’ve had to kick him out), he still has to deliver on that promise. The past two seasons have been marred by a shoulder injury, a suspension and a benching. The good news for him: He has some really strong targets in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate and might finally have a defense to help him out. — Jenna Laine


Who’s on the hot seat: Andy Dalton, QB

Why his seat is warm: The seat may not be piping hot, but Dalton is under a decent amount of pressure to perform well this season. Dalton is looking to recover from an injury-shortened 2018 and show the Bengals he still has enough in the tank to be the franchise’s quarterback. He’s currently on a team-friendly deal that runs until 2021. — Ben Baby


Who’s on the hot seat: Jay Gruden, coach

Why his seat is warm: Easy: It’s Gruden’s sixth season in Washington and the Redskins have made the playoffs once, in 2015, when they lost in the first round. That’s been followed by three straight non-playoff seasons, partially explained by injuries, as they’ve placed a total of 52 players on injured reserve the past two seasons combined. They can’t afford another year in which injuries serve as a primary excuse; the fan base won’t buy it and no one else should, either. The Redskins have gone 31-32-1 in the past four seasons, and short of rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins excelling down the stretch, it’s hard to imagine another sub-.500 year being acceptable. — John Keim

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Ryan Clark explains why Jay Gruden will be under pressure in Washington, while Marcus Spears says Kliff Kingsbury will have to prove himself and improve Arizona’s offense.

Who’s on the hot seat: Steve Keim, general manager

Why his seat is warm: Hot seat may be an understatement. The Cardinals’ general manager might be on the hottest seat in the NFL after Arizona had the worst record in the league a year ago, which gave it the first overall pick. Keim took a risk and hired Kliff Kingsbury as his coach and drafted Kyler Murray as his quarterback. The Cardinals haven’t had a winning record since 2015, when they went 13-3 — the polar opposite of last season’s 3-13 record — and played in the NFC Championship Game. Arizona’s trajectory has been straight downhill ever since. Keim has tied his future to Kingsbury and Murray, so if they don’t pan out and Arizona finishes a fourth straight season without a winning record, that could be the end of Keim’s tenure. — Josh Weinfuss


Who’s on the hot seat: Eli Manning, QB

Why his seat is warm: He’s 38 years old, in the final year of his contract and his successor is already on the roster. If Manning wants to even make it through this season as the starter, he’s going to have to produce at an extremely high level — with a lot of victories. He hasn’t been able to do that for several years. The pressure is on more than ever, with those two Super Bowls further in the distance and his football mortality in question. — Jordan Raanan


Who’s on the hot seat: Josh Rosen, QB

Why his seat is warm: It’s a bit unfair that Rosen is on the hot seat after being on two teams in his first two NFL seasons, but this is his reality. It seems 2019 will function as a tryout year for Rosen to prove his worth as the Dolphins’ long-term answer at quarterback, and if he’s not able to do so, the Dolphins will likely be in great position to select a quarterback high in the 2020 draft. In that situation, we could see Rosen moving on to his third team in as many years. To avoid that, Rosen first has to win a starting quarterback battle with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and show consistent improvement. — Cameron Wolfe

Published at Tue, 20 Aug 2019 12:40:23 +0000

NFL preseason Week 2 takeaways: Titans QB Marcus Mariota makes strong statement

NFL preseason Week 2 takeaways: Titans QB Marcus Mariota makes strong statement

To say it’s a big season for Marcus Mariota is an understatement.

The Tennessee Titans quarterback is unsigned beyond this season, and the team added former Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill to push him. In three series Saturday night against the Patriots, Mariota went 6-of-9 for 63 yards and threw an 11-yard TD pass to Delanie Walker. Tannehill wasn’t too shabby, either (7-for-11, 84 yards, 1 TD).

Meanwhile, QB Daniel Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in April, had a roller-coaster game Friday night, one day after No. 1 overall draft selection Kyler Murray struggled.

We have all of that and more in the biggest takeaways and fantasy football nuggets of the preseason’s second week from NFL Nation:

Jump to a matchup:
CLE-IND | NE-TEN | DET-HOU | PIT-KC | DAL-LAR
PHI-JAX | NYJ-ATL | CIN-WSH | GB-BAL | OAK-ARI
BUF-CAR | CHI-NYG | MIA-TB


Saturday’s games

The best news from the Cowboys after two preseason games? They are on their way home. After 24 days in Oxnard and Santa Clara, California, and Honolulu, the Cowboys return to Dallas knowing a little and still needing to find out a little. The good: Dak Prescott has not missed a pass in two preseason drives, including all five Saturday on the opening drive. The bad: The down-the-line depth of the roster has not been able to do much, and Mike White has not progressed as hoped in the backup-quarterback battle. But there might be good news on the way: DeMarcus Lawrence (shoulder), Byron Jones (hip) and Tyrone Crawford (hip) are closer to returning to practice for the first time this summer, and Sean Lee (knee) is closer to practicing in pads for just the second time this summer. — Todd Archer

Rams coach Sean McVay left starters in L.A. and did not play several key backups — including running back Malcolm Brown — in Saturday’s Week 2 preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii. Rookie running back Darrell Henderson made his first start and showed progress in his development. Last week, Henderson was eased into his NFL debut, and McVay noted that the third-round draft pick did some things well, but said there were subtle nuances that needed improvement. Against the Cowboys, Henderson rushed for 16 yards in six carries and showed his versatility out of the backfield as he caught six passes for 38 yards, including a dynamic, 26-yard reception on third down. — Lindsey Thiry


Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus has had a strong training camp and played well in his short stint on Saturday night with a strip sack of quarterback Josh Johnson. Mercilus had a down season in 2018, but defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said he plans to move the linebacker around a little more than he did a year ago in the hopes Mercilus can return to his form from 2015 and 2016, when he led the team with 19.5 sacks over those two seasons. The veteran’s play could be even more important this season depending on the status of Jadeveon Clowney, who has still not reported to Texans training camp.— Sarah Barshop

The Lions needed to see more from the offensive line than they did in the opener, when the group allowed nine sacks (mostly with their second and third units) and gave their quarterbacks no time to throw the ball or make any reads. Detroit got more against Houston, in part by playing at least some of their starting line into the second quarter. Joe Dahl, who appears to be leading the left guard competition, seemed particularly comfortable in run blocking. Houston’s two sacks shouldn’t be pinned on the offensive line, either. Josh Johnson (in the first half) and David Fales (in the second half) both held the ball for far too long on the sacks the line gave up. The improvement of the line is critical, considering Matthew Stafford is likely to play next week in the third preseason game against Buffalo after sitting out this week. With time, Detroit’s backup quarterbacks looked much better. Fales completed 12 of 19 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown, potentially jumbling up the backup-quarterback competition between himself, Johnson and the injured Tom Savage. — Mike Rothstein


To hold Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense to a punt, a fumble and two first downs is a positive for any defense, in any setting. The Steelers should feel good about containing Mahomes — who scorched this very defense for six touchdown passes inside Heinz Field last season — in nine snaps of play, even if they were preseason snaps. Among the positives: Linebacker Mark Barron blanketed a running back in coverage, and safety Terrell Edmunds stripped running back Carlos Hyde for a fumble that safety Sean Davis recovered. The first-team defense had several impressive stops in the last week of training camp, and the momentum showed up in Week 2 of the preseason. Pass-rushers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree beat offensive tackles off the edge all game. — Jeremy Fowler

Rookie running back Darwin Thompson deserves a better spot on the depth chart. Thompson was the third Chiefs back into the game against the Steelers, but he was the most productive. Thompson used his speed to rush for 30 yards on four carries to spark the Chiefs’ only touchdown drive of the first half. He entered the game behind Damien Williams and Carlos Hyde, but Thompson adds another dimension because he’s faster. Hyde didn’t help his cause by losing a fumble. — Adam Teicher


With Tom Brady and most of the starters on both sides of the ball held out, the most significant news for the Patriots was 2018 first-round draft choice Isaiah Wynn playing in a game for the first time since tearing his Achilles in August 2018. Wynn, who projects as the starting left tackle, played the first three series and had a notable block on Brandon Bolden‘s touchdown run. Wynn’s Achilles has continued to respond well as the Patriots have gradually brought him along this preseason. — Mike Reiss

The return of tight end Delanie Walker was a boost for quarterback Marcus Mariota, who targeted Walker two times. Both were completions, one of which was an 11-yard touchdown on a post route. Mariota also extended a play when he escaped pressure and threw a pass downfield to rookie wideout A.J. Brown. Brown drew a 27-yard pass interference penalty on the play to set up Mariota’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Walker. Mariota ended the day completing 6 of 9 passes for 63 yards and the touchdown. — Turron Davenport


With Baker Mayfield sitting in Indy, Garrett Gilbert got the start at QB and delivered quite a statement in his attempt to win a spot on Cleveland’s 53-man roster. Gilbert, who attended the same Austin, Texas, high school as Mayfield, completed 13 of 19 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns in only one half against the Colts. Gilbert was on his way to earning MVP in the Alliance of American Football before the league unexpectedly folded during its inaugural season earlier this year. He has carried a high level of play into the preseason in Cleveland, where he’s looking primed to become one of Mayfield’s backups alongside veteran Drew Stanton. — Jake Trotter

Colts QB Jacoby Brissett had his best overall performance of the preseason on Saturday night, going 8-of-10 for 100 yards and a touchdown in three series against the Browns. He showed off his touch when he threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Ebron in the corner of the end zone that only Ebron could catch. Brissett needed a game like this because he was inconsistent during training camp and didn’t lead the Colts to a first down in three series against Buffalo in the preseason opener on Aug. 8. The Colts have said they have confidence in Brissett, who started 15 games for them in 2017, if starter Andrew Luck isn’t ready for their Week 1 game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Luck did some side-to-side drills in which he jumped over pads before the game Saturday. Colts general manager Chris Ballard said earlier this week that Luck, who has practiced only three times since April, was having a difficult time going side to side because of pain in his left ankle. — Mike Wells


Friday’s games

Efficient offense and stifling defense defined preseason game No. 2 for the Bills, who built a 24-3 lead in the first half. Josh Allen fed Cole Beasley often, completing all five of his throws to the former Cowboy. Allen finished 9-for-11 for 102 yards and led a pair of scoring drives. Isaiah McKenzie (one catch, 37 yards) and Duke Williams (three catches, 38 yards, touchdown) seem to have surpassed Ray-Ray McCloud on the depth chart at wide receiver. Defensively, Buffalo’s first unit dominated a Carolina offense missing Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen. Kevin Johnson‘s pick-six will stand out at the tail end of a week in which the Bills sent one cornerback to injured reserve (E.J. Gaines) and signed another (Captain Munnerlyn). — Marcel Louis-Jacques

When recently asked what he’s looking for in a backup to quarterback Cam Newton, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, “somebody who can win.” Nothing Kyle Allen or Will Grier has shown through two preseason games indicates that either can consistently do that. Allen got the start Friday with the first team, minus running back Christian McCaffrey. He was a dreadful 4-for-11 for 32 yards, including two passes tipped at the line of scrimmage. Grier’s second pass was intercepted and returned 70 yards for a touchdown. He almost threw another pick and finished 10-for-19 for 75 yards. It isn’t unreasonable to think that Taylor Heinicke, who has been the forgotten man in this battle, might have earned a right to be considered after his fourth-quarter performance. As good as Newton has looked in practice at times and as much quality work as he got against Buffalo’s first-team defense on Tuesday and Wednesday, he still hasn’t faced live action as the Panthers remain cautious following his second shoulder surgery. Allen and Grier have gotten their chances, and as of now, the backup job has to be a toss-up. — David Newton


Preseason football has almost no real value to Bears coach Matt Nagy. Chicago announced about an hour before kickoff that 26 of its key players would not play a snap against the Giants, including quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and pass-rusher Khalil Mack. The Bears didn’t even suit up rookie third-round running back David Montgomery, who probably won’t play again until the regular-season opener versus the Packers on Sept. 5. Look for more NFL teams to follow Nagy’s lead and hold controlled scrimmages during training camp, as opposed to risking injuries to important players in preseason contests. — Jeff Dickerson

It was Eli Manning‘s turn to be perfect while rookie Daniel Jones had his ups and downs in his second game. Manning went 4-for-4 with a touchdown pass against the Chicago backups before giving way to Jones, who fumbled twice on his first three ineffective drives. But the rookie bounced back before he was done and feathered a perfectly placed fade to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown on his final possession. Overall, Jones finished 11-of-14 for 161 yards with a touchdown pass and two fumbles. It was enough to remind everyone that he still needs some work, but there is hope that he can be the star franchise quarterback the Giants envision. — Jordan Raanan


Josh Rosen got his first start with the Dolphins and another big opportunity to make his push for the starting quarterback job. He flashed his ability on a few throws while playing the whole first half and made a poor decision that should’ve been a pick-six. Ultimately, it was just an OK day for the young quarterback (10-of-18, 102 yards). Fortunately for Rosen, Ryan Fitzpatrick (3-of-9, 20 yards) did even less, other than running over a Buccaneers safety, in just over a quarter of action. Fitzpatrick has been the leader in the clubhouse all spring and summer, and nothing Rosen did Friday changes that, but this battle should still be up for grabs as we head into the all-important third preseason game. — Cameron Wolfe

Offensive line depth is a concern right now, with the Bucs surrendering 11 quarterback hits and three sacks. Jameis Winston‘s sack on the opening drive was the result of a busted protection, which allowed Jerome Baker to rush completely unblocked (O.J. Howard ran to the flat). Bucs quarterbacks were under duress a lot Friday. No one has stepped up as a bona fide backup tackle — Cole Boozer struggled mightily against Charles Harris and Tank Carradine, and Caleb Benenoch looked extremely inconsistent. On the other side of the ball, the defense made a nice stop after Andre Ellington‘s fumble (kudos to Deone Bucannon, Will Gholston and Beau Allen here). After dropping an easy interception in the first half, cornerback Jamel Dean got a pick in the end zone in the fourth quarter, and Shaquil Barrett, Kevin Minter, Jack Cichy, Devante Bond, Demone Harris and Patrick O’Connor all made key plays, so it was a much better night for Bucs backups on defense. — Jenna Laine


Thursday’s games

Carson Wentz should not touch the field this preseason. The QB injuries are piling up for Philadelphia. Cody Kessler was knocked out of the game in the first quarter Thursday because of a concussion, one week after backup Nate Sudfeld went down because of a broken wrist. Coach Doug Pederson has been ratcheting up the intensity at practice to give the first team quality work in a controlled environment. He should continue on that path and keep Wentz out of harm’s way until the regular-season opener against Washington. The Eagles will probably have to add another arm in the coming week with Kessler in concussion protocol. — Tim McManus

QB Gardner Minshew needed a bounce-back performance after really struggling in the preseason opener, and he delivered: 19-for-29 for 202 yards in three quarters despite being under pressure from the edge pretty much the entire night. Minshew lost a fumble after getting hit (right tackle Leonard Wester got beaten badly) and saw a touchdown pass called back because of a block-in-the-back penalty by tight end Ben Koyack. Minshew also put together a solid two-minute drive at the end of the first half that resulted in a field goal, giving the Jaguars their first points of the preseason. Minshew was clearly much more comfortable than he was last week. He was decisive and got the ball out quickly, which are encouraging signs for the Jaguars — who again sat the majority of their starters — because they’re counting on him to be the backup to Nick Foles. His performance Thursday pretty much cemented that. — Mike DiRocco


Playing behind a makeshift offensive line, QB Sam Darnold opened with a TD drive for the second consecutive week. The tempo was fast, and Darnold was in command. It’s early, but he seems to have a firm grasp of the new offense. Big concern: RT Brandon Shell injured his knee in warm-ups, becoming the third offensive lineman to go down because of an injury. Chemistry will be an issue in Week 1. — Rich Cimini

There has to be concern about the offensive line during Matt Ryan‘s first appearance this preseason. Ryan was sacked three times and threw under duress too much while completing 10 of 14 passes for 118 yards. Ryan absorbed some good hits, something you never want to see in the preseason. Right tackle Ty Sambrailo didn’t look like a starter, and backup center Wes Schweitzer, among others, had some issues. The Falcons are playing without two injured players who were thought to be on track to start: left guard James Carpenter (quadriceps) and rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary (heart procedure). Jamon Brown could start at left guard, and McGary, if healthy, should surpass the struggling Sambrailo at some point. — Vaughn McClure


Rookie Ryan Finley made a strong case to be Cincinnati’s No. 2 quarterback this season. The fourth-round pick out of NC State followed his preseason debut with another strong performance. Excluding a spike at the end of the first half, Finley was 20-of-25 passing for 150 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie steadied the Bengals after a start riddled with miscues. He led Cincinnati’s second unit on a 12-play, 93-yard drive that took 7 minutes, 36 seconds off the clock in the first half. From there, the team found its rhythm, as the visitors scored 23 of the final 30 points. Halfway through the preseason, the rookie has completed 75% of his passes for 259 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. — Ben Baby

The Redskins hoped the preseason would identify their No. 1 quarterback, but after two preseason games, that hasn’t happened. Colt McCoy can’t yet play because of issues with his leg, and Case Keenum has been ordinary in two starts. He’s still adapting to the offense and getting in sync with his receivers, but being in a competition makes it tougher to build that chemistry. Rookie Dwayne Haskins shows more big-play potential — as evidenced by his 55-yard touchdown pass to Robert Davis. He isn’t afraid to challenge down the field, but he also hasn’t shown enough to seriously test more experienced players. But with what those players have shown, it’s hard to believe Haskins won’t be used at some point this season. — John Keim


It might be too soon to say the Packers have a serious problem with their run game — after all, neither Aaron Jones nor Jamaal Williams (both have hamstring issues) has played a snap in the preseason — but the installation of new coach Matt LaFleur’s outside-zone-oriented scheme has been rough. The Packers totaled just 7 yards rushing on seven attempts in the first half a week after they had only 38 yards in 13 carries in the first half against the Texans. That’s 45 yards in 20 carries when the opponents were playing starters or key backups. Any hope that sixth-round rookie Dexter Williams could serve as a change-of-pace back looks bleak, given his inability to hang on to the ball (he dropped a pass and couldn’t secure a handoff in which a fumble was charged to the quarterback). Tra Carson has been the starter in the absence of Jones and Jamaal Williams, but he’s averaging just 1.7 yards per carry. As much as LaFleur’s offense centers on the run game and what it can do for play-action, he needs to know if the lack of production is because he doesn’t have his top backs or because the scheme hasn’t taken hold. — Rob Demovsky

Lamar Jackson continues to improve as a passer, but — as the Ravens’ starting quarterback showed and said Thursday — he’s still at his most dangerous when running with the ball. On third-and-10, Jackson saw his receivers covered and took off, faking out Tramon Williams in the open field before leaping over Jaire Alexander to reach the end zone. The spectacular 18-yard touchdown run was nullified by Willie Snead‘s illegal block, but that doesn’t erase another highlight-reel moment that will keep defensive coordinators up at night. “The four-man rush gave me a lane,” Jackson said, “and I just did what I do best.” Jackson finished 6-of-10 passing for 58 yards, leading the Ravens to field goals on both of his drives. — Jamison Hensley


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Rex Ryan contends that Kyler Murray and the Cardinals’ offense are going to get smoked in Week 1 of the season.

The Raiders’ defense, with a cast of new characters headlined by middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, looks much improved — or at least it did in this second preseason outing for both teams, with Oakland harassing No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray into a 3-for-8 passing night for 12 yards, and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner sacking the nimble Murray for a safety. In four series, the Raiders’ starting defense let Murray run only once — for 4 yards. In fact, Joyner’s safety came on the third consecutive blitz dialed up by defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. At one point, the Raiders had outgained the Cardinals 231-12 in total yards. Also, rookie Josh Jacobs looks primed to be the Raiders’ feature back, starting and carrying the ball four times for 21 yards on their opening touchdown drive with Derek Carr under center, as the Raiders’ starting offense played only one series. — Paul Gutierrez

Thursday night was one to forget for Kyler Murray. The rookie quarterback went 3-for-8 for 12 yards with a 4-yard run and looked out of sync in the four possessions he played, which went into the second quarter. He was flagged twice for false starts because of his clap snap and once for delay of game and went down in the end zone to avoid a sack for a safety. Although, yes, it’s still the preseason, and the Cardinals are running a vanilla offensive scheme, there were some issues that Murray and the Cardinals need to clean up. — Josh Weinfuss

Published at Thu, 15 Aug 2019 17:26:49 +0000