CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On any given day you might see a somewhat nondescript man wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt and baseball cap walking down Mint Street toward Bank of America Stadium. He easily could be one of the plethora of people hired to keep the stadium grounds immaculate or just an average Joe out for a morning stroll.
You’d never guess David Tepper was worth $11.6 billion and the owner of the Carolina Panthers.
“He has no detail around him,” Charlotte city councilman James Mitchell said. “No bodyguards. He feels the vibe. He gets it. I call him the action man. He’s all about action.”
Until the sale of the Panthers was finalized a year ago on July 9 — for an NFL-record $2.275 billion — the organization had had one owner, founder Jerry Richardson. There was some apprehension about what to expect from Tepper, a now 61-year-old Pittsburgh native, beginning with whether he would keep the team in Charlotte.
Mitchell was among those who were apprehensive. But it didn’t take long for him to realize Tepper was not only was the right person to take over an organization embroiled in allegations of sexual misconduct by Richardson, but to be an agent of change and progress in North and South Carolina.
“It’s been like a breath of fresh air,” Mitchell said.
Local real estate developer Brian Leary, who last month led a question-and-answer session with Tepper at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance’s inter-city trip in Pittsburgh, agreed.
“David Tepper is a force of nature, while at the same time the most down-to-earth billionaire you’d probably ever meet,” Leary said as he recalled the session at Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper’s alma mater. “Force of nature can come in many forms, whether it’s the wind, the sea or the sun.
“When [Dave] comes into a room, when he shares his idea, you can’t ignore it. It’s just like the weather.”
Tepper has plenty of ideas, and he’s been quick to implement many in his first year at Carolina. He built an indoor practice facility adjacent to the stadium coach Ron Rivera and others have wanted since the Panthers’ first season in 1995.
He struck a deal for a $115 million tax break with South Carolina lawmakers to build the team headquarters, including a state-of-the-art practice facility and other world-class amenities, in nearby Rock Hill by 2022.
He’s made it clear the stadium will be a hub of activity from football, to concerts, to one day hosting an MLS team. He even holding a beerfest there.
Tepper also allowed Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney to sign controversial talent such as safety Eric Reid, the first player to join then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice.
“David identified his priorities early on and that was winning on the field and in the community,” said team president Tom Glick, who prior to being hired by Tepper was the chief operating officer for the English Premier League’s Manchester City Football Club.
“He’s done an outstanding job of doing his homework, listening to fans and making the right adjustments to help our organization find competitive advantages.”
Tepper has been active in the community, from passing out book bags and school supplies to children to funding the West Charlotte High School basketball team’s trip to Raleigh, North Carolina for the state championship.
He’s done most of it quietly, so as not to direct attention to himself. He chose not to be interviewed for this article.
“In the one year David Tepper has owned the Panthers,” Leary said, “I believe [North and South Carolina] have gotten to know him in a way they never knew the previous owner … in a very personal and passionate way about what’s important to him, the community and the organization.”
Last May, the night before being unanimously approved by league owners to purchase the Panthers, Tepper sat in a hotel bar outside of Atlanta and ate a hamburger with reporters swarming the area as they typically do at an owner’s meeting.
This wasn’t trying to stand apart from the mostly buttoned-up owners. Tepper blends in as a regular guy because that’s what he was growing up as the son of an accountant and teacher. He leaves the business suits and fancy attire in his closet except for must-wear situations.
During a May visit to West Charlotte High to be honored for his generosity to the basketball team, Tepper arrived wearing sneakers, jeans, an untucked polo shirt and a Panthers cap.
“He was so unassuming,” said school principal Dr. Timisha Barnes-Jones. “I would never have guessed he was who he was. He put on one of our jerseys. A very easy-going guy, very authentic in who he is in an unassuming way. He didn’t want to have the spotlight on him.”
That Tepper without hesitation put on the jersey, which was at least a size to small, showed he was in tune with the moment more than his personal appearance.
He even led a school chant, shouting “Dub C” to which the student body responded quickly, “You know!”
“He nailed it,” Mitchell said. “He just wanted to be able to relate to them, and to say the West Charlotte slogan helped very quickly.'”
Tepper called Mitchell about a week before the playoff trip and told the council member to stop trying to raise money for the tournament and focus on raising money for the city.
“He came at the right time,” Mitchell said of Tepper. “When you talk about what type of vision we need in Charlotte, he has the right vision.”
A fan at heart
Tepper doesn’t just sign checks. He’s heavily involved in team and league decisions. He’s not as heavy-handed and outspoken as Dallas owner Jerry Jones, but when it comes to personnel and other matters that will influence the perception and performance of the organization he has the last say.
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“He likes talking ball,” linebacker Luke Kuechly said with a smile. “He’s just a guy that enjoys the game. … That’s the thing you notice the most. He wants to come in, have fun, but he also wants to win.”
And Tepper is willing to give the football side everything it takes to win, beginning with the indoor practice facility after a 2018 season in which rain and sometimes heat impeded the team’s weekly preparation.
“There’s a lot of things, and you don’t have to look very far, to see progress and transition and his ideas at play,’’ said tight end Greg Olsen, looking at the bubble going up during a June minicamp.
Tepper also played a part in the thought process that led Rivera to take over the defensive playcalling late last season, something that will continue in 2019. In his words: When you have a great defensive mind, take advantage of it.
“David is just getting started,’’ said Mark Hart, the team’s vice president and chief operating officer. “This first year he has done a lot of listening and research so now we have a much better feel for what is really needed.”
On games days, though, you won’t see Tepper hovering on the sideline or interfering with staff. He spends most of his time as a fan. You might see him drinking a cold beer at a random tailgate party.
“He is a snappy dresser,’’ Rivera said jokingly of Tepper’s style. “He can make anything go with jeans.’’
Tepper doesn’t want to draw attention to himself for his lack of style as quarterback Cam Newton does with his flamboyant outfits. He wants to draw attention to the organization for winning titles, as the Pittsburgh Steelers — the team of he rooted for — did when he was a kid.
He understands that’s what he’ll ultimately be judged on as an owner.
“We have the mantra we’re trying to get in the organization,” Tepper told a crowd in Rock Hill during the official signing of the tax bill. “It’s a mantra of excellence and a mantra of winning.”
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Dr. Bill Meyers performed the surgery in Philadelphia.
Beckham’s recovery timeline figures to be similar to Browns running back Kareem Hunt, who underwent sports hernia surgery in training camp, but was ready to play after serving an eight game-game suspension.
Beckham had 74 receptions, 1,035 receiving yards and four touchdowns this season playing through the injury.
NFL to experiment with alternative to onside kick at Pro Bowl
The NFL will experiment with an alternative to the onside kick during Sunday’s Pro Bowl, an indication that the league is still considering the option despite owners rejecting it last year.
As in past years, there will be no kickoffs at all in the Pro Bowl. The twist this year is that teams will have two options after scoring.
The first is to give the ball back to their opponents, who would start their drive at their 25-yard line. The new, second option for the scoring team would serve as a substitute for an onside kick. It would allow it to run one additional play from its own 25-yard line.
If the scoring team gains 15 or more yards, it would retain possession. If it falls short, their opponents would take over at the dead ball spot. Essentially, it will be a 4th-and-15 play.
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) January 21, 2020
Onside kicks have been more difficult to recover since the NFL’s 2018 overhaul of the kickoff. Among other changes, the new rule prevented the kickoff team from getting a running start before the kick. Onside kick recoveries dropped from its historic rate of about 21% through the 2017 season to 7.7% in 2018 and 12.9% in 2019.
The Denver Broncos proposed a similar change last winter, but owners voted it down in March. The NFL does not always adopt Pro Bowl rule changes, but the presence of the onside kick alternative means that at least some league decision-makers would like to see it in action.
Also this year, Pro Bowl officials will be instructed to use a different standard for false start penalties on receivers who are flexed from the line of scrimmage. It will not be a false start if a receiver flinches or lifts one foot off the ground, provided he re-sets for one second and/or keeps one foot on the ground.
NFL Rookie Rankings – Nick Bosa beats out four offensive first-year stars for the top spot
The 2019 rookie class had a lot of intrigue, and with the NFL’s regular season well behind us, we ranked the best of the best in the year’s group.
We asked six writers and analysts — Matt Bowen, Mike Clay, Jeff Legwold, Cam Mellor, Kevin Seifert and Field Yates — to rank the top 10 rookies throughout the season, then tabulated the results using Heisman-type scaling for each set. The product features nine players taken in the first 51 picks last April, and although it didn’t contribute to his ranking — this is regular season only — the top seed served as a defensive force in helping power his team to the Super Bowl.
We also looked at two first-year players who closed the season well and saw their stock rise and two more whose stock declined in the final month. But first, here is our final ranking of the top 10 rookies of the 2019 regular season, starting with that Super Bowl-bound pass-rusher.
Stats: 47 tackles, 9.0 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
Drafted: No. 2 overall
Previous rank: 1
Bosa was second in sacks and No. 1 in quarterback hits for the top pass defense in the league during the regular season. He was an especially fierce presence in the pass rush down the stretch, with nine QB hits over the last four games. Football fans will get another look at the top rookie in the Super Bowl, when his Niners face the Chiefs.
Stats: 242 carries, 1,150 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns
Drafted: No. 24 overall
Previous rank: 2
Jacobs missed the last three games of the season with a shoulder injury and a skin infection. But he still finished eighth in the league in rushing overall and led all rookies in yards on the ground, consistently breaking tackles and providing yards after contact.
Stats: 3,722 passing yards, 544 rushing yards, 24 total touchdowns, 12 interceptions
Drafted: No. 1 overall
Previous rank: 3
He threw four of his 12 interceptions on the season in back-to-back games in Weeks 13 and 14, but the body of work over the course of the season at the most difficult position for a rookie puts him at No. 3. Murray and Cam Newton are the only rookie quarterbacks in league history to have passed for at least 3,500 yards and rushed for at least 500.
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Stats: 52 receptions, 1,051 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns
Drafted: No. 51 overall
Previous rank: NR
In the 11 games that Ryan Tannehill started at quarterback for the Titans, Brown had four 100-yard games, caught six of his eight touchdowns and averaged at least 15 yards per catch seven times. And he topped 20 yards per catch four times in that stretch. Some in the league believe Brown was actually the NFL’s best rookie by the time Week 17 rolled around.
Stats: 58 receptions, 919 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
Drafted: No. 76 overall
Previous rank: 6
McLaurin made many cornerbacks pay the price for trying to press him at the line of scrimmage. And while his production dipped some in the weeks immediately following fellow rookie Dwayne Haskins Jr. being named starting quarterback, McLaurin eventually had at least seven targets and averaged at least 14 yards per reception in three of the last five games.
Stats: 44 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Drafted: No. 7 overall
Previous rank: 5
He has some work to do in the run game, but Allen was drafted to impact the pass rush and was the league’s only rookie to nudge his way past 10 sacks this season (the Raiders’ Maxx Crosby finished right at 10). Allen should get more snaps overall moving forward — he played 58% or fewer of Jacksonville’s defensive snaps in its last seven games — when he improves his work on early downs.
Stats: 109 tackles, 1.0 sack, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
Drafted: No. 10 overall
Previous rank: 4
After playing at least 90% of the defensive snaps in four of the first seven games (and 89% in another), Bush lost some coverage snaps in the season’s second half as Mark Barron saw more time in down-and-distance situations. But this is a player with dynamic closing speed who will flourish over the long haul in the Steelers’ scheme.
Stats: 16 starts, 93.3% pass block win rate
Drafted: No. 48 overall
Previous rank: 8
McCoy played all but six snaps this season — he briefly left a Week 8 win over Arizona just before halftime — for the league’s No. 3 scoring offense. The Saints also tied for the third-fewest sacks allowed in the league and averaged 4.6 yards per rush in run plays over the center.
Stats: 14 starts, 95.0% pass block win rate
Drafted: No. 44 overall
Previous rank: 9
Jenkins took over as the Packers’ starting left guard in Week 3 and didn’t miss a snap the rest of the way. He did not allow a sack all season in one-on-one situations, and the Packers averaged at least 5.2 yards per carry in run plays over the left guard or behind the left guard and center. Jenkins’ 95% pass block win rate — the percentage of blocks sustained for at least 2.5 seconds, an ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen Stats — was the best of any rookie.
Stats: 38 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Drafted: No. 17 overall
Previous rank: 10
After playing at least 70% of the defensive snaps in a five-game stretch from Week 10 to Week 14, Lawrence was on the field less down the stretch and had just four tackles combined in the last three games. But he was an early-down force for much of the season and his potential was easy to see.
Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: Sanders, who played through an MCL sprain in the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Seahawks, flashed lead-back potential throughout the season. He averaged at least 5.7 yards per carry in four games, and his 50 receptions made him the only rookie running back to reach that total this season. He finished with 1,327 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.
Gardner Minshew II, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Minshew responded to his benching well and rebounded with seven touchdown passes and only one interception in his final four starts of the season. He consistently showed premium deep-ball accuracy throughout the season. Minshew closed the season with 3,271 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions.
DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Metcalf had six games this season with two or fewer catches, but you could see his comfort level rise more and more as the season wore on. He consistently wins contested catches, and as his route tree grows, so will his touchdown totals. And if the postseason were factored in here, Metcalf might have made the top-10 list — he posted 219 receiving yards on 11 catches for the Seahawks.
Chase Winovich, OLB, New England Patriots: Winovich didn’t start a game this season for the Patriots, but New England also led the league in total defense and scoring defense, with plenty of veteran depth. Winovich was still one of the most efficient defenders in the league in terms of production per snap. Four times this season he had a sack in a game where he played 17 or fewer snaps.
Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants: Look, everyone understands it was no picnic playing behind the Giants’ offensive line this season and that the team won just two games after September. But the ball was simply not Jones’ friend, as he led the league in fumbles (17) and lost 11 of them. Put 12 interceptions in 12 starts on the pile, and his offseason should include a lot more emphasis on ball security.
Brian Burns, OLB, Carolina Panthers: Everything changed after Burns underwent a surgical procedure on his wrist during the team’s bye week in October. Before the surgery, he had 4.5 sacks in six games, including four starts. After the surgery? Burns started just once, and he had four games in which he didn’t record a tackle and four in which he played 16 or fewer snaps. And he had three sacks over the final 10 games. One of new coach Matt Rhule’s biggest tasks on defense is to reintegrate Burns.
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