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Nick Foles lost his love for football; the Chiefs helped him find it – Kansas City Chiefs Blog

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nick Foles isn’t certain what he might be doing today if not for his one season with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback, one of the marquee free-agent signings this offseason, spent a largely undistinguished year with the Chiefs on the field in 2016 — but it was monumental in his mind.

Foles is certain about this: He wouldn’t be the quarterback of the Jaguars, preparing to face the Chiefs on Sunday in Jacksonville, without that year. He would never have taken the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl after the 2017 season or been named the game’s MVP.

In fact, Foles said, “I wouldn’t still be playing football without that season with the Chiefs. Going there and being with people that actually cared about me as a person more so than as a football player … it provided me the love and the joy of the game again.”

Look at the arc of Foles’ career. Before he arrived in Kansas City he was cut by the Rams after a seven-touchdown, 10-interception, four-win season. Since leaving the Chiefs? He was 9-3 as an Eagles starter, including the playoffs, the past two seasons. He threw for 725 yards and six touchdowns during NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl wins in 2017.

It’s hard to disagree with Foles that his season in Kansas City revived his career.

The season before with the Rams, in which they scored 176 points during his 11 starts, was so bad for Foles he was prepared to get out of football.

“I was about to step away from the game and retire, just take a break and pursue other things in life,” Foles said.

Before he did, though, Foles sent a long text message to Chiefs coach Andy Reid, informing him of his plans. Reid and Matt Nagy, then the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, had coached Foles as a rookie with the Eagles in 2012.

“I told him I wasn’t going to play football anymore and how grateful I was that he drafted me and made a kid’s dream come true,” Foles said. “I told him that I would always remember him for providing me that opportunity and for always believing in me.”

Foles then left for several days on a camping trip in California, where he was out of cellphone range. Foles was done with football, he thought.

In the meantime, Reid spoke several times with his Foles’ father, Larry. The two had gotten to know one another during Foles’ season playing for Reid. Larry indicated that if his son was to change his mind and play again, Kansas City would be a good landing spot.

Reid finally spoke with Foles upon his return from the camping trip and told him if he changed his mind and wanted to play again, there would be a place for him with the Chiefs.

After a day or two to think about it, Foles accepted Reid’s offer, if only reluctantly.

“When I decided to play, the ultimate goal was to find the joy of football again,” Foles said. “It wasn’t to win a starting job. I simply wanted to have joy again when I played the game of football. I told my wife that it didn’t matter [about] all the teams that called and were interested. The only team I would play for was the Chiefs, just because I wanted to play for Coach Reid one more time and Coach Nagy and those guys. I felt like being in that environment would give me the greatest opportunity to enjoy the game of football.”

Foles arrived with little confidence a few days after training camp started. He was about as beaten down emotionally as a quarterback could be. Nagy described Foles as being “lost” in a football sense.

Nagy had gone to the Kansas City airport to greet Foles. After a brief stop at Nagy’s home in Kansas City, where Foles renewed acquaintances with Nagy’s wife and family, the two drove to Chiefs camp in St. Joseph, Missouri.

“We talked about our families,” said Nagy, now the head coach of the Chicago Bears. “We talked about funny stuff that happened when we were together in Philadelphia. Then he filled me in on some things he went through with some other teams. Right, wrong or indifferent, he just ended up not loving football. He was not going to play. He was going to get out of football. We talked about some of the players on the team in Kansas City. He asked about Coach Reid and how he was doing.

“That time was great. It was like riding a bike. We were right back at it. That trust level was so high between him and Coach, him and myself. He was around good people. That just got him back on track. It was more than about the X’s and O’s, that year he came back to Kansas City. It was about being around a healthy environment.”

The healing process for Foles had begun, even if he wasn’t aware of it at the time.

“The whole time in the car I’m nervous,” Foles recalled. “I was taking a step of faith I could find joy in football again. When I decided to play again I wasn’t joyful. I was hoping to conquer the fear of playing again, really. It hadn’t been conquered at that point.

“Even after I got to camp, the first couple days I still questioned myself going through stretching, going through warm-up, going through practice. I was like, ‘Man, what am I doing?’ It wasn’t clicking.”

Foles recalled in exact detail his fourth morning in camp. He arrived for practice after his usual routine of film review and Bible study.

“At that moment, I realized I was really excited for the day,” Foles said. “I was excited for a training camp practice and getting to play football and to step into the huddle. It was all because of the environment. It was the people I was around. It was the type of people they are. It wasn’t about X’s and O’s and winning a game. It was about being around great people and having fun in the huddle and having great teammates.

“Coach Reid had a lot to do with that. He pushed me and he expected a lot from me. But at the end of the day, he cared for me. He had this way of smiling kind of out of the side of his mouth. He would do that when he knew you were fighting and you were doing your best. It was his way of giving approval, like a father figure. It was just a joy to be around him.”

Reid was experienced in reviving the careers of quarterbacks looking for a second chance. He had worked with Michael Vick in Philadelphia and then-Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, though their circumstances when they worked with Reid were different than Foles’.

“Once he got here, I thought he was in a good place,” Reid said. “It was almost ‘I’m around family’ for him. I thought that was healthy for him. It was just a positive atmosphere all the way around. After a couple of days, it was just like he took off and went.”

Smith was a factor in Foles’ revival as well. He and Foles would break from meetings to shoot baskets and play H-O-R-S-E. They met early in the mornings for coffee before they would head to the Chiefs’ training complex for meetings and practice.

“Alex just welcomed him in and said, ‘Let’s have some fun and let’s go play,'” Reid said. “Alex read the coverage on that. He’s been through the highs and lows and the demands on that position. I’m sure somewhere deep in his mind he went through all these emotions, similar to what Nick was going through. He showed Nick some love when he came in. I didn’t go to Alex and tell him to do these things. He just did them.”

Nagy said, “There are really, really good quarterback rooms in this league and there are some really bad ones. Everything in that quarterback room was good and constructive. Alex and Nick were great teammates. Nick felt that. He needed that. All those little things add up to success on the football field.”

Foles showed he was all the way back the first time he had a chance to play for the Chiefs, in a midseason game against the Colts in Indianapolis. Smith left the game with a suspected concussion and was replaced by Foles.

“Coaches always tell you ‘next man up,’ and it’s one thing to say that about another position,” guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif said. “But for a quarterback, that’s tough to do. He didn’t get the reps in practice and he just showed up and said, ‘Let’s go.’ I just remember him in the huddle: He showed up super calm and was like, ‘All right, guys, we’re ready to roll. We’ve got this.'”

Foles had a big game, completing 16 of 22 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. Nagy recalled a play the Chiefs had put in only that week:

“All week long we practiced it against a one-high safety look because that’s what we thought we were going to get. If we got two high safeties, we’d check down and throw it out in the flat. Nick gets into the game without any practice reps that week and we call that play. Well, the Colts give us two high safeties. What does Nick do? He lasers one up the left sideline right between the corner and the safety to Tyreek Hill for a touchdown.

“We just looked at each other and said, ‘Nick is back.’ He gripped and ripped and went downtown.”

Foles said what he felt that day in leading the Chiefs to a 30-14 victory meant more than the stats.

“It was emotional being back out there and playing after everything that had gone on,” Foles said. “It was an unbelievable feeling knowing I had stepped on a football field again and enjoyed it. I had fun. My senses were heightened. It was what it should be and it hadn’t been for me in St. Louis.”

Foles started the next week in a win over the Jaguars. Smith then returned and Foles got in only one more game for the Chiefs. He took a few snaps at the end of a lopsided win over the Chargers.

The Chiefs’ season ended with a divisional round playoff loss to the Steelers. The Chiefs had an expensive option for the final year of Foles’ contract but declined for two reasons. One, they didn’t have much salary-cap space. Two, they had their eye on another quarterback, Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech, in the draft.

Foles moved on to the Eagles, where his career again took off. He signed with the Jaguars this year as a free agent.

But his season in Kansas City was so satisfying he would have settled for another one.

“I wanted to stay in Kansas City after that season,” Foles said. “They didn’t have much [salary cap] room. I was sad to leave. It worked out in Philly, but that year in Kansas City will always be a special year for me. It was one of the favorite seasons of football I’ve ever had and I was a backup quarterback. I’ll always be grateful for it.”

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For Jaguars, headache might outweigh Jalen Ramsey’s talent – Jacksonville Jaguars Blog

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There’s no doubting Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s immense talent.

He’s a lock-down defender with a rare combination of size, length and speed. In his first three seasons, he has been to the Pro Bowl twice and was first-team All-Pro once.

There’s also no doubting Ramsey can be an immense headache.

He has questioned coaching schemes and decisions. As a rookie, he advocated for the entire defensive staff to be fired. He ripped most of the league’s quarterbacks in a magazine article. And, as everyone saw last Sunday, he publicly confronted his head coach during the game on the sideline.

At some point, the headache outweighs the talent. It’s no different than any high-maintenance relationship. There’s only so much selfishness and so many demands one side is willing to put up with until there’s no benefit to continuing the relationship.

That’s where the Jaguars seem to be with Ramsey. And if that’s the case, it’s time for that relationship to end.

Granting Ramsey’s trade request would not be not a good precedent, but it might be the best thing for the organization. Ramsey has his supporters in the locker room — including running back Leonard Fournette — and sending him away might not be well received, but the alternative is keeping someone who is unhappy and doesn’t want to be here. That doesn’t work in any relationship.

It’s not a matter of choosing coach Doug Marrone over Ramsey, either. Based on Ramsey’s history and his actions last Sunday, would Ramsey really change his behavior if the Jaguars fired Marrone and gave Ramsey the mega-contract he wants (and deserves, based on his production and talent)?

It seems unlikely.

And, to be honest: Does a team need an elite corner — and Ramsey might very well be the best in the league today, a generational talent — to win a Super Bowl? Elite quarterback, yes. Elite pass-rushers, certainly. It obviously helps to have as much talent as possible, but teams have won Super Bowls without elite cornerbacks.

As good as Ramsey has been, the Jaguars have won 18 games in his three-plus seasons — and that includes 10 victories in 2017. The franchise has had many personnel issues in the past few seasons, especially at quarterback and along the offensive line, and Ramsey’s talent and work ethic haven’t been able to help team overcome it.

Another thing to note: High-maintenance players generally don’t spend their careers in one spot. Some do: Michael Irvin, for example. But Deion Sanders didn’t. Neither did Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or Darrelle Revis. In fact, Sanders and Revis played for a combined nine teams.

By all accounts, Ramsey is one of the team’s hardest workers. He studies opposing receivers and has notebooks full of information on each. He is always in great shape and treats his craft seriously. He’s also not a bad guy. He adores his family. None of that is an issue for the Jaguars. In that respect, he’s the perfect player.

It’s everything else that’s the problem. Saying defensive coordinator Todd Wash should be fired in 2016. Questioning Wash’s defensive calls in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game against New England. Ripping most of the league’s quarterbacks in a GQ article. Going on a profane tirade toward the media after a fight between Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue was recorded during an open portion of training camp practice.

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All the fallout from the Big Ben and Brees injuries

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Big NFL news seems to come in pairs these days. A few weeks ago, the Texans made two huge trades in the matter of an afternoon. Over the past few days, a pair of promising young cornerbacks in Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jalen Ramsey hit the trade market. On Monday, unfortunately, we saw two superstar quarterbacks hit the shelf. After Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger left their respective games with injuries in Week 2, it was confirmed that both will undergo surgery.

Brees could miss six weeks after he gets surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand, while Roethlisberger is done for the season after injuring his elbow. Surprises haven’t been hard to come by during this wild league year, but this qualifies as a stunning one-two punch. In going back through the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, I can find exactly one other date in which a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks suffered multi-week injuries on the same date. John Elway and Warren Moon each suffered injuries on Nov. 15, 1992, with Elway missing five weeks and Moon’s absence costing him six.

There are major ramifications for both the Steelers and the Saints, though the injuries hit their teams in different ways. Teams such as the Bills, Browns, Chargers and Colts have a better chance of making the postseason than they would if the Steelers were projecting to roll out Roethlisberger for 14 more starts. And while the NFC South remains wide-open, the Saints might still be the favorites with Teddy Bridgewater under center.

There’s a lot to write about with each of these situations. Let’s start with Roethlisberger, whose season is over after just six quarters of football:


Is this the end for Big Ben?

Ben Roethlisberger‘s injury throws the Steelers into significant uncertainty at the most important position in sports for the first time in 15 years. He has struggled to stay healthy at times — and his off-field behavior has included a serious motorcycle accident and multiple allegations of sexual misconduct — but the Steelers have been assured of generally above-average play from the quarterback they selected in the first round of the 2004 draft. One NFL executive to whom I recently spoke compared his team to a house and the starting quarterback to a roof. The Steelers haven’t had to worry about getting wet for 15 years. Now, suddenly, there’s a huge hole in their roof.

This injury comes at a time when the Steelers already were in transition on offense. Longtime starters Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Marcus Gilbert and Jesse James — along with legendary offensive line coach Mike Munchak — all left the organization this offseason. While the Steelers already had developed a pair of replacements in running back James Conner and offensive tackle Matt Feiler, Pittsburgh generally used mid-round draft picks (and former Munchak assistant Shaun Sarrett) to replace the others.

Pittsburgh always has been an organization built around drafting and developing young talent; but in recent years, it has used some of its cap space to target veteran help in free agency, including cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Perhaps owing to the $21.2 million in dead money Brown occupies on their 2019 cap, the only veteran the Steelers added to their offense this year was wideout Donte Moncrief, who has been a disaster while playing through a dislocated finger over the first two weeks of the season.

Roethlisberger was supposed to be the rock of the offense, one of the few players who wasn’t moving into a larger role or subject to a coaching change over the offseason. Now, he’s gone. The Steelers didn’t choose to sign a veteran to help back up Roethlisberger this offseason, instead letting 2017 fourth-rounder Joshua Dobbs and 2018 third-rounder Mason Rudolph compete for the job. Rudolph was the favorite and won the competition, with the Steelers promptly shipping off Dobbs to the Jaguars for a fifth-round pick.

The Steelers already have promoted Devlin Hodges from their practice squad to serve as the new backup quarterback. There aren’t exactly many options available in free agency, but I wonder if Pittsburgh might call Matt Cassel, who played under former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley in Kansas City. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s scheme shares many of the same playcalls with Haley’s playbook.

Even if the Steelers sign a veteran such as Cassel, they’ll move forward in the short term with Rudolph as the starter. Projecting how he will perform is a difficult enterprise. The 24-year-old played in a spread offense at Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy, posting a 79.1 Total QBR over his four seasons at school. That number comes in just behind Sam Darnold‘s 79.5 mark over his two years at Southern California.

Like Roethlisberger, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Rudolph has the prototypical size you would expect from an NFL quarterback. Some reports coming out of college, however, suggested Rudolph doesn’t have the prototypical arm strength that often is associated with that physical archetype. For what it’s worth, Rudolph’s numbers throwing deep in college were quite good, as he posted a 98.8 QBR on throws traveling 16 or more yards in the air.

The arm strength concern popped up during Rudolph’s biggest play on Sunday, the 45-yard flea-flicker that he tossed to JuJu Smith-Schuster. When Rudolph threw the pass, Smith-Schuster was accelerating past a wrong-footed Lano Hill, but Rudolph’s throw forced the star wideout to slow down and nearly gave Hill a chance to break it up. A better throw would have produced a walk-in touchdown:

It would be impossible to draw broader conclusions about Rudolph’s future from his appearance on Sunday. He was 12-of-19 passing for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against a Seahawks pass defense that had been gashed by Cincinnati at home the prior week. His interception was entirely on Moncrief, who was benched after his most recent drop. His two touchdown passes were short throws to Vance McDonald, one of which came on a failed screen. The second of those touchdown drives was just three yards. Rudolph didn’t cost the Steelers the game; Pittsburgh’s defense allowing three consecutive touchdown drives in the second half before letting the Seahawks turn a third-and-16 over two plays into a new set of downs was what pushed the Steelers to 0-2.

What we know, historically, is that the success rate for third-round quarterbacks in the NFL hasn’t been great. Since 1990, 36 quarterbacks have been drafted in the third round. Two of them are Rudolph and Will Grier, whose futures still are basically indecipherable. When you look at the other 34, just six became players who started three seasons or more. (This assumes that recently drafted quarterbacks who have been slotted into backup roles, such as C.J. Beathard and Sean Mannion, don’t suddenly turn into multiyear starters.) Five made it to at least one Pro Bowl. Two of them started and won Super Bowls; one was Nick Foles, while the other was the only passer from the 34 to turn into a no-doubt franchise quarterback — Russell Wilson.

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Tim Hasselbeck says that Mason Rudolph’s campaign to become the Steelers’ starting quarterback, even after Ben Roethlisberger’s return, has now begun.

Wilson only fell to the third round because he lacked prototypical size. Rudolph has that size; if NFL organizations thought he had the skills to play quarterback at a high level, he would have been a first-round pick. My working theory with quarterbacks is that the league is generally awful at evaluating passers and that success depends much more on the infrastructure surrounding a quarterback than we think. Moncrief aside, Rudolph seems to have above-average infrastructure around him as he begins his starting career. Most rookie quarterbacks would kill for this offensive line and a receiver as good as Smith-Schuster.

What happens next is up in the air. Roethlisberger, who has flirted with retirement in years past, issued a public statement suggesting he intends to rehab his injury and return to the team in 2020. Plans change, of course; nobody expected quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning (Colts) and Tony Romo (Cowboys) to leave their franchise when they went down injured before a season began, but their departures seemed inevitable by the time those seasons were over.

The best thing for the Steelers, naturally, would be for Rudolph to play like a superstar. If that happens, Pittsburgh will face a difficult decision. Roethlisberger is due a $12.5 million roster bonus on March 20, and his $8.5 million base salary for 2020 already is guaranteed for injury. The Steelers could choose to bring back Big Ben as their starter and keep their quarterback of the future as a backup, but once teams find their new quarterback, they tend to stick with that guy.

Realistically, if Rudolph plays well, the Steelers will have to decide on Roethlisberger’s future on March 20. If they found a trade partner, they would be off the hook for paying him that $21 million in 2020. But if they trade him — or if he retires — they also would simultaneously owe $25 million in dead money on their 2020 cap, which would see the team set the single-season dead money record for a player for the second consecutive season.

If the Steelers chose to designate Roethlisberger as a post-June 1 release, Pittsburgh would owe as much as $33.5 million in dead money, depending on the offset language in his contract. They would be able to spread that money over two years, but it still would be an enormous sum of money for him to go play somewhere else.

What the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade means

Originally, I was going to argue that the Steelers also would be in good shape if Rudolph flamed out. That argument went by the wayside on Monday night, though, when the Steelers sent their 2020 first-round pick to the Dolphins for disgruntled defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. The deal leaves Pittsburgh without its first- and third-round selections in the 2020 draft, given that it sent away its third-round pick to move up and grab Devin Bush with the 10th pick in April.

Fitzpatrick was promising as a rookie, and the Steelers will have him under contract for the next three years for a total of less than $6 million, which is a pittance for a starting cornerback in the NFL. It’s reasonable to make the economic case that the surplus value Fitzpatrick plausibly offers as a starter over the next three years would be worth a first-round pick, especially if it falls in the back half of the first round.



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‘Blessed’ OBJ torches Jets in return to MetLife

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When asked his feelings about New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Odell Beckham Jr. responded, “Who?” Then, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver let out a smile.

OBJ made his point both during — and after — Cleveland’s 23-3 win on Monday night, highlighted by a pair of spectacular plays.

On the game’s opening drive, Beckham hauled in a one-handed grab near the same pylon of his famous one-handed stab at MetLife Stadium with the New York Giants five years ago. Then in the third quarter, Beckham hauled in a quick slant off a run-pass option play from quarterback Baker Mayfield and raced a career-best 89 yards to the end zone.

Earlier in the week, Beckham accused Williams of teaching “cheap shots” and “dirty hits,” and he said that led to an ankle injury that nearly derailed his career two years ago. The next day, Williams responded to the charge with a joke, saying, “Odell who?” He then went on downplay the notion that Beckham was a “dynamic” player.

“Everybody has a right to their own opinion,” Beckham said after the game. “He’s a phenomenal coach and he’s got a great defense. I’m done talking about it.”

Beckham let his play do his talking.

He finished with six receptions for 161 receiving yards, outproducing the entire Jets pass-catching corps, which collectively had only 125 yards receiving.

“Pretty dynamic,” deadpanned Mayfield, who seemed stunned to find out that Williams had suggested otherwise. “He’s a special guy.”

On his touchdown, Beckham actually reached a maximum speed of 21.7 miles per hour, the fastest any player has run while scoring this year, according to NFL NextGen Stats.

Beckham had battled a hip injury throughout the preseason, which landed him on the injury report. He also noted he had to work through cramps in his calves and tightness in his hamstrings Monday. But Beckham said that he’s now feeling great in every way after two games with his new team.

“I think I’m in a better physical, mental space than I’ve ever been in my life,” said Beckham, who celebrated his maiden score with the Browns by pantomiming opening a front door with a key, as if to signify, “I’m home” in MetLife. “I was joking with my trainers, I’m trying to hit 24, 23 [miles per hour]. Not saying it’ll happen, but I’m working for it.

“It didn’t feel like [that was] fastest I could run. I was just trying to get to the end zone.”

Officials took away Beckham’s other opportunity to reach the end zone on the opening drive. Two plays after his one-handed catch, officials removed Beckham from the field on third-and-goal, saying his visor was too reflective. Without Beckham in the game, Mayfield threw an incompletion and Cleveland had to settle for a field goal.

“It’s just frustrating. I feel like I’ve grown a lot, to be better, do better and it’s always something,” said Beckham, who admitted he doesn’t know what visor he’ll be wearing going forward. “I don’t want to break any rules. I just want to play football.”

Beckham also complained last week about being singled out by the league for wearing a $189,500 Richard Mille watch during the season opener. The NFL said the watch violated a league rule against players wearing “hard objects.” Beckham didn’t wear a watch in Monday’s game, though he did warm up with a different designer watch beforehand. When asked about it after the game, and whether it actually cost $2 million, as some had speculated over social media, Beckham played it coy.

“I’m off of it,” he said of the watch. “I don’t really have any comment about it.

“I’m just blessed.”

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