All 32 NFL clubs must be down to the required 53-man roster by this afternoon. While some borderline players will be happy if they don’t get a call from the “Turk”, they still can’t rest easy. There will be more roster changes over the next two weeks than at any other time of the NFL season. This time of the year rosters are very fluid.
Some clubs will make waiver acquisitions and if awarded a player they have to make room for him by cutting someone on the 53. Clubs will also sign some of the street free agents who cleared waivers either earlier this week or from the cuts made earlier in the week.
Clubs always play little games with veteran players this time of the year. If a vested veteran (someone with four or more accrued seasons) is on the active roster for the first game of the season, his salary is guaranteed for the season. That remains true even if he gets cut two or three weeks in to the season. To avoid having to pay a vested veteran a full year’s salary, clubs will often wait until after the first game has been completed before signing that type of player. That way the club is only paying the player on a week-to-week basis. For salary cap strapped clubs this can be a very beneficial way of doing business.
Up until the 2014 season, clubs could only sign 8 players to their practice squad. Starting last year the size of the practice squad has been raised to a maximum of 10 players, with two of those players being players who have earned no more than two credited seasons towards free agency. Another rule change last year is that a player must be on a practice squad a total of six weeks in order to use one of his “eligible” years to be on the practice squad. The old rule was a player with three weeks on a practice squad used up one of his eligible years.
These changes are huge, in that they open the practice squad to many more players. Also, a club could have a situation where a young player who they were figuring on making the 53-man roster, missed a lot of practice time because of a minor injury. This could be a player who had made the club previously, as for example, a rookie. Because he missed so much practice time, he was not properly evaluated. That player can now be on the practice squad, where before he was wasn’t eligible. These rule changes give the clubs much more flexibility when it comes to finalizing the 53-man roster. In essence it really increases the roster size, without it affecting the 53.
A practice squad player makes a minimum salary of $6,600.00 per week, up from $6,300.00 in 2014. That figure is not etched in stone and can be negotiated. There are some practice squad players who make the rookie minimum salary. In 2015, the rookie minimum is $435,000 which means that if you pay a practice squad player the rookie minimum he is getting more than $25,000.00 per week. That is a heck of a salary for someone who only has to practice four days a week. Still, it gives him the opportunity to develop his skills and if the situation arises, get elevated to the 53-man roster.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
This Saturday of Labor Day weekend is one of the best days of the year. It marks the first Saturday with a full college football slate that carries us through the end of the year.
Alabama vs Wisconsin
While I don’t put much – if any – stock in pre-season college football rankings, there is one matchup between ranked teams: Alabama versus Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. Alabama is currently ranked #3 in the nation and as usual has a roster full of NFL prospects and come December I’m sure they will again be part of the college football playoffs.
While it seems like Alabama has more underclassmen enter the draft that any other college team, they still have a loaded senior class starting with linebacker Reggie Ragland. Other top senior prospects are corner Cyrus Jones, center Ryan Kelly, linebacker Dillon Lee and defensive lineman Darren Lake.
Wisconsin lost one of the better running backs in the country last year when Melvin Gordon left school early for the NFL. While Wisconsin won’t matchup with Alabama in pure overall talent, they are always one of the better coached teams in the country. One of their better senior prospects is safety Michael Caputo. As usual, they have an offensive lineman to look at in Tyler Marz as well as fullback Derek Watt.
With all the speed and overall talent that Alabama has, this game could be over early in the second half. I look for the Crimson Tide to win by at least 14 points.
Texas at Notre Dame
This is an interesting game because it is an intersectional game between two teams that are deep in tradition. Texas is in rebuilding mode in Head Coach Charlie Strong’s second year, but they still have talent. Texas always gets the cream of the crop when it comes to recruiting in the talent rich state of Texas. Texas doesn’t have many senior prospects, the best are corner Duke Thomas and running back Johnathan Gray, but they have some very talented younger kids who just need experience.
Notre Dame on the other hand is loaded. This is the best Notre Dame squad since the 2012 team that went to the National Championship game. The Irish return 23 players who have started games during their career. While the bulk of their most talented players are underclassmen, they still have plenty of senior prospects who are ready to show their talent to NFL scouts.
The best is defensive tackle Sheldon Day who may be the best 3-technique in the country and could be a high first-round pick. Other top seniors are center Nick Martin the younger brother of Dallas Cowboy Zach Martin, safety Elijah Shumate, linebacker Joe Schmidt and receiver Chris Brown who has great speed.
Notre Dame will make a run for the playoffs but they have to win at least 11 games because they are not conference affiliated. The big question with them will be the play of quarterback Malik Zaire. Zaire was the backup to Everett Golson last year but got the start in their Bowl game win over LSU. He played extremely well in that game and Notre Dame hopes that he can build off of that win. While Zaire doesn’t have the passing talent that Golson had, he is an excellent athlete who can make plays with his feet and that will be a challenge to defenses.
Eastern Washington at Oregon
This game is interesting because the new Oregon quarterback, Vernon Adams, led Eastern Washington the last three seasons. Adams was not highly recruited coming out of high school and chose to go to FCS Eastern Washington. He developed his skills while there and won 28 games as a starter. He also threw more than 100 touchdown passes in his three years. At just under six feet tall, Adams is not your prototypical NFL quarterback prospect but he is very athletic and has good arm strength.
As usual, Oregon is loaded with senior prospects led by defensive end DeForest Buckner. Other highly rated prospects are offensive tackle Tyler Johnstone, running back Byron Marshall and linebacker Rodney Hardrick. A player to watch closely is defensive end Christian French. The tall rangy athlete has always been in a backup roll and this will be his first year as a fulltime starter.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
By now, most of you have probably read at least 10 articles about the Tom Brady suspension being overturned by Federal Judge Richard Berman. I don’t want to bore you by rehashing what has already been written by countless writers all over the country. I will say that by just watching and reading on how Judge Berman has reacted to this case during hearings, the outcome is not surprising to me. I fully expected the suspension to be overturned. I also fully expected the NFL to appeal the decision, which they did late Thursday afternoon. Is it in the best interest of the League to appeal the ruling?
I get that the NFL almost has to appeal because, going forward, if they don’t, every time the Commissioner punishes a player, the result will end up in a federal court room. In the eyes on the NFLPA, the Commissioner has basically been stripped of his power. That power was given to him by terms of the current collective bargaining agreement.
With the NFL now losing five times in court recently when discipline has been handed out, it might be best for the league to hammer out a new agreement on player discipline with the players union.
Commissioner Rodger Goodell is in a no-win situation. He gets criticized for being too soft in the Ray Rice ruling and for being too hard in the Brady and Adrian Peterson rulings. The criticism has been so strong that many fans have a general perception that the league is being run very poorly.
While I believe that Mr. Goodell has done an outstanding job in leading the league to unprecedented growth, it is time for him to step aside in the area of player discipline. The main reason being that no matter how he rules, the NFLPA will take the outcome to court. No one needs that, not the NFL, not the NFLPA.
Years ago when I was a young scout, one of my mentors (George Young) and I were having a conversation about a situation at an All Star game. He said to me, “Greg, all I know is that when it’s fourth and long you punt….it’s time to punt.” That analogy could be used now. The way things have gone for the league in court lately, it is fairly obvious that it’s fourth and long and time for the Commissioner to punt. Put final say on player disciplinary matters in the hands of a non-partial, FAIR party.
The only way that both the Union and the NFL can reach an agreement is if this non-partial arbitrator is agreed upon by both parties, and he is given a set term in which to rule. When he makes a ruling, it is final and can no longer be appealed by either side.
The problem the league has now is that penalties have been too arbitrary. It seems as if each case draws a different punishment instead of being uniform in any way. That can no longer be the case. Penalties have to be spelled out in advance so that players know if they break a rule what the penalty for the crime will be. There is no problem with having discipline, as long as the discipline is fair and fits the crime. If that happens, we won’t be seeing the circus that has gone in the NFL the last few years. It’s time to play football not live in a court room!
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
The number one guy catching passes for the Pittsburgh Panthers this fall is redshirt junior Tyler Boyd. Boyd stands at 6’2” and 200 lbs. This is Boyd’s third year starting for the Panthers, and he is considered to be one of the best receivers that could possibly declare for the 2016 NFL Draft. He will miss the first week of the regular season due to being suspended for a DUI in the offseason. Here are the 2014 season stats for Boyd:
Georgia Tech (2014), Miami (2014), Duke (2014), UNC (2014), Virginia Tech (2014), vs Houston (2014)
Boyd is a four-star recruit out of Clairton High School in Clairton, Pennsylvania. He is the best receiver to play at Pitt since the days of Larry Fitzgerald. He has a nice build for an NFL receiver, is tall enough, but could add on some more weight. He is a very proficient route runner and was asked to run multiple types of routes at Pitt. He runs crisp, smooth routes and does not take any unnecessary steps. He can make very quick moves to leave a defender standing in one spot, while he runs uncovered down the field. Boyd plays very loose, and the receiver position seems natural. He is a very good pass catcher, and for the most part, he catches the ball with his hands; it usually depends on where the ball is thrown. He is a receiver who can go up for the 50/50 ball and come down with it. Multiple times saw him beat double coverage and win the battle. he does well against zone coverage and can easily find the holes so his QB can get the ball to him. He does equally well against man coverage and can beat anybody one-on-one. He has faced some press coverage and does not seem to have a problem separating from it. He has some experience as a punt/kick returner. He is a very patient return man and waits for his lane to develop before going full speed. He is a durable receiver, has taken a beating in many games, and has endured it.
He will be suspended one game this season because of a DUI conviction. He is a very poor run blocker. On about 95% of run plays, the guy he was assigned to block ended up making the tackle. He doesn’t square up and block, instead almost lunging at the defender. He doesn’t put up a fight and is a pushover on run plays. It wouldn’t hurt for him to beef up a little bit more. He muffed two punts last season against UNC and Virginia Tech. He has some slight awareness issues, has had false start calls on him and holding calls in the blocking game.
The Bottom Line:
Boyd is one of the best receivers heading into next year’s draft. His route running, hands, and ability to go up and make a tough catch are excellent. However, his one off the field issue is a concern to me. If he can move past this, play good ball, and keep his nose clean, it won’t be as big of an issue on Draft day. Given the recent need for high quality receivers on NFL teams, Boyd is an easy first rounder. Granted, he may not have the explosiveness of Kevin White or the size of Breshad Perriman, but he is a consistent player who does not take plays off. I am extremely interested to see how he does this season against the very competitive ACC. This year, he will face off against some tough competition like Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Notre Dame. With a new head coach, a more experienced QB, and some decent competition, I can see Boyd having another 1,000 yard season and about 10 receiving touchdowns. Pitt’s offense will likely continue to run the ball first and pass second, but I still see a great season for Boyd.
It seemed like it would never get here, but the 2015 college football season is finally here. While there are no marquee matchups tonight, there are a few interesting battles. The first is North Carolina at South Carolina. While neither team is expected to compete for their respective conference titles, both have some quality players who will be playing in the NFL in the near future.
On the North Carolina roster the leading senior prospects are offensive guard Landon Turner and wide receiver Quinshad Davis. On South Carolina the top seniors are safety Isaiah Johnson, offensive tackle Brandon Shell and running back Brandon Wilds.
While South Carolina always has been able to put points on the board their defense has not been able to stop anyone. That could change this year as highly respected Jon Hoke takes over as the Gamecocks defensive coordinator. Hoke has spent the last 13 years in the NFL and will run a very attacking style defense. It will be interesting to see what he throws at North Carolina tonight.
The other interesting matchup tonight will be Jim Harbaugh’s return to college football as the new Head Coach of Michigan. The former Wolverine quarterback has brought a lot of excitement to Ann Arbor. Michigan fans hope this game at Utah is the beginning of Michigan becoming a dominant Big Ten team again. Tonight’s game at Utah won’t be easy as the senior class at Utah has at least nine NFL prospects playing. The best are running back Devonte Booker and linebacker Jared Norris.
Opening weekend continues with eight D-I games. Again there are no top matchups but there are two interesting games. Washington Head Coach Chris Peterson returns to play against Boise State where he had eight very successful seasons as their Head Coach. Because it’s a homecoming-type game for Peterson, the game will have extra importance for him.
Washington’s top senior NFL prospect is offensive guard Dexter Charles while Boise State also has some good NFL prospects in offensive linemen Marcus Henry and Rees Odhiambo.
The other game with interest is Michigan State visiting Western Michigan. While this game should be easily won by the Spartans, Western Michigan Head Coach P.J. Fleck wants to show the country that he can get his MAC team ready for the big boys. There are some who feel that Fleck will be coaching at a Power-5 school in the near future.
The other interesting side item in this game is the senior debut of Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook. Going into the season, Cook is thought of as one of the best – if not the best – senior NFL quarterback prospects in the country. Earlier this week it was revealed that Cook was not elected captain of the Michigan State team on a vote of his teammates. On the surface this may not seem like a big deal, but when you have a quarterback who is a three-year starter not elected captain, NFL scouts will surely look into why. By the nature of the position, the quarterback is supposed to be the team leader, so not getting the vote of his teammates will be looked at closely.
Michigan State has another upper echelon prospect in defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Many thought Calhoun would come out last year but he did the right thing by staying in school and working on improving his game. He will be the better for it and could very well be a high first round pick.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe