“We didn’t sign him to trade him.”
Seven months after Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said these now-infamous words about Odell Beckham Jr., it was revealed as total and utter BS as the star receiver was shipped to the Cleveland Browns.
It was just the latest in a long line of lies and deception that define every NFL offseason. From free agency, to the draft, to organized workouts, teams around the league try and shape narratives to such a degree that it can be hard to trust a single word anyone says.
Therefore, wading into the offseason’s bonanza of bull can be exhausting. So, allow us to do it for you, as we call out the quotes that made our heads spin the most:
“With (the 90 or 95 plays a game) we’re trying to get in, I’ve got to be conditioned.”
– Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson on the high expectations for the offense’s tempo under Kliff Kingsbury (Cardinals.com)
Kingsbury’s version of the Air Raid offense encapsulates nearly everything the NFL has been moving toward in recent years. His success could potentially push the league’s thinking forward in a similar way to Chip Kelly, whose offenses with the Philadelphia Eagles were responsible for kickstarting numerous innovations even though they struggled to remain productive.
One of Kelly’s defining features was his desire for high tempo, regardless of the situation. In his last two seasons in Philadelphia, Kelly’s offenses ranked first and second in average plays per game, according to Team Rankings. But his best mark of 70.7 – set in 2014 – highlights just how improbable it will be for Arizona to come close to the 90-play mark, let alone exceed it. Kelly topped out at 74.6 plays per game on the road that same season. In 2018, the Baltimore Ravens’ offense led the league with an average of 70.2 plays.
Trying to squeeze out an extra 20 plays a game would likely require incredible innovation. Non-Kelly teams that have historically pushed the tempo envelope – the 2011 New Orleans Saints, the 2012 New England Patriots, and the 2013 Denver Broncos – have done so with cerebral Hall of Fame-level quarterbacks under center. Asking a rookie who started just one season in college to play at this pace could be detrimental to his development.
In all likelihood, the Cardinals want to keep the rest of the league guessing about what exactly their new-look offense will ultimately look like. If it’s true, though, pray for Larry Fitzgerald, who turns 36 in August.
“I believe Gronk still holds the record for most touchdowns … if I want to do anything that is gonna be real spectacular or really good, I gotta go get 17.”
– Indianapolis Colts TE Eric Ebron on his lofty scoring goals for 2019 (NFL.com)
Rob Gronkowski’s career is barely cold, and Ebron is already gunning to erase one of the legendary tight end’s top records.
The Colts playmaker is coming off a career season in his first year in Indy, with his 13 touchdowns leading all tight ends and ranking second among all receivers to only Antonio Brown. Gronkowski’s 2011 record of 17 end-zone trips, therefore, doesn’t appear to be an unreachable goal for Ebron – especially as he racked up 11 scores in 11 games last season before slowing down in the final third of the campaign.
Touchdowns are more dependent on opportunity and luck than talent, though. Ebron’s high scoring rate was arguably due in larger part to Frank Reich’s tight end-dependant system and Indy’s lack of alternative receiving weapons last year. He had just 11 touchdowns in four seasons with the Detroit Lions, so it’s far easier to envision a regression toward his former production than a jump up to a historic level.
Moreover, Ebron’s 13 touchdowns required 110 targets from Andrew Luck, 24 more than he’s ever received and second on the team to T.Y. Hilton’s 120. Gronkowski caught his 17 touchdowns at a higher rate than Ebron snagged his 13 – a touchdown every 7.3 targets compared to every 8.5 – so the Colts standout would need to increase his target share to stand a chance at Gronkowski’s record.
But with Jack Doyle returning from injury, receivers Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell joining the offense, and an improved running game – which could reduce Luck’s touchdown total – it will be tough for Ebron to even match his targets from a season ago let alone expand his role to the point where he could challenge for Gronkowski’s record.
“I guess the trick is to take a year off because he’s definitely gotten better, stronger, and faster. He hasn’t lost a step.”
– Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott on how Jason Witten has looked since returning from retirement (Dallas Morning News)
Witten’s return to the NFL after a brief one-season retirement is a shock. His first year as a broadcaster was a disaster, but it wasn’t like he hung up his cleats at the top of his game. Or, in truth, anywhere close to it.
Before his retirement, Witten had a respectable 63 catches for 560 yards and five touchdowns in 2017. The problem wasn’t what Witten brought to the offense, though, but how he held it back through his sheer presence. This can be shown through two statistics beyond just raw production: yards after the catch and average depth of target (aDOT).
Witten averaged 8.9 yards per catch, a poor number that ranked 109th among 141 players with 30-plus catches, but one that still put him alongside solid tight ends such as Jesse James, Doyle, and Jimmy Graham. The issue wasn’t that Witten consistently caught short passes; it was that he did so while producing little after the catch.
Stats credit: airyards.com
When compared to other tight ends with a similar aDOT in 2017, Witten’s lack of explosion is obvious. A tight end can produce a low YAC and still be an efficient player, but it must be offset with a high aDOT. For example, Delanie Walker had 245 of his yards come after the catch – only around a fourth of his overall total of 1,075 – but the average depth of his 111 targets was 9.7 yards.
Witten’s a revered figure in Dallas, and rightfully so; he’s a future Hall of Famer. Dallas spent last season cycling through unremarkable journeymen in an attempt to replace him, and Prescott suffered as a result. The answer, though, shouldn’t have been giving $5 million to a player who will likely hurt the offense more than he helps. Witten might not have “lost a step” in retirement, but that’s because he arguably didn’t have any left to lose.
“He’s had no response … I’ve never been around a person that can stay in the moment better than Eli. And I think that is something that is really, really unique about him.”
– New York Giants HC Pat Shurmur on Eli Manning’s reaction to the selection of Duke QB Daniel Jones (ESPN)
It doesn’t matter how many millions you have in the bank or how accomplished you are in your career, it’s impossible not to be affected by your employer side-eyeing your replacement.
This is especially the case when said heir apparent looks like a cloned version of your younger self:
Manning, of course, isn’t your run-of-the-mill franchise player – he’s football royalty. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has dealt with nearly every conceivable high and low in his career, and whether he’s throwing a game-losing interception or beating the undefeated Patriots, his unflappable persona never breaks.
But does that mean Eli doesn’t care that New York used the sixth overall pick on Jones instead of a piece that could help him win a third Super Bowl? Or that he has to answer questions about the man who’ll replace him after every practice? Of course, not.
It doesn’t help that the Giants have hyped up Jones every chance they get, likely to push back against the criticisms for drafting him so highly. The rookie’s received praise for his performance in minicamp and New York shone a spotlight on the stark difference in its two quarterbacks’ athleticism by tweeting this highlight:
Manning’s definitely pissed. He’s definitely hurt. He might even lose his job before the end of 2019 (he canceled his regular weekly radio appearance, though the Giants said that was always the plan), and is already thinking about fishing trips with Peyton and Cooper.
But if trading away the best player he’s ever worked with didn’t get Manning riled up enough to let his frustrations out on the Giants’ decision-makers, nothing ever will.
“If God’s willing, I can duplicate that and do it even better. I got my mark set at 2,000 (yards), I’ve always had it at that mark since I stepped into the league.”
– Washington Redskins RB Adrian Peterson on attempting to again hit the milestone rushing mark (NFL.com)
After many had resigned the former MVP to the scrap heap, Peterson joined an exclusive group of five running backs who exceeded the 1,000-yard mark at age 33 or older. However, it will almost certainly be the final significant action of the future Hall of Famer’s career, which makes his lofty expectations difficult to stomach.
Firstly, Derrius Guice is the future of the Washington Redskins’ backfield. He will need time to get back up to speed after tearing his ACL as a rookie, but the sophomore is taking the starting job; it’s a question of when not if. To make matters worse for Peterson, backup Samaje Perine has been getting rave reviews from training camp, so the 34-year-old’s role could become even smaller as Washington looks to develop its youth.
Secondly, while Peterson should be lauded for hitting 1,042 yards at a time when most other running backs have been on the couch for years, his production was somewhat of a mirage. Peterson needed 251 carries to get past 1,000 yards for an average of 4.2 yards per carry, which ranked 32nd out of 49 backs, according to Pro Football Reference.
If you remove the main outlier of his season – a 90-yard touchdown run in Week 13, after which he had just eight more yards – his YPC drops to an unremarkable 3.8. This is far more in line with the player we saw with the Arizona Cardinals in 2017 when Peterson averaged 3.5 yards on 129 totes.
Peterson already cemented his all-time great status by rushing for 2,000 yards his MVP year in 2012. It’s difficult for athletes to accept they’re no longer physically capable of what they once were, and it sounds like Peterson will never see himself as anything other than the player who dominated the league for nearly a decade.
“We’ll see. We’re still working through all those things. We have Brett Hundley here – who we’re very excited about – but we’ll see where that kind of goes.”
– Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury discussing whether or not Kyler Murray will start Week 1 (CBS Sports)
Kingsbury might be new to the NFL after spending a seven-year career at the collegiate level, but he’s already nailed NFL coaches’ propensity for saying ridiculous things that not a soul alive listening believes.
Brett Hundley, Kliff? As in, this Brett Hundley?!
In fairness to the former Packers backup, he flashed talent when thrown into the fire following an injury to Aaron Rodgers in 2017. But certainly, it’s nowhere near enough to keep the Heisman winner on the bench. Starting a quarterback with a career passer rating of 67.9 instead of the No. 1 overall pick would likely cause riots in Arizona.
While Kingsbury saying this with a straight face is genuinely impressive, you aren’t fooling us. Deception truly isn’t your franchise’s strong point. Everyone knew you were taking Murray first overall despite all the smokescreens, and everyone knows the dual-threat wonder will be under center come Week 1.
Even Kingsbury quickly realized the pointlessness of trying to make it seem like a competition for the starting job. Or maybe he heard that his boss, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, had already admitted as much just a day prior.
“We didn’t draft him one overall to ride the pine,” said Keim.
Well, that settles that.