It’s over. That’s what you need to know. Week four of the preseason, while scintillating if you enjoy seeing third-stringers clawing for practice squad slots, is about as far from “real” football as you’re going to see. The playbooks are pretty much closed so the offense looks bland, and, in fact, is bland because it’s being run by a guy who really hopes he can hold a clipboard for most of the year. After those games happen though, the drama builds up a bit, with teams shaving from ninety men to fifty-three to start the season and teams scrambling to add a few pieces to the mix if the price is right. Here’s a quick recap of what happened across the league.
Who’s Back in the Huddle
RB Le’Veon Bell-Signs Franchise Tender: The Steeler’s All-Pro running back is back with the team after holding out for the whole preseason. Bell had initially refused the franchise tender of $12.1 million as well as a proposed multi-year extension that would have paid him over $12 million per year, including $30 million in the first two years alone. While the holdout seemed tense, with Bell taking shots at his organization on social media (and a laughably bad freestyle rap), I see little reason why Bell and the Steelers wouldn’t come to an understanding after this season. If he stays healthy, there isn’t a more consistently valuable back in the league. He should be paid that way. Bell has passed his physical and claims that he’s ready for full duty come Sunday. It’s a good thing for the Steelers, even if they do open up against the Browns.
Who’s Not Back…Yet
DL Aaron Donald-Still Holding Out: The Rams all-pro-all-world-all-universe DL is still yet to report to camp, having already amassed a staggering amount to fines for missing OTA’s and practices. He stands to lose his first game check of 2017 if he doesn’t get back soon. Even if he shows up for practice Wednesday, he might be held out if he isn’t game ready. Donald led the league in tackles for loss last year, amongst other categories and his sheer size and quickness make him a threat to blow up the play any time he’s on the field. Let’s be clear, Donald is WILDLY underpaid, given the salaries of his peers, Von Miller, Ndamukong Suh and J.J. Watt who all earn roughly four to five times what Donald stands to average the next two seasons. The Rams will have to pony up at some point, or lose the brightest star on their roster. My guess is that this game of chicken will end sooner rather than later.
Who’s Getting a Change of Scenery
QB Brock Osweiler–Cut by Cleveland: The former Denver and Houston signal-caller was somehow waived by the Browns, who must REALLY like what they see in DeShone Kizer to eat Osweiler’s roughly $16 million salary for this year. The Bronco’s picked him up from the trash heap and will pay him under a million for his services in 2017. That’s a pretty hefty discount for a guy that looked like the next big thing when he took Peyton Manning’s job. Fans in the Mile High City probably haven’t forgiven him for fleeing town for a lucrative deal in Houston that crashed and burned pretty quickly. He did his best work in Denver, so with backup Paxton Lynch down for at least the first few games, he might get to see some action if Trevor Siemian gets dinged up. It would be an interesting reclamation project if he ends up seeing some snaps.
S T.J. Ward-Cut by Denver: Possibly the most confusing roster move this week was the outright release of the Broncos’ pro bowl safety. Denver has been one of the league’s top pass defenses three years straight, including the squad that won Super Bowl 50. Cutting a member of that elite unit to give snaps to up-and-comers makes little to no sense on its’ face. The thirty-year-old Ward was immediately snapped up by Tampa Bay to shore up their porous pass defense. He’ll make an immediate impact and his salary won’t crush their bottom line.
LB Ahmad Brooks-Cut by San Francisco: If Ward’s release was the most surprising, the Niners’ dumping of Brooks wasn’t far behind. San Francisco is in a serious rebuilding mode with a new front office and new head coach, but this move is perplexing. Savvy veterans like Brooks are useful in almost any scheme. Brooks will join a Green Bay defense that needs smart and versatile backers to disrupt rival offenses. Brooks fits that mold perfectly and despite being 33-years-old and briefly considering retirement, he will undoubtedly be an impact player on a NFC contender.
What to watch for:
Thursday Night Football gets the real season started in just over forty-eight hours as Kansas City heads into Foxboro to take on Tom Brady and his shiny new offensive weapons. Don’t sleep on the Chiefs just because they aren’t flashy. They boast a stiff defense and a solid, methodical offense that gives opponents fits by staying on the field. They control the clock and simply don’t make many mistakes. The Chiefs have been AFC contenders the last few years, so will be a great early test for the reigning champs.
Now say it with me people…
“ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL??!?!?!?!?!”
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.