CANTON, Ohio — Sean McVay is one of the most relentlessly positive coaches you’ll ever meet, so it’s not a surprise that he hasn’t expressed any outward worry that Matthew Stafford’s elbow discomfort is a major deal at this point.
Even though Stafford, who had a brilliant regular season capped off with his first Super Bowl run last season, didn’t throw in the offseason and required an injection to relieve persistent pain in his throwing arm, McVay looks ahead with confidence that his quarterback will be OK.
“It’s not something we’re concerned about,” McVay said this week in explaining why Stafford is being kept out of team drills for what could be an extended period. “The most important thing is for him feeling good and healthy on Sept. 8 [when the Rams open the season against the Bills]. We just want to be really smart with somebody that is as important as our quarterback is and as experienced as he is to be able to put together a plan that we feel like is in his best interest and in our team’s best interest.”
Stafford said Saturday he has felt better in recent days.
“We got a great plan,” he said. “I’m feeling stronger every time I come out here and throw. I’m just trying to be smart when I get those opportunities to make sure I come out here, cut it loose like I did [Saturday] and go from there.”
But forgive the skepticism here, because we’re talking about a persistent elbow issue for a 34-year-old quarterback going into his 14th NFL season. Yes, it is prudent of McVay to dial it back for Stafford, especially because he has the luxury of experience in the league and familiarity with the Rams’ system in Year 2 after being traded from Detroit in 2021. But it is also fair to have legitimate concern that Stafford’s condition, which has been described as “severe tendinitis” by NFL Network, may limit him or his availability in the coming weeks.
McVay wouldn’t confirm that diagnosis, but he did offer a comment that may prompt even greater concern.
“It’s a little bit abnormal for a quarterback, some of this stuff is things that MLB pitchers deal with, so it is something that we’re kind of learning about on the fly and his feedback,” McVay said.
Not exactly comforting words in this uncertain situation, especially the part about likening the issue to the strain that pitchers encounter.
The Rams hope that Stafford won’t require surgery, and McVay seems confident that rest, a sensible rehab program and limited activity with the elbow will keep Stafford in the lineup as the Rams attempt to become the first team since the 2003-04 Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
“Really, when we look at it, we’ve got five weeks until Sept. 8,” McVay said. “He’s still feeling a little bit of pain. He could push through it. You guys have been out here, he’s been throwing and competing in team settings. We felt like the smart thing was, let’s really just take it a week at a time.”
McVay and the Rams are keeping their fingers crossed in hopes that Stafford will be ready for the grind that is the regular season. If there’s one indispensable player on this team, it’s the quarterback. If Stafford can’t go and backup John Wolford has to answer the call, then a Super Bowl repeat is almost certainly off the table.
Dolphins got off easy
After a monthslong investigation by former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White into allegations that the Dolphins had violated the league’s tampering rules by contacting Tom Brady when he was with the Patriots and then the Buccaneers and also reaching out to coach Sean Payton while he was still working for the Saints, Miami was hit with sanctions this week by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
The Dolphins should be thankful the penalties weren’t worse. A lot worse.
The Dolphins were docked a first-round draft pick in 2023 and their 2024 third-round choice. In addition, team owner Stephen Ross was fined $1.5 million and suspended through Oct. 17, and vice chairman Bruce Beal was fined $500,000 and is prohibited from attending any league meetings for the 2022 season.
“The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” Goodell said in a statement. “I know of no prior instance of a team violating the prohibition on tampering with both a head coach and star player, to the potential detriment of multiple other clubs, over a period of several years. Similarly, I know of no prior instance in which ownership was so directly involved in the violations.”
White found that Beal had illegally contacted Brady when he was in New England and again while he was under contract with the Buccaneers. He also spoke with Payton’s agent about the possibility of becoming Miami’s head coach.
Those findings are stunning, but the punishment could have — and should have — been tougher. Brady is the greatest player in NFL history, and Payton is one of the most coveted head coaches in the game. Multiple violations of the tampering rules involving both men should have cost the Dolphins at least another high-round pick, even a first-rounder.
As for the charge that former Dolphins coach Brian Flores leveled at Ross for offering $100,000 for each loss so Miami could improve its draft position in 2019, White couldn’t sufficiently corroborate the allegation, a disappointment for Flores, who is now a Steelers assistant coach.
“I am disappointed to learn that the investigator minimized Mr. Ross' offers and pressure to tank games especially when I wrote and submitted a letter at the time to Dolphins executives documenting my serious concerns regarding this subject at the time which the investigator has in her possession,” Flores said in a statement. “While the investigator found that the Dolphins had engaged in impermissible tampering of 'unprecedented scope and severity,' Mr. Ross will avoid any meaningful consequence. There is nothing more important when it comes to the game of football itself than the integrity of the game.”
Forgotten no more
They are to pro football what Jackie Robinson was to Major League Baseball. Yet unlike Robinson, the American sports and cultural icon who broke the color barrier in baseball, the men who reintegrated pro football have largely been forgotten by history.
More than a year before Robinson made his 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, former UCLA stars Kenny Washington and then Woody Strode were signed by the Los Angeles Rams, signaling the permanent reintegration of the NFL. That same 1946 season, Bill Willis and Marion Motley were signed by the Cleveland Browns and began what would become Pro Football Hall of Fame careers with Paul Brown’s dynasty.
Over the weekend, the four players were given the Ralph Hay Pioneer Award at the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Canton. The players, none of whom is alive, were represented by family members at the event, and their names will now permanently be on display for their role in integrating the sport.
The NFL had initially allowed a handful of Black players in the game when the league was formed in 1920, including Fritz Pollard and future opera star Paul Robeson. There were no African-American players in the league from 1934-45. After Washington, Strode, Willis and Motley began their careers, participation of Black players grew, to the point where approximately 70 percent of all NFL players are African-American.
Major League Baseball honors Robinson every year, but less than 10 percent of the players are Black.
“The selection of these four men as the Ralph Hay Pioneer Award winners could not be more fitting,” Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said. “Individually and collectively, they made one of the most profound cultural shifts in pro football history when they broke pro football’s color barrier, thus ending years of racial segregation. Their pioneering role not only opened the door to opportunity for generations of NFL players to come, but it also changed the game forever.”
The award, named for the former owner of the Canton Bulldogs, who hosted the NFL’s formational meeting in Canton in 1920, was established in 1972. It is presented in recognition of “significant innovative contributions to professional football.” The award has been presented only nine other times, with longtime NFL executive Joe Browne of Sands Point the last to win the award in 2016 after more than 50 years with the league.
Dunlap’s dreams closer to reality
Several teams had expressed interest in free-agent pass rusher Carlos Dunlap, but Kansas City had the biggest lure. Dunlap, entering his 13th NFL season at age 33, believes it will be Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes who give him his best chance to achieve his three most important goals.
“At this point, I’ve [played] a lot of football, but [three] of the things I haven’t done is gotten over 100 [career] sacks, I haven’t won a playoff game, and I haven’t won a Super Bowl.”
Dunlap is four sacks away from becoming just the 40th player in NFL history to reach 100 career sacks since the stat became official in 1982. And considering that Kansas City has been to the Super Bowl twice in the last three years, winning one, Dunlap stands a decent chance of hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy aloft one day fairly soon.
“I’m in hot pursuit [of those goals],” Dunlap said, “and I feel like this team gives me a great opportunity — the best opportunity — to do it.”
Matt Ryan on information overload
Matt Ryan has a reputation as one of the NFL’s most cerebral quarterbacks, but his powers of mental acuity are being tested like never before now that he is no longer with the Falcons, where he’d played since being the third overall pick in 2008.
“The number of new players you’re having to adjust to,” Ryan said of his new teammates in Indianapolis, where he was traded in the offseason. “Every year there’s that, but the magnitude of it when you’re coming into a new organization, it’s everyone that you’re learning. Every day is critical, every film session that we have after practice, to be able to watch it. It’s one thing to feel it out there, it’s another thing to go in, confirm either what you thought or maybe be corrected.”
One thing Ryan likes about his new situation: Unlike in Atlanta, where he almost always had to carry the offense with the passing game, the Colts have one of the league’s top running attacks, featuring All-Pro tailback Jonathan Taylor.
“The game has changed a lot but winning on both sides of the line of scrimmage still counts,” he said. “The way this team has run the football here for the last handful of years, the back that we have in Jonathan and also as kind of a changeup in Nyheim [Hines] and what he can do, it’s dynamic. It’s great as a quarterback. It helps in so many ways. It helps in pass protection, it creates lanes to throw, it gets play-action [passing]. It does a lot of the things that you like. It also wears down a defense. You will find no bigger proponent of the run game than myself, and I’m fired up to play with these guys.”