Todd Bowles didn’t express any outward concern when he told reporters Wednesday that Tom Brady would not be with the Buccaneers until after their second preseason game against the Titans on Aug. 20.
“This is something we talked about before training camp started,” the coach said, revealing that Brady was dealing with a “personal matter” while away from the team. “We allotted this time because he wanted to get in and get chemistry with the guys and go through two weeks of training camp, knowing he wasn’t going to play the first two games.”
That said, it’s highly unusual that any quarterback, no less the greatest quarterback in NFL history, would leave his team in the middle of training camp for an extended period. For Brady, it’s more than just unusual. It’s unprecedented.
The hope is that everything is OK in his personal life, and that the time he will now devote to addressing those matters is well spent. But it is also fair to at least ask questions about what’s next for Brady and the Bucs. Especially when Bowles was asked if he unequivocally believes Brady will be the team’s starting quarterback when the Bucs’ regular season opens with a Sunday night game against the Cowboys on Sept. 11.
Bowles said he has a “pretty high level of confidence” that Brady will be in the lineup.
Notice he didn’t say Brady would be in the lineup. Or that he expressed complete confidence he’d be there.
All in all, it’s a murky situation that invites more questions than provides answers. Especially for a quarterback who announced his retirement after last season, only to change his mind less than six weeks later.
Hopefully for Bowles, Brady will indeed return to the team with the same kind of commitment he has shown throughout his remarkable career. Former coach Bruce Arians retired after the season specifically because he knew Bowles, a longtime protege, would have a fighting chance to be successful with Brady still in the lineup. Bowles was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach, his second go-round as the top guy after a four-year run with the Jets from 2015-18.
Bowles is already familiar with quarterback surprises; in his first year with the Jets, Geno Smith was punched in the jaw by teammate IK Enemkpali during a locker room fight in training camp over an unpaid airline ticket. Smith was replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had a career year and came within one game of getting the Jets into the playoffs.
Klecko, Walls among Hall of Fame senior finalists
Former Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko, who made the Pro Bowl at three different positions, and former Cowboys and Giants defensive back Everson Walls, who helped the Giants win Super Bowl XXV after the 1990 season, are among the 12 seniors category finalists for the Hall of Fame.
The Seniors Committee will meet on Tuesday to reduce the list to three, and those players will be eligible for Hall of Fame induction when the 49-member panel meets early next year to vote on the Class of 2023. Expansion of the seniors pool to three was approved earlier this year for the classes of 2023, 2024 and 2025.
The other seniors category finalists: quarterbacks Ken Anderson and Cecil Isbell, linebackers Maxie Baughan, Randy Gradishar, Tommy Nobis and Chuck Howley, guard Bob Kuechenberg, defensive backs Eddie Meador and Ken Riley, and wide receiver Sterling Sharpe.
In the coach/contributor category, a 12-person committee will meet on Aug. 23 to reduce the list to one for Hall of Fame selection eligibility next year. The finalists: TV executive Roone Arledge, coaches Don Coryell, Mike Holmgren, Buddy Parker, Dan Reeves, Mike Shanahan, Clark Shaughnessy, front-office executive Frank “Bucko” Kilroy, owners Robert Kraft and Art Modell, and former player and Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten.
Preseason doesn’t count, but …
There’s no prize for winning preseason games, except maybe for pride. There’s a lot to go around in Baltimore, where the Ravens continue to build on a remarkable accomplishment. Their 23-10 win over the Titans on Thursday night built their preseason winning streak to 21 games. They’d already broken the previous record of 18 straight wins, set by Vince Lombardi’s iconic Green Bay Packers.
And it’s not as if coach John Harbaugh is devoting all his resources to winning. In fact, he played it as safe as possible on Thursday when he kept 32 players, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, out of the lineup to make sure the Ravens remain healthy going into the regular season.
“That was great, and I appreciate the effort by the guys,” Harbaugh said after Thursday’s game. “I thought they did a good job, good to win the game. That’s what you ultimately work for, but in some ways, it’s more important to go out there and see how the guys perform.”
The last time the Ravens lost a preseason game: 2015.
Coaching shakeup in Washington
One of the NFL’s biggest disappointments last year was the performance of the Commanders’ defensive line. Stocked with first-round picks, including Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Daron Payne, what should have been the second coming of the Fearsome Foursome combined for just 20 sacks. Young suffered a torn ACL midway through the season and is still waiting for clearance to resume playing.
Defensive line coach Sam Mills III, the son of late Panthers linebacker Sam Mills, paid the price when he was fired earlier in the week. It was the first time coach Ron Rivera has ever fired an assistant during training camp. Rivera said it wasn’t a direct result of what happened last year — remember, too, that Payne and Allen got into a heated sideline exchange in 2021 — but it certainly didn’t help.
“There was a little bit of difference in the philosophy,” Rivera said, declining to be more specific about his decision. “[I] just felt that this needed to be done.”
Mills was replaced by assistant defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina, who has been with the team since 2020.
Zgonina, a former NFL defensive lineman who once played with Sam Mills in Carolina, said the decision to fire Mills took him by surprise.
“It’s always hard,” he said. “[Mills] is a friend, he will always be a friend. I’ve known him almost his whole life because I played with his dad, so it’s hard. But I have a job to do. We’ve got to keep moving forward.”
James White closes out career of clutch
James White might not be the most recognizable name in NFL history, but he was certainly one of the game’s most clutch players ever.
There was no greater example than his performance in the Patriots’ epic comeback from a 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI, when White scored the touchdown to bring the Patriots back to tie it in regulation and then scored only the second walk-off touchdown in Super Bowl history in overtime of a 36-28 win.
White helped the Patriots get to three Super Bowls, winning two. And after an eight-year career, White has decided to retire, unable to return from a hip injury last season that required surgery.
Bill Belichick called White “one of the most respected, best team players I have ever coached.”
“His dependability, consistency, unselfishness and performance under pressure are elite,” Belichick said. “Combining great intelligence, quickness and elusiveness, James was a perfect fit for our pass offense. While soft spoken, he brought exceptional leadership and competitive toughness to the team.”
White set Super Bowl records for most receptions (14), most points scored (20) and most touchdowns (three), all from the win over Atlanta.
Bravo on a terrific career.
Mayfield with the edge over Darnold?
From the life-comes-at-you-fast-in-the-NFL department:
It was only four years ago that Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold were viewed as quarterback saviors in Cleveland and New York, respectively. Baker was taken first overall by the Browns, and Darnold went third to the Jets after the Giants selected Saquon Barkley at No. 2.
Now the two are fighting for the right to lead the Panthers, with few expectations that either one can be the long-term answer in Carolina.
The Panthers’ trade with the Jets for Darnold last year didn’t pan out, as Darnold simply didn’t take the next step after a disappointing run with the Jets. And with the Browns trading for Deshaun Watson, Mayfield was the odd man out and traded.
It will be former Giants coach Ben McAdoo who might cast the deciding vote on which quarterback gets the nod. And if you read the tea leaves this week, the Panthers’ recently hired offensive coordinator likes what he sees from Mayfield.
“It’s been pretty impressive,” McAdoo said. “One of his strengths is command. He can lead a room, he can command a room, he can command an offense. He has a good presence about him, and he’s got a fire in his guts. He’s bright and he really works at it.”
From football to futbol for Eli Manning
Two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning is the newest investor in the NY/NY Gotham FC, a professional women’s soccer club based in Harrison, New Jersey. There couldn’t be a better partner than Manning, who has grown to like soccer in part because of his children’s enthusiasm about the sport.
“I have lived and worked in this community for almost two decades,” Manning said in announcing his partnership with the team. “It's home to me, and Gotham FC is my family's favorite soccer club. Combine that with the organization's strong leadership, talented roster, and sustained growth, and it became clear that joining this great group was a fantastic opportunity.
“We’re driving what happens next in the world’s game with some of the greatest athletes in the game,” he said. “I can’t imagine what’s more exciting than being a part of that.”