NFL

Tyreek Hill, NFL power rankings, Lions’ urgency and more

Whether or not the NFL suspends Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, expect him reinstated by the team before training camp. After that, we’re in the dark.

On July 26, the Kansas City Chiefs will welcome their veterans to training camp. Tyreek Hill will be there.

According to league conversations, Hill will be reinstated by the team regardless of whether or not he’s been suspended by the NFL. What happens from there? Only league commissioner Roger Goodell knows.

While the Chiefs are optimistic about a short suspension over Hill’s off-field turmoil this winter, it’s uncertain what length his ban will be. Kansas City is well-positioned to deal with the upcoming suspension, however, having drafted receiver Mecole Hardman in the second round to accompany Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins in the passing game.

For the Chiefs, this saga has been a major public relations hit. Kansas City is seen nationally as a safe haven for bad characters, a franchise willing to do anything for an elusive Super Bowl title. Internally, though, the Chiefs believe they stayed the legal course, allowing for the system to determine which direction they would take.

The result? A team with the best Super Bowl odds this side of New England, and a litany of opinions on who the Chiefs are and what they stand for.

Regardless, Kansas City will almost certainly have Hill before Halloween, and it’ll be better on the football field for it. Whether the Chiefs — or any NFL team for that matter — will admit it, personal conduct comes in a distant second before production.

Hill remains one of the top five receivers in football. He’s also on a rookie contract, proving the perfect weapon for Patrick Mahomes’ high-octane circus. There is no replacing Hill and the threat he provides on every snap.

If keeping a player like Hill means negative press for a while, it’s a price the Chiefs are clearly willing to pay.

Going forward, Kansas City would be thrilled to have a suspension of four games or less. The Chiefs play the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions in that stretch. With or without Hill, Kansas City will be favored in each contest.

In a tough division with the Los Angeles Chargers, one loss could mean the difference between home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and being a wild card team. Without question, the front office and ownership understands that Hill’s presence could well be the difference in hosting a pair of playoff games and shutting down Arrowhead Stadium after Week 17.

When training camp begins, there will be handwringing over Hill’s participation. There will be calls for his banishment. There will be calls of the Chiefs being tone-deaf and far worse.

All of those criticisms are inevitable and, depending on your perspective, valid.

It’s also inevitable that barring more ugliness coming out involving Hill, he’ll be back in a Chiefs uniform less than a month from now.

Power rankings

Top 10 instances of great player in a strange jersey

1. Johnny Unitas, QB, San Diego Chargers
2. Joe Montana, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
3. Emmitt Smith, RB, Arizona Cardinals
4. Jerry Rice, WR, Seattle Seahawks
5. Joe Namath, QB, Los Angeles Rams
6. Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota Vikings
7. Bruce Smith, DE, Washington Redskins
8. O.J. Simpson, RB, San Francisco 49ers
9. Reggie White, DE, Carolina Panthers
10. Tim Brown, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quotable

“I still want to make the Hall of Fame, still want to be the best linebacker in the NFL,” he said. “I’m not giving up on my goals, and the doctors said don’t give up on my goals, so there’s no problem with me doing that. I’m just going to keep working, and hopefully I’m going to be back as soon as I can.”

– Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier on his Hall-of-Fame dream

Shazier hasn’t played football since suffering a horrible spinal injury in Dec. 2016. While he remains on the Steelers roster, it’s unlikely he’s ever cleared medically to step on a field again.

Still, we should all pause to honor Shazier’s courage and spirit. Few would even attempt a comeback, and even fewer would be so relentlessly positive. The reality is football won’t be his future, but Shazier’s attitude will serve him very well moving forward.

Podcast

Mailbag

Each Friday, Verderame puts out a new mailbag covering all things NFL and then a little more. Make sure to submit your questions to him via Twitter or email!

Random stat

The New York Jets have only won four division titles in their 59 seasons, the worst percentage (7%) of any franchise. Conversely, the Dallas Cowboys have won 24 division crowns in the same span, making them the only team to eclipse 40 percent.

Info learned this week

1. Keep an eye on Clowney situation in Houston

The deadline to sign long-term deals with franchise players is July 15. Jadeveon Clowney is the biggest name to watch.

Clowney, 26, is coming off a career year, totaling 9.5 sacks. My understanding is Clowney wants a long-term deal worth more than $20 million per year, putting him directly below Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald. However, the Texans remain unsure about such a commitment, with Clowney never having achieved a double-digit sack season. Furthermore, Clowney has only played a full 16-game season once in Houston.

Should the sides fail to agree on a long-term pact, the key for Clowney is putting forth his best season yet. If that happens, the former No. 1 overall pick will either command $100+ million from the Texans or hit unrestricted free agency as the top target in football.

2. Bengals should take a lesson from ’17 Bills

The Cincinnati Bengals need to accept reality. It’ll help their future.

With rookie left tackle Jonah Williams sidelined for the season with a shoulder injury, the Bengals are already starting from a deep hole. Factor in a quiet free agency and a draft class short on immediate contributors, and the Bengals drelikely ticketed for another last-place finish in the AFC North.

With rookie head coach Zac Taylor beginning his odyssey, Cincinnati should show faith by cleaning house. Give Taylor a blank slate at quarterback, and load up his coffers with draft picks. Star receiver A.J. Green has a year left on his deal and is on the wrong side of 30. Trade him and recoup a second-round choice. Andy Dalton’s contract is year-to-year. If possible, move him prior to the Oct. 31 trade deadline and get more capital.

There’s nothing wrong with rebuilding. There’s plenty wrong with being mediocre without upside.

In the summer of 2017, Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane took this approach. He traded receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams for a second-round pick. Hours later, cornerback Ronald Darby was moved to the Philadelphia Eagles for receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round choice. Buffalo used some of that capital to acquire Josh Allen.

Whether Buffalo ends up a winner remains unknown, but it took the right path. Cincinnati should follow.

3. Patriots can’t rely on Gordon to be more than pipe dream

The New England Patriots are without a proven outside receiver. A healthy version of Josh Gordon would be an ideal scenario, but the team can’t catch itself doing more than dreaming about it.

Gordon is suspended indefinitely by the NFL and although he remains on New England’s roster, he’s a complete unknown at this point. In 11 games with the Patriots last season, Gordon notched 40 catches for 720 yards and three touchdowns. The talent remains, but does the realistic possibility of Gordon playing consistently without interruption?

Everyone with a soul is rooting for Gordon. It would be a phenomenal story if he overcomes his personal demons and plays once more. That said, New England must approach its roster construction with the notion of Gordon not being available at any point this year. If he returns and proves the perfect compliment to rookie N’Keal Harry, all the better.

4. Texans need offense to be one of league’s best in 2019

If the Houston Texans want to win another AFC South title, they need more. Much more.

Houston has talent offensively. Deshaun Watson is a top-10 quarterback. DeAndre Hopkins is among the best receivers in football. Lamar Miller is a quality running back and Will Fuller is a tremendous deep threat. Yet it hasn’t come together at the same time over theist two years, whether it be due to injuries or a horrid offensive line.

In 2019, the Texans need more from the unit. With an aging defense and questions abound in the secondary, Houston must become a better offensive team. Ranking 12th in points per game again won’t suffice.

Miller has talked about becoming more of a pass-catching threat, and the line has been bolstered by first-round pick Tytus Howard and second-round choice Max Scharping. However, head coach Bill O’Brien has to make the pieces work. Otherwise, Houston can worry about fending off the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars for second place in the AFC South, instead of fighting the Indianapolis Colts for top billing.

5. July is here, football is soon to follow

The calendar has turned. On Thursday, most Americans will be around a grill, loading up on some smoked meats and enjoying some cool beverages. Come nightfall, the skies will be brightened by fireworks and the summer will officially be underway.

Of course, July also means football is returning. In three weeks, training camps will be opening, whistles blowing and coaches screaming. It’s a time when all 32 fanbases will convince themselves of playoff aspirations, just with varying degrees of self-doubt. It’s awesome.

History lesson

In the early 1970s, the NFL was getting an aesthetic transformation. Exit grass. Enter turf.

In 1969, the AFL and NFL played in 26 stadiums. Only the Houston Oilers and Philadelphia Eagles used artificial turf. By 1975, the number rose to 13.

The only stadium to pull a quick reversal? The Orange Bowl. In MIami, the Dolphins went to PolyTurf in 1970 but reverted to natural grass in ’76. Why? Because the South Florida heat was melting the surface, making it slippery.

Parting shot

The Detroit Lions are running out of time to make people remember Matthew Stafford.

Unlike Calvin Johnson and Barry Sanders, Stafford won’t be a first-ballot Hall of Famer from Motown. The former No. 1 overall pick has only reached one Pro Bowl, somehow not in the. year when he threw for 5,038 yards. Stafford has reached the playoffs thrice, only to be bounced in the Wild Card rounds on each occasion.

Now 31 years old, there are some good years remaining in his right arm. Whether the Lions can finally surround him with a quality supporting cast remains to be seen. In 10 years with Detroit, only once has Stafford enjoyed the help of an 1,000-yard rusher (Reggie Bush). He’s often had lackluster defenses and middling coaches, ranging from Jim Schwartz and Jim Caldwell to the current choice, Matt Patricia.

If things don’t soon change, Stafford will go the way of so many other talented signal-callers in history who were wrong place, wrong time. Think Archie Manning with the New Orleans Saints or Neil Lomax of the St. Louis Cardinals. Both terrific talents, both on horrid teams for the duration.

The Lions have a chance to change the narrative. Quarterbacks are lasting longer than ever with the new rules and protections. If Detroit finally builds a good roster, Stafford can win playoff games, something Johnson never did and Sanders did but once.

If the Lions continue to fail him, Stafford will eventually retire and fade from the national memory. Reduced to a once-great talent befallen by incompetence around him.

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