Ndamukong Suh rumors, Sam Darnold stock and more

NFL


The AFC is a wasteland compared to the NFC, but the Los Angeles Chargers might be a team worth watching if they can dethrone the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Los Angeles Chargers are both a young, ascending team, and a team running out of time.

After missing the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, the Chargers are faced with the prospect of wasting the last great years of Philip Rivers’ career. Rivers, 36, is signed through the end of the 2019 and after that, might ride off into retirement to spend quality time with his ever-expanding family.

In essence, Los Angeles has two years to get it right — all while playing its “home” games in a soccer stadium — before likely going into a rebuilding period at the league’s most important position.

Rivers has ample talent around him at the moment, giving the Chargers their best chance at real contention since the early days of Norv Turner. Los Angeles has a core of playmakers in Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin and Hunter Henry. Assuming Antonio Gates eventually re-signs with the team, the Chargers have one of the best tight end rooms in football. This is accompanied by an improving offensive line that features second-year guard Forrest Lamp and center Mike Pouncey, signed to a two-year deal last week.

Defensively, it’s a story of incredible talent and shaky filler. Everyone knows about Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the edges. The secondary has an incredible trio of corners in Jason Verrett (when healthy), Desmond King and Casey Hayward. Denzel Perryman mans the middle, but is also an injury risk. The other five spots are largely question marks, leaving both the run defense and stopping tight ends as major issues.

With all that in mind, the Chargers might very well be the best team in the AFC West, but they have plenty to prove in that regard as well. The Kansas City Chiefs have won the division two years running, and while they have reshaped their roster as much as anybody this offseason, the potential is there to be very good.

Patrick Mahomes is much-ballyhooed by those in the know, and the Chiefs have perhaps the NFL’s best collection of weapons in Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill. The defense is very much like Los Angeles’, with stars in Eric Berry, Justin Houston, Chris Jones, Anthony Hitchens and Kendall Fuller, but uncertainties elsewhere.

With the Oakland Raiders doing … something, and the Denver Broncos trying to rebuild, the Chargers have a golden opportunity. If they can finally overtake the Chiefs, they might be positioned as the biggest threat to the New England Patriots in the AFC.

Los Angeles has the star quarterback and the ability to gain chunk yardage. On defense, the pass rush is lethal and the corners can take the ball away. Unlike the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Chargers are almost built to be a thorn in New England’s side. All that said, Kansas City still looms, arguably the biggest wild card in the entire conference. The Chiefs are historically a pushover in January, but they have been a bull in December, and nothing short of dominant against the Chargers in recent years. Currently, Kansas City has beaten Los Angeles eight consecutive times.

Los Angeles is youthful and full of potential, but that’s only a fancy word for saying you haven’t accomplished anything. If the Chargers are going to take advantage of their best roster in years, it starts with beating out the Chiefs. Should that happen, Los Angeles is a shining light an a scary opponent in what appears to be a terrible conference.

Power rankings

Worst No. 1 picks since 1970

1. JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders
2. Ki-Jana Carter, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
3. Kenneth Sims, DE, New England Patriots
4. Steve Emtman, DE, Indianapolis Colts
5. Tim Couch, QB, Cleveland Browns
6. David Carr, QB, Houston Texans
7. Aundray Bruce, DE, Atlanta Falcons
8. Walt Patulski, DE, Buffalo Bills
9. Tom Cousineau, LB, Buffalo Bills
10. Courtney Brown, DE, Cleveland Browns

Quotable

– Hall of Fame corner and current NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders, telling Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard to stop being a fan

If you work in NFL media, not knowing that Kevin Byard, a First-Team All-Pro safety for the Tennessee Titans, is a player and not a fan is embarrassing. Sanders, who won two Super Bowls in the 1990s with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, has to be better than this.

There have been dozens of former players who are experts on air, and deserve to be treated as such. Willie McGinest, Brian Baldinger and Nate Burleson are a few that come to mind. Sanders has a long way to go before he gets into that class.

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill have a new Stacking The Box episode for you every Monday, both live on FanSided’s Facebook page and downloadable on iTunes. Make sure to tune in!

Random stat

When Kirk Cousins jumped from the Washington Redskins to the Minnesota Vikings, he set a precedent. Cousins signed a fully-guaranteed deal for three years and $84 million, making it the first deal of its kind.

Surprisingly, though, Cousins didn’t get the biggest guaranteed number in NFL history.

Matthew Stafford can earn up to $92 million in guarantees on his pact, while Andrew Luck netted $87 million.

Info learned this week

1. Ndamukong Suh picking between four suitors

Another week, and still Ndamukong Suh remains on the market. With most of the big names already scooped up, the attention turns squarely to Suh, who should make his decision in the coming days.

The interest seems whittled down to four teams: the New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams. The Seattle Seahawks also have interest, but it would be tough for them to put together a competitive offer based on their cap constraints.

Suh, 31, makes the most sense in Los Angeles. The Rams have both the cash and surrounding talent to entice Suh, along with warm weather and the glitz of Los Angeles. The five-time All-Pro has been a consistent star in his eight NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins, and while he’s aging, the talent remains evident. With Suh in tow, the Rams might be the favorite to challenge the Eagles in the NFC.

2. Sam Darnold looks good at pro day

After eschewing the chance to throw at the NFL Combine, USC’s Sam Darnold got his opportunity at the school’s pro day on Wednesday. Darnold didn’t have the pristine weather conditions the dome in Indianapolis would have afforded him, but the rain didn’t stop the potential No. 1 pick from wowing league executives, coaches and scouts.

While there is still more than a month before the NFL Draft, it would be a surprise if Darnold wasn’t the first man off the board to the Browns. After showcasing his talents for two years at USC, the 20-year-old California native appears to be both a safe and smart choice.

Should Darnold go first, look for Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield to follow him, in that order. The New York Giants pick second and need a long-term solution at quarterback, but could trade back to acquire ample picks for their rebuild. After them, the New York Jets and Denver Broncos are the next logical landing spots, along with the Arizona Cardinals.

3. Buccaneers adding defensive help with Pierre-Paul

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are feeling the heat, and they are making moves to cool off the kitchen. After going from 9-7 to a miserable 5-11 last year, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht is under pressure to make significant changes to a defense that ranked dead last in yards allowed, sacks and  passing yardage surrendered.

On Thursday, Licht made his biggest move of the offseason, acquiring Jason Pierre-Paul from the Giants in exchange for a third-round choice and a swap of fourth-round picks in the upcoming draft. Pierre-Paul, 29, returns to his native Florida after eight productive seasons in New York, where he racked up 58 sacks, two Pro Bowls, one All-Pro selection and a Super Bowl ring.

With Pierre-Paul coming over and the addition of Vinny Curry, the Buccaneers should be much-improved in the front seven. If Tampa Bay can snag Denzel Ward or Mincah Fitzpatrick in the first round of the upcoming draft, Licht might have a fighting chance to stay around for 2019.

4. Bears should bulk up defensively in draft

After signing Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel in free agency, the Chicago Bears should feel good about their offensive upgrades. Mitchell Trubisky had little hope last year, but with the additions on the outside, general manager Ryan Pace has given him a bevy of athletic playmakers to utilize.

With that in mind, Chicago now has to continue building a formidable defense. With the No. 8 overall pick in the draft, the Bears would be taking a major chance if they pass on Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward. Ward would be a game-changer in the secondary for a team that current has a stud in Kyle Fuller on the boundary, but the oft-injured Prince Amukamara across from him.

If the Bears can crush the draft, they won’t be an easy out in the NFC North.

5. Ravens having tough offseason

Have you ever heard the expression of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic? That aptly describes what Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has been doing over the past few seasons in Charm City.

Baltimore needed to add offensive weapons and while Michael Crabtree is a nice start, he’s not nearly enough when you factor in the losses of Danny Woodhead, Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace and Benjamin Watson. The offensive line is also weaker with the departure of center Ryan Jensen, who left for the riches in Tampa Bay.

If the Ravens aren’t going to get serious about contending, it’s high time they start selling off pieces and begin a full-scale rebuild.

History lesson

In only their second years of existence, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars reached their respective conference title games. Both lost, but the futures seemed bright for each.

However, the Panthers and Jaguars are still looking for their first Super Bowl victories, while Jacksonville is yet to play on Super Sunday.

Parting shot

The catch rule is finally being proposed for amendment next week at the League Meeting, but what does it matter? After years of getting more confusing with seemingly endless rules within the rule, the NFL is trying to simplify the matter. Going forward, a catch will involve controlling the ball with two feet on the ground, and either the motion of, or the ability to, make a football move.

So close, yet so far.

All the NFL had to do was incorporate the first two portions of the three-part definition. If a player has the ball firmly in his hands and has both feet on the ground, possession is established. After that, should the ball come loose before said player is down, it’s a fumble. Somehow, that wasn’t the determination.

In February, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, largely on the back of two controversial touchdown catches.

In past seasons, we’ve seen the Green Bay Packers celebrate as Dez Bryant’s reception was replayed and reversed in the NFC playoffs. Only last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers lose home-field advantage when Jesse James’ apparent touchdown was called incomplete as he went to the ground in an effort to reach the goal line. Under the new proposed rule, both plays would stand as receptions, so progress is being made.

Still, it’s impossible to feel as though the problem is solved. The rule is still wordy, the definition of a reception with too many shades of grey. At some point in 2018, it’s going to rear its ugly head.





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