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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Albert Breer

In Grass Vs. Turf Debate, NFL Owners Still Won’t Spend to Protect Their Players

Got your questions, and got around to this a little late this week. Here are my answers …

From Bryce (@SourdoughSpam): Any chance the NFL ever actually bans turf or is all the talk/complaints pointless?

Bryce, I’m skeptical that it’ll happen. You all should know where I stand on this—and I’m sick of people getting lied to on it. It’s not hard to understand. Following the bouncing ball here …

• The price point for teams and stadiums has exploded. In 2002, Arthur Blank bought the Falcons for $545 million, and four new venues opened at prices in the $300 million to $500 million range. Two decades later, and the Commanders just sold for $6.05 billion, and the league’s two newest stadiums (SoFi in Inglewood and Allegiant in Las Vegas) are multibillion-dollar arenas.

• Because of those expenditures, in owners’ minds, 10 home dates and a few concerts every year won’t cut it from a revenue-generating standpoint. So they try to jam every event under the sun into those places. Swim meet? Sure. Tractor pull? Why not? Monster truck rally? Bring it on. Boxing match? Let’s go.

• And accommodating all those events has made it harder and harder for teams to maintain grass fields. It’s easier, cheaper and less time-consuming just to throw turf down and call it a day, hence artificial surfaces popping up even in outdoor stadiums and Sun-Belt cities such as Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn.

In 2018, Lambeau Field became the first SIS Grass field in the United States.

Seeger Gray/USA TODAY Network

To me, what Green Bay’s done gives you the smoking gun. The Packers invested big money in making a hybrid natural surface work in Northern Wisconsin—and it holds up better than almost any other surface in the NFL. The difference with the Packers, of course, is they don’t have an owner there to pocket the savings while profiting off non-football stadium events. Also worth looking at is what Real Madrid has done in their gutted, rebuilt stadium, which proves, again, that there are solutions so long as you’re willing to spend.

Unfortunately, to this point, NFL owners haven’t been willing to in order to give their players the very best playing conditions. Which is a shame.

From Copperstone (@copperstoneband): Yes or No: Does Rodgers retire after this?

Copperstone, if I had to guess, I would say no. For five reasons.

  1. I think he really enjoyed being a Jet the last five months. It was obvious in how often you’d see him outside the facility with his teammates, and how he talked about being around New York.
  2. I think he really almost fell back in love with football again. Not that he fell out of love with the game, but some of the stuff I witnessed on the field—he lined up as a scout-team defensive player at one practice I was at—showed a real appreciation for just getting to play. And so that gives him another thing to come back to.
  3. The Jets will be in position to win again next year. As you saw the other night, a lot of the team’s best players (Quinnen Williams, Garrett Wilson, Sauce Gardner, Breece Hall) are still ascending. Plus, a lot of Rodgers’s old friends are still around, and New York will have another offseason to resolve the tackle problem, if that doesn’t resolve itself in 2023. Like they would’ve this year, the Jets should be able to give Rodgers a great chance to be in the mix for his second ring in 2024.
  4. He can still play.
  5. He’s due more than $38 million next year.

So I don’t think Rodgers’s Jets career will end after four snaps.

From JokerColt (@ColtJoker): Will the Colts extend/give Jonathan Taylor or sign Kareem Hunt?

Joker, I’ve said that I believe the Colts should extend Jonathan Taylor, in large part because of what it’d mean for Anthony Richardson: To me, any investment in the development of your young quarterback is a good investment. With Taylor, you can ease the burden on Richardson and manage the situations the quarterback will be in over the course of his first couple years in the league.

Richardson threw for one touchdown and rushed for one in his Week 1 debut.

Jenna Watson/IndyStar/USA TODAY Network

But at this point, it’d be foolish to bet on Indianapolis moving much to accomplish that, because if owner Jim Irsay was gonna move off his position, it probably would have happened by now.

The trouble, I think, is not that you want to incorporate Richardson into the run game—the Colts should be, and are already, doing that. It’s how much of a burden the quarterback will have to bear, and that burden was pretty heavy in Week 1. Former undrafted free agent Deon Jackson carried the ball 13 times. Richardson had 10. And to me, having Taylor back will help improve the ratio there.

Having him long-term, in my mind, would make the Colts’ quarterback better. But for now, I do think they can make it through the next three weeks with what they’ve got—and then get Taylor back at full go and really get the run game rolling.

From Oscar Diaz (@ogtdiaz24): Will my Rams continue Week 1’s success?

Oscar, in the short term, yes. I love what Sean McVay did in hiring Mike LaFleur, Nick Caley and Ryan Wendell to his offensive staff after last year. The impact is apparent in what you’re seeing in the run game (way more gap-scheme concepts), with what LaFleur brought from his years with Kyle Shanahan expanding the scope of the Niners run game, and with what Caley and Wendell brought with their Patriot-centric background.

Add to that a refreshed, healthy Matthew Stafford (and some accompanying adjustments to the passing game to further empower him), and a Raheem Morris–led defense, and I don’t think the 30–13 win over Seattle was some massive fluke.

Now, we can get to the caveat. The Rams are carrying $75 million in dead money on their salary cap and 19 rookies on their 53-man roster (which is more of a necessity because of the dead money than it is a youth movement). History tells us that’ll eventually come up and bite them. And yeah, maybe it’s possible they have great injury luck and it doesn’t. But what’s more likely, I think, is the Rams are competitive through the season, have some ups and downs and then come out of all this with the arrow pointing up in 2024. (When they project to have $70 million in cap space, and a first-round pick for the first time since 2016.)

From Ryan (@RCook1230): Biggest overreaction?

I’d say the biggest overreaction was probably to the Steelers.

Yeah, they sucked on Sunday. I think everyone there would admit that, and Mike Tomlin actually did at his Tuesday press conference. But seeing the Kenny Pickett bandwagon clearing out after it gained momentum through August has been, well, pretty eye-opening.

Pickett finished with a perfect passer rating during his preseason appearance but was thwarted by the 49ers in Week 1.

Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

Now obviously, injuries to Cameron Heyward and Diontae Johnson aren’t going to help in any way. But after last year, I’ll never doubt Tomlin’s ability to work around, and solve, issues on his roster. And there’s still talent in Pittsburgh: T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick are still cornerstones for the defense; Pat Freiermuth, George Pickens and Najee Harris are still talented, ascending young pieces on offense. The lines should keep improving.

There’s still plenty to like there. And I bet more of it shows up (even if I picked the Browns to beat them) with time, and when the best roster in the league isn’t on the other sideline.

From Rubix Cube Sports (@RubixCubeSports): Thoughts on NFC North after Sunday? Is it the Lions to lose or is someone else in the division going to step up?

Rubix, I picked the Lions to win the division, and with the way they toughed that one out last Thursday on the road, I’m not moving off that. They’re so good on the lines of scrimmage; their rookies look like they can really play; and they should keep improving, particularly with the young talent they have on offense (plus Jameson Williams coming back in late October), and players like Aidan Hutchinson taking another step on defense.

But … the Packers looked really, really good, too. And it’s a reminder that Green Bay wasn’t just Rodgers for the three straight 13-win seasons they posted before last year’s slide. How the team’s rout of the Bears was played is proof of it. Jordan Love was great, and in part because the Packers didn’t really need him to be. The defense had a pick-six. The special teams set up short fields with long returns. Love was put in a spot to succeed.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur said what he admires in Love is that “he’s competitive.”

Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports

If the Packers can keep putting their quarterback in that kind of spot, I think Love keeps getting better as the season goes on, and this team could be a real problem. Between Jaire Alexander, Rashan Gary, Kenny Clark, David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins and Aaron Jones, among others, there are many accomplished vets, and a lot of pride, in that locker room—one that had to hear all offseason how the loss of Rodgers was going to make them an afterthought.

From Ryan (@ryanj7800): Is Mac back?

Ryan, I think the answer depends on your expectations.

If you’re reasonable, I think the answer is yes. I loved what I saw from Mac Jones and Bill O’Brien in Week 1. Out of the gate, the offense played with creativity, innovation, and pace. And after the Eagles got a bead on it, and the Patriots struggled a bit, O’Brien adjusted and got the unit rolling again at the end of the first half. Jones, for his part, played fast and decisively, something we didn’t really see last year, and did a good job off-schedule too.

So if your question is whether Jones can be between the, say, 10th- and 15th-best quarterback in football, I do think he can get there. In fact, I think on Sunday, we saw the Kirk Cousins in Jones’s game, in how he moved, how accurate he was and how how he led.

But if your question is whether or not he’ll be in the upper reaches of the position at the end of the year, I’m not there at all right now. Which, by the way, is not any sort of shot—and I know a fan base that had Tom Brady for 20 years can take these things that way. So if you allow yourself to enjoy some growth from Jones, and for Jones to give the Patriots a chance week-to-week, I think Sunday showed you’ll have a fun season following him.

From Clinton (@ClintonOftedahl): Am I wrong that it seems there’s a lot more soft tissue injuries since training camp was cut back and preseason was shrunk to 3 games? Are guys legs just not in the same condition in Aug/Sept as before?

Clinton, honestly, it’ll be a little bit before we have the numbers on that. But I can say that the first full preseasons under the 2020 CBA (’21 and ’22) showed that soft-tissue injuries were up over the final five years of the old CBA, which is significant because the ’20 CBA introduced even more practice/camp restrictions than before.

I’ll try and remember to pass the 2023 numbers along when I get a hold of them.

From The Couch Of Couches (@DaGreatCouch): Do you think the Chiefs could still extend Jones after the season?

Couch, Chris Jones wants to be a Chief, and the Chiefs want Jones on their roster. They came of the woods this week with an agreement and, as I’ve heard it, a hatchet buried. Jones’s goal had been to become a Chief for life at the end of the holdout, and Kansas City genuinely wanted that for him too. The Aaron Donald outlier contract made it too tough to find a middle ground, and that left them where they are now.

So, yes, both sides are amenable to revisiting this, be it after the season or sooner, to try to find a deal that works for everyone—and that will give Jones the chance to retire a Chief.

Jones’s deal includes various incentives that will allow him to earn more this season.

Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

That is to say that if you’re asking if it could happen, then the answer is absolutely, it could. But whether it will is a different question. It’s doubtful the Chiefs would tag Jones, at what it would cost to for 2024 (a number that’ll be well over $30 million), so if Jones really wants to become a free agent, that will, in all likelihood, be there for him. And if he gets to the market in March, there’s no telling what someone will pay for him.

Maybe it’ll be something reasonable that the Chiefs can manage. Maybe it’ll be an offer he can’t refuse, forcing him and Kansas City to move on. I think both scenarios are possible at this point, and a lot of that will be determined by the sort of year Jones has. Which means I’m giving you a drawn-out We’ll see as an answer here.

From Ronnie (@Tray4o): Do Woody Johnson and the Jets even think about reaching out to Tom Brady?

Ronnie, I’m sure Woody Johnson would. But his football people haven’t. It sure looks to be like the focus within the Jets building, for the time being, is building a united front around Zach Wilson, who they brought back this year with the idea that there was still something to be developed there.

I’m actually excited to see what they can do with Wilson, developmentally, and as a team around him. The run game and defense is good enough to support him.

From tony padovano (@tpadovano): When do we hold BB responsible for roster failure? Ryland didn’t beat Folk, but he had to keep him due to fourth-round pick. Yet, he had no confidence to try the FG in the 4th Q. We kicked Meyers to the curb for JuJu who couldn’t get on the field at the end of the game. Fireable?

Tony, fireable? No. Questionable? Yes.

I’d slow down on getting upset over Chad Ryland. We have no idea how good he is yet, even if it was interesting to see Bill Belichick turn down a 35-yard field goal attempt to go for it on fourth-and-3 in the fourth quarter. The fourth-and-12 later, to me, was less of a question. That would have been a 61-yarder and, in those conditions, it seems unlikely many coaches, short of the one that has Justin Tucker, would bring out the field goal team.

So we’re talking, really, about one circumstance, and in that circumstance it wasn’t even all about Ryland. Give that one some time.

On the JuJu Smith-Schuster/Jakobi Meyers exchange, there’s certainly an argument to be made. The Patriots didn’t want to pay Meyers what he got on the market—even with the chance to show their locker room what and who they reward, had they paid the former undrafted free agent and converted quarterback. New England then took the money it saved and gave it to a player, in Smith-Schuster, who came with a lot of injury risk.

Smith-Schuster was limited in his Patriots debut.

Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports

Through one week, at least, that one doesn’t look great. Smith-Schuster was in on 54% of the Patriots offensive snaps Sunday and caught four passes for 33 yards. Meyers, meanwhile, played 80% of the Raiders offensive snaps and caught nine balls for 81 yards.

From Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree): The Patriots played more rookies on Sunday than I can ever recall for Week 1, which will have the biggest impact in 2023, who will have the best career in New England?

Sterling, I’d say Christian Gonzalez. I love Keion White and think he’s going to be a really, really nice complementary pass-rusher as a three-down player. Marte Mapu, who can play all over the back seven of a defense, adds to New England’s cache of hybrid defenders. The Day 3 offensive guys (two guards, two receivers) showed potential Sunday.

But Gonzalez, who came out of the box flying against the Eagles, has very real No. 1 corner potential, and he certainly flashed it against the Eagles. He could eventually be All-Pro.

From Sean (@SeanJ8): Despite the loss, DeMeco Ryans and the Texans were able to contain Lamar Jackson in Week 1. Is that because of the DeMeco effect in Houston or Lamar looking rusty after not playing in the preseason?

Sean, I think it’s a combination of DeMeco Ryans and his DC Matt Burke getting the defense playing fast and confident, Lamar Jackson needing to get his sea legs, and the Ravens’ scheme change on offense, which could take a little bit to fully take hold.

The interesting thing to me is that Baltimore was held to 110 yards rushing by the Texans. There were just two games in 2022 where the Ravens had fewer yards on the ground than that: One was the opener, and in the other one, Jackson actually got hurt. That proves, again, that for all the slings and arrows Greg Roman took the last couple years before losing his job, the coordinator knew how to put together a run game that was incredibly tough on defenses.

Will things be the same with Todd Monken, who was hired in large part to do more with Jackson as a passer, over the next four months? If they are, then it’s probably a good sign for where Ryans’s first defense in Houston is going.

Drano, I’d actually love to. The problem is that, evidently, Twitter (or … X?) won’t allow folks who aren’t verified to comment on live videos, axing your ability to ask questions of me, which is the point of the whole thing. If someone has a solution, I’m all ears. May do another test before the Thursday night game, but for now, you can find my Halftime Periscope over on IG live at my page (

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