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NFL News & Notes: Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan & “Free Hernandez”

McNabb was shortsighted with comments about Stafford.
Donovan McNabb recently said that he didn’t think Matthew Stafford was worth top 5 money in the NFL and while it’s hard to argue with his logic, he was also being shortsighted with his comments. Before the Lions selected Stafford with the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, they suffered through the likes of Joey Harrington, Jeff Garcia, Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky, Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton. And while Kitna did have one productive season under Mike Martz, there’s not a franchise quarterback among that group.

You see, it doesn’t matter what you, me, or McNabb thinks about Stafford as a player. The Lions firmly believe that he’s a franchise signal caller and thus, they were justified to pony up for his prime years. There have been exceptions to the rule but generally speaking, if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have a Super Bowl contender.

Are there flaws in Stafford’s game that he needs to fix? Undoubtedly. But he’s a strong leader, a hard worker, and is dedicated to his craft. If he weren’t, the Lions wouldn’t have signed him to an extension with two years remaining on his rookie deal. Besides, he didn’t receive as much guaranteed money as Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco or even Tony Romo, who only has one more career playoff win than Stafford. Plus, had the Lions chosen to make Stafford prove he deserves a new long-term deal, what’s to say he wouldn’t have led them to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance and demanded more than what they wound up paying him? It was a good deal for both sides.

When will Ryan sign?
There’s zero reason why the Falcons shouldn’t sign Matt Ryan to an extension before the season starts. Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford all have new deals, which means Atlanta has a baseline to use to structure Ryan’s new contract. No matter what you think about Ryan’s ability (or inability) to lead a team to the Super Bowl, the Falcons know what they have in their franchise signal caller. In his five seasons, he’s led Atlanta to the playoffs four times and has posted a winning record in all five years he’s been in the league. And while he only has one playoff victory to show for his efforts, anyone who watched him operate in Dirk Koetter’s vertical-based offense last year knows that he’s on the fringe of becoming elite. (Granted, he did have Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez at his disposal, but Ryan posted outstanding passing numbers last season despite playing behind an inconsistent offensive line and an unproductive running game.) It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” the Falcons finally pony up and get a deal done.

Discretion apparently isn’t a word that the Pouncey brothers are familiar with.
It’s great to see Maurkice and Mike Pouncey express their freedom of expression by wearing “Free Hernandez” hats to a nightclub over the weekend. After all, they do hail from the same University of Florida that Aaron Hernandez attended before he was selected by the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. But seeing as how the two brothers’ names were mentioned in the 2007 incident report stemming from a double shooing that also may have involved Hernandez, one would think the Pouncey twins would want to bring as little attention to themselves as possible. Not to mention, a man is dead and another is awaiting trial after he was charged with murder. This is hardly the best time to make a statement via wardrobe.

The Broncos were wise to lock up Clady.
The two most valuable players on the Broncos’ roster are Peyton Manning and Von Miller but if you were to rank a top 3, left tackle Ryan Clady would nestle into that third spot. Denver handed Clady a new five-year, $52.5 million contract on Sunday night and they were wise not to wait a minute longer. According to Pro Football Focus, Clady was ranked as the fourth-best left tackle in all of football last year and his extension ensures that Manning’s blindside will be protected heading into this pivotal 2013 season. The Super Bowl window isn’t going to stay open for forever in Denver, so it was vital that the Broncos locked Clady up long-term. Handing him $33 million in guaranteed money also proves that team doctors must be confident that Clady is fully recovered from season off-season surgery.

New quarterback but O-line will still hold Arizona back.
There has been a handful of positive reports to come out of Arizona this week about Carson Palmer, who has drawn praise from teammates like Larry Fitzgerald and Calais Campbell. Palmer is a good fit for new head coach Bruce Arian’s vertical passing game, as he still has enough arm strength and velocity to move the chains through the air. That said, he has no mobility inside or outside of the pocket and that’s likely to hurt him behind Arizona’s shaky offensive line. Granted, the Cardinals did select Jonathan Cooper with the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft and getting a healthy Levi Brown back will definitely help. But the bottom line is that the Cardinals still have question marks at four out of the five positions along their O-line and Brown is only two years removed from being considered the worst left tackle in all of football. At his age, Palmer will need plenty of functional space within the pocket and it’s unlikely he’ll receive it on a consistent basis. The Cards will be improved this season, but don’t expect them to make a huge leap with Palmer having to play behind that line. Besides, the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams are going to be tough to beat.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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After Calvin Johnson Who Is #2 Fantasy Wide Receiver?

After last season’s 96 rec, 1,681 yard, 16 TD performance, “Megatron” is easily the #1 ranked WR in fantasy football- but who do you draft #2?

Brandon Marshall- Even with five different QB’s during two years in MIA, Marshall averaged 83 rec, 1,100 yards and 5 TD a season. In 07-08 w/Cutler in DEN, averaged 103 rec, 1,295 and 6 TD. How bad have the Bears WR been historically? Check this link and Marshall is easily the best one EVER.

Jordy Nelson- Since the 2010 playoffs, no WR has been more productive than Nelson. After a 15 TD 2011, some owners are scared he can’t match that production. But with Aaron Rodgers t QB, why can’t he?

Larry Fitzgerald- Fitz is arguably the best WR in the NFL- but in fantasy he isn’t thanks to another year of his career foreseeably wasted (or at least compromised) by substandard QB play in the desert.

Wes Welker- There are sexier WR out there, but over the last 5 years no one as consistent. 110 rec, 1,221 yards, 6 TD per season over the last five.

After “Megatron” is gone, who do you take next? I’m going Marshall.

NFL Quick-Hits: Ten Observations from Week 2 of Preseason

Every Sunday our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will share his quick-hit observations from the week that was in football. This week he hands out 10 observations from Week 2 of the 2012 NFL preseason.

1. The Jets’ offense is troubling.
Mark Sanchez is already in mid-season form. In two preseason games, he’s 13-of-17 for a dismal 80 yards with no touchdowns and one 77-yard pick-six against the Giants on Saturday night. But it’s unfair to be overly critical of Sanchez’s performance when he’s consistently on his back or starring out of his ear hole. The Jets’ offensive line has been a disaster to this point and how can anyone expect that Sanchez will take that next step if right tackle Wayne Hunter acts as a turnstile instead of a brick wall? Sanchez has been sacked six times in 23 dropbacks in preseason and Hunter allowed four sacks in total on Saturday night. The fact that the Jets tried to trade for Carolina OT Jeff Otah back in July is all you need to know about the team’s confidence in Hunter. (The trade eventually fell through after Otah couldn’t pass a physical.) But it’s not just Hunter – the entire New York offensively is struggling, so much so that Tony Sparano’s offense has yet to score a touchdown in two preseason games. Forget Sanchez and ESPN’s lovechild Tim Tebow – if the Jets don’t get their offensive line straightened, the 1960s version of Joe Namath could step off a time machine and struggle under center.

2. Let’s keep Peyton’s “struggles” in proper context.
Following the Broncos’ loss to the Seahawks on Saturday night, the headlines on Sunday focused on Peyton Manning’s two interceptions. In two games this preseason, Manning is 20-of-30 passing for 221 yards, no touchdowns and three picks. Ever consumed by projections and predictions, many message board fanatics and media members are clamoring about how Manning doesn’t look like the Peyton of old. Really? The guy didn’t play a down last year and his career appeared to be in jeopardy. Twelve months ago many said he was finished. Now, because he’s thrown three interceptions in his first two preseason games following multiple neck surgeries, everyone is concerned? Relax. Jacob Tamme dropped an easy touchdown versus Seattle and Eric Decker also put one of Manning’s passes on the ground as well. His velocity isn’t there yet and may never return. But it’s only the second week of the preseason. Give him time to get his feel back for the game before we chastise him about his numbers.

3. It’s great to see Atlanta and Baltimore open things up.
The paths of the Falcons and Ravens have run parallel to each other since 2008. Mike Smith and John Harbaugh were both hired that year, while Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan were both selected in the first round of that draft. Both teams have also been on the cusp of big things, although Baltimore has been closer to fulfilling its promise than Atlanta, which is 0-3 in the playoffs under Smith. One other key similarity between these two teams is their offensive philosophy, which is to keep the ball on the ground and play a physical brand of football. Or, should I say that was the teams’ philosophy until this year. Flacco was inconsistent against the Lions on Friday but for the most part he looked smooth running Cam Cameron’s no huddle offense. He often got the Ravens set before Detroit’s defense was settled and while he attacked with mostly underneath routes, the takeaway is that he looked comfortable. Ryan, meanwhile, has looked like a different quarterback in new OC Dirk Koetter’s system. He’s no longer just a game manager that is afraid to fit the ball into tight windows. He’s confident, he’s standing strong in a muddied pocket and he has developed a great rapport with Julio Jones. In what has become a passing league, it’s good to see that two contenders have finally come to grips with the fact that they need to adjust.

4. Enough about Bradford’s ankle.
CBSsports.com’s Jason La Canfora released a report earlier this week that stated there’s a “definite possibility” that Sam Bradford will need ankle surgery after the season. I’m not here to discredit La Canfora’s report, which was validated a day later when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch confirmed that the team does have concerns about Bradford’s left ankle holding up for the entire season. But the bottom line is that he didn’t miss one rep in mini-camp, hasn’t missed one rep in training camp, and has yet to be affected by the ankle in preseason. In practices he hasn’t had issues rolling out of the pocket and hasn’t as much as limped around the field. Saturday night versus the Chiefs, he completed 6-of-9 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. From the very first snap of the game when he hit Danny Amendola on a long crossing route for a 35-yard gain, Bradford consistently went through his progressions and found open receivers. He’s primed for a bounce back season.

5. Outside of Urlacher, optimism continues to build in Chicago.
Looking back, the Bears had one of the better offseasons of any team in the league. Had Jay Cutler and Matt Forte not gotten hurt last season, the Bears were on a collision course with the fifth playoff seed in the NFC. So what did they do? They signed a quality player in Jason Smith to backup Cutler and added Michael Bush to help take some of the rushing load off of Forte. Of course, Chicago’s biggest and best move was trading for Brandon Marshall, who finally gives Cutler a bona fide No. 1 target. The Bears also drafted South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has caught seven passes for 97 yards this offseason. The offensive line is the biggest concern, but the unit looked good on Saturday night. The other question mark is obviously Brian Urlacher, who likely won’t be healthy all season. But while the defense is getting long in the tooth, the Bears have everything they need to make a deep postseason run this season.

6. The Cardinals are in trouble.
If I were to pick one defense to improve the most from 2011 to 2012, I would choose the Arizona Cardinals. Last year coordinator Ray Horton implemented the same defense that Dick LeBeau runs in Pittsburgh and while the Cardinal defenders were often caught out of position last season because of their unfamiliarity with the scheme, they improved throughout the year. With a full offseason to grasp Horton’s scheme, Arizona’s defense should be quietly consistent all season. Then again, it better be because the offense could be a total disaster. The offensive line was already struggling before Levi Brown suffered what should be a season-ending triceps injury on Friday. Not only that, but Kevin Kolb has been a train wreck in preseason and while John Skelton has displayed a little magic before, he’ll eventually succumb to the pitfalls of the offensive line. Thanks to Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells, Michael Floyd and Ryan Williams, the parts are there. But Wells and Williams are injury concerns, the Cardinals are bringing Floyd along slowly and the greatness of Fitzgerald is nullified by a bad situation at quarterback and along the offensive line. It could be a long season in the desert.

7. Locker is keeping Hasselbeck in the running.
With an opportunity to perhaps widen the gap between he and Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker really struggled in his second preseason game on Saturday might. He completed just 4-of-11 passes for 21 yards and one interception and he struggled mightily in his first NFL start (preseason or regular). And because he had so many issues, coach Mike Munchak wasn’t able to declare Locker the starter this weekend. It makes sense that the Titans want Locker to emerge as the starter. After all, he’s the future and while the veteran Hasselbeck can keep Tennessee in most games, Locker is the superior athlete and has the ability to produce more big plays. But if the second-year quarterback can’t seize the opportunity in front of him, then Munchak has no choice but to allow the two signal callers to keep battling.

8. The Seahawks have an underrated battle at quarterback.
Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports joined Tony Softli and myself this morning on 101 ESPN radio in St. Louis and noted that at least one team would have drafted Russell Wilson ahead of Ryan Tannehill if Wilson weren’t as short as he is. But as SI.com’s Peter King said earlier this week, Wilson didn’t have one ball knocked down at Wisconsin. He’s a smart, instinctive kid with excellent fundamentals. If Matt Flynn didn’t sign that free agent deal this offeason, I’m not so sure Wilson wouldn’t have been named the starter by Pete Carroll at this point. Granted, Wilson has played against the second and third-teamers in preseason but that doesn’t negate the fact that he’s still making the throws, still making sound decisions, and still forcing Carroll from naming Flynn the starter heading into the third week of preseason.

9. The NFL hasn’t made the referees a priority, which is bothersome.
A couple of days ago NFL executive Ray Anderson made a comment on the locked out officials saying, “You’ve never paid for an NFL ticket to watch somebody officiate a game.” That’s true, I’ve never purchased a ticket to a NFL game hoping to a see a Pro Bowl-caliber performance from a referee. But I have paid to watch a professional NFL game, which should include professional referees. I get that the NFL is in the middle of a labor dispute and is therefore downplaying the value of the regular referees. But Anderson shouldn’t insult the intelligence of fans with comments like the one above. It’s a different game with replacement refs, and that much has been proven the past two weeks. I have no doubt that these replacements will improve with each week but it’s going to be a long time before they reach the level that the regulars are at. The NFL is not putting a high value on the regular referees, and that’s not fair to fans.

10. Questions surround Bowe.
As a whole, the Chiefs had a poor showing in their 31-17 loss to the Rams on Saturday night. But Matt Cassel did some good things, especially when he was allowed to open things up and target the middle of the field (which happens to be St. Louis’ weakness save for MLB James Laurinaitis). Jon Baldwin has also drawn rave reviews in training camp and Jamaal Charles appears to be recovering nicely from ACL surgery. Another piece of positive news is that Dwayne Bowe signed his franchise tender and has been cleared to practice. But will he learn new OC Brian Daboll’s scheme in time for the regular season? Imagine trying to master a new language before having to take the final exam in just two weeks. While there’s plenty of optimism growing in Kansas City, there’s a realistic chance that Bowe will be slow out of the gates until he can learn Daboll’s offense.

Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 10 in the NFL

Every Sunday evening throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…

- Carlos Rogers is having a resurgence in San Francisco? People left this guy for dead coming out of Washington and all he’s done this year is be the Niners’ best cornerback. He clinched the Niners’ win over the Giants in my eyes. San Francisco had just taken a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter when he picked off Eli Manning (his second of the day) deep in Niner territory. A couple plays later Kendall Hunter raced 17 yards for a touchdown in order to give San Fran a 27-13 lead in an eventual 27-20 victory. The Niners have been getting big plays like that out of their defense all season. They obviously proved today that they’re for real.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (L) and head coach Chan Gailey talk on the sideline against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half of their NFL football game in Arlington, Texas November 13, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- Do you know who’s not for real? The Buffalo Bills. I have zero confidence that they’ll turn things around, party because of their defense and partly because of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Everyone knew Buffalo’s defense would be overmatched most Sundays and they have been. And everyone knew Fitzpatrick was only going to lead the Bills so far. He was brutal last week and even worse today. It’s struck midnight on this fairytale, which is a shame because I could watch Fred Jackson run all day. Dude is siiiick.

- The Cardinals parted with a starting cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a second-round pick in 2012, and $65 million in order secure Kevin Kolb as their starting quarterback this season. And John Skelton has two of their three wins on the season. Incredible.

- If you looked hard enough, you probably saw the Ravens’ loss to Seattle coming. Baltimore just swept Pittsburgh and had to travel cross-country to play a Seahawks team that is usually competitive at home. I figured the Ravens would suffer a letdown but the fact that they didn’t lead at any point today was a little jarring. With losses to Tennessee and Seattle as well as a near loss to Arizona at home, it would appear as though John Harbaugh’s team plays down to its competition.

- Speaking of the clock turning Midnight, it’s probably about time the Bengals come back to earth. Don’t get me wrong: they fought hard today against Pittsburgh and gave the Steelers a game until the end. But cornerback Leon Hall looks like he’s out for the season and I just don’t see Cincinnati being able to finish this race on top. That said, the Bengals certainly have something to build off of. Andy Dalton was poised today and A.J. Green is a freaking star in the making.

- Does anyone else feel like the Houston Texans are the NFL equivalent to the Clemson Tigers? You keep waiting for both teams to eventually crash and burn and yet, both keep winning. Granted, Clemson did lose to Georgia Tech a couple of weeks ago and almost dropped its second game to Wake Forest on Saturday but still, you get the point. I keep waiting for the Texans to eventually stumble and they keep racking up double-digit wins without Andre Johnson. Finally, it would seem, we’ll get to see Houston in the postseason.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith coaches from the sideline during the second half of their NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta, Georgia November 13, 2011. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- If you’re one of the people who is defending Mike Smith’s decision to go for it on fourth and one from his own 29-yard line in overtime, let me remind you that it’s simple risk vs. reward. If the Falcons pick up that first down, they still have at least 40 yards to go to get into field goal range to possibly win the game. If they don’t pick up the first down, well, we saw what happened when they didn’t. It was a stupid call by a head coach that was simply trying to get lucky. Smith and Mike Mularkey played not to lose the entire game and all of a sudden they decide that they’re going to take a big risk. It was just a stupid decision by a team without a true identity.

- Saint Peters of Joseph, Chris Johnson is alive.

- Huge win for the Saints today but there’s still something off with the boys from Naw’lins. They managed to squander a 10-point lead in under five minutes and if it hadn’t been for Mike Smith’s stupid decision to go for it in overtime, who knows if they would have walked out of the Georgia Dome with a victory. I have no doubt that they’ll win the NFC South because the Falcons still don’t know what they are offensively. But I’m not sure if the Saints can go into Green Bay in the playoffs and win a huge game on the road. Again, there’s just something off.

- You can always count on Michael Vick to mail it in when his team is seemingly out of playoff contention. Granted, his receivers didn’t do him any favors by dropping the ball multiple times in the first half and he was without DeSean Jackson, who was benched after missing a team meeting. But Vick looked completely turned off by the thought of playing football today. In a lot of ways, he is the exact same player as he was in Atlanta and Philadelphia is now paying for his shortcomings as a player. (UPDATE: Apparently Vick played with two broken ribs, which he sustained on the game’s second play. Thus, I take back what I said about him mailing it in. Any player that stays in a professional football game with two broken ribs has a bigger pair than I do. Well done, Mike.)

- Tim Tebow threw eight passes, completed just two of them and was the winning quarterback today in Kansas City. I don’t even care what his numbers are outside of the fact that he’s now 3-1 as the starter. I just want to sit back and watch guys like Phil Simms’ head explode that Tebow keeps winning. These talking heads want to debate about whether or not Tebow will ever be a good passer. That was never a debate. People have said from the start that his motion is too funky for him to be a good passer and yet these media members keep boasting about how he’ll fail. And yet…3-1 as a starter. I love it. Nobody can explain how the dinosaurs became extinct and how Tebow is winning. Tim Tebow: #winning.

- I realize the Niners are a very good football team but leave it to the Giants to beat the Patriots on the road and then erase a lot of the good vibes that have surrounded New York the past week by losing today. Freakin’ Giants.

- The NFC South is now a one-team race. The Saints are clearly the best team in the division, as the Falcons are still suffering an identity crisis and the Bucs are just plain bad. Tampa Bay’s front office thought it could get by without making any significant upgrades in the offseason and figured the team would just win 10 games again. Whoops. Turns out Josh Freeman is going to need more help, Bucs.

- This comment was made by one of our regular readers, Jester of the Apocalypse, earlier this week. He’s a huge Browns fan and was commenting on my Week 10 preview in which I wrote, “this is a game [vs. the Rams] the Browns should win.” Said Jester: You underestimate my Brownies knack for clutching defeat out of the jaws of victory . . . How absolutely, positively appropriate given the debacle that happened in Cleveland today.

- Even after their performance today I’m still not sold on the Cowboys. Outside of their miraculous victory against the Niners in Week 2, they still haven’t beaten a team of substance. I realize the Bills have a winning record but they’re on a downslide. Three weeks ago the ‘Boys were pummeled by a Philadelphia team that has clearly given up on the season and their other losses have coming against New England, Detroit and the Jets. That said, Dallas still has games against Washington, Miami, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia and thus, the playoffs are still well within their reach. I’m just sayin’ I’m not sold. And this is coming from a guy who predicted them to win the NFC East this year.

Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings (26) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass thrown by Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during the fourth quarter at Soldier Field on November 13, 2011 in Chicago. The Bears won 37-13. UPI/Brian Kersey

- Wow Matthew Stafford was bad today. Granted, he was playing with a fractured index finger and 25-30mph wind gusts but still – wow. Two of his four interceptions were taken back for touchdowns by the Bears, who are now suddenly 6-3 on the season following two huge wins. If Chicago’s offense line can continue to play as well as it has, there’s no reason to believe Lovie Smith’s team won’t make it as a Wild Card.

- All I want for Thanksgiving is for Larry Fitzgerald to have a quarterback willing to throw him the ball every down. Because his seven-catch, 146-yard, two-touchdown performance today proved once again that he can completely take over a game if he gets enough opportunities.

- One week later, the Steelers finally get their big defensive stop to preserve a win.

- Two of the Seahawks’ three wins this year have come against the Giants and Ravens. And yet, they lose to the Browns, 6-3. The NFL is a funny league.

Here’s the problem with Pro Football Talk

Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald runs to score a touchdown on a pass from quarterback Kurt Warner during play against the Green Bay Packers in their NFL playoff game in Glendale, Arizona January 10, 2010. REUTERS/Rick Scuteri (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Pro Football Talk is associated with NBC and is a juggernaut in the industry (82K Twitter followers and counting), and while I appreciate the work that guys like Gregg Rosenthal and Evan Silva do in fantasy circles, some of PFT’s practices bother me.

For example, I just saw this headline on Twitter:

Reading that, I’m thinking, “Wow, Fitzy must have said something pointed about Gabbert.”

Clicking through to the article, I see Fitzgerald’s actual quote:

“I would doubt that we would draft a quarterback that high (No. 5),” Fitzgerald told FOX Sports Arizona on Tuesday. “I would doubt it. But, who am I? I’m just a player.”

The author, Silva (whose work I generally respect), concluded that Fitzgerald must be talking about Blaine Gabbert, since the Cardinals have been linked to the Missouri QB.

Only Fitzgerald never mentioned Gabbert. And he never said that the Cardinals shouldn’t draft a QB. He just said that he doubted they would. Big difference.

Headlines are meant to drive interest and traffic, I get that. But this one was simply misleading.

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