NFL Nation: Chris Mortensen

Experts: Falcons have no chance

January, 17, 2013
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It appears as if the consensus is that the Atlanta Falcons have very little chance to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

At least that’s what Las Vegas odds-makers and lots of media members are saying. The ESPN NFL Expert Picks are out, and Chris Mortensen and Keyshawn Johnson are the only two of the 14 panelists to pick the Falcons.

I generally stay clear of predictions, but I make exceptions for the postseason. In case you missed the Double Coverage segment I did with NFC West Colleague Mike Sando on Tuesday, I made my prediction there.

I picked the Falcons to win, 31-27. I think the home-field advantage means more than a lot of people realize, and I think Matt Ryan will shine in this game.

So, at least there are two other people out there picking the Falcons.

Cam Newton needs a new act

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
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Cameron NewtonStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCam Newton's sideline demeanor has come under scrutiny the past two weeks.
After watching Cam Newton in his past two games, it occurred to me: I have seen this act before.

The incredibly talented Carolina quarterback has been sulking on the sidelines when things don’t go well, waiting nearly an hour to talk to the media after a game and not saying much when he does. Instead of acting like an NFL quarterback, Newton is acting like a child.

I saw the same thing back in small-town Pennsylvania in the 1970s and ‘80s. I had a neighbor and friend, who was a grade behind me in school. Like Newton, he was a physical specimen. He also had one of those late birthdays, so, in his final year of Little League, he was playing with kids a grade behind him in school.

You know the type -- at 12, they’re 6-foot and 175 pounds. You see one of them carrying a team to Williamsport every year, and that’s exactly what was expected of my friend. He hit home runs in bunches and struck out almost every batter he faced during his regular Little League season.

Then, he got to an All-Star game against a team from a much larger town. Late in the game, he gave up a crucial home run with a couple guys on base. In anger, he slung his glove toward the dugout and his athletic career essentially flew with it. He was tossed from the game.

By high school, he’d given up baseball and basketball because he no longer took any joy from them. His final athletic stand came when he was the starting quarterback as a junior, and a team with high expectations started 0-3. I remember thinking it was time for my friend to come down with an injury or simply walk away. In the fourth game, he hurt his knee.

It was the kind of injury that coaches thought might cost him only a few games. But my friend never played again. An enormous amount of athletic talent was wasted, not because he never learned to lose, but because he never learned how to deal with adversity and overcome it.

I’m not drawing the parallel to suggest Newton is going to just give up. He’s not, because he’s too much of a competitor. But that’s part of his problem.

There’s no question Newton can play quarterback in the NFL. But, if he wants to truly succeed, he has to start acting like an NFL quarterback and act with some balance.

Watch Drew Brees some time. No one is as competitive as Brees. But, out on the field, you never see Brees let his emotions get the best of him. It’s similar with the other two NFC South quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman. Winning or losing, you usually can’t tell by their actions or body language.

I think back on quarterbacks through Carolina’s history. Steve Beuerlein and Rodney Peete were as even-keel as they come. Jake Delhomme had a visible competitive edge about him, but never freaked out when things didn’t go well. In fact, Delhomme was at his best when things got tight.

That’s part of being an NFL quarterback. You have to set the tone for your team, and it can’t be too high or too low.

There’s no question Newton is in a pressure cooker. After a record-setting rookie year, the expectations in Carolina went up about six notches. Center Ryan Kalil bought a full-page ad in The Charlotte Observer, promising a Super Bowl win. Fans just nodded their heads and agreed.

But the Panthers are off to a 1-3 start, and most of the blame is falling on Newton. Some of that’s simply because Newton is the quarterback, so he’s always going to warrant attention.

But, sometimes it’s about how you handle attention that determines perception and reality, and Newton is not doing a great job of that. He has set himself up for the fall by doing his Superman pose when things do go well. And he has made the fall even steeper by pouting when things go wrong.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Newton has been working with a life coach to help deal with the pressure. Newton denied that report. But maybe Newton should be letting his feelings out privately to someone.

He’s not helping anyone by letting his feelings run wild on the field, and he’s not helping anyone by being so adamant about not changing.

“Losing is difficult, period,’’ said Newton, who won a national championship in college and junior college. “A person that says losing is not difficult, I don’t even want to be around that person. Obviously that person has never won anything relevant in their life. So, for a person to say, 'Yeah, we lost and we have to keep going …' Yeah, you keep saying that and sooner or later you’re going to look up and be 0-16. You have to take it personal. Do I take it personal? Absolutely right. Do I take it too personal? Who knows? But I’d rather take it too personal than lackadaisical.’’

I respect the fact that Newton doesn’t like losing, and that he takes it personally. You want that, to some degree, from every player on your roster.

But Newton, who spent a lot of time in the offseason talking about how he wanted to be a better teammate, isn’t helping himself or his team with his actions.

I realize Newton is only 23. Not many of us were finished products at 23. But, then again, not many of us were NFL quarterbacks at 23, or ever.

When you’re making millions of dollars and are the face of an NFL franchise, the standards are a lot different, and you can’t act like you’re 12.

Newton needs to find a new standard -- one that’s not too high or too low -- that his teammates can follow. It’s time for Newton to grow up, mature or whatever you want to call it.

If he doesn’t, you’re going to see a lot more people pouting on Carolina’s sideline and in the stands.

Video: Locked out officials close to deal?

September, 26, 2012
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Sources: The NFL and NFLRA made enough progress in negotiations that the possibility of the locked-out officials returning to work this week's games has been discussed.

Side judge replaced for being Saints fan

September, 16, 2012
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- We’re about to witness what I’m pretty sure is history at Bank of America Stadium.

In a game in which Aaron Kromer will serve as interim interim head coach of the New Orleans Saints, we’ll have a replacement replacement official.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen just reported that side judge Brian Stropolo has been pulled from Sunday’s officiating crew after the league learned that his Facebook page was filled with Stropolo wearing Saints shirts and other merchandise.

Officials are supposed to be neutral and aren’t supposed to be fans.

No word yet on who will take Stropolo’s place on the field, but each crew brings along an alternate official.

Aikman, Bradshaw on QB; Mort likes 49ers

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
11:53
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The camera showed Alex Smith on the sideline before a recent preseason game.

Smith
In the broadcast booth, two Hall of Fame quarterbacks offered their takes on the San Francisco 49ers' quarterback.

"He did not have a great year statistically, but he had a great year," Troy Aikman said. "As someone who played that kind of game when I was playing, I can certainly appreciate what he was able to do last year. His remarks this offseason were very well put in the fact that, 'Hey, it doesn't matter how many yards I threw for (because) I played in the NFC Championship game."

"You're right, Troy," Terry Bradshaw said. "When you were in Dallas, it wasn't about throwing for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdown passes. It was about running the football, playing great defense and converting third down. That is what you did and that is what Alex Smith did last year."

Almost. The third-down conversions were too infrequent for the 49ers last season, but Smith did put up Aikman-like numbers for a highly successful team.

Aikman won three Super Bowls and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but his raw passing stats -- what 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh would call "low-hanging fruit" -- were never all that impressive. Aikman exceeded Smith's 2011 total for touchdown passes (17) just twice in 12 seasons. Smith's NFL passer rating over the past three seasons exceeds Aikman's career mark (81.6).

Aikman, like Smith, was a No. 1 overall draft choice. Both endured brutal rookie seasons. Aikman benefited from organizational continuity early in his career. The Cowboys surrounded Aikman with elite players. They had coaching stability.

All of this came to mind Monday upon reading Chris Mortensen's rationale for predicting San Francisco would reach the Super Bowl this season (he has them losing to Houston).

"Everyone seems to forget what Alex Smith did against the Saints in the final minute in the divisional playoffs last season," Mortensen wrote. "He's not going to be Drew Brees, but he will be better than last season.

"San Francisco's great defense, superior running game and an improved passing game give it the look of a team that can make it all the way to New Orleans."

The chart compares Mortensen's picks with those made by other ESPN analysts.
ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen weighs in on various issues around the NFL on Monday. One of the big topics pertaining to the AFC East is the looming contract situation between the New York Jets and cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is unhappy about his salary and unsure if he's going to hold out.

Revis is scheduled to make $13.5 million over the next two years, which is considered a bargain for a player of his caliber. But Revis has been one of the NFL's highest-paid players over the first two years of the contract, which is why New York believes Revis should play out at least one more season.

Mortensen said Revis is playing like a top-five player, and the Jets will not be a contender without Revis. Those factors could mean leverage for the best cornerback in football.

"That one, he's kept everybody guessing," Mortensen said on ESPN radio's "Mike and Mike" this morning. "I'm almost surprised if he's there on Day 1."

Ouch!

Training camp is less than two weeks away, and Revis has done a great job of hiding his intentions. One week, his comments suggest he's holding out. The next week, Revis hints that he will not. No one knows for sure, except Revis.

But if Revis does hold out, it will be problematic for the Jets. As Mortensen mentioned, the Jets have no chance of catching the New England Patriots in the AFC East this year without Revis. He is the team's best and most important player.

The Jets have enough distractions as it is this year, starting with Tebow-mania. A third career holdout from Revis would come at an inopportune time.

Wade Phillips on Bucs' radar

January, 8, 2012
1/08/12
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is on the radar for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they search for a head coach, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported.

I’d heard some rumblings on this last week and Phillips was the guy I was referring to Friday when I was talking with ESPN Tampa Bay Radio’s “The Fabulous Sports Babe’’ and said there was one potential candidate who could raise some eyebrows.

That’s because Phillips had seemed to be a forgotten man as people talked about candidates for the Tampa Bay job and other openings around the league. Phillips has had some success as a head coach and has done a remarkable job with Houston’s defense this season.

You could make the case that Phillips is the “hottest’’ name we’ve heard so far in Tampa Bay’s search. We know the Bucs have interviewed Mike Sherman and Jerry Gray. Phillips has had more recent NFL experience and success than Sherman and Gray never has been an NFL head coach.

Mortensen also reported that the Bucs have interest in Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer.

But age could work against Phillips, 64, and Schottenheimer, 68. But the Bucs do appear intent on going in a different direction after firing Raheem's Morris, whose age and maturity became issues as the Bucs went on a 10-game losing streak to end the season.
Coming into the season, the Buffalo Bills were not sure of their starting quarterback beyond the 2011 season.

Fitzpatrick
But on Friday, Buffalo officially made its decision. The Bills signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a six-year extension worth $59 million, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports. The contract guarantees Fitzpatrick $24 million.

Fitzpatrick is off to a good start for the surprising Bills (4-2). He has thrown for 1,477 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. That was enough to convince Buffalo's front office to make Fitzpatrick, 28, its long-term solution. The Bills had to make a decision before the end of the season. Fitzpatrick was due to become a free agent next year.

Fitzpatrick is worth more to the Bills than any other team. He fits Buffalo's spread offense well and has become a leader in the locker room. I like this signing for all those reasons.

But Buffalo also made a huge financial investment in Fitzpatrick, who remains somewhat unproven. He has never thrown for more than 3,000 yards.

The contract now puts Fitzpatrick in the second tier of quarterbacks, under eilte players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Fitzpatrick will average nearly $10 million per season. There is pressure that comes with that.

Other quarterbacks, such as Kevin Kolb of the Arizona Cardinals and Matt Cassel of the Kansas City Chiefs, recently received similar deals. I would take Fitzpatrick over both of those players.

So far, Kolb and Cassel are proving they're not worth their approximate $10 million-per-year salaries. It will be up to Fitzpatrick to prove to the Bills he won't follow in those footsteps.

The Buffalo Bills could be on the verge of major contract news during their bye. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that Buffalo is working on an extension with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that could be completed before its next game, Oct. 30 against the Washington Redskins.

The deal could range between $9 million and $12 million per year, Mortensen reports. That would put Fitzpatrick in the "second tier" of quarterbacks in terms of salary.

Although the price tag is steep, extending Fitzpatrick would be a wise move. All teams have to pay a "quarterback premium," which also occurred in deals for quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Kevin Kolb.

The Bills are one of the NFL's biggest surprises at 4-2 , and Fitzpatrick is a major reason. He's thrown for 1,477 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Buffalo has three core players on offense -- Fitzpatrick, receiver Steve Johnson and tailback Fred Jackson -- who deserve pay raises. Taking care of the quarterback first is always in the team's best interest. From there, the Bills should keep Johnson and Jackson long-term and allow the team to blossom around this trio.
On the same night they’re deciding who will be their starting quarterback (Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen) on opening day, the Carolina Panthers just made another huge move.

Center Ryan Kalil, who had been tagged as the team’s franchise player and signed a tender for $10.116 million, has just agreed to a long-term contract that will make him the highest-paid center in history, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

The deal is for six years and, although we don’t have full details yet, we know it averages more than the $7.75 million per year that Nick Mangold got last year when he became the highest-paid center in NFL history.

The move comes after the Panthers, who went 2-14 with one of the league’s lowest payrolls last year, went on a spending spree coming out of the lockout. Owner Jerry Richardson, one of the lead negotiators in the new labor deal, pledged that his team would be aggressive once there was labor peace.

He has followed through on that promise. The Panthers have paid out well over $100 million just in signing bonuses while re-signing some of their own players, such as defensive end Charles Johnson, linebackers Jon Beason, James Anderson and Thomas Davis and running back DeAngelo Williams. The Panthers also traded for tight end Greg Olsen and turned around and signed him to a new contract.

Throw in Kalil’s deal and the Panthers have been one of the most active teams in the league this preseason. Although Kalil’s contract may seem like a massive long-term commitment, it’s going to help the Panthers in the short term.

They had only about $2.5 million remaining in salary-cap space, but that was with Kalil counting for $10.116 million. Again, we don’t know the structure of his deal, but it’s fair to say no matter what it is, his new cap figure will be at least several million dollars less.

That will give the Panthers flexibility to make even more moves. They would like to add a starting-caliber cornerback and also could be in the market for one more experienced wide receiver. Now, they’ve got the cap space to do whatever they want.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Hines Ward played with Plaxico Burress early in their careers. Now, both Steelers veterans say they would welcome Burress back to the team which drafted him 11 years ago.

"We've been talking for the last couple months," Roethlisberger said. "I talked to him the other day and said, 'Would you be interested?' I'm excited for him to come when he comes here."

Roethlisberger would not divulge Burress' response. But we could find out soon, as ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports Burress is scheduled to meet with Pittsburgh as early as today. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is expected to make his pitch to bring Burress on board, and the players in the locker room seem for it.

"If he can help us win another Super Bowl, I'm for it," Ward said. "We had some great years when we were together here. He can definitely add some explosiveness to our already explosive wide-receiving corps. If he's here, I would welcome him with open arms."

The Steelers are deep at receiver, but Burress, 34, is a big-body receiver they lack. Burress wouldn't have to be a starter in Pittsburgh, and the team could play to his strength, such as in the red zone.

The biggest issue could be salary. Mortensen reports Burress is seeking a deal in the range of $5 million per season. Pittsburgh is already struggling to get under the salary cap and made several big cuts in recent days. Therefore, it seems unlikely Pittsburgh would hit that number Burress reportedly is seeking.
We have an interesting development coming out of Pittsburgh, right before the Steelers get set to open training camp on Friday.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports the Steelers are in pursuit of controversial free-agent receiver Plaxico Burress, who was released from prison earlier this summer. Mortensen reports Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will meet with Burress later this week.

In our latest SportsNation poll, we ask Steeler Nation: Is this a good idea? Does Pittsburgh need Burress, who is a 34-year-old receiver who hasn't played since 2008?

Or would Burress help take Pittsburgh's offense to the next level? He had a decent start to his career with the Steelers and a good rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This would allow Burress to come full circle for his career.

Cast your vote on whether or not Burress and Pittsburgh are a good fit. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports free-agent receiver Plaxico Burress will meet with the Pittsburgh Steelers -- the team that drafted him 11 years ago -- later this week. According to Mortensen, Burress will talk with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who will make a pitch for Burress to join the reigning AFC champs.

Pittsburgh's interest in Burress is curious, to say the least.

First, the Steelers have plenty of depth at receiver. Burress, at best, would be a No. 3 receiver behind starters Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. Burress, who is 34 and hasn't played since 2008, also would have to beat out up-and-coming receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown for playing time.

Second, Pittsburgh doesn't have cap room to spare. The team began the week about $10 million over and that number will increase later this week when they sign top cornerback Ike Taylor and kicker Shaun Suisham. Burress probably won't come cheap. Therefore, if Pittsburgh adds him to the roster, that would mean even more significant cuts across the board for the Steelers to get under the cap.

Stranger things have happened, but adding another receiver isn't a big need for the Steelers. Pittsburgh's limited dollars this summer could be better spent elsewhere, such as depth on the offensive line or at cornerback.

Podcast: Lockout update

July, 18, 2011
7/18/11
1:05
PM ET
ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen breaks down the final details impeding an NFL labor deal.

Video: NFL lockout update

July, 17, 2011
7/17/11
10:30
AM ET

Chris Mortensen discusses the few issues remaining in the NFL labor negotiations.

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