Welcome to this edition of the Lowdown. This is my little corner of the fantasy football universe — feel free to pull up a chair and stay a while!
Early Christmas Gifts
Remember the anticipation of Christmas (or whatever holiday involved exchanging gifts)? Never quite knowing what was wrapped up in those boxes, you were still giddy with anticipation and the promise of a new toy to play with.
Well, certain NFL teams got to experience those feelings of anticipation and hope a bit early this season, when veteran standouts CB Stephon Gilmore and LB Jaylen Smith were released by their respective teams. Well, Gilmore was technically traded by the Patriots to the Panthers, but it was functionally the equivalent of being released; Smith’s role in Dan Quinn’s defense was not significant enough to warrant a roster spot (and salary).
Smith landed with the Packers, where I think he’ll end up being a solid contributor to their defense. Much like 2021 free agent signee De Vondre Campbell (whom I touted in an early column), Smith is an upgrade over the current Packers’ depth at the position and should perform well. Yes, his play had been declining in Dallas, but he’s still an above-average talent at the position.
Gilmore is just two years removed from his DPOY season in 2019 and is still considered a top NFL corner, perhaps Top Five. A nasty contract dispute, combined with the Patriots needing cap space to sign LB Jamie Collins Sr., left the team with no choice but to release Gilmore; however, brilliant timing of the announcement of Gilmore’s pending release allowed the Patriots to field trade offers from teams who did not want to engage in the often cut-throat process that is NFL free agent negotiations. The Panthers, seeing an opportunity to shore up an already solid defense, acquired Gilmore for the relatively paltry price of a 2023 sixth-round draft pick (they also picked up the financial aspects of Gilmore’s contract). Once it was clear that Gilmore would never play for the team again, the Patriots wisely set aside their pride and made the decision to move on from their All-Pro corner. A win-win-win for Gilmore, the Patriots and Panthers.
I’ll wrap up this Christmas analogy with a metaphorical bow by asking: Houston Texans, are you paying attention at how to handle star players who no longer fit into your plans?
Isn’t That Special?
Special teams players are on a nice bit of a roll the last week. In Week 4, Justin Tucker hit the walk-off in dramatic fashion with an NFL-record 66 yard field goal. That’s a high bar to beat, but there may have been two contenders: since that play, I’ve seen two other special teams plays that I’ve never seen in my 30 years of covering the NFL.
On Monday Night, Hunter Renfrow was back to field a punt against the Chargers. As Chargers punter Ty Long took the snap, he noticed that gunner Tevaughn Campbell was completely uncovered, and wisely tossed a pass his way. There was literally no one within 25 yards of Campbell. Unfortunately for the Chargers, the Raider nearest Campbell was Renfrow who– in what can only be considered a case of mental quantum entanglement with Long– instantly sprinted towards Campbell, delivering a picture-perfect hit to separate receiver from caught pass. I’ve seen punt returners act as safeties on fake punts, but never sprinting up to break up a pass. Amazing play.
But wait! Renfrow’s amazing special teams play was just the beginning. During Thursday’s Rams-Seahawks tilt, punter Michael Dickson had his punt blocked. As the ball bounced off to the side, Dickson chased it down, scooped up the spinning ball with one hand without breaking stride (itself a noteworthy accomplishment) , then as he turned upfield, decided discretion was the better part of valor and punted the ball– again– downfield, resulting in a 68 net yard punt. Everyone who watched the play, including yours truly, figured what Dickson had done was a penalty. But to the shock of everyone– including announcers Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Mike Pereira — the play was deemed legal. I’m thinking it was the type of thing only a foreigner would attempt (Dickson is a native Australian)– and I’m not saying that because I’m some sort of immigrant-hating Trump rube, but rather because any American born and bred punter would’ve thought a double-punt would be illegal and thus not even attempt it. Improbably, the double-punt surpassed the Renfrow hit, which had surpassed the NFL record-setting walk-off by Tucker. And all within five days.
I’m eager (and possibly afraid) to see what happens should this trajectory of special teams play continues this weekend.
NEXT: the Interesting Players of the Week!