Biggest NFL stories of 2013: The year begins and ends with Robert Griffin III
Sept. 29 — Peyton Manning throws seven touchdown passes in season opener
The Baltimore Ravens ended Peyton Manning’s 2012 season on their way to the franchise’s second Super Bowl title, and Manning seemed eager for revenge. The Ravens had to travel to Denver for the 2013 season opener due to a scheduling conflict with the Baltimore Orioles, and when this game was over, Baltimore’s defense may have felt that it was on another planet. Manning had to wait 33 minutes to get rolling as a lightning storm delayed the game, but he didn’t need much time to torch the Ravens’ defense from there. He completed 27 of 42 passes for 462 yards and an NFL record-tying seven touchdowns.
Baltimore actually had a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, but Manning overwhelmed the Ravens from there with two touchdowns in the second quarter, three more in the third, and two more in the second to finish the defending champs off with a 49-27 win. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco threw the ball 62 times in an effort to try and keep pace, but it was no use. Manning was on his way in a season that could see him break multiple single-season NFL records for productivity, and he has rarely looked better than he did on that night.
Aug. 29 — NFL settles concussion lawsuits
Through the years, more than 4,000 former NFL players had brought legal action against the NFL, claiming that the league knew more about the short- and long-term effects of in-game head trauma that it let on. The league’s stance, of course, was that it didn’t, but as more and more information about the NFL’s medical negligence was made public over time, those lawsuits appeared to be the league’s Doomsday scenario — more than one high-ranking league executive has said that the ramifications could be the biggest financial hit the NFL has ever seen.
However, the league dodged a major bullet when it settled with the plaintiffs for $765 million plus legal and administrative costs. The total amount, expected to exceed $1 billion, appears to be a major amount, but it pales in comparison to what it could have been had the individual and group lawsuits actually hit the courts. The $765 million amount was earmarked for injury settlements, medical benefits for retired players, and to fund medical and safety research related to the game.
Of course, the actual mechanics of such an agreement are complex, and the approval of the settlement has dragged on as all the fine points get worked out. Some former players have criticized the process, saying that they may opt out, and through the NFL got the non-fault settlement it wanted, it’s not out of the woods just yet.
June 26 — Aaron Hernandez arrested
Hernandez, who had been in trouble with the law since his high-school days and through his time at the University of Florida, was involved in the most shocking football-related crime since O.J.’s white Bronco rolled down a Los Angeles freeway. The former New England Patriots tight end’s home was searched on June 18 in connection with the death of Odin Lloyd, a friend of Hernandez’s. It was discovered that Hernandez had destroyed his own home security system, that he’d brought in a team of house-cleaners around the time of the alleged murder, and when Hernandez turned over his cell phone to authorities, it was in pieces. Nine days later, police took Hernandez into custody, and the Patriots released him on the same day. Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder and several gun-related charges. He was indicted by a grand jury for Lloyd’s murder in August, and pled not guilty in September. He’s being held without bond at the Bristol, Mass. County Jail.
For the Patriots, the effort to eliminate Hernandez from its history was swift and all-consuming. The team voided all guarantees in his contract, and team owner Robert Kraft established a jersey exchange in which fans owning Hernandez replica jerseys could trade them in for the replica jerseys of another player. The Patriots were said to have lost approximately $250,000 in merchandise profits, but they no doubt considered the move to be worth the cost.
April 21 — Jets trade Darrelle Revis to the Bucs for a first-round pick
It’s not often that the best player at a position is traded, but that’s what happened to Darrelle Revis after contract negotiations and overall communications broke down with the New York Jets — primarily with new general manager John Idzik. Revis had missed most of the 2012 season with a knee injury, and it was clear that his vision of the future and the Jets’ vision of his future were radically different. The trade netted Idzik the 13th overall pick in the 2013 draft from Tampa Bay, and Revis signed an interesting six-year, $96 million dollar contract with no guaranteed money that’s actually a series of one-year, $13 million contracts with $1.5 million roster bonuses added per season.
So far, the trade has worked out pretty well for both teams. After some struggles with Tampa Bay’s zone defenses, Revis locked in and is now the league’s third-best cornerback in opponent passer rating allowed (62.2, behind only Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner and Seattle’s Richard Sherman). The Jets took that 13th overall pick and spent it on Missouri defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, who’s played at a level that could net him the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Feb. 4 — Ray Lewis’ turbulent month ends with Super Bowl title
It seemed that Ray Lewis could not enter a Super Bowl week without controversy. There was, of course, his involvement in the incident in Atlanta before Super Bowl XXXIV that ended with two men being stabbed to death. Lewis gave a misleading statement to police the day after the deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar when he and two associates, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were questioned in the crime. Oakley and Sweeting were acquitted, and Lewis was given probation for obstruction of justice. One year later, he was the Super Bowl MVP as the Baltimore Ravens beat the New York Giants, 34-7.
In the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVII this past February, a report from SI’s David Epstein and George Dohrmann indicated that Lewis had a conversation with Mitch Ross, owner of S.W.A.T.S. (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids). S.W.A.T.S. dealt in deer antler spray, a substance banned by the NFL which is said to contain some of the same regenerative characteristics as Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Ross said that Lewis used the product, but Lewis vehemently denied this, and Ravens VP of Communications Kevin Byrne said that Lewis had passed multiple drug tests with no incident.
During media week, Lewis also had a bizarre conversation with CBS’ Shannon Sharpe (a former teammate) in which Sharpe asked Lewis what he’d say now to the families of the two men allegedly murdered in Atlanta.
“If you really knew how God works, he don’t use people who commit anything like that [murder] for his glory,” Lewis said.
Well, then. In any case, Lewis (who had announced his retirement on Jan.7) walked off into the sunset with his second Super Bowl win as the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31.
Jan. 16 — Chip Kelly leaves Oregon for Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles looked high and low when it was time to replace Andy Reid, speaking with 11 different candidates in the search for their next head coach. In the end, they decided that Oregon’s Chip Kelly was their man. Kelly agreed, 10 days after he said that he would stay with the Ducks … of course, the guarantee of any college coach that he’ll stay put is only as strong as the contract extension that he can get out of the alternative. In any case, Kelly brought his high-tempo offense to the NFL, and the results have been singularly impressive. Rookie quarterback Nick Foles has played at a level conversant with last season’s great first-year signal-callers, and LeSean McCoy is on pace to have perhaps the best season in the long history of the franchise. Philly still needs to get that defense figured out, but it’s clear that Kelly was the right choice overall — he’s redefined his new team to the same level that fellow NCAA expatriates Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh.
Jan. 9 — RGIII has knee reconstruction surgery
Griffin re-injured his right knee in the Washington Redskins’ wild-card playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and the recovery from that surgery set off a season of drama that still isn’t over. Griffin had the LCL and ACL in his right knee repaired, he was not able to participate in off-season activities as a result, and though Dr. James Andrews referred to Griffin’s recovery as “superhuman,” head coach Mike Shanahan put the kibosh on Griffin appearing in any preseason games. Though Griffin was criticized by some for seemingly being more interested in his work with adidas than with the Redskins in the offseason, that was a canard — Griffin played through the 2013 season, though not as well in his rookie campaign, until Shanahan shut him down with three games left in the season … citing concern for Griffin’s overall heath and professional future. As Griffin’s schisms with the Redskins defined the year to a great degree, you can bounce back to the top of this year-end review to see how it all turned out.
Spoiler alert: It does not end well for Mr. Shanahan.