Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Matthew Stafford can understand it all, everything New York Jets rookie Sam Darnold might be going through this week. Because the veteran quarterback has been there, and he understands all the expectations and ups and downs that could come.
In 2009, Stafford was Darnold — opening his rookie season as a highly touted quarterback on the road against an opponent with a veteran defense and a top quarterback. That opponent was New Orleans with Drew Brees. And the Saints ended that season by beating Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.
Stafford watched Darnold play at USC. Watched him play during the preseason. Likes his arm. Thinks Darnold is “a talented kid.” But like any rookie, Stafford said, you don’t know what you don’t know because college is way different than the NFL.
“Listen, this game is about experience,” Stafford said. “This league is about experience. You know, he played at a high level in college against some high-level competition. He’s gotten some under his belt in the preseason and he’s a talented guy.
“He can make a bunch of plays not only with his arm but with his feet. We’ve seen it more and more recently, these young guys coming in and playing at a really high level.”
Stafford and Darnold weren’t in the exact same situation. Darnold has more talent around him in New York than Stafford did coming off the Lions’ 0-16 season in 2008. But the issues he faced in 2009 will be similar to what Darnold will face this week against Detroit and for the first part of this season.
Stafford’s first game as a pro didn’t turn out too well, either. He completed 16 of 37 passes for 205 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. He was sacked once and had a passer rating of 27.4 — the worst of his career.
“All of it is tough. We weren’t a great football team at that point,” Stafford said. “We were rebuilding in a lot of areas. I was not by any means, and still am not, a finished product. You know, learning on the fly against some great competition, but that’s what it’s all about.”
So Darnold will start in Detroit. Against Stafford. On Monday Night Football. And the Lions, like the Saints did to a rookie 10 years ago, will hope to give the Jets’ starter plenty more to learn.
Photo: AP Photo/Gail Burton
Job pressure in hockey can come in all forms. Some is dire: Get results or you’re out of work. Some is a bit more nuanced: It would be great if you performed at or above expectations, and you can rest a little easier at night, but your job isn’t necessarily on the line.
As opening night of the 2018-19 season approaches, ESPN identified each team’s figure — whether it be player, GM, coach or group of players — under the most pressure for the 2018-19 season:
The big three
Forgive us if you’ve heard this before, but the big three (Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry) are aging and the window for this team to win is closing. For Kesler and his nagging hip injury, the situation is especially dire. He missed half of last season, and his availability for the upcoming season is murky.
The new guys
The Coyotes were trending in the right direction by the end of last season; then, for the second straight summer, they added veteran help: Alex Galchenyuk, Michael Grabner and Vinnie Hinostroza combined for 53 goals last season. Galchenyuk and Hinostroza want to prove to the teams that drafted them that those teams were wrong to let them go; Grabner likely has a sour taste after struggling with the Devils after last season’s trade deadline.
Left wing Anders Bjork
The 22-year-old Notre Dame product is one of the Bruins’ top young players. But after a February shoulder surgery cut his season short, the winger watched as other youngsters such as Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato and Danton Heinenbasked in the spotlight. Bjork is looking to lock in a full-time role, potentially even in the top six.
Head coach Phil Housley
It’s hard to fault Housley for posting a .378 winning percentage in his rookie season as coach. The roster he inherited was subpar, at best. But Buffalo made big moves this summer: Subtracting Ryan O’Reilly, but adding much-needed veteran depth plus No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin, a generational talent on D. Many players have told me recently that they expect Buffalo to be a surprise team this season. If the Sabres don’t improve, ownership might get antsy.
Head coach Bill Peters
With the talent on the roster, there’s no reason the Flames shouldn’t be able to lock up a playoff spot in the wide-open Pacific Division. Management didn’t feel Glen Gulutzan was the right man for the job — likely swayed by a late-season collapse — but the jury might be out on Peters, too. He was hamstrung by bad goaltending in Carolina, but the Canes never seemed to live up to their potential.
Goaltender Scott Darling
Without Cam Ward on the roster for the first time in 13 years, this is firmly Darling’s team now. Then again, it was supposed to be Darling’s team last season, too. If the 29-year-old struggles yet again, Darling — the former Chicago backup who was given a four-year, $16.6 million deal in May 2017 — might be among the bigger free-agent busts in recent memory.
Head coach Joel Quenneville
Everything spiraled out of control for the Blackhawks after Corey Crawford was lost for the season. That gave Quenneville, the league’s longest-tenured coach, a pass after Chicago missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Quenneville will no longer get a Crawford out, even if the goaltender isn’t ready to start the season. Blackhawks president John McDonough wants results. If the Hawks struggle early, Quenneville could be out by Christmas.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov
Varlamov’s five-year, $29 million contract ends after this season, but his status as the Avalanche’s top goaltender might expire before that. GM Joe Sakic pulled off a big trade at the draft to land coveted Capitals backup Philipp Grubauer. Sakic has hinted at a platoon situation, but hey, if Grubauer is significantly better (or healthier), he may well get the starting job to himself.
Kekalainen is a silent assassin. Heck, he orchestrated two trades involving Brandon Saad without as much as a warning shot. The stakes are higher now, as a tenuous contract situation with Artemi Panarin brews. And a long-term decision must be made on goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky as he enters the final year of his contract. For a team on the cusp of contending, Kekalainen must once again maneuver unemotionally.
Center Jason Spezza
The veteran’s five-year tenure in Dallas has been a roller coaster, with the 2017-18 season certainly being a low point (including career worsts of eight goals and 26 points). Now on to his third coach in three years, the 35-year-old must adapt once again and hope he meshes well with Jim Montgomery‘s system. His NHL career might depend on it; Spezza is an unrestricted free agent after this season
Head coach Jeff Blashill
This really should be Ken Holland, considering no team in the league is as hamstrung with bloated, poorly aged contracts as the Red Wings. But the GM has built a lot of equity thanks to past glory, and ownership kept him around with a two-year extension this spring. So now the bull’s-eye is on Blashill, who has a winning percentage below .500, and just one playoff win in three seasons.
Head coach Todd McLellan
If this Oilers team resembles anything like last season’s outfit, McLellan won’t have this job for long. Edmonton can’t waste any years in Connor McDavid‘s prime just trying to tread water. The team regressed significantly last season, especially in even-strength play.
Right wing Troy Brouwer
The winger had two years remaining on a four-year, $18 million deal with the Flames before being bought out, but has been able to log decent minutes and produce in his early 30s. There still should be a role for Brouwer in the NHL, but if he doesn’t make Florida’s roster, he could be Europe-bound.
The old guard
There are 10 players on the roster over the age of 30, including a handful — Ilya Kovalchuk, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar — considered essential to this team’s chances of winning. The championship window is narrow for the Kings, who overperformed in 2017-18 and paid big for Kovalchuk this summer, hoping that the 35-year-old still has his scoring touch despite a five-year absence from the NHL.
GM Paul Fenton
The first-time GM inherited a roster that is good enough to win plenty of games in the regular season but hasn’t figured out a way to get it done in the playoffs. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter still have term on their contracts but aren’t getting any younger. Parise told Greg Wyshynski he was surprised the Wild didn’t make more of a splash this summer. Fenton wasn’t hired to maintain the status quo, after all.
Everyone involved in the Max Pacioretty situation
Yes, the Habs had a deal at the draft to ship their captain to the Los Angeles Kings. No, it didn’t materialize in the 11th hour. Pacioretty’s new agent Allan Walsh has voiced a few thoughts on Twitter that illustrate just how deep the distrust is. Either sign Pacioretty long term or orchestrate a move and let him move on. The longer this situation festers, the more toxic it gets.
Goaltender Pekka Rinne
Entering the final year of his contract, Rinne enters this season coming off a playoff meltdown. What’s more, he knows his heir apparent, 23-year-old fellow Finn Juuse Saros, is waiting for a larger opportunity. Can Rinne stave off the inevitable — and help this loaded team back to the Stanley Cup Final?
Every forward not named Taylor Hall
It was the Hall show last season in New Jersey. Yes, the 26-year-old was exceptional, but he edged out Nathan MacKinnon for league MVP by singlehandedly carrying the offensive load, scoring 41 more points than his closest teammates. The Devils made virtually no free-agent additions, meaning others need to step up if New Jersey is going to get back to the playoffs again this season.
GM Lou Lamoriello
Lamoriello can cement his legacy as the true rebuilder of franchises if he can pull off a turnaround for his third GM stint. Lamoriello’s initial post-John Tavares moves were uninspiring, if not confusing. Has the 75-year-old lost his touch or is this all part of a long play? After a summer of heartbreak for Islanders fans, the least Lou can do for them is show that he has a plan, and it’s not just throwing darts at the board, biding time for prospects to develop.
Center Kevin Hayes
The winger set a career high with 25 goals in 2017-18 and has expressed a desire to stay in New York long term — even as New York works through a rebuild. But when management and Hayes’ camp tried to avoid arbitration, all they could compromise on was a one-year deal (albeit for a pretty decent cap hit of $5.15 million). If Hayes does want to remain a Blueshirt forever, he’ll have to start hot or he’s prime trade-deadline bait.
GM Pierre Dorion
The team’s three most talented players — Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene and Mark Stone — are each in contract years. The franchise is embattled, spending the better part of the past year in headlines for off-ice drama (while floundering on the ice). Can the GM persuade any of these players to stick around for a rebuild, or at least recoup some value?
Left wing James van Riemsdyk
The Flyers landed arguably the most coveted free agent on the open market not named John Tavares. That single move felt like enough to catapult Philadelphia into a Stanley Cup contender. Well, van Riemsdyk, you have $35 million now. All eyes are on you to elevate this team on your second stint in Philadelphia.
Goaltender Matt Murray
An awkward subplot of the 2017-18 season? Former Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury outperforming Murray. The Penguins still probably made the right decision exposing Fleury in the expansion draft, but after an injury- and tragedy-plagued season, a bounce-back season from Murray will be essential to the Penguins rebounding. Murray’s .907 save percentage represented his lowest mark since he was an 18-year-old in juniors.
GM Doug Wilson
Wilson is always going after the biggest names — he was especially active this past calendar year — and yet, Wilson enters the season with a very similar roster to the one in 2017-18 after striking out on Ilya Kovalchuk, John Tavares, Erik Karlsson (so far) et al. Of course, he has bought in on Evander Kane, inking the winger to a massive extension, but in the waning years of the Joe Thornton/Joe Pavelski era, more moves might be needed for this team to win it all.
Goaltender Jake Allen
The Blues were perhaps the splashiest team of the offseason, including making major improvements to their forward depth via trade (Ryan O’Reilly) and free agency (Tyler Bozak, David Perron). Add in Robby Fabbri and a healthy Jaden Schwartz and the expectation is a legitimate playoff run. However, defense remains shaky and goaltending did not improve. Jake Allen has No. 1 potential, but without the handcuff of Carter Hutton (or Brian Elliott before him), can Allen rise to the occasion?
Right wing Ryan Callahan
Look, pressure is certainly on coach Jon Cooper, who guides what most in the league believe to be the NHL’s most complete roster. But Callahan, 33, is coming off offseason surgery for the third time in four years. Callahan, who carries a $5.8 million cap hit in each of the final two years of his contract, adds tremendous value to the Lightning when he’s on the ice. But he’s under pressure just to get healthy — and stay that way.
Left wing Josh Leivo
With so much attention paid to the Maple Leafs’ top forward talent this summer (especially their top two centers), the bottom half of this roster features intrigue. A player such as Leivo, a 2011 draft pick who has yet to crack the regular lineup and appeared in only 16 games last season, is fighting for his Toronto livelihood.
The future captain
Without the Sedins on the roster for the first time in more than two decades (yes, before top prospect Elias Peterson was born), Vancouver will need leaders to emerge. And yes, the Canucks will need a captain. At BioSteel camp in Toronto earlier this month, defenseman Erik Gudbranson said he doesn’t feel the captaincy designation in the NHL is overrated, as some have surmised in recent years. Somebody needs to step up; Bo Horvat feels like the early favorite.
Center William Karlsson
One of the more fascinating arbitration cases in recent memory ended with … a whimper. A one-year contract felt like an anticlimactic, if not wholly inappropriate, conclusion for Karlsson’s dilemma. After all, how can you commit long term to a player who leaped from six goals to 43? If last season wasn’t an aberration, Wild Bill will be compensated as such. If it was, well — we’ll always have the memories of that magical inaugural run for Karlsson and the Golden Knights.
Head coach Todd Reirden
The longtime assistant coach was so coveted as a head coach elsewhere that the Capitals were fine parting with Barry Trotz — who, of course, finally won the franchise an elusive Stanley Cup. There are plenty of reasons for the Trotz/Washington divorce, so instead of relitigating that here, let’s pose the more forward-looking question: Can Reirden deliver the results? Yes, the team is tired after a long playoff run, but Washington returns essentially the same roster.
Defenseman Jacob Trouba
The relationship between Trouba and the Jets hasn’t been a soap opera — but it hasn’t been a simple one, either. After being awarded a one-year deal this summer (worth $5.5 million) in arbitration, there’s a sense of urgency for Trouba to prove he is among the elite defensemen who should be paid as such — in Winnipeg or elsewhere.
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Edgar Bennett was a Green Bay Packer who played for the Chicago Bears. Steve McMichael was a Bear who played for the Packers.
Rare was the player whose career included stints with both teams. In the nearly 200 years of combined football played by the two storied franchises — Sunday night’s season opener at Lambeau Field kicks off the 100th season for the Packers and 99th for the Bears — only 87 players have suited up for both teams, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Only one of them, a 1930s-era offensive lineman named Walt Kiesling, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Among those who played for both, there’s usually an allegiance that sticks.
If there was any doubt about where McMichael’s rests, the voicemail message he left when he returned a call to talk specifically about this said it all:
“Go Bears,” he exclaimed at the end.
Known as Mongo, the 60-year-old former defensive tackle who co-hosts a Bears pregame show on ESPN Chicago WMVP-AM spent 13 of his 15 NFL seasons with the Bears, including the 1985 Super Bowl team known for its defense. He broke in with the Patriots in 1980 and finished with the Packers in 1994.
“This is the story I tell the Bears fans to make it all right — because they’re disgruntled I did that — and after I tell it to them like this they’re all right with it,” McMichael said. “For 13 years I played against the Packers and beat them every year, so I whooped their ass, right? The last year of my career I went up there and wasn’t any good anymore and stole their money.
“That’s a little satire, but it gets over with them. Because I don’t want them being disgruntled with me because I consider myself a Bear, baby.”
Steve McMichael doesn’t want Bears fans to be “disgruntled” with him “because I consider myself a Bear, baby.” Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Bennett and McMichael were actually teammates with the Packers in 1994, Bennett’s third season in the league. The running back finished his career with two years (1998-99) with the Bears.
Bennett then came back to the Packers as assistant coach from 2005-17. Just about every time the Bears came up on the schedule in recent seasons, Bennett would get questions about the rivalry and what it was like to play on both sides. He was always careful not to say anything that would stir up trouble.
“I was lucky enough to play for two great organizations,” Bennett said last year. “But I started with the Packers, and I’m still with the Packers.”
The anomaly is Julius Peppers, who shouldn’t be strictly associated with one team or the other.
Perhaps that’s why it was Peppers who — after he gave a much-talked-about inspirational pregame speech in the Green Bay locker room before his first game against the Bears as a Packer, in 2014 — expressed empathy for his old team after a 55-14 Green Bay victory.
“I’m not really here to kick them while they’re down,” Peppers said after that game.
Unlike Bennett and McMichael, who finished their careers with the rival team, Peppers’ time in the rivalry — four years with the Bears (2000-13) and three with the Packers (2014-16) — came in the middle of his career, sandwiched between his start and presumed finish with the Carolina Panthers, which will ultimately be the team he’s associated with the most.
McMichael said he signed with the Packers because Brett Favre and Reggie White were there, and it was “a chance to play with some legends.”
Then he added: “Really, the Bears said, ‘We don’t want you anymore,’ and the Packers said, ‘We do.’ So what do you do? You go to Green Bay.”
Then-Packers coach Mike Holmgren made McMichael the defensive captain for both games against the Bears that season, including the Monday Night Football monsoon game on Halloween.
“God was crying that night because I was playing for the Packers,” McMichael said.
Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Braylon Edwards told The Detroit News that his original tweet criticizing Michigan on Saturday night was “excessive” and it was a mistake to call out players by name, but said he stands by his message.
Edwards was criticized by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday for his tweet and then suspended indefinitely by the Big Ten Network. Edwards tweeted an apology on Monday but went into further details in an interview with The Detroit News, including that he was drinking when he posted his original tweets, which were later deleted.
“I admit I was excessive and emotional and inebriated. Mix those together. But the focus of my tweets remains intact. I stand by that. I was over-excessive Saturday night at 10:29, but I don’t back down on my overall stance as an alum and a fan. I’ve always defended Michigan. Even this year, I was high on Michigan,” he told the newspaper.
In his tweets on Saturday night after the Wolverines lost 24-17 to Notre Dame, Edwards, a former All-America wide receiver at Michigan, criticized offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz, calling him “weak,” and said Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson is “scared.” Edwards went on to tweet, “f—ing Michigan offense so predictable … Michigan football is sadly one thing … Trash.”
Edwards told The Detroit News he plans to reach out to Ruiz and Patterson through his brother, Berkley Edwards, who is a running back on the Wolverines. He said former Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr “called me out in the media” and he realizes now he shouldn’t have done the same to Ruiz and Patterson.
“I’m a man. We make mistakes. I’m sorry. I should not have gone that way. I still agree with the overall message — what do we do now (as a program)? But I apologize — shouldn’t name individual players. They’re still kids. That’s what I apologize for,” he told the newspaper.
ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report.
Photo: AP Photo/Tony Ding, File