4-Down Territory: Worst NFL owners, biggest schedule beefs, undrafted players to watch
In this week’s “4-Down Territory,” Kyle Madson of Niners Wire and Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire get into a few important items as NFL teams put the first minicamps of the 2023 season in the books.
Who is the worst owner in pro football history, and why might it be Dan Snyder?
Who are the undrafted first-year players to watch as rookie minicamps turn to minicamps to training camps?
Which team has the biggest legitimate beef with the NFL”s schedule-makers?
And which team has the easiest path to success from a schedule perspective?
You can watch this week’s episode of “4-Down Territory” right here:
Who's the worst team owner in pro football history (besides Dan Snyder)?
Now that Dan Snyder has agreed in “principle” (whatever that means to him) to sell the Washington Commanders to a group led by Josh Harris, we appear to be free of one of the worst owners in the history of professional football – and, dare we say, in professional sports. But for every bad entity on the planet, there’s always a worse entity. So, given that Dan Snyder is one of the worst owners in pro football history, who’s actually the worst?
Doug: Harry Wismer. The longtime broadcaster was one of the American Football League’s original owners, getting the then New York Titans off the ground. But Wismer had to have his home games in the rundown Polo Grounds, he alienated other owners with his uneven personality, and he was a walking disaster as a businessman. The Titans weren’t a bad team – they went 7-7 in their first two seasons – but Wismer handled the franchise as if it were a third-level sandlot team. Players had to run to the bank to cash their game checks before the money ran out, and eventually, the specter of losing the team in the country’s biggest market was too much for the AFL to bear. Eventually, sports agent Sonny Werblin was brought in to buy the team, rename it the Jets, and sign Joe Namath in 1965. Had that not happened, you might say that the AFL-NFL merger would never have happened. Wismer’s incompetence could have scuttled the whole thing.
Kyle: There are a handful of answers that fit here and they’ll change depending on someone’s criteria of a “bad” owner. For me, George Preston Marshall gets the nod shake of the head here. He moved the Boston Braves to Washington DC and coined the “Redskins” name the team donned for 87 seasons. Between the NFL’s integration in 1946 and his death in 1969, Washington had only three winning seasons. Washington didn’t have a black player until 1962, by the way. It’s not that Marshall was the only racist owner or that he’s the only reason racism continues to exist within the league, but his staunch bigotry ingrained racism into the NFL so deeply that the league is still struggling to recover from it.
Which undrafted players could make the most of their minicamps?
(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports).
NFL teams have concluded their rookie minicamps, and in these events, it can be the guys who come out of nowhere who make their cases for more reps and eventual starting spots. Which undrafted player in these minicamps has the best chance to stick and stay in the NFL?
Doug: Last Saturday, Sean Payton made the point that when he was with the Saints, Pierre Thomas came in as an undrafted camp invite, and he performed so well, the 2007 Saints wound up keeping him and cutting fourth-round pick Antonio Pittman. Thomas had a really good NFL career out of nowhere. I remember Pittman fumbling in the preseason, Payton giving him the look of death, and I knew he was out of there. As far as guys who could make a difference on their new NFL teams, I’m highly intrigued by San Diego State defensive lineman Jonah Tavai, who landed with the Seahawks. Last season, he led all FBS interior defensive linemen with 12 sacks and 69 total pressures, and he wasn’t doing it all against lower-level competition — there’s enough “like as like” tape to make you think that Tavai can be pretty disruptive at the NFL level, as well. At 6-foot-0 and 290 pounds, Tavai hasn’t received the same praise given to Pitt’s Calijah Kancey (another undersized guy who can just blow things up inside), but he can do some of the same things.
On the offensive side of the ball, watch out for East Carolina running back Keaton Mitchell, who signed with the Ravens. Mitchell led all running backs in this class last season with 31 runs of 15 or more yards for 838 yards, and that’s not just based on straight-line speed — he also forced 75 missed tackles, which is pretty good for a 5-foot-8, 179-pound back. Mitchell’s size might limit his opportunities in some offenses, b but new Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken has said that he wants to spread defenses out far more than we’ve seen from the team in recent years, and Mitchell can certainly help with that.
Kyle: I’ve got one on each side of the ball and they are both players I thought the 49ers should draft. Fresno State running back Jordan Mims signed with Buffalo. The Bills desperately need to take some of the rushing onus off Josh Allen and Mims could very easily find his way into some kind of role in their backfield. He’s a decisive, hard-nosed runner who rushed for 1,370 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Mims can also factor in as a pass catcher though and racked up 91 receptions in 59 games. It wouldn’t be a shock if he wound up making the team with special teams contributions before working his way into a role on offense.
On the other side, I love Kansas DE Lonnie Phelps, who signed with the Browns. If Phelps was an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier he might’ve been an early Day 3 pick, but he’s a 6-2, 244-pound DE without any outlier length. He plays with a big motor though and it’s pretty rare that he gets taken completely out of a play. Phelps is the kind of player who wins over coaches and it’s easy to see where he can be a rotational edge in Cleveland.
Which NFL team has the most legitimate gripe about their 2023 schedule?
(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
Now that the 2023 schedule has been released, which team has the biggest legitimate beef with the NFL”s schedule-makers?
Doug: The New York Giants. Owner John Mara is generally on best-friends terms with Roger Goodell, so what happened here? Let’s start with the fact that they’re on the road for seven of their first 10 games. That includes west-coast (or near) jaunts to San Francisco and Arizona after a Week 1 home game against the Cowboys, and the fact that they have four games after short rest. They also have the Eagles twice in their last three games. Just brutal.
Kyle: Weekly 49ers rant time! San Francisco could’ve certainly had a worse schedule given that they play in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Jacksonville and Washington DC this year. The long travel doesn’t come into play much, but they do open their season on the road in Pittsburgh, then they’re on the road in LA against the Rams, and then they’re home for a Thursday game against the Giants. Do you know how brutal it is to get to Levi’s Stadium during rush hour? Not to mention the 49ers will play on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
PLUS… they have a stretch of games starting in Week 12 where they’re on the road in Seattle for Thursday Night Football, then on the road in Philly to take on the Eagles, then they’re back home to take on Seattle before traveling to Arizona to take on the Cardinals and then heading home to host the Ravens. They’ll also be playing four (4) teams coming off of bye weeks, and they’ll head into their own bye week with a Week 6 road game in Cleveland, a Week 7 Monday night game in Minnesota, then a Week 8 home game vs. Cincinnati before the week off. Whew.
And which team has the easiest path, schedule-wise?
(Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Doug: The Atlanta Falcons. Living is easy when you’re in the NFC South. Not only do they have the advantage of that division, but five of their first six games are at home, which should allow them to get off on the good foot. The home/away imbalance we see for various teams in this year’s overall schedule reminds me of the early 1970s, and I start to wonder if somebody forgot a part of the algorithm.
Kyle: The New Orleans Saints. They’re in the NFC South as well, but they get to play the Falcons. The Saints face just four playoff teams from 2022 this year, and one of them is the Buccaneers. Only two of those games will be on the road. They also only have two primetime games, one of which is against the Rams at SoFi Stadium on a Thursday night. What a change for Derek Carr, who would’ve had to deal with the AFC West had he not left the Raiders. Now he gets to chill in the NFC South where he should be by far the best QB in 2023.