Mike Ditka on Rob Gronkowski: “How About Earning This Year’s Contract”

ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown Notes and Quotes: Week 6 – ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown with Chris Berman and analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson and Ray Lewis previewed today’s NFL games. Some highlights:

On New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith …

Lewis: “When you watch Geno Smith play football, the first thing you see is how calm and composed he is. The young kid has a level of humility about himself.”

Ditka: “The game is not too big for him. That’s what I like about him. He’s mature. He handles himself very well. Every young quarterback ought to take example from this guy’s action. He’s a leader of this football team. This team will go as far as their offense.”

Johnson: “These young quarterbacks that have success, they have to have a play-caller to be able to put them in the right situations to have success. When you look at Marty Mornhinweg, he’s doing a great job at doing that. … On top of that, he’s not looking over his shoulder because Mark Sanchez is sitting at home somewhere trying to figure out what to do with his shoulder. Now you can play more relaxed and just deliver the football, not worry about turnovers and if someone is going to replace you.”

Jackson: “He’s got the calm. He’s got the cool. He’s got the head. He’s got the professional arm. Now, what I’d like to see him do is now start to extend some plays. The game will slow down for him eventually. Right now that clock is not going off in his head, so he’s taking these crushing sacks while he’s holding onto the football.”

Carter: “Very accurate with the football, throws the deep ball very well. Those are the things as a player that I really like. I love the adversity. … When you can respond to adversity, you’ve got a good chance of being a pro because you’re going to have days like that. I love the way he’s turned that adversity into positive things.”

On Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and how quickly he should play after practicing to practice the past few weeks following his offseason surgeries …

Ditka: “How about earning this year’s contract? Don’t worry about next year’s contract.”

Carter: “This is a business. If these players go out there and play any type of way, they’re naive. They’re in business for themselves. … If it was me, and I’m in business for myself, I’m trying to get through that contract and I’m concerned about those five surgeries I’ve had.”

Johnson: “The best thing for him to do is take a wait and see approach. … For him to try to make sure that his ability for this football team down the line is available come playoff time, that’s smart. … I want to make sure I’m 100 percent healthy before I take the field.”

Jackson: “Yes, I believe that he’s concerned about the $41 million not guaranteed in his contract versus the $13, which is.”

Lewis: “When you think about the situation that Gronk is in, yeah, he wants to be out there for his team. I don’t doubt that at all. He’s a crucial piece for Tom Brady.  … But, if you are not healthy — if he goes out there with his contract on the line and breaks his forearm again, they say to him, ‘we’ve got to let you go.’ Not just personally, you’ve got to think business wise as well.”

NFL Insider Adam Schefter: “Rob Gronkowski has turned into the NFL version of Derrick Rose.”

On advice for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in late-game situations …

Lewis: “One man has never lost or won a football game. He has to understand that. He has to understand the difference between good and great. … Understand that when you get into those crucial situations, it’s better to take less. Put the ball in your best athlete’s hand. Let them do it for you.”

On the struggles of Houston Texans’ Matt Schaub and a team losing faith in its starting quarterback …

Johnson: “When you start to lose faith in the quarterback, I always believe that I have to do more. I have to figure out a way to do more. I can’t trust him. … You have to be very careful with dealing with quarterbacks because of the nature — they’re just sensitive. That’s just what they are.”

Jackson: “No single player will lose a football game, but the guy who has the ball in his hands every play, we always expect more of that guy. I’ve been in a situation where we became the ‘orange crush’ defense out of necessity because our offense didn’t put up a lot of points. … Eventually, it showed up in the locker room.”

Carter: “You can’t tell a quarterback the truth all the time – not like a positional player – because they’re a little more temperamental.”

On Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and what his absence means to Green Bay …

Lewis: “He creates negative plays. He’s the guy that changes the math on defense, sets the edge to a defense. When you take that type of energy away, now you have to create it not only through your players but through your scheme. … When you lose a player like that, you have to become creative on defense. You have to change the math, and that’s mostly going to come through zone blitzes and things like that.”

Jackson: “He’s the one guy you had to be aware of when you lined up offensively every single play.”

On the NFL’s most dangerous team at home that’s still undefeated (Denver, Kansas City or New Orleans) …

Carter: “Kansas City. Alex Smith is going to be more comfortable playing at home. They’re going to have a better chance to play elite football, dominant defense and running [the ball] in KC, and Peyton Manning, we don’t know with that hand in the cold weather.”

Jackson: “I’m going to take the Broncos. With 16 in a row, both home and away they are the best team.”

Lewis: “I like the Saints at home. Anytime you can get that kind of home field advantage in that dome, that machine is rolling.”

On New Orleans Saints and head coach Sean Payton …

Ditka: “As good as Brees is, as good as this offense is, somebody is the architect of it. He’s the architect. He understands what it takes to make this thing work, and it’s working.”

Lewis: “Their machine right now, it’s rolling. If their defense can play well outside of that dome, this is the team that’s at the top of the food chain.”

During conversation about Saints tight end Jimmy Graham …

Johnson: “If he was around when you played tight end, Coach, you might not be here with us today.”

Ditka: “Absolutely, I wouldn’t be here. By now, I’d probably be president of IBM.”

On the Dallas Cowboys’ near .500 winning percentage the past three seasons and their chance to improve to 3-3 with a win today against the Redskins …

Jackson: “Nobody circles 500 like the Dallas Cowboys.”

Note: In Countdown’s opening segment, Berman discussed the tragic events of this week involving the two-year old son of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Reporter Josina Anderson also provided reports from today’s Carolina-Minnesota game, where she spoke with Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier about Peterson’s decision to play on Sunday.