After Garoppolo, who’s next?

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It’s become a tradition around here. When a new high-water mark is set for the quarterback market, we take a look at who’s next. So with Jimmy Garoppolo breaking the bank in the Bay Area, here’s a snapshot of the quarterbacks who will be getting paid, sooner or later.

1. The Next Wave.

Kirk Cousins.

If he hits the open market, Cousins surely will get more than $27.5 million per year. The question is whether he’ll push the market all the way to $30 million, and whether he’ll finally get a term that bases his out-year compensation on a percentage of the cap.

In the event Washington (foolishly) chooses to tag him again in order to try to trade him, Cousins will set the bar even higher than $30 million. He’d get $34.47 million for one more year — and then he’d undoubtedly hit the market unfettered in 2019.

Drew Brees.

He insists he’s staying in New Orleans, and I continue to insist he’s testing the Saints. There’s surely a figure below which an offer from the Saints would amount to an insult. And if the Saints insult Brees, his plans to stay could quickly change.

In the end, will he want more than Garoppolo or Cousins? Probably not. If he does, he possibly would get it on the open market.

But he’ll only get to the open market if the Saints insult him with an offer that is, say, south of $16 million per year.

Matt Ryan.

The Falcons have said they want to extend his contract, which expires after the 2018 season. But the two sides may squabble over how much Ryan should get, especially since owner Arthur Blank already is trying to shame Ryan into taking a team-friendly deal.

Ryan’s leverage comes from the tag, which for him would pay at least $24.98 million for 2019. At a 20-percent increase for 2020 ($29.976 million) and a 44-percent bump for 2021 ($43.16 million), he could leverage a deal that makes him the king of the financial hill, at least for a little while.

Case Keenum.

A new addition to the list, Keenum is headed for the open market unless the Vikings sign him to a long-term deal or tag him, at $23 million or so for 2018. But if the Vikings are willing to pay Keenum that much, they arguably should pursue a guy like Cousins.

Either way, Keenum will be getting paid a lot more than the $2 million he made in 2017. However, he surely won’t come close to whatever the top of the market may be when he signs his next contract.

Sam Bradford.

A knee injury that shelved him for much of 2017 will impact his value in 2018, forcing him to accept an incentive-laden deal or to prove it for a year before getting paid in 2019.

Whispers of a degenerative condition in his knee won’t help, and he’ll be thoroughly poked and prodded before anyone ponies up the kind of cash he may otherwise command.

A.J. McCarron.

He’ll find out soon whether he’s a restricted free agent or an unrestricted free agent, due to his time spent on the non-football injury list as a rookie. If he’s unrestricted, he’ll be able to go to the highest bidder, and he possibly did enough late in the 2015 season to get a deal that would surprise many.

Teddy Bridgewater.

Like McCarron, Bridgewater’s status may be resolved by a grievance, given that the last year of his rookie deal may have tolled, putting him under contract for 2018 at less than $1.5 million. If he wins, he’s free; but that doesn’t mean he’ll get paid.

Bridgewater will have to prove he’s healthy before getting big money. For him, the smart decision for 2018 would be to find a team for which he’d be playing, a lot.

Aaron Rodgers.

Five years ago, Rodgers signed a long-term contract with a new-money average of $22 million. He’s now $5.5 million per year behind Garoppolo, who in comparison to Rodgers has done nothing.

The Packers need to take care of Rodgers, ASAFP. The longer they wait, the more it will cost — and the saltier (justifiably) he will be. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, and if the Packers don’t close the gap between his average compensation and far lesser passers who have passed him by, maybe Rodgers will decide to eventually stick it to the Packers, just like his predecessor eventually did.

2. The Second Wave.

Nick Foles.

For some reason, plenty of people in the media believe Foles is due to become a free agent this offseason. The truth is that he’s under contract for another year, at $7 million.

The Eagles should keep him around as the backup to Carson Wentz, given that Wentz has made it clear that he plans to continue playing with the same physicality that ultimately resulted in a torn ACL. Unless someone else makes the Eagles a trade offer they can’t refuse, they should refuse to entertain trading Foles.

If they do, Foles should make it clear that he wants to be paid accordingly. While the reigning Super Bowl MVP may not crack the $20 million barrier, he would — and should — make a lot more than $7 million.

Russell Wilson.

Wilson has two years left under contract, and his average of less than $22 million per year is starting to become more than a little embarrassing, for him and the team.

It’s time for the Seahawks to rectify the situation, and it’s possibly no coincidence that Wilson’s baseball career has suddenly slid away from the back burner.

Jameis Winston.

Now eligible for a new contract, the Buccaneers need to decide whether to give him a second contract before his fourth year or before his fifth. Based on his play in 2017, it probably makes sense to wait.

If/when he gets a second contract from the Bucs, he’ll become the first quarterback drafted by the team to be re-signed.

Marcus Mariota.

Mariota, taken one spot behind Winston in 2015, also has become eligible for a new deal. Will the Titans wait, or will they pay him now? They possibly will wait to see what the Bucs do with Winston before making a final decision.

3. The Third Wave.

Carson Wentz.

The MVP candidate has one more year before he can get a second deal. Whether he gets one early will likely depend on whether he can stay healthy, and whether he can do in January and February what Foles has done.

Jared Goff.

A strong year in 2017 puts him in line to get paid, eventually. The ascending Rams will soon realize that they have more great young players than they can afford. The one guy who will definitely get his money, however, is the quarterback.

Dak Prescott.

A strong rookie year followed by a sophomore slump makes 2018 critical to gauging Prescott’s value. His status as a fourth-round draft pick doesn’t give the Cowboys the luxury of waiting five years before facing a franchise-tag conundrum.

Others to watch include the trio of 2004 first-rounders — Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Eli Manning — each of whom have two years left on their current deals. Also, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles will make $19 million this year and become a free agent in 2019. It’s unclear at this point whether the Jags or anyone else will pay him.

Then there’s Tom Brady, who has two years left on his contract, but who never does an extension based on market value. If he did, he’d already be making more than $35 million per year.

Jeff Fisher’s Rams were a hotbed of quarterback talent

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Nick Foles is the Super Bowl MVP, and he’s the NFL’s all-time leader in passer rating in the postseason.

Case Keenum led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, where he lost to Foles’ Eagles.

Jared Goff is one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks, a 23-year-old Pro Bowler.

What do those three quarterbacks have in common? They were the three quarterbacks who started for the Rams in 2015 and 2016.

Any coach would kill to have that kind of talent at quarterback, and yet Jeff Fisher’s Rams put together an ugly offense with those three at the helm.

In 2015 the Rams went 7-9 and finished dead last in in the NFL in both passing yards and total yards.

In 2016 the Rams went 4-12, again finished dead last in the NFL in total yards, and finished 31st in passing yards.

When Fisher was fired late in 2016, there was some talk that his failure with the Rams was all a result of never having a good quarterback. But that’s not quite right. Fisher had three good quarterbacks. The problem was that Fisher, even with three good quarterbacks, couldn’t put together a good offense.

Pederson is strategic about when to be aggressive, when to play it safe

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Before the Eagles’ playoff run began, PFT noted that Eagles coach Doug Pederson is the NFL’s most aggressive coach on fourth downs. As it turned out, that became a major theme of the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory, as the Eagles went 2-for-2 on fourth downs, including a fourth-and-goal touchdown and a fourth-and-1 first down that set up the Eagles’ game-winning touchdown.

But now that everyone is praising Pederson for his fourth-down aggressiveness, it’s important to point out that Pederson isn’t just aggressive for the sake of being aggressive. He’s strategic about when to be aggressive and when to play it safe.

Former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky took to Twitter to question why Pederson is being praised for his aggressiveness after this year’s Super Bowl, while last year, then-Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was ripped for being overly aggressive while the Falcons blew a lead to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. As former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf replied, they’re completely different circumstances.

It’s important to understand the situations when Pederson likes to go for it on fourth down. The Eagles’ first fourth-down attempt was on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 34 seconds left in the first half. That’s a great time to go for it on fourth down because if it fails, the Patriots are left in bad field position without enough time to mount a long drive and score before halftime. The trick play Pederson called worked, but even if it hadn’t worked, the Patriots wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of the stop and score before halftime.

The Eagles’ second fourth-down attempt was fourth-and-1 from their own 45-yard line, trailing 33-32 with 5:39 left in the fourth quarter. At that point in the game, going for it makes sense because if you punt the ball away, the Patriots’ offense might never give it back, or might score a touchdown to take an eight-point lead. On both of the Eagles’ fourth downs, Pederson’s aggressive decisions were sound.

But where Pederson’s decision making differed from last year’s Falcons was that Pederson was also smart about playing it safe when he had a late lead. The Falcons were criticized last year for passing too much and not running enough time off the clock when they had a big lead in the second half. That was a valid criticism. When the Eagles had the ball and the lead late in the game, however, Pederson played it safe: After Tom Brady‘s fumble, the Eagles got the ball at the Patriots’ 31-yard line with 2:09 remaining and a 38-33 lead. Pederson called three straight runs up the middle and then kicked a field goal on fourth down. Pederson could have been aggressive and called some passes in an attempt to pick up a game-sealing first down, but he didn’t want to risk an interception or stopping the clock with an incompletion, so he kept the ball on the ground.

There are times when aggressive play calling pays off, and times when conservative play calling pays off. What makes Pederson a successful coach is that he seems to lead the league at understanding the right time for both.

Eagles, among other things, wrap up 32nd pick in 2018 NFL Draft

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The offseason started for most teams long before the confetti fell last night.

But like a Broad Street hangover, the reality is about to hit the Eagles that they don’t have much to work with this offseason, at least in terms of draft capital.

With the loss, the Patriots earned the 31st pick in the draft, and the Eagles the 32nd.

But for Philadelphia, that one’s a precious pick since they lack to normal allotment.

As a result of trades, they lack their second-rounder (which went to Cleveland as part of the Carson Wentz deal) and third-rounder (from the trade with Buffalo for Ronald Darby.). That leaves them them plenty of time to think about the five picks they’ve accumulated from the fourth through seventh rounds.

Here’s a look at the full order of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft:

1 Browns 0-16
2 Giants 3-13
3 Colts 4-12
4 Browns (from Texans) 4-12
5 Broncos 5-11
6 Jets 5-11
7 Buccaneers 5-11
8 Bears 5-11
9 or 10 49ers 6-10 (coin flip)
9 or 10 Raiders 6-10 (coin flip)
11 Dolphins 6-10
12 Bengals 7-9
13 Washington 7-9
14 Packers 7-9
15 Cardinals 8-8
16 Ravens 9-7
17 Chargers 9-7
18 Seahawks 9-7
19 Cowboys 9-7
20 Lions 9-7
21 Bills 9-7
22 Bills (from Chiefs) 9-7
23 Rams 11-5
24 Panthers 11-5
25 Titans 9-7
26 Falcons 10-6
27 Saints 11-5
28 Steelers 13-3
29 Jaguars 10-6
30 Vikings 13-3
31 Patriots 13-3
32 Eagles 13-3

Could Gronk be posturing for a new contract?

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When throwing a dart during Super Bowl LII regarding the possibility of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski retiring after the game, it was couched as a 99-percent wild guess. The one-percent came from three different things that has been heard on the Minnesota grapevine in the days preceding the game.

First, Gronkowski never had been hit in the head the way he’d been hit by Jaguars safety Barry Church during the AFC title game. Second, it took him a while to pass the tests necessary to get clearance to play. Third, one or more family members have been pushing him to hang it up.

Gronk definitely doesn’t need the money; he still hasn’t spent a dime that he has made playing football, living instead off of his marketing revenue. Maybe his willingness to keep playing ultimately hinges on how much more money the Patriots are willing to pay.

In 2017, the team gave him a $5.5 million incentive package, and he earned every penny of it, pushing his total compensation for the year to $10 million. For 2018, he’s due to make $8.25 million — but the $5.5 million in extra pay from 2017 will push his cap number over $16 million.

He’d owe nothing to the team if he retires, since he has earned the full amount of his signing bonus. The question becomes whether he’s willing to keep putting himself in harm’s way for another $8 million gross, and whether there’s a number above $8 million that: (1) the Patriots would be willing to pay; and (2) would entice him to stay.

Gronk surely has more money saved than he could ever spend. Given his persona, he could make plenty of additional money just being Gronk. The real question may be how much additional money he would need to continue to take the kind of pounding that has resulted in more surgeries than Cavity Sam and, most recently, a concussion that may cause him to take head injuries far more seriously than he did during a 2017 appearance on PFT Live.

Matt Patricia: “I didn’t do a good enough job”

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All week long, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia kept talking about how dangerous the Eagles offense was — because he was trying to dodge questions about the Lions job he’s about to take.

After the game, he was left to dodge criticism, after the Patriots gained 613 yards, didn’t punt and still lost the Super Bowl to a team with a backup quarterback.

“Obviously, I didn’t do a good enough job here with the defense,” Patricia said. “Look, that is a great offense, they are extremely talented. I have been talking about it all week how good they are.

“They just played really well, and we didn’t get enough stops. I give them all the credit. They played outstanding.”

There were plenty of questions begging answers, including their refusal to play cornerback Malcolm Butler. Coach Bill Belichick said it wasn’t disciplinary, and Patricia said it had to do with “packages” they wanted to use. Given the way replacement Eric Rowe played and the way the Eagles moved up and down the field as needed, it’s curious to say the least.

But Patricia doesn’t have much time to watch film. He has a plane to catch to Detroit and a staff to finalize.

“Every situation you take a look at, you are trying to improve and get better,” he said. “That has to start with me and the things that we did trying to get ready for the game and obviously during the game.

“We will take a long, hard look at that and hopefully, learn from it and get better.”

We, of course, is going to mean something completely different soon.

Nick Foles’ touchdown catch came on play called “Philly Special”

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Sunday night is a very special one for Philadelphia and a play called “Philly Special” played a big part in making it happen.

On fourth-and-one from the Patriots’ 1-yard-line with 38 seconds to play in the first half, Eagles coach Doug Pederson called a play that called for running back Corey Clement to flip the ball to tight end Trey Burton in the backfield after taking a direct snap from center. Burton then feathered a pass to quarterback Nick Foles, who caught the pass to put the Eagles up 22-12 heading into halftime.

Burton, who was a high school quarterback and threw 17 passes while at the University of Florida, said after the game that the play has been in the playbook throughout the playoffs. The Eagles practice it a few times each week and pulled it out in a big spot tonight.

“Coach has some guts. Big ones. It shows the confidence he has in the team,” Burton said. 

Foles said it was an “amazing throw” by Burton that he just had to look into his grasp. It made Foles the first player to catch and throw a touchdown in the same Super Bowl game and will go down in Eagles lore as one of the shining moments of their first championship. 

PFT’s Super Bowl picks

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The season ends with the 52nd installment of the Super Bowl, and the PFT Postseason Picks Competition (I’ve capitalized the letters to make it seem like a bigger deal since I’m winning) pulls into the station with yours truly already clinching the victory by one game.

There won’t be a tie because both MDS and I have picked the same team to prevail in the 267th game of the year. With the decisive choice ultimately being MDS with the Vikings in the NFC title game and me with the Eagles, I’m 7-3 to date, with MDS at 6-4.

And, yes, he won the regular-season contest fairly easily. But no one gives out trophies for regular-season performance. (Except hockey.)

MDS’s take: Everything about this game points to the Patriots. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady almost seem destined to earn a sixth Super Bowl ring, and the Eagles just seem like the last obstacle in their path.

So what do the Eagles need to do to win? I don’t necessarily think Nick Foles needs the huge performance he had in the NFC Championship Game, but he does need to play well, and to avoid turnovers. If Foles is throwing interceptions or getting strip-sacked, the game could get ugly for the Eagles. If Foles is playing efficient football and LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi are making plays, things will get interesting.

In the end, however, this feels like the culminating moment of Tom Brady’s career. I’m not convinced he can keep playing well until he’s 45, as he says he can. I’m not even convinced he’ll get back to another Super Bowl after this one. But I am convinced he’ll have an MVP-worthy performance on Sunday, and the Patriots will win.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 28, Eagles 20.

Florio’s take: Experience always matters. The fact that Patriots coach Bill Belichick claims it doesn’t underscores that it absolutely does. For the NFL this is Super Bowl LII; for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, this is Super Bowl VIII. That’s half of a full season — and roughly every other year — spent preparing for and playing in the Super Bowl, a game with a two-week buildup, nearly a full week at the game site, a halftime that lasts nearly 30 minutes, and the biggest worldwide audience of the year.

Yes, the Eagles have a couple of guys who have played for the Patriots in recent Super Bowls. But that’s hardly enough to overcome the Belichick-Brady factor, especially as they close in on matching the Steelers with six Lombardi Trophies — and a shot next year at seven.

The Eagles have the personnel on defense to potentially make life difficult for Brady, with a front seven that can create pressure up the middle and a secondary that can handle, from time to time, the New England route-runners. But Brady has proven time and again that his extensive experience and lingering physical skills have combined to create a sweet spot that allows him to figure out whatever a defense is doing, and to stay one step ahead of them.

When Philly has the ball, New England will find a way just often enough to deal with the run-pass option, taking away the easy underneath slants and ins while also preparing to attack the ball, if the decision to made to hand it off.

Like most Belichick-Brady Super Bowls, this one probably will be close, with Belichick and Brady having the ability to make the key play at the right time to officially double the number of championships since Malcolm Butler intercepted a pass that, thanks to the systems Belichick has put in place, knew was coming.

In hindsight, we’ll able be saying we should have known what is coming on Sunday night in Minnesota.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 30, Eagles 27.

Eagles, Patriots both relied on analytics to help them reach the Super Bowl

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Analytics got a bad name in the NFL this season when the Browns went 0-16 and fired Sashi Brown, the G.M. who promised to use an analytics-based approach to building the franchise. But two other NFL teams rely on analytics with much greater success.

Those two teams are the Eagles and Patriots, who both use analytics as a tool in free agency, on draft day, during games and in just about every part of their organization.

The Eagles have been open about their reliance on analytics. As we’ve noted previously, no coach in the NFL is more aggressive about going for it on fourth down than Doug Pederson, and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said during the season that that aggressiveness is tied to the team’s analytics research, which found that the benefits of a fourth-down conversion usually outweigh the costs of failing on fourth down.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Eagles G.M. Howie Roseman as praising Philadelphia’s analytics department, saying, “They give us a clear direction of what they’re looking for and what they want.”

But while the Wall Street Journal article makes clear that the Eagles rely heavily on analytics, it steps wrong by trying to contrast the Eagles with the Patriots, writing that the reputation of analytics in football has suffered because “the best coach in football — the one across the field from Pederson, Bill Belichick — has expressed his disdain for a numbers-heavy approach.”

The reality is that Belichick “has expressed his disdain” for analytics not because Belichick doesn’t believe in analytics, but because Belichick doesn’t believe in letting the rest of the world in on the Patriots’ strategic thinking.

As PFT has noted multiple times, Belichick actually does rely on analytics. One of his most trusted advisors is Ernie Adams, the Patriots’ football research director, who was a municipal bonds trader before spending more than two decades working for Belichick, both in Cleveland and in New England. Many of the methods that sports statistical analysts use are rooted in the same methods used to analyze economic data. Adams understands both, and that makes him valuable to Belichick.

In the NFL draft, Belichick prefers trading down to trading up, and he particularly likes to trade a pick this year for a higher pick next year. That suggests that he’s studied the economic phenomenon of hyperbolic discounting, something football people don’t necessarily know a lot about but that a hedge fund guy like Adams understands.

On the sideline, the most controversial call of Belichick’s career appeared to be influenced by analytics: When Belichick went for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28-yard line late in a 2009 loss to the Colts, it was the analytics people who said he had made the mathematically correct decision, while most football fans and media members thought Belichick had lost his mind.

Belichick also hired a little-known coach named Matt Patricia in 2004, in part because he liked Patricia’s background as an aeronautical engineering major. Belichick has groomed Patricia to the point where he’s now the Patriots’ defensive coordinator and the Lions’ next head coach, and Belichick likes the fact that Patricia has a mind that can understand high-level statistical analysis.

Yes, Belichick has been known to toss around the line, “stats are for losers.” But that’s a reflection more of the disdain Belichick has for members of the media who use stats to evaluate which players are playing well and which players are playing poorly. Belichick isn’t interested in such stats because his own staff’s film evaluations are far more accurate.

Belichick absolutely is interested in advanced stats, and that interest goes to the very top of the Patriots’ organization. The Patriots’ website once ran a story that said, “You may not find a bigger believer in data and analytics than New England Patriots Owners Robert Kraft.” And Kraft isn’t just talking when he says he believes in analytics: Kraft puts his money behind it with Kraft Analytics Group, a company he owns.

Is Kraft, Belichick, Adams or anyone else on the Patriots making the rounds on Radio Row during Super Bowl week, telling all the world about the analytics insights the team relies on? Of course not. That’s not the Patriot Way. But like the Eagles, the Patriots rely on analytics.

So while it’s easy to scoff at analytics as the approach that got the Browns to 0-16, an honest assessment of analytics would acknowledge that some teams use them successfully. Including both teams in the Super Bowl.

T.O.: “Mind boggling” to not be in Hall of Fame

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In two days, the folks who determine the new class of Hall of Famers will get together to sift through the current class of finalists. For the third time, two of the best three receivers in NFL history will be up for consideration.

During a Wednesday visit to PFT Live, Terrell Owens explained his thoughts on being snubbed two times, and possibly counting.

“It is what it is,” Owens said. “I’ve kind of moved on from it. I think in terms of really the reputation [and] the credibility of the Hall of Fame I think it’s doing itself a disservice to what it actually means. . . . I think I should’ve been a shoo-in based on my statistics. I’ve said all along my stats speak for itself. I think when you bring up character issues, there’s a number of people that you can put in that category. It’s mind boggling to me.”

The biggest knock on Owens has nothing to do with off-field behavior.

“What I’ve heard is I’m divisive in the locker room,” he said. “Half the locker room liked me, half didn’t. Why couldn’t you go with the other narrative that I was a great teammate based on the people that spoke out on my behalf?”

The problem with the broader process is that the line between what should and shouldn’t be considered has blurred considerably, allowing it to be twisted in whatever direction the voters want to twist it. The false narrative that emerged last year, and that likely will come up again this year, is that teams “couldn’t wait to get rid” of Owens.

Meanwhile. . . .

“Ray Lewis,” Owens said. “He’s a guy that’s up for the Hall of Fame. You think about some of his off the field issues that may come into play [that] nobody’s talking about. But they feel like he’s a shoo-in.”

Owens admits that he was outspoken, but he’s confounded that it’s a knock against him.

When has being outspoken been a bad thing?” Owens said. “Now you see with so many social issues that are surrounding us. Guys are speaking up, speaking their mind. I think I was sort of at the forefront of that. Just being open and being open and honest about certain situations.” 

Owens was willing to be outspoken about the possibility of fellow receiver Randy Moss gaining admission to the Hall of Fame before Owens.

“It’s just really gonna put a black eye on the Hall of Fame and what it stands for,” Owens said. “I’ve been up the last two years. This is the third time. I think again what they’ve been, the issues they’ve been bringing up as far as why I haven’t gotten in doesn’t really match with the bylaws and the criteria in which guys are nominated and then inducted. . . . It just does the Hall of Fame a disservice. The Hall of Fame committee who puts these guys in position to nominate and then induct them it’s just not good for the game.”

Some have suggested that T.O.’s willingness to rip the process will work against him by giving the voters another reason to keep him out, even though anything he says now shouldn’t be held against his playing career. If that’s indeed a consideration (and it shouldn’t be), Owens didn’t shy away from firing shots at the current selection process.

“I think they need to just change it up,” Owens said. “At least have people on the panel with some credibility. Why are you going to allow guys that have never even played the sport have your fate at their hands?”

While there’s definitely a place for people who didn’t play football to assess and select the best football players of all time, the people who have failed to put Owens in the Hall of Fame will get another chance to make it right on Saturday. If he’s omitted again, the criticism from him and other (like me) will only grow.

PFT’s catch rule idea kills two Goodell birds with one stone


We here at PFT often offer suggestions as to how the game can be improved. And while there’s indeed a fine line between thinking outside the box and kooky talk (a line on which we often reside on the wrong side), the idea formulated during a stream-of-consciousness moment in the PFT PM podcast continues to be an apparent winner as it relates to the catch rule — especially in light of some of the things said Wednesday by Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell said during his annual pre-Super Bowl press conference that the league will take a fresh look at the catch rule this year, and that he wants shorter and fewer stoppages for replay review. The best way to address both concerns will be to remove one of the three current elements of the catch rule from the scope of replay review.

The first two elements — whether the player has secured control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground and whether the player has gotten both feet or any part of his body other than his hands in bounds — are inherently objective and can be corrected, or confirmed, by replay review. The third aspect — whether the player had the ball long enough to clearly become a runner — is inherently subjective, and the judgment of the on-field officials should not be subject to frame-by-frame, piece-by-piece second guessing.

“I think it’s an interesting point,” Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay recently said on PFT Live, “and I think it’s one that merits discussion because what you’re saying is, ‘Let’s get out of replay in the quote ‘subjective element,’ because that’s a subjective element. We really didn’t design replay initially for subjective elements. It was designed for objective elements. It was designed for sidelines, end zone — it was lines of demarcation, objective elements not subjective. Your point’s a good one. I think we need to just look at it.”

Unless the league’s decision to retreat to square one when it comes to defining a catch ends up with a different process that eliminates all subjectivity from determining what is and isn’t a catch, any portion of the interpretation of the catch rue that relies on the exercise of judgment should be insulated from replay review, in the same way that other judgment calls, like pass interference are. Then, officials can rely on the real-time, bang-bang, know-it-when-they-see-it sense of what is and isn’t and was or wasn’t a catch.

Goodell defends NFL’s finding that Raiders complied with Rooney Rule

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is standing by the Raiders, and by the Rooney Rule, despite questions being raised in the wake of Jon Gruden’s hiring about whether the league let the team get away with violating the spirit of the rule.

Asked about the Raiders first agreeing to hire Gruden and then interviewing minority candidates only after that, Goodell suggested that’s not what happened — even though Raiders owner Mark Davis has acknowledged that’s what happened.

“I think we have a disagreement on the facts,” Goodell said. (He did not explain what was factually inaccurate about the premise of the question.)

Goodell said the league looked into the way the Raiders went about hiring Gruden and also interviewing two African-Americans, Bobby Johnson and Tee Martin, and found that the Raiders were in full compliance with the rule.

“There was a full investigation of that from our staff,” Goodell said.

The NFL adopted the Rooney Rule 15 years ago and has only found a team in violation once, when the Detroit Lions did not interview a minority candidate before hiring Steve Mariucci in 2003. If the Raiders were in full compliance this year, even though they knew they were hiring Gruden before they fired Jack Del Rio, it’s hard to believe the NFL will ever find any team in violation.

Alex Smith trade can’t be finalized until March 14

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Actually, you have. But we’ll keep going anyway.

The trade that will send quarterback Alex Smith to Washington can’t be finalized until the new league year begins on March 14. This means that, technically, the deal can fall though between now and then.

Technically, no deal is done until it’s done. That was the case five years ago, when the Chiefs acquired Smith from the 49ers. The deal was reported before the start of the league year, but the deal wasn’t done — and could have been undone — before then.

Officially, Washington or Kansas City could back out of the latest Alex Smith trade. Smith, also, could decide he doesn’t want to sign a contract extension in Washington, which could make Washington less interested in consummating the deal.

Already, reports have surfaced that the Browns and Cardinals had interest in Smith. Other teams may have tried to get him, too. Other teams may decide, not that the trade and financial parameters have been leaked, to try to outdo what Washington has done.

It definitely would create hard feelings and bruised egos if anyone reneges. It would also be hard for the Chiefs, Washington, and/or Alex Smith’s agent to do business in the future if this one falls through. Regardless, it still can fall through at any point between now and March 14, because it can’t be official until then.

NFL announces five-year deal with FOX for Thursday Night Football

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For the first time, the NFL has agreed to a long-term deal with a network partner for Thursday Night Football.

After years of annual negotiations for the Thursday night package, the league announced this morning that it has reached a five-year deal with FOX for Thursday Night Football.

“This agreement is the culmination of over 10 years of strategic growth around Thursday Night Football, a period during which this property has grown from a handful of late season games on NFL Network to a full season of games and one of the most popular shows on broadcast television with additional distribution via cable and digital channels,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “As one of the leaders in sports television and a recognized innovator of NFL game broadcasts for many years, we’re excited to be extending our partnership with FOX Sports, one of our most trusted and valued partners, to include Thursday Night Football.”

FOX will air 11 games each season between Week Four and Week 15. Games will continue to be simulcast on NFL Network, and will also air in Spanish on Fox Deportes. NFL Network will also air seven games per year exclusively and those games will be produced by FOX. The Week One Thursday night game and the Thanksgiving night game will remain on NBC.

The league also announced that Thursday Night Football will be “Presented by Bud Light.” It was not clear from the announcement whether that also represents a five-year deal.

With this agreement, FOX is all-in on the NFL: Between Sunday afternoons and Thursday nights, football will be by far the most important and popular programming on FOX for years to come.

What’s next for Kirk Cousins?

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With Washington and Kansas City tentatively agreeing to a trade that would send quarterback Alex Smith from one team with a Native American nickname to another, the next question becomes where the career of current Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins will lead.

Obviously, the deal to acquire (and to pay) Smith means that Washington will use neither the franchise tag nor the transition tag on Cousins. This means he’ll become an unrestricted agent on March 14, and that he’ll sign with another team.

So which team will he sign with? Let’s consider the possibilities.

Jets: They need a franchise quarterback (they haven’t had one since Joe Namath), and they have the cash and cap space to bring him to town. The broader question is whether they want a 29-year-old franchise quarterback, or whether they’d rather get a guy out of college with 10-15 years of expected playing time in town.

Bills: The thinking is they’ll trade up for a franchise quarterback. But they could sign Cousins and use their draft ammunition on building a team around him.

Browns: Hue Jackson runs a similar offense to Jay Gruden. With Todd Haley now running the offense, however, the question of fit will emerge. Also, the Browns may be more inclined to swing for the fences with a younger quarterback. Then there’s the possibility that Cousins isn’t interested in being part of a reclamation project.

Jaguars: The Jags can pay Blake Bortles $19 million for 2018, or they can use that money on Cousins. Surely, he’d be intrigued by joining the best team (at the other 21 positions) in the NFL.

Broncos: G.M. John Elway desperately needs to upgrade the quarterback position, and Cousins would do it. The real question is whether Cousins would be good enough to bring the team together and lead it to another championship. For now, though, the primary goal should be to avoid what would be the team’s second straight losing season since 1971-72. Cousins would definitely help in that regard.

Giants: They seem to be all in with Eli. But that was before Cousins came free. Will that change their assessment? Maybe, maybe not.

Vikings: They have a huge decision to make at quarterback, obviously. What it would cost to get Cousins becomes another factor in the Sam Bradford/Teddy Bridgewater/Case Keenum conundrum.

Saints: Drew Brees says he’s staying. In the unlikely event he doesn’t, Cousins becomes an obvious alternative.

Cardinals: They have no quarterbacks. They need a quarterback. Cousins is a quarterback. #logic.