The slap-in-the-face Robert Kraft solicitation story is three days old, and if police in south Florida prove their case against the Patriots owner, I believe he’ll be suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell. Without any new weekend news on the case, I’ll lead this week with the official start of draft season.
The first round of the 2019 NFL Draft kicks off in Nashville two months from tonight. The first day of the week-long NFL Scouting Combine is Tuesday in Indianapolis. So it’s a good time for college-football know-nothings like me to start the learning process on the new names that will be household names in the pro football world by late April.
This is not setting up to be a dramatic draft year, or in the run-up to the draft, except for one thing: where Kyler Murray goes. The undersized (5-9 7/8, Oklahoma says) quarterback set college football on fire last fall and could go anywhere from the first overall pick (Arizona) to fourth (Oakland) to seventh (Jacksonville) to 13th (Miami) to 15th (Washington), or to a slot somewhere else after a trade. I covered Murray in depth last week and will spend most of my time here on the other 330 or so players in Indianapolis this week.
One bit of Murray news before we move on. The new Mike Mayock at NFL Network, Daniel Jeremiah—talk about big shoes to fill—told me over the weekend that he heard Murray has bulked up to 203 pounds from his OU playing weight of 190. And calling around over the weekend, I heard it was 206. That is significant. Here’s why: Talking to NFL people about Murray, as I wrote last week, there was worry that Murray had more of a Mookie Betts build in college than a Russell Wilson physique. Meaning Murray was not only small, but also slight. If Murray has spent the past five or six weeks bulking up, that would play in his favor at the combine and in completing scouting reports on a complex prospect, because teams want to see a thicker player than Murray was at OU. Theoretically, it would mean he’d be more equipped to withstand the pounding he’ll obviously have to face in the NFL.
I spoke to two long-time NFL personnel men and three media folk—Jeremiah, Mel Kiper of ESPN and Matt Miller, a rising authority with Bleacher Report—for draft info in advance of combine week. For more, please listen to The Peter King Podcast, with Jeremiah and Miller, dropping Wednesday.
One note before we start: It was cool to hear Jeremiah pay homage to the new general manager of the Oakland Raiders, Mayock—something he wanted to do before we started discussing draft nuts and bolts. You’ll enjoy that on the podcast. “He was a good teammate,” said Jeremiah, “and as good of a dude as everyone at home thinks he is.”
Now for a few takes on the 2019 crop of collegians:
The Best Player in the Draft
• Nick Bosa. Nick Bosa. Nick Bosa. “Injured his senior year in high school [torn ACL], injured this year [core muscle surgery], but he’s my highest-rated player,’’ Kiper said of the Ohio State defensive end. “Great bend, great motor.”
• Said Jeremiah: “When I watch Nick, I see the exact same moves as his brother [Chargers pass-rusher Joey Bosa].”
• Pluses: 17.5 sacks in 29 college games, great instinct. The minus: season-ending injuries in two of his past four football seasons.
• “Really strong defensive draft,” Kiper said. “Deep at defensive line. Deep through three rounds. Good running back and receiver depth in rounds two through five.”
• Jeremiah: “If you’re in the hunt for difference-makers on the defensive line, and overall depth on the offensive line … you’re going to feel great about this draft. Offensive line-wise, there’s no Joe Thomas, no Jonathan Ogden, but there’s depth.”
• For Jeremiah, 10 of his top 19 prospects in this draft are front-seven defensive players, including his top four: Bosa, Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, Kentucky pass rusher Josh Allen and Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.
Not the quality of 2018, when quarterbacks went 1-3-7-10-32 in round one. On his big board, Jeremiah has Kyler Murray 14th, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins 18th, Missouri’s Drew Lock 26th and Duke’s Daniel Jones 32nd. Those are ratings, not a projection of where Jeremiah thinks they’ll go.
• I’m hearing Haskins and Murray, in some order, are solid top 10 picks. “Haskins is a pure pocket passer,” Jeremiah said. “If he were to have come out 10 years ago, we’d be talking about him as a surefire top five pick … He just doesn’t move around very well. When he has to move off his spot he really struggles.”
• Jeremiah loves Lock’s arm but not his overall mechanics. “His feet are kind of all over the place,” he said.
• On Jones, Jeremiah thinks his grade will be mixed on different draft boards, with team that want a power arm downgrading him.
The Injury Mysteries
• Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown (Lisfranc foot surgery) won’t run full-speed till August, but he might have been the fastest guy at the combine had he been fit enough to run. “I remember scouting DeSean Jackson at Cal, and this is a clone,” Jeremiah said. Brown will be a late-first-round gift to some team.
• Mississippi State defensive Jeffery Simmons likely would have been a top 10 pick before tearing his ACL recently; how far he slides will be a big pre-draft story.
• Kiper loves Bryce Love, the Stanford running back recovering from December ACL surgery; Love could be a fourth-round bargain in a draft full of middle-round backs.
The Meat of the Draft
Rounds two and three. It’s a good year to have six picks between 32 and 101, which is where the rich-get-richer Patriots find themselves. Said Jeremiah: “You look at the Baltimore Ravens picking at 22. They have no second-round pick. To me, if the Ravens pick at 22 I will buy you dinner the next time we’re together. I know the new GM, Eric DeCosta, taking over there from Ozzie Newsome, is a very bright guy. The value in this draft is in that second-round range. I would be surprised a team like Baltimore doesn’t take pick 22 and look to get out of there and see if they can flex some more picks there in that second-round range.”
The Skill Players
• General consensus: One back (Josh Jacobs of Alabama) in the top 20. There’s a feel that, in a league when 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara was the 67th pick in a draft and 2016 NFL rushing champion Kareem Hunt was the 86th that you’re fine getting a good back—like Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary or Iowa State’s David Montgomery or Penn State’s Miles Sanders—somewhere between picks 40 and 100. “Running back value is in the second to the fifth round,” Kiper said.
• As for wideouts, it’s another deep year in the second and third rounds. Oklahoma’s Brown and Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf lead the way on Jeremiah’s board.
• Interesting that Jeremiah has three tight ends among his top 25 players: Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson (5), Iowa’s Noah Fant (23) and Alabama Irv Smith Jr. (25). Yes, that’s two tight ends from Iowa in the first-round conversation. Fant will likely be the fastest tight end at the combine; he has run 4.64, And Hockenson is athletic with a Mark Bavaro-blocking streak. Add to that the fact that NFL teams love players from Iowa because they value coach Kirk Ferentz NFL-preparedness training. No school has ever produced two first-round tight ends in the same year.
There won’t be many players who make or break anything in the next week, so throw anything you hear like that out of your mental window. I’ll tell you why. Last year, Oklahoma tackle Orlando Brown was Mayock’s number-two-rated tackle in the draft entering the combine, and he had a disastrous performance. He ran an Eisen-like 5.85 40-yard dash, and did a feeble 14 reps of the 225-pound bench press. Brown was ridiculed. The Ravens picked him in the third round. He played 15 games at tackle for Baltimore. Pro Football Focus had a higher 2018 grade for Brown than for the following zillionaire tackles: Trent Williams, Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, Nate Solder, Taylor Decker, Jason Peters and Cordy Glenn. So chill on conclusions drawn this week.
NFL Network’s complete coverage at the combine kicks off Monday, and position group coverage begins Friday. ESPN will have a live show from 1-3 p.m. featuring Kiper and other network analysts Saturday on ABC during the quarterback drills.
Friday evening, an estimated 8.15 million American TV viewers heard anchor Lester Holt lead the NBC Nightly News this way: “Breaking news tonight … Shock waves as the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, is charged in a day-spa prostitution sting.”
On Saturday morning, the 4 million subscribers (newspaper and web) to the New York Times read this headline above the fold on the front page: “Patriots Owner Facing Charges After Sex Sting.” That’s commissioner Roger Goodell’s morning paper. Inside, in the lead story of the Times sports section, respected NFL correspondent Ken Belson wrote: “However the case is resolved, the episode is an embarrassment to a league that likes to portray itself as a pillar of moral rectitude but has struggled to shake an image that its players, employees and team owners treat women poorly.”
“KRAFT FACES CHARGES OF SOLICITATION,” blared the front page of Kraft’s hometown Boston Globe, which landed on newsstands all over his beloved six-state New England region.
The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy mandates that owners and club officials “will be subject to more significant discipline” for violations of the policy and reads: “Everyone who is part of the league must refrain from conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL.”
Prostitution. Sex trafficking. Video evidence of Kraft’s involvement, according to police. The most negative of headlines and news coverage, focused on one of the most important owners in recent league history, on the steward of the franchise that has won more Super Bowls in one era (six) than any franchise in league history … and leading the news on a day with Washington imploding. Add to that the specter of the NFL’s incessant recruitment of women as fans and consumers and fantasy football players, and add to that the feeling by many in the outer boroughs of the league that Kraft is especially close to the league office. It just ratchets up the pressure on Goodell’s prospective judgment in the case. In Goodell’s 12-and-a-half years as commissioner, he hasn’t faced a situation like this one. Which makes it difficult to forecast what Goodell will do to Kraft, if the charges are true.
But there are clues.
Everything about the charge of Kraft on two occasions soliciting a prostitute—one used against her will in a case of human trafficking—has to be prefaced with “if.” The cases arising from a strip-mall spa in Jupiter, Fla., against a cadre of accused men have not been publicly proven, and we’re reminded by the Jussie Smollett case to let the facts surface before passing judgment. Police in Jupiter, Fla., have alleged Kraft twice frequented a spa accused of prostitution, and the police say they have incriminating video of Kraft. A spokesman for Kraft “categorically” denied involvement “in any illegal activity.” The league said it was aware of the case and was monitoring developments, the NFL’s euphemism for, “We’re buying time.” So that’s where it stands this morning.
But if the charges against Kraft prove to be true, I believe the Ray Rice precedent will come into play. And that would not be good news for Kraft. I believe if Kraft is found guilty, commissioner Roger Goodell couldn’t give Kraft a hefty fine alone. The problem with a fine of Kraft? The last sitting owner to be seriously sanctioned by Goodell, Indianapolis’ Jim Irsay, was suspended for six games and fined $500,000 for driving while impaired. That sort of fine, on its own, would be the ultimate slap on the wrist to a man Forbes says is worth $6.8 billion. To be exact, $500,000 would be one-fourteenth of 1 percent of Kraft’s worth. Next to nothing, really. That’s part of the reason why I believe Kraft, if he is guilty, is more likely than not to be suspended.
Think back to the Rice case in 2014. Rice, a Ravens running back, had an altercation with his fiancé at an Atlantic City hotel, and Goodell suspended Rice for two games. The light punishment was derided by the public—particularly women’s groups—and Goodell looked feckless when video of the altercation surfaced and showed Rice decking his fiancé with a single punch. The league revised its punishment, suspending Rice indefinitely, but by then it was too late. Goodell was ripped nationally for running an initially shoddy investigation of the case and for being soft on domestic violence.
So now, if Kraft is found to have used prostitutes being employed against their will in a human-trafficking scheme, the commissioner will have two choices:
• Go light on Kraft if there’s no proof he knew the woman or women were employed against their will. That seems unlikely. When the NFL suspends players for using PEDs, even if the supplement was bought over the counter at a reputable vitamin store, players can’t use the excuse that they didn’t know a substance banned by the NFL was part of the supplement. Similarly, I doubt Goodell would accept a defense of “I didn’t know the women were part of a trafficking scheme.” Someone already involved in an illegal activity would not garner empathy for pleading ignorance there.
• Give Kraft a significant sanction—a multi-week (or longer) suspension from all Patriots and league activities, and a fine. This would show the league taking a stand against the burgeoning American issue of human-trafficking (it is already the cause of two highly respected NFL coaches, Mike Tomlin and Frank Reich), as well as showing the public it won’t kid-glove a high-profile owner.
I think it would be the latter. Again, the case is still unproven, and it’s highly likely Goodell will wait to see the corroborating evidence.
But if found culpable, Kraft might be wise to suggest a third option. He has been generous to important causes, small and large. In addition to a multi-week suspension, he could agree to lead an NFL initiative to help fight human trafficking, and provide significant seed money for the project. That might be one way to limit the amount of long-term personal damage. Deadspin reported that Kraft already has supported the fight against human trafficking with a $100,000 donation in 2015 to the Boston-based “My Life My Choice,” which supports human-trafficking victims. This is a desperately needed cause in the United States and the world, and Kraft’s renewed backing of the fight could be crucial in the fight.
Some would suggest Kraft deserves to have his ownership of the team stripped. I don’t see that happening. When Carolina owner Jerry Richardson was accused by former staff members of sexual and personal improprieties late in 2017 by Sports Illustrated, Richardson stepped away from the team and sold the franchise six weeks before the NFL fined him for his actions. Harboring a culture of intimidation inside his organization, and pressuring multiple female employees for sexual-related favors over a period of years, as Richardson did, could have led to him being stripped of his team. But Goodell never had to rule on that because Richardson voluntarily stepped away.
What would wound Kraft deeply, if found guilty, is knowing that damage he’d have done to his name and his brand—and it would be the third strike against his dynasty. The Spygate scandal tarnished Bill Belichick in 2007 (costing him $500,000 and the team a first-round draft choice), and the Deflategate scandal in 2015 got Tom Brady suspended for four games and cost the team another first-round pick. Because this violation has nothing to do with the competitive aspects of football, it wouldn’t be subject to draft-pick penalty. Goodell would hand down a penalty he feels is just. But Kraft being found guilty would be the third strike against the best long-term team in modern football history, even though it would have nothing to do with football.
One last point: If Goodell has to rule on Kraft, it will be watched as closely as any recent ruling he’s made—by the football community and by women in many communities monitoring a business that has talked a good game about women but has not always walked the walk. It’d be naïve to think Goodell’s clumsy handling of Rice would not be brought up to him by a largely new staff of PR operatives inside the NFL. That matters.
For now, the legal process will play out, in Jupiter, Fla., and in New England and inside the NFL offices in New York, and the consequences to a surprising story will be mulled. “We’re as equally stunned as anyone else,” Jupiter police chief Daniel Kerr said Friday. He’s not alone.
I’ve made it a habit at the combine in Indianapolis to have an event to meet and greet people who love football or follow me on Twitter (or both), and hopefully to raise a few bucks for a good local cause, by listening to me and some of my national sportswriter friends talk football for a couple of hours. This year, I enlisted Colts coach Frank Reich to appear, so we could raise a little more money for a cause he is passionate about: Ascent 121, which aids victims of human trafficking in Indiana.
Reich’s a wonderful story—the underdog quarterback who won one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, the 41-38 wild-card win in 1992 … the underdog coordinator who thought he’d never get an head-coaching job but finally did out of nowhere a year ago … and now the underdog head coach who led the Colts to a stunning playoff berth in 2018.
And, he would want you to know, a person who is championing an important cause in our society today—the fight against human trafficking.
You can come and hear the Reich story, in conversation with me, at Sun King Brewery Friday at 5 p.m. in downtown Indianapolis. When Reich has to leave to do Combine business at 6, I’ll host a football chat with some of my friends in the national media. And you’ll get a beer from Sun King, one of America’s great craft breweries.
“They can hold out all the hope they want to. I’m going to play football.”
—Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray on Saturday, on the Oakland A’s (the baseball team that spent a first-round pick in the MLB Draft last June on Murray) continuing to hope he will eventually choose to play baseball.
“I might take their entire draft from them. It has to be something that cripples the organization. This is a black eye. You talk about conduct detrimental.”
—Bart Scott, former Jets and Ravens linebacker, speaking on his WFAN radio show Friday about the penalty he thinks the league should give the Patriots for owner Robert Kraft being caught in a south Florida prostitution sting.
The NFL has used draft-choice penalties for football violations, not non-football violations.
“He has to be suspended for at least a year.”
—Bart Scott, on Kraft.
“You are what your record says you are. I’m not going to sit here and accuse anyone of racism, but the facts are what they are. We have to look at the opportunities that were given to minorities this latest round and see what can be done about it.”
—Steelers president Art Rooney II, to Tim Graham of The Athletic, after the NFL’s minority head-coaches were halved—from eight in 2018 to four in 2019—this offseason.
“Antonio Brown’s stock is dropping fast and is as volatile as Bitcoin.”
—Mike Lombardi of The Athletic.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has been covering the draft for 41 years, the last 36 for ESPN. This is something you don’t know: This is the first NFL Scouting Combine he will actually attend. ESPN has been given access to the on-field drills this year for the first time and so Kiper—who has watched the combine on TV for years—will go to Indianapolis and be present to see the underwear Olympics (the snide term by some scouts for the combine). Kiper, on what he’s learned about the important things in the scouting process leading up to the draft:
“I’ve learned it’s all important, to a degree. But there are a few things I pay attention to in every player. Arm length’s important. Getting your hands on guys, catching up when a guy gets past you. Even for corners it’s important. Marlon Humphrey of the Ravens, long arms. T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, long arms. Jared Allen—long arms were a big part of his game. I like the 3-cone drill, because it measures change of direction, and that’s so important at every position. I like speed, at every position. Terron Armstead was a 4.71 (in the 40-yard dash) guy and went in the third round. Darius Slay ran 4.36 and went in the second. There’s reasons for that, but speed and quickness is valuable at every position.
“I think you’ve got to guard against changing your board a lot now, when the coaches get involved. Not that they don’t know these [prospects], but you’ve got to trust your scouts and the work they’ve done all year going from campus to campus.
“I’ve learned how important the undrafted free agents are every year. Maybe a guy you liked a lot didn’t have a great senior year. Maybe he was hurt, or maybe he played hurt. Lots of guys play hurt in football. Was he playing through a hamstring? An ankle? You’ve got to be able to look at that and see through it. There are a lot of outliers in football, guys who might not fit or check every box. I wish I could just one year get the chance to sign 15 to 20 undrafted free agents after the seventh round, because I know some of those guys would be a lot better than not being drafted.
“I’ve made mistakes analyzing players. I really liked Jimmy Clausen when he came out of Notre Dame, and I was wrong about him. I thought he’d be accurate and tough and competitive and that would make up for some of his arm issues. But in this business you’re going to make mistakes. Part of the job. I remember back in 1996, the Rams had two first-round picks and took Lawrence Phillips and Eddie Kennison with the sixth and 18th picks. I said right then they should have taken Eddie George and Marvin Harrison, and they could have gotten both guys where they picked.”
Michael David Smith wrote about how the NFL should reconsider the system of compensatory draft choices, in part because it encourages smart teams to shed good but often not great players in free agency so they can save cap room and recoup valuable draft picks the following spring. He’s absolutely right. Compensatory picks are awarded to teams a year after losing big-money free-agents.
Let’s look at this year’s top 11 Compensatory Picks, seven in round three, four in round four. That is all of the extra picks awarded in the first 170 picks in the 2019 draft. You’ll see why the Compensatory Pick system might need to be revised.
• Compensatory Picks awarded in round three and four, total: 11.
• Compensatory Picks awarded to 2018 playoffs teams in rounds three and four: 7.
The picks awarded in rounds three and four, followed by the 2018 record of that team, plus the player that team lost to get the pick:
Washington (7-9, Kirk Cousins)
New England (14-5, Nate Solder)
Los Angeles Rams (15-4, Trumaine Johnson)
Los Angeles Rams (15-4, Sammy Watkins)
Carolina (7-9, Andrew Norwell)
New England (14-5, Malcolm Butler)
Baltimore (10-7, Ryan Jensen)
I mean, look at that list of lost players and tell me that the smart teams don’t use Compensatory Picks as a farm system to replenish their roster and get rid of guys whose new contracts, by and large, don’t come close to matching their mediocre (collectively) 2018 production.
The betting site BetOnline listed these odds for possible length of suspension against New England owner Robert Kraft:
1-4 weeks: 2-1.
5-8 weeks: 5-4.
9-17 weeks: 7-5.
What a country.
I went nowhere in the last week, except to the doctor to try to shake an 18-day bug.
So … this space left blank.
Advice for Kevin Colbert. From Jason K. of Woodland Hills, Calif.: “I understand Pittsburgh not wanting to help their division or help New England by trading them a top five receiver, but is that smart? With the Pats having six picks in the first three rounds, they could blow the doors off Pittsburgh with a big-time offer. I’ll never understand teams limiting their scope for a trade.”
I think you’re misreading New England’s team-building ways. Antonio Brown wants a new contract, with most or all of it guaranteed, and he’s 31 in July, and he’s been an idiot for the last two months, and the Patriots haven’t paid big money to an offensive player other than Tom Brady (well, maybe Rob Gronkowski, but he makes big money for a tight end, and Brown would want loads more). I don’t see it, but we’ll see if Bill Belichick breaks his way of doing things.
Could there be an officiating scandal in the NFL? From Kraig S., of Amarillo, Texas: “I read the ESPN story about former NBA official Tim Donaghy and the possibility he fixed games to benefit those gambling on the games he officiated. I am not looking to throw fuel to another conspiracy theory about missed calls and favoritism. What I am more interested in is what the NFL does to ensure the integrity of its games. Does the NFL have standards/practices in place to try and catch or avoid ‘game fixing’ by its officials?”
The NFL does do a lot to ensure purity of officiating, but never say never. I’ve always thought it would be very hard to fix an NFL game, unless you had a full seven-man officiating crew on board. Suppose a sharp guy paid off a back judge before a big game, and the game never had any sort of contested call deep downfield and the game was decided at other areas of the field. What good would it do to have the back judge in the bag? To be safe, I called former NFL ref Terry McAulay the other day, and he told me the league does an FBI-type background check on each prospective official, and then once every three years after that; does a credit check regularly to see that no irregularities are happening in an officials bank or investment accounts; mandates that each officials be checked out by the local NFL team’s security chief; prohibits all officials from entering a casino during the season; prohibits all officials from gambling on any sports event. “I’m very, very confident the level of integrity of the NFL officials is beyond reproach,” McAulay told me. It’s not something I’ve heard very much about in my 35 years covering the league.
The restrictive pool of head coaches. From Bob T. of Woodbury, Minn.: “Is the NFL putting too much emphasis on the young coaching push based on the results of basically one coach [Sean McVay]?”
I think so. Bill Parcells told me last month he fears that the young coaches being hired are smart X-and-O guys but don’t have the experience leading a room full of players—because many of them have never had to do it before. It’s hard, he said, to learn that stuff on the job.
1. I think I’ll take a crack at Antonio Brown’s landing spot here, keeping a few things in mind: He’s significantly hurt his market value (no kidding) since going AWOL from the Steelers the last week of the regular season and since going all scorched-earth on the Steelers in the last six weeks. The fact that GM Kevin Colbert would say he’s had three teams reach out about trading for the first player in history to catch 100 balls six years in a row tells you the market on Brown will be limited. (Three? If Brown didn’t have his baggage, it’d be 13.) But here’s my top choices for his smartest landing spot:
• Carolina. New owner David Tepper, a Pittsburgh guy, went to Pitt and then Carnegie Mellon, and donated $55 million to CMU, which now has a Tepper School of Business in his honor. He bought a 5 percent stake in the Steelers in 2009, preceding his purchase of the Panthers last year. So he’ll know the holes in Brown’s persona, but he’ll also know the difference Brown could make in a passing game that needs a downfield threat. Brown has averaged 114 catches and 1,524 yards a year for the past six years with the deep-armed Ben Roethlisberger, and he’ll be motivated to keep the distractions to a minimum so he can earn a new deal. Tepper is motivated to inject new life into a 24-25 team since Carolina’s Super Bowl appearance three years ago. Though GM Marty Hurney is a conservative type by nature, I think he could be convinced to take a shot on this get-rich-quick scheme. It’d thrill Cam Newton too.
• Washington. A smart guy in the league told me the other day: “Look for the desperate teams with Brown.” What team is more desperate than Washington, which is hemorrhaging fans, has no idea who the 2019 quarterback will be, has no idea who the 2020 coach will be, hasn’t won a playoff game in 14 years, and has an embattled owner searching for anything that will get his team out of the muck and mire of mediocrity? This also fits the Pittsburgh plan of wanting to send Brown out of the AFC. The problem, obviously, would be finding a quarterback to get the ball to Brown. But Washington’s a team that loves to win the offseason and hasn’t done so in a while. I’d be surprised if Bruce Allen and Kevin Colbert don’t talk about Brown.
• Tampa Bay. Dot-connecting. DeSean Jackson wants a new start out of Tampa. The new coach of the Bucs, Bruce Arians, was the Steelers’ play-caller in 2011, when Brown had his breakout NFL season. Arians wants to throw the ball deep more than any head coach in football. Makes sense to me.
• New York Jets. Makes a ton of sense, because the Jets aren’t averse to spending big in free agency so why would they be averse to making a big deal? I’ve maintained that Robby Anderson and a fairly high pick would be a fair trade, because it would rid the Steelers of the Brown headache and, though the Jets and Steelers meet this fall in New Jersey, wouldn’t mean the Steelers would be dealing him to anything but an occasional on-field rival. This is the franchise where Santonio Holmes went to disappear nine years ago. Anderson and JuJu Smith-Schuster would be a formidable receiver duo for the next few years too.
• Oakland. The Raiders have five first-round picks in the next two drafts (their own two, Chicago’s in 2019 and 2020, and the Cowboys’ this year), and Jon Gruden is a trading machine. Though it’s an AFC team, they don’t play each other till at least 2020.
• The others. I don’t see San Francisco, unless Jerry Rice gets hired as GM … Arizona could send the first pick in the second round this year, straight up, which seems like a fair deal … Green Bay could make Brown the receiver very happy. Not impossible, but hard to see such a straight-laced organization with a young head coach trying to find his footing taking the plunge.
2. I think the Rams are praying left tackle Andrew Whitworth comes back for one more season (at $10.7 million in the last year of his three-year free-agent contract). For now, the 37-year-old Whitworth plans to meet with the team post-combine to discuss his future. The team could really use one more year of excellent play and offensive-line stability out of him. If free-agent left guard Rodger Saffold leaves for a payday, the Rams would certainly want the stability of Whitworth on the left side of the line, perhaps moving 2018 third-rounder Joseph Noteboom into Saffold’s spot if Whitworth stays. But if Whitworth goes, the pressure could be on Noteboom, a three-year left-tackle starter at TCU, to slide into Whitworth’s spot.
3. I think, speaking of intriguing Rams free agents, I expect Ndamukong Suh and safety Lamarcus Joyner to sign elsewhere, and pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr., could also go. And if Saffold, Suh, Joyner and perhaps Fowler sign for big money collectively and the Rams don’t venture into free agency much, they could have a replay of this year’s Compensatory Pick load. L.A., as I showed earlier, got two third-round comp-picks by letting Trumaine Johnson and Sammy Watkins walk, and those two players were major disappointments with the Jets and Chiefs, respectively. Of the four potential defectors, Fowler is probably the player whose loss would be felt most in 2019, because the Rams just don’t have an edge presence on their roster after Fowler.
4. I think I don’t have a lot of dealings with college coaches, and so when I do, I like to ask them questions other than the one I might have reached out for. So last week I asked Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley if he was tempted to pursue an NFL head-coaching job this year, and whether he might be in the future. The reply of the well-respected Riley: “I certainly wasn’t tempted at all this year. I would say right now it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I am a college lifer. I think it’ll be interesting how a lot of things go on from here … if there’s a lot of changes in both games. Football is evolving; there’s a lot of changes obviously at the NFL level right now. There’s a lot of changes with all the transfers and recruiting and all the different things going on at the college level. You never know how those games are going to evolve. I might’ve been tempted honestly had I not been at a place like Oklahoma. But this is one of the best jobs there is in football. Like I’ve said before, I’ll never say never. I never want to promise things that I can’t 1,000 percent guarantee. It’s not something that really tempts me at all right now.”
5. I think that’s a no, sort of, the same way Stanford’s David Shaw is a no. And those are the two most respected NFL head-coaching candidates on the offensive side of the ball in college football today.
6. I think, regarding throwing or not throwing or not working out on-field at the combine: It doesn’t matter. At all. I’ve said this annually for years: I have never heard an NFL GM or coach say, after that draft, We downgraded Player X on our board because he didn’t work out at the combine. So big deal if Dwayne Haskins throws and Kyler Murray throws (and I don’t even know if that will be the outcome).
7. I think the more I think about it, the more logical Nick Foles-to-Jacksonville sounds. Unless, of course, the fun dream scenario happens: Jon Gruden picks Kyler Murray and trades Derek Carr to Jacksonville in the middle of the first round April 25.
8. I think I don’t normally write about media relations staffs, but this occurred to me watching Lester Holt lead the night news Friday with the Robert Kraft story: Whatever Kraft pays Stacey James and his Patriots PR staff, it’s not enough.
9. I think watching the Christian Hackenberg lowlights in the AAF is downright depressing.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: by Patricia Mazzei of the New York Times, on the day spa raided by the police in Jupiter, Fla., the scandal that ensnared Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
b. Sheriff William D. Snyder of Martin County, Fla., deflected blame from the trafficked women and onto the customers of the spa. “The monsters are the men,” Snyder told Mazzei.
c. TV Series of the Week: “Surviving R. Kelly,” the Lifetime series that focused the law on the rapper and led to his arrest late in the week. Top-notch journalism by Lifetime.
d. Political Series of the Week: “The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth,” on Showtime, is one of the coolest shows about Washington that I’ve seen. It’s real, and it’s spectacular, and it shows how D.C. really works.
e. Very rarely do I see any event a second time, but I made an exception with family in New York last week. We saw “Come From Away” a few months after I’d seen it the first time. It was just as emotional and satisfying the second time.
f. You don’t know “Come From Away?” It’s a Broadway play about the tiny Canadian town, Gander, Newfoundland, that welcomed thousands of stranded travelers for days after 9/11, when U.S. airspace was closed an international flights needed a place to land. When you lose faith in humanity, see “Come From Away.”
g. Coffeenerdness: I’ve been on tea, an ocean of it, for about 16 days, trying to get well after the football season. Tazo Orange, with a thick slice of squeezed lemon, is the best.
h. Beernerdness: Not been in the mood for much beer in recent days, but I did have a Kronenbourg 1664 (Kronenbourg Brewery, Strasbourg, France) after seeing “Come From Away,” and it was marvelous. Best served ice cold. Like revenge.
i. The lousy thing about being sick for more than two weeks? You spend a couple of days, at least, every week working out and staying in some sort of shape anticipating having more time to do so in the off-season. And then it’s over. You’re back to ground zero. I hate that.
j. I wouldn’t get too fired up about the pitch clock ruining baseball.
k. RIP Peter Tork, the cool guy in the Monkees, who passed away from tongue cancer last week.
l. Hey, when you’re 10, and you memorize every word to every top 40 song (as I did in 1967), songs like “Daydream Believer” stick with you for a half century.
m. And RIP Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. So many of you have told me you play 20 minutes of hooky from work on Monday morning to read this column. (Which is the biggest continuous honor of my career.) On so many Sundays, when I should be spending time researching some NFL thing or other, I did the exact same with Cafardo’s Boston Globe baseball column. I’m a baseball nerd, made that way in part by the Peter Gammons notes column he invented for the Globe, and continued in Gammonsian fashion by Cafardo. Nick died suddenly at Red Sox camp Thursday morning. He was 62. I knew him only a bit, but all those who knew him well said he was the kindest and most generous guy in the business.
n. I love the fact that Cafardo’s last story was about a nice guy: World Series MVP Steve Pearce, back with the Red Sox for one more season.
o. Here is how the story ended, with Pearce talking about what it was like for him to return to the team he won the World Series with—the last words Nick Cafardo ever wrote:
“This is what baseball is all about,” Pearce said. “I’ve been a lot of places. When you find that perfect place to play baseball, you know it. This was it for me. For me, it was a no-brainer. If they wanted me back, I was willing to do what it takes to do it. I didn’t have to look around very long. In fact, I didn’t have to look at all. We worked it out and now I get to defend a title with the team I want to be with.”
And the Red Sox, throwing age aside, got themselves an MVP. Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Person.
Hey David Tepper:
Put your mark on the Panthers.