INDIANAPOLIS—It’s Kyler Murray’s Combine, followed by Kyler Murray’s Pro Day, followed by the spring of Kyler Murray Rumors, followed by, mercifully, the first round of the NFL Draft on April 25 and the official landing place of Kyler Murray.
Who, by the way, did nothing here over three days except measure taller than he was supposed to (by a whole quarter of an inch!), talk to 10 teams, and geek out over seeing the coaches he’s been watching on TV for years.
Until the defensive linemen ran fast on Sunday, the player who did nothing here was the mega-story. A lot of it was the size thing. “I’m just sitting here and I’m on the TV. You can’t really get away from it,” a bemused Murray said in his only media availability here, a 40-question, 20-minute session with reporters Friday. But this was more than the mania over 5-10 1/8. Murray’s fate and his story just hung over the whole shebang. “I don’t know any player who’s attracted as much attention at any Combine that I’ve ever seen,’’ Combine guru Gil Brandt said Sunday night. Kim Jones said on NFL Network on Saturday that people around the league believed “almost universally” that Murray would be the first pick in the draft, by Arizona. Draft analyst Tony Pauline reported Sunday that Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury was saying at the combine that Murray to the Cardinals is a “done deal.”
I don’t know enough about either of those reports to confirm them, and I do believe there’s a good chance the Cardinals take Murray number one. I can say five things about Murray and this draft after doing some legwork at the combine Friday and Saturday:
1. GM Steve Keim has final say on Cardinals personnel, including the draft. I would be shocked if today, 53 days before the draft and not having had a private workout nor a long conversation with Murray, that Keim has decided to pick Murray. “I don’t believe it for a second,” said Greg Gabriel, a veteran of 31 NFL drafts as a scout. “Could he have the lead in the clubhouse now? Sure. But nobody makes decisions like that this far out, without doing their due diligence.”
2. There are two Josh Rosen problems. Last year, Arizona traded third-round and fifth-round picks to move up five slots in the first round to choose the UCLA quarterback. So now, if they pick Murray, the Cardinals would have to dump Rosen after 13 shaky starts, and it’s a tricky proposition. “The danger is, you start to shop Rosen, and everyone knows you’re picking Murray,” said former NFL front-office man Mike Lombardi.
3. Rosen Problem 2: What could you get in trade for him? Miami (13th pick in the first round), Washingon (15), the Chargers (28) and New England (32) would be worth investigating … unless the compensation for Rosen has crashed. I asked Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who lives in Arizona and watched Rosen last year, what he thinks the value for Rosen is. “I would give a three for Josh,” Warner said. A third-round pick. Yikes. Saturday night, I asked a renowned NFL GM what he thought the value of Rosen in trade would. “Probably a three,” the GM said. “Not what the Cardinals would think his value is.” Scary, on the surface, for Arizona. But if you’ve decided you want Murray, and you’ve decided Rosen’s not your guy, you’ve got to move on, regardless what you get for Rosen.
4. Oakland coach Jon Gruden, picking fourth, loves Murray. He and GM Mike Mayock have gone out of their way to say multiple times that Derek Carr is their quarterback. Maybe they’re rock-solid on Carr, and maybe it’ll be a moot point if the Cardinals stay at number one. But with all their draft loot in the next two drafts (five first-round picks), and with Gruden’s crush on Murray, the Raiders bear watching.
5. Murray met with 10 teams in Indianapolis, but I wouldn’t read a lot into that. The usual suspects were among the 10 teams—Arizona, Oakland, the Giants, Jacksonville, Miami and Washington. But he also met with Detroit, Seattle and the Chargers. Detroit. Hmmm. Seattle: probably just fact-finding. I’m not sure of the 10th team. But as I said, don’t read too much into that.
Lots more happening at the combine, plus free agency and trade news, and beyond. Never through I’d write the name “Trace McSorley” in my combine wrapup, but he’s coming.
Day of the Defense
Not sure about this, but I think Rich Eisen could be heard in Terre Haute on Sunday when Mississippi State pass rusher Montez Sweat neared the finish line in his 40-yard dash. “Four four TWOOOO?!!!!” Eisen yelled to his NFL Network audience. Actually, Sweat ran the 40 in 4.41 seconds, the fastest time in combine history for a defensive lineman … and faster than Odell Beckham Jr. (4.43), ran at the combine five years ago. Then, LSU linebacker Devin White ran a 4.40 time, the fastest ever by a linebacker.
This could be an unprecedented draft for defensive players. One veteran regional scout said Saturday night he guessed there could be 21 to 23 defensive players picked in the first round in April. Four of the top five picks could well be front-seven players: Pass-rusher Nick Bosa (didn’t hurt himself and showed pre-core-injury explosion Sunday), defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (ran an impressive 4.83 at 303 pounds), pass rusher Josh Allen (faster than Bosa, and as competitive) and White, the rising linebacker. And Murray. But it’s way early.
Who is Montez Sweat?
Enrolled at Michigan State in 2014, played sparingly, transferred to a junior college, enrolled at Mississippi State in 2017, and was Pro Football Focus’ 83rd-rated college player in 2018—behind quarterbacks at North Texas and Ohio University. Seems likely to be overdrafted. As one scout who’s studied Sweat for his NFC team said late Sunday: “Some plays he’s unblockable, but exceedingly inconsistent.”
Who is D.K. Metcalf?
Metcalf has never not lived in Oxford, Miss. Born there, schooled there, starred in high school there, went to college (Ole Miss) there. So wherever he is drafted—unless the NFL relocates a franchise to Oxford in time to play this fall, he’ll be living away from home for the first time in his life. Hard to make more of an impression than Metcalf made over the weekend. At 6-3 and 228, with a 4.33 time in the 40, Metcalf had his body fat measured at a bizarrely low 1.6 percent. “How is that possible and to still be alive?” retired tackle Joe Thomas tweeted. Good hands too. And he made a good impression. Jon Gruden said Metcalf reminded him of Jim Brown. “He’s the biggest wideout I’ve ever seen,” said Gruden, “and you got to ask yourself, ‘Who’s tackling this guy?’ “
The Eagles Are Smart, and They Did Nick Foles a Solid
I’ve maintained all along that the Eagles had a choice in roster construction this winter: keep Nick Foles for another year at maybe $20 million as quarterback insurance for the oft-hurt Carson Wentz … and then lose at least one of their must-have vets like defensive end Brandon Graham. They found little market for Foles, knew they’d probably get a third-round compensatory pick for Foles in the 2020 draft, knew they might not be able to get much better than that in trade, and so did the right thing and gave him his freedom. (Les Bowen of Philly.com reported Foles will likely sign with Jacksonville.)
Now, about them being smart. Graham signed Friday for three years and $40 million. That average of $13.3 million per year could look like a bargain when or if one of the big pass rushers doesn’t get franchise-tagged this week by the Tuesday 4 p.m. deadline … and ends up with a contract of $17 million a year or so. Good moves by Philadelphia GM Howie Roseman, who gets Graham for a manageable number and gives a good guy the franchise is indebted to, Foles, his freedom and gets a third-round pick (likely) in return.
Trey Flowers Could Be a Very Lucky Man Tuesday
I love this factoid. In 2015, the Patriots used an early fourth-round pick, the 101st overall pick, on Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers. He has played for the Patriots for four seasons, collected 26.5 sacks, and has a chance to be a very good to great edge player for the next few years. Of all the front-seven impact players with bright futures who could be free Tuesday, there’s a good chance Flowers will be the only unrestricted free agent; the Patriots don’t usually break the bank for their own free-agents at the top of the market (see Nate Solder), so I would expect someone (the Jets, perhaps) to pay the 25-year-old Flowers somewhere around $17 million a year. If so, the Patriots would be likely to get a 2020 third-round compensatory pick in return … that pick will be very close if not right on the nose to number 101 overall, five years after New England used the 101st pick on Flowers. So now you see one reason why the Patriots have become a NFL continuum.
I don’t think any change in the replay system, in the wake of the non-interference call in the NFC title game, could get the required 24 votes to change the system today. But that doesn’t mean by the time the league meets for the annual meetings in Phoenix on March 24 that there won’t be a rules proposal. In Indy, there was a feeling that Roger Goodell will push the Competition Committee and the membership to do something to cut down the chance for another debacle like that non-call in the Rams-Saints game.
“The big question, really, is what are you comfortable with as a deductible,” Saints coach and victim and Competition Committee member Sean Payton said. “Do you view the event in our game like a 50-year flood that’s not going to happen again and say, ‘Aaah, we’re not going to worry about it?’ Or are you going to pay the big deductible to make sure you’re insured against it? So I think there will some smart and serious discussion about expanding replay in a sensible and conservative way.”
Conservative, so the anti-replay teams don’t find a reason to automatically say no. I’ve got some ideas that I haven’t totally fleshed out yet that I’ll write about as early as next week in this column.
Zac Robinson’s a Good Hire
Sean McVay traded one quarterback coach named Zac (Taylor, the new Bengals coach) for another Zac (Robinson, a Pro Football Focus analyst and former Oklahoma State quarterback). Interesting thing about Robinson: It’s likely that no person in the NFL has the institutional knowledge of the NFL quarterback that Robinson has. For the last two seasons, he has been tasked at PFF with grading every throw of every quarterback in every game in the league. As well as knowing players, Robinson has the kind of Mensa quarterback brain that Sean McVay has, and I expect Robinson to play a role in McVay’s imaginative scheming starting this fall.
Don’t Forget Louis Riddick
I’ve got a lot of respect for the former NFL safety and current ESPN NFL analyst. In the wake of Jason Witten leaving the ESPN booth and returning to play tight end of the Cowboys, I don’t know who will replace Witten. I suppose ESPN will try to throw sick money at Peyton Manning—who has a smash hit on his hands in the “Detail” series on quarterbacks—and who knows? He’s been retired for four years and maybe he’s interested. But if not him, maybe Matt Hasselbeck.
But here’s who really, really wants the job and would be good at it, I think: Louis Riddick. I asked him for my podcast Friday about whether he’d want the gig. “Absolutely,” he said. “Absolutely. Look. I would crush that role. I would love it. Love every second of it. Every kid in my situation grew up watching Monday Night Football. To do that on Monday night… it gives you goosebumps thinking about it. And would love it, absolutely love it.”
Gospel According to Shanahan
Smart take from Kyle Shanahan about the rise of shorter quarterbacks: “You see one person do it and other people realize it’s possible. You watch snowboarding and people never thought you could do more than two 360s. Then all of a sudden someone does three of them. A year later, 10 people can do it.
“Yeah, we’d all like tall guys with the biggest arm in the world who can run faster than everyone and know how to play quarterback. But Drew Brees is as good as anyone who’s ever played. He’s a smarter one. The odds are, if you’re taller, it should be easier; if you’re faster, it should be easier; if you have a better arm, it should be easier. But like I’ll say about every position: There are no absolutes about anything.”
Matt Rhule’s Very Okay With Being in Waco
Strange story around the NFL coach-hiring time. The Jets almost hired the Baylor coach, Matt Rhule, and then didn’t in a kerfuffle over assistant coaches, and went with Adam Gase while Rhule stayed in Waco. Friday, over lunch, I asked Rhule—who is highly regarded in NFL circles—if he had regrets over not getting the Jets’ gig.
“No, not at all,” he said. “I’m great. I have a great job. That’s been the one thing … I wasn’t out trying to get a job. We’re building a football program that was in a bad place. I’ll look back someday and say, ‘Hey, we did something good from a human perspective. We’ve made a change in the world for the better.’ And we have a chance to win. I’m in a great place for football. It was really cool being a guy who spent his childhood in New York, huge sports fan, used to go to Knicks and Mets games all the time, to go through that process with the Jets. Good people. Very cool experience.”
Rhule had a good view on the benefit of interviewing for NFL jobs: “When you go through these interviews, it makes you re-think what’s your philosophy. I’m sitting there talking to somebody about what I would do and it makes you say to yourself, ‘What do I really believe in? What’s important to me?’ That part of it refines your own philosophy when you go back to your job, and I think it makes you better.”
Quarterbacks I Saw
I sat in Lucas Oil Stadium with some media peers to watch the first session of quarterbacks throw Saturday—the Dwayne Haskins/Drew Lock/Daniel Jones/Tyree Jackson/Will Grier/Ryan Finley (among others) group. All this is, an hour watching these guys, is a snapshot. But three guys who stuck out:
• Ohio State’s Haskins, who throws a beautiful ball and can throw it 55 yards near the target effortlessly;
• North Carolina State’s Finley, who was accurate and mechanically sound;
• Penn State’s Trace McSorley. Trace McSorley? The guy who was likely one of the last of the 17 quarterbacks invited to the combine in the eyes of NFL scouts, and who turned down a request to work with the safeties. No, he said; he’s a quarterback. I don’t know if he will be, but he impressed me throwing the ball, particularly on the 25-yard outs that every passer had to throw. He was the fastest (4.57 in the 40) quarterback on site, with Murray not running, and had a little quickness to him too. I thought of him as a backup QB, special-teams weapon, and maybe receiver, a guy who could be your 51st player, active some week and inactive others.
So I asked Sean Payton about McSorley on Sunday night. “When I looked at him, my first thought was, ‘I wonder if he can be [Julian] Edelman?’ I wondered if he could be a versatile kind of guy.”
I’ll be fascinated to see his NFL fate. He might not get drafted, but he’ll be a hard free-agent (if that’s his lot) for a team to cut. “Nobody’s gonna outwork me,” McSorley said. “They’re gonna have to drag me off the field.”
Prime Time Might Be Coming
A few people in the know told me over the weekend that the NFL is considering moving at least one day and perhaps more of the combine workouts to evening TV as soon as next year. It’s not only to spike the TV ratings, but also perhaps to get the NFL’s new Rams/NFL Network campus that’s being built in Los Angeles to host at least some of the prime-time workouts. It’s not close to being finalized, though, in part because teams love the central location and walkable convenience in Indianapolis for the combine.
One idea that’s been thrown around is to have the medical exams in Indianapolis, and then the workouts and player interviews in Los Angeles, but that’s really just in the idea stage. The logistics for that seem problematic, to say the least. The teams will hate any change, because they’ve gotten used to the rhythm of the combine: body-measurables and medical exams and workouts during the day, and player interviews at night, all in an eight-square-block region in Indianapolis. We’ll see.
There is real competition for Antonio Brown on the trade market, and I expect the Steelers to trade him as early as this week—but almost certainly before the March 17 deadline to pay Brown a $2.5 million roster bonus. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Brown’s chief suitors were Oakland, Tennessee and Washington, and I heard Saturday night there could be at least one more serious team. What Schefter’s three teams have in common: a strong head coach (Jon Gruden, Mike Vrabel, Jay Gruden) who won’t be afraid of bringing an incendiary device like Brown into the locker room. My gut feeling is the Steelers will get the first-round pick they’ve been angling to get for Brown, who turns 31 in July.
On Saturday night, I was talking about Brown’s fate with a long-time NFL GM and we discussed this point: Imagine Brown’s market—even after his disappearing act in the Steelers’ playoff-implications game in Week 17—if he’d said nothing and posted nothing Steelers-related on social media over the last two months. He continued over the weekend, telling LeBron James on his HBO show “The Shop” that he doesn’t take blame for the dissolution of his relationship with the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And he told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington: “I don’t even have to play football if I don’t want. I don’t even need the game … If they [other teams] want to play, they gonna play by my rules. If not, I don’t need to play.”
Is there anyone out there who can save Antonio Brown from himself?
As I reported a couple of weeks ago, Brown’s social rants took at least one team out of the trade market. Maybe Brown gets some pleasure out of damaging his market value so the Steelers won’t get as much in return. But there’s no question in my mind that he’s thrown cold water on his market, and some teams think he’d potentially be the kind of distraction—though a great player—that they don’t want.
The Raiders make the most sense. They have the ammo, with overall picks 4, 24, 27 and 35, and Jon Gruden needs a deep threat the way he needs oxygen. They have $72.9 million in cap room, according to Over The Cap. And if Jon Gruden is willing to re-do Brown’s contract after this season to add significant guaranteed money in 2020, Brown could be the three/four-year weapon to key the Oakland offense. (Smart money is on Brown playing 2019 under his old deal, a total of $15.125 million in salary and bonus; then, if he’s good on the field and not distracting off it, he could get a new contract. If he insists on a new deal day one, well, that’s going to be a problem.)
I keep thinking this about Brown’s situation: This too shall pass. His production over the last six years is peerless among NFL wideouts—his average season since 2013: 114 catches, 1,524 yards, 11 touchdowns—and I have not seen a player work at his craft harder than Brown does. I watched him at Steelers camp the last two summers work on the JUGS machine catching extra footballs long after every other receiver had left the field, doing it at times with aides pinning one arm away from his catch-radius to simulate surviving interference. I’m not saying he won’t eventually find something to make him unhappy in his new surroundings, but he’ll be motivated to prove he’s still great and not a cancer. Brown to the Raiders for the 27th pick (the Amari Cooper pick from Dallas, ironically) sounds about right to me.
In Indy on Friday night, I hosted a conversation in front of fans at Sun King Brewery with Colts coach Frank Reich to benefit his charitable cause, Ascent 121, which fights human trafficking and services victims of it. He said something I didn’t know. Frank Reich turned down an offer to be the Colts’ quarterback coach in Peyton Manning’s rookie year. I didn’t know that, and I figured that maybe you didn’t either, so I want you to hear the story, just as I heard it with some passionate Colts fans Friday night.
Reich: “So after 14 years of playing, finishing playing in 1998, I got a phone call from [Colts GM] Bill Polian saying, ‘Hey, would you come and work for me here in Indianapolis?’ The draft wasn’t yet but they were getting ready. He was getting ready to draft a pretty good player. He said, ‘I want you to come here and be [Peyton Manning’s] quarterback coach.’ This is true story. He’s like, ‘I want you to come here. You’re exactly the guy. I want you to be his quarterback coach. You’ll be his quarterback coach, then you’ll be a coordinator. And you’ll be a head coach in this league in a matter of years.’
“After playing 14 years, I had three young children. At the time when I retired, they were … three daughters … They were 8, 6, and 2. And I knew I always wanted to be a coach. I knew I wanted to be a head coach. And it was really tempting with Mr. Polian telling me this because there was no one I respected more than Bill Polian in football. But the reality was, it was at that time I just had to make a decision. As much as I wanted to be a head coach, wanted to work for Bill Polian, I also wanted to drive my daughters to school, change their diapers, be at their swim meets, help them with their math homework, and do all those things.”
Applause from the crowd.
“Well thank you. Believe me, I am thankful that we were … because I played long enough, we were afforded the opportunity that I could make that choice … So I stepped away from that. I thought it was going to be a couple years, but it really turned out to be about seven or eight. I always knew in the back of my mind I thought I’d come back to coaching. And then, seven or eight years later, when I had been to a lot of swim meets and done a lot of math homework—I re-learned all of my algebra—I knew it was time. I knew it was time. But I knew this time I was going to have to go the long road. I was a little bit worried they were going to say the game had passed this old man by.
“I called up Bill Polian and he said, ‘Absolutely’ … This is vintage Bill Polian. This is why I love him so much. He said, ‘You’re gonna have to be entry-level.’ I was entry-level. I volunteered for six months. I volunteered for six months without pay. They put me up. They paid for my hotel room. I was just trying to show the staff, Tom Moore and the offensive staff that they could trust me—Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell and the crew. Started out at the bottom and then just slowly worked my way up, thinking it might not ever happen.
“I can honestly say that never one time did I ever regret that decision that I made. I knew when I made the decision in ’98 not to get into it right away that I was potentially giving that up. I say all that to say that when it came full circle, to be able to be the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, I mean … for me, and my wife and our family, it was like literally a dream come true. Anybody who knows anything about it or read anything about it, knows that in my heart it was a God thing. I just think it was meant to be for me to be in this city, with this team, with this organization, for this time. It’s pretty special.”
Now you know why this first year of the Reich regime in Indianapolis was pretty special.
“Me and him being together would be nice.”
—Kyler Murray, on Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury, the former Texas Tech coach who recruited Murray out of high school. Kingsbury’s Cardinals have the first pick in the April draft.
“You’re costing people money out here!”
—NFL Network analyst Steve Smith, on the field at the quarterback workouts Saturday, to Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson, who was firing lasers at close range to receiver prospects, in a comment that made the air.
Smith gonna Smith.
“There we go Jackson! That’s what I’m talking about!”
—Smith, a few minutes later, watching Jackson take a few miles off his fastball.
“I don’t think he understands how good he has it.”
—Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, on Antonio Brown.
“I just want to be, I guess, like Tim Cook, who followed Steve Jobs [as Apple CEO]. I think we’ve got a great brand. We’ve got a good organization, a strong organization, and I want to continue that. I think we’ll be different in some ways. We’ll be innovative in some ways.”
—New Ravens GM Eric DeCosta, who takes over for Ozzie Newsome to run his first draft in Baltimore this year.
“I don’t have any interest in expanding replay. I have a strong interest in eliminating replay.”
—Oakland coach Jon Gruden.
“I feel like I could come in and do the same thing, if not better.”
—University of Houston defensive tackle prospect Ed Oliver, comparing his potential in the NFL to Aaron Donald’s.
NFL Network analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who has studied this year’s crop of draftable passers and was on the field Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium to report on the 16 quarterbacks who worked out. What he’s learned about the 2019 group:
“It’s a very average group. Kyler Murray’s probably the pick of the litter, though he’s very polarizing among teams. There’s a lot to like about Dwayne Haskins, who has a good arm and played very well last year at Ohio State. But to me, I don’t believe either one is as good as Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold from last year.
“After Murray and Haskins, every guy in this group has limitations. So when I look at this crop, I see maybe two starters in the NFL. Not to say other guys can’t develop into starters, but Murray and Haskins are the ones I like, and I wouldn’t bank on any of the others to become reliable starters in the league.
“[Buffalo’s] Tyree Jackson is technically all over the place. I think he’s a huge project, but a fascinating one. [Duke’s] Daniel Jones, to get the momentum to make those big throws downfield, had to take some pretty big hitches. [West Virginia’s] Will Grier—I didn’t feel he had great accuracy, and not a lot of mustard on the ball. [North Carolina State’s] Ryan Finley is limited when he gets on the move—that’s when his lack of arm strength shows up. I do like how he plays with his mind, from what I studied.
“In general, I don’t think it’s a consistent group.”
One reason some team will take a shot at quarterback Josh Rosen if he is traded by Arizona before the draft:
Rosen has three years and $6.24 million left on his four-year rookie contract with Arizona. That averages out to be a cap hit for the acquiring team of $2.08 million per year. The average cap number for the next three years, based on recent history, will be about $198 million per team. That means Rosen’s cap number per year will average out to be 1.05 percent of his acquiring team’s cap number.
That’s a number GMs and cap guys would lust after. Think of it this way: Rosen’s average cap number over the next three years is less than the average cap number of 30 kickers and punters. And that’s why, even if the market on Rosen is as cool as it might be, he’s a good risk to take. The investment for the next three years, for the potential upside of the deal, is exceedingly good.
Six hours in the life of the America sports news cycle (and my apologies if I got the news-breaker incorrect on any of these; I used Twitter as the official feed):
Thursday, 9:33 a.m. Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reports very good news for Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. He measures 5-10 1/8 inches tall and weighs 207. Both are bigger than expected, and Murray’s malleable draft stock rises on talk shows across the country.
Thursday, 12:30 p.m. TMZ reports Robert Kraft has pled not guilty to two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution, despite police saying there is video evidence of Kraft in the infamous Jupiter, Fla., spa, with women.
Thursday, 12:56 p.m. The Dallas Cowboys tweet that Jason Witten is coming out of the ESPN booth to resume his NFL career in 2019 at age 37. This sends many in the media and football world into a tizzy, because no one saw it coming.
Thursday, 2:50 p.m. “Breaking: Bryce to the Phillies.” Jon Heyman of MLB Network understands the value of breaking news at this level, getting the seven vital syllables out first on Bryce Harper’s baseball destination, then following with the nuts and bolts.
Now, what was that you were saying about Kyler Murray?
Memo to Indianapolis:
You know I love you. You’re the most convenient city in America. Cab in from the airport Friday morning, cab back to the airport Sunday morning, and never have to get in a car again (well, pressed for time, I did to get to a Friday night event at Sun King Brewery a mile away from center city, but that’s it). A truly great walking city, with good restaurants and hotels.
But the music. The oldies. It’s like time stopped in 1987. Everywhere—hotel lobbies, restaurants, mostly—you hear music your parents played. Bob Seger is more popular in this town than Cardi B.
New music is allowed. In fact, I checked city ordinances, and there is not one reading, “Only music recorded before 1990 will be allowed in all public spaces and Skywalks and buildings.”
Interesting. Witten did two Giants games, two Washington games and one Philadelphia game. All the head coaches and coordinators on those teams will be the same in 2019 as they were in 2018.
Witten would have had unique access to conference rivals New Orleans (with coach Sean Payton) and the Rams (Sean McVay).
If I’m Jason Garrett, I’m debriefing Witten at length sometime this spring.
If I’m any of those five NFC rivals, I’m hoping I didn’t say anything I wouldn’t want Garrett to hear.
1. I think the Jason Witten-returns-to-football story is borderline sad. Not overwhelmingly so, because he was a good player when he left the game after the 2017 season and the Cowboys can likely justify his return by saying he’ll be one of the best three guys on the roster at the position. But a 37-year-old tight end not likely to play a significant role on special teams—on the same roster, presumably, with an older linebacker, Sean Lee, who won’t play special teams—leaves Dallas with two holes in the kicking game that most people won’t find important. Football teams do. Maybe Witten will play 900 snaps and he wouldn’t be a special-teamer anyway; but at his age, I doubt he’d be an every-down player.
The other part of it: Witten and ESPN can spin it that this decision was about missing football, and I doubt ESPN would have moved Witten out of the “Monday Night Football” booth after one year. All reports say he would have returned for a second year. But he had a weak first year, and he would have had to rebound significantly in year two to keep his job in the booth. Not to say he wouldn’t have improved. He’s a smart guy. I just wonder—I tried to get Witten over the weekend, and he did not respond to my text—if he figured at some point that the gig just wasn’t for him.
When you do national NFL games, every word you say is parsed, and those parsings last fall made Witten seen totally unprepared for the booth. The Wittenism that left me shaking my head last year came well into the season, in November, in a Tennessee-Houston game, when the subject was J.J. Watt. ESPN played some footage of Watt (I think it was Witten versus Watt from a previous Cowboys-Texans game), and the question to Witten was about what it was like to play against Watt. I don’t remember the quote, but Witten was looking for something insightful to say, and he ended up giving us some iteration of, When you play J.J. Watt, you better bring your lunchpail because he’s such a blue-collar player and it’ll be a long day. I mean, Witten should have taken us on the field with him and tell us what it was like to line up across from Watt—what it felt like, what Watt’s first step out of the blocks was like to counter, what his strength was like compared to other big defensive ends. But we got a cliché. As I said, he could have gotten better with time. Whether it ever would have been good enough is the question.
2. I think there’s a lesson in the Witten story for former athletes making the transition to TV. There’s nothing wrong with working for a local or regional sports network for a couple of years and honing your craft. You’ll be seen. You’ll be scouted. Not many players walk off the field and ascend to the top spot in TV and shine immediately, the way Tony Romo did. Look at the long and winding path of Cris Collinsworth as John Madden’s replacement. He needed the reps, and he used them wisely.
3. I think my first impression of Robert Kraft pleading not guilty was, Man, just admit what you did and move on and do a mega-mea culpa. But knowing Kraft, and knowing the Patriots, this strikes me as a lawyer or lawyers interceding. If Kraft admits guilt now, before the cases of all those cited in the Jupiter, Fla., solicitation case are adjudicated, the locals (rightfully) could use his statement and admission to make a bigger example of Kraft than they’ve already made. I would be surprised if, after the cases wind their way through the legal process, Kraft doesn’t admit some sort of wrongdoing and do something either financially or through his words (or both) to try to make the situation right. As well he should. This is an embarrassing, belittling thing for a 77-year pillar of the community to be involved, and that’s before we get to the specter of human trafficking that hangs over this whole story. I also expect, regardless of the legal outcome, that it is more likely than not Kraft will be suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell.
4. I think with the NFL’s suspension of Dallas defensive end Randy Gregory—on another substance-abuse-related violation—it’s apparent he will miss another season because he has not been able to stay clean. (There is a very high likelihood that Gregory will miss the full season in this, his fifth NFL season.) Assuming he does, this will be the scorecard on Randy Gregory’s first five seasons in the NFL, after being the Cowboys’ second-round pick in 2015:
30 games played
46 games suspended
6 games injured
Gregory was suspended for substance abuse for 14 games in 2016, 16 games in 2017, and, barring a stunning reversal by the league office, will be suspended for 16 games in 2019.
5. I think the NFL Films treatment of New England’s Super Bowl 53—Super Bowl LIII Champions: New England Patriots, due out Tuesday (Cinedigm, NFL Films)—has a couple of insider surprises Films has saved for this keeper video. Running back James White was wired twice during the championship seasons and predicted interceptions both times. Listen to the hits on Julian Edelman in all three playoff games; he was wired for each one. And I don’t think you’ll see Bill Belichick as giddy as he is in the closing moments of the Super Bowl, a result, obviously, of holding the powerful Rams to just one long field goal.
6. I think when you watch the combine today—and this is a snow day in much of the northeast, so you might have a good chance to do so—pay attention to Rich Eisen’s annual “Run Rich Run“ 40-yard dash fundraiser for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This is the fifth year Eisen has done the race to raise money for St. Jude, and this is the year fund-raising for the five years will pass $1 million total earned for the hospital, which treats desperately ill children whose familes never see a bill. “It started as a total lark, done out of sheer boredom,” Eisen said Sunday, “I turned to Terrell Davis on the set one year and said, ‘How fast do you think I can run the 40?’” This year, Eisen trained with Jay Glazer’s gym in Los Angeles, and he taped the run Sunday evening after a day on the air. That will air this afternoon. It’s a great thing for Eisen to do, obviously, and the NFL community has responded in kind. A million bucks for sick kids and their families, after a flippant remark. Pretty cool.
7. I think the best thing from the endless press conferences at the combine was this replay observation from Baltimore’s John Harbaugh:
8. I think I’ve gone from thinking it’s 70-30 Rob Gronkowski would retire to now thinking it’s 55-45 that he’ll play one more year in 2019, at age 30. He’s given no indication either way, but the way the Patriots preserved/rested Gronkowski through the season, limiting him to 14 of 19 starts, made sure he could be the classic Gronk in the playoffs. In the AFC title game and the Super Bowl combined, he played all 169 offensive snaps for New England, had 18 targets, caught 12 passes for 166 yards and blocked very well. He’s due $10 million in salary and bonus for 2019. If he produces 80 percent of what he produced in 2018, he’d be well worth the money. Now the ball’s in his court, and we should see a decision from him this month.
9. I think someone should hire Eric Mangini. It’s weird to not see Mangini at the combine, and I say that realizing this was the fourth straight year he’s been out of football. He’s extremely smart on both sides of the ball, and he’s 48, living in Cleveland, being a dad. So odd that no team has a place for his football knowledge, doing something.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. TV Piece of the Week: ESPN’s E:60 story on the Matt Millen heart transplant aired Sunday, with great access to Millen before, during and after his Dec. 24 heart transplant in New Jersey. Produced by Pia Malbran and reported by Jeremy Schaap, the story chronicled the three months when Millen as on the precipice of the transplant, and how he’s been recovering since. Some great TV.
b. Column of the Week: Steve Politi of the Newark Star-Ledger, on the saddest place in sports, a loading dock at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
c. That column is what makes Politi so good. He spent time Saturday watching the losers emote at the New Jersey state high school wrestling championships. He wrote: “I stood in that loading dock for about an hour on Saturday, and that hour was all I could take. I have written about sports for almost three decades, so I’m no stranger to the agony of defeat. I’m not sure I have ever seen a place with more misery than that loading dock from hell.”
d. Couple of thoughts on Bryce Harper: In the last three years, he has hit 24, 29 (in just 111 games) and 34 home runs. In the last three years, his batting average (and what a prehistoric statistic that is) has been .243, .319 and .249. Streak guy. Walks a lot. Dangerous hitter, when he is hitting. I agree that the Phils getting him for $25.4 million a year in the current baseball climate seems like an awfully good deal, particularly when he should be in his prime and not edging beyond it right now. The advantage for Harper in a business where long-term deals might be teetering is to sign up for the rest of his career at $330 million. The advantage to his team is having Harper forever at what eventually will probably be 60 cents on the dollar.
e. But 13 years.
f. I mean, there never has been a 10-year contract that held up for 10 years. The month this contract expires, Harper will be 39. Albert Pujols has three years left on his contract and Miguel Cabrera has five years left on his; think the Angels and Tigers want out of those deals now? This is surely different, because those two deals got signed with players in their thirties, and Harper is 26.
g. But 13 years. What could go wrong?
h. Angelo Cataldi is a gem, and I say that in all sincerity. Love the guy. He’s the morning drive-time guy on WIP, the rather opinionated Philadelphia sports-talk station. Check out his twin tweets last Thursday, before and after the Phillies signed Harper:
i. Story of the Week: by Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal, with a cool piece on how two smart walk-ons at Duke plus a 3-D printer salvaged the season of quarterback Daniel Jones after he fractured his collarbone.
j. Classic story that I read and immediately thought: Wish I’d written that.
k. There was something mob-rule-like about the Islanders fans’ treatment of the departed star John Tavares on Thursday night in his return to play on Long Island with his new team, Toronto. Free agency is a way of life in sports today. Sometimes players leave, and sometimes players leave to go play in their hometowns, which is what Tavares did. I realize there are bitter feelings over fans believing Tavares wasn’t truthful on his way out the door, but can anyone prove Tavares was lying when he seemed earnest about seriously considering re-signing in New York? The vicious reception on the island seemed way beyond reasonable to me. And kudos to the Islanders organization for the classy tribute video to a great player.
l. My wife and I saw “Network” on Broadway the other day. (We’re getting to be quite the theater-goers.) Brian Cranston was just tremendous as a network TV anchor who cracks up, basically, on national TV. The play, meh. Too much time spent on non sequiturs like an affair in the workplace that had zero to do with anything related to the plot. An unsatisfying ending hurt the play too. But seeing Cranston’s passion and his perfect playing of an emotionally wracked character up close was worth the price of admission.
m. Coffeenerdness: One piece of advice to my favorite breakfast place in America, Patachou: You need a true dark-roast coffee. The Costa Rican’s not rich enough. However, I am willing to forgive you after two broken-yolk sandwiches over the weekend. What a sandwich.
n. Beernerdness: Always good to come back to Indiana and get some of the Sunlight Cream Ale (Sun King Brewery, Indianapolis) at the Sun King tasting room. Crisp, so easy to drink, delicious.
o. Big, big thanks to:
• Sun King Brewery, and owner/host Steve Koers, for hosting a night with Frank Reich on Friday that raised $4,634 for Ascent 121, the Indiana faith-based non-profit agency fighting human trafficking and providing counseling for those rescued from trafficking. Friday night is gold for Koers and his beautiful tasting room on the east side of downtown Indy, and he gave over much of the place for two hours so we could hold this Q+A event with Reich. Not only that, but Koers donated one free beer to every one of the 100 people who came. What a great community vibe in the place.
• Reich, who broke away from the Combine—taking 60 of the 90 minutes between Friday workouts and player interviews—to tell great stories and support the cause nearest and dearest to him, Ascent 121.
• All the folks who paid $50 to support Ascent 121’s laudable work.
• Angie Six, who bleeds Colts blue and who did all the legwork to make the event happen.
p. Remember Otto Warmbier. Someone should.
Good morning, Gil Brandt.
Happy 86th birthday.
Have a nice, nice day.