SEATTLE—Quite a weekend. A trade that wasn’t, a monster trade, a wedding, a contract that is a palindrome, anticipating a poor man’s free-agency period, and wondering what will happen on the most anticipated pro day of this year.
You probably needed much of Sunday to digest the Antonio Brown trade. I know I did. So much to unpack, really. Let’s do that here, at the top of the column, and then we’ll get into what could be a frenzied week with free agency kicking off—but it’s a week that I think won’t get the blood boiling the way it normally does.
I think of Pittsburgh’s trade of Brown to the Raiders for third-round and fifth-round picks the way I think of a college class. You get the syllabus on day one, with 15 compartmentalized lectures, all of them with tributaries that make the class so involved and complex. With Brown, there are so many angles.
• Talent always wins. John Elway got trashed as a selfish guy coming out of Stanford in 1983, saying he wouldn’t play for Baltimore. Eli Manning got trashed the same way in 2004 saying he wouldn’t play for the Chargers. Deion Sanders invented a persona (Prime Time), found a way to moonlight with baseball as the best cornerback in football, then cashed in multiple times using one team against another in free agency.
Add Antonio Brown to that list now. Brown seemingly eviscerated his market in the last 10 weeks, since going AWOL from the Steelers in the final game of the season, then making a series of one-more-bizarre-than-the-other statements on TV and social media. But as one team executive told me Sunday, “The best players, even the a——, always have a market.” Elway found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Manning found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Sanders found multiple teams and broke the bank, and is the most accomplished multi-sport athlete of this time. Brown is a strange guy, but strange guys with six years straight of 100 receptions are going to have options. In this case, one good one.
• Drew Rosenhaus is a boss. I’d never have offered Brown a contract adjustment right now, after watching him lob Molotov cocktails at the Steelers for weeks. Except maybe to say, I’ll guarantee this year’s compensation, but as far as a new deal, we’re not going to offer any new money till we see how this relationship works. Over the past few weeks, we’ve wondered where Rosenhaus was, and why he’d be letting Brown light his career on fire before our eyes. But at the end of the day, all that matters is the deal. And Rosenhaus got a great deal for a player who was as damaged as he was great. In the final three years of Brown’s existing contract, Rosenhaus added $11 million total value and raised the amount of guaranteed money from zero to $30.1 million. He did that knowing Oakland was likely the only team who would talk new money and significant guarantees. He did that knowing a serious suitor, Buffalo, which was willing to drop down from its pick at nine in the first round to 20 (Pittsburgh’s pick) in the first round to acquire Brown, wasn’t going to be anywhere near that kind of financial partner. Rosenhaus did a great job here.
• Gruden’s a good landing spot. The Raiders have been a willy-nilly trade-and-dump team in Gruden’s 14 months in office. With some reservations—mostly monetary—I’ll say this is a win. “One thing I know,” said Rich Gannon, who was a league MVP playing for Gruden, “is Jon loves these kinds of players. He’s got street cred with them. He’s done it with Andre Rison, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe, John Jett, Keyshawn Johnson … He’ll tell Antonio, ‘I’ll get you your 1,500 yards, your 120 balls, and here’s what you have to do for me.’ There are things Antonio will have to be accountable for. But honestly, I don’t think Jon will have a problem with him. And remember: Jon came up in the league coaching this position. He’ll be coaching Antonio a lot during the season.”
Bold prediction, though Gannon is a big Gruden guy. I do wonder two things: How does Brown handle losing, if the Raiders continue on that path? (Steelers regular season wins per year since Brown entered the league in 2010: 10.5. Raiders: 6.2.) And what happens if there’s a quarterback shakeup this year or next, and Derek Carr leaves and a rookie steps in? Is Brown going to be a steadying force in an unstable situation to help turn the team around? Those are legit questions. Brown was a great player and his work ethic a good example for young players. He’ll have a lot of young kids looking up to him now, and he can’t be the incendiary device he was in Pittsburgh.
• The Steelers are damaged. In many ways:
1. Getting third-round and fifth-round picks (66th and 141st) for the best receiver in football over the past six years is absurd. “When I saw the compensation this morning,” ex-Steeler Ryan Clark said Sunday evening, “I was shocked. This is the best receiver in football over the last six years. Oakland had the draft capital to pay a fair price for Antonio.” Credit to Raiders negotiator and new GM Mike Mayock for taking a hard line on the trade, but think of this compensation. Put together, the value isn’t even of a top 50 draft choice. That’s awful.
2. The $21.1 million in dead 2019 cap money by trading Brown—11.2 percent of the Pittsburgh salary cap—is a paralyzing effect on the Steelers, obviously.
3. Two straight years, two mega-stars slap the Steelers in the face. Pittsburgh couldn’t find a way to make Le’Veon Bell play in 2018, and 2019 is off to a terrible start with the Brown subtraction. I asked Clark what he thought the moral of the story was. “Never be held captive by a player,” said Clark, now an ESPN analyst. “The limbo of Le’Veon Bell, in an organization that prides itself on being drama-free, played a role in the Antonio story. They just didn’t want another year of that.”
4. Mike Tomlin takes a big hit. Great coaches have to find a way to handle big and divisive personalities, and Brown drove a wedge into Tomlin’s team, and Tomlin couldn’t stop it. Tomlin’s going to have to examine how he handled Brown over the years, and be sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes with the next angry star—even if that means letting the guy walk before he can do the damage Brown did.
5. Two years ago, you could argue the Steelers had the best back in football and the best receiver in football, playing at their peaks. What do they have to show for that? For Bell, nothing for now—though they could get a Compensatory Pick in 2020 for him depending on their activity in free agency this spring. For Brown, two mid-round draft choices, and a $21-million anchor on their cap. Not good. Not good at all.
For one of the flagship franchises in the NFL, this has been an ugly last half-year.
• Are stars watching? I asked a couple of agents this weekend if they thought high-profile players would look at the Brown case as a textbook. Could they have just learned how to shoot their way out of a situation they hate? They had varying opinions, but they—and I—thought this was a unique saga. I wouldn’t be shocked if Odell Beckham Jr., eventually did something like this if he’s still on the Giants in a year or two and they continue to wallow. But Antonio Brown got himself so wound up and so angry late in the season and early in the offseason. I can’t see many other players who’d be that angry, and have that much power, to do the same thing.
• The Buffalo option was real—sort of. I believe the Steelers and Bills had agreed or come close to agreeing on compensation involving the aforementioned swap of first-round picks, with the Steelers moving up a valuable 11 spots into the top 10 of the draft. But I don’t believe Buffalo had resolved with finality whether they pulled the trigger on the deal late Thursday night—in part because there’d been no agreement on the financial terms with Rosenhaus. I don’t think the Bills were of a mind to give Brown much of a contract sweetener to come, and I also don’t think the football side of the building had determined with certainty whether the coaches wanted to take on Brown’s personality. So there was interest, but it wasn’t exceedingly close.
• Brown’s a classic Raider. Over the years, so many players the rest the league either didn’t want or thought were kaput found their way to Oakland. Some flourished, some withered. But there’s always been a WELCOME sign in the Black Hole for players like Brown. Right now there’s so much pressure on Gruden to show he’s worth $100 million, and to breathe life into a lousy team, and to show Las Vegas it’s getting a premier team. The marriage, on the surface, makes sense. The football world’s first reaction when it looked like Brown was headed to Buffalo was, What a bummer. Brown with the Bills—that’s no fun. But Oakland is another story, as is Vegas in 2020. Now the players in this drama—Brown and Gruden most notably, and Tomlin righting the shaky ship at the confluence of the Three Rivers—have to play their parts.
Things I’ve heard over the weekend about this legal-tampering period beginning today, and why I expect it to be more of a dud than electric free-agency period.
• Not sensing the verve out there for this class. Lots of things conspiring to make that happen. The two spots with mega-options in veteran free agents, the defensive line and safety, are overrun with strong prospects in the draft. One GM told me Sunday there would six to eight pass-rushers taken in the first round alone, and maybe six safeties picked in the top 50. When the number one guy in the class might be a guy who sat out the 2018 season (Le’Veon Bell) and plays a position that’s been severely devalued because of young guys after the first round becoming impact players early (Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt), it’s a pretty meh season.
• Why are teams talking about trading their tagged players? I’ll put myself in Chiefs GM Brett Veach’s shoes. Kansas City has franchised pass-rusher Dee Ford (last 39 games: 26.5 sacks) but is listening to offers. My guess—just a guess—is the Chiefs would be open to taking a low second-round pick or high three for him. If they got, say, the 60th pick in a defensive-line rich draft, they’d be investing about four years and $4.8-million in cap dollars there (or in a pick somewhere in the first three rounds to replace Ford) instead of the four years and maybe $70-million in Ford … and they’d be able to use their money to go get a needed player at another position in free agency like C.J. Mosley or Earl Thomas. You know what this is, at least in part? It’s the Patriot Effect. You see New England let go of valuable vets every year and still win. I do believe there is some of that in play with teams dangling their franchise guys. Footnote on Dee Ford that should not be forgotten: He led all edge players in snaps (1,022) last year.
• I don’t see the Colts, with their treasure, breaking the bank in the next two weeks. No team has ever entered free-agency with this kind of loot. Indy, including the money carried over from 2018, has $134 million to spend if they desired. I doubt sincerely GM Chris Ballard will go freaky in free agency. It’s not his way. Of all the GMs in the league, Ballard’s not one to let cap money burn a hole in his pocket. Take running back. The Colts got 1,104 yards out of Marlon Mack in 12 games last year … and he costs $749,912 against the cap this year. Could they do better there? Probably. But when you’re coming off a season averaging 4.4 yards per rush with a young core in the backfield and up front, it’s not exactly a position crying out for help.
• Le’Veon to the Jets? New York, with $116 million in cap room and the motivation to spend with a GM who has to win this year, is the favorite to sign Bell. I can’t see Bell to the Colts except at a discount, and Bell will be motivated to make up what he lost last year (which he’ll never do). Smart football people think the Jets are the leaders in the Bell derby, with Washington and Miami possible too.
• Earl Thomas is a hot name. He’ll be 30 in May, and he’s missed 23 of 51 Seattle games in the last three years. But Thomas is a highly respected player with motivation to stick it to Seattle, with the ability to be a playmaking centerfielder and a good hitter too. Houston, San Francisco, Dallas and Kansas City all could be players for Thomas, though I doubt the Chiefs would be a player in the $12-million-a-year range. They just don’t have that money.
• It’s an tepid QB market, to put it mildly. Nick Foles will likely be disappointed at the action and money his entry into free agency will trigger. Like everyone, I’m guessing Jacksonville. … Teddy Bridgewater has a tough call to make. Sean Payton would love to have him back for Drew Brees insurance at maybe $6 million for the year. But if you’re Bridgewater, sitting in 2019 would mean you wouldn’t have played for four seasons. And what would your worth be in 2020 after four years of inactivity? If the Dolphins or Jags offer him real money and the promise of a starting job in 2019, he might have to take it.
• The underrateds. Guys under the radar who will get paid: Washington edge player Preston Smith, Carolina right tackle Daryl Williams (trying to rebound from knee surgery), Patriots left tackle Trent Brown, big Chargers wideout Tyrell Williams, Oakland tight end Jared Cook (why in the world Gruden is letting him walk is beyond me), Bears safety Adrian Amos, and Chiefs center Mitch Morse.
• More things I’m hearing:
- Regarding the late Sunday night news that the Rams reached an one-year agreement with Dante Fowler Jr. — L.A. was able to convince Fowler that a short-term deal was best for him because he could play where he loved football and have another shot at free agency while still in his prime.
- The Niners and Packers might be in the market for one of the vet pass-rushers like Dee Ford.
- The Ravens really want C.J. Mosley back to quarterback their defense, but not at franchise linebacker prices. They might get outbid by someone out there—he’s a very well-liked player.
- Detroit loves Trey Flowers, which figures. His ex-defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, is the Lions coach, and Detroit needs a versatile edge guy to replace Ziggy Ansah.
- The Packers once tried to trade for Za’Darius Smith, the Baltimore edge rusher. Now, with a crying need on the edge, Green Bay could be a match with Smith in free agency.
- Rams guard Rodger Saffold, unlikely to return to the Rams, will likely go to the highest bidder—and Arizona could be in play.
- Lots of people putting Tyrann Mathieu with the Bucs, but Tampa’s going to try to keep its core, including slot receiver Adam Humphries. I don’t see a Mathieu-Arians reunion, as much love as Bruce Arians has for the former Card. (I’ve got a prediction for Mathieu down in 10 Things I Think.)
Another week, another chance to put Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray in intense focus. His pro day is Wednesday, and though we won’t know for sure what exactly Murray will do at his first on-field session in front of NFL teams, I won’t be surprised if all he does is throw his regimented, scripted series of 60 to 100 passes to uncovered receivers at Oklahoma’s indoor practice facility.
Murray could show up and do everything, including run the 40 and be measured. But I try to put myself in his shoes, knowing that he’s a documented 4.38-second 40-yard-dash runner at his college playing weight of 190. Now that he’s 207, maybe that’s a tick slower. But if Murray gets all lathered up to run in front of a big crowd, what happens if he pops a hamstring and then can’t throw Wednesday, and can’t throw for anyone without discomfort for the next few weeks? His arm is more important than his 40 time right now.
The scope of this pro day will dwarf all others leading up to the April 25 draft. “That’s the way we want it to be at Oklahoma,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley told me. In 2017, at the pro day when running back Joe Mixon was the hot Sooner, 60 media members attended, along with reps of all 32 NFL teams. Last year for Baker Mayfield, 80 media and all 32 teams came. This year, the OU SID office has credentialed just over 100 people, a figure that should climb before Wednesday, and again, every NFL team will be there.
I expect Arizona, Oakland, the Giants and Miami, at least, to have private sessions with Murray in the coming weeks. Teams that have him in the mix for a high pick will want their own coaches to design throwing sessions and classroom work the way they’d do it if Murray were their quarterback.
I still think the Cards and Raiders are leaders in the race for Murray, with the Giants and Dolphins and maybe Jacksonville in the mix too. But 45 days before the draft, it’s way too early to call.
Agent David Canter to client Eric Weddle, on Friday: “We got you a cool contract. It’s a palindrome.”
Weddle to Canter: “A what?”
Palindrome: A word or series of figures that reads the same backward as forward.
Canter proposed it to Rams negotiator Tony Pastoors on Friday morning, Pastoors got the okay from club COO Kevin Demoff, and after four exchanges of offers over a three-hour period Friday, here’s what they came up with:
Signing bonus: $1,000,001.
2019 salary: $4,250,524.
Total bonus and salary: $5,250,525.
Play-time incentive: Weddle can max out the incentive and earn an extra $333,333 by playing 85 percent of the Rams’ defensive snaps in 2019 and the Rams making the Super Bowl.
Individual incentive: Weddle can max out this incentive at $666,666 by making the Pro Bowl and the Rams making the Super Bowl.
Palindromes. Every one of them.
Turns out Demoff, as a negotiator, used to put funny figures into contracts (palindromes, uniform numbers, etc.), and so in Canter’s offers to the Rams, he wanted to have some fun. He also named the incentives in what is likely to be the 34-year-old Weddle’s last NFL contract after Weddle’s wife Chanel and children Brooklyn, Gaige, Silver and Kamri. “I just wanted to have some fun,” Canter said. “Props to the Rams for letting it happen.”
In Seattle on Saturday night, our daughter, Mary Beth King, married Nick Burek at the Four Seasons Hotel, a block from Pike Place Market. That completed the daily double for the King family. In the span of four years, our two daughters (Laura married wife Kim in northern California in 2015) have married salt-of-the-earth partners who make them—and us—very, very happy.
Many of you who have followed my column over the years remember Mary Beth from the softball pitching circles or field hockey fields of her youth. I heard from so many of you back then—it was probably 50-50 whether you thought I should write about that stuff or not. But I did, without regret, documenting some of the great sports events I’ve witnessed (they’re always great when your kid’s playing) in Jersey places like Montclair and Cedar Grove and Belleville and Morristown. When she went to college at Colgate, sports ended for her and I let her live her life without my Monday morning internet intrusions. Hard to believe it’s been 15 years since that all high school glory ended.
You should know that Mary Beth has become a fine young woman, working in Seattle in the corporate social-media world. And one day, walking her dog Eliot, she met Nick—whom she’d been admiring from afar—and they struck up a friendship, and it became more. That led the Bureks of Illinois and the Kings of New York and California to Seattle to witness the union of two wonderful people.
It’s interesting, the thoughts going through me on Saturday. When you have children, you have all these goals for them—goals involving success and achievement and high intelligence. As time goes on, all of that morphs into one thing and one thing only: You want your children to be happy. They can do great in school and get great jobs and climb the ladder of success, but if they’re not happy, you’re not altogether happy either. Laura became a happier person when she came out as gay a few years ago, and her union with Kim filled Laura, and us, with joy. Mary Beth never was unhappy, but her life soared with Nick in it. Such a fine person, and a totally unselfish family guy and team player. We love him.
Friday night was fun. The runup to the wedding in recent months has been frenetic, and Nick and Mary Beth moved into a lovely home south of downtown, and we live 3,000 miles apart, so there hadn’t been much time to talk. But at a dinner with the two families Friday night, I made sure to sit next to Mary Beth, and we had our first conversation of length in a while. I needed to hear from her that things were good, and she was happy. She was so excited about the direction of their lives. All good. Interesting thing about Mary Beth—she’s never been the kind of needy person I worried very much about. She took well to independence. Talking to her Friday night reminded me of the old days in Montclair, talking about anything school or life-related. I saw it then, and I saw it Friday night: I’m good, Dad. Thanks.
During the day Saturday, my wife Ann and I talked about this milepost day in our lives. It’s a moment, almost of Our job is done now. Laura was born in 1983 and Mary Beth in 1985, and for Ann and me, Laura and Mary Beth enriched our lives so much. We anticipated the day that we’d see them in loving relationships, that we’d feel good about partners they’d feel good about. Watching Mary Beth and Nick exchange their vows—authored by each person—Saturday night, it was clear we could rest easy. I could see that Mary Beth has found someone she can trust with every fiber, who she can love and be loved right back. As she spoke her vows to Nick, with conviction and with high emotion, tears rolled down her face. His words were just as warm and loving.
Now we can go to sleep at night knowing Mary Beth has someone to take care of her, and someone for her to take care of. It’s a warm, happy feeling. I hope all of you with children get to feel the same thing one day. It’s wonderful. We’re very lucky people.
A note about Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman:
He turns 99 Friday.
Hartman writes a column every Sunday in the paper. Still working, in his 73rd year as a writer in Minneapolis. On Sunday, he produced this about the University of Minnesota football team:
The Gophers open spring football practice Tuesday in a unique position for a school that hasn’t won even a share of the Big Ten title since 1967: They will be one of the favorites to represent the Big Ten West in the conference championship in Indianapolis on Dec. 7. Coach P.J. Fleck is bringing back 37 of 44 players from the Gophers’ two-deep chart from the 34-10 victory over Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl. “Our entire offseason has been designated to putting our players in high-pressure situations on the field, off the field and having them perform through that and having them know what that feels like,” Fleck said. “This is what we’ve wanted to do with this program — not only this year but into the future.”
Hartman was of voting age, 21, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Hartman was 41 when the Vikings played their first game in 1961. He has covered the team for all 58 of its seasons.
When the NFL played its first game, in September 1920, Hartman was six months old.
It’s all pretty amazing to me.
“A lot of secrets get told, news gets broken. Alcohol numbs everyone’s deeply hardwired urge to lie.”
—ESPN The Magazine senior writer Wright Thompson, on the circus/meat market/alcohol survival test that is the NFL Scouting Combine. His story is recommended reading.
His point is precisely right. When you hear some crazy stories out of the combine—having been at some of the haunts Thompson describes, and way too late at night—it’s more likely than not that they have some of the stories have originated at times like 1:35 a.m. at places like Prime 47.
“I feel nomadic. I feel like the Berber tribe in Morocco. I’m pitching [a] tent anywhere.”
—New Patriot Michael Bennett, after his Friday trade from Philadelphia to New England, to Maddie Covino of The Change-Up.
“He would have been a fantastic head coach. Look, let’s just put it this way: If I was running a team, and I came close, he’d be the first guy I’d call. He’d still be the first guy I’d call. ‘Can we get you out of Tuscaloosa?’ I hold him in that high a regard.”
—Louis Riddick, the ESPN analyst and recent contender for the New York Giants GM job that went to Dave Gettleman, on Nick Saban’s prospects as an NFL head coach, on “The Peter King Podcast” this week.
I asked Riddick if he got another GM interview whether he’d reach out to Saban and try to persuade him to be his head coach.
“Who’s to say I haven’t already?” Riddick said.
“These were the worst comments I ever got on a high-rated quarterback and I’ve been doing this a long time. Leadership, not good. Study habits, not good. The board work, below not good … this guy is not outstanding in those areas and it showed up in the interviews.”
—NFL Network’s Charley Casserly, on what he heard about Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray’s interviews with NFL teams at the Scouting Combine.
As Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported, this was a slippery slope taken by Casserly, who works for a combine-prep firm that readies prospects for all aspects of the pre-draft process.
“Most of these guys are paying for a level of training that’s extraordinary, and you come out and can’t do this? I don’t understand it. It bothers me. [Pre-combine training] is one of the biggest hustles in the country right now. Trainers. Some good ones out there. The bad ones overshadow the good ones.”
—Deion Sanders of NFL Network, on the training players do to improve things like 40 times and bench-pressing 225 pounds as many times as players can.
2019 will likely mark a record-setting year for Case Keenum, assuming he starts the season under center for Washington.
Has any quarterback in NFL history started four straight seasons for four different teams in four different time zones? I can’t believe another one has.
2016: Los Angeles Rams (Pacific Time). Nine starts.
2017: Minnesota Vikings (Central Time). Sixteen starts (including post-season).
2018: Denver Broncos (Mountain Time). Sixteen starts.
2019: Washington (Eastern Time). Starts to be determined.
In the wake of yet another high draft pick (safety Landon Collins, round two, 2015) being shown the door in New Jersey, let’s examine how incredibly abysmal the Giants’ drafts have been in the last decade, shall we?
The drafts of 2010 through 2016 should be the drafts that any NFL team, today, would consider the backbone of their team. That would mean the players from those drafts would be entering their fourth through 10th NFL seasons right now. It’s not altogether fair to include the 2017 and 2018 drafts, because most teams will have most if not all of their high picks still left exiting year one and two of their careers.
In the seven drafts between 2010 and 2016, the Giants picked 21 players in the first, second and third rounds. As of today, two remain—receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (round one, 2014) and Sterling Shepard (round two, 2016). Anyway, I compared six teams, random teams that have been good or great at times in the last decade, and how many players they have left from the top three rounds of drafts between 2010 and 2016. Starting with the Giants:
Giants: 2 remaining players of 21 total players drafted in top three rounds
Panthers: 9 of 18
Seahawks: 9 of 19
Eagles: 9 of 21
Falcons: 8 of 18
Steelers: 8 of 21 (after the trade of Marcus Gilbert to Arizona)
Patriots: 6 of 27
So when the Giants let three-time Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins, just 25 years old, walk out the door and into free agency last week, it’s another example of a player who should be a long-term franchise cornerstone vanishing into the mist.
There are knocks on Collins—mainly that he’s not good in coverage and is mostly a box safety (one that’s a run-stuffing, hybrid linebacker type). But he’s a player who was an excellent leader, played 59 of 64 games in four years, led the team in tackles every season he played there, and was a fan favorite. Wonder why the Giants have to spend far too much money in free agency to remain competitive, and why, in the last seven years, they have zero playoff wins, with an average of 6.7 wins a year? Decisions like this one.
Flying. Minneapolis to Seattle last Wednesday. Over Bismarck, N.D. CNN on the in-flight TV.
Terry Bradshaw in a bubble bath, wearing a multi-color shower cap, in a TV ad.
All I could think, watching Bradshaw at 73 cavorting in a bathtub, doing an ad for Safe Step Walk-in tub, yukking it up, is this: Imagine when Bradshaw was a fledgling quarterback for Chuck Noll in the early seventies. Imagine walking up to the insecure and mostly shy Bradshaw and saying, “One day before you die, you’re going to be on TV saying funny things about bathtubs and selling them to Americans on a news channel.”
He’d have looked at me like I had four heads. The only one more surprised would be Chuck Noll.
From the “50 States” section of USA Today on Thursday:
NEBRASKA: Lincoln—State lawmakers have advanced a bill to prevent people from getting tattoos on the whites of their eyes.
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Leave OBJ in NYC. From Stan M. in Cleveland: “I’ve been watching my Browns since Frank Ryan was under center! Does it make sense to trade for Odell Beckham Jr., and have all that cap space eaten up by wide receivers or continue to build through the draft and free agency?”
I wouldn’t trade for him. I’d continue to build through the draft and through more reasonable free-agent candidates. Beckham’s great, to be sure … but he’s also a head case, has missed 16 of the last 32 games due to injuries, and is due $31.3 million in the next two seasons. Lots of football people would pay a million a game to take the Beckham risk, but I would not.
This one’s easy. From @Severn58 on Twitter: “Over/under on Le’Veon’s TDs next year—15?”
Seeing that he has scored eight, 11, three, nine and 11 touchdowns in his five NFL seasons to date, I’ll take the under on that one—for a lot of money.
1. I think it will be a major mistake by the NFL if the league divides the combine between Indianapolis (medical tests) and Los Angeles (workouts). There have been actual internal discussions about this—keeping the medical tests at the tremendous hospital facilities in Indianapolis, then, day by day, shipping the players on a plane to Los Angeles to do the workout portion of the combine at the new Rams/Chargers/NFL Network facility in Los Angeles. EVERYTHING IS NOT A TV SHOW, PEOPLE.
2. I think if I ran a business, a $15-billion business, I would be looking for ways to make it a $16-billion business. Of course. But I would also be thinking of the people who make it a $15-billion business: the football people. If you’re going to put the combine in Los Angeles, put it in Los Angeles. (A mistake, in my opinion, but not altogether unexpected, because the NFL needs events for the mega-campus in L.A.) This is the biggest player-testing event before the draft in the NFL. Keep the main thing the main thing. Do not fly players to Indianapolis, have them undergo hours of medical tests, put them on a plane for 3.5 hours, and then have them work out in the most important job interview in most of their lives. There are hospitals in Los Angeles. Find a way to make it all happen in one location. Keep the main thing the main thing.
3. I think I love the Chiefs’ proposal to have both teams get a possession in overtime. The coin flip should not play such a major role in who wins in overtime. Even if it’s just for the playoffs, I’d be in favor.
4. I think it’s not going to pass. Too many defensive people say, “Well, defense is half the game. Play defense well, and you won’t have to have a guaranteed possession legislated.” I get that. But then why do nine of 10 teams, or more, choose to take the ball when they win the overtime coin toss?
5. I think Tyrann Mathieu or Earl Thomas signs in Houston.
6. I think, even though Chiefs safety Eric Berry is 30 and has played only four games of Kansas City’s last 35 because of illness/injury, and even though he is owed $12.5 million in salary and bonus this year, I expect Andy Reid to keep him. Reid believes in Berry’s leadership and thinks he can still be an impact safety. Also important: Berry would be a $14.95-million dead-cap weight on the Chiefs if cut.
7. I think, after the 49ers announced plans to enshrine Terrell Owens in their Hall of Fame, I am waiting for the Eagles to do something similar, and I might have a long wait. Maybe there could at least be a Grilled T.O. Sandwich at Chickie and Pete’s.
8. I think I enjoyed this aspect of the combine that I knew nothing about, from Melissa Jacobs of The Football Girl. It’s about a forum at the combine with four head coaches and Steve Wyche of NFL Network discussing the future of the coaching industry, and whether it could include more women. Bruce Arians of the Bucs said he would push for a full-time member of his coaching staff to be female; currently, only one woman, Katie Sowers (offensive assistant, 49ers) is a full-time NFL assistant coach. As Jacobs wrote of the 42 women in the audience at the Forum:
“Arians asked the participants how many wanted to be coaches. Approximately eight women raised their hands. He then asked how many had sent him a résumé after he was named Tampa Bay’s head coach. None had. While the probability of an NFL head coach sifting through résumés for entry-level positions is inherently low, Arians claims he not only reads every email he receives—he estimates receiving 427 job inquiries in the past year—but personally responds to each. ‘You have to beat doors down,’ Arians preached. After the session, these 42 ambitious women appeared ready to do just that.”
9. I think this is one last note about the combine, and I’m sorry it’s a week late. Every year at the combine, especially recently as the thing has exploded, there are new businesses and ideas on display. Maybe it’s a smart new way to work out, a new energy drink, a new scientific approach to analytical research. I might walk into a room in the Indiana Convention Center where the coaches and scouts and players have to walk through, and where these new things are on display, and take a look at a few new things. This is the one this year that caught my eye: Fizziology, an Indianapolis-based social-media research firm with a database of more than 6 billion opinions/impressions across all social formats.
The EVP and general manager of Fizziology, Rich Calabrese, said he was motivated by an infamous find last year before the draft. “When I saw the Josh Allen fiasco last year,” said Calabrese, speaking on the Buffalo quarterback who had racist high school Tweets found by the Bills just before the draft, “I was infuriated. As buttoned-up as NFL front offices are and all the ways they try to research players, how can they NOT know about Josh Allen’s Tweets until just before the draft? I thought, ‘This is a service we need to offer.’ “ So he founded Fizziology, which by manual search and keyword search can plumb the depths of Twitter, Instagram and other sites to see what makes players tick, going back a decade.
Calabrese shared with me the social profile of one prospect, likely to be picked in the first 50 picks, and it was interesting how much information could be gleaned about the prospect’s personality, intelligence and political leanings from his social posts. Of course you’d want to know a player had the potentially racist Tweets that Allen had in his past. But what about other potentially incendiary issues? Would you want to know, for instance, if a prospect was a major Donald Trump supporter and who spoke negatively of anyone in the anti-Trump camp? Would you want to know if a player was on social media speaking in sexist terms about women? “We’re looking for that next piece of possibly influential evidence about a player, a piece that could factor into being a tiebreaker in a very close race before the draft,’’ Calabrese said.
So Fizziology spent the Combine week trying to meet with teams and scouts. It’s that kind of next-level intelligence teams are looking for, and I expect we’ll be hearing about Fizziology quite a bit in the coming years.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. RIP, Dan Jenkins, the legendary writer in two great games. Wonderful tribute here by Tom Callahan, written for Golf Digest.
b. Sorry for your loss, Sally Jenkins. But your father would be so overcome at your tribute to him.
c. What a bummer, the dignified and great Tom Seaver being diagnosed with dementia. I have a Seaver story. So I get hired by the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1980 to write multiple sports, including backing up on the Reds in the dying Big Red Machine days. Heady stuff, walking into a clubhouse with Johnny Bench and Tom Seaver. I’m 22. Seaver was supposed to be this unapproachable icon, three-time Cy Young winner with a few more wins left in his right arm in his mid-thirties. So I walked up to him one day at his locker to introduce myself. He was doing the New York Times crossword, which he did every day. I was a tad nervous. This was Tom Friggin’ Seaver, after all. He was pleasant enough, to a kid a year out of college. I told him I’d be covering the team backing up Ray Buck, and I looked forward to talking to him a lot, blah, blah, blah. He said, “Here’s my home phone. If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate. Call me.” The next year he went 14-2 and was dominant Seaver for the last time in his career, and every time I approached him, he’d answer everything thoughtfully. Now, you know in those situations to not over-ask and to give a guy like that his space, and so I didn’t bother him with the flotsam and jetsam of the beat. But what a pro. I hope the rest of his days are peaceful ones.
d. Story of the Week: Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated, on the amazing act of generosity organ donation can be, and how Humboldt Bronco hockey player Logan Boulet, shortly before the tragic bus crash that decimated the Canadian hockey team last year, spawned a national trend by signing an organ-donor card.
e. The Boulet family that remains, though still suffering gnawing pain, knows Logan’s single act of kindness will save countless lives. Bishop: “Logan donated his heart, lungs, liver, kidney, pancreas and corneas. Officials would later tell the family that all six transplants were successful, that all the recipients were still alive … The Boulets seek comfort in the bigger picture, the best thing that came from the worst thing and the only thing that makes them feel even a little bit better as the anniversary of the crash approaches. They’re not sure exactly how many donors signed up after Logan’s death or how many of those donors signed up because of Logan’s story. But the numbers they have heard—100,000; 200,000; even more—are staggering. Imagine when those new donors tell their friends, who tell their friends, and how many of those people will sign up.”
f. No matter what you think of the worst of humanity, this is a story about the best of it, and thanks to Bishop for telling it.
g. Football Story of the Week: from Kalyn Kahler of The MMQB, on hanging out with father and son Shurmur, Giants coach Pat and Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle, at the combine.
h. Anxious son to head-coach dad, after the quarterbacks threw at the combine: “So, how did my throws look?”
i. Real World Story of the Week: CNN’s Lydia DePillis on the closing of a huge GM plant in Ohio.
j. Reefer Story of the Week: by Emily Kaplan of ESPN, an interesting piece about the future of marijuana as used by professional athletes, including a frank admission by a player in the NHL, which Kaplan covers.
k. Heck of an interview with R. Kelly, Gayle King. That’s a great job of keeping one’s cool when the subject is losing his mind.
l. You know, on second thought … Might have been smart for a good friend of R. Kelly’s, or a close adviser, or even a media consultant, to say to him, “You might not be ready to proclaim your innocence to America.” I mean, it’s not like King beat the crap out of him during the interview. She was calm and reasoned but persistent. He was incapable.
m. Wishing the best for you, Alex Trebek. The “Jeopardy!” host has stage four pancreatic cancer. Alex: so many of us owe you forever for those 2.5 weeknight hours we’ve spent watching and playing along with that show. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
n. Two things about “Jeopardy!” that mean a lot to me: Art Fleming was the host when I was a kid, and the show, on during the daytime in the sixties and seventies, was a fixture in our home. My mom was glued to it daily, as was I when I was home. Then, when I was hired by NBC in 2006 for the Football Night in America show, our first studio for the show at Rockefeller Center was the same studio “Jeopardy!” used 40 years earlier. I got one of the veterans to show me where he thought Art Fleming stood to do the show. I wish my mother was alive then—she’d have been as thrilled that I was in the “Jeopardy!” studio as for anything else I’d accomplished.
o. Media Column of the Week: by Laura Wagner of Deadspin, on the weirdness and journalistic inappropriateness of ESPN sharing baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza with the New York Mets.
p. I wouldn’t call Mendoza’s job a journalism job. But she is in the business of passing along inside information she finds on fields and in manager’s offices. How are managers going to be up-front with her about inside stuff with the team? Even if she says she’s not going to spill anything on background to the Mets, man, it’d be hard to be completely open with her.
q. Say it’s a week or so before the trading deadline this year. Say ESPN has Washington-Atlanta on Sunday night. Say Mendoza and the ESPN crew meets with the managers before the game. Say one of the teams is dangling a player—Nick Markakis, just for fun as an example—the Mets might want in trade. Say there are injury questions with the player. Is she going to recuse herself from the meetings so the Braves don’t say something that could get back to the Mets? Is her presence going to throw a wet blanket over frank discussions—and not just in the example I give? I am all for a person doing everything he or she can to advance his or her career, but this has way too many potential landmines for my taste. I don’t understand why ESPN allowed it. Unless Mendoza or her agent said she’s taking the job whether you allow it or not, and if you don’t, she’s going full time to the Mets.
r. Cool all-access coverage of Twins-Red Sox in spring training on Thursday on ESPN. The highlight: Mookie Betts, talking about diaper-changing his newborn daughter as Lucas Duda of the Twins singled right at him.
s. Two basketball questions:
t. Why is Kevin Durant always so pissy?
u. How’d the Celtics, who couldn’t beat MIT a week ago, whip the Warriors by 33?
v. The Oreo turned 107 last week. I think I have loved the Oreo for all 107 of those years.
w. T-Shirt of the Week: You should know that the editor of this column, Dom Bonvissuto, works for the sports apparel company, BreakingT, but that’s not the reason I’m including this Mike Trout-Bryce Harper gem. I’m including it here because it’s really good, really smart, and really imaginative in a year that there will be a presidential election and, therefore, a bunch of T-shirts with real political meaning. Trout has to play with the Angels through the end of the 2020 season, but I guess he could sign with the Phils by the end of the calendar year.
x. Beernerdness: Wow. I don’t often say wow about a beer, even though I like a lot of them. But in Seattle, I twice found Cloudburst Happy Little Clouds Pilsner (Cloudburst Brewing, Seattle, Wash.), and it’s as good a Pilsner as I have ever had. It’s delicious. Easy to drink, very slightly bitter, and perfect for a style of beer that very often—I think—is boring and lazy. Not Cloudburst. It has a signature delicious taste, light but with a nice little head, that you will love. You just have to find it to love it.
y. I find this amazing, and thanks to Rick Gosselin for inventing it.
z. Friend of the Week: Tanner Wilson, of Norman, Ark.
Time for Jeopardy!
“I’ll take Beating Cancer for