PHOENIX — The news of Rob Gronkowski’s retirement wafted over the annual NFL Meetings at the stately old Arizona Biltmore at mid-afternoon Sunday, and there was universal respect from the NFL community for a tight end who played with joy and a brutal effectiveness.
“It was a privilege to compete against him,” Baltimore coach and Patriot rival John Harbaugh said in the Biltmore lobby, “and to say, win or lose, big games, everything in our sport on the line, ‘Thank you, God, for the chance to be able to compete against a player like Rob Gronkowski.’ “
“Best tight end of his era, and he did it his way, in a place [Foxboro] that’s not usually suited to players doing things their way,” Niners GM John Lynch said.
“He did it the right way, the way a real football player does it,” NFL VP and former cornerback Troy Vincent said.
The Lead: Gronk
A few things I know about the retirement after an evening of reporting here:
Some connected with the Patriots felt strongly early last week that Gronkowski was likely to retire, and it chagrins the organization that the free-agent receiver/tight end crop is now totally denuded after established tight end Jared Cook—who I am told will not reconsider his decision—committed to signing with New Orleans last week. It’s no exaggeration to say the Patriots’ skill-position players, post-Gronk, might be the worst in the Belichick Era.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus’ version of the events, told to me late Sunday night here at the Biltmore: He said Bill Belichick reached out to Rosenhaus on Thursday to check about his tight end’s status. Rosenhaus called Gronkowski and said he should give the Patriots a decision soon. And on Sunday afternoon, before Rosenhaus flew from Fort Lauderdale to Phoenix, he said the 29-year-old Gronkowski called him to make the retirement official. “It was time,” Rosenhaus said.
Gronkowski’s words, via Rosenhaus: “It’s time. I just won another championship. I’m going out on top. I just want to do nothing for a while. I just want to be me. I just want to have fun.”
Gronkowski’s friend and Patriot backup, Dwayne Allen, told me Sunday night he was not surprised by the decision. “It was a day-to-day thing in the tight end room last year in New England,” Allen said. “He’d say, ‘This is it.’ And then, after being able to think about it in the offseason, he came to that same conclusion.”
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It all started at 20 years old on stage at the NFL draft when my dream came true, and now here I am about to turn 30 in a few months with a decision I feel is the biggest of my life so far. I will be retiring from the game of football today. I am so grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick gave to me when drafting my silliness in 2010. My life experiences over the last 9 years have been amazing both on and off the field. The people I have meet, the relationships I have built, the championships I have been apart of, I just want to thank the whole New England Patriots organization for every opportunity I have been giving and learning the great values of life that I can apply to mine. Thank you to all of Pats Nation around the world for the incredible support since I have been apart of this 1st class organization. Thank you for everyone accepting who I am and the dedication I have put into my work to be the best player I could be. But now its time to move forward and move forward with a big smile knowing that the New England Patriots Organization, Pats Nation, and all my fans will be truly a big part of my heart for rest of my life. It was truly an incredible honor to play for such a great established organization and able to come in to continue and contribute to keep building success. To all my current and past teammates, thank you for making each team every year special to be apart of. I will truly miss you guys. Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a HUGE cheers to the uncertain of whats next.
The Patriots are a lesser team today, obviously, because of Gronkowski’s retirement after nine starry seasons. But who can blame him, after three back surgeries, four arm surgeries, an ACL surgery, multiple concussions, and calf, quad and Achilles injuries? Gronkowski entered the NFL in 2010 with a pesky herniated disk condition, and in his 131 games since, he survived his physical maladies to be one of the best tight ends ever.
He blocked as well as any tight end of this generation—and unlike so many gifted offensive tight ends, he embraced blocking as part of his job. He caught the ball downfield as well as any tight end of this generation. The other three greats of this century, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, averaged between 10.8 and 12.4 yards per reception. Gronkowski averaged 15.1, more than Jerry Rice (14.8) and Tyreek Hill (14.6).
More than anything, Gronkowski was there when his team needed him. This year, New England milked him through the middle part of the season, but he played all 169 offensive snaps in two tight games—the AFC title game (97) and the Super Bowl (72). On the 81st New England snap of the title game, Gronkowski beat Eric Berry for a 25-yard completion to set up the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of the fourth quarter. On the 94th snap, and on perhaps the biggest third-down conversion of his career, Gronkowski beat Eric Berry for a 15-yard pass to set up the winning score in overtime. On the 60th offensive play of the Super Bowl, in a 3-3 duel with the Rams, he went 29 yards down the seam to catch a Tom Brady pass, setting up the winning touchdown.
As he told Rosenhaus: “I’m going out on top.”
That he certainly is. It’s the tight-end equivalent of Jim Brown retiring on the set of “The Dirty Dozen” in London in 1966, coming off an MVP season as the ’65 rushing champ for Cleveland. Gronkowski played his last game for New England at 29 years, 9 months. Brown played his last game for Cleveland at 29 years, 10 months.
Gronkowski’s decision is sepia-toned this morning, and the Patriots will sometime soon celebrate his nine-year contributions to one of the great teams ever to play the sport. He was well-liked and respected as a teammate, those inside the team say, because of his reliability, his toughness and his daily personality. Said Dwayne Allen: “Not only was he a great player against any defense—double teams, triple teams, chipped by defensive ends, covered by great corners—but he was one of the guys all the time. He was Rob with the media, Rob in the locker room, Rob on the field. And if he was hurt, or hurting, he never talked about it. And as a competitor, I haven’t met many like him. I was at his house once, playing basketball, and once, he just turned it on. He stepped behind the three-point line and started draining threes. Where’d that come from? That was just Rob.”
Yes, there will be cool Gronk stories. But in football terms for New England, reality bites. So much about him walking away is bad, bad news for the franchise.
It leaves the Patriots woefully short of offensive weapons as they try to remain the game’s dominant team. They do not have an established NFL tight end, and after free-agent Allen signed in Miami, the tight-end depth chart (Stephen Anderson, Matt LaCosse, Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo) is the worst in the NFL. Julian Edelman is coming off his Super Bowl MVP performance, but there is no veteran help for him beyond Chris Hogan, and there is no consistent deep threat on the roster other than the occasionally effective Phillip Dorsett. The running backs are fine—Sony Michel keys that group. But if Tom Brady takes the field at 42 with that group of receivers, good luck to him.
Lucky for the Patriots there are three legitimate first-round tight ends in this year’s draft. With six picks between 32 and 101, New England will be able to move around to position itself for a tight end and wide receiver early. But we’re assuming all picks hit, and that’s a bad assumption, even for the wise Patriots. More likely, a pre-draft trade (A.J. Green? Mohamed Sanu? Sterling Shepard?) using the Patriots’ draft capital wouldn’t surprise me.
Rosenhaus, 31 years an agent, was a bit melancholy Sunday night. “I’m in a daze,” he said, sitting by the huge lawn in the back of the Biltmore. “Representing Rob was so much fun, something special. Such a great guy, and always the same. Always up. You try as an agent to do everything you can for your clients, and I asked Rob if there was anything I could do for him, if there was anything I could ask the Patriots to make his job better. He said no, there’s really not anything. Then I asked his dad, ‘You sure he wants to give up $10 million this year?’ He told me, ‘Drew, he’s got all the money he needs.’ “
So that’s it … or is it? Rosenhaus said it wouldn’t shock him if Gronkowski decided to come back sometime in 2019. We’ll see. There’s nothing to indicate a return to football now. For now, there’s a void in New England, and in the NFL. A really fun player, a really good player, walked away with something left in the tank.
The NFL won’t be popular in New Orleans this week. (Not that Roger Goodell could get a table at Emeril’s now anyway.) But during a meeting of NFL coaches and GMs here late Sunday afternoon, a show of hands was asked for. How many teams favored a new rule that would allow challenges of penalties not called on the field such as pass interference? That rules tweak, of course, would be to remedy the defensive pass interference call not made late in the NFC title game that helped propel the Rams, instead of the Saints, to the Super Bowl.
Less than eight hands went up. At least 24 teams would have to vote in favor of the rule for it to become law in the NFL.
“Clearly, there are factions of the membership who say, ‘Where does it end? With every foul or non-foul reviewable?” NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent told me Sunday night.
The rules change that will have a far better chance when Tuesday’s vote is taken: one that would make offensive and defensive pass-interference calls—flagged on the field—subject to review. That will do nothing to address the Saints’ gripe from the title game. I got two views of the prospects of that proposal at the hotel Sunday: Some on the Competition Committee are optimistic that the proposal to challenge interference calls on the field for a one-year trial will get 24 votes. “I’m not so sure of that,” said one other member of the committee. “I think it’s going to be very close. It might need some arm-twisting.”
“There’s just not enough support for reviewing interference not called on the field,” said Competition Committee member John Mara. “So let’s just take what we can get, work on training the officials better, work on having the same crew together in the playoffs [instead of all-star crews comprised of officials unfamiliar with each other] and attack it that way.”
“We need to make progress,” Vincent said. “It’s a progression, maybe over time.”
If that measure passes—rules proposal 6 on the league’s agenda here, allowing a one-year experiment with interference calls able to be challenged—it would leave non-calls like the one in the Saints game unaffected. The committee, and by extension the league, is going to be questioned harshly if that happens.
“This is a democratic process,” Vincent said. “This is something that the 32 teams dictate by their votes. I’ve been on record as saying that it will not be in the best interests of the league if we leave Arizona without a new rule about [interference] in place. We shouldn’t push it off till the meetings in May. I believe we need to be voting with the coaches in the room.”
Vincent was referring to the possibility of tabling the pass-interference-review proposal until the league’s annual May meetings, this year in Key Biscayne, Fla. But it clearly is an option. The NFL, which clearly wants some change, could take a straw vote during Tuesday’s debate, and if it feels the measure would fail to get 24 votes, the league could table it for two months, hoping to convince some skeptical owners to change their minds in a meeting that is traditionally not attended by the coaches.
A couple of things I’ve heard here: Multiple teams feel replay is far too intrusive on the game, and they are leaning against voting for an expansion of the system, at all. And some teams fear the unintended consequences of allowing challenges of plays on the field that went un-flagged.
Example: the Miami Miracle play, the one that allowed Kenyon Drake to take a lateral and weave through the New England defense for the winning touchdown in the dying seconds of a 2018 game. Suppose a rule was on the books that allowed New England to review the play, and suppose the Patriots had one or more video-review spotters in the press box who is doing nothing but studying every one of the 11 foes on every play to see if a foul had been committed. Then, if the Patriots challenged holding on a Miami player away from the play, and it was determined that there was a hold on the play, even if it had nothing to do with the outcome of the play, the review just might negate the touchdown. Is that the game fans want?
It’s true that the Saints’ play won’t be fixed here, and I have struggled with that. How can the league say it’s doing everything to make the game fair without addressing the rule that might have sent the wrong team to the Super Bowl?
My only idea to address everyone’s concerns: Allow teams to challenge all pass-interference calls on the field, or interference calls they think should have been made. Interference only. Mandate no increase in the number of challenges; most coaches would likely save a challenge for the last five minutes of the game, and the games wouldn’t likely be appreciably longer. This would allow teams to challenge bad interference calls.
“So many interference calls are close,” said the Giants’ Mara. “During the process, we were shown the pass-interference flags from this season, and we [on the eight-man Competition Committee] were asked to vote on them and whether they were fouls. On many of them, we voted 4-4.”
Vincent took three pages out of his binder for these meetings Sunday night. They concerned penalties not called from 2016 to 2018 that the league office deemed errors, and then calls made incorrectly in the same three seasons. Some 24 of the 50 incorrect calls were defensive pass interference penalties. You can bet he’ll use that power-point sheet to try to convince the teams on the fence about replay expansion to vote yes. We could have corrected 24 obvious incorrect calls in the last three years, he’s likely to say. And the nay-sayers will counter: How much more replay? Why more replay?
Should be an interesting debate here. There will be time for Goodell and Vincent to lobby skeptical teams during today’s sessions, and again tonight when the league has a cocktail party attended by everyone here. The one thing I’ve seen over the years is when the league really wants something, it pushes hard to get it. My money’s on the league winning, either Tuesday here or in Florida in May.
Questions for Giants co-owner John Mara, and answers, on the trade of franchise receiver Odell Beckham Jr. 13 days ago:
FMIA: How hard was it for you to do this?
Mara: “I had very mixed feelings about it because I happen to like the kid. I really do. I have two grandsons who sobbed uncontrollably when I called to tell them that we had traded him … one of whom is still not talking to me. They both said they’re going to be Browns fans this year. So that’s the effect he has. They’re 7 years old and they think he’s a god. I liked him a lot personally. He’s different. He’s not a bad kid.
“Dave [Gettleman, the Giants’ GM] and I had a long talk about it. When the Browns made their final offer, I wanted to know—You and Pat [Shurmur] both want to do this? You’re sure? You’re absolutely sure? I still said I had to think about it. Then I called him back a little bit later.”
FMIA: I thought you had to be thinking of Lawrence Taylor, and if your organization could put up with Taylor, surely you could put up with Beckham.
Mara: “There’s an old Bill Parcells quote: ‘Lawrence Taylor is the pilot of a burning plane. ‘ Somehow he managed to keep the plane from crashing. But we got … we had a lot of holes to fill. Getting the first-round pick, getting the third-round pick, getting our fourth back from the [Kevin Zeitler] trade. You can argue whether it’s comparable value. I felt better about that than about previous offers that had come down the pike. And he was going out of the conference! Out of the division, so it was a reluctant OK.
“Of course we want to keep our best players. Listen, I had many conversations with him. He had the stupid penalty in Philadelphia where he lifted his leg in the end zone [in a faux dog-urination scene] and I brought him into my office and I showed him the front page of the New York Post and said, ‘Is this what you want? Is this what you want your legacy to be?’ He looked at me and he said, ‘Well you know, I just don’t understand the celebration rules.’ I said, ‘Well you know you can’t do that!’ “
FMIA: Sounds like you’re pretty motivated as a team to build your lines back up in the draft.
Mara: “I don’t know what we’re going to do—whether we’ll take a quarterback or not. My response is show me what the grades are. But don’t force a pick. The worst thing we can do is force it. If we have to wait another year, I don’t want to have to do that, but if we have to, I’d rather do that than force it. This thing now about everyone asking, ‘What’s the plan? What’s the plan?’ We’re trying to build the roster! What do you want me to tell you? ‘Yeah, we’re gonna take a quarterback at six? The plan is to build the roster!’ It’s exasperating. But I learned a long time ago that you’re defenseless when you lose. There’s nothing you can say. We’ve got to build our team, and we’ve got to win.”
Rare Raider Praise20
So I’m like most people who watch or work around football: When I heard that the Raiders won the award at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference for “Best Transaction of 2018” for the trade of Khalil Mack to Chicago, I thought it was a story in The Onion.
In fact, it was the strong belief of Richard Thaler, winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Economics. Thaler is also a football fan. He co-wrote a widely read paper in 2005 on the value of NFL draft choices (“We find that top draft picks are overvalued in a matter that is inconsistent with rational expectations”), laying out a treatise that the best draft choices actually are those low in the first round and through the second round. He has consulted with an NFL team about the value of draft choices and how to build a team. Thaler, 73, is a professor at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.
I reached Thaler, who was on the committee that chose the Mack trade as the transaction of the year. Oakland traded Mack and a second-round pick to Chicago for four picks: two ones, a three and a five. The Bears then signed Mack to a new contract averaging $23.5-million a year through 2023. The Raiders have the Bears’ first pick, 24th overall, in the April draft, and also Chicago’s first-round pick in 2020 … and Oakland has the fourth overall pick, its own, this April.
“Here’s the argument,” Thaler said. “The Raiders are down, and they will be getting these [four] picks to help them rebuild their team. I believe the only way to win in football is to have players who play better than their salaries. Let’s stipulate that Mack is getting top-of-market value for his services, so it will be hard for him to play better than his salary. Let’s also stipulate Mack is worth the money. But is Mack worth all that money plus four good draft choices?
“Now Jon Gruden can build through these multiple high picks on rookie contracts instead of just having one great player being paid at a market rate. In fact, if Gruden were talking to me, I’d tell him to trade the number four pick for multiple picks. I’d trade down every year. If I had a pick in the top 10, and I wasn’t drafting a quarterback, I’d want to trade down every year. There is value in multiple high picks versus one pick in the top 10.”
A few things to unpack. The thought about multiple high picks being worth more than one is particularly true in a year like this one, when there is very good depth (especially on defense) through three rounds. If the Raiders select, say, Alabama’s Quinnen Williams at number four, and he becomes a star, will they do the same things as they did with Mack, and flip him for more picks? If so, would the Raiders ever keep a home-grown star other than at quarterback? Thaler believes they shouldn’t.
Not to argue with a Nobel Prize winner, but …
I think it’s very hard to watch football and to not think Mack is worth several high picks and 11 percent of a team’s cap, which is about what he is scheduled to earn, on average, over his six Chicago seasons. Twice Mack wrecked the Packers last year (though Green Bay won one of the games in a miracle ending), and he was the best player on the field against Arizona and Tampa Bay. The Bears snapped a four-season last-place streak in 2018, winning the NFC North and improving by seven victories over 2017, and did so with a so-so quarterback performance by Mitchell Trubisky.
I maintain it’s fiscally possible to have more than one star taking up significant cap space on a team. The best team of this era, the Patriots, has mostly acted like Thaler suggests, jettisoning players on the verge of making free-agent riches or negotiating big contracts (Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, Trey Flowers, Malcolm Butler, Trent Brown, Nate Solder) in favor of draft choices mostly. That plus Tom Brady’s play and Bill Belichick’s stratagems have served New England well. But not many other teams routinely let great players walk away. Maybe more teams should.
If you could predict that a team would draft above-average or star starters with two or three of the Mack replacement picks, I’d be more convinced that Thaler is right, and that Oakland won this trade. Of course, we won’t know for two or three years at the earliest.
Thaler’s no fan of the Cowboy’s draft-trade value chart, by the way. “Teams still use that stupid chart,” he said. “That chart overvalues high picks. It’s a joke. High picks, to me, are over-valued stocks. Smart teams should have a portfolio manager, to basically analyze every draft decision or trade.” And he thinks football teams should have staffs of analytics experts; most teams only have one, if any.
“Football,” Thaler said, “is way behind baseball and basketball. [Houston Rockets GM] Daryl Morey has a staff of I think 15 full-time analytics guys. Why wouldn’t you want to give yourself every edge when you’re building a team?”
It’s always good to expose yourself to new ideas. I don’t buy everything Thaler is selling, but if Oakland drafts well in the next two years, he and the MIT Sloan program will look pretty smart.
Quotes of the Week
“Greatest tight end who ever lived.”
—Fred Gaudelli, multiple-Emmy-winning director of NBC’s Sunday Night Football telecast, on Rob Gronkowski.
“In the nine years that I have known Rob Gronkowski, I have never known him to have a bad day.”
—Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
“I am truly sorry. I know I have hurt and disappointed my family, my close friends, my co-workers, our fans and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard.”
—Patriots owner Robert Kraft, apologizing Saturday for his connection to the prostitute-soliciting case in Florida.
“The Giants’ plan should be to draft Dwayne Haskins at any cost. They would have to have blindfolds on to not see how good he is.”
—Boomer Esiason, the 1988 NFL MVP and current morning-drive host on WFAN in New York, after watching the Ohio State quarterback’s Pro Day workout in Columbus last week.
“Ben wants to win his way, and that’s tough to play with … He’s at the stage where he wants to control everything, and [the team] let him get there.”
—Le’Veon Bell, the former Steelers and new Jets running back, on Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, to The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas, in a story for Sports Illustrated. Bell said Roethlisberger was a factor in his decision to leave the Steelers in free-agency.
What I Learned30
Former Pro Bowl linebacker Chris Spielman, now a FOX NFL analyst, lost his wife Stefanie to breast cancer 10 years ago. Chris is involved in fundraising for cancer causes, including one founded by Stefanie during her fight. And there is interest in creating a motion picture about their lives, based on the book chronicling the Spielmans’ battle against the illness, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.” Chris Spielman, who is remarried, on what he has learned about the fight and finding purpose after the loss of a beloved spouse and mother:
“The one thing I’ve learned when dealing with people who reach out or people who need help the way I did, and it’s a cliché, is to be a good listener. What I tried to do was learn how to try to celebrate our great memories, to allow myself when the time comes to be sad and to mourn, and to grieve. At first I didn’t do that. After Stefanie died, in my mind, I treated it like a football game, and I was the football player. I never gave into the pain or weakness. So when she died, I tried to be upbeat. I kept forcing my kids to think happy thoughts—your Mom would want us to be happy. Finally, one day, I had this conversation with myself: ‘Exactly who are you fighting Chris? Who are you playing against right now?’ I got so sick of saying, ‘Toughen up, dude.’ And there was so much relief right then.
“So one of the things I really learned was to not be competing 24/7, all the time.
“I see Stefanie in my kids. That makes me smile. It’s been 10 years. I sometimes see Stefanie or her mannerisms in my wife now. I see a smile on her face that will remind me. I just smile, because I married two tough-ass girls.
“I thought when Stefanie died I would never get married again. I dated a couple times. I would come home to the room Stefanie died in, and I knew intellectually I wasn’t cheating, but I felt like I was cheating. I almost apologized to an empty room.
“A few months before Stefanie died, she made a video to be watched by us—me and the [four] kids—only after she died. She talked to the kids, each individually. She told them to find a passion. She said she was praying for their future spouses since the day they were born. She said, ‘Never use my death an excuse for anything except for motivation for what you are going to do in life.’ She said it’s going to be okay. She said, ‘I want your dad to get remarried.’ It was a happy tape. She didn’t have a fear of death. It’s been a road map and a teaching tool for my kids, for their whole lives. Then, there was this fundraiser my wife now was at, and I thought, ‘Let me try dating again.’ Called her, took her out on a Sunday night, went back into the room where Stef died, and I felt Stef’s presence.
“It’s okay, Chris.
“And I just smiled. I felt okay.
“I understand how people look at cancer and how monumental a cure seems. There are all these different forms of cancer. There are six different types of breast cancer. Maybe there is progress with one form of the cancer that gives a patient two or three more months on earth. Two or three more months, to some people, is a 500-yard passing day. That is progress. That’s why I keep fighting and keep working for a cure. We can make progress and improve people’s lives along the way.
“I’ll tell you one other story. I was coming home from spring break with my daughter last week, on a flight with my family. The flight attendant walks up to me and hands me a piece of paper and told me this lady on-board asked me to give it to you. The note said she wanted to say something to me, but she didn’t want to bother my family time. She said in 2000, she was a 30-year-old mom with an 11-month-old daughter, and she was from the area, and she had followed our story with Stefanie fighting breast cancer, and one day she found a lump in her breast that she probably wouldn’t have thought much about without knowing about Stefanie telling everyone if they felt a lump to get tested. She got tested. She was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, and had a mastectomy, and she underwent six months of chemo. And now she was returning from her 50th birthday celebration.
“She wrote, ‘I have you and Stefanie to thank for that. You and your family have been in my prayers.’
“On the plane, I turned to my wife, who has been a great partner with me. I said, ‘This is why I do this. This is why Stef did this.’
“I don’t get those letters daily. But I get them sometimes. They are such humbling, emotional moments in my life. And I know a lot of people don’t like when I say this, but I believe God allowed cancer in our lives so we could do a greater good for a lot of people.
“One more thing. It’s about perspective. One year before Stef died, I was named to the final 75 list of Pro Football Hall of Fame candidates, or something like that. I printed it out. I was so proud. I put it in the fridge in the kitchen and said to Stef, ‘Can you believe this? Look at me with these great guys in NFL history!’
“Stef looked at it, and looked at me, and said, ‘That’s great. Now, would you please get it off the kids’ artwork?’”
For further information on Chris Spielman’s work in fighting breast cancer, or if you’re interested in learning more about their movie on their lives, contact Bob Sobhani.
It looks like the Kansas City proposal to ensure both teams would have a possession in overtime has no chance of passing here in Arizona. A shame, I think, because it gives too much influence to a coin flip at the start of overtime.
I understand the data of the coin flip does not support a system crying out for change—only 53 percent of the time does the team that wins the coin flip go on to win the game. But if the flip plays such a middling role in who wins overtime, why do these statistics occur?
All time NFL overtime games: 589.
OT games with the coin-flip winner choosing to receive the kick: 577.
That is 98.0 percent of teams, all-time, that choose to receive when winning the flip to start overtime.
If getting the ball to start overtime was a capricious and occasionally influential part of NFL games, then why have coaches chosen to receive at the start of the extra period in 98 percent of all overtimes?
The best single season for Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome was 1984: 16 games, 89 catches, 11.2 yards per catch, five touchdowns, 62.6 yards per game.
Rob Gronkowski’s composite playoff numbers: 16 games, 81 catches, 14.4 yards per catch, 12 touchdowns, 72.7 yards per game.
I’m not exactly sure what this means, and I doubt it is all that significant, but I found it interesting. In 2018, when Kyler Murray was an outfielder throughout the spring for the Oklahoma baseball team—and impressed scouts enough to be chosen ninth overall in the MLB draft, by Oakland, last June—he reached based 90 times in 54 games. In those 90 times on base, he attempted 14 stolen bases and was successful 10 times. For a guy with 4.37 40 speed, that’s not all that impressive, either the total times running or the 10-for-14 success rate.
Tweets of the Week
Chipper Jones should know.
Mail call, with a response from former Raiders executive and current CBS NFL analyst Amy Trask to my opinion on the dress of woman on television in last week’s column. To refresh: I wrote that if I ran a network, one of the first things I would do is give women anchors and reporters and commentators the option of making their on-screen dress business attire, not cocktail attire. Men wear suits in high-profile TV jobs while the majority of women, in sports and news, dress in cocktail-type clothing. Do these women want to? Or do they feel forced to dress in cocktail-type attire because they feel they need to have a certain look?
A respected NFL voice checks in. From Amy Trask, of Los Angeles: “I agree wholeheartedly with your stated views and I love the way you stated them. In my time appearing on television, it has never entered my mind to dress in anything other than a businesslike manner as this is a business and it has never made sense to me to dress for an evening party when going to work. I both respect and appreciate that the manner in which I chose to dress has never been an issue with those with whom I work at CBS Sports and that I have never felt pressured to dress otherwise. But I would never presume to tell anyone, man or woman, how to dress on TV. I firmly believe in the adage ‘to each her or his own,’ and however one chooses to dress is fine as long as it is voluntary.”
Good points, Amy. Thanks for making them. Clearly, dress code, within reason, should be voluntary and never feel forced.
I’ve never gotten an email from Sleepy Eye, Minn. From Kathleen U., of Sleepy Eye, Minn.: “Yes! Thank you! The clothes and the shoes! It’s like it undoes everything we are trying to teach young women about their value. I hope you will continue to highlight some of these things in the sports world that are sexist and harmful to women, in particular young women. (I work with teenagers.)”
What motivated me to write the note in the first place, Kathleen, was thinking about what young women must think watching so many women on the sports and political shows. Do some young girls grow up thinking I have to have a certain look or dress in a certain way to have a chance to get one of those jobs? It should not be that way, obviously. I appreciate you pointing it out.
In praise of Gettleman. From Michael N., of Ottawa: “I am a huge Giants fan. I loved Odell Beckham’s ability but, at some point, if you know anything about football, you have to know that wide receivers are a luxury. In my view, this trade had to be made because [Giants GM Dave] Gettleman knows you win with the guys up front, on offense and defense. And the Giants had to get significantly better, hence the trade for [guard] Kevin Zeitler. Gettleman is doing what should have been done years ago and was never done.”
There’s a lot to be said for that, Michael. Beckham wasn’t on the field enough recently, and he certainly was a divisive force at times on and off the field. Mostly, I was against jettisoning Beckham, because the Giants have continually chosen to build their team around Eli Manning post-Super Bowls, even when year after year Manning has not played well enough to deserve that. But if Gettleman drafts well and doesn’t continue to put off getting his long-term quarterback, this strategy could work. “Could,” being the operative word, because he’s got to hit on most of these picks now.
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think the fact that Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid settled with the NFL for less than $10 million (kudos, Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal, for fleshing out the story) led me to try to put into math exactly what Kaepernick got to settle the case. All of this presumes some things I am privy to, but is simply an attempt to put into math how much money he MAY HAVE walked away with.
So, here are my conditions: Let’s say Kaepernick and Reid split the proceeds 70-30, with Kaepernick (unemployed while Reid is employed) receiving 70 percent, and let’s say the attorneys, as they do in cases like this one, receiver a third of the settlement, and let’s say the judgment was $10 million. All of that, of course, is a guess. So we take a third off the top for attorneys fees; that leaves $6.7 million. So we take 70 percent of the $6.7 million of Kaepernick’s cut, and that leaves $4.69 million for him. So we take the federal tax rate for a person who earns that level of income, 37 percent, and that leaves $2,954,700. I do not know Kaepernick’s state of residence, though he has been spending a lot of time in New York City. If he is a resident there, that adds 12.9 percent of a local tax burden, and that would drop Kaepernick’s take to $2,573,544.
I don’t mean to say, Kaepernick’s take from the settlement is just $2.5 million. I just mean to say—with thanks to sports-minded CPA Robert Raiola—that whatever his take is, it’ll be significantly affected by lawyers fees and taxes.
2. I think I could see Clay Matthews, easily, giving the Rams a 12-sack gift season opposite Dane Fowler Jr. Love the Matthews signing. He’ll be supremely motivated to have one last very good season.
3. I think one of the coolest and most informative things I’ve read recently is Jim McBride of the Boston Globe taking a pro day road trip with Bill Belichick, and I urge you all to read it.
4. I think I want to make an example of McBride’s story because of how hard it is these days to do truly insightful NFL stories that explain how the sausage is made. What’s insightful here, with McBride on the Belichick trail, is how the coach is captured watching the pro days and interacting with the prospects and what he takes from it … and why it’s so much more important to him than the combine. Belichick sees, for instance, with offensive linemen, “how heavy-handed a guy is. How’s his strike?” Really good insight. McBride asked Belichick something anyone would like to ask him—about how his presence right next to them at pro days obviously makes prospects nervous. “I usually just tell them, ‘I plan on being at all the games next year, so if I make you nervous now … ’ ’’ that happened inside the Georgia indoor facility, on the Bulldogs’ pro day. My only criticism of the story: I wish it was longer.
5. I think I love preseason Rams-Cowboys in Hawaii. Why not? Spread the gospel of the league to a place disaffected by the loss of the Pro Bowl. It’ll be a fun spectacle.
6. I think there was a blip on the NFL radar Friday, and I do believe no one, even in New England, paid much attention. That is wrong. At an event at his alma mater, the University of Georgia, former Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell announced his retirement. Players retire all the time, of course, and they all have their reasons. For Mitchell, the collective reason was 10 knee surgeries and never being able to get his health right. I’m not sure people recall how important a role he played in the 28-3 comeback in Super Bowl 51. You may remember a couple of years ago, when I visited Tom Brady a week after that comeback, and walked him through the comeback from 25 down late in the third quarter. New England scored on four straight possessions to tie the game and send it to overtime. The second possession of the four had Mitchell’s fingerprints all over it. From my column two years ago:
Atlanta 28, New England 9 (fourth quarter, 14:51 left)
Great stat from the Elias Sports Bureau: In the Patriots first six Super Bowls in the Brady/Belichick era, New England never completed a pass to a rookie. In this game, rookie fourth-round pick Malcolm Mitchell was huge—six catches, 70 yards, in big spots—and especially big on this drive. He had catches of 15, seven and 18 yards, and Brady said the reason offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had him in the game, and Brady picked him on routes with multiple options, came down to one word: trust. “I think he had earned that trust of everybody,’’ Brady said. “… If it was Julian [Edelman] open, Julian was going to get it. If it was Malcolm, Malcolm was going to get it. Malcolm happened to be in those spots. And everybody had confidence to have Malcolm in those spots if he got it. He proved everybody right because he came up with the plays.’’ Two big Grady Jarrett sacks forced the Patriots to kick a field goal. With 9:48 left, it was a two-score game.
A shame that Mitchell could not get healthy enough to continue his career, but he has made an impact as an advocate for literacy too.
7. I think this is not worth a brawl. It’s just an opinion: Sashi Brown should get an assist for the Browns’ rebuild. When he got fired in December 2017 in favor of John Dorsey as Cleveland GM, the Browns had five picks in the first two rounds of the 2018 draft, and extra picks in the fourth and fifth rounds. Dorsey used the riches acquired from Houston (in two separate trades) to pick Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb, two big pieces of Cleveland’s comeback season. Then he used Cleveland’s first-round pick this year and a three acquired in trade for Odell Beckham Jr. Dorsey had to make the picks. He had to believe in Baker Mayfield and pull that trigger, for instance. But the Browns’ success didn’t occur in a draft-pick vacuum, in part because Brown looked out for the future before getting fired.
8. I think the long-term ramifications of Antonio Brown shooting his way out of Pittsburgh should be interesting to watch. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who engineered the process, hopes it’s a milepost on the road to unhappy players being able to get out of places they hate.
“We had a client who decided that he didn’t want to be with a given team and we were able to find a more desirable scenario and work out a new deal despite having three years left on the contract and not having to add more years,” Rosenhaus told me. “What I hope it does is maybe bring some more balance. There aren’t many players like Antonio Brown but perhaps—and I’m not suggesting that everybody go out and try to renegotiate their deal or ask for a trade—but I hope it gives players more leverage throughout the league. I hope it gives agents more confidence that they can affect something in a way that can make a positive change for their clients. Maybe this is a deal that’s bigger than just one particular contract.”
Teams won’t want to hear that, but Rosenhaus is right. Now, it’s going to take a player who is comfortable enough in his skin to take the potshots he’s going to take and to ruin his image among a good portion of his fans. Brown was willing to do that, and now he’s got a new contract and a new team.
9. I think I have three names to throw out, for those who say the defense is so bad in the Big 12 that you can’t judge quarterbacks who play in that conference: Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Oh, Nebraska. I feel for you and your citizens. How terrible the flooding looks. For all flooding victims in the Midwest, my heart goes out to you.
b. Story of the Week: by Billy Witz of the New York Times, on the high-ranking USC athletic department admissions gatekeeper at the center of the athletic admissions scandal.
c. Man, it’s going to take Donna Heinel a while to come back from this.
d. From Witz’s excellent reporting: “Since 2014, Heinel had presented to admissions more than two dozen students with bogus athletic credentials, including a football player whose high school had no football team, as well as a 5-foot-5 men’s basketball player and a high school cheerleader made to look like a lacrosse star. In fact, emails and recorded phone conversations in the indictment paint a portrait of Heinel not merely as a conduit, but also as a fixer who could spot potential brush fires and swept aside skeptical questions.”
e. Story of the Week II: from Matthew Ormseth and Richard Winton of the Los Angeles Times, on how a girl who didn’t play soccer named Lauren Isackson got into UCLA as a soccer recruit.
f. The story has so many tributaries and is so fascinating. I can’t read enough about it.
g. Column of the Week: from Joan Vennochi of the Boston Globe, with the opinion that Robert Kraft needs to say he’s sorry for paying for sex, particularly to the women’s charities he has supported for so long in New England:
h. TV Story of the Week: CBS News’ great piece on a man who has used fentanyl for two-and-a-half years and is living to tell about it. Amazing detail.
i. Leader of the Week: Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, learning how to grieve and cope with the senseless slaughter of 50 people there on the fly—and doing a great job along the way.
j. I heard on NPR a gun owner from New Zealand saying he was in favor of Ardern’s ban on the type of killing-marchine weapon that mowed down 50 innocents in two mosques. Imagine that. Being against a weapon designed to kill as many people as possible as fast as possible. What a revolutionary idea.
k. Great reporting by NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro on the effect of rising tides and climate change in Miami.
l. And this from Garcia-Navarro on the effects of climate change on the health of the residents.
m. Ichiro, thank you. Good luck in retirement.
n. Cool remembrance of Ichiro from former major-league middle-infielder Lou Merloni on Twitter:
o. Pete Thamel NCAA Note of the Week (well, I am stealing it from him, so I named the note after him): The men’s basketball teams at North Carolina and Duke have met 251 times—never in the NCAA tournament.
p. I have them meeting for the marbles in my ill-fated bracket.
q. Speaking of my ill-fated bracket: Northeastern was my gem. Clearly I know basketball picks the way I know football picks. Kansas 87, NU 53.
r. My baseball picks: Houston over New York in the A.L., Atlanta over Colorado in the N.L. Houston over Atlanta in the World Series … MVP: Aaron Judge (Yanks), Freddie Freeman (Braves) … Cy Young: Trevor Bauer (Cleveland), Walker Buehler (Dodgers).
s. Beernerdness: Saturday, Scottsdale, the first baseball game of the season, with Don and Alissa Banks, Giants-Diamondbacks. And what made it nicer was the Anchor Steam beer (Anchor Brewing, San Francisco) in a 19.2-ounce can. Hadn’t had one in a while, and that is one nice, smooth beer.
t. You’ve all been waiting for my (ninth-place) rotisserie baseball team, drafted the other night. Here goes.
Infield: Wilson Ramos, Freddie Freeman, Rougned Odor, Marcus Semien, Javier Baez (3B-eligible).
Outfield: Mookie Betts, Rhys Hoskins, Michael Conforto, Mallex Smith (speed).
Starters: Jack Flaherty, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas, Luis Castillo.
Relievers: Edwin Diaz, Josh Hader, Archie Bradley. Plus, assorted flotsam (Porcello, Teheran, etc.)
u. I’m sure there will be opinions about my skill as a baseball GM. Send here.
v. Leave John McCain and his memory alone, Donald Trump. Stop bullying the dead. It’s come to this in America: the American president who got a deferment to avoid Vietnam, belittling a dead man who served in Vietnam and was a POW for more than five years and is considered one of the great American heroes across a wide swath of this country. The president, throwing stones at a dead hero. What must people around the world think of us? And of those in power in Washington who just let it waft over their heads, not wanting to ruffle feathers of the president? It’s beyond disgusting.
The Week Ahead40
• Tuesday … Phoenix. Mike Tomlin meets the press for the first time in 85 days during the AFC coaches breakfast at the NFL meetings. The subject of Antonio Brown might come up. Maybe Le’Veon Bell too.
• Wednesday … Phoenix. As the meetings draw to a close in the desert, look for the replay/overtime/kickoff rules to be adjudicated on this day … or pushed back to the May meetings in Florida.
• Wednesday-Thursday-Friday … starting in Starkville, Miss. Three straight interesting pro days. At Mississippi State on Wednesday at 9 a.m., teams can check on the health status of first-round prospects Montez Sweat (heart) and Jeffrey Simmons (ACL). Then, they buzz over to Houston for a 9:30 a.m. Thursday check on a great player, defensive tackle Ed Oliver. And Friday, it’s on to Oxford, Miss., where three possible first-rounders—wideouts DK Metcalf and A.J. Brown, and tackle Greg Little—will be on display for a 9 a.m. workout. In 52 hours, teams can see and investigate nine potential top-100 picks.
The Adieu Haiku
Adieu, Mr. Gronk.
You did it your way, always.
And … Belichick weeps.