What happens if we’re all wrong? What happens if the Arizona Cardinals don’t do the lead-pipe-lock thing of the 2019 NFL Draft, which is to use the first pick overall on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray? What happens if they shock the world April 25 and trade the pick, or take someone else?
It’s 10 days before the first round kicks off, and we’ve talked ourselves into being sure the Cardinals will take Murray and pair him with the coach who lusts after him, rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury. And if I had to do my mock today, I’d give Murray to Arizona. (Useless Information Dept.: MOCK DRAFT ALERT!! Mine is next Monday.) It makes a lot of sense to pair your McVayesque head coach with the quarterback he loves.
I’m not positive Murray to the Cards plays out like that. I’ve got a few reasons, after a round of phone calls in the past few days.
Let’s run ’em down:
• I don’t believe there is unanimity inside the Cardinals building today either to take Murray, trade down for a passel of picks to a Murray-loving team, or to sit at one and take an impact player for the defense like edge-rusher Nick Bosa. Then again, if GM Steve Keim and Kingsbury both want Murray, that’s going to be the pick.
• The Cards’ personnel brains—led by Keim and VP of player personnel Terry McDonough—are extremely confident people. If you run a team’s player-acquisition department, of course you should be confident. But Keim and McDonough are at the upper end among NFL personnel people in belief in their ability to pick players. I think Keim wouldn’t blink about trading the first pick. Keim won’t be scared to buck conventional wisdom.
• Suppose the Raiders, picking fourth, and coach Jon Gruden, who was openly covetous of Murray at the combine, decide that three of their five first-round picks in the next two drafts are worth using to get the first pick. Theoretically, suppose the Raiders trade the fourth and 27th picks in round one this year, plus one of their two first-rounders next year, to deal up to Arizona’s pick, and the Raiders take Murray. Then suppose they could recoup one of those first-round picks by trading quarterback Derek Carr to Miami or Washington or the Giants for a 2020 first-rounder. Over the next four years, the Raiders would save about $13 million a year by paying a first-pick quarterback an average of $8.5 million a year, as opposed to the $21.5 million average on the remaining four seasons of Carr’s contract.
• If you’re the Cards, and you could have four first-round picks in the next two years, including the fourth overall pick this year, and you have a coach you believe could make Josh Rosen 20 percent better, it might make sense to try to ransom the pick. To take the Murray pick and deal it, and be in position to choose a defensive centerpiece like Josh Allen or Quinnen Williams and two more first-rounders … tempting.
• Few teams in the NFL need a transfusion of talent at multiple positions like Arizona. The respected player-rating site Pro Football Focus ranks players top to bottom at each position. In 2018, Arizona had only two players from its starting 22 rated in the top 15 in the league at their positions: middle linebacker Josh Bynes (fifth) and cornerback Patrick Peterson (ninth). Arizona did not have a top-30 guard, center, tackle, tight end, running back, quarterback, defensive tackle or safety. Alarming. Trading the top pick could be medicine for a lot of personnel issues in Arizona.
But it Keim thinks Murray’s going to have Mahomes-like impact, or even close, he should resist temptation, pick Murray, and deal Josh Rosen 10 nights from now. Peter Schrager made a good point the other day on “Good Morning Football:” In 1984, the Portland Trail Blazers had a young shooting guard they liked, Clyde Drexler, who went on to be a Hall of Fame player. Owning the second pick of the ’84 draft, with Michael Jordan on the board, Portland picked center Sam Bowie. Some 35 years later, it’s still the worst NBA draft decision ever. If the Cards see star power in Murray, their decision should be made.
Who knows how good the 5-10 Murray will be? But living with passing on him would be something Keim, and steward-of-the-franchise president Michael Bidwill, must consider with one of the biggest decisions this team has had to make since moving to Arizona in 1988.
Russell Wilson is 30. He is the face of the Seattle Seahawks. His contract expires at the end of this year, and you’d think he’d be happy to leapfrog Aaron Rodgers as the highest-paid NFL player of all-time sometime this year.
I don’t think signing a boilerplate contract averaging $34 million a year—something Wilson never could have dreamed possible when he was the 75th player picked in the 2012 draft—will be enough for him, and for his representative, Mark Rodgers, a baseball agent with one football client, Wilson. I think Wilson actually would be content playing out his current contract and then working under the franchise tag for the next two seasons rather than taking a typical mega-millions contract. Playing year-to-year, Wilson would average $27.8 million a year over the next three years, rather than a solid $34 million a year over five or six.
That seems ridiculous. There’s a few reasons why it’s not.
But first, this deadline agent Rodgers has given Seattle. Today’s a big day in the Pacific Northwest if you take Wilson and Rodgers at their word, that—according to a source close to the talks—they say they won’t do a long-term deal with the Seahawks if it’s not done by tonight. Read that last sentence again. I didn’t mean they’d put off further talks on a new contract till 2020 if it’s not done by tonight. I meant Wilson and Rodgers don’t plan to negotiate further with the Seahawks, period. My source says they’ve told GM John Schneider it has to be done now, or not at all.
That’s why, with this being what Wilson likely believes is his last chance to get a truly market deal in Seattle, I would be shocked if he leaves this all to Rodgers, regardless how much he trusts his agent. Wilson’s an activist. I would bet he wants Schneider and/or Carroll to hear from him directly about why he wants to get this deal done now, and he wants to get it done differently than other quarterback deals have been done. I’ve known Wilson since training camp of his rookie year, and he’s one of the ultimate hands-on players I’ve met. He has never struck me as the type to hand a job this big to his agent and say, Good luck. Call me when it’s done.
If it does get done, my source says the contract would likely include devices to adjust future years of the deal based on how high the cap goes up year to year, or based on new revenue streams (gambling revenue, for example, or a TV contract that explodes). If it is not done, it means the Seahawks have determined Wilson isn’t worth setting such a precedent. (No NFL player’s contract fluctuates based on cap increases or increases in the league’s bottom line unknown at the time of signing.) That would be understandable, but would it be the right call for the Seahawks? It could be a potentially career-altering risk for Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.
Of course, there’s no real reason why a deal couldn’t be done July 15 or Dec. 15 either. But waiting would be calling Wilson’s bluff. Maybe you win, maybe you lose. It’s a risk. Normally, talking about hard negotiations, I’d say big deal. Quarterbacks—all except Kirk Cousins—might play a year on the franchise tag, but they eventually sign long-term and stay with their teams. I think there’s a good chance Wilson could be different.
Like Cousins was, Wilson is not afraid to play year-to-year: this year at $17 million, and then as many as two years on the franchise tag, at $30.3 million in 2020 and $36.4 million in 2021. If the Seahawks chose to franchise Wilson a third time, the cost would rise to $52.4 million for 2022. Which would be a very difficult one-year salary for any team to digest, unless the cap skyrockets in 2021, when a new CBA is due to take effect.
Most players want the assurance of guaranteed money and long-term security. They’ll take significant guaranteed money in exchange for fighting for what Cousins got (a fully guaranteed three-year, $84-million contract) or what Wilson presumably wants (a fluctuating contract, based on the league’s future success). But from what I hear, Wilson and Rodgers feel the league could be on the precipice of major new revenue streams. Recently, Bills co-owner Kim Pegula said she wanted to have the opportunity to provide sports betting inside their stadium. What might the NFL’s take on in-stadium gambling be, and how would that be divided with the players? Could Facebook or some digital brand bid an unheard-of sum for the rights to part of the TV deal in 2022?
Because the game is so injurious, you don’t see many players going year-to-year. But Wilson’s durability is a big part of his football appeal. Since the day Wilson was drafted in 2012, the Seahawks have played 125 regular-season and postseason games. Wilson has started them all. Last year, he was the only NFL quarterback to take every offensive snap for his team. In the last two years, he has played 2,186 of Seattle’s 2,191 offensive snaps. That could change in an instant, of course. But Wilson is fine gambling on himself, and on his durability.
For those who would not put Wilson in the same stratum as Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady or Drew Brees, it’s understandable. But Wilson is the second-highest-rated quarterback in history (100.3). He has 83 career wins, regular-season and postseason, in seven years, an average of 11.8 a year.
Schneider, of course, has to worry about 53 players, not just one. Linebacker Bobby Wagner is due to hit free agency after this season, and he’s had the kind of career that one day will merit Hall of Fame consideration. If Wilson, the offensive leader, gets a precedent-setting contract, then what of the unquestioned leader of the defense, Wagner? He certainly wouldn’t get quarterback money, but Wagner might want to push for the kind of financial incentives Wilson gets.
A few other things, counter to the current rumor mill. I do not believe Wilson is pushing for a trade right now, to the Giants, or anywhere. I believe he wants to work out a deal with Seattle. I believe Wilson wants to know where he stands with the Seahawks long-term, which is one of the reasons why he is pushing hard for a deal to be done now. I believe if the Seahawks do not do a deal by midnight tonight, it doesn’t meant they don’t want Wilson to be their quarterback for the next decade—it just means they’re not willing to set a contractual precedent like tying his contract to how fast, and how high, the cap rises over the life of the deal.
Pragmatically, if I’m Wilson, everyone around the league views me as an Eagle Scout type, and as long as I step on the field, I’ve got to be all-in, and a team guy all the way. That is the only way he can maximize his value long-term, and perhaps post-Seahawks. And if I’m the Seahawks, I know the kind of person I have in Wilson, so maybe I feel: Let’s go year-to-year over the next three years, for reasonable money for a franchise quarterback, and hope at some point in those three years there’s a thaw and we can re-visit this contract.
Whatever happens, this is a dramatic day in Seattle. I don’t know which way it’ll go, but I don’t think it’s time to shred the “3” jerseys yet. Gut feeling: At the very least Wilson plays in Seattle three more years. And a lot can happen in those three years.
Two decades ago Wednesday, the New Orleans Saints made one of the craziest trades in NFL history. They traded all six 1999 draft choices and their first-round and third-round picks in 2000—eight draft choices in all—to Washington to move up seven spots in the first round of the ’99 draft to pick Texas running back Ricky Williams.
“Twenty years ago—that’s crazy,” the Washington coach at the time, Norv Turner, said Friday. As was the deal. At the time, so much about it was revolutionary. The noted draft-value trade chart, invented by the Cowboys a few years earlier, had the Saints trading away 4,441 points of draft value in exchange for 1,700 points—the value of the fifth overall pick. “When the coaches were told about it that day,” Turner said, “we looked at each other and said, ‘This isn’t real. You gotta do that.’ “ And GM Charley Casserly, negotiating with Saints GM Billy Kuharich, agreed to it eagerly.
Ditka was smitten with Williams after his 2,124-yard, 27-TD senior year at Texas, and he proclaimed at the league meetings a month before the draft that he’d trade his entire draft for Williams. “Put us in line,” Casserly told Kuharich. Except New Orleans didn’t have a second-round pick that year. So Casserly said he’d have to have a first and third in 2000 to make up for the lack of a second-rounder. The Saints did it. (Man, why not ask for Ditka’s first-born too?) “A generational trade,” Casserly called it.
From the moment the deal happened, there were problems. Big problems. Williams was intensely shy. The Saints flew him to New Orleans for a post-draft press conference. On the plane, he was given a Saints cap to wear. “I’m not wearing that,” Williams said. He was told he’d be doing the press conference from a podium. “I’m not doing that,” he said.
When the dreadlocked Williams got to the Saints offices, Ditka greeted him wearing a wig with dreadlocks, and a flowered shirt and shorts. Williams did the press conference, standing to the side of the podium, not behind it. There was a fan fest with maybe 5,000 fans there on the property, fans going crazy because they got the best player in college football, and they chanted for Williams. Someone with Williams that day said, “Ricky looked around, and he was in shock. This was not what he thought the NFL would be. The look on his face was, ‘What the f— is this?’ “
Ricky-mania was in full swing. Williams dressed in a wedding gown and Ditka in a wedding tux, and they posed as bride and groom for an August 1999 cover of ESPN The Magazine. Heaven knows why Williams did that, but the season started bad and got worse. Williams’ shyness bordered on the weird. I went into New Orleans to interview him, and though pleasant enough, he insisted on doing the interview with his helmet on, with the dark shield covering his face. The Saints went 3-13, and Ditka was fired.
Williams lasted three seasons with the Saints before being traded to Miami in 2002. Other than helping New Orleans win a division title in 2000, Williams’ tenure in New Orleans was more circus than football. I texted Ditka on Friday and would have loved to speak with him about the trade and the weird year, but he didn’t get back to me.
“Oh my God,” his assistant head coach, Rick Venturi, said the other day. “That trade was a sugar rush for the franchise. We were at a low ebb. Everyone makes fun of the deal, because we gave up the farm to get Ricky, but we really trusted Mike. He’d won before, and he gave us faith we’d win with him.”
Postscript I: The Bengals, picking third, had a chance to make the same deal Washington made. Eight picks to move from three to 12 with New Orleans. Nope, the Bengals said. We’re staying. We’re picking the guy we want badly. Akili Smith.
Postscript II: Casserly thought he had a deal with Chicago, picking seventh, to move from 12 to seven if the player Washington wanted was available. That player: Champ Bailey. So after the deal with the Saints went through, Casserly called the Bears back, ready to move up five slots in exchange for third, fourth and fifth-round picks. “We had a deal, but they upped the ante on me when I called back,” he said. The Bears wanted Washington’s third-rounder in 2000, or there’d be no deal. Casserly, fuming, took a deep breath and agreed to the ransom. “If you really want the player, you’ve got to take a step back and take the emotion out of it,” he said. Washington got Bailey at seven.
Postscript III: I didn’t ask Casserly if he got any satisfaction from the quarterback Chicago took to be its long-term QB solution at 12—Cade McNown, who won three games in two years for the Bears. McNown was a disaster, and was out of football after two seasons.
Postscript IV: Casserly’s reward for getting those eight picks and maneuvering to pick up Bailey, and following that with Washington winning the NFC East? He got fired at the end of the year after new owner Dan Snyder took over.
Postscript V: Bailey lasted only five years in Washington before a contract dispute prompted the team to trade him to Denver for Clinton Portis. Bailey played 10 of his 15 seasons in a 15-year career for Denver. After being elected to the Hall last February, Bailey got a call from Casserly. “You realize I never would have traded you,” Casserly said.
Postscript VI: Williams had a good NFL career, in between missing two years for a “retirement” and a marijuana suspension. He finished with 10,009 rushing yards in 11 seasons, 31st on the all-time rushing list. Interesting who is 32nd: Clinton Portis.
They don’t make trades like they used to.
“Derek Carr is a franchise quarterback. Beyond that, just like at any position, we’re going to do our due diligence. If we found somebody we liked better, or thought had a bigger upside, you’ve got to do the right thing for the organization. But we love Derek.”
—Oakland GM Mike Mayock. The Raiders have the fourth pick in the first round of the draft.
“Those defensive linemen, they’re gonna go off the board like Chiclets this year.”
—Bill Parcells, to me, about the first round being overrun with strong defensive-front prospects this year.
You know Chiclets. I can only surmise that it means, if you’re like Parcells (or any other human), the box of 12 little Chiclets lasts maybe 20 minutes. You can’t stop shoving them in your mouth.
“Hey Billy, I’ll see you in a month, my man.”
—South Carolina receiver Deebo Samuel, in a social media video post, talking to New England coach Bill Belichick.
I don’t believe Tom Brady is familiar enough with his head coach after 19 years to refer to him like this: “Hey Billy.”
“I’m on a crusade to eliminate bad football.”
—Detroit coach Matt Patricia, speaking at a coaching clinic at the University of Alabama, in an enlightening story for The Athletic by Chris Burke, who covers the Lions.
“My heart is broken. He died in my arms.”
—Barbara Gregg, wife of Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle Forrest Gregg, who died Friday morning in Colorado after a long fight against Parkinson’s Disease. They were married 59 years.
“Smith erratically started pulling apart store displays and placing them in her cart. She was asked to leave by staff and left the store to perform karate moves in the parking lot. In the meantime, [her dog] Bo got a box of Jiffy Cornbread Muffin Mix and tried to leave the store. Smith was arrested and fought with officers — she also attempted to kick out a window on the squad car. While this was occurring, Vann had made his way to the back of the store and removed all of his clothing exposing himself to other customers.”
—An Eau Claire (Wis.) Police Department press release, from WEAU-TV.
Lisa Smith and son Benny Vann were the chief culprits and both were arrested. But we shan’t forget Bo the dog.
“The dog was not charged,” the police statement revealed. “Police issued him a warning for the theft.”
My question is how, exactly, was the warning issued? Was it, “Bo! Bad dog! Give the Jiffy Cornbread Mix back! Now! NOW, I SAID!”
The dog was not charged. My favorite sentence of the year.
Instagram Ripjob of the Week
“I have lost my respect in you… #DoneWithYou”
What I learned about the late Forrest Gregg, the Hall of Fame tackle who Vince Lombardi once called the best player he ever coached, from a pupil who might have been better: Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, who played for Gregg for the first four years of his career. Munoz on Gregg, who died in Colorado Springs on Friday of Parkinson’s Disease, in the presence of wife Barbara:
“So I missed most of my last year  at USC with a knee injury. I played only in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State. After the season, there were questions about my knee and how it would hold up, and the only one who flew out to work me out before the draft was Forrest Gregg, the coach of the Bengals. Here he was, a Hall of Fame tackle, played for Vince Lombardi, Lombardi called him the best player he’d coached, and he put me through a two-hour workout at USC. You talk about the desire to show the guy I belonged. He was so intense, and I gave the effort in that workout that I’d give in a game. I didn’t know till after the fact that half the teams flunked me on the physical because of my knee. That workout might have been the only chance I had to show I belonged in the NFL. I can’t emphasize enough how important that workout was to my future. The fact that the number three team in the draft, Cincinnati, was sending the head coach to work me out … huge.
“I’ll never forget him that day: 6-5, maybe 245, had that Texas drawl—I was a California boy. A gentleman, but an intense, demanding coach. Then they drafted me. As an offensive tackle, to play for the man Lombardi said was the best player he ever coached, a man who exuded credibility, exuded discipline … He’d encourage you, but he’d hold you accountable at the same time.
“The best example of that, and one of the greatest things I learned from him, is when you don’t play well, you deserve to be called out. My rookie year, 1980, we went to Green Bay. Big game for him, because obviously he was a Hall of Fame player there. We lost. I had a horrendous game. So he called me out. He stood in front of the team and looked at me and said, ‘You played terrible. That guy going against you beat you all day, and he’s sitting on the bench late in the game, eating a hot dog.’ For him, it was embarrassing. And he was right. I was awful. I felt like, Thank you for doing that. I can guarantee that will never happen again.
“One other thing. After I got selected to the Pro Bowl [in 1981], he called me into his office. We walked outside. He put his arm around me. He said, ‘Congratulations. You’ve been selected to the Pro Bowl. Now you have to understand that every player you play in practice is going to measure himself against you because you’re a Pro Bowl player. Every player who plays you in a game is going to do the same thing. You’ve got to play every play like a Pro Bowler. You can’t relax.’ So I thought, okay, I’m going to hold myself accountable every play I ever play, for the rest of my career.
“Those two things helped me so much, as a player, and as a man. That’s why I owe him so much for what I accomplished.
“I remember how good he was getting us prepared to play big games. We were playing at Pittsburgh in December the year we went to the Super Bowl. If we win, we clinch the AFC Central. Before we left Cincinnati, he said to us, ‘If you’re afraid of games this big, you stay home. You stay in Cincinnati.’ Heck, I wasn’t afraid. But I was like, Let’s go! I couldn’t wait. We won. We clinched that day in Pittsburgh.
“After I retired, every time I saw him, I wanted to give him a hug. I loved who he was as a man—his credibility, his character, his discipline. One or two years after I retired, we were in New York together. The league put together a team for the first 75 years of the NFL, and Forrest and I were two of the tackles on that team. I kept thinking, ‘What am I doing here? With Forrest Gregg!’ Then I got into the Hall of Fame, and all I could think was, ‘I’m gonna have my bust with Forrest Gregg.’ ”
Pause. Munoz sounded emotional.
“It’s hard to put into words. But now we’re teammates forever. I just pray for Barbara and the family.”
On Thursday, the Pittsburgh Pirates placed Newman on the injured list and recalled Kramer to take his place.
This is not a “Seinfeld” episode, though Mike Florio wishes it were. Kevin Newman got hurt, and Kevin Kramer got called up from Triple-A to replace him. As much as it pains me to say, Newman’s injury did not come from a fiery mail truck incident during which he sings “Three Times A Lady” by Lionel Ritchie. No, the Newman injury was a simple finger laceration.
But, hey, that’s not much fun. This is.
Though records are not kept for such things, I do believe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have set one NFL record already in 2019: They have a 29-person coaching staff. A few notes about it:
• Bruce Arians hired an officiating coach, the Bucs’ 28th assistant coach, Thursday. Former NFL side judge Larry Rose, who lives south of Tampa in Fort Myers, joins the staff as “officiating consultant,” and will advise Arians on challenges on game day, and will counsel staff and players on the ever-changing rolodex of NFL rules.
• Arians has 11 African-American assistants, including all three coordinators (Byron Leftwich, Todd Bowles, Keith Armstrong) and his assistant head coach (Harold Goodwin). He has two female assistants—assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar and assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust. Thirteen non-white-male assistants on one staff is historic.
• The Bucs will go the route of several teams in training camp: They’ll run simultaneous practices with the full 90-man roster, dividing the position groups in half so each player can get more practice reps every day. To do this, it’s helpful to have extra coaches.
• Special teams are a particular emphasis. Arians hired a specialist coach (Chris Boniol) as well as a coordinator (Armstrong) and two assistant—Amos Jones and Cody Grimm.
Will it work? It’s interesting that, at week’s end, I checked on the Patriots’ website and looked at their coach lineup. Only 10 are listed, though that number will rise by at least six (including linebackers coach Jerod Mayo) by the time the staff is finalized. (New England had a 15-man staff last year and won the Super Bowl.) It’s interesting to note that Bill Belichick, and one of his mentors, Bill Parcells, have always been opposed to huge staffs. They believe, in part, that the more coaches you have, the more your message can get misinterpreted. And they believe, also, that it’s good to have players play without constantly being coached and instructed—to see if they’re getting the message without being told too much, too often.
Send your questions or comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cliff thinks the NFL drags its feet on the release of the schedule. From Clifford T., of Seattle: “As a season-ticket holder of both the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears, the release of the NFL schedule is literally the most exciting sports day of the year, far exceeding the draft. Since I fly back to my hometown of Chicago several times a year to attend games, the release of the schedule begins a several-day effort for my family to secure flights, hotels, and make restaurant plans. So, I find it somewhat unfathomable that the NFL waits so ridiculously long to release its schedule each season … It is ridiculous that the league gives fans less than five months to make their expensive travel plans.”
Cliff, it’s you’ve read my schedule stories the last several years, you know the league has enlisted the help of computer programs now. Last year, the league examined 59,031 possible schedules, and it was 58,911th one that got picked as the winner … and that schedule was spat out of a computer 56 hours before the schedule was released in April. I guess I would say there are 256 regular-season games to arrange, and the league tries to use as much time as it can to find the best schedule it can for all 32 teams. Think of it compared to a 52-card deck, and how many possibilities there are for the order of cards in a deck. Look at this. I think the NFL’s attitude is, if the league can find a better schedule by studying the options for 3.5 months instead of, say, two months, why wouldn’t the schedule-makers do that? It’s inconvenient for you, perhaps, but probably best for the teams that can avoid three-game road trips and road-to-road turnarounds of Sunday-to-Thursday games.
Leave OT alone. From Tom S., of Westfield, Ind.: “So if we change the rule so each team gets a possession in overtime, I have this concern: If the first team with possession of the ball scores a touchdown, the other team will utilize all four downs as needed to march down the field to score a tying touchdown, which to me gives them a gargantuan advantage and is somewhat unfair. Instead of winning the toss prior to overtime and taking the ball first, why wouldn’t that team choose to have the ball second every time? Primarily because of that, I’m with the crowd that says play defense and stop the team winning the overtime coin toss from scoring.”
I get it. You have echoed 100 emailers to me—at least it seems like 100. And this is certainly a concern, and certainly would be a factor the NFL passed a rule amending overtime. I will always favor a rule that each team gets to touch the ball once in overtime, and maintain two points about this:
1. In the history of overtime, 98 percent of the teams that won the toss to start overtime elected to take the ball. So it’s obviously a major advantage—whoever ends up winning the game—to have the ball first to start overtime. That is undeniable.
2. If the second team to possess the ball has the advantage of being able to use four downs, then it becomes a strategic point. Coaches would have to think whether they’d want to have the ball first or second. In my opinion, most coaches would still take it first. Let’s say Team A scores a touchdown and kicks the extra point for a seven-point lead, then Team B scores a touchdown on the next possession. Team B has the option of going for the PAT to tie, or going for two to try to end the game right there. So there’s drama to add to the suspense of the game. Say Team B chooses to kick the PAT and ties the game. Now Team A has the ball for the third possession of overtime … and now it is sudden death. All of that, in my opinion, makes it more interesting to mandate each team gets a minimum of one possession in overtime.
Don’t rip Reggie Ragland. From Don S., of Mansfield Center, Conn.: “I can see why you would ding the Bills’ choices of Marcell Dareus (character) and Cyrus Kouandjio (talent) coming out of Alabama to Buffalo, but why include Reggie Ragland as part of a cautionary tale? Injuries aren’t an ‘abject disaster,’ they’re an unfortunate happenstance in pro football that can’t really be controlled. There’s no logic to including injuries in any evaluation of a team’s choices, and I don’t see why you have it in there.”
Don, lots of players get hurt and continue their careers after rehabbing. Ragland tore his ACL in camp in 2016 and came back to compete in camp in 2017. He lost the starting job to Preston Brown, and then fell to third team as camp progressed, and then was traded to Kansas City late in camp. He was the 41st pick in 2016. Buffalo ended up getting the 131st pick in 2019 from Kansas City for him. In two seasons with the Chiefs, he’s been just okay, but for Buffalo, injury and all, he was not a value pick. I’m okay with collectively calling the three disastrous.
I’ve been saying this for years. From Grant G.: “Shouldn’t the NFL consider running its own developmental league as a farm system like MLB or the NHL? The AAF didn’t stand a chance (aside from inadequate finances) because of the opt out to play in NFL clauses in their player contracts basically guaranteeing that their very best would be scooped up by the NFL.”
Well, becoming a pure farm league for the NFL would result in exactly the same thing—the best players getting promoted to the NFL. But it’s a good point, Grant. The problem is pretty simple. Funding a developmental league would cost, what? Maybe $150 million a year, minimum? Let’s conservatively guess it’d cost $4 million per NFL franchise, per year, to fund an eight-team developmental league. I can guarantee you (as I wrote) that many owners in the NFL would respond to writing that $4-million check by saying: “Wait a minute. We’ve already got a developmental league. It’s called college football.” GMs and scouts and coaches would love the developmental league. Owners would love it, until told they’d have to fund it.
1. I think my gut tells me the NFL schedule release date will be Wednesday evening this week. That goes against the NFL’s recent history—the league has released the slate on a Thursday, one week before the draft, for the last three years—but there’s a reason why I see Wednesday night this year: Good Friday and Easter come up this week. The NFL likes to maximize attention, ratings and sales (tickets, merchandise, etc.) with tentpole days like the release of the schedule. There likely will be a chunk of Football America either traveling late this week or doing things other than being glued to the TV or internet to check out when the most interesting games this year will be. (Now watch the schedule get posted Thursday. Or Tuesday.)
2. I think I won’t be shocked if Denver, at 10, drafts Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
3. I think there are two interesting developments in the NFL’s work to better helmet design and technology.
• Players in underperforming helmets will not be allowed to take the field with them in 2019, after a season in which the league allowed them to be grandfathered into play for one last season. Teams that do not cooperate with the edict that players wear only league approved helmets will now be disciplined. The fact that only 32 players—2 percent of the league’s players—finished the 2018 season in helmets that didn’t meet the minimum standard is a good sign.
• The NFL’s executive VP for health and safety initiatives, Jeff Miller, told me Friday the next step on the helmet horizon is nearing a reality. Position-specific helmets, designed to concentrate on which parts of the helmet take the biggest impact per position, “are off the drawing-board phase and into the prototype phase,” Miller said. It’s possible that you’ll see different-looking helmets by 2020 or 2021. A great sign for players, for instance, such as wide receivers. Doug Baldwin told me last fall a vital thing for receivers’ helmets is padding and security on the back of the helmet—because when he falls to the turf after making a leaping catch, he can hit the back of his head violently on the ground. These are the kinds of protections that position-specific helmets can provide.
4. I think it’s going to be a good day Saturday, when Jeff Legwold’s ranking of the top 100 players entering the draft drops at ESPN.com. In our business, I trust his rankings as implicitly as any.
5. I think this comes from one long-time NFL scout on Saturday, asked about the depth on the defensive line: “There’s a reason why so many capable defensive linemen haven’t been signed in free agency. Allen Bailey, Corey Liuget, Muhammad Wilkerson, Ziggy Ansah, Ndamukong Suh—well, Suh is because of money, I assume—are all guys who teams would want. But if you can draft a guy for a quarter of the money, or less, you’ll do that. And if you don’t draft one of the good defensive linemen, then you go back and see what the price on some of these veterans is.”
6. I think there’s a story on NFL Network you’ve got to see later this week. The Network will air it several times starting Friday morning. It’s reporter Mike Garafolo’s piece on a Division II edge-rushing prospect from the University of Charleston (W.Va.), Kahzin Daniels. Daniels is a late-round/free-agent type, but he’s caught the NFL’s attention because he had 31.5 college sacks, most often getting blocked by more than one lineman. The kicker: Daniels is completely blind in his right eye. Good football piece; better life piece. Garafolo finds an 8-year-old boy going blind in his left eye, and shows Daniels mentoring him. Powerful piece.
7. I think Sterling Shepard is a nice player, a number two or three receiver on a good team, and because I have railed against the Giants for not developing their own players, it’s good to see them keep a home-grown guy. But $10.3 million a year is a little steep for a guy with six 100-yard games and 14 touchdowns and a 12.0-yard average catch in 44 career games.
8. I think I cannot understand why the NFL would have asked for 21 ornamental cherry trees, some of the most beautiful trees on earth, to be cut down to make a better setting for the NFL draft. Turns out now that 11 of the trees will stay in place, with 10 to be uprooted, moved, then replanted after the draft. No guarantee that those 10 trees will live long lives. “The likelihood that these trees will survive relocation is extremely low,” The Nashville Tree Foundation said, according to The Tennesseean. It’s just hard to understand why an outdoor event will be better-staged without 10 beautiful trees.
9. I think Reuben Foster is fortunate he was not suspended by the league, but rather fined two 2019 game checks. The league never announces absolute specifics, but it’s likely that the story—stemming from Foster being arrested on a Niners’ road trip to Tampa Bay last year, where there was an incident with his girlfriend at the team hotel, and that incident led to the 49ers cutting him—has something to do with the fact that club management told him to stay out of trouble and to stay away from this woman on the road, and he didn’t. Foster should be pleased he’s not getting suspended, and he should know there’s not going to be any margin for similar slip-ups with his new team, Washington.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Amazing what Tiger Woods accomplished Sunday, winning his first major in 11 years, winning his first major ever after trailing entering the final 18 holes, winning the Masters by a stroke after four debilitating back surgeries from 2014-17 that were so physically taxing that good friend Notah Begay recalled Sunday he once had to virtually carry Woods to his car in his back-pain period so he could pick up his kids at school. Begay had to drive. The human body is an amazing vehicle.
b. But what I found myself thinking as I watched Sunday—and I watched it all, though I’m as casual a golf fan as there is—is that it is so interesting, this capacity we have in America for forgiveness. Remember nine-and-a-half years ago, when the stories of Woods’ seedy infidelity broke? And man, they were seedy. He was as low as he could be. His wife Elin kicked him out and divorced him. He was the biggest endorser of any athlete in the country, and it wasn’t even close, and AT&T, General Motors and Gatorade dropped him. “I was foolish,” he said, totally humbled and absolutely tarnished.
c. And did you see the scene Sunday? The chants for Tiger, the love for Tiger, the fawning interviews of Tiger, the social-media praise of Tiger across the spectrum of sports (Brady, Serena, Kareem). Overall, I think it’s a very good thing, that a man can be as low as an inchworm, and work his way back through personal and physical struggles, and he can make it back. I have no idea what his personal life is like, but at least he’s not in the headlines for the wrong reasons anymore. It’s a cool thing, that he worked his way back.
d. Story of the Week: Juliet Macur of the New York Times on the suicide of American Olympic cyclist and brilliant Stanford student Kelly Catlin.
e. The story is heartbreaking in and of itself, a woman who was on her way to winning Gold at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and was so intelligent she would have been invaluable in whatever professional life she chose. But Macur’s respectful touch with Catlin’s family—she is a triplet, with parents devoted to their children without being helicopters—is particularly notable. I would encourage all journalism students to read this, because it’s a great lesson in taking an impossibly difficult subject, the suicide of a complicated person, and making it riveting without being maudlin. The relationship with her estranged sister very late in life is particularly touching, along with her sister’s reaction to Kelly’s death.
f. Good example of Macur making dialog work so well in a story:
“I wake up every two to three hours at night to go through all of these permutations on what could have saved her,” said her father, whose eyes were reddened by weeks of crying. “I can’t help but wonder what she would’ve done with her life.”
Kelly’s mother answered, weeping, “Something great.”
g. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255.
h. Remembrance of the Week: Master Tesfatsion of Bleacher Report, writing in the Washington Post about the murder of Nipsey Hussle, and his meaning.
i. Tesfatsion’s family is from Eritrea, the small East African country. Hussle’s father is from Eritrea, and Hussle spent time there in recent years and embraced his roots. I know Tesfatsion, and I know his family story, and he’s had to work exceedingly hard to get to the rising and prominent place in sportswriting that he occupies. In this piece, Tesfatsion quotes Hussle’s ethos of “taking the stairs” and that “handouts can cripple you.” I didn’t know of Hussle till his murder, but it’s obviously so sad that he couldn’t have continued his work in Los Angeles, where he was about to meet with police to talk about how to improve life in the city for so many disaffected young people before he was killed.
j. Tesfatsion, to me, is a fine example of what makes this country great. His family came here with a dream, as so many families have for generations, and their children arduously climbed the American ladder seeking better lives. It’s such a vital part of who we are, and who we need to keep being.
k. Tragic-Inspirational Story of the Week: Anthony Attrino of NJ Advance Media on the New Jersey high school principal who died after a selfless act.
l. Derrick Nelson’s words: “If it’s just a little bit of pain for a little bit of time that can give someone years of joy, it’s all worth it.”
m. Draft Story of the Week: Greg Gabriel of Pro Football Weekly, on how the New York Giants blew their 1996 first-round pick—Gabriel was a scout for the team—by lack of preparedness, and by internal division. I really don’t think the Cedric Jones pick could happen again today. But the Gabriel story also is a cautionary tale about a team doing enough homework—which the Giants did not do about Jones.
n. Comic of the Week: “Tank McNamara” by Bill Hinds weighs in on instant replay. First comic strip ever linked in the 22-year history of this column. History made.
o. The Columbus Blue Jackets , eight-seeded in the Eastern Conference, swept the first two games from the far-and-away best team in hockey, Tampa Bay, in Tampa, in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Columbus took Game 3 on Sunday as well. That’s why the NHL playoffs are so much more competitive than the playoffs in all other sports, and only baseball is close.
p. Coffeenerdness: When it’s fresh, the Dunkin’ Donuts dark roast blend is a very good cup of coffee. I realize I compliment other coffees more, but I had a medium dark roast the other day for $1.89, and it was good, and the value was great.
q. Winenerdness: Thanks for your cab, St. Francis (Santa Rosa, Calif.). Affordable ($21 in NYC) and distinctively delicious.
r. Happy trails, Dwyane Wade.
s. Happy trails, Dirk Nowitski.
t. Two tremendous players and—from everything I’ve heard, though I’ve never met either—better people. Thought it was so cool that Wade’s good pals Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony all showed up in Brooklyn to support Wade to watch his last game.
u. I don’t find it particularly cute, or a harmless change-of-mind, change-of-life story that Magic Johnson quit in mid-Laker crisis, and he did it without telling his boss. In what world does the man who runs a sports organization announce his resignation to the press before he tells the person who signs his paycheck?
v. Is there a better value player in baseball than Khris Davis of the A’s? Home runs since opening day 2016, before Sunday’s games: Davis 142, Giancarlo Stanton 124, Mike Trout 106, Bryce Harper 91. Over those four seasons, Davis will make $32.5 million, Stanton $74.5 million. (Harper is $51.9 million and Trout $106.9 million); I used the Davis/Stanton salary comparison because they’re pure home run hitters. Pro-rated, Davis is averaging 42 homers a year, and already has 10 this year—in mid-April.
w. Jose Altuve is ridiculously good. But you knew that.
x. Twins pitching the other night had this nine-batter stretch in a loss to the Mets: single, walk, walk, walk, hit-batsman, walk, walk, walk, single.
y. Bottom of the 12-guys-on-the-injured-list Yankees batting order Saturday: Frazier, Tauchman, Higashioka, Wade. Unless you’re Peter Gammons, or you go to bed every night in pinstriped pajamas, you don’t know all four of those guys.
z. Finally, we all owe Batallion Chief Jim McGlynn of the New York City Fire Department a debt of gratitude. McGlynn retires today after a 34-year FDNY career. He’ll have lots of memories, including the one on 9/11—he was the last person to be rescued from the rubble of the fall of World Trade Towers. Jeff Glor of CBS News caught up with him as he readied to walk away. Thanks, Jim McGlynn.
Pretty confident young man.
“Hey Billy?” Just wow.