“Has there ever been a year with so many quarterback questions?” one NFL head coach asked me Friday.
Not that I know of, I said.
“What’s really weird,” this coach said, “is I don’t think we know where any of ‘em are going.”
That’s the crazy part. Ten significant quarterbacks in flux—all-time greats, other vets, one fascinating newbie and prospective first-rounders—and we probably have a good idea where only one will end up in 2020: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the likely first overall pick in April, likely bound for Cincinnati. The 10 I’ll tackle in this column:
I’ll give you my educated guesses below. The legal tampering period for this free-agent period begins four weeks from today, March 16, with the free market opening March 18.
The Lead: QB Puzzle
Tom Brady: A return to Foxboro seems smartest, but . . .
I can’t tell you with any confidence whatsoever that Brady re-signs with New England, but it does make the most sense to me one month out. When I left a short session with Brady 44 days ago, after New England’s loss to Tennessee in the wild-card game, I thought there was at least a 50-50 chance he’d leave. I still think so. I still think there’s a decent chance he’s a 405 billboard with a lightning bolt on his helmet by April, the key to a desperate drive by the Chargers to sell tickets and luxury seating for their first season in the new L.A. stadium this fall. Or maybe he’ll be one of the old-timers—Cher, Diana Ross, Rod Stewart—with 2020 residencies in Las Vegas. In L.A. or Vegas, Brady would be one hell of a draw—and he would have better skill players today in either place than he had last fall in Foxboro. Which matters. Tennessee wouldn’t shock me either.
Having said that, for now, I’ll go against the grain and say my gut feeling is he’ll settle on the Patriots. It seems the most reasonable solution to the Brady free-agency dilemma.
I’ll preface this by saying none of this logic matters if Bill Belichick has already decided he wants to start a new era that doesn’t include a 43-year-old quarterback who makes a lot of money. Belichick might want to begin anew with a quarterback he feels is good and who costs significantly less—someone like 32-year-old Andy Dalton; the Patriots would probably have to pay a third or fourth-round pick for Dalton, who has a year left on his contract and no future in Cincinnati. (The Patriots have two thirds and two fourths, including a likely third-round compensatory pick.) If Belichick makes up his mind that it’s time to move on from Brady, then my argument is moot. Dalton, by the way, would be my pick to start in New England next year if Brady goes. Belichick would love Dalton. He’s a quiet, intense, lunchpail Texan who makes no excuses. And Dalton would embrace the Patriot ethos.
If a Brady return is going to work, I think what has to happen is a summit meeting with Brady and Belichick . . . or Brady, Belichick and Kraft. I came away from my meeting with Brady last month best-guessing (Brady doesn’t air family business in the press) that, for him to return, the team around him is the most important factor. The team, meaning his coaches and his offensive mates. Josh McDaniels, the quarterback coach or offensive coordinator for 13 of Brady’s 20 New England seasons, is back. Belichick is back. What if Brady makes it known he’d return if they signed one of the top two free-agent tight ends, Austin Hooper or Hunter Henry, and then a couple of the free-agent wide receivers—assuming Amari Cooper’s too expensive, maybe Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Hogan, a familiar face who was vital in the Super Bowl win over Atlanta? Then, while backup Jarrett Stidham is being groomed, Brady gives New England two more years of a championship window.
Regarding the money: I just think they can figure it out. I doubt that would stand in the way of a deal getting done.
Now, it could be that Brady has a bit of wanderlust, and spending his last two years (or one, or three) in a land far, far away from New England. Maybe the thought of playing in L.A. or Las Vegas is appealing. Maybe being wooed is appealing. And maybe he’ll look at the newness as a rebirth. Only he knows if that’s really important. I can’t see it, but who knows. If Brady goes on a Peyton Manning free-agency tour, with helicopters following his chauffeured Escalade from private airstrips to team facilities, I’m skeptical on a New England return. Hard to imagine Belichick getting in line with Anthony Lynn and Jon Gruden and whoever the wooers would be. I’d guess Belichick in that case would think, Well, we’ve gone 14-6 without Brady since he took the job in 2001. We’ll figure it out with someone else.
One other point about leaving, and Manning. When Manning signed with Denver, it was pretty well known he was going to have his fingerprints all over the offense. I have never sensed Brady wanted any other role other than quarterback. He wants his coaches to take care of the little things, and in New England, that’s what has happened. Would he like working with Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen? Does he even know Shane Steichen? Again: Brady may view that part of it as refreshing and new. Only he knows.
With all the qualifiers, you must wonder why I have picked the Patriots? It’s because it’s the smartest football move. And I think, in the end, Brady will make the decision mostly because of football, and what gives him the best chance to win another Super Bowl. Staying, with some offensive upgrades, gives him that. I’ve vacillated between Brady staying and going, and this dart-throw of him staying in New England is based on logic, not emotion. We all know Kraft wants that to happen. In a month, we’ll know if Brady and Belichick do.
Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, Teddy Bridgewater: It’s not that complicated
What it boils down to:
• I think it’s more likely than not that Brees returns, eschewing TV for one year.
• I think Hill, barring an unlikely restricted-free-agency offer of good money and a likely starting job, will remain a Saint in 2020.
• I think Bridgewater is most likely (but not certainly) gone, because he knows the Saints want to give Hill the chance to be Brees’ heir.
Like his friend and quasi-mentoree from San Diego, Philip Rivers, Brees knows he’ll have 20 years to do football on TV if he wants (or to do politics, or to be anything other than a quarterback), and only one or two to be a quarterback at a high level with a legitimate chance to win a Super Bowl. He and Payton are such a good fit that they complete each other’s sentences. That’s literally true; I saw it in a Saturday night QB meeting in New Orleans in 2018. Even if he walks into the ESPN Monday night booth, or some booth for some network, at something like $7 million per year, that’s a quarter or a fifth of what he’d make taking one shot at a Super Bowl—and he knows the Saints are close. Plus, chances are there will be another big network job there for him in ’21 or ’22, when his body is telling him, “Enough.”
I think Hill will have the chance to return in 2020 even if Brees retires. I think the Saints would probably give him the shot to win the starting job—and wouldn’t want to pay Bridgewater to keep from the open market and a starting job somewhere else. Payton was honest last week in this column, telling me he thinks it’s likely Hill will get an offer sheet in free-agency. I’m not so sure, but whatever the offer is, Hill already feels the love from one of the most imagination play-designers and callers in this century, Payton. So, somehow, the Saints will make it worth Hill’s while to stay for one more year, and let him know he’s next in line when Brees leaves.
Assuming Hill is going to be a good to very good NFL starter when Brees leaves is a gigantic leap of faith and could be way wrong. But the other day I put on the Chargers-Saints preseason game from last August on NFL GamePass and saw Hill, in 32 minutes, complete 11-of-15 and lead the Saints back from a 17-3 deficit to win. It’s preseason, and who cares. But before you say Hill can’t play, or before you say Hill is a fools-gold Tebow II, watch some of the plays Hill made. “Taysom Hill, I take my hat off to him,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said that day. “He’s a heck of a player.” Moreover, Payton thinks Hill can do it. He’s seen him every day for almost three years. Wouldn’t he know better than those on the outside?
And stop this nonsense about how Hill’s too old, and who wants to start a rebuild behind a 30-year-old quarterback. (He turns 30 Aug. 23.) He’s played 1,125 snaps in three NFL seasons, 62 percent on special teams. He’s 30 because of a two-year Mormon mission, a fifth college season at BYU, and three NFL seasons in the shadows. He’s not going to fail because he’ll be 30 or 31 when his starting career begins. He’ll fail, if he does, because he’s not good enough.
Hill succeeding is no sure thing. But too many people are too quick to dismiss him. I’m not.
I just can’t see the Saints laying out big money to sign Bridgewater, even if Brees walks. That would be choosing Bridgewater long-term over Hill, which might be smart. But I just don’t see the Saints, in the event Brees retires, paying Bridgewater to be the man for the next three or four years, thus forcing Hill to take almost any offer in restricted free-agency. And so . . .
Teddy Bridgewater: Tampa Bay makes sense
I can hear it now: Bridgewater doesn’t have the deep arm Bruce Arians needs. I would dispute that. When Arians put Carson Palmer in the pilot’s chair in Arizona, his previous NFL yards per attempt in Cincinnati and Oakland was 7.2. Bridgewater’s career NFL yards per attempt: 7.2.
It’s dangerous, of course, to consider giving up on Jameis Winston, the number one pick in 2015. He’s a dynamic passer, well-liked by teammates and coaches. And Arians and offensive coordinator may think they can fix the seemingly fatal carelessness that ails Winston, who has thrown more picks than any quarterback since entering the league. But I noticed something with Arians this season. He defended almost every Winston miscue for the first three months of the season. In December, though, that changed. Tampa was 7-7 entering the last two games, both at home. In game 15, against Houston, Winston threw interceptions on two of the first five Buc snaps, and Tampa was down 10-0 after four minutes. The Bucs lost by three. Next week: Overtime against Atlanta. First play, Winston somehow didn’t see lurker linebacker Deion Jones on tight end Cameron Brate. Pick six. “It smells as bad as it could possible smell,” Arians said after the game. The Bucs had a clear path to a redemptive 9-7 season, but six interceptions in the last two weeks ruined that.
So what does that have to do with now? Which free-agent quarterback would you pursue, assuming Bridgewater is free:
• Winston, 26, with a career 61.3 completion percentage and 86.9 passer rating, and a prodigious 121 touchdowns in five years. But he had 30 interceptions in 16 games in 2019.
• Or Bridgewater, 27, with a career 65.2 completion percentage and 88.3 passer rating, and a pedestrian 38 touchdowns in 44 career games. He has 25 interceptions in 44 career games.
Read the last two sentences, and think of how a coach would think about turnovers.
This is the story about Bridgewater I appreciate: After Drew Brees was lost with a hand injury in Week 2 and Bridgewater took over, Bridgewater hosted a dinner in Seattle—site of the next game—for all the offensive players, basically to say, All is not lost. We’ll be fine. Minus Brees, the Bridgewater-led Saints went 5-0. Maybe the Bucs will think Winston deserves another chance with Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. But I won’t be surprised if they go after Bridgewater or Ryan Tannehill, the best free-agent quarterbacks on the market.
Philip Rivers: Colts look like best bet
I think two teams make the most sense, in this order: Indianapolis and Carolina. Rivers would be perfect for the Colts. He sat in the quarterback room in San Diego from 2013 to 2015 with Colts coach Frank Reich (QB coach, coordinator) and Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni (offensive quality control, QB coach)—and averaged 31 touchdown passes and 14 picks a year. The Colts have the pieces to win now, are $86.2 million under the cap, per Over The Cap, and have three prime draft picks in a stocked draft (13th, 34th and 44th overall); it’s quite conceivable that they could win the AFC South with a few upgrades, including at quarterback. Indy GM Charis Ballard took a chance in signing Jacoby Brissett to a two-year deal last year, but he had an injury-affected sub-prime season and the Colts can’t enter 2020 just hoping Brissett confirms the promise he showed entering last year. If I were Ballard, I’d go hard after Rivers, the perfect bridge to whatever’s next (Brissett or otherwise) in Indiana.
Carolina has shown it won’t be outbid on things of import like a quarterback, so if the Panthers want Rivers, this could be a bidding war—within reason. I can’t see Ballard going overboard for anyone but I can see David Tepper doing it. He already did, for Matt Rhule.
Ryan Tannehill: Why would he leave?
His career was reborn in the last three months of 2019—70.2 percent passing, 117.5 rating (the NFL’s best single-season passer rating since 2013)—and I can’t figure out why the Titans would look elsewhere. I get the attraction for Tom Brady, and if he’d sign in Tennessee, I suppose I get it. But Tannehill is 11 years younger, and he just showed the Titans a 15-game trial in which he won 10 games with 27 TDs and six interceptions. If I were GM Jon Robinson, I wouldn’t let him out the door.
Cam Newton: Man of mystery
Logic says the Chargers, but I won’t be surprised if the new kids in L.A. are going to be more of draft-and-develop than big splash. That changes, of course, if Brady comes. Tyrod Taylor, who was Rivers’ backup and is well-respected inside the Chargers, could get the first snaps of 2020 in new So-Fi Stadium while the quarterback of the future (Justin Herbert?) marinates for a few months or a season after being the seventh overall pick. Might be a tough sell to a public already skeptical of the Chargers’ ability to make Los Angeles home, but GM Tom Telesco is charged with winning, not selling luxury seating.
Newton will play 2020 at age 31. He is five years removed from his MVP season. But you don’t have to go back that far to see when he was good for a sustained period. Under Norv Turner in the first half of 2018 in Carolina, the Panthers were 6-2, Newton completed 67 percent with 15 TDs and four interceptions, and he beat Super Bowl champion Philadelphia at the Linc, as well as Baltimore and Tampa with near-perfect games. It’s true that, post-shoulder surgery, no one’s sure exactly who Newton is. But I’d look into him thoroughly if I were the Chargers . . . and I wouldn’t close the door on him if I were the Panthers.
Joe Burrow: Like it or not, Bengal-bound
It’s the only choice for a team that needs a long-term quarterback. Burrow is not just the best choice because he’s the local-boy-making-good (his Athens, Ohio, home is 2.5 hours east of Cincinnati on U.S. 50). He’s the best choice because he’s the best quarterback. Coach Zac Taylor likes a quarterback who can play equally well from the pocket—where a lot of his throws will be designed to come from—and also can be proficient on the move, often times on designed movement throws. If you watched Burrow, particularly when he had to move some against defenses like Alabama’s, you’ll know what Taylor likes is what Burrow can do very well. Burrow doesn’t take too many chances, he’s above-average accurate downfield, and, with the shaky Cincinnati offensive line, won’t be cowed by pass-rushes pushing him out of the pocket.
Burrow, a coach’s son, will also fit well with Taylor because he always was able to understand the “why” to so many defensive schemes in talks with his dad Jim, the former Ohio University defensive coordinator. And Taylor wants his quarterback to understand where each play in the game plan fits in the grander scheme of the total plan for a game. Burrow is thoughtful and confident, and he and Taylor will be a good combo platter.
Now, whether it works—who knows? But Burrow is the favorite to go first overall, and to Cincinnati.
Tua Tagovailoa: A tradeup, or Miami
I asked a longtime NFL team physician recently if he was worried about a 13-month span in which Tagovailoa suffered two high ankle sprains and a significant hip injury, and had ankle and hip surgery. Without examining the records or the player, this doctor said because all three injuries were contact injuries, and all three would be the kind of injuries that are probably not chronic, he probably would not red-flag Tagovailoa as an injury risk. That’s one doctor, who would tell his team: If you want the guy to stay healthy, design an offense that doesn’t put him in harm’s way as much as he was at Alabama. And with Tagovailoa being an accurate passer (70 percent his last two years, with only nine interceptions in 607 attempts), that should be the priority.
A bunch of teams could theoretically jump Miami (picking fifth) in the first round if Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert becomes the object of affection between now and the draft. Teams at 6 (Chargers), 7 (Panthers), 12 (Raiders) or 13 (Colts) all might be tempted. But Miami, with four picks in the top 40, could trump them all. I doubt Miami exits this draft without a quarterback it likes very much.
Dak Prescott: I don’t believe the hype
The contract has gotten ugly, but it seems foolhardy to suggest he won’t be back in Dallas.
The rest? It could be that Jameis Winston will have to move, and fight for a starting job somewhere . . . I have to think Chicago could be in the market for a better backup than Chase Daniel, knowing he may have to play half the season or more if Mitchell Trubisky has a bad September . . . Alex Smith, if healthy (big if) could provide significant competition for Dwayne Haskins in Washington, with a new coaching staff wiping the slate clean . . . Case Keenum could be an attractive insurance policy in Cleveland . . . The Raiders could be aggressive, and I would not be surprised, if they don’t sign Brady, to see them in the Winston market if he’s free.
It’s that time of year—time to totally overrate and underrate players based on performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. The NFL will gather in Indianapolis beginning next weekend for meetings and then the medical and physical and mental testing of more than 300 prospects prior to what projects to be a good draft, especially rich at wide receiver. The difference this year: When the on-field workouts begin Thursday, Feb. 27, there will be three straight days of prime-time workouts—instead of on-field workouts and sprints being done in daytime hours.
So, for instance, if you want to watch the quarterbacks, they’ll be in the first evening of workouts (with wideouts and tight ends), on the 27th. This is an altogether rough estimate, but the quarterbacks are always divided into two groups, alphabetically. The first group of QBs will run at about 6:30 p.m. ET, and begin throwing to the first group of wideouts shortly after 7. The second QB group will begin running at 8:30 or 8:45 p.m., with the throwing beginning shortly after 9 p.m.
The event used to start at 9 a.m. daily, but now, in an effort to jack up the ratings, it’s a prime-time show.
“Point-blank, it’s about the eyeballs,” said Charlie Yook, the NFL Network VP of Production. He oversees all combine coverage. “We should get a larger consumption of the combine in all platforms. This is no different than moving the first round of the draft to Thursday primetime, and moving a weekly game to Thursday night during the season. Thursday night is a football night.”
NFL Network will likely have some current players working on the shows with their college position groups being tested. When the defensive backs perform Sunday, Jets safety Jamal Adams will be giving analysis. Same with Saints defensive end Cam Jordan on the show Saturday, when defensive linemen and linebackers work out. (Friday is kicker/punter/offensive line/running back night.)
The shows could be a little different from past shows, Yook said, because NFL Network will have to introduce these college stars to some viewers in prime time who, for instance, might not know Joe Burrow the quarterback or Burrow’s Heisman speech very well. “It’s a big change,” Yook said of the move to evenings. “We have a big responsibility to explain the drills and why they’re meaningful, and why they should care about these players they don’t really know yet. We know our core viewer is very smart, but we understand there will be new viewers as well. We’re confident this group will have a ton of star power.”
The whole scene in Indianapolis will be odd this year, with the evening workouts and daytime team interviews with players the opposite of the traditional schedule. Downtown restaurants used to be packed with scouts, coaches and GMs before 7 p.m. player interviews began, and then bars would be hopping by 10 or so, with gossip and drinks flowing till 1 or so. No idea how the new schedule will affect social lives, but Indy bars will have a very different, and probably less lucrative, combine week.
Meet me at the combine
For the past few years, I’ve met football fans at the combine for a beer and football talk at Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis. The streak continues this year, but on a different day: Wednesday. (We’ve usually done it on a Friday, but with the changes at the combine, I had to make it Wednesday this year.) I’ll be at Sun King to talk football with some of my buddies in the media, and to answer your questions. We might even have a beer together. It’s Feb. 26 at 6:30. I’d love to see you.
The cause is great: All proceeds go to Teachers’ Treasures, a nonprofit that fundraises for school supplies so that teachers in needy classrooms can “shop” for school supplies for free. The group helps 5,910 teachers from 254 schools in central Indiana, and your $25 will go directly to help.
I’d really like to see you there. For questions on the event, there’s an email contact on the Eventbrite page.
Quotes of the Week
“As a family, we’ve kind of hashed through all of the possibilities over the last month. I think it all circles back to, God willing, there’s a lot of coaching years left down the road. But you can’t turn back the clock and go play again.”
—Philip Rivers, after being released by the Chargers, to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. Rivers told Farmer he wants his second professional life to be that of a high school football coach—after playing football, he hopes, for two more years.
“You’re 22 years old, first year in the league and trying to hold on to your own ass, it’s hard to lead grown men. You’re just trying to survive. He’s on his own and finding his way as a human being and trying to navigate it being the face of the franchise. You’ve got to kind of understand where he’s at. These things just take time.”
—Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury, on 2019 first pick Kyler Murray’s adjustment to an NFL leadership role, to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic.
“There’s a lot of different things that can happen. First, is he healthy? Tell me that and then we can talk.”
—Carolina owner David Tepper on Cam Newton.
“100 % False!!”
—Lions GM Bob Quinn, in a text to Lions beat writer Dave Birkett, debunking a report that he has engaged in trade discussion for Matthew Stafford.
Tampa Bay is weighing the future of quarterback Jameis Winston. If GM Jason Licht is doing his job in the fact-finding process, the turnover category has to be a major factor in the decision, because Winston turned the ball over 35 times in 2019, the most in his five-year career. The quarterbacks with the most turnovers over the past two seasons:
I don’t know many coaches who would tolerate two turnovers a game from the quarterback.
Yikes. The 49ers have a denuded draft this year. In fact, nine weeks before the draft, the 49ers have just one pick in the top 150. They pick 31st in the first round and then, because trades to acquire Dee Ford and Emmanuel Sanders in 2019, they won’t pick again—barring trades—till pick number 156. (That’s assuming there will be a total of 18 compensatory picks after rounds three and four, which would push San Francisco’s first fifth-round pick, the 10th in the round, to 156th overall.
I tried to put myself in GM John Lynch’s shoes here—really, Lynch and team president/cap guru Paraag Marathe, who mans the phones on draft weekend—to see how they might be able to work that 31st pick in the first round into a bevy of picks to address roster depth and perhaps some upgrades in the secondary with the return of valuable safety Jimmie Ward (due to be an unrestricted free-agent) in question. To project the Niners’ path, I looked north for a clue. The arch-rival Seahawks, with ever-restless GM John Schneider, provided an excellent example in 2019 of how to turn one first-round pick into a bevy of picks, replenishing what would have been a thin crop.
Seattle traded its first-round pick, 21st overall, to Green Bay for the 30th, 114th and 118th picks.
Seattle traded the 30th pick to the Giants for the 37th, 132nd and 142nd picks.
Seattle traded the 37th pick to Carolina for the 47th and 77th picks. At 47, Seattle picked S Marquise Blair.
Seattle traded the 77th and 118th picks to New England for the 64th pick. At 64, Seattle selected WR DK Metcalf.
Seattle traded the 114th pick to Minnesota for the 120th and 204th picks.
Seattle picked WR Gary Jennings Jr. at 120, S Ugo Amadi at 132, LB Ben Burr-Kiven at 142, and RB Travis Homer at 204.
So Seattle turned pick 21 into picks 47, 64, 120, 132, 142 and 204 . . . two second-round picks, two fourth-round picks, one fifth-round pick and one sixth-round pick.
Jimmy Johnson used to say he wasn’t any smarter than most NFL personnel evaluators, but if he had a lot more picks, he figured he’d have a better chance to hit on one or two winners. In this draft, John Schneider got a first-rate receiver (Metcalf) and special-teamer/budget roster-fillers. All but Jennings contributed to the Seahawks 2019 playoff run.
King of the Road30
I flew nonstop from JFK to San Francisco on Friday on a sold-out flight in Delta Comfort Class. Regrettably, I was in a middle seat in a three-seat row on one side of the aisle, trying to type for six hours. In other words, it was a barrel of fun.
I read about the reclining issue last week. I fall on the side of not reclining unless I’m in coach and the person in front of me has succeeded at reclining fully. But usually I am able to foil the recliner. I do it subtly, and have been doing it for years. You can usually tell when a person is about to recline—the person begins to move the seat back hesitatingly, and sometimes looks back to be sure he/she is being polite. So, on this flight, the woman in front of me began to slow recline and I did what I do. I placed my fist in the middle of her seat as she reclined; she probably got about halfway back to a fully reclining position and then pushed a couple of times and realized she was at the recline limit. And that was it. If she’d reclined to the max, my ability to type in a middle seat (in this case, with both seat-mates working on laptops as well) for the next six hours would have been impacted severely. I might have given up, and you’d be reading a shorter column today. As it was, the working conditions were awful.
Airplanes are so uncomfortable and tight these days that, as I see it, it’s every worker bee for him/herself. And that’s my reclining ethos.
Tweets of the Week
Kurt Warner is a Hall of Fame quarterback.
Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah is now a draft analyst for NFL Network.
Super Bowl champion safety Tyrann Mathieu deserves to pick up his phone whenever he pleases.
Pete Abraham, who covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe, on the Astros press conference.
Chris Long, two-time Super Bowl champion, living the right kind of retirement.
Mail call. Send me your thoughts/whispers at email@example.com, or on Twitter.
On nutty QB salaries. From Tim Josephs, of Greensboro, N.C.: “With all the talk of Patrick Mahomes potentially getting $40 million or even (yikes) $50 million a year, aren’t quarterbacks doing themselves a disservice when they seek this kind of money? When more money can be spent on essentials like a good offensive line, not only does this seem like it leads to more success as a team, it also generally means fewer hits/sacks for the quarterback, which can very well mean a longer career, and thus, more money down the road. Do you get the sense that any players think this way or do they mostly seem to be concerned with getting as much money as they can as quickly as they can?”
Interesting question, Tim. I always hear that when quarterbacks get their max market value, it’s an impediment to building a championship team. I think there’s evidence on both sides of that argument. Let’s say Mahomes signs for an average of $40 million a year starting in 2021. (Just a guess.) And let’s assume the cap goes up $15 million in 2021 (also a guess) and his cap number, always lower in the early years of the deal, is about $33 million. With a cap number of $33 million, and a salary cap of $215 million, that would mean Mahomes would be occupying 15.3 percent of Kansas City’s cap in 2021.
Denver won the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning taking up 12.2 percent of the 2015 cap; New England won the Super Bowl with Tom Brady taking up 12.4 percent of the 2018 salary cap. So yes, Mahomes would be chewing up a bigger piece of the pie in KC, but GM Brett Veach would still have $182 million for the other players on the roster . . . which would exceed the 2018 salary cap of $178 million.
Football salaries, particularly quarterback salaries, are Monopoly-money deals. I think a smart GM can pay a superstar quarterback the going rate and still have enough to build a championship team if he drafts well. The key, to me: turn over the midsection of the roster often, and have a good contributing middle class. Look at San Francisco. They paid a quarterback, but they got to a Super Bowl because of shrewd personnel management by GM John Lynch and personnel czar Adam Peters—with strong non-first-round picks like George Kittle (fifth round), Fred Warner (third), Dre Greenlaw (fifth) and Deebo Samuel (second), and signings of important contributors off the street, like wideout Kendrick Bourne, running backs Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida, and corners K’Waun Williams and Emmanuel Moseley.
Complaining about XFL coverage, or the lack thereof. From Jon Schetky: “I read your column on the NFL religiously during the season (have for years), so I was wondering: Do you plan on covering the XFL at all? It’s certainly the AAA league of football (at best), but it’s football in the offseason nonetheless. (Hooray for more football!). It’s entertaining enough, and it seems like it could serve as an incubator for future NFL talent, as well as a proving ground for experimental rules that the NFL could adopt. I know it’ll be an uphill battle, but I’m hoping to see some XFL coverage in addition to the standard NFL offseason/draft analysis that we all see (and love) during the spring.”
Thanks for the kind words, Jon. Nothing against the XFL at all, and I am sure at some point in the next couple of months I will watch a game or three and write something. But I doubt I will do any sort of regular coverage. After watching and covering football for nearly seven months, I look forward to a different life the remaining months of the year. Some people are different, and many in my business love more football and are excited to write about it and cover it and dissect it. That’s good, because I do think there’s a market for it. The XFL looks like it has some fun ideas. I think on weekend one, while the games were going on, I watched “Marriage Story,” and caught up on every “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode. That’s more of my speed in the post-NFL winter.
Thanks for the perspective. From Bill Sterling Jr., of Michigan: “I recently finished ‘Football For A Buck’ by Jeff Pearlman about the USFL. In reading about the Philadelphia Stars reunion I came across something Jim Mora said that jumped out at me: ‘It’s not about the game. It’s about the ride.’ Sometimes as fans we get a little caught up in kvetching about things we don’t like about football and it seems that dominates the airwaves, articles, blogs, etc. I prefer to think about the ride.
“In September, myself and a couple of guys I served in the Marine Corps with decided to take an east coast trip. We toured Camden Yards. We drove to Massachusetts. We took in Boston, and walked for miles—a white guy, an African American and an Asian American walking around Boston together caught some strange glances. Fenway Park that Friday night for Sox-Yankees. Sunday was Patriots-Steelers in the Sunday night opener. My first trip to Foxboro—felt like I was a little kid all over again. Sharing that time with guys I had once led in combat. Like Jim Mora said, it wasn’t about the game. It was about the ride.
“I live for that ride with football every year. I also look forward to that ride every Monday morning with your column. As a child who found your writing as an escape, to a young adult who looked forward to my Mom mailing me Sports Illustrated while I was deployed to have an escape from what was around me, to a husband and a father who still looks forward to that escape, thank you for always being a part of my ride.”
That’s incredibly kind, Bill. Thank you. And thanks for the reminder that sports isn’t life and death. You know that as well as anyone. Your point about the kvetching is so smart and such a great reminder that passion about football is wonderful, but should have some limits. And thanks for your service to our country.
Let’s just have a 32-game schedule. Why not? From James Melillo of Boston. “I have no problem with a 17 or 18-game schedule. I think the injury risks are overblown, and I don’t think we need to create all these fluffy rules about how many snaps or games each player can play. My case is the Patriots. They averaged an 18-game schedule from 2010-20 and still were among the best in the league.”
So if the injury risks are overblown, and fluffy rules are overdone, and football is the most popular sport in America in a landslide, why not make the schedule 24 games per team, or 32? People would watch, and who cares about the short- and long-term health of the players? Pay ‘em double and if they don’t want to play, tell ‘em to stay home. Concussions averaged 8.5 per weekend in the regular season last year. But if concussions doubled over the course of a season, or tripled, there’s always the practice squad, or raiding the XFL, right? James, thanks for being a voice of reason.
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think, of all the players and all the QB-needy teams I wrote about above, Philip Rivers playing for Frank Reich is the most perfect fit to me.
2. I think this is the thing about Rivers that would have most excited if I were a Colts fan: Since opening day 2006, the Chargers have played 235 games—224 in the regular season, 11 in the postseason. Rivers started every one. In his last three years—his age 36, 37 and 38 seasons—Rivers went 27-23, with a .653 accuracy rate and plus-43 TD-to-interception differential. And he’s still throwing downfield, as his 7.9-yards-per-attempt over the past three years would attest. And here’s the biggest plus: He was not consistently well-protected for the Chargers, and he’d be playing behind one of the best lines in football with the Colts.
3. I think the restricted free agent getting the most run this month is Taysom Hill, obviously. Another who could garner an offer sheet is Minnesota linebacker Eric Wilson, who played 196 snaps with a sack in the Vikings’ last four games of the season. He came to the Vikings undrafted out of the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He started both playoff games for the Vikings. Complicating matters for Minnesota in keeping Wilson: The Vikings, per Over The Cap, enter the offseason in the worst cap shape in the NFL, $11.4 million over the projected $200 million cap. They may not be able to keep Wilson, particularly if a team makes an offer with a formidable cash number in 2020.
4. I think, regarding Mark Gastineau wanting the single-season sack record back because he views the Michael Strahan sack of Brett Favre in the final game of 2001 as tarnished: The Strahan sack—giving him 22.5 for the season, a half-sack more than Gastineau got in 1984—was a cheap sack. Football features cheap sacks from time to time. Take a look at how many times in their careers that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning went into the fetal position when a pass-rusher was closing in and a tackle inevitable. If you’re going to take that sack away from Strahan, then the only fair thing is to examine the tape on every one of Gastineau’s sacks in 1984 (and every one of Jared Allen’s 22 in 2011, and every one of Justin Houston’s in 2014, because they had 22 in those years), and every other one of Strahan’s 21.5 sacks in 2001. Did any of those sacks come on a turtling quarterback who’d given up on the play? And if a pass-rusher who has a free shot at a quarterback, which Strahan had on Favre, be penalized because a quarterback gives up instead of taking a big hit?
5. I think the bottom line is: Major statistical injustices should be repaired retroactively. I view this as a cheap sack, not a major statistical injustice. Should the actions of a turtling, surrendering quarterback—which is what Favre was when Strahan fell on top of him—negate every similar sack since they’ve been compiled?
6. I think I take neither side in the Myles Garrett–Mason Rudolph slur debate. I just know that nobody’s winning now. Garrett is adamant that Rudolph, in close quarters before the helmet-swinging brawl began last season used the n-word. Rudolph denied it, and no player in the vicinity corroborated Garrett’s story. Unless someone comes forth to do that, Garrett isn’t going to win here, and he has little to gain by continuing to tell the story.
7. I think I keep hearing Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts is going to go higher than people think.
8. I think Washington should not make Ryan Kerrigan a cap casualty. He’s due to take up $11.7 million on the cap this year, which is hefty for a 32-year-old rusher coming off a down season. But he had 42.5 sacks in his last four years, and if Chase Young is the first-round pick in Washington, he’ll need a bookend to avoid all the offensive attention. You avoid that by having a smart and productive vet on the other side of the line, and my money’s on Kerrigan to be that solid alternative for Young in 2020.
9. I think Antonio Brown saying, “I haven’t done anything that bad; I showed some bad emotions in some bad situations,” (as he said on a radio show called “The Breakfast Club,” per Pro Football Talk) just shows why he hasn’t hit rock bottom yet, and why no team in its right mind should consider signing him.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Back in the early nineties when Sports Illustrated had writers who covered one sport work a different one in the offseason, I went to San Diego to write about the Padres’ powerhouse 1-through-4 top of the lineup: shortstop Tony Fernandez, outfielder Tony Gwynn, outfield Gary Sheffield, first baseman Fred (The Crime Dog) McGriff. Fernandez was the only one who wouldn’t talk to me—and it had nothing to do with hating the press or anything. He just was shy, and wanted no credit for the best top of the order in baseball. Gwynn talked to me for three hours over two days . . . and I remember how much he loved Fernandez and how great a leadoff hitter he was, and how smooth a fielder he was. Fernandez died Saturday of kidney failure. The things I remember from that spring weekend in San Diego: Gwynn taking batting practice and hitting balls so smoothly and evenly from left field to right field, pitch after pitch; and then Fernandez, taking infield, and vacuuming each ball from pickup to throw all in a millisecond. What a classic San Pedro de Macoris shortstop he was. RIP, Tony.
b. Football Story of the Week: Dan Pompei of The Athletic on former Houston GM Rick Smith, a much-admired man who, within a month a year ago, got fired by the Texans and lost his wife to cancer. Harrowing and personal. Such a good job by Pompei, with honesty that must have been hard to share by Smith. Smith to Pompei:
“You don’t go through the experience I just went through and come out on the other side the same. It’s a transformational experience. My thought process, my self-awareness, all is exponentially better. I have a new perspective on almost everything, and it enhances all the skills I had before. I have a more global perspective. I have a richer view of life that will enhance whatever I do.”
c. Column of the Week: Mike Bolsinger, the former relief pitcher suing the Houston Astros for cheating and helping contribute to the downfall of his career, writing about the experience in the Washington Post.
d. Podcast of the Week: “The Daily” podcast by the New York Times, with a great inside-China episode, “Fear, Fury and the Coronavirus.” This is the second time I have featured a “The Daily” pod about the coronavirus. They have been so good, and so illuminating, and so good at putting the disease in a consumable and important way to understand.
e. Amy Qin, a Beijing correspondent for the paper, went to Wuhan to report on it, and after her trip had to go into quarantine at a military base in California. What she saw in Wuhan: “This city of 11 million had come to a complete standstill. It was eerie to hear the silence. The only time we heard anything was the occasional barking of a dog, an ambulance passing by.”
f. Qin: “I’ve been covering China for seven years, and I’ve heard people express frustrations with the government before, but really only in private. This was one of the first times I’ve heard such raw anger toward the government publicly.”
g. Such important journalism. Imagine risking your life to report a story. That’s what Qin did.
h. Obit of the Week: Katherine Seelye of the New York Times on one mysterious and fabulously wealthy art-collecting, mansion-collecting New York dude, Frederick Koch, oldest of the Koch brothers. Wrote Seelye:
Despite Mr. Koch’s lavish spending on such grandeur, friends and family say he was notoriously frugal. He took public transportation in New York and flew commercially. He reprimanded house guests for not turning off the lights and quibbled over the excessive use of postage stamps. When going to the movies, he made sure to use the senior discount.
One friend recalled, with affection, that about 10 years ago, Mr. Koch spotted a nickel embedded in the asphalt on Fifth Avenue. He borrowed a pen from the friend to try to dig the coin out as cars and buses swerved to avoid him, honking their horns. He stopped only when the pen broke. The friend later admonished him, saying he could have been killed and that such a scene would have made for an embarrassing obituary.
Mr. Koch laughed. Imagining the headline, he said: “Ah! The Fatal Nickel.”
i. Memo to Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, regarding the sign-stealing scandal: When will you be making a real apology?
j. The Astros owner, Jim Crane: “Our opinion is it didn’t impact the game.”
k. Then why’d you fire your manager and your GM? That is truly the most idiotic quote associated with the scandal.
l. Crane: “I don’t think I should be held accountable.”
m. You own the team. The buck stops with you. Did you take any credit, ever, in any forum, in any award ceremony, for the Astros winning the World Series? When praised for the World Series, did you say, ‘I had nothing to do with it?’
n. What a sordid affair. Best line I read about Crane’s role in the Thursday “damage-control” press conference, from Jeff Passan of ESPN: “The entire charade devolved into a glorious conflagration, Crane’s mouth a veritable fountain of lighter fluid.”
o. Interview of the Week: Much respect, Ken Rosenthal, for this conversation with Houston shortstop Carlos Correa, and Correa’s rebuttal of the Cody Bellinger anti-Astros sentiment. Whether you believe Correa or not, he is well thought out and reasoned. Still not sure I’m buying all the Altuve stuff, but it’s worth your time.
p. On a more bizarre note (and thanks to Don Van Natta for the tip), this was a crossword clue in USA Today on Wednesday: “Cookie that some people eat with mustard.” Four letters.
q. The answer: “Oreo.” No one, ever, on this planet or on Jupiter, has eaten an Oreo with mustard.
r. Coffeenerdness: Thank you, Peet’s, for the best three-shot latte in coffee history, experienced three times in San Francisco over the weekend.
s. Beernerdness: I hadn’t had Scrimshaw Pilsner (North Coast Brewing, Fort Bragg, Calif.) in a few years before getting a pint Friday. And it was the same crisp, clean excellent pilsner I recalled—one of the easiest beers to drink, and one of the most satisfying, I’ve had in a while. Strongly recommended.
The Adieu Haiku50
Teddy in Tampa?
Makes sense. Bridge over troubled
waters for the Bucs.