FMIA: A 2020 Combine Preview and How to Save the Ill-Fated Pass Interference Replay System

Too much happening for the last week of February.

• The new-look, prime-time 2020 NFL Scouting Combine kicks off in Indianapolis. Will Joe throw? Won’t be surprised if Mr. Burrow doesn’t.

• While prime college quarterbacks and receivers, and most NFL coaches and GMs, are meeting the press Tuesday in Indy, 32 NFL player reps and union officials will be in collective bargaining agreement study/haggling mode. The NFL Players Association will be in Indianapolis to meet with NFL owners. There could be a 10-year deal struck, or the deal could blow up . . . or something in between.

• The Competition Committee began meeting in Indianapolis on Sunday, intent on trying to salvage the pass-interference-review rule that was a trainwreck in 2019.

Tom Brady—veteran of 20 seasons, nine Super Bowls and one month being a free man—will be hundreds (or thousands) of miles away from Indiana, but Brady rumors will nip at the fringe of a big news week with his ability to hit the market 23 days away.

We’ll start with real football, or what passes for it in the hallways of the Indiana Convention Center and its stadium partner, Lucas Oil Stadium. Get ride for a week of stories of risers and fallers in the 2020 NFL Draft, although in reality not many players truly rise or fall at the combine.

The Lead: Combine

It’s a very rich draft at wide receiver, above average at corner (the high school 7-on-7 tournaments around the country are producing crops of players who can catch and defend against the catch), and good at running back, defensive tackle and quarterback . . . and suspect everywhere else. So, a 2020 NFL Combine Preview.

I asked Daniel Jeremiah, the worthy successor to Mike Mayock on the 28-hour NFL Network TVing of the event beginning Thursday from 4-11 p.m. ET), to give me his top 10 in this draft entering the combine, along with an early top 10 mock draft. They’re pretty different, side by side:

The headlines and opinions, from Jeremiah and others, are interesting heading into the official start of the draft season.

• The Hawaiian’s health. Every quarterback opinion this year is prefaced with, “If Tua Tagovailoa’s healthy . . .” As in: If Tua’s healthy, and his surgically repaired hip checks out, he won’t go below Miami at five. But it’s a big if. Tagovailoa’s a marvelous prospect, but he had two high ankle sprains and a major hip injury in his last 14 months of college football. This week gives 32 team medical staffs the chance to evaluate the hip (especially) and to probe whether his injuries will become professionally chronic, or whether they’re flukes. It’s a really important week for him.

2020 NFL Draft quarterback prospect Tua Tagovailoa. (Getty Images)

“If I’m picking, let’s say, five, six or seven,” Jeremiah told me Saturday night, “you’ve got the Dolphins, the Chargers, the Panthers. That’s quarterback alley right there. If I’m the Dolphins and I’m picking 5 and my doctor tells me, ‘Look, I think he needs to sit out this entire season to get 100 percent healthy, but in my opinion, the odds are in our favor—that he will return to 100-percent health and will be no more likely to re-injure this hip than you or I, or any other player on the team—then you pick him. I wouldn’t even care if you redshirt him.”

If not? That’s when the pressure will really be on the medical staff. Anthony Munoz, with an iffy knee, got flunked on his pre-draft physical by 14 NFL teams and went on to play 13 years at the highest Hall of Fame level for Cincinnati.

• The Burrow coronation. He’ll speak to the press Tuesday morning and be asked whether he intends to play for the Bengals if picked one overall by Cincinnati, as is expected. That’s one story. The rest of his story? The Bengals, and those hoping he falls, will continue to probe his past, particularly this: One team told me if Burrow had left LSU after his mediocre 2018 season, that team would have given him approximately a fifth-round grade. And now he’s likely to go number one. So should 15 otherwordly games in 2019 (60 touchdowns, six interceptions) bury the evidence of 2018?

Jeremiah: “He was training an hour from my house with [QB coach] Jordan Palmer. He was out there with Sam Darnold and Josh Allen and Kyle Allen. I went up there and watched him work out, throw. I had a chance to visit with him for 20 minutes. I said, ‘Joe, you’re gonna get asked this question at the combine: Why the unbelievable leap from last year to this year?’

“He said, first of all, he’s a grad transfer. Most grad transfers transfer in the spring. He said, ‘I got to LSU after the freshmen had already reported for full camp.’ So you talk about trying to learn everything in a heartbeat and try to get to know your teammates, and then plug in and be ready to play. That’s the first part of it. Second part, he hadn’t played much football in the previous three years. There was some rust. Okay, this makes sense. And then schematically, and this is the big one, they were in a lot of seven-man protection in that offense last year. Burrow, his greatest gift, and you can see it this year when you watch him, is he has the vision to be able to take a snapshot of the entire field, to see everything, to process, and to throw accurately. Well, when you’re in seven-man protection and you limit the number of guys that can get out on a route, you’re limiting the answers you can give somebody. He was handicapped by them trying to mass-protect him. There’s no room for him to use his athletic ability to take off and go if you want. There’s no room for him to slide around, more around, find windows. It was just a congested brand of football.

“And then, you look at this year. He gets [passing-game coordinator] Joe Brady in there. He becomes a master of the offense. At the beginning of the season, they were in a bunch of six-man protection, which he’s playing really well. And he said eventually Joe Brady said in week three or four, ‘Let’s just go five-man protection. Let’s get everybody out into the route.’ When they did that, [he] completed about 80 percent from that point on.

“His super-power is his ability to see the entire field, to work through progressions, and then throw the ball accurately. So they kind of unlocked that super-power this last year. And the rest is history.”

I told Jeremiah: “You’ve got to tell America that on TV this week.”

“I’ve only got 28 hours!” he said.

• The next wave of QBs. Oregon’s Justin Herbert had a great Senior Bowl week and could creep into the top 10. Jordan Love of Utah State could go between 15 and 28. Jeremiah has a pre-combine top 50 out today. He has Love 20, Herbert 21, Washington’s Jacob Eason 47 and Georgia’s Jake Fromm 50.

2020 NFL Draft pass-rush prospect Chase Young. (Getty Images)

• Washington should not listen to ransoms for Chase Young. The Ohio State pass-rusher might be better than Nick Bosa. Might be. With last year’s first-round rusher Montez Sweat and (possibly) formidable rusher Ryan Kerrigan in place, Washington could have one of the game’s best pass-rushes on day one. “There’s some guys you don’t trade off of,” Jeremiah said. “I don’t trade off of quarterbacks and I don’t trade off of elite edge rushers because that’s how you win football games. You win championships with great quarterback play and pass rush. We saw two teams at the Super Bowl, one with the great quarterback, the other one with the great pass rush. That’s how the game’s played right now.”

• Embarrassment of riches at receiver. Last year in the draft, 12 wide receivers went in a 52-pick span, between 25th overall (Marquise Brown) and 76th (Terry McLaurin). It’s amazing how many had instant impact in year one: Brown, McLaurin, Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, Mecole Hardman and DK Metcalf. This year, Jeremiah has given 27 receivers grades in the top three rounds; he says it’s the best draft for receivers in the 18 years he’s scouted college players. Since three receivers got picked in the top 10 in 2017 (Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross went 5-7-9) and significantly underachieved, teams have largely taken the attitude that since there are so many good ones in the crop, let’s pass on receiver now and get one in the third our fourth round—such as McLaurin at 76 last year by Washington.

“It’s not just last year where we’ve seen the day two group [rounds two and three] outshine or at least be neck and neck with the day one group,” Jeremiah said. “I think this class this year goes deeper than that. Last year, I probably had 18 or 19 players with top-three-round grades. This year there’s just more of them.

“And it makes sense, with the way the game is being played. These college teams are playing four and five wide receivers at all times. These guys are catching a million balls and the NFL offenses are still asking these guys to swallow a phone book playbook. When you look at what Deebo Samuel did in the Super Bowl . . . Just get the ball in his hands. Use him in the run game. Throw to him. Everything.” Which brings us to . . .

• The positionless player. Pro Football Focus has done a good pointing out how so many teams—Baltimore most notably, but San Francisco and others—have been playing defensive players at multiple spots freely and as a matter of strategy. Samuel’s a good example, or Tyrann Mathieu all over the back end of the Kansas City defense. In this draft, PFF points out that Clemson safety/inside linebacker/outside linebacker Isaiah Simmons played more than 100 snaps at four different positions, and that’s why Simmons has top-10-pick value this year. He’d be a perfect player for Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who had a bunch of Swiss Army Knife players.

2020 NFL Draft position-less prospect Isaiah Simmons. (Getty Images)

“Are we heading toward the position-less player profile as we go into the future? That’s where I think it’s going,” Jeremiah said. “And I think guys like Isaiah Simmons have tremendous value. I’ve talked to a couple defensive coordinators around the league about this and they see it. It’s like the way the NBA went. You just want to get as many tall, long, explosive guys on the field as you can. And some weeks you might deploy them differently than others.”

Pass Interference Rule

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The crummy pass-interference rule seems doomed. But I’ve got an idea how to save an important part of it.

Where things stand now: The weekend before the start of the combine is usually the weekend we start hearing about new rules and tweaks from the league office and the eight-man competition committee. In Indianapolis on Sunday, the committee began meetings with one rule hanging over the league: the 2019 rule that turned into a weekly conflagration around the league—offensive and defensive pass interference calls and non-calls being reviewable.

After conversations with coaches, others close to the process, and one person close to officiating over the past month, I can’t see the rule surviving in its current form, and maybe not at all. What happened last year, clearly, was there was a different standard to overturn calls either made or not made on the field that passed 31-1 by club owners at the March NFL meetings. In short, there had to be assault and battery on a receiver three or four seconds before the ball arrived for no-flag to be turned into a flag. (I jest, but not by much.) The rule became a sideshow, a joke, surely because the NFL wanted to discourage coaches from throwing challenge flags and making the games challenge-flag-filled. But the result of it was that the league looked foolish for passing a rule it didn’t enforce.

The rule was passed in 2019 on a one-year trial basis. I just don’t see 24 owners (and their football people) agreeing to pass such a haphazardly enforced rule again in 2020. No one in the league in any position of authority is saying it’s doomed in the current form. It’s just a feeling I get that passage now is unlikely. We’ll see. Competition committee chairman Rich McKay told the Washington Post’s Mark Maske in Indianapolis on Sunday, “I think we all saw the frustration that we all had during the year. And I do think it began to get better. But I want to see it all and the total picture and not deal from emotion.” Hardly an optimistic forecast.

Titans defensive back Tramaine Brock and Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman. (Getty Images)

So this is my idea: Let’s say owners get to the league meeting in Florida in late March, and the league sees no way to get a three-quarters vote for the rule as is. (Likely.) The impetus for this rule was to provide a fail-safe for plays like the one in the NFC Championship Game 13 months ago. With 1:49 left in the fourth quarter of a 20-20 game, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees threw to wideout Tommylee Lewis inside the Rams’ 10-yard line, and defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman slammed into Lewis clearly before the ball arrived. No flag. The non-interference call forced the Saints to kick a field goal. The Rams tied it with a field goal to force overtime, and the Rams won in overtime.

Let’s leave the fail-safe in place. Create a rule in, say, the last three minutes of a game to prevent a catastrophic play like the one in the title game. Allow the New York officiating command center to ride herd on the last three minutes of every game, and allow them to call for a review of calls either made on the field that look shaky, or calls not made that look like they should have been flagged.

The amount of time is malleable. If it’s four minutes, okay. If it’s two, okay. (I’d probably rather have three, four or five, because games can be determined on a big call with four or so minutes to go.)

I wish the rule could have worked. But I see the league’s reticence to see the game slowed with challenge flags. Given that the league (and probably a majority owners) doesn’t want the rule in its current state, there’s still a way for an amended rule to save games from ending with a terrible call or non-call affecting the outcome in the waning seconds. The league should strongly consider it.

Big Week For Labor

What I find interesting about the prospective 10-year labor deal between NFL owners and players is this: Some of the biggest issues have made zero headlines. At the NFL Players Association’s annual meeting in Miami last year, the theme coming out of the meeting was to fight for core players. Help the blue-collar guys, the 65 percent of NFL players (many playing short careers) who make salaries of less than $1 million a year. Add jobs to the league if possible. And then, improve the pensions and health care of those who built the league who, though absent, have been on the minds of union people. Better the pensions and health care of those who’ve been forgotten.

Isn’t that what a good union does? Fight for the middle class and those without strong voices? To get the most for the members who need the most? In this case, this tentative CBA deal is relatively better for the 35th man on the roster than the fifth. When the union’s 32 player reps meet in Indianapolis on Tuesday to talk further with the league (who knows how many sweeteners the owners will be willing to throw in?) and to decide if the deal’s good enough to approve, NFLPA executive director De Smith and president Eric Winston would be wise to emphasize these points with on-the-fence player leaders:

• There will be two more active players per team on game day, and, by 2022, four more practice squad spots per team. Game day actives would increase from 46 to 48 immediately, meaning more playtime/active-roster bonuses could be earned for marginal players, and practice squads will increase from 10 to 14 players by 2022.

• Bigger salary increases for lower-level players. In 2019, the rookie base was $495,000. The scheduled rookie minimum in 2020 under the old CBA was $510,000. Under the new deal, in 2020, the rookie base would rise to $610,000. That 2020 rookie’s minimum would rise in year two to $780,000, and in year three to $895,000. Consider that, per Over The Cap, 788 players in 2019 (about 25 per team) made less than $600,000; these are the bottom-of-the-roster players who would see salary increases.

• Changes in pension, health-savings reimbursement and the founding of a free or low-cost hospital network for retired players. Per a source, the pensions for 11,000 former players will rise. For instance, a player who played seven years and retired in 1978 now gets an annual maximum pension of $30,000. That would rise to $46,000 annually, and modest increases could follow under the new deal . . . Between 600 and 700 retired players who played only three years when the pension-vesting system was a minimum of four playing seasons will begin to get pensions . . . About 4,500 former players will get a one-time health-savings-reimbursement account of $50,000 . . . Re the hospital network, which still has details to be worked out, I’m told NFLPA Executive Committee member Richard Sherman was a spur for this plan for ex-players, including mental-health care and a plan for surgeries that would be phased in.

The most contentious issue, of course, is adding a 17th game to the regular-season schedule. Several owners pushed early for 18; the players said it was a non-starter. Nobody on the players’ side wanted 17 games. They shouldn’t. It’s hypocritical for a league that preaches health and safety and has spent millions to whittle away at the concussion scourge. “We hate 17 games,” said one man from the union side. But this person said it was far and away the priority issue for the owners. So the NFLPA began to ask for things to nip away at the physical toll of a 17th game for the players—the reduction of padded and helmeted practice in training camp from 28 to 16, along with mandated reductions in three-hour practice times, and limiting to four the number of days in camp that teams could practice against other teams.

Dolphins wide receiver Allen Hurns suffered a concussion against the Cowboys last September. (Getty Images)

In practicality, the reduction of padded practices with one fewer preseason game should contribute to fewer concussions—players wouldn’t be going full-speed in the 12 practices per team without pads, and one fewer preseason game. Last year, there were 30 concussions suffered in NFL preseason practices and about 49 in preseason games. (The 49 could be an outlier; there were 34 suffered in preseason games the previous year.) During the 2019 regular season, there was an average of 8.0 concussions per week. Theoretically, the league could amass fewer concussions even with a 17th game because of 12 fewer padded practices and 16 fewer preseason games.

But players would say, and rightfully, that with two more playoff games on wild-card weekend, and 16 more games that count in the regular season, it’s possible that concussions could go up league-wide. Why? Quarterbacks, the NFL’s prized players, are not hit in training camp. Most veterans know how to practice in August to limit the big hits. And playing 6 percent more football in a year (an average of 60 or so plays for the busiest starting players) is simply going to mean a bigger risk of injury. In games that count late in the season, played by players worn down from the season, soft-tissue injuries and the potential long-term effect of playing important games with injuries that would be best served with rest is not easy to measure. In some cases, you won’t see the effects for years.


Two more points.

One: With due respect to J.J. Watt (“Hard no on that proposed CBA,” he tweeted last Thursday, four hours after the owners voted to approve the proposal they and the NFLPA had tentatively agreed to after 10 months of talks), rich new CBA deals must keep the lower and middle-classes in mind. And when a player as widely respected and as rich as Watt—career earnings: $85.2 million—tweets that just as details of the deal are beginning to filter out, it leads to players, and media and fans, saying, “This deal must stink.” Maybe it does. But full details were not in public view till Friday. When Watt rips the deal, he’s ripping his own union, the 10 player-negotiators who make up the NFLPA’s Executive Committee, and, to a lesser degree, the player rep he and his teammates sent to speak for them with the union.

Now, Watt is right if he criticizes what would be the biggest fault of the tentative deal, the one that must be addressed when the 32 player reps meet this week. The owners and the union agreed to play a 17th game with a max pay of $250,000 per player—but with an asterisk. A source tells me that individual players can negotiate with their teams for a higher rate than $250K for that 17th game. The players made that part of the deal because they emphasized how important it was to take care of the lower and middle-class players in exchange for a little hit to the high-salary guys. But per Over The Cap, there were 179 players in 2019 who made more than $250,000 per week (which in 17 weekly increments comes out to $4.25 million). Watt’s due to make $912,000 per week in 2020. Why should he play the 17th game for $250,000? That’s got to be fixed. The NFL and the union have to realize the basic inequity of making players negotiate for the same rate of pay in a 17th game that they would get for the first 16. Watt should at least consider how the bottom 25 guys in his own locker room would feel if this deal got turned down and players played the 2020 season under the provisions of the 2011 CBA. Most of those 25 players would be out at least $100,000 in salary this year. Hard for me to believe that this can’t be fixed.

Two, regarding the playoffs: I’m told it’s possible the league will use either a 3-3 wild-card weekend system for the games, or 2-3-1. In other words, either three games Saturday and three Sunday, or two Saturday and three Sunday and one Monday night. It’s not ideal, of course, designing a system with short-week playoff games. But the way the league figures it, four teams annually play short-week playoff games on wild-card weekend (playing Sunday in Week 17 and Saturday on wild-card weekend), and the Ravens played a short-week road game in the divisional round when they won the Super Bowl eight years ago.

But there’s one problem with a Monday night wild-card playoff game. In the 2020 season, the Monday night game would be the same night as the NCAA championship game for college football. Would the NFL dare go head-to-head with the college ratings monster? Would they have a staredown to see if the NCAA would move the game to, say, Tuesday night? Or would they not want to antagonize the leaders of college football by trying to strongarm them into moving their game?

I’ve gotten to only a few issues raised by a new CBA, but they’re important, and they’re getting scant attention. You will hear more this week.

Quotes of the Week

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I

“I think some guys have different opinions as far as what we can get and the leverage that we may still have or may not have. And so that’s in discussion as well. And so the owners said, ‘This is our best offer.’ And some guys may feel a certain type of away about that, and some guys may feel a different way. So I think that’s more of where you get the disconnect as far as it being a split. And that’s how diverse our group is, once again.”

—NFLPA Executive Committee member Lorenzo Alexander, on SiriusXM-NFL Radio, via Pro Football Talk, on the stance of the union leaders heading into an important labor week.

II

“I told the boys in the dressing room once we come out for the third I’ll be settled down and ready to win this one.”

—David Ayres, the 42-year-old emergency Carolina goalie Saturday night, after he beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 in the first (and likely last) game in his NHL career.

Ayers drives the Zamboni machine for the Maple Leafs’ American Hockey League farm team, and after both Carolina goalies were hurt in the game, he took the ice to play the last period-plus. He gave up two goals, then stopped the last eight Toronto shots to secure the victory on “Hockey Night in Canada,” which, for those of us south of the border, is a pretty big deal on winter Saturdays in Canada.

III

“If you’re going to look for what you want in a head coach you want somebody that’s going to be a leader, that’s going to create an environment that’s very competitive and he’s going to have a football team that’s tough and physical. It’s something that takes time. He doesn’t try and bake it in the microwave. Takes his time and does it the right way. I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a lean year, maybe a couple lean years, but he’s eventually going to get all the people that fit in that building. And I think they’ll have sustained success.”

—Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network on new Carolina coach Matt Rhule.

Factoidness

This weekend was the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice—the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team’s upset of the Soviets in the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. The Las Vegas Golden Knights hosted the players on the team, and play-by-play voice Al Michaels (who was 35 then) walked out to center ice before the game, after a rollicking video of the highlights of the game was played on the arena’s video board. Michaels: “I said, ‘The New York Times had a perfect headline this week: Forty years later, it’s still a miracle.’ The place was just rocking. Filled. Going crazy. I said, ‘Let’s meet the boys.’ The players were introduced, and it was so loud. I looked over at the Golden Knights bench, and those guys were so thrilled to have the U.S. team in the house. Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig. Huge ovations. When they walked off the ice, they walked by the Knights’ bench and they were getting hugs and high-fives. What respect for the team.”

Michaels likes Vegas. He goes two or three times a year. He likes playing craps.

“Every time I’m playing craps—you know, it’s us against the house—someone calls out, ‘C’mon Al, do you believe in miracles?’ “

Oh yes. The factoid. Getting to that.

In 1980, Michaels and heady former Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden were assigned to be the broadcast team.

Prior to those Olympics, Michael had broadcast one hockey game in his career; Dryden had never been in a broadcast booth.

King of the Road

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FMIA’s travel correspondent, Al Michaels, reports from his weekend in Las Vegas:

Michaels had a conversation with a couple of hotel executives. A normal weekend in Vegas, they said, sees an influx of about 300,000 visitors. But on the weekend of April 23 through 26, the NFL Draft will be held there. “They say there could be between 600,000 and 700,000 coming to the city for the draft,” Michaels said. “It could be the biggest weekend for visitors they’ve ever had there.”

Tweets of the Week

I

Cline, a St. Louisan, tweeting from the first pro football game in St. Louis since the Rams and owner Stan Kroenke left for Los Angeles. The St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL played at home Sunday afternoon.

II

Okung, the Chargers’ left tackle, is a member of the NFLPA Executive Committee. He tweeted that after NFL owners voted to approve a new collective bargaining proposal with the players.

A player inferring “the NFL media” is in Goodell’s pocket is like Donald Trump saying, “All Democratic politicians lie.”

III

Rich Ohrnberger, former NFL offensive lineman, on one provision of the proposed new CBA.

IV

Herschel Walker, the former Heisman Trophy winning running back, played for the New Jersey Generals and owner Donald Trump in 1984 and 1985, making $2.25-million in those two seasons. According to former Generals QB Doug Flutie, Walker would occasionally babysit Donald Trump Jr.

V

Newman!

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Mail call. Send your notes to peterkingfmia@gmail.com. 

On ignoring Mariota’s future in my column last week. From Austen Kay, in England: “Did you forget about [Marcus] Mariota? I remember your review of the first competitive NFL game he played (versus Bucs and Winston no less) and he sounded like the second coming! Surely he’s a better fit for Matt Nagy’s system than Jameis Winston should they lose faith in Mitchell Trubisky.”

I didn’t include guys who seemed like obvious backups going forward, Austen. That’s what Mariota will have to be, at least for a while, before he gets another shot. If the Bears hadn’t jettisoned Mark Helfrich (former Oregon coach) early this offseason, I’d have thought the Bears a good landing spot for Mariota. Now I’m really not sure. If I were him, I’d want to try somehow, some way, regardless of contract, to get to Kansas City. I think being around Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid for a year or two would do wonders for his football future.

I have the value of draft picks wrong. From Gregg Dieguez. “You wrote: ‘The Patriots would probably have to pay a third or fourth-round pick for [Andy] Dalton.’ Dalton leaving as a free agent would net Cincinnati a compensatory third-round pick in two years. And no one might want him, so they could get zilch. In reality, he makes $17.7 million, which is more than he’s worth. So, if the Pats were to eat Dalton’s contract, the MOST they’d have to pay is a fourth-rounder in one or two years. In fact, I can see an Osweiler situation where Cincinnati is grateful to be rid of him, because he makes more than a mentoring backup should. Heck, Alex Smith would be a better choice, if they can get him for less than $17 million. Point: Players making more than they’re worth are worth zero in trade/draft picks.”

Thanks for the thoughtful note, Gregg.

If Dalton remains a Bengal, and sits most or all of 2020 behind Joe Burrow, I doubt sincerely he’d be paid on the level of a third-round compensatory pick. I’d guess it’d be more likely a fourth or fifth-round compensatory pick, because I don’t see anyone paying him in the $20 million annual range in free agency if he plays out his deal with Cincinnati in 2020.

The issue might be the chance (simply a guess on my part) to get the Patriots’ third-round pick—87th overall—in 2020, or, by hanging onto Dalton, paying your backup quarterback $17.5 million this year, then getting a pick after the fourth round, around 135 overall, in 2022.

As for “nobody might want him,” my talks with some teams since the Super Bowl indicate he’d definitely get a job if he were available, and that a mid-round pick if the Bengals insisted would not be an impediment.

Equating Osweiler with Dalton, who five times led the Bengals to the playoffs, is . . . well, not something I’d do.

Gregg, you could be right, and I could be wrong. That’s what’s fun about arguments like this one. I think paying Dalton $17.5 million (he’s got the league’s 20th-highest average salary for quarterbacks, per Over The Cap) for one year is reasonable if you’re going to play him.

Dakmania. From William Theede: “Would the Bengals trade their number one overall pick in this draft to Dallas for Dak Prescott?”

I doubt it sincerely, William. Consider the choice if you’re the Bengals: You could have Prescott, a B-plus quarterback who you’d have to pay something like four years at $37 million per year; or you could have Joe Burrow, who just finished one of the greatest seasons a college quarterback ever had, and who has been widely praised as an excellent NFL prospect—and who would make an average of about $9 million a year over four years. Some might take Prescott over Burrow. I don’t know how many would take Prescott over Burrow at four times the cost.

A Cowboys fan who does not want Dak. From Brian Sambirsky: “You talked about quarterback contracts being monopoly money. Then later in the column you shared the plight of the Vikings being over the projected 2020 cap. There is no coincidence that you struggle to stay under the cap when you have a lot of really good football players and a good but not great quarterback making 13.5%, 15.4% and an estimated 15.5% of the cap over three years. The quarterback market has gotten ridiculous with the top 10 cap hits rising from around 11% in 2011 to over 13% now. There should be no problem paying serious money to a player who truly makes those around him better and is capable of taking his team to the Super Bowl without as much talent around him. Kirk Cousins is not this quarterback. And I hope the Cowboys are realizing the same with Prescott. As a Cowboys fan, I am happy for Prescott to get every cent he desires—just with another team. I’ll take my chances getting one of the nine other quarterbacks you mentioned at a realistic price.”

You’re not alone in Cowboys fandom praying the team doesn’t overpay for Prescott. As far as Cousins goes, when the Vikings paid it in 2018, they thought they were paying for a guy who had a good chance to be a top-five quarterback. Cousins is not there. If he was, nobody would be complaining about what he’s making.

A good point about yards per attempt. From Tom Poisal: “I have been reading your column for years and it is the ONLY must-read for me each week. Never stop! Your passion is evident in every column you compose. I want to respectfully point out what I feel is a flaw in your logic regarding QBs that throw downfield. You consistently use yards-per-attempt but that is not an accurate portrayal of whether a quarterback is pushing the ball downfield consistently. The statistic ADOT (average depth of target) or IAY/PA (intended air yards per pass attempt) used on Pro Football Reference is a much better snapshot showing how far quarterbacks are stretching the field vertically. Bridgewater averaged 6.2 IAY/PA while Jameis Winston averaged 10.4 IAY/PA last year. I don’t feel Bridgewater fits in that offense.”

I appreciate you pointing that out, Tom. Several readers did as well. I would say that Arians surely loves a quarterback who can air it out, particularly with such good deep threats in the Buc receiving corps. I don’t believe Bridgewater is incapable of throwing 45 yards in the air accurately, because he’s done it on occasion in Minnesota and in New Orleans. He’d probably do it more often if he played for Arians and Byron Leftwich.

There’s another clear point (and several pro-Winston emailers wrote to me this week to argue about it) to be made about the Arians offense, and, in fact, any one: Interceptions fit NO offense. The fact that Winston had 30 in 16 games last year, and Bridgewater has had 25 in 44 career games, is something I guarantee would catch any coach’s eye. Also, if you look at some of the most grievous Winston picks from 2019, you’ll see they weren’t bombs-away throws. They’re throws that, from coaching tape, you say to yourself, How did he miss seeing the linebacker/cornerback on that play? And by the way, thanks for being a teacher.


One final note: Several of you reached out to disagree with my choice of coach-class behavior in the reclining-seat feud. (I believe, when in coach and when working on a laptop, in giving the person in front of me some reclining space but not all, which I explained in last week’s column.) Thank you for expressing your opinion. Four or five condemnations came my way. I do get the frustration of a flyer who would be upset at being able to recline only half the way back, but trying to work in a middle coach seat, with people on either side of me working, is exceedingly difficult. What it comes down to, I guess, is recognizing the respect of both people’s personal space. I found this Boston Globe column interesting.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think if I had to guess, Joe Burrow will not throw Thursday night at the NFL Scouting Combine.

2. I think of all the things I read about the draft in the past week, this, from Paul Schwartz of the New York Post about the general manager of the Giants, was most fascinating:

Dave Gettleman has presided over seven drafts as a general manager — five with the Panthers and two with the Giants — and has never traded down. Never. He selected 28 players with the Panthers and 16 in his two drafts with the Giants (plus one more in the supplemental draft).

Think of that: A GM who has made 45 picks has never traded down to accumulate more picks from any of the 45. That is borderline negligent. Maybe not even borderline. I am incredulous about that. As I documented last week, GM John Schneider of the Seahawks used last year’s 21st overall pick and traded down six times to accumulate six picks, one of whom was wide receiver DK Metcalf, who, as it turned out, produced better value than a 21st pick in most drafts as a rookie. And four other players from the trade played for the Seahawks last season. Trying to not make too much of that, but wow. Just wow.

3. I think I don’t understand Sean McVay (per Mike Silver) spending only one night at the combine, and his coordinators not going. Seriously: You get so little out of spending 15 minutes with lots of prospects in a first meeting, and you get so little out of interacting with agents and coaches about looming free agents, that you’d rather be back in the bunker? Isn’t there enough time in the bunker already?

Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. (Getty Images)

4. I think I really want the Steelers to sign Jameis Winston. Sit for a year, get him ready to conditionally succeed Ben Roethlisberger, and if the interceptions continue in 2021, he’s gone after one season. Risky, but the upside could be pretty great. Now, the contract would have to be one Winston would want to do; he’d likely have a chance to play sooner elsewhere if he leaves Tampa. I’m just talking about a coach-player relationship (Mike Tomlin-Winston) dynamic I’d like to see. Plus, I’d rather have Winston on the rebound than Mason Rudolph or Devlin Hodges or a draft pick that could be used in a wiser way.

5. I think for those who don’t quite understand why the NFL is rushing to get a labor deal with the current one not expiring till after the 2021 draft, Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal did an interesting primer to it last week. The main point is a political one, and it involves television. The NFL’s TV deal with ESPN is up after the 2021 season, and deals with CBS, FOX and NBC up after the ’22 season. NFL sources tell me the league wants to get the CBA done in the next couple of weeks, so the 2020 league year can be played under new, strife-free rules, and so the league can begin negotiating with TV networks in earnest this spring. “Some inside the league expect a ratings decline during the 2020 season after their numbers fell 8 percent during the last presidential election cycle in 2016,” Beaton wrote. He’s dead on.

6. I think I’ll take that one step further. One league power-broker tells me: “We are made for broadcast TV, but we are open to streaming. It’s the next big thing, and the tech companies want to be involved in our game. They should. We’re the only lock money-maker in sports.”

I asked this person about the effect of the 2020 election on ratings this fall. “This election is going to be political reality TV,” he said. “It’s going to be riveting entertainment, whoever you want to see elected. The ratings on the political shows, I think, will be better than they were for the last election. I think we all feel that a [CBA] deal we get a year from now will not be as good for us, or for the players. The money won’t be the same, I don’t think.”

Imagine Donald Trump debating Bernie Sanders, or whoever, three weeks before the election on Thursday night, with the polls showing them close. I’d have to think that would out-rate even a Patrick Mahomes-Lamar Jackson Thursday night starfest. (Kansas City does play Baltimore in 2020.)

7. I think there’s a good chance the next TV deal includes streaming rights by a Facebook or an Amazon. Too many league people think a limited package of games, streamed instead of sold to a tradition network or cable outfit, makes sense. The league, with a new labor deal, would have 18 more games to put on the market (16 in an extra regular-season week, two on wild-card weekend), and a streaming entity would likely pay far more to play the NFL game than, say, extra games added on to a traditional broadcaster’s plate.

8. I think if this 10-year labor deal gets done, somehow, it will procure labor peace for the NFL through the 2029 season. Imagine that. I covered the last strike, in weeks three through five of 1987, when replacement players played three games per team and the lost salary caused some stars (Lawrence Taylor, Joe Montana, Randy White) to start trickling back into camp against the wishes of the NFLPA. Imagine if this thing gets done. Through the end of the new deal, it would mean 42 years and 10 weeks of labor peace. In modern sports, that’d be amazing.

9. I think I’ve not heard one talk-show caller, or had one letter to my column before last week, express interest or excitement about expanding the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams. But, well, money. So here we are.

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. Story of the Week: Actor Ben Affleck in the New York Times revealing how alcohol has very nearly ruined his family and his life, and where he is these days, by Brooks Barnes.

b. It’s some pretty frank stuff about a guy who drank his way out of his family. Affleck to Barnes:

“People with compulsive behavior, and I am one, have this kind of basic discomfort all the time that they’re trying to make go away. You’re trying to make yourself feel better with eating or drinking or sex or gambling or shopping or whatever. But that ends up making your life worse. Then you do more of it to make that discomfort go away. Then the real pain starts. It becomes a vicious cycle you can’t break. That’s at least what happened to me.” He cleared his throat. “I drank relatively normally for a long time. What happened was that I started drinking more and more when my marriage was falling apart. This was 2015, 2016. My drinking, of course, created more marital problems. The biggest regret of my life is this divorce. Shame is really toxic. There is no positive byproduct of shame. It’s just stewing in a toxic, hideous feeling of low self-worth and self-loathing.”

c. Man, imagine being that blunt for everyone to read.

d. Hockey Story of the Week: Richard Deitsch of The Athletic on the other guy in the booth for ABC in the Miracle on Ice game, Ken Dryden, who balanced law school in Canada with Olympic hockey in upstate New York. Amazing to think of Dryden studying law and doing a pretty big (as it turned out) network TV job. Wrote Deitsch:

“Dryden roomed with [his agent, Art] Kaminsky at a Hilton in Lake Placid (Dorothy Hamill had the room next door) for the duration of the Olympics. While Kaminsky had the foresight to sign all of those Olympians, he did not have the foresight to reserve a hotel room in time. Kaminsky was on the phone in the room most of the time cutting deals so Dryden would sit outside their room, his 6-foot-4 frame against the wall, and study legal subjects in between hockey analysis.”

e. Really enjoyed this educational piece from Doug Farrar, editor of USA Today’s Touchdown Wire, on watching tape with University of Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr., son of the former Viking.

f. It’s good football viewing, first, with Farrar quizzing Winfield on his big plays for Minnesota. And then it’s an excellent peek into the mind of a crazy-quick-twitch and instinctive football player. Winfield:

“I want to cause a turnover in every game, and that’s what you’re going to get out of me. I just have a passion for this game — I’ve wanted to play it since I was a little kid, and I’m extremely passionate about it. You’re going to get passion and takeaways from me.”

g. USA Today reports 62-year-old Marine George Hood just set the world record for doing a plank: 8 hours, 15 minutes, 15 seconds.

h. So what? I did three 45-second planks in my workout Friday.

i. Eight hours!!!! My word!!!!!

j. Column of the Week: Retired Navy admiral William McRaven on the sacking of acting director of national intelligence Joe McGuire.

k. From McRaven, the retired Navy admiral and a part of the team that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, in the Post:

Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman and philosopher, once said: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ Over the course of the past three years, I have watched good men and women, friends of mine, come and go in the Trump administration — all trying to do something — all trying to do their best. Jim Mattis, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Sue Gordon, Dan Coats and, now, Joe Maguire, who until this week was the acting director of national intelligence. I have known Joe for more than 40 years. There is no better officer, no better man and no greater patriot. He served for 36 years as a Navy SEAL. In 2004, he was promoted to the rank of rear admiral and was chosen to command all of Naval Special Warfare, including the SEALs. Those were dark days for the SEALs. Our combat losses from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the highest in our history, and Joe and his wife, Kathy, attended every SEAL funeral, providing comfort and solace to the families of the fallen.

l. Maguire was fired after multiple U.S. intelligence experts briefed representatives from both parties that our intelligence agencies found evidence that the Russians, as was suspected by multiple intelligence agencies in 2016, were likely interfering in our 2020 electoral process. It’s a good plaintive wail from McRaven: How long do we do nothing—and, in particular, how long do our spineless leaders in Washington do nothing while a president who has no interest in truth, only power, continues to lay waste to our respected and vital institutions?

m. Beernerdness: This week’s it’s actually a beer nerd’s dream—a ranking of all major league ballparks on best craft beer, by Eno Sarris of The Athletic.

n. Tropicana Field nine? Ahead of Miller Park with its great right-field section of endless Wisconsin beers? I’ll have to take your word for it, Eno.

o. Finally: Come and see me at the Combine on Wednesday night! 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. I’ll be at Sun King, just east of downtown Indy, to talk football with some buddies in the media. We’ll answer your questions, and we might even have a beer together. It’s Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Details can be found here. Proceeds go to Teachers’ Treasures, a nonprofit that fundraises 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. Your $25 admission will go directly to help with those desperately needed supplies.

The Adieu Haiku

50

My CBA gut:
I am not optimistic
it gets done this week.

19 responses to “FMIA: A 2020 Combine Preview and How to Save the Ill-Fated Pass Interference Replay System

  1. It’s logical that players negotiate stuff like less practice and fewer preseason games for a 17-game schedule. The result of less preparation, however, will be lower quality football. Add more injuries, and it will be even worse. I, for one, am NOT stoked the NFL will be the XFL by Week 17-18. Greedy owners bite.

  2. I’d wager that an NFL wild card game on network tv would kick the mess out of the NCAA title game on ESPN, as far as ratings. Can someone tell me why Disney (owners of ABC and ESPN) is so stupid? NCAA hoops, World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals, Daytona 500, golf majors, etc. are ALL on network tv. With so many people cutting cable/satellite, it’s like Disney doesn’t want high ratings for NCAA football. [This is despite the fact ABC broadcasts lower-level bowl games on Jan 1.]

  3. “Let’s leave the fail-safe in place. Create a rule in, say, the last three minutes of a game to prevent a catastrophic play like the one in the title game”

    Because the rest of the game doesn’t count? Um…..no…bad idea.

  4. The most glaring rule that needs to be changed is the amount charged for fines.

    I’m making 490K and ONE hit takes away a most of a game check. Not everyone is going to be more careful but plenty of guys will be or have been. If I’m making 5 or 10M, I could care less.

    Fines need to be PRORATED based on salary. A pre-season guy who gets flagged will probably OWE money after a game.

  5. The Steelers invented the 4th round WR. See Stallworth, John. And on and on. I doubt they give that up for an interception machine. QB’s don’t grow on trees but there sure are more of them than 10 or even 5 years ago. I expect Mahomes spread success and Jackson’s dual threat success might just get the NFL to 32 competent QB’s. Winston is not one of them.

    If you don’t have peripheral vision, you don’t have it. You also can’t teach patience or anti-anxiety. You find that within.

  6. The standard for overturning a PI should be no different than the standard for making the call in the first place. That’s how you save the new rule.

  7. Call me a cynic but I believe that all politicians are liar. It doesn’t matter which party they belong to, they bend the “truth” to meet their needs, and that is basically lying.

  8. I say, kill the foolish PI rule. Add a sky judge to every game, and have it be a regular member of the officiating crew who rotates through the role each week. It would be a little awkward at first but would make it less “big brother looking over our shoulder” and more cross-training and expanding opportunities for officials.

  9. “Watt’s due to make $912,000 per week in 2020. Why should he play the 17th game for $250,000? That’s got to be fixed. The NFL and the union have to realize the basic inequity of making players negotiate for the same rate of pay in a 17th game that they would get for the first 16.”
    ————————

    Sorry, but players are paid based on PER SEASON, not per game. For example, JJ Watt will be paid $15.5m in 2020, REGARDLESS of how many games or snaps he takes.

    Put it this way – if Watt regularly played 50 snaps/gm for 16 games (800 snaps for year) and his coaches decide to spread his workload to 45 snaps/gm for 17 games (765 snaps for year), does that mean Watt would accept a SMALLER contract than his scheduled $15.5m? I DOUBT IT.

  10. McVay? The same McVay who was featured drooling over Cooper Kupp at the Combine a few years back?

    THAT is quite surprising. I thought he was the poster boy for the Combine.

    Yes, the underwear Olympics are borderline useless to those in the know. But Kupp is a prime example for going. Does McVay take him in the 3rd without the in person view?

    Me, personally, I saw Dee Miliner back pedal in a drill and I saw a 5th round pick. Same with the Earl Thomas and Taylor Mays. One passed the eye test with flying colors, the other looked like a 5th round pick. Like jumped out and grabbed you.

    Still amazes me how some GM’s are fooled. I think they think they can teach a world class athlete anything. Not a chance. Some guys just can’t do certain things, no matter what you teach them or try to teach them.

  11. How does the league not see the correlation between the greatly diminished practice time in full pads to work on tackling techniques and the increase in concussions? Tackling technique is a joke in the NFL…

  12. Fact is, every single head coach screaming about a non-call DPI on their receiver would also brush away THE SAME CONTACT if it was their cornerback defending the play as “incidental contact.”

  13. You do not need a rule to compensate for the missed PI call @ NO vs LA. You need competent officials. Some plays have extenuating circumstances that no amount of rules can ever fix. That particular play should have gotten people fired. Not a fan of either NO or LA BTW.

  14. and i dont think the electons will have anything to do with ratings as they didnt seem to care about elections until 2016, as when watching football viewers don’t think gee how will elections affect ratings

  15. Who drove the zamboni when David Ayers was speaking with his teammates between the 2nd and 3rd period?

  16. Winston just had laser surgery. He never wore contacts during games as he was not comfortable playing with them. Big change? Little change? I don’t know, but before giving up on him, I’d find out.

  17. A player inferring “the NFL media” is in Goodell’s pocket is like Donald Trump saying, “All Democratic politicians lie.”
    ==================

    Come on. To maintain access and sources, you can’t be too critical of the league. There are topics that you ignore or only give cursory coverage to because expanding on them would be a negative for the NFL.

  18. “How long do we do nothing—and, in particular, how long do our spineless leaders in Washington do nothing while a president who has no interest in truth, only power, continues to lay waste to our respected and vital institutions?”

    Would those “respected and vital institutions” include the FBI and it’s agents who lied to the FISA court so they could illegally surveil an American citizen, which even the current FBI director admitted was “illegal?”

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