Sean Payton, coronavirus patient, self-quarantined in his house in New Orleans on Sunday night, ordered a cheesesteak for delivery from a favorite eatery. “I am blessed for many reasons,” the Saints coach said over the phone just after the food arrived. He sounded chipper. “Unfortunately, this disease hasn’t cost me my appetite.”
The delivery people know to leave food at the doorstep. They know Payton is that guy you don’t want to come in contact with. He’s the guy a week into Covid-19. He knows he’s lucky, because he has no underlying illnesses, he’s 56, he’d been working out daily (until this), and he can afford, at this time of year, to nap and take care of himself and let the virus run its course. He’s been almost exclusively in the house for eight days—leaving only to be tested last Monday—and plans to sequester himself for at least another week.
He’s the only NFL coach, or top NFL official, to test positive for coronavirus. Yet. Ominously, he knows that might not last. “When all is said and done, a third of every group in the country might get it,” Payton said. “And we’ve got to be careful about spreading it, of course. [Saints offensive coordinator] Pete Carmichael has diabetes, so we’ve got to be careful about him, and everyone really.”
Payton has no idea how he contracted it. Three weeks ago, he’d just left the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, teeming with 2,500 NFL people and media in close contact. The next weekend, he went to New York to see a couple of Broadway plays. Crowded theaters. Then he golfed with friends in Naples, Fla. “Then, last Friday [10 days ago] I was talking with Bill Parcells. He had a horse, Three Technique, running in a race in Arkansas on Saturday. Bill wasn’t planning to go, but I like the races. I said I’ll go. So I went to the race. Back home, on Sunday, just a week ago today, I felt cruddy, a little feverish and just weak. Had the chills. Woke up Monday with the chills. Achy. I called our team doc, described the symptoms. It’s not flu season down here, so he thought there was an 85 percent chance I had [coronavirus]. I went over to a hospital, drove up the little ramp there, and they came out to test me. They had all their protective gear on. I rolled down my window. Just like you’ve seen—they did nostril one, then they did nostril two. That was it. On Thursday, he texted me. ‘Tested positive. Call me.’ I wasn’t nervous about it, because I was feeling good.”
Payton feels better, but still weak. Today, he’ll join his NFL Competition Committee peers on a teleconference to discuss potential rules changes. He finds himself empathizing with so many people now that he’s seen and felt what the virus can do.
“Look, I feel well. I’ll get better, and we’ll go on, and we’ll have the draft in some way, shape or form,” Payton said. “That’s not what’s important right now. What’s important is our health-care workers, our doctors and nurses, on the front lines of this thing. We’ve got to take care of them.
“For now, this is our life, and we’ve got to be prepared for it. Some basic stuff in all of our lives is going to be threatened. We’ve all got to exercise a little more social responsibility. We all felt invincible at some point in our lives, as young people do now. But think of the person you might be affecting.”
Payton, when he feels up to it, plans to figure which cause affected by the virus he can help through his Play It Forward Foundation. Consuming media these days, he’s found himself thinking, How can I help? It’s a good question for all of us these days.
What a week. A seismic seven days, bigger than any free-agent week I’ve seen. The screaming headlines since last Monday:
• Tom Brady is a Buc. Brady shocked the world and signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay. Think of a comp. Jeter to the Rays? Close, but it wouldn’t have been as crazy.
• Sean Payton is in quarantine. Thankfully, it seems to be a mild case.
• DeAndre Hopkins is a Cardinal. More stunning: Trade fetched only a backup running back and a second-round pick.
• Philip Rivers is a Colt. Reunited (with Frank Reich) and it feels so good.
• Nick Foles is a Bear. Imagine a Super Bowl MVP on his fifth team in 44 months.
• DeForest Buckner is a Colt. One of the best DTs of recent times a victim of 49er front-four riches.
• Stefon Diggs is a Bill. Okay, not a screaming headline. But he cost more than Hopkins.
• Teddy Bridgewater is a Panther. And not just for a season. He got three rich years.
• Todd Gurley is a Falcon. Sign of the RB times. Rams whack him, 16 months after he was the hottest back in football.
And then . . . Miami bought half the league, including pricy cornerback Byron Jones . . . Amari Cooper got insane money from Dallas . . . New Eagle Darius Slay shot his way out of Detroit and left Matt Patricia in his wake . . . The Pats sat on the sidelines. They could wait for the QB market to crater . . . Last Jag out of Jacksonville, please turn off the lights . . . Kirk Cousins, who needs $66 million like the Kardashians need Instagram followers, got two years tacked onto his Viking deal . . . The pass-rush and wideout markets crashed, leaving Jadeveon Clowney and Breshad Perriman with hats in hand.
The Brady move topped them all.
When coach Bruce Arians spoke to Brady by phone from Arians’ home last Wednesday evening, he came away with the impression that the legendary quarterback intends—as he has said in the past—to play till he’s 45 years old. Brady will turn 45 a month before opening day 2022, which means that Brady may be thinking of three more years, not two.
It should surprise no one that he is not looking at his two-year deal with the Bucs as his victory lap around the NFL. To replace Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay chose the sugar-rush deal with Brady over a more secure long-haul signing of the 27-year-old Teddy Bridgewater for two reasons: The team believes Brady has a couple of Super Bowl-contending seasons left, and GM Jason Licht and Arians believe there are pieces in place in Tampa to help him win his seventh championship. They also think Brady’s never-ending search for perfection—as a player and in his personal and physical lives—will live on in his teammates at One Buc Place after Brady leaves.
Regardless of all the good signs, no quarterback in history, playing every down, has excelled well into his forties. Brett Favre was a Pro Bowler at 40, Warren Moon a Pro Bowler at 41; both crashed the next season. Drew Brees seems primed to play well this year at 41. Brady will take the field for the Bucs—assuming there is an NFL season—at 43. Being great at 43 has never been done by an NFL quarterback. But the game has never seen a player this well-preserved at this age. Brady’s passer rating in his twenties: 88.4. Brady’s passer rating in his forties: 96.0. Though this is a gamble for Brady, and for the Bucs, those inside the organization are comfortable staking their reputations on it.
When Brady finally talked to the Buc braintrust on Wednesday—Licht first, then Arians, in a call that lasted longer than an hour—the strongest impression he left with them had a Belichickian tone. However long he stays in Tampa Bay—two years, three years or more—Brady wants to help the organization push one common goal. “The standard,” he called it. Brady wants to help Arians reinforce his standard of excellence in Tampa. At times during the call, it almost felt like Brady was recruiting them, not the other way around.
Later that evening, Brady FaceTimed with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, to begin to get the lay of the land in Tampa Bay. (Which just might become his new normal.) As someone who knows Brady well told me Saturday: “No one knows what this off-season is going to look like because of this virus. Tom’s going to want to spend the absolute most time he can with his teammates and his coaches, because he’s a perfectionist and he never had to learn another system. That’s just going to add to the challenge here. So much of that stuff was taken care of for Tom in New England with Bill and Josh [Belichick and McDaniels]. Now he’s going to have to learn to trust new guys.” He’ll have to manage that in what’s sure to be the most unconventional offseason of his career.
ESPN’s Seth Wickersham on Sunday jigsaw-puzzled a smart story about Brady’s continuing dissatisfaction with the Patriots contractually and with the joyless atmosphere inside Bill Belichick’s domain. I agree that those things matter—a lot. But part of this decision, a big part I believe, is Brady wanting to see football from another point, with another coach, with another team, to see another football life. What’s the world like outside of Foxboro? Eight years from now, or whenever the gold-jacketed Brady walks into Canton, he’ll hug Belichick for 15 seconds and mean it; yes, the Patriots owe him for the six Super Bowls. But he owes Belichick too. It’s fair to say that sometimes, a new start is better for everyone.
The end of Jameis Winston didn’t happen suddenly. Winston has been, by all accounts, a model citizen since the sexual-groping charge against him by an Uber driver in 2016, and the resulting three-game NFL suspension. A month into the 2019 season, it was much more likely than not that the team would sign him to a rich extension as their quarterback of the future. In London in Week 6, Winston threw for 400 yards against Carolina, the Bucs held Christian McCaffrey to 31 rushing yards . . . and Tampa lost by 11. Winston threw five interceptions and fumbled twice in an embarrassing display that—with the time difference—probably made Buc fans surrender their breakfasts. On the long flight home, a collective Uh-oh settled over the team, a sort of sick feeling that the interception bug was back. Winston was now officially on trial. He might have salvaged his future till the last two weeks of the season. The Bucs had won four in row to get to 7-7, and they outplayed Houston and Atlanta in those final two games—except at quarterback. Six more Winston picks in those two games cost the Bucs two wins, and cost Winston most of the faith coach Bruce Arians had in him.
After the London game, scouts got to work in earnest dissecting tape of any quarterbacks who might be available after the season. Teddy Bridgewater. Andy Dalton. Ryan Tannehill. Marcus Mariota. Philip Rivers. And Tom Brady. It’s work they might have done anyway; the London game was a spur. The last two games gave the search immediacy, and the four QB-braintrust of offensive coaches (Arians, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, QB coach Clyde Christensen, offensive analyst Tom Moore) began their analyses after the season. Several commented that they’d never seen a market with this many starters available. That’s because there never has been.
As for Brady, both Arians and Licht thought the fact that Brady would be allowed to be free after the season smelled funny. The way Brady set up the contract—to be a free agent after the season—is not the way you write a contract if you want to stay somewhere, they thought. But who would let the greatest quarterback of all time get away? Then, when they watched the New England wild-card loss to Tennessee (Arians in particular), it was notable that Jim Nantz and Tony Romo talked openly about this could be the end in New England for Brady. “He is not done,” Romo said on TV. “He needs help around him. Now, where is he gonna play? Is it here?” Could it be that the clues that Brady was fishing for a new team were hiding in plain sight? Perhaps. But the Bucs wouldn’t be high on his list. Right? (Playoff wins since 2003: Brady 27, Bucs 0.)
Brady did a great job keeping a lid on all of it. I sat with him for 10 minutes after his last game as a Patriot, and he played his future very straight. I left Foxboro that night not having a great feel what he’d do, but thinking it was 50-50 at least that he’d play somewhere else in 2020. The thing that surprised me that night? That he was not remotely surprised the Patriots lost, or that they played very poorly on offense.
“First time in 20 years you’re truly a free man,” I said to him in a small room off the New England locker room. “How do you feel about that right now?”
“I think I’m just . . . I’ll explore those opportunities whenever they are. If it’s the Patriots, great. If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. I just don’t know. I love playing football. I still want to play football. I think I still can play at a championship level. I’ve just got to go do it. I’m motivated to get back to work and training.” Poker face.
Tampa Bay sure didn’t seem likely 11 weeks ago. In Arians’ five seasons as a Cardinals and Bucs head coach, per Pro Football Focus, the average throw in his passing offense traveled a league-high 10.7 yards past the line of scrimmage. He was the happy bomber. His quarterback aired it out. But when the Bucs watched the 2017 Brady, with burner Brandin Cooks averaging 16.6 yards per catch, they saw Brady had plenty enough arm; New England threw it an average of 9.5 yards past the line in ’17. With no Cooks and with Rob Gronkowski retired, and no deep threat in the house, the passing game flatlined. That’s what we saw last season, and Brady was miserable. Arians’ offense will play to one of Brady’s strengths—hard play-action—and we’ll see how much of an adjustment Arians and Leftwich have to make in play-calling based on Brady’s arm strength. One other PFF note that will interest Arians: the majority of Winston’s completions last year came on throws that were between 10 and 20 yards downfield, and over the past five seasons, PFF’s top-rated quarterback on such throws is Tom Brady.
By the end of February, the Bucs had prioritized their top three quarterbacks, in order:
Why Winston, still, at three? Because Arians loved him as a worker and competitor, and he had hope that he could be saved, and he knew the locker room loved him. Arians was still optimistic he could get Winston to buy into the art of the checkdown if they had to, and the teaching of Moore, who preached, “You never go broke putting money in the bank.” But it was clear to those around the building that the Bucs needed to try to get Brady—and if it looked like a shot in the dark by the legal tampering period, then they’d move on to Bridgewater. They were optimistic they could get Bridgewater if they whiffed on Brady.
Licht talked to agent Don Yee on Monday, the first day of the legal tampering period (Oxymoron of the Week). According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, money was the last thing on the Brady priority list that Yee discussed with Licht. The Bucs’ GM felt he was in the game, and told Arians this was no long shot. It was real.
What the Bucs didn’t know was the homework Brady had done on them. He watched tape of their offense, he loved outside weapons Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and the security blankets at tight end, and he had great respect for the pass-rush and few young defensive pieces the Bucs had. Geography helped. Though the Brady camp had interest in Indianapolis, the Colts seemed to be set on Philip Rivers on a shorter deal. All other teams in his universe (the Chargers most notably) were further from Brady’s New York home. (Though, of course, he will live in Tampa while he’s a Buc.) What I’m told happened Tuesday: The Bucs, by mid-afternoon, had a shell of a deal with Yee for Brady. They hadn’t been told that Brady was theirs, but Bridgewater needed an answer; he had another option in Carolina. The Bucs felt good enough about their shot with Brady that they let Bridgewater go Tuesday afternoon. Adam Schefter broke the Bridgewater-to-Carolina story Tuesday at 6:39 p.m. Shortly afterward Schefter and ESPN colleague Jeff Darlington had Brady to the Bucs.
I’m told Arians and Licht did not speak to Brady till early Wednesday evening. Even then, it was the formality of a phone interview. The physical was arranged with a physician the Bucs’ medical staff used in New York. The contract—pretty simple and reasonable for a player of Brady’s stature: two years, $50 million, with a total of $9 million in incentives—was done. When the physical came back positive, Licht and Arians got the word Thursday afternoon for the first time: Tom Brady was a Buc.
A few other loose ends:
• Chemistry and trust might have to be built in Montana, or somewhere, this year. I marvel at a throw Brady made on the Super Bowl-winning overtime drive against Atlanta three years ago. Wideout Chris Hogan was Siamese-twinned with cornerback Jalen Collins sprinting down the left sideline, and at the Falcons’ 37-yard line, Hogan stuck his foot in the ground and curled back; Brady’s throw was already in the air, and it landed in Hogan’s hands at the Atlanta 40. Clockwork. “It’s such a Peyton Manning type throw,’’ Brady told me a week after the game. “I watched him for so many years make those throws. Marvin [Harrison] and Reggie [Wayne], they’d cut their route off, turn around, ball was in the air, in stride, 15-, 18-yard gain. How the heck did they do that? There’s so much trust from the quarterback to the receiver.” Asked how he did it with Hogan, Brady said: “That’s a lot of throws. That’s 111 practices that we had. That’s however many games. Films, meetings. It’s got to be like clockwork.”
Brady told me this story at his place in remote Montana. There, in one of the prettiest places on earth, Brady has an open field that’s smaller than a regulation football field but is manicured to look like the fairways at Augusta. Often he has hosted receivers and tight ends for a week or so in the offseason for some extra throwing. In this year that could make teamwork highly challenging, I bet he invites Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard and others out for some bonding—and 90 minutes of throwing, for as many days as they can do it. It’ll be there or somewhere else that he gets to know his new mates.
• The Manning factor. Speaking of Peyton, Brady now goes to a team that has Arians, Manning’s quarterback coach for his first three years in the NFL; Tom Moore (offensive consultant), who was Manning’s offensive coordinator for his first 11 years in the NFL; and Clyde Christensen (quarterbacks coach), who was Manning’s offensive coordinator for three years with the Colts. Sounds very much like a future 30 for 30, somehow, some way. But at least these coaches will have some idea about dealing with a perfectionist.
• Let’s keep one thing in mind. Tom Brady was a Patriot (if you count the last two months) for 19 years, 11 months and four days; for 20 football seasons. Before we devolve into a blame game for why he’s not a Patriot anymore after being one for 20 percent of NFL history, let’s consider that one of the reasons Bill Belichick is great at his job is that he’s cold and calculating and unsentimental; he cares about what’s ahead, not the victory lap behind, and he cares most about the fate of the 2020 Patriots right now, not the fate of 2020 Tom Brady. Now, Brady is an enlightened person who is ecstatic that the football fates made him land in Foxboro on April 16, 2000. But how many people leave college, take first jobs, and do those jobs in one place till the end of their professional lives? Brady might want more out of life than to do one thing in one place forever. This is a man who texts Chinese proverbs to friends. I do not fault Belichick for this. I do not fault Brady for this. There is no fault. There is just life.
• On the DeAndre Hopkins deal: In 2018, I thought Hopkins was the best receiver in football. In 2019, he had one fewer target, one fewer catch . . . but was less explosive. Why? His average depth of target (per PFF) was a yard and a half less than in 2018, but it’s hard to say whether one year is a trend or a snapshot. I do know that Hopkins wanting a new contract with three years left would be a real turnoff if I were running the Texans. Now, whatever the side details, it’s ridiculous that Houston got the 40th pick in the draft and a commoner running back for a top three receiver in football.
• The quarterback glut. I might be way wrong. But I think Jameis Winston is a great gamble to take as a 2020 backup and a prospective 2021 challenger for a job. Teammates love him, good deep arm . . . just terrible judgment. Not sure it can be fixed. I know the Steelers won’t do it, but man, I’d rather have Winston in reserve for Big Ben than Duck Hodges.
• Philip Rivers the Colt. I thought it was telling that Rivers wants to play a couple of years more, at least, and the Colts signed him for one year, period. This is a classic bridge quarterback, so look for the Colts to either draft one (now without their first-rounder) or work like the dickens to salvage Jacoby Brissett.
• Nick Foles the Bear. Everyone wants to know where this leaves Mitchell Trubisky. That’s easy. Trubisky will have his shot this year (assuming there is a football season), and Foles, one of the best teammates ever to roam an NFL sideline, will support him. If Trubisky is better, he’ll play and he’ll stave off Foles. I don’t see that happening, Trubisky being better. And I bet the Bears don’t either.
• The DeForest Buckner trade is huge. I can’t imagine John Lynch trading Buckner. He loves DeForest Buckner. Well he should; he’s one of the three best interior defensive linemen in football, and he just turned 26. But Lynch has committed $17 million a year to Dee Ford, another $17 million per to Arik Armstead, and Nick Bosa is on the horizon to be paid more than either. In the end, the 13th pick in the draft was too much to pass up for the Niners, who, prior to the pick, had one pick in the first four rounds.
• Bills overpaid for Stefon Diggs. I like Diggs a lot, but he’s not the game-changer that Hopkins is, and Buffalo traded, in effect, a one, four and five for him. Pretty rich, I thought, particularly in a year when so many top receivers will be there for Buffalo, who entered the week picking 22, 54 and 86.
• Teddy Bridgewater finally has a team. How crazy is it that Bridgewater is 27 years old, and his 30th birthday will come midway through his third season piloting the Panthers (if he plays well)? Just seems like he’s been hanging around forever. The Joe Brady influence will be terrific for Bridgewater.
• You know what I’m sick of? People saying, Poor Todd Gurley. Or, Poor running backs. Todd Gurley, should he survive this season in Atlanta, will be 26 years old and have made $49.4 million. Don’t tell me about short shelf lives for star running backs who don’t get paid. Now, I’ll tell who the system really kills. Phillip Lindsay. Undrafted in 2018. Makes the Broncos. Rushes for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. Not only has he made just $1.065 million in two years, he’s on track to make $750,000 this year—and the Broncos signed Melvin Gordon to take some of his production away.
I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to New York governor Andrew Cuomo during the corona crisis. He talks most days on radio stations around the state, updating the citizens about the latest Covid-19 news. It’s been good to know day by day how the issues especially in New York City are being addressed, and Cuomo does it in a firm, no-sugar-coating way. He makes the Army Corps of Engineers prepping to build insta-hospitals (something like the way it happened in China) seem logical and the only way to move forward.
During a break in writing Sunday, I was listening to Cuomo speaking to his citizens from Albany when he said:
“This is not a short-term situation,” he said. “It’s going to be four months, six months, nine months. Nobody has a crystal ball. No one can tell you. But it is in that range. So start to plan accordingly.”
I had an NFL general manager on Friday ask me what effect I thought the coronavirus would have on the season. Where does one start? The draft. Easy to say the draft will be studio sport. Other than the Vegas economy missing out on 400,000 visitors and the draftees who want a big moment, not a big deal. Then the offseason programs, which may be either shuttered or limited. Also manageable. Now for training camps. They open in about four months. Now we’re into the if-everything-goes-right mode. Opening weekend is scheduled to be played in five months and three weeks. Could there be games with no fans in some places, or in all places? Will there even be games?
Of course, it’s way too early. I feel for the climaxes of basketball and hockey, which may not happen at all. I feel for baseball, which is such a great pastime for half of my year, and for so many others. How ever will I survive without another ninth-place finish in my fantasy baseball league?
I feel stupid even talking about games. The other day, my Brooklyn coffeeshop owner, Stefano DeMartini, who came from Torino, Italy, in 2017 to start his shop, told me he didn’t know how much longer he could stay open without his regular clientele; it’s only to-go now, and most people in the neighborhood have vanished, heeding the stay-at-home warnings. Foot traffic is way down. He and his Colombian girlfriend, Camila Soto, work such long days, six days a week, to get some small piece of the American dream. Now they’ve started a Go Fund Me, as so many places have, just to survive. “I will continue to-go and delivery until someone stops me,” Stefano said Saturday. He is so determined to make it, even though he has no idea how he will make it if the store is closed another month or so. “There is always a solution. One day at a time. We are thinking about the possibilities. We love America.”
How a Scout’s Life Has Been Impacted
Before going to work for NFL Network in 2012, Daniel Jeremiah worked for the Eagles, Ravens and Browns as a scout. So the life of the NFL Network’s lead draft analyst isn’t altogether different from the life he leads at this time of year. “I would be hopscotching the country, going to pro days,” he said Saturday from his home in California. “Not this year.”
Jeremiah asked me to hold for a minute, to fish his 2020 pro day schedule out of the garbage. Literally. While he foraged, he said, “I threw it away the other day—didn’t need it anymore,” he said.
Last Wednesday, Jeremiah would have attended the Georgia pro day, and last Thursday he’d have been in Columbia, S.C., at South Carolina’s. “Then Ohio State on Wednesday the 25th. We were going to blow out the Joe Burrow pro day at LSU April 3, and Tua’s [Taigovailoa] workout on April 9. We’d have gone live, shown every throw.”
I wondered, with all the pro days cancelled this year and scouts home-bound, what exactly were the biggest things they’d be missing.
“The most important part of pro days, for evaluators, with quarterbacks, is to see them throw live. You can see the arm on tape, but you don’t get a sense of it and are right by it and see it live and in person, you’re missing something. The area scouts will have seen it. The GMs who are in the market for a quarterback will probably have seen it. But the head coaches wouldn’t have seen it, and the quarterback coaches wouldn’t have seen it. And they’d really want to see that.
“No pro days really sucks for the guys who didn’t run at the combine, and the guys who didn’t go to the combine. The biggest impact for all these players is not getting time around the teams. These big draft meetings where teams set their boards, you can do those over teleconference. But it’s the contact with the players that teams will miss. The exposures at pro day and the visits by the prospects to the team facilities, those are both really big. Those can keep guys alive, or push ‘em off the board.
“I’m anxious to see the number of non-combine players drafted this year. I bet it’ll be the lowest in a long time. My gut feeling is teams will opt for singles instead of trying to hit triples this year—they won’t take as many chance as they might normally.”
“I have always believed that well done is better than well said, so I’m not gonna say much more. I’m just gonna get to work.”
—Tom Brady, in a Friday Instagram post announcing his signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Well, shoot, lotta reasons. Heck of a football team. Have respected this organization for years. Chris Ballard. Believe in Frank Reich.”
—Philip Rivers, asked Saturday why he chose the Colts, with GM Ballard and coach Reich, as his next team.
“It wasn’t really about the highest bidder or anything like that. I knew I either wanted to stay in Philadelphia, or if I was going to go anywhere else, it was going to be New Orleans.”
—Former and current Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins on returning to New Orleans with a four-year contract, per Amie Just of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
“Bars and restaurants are open for takeout and delivery only. So for those of you that want to celebrate Tom Brady leaving the New England Patriots, and hopefully leaving the AFC East, there are no mass gatherings. Celebrate responsibly, celebrate at home, and with less than 10 people present.”
—Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, on the day Tom Brady announced his career in New England was over.
“By every measure, March 17, 2020 goes down as the most joyless St. Patrick’s Day in the history of Boston.”
—Dan Shaughnessy, columnist for the Boston Globe, on the day:
• Tom Brady announced he wasn’t going to play for the Patriots in 2020.
• The annual St. Patrick’s Day parade was cancelled.
• The city was shut down by the coronavirus.
Tom Brady went 358 passes without throwing an interception in 2010.
Jameis Winston, in his last 358 passes as a Buc, threw 18 interceptions.
The cap numbers of the top six offensive players on the Cowboys in 2020:
Cap number in 2020: $198.2 million.
Percentage of Dallas’ 2020 cap devoted to top 6 offensive players: 46.4 percent
Percentage of 2020 cap left for remaining 57 players (47 active, 10 on practice squad): 53.6 percent.
It gets worse in 2021, with Cooper’s cap number rising to $22 million. As current contracts stand, the top six players on offense will consume about $110 million on the cap next year.
*The scheduled 2020 exclusive-rights franchise number for a quarterback will be $28.6 million, per Mike Florio.
Many of you know this already. For those who do not, an update.
With the 198th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, the Rams picked Iowa safety Matt Bowen.
With the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, the Patriots picked Michigan quarterback Tom Brady.
Bowen played parts of seven seasons for Washington, Green Bay, Buffalo and the Rams, retiring as a Bill at age 30 after the 2006 season. Now he works for ESPN as an NFL analyst. He and his wife have four children, all boys, and live outside Chicago, in Elmhurst, Ill.
Interesting, of course, that Bowen, after a nice career for a sixth-round pick, retired at 30 . . . 13 years ago. And Brady just signed a two-year, $50-million contract to keep playing football.
“I was just talking about Brady signing with the Bucs with my boys this morning,” Bowen said the other day. “It’s a big thing for my boys to know I was the 198th pick and Brady 199. My son Ronnie, who’s 6, said to me, ‘If he’s still playing, Daddy, why aren’t you?’
“I told him, ‘He’s a Hall of Fame player, Ronnie, and he still plays at a high level. Daddy doesn’t move like that anymore.’ You know, it’s hard for a 6-year-old to understand.”
In the NFL, Bowen was on two teams that beat Brady’s Patriots. In college, he faced Brady only once—in a 1998 Big Ten clash at Iowa City. Wolverines 12, Hawkeyes 9 (with Brent Musberger on the call.). “Classic ‘90s Big Ten,” Bowen said. “One TD in the game, Brady beat me on a slant route to Tai Streets. Cover zero pressure. Streets turned me around, Brady threw a perfect ball on his upfield shoulder.”
The Bowen boys, ranging in age from 13 to 6, love football. They love the fact that their father has a connection with Brady. Matt Bowen pulled up the 1998 game on YouTube last week, with all the Brady news percolating. “They thought it was awesome,” Matt Bowen said. “There was Tom Brady, playing against their dad. They watched the touchdown, and my son Grant said, ‘Why’d you turn the wrong way?’
“I said, ‘Your dad played with lousy technique and lousy eyes.’ “
Bowen on Brady today:
“It’s amazing what he’s doing. At that level, at that age. To see not only the length of the career, but the respect he commands to this day. If you’re not ready to compete he will eat you up. Watch. He’ll go to Tampa Bay, with a great offensive coach in Bruce Arians, and Bruce will adjust his system, and you watch. Tom’ll throw for 4,000 yards and elevate that team.”
Notable factoids about the early New England career of Tom Brady:
• With Steve Young on the verge of retirement in early 2000 because of a series of concussions, the beloved team of Brady’s youth, San Francisco, scouted for Young’s heir prior to the draft. The Niners, with the 65th overall choice in the 2000 draft, picked Giovanni Carmazzi of Hofstra (which dropped football in 2009). Just 134 picks later, Brady was picked by New England. Carmazzi never played a snap in the NFL.
• Brady replaced Drew Bledsoe as Patriots quarterback 12 days after terrorists took down the World Trade Center in New York City; Bledsoe was kayoed in a game against the Jets. Dean Blandino was the replay official in the game. The Jets’ quarterback that day, Vinny Testaverde, is 56 now.
• Brady ended the first Oakland tenure of Jon Gruden (traded to the Bucs four months later) in the infamous Tuck Rule playoff game in January 2002. Brady bested Rich Gannon (and Jerry Rice, a Raider receiver) in overtime 16-13. Owner Al Davis cursed that game for the rest of his life. Rich Gannon is 54 today, Jerry Rice 57. Al Davis died at 82 in 2011.
• The announcers for Brady’s first Super Bowl game, in February 2002, were Pat Summerall and John Madden. Summerall died seven years ago. Madden is 83.
A note about the Oakland reaction to the Tuck Rule game, from then-Raiders executive Amy Trask, who was watching from an upstairs box with Davis. “I was inconsolable,” Trask wrote the other day. “As angry as Al was (and he was incredibly angry, as angry as I could ever recall seeing him), he made a special point of doing all he could to try to calm me down.”
I live in an apartment building in Brooklyn with a nice gym in the basement. Last Tuesday management shut down the gym—understandable, because you don’t want people who might be infected using mats and bars and ellipticals. So I ran on Thursday, and Saturday I went looking for an open space to do some other stuff (lunges, squats, etc.) and I found a place in Fort Greene, not far from Barclays Center. I Instagrammed it:
Dan Snyder was first NFL owner to shut down travel. Now turning FedEx Field into a Coronavirus testing site. Leading the way. Or at least trying to. https://t.co/KmGi1cbqtQ
— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) March 21, 2020
Finlay works for NBC Sports Washington.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) March 20, 2020
Siciliano is an NFL Network anchor.
I have pried myself away from TV news and haven’t turned it on today. God, it feels good.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) March 21, 2020
Farmer covers the NFL for the Los Angeles Times.
List of Colts quarterbacks under contract for 2021:
End of list.
— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) March 21, 2020
Holder covers the Colts for The Athletic.
On Sunday, I asked people on Twitter a question I haven’t been able to figure out: Why are Americans hoarding toilet paper? A few of the answers:
From Joel Kasmarick, of Wisconsin: “I think they are hoarding it because it’s something they can control. People are so scared right now, and have no idea what to do. This way they can at least say, ‘Hey I’m covered on toilet paper a while.’ “
From Alfie Lau, of Vancouver: “When COVID-19 started to take hold in China in November/December, China stopped exporting toilet paper because it anticipated locking down the country. One of the countries it exports the most product to is Australia, which for some reason (not enough trees/not enough pulp and paper mills), doesn’t produce any of its own toilet paper. Australians soon realized they would not have enough toilet paper, so they started hoarding it. Social media then spread pictures of them overrunning grocery stores for TP and people saw it, not realizing this was just a uniquely Australian thing. And then it spread like wildfire. Moral of the story: Domestic production of toilet paper is strong so we should not have any shortages.”
From Steve Chirhart: “The real pandemic is fear. And fear is irrational.”
My favorite theory comes from a CNN story: Panic buying begets panic buying. Makes sense to me. I just wonder what people will do when they wake up in October in a Covid-free country (I hope) with seven years of toilet paper stacked up in the basement.
Don’t you dare diss DeAndre. From Tom Walsh: “Until you delve deeply into the analytics of DeAndre Hopkins season, including times he may have been open but the ball was not going in his direction or the times defenses doubled him or rotated coverage in his direction (forcing QBs to go elsewhere), or just how many pass plays were called with him as the number one receiver in the QB’s progression, or how many balls directed at him were deemed uncatchable or deflected, a general assumption when just looking at raw statistics over a couple of seasons is an unfair attempt to paint with a broad brush what you intimate is a decline and productivity that was not that explosive.”
Hopkins, in yards per catch, was 14.4 in 2017, 13.7 in 2018, and 11.2 last year. He was an all-pro player, clearly, in 2018, the best receiver in football in my opinion. Do you think that in 2019 there were many “times he may have been open but the ball was not going in his direction,” as you say? Do you think Deshaun Watson, who targeted him 10.2 times per game in 2018 and 10.0 times per game last year, would bypass him frequently, particularly with Will Fuller, the number two guy for Watson, missing significant time for the second straight year? I love Hopkins. I would not have made the deal Houston did. But thinking they might have for some reason not gone to him as much in 2019 and 2018 doesn’t make sense to me.
1. I think of all the things I heard this week that never occurred to me in a crazy time, this was the most interesting: Daniel Jeremiah told me, So Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz are in their fifth year running the offense and defense for Philadelphia. The three other teams in the NFC East all have new coaches, with new offenses and new defenses. Has there ever been more of a competitive advantage for a team entering a season than the Eagles have? Jeremiah was quick to add that Kellen Moore returns at offensive coordinator for Dallas but likely it’s Mike McCarthy’s offense the Cowboys will run. Amazing thought, particularly in a season when chemistry could well be in short supply.
2. I think you should file this under “The Thousandth Thing You Should Be Thinking About Today,” but because I’m a bit of a schedule nerd it’s been on my mind. The NFL should seriously consider moving the release of the schedule from the third week in April to May, a couple of weeks after the draft. A couple reasons:
• The NFL begins to look at schedule alternatives in early January. In early January, the league almost certainly wasn’t thinking about Tampa Bay in a premier prime-time window; last week, it’s likely the NFL began thinking of Tampa Bay with Brady three to five times in prime time, and maybe in a big spot on opening weekend—Sunday night or Monday night. Though I’m thinking Dallas at the Rams on that first Sunday night, if the new L.A. stadium is open.
• Which brings me to another reason for the delay. The Rams/Chargers stadium has about three months of construction to go, and if the site is shut down because of Covid-19 (which I am told is not imminent, at least at the moment), it could be that the new stadium won’t be ready on time. Add the Tampa Bay-as-a-national-team monkey-wrench, as well as the fact that we may not know who will quarterback New England by mid-April (and thus how many national windows to schedule the Patriots for), and it may just be best to delay this till the league has max information.
3. I think one other byproduct of the Brady signing, as odd as this sounds, is the continued television strengthening of the NFC. With Brady moving from the AFC to NFC, that makes the FOX Sunday product better, theoretically, because 12 of Tampa Bay’s 16 games are against NFC foes, and FOX is the NFC network. Think of the AFC minus Brady, and think of the NFC plus Brady. This is a wild guess at the most attractive TV teams in 2020—a guess mostly because if the Bucs are 2-4 in late October all of a sudden their attractiveness plummets.
1 Kansas City (AFC)
2 Dallas (NFC)
3 New England (AFC)
4 San Francisco (NFC)
5 Green Bay (NFC)
6 Tampa Bay (NFC)
7 Pittsburgh (AFC)
8 Baltimore (AFC)
9 Philadelphia (NFC)
T-10 New Orleans (NFC)
T-10 Seattle (NFC)
That’s seven of the top 11 in the NFC. I do not list them in order of how many wins I think they’ll have. I list them in order of most attractive to TV people in 2020, in terms of schedule and national attractiveness. If that’s the case, and this is just my guess, then after the Thursday night, Sunday night and Monday night packages get their premium games, and after the Chiefs get their five national games and Steelers and Ravens their four or five, I wonder how many great CBS doubleheader matchups will be left? This might be a year for the schedule-makers to maximize the cross-flex games, with some traditional NFC games moving to CBS.
4. I think the best place personally for Jameis Winston, as I’ve written in this space, is Pittsburgh. But I believe the Steelers won’t have interest in Winston as a 2020 sidecar for Ben Roethlisberger and perhaps his successor. I do think the Steelers had better spend some serious think time on the number two quarterback. With no one certain whether Roethlisberger will start 16 games or six, the Steelers don’t want to get caught short-handed this year, as they were last year.
5. I think this is the worst year for Cam Newton to be on the street, which is likely to happen because the Panthers have shown their hand by signing Teddy Bridgewater. No one knows what to expect from the rehabbed Newton, who last was effective 17 months ago. My guess: Washington with Ron Rivera, but that would make for a weird quarterback room. Newton would want to play, and if he does, that roadblocks Dwayne Haskins. Still, Cam Newton Redskins makes sense.
Winston seems to make sense in Jacksonville. He would not shock me with the Patriots, though I don’t expect it. Winston may have to have to swallow his pride and go somewhere—Green Bay? Dallas?—as a pure backup for a year or two.
6. I think I keep hearing no one will trade for Andy Dalton and pay him $17 million this year in the last year of his deal. If he’s on the street, Dalton at $7 million for a year in New England makes the most sense to me. Hard to see Dalton going unloved, but he fits New England either short or long-term the best. I still expect the Patriots, after signing Brian Hoyer on Sunday, to look into signing a veteran.
7. I think the knee-jerk stuff the Jaguars do has to be disconcerting to anyone who like the team. Less than eight months ago, on my training-camp trip to see the Jags, there were scores of FOLES and RAMSEY jerseys in the front window of their team store. The sheer preciptousness of the Jaguars showed up again last week: Nick Foles, the presumed savior who got a rich four-year contract to be the Jags’ quarterback of the future, got traded for a fourth-round pick to Chicago after throwing 117 passes, earning $30.5 million from Jacksonville owner Shad Khan, and leaving Jacksonville saddled with an $18.5-million cap hit. Imagine being so flippant, throwing away $30.5 million without giving Foles a true chance to be the quarterback of the future.
8. I think the Jaguars gave Blake Bortles years.
9. I think the Jaguars gave Nick Foles minutes.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Coronavirus Story of the Week: A totally appropriate tale by Rustin Dodd of The Athletic, about a writer from the Boston Globe who covered the Red Sox’s World Series-clinching game-six victory over the Cubs at Fenway Park on Sept. 11, 1918 . . . and three weeks later Edward F. Martin, 34, was dead—of a plague sweeping the country called the Spanish Flu.
b. I have no idea how Rustin Dodd found this story, but it’s beautiful. A few words from it, centered around Martin and the World Series:
“The Red Sox, a perennial contender, were carried by a young lefty pitcher named Babe Ruth, who threw a shutout in Game 1. When Carl Mays pitched Boston to a victory in the clincher, Martin opened his story like this: ‘Boston is again the capital of the baseball world, history repeating itself yesterday when the Red Sox, who have never faltered in this great classic, defeated the Cubs, 2-1.’
“Then, suddenly, strangely, the byline disappeared. Just weeks after the 1918 World Series, Martin’s wife Delia contracted the so-called ‘Spanish flu’—the H1N1 influenza virus that was ravaging the world. The virus soon spread to her husband, who was attending to his wife at their home on Columbia Road in South Boston. Martin, who would not go to the hospital until his wife passed, would die of pneumonia in early October, one day after Delia. The lives of Edward and Delia Martin represented two of the estimated 675,000 Americans who died in the 1918 influenza pandemic, including a reported 202 in Boston alone on Oct. 1.”
c. Did you notice how Dodd reported that Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth, who won games 1 and 4 of this World Series—the last one the Red Sox won till the next century—also got what likely was the Spanish Flu?
d. Six World Series games, all contested in less than two hours, by the way.
e. Advice of the Week: A really good, timely column on the new normal from longtime sports writer Ashley Fox. A calm, thoughtful 10 things to do to get us through the hard times to come.
f. I liked number 4:
Read. Expand your mind. Pick up a book. Read a newspaper. Educate yourself. Dive deeper into your craft. Disappear in a good novel. One of my kid’s teachers had an excellent suggestion: Schedule family reading time, where everyone sits down and reads at the same time. If you have young children, read to them. Mandate that everyone reads for at minimum 20 minutes and preferably longer. There’s time to expand a child’s reading fluency, and that will serve them well later.
g. We could all use more reading time.
h. Americana Story of the Week: Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch drove from the end of Cardinals spring training in Jupiter, Fla., home to Missouri, and wrote about the 16-hour jaunt. I loved it, but then, I’m a sucker for Americana, you-are-there stories.
i. I cannot believe how great “The Crown” is. You’re getting sick of me raving about it, but the Netflix melodrama around the British throne is so compelling. My wife and I are nine episodes into season two, and if there’s one thing about enforced home-time, it’s the hour (sometimes two) we spend many nights watching Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth, acting on a Streep level. She is incredibly good and true and human.
j. Please, President Trump. Please. Please. Empathy. Just one scintilla of empathy.
k. NBC News’ Peter Alexander to Trump on Friday:
“What do you say to Americans who are scared, though? I guess, nearly 200 dead, 14,000 who are sick, millions, as you witnessed, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”
Trump: “I’d say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say. I think that’s a very nasty question.”
PETER ALEXANDER GAVE YOU A CHANCE, MR. PRESIDENT, TO BE OUR COMFORTER-IN-CHIEF, TO SAY, “I’d say to everyone in America that it’s time to sacrifice, and to do what the government is telling you to do for the good of you and for everyone in the country. We all need to do that. We’re going to have some difficult days, but when we all pull together and do what the medical professionals like Dr. Fauci are telling us to do, we’ll get through this. We’ll get through this, and we’re going to survive it. We’re going to do that because we’re Americans, and we’re a great people, and we’re kind and generous and determined, and we’ve faced some tremendous obstacles in our 244 years as a country, and we’ve conquered them all. I promise you we’ll conquer this one.”
l. By the way, Americans ARE scared. At least many Americans who are paying attention.
m. I look at the petty, chilling, totally inappropriate face-slap at a White House reporter and figure if I’m Joe American, sitting in my living room in Wichita hoping for reassurance and some degree of hope from the president of the United States, we’ve got an immature dim bulb thinking he can sixth-grade name-call his way through the biggest crisis of his presidency. I have zero confidence that he’ll do anything but make things worse.
n. Thank God for Andrew Cuomo.
o. Hero of the Week: She is not your typical hero, but Dr. Michelle Romeo (and so, so many of her peers) deserve so much of our fervent appreciation for their work on the front line of the coronavirus. She’s an ER physician at a New York hospital. Her first-person account in the Washington Post about the dangers ER doctors face is riveting: Romeo wrote:
“I’m on my eighth hour Saturday working in suffocating protective gear — mask, face shield, gown and gloves — when an elderly patient is wheeled into Room 23 of my hospital’s emergency department. He’s confused and gasping for air as his family tells me over the phone that he doesn’t want any ‘heroic measures’ performed: no aggressive resuscitation, no breathing tube. Under normal circumstances, there are a few tricks I might try before I have to put a breathing tube down someone’s airway and connect them to a ventilator, which breathes for them. But now those less-invasive breathing interventions could wind up spraying contagious viral particles into the air, putting my other patients at risk of contracting this patient’s presumed illness, covid-19. So I place a simple breathing mask over his frail face while I watch his oxygen fall below a viable level. At that point, I lock eyes with the supervising ER doctor standing nearby, and he dismally mutters: ‘This is only the beginning.’ “
“He’s right, and that’s my worry. This patient is the first of many who are about to come to us, suffering.
“My colleagues and I are used to reacting in a crisis, working long hours and making life and death decisions — that’s our job. But the coronavirus pandemic is a different kind of test: Every shift is different; guidance is coming from every direction; in some cases, we’re watching people die in front of us; we yearn to be at work, but we’re also trying to keep ourselves alive. We’re doing everything we can, but right now, it doesn’t feel like enough.”
p. How did it come to the point that the life-savers on the front lines of this crisis are having their protective gear rationed?
q. RIP Kenny Rogers. I know he sold more than 100 million records, which is incredible. But when I think of Kenny Rogers, I don’t think of “The Gambler.” I think of Kramer being hooked on Kenny Rogers chicken in Manhattan.
A memo to that
Miami Beach idiot:
Wake up, dillweed. Now.