FMIA: With So Much Unknown, NFL Can Expect Imperfect 2020 Season

So what’s next? The unknown is what’s next. And the unknowable.

In the last month, I’ve tried to explain how different life is in the NFL is these days. A month ago, the NFL was getting used to working at home, with GMs and scouts fumbling with Zoom and stomaching the hard truth that they’d all be alone for the draft. Roger Goodell was realizing he would have to run the draft from the basement of his house. The 49ers were trying to digest the fact that political bosses in their home, Santa Clara, said there probably wouldn’t be sports events there till at least Thanksgiving. Jordan Love wasn’t a controversial household name. Yet. That’s a lot to digest.

The next month? With the calendar turned to May, NFL business motors on with this week’s schedule release—which I do not think is a good idea, because of the decent to good chance that the schedule will need to be adjusted in some way before September. There’s no good reason why the schedule needs to be out now. Why put tickets on sale to September games when no one knows if fans will be allowed to attend them?

That brings me to this week’s column topic: To play this season, the NFL must accept that 2020 could be an imperfect, wholly unfair season. The sooner we accept that, the more we’ll be able to enjoy the most unique season in league history.

The Lead: 2020 Season

Roger Goodell was clear through the scouting and draft process that all things must be equal for all teams; if one team can’t open its facility, then no team can use its facility. Fair enough, and it was actually an unintended and lovely consequence that draft rooms this year were dining rooms and kitchens and home offices, with kids [and one dog] hanging out with GM and coach dads. “It was great to see all 32 teams be as efficient or almost as efficient in the draft while having a lot better quality of life,” said Seattle tight end Greg Olsen—and Americans everywhere seemed to agree.

Talking to smart people in and close to the league in the past few days, I got the impression the idea of an imperfect season is on the minds of many.

“At some point,” one top club executive said, “we’re going to have start accepting inequalities. What happens when teams in four states are told, ‘You can’t have training camp?’ Do those teams not have camp? Do they travel to a state that allows a gathering of 100 or so people to work? Time will tell, but the way it looks now, there’s no way all states are going to be under equal rules by the summer.”

“I’m very confident of a 16-game season with a Super Bowl in February,” said sports-business consultant Marc Ganis of SportsCorp Ltd. Ganis is a confidant of several owners and top league officials. “I didn’t say I was confident in 16 games with a bye, or what week in February the Super Bowl would be, or if every team will play eight games in their home stadiums, or whether there will be fans at every game. There’s more information that’s needed before we have these answers. Teams are just going to have be flexible.”

I put a lot of stock in Ganis’ words, because I know who he knows and I know how much NFL people value his advice. Asterisk to his points: I am not as confident of a 16-game season, nor are a couple of the smart people I spoke with for this column. I won’t be surprised if this is a 12 or 14-game season. But with the scheduled start of the regular season 18 weeks away, that’s a lot of time for many different alternatives to develop, and pressure points to come from all over—including the White House, which clearly wants sports to resume. So we can’t know now what shape the league will take this year, but we can have some ideas to consider.

The Schedule

The caveats of the season make this week’s release of the 256-game slate problematic. I’ve thought all along the new stadium in Los Angeles, SoFi Stadium, would host its first game in Week 1, quite possibly the marquee Cowboys-Rams game, and quite possibly in the NFL’s big Sunday night NBC window. But now with the end of stadium construction slowed due to the coronavirus and the real possibility that no fans would attend the game in a state, California, that has been uber-sensitive to crowds of any sort, would the NFL want to scrub that matchup and instead put the Sunday night opener in a place that is “opening up” more aggressively now?

Cowboys at Rams to open the 2020 season? Too early to say. (Getty Images)

As I’ve said in this space, it’s likely the NFL is making multiple schedules, in the case of a reduction to 14 or 12 or 10 games per team. Even a 16-game schedule could have major changes. It’s possible the schedule gets pushed back a week or four, and maybe the byes eliminated, but we can’t know that now. It’s also possible the league could choose to start four weeks late and simply kick off the schedule with the Week 5 games, beginning Oct. 8 . . . and take Weeks 1 through 4 and put them on the last four weekends in January. That would keep the bye week intact, which is likely important because the players union would fight to keep the in-season week off in place. In that scenario, playoffs would begin Feb. 6 with the Super Bowl on Feb. 28.

When the schedule comes out later this week, the one thing current events have done, most likely, is to make Tampa Bay a national team with new quarterback Tom Brady. I’d be surprised if the Bucs didn’t get scheduled for a prime-time game in Week 1, perhaps in one of the two ESPN windows on Monday.

The Players

I was on a call with reporters in April with the National Football League Players Association’s medical director, Thom Mayer, who was surveying the cloudy landscape. “We’ll go anywhere the science takes us and nowhere the science doesn’t,” Mayer said. “We’re going to look at everything as long as it keeps all 2,500 players safe.” I doubt you’d see any players say they were refusing to play. But if a team, for example, gets four or five positive tests of players, coaches or staff close together, would the league shut down that team and cancel its next game or two?

The Testing

Potentially sensitive. What if each of the 32 teams is testing its players and essential staff twice a week. (Obviously, they’ll have to be tested regularly, to ensure that no COVID-positive person spreads the disease in the close quarters of a football team.) Say that’s 150 people (players, coaches, staff). So 300 tests per week (17) per team (32)—that adds up to 163,000 tests for the regular season. Let’s round up for the full season: 200,000 tests for a sports league to play its full schedule. By August, will there be enough tests so that the NFL doesn’t seem piggish to be using 200,000 that could go to the general public? (Even half that number, 100,000 tests, is a major number if many in the country are going without.)

And teams will have to be willing, in the case of a positive test, to commit to placing that person in quarantine for two weeks. So the Kansas City Chiefs had better be comfortable with Chad Henne playing for two weeks or more if Patrick Mahomes tests positive. The Patriots had better be comfortable with Josh McDaniels coaching the team for two weeks if Bill Belichick tests positive.

The Fans

I could see the NFL, if and when fans are allowed to come to games, advising anyone over 70 to not come. I could see alcohol being banned at games for the year. (Meaning, theoretically, fewer trips to crowded rest rooms through crowded concourses by patrons.) With three teams in California, and Gov. Gavin Newsom having a hair-trigger about anything that draws a crowd, the NFL may have to determine if it’s willing to play games with fans in Tampa Bay, and games with no fans in California, for most of all of the season.

TV and The Media

I won’t be surprised if the major networks have their broadcast teams call games from studios. It wouldn’t be hard, for instance, for FOX to set up producers and directors for games on their massive lots in Los Angeles, and perhaps for CBS to do the same in studios in or near their studios in New York City. I’m sure it’d be weird for Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to sit eight feet apart in a soundproof booth in Hollywood to do a big 49ers-Seahawks doubleheader game, but it was weird for Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht to run a three-day draft from his kids’ spacious toyroom, and he managed pretty well.

As for writers and other media covering games, this might be a season of no trips to team facilities and no press box viewing—but a lot of watching games on TV and Zoom press conferences with coaches and players after the game.

Different Rules

The executive offices for Santa Clara (Calif.) County, Jeffrey Smith, said last month he doesn’t see any sports events in the county—home of the 49ers—until at least Thanksgiving. Could the 49ers at some point have to play games somewhere else? Could the 49ers play an imbalanced schedule, with more games on the road than at home? Think about how the sports landscape has changed in the last six weeks before you say, Absolutely not!

You have to consider that by August—when preparation for a full season would have to begin—that all rules for human contact and the gathering of even small crowds could still be different in some of the 50 states.

So there’s lots to think about. When you see the schedule come out this week, it’s okay to be excited and have anticipation. But don’t get married to it.

“I think you have to look at 2020 as an experimental year that is off-kilter,” one club executive of a major market team told me. “It’s a litmus test is how we adapt.”

Classroom: Chargers

10

This is the first in a series on how NFL teams are conducting their offseason programs, and installing their 2020 plays virtually. Today: the offensive line of the Los Angeles Chargers.

This spring, the NFL allows teams to conduct two hours of classroom work virtually with veteran players four days per week. The period began April 20. The Chargers’ offensive line, with new coach James Campen, meets from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. PT, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and the 13 players convene from various homes in California, Louisiana and Florida. The rookies—four undrafted free-agents—do their work separately in Zoom videoconferencing with Campen and assistant line coach David Diaz-Infante. Via Zoom late Thursday afternoon, I spoke to Campen, center Mike Pouncey (“the real Alpha dog of our group,” Campen said) and free-agent signee Bryan Bulaga, who relocated to the Chargers after 10 Green Bay seasons.

Campen, 55, is entering his 17th season coaching NFL offensive lines, his first with the Chargers. He also played eight seasons in the NFL as a center, 1986-93.

“I actually think it’s easier to do now because of the generation we’re in. They all use Surfaces or iPads. They watch film on the iPad, they get the game plan on the iPad. Parents say, ‘Video games are keeping my kid inside. I don’t like that.’ But that has enhanced the teaching ability in the NFL, because players are so equipped to learn this way now, so equipped to use those things. When we were getting used to Zoom, I taught them how to use the ‘Annotate’ button, so they can write on the screen and everyone can see it, and to not talk over each other, and to mute when they’re not talking. We’ll be learning a play, and I’ll say to Mike, ‘Who’s your assignment here?’ Mike will circle the linebacker.”

Top row, from left to right: tackle Sam Tevi, OL coach James Campen, tackle Koda Martin, center Scott Quessenberry
Second row: tackle Cole Toner, guard Storm Norton, tackle Bryan Bulaga, center Mike Pouncey
Third row: tackle Trey Pipkins, tackle Tyree St. Louis, guard Forrest Lamp, guard Trai Turner
Bottom row: guard Dan Feeney, tackle Trent Scott.

Pouncey, 30, the former first-round pick for Miami, is entering his 10th season. He joined the call from south Florida.

“It’s a different experience. Most of the guys are new. A lot easier to accept guys when they already have the respect factor from playing in the league. Our league is built with alpha dogs. The biggest part for me and Bryan is to be professionals for the young guys who are learning. They’re on these calls, seeing how we learn, how we conduct ourselves. If you’ve been in the league a while, you’ve seen most of these plays. Maybe the terminology is different, but you can learn it pretty fast.

“We got two new guys who’ve played a lot of ball, Bryan and Trai Turner. The veteran transition to the team is a lot easier, because they’re vets. They’re already accepted in our brotherhood. They’re just changing jersey colors. They’ll learn this stuff pretty easily. The whole experience is strange, but it’s the same everywhere.”

Bulaga, 31, was the Packers’ first-round pick in 2010. He joined the call from Bradenton, Fla.

“The biggest adjustment for me is going into a place where I really only knew Camp. [Campen formerly coached the Green Bay line.] You want to be somewhere and get to know them. I didn’t know . . . Am I gonna be able to bond with these guys and earn their respect through a  computer screen? When we get back to the facility, who knows? It’s probably gonna be training camp, maybe a short one, and you won’t have time to build those relationships. We’re gonna have to jump into those things quick. It’s been very good, though, overall. Guys are learning, picking up the playbook. We’re doing the best we can with what we have.

“Being in the league for 10 years, you know how the offensive line bonds. It’s the most unique in every building, I think, because of the personalities. We all log in a little bit early, just to shoot the breeze with the guys for 10, 15 minutes. Maybe you bust balls for 10, 15 minutes. Banter back and forth. Today I got busted up a little bit, because I belong to a country club out here. I don’t see what’s wrong with that. I enjoy golf. Why wouldn’t I enjoy a golf club?”

Campen: “Alpha dog senior leader, you want to respond?”

Pouncey: “From what I hear, it’s more than two that you belong to. We don’t have a clear clarification if it’s three, but it’s definitely two.”

Bulaga: “I’ll clear it up right now. It’s two. Two golf clubs.”

Campen: “You just forget Green Bay?”

Bulaga: “I don’t belong to that club anymore. It’s always only been two.”


Campen teaches a section of the playbook each day. He can open the Chargers offensive playbook and call it to the screen and click on a section for the day. Maybe he’ll teach “Bunch Formations” or “2 X 2 Formations.” He also can click on individual plays. Each has four drawings of the play, with different results based on the read at the line; and each has assignments for all 11 offensive players on the field.

Campen: “There’s always a positive about a very bad thing. This thing makes you interact with the guys. Mike and Bryan are good veterans. Their voices are prevalent in the room, and they’re making sure when they get on the field, they can trust these guys to all be on the same page. We’re not dreading these meetings, at all. It’s very different. The only difference between this and normal is we’re not in a classroom together. But we’re accomplishing what we need to.”

Pouncey: “Maybe we start a new thing. Maybe the first two weeks of this program should be virtual, to protect guys. I’m the union rep for the Chargers. I have really enjoyed the process, made the most of it. Learned a lot of the playbook, probably more than I normally would, because in the building you’d be working out and getting to know the guys.”

Bulaga: “With the situation going on outside, it’s a very difficult time in the country. But for the players, this work has been a positive. Not being in the building has its disadvantages, but I do know I’m also saving my legs a little bit for the season too.”


What have you learned in this process?

Campen: “I can make a screen come to life. I never thought I’d be coaching football this way, on a screen like this. It’s actually been a good experience.”

On Aaron Rodgers

For all attentive to the Aaron Rodgers/Jordan Love saga (who isn’t?) I’d highly recommend this interview Rodgers did with his former teammate and buddy A.J. Hawk on “The HawkCast” podcast. It’s very insightful. Hawk recorded it three weeks ago, and it’s lengthy. What comes through strongly is the high regard Rodgers has for coach Matt LaFleur and his appreciation for the fateful draft drop in 2005 that landed him in Green Bay.

On LaFleur, Rodgers said: “He just cares about [football] so much. He loves the competition part of it. I’m just by nature a little more calm on game days. He’s definitely more amped up. So we’re a good balance for each other. He helps me get into the game mode. When s—’s getting a little bit dicey, I can kind of help him settle down a little bit. We’re a really good balance for each other.” He said he thought LaFleur, as a first-year head coach, “handled himself really well. It was all new for him. He’s doing everything for the first time.”

On falling to the 24th pick in the ’05 draft and going to Green Bay: “It’s the best thing that happened to me. I’m so glad. Who knows what would have happened if I’d gone one [to San Francisco], or three to Cleveland or five to Tampa Bay or eight to Arizona or 15 to New Orleans? Yeah, would have been a lot different. Or 23 to Oakland . . . I get it. I’m so fortunate, and appreciative the way it worked out. And also, I needed a little bit of that humility as well. That’s never a bad thing.”

Three weeks later, I asked Hawk what his friend might be thinking now.

“It does make me wonder now what their relationship will be like,” Hawk said of Rodgers and LaFleur. “I think Aaron’s relationship with Jordan Love will be great. Aaron will be open with him. I think the frustrating part for him, and for the organization, will be this story will not go away after the first press conference for Aaron when the team finally is back together. It’ll keep coming up—not just this year. It probably doesn’t help that [Rodgers and LaFleur] probably won’t be in the same room for a while.”

My take: I don’t think Rodgers should be miffed at LaFleur. I doubt LaFleur pushed for Love. The Green Bay chain of command is crystal clear. The general manager has draft and free-agent authority. The coach coaches the team. I’ve thought LaFleur, steeped in the timing-and-rhythm passing game, would want Rodgers to be more of a timing and rhythm quarterback, getting the ball out quick, instead of sometimes waiting and stringing a play along. Of course, that can be the genius of Rodgers too, waiting and waiting and then making a huge play. But I also don’t think that’s enough for LaFleur to want Rodgers gone.

Rodgers is a smart guy, and he knows this was probably a Brian Gutekunst pick. Will he think LaFleur should have argued against it and lobbied for a receiver instead? (Which he may have done.) Hawk’s right: The best thing for the Packers right now if for LaFleuer and Rodgers to sit in the same room soon, or the same virtual room, and lay all cards on the table. They’ve talked. But have they said everything that needs to be said? If the Packers aren’t in the same place till, say, August, that’s a long time for feelings to harden.  And if the Packers are serious about being more of a power team, as taking a 247-pound back in the second round and a tight end in the third might indicate, that’s something LaFleur and his quarterback need to discuss at length. Green Bay’s pass-run ratio last year was 59.8-40.2 percent. Going closer to 50-50 would be neutering one of the best passers in the game. All things that will make the Green Bay camp—if there’s going to be one—the most interesting in football to monitor this summer, or fall.

On The Trades

20

Fleshing out some notable trades, including some of the major ones but not the Jalen Ramsey or Laremy Tunsil deals yet because too much uncertainty remains in terms of 2021 draft picks:

THE Khalil Mack TRADE

Chicago traded first and sixth-round picks in 2019 and first and third-round picks in 2020 for pass-rusher Khalil Mack and second and seventh-round picks in 2020.

Mack played hurt last year; his 21 sacks in 30 Chicago games would have been higher if he’d been healthy. He’s still the best player in this deal. If Kmet’s a good NFL tight end, the win here will go to Chicago. That’s a big if. Jacobs will be Jon Gruden’s feature back for the next three years, most likely. Moreau’s a usable tight end and good value pick. Arnette seemed a reach at the 19th overall pick this year, but we’ll see.

THE DeForest Buckner TRADE

San Francisco traded defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to Indianapolis for a first-round pick, 13th overall.

  • Indianapolis got a top-three NFL defensive tackle and paid Buckner like one: four years, $84 million.
  • San Francisco, after trading down one spot in the first round, picked defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.

The Niners, assuming they end up paying defensive end Nick Bosa, knew they couldn’t pay top dollar to five defensive linemen and thus jettisoned Buckner. Added benefit: GM John Lynch traded down one spot, still got Kinlaw and got the ammo to trade up for wideout Brandon Aiyuk in round one. The Colts got a 26-year-old top-tier defensive tackle, a must in their D, in his prime. Good deal for both teams, if Kinlaw can be the stout space-eater San Francisco is counting on.

Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. (Getty Images)

THE MINKAH FITZPATRICK/Ryan Tannehill INTERTWINED TRADES

In 2019, Miami traded QB Ryan Tannehill and a sixth-round pick to Tennessee for a fourth-round pick in 2020 and a seventh-round pick in 2019. Miami traded safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Tennessee’s fourth-round pick this year to Pittsburgh for first and fifth-round picks this year and a sixth-round pick next year.

  • Miami got the player who better be their left tackle of the future, USC’s Austin Jackson, and a fifth-round defensive end, Jason Strawbridge.
  • Tennessee got Tannehill and a backup linebacker, David Long Jr.
  • Pittsburgh got Fitzpatrick and a guard from Louisiana, Kevin Dotson.

Three big players in this trade. Tannehill had the highest passer rating in the NFL since 2013 after replacing Marcus Mariota last year; his play enabled the Titans to pass on chasing Tom Brady as a bridge QB. The versatile Fitzpatrick played all but three snaps in his 14 Steelers games after the September trade with Miami and was PFF’s 15th-rated safety in the league. There’s pressure on Jackson, who started 25 games at left tackle for the Trojans, to replace the departed Laremy Tunsil for the long term in Miami. If Tannehill keeps it up, this trade’s a steal for Tennessee.

THE Stefon Diggs TRADE

Buffalo traded first, fifth and sixth-round picks and a fourth-round pick in 2021 to Minnesota for wide receiver Stefon Diggs and a seventh-round pick.

  • Buffalo traded a boatload for a receiver with an average NFL season of 73 catches, 925 yards and six TDs in Diggs.
  • Minnesota got Diggs’ replacement, LSU wideout Justin Jefferson, with the 22nd pick in the draft, then traded the other two picks for fourth and fifth-round picks in the 2021 draft.

If Diggs can be a legit WR1 for the Bills in the next two or three years, the trade’s a good one for Buffalo. He may well be, but anything less than top-10 receiver production would be disappointing, particularly if Jefferson becomes a consistent producer in Minnesota. For the Vikings, who made a league-high 15 picks this year, the Diggs trade adds two fourth- round picks and a fifth in 2021 to one of the best-regarded wideouts this year, Jefferson.

THE Montez Sweat TRADE

Indianapolis traded its first-round pick in 2019 to Washington for second-round picks in 2019 and 2020. The Colts turned the 2020 second into second and fifth-round picks.

  • Washington got Sweat, who looks like he’ll be part of the long-term bookend rush unit with 2020 first-round pick Chase Young.
  • Indianapolis got USC wideout Michael Pittman this year, plus defensive end Ben Banogu and cornerback Marvell Tell last year.

Sweat had a good seven-sack rookie year in Washington and is being counted on to be a legit rush threat opposite Young. For Indy, the two picks last year were about 30-percent players in 2019 and they did okay. This deal is tied to the performance of the big USC wideout. Pittman was one of coach Frank Reich’s favorite players in the draft and the Colts are counting on him in a big way.

THE DeAndre Hopkins TRADE

Houston traded Hopkins and a fourth-round pick to Arizona for running back David Johnson, a second-round pick in 2020 and a fourth-round pick in 2021.

  • Houston got Johnson and defensive tackle Ross Blacklock this year, and the fourth-rounder next year.
  • Arizona got Hopkins and defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence.

The only way this trade isn’t a disaster for Houston is if Johnson approximates his 2016 form. Four years is a liftetime for a back, so this looks like a clear win for Hopkins and the Cardinals.

THE Rob Gronkowski TRADE

New England traded Gronkowski plus a seventh-round pick to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round pick. The Patriots packaged that fourth-round pick to the Raiders in a larger deal for a third-round pick.

  • New England got tight end Devin Asiasi from UCLA with the 91st overall pick as the main piece.
  • Tampa Bay got Gronkowski and linebacker Chapelle Russell.

Who knows what the battered but rested Gronk will have left after 19 months away from football. It’s a gamble that only has a high price if the Bucs squander one of their two good tight ends in the process of giving the future Hall of Famer his snaps. Asiasi had one year of decent college production at UCLA and plays well in space for a 279-pounder.

THE Leonard Williams TRADE 

The Jets, in a rare Giants/Jets deal, traded defensive lineman Leonard Williams to the Giants at the deadline last October for a third-round pick in 2020 and a fifth-round pick next year.

  • The Giants got Williams for a half-season test drive in 2019 and made him their franchise player in 2020.
  • The Jets got safety Ashtyn Davis from Cal with the 68th pick and have the Giants’ fifth-rounder next year.

Williams will earn either $16.1 million or $17.8 million in 2020, depending on whether he’s classified as a tackle or end. Either way, that’s a huge price to pay for an underachieving sixth overall pick in 2015. Davis is an intriguing prospect, very fast and not well known, and the Jets fell in love with him in the scouting process.

Quotes of the Week

I

“I’m working as an ‘orderly.’ I graduated with my doctorate in medicine but I’m not in the residency program. I’m doing a little bit of nurse tasks, handing out medication, making sure the patients are alright. … They need people, and that’s why I’m here right now.”

—Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who has a medical degree and is working at a nursing home in Quebec during the COVID-19 outbreak.

More from Duvernay-Tardif, as told to Sport Illustrated’s Greg Bishop: “I’m working in a long-term care facility right now, so the average patient is closer to 80 years old. I haven’t really been exposed to a lot of geriatric patients in most of my medical studies, so it’s really a different mindset. In a time of crisis there are so many extra steps you have to take in order to protect yourself and also to protect your patients. We are wearing our visors and our masks all day long during the whole shift, washing our hands frequently.”

II

“At some point it will rear its ugly head.”

—Brett Favre, to Rich Eisen on “The Rich Eisen Show,” on Aaron Rodgers’ reaction in the near or long-term future on Green Bay drafting a quarterback, Jordan Love, in the first round of the draft.

III

“I think that Aaron will finish [his career] somewhere else.”

—Favre, to Eisen.

IV

“It was an Al Davis move. I was not losing this player. Our organization felt the same way, and we just went out and made it happen.”

—Saints coach Sean Payton, to me, on trading for a pick late in the seventh round that enabled New Orleans to draft Taysom Hill-like quarterback Tommy Stevens of Mississippi State. (More on this in number 8 of 10 Things I Think I Think.)

V

“In this new world you can get done what you want to get done. But you can’t get the guys on the grass. We’re putting it in, but you’ve got to rep it.”

—Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, on the challenges of installing an offense by videoconference without being able to walk or jog through the plays on the field.

VI

“I’ve gotten to catch up on all the different shows, watched ‘Ozark.’ I’ve watched ‘Westworld.’ About to start the ‘Outer Banks’ show. I’ve literally caught up with everything on Netflix.”

—Patrick Mahomes, on what he’s been doing on lockdown.

Numbers Game

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One of the hidden stories of this draft is the value of new Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins, and how he compares to the last very high-achieving Buckeyes running back:

Zeke vs Dobbins

Elliott, overall pick in 2016 NFL Draft: 4.
Dobbins, overall pick in 2020 NFL Draft: 55.

They’re different backs, but not altogether; Elliott, at 225, can run power better than the 209-pound Dobbins. But Dobbins’ 23 bench-press reps of 225 pounds (fifth-best of any back in Indianapolis) at the combine opened a few eyes, and the Ravens believe he will be a good runner between the tackles.

This draft continued the devaluation of the running back. It’s a fairly consistent trend. Derrick Henry (45th pick in 2016), Jonathan Taylor (41st pick this year), Alvin Kamara (67th pick in 2017) and Dobbins (55th this year) going so low would not have happened early this century. In the 10 drafts from 2001 to 2010, NFL teams picked 21 backs in the top 25 of the draft. In the 10 drafts from 2011 to 2020, only eight backs went in the top 25.

I also wonder about another factor: the traditionalists who made the last three high running-back picks. In 2017, Jacksonville VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin picked Leonard Fournette fourth overall, and Carolina GM Dave Gettleman picked Christian McCaffrey eighth. Then Gettleman got fired, and the Giants hired him as GM late in the 2017 season. In 2018, Gettleman picked Saquon Barkley second overall. Where do those three players go in those drafts if GMs with a more analytic bend (translated: don’t think it’s smart to take a running back so high) were running those teams?

The draft is risky business at all positions; we see that every year. But with so many productive backs taken after round one, taking running backs very high could be a philosophy headed for extinction.

Factoidness

I

Athletes First, based in southern California, is one of the dominant agencies representing NFL players and coaches.

Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur is repped by Athletes First.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is repped by Athletes First.

Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love is repped by Athletes First.

II

Regular-season quarterback records from 2011 to 2015:

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati: 77 starts, 50-26-1.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore: 74 starts, 43-31.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: 71 starts, 44-27.

Think quarterback wins are valueless? I don’t. But if you do, look at regular-season records from 2011 to 2015: Cincinnati 52-27-1, Pittsburgh 49-31, Baltimore 45-35. The Bengals did not have a run of respectability like that since the Ken Anderson/Boomer Esiason years in the eighties.

Of course, Dalton’s Achilles came in January. Dalton’s Bengals never won a playoff game in Cincinnati, and the Steelers and Ravens won plenty.

King of the Road

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I miss the travel note. So, until I start traveling again, I am going to do a few of my greatest hits.

CLASSIC TRAVEL NOTE

November 2000

SEATTLE — Early on Sunday morning, a leashed dog exited the left elevator of the south elevator bank at the Seattle Westin, followed by a participant on his way to the Seattle Marathon. The dog left three steaming calling cards in the elevator.

You can’t make this up. 

Tweets of the Week

I

Jason Fitzgerald, NFL contracts expert, is the founder the Over The Cap.

II

Monson analyzes the NFL for Pro Football Focus.

III

Woody, the former NFL center, works for ESPN.

He’s right. Check out the Jets’ schedule. They could conceivably go 0-5 in their five non-division road games (Chiefs, Chargers, Rams, Seahawks, Colts), and the Niners and resurgent Cards and Broncos come to New Jersey.

IV

Simon, the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, has been doing the show from his Chicago home.

V

Smith is the managing editor of Pro Football Talk.

Newman!

50

Send your mail to me at peterkingfmia@gmail.com, or on Twitter.

Not an Andy Dalton fan. From Aleksander Egebjerg, via Twitter: “Love how [you] emphasize wins as a product of Dalton’s play, when clearly Dalton lost more games than he won. Top 5 defense, top 3 OL, top 5 skill position. And no playoff victories. He was never any better than average and held one of the best Cincy teams back.”

I checked your assertions, Aleksander. Let’s go over them:

• Dalton was 70-61-2 as a starter in the regular season, 70-65-2 including playoffs.

• Bengals defensive ranks (yards allowed) in Dalton’s first seven seasons, when he started 16 games six times and 13 once: 7, 6, 3, 22, 11, 17, 18. In those seven seasons, Cincinnati was in the top five in scoring defense once.

• In those seven seasons, left tackle Andrew Whitworth was first-team All-Pro once and second-team once. No other Bengals offensive lineman showed up on the Associated Press All-Pro first or second teams in those seven years.

• In those seven seasons, A.J. Green was second-team All-Pro twice. No other Cincinnati receiver, back or tight end was first or second-team All-Pro in those seven years.

• You did get one thing right. He was 0-4 in the playoffs.

Dalton’s four abysmal playoff games make him a fair target; he never lifted the Bengals in January the way he lifted them in the regular season, and so you can’t call him a top quarterback in his era, or close. But teams don’t win 52 games in five seasons (Cincinnati’s win total from 2011 to 2015, Dalton’s first five years) when the quarterback is an innocent bystander.

Thanks. From Baruch Gitlin: “I’ve been reading and enjoying your column for many years. But this week’s FMIA was one of my all-time favorites. Your description of the draft from Jason Licht’s house really made me feel like I was there. I loved all the little details, particularly the trade discussions. What motivates someone like Jason Licht to allow you into his work space, and to trust you, on what is probably the busiest and most pressure-filled day of his work year? For me, this would be almost unthinkable. I work in one of the most obscure jobs on the planet (technical writer), and even so, I don’t even like my cats invading my workspace. How do you get him to let you in?”

So nice of you, Baruch. Thanks a lot. I had been in nine draft rooms over the years, to tell the inside story of a specific team’s draft. But I felt like this season was particularly important, because this could the most unique draft in modern NFL history, with GMs picking alone from their homes, connected to their staffs by videoconference only. So I reached out to several teams, getting shot down by all but two.

I pushed hard with the last two, Tampa Bay and another team. I explained that this draft would be historic. I said to the two GMs I was talking to, essentially, If you’re really confident in your plan, and you’re confident in your relationship with your scouts and the head coach, and you’re comfortable with working this new technology seamlessly, how great would it be to have a journalistic record of exactly what happened on the strangest night of your professional career? One GM finally said no. Jason Licht said yes. It helped that the Bucs’ VP of communications, Nelson Luis, was on board. It probably helped that I have good relationships with Licht—he’s a big craft beer guy—and Bruce Arians.

And I think this draft was important to Licht for another reason: It was his first since the most important man in his life died. His father and inspiration died last fall, and I thought it was significant that he had the RON LICHT nameplate from his dad’s job at an irrigation company on his desk; I could see he felt he would have his father with him in spirit that night, and I wanted to make that point too.

Nine times out of 10 I fail when I look to embed with a team. It is certainly a leap of faith for a team to do it, and I always understand when they say no. I’m grateful when one says yes. I appreciate Licht and the Bucs being open to the process.

The Packers blew it. From Francisco, of Brazil: “You didn’t criticize and seemed to give Gutekunst the benefit of the doubt about his selection of Jordan Love, but your own column seems to have the answer for what this pick really was: horrendous. About the 49ers draft: ‘In sum, Lynch filled his three vital needs on one weekend with playoff-caliber players. That’s what excellent GMs do.’ What Gutekunst did here doesn’t seem to be what excellent GMs do. He should be doing what John Elway did when the Broncos signed Peyton Manning: be aggressive in free-agency and the draft to try to win a final Super Bowl with your Hall of Fame quarterback. We can safely say now the Packers have wasted Rodgers’s prime and final years.”

Thanks, Francisco. You’re right; I could have been tougher on Gutekunst, and I probably would have been—but the last two times a Packers GM did what he did it worked out well for the franchise. I understand the anger of fans and would have praised the Packers for drafting a Tee Higgins there. But if you were a fan of the Packers in 2005, how did you feel when the Packers, coming off three straight division titles and three straight ignominious playoff exits, drafted a quarterback in the first round? And in 1992, how did the Packer fans feel when a new GM traded his initial first-round pick for a former second-round pick who hadn’t won the starting job in Atlanta? Both of those moves resulted in Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and Green Bay has something no team in football has over the past quarter-century: unquestioned quarterback superiority for two football generations. Did they pick a quarterback a year or two early and needlessly nettle Rodgers? Likely so, but time will tell.

Not bad, actually. From N.D. Armour: “How did you do on your mock draft?”

Pretty good. Much better than I expected. Had 10 of 32 in correct slot (Burrow, Young, Brown, Simmons, Henderson, Wills, Becton, Kinlaw, Jeudy, Wilson) and 11 to correct team (Burrow, Young, Okudah, Brown, Simmons, Henderson, Wills, Becton, Jeudy, Jackson, Wilson), but only 24 of 32 in the round. In 2019, I hit eight in slot, nine to team, and 26 in the round. So this was a better year overall, surprisingly. When I filed the mock on the Sunday afternoon/evening before the draft, I felt I’d thrown darts more than usual because so many people who usually were in the know were shaky this year. So I was pleased with the numbers.

Respect the process. From Sachin Petro, of Drexel University: “I have a question for you from a rising college senior in Philly: What is your writing process like? Specifically, what’s your process to writing FMIA weekly? I myself enjoy writing, but I am working to build a writing process that limits my frequent writer’s block. I’m an avid fan of your column, so I thought I’d ask.”

Thanks for the email, Sachin. Because I’ve never been in the Frank Deford/Gary Smith writers’ league, I don’t have too much of an ego about my writing. Don’t mistake that from not caring about my writing; I do, deeply. But I probably agonized over structure and imagery a little more when I was writing for Sports Illustrated. For a kid who never dreamed he’d write for the magazine he’d been reading since his 10th birthday, I always felt honored to write there, and I always felt a certain don’t-f-this-up weight in the job. I think about the writing and the structure that will work in a more informal (but no less newsworthy) column like this, and maybe it’s because I’ve been doing it for so long, but I don’t struggle with the writing as much.

As far as the process, I write it over two or three days; in the last four columns I’ve written (not including this one), I’ve averaged about 12,000 words—and you just can’t do that all in one day. I usually start with a few things I know I’ll want to use and write maybe 1,000 words Thursday and 1,000 Friday, and then sit down on Saturday and try to get about 4,000 done (offseason) and maybe 2,000 (in-season). If I could give you three pieces of advice, Sachin, they would be:

1. For me, and in no way is this a blanket statement for all writers, writer’s block is an excuse. When you’re stuck, don’t make a big deal of it, and don’t overthink. Write a sentence. Then write another one. One of the best writers of our time, Philip Roth, wrote beautifully, and he also wrote most often in simple declarative sentences. “The first time I saw Brenda she asked me to hold her glasses” is the first sentence of “Goodbye, Columbus.” You can do that; we all can. We probably won’t be Philip Roth (you might be, but not I) but we all can communicate with our words. Brick by brick, your story will come together.

2. Always remember that you are the link between a story and the reader. Don’t get in the way. Be the storyteller. Think of the most important details of the story, and tell those. Then tell the lesser details. And keep going until you’ve told the story so that the reader will know as much as you do. That’s the goal.

3. When you can (and on deadline this is not always possible), walk away from the story when you’ve finished writing. Eat something. Play a video game. Watch TV for an hour. Then go back to the story and read it again. You will find 10 ways to either make it better or to correct a mistake.

Good luck, Sachin.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think I’d still make the Saints starting QB job Taysom Hill’s to lose, when the 2021 season opens, if Brees indeed retires. This gap year for Jameis Winston in New Orleans will be a challenge for him to prove he can switch from the mistake-prone guy he’s been for five years into an efficient player. And this increases the challenge for Hill to prove he deserves the faith Sean Payton has placed in him.

Having had multiple conversations with Payton about his future quarterback plans, I know he believes Hill has a chance to be a Steve Young type in and out of the pocket, but until he does it, that’s all just a educated feeling for Payton. I know Payton will not stand for a quarterback who turns it over like Winston has. (Picks since 2015: Winston 88, Drew Brees 43.)

Here’s the problem as I see it: If Brees starts every game this season, how will Payton really know what he has in Winston, and whether Winston’s made any progress on the turnovers? He recruited Winston hard for one reason, I believe: He wants another quarterback to look at, to be insurance in case he gets to the end of this season and doesn’t really know if Hill is his long-term answer.

Problem is, of course, Payton may not see much of either behind center this year if Brees is an ironman. So this is a chemistry experiment. Making the QB decision after the season is why the Saints pay Payton the big bucks.

2. I think when Tom Pelissero reported the Bears would not pick up the fifth-year option on quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s contract, it was the least-surprising news of the week. How could they guarantee Trubisky a hefty salary in 2021 when they don’t even know if they’ll want him on the team in a year?

3. I think it’s always an informative time conversing with Niners GM John Lynch. We talked on my podcast this week. The nuggets from that interview:

• Niners had CeeDee Lamb and Brandon Aiyuk “very evenly matched” atop their receiver board.

• Lynch: “I think it was two days before the draft, I said to Kyle, you know what? I know people might raise some eyebrows, but I really don’t care. At 13, if we get stuck and we can’t trade out, I’d be perfectly happy taking Aiyuk. And he said, I’m so glad you said that ‘cause I feel the same way! I think we knew at that point that he had really become a guy that we had become intrigued with. I think the combination of strength and speed and separation ability and then the advantage, I think in a year like this, you have to trust relationships more than ever before. [Arizona State coach] Herm Edwards, he’s the godparent to my youngest daughter. I’m his son’s godparent. He coached me for a long time. One of my closest friends in the world. I called Herm and I said, ‘Herm, give me the skinny on this kid.’ One of the things he talked about is just how competitive and how important it was for Brandon to be great. That spoke to me and spoke to us.”

• Sounds like the Niners will join others in the league in letting scouts and coaches, pre-draft, work more at home than before—that’s how efficient the virtual process has been this spring. Lynch: “They [coaches and scouts] can be so productive at home. In a traditional year, when your kids are at school, you can get a lot done. I think it makes for happier home life as well. One of the stresses on this job is how time intensive it is. If we can alleviate some of that and still get our job done, and maybe even have an inkling you can even do it better, then why not incorporate that into what you do? So Kyle and I have already talked about that. I think here in the next week, while it’s fresh on our mind, we’re gonna incorporate a lot of those things that we’re gonna change moving forward. One of the most interesting things Kyle and I talked about . . . When you’re doing these virtual meetings, only one person can talk at once. If we’re in the draft room and we’re watching film, everyone’s face is on the screen. We can see everyone’s reaction! When you saw something and some scout’s rolling his eyes, like, He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You can see all that [laughter] both good and bad, which is great. You want everyone’s honest assessment.”

New Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton. (Getty Images)

4. I think that is a brilliant signing by the Cowboys, getting Andy Dalton for one year between $3 million and $7 million. You might think I’m overstating “brilliant,” but Dalton is a solid football guy, a football-loving, shut-up-and-play guy who will be good either playing or backing up and supporting Dak Prescott. He won’t be great. But tell me which backups in the NFL are great? And tell me which backups in the NFL quarterbacked their teams to the playoffs five times? Smart signing, particularly when the Prescott fate is so uncertain. If Prescott boycotts the offseason program in his contract stalemate and Dalton is there every day, who knows? Would Mike McCarthy dare start Dalton when the real games start? I doubt it, but it’s a storyline to follow.

5. I think, speaking of the new Cowboy, I want to do a bit of an appreciation here for his Cincinnati career. The four things Bengals fans should be grateful for in the last decade:

• Think back to the 2011 draft. The Bengals were on a run of one over-.500 season in the previous five. The Bengals, at the time, had a star-crossed recent history of quarterback-drafting, including David Klinger (sixth overall, 1991), Akili Smith (third, 1999) and Carson Palmer (first, 2003; a success, but beaten down by Bengaldom). And so in 2011, with Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder going 8-10-12 in the draft, and entering the second round with TCU’s Andy Dalton and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick still on the board, the Bengals, with the 35th overall pick, took the Red Rifle from the town where Roger Clemens lived—Katy, Texas. It’s one of the best value picks the franchise has made in the last decade, easily.

• In his first five seasons, Dalton led the Bengals to the playoffs each year. He was 0-4 in those playoff games, hurt in one of those seasons. So let me ask you this, Bengal fans: If I’d said to you on draft weekend 2011 that the quarterback you picked in the second round would get your team to the playoffs five years in a row and would win 50 games in those five years—and that quarterback would never win a playoff game—would you sign for it? I believe any fan of a downtrodden team would.

• There was never one time in eight years as a Bengal that Dalton did anything on or off the field that was bush league, anything that would make you ashamed to have him be your quarterback.

• It got ugly at the end. Dalton lost 14 of his last 16 starts in Cincinnati. Did Dalton blame anyone? (Maybe he did, quietly, but I never heard anything like that.) Did he quietly in the locker room wonder why this guy or that guy was slow to come back from an injury, or any such cancerous chatter? Not that I know of. He took his medicine, made his money, and came back the next day trying to win. Yes, he had a talent ceiling. But he never made an excuse.

6. I think I would ask you one other thing: If Joe Burrow wins 50 games in his first five years and made the playoffs each year, would the fans applaud Burrow? I think so.

7. I think, if I ran an NFL team, and I really was skeptical about my backup quarterback’s ability to play a few winning games, I’d concentrate on finding a competent backup, and now. What happens if you play games and the starter is asymptomatic but tests positive for the virus one week and has to be quarantined for 14 days? You can call that a ridiculous suggestion, but lots of things that seems ridiculous two months ago are fact today.

8. I think this is my Football Story of the Week: From Jeff Duncan of The Athletic, the great tale of how the Saints wrangled a so-so college quarterback, Tommy Stevens of Mississippi State, from the Carolina Panthers.

9. I think it’s good to see the league, via Mike Florio’s reporting, emphasize that undrafted free agents cannot reach agreement with any team before the end of the draft. The only way the league will be able to enforce this and make it a real rule is to hit offending teams hard. It’s always been one of the league’s most flouted rules, agreeing to deals with undrafted guys before the draft ends and signing that night. If the league really wants it to stop, a hefty fine to a confirmed offender would go a long way toward stopping it.

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

a. Newspaper Idea of the Week: The Wall Street Journal, with a section of virtual college graduations speeches from some smart people, including Nikki Haley and Bill and Melinda Gates: “Commencement advice for a moment of crisis.” It’s a sort of “What I’d say if I were giving a commencement address this spring” section, and it was very good. Two passages I loved:

Humorist Dave Barry: “I won’t sugar-coat this: You’re graduating in a depressing and scary time. So I will begin with some words from Abraham Lincoln, who in 1861, during another dark time in our history—a time when people desperately needed a reason to hope—said, quote: ‘Well, THIS sucks.’ ”

Senator Sherrod Brown: “Don’t just applaud workers in grocery stores and nursing homes and Amazon warehouses—fight for the dignity of their work. Join AmeriCorps and work with other public health workers to combat this pandemic and prevent the next one. And then become the nurses and doctors and community health workers who build a health system for all, erasing the huge gaps and health disparities we have allowed to fester. Use science to help us meet the challenges of climate change. Take your newly acquired skills to help us remake and rebuild the kind of economy that you want, with the values of inclusion and fair play that your generation already represents. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. admonished us, ‘Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.’ It’s up to us. Graduates, it’s up to you.”

b. Two radio stories of the week, both involving what colleges and universities should do this fall, both from NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

c. Brown University president Christina Paxson, on why schools should be in session beginning this fall. The interesting part, to me, is how Brown is already housing students who had nowhere to go when the academic year was forced to end early.

d. Elissa Nadworthy, on accepted students and their plans for the fall being thrown into chaos. Part of Nadworthy’s script:

With some 26 million additional Americans now out of work, paying for college in many families looks a lot different than it did when students applied for financial aid, often back in the fall.

Sydnee Hrachovina, a high school senior at Onekama High School in western Michigan, says she’s been dreaming about going to Michigan State University since she was little. When she got accepted in December, “It was the greatest Christmas present ever!”

But now, she’s trying to figure out how to pay for it. Her two summer jobs, as a nanny and working at the ice cream store in town, aren’t looking like they’ll happen this summer. So she and her mom are looking into appealing her financial aid offer, thinking maybe MSU will offer more financial aid.

e. I really feel for these kids, and I hope their freshman years in college are not ruined the way their senior years in high school have been.

f. Obit of the Week: Steve Politi of NJ Advance Media on the death of a man he never met, Peter Cave. From Guyana to Orange, N.J., the life and hard times of a corona victim who died alone and was buried without family at the graveside:

“The rest of the family, including their mother, Cave’s girlfriend, an aunt and a cousin, had scrambled to find a spot to watch at an adjacent apartment complex. They peered over an opaque white fence as his casket was lowered into the ground.

“I kept looking over at them during the four-minute funeral, standing in the rain more than a football field away, as their loved one was put to rest. The whole scene was so cruel. We all know that when we die, the world keeps spinning. But, at the very least, our own little worlds pause as our family and friends say goodbye.

“Not now. COVID-19 has not only robbed us of so many people in our lives, but it has stolen our ability to mourn them and eulogize them.”

g. I love the crossover-to-the-real-world work some sportswriters have done during the pandemic: Politi in New Jersey, Kent Baab of the Washington Post, notably on a Texan who just had to help in New York, and Robert Klemko of the Post, on the front lines in Seattle.

h. This week’s sign that (well, I won’t steal the apocalypse thing here) we’re really messed up: Gavin Evans of Culture, with a headline that’s as scary as the story: “Georgia Drops Driving Test Requirement for License Due to Pandemic.” Writes Evans:

“Under a new executive order given by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, teenagers within the Peach State will no longer need to pass a formal driving test in order to secure a driver’s license. Instead they’ll just have to get the ‘A-okay’ from their parents. Like roughly 80 percent of news these days, this development is related to the COVID-19 pandemic. All other driving requirements will still have to be met by young Georgians, but the final road test conducted by an instructor (who sweats like crazy, cranks up the A/C, and points all the fans at himself…at least when I took it) will be chopped. This new/easier process will be in place as the Department of Driver Services carries out social distancing policies during the pandemic. Those policies make the road tests that require a shared vehicle unworkable, so the state’s decided to just drop them altogether. That means parents are on the honor system to make the decision whether or not their child’s ready for a license.”

i. I mean, what could go wrong?

j. I have not followed closely the equal-pay-for-women dispute between the U.S. Soccer Federation and the World Cup champion U.S. women’s national team. But I was disappointed to see that California judge dismiss the women’s argument for equal pay with the men’s team Friday—even though U.S. Soccer acknowledges the women have earned more cumulatively than the men’s team in the years covered by the legal action, per Andrew Das of the New York Times.

k. Here’s the way I look at it: The U.S. women are world champs. We have the most dominant team in the world. There have been eight women’s World Cups, and we have won four of them, including the last two. There have been 21 men’s FIFA World Cups. We have never won. We have never finished second. So, four wins for the women, zero for the men. Now, how many men on the U.S. National Team can you name? Any? Maybe Christian Pulisic. (I couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup, but I do know who he is.) How many women can you name? I can think of five: Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle.

l. I can also think of one of the fun spectator things I did last summer. While on vacation with my wife in England, we stopped in a pub to see the U.S. women play France on a Friday night during the World Cup in France. We won, and our table went nuts. I’m sure I’d be excited if the U.S. men played in a big World Cup game, but when is the last time we were competitive in the World Cup? Maybe the 1-1 tie with England in 2010 in South Africa; I’m no Grant Wahl, so I don’t have a great memory for that stuff. But my point is simple: The women’s team is more noted and is the best team in the world, and is certainly more popular in the United States. What would be more interesting right now—to watch our men lose to Brazil 2-0 or to watch our women scratch and claw out a 2-1 win over France? I know what I’d rather watch. Pay the women.

m. I watch only about seven minutes of horse racing every year. But those two minutes I missed, we missed, from Kentucky on Saturday . . . a bummer.

n. Column of the Week: Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post, writing on the excellent Alex Smith doc on ESPN, comes to a smart conclusion: Athletes, at least most of them, just have a different level of commitment to return from injuries than most of the rest of us.

o. Is it too much to ask in the United States of America that people armed with machine guns not be allowed inside a state capitol?

p. It’s too much? Oh, okay. I thought so.

q. Anybody else miss baseball badly? It was 70 and cloudless in New York on Saturday. I would worked on this column much of the day, got a dog-walker for Chuck, talked my wife Ann into getting on the subway (would not have been hard on a day like this) with me around 5:30 and headed to Citi Field to see Braves-Mets, maybe Foltynewicz-deGrom but it wouldn’t have mattered who was on the hill. I would have had three Blue Point ales (or whatever the local thing is this year at the Mets games), gotten a bag of peanuts, kept score, and stayed to the end, not caring a bit who wins—only rooting for Freddie Freeman, the first baseman on my rotisserie team, to go four-for-four with two jacks. That is a quality evening in my book.

r. Was, I should say. Or will be again soon, I hope.

The Adieu Haiku

40

Hello Dak. Feel that
hot breath of Andy Dalton?
Message from Jerry.

26 responses to “FMIA: With So Much Unknown, NFL Can Expect Imperfect 2020 Season

  1. We appreciate that higher-end QBs are the most valuable asset in the NFL, but it’s very strange that we assign so much credit for wins to them. You can rather easily see with the same QB how much of a difference a weaker versus stronger supporting cast makes, just as we have seen so many talented young QBs flounder while developing bad habits on bad teams while the smoothest starts to careers (Roethlisberger, Wilson, Prescott) come in strong supporting casts. Underrate Dalton’s help all one might, but the fact is that he had an underrated head coach, an underrated (and firmly top ten for a number of years) defense doing the work on the other side, a reliable OL setting up predictable blocking, and a very nice collection of weapons (when did All Pro teams become the standard for judging high quality unit play?). Dalton was dropped into a situation that was coming together as he arrived, and was handed one of the five or so most special WR prospects of the past decade or so that very same season to develop a rapport with. He became a very sturdy QB, but the fact is that the team was “only” a contender, but never close to a favorite, under him when the team talent was strong, and has floundered under him (when he should still be in his prime) with a weak supporting cast.

    Dalton is a great guy and has made the most of his talents, but are we really just going to slap the wins achieved during the earlier part of his career onto him? And when it comes to presenting that a previously moribund franchise should have been happy to have him all this time, are we going to ignore that having him on hand meant that team couldn’t pursue landing a true, higher-quality franchise QB? With his Bengal career in the rear view mirror, we can now see than a championship would have been only the longest of shots under him, if the front office could have loaded the roster around him.

  2. The league is going full steam ahead thinking if the NFLPA decides not to risk the health of their players, the league thinks they will win a PR battle. They might also be hoping for a financial concession even though it’s not in the CBA. It’s actually a PR nightmare for both sides. Anything short of a joint agreement is lose-lose. The smart move for both sides is to pause the schedule release and everything that follows. Everyone wants football but I don’t think anyone is naive enough to think we’re out of the woods. A full slate of games just isn’t realistic and no one wants to stop the season like the NBA did.

  3. I can see NFL teams in Texas and Florida having the advantage as both of those states have pushed aggressively to open up. Gov Desantis and Gov Abbott have done a tremendous job in working to get things moving again and getting their state’s economies back in motion.

  4. Hey Peter, I never realized that the release of the schedule was in conjunction with ticket sales. Why can’t they release they schedule and put ticket sales on hold?

  5. Even if your team has been down in the dumps, doesn’t mean you should settle for postseason mediocrity. Dalton was never a top 10 QB in the league. And Cincinnati had assembled a roster that was top 10 in the NFL, on offense as well as defense. Talent enough to make a run at the Super Bowl, for a couple years.

    They just couldn’t overcome their QB or their HC.

  6. “If Kmet’s a good NFL tight end, the win here will go to Chicago… Arnette seemed a reach at the 19th overall pick.”

    There always has to be a winner, huh? As a Bears’ fan, I feel lucky to watch Mack play every Sunday. The Raiders’ fans will brag about Jacobs, but I could gain 4+ yards a game behind that OL.

    More importantly, it’s hard to compare the value of a TE and CB; it’ll be much more interesting to compare Arnette and Jaylon Johnson over the coming years.

  7. Hoping that new Bill’s edge rusher AJ Epenesa will continue to dominate the fins Austin Jackson like he did in college… This guy might be the steal of the draft as a second round pick.

  8. Can’t understand why Pats didn’t trade hard for Dalton and his 78.3 passer rating after Bengals first benched and later draft his replacement. Why wouldn’t you want the worst team’s reject??

  9. Make the UDFA process a week-long one commencing when the draft concludes. All signings to be announced at once at Noon of the following Saturday.

    Another week of NFL Draft mystique, conjecture and attention.

  10. savagestarlight says:
    May 4, 2020 at 6:32 am

    They just couldn’t overcome their QB or their HC.
    ====================
    They also could not overcome Vontaze Burfict giving the Steelers an opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal with 18 seconds left in the 1st round in the 2015 playoffs. Dalton had brought the Bengals back from being down 16-0 in the 4th quarter. Bengals intercepted Roethlisberger late in the quarter but then fumbled the ball back to the Steelers. Burfict’s penalty, combined with a dead ball penalty on Pacman Jones, gave the Steelers 30 yards. Field goal good, game over.

    Can’t blame that on Dalton.

  11. drednot says:
    May 4, 2020 at 6:32 am
    Hey Peter, I never realized that the release of the schedule was in conjunction with ticket sales. Why can’t they release they schedule and put ticket sales on hold?

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    My guess, and this is just a guess, is: Because selling the tickets now and issuing refunds later amounts to an interest-free loan of several million dollars.

  12. “But if you were a fan of the Packers in 2005, how did you feel when the Packers, coming off three straight division titles and three straight ignominious playoff exits, drafted a quarterback in the first round?”

    Peter, this isn’t the same situation. In 2005, Rodgers was a potential #1 overall pick that fell to 24, and the will-Favre-retire-this-year train was in full throat. This year, Rodgers is nowhere near retirement, and Love was a 2nd round project at best.

  13. Maybe the offense listly producing 0 points in the first three quarters had something to do with that playoff loss too.

    I know Dallas fans are fantasizing about the Red Rifle and how their franchise is going to save QB money and be like the Patriots now.

    Let us know when you want to rejoin us in reality.

  14. Hi Peter, First of all, thanks for your great, dry, sense of humor providing some great laughs on Monday mornings. It’s a refreshing way to start the work week. . . . Second, can anyone (NFL or other sports authorities) get a handle on the number of cameramen invading a field or court after a game? They crowd around players & coaches with the lenses in front of their faces, disrupting the team’s celebration or efforts to visit with their opponents. It seems especially rude at the Olympics when cameramen will hover around athletes & get “the close up” after a performance, good or bad. Shoot, with the gargantuan zoom lenses available these days, why not leave the athletes alone & get your shots 50 yards away? – DallasJ

  15. “The league is going full steam ahead thinking if the NFLPA decides not to risk the health of their players, the league thinks they will win a PR battle.”

    The NFL is also going full steam ahead ignoring the fact that states like MA and CA are unlikely to allow any mass gatherings this year and I doubt they have any sort of good plan to deal with what happens when some states allow the stadiums to be used and other don’t.

  16. Re: the evaluation process of the KMack trade to CHI:

    Can’t ignore the salary cap implications for both teams but especially the Raiders.

    No way to build that OL and pay the FA’s they signed/acquired AND keep/pay Mack, acknowledging that Ant. Brown was a part of that building plan – a very unfortunate part.

  17. ven if your team has been down in the dumps, doesn’t mean you should settle for postseason mediocrity. Dalton was never a top 10 QB in the league. And Cincinnati had assembled a roster that was top 10 in the NFL, on offense as well as defense. Talent enough to make a run at the Super Bowl, for a couple years.
    ———————————————————————————————–
    2015 Dalton had the 2nd highest passer rating for QBs. So it cannot be said he was never a top 10 QB.

  18. I really hate saying this, but there is a very strong chance that not only may the NFL not play games in front of fans, we may not have games at all.

    We are still a ways off from a vaccine.

    How would Playing and Practicing Football work?

    You would have to TEST EVERY Coach, Assistant Coach, Clubhouse guy and Player EVERY Single Day, and then when one team has 10 guys get the virus, that team is not going to be able to practice, let alone play a game on Sunday.

    You can’t play or practice Football and practice social distancing.

    I don’t think we are going to have ANY sports until 2021.

    Again, it really pains me to say this, but how would we do this?

    I hope I am wrong, we all need some sports in our lives at this point.

  19. They also could not overcome Vontaze Burfict giving the Steelers an opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal with 18 seconds left in the 1st round in the 2015 playoffs. Dalton had brought the Bengals back from being down 16-0 in the 4th quarter. Bengals intercepted Roethlisberger late in the quarter but then fumbled the ball back to the Steelers. Burfict’s penalty, combined with a dead ball penalty on Pacman Jones, gave the Steelers 30 yards. Field goal good, game over.

    Fact check. – Dalton didn’t play in that game, busted his thumb late that year. AJ McCarron started the playoff game . Dalton was indeed in the MVP race that year until he got injured in week 15 or 16.

  20. whodeybacker says:
    May 4, 2020 at 12:12 pm
    Fact check. – Dalton didn’t play in that game, busted his thumb late that year. AJ McCarron started the playoff game . Dalton was indeed in the MVP race that year until he got injured in week 15 or 16.
    ===================
    You are right, I had forgotten about that. Thanks for correcting my error. I guess Dalton is not to blame, nor get any credit for the comeback.

  21. To correct the record, a fifth year option is only guarenteed for injury. You can be cut otherwise for nothing.

    See RG3’s last year on Washington as proof.

  22. King maybe you should look at Michigan’s laws but oh you’re a flaming liberal and probably have no idea about Michigan State laws they are an open carry state that doesn’t bar weapons from inside the captiol

  23. In regards to the Mack trade, one thing you didn’t include that is very important is the cap space the Raiders saved which has allowed them to add some young FA’s. No way they get some of the players they did in FA going into second contracts if they had to pay Mack. Mack’s a great player but the Raiders can build a stronger roster with the picks and money saved.

  24. I’d put the odds above 50% that the 2020 season isn’t played. Every serious epidemiologist talks of a second wave in the fall. Word today is that Trump wants to wind down the COVID response team by Memorial Day. He’s lost interest. That means no preparation for the second wave: no test kits, no contact tracing, no vaccine available. This isn’t meant in any political manner. Just the facts, maam. We’ve only had less than 5% of the population infected to date. Non-vaccination herd immunity is WAY off in the future with tens of thousands more deaths. Will the NFL take to the field if COVID is killing 3000 people a day?

    If they do play games, would I go? Lambeau Field has four main gates. To pass through security, a fan stands shoulder to shoulder in a group of easily 5000 or more for 30 to 45 minutes before entering. 70,000 sit packed in the lower bowl on the aluminum benches with people yelling over their heads all game. If I hadn’t had COVID by then, I wouldn’t go.

    Best of luck to everybody. Keep the football chatter going, hope for the best this fall!

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