No one will think much of the first meeting of the Super Bowl LV combatants, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, by looking at the final score. Nine weeks ago, in the same stadium that will host this year’s Big Game, the Chiefs beat the Bucs 27-24. But this was the best Patrick Mahomes–Tyreek Hill game ever, explosive and telepathic and perfectly same-pagish. When I rewatched it this week, I thought, This must be Nightmare on Elm Street for the Bucs to look back on two months later. And for the Chiefs, they must call it up on their tablets and think, How possibly did we score only 27 points and have to hang on to win?
Just 8:11 into the game, Kansas City was running Tampa Bay out of the Bucs’ own building, 10-0 and soon to be 17-0. Hill already had four catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. The Bucs didn’t have a clue how to respond to Hill’s intimidating speed. Upstairs, Tony Romo said on CBS: “Hill’s on pace for roughly 1,000 yards today.”
But I thought, let’s just figure that out: Eight minutes, 133 yards—just what was Tyreek Hill on pace to gain back in Week 12?
Ummm, how about 998 yards. Might that be a record of some kind?
Driving to work Thursday at 4:15 a.m. (what off-week?), Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles considered my question: What do you say to your guys about that 462-yard game by Mahomes, the 269-yard game by Hill?
“Well,” Bowles said with a typical sardonic tone, “the good thing is, we’ve seen them before. Bad thing is, they killed us. As a defense, we were embarrassed that day. I just told ‘em, ‘There’s 16 of these games, and we’re on to the next one.’ No sense in beating them into the ground.”
Then Bowles said something I thought was spot-on. The six Bucs’ secondary players who played the most snaps this year have all been drafted in the last three years. None is older than 24. This same group that got fricasseed by Mahomes in November got Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game to go incomplete, incomplete and incomplete in the final minutes, on the three biggest plays of their NFL careers. It wouldn’t be stunning to see Tyreek Hill have another huge day Sunday on the same field, but the guy who coaches the Bucs defense thinks they’ll have pretty short memories about Week 12.
“These guys don’t have much of a history of the game and that’s a good thing,” Bowles said. “Last week, everybody’s talking about the frozen tundra and Lambeau Field. Those guys don’t even know what the frozen tundra is. They don’t know what mystique is. That’s for us old guys to know about! Packers, Cowboys, Ice Bowl, forget it. These guys don’t go as far back as 2015. Everything you think they should be nervous about, they don’t even know about. So I’m not too worried about the big stage.”
On Saturday, one time zone away in western Missouri, KC offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy had just finished the practice week, along with much tape study. I asked whether he thought the offense would be pretty confident after the first meeting in November.
“Did you watch them in Green Bay? Did you see that secondary?” Bieniemy said with an edge in his voice. “All I gotta do is turn on the tape. It’s a different defense, to me. The secondary is playing exceptional football, creating turnovers, playing physical.”
Of course Bieniemy would say that; he doesn’t want to dig at his Super Bowl foe. But he’s also right.
The Super Pandemic Bowl! Brady-Mahomes V! Amanda Gorman I! Home-field Super Bowl! Weirdest Super Bowl Week ever!
But there are other football items in play today. Two megabuck quarterbacks were traded for each other Saturday night—in a deal that I find myself disagreeing with the rest of the world. Vehemently, sort of. Another starrier quarterback wants out, and I’ll devote 1,200 tidy words to the Deshaun Watson story. The anonymous David Culley got the last head-coaching job, the only Black head coach hired out of seven this year; three of the NFL’s 32 head coaches in 2021 will be Black, the same as in 2020, a depressingly consistent thing about this era of the NFL. “Very happy for David—one of the truly great human beings in our game,” one coach who knows Culley well told me. “But sad for the whole story.”
Boldface names: Matthew Stafford, deliriously happy. Sean McVay, happier. Jared Goff, relieved. Colts, Panthers, Broncos, disappointed. Jay Gruden, Molotov-thrower. Nick Caserio, on the clock. Deshaun Watson, man on a wire. Mark Murphy, not an idiot. Ben Roethlisberger, football for gratis. O.J., vaccinated. NFL hiring, a sham. Jennifer King, a beacon. Preseason predictions, not shabby. Haiku, egalitarian trade.
This will be my 37th Super Bowl week, and it will be one like no other. Festivities, shut down. The Bucs will work out at home all week, and Kansas City will too. No modern Super Bowl team has practiced outside the Super city—until now. COVID precautions, of course. KC will fly to Tampa late in the week for the 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday game. In 37 games, I’ve seen some all-time quarterback matchups: Montana-Marino in XIX in Palo Alto, Elway-Favre in XXXII in San Diego, Dilfer-Collins in XXXV (Hey! Hey! Who let the wise guy in?) in Tampa, Brees-Peyton in XLIV in Miami, and now Brady-Mahomes in LV in Tampa. History will tell, but this might be the Granddaddy of all QB matchups—and in such a weird environment, with the stadium one-third full. Coolest part of the game: The NFL is hosting 7,500 vaccinated health-care workers in an all-expenses-paid Super Bowl holiday, tickets included—a reward for their oft-unappreciated labor in the last 11 months.
At some points of the week, we’ll actually talk football. I’ll start that now.
Tom Brady in another Super Bowl, the first without the flying Elvis on the helmet, will be the story of the week. Rightfully so. But I think the key to the game will be Tampa’s defense. Brady, I believe, will score enough for Tampa Bay to win, even going against his old conqueror from 2007, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the former Giants coach who frustrated Brady in his first Super Bowl loss 13 years ago. But the question is, will Bowles, edge rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, and a young secondary have the answers for Andy Reid, Bieniemy, Mahomes and that all-time explosive offense?
One compelling thing about this game is that Brady, at 43, won’t be the only poised quarterback in it. Mahomes, 25, showed last year he’s in Brady’s Joe Cool League. I can never hear the story of 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp enough. That’s the play, with 7:13 left in the fourth quarter and the Chiefs down 10, that’s been told—in my column a year ago, and by NFL Films, colorfully and with soundbites—and made into T-shirts and will live forever in the minds of fans. The play started Kansas City on the greatest comeback in franchise history.
I asked Bieniemy: “I still find it fascinating that a 24-year-old kid walks to the sidelines before the play, all calm, Super Bowl on the line, and asks you, ‘Do we have time to run Wasp?’ “
“Me and Coach Reid, we’re talking on the headsets,” Bieniemy said. “We’re talking about different plays. Coach is giving me a play, a suggestion. I’m talking to Pat, and Pat says, ‘Hey, you know what? Do we have time to run Wasp?’ I said on the headset, ‘Coach, he likes Wasp.’ And coach is like, ‘Well hell, if he likes Wasp, let’s run it.’
“I say to Pat, ‘Look, you got it. We have time. You just make it happen.’ That’s the great thing about Pat. When Pat wants to run something, we don’t restrict him from anything, but when you instill that confidence in your players, and you give him that ability to suggest a play like that, you know that he’s gonna find a way to make it happen. So that’s what we do here. We instill confidence in our players to be at their best when their best is needed. And we’re confident he’s gonna find a way to make it work.”
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) February 6, 2020
Gain of 44, to Tyreek Hill. Three touchdowns in the next six minutes. And the first NFL title for the franchise in 50 years. There’s no secret to anyone that the recipe is the same for Mahomes and the Chiefs this year. Mahomes will have the same pressure on his plate Sunday night. If anything, the game will be tougher, in part because Brady’s on the other side. But there’s an X-and-O element to this game that wasn’t there last year: Because of injuries to Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, Mahomes will have to rely on two backup tackles—including Mike Remmers, the former Panther famously turnstiled by Von Miller in Super Bowl 50—to keep JPP and Barrett off his back. And they’re hot. They sacked Aaron Rodgers a combined five times in the NFC Championship Game.
I won’t be surprised if Pierre-Paul or Barrett is the Super Bowl MVP if the Bucs win. That’s how big a role they could play in this game. They each had sacks in the first meeting this year. But they’ll need to be more oppressive in this meeting.
I think Mahomes will need to be at his improvisational best Sunday. He’s not going to have the time he normally does, and I’m sure he knows that, and I’m sure his mind is working overtime to figure out which play could be this year’s Wasp. When I watched the first meeting from November, Mahomes was simply too comfortable, especially early.
On the first snap of the game, Hill came into Jet motion from the right, caught a swing pass on nickel back Sean Murphy-Bunting, who passed him on to a safety who simply wasn’t there. The play happened so fast; Hill, as he often does, did so much damage in a split-second. Gain of 34. Consistently during the game, Mahomes controlled defenders with his eyes, twice on touchdowns. On the 75-yard TD to Hill midway through the first quarter, Mahomes kept safety Antoine Winfield Jr., frozen by staring deep and to the left, while Hill was torching cornerback Carlton Davis to the right. By the time Winfield recovered and ran over, Hill was in the end zone. Same thing in the third quarter on Hill’s last TD. Hill ran a simple streak down the right side; Davis was right with him, no help, but Mahomes wizzed a line-drive strike 12 inches over Davis’ shoulder and into Hill’s hands.
I haven’t even mentioned Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Clyde Edwards-Helaire. They’re pretty good too. Kelce could own this game. Hardman dropped a potential 89-yard catch-and-run TD pass last time that would have given Mahomes 551 passing yards for the game. That would have been the second-best passing day in the 101-year history of the NFL.
“They’re in attack mode all the time,” Bowles said. “Andy’s the nicest guy in the world—there’s a reason everybody likes him so much. He’s also one of the smartest coaches in this league. He’ll get a read on you, and he’ll expose you to the bitter end. He’ll stab you about 50 times.”
Bowles started laughing. “Andy’s like Roberta Flack. Killing me softly.”
Tyreek Hill on Carlton Davis, in the first game. This time, who knows? The weaponry is real, and it’s spectacular. Who will Reid and Bieniemy pick on this time? We’ll have to watch the game to see.
This far into the column, and the skin color of my two subjects, Bowles and Bieniemy, has not come up. They are Black. Three of the four coordinators in this game are Black (including Bucs OC Byron Leftwich). Collectively, Bowles and Bieniemy had seven interviews for head-coaching jobs in January. When I asked them about it, neither seemed particularly surprised they’d gone 0-for-7.
“For me and Eric, it’s two good coaches,” Bowles said. “Whenever people on the outside—ownership, media, anyone else—when they start saying ‘coaches’ instead of ‘Black coaches,’ then things will start to get better. The fact that we have to be ‘Black coaches’—we wake up Black, we know that, we look in the mirror every day—we’re coaches in our profession. In other professions, you don’t say, ‘Black flight attendant,’ you say, ‘flight attendant.’ The fact that we keep referring to Black coaches to begin with means there’s a big problem with everything.
“We’re two good coaches. We have a couple more in this game as well. We’re trying to do our jobs very well. The fact that it’s such a big deal about the head-coaching thing, it puts a big emphasis on it from the outside. Eric’s trying to win, I’m trying to win. The big deal is made from the outside. The change has also got to be made from the outside, because we can only do so much.”
Said Bieniemy: “I always tell everybody, I’m just a ball coach. I didn’t ask to be chosen to be the face of whatever representation. I just want to make sure that I’m admired and recognized for the things that I have accomplished and worked towards in this profession. That’s all you can ask for. I think all of us take pride in teaching young men and helping them become better people.”
As that face of the passed-over Black coach, Bieniemy gets asked all the time if he’s frustrated by it. How could he not be?
“I am never going to allow any process outside of my control to frustrate me,” he said. “It’s all part of my journey. Eric Bieniemy will continue to be himself, every day. And Eric Bieniemy will continue chopping wood. That’s all I know to do.”
Sean McVay knows the football world thinks the Rams paid too much for Matthew Stafford, just as football people thought when the Rams paid too much for Jalen Ramsey and got too little for Marcus Peters. Knowing McVay, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care, because he got the quarterback he really wanted for 2021—and he can now enter the offseason designing plays and deep shots for a quarterback he thinks can win a Super Bowl. Recently, when the subject of trying to land Stafford came up inside the Rams offices, McVay gave the Perspicacious Quote of the Week: “It’s not about winning the trade. It’s about winning the Super Bowl.”
This is a trade I really like for both teams. Very good for the Rams from 2021 to, say, 2024; very good for the Lions in, say, 2023 to 2026. The details: Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff plus a third-round pick this year (89th overall) and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023. The deal got done Saturday evening but cannot be processed or made official till the start of the NFL league year in mid-March.
The forces that made it happen, why the Rams were the perfect partners for the deal, and why it made too much sense to not happen:
• The Lions wanted to do right by Stafford, and Stafford’s preferred team was the Rams. The Lions didn’t want another disaffected star (Calvin Johnson) leaving the organization all ticked off. Ownership and the front office were determined to try their best to accommodate Stafford and send him to a team where he’d have a good chance to win. The Rams were number one. The Colts would have been an amenable option. The Niners too. Though the Stafford family has a home in Newport Beach, 42 miles south of SoFi Stadium, this was not about being in a comfortable and familiar place. It was about a 33-year-old quarterback (as of next Sunday) knowing his career has an expiration date and knowing he’d never been on a division winner or won a playoff game in his 12 NFL seasons. It was about wanting to have a chance to play meaningful January games.
• Money didn’t matter to Stafford. He told the Rams they didn’t have to re-do his deal. For Stafford, this was not about money—he made $219 million during his Detroit years—but rather about football, exclusively. He’ll happily play this year at $20 million, and we’ll see if the Rams, or he, will want to extend his contract after the last season on his deal, 2022, when he’s due to make $23 million.
• Goff must have very mixed feelings. It was clear the Rams had lost faith in him (“Jared Goff is a Ram at this second,” GM Les Snead said a week ago), so Goff gets to go to another team in a starting role that will pay him like a franchise quarterback—$28.15 million, $26.15 million, $25.65 million over the next three years. The Lions just gave new coach Dan Campbell a six-year contract, a sign they know they’re starting from scratch. It’s a long way from the second round of the playoffs to a total rebuild for Goff. And for this California kid, it’s 2,314 miles from L.A. to Ford Field. It might seem longer when that Michigan weather hits after Thanksgiving. To his credit, Goff went out classy, telling NFL Media’s Mike Silver on Sunday he’s excited by the new start in Detroit.
• The contenders. Indianapolis was interested. I am sure owner Jim Irsay wanted Stafford to follow in the recent footsteps of Manning, Luck and Rivers. But I also knew when the price got past the Colts’ first-round pick (21st pick overall) in 2021, that was going to be tough for GM Chris Ballard, who’d already lost the youth and cost-control of a first-round rookie last year when the team traded for DeForest Buckner. Maybe the Colts would have done a first and a third, for example, but not two first-rounders.
I hear San Francisco and Washington were in it. I hear Carolina and Denver were aggressively into it, and if Detroit liked its incumbent QBs more than Goff, maybe one of those deals would have been close. Carolina could have offered the eighth overall pick this year plus Teddy Bridgewater, and Denver could have offered the ninth overall pick plus Drew Lock. (I don’t know if either of those offers were firmly made, but those teams had to have known Detroit wanted a starting quarterback in return.) Stafford was far more keen on the Rams than the Panthers or Broncos.
• What the Lions thought. New coach Dan Campbell and new GM Brad Holmes had this in common: They both wanted Goff, and not just as a bridge quarterback. As director of college scouting for the Rams when Goff was picked in 2016, Holmes favored him inside the Rams draft room—and still does, I’m told. Campbell, I’m also told, liked Goff not just as a bridge quarterback but as the Lions quarterback of the future.
• How it changes the Rams. Just watching the Rams this year compared to 2018 is really startling. I remember the Goff coming-out party. It happened on a September Thursday night in the Coliseum. Goff shredded the Vikings with all kinds of throws, starting with a beautiful deep ball up the right seam to Cooper Kupp for a long TD. And the best ball I remember ever seeing Goff throw—I can still see it now, a 47-year TD bomb dropped right over the coverage of Trae Waynes, a gorgeous throw launched 58 yards in the air straight down the middle of the field. I would bet Goff didn’t throw three of those balls in all of 2020. The aggressiveness disappeared from the L.A. offense, and not because McVay wanted it to vanish. He loves poking and prodding and testing a defense from the first throw. I never saw it anymore. I think we’ll see from the first throw of the 2021 season with Stafford.
• The value of the trade. Highly interesting. The Rams are okay with moving first-round picks, and the Lions lust after them as currency in forming a new team. The Rams have confidence in their scouts identifying strong day two draftees, and so they’re okay with trading ones for great value. Since they last had a first-round pick (Goff, 2016), they’ve found current important contributors John Johnson, Cooper Kupp, Joe Noteboom, Taylor Rapp, Cam Akers and Van Jefferson in the second and third rounds. But when L.A. started with Goff plus the 89th overall pick in discussions with the Lions, that created issues. If Detroit knew it could get the eighth or ninth pick in this draft from Carolina or Detroit, likely with a current starter, and L.A.’s offer started with this year’s 89th pick, how could the two sides square that? The Rams were fine with giving their 2022 first-rounder, but it didn’t seem enough, given that the Rams pick could well be in the mid or even late-twenties.
One more thing here. When Jimmy Johnson took over in Dallas in 1989, the Cowboys created a draft-trade value chart, assigning numerical values to all slots in the draft. Unofficially, Johnson also believed that the value of picks in future years weren’t worth as much as in the present year. “We would discount one round per year,” Johnson said Sunday. “Like if we traded a third-rounder to someone, we’d want a second-round pick next year. But I would say in this case, it’s a little different. I probably wouldn’t discount those future picks in the same way, because Detroit doesn’t really need them as much right now—they’re rebuilding. So I’d say for Detroit, that one next year is probably worth a late one in 2021, and the one in 2023 is probably worth, like, a mid-two.”
It seems sensible to value future picks as having lower value today, because the Lions won’t have use of one till 2022 and the other till 2023. So let’s take Johnson’s estimated value. The Rams traded, in Johnson’s eyes, Goff plus the 89th pick this year, and future picks with current values around the 30th and 48th picks, to Detroit for Stafford. Of course, if Stafford plays well and gets the Rams to another Super Bowl, the value of those picks will be out the window; the deal will be well worth it to the Rams. At the same time, the Lions have to be thrilled that, over the next three drafts, they have five picks in the first round, three in the second and four in the third. It’s a great building-block move for Detroit—with a GM who’s been solid on second-day picks.
• FYI. The Rams were not the only team to offer two first-round picks to Detroit for Stafford. Not sure of the team, but I know there was at least one other offer with two ones—and that offer did not stretch the first-rounders out as far as L.A.’s proposal.
• Cap implications. The Lions have a slight disadvantage here when it comes to starting-QB financial commitments. That’s what I’ll call the dead cap money of the departed QBs on each team. Including each player’s dead cap money in 2021, the starting quarterback will cost Detroit $45.95 million in 2021 and $26.15 million in 2022. The starting quarterback position will cost the Rams $42.2 million and $23 million over the next two years. Advantage Rams, by about $3 million per year.
Fascinating story. Balancing the scales this morning, I believe the deal is quite fair for both teams.
Eleven people and topics in the news this morning:
1. BRAD HOLMES. The Detroit GM, hired away from the Rams in mid-January, had some institutional knowledge to make a gigantic deal in his GM debut. Meaning: He knew Sean McVay was down on Jared Goff—perhaps very down. He also knew McVay would have no problems over-paying for a quarterback if he loved him, and McVay loved Stafford. Holmes also knew the Rams were on Stafford’s very short list of where he wanted to play. (In some order approximating this: Rams, Colts, Niners.) So Holmes was able to get an extra first-round pick out of L.A., in exchange for taking the onerous Goff contract off the Rams’ hands.
The one other thing Holmes knew but wasn’t spreading around: Detroit coach Dan Campbell liked Goff better than the other quarterbacks in the Stafford trade derby: Teddy Bridgewater, Jimmy Garoppolo, Drew Lock. Now the Lions have five first-round picks in the next three years for the post-Stafford rebuild. All in all, a very good weekend for Holmes and the Lions.
2. DESHAUN WATSON. Very nice man. Excellent football player. Franchise quarterback, to be sure. Non-confrontational. Add this nugget: Watson, just 21 weeks ago, signed a contract making him the second-richest player in football history. It didn’t take two years for him to turn on his team. It took 21 weeks. It’s gotten to the point where, I’m told, even some respected veterans on the teams have, in effect, told Watson, Go ahead. Go. We love you. We don’t want you to get trapped here. You don’t owe us anything.
I’ve heard a few other things about Watson. The veterans on the team supported him going to owner Cal McNair a month ago and telling him the situation in the locker room was dire, and there was no faith in the management or direction of the team. When the team didn’t interview a Watson favorite, Robert Saleh, that turned off the locker room. When the team chose to keep EVP Jack Easterby (a major bone of contention with players, who do not trust him), that further soured the players, including Watson.
Obviously, the question is whether Watson has the guts to withstand the gigantic pressure that comes with turning his back on the team in the fifth-largest market in the country, and turning his back on the team that he emotionally thanked for the huge contract last September, and turning his back on the team that paid him $29.4 million in 2020. It’s easy to say today he’ll stay strong—and he very well may. But if the Texans don’t trade him, a mountain of crap will come down on all their houses over the next eight months.
Close observers think there will be no real forward progress with Watson as long as Easterby is in the picture. Obviously, the question is whether Watson has the guts.
3. THE $2.4-MILLION QUESTION. If the Texans play hardball and refuse to trade Watson, the cost will be different from the costs in past years. Now, per the new 2020 CBA, fines cannot be forgiven. Watson, as a player under an existing contract, would be fined for missing the mandatory offseason minicamp, fined for every practice he skips in the preseason (approximately 28), and fined for every game he misses in the preseason (likely to be three, if the NFL goes to a 17-game schedule in 2021). The total fine, by my calculation, would be about $2,355,877. That’s money out of his pocket. You might say, Who would give up that kind of money?! Understandable. But let me tell you a story.
In 2017, I did a Christmas story for NBC’s “Football Night in America” about Watson’s immense gratitude for his family receiving a Habitat for Humanity house from Warrick Dunn when Watson was a child in Gainesville, Ga. Watson was emotional about it, because it was so important to his needy family at the time. I don’t know how this is going to go—truly. But until very recently, Watson had not made big-athlete money. Money doesn’t rule him. I don’t think it’s that important to Watson that his bank account might go down 10 or 20 percent, for a while. Part of that is principle, but the other part is that he knows if he stands firm, at some point he’ll be able to play for another team and make untold millions.
4. TRADE COMPS. In NFL history, I have found two. In 1967, Minnesota traded two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Fran Tarkenton, 27, to the Giants for two first-round picks and two second-rounders. Weird career for Tarkenton: six years for the Vikings, five years for the Giants, seven years for the Vikings (after a 1972 trade back to Minnesota). But Tarkenton was an electric player, like Watson, and finished his career as the leading passer in yardage and touchdowns in the first 60 years of NFL history.
In 1987, the Bucs traded Steve Young for the incredible (in how we’d think about it today) sum of a second-round and a fourth-round pick. How’d that happen? Young had started chunks of two seasons for the woebegone Bucs, completing 53 percent of his passes, with 11 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. That is really bad, of course. But remember he was just a guy in his two Tampa seasons. Oddity there: Young was 25 years, six months old when traded; if Watson is traded near the start of the 2021 league year next month, he would be 25 years, six months old.
Finally: I wouldn’t think the Goff-Stafford trade will be a factor in a prospective Watson deal. It’s a weird outlier because of the contracts involved.
5. NICK CASERIO. Wisely, he is strongly opposed to trading Watson. For 20 of his 45 years on this planet, Caserio worked for the Patriots with Bill Belichick as his boss. So you’d think that has given him a veneer of toughness—which his friends in football say is true. After watching Belichick make the hard calls for two decades, I’m certain Caserio has seen the toughness. But the difference is now he actually has to make the calls, not watch them being made. And the first call, on Watson, could be the biggest one he ever makes. That’s hardly hyperbole. Somewhere in the first three grafs of his obituary will be this: Caserio is the man who traded Deshaun Watson if he does, and if Watson continues his transcendent path. As a GM you’re judged by the players you draft and sign and that your team develops, and also by those you trade or trade for. Think of the big calls by GMs in recent years. Will John Schneider ever make a bigger call than drafting Russell Wilson 75th in 2012? I doubt it. Will Ryan Pace be in the chair long enough to overcome Mitchell Trubisky over Watson and Patrick Mahomes in 2017? I doubt that too.
It almost seems unfair that the biggest decision/stand Caserio will make as a GM, ever, could come in the first year of his GM career. Will he play hardball with Watson, or will he trade him for almost assuredly less than his value? There is no corresponding value for a 25-year-old franchise quarterback who made a bad team competitive almost every week in 2020 and led the NFL in passing yards after the team traded DeAndre Hopkins for peanuts before the season. If he trades Watson, the next Houston QB—Sam Darnold? Justin Fields? Zach Wilson?—will always wear the mantel of the man who replaced Watson. That’s a heavy burden. Caserio has to wonder if this was the GM job really worth taking.
6. NFL RULES BOOSTING MINORITY HIRING. I am sure the Ravens were jumping for joy that the eminently likeable David Culley, a Baltimore offensive assistant in 2019 and 2020, got hired as the Houston head coach. But there has to be another reason the Ravens were fired up to see Culley get a head job. The NFL in 2020 instituted a new rule that if a team had a minority assistant coach leave to be a head coach, or a front-office man leave to be a GM, the losing team would be awarded picks at the end of the third round in the following two drafts. Now, Culley has coached in 14 places (eight college, six NFL) in 43 seasons as an assistant coach. He coached in Baltimore for two seasons. It is folly to suggest that Baltimore “developed” Culley for his NFL head-coaching job. But rules are rules. The Ravens have to be euphoric to be getting the 105th pick (approximately) in the next two drafts because Baltimore was the last spot Culley coached before landing on top in Houston.
7. JENNIFER KING. If the first Black woman to be a full-time NFL assistant makes a real impact on the game (Washington coach Ron Rivera appointed King a full-time assistant running backs coach), then the groundwork done by the league and by women’s coaching champions like Scott Pioli will have been vital in the cause. King told me last week that when she was coaching women’s basketball at Johnson and Wales University-Charlotte (and won a national small-college championship in 2017-’18), climbing the college basketball coaching ladder seemed the best path. But that was in part because there wasn’t much of a path a few years ago for women’s football coaches.
“That was the goal. I thought things were going well, and I thought that was where I wanted to be,” King said. “But then I saw women getting opportunities in the NFL, and my love for football took over. I loved football pretty much my whole life.”
Pioli connected King to progressive-thinking coach Buddy Teevens at Dartmouth. From there, King advanced to knowing Rivera and internships with Carolina and Washington, followed by a stint on Rick Neuheisel’s staff with the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football before this groundbreaking position. “The sky’s the limit for her,” Rivera said. King knows many eyes will be on her, including the eyes of fathers and daughters who will see her as a beacon for the future. King feels it, and she’s okay with it. “Coach Neuheisel said, ‘Pressure is a privilege,’” King said. “And I’m fine with it.”
8. JERRY GREEN. The football maven for the Detroit News, the only writer to cover all 54 Super Bowls, decided earlier this year to snap the streak. It was time. He is 92, after all. He wrote Friday in the News: “I had decided to bench myself this time, break a wonderful streak as too risky to continue. My inner philosophy, though, is that I’m entitled to change my mind as a Senior Super Citizen . . . The dangers of the COVID-19—I’ve already tested positive around Thanksgiving and survived, and I’ve had my first vaccination—kept me scared. My age and presumed frailty became factors. But then the NFL playoffs started. The play of Brady and Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce got me wishing that I had delayed the decision. Then, some two weeks ago, the NFL called. The league persuaded me, really, that I ought not snap my streak. I asked for a week to decide. I deliberated less than a day and called an audible. I said I’d go.” Great news, Jerry.
9. THE 2021 NFL SCHEDULE. Perfect: Jared Goff at Matthew Stafford in the regular season this fall, with the Lions traveling to SoFi to play the Rams. What could be better? Well, this: The Texans could trade Deshaun Watson to the Jets, setting the stage for Watson at the Texans this fall—because the Jets are on Houston’s home slate. Goff at Stafford, Monday night in September on ESPN. Watson at Texans, national Sunday doubleheader game on CBS in October. My guesses—if Watson lands in New Jersey.
10. CLYDE CHRISTENSEN. Great piece by Sam Farmer in the Los Angeles Times on the Tampa Bay quarterback coach, 65, who has mentored Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and so many quarterbacks in the modern era—and who lived with Lawrence Taylor as a North Carolina Tar Heel student in the late seventies. How beloved is Christensen among his mentees? Well, he sits across the bus aisle from Tom Brady on every Bucs road trip. And Luck, who has disappeared totally since his stunning retirement, thinks so much of Christensen that Farmer was able to find and quote him in this story. “Clyde’s the unicorn of coaches,” Trent Dilfer said. “He could have had any job. Peyton’s a kingmaker. Tom’s a kingmaker. He could have anything. He’s chosen relationships over everything.” Hope Christensen gets a few nods during another Super Bowl week for him.
11. THE SUPER BOWL GMs. You won’t hear the names Brett Veach and Jason Licht much this week. There are too many other stories and people to focus on. But the two Super Bowl GMs are both on great runs. Not good. Great. Veach badgered Andy Reid into loving Patrick Mahomes—and to be fair, Reid most likely would have fallen in love with Mahomes anyway. But in 2016 and 2017, Reid would get video highlights from Veach after every Texas Tech game of something great Mahomes did till Reid one day just started to ignore him. More recently, Veach and his staff laser-focused on an unheralded DB from Louisiana Tech, L’Jarius Sneed, and chose him 138th in the 2020 draft. He’s been nearly as significant to the KC secondary as Tyrann Mathieu down the stretch, with four sacks, an interception, five QB knockdowns and 14 tackles in his last four games. Sneed, totally unafraid, will be a vital cog in the Kansas City defense for years. In Tampa, you wouldn’t think Bruce Arians would need pass-catching reinforcements with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Cam Brate in the lineup. But two day-three draft gems at wideout—Scotty Miller (2019, sixth round, 208th overall) and Tyler Johnson (2020, fifth round, 161st pick) have played huge playoff roles for the Bucs.
In this odd year, with Veach often working out of his basement and Licht out of his kids’ toy room, both men deserve a bow for their recent mid-round and late-round work. Apropos of nothing, I asked Licht last week about what this year’s been like. He said: “If people want to know what the general manager of a football team does . . . After we signed Tom Brady and had traded for Gronk and then in the draft moved up to take Tristin Wirfs, what do I do?” Licht said. “I have a little celebratory moment with the family. After that? I went into the kitchen and notice our dog had an accident on the floor, so I clean that up and then I load the dishwasher. So that’s the life of a GM now.”
“When it came our time to pick, we’d always talk about the picks, where we’d like to go, what happens if [the player] is gone, and did all our scenarios. And then [owner Daniel Snyder] would come in off his yacht and make the pick.”
—Former Washington coach Jay Gruden, to Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post, on the annual draft day tradition around the team.
“It’s become a trendy cliché nowadays to talk about a new coach ‘winning the press conference.’ Well, on Friday, the press conference was Mike Tyson, and Sirianni was Michael Spinks.”
—Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Mike Sielski, on the first press conference of new Eagles coach Nick Sirianni.
“I had such an amazing time playing. I felt so good out there. I just feel like I continued to get stronger and stronger and better and better. I still feel like a kid heading into the offseason. I’m excited for this offseason to see what else I can do—skiing, snowboarding … I plan on doing as much as I can.”
—Washington quarterback Alex Smith, sure to be named Comeback Player of the Year at NFL Honors Saturday, on “The Rachel Ray Show.”
“I don’t care about my pay at all this year.”
—Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, signaling he’ll be open to virtually any sort of contract re-do this offseason in order to be back in 2021.
“We’re not idiots. Aaron Rodgers will be back.”
—Packers president Mark Murphy, to WNFL radio in Green Bay, with the most sensible comment of a stupid will-he-or-won’t-he-return controversy in Green Bay.
If it seems like the age of head coaches is dropping in recent years, it is—even with Houston’s hiring of 65-year-old David Culley, and the staying power of Pete Carroll (69), Bill Belichick (68) and Bruce Arians (68). I calculated the average age of NFL coaches as of opening day 2016 and compared it to coaches’ ages on opening day 2021, then went deeper into the numbers. (I didn’t go too crazy; I used the years only, instead of years and months; I figured it would balance out to use only years.)
Average age of 32 head coaches, opening day 2016: 52.94 years old.
Average age of 32 head coaches, opening day 2021: 50.53 years old.
Net difference: The average coach will be 2.41 years younger in 2021 versus 2016.
Where the difference came into play was median age, or the age that is square in the middle of the 32 coaches’ ages. On opening day 2021, the median age of head coaches will be 46. Matt Rhule and Mike Vrabel will be tied for the 15th-youngest coach in 2021, and there are 16 coaches older than 46. Thus:
Number of head coaches 46 or younger, opening day 2021: 16.
Number of head coaches 46 or younger, opening day 2016: 6.
The median age of coaches in 2016 was 53. (Jack Del Rio, Rex Ryan, John Harbaugh were 53 that season).
Why the youth? As one coach told me last week, it’s about being more facile with technology and new analytical tools. It’s likely also a nod to young coaches better identifying with a new generation of build-my-own-brand players and not being upset by that. And by being okay with players having more power than they did two generations ago. Those may be overly simplistic, and it’s likely a Ph.D dissertation for some student who loves football. But it’s happening.
Words spoken by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie during Friday’s press conference introducing Nick Sirianni as head coach: 2,068.
Words spoken by Lurie about assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley: 142.
Words spoken by Lurie about fired coach Doug Pederson, who led the Eagles to their only Super Bowl victory: 0.
To be fair, Lurie has said a couple of nice things about Pederson since the firing. But it was odd to never use his name in a 2,068-word preamble naming his successor.
The Rams’ last first-round pick (Goff) came the year Trump was elected
Their next first rounder comes the year Biden’s term is ending
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) January 31, 2021
Edholm covers the NFL, quite ably I would add, for Yahoo Sports.
Get your shot. I got mine!!! pic.twitter.com/hP1rDq5L7c
— O.J. Simpson (@TheRealOJ32) January 29, 2021
O.J. Simpson, 73, citizen of Nevada, officially has been vaccinated.
Highest-graded seasons by a defender since 2006:
1. Aaron Donald 2018 – 94.8
2. Aaron Donald 2017 – 94.4
3. Aaron Donald 2020 – 94.2
4. Aaron Donald 2019 – 93.6 pic.twitter.com/RhKpT6ASWu
— PFF (@PFF) January 30, 2021
Pro Football Focus grades every NFL player on every play in every game.
Back in 2004, Ricky Williams, the American football player, left the Miami Dolphins after a third strike for smoking weed and disappeared. He’d had a notable career besides, but this was the capper: He said goodbye to his coach from Hawaii and vanished off the face of the Earth.
— Chris Jones (@EnswellJones) January 29, 2021
Chris Jones, a writer, had quite an adventure chasing The Enigmatic One, and I’d recommend this thread.
Patrick Mahomes was born on David Culley’s 40th birthday.
— Neil Best (@sportswatch) January 28, 2021
Neil Best covers sports for Newsday.
Lots of questions this week about a potential Deshaun Watson trade, much of which I addressed above.
The Jags? From Larry Wood: “What about Watson to the Jaguars for the number one overall selection? The Jags get a proven NFL starter and the Houston gets a projected generational talent on a rookie deal. This doesn’t cripple the Jags rebuild as they still have the rest of their draft capital and Houston starts over with a lot of salary cap flexibility that a rookie QB offers over five years.”
The most significant word in your email, Larry, is “projected,” as in “projected generation talent.” If you have a “generational talent” who is signed for an average of $27.5-million a year over the next three years, why trade this top-five NFL quarterback, at age 25, for a player who might be comparable but you really don’t know—just so you can save $17 million a year on the cap? I understand your logic, but I’m not agreeing with it.
Sounds like he thinks George Seifert isn’t as deserving as Tom Flores for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. From Clay Parker: “Seifert was a very good coach but he inherited a great team. Sure he kept them great for a few years but he wasn’t an elite head coach and his second stint was awful.”
Clay, I had a few emailers agree with you and say Tom Flores is a better Hall candidate than Seifert. When the 48-member Hall of Fame selection committee voted on the 2021 class recently, Flores was the candidate from the Coaches subcommittee, so if he got 80 percent of the vote from the selectors, he’ll be in. (I am a voter. We do not know the results of the voting.)
Here are some facts to consider:
• Teams they took over: In the Raiders’ three pre-Flores seasons, John Madden coached the team to 33 wins and won one Super Bowl. In the Niners’ three pre-Seifert seasons, Bill Walsh coached the team to 33 wins and won one Super Bowl. In the last years pre-Seifert and pre-Flores, the Niners were coming off a world title, the Raiders coming off a 9-7 season.
• Performance as head coaches in their first stops: Flores won two Super Bowls as Raider coach and had winning records in six of nine seasons. Seifert won two Super Bowls as Niner coach and had winning records in all eight seasons.
• Factors: Seifert had the advantage of two Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Montana, Young) leading his team. Flores had the advantage (and also some oppressive traits) of a Hall of Fame architect (Al Davis) running the franchise.
• Performance as head coach in their second stops: Flores was 14-34 in three years in Seattle, got fired, and never coached again. Seifert was 16-32 in three years in Carolina, got fired, and never coached again.
• Overall: Including playoffs, Flores won 105 games in 12 seasons; Seifert won 124 games in 11 seasons.
My take: In nearly three decades as a Hall of Fame voter, I’ve seen public campaigning for candidates go from moderate to frenetic. And the Flores campaign, mostly from fans who love the Raiders, was as intense as any I’ve seen. It rose to a new level this year when Coors Light did a commercial promoting his campaign for the Hall with Flores in it, which I found distasteful. To each his own. I can’t speak for the other 47 selectors for the Hall. It got to be a point where it wore down some voters, I would think, but campaigns mean absolutely nothing to me. On the other side, I don’t recall any sort of movement supporting Seifert’s candidacy, ever. That’s fine too. There are those who think Flores’ contributions as the first Hispanic head coach in the NFL are important—and I understand that. When Ron Rivera says Flores’ contributions to future coaches and players from Latino communities are important, I value that. So each voter has to decide if a candidate did enough to merit a bronze bust. Over the years, when Seattle comes up per Flores, the prevailing feeling is “it doesn’t matter” because Seattle was an awful franchise at the time with bad ownership. It all matters, actually. The good and the bad.
Chris likes the expanded rosters. From Chris Hugunin: “Could the flexibilities for injured reserve and practice squad player movement this year be the future of the NFL? Did 2020 prove we can have a competitive season without a preseason and the roster flexibilities allowing the teams to effectively evaluate and maintain healthy rosters?”
I certainly hope so, Chris. But I have my doubts. Owners are going to make the point that this was a unique season due to COVID, and they’d never done it before and the game worked just fine with the lower roster numbers. I would love to see it, however. It does make for a healthier season when you can sit a moderately injured player for a couple of games rather than place him on IR.
In praise of Matthew Stafford. From Joel Yashinsky: “I don’t believe you fully appreciate how great a quarterback Matthew Stafford is. Please remember that Barry Sanders, arguably the greatest running back in NFL history, only has one more career playoff victory than Stafford. While quarterback is the most important position, I don’t think you would question Barry’s position in the Hall of Fame based on one lone playoff win. I’m not saying Matt is the level quarterback that Barry was to the running back position. I just believe you are too harsh on a quarterback who for his first three years was in an organization rebuilding from a regime led by Matt Millen that set the organization back nearly two decades.”
Matt Millen’s regime did not set the organization back two decades. Lord, what’d he do? Firebomb the stadium? Seriously, you think with Millen leaving in 2008 that it was impossible for the Lions to be competitive till 2028? Stafford has been a good to very good player in his 12 seasons leading the Lions, and he’s played valiantly when hurt on several occasions. As I wrote, I think the Lions did well in what they got in return, very well. And Stafford could be great with the Rams, with a really good offensive coach who plays to his strengths. But I don’t see the same greatness so far that you see.
1. I think I would like to make one more appeal for coach-hiring sanity. Here goes. On Feb. 11, 2018, the Indianapolis Colts, jilted in their efforts to hire Josh McDaniels as head coach, turned to Frank Reich and hired him on Feb. 11, a week after the Super Bowl. These points to make:
• Since the Reich hire, all 20 full-time head-coaching hires have been made more than a week before the Super Bowl. Two of them, Zac Taylor (Cincinnati) and Brian Flores (Miami) were made in January but not announced till after the Super Bowl because their teams were playing in the Super Bowl (Rams-Pats) two years ago.
• Look at the seven coaches hired following the 2017 season: Patricia, Gruden, Wilks, Nagy, Shurmur, Vrabel, Reich. The best two, as of today, are Vrabel and Reich. And Reich got hired three weeks or more after the other six had agreed to terms.
• The rush to judgment does benefit head coaches who can get a jump on hiring a staff, but not in all cases. Position coaches on teams in the playoffs cannot interview for coordinator jobs until their seasons are over. Is it logical to think that zero members of the coaching staffs of the top four teams in football—KC, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Green Bay—would have gotten sniffs for coordinator jobs on the seven teams with new coaches this year? Of course not. Similarly, look at four head-coaching candidates this year: Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Tampa Bay offensive and defensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles, and KC QB coach Mike Kafka. Leftwich and Kafka did not interview. Bowles interviewed with two teams, Bieniemy interviewed with five—all by Zoom. NFL teams chose not to wait till after the Super Bowl to interview any of them in-person. For the third straight year, no teams waited till after the Super Bowl to hire head coaches. That’s 20 jobs, all decided in the frenzy of January.
• Last week, I wrote about Brandon Staley’s crazy road to the Chargers’ coaching job. In 27 hours, he went from walking off the field in Green Bay after a Rams’ playoff loss to a 2.5-hour Zoom interview for the Texans coaching job to being interviewed for the Chargers job to being offered and accepting the Chargers job in a southern California conference room. He told me he was so happy he got the LA offer because he couldn’t imagine how he’d put his best foot forward next—flying across the country to Florida to interview for the Eagles head-coaching job. On Monday. The Eagles are famous for their seven- to 11-hour coaching interviews. In what universe is this logical, and how does it result in the best candidates being vetted? (Ed. note: Many responded to this note on Twitter Monday saying it was unfair to criticize long head-coaching interviews for candidates. I was criticizing the sanity of doing it only for Staley, who would barely have slept for two straight nights and then had to put his best self in play for the Eagles job immediately after flying cross-country.)
• With eight minutes left in the Super Bowl last year, Robert Saleh’s 49er defense had held the Chiefs to 10 points and 228 yards. We know what happened from there. But just imagine, for a moment, that KC’s amazing third-and-15 Mahomes-to-Hill conversion doesn’t happen, and the Chiefs turn it over on downs, and the Niners take over with 6:50 to play and a 10-point lead, needing to milk the clock and keep Kansas City from scoring twice. Imagine they do it, and Saleh’s D suffocating KC was the story of the day. How possibly would he not have been a strong head-coaching candidate? He would have been — except all five vacancies had been filled weeks earlier. Fantasy football, of course. But why oh why does the league not step in and say, “No coaching interviews till 9 a.m. ET on the Tuesday after the Super Bowl?”
• And no GM interviews either. The Saints knew for more than a week that the Falcons were hiring assistant GM Terry Fontenot as their GM as soon as New Orleans’ season was over. I’m all for the advancement of deserving people, and Fontenot certainly is. But the GM-in-waiting for the Saints’ arch-rivals should not be an employee of the Saints during the playoffs. It’s just wrong.
• Losing franchises will argue against this, because they want the advantage of an extra month to get going on their offseasons. But the downsides are too significant. Roger Goodell can, and should, compel a vote at the league meetings in March to prevent interviews and hires of coaches and GMs till after the Super Bowl.
2. I think I keep hearing wins for quarterbacks is a meaningless stat. Regarding Tom Brady, generally acknowledged as the greatest quarterback of all time, what’s the first thing said about him? “Six-time Super Bowl winner.” When quarterbacks are drafted in the first round, have you ever heard a coach or GM say: “We’re drafting him to lead the league in yards-per-attempt?” The QB wins stat isn’t everything. But it definitely isn’t nothing.
3. I think there’s a reason the Steelers have had three coaches in the last 52 years. That reason is stability, of course. And success. So I think it’s mostly good when I hear Pittsburgh czar Art Rooney say of the 2021 season and Ben Roethlisberger: “I think we’d like to see Ben back for another year if that can work, but as we’ve said, there’s a lot of work to be done to see if that can happen. There may need to be a decision to be made for that to happen.” Mostly I think that’s good and loyal. With a good and loyal Roethlisberger willing to do whatever is needed to re-work his salary under the Steeler cap, it’s likely to happen that Big Ben is the quarterback on opening weekend 2021. But if I were Mike Tomlin, this would not be a charity/loyalty case. The AFC North is gaining on Pittsburgh, and the Steelers enter the offseason unsure if they’re closer to the 1-5 team that finished the season than the 11-0 team that started it. I would want Roethlisberger in better shape, and trimmer, than the player who looked old and slow down the stretch of 2020.
4. I think you may not be keeping score at home, but in the last three Super Bowl week Monday columns, I led the column by writing about a ride to work with one of the coaches in the game. I accompanied Doug Pederson, Sean McVay and Andy Reid one morning on the week before the game—ironically, at 5:15 a.m., 4:15 a.m. and 3:15 a.m., in succession—and chronicled the trip and their hopes and dreams for the game. Wish I could have done it this year, but a verbal ride with Bowles would have to do this year. Hopefully next January we’re out of the pandemic and I resume this fun pastime.
5. I think, for those who follow such things and want to keep me honest (or for me wanting to be totally embarrassed and also to blow my horn), here were my season predictions when I wrote columns on June 1 (picking the teams 1 through 32 in order) and then my playoff picks on Sept. 7:
• What looks bad: I rated Buffalo 13th of 32 teams, Green Bay 12th, Cleveland 24th and Washington 31st. I picked the Niners fourth, which is about where they would have been if the team hadn’t been wiped out in September. I wrote that Doug Pederson “can handle the mental state of Carson Wentz.” I wrote: “I trust the Giants to score. I don’t trust them to defend.” I did not have Aaron Rodgers in my top four of MVP picks (Mahomes, Prescott, Brady, Jackson).
• What looks really bad: I picked Mike McCarthy as coach of the year and the Cowboys as the NFC one seed. (Take away his laptop before he does more damage!) I rated the Raiders ninth overall and Dallas 10th. I had the Lions, and not the Packers, making the NFC playoffs. (Now that’s malpractice.) I picked New England LB Josh Uche as defensive rookie of the year, which would have been such a prescient pick, had he, you know, played. I led my section on Kansas City by writing, “I hate picking teams to repeat.”
• What looks good: I picked Jacksonville as the worst team in the league, Houston 22nd, New England 21st. I rated the Chiefs first (such a bold move). I picked the Bucs fifth in the league when I ranked the teams in June. I picked Bucs GM Jason Licht Exec of the Year. My Sept. 7 Adieu Haiku:
The Bucs win it all?
If so, party at Vitale’s!
(Dick worships the Bucs.)
• What looks really good: I picked the Bucs to be the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs (they were fifth), to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl (they did), and to beat New Orleans in the NFC title game by six at the Superdome (it was the divisional round, and the margin was 10). I wrote this about the Bucs in the two columns: “I think the Bucs have a good chance to be 2020’s breakthrough team.” And: “The Super Bowl has been won by a team with a first-round playoff bye for seven straight years. But particularly in a year when home-field advantage might be diminished because of COVID (might be), it’s not such a leap to think there could be a Giants of ’07 or Packers of ’10, a low seed that runs the table on the road to win the Super Bowl.” And: “Other than Julian Edelman, the Bucs have five weapons this year (Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and someone you will hear of this year, smurfy and speedy Scotty Miller) better than any the Pats had in the passing game. The run game, with Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette, will be at least as good as the one New England had last year. Plus, Brady has heard and filed away everything in the public view about him. Too old, washed up, can’t win without Belichick. ‘Everybody’s got an opinion about a lot of different things,’ Brady told me in camp, and you could tell what he thinks about those opinions. ‘My opinion is the only one that matters to me.’ “
• What might look more good than bad: My Super Bowl pick—Tampa Bay 30, Baltimore 25.
6. I think yes, Nick Sirianni was evasive and jittery in his introductory press conference Friday. But he should have had help from the men who hired him, owner Jeffrey Lurie and GM Howie Roseman, neither of whom answered questions on the day Sirianni debuted in the City of Brotherly Confrontation. I understand it was Sirianni’s day, but it’s a pretty tough deal, standing alone in a room looking at a bunch of squares on a Zoom screen, answering questions alone (beyond a Lurie opening statement), and trying to elucidate your hopes and dreams for one of the most fanatically followed teams in the NFL. I think Sirianni will get better at this. I’ve heard he was great and natural in dealing with his offensive players in Indy.
7. I think this is going to be a very strange Super Bowl, obviously. I’ll be going (arriving Thursday), and I have no idea if my coverage next Monday will be all that much better than if I’d have stayed in my seventh-floor apartment in Brooklyn and done it all off the TV and the phone, as I’ve done all season. We’ll see. I really just want to get the feel of what the scene is like in the strangest Super Bowl ever.
8. I think there’s one person I’d love to meet this week in Tampa, even if it’s virtual: Amanda Gorman.
9. I think this is hardly a harbinger of things to come for the NFL, but it’s one of the most stunning things I’ve seen in a while in sports: The Colorado Rockies traded third baseman Nolan Arenado to St. Louis on Friday for four or five minor-league players, none of whom are among MLB Pipeline’s list of top 100 big-league prospects. The Rockies included $50 million to make St. Louis take the deal. The football equivalent would be like the Texans trading Deshaun Watson to the Jets for Chris Herndon, Ashtyn Davis, Cameron Clark and Blessuan Austin . . . and the Texans throwing in $30 million to sweeten the deal for the Jets. Arenado is a top-10 (maybe top-five) player in baseball. Over the past five full seasons, he’s averaged 40 homers and 124 RBI. He’s won eight straight National League Gold Gloves. He’s 29. (Turns 30 in April.)
Two things, to me, are the keys to a team in baseball having to do this when it’d never happen in football: Labor peace, which the NFL has through March 2031 and which MLB just can’t solve. Baseball’s CBA expires after this season, and the two sides are primed for another war over it. Football has a guaranteed revenue stream, with a salary cap that can decrease in times of financial woe (such as 2020), for the next decade. Baseball doesn’t have that same guarantee. There’s also TV rights. The NFL gets about $5.2 billion a year and MLB $1.6 billion a year from major TV rights, and the NFL’s payday there should increase markedly with new TV contracts due over the next year. With a streaming package possible, the NFL’s rights per year for the next eight to 10 years should be at least $9 billion. So as long as the product stays on TV and the ‘net, there’s little chance the NFL will have an Arenado problem.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. RIP, Temple coach John Chaney. Man. What a singular coach. He was over the line, over the top, a few too many times, such as the time he charged at John Calipari post-game and yelled, “I’ll kill you!” But he did too many good things to let the negatives define him. Seth Davis of The Athletic paid tribute and wrote this:
Chaney rarely recruited a high school All-American to Temple. He wanted players who were overlooked and under-recruited, hard-edged guys who would come into his program eager to work, ready to listen and willing to set their alarm clocks early. He never got Temple to the Final Four, but his Owls made 17 NCAA Tournaments appearances and reached the Elite Eight five times. When Chaney was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, his speech was so long — “There’s no way you can get up here and be brief” — that when it was over, the emcee, Ahmad Rashad, invited the audience to stand up and stretch.
Even as he built a towering legacy and collected a healthy salary as a college basketball coach, Chaney railed against the NCAA, decrying what he saw as an institutional overreach that denied poor Black kids a fair shot at higher education. He was one of the leaders of the Black Coaches Association, and along with [John] Thompson led a boycott of the NCAA’s use of racially biased standardized tests in determining academic eligibility for freshmen.
b. RIP Sekou Smith, the highly respected NBA writer. He died of COVID last week at 48. What an impact he made in the NBA world.
It was the letters, hard evidence of nasty, naked racism, that made Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth into a national civil rights story. The letters came with scrawled KKK hoods, and read, “You black animal,” and “You will die in one of those games,” and many things worse. Koplin even got some herself. “They knew I was white, Jewish, and working for a Black man,” she told me.
After Aaron talked about his hate mail publicly in the spring of 1973, he generated a massive, national letter-writing campaign. The mail came and came, Koplin recalled, and now it was 99 to one in his favor.
Lonnie Slaton’s fifth-grade class at Blessed Sacrament in La Crosse, Wisconsin, wrote to Aaron. Bobby Schultze wrote, “Dear Hammerin Hank, I have heard about those sick letters you have been getting but don’t pay any attention to them. Black is beautiful. I will always be your number one Fan For ever.” Paul Chamberlain wrote, “I have always put black people on the top of the list of friends, although you may not believe this it’s true. You are the greatest person I know (on earth that is.) I love the Braves.” Ann Hammes wrote, “Dear Hank Aaron, I am 100 percent on your side. I am a tom-boy and I play baseball all the time. Your friend and fan.”
d. I knew there’d be a good part of that story.
e. The happiest part of the last 12 days—it might be weird, I know—is watching Dr. Anthony Fauci speak with unvarnished honesty about the pandemic rather than having to tiptoe around the truth so as not to get fired in a pique of presidential tweet-rage. Finally, science, and nothing else, is ruling how we deal with COVID-19. It’s too late, of course, but it is better than the alternative.
f. Podcast of the Week: A Conspiracy Theory is Proved Wrong, by The Daily, the New York Times’ podcast. It’s a good listen, about what happens to the QAnon movement after the revolution that was supposed to happen multiple times—finally on Inauguration Day—fizzled out. Kevin Roose of the Times has followed the movement, and notes that many of the followers feel played and seem to have gotten out. But one, a Harvard-educated woman from New York City, is still a believer. Fascinating look at human behavior when people are fed lie after lie.
g. TV Piece of the Week: The PBS NewsHour finds Americans desperate to get vaccinated. From Andrea Shiloh of Houston:
“I have been trying, unfortunately, unsuccessfully to get the vaccine for myself and my mother, as her primary caregiver, her only caregiver. My mom is 97-and-a-half years old, and she was diagnosed with dementia two decades ago. Every day, I think about the vaccine. Every day, I think about COVID-19. Every day, I have a conversation with someone or some exchange about it. It is — it’s the — it’s like the albatross sitting on my shoulder.”
h. Do you ever get the feeling that some incredibly wealthy people do not care how much money they spend on something, and perhaps they build things they could never, ever realistically use? Meet the home in Florida that Greg Norman and his wife are selling. Via Katherine Clarke of the Wall Street Journal, this little fixer-upper is on the market for $59.9 million.
j. It’s got 32,000 square feet of living space, with a main house, carriage house, pool house, guest house and boat house. The place was finished last year, and, as Clarke writes, the Normans will likely end up living in the finished product for about a year. She writes: “The Normans said they didn’t expect to be putting the finished product on the market so soon, but the Covid crisis made them re-evaluate their priorities. They want to travel more, they said, and spend more time in Australia with Mr. Norman’s family. The couple also recently won their own battles with Covid-19.”
k. If you read and watch those stories from just this one week in the United States, you think, Man, how’d we ever get so different, so divided?
l. Best point I read about the Curt Schilling outrage at not being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, from Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe: “Schilling is fond of casting himself as a victim of the media. But consider this: Schilling approved of a T-shirt calling for journalists to be lynched and 71.1 percent of a group of 401 journalists still voted for him. The last president to reach 71.1 percent of the popular vote was James Monroe in 1820, when he ran virtually unopposed and received 80.6 percent.”
m. Zero people elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. That’s okay. I like the fact that it’s exclusive. Not really sure how I feel about the ‘roid guys, but let’s take that out of equation. Say you’re voting for guys who’ve not been associated reliably with cheating. And say you take the the morals/citizenship clause in the Hall’s voting rules seriously. I’d likely have voted for Jeff Kent, Andruw Jones and Todd Helton, and I’d have not voted for Omar Vizquel because of his post-career domestic-abuse allegations. I’d hold Vizquel’s case in abeyance, till we find out the veracity of the domestic-abuse charges. I definitely think he’s a Hall of Famer, if he didn’t have this pockmark on his record.
n. So you say, “What about the football Hall?” Well, the Pro Football Hall of Fame tells voters to consider only football-related issues—on the field, in the locker room, leadership, etc. We are not to consider anything else. So I’d be okay voting for a troubled player, and I have done so, if his football record was clearly that of a Hall of Fame player.
o. I get emails every voting cycle for the Hall of Fame, asking me why I hate Art Monk, or all Washington players, or Ray Guy, or whoever. It has zero to do with hate. It has everything to do with trying to judge without prejudice the cases of every player put before our committee. Some decisions are easy—Peyton Manning this year, for instance. Some are difficult: the long-term great play of Alan Faneca versus the 97-game career of one of the best left tackles of all time, Tony Boselli, for instance. Or choosing both. But if you choose both when narrowing the modern-era field from 10 to five near the end of voting, then who to not vote for among the deserving field of John Lynch, Zach Thomas, Richard Seymour and others? It’s like what Tony Dungy said when he was advising his former player and current U.S. House of Representatives member Anthony Gonzalez: It’d be nice if all decisions were 90-10. But many of the important ones in life are 55-45, or narrower. You’ve just got to do what your conscience says.
p. RIP, Cicely Tyson, inspirer of so many.
q. And RIP, Patricia Rooney, widow of the late Dan Rooney, mom of the current Steeler owner Art II. Gentle soul with so much love for her family and the game.
Stafford-Goff. Who won?
Rare, after a swap, to say:
Love the trade for both.