This is the kind of pre-draft season it’s been: There’s a first-round pass-rush prospect from the University of Miami named Gregory Rousseau. High school wideout/safety. College history, checkered. Year one: Played a few snaps as a freshman, got hurt, redshirted. Year two: ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year with 15.5 sacks. Year three: Opted out because of COVID concerns. Basically, four months of college game experience. No NFL Scouting Combine to probe him physically and mentally. No in-person visits with teams; Zoom meetings only. Rousseau is 20 years old.
Information sources? Shut off, pretty much, for so many of the prospects. In the fall, NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah wanted to know how much Rousseau weighed; he played his one season at 248, but it was a year later, and Rousseau, after opting out, was totally off the grid. “I DM’d him on Twitter, just trying to get info any way I could,” Jeremiah said. “And he wrote back: 262.”
“More than any year I’ve been doing this,” Jeremiah told me Saturday evening, “this draft’s a mystery. Say you’re watching a kid who played a season against great competition in the SEC this year, and you’re comparing him to a kid who opted out, maybe played nine or 10 games in 2019, and you haven’t seen him play football in over 400 days. It’s crazy.
“It kind of feels like the MLB draft, with the uncertainty. All kinds of kids in it. The college kids are safer, because you’ve seen them against good competition. They’ve got maybe a lower ceiling but a higher floor. The high school kids, the upside’s enormous but there’s a major risk. It’s usually not that way in the NFL Draft, but it feels like it this year.”
I looked at five mock drafts over the weekend, and Gregory Rousseau ranged from 11 to 21 on each one. Let’s just say he’s the 16th pick. Some team is going to guarantee him $15 million in a rookie contract, perhaps not even meet him in person till late July (no one knows the COVID rules for off-season work), and pray this man who hasn’t played a football game in 520 days will be ready to rush the passer in an NFL game after seven weeks of professional training.
Plenty of time to shuffle up team’s draft boards, but with increasingly important Pro Days beginning in earnest this week (vital this year because of no combine and no in-person meetings with prospects), and the draft 52 days away, I wanted to do a draft primer this week. With help from Jeremiah—you can watch him dissect a complicated year for quarterbacks in the video atop this column—I’ll try to give you the elementary look at what matters this year.
One other point about the importance of the 2021 draft: A look at the cap space on Over The Cap for the current season shows that exactly half the teams, 16 of 32, are either over the projected salary cap or have less than $10 million to spend. An average team will spend $8 million to $10 million to sign its rookies—so that shows you exactly how important the rookies are this year. Several teams will be forced to all but steer clear of significant free agents to build their rosters in 2021. Talk about combustible: There’s more of a need for rookies to contribute this year, and the knowledge base of those rookies will likely be lower than any year in memory.
I had one GM tell me Sunday his team is having trouble in three major draft areas:
• More players than ever—in this GM’s memory—have one season of successful college football only (such as Rousseau). The error rate on those players, because they’ve had less experience than normal prospects, is higher.
• With no on-campus scouting this year other than the Pro Day, the exposure to information sources is reduced. The GM said draft meetings so far have shown less information than ever in things like, How does he take coaching? What kind of teammate is he? What’s his work ethic?
• Limited medical information. Combine physical exams are notoriously thorough, sometimes discovering previously undiagnosed ailments. This GM told me his team won’t have trust in the exams till their own doctors can examine them—after the draft.
With all that, the show will go on. Final draft boards will be constructed over the next seven weeks, and Roger Goodell will step to a podium—in his New York-area basement or in Cleveland, site of the draft—and call out the picks. What you need to know about the landscape of the 2020 draft:
The quarterbacks are plentiful, as is the uncertainty. Five are likely to go in the first round, with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence the likely number one pick to Jacksonville and BYU’s late-rising Zach Wilson likely number two to the Jets or some team trading up for him. After that, it’s a jumble. Ohio State’s Justin Fields is likely to go in the top 10, and the other two could go that high as well. North Dakota State’s Trey Lance was a terrific size-speed prospect against FCS competition in 2019, but played just one game in 2020, so some teams don’t know what make of him. And Mac Jones, great last fall in leading Alabama to the national title, could go as high as eight to Carolina. But he’s not an athlete and doesn’t fit the mold of a new-wave NFL passer.
“Jones is the most challenging evaluation for me,” Jeremiah said. “Ten years ago, lots of prospects were like him—accurate, great decision-making, poise in the pocket. He’s outstanding in those three. But the league is going in a different direction. You need guys who can create plays. If you can’t create and buy some time, or take off and run for a first down on third-and-five, it’s hard. You have a narrow path to winning consistently.”
Not a great defensive draft, at all. Jeremiah has 24 players with first-round grades, only 10 on defense. (For the record, four quarterbacks, four wideouts, three offensive linemen, two running backs, one tight end, three edge players, three linebackers, three corners, and one safety. No defensive tackles.) Jeremiah has Rousseau, Jaelan Phillips of Miami and Kwity Paye of Michigan atop his Edge rankings, but it doesn’t seem like any of them are locks.
What’s weird about this draft: It’s conceivable that the first eight players could be offensive players, and one of the unheralded corners—opt-out Virginia Tech athlete Caleb Farley or Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II—could be the first defender taken. “If you want a corner,” Jeremiah said, “you better get one in the first couple of rounds. It falls off after that.” Another son of an ex-NFLer, South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn (son of former wideout Joe Horn), should go by the end of round one.
Best position in the draft: Wide receiver (again). In the last two drafts, teams have picked a total of 30 wideouts in the first three rounds. This year, Jeremiah has 19 receivers with grades in the top three rounds. When you see the recent draft depth of the position—third-round wideouts from the last three years: Terry McLaurin, Michael Gallup, Tre’Quan Smith, Diontae Johnson—I begin to think NFL teams should start treating the receiver position like running backs. Don’t waste a high pick on one; you can get a good one in the seventies, eighties, nineties overall.
“It’s almost the same every year now, Jeremiah said. “Last year, I had a record number of guys with top-three-round grades . Not as much this year, but so many good options in the second, third, fourth rounds.” Most draft boards will have LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle among the top 12 picks. Kadarius Toney of Florida is Jeremiah’s fourth first-round wideout, but his favorite wideout at a bargain price (mid-round two) is Mississippi’s Elijah Moore: “There were games that nobody could cover him.”
Surest position at the top? Might be offensive line. It’s not deep, but either Rashawn Slater of Northwestern or Penei Sewell of Oregon (both were 2020 opt-outs) could be opening-day left tackles in September. They should both go in the top six or eight. Slater played well against Ohio State and ace edge-rusher Chase Young in their 2019 meeting. Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC) could play guard or tackle comfortably, and Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech) and Jalen Mayfield (Michigan) could crack the end of the first round.
The Unicorn. Florida tight end Kyle Pitts is the first player at his position in 43 years of Mel Kiper’s draft-grading to crack the top five overall prospects. Whether he goes that high is a matter of taste, but a smart team could use him as an in-line tight end, running routes out of the slot, split wide, and as an athletic motion man. (Remember Rob Gronkowski’s Jet Motion Super Bowl TD, when he was untouched by any defenders?) So Pitts may be drafted as a tight end but could end up playing all over the map. “If he had ‘WR’ next to his name,” Jeremiah said, “he’d be a top 15 pick.”
Run-and-chase linebackers are in style. Jeremiah loves Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah of Notre Dame, and sees Micah Parsons (Penn State) and Zaven Collins (Tulsa) as first-round ‘backers. “He’s such an exciting player,” Jeremiah said of Owusu-Koramoah. “He’s one of the guys in this draft I can’t wait to see—both how he’ll be used and how many plays he makes all over the field.”
Running backs high in the draft are out of style, but not to Jeremiah. He loves Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Alabama’s Najee Harris, and the prospect who might be his favorite player in the draft (encompassing value as well as talent) is a likely second-rounder, North Carolina’s Javonte Williams. Jeremiah thinks Williams could end up being the best back in the draft. “Not often a running back is the leader of your football team,” Jeremiah said, “but Javonte Williams was at North Carolina.”
“I know one thing,” Jeremiah said near the end of our conversation. “If you’re a team or if you’re a fan, you’d better exercise patience after the draft this year. There’s just too much we’re not going to know about too many players.”
With the draft dominating news cycles increasingly from November to April, that’s not something draft-crazy fans are going to want to hear. But it sure sounds like the truth in 2021.
1. MAIA CHAKA. On the first day of Women’s History Month last Monday, Chaka, who’d been on the NFL’s radar as a developmental official for seven years, got a phone call from NFL VP of Officiating Wayne Mackie. “Welcome to the NFL,” Mackie said. Chaka, a 38-year-old veteran of Conference USA and PAC 12 officiating, was sure Mackie, who’d been an officiating mentor, was kidding. “Am I being punked?” she asked Mackie. He assured her this was indeed real—Chaka was about to be named the first Black female official in NFL history.
“I jumped up,” Chaka told me Saturday from her Virginia home, “and I was screaming. I did a lap around the house, screaming.”
As it sunk in, Chaka realized the job was much bigger than being one of 117 NFL officials. Now, fathers and mothers of all colors can show their daughters the Black woman in the official’s uniform on the TV during games and point to another job that is now possible for them. She and six-year-vet Sarah Thomas are the only women on the NFL’s officiating roster. “It is very historic,” she said. “It’s not only huge for me. It is huge for women. It is huge for the people I see in my community every day. It is huge for people who look like me. I would like to say I achieved this goal by doing things the right way, working hard, working with integrity. It is about work ethic.”
Chaka grew up in Rochester, N.Y., loving football, playing tackle football with the boys in her neighborhood “when I was 4 or 5.” Football was her favorite sport, but there was no organized football for girls in Rochester (or virtually anywhere 30 years ago), so she gravitated to basketball while mastering the Madden video game. Asked her favorite team growing up, she said, “The referees.” Huh? “I always watched them and how they worked during games. They go undefeated. And they go to the Super Bowl every year.” Her path started when she got a PE teaching job in Virginia Beach after graduating from Norfolk State, and a fellow teacher who officiated suggested she try the football officiating course being offered locally. “You’re an athlete,” the teacher said. “And you talk football all the time.” That was 2005. She started doing Pop Warner games, graduated to high school games in 2007, and began college officiating three years later.
“What got ingrained in me early,” Chaka said, “is every game is important. Even in Pop Warner, I was told, ‘Every game is a big game for somebody.’ To that kid in Pop Warner and to his parents, they deserve the same respect as if you’re doing the Super Bowl.”
On Saturday, Chaka spent part of her morning studying her NFL rulebook and taking a rules quiz. She is likely to be a line judge or down judge in 2021. I asked: “Have you thought how you’ll react when you’re doing a Patriots’ game, and you make a call, and Bill Belichick takes off his headset and starts yelling at you?”
“Well,” she said, “I hope I have the right answer for him. I know he knows the rulebook inside and out, and I will too. I just have to make sure I am 100 percent confident in my call, and I’ll just explain it to him . . . I have the rule book out today. I know the work starts now.”
2. CHRIS SIMMS. Never mind that Simms, the former Bucs quarterback and current NBC Sports NFL analyst, rated Justin Herbert ahead of Tua Tagovailoa last year, and had Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen his favorite QBs in the ’18 draft, and loved Patrick Mahomes in 2017. That didn’t buy him any trust when he came out with his 2021 draft ratings and had BYU quarterback Zach Wilson over overwhelming consensus number one Trevor Lawrence when he released his draft rankings last week. Twitter mostly saw Simms as the dolt who ranked Tom Brady number 15 in his 2020 QB rankings. And mostly, Simms didn’t care.
“It’s lather, rinse, repeat,” Simms said Saturday. “I don’t care. Every year when I look at quarterbacks, I don’t go in with preconceived notions. The film teaches me. I learned from my dad [former Giants QB Phil Simms] and from some smart offensive coaches, Jon Gruden and Josh McDaniels. I trust myself. Last year, I had Herbert ahead of Tua, and it’s ‘What an idiot. What does he know?’ When I had Lamar and Josh Allen ahead of Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield, it was, ‘You only have the job because of your father.’ So, hey, I just do what I think is right. And some smart people in the NFL listen to how I rank these guys.”
3. CHICAGO’S QB SITUATION. For a second, let’s be real. Short of a miracle, the Bears are screwed. The reports last week that the Bears will go hard after Russell Wilson left me asking: “With what trade chips, exactly?” Why would Seattle incur a $39-million cap hit for 2021 by trading Wilson to the Bears for a package including (presumably) edge rusher Khalil Mack, quarterback Nick Foles, the 20th overall pick this year, and Chicago’s first-round pick next year, among other things? Seattle currently has one pick in the top 125 choices in this year’s draft (56th overall). How do the Seahawks find a QB-of-the-future hope with, say 20 and 56 this year, and no first-round pick next year? Seems like a futile pipe dream, that the Bears would have much Seattle GM John Schneider would find equitable.
I’ve thought for some time that the Bears will be left out of the prime QB stakes. Chicago’s holding the 52nd and 83rd overall picks this year, and if the first round comes and goes without Wilson or Deshaun Watson coming, the Bears should pursue Las Vegas backup Marcus Mariota. I don’t know if he can fulfill the promise of pre-draft 2015, but he sure looked good in his brief trial with Vegas last season.
4. THE JETS. No team in the next 14 months has a better draft situation than the Jets. Currently, they own a decent piece of quarterback real estate in Sam Darnold. He’s worth, at least, a high second-round pick in this draft—39th overall to Carolina, maybe, or 40th to Denver, or 43rd to San Francisco. (The 49ers are my personal favorite.) For a moment, let’s pretend New York holds onto Darnold without exercising the fifth-year option, and plays this year with Darnold and eschews picking a quarterback number two. That leaves New York with a premier player at two, or a trade-down to eight or nine (Carolina or Denver) for first-round picks this year and in 2022, and a second-rounder this year. Say it’s Carolina. That would leave the Jets with Darnold at quarterback plus:
- The eighth and 23rd picks in the first round this year.
- The 34th and 39th overall picks in the second round this year.
- The 66th and 86th picks in the third round this year.
- Three first-round picks next year: their own, Carolina’s and Seattle’s (Jamal Adams trade).
It’s silly to think the Jets absolutely can wait till next year to get their quarterback if Darnold is mediocre this year. A year ago, Zach Wilson was in a three-way battle for the BYU starting job, so who knew he’d come out early and be a top-three prospect in the ’21 draft? No one. So even though Spencer Rattler of Oklahoma and Sam Howell of North Carolina could be top-five prospects in 2022, it’s impossible to sit here and say there will be X number of top-tier quarterbacks in the 2022 draft, led by Rattler and Howell. Too early. But if the Jets have three ones next year, they’d be in position to go get a QB of the future. Someone who knows Jets GM Joe Douglas told me the other day he’s pretty sure the Jets have not made their mind up about the quarterback, and Douglas could be swayed by the quality of offers for Darnold. We’ll see. Smart money says they stick at two, eschew Deshaun Watson, and draft Wilson or their fave of the quarterbacks after Jacksonville takes Trevor Lawrence.
5. CAP JAIL. The other day, I asked Jason Fitzgerald, founder of the invaluable cap- and salary-resource site Over The Cap, for the cap-space figures entering free agency from recent years. Now, because the league year is nine days away and teams still have time to clear cap space, the 2021 figure is a bit fungible. But it’s not going to change much. There’s no question that, over the next few days, we’ll see an inordinate number of good players getting cut. We’ve already seen a few, including one stunning whacking: Miami edge rusher Kyle Van Noy, who coach Brian Flores imported from New England to be his defensive sensei 11 months ago. There will be many more. With the cap being reduced from $198 million in 2020 to about $183 million this year, teams are scrambling to get to ground zero. Here is the average cap space per team about a week out from free agency over the past four years, with the 2021 figure in slight flux:
2017: $29.58 million available per team.
2018: $32.58 million
2019: $34.37 million
2020: $43.33 million
2021: $13.06 million
Think of that: Teams this year will have, on average, about a third of the money to spend in 2021 that they had in 2020.
Fitzgerald has an E-book, The OTC Football Free Agency Guide, available via PDF for a fee. Lots of similarly enlightening stuff in there, including the projection of contracts for a long list of leading free agents. This is an unprecedented, cap-strapped offseason, and the guide is a good navigation tool for it.
6. THOMAS MORSTEAD. Today is punter Thomas Morstead’s 35th birthday. “Can you do me a favor and do a little misprint there?” he asked the other day. “Say I’m 25.” Morstead, one of the most beloved Saints, got the dreaded cap-casualty phone call Thursday from coach Sean Payton. With the Saints slashing a bloated cap, they saved $2.5 million by cutting Morstead, who is responsible for one of the great plays in team history. At the start of the second half of Super Bowl 44 in the 2009 season, the Saints trailing Indianapolis, Morstead pooched a perfect onside kick; the Saints’ Chris Reis recovered, and it sparked a superb second half and 31-17 Saints victory. I wondered how Morstead, a standup guy, would react after being such a fan favorite in Louisiana. A day after he got fired, Morstead talked about it—and about his advice to players who would be getting the same soul-crushing phone call in the next few days.
“I am a naturally prepared person,” Morstead said. “So of course you know something like this might happen. I am grateful that I don’t have any feelings of resentment about the exit. My entire experience with the team—I don’t know how to verbalize it . . . I felt nothing but love and respect. My uncle sent me something about the uncertainty of what was coming. He said, ‘Change is rarely easy. But if it does come, then with the right framing and mindset, it is a source of renewal, of new challenges and opportunities that you cannot yet see inside the lens of your current reality.
“I was fortunate. I smelled the roses. I enjoyed the good times while I was having them. Steve Gleason told me a long time ago, ‘New Orleans will love you 10 times more than you will ever love it. In the last 24 hours, I’ve gotten 400 texts and calls. People I don’t even know. Tell me the one time I met so and so, what a great memory it was for them, even if I was with them for 30 seconds.
“My advice, I guess, would be to control the things you can control. Whether the team’s decision is performance or value-related, it doesn’t matter. It’s out of your control. And this: You gotta be able to answer to your kids one day. My kids are too young to understand this now, but one day they’ll look back on video or the internet and see how I handled it. When you get the opportunity to handle tough situations, handle them with grace. You can’t change them.”
Editor’s Note: In Ten Things I Think below, there’s a memory of Morstead from the Super Bowl 11 years ago.
7. BEN ROETHLISBERGER. The contract re-do he signed with the Steelers last week includes some phony voidable years, and the deal voids five days after the Super Bowl, so it seems like the 2021 season will be Roethlisberger’s final one in Pittsburgh—and likely in the NFL. A few things about Roethlisberger after he took a $5-million paycut with the Steelers to lower his cap number by $15.3 million in 2021: He’s very much on-board with the team’s sole off-season focus (even at the expense of losing productive wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster) of revamping the run game after a putrid 3.62-yard average carry last year, worst in the NFL. He understands that’s going to be the emphasis in low-cost free-agency and the draft and with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s playbook. Roethlisberger had to accept a rebuilding of the offensive line, including the retirement of center Maurkice Pouncey, and he did.
Roethlisberger also knows with the cap getting chopped league-wide and the Steelers needing money—and with the likelihood that he’s the highest-paid player in league history at $262 million entering the year—the locker room would appreciate him taking a $5-million haircut. “He’s in a great frame of mind,” said a good friend of his. “He really wanted to come back and take a legit shot [at a Super Bowl] this year.”
8. J.J. WATT. To pay Watt $20 million, at least, seems a curious decision for the Cardinals. (The numbers: $12 million to sign, $2.5-million base salary this year, $5.5 million guaranteed next year.) Not only does it send 26-year-old pass-rusher Haason Reddick into free agency after a 12.5-sack season (his only good year as a Card, to be fair) but it locks in a player in his age-32 season who has missed 32 games in his last five years due to injury opposite franchise rusher Chandler Jones. I do think Watt has a chance to be very good again, but GM Steve Keim takes a pretty big chance, hoping Watt—who has had one double-digit sack season in the least five years—can be a premier player again.
9. MATT LAFLEUR. The Green Bay coach will be on my podcast later this week. We spoke Friday, and he sounded the way you’d think a coach with tough decisions to make in a pandemic would sound. Ask him about the close calls Green Bay has to make in free agency—one is whether to franchise Aaron Jones or do a multi-year deal with him or let him hit the market—and he says, “Depending on the time of day, I might give you a different answer of what we should do. There is no right answer.”
We talked about the fateful decision with 2:09 to go in the NFC Championship Game, fourth-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 8-yard line, down eight points with three timeouts left, to kick a field goal and risk not getting the ball back from Tom Brady and the Bucs. That’s exactly what happened, of course, and Tampa Bay won the game 31-26. LaFleur sounded like he’d make the same decision again, with one major exception. Aaron Rodgers threw incomplete on first and second downs—the first likely an Allen Lazard mistake for not expecting an accurate pass, the second forced by a heavy rush from Ndamukong Suh—but on third down, LaFleur seems to regret not telling Rodgers in his ear, “Hey, we might not be in four-down territory here.”
Rodgers had a lot of space to run on that third down, but chose at the last second to try to wedge a throw into a well-bracketed Davante Adams. It was incomplete. The replay showed Rodgers had room to run—possibly not for a touchdown but likely for at least four or five yards. Would fourth-and-goal from the Tampa 3-yard line forced the Bucs to respect a possible run by big back A.J. Dillon? We’ll never know. Instead, on fourth down, LaFleur called for the field goal.
Said LaFleur: “One thing you definitely learn: I know my communication with [Rodgers] should have been better in that situation. Maybe on that third down we do something a little bit different. His mindset was, We got four downs here. It comes down to communication, and that’s something I gotta learn from and be better with him.”
True. But the Packers still would have had to convert the fourth down into a touchdown, and make the two-point conversion, and beat Tom Brady in overtime. Kevin King’s more at fault for his poor decision to grab Tyler Johnson’s jersey with 1:41 left, the pass-interference flag allowing the Bucs to milk the clock and win.
Last point about LaFleur: Four Packer coaches have won NFL titles. How LaFleur’s first two Green Bay regular seasons compare to the first two years of his championship predecessors:
Curly Lambeau (1921-’22) — 7-5-4
Vince Lombardi (1959-’60) — 15-9
Mike Holmgren (1992-’93) — 18-14
Mike McCarthy (2006-’07) — 21-11
Matt LaFleur (2019-’20) — 26-6
“If you asked me, probably, before I got the job, ‘Hey, you’re gonna go 13-3 your first two years as coach,’ you’d sign up for that,” LaFleur said. “But only one team’s happy at the end of the year.” True. But LaFleur’s proven a lot in his first two years. Not only can he coexist and form a great bond with Rodgers, but he’s proven he can manage a complete team too.
10. PRO DAYS. With no combine this year, pro days are more important than ever. This week, the on-campus workouts begin in earnest, with three very big ones: Tuesday in Chicago, tackle Rashawn Slater, a 2020 opt-out, will be on display at Northwestern, and some scouts think he could be the first tackle picked. Thursday in South Carolina, Travis Etienne will try to show he should be RB1 at Clemson’s Pro Day. And Friday’s a big day at North Dakota State. Because of level of competition and the fact he’s played only one game in the last 14 months, Trey Lance will be under the microscope in Fargo.
11. ALEX SMITH. Washington did the right thing in releasing the high-salaried Comeback Player of the Year, and doing it before the start of free agency so Smith could get a head start on the process. I doubt Smith will find a sure starting gig this offseason, and if I were him, I’d probably wait to see how all the dominoes fall between now and the end of draft weekend. Interesting: I wonder if Matt Nagy had the choice of Smith, who he coached in Kansas City, or Marcus Mariota, who would he choose? And I wonder if Kansas City would be interested in Smith being Patrick Mahomes’ backup for the next two years, at a manageable cap cost.
With five (six?) college quarterbacks set to be solid first-round candidates on April 29, I asked five people who’ve studied the tape on the class how they’d rank the best passers. Lots of similarities—except, as I mentioned, from Chris Simms.
Chris Simms, NBC, Former NFL QB
1. Zach Wilson, Brigham Young. Best pure thrower in the draft, most explosive arm in the draft. Has Mahomes/Rodgers magician type of traits. I think he’s more pro-ready than Trevor Lawrence.
2. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson. Big, strong-armed, and played in a lot of big-time games. Still untapped potential. Throwing is not as consistent as Wilson or Mac Jones, but has great tools.
3. Mac Jones, Alabama. A machine. Best processor of information I’ve seen this year—the way Joe Burrow was. Throws a perfect spiral that hits the bullseye almost every throw. The way Alabama called plays, you could tell they trusted him more than Tua.
4. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M. Way under the radar. Don’t know why. Third-purest thrower, behind Wilson and Jones. When pocket’s collapsing, can still throw a perfect 20-yard out. I think he’s a first-round talent. After my rankings came out, I had people in NFL text me, “Damn you. Wish you hadn’t brought his name up in the conversation.” Some teams love him.
5. Justin Fields, Ohio State. An Adonis. Built like Cam Newton. Great runner. Some inconsistencies in his throwing—mechanics and accuracy. Too many times when the mechanics lead to throws that aren’t effective.
6. Trey Lance, North Dakota State. I like his throwing and mechanics more than Fields. Wideout-type speed, really strong arm. But there’s a lack of experience, and often looks at one guy and makes a throw. Probably needs to sit for a year. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him last till the second round.
Dan Orlovsky, ESPN, Former NFL QB
1. Lawrence. Elite fundamentals, elite talent. Untapped potential because of subpar scheme in college. Most consistent high level of play—we take it for granted.
2. Wilson. Omar Vizquel hands at QB. Very natural thrower of the football with the most “holy cow” throws in this draft. Plays every snap with a belief there’s a big play out there somewhere on the field.
3. Fields. Physical talent is off the charts. Throws very well on the run. Will have to develop throwing to covered guys. Covered in college is often times open in NFL. Needs to be less “deliberate.”
4. Jones. Most impressive tape of any guy. Makes me say “so well done” the most. Perfect case of traits versus tape. Isn’t fast, but plays incredibly fast. I will know draft night if he’s going to be good (most dependent on where he goes).
5. Lance. Reminds me some of Dak Prescott. As good a deep ball thrower as anyone in the draft. Confidence in decisions. He’s an oxymoron—has a calm restlessness style of play.
Mike Renner, Pro Football Focus
1. Lawrence. He doesn’t have weaknesses. Not a Josh Allen arm, not Joe Burrow-accurate. But he’s NFL-ready. Very reminiscent of Andrew Luck. Can be a top-12 NFL quarterback in the NFL as a rookie.
2. Wilson. How much do you love big, highlight-reel impressive throws on every tape? Throws on the move, downfield, from different arm angles. Was not under pressure much. Didn’t play top competition.
3. Fields. Very accurate. For his career, the most accurate quarterback we’ve ever charted. His average depth of target is two yards farther than [ex-Buckeye] Dwayne Haskins. Plus, a legit weapon as a runner.
4. Lance. Probably the most impressive physical skill set of any QB in the draft. Probably the strongest arm, and he’s an excellent runner. Accuracy isn’t what the others have, but you fall in love with what he could be.
5. Jones. Doesn’t have the arm strength or mobility of the others. Might not make the special throws. But he’s accurate, with a very quick release, operated a good offense at a high level of a good offense. Outplayed Tua.
Greg Cosell, Analyst, “NFL Matchup” show
1. Lawrence. What consistently stood out was how precisely accurate he was on intermediate and deep throws. Bring the designed QB run game to an offense. Has an aggressive, turn-it-loose throwing mentality. Will be a day one NFL starter.
2. Wilson. His 2020 tape shows a QB whose game was built on pocket efficiency and off-schedule movement. My sense is he’s a combination of structured system efficiency with precise ball location and second-reaction improvisation.
Cosell has not ranked the order of Fields, Lance and Jones. Fields has a compact delivery and plus arm strength, Cosell said, but “did not show a natural feel for timing and anticipation—needed to see it before turning it loose.” Lance is “the most intriguing QB prospect” this year with great traits and a live arm; “it would not surprise me if Lance was a very good NFL QB three years down the road once he gains more experience and coaching.” Jones, Cosell said, is experienced with NFL route concepts and RPO, but he was concerned about Jones’ ability “to play outside of structure and make off-schedule plays.”
One more note from Cosell: “Jones is the most fascinating prospect. Almost every coach you talk to says second-reaction movement is almost essential for NFL quarterbacks now. Yet Jones has none and is not a good athlete. It will be interesting.”
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network Draft Analyst
1. Lawrence. Such a unique package. When you have that size and athletic ability, and he’s shown the ability to make plays outside the system too. Played against a high level for a long period.
2. Wilson. You’re getting pushback from a lot of folks who maybe didn’t watch as much of him. But there’s a lot of support for Zach around the league. He played the best this season, but there’s a difference between playing the best and being the best quarterback. If he hadn’t had that shoulder surgery [labrum surgery in 2019], I might be having some of Chris [Simms’] courage, putting Zach number one.
3. Lance. Lance and Fields are very close. Both physical, strong, aggressive, tough demeanor. It comes down to decision-making. Lance protects the football, has poise and doesn’t put the ball in harm’s way. Trusts what he sees. Is he ready right now? It’s more of a long-term play. I believe in the kid.
4. Fields. A little more accurate and consistent, but at times he got a little reckless with the ball. That bothered me. At times, he holds the ball too long. You can speed up your clock, which he needs to do.
5. Jones. Because his athletic tools are limited, it puts pressure on the organization to build up the rest of the roster. You’ve got to have a good offensive line in front of him.
“I broke the email server in our school system.”
—Maia Chaka, the first Black woman to be named an NFL game official, on the flood of reaction into her Virginia Beach school system when the news of her NFL appointment broke on NBC’s “Today” show Friday morning.
“I don’t recommend it. It was excruciating. … I stood. I didn’t sit.”
—Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski, to Mike Florio on “PFTPM,” on watching the Browns’ playoff victory over Pittsburgh from his basement because he had COVID-19.
“I think Tom has taken his place on the top a long time ago. … If you look at what Tom has been able to accomplish in the time he has played, I think it puts him definitely up there in the top of the list.”
—Joe Montana, on ESPN, opining that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time.
“Where is he rehabbing right now? Phoenix, Arizona. He’s going to be on the Cardinals.”
—Former NFL wideout Brandon Marshall, on the 2021 team of Odell Beckham Jr., on FS1 last week.
That’ll be news to the Cardinals’ salary cap.
“Last year, we had the combine, so that was normal. This year, no combine at all, so that is going to be a lot different. Essentially, those pro days are going to serve as a combine for us, as far as how we’re going to collect data on the players.”
—Chargers GM Tom Telesco, on the oddities of the 2021 pre-draft scouting process.
In salary and bonus in 2021, according to Over The Cap, the combined compensation for 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson and 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert will be $3.59 million.
According to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, Skip Bayless has signed a new contract with FOX that will pay him $32 million over four years, an average of $8 million a year.
It’s quite a sports world when Skip Bayless makes $4.4 million more than Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert combined in a prime earning year.
Per Janice Huff of WNBC-TV in New York:
Snowfall in New York city this winter: 38.6 inches.
Snowfall in Bangor, Maine, this winter: 34.9 inches.
— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) March 4, 2021
Eisen hosts The Rich Eisen Show.
My mom's from Western Pa. and loves to chat. Once, a charity pro-am, my mom got to drive a golf cart for Glenn Frey. She's from a different era, and politely asked who he was. "Ever heard of the Eagles?" he said dryly. Mom, excited: "The Philadelphia Eagles? I'm from NEWCASTLE!"
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) March 2, 2021
Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times covers the NFL.
Walter Gretzky cared deeply about his family and his community – his kindness was undeniable, his passion was obvious, and his impact was immense. My thoughts are with Wayne and the entire Gretzky family, and all who are mourning the loss of Canada’s hockey dad.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) March 5, 2021
Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, on the passing of Walter Gretzky, Wayne’s father.
Brantford residents pay tribute to Walter Gretzky by tapping their hockey sticks on the ground as the funeral procession made its way from the church pic.twitter.com/tqrK6sxAFS
— CityNews Toronto (@CityNews) March 6, 2021
CityNews Toronto is a video and TV service in Ontario.
Good point, Rekuram. From Rekuram Varadharaj, of India: “On the topic of minority coaching hires: To an unbiased observer, nepotism appears rampant in the NFL coaching ecosystem. Head coaches hiring their sons/siblings on their staff seems to be a routine and accepted practice across the league. To put it mildly, this would be frowned upon in any other professional setting. Why is this considered acceptable? How much of a role do you think this plays in adding to the ‘good ol’ boy network’ and the resultant paucity of coaching opportunities to minority candidates?”
Excellent question. (And thanks for reading on the other side of the world.) I know over the years some in the league office have voiced their concern over this, because lots of sons and relatives of prestige coaches have gotten opportunities at least in part by their lineage. The Vikings’ offensive coordinator, Klint Kubiak (son of longtime coach Gary Kubiak) and co-defensive coordinator, Adam Zimmer (son of head coach Mike Zimmer) are obvious examples, and Washington employs Scott Turner (son of longtime coach Norv), Luke Del Rio (son of WFT defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio) and Ron Rivera’s nephew, Vincent Rivera. I’ve not heard of a push for an anti-nepotism rule. I’ve always felt some coaches view the chance to put kin on their staffs as a way of making up for lost time with the kids so often overlooked because being a coach is an all-consuming job.
Is it really the golden age of quarterbacks? From Ray Roebuck: “You have recently stated more than once that this is the “golden age of quarterbacking” in the NFL. Is that because there are numerous truly great QBs playing or that rules changes over the years have made it comparatively easier to play the position? Joe Namath threw as many picks as touchdowns. I wonder what he could have done in today’s game (especially with modern medicine to help with the knees). Would any GM take Kirk Cousins over Namath in their primes?”
It’s hard to judge quarterbacks in different eras compared to today, of course. Rules have something to do with that. But I find myself looking back to a year I remember well, 1988; I covered a lot of Bengals games that year working for Newsday, because Boomer Esiason was a Long Islander and Newsday was based there. Esiason was the NFL MVP that season, and his numbers that year would be modest today. His .575 accuracy figure would have been 34th among 2020 quarterbacks, his 3,572 yards would rank 18th, and his 97.4 passer rating 13th.
Twenty years ago, the 10 highest-rated passers (in 2000) were Brian Griese, Trent Green, Kurt Warner, Daunte Culpepper, Jeff Garcia, Peyton Manning, Rich Gannon, Elvis Grbac, Doug Flutie and Mark Brunell. Two Hall of Famers.
Top 10 this year: Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Ryan Tannehill, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Tom Brady, Derek Carr. At least four Hall of Famers, with Watson, Mahomes and Allen at the dawn of careers that could be bronze-bust-worthy one day.
Today’s passers benefit most from the rules protection their predecessors didn’t have, so that’s a factor. But the accuracy, the massive productivity, the long careers of extended greatness—I just don’t think there’s an era in history that’s been close.
“Meet Zach Wilson” means “Get to know who Zach Wilson is.” From @dylanschwaa, on Twitter: “ ‘Meet Zach Wilson’ “ like we haven’t said he’s QB2 since Thanksgiving. Crazy how all these ‘experts’ are just now buying in.”
To most Americans, Dylan, and perhaps even you, Zach Wilson’s been a name in a mock draft till now. My guess is that most people who read my column are bigger NFL fans than college football fans, or close. So the column was about educating all of those people who, like me, knew only that he was a fast-rising Brigham Young quarterback, but didn’t know much about his story.
Michael liked the final scene in “The Queen’s Gambit” too. From Michael Guina: “Having rewatched that scene multiple times I find it is the perfect ending for the series as well as a positive commentary on people everywhere. I love movies and shows that capture the little interactions between people, because that is what really makes up a daily life. Part of me wants a season two but part of me believes it will be a letdown. Thanks for not limiting your writing to just football.”
Every word of your letter is spot on, Michael. I don’t know how they could match season one. And thanks for the kind words.
Unusual request. From Othmane Chiqui, of Rabat, Morocco: “After reading your columns for over a decade, I feel that you’re a big fan of Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell and the Eagles. (I hope I’m right.) But would you please tell us more about your favorite songs/albums and the music you listen to when you’re on the road to visit training camps?”
Thanks for writing from Morocco, Othmane. Always wanted to visit—seems a fascinating place. The last few years, I have traveled with younger people and often do a combo platter of listening on the trip. I would say we listen to NPR for morning and afternoon news when driving at those times, then Dylan, Stones, U2, Springsteen, Florence + the Machine, Joni, CSNY, Tom Petty, and when new music is chosen, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Ava Max and a few others whose names I’d never recall. I love the new music, because I’d never listen to it otherwise.
1. I think the “spot and choose” overtime proposal by the Ravens is interesting, but probably doesn’t have much of a chance to pass this year. If you haven’t heard, Baltimore’s idea when a game is tied entering overtime is this:
One team picks the spot of the ball to start overtime, and the other team decides whether it wants to play offense or defense. The game would be sudden-death; the first to score wins—as opposed to the current rule, which mandates a regular coin-flip start to overtime, with the receiving team needing a touchdown on the first possession to end the game. A field goal or no score on the first possession would force the game to continue till a team wins, or till the 10-minute period ends.
The way rules changes work in the NFL is that even the best ideas take time to win over the room. Rules changes need a three-quarters majority of the teams to pass. So 24 teams would have to favor a rule for it to become law. Usually, the arch-conservative NFL owners won’t vote for something odd/weird/highly different like “spot and choose.” It took owners four years of arm-twisting to pass a relatively simple extra-point change. I can’t imagine how many years it would take to convince the staid ownership in the NFL to vote for this major change.
2. I think, by the way, another proposal to go back to sudden-death overtime is a step backward. All that does is make a coin flip the most important factor in whether teams win or lose in the extra period. It’s dumb.
3. I think I’ve got a story for you about the Saints’ onside kick that turned Super Bowl 44 into a New Orleans victory. The man who executed that kick 11 years and one month ago, Thomas Morstead, was cut by the Saints on Thursday. Cap casualty. The man will love the Saints till the day he dies, and they will love him back. In an abridged form, told to me one day in training camp in 2019 in New Orleans, here’s Morstead’s oral history of the biggest play of his very good NFL career:
“We would always have fakes in the game plan that whole year. We never ran them because we were always winning. You don’t want to burn good things you have planned. But the night before the game, here it was again. Coaches said, Hey, we’re gonna run this. We’re gonna run ‘Ambush.’ And at halftime of the Super Bowl—long halftime—Sean [Payton] bursts through the defensive room. He just walked right by me, just in passing, no big deal, and he says, ‘We’re running Ambush to start the half.’ There’s not a conversation. He’s gone. I’m telling you, my heart rate just went through the roof. I did not have a good attitude. I wasn’t feeling great about it in the moment. I had to flush all those negative thoughts out.
“You know the thing that sucks about an onside kick in a football game? You can’t practice it. The first time you hit it is when you hit it in the game. And now I’m being asked to do it in the Super Bowl!
“So I’m out there on the field in warmups before the second half, and Pat McAfee, who was a rookie that year for the Colts, is their kickoff guy. And I’m out there kicking off next to him. The adrenaline is just coursing through me. And I just toss out, ‘Tell your returner to not even bother bringing this out. Doesn’t matter how you line this up. I’m putting this out the back of the end zone.’ Like I’m just trying to sell the Kool Aid to anybody I can. Maybe I can fool myself into thinking I can really do this!
“I just went out there and I put that ball on the tee. I had this routine: I take my steps, I always go to the same spot, make it look exactly the same as a deep kickoff, always kick to the right. So I had the initials FG—for [beloved ex-coach] Frank Gansz—on the heel of one of my cleats. I had this little thing I’d do, thinking back to Frank, I just said at that moment, ‘Frank, I hope you’re with me.’
“And I don’t remember anything after that. I kinda blacked out. I just remember seeing [Saints special-teams ace] Chris Reis with the ball as I was running at the pile, thinking, ‘Please God, hold onto that.’ Have you seen ‘Remember the Titans?’ At the end of the movie, they win, and they hold the ball up, and it’s right in the light and it’s kind of blocked out by the light? When we pulled Chris out of that pile, and he held that ball up, it was right in the lights just like in that movie. And I remember hugging him from the back just saying, ‘I love you Chris!’ It was just such a big gamble and it was everything.
“You should have seen Chris in the showers after the game. He had claw marks, scratches, he was bruised. I mean, Chris has marks all over his body. Guys were fighting to get that ball. I think it was a good 60, 65 seconds, the pile. Guys are doing everything. You don’t know what goes on in the pile sometimes. You get 10 guys there, you know, guys are fighting to get a ring. He was battered. It was crazy.
“When I really go through the whole thing, I can’t help but get goosebumps. I got ‘em right now.”
Saints trailed then, 10-6, and drove to the goal-ahead TD after Reis’ recovery. New Orleans won 31-17.
“There’s never been . . . there isn’t . . . there will never be a moment bigger in my football career than that moment. Like I said, ever since, it allows me to artificially create a little confidence when I’m not as confident, if that makes sense.”
“Shortest kick of my life. Glad it was a good one.”
4. I think that’s one reason why Morstead got all emotional Thursday.
5. I think, one day, the Saints clearing $63 million in two weeks to get under the 2021 cap is going to be a heck of a 30-for-30.
6. I think I wish I had something smart to say about the tragic situation involving 5-year-old Ariel Young, the girl who likely will have permanent injuries from the Feb. 4 car crash involving Chiefs assistant coach Britt Reid, son of head coach Andy Reid. “She likely has permanent brain damage,” attorney for the Young family Tom Porto told ABC last week. Britt Reid has not been charged, yet. Reid acknowledged drinking before his vehicle ran into the vehicle on the side of the road containing Ariel Young. It’s a tragedy for all concerned, and it will be made far worse if Britt Reid will be found to have been impaired at the time of the crash.
7. I think, more than ever this year, the smart teams will be the ones that let the early days of free agency fly by, ignoring the money that’s spent and the headlines that are made. I think you’ll see more players sign one-year deals than ever in the first month of the free market, players hoping to get a second crack at the big payday in 2022 when the cap is back on its way up.
8. I think the significance of two female game officials out of the 117-official roster in the NFL is important, and I appreciate that. There’s another glass ceiling being shattered in the NFL as well. For the vast majority of my career, the public faces of all franchises were men. The owners, of course, were men. And the public relations bosses, standing in front of the teams when public statements were necessary or working with coaches and GMs to shape the messages the teams wanted to get out . . . all a male deal. But now there are three women who do the shaping. Emily Parker (Bengals) has been joined in the past month by Amy Palcic (Jaguars, formerly of the Texans) and Anne Noland (Dolphins). Having worked with all three of those communications chiefs, I can tell you how good they are at their jobs. I’ve worked with Palcic and Noland (formerly of the Patriots) quite a bit, because I’ve covered their teams more in recent years. And I can tell you they’re among the best in the league at their jobs, period.
9. I think if I were the Panthers, I’d go hard after the number two pick, because Joe Brady and Zach Wilson would be a great match.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Interviewer of the Week: Oprah Winfrey, for allowing a riveting story to be told by Meghan and Harry Sunday night on CBS. If you watched The Crown, nothing (at all) that you heard in that interview last night was too surprising. I’m glad Harry and Meghan got out with their sanity.
b. RIP, Walter Gretzky, Canada’s hockey dad.
c. Gallery of the Week: The Globe and Mail of Toronto put this tremendous collection of photos from the life of Walter Gretzky together.
d. Walter Cronkite’s last “CBS Evening News” telecast was 40 years and two nights ago. That does a heck of a job making me feel ancient.
e. Good luck in Milwaukee, Jackie Bradley Jr. Great center fielder, mostly light hitter, great teammate, valuable piece on some very good teams in Boston. Eighteen months ago today, the Red Sox hosted the Yankees at Fenway. The outfield was Benintendi-Bradley-Betts, the battery Porcello-Leon, the right side of the infield Holt-Moreland. Man, that disintegration was quick. Take it from someone who cares. As Chad Finn of the Boston Globe tweeted, this front of the Globe’s baseball section was less than two years ago.
f. Public Service Reporting of the Week: Leif Reigstad of Texas Monthly on a man in west Texas who wasn’t quite the man the community thought he was. Yet, the people in Terlingua, Texas, sided with entrepreneur Jeff Leach over his multiple sexual-harassment accusers, including an employee named Katy Schwartz. Reigstad wrote:
“I think that she [Schwartz] was making advances toward him and was rejected,” said Jim Ezell, an organizer of Terlingua’s annual chili cookoff. “I think she was a woman scorned.”
“I hate the way that many of his dreams were shattered,” said Les Hall, a part-time resident of Terlingua who had known Leach for a little more than a year. “It was just pure spite.”
“He’s more of the victim, in my opinion,” said Frann Brothers, a longtime Terlinguan who had recently moved to Arizona.
g. “The victim.”
h. Podcast of the Week: “Chip in My Brain,” from This American Life. This is three years old (sorry, I guess I am behind), but David Kestenbaum’s story of a young boy who gets a personal basketball coach is really worth your time.
i. The charismatic coach leads the young boy down a cult-like trail that will hound the boy and his family for years. And it all started so innocently. Amazing part of the story, to me: how long it takes the boy to “unlearn” what his coach inculcated him with. Thanks to WBEZ in Chicago, the home of This American Life, for the scores of great pods over the past few years, and thanks to Ira Glass for hosting.
j. College Basketball Story of the Week: Dana O’Neill of The Athletic on the question we all have—How possibly is the NCAA going to host March Madness from start to finish in the state of Indiana? I had no idea till I read O’Neill’s story.
k. The two teams in the national championship game? “Essentially sealed in Indy for 23 consecutive days,” O’Neill writes. More from the story:
Identifying hotels for the tourney teams, for example, was easy. Combined the J.W. Marriott, Marriott, Westin and Hyatt have more than enough beds to accommodate the 2,312 people (68 teams times 34 people per travel party) who will be housed for the first week of the tourney. Each of those hotels is connected to the convention center and Lucas Oil by the skywalk. Upon arrival, each team will head not just to its hotel, but also to its floor at the hotel. Access will be restricted to members of the team travel party — no visitors, no exceptions — to the point that elevator operators will ensure that no one ascends or descends with too many people aboard, and without teams mixing. Pending two negative results, everyone will be asked to quarantine in their rooms, meals delivered to the doors. Eventually teams will have access to meeting rooms within their hotels, the space set up as it will be in the convention center, with proper social distancing and seats assigned by name.
There will be no going home between rounds, and no hanging out with roommates and teammates in between activities. There won’t even be the release of taking nice walks outside. Isolated all season, the team that wins the national title will finish the year having spent three (or more) consecutive weeks on the road, with just 240 game minutes of basketball to break up the monotony.
l. News Story of the Week: Hannah Fry of the Los Angeles Times on neighbors who saw the Haijun Si family being harassed for being Asian, and so the neighbors did something about it. They began to stand guard in front of the home, day and night. Wrote Fry:
On a neighborhood Facebook group, [neighbor Layla] Parks posted footage from Si of a recent attack and sought volunteers to guard the family’s home. She wanted coverage from 6 p.m. until at least midnight.
Neighbors signed up in droves.
“I got involved because I’m raising a young child here. I don’t want to put a ‘for sale’ sign in front of my house and say, ‘I can’t deal with this,’” said Emily Lippincott, 40, who lives nearby in Rancho Mission Viejo. “I kept seeing excuses being made, ‘Oh, it’s just kids being kids.’ No, this is months of terrorizing this poor family.”
Neighbors estimate that from 15 to 20 children have participated in the harassment, one as young as 10.
m. Baseball Story of the Week: Adam McCallvy of MLB.com with a piece about 87-year-old Bob Uecker back behind the mic for the Milwaukee Brewers, the 51st year Uke has done Milwaukee games. But life changes for Uecker, writes McCalvy:
Uecker was heartbroken when doctors declined his wishes to attend Henry Aaron’s funeral in Atlanta in late January. About a month earlier, just after Christmas, Uecker received a call from Phil Niekro, his old batterymate in Atlanta. He called Niekro, “Thrower.” Niekro, the legendary knuckleballer, called Uecker, “Chaser.”
“He was talking a little slow and raspy, so after I while I said, ‘Where are you?’” Uecker said.
Niekro told Uecker he was in hospice. “I said, ‘Hospice?’ He said yeah, ‘I wanted to call and say goodbye to you,’” Uecker said. “So, we talked for about 10 minutes, and he started to get tired, I could tell. I said, ‘You know what, why don’t you go lay down and sleep and I’ll holler at you later on.’
“I’m telling you, that was one of the toughest calls. And eight hours later, he died.”
n. Radio Story of the Week: Emily Feng of National Public Radio with a powerful piece on the disappearance of an entire family in western China—suspected to be connected to the father and husband, an activist the family thinks the government wanted to silence.
o. The son, living across the border in Kazakhstan, told Feng: “My greatest regret is I was born in China. My soul came into this human world. Why was I not born a beast of burden or a dog? Even that would’ve been better.”
p. Lyric of the Week: Dolly Parton, 75, getting the vaccine in Nashville, and singing about it to encourage others to be vaccinated, sung, of course, to her song “Jolene:”
“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine . . I’m begging you, please don’t hesitate
“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine . . . cuz once you’re dead, that’s a bit too late.”
q. COVID Story of the Week: John Kryk of the Toronto Sun, on the scant evidence of the coronavirus being spread in outdoor sports events. Writes Kryk:
There’s growing, compelling evidence showing that other than sports played inside ice arenas, primarily hockey, transmission of the coronavirus on a sport’s playing field might not be happening. That is, in-game or in-practice.
“In terms of truly documented transmission between athletes during participation, I’m not aware of anything,” says Dr. Drew Watson, lead author on three University of Wisconsin studies that investigated COVID-19 risks in sports, and senior author on three other UW studies on the mental-health effects of sports shutdowns. “I know researchers who are struggling to find even a single case among outdoor-sports participants, in particular.”
r. TV News Story of the Week: Vaughn Hillyard of NBC News with a story of the transfer of 17,550 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on a UPS plane overnight from Louisville to Phoenix, to a UPS truck at the airport, to a vax site at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, into arms within four hours of landing in Arizona.
s. Best thing was following the vaccine into the arms of Linda and Curtis Ward, waiting in line in their car in the stadium parking lot. Said Linda Ward: “We’ve had seven kids that we raised, and 11 grandchildren, and I want to stay around and spend time with them and enjoy them.” Terrific execution of why it’s so important to get these vaccines out quickly and into as many arms as possible.
t. March 8, 1971. Fifty years ago tonight, I paid $10 to watch Ali-Frazier I, The Fight of the Century, on closed-circuit TV in an auditorium in Springfield, Mass., just over the border from my hometown in Connecticut. I was 13, in eighth grade. I just remember the mayhem and grown men screaming at the huge theater-sized screen. What an event: 300 million people around the world watched either on free TV or paying for it in a theater. Fifty years ago. Wow.
u. Get well soon, Lucy Bonvissuto. You’ve got a wide world sending you prayers and excellent karma.
Time will tell, of course.
But Maia Chaka gets it.
Hope she’s a good ref.