The NFL is a news machine. This is what it churned out in the past few days:
• Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has been named in seven civil lawsuits alleging he sexually assaulted or harassed women in the Houston area, bringing to a halt any thought he could be traded—and calling into question the immediate football future of a guy who previously had a pristine reputation.
• The league has a new 11-year, $113-billion media-rights deal. Billion, with a “B.” It’s revolutionary, too, with a $13-billion infusion of cash from one of the richest people in the world, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Starting in 2023, for the first time, a package of 15 weekly regular-season games will be streamed, not televised (except in local markets) on cable or regular TV.
• The Patriots bought eight or 10 new starters. In a stunning and uncharacteristic show of Kraft/Belichick superpower, New England wrecked the free-agency market with marquee signings that will completely make over their team. See what happens when the Patriots have their first losing season in 20 years? They get mad.
• Significant officiating tweak coming? Actually, the league or NFL news cycle didn’t churn this out. I am reporting it. NFL owners at their virtual March 30-31 annual meeting could vote to allow in-stadium replay officials the added power to advise on-field crews on plays game officials missed or may have called errantly. If it passes—and I believe the Competition Committee is clearly in favor of it—expect help from upstairs on catch/no-catch calls, down-by-contact calls and close sideline plays.
When we look back on this period of NFL history, the TV deal will be monumental. Just as going to cable TV (ESPN) for part of the TV deal in 1987 made history, so too will Thursday night football streaming on Amazon in 2021. “Media today is a vast, ever-changing world,” the chair of the NFL’s Media Committee (formerly “Broadcast Committee”), Robert Kraft, told me. “The bulk of time for many people under 40 is spent streaming [not watching traditional TV]. Amazon wanted more from us, and they’ll dedicate tremendous resources to make this work for them and for us. Who knows? Maybe we’ll play a game on Black Friday, their biggest shopping day of the year.”
Let no one ever tell you that the NFL does not know how to find new golden geese as times, and markets, change.
Before Watson and the TV deals and the officiating news, let’s start with the frenetic week in free agency.
I was wrong about 2021 free agency when I wrote last week I thought teams wouldn’t have the same fervor out of the box. And many of the 32 teams were typically frenetic. In 2020, 30 deals of players changing teams got done on the first day of the free-agent tampering period; this year, 35 such deals got done early. Teams basically borrowed heavily against future years, and stars got paid. Trent Williams, at $23 million, matched David Bakhtiari atop the tackle market. Joe Thuney got the biggest package for a guard (five years, $80 million) in history. Kenny Golladay matched Tyreek Hill’s $18-million average. In a year when teams had a third of the cap room they had in 2020, those are monstrous commitments.
Then, of course, came the Patriots, with their 22 moves in a week: trading for a left tackle; guaranteeing between $9 million and $32 million to seven different free agents; gorging themselves on tight ends; stealing back Kyle Van Noy; and confounding those who never thought Bill Belichick would go on one of the biggest spending sprees in the 28-year history of NFL free agency.
Why’d the Patriots do it? Because they could.
“We had the second or third-most cap room at the start of free agency,” owner Robert Kraft told me Friday. (It was third, at $69 million.) “This year, instead of having 10 or 12 teams competing for most of the top players, there were only two or three. And in my 27 years as owner, I’ve never had to come up with so much capital before.”
Kraft expended about $175 million in guarantees in two days—almost the same as he spent in 1994 to buy the franchise and a dilapidated stadium. But he didn’t sound like a man with buyers’ remorse. He sounded like a man who knew his former quarterback just won the Super Bowl in another city, and like a man who just experienced his first losing season in 20 years.
“It’s like investing in the stock market,” Kraft said. “You take advantage of corrections and inefficiencies in the market when you can, and that’s what we did here. We’ll see. Nothing is guaranteed, and I’m very cognizant of that. But we’re not in the business to be in business. We’re in this business to win.”
Make no mistake: New England had to make these very expensive course corrections because Bill Belichick the personnel man badly let down Bill Belichick the coach. In the last six drafts, the Patriots have used first, third, third, fourth, sixth, sixth, seventh and seventh-round picks on tight ends and wide receivers. In 2020, five of those players were gone, and the remaining three caught 38 balls. The Patriots, by virtually any measure, had the worst collection of offense skill players in football. Tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry immediately become TE1 and TE2, while Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, depending on the future of Julian Edelman (35 in May), are likely the top two wideouts.
With so many questions about the strength and efficiency of Cam Newton’s arm, the Patriots immediately become a tight end-dominant offense. Think back 10 years ago, when the Patriots were so tight end-centric. That’s the season Rob Gronkowski and the late Aaron Hernandez combined for 169 catches, 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns, and the season Hernandez played running back in the playoff rout of the Tim Tebow Broncos. Jonnu Smith got used in the backfield by Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith the same way Josh McDaniels used Hernandez in the 2011 postseason. Look:
How many teams have a TE they can line up behind the QB and run the sweep for 57 yds. Jonnu Smith is listed at 6'3" 248 lbs. pic.twitter.com/c6fZq6oVnC
— michael crawford (@abukari) January 6, 2020
Smith, Henry and Bourne will play at age 26 this year; Agholor at 28. You’d think there’s quite a bit of tread left on all their tires. And we haven’t even got to the defense, where Judon and the re-acquired Van Noy should add juice to a pass-rush that’s had one player (Chase Winovich) show promise and a second (Josh Uche) slow to flash his edge speed.
In a boomerang way, this reminds me of 2001, when the Patriots were tight against the cap and signed 23 free agents—for collective bonuses of $2.5 million. Mike Vrabel and David Patten and Otis Smith became valued pieces on the Pats’ first Super Bowl team. But that was a different time and place. Now, Buffalo and Miami make the 2021 AFC East a beast of a division. What Belichick has done with this free-agent roundup is ensure the Patriots can be a factor in the division and the conference. “He went and improved his football team by leaps and bounds,” said the agent for three new Pats, Drew Rosenhaus, on my podcast this week. “I think everybody would agree this roster is incredibly improved from the one that they ended the season with.”
“We’ll see,” Kraft said with some caution. “I do remember we always made fun of the teams that spent a lot in the offseason. So we know nothing is guaranteed, and I’m very cognizant of that.”
Intermission: Per the website Over The Cap, here are the five teams that spent the most in free agency from 2017-20, with the composite spending and their regular-season records over the period:
- Jacksonville, $494.1 million, 22-42.
- N.Y. Jets, $463.0 million, 18-46.
- Buffalo, $457.1 million, 38-26.
- Detroit, $444.7 million, 23-41.
- Cleveland, $436.2 million, 24-39-1.
Now let’s dive into the other 31 teams, starting with six deeper looks:
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS. This is one strange franchise, entering its fourth year of the Jon Gruden Experiment. Three years pre-Gruden: 25-24. Three years with Gruden: 19-29, with little evidence that year four will be the breakthrough season. Good Gruden perspective on the ESPN draft podcast the other day from Todd McShay: “I like Jon. Jon is a great coach. But he’s got personnel ADD . . . He’s always plugging in guys and moving guys around.”
In 2019, the Raiders spent $105 million guaranteed on tackle Trent Brown, safety Lamarcus Joyner and wide receiver Tyrell Williams and Antonio Brown; instead of being foundational players, they’re all gone. The Raiders got 16 games out of the oft-injured Trent Brown, paid him $32.7 million, and dumped him to New England last week. Three-fifths of a good offensive line (center Rodney Hudson, guard Gabe Jackson and Brown) vanished last week, traded for third, fifth and fifth-round picks.
The Raiders made one solid signing (wideout John Brown, for one year and $3.75 million) and two curious ones. With a franchise back, Josh Jacobs, in house already, Vegas paid $14.5 million for two seasons of a good back, Kenyan Drake. Also imported: a very curious player, Yannick Ngakoue, who is now on his fourth team in seven months. He talked his way out of Jacksonville, got traded twice in two months (to Minnesota and then Baltimore) and produced only moderately in either place, and got rewarded in a stressed cap period with $13 million a year from the Raiders. With seven years left on Gruden’s deal, I can’t imagine owner Mark Davis thinking of pulling the plug yet. But another disappointing year and Davis has got to start thinking about it.
CHICAGO BEARS. The Bears knew chances were slim that they could get Russell Wilson. And so they could continue to hope and pray that the Seahawks would make a dumb trade and hand them Wilson, or they could be realistic and try to get the best quarterback possible to win 10 games in 2021. That man is Andy Dalton. For those hammering GM Ryan Pace, I get it, I suppose. But the hammering is for something that happened four years ago, when Pace valued Mitchell Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson and made a pick that will haunt the Bears for a generation. The hammering should not be for signing Dalton, the best quarterback Pace could acquire on March 17, 2021. Tell me: Do the Bears have a better chance to win 10 games this year with Andy Dalton and Nick Foles at quarterback, or with Nick Foles and John Doe at quarterback?
ARIZONA CARDINALS. J.J. Watt, A.J. Green and Matt Prater were chosen for the 2013 Pro Bowl. Cute bit of trivia, but in the case of the Cardinals, not sure how good it is that players who were in their collective prime eight years ago are the keys to Arizona’s 2021 free-agent class. Watt will be 32 on opening day, Green 33 and Prater 37, and teamed with the primo center, Rodney Hudson (32 this season), acquired in trade from Las Vegas, the Cardinals seem to be hoping that Watt and Green, in particular, can have one or two golden seasons before they leave the game. It’s certainly not impossible, but Watt and Green first need to prove they can stay on the field. Both played full seasons last year, but Watt’s missed 32 games due to injury in the last five years and Green 29 over the same span. Green needs to get some fire back in his game; when I think of him over the last three or four years, the word “indifferent” comes to mind, not “great.” Maybe that comes from playing in a place, Cincinnati, where you know you’re not going to win.
This class of acquisitions, along with DeAndre Hopkins last year, shows the Cardinals are going for broke right now in a division that’s somewhere between vulnerable and the best division in football. Watt teaming with Chandler Jones and Green with Hopkins could be effective, but with the recent history of both newcomers, nothing is guaranteed. The addition of Hudson, however, should be one of the best acquisitions this month.
CINCINNATI BENGALS. It was worrisome to me that a former Bengal guard still playing very well, Kevin Zeitler, escaped to division rival Baltimore (for the comparative bargain of $7.5 million a year) early in the week, eschewing the Bengals. Worrisome because Cincinnati entered this offseason with its highest priority improving an offensive line that had Joe Burrow running for his life as a rookie last fall, and Zeitler was a plug-and-play guy who, at 31, could steady the ship for the next two or three seasons. Then Burrow got into the act, helping recruit veteran tackle Riley Reiff over a steak Thursday night. “I went away from eating that steak and I was like, ‘I want to block for this guy,’ “ Reiff said after signing for one year and $7.5 million. “Seeing him on the film . . . He’s even better off the field.” Must have been some steak.
Reiff and Jonah Williams likely will man the tackle slots, but the interior line is exceedingly weak; Cincinnati’s line ranked 30th in composite offensive-line grades in 2020. The need is still acute if Burrow is going to have a cleaner pocket than the one that got him injured last season.
TENNESSEE TITANS. GM Jon Robinson needs something to go right, and that something had better be Bud Dupree. In 2020, Robinson tried to fix a dormant pass rush by spending $21 million on Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney. In 13 games between them, Beasley and Clowney combined for zero sacks; they’re gone. As disastrous: Tennessee’s first-round pick, Georgia tackle Isaiah Wilson, played three snaps in his rookie year, which featured a DUI, a positive COVID test and a terrible attitude. Tennessee traded him to Miami for a seventh-round pick last week and he lasted three days with the Dolphins before getting fired there. Still, Wilson’s awful impact echoes in Nashville: In a tight cap time, Wilson’s $4.48-million dead-cap number on the Titans’ salary cap is a reminder that lousy decisions can have enduring consequences.
Dupree, 28, was on his way to Shaq Barrett money territory when he tore his ACL on Dec. 2 for the Steelers. Confident that the knee will be fine, Robinson signed Dupree to a five-year, $82-million deal, and hopes he can pick up on his disruptive pace of the last two seasons (19.5 sacks in 27 games). “I’m going to go out there and play with my hair on fire,” Dupree said upon signing with Tennessee. If that leads to sacking the quarterback, get the matches ready.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS. Common question over the past six days: The Colts have $35 million in cap room, so why aren’t they spending it? It’s pretty simple. Before opening day 2022, the Colts will already have two big salaries—Carson Wentz and DeForest Buckner—taking up $38 million in cap room. And it’s likely by then that three more current Colts will join them: guard Quenton Nelson, tackle Braden Smith and linebacker Darius Leonard, at a combined average of about $47 million a year. The Colts, then, will have five players taking up about 45 percent of their cap, or 45 percent of their average-salary compensation. Because the Colts are a pretty consistent “cash to cap” team—they don’t dish out a bunch of huge signing bonuses in any particular year, but rather try to keep cash spending in line with the cap most years.
The Colts will have to trust GM Chris Ballard to find a productive receiver with some explosion—I would aim for a low-cost option like Demarcus Robinson, or draft one, or wait till the post-June 1 cuts disgorge a good player who could be had cheap for one year.
And quick hits on 25 teams:
• KANSAS CITY probably overpaid for Joe Thuney, but KC has a better line today with Thuney and Kyle Long than the team had at the Super Bowl this year. The player they wanted but didn’t get is center Rodney Hudson, who got traded by the Raiders to Arizona. Hudson wanted to be released, not traded. And if he’d been released, I’m pretty sure he’d have been snapping to Patrick Mahomes this year. KC was ready to pay Hudson more than Arizona did.
• If this is the way it falls . . . I don’t understand PITTSBURGH choosing JuJu Smith-Schuster, a good player at a plentiful position, over Steven Nelson, the steady cornerback who’d played more snaps than any corner on the roster over the past two years. Not sure if Nelson will be dealt, but if he is, the Steelers are weakening a position that’s traditionally a weak spot.
• WASHINGTON inking Ryan Fitzpatrick is a bridge to the future, of course. But WFT won a bad division last year with a cobbled-together QB situation, and the division doesn’t look markedly improved, except for the return of Dak Prescott. Almost as important: William Jackson III’s importing from Cincinnati to shore up a mediocre corner position.
• Keep the band together. That’s the mantra in TAMPA BAY, where so much money has been pushed into 2023 and ’24 to try to win now. Football is a game of momentum, and of surviving injuries, and you rarely stay the same from one year to the next. Shaq Barrett had five sacks after Columbus Day in 2020, then got hot in the playoffs. I don’t know what it all means, but I’m not sure the Bucs pick up where they left off, even with O.J. Howard added to that great receiving corps. History says we just don’t know.
• CLEVELAND and PHILADELPHIA got excellent safeties—John Johnson (the Rams’ defensive signal-caller, and still just 25) goes to Cleveland and ex-Viking Anthony Harris is manna from heaven for a needy Eagle secondary.
• THE NY GIANTS paid too much for Kenny Golladay, a receiver I like, but $18 million in this financial climate? For a receiver who didn’t find big money till day six of free-agency? The Giants will have three players not named Daniel Jones or Saquon Barkley account for about $60 million of their 2022 cap. Not good. But a player like Golladay is borderline essential to the development of Jones, so I understand the push to get him. He’s going to have to produce very big (something like 90 catches, 1,300 yards, 10 TDs) for the deal to be worth it.
• The reunion of ace cornerback Kyle Fuller and Vic Fangio, his former Bears defensive coordinator, was a no-brainer for DENVER.
• I don’t fault cap-crushed teams that didn’t spend borrowing from the future in the first week—ATLANTA, NEW ORLEANS, DALLAS. I applaud the patient. History says patience is almost invariably the best policy in free agency.
• BALTIMORE getting Kevin Zeitler for 46 percent of the cost of Joe Thuney is a great signing.
• BUFFALO did what smart, good teams do in free agency: sign their own very productive players (tackle Darryl Williams, tackling machine Matt Milano) to reasonable deals. They’ll average $10 million over the next seven years, combined.
• I liked CAROLINA doing a one-year prove-it deal with Haason Reddick, a good rush bookend for Brian Burns. I didn’t like importing two subpar offensive linemen, Cam Erving and Pat Elflein, for a total of $14 million guaranteed. Just not worth it.
• HOUSTON didn’t get appreciably better in a flurry of about 93 (actually, 31) moves—one of which was signing Tyrod Taylor, who might actually have to play quarterback for the Texans this year.
• MIAMI mostly sat out the process, but I find it curious, paying Kyle Van Noy $1.07 million a game in 2020 ($15.025 million for 14 games played) and then whacking him—and sending him back to the Patriots for future torment.
• MINNESOTA made one of my favorite signings: defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson for $11 million a year.
• Man, $23 million a year in very tight cap times is a lot for any player, even a top left tackle like Trent Williams. SAN FRANCISCO had better get greatness out of Williams, PFF’s seventh-rated tackle in 2020, for the next five or six years.
• SEATTLE needs to get Carlos Dunlap back.
• Not sure JACKSONVILLE is a lot better either after its 17 moves (so far), though I loved what Urban Meyer said about this insane process that requires teams—if they want to be competitive in the market—to spend millions on players they’ve never met. “That was awful,” Meyer said, “and I don’t believe it should be that way. Not when you’re making organizational decisions. I’m not sure how that rule came about, but to me that’s not good business.”
• DETROIT cut a lot of people and signed a lot of people. No idea if the Lions are any better than the team that underachieved consistently under Matt Patricia.
• Hard to knock GREEN BAY’s lone foray into free agency. Aaron Jones is probably worth $9.5 million a year in this interchangeable world of running backs after 3,017 scrimmage yards and 30 touchdowns over the past two years.
Think how dramatically Watson’s world has changed in a week. Last Monday, we were speculating how much hardball the Texans would play to keep him on their roster, and, if he was traded, whether the Panthers, Jets or Dolphins were the leaders. But between Tuesday and Friday, attorney Tony Buzbee filed seven civil suits against Watson on behalf of women claiming he preyed on them sexually. Buzbee indicated Saturday he intends to pursue criminal charges against Watson with Houston police and the local district attorney.
To say this is out of character for Watson is an understatement. I spoke to someone close to Watson over the weekend, and this person was stunned at the charges and had never seen him treat women with anything but respect. So let’s wait for all the evidence to surface. It’s smart in such cases to keep an open mind until we see complete details and stories.
For today, while it seems totally insensitive to the gravity of the charges, we just don’t know enough about the cases to draw any factual conclusions. So I’ll stick to the football meaning of the Watson story for now. While lawyers are combing through the allegations, there is no way a team could trade for Watson now. Even if the Texans were to engage teams in talks, a team could not acquire a franchise quarterback as great and promising as the 25-year-old Watson with this Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. No matter how much faith you have in Watson’s goodness, there’s too much we don’t know right now to risk a mega-trade to acquire him.
Could a team try, while the allegations against Watson hang in the air? Perhaps. One former NFL GM told me Sunday he thinks a smart GM would check in regularly to tell Houston GM Nick Caserio of his interest—regardless how dire it looks now. I suppose . . . but I can’t see how even the most supportive fan base would be okay with a pursuit of Watson now.
And it’s unlikely the matter will be cleared up in the 38 days before the start of the 2021 NFL Draft. So absent a trade by draft weekend, that could knock three or four contenders for a Watson trade out of the box. The Jets (picking second overall) could draft their quarterback of the future, as could Atlanta (fourth), Philadelphia (sixth), Carolina (eighth) and another team trading into the top 10 (San Francisco?) prior to the draft. The Texans could still make a deal for Watson if he was in the clear at any time, but crucial contenders would disappear by the end of April.
The difference between civil and criminal charges is very important to Watson’s NFL future. The NFL draws a strong line between the different courses of legal action. If there are criminal charges, and the cases stretch into September, the NFL could put Watson on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, as it did in 2014 with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson as they contested similarly ugly allegations. That would take Watson off the field and away from his team, at full pay, while the case or cases are being adjudicated. But if there are no criminal charges and the cases are civil only, the Commissioner’s Exempt List would not be an option, and Watson would likely be allowed to play. Of course, if he is still determined to not play for Houston and voluntarily does not report, then he would incur heavy fines and forfeit his $10.5-million salary for as long as he sits. Also, it’s unlikely but not impossible that any team would trade for him while any civil suits are in progress.
The forecast for Watson’s future: cloudy. But it’s premature to think of the Commissioner’s Exempt List as a landing spot for Watson—unless criminal charges are filed and the legal timeline stretches into the season.
Two historic events—events we may not have seen as seminal at the time—led to the NFL’s equally historic 11-year, $113-billion TV/media contracts announced on Thursday:
The first-ever streamed NFL game on Oct. 25, 2015. The Buffalo-Jacksonville game, not exactly a marquee clash, was significant because the NFL allowed the game to be streamed on Yahoo Sports, not shown on national TV. I remember being stunned at the crystal-clarity of the stream. This was the kernel of the idea, as millions of American TV viewers cut the cord on cable-TV and sought other ways of streaming their traditional TV content, that led to the NFL’s groundbreaking $1.2-billion-per-year deal with Amazon for the rights to stream 15 Thursday night games. In another case of the NFL falling into a pot of unexpected gold, the Thursday night package of games was one the traditional networks did not want . . . and Jeff Bezos stepped forward to give the NFL double the fee that FOX paid for Thursday night games in the last TV deal.
The narrow players’ vote to approve a new Collective Bargaining Agreement last March. Without players voting 1,019-959 to approve a CBA through 2030, I believe there would have been neither a new CBA nor a new media deal today. And I believe the NFL would have either locked out players by now or would be moving toward a lockout for the 2021 season. Owners, staring at the uncertainties of a possible pandemic last spring, would not have given the players a better deal than the one they approved—and certainly wouldn’t have done so after losing $4 billion in the COVID-ravaged 2020 season.
Imagine how close the NFL came to an Armageddon time in its history. On average, players voted 32-30 per team to approve the deal. Without that measly two-vote margin per locker room, the immediate future of pro football would be chaotic. And that $13-billion infusion of Amazon cash by Jeff Bezos over the next 11 years? On hold, if not in doubt.
“I have a hard time believing we’d be talking about a long-term media deal right now without that CBA being approved,” the NFL’s chief media and business officer, Brian Rolapp, told me Friday.
Shortly after Kraft bought into the NFL in 1994, commissioner Paul Tagliabue put him on the Broadcast Committee. He has also served on the Management Council Executive Committee and the league’s Finance Committee, and in 2011, during a contentious negotiation for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Kraft dealt with the death of his wife Myra while being a major part of the CBA talks. When talks culminated in a new deal, players negotiator Jeff Saturday said of Kraft: “Without him, this deal does not get done. He is a man who helped save football.” And last week, similarly, commissioner Roger Goodell credited Kraft for his work in a new and different area of media—streaming. The negotiations for the combo TV/cable/streaming package that finally got done last week began last June, and Kraft spent more time on this project than on any of his previous NFL labor or TV ventures. “TV, and media, is an ever-changing world,” he said.
The NFL, with Goodell and Rolapp and Kraft leading the talks, saw the future. “Today,” Rolapp said, “you are able to watch an original film that won an Oscar on the same site that you buy your toothpaste.” And in 2023, one of Amazon’s crown jewels will be the Thursday night package of NFL games. Movies, toothpaste, Whole Foods groceries, books, the NFL. That’s the kind of partner the NFL wants, a partner already ingrained in the lives of 150 million Americans who use Amazon daily.
What the NFL is good at is making money by seeing the future. The league saw how beneficial it would be to be in business with Bezos and Amazon. Of course it had to do with Bezos’ ability to make money out of everything, and about Amazon’s ability to stream movies and sports peerlessly. But Kraft wanted to be in business with Bezos, too, because he knows Bezos is so smart about the future—and when Amazon invests $13 billion in a business, Bezos is going to make sure it doesn’t flop. That’s good for Amazon, and good for the NFL.
Said Kraft: “I have so much respect for Jeff Bezos. I said this to him: Our company [Kraft has a worldwide container and paper business] is in more than 120 countries. I’ve never seen anyone scale a business and keep quality as high as what Jeff Bezos has done with Amazon. They’re going to be a very good partner for the NFL.”
In a practical sense, the media world is changing, because now people will have to pay for a package of Thursday night games they used to get for free. That will be a challenge for the NFL, to keep up Thursday ratings. But the landscape is changing in a few ways. In 10 days, much to the chagrin of a slew of NFL players, the NFL is likely to announce a 17th regular-season game for every team, beginning this season. That 17th game will play a role in some of the many interesting things, to me, about the new TV/streaming deals. Here are three of them, all starting in 2023:
1. Because there will be an outcry from TV traditionalists about having to buy Amazon Prime (at $12.99 per month or $119 per year), the NFL limited the Amazon games to 5.5 percent of the schedule in an 18-week season . . . 15 of 272 games. Clearly, Amazon is a money and future play by the NFL. The league is cashing in by trading eyes for dollars, assuming the ratings won’t be nearly as high on Amazon as they would be on a regular network. The NFL has an out in the 11-year contract with every one of the five media entities, and it’s a one-way option. The NFL can exit any one of the media contracts after seven years if it chooses. It’s nice insurance to have, because no one knows the future of media. Think of the NFL going from a one-game streaming experiment five-and-a-half years ago to a $1.2-billion annual streaming contract with Amazon. That’s a huge reason why they wanted the out after seven years. No one knows how we’ll consume the NFL in 2030.
2. A Week 18 Saturday doubleheader on ESPN, with flexing options. Understand what this means. Late on Sunday night of Week 17 or on Monday morning of Week 18 (the final regular-season game week), two games would be designated for Saturday airing on ESPN. The league would also move a vital game to Sunday night on NBC. This means that two games of significance would be short-week games—coaches will love that—on Saturday, and the most important game would be set for Sunday night, the final game of the regular season. Teams will likely hate being made to play on Saturday in Week 18, their prep time shortened by a day. But $113 billion buys a lot of inconvenience. (What’s interesting about this is that it will be included for sure in the 2023 media package, but the NFL may implement it in either 2021 or ’22. Stay tuned.)
3. There is no more CBS-AFC, FOX-NFC marriage. Starting in two years, all games are created equal. The NFL now determines the TV schedule by CBS being aligned with the AFC and FOX with the NFC; the road team in all 256 regular-season games in 2020, for instance, determined the televising network unless the game was on Thursday or Sunday or Monday night. A road NFC team meant it was a FOX game, and a road AFC team meant it would be aired on CBS—with few exceptions made with a league cross-flexing rule. (We’re getting too fair in the weeds for that.) Anyway, starting in 2023, the league will lay out the schedule with the idea to get the best rating for every game. If the NFC has more power teams in bigger markets, those games will be spread equally to maximize viewership.
There will be complaints about elements of this deal. The major networks are not happy that their rights-fees increases were in the 90-percent range while ESPN’s rose only 35 percent, to $2.7 billion a year, while getting flex scheduling after Week 12 every year plus Super Bowls that it never had before. The league’s defense is that ESPN is still paying significantly more than any of the networks, and that ESPN has been hurt more by cord-cutting with cable TV customers than any of the traditional nets.
Rolapp is convinced that ESPN’s presence, beginning in 1987, and now Amazon being a piece of right puzzle, indicates sports, and the NFL, will always be ahead of entertainment in the modern media game. “Sports built broadcast, sports built cable, and sports will build digital,” he said.
Digital, and streaming in particular, is clearly fascinating to the NFL. The buy-in is happening.
Many coaches would like to see a “Sky Judge” on every officiating crew, with that official being given wide-ranging authority to call penalties from the booth upstairs and then informing the crew on the field of the call. Too many people in the Officiating Department and on the Competition Committee worry that a Sky Judge with independent authority to call anything on the field could flag extraneous fouls away from the play. As we all see every week, it’s easy to find an infraction on nearly every play if you look hard enough.
Instead, the Competition Committee has approved and will send to ownership next week a realignment of duties for the Replay Official, whose job now is mostly in-game replay administration and communication to the crew on the field about things like spot of a foul and game clock issues. The 32 teams will get a list of rules proposals in the hopper this month from the Competition Committee, and the one with the most impact will be giving more authority to the Replay Official. The upstairs official has a direct line of communication with the referee on the field, and it’s expected the Replay Official will be empowered to buzz down to the ref and tell the crew chief of an obviously wrong or missed call. If the new rule is passed, the Replay Official also could tell the ref, for example, that a reception ruled a catch in real time was obviously trapped or missed.
Another obvious aid would be in this case: Team A is out of challenges. With four minutes left in the game, a completion ruled good on the field is clearly wrong because the receiver had one foot clearly out of bounds. The Replay Official could buzz down to the referee and tell him the pass is incomplete. Without this failsafe, a wrong call would stand because a team wouldn’t have the ability to challenge.
I think it’s likely this passes, once all questions about the administration of the chance of Replay Official duties are ironed out.
Two other rules issues, and what I know:
• The onside kick. You may have heard of the proposal to replace the onside kick with the team scheduled to kick off being given a fourth-and-15 play at its 25-yard line. If the team converts the fourth down, it can continue to drive down the field, with a first-and-10 wherever the fourth-down conversion landed. If it fails to covert the fourth down, the opposing teams gets the ball with a first down wherever the previous play ended. Because the onside kick has become so hard to convert and recover, and because of the increased risk of collisions spawned on onside kick plays, I’d estimate the league is split about 50-50 on whether to adopt this. (There may be a slight majority in favor, with the added benefit of the drama of a late-game fourth-and-15 with so much at stake.) Either way, there should be healthy discussion on this.
• Spot and choose. The Ravens proposed to start overtime with one team picking where the opening drive should start, with the opponent choosing whether to play offense or defense at the chosen spot. This appears to have very little chance of success. It’s too weird for most conservative owners (and coaches) to buy into—although just because it’s weird doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Strange ideas like this one often take years to get the kind of footing to have a real chance to be adopted.
“You bet your ass.”
—Roger Goodell, asked by Joe Flint of the Wall Street Journal whether this round of media deals with networks and digital platforms would be his last as commissioner.
Goodell is 62. The current CBA will expire when he is 71, and the current media deals will expire when he is 74.
“I am writing to let you know that the League has opened an investigation into the allegations and to request the cooperation of your clients in our investigation. Such cooperation would begin with engaging in Zoom interviews with myself and another League investigator at which, of course, you would be present. Please let me know at your earliest convenience if your clients are willing to assist us with our investigation of these allegations.”
—Lisa Friel, the NFL’s special counsel for investigations, in a letter to Tony Buzbee, the attorney for several women who have sexual-assault or sexual-harassment claims against Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
“There will be four quarterbacks taken in the first six or seven picks of the draft. Take that to the bank.”
—Adam Schefter, on ESPN’s NFL Live show.
“I’m not a kid anymore. I’m a 44-year-old Masshole. I swerve around others when I’m driving. I eat Dunkin Donuts and I root for the Patriots. I’m, unfortunately, skewed in a lot of ways, I guess.”
—Celtics coach Brad Stevens, in part, on why he will not be a candidate for the coaching job on Indiana.
“I’m in tears writing this, but I’ve decided to hang up the cleats.”
—New England safety Patrick Chung, who announced his retirement last Thursday. Chung, 33, played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons with New England and won three Super Bowl rings before opting out of the 2020 season.
Running back Phillip Lindsay is the most underappreciated skill player in recent NFL history.
The Broncos, in rescinding Lindsay’s right-of-first-refusal tender with the team and allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent, essentially chose Melvin Gordon over him to lead the Broncos’ backfield. Why? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I don’t think the Broncos ever appreciated what they had in Lindsay. An undrafted free agent from Colorado in 2018, Lindsay become the first undrafted back in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Comparing his rushing production in his three Denver seasons versus Gordon’s (Chargers 2018-’19; Broncos ’20), and comparing their income earned in those three years:
Lindsay will be one year younger (27) on opening day than Gordon.
Last week, Lindsay signed a one-year, $3.25-million contract with the Texans. Assuming he plays the season in Houston, he’ll make almost twice as much in one season as he made in three years with Denver.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider have presided over 11 drafts for the Seahawks. Average number of picks in those 11 drafts: 9.5.
Number of picks for Seattle in the 2021 draft, as of this morning: 3.
There are 259 picks in the draft this year. Seattle owns picks 56, 129 and 250.
The Jaguars (1, 25, 33) and Jets (2, 23, 34) have three picks in the top 35.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, born and raised in Arizona, signed with his ninth team, Washington, last week. Barring a surprise, Fitzpatrick will extend two NFL records in 2021: He’ll be the first QB to start for nine teams, and he’ll be the first QB to throw a touchdown pass for nine different teams.
Crazy that Fitzpatrick has never played on a team in a city in Mountain or Pacific Time, and never played on a team closer than 1,100 miles from where he was born and grew up. In all, he’s played 13 seasons (including 2021) in Eastern Time, and four seasons in Central Time. Closest city to his Gilbert, Ariz., hometown: Houston, 1,165 miles east of Gilbert on I-10.
In 2012, Cal punter Bryan Anger was drafted by Jacksonville with the 70th overall pick. That’s the highest NFL draft pick used on a punter in this century.
Russell Wilson was drafted 75th that year.
The Jaguars let Anger leave in free agency in 2016. He was signed by Tampa Bay. Tampa released Anger in 2019. Houston signed him in 2019, then cut him before the start of the season, then re-signed him early in the season. The Texans cut Anger in a salary-cap move last Thursday. As of this morning, Anger is a free agent.
Wilson has started all 163 games Seattle has played since he was drafted.
Anger, 32, has three times in nine seasons finished in the top 10 in punting.
Wilson, 32, has eight times in nine seasons finished in the top 10 in passer rating.
There are some picks that will live forever, like Tampa picking Roberto Aguayo a round ahead of Joe Thuney and two rounds ahead of Dak Prescott in 2016, like Chicago picking Mitchell Trubisky ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in 2017, like 30 teams passing on Tom Brady multiple times in 2000. But Russell Wilson going five picks after a decent punter (as it turns out) is the kind of whopper I’ll never get over.
Just remember, the teams that win the first round of free agency never have won the Super Bowl.
— Dan Pompei (@danpompei) March 17, 2021
Pompei covers the NFL for The Athletic—and he’s spot on here.
Can’t say it enough, I love you Pittsburgh. Came in here a young 20 year old and you guys embraced me from the moment I got here. So much love. Had my back thru everything, all the struggles and success. So hard to leave. See you this Fall in Heinz WE’RE GOIN CRAZY!!!
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) March 19, 2021
JuJu Smith-Schuster re-signed for one year with Pittsburgh on Friday and remains a Steeler.
I just saw Wisconsin guard Brad Davidson’s family standing on an Indianapolis sidewalk waving up to their son as he waved back from a hotel window. I waved, too. That’s the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
— Steve Politi (@StevePoliti) March 20, 2021
Politi is covering March Madness in Indiana for NJ.com.
The Miami Beach mayor says the Spring Break situation has gotten so wild and out of control — the city is now closing the entire entertainment district down at 8pm. They are also blocking the bridges into Miami Beach after 9pm and only allowing locals and hotel guests in.
— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) March 20, 2021
Entin is a reporter for News Nation Now based in Miami.
You can reach me at email@example.com, or on Twitter @peter_king.
Question of the Week. From Ryan Scott: “How does one ‘win’ free agency? Every year some delusional fan base thinks that their overpriced free agents are taking them to the promised land. Outside of Tom Brady to Tampa, Drew Brees to New Orleans and Reggie White to Green Bay, I can’t think of many examples when going on a spending spree pays off. Seems like the teams that target specific players and practice patience usually do better (Baltimore, Indy). I understand that a team might feel they’re one or two players away from a championship and that leads them to overpay. But for every success story there are far more disasters.”
Thanks for the thoughtful note, Ryan. As I think back over the past 10 years in free agency, I’m reminded of a few stories. In 2011, the Eagles, coming off a 10-6 season, went on an infamous spending spree and bought a “Dream Team,” capped by the signing of everyone’s prize that year, Nnamdi Asomugha. Result: Eagles went 8-8 and 4-12 in the next two years; Andy Reid got fired. In 2012, the Bucs spent $140.3 million on three big players, led by wideout Vincent Jackson. Result: Bucs went 7-9 and 4-12 in the next two years; Greg Schiano got fired. In 2016, Jacksonville spent $198 million on four big names, led by Malik Jackson. Result: Jags went 3-13; Gus Bradley got fired. In 2019, the Jets spent $137 million on C.J. Mosley and Le’Veon Bell. Result: Jets went 7-9 and 2-14 in the next two years; Adam Gase got fired. I sense a trend, Ryan.
You’re welcome! From Mark Bank, of Richmond, Va.: “So here I am, 4 in the morning, eating Funyuns, having a beer and reading your latest FMIA. I have always taken a great deal of pleasure in reading your well-written column. I do not know how many people actually email you to thank you for what you do, but coming from this retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant and recently retired police captain, it’s the little things that put so much joy in my heart. Your articles are near the top of the list. I wish you and your family the health and sustainability through this pandemic and also continued success. THANK YOU.”
Mark, thank you so much. You’ve given me a boost, sitting here writing near midnight on a Saturday night in March, to keep going a while longer. I truly appreciate your thoughts. I’ve never had a Funyun, but I have had a few beers.
Debating the best coach/QB combo. From Leigh Webb, of Warwick, England: “Thanks for your weekly column. Coming from across the pond it’s a perfect Monday lunchtime read and brings the game a little closer. You wrote, ‘In NFL history, it’s hard to imagine a better coach-quarterback combination than Brees and Payton.’ Do you really think that? I’m an NFL pygmy in my knowledge of the game compared to you but I’d have thought Walsh/Montana, Belichick/Brady, Brown/Graham have as good, if not better, credentials.”
You’re spot on, Leigh; I should have clarified. My point was mostly about the connectivity between Drew Brees and Sean Payton. Being around them a lot over the past 15 years, they are truly the combo platter of coach and QB who complete each other’s sentences. What I meant, and should have been clearer in saying, is that this was not about the coach and quarterback who combined to win the most—but the coach and quarterback who were best for each other over a long term, and who truly made each other better. That applies perfectly to Payton and Brees. Of the others, I’d say Otto Graham and Paul Brown are probably comparable . . . but I say probably because I have no first-hand information about them; they were finished two years before I was born.
He likes the macchiato. From Dan Nadolny: “Love the column, love the length, love the variety. I found myself in the Starbucks drive-thru yesterday and decided to order the drink you mentioned in FMIA (the four-shot caramel macchiato). I love caffeine, I’m relatively young and healthy, but the four shots really took it up a notch. My wife came into my office about an hour later and asked if I was ‘on drugs.’ “
Glad you liked it, Dan. The four shots aren’t for everyone, and they’re not for me very often anymore. If I have that after about 8 in the morning, I can expect to be wide awake around 2:32 a.m.
1. I think this is something agents and players should realize about the current state of the cap and the squeezing of middle-class players in free agency, as tweeted by union president J.C. Tretter:
The NFL lost $4 Billion in revenue this past year. The choice we had was either EVERY player last year take a 35% pay cut (owners’ option) or spread the losses over multiple years so not one group of players felt all the loss (NFLPA option). https://t.co/nXZIJL7wRJ
— JC Tretter (@JCTretter) March 18, 2021
Three points to make: In 2020, a year when the owners lost about $4 billion due to COVID-related issues, players made 100 percent of their scheduled compensation. NBA players had their pay cut by 25 percent to finish the 2019-20 season; MLB players played a shortened 60-game schedule and made a pro-rated 37 percent of their scheduled pay. And when the total revenue of the league went down by $4 billion, obviously the cap, which is based on current revenues for the upcoming season, would go down accordingly. The league and players reached an agreement to spread the cap losses over three years. So the 2021 cap figure fell from the projected $198 million to $182.5 million, with the caps in 2022 and 2023 absorbing the rest of the lows from the COVID season.
There’s nothing sinister about it. If you take in $4 billion less than projected, it’s going to impact the cap, and instead of taking the hit all in one season and pushing the cap down to $155 million for 2021, the compromise of spreading the losses over three years was reached.
2. I think I won’t be surprised if there’s an element in the 2022 cap that allows teams to use a future year or years as a “bank” to borrow from. Because there’s no way the cap’s going to skyrocket next year, and I doubt in 2023 either. My guess is it goes up $8 million, maybe, next year, and then $12 million in 2023. If I’m right, by 2023 lots of teams that pushed bigger 2021 deals than they could afford will need room desperately.
3. I think this is what one smart football person told me Sunday about some of the deals (Golladay, Thuney, Dupree) that seemed too rich for this particular market: Teams that went after big players aggressively were probably told in most cases that if they didn’t hit the number the player and agent wanted, they’d just go somewhere else for a one-year deal and hit the market next year. That made sense for a player like Golladay. The Giants needed him badly and overpaid to get him for multiple years. Daniel Jones’ success is tied to his weapons’ ability, and he didn’t have a premier wideout. Golladay was the closest thing on this market to a premier wideout—so let’s see how much Golladay can help Jones improve.
4. I think if the Rams get eight games out of 34-year-old DeSean Jackson—who has played eight games in the last two seasons combined—they’ll be lucky. But he has the speed to make a few plays in those eight games, and to run down a couple of Matthew Stafford rainbows. I’m just saying, be realistic.
5. I think I can’t figure out why any team would pay real money to Jadeveon Clowney right now. He’s been overpaid, played one full season out of seven in the NFL, has 32.5 sacks in seven years, is coming off a zero-sack season. I don’t care if sacks are overrated, and I know they are. Clowney’s a nice, contributing player, not a dominant one, and unless he’s signed to a deal with a base of $5 million or less and big incentives, I wouldn’t touch him.
6. I think I don’t want to get too far in the weeds on the TV deal, and why streaming matters so much right now. But consider this about the parent of ESPN:
Disney stock price, March 19, 2020: 94.93.
Disney stock price, March 19, 2021: 191.14.
What does that mean? Consider that Disney’s stock doubled in one year, in a pandemic—while business at its theme parks cratered, while ratings on ABC’s prime-time shows fall, while ESPN continued to suffer from cord-cutting and people moving away from cable TV, and with the movie business in the tank because theaters were shut. So why is the stock booming? Because of streaming on Disney+ and to a lesser degree ESPN+. We’re in the middle of a streaming boom, and that’s one of the major reasons why the NFL has the option to re-open media deals with any of its partners after seven years.
7. I think there is one word for the Chicago signing of Andy Dalton as starting quarterback: pragmatic.
8. I think a sneaky top-10 free-agent signing is Dallas inking safety Keanu Neal for one year. Love his physicality and he’ll be playing on a prove-it deal.
9. I think I’d like to give a shoutout to my representative, Marvin Demoff. Many of you have heard of Marvin. He repped John Elway and Dan Marino and so many other great and normal players of bygone years. Then he moved on to representing lots of people in the media, including me, as well as some football players. Marvin is 78. His last NFL client is 35-year-old center Alex Mack, who signed what could be his last NFL contract with San Francisco last week. Just wanted to acknowledge a giant in the business, placing his final client in a great place for him to succeed with a coach, Kyle Shanahan, who’s thrilled to have a center he had in Cleveland and Atlanta.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Attaway you Bobcats! I went to Ohio University, and I acknowledge my alma’s athletic prowess about once a decade. Knocking off the defending national champs, Virginia, 64-60, in a 13 v 4 upset at Assembly Hall in Bloomington on Saturday night is one of those times.
b. The NCAA basketball championship is so much better than the college football playoffs, because in football, Ohio or Abilene Christian can’t beat Alabama or Clemson or Ohio State. But in basketball, they’ve got a fighting chance, and when they get close or when they win, fans in every corner of the country root for the underdog. It’s a cool and somewhat unifying moment.
c. I love when a true underdog takes a late lead and doesn’t choke. Not only did the Bobcats not choke in the last 2:47, trying to nurse a 49-47 lead, but they didn’t miss any of their nine shots the rest of the way. Layup, layup, three-pointer, and, in the last 44 seconds, six straight free throws when Virginia had to foul to stay in the game. That’s amazing, a 13 seed with every player on the floor playing the biggest game of his life, and hitting all nine shots to send the national champs home.
d. And Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports saw it coming, the clutch play of OU guard Jason Preston leading the way. Pete just finds these wonderful stories and nails them, every time.
e. I texted with Ohio’s coach, Jeff Boals, as he rode the bus from Bloomington to Indianapolis late Saturday night. I wanted to know about the clutch gene his players exhibited Saturday night. Boals texted: “They don’t know what they don’t know. I told them after the game the power of belief, the power of confidence, the power of unity is everything. Not one guy on our team had ever played in the MAC Tournament in Cleveland [before this month]. They played the same way there, fast and loose. So proud of our guys. Their attention to detail and execution down the stretch in a close game against the ACC championship was outstanding.”
f. Trending on Yahoo, Saturday, 11 p.m.: 1) Oregon-VCU called off due to COVID issues; 2) No. 13 seed Ohio stuns defending champ Virginia; 3) LeBron out indefinitely with high ankle sprain.
g. The last time something from Athens was trending, I think, was Joe Burrow shouting out the Athens County Food Pantry in his Heisman speech.
h. I realize the men’s and women’s tournaments were thrown together this year, and the amount of work for both was overwhelming. But the discrepancies in things like weight room and meal quality—highlighted on social media before the tournaments began—was incredibly tone-deaf for the NCAA. “To say they dropped the ball is the understatement of the century,” said former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. In this day—in any day—treating women as fourth-class citizens simply cannot happen.
i. This Tweet, from the Stanford women’s program, says it all:
This cannot continue to be business as usual. pic.twitter.com/gyIEgcRRpY
— Stanford Women’s Basketball (@StanfordWBB) March 21, 2021
j. Thought-provoking Story of the Week: Jiayang Fan of the New Yorker on the dehumanizing of Asian women. Writes Fan:
In the days since the killings in Atlanta, we have begun to learn more about the shooter. A former roommate of Long’s, Tyler Bayless, has described Long’s deep religious faith (he grew up in a Southern Baptist church) as well as his inability to control his sexual desires, despite time spent at a treatment center and halfway house. Once, after Long had relapsed by visiting a spa parlor to have sex, Bayless recalled that his roommate had asked him to take a knife from him so that he wouldn’t hurt himself. “I’ll never forget him looking at me and saying, ‘I’m falling out of God’s grace,’ ” Bayless told the Times, adding that guilt and shame seemed to consume his roommate.
It is an unbearable irony how acquainted I am with the feeling of shame. Every time I am called a “chink” or hear a part of my body appraised by a stranger, I feel a familiar heat rising within me. In group texts, my Asian-American friends and I have expressed gratitude for masks and hats and bulky winter coats, which shield us from covid-19 and the Northeast winter but also from our own Asian faces. We agonize about how best to protect our older, more vulnerable loved ones. We wonder if we should make contingency plans to evacuate elsewhere if the violence gets much worse. We worry if too steely a show of solidarity will slide into tribalism. We worry that our worry might make us weak.
k. There’s a saying I hear in political speeches and from community leaders: We’re better than this. I’m not sure we are—or at least, many of us haven’t been better than this recently. What should be said is, We NEED to be better than this.
l. TV Story of the Week: Genius storyteller Steve Hartman of CBS News, with his usual Friday evening gem—this time a story of a teacher in Aurora, Colo., and a student he couldn’t bear getting lost in the foster-care system, at a time when the boy was experiencing severe kidney disease.
m. Watch 15-year-old Damien tear up—I dare you—and try to avoid tearing up yourself.
n. The teach, Finn Lanning, told Hartman the boy came to him one day in class and explained why he had to leave school. He was a foster-care child with no family to take him, in part because of his kidney disease.
“He’s smart and funny and he was always a student who stood out. And then one day he just came to me and said, ‘I’m not coming back to school,” Lanning said.
Lanning sat his student down. “And what I found out was his story.”
o. Column of the Week: The final column of the wonderful Miami Herald writer Carl Hiassen. It’s a gem, as so many of his have been over the years.
p. Hiassen says goodbye to his loyal readers after 35 years of being loved and hated (loved by Floridians who knew he was looking out for them, hated by so many others who were not working in the public interest). In the column, he decries the disappearance of so much local journalism:
Retail corruption is now a breeze, since newspapers and other media can no longer afford enough reporters to cover all the key government meetings. You wake up one day, and they’re bulldozing 20 acres of pines at the end of your block to put up a Costco. Your kids ask what’s going on, and you can’t tell them because you don’t have a clue.
That’s what happens when hometown journalism fades — neighborhood stories don’t get reported until it’s too late, after the deal’s gone down. Most local papers are gasping for life, and if they die it will be their readers who lose the most.
q. Loved the end of the column: “I’ve got to thank the Herald and its streaming cast of talented, tenacious editors and reporters. Their superb, solid work always made my job easier. Now someone can come along and do it better.”
r. We are all replaceable.
s. Profile of the Week: Jamil Smith of Rolling Stone on rising-star actor John David Washington, the son of Denzel and the former NFL hopeful from Morehouse College.
t. Smith did an excellent job weaving us through Washington’s football-turned-acting life. Chronicling Washington’s football rise at the HBCU school in Georgia, Smith writes:
As he set individual-game and career records at the school, he began to believe the NFL might actually be within his grasp. At the same time, the injuries piled up. Broken clavicle. Torn meniscus. Concussions. He risked his body week after week to show people his heart.
“When I was playing, I was eyes closed, balls to the wall, man,” Washington says. “I did not care about injury. I welcomed the injuries, because I felt like if I could play through it, I’m proving more to people — to myself — that this isn’t a handout, this is for real. I’m not doing this because it’s recreational. I was doing it like my life depended on it.” Later, he’ll describe how breaking a rib made him feel like he was doing something right: “They didn’t break my rib because I’m Denzel’s son, they broke my rib because I’m balling on them, and I’m doing great.”
In 2006, after watching the draft for an entire weekend — his dad parked in front of the TV, obsessively analyzing the picks in each round (“My pops shoulda been working for ESPN, man”), his mom baking “about five cakes” to cook away her nerves — the Washington family learned that the then-St. Louis Rams wanted to sign John David as an undrafted free agent. They all “went berserk.” Though he never made the 53-man roster, he stayed on the practice squad for two seasons, grinding it out every day. That was followed by four seasons in the UFL. That is, until the final injury: the torn Achilles tendon that ended his playing days at 28.
u. What a cool story. Little did we all know his second career would be so great, of course. He blew up in “BlacKkKlansman,” and has since stared in other films like “The Old Man and the Gun” and “Tenet.”
v. LeBron James, now part owner of the Red Sox, makes it clear he wants to own an NBA team. But he appreciates the chance to have a role atop the Sox. He and business partner Maverick bought an ownership stake in Fenway Sports Group, the parent of the Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club. They become the first Black owners of Fenway Sports. “Obviously a historical franchise—the World Series championships they’ve brought back home to Boston,” James said when it was announced. “It’s a great day for myself, for my family, for my school, for my business partner Maverick Carter, and everyone that has something to do with our group. But it’s a pretty amazing thing for me to continue to build my portfolio off the floor, also in a beautiful game like baseball . . . For me and my partner Maverick to be the first two Black men to be a part of that ownership group in the history of that franchise, I think is pretty damn cool. It gives me and people that look like me hope and inspiration that they can be in a position like that as well, that it can be done.”
w. I want to see LeBron take BP at Fenway.
x. Radio Story of the Week: A National Public Radio report on how we ignored warnings for this pandemic, and whether we’re ready for the next pandemic.
y. Hint: We’re not.
Newsy football times.
But March Madness on the brain.
Can we beat Creighton?