There has never been an offseason like this one, which sets up a draft the likes of which we’ve never seen. Never has there been such a league-wide gold rush for quarterbacks. Never has the draft gone 1-2-3-4 with quarterbacks at the top. But with the assurance now that the top three picks will be, and the real chance that Atlanta at four could pick a quarterback, we might be witnessing draft history. And I doubt this will be the last time that so many quarterbacks go so high in a draft.
“I have never seen quarterbacks get pushed up in the draft the way they’re getting pushed up this year,” said one middle-aged coach whose team is in the market to draft a quarterback this year. “Trevor Lawrence deserves to be the number one pick, but after that, in my book, there’s three receivers, a tight end and two offensive tackles ahead of the next quarterback. But this desperation for quarterbacks . . .”
Say no more. A few reasons. “In a league that has veered dramatically toward the passing game and toward three and four-receiver sets, it makes sense the quarterback becomes more in demand,” said Greg Cosell, a maestro at tape study. “You need a really good quarterback to play the game that exists now. It leads to the need, and sometimes the desperation, of trying to find ‘that guy.’ “
First quarterback picked in 1984: Boomer Esiason, 38th overall. First QB in 1985: Randall Cunningham, 37th overall. First QB in 1988: Tom Tupa, 68th overall. In the last six drafts, 15 quarterbacks have gone in the top 10. And this year that number could increase to 20 in the last seven drafts.
Plus, there’s little patience anymore, for coaches and quarterbacks and GMs. Of the 15 quarterbacks picked in the top 10 from 2009 to 2016, zero remain on the team that drafted them.
Finally, general managers are not risk-averse in this generation. They used to be, back in the eighties and nineties. I think Jimmy Johnson began to change that; he never met a trade he didn’t like. Now, look at the GMs making the big deals: Miami’s Chris Grier, Seattle’s John Schneider, L.A.’s Les Snead, Philadelphia’s Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas of the Jets, Brad Holmes of the Lions, John Lynch of the Niners, Baltimore’s Eric DeCosta. In general, they have no fear about shaking up their roster, and quickly.
I’ve made a list of the 20 quarterback moves and prospective moves, just to show how much the market has been thrown into a tizzy in the last 10 weeks.
The Los Angeles Rams acquire Matthew Stafford from Detroit.
Detroit acquires Jared Goff plus a ransom from the Rams for Stafford: a third-round pick this year, and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023.
Decision 1: Rams. Jared Goff out, Matthew Stafford in.
Decision 2: Lions. Stafford out, Goff in.
Dallas signs Dak Prescott to a four-year, $160-million contract extension.
Decision 3: Cowboys. Andy Dalton out, Dak Prescott in (through 2024).
New England re-signs Cam Newton for one year . . . but still could be in the draft market for a quarterback.
Decision 4: Patriots. Cam Newton in, but New England scouts rookie QBs hard.
Decision 5: Saints. Drew Brees out, Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston the heir.
Decision 6: WFT: Alex Smith out, Ryan Fitzpatrick in.
Houston signs Tyrod Taylor to a one-year contract. Four weeks later, it looks more and more likely that he’ll be the Texans’ quarterback in 2021.
Decision 7: Texans. Deshaun Watson status TBD, Tyrod Taylor in as a likely September starter.
Chicago signs Andy Dalton to a one-year deal, days after the team tried to acquire Russell Wilson but didn’t have the ammo to do so.
Decision 8: Bears. Mitchell Trubisky out, Andy Dalton in.
Indianapolis, eight weeks after the retirement of Philip Rivers, acquires Carson Wentz from Philadelphia for a third-round pick this year and a second-rounder that could become a first-rounder in 2022.
Decision 9: Colts. Philip Rivers out, Carson Wentz in.
Philadelphia, barring an upset that would land Deshaun Watson in Philadelphia, commits to Jalen Hurts as its 2021 quarterback. The Eagles will have at least two first-round picks in a more certain draft (2022) and could have a third if Wentz plays 75 percent of the Colts’ offensive snaps in 2021, which seems likely.
Decision 10: Eagles. Carson Wentz out, Jalen Hurts in.
San Francisco trades from 12th overall in the first round to third overall with Miami, with the intent of taking a quarterback of the future there. The Niners, for at least a year, would like to keep Jimmy Garoppolo as starter insurance.
Decision 11: 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo more likely than not staying, TBD rookie quarterback in.
Miami acquires the Niners’ 2022 and 2023 first-round picks by moving to 12. Just 26 minutes after making the trade with San Francisco, Miami trades the 12th pick plus the Dolphins’ first-rounder in 2022 to Philadelphia for the sixth overall pick, moving in position to get one of the four top receiving weapons.
Decision 12a: Dolphins. Tua Tagovailoa staying, likely getting solid shot in 2021 and ’22 to be Miami’s long-term QB.
Decision 12b: Dolphins. Jacoby Brissett in as a prime backup, and Brian Flores won’t be shy about playing him if Tua struggles.
Jacksonville semi-confirms the inevitable, with coach Urban Meyer saying drafting Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick “is certainly the direction we’re headed.”
Decision 13: Jaguars. Gardner Minshew out, Trevor Lawrence in.
Carolina trades for Sam Darnold and is likely to exercise his fifth-year option, meaning that he’s probably on a two-year trial with the Panthers. Panthers gave up picks in the second, fourth and sixth rounds over ’21 and ’22.
Decision 14: Panthers. Teddy Bridgewater out, Sam Darnold in.
The New York Jets, by moving Darnold, all but ensure the picking of BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the second overall pick in the draft.
Decision 15: Jets. Darnold out, Zach Wilson (likely) in.
As for the teams with decisions to make between now and training camp:
Atlanta has the fourth pick in the draft, with Matt Ryan slated to play his 14th season this year at 36. Three years left on his contract—or two years plus a $15.6-million cap hit if the team cuts him after 2022. Ryan told me two years ago he wanted to play into his forties. Question for new Falcons hierarchy (GM Terry Fontenot, coach Arthur Smith): Do you believe Ryan can take you to a Super Bowl? If so, you trade down from the fourth pick in the first round or sit at four and take the best player in the draft who’s not a quarterback. If you don’t believe it, you take the best quarterback available this year—because it may be years before you have a top-five pick in a quarterback-heavy draft again.
Decision 16: Falcons. Do they commit to Ryan or do they draft his successor?
Pittsburgh has not fortified the position of heir to 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger, unless you trust Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins to be the heir—and I doubt sincerely the Steelers do. Could be Teddy Bridgewater buyers, but his $22.9-million and $26-million cap numbers are nightmarish for an acquiring team, and the Panthers would likely have to eat some of the money to enable a deal to happen.
Decision 17: Steelers. No one trustworthy is behind Roethlisberger. Best guess: Steelers will delay big decision till 2022.
Denver, with the ninth pick in the draft, has had a presence at every pre-draft quarterback workout, new GM George Paton’s staff has been fact-finding up a storm with the top passers, and could be in play to pick a passer in the top 10. Could be in play, too, to trade the pick, with Paton schooled in the Vikings’ never-met-a-draft-trade-they-didn’t-like ethos. Whatever the Broncos do, Drew Lock’s hold on the starting job is tenuous.
Decision 18: Broncos. Denver needs a QB of the future, but the Broncos might be able to trade back for draft capital they can’t refuse.
Seattle: This is either crazy or logical, I don’t know which. But the Seahawks had more than one team inquire about trading for Russell Wilson, and nothing ever got close, and I don’t see the scenario of Wilson being dealt re-emerging till February 2022.
Decision 19: Seahawks. Seattle, barring a mega-offer before August, enters 2021 with Wilson the starting quarterback.
Houston sits on Deshaun Watson, whose pressing legal problems make a trade very unlikely. One club exec with significant interest in Watson asked me the other day: “What’s your gut feeling on the market for Watson right now? Would anyone do a deal now?” I said I just can’t see it. How? How possibly do you trade for a guy, particularly sometime in the 17 days before the draft when so many quarterback decisions are being made, with 22 women accusing him of sexual impropriety? And how do you make such a deal knowing the league could/probably will suspend Watson for at least part of the 2021 season? Three bad things for Houston GM Nick Caserio, who basically is running an expansion team:
- Caserio doesn’t get the benefit of any added 2021 draft capital to use this year.
- The Texans, the only NFL team with zero picks in the top 60 this year, have precious little ammo to rebuild in 2021.
- The ability to trade Watson for anything close to 70 cents on the dollar has vanished.
Decision 20 / Backstopping decision 7: Texans. Tyrod Taylor likely to start the season as Houston’s starter. That’s all we can project right now.
Eleven people and events (and a dog) making news around the NFL:
1. AARON (TREBEK) RODGERS. In the first of 10 “Jeopardy!” episodes guest-hosted by Aaron Rodgers—who had prepared for this opportunity with the intensity he’d use to prep for a playoff game—there was a commercial break, as always, halfway through “single” Jeopardy. Rodgers had studied old show episodes for weeks, and spent all of the previous day in practice rounds, simulating exactly what he’d do in these 10 games, over and over. But he found game one to be . . . intense. The moment this commercial break started, Rodgers said to longtime executive producer Mike Richards, “Whoa! You were right. The real game is totally different.”
“The intensity goes up in the real game, which Aaron found out,” Richards told me from California on Friday night. “You can see, even with the second show, his voice got better, his command got better, he started to enjoy it and have fun. But the truth is, you never truly relax. You’ve got the open, introducing the categories, 15 questions, the short interviews with the players, 15 more questions, 30 questions in Double Jeopardy, sum up, introduce Final Jeopardy, then do that, and through it all, you’re the arbiter of every question.
“And,” said Richards, “there’s no huddle.”
Richards is right—Rodgers did get better as the week progressed. In the interviews during show three, a contestant said she’d once been on Willie Nelson’s tour bus. “Lotta smoke?” Rodgers shot back. I don’t think he mispronounced one proper or place name all week, and handled clues like this, from a category called “Mythological Trios,” adroitly:
“Fenrir, Hel and Jormungand were the 3 children of this trickster and the lovely Angrboda.”
Not exactly like pronouncing “Ndamukong Suh.”
Also notable: Two weeks of shows are done in three days. The first day—Feb. 16, in this case—was the all-day rehearsal and meeting with the crew at the Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif. Day two (Feb. 17): Two shows in the morning, lunch, three shows in the afternoon. Day three (Feb. 18): Repeat day two. “At the end of the three days,” Richards said, “Aaron was exhausted. But he was so complimentary to everyone in the studio and on the team. We were his offensive linemen for those three days. He treated us all so well. He hated to go, and we hated to see him go.”
Richards saw that Rodgers, in the wake of doing the show, says he’d love to be the permanent host, and Rodgers told The Ringer he didn’t think he’d have to give up football to do it, seeing that a year’s worth of shows are taped in 46 days. “It’s the ultimate compliment to Alex and to the franchise that Aaron is that forward with his thoughts, and so complimentary of the show,” Richards said. With guest hosts working through the summer, it’s likely that Sony will look at the performances, ratings and TV-comfort of all the guest hosts before making a call on the successor to Trebek. Former champ Ken Jennings is likely the sentimental favorite, but who knows? It’s hard for me to think Jennings would drive more traffic to the show than Rodgers. My feeling is the biggest hurdle for Rodgers is the show being on hiatus from July 20 to the end of January, give or take a couple of weeks, every year he continues playing football. Six-plus months, dark, is a potential issue, I would think. But if Sony loves Rodgers, anything’s possible.
“What I find fascinating about Aaron,” said Richards, “is his second career could be better than his first.”
Last thing from Richards: “Fun moment in the second week. I can’t give it away, but it’s Packer-related. And Aaron’s exasperated.”
Ratings gold in Wisconsin.
2. PHILLIP ADAMS. In 2012, Adams, playing safety for Oakland, intercepted Peyton Manning. In 2014, with the Jets, he picked off Philip Rivers. But Adams never stayed in one place too long, playing for six teams in six seasons (2010-15), an end-of-the-roster player battling to make a career out of South Carolina State. In recent months, those who know him say he’d been depressed and not his old optimistic, driven self. “His mental health degraded fast and terribly bad,” his sister, Lauren Adams, told USA Today. And on Wednesday, Phillip Adams went to the home of a doctor, who had reportedly treated him, and murdered six people—the doctor, his wife and two grandchildren, as well as two HVAC technicians working at their home—before Adams shot and killed himself.
Seven dead. Why? Adams’ father told a Charlotte TV station that “football messed him up,” and the New York Times reported that Adams’ brain will be studied to determine if he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease that can cause depression and erratic behavior. CTE has been found in many deceased football players, with repeated blows to the head suspected of causing it. Such a tragedy, with so many lives forever altered. There may be a link from Adams’ actions to football; there may not be. Regardless of the cause of Adams’ spree, his apparent change in mental state five years after his career ended is just one more reminder that the league cannot spend too much time, resources and money on post-career mental-health services for former players.
3. KEVIN JAMES. Uh, Kevin James the actor? That’s right. James is going to play Sean Payton in a Netflix movie called “Home Team,” produced by Happy Madison Productions. (Sound familiar? It’s the Adam Sandler company.) Imagine this: The plotline begins in 2012, when Payton is suspended for the season by commissioner Roger Goodell for the Saints’ bounty scandal, which gives Payton the chance to re-assess his life and put it in some perspective. As part of his new life, Payton becomes the offensive coach for his son Connor’s sixth-grade football team, the Warriors, in the Dallas area. (Thus, the “Home Team” title of the flick.) Filming of the movie begins this year. Payton read the script recently, made some corrections, and here it comes. My one thought about casting: James is going to need to lose a few pounds to play Payton.
4. HUNTER THE YELLOW LAB. Who’s a good boy! Hunter’s a good boy! In this case, he’s a very good, and important, boy. Colts coach Frank Reich and his wife Linda funded and founded a foundation called Knot Today to fight sex trafficking and child exploitation. As part of that, the Reichs spent $12,000 to buy a Labrador Retriever, Hunter, specially trained to sniff out SIM cards and other suspicious links to human traffickers. They donated Hunter to the Indianapolis task force for Internet Crimes Against Children, and to an officer who handles the dog named Daren Odier. Last week, Hunter sniffed out suspects on four search warrants—three on child pornography charges, one on a probation violation of a sex offense. In one of the cases, Odier told Reich, the dog found a suspect’s phone buried under a couch cushion after the suspect saw officers at the door of his residence.
So many NFL players, coaches and teams do so many great things for the less fortunate. But I can’t think of a better charity for an NFL person than this one. Imagine the number of creeps Hunter—thanks to the Reichs—will prevent from ruining or badly affecting the lives of young people.
5. THE FALCONS. The top of the draft, one through three, goes QB, QB, QB. Now Atlanta. I don’t know what the Falcons will do. But I do feel strongly about three things:
• They will not force a quarterback. Lots of people around the league feel they’ll just sit and take Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. That could be pre-draft logical thinking without any real knowledge. The Falcons know they have a perfectly fine quarterback in Matt Ryan (at $23 million, $23.75 million and $28 million owed in cash over the next three years), entering his age-36 year, figuring he’s got several seasons of above-average play left. When I say they won’t force a quarterback, I mean that GM Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith share this view: They’re not going to enter this draft thinking, “This might be the last year for a while that we’ll be in position to take a good quarterback prospect, so let’s grab one now.” No. They’ll take a quarterback if they love one. Like, really love one. They understand that forcing a quarterback could lead to misery.
• They would love a trade that enriches them. I doubt they’ll find one. But for two future first-round picks, they’d be compelled to take the long view. I don’t see that happening. I love Peter Schrager, and he had the Patriots trading up from 15 to four to take a quarterback in his Friday mock; I can see the Patriots trading up to pick a passer, but I can’t see them denuding two drafts to do so. But that’s what makes this fun. Schrager will be Nostradraftus if it happens. Also don’t see the Bears, in desperationville, doing it.
• If there’s a transcendent player they love, like Florida TE Kyle Pitts, they’ll take him. Do the Falcons truly NEED a quarterback? No. They’ve got a good one for, say, the next four years. It will take a new contract to keep him for that long, and that’s slightly problematic. But they must be thinking right now: Other than Tampa Bay, there’s a void atop this division right now, and we can be a playoff team in 2021 with Julio Jones (32), Calvin Ridley (26), Russell Gage (25) and Hayden Hurst (27) at key targets by simply adding the best tight end prospect in years (decades?) in Pitts. Best tight end in the 43-year history of Mel Kiper grading drafts. Tough to turn that down, even if the Falcons have many other needs.
6. NEW RULES. On Wednesday, NFL coaches, GMs and owners will be briefed virtually on a slate of rules proposals, then vote on the rules April 21. As I’ve written, it’s likely that a proposal to give the Replay Official upstairs more power to influence calls on the field (but not actually make them) will pass. Also, with the increase in practice squads forcing some teams to run out of numbers, there’s a good chance for a Kansas City-sponsored proposal to expand the numbers that players at each position can wear. Last week, I wrote about three KC players during the 2020 season all wearing number 30. It’ll drive some who break down tape crazy, but it’s necessary.
Key thing on Wednesday: Making sure coaches/GMs understand the new role for the Replay Official and that it is clearly defined. The Competition Committee likes the power of suggestion inherent in giving the Replay Official more power. The Competition Committee does not like the Sky Judge concept—an eighth official in the crew, with the power to “throw flags” from on high—because of the potential for a rash of fouls the NFL is trying to avoid.
7. CALEB FARLEY. The most interesting of the 150 draft-prospect medical rechecks—Farley is a Round 1-graded cornerback from Virginia Tech—had a good day in Indianapolis on Friday. After undergoing a microdiscectomy (removing a damaged section of a herniated disc) in his back March 23 in Los Angeles, Farley told me Saturday that after imaging and a thorough physical and back exam in Indianapolis, he’s been cleared by NFL docs for the 2021 season.
Farley was told he’d need four months of rehab and recovery after the surgery, and that was the timetable the NFL medics saw over the weekend. “I got a lot of positive feedback from the NFL doctors,” Farley said. “The NFL doctors confirmed I would be ready for the season, and they told me this is definitely not a chronic thing.”
Four months from the date of the surgery is July 23. Most NFL camps open July 27. So Farley, the top corner on some boards before his surgery, should be ready to go at the start of camp, per doctors. “I plan to be the best cornerback of my generation,” he said. “I just can’t wait to get back in the pads again.” Expect him to be a first-round corner, still.
8. SAM DARNOLD. I think it’s possible that the Panthers could still be in the Deshaun Watson derby, when/if his legal troubles go away. But I don’t think the Panthers are willing to do what Houston would want, and that is to find a partner to make a Herschel Walker trade. (In 1989, the Cowboys traded Walker, the star running back, to Minnesota in a complex trade for three first-round picks, three second-round picks and some middling players. There were other, lesser picks plus a later trade between the teams, but Dallas got picks to be able to draft Super Bowl keystones Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson, among others.) It’s more likely that Carolina sticks with Darnold for the next two years to see if he can become the quarterback the Jets drafted him to be in 2018—a good downfield thrower to match with Robbie Anderson and D.J. Moore. At USC, Darnold did show a good deep arm (8.5 yards per attempt), but the combination of a terrible offensive line, lousy receivers and his own poor decision-making led to a disastrous three-year run. A trade was best for all parties.
I also think it will be good for offensive coordinator Joe Brady—a wunderkind a year ago, the pilot of the league’s 24th-best scoring offense in his first year as an NFL coordinator—to step out of his comfort zone and shake up the offense. Brady knew Bridgewater well from their New Orleans days, but Bridgewater didn’t generate the amount of explosive downfield plays the Panthers had hoped. Certainly he was hurt by the 2020 loss of Christian McCaffrey, whose return should give Darnold the offensive diversity he never had in New Jersey.
Darnold still has a chance to be good. He’ll play this year at 24—he’s six months younger than Joe Burrow—and with the Panthers set to exercise his fifth-year option, he’s a QB bargain at a total of $23.6-million over the next two seasons. But he’ll have to play well in 2021 for the Panthers to avoid looking for an upgrade next offseason.
9. BROADWAY ZACH. Wilson, should he be New York’s pick at two, will be the sixth quarterback picked by the Jets in the top two rounds in the last 15 years. (Kellen Clemens, Geno Smith, Christian Hackenberg were picked in the second round; Mark Sanchez and Sam Darnold in the first.) Average length of stay on the Jets by the previous five passers: 3.6 seasons. So Wilson will be battling a dim quarterback heritage, as well as trying to lead a talent-deficient offensive roster. It helps that the Jets have the healthiest draft situation in the next two years, with five picks in the top 100 of the next two drafts, including two first-rounders each year.
By the way, it’s going to be quite an autumn for the Zach Wilson family of Draper, Utah, particularly with parents Mike and Lisa Wilson trying to follow all four football-playing sons. On Friday nights, sons Micah and Isaac will be playing for Corner Canyon High School in Draper. On Saturdays, linebacker Josh Wilson will be suiting up for Brigham Young. And on Sunday, assuming Wilson is a Jet, Mike and Lisa Wilson are likely to make it to wherever the Jets are playing, mostly back East. It’d have been so much easier if Zach Wilson was picked by the Niners at three, but the Jets are likely to trump that on April 29.
10. HUGE WEEK FOR NINERS. Much was made of the Niners trading up to number three in the draft, and favoring Alabama’s Mac Jones with that third overall pick. I’ve been told the team has not made a decision who to take—I’m still guessing Jones—and the next eight days will be crucial in fact-finding. Coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch will be at second Pro Days for both Justin Fields in Columbus (Wednesday) and Trey Lance in North Dakota (next Monday).
Every year, there’s a wide variety of opinions on QB prospects. But the Mac Jones analysis is particularly wide-ranging. He’s not big for the position, at 6-2 ½ and 217 pounds, and he has neither a power arm nor great mobility. But those who love him really love him. He’s exceptionally smart and accurate (77.4 percent at Alabama in 2020), and, per Dane Brugler of The Athletic, accurate downfield too—58 percent on throws traveling 20 yards or more downfield, with 17 touchdowns and two interceptions. Jones waited his turn after Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, then might have outplayed both of them in leading the NCAA in accuracy and passing yards (4,500) last year. As one coach who is studying quarterbacks this postseason told me: “His footwork is perfect, his decision-making is excellent, and even though he doesn’t have the strongest arm, it’s crazy how many deep balls he threw at Alabama that were right on the money.”
So we’ll see. Jones isn’t the athlete of the others in the class, but he does have traits any coach would like.
11. EDDIE GEORGE. The former Titans running back will become the second former NFL great (Deion Sanders, Jackson State) to take a college-football coaching job. Stadium reports he’ll be named the new coach at Tennessee State on Tuesday. Interesting. George joins a coaching staff that includes Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Tennessee State, a school of 8,000 in Nashville, obviously is hoping to capitalize on the George name to help in recruiting. George is such an earnest and kind person that I could see him doing very well in recruiting. Players could be drawn to him because of his history; parents could be attracted to his personality and ethos. I like it.
“Once vaccines have been available in a community for a long-enough period of time where anyone who’s wanted one could have gotten it and reached two weeks past their second shot … then I don’t know why you shouldn’t be at full capacity.”
—Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, lobbying for a full Gillette Stadium this fall during the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
“You will always be all-time in my book, my friend … Thank you for that.”
—“Jeopardy!” host Aaron Rodgers, when a contestant in Final Jeopardy used this question: “Who wanted to kick that field goal?”
Interesting that this is how Rodgers’ last series of the NFC Championship Game—coach Matt LaFleur calling for a field goal instead of going for it on fourth down, and the Packers never touched the ball again—came up in the first episode of “Jeopardy!” that Rodgers ever hosted.
“I think that the marriage is not going to end very well going down the road. I think this squabble is going to turn into more of a separation and then a divorce at some point.”
—Hall of Fame quarterback and former Seahawks radio broadcaster Warren Moon, on the “NFL: Huddle and Flow” podcast with Jim Trotter and Steve Wyche, discussing the fate of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and his future with the team.
Trotter and Wyche consistently get interesting people to say interesting things on “Huddle and Flow.”
“I’m here to stay. Go Hawks!”
—Wilson, according to defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who asked Wilson if he planned to remain with the Seahawks. Per Dunlap, as you can read, Wilson said he was.
“I think people are going to look back 20 years from now and say that this is the moment the Jets shifted into a new gear and became a great team.”
—Jets vice chairman Christopher Johnson, following the drafting of Sam Darnold in 2018, per Steve Serby of the New York Post.
Jets: 13-35 since that quote.
NFL offensive ranking, by season, since that quote: 29, 32, 32.
Darnold: now a Panther.
Zach Wilson History Lesson Dept.:
Over the last quarter-century, the Jets have swung and missed on their share of quarterbacks. In fact, over that 25-year span, the Jets have had 12 different quarterbacks lead their team in pass attempts and starts for at least one season. In other words: The Jets have cycled through 12 different starting quarterbacks in 2.5 decades—some because of injury, some because the position is a revolving door.
Barring an upset of large proportions, BYU’s Zach Wilson, the likely second pick in the April 29 draft, will be number 13.
Year by year, here are the 12 different men who have led the Jets in passing for at least one of the last 25 seasons, along with the team’s record in the year or years they played.
2021 MLB RBI totals
Michael Conforto’s elbow guard: 1
Ryan Zimmerman, WAS: 0
Marcell Ozuna, ATL: 0
Matt Carpenter, STL: 0
Gregory Polanco, PIT: 0
— New York Post Sports (@nypostsports) April 12, 2021
Didn't sleep well, so up watching some tape to prepare for upcoming draft… while doing so I began wondering WHY people continue to scrutinize height so much w/ QBs?? Someone fill me in on the argument? @QBConfidential
— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) April 10, 2021
Warner is a Hall of Fame quarterback.
PFF Grade on throws past 1st read since 2019: (min. 60 attempts)
1st – Justin Fields – 90.6
2nd – Zach Wilson – 90.1
3rd – Trey Lance – 87.2
7th – Trevor Lawrence – 78.6
8th – Mac Jones – 75.7 pic.twitter.com/CEWpY86rwC
— PFF (@PFF) April 2, 2021
Pro Football Focus charts every throw of every major college team’s games.
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) April 10, 2021
— Sports Business Journal (@sbjsbd) April 7, 2021
Sports Business Journal is the business-of-sports Bible.
in my lifetime my father has decided that Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez, and Sam Darnold have been the saviors of his team and i’m only 20
— Nikki Greenberg (@nikkigreeny) April 5, 2021
Nikki is the daughter of Jets fan and ESPN host Mike Greenberg.
An idea about the 17th games. From Jim Angerman, of Stevenson Ranch, Calif.: “If the 17th game means 65 additional snaps per player, what if all of the games could be reduced by eight or so plays each? This would equate to the same number of plays over 17 games that there are now in 16 games. That might help ameliorate the additional wear and tear the players are facing. What if the game clock did not stop on out of bounds plays?”
Interesting. I think the immediate reaction of the NFL’s Competition Committee would be that changing the game in a material way like this would never pass muster. (I would guess running the clock on every out-of-bounds play would mean a loss of more than eight plays a game.) But I like ideas like this—there probably is a way to reduce the average game by eight plays that wouldn’t be all that noticeable.
Lost in translation. From Ken Nied: “You wrote, “Green Bay at Kansas City, the best game 17 by far, vaults to the head of the TV schedule. Every network will want that one, and will fight for it.” But suppose that Kansas City and/or Green Bay have their playoff seeds locked up by the time Game 17 rolls around. There’s a very real possibility that this Game 17 devolves into “garbage time” with the front-line players for one or both teams on the bench. What’s the value of Game 17 then?”
“Game 17” doesn’t mean it would be played in “week 17” or “week 18,” including the bye. It just means it’s a 17th game, to be played at some point during the season—and I can assure you, not on the final weekend of the season.
Thanks, John. From John Clayman: “I’m a long-time reader of your fantastic Monday column. Such a long-time reader, I can’t remember when I started. I may have missed it, but have not seen you write anything about your new bike since you picked it up. Are you riding your bike? Enjoying it? I started bike riding in May of 2019 when my wife and I met some friends in Lisbon, Portugal for a Backroads Bike Tour . . . It’s a great way to exercise and socialize. Have made many new friendships during the pandemic. I will be curious if you’re into bike riding.”
In fact, John, I just got my Cannondale on the road last week for two rides through Brooklyn. There’s a great park here, Prospect Park, that has a 3.5-mile loop including an incline near the end that makes for a good workout. It’s been fun to re-learn riding in traffic and in a couple of tight neighborhoods. When it’s nicer, I’m sure I’ll get out somewhere nearby to take some longer rides. But being back on a bike is tremendously fun.
He figured out the value of a great book vs. a football card, and it’s a stunner. From Scott McKain: “Interesting contrast in your column [from the story about the British book heist that I posted last week] that the 1566 Latin edition of Copernicus’ world-changing theory was valued at $293,000. Meanwhile, the Tom Brady rookie card from 2000 was priced at $2.3 million. However, I will bet Copernicus couldn’t attract a supermodel.”
You mean it’s not some example of the world going to hell in a handbasket that a 21-year-old football card is worth eight times one of the most valuable books in history?
1. I think this past week revealed enough evidence in the Deshaun Watson case to suggest—suggest, I say—that there’s a good chance Watson will be suspended or put on the Commissioner’s Exempt List (rendering him ineligible to play) for at least part of the 2021 season. I can’t see another team trading for him until his legal situation is resolved.
2. I think, not to harp on Watson, but three things happened in the past week that were bad for him.
• The cases against him got two faces—two massage therapists who spoke publicly against him. One, Ashley Solis, said of Watson: “I got into massage therapy to heal people, to heal their minds and bodies and to bring peace to souls. He took that away from me and he tainted a profession in which I take enormous pride. Flashes of Watson’s face rush to me in a moment. I think of his penis touching me, which sends me into a tailspin. I suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and depression . . . I hope he knows how much pain he has inflicted on me emotionally and physically.”
• Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, did not do a smart thing when he said Solis sought “hush money” to make the case go away. As Mike Florio, a former attorney, wrote at Pro Football Talk:
“Although Hardin uses the term ‘hush money’ to describe the opening settlement demand, the email messages disclosed by Hardin reveal the standard type of pre-litigation communications in which lawyers engage in an attempt to resolve potential claims without litigation by going back and forth in the hopes of reaching a consensus. [Attorney] Scott Gaffield wrote on Watson’s behalf. ‘As I said to [plaintiff’s attorney] Cornelia [Brandfield-Harvey] last week, we don’t believe that the alleged facts show that Deshaun did anything wrong with regards to Ms. Solis, but we are nevertheless happy to continue the conversation around a reasonable settlement figure because we believe he can learn a lesson about having put himself in this situation.’ In other words, Watson’s camp was willing to consider paying something to settle the case because, as Gaffield said, ‘we believe he can learn a lesson about having put himself in this situation.’ … It shows that Watson’s representatives viewed the claims made by Ashley Solis as something that weren’t frivolous but that instead provided a useful opportunity to teach Watson a ‘lesson about having put himself in this situation.’ “
Not good for Watson’s case.
• The rhetoric, and consequences, are ratcheting up. The NFL called Solis’ words “deeply disturbing.” Nike dropped Watson and told CNBC: “We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and have suspended Deshaun Watson.” Beats by Dre and Reliant Energy will no longer do business with Watson.
As one NFL coach told me Saturday, you cannot dismiss Solis’ words, or her emotion. Now, what actually happened is still cloudy, and Watson’s side has produced 18 women who say he never did anything untoward in their sessions over the past five years. But we’ve gone from wondering who would trade for Watson a month ago to wondering two more dire things: Will he play football at all in 2021, and will he be found guilty of any charge of sexual assault, the kind of thing that would put a scarlet letter on Watson for the rest of his career?
3. I think I feel for the error of Aaron Wilson, the fine Houston Chronicle NFL writer who made a bad mistake by telling WEEI in Boston about the Watson case: last month: “In his case, you know, it’s kind of you don’t negotiate with terrorists.” The story was reported Friday night by the Defector. Wilson’s words were way over the line, and he apologized for it Saturday. That was too late, because the paper fired him for his poor choice of words Friday. In a case like this one, you’ve got to straddle the line and not cross it, because you really don’t know what happened Watson and the massage therapists. You might think you know, but you don’t.
4. I think my favorite point of the first week of Aaron Rodgers’ “Jeopardy!” episodes was not the priceless field goal question by the exiting champion but this Larry David bit. Understated, calm, pointed, effective. Sort of the way he plays quarterback.
5. I think I’m starting to think Kyle Trask, the Florida quarterback, has a good chance to be the sixth first-round quarterback. Starting to think.
6. I think I’ve got to hand it to Dane Brugler of The Athletic for his 261,480-word, 268-page NFL draft guide, called “The Beast.” Rightfully so. I’m in awe of Brugler’s work ethic, and the info, which I’ll use a ton over the next three weeks. Thanks, Dane.
7. I think these Brugler rankings in his top 100 caught my eye: Tight end Kyle Pitts at 2 (excellent); Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater at 11 (some teams like him better than Penei Sewell); Penn State Micah Parsons as LB1 and number 12 (spot on); edge-rusher Jaelan Phillips at 22 (seems low); quarterback Mac Jones at 25 (lots of teams agree, but it only takes one to go much, much higher); cornerback Caleb Farley 30 (seems low); quarterback Davis Mills of Stanford as QB6 at 87 (attention bargain shoppers); and quarterbacks Kyle Trask and Kellen Mond outside the top 100.
8. I think I hope you’re able to participate in my draft fundraiser for a cause near and dear to me.
Just 10 days now till our virtual event to benefit a New Jersey-based youth literacy charity I work with, Write on Sports. I’m excited and grateful that some of the best people (and draft analysts) in the business will join me. The details:
• On April 22, from 7 to 7:50 p.m., I’ll host a pre-show event with “Monday Night Football” analyst Louis Riddick for a fee for a limited number of guests. Riddick will be working the draft for ESPN this year, an annual event for him, and will have the kind of inside info draftniks will crave.
• From 8 to 9:30 p.m., I’ll download info and stories from NFL Network reporter and host Steve Wyche, fantasy football expert Matthew Berry and former GM and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum. This live show will be free to watch. We’ll be encouraging you to contribute to the Write on Sports cause.
• For those either in attendance or just wanting to help, Matthew Berry is contributing a 15-minute pre-2021 Fantasy Draft call/Zoom conference. This can be used by one person or several. We’re looking for a $5,000 gift to Write on Sports for this exclusive session to get you ready for your draft and to schmooze with Berry.
Write on Sports encourages middle-school students, many of them from inner-city areas in New Jersey, to improve writing and reading skills by writing and doing multi-media projects about sports. Write on Sports fills curriculum gaps in needy school districts with after-school programs, summer camps and year-round workshops. The summer camps are particularly important. They’re tuition-free with a low 5:1 student-teacher ratio. I realize a $5,000 gift to Write on Sports to spend time with Matthew Berry is a heavy lift, but consider how much good that $5,000 will do: It will pay for five students to attend a full two-week camp to get them the kind of individual work that’s often impossible during the academic year, particularly in inner-city school systems.
To give you an idea of the students Write on Sports has helped, I asked one of them, Olu Ologundudu, from Newark, N.J., to write a short essay on how Write on Sports affected his life. Ologundudu, born in Nigeria, moved to Newark when he was 6 and went to Write on Sports summer camps in 2006 and 2007. He’s now a student at Seton Hall. Ologundudu’s words:
The greatest thing Write on Sports did for me was help develop my voice and refine my ability to have an opinion, research it, and defend or change that opinion based on facts.
Growing up I had always been outspoken, but adults did not take my perspective on things seriously, sometimes downplaying my thoughts as a child’s ramblings. Write on Sports used a passion of mine, sports, to teach me how to use facts and literary techniques to share my ideas in a way that not only made sense, but was interesting to the readers. I learned it was OK to think differently from the crowd. The staff gave me the confidence and skills to express my thoughts.
Write on Sports created a safe space for a young me to realize my voice and hone my skills. The best part of Write on Sports camp was I was able to accomplish all this while having the time of my life.
I’d love to see as many of you as possible on April 22.
9. I think those who say they won’t get vaccinated, or may not get vaccinated, on the grounds of some sort of “freedom” issue . . . I just don’t understand. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen is the latest, telling Kyle Brandt on his The Ringer podcast: “I’m still debating that. I’m a big statistics and logical guy. So, if statistics show it’s the right thing for me to do, I’d do it. Again, I’d lean the other way, too, if that’s what it said.”
Wouldn’t a “big statistics and logical guy” see that getting a vaccine would give you a far better chance of not getting this virus, and if enough players and staff on the Bills get the vaccine, allow everyone to go back to living football life the way it was before the pandemic? Someone explain to me what is better for a team of football players: to not get the vaccine and to be tested daily or often and live the kind of restricted life players had to live in 2020, or to get the vaccine and be free to live close to normal lives on and off the field?
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Congrats, Hideki Matsuyama, for being the first Japanese golfer to win the Masters. Imagine waking up at 6 a.m. Monday and rushing to the TV to see if Matsuyama could hold on to take the biggest title in golf, and imagine a country that loves sports glued to the TV before going to work—in person or virtually—and by 8 a.m. Masuyama had won it. “It’s thrilling to think there’s a lot of Japanese youngsters watching today,” he said through an interpreter after winning by a stroke. Just the coolest thing—and the capper was his caddie bowing to the 18th pin as if to say, “It has been a great honor.”
b. Happy 85th birthday, John Madden. He was responsible for one of my favorite stories of all time. “Busman’s Holiday,” in Sports Illustrated, Nov. 26, 1990. My second year at the mag. Madden let me ride the bus with him for 53 hours, from the Bay Area to the Dakota, the apartment complex at 72nd and Central Park West in Manhattan where he was pals with Yoko Ono.
c. Lots of fun things we experienced, like stopping the bus to look at wildflowers in Nebraska, or time after time noting the joy in simple things that he’d never have seen (or eaten) had he been in a plane. A little chunk of my story (and sorry if you’re sick of this; I’ve posted it before):
After another hour or so, we hit the cornfields of Nebraska. “We had to stop in Beaver Crossing, Nebraska [pop. 480] once, to use the phone for the radio show,” Madden said. “It’s near Lincoln. Some guy comes across the street from a gas station and introduces himself. Roger Hannon. He was the mayor, and it was his gas station. The next thing I know, we’re in front of city hall, and the people start coming out, and they want to see the bus. One woman brought me a rhubarb pie. I didn’t even know what rhubarb pie was, but it was great. The whole town came out. There were only about 10 of them, but they were the whole town. I remember asking them, ‘What do houses sell for here?’ They said the last house that sold was right down on the corner-three bedrooms, three baths, a picket fence, for $8,000.”
Two days after Madden’s visit to Beaver Crossing, the Omaha World-Herald ran a story on page 3 with the headline: MADDEN STOPS TO USE THE PHONE.
“Sometimes I just like to break up the trip, and Omaha’s kind of halfway [across the country],” Madden said. “So I stayed in Omaha one night, and we went to see the minor league baseball team play. Anyway, they have a raffle for a case of pork and beans. It’s the seventh inning, and everybody’s excited. They pick the winner, and the guy’s sitting right behind home plate. His name is Elmer something, and he’s jumping up and down. To him it was like a trip to Hawaii or a new car or something. It was just a case of pork and beans. That was great.”
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that John Madden isn’t the best.
d. Docu-Series of the Week: “This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist,” a four-episode doc produced by Colin Barnicle, on Netflix.
e. One of the great unsolved mysteries in modern American history: Two guys dressed as cops entered the Isabella Gardner Museum on the night of March 18, 1990, tied up the security guard, and stole $500 million of artwork, including the only Rembrandt seascape ever painted.
f. How can $500 million of missing art be missing for 31 years? What is the benefit of hiding the artwork for all these years, if indeed the works are hidden? Was it in an inside job? Why did St. Patrick’s Day inadvertently provide cover for the theft?
g. “I’ve spent 25 years on this case. There’s gotta be a way to figure out where these paintings went!”
h. “There’s a lot of deaths. Everyone who potentially did the robbery is whacked.”
i. My wife and I lived in Boston for two-and-a-half years about a decade ago, and the heist came up, I bet, once a week somehow in the common culture. It’s like no one could believe the thing was unsolved. And now it’s been three decades. The quirky museum is open, the spots on the wall where the stolen paintings had been . . . empty. What a story.
j. Speaking of a robbery, I give you home-plate ump Ron Kulpa in Mets-Marlins on Thursday. Did you see this nonsense? Mets won 3-2 on what I am positive is a first in MLB history—a walkoff hit-by-pitch made possible by a batter who stuck his padded elbow into the strike zone to get hit, which was allowed by Kulpa.
k. Incredibly, the play is not subject to replay-review. Any calls that involve “whether the ball was in the strike zone when it touched the batter and whether the batter made any attempt to avoid being touched by the ball [are] not reviewable,” the MLB rulebook says. That is utterly preposterous. Michael Conforto stuck his heavily guarded/padded right elbow into the pitch, and the padding got nicked in the strike zone with Ron Kulpa beginning his mechanics to call strike three, and what happens? Conforto gets a game-winning RBI for cheating. Kudos to the Mets TV crew, Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez for calling it right, not with Mets-colored glasses. “The ball hit him, and it was going to be a strike,” Ron Darling said at the beginning of the controversy. “They gotta bring it back.” Cohen said: “He stuck his elbow right into that pitch.” Hernandez: “Oh man, you can’t do that. Ohhhhhhhh.” Darling: “You’re trying to get it right. They don’t get it right. So why even have replay?”
l. Science Story of the Week: Anahad O’Connor of the New York Times with “This Is Your Brain on Processed Food,” a valuable piece about the addiction to things that aren’t good for you. The story is based on the new book “Hooked,” by investigative reporter Michael Moss about the processed foods and the forces that have addicted us to them. Writes O’Connor:
Mr. Moss explores the science behind addiction and builds a case that food companies have painstakingly engineered processed foods to hijack the reward circuitry in our brains, causing us to overeat and helping to fuel a global epidemic of obesity and chronic disease. Mr. Moss suggests that processed foods like cheeseburgers, potato chips and ice cream are not only addictive, but that they can be even more addictive than alcohol, tobacco and drugs. The book draws on internal industry documents and interviews with industry insiders to argue that some food companies in the past couple of decades became aware of the addictive nature of their products and took drastic steps to avoid accountability, such as shutting down important research into sugary foods and spearheading laws preventing people from suing food companies for damages.
In another cynical move, Mr. Moss writes, food companies beginning in the late 1970s started buying a slew of popular diet companies, allowing them to profit off our attempts to lose the weight we gained from eating their products. Heinz, the processed food giant, bought Weight Watchers in 1978 for $72 million. Unilever, which sells Klondike bars and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, paid $2.3 billion for SlimFast in 2000. Nestle, which makes chocolate bars and Hot Pockets, purchased Jenny Craig in 2006 for $600 million.
m. But wait. More cowbell!
n. On this notable 21st anniversary week of one of the great SNL skits ever, please check out Will Ferrell’s midriff, and his inspired playing of the cowbell. Plus these wise words from Christopher Walken: “I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!”
o. In the immortal words of Will Ferrell: “Every time I heard ‘The Reaper’ by Blue Oyster Cult, I would hear the faint cowbell in the background and wonder, ‘What’s that guy’s life like?!’ “
p. TV Story of the Week: Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” (with producer Shari Finkelstein) on Darren Walker, the president of one of America’s most philanthropic foundations, the Ford Foundation, with a thoughtful piece on wealth in America—and how it should be distributed.
q. Stahl with Walker, a Black man who grew up in a country shack in Texas now speaking uncomfortable truths to rich people:
Walker: “It’s unthinkable to me that it has been normalized in American culture that you can work full-time and still be poor. That is antithetical to our idea of this country. And Lesley, this isn’t just an issue for African Americans and LatinX people. We have for the first time in America a generation of downwardly mobile white people.”
In a provocative New York Times op-ed, he wrote that people with wealth and power need to share some.
Stahl: “You’re asking people who are invested in the system as it is, that grants them all the privilege, to give that up. I don’t know if it’s within human nature.”
Walker: “I agree with you, Lesley. It’s not human nature to give up privilege, particularly if you feel it’s hard-earned. But at the end of the day, we elites need to understand that, while we may be benefiting from this inequality, ultimately, we are undoing the very fabric of America. We are going to have to give up some of our privilege if we want America to survive.”
r. Front Office Story of the Week: Former GM Randy Mueller on the true value of mock drafts to football people.
s. Mueller told a good story as the Saints’ GM when they decided they’d pick Deuce McAllister in the first round—and only one mock of the dozens they’d seen had the Ole Miss running back available when they picked. And so:
The best use of a mock draft scenario that I have experienced was when I was in New Orleans as their GM. In the 2001 draft, we picked 23rd in Round 1. We started our mock drafting exercise that year a couple days before the draft like we always did. One mock, mind you just one of the several dozen we did that day, led us to having Ole Miss RB Deuce McAllister’s card be the highest rated card on our board when it came our time to pick. I had had this option in the back of my mind since seeing him play live in Nashville at the Music City Bowl . . .
At the time, we also had RB Ricky Williams on our team, whom the Saints had given a proverbial arm and leg to draft a year earlier. Both Head Coach Jim Haslett and I were very uneasy hitching ourselves to the Williams wagon, based on some of his off-the-field activities that we had experienced throughout the prior year. So, when McAllister’s name came up, front and center, that day in the mock draft, it opened up a can of worms conversation that allowed us to vet and breakdown every angle of what to do if this actually happened in real time on draft day. I remember it started with [coach Jim] Haslett saying, when we got to our pick in the mock, NOW WHAT DO WE DO? My answer: “WE PICK HIM.”
You could never have flushed the distinct possibility of getting McAllister out without the mock draft exercise. Virtually nobody could foresee this actually happening. The mock became reality two days later when we were staring at McAllister’s card and we then picked him. He later became the all-time leading rusher in Saints history and we traded Ricky Williams to the Dolphins for what turned into two first-round picks.
t. Cloudy Future Story of the Week: Warren P. Strobel and Dustin Volz of the Wall Street Journal on the current and long-lasting effect of the coronavirus worldwide. The writers on this intelligence report about likely scenarios for the next 20 years on earth:
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic marks the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political and security implications that will ripple for years to come,” says the report by the National Intelligence Council, which charts likely global trends over the next 20 years.
“The response to the pandemic has fueled partisanship and polarization in many countries as groups argue over the best way to respond and seek scapegoats to blame for spreading the virus and for slow responses . . .”
Meanwhile, the pandemic “is slowing and possibly reversing some longstanding trends in human development,” such as gains in poverty reduction and gender equality, it says.
The report, Global Trends 2040, envisions a rough ride ahead for the planet, with accelerating contests over resources, governments struggling to meet citizens’ aspirations, and increased fragmentation of communities where “people are likely to gravitate to information silos of people who share similar views, reinforcing beliefs and understanding of the truth.”
u. ESPN did a good job during a Rays-Red Sox game the other day talking about the rocket-like rise of the 100-mph fastball. Amazing graphic: In 2019, MLB pitchers threw 3,682 pitches of 100 mph or more—in a 162-game season. In 2020, in a 60-game season, pitchers threw 4,410 of the fast fastballs. “It feels like it’s aberrational. It feels like it’s something we’re not used to,” Karl Ravech said. Eduardo Perez pointed out pitchers are investing in $20,000 TrackMan machines to analyze speed, spin rate and all those other things modern pitching eats up, and working with the machine in the off-season to improve. Seems to be working. Just a really interesting, smart discussion about something we think we see but now we know we’re seeing.
Trevor, Zach, QB.
First three picks, mostly, are set.
All eyes on you, Falcs.