Two stories obliterated everything this weekend. (Well, except if you live in Illinois, or you’re a snowbird from Schaumburg.) The two: Trey Lance over Mac Jones to the Niners with the third pick, and the pre-draft news bomb from Adam Schefter that reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers wants out of Green Bay.
You’ve got to hear Kyle Shanahan’s explanation, all 2 minutes and 37 seconds of it, when I asked him why he fell for Lance, the North Dakota State quarterback. “It’s so hard for me to give a quick answer,” he told me Saturday night. So he didn’t. It’s thorough and will give you an idea of why Lance is in San Francisco and Jones (“I love Mac Jones,” Shanahan said) is in Foxboro today. Plus, the weirdness of the entire planet thinking the Niners were all in on Jones, and how blown away Shanahan was by it. Fascinating, to me.
I decided to let the news dictate my column this week. I set up trips to see the Falcons (with the first sort-of mystery pick of the draft) Thursday night, the new-look Jags and Trevor Lawrence on Friday, then traveled Saturday morning to do a piece (no spoilers) that I’m using in my column next week. Then the news of the weekend would dictate where I’d go next, if anywhere. Turns out I went home and began working the phones on the Lance and Rodgers stories.
Rodgers’ discontent, as has been well-documented, is real. Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports reported much of it is focused on GM Brian Gutekunst, and a source said Rodgers is adamant that he won’t return to the Packers with Gutekunst as GM.
I have heard that Rodgers has not demanded the ouster of Gutekunst. But maybe Robinson’s right and I’m wrong. Regardless, this is more, I believe, about the traditional structure of the Packers, a structure that hasn’t bent much to give influence to players, that hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years.
“Do you think Aaron’s relationship with the Packers is irretrievably broken?” I asked Gutekunst on Sunday afternoon.
“No, I don’t think so at all. That’s my opinion and that’s the organization’s opinion,” Gutekunst said. “We want Aaron to be our quarterback. We’re pretty resolute with that . . . We want to leave every avenue open for that to happen.”
As for Rodgers’ reported feelings about him, Gutekunst said “you never want to see those things or read those things. He’s never said that to me and he never said that publicly . . . At the same time, I’m a lifelong scout, and we work all year for these three days. We couldn’t let this distract us from the task at hand.”
Rumors floated Thursday and then over the weekend about multiple teams contacting the Packers to try to deal for Rodgers. Though it’s possible president Mark Murphy or coach Matt LaFleur could have fielded a call or two, it’s hard to envision any discussion going anywhere without the GM knowing about it. When I asked Gutekunst about any trade talks for Rodgers, he said:
“I had no [trade] discussions with any team. I received one call from a team Thursday night, after all the news came out. I said no. That was the end of the conversation.”
It seems impossible to think Rodgers’ enmity for the Packers has come so far, so fast. But remember this about Rodgers: He’s principled. He’s different. If he feels like he’s been wronged, he could stay away regardless of any external pressure, and losing his scheduled $22-million compensation this year wouldn’t bother him nearly enough to change his mind. Remember this about the Packers: They have a traditional structure—players play, coaches coach, GM picks players—and have had such a structure since Ron Wolf built his championship team a quarter-century ago.
If, as I suspect, Rodgers feels unappreciated by the Packers, is displeased that Gutekunst picked his potential heir instead of a receiver last year, and doesn’t think he’s valued by the franchise as much as a three-time MVP should be, it’s going to be tough to build a bridge to make him return. Tough, but not impossible.
Gutekunst wouldn’t discuss the team’s next move, but somehow, the embattled GM said he remains optimistic that bridge can be built. “I think every day we’re very open to working through everything, all the different issues, and trying to get to get him back in here and moving forward,” Gutekunst said.
Takes two to make a deal, though, and one party is far from the table right now. Historically far. As ESPN pointed out, no MVP in the 64-year history of the award has ever been traded the following season, and only two (Norm Van Brocklin, 1960, and Jim Brown, 1965, both retired after winning) have not played the following season. Rodgers has always been a different guy.
As many have pointed out over the weekend, this is mindful of a story from exactly 10 years ago. In the spring of 2011, Carson Palmer decided he would rather not play football than play for the Cincinnati Bengals, his team of seven years. The Bengals didn’t budge, and Palmer started the season on the reserve/did not report list. Six weeks into the season, when the Raiders had a quarterback injury, the Bengals traded him to Oakland.
I would expect Rodgers to not participate in any offseason work with the Packers, and to hope the Packers would change their minds about trading him. Denver would still be an option, I think, and maybe Las Vegas. (Rodgers-Mahomes twice a year for the next four years, maybe?) Or, maybe with four to six weeks to simmer, and an olive branch from Green Bay brass (Rodgers loves Packer franchise history), he’ll go back. But right now I doubt it. My gut feeling—and that’s all it is—is he’d prefer to not play football this year than to play for the Packers.
• Chicago, trying to make up for Trubisky-over-Mahomes four years ago, traded up nine slots to pick Ohio State QB Justin Fields. Rejoice, Mike Wilbon.
• Atlanta renewed its wedding vows with soon-to-be-36-year-old Matt Ryan by not taking a young quarterback and instead making Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in history, fourth overall.
• Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow would have been happy with either a bodyguard (Penei Sewell) or deep threat (Ja'Marr Chase), but he’s thrilled to be united with Chase. Good pick here.
• Philadelphia, in a dogs-love-cats move, traded with its NFC East bestie Dallas, moving up to pick Alabama wideout Devonta Smith at 10.
• Houston has one great player left on a bedraggled team. But in a sign that Deshaun Watson might not be long for Texas, Houston used its one pick in the top 80 on a quarterback—Davis Mills of Stanford.
• Pittsburgh used its first pick on a running back, Najee Harris, and he’ll have to be pretty great to succeed behind that offensive line. He said the Steelers would be “a fun-ass team” to play for.
• The Jets drafted two Michael Carters. Bet you didn’t know that Duke cornerback Michael Carter (fifth-round pick) tackled North Carolina running back Michael Carter (fourth-round pick) on consecutive plays when the Devils and Heels met in 2018.
• Jacksonville made it official with Trevor Lawrence, and gave him a nice housewarming gift, picking Clemson back Travis Etienne later in the first round. (Highlight of Lawrence’s debut in town Friday: Third-grader there to greet him asked, “Is your hair real?”)
• New England drafted Tom Brady Jr. Now all Mac Jones has to do is win six rings.
• Miami picked four scouts’ darlings in the first three rounds: wideout Jaylen Waddle (six), edge-rusher Jaelan Phillips (18), tackle Liam Eichenberg (42) and tight end Hunter Long (81). If Tua can play, this team’s going to be dangerous.
Let’s start with the odd story of the Forty-Niner Fakeout, with a process that was arduous and strange.
The Lead: San Francisco
Niners factoid: The last piece in the big March 26 trade with Miami that netted the third overall pick was a bonus that fell from the sky. At least that’s how the Niners thought about the 2022 third-round pick that they threw in to complete the trade with Miami. That third-round pick is one of two Compensatory Picks the Niners got for developing and then losing Robert Saleh to be the head coach of the Jets. “We never counted on having a three for Robert Saleh,” Kyle Shanahan told me. “So I looked at that as a complete bonus that made it worth getting the trade done a month in advance.”
Around draft time, reporters dig, and friends of people in the league nose around. So Adam Schefter has been close to the Shanahans since he covered the Broncos for the Denver Post, and Chris Simms has been close to Kyle Shanahan since they were teammates at the University of Texas. So they sniffed around when the Niners traded from 13 to three, and both Schefter and Simms thought there was a good chance San Francisco would make Mac Jones its first-round pick. If the two people who know Shanahan the best in the media think it’s more likely than not Jones, well, of course, the avalanche will follow. And it did. “We weren’t going to work to correct that,” said Shanahan. “But to see how much this matters to so many people was just unbelievable. It really taught me a lot about people. And I guess it’s awesome for our league, all the attention.”
The Niners gain nothing by saying who they’d pick—and Shanahan said he and Lynch didn’t know for sure Lance was the guy till April 19, the day of Lance’s second Pro Day practice in North Dakota.
I asked him: How did you know it should be Lance?
“It’s so hard for me to give a quick answer,” Shanahan said from California.
“His natural ability to play the quarterback position, just in terms of how he plays in the pocket, how he can go through the progressions, how, when no one’s open, that he gives it a chance, that he recognizes it. And how quick he reacts to turning it into an off-schedule play. He plays on tape like he’s a very poised, smart person who’s been playing the position for a while.
“Then you look into the other attributes, and you’re like ‘Oh, I haven’t even gotten to the running skill set.’ I haven’t gotten to the upside of how much better he can get, the more he plays. That’s what made me like him so much right away.
“But it’s also, once you do that, you see all this, now let’s talk about what’s wrong. Why isn’t this a slam dunk? You hear his school [level of play], the lack of throws, not playing the 2020 season. Those are real things. That’s why I’m glad that we had a long time to go through it. Because you love the tape, but just like everyone in the league, there are some stuff you can’t just say it’s a slam dunk. That’s the stuff that worries you about it. But that’s what was so cool about the kid, that going through this process after we moved up to where I talked to him so many times, to have him go through the number of tests and stuff that we have them all go through . . . I can’t tell you how special of a person he is. It has nothing to do with football.
“He’s extremely intelligent. He knows how to handle situations. He knows how to carry himself. The guy that I see on tape that I tried to describe that I see such a natural quarterback, such a smart player. Well, if I never saw the tape, and I got to hang out with him first, I would’ve felt that same way with him as a person and been like, ‘Man, I hope the tape matches this person!’ You know? That’s kind of what was cool about it. The first time you watch the tape, ‘Man, hell yeah!’ But no decision’s set in stone in January. That’s how I felt in January when I saw him. But I was going to do the process right. Watch everybody. Every guy. I can always spend two hours and get myself to like anyone. Then, I go to the time getting myself to not like him. And I see what ends up sticking. That’s what was cool about him through the process at the end. No matter what I tried to do to say, It’s too risky!, all that stuff kind of went away the more I got to know the person. I went back to how I originally felt about the tape.”
The process: After the Niners’ season ended, Shanahan and family went on vacation. Most days, he’d do family things for part of the day and watch college quarterbacks (plus Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson, once rumors put them on the street) for part of the day. Jones was the first passer he studied. The Niners were at 12 then, and maybe Jones would be the only quarterback available there. After watching big chunks of his 17 Alabama starts, Shanahan was revved up about him. I’d definitely take this guy at 12, he thought.
Lance was the last college guy he studied. Playing at a lower level, and playing only one game, made Lance sound like the riskiest prospect to Shanahan.
How he did the study was interesting too. The 49ers’ video department puts a blank bar on each video clip, so Shanahan—instead of taking notes in a notebook—can type in his notes on every play. After he finished his pass-through of tape study on Lance, he emailed Lynch between 20 and 40 plays of Lance so he could see what Shanahan was seeing, and he told the GM words to this effect: I’m obsessed with the type of stuff we can do with this guy. Shanahan said Lynch couldn’t sleep that night, he was so excited about Lance’s prospects for the offense.
“I’ve always been intrigued when you can have a guy make the defense play 11-on-11,” Shanahan said. “It just slows down the game a little bit. You cannot have a guy that only makes them worry about the run. It’s just a matter of time before that becomes pretty easy to contain and that’s not built to last. You’ve got to have a guy that can do both.” Shanahan didn’t say this to me, but he had to be thinking about the mobility of Lance and the relative lack of it with Jones, and he had to be thinking of the exquisite accuracy of Jones (74 percent) versus the decent accuracy of Lance (65 percent) in college. Everything had to be considered.
Once they were sufficiently smitten with Lance, the Niners also knew it was doubtful he’d be available at 12. Lynch spent much of March fact-finding on trades. Jets at 2, no. Dolphins at 3, maybe. Falcons and Bengals at 4 and 5, no and no. Lynch and Shanahan weren’t totally set on Lance yet, but they were leaning that way. Could they have made a better deal than the gargantuan price of first-round picks in ’22 and ’23, plus a three next year, to move just nine spots? Could they have waited and done better? Possibly. But there was so much buzz about teams moving up for quarterbacks. They had to be comfortable enough to move knowing they’d now have a month to pick between Lance, Jones and Justin Fields. “You get up to three,” Shanahan said, “and it’s not about upside anymore. It’s about, You can’t miss.
So many younger coaches and GMs don’t treat first-round picks like priceless vases anymore. They’re capital. When you want something bad enough, go buy it—even if the price is more than you dreamed of paying.
“Everyone talks about the draft capital and I totally understand all that,” Shanahan said. “I know, growing up, how I felt about first-round picks. Those are such a big deal, and it’s true. They are. But I kept making the point just watching teams in our division these last few years, watching Seattle trade two ones for a strong safety, watching the Rams do it where they haven’t had one five years in a row, do it for a quarterback and a cornerback. I think all those were good moves. I think they have helped their teams.” Without the two future ones and the three, Shanahan knew Miami would stick at 3, and the prospects of moving up were not good. If the oft-injured Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt again and the Niners lost out on the quarterbacks because they wouldn’t pay the price, Shanahan would have been sick.
In his office in Santa Clara, Shanahan would call in coaches and debate the quarterbacks with them, trying to never give a clue who he liked. But slowly, he came to value the versatility and mobility of Lance. Two days after the Lance Pro Day, Shanahan and Lynch told each other they were done. Lance was the guy.
They didn’t tell the coaches, he said, till the Jaguars picked Trevor Lawrence.
“You wouldn’t tell me nothing!” Lance said when Shanahan called to tell him he was the pick with the Niners on the clock.
A lot of people connected to this story will have good stories to tell their grandchildren one day. Now all Lance has to do is be great.
Atlanta: Locked On Pitts10
Falcons factoid: Atlanta had two “blue” players, premier players in their scouting vernacular, on the entire draft board: Trevor Lawrence and Kyle Pitts.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga., 12:45 a.m. Friday — Not much drama in the Falcons’ draft room Thursday night. Coach Arthur Smith and GM Terry Fontenot (owner Arthur Blank too) had become convinced Matt Ryan could play at least three more years at a productive level. In the days before the draft, Fontenot listened to multiple offers for the fourth pick, but none came close to the mega-package he’d need to move out the slot to take the Florida tight end.
Now, 40 minutes after the first round was over, Smith and Fontenot sat in an office at Falcons HQ, shiny Falcons pins on their lapels, and made four things clear: There was a clear line of demarcation for them between Trevor Lawrence and the other four first-round quarterbacks; it made no sense to take a quarterback with Ryan (36 this season) having three to five years left and Smith liking him; Pitts was far and away the best player left at four; and the two new franchise stewards don’t see the Falcons as a major rebuild.
“They hired the wrong guys if they thought we were going to lower expectations, take our time, and rebuild,” Smith said. “That’s just not who we are. The expectation is to win now, build for the future, have plans.
“With Matt, I see a really high-quality starting quarterback who’s thrown for 55,000 yards in this league and had unbelievable experience and is still throwing guys open. It doesn’t sound absurd anymore to say, ‘Hey, I want to play till I’m 40.’ If he didn’t want to play, that would be a different set of problems. We still may not have taken a quarterback at 4 because soon as you take one, if you take the wrong guy, there’s some bad unintended consequences because right away, it’s like, ‘There’s your quarterback of the future.’ And if you take the wrong guy just because you want to win the press conference tonight, it’s like . . .” His voice trailed off.
The fact the Falcons didn’t take a quarterback is even an extra dose of faith in Ryan, whose compensation is an anchor (cap numbers over the last three years of his contract: $26.9 million, $48.7 million, $43.6 million) on a bloated cap. The Falcons are 29-36 since blowing that 28-3 Super Bowl lead to New England, but Ryan’s four-year numbers since—66.4 percent passing, an average of 4,516 passing yards per year, plus-63 TD-to-pick rate—and the tape Smith watched convinced him the incumbent QB is part of the solution, not the problem.
“The good news is yeah, they did go to a Super Bowl, but to me, in NFL time, it’s ancient history,” Smith said. “You’re coming off a 4-12 season.”
Atlanta may require more roster surgery. I wrote last week I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons traded Julio Jones, 32 and coming off a season in which he missed seven games due to injury. Now that the draft is over and Jones is still a Falcon, I don’t believe the prospect of a trade is kaput. Because Atlanta wouldn’t have made a trade official till June 2 so Jones’ dead-cap money could be spread over two years, Fontenot could still trade Jones sometime this summer for a 2022 draft choice. I don’t think drafting Pitts made a big difference in their Jones plans—I think they’d still like to find a taker if the price is right, and my guess is the price would be an unconditional second-round pick. A complicating factor: Blank told me Thursday night, “I hope Julio stays. We want him to finish his career here. We’re not required to make a move with him.” But would the owner stand in the way of a deal? I doubt it.
Having two fresh sets of eyes from new organizations helps, as does Fontenot’s realization that he wasn’t hired to just make the easy decisions—like picking a tight end the Falcons think has a chance to be a faster and more athletic Gronk.
“My son tells me, ‘You need to trade for this guy, you need to get that guy,’ ” Fontenot said. “People talk about it like it’s fantasy football. We’ve had to move on from some players, and we’re going to continue to have to do that. The roster has to work financially. That’s the challenge. It’s not just as easy as saying, ‘We’ll keep the best players.’ The most challenging part of the job has been more so the cap, where we are, and us having to make decisions more so for business and not just about who the best players are.”
Projecting the offense without Jones, Atlanta still looks potent. Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage (combined in 2020: 162 catches, 2,160 yards) make a solid 1-2 at wideout, Hayden Hurst is a good tight end piece, and Pitts is a more developed talent than the tight end Smith made a multiple weapon in Tennessee, Jonnu Smith. Pitts will be used wide, in the slot, as a traditional tight end and maybe even in the backfield. “Jonnu’s my guy,” Pitts told me Friday. “He’s a Philly guy, like me. We’re close. I saw how he was used by Coach Smith in Tennessee. This is going to be a great fit for me, because coach has a great reputation for using the end in different places.” An underrated piece of the offensive puzzle could be the versatile receiver/back/returner Cordarrelle Patterson, one of the game’s most intriguing players. With Smith’s imagination, Patterson could emerge as a big player here.
“Let’s put Cordarrelle on a Jet sweep,” mused Smith. “Let’s see if Kyle can run the football. I don’t care who’s back there. Let’s mix and match and morph.”
I drove away from the Falcons in the wee hours thinking they needed a GM and coach who understand the business of football can be cold sometimes, and it’s not a business to keep heroes a year too long, and who aren’t married to anyone here. That’s what they’ve found in Fontenot and Smith. This line from Smith, a big reader, stuck with me: “I use my Jim Mattis quote, and Terry and I talk about it all the time, ‘If you don’t like problems, stay out of leadership.’ “ They’ll have their share, and they don’t seem to mind.
Jags: New Day Dawns
Jaguars factoid: All prospective draft choices were given private phone numbers for draft weekend, so teams could contact them directly without worrying about cell phone issues. When it came time to call Trevor Lawrence, three calls to his private number went straight to voice mail. Finally, coach Urban Meyer picked up his cell and called Lawrence’s cell as the time ticked away on the draft clock. “Hey coach, I was getting nervous here,” Lawrence said. “Glad you called.”
JACKSONVILLE, 11 a.m. Friday — This is what draft weekend is all about: hope. Inside the wood-paneled stadium office of owner Shad Khan, you could feel it. In 30 minutes, Khan would meet his new franchise quarterback for the first time, and forget the fact that Khan, 70, is worth something like $8 billion. Trevor Lawrence is coming! We’re not going to be crappy anymore! The man was excited.
“It’s like an elusive dream,” Khan said. “We thought two-and-a-half years ago we’d turned the corner. We were the darlings . . . Then, after the misery of last season, I think, ‘Oh my God, this is almost too good to believe.’ How the gods of football smiled on us. We got not only the first pick in the draft, we got the first pick of coaches.”
The morning Florida Times-Union showed what northeast Florida felt 15 hours earlier—four teen boys, all giddy, at the team’s draft party on the field the previous night, exulting as Roger Goodell announced the Lawrence pick on the video board. That’s what 1-15 buys these days in the NFL, a giddy draft party with Lawrence about to pull up in a limo and meet his new team. When Lawrence arrived by the big jaguar in front of the stadium, it was Khan who opened the door and said, “Welcome to Jacksonville. I’m Shad.”
An exuberant class of third-graders with welcoming signs enveloped the 6-foot-6 Lawrence, with his flowing blond mane, and his wife Marissa. “Is your hair real?” one boy said. (It’s real, and it’s spectacular.) Another said, “Will you pay for our food?”
“Super cool,” said Lawrence, who knows what to say and what image to project. Neither seems out of character. “The kids were awesome.”
Jacksonville seems a good fit for Lawrence, with veteran pro coaches Darrell Bevell (offensive coordinator) and Brian Schottenheimer (passing game coordinator) the most hands-on coaches with him. They are vets who’ve worked with different style quarterbacks—Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford most recently—and because they’ve known for some time that Lawrence would be their pick, they’ve been able to feed him lots of information and plays.
The draft was good to Lawrence too. The Jags’ second pick was explosive back Travis Etienne, who played 40 games alongside Lawrence in the Clemson backfield over the last three years and caught 85 passes over the last two years. “That was a great pick for me, because we’ve gotten to know each other so well as players and friends,” Lawrence said.
“With Travis,” Meyer said, “I expect instant impact. He’s a slash . . . he has excellent hands, and he’ll be dual-trained [as a back and receiver].”
Jacksonville exited the draft with a need still at tight end, with one of Meyer’s old recruits at Ohio State, Luke Farrell, picked to supplement Tyler Eifert; Meyer sounded post-draft like he wished they’d gotten more of an offensive threat there. But they look capable at receiver, with free-agent Marvin Jones added to supplement D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr.
I spent a few minutes with Lawrence. He said all the right things, the same way he’s been in Zoom meetings with coaches and even Khan.
“The player obviously is great, but the person behind the player is what really gives me hope,” Khan said. “I can’t believe how normal he is. He’s been the number one quarterback on all levels since he was 14 years old, being catered to at every level. His humility almost surprises me. I was impressed that he really wanted to come here, and wanted to spend his career in Jacksonville. That’s what he told me—he doesn’t want to move around. I told him, ‘If you do what you’ve done to this point, there’s going to be two constants—you’re going to be in Jacksonville, and I’m going to be in Jacksonville.’ “
Khan owns Fulham in the English Premier League, so he knows a bit about the world sport landscape. He thinks Lawrence has the ability to be the first cross-continent American star. “As great as Michael Jordan was, he was never a true superstar over there,” Khan said. “Trevor has the gravitas. I think he could become a true international superstar.”
Well, whoa. When I posed that to Lawrence, he was a bit taken aback. “I thought about how cool it’ll be to play in London, but . . . I try not to think about that too much. My job now especially is to come in and to win games and to get ready to be the best I can be and to make the team as good as we can be. I try not to think about all the other byproducts of it.”
But the thought seemed super awesome, upon reflection. “Obviously that would be cool,” he said.
Football first. “I need to come in, go to work, and earn the trust and respect of my teammates. There’s obviously so many things that I want to improve on and get better at. But really, I think, there’s not one specific way you need to play quarterback to be successful. It’s just doing what I know that I’m good at and bringing that here and improving on all the things I need to improve on. But as far as my style of play, I’m just going to be me and play the way I’ve always played.”
That’s been good enough to be the best passing prospect since Andrew Luck. But there will be tough days for the quarterback who lost two games in three years, and the coach who never had a three-game losing streak in 17 years of college football. Hiring Meyer and drafting Lawrence were the two best moves the franchise could make, by far. But games aren’t won in the offseason. The Jags are 12-36 since opening day 2019.
“We’ll enjoy the honeymoon,” Khan said, “until the ball is snapped.”
Quick takes on half the league this week, with the rest planned for next week:
Arizona Cardinals. Coolest thing happened for first-round linebacker Zaven Collins, from the little town (pop.: 3,388) of Hominy, in northern Oklahoma. Owner Michael Bidwill flew to pick him up in his plane. Before Bidwill and Collins left Oklahoma, the owner asked air traffic control if he could fly low over the town of Hominy. Then he asked Collins if he wanted to fly over his hometown, which he’d never done. Of course, Collins said. “It was easy to spot—there’s a black oval track there, and he banked the plane right over the track. I told him, ‘This is where it all started.’ He’s an awesome pilot.” Collins was the valedictorian in his 47-person senior class at Hominy High, and he said growing up in the little town was a blessing, because he knew everyone and everyone knew him. And now? “J.J. Watt’s tweeting me!” he said. That’s your teammate now, Zaven—your peer. Could take some getting used to.
Atlanta Falcons. You’ll soon learn that Kyle Pitts is 20 going on 42. “He’s an old soul,” GM Terry Fontenot said. In the draft process, he’s heard all the excessive praise that comes with being one of the best tight-end prospects ever. “It’s a new journey,” Pitts told me. “I don’t pay attention to what’s said. I stay even-keel. It’s not college anymore. I gotta prove myself all over again. Time to grind.” He’ll wear number 8, just because he always thought wearing a single digit would be cool.
Baltimore Ravens. Still expect the Ravens to be a run-heavy team. And with free-agent wideout pickup Sammy Watkins having a checkered injury history (14 games missed in the last three years), nothing’s certain in the Baltimore receivers room. But Rashod Bateman, a very good route-runner and instinctive receiver, should give Baltimore a threat all over the field. His 2020 season at Minnesota was ruined by COVID and he’s back healthy now. I doubt the Ravens would be a suitor for Julio Jones this summer, but if the price is right, GM Eric DeCosta has shown he’ll find a way to squeeze another good player under the cap.
Chicago Bears. I never have understood the criticism of Justin Fields, who threw 67 touchdowns with nine interceptions in college, who took one of the biggest hits of the 2020 season and missed one play in the college football playoffs against Clemson and returned to throw four touchdown passes. Glad to see one team had faith to mortgage its future on Fields. This was a costly trade by the Bears, giving up next year’s one and four to move up nine spots in the first round. But I loved the trade, and I love this pick. After blowing the quarterback evaluation in 2017 and bypassing Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, the Bears this time had a coach with staying power involved in passing judgment on the passers—and Matt Nagy believed in Fields. So now Fields will compete with Andy Dalton to win this job. Expect Dalton to start early, but not for long. Nagy won’t rush to insert Fields into the starting lineup. As he said the other day: “When the time is right, I promise you every single person will know.”
Detroit Lions. Different vibe around the kneecap-biters, no? Getting Penei Sewell with the seventh pick looks like great value. Then to hear him? Man, Sewell was fired up to be a Lion: “Yes sir! We in the D!” No idea if the Lions will win big. But the spirit around this franchise is just different, with a bunch of guys who want to be there.
Houston Texans. To me, no pick spoke louder than the Texans’ second-rounder. With the first pick in Nick Caserio’s career as a GM, he took Stanford QB Davis Mills. He and the Texans will say all the right things about the legal process running its course or Deshaun Watson still being their guy, and Caserio’s words about the pick Friday night—“It doesn’t impact any one player individually.”—strains credulity. A team this draft-poor, with the needs of an expansion team and no picks in the first two rounds, taking a quarterback with its first pick? Very meaningful.
Los Angeles Chargers. I’ll be surprised if tackle Rashawn Slater (13th overall) and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (47th) aren’t starting by Oct. 1. Excellent value with those two players.
Los Angeles Rams. Tutu Atwell was one of the most explosive players in the draft, a 4.35-speed guy who averaged 16.5 yards per-catch over three years. He also will play at about 155 pounds. That is a huge risk. The Rams are hoping for Tyreek Hill, but his durability may make him more Percy Harvin—who had some lightning-strike moments but missed 41 percent of his team’s games in eight NFL seasons.
Las Vegas Raiders. Asked 11 coaches/GMs their biggest surprises in the draft Friday and Saturday. I didn’t limit it to one. But “Alex Leatherwood going 17th” was the winner, far and away. Leatherwood will have his chance to prove everyone wrong, but part of the reason the pick didn’t get the benefit of the doubt was because of the franchise’s first-round picks in 2019 (Clelin Ferrell, fourth overall) and 2020 (Damon Arnette, 19th overall).
Minnesota Vikings. I know the Vikings had their usual allotment of 84 picks in this draft, and so maybe you don’t look at picking a quarterback at 66 and think it speaks volumes about the future of the incumbent. But what the selection of Kellen Mond says to me is the Vikings might not be paying premier-QB money much longer to Kirk Cousins, who’s four games over .500 in his three Minnesota seasons, and who has a $45-million cap number in his last contractual season, 2022.
New England Patriots. The Mac Jones pick reminded me of the ending of the New England-Seattle Super Bowl. Remember the last minute of the game, when Bill Belichick stood on the Patriots sidelines while America screamed, “TAKE A TIMEOUT BILL!!!” at the TV? He did not take a timeout, which would have allowed Seattle to calmly consider its option down near the goal line. Instead, of course, Russell Wilson threw the most infamous pick of his life and Belichick looked pretty smart. He must not have read all the mock drafts (how irresponsible of him) that screamed, “YOU HAVE TO TRADE UP FOR A QUARTERBACK BILL!!!” Of course he just sat there and waited, and Mac Jones fell into his lap at 15. Maybe Belichick’s patience comes from running 25 previous drafts.
One note about the Jones fit with the Patriots. Think of Tom Brady, and think of what the Patriots value in a quarterback: intelligence, a quick info-processor on the field, accuracy, performs well under pressure. Mac Jones doesn’t have a long history at Alabama (17 starts), but he checks every one of those boxes.
New Orleans Saints. Shocked at the Payton Turner choice, almost as surprising as Leatherwood going 17th. Maybe a bigger story: Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book going on pick 133. Uneasy lies the starting quarterback in New Orleans, whether it be Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill.
New York Giants. Bullish on the G-men and the suddenly futuristic GM, Dave Gettleman. Wideout Kadarius Toney at 20 was an okay pick, but pass-rusher Azeez Ojulari, even with health questions, was a value home run at 50. Picking up extra 2022 picks in the first (Chicago), third (Miami) and fourth (Chicago) was really smart, because 2022 is likely to be a better, and certainly deeper, draft.
New York Jets. First team in NFL history draft consecutive “jahs” — Alijah Vera-Tucker in round one, Elijah Moore in round two. Moore: 189 catches at Ole Miss, and scouts think he’ll be a better pro because he wasn’t used in the deep game enough in college. Zach Wilson should use Moore and his 4.35 speed on more downfield throws, and will also, I’m sure, benefit from his ping-ponging slot use in college. Love that pick.
Pittsburgh Steelers. Quite a reaction from running back Najee Harris, the first-round pick charged with revitalizing a Steeler run game that played a huge role in ruining the season last year in Pittsburgh. He told me Saturday: “I think I’ll fit in well here. They appreciate the running back position. Le’Veon Bell showed the Steelers know how to use a running back in the backfield and splitting him out. This is gonna be a fun-ass team to play for.”
I asked Harris—who gained 4,624 scrimmage yards and scored 57 touchdowns, most ever for an Alabama player—about the devaluation of the running back in recent football history. He’s said he’s a complete back, a three-down back who can block as well as he can run or catch. “People say you can get running backs after the first round, but you could say that about any position. Tom Brady wasn’t a first-rounder. I think I can be a pound-the-rock back, a back who blocks, a back who catches, a back who can be a scatback. I really think I came to the right team.”
Washington Football Team. Could WFT have its left tackle for the next few years in Samuel Cosmi? And with the value pick at 51? Interesting to note that WFT did not use its first-round pick next year to move up for a quarterback this year—as the Bears did with Justin Fields. Had they moved up to get a quarterback, they might have lost Cosmi—a player I put in my first-round mock last week because a couple of teams told me he was solid there. Trent Williams is in the rear-view mirror now, and it’s time Washington spent resources to find another mountain over there.
Quotes of the Week
“There is a chasm between management and the reigning NFL MVP.”
—Mike Tirico of NBC Sports, on Aaron Rodgers’ status with the Packers, after speaking to Rodgers at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
“Less than 5 percent.”
—ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky, who has a good relationship with Aaron Rodgers, to ESPN radio on the chances Rodgers plays for the team in 2021.
“Secretly, I wanted to go to the Patriots all along.”
—Mac Jones, an hour after he was drafted by the Patriots.
“A stunned silence has fallen over our set.”
—ESPN’s Mike Greenberg, when Las Vegas shocked the world by taking Alex Leatherwood 17th in the first round.
“The future of Aaron Rodgers is in jeopardy, literally and figuratively.”
—ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who broke the story of Rodgers wanting out of Green Bay, and had the presence of mind to include a niblet about Rodgers’ offseason TV flirtation.
“I’m a firm believer in UFOs and Sasquatch.”
—Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield.
“I didn’t come out of my basement for nothing! Come on!”
—Roger Goodell, at the start of the draft, apparently urging the fans in Cleveland to rain down more boos on him.
“When he gets to the quarterback, he’s not in a good mood.”
—Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale on first-round edge-rusher Odafe Oweh.
“If he wants out, he needs to say something more than ‘my future is a beautiful mystery’ or whatever else he has said in a vague way before acting like he didn’t drop a proverbial (or literal) turd in the punch bowl. Put simply, he needs to become as clear and direct about his objectives for his future football career as he’s been about his objectives for his potential career as the host of Jeopardy! He hasn’t been afraid to say he wants that job. If he wants out of Green Bay, the time has come for him to say so.”
—Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, on Aaron Rodgers.
About that item in the punch bowl . . .
Most impressive performance by a GM: Denver’s George Paton. At his post-draft press conference, for the first 7 minutes and 34 seconds, Paton named the 31 people who helped him draft a strong class of rookies, led by cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
Thirty-one people, all of whom toil in anonymity. It’s a good job for them. A great job, I’m sure. But no one who loves the Broncos knows who they are, and before Paton talked about the players the Broncos drafted, he talked about his support staff. It was a class thing for Paton to do.
This is part of it, and how it sounded:
“I just want to thank a few people on the college side. Brian Stark did a great job of managing our scouts—he is our college director, as well as Darren Mougey, who is our assistant college director. They did an outstanding job, as well as Nick Schiralli—he is our east regional scout. They took a leadership role, especially because I was new. They took the bull by the horns and did a great job.
“Our scouts—this is their Super Bowl. These guys were not able to go on the road last fall. They had to do all of their background from their homes. They are used to going out on the road, getting into schools, and getting with their sources. They had to be creative, ‘How are we going to get the information? How are we going to get the background?’ Again, doing this at home with your kids and with your family. I give these guys a lot of credit, this is their draft. They put in the work, and they never get enough credit. They are like independent contractors. No one knows who they are, but they do all of the work. Whatever success we have in this draft, it’s because of them. I just want to mention a few. [Southwest area scout] Eugene Armstrong, [College Scouting Coordinator/area scout] Dave Bratten, [Senior College Consultant] Scott DiStefano, [Southeast area scout] Frantzy Jourdain, [College/Pro scout] Deon Randall, [College/pro Scout] Rob Paton, [Midwest area scout] Bryan Chesin, and a couple scouting assistants as well: Eddie Simpkins, Tanner Norton, and Rod Rook-Chungong. All of these guys worked hard, and it was a collaborative effort.
“Our pro scouts as well, they did a really good job in free agency. We filled a lot of holes. These guys were here from morning until late at night. I was developing the new structure, new protocol, and these guys grabbed the bull by the horns. I thought we did a nice job in free agency. A.J. Durso, our pro director, [pro scouts] Jordon Dizon and Patrick Walsh. These guys get a lot of credit. They’re also involved in the college side as well. They are negotiating right now with college free agents, and they’re still grinding.”
Pretty good thing for a boss to do.
Back and front-page headlines in the New York tabloids in the last five weeks:
March 27 (after impressive Zach Wilson Pro Day in Utah)
Daily News: Broadway Zach
Post: Zach to the Future
April 6 (after Sam Darnold traded to Carolina)
Post: Zach to the Drawing Board
April 27 (Wilson a lock to be the Jets’ first-round pick)
Post: The Next Namath?
April 30 (Wilson drafted)
Post front page: ZACHPOT!
Post back page: New Zach City: Jets hand QB keys to the team
Picks in the last three drafts: Minnesota 38, New Orleans 15.
Regular-season records in last three years: Minnesota 25-22-1, New Orleans 38-10.
More than one way to team-build, of course.
Sure to be a hammer in Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting toolbox this season is this draft nugget about the schools 2021 NFL draft picks came from:
Michigan State 0
King of the Road40
Wednesday late afternoon, Truist Park outside Atlanta, pregame (Cubs-Braves), 74 degrees, sunny, Terrapin Brewing Pastime Pale Ale on tap in the outdoor brew pub adjacent to the ballpark. My buddy/FMIA editor Dom Bonvissuto has made the road trip from Nashville to see a ballgame, eat some wings and tater tots and commune with people outside for the first time in a while. It was glorious—the beer and the baseball. You just don’t know how much you like a leisure pastime (and the Pastime beer) till it’s gone.
Tweets of the Week
Who gets a warmer reception in Cleveland, Franco Harris or the IRS?
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) April 30, 2021
Sam Farmer, ace Tweeter of the Los Angeles Times, seeing Harris announce a pick for the Steelers at the draft in Cleveland.
Rodgers has every right to be disgruntled. And I think public perception is on his side. People realize he's been done wrong by an organization that doesn't go all-in to win. If he wants a trade to happen, it's time to play hardball and say it
— Chris Simms (@CSimmsQB) April 30, 2021
Chris Simms is an NFL analyst for NBC Sports and a former NFL quarterback.
@MicahhParsons11 don’t touch me in practice rook . . . 😂
— Ezekiel Elliott (@EzekielElliott) April 30, 2021
Elliott with a warning to the Cowboys’ first-round linebacker.
No Packers QB has played 17 seasons with the team
Aaron Rodgers has played 16 seasons
Brett Favre played 16 seasons
Bart Starr played 16 seasons pic.twitter.com/YGvdS1NorK
— Matt Pomeroy (@MattPomPom) April 29, 2021
Matt Pomeroy works for ESPN.
Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow now live 3 houses away from each other in a gated community in Jacksonville. Maybe now they’ll call it Gator-ed community?
— Ben Koo (@bkoo) April 29, 2021
Ben Koo is the owner and editor of Awful Announcing.
In honor of our friend @TerezPaylor, who loved the NFL Draft, we're repping our All-Juice Team shirts today. #NFLDraft #AllJuiceTeam https://t.co/K0Ac4Xu3v1 pic.twitter.com/nbskOo3S8d
— Chiefs Communications (@ChiefsPR) May 1, 2021
The communications arm of the Chiefs, in honor of the late Yahoo! football writer Terez Paylor, who died far too young in February.
Draftee of the Weekend50
Najee Harris, running back, Pittsburgh. A great night for Harris—being the first running back picked, going number 24 overall to a team with a crying need for a running game—was made better by where he spent draft night: at a Bay Area homeless shelter that housed Harris and his family for several months in 2010.
“Pretty tough, not having a home when you’re a young boy,” Harris said from Pittsburgh on Saturday. “The food wasn’t so good. I wanted to do something for the people who helped my family. At first, I just wanted to go there and tell the people I haven’t forgotten them, and they deserve better, and there is hope. But they were so happy to bring attention to the issue and to the shelter. There were three networks there, and I think seeing me there, relating to where I was I was in my life after being there, might have given some people hope. I didn’t know it’d reach so many people like it has.”
How do you not root for a man like that?
Send your draft reactions to firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter.
Whither Jimmy G? From Tom Marshall, via Twitter: “Is there still a potential landing spot for Jimmy Garoppolo?”
Only if a team offers a first-round pick to San Francisco, Tom. There’s a reason why the Niners continued to drive a hard bargain with Garoppolo, asking for a first-round pick in return. Only once in four seasons of the Shanahan-Lynch era has a quarterback started all the way through a season, and that was the Super Bowl season. What a disaster it would be if the Niners traded Garoppolo and Lance got hurt in training camp. So it’s likely that the 49ers will keep Garoppolo for this season, then look to move him or cut him next March.
Regarding the Leos. From Ron Kroll, via Twitter: “How did the new crew at Detroit do in the draft?”
Ron, I think Detroit got a 10-year starter at tackle (and a vibrant leader-type for the offensive line) in Penei Sewell, and five of the top 85 prospects per Dane Brugler. The trend toward big corners is increasing in the league, and the Lions got one of the biggest, Syracuse’s 6-2½ Ifeatu Melifonwu, who played 29 college games and should develop into a serviceable starter. So it was a good weekend for the Lions.
Kwity the story. From Rick Pettis: “There was no better story than Kwity Paye telling the world and his mom she was retiring right there on the night of the draft. I’ll hang up and listen.”
You can say that again, Rick. Paye gained more fans than any of the other 258 draftees over the weekend.
Not yet. From Brian Barnett: “Did Ryan Pace save his job [with this impressive draft and the trade-up for Justin Fields]?”
It’s a start, but now the Bears are going to have to follow up a strong draft—trading up for Fields and following in the second round with a likely starting tackle, Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins—with a strong season. Pace and Matt Nagy aren’t judged by media praise for their drafts; they’re judged by the record, and 16-17 over the last two years has to get better. They know that. I think the best thing that could happen for Chicago is for Andy Dalton to steer the team out of the gate for six games or so, and when Fields is ready, put him in and don’t pull him out unless he proves totally incapable.
10 Things I Think I Think40
1. I think there’s one tributary of the Aaron Rodgers story no one mentioned all weekend—but you can be sure it weighs very heavy on the NFL office with the release of the schedule nine days away. One of the matchups made possible by the institution of a 17th game for every team in 2021 is Green Bay-at-Kansas City, and that matchup immediately made all the networks swoon. Along with Tampa Bay-New England (Tom Brady returning to Foxboro), Pack-KC is one of the two games of the year. No question NBC would want Rodgers-Mahomes for a Sunday night, ESPN would want it for Monday night, and FOX for a key late-afternoon doubleheader game. But now what becomes of it? Does the NFL think Rodgers will get over his tantrum and stay a Packer? Does the NFL perhaps put the game in a Sunday late-afternoon window and backstop the game with a couple of potentially strong NFC games in the early window that it could move into the 4:25 p.m. ET spot if the Packers are Rodgers-less and, say, are 2-7 at the time of the game? That makes the most sense to me, backstopping the game on FOX with, say, Dallas-Philly or Carolina-Tampa Bay. Or both.
2. I think there were two things that had seasoned NFL people very frustrated over the weekend:
• The continued insistence on virtual instruction, and limited capacity in draft rooms. “We can have hundreds of thousands of people in Cleveland but we still can’t meet in person,” Vegas GM Mike Mayock said Saturday. What seemed ridiculous was limiting capacity in draft rooms to 10 people—even on teams with entire front offices and scouting staffs vaccinated. That’s just wrong, and counter-productive to the league trying to show America that vaccinated people, in groups, should be able to go on with business as usual. Same thing with vaccinated groups meeting to start offseason programs. I don’t get the point about making players stay away from facilities if they’ve been vaccinated. “If” being the big word there.
• Not being able to meet in person with potential draftees. Totally understandable last year, post-combine, when the league shut down in-person visits with prospect. But this year? Not even being able to meet with prospects at Pro Days? Sending out stern notices that teams are not to converse at length with players at Pro Days, or anywhere, in person? Imagine you’re about to commit $35 million to a quarterback you hope will lead your team for the next 15 years, and you go to his Pro Day but can’t talk to him, and you can’t sit down with him, and all you can do, legally, is have five Zoom meetings with any one player. It was excessively cautious.
3. I think the Glazers, Tampa Bay Bucs owners and also Manchester United owners, may soon have a decision to make on their Premier League team. Seems they’re public enemies after the failure of the Super League in Europe, with the locals in England believing they’re far more interested in money than the sport of soccer. Fans stormed the field Sunday, clashed with police, and caused the big game against Liverpool to be postponed. Stunning story. It’ll be interesting to see if the Glazers respond to the demands to sell the team.
4. I think those who love former Bear Steve McMichael are stepping up in a big way as McMichael and his family come to grips with his ALS diagnosis. He’ll require help for mounting medical, therapy and home-infrastructure bills, and there’s been a Go Fund Me page set up, with a $500-per-person private fundraiser schedule for May 17 at a Wrigley Field rooftop facility. Help if you can.
5. I think, just as a measure of comparison, it’s cool to remember the draft one year ago:
• Draft choices. In homes, isolated, with scenes like this: Saints picked Cesar Ruiz 25th, he wept, his mother enveloped him, a league-provided iPhone camera captured it in his modest living room in south Jersey. Camera switched to Sean Payton in hoody, sitting at home, a half-eaten bag of Twizzlers in front of him.
• Draft choosers. When the Jets picked Mekhi Becton, GM Joe Douglas had his family burst into the room where he was drafting in his home, and his 13-year-old daughter told him how proud of him she was, and he said, “Addison, you’re making me misty here.” I was able to eavesdrop on Tampa GM Jason Licht’s draft night in his home, and when he was trying to get trade talks going with GM Mike Mayock of the Raiders, a very loud, “MOMMY!” was heard from just outside the door of the Licht Toy Room—converted into his draft den. Very work-at-home-America in the pandemic.
• The MC. Roger Goodell, by rounds two and three in sweater and easy chair in his Westchester basement north of Manhattan, looked like he might be close to a nap by late in the third round. “He had forethought about the country needing normalcy,” said Denver’s John Elway.
• The dog. Bill Belichick’s dog Nike sat in the coach’s home seat when Belichick was absent. @theswooshdog zoomed from 1,000 Instagram followers to 16,100, per Adam Schefter.
• The haiku. My column ender a year ago:
My future draft thought:
Folks loved this draft’s homey feel.
Just say no to glitz.
See? Nobody ever listens to me.
6. I think Steve Politi of NJ.com beat me to this, and good for him to have written this column on deadline. But when GMs and coaches have to “win now,” the cliché is that they’ll always do what is in their selfish interests, not the best interests of the team. GM Dave Gettleman, in eschewing linebacker Micah Parsons and ready-made tackle Rashawn Slater when he was set to pick at 11 (and who knows how those decisions will turn out), traded down nine slots and picked up three extra picks, including a first-rounder next year. Smart move. The only move.
7. I think the video of the weekend came from the Lions draft room, when, after drafting Penei Sewell with the seventh pick, the braintrust jumped around like the Wisconsin students at Camp Randall during “Jump Around.” The Lions are going to be a very interesting team to watch. They’ll be intense.
8. I think this is how you do NOT plan for the future at quarterback:
• Fourteen months ago, Carolina signed Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $60-million deal.
• Bridgewater threw 15 touchdown passes in 15 starts, went 1-9 after Week 5, and the staff soured on him.
• Carolina traded Bridgewater to Denver for a sixth-round pick Wednesday. The Panthers had to pay $7 million of the $11.5-million total compensation due Bridgewater in 2021 in order to make the deal.
• Nine percent of the Carolina 2021 cap allotment—$17 million out of $182 million—will be dead money for the abandonment of Bridgewater on the Panthers’ cap.
• In toto, Carolina paid $31 million for one season (and four wins) of Bridgewater on the roster.
Moral of the story: Don’t guarantee a ton of money to a quarterback you’re not sure about. If they’re not willing (as Andy Dalton was, for instance) to sign for one year, or maybe two with the equivalent of one guaranteed season, move on to the next man.
9. I think the week in Houston’s rebirth turned somber with the news of the death of head coach David Culley’s father in Sparta, Tenn. You may remember Culley got the Texans’ job so late in his coaching life, at 65, and one of the first things he did was travel to Tennessee to share the news with his dad. “You really wouldn’t know how much he’s hurting just based on how he’s handled everything, which is with grace, humility, dignity and selflessness,” GM Nick Caserio said in a statement.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. That was a fantastic Kentucky Derby, with Medina Spirit (Factoid of the Horsey Week, per Mike Tirico: Medina Spirit was once bought for $1,000) leading virtually the whole way but never leading by more than a length, which made the race exhilarating. Really fun to watch. Good for new Belichick BFF Bob Baffert, who’s now won a record seven Derbies as a trainer.
b. Story of the Week: Liz Merrill of ESPN.com, mixing nostalgia and current reality, with a terrific story on the ’69 Mets.
c. The Merrill section about shortstop Bud Harrelson, foggy with Alzheimer’s out on Long Island, reuniting with a treasured teammate who lived in New York City, is beautiful.
On a 68-degree Saturday in late October, Art Shamsky left his apartment to see a friend. He grabbed a baseball and an old glove, and took the subway to a deserted train car on the Long Island Rail Road. New York was still skittish, and Shamsky had been too. He’d never been so vulnerable in his life. But he wasn’t thinking about the pandemic, or himself. One thought kept floating through his head: “What if he doesn’t recognize me?”
Shamsky had just turned 79 years old, but there was a constant whir about him; always someplace to go and something to do. When he was young and came to New York for the first time, the crowded frenetic life bothered him. Now he missed it. If things were normal, and he wasn’t wearing a mask, he probably wouldn’t be able to move about the city without being recognized. Shamsky was a member of the Amazin’ 1969 New York Mets. It had been more than a half century since they won the World Series, but he was still getting 10-20 fan letters a week. And it never got old. Shamsky may have been born in St. Louis, but he was made in New York. He was forever an Amazin’ Met.
. . . In August, they lost pitcher Tom Seaver to Lewy body dementia and complications of COVID-19. Seaver was the team’s true star, with Hollywood looks, a farm-boy work ethic and two nicknames: “Tom Terrific” and “The Franchise.”
When Harrelson learned of his teammate’s death, he cried out “No!” But a few hours later he had forgotten about it. Harrelson has Alzheimer’s disease, and if 2020 reaffirmed anything, it’s that time is precious. Shamsky didn’t want to wait.
Harrelson’s ex-wife Kim Battaglia, one of his caregivers, met Shamsky at the train station. They drove to the house, and met Harrelson inside. “Hey Buddy,” he said, “It’s Sham.”
The room filled with awkward small talk, but then Shamsky said something familiar, and Harrelson’s blue eyes lit up.
“Do you want to have a catch?”
d. Liz Merrill is a treasure. She needs to win Sportswriter of the Year.
e. High School Story of the Week: Jeremy Chawgo of the Breese (Ill.) Journal, on one of the great accomplishments in Illinois High School sports history.
f. Get to know Kyle Athmer, who followed a Friday night victory (as quarterback) for Central Community High School with a Saturday day victory (as starting pitcher) in this weird football-baseball combo season prompted by COVID. What an accomplishment.
g. “It was the best 24 hours of my life.” It’ll be hard to top that the rest of your life, Kyle.
h. Beernerdness: Had a tasty pilsner the night before leaving on my draft trip, Ball Lighting Pilsner (Catskill Brewery, Livingston Manor, N.Y.), a pils from a brewery I’d never sampled. So many good pilsners from the northeast craft breweries these days, bold and hoppy. Happy to see these beers make their way down to Brooklyn.
i. Fitness Story of the Week: Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times wrote about how it might not be such a great idea to ice those sore muscles after a workout.
j. Reynolds writes that a study in mice found a marked difference in recovery between mice (post-workout-simulation) that were iced and those that were not iced. I’d never thought anything but that ice was beneficial on injuries, but after reading this, I’m reconsidering. Writes Reynolds:
In the iced muscle . . . recovery seemed markedly delayed. It took seven days in these tissues to reach the same levels of pro-inflammatory cells as on day three in the unchilled muscle, with both the clearance of debris and arrival of anti-inflammatory cells similarly slowed. Even after two weeks, these muscles showed lingering molecular signs of tissue damage and incomplete healing.
The upshot of this data is that “in our experimental situation, icing retards healthy inflammatory responses,” says Takamitsu Arakawa, a professor of medicine at Kobe University Graduate School of Health Sciences, who oversaw the new study.
But, as Dr. Arakawa points out, their experimental model simulates serious muscle damage, such as a strain or tear, and not simple soreness or fatigue. The study also, obviously, involved mice, which are not people, even if our muscles share a similar makeup. In future studies, Dr. Arakawa and his colleagues plan to study gentler muscle damage in animals and people.
But for now, his study’s findings suggest, he says, that damaged, aching muscles know how to heal themselves and our best response is to chill out and leave the ice packs in the cooler.
k. The Times’ weekly Science Times section is a gem.
l. Football Story of the Week: Dan Duggan of The Athletic, with an oral history of the drafting of Lawrence Taylor 40 years ago.
m. Duggan dug deep. Loved this tidbit:
Giants general manager George Young got a firsthand look at Taylor in a game at Clemson on Nov. 8, 1980.
Gil Brandt, Cowboys vice president of player personnel: Taylor had an unbelievable game. He must have had 30 tackles — all over the field. He made them from the right side, the left side, downfield, on the line of scrimmage, behind the line of scrimmage.
Ernie Accorsi, Colts assistant general manager (and future Giants GM): I was really close to George. He was the all-time play your cards close to the vest (kind of guy). He’s not going to say anything to anybody.
Brandt: We flew back to New York (the Cowboys played at the Giants the next day) from Greenville, South Carolina, on Eastern Air Lines, and George and I sat in the same row next to each other and never mentioned a word about it. Both of us made believe we didn’t pay any attention to it.
Accorsi: Gil told me, “That’s when I knew he wanted him.”
n. I see Julius Erving did an all-time NBA team, and a second team, and didn’t include LeBron James, nor did his first team include anyone who played in the last 40 years.
o. Dr. J, my knowledge about basketball could fit in a thimble. But those two things seem beyond preposterous.
p. Sporting Story of the Week: Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the Los Angeles Times on UCLA softball star Maya Brady who, as it turns out, is a lot more than just Tom Brady’s famous niece.
q. Maya Brady, a redshift frosh, has already won a Pac-12 Player of the Week award and been on ESPN for a diving circus catch in one game. Writes Nguyen:
The ear-splitting crack echoing from Easton Stadium can mean only one thing. Maya Brady is up to bat.
Just a redshirt freshman, Maya, 19, can hit the ball farther than any of UCLA’s players, except maybe [slugger Rachel] Garcia. The team’s star pitcher is 24 years old.
When Maya takes practice swings, teammates like junior Briana Perez stand in the outfield to shag fly balls but instead just admire the shots as they fly over the fence. After a particularly hard shot, stunned teammates ask her how she did it. Maya just smiles.
“She’s one of the most humble talented players and I don’t think she’s realized that yet, to be honest,” Perez said. “I’m kind of like in awe of her every day at practice.”
. . . Considering her uncle’s place among the NFL’s pantheon of winners, it’s no surprise Maya said her ultimate goal at UCLA is to win a national championship. At least one, she adds.
“I don’t really care about personal accomplishments that much,” Maya said. “I’d much rather win than be considered an All-American.”
r. Sounds familiar.
s. Jacob deGrom is 2-2. His pitching lines (innings-hits-earned runs-strikeouts) in his five starts: 6-3-0-7; 8-5-1-14; 6-3-0-14; 9-2-0-15; 6-3-1-9. Given up zero runs three times. Given up single runs twice. Lost both games that he gave up single runs. Winning hits by those noted sluggers Jazz Chisholm and Christian Vasquez.
t. Francisco Lindor, the $341-million Met: 97 plate appearances, one double, no triples, one home run.
u. FWIW, my mock results: nine direct hits of player to team in proper slot, 10 hits of player in slot (Alijah Vera-Tucker was 14th, but to the Jets, not Vikes), and 26 of 32 picks landing in first round. (Had 11 direct hits last year.) Direct hits outside the top 10: Rashawn Slater to Chargers at 13, Jaelan Phillips to Miami at 18, Najee Harris to Pittsburgh at 24. Basically, I hit six of the first seven (which a marmalade cat could have done in this draft), then went cold, and missed on Mac Jones to the Niners. So, sort of a meh mock year.
The Adieu Haiku
Well, well, well, Aaron.
I’ll take “Football Divorces”
for a thousand, please.