DAVIE, Fla. — This was March 25, a Thursday night around 10, exactly five weeks before round one of the NFL draft. Miami GM Chris Grier sat in his rental Chrysler outside the Residence Inn in Ann Arbor, Mich. Grier would attend the Michigan Pro Day in the morning, but now, here he was, finishing up one of two deals that would re-cast the 2021 NFL Draft.
Miami’s tradeapalooza actually began March 3, when San Francisco GM John Lynch called to gauge the Dolphins’ interest in trading the third overall pick. “We’re open,” Grier said. “We’ll listen.” In less than a month, that listening turned into Miami trading from third to 12th in the first round and picking up two additional first-round picks and a third-rounder. Then, with coach Brian Flores wanting to ensure getting an offensive weapon as the spur to move back up, with the driver’s seat of the rental car as his office, Grier phoned Eagles GM Howie Roseman from Ann Arbor, to work out final details on the deal they’d been discussing: Miami trading the 12th pick plus a first in 2022 to move up to six in this year’s first round.
Grier called owner Steven Ross—who has to sign off on deals of this magnitude—late on this Thursday night.
“Steve was very excited,” Grier recalled. “He likes trades.”
As does Grier. Since taking over as general manager with full personnel power in Miami 28 months ago, Grier has made 28 trades. If that seems like a lot of deals, it is. Trade-happy Baltimore GM Eric DeCosta has made 14 deals in that same 28-month span. Many Miami deals have been done on the clock during drafts. But Grier’s 25th and 26th trades left major imprints on three teams in this draft, and the impact of the deals will be felt for years. San Francisco went all-in to get its quarterback of the future (Trey Lance) at 3; Miami got the receiver/returner it craved (Jaylen Waddle) at 6; and Philadelphia got the third top receiver in this draft (Devonta Smith) at 10. And the Dolphins and Eagles got future high draft picks out of the two trades.
We all talk about how much the game has changed over the years. But if the passing game has revolutionized the game on the field, the trading game has been transformative too. A cadre of young, aggressive general managers, who learn from peers in all sports, don’t treat high picks like immovable objects anymore. In his 28 months as exclusive steward of the Miami roster, Grier has traded away seven first and second-round picks, and acquired 12 of them.
“I think we’re in a different age,” said Grier, an unassuming 51-year-old football lifer, sitting at a long table on the morning of day three of the draft, with Flores at the other end. “Football has evolved. A lot of general managers are willing to trade now—you’ve seen that over the past few years. Some of it probably goes back to the ‘Moneyball’ craze, when people started looking at how it’s done in other sports. You can never say, ‘No, we’d never do this.’ We just always talk about: How can we make our roster better?”
There will be some news of the day later in this Monday-after-the-Monday-after FMIA. We’re in the calm-after-the-storm period of post-draftdom, but you never know—Aaron Rodgers’ name might appear in this column. It’s the day of the Dolphin, though, at the top of the column.
A modern general manager in sports, not just football, should have four things going for him:
• He must know how to use leverage.
• He should have one eye on today and the other on tomorrow.
• He can’t be afraid.
• It’s optimal to work with a coach who understands when it’s smart to play for today and when it’s smart to stock up for tomorrow.
Grier is four for four. With Flores as his partner since February 2019—Flores worked in the Patriots’ scouting department for four years before becoming a coach—Grier is paired with a head coach who doesn’t just live for today. When I said that in our meeting, Flores said: “You mentioned that philosophically, coaches are about today and not about the future. I guess I’m more in tune with the future. When I get into my coaching short-term thought process, Chris pulls me out of that . . . We listen to one another and have good collaboration on everything, especially the roster. We have a similar vision for what we want the team to look like.”
Flores and Grier weren’t altogether open with me in how they viewed this draft, but we can infer a few things from it. And this is where the leverage part comes in. The Dolphins sat at three in March but didn’t necessarily need to be at three. They weren’t going to take a quarterback, and, as it turned out, they were keen on a receiver, Waddle, who was not the consensus top receiver available. (Ja’Marr Chase was.) Still, if they went down to 12 with San Francisco, they knew that to get an offensive threat like Waddle, they’d have to move back to the eighth pick, at the lowest, and they definitely wanted to be higher than that.
On March 4, Lynch offered San Francisco’s first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 to move from 12 to three. A very strong offer, two ones to move up nine spots in the draft. Now the Dolphins knew San Francisco wanted to get up that high to take a quarterback. That offer marinated for a couple of weeks. “We weren’t going to officially do the deal with that,” Grier said, “because we knew the importance of that third pick.” And with so many teams coveting quarterbacks in this draft, that’s where the leverage came in. Grier could wait for a more aggressive offer. And knowing he had a good offer in hand, Grier could ask around between four and eight—would any team want to go back to 12?
The Dolphins saw the top of the draft this way: Picks 1, 2, 3, quarterbacks. Pick 4 (Atlanta), a quarterback or tight end Kyle Pitts. Pick 5 (Cincinnati), likely Chase, or possibly tackle Penei Sewell.
“One player we knew, we felt very strongly, would be there at six,” said Flores. The intimation, to me, was that player was Waddle. I got the feeling Grier and Flores were all-in on Waddle, though they never said that specifically.
Grier probably wouldn’t move back to 12 unless he could move back up to get Waddle, or one of the offensive impact players. So when the initial 49er offer came in, Flores was clear what he wanted. “Right away,” said Grier, meaning right after the 49er offer, “Brian was like, ‘If we do this, go down to 12, we need to figure out a way to get back into the top 10.’ “
“We knew that [Alabama receiver] DeVonta Smith, if he was the other guy, who is a very good player, was not going to be there at 12,” Grier said. “We knew the players that we wanted would not be there at 12. We had very good intel, we’d done our work. We were 100 percent sure we were not going to get a targeted player, especially Jaylen, staying at 12. We felt we had to get to, eight was about where we said, but we wanted to get up higher. We weren’t real comfortable at eight . . . We felt six was the spot for us to get Waddle.”
The Eagles, at six, were the perfect target. GM Howie Roseman loved trading, and he had a reason to want to collect draft capital: If Jalen Hurts didn’t put a solid grip on the starting quarterback job this fall, Philly might need draft picks to target one of the top quarterbacks in next year’s draft—or maybe even Deshaun Watson. It was a heavy price, but Roseman wanted a 2022 first-round pick from the Dolphins.
Now Grier knew he could move back into range for Waddle, or a strong offensive threat. One afternoon in late March, Lynch was at his daughter’s school tennis match and his phone rang. It was Grier, telling him they were close to being ready to do the deal—if the 49ers added a third-round pick. That was tough for the Niners, who already were denuding the top of their next two drafts to get a quarterback. Lynch had to think about it. He knew, internally, that it would be a tough pill to swallow. But he had a third-round Compensatory Pick (likely to be about the 104th overall pick, very low in the third round) coming in 2022 from Robert Saleh’s hire by the New York Jets. “A total bonus,” coach Kyle Shanahan called it. So the Niners, after some thought, agreed to add the third-round/Saleh pick as the sweetener to push it over the top.
Lynch wasn’t angry about the late ask for the third-rounder. He’d done almost exactly the same thing in his first 49er draft in 2017, asking Chicago GM Ryan Pace for an extra third-round-pick to get a deal done for Chicago to move from three to two in the first round. Pace did it—and infamously picked Mitchell Trubisky. “I love dealing with Chris,” Lynch said Saturday. “He’s not emotional about it, and his word is everything. Chris is a rock.”
“To me,” Grier said, “It’s never about winning a trade. It’s about being open, honest and working toward getting a deal both sides feel good about.”
There was one other piece to this puzzle. In the first two years Grier and Flores worked together, so much of the draft prep and trading was about the future. This draft was more about the future is now. “The guys we got in ’19, the guys we got in ’20, the guys we got in ’21, that we get in this draft, that’s the team,” Flores said. “You know what I mean? That’s the team moving forward. As we move forward, that’s going to be the crux or the big chunk of our team. They’ll be the reason why we make noise or don’t make noise.” So in 2019, the Dolphins might have moved from three to 12 and kept all their future ones instead of trading a one to move back up to six.
If they’ve picked right, Miami could have six starters on offense from the last two drafts: Waddle, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and four of the five starters up front: 2020 picks Austin Jackson (left tackle), Robert Hunt (right tackle), Solomon Kindley (right guard) and highly regarded 2021 second-rounder Liam Eichenberg from Notre Dame, who probably will get a shot at left guard. On defense, they’ll need more help from free agents in the last two crops. Byron Jones must play better at corner, pass-rusher Emmanuel Ogbah will have a bookend helper now in the 18th pick in this draft, Jaelan Phillips, and just-signed ex-Pat Jason McCourty comes off a very good 2020 season to buttress the corner.
On Friday, I asked one of NFL’s biggest wheeler-dealers of recent times, Jimmy Johnson, what he thought of the team Grier has produced. “I like his trades, I like his picks,” Johnson said. “I like his approach. I used to say, ‘Do you want to play it safe and be good, or do you want to take chances and try to be great?’
“But you gotta win. Time will tell.”
Flores won’t argue. He said: “Trades are great, picks are great. But we don’t want to be known as a great trading team. We’re here to win.”
The biggest variable for Miami now, of course, is Tagovailoa, the fifth pick in the 2020 draft, coming off a so-so rookie year in which he was benched twice in shaky second halfs. Miami picked him one slot ahead of Justin Herbert last April. Herbert finished his first season as a Charger with the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Tagovailoa finished his first season with questions surrounding his ability to be Miami’s long-term starter. That’s probably not fair. Most often, quarterbacks don’t play great as rookies; Herbert and 2020 top pick Joe Burrow, playing like vets from the start, spoiled it for Tagovailoa.
But there’s much riding on Tagovailoa for Grier. Miami built a war chest of picks to be able to draft a quarterback, and if Tagovailoa’s not the guy, it’ll set the rebuild back significantly—and force Miami to use more draft capital on a quarterback, likely in 2023.
“I never like to put it on one player,” Flores said. “I think we’ve got a lot of young players, and we’re looking for all of those players as well as really everyone on our team to improve in a variety of ways. If they’re putting all the work in, I expect them to improve, get better, and perform better. Tua is obviously at the top of that list. He’s been working. All signs point to—or I would say based on my experience—he’s doing everything necessary to make some improvements. That’s really all we can ask for. My thing is if you put the work in, the results will take care of themselves.
“Last year’s situation is . . . we’ve talked about this numerous times. If he had started the season, we wouldn’t have pulled him. We put him in. We’re in a playoff chase. At that point [second half in game 15, at Las Vegas, when Ryan Fitzpatrick entered in relief], it’s hey, we’ve got to do whatever we’ve got to do to try to win. But no, my confidence wasn’t shaken in him.”
Two other points:
• Continuing education. Grier and Flores have brain-picked with GMs across leagues. Grier learned from his dad, former Patriots personnel man Bobby Grier, and one of his bosses in Miami, Bill Parcells—but also from baseball GMs Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, and several NHL GMs. Flores has gotten to know Miami Heat execs, and learned from Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti and an assistant GM with the Nets, Andy Birdsong. Presti is an accumulator; Oklahoma City has nine first-round picks in the next three NBA drafts. Birdsong and the Nets famously traded a ton of future draft capital to win now with James Harden.
“There’s a balance there, a place we’re trying to get to, somewhere in the middle,” Flores said.
That place, this year, is trying to build for today. But it’s a balancing act, knowing when to go for it and when to build. Birdsong said, “When I talk to Brian, we talk about not missing a moment. There are different moments—the draft, free-agency, trades. Your job is to collect actionable information so you’ll be able to stand behind any decision you make, so your actions can match your beliefs. Brian’s background has prepared him for this moment. That background gives him the ability to be exactly what a coach needs to be today. He respects the job of the general manager, because he’s been in scouting.”
• The Tunsil trade. The Dolphins and EVP of football operations Mike Tannenbaum parted ways after the 2018 season; though Grier was appointed GM in 2016, Tannenbaum was heavily involved in football decisions from 2016-18. That’s why I drew the line of demarcation at January 2019 for Grier having full control of the personnel side. Grier’s first big deal in 2019 came on Sept. 1, when he traded tackle Laremy Tunsil—team observers say Miami wasn’t thrilled about throwing a big second contract at Tunsil, which would have been coming a year later—and wideout Kenny Stills to Houston for a package that included first-round picks in 2020 and ’21, and a second-round pick in ’21. Houston was desperate for a left tackle, so the leverage was on Miami’s side.
So far, that trade looks like this, with secondary trades factored in: Tunsil and Stills for first-round corner Noah Igbinoghene and fourth-round guard Solomon Kindley in 2020, first-round receiver Jaylen Waddle and second-round defensive back Jevon Holland in 2021, a third-round pick from San Francisco in 2022, and a first-round pick from San Francisco in 2023. Those future picks could be vital, if Tagovailoa isn’t the answer at quarterback.
It’s the gift that keep on giving. But for it to be a treasure trove, at least three of those players need to be stalwarts. It’s too early to pass judgment now, of course, but the one benefit I see of the Holland pick (36th overall this year) is that it allowed Miami, after addressing a safety need, to move up to 42 to pick Eichenberg. He might be the best post-first-round offensive lineman in the draft this year.
The Tunsil deal, the Tagovailoa pick last year, and this year’s third pick have set the table for Miami to challenge Buffalo (and perhaps New England) in the AFC East. The crops have been planted. Now we wait for the harvest.
The 11 newsmakers and news topics of the week:
1. THE 2021 SCHEDULE. A few things to keep in mind with the schedule release coming Wednesday evening:
• The opener. Tampa Bay gets to open at home on Thursday, Sept. 9, with the 2020 champs beginning 2021 with basically the exact same roster. My prediction: The foe will be either Buffalo or Dallas. Why do I say that? The NFL wants to get off to a very strong start after a shaky offseason, and they want a game that will generate buzz in the weeks before the season begins and will be must-see TV to start the season. To schedule the Saints or Bears or Giants here (all Bucs home foes this year) doesn’t seem smart because any of them could be a game that’s over by halftime. Not so with Buffalo or Dallas. The Bills could go to Tampa and win the opener, and the Cowboys, with Dak Prescott leading an explosive offense, would be able to go toe-to-toe with the Arians/Brady offense. We’ll see, but those are the two sexiest home foes for the Bucs, and I think one of them will open the NFL’s 102nd season.
• The Packers. So what to do with the Green Bay games, now that Aaron Rodgers is a wild card, and no one’s sure if he’ll play for the Packers this year? It’s a tough call. I’m sure Howard Katz and the broadcast team have agonized over it. But I doubt the league is going to relegate the Packers to Lions status. My best guess is it’s more likely than not that the Packers will be scheduled for the customary national TV exposures (with NBC/Sunday and ESPN/Monday and FOX/Thursday in prime time, and on FOX doubleheader Sundays), with a couple of provisos. One: FOX will protect the Packers in some doubleheader windows with some strong early-window game so that, in November, if the Packers are 1-8 with Jordan Love spitting the bit at quarterback, they’ll have a decent backup game to switch to the doubleheader window the week before the game. Two: The league has flex scheduling for NBC in weeks 11 through 17. So wouldn’t it make sense, if the league wanted to maximize Green Bay in prime time, to schedule one or two Packers games between weeks 11 and 17, knowing that if Rodgers isn’t playing and they’re awful that they could move a good game into the Sunday night slot?
• Free-agent games. The NFL goes to 17 games per team this fall. Normally, the NFL with few exceptions dictates network carriage by the visiting team. If the visitor is an AFC team, the game goes to CBS. If the visitor is an NFC team, FOX gets it. But the 16 additional games this year are orphans. So the NFL has been able to schedule the additional 16 games without thinking about plugging them into specific networks.
• Saturday in week 18. As I’ve reported, there will be a week-18 doubleheader (at 4:30 p.m. ET and 8:15 p.m. ET) on Jan. 8, 2022, the final Saturday of the regular season. The NFL will have 16 games scheduled in week 18: two on Saturday, 13 on Sunday during the day, and one on Sunday night. The league will obviously want the most important game to go on Sunday night, but will want two games having some impact on the playoffs to be played on Saturday. The league will not decide the two Saturday games or the Sunday night game until the week before those games, meaning that four teams could be told Monday night, Jan. 3, that they will have to play games with playoff implications on Saturday. I am sure every coach and GM will respond to such scheduling calmly and with great understanding about the common good of maximizing the TV windows of the next Saturday games.
2. AARON RODGERS. It’s the calm after the storm. Don’t look for anything significant to happen for the next couple of weeks or so. The Packers are dug in, and they’re looking for a way to olive-branch a peace treaty. Rodgers is dug in, too, and likely still wants a new start somewhere. Funny thing: I thought about digging into this and writing about how significant it is that Rodgers allies like James Jones think this is fixable. But the reality is that nobody really knows right now, and human nature needs to take its course for a few weeks. How will Rodgers feel once the reality of the Packers being unwilling to trade him sets in? Will the Packers budge if Rodgers skips the mandatory June minicamp and the start of training camp in late July? Let’s see.
3. VACCINATED PLAYERS. Buffalo GM Brandon Beane said what the NFL didn’t want him to say the other day: He would cut an unvaccinated player if it meant keeping a vaccinated player would allow the Bills to be able to hold team and position meetings without limitation. I’ve heard the NFL is planning to tell each team if 85 percent of its players are vaccinated, the team would be able to revert to the 2019 mode of practicing and meeting this season. Beane told Steve Tasker on WGR in Buffalo “it would be an advantage” to hold meetings in-person the way they were held pre-pandemic, and so he’d be willing to make a roster decision based on who’d been vaccinated if need be.
First: Though I know it’s happening, I cannot fathom a player in a team sport not getting vaccinated. Second: If a player chooses to not be vaccinated because of some right he feels he has to not be vaccinated, a team should have the right to cut that player if the team’s business is being made more difficult because of the presence of that player. Third: I guarantee players who are not vaccinated will be cut in part because they refuse to be vaccinated, and teams will try to hide it because it’s not politically correct.
4. Rob Gronkowski. Gronk’s just a good dude. On Friday, he delivered a $1.2-million check to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, to renovate and refurbish the Charlesbank Playground on the Charles River Esplanade in Boston. In my 2.5 years of Boston living a decade ago, I used to run by that area, and I can tell you how many young families and kids will be helped by this Gronkian generosity.
5. TIM TEBOW. How does this sound: “33-year-old first-year tight end Tim Tebow?” I hear the Jags signing Tebow and giving him a shot to be a backup tight end could happen. I hear the Jaguars will wait till after this weekend’s rookie mini-camp to assess their roster and maybe see how much they think they can get in the overall blocking/receiving from fifth-round tight end Luke Farrell of Ohio State. (I think they’ll be pleased with him.) But after declining to keep solid vet Tyler Eifert last week, the Jags have a major need at tight end. Which could give Tebow fan Urban Meyer a pretty good reason to bring in Tebow for a shot to be roster insurance. Tebow, of course, is a hometown boy, and Jag/Gator fans have been dying to see him in teal. Imagine a Trevor Lawrence-to-Tim Tebow touchdown pass in crunch time (or any time) in a game this fall. Whoa.
6. OFFSEASON WORKOUTS. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe obtained a recording of the Zoom call the NFLPA had with players Friday, with strident words from Tom Brady urging players to boycott offseason workouts and non-mandatory camps at team facilities. “We shouldn’t have overly competitive drills in May and June,” said Brady, according to Volin’s reporting. “There’s no [expletive] pro baseball player that’s throwing 95 miles per hour in the middle of December . . . Just because we’ve had offseasons the way we’ve had for 20-plus years doesn’t mean that’s the best thing for the health and well-being of the players. The point is there’s a better way to do it, and they’re not open to that . . . There needs to be a negotiation for everyone — not just what only works for the coaches, or what only works for the owners.”
Some players have lucrative offseason-workout bonuses built into their contracts; the union won’t urge those players to stay away. But for the majority of players, a per diem of $235 is paid each day they are on the premises. As one club official told me the other day: “How about the guy making the minimum who has to work out anyway? If he lives in the city he plays in, he goes to the team facility with state-of-the-art equipment. He probably gets breakfast and lunch, and a healthy breakfast and lunch. He can watch tape, meet with his coaches. And he gets a thousand bucks a week. Some guys need that money in the offseason. There’s a lot more of those guys, and rookies who want to get started, than there are guys making $7, $10, $15 million a year.”
I’m not sure the union sees it this way, but I see it as a great conundrum. In March 2020, when many high-profile players knocked the new CBA players were voting on because it contained a 17th regular-season game for players, NFLPA leadership talked about how this agreement would be highly beneficial for the minimum and lower-salaried players. And I’m assuming those end-of-the-roster and practice-squad players came out in droves to vote, and the CBA proposal passed 1,019 votes to 959—a narrow approval margin, on average, of two players per team. So now the union is asking those same players, living on the edge of a roster, to stay away from teams until mandatory June camp and training camp in late July. Many of the same rank-and-file players want to be at team facilities this month to gain whatever edge they can to try to make a team. And many are.
Still, when a player like Brady talks as passionately as he did, you can be sure some players are going to listen, and are going to stay away. This is a conflict that should have been addressed in CBA talks in 2019 and early 2020. In his talk to the players, Brady says there’s a better way to do it. What’s the better way? Players, coaches and owners should discuss. I don’t believe closing off team facilities to players and making low-salaried players pay to work out at Planet Fitness is a better way. There’s got to be a path to a new one.
7. Frank Ragnow. And now, your moment of zen (thanks, Daily Show), from the new highest-paid center in the league, Frank Ragnow of the Lions. After inking a four-year, $54-million contract extension, Ragnow paid an emotional tribute to his parents. “I was at my mom’s house yesterday and we were going through one of my school projects,” Ragnow said. “I wrote that my goal was to make it to the NFL and take care of my parents.” That was part of it. Here is all of it, with the best part from 4:40 to 6:10 of his press conference.
8. KWITY PAYE. The story of the draft, in my opinion, is not satisfied. Paye was born in a refugee camp in western Africa, his mother trying to escape war in their native Liberia. She sent him to live with an uncle in Rhode Island when he was 6 months old, and he used a determination to make life better for his mother to earn a football scholarship to Michigan, to star as an edge rusher, and to become the 21st pick in the draft, to Indianapolis. A Q&A with Paye:
FMIA: What a story, to see you celebrate your draft experience with your Mom, who worked three jobs when you were a kid to support the family. What was it like for you to be with your Mom at that moment?
Paye: “We just danced all day. I had blisters on my feet—we were just dancing all night. Yeah, it was just a heartwarming experience to just see her in that moment, and for her to be so proud and just for her to . . . for all the hard work to finally come back to her, I would say.”
FMIA: Your college coach, Jim Harbaugh, sent [Colts GM] Chris Ballard a text saying you’ll love Kwity Paye—he plays so hard on every snap. Where does that come from?
Paye: “I’m a very blue-collar type person. I’m just looking to work every single chance that I get. For me, like anything that has my name on it, anything that shows me and says ‘Oh, that’s Kwity Paye,’ I want it to be the best of the best. For me, on film, I want to put forth my best foot. I want to make sure I’m running to the ball every single play. I want to give extreme effort. At Michigan, I played a lot of snaps. Maybe like 70 snaps a game. Even though I was tired, I was like ‘I can’t really take any plays off. I just have to go out there and keep balling.’ And now, even though I am picked in the NFL, I’m not satisfied. I’m not taking a deep breath yet. I have so much more to play for.”
FMIA: Do you ever think, “I’m so lucky I came to America?”
Paye: “I feel like the opportunities here are just amazing. My mom came here because she saw the opportunity. For me, I just took advantage of that. So, yeah, I feel like God had this path laid out for us and we just followed it. If we would’ve stayed in Liberia? Well, I don’t think I’d be here speaking with you today if we stayed in Liberia at that time. I feel like my story just shows with persistent hard work and dedication, you can really achieve anything. When you put your mind to something and really work towards it, there’s just nothing you can’t do.”
9. BEN DREITH. The colorful, decisive and fun 31-year pro football official (AFL, 1960-69; NFL, 1970-90) died last month at 95. He worked two Super Bowls. But he’s best known for his distinctive calls once the NFL put mics on officials to explain penalties, such as these. For a man who had an illustrious career on the field, it seems sad to be known overwhelmingly for the unnecessary-roughness call on New York Jet Marty Lyons in 1986 for a foul against Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly. Dreith sashayed somewhat dramatically to an open spot on the field and announced: “There’s a personal foul, on number 99 [Lyons was 93] of the defense. After he tackled the quarterback, he’s givin’ him the business down there. [Complete with an exaggerated forearm shiver for emphasis.] That’s a 15-yard penalty.” Dreith later won $165,000 after suing the league for age discrimination when he was dismissed after working his last NFL season at 65. So it turns out he gave the league the business.
10. THE 2022 DRAFT. We’re 51 weeks away, and the guts of this draft already are torn asunder. Interesting how many teams have gained and lost huge portions of their 2022 allotment. The key changes involve the movement, already, of up to six first-round picks.
- Philadelphia has eight picks in the first five rounds. Philly owns its first-round pick, Miami’s first and the Colts first or second, depending on playtime for Carson Wentz. Eagles also traded for Washington’s fifth.
- The New York Jets have extra picks in the first (Seattle’s), second (Carolina) and fourth (Carolina), and owe Seattle their fourth. That’s four picks in the first two rounds.
- The New York Giants, after two rare trade-downs for GM Dave Gettleman, have seven picks in the first four rounds. The extras: Chicago’s first and fourth from the Justin Fields tradeup, and Miami’s third.
- Miami is without its first and third, but has San Francisco’s first and third-round (Compensatory) picks, plus a fourth from Pittsburgh. That equates to one pick each in the first, second and third rounds, and two in the fourth.
- Detroit has the Rams’ first-rounder from the Matthew Stafford deal, and is without its fourth from a mid-draft tradeup with Cleveland.
Clearly, the Eagles will be the power-brokers next spring. I’d bet a cheesesteak GM Howie Roseman isn’t finished trading in the first round.
11. THE 2022 DRAFT*. With an asterisk, that is. As of today, including projected Compensatory Picks, Baltimore has eight picks in the first four rounds: one in the first and second rounds, two in the third, and four in the fourth. The Ravens are the all-time leaders in the Comp Pick system that rewards teams for losing minority coaches or minority front-office officials to head-coaching or GM jobs elsewhere, or for losses of high-priced free agents. Baltimore’s about the only place that cheers when really good players get stolen for big contracts by other teams in free-agency. The extra picks just keep on coming.
Quick draft takes on the 16 I missed last week. (And my apologies, but by close to midnight last Sunday, I was destroyed and had to sleep.)
Buffalo Bills. All eyes on Gregory Rousseau, the first-round pick with some fascinating tools to be an NFL edge-rusher. Problem is, he’s started seven college games at the spot, and the Bills need an edge presence pronto. That one year in college he rushed the passer was quite a year, thought—15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss, 35 tackles behind the line in his college season of note. After opting out last year, the Bills need him to hit the ground running in training camp.
Carolina Panthers. Sam Darnold breathed a sigh of relief when the first-round pick was cornerback Jaycee Horn, the first corner picked in the draft at number eight. In a way, Darnold’s lucky, because coach Matt Rhule really liked Justin Fields (11th overall) and was high on Mac Jones (15th overall) after coaching him in the Senior Bowl. I’m really surprised they didn’t pick Fields, and the organization could live to regret that decision.
Cincinnati Bengals. They better be right on Ja’Marr Chase. I like the decision—if second-round offensive lineman Jackson Carman can develop into a long-term starter at guard or tackle that the Bengals desperately need. But if Joe Burrow gets hurt again, well, the Bengals will be second-guessing themselves.
Cleveland Browns. I’m skeptical about the durability of first-round cornerback Greg Newsome II. But the value of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the 215-pound linebacker (so the Browns think) is terrific for the 52nd pick in the draft. “JOK,” which is so much easier for typists like me, is a fascinating prospect, because there’s really no one like him in the NFL. He’ll be a strong-safety type, a sideline-to-sideline chaser, cover-guy, playmaker. And behind a strong Cleveland front, I think he’ll be a fascinating player—assuming he holds up.
Dallas Cowboys. Micah Parsons is the most versatile linebacker in the draft, but what most interested me about the Dallas draft is how unfamous it was. First six picks: linebacker, cornerback, defensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback, linebacker. Add Keanu Neal (a favorite of new DC Dan Quinn from Atlanta) and I think you could see a defensive makeover here.
Denver Broncos. I see week-one impact from the top three picks: cornerback Patrick Surtain II, running back Javonte Williams (second round) and that small-school center-guard from Wisconsin-Whitewater, Quinn Meinerz, who mugged half the defensive linemen at the Senior Bowl.
Green Bay Packers. Green Bay got a successor for ex-Buckeye center Corey Linsley with another ex-Buckeye center, Josh Myers, in round two. Then the Pack finally picked a receiver fairly high. Ironically, his name is Rodgers. Amari Rodgers caught 77 balls in the Trevor Lawrence offense at Clemson last year, and the Packers chose him in the third round, 85th overall. He sounded, well, scripted, when he said upon going to the Packers: “Of course I want to catch passes from the reigning MVP and a future Hall of Famer.” We shall see.
Indianapolis Colts. The Colts had two picks in the top 100 and chose edge players with both: Kwity Paye (19) and Dayo Odeyingbo (54). The latter may need a year of adjustment to the pros after suffering an Achilles injury. Paye should, and needs to, play a big role for the Colts in week one.
Jacksonville Jaguars. I like Urban Meyer’s forthrightness. (Is that a word?) He said the Giants broke his heart, drafting Florida wideout Kadarius Toney 20th with the Jags waiting for him at 25. Imagine how that makes Travis Etienne, the pick at 25, feel. But don’t we want people who run teams to be honest?
Kansas City Chiefs. The offensive line that was so sickly at the Super Bowl looks darn good now, especially after taking center Creed Humphrey from Oklahoma in the second round—meaning that a newcomer, either ex-Ram Austin Blythe or Humphrey will be snapping to Patrick Mahomes this year, along with newness all over the bad line from Super Sunday.
Miami Dolphins. “My favorite draft in the league,” one GM told me Friday. Jaylen Waddle never had a 1,000-yard receiving season at Alabama, but he projects to a strong receiver/returner. Jaelan Phillips is the mystery pass-rusher of this draft, but those who love him really love him. Offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg and tight end Hunter Long, in rounds two and three, were two of the most loved picks in this draft. You don’t win games in May, but Miami got good grades from the draft cognoscenti.
Philadelphia Eagles. I didn’t love the Eagles trading from 12 to 10 because it cost them—as it turned out, a third-round pick that could have been used on a good interior lineman like Wyatt Davis or Quinn Meinerz. But the trade with Miami from six to 12 in March was predicated on the Eagles being able to get a wideout like DeVonta Smith. In the end, GM Howie Roseman knew it was just too risky to let Smith hang out there for the Giants at 11, whether that would have been their decision or whether they would have taken the trade from Chicago to move down to 20.
San Francisco 49ers. The best thing happened. The Niners didn’t trade Jimmy Garoppolo, and the Niners got their quarterback of the future. This is actually a good thing for Garoppolo—because he’ll have the chance to show the team made a huge mistake by drafting his successor by being the clear choice to start the season with a fortified team. If he plays great, Garoppolo gets to either continue to play great in San Francisco or be able to continue his career in a good spot in 2022.
Seattle Seahawks. I’ve got no problem with the impact of the Jamal Adams trade meaning Seattle passed on a good lineman this year (Christian Darrisaw, Liam Eichenberg) and will lack their first and second-rounders next year as a remnant of the Adams trade. Adams is a defensive cornerstone, a leader, and, if healthy (always a big if with a crushing hitter like him), will impact a playoff team more than the three picks John Schneider paid for him.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One quarterback-studier this spring called Kyle Trask a “Kent Graham type, a guy with a good-enough arm but just so slow.” Could be. I think that was said about a certain University of Michigan quarterback 21 years ago.
Tennessee Titans. Lots of skepticism about the first-round pick because of Caleb Farley’s opt-out and his two back surgeries. I get it. But he’s a 6-2 cornerback who loves football and only got the second surgery because the first one wasn’t pristine. I think Farley at 22 was good value.
“I can’t imagine a relationship between the coach, or management, or whoever is making the decisions and a star quarterback like that getting to this point. I just can’t imagine it. I wouldn’t allow it. It wouldn’t happen.”
—Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren, on ESPN Radio in Chicago, critical of how the Packers have handled the Aaron Rodgers situation.
“Purpose powers the mind, vision drives the body and passion fuels the soul. On your way to greatness, there will be happy days and sad days, but remember all the things that you will go through will shape you and mold you for the aim you have in mind.”
—Patrick Willis, the former all-pro 49ers linebacker and decorated former Ole Miss Rebel, in his commencement address Saturday to a crowd of about 3,000 at the University of Mississippi.
“He’s a three-time MVP in the league and he’s worried about this guy they drafted last year at number one? And for him to be upset, my God, I don’t understand that. Pittsburgh drafted Mark Malone number one, Cliff Stoudt in the third or fourth round. I had them coming at me from all angles. I embraced it, because when we went to practice, I wasn’t worried about those guys. They didn’t scare me a bit. So I don’t understand why he’s so upset at Green Bay.”
—Terry Bradshaw, to Maggie Gray and Marc Malusis of WFAN in New York, on how he handled quarterbacks picked to replace him as a Steeler, and his opinion of how Aaron Rodgers is handling his situation in Green Bay.
“Knowing Aaron, and I think I know him fairly well, if he has a grudge, whether it be against the organization or a player or an arch-rival, or family, friends, he ain’t budging.”
—Brett Favre, on his “Bolling with Favre” podcast, about Aaron Rodgers.
“That [number of therapists] is ridiculous. Almost every single player that I have had, they start working with me at training camp and then they contact me and say, Hey, I want you for the season. Can I get on your schedule for the season? I rarely lose a player. I will work on them weekly, two or three times a week.”
—Kelly Stauffinger, a licensed massage therapist who works with the Buffalo Bills, to Kalyn Kahler of Defector, on the estimated 40 massage therapists Deshaun Watson has used.
Numbers Game with the new numbers of lots of NFL players under the liberalized uniform-numeral rule:
2: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Denver.
6: DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia.
7: Patrick Peterson, CB, Minnesota.
9: Joe Tryon, edge, Tampa Bay; Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Miami.
11: Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas.
20: Pete Werner, LB, New Orleans.
The Minnesota Vikings signed an undrafted free-agent wide receiver from Indiana named Whop Philyor.
I hereby nominate Whop Philyor for the Name of the Year in the NFL.
His real name is Mister Elias De’Angelo Philyor. He got the name “Whop” because, growing up in Tampa, his father would take him to Burger King, and young Mister Elian De’Angelo Philyor would always order a Whopper, and his dad told him if he kept eating them he might turn into one. And so he did.
Willie Mays turned 90 on Thursday. To most of us, Mays is just a name of lore from yore, one of the greatest baseball players of all time. But since he’s been retired for 48 years, most of you reading this might know him from a highlight or two but didn’t see him play. I saw him once, at Shea Stadium in his twilight, playing for the Mets, but don’t have a vivid memory from the day—except it was a weekday game and we sat in the upper deck way behind third base.
Anyway, what stands out to me about Mays and so many players from his day is his durability, and the sense that, if there was a game that day, you played. You just played. In his prime years, the 12 seasons as a New York-then-San Francisco Giant from 1954 to 1965, Willie Mays missed 28 games—an average of 2.3 games off per season.
In 1960, ’61 and ’62, Mays missed one out of 470 games. More impressive: The Giants played 32 doubleheaders in those three seasons. Of those 64 games, he started 63 and came in as a sub in the 64th. Check out his schedule in the week beginning Sept. 5, 1960:
Sept. 5, at Los Angeles: Complete games in both ends of a doubleheader.
Sept. 6, at Los Angeles: Complete game.
Sept. 7, at Milwaukee: Complete 11-inning game.
Sept. 8, at Milwaukee: Complete game.
Sept. 9, at Cincinnati: Complete games in both ends of a doubleheader.
Two All-Star Games were played in those days. Look at the schedule for Mays, who batted first for the 1960 National League team in both All-Star Games:
Sunday, July 10: Chicago at San Francisco, day game.
Monday, July 11: All-Star Game 1, at Cleveland, day game.
Wednesday, July 13: All-Star Game II, at Yankee Stadium, day game.
Friday, July 15: Los Angeles at San Francisco, night.
That was some all-star break for Mays.
Last thing: In the All-Star Games that year, Mays tripled, doubled and singled in the first four innings of the first game, and two days later at Yankee Stadium, Mays homered off Whitey Ford and stole a base off Ford/Yogi Berra.
In basketball you can have a bad day. The better teams are usually gonna win a 7 game series even if they start 0-2.
In football you can’t be off for a moment. Better team can and will lose a lot more often. “Any given Sunday”
Football is harder bc the margin for error is less https://t.co/8p6jAizLnP
— Calais Campbell (@CalaisCampbell) May 7, 2021
Campbell is a veteran NFL defensive end.
America has plenty of problems but it is such a blessing to live in a country where this is possible. https://t.co/PCN5EvwrES
— Eric Adelson (@eric_adelson) May 8, 2021
Adelson is a freelance NFL writer and teacher at the University of Florida.
packers quarterbacks refusing to return to the team and the emergence of cicadas are both on seventeen year cycles
— C.D. Carter (@CDCarter13) May 5, 2021
CD Carter works for NBC Sports Edge Football.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said on a call today with rookie players and their agents that the union again will negotiate the right for players to opt out of the 2021 season, per source.
Dozens of players took the opt-out in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 3, 2021
Pelissero covers the NFL for NFL Network.
I mean, I respect the job De Smith does, but this takes things way too far.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @peter_king on Twitter. From the bulging mailbag this week:
I should have credited Cleveland for the job the city did on the draft. From @mike_de_windt via Twitter: “Disappointed that you could not find a word to say about the job the City of Cleveland did hosting the draft nor how its football team continues to win the off season. I am convinced you harbor some unexplained negative bias toward the organization.”
Mike, I should have written about the job the city did. Bad job on my part for that. One of the things that happens when I cover the draft is that I don’t cover much of what actually happened at the draft site, because I’m not there and because it’s not really relevant to the 32 teams I’m trying to cover. Still, I should have given the city kudos for a job well done. As for my unexplained bias toward the Browns, I believe you may have missed my column of Jan. 11. Here are 3,041 words on their unexpected playoff win in Pittsburgh four months ago.
In support of Brian Gutekunst. From Walter Emerson: “Why is the Packer GM ‘embattled?’ He is three years on the job and took a team that went 6-10 his first year, with the coach who had the job before he got there. He hired a new coach and his team has gone 13-3 the next two years. Pretty successful, I would say. It seems to me that the traditional structure has worked pretty well the past two years.”
I sense there are many people on your side, Walter. In my email this week, I expected lots of support for Rodgers, but there was at least as many supportive notes about Gutekunst.
Why so secretive, Niners? From Adam, of St. Louis: “My question centers around the Mac Jones smokescreen. What did the 49ers have to benefit from it, with picks #1 and #2 already locked up? Pure intrigue, or was there gamesmanship behind it? Or did they truly not know who they were picking, and National Media picked way more up on signals for Jones than Lance?”
Very good question, and you’re right, Adam. I’ve gotten lots of questions about that. Here’s all I can figure: Suppose the Niners want to convince the world they’re picking Jones, and suppose they’ve talked to several teams about Jimmy Garoppolo in trade, and suppose they’re trying to get a ransom for Garoppolo, and suppose they think that if there are teams that want Garoppolo, they’ll pony up bigger packages than they’d offered. There’s another reason, too, for the mystery: Let’s take Kyle Shanahan at his word that he and Lynch didn’t decide with certainty that Lance was the guy until about 10 days before the draft. So for a month and a half, Shanahan could have deep discussions with coaches/scouts about the merits of the three quarterbacks available at three, so he could hear everything good and bad about them. If everybody in the organization knows you’re taking Player X, they’re more likely to echo-chamber all the good stuff about Player X rather than being totally honest about all three.
Maybe Khan’s right. From Phil Leaning, of Auckland, New Zealand: “Your mention of Shad Khan’s belief in Trevor Lawrence’s ability to become a global sports star struck a note with me. The night of the draft the biggest TV network here had an almost two-minute report in its primetime news on Lawrence being drafted. That’s a first for a country obsessed with rugby.”
Thanks for the report, Phil. I got some “Khan’s crazy” emails too, saying that Michael Jordan is huge in Europe, so we’ll see what the next decade brings for Lawrence. The one thing he has going for him is that he’ll play at least one game per season in Europe as part of Khan’s plan to make the Jags England’s team.
Props to Goodell. From Joel Yashinsky: “I was harsh on Roger Goodell about three years ago, but the work he has done on safety protocols has been solid and I truly appreciate all the NFL did for a successful season last year. The draft was huge in 2020 and getting through the season as successfully as the NFL did provided some sanity for fans that was incredibly, desperately needed. Roger deserves a ton of credit. I would’ve cheered for him in Cleveland.”
Noted. The league’s done a good job over the last 14 months coping with the pandemic and showing that, with the proper financial footing, the show can go on.
I appreciate you noticing. From Chris Montgomery, of Bennington, Vt.: “In your mock draft, you picked the Browns to trade up to get Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the first round for all the right reasons. Luckily, there was a run on QBs, and OTs that led to Greg Newsome falling, and the Browns were able to take Newsome and trade up for JOK. Is that the weirdest thing where you picked a trade up (risky prediction) but was right on the team, the player, but only wrong on the round? I am a long-time reader and thought that was the coolest thing I ever witnessed.”
That was cool, actually. I had the Browns trading up five spots, from 26 to 21, in the first round to take Owusu-Koramoah. And the Browns actually traded up seven spots, from 59 to 52, to take him in round two. It’s mindful of my 2009 mock when I had LeSean McCoy going to the Eagles at 21 in the first round, and he actually was drafted by the Eagles in round two. Quirky mock factoid you pointed out, Chris.
1. I think there are quite a few reasons why Brian Gutekunst will not be fired by the Green Bay Packers, but this happens to be my favorite one. In regular-season and postseason games played since Gutekunst was named GM of the franchise, the Packers are 34-17-1. In that same period, New England is 33-19.
2. I think you’re going to say, Well, New England won a Super Bowl and Green Bay hasn’t made it to one in those three years. True. Green Bay has made it to two conference title games in those three years. Only one team, Kansas City, has been to more since Gutekunst took over. I use this little fun stat to illustrate why it’s wrong to consider firing the GM. The solution to this problem—if there is one—is not to fire someone the MVP quarterback has some problems with. The only solution is to let things simmer down for now, then try to build a bridge, say, three or four weeks from now.
3. I think I love that the Jets gave Michael Carter the running back number 30, and, as if their names can’t be jumbled up enough already, they gave Michael Carter the safety number 32.
4. I think predicting the future of Deshaun Watson is fraught with, well, it’s impossible. I just think by a year from today he’ll have a new home. This is a gut feeling. It’s impossible to predict the future with so many legal issues involved. And depending on the outcome of the cases, several teams might not want to even think about Watson, and rightfully so. If he’s free to play football unencumbered by legal issues in 2022, here are my odds on Watson’s next football team, with a tie at the top:
3-1: Philadelphia. A likely need, plus Eagles are in perfect position to deal with three first-round picks (if Carson Wentz plays three-quarters of the Indy season).
3-1: Carolina. Owner David Tepper would find the resources to do a deal.
5-1. Washington. The major need is there. Is the will to make a deal there?
6-1: Denver. In a high-stakes QB division, Broncos are a distant fourth at the position.
8-1: Houston. Can’t see him staying.
9-1: New Orleans. Can Mickey Loomis fit Watson in the Saints’ tight salary structure?
10-1: Miami. Probably too early for QB-shopping, unless Tua totally bombs out this year.
20-1: Minnesota. Cousins for Watson?
25-1: Pittsburgh. Not their style, really. But I bet Watson would love to play for Mike Tomlin.
35-1: The field. Something’s going to happen this year, somewhere, that could make a team hungry for a passer.
5. I think it’s probably not front of mind, but the MVP of the Super Bowl 39 months ago is in a very tough spot with the Bears. Adam Caplan reports the Bears tried to trade Nick Foles recently and couldn’t find a taker. Foles is due $16 million over the next two seasons, and with Andy Dalton and Justin Fields in-house, I wonder if the Bears would just take a huge haircut by cutting Foles on June 2. Man, Foles is 32 years old, and one of the best team guys any team could want. For him to be out of a job would be the ultimate definition of the Not For Long league.
6. I think I’d call it 60-40 that Julio Jones is traded by Labor Day.
7. I think, seeing that the Glazer ownership just lost a $240-million jersey sponsorship deal for their Manchester United soccer team because of the backlash against the hated owners, it’d be surprising if they don’t seriously consider selling. It’s not going to get better. I’ve read too many things about how the fans and locals badly want the Glazers to sell, and considering the passion of the fan base (one game already was postponed because fans stormed the field), the sensible thing is to sell.
8. I think the over/under on Jimmy Garoppolo starts in 2021 should be about 10. Give me the over.
9. I think Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf accomplished something Sunday that someone who hadn’t run track since high school would be incredibly proud of. Metcalf ran a 10.37-second 100-meter dash in the U.S. Track and Field Golden Games, finishing 15th of 17 sprinters in the prestigious event. Imagine if the 235-pound Metcalf dropped 20 pounds and trained for the event. If he cut one-fifth of a second from his time, he might make the Olympics one day.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: Eli Saslow (of course) of the Washington Post, on The Battle for 1042 Cutler Street, a perfectly told tale of what happens when the federal government tells tenants they don’t have to pay rent during the pandemic.
b. I said “of course” because everything Saslow writes is so good. But this, particularly, is important because it shows the impact to both landlords and tenants of the pandemic in a way you might not have imagined, centered on one run-down house in Schenectady, N.Y., and owner of the home, Romeo Budhoo. Writes Saslow:
The essence of his problems came down to one house: 1042 Cutler St., a three-story square box built in 1901, with faded green siding and fresh graffiti spray-painted on the windows. The house had been sold four times out of foreclosure, condemned by the city, and scheduled for demolition when Budhoo first saw it after immigrating to New York from Guyana in the early 2000s. He’d worked at a nearby pick-and-pack warehouse for $8 an hour and saved up a small down payment toward a $79,000 purchase price. He’d rewired the electricity, gutted the plumbing, installed granite countertops, and begun renting it out for up to $950 per month. Gradually those profits had paid for more distressed properties, for his daughter’s college degree, and for a small home of his own where her diploma now hung above the entryway. He’d spent two decades growing his business on the first of each month until the pandemic hit Upstate New York.
“Just a friendly reminder,” he’d written to the tenant, after the first missed payment in April 2020.
“Please. I am willing to work with you,” he wrote after the government announced its first national eviction moratorium in September.
“Really? You’re still not going to pay ANYTHING?” he wrote after he read about the billions of government dollars being spent in rental assistance, for which his tenant never applied.
And now it had been a full year without payment, and Budhoo had maxed his credit cards, applied for a secondary loan on his 2015 Mercedes-Benz, defaulted on $13,000 in property taxes, and started taking medication for panic attacks and stomach ulcers. “Final collection notice,” read one of the bills that had been delivered to his own front door, and he’d begun mowing people’s lawns and selling eggplants out of his garden to neighbors for a couple dollars each.
“This is robbery,” Budhoo had written. “What you’re doing now is stealing from me.”
c. The great thing: Saslow has the tenant’s story in here too.
d. Radio Story of the Week: John Burnett of NPR’s Morning Edition, on what is causing so many people to flee Honduras.
e. Gangs (MS-13 mostly), poverty, extortion, floods. The answer at our southern border has to start with addressing the root causes of why so many desperate people are running for their lives toward our country. Burnett found a riveting character, a young women with a bunny-eared backpack, who is not as sweet as she might appear.
f. TV Story of the Week: A stark piece on the COVID disaster roiling Brazil, with a president, Jair Bolsonaro, who might be the biggest idiot running a country in our lifetime, on PBS “NewsHour” by correspondent Simon Ostrovsky and producer Charles Lyons.
g. With the second wave of the pandemic at its height in November, Bolsonaro stood in front of his country and said, basically, Man up! We’re all going to die one day anyway!
h. Or, the exact words from Bolsonaro: “We have to stop being a country of sissies!”
i. Ostrovsky and Lyons got to the heart of the story in Brazil, going to a graveyard. “With space running out, gravediggers, who can barely keep up with the pace, exhume older bones to make way for the deluge of COVID dead.” Yes, they got video of a Brazilian gravedigger pulling out what appear to be leg bones from old graves, so space can be created for the new dead.
j. I wish the geniuses who say COVID’s fake would watch that investigative piece. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, that video of the gravedigger is worth a million.
k. The easiest hot take in Peter King history: How idiotic is the NHL for giving serial mugger Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals a $5,000 fine for his abuse of two Rangers, and then giving the Rangers a $250,000 fine for ripping the minuscule fine?
l. Wilson got fined one/one-thousandth of his $5.2-million salary cap number for this. Then, after blindside-slugging one Ranger and throwing another helmetless Ranger to the ice and punching him when he’s down, Wilson went to the penalty box and mocked the Rangers bench by power-flexing with a wide grin. After the game, his second victim, Artemi Panarin, was declared out for the final week of the season because of the bodyslam to the ice.
m. The NHL says it wants to cut down on the barbarism like that incident, and like the six fights in the first five minutes in the next Rangers-Caps game, those fights happening because the Rangers felt they had to take the law into their own hands because the NHL let Wilson off with a feather-slap of the wrist. How does commissioner Gary Bettman allow that $5,000 fine with no suspension to be the ruling by the league’s Department of Player Safety.
n. “Department of Player Safety.”
p. The founder of the Boston University CTE Center, Chris Nowinsky, tweeted of Bettman: “I’m going to bed right now wondering how he sleeps at night.” Wish I’d tweeted that.
q. High School Sports Story of the Week: Matthew Stanmyre of NJ Advance Media, on the question on so many high school coaches’ minds in the wake of the pandemic: Where are all the players?
r. Turnouts for tryouts are way down across New Jersey, and it stands to reason the state is not alone. Writes Stanmyre:
On the first day of boys basketball tryouts this winter at Central High School in Newark, Shawn McCray, the team’s coach, stood at center court, waiting for the locker room to empty. A dozen or so boys filed out and straggled onto the hardwood, stretching and chatting. McCray checked his watch and eyed the gym doors for the rest of the players.
He waited. And waited.
But no more boys appeared.
The previous season, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, McCray had about 40 players across all three levels of play — freshman, junior varsity and varsity. But when the balls rolled out this winter, only 15 players stood before him.
The other 25? McCray had no idea what happened to them. He asked around and was given several answers: They put on weight. They found other things to do. They just didn’t want to play basketball anymore. “I just think a lot of kids gave up,” McCray said.
s. Congrats on your retirement, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. Very nice farewell column.
t. Writes Boswell, leaving the paper after 52 distinguished years:
There is a fairly happy, rather lazy guy hidden in me — an undeveloped self. I will organize a search party for him. Right after I take a nap.
I’ve spent my life having a long, rich conversation with friends and neighbors in my hometown about our mutual love of sports. I’ve had a sinfully good time.
That’s why leaving will be bittersweet. I don’t think “He retired after 52 years” requires explanation! But, briefly, here goes anyway: For many of us, age eats energy, both physical and mental. When that energy is what you always had in the largest quantity, and your standards refuse to change with the calendar, the result is that the job — to be done right — gets more and more, and everything else gets less and less. Nobody’s fault.
For me, that won’t do. Branch Rickey said, “It’s better to trade ‘em a year too soon rather than a year too late.”
I’m trading me into retirement.
u. Boswell, one of the great baseball writers of this or any day, is 73. Congrats on the great run, sir.
v. Fight the lies, Liz Cheney.
w. What a run for Albert Pujols. He wasn’t the player in Anaheim that he was in St. Louis, but the 11 St. Louis seasons were stupendous (average year: 40.4 home run, 120.8 RBI). No idea if he gets picked up by anyone, but personally, I’d love to see him get a shot in Fenway.
x. Willie Mays: 1,903 RBI in 2,992 games. Albert Pujols: 2,112 RBI in 2,886 games. That’s 209 more RBI in 106 fewer games. Kudos, Albert Pujols.
y. Crazy, but Xander Bogaerts, who plays in Boston and plays in an attention hub, is one of baseball’s most underrated players.
Just how strange is it
that a Saints linebacker will
wear number 20?