On Saturday evening, I downloaded NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s brain for one hour. I’d have loved four. The week-long NFL Scouting Combine starts Tuesday in Indianapolis, and as Jeremiah walked me through the good, the bad, and the meh, five truths became evident:
1. Bad QB draft. Only once in the 21 drafts of this century has there not been a quarterback drafted in the top five—or top 10, for that matter. That was in 2013, when E.J. Manuel (16th overall) was the lone first-rounder. Looking like it could be similarly slim pickings this year, unless a QB-desperate team falls in love with Pitt’s safe Kenny Pickett or a project like Liberty’s Malik Willis.
2. Good draft for edge players and wideouts. On his overall draft board, Jeremiah has six edge rushers in his top 20 players. ESPN’s Todd McShay has five and Matt Miller of ESPN has six in his top 20. Regarding wideouts: “Just record my answer and play it back for the next 20 years,” Jeremiah said. “This draft is loaded with wideouts, and we’re going to see a massive amount every year.”
3. Jacksonville has a good choice atop the draft. With three top-10 tackles possible, the Jags could choose to improve at left tackle (incumbent Cam Robinson’s average PFF ranking at tackle over the past three years: 38th) or to give defensive end Josh Allen a strong bookend presence with an edge player.
4. Consensus top pick 59 days from round one? No overwhelming one. It’s probably Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson (30.5 tackles behind the line last year). Seems very clean on and off the field, and could be a Jared Allen effort player with great production. One of the tackles or more athletic edge Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon will give Hutchinson competition.
5. You want to have lots of mid-round picks. Depth draft. There are starters to be had through five rounds at tight end, interior line, running back, linebacker, safety and wideout. That bodes well for a team like Baltimore, which will have five picks in the fourth round, and seven overall in the third and fourth.
“One of the things I like about this draft,” Jeremiah said late in our conversation, “is the uncertainty. There’s not one obvious player for Jacksonville at one. There are some intriguing players you’re going to have take risks on. A corner like [LSU’s] Derek Stingley—if he goes in the top five or he goes 40, I won’t be surprised. That’s going to be part of the fun of this draft. There’s so much we don’t know.”
Sharp left turn, then back to the combine in a few minutes. Unexpectedly, NFL broadcast booths took a turn for the crazy in the last week or so.
The Lead: TV Money
All the things you need to know about the story of these nutty TV announcer contracts:
• It’s all up to Joe Buck now. After Troy Aikman leapt to the head of the analyst class by jumping from Fox to ESPN for between $18 million and $20 million a year, the focus is on Buck. He is 52. He is in the last year of his Fox contract. He is Fox Sports, having done the World Series and the biggest Fox NFL games for the last two decades. He is in his prime, and should be for years to come. Maybe he hasn’t been shown the love at Fox, and maybe he feels without his pal Aikman it’s time for a change. But this is a very close call. I think he’ll meet with Fox, hear out his bosses, and decide if he’d be happy staying there with a new football analyst on a long-term deal.
I don’t know how Buck’s love of baseball factors into this. My guess is if it’s gone this far, he may want to leave, and I doubt Fox would want an admitted lame duck in such a high-profile gig. If so, we’ll see if Fox lets him out to join Aikman at ESPN. But Buck is the next domino to fall.
• Whither Al Michaels? Once NBC hired Mike Tirico in 2016, it was a matter of time before he’d succeed Michaels on the network’s Sunday night game. The time is now. Michaels, 77, who does not want to retire, seemingly had found a landing spot with the new Amazon Prime Thursday night package in 2022. Amazon hired NBC executive producer Fred Gaudelli to do the Thursday games (that is not changing), which seemed to make Thursday perfect for Michaels, because he and Gaudelli made a great team at NBC. Amazon thought it had Michaels—it still might land him—but Michaels wanted to see who his analyst would be first. He wanted Aikman. He would have been happy with Sean McVay. But when McVay said Friday he was staying in football, his first two options were gone. So now, if Buck stays at Fox, it’s logical that Michaels talks to ESPN. If Buck goes to ESPN, Michaels may still take the Amazon job, whoever the analyst is.
• Sean McVay stays on the sideline. In the end, he didn’t fall for the these-big-TV-jobs-might-not-be-there in-two-or-three-years storyline, and good for him. He knew he could make $15 million a year or a little more coaching the Rams; a new coaching contract will be signed prior to training camp. McVay also knew he could make maybe $19 million a year doing games on TV, and at some point go back to take a big coaching job. But he decided at 36 he wasn’t going to have many opportunities as golden as he has in L.A., with a defending Super Bowl champion, a quarterback and receivers he loves, and, he hopes, the best defensive player of the century, Aaron Donald, returning to try to repeat. Wherever McVay would coach in, say, 2026 would very likely not have all those benefits. His new gig might have been closer to a startup.
I found this really interesting: At least one TV titan who would have benefited from McVay’s jump to the booth told him not to go. No way this job’s as good as trying to repeat with a potentially great team. McVay agreed.
McVay spurned TV also because his love of coaching hasn’t been quenched. This is a big deal. Ten days ago, before McVay went on vacation, the Rams needed an offensive coordinator and linebackers coach. One of the linebacker-coach candidates was former Denver staffer Chris Beake, who was fully intending to follow a good friend, Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, to Minnesota. But in a 20-minute conversation with McVay, Beake was swayed. He said he never had so much fun talking football. If McVay had been serious about jumping to TV, he wouldn’t have poured himself into recruiting Beake.
• The collateral people. Your guess is as good as mine about Fox’s top team if Buck leaves. My guess: Fox promotes the promising Kevin Burkhardt to the top chair, probably with the rising young Greg Olsen. At ESPN, who knows. They’ve been all over the map in the last five years, with three play-by-players and five analysts and Peyton and Eli on a secondary broadcast. If Buck or Michaels slide into the number one chair, that means ESPN has to find jobs for Steve Levy, Louis Riddick and Brian Griese. How many more MNFers can they find chairs in the ESPN football universe?
• I’m not convinced Monday night matches Fox anymore. The average of Aikman’s ESPN deal is probably about $6 million more than what Aikman would make at Fox. So it’s understandable why he’d jump. But as one industry kingpin told me over the weekend: “Troy gets one Super Bowl out of the deal at ESPN, in the last year of his deal, and no championship games, and some weeks with not a great game. He walks into a place with Peyton and Eli Manning, guys on his own team, trying to chip away at his ratings. He leaves a place with two of the next three Super Bowls, with a championship game every year, doing one of the best two or three games every Sunday.” It’s hard to argue with two things: The ESPN money was far better that the Fox deal, but the ESPN job is not as good.
• CBS and ESPN are paying Tony Romo and Troy Aikman more than Cooper Kupp, Stefon Diggs, Keenan Allen and Mike Evans will make in 2022, and I don’t know why. One of my readers, Stephen McGinnis of Evansville, Ind., said it better than I could: “Do networks actually expect that this will result in more viewers? In watching the NFL for five decades, I have never once heard anyone decide to watch a game based on who the announcers are. Whoever is broadcasting the Super Bowl could pick mid-level Big 12 announcers and they would have exactly the same number of viewers.”
• Read Andrew Marchand. The New York Post sports media columnist has been all over the story. He wrote Thursday night, explaining the Aikman move: “He had an out in his contract in which he could say he would not do ‘Thursday Night Football’ this season. With that leverage, Fox agreed to give Aikman a four-year extension at $13.2 million per year, according to sources. There was one final stipulation to the contract — Aikman could opt out after this season if he were to secure a bigger and better contract, according to sources. That’s a key part of this story—I hear Aikman was told if he got an offer $2 million more than Fox was paying, he could leave—and Marchand was dead-on. Aikman actually got much more.
• Et al. Amazon might make a run at Drew Brees for the game analyst role. He’d like to do games … Sean Payton could end up in Amazon’s Thursday pre-game team, or on a network team as analyst with a savvy number one … One other thing about Payton: It’s not a lock he’ll go back to coaching. If he likes the TV life, and if no great coaching job surfaces, the 58-year-old Payton could make a life for himself in TV. He wants to be good at it, not just make it a way-station in his football life.
NFL Combine Preview10
While we talked Saturday night, Jeremiah sent me two video clips of receivers in this draft. One was of his favorite wideout in the draft, Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson. The other was from a basketball dunk by another receiver he’s smitten, USC’s Drake London.
“Check your phone,” Jeremiah said. “I texted you the Drake London dunk.”
BTI Alum Drake London’s ridiculous 540 dunk on Saturday has now had over two million views.This dunk was sick as well! The USC Trojan signee had an amazing season senior season in both basketball & football @ Moorpark HS
@USC_Hoops @uscfootball @MHS_Hoops pic.twitter.com/AZw7cx5Ter
— BTI Basketball Club (@BTIHoops) March 25, 2019
Is it just me, or could Drake London compete in the NBA dunk contest? The 6-foot-5 London played on the Trojans basketball team as a college frosh. That’s a ridiculously athletic and power-strong dunk, and it’s indicative of the kind of player Jeremiah thinks London will be in the NFL. Before his season ended last October with a broken ankle, London had 88 catches in eight games, for 136 yards, on average, per game. He led college football with 19 contested catches, per Pro Football Focus. He’s coming back from the ankle injury but should be okay for his first training camp in late July.
“The funny thing is, I’ve had conversations—it’s a glass half-full, glass half-empty thing,” Jeremiah said. “I’ve had conversations with teams that really love Drake London and they’ll say, man, he’s got so many contested catches! And then I’ve talked to teams that aren’t as high on him and they go, you know it’s all contested catches. He doesn’t separate. You take the exact same nugget, the exact same stat, some people love it, some people hate it. I tend to fall in the camp of loving what he does there.”
London looks like Terrell Owens in some of his tape, a big man who never met contact he doesn’t like. As for Wilson, he’s a different receiver—faster, excellent route-runner, great athleticism. He’s likely to run in the low 4.4s or high 4.3s in Indy, which will make people love him more.
“We’ll show this at the combine,” Jeremiah said of the Wilson video he sent me.
Garrett Wilson made this unreal catch as a TRUE freshman 🤯 pic.twitter.com/x0hh5l7l4F
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) May 27, 2020
“You gotta go back and watch Garrett Wilson in his freshman year,” Jeremiah continued. “They’re playing Clemson. He goes up and makes a catch on the sideline that’s as good a catch as any that I’ve ever seen. He can jump out of the gym. He reminds me of Justin Jefferson [in the 2020 draft]. I loved everything about Justin Jefferson. Everything he did was really clean—best route-runner in the draft. It’s panned out that way.”
The other top-end receiver in the eyes of many scouts, Jameson Williams of Alabama, is a 2022 question mark, having torn his ACL in the college football playoffs almost two months ago. “Somebody in the bottom of the first round could get a real gift,” Jeremiah said. “They’ll say, maybe we have to sit him the first half of the season as he recovers from this ACL. But it’s a straight ACL. He could be one of the best value picks in this draft.”
At the top, I was surprised by one aspect of Jeremiah’s rankings. He’s got Michigan’s Hutchinson—so polished, so safe—as his top-rated player, and he’s got the next edge rusher number six overall, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. You’ll see some people have Thibodeaux even with Hutchinson, or better, because of his athleticism and potential.
“It’s the elimination of as much risk as I can,” Jeremiah said.
“If I’m picking up there in the top five, my team stinks and I need guys that I know can come in and make a difference on my football team, I’m trying to eliminate as much risk as I can while still getting a really, really good player. When I factor all those things in, Aidan Hutchinson comes out on top of the list for me. I don’t want to insult him by just saying he’s a high floor player. The guy was a dominant player last year at Michigan. I think he’s got a chance to be a consistent double-digit sack guy in the NFL. He’s not the Bosa brothers, he’s not Myles Garrett, he’s not Chase Young. But he’s really good and provides very little risk.
“I think when you watch Hutchinson and you compare him with Thibodeaux, I think number one he’s got more ways to get to the quarterback. He’s polished. He’s got a lot of tools in his bag that I don’t think Thibodeaux has at this point. And then I would say he just plays harder consistently from drive to drive, game to game. I don’t see Aiden Hutchinson ever take a snap off. I see it quite a bit with Thibodeaux. [Former Jeremiah mentor Ozzie Newsome] used to always say there’s nothing wrong with hitting doubles, you know? A lot of times those doubles turn into home runs.”
Some needy pass-rush team—the Giants at 5 or 7, Falcons at 8, the Jets at 4 or 10—could have Thibodeaux fall into their laps and make their decision tough.
Now for the quarterbacks. There’s a very good chance Carolina (at 6 in the first round), Denver (9), or even Washington (11) could have their pick of any quarterback in the draft. It’s also possible that the lot of them could last till middle of the round. Too early to tell. But if you have a major quarterback need—Carolina, Denver and Washington all do—would you feel great about trying to solve it this year with a question mark?
Jeremiah’s smart about this position. Five years ago, when Patrick Mahomes lasted till 10th overall and Deshaun Watson 12th, the quarterback quality in the pre-draft process was suspect.
“I might be a little more cautious this year,” Jeremiah said, “but it’s not a star-studded group.”
This is how suspect this year’s class is. When I asked Jeremiah if there was a quarterback, with the right coaching, who could be very good, he mentioned Pitt’s Pickett and Liberty’s Willis.
“I think Kenny Pickett is ready to come in and play right away,” Jeremiah said. “Could be a solid player. A good, solid starter. I’ve compared him to kind of a little more athletic version of a Matthew Hasselbeck if everything hits right for him. He was a good player for a long time.”
True. But teams are not going to fall over themselves to draft “a little more athletic version of Matthew Hasselbeck.”
That’s the issue with taking a quarterback here. You either take a low-ceiling player who might pan out into a good starter, or you take a Willis, who absolutely will need to work with a good QB mentor for a year before you’d think of throwing into the fire.
“Malik Willis to me is like the ultimate wild card,” Jeremiah said. “What you get right now is going to be a lot different than what he is two or three years down the road. Could be a huge payoff. But there’s some risks associated with that. As with any of these quarterbacks, I think it comes down to getting in the right fit with the right group of people and having proper patience.
“But if they all dropped out of the first round, and I needed a quarterback early in the second, I think I’d try to roll the dice with Willis and say I’m gonna gamble on greatness, and there’s a chance I could hit it big.”
Remember the name Derek Stingley Jr. He personifies this draft season of uncertainty.
In 2019, as an LSU frosh, Stingley covered Ja’Marr Chase in practice and was competitive against him. He might have been the best cover corner in the country that season. But in 2020 and 2021, injuries limited Stingley to 10 games, and he’s still recovering from a Lisfranc foot injury from the past season. Stingley is doubtful to work out at the combine, and he may not run a 40 before the draft. Maybe it shouldn’t, but that’s going to scare off some teams.
“I’ve seen the practice footage of him going up against Ja’Marr Chase from that time and he looks like a top five player,” Jeremiah said. “And then he’s played nothing like that player the last two years. But you have that image of the 2019 tape against Ja’Marr in your head. To me, he’s the total wild card.”
If a draft could be a wild card, this one’s it. Starting Tuesday at 1 p.m. from Indianapolis, NFL Network will give you 50 hours of coverage. I doubt by Sunday night you’ll have all the answers to make you feel like you’re sure of anything this draft season.
Quotes of the Week
“You can build an offensive line without using all your first-round picks to do it. If you go back and look at the last five Super Bowl-winning teams, 25 starting offensive linemen, three of them were home-grown first-round picks. You just can’t have any tomato cans out there.”
—Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network, with some wise words about team construction.
“It won’t be long.”
—Aaron Rodgers, on how long it will be before he announces whether he wants to stay in Green Bay, retire, or be traded, on “The Pat McAfee Show” last week.
“That was not something I told him.”
—Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst, questioned about the public perception that he would trade Aaron Rodgers this offseason if Rodgers requested it.
“Put me in the corner of ‘I love him’ and ‘I know he’s going to get better.’“
—Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, on quarterback Kyler Murray, to 98.7-FM in Arizona.
“There’s only one thing better than winning one, and that’s winning two.”
—Wayne Gretzky, in a call to 40-year-old Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth, who says he’s leaning toward retirement. Whitworth relayed the story on NFL Network.
There is a secret to the Rams’ success, and it is hidden in plain sight. Who knows how long the Rams will be able to stay on top of the NFL, but one of their big keys has been making chicken salad out of chicken feathers. Over the past five years, GM Les Snead and his personnel team have done that as well as any team in the league.
Since 2017, the Rams have not picked earlier than 44th in any draft. So since Sean McVay took over as coach, they haven’t picked till—at the earliest—the middle of round two. It’s well-documented that they’ve used high picks to acquire veterans (Jalen Ramsey, Matthew Stafford, Von Miller among others). And it obviously paid off with the Super Bowl win this month.
But if you sacrifice all those picks, you better be very good with the lower picks. The Rams have had 40 picks in the third through seventh rounds of the last five drafts (8.0 per year, on average). Twelve of those players, or undrafted players, from the last five years played 30 percent or more of the snaps in the 2021 championship season, per Pro Football Reference. A 13th, Sebastian Joseph-Day, was on his way to playing half the snaps this year but was hurt in midseason. Four more Rams mid-round picks since 2017—John Franklin-Meyers, Samson Ebukam, Josh Reynolds and John Johnson—played at least a third of snaps for other teams in 2021.
Just think: 15 of 40 mid- and low-round picks, plus two undrafted guys, played prominent roles on NFL teams in 2021 … and 12 were major cogs for a Super Bowl winner.
The Rams who graduated from just guys in the last five drafts to wearing Super Bowl rings today, ranked by percentage of snaps played for the Super Bowl champs in the regular season:
1. Guard David Edwards (169th pick, 2019), 99.6 percent playtime
2. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp (69th pick, 2017), 94.0
3. Safety Jordan Fuller (199th pick, 2020), 88.5
4. Center Brian Allen (111th pick, 2018), 82.9
5. Defensive tackle Greg Gaines (134th pick, 2019), 67.1
6. Linebacker Troy Reeder (undrafted, 2019), 58.6
7. Running back Darrell Henderson (70th pick, 2019), 46.6
8. Safety David Long (79th pick, 2019), 44.4
9. Cornerback Donte Deayon (undrafted, 2018), 39.6
10. Linebacker Ernest Jones (103rd pick, 2021), 37.8
11. Safety Nick Scott (243rd pick, 2019), 35.5
12. Linebacker Terrell Lewis (84th pick, 2020), 31.6
• The Rams have traded their top three picks this year, but will start draft weekend with eight, including five compensatory picks. Knowing Snead, I’d expect the Rams to have nine or 10 picks before the draft is over. They just won’t be high ones. That hasn’t been a problem recently.
• For this to work, there has be a good relationship between the coaching staff and the personnel staff—because the coaches have to know the formula is to get a lot of low-drafted players ready to play. Rams safety Nick Scott, a seventh-round pick in 2019, is a great example. He was a special-teamer mostly in his first two years while learning how to be an NFL safety. When injuries forced him to play this year, he was more than ready. Among safeties who played at least two playoff games this year, Scott was third in the league in passer-rating allowed (47.9), per PFF. So the coaches got Scott ready, and when his moment came, he played winning football. My point here is that lots of coaches like to play veterans and won’t give young players, particularly the lesser ones, early chances. With the Rams, it’s built in that they have to.
What a Difference Three Decades Makes Dept.:
Troy Aikman’s compensation for doing color on “Monday Night Football” for the the 2022 season: $19 million (estimated).
Troy Aikman’s compensation, combined, as Dallas QB in the 1992, 1993 and 1995 seasons, when he led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl wins: $15.75 million (exactly).
King of the Road30
On July 4, 1976, the nation’s Bicentennial, I celebrated by going to see an Elton John concert in Foxboro, Mass. Billie Jean King came onstage as Elton sang his tribute song, “Philadelphia Freedom,” to her. I was 19.
Now, 45 years and 8 months later, I will see Elton John in concert for a second time Tuesday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. I am 64.
Tweets of the Week
Brian Gutkenst's claim that he never promised to trade Aaron Rodgers in 2022 won't be received favorably by Rodgers. https://t.co/5trQCqB6aS
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) February 24, 2022
I have a one-word comment: True.
A 10-step guide for NFL teams to not screw up their offseason:
5. Don't use significant resources for competency at QB
6. Don't mistake the Rams' model for your model
7. Target coaches and GMs who might be desperatehttps://t.co/KG8925hYDW
— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) February 23, 2022
One of the The Athletic’s smart NFL writers with a wise story.
Ronnie Stanley has become a driving force to help dogs in need.
The mission of his charitable foundation is to improve the quality of life for rescue dogs and match them with those who have faced a challenge in life.
Full story here:https://t.co/XDuCnKVqfm
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) February 26, 2022
Cool story by the ESPN Ravens beat writer on the Baltimore left tackle.
Time is a flat circle https://t.co/yGHcd2vZsL
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 25, 2022
Matt Miller is an ESPN draft analyst.
Both Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko – sons of a Major General in the old Soviet Air Force – made millions as heavyweight boxing champs. They could be safely living anywhere in the world. Instead they are in their native Ukraine vowing to take up arms and fight Russia. Heroes. pic.twitter.com/H94QLWz5bx
— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) February 25, 2022
Wetzel is a columnist for Yahoo Sports.
Reach me at email@example.com, or on Twitter @peter_king.
This week, I got a few emails on Hall of Fame voting, mostly critical of my ballot. I chose to let James I. represent them.
I should not be a Hall of Fame voter. From James I.: “Respectfully, I think it’s time for you and many other Hall of Fame voters to step aside and allow new members to take over the process. There are major flaws in your selections, and I can’t remember it being worse than this year. While I appreciate what Sam Mills accomplished in 12 NFL seasons and three years with the USFL, his individual accolades don’t match up to Patrick Willis or Zach Thomas. Mills was voted All-Pro three times (once first team) and made five Pro Bowls in those 12 NFL seasons. Willis played eight NFL seasons, was voted All-Pro six times (five for the first team), made seven Pro Bowls and was Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007. Thomas played 13 NFL seasons, was voted All-Pro seven times (five for the first team) and made seven Pro Bowls. Willis was also a huge part of the 49ers playing in three NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl, after San Francisco had struggled for nearly a decade.
“There’s really no good explanation for Mills getting in before Thomas and Willis. There’s also absolutely no good explanation for Willis not being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, especially when you and your fellow voters will probably send Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning in as first-ballots, in spite of the fact they played in fewer Pro Bowls than Willis and never made All-Pro during their long careers. We’re not there yet, but the fact that Eli is even considered is a joke.”
Some good points in there, James. Thomas has an excellent case for the Hall and Willis a very good one. You are correct: Mills does not have the same NFL individual honors as Willis or Thomas. But I believe there are valuable points not included in your email. Mills was first-team all-USFL in all three years of the league, and though it wasn’t the NFL, it was pro football with a lot of players who went on to good NFL careers. His Stars and Saints coach, Jim Mora, called him the best player he ever coached. At 36, in Carolina, Mills was third in Defensive Player of the Year voting. At 37 in Carolina, he led the Panthers to the NFC title game and had 47 more tackles than anyone on the team. I find it significant he was the defensive captain on all three of his pro teams, and all three made the playoffs, were defense-based teams, and/or won titles in his tenure.
As for Eli Manning … He will rightfully get dinged for winning playoff games in only two of 16 NFL seasons, and for recording a .500 record as a starting quarterback in the golden age of them. Calling his case for the Hall “a joke” is, well, a joke. He quarterbacked the Giants to two Super Bowl come-from-behind wins in the final minutes over the Brady/Belichick Patriots. The first came against the greatest team of this century, the previously 18-0 Patriots. The second came on an 88-yard drive in the final four minutes that included an incredible 38-yard pass to a double-covered Mario Manningham—a pass that I believe was the best of his NFL life. Playing big in his two biggest games should be a factor in a person’s candidacy, should it not? Manning also stands in the top 10 in most major passing categories. So he’s going to be a good candidate, but not a shoo-in, when he comes up in 2025.
About my future. From Bob Moore: “As a longtime follower, color me curious about your future plans. When legendary players retire, they generally cite having to prep and grind during the offseason to be ready for the first snap. What are your thoughts about dialing things back and devoting freed-up time to what’s really important?”
Nice of you to be so complimentary, Bob. My current contract with NBC expires in June 2023, so I’ve got 15 months left to write and then we’ll see. I truly don’t know what I’m going to do then. I’ve got a lot of love still for the job and a lot of curiosity for what some other life might be too. I’ll keep you, and everyone else, posted about my plans.
About “Instructional Designers,” such as the one the Broncos just hired. From Daron Williams: “I’m a longtime reader, a former journalist, and an Instructional Designer. It’s a thing. I work for a university, personally, but IDs exist at organizations of all types, often as content developers, creating self-paced training modules and whatnot for their employees. There’s no single common definition of what an ID does, but I think most of us can say that we use technology to practically apply a variety of learning theories, to ensure that the learners in any given situation take the most out of the instruction. When the margin between winning and losing is so minute, as this recent postseason showed us, you may as well take advantage of every tiny edge you can get.”
Educational, Daron. Thanks so much. When I first wrote about Denver coach Nathaniel Hackett hiring a “teacher for the teachers” a few weeks ago, it got some attention because it had never been done before in the NFL. Hackett’s a new-age thinker and educator; Nicki Jhabvala wrote about it last year in the Washington Post, and it fascinated me. I’ll be interested to see how John Vieira uses technology and new ways of teaching to improve the Broncos’ learning processes.
Groovy. From Charles Tremeer, of Darlington, England: “As I was reading FMIA this afternoon I noted that the time was 2:20 pm, which meant that it was 2:20 on 22/02/2022. Of course, this only works with the British notation of Day/Month/Year, but, given your enthusiasm for things numerical, I thought you would enjoy reading about what was, here at least, the ultimate palindromic moment.”
That is the email of the year, Charles. I always love looking up places I’m not familiar with. Your town, Darlington, looks like a lovely town an hour or northeast of Manchester, where my sister-in-law is from.
Michele Tafoya. From Peter Greene of Pacific Palisades, Cal.: “I would appreciate it if you address Michele Tafoya in next week’s column. You and many other media people spent a great deal of time on Aaron Rodgers and his views, but what about someone you worked with and her views?”
Well, we spent a lot of time on Rodgers because he missed a game due to not being vaccinated, and when the reigning and future MVP misses a game he did not have to miss, that’s a giant story. Although I did work at the same place as Michele Tafoya and we know each other, we’re not close. She is one of the best sideline reporters of all time, and it’s apparent we don’t share all the same views on political and social issues. That’s life. I would bet that a few or many of my non-football views are different than the views of the people I know better at NBC—Tony Dungy, Mike Florio, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth. That’s fine. We do our jobs and live our lives in a free country.
Civility counts, Mike. From Mike Wiebel: “Pretty interesting to see you belittle a reader for pointing out your lack of coverage over unmasked celebs considering you wrote about your own survey of masked and unmasked people in Tampa the year before.”
A couple of points. In Tampa, the mayor signed a public order requiring mask-wearing inside and outside the week of the Super Bowl. It was an issue last year that a huge number of people ignored the mayor’s order. This year, with Covid in decline, no one felt the same urgency, and there was no such public mandate about wearing masks outside. It wasn’t much of a topic all week. As far as the letter from last week, the writer called me a coward, said “all liberals” attended the Super Bowl, and I responded with sarcasm, not by belittling the guy. I have a choice when I read the 200 or so emails I get in an average week. I can ignore the critics. I don’t. But if a letter-writer is a name-caller, and I choose to use his email, he might not get the same level of seriousness as I use with others.
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think, and hallelujah if it is so, the NFL Competition Committee is going to consider two rules changes on overtime in the next two months—first at the Competition Committee meetings at the combine this week, then at the owners’ meetings in Palm Beach in late March. One: Guarantee each team a possession in all playoff overtime games, even if the team with the first OT possession scores a touchdown. Two: Guarantee each team a possession in all games, even if the team with the first possession scores a TD. Two is less likely than one. To make a change, 24 teams would have to vote to approve.
A month ago, I reported it was unlikely there would be enough momentum for an OT change for playoffs or for all games. But the absurdity of the major meaning of a coin flip in two mega-playoff games in the last three years are causing NFL power players to rethink what should be obvious. In New England’s OT win over Kansas City in the AFC title game three seasons ago, the Patriots won the OT coin flip, scored a touchdown, and red-hot Patrick Mahomes never touched the ball. In the AFC divisional game this year, the Mahomes-Josh Allen duel, KC won the flip to start overtime, scored a TD and the Bills never touched the ball in overtime.
At the very least, owners should vote to make the playoff overtime rule fair. Here’s hope saner heads prevail, and all playoff games—at least—are not unjustly affected by the flip of a coin.
2. I think any Bucs fan did a triple-take at mid-afternoon Sunday, seeing the retirement of guard Ali Marpet at age 28, after just seven seasons. The departure of the NFL’s sixth-rated guard in 2021 (via PFF, among those who played at least 600 snaps) leaves another hole in the Bucs’ lineup. It’s not as a big a hole as the one left by Tom Brady’s departure, of course. But when you lose one of your top starters, who’d been a solid rock in starting 68 of the team’s last 71 games, that’s a big blow. Insight from Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times:
According to Ali Marpet’s father, Bill, the Bucs offensive lineman has had several discussions with the Bucs before reaching his decision. “From what I can gather, he just wants to be healthy the rest of his life,” Bill Marpet said, adding Ali had no health issues.
— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) February 27, 2022
3. I think, by the way, I will not be surprised if Tom Brady, sometime in the next year or two, says he wants to play football again. Educated hunch.
4. I think, if you want a better bet, Tampa Bay is likely to be the host team for the first-ever regular-season NFL game in Germany this season (as I hinted two weeks ago, and Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal reported Friday). It would have worked perfectly for the NFL, and for Germans jonesing for a real NFL game, to see the Tom Brady-led Bucs come to Allianz Arena in Munich mid-season. But the prospect of the Bucs one year removed from winning a Super Bowl is more attractive than the other NFC candidate that could have hosted in Germany this year, Carolina. (Four NFL teams, Tampa and Carolina in the NFC, and New England and Kansas City in the AFC, won NFL marketing rights in Germany in December, and will be the host teams for games in Germany over the next four seasons. By placing each team, by season, as the home team in Germany when it has nine home games scheduled, it will allow each team to keep eight home games per season. Tampa Bay has nine home games this year, so eight would stay in Raymond James Stadium.) The Bucs have one of the best non-division home schedules in recent years, so moving one game to Munich shouldn’t hurt much. They play Super Bowl teams Cincinnati and the Rams, and Kansas City, Green Bay, Baltimore and Seattle at home, as well as division foes Atlanta, New Orleans and Carolina. You’ll see announcements begin to come this week, making official the hosts of the five scheduled international games this fall.
5. I think this is how the scheduling of the international games could work this year:
England: Three, between Weeks 4 and 8 (Oct. 2-30).
Germany: One, in the vicinity of Weeks 9 or 10 (Nov. 6-13).
Mexico: One, likely Week 11, on Nov. 20 (Sunday) or 21 (Monday), coinciding with a Mexican national holiday, Revolution Day, which is Nov. 20, followed by a national holiday on the 21st.
6. I think I took note of what former Carson Wentz teammate Lane Johnson said on The Rich Eisen Show the other day. “He’ll get a shot somewhere,” Johnson said of Wentz, who apparently is on the block after one season with the Colts. “I think this will be a point where he can prove all the doubters wrong.” Well, “all the doubters” would now include the two coaches who have been the biggest boosters of Wentz in his NFL career. The Colts traded a load for Wentz last spring, and after one year, apparently Colts coach Frank Reich—his coordinator in the Eagles’ Super Bowl season—didn’t see enough to want him back. That’s about as damaging a blow as Wentz could have gotten in his first post-Philly season. That comes after Wentz was benched in 2020 in Philadelphia by coach Doug Pederson; those two were making beautiful music together in 2017 with the Eagles. Benched by Pederson, sent packing by Reich (if that happens) … Those two doubters used to be his biggest fans, and that’s not a thing to be ignored.
7. I think it’s crazy that the trade situation of Deshaun Watson is as muddled today as it was on opening day almost six months ago and at the trading deadline four months ago. Nothing of substance has changed. It probably won’t change till it is determined in Texas by approximately April 1 whether Watson is charged with any crimes in conjunction with the 22 women who have accused the Texans QB of sexual misconduct. Watson has missed the chance to be traded before the 2021 season. He has missed the chance to be traded at the ’21 deadline. He will almost certainly miss the start of QB-trading season when the league year opens on March 16. It’s insane that the Watson camp has not driven this situation to a conclusion, regardless how much it might hurt Watson’s reputation and wallet. As it stands now, a team that waits to see the legal outcome for Watson might be passing on the majority of this year’s QB crop and maybe even the draft. I just don’t understand slow-playing this for a year, and now longer.
8. I think that doesn’t even include whatever sanction the NFL levels on Watson. Roger Goodell has the right to suspend players who have not been found guilty of a crime, and has done so, as Mike Florio pointed out the other day. Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games (reduced to four) when he was accused of sexual misconduct but not charged criminally. It would be surprising if Watson were not suspended regardless of the outcomes of those cases. So let’s say Texans GM Nick Caserio goes to the combine this week and talks with other GMs (Philly? Washington? Pittsburgh? Carolina? Denver?) about Watson. Is there a GM willing to commit three first-round picks plus a little something else for Watson when said GM has no idea when Watson will take the field for him? I wouldn’t, without legal clarity. That’s for sure.
9. I think this is the Aaron Donald note of the week: On NFL Network, Andrew Whitworth said he just ran into Aaron Donald in the Rams’ weight room. He called that a positive sign that Donald would not retire, but rather return to the Rams for year nine. Probably. Might just be better than going to his local Gold’s Gym.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. It’s Combine Week, and I’ll be having my usual meet-up with football fans at Sun King Brewery on the east side of downtown Indianapolis on Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Some of my good media friends from around the country will be there to share beers with you, and answer all your football questions. You can get tickets here, for $25.
b. Please help us sell it out. If you’re not coming to the combine and want to help the cause, you can also buy a ticket and donate it to someone we’ll find in Indy who can attend. Buy the ticket, email receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be sure your ticket goes to good use.
c. The event benefits Teachers’ Treasures, an Indianapolis-based charity that obtains and distributes school supplies free to local teachers of needy students. When we did this a couple of years ago (at the last pre-Covid combine), I was touched at the event by a Teachers’ Treasures rep who told us the story of helping teachers who previously needed to spend rising percentages of their own salaries to buy supplies for their classes. It’s so unjust. We raised $1,700 a couple of years ago, and I’m hoping for $2,500 this year. Help if you can. Thanks in advance.
d. Man, this story from Reuters got me all misty.
e. A stranger, a phone number, two trusting children, a family separated for who knows how long … and the sanctity of motherhood. Reported Reuters:
BEREGSURANY, Hungary, Feb 26 (Reuters) – Clutching a mobile phone number of a woman she had never met, Nataliya Ableyeva crossed the border from Ukraine into Hungary on Saturday, entrusted with a precious cargo.
A stranger’s children.
Waiting at the border crossing on the Ukrainian side, Ableyeva had met a desperate 38-year-old man from her home town of Kamianets-Podilskyi, with his young son and daughter.
The border guards would not let him pass. Ukraine has banned all Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving, so they can fight for their country.
“Their father simply handed over the two kids to me, and trusted me, giving me their passports to bring them over,” 58-year-old Ableyeva said, the arms of the young boy she had known for just a few hours around her neck.
f. Watch the video atop the story.
g. Last chance to help an urgent cause in the United States: blood and platelet donation. With supplies at record lows in our country, I’ve had this contest set up: Give a pint of blood or bag of platelets by March 1 (tomorrow, unfortunately), send evidence of your donation to email@example.com with “Blood Donation Contest” in the subject line by end of day Tuesday. I will pick one name at random, and I will join you and a guest for lunch where you live at the place of your choosing.
h. We’ve had 112 donors from coast to coast come through for local communities, which thrills me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Keep it coming for two more days.
i. News We Can Use Right Now Dept.: Steve Hartman, On the Road for CBS News, finds a program for high school students in urban Chicago that is desperately needed.
j. Story of the Week: Jesse McKinley of the New York Times, on the explosion of legalized sports gambling in New York state.
k. Think of this: In the first five weeks of the legal sports betting boom in the state, one out of every six adults living in New York signed up to bet on sports with one of the gambling mega-sites. To me, that’s shocking. And scary. Wrote McKinley:
That demand was also probably whetted by a long wait for New York gamblers, who watched enviously as New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania all legalized placing bets on a mobile phone or laptop in recent years. Since the state’s first four betting sites launched on Jan. 8, just as the N.F.L. playoffs were looming, more than two million unique player accounts have been utilized in the state, according to GeoComply, with more than 245 million transactions.
Many of those users are capitalizing on alluring offers from operators: Caesars Sportsbook was particularly generous — or outlandish, depending on your point of view — offering a dollar-to-dollar match on deposits to player accounts, up to $3,000, in addition to a $300 sign-up bonus.
It’s a strategy that left Alan Woinski, a gambling industry analyst and consultant, bewildered. He said that such promotions were “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” noting that “the demand was going to be there.”
l. Being handed $3,000 to gamble (if you put up $3,000 yourself) is like a gambling company saying, “Come on. Bet. Bet. And then bet some more—we’ll help you!”
m. Tate Matheny retired last week. He is the son of Mike Matheny, the major-league manager. Tate was a Red Sox farmhand and his name probably doesn’t mean a lot to you. But he means something to me. A few years ago, The MMQB’s training camp tour finished its day in Spartanburg, S.C., home of the Panthers, and on the way to seeing the Falcons the next day, we stopped to see the minor-league Greenville Drive a few miles from Panthers camp. Lovely little Fenway-replica stadium in a nice southern town. We’d arranged that I’d throw out the first pitch of the game that night, and I did. Matheny, a Sox hopeful, went behind the dish, and I threw … a football. A bit of a wobbly spiral, but it got to Matheny for the catch. He was a good sport about it. So I’ll always remember Tate Matheny.
n. Does baseball have any idea that other sports are speeding by it? And that every few years when they argue over whatever they’re arguing about—and I couldn’t care less—a great sport turns off more and more people? I mean, look at the sports landscape. In two generations, baseball has plummeted compared to football. Per Baseball Almanac, TV ratings over the years, in average viewers per game:
1991: 35.7 million
2001: 24.5 million
2011: 16.5 million
2021: 12.3 million (including streaming)
o. Corresponding Super Bowl numbers in average viewers in Super Bowls in the 1991, 2001, 2011 and 2021 seasons: 79.6 million, 86.8 million, 111.4 million, and 110.4 million (including streaming).
p. It pains me to write those numbers. The World Series audience is down 66 percent from ’91 to ’21; the Super Bowl number is up 39 percent from ’91 to ’21. I love baseball. Ten very enjoyable days every year are spent at ballparks. But the sport leads all sports in our universe, both sides, in shooting itself in the foot.
q. Column Line of the Week: Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, on the current labor strife: “Keep it up, you’ll be fighting over a carcass.”
r. Sad, but so true.
s. Save thyself, baseball. Do a deal by end of day today. Split every issue right down the middle.
t. This is not the place to read about war but, as usual, I have an opinion. The people of Russia and the people of Ukraine seem to really like each other. I am no war historian, so help me on this: Has there been a similar situation in our lifetime, when two friendly countries with no significant problems with the other get into a war because of the desire of one single man? With one single man running a country where millions and millions have no desire to be fighting friendly neighbors? Is there a soul other than Vladimir Putin who wants this war?
u. The stories of heroism from the Ukrainian side warm the heart. This president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is something. Advised by NATO and U.S. allies to leave the country for his own safety, Zelensky declined. “The war is here,” he said. “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
v. Now that’s a hero.
The Adieu Haiku50
Pretty hard to think
of a football haiku here.
Fight, fight, fight, Ukraine.
Edited by Dom Bonvissuto