This was already The Week That Shook The NFL To The Core. A player was suspended for a year for gambling on NFL games. Two hours apart, Aaron Rodgers stayed and Russell Wilson left. Carson Wentz was traded to his third team in 14 months. Deshaun Watson took a giant step toward being traded. Khalil Mack’s a Charger, Joe Buck’s on ESPN, Amari Cooper’s a Brown, Kirk Cousins is filthy rich—again.
Then, on the seventh day, the NFL did not rest. It had an earthquake.
At 7:13 Sunday night, Tom Brady unretired.
These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands. That time will come. But it’s not now. I love my teammates, and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible. I’m coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa. Unfinished business LFG pic.twitter.com/U0yhRKVKVm
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) March 13, 2022
Legends, totally healthy, totally smitten with their profession, don’t stop loving their jobs because history says they can’t be great at 45. Don’t complicate this. A man who loves his job wanted to keep doing it. That’s exactly what happened here.
That doesn’t mean the world wasn’t shocked Sunday night when the news broke. Little Steven of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band tweeted: “Holy sh–! Brady’s back!”
Brady unretiring after 40 days as a man of leisure wasn’t a shock to all. There was quiet chatter that Brady was having second thoughts after his Feb. 1 retirement, and coach Bruce Arians and GM Jason Licht were using quiet diplomacy with him in the past couple of weeks. Licht and Arians did it the smart way: no pressure, take your time, do what makes you happy, we’ll always have a spot for you. When I met with Licht at the NFL Scouting Combine nine days ago, I sensed he thought the Bucs had a chance at Brady returning.
“Always thought there was a chance,” Arians told me in a text Sunday night. “Slim, but had fingers crossed the last few weeks.”
Meanwhile, Brady took advantage of that leisure time to figure out his life. He and his family went to Costa Rica, to New York, and to England (most recently) to watch Manchester United. On Saturday, Man U star Cristiano Ronaldo scored three goals in a 3-2 win over Tottenham, and afterward, cameras caught him asking Brady, “All good? You’re finished, right?” Brady made a face like, Ummmm, well, not really. And a day later, Brady made it official.
Cristiano Ronaldo: “You’re finished, right?
Tom Brady: 🤔 pic.twitter.com/QGwX9ad6pJ
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) March 13, 2022
So what happened? I think once Brady found out his family backed him doing what he truly wanted to do—play or not play—he figured he had clearance to make the decision he wanted to make. That decision, his good friend and podcast partner Jim Gray told me Sunday night, was rooted in how he feels about football, and how he feels, period.
“I don’t think Tom wanted to be sitting there, out of the game and watching football in September and thinking, ‘I’m as good as those guys. I can still do this. I still love it,’ “ Gray said.
Logically, the world wondered what his wife, Gisele Bundchen, thought of her husband continuing to play. Apparently, she felt pretty good. “Here we go again! Let’s go Bucs!” she said on social media.
Go back to the end of the season. Brady led the NFL in passing yards and touchdown passes, the Bucs went 13-4, and, against the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams in the playoffs, Brady led a furious comeback from 24 points down to tie the game with 42 seconds left. Tampa Bay lost 30-27 on a last-second field goal.
“It takes a whole lot to turn off that love of the game,” Gray said Sunday night. “He would not play if he didn’t think he could win the Super Bowl.”
There was a subplot in the Brady return Sunday. It revolved around Brady and free-agent Bucs center Ryan Jensen.
Jensen’s agent, Mike McCartney, had been engaged in talks to try to get Jensen, 30, re-signed before the legal tampering began today at noon ET. But it was a slog. McCartney wanted $13 million per year for Jensen, minimum, to stay in Tampa, and the cap-strapped Bucs weren’t going there. But Sunday afternoon, Brady reached out to Jensen. What he said exactly, I don’t know. But it was something like, I’m coming back and I need you and we gotta get your deal done. Maybe Brady said he pushed the Bucs to be sure they got a deal done with Jensen.
Brady doesn’t have a lot of must-haves, or guys he feels close to and really wants to have at his side. Tight end Ron Gronkowski is one, a clear number one. Jensen, on the Bucs, is two. Particularly with the uncertainty at guard in Tampa with the retirement of Pro Bowler Ali Marpet, getting his center back was a must for Brady.
So Brady calling Jensen, and Brady coming back, did two things: It motivated Jensen to forgo the market, where McCartney thought he might be able to get a $15-million-a-year average. And it motivated the Bucs—clearly after Brady telling them he wanted Jensen back—to up the offer to the veteran center to get the deal done Sunday night, before McCartney could begin playing one offer against another today.
The happy result for player and team: Jensen signed for three years and $39 million (in Florida, with the plus of no state tax). He didn’t want to move, and now gets to stay with Brady and the Bucs. And Tampa ensures the return of both tackles and a very good center who Brady valued greatly. Win-win.
Regarding Brady’s other priorities: Gronkowski’s free, and his friends think he’ll return if Brady asks. Wide receiver Chris Godwin, a Brady favorite, is rehabbing a torn ACL while on the franchise tag. I’d expect the Brady return to influence Godwin’s decision to sign the tag or do a longer deal. He loves Brady.
The collateral effects of Brady returning are many.
• The NFL schedule just got an infusion of prime-time and doubleheader-window games. Howard Katz’s schedule team has been working on the schedule daily since mid-January, and working on the premise that the Tampa Bay quarterback was going to be someone other than Brady. Without Brady, Tampa Bay might have been in prime time maybe three times. With Brady, Tampa will max out its prime-time appearances. (The max is six prime-time games scheduled to start the year, with the prospect of a team being flexed into a seventh.)
• The matchups. Look at the made-for-TV games Brady just made happen (assuming he stays healthy). The Super Bowl champ Rams at Brady and Tampa. The fifth Brady-Aaron Rodgers meeting, the fourth Brady-Patrick Mahomes meeting, the first Brady-Joe Burrow meeting. Brady, one more time at the Steelers. Brady, one more time at the beloved team of his youth, the Niners. What an incredible group of games.
• Happiest people, outside of Tampa, might be in Munich. The Bucs, with maybe Kyle Trask playing quarterback, might have been 4-5 by the time they played the first-ever NFL game in Germany in mid-November. But now, with Brady the likely starter, that game will be a mega-event in Europe.
Late Sunday night, a prominent agent texted me gee-whizzing about the night and the week. “This is fantasy football in 3D!” he texted. “This week defined and redefined what the NFL is today. And the fans love it.”
Big events in the NFL have a natural megaphone with the cacophonous media covering it. What Brady did fit right in to the 24/7/365 world the league has created. With opening day six months away, appetites are whetted. Brady’s too.
This is always a weird column, with the legal tampering period beginning at noon ET today, and many of the top free agents committed to a new team by nightfall. Last year, nine of the biggest contracts of the year in free agency—including Shaq Barrett, Matthew Judon and Joe Thuney—got done in the first six hours.
With the legal tampering window opening, it means that by the time you sit down to dinner, there’s a good chance you’ll know the 2022 teams of many of the best guys on the market—corners J.C. Jackson, Darious Williams and Carlton Davis, linemen Terron Armstead and Brandon Scherff, edge rushers Von Miller and Haason Reddick, safety Quandre Diggs. So I’ll mostly steer clear of forecasting who’s going where … with one exception.
When I met with Chargers coach Brandon Staley at the NFL Scouting Combine, he made it clear his team would be active in team improvements this offseason. That started last week with the re-signing of receiver Mike Williams and the trade for edge rusher Khalil Mack.
I think the Chargers’ approach will continue today with an early run at a couple of targets in free agency. One will be Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, the NFL’s leader in interceptions over the past three seasons. He hasn’t missed a game over the past three years, he’s only 26, and he’s a good buddy and former Florida high school 7-on-7 teammate of Chargers safety Derwin James. But I don’t think Jackson will be the only Chargers’ target of the early tampering period, and they won’t be solely focused on filling a cornerback need (Chargers allowed 27 TD passes last year) with Jackson if the money gets out of control.
A quick look at five notable teams this week, along with cap space as of this morning (per Over The Cap):
1. Seattle ($45.9 million under). Enough room, with enough draft capital, to be in play for Deshaun Watson.
2. Indianapolis ($69.8 million under). Lots of ways for the Colts to go, but I expect GM Chris Ballard will be a player in the edge-rush market. Chandler Jones would be a great fit.
3. Pittsburgh ($28.8 million under). Still think this is a great spot for Jimmy Garoppolo. May I broker a trade: Garoppolo from Niners to Steelers for a 2023 second-rounder that would become a first if Garoppolo is active for 15 games or more next fall.
4. Green Bay ($43.8 million over). Combined Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith cap numbers in 2022: $46.4 million, which is why both are endangered before teams must be at the cap at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday.
5. New Orleans ($6.4 million over.) Pretty good surgery done in the past few days, going from most cap-strapped team in the league to needing only a few nips-and-tucks to get under the cap by Wednesday.
What else catches my eye after a flurry of important action in the league last week, ahead of what will be another landscape-altering several days:
The Deshaun Watson Risk/Reward Question
Talking over the weekend with one team that has some interest in trading for the sidelined Houston quarterback (“Kicking the tires on it,” one club official said), it was clear that the sordid part of Watson’s story is not over, despite a Texas grand jury deciding Friday not to hand down an indictment of sexual misconduct against Watson. This team was just coming to grips with the fact that, though Watson will not be charged criminally, 22 women have maintained in civil cases that Watson engaged in sexual misconduct during massage-therapy appointments while he was the Texans quarterback. Watson has vehemently denied the charges and is set to testify Tuesday and answer questions about the civil suits. It’s logical no team will make an offer until they hear what he says.
Even after the presumed NFL suspension for part of the 2022 season is served by Watson, the teams interested in dealing for him—the Panthers, Eagles, Browns, Seahawks and Saints, reportedly—have to consider how much to factor in public reaction in their communities. Enterprising reporters wherever he signs will try to find and interview the women who have accused Watson. The sordid details in stories several massage therapists told to Sports Illustrated last year will emerge again.
Internally, interested teams will ask before making a trade: Is this the franchise cornerstone we want to hold up to our fans and sponsors? One club official told me Friday that Watson, coming out of Clemson in 2017, was one of the cleanest top prospects off the field this team has seen in recent years. That, also, will weigh into the decision by teams.
It’s an important question that every team considering a trade will have to debate internally. And then there are these three other important questions:
• Most importantly, which teams will Watson waive his no-trade clause? Would he say okay to a deal to the Eagles, in a very tough town, if they were interested? When Michael Vick signed there after his incarceration for dog-fighting, fans picketed and some never let it go. Or would fans be so in love with Watson’s talent that they’d let the past go? How about the Panthers, surely interested, with the thin ice coach Matt Rhule appears to be on? The no-trade part of the story is a legitimate question.
• What’s a fair price in trade? Watson is owed $35 million guaranteed this year, and you should not expect the Texans—after paying him $10.5 million to sit last fall—to contribute a dime to that $35 million. The acquiring team will be in line to pay all of that, plus per-year non-guaranteed compensation of $37 million, $32 million and $32 million from 2023-25. I think the price will start with at least three first-round picks, and probably some add-ons.
• Is he worth it? If a team can handle the off-field part, morally and practically, it’s getting a 26-year-old franchise quarterback who, in 2020, led the NFL with career-bests in passing yards (4,823), TD-to-interception differential (plus-26) and rating (112.4) on a bad Houston team.
Watson has the upside of a top-five NFL quarterback for the next decade. Some team is going to bet it can withstand the negatives of the next 12 to 18 months and look toward solving a major need with a player it thinks it will love in 2025, 2027, 2029.
Russell Wilson is traded from Seattle to Denver
Denver GM George Paton was aiming for this trade for a long time—since the day he took the job 14 months ago, I believe. In fact, when he traded former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller to the Rams for second-round and third-round picks last October, he knew he was making a deal to accumulate picks to make the kind of trade he made last Tuesday: first-round picks in 2022 and ’23, second-round picks in 2022 and ’23, a fifth-round pick in ’22, plus quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant and defensive lineman Shelby Harris to Seattle for Russell Wilson and a fourth-round pick this year.
Arguably, Denver traded three ones and three twos for Wilson—because Fant and Lock were the Broncos’ first-round and second-round picks, respectively, in 2019.
Quite a ransom. So was it worth it?
Absolutely, categorically yes. If I was the Denver GM and the price was higher, I’d have paid it. It’s elementary. Denver has had a league-high 10 starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning retired six years ago, and the Broncos are in the midst of their worst five-year run as a franchise in a half-century. This gives them a 33-year-old quarterback who has missed three of 177 Seattle starts since the day he was drafted in 2012, who is a remarkable 113-60-1 in his starts, who has a Super Bowl ring, who has led his team to the playoffs in eight of 10 seasons, and who is the fourth-highest-rated passer (101.8) in NFL history.
As important: Wilson will be supremely motivated with his new team to prove his first losing season in 2021 is not a harbinger of things to come. With a new and imaginative coach in Nathaniel Hackett, Wilson will be challenged by new concepts and a new offense—something I believe he thought was lacking in Seattle—with a good group of receiving weapons and a 21-year-old back, Javonte Williams, who could be ready to break out with a quarterback who will make teams less likely to crowd the box to stop the run.
— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) March 9, 2022
As Wilson’s side considered which team it wanted to play for, it considered 14 different teams with scores of factors for each: roster depth, cap condition, trust in GM/coach, development of the quarterback, season-ticket and fan base, everything. Denver finished either at or near the top in that 14-team contest. At the end, Denver was a very good spot—even though Wilson enters the toughest division in football, bar none, with each team having a franchise quarterback. The challenge gets even tougher with the Chargers bulking up with Khalil Mack and other free-agent prizes this spring.
When the trade becomes official, one of the Denver claims will be that Paton never engaged Green Bay in conversations about Aaron Rodgers—he was all-in on Wilson (five years younger than Rodgers, likely to play six or seven more years at least) all along. That could be. I do know Paton and Seattle GM John Schneider have been discussing the guts of this trade since January; they were spotted in at least two long conversations at the Senior Bowl in late January, and might have discussed it before then.
As for Seattle, I’ll always think the drip-drip-drip of an unhappy quarterback factored into this. Although Wilson is a non-confrontational sort, Schneider was probably never going to pay a quarterback and supposed team leader $50 million a year if he wasn’t all-in with the organization. This gives Schneider, a fearless deal-maker and risk-taker, the ammo (ninth and 40th overall picks this year, an extra first-rounder next year) the ability to be a player in the Deshaun Watson derby if he chooses. Schneider is the type of GM to take that shot—if Watson can be convinced to waive his no-trade clause for Seattle. (Why wouldn’t he?) Don’t cry for the Seahawks. They’ll figure it out.
Joe Buck makes a huge life-change
Buck left the top football/baseball job at Fox for the single job of “Monday Night Football.” Two things interest me:
• Buck, who has done 24 World Series, just disappeared from baseball. It’s barely a mention in the story of him going to ESPN to do Monday games with former Fox partner Troy Aikman. Maybe his love of baseball waned, or maybe the hopscotching between baseball playoffs/World Series and football Thursday/Sunday games for five weeks just got very old. Who could blame Buck, particularly with 4-year-old twins taking up more of his life, for saying, Something’s gotta go, and it’s baseball. The sad part of it, though, is he’s great at baseball. I’ll miss him being the voice of the Fall Classic, and big baseball playoff games prior to it.
• The whole Monday night thing—with Buck and Aikman on ESPN doing a regular telecast, and Peyton and Eli Manning doing an entertaining alternative one on another ESPN channel—seems like a vanity deal for ESPN. As Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported, ESPN will now pay about $50 million a year to employ those four men. Imagine paying two sets of football commentators to record contracts to compete against each other every Monday. Time will tell if it’s a stroke of a) genius or b) insanity to have Buck and Aikman try to boost Monday Night Football ratings while having the Manning brothers nibble away at their audience every week. As one industry person said to me Saturday: “You think Peyton and Troy are going to shake hands with each other and say, ‘Good luck?’ They’re super-competitive. All four of those guys will be analyzing the ratings every week, trying to beat the other guys.”
Postscript: FOX has two of the next three Super Bowls, and America will likely get to know Kevin Burkhardt a lot better in the next three seasons. He’s likely to take Buck’s seat. What a jump in status for Greg Olsen—who was playing tight end for the Seahawks 15 months ago—if he gets FOX’s top analyst seat and works two Super Bowls in his first four years on TV.
The NFL gets a player to stick on its don’t-bet-on-football billboard
With the suspension of Falcons wideout Calvin Ridley for the 2022 season for betting $1,500 on NFL games (including Atlanta’s), the NFL can now walk into every locker room next summer and say, We’re not kidding around. We’ve got some long tentacles into the sports-gambling industry, and if you do it, you’re gone for a year.
I’ve got no problem with the year ban, even though the NFL is far into bed with gambling companies. Anything that casts doubt on the legitimacy of NFL games has to be nipped in the bud. My big question—and the league would not make one of the Genius Sports officials (the London-based firm that caught Ridley and manages “integrity services” with the NFL) available to answer it—is: Is there a way to monitor gambling habits of a player using a pseudonym, or using a relative or friend to bet for him? One NFL official said yes, there is, but we’ll see.
Ridley bet using his own name. I can’t see a player making that mistake again. Will a player try to circumvent it another way, particularly with his career on the line? You’d think not. But as gambling becomes more and more pervasive in the American culture, I’d be surprised if an emboldened player, bombarded with sports-betting ads day after day after day, doesn’t try to find what he thinks is a secret way to bet on NFL games.
Too much uncertainty about Aaron Rodgers to divine much
So Rodgers is committed to play for the Packers in 2022. Beyond that, we don’t know much. The Packers did everything possible—short of building a moat around 2021 offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s Green Bay home to prevent him from leaving for the Denver head-coaching job—to make Rodgers want to stay. They re-hired old Rodgers friend Tom Clements as quarterback coach. Money was no object in keeping line coach Adam Stenavich from going to Denver with Hackett; Rodgers likes Stenavich, and he got a big raise to stay as offensive coordinator. And of course Green Bay franchised Davante Adams and hope to find a way to keep him as long as Rodgers is there.
That’s the big question: How long is Rodgers committed? Until he or the Packers say, it’s hard to say anything other than Green Bay is the clear, unquestionable favorite in the NFC to win home-field advantage in the 2022 playoffs. Beyond that, this morning, Rodgers’ long-term future is a beautiful mystery.
Jacksonville makes an important under-the-radar move
There’s a reason I wrote last week that Aidan Hutchinson exited the NFL Scouting Combine as the favorite to be the top pick in the draft. Two, actually. One was the fact that I believe Jacksonville favors an edge player with the first overall pick, at least right now, and Hutchinson (30.5 tackles for loss last fall) is the cleanest of those prospects. Two was the belief in left tackle Cam Robinson, which Jacksonville reinforced last week by placing the franchise tag on Robinson. That was a mild surprise to those projecting who might get tagged, guaranteeing a player most consider a middle-of-the-road tackle $16.62 million next year. I see why. Robinson has steadily improved over the past three years as the Jags’ left tackle, and last year, per Pro Football Focus, he allowed one sack of Trevor Lawrence in 573 pass-blocking snaps. As of today, I think Jacksonville (last 33 games: 50 sacks) is better served adding a pass-rush threat to the Josh Allen/Dawuane Smoot tandem than a tackle.
Seahawks part ways with Bobby Wagner
Six hours after the Russell Wilson trade shocked the NFL, news broke that the backbone of Legion of Boom was being cut. Bobby Wagner will go on to play elsewhere (Baltimore? Kansas City?), but this much should not be forgotten:
On draft weekend 2012, Seattle GM John Schneider made the two best picks of that draft. He chose a linebacker from Utah State, Wagner, 47th overall. Then he picked Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson 75th overall. (We could quibble here; Luke Kuechly at nine overall is in the discussion for a top-two pick in that draft, but I’ll give the edge to Wagner, who has played two more years—as of now—and at an equal level of greatness.)
Wagner and Wilson were cornerstones for a franchise that went to two Super Bowls, won one, and made the playoffs eight times in 10 years. Wagner and Wilson will likely make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Great stories do not always end in a warm and fuzzy way, and Wilson and Wagner disappearing from the Pacific Northwest on the same day is not pretty. But Wagner, the long-term defensive leader, was a huge part of the Seahawks averaging 11.4 wins per year (including playoffs) in his decade of excellence.
In every one of Wagner’s 10 seasons, he was rated as one of PFF’s top 20 linebackers. Twice he was first, twice he was second; seven times he was in the top 10. His range, his punishing and sure tackling, his instincts … those things set him apart. Give the man his due.
Last Chance Saloon for Carson Wentz
I start with this premise: I don’t see Indianapolis making another stab at a big-money quarterback for the fourth time in five Frank Reich-coached seasons. Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo … trying to find a way to deal for one with an already denuded 2022 draft class … with no guarantee either would lead a good team to the promised land. From Andrew Luck to Jacoby Brissett to Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz. My gut feeling is the Colts, with their first pick (47th overall) will aim for a Matt Corral type and throw a draftee like that into the training-camp salad with Sam Ehlinger and a veteran bridge player like Teddy Bridgewater. Just a hunch.
With that said, I think Indianapolis should have given Wentz a second season. He arrived a year ago from Philadelphia a broken quarterback, and his play down the stretch this year was borderline awful at the biggest moments of the year. But you’ve got to line up with someone, and Wentz with one more year of Reich in his ear would be better, I believe, than the above QB potpourri.
A lot has been said about what went wrong. My interpretation: Wentz was bull-headed and harder to coach as a battered sixth-year QB than he was in his great 2017 pre-injury season. He too often took his first read over making a complete view of the coverage, then deciding where to throw. A few of his throws—the panicky pick-six out of the end zone in the huge game against Tennessee, the poor-judgment pick in Jacksonville that doomed the Colts in the win-and-in-the-playoffs regular-season finale—were incomprehensible.
One of the very worst things I've seen a QB do.
Carson Wentz lost his mind.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 31, 2021
But imagine how shocked Wentz must have been to hear he was getting whacked by his sponsor, Reich, after just one year. That had to be the humbling event of his life.
Indy, obviously, was lucky to find a team, Washington, to hand over two third-round picks (one which will become a second if Wentz plays 70 percent of the snaps this year) and take on the full $28-million compensation this year. Very lucky. But I think I side with Mike Florio here on his Washington prospects. Wentz basically has been kicked out of the family now. His family was Philadelphia, and one of his champions there, Reich, moved on to be the Colts’ coach. So now he’s kicked out of the house. Find your own way. Now he moves to a team without a godfather, with a soothing head coach, Ron Rivera, and patient offensive coordinator, Scott Turner. But this is it for Wentz. If he’s not better over the next two years, his next stop will be Backupland. And for a guy who was a month away from a possible MVP just five years ago, that’s a steep fall. I expect he’s smart enough to figure it out, and Washington will be the beneficiary of a player who should be scared straight.
More boldface names in the news
Khalil Mack. For three years and $63.9 million and a second-round pick, the Chargers are gambling that the 31-year-old speed player, coming off foot surgery, will be the bookend rusher for Joey Bosa the defense has lacked. The Chargers wanted him for another reason: He’s the kind of alpha male and demanding teammate coach Brandon Staley wanted to add.
The Bengals. Joe Burrow was sacked a league-high 70 times in 21 games, including playoffs, which I’m sure comes as a shock to all of you. Starting Cincinnati linemen rated among the top 20 at their position by PFF: zero. Cincinnati has the sixth-most cap space entering the market opening ($34.6 million), and there is no doubt they’ll be laser-focused on the five men up front.
Maxx Crosby. Great story. On the two-year anniversary of his sobriety, and after a season with a league-high 101 quarterback pressures/sacks, Crosby agreed to a four-year, $95-million deal to lead the Raiders’ defensive front under new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. At 24, the energetic Crosby has a great future.
Amari Cooper. Six months ago, Cleveland’s 1-2 at receivers were Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Now: Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones (I guess). The Browns will pay Cooper $20 million a year for the next three years (assuming he is kept) and need him to hit the ground running for Cleveland to be an AFC North contender this fall.
Jarvis Landry. There is no better fit of player to team in the next week than the Cleveland wide receiver to New England. It would take Landry 15 minutes to become one of Bill Belichick’s favorites of recent years. Not sure if Landry will be cut by the Browns or if they can get a low pick for him in trade, but his gritty and no-BS style on and off the field fits the Pats perfectly.
“It seems like a bit much … On the one hand, you have the league encouraging everybody to gamble, and yet here is Calvin Ridley is suspended for an entire season.”
—Troy Aikman, to TMZ, via Pro Football Talk, on the one-year suspension of Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley for gambling on NFL games involving his team.
“I am going to continue to keep pushing forward and building my name back to where it was before if not better.”
—Deshaun Watson, after a Harris County (Texas) grand jury refused to indict him on criminal charges connected with 22 women who accused him of sexual misconduct.
“I’m not worried about it. The opportunity will come.”
—Marcus Mariota, to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, on the prospect of getting a chance in free-agency this spring to be an NFL starter in 2022.
The oldest arch-rivals in football, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, have been playing each other for 99 years, since 1923. The Bears and Packers thus have played a century worth of big games.
But it’s been much less of a competitive rivalry in the last 30 seasons.
Prior to 1992, the Bears led the rivalry in wins, 79-56, with six ties.
Since 1992, the Packers are 46-15 versus the Bears.
It’s a quarterback thing. When Aaron Rodgers announced last week that he was returning to play for Green Bay in 2022, it had to make Bears fans sick. The merry-go-round at quarterback has been unending for the Bears. The stability at quarterback has been unending for the Packers.
In the 30 football seasons since 1992, the following quarterbacks have started at least five games in any season for the Green Bay Packers:
Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley
In the 30 football seasons since 1992, the following quarterbacks have started at least five games in any season for the Chicago Bears:
Jim Harbaugh, Steve Walsh, Erik Kramer, Dave Krieg, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Kordell Stewart, Chris Chandler, Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Foles, Justin Fields, Andy Dalton
Twenty-one of them. Including Craig Krenzel.
So the Packers had stability at quarterback in 29 of the last 30 years. The Bears had stability (but not greatness) at quarterback for seven years with Jay Cutler and practically never otherwise. So you don’t have to overthink the radical change in the Green Bay-Chicago rivalry, and now you might not have to overthink it for a few more years.
Think of it this way: Say you were born into a family of Packers’ fans in 1985 in Oshkosh. You started understanding football and following it pretty closely at age 7. You’re 37 years old now, and every year you’ve rooted for the Packers they’ve had a Hall of Fame quarterback playing for them.
That’s … rare.
First visit of Peyton Manning to the Denver team facility prior to the Broncos acquiring him as a free agent in 2012: March 9, 2012.
First visit of Russell Wilson to the Denver team facility prior to the Broncos acquiring him in a trade in 2022: March 8, 2022.
The Broncos were looking for a long-term solution at quarterback even after signing Peyton Manning on March 20, 2012. One of Denver’s 30 pre-draft visits with prospective draft picks in April 2012 was with Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, who had a closed-door meeting with Denver’s GM, John Elway.
The Broncos hosted Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler before the draft, too, then picked him with the 57th overall choice in the draft. The next quarterback picked in the 2012 draft: Wilson, 75th overall, by Seattle.
I live a nine-minute walk from the front door of Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Last week, I saw that the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament was there, and that Duke was playing the noon Thursday game. The fact the foe was Syracuse made it more interesting to me. That’s New York’s ACC home team, basically, so that added a bit to the allure: K versus Boeheim. So I went on StubHub, bought a ticket Thursday morning and, at 11:40 a.m., walked up the street to the arena. I bought a 20-ounce Aquafina for $7.63 (hey, it was really delicious water). I was in my seat at 12:01.
I forgot how much fun a competitive college basketball game is, in person. Syracuse was up by six with 15 minutes to go, and Jimmy Boeheim was out of his mind hitting threes, and the crowd was really into it. Duke prevailed, and Mike Krzykewski had his 1,197th career win.
Fun to play three hours of hooky on a Thursday afternoon.
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) March 13, 2022
— Sara Abbott (@sarakate_sports) March 14, 2022
Sara Abbott is the niece of Bucs GM Jason Licht.
— Tristan Wirfs (@TristanWirfs78) March 14, 2022
Wirfs is the right tackle for the Bucs.
At age 44, Tom Brady has spent fewer days in retirement (40) than he has playing NFL playoff games (47).
— Andrew Callahan (@_AndrewCallahan) March 14, 2022
Callahan writes about the NFL for the Boston Herald.
Welp, maybe we will see you in 2030? https://t.co/BbFFEA1kJI
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) March 13, 2022
On Calvin Ridley. From Adam Riescher: “I am disgusted and put off by the suspension of Calvin Ridley: ONE YEAR for betting $1,500 while away from the team. Heck, Ray Rice originally got 2 games [for domestic violence] … The NFL finds gambling on games by players more egregious than violence towards women by players.”
Adam, lots of readers and fans feel the same as you do. There was no defending the short domestic-abuse suspensions that many players have received, led by Rice. But in this case, I don’t have a problem with banning a player for a year for betting on games, particularly involving his own team. With sports gambling becoming as prevalent in the country as it has, the public has to trust that the product it’s seeing on the field is on the level. And if players start betting on games, there are too many ways for that to have a chance to make people doubt the outcome of games.
Not a bad idea. From Jeff Schindler, of Manalapan, N.J.: “Why have OT at all in the regular season? The fact that the season is now (a ridiculous) 17 games, and with so much spotlight on blows to the head, why not minimize the regular season somehow? Why does it benefit any team to have OT in the regular season? What’s wrong with ties? The only place I see overtime having any impact at all is in the playoffs, where you NEED a winner. We can haggle over the merits of a coin toss having so much impact later.”
Well, I think we ought to haggle over playoff overtime now, to avoid any of the 13 playoff games next January from being one-possession games dictated by the flip of a coin. But your idea is solid. I like it.
Once a year, I am allowed to be clever. From George T. McNeill, of The Villages, Fla.: From the most recent FMIA column, you wrote, Will-Rodgers-or-won’t-he. I really enjoy stumbling across the Easter Eggs you occasionally hide in your columns.”
Thank you, George. A couple times in my column I have written “Will” and “Rodgers” together and no one noticed. Leave it to you, one of my most dedicated readers, to find it this time.
I didn’t know. From R.C. Bauer: “With the bombshell trade of Russell Wilson to the Broncos, did any of your sources mention it was in the works? In today’s media age, for the Broncos and Seahawks to keep this under wraps is almost as big of a bombshell as the trade. Were you aware of the trade possibility by off-the-record discussions?”
No, R.C. I am sorry to say I knew nothing about it till the day before it happened, when I heard of a Sunday dinner at the scouting combine (two days before the trade happened) during which the trade was openly discussed. Now, I had no idea at the time that the dinner discussion was anything other than gossip. But when the deal happened, I called one of the people at the table that evening and found out the basis of the discussion centered around someone seeing Seattle GM John Schneider and Denver GM George Paton have two long discussions at the Senior Bowl in Alabama in January. After the deal happened, I did find out that those discussions were real—and they weren’t the first ones the two GMs had. But mostly, like everyone else, I was taken aback by the trade. Not that it happened, because each team had major motivation to do so, but by the fact that it was kept under wraps.
1. I think one of my takeaways from the NFL Scouting Combine—and I just didn’t write about it in last week’s packed column—was how impressed I was with Chicago GM Ryan Poles. His first NFL job was as a scout for then-Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, whose background is in the traditional roster-building way of scout-and-draft-and-develop. But just as Pioli began to study the ways of other sports like baseball, so too has Poles. Last summer, as KC’s assistant director of player personnel, Poles connected with the Yankees director of baseball operations, Matt Ferry, and spent time with him in the Bronx. “Five hours soaking in everything there,” Poles told me. “I learned a ton.” In the first five minutes of our discussion, Poles used the word “curious” twice. As in: “The immense amount of data and new research we have now is a game-changer. You have to stay curious for new ideas. You have to want to bring people into your building who are different, who think different. But there’s still an old-school piece. You have to have a foundation. I always will.”
2. I think my first reaction upon seeing the Giants were interested in signing Mitchell Trubisky was: Bad idea. Very bad idea. Nothing against Trubisky, who would be a decent risk to take for a team in need of either quarterback insurance or a legit candidate to compete for a starting job in a weak quarterback market this offseason. But Daniel Jones needs organizational belief that he’s the man, not a guy who would be breathing down his neck. Then I thought of a few factors:
• Jones has started 12, 14 and 11 games in his three years as a Giant. The Giants’ season ended last year when Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm had to play. New York has to be better at the backup QB spot. Trubisky is better.
• I have heard coach Brian Daboll and GM Joe Schoen are committed to giving Jones a fair shot to win the long-term job, and it’s not just lip service. If that’s the case, surely they’ve told Jones they’ve got to find a better backup this year than Jones had last year … and that Trubisky is not being brought in to challenge him as the starter. Assuming those things are true, the only danger is the risk to Jones’ psyche. He better be able to take that.
• If someone (Steelers, Saints, Seahawks) offers Trubisky lowball starting money—two years, $25 million plus incentives, say—the Giants need to let him go. He should be a candidate only if he’d take legit backup money. Say, two years, $15 million. The second year is important because if Jones doesn’t play well enough this year and the Giants need a veteran to play alongside a draftee in 2023, they have the option for Trubisky to start next year.
• This was the overriding thought that made me change my mind that it’s not a bad idea to import Trubisky: Schoen’s biggest job is to backstop a questionable position on the roster that happens to be the most important position in the game. The way to do that is to get a solid backup for 2022 who can be a bridge quarterback and maybe a long-term one beginning in 2023. At the end of the 2023 season, the Giants need to have their quarterback of the future. It will either be Jones or a 2023 draftee, or, if he signs, Trubisky. In that way, I think it’s good to import the second pick of the 2017 draft who’s going to get a second chance somewhere, and soon.
• If Trubisky does sign with the Giants (and he likely won’t if he has a better chance to play somewhere else in 2022), it’s a good sign for Daboll the coach, that one of the best backups on the market is going to a team that expects him to sit in 2022.
3. I think the $18.2-million cap hit this year for Ezekiel Elliott is proof it’s rarely if ever good business to do a second contract with a “franchise” running back. The vast majority just don’t pan out as being anywhere near worth the money.
4. I think this is the proof: In the last two years, Elliott has played 33 games and rushed for 2,012 yards. Was that worth $29.4 million in cash over those two years, and $12.4-million guaranteed in cash this year? With Tony Pollard as valuable or more than Elliott in 2022?
5. I think the three trades last week turned out to be a very good thing for Howard Katz and the NFL scheduling department as they make out their 272-game regular-season schedule over the next two months. To wit:
• Seattle traded Russell Wilson to Denver. Denver plays at Seattle this fall. Formerly, that game would have been a regional space-filler on CBS. Now, Wilson’s return to Seattle will be a good candidate for an NBC or ESPN Sunday or Monday prime-time game, or a top CBS national doubleheader window.
• Indianapolis traded Carson Wentz, formerly of the Eagles, to Washington. Two meh games now become valuable TV properties: Washington at Indianapolis, Washington at Philadelphia.
• The Bears traded Khalil Mack, once the pride of the Raiders, to the Chargers. Now, this won’t generate the buzz of the other two deals, but the attractiveness of the two Raiders-Chargers games just went up a notch with Mack battling his drafting team in two AFC West games this year.
6. I think kudos are in order for Browns center J.C. Tretter, who was re-elected as NFLPA president for a second term last week. I like Tretter’s common-sense approach to the job, and his dedication to it, and his work to be sure he serves all players, not just a few factions.
7. I think the best marriage of an overpaid player and needy team, entering what will be a week of dizzying activity of players changing teams, is wideout Christian Kirk with the New York Jets. They’ve got cap money. He’s got the ability to be the target Zach Wilson craves after a 77-catch season in Arizona. And Kirk is only 25.
8. I think it’s hard to judge the winner of the 2018 trade of Khalil Mack to the Bears, now that Mack has been traded to the Chargers. I wrote about it my column last November, and to break it down with finality: The Raiders traded Mack, then 27, after his fourth NFL season, plus second-round and seventh-round picks, to Chicago for two first-round picks, a third-rounder and a sixth-rounder.
Chicago paid Mack $90.1 million in his four seasons as a Bear … Chicago went 34-33 in those four years and won zero playoff games … In his 55 games in Chicago, Mack had 36 sacks, made one first-team all-pro team (2018) and was second in defensive player of the year voting in 2018 … The second-round pick, tight end Cole Kmet, has been a serviceable NFL starter.
The Raiders made the trade because, as coach Jon Gruden said at the time, you can’t pay two players franchise money, and they already were paying Derek Carr franchise money. That’s a dubious, and incorrect, assertion by Gruden. The Rams just won the Super Bowl while paying three players (Jalen Ramsey, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald) franchise-player money … One of the first-round picks has become a good NFL back, Josh Jacobs. The other, cornerback Damon Arnette, was released after a video surfaced last November appearing to show him with a gun threatening to kill someone … The third-round pick, Bryan Edwards, has been a marginal receiver … With the cap money they saved by not paying Mack, the Raiders signed a slew of forgettable players: Trent Brown, Antonio Brown, Lamarcus Joyner, Tyrell Williams … For all the hoo-hah of the trade, the Raiders are left with one contributing player, Jacobs.
I am reminded of how one writer described a baseball trade (I forget which one) a long time ago: a trade that hurt both teams. I’m stealing that for the 2018 deal between the Raiders and Bears.
9. I think the best news for the Rams in free agency is this: If a team wants to pay Joe Noteboom $12 million or so to be a starting tackle, Los Angeles has faith in last year’s undrafted free-agent find Alaric Jackson to give him a legit shot at winning the left tackle job in training camp. That’s assuming, as expected, that Andrew Whitworth, 40, retires this spring.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Cartoon of the Week: Dan Martin in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with the right tone in today’s world (H/T to Ben Frederickson for pointing it out).
b. Story of the Week: Leila Fadel, reporting from inside Ukraine, with a heart-tugging story on a funeral of a citizen who died fighting for his country, with descendants and friends who chose not to evacuate, mourning emotionally.
c. I have so much respect for journalists like Fadel, who know the risks of reporting from inside Ukraine and who are driven to do it anyway. The world needs to know, and brave professional such as Fadel are providing an invaluable service from places like churches and cemeteries. Reports Fadel:
FADEL: Across Ukraine, fallen soldiers are beginning to come home. Here in Lviv, at a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, hundreds gathered to receive the bodies of two men killed on the front lines in Russia’s war on Ukraine. Outside the church, six soldiers lift one ornate, wooden coffin onto their shoulders. They carry Viktor Dudar, a journalist turned soldier. He was 44. [Another coffin, with another soldier, follows.]
… UNIDENTIFIED PRIEST #1: (Singing in non-English language).
FADEL: Holy God, Holy Mighty, a priest sings – Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. The mourners look on, flowers in their hands.
… FADEL: After eight years of war, he says, they will join the army in heaven. Even there, those killed will continue to fight for their homeland. On each side of the coffins, the families of the men listen stoically, making the sign of the cross in unison with the hundreds who came to mourn with them.
(SOUNDBITE OF CENSER JINGLING)
FADEL: One of the priests swings the censer above the two coffins, praying for their salvation. The smoke billows, infusing the air with the sweet smell of frankincense … Everyone follows the pallbearers out into the street …
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FADEL: … Where two vans are waiting to take the caskets to the cemetery. The procession continues at Lviv’s historic cemetery, past the sculptures adorning the graves of Ukrainian cultural and political icons, down to a section where Ukrainian forces killed in conflict with Russia are buried. It continues to the two plots where the men will be laid to rest.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
FADEL: Soldiers deliver a 21-gun salute as the bodies are lowered into the ground. Relatives wail.
FADEL: A woman cries out to God. Another sobs, “My child.”
d. Talk about bringing the war home to the world. Excellent by Fadel, and emotional.
e. Football Story of the Week: Steve Buckley of The Athletic, on the life and death of Tom Brady’s rookie-year roommate, Chris Eitzmann.
f. For so many, when the game ends and real life begins, they’re not the same. Eitzmann was found dead in a Boston apartment, alcoholism the suspected cause, last December.
g. Buckley wrote about Eitzmann’s relationship with Brady after both came to the Patriots as rookies in 2000, and then about the funeral 22 years later:
“We hit it off pretty well right off the bat, from a friendship standpoint, and on the field, I think that’s really where it developed,” Eitzmann told NBC Sports Boston of his relationship with Brady. “We both had similar work ethics. I always wanted to stay after and just run some extra routes.
“I’d run routes, he’d throw and we’d basically go until I couldn’t go anymore. He’d always want to keep going longer, but I’m like, at some point my legs are dying and I can’t do this.” …
(And then, after Eitzmann’s funeral, and after the luncheon for those who came to Nebraska for it, ex-teammates Ryan Nugent and Matt Chatham reminisced.)
After the luncheon, Nugent and Chatham got back into the rental car to drive to Omaha, traveling along the same Nebraska plains that had been the starting point on Eitzmann’s journey from Chester-Hubbell-Byron High to Harvard and the NFL. Yes, there were more fun stories from those days back in 2000 with Eitzmann, with Brady, with all the rest.
Good times. And yet …
“The whole ride, and even over dinner in Omaha,” said Nugent, “we’re saying, ‘What happened to our buddy?’ “
h. Terrific, painful story by Buckley about a man we didn’t know—and about what football does to many.
i. TV News Story of the Week: BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos on one of the great discoveries of our time—a 107-year-old shipwreck found in Antarctica with the ship in incredible shape.
j. Human beings are amazing. First, finding exactly where the ship was, and then getting down to it in some of the coldest waters on the planet.
k. Reported Amos of Endurance, found at the bottom of the sea on the bottom of the planet:
Even though it has been sitting in 3km (10,000ft) of water for over a century, it looks just like it did on the November day it went down.
Its timbers, although disrupted, are still very much together, and the name—Endurance—is clearly visible on the stern.
“Without any exaggeration this is the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen, by far,” said marine archaeologist Mensun Bound, who is on the discovery expedition and has now fulfilled a dream ambition in his near 50-year career.
“It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation,” he told BBC News.
l. Remembrance of the Week: Notorious B.I.G. has been dead for 25 years, and NPR’s Jasmine Garsd fondly remembers the big man, and his meaning in Brooklyn. From the story:
GARSD: He’s widely associated with gangsta rap, but he stood out for also being unusually vulnerable, for weaving tales of sadness, violence, love, sex and comedy into an enthralling narrative. Syreeta Gates is an archivist who focuses on hip-hop.
SYREETA GATES: You could create a direct connection between, like, a John Coltrane and a Biggie Smalls. Like, forever, Black music has been really intentional around the storytelling, like, creating these narratives, whether it’s stuff that we live or stuff that we happen to experience.
GARSD: Which is why what happened in 1997, the murder of Biggie Smalls in Los Angeles, devastated his community. Twenty-five years later, Biggie is still everywhere. There are murals of him throughout the neighborhood. One of the largest ones is here, on Quincy Street and Bedford Avenue. Tourists still stop by to take pictures.
m. Ridiculously Overused Cliché of the Week That Turns Me Into Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino: punching a ticket, or punched their ticket, to the NCAA Tournament.
n. While working late the other night and listening to the national ESPN Radio show, with reports and highlights from all the conference tournaments, I counted how many times the game broadcast or studio hosts said some team just “punched their ticket” to either the finals of a conference tourney or to the NCAA tournament.
p. Two said, “punched their ticket to the big dance!” That’s another one. “Big dance.” To punch one’s ticket means, literally, to punch a hole in a train or bus ticket, to show a person has paid the fare to ride this means of conveyance. I have no idea how this came to be the cliché meant to symbolize a basketball team’s advancement in a tournament.
q. And while you’re at it, get off my lawn.
r. Well, baseball’s back. That’s a good thing. I think I’m one of 16 people in the United States who hates the universal DH. I love the strategy of the pitcher hitting, no matter how incompetent many of them are. I’ve always thought the pitcher’s spot in the batting order was a fun mental part of the game.
s. I realize money matters, but if I were an Atlanta fan, it’d be hard to stomach the thought of the franchise not signing Freddie Freeman. He’s been the heart of the team for a decade. Missed seven games in the last four seasons. Always on base. Just 32. Model player and teammate. Just seems odd that the team is apparently drawing some line after it won the World Series.
t. Get well soon, Jeff Howe. Lots of people rooting for you.
u. This seems scary. Nice poise, Gene Kang.
Soon, more than one team
will say to Deshaun Watson:
“Blank slate here, buddy.”
Football Morning In America is edited by Dominic Bonvissuto