It’s the first Monday in April. You know what that means. In the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of the draft.
That is one bad mauling of a poem. But we’re 24 days before round one, and I have not given you Kiperians any red meat on the biggest moment of the NFL’s offseason calendar.
That changes today.
Before we get to the news of the week—why guaranteed contracts really do matter, Daniel Snyder finally might be nearing the end, why I see Patrick Mahomes opening the Amazon Prime schedule, the reason Adam Schefter stayed at ESPN, the real hidden strategy of the new playoff overtime rule, and why there is a story about urine in the column—I’m going to give you your draft fix for the week.
My take on the top 10 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, and who goes where, with one trade that makes all the sense in the world:
1) Jacksonville Jaguars
Aidan Hutchinson, edge rusher, Michigan
Safest pick at a need position, and the kind of long-term cornerstone the Jaguars are crying out. Put him opposite Josh Allen, sprinkle in the underrated Dawuane Smoot, and all of a sudden the Jags have the kind of pass-rush that’s going to give foes real issues. One other thing: Smoot and Allen have expiring contracts at the end of this year. Young greatness is vital on the edge.
2) Detroit Lions
Travon Walker, edge rusher, Georgia
Walker edges Kayvon Thibodeaux here (gee, I wonder if Thibodeaux will be ticked off), in part because of versatility. At 275, Walker will be a lightish 3-technique defensive tackle on occasion, but more likely a strong two-way defensive end with good run-stuffing ability. If it is Thibodeaux, then potential and pass-rush wins. If it’s Walker, it’s best all-around player/worker bee in the Dan Campbell mold.
3) Houston Texans
Evan Neal, OL, Alabama
Second straight team that wouldn’t surprise me taking Thibodeaux because of the promise. But when I think of GM Nick Caserio, I think of long-term program-builder, and I think “Saban dude.” As a disciple of Bill Belichick, Caserio learned to trust Belichick’s best pal in coaching, Nick Saban, and Saban is all-in on this versatile long-term lineman. Neal can start at right tackle if need be and play four spots on the line, and is a near-lock to earn a second contract from the Texans.
4) New York Jets
Sauce Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
I hear the Jets, like many teams, are leery of the best cornerback talent in this draft, LSU’s Derek Stingley, who had a super-weird career in the SEC. Gardner’s a fascinating prospect. In 33 college games, he didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage. “I don’t plan to allow one in the NFL either,” he said at the combine. At 6-2 and 188 pounds (likely to be able to play at 195 or so), Gardner is the kind of big corner teams lust for.
5) New York Giants
Ikem Ekwonu, T, North Carolina State
The legend is true: Accepted at Harvard and Yale, chose to go to the better football school. One of the brightest players to enter the draft in years, the athletic Ekwonu would be the kind of perfect piece to continue a crucial Giants’ rebuild on the line. A tandem of Andrew Thomas and Ekwonu at left and right tackle—if Thomas continues his progress (two sacks alowed in 800 snaps in 2021)—could give Daniel Jones a real chance to show he deserves the Giants’ QB job.
6) Carolina Panthers
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
When Matt Rhule was the Temple head coach in the spring of 2016, he sealed the deal with top QB recruit Kenny Pickett from south Jersey. When Rhule took the Baylor job, Pickett de-committed and went to Pitt … and made the most of his opportunity there. You just get the sense the Panthers aren’t sold on Sam Darnold and are desperate for an upgrade. Drafting Pickett (2021: 67-percent passer, 42 TDs, seven interceptions) is no sure thing, at all. But the Panthers are still searching at quarterback, and Pickett would give them hope.
7) Los Angeles Chargers (trade with New York Giants)
Charles Cross, T, Mississippi
Chargers deal the 17th pick in this draft, plus 2023 first- and sixth-round picks, for this choice. Wild guess on my part. Giants don’t want to make this pick—they want an extra first-rounder in 2023 in case they need ammo to go get a quarterback, or simply for depth in a draft likely to be stronger in the first round. The Chargers want a long-term starter opposite young Rashawn Slater. Works for both teams—except the Giants certainly would prefer dealing for a worse team’s top pick in 2023. The Chargers’ pick could be in the mid-twenties or lower. The Giants could also try to engage Pittsburgh (20th overall this year) if the Steelers are quarterback-smitten … because Pittsburgh would likely have a better first-round pick in 2023 than the Chargers would.
8) Atlanta Falcons
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Lots to be concerned about here, because Willis needs a redshirt year under a smart QB coach like Arthur Smith, and he needs to be schooled in working his progressions most importantly. But Smith is a patient teacher, and he won’t need to play this year with Marcus Mariota in the saddle for at least 2022. There’s something about Willis’ fit. He’s a local kid from Roswell High (23 minutes from downtown Atlanta), teammates love him, very positive, and he has a big arm. Owner Arthur Blank could view him as a perfect long-term pilot of his franchise. I’m fascinated with the prospect of this.
9) Seattle Seahawks
Derek Stingley, CB, LSU
One of the strangest prospects to come out in years. Was superb as a true frosh in 2019, and had great practice battles with Ja’Marr Chase. But Stingley played only 10 games in the last two years due to ankle, illness and Lisfranc issues, and now teams don’t know what to think of him. But the Seahawks are desperate for corners this spring, and the 6-1 Stingley could be the kind of big and competitive corner Seattle longs for. “He’s got the best feet of any corner I’ve ever seen,” one evaluator says. That could be enough for a corner-needy team like Seattle to take this chance. Note 1: LSU’s Pro Day is Wednesday, and Stingley’s performance there will be very important for his draft stock. Note 2: The Vikings are interested in Stingley too, and they might view a one-year Patrick Peterson mentorship (LSU ties) worthy of trying to trade up for him.
10) New York Jets
Kayvon Thibodeaux, edge rusher, Oregon
Asking around, people told me, Gotta give the Jets a receiver with one of the first-round picks. And they could go Drake London or one of the Ohio State stars here. And they could deal their picks at 35 and/or 38 overall up into the first round to get a wideout too. At some point, I think Robert Saleh might sidle up to GM Joe Douglas and tell him he can find a good wideout (or two) with those two high second-round picks. But the Jets could also strike gold with Thibodeaux, the rusher of a thousand opinions who could go as high as two overall. This is why the draft is so fun, because of arguments on guys like Thibodeaux.
I’ll do my customary mock draft in three weeks, in the column of April 25. What you’ve just read is a combo-platter of what I’m hearing and what I think would be smart. It’s definitely not a prediction of what will happen. This is going to be a fun month and a compelling draft.
1. Bruce Arians left the Bucs at the right time
Four points about Bruce Arians handing the Tampa Bay coaching job to Todd Bowles:
• What’s the biggest issue in the league right now? It’s the one “that hung over the league meetings” last week, per one high-ranking club official, the paucity of minority head coaches and top assistants. As Arians departs, he leaves behind a Super Bowl contender with a coaching staff that has its top six coaching posts filled by Black men—head coach, offensive coordinator, special-teams coordinator, two co-defensive coordinators, assistant head coach. There are six other Black assistants on the Tampa Bay coaching staff, and two full-time female assistant coaches. The NFL, at its owners meetings last week, continued high-level talks to figure out ways to legislate chances for more minority coaches. The NFL ordered every team to have at least one minority coach on the offensive side of the ball. The Bucs have four of them.
• He didn’t leave Todd Bowles in the lurch. He left him with Tom Brady and a Super Bowl roster. “I’d rather leave Todd in possession to be successful and not have to take some [crappy] job.” Arians told me and Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. A back-pat, to be sure. But it’s the result of Arians leaving.
• What really happened at the end of the Arians era? Was he pushed overboard by Tom Brady? We don’t know. All parties deny it, but because associates of Brady said Brady was beginning to chafe at Arians after two seasons with him, a level-jump has been made. The jump: Brady said he’d come back if Arians was gone, and then Arians was gone, and so Brady must have done it. I don’t doubt the friction, and I don’t know if Brady acted on the friction. Anyone got the facts to support it? If so, let’s hear them.
• Let’s talk about great quarterbacks who had major problems with their coaches. Terry Bradshaw hated Chuck Noll. Phil Simms and Bill Parcells had some major battles, one on Monday Night Football in Indianapolis. John Elway chafed at the controlling Dan Reeves. Joe Montana had big issues with Bill Walsh. Mike Holmgren had some with Brett Favre in Green Bay. Troy Aikman thought Barry Switzer was a clown. Russell Wilson butted heads with the Seattle coaches. That’s life in the NFL. Strong-willed people slap each other around sometimes.
I believe, regardless how the end happened, it’s a good thing to acknowledge a retiring head coach who saw coaches for who they are and how well they could coach, and who won 29 games and a Super Bowl with a great quarterback and those coaches over a two-year period, and who left a championship contender in the hands of a Black coach who is—as close as I can tell—universally respected in the sport.
2. The Deshaun Watson guaranteed contract has some owners sweating
Every year, after the Super Bowl, the NFL totals the guaranteed money that each team has on its books. Sometime in March, the teams are told how much money they need to have in escrow to cover the cost of those contracts. In the case of Watson, when the league does its accounting next winter, it will tell the Browns they’ll have to put $184 million (the sum total of the final four years of the contract owed to Watson) in escrow to cover the commitment to Watson. This is done once a year, and because the Watson deal was done after this, Cleveland gets a break in year one … but not for the final four years. So, you ask, why does this matter? Because the next two quarterbacks likely to be in line for mega-deals, Joe Burrow of Cincinnati and Justin Herbert of the Chargers, are employed by owners that have football as the family business. Mike Brown (Bengals) and Dean Spanos (Chargers) don’t have anywhere near the liquidity of teams with money from other businesses behind them; Haslem, for instance, is a truckstop magnate.
The guarantee for Watson stunned GMs and club presidents—I can tell you that. Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ contract is 19-percent guaranteed. Buffalo QB Josh Allen’s is 39-percent guaranteed. It’s likely that when it comes time for Burrow or Herbert to do a new deal (they’re eligible after the 2022 season), the teams will argue that Watson’s deal is a one-off and they can’t do that. But contracts always get piggybacked. Agents and players will certainly try to continue the fully guaranteed trend.
3. Expect the NFL to have two huge Thursday games to start the year
As I’ve written, this is going to be a different season on TV, with the Thursday night move to Amazon Prime. With the season-opener hosted by the Super Bowl Rams on Thursday night in Week 1 (Sept. 8) on NBC, and the Amazon Prime debut slated for Thursday in Week 2 (Sept. 15), I think the NFL wants to make each game a very big one. The Amazon game, in particular, is worth noting, because the NFL wants to be good to a new partner and the NFL wants to show one of the globe’s richest men, Jeff Bezos, that a partnership with the NFL can be lucrative for both parties.
Last week in this space, I projected a Broncos-Rams season-opener at SoFi. I’ll stick with that, though it’s not a certainty by any means. I do feel the Broncos are likely to be on one of the first two Thursday games, because Amazon would love to have the Broncos and Russell Wilson too. One asterisk: Because the ratings for the Dallas-Tampa Bay game were so monstrous last year, it may be that the NFL wants to put a monster game in the opener (Buffalo? San Francisco?) so the ratings drop from Dallas-Tampa won’t be as notable. We’ll see.
Now for the Amazon opener. I’ve heard they want Kansas City and the Patrick Mahomes star power. Smart choice, if they can get it. As for the foe, I’m guessing Denver if the Broncos don’t make the opener, or the rejuvenated and explosive Chargers. Russell Wilson or Justin Herbert. Three times Herbert and Mahomes have faced off, and high-scoring tight games (margins of 3, 6 and 6) have resulted. Traditionally, the Week 2 Thursday-nighter has been a repository of mediocrity. This year, just watch: it will be an homage to Bezos.
4. Adam Schefter stayed at ESPN because it’s comfortable
I assumed Schefter, at some ungodly salary, would go to one of the gambling companies that have invaded sports in the last year. So I was a bit surprised to hear Thursday that Schefter re-upped with ESPN—for a five-year term, he told me over the weekend. He’ll be with the company now till at least mid-2027, when he will be 60.
“The media landscape is shifting fast,” Schefter said. “In the end, I felt more comfortable being in a traditional media world.”
Schefter met with the major players in the gambling space. He wouldn’t discuss money, but it’s clear he could have made more had he chosen to leave ESPN. How much more? Millions, I assume. But four weeks ago today, he made up his mind to stay at ESPN. That’s when he had breakfast at a Connecticut diner with ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro. “Within three minutes of sitting down,” Schefter said, “I thought to myself, I can’t leave this guy. He was likeable, relatable, a regular guy. I felt right then I had clarity. A burden was lifted. I knew I wanted to stay.” Of course the money had to be right, and based on ESPN’s recent Aikman-Buck-Manning-Manning spending spree, Pitaro is going to spend to get what he wants, and he showed now he’ll spend to keep a cornerstone player to his valuable NFL coverage like Schefter.
ESPN is changing in a few ways under Pitaro. He wanted a starrier, more permanent Monday night booth, and so he paid a reported $33 million a year for Buck and Aikman and sizably for Peyton and Eli Manning to do the quirky Manningcast. Pitaro allowed Kirk Herbstreit to work NFL Thursday night games on the side for Amazon Prime; I doubt that would have happened pre-Pitaro.
5. There’s a fascinating hidden stratagem to the next overtime rule
You know the owners voted 29-3 for a new playoff overtime system; now each team will get the chance to possess the ball, and if it’s tied at the end of the second possession, the game becomes sudden death.
First reaction for most people: Look for teams to want the ball second—allowing them to know what they need to do to either win the game or tie it to continue it into a third possession.
There’s one more bit of strategy, as pointed out by former Saints coach Sean Payton. He said if wind or weather was a factor in a playoff game, he’d choose to defend a goal (take the wind, in other words). So that’s one more thing to think about. “Even if it’s not much wind,” Payton said, “I want that 8 mph breeze at my back—because I know I’m going to get at least one possession.”
I checked with Competition Committee chair Rich McKay, who double-checked with Walt Anderson of the league’s officiating department. Anderson said yes, the winner of the overtime toss in the playoffs can choose to receive or kick off, or could choose the choice of goal to defend. The coin-toss winner can only pick one of those three options. So choosing to defend a goal means the coin-toss loser will have the option to receive or kick off.
One other thing a smart GM told me over the weekend: “In a game with two great quarterbacks, I think a coach might want the ball first. That means if each team scores a touchdown and the extra point on the first two possessions [of overtime], the first team can win the game with just a field goal on the third possession.” It’s an interesting conundrum, potentially. The bottom line is this new rule is not as simple to divine as it appeared when it got passed in Florida the other day.
6. The Bobby Wagner signing is very smart
I love the signing for the Rams and for Wagner, who will have a couple of years to try to win a second Super Bowl and to burnish his already legit Hall of Fame case. A few things on this deal:
• Wagner goes to the Rams on a five-year, $50 million deal. But he’s a 32-year-old linebacker entering his 11th season, so expect the guaranteed money to be in the first two years.
• Wagner is not on the decline, which was significant to the Rams; he was PFF’s second- and 11th-rated linebacker in the last two seasons.
• The Rams have an inside ‘backer they love in second-year man Ernest Jones, and really didn’t have a big need for the Seattle vet. That helped them land Wagner because he knew (he acted as his own agent) he had to drive a hard but not overwhelming bargain.
• He gets to play the Seahawks twice a year. I would imagine that would motivate any borderline Hall of Famer, the chance to play against the team that let you walk out the door.
• The cap-poor Rams would never have engaged Wagner if they’d been able to sign Von Miller. But the Bills made Von Miller, 33, a surprisingly rich man, and so the Rams has some money left in couch cushions to procure Wagner.
7. The NFL has to stay vigilant on new minority offensive coach hires
Eight weeks ago, in this column, I wrote:
“I’d recommend this rule: Every team would be required, starting with the 2022 regular season, to have a full-time minority coach who would touch the quarterback and passing game every day. Not a quality-control coach, but rather an assistant quarterbacks coach, or with some such title. This coach would work alongside the coordinator, quarterback coach and quarterbacks in the granular world of teaching/coaching the most important position on the field—and increase the pool owners are so desperate to choose from right now.”
At the league meetings, the NFL voted to do exactly that, mandating that teams without a minority or female coach on the offensive side of the ball hire one. Paying for said coach will come from a fund provided by the league. (Not crazy about that. Oh, you’re the coach the league paid to get sent here. But that can be addressed in the future.) My point about this is simple. This added coach cannot be just a box that is checked. This coach has to get real responsibility on offense, preferably touching the quarterback every day. So many of those coaches get into the coordinator and head-coach pipeline and advance in the system to get head-coaching jobs. If the NFL is serious about this—and it must, must, must be—they need to have some sort of compliance officer checking with each team throughout the season, making sure the added coach is not doing gofer work but real work to learn how to get to the next level.
8. The bad news keeps coming out of Washington
If there’s meat on the bone to the latest charge against Washington owner Daniel Snyder, the NFL might finally have the sort of poison pill that would force Snyder to sell the team. On Saturday night, A.J. Perez of Front Office Sports reported that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which is investigating allegations of sexual and financial misdeeds in the Washington front office, has been informed by one source that the team did not give the full share of ticket revenue to visiting teams, as required by NFL bylaws. In the NFL, 40 percent of all ticket revenue is kicked into a league pool of revenue, and every team gets one-32nd of the pie each year. If the Washington franchise didn’t give the full 40 percent, that would be the kind of offense that, per Pro Football Talk, could be a “death knell” for Snyder’s ownership.
It’s curious that a) the NFL has continued to defend Snyder and allowed him to hold onto his franchise, which is the biggest sinking ship in the NFL by far, and b) Snyder would want to continue to be the most hated man inside or outside the Beltway, taking gut punch after gut punch as his once-proud franchise bleeds so much money and fandom. But if the Perez story is true, it would be a way out for the NFL, and allow the league to get an owner into Washington who would restore its legitimacy.
9. The Matt Ryan-Falcons divorce needed to happen
Falcons owner Arthur Blank told the Atlanta media (and me, later) that he hadn’t made the final call on whether the Falcons would have traded for Deshaun Watson—had Watson told the Falcons they were his first-choice team. For a team that investigated Watson and then spent 75 minutes with him and then made the Texans an offer for him that GM Nick Caserio found acceptable, let’s just say I find it questionable if Watson wanted to come they might have said no.
Blank said wonderful things to me about Matt Ryan, and I believe he truly loves the guy. But the contract and cap number were onerous, and after one more year (this one) of a heavy ($40.5 million) number, they’ll be clean next year. Cap problems have cost the Falcons three players of good value in recent classes: linebackers Foyesade Oluokun (now a Jaguar) and De’Vondre Campbell (Packers) and center Alex Mack (49ers).
“Getting out from under this tremendous burden is going to be big for our team,” Blank told me. “It’s really hard to build a complete team when the quarterback is making 25, 20 percent of our cap. Next year, as of now, we could be $110 million under the cap, and we’ll be able to operate aggressively [in free agency] if that’s what we choose to do.”
It’s always easy to say, Just push money into the future on the cap. But when the cap goes down or is relatively stagnant, as happened in Covid times with league and team revenue reduced, big contracts eventually come due. Ryan going to the Colts was good for the Falcons, good for Ryan (who needed a fresh start) and potentially season-changing for the Colts.
10. John McClain, Texas original, rides off into the sunset
McClain, a sportswriter in Waco and Houston for the last 51 years, retired Thursday. No sportswriter I’ve known sounds like Texas the way this longtime chronicler (mostly for the Houston Chronicle) of pro football sounds—deep Texas drawl, nearly all the time sounding hoarse, and sounding very, very important. This is the kind of reporter the 70-year-old McClain was: He once was certain the Texans were in talks with Butch Davis to become their head coach in 2006, and he thought Davis was in owner Bob McNair’s home. McClain had been in the home and figured the interview would be happening in McNair’s study, and when he approached the house, he saw a crew of yard caretakers grooming the grounds. McClain grabbed a rake from their truck and started raking in the direction of the study … and drat! He couldn’t spot Davis or McNair. But the owner was so impressed with the doggedness that he gave McClain the scoop when Gary Kubiak got the job.
McClain had a nose for news. And stories. I called him Friday and asked for one.
“Well, I once pissed off Sammy Baugh’s porch,” he said, sounding more Texas than the state itself. “I’m pretty sure no other sportswriter’s ever done that.”
“In 1998, Sammy Baugh was the last surviving member of the first Hall of Fame Class in 1963. He was 84. Lived on a ranch in west Texas, outside a town called Rotan, Texas. A friend of mine named Cowboy Bill Lamza knew Sammy and I asked if he could set up an interview for me with Sammy. We flew to Lubbock and drove to Sammy’s ranch. Sammy was great. Told great stories about football in the thirties and forties. Talked about his minor-league baseball life—he played minor-league ball with guys who’d become the Gashouse Gang with the Cardinals.
“I get great stuff from him. Five hours of tape. We go to leave, and Sammy, a great host, gives us peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the road. And I ask him, ‘Why’d you choose to live way out here?’ And he says he loves living way out in the country. He says, ‘Anytime I want to take a piss, I can come out here and take it right off my porch.’ And he says, ‘I gotta take one now. You wanna join me?’
“Well, of course I did. So I did, and now I can say I got to take a piss with one of the greatest players of all time, right off his porch.”
“Hey,” he drawled, “you got time to hear one more?”
Got all day, John. McClainians will still get to hear that voice. He’ll continue to do 10 weekly radio talk shows in six states. Call him up. Ask him for a story.
“Part of me was excited to coach Blaine Gabbert as the quarterback and prove to everybody, ‘Kiss my ass. He’s good.’ You know?”
—Bruce Arians, to me and Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, on a temptation he had before stepping aside as coach of the Bucs. He said he wouldn’t have retired if Tom Brady did not come back.
“I can help make you a better team. I can help you win games … I’d love to come in for a workout. I’d love to sit down with you and have that conversation about how I can help make you a better team.”
—Colin Kaepernick, the honorary captain at the Michigan spring game Saturday, asked by Detroit TV reporter Jeanna Trotman what message he has for NFL teams.
Kaepernick, 34, said he was “just looking for an opportunity, for a door to open.” He last played an NFL game five years and three months ago.
“I don’t think people understand [the impact] of Andrew Luck stepping away. I’d like to see how any other franchise could possibly survive a generational talent at 29 years old who walks away in the middle of preseason. Just gone.”
—Colts owner Jimmy Irsay, on the team’s five starting quarterbacks in the last five seasons (including 2022).
“Not everything is a storybook ending.”
—Colts coach Frank Reich, on the way the 2021 season ended—with his hand-picked quarterback, Carson Wentz, playing poor football and Indy missing the playoffs by losing at Jacksonville.
—Miami coach Mike McDaniel, on reports that Tom Brady might be traded to the Dolphins.
“Can we get this guy the hell out of this league?”
—Rams coach Sean McVay, on Tom Brady.
“I’m so lucky. Such a lucky guy.”
—Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, weepy, in a really good feature story on CBS before the two Final Four games Saturday.
The last of Chuck Noll’s 209 NFL coaching wins came in 1991, when he was 59 years, 351 days old.
The first of Bruce Arians’ 95 NFL coaching victories came in 2012, when he was 60 years, 4 days old.
(Now, Arians is credited in NFL statistical history with only 86 regular-season and playoff victories. But this is a lie. The NFL ruled that Arians’ 9-3 record as interim coach of the Colts in 2012—when head coach Chuck Pagano was on a leave of absence, being treated for leukemia—goes on Pagano’s record. The only problem is, we watched those games. Arians was on the sidelines, making the decisions and coaching the team. He was the head coach for 12 games. He won the NFL Coach of the Year that season. His job as head coach of the Colts for 12 games got him the Arizona Cardinals head-coaching job in 2013, which eventually led to him getting the Bucs’ head-coaching job in 2019, which resulted in him being the Super Bowl-winning coach in the 2020 season in Tampa. So no more nonsense, please, about the nine wins in 2012 when Bruce Arians coached the Colts not belonging to Bruce Arians.)
Many of you know that Drew Bledsoe is a vintner now, with three labels under his Bledsoe Wine Estates mini-empire. Recently, he and his winemaker, Josh McDaniels (ironically enough), were bottling a new Pinot Noir at their Walla Walla, Wash., vineyard and they had quite a surplus of the new concoction left over. I called Bledsoe to ask about the name.
When they tasted the extra Pinot, they both loved it. Why waste it, Bledsoe thought; it’s really good. “Let’s bottle it,” Bledsoe said. “Let’s f—ing go!”
Bledsoe-McDaniels LFG Pinot Noir was born. On sale now. Why do I get the feeling that some folks in the six-state New England region might try to find a bottle?
Grant Wahl Note of the Week:
Manchester City will play Bayern Munich at Lambeau Field on July 23.
In his farewell column after a 51-year Texas journalism career, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle thanked 144 people for their help in his sportswriting life.
First UNC-Duke basketball game: Jan. 24, 1920.
First Packers-Chicago Bears football game: Oct. 14, 1923.
OT rules will change guaranteed if @Chiefs score TD on this 1st drive.
— Sean Payton (@SeanPayton) January 30, 2022
The Saints coach tweeted as Cincinnati and KC went to overtime in the AFC title game Jan. 30.
Turns out this game was an outlier in OT coin-flip winners winning the game—KC got the ball first but the Bengals intercepted Patrick Mahomes on the first series, and went on to kick a field goal to win on the next possession. It’s the previous week that had the big impact, as it turned out. The Bills lost the OT coin toss and Mahomes drove the length of the field on the first possession to win. Payton, though, had the right reading of the tea leaves.
At the dog park this morning, a woman picked up her dog’s poop, tied it, and handed it to her dog. Then THE DOG TOOK THE POOP BAG AND RAN UP THE HILL TO A TRASH CAN.
The dog missed the can, so the woman called out “fix it” and THE DOG PICKED IT UP AND PUT IT IN THE CAN
— Kathy Tu (@_kathytu) March 31, 2022
Tu is the head of production at Wondery Media.
This entire NFL offseason felt like April Fool's Day
— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) April 1, 2022
Wetzel writes for Yahoo Sports.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 31, 2022
Rovell covers the business of sports for Action Network.
Now THAT is news you can use!
Love him or hate him, Geno keeps it very, very real.
— Damin Altizer (@DaminAltizer) April 1, 2022
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @peter_king.
Good point about ties from Wales. From Paul Sewter, of Cardiff, Wales: “There is no reason why the regular season games can’t just be ties, and do away with the need for overtime. With the NFL’s decision to make a 17-game season (and you just know 18 games is coming too) doing away with overtime would surely help to reduce injuries/concussions etc. Secondly, there’s no problem with ties!! Look how the Steelers/Lions result added to the end of season excitement.”
Paul, I am coming around to your way of thinking. I think it’s smart. Throw an olive branch to the union and play fewer downs per season, and then make the playoffs more equitable. Along the way, inject some strategy and urgency to the end of regular-season games, when one team might be okay with a tie and the other desperate for a win.
Never thought of this. From Scott Kohl, of St. George, Kans.: “I wonder how all the mega-trades during 2022 free agency will affect the TV ratings. I’m a Raiders fan. Since Las Vegas traded away their first and second-round picks, I have ignored all of the mock draft predictions. I also do not plan to watch the primetime TV slots because my team has no picks in the first two rounds. Turns out that 25% of the NFL teams are not picking in Round 1 of the 2022 draft. I suspect I’m not alone in my ignoring all of the pre-draft-hype because my team traded away their top picks.”
Interesting, Scott. I’ll pay attention to that. Particularly in Vegas, where the hometowners don’t have a pick scheduled till late in round three, it could be odd with the draft being held there.
Another happy customer. From David Michael Ryan, of Houston: “The height of your hypocrisy is you will vote for Ben Roethlisberger to be in the Hall of Fame in five years. You will defend this by claiming you only consider what happens between the lines, not outside. You will do nothing to change this. Yet, it did not prevent you from the character assassination of Tom Brady, and now Deshaun Watson. Watson was cleared by two grand juries. I am one of those formerly devoted readers who go back to the SI days, your column was must-read every week. Be better!”
Those are not parallel situations, David. When we vote for the Hall of Fame, the instructions are clear: Consider what happens in the games, not what has happened off the field. You say I will do nothing to change this. That’s correct, and I don’t want it to be changed. Character assassination of Tom Brady? I’m pretty sure you’re the only reader of this column who thinks I’ve assassinated Brady’s character.
He likes me. From John P. Gallagher of Lakewood, Ohio: “Thank you for your insight and humanity … and for all those who merely read you to get their sports ‘fix,’ they come away a little more well-read.”
That is so nice, John. Thanks a lot.
On Matt Ryan and dead money. From @bensonshow, on Twitter: “Not a dumb person, but could you at some point explain NFL ‘dead money’ rules in layman’s terms. Seems if ATL trades Ryan’s contract, that’s it, unless they agree to pick up some money, like in other sports. Why is there dead money?”
Thanks for asking. Sometimes we throw terms like that around so often and assume everyone knows what they mean. Dead money is salary-cap space a team must keep on its cap when a player with cap charges remaining is either traded or let go. So, in the case of Matt Ryan, the Falcons re-did his contract four years in a row because it was such an anchor on their cap, pushing money into the future to fit under the cap today. So by the time they traded Ryan to Indianapolis, they had to take all of the money assigned to future years on the cap and assign it to this year’s cap. The benefit to the Falcons is that the bloated Ryan cap charge—$40.3 million this year—wounds them this year but allows them a lot of freedom in 2023.
1. I think teams are going to have to make up their own minds, of course, about Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, a likely top 10 pick in the draft April 28. But I wonder how his post-Pro Day comments will go over in front offices around the league. Pro Football Talk had an item on Thibodeaux on Saturday. Per Antwan Staley of the Eugene Register-Guard, Thibodeaux said at his Pro Day on Friday: “The most ridiculous thing I’ve heard is that I’m not the best player in this draft. I really don’t listen to anything else, but that to me, that’s outrageous. With the film, with the numbers and what I can do as far as my ability, I have confidence in what I can do.” Thibodeaux is trying to combat his rep as one who doesn’t play with a full motor every play. “It is easy to see a snippet of something because that’s what media does,” Thibodeaux said. “Just watch the whole tape, you will be able to see.” Teams are doing that, and I hear some teams have that opinion of him—great player who coasts on some plays. We’ll see if that becomes a factor closer to the draft.
2. I think I hear Detroit, with the second pick, likes Thibodeaux, who would at least fit what the Lions desperately need. Detroit hasn’t had a rusher with more than 10 sacks in five years.
3. I think it’s not just the $780 million settlement fee that NFL owners are arguing about. There’s an ad hoc league committee of owners trying to find a solution to who will actually pay the bill—when most owners thought Rams owner Stan Kroenke had agreed to pick up the costs for whatever the league would owe St. Louis after its lawsuit. But there’s also a legal bill the league has incurred, and who will pay for that. Call this the NFL’s $900-million problem. (Or however much the NFL’s St. Louis-related legal fees are—they’ll be in the tens of millions for sure.)
4. I think the thing I like about the contract cornerback Xavien Howard just signed with Miami is how he and agent David Canter continued to gain ground on first-round players playing beyond their first contracts with the teams that draft them. Judging by the end of the second year of Howard’s new contract in 2023, and comparing that deal to two prominent first-round starters drafted 20 and 22 picks ahead of Howard, here’s how all three will stand financially at the end of the 2023 season, presuming no contract restructuring by then:
16th overall pick, tackle Taylor Decker, Detroit: 8 years, $66.77 million.
18th overall pick, center Ryan Kelly, Indianapolis: 8 years, $50.08 million.
38th overall pick, cornerback Xavien Howard: 8 years, $84.95 million.
5. I think it’s good to see the Patriots add a needed receiver, dealing a 2023 third-round pick to Miami for DeVante Parker and a fifth-round pick Saturday. But they’re still third in the division, behind Miami and Buffalo, in wideout weapons (Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, N’Keal Harry). Picking 21st and 54th in the draft, I doubt New England’s out of the receiver business.
6. I think no one should care very much that the Bengals pushed back the start of their offseason program two weeks, to May 2. If the Bengals go 8-9 this year and fall to the floor of the AFC North with a thud, not one single person will say, It’s all because Zac Taylor pushed back the start of the offseason program two weeks.
7. I think offseason workouts have always been overrated. Not that I think they’re unimportant. They matter. But think of it this way, related to the Bengals. Cleveland and Baltimore both went home for the offseason on Monday, Jan. 10. (Pittsburgh went home a week later, after a first-round playoff loss.) The Bengals practiced for the next five weeks and played four games. So, players in Cleveland and Baltimore will have had 14 weeks between their last games and the start of the April 18 offseason program. Cincinnati will have had 11 weeks between its last game and the start of the offseason program … and the Bengals had five weeks of practice that two of the teams in the division didn’t have. In many ways, I wouldn’t have faulted Taylor if he gave his players more time off than he did.
8. I think I got a kick out of Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam saying he didn’t feel a cold shoulder from his peers at the meetings last week. Well, owners aren’t going to walk up to other owners and say, “I am really ticked off at you for that idiotic $230-million guaranteed contract.” But that’s what they were thinking. When one owner, Baltimore’s Steve Bisciotti, says of the Watson contract, “Damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract,” do you think Bisciotti is ticked off at the deal? Damn right he is. “I don’t know that [Watson] should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract. To me, that’s something that is groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others.” It’s just silly to think other owners and teams that have to get young quarterbacks signed aren’t angry with the Haslams.
9. I think, sometimes, I look back on life in the business and get pretty amazed. Like, this past week, I saw somewhere this was the 40th anniversary of North Carolina freshman Michael Jordan sinking the winning jumper to beat Georgetown for the national championship. I covered that game in New Orleans for my first paper out of college, the Cincinnati Enquirer, at 24, and will never forget the experience. A friend of mine found a clip of my story from two days after the game, with my formal babyface column logo. I wrote: “Jordan, the hero Monday night, was the skycap Tuesday. His 15-foot jump shot clinched North Carolina’s first NCAA championship since 1957 on Monday, but Tuesday he carried the bulky team film projector from the UNC bus to the charter flight at New Orleans International Airport. ‘The freshmen always carry the film projector,’ said Rick Brewer, UNC’s sports information director. Tuesday happened to be Jordan’s turn. ‘That’s the system. It never changes.’ “ Aaah. Those were the days, on an airport tarmac with 10 or 15 other writers, chatting with a couple of the main characters before the national champs left town.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. What a game, UNC over Duke. Terrific. Spine-tingling. What sports should be about. But can we please not make the result of a college basketball a life-changing event for those who love either team? And can we not pelt column-inch snowballs at the Duke players and Mike Krzyzewski for either choking or coming up small or somehow blowing two straight games against North Carolina? I saw both. Great events. Sometimes when two very good teams play, it’s simply a matter of the better team winning and not the losing team gagging it away. Saturday’s game was a sports classic. Duke missed some free throws, but from what I saw, North Carolina won a game it deserved.
b. Obit of the Week: William McDonald of the New York Times on the remarkable life of softball pitcher/pro golfer Joan Joyce, one of the best women’s athletes in history.
c. You haven’t heard of her? Well, that’s a great sign of how invisible women’s sports once were. McDonald has such a great lede on the story of Joyce’s life, and it involves Ted Williams:
On a warm August night in 1961, Ted Williams, the “Splendid Splinter” who had finished his Hall of Fame baseball career the year before as the last hitter to bat .400 in a single season, strode to the plate before an overflow crowd at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury, Conn., to face a young softball pitching phenom by the name of Joan Joyce.
The occasion was a charity fund-raising exhibition. Williams was in his Boston Red Sox uniform, No. 9. Joyce stood on the mound 40 feet away (regulation in women’s softball, as opposed to 60 feet 6 inches in major-league baseball), clad in the red-and-white jersey and shorts she wore as the premier pitcher for the Raybestos Brakettes, one of the top teams in the women’s game, with its home field 30 miles to the south in suburban Stratford, Conn.
It was one of several such exhibitions in which Williams and Joyce faced off in the early 1960s, but the one in Waterbury — Joyce’s hometown, where the fans were chanting “Joanie, Joanie Joanie!” — proved to be the most memorable …
With a slingshot-like underhanded delivery, Joyce, a couple of weeks shy of her 21st birthday, took her full arsenal of blazing pitches to the mound that night: curveballs, sliders, fastballs and her trademark “drop ball,” which sunk over the plate. And while she warmed up, Williams, who was approaching 43 but coming off a sterling, age-defying final season in Boston (hitting .316 and swatting 29 home runs), studied the movement of her ball.
d. I can’t give away the outcome. You’ve got to read it.
e. And read about the time Joan Joyce faced Hank Aaron too. As a kid growing up in Connecticut, Joyce was a legend, and I’m thrilled to see an obit of this size for someone as impactful on women’s sports as Joyce was.
f. The best sports event I’ve seen this offseason: UConn 91, North Carolina State 87, double overtime, in the women’s East Regional final last Monday. How clutch those women were. Paige Bueckers, with a Final Four berth almost totally on her shoulders, making shot after shot. And N.C. State, at crucial times, draining contested threes. What a game. The five-point UConn win over Stanford was dramatic too, but nothing like the double-OT tilt.
g. More of Aliyah Boston, please. And kudos to the South Carolina women’s basketball team for a second NCAA title under Dawn Staley. That is the power program in all of women’s basketball, and Staley’s the architect.
h. More of the Sue Bird/Diana Taurasi Manningcast-like booth, please.
i. I read somewhere women’s basketball isn’t compelling. Riiiiight.
j. Just Who Are We As A People Story of the Week: Matthew Stanmyre of NJ.com on bad behavior that just won’t quit at youth and high school sports events. Wrote Stanmyre:
The final buzzer blared at Saddle Brook High School, and before Kris DeBlasio could take his place for the postgame handshake line this February, the father of one of his basketball players sprinted from the bleachers, pushed in front of him and jabbed a finger in his face.
“You are a detriment to every kid on this team,” the man snarled. “And you’re a terrible [expletive] coach.”
The morning after the second incident, DeBlasio, 44, decided enough was enough. He informed the school district he was resigning after three seasons at Saddle Brook. “There’s just a constant barrage of negativity toward coaches and officials at all levels of sports, at all schools,” DeBlasio said. “The entire culture is just totally out of control.”
k. There’s one other factor making it worse now, Stanmyre writes. Social media just exacerbates it. Stanmyre quotes Brian Delahant, president of the U.S. Amateur Baseball League, as saying: “It used to be that if a fight happened at the field, it’s done; but now it goes to the social media warriors. No one can leave the problem at the field and move on. If they feel wronged, it sticks with them. Now because of the way social media is, it really ignites the issue and makes it a lot larger of a problem.”
l. I coached girls softball in New Jersey for 17 years in a previous life. Seven of those years were spent coaching travel teams, a more serious level of the game with a higher commitment, more practice, etc. Each year, before the start of the season, we’d have a team meeting and I’d hand out a list of rules for players and parents. The parent rules included two that I explained were unbreakable, and violations would result in a warning and after that with another problem, well, we’d have to “part ways.”
m. Rule 1: When you drop your child off for the game or practice, please do not communicate with her until the game or practice is over. (Let the coaches coach; don’t overwhelm the players with multiple messages. If you entrust the coaches to work with your daughter, treat it like you would a school class and let the teachers teach.) Rule 2: If you have a problem with anything team-related, call me and we’ll discuss it. Don’t bring it up around your daughter or the other players. (No need for an exercised parent, probably upset about playing time or maybe a coach’s decision, to air that around kids.)
n. I had one problem in seven years: a dad who called pitches for his pitcher daughter from the bleachers. She had to find another team. Overall, it worked great. We ran a disciplined and very fun program. I used drills borrowed from Mike Candrea, the softball coach at Arizona, from a coaching clinic I attended one year. One of them was a huge difference-maker on our 10U team, the Montclair Bears. Players would line up, right knee on the ground, gloved hand pointed at her partner in playing catch, and the throwing hand would come directly overhand throwing the ball at the partner. To be warmed up, every player had to throw and catch 10 straight balls with sound mechanics. A dropped ball, and they had to start over. It helped kids learn that the most important thing in softball is throwing and catching, and you’re going to be able to do that if you play for our team. Drills like this, plus the daily bunting practice, showed the parents we had a plan, so trust us. One other thing: We always waited for a rainy day to teach proper sliding techniques. We told the parents to expect soaked children at the end of practice. They had a ball watching me illustrate the right way to slide, and even more fun doing it eight or 10 times themselves. I’m sure some of the parents don’t look back with great memories; that’s life. But what meant something to me was coaching the daughters of two excellent high school coaches in the area, and they were our biggest supporters. I miss those days.
o. Crime Story of the Week: Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times on how the death of a dad in Beverly Hills led to the discovery of a huge drug-delivery network in L.A..
p. What a winding road and tentacle-filled story. Villainous fentanyl. Wrote Finnegan:
Ray Mascolo was spending a Sunday evening at home in Beverly Hills with his Chihuahua puppy, Versace, when his yearlong stretch of sobriety came to an end.
“What’s good babe,” Mascolo, 37, texted a woman listed in his iPhone as “Mimi Snowie.”
She replied with a menu offering acid ($40), ecstasy ($20), mushrooms ($120) and half a dozen other drugs. They cut a deal: a gram of cocaine and two oxycodone pills for $160, plus a $30 delivery fee. Mimi, whose full name is Mirela Todorova, dispatched an aspiring television actor, Kather Sei, to drop off the drugs, authorities say.
The next morning, a maintenance worker walked into Mascolo’s house on North Beverly Drive. The Chihuahua led him to Mascolo’s body on the kitchen floor. The drugs had been laced with fentanyl.
Mascolo’s November 2020 death set in motion a federal investigation that uncovered a booming drug delivery service Todorova is accused of running from her apartment on Hollywood Boulevard.
q. War Correspondent of the Week: Richard Deitsch of The Athletic on Isabelle Khurshudyan, the former hockey beat writer covering the war from inside Ukraine for the Washington Post.
r. Good get by Deitsch. Khurshudyan covered the Caps and Alex Ovechkin but her heart was in foreign correspondent work. She’s based in the coastal Ukrainian city of Odessa.
s. Khurshudyan, fluent in Russian, to Deitsch: “I think at some point, maybe when I leave here, I think it will all hit me, all of the destruction I’ve seen. In the moment, you try to keep some professional detachment while empathizing with people and recognizing the horrible things they’re going through. It’s a weird feeling as a reporter.”
t. Personal Story of the Week: Kalyn Kahler of Defector on the search for Uncle Art, buried in Plot H, Row 15, Grave 96 in faraway Luxembourg. Wrote Kahler:
A few years ago, on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I was overcome with curiosity about what happened to my grandpa’s uncle, who I knew had died in World War II. So I called him to ask, and he told me Uncle Art had died in the Battle of the Bulge. He left behind his wife, Hazel, in Boone, Iowa. They didn’t have any kids, but he’d been a successful salesman for a casket company. So where is he buried? I asked my grandpa. Did they send him back here?
No, he was buried somewhere in Europe.
Somewhere in Europe?! Where? He didn’t know or couldn’t remember.
So I got on my laptop and within 10 minutes of searching, I had pulled up a photo of Uncle Art’s grave, at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, just outside of Luxembourg City. I sent my grandpa the information and asked him if anyone in the family had ever gone to visit. He wasn’t sure and thought maybe his aunts had gone at some point. I felt sad thinking about Uncle Art resting so far from Iowa without anyone visiting him, so I made a pact with myself that the next time I traveled to Europe, I’d make a pit stop in Luxembourg.
u. Just a cool story of family curiosity leading to the grave of an uncle she never met. Well done by my former colleague at The MMQB.
v. Let’s fast-forward to the day after Thanksgiving, England-USA, World Cup, 2 p.m. Somehow, I think there will be Black Friday Interruptus around that time.
w. Now we’ve reached the part of the program, right before the start of the baseball season, when I tell you about my Rotisserie Team in the 12-team league I’m in with friends from my Jersey days, and you tell me how bad I will stink:
Infield: Abreu, Betts (Mookie has 2B-eligibility in our league), Semien, Arenado.
C: G. Sanchez (I know, I know).
OF: Schwarber, Buxton, Verdugo, Baddoo.
Starters: Webb, F.Valdez, Snell, Skubal, Sale, L.Gilbert, Syndergaard, Matz.
Closers: Pressly, Gallegos, R.Suarez.
Happy trails, McClain.
There’re originals in life,
and then there is you.
Football Morning In America is edited by Dominic Bonvissuto