Bill Belichick turns 70 on Saturday, with no end in sight to his transcendent coaching tenure in New England. It’s so hard today to figure out how big a deal that is, because modern life has changed what age means.
Most of the greatest coaches of all time, in all sports, have been gone long before 70. Red Auerbach coached his last Celtics game at 48, shocking as that might seem. Curly Lambeau was done at 55, Chuck Noll at 59, Tom Landry at 64, John Wooden at 64, Don Shula at 65, Scotty Bowman at 68. I don’t know what to make of Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno, who seemed to be figureheads more than coaches as they held head-coach titles past age 80.
Belichick’s no figurehead. He’s the head coach, GM, controller of the coaching staff, prime culture-builder of a six-time Super Bowl champion, orchestrating the construction of a post-Brady franchise. If only there was a comparable person, someone in today’s player-empowered sports scene, who could understand what Belichick will face now, in his 48th year of coaching in the NFL, in his 28th year as a head coach.
“I can’t get into his head,” Mike Krzyzewski said from North Carolina the other day. “But watching him, it’s incredibly interesting. When somebody says, ‘You’ve been doing this the same way—it’s the same job,’ no, it’s not the same job. I’m adapting; it’s exciting. Like, I’m 75. That happened with USA Basketball later in my life, and I wanted to use what I learned. That’s what I see in Bill from afar. I really admire him and like him. Because really it’s not about him, it’s about them [the players]. There’s nobody who’s built a better culture in pro sports than him. Right?”
“Quite a statement,” I said. “You built a pretty good culture yourself.”
“Yeah,” Krzyzewski said, quietly scoffing. “But that’s collegiate. Pro football’s a big business, man. There can be a lot of selfishness. He’s been able to manage all that. Culture should not be assumed. It needs Miracle-Gro every year, and he’s been able to keep that culture going. There’s a Patriot Way. I totally admire that.”
Seventeen days till the 2022 NFL Draft, but a dark cloud entered the picture Saturday. This week in the column:
• The tragic death of quarterback Dwayne Haskins came when he was working to have a second act in the NFL.
• The Saints-Eagles trade, out of nowhere, is no outlier.
• In the last two drafts, by April 11, six and 11 picks in the top 50, respectively, had been traded. Today, 17 of the top 50 picks have already changed hands, and the chatter I hear is that the market will be busy right into the first round.
• Eight teams have zero picks in the top 35 of the draft. The GMs for some of those teams—Chris Ballard (Indianapolis), George Paton (Denver), Les Snead (Rams), Chris Grier (Miami), John Lynch (San Francisco)—are big traders. With aggressive GMs in Seattle, Philadelphia and Baltimore in position to move, shopping season will be fun.
• Quarterbacks will be over-drafted this year. Write it down.
• The Brian Flores lawsuit gained some credibility with the Tennessee revelations.
• All teams should have a person and leader who knows the importance of perspective like Bobby Wagner.
• A night with Frank Solich brought a morality lesson we can all use.
One NFL coach among the 15 winningest ever has coached a game past the age of 70. That’s Chicago’s George Halas, who retired at 72. He was a pedestrian 21-18-3 in his seventies, never making the postseason.
Halas looked 80 when he retired. Belichick looks 55 today. He once said you wouldn’t catch him coaching in his seventies like Marv Levy, but in this age-is-just-a-number world today, grandiose statements like that look almost naïve in retrospect. If a man can be president at 79, a man should be able to coach a football game against the Jets at 70.
Belichick loves football history, and his collection of books about football, now on loan to the U.S. Naval Academy, is the biggest in the world. With 321 NFL victories (including postseason games), he needs four wins to pass Halas for second place all-time and 27 to eclipse Don Shula’s NFL record of 347 wins. I’ve not heard anyone say he’s still in coaching to pass Shula. It would certainly be a point of pride for him, but I’m sure he doesn’t think when he wakes up in the morning, “One day closer to being the winningest coach ever.”
Krzyzewski, who coached his last game two weeks ago, won 139 games in his seventies. Part of the reason, he said, was because he expanded authority for his coaching staff. This year, for instance, he gave recruiting authority almost entirely to the coach who would replace him, Jon Scheyer. That kept Krzyzewski fresh and allowed him more time to prepare for games than in any season he remembered.
“As I got older,” Krzyzewski said, “I allowed more input of expression of teaching from my staff, from the people around me. I was able to see and feel their hunger. I allowed them more opportunity but the person who got more was me. Because I got more of them. … Their ownership of what you’re doing is deepened. The best way to get ownership is to use someone’s ideas or give them the ability, the responsibility. Like in talking to my team and how you, before a game, set up a scout. As I got older, I allowed more and more, more and more. I learned more. It’s a different music, a little bit different music that occurs.
“I’ve always felt Bill had a curiosity about the game. It wasn’t what he already knew. It was what he was still going to learn and how he was going to use what he knew in the ever-changing environment that he’s in. He’s very adaptive. He’s probably learned to use the talents of the people around him even better. Like, the former Detroit Lions head coach …”
“Yeah. And how he’s using him. It’s different than his past, right?”
Likely yes. Belichick will probably deploy two recently fired head coaches—Patricia and Joe Judge—to have major offensive coaching roles. Belichick’s theory is, if you’re a good coach, you should be able to coach anything. We’ll see if he’s right; the future of second-year quarterback Mac Jones hangs in the balance. The Patriots are 17-17 post-Brady, and in a division with two formidable teams, Buffalo and Miami, Belichick’s future success will depend on the jobs coaches in new positions can do, and how good Jones can be over the long haul.
Krzyzewski sounded certain the freshness could be good for the staff and good for the team—but the brain drain on the coaching staff is a major question mark for the Patriots. I have my doubts the offensive shuffle will work three years after Brady and one year after departed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, but that’s why they play the games.
Belichick will coach mostly against men at least a generation younger than he is—average age of the three other AFC East coaches: 43—and the age gap didn’t faze Krzyzewski as he got into his seventies. “I never had to beat them,” Krzyzewski said. “I had to beat their teams. I had 18- to 23-year-olds trying to beat their 20- to 24-year-olds. I’m not saying I’m better. But I’ve never lost my edge in competition. I anally prepare. I never felt age in coaching. Ever. Ever. The other thing is, by being with these guys, you stay young. You gotta be able to relate to them. I’m proud of the fact that in five different decades, we made the Final Four.
“Bill trusts his work. He’s doing what he loves to do. He doesn’t get out of character. I’m here. I’m working. I’m prepared. I never get out of character. I love that about him.”
One other challenge for Belichick, of course, is proving he can win consistently without Brady. In 18 of his 27 coaching seasons, Brady was his partner in greatness, and New England got to nine Super Bowls. In nine non-Brady seasons, Belichick teams have gone 73-79, including just one playoff win. (That includes a 3-1 mark in Brady’s four-game suspension to start 2016.) He certainly knows that. So the challenge for him is not just maintaining his edge in his seventies, it’s rebuilding a franchise to compete against one premier rival (Buffalo), one rising one (Miami) and one total question mark (the Jets).
I asked a man who worked with Belichick every day for 18 of the last 21 years what he expects of Belichick’s future coaching life.
“If he’s there 10 years from now, it wouldn’t surprise me to see that,” said McDaniels, who left this year to take the Raiders head-coaching job.
“He still attacks the job the same now that I saw him attack it when I first started in 2001. Doesn’t matter what part of the year it is. The big thing that Bill has going for him and has always done is he loves all the facets of the football season, whether it’s scouting, preparation for a game, roster evaluation, team-building, developmental parts of the year for the young players. All of those things get weighted the same for him,” McDaniels said.
Of the storylines on the horizon in the NFL, Belichick in the twilight is an underrated one. It starts Saturday, on his 70th birthday.
When someone dies so young and so tragically (Steelers quarterback Dwayne Haskins was killed when struck by a vehicle on a Florida highway Saturday morning), the outpouring of sorrow is going to be emotional. The Haskins death prompted so much more, it seemed. Love from the Steelers teammates he’d known for just a year; love from Washington bosses and players from his time there; and love from his Ohio State family. The tears from Chase Claypool on Twitter were real, as were the feelings from Mike Tomlin, Cam Heyward, Urban Meyer, T.J. Watt and so many others. Collectively, it showed how many people had connected with Haskins the person, not just the quarterback trying to fight his way back into a starting role in the league. You got the feeling that whatever happened to Haskins on the field, he was going to have a rich and fulfilling life off it.
“You are what I strive to be,” Claypool tweeted, as if talking to Haskins.
“A young man that didn’t ever seem to have a bad day,” Ben Roethlisberger wrote on social media, and so many others had similar feelings.
As a player, Haskins had a real chance to make something of his post-Washington career. The first chance in Pittsburgh this year, clearly, is going to Mitchell Trubisky, but he’s not a lock to take the job long-term. So Haskins was part of a group of players, including Trubisky, throwing to Steeler receivers in Florida, working to get better. I was told over the weekend the Steelers were happy with Haskins the player and person, and he certainly was going to get a legitimate chance to play there.
So much went wrong in his 19-month trial in Washington, but when a team like Pittsburgh picks up a player, it’s for one reason: Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert thought he had a legitimate chance to play in the league. When claimed, Haskins was two-and-a-half years removed from the best passing season in Big Ten history—five 400-yard passing games, a record 4,831 passing yards, and 50 TD passes, breaking Drew Brees’ conference record by 11. I believe at some point this year, he’d have pressed Trubisky hard for playing time as the Steelers plotted their post-Roethlisberger future.
“I’ll say it again just like I told you to your face,” Ben Roethlisberger said in his social post. “I still wish I could throw the ball like you!”
It’s impossible to make sense of this. The best tribute to him would be for all who knew him, and even those who didn’t, to take some of his goodness and positivity and make it part of their lives.
At first glance, you don’t know what to make of the fact that one-third of the top-50 picks have been traded this far before the draft. But consider this factoid about 17 days before the draft: 17 picks have been traded so far this year, and 17 picks had been dealt by this point in 2020 and ’21 combined. Three reasons I see more to come:
1) As mentioned above, the GMs in the heart of the first round, picks 7 through 22, are aggressive and unafraid of big moves. Joe Schoen of the Giants (7), Seattle’s John Schneider (9), Houston’s Nick Caserio (13), Baltimore’s Eric DeCosta (14), Philly’s Howie Roseman (15, 18), New Orleans’ Mickey Loomis (16, 19), L.A.’s Tom Telesco (17) and Green Bay’s Brian Gutekunst (22) have the picks and motivation to move.
2) Look at the aggressive teams without choices in the top 35, including three (Vegas, Rams, Dolphins) without a pick in the top 85. “That’s why I think you see teams with needs trading next year’s ones and twos to move up this year,” one GM told me Sunday.
3) I’ve heard this from a couple of draft rooms: Because of wide variety of opinions on board-stacking throughout the league, some team drafting in the fifties could see its 12th-rated player still alive at 30 and be motivated to jump up there. “We could sit where we are right now and get three of the top 20 or 25 on our board,” Loomis of the Saints told me. With the 16th, 19th and 49th picks, Loomis is counting on the disparity of draft boards around the league to drop a player the Saints grade in their top 20 or so into their laps at 49.
When a team trades five picks for a 28-year-old receiver (albeit an explosive one) as Miami did for Tyreek Hill, you know we’re in a different time in the NFL. If there’s a player you love, go get him. I see a lot of deals happening between now and the end of the third round of this draft.
“It’s going to be a wild first round,” one agent predicted Sunday. “A lot of teams think Friday night, rounds two and three, is the sweet spot of this draft, so you’re going to see teams in the middle of the first motivated to deal down.”
Finally: Different teams have different motivations. I believe Schoen of the Giants, for instance, wants to come out of this draft with an extra first-round pick next year, even if it costs him this year’s seventh overall pick. So maybe he makes a deal for slightly less than the market rate, just to be in a pole position to take a quarterback if he needs to in 2023. Philadelphia, too, recalibrated with its trade of two first-rounders this year to the Saints. Makes good sense too—the Eagles are left with three picks in the first two rounds of the next three drafts, including extra first-rounders in ’22 and ’23. No team is set up better in the near future with draft capital than the Eagles.
Truest words of the week, from draft maven Greg Cosell of NFL Films: “You can make the argument that every year there are two drafts: the quarterback draft, and the draft for the rest of the players. This year’s no different. It would not surprise me if we saw five quarterbacks go in the first round.”
One GM told me he sees three in the top 20, though there appear to be no sure things among the passers set to be taken. Those three are likely Kenny Pickett of Pitt, Malik Willis of Liberty and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder. I’ve heard very good things about Ridder’s exchanges with teams over the past month, but each QB has his critics. Has Pickett hit his ceiling already? Can Willis develop the pocket presence teams want to see? Ridder has run NFL style concepts at Cincinnati, but he misses throws he should make and isn’t strong throwing on the run.
One of the issues is when a team picks a quarterback in the first round, there are expectations he’ll play as a rookie. Play some, at least. What if, say, a Willis would be best served with a redshirt year? Will his team feel fan, media and owner pressure to play him before his time? That’s an inescapable issue when a guy drafted to be the future at the most important position in the game comes onto the scene. Sometimes, pressure foils the best-laid plans.
Chris Simms, the QB maven for NBC Sports, likes Ole Miss’ Matt Corral as his QB1, for his quick release, strong arm and quick feet. But Simms predicts only two in the first round: Pickett and Willis. He thinks Detroit should take Corral late in the first or early second (the Lions have the 32nd and 34th overall picks, last in the first round and second in the second round). “Corral really excites me,” Simms said. “He’s got the quickest release I’ve seen in a while.”
The Flores Suit
Until last week, the charges in fired Miami coach Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL and some of its teams boiled down to his word against owners and teams and a coach (Bill Belichick), along with a text chain that Flores put forward that advanced his case against the Giants. But last week, a potentially damning wrinkle was included in the case. You’d expect teams to enter coach searches with open minds, perhaps thinking there was a leader in the clubhouse but leaving every option open to them while the process was ongoing. But then the story surfaced from a white coach who got the Titans’ coaching job in 2016.
Mularkey, speaking on a podcast in 2020 (how was this missed for a year and a half?), called the Titans’ 2016 coach search a “fake hiring process,” and said “the ownership there, Amy Adams Strunk and her family, told me I was going to be the head coach in 2016, before they went through the Rooney Rule.” If true, Mularkey’s charge gives rise to the many who say the Rooney Rule is a sham, because some teams interview minority coaches not to give them a real shot, but to fulfill a league requirement.
Imagine Mularkey unloading this. He had to know what a stir it would make (even though it took months to surface). It had to be eating away at him over the years. Flores and his legal team are fortunate they found it. Whether he can prove Miami owner Steven Ross offered him $100,000 a game to lose in 2019 to advance Miami’s draft position in 2020, at least now he has a coach on the record saying at least one coach-hiring process was a fraud.
This sure has come a long way since the announcement of the Flores suit 10 weeks ago. Within a couple of hours, the NFL announced the lawsuit was “without merit.” Sure doesn’t look that way now.
Late in Jerome Bettis’ career in Pittsburgh, I remember him telling me that no matter what happened to him in football, he always wanted Pittsburgh to be a part of his life. He was going to have a business of some kind there, and he loved the place. If he got less playing time than he thought was fair, or the team drafted his replacement and pushed him out, so be it. That’s short-term. Bettis was thinking about three decades into the future, not three months.
Bobby Wagner reminded me of that last week. We recorded a podcast interview and he was eloquent about his time in Seattle. It didn’t end the way he wanted, but the way he saw it, he’s not going to let that affect the 10 years he spent there, or the future he has there. Let Wagner explain it:
“I think lashing out, that’s the norm. I try to be different. Being older, you can kind of understand some things. I’ve been a part of that organization long enough to see certain guys lash out but then as time heals, they start to come back around the building. So, for me, it was centered around business. It had nothing to do with me personally. It’s more just something they felt that they had to do from a business perspective. No matter how they handled the business, I just kept it at that.
“What they did doesn’t change my perspective on Pete [Carroll, the coach]. What they did doesn’t change my perspective on John [Schneider, the GM]. I was just growing the relationship with Jodi [Allen, the owner], and I hope that relationship continues no matter where I’m at. Definitely I want to make sure when I play them, I’m at my best. I’m definitely motivated to be at my best when I play them. But I think I’m old enough to know that relationships are important and life is short. To hold grudges and have that type of hate in your heart just doesn’t sit with me.
“I’m grateful. I’m humble. I think even after these few weeks, maybe even more grateful … I was honored to be a part of the fan base that embraced me and welcomed me regardless of what jersey I put on.
“I did go to a Kraken game recently, and the fans were amazing. I think we just want to turn into a celebration of 10 years and not have any animosity. My time there was great. I love the fans there. How it ended, I’m not going to let it take away from my time there.”
Just so smart.
“I am truly heartbroken.”
—Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, after the Saturday morning death of Pittsburgh quarterback Dwayne Haskins in Florida.
“Over the reminder of Mr. Flores’ tenure at the helm of the Dolphins, he was routinely made to feel uncomfortable based upon his decision not to tank in order to secure the top pick in the 2020 draft. Upon information and belief, no white Head Coach has ever been subjected to such ridicule over winning and holding the spirit of the game in such high regard.”
—From the lawsuit filed by Brian Flores against the Dolphins and owner Steven Ross, claiming Ross offered Flores $100,000 per game to intentionally lose in 2019 so the franchise could have the number one pick in the 2020 draft.
“I’m tired of being a Black coach. I just want to be a coach.”
—Herman Edwards, the Arizona State coach and former NFL coach, at a panel discussion over race, hiring and NFL practices Thursday night in Tempe.
“For me, this is probably the most concerning thing that I have in the whole NFL right now. One of the most important things for a young QB is to have that same voice in your ear, the guy you’re talking football to on a daily basis … That is a massive, a massive issue for me.”
—ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, on the loss of New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as caretaker for second-year QB Mac Jones.
“The league has a lot of work to do. The fact is it’s America’s most popular sport, most profitable sport. It has to be a sport where there’s fairness and openness to everyone, whether you’re a black coach or you are a woman. America’s sport has to be a sport that reflects the principle of liberty and justice for all.”
—Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison, on NewsNation “Rush Hour,” via Pro Football Talk. Ellison is one of six state attorneys general who have threatened the NFL to investigate workplace misconduct after perceived light sanctions for, among other things, sexual harassment cases. The New York Times first reported the threat by six states.
You could make a very good case that, since 2003, Bill Belichick’s Patriots have been truly bad at only one thing: drafting and developing high-prospect wide receivers. Since the 2003 draft, New England has drafted six receivers in the top 100 of the draft:
Bethel Johnson (45th overall, 2003)
Chad Jackson (36th overall, 2006)
Brandon Tate (83rd overall, 2009)
Taylor Price (90th overall, 2010)
Aaron Dobson (59th overall, 2013)
N’Keal Harry (32nd overall, 2019)
Average Patriots career for those six players: 30 catches, 395 yards, three touchdowns.
Belichick does have one shining draft moment at receiver, and it came 20 years ago this month. New England picked Deion Branch with the last pick of the second round.
Last Belichick note of the week:
In 506 career games as coach, George Halas’ teams registered 31 ties.
In 385 career games as coach, Curly Lambeau’s teams registered 22 ties.
In 477 career games as coach, Bill Belichick’s teams have had zero ties.
From Andrew Marchand of the New York Post:
The Yankees’ radio team this year, and one of the most famous New York radio teams ever, is John Sterling, 83, and Suzyn Waldman, 75.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — I emceed the Covid-delayed retirement dinner for Ohio University football coach Frank Solich, the Mid-American Conference’s all-time winningest coach, Friday night. Such a warm, cool event, with a boatload of former players from his 16 years (NFLers Mike Mitchell and T.J. Carrie were there) and Solich’s longtime defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow (dad of Joe) eloquently paying homage. Events like this, with former players and current husbands and dads talking about the influence of a football coach on their lives … just a special evening.
Solich, 77, has had the kind of football life NFL Films should celebrate. As a 5-7, 153-pound fullback way down the depth chart when he got to Nebraska in 1962, he worked his way into the lineup as the starting fullback by 1964 … and became the first Cornhusker ever to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. (You can buy the Solich cover from Sept. 20, 1965 on Ebay for $59.95.) In the magazine was this paean to Solich: “Standing among his taller, heavier teammates, Solich looks like the victim of a fraternity hazing.”
After 19 years as a Nebraska assistant coach, Solich got the head-coaching gig in 1998. In six years, his teams won 59 games. But after Nebraska went 10-3 in 2003, Solich was fired. He didn’t win enough. Interesting decision: The next six Nebraska seasons produced 46 wins. Solich was crushed when he was fired by his alma mater, and he took a year off before taking the step down to coach in the Mid-American Conference. In the years before Solich arrived, I rarely checked the scores in the newspaper on fall Sundays to see if OU won or lost. The program was mostly irrelevant. That changed in the Solich years. Wins over Pitt, Penn State, Illinois, Kansas (twice) and a bunch of mid-major bowls did the trick. I’m back to checking the scores every Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Solich won, and he won the right way. This story encapsulates why so many former players came back, and why there was so much love in the room at the Columbus Athenaeum Friday night: Ohio was hosting Louisiana in 2010, and when the coin was flipped before the game, Louisiana won the toss. One of its captains elected to kick off. But by choosing to kick off instead of deferring, Ohio would receive the opening kick, and then have the choice in the second half, and obviously would take the ball again.
When the officials went to the sideline to inform Solich that Louisiana had chosen to “kick off,” he knew immediately what it meant—Ohio would get the first-half and second-half kickoffs. The Ohio captains knew. The special-teams coach knew. The director of football administration, Jason Grooms, knew. No one else did, and Solich kept it that way.
“No,” Solich told the official on the field, per Grooms. “We’re not gonna do that. It’s not right.”
The official understood. Solich wanted them to change “kick off” to “defer,” and if they hadn’t, he would have just chosen to kick off to start the second half. That story stayed buried for 12 years, till Friday night.
“He didn’t want to embarrass the [Louisiana] captains, or the coach,” Grooms told me Friday night. “No one knew about it. That’s just who he is—he’s going to coach with honor, all the time.”
Solich was part-emotional, part-sardonic Friday night. It was clear the crushing disappointment of the Nebraska firing was salved by the impact he made on so many lives in Athens. “Coming to Ohio,” Solich said, “I knew it was going to be a challenge. I was absolutely fine with that. Good fortune brought me to Ohio, and I wouldn’t change my career for anything.”
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) March 3, 2019
Mariucci talked football and life with Haskins before the 2019 draft, when he a first-round pick of Washington.
-A moment of vulnerability-
The moment I realized I had lost a brother.
We are placed on this undesirable pedestal and become treated as if we are anything but human, but It’s okay to not be okay. Allow me to be the example. Love you, 3 🤍🕊 https://t.co/3ZGehDX49H pic.twitter.com/cIUHCiPM21
— Chase Claypool (@ChaseClaypool) April 9, 2022
The Steelers receiver, who had been working out in Florida with Dwayne Haskins, when he got the news Haskins died.
Nate Hackett better win fast pic.twitter.com/puWncSb6wl
— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) April 8, 2022
Middlekauff, former NFL scout, is a Bay Area talk-show host and podcaster.
One thing I would be concerned about if I'm the Panthers and draft Kenny Pickett…once they get on the practice field, they're gonna say "Whoa, the guy we draft #6 doesn't have as good of an arm or as quick a release as Sam Darnold." That's a reality you have to handle.
— Chris Simms (@CSimmsQB) April 6, 2022
The NBC Sports NFL analyst, on the danger of drafting a quarterback high—and then that quarterback needing some seasoning before getting thrown to the wolves.
Yeah, but I don’t have 102 sacks. Yet. https://t.co/FyYDJQjHip
— Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@OfficialJLD) April 7, 2022
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, noted Hollywood star, having a good time on social media with J.J. Watt.
What’s up Coach Reid 👋 pic.twitter.com/k3zD1U2MUo
— Kansas Men’s Basketball (@KUHoops) April 7, 2022
The official Twitter account of the NCAA men’s basketball champions, Kansas, with the team meeting Andy Reid at the Royals’ opener Thursday.
Reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @peter_king.
Colin Kaepernick, Hall of Famer? From Andrew Chapman of Preston, England: “If, say, one criteria for Hall of Fame consideration is that you couldn’t credibly tell the NFL story without referencing the narrative, then would Colin Kaepernick ever be considered?”
I doubt it, Andrew. First: I’m not a fan of the theorem that states if a person has a place in the history of the NFL, then that person should be in the Hall. Ralph Hay, the owner of the Canton Bulldogs at the dawn of the NFL, organized the first meeting of owners who would eventually be the founding owners of the NFL, and Hay’s Bulldogs won the 1922 NFL title; he’s prominent in the first chapter of every book that will ever be written about the league, and he’s not in the Hall. A player or coach or contributor deserves to be in or doesn’t based on what he did on the field. Otherwise, we’d be putting in social heroes and war heroes and post-football second-career heroes, and I’m not in favor of that.
Well, thanks a lot, Jim. From Jim DeRose: “I am a 73-year-old long-time football fan. Quite frankly I have lost some interest in the last few years but I read your column every week. I really enjoy your take on things outside football and admire your literate style. You have made me more interested in football again.”
So nice of you to say, Jim. Thanks. Over the years, I’ve become more interested in the column being 15 percent-ish The Other Stuff in Life, and I’m glad to see a few of you are too. It’s hard, particularly in the offseason (the alleged offseason) to keep up the vigor to write 9,000 or 10,000 words on football alone.
Yes, he’s 55. From @taylorhemness, via Twitter: “Hold on. @AdamSchefter is 55?! If anyone other than Peter King was reporting this, I wouldn’t believe it.”
Not only is Schefter 55, but when this contract is up, he’ll be 60, and daughter Dylan, the charming girl you sometimes see in the public space, will be graduating from high school and about to leave the nest. Now that’s something that will age you.
Softball rules. From Felix W. Tsai: “Please post the list of rules that you had when you were coaching softball. I think they’d be very pertinent to our society today.”
Wrote about this a bit last week, Felix, and I’m assuming that’s what prompted you. The coaching staff—me, wife Ann, friends Jack Bowers and Karin Nelson—asked a few things of players and parents:
- Be on time for all practices and games, or call us if you’re going to be late. Playing time will be impacted if you’re late.
- No negative chants or comments toward the other team, ever, no matter what is said on the other side.
- No questioning of the umpires, ever. They’re trying their best, just like every player is.
- Hustle in and out from your positions at all times. No walking.
- Parents: When you drop kids off for a practice or game, don’t speak to them till the end of practice/game. And don’t coach them in a practice or game. The players have four coaches, and that’s plenty to teach them the game.
- Parents: If you’re got problems/questions about playing time or any team issues, don’t bring them up in front of the players. Call me to discuss.
Before the season, we always had a meeting with the parents and told them we had a few rules. It almost always worked out great, because of the understanding we entered every season with. Nobody could ever say they didn’t know the few rules that we had.
1. I think my history shows how much respect I have for Gil Brandt. I was a staunch supporter of his for the Hall of Fame, and I respect his breadth of football knowledge immensely. And though he apologized for his remarks about Dwayne Haskins on Sirius XM NFL Radio Saturday, the remarks about a man who died tragically hours earlier were so beyond the pale that I believe an apology is not enough. (Brandt said, “He was a guy that was living to be dead,” and “Maybe if he stayed in school a year he wouldn’t do silly things [like] jogging on a highway.”) Brandt has long been a cornerstone interview and host on Sirius XM NFL Radio. He is 90 now. And after listening to the audio of the interview, I believe he shouldn’t be allowed to do live interviews anymore. If you want his expert opinion, tape him, and assuming the information is good and within the bounds of reason, use it. The problematic thing with his interview Saturday is that he didn’t say just one offensive thing, he kept going. He probably realized what he’d done later in the day, issuing the apology for it, but listening to him made me think he’s lost the trust he’s built up over the years. It’s a painful thing, telling a man you’ve got to put guardrails on him. But to me, unless Brandt voluntarily withdraws from public life, there’s no other option but to tape him from now on and then judge if you’re going to use his information.
2. I think, at first glance, the thought of Buffalo paying Stefon Diggs a mega-contract at age 29 seems a little financially aggressive. But it’s hard, when you’ve got a number one receiver who’s caught 230 balls over the past two years, and who you need to be great for at least two or three more years, to say you can’t afford to pay him market value. So paying Diggs was a costly move but a mostly necessary one.
3. I think, at second glance, what would worry me is the quarterback-ace receiver drain on the salary cap going forward. But … consider that Josh Allen and Diggs, in terms of combined 2024 cap number, would be $67.8 millon. That’s monstrous. It is also about 26.1 percent of the projected (best guess) 2024 cap number of $260 million. You are welcome to shake your head at these huge contracts, but the thing to keep in mind is the percentage of the cap in each year of the contracts. Plus: GM Brandon Beane will have about $192 million in 2024 to get the rest of his roster under contract. With his two biggest earners in the fold, Beane should be able to fit the rest of his roster and practice squad in a budget that size.
4. I think the Niners are going to be in a quandary if Deebo Samuel insists on getting paid top of market, and getting paid now. They might not be able to do that. Yes, I saw what he did over the last half of this season—Samuel was the MVP of a Final Four team in the playoffs. But his average receiving season over the past two years (55 catches, 898 yards) is dwarfed, for instance, by Diggs’ average over the past two years (115 catches, 1,380 yards). Even when adding in the run-game impact, the stats are iffy. But Samuel has to be thinking: If they’re going to ask me to take the beating a running back takes, while asking me to be the deep threat for a playoff team, that’s something you don’t measure in stats. Dealing with Samuel is going to test the will and negotiating skill of GM John Lynch.
5. I think, not to pick on Malik Willis, but as a Liberty quarterback, he played two top-25 teams in two seasons—Coastal Carolina (2020) and Mississppi (2021). He beat Coastal Carolina, rushing for four touchdowns, and lost to Ole Miss. Notable numbers in those games: zero passing TDs, five interceptions.
6. I think you’re going to hear stories about a lot of teams talking themselves into quarterbacks in the next two weeks.
7. I think it was interesting to hear Bobby Wagner talk about representing himself for the last two contracts of his career—the first with the Seahawks and this year with the Rams. His take: “I think it started off with wanting to challenge myself outside of football. I knew I was getting into business and I was doing a lot of investments off the field. Obviously, football takes a lot of your time. I was looking at ways to kind of still learn something that would help me in life after football. … I feel like I got a good grasp of how everything operates on the football field. But being in a position to understand the NFL as a business was something that I was intrigued with. I’m all about taking chances, and I wanted to take a chance on myself with this negotiation the first time which I thought was a great process. The biggest thing that I gained from this process was the relationships that I now have with GMs. Not just on the football side that know me as a football player, but on the business side which I feel will help me in life after football, whenever that happens.”
8. I think it’s a weird time in draft prep for the Panthers. They’re slated to pick sixth, then go the next 130 picks without making one. What a donut hole, picking sixth and then 137th, if of course they don’t make any trades in the guts of the draft.
9. I think I have to give a shout-out to a coach who, moments after winning a national championship, took time to give a shout-out to the players who play little in the games that count. That coach would be Dawn Staley, the South Carolina women’s basketball coach who seems like she’d be a fantastic coach to play for. When she was interviewed on the court after South Carolina beat UConn to win the national championship, Staley said, first: “I have to give a shout-out to our players who don’t get in the game a whole lot. We had 16 players. Probably seven or eight of them don’t get in the game a lot. But they prepared us. They prepared us for UConn. They prepared us for Louisville. They prepared us for Creighton. They don’t get the shine, but I’m gonna give them the shine. So thank you now! E, O, Eniya, LeLe, Saniya, …” referring to those who don’t play much: Elysa Wesolek, Olivia Thompson, Eniya Russell, LeLe Grissett, Saniya Rivers. Then Staley said: “We got the national player of the year, we got great talent, and they [bench players] get overshadowed. So thank you all for accepting roles that aren’t always favorable.”
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Reading about Dawn Staley, I bet she won’t have much trouble recruiting the best high school basketball players in the country. Who wouldn’t want to play for a coach like that?
b. Mark Schlereth! Heart surgery! Get well soon!
c. There’s something weird, or telling, or both, about Deshaun Watson accepting a $230-million guaranteed contract and the football world being outraged, and Aaron Judge summarily rejecting a $230-million guaranteed contract and it being just business in the baseball world.
d. I don’t blame Brian Cashman for being miffed (I’m sure that is putting it mildly) at Judge rejecting that offer. For a player who has missed 50, 60, 32 and 14 games over the past four seasons—39 per year, on average—why wouldn’t you factor in injuries and missed time to what you’d pay a player?
e. Free country, and Judge may well make more on the free market next winter, but I wonder if this is more than an outlier story. When’s the last time the Yankees tempted a franchise player to go and find a better deal somewhere else? You see all these weird (or progressive, I guess) streaming deals with booths like the Apple TV experiment on Friday nights, and I applaud MLB for trying to stay relevant with games that last 3.5 to four hours, which is madness. On Sunday night, I flipped back and forth from the KayRod (Michael Kay/Alex Rodriguez) alternate cast to the regular booth, where Karl Ravech/David Cone/Eduardo Perez meshed easily—and had a superb in-game conversation with Sox centerfielder Kike Hernandez, who will be on TV one day, and for a long time. That was great. Roger Clemens was very good on the KayRod ‘cast. Those experiments are laudable. MLB teams are trying to make money in a sport with sharply declining TV ratings over the last three decades. Will the Gerrit Coles of the world keep making $36 million a year and more in a game with declining popularity? They may. But I’m bemused at anyone who’d be outraged about a team not paying top-of-market money to a guy who has missed 39 games a year over the last four years.
f. It does not make me happy to write that. I love spring. I love baseball. I’m also worried for it.
g. War Correspondent Story of the Week: Robert Klemko of the Washington Post, on displaced Ukrainian prosecutors debriefing devastated citizens about what they’ve seen in the war, building a brick-by-brick case against Russia for war crimes.
h. Interesting. The Ukrainians are convinced they will win the war, and they want to be sure when it’s over they have the proof that Russian soldiers committed atrocities. Wrote Klemko from the small Ukrainian town of Kosiv:
The prosecutor general’s office estimates the country is using about 50,000 investigators from five different law enforcement agencies to investigate war crimes. They are conducting interviews across the country and meticulously documenting evidence that they hope to use in war crimes prosecutions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the military force he sent to invade Ukraine.
So they have fanned out across Ukraine, addressing small groups of mostly female and elderly displaced people in churches, classrooms and auditoriums like this one in Kosiv. They explain that one day, there may be compensation for their lost loved ones, personal injuries and property losses, and that Russia can be held accountable only if its victims tell their stories in painstaking detail.
… During an interview with The Post, [Ukrainian prosecutor Iryna] Venediktova showed a photo of a 14-year-old boy on an autopsy table, his chest apparently sawed open by investigators to reveal a cylindrical munition the size of a soda can resting in a pool of blood next to his heart. His left arm was mangled, amputated near the elbow. The dead boy, they said, was killed by Russian forces near Kyiv in the early days of invasion. Prosecutors last month shared a cropped version of the photo with media.
“This is a chest. Inside is a piece of projectile,” Venediktova said. “It’s without words, actually. All the evidence is inside the chest of the boy.”
i. Can’t ignore what’s happening in Ukraine. Can’t look away.
j. Here’s the TikTok of Klemko’s first week in Ukraine.
k. Environmental Story of the Week: Shantal Riley, writing for Gothamist, on the impact of climate change on maple syrup production.
l. Endlessly interesting if only to discover how maple syrup gets from tree to table. Writes Riley:
Americans are the world’s leading consumers of maple syrup, and New York State holds the title of the second-largest U.S. supplier after Vermont. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic when more of us are cooking at home, demand for the gold stuff has gone through the roof.
But this swell in demand coincides with a changing climate that brings warmer winter temperatures to much of the Northeast. And winter and early-spring temperatures determine how well precious maple sap will flow. The climate problem was so detrimental last year that it squeezed the global supply of maple syrup … The sugar maple — Acer saccharum — is exquisitely sensitive to changes in temperature. It’s a little like Goldilocks. The flow of sap depends on temperatures being “just right.”
m. Story of the Week: How a former punk-rock roadie and current professional carpet-cleaner learned to be conversational in 24 languages and totally fluent in eight, from Jessica Contrera of the Washington Post.
n. Vaughn Smith might be one of the most fascinating people in America. Wrote Contrera:
He thought, at first, that there were two languages. English, like his dad spoke, and Spanish like his mom spoke. Vaughn liked visiting his family in Orizaba, Mexico, liked the way the Spanish words sounded in his mouth.
But growing up in Maryland, he often tried not to use them. He didn’t want to feel even more different than the other kids. He was already browner than them. He already didn’t understand why they laughed at certain things, or why they seemed to be able to follow instructions from the teacher that made no sense to him. Spanish was his first secret.
When some distant cousins of his dad’s came to visit from Belgium, they used words different than Vaughn had ever heard. Vaughn became more and more frustrated that once again, he couldn’t understand.
“I was like, ‘I want that power,’ ” Vaughn remembers.
o. He is learning “Salish,” a language known to something in the hundreds of people in Montana and Washington state.
p. People. Endlessly fascinating.
q. Will Smith: 10-year ban from the Oscars. Well, that got our attention. It seems fair to me.
r. Congrats to Leon Carter of The Athletic, one of the great sports editors of our day, for winning The Red Smith Award, given by the Associate Press for great contributions to sports journalism. So well-deserved.
s. Not that I follow it closely, but I find it hard to blame LeBron James playing through injuries on a dispirited team and averaging his highest point total in 16 years (30.3 per game) for the troubles of the Lakers.
t. Not that I follow golf closely either, but it’s strange to wake up on Friday morning and hear the name “Scottie Scheffler” and not know who it is, and then hear him talked about as possibly the best golfer in the world. Man, I need to catch up with modern sports.
v. Who can’t laugh at that?
w. Maybe we need something to laugh at in a week like this.
x. So I’m not much of a golf guy, but holy crap. The Rory McIlroy/Collin Morikawa consecutive bunker shots finding the bottom of the cup on 18. Definition of drama. Imagine the pressure on both of those shots, and imagine holing both. Wow.
Want to honor Dwayne
Haskins? Be nice. Be thoughtful.
Be just like he was.
Football Morning In America is edited by Dominic Bonvissuto