It’s a different year in the draft. It’s too early to say who’s going where, and too early to know who’s trading with whom, because most teams are in the final days of stacking their boards and placing values on players. But there are two things in the NFL’s 87th draft that stand out, from conversations with 12 GMs/coaches/personnel people on Friday and Saturday:
1. This could be the first draft since the NFL began the “Annual College Player Selection Meeting” in 1936 that has no one who touches the ball getting picked in the top 10. No running backs, of course. Quite possibly no wideouts; the Jets, picking 10th, look to be the first place a receiver might go. And with the quarterback picture so lousy and so cloudy, who knows? We all know Carolina, picking sixth, could well take a quarterback. And we know a desperate team for one (Pittsburgh, picking 20th?) could be motivated to move up for one. “But unless Carolina takes one,” one GM said, “I can’t see any team picking one in the top 10.”
2. It’s going to be a bad year for mock drafts. Great line from a top GM Saturday night: “You can take the top 20 most plugged-in guys in your business. Ask them to pick the top 10 guys in this draft. I would bet a lot of money no two guys have the same top 10. When you don’t know who’s going one or two or three at this point of the year, you’ve got a mysterious year.”
Lots of interesting tributaries to this draft, as told to me by those in the draft rooms over the weekend, and we’ll start with the first pick. After Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence were locked in atop the three most recent drafts by now, a very unfamous Georgia Bulldog is a serious contender for number one this year.
I asked my 12 draft-authority panelists: Less than two weeks before the draft, what do you feel good about? What will be true come draft weekend? I said I would use their thoughts but not their names.
This is going to be an odd column—a stream-of-consciousness column. Think of having 12 inside authorities on the draft, with their soundbites and quick opinions, one after the other. At times, I’ll inject some explanation. At times, I’ll just let them riff.
THE FIRST PICK IN THE DRAFT
GM1: “Tough call for Jacksonville, because [Michigan’s] Aidan Hutchinson’s such a safe pick. I look at [Jags GM] Trent Baalke’s history going back to San Francisco. That year he picked Aldon Smith , look who he passed on—J.J. Watt, Cam Jordan. Bigger guys, sturdier guys. Trent picked the guy with tools and traits, Smith. That’s why I think he’ll take Travon Walker. Great kid, and he’s got all the traits except consistent production.”
Walker played some over the center at Georgia, moved out wide to rush, and also dropped in coverage. At 275, he can play all over the line. But it’ll take a leap of faith to pick him first overall. In three seasons, he had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss … total.
GM2: “I wouldn’t draft Walker thinking you’re getting Von Miller. He’s not a classic edge. He’s more an all-around guy who plays the run well too. He’s a great example of this draft—not a no-doubt prospect, but intriguing.”
Coach1: “I bet Jacksonville takes Walker. But I don’t know how great they’ll feel taking a projection one overall.”
GM3: “I like Walker, but I’m not a big fan of guys who rise after the season the way he has. In December, he wasn’t even on the radar for the first round.”
Let’s see. I checked four December “mock drafts,” though I don’t know how you have a mock draft when you don’t know where teams will be drafting. One had Walker 25th, one had him 32nd, one didn’t have him as a first-round pick, and the NFL.com multi-round mock had him 45th.
This sort of reminds me of something Bill Parcells said in his last year running a draft—in Miami in 2010. The previous year, they’d taken an option quarterback, Pat White, 44th overall. White was a pre-draft fast riser, in part because teams valued him as a potential Wildcat quarterback. White failed, and Parcells said that’s the last time they were going to be seduced by a rising star after the season was over. In 2010, the Dolphins set their draft board before going to the combine, and changed it only because of injury or character concerns dug up after the season—not because of a great combine performance.
One analyst who’s been fairly consistent on Walker is Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network. Jeremiah has put out three top 50 rankings since the end of the college football season and has had Walker climbing, though conservatively, not like he was shot out of a cannon. Jeremiah has rated Walker 15, 10 and six.
GM3: “Walker’s a one-year starter who had six and a half sacks, with a lot of talent around him on a great Georgia defense. Again, I like him—but I prefer to base the grade on how he played football.”
ON CAROLINA WITH THE SIXTH OVERALL PICK
GM4: “[GM] Scott Fitterer is well-respected, and I feel bad for him. I’d hate to need a quarterback this year, with an owner all over you to find one, and have to draft one with this group. No one feels great about any of these guys. [Pitt’s Kenny] Pickett is probably the best one, and he’s a maybe.”
GM5: “There’s not a generational talent in this draft, and there’s certainly not one at quarterback. You get in trouble reaching for a quarterback. Somebody’s gonna reach for one because of need, maybe more than one, and then you put more pressure on the guy you pick because your fans expect a first-round quarterback to play.”
GM6: “I could actually see a scenario where if Carolina is focused on one guy at quarterback, they might have to move up a spot or two to make sure they get their guy. I say that because you look at the teams in the middle of the round. New Orleans might want to move up, and with two ones now [at 16 and 19], they’ve got the ammo to move up. Pittsburgh [at 20] has had all their people at all these quarterback workouts—Mike Tomlin, [GM] Kevin Colbert, scouts. I’ll be really surprised if they don’t take one, and if they’re fixed on one guy, they won’t be shy about moving up to get one. This is Colbert’s last year [as GM], and I’m sure he wants to leave the team with options at quarterback.”
Note about quarterbacks picked in the top six recently, and Carolina picking sixth overall: In the last 10 drafts, 18 quarterbacks have been picked in the top six. It’s too early to know about the three from 2021—Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance. Of the other 15 passers picked in the top six since 2012, two and maybe three appear to be long-term answers for their teams: Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and maybe Kyler Murray. Tua Tagovailoa might be one. But the others—Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones—are either long gone from the teams that drafted them or a long shot to be a 10-year starter there.
That’s a daunting thing, to pick a quarterback who’s not a sure thing with all the pressure to make it that has eaten alive some of the previous high picks.
COVID MADE THIS DRAFT DEEPER
GM6: “When so many college players had shortened seasons, or no seasons [in 2020], a lot of them chose to stay and play a regular year last year. That’s why the draft’s deeper this year. Not just at the top, but all the way through.”
GM7: “This is the year to have a bunch of day two and day three picks. And I think the pool of undrafted free agents will be better than usual.”
GM8: “One of our analytics guys was talking about how Covid made this draft richer. Look at all the picks Baltimore has in the third and fourth rounds. [The Ravens have seven in the third and fourth combined.] Those picks are absolute gold. They are going to have a great draft. Five years from now, that will be the story to look back on.”
GM9: “I’m extremely bullish on the third and fourth rounds, into the fifth.”
Coach 1: “This draft, in terms of high-quality players, kind of drops off the cliff after about 10 picks. But the depth of make-it players who will contribute is very good.”
CORNERS ARE THIN
GM7: “I’m happy we don’t have a big corner need in this draft. I like Sauce Gardner, but I worry about his tackling and his physicality. [Derek] Stingley is probably going in the top 10, and he hasn’t played well since 2019. How are you not worried about that? There’s not a great, clean corner in this draft, and after the top two, I’ve got questions on them all.”
Stingley, one evaluator told me recently, has “the best feet of any corner I’ve ever seen.”
GM3: “LSU went in the tank the last couple of years. Sometimes you see on sinking teams that players kind of give up too and save themselves for the NFL. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happened with Stingley. I think he’s going to be really good in our league.”
GM10: “He is a me guy, but we don’t have a problem with him. His selfishness is overrated. Character-wise, he doesn’t have a lot of negatives—he wants to be a great player and I think he has all the tools to be a good NFL pass-rusher.”
Club executive 1: “Teams have gotten really aggressive with trades. I’m starting to hear teams offering to package picks and players to move up—not just picks. So instead of trying to trade up five spots in the first round, maybe this year you’ll see a team offering a one, a three and a player they’re down on a little.”
GM5: “If any team in the top six or eight wants to trade down, they won’t get what the trade chart says they should get. You don’t hear much trade talk till a day or two before the draft anyway—except for teams alerting you to keep them in mind if you’re thinking of moving your pick—but this isn’t the year to get rich on your high picks.”
GM4: “I laugh when I read around this time that the trade market is heating up. Most of the time, nothing really substantial happens till the day before the draft, or day of. There will be trades, but I don’t see many until after 10 [the 10th overall pick].”
A DRAFT LIKE NO OTHER?
At the top of this column, I wrote how this could be the first draft without a quarterback, running back or wide receiver in the top 10 picks. The NFL has been conducting a player draft since 1936, and in every draft at least one skill player has gone in the top 10.
It was close in 1985 and 1991. There was one skill guy drafted in the top 10 in those two years, both at number 10 overall: wide receiver Al Toon by the Jets in ’85, wide receiver Herman Moore by the Lions in ’91. Twice since then—in 1997 (wideout Ike Hilliard, seventh overall) and 2013 (wideout Tavon Austin, eighth overall)—has there been one skill guy picked in the top 10.
GM6: “I could see seven tackles and edge players going in the top 10. Maybe there’s a fourth tackle, the Penning kid. [Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning has gotten hot in the pre-draft buildup.] Then the two corners. It’s strange, with the league so slanted to the wide receiver and quarterback, to think it’s possible none get picked high. I could see it, though—every one of the quarterbacks has question marks, and there are so many good receivers that teams think they can wait to take one.”
Next week: I’ll publish my annual exercise in futility, the mock draft. Check it out here next Monday, and on The Peter King Podcast with my NBC partner Paul Burmeister, also out on Monday.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. At times in the first three months of 2022, the Indianapolis Colts looked like they were headed to the bottom of the AFC instead of rebounding to make another playoff run this fall. But when they signed 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore to a two-year deal Friday, Indianapolis actually continued a very strange, but good post-season heading into the draft.
The Colts booted Carson Wentz to Washington (for a better second-round draft position and a third-round pick), and it’s now pretty clear why they had to give up on Wentz after one year. His refusal to get vaccinated led to a positive test in Week 17, zero practice time the week of a huge game against the Raiders, and a stale, tired Wentz playing poorly in a 27-24 loss. That was followed by a desultory Wentz performance in a 15-point loss to the worst team in football, Jacksonville, that knocked the Colts out of the playoffs. The Colts slunk back to Indianapolis and immediately retreated to a very dark place, with an owner, Jim Irsay, clearly furious about the collapse—and about his quarterback.
The Colts replaced Wentz with a better player and leader (and with a chip on his shoulder), Matt Ryan. They buttressed a mediocre pass rush with the acquisition of the well-traveled Yannick Ngakoue (9.5 sacks per year, on average, over the last five years). And Gilmore not only gives the Colts a far better option than the young Isaiah Rodgers at one corner against a schedule with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Derek Carr, but he provides the kind of veteran counsel a young secondary can learn from.
A general manager is often judged by who he drafts, and the high-priced free-agents he imports. But more often, a GM earns his stripes when he faces a crisis and manages his way patiently out of it. Time will tell if Chris Ballard of the Colts can overcome overpaying for Wentz last offseason by the moves he’s made since the disastrous end of the Colts’ season. But so far, the Colts have rebounded steadily from the worst finish to the 2021 season of any NFL team. They’re one of the most improved teams of 2022. Now Ballard’s got to find a receiving weapon in this draft, from a rich pool of wideouts, to help the Colts stay competitive with the explosive offenses of the deep, deep AFC.
Cardinals equipment manager Mark Ahlemeier is retiring after a 41-year career with the team. Since the franchise relocated to Arizona in 1988, he’s the only head equipment manager the team has had. Through 823 games, seven presidents and 3,600 players, through midwestern blizzards and torrid Arizona heat waves, Ahlemeier got the job done.
The franchise had a retirement luncheon for Ahlemeier on Thursday. Owner Michael Bidwill flew in Ahlemeier’s favorite food—Imo’s Pizza—from St. Louis for the occasion. And the team arranged for two tribute videos to be played: one from (predictably) the greatest player in Arizona Cardinals history, Larry Fitzgerald, and one from …
Joe Buck? The TV guy?
Yes. Buck met Ahlemeier doing the first job of his life.
“I did two summers at Cardinals training camp at Eastern Illinois in Charleston, Ill.,” Buck said over the weekend from St. Louis. “That was the home of Mike Shanahan and later Tony Romo, and, at that time, a quarterback named Sean Payton.
“My first year, I showed up as a 16-year-old kid. First job, homesick, dorm life, up at the crack of dawn every day. Bill Simmons, the longtime equipment manager, chewed Redman and never spit. Little short bald guy, with the ability to organize the equipment room perfectly. Young Mark Ahlemeier was on the staff. He was such a great worker. That was the last year of Jim Hanifan, and I remember Neil Lomax, chipping golf balls on the sidelines of the practice field. Next year, Gene Stallings came in. Taskmaster. No more lob wedges at the side of the practice field.
“We’d get the players’ laundry bags and wash them, get their valuable bags taken care of and locked up, set up the field every day, then wash the clothes after practice. I did it for two summers. Sean Payton was one of the ballboys with me. He was the Eastern Illinois quarterback, maybe 20 years old, and he’d set up the field and wash the clothes with me. You run that operation, and you’re even putting the decals on the helmets, making sure there are no bubbles under the decal. You had to be precise.
“Mark was ready to take over when Bill Simmons was finished. I’ll tell you: It takes special people to do nothing but serve the players and coaches. Mark was tireless, absolutely tireless. He was in there before everyone else, listen to complaints about something not feeling right—the undershirts, the jocks, the socks, the shoes. The charter would land wherever the Cardinals were playing, he’d been working all week already, and everyone goes to the hotel, and Mark goes to the stadium to get the players’ uniforms and equipment just perfect. Then he’s the first one there before the game. Sometimes he’d just sleep in the locker room.
“Equipment guys make the whole operation go. Everything’s set out so that it’s easy for the guys to get in, get dressed, and get on the field. They get no thanks. All they get is complaints. This doesn’t fit, or that’s missing, and Mark’s gotta go solve it, right away. Equipment guys are so vital to the whole operation.
“I learned a lot from him. Every time I had a Cardinals game over the years, I’d go down and find him. Once he said, ‘Wow, look at you.’ I felt the same way. Like, how the hell did I get here? It was a comforting feeling to walk into that locker room, see him, and think of where I’d been and where he’d been. Such a great guy. So unselfish. The Cardinals were lucky to have him for all these years.”
“The head coaches are going into a lab. They’re building their teams from scratch. Eight petri dishes. There’s nothing in there. NFL guys versus college guys. So we’ll see a lotta different philosophies in this league.”
—Jason Garrett, NBC USFL analyst, before the first game of the new eight-team USFL, New Jersey-Birmingham, Saturday night in Birmingham.
“Quite frankly, as you go through the allegations it reads like a description of some organization out of the Godfather and not an NFL football team.”
—U.S. Rep Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, to John Keim of ESPN on the investigation into the ownership of Washington’s Dan Snyder.
“I went through heartbreak last time I signed my contract. My best friend left. I didn’t want that to ever happen again.”
—Raiders QB Derek Carr, after signing a new contract that starts to pinch the team’s cap in 2023, referring to the last contract he signed. Coach Jon Gruden said at the time the team couldn’t afford two franchise contracts (dubious logic, I always thought) and so traded linebacker Khalil Mack, Carr’s buddy.
“It’s nice to have you here where you belong.”
—Nancy Seaver, the widow of the late Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, at the unveiling of the Tom Seaver statue at CitiField in Queens.
It’s only about 25 years late, but it’s great to see the greatest Met of all time get his due at the Mets’ new stadium:
— New York Mets (@Mets) April 15, 2022
“It’s so inspiring, to see Bob Dylan at 80 take the stage. It’s just like seeing (Tom) Brady play this long … It’s like ‘Wow.’ And I’ve always kind of aspired to that, about sticking around as long as you can. You know, the party changes.”
—Colts owner Jim Irsay, to Mike Silver in this interesting story for Bally Sports.
With the help of Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap, I’ve listed the top five average salaries in the NFL at five-year intervals—2012, 2017, 2022. What’s obvious is how the quarterbacks have taken advantage of the rising tide of average salaries. In the span of 10 years, the highest average quarterback salary has risen 152 percent, from Drew Brees’ $20-million average compensation in 2012 to Aaron Rodgers’ $50.3 million this year.
Just think: If the average QB salary goes up 152 percent between now and 2032, the highest-paid QB in 2032 (Joe Burrow? Justin Herbert? Bryce Young? Arch Manning?) will have a contract averaging $126.8 million.
Perhaps this column section should be entitled Potential Insanity of the Week.
The five highest average NFL salaries in 2012, ’17 and ’22, along with the salary-cap in each of the three seasons:
Percentage of cap of highest 2012 average salary: 16.6 percent.
Percentage of cap of highest 2017 average salary: 15.1 percent.
Percentage of cap of highest 2022 average salary: 24.2 percent.
Sometimes, it’s hard to relate to professional athletes. Such as this time.
Tackle Trent Brown has been plagued by weight issues in his career, and he reportedly weighed more than 400 pounds when he played—poorly—for the Raiders. Brown, now of the Patriots, signed a two-year, $13-million contract last week. As part of the contract, Brown can make $900,000 extra over the next two seasons simply by staying at 365 pounds or less on his 6-foot-8 frame, per Mike Reiss of ESPN.
Brown is clearly a better football player when he has his weight under control. So the Patriots put a clause in his contract that says this: For every one of the 18 game-week Thursdays in 2022 and 2023, Brown will weigh in at the Patriots’ facility in Foxboro. Each time he is at 365 pounds or less, he’ll earn $25,000. Amazing that the Patriots have to pay Brown nearly $1 million to keep his weight right, but we’ll see how disciplined Brown can be, week by week.
As the draft stands now, Carolina picks sixth overall, then not again till 137th, which is about 41 hours between picks. (The sixth pick should come around 8:45 p.m. ET on day one of the draft, and the 137th at somewhere near 1:45 p.m. ET day three, on Saturday.)
Most picks between 10 and 130: Baltimore 7, Kansas City 7.
Least picks between 10 and 130: Carolina 0.
BRONX, N.Y. — First baseball game of the year. Jays-Yanks, Wednesday night, and I saw something I’ve never seen before. Vladimir Guerrero hit three line-drive home runs, each smoked in a way that takes your breath away.
Guerrero went homer-homer-double off Gerrit Cole, the highest-paid pitcher in history. First inning: 416 feet to straightaway center, a laser at 109 mph. Third inning: 427 feet to left, a laser at 109 mph. Eighth inning, off Jonathan Loaisiga: 443 feet to left, hit even harder—114 mph.
The last two came after Guerrero was spiked on the right hand by Aaron Hicks at first base, the spike wound bandaged. There wasn’t any booing in my section, for any of the shots. I’d describe the reaction, especially after the third one, as awe.
I’m 64. I went to my first baseball game in 1964, at age 7. Never have I see a more ferocious and intimidating display of hitting. Guerrero is 23 years old, and baseball is a funny game, so hard to predict the long-term future. But I hope I get to see him in his prime for another 15 years or so.
“Thibodeaux in many ways reminded me of a 20lbs less Jadeveon Clowney, who is on his 5th team by the time he is 28 years old.” @GregCosell talking about one of the most polarizing players in this draft on the @RossTuckerPod pic.twitter.com/D1EeBfkdfg
— Ross Tucker Podcast (@RossTuckerPod) April 15, 2022
The podcast of the former NFL offensive lineman.
If you buy twitter can you delete the combine photo? @elonmusk
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) April 14, 2022
Question of the week from the Tampa Bay quarterback.
Nothing Baker Mayfield said is inaccurate or dishonest, it just won’t be received well. NFL Quarterback is a political position in this country… you’re hated or loved, fairly or unfairly, and complaints are met with scrutiny not sympathy.pic.twitter.com/CzWFXwVub6
— Rich Ohrnberger (@ohrnberger) April 13, 2022
The former NFL offensive lineman is correct in his assessment.
I don’t know. Maybe a society where billionaires have enough money lying around to start space programs and control communication while people starve and ration their medicine isn’t the best system.
— Jared Yates Sexton (@JYSexton) April 14, 2022
Sexton is an author and podcaster. This the truest thing I saw all week.
I don’t get a vote, but @chefjoseandres deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Always there. Open heart, open hands.
— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) April 6, 2022
Simon is a host at National Public Radio.
Reach me at email@example.com, or on Twitter @peter_king.
The Titans did nothing wrong. From Frank Bifulco, of Pomona, N.Y.: “Amy Strunk Adams gets to hire who SHE wants regardless of an illegal quota law like the Rooney Rule. You, [Mike] Florio, the ESPN clowns, and the rest of the leftist sportswriting community need to stick to football—which you actually do quite well—and stop lecturing the rest of us on racial morality where you don’t know what the hell you are talking about.”
Frank, let’s take race out of the picture for a moment. How would you feel if you were asked to travel to a city halfway across the country to interview for a job in good faith, and you didn’t get the job, and then you found out the job had been promised to the person who got it before the interview process started? I doubt you’d feel very good about it. Nor should Ray Horton.
Good to remember. From Marc Garber, of Marietta, Ga.: “Les Snead’s not the first GM to win now by trading future picks. In 18 drafts from 1971-1988, Washington GM-coach George Allen and GM Bobby Beathard dealt 15 of the team’s first-round picks, with great success. With the three first-round picks he kept, Beathard selected Art Monk, Darrell Green and Mark May … Snead and Sean McVay look like they’re on the same road.”
Great perspective, Marc. Thanks for writing.
Disappointed with my take on Dwayne Haskins. From @mboerigter, via Twitter: “I respect you and I read your columns every Monday. I couldn’t read this one in its entirety for the first time in forever. I stopped this evening after reading your take on the death of Haskins.”
Marc Boerigter went on to say this section of my writing on Haskins was disappointing:
“As a player, he 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.”
Marc, you’re a thoughtful person. When someone dies, it’s hard to know what to write, particularly when—as in my case with Haskins—I did not know him. The point I wanted to get across in what I wrote was what a good person he was, and how hard he was working to become the player in the NFL that he’d been at Ohio State. Others will have to judge whether it was either crass or the wrong time for it, but I was trying to credit him for the work he was putting in, and the person he was, to build a career.
He thinks I am at fault about Black coaches. From J. Newman, of Riverview, Fla.: “You have a huge effect on perceptions around the league being the author of probably the most widely read weekly column about the NFL. Maybe if you shut up for half a second about your young white, whiz-kid head coaches like Brandon Staley, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, Kliff Kingsbury, Zac Taylor, or stopped endlessly bloviating about the greatness of Bill Belichick or Andy Reid and spent more time talking about the greatness of Mike Tomlin (who is truly great, by the way), or about the turnaround job Brian Flores was doing in Miami before he was fired, the perception of Black coaches would improve faster. Maybe in addition to forcing teams to conduct sham interviews with head coaching candidates, the NFL should also force you to do a better job of covering black coaches by threatening to cut off your access if you don’t.”
I think your anger is misplaced, but I’m glad to give you space to express your opinion. You could be right about Staley; I’m high on him, and time will tell. McVay’s been to two Super Bowls in his first five years in the league, and NFL teams raid his staff annually. LaFleur is 41-13 in his first three seasons as a coach; should that be played down? I haven’t been that bullish on Kingsbury, and I’ve praised Taylor, but not unduly. Belichick and Reid are third and fifth on the all-time coaching wins list, with no end for either in sight. If you checked my column over the years on Tomlin, I think you’d find I have praised him plenty. Hmmm. The NFL forcing me to write something or cutting off my access. Interesting. I wonder if you know exactly how the journalism business works.
He didn’t like my Gil Brandt comment. From Corey Charron: “I was very disappointed that you said Gil Brandt should be removed from the air for his comments on Dwayne Haskins. I do agree what he said was terrible, especially when it was within hours of the tragedy, but I am always disturbed when members of the media push for censoring, canceling and firing. Hope you don’t ever say anything you later regret.”
I didn’t say he should be removed from the air. I said if Sirius XM NFL Radio chooses to continue to use him, at 90, Brandt’s interviews should be taped first, to avoid the kind of totally embarrassing interview he did on Haskins. If you listened to what he said about Haskins, he sounded different than he had a few years ago. It’s painful, as I said, when you tell someone you’ve trusted that you’ve got to put guardrails on him. But that’s how I see it.
1. I think Erik Burkhardt, the agent for Kyler Murray, is right to press the Cardinals to get some sort of new contract done before the draft. One or two teams (Carolina? Pittsburgh?) will draft a quarterback and thus make the market Murray much, much smaller if the Cardinals would choose to deal Murray at some point during the offseason. Burkhardt’s asking the Cardinals to declare their intentions on Murray sooner rather than later, which, given the discord between the two sides, is not an unreasonable request. Three things I expect:
a. The Cardinals will not accede to Burkhardt’s demands. They’ll wait till sometime this summer before addressing the Murray situation. (He’s due to make $5.5 million in total compensation in this, his fourth season.)
b. Chances are microscopic that Murray plays this season under his current deal.
c. Cool heads will prevail by the end of July. No matter how the Cardinals feel about Burkhardt taking this fight public, they know they have to keep Murray, because the task of finding another quarterback in this day and age (ask Carolina) is far more difficult than keeping your current one content in this crazy quarterback market.
2. I think these are a few thoughts about the first weekend of the USFL:
• Please don’t make any predictions about the short- or long-term future of the league based on the optimism of Saturday’s competitive opening night 28-24 win by Birmingham over New Jersey. The last iteration of the XFL lasted five weeks. The Alliance of American Football lasted 67 days before going belly-up. This USFL has some deep-pocketed networks behind it, for sure. But you just don’t know if the ratings will justify a future. So just wait and see.
• I know the weather was lousy, and Sunday was Easter. But the crowd at the second USFL game Sunday was just grim, a high school JV game crowd. That cannot continue.
• Judging from the Saturday night game, there are definitely some receivers in this league. The one-handed TD catch by Birmingham’s Osirus Mitchell was superb. The bomb on the first snap of the USFL season by New Jersey was cool.
The @USFLStallions wasted NO TIME answering!
Osirus Mitchell brings it in with ONE HAND to tie the game. 😮
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) April 17, 2022
• Coaches should go for three after touchdowns. We’re watching this for fun and experimentation. Going for a PAT … zzzzzzzzzzz.
• Was it just me, or did the quarterbacks look off on many of their throws? And could it be because of the implanting of a chip in all footballs to be able to judge with precision exactly how far the ball is from the first down marker or from the goal line? I’ve heard the ball is some percent heavier with the chip in it. Is it worth the technology to have a football that weighs more than a regular one?
• Best technology: listening to Jersey coach Mike Riley (for those who know him, a very loquacious sort) call plays to his two quarterbacks for two or three minutes. That was so informative. Too early for a worst technology, but man, I was dizzy watching the helmet-cam. Vomitous. The shaking and the camera view not centered was distracting. I appreciate the director and producer trying to take advantage of all the new toys. But it’s stomach-turning to see shaking and exploding camera views. Work on that.
• The offensive lines look way behind the front sevens. Coaches might have to max-protect a lot more than they’d like.
• If I were USFL bosses this week, I’d start to work on what can be done to help the quarterbacks, starting with the design of the football. People aren’t watching April football to see punts and field goals.
• I hope the league works. As Jason Garrett said on the telecast Saturday night, leagues like this are the land of opportunity for players. Would Kurt Warner and Sam Mills be in the Hall of Fame if not for the World League and the first USFL? Would Adam Vinatieri be knocking on the door of the Hall without his time in the World League? All doubtful. So though I may have little interest in the league and won’t watch a lot of it, I’m rooting for it. Jobs for players is a good thing.
3. I think the most interesting signing of the last week was not Sammy Watkins or even Derek Carr, neither of which is very surprising. I’ll be interested to see the terms of the one-year, “up to $7-million” deal for Geno Smith in Seattle, who has started five games in the last seven years.
4. I think the best example of a quarterback contract not overwhelming his team’s cap is what Derek Carr did in Las Vegas. He’s contractually obligated to the team now for the next four seasons. We know the 2022 cap ($208.2 million) and have a good idea that the 2023 cap will be about $230 million. Carr’s percentage of the cap over the next two seasons: 9.3 percent and 15.6 percent. Smart for him, and smart for the team, to not have the quarterback eating up more than that.
5. I think I’d ask you to go back and read the quote from the member of the United States House of Representatives from Illinois (it’s the second entry in “Quotes of the Week”), and I’d ask you: How proud must the NFL be for consistently defending Dan Snyder as he has torn down a once-proud franchise?
6. I think the Bills are very lucky the governor of the state of New York, Kathy Hochul, is from Buffalo. Born there, raised there, started her political career there. Hard to imagine a governor from another part of the state would have been as generous to the Pegulas in earmarking $850 million to the construction of a new stadium for the Bills. She mentioned Toronto and San Diego as cities that could have pilfered the Bills, in listing the reasons for her largesse. Hochul told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer: “They did have options to leave … Buffalo’s a very small market. It’s quite extraordinary that they have a team at all, because there’s a lot more money to be had in larger cities like San Diego and others who would love to have a team.” I mean … San Diego? The city without a stadium?
7. I think I appreciate a deal-maker like Hochul, but that’s a huge amount of money for owners with the resources of the Pegulas.
8. I think I don’t blame Baker Mayfield for being angry with the Browns. I would be too, after playing hurt for most of 2021. But I don’t know what good it does to keep talking about it. The more he talks about it, the more a team interested in him thinks, Is this guy going to be divisive if it doesn’t work out with us?
9. I think the one-word social-media reaction from Carolina wide receiver Robby Anderson on the prospect of Mayfield perhaps joining the Panthers says volumes: “Noooooo.” How many legit contenders for his services are there? Seattle, maybe? Mike Florio came up with a smart thought the other day: How crazy would it be if the Browns cut Mayfield, were on the hook for his 2022 salary … and he signed with the Steelers? The very thought of that has to make the Browns hold onto Mayfield even though he’s a weekly distraction to the team.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Year: “Untold,” by Tom Junod and Paula Lavigne of ESPN, on the sexual assault story at Penn State that you never knew.
b. The reporting, the drama, the revelations … just outstanding reporting and writing by Junod and Lavigne.
c. Todd Hodne, a Penn State football recruit from Long Island in 1977, let loose sexual terror on the Penn State campus, terror that nearly got covered up. A lot of people, including Joe Paterno, look terrible here. The crimes involved a knife and you can read about them in the story. They’re heinous.
d. There is a knight in shining armor: former Penn State tackle Irv Pankey, who went on to a very good NFL career with the Rams. Pankey believed the first victim, Betsy Sailor, who testified against Hodne—and went against the powerful Penn State culture. Wrote Junod and Lavigne, about Pankey:
One night, there came a knock on Betsy’s door that changed everything for her. “And I went to my door, and I opened it,” she remembers, “and there was a man that completely, seemingly, filled the entire door frame, like there was not a lot of space other than him. And he put out his hand and introduced himself. He said: ‘Hello, my name is Irv Pankey, and I just wanted to let you know that I was in the courtroom today and I listened to what you had to say. And I believe every word that you said. And, you will never have to be afraid, or be alone again. I will be by your side.’”
Irv Pankey was a junior and a natural protector—a tight end who had been moved to left tackle. He was 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, with a 13-year NFL career in front of him. He had a deep solemnity about him that belied his penchant for good times. He was the roommate of Hodne’s friend Kip Vernaglia … Pankey had seen her on the stand, and he knew bravery when he saw it. “She came forward,” Pankey says. “And that brought things to light—what the situation really was. If she hadn’t stepped up and he hadn’t gone to trial, no one would ever have known. And she started putting cracks in stories. … Kudos to her for not being buffaloed.”
They were so different from one another in so many ways. But Irv had seen that Betsy was alone in State College, and in that he saw part of himself … “She did not deserve to be a pariah.” But they also had something else in common. Betsy was not just alone; she was singular. She had taken on the institution of Penn State football and, alone among Hodne’s victims, had brought her case to court. Now Irv, alone among his teammates, walked to her dormitory and knocked on her door. Betsy stood up for herself. Irv stood up for Betsy.
e. Radio Story of the Week: NPR’s “Morning Edition,” with its regular Friday feature “StoryCorps,” this one on the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson making his major-league debut.
f. Harold Lucas Jr., 89, has vivid memories of Robinson’s first spring training in Daytona Beach, Fla., and kudos to NPR for featuring someone who remembers Jackie Robinson hitting fungoes to some of the kids in the same neighborhood as Robinson’s spring training ballpark.
g. Recalled Lucas: “He used to hit fly balls out, and we would catch ‘em. He told us he was just the beginning of what was going to be the future. He said, ‘If I can do it now, there’s no telling what you’ll be able to do when your time comes.’ ”
h. Robinson’s legacy is gigantic, of course. But listening to Harold Lucas Jr., describe his impact on the lives of a few Florida kids brings it all home. Said Lucas: “I’m thankful for his advice, to try to prepare ourselves to be somebody. You see, you have to build on what people who come before you do.” Perfect.
i. Dueling New York Post Back Pages of the Week: Bill Parcells used to say that coaching in New York was an exercise in “euphoria or disaster. That’s the way it is with you guys [reporters]—it’s a beautiful day or the sky is falling. One or the other.” And so Tuesday, after the Mets’ bullpen blew a game, was far different from Saturday, after a 10-3 win.
j. Rewarding Story of the Week: Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times, on an L.A. school celebrating the collegiate rejection letters (that’s right) as well as the letters informing immigrant students they got in.
k. Many of these students at Downtown Magnets High School are sons and daughters of immigrants who work low-paying jobs, who never would be able to attend America’s most prestigious schools without financial aid—and without high school teachers and a counselor who care for them so deeply. Wrote Watanabe:
After months of suspense over their college acceptance decisions, the seniors at Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles were much in need of a cathartic event: a college rejection party.
Holding court in the library, clad in cheery pink, stood Lynda McGee, the school’s longtime college counselor who has helped thousands of students at her low-income, high-performing high school get into college.
Kenji Horigome went first. He is the son of a single mother who works in a low-wage job at a Koreatown restaurant. They came to Los Angeles from Japan when Kenji was in fourth grade after losing his father to illness. Kenji worked hard to learn English, overcome loneliness and earn good grades — achieving a 4.3 GPA — so he could earn college scholarships and grants so as not to burden his mother with loan debt.
On this day, Kenji hunched over his laptop and clicked on the notice. His eyes widened. “Oh shoot!” he exclaimed, leaping out of his chair. Berkeley accepted him — and offered enough financial aid to cover his attendance without loans. He is also weighing offers from Harvey Mudd College and the University of Michigan, which have both offered him full-tuition scholarships, and Bowdoin College. Kenji dreams of a career in astrophysics, with a good salary so he can treat his mother to dinner at a fancy Korean restaurant and buy her a designer handbag.
“The money I earn will be a game changer to escape poverty,” Kenji said.
l. The American dream is alive and well, nurtured by teachers and counselors who truly care in schools like this. What a rewarding story.
m. Rip Job Line of the Week, from Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, on the first Apple+ telecast of a baseball game, Mets-Nats: “The three commentators selected for the curtain-raiser seemed to have been drawn from a hat on Bingo Night in the rectory basement.” And on the technical side of the game: “It brought to mind local access cable TV coverage of high school field hockey. Jayvee.”
n. Quite Mushnickian.
o. Jurisprudence Story of the Week: Jonah Bromwich of the New York Times, on career NHL pest Sean Avery choosing to represent himself in a Manhattan court case.
p. I’m shocked—shocked!—that Sean Avery would be giving a judge hard time. Wrote Bromwich:
The misdemeanor with which Mr. Avery has been charged carries a relatively light penalty, and Mr. Avery said that prosecutors had already offered him plea deals that would involve a modest fine. But accepting the most recent deal offered would have required Mr. Avery to plead guilty, pay a fine and attend an anger management program, and he was apparently unwilling to accept those terms. (When asked for comment before his appearance, he declined, then insulted a reporter and asked that the reporter be removed from the courtroom.)
q. Nine hundred former NHL opponents just read that paragraph and said, “That’s Sean Avery all right.”
r. RIP, Liz Sheridan. Jerry Seinfeld’s TV mom was 92, and she was the perfect TV mom. The mom of all moms.
s. “Mrs. Seinfeld … Please, I am begging you … Put … the air-conditioner on!”
t. While you’re at it, stay on Biscayne.
u. So this is how Bill Belichick spent his 70th birthday Saturday night in Nashville:
Big baseball guy in the stands at The Hawk.
— Vanderbilt Athletics (@vucommodores) April 17, 2022
has dawned. Where’s Doug Flutie when
you really need him?