INDIANAPOLIS—Saturday morning, Scouting Combine week, Chicago GM Ryan Poles’ hotel room, 19 stories above downtown Indy, scouts’ clicker in his hands, watching the 2022 Lions on tape. This is college scouting season, but Poles works these days with an eye on looming free-agency, and on the competition too.
It’s early in his GM career for Poles, 37, to have the first pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, but sometimes fate chooses you. And Da Bears could use this piece of great fortune, the first pick in a draft when there’s voraciousness to get to number one. The last time the Bears won the Super Bowl, the only time they won the Super Bowl, Poles was four months old. The last time the Bears won a playoff game, in the 2010 season, Poles was a second-year scout in Kansas City, just trying to make his way in the business.
Now he owns the joint, and he’s well aware what’s at stake.
“I believe in building something to sustain success for a long period of time,” Poles said. “To me that’s gotta be through the draft. This is just a chance to load up this team up with a bunch of opportunity and flexibility to do that. It’s time for this organization. The [practice] facility and offices were just built. The new president [Kevin Warren] comes in, and we think in the same innovative way, I think. We’re in position to have a new stadium. Now, with this opportunity with the first pick, it feels like an opportunity to kind of heal some of the things that happened before and become a really good team. Everything feels right.”
Poles spoke softly but urgently in 50 minutes. He was supportive of quarterback Justin Fields, saying “we’ve got to see it through” in giving Fields a chance to be the team’s long-term starter. It’s clear he’s not trading Fields, and he’s not picking a quarterback high in this draft. He left little doubt the Bears will trade the first overall pick and said he’d spoken to three teams at the Combine about a deal. (He wouldn’t identify them.) He said he had enough conversations about a deal to know in swapping first-round picks this year he can get “a ’24 one and a ’25 one” in a major package for a trade. However far down he goes in the draft this year, Poles wants to be sure he gets a “blue player,” his term for a premier first-rounder—and there may be only six or eight of those when the Bears end up setting their board.
Without disclosing many specifics about the process, it’s clear that Poles has enough information to think a trade could come long before the first round kicks off April 27. And making it now would require a huge price.
“Should we do this before free agency? Or should we wait?” he said. “I don’t know. That’s what I’ve communicated [to teams]. I could carry this all the way until we’re on the clock the night of the draft. But then there’s teams that want some certainty because, ‘If I need a quarterback bad, should I do that now when some of these guys, like Derek Carr, are out there?’ To me, they’ve got to go so much more above to do it now.
“I’m not greedy with it. But they’re gonna have to go above and beyond to close the door now.”
It’s crazy this year that there’s not a no-doubt quarterback in the group, yet there could be a frenzy to get to number one. Houston (picking two and 12), Indianapolis (four), Vegas (seven) and Carolina (nine), and possibly Tennessee (11) or Seattle (five), could all engage Poles aggressively. For Poles, and for the recently star-crossed Bears, this pick could plant the first-round seeds for a long-term rebuild. A much-needed one.
More Bears soon, but a few things I learned in the hotels, bars and Convention Center here:
The QB dominoes should start falling this week. Best guesses from my GM crowd-sourcing: Derek Carr to the Saints, Aaron Rodgers no one knows, truly (but I’m guessing Jets), Lamar Jackson and Daniel Jones franchised, Jimmy Garoppolo being the beneficiary of some QB uncertainty sometime in March.
I don’t see the Raiders being in the Aaron Rodgers derby, if there is one.
Re: Lamar Jackson, I’ve got an idea to bridge the oceanic gap with the Ravens. Might be a dumb idea, but it’s all I got.
Free-agency looks like a dud to me. With legal tampering a week away, zero buzz to it.
As for the Competition Committee rugby-scrum legislation, I think there’s just as much of a chance it doesn’t come up for a vote this spring as it gets voted out of the game. (Rejoice, Eagles.) Why? Because the Competition Committee and Roger Goodell won’t bring up a pushing-the-QB ban for a vote at the owners’ meetings in three weeks if it’s going to fail.
I’m still working on pronouncing the first and last name, but Northwestern DL Adetomiwa Adebawore (pronounced “add-ee-TOMMY-wah add-ee-BAR-uh”) made himself some money this weekend.
Three vivid takeaways from the Combine. Keep in mind that I’m not big on the “here’s the guys who shot up draft boards with great Combines” narrative you’ll read a lot of. I’m more in the Dan Campbell school: “You don’t grade off somebody out here in pajamas.”
Denver’s meaningful jalopy. Explained.
Travis Kelce, stoner hero.
Cautionary Tale of the Week: Carson Wentz. Yikes.
Daniel Snyder’s leaving a long-term stench on Roger Goodell. Don Van Natta with a gem.
Thanks, Sun King Brewing. Thanks, Colts. Thanks, Teachers’ Treasures. We had a heck of an event Friday night, and central Indiana teachers are $14,434 the richer for it.
On with the show.
The First Pick10
Amazing how NFL history can turn on something so strange as a two-point conversion. But the Bears lost in week 18 in the early window to finish their season 3-14; the game ended at 2:29 p.m. CT. There were two minutes left in Indianapolis then, and Houston (2-13-1) was losing 31-24 to the Colts. Poles made his way to the Bears’ locker room. A loss by the Texans would clinch the top pick for Houston. A win would hand the first pick to Chicago. There’s no way the Texans would want to, you know, win this game with such huge consequences, was there?
There was. With 50 seconds left, Davis Mills threw a TD pass to tight end Jordan Akins; 31-30, Colts. Houston head coach Lovie Smith, the former Chicago coach, chose to go for two. Mills to Akins for the conversion, and Houston won, 32-31. In a flash, the order at the top went from Houston 1 and Chicago 2 to the opposite.
Smith got fired hours later.
Mills was on his way out as the Texans’ starting quarterback.
“So I go into the locker room and [I swear] on my kids’ lives, my only thought process at the time was to just show appreciation for guys who fought through a really tough year. I talked to all of them. Then someone pulls me aside and says, ‘Hey, Houston won. We got the first overall pick.’ I wasn’t even there in the mental space to think about it yet.
“Then, that night, getting in the driveway at home, my neighbor drives by and yells out, ‘Hey man, congratulations on the first pick!’ And I was like, a little weird to celebrate this.”
As much as some fans wanted Poles to dump Fields (5-20, a 59.7-percent passer in his first two years, but 1,143 yards rushing this year), it made no sense to the GM. “When we started to adjust and adapt to what he did well, and he started running the ball a little bit, we saw a very unique and special ability and talent that can change the game,” Poles told me. “Now that next piece in terms of being an efficient passer is what we need to get to. I’ve been open about that. We’ve talked about it with Justin. He knows … Can he be more clear-minded when he plays, where he can just play loose because he knows where he’s gonna go with the ball? I do think there’s potential that we have something really good, and to me, you’ve got to see it through.”
Good decision. Fields might turn out to be a plus quarterback. Without a no-doubt franchise QB in the draft, it makes more sense to build a team around Fields—while getting the draft capital in place over the next two or three years if Poles has to go get a quarterback in 2024 or ’25.
As for the market, the best thing I heard here from a QB-seeking team in the top 10 was this from one top club official: “We’re tired of the Band-Aids.” How I see the likely suitors:
The aggressors: Indianapolis and Carolina. The Colts have had a different starting quarterback five years in a row, and haven’t won a playoff game in the last four seasons. GM Chris Ballard is under the gun, and he knows it. I think if he falls in love with one of the top passers, he’ll overpay for him. Carolina could be more desperate. The owner, David Tepper, has made it clear internally he wants a long-term answer at quarterback, and he wants it now. Indianapolis wouldn’t have to trade as much as Carolina for the pick, because it’d be moving up three spots. But the Panthers might be willing to overpay relative to the Colts, and if the Bears have enough “blue” players on the board to ensure they’d get one picking at nine, I could see them taking that deal. What would that package look like? Maybe Chicago trading from one to nine and getting first-round picks in 2024 and ’25 and extra second- and third-round picks over the next two drafts. I’m told it’s entirely possible cooler heads will prevail in Carolina, but we’ll see.
Interested parties: If Houston wants to cut off a suitor for, say, Bryce Young, the Bears could double-trade—taking perhaps two high (but not first-round) picks to go to number two, then deal again for a team, in this example, desperate for C.J. Stroud or Anthony Richardson. Las Vegas will be interested if there’s a QB Josh McDaniels really likes, but I’m dubious the Raiders will be desperate enough to do what Indy or Carolina would do to move up.
Outside shots. Seattle, at five, likely would have to lose Geno Smith in free-agency to get heavily involved. There’s no book on new Tennessee GM Ran Carthon, so never say never. But for him to outbid Carolina would surprise me.
“I’m blessed to be able to read people,” Poles said about the QB market. “I can feel it. There’s urgency out there. There’s pressure.”
One interesting thing to keep in mind: When the league year begins March 15, teams can trade draft picks in 2023, ’24 and ’25. Beginning on draft day, April 27, teams can trade picks in ’23, ’24, ’25 and ’26. That could make waiting interesting for Chicago.
The three interested parties at the Combine, Poles said, included at least one “that’s further back than what I thought … But if I’m going to the next tier [on the Bears’ draft board], you’re gonna have to make up for that with more capital.
“The interesting part is having a conversation with one team, and then one hour later another team texts you wanting in on the trade and they’re not afraid of what the floor of what you’re asking for is.”
This is the sense I got from Poles, the unspoken sense: He views this as, potentially, the gift that keeps on giving. Everyone has seen what the Eagles have done in gathering more and more draft capital; last year they traded the 16th and 19th overall picks to the Saints for the 18th pick plus additional picks in the first, second and third rounds.
“No one’s gonna rush me,” Poles said. “I know I can get a ’24 one and a ’25 one. You’re telling me for the next two years I’ll have two ones? That’s either four really good players, or if we’re cruising, we can still trade back.”
Good year to be running the Bears’ draft, for once. Now Poles just has to find the right deal.
The Jeremiah takeaways. Three players who helped themselves at the Combine, per NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah:
- C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State, 6-3, 214: “Best pure passer in this draft, and he had what I’d call a graceful workout. I’ve been to workouts that are overpowering. Stroud was smooth and natural. He’s a born thrower.”
- Calijah Kancey, DT, Pitt, 6-1, 281: “Not often a player’s taller than advertised at this event, but Kancey was. Delivered on the explosiveness we thought we’d see. In a passing league, a disruptive player like this won’t get out of the first round.”
- Charlie Jones, WR, Purdue, 5-11, 175. “Not a great receiver year, and he ran fast (4.43 seconds) and had a phenomenal overall workout. Might have worked himself into the third round.”
Sean Payton’s busy. The two most interesting Denver Broncos factoids I learned at the combine:
- Sean Payton hired a few of his former New Orleans employees for his new staff in Denver. There were two who he did not hire. His former administrative assistant/offensive assistant, Kevin Petry, was a valued aide to Payton, and the coach requested Petry to follow him to Denver. But when he put in a request with the Saints for Petry to join the Denver staff, New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis nixed it. Turns out Petry was too valuable to the Saints, and because it was a lateral move from one staff to the other, Loomis was within his rights to decline Payton’s request to hire Petry. The other employee? “I wanted to bring the hair stylist also,” said Payton. “She is fantastic.” I think Payton was kidding. I’m pretty sure he was kidding.
- Payton told me he’s going to put an old car front and center in the parking lot so that all players and coaches will see it. He said he’ll have the rearview mirror plus the side mirrors removed from the car. As he said at the Combine, he wants his players and his new organization to look ahead, and not behind, at the nightmare that was the 2022 Broncos season. So if you see a stripped-down old jalopy alongside some very nice vehicles in the Broncos parking lot this season, you’ll know why.
Tush push. I asked a lot of NFL people about the rugby-scrum type of formation the Eagles perfected last season. They were 37-of-41 on QB sneaks, many of which featured the quarterback being pushed from behind on short yardage. Sean Payton and Pete Carroll have each said if it remains legal, they intend on making it part of their playbook next season. For this 18-year-old offensive wrinkle to be outlawed, three-quarters of the league’s owners would have to vote to change it. So the Eagles and only eight other teams would have to vote to keep it for it to survive. I think I’ve got a good feel of the thinking of the Competition Committee, and I believe the group is mostly against assisting the ball carrier. But how adamant will the committee be as the league meetings in Arizona, when rules proposals come up for a vote, get closer? That’s the big question we don’t know yet. If the committee believes it doesn’t have a good chance to get support from 24 teams, it’s likely not to put the measure to a vote. My feeling is getting 24 votes would be a stretch. Two things committee members don’t like: One, this isn’t a football play. Two, the potential for injury. It’s only a matter of time before a defender acting as a projectile flies over the scrum and contacts a QB helmet-to-helmet with force, or a QB getting pushed by 450 pounds of pushers meets similar resistance from defensive tackles and separates a shoulder.
Quote of the Combine on the issue. Chargers coach Brandon Staley doesn’t consider this a very big deal, but he’s not keen on the potential for injury. He told me: “It’s what the law of physics says. If there’s a force coming from the offense, there will be an equal or greater response from the defense. And that’s concerning.”
On Jalen Carter. Lots of authorities had the Georgia defensive tackle as the top prospect in the draft entering the Combine. But oddly and perhaps significantly, on the day Carter reported to the Combine, the Athens-Clarke County (Ga.) Police issued an arrest warrant for Carter for reckless driving and racing in connection with the car-accident deaths of a Georgia player and recruiting staffer. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Carter left the scene of the crime and then misled police about the case. Carter left the Combine, turned himself into authorities in Georgia, then returned to the Combine and participated in interviews with teams Thursday night. Why do I question the timing of it all? The accident happened on Jan. 15. Exactly 45 days later, on the day he reported to the signature pre-draft event, the police issued the arrest warrant; Carter’s reputation and draft stock took a major hit. The seriousness of the charge—which Carter denies—could derail Carter’s career if proven. Aside from the legalities, when this happened is just odd. If Carter was highly regarded by the program and the community, would the case have been handled like this, giving him a black eye on the day of his big job interviews instead of three days before or three days after? “You’re not the only one to think that,” one GM told me Friday. “I believe it was absolutely calculated.” This, of course, comes on the heels of ESPN’s Todd McShay saying there were character concerns about Carter. Carter’s history at Georgia will be a story to be followed between now and draft weekend.
Free-agency? Meh. Assuming Lamar Jackson and Daniel Jones are either franchised or signed by the start of free-agency next week, it’s going to be a lean year for the unrestricted players without contracts. Philadelphia defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and corner James Bradberry, tackles Orlando Brown (KC) and Mike McGlinchey (Niners) and DBs Jamel Dean (Bucs) and Jordan Poyer (Bills) will be some of the sought-after ones in the early hours of the market. As one GM told me, this could be a year when teams hold their cash till the market settles.
The quarterbacks. Alabama’s Bryce Young, the leader in the clubhouse to be the first QB picked, didn’t work out here. C.J. Stroud (Ohio State), Anthony Richardson (Florida) and Will Levis (Kentucky) did. Stroud had a great throwing workout and Richardson had one of the most athletic workouts a quarterback at the Combine has ever had. Young is the most polished of the class, but he’s 5-10 1/8, and that surely will give some teams pause. Kyler Murray was the same height, exactly, four years ago, but still went one overall. The difference is Young doesn’t have the speed Murray has. “Young is the most pro-ready, we think,” said one GM whose team has a quarterback need. “But he doesn’t have one premier trait. He’s very good at a lot of things, but obviously he’s small.” Young, to me, on his size: “I definitely didn’t shrink any time recently. I’m comfortable with myself. I’m confident in my abilities. There’s a lot of people who have paved the way for smaller quarterbacks. A lot of people have done it at a really high level. Drew Brees, Russell Wilson are guys that definitely inspired me a lot growing up. It’s a good source of inspiration for me.”
Dot dot dot. The Derek Carr market is lukewarm. At best. “If there was a lot of love for him, he’d have been signed by now,” one GM said … A guy you’ve never heard of, a guy who probably won’t be drafted in round one, had one of the intriguing Combines. A 282-pound Northwestern defensive lineman, Adetomiwa Adebawore, ran the fastest time ever for a player weighing more than 275 pounds, 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash. His production didn’t match his starry Combine, so teams will go to work on him now—but he likely will be a hot player in the next seven weeks … Three undergrads from the University of Toronto won the $20,000 first prize in the NFL’s Big Data Bowl at the Combine. Eight groups were flown to Indianapolis to compete for the prize, asked to come up with new metrics using Next Gen Stats data to improve a specific part of game study. Hassaan Inayatali, Aaron White and Daniel Hocevar presented on quantifying pocket pressure and how it affects the quarterback … Matthew Berry, the NBC Sports fantasy guru, was prowling the combine for nuggets and produced this column you’ll enjoy… In a nine-day span beginning March 22 in Columbus, the four top quarterbacks will hold Pro Days. Then the hay will be in the barn for, in order, Stroud, Young, Levis and Richardson.
Everything about the Lamar Jackson situation is difficult. Everything.
Jackson’s 26, a former Most Valuable Player, beloved in his locker room and well-respected around the league, a cornerstone player in a conference with so many young franchise quarterbacks, the most popular athlete in any sport in his city, and, as a Black player and leader in a city with a 63-percent Black population, is vital to the Ravens’ fan base.
The Ravens absolutely, positively want to keep Jackson—but not entirely on his terms. He is thought to want a fully (or largely) guaranteed contract at the market level of the best-paid quarterbacks, but he has missed 34 percent of the last two seasons with injuries. The Ravens clearly want to be covered for that in case Jackson, who is averaging 10.4 rushes per game in his career, keeps getting hurt.
So it’s a stalemate. By 4 p.m. Tuesday, Baltimore has to decide whether to put one of two franchise tags on Jackson: the non-exclusive tag, which would allow a team to sign Jackson to a long-term offer sheet; if the Ravens didn’t match, Baltimore would get two first-round picks but lose Jackson. The exclusive tag would prevent other teams from negotiating with him, but the Ravens could still trade him. Non-exclusive one-year compensation for Jackson: $32.4 million. Exclusive tag compensation: $45 million.
If a team wants Jackson, it’s disguising its intentions well. I couldn’t find legit evidence of one in Indianapolis, talking to GMs and coaches and other club officials. There may be one (Jets? Falcons?) but I couldn’t find it. And if the Ravens put the non-exclusive tag on Jackson, good luck in forcing him to play in 2023 for $32 million ($4.2 million less than Ryan Tannehill’s slated cap number) after visions of jillions have been dancing in his head.
So what to do? My idea: Baltimore tries to sign Jackson to a short-term guaranteed deal. Maybe two years, $85 million, or three years, $125 million. Or if Jackson is dead-set on eclipsing the $45-million average for Deshaun Watson (I don’t know that he is), Baltimore bites the bullet and makes it two years for $92 million, for example.
Jackson wouldn’t be getting the security he certainly wants. But I don’t see the Ravens doing the full guarantee over five years, the way Cleveland did with Watson. If I’m the team, I want Jackson badly, but not enough to guarantee him his money five years into the future after he’s missed so much time hurt. If the injury trend continues, or gets worse, the team would be spending a fifth of its salary cap, let’s say, on a player not playing. The advantage for Jackson if he signs for two years and plays at his expected level: He’d be a free agent again at age 28, in his absolute prime, and probably able to demand (and get) a contract averaging much more as the cap rises. Say, $65 million a year.
I doubt either side would be happy with this compromise. Jackson wouldn’t be making the big score, and the Ravens would be faced with reliving this nightmare in less than two or three years. But as in most compromises, it’s necessary because neither side finds a deal it likes. This deal, I think both sides could tolerate.
Quotes of the Week
Jason and I have been playing football together since we were little kids, and he’s always been better than me, at everything. In high school, he was an honor student, and I got kicked off the team because I failed French. And English too, but French sounds way better. And then, when we were in college, I actually got kicked off the team because I tested positive for marijuana. So it just goes to show you, if you smoke weed and you’re bad at school, you can win the Super Bowl! Twice!
–Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, in his “Saturday Night Live” monologue. “Jason” is brother Jason Kelce, the Eagles center who was in the audience in New York City to hear it.
I can run by people, jump over them and throw it past them.
–Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, a first-round prospect, who showed that Saturday at the Combine.
I’ve got a cannon, and I want to show it off.
–Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, explaining why he wanted to throw at the Scouting Combine.
I don’t want to be the Vikings GM without that guy on our team.
–Minnesota GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, on the looming contract negotiation with wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
The trail of waste left by the wake of Carson Wentz is astounding. Beyond astounding. Wentz is on the street today—literally, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. On Saturday, Rapoport Tweeted: “Wentz was spotted (by my eyeballs) downtown having dinner with his agents. He’s determined to continue playing and is open to various roles that can help a team.”
Question is, how much will Wentz allow himself to be humbled? Will he be a backup that helps the starter? Will he be a selfless teammate? The tables have turned for him, radically.
I went down the Wentz rabbit hole after the following ignominious tweet from the Commanders last week:
We have released the following players:
— S Bobby McCain
— QB Carson Wentz
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) February 27, 2023
Wentz, before injuring his knee in December 2017 in the Eagles’ Super Bowl season, was a strong contender to win MVP. Today he’s on the street at 30, and no team would consider him as a potential starter in 2023. His seven-year history, by the numbers:
Philadelphia paid him $79.1 million for five seasons. That included nine postseason snaps.
Indianapolis paid him $21.3 million for one season. He missed practice time in week 17 after testing positive for Covid as an unvaccinated player; with the Colts needing one win in the last two games to make the playoffs, Wentz played poorly in losses to the Raiders and Jags to end the season.
Washington paid him $28.3 million for half a season of uninjured play. Wentz was booed off the field in week 17 when, with the Commanders needing a win for Washington to stay in the playoff hunt, Wentz threw three interceptions in losing to Cleveland.
Money earned: $128.7 million.
Overall record: 46-46-1.
Playoff wins: 0.
Including what Philadelphia paid to move up just six slots in the draft in the 2016 first round, here is what the Eagles, Colts and Commanders traded to acquire Carson Wentz:
First-round picks: 3.
Second-round picks: 1.
Third-round picks: 4.
Fourth-round picks: 1.
Altogether: 9 picks, all in the top 100 of drafts, including the eighth, 12th and 17th overall picks in three different drafts.
What was lost
The trades don’t match exactly to make the comparison; for instance, Indy traded Wentz plus a two and a seven to Washington for a two, a three and a three, so I simply eliminated the second- and seventh-round picks from trade comparison. But I figured out the overall pick for each of the nine draft slots traded for Wentz, and I figured out a player drafted in each slot, to see the players Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Washington bypassed to employ Wentz. They are:
DeForest Buckner, Joe Thuney, Matthew Judon, T.J. Watt, Fred Warner, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Zion Johnson, Dameon Pierce. (The ninth player will be known this year after the Colts make the 79th overall pick in the draft—the last vestige of the last Wentz trade, from Washington.)
Teams bypassed five first- or second-team all-pros for a player on the street at 30, when Wentz should be in his prime.
Moral of the story
Even though Wentz was on his way to a great season before injuring his knee in 2017, he could never repeat it and in fact regressed. I’d argue that no player in NFL history has cost so much and delivered so little.
Several head coaches did not attend the Combine, preferring to spend time dug in on pure football back at their training facilities. The NFL should be concerned that the granddaddy of them all, Bill Belichick, who never skips the event, was a no-show. The NFL continues to make this a tentpole event kicking off the off-season, and the league had better figure a way to get the big-star young coaches, like Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, and the greatest of his day, Belichick, back. It’s a trend. For the league, it’s a worse TV show when they can’t have the starriest men from the sidelines here.
The NFLPA came out with illuminating survey results last week about how players—voting anonymously by team—feel about their own teams.
The Washington Commanders and Arizona Cardinals got absolutely skewered by their own players. This way:
Arizona deducts dinner from players’ paychecks; most teams offer players free, nutritious meals, figuring the investment in good food for free will show up in healthier players. For Washington, “only 22 percent of players feel like they have enough space on team flights.”
Chortle if you will, but those are the kinds of factors that give players negative feelings about coming to work in the morning.
King of the Road40
Here’s a good example of what one day at the Combine is like for me. The other day, including a short walk I took in New York before leaving for the Combine, I walked 25,143 steps.
That included walking from my hotel, the Alexander, on the southeast side of downtown, to meet a club executive who wanted to get some fresh air on the Indianapolis Canal Walk. It was eight-tenths of a mile to the starting point of the walk, then 55 minutes and 3.1 miles on the walk, a lovely loop that winds through lots of living spaces downtown. Then I walked to five appointments at hotels and the Convention Center, finishing that evening with an 11:15 p.m. meeting with a GM that ran past midnight.
For me, that’s the Combine life. Meetings, coffee, meetings, wine, media availabilities, food, beer, meetings, dinner with an agent or two maybe. Then you get up the next morning at 6:45 to do it again. Funny how it’s changed. I used to be intent on meeting as many new prominent players as I could. I still talk to a few—Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud this year. But I’ve used it in recent years more to flit from one NFL decision-maker to another, because I think it’s better for readers to learn everything I can find out about the news of the day than to write long about the best players here.
Tweets of the Week
Twas the night before decision week
And all through Green Bay
Cheeseheads all wondering
Will Rodgers get traded, retire or stay
Year 19 at Lambeau
Or Year 1 in Florham Park
He wishes this was as easy
As two wipes in the dark
— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) March 6, 2023
The poetic Schneidman covers the Packers for The Athletic.
CJ Stroud is having one of the best throwing sessions I’ve seen at the Combine.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 4, 2023
Daniel Jeremiah is a veteran NFL scout and current draft analyst on NFL Network.
Was asked to do a player comp for Bryce Young. There isn’t one. He’s so small that people will be excited if he weighs 200. But he is impressive throwing the football. Accuracy and anticipation top notch. The arm is good, not great.
— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) March 2, 2023
Well done, Pete Prisco (NFL columnist for CBS).
Let’s check in on how the #49ers feel about Trey Lance… pic.twitter.com/Ssyf5ZkbLV
— Rob “Stats” Guerrera (@StatsOnFire) March 3, 2023
Longtime sports producer Rob “Stats” Guerreao, with a clever one.
Pam Oliver, an award-winning sports reporter & trailblazing member of @FOXSportsPR NFL team, is #AWSM’s 2023 recipient of the Mary Garber Pioneer Award. Oliver is the longest tenured NFL sideline reporter, working more than 500 games: https://t.co/rELqYni36n pic.twitter.com/9SfWA1apgz
— AWSM (@AWSM_SportMedia) March 2, 2023
The Association for Women in Sports Media with a worthy award and tweet about a terrific reporter, Pam Oliver.
Reach me at email@example.com, or on Twitter @peter_king.
Lots of reaction to my opinion that the NFL should outlaw the scrum of pushing QBs forward on short-yardage plays.
Nothing wrong with the tush push. From @SammyHoyt_ on Twitter: “I just don’t understand why people want to outlaw this play so badly. Just because a team is good at something doesn’t make it unfair.”
The Eagles have done nothing wrong. They’ve simply taken advantage of a rule in the NFL that says it’s okay for offensive players to get behind a ball carrier and push him forward until he goes down. I think it’s gone too far. The rule put in place in 2005 that clarified the legality of pushing players forward never was intended to have plays designed to make one or more players stand behind a ballcarrier and ram into his back and rugby-scrum him forward. Ask yourself this question: In Pop Warner football, in high school football, in college football, in pro football, do teams practice the “skill” of big people lining up behind the man with the ball and pushing him forward with 500 pounds of force? I’m all for advancing the game and making it better, but this play doesn’t do that.
Thanks to Daniel Jeremiah for this one. From Robert Schlesinger of Alexandria, Va.: “Great factoid about six teams trading into up or further up in the top five since 2011 to go get their QB. Put aside the question of whether the old Jimmy Johnson chart is outdated, if any of those guys had become Joe Burrow (or Patrick Mahomes, a trade-up that worked out) no one would argue that the teams overpaid. It’s a near-lock that one or more names will be added to this tally.”
That was a Daniel Jeremiah factoid, and a great one. There is no question some team, and maybe more than one, will trade into the top five for a quarterback sometime in the next seven weeks, and history says it’s got a good chance to be a bad decision.
Announcers are overrated. From Sean Allen: “Do you know how often I check on an upcoming Sunday game to see who the announcers will be? Exactly never. In the last few years there was so much attention to which announcers would be going to which networks, and the amount of money they were being paid was, oh, I don’t know, absurd. I watch the Bengals or Bills, for example, without any regard to who will be calling the game. And because they can’t shut up for one moment and just let us enjoy the sights and sounds of the game, I almost always watch NFL Red Zone.”
I like the announcers who add something to the game by telling even good fans things they don’t see or may not understand. And though there’s quite a bit of blathering, as you say, I think a good color person can significantly increase my enjoyment of a game.
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think it’s hard to know what to say when a man like Jerry Richardson dies. He almost single-handedly put a franchise in Charlotte in 1993, paying $206 million for the team and building Bank of America Stadium without public financing. I remember sitting with him on his porch in Spartanburg, S.C. the day before the first draft in Panthers’ history, in 1995, and listening to how prideful he was about the Carolinas getting a franchise. He considered it a franchise for both North and South Carolina—so much so that he had plants indigenous to South Carolina planted on the south perimeter of the stadium, and plants native to North Carolina on the northern perimeter. He got the seed money that eventually was used to buy the team, fittingly enough, from his championship share as a Baltimore Colts receiver in the late fifties. And he caught a touchdown pass in one of his two seasons, 1959, from Johnny Unitas in a championship game against the Giants. But his reputation was left in tatters, and his public life unceremoniously ended, when Sports Illustrated reported in 2017 that he sexually harassed women working for the team and used a racial slur that a Black scout heard. He dropped from sight, sold the team, and was never heard from again. A sad way to go out.
2. I think there would not be an NFL franchise in the Carolinas without Richardson, so whatever you think of the scandal at the end – and you should think ill of Richardson because of it – his mosaic of an obituary has to include that.
3. I think the two most well-studied players in the next seven weeks, leading up to the draft, will be Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter and Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson.
4. I think I didn’t see much of the Combine on NFL Network, but I did catch a lot of Sunday’s final day. The highlight: a black-and-white photo of the father of Northwestern first-round offensive-line prospect Peter Skoronski being cradled as a baby … by Vince Lombardi.
5. I think I can see the Combine Effect starting to put pressure on teams already. Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson is a compelling prospect. I saw him Friday making the interview rounds, and he’s huge—6-4, 240. He has the perfect physique for today’s NFL quarterback, and he throws the ball with NFL velocity. He went out and excelled at his Combine workout, with the best-ever vertical jumps and broad jumps for a quarterback here. He ran a 4.43 40-, a speed half the wideouts can’t top. The Fan Duel Sports Book now lists Richardson as the player with the second-best chance to be drafted at the top of the QB class this year, behind Bryce Young. Richardson’s an interesting prospect, to be sure. He could turn out to be a megastar; his tools suggest that’s certainly possible. But let’s recall he won six games as a college quarterback, started for one season, and completed 54.7 percent of his career passes. We do some weird things in the media business, but inflating players because of their Combine performances is the weirdest.
6. I think the best line of the week at the Combine came from Lions coach Dan Campbell, on the importance of on-field workouts here: “You grade them off tape, you don’t grade off somebody out here in pajamas.” Preach.
7. I think my only question after reading Don Van Natta’s fantastic investigation into the NFL’s attempted burial of another Daniel Snyder scandal is: Does everyone who goes into business with Snyder regret it for the rest of their lives?
8. I think this is the Don Van Natta Snyder Outrageous Factoid of the Week: Per Van Natta, Snyder charged the organization $4.5 million to put the team logo on his private plane. The man paid himself to put a logo of a team he owned on his airplane. There is no bottom for Snyder.
9. I think it’s going to take a long time in Roger Goodell’s reign as commissioner, which is in its 17th year with no sign of ending, for the stench of the league’s handling of Dan Snyder to wear off. It may never leave Goodell.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. TV Story of the Week: Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes with one of the most inspirational stories I’ve seen in recent times, about SOLA—the School of Leadership Afghanistan (produced by Shari Finkelstein). What a heroic effort to keep premium education alive for more than 200 Afghan girls.
b. Shabana Basij-Rasikh, international hero. She got 256 teachers, students and staff out from Afghanistan when the Taliban took over again in 2021 and relocated them all to Rwanda, to continue educating girls. It’s an amazing, admirable story.
c. There are some writers you read and appreciate for hitting a perfect, perfect note so often, and Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post is one. She gets the tone right so often, perhaps more than anyone in our business. Such as this one on Daniel Snyder, a regular (and justified) target of Jenkins.
d. Writes Jenkins:
Snyder would rather be the central titan in a distressed and failed organization than a marginal figure in a successful but invisible field. The idea that he will voluntarily sell is at a minimum optimistic, and the bidding process, at the moment, could be futile. Closing a sale will sentence him to irrelevance — without the team he will be nobody, a pretend lord, hiding behind his wall of wealth, playing Mr. Rochester at his estates in Virginia and England, yelling tallyho and release the hounds. Every jam-smeared finger might have to be pried forcibly off the team, either in a majority vote of owners or through some backdoor leverage.
e. So often, after reading Sally Jenkins, I say to myself: Wish I could write like that.
f. Column of the Week: Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal, asking a question in print that a baseball fan like me has been asking to myself for the past week: “I thought baseball games were too slow. Now they’re too fast?”
g. I have been yelling at batters, and the clouds, for years: Will you please just get in the box, stay there, and stop with the Nervous Nomar-tic-glove-adjustments after every pitch! But there’s also a part of the game that’s good. Slow down, put the phone away, dive into the stratagems of baseball and disappear from life for three hours.
h. But 2 hours, 16 minutes? That’s only about 1:20 of beer time!
i. Writes Gay:
To be clear: I appreciate life’s stillness. I don’t think everything needs to be rushed. I occasionally go five minutes without looking at my phone and I can eat half a bowl of cereal while looking out a window. But if baseball doesn’t do something to speed itself up, it’s going the way of the Betamax rental.
Now it’s doing something. The pitch clock/batter clock is a revelation. According to the Journal’s baseball writer Lindsey Adler, 11 out of 16 day spring training games heading into Sunday’s play ended in around 2 hours and 30 minutes. That’s not a time cut—that’s a radical makeover, a half-hour off the recent regular season pace. (One Sunday game ended in a thrillingly brisk 2 hours and 7 minutes.)
It’s going to get to the point you’ll be taking up new hobbies with all your free time from accelerated baseball. Wow, how did you find time to learn French and build that pottery studio in the backyard?
Baseball installed a clock.
This is how it should be, and how baseball once was. Have pitchers pitch. Have batters bat. How much of your existence have you already surrendered to this maddening game, which dawdles like an oblivious customer in an airport Starbucks—a tall is the small one, right—as your flight announces its final boarding?
j. I like it. I think. We’ll know if it really works if baseball can get the Red Sox and Yankees to play a sub-four-hour nine-inning tilt.
k. Perspective of the Week: Jack Hajjar has it.
l. Jack’s granddaughter, Carine Hajjar, writes in The Wall Street Journal:
Jiddoo, as his grandchildren call him—Lebanese Arabic for grandfather—is 98, sharp, upright, generous, modest, sometimes strict, and funny. He plants a garden every spring and goes on daily walks. He reads the paper every day and does the crossword. He’s always well-dressed, wearing a polo shirt with khakis for lounging and a three-piece suit for church every Sunday. He’s able to continue wearing those splendid custom-tailored suits he bought six decades ago because he’s maintained the same weight since he served in the Navy during World War II.
He has this remarkable vigor because he lives his life the same way he approaches coffee: He avoids overindulgence and takes only what he needs. A child of the Great Depression and the son of Lebanese immigrants, he learned never to waste anything or buy something he can’t make himself. Coffee grounds become fertilizer for the garden. Money not spent at Starbucks—or on fertilizer—turns into generous checks for our parish and various charities. The sweetener not wasted in his coffee saves him from guilt (and high blood sugar) should he indulge in his one luxury: dessert.
m. Thoughtful Story of the Week: Jennifer Senior of The Atlantic wonders about “the puzzling gap between how old you are and how old you think you are.”
n. Writes Senior:
This past Thanksgiving, I asked my mother how old she was in her head. She didn’t pause, didn’t look up, didn’t even ask me to repeat the question, which would have been natural, given that it was both syntactically awkward and a little odd. We were in my brother’s dining room, setting the table. My mother folded another napkin. “Forty-five,” she said.
She is 76.
o. When you get to be a person of a certain age, a story like this really rings true. But I don’t think you even have be 65, as I am. You can think it at almost any age.
p. Anna Peele of The New York Times wrote about actor Eugene Levy (“Schitt’s Creek,” “Best in Show”) doing a new world travel show on Apple TV—even though Levy admits to being a boring person who doesn’t like getting out of his comfort zone. Levy is so great. His portrayal of Gerry Fleck, the dog-trainer with two left feet in “Best in Show,” with the wife who has slept with half the Western world, is one of the best acting jobs I’ve seen.
q. Anyway, Peele wrote a great end to the story, asking Levy what he might have missed out on in life without the acting experiences in his career:
Then Levy frowned and looked down, toward the little Order of Canada maple leaf pin on his lapel. “What would I have missed?” he muttered. “What would I have missed out on if it hadn’t been for work?” He raised his head slowly, eyebrows windshield-wipering up in reaction to his realization: “I would have missed out on my life.”
s. So many people to thank for a wonderful Friday night at our annual Scouting Combine fundraiser at Sun King Brewery in downtown Indianapolis, which raised $14,434 for Teachers’ Treasures, the incredible charity that allows teachers in needy school districts in central Indiana to shop for free for school supplies for their classrooms. Because Teachers’ Treasures has community and corporate supporters that translate each dollar donated into $15 of school supplies, this one night raised the equivalent of $216,510 for teachers to use for their classrooms.
t. Start with the folks who paid to come out and support this cause and to talk football for 2.5 hours. I’ve gotten to be so fond of the Indianapolis community because of the response to this event and for being so generous. And the Teachers’ Treasures folks who came out to spread the gospel of selflessness and volunteerism to help teachers and their students.
u. Thanks to the Colts for their unwavering support of local events like this—to owner Jimmy Irsay for his generous contribution, to coach Shane Steichen for giving 30 minutes of his life during the maelstrom of the Combine so his fans here can get to know him better, to Communications Senior Director Matt Conti for the auction items that raised $1,500 for the cause … Thanks to Angie Six, who rides herd over this event every year and makes it run so smoothly … Thanks to Steve Koers of Sun King, who gives us a huge space in his downtown facility gratis, when certainly he could be renting it out for good money on a very busy Friday night in the city—just another example of the good people who just want to help their neighbors in this town … Thanks to my media friends—Albert Breer, Will Carroll, Doug Farrar, Cynthia Frelund, Brandon Krisztal, Mike Tanier, Tashan Reed, Myles Simmons—for adding some levity and lots of knowledge to the evening … and, of course, thanks to Sun King for the beer. Big fan of the new beer on the block, the Orange Vanilla Sunlight Cream Ale.
v. John Candy, gone 29 years now. Where’d the time go?
w. Thanks for the invite to speak to your journalism class at Boston University last week, Andrea Kremer. That was fun. You’re training them right.
The Adieu Haiku40
The Scouting Combine.
The NFL’s great time suck.
Good food and drink, though.