I see by the calendar it’s Draft Month, T-minus 24 days from teams getting to open their offseason presents. Since the four marquee players—the first-round quarterbacks—have finished their Pro Days following the Anthony Richardson workout Thursday in Gainesville, I thought I’d tell you how the very top of the draft board stands from what I heard at the league meetings, with some info gleaned over the weekend.
Then we’ll get into some feistiness from Phoenix. The league meetings aren’t usually very feisty, but when the league tried to ramrod a short-sighted, anti-common-sense, anti-freight-paying-fans flex-scheduling proposal through the membership, 10 teams said, Hold on commissioner. This stinks. And good for them.
First, draft gossip. Team by team at the top, here’s what I’m hearing:
1. Carolina. Bryce Young has a lot of fans inside the Panthers.
“You’re the one who started that?” Panthers coach Frank Reich said to me at the league meetings, about this QB-height thing I wrote about in March: Reich’s been a QB coach, coordinator or head coach for 17 years, and in all but six of the games in those 17 years, his quarterback was 6-4 or taller. He told me height of the quarterback is not really a thing. So the 5-10 Bryce Young and 6-3 C.J. Stroud are both very much alive in the running for the first pick in the draft. And I believe him, absolutely.
But one longtime friend of Reich’s told me the height thing is legit with him, and though Reich hasn’t told him so, this friend would be surprised if Young were Reich’s top choice. Reich’s not saying. The other thing I hear is several influential voices in the organization favor Young. That doesn’t mean Young will be the pick—not at all. This will be a collaborative choice, and the Panthers still have organizational meetings ahead to set their draft board with finality. But before he took the Carolina quarterback-coach job, Josh McCown reportedly told friends he loved Young. What that means after he’s studied all of the passers, I don’t know.
I asked one coach who has studied the top quarterbacks and two top analysts who also have studied them how they have the top four rated after the pro-day circuit. The coach I gave anonymity. Todd McShay of ESPN is one analyst and Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network is the other. I did not tell any of the three any opinions of others. Each of the three has this order of the top three: Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson. Will Levis was four for McShay and Jeremiah, but the coach said he is not sold on Levis and believes he deserves a second-round grade.
The game has changed in how quarterbacks are viewed. Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, both height-challenged, have seen to that. Still, what’s notable to me is we’re talking about a 5-10 1/8, 198ish-pound quarterback without Kyler Murray speed possibly being the top quarterback picked in the draft, over a 6-3 quarterback, Stroud, who sliced and diced the national champ with by far the best defense (Georgia’s) in the college game. “Just watch Young,” the coach said. “When I watch tape, I don’t see size. He doesn’t play small.” This follows another team official who told me before the meetings Young’s height is not a disadvantage. Well, it is, but he still might be picked first on draft night, assuming Reich is on board. Last thing to note: Frank Reich is not one to brawl about players, even one as important as this one. He’s a consensus-seeker. I think he likes Young, and likes him a lot. I just don’t know if he likes him more than Stroud. But if he favors Stroud, and if the majority of the influencers inside the Panthers love Young, I believe Reich will be okay with picking him.
2. Houston. Texans have to pick a quarterback. Or do they?
We’re all operating under the belief the Texans will pick a quarterback that Carolina leaves for them. I’m 90 percent on board with that.
The Texans also pick 12th. With that pick and two first-round picks next year, is it impossible to think they’d take the cleanest prospect in this draft, Alabama pass-rusher Will Anderson, at two and get their quarterback slightly lower, somewhere around the fourth pick or after? I think the Texans are going to go quarterback at two. But in the last few days, I’ve heard this about Houston GM Nick Caserio: Very conservative. If he doesn’t love a quarterback at two, he’s not going to force it. He’d rather take this year’s sure edge thing, Anderson, the way Detroit took Aidan Hutchinson with the second pick last year. Detroit got rewarded handsomely with a great rookie year from Hutchinson.
“It’s a stretch, but I could see Nick taking Anderson, then using his second [first-round pick] and trading back up to get his quarterback,” one league personnel man said.
Maybe. I bet Indianapolis, at four, and Seattle, at five, would be okay with moving to 12 if it meant adding the better of the two Houston first-rounders next year (Houston has its own one next year and Cleveland’s one). But I still believe it’s far more likely Houston stays at two and gives its fans the long-term quarterback the franchise has been seeking since its inception in 2002. Owner Cal McNair will certainly want the quarterback at number two, and Texans fans will be deflated if the loser of the Young/Stroud stakes in Carolina isn’t the pick at two.
3. Arizona. DO NOT trade the pick till draft night, if at all.
The Cardinals, who might be 32nd in the league in talent, are in a good position here. If somehow Young or Stroud remains after the first two picks, a bevy of teams would want to trade up for whoever’s left. With possibly the least-talented roster in the league, Arizona needs quality volume out of this draft. The Cardinals sit at three and 34, and it’s worth passing on Will Anderson if it means picking four times in the top 50 of a good draft instead of two.
To that end, Arizona GM Monti Ossenfort needs to resist the temptation of trading early, if he has the chance. He’s not going to know for certain that Houston passes on a quarterback, or if Richardson, for instance, gets so hot before the draft that an aggressive team (Seattle at five, Vegas at seven, Tennessee at 11, Washington at 16, Tampa Bay at 19) makes a trade worth his while.
With a defensive head coach in Jonathan Gannon and a GM who fervently believes a quick way to contention is building a strong defense, the Cards wouldn’t be foolish to take Anderson. But I think they’re better off adding one or two strong prospects here—and they can do that best by waiting till draft night to deal.
4. Indianapolis. Colts are a mystery team right now.
Very big week for Indy. The Colts, who pick fourth and 35th in the top 50, are working out Young, Stroud, Richardson and Levis. By Saturday, they should have their list of quarterbacks in order—and coach Shane Steichen and GM Chris Ballard should know if Richardson or Levis is worth selecting here.
The Colts are in a good but not great spot. After going the last five seasons with five different starting quarterbacks, they need to get off the QB-go-round and settle on one long-term—but if they don’t believe in Richardson or Levis, they can’t force it. There may be the option of trading down or picking Hendon Hooker (the Tennessee quarterback is coming off ACL surgery and is likely to miss most of 2023), which would mean Gardner Minshew playing to start the season in a year that’s pretty important for Ballard after four straight years without a playoff win.
That brings us to Lamar Jackson. After Jackson tweeted last week that he’d asked to be traded, there was speculation the Colts would be interested, in part because of the desperation of owner Jim Irsay. And if the guarantees weren’t stupid, I think the Colts would be interested. My bet is the Ravens would take the fourth pick in the draft, solely, for Jackson. But I can’t see the Colts getting involved with Jackson having the injury history of the last two years (34 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps missed in ’21 and ’22, with Jackson starting and finishing one of Baltimore’s 12 December/January games in the last two years) and wanting a fully guaranteed contract. Rampant speculation, some fueled by Jackson, is that Baltimore has offered a three-year pact fully guaranteed and it wasn’t good enough.
in regards to my future plans. As of March 2nd I requested a trade from the Ravens organization for which the Ravens has not been interested in meeting my value, any and everyone that’s has met me or been around me know I love the game of football and my dream is to help a team
— Lamar Jackson (@Lj_era8) March 27, 2023
Re: a trade-down, it would help Ballard if Georgia’s Jalen Carter weren’t such a scarred prospect. Multiple teams would want to move up for Carter the player, but perhaps not Carter the person. So the Colts may not get a great offer at four—unless one of the QB-needy teams is dying to move up.
Boldface names and stories around the NFL:
John Mara, on fire. The Giants co-owner was as animated as he’s ever been in a league session, per one NFL executive, in fighting Roger Goodell’s effort to win flex scheduling for Thursday night football. Might just be delaying the inevitable, unfortunately.
“It’s 100 percent a slight to fans like me,” said Tim Thompson of Paradise, Nova Scotia, speaking of the Thursday flex. He cares because he takes a road trip to see his beloved Cowboys most seasons. He and one Brit told me they’ll likely still go, only not to see the late-season pennant-race games they prefer.
Gotta love Dan Campbell re: Thursday flex. “Not a fan,” the Lions Leader said.
New England’s 3-10 against Buffalo and Miami since Tom Brady walked off campus. That’s the Painful Robert Kraft Stat of the Week.
Which raises these questions: If the Patriots are the fourth-best team in the AFC East this year and/or next year, will Kraft allow Bill Belichick to hang around in 2025 to break Don Shula’s record for most coaching victories? Would Belichick, who needs 19 wins to pass Shula, want to hang around at 73?
Not much new with Lamar Jackson. Except this from Atlanta owner Arthur Blank on Jackson, on the day his coach named Desmond Ridder his starting quarterback for 2023: “There’s some concern over whether or not he can play his style of game for … I mean, how long can that last?”
Way to not pass the buck, Mark Davis. When you own, and you don’t win, you’ve got to take the heat. This is a lesson an owner in Washington should learn.
Speaking of Daniel Snyder, there’s a way for Snyder to be less hated on his way out the door—and that’s to sell to a group that wants to return the franchise to D.C., where it spent every one of its glory days. Be gone, Raljon.
Speak your mind, Jim Trotter. “I was offered a three-month severance package, with an NDA [non-disclosure agreement]. I declined,” said the dismissed NFL Media Group reporter. Good. Very good. Trotter got railroaded.
Good advice about patience, Matt LaFleur. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, combined, were 14-15 in their rookie seasons. Jordan Love will have growing pains.
Caitlin Clark, Pete Maravich. Time to learn some basketball history.
Ever hear of tie-dye Italian ice? You will now.
Now for the rest of the story.
On Thursday Flex10
On Tuesday night, at the Phoenix restaurant Tomaso’s, two groups were having dinner in large rooms—the Giants and the Steelers. The Giants finished first and a few of their people stopped by to say hi to the Pittsburgh contingent, which included Roger Goodell at owner Art Rooney II’s table. When Giants co-owner John Mara saw Goodell, he smiled wryly and said, “I should get out of here.”
All’s fair in love and NFL debates. Mara, maybe three hours earlier in a session of owners and top execs, was the strongest in arguing against the NFL’s proposal to make Thursday night games in weeks 14 through 17 on Amazon eligible to move to Sunday, with a corresponding trade of a more attractive game into the Thursday night slot. Mara, and others, were surprised when word about this proposal leaked to Sports Business Journal just days before the annual meeting in Phoenix. Mara’s strident complaint: It’s unfair to fans who make plans to travel to games to have them changed 15 days prior, it’s unfair to fans and teams planning on a 1 p.m. Sunday game to have the game played three days earlier on a weeknight at 8:20, and there’s no data on short-week Thursday games to suggest they can be interchangeable without consequences.
The Giants, Jets, Chicago, New Orleans and Green Bay were among those who opposed the flex. For Green Bay, a ton of fans both follow them on the road and make bucket-list pilgrimages to Lambeau Field for games, and the Packers felt it unfair to have potentially thousands of fans be stuck with travel issues should a game be moved from Sunday to Thursday, or vice versa. Carolina and Denver abstained. With 24 votes needed for passage, the vote was 22 to 8 with the two abstentions. The NFL will arm-twist, most likely, prior to the next league session in late May, and unless the anti forces can muster some momentum, it’s likely the measure will pass then.
Post-meeting, Mara said: “At some point, can we please give some consideration to the people who are coming to our games? People make plans to go to these games weeks and months in advance. And 15 days ahead of time to say, ‘Sorry, folks, that game you were planning on taking your kids to Sunday at 1, now it’s on Thursday night’? What are we thinking about?”
The NFL clearly is thinking of Amazon as a long-term partner, and streaming as a long-term way of getting more money in future media deals. What’s interesting here is that ESPN had the Monday night games for years before the league acceded—this year, finally—to give ESPN a minimal number of possible flex games. Amazon’s been a partner for one year, and the league bends over backwards for the streaming service after some weak late-season ratings on Thursday games.
Readers reached out to me about it, outraged. I spoke to Tim Thompson, the Cowboys fan from Nova Scotia. To get to an NFL game, he drives 90 minutes to the airport in Halifax, Nova Scotia (*in the far eastern part of Canada), flies two hours to Toronto, then connects for a four-hour (or longer) flight to see the Cowboys play.
Thompson heard Mara’s ire. “Those are basically my words,” he said. “I would be frightened to book anything now. It’s 100 percent a slight to fans like me. Going to a game early in the season would be a consideration now, but I’m not happy about it.”
If owners really appreciate the fans who come to the games, they’ll vote no in May. A yes vote for Thursday flex is a vote for Jeff Bezos over the people who truly love their teams.
Quiet Comp Committee
No new rule was put up for a vote on assisting the runner, as was reported in the column last week. I asked Competition Committee chair Rich McKay what he sees when he sees 500 pounds of players line up behind the quarterback and push him forward in a huge pile of people at the line of scrimmage. McKay has to be neutral here, unless the Competition Committee is unanimously behind a proposal, and the committee was not unanimous in support of banning the play. The way he answered the question, I felt he was telling me a lot he really can’t say.
Said McKay: “I see a legal play that doesn’t feel like a play that if we were drawing up a play that this is the way we want it. It is one to talk about: Do we want it in the game?”
The one rule that passed that will be interesting to follow is one about impermissible use of the helmet. Last year, only four penalties were called for lowering the helmet and initiating contact with the helmet. Though 55 fines were issued for helmet violations, the league lost many of those on appeal because technically players didn’t lower their helmets to make contact. “We used wording from an old rule that’s been on the books for years—you can’t ram, butt or spear with the helmet, and it’s been on the books but we haven’t really called it,” McKay said. “So I don’t know if we’ll get any more flags thrown in games, but we should be able to affect conduct by fining players for using the helmet. I believe we can affect conduct. Players talk, and once a player gets a couple of those fines, he’s going to change the way he tackles. This was kind of a big change, but we absolutely think it’s the right thing to do—as did the membership.”
Cleaning out the notebook:
- The Patriots are 25-26 since Tom Brady left the team, with zero playoff wins, and listening to Robert Kraft talk like Belichick—we care about performance, not individual records—I’m starting to wonder what happens to Belichick, who turns 71 in two weeks, if the Patriots sink to the bottom of the AFC East. It’s certainly possible, with Aaron Rodgers likely to enter the division and the Patriots clearly inferior to the Bills and Dolphins recently. Say the Patriots go 7-10 each of the next two years, and Belichick is five wins from passing Don Shula. WWKD? What will Kraft do? He may move on. If so, it would not surprise me to see Belichick coach another team for a couple of years.
- Re: Rodgers, the Jets have made it clear they’re not going to be too demanding about the off-season program. Rodgers wasn’t enthusiastic about it in recent years, and he may get away with ignoring the Jets’ OTAs in May this year assuming the trade goes through. Robert Saleh was asked about getting nervous about the delay in the trade going through, and his answer was “If there’s a great rapport with the coordinator, there’s really no urgency…The quarterback, if he understands the system, if the quarterback knows it, it’s just a matter of just refining skills and doing all that stuff. So there’s no hurry.”
- Seeing some of the new coaches in their first setting in front of the national media is instructive. I thought Houston’s DeMeco Ryans was impressive in Phoenix. He’s engaging and thoughtful, an excellent communicator. You can tell why the Niners’ defensive players liked the guy so much. He talked about falling in love with coaching when helping out one spring at an Alabama high school, and how he got turned onto it by the simple act of seeing his players play better with good coaching. Ryans on Bryce Young was interesting: “I know there’s a lot of talking about his size. The guy’s done it at the highest level in college football and size hasn’t seemed to be a problem. I watched the tape. You see the kid play and you see how smart he is. You see the anticipation. You see the accuracy. You see how this guy is calm in critical moments. Size definitely isn’t one of the factors that pop up on tape.”
- My conversation with Sean McVay on assisting the runner told me why nothing will happen to get rid of pushing the runner from behind until someone gets hurt. It’s simple: Coaches look at what the Eagles did and think: Wish I thought of that. And those coaches don’t want to see Nick Sirianni and his team punished for simply playing by the rules and excelling at it. I get it. My discussion with McVay:
FMIA: Do you think it belongs in football?
McVay: “Oh yeah. I do. I think there’s certain elements that they want to officiate differently … It’s one thing to be able to push a guy. It’s another thing when you’re pulling him in. Those are the things that they wanna be more intentional about in officiating. It’s a quarterback sneak; there’s just a little bit difference in terms of the formations and the way that it looks to us. That’s been a play that’s been consistent for a long time. What do you think?”
FMIA: I hate it.
McVay: “I can’t tell.”
FMIA: It’s not football. When you get two guys who are 400, 500 pounds behind a guy, pushing him, that’s not what the forefathers intended for this game.
McVay (not wanting to argue about it): “Right.”
FMIA: It’s like they’re waiting for an injury. I don’t know. I’m alone on that one, I guess.
McVay: “But I think you’re right though, that if there does show an increased level of injuries, that’s something that every single year we know protecting the health and safety of this game, if there are injuries, then I think you’ll see changes. It’s a play that because of the specific situations that it comes up, I think it’s a credit to Philly because they’re in so many tight scoring situations.”
FMIA: I do credit Philly for taking advantage of the rule. It’s not their fault.
McVay: “I hear you.”
- Whoever buys the Washington Commanders, please, please, please let it be a person or group who wants to return football the glory days in the District of Columbia. This franchise has had nothing but heartache since abandoning D.C. for the suburbs in 1997 and since selling to Daniel Snyder in 1999. Now, one of the groups that has proffered a bid estimated at $6 billion is led by two men with significant D.C. roots, Josh Harris and Mitchell Rales, with a goal of returning the franchise to the site of RFK Stadium in the district. RFK used to shake as if in an earthquake in the Super Bowl seasons. And moving back would get families who’ve abandoned the team since the dour bummer of a stadium, FedEx Field, opened 26 years ago. If Snyder sells to a group determined to return the team to the District, it might be the only to save him from being an eternal enemy in the eyes of Washington sports fans.
- Great point by Seattle coach Pete Carroll on the free-agent acquisition of safety Julian Love from the Giants: “How many players in the league play over 1,000 snaps in the regular defense and over 200 on special teams? That’s extraordinary.” Love played 1,006 snaps on defense and 220 on the kicking teams, and had 124 tackles. “It’s very rare to have an opportunity to get a player like that.”
Quotes of the Week
We’re anxious, but I don’t think anybody is hyperventilating at this point.
–Jets owner Woody Johnson, asked about the stalled trade talks with the Packers for Aaron Rodgers.
I never want to appear on that report again, in terms of the ranking we got.
–Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, referring to the Falcons ranking 23rd of 32 teams on the recent NFL survey of anonymous players on how each team treats its players. The Falcons got below-average grades in locker room facilities, the weight room, food/nutrition and strength coaches. “We need to listen to players sooner,” Blank said.
The only consistent thing with the Raiders for the last 11 years has been me. And the fact that we haven’t won falls on me. There’s no passing the buck or pointing the fingers. The buck stops here.
–Raiders owner Mark Davis, to Tashan Reed of The Athletic.
He was fun, he was inventive, he was creative, he was beautifully articulate, he was wise. He was so uniquely Bud. And smart. So smart. Look at how he felt about officiating. It was, what, 30 years ago that he was talking about the importance of full-time officials. That was a loooong time ago, and it’s topical again now.
—Pete Carroll on his mentor in football, the late Bud Grant.
There’s nothing great about being 70. Except you have learned what not to say and what not to do. And that type of wisdom really helps you in life.
–New St. John’s coach Rick Pitino, to Steve Serby of the New York Post, on turning 70.
Colts owner Jim Irsay said to local reporters the other day: “There was an article recently saying the Rams mortgaged their future and now they’re paying for it after they won the Super Bowl and had all that success, with the draft picks not being there. To me, that’s what you have to be careful about.”
I get what Irsay’s saying, but let’s make some numerical points here. Which team would you rather be:
- The Rams, 49-33 in the last five regular seasons with two conference titles and one Super Bowl championship, $5.1 million under the cap (per overthecap.com), with a franchise quarterback, with 11 draft picks overall this year and three in the top 100?
- Or the Colts, 41-40-1 in the last five regular seasons with zero conference titles and zero Super Bowl championships, $12.5 million under the cap, searching for a franchise quarterback, with nine draft picks overall this year and three in the top 100—albeit the fourth overall pick?
Teams should be in this to compete in Super Bowls, and the Rams have played in two of the last five Super Bowls. The Colts have one Wild Card win over those five years.
They Care About Football in Denver Dept.:
Ten minutes before the AFC coaches media session began last week at the league meetings, this was the table awaiting Houston coach DeMeco Ryans (left), and the table for Denver coach Sean Payton (right):
MARYVALE, Ariz.—Rockies-Brewers spring-training game, Monday afternoon, gorgeous, cloudless, 73 degrees.
Italian ice guy comes down the aisle.
“Italian ice! Strawberry! Cherry! Mango! Tie-dye!”
I’m afraid I don’t understand.
King of the Road40
- On the way to Phoenix last weekend, I got to the Delta counter at JFK Airport at exactly 6:17 a.m. for a 7:15 a.m. flight, with two bags to check. You have to check bags one hour before flights at JFK. Delta rep at the head of the line told me: “No exception. You’ll have to go to rebooking line.” Two minutes was the difference between arriving in Phoenix at 9:54 a.m. local time and arriving at 6:13 p.m. So much for being a Million Miler lifetime flyer on Delta. Good news is at least I got my steps for the day in at JFK’s Terminal 4.
- Took 38 minutes to navigate through the TSA PreCheck line at San Diego airport Thursday midday. Man, imagine if it was rush hour.
- In Seattle over the weekend with family, I went through a Starbucks drive-thru and saw on the drink menu some of the olive oil coffees. Ordered the Oleato cold brew, with a dollop (I suppose) of Partanna olive oil dominating the foam atop the cold brew. I’m a big olive oil guy anyway. I thought this was delicious—but there was one slight negative. An aftertaste formed on the tongue, and after five or six sips, I felt like I’d had enough. I did like it, but the aftertaste was a little off-putting.
Tweets of the Week
Lamar Jackson, my brother trust me you don’t want to play for Belichick
— Asante Samuel (@pick_six22) March 30, 2023
—Asante Samuel, who, of course, played for Bill Belichick.
I’ve never made a political social media post in my life, and I’m 100% comfortable posting this. It’s not political. I’m posting it because my wife is a teacher. And because we have 2 school-aged kids. And because I’m proud to work with @CoachBrentKey and call him a friend. pic.twitter.com/kJLTafvmOa
— Mike Flynn (@MFlynnGT) March 29, 2023
–Georgia Tech associate AD Mike Flynn, with a post using the necessary words of the school’s football coach, Brent Key.
Damar Hamlin’s courage, resilience, and spirit inspired the American people.
And what's more: he turned recovery into action – and our country is better for it.
It was my honor to have him and his family here today. pic.twitter.com/xju70wnAzl
— President Biden (@POTUS) March 30, 2023
—President Biden, after meeting with Damar Hamlin at the White House Friday.
Every time a kid asked Sergio Romo for an autograph in spring training he asked them to sign his hat first. He wore this to the mound tonight: pic.twitter.com/O3CXB5BLyr
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) March 28, 2023
Alex Pavlovic covers the San Francisco Giants for NBC Sports Bay Area.
Sean would have turned 40 today
He’s always in our hearts 💛 pic.twitter.com/4O8DidbwZF
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) April 1, 2023
–The Washington Commanders, remembering the late Sean Taylor Saturday.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @peter_king.
It’s not all that complex a topic. From Alex Stelmach: “You and a few other ‘top’ NFL analysts and reporters offer opinions and critiques every week about NFL players. Yet, I don’t know that you have ever played the game. What gives sports writers who never played the game the right to critique NFL athletes?”
I was cut from my Connecticut youth football team, the Enfield Ramblers, in sixth grade after playing two seasons of tackle football. That’s the last time I played organized football. I transitioned to soccer in the fall for the next six years. So you can ask what right I have to criticize players and coaches who’ve spent years or decades in the game at high levels. I would answer it this way. For me to cover football after having not even played it in high school is the equivalent of journalists who cover the Supreme Court never having been Supreme Court justices, or like journalists who cover the Indianapolis 500 never having raced cars at speeds of 200 mph, or like journalists who cover the aviation industry never having piloted a 747. You’d be limiting the field of reporters covering pro football—not “limiting,” actually, but “destroying”—if the only ones who could cover it are former NFL players.
An Aussie says the tush push is fair. From John Kelly of Melbourne, Australia: “The fact that the NFL allows a rugby power maul and some coaches call it, then it is a football play. By your logic, the NFL should now ban the lateral pass as that is a fundamental of rugby. If the power maul is to be banned, it should only be on safety grounds, not something flaky like ‘it’s not a (American) football play.’ On a more positive note, your column is a Tuesday morning must-read.”
Thanks John, and thanks for your thought. I understand your point—if the rules allow something to happen in a football game, then it is a football play. And of course you’re right. My point is that it shouldn’t be a football play. Pushing a runner from behind is an artificial way to move the football, the same way pulling a runner forward is an artificial way of moving the football. Pulling a runner is banned. Why is pushing the runner allowed?
This is interesting but not gonna happen. From Garth Cooper: “Here is the trade that has to happen: Lions send L.A. back its 2023 first-round pick, plus a second- next year, and the Rams send Detroit Aaron Donald. The Rams can draft their next QB, Donald can plan for a potential playoff team, and the Lions get a better defender than they could draft at number six.”
Donald is an all-time player, Garth, of course. But no one is giving up the sixth and 48th pick in the draft for any player likely to play only a year or two, and due $48.7 million over the next two seasons if he plays two years.
It’s not Robert Klemko who is lying here, Mr. Miller. From Ian Miller: (I praised Klemko, the former writer for The MMQB now with The Washington Post, for getting police officers in Memphis to talk to him about rogue officers there.) “You write, ‘How in the world Klemko could have gotten nine…’ Robert Klemko is a proven liar who has, more than once, shown he’s not willing to let facts get in the way of a story. The problem with that is that nothing he writes can be trusted … I’m not sure if this is a strategy he learned from working with you or he just had liar in him all along, but you continuing to pimp out his writing is a bad look for you.”
The Washington Post, one of the most trusted news sources in the world, doesn’t hire liars with a history of lying on their resumes, and it does not send liars to cover the Minnesota riots, and it does not send liars to cover the war in Ukraine, and it does not appoint a liar as national criminal justice reporter. It’s fashionable in 2023 America for people who don’t like the news that is being reported to do what you do here—denigrate excellent reporting by simply saying it is a lie, or to say that the reporter is a liar. What Klemko wrote about Memphis is the rock-solid, and disturbing, truth.
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think it’s absurd and idiotic for NFL Media Group to not renew the contract of Jim Trotter. Now, Trotter is a friend so I’m not impartial here. But he told me Saturday that last fall, his agent was told by the network that there was no reason to think the veteran NFL writer wouldn’t have his contract renewed, though he might have to take a pay cut, because the league was cutting back. Trotter, who is Black, raised the issue of poor Black representation in the newsroom at NFL Media at Roger Goodell’s Super Bowl press conference in Los Angeles 14 months ago, and then again this year in Phoenix. At this year’s press conference, he said to Goodell: “A year later, nothing has changed. James Baldwin once said, ‘I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.’” Then, last week, Trotter said he’d been told his contract would not be renewed. I wonder why. It’s just wrong, on several levels. When the NFL hired Trotter in 2018, it knew who he was—a good football journalist who was going to call it exactly how he saw it, regardless of whether his reporting hurt sacred cows. Now they want him to change? Plus, at a time when minority numbers in the newsroom need to improve, the NFL cuts loose one of the most respected Black journalists covering the game. It’s backward thinking.
2. I think you should hear Trotter’s words. The NFL should hear them too. And the league will, going forward. “I was offered a three-month severance package, with an NDA [non-disclosure agreement]. I declined,” Trotter said. So you can expect to hear some of his grievances in the coming weeks. A few points from our conversation:
- On his reaction to getting released: “Any time you poke the bear, there are potential consequences. I’d been bringing this up for a year and a half, internally and externally … None of what happened has really shocked or surprised me. What has shocked and surprised me is the level of support I have gotten, from so many people. It’s been humbling.”
- On how it happened: “At the Scouting Combine, the person who’d told my agent [Sandy Nunez, NFL VP for Talent Management On-Air] asked to meet with me and asked: ‘Are you in alignment with the newsroom?’ I said, ‘Of course not. The fact that we don’t have one Black executive, one Black copy editor, one full-time Black employee on the news desk is troubling.’ She said, ‘That’s what I thought. It’s kind of hard to fight corporate headwinds. Sometimes you have to compromise.’ I said, ‘I feel I’ve compromised a lot already … But there’s one thing I’m not going to compromise on, and that’s my integrity.’”
- On his feelings about Roger Goodell: “I don’t feel any different about him. People think I have some personal animus about him. I don’t … But since asking him the question in Inglewood [at the Super Bowl last year], no one from the league office has called me to talk about the issue. So … it makes you wonder. How can you not have one person involved in the news process who is Black?”
- On the moral of the story: “For me, it’s that journalism matters, representation matters, accountability matters. If I don’t get another job, I’m okay. I’ve done the right things here.”
3. I think I don’t know what genius with the XFL or the St. Louis franchise thought it would be a good April Fools joke to issue a “statement” announcing a move to Los Angeles for the 2024 season. I mean, who thought that was funny?
An official statement from the St. Louis Battlehawks and the XFL: pic.twitter.com/MPBcL5CyOj
— St. Louis Battlehawks (@XFLBattlehawks) April 1, 2023
4. I think the over/under date for the Aaron Rodgers trade is early evening April 28. That’s when the second round of the NFL Draft begins. That’s when the first of likely two or three draft choices to be exchanged would happen. The Jets have the 11th and 12th picks in round two, 42nd and 43rd overall, and I’d bet one of those picks will be the key to this trade getting done. Since Rodgers would be unlikely to be at the dawn of the Jets offseason program April 17, the big date is the 28th because that’s when it’s most realistic the first draft choice would be exchanged between the teams. Rodgers would be at the mandatory minicamp from June 13 to 15, and probably at some of the OTA offseason workouts between May 22 and June 9.
5. I think this illustrates the Rodgers-mania in New York these days: On March 21, Rodgers went out for coffee in Thousand Oaks, Calif. A photographer saw him, took some photos, and the photos were obtained by the New York Post. The paper wrote a story about the (presumably) future Jets quarterback going out for coffee. “That was the number two sports story on our website for the day,” said the paper’s Jets scribe, Brian Costello. “The appetite for anything Rodgers right now is just insatiable.”
6. I think what Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur said at the meetings, about being patient with Jordan Love, is absolutely apt. The first starting seasons in Green Bay for Brett Favre (1992) and Aaron Rodgers (2008):
These two great quarterbacks, collectively, went 14-15 in their first seasons as starters, with 26 interceptions.
7. I think, quietly, the Lions have gotten competitive while building intelligently for the future. Three NFL teams have 12 picks, combined, in the first three rounds of the next three drafts: Houston, Chicago and Detroit. Houston and Chicago have miles to go before they sleep. Detroit, on the verge of serious contention, picks sixth, 18th, 48th, 55th and 81st this year—a league-high five picks in the first 2.5 rounds. GM Brad Holmes has done an excellent job looking to the future while stocking his team for today. If Jared Goff is the answer at quarterback, the Lions will be consistently dangerous for the first time in some time.
8. I think this story about the late Aaron Hernandez, by NPR’s Todd Wallack, is haunting. NPR station WBUR in Boston and The Boston Globe obtained recordings of some phone calls made by Hernandez just before he killed himself in prison, and the calls show Hernandez was upbeat and positive very shortly before his death. A piece of the story on NPR, supplemented by the words of Dr. Ann McKee, who has examined scores of brains of former NFL players:
WALLACK: In the case of Hernandez, one potential factor is that he had a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. It’s been linked to head injuries and contact sports like football. CTE can cause people to be aggressive or even violent. And researchers have seen many cases where people with CTE died by suicide.
MCKEE: There’s just a lot of impulsivity and very sudden changes in behavior.
WALLACK: That’s Dr. Ann McKee, who leads Boston University’s CTE Center. The disease can only be diagnosed after someone dies by examining samples of the brain under a microscope. McKee says Hernandez had one of the worst cases she’d ever seen in someone so young. He was just 27. Another possible factor is evidence that Hernandez smoked a synthetic drug called K2 in the days before his death. Nora Volkow is director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Volkow says K2 can have dangerous side effects, especially for people like Hernandez with brain injuries.
VOLKOW: So it’s a Russian roulette when people take these drugs because they do not know, first of all, what is the chemical they are consuming.
9. I think when you think of football and health and safety being paramount (which of course it should be but is certainly not always), think of the life and death of Aaron Hernandez.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Kudos to LSU for winning the women’s national championship. I saw none of the game Sunday (our family was flying all afternoon to a vacation), so I’m ignorant of the Angel Reese–Caitlin Clark story other than the than the worked-up response on Twitter from all angles. So I’ll say congrats to Angel Reese and her mates for a job well done against a tough foe.
b. From Saturday: A number of smart basketball followers said this over the weekend, one of them in the story below, but Caitlin Clark is the modern-day Pete Maravich.
c. Watch this. It’ll take less than three minutes. Watch Maravich totally confound Wilt Chamberlain about 1:48 in.
d. Now watch Clark against South Carolina great Aliyah Boston:
Caitlin Clark took it right to Aliyah Boston 👀 pic.twitter.com/yi3vCbWywD
— ESPN (@espn) April 1, 2023
e. And here:
Caitlin Clark doing Caitlin Clark things 🤩
She is the 6th player in D-I history to score 1,000 points in a single season 👏 pic.twitter.com/jPIsT1Rq6X
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 1, 2023
f. And here, looking Maravichian:
This hesi from Caitlin Clark was tough 🔥#WFinalFour pic.twitter.com/QFL4rssOdc
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 1, 2023
g. Caitlin Clark Stat of the Week, from ESPN: Her average made three-pointer this year is from 25 feet, 11 inches. Shooting from 26 feet and hitting threes. It’s what Steph Curry does.
h. Good to have you back, Rick Reilly: Writing in The Washington Post, one of our all-time great columnists opines on Caitlin Clark, and it’s wonderful.
i. Missed you, Rick. Writes Reilly:
Her shooting range starts in the hotel lobby. She passes like a ponytailed Pistol Pete Maravich and she has the sticky fingers of a subway pickpocket.
Her name is Caitlin Clark. She was just named the Naismith Player of the Year, for the top women’s b-baller in the country. And if you watch her against undefeated South Carolina on ESPN in the NCAA women’s Final Four, bring your inhaler, because she’ll take your breath away.
This 21-year-old, 6-foot junior plays for Iowa and she’s the most entertaining Hawkeye since Alan Alda.
j. Sums it up.
k. Kudos to the Colorado Rockies and to closer Daniel Bard talking openly about Bard beginning the season on the injured list with anxiety. “It’s a hard thing to admit,” Bard said. “I have enough going on outside the game to realize what’s important. I’m extremely grateful to be in an organization that understands these things and is accepting.”
l. Smart Story of the Week: Lindsey Adler of The Wall Street Journal on the pitch clock in baseball, and how shorter games will lead to added rest for players and, perhaps, players playing more games in a season if the games are 30 minutes shorter.
m. It’s hard to know exactly how much shorter games will be because of the pitch clock—pitchers have 15 seconds to pitch when the bases are empty, 20 seconds when a runner or runners are on base—but a good early estimate is 25 minutes. Adler wrote:
Twenty-five minutes per game may not seem like a drastic change, but the cumulative total presents a staggering change to the time the players will spend on the field in a season. Over the course of a 162-game season, that would add up to a spare 67½ hours per team. On a week-by-week basis, that would strip around 2½ hours of playing time per week—essentially shortening the player’s workweek by the time it would take to play nearly a full regular-season game.
“Ultimately, you’re going to see the best players play more games,” speculated Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “The compilation of time is going to be less, so we’re looking into that.”
… The shortened games may affect players in different ways, beyond the pitcher. The catcher will have to think more quickly and receive high-velocity pitches with less time to recover, but may also get out of the squat earlier each night. Infielders, who now must set up in specific parts of the diamond and totally on the dirt, will have to prepare to field batted balls with less precision in their defensive positioning and will have less time to recover from a diving stop. Outfielders may feel the effect in their feet, but will likely benefit from the pace, managers said.
“As a player myself, it was maddening when pitchers took too much time,” said Giants manager Gabe Kapler, a former outfielder. “You just felt like they were asking a lot of you as an individual. I think the pace will have a positive impact for defenders.”
n. I went to Guardians-Mariners Friday night in Seattle, and the game lasted 3:05. It would have been 3:50 last year. Robbie Ray’s control was disastrous—five walks, a jillion three-ball counts over 91 pitches in 3.1 innings. In the series opener Thursday, there were 250 pitches thrown, and the game finished in a tidy 2:14. In my game: 349 pitches. The fans around us loved how the game moved. This is going to be great for baseball.
o. Alex Speier, you are gold. The Boston Globe Red Sox scribe with an opening-day gem: “Alex Verdugo is the first Red Sox player to lead off the first inning of the team’s first game with a triple since Rabbit Warstler in 1931.”
p. Run, Rabbit, run.
q. Great job, John Fetterman, in illuminating your depression for America can see what it’s really like:
Six weeks after entering Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for inpatient treatment for depression, Sen. @JohnFetterman shares his struggle with depression, his health, and more in an intimate interview with Jane Pauley this "Sunday Morning." pic.twitter.com/3o2926I48B
— CBS Sunday Morning 🌞 (@CBSSunday) March 31, 2023
r. Baseball Passage of the Week, from the acerbic Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe, on his view of the what the Red Sox have become: “They are a nerd-larded operation (33 folks in the analytics department) intent on not overspending, selling the illusion of contention in a watered-down playoff format that promotes ‘all are welcome’ every October.”
s. I do believe we are going mad. This county in California, because of totally unproven conspiracy theories about voting machines, has decided to spend $1.6 million to hand-count every ballot in the county in coming elections.
t. Maybe the Shasta County Board of Supervisors should have asked its constituents this question: Are you okay with us implementing a system that duplicates a system of counting votes used now that will cost every man, woman and child an additional $8.78 in tax money to count votes? For a family of four, that’s an additional $35.14 you’ll have to pay—or it’s money we’ll have to find in the budget by cutting needed services elsewhere.
u. This is what made-up, phony information spouted by conspiracy theorists ends up costing citizens. No wonder we can’t make any real progress on the most important issues of our lives—we have leaders who see ghosts in voting machines with zero, zero, zero legitimate proof of wrongdoing. NPR did a story on this, and said it’s likely there will be more mistakes in hand-counting than there would be by using the machines because, referring to the hand-counters, “people who are working 15-, 16-, 17-hour days, it kind of makes sense that they would make some mistakes in that counting process.” But don’t worry. I’ll get 100 emails this week about the evils of voting machines.
v. While we’re at it, give me one good reason why we continue to do nothing about mass shootings. Just one. The only solution since Sandy Hook has been to vote out the politicians who continue to do nothing about this American disease that allows young people to die in schools. It remains the only solution. That, plus not voting for anyone who takes NRA money.
w. How would you like to have children in public school in Tennessee, with your congressional representative Tim Burchett, who in the wake of the shooting that killed six innocents was asked what Washington can do to stop mass shootings. “There’s not a whole lot we can do,” Burchett said, and also this: “I don’t see any real role that we could do other than mess things up.”
x. Great leadership, Tim Burchett. When you’re on the campaign trail in the next election, that can be your slogan for re-election: THERE’S NOT A WHOLE LOT WE CAN DO! BURCHETT ’24!
y. My alma mater seems to have gone mad:
Ohio University’s new baseball jerseys that they are breaking out today
Are they 🔥 or 🗑? pic.twitter.com/cBorBBd7oY
— Calico Joe (@CalicoJoeMLB) April 1, 2023
z. Kudos to Colts owner Jim Irsay for funding the return of an Orca whale, Lolita, back to the wild after 53 years in captivity. What a story.
The Adieu Haiku40
It’s fine to challenge Goodell.
Thursday flex is bad.