Aaron Rodgers says there are a lot of uncertain futures, “myself included”

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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has made clear that he intends to play past his 40th birthday, and that he hopes to stay with the Packers that long.

His comments following Sunday’s home loss in the NFC Championship are causing some to wonder whether Rodgers will be back with the Packers next year.

Via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, Rodgers said there are a lot of uncertain futures, “myself included.”

Said Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin regarding Rodgers’ post-game remarks: “Aaron Rodgers sure sounded like a guy saying goodbye.”

Added Matt Schneidman of TheAthletic.com: “Aaron Rodgers fully sounded like someone who doesn’t know if he’ll be the QB here next season.”

Rodgers’ future came into question after the Packers traded up in the first round of the 2020 draft to select quarterback Jordan Love. Rodgers seemed to be upset about it at the time, but by the time the season began he seemed to be a in a good place.

If Rodgers is thinking about leaving, the Packers aren’t thinking about making him leave. Said coach Matt LaFleur, via Wilde regarding whether Rodgers will return: “The guy’s the MVP of this league. He’s the heart and soul of this football team. Hell yeah, he better be back here. He’s our leader.”

Rodgers has three years left under his contract with the Packers. He could retire (he’d owe $23 million in unearned bonus money) or he could ask to be traded, if for some reason he wants to follow in the footsteps of quarterbacks like Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady.

Key pass interference call helps Buccaneers seal Super Bowl berth

New York Giants v Washington Redskins
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Two years ago, a key defensive pass interference non-call helped keep the Saints out of the Super Bowl — and turned the NFL on its head. Today, a key defensive pass interference call helped send the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl.

With the Buccaneers holding a five-point lead and facing third and four at their own 37 with under two minutes to play, quarterback Tom Brady threw over the middle to receiver Tyler Johnson. Cornerback Kenny King grabbed Johnson’s jersey, slowing him down by a step.

No flag came initially. Then, several seconds later, the yellow hankie flew through the air.

Defensive pass interference. First down, Tampa.

That essentially ended it. And while the jersey pull seemed obvious, the game had a distinct “let them play” vibe throughout.

After the Saints non-call from early 2019, the NFL implemented replay review for pass interference calls and non-calls. That lasted a year.

Even if it still applied, replay review wouldn’t have overturned the ruling on the field. There was a grab, there was impairment of the effort to make the catch. There was interference.

Six years after #Deflategate, Tom Brady keeps #winning

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers
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Six years ago, New England’s win over the Colts in an AFC Championship became marred by #Deflategate. From an erroneous report (undoubtedly leaked by the league to set a narrative) regarding 11 of 12 footballs underinflated by two or more pounds to the flawed investigation that followed to the suspension of Tom Brady to the litigation that delayed it for a year to the three additional Super Bowls won by Brady and the Patriots post-#Deflategate, history has vindicated Brady.

One aspect of that vindication will play out at halftime of today’s NFC Championship, if someone happens to measure the air pressure in the footballs used by the Buccaneers in the first two quarters.

If the Bucs inflated the balls at the minimum of 12.5 psi before taking them outside into the elements, the Ideal Gas Law means that the reduction in temperature will reduce the air pressure. Given the external temperature, the balls by intermission could be well below 12.5 psi.

But you’ll hear nothing about it. The league has managed to guard successfully any and all measurements taken over the past six seasons, due at least in part to the fact that, on some occasions, the measurements taken at halftime would have looked a lot like the measurements taken of the New England footballs. (The NFL did not respond to an email asking whether the spot-checks of halftime PSI continue, or whether it would happen today.)

The outcome of the original #Deflategate should have been that the evidence of cheating on that specific day was inconclusive. Today, the NFL would never disclose the air pressure at halftime of the balls used by either team, due in part to a desire to keep the public at large from ever realizing that #Deflategate was a results-driven effort to prove cheating by Brady and the Patriots when, all things considered, the NFL failed to develop and present adequate proof of it.

NFL continues to make the pandemic a non-issue

NFL: JAN 19 AFC Championship - Titans at Chiefs
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The pandemic continues to rage out of control. The NFL continues to not flinch in the face of it.

Yes, the 2020 season included several outbreaks — in Tennessee, Baltimore, Cleveland. But despite some fairly major surgery to the schedule, including a three-week delay in a game between the Steelers and Titans, the league got all 256 regular-season games played within 17 weeks.

In the 10 games played in the postseason, only one game was impacted by COVID-19. The fact that the Browns upset the Steelers in a game that saw Cleveland not have its head coach made the virus even less of an issue. Last week in the divisional round, nothing happened. This week, as the AFC and NFC Championship games approached, it never even came up.

And so it’s no surprise that both games have gotten the green light for today. The only remaining question is whether the Super Bowl will feature any COVID-19 issues.

The two-week delay between today’s games and Super Sunday surely will make people nervous. The longer that players are away from the team facility, the greater the chance they’ll catch the virus somewhere else.

That’s why the message from the coaches who win today and tonight must be clear and unequivocal: For the next two weeks, isolate yourself from family members, friends, strangers, anyone. Restrict all movements. Find your favorite room in your house or apartment and stay there.

As PFT reported on December 29, the Super Bowl teams will remain in their normal environments during Super Bowl week, traveling to Tampa the same way that they would for a normal road game in Tampa. This will, as a practical matter, ensure that any potential exposure during the trip to Florida (or while there before the game) won’t result in a positive test before kickoff, given the incubation period.

And so there’s reason to be optimistic that the Super Bowl teams won’t have any COVID-19 issues. Ultimately, it’s on the leadership of the winners of the Lamar Hunt and George Halas trophies to ensure that the right message is sent, and heeded, to the entire organization regarding the importance of not slipping now.

Buccaneers want Antonio Brown back in 2021

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Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown won’t play today due to a knee injury, but the Buccaneers want him to play for the Buccaneers during the 2021 season.

Via Ian Rapoport, the Buccaneers want Brown back next season.

It’s no surprise, given that the Buccaneers want more than anything to keep quarterback Tom Brady next season. Even before a late-season run that sparked a berth in the NFC Championship, the organization desperately hoped Brady to choose to stay for a season that, hopefully, will entail the ability to host a full stadium of fans — and in turn to make full revenue for the year, and then some.

Brown was good not great in 2020, due in part to the fact that he never supplanted Mike Evans or Chris Godwin. Brown wasn’t supposed to. Come next year, however, Godwin could be gone via free agency. That would open a spot for Brown across from Evans. It also would bump up Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson, both of whom have shown they can get it done.

Without a new deal, Brown will become a free agent on March 17. It’s unclear whether he’s done enough to get other teams to try to sign him. The Seahawks had real interest (or, more accurately quarterback Russell Wilson did). With the Josh Gordon experiment once again indefinitely on hold, Wilson could clamor for the team to bring Brown to town.

For the Bucs, the Seahawks, any other interested team(s), and the league, one specific issue continues to hover: The lawsuit accusing Brown of sexual assault and rape. Although it’s not set for trial until December 6, Brown at some point undoubtedly will testify under oath in a pre-trial deposition. And if he behaves like he did when deposed in the lawsuit arising from his decision to trash a luxury apartment and throw furniture over the balcony, he could say or do enough to get the league to conclude that he did what he’s accused of doing.

That’s why Brown’s best move would be to settle the case. Of course, the fact that his accuser’s lawyer surely understands this dynamic won’t make Brown’s ability to write a check and put the incident behind him even more expensive.

Report: Patrick Mahomes’ toe not 100 percent

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All week long on PFT Live and PFT PM, we made this point regarding Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes: The concussion that removed him from the second half of last Sunday’s playoff win over the Browns may have helped him avoid doing more damage to his obviously injured toe.

The toe took a back seat to the concussion, but the toe is now back in the forefront of the conversation. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Mahomes indeed has “turf toe,” and that Mahomes currently is not 100 percent.

Mahomes received no final injury designation on Friday, which means that he will be available for normal duty. But if the toe isn’t 100 percent, the question becomes whether his duty will be normal.

Last week, Mahomes clearly favored the toe when hobbling around between plays. During plays, he showed no ill effects of the injury, fighting through whatever discomfort the injury was causing. And, given that he was moving as he normally would, he possibly was doing more harm to the ligaments in the joint of his big toe.

Video from Friday’s practice (embedded in the attached video) shows Mahomes moving around without a limp or a hobble, but he never truly opens up and runs hard, pushing off the foot in a way that could aggravate the condition.

From a football standpoint, the status of Mahomes’ toe raises questions about whether and to what extent he’ll move around on Sunday. Will the team call plays that put him on the run? Will Mahomes opt, if no one is open and the walls are caving in, to run the ball or to throw it away?

It becomes a more important question given that the team and/or the player could be leery about putting Mahomes in harm’s way, seven days after he got up from a tackle clearly woozy and disoriented.

Mahomes, for his part, has vowed to “be myself.” Indeed, it’s hard to see Mahomes doing anything other than what he normally does. Whether that means he’ll end up hobbling around between plays again remains to be seen.

Trades can be arranged now, but they’re not official until March 17

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions
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With the Lions agreeing to try to trade quarterback Matthew Stafford and with Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson possibly asking for a trade of his own, it makes sense for an annual (or so) refresher on how trades work in January and February.

Teams can strike unofficial deals now; there’s nothing that prevents them from doing so. However, the deal won’t become official until the start of the new league year, on March 17, at 4:00 p.m. ET. That’s when both teams alert the league office to the trade.

And if one of the two teams decides not to proceed, the trade doesn’t happen — even if it’s widely reported that it will. While a renege would create real problems going forward for the team that doesn’t proceed, it can happen.

Three years ago, word broke during Super Bowl week that the Chiefs would trade quarterback Alex Smith to Washington. At any time between now and March 17, news of a trade involving Stafford or Watson can emerge. Again, however, any of the involved teams can back out before both terms turn the key on the official trade, after the launch of the new league year.

So, basically, any deal can be done now. But it won’t be done until March 17, only if it’s officially done by both teams.

What’s next for Matthew Stafford?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions
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After a dozen seasons in Detroit, quarterback Matthew Stafford will be moving on. So where will he go?

Plenty of teams will be interested, especially with a contract that pays out only $20 million in 2021. (He may want a new deal on the way through the door, however.) Despite being only a one-time Pro Bowler (which seems very strange), Stafford has been one of the better quarterbacks of the past 12 years.

Or maybe the better phrase is “better passer.” As full-blown quarterbacks go, something always has been just a bit off. Stafford has seemed reluctant to lead in the way that players like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady do, imposing their will vocally onto others.

Stafford instead tends to lead by example. Unfortunately, the Lions haven’t put enough good players around him for that to make a difference.

One good player previously on the team — Reggie Bush — said after his stint in Detroit that the Lions lack chemistry. Bush once suggested a players-only meeting for the Lions, and Stafford disagreed.

He’s still a great thrower, and he has a real toughness when it comes to playing through injuries. Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians (who presumably won’t need a quarterback if Tom Brady returns) raved about Stafford before last month’s Saturday afternoon game between Tampa Bay and Detroit.

For many teams, Stafford provides an immediate upgrade as a passer. Interested teams, right off the bat, should include the Patriots, Steelers (if Ben Roethlisberger retires), Colts, Texans (if Deshaun Watson is traded), Raiders, Broncos, Washington, Bears, Panthers, Saints, Falcons (if Matt Ryan is traded), and 49ers (if Jimmy Garoppolo is traded).

Stafford’s next team will need a leadership structure that doesn’t require Stafford to carry that mantle. Or perhaps he needs the right kind of coaching. Or maybe he just needs some consistency in coaching, given the revolving door in Detroit over the past decade.

Then there’s the question of where Stafford wants to go. If a team is interested in Stafford but Stafford isn’t interested in that team, it won’t be a good match.

Still only 32 (he turns 33 on Super Bowl Sunday), Stafford has plenty of quality years left. And his next act quickly will become a Bizarro Brady-Belichick analysis. Who’s more responsible for 12 years of crap, organization or quarterback?

We’ll find out, starting this year. The first, and perhaps most important, question becomes where his second act will happen.

Report: Deshaun Watson prefers Jets over Dolphins

Houston Texans v New York Jets
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It’s been suggested that Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson wants to play for the Dolphins. Reportedly, there’s another team in the AFC East even higher on his lift.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that Watson’s No. 1 choice is the Jets.

“Watson this week told people the Jets are his top preference among the teams he’d like to be traded to because they hired Robert Saleh to be their coach and Watson values Saleh so much he wanted the Texans to interview him for their vacant head coach job,” Salguero writes.

PFT reported last Saturday that, indeed, Watson recommended that the Texans interview Saleh and that the Texans ignored the suggestion. (The Texans had offered to accept Watson’s input on the coaching hire.)

The Dolphins land at No. 2 in Watson’s list of preferences, per Salguero.

Miami currently has the better roster, but the Jets are trying to build a competitive team. The challenge becomes maintaining progress toward a contender while still giving up whatever it would take to get Watson.

The Jets have an extra first-round pick this year and next year, thanks to the Jamal Adams trade. New York also holds the second overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Watson has not yet asked the Texans for a trade. It’s unknown whether the Texans would acquiesce to such a request.

Charlie Frye will coach quarterbacks with the Dolphins

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Charlie Frye is back in the NFL.

The former pro quarterback will now be coaching quarterbacks with the Dolphins, reports Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports. Most recently, Frye had served at the offensive coordinator at Central Michigan.

A third-round pick of the Browns in 2005, Frye was traded to Seattle after a disastrous Week One game in 2007 (a 34-7 loss to the Steelers), opening the door for Derek Anderson to lead the Browns to a 10-6 record.

Frye had a record of 7-16 in 23 NFL starts; he played for Cleveland, the Seahawks, and the Raiders. He completed 419 of 677 passes for 4,154 yards, with 17 touchdown passes and 29 interceptions.

Robby Brown currently is listed as the Miami quarterbacks coach. Some have suggested that Brown could become the next offensive coordinator. Per a league source, Brown instead will not be retained.

NBCSN’s looming exit changes little for NBC Sports, PFT Live

NFL Combine - Day 2
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The news that NBCSN will wind down by the end of the year was met by some with confusion and surprise (and, in a few cases, superfluous condolences). After all, NBCSN finished second only to ESPN’s primary network in sports cable ratings in 2018. But for the postponement of the Olympics, NBCSN would have landed in that same spot in 2020.

So why pull the plug on a profitable five-letter sports network? It’s part of a strategy focused on growth and expansion, not shrinkage and surrender.

USA Network most likely will emerge as a force akin to TNT, with a blend of sports and non-sports programming. Already in six million more homes than NBCSN, the shifting of certain sporting events to USA Network instantly elevates their profile and enhances the standing of USA Network.

Then there’s Peacock, the still-new streaming service that continues to grow, thanks in large part to the exclusive presence of all nine seasons of The Office — along with extended episodes for the entire third season, and more seasons of extended episodes to come. Last August, the live edition of PFT Live moved from NBCSN to Peacock as part of this transition to a model that provides access to plenty of sports-based shows (like PFT Live and its afternoon component, PFT PM) for free, with no cable or satellite packages necessary.

That’s where the live PFT Live show has been for months, and that’s where it will continue to be. It also will be available for re-air at your convenience.

For those who don’t want to pay for another streaming service, much of the content on Peacock (including the Sports channel with PFT Live, The Dan Patrick Show, The Rich Eisen Show, Brother From Another, PFT PM and more) is free. For $4.99 per month, the premium content (including all of The Office and much, much more) can be unlocked. For $9.99 per month, it all can be consumed without commercials.

But we still don’t want to pay for another streaming service. Well, then don’t; try Peacock and then ask yourself, “Do I like it better than one of my other streaming services?”

If you do, keep Peacock and ditch one of the other ones. If you don’t, you can still keep the free level of Peacock, including the free access to our shows.

You also can hear PFT Live and PFT PM live on SiriusXM 211. You can download the podcasts wherever you get your podcasts. You can see clips of the show on YouTube. Or, if you’re reading these words, you’ll see plenty of chunks of video attached to most if not all of the stories posted here at PFT.

We haven’t forgotten our curiously strong following in the UK and Ireland. PFT Live still will air on Sky Sports NFL at 7:00 p.m. local time. Every Wednesday, PFT PM is currently televised live at 10:00 p.m. local time. (If you want more nights, get more people to watch it on Wednesdays.)

So the content still exists, and it’s far easier to access than some would suggest. If you have any issues or questions at all about Peacock (and I know I’m going to regret this but what the hell?), let me know.

Patriots find themselves caught in litigation between Bret Bielema, Razorback Foundation

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins
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Coaches who get fired with years remaining on guaranteed contracts have two options: Don’t work and get paid 100 cents on the dollar by the former employer or take a job and see the amount owed from the former employer reduced by the money earned at a new job.

Basically, the coach who takes another job usually will end up working for free, unless he somehow makes more money in his new job.

If the coach takes a new job, there’s a temptation by the coach and the new employer to pay the coach peanuts, in order to maximize the financial obligation of the former employer. Michael McCann of Sportico.com explains that a subplot along those lines has emerged in litigation between former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and the Razorback Foundation, and that the New England Patriots currently are caught in the crossfire.

The lawyer representing the Razorback Foundation has suggested in a letter to the presiding judge that Bielema and agent Neil Cornrich hatched a “scheme” that would “place Bielema in a low-paying position with the Patriots while he was still receiving payments from the Foundation.” The Patriots strongly dispute this interpretation of 458 pages of documents produced by the team regarding the hiring and employment of Bielema.

“The Patriots, paid Mr. Bielema a fair and reasonable sum for this work and undoubtedly could have offered him substantially less for the work he performed,” Patriots lawyer Brandon Bigelow wrote in response to the Razorback Foundation’s lawyer.

Per McCann, the Razorback Foundation has implied that the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick could be added to the litigation regarding Bielema’s buyout. Such a tactic would make it difficult, frankly, for Arkansas to hire top-level coaches in the future and for former Arkansas coaches to find employment elsewhere after being fired.

Even without actually suing the Patriots or Belichick, any effort to whittle away at the sunk costs from a failed former coach will make a prospective coach reluctant about landing in that very same spot. The whole thing makes the Razorback Foundation look cheap, petty, and vindictive.

Bigelow made that same point, in more artful language.

“It is obvious that what the Foundation is really doing is seeking improper leverage in a simple breach of contract dispute with a former coach,” Bigelow wrote to Foundation’s lawyer. “As this matter proceeds, you also should consider how it might appear to others for the Foundation to be asserting frivolous claims against and harassing a professional football team for simply providing an opportunity to a fired college football coach.”

The case between Bielema and the Razorback Foundation currently is scheduled to go to trial on June 1.

Brandon Staley of 2016 wouldn’t be as surprised as everyone else about his quick rise

NFL: DEC 29 Chargers at Chiefs
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Five years ago, Brandon Staley served as defensive coordinator at John Carroll University, a Division III institution in Ohio. Five years later, he’s the new coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.

How surprised would Brandon Staley of 2016 be about the developments of the past five years?

“I don’t think he would be as surprised as everybody else,” Staley said in a Friday appearance on PFT PM. “[I]t doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, but I think the people that were with me in 2016, my players, my coaches, I think they would’ve bet on it. Maybe not this quickly, but I bet you they’d bet that I could do it. I’ve always had that belief in myself because I’ve always known what I’ve invested in my game. And that 2016 defense that I was a part of at John Carroll, that’s as good of a defense I’ve ever been a part of and I’ve been a part of two No. 1 defenses in the NFL. That was a special group of guys.

“I had a strong sense that I could do it at this level. And I think that when I got to Chicago in 2017 it kind of solidified my belief system. And then I think what you do is over the course of the next four years, then you’re just getting ready. I mean you’re ready, but when you get that opportunity, you’re ready to go with it. I’m fortunate to be around a lot of great people; coaches, players. So thankful for all of them to make it happen. That’s why I’m here.”

His break came when landing with the Bears in 2017, and he realized that his methods would work at the NFL level.

“[T]here’s that transition that’s real,” Staley said. “Like there’s that transition of, ‘Okay, I’m coaching a pro player.’ And that relationship is different, but it’s still a relationship which I feel like is a strength of mine. I think once I got to see it for myself and be with the great coaches like a Vic Fangio meant so much to me. A guy that’s seen so much. And Ed Donatell, John Fox, all these people that mean a lot to me. I think once I got there with those guys and saw what the NFL really was like, that was a big confidence builder.”

It built enough confidence to result in Staley getting, frankly, the best job available in the current hiring cycle. And it sounds like Brandon Staley is ready to continue to climb, to improve, and to show that his methods translate very well to the modern NFL.

Alicia Landry, Tom Landry’s widow, dies at 91

Dallas Cowboys
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The woman behind one of the most respected coaches in NFL history has died. Alicia Landry, the wife of Hall of Fame Cowboys coach Tom Landry, was 91.

Tom became the first coach in team history in 1960, guiding the team for 29 seasons, through 1988. He died of leukemia in 2000, after the couple had been married 51 years.

Alicia Landry met her husband on a blind date in 1947. They married 17 months later.

Her legacy will endure for decades, if not centuries. The Dallas Morning News suggests that Alicia Landry provided the inspiration for the iconic star on the team’s helmet.

Her son, Tom Jr., said that she offered this input regarding the headgear to be worn by the fledgling Cowboys, “A star would be perfect.”

More specifically, Alicia Landry had direct and complete responsibility for the headgear that helped make her husband a towering figure in football history. After he got the job as coach of the expansion team, Tom and others thought he should wear a cowboy hat on the sideline.

“No, no, no, do not do that,’’ Alicia told him, per Tom Jr. “A fedora is what you need.’’

We extend our condolences to the Landry family.

Texans’ Josh McCown interview makes mockery of process

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Josh McCown is a great player and a great person, one of the most underrated quarterbacks of the past generation. But McCown should not be considered for a head-coaching position in the NFL. Not yet.

Maybe in time he’ll become a head coach, and maybe he’ll be a great one. Maybe he’ll win Super Bowls. Maybe there eventually will be a bronze bust in the Hall of Fame that looks conspicuously like Dolph Lundgren.

That doesn’t mean that the Texans or anyone else should interview someone with no coaching experience to be an NFL head coach. And it reveals a stunning lack of self-awareness by the Texans, a franchise that has become regarded as the most dysfunctional in football.

Or maybe the Texans are fully aware, and maybe they’ve extended a middle finger to anyone who would say that Jack Easterby isn’t qualified to serve as executive V.P. of football operations and/or that Easterby has owner Cal McNair somewhere between bamboozled and hypnotized. It’s fitting, frankly, that a team with a grossly unfit executive V.P. of football operations would consider a grossly unprepared candidate for coach.

Easterby is so far over his skis that he thinks he’s learned to fly. But the only opinion that matters belongs to McNair, who seems to think Easterby is soaring like an eagle.

In this specific case, the decision to consider McCown for a head-coaching job with no coaching experience becomes an affront to all qualified candidates, regardless of race. And, please, don’t play the “he did coaching as a quarterback” card. All quarterbacks worth their cleats do coaching. Does that mean Philip Rivers, who’ll coach high-school football now that he has retired, should have been interviewed by the Chargers?

Does that mean anyone instantly will be offering head-coaching jobs to Drew Brees or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers as their playing careers end?

In a cycle that has seen five of six head-coaching jobs go to white candidates and no Black coaches hired, the ultimate indignity has come from the Texans, who have interviewed — and by all appearances are considering — making Josh McCown the head coach without ever working as a coach at the college or NFL level.