BROOKLYN — In 2017 and 2018, when Colin Kaepernick couldn’t find a job because he kneeled in protest during the playing of the national anthem, the refrain inside the league office was clear: Teams are free to hire who they want. We can’t force anyone to sign Colin Kaepernick. This spring, the NFL was faced [more]
It’s becoming harder and harder to separate sports from real life, but that’s OK. Sometimes we shouldn’t be looking for an “escape” from day-to-day struggles. Sometimes we should face the issues that make us uncomfortable and, in so doing, search for solutions that will bring people together, not divide them.
And so today’s PFT mailbag won’t contain only football questions. It will delve from time to time into issues that some would rather ignore, ostensibly because they are looking for an escape but more candidly because some don’t like confronting issues that give them discomfort as to their views on the way things are, or the way things should be.
None of this is intended to be “political.” I have beliefs as to how others should be treated, beliefs that reflect a combination of my upbringing, my religious values, and the fundamental concepts on which our nation was founded. You may agree with the things I have to say, and you may disagree. Hopefully, we will all become more willing to listen to each other’s perspectives, abandon rigid and inflexible adherence to our own, and continue to strive for ways to get better.
From @SkolVikings: “How much attention will the Patriots and Buccaneers receive this year. Rightfully so I think this will be a weekly topic to see who actually carried the franchise Bill or Tom. At this point I think Brady is at a disadvantage due to his age.”
Fans, media, everyone will compare the Buccaneers and the Patriots throughout the 2020 season. Even though the two teams won’t meet this year (unless they both qualify for the Super Bowl), much attention will be paid to Tom Brady‘s performance without Belichick in Tampa and Bill Belichick’s performance without Brady in New England. Although it’s not nearly that simple, many will make it that simple. Or at least try to.
For Brady, the question becomes how quickly he can learn a new offense, how quickly the offense can be adapted to him, how quickly others in the organization will respond to Brady’s knowledge, experience, and leadership. And then there’s the defense in Tampa Bay, which is a far cry from the defenses Brady enjoyed in New England.
For Belichick, the question becomes the size of the gap between Brady and Jarrett Stidham, and how effectively Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels can close it. The team still lacks a high-end complement of weapons around the quarterback, the offensive line will have questions with Dante Scarnecchia retired (again), and the defense will be a work in progress as Belichick adjusts to the departure of several key players.
But it will be sold, and consumed, as Brady vs. Belichick. It’s easy, it’s simple, and it’s compelling. Whether it’s fair, accurate, and/or complete won’t matter.
When the Buccaneers traded for unretired tight end Rob Gronkowski, my first thought was that Howard, a former first-round pick, would be traded. He wasn’t. Although a trade could still happen, the Buccaneers may be thinking that the better plan will be to keep three tight ends in order to avoid Gronkowski being chewed up early in the season.
During his final year with the Patriots, the team made sure Gronk had gas in the tank for the postseason run. The end result? Big plays in key games like the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl.
So maybe the Bucs will use Gronkowski more sparingly in September and October, potentially trade Howard at the deadline, and then ramp up Gronk during the final half of the season, as the Bucs try to get to the playoffs and make some noise once they get there.
From @leepers500: “How absurd is it, in the light of what has transpired, that Colin Kaepernick bore such vitriol, hatred and vilification — driven from the league. What else was that but whites not wanting to hear it? And now many do not want to see this? What is left at that point?”
In 2016, Kaepernick began protesting during the anthem because of the way African-Americans and people of color are treated by police. For a pair of preseason games, his gesture went unnoticed because he wasn’t in uniform. Only when his last name was visible across the back of his jersey did the issue explode.
Despite his explanation, some refused (and still refuse) to see it as anything other than an insult to the military, the nation, and/or the flag. Rather than acknowledge the merits of his message, they attacked him for his method — a convenient device for avoiding a subject that makes them uncomfortable.
And here’s what makes them uncomfortable: Acknowledging their own unreasonable and unwarranted fears of “the other.”
Many politicians have achieved and held power by promoting wariness of “the other.” In our society, “the other” is most easily identified through the superficiality of skin color. So, for some, political power is amassed and retained not by tearing down that wall but by reinforcing it, giving the majority reason to be fearful of “the other” and in turn supportive of extreme measures for holding “the other” in check. If, as some in the majority class may sense without even consciously realizing it, “the other” is being brutalized and terrorized by police, it will be much harder for “the other” to ever act on those things for which “the other” is feared.
That attitude causes some to view “the other” as guilty of crimes that haven’t even been committed, and that most likely will never be. To calm the fear that “the other” will inevitably do something bad, “the other” is kept in constant fear that one false move, one menacing glare, one instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time will result in a police officer serving as judge, jury, and executioner — with the entire process being resolved in nine minutes, or much less.
To fix the situation, the fear of “the other” that has been wired into millions of American brains must be dismantled. It won’t be easy; beyond political power there is much money to be made by private industry through promoting fear of “the other.” The first step toward real change comes from waking up to the reality of efforts to manipulate the majority, in many different ways, to fear “the other.”
For Kaepernick’s sacrifice to ever have any meaning, and for change to ever be made, this very basic premise must be acknowledged, accepted, and corrected at every level of society.
From @RobertBlock07: “When examining NFL hiring practices, some point to the disproportionate number of minority players compared to coaches and front office employees. Why do people try to equate playing with coaching when they are completely different skillsets?”
This is The White Cornerback argument. And it’s the ultimate deflection for those who are made uncomfortable by the NFL’s poor performance when it comes to diversity in the ranks of coaches and General Managers. Instead of acknowledging the problem — a problem that the NFL now freely admits — the person who prefers not to be made uncomfortable argues that if teams should be expected to hire more minority coaches then they also should be expected to hire more white cornerbacks.
It is a stupid, idiotic, pig-headed notion that exposes anyone who utters it as being totally devoid of even the most basic understanding of how football actually works.
On the field, the NFL is a meritocracy. While that concept has some flexibility (e.g., teams that insist on playing a high draft pick to justify how high the player was picked, even if he stinks), the 22-man sausage-making process that plays out for months in the offseason and training camp, 17 weeks of the regular season and four weeks of the postseason separates the best players from the not-good-enough. Coaches who want to remain coaches don’t care about skin color or anything other than who can perform the discrete physical skills that are required to build a successful football team. (This doesn’t mean the lower levels of the sport are free from positional pigeonholing based on race. By the time the players progress to the NFL level, however, it’s typically far too late to make a running back a cornerback or a safety a quarterback or a linebacker a left tackle.)
On the sideline (and in the front office), it’s not nearly as easy to draw lines between the very best and the not-good-enough. There is no fastest, strongest, most agile, most accurate, etc. There aren’t countless hours of game film or practice footage that allows teams to determine who is the best and, in turn, the most deserving of employment. It’s all much more subjective and qualitative, and the ultimate hiring practices simply don’t reflect the demographics of the people who are trying to work their way into the most coveted non-playing positions.
To put it as simply as possible, there aren’t many white cornerbacks on NFL rosters because there aren’t many white cornerbacks in the pool of potential employment by NFL teams. The same definitely isn’t true for African-American coaching and G.M. candidates. And that’s why The White Cornerback argument is and always will be a red herring.
From @JonnyKrens: “Why are the Jets not using Leveon Bell properly?”
The question isn’t whether the Jets are using Bell properly. The question is whether the Jets have the right roster to make proper use of Bell.
A great running back is rarely the engine that powers an offense. But for Barry Sanders, who got his yards even without blocking or much of a passing game, a running back is the cherry on top of an offense that has a potent offensive line, a great quarterback, and receivers who can get open and catch.
Despite the perception that the Jets didn’t use Bell enough in 2019, he finished eighth in the league touches, with 311. But his impact wasn’t what it had been in Pittsburgh because the Jets don’t have Maurkice Pouncey or David DeCastro on the line, Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, and Antonio Brown at receiver.
Who struck fear in opposing defenses last year for the Jets? Who forced teams away from a Cover One defense that featured a single-high safety who typically shaded toward Robby Anderson while the box was clogged to stop Bell?
Then there’s the fact that Bell had missed the 2018 season, that he’s closing in on 30, and that he quite possibly burned out during Sam Darnold‘s mono-related absence, leaving Bell tapped out by the time Darnold tapped back in.
The Jets really aren’t doing anything different with Bell than the Steelers did. But the Steelers had a fully-formed offense. The Jets put the cart before the horse by signing Bell without having the other pieces in place.
From @DrJ144: “If the season has to be modified and games missed and NFL owners and players started arguing over how to distribute money this fall like MLB has been doing, do you suspect fans would side with owners or players? Who should they side with?”
The CBA has no device that would limit the financial obligation to players in 2020, but for language in the Standard Player Contract that possibly allows teams not to pay players if there is no season at all. The bigger fight will come in 2021, when the league and players try to set a new salary cap. But it will be in the interests of the teams not to set the cap so low that key players will have to be cut. That’s why it’s possible that the lost revenue from 2020 will be spread over multiple years.
That said, some believe NFL teams will be more ruthless this year about squeezing veterans to take pay cuts, with the threat of a late-preseason termination of their contracts if they refuse. That could allow teams to save millions in 2020, but it also will require them to be comfortable with younger, cheaper players who may not be as ready to go as they could or should be given the absence of an offseason program.
But if a fight breaks out between the league and the players over distributing money in 2020 or 2021, look for more fans to side with the owners, because that’s what fans typically do. The fans should, especially in this case, realize that the players are assuming the risk of practicing and playing in a pandemic, which should make fans more supportive of player efforts to get everything they were due to earn this year — especially since it easily could be argued in light of the current situation that they should get even more.
From @JonHaley94: “Recent events and impact on Kaepernick’s chances of getting an NFL job — more likely, less likely, or no impact (i.e., all 32 starting NFL QBs could get COVID-19 and Kaep’s phone still wouldn’t ring).”
Before Colin Kaepernick ever gets a job, he has to get an offer. Before he ever gets an offer, he has to get an invitation to show up and perform in a tryout setting. So the first step would be something that Kaepernick hasn’t gotten in more than three years of unemployment: A workout with an NFL team.
After that, the question becomes whether the team believes he’s good enough to have a spot of the roster, given the three years of unemployment. The question also becomes what he’s looking for financially, and whether the team can or will pay that amount.
Kaepernick likely would be leery of any immediate effort to show interest in him, just as he was leery last November when the NFL suddenly wanted to arrange a workout for him that teams were invited to attend. Kaepernick will realize the connection between recent events and the interest in his services, and he’ll likely want to be sure that the interest is real and not part of a publicity stunt or P.R. play.
The better approach would be for Kaepernick to draw interest based on needs that arise in the future, whether due to quarterback injury or coronavirus infection. But plenty of quarterbacks were injured last year, and teams relied on the “next man up” concept — even if the next man up was Mason Rudolph, Kyle Allen, or someone else who has never done and never will do what Kaepernick has done on a football field.
Thus, there’s a good chance that, despite recent events, nothing will change when it comes to Kaepernick’s unemployment.
From @PSegelke: “Will the Seahawks ever let Russell Wilson walk in FA?”
The short answer is no. The longer answer is that, if Wilson ever leaves the Seahawks, he’ll be traded.
Some think a trade is inevitable, possibly in lieu of what would be his fourth contract with the team. Although the cap hit makes it impossible in 2021, a trade can’t be ruled out in 2022 or 2023 — especially once Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, raises the question of when/if another extension will be coming.
Rodgers has finagled four-year extensions twice for Wilson, a rare feat for teams that typically want to control player rights much longer into the future. Because Rodgers has only one NFL client, it’s easier for him to drive a hard bargain without worrying about the manner in which that one hard bargain may impact current or future clients on the same team. The relationship aspect of the agent business becomes far less relevant when the agent doesn’t have relationships that keep the agent from taking a no-holds-barred approach to getting the best deal for his one and only client in the entire industry.
That dynamic could ultimately make the Seahawks wary of the entire situation, with one market-value four-year deal followed by another and another and another until Wilson retires at (as he says) 45. At some point, the Seahawks may decide to get the most they can for Wilson in trade, and to start over with a young quarterback on a rookie contract.
Especially since the Seahawks went to a pair of Super Bowls while Wilson was on his rookie contract, and they haven’t been back since they made him one of the highest-paid players in football.
From @DonPerrien: “Why is it so hard for the NFL to adopt common sense rule changes? The XFL kickoff, the 4th & 15 onside kick, offsite video replay review to get an extra set of eyes … these things work to improve the game, but the NFL doesn’t seem to want them. Why?”
The NFL is notoriously conservative. Not in the political sense, but in the “we don’t want to change” sense. That’s why rules are changed very rarely before something happens under the current rules that prompts someone in the league to say, “Maybe we should change that.”
Complicating matters are the struggles the league has experienced in recent years to change things that definitely needed to be changed, from the catch/no catch misadventures (which eventually were solved) to the failed 2019 pass interference replay review experiment aimed at preventing another Rams-Saints debacle. The unintended consequences that flowed from these recent efforts to change the rules will make the league less even likely to embrace change, especially without a clear and obvious reason to do so.
Of course, many unintended consequences aren’t unforeseen. For some reason, however, the league often lacks the ability to apply foresight both in spotting problems generally and in spotting specific problems with the potential devices for fixing problems. There are enough brilliant minds in the league to properly brainstorm every potential consequence of every potential rule change. The NFL doesn’t do enough of that both when trying to fix known problems and when trying to spot flaws in the rules that could lead to future problems.
From @TFBHuddle: “This is a question for aspiring ‘analysts.’ How do you recommend getting into the industry?”
Twenty years ago on Wednesday, I saw at NFLTalk.com an open call for potential columnists. The pay? Zero dollars plus benefits, babe.
But I was intrigued by it. I was drawn to it. I threw something together, and within a couple of weeks, I had the non-paying job.
I loved it. Initially, I wrote two columns per week, happily and passionately and zealously. So they gave me more. (Work, not money.) I always said yes to more. Working and working and working and honing and refining and enjoying every second of it. From June until April, when the website and its parent company financially crashed and burned, I did everything they asked and constantly asked for more.
Obviously, a certain amount of ability and skill is required. But working hard and working fast and working without complaint and above all else working goes a long way toward creating better opportunities. And, along the way, the constant investment of time and effort and desire and passion and heart and sweat and everything else pushes you toward the limit of your God-given abilities, whatever they may be.
I was able to spent what ultimately was several years of doing this job without making any money at it, because I also had a real job that paid the bills. It still required sacrifice, since working one job that paid and one that didn’t left not much time to do other things. But I ultimately loved it and that’s why I did it, without any master plan that entailed making a lot of money or even enough money to quit my job that paid.
I kept going because I enjoyed it. The enjoyment, as explained in this conversation between Howard Stern and Jerry Seinfeld, makes the work not work.
“When you love something, it’s a bottomless pool of energy,” Seinfeld told Stern. “That’s where the energy comes from. But you have to love it, sincerely. Not because you’re gonna make money from it or be famous or get whatever you want to get. When you do it because you love it, then you can find yourself moving up and getting really good at something you wanted to be good at. . . . Love is endless, will is finite.”
The demonstration of your love of the sport, the industry, etc. needs a chance to grow. And it usually starts in a place where doing it for little or no money proves that, at the core, you’re doing it because you love it.
So the advice is simple: Find a place where you can work, even if you’re not paid for it. And then work. And work. And work. And work. And if you truly love it you’ll never feel like any of it is work.
For late May, normally a slow time in the NFL, the league’s really busy. A couple of significant rules—adding a full-time Sky Judge to every officiating crew, and revolutionizing the onside kick—will come up for votes in a special videoconference session Thursday. The league last week began directing the opening of team facilities shuttered for [more]
Last month, Matt Rhule gave the speech he’d been preparing, one way or another, since he knew he wanted to be a football coach back in sixth grade, growing up in New York City. Rhule didn’t actually give the speech live, which of course he hoped to do, seeing as it would be the first [more]
The NFL has proposed an adjustment to the Rooney Rule that would reward teams hiring minority coaches and/or General Managers with enhanced draft position. Some within the league are concerned that enticing teams to make hiring decisions based in part on the race of the applicants would invite litigation from non-minority candidates who are fired from their positions or passed over for openings.
Cyrus Mehri, co-founder of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, believes those concerns are unfounded.
“I’m 100 percent certain based on my experience that they are on solid legal ground,” Mehri told PFT by phone on Sunday, regarding the proposed expansion to the Rooney Rule.
Mehri said the league developed the proposal after a “robust dialogue” with the Fritz Pollard Alliance throughout the offseason, with much of the conversation occurring at the Scouting Combine. Although the proposal “happened organically on the owners’ side,” Mehri wasn’t completely surprised by it. He explained that, through corporate America, companies link senior management bonuses to equal opportunity and diversity performance. Basically, it’s a diversity boost, with the incentive falling into a sweet spot where it’s significant enough to get a team’s attention but not so significant that it would be an overwhelming factor in firing and hiring decisions.
This doesn’t insulate the league from a legal challenge by a non-minority coach who believes that the proposal amounts to reverse discrimination on the basis of race. Mehri, who has extensive experience handling major discrimination cases against companies like Texaco, Coca-Cola, and Morgan Stanley, believes that the league would be exonerated, if challenged in court.
The legal merit in the proposal comes from the fact that, historically, the league has struggled to achieve diversity in coaching and G.M. ranks. This sets the stage for a carefully-crafted incentive aimed at helping to remedy past failures in the hiring of minority coaches and General Managers.
Mehri sees this proposal as “one of the great moments for hope” in the 18-year journey that began with the creation of the Rooney Rule. He also believes that owners have begun looking at the problem “more holistically,” with the use of entry-level fellowships and efforts to persuade franchises to develop their own diversity plans. The 49ers, Mehri pointed out, have a Rooney Rule that applies to both women and minorities for non-football positions.
Thus, Mehri sees the idea as an innovative concept and an “overall positive trend,” one that will be good for the game, and good for retired players who are trying to get into coaching and executive roles.
This doesn’t eliminate the concerns, including the comments made publicly by Chargers coach Anthony Lynn on Friday night. Lynn, a minority coach, said of the proposal, “Sometimes you can do the wrong thing while trying to do the right thing.”
“I have a great deal of respect for Coach Lynn,” Mehri said, “and what the owners are contemplating is something worthy of dialogue and refinement and improvement by casting a wide net and hearing other ideas on it. Coach Lynn’s voice should be heard.”
That may indeed be the next challenge for the league. Instead of ramming this proposal through without hearing all voices and talking through all concerns, the league should listen and discuss and contemplate before making a final decision — especially since the next hiring cycle won’t begin for eight more months.
Even if the powers-that-be are determined to pass this one over any objections or concerns, it makes sense to talk it through thoroughly and not dismiss those who believe it could be problematic or who believe that there’s a better way to enhance minority hiring. There’s a chance that, after understanding all issues and angles and discussing the matter fully and fairly, those who have concerns about the proposal will come around.
Toward the end of a 20-minute telephone interview Saturday evening with America’s COVID-19 expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, I asked a question about testing, and about NFL teams playing football this fall. “Suppose,” I asked, “you test a team of 53 players on a Saturday night and four are positive. Is there a level at which—” [more]
The NFL plans to have a full season in open stadiums. But the NFL nevertheless has a plan for developments that would prevent a full season in open stadiums from occurring.
Via the Associated Press, the NFL sent a memo on Tuesday to all teams regarding the ticket refund policy that will apply to games that are canceled or played without fans present, and that will apply to all teams.
“[A]ll clubs will have in place a policy under which, if a game is cancelled, or is played under conditions that prohibit fans from attending, anyone purchasing a ticket directly from the club (i.e., season tickets, group sales and/or partial season plans) will have the option of either receiving a full refund or applying the amount paid toward a future ticket purchase directly from the club,” the memo from Commissioner Roger Goodell explains.
The league reportedly was debating the possibility of delaying the schedule release, due in part to concerns regarding ticket refunds for games that aren’t played or that are played without fans present.
“In preparing for all elements of the 2020 season, including the schedule release, we have considered the unique circumstances facing us this year, and have been clear that all of our decisions will be guided by medical and public health advice and will comply with government regulations,” Goodell writes. “We will be prepared to make necessary adjustments just as we have in other contexts, such as the offseason program and the draft.
“I believe the policies that clubs have in place will serve the league and all member clubs in a variety of ways and will allow us to continue preparing for the 2020 season while also protecting the interests of our fans.”
The NFL believes that it will be able to play the full season, and there is optimism that stadiums will be open, based on anticipated developments in diagnostic testing, antibody testing, and treatment for the coronavirus. The biggest challenge will come from getting all states in which the NFL does business on board with permitting stadiums to be open, and then from devising a plan for proceeding if one or more states decline to permit games to be played with fans present.
So what’s next? The unknown is what’s next. And the unknowable. In the last month, I’ve tried to explain how different life is in the NFL is these days. A month ago, the NFL was getting used to working at home, with GMs and scouts fumbling with Zoom and stomaching the hard truth that they’d [more]
[Editor’s note: Commissioner Roger Goodell sent to all NFL employees on Wednesday an email regarding paycuts, furloughs, and other efforts to cut costs due to the coronavirus pandemic. The full text appears below.]
Over the past six weeks, we have made a number of decisions to address the unprecedented public health and economic effects imposed by the COVID-19 virus. Those have included cancelling the Annual Meeting, closing our offices as well as all club facilities, prohibiting virtually all travel involving players and club staffs, moving to a virtual off-season program, and the complete transformation of the Draft into a fully remote and virtual event.
The economic consequences for our country have been substantial, and we have taken a series of steps in response to their impact on the NFL. Within our own offices, we have limited new hiring, frozen salaries for many employees, and undertaken a thorough, organization-wide review to identify and implement cost reductions. During this time, one goal has been to maintain pay and benefits for our workforce for as long as possible.
It is clear that the economic effects will be deeper and longer lasting than anyone anticipated and that their duration remains uncertain. The downturn has affected all of us, as well as our fans, our business partners, and our clubs.
While we continue to prepare for a full 2020 season of NFL football, we also need to manage in a responsible way, adopting a flexible approach that responds to the current conditions in a way that minimizes the risk to our employees, our clubs, and the NFL’s business. Our league has great strength and has shown its resiliency time and again. But part of that strength is the result of careful planning and a willingness to act responsibly. In that spirit, I am writing to share news about some difficult decisions that we are making at this time.
First, we will implement tiered reductions in base salary, which will take effect with the paycheck that you will receive on May 22nd. The reduction will be 5% for up to Manager level, 7% for Directors, 10% for Vice Presidents, 12% for Senior Vice Presidents, and 15% for Executive Vice Presidents. No employee earning a base salary of less than $100,000 will be affected by this reduction and no employee’s salary will be reduced below $100,000 as a result of these reductions. We hope that business conditions will improve and permit salaries to be returned to their current levels, although we do not know when that will be possible.
Second, we will implement a furlough program for individuals in our workforce who are unable to substantially perform their duties from home and/or whose current workload has been significantly reduced. It is important to remember that a furlough is not a termination. We do not know how long a furlough will last, but we are hopeful that we will be able to return furloughed employees back to work within a few months.
Furloughs will become effective on May 8th and you will be advised over the next few days if you are being furloughed. Furloughed employees are not expected to perform any work and are not paid. However, if you are receiving medical, dental and vision benefits through the NFL, we will pay the full cost of maintaining those benefits for you and your family during the furlough period. Our HR team will provide all furloughed employees with any additional information about how to apply for any benefits for which you may be eligible.
Third, we will reduce the NFL Pension Plan and Make Up & Auxiliary (SERP) contributions from 15% to 10% of eligible compensation. This is a permanent change that will take effect on July 1, 2020.
The NFL is not immune to the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and it is our obligation to take responsible steps to protect the business and manage through this crisis as effectively as possible. These decisions were difficult and we know these measures will cause hardship for those impacted. I encourage everyone to continue to identify ways of operating more efficiently and reducing costs. If we do that, I believe that furloughs and compensation reductions can be limited, or in time even reversed. I assure you that we will continue to monitor economic conditions, communicate with you promptly and openly – whether the news is good or bad – and have your interests in mind as decisions are made going forward.
If you have questions, please contact any member of our HR department. Most important, please stay safe, look after yourself and your family, and continue to share our optimism that we will be able to resume normal operations and have a 2020 season that makes all of us proud.
Saints coach Sean Payton said over the weekend that the NFL has only 10 or 11 relevant teams at any given time. If he’s right (and he is), the challenge becomes identifying the 10 or 11 relevant teams.
It’s easy to peg six or seven of them. It’s harder to identify the last few, at the exclusion of others that are close to being in the group of relevant teams.
My own list consists of these no-brainer franchises: Chiefs, 49ers, Patriots, Ravens, Seahawks, Saints, Eagles, Steelers, Packers. That’s only nine; the last spot or two could go to the Rams, Cowboys, Buccaneers (as long as Tom Brady is there), or Vikings, or the Bills, Colts, Texans, or Titans.
If it’s that hard to identify teams No. 10 and 11, maybe there are, for now, only nine relevant teams. Regardless, even though the league wants fans and media to think that every team has a chance to make the playoffs and that every playoff team has a chance to win the Super Bowl, folks inside the league regard roughly a third of the teams as legitimate threats to make it happen.
So which are your 10 or 11 teams? List them in the comments.
What the 2020 NFL Draft would have been like, Vegas style: Roger Goodell, from a luxe podium next to Caesar’s Palace on the Strip in Las Vegas, announces to the crowd of 750,000 and to America: “With the 24th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select Cesar Ruiz, center, Michigan.” . [more]
It’s a new offseason Sunday tradition in these parts. Your questions submitted via Twitter, with the best 10 of them answered here.
So here we go, with a post-draft edition of the mailbag. Featuring 10 carefully harvested questions. Or, as the case may be, the first 10 that I happened to notice while scrolling through them.
From @gpromise3: “Grade the Dolphins’ draft.”
Seriously, I mean it. No.
The process of grading draft picks is stupid. Anyone who gets it, knows it. Despite hearing the on-air draft analysts offer up reasons why every single player picked can become a solid contributor in the NFL, it’s all a guessing game, for everyone. And there’s no way of knowing where a given player’s football ceiling resides until he’s competing against (and being physically assaulted by) grown-ass men at the next level.
Roughly half of the first-round picks in any given year become busts. Yet you’ll never hear that mentioned during the coverage of the draft.
They don’t mention it for two reasons. First, that kind of transparency undermines the effort to sell hope to fans of every team, fans who are led to believe that their favorite team is one draft away from launching a dynasty. Second, if any of the on-air draft analysts were to say, “You know, half of these guys are going to stink,” plenty of fans may say in response, “Which ones?”
To which the analysts would say, “We don’t know.”
To which the fans would say, “Then why are we listening to you?”
Listening to draft grades is even more stupid, because no one knows who will and won’t thrive at the next level. But at least the grading process entails something other than an “everything is awesome” vibe, forcing on-air draft analysts to attach letters that could end up making them look stupid later.
From @deanosborn42: “What’s really going on with the Packers and Aaron Rodgers? Are they trying to ease him gently out the door?”
On Saturday, we took at stab at making sense of Green Bay’s strategy for the first two nights of the draft, which resulted in the first-round pick and fourth-round pick being devoted to Rodgers’ potential successor and the second- and third-round picks being invested in the running game.
There’s a sudden and palpable sense that the Packers are planning for life without Rodgers, but the cap consequences make it impossible to trade him before June 1, difficult (but not impossible) to trade him after June 1, difficult (but not impossible) to trade him before next June 1 of next year, challenging (but much easier) to trade him after June 1 of next year, and likely that he’ll be traded in 2022.
So it looks like the Packers are planning for two more years with Rodgers, with the possibility that he’ll convince them to extend it to a third year, based on his play. The question becomes what does Rodgers want? With the writing now on the wall, Rodgers may want to take a sledgehammer to it.
Again, it will be hard for the Packers to do anything about that before next June. Until it ends, whenever it ends, the dynamics between Rodgers and the Packers will be fascinating to monitor between now and then.
From @richardeid: “Belichick said not drafting a QB wasn’t ‘by design.’ Is that a big flashing light that says [Jarrett] Stidham isn’t the guy?”
Not necessarily. If Belichick had hoped to take a quarterback in the first few rounds but couldn’t make it work based on the complex balancing process of need and availability and position played by the various available prospects, that’s not good news for Stidham. If Belichick were merely planning to take a late-round prospect for developmental purposes, that wouldn’t have mattered to Stidham’s prospects, at all.
Given the public praise heaped on the second-year fourth-rounder from New England veterans like Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, and Matthew Slater, it’s safe to say the locker room believes in Stidham. Which makes it more likely that the coaching staff believes.
So even if Belichick’s failure to draft a quarterback wasn’t by design, Stidham continues to be the best option — and barring a future transaction he’ll be the most likely successor to Tom Brady.
From @GearsofTed: “Which of the big 3 WRs (Lamb, Ruggs, Jeudy) will be the best?”
Yes, I’ve already said that no one knows how anyone will do at the next level until they do it, or don’t. Until that happens, there are plausible reasons for making a preliminary ranking of the likely performances of Henry Ruggs III (12th overall to the Raiders), Jerry Jeudy (15th to the Broncos), and CeeDee Lamb (17th to the Cowboys).
I’d currently rank their expected performance, at least in the early years of their careers, in the opposite order in which they were drafted: Lamb, Jeudy, Ruggs.
Lamb lands in a spot with the best quarterback, running back, and offensive line of the three teams. Also, with Amari Cooper the No. 1 wideout in Dallas, Lamb won’t have to worry about being double-teamed unless and until he make a Randy Moss-style splash.
Then there’s the chip-on-the-shoulder factor. He believes he should have gone higher than No. 17, he’ll be pissed off that he didn’t, and that will give him extra motivation to get the most out of his abilities. Put simply, Lamb has a chance to explode in Dallas.
Jeudy has great weapons around him, too, along with a great defense. And Broncos quarterback Drew Lock showed star potential in limited time as a rookie. Jeudy, like Lamb, will have a chance to build confidence via one-on-one matchups, generate stats, and become a quality player, right out of the gates.
Ruggs, in contracts, steps onto a team with no No. 1 wideout, a quarterback who has by all appearances hit his ceiling, the highest expectations of any receiver because he was the first one picked, and the ball-and-chain that comes with generating a ridiculously fast time in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine. Plenty of guys who have great unencumbered, straight-line speed can’t adapt to the broken-field impediments to running fast (starting with getting jammed at the line), the expectation to stop and start and change directions smoothly, and the question of whether, ultimately, the player can reliably catch the ball.
Ruggs also may face double teams right out of the gate, making it even more of a challenge to become the best of the first three receivers taken.
From @lenberkowitz: “Does this tank job by the Jags qualify as earliest tank job ever in the NFL?”
The Jaguars are not tanking. They aren’t even rebuilding. They’re retooling on the fly, changing the culture and swapping out players with name recognition for unproven players without name recognition who could prove to be better than expected.
Gardner Minshew II, a steal in round six last year, will get a chance to show that he’s the guy. The offense, under new coordinator Jay Gruden, likely will be redesigned to enhance Minshew’s chances.
The team’s goal this offseason was to get the salary-cap situation under control, and to make free-agency and draft decisions aimed at adding to and enhancing a quality core of players. First-round cornerback C.J. Henderson and first-round pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson definitely have the potential to beef up the defense, and second-round receiver Laviska Shenault adds to a quietly potent receiving corps that includes D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, and Keelan Cole.
And here’s the best reason for thinking the Jags aren’t tanking — owner Shad Khan has made it clear that coach Doug Marrone and G.M. Dave Caldwell are under the gun. So they’re trying to put together a team that will competitive in 2020, not position themselves to be able to pick Trevor Lawrence in 2021. If the Jaguars are in position to pick Lawrence next year, neither Marrone nor Caldwell will be employed by the team.
From @trmullen: “Greetings from the uk!! Are you surprised [Jameis] Winston is signing with Saints? And where do you think Cam Newton ends up Chicago or New England or elsewhere?”
From the moment Winston didn’t find a starting job, the Saints made the most sense. He can be the new Teddy Bridgewater, and if given a chance to play, Winston can set himself up for a starting job elsewhere in 2021.
Things could get even more interesting if coach Sean Payton sees enough in Winston to make him the starter in 2021 over Taysom Hill, who currently is the presumed successor to Drew Brees and who now has a two-year, $21 million deal. For now, though, Winston and the Saints would be (if the deal happens) a one-year arrangement aimed at helping both sides.
As to Newton, who knows? His best play at this point may be to wait for someone’s starter to get injured, or possibly to show up for training camp in horrible shape, thanks to months of not doing nearly enough to stay ready.
From @TeGentzler14: “Did the Eagles draft Jalen Hurts to combat the exact situation that happened to them against Seattle in the playoffs last year? With the ‘gadget plays’ being secondary?”
Every team needs a quality backup quarterback, especially when the starter has a history of getting banged up. Indeed, once Carson Wentz exited the playoff game against the Seahawks after a hit that should have resulted in a flag and a fine for Jadeveon Clowney, it was over for the Eagles.
Hurts, ideally, gives the Eagles for the next four years a better option behind Wentz, along with someone who could be used from time to time in different roles. It’s the best of both worlds for the Eagles, giving them a backup who can run the base offense and a utility player who can enhance it, when Wentz is playing.
Then there’s the coronavirus angle, which at least one reporter has mentioned (and which at least one other reported privately has mocked). If the NFL plays this year, and unless the players are quarantined from their families and/or society, any player could test positive, at any time. If it’s the starting quarterback who gets abruptly shut down for several weeks, it makes more sense than ever to have a replacement ready to go.
From @TheLaughingMan5: “Is there a reason Jake Fromm fell as far as he did? Usually we hear why people are falling down the board, but I felt there was a lot less of that this year.”
Sometimes, there’s a prospect who gets more hype than he deserves. Sometimes, that’s a result of the fact that he’s represented by an agency that also represents more than a few people who are in position to hype him in the media.
Sometimes, the evaluators fall for it. Sometimes, they don’t.
Sometimes, that’s all that needs to be said.
From @SkolVikings407: “As a Vikings fan myself. Chris Simms didn’t mention them as having a strong draft, what’s your opinion on how their draft went?”
Draft picks are scratch-off lottery tickets. And I’m always a fan of getting as many scratch-off lottery tickets as possible.
The Vikings emerged from the 2020 draft with 15 lottery tickets. So I like it.
The problem this year is that those young players will have reduced opportunities to catch the eye of the coaching staff, given the absence of a usual offseason program. Thus, plenty of those 15 players ultimately will get cut.
Before it’s time to cut those players, there undoubtedly will be a chance for them to prove that they belong. But they’ll have to do it quickly — especially the six who were taken in rounds six and seven.
From @dcowboy777: “If theres no season how do they do next year’s draft order?”
Dave Birkett recently wrote an article about the 2005 NHL draft, which happened after a season lost to a lockout. Hockey used a lottery with the number of balls tied to factors like playoff berths in the seasons preceding the draft and whether teams had the first overall pick in recent years.
If there’s no NFL season in 2020 — and despite stated plans and at-times blind optimism that possibility needs to be taken seriously — the league will have to come up with some way of crafting a draft order. Of course, if there’s no NFL season there definitely won’t be a college football season. Which will make the 2021 draft even more of a crapshoot than it was this year.
There will be various practical impediments to playing football, apart from the question of whether fans will be present. Most importantly, how can the NFL justify the widespread and continuous testing of its players, coaches, trainers, etc. if widespread testing still isn’t available to the general public?
Here’s the simple reality: If the NFL eventually has to craft a draft order without the benefit of a preceding season that naturally generates one, we’ll all have much bigger problems than pro football coming up with a process for selecting dibs on college football players who won’t have played in well over a year. So here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that, for plenty of reasons other than the fact that it will be another problem for the NFL to solve.
Who are the best players available after the first round of the 2020 NFL draft? Which players will hear their names called on Friday night? We’ll do our best to answer that with our second round mock draft:
33. Bengals: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU.
34. Colts (from Washington): Marlon Davidson, DL, Auburn.
35. Lions: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa.
36. Giants: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson.
37. Patriots (from LA Chargers): Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU.
38. Panthers: Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin.
39. Dolphins: D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia.
40. Texans (from Arizona): Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah.
41. Browns: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor.
42. Jaguars: Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma.
43. Bears (from Las Vegas): J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State.
44. Colts: Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota.
45. Buccaneers: Justin Madubuike, DT, Texas A&M.
46. Broncos: Lloyd Cushenberry III, G/C, LSU.
47. Falcons: Grant Delpit, S, LSU.
48. Jets: Josh Jones, OT, Houston
49. Steelers: Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame.
50. Bears: Jeremy Chinn, S, Southern Illinois.
51. Cowboys: Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama.
52. Rams: KJ Hamler, WR, Penn State.
53. Eagles: Malik Harrison, OLB, Ohio State.
54. Bills: Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State.
55. Ravens (from New England via Atlanta): Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado.
56. Dolphins (from New Orleans): Michael Pittman Jr., WR, USC.
57. Rams (from Houston): Van Jefferson, WR, Florida.
58. Vikings: Raekwon Davis, DT, Alabama.
59. Seahawks: Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State.
60. Ravens: Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma.
61. Titans: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin.
62. Packers: Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama.
63. Chiefs (from San Francisco): Robert Hunt, G, Louisiana-Lafayette.
64. Seahawks (from Kansas City): Zack Moss, RB, Utah.
Mock drafts are like opinions, assholes, and corpse lilies. Everybody has one (except the corpse lily), and they all stink.
And now that I’ve gotten your attention, here’s our stinky mock draft, made even smellier by virtue of the fact that the absence of Pro Day workouts kept scouts and coaches and General Managers from passing around information that helps create a consensus as to who should or shouldn’t be among the first 32 players taken.
Much of the pre-draft process is about CYA. And there’s no better way to CYA than to point to the widespread groupthink reflected in the various media mock drafts, most of which are shaped not by film study by supposed draft experts but by what scouts and coaches and General Managers tell those crafting the drafts.
So instead of taking a bunch of time to track down and harmonize and homogenize a consensus in a year when one hasn’t developed like it usually does, I’ve turned over the process to a proven executive whose name would be instantly recognized, and whose opinion would have much more credibility than mine or anyone else’s currently in the media.
Thus, if you like it, credit the unnamed expert. If you don’t like it, blame the unnamed expert. Either way, here it is.
1. Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU.
2. Washington: Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State.
3. Lions: Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State.
4. Giants: Mekhi Becton, OL, Louisville.
5. Dolphins: Tristan Wirfs, OL, Iowa.
6. Chargers: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon.
7. Panthers: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn.
8. Cardinals: Jedrick Wills, OL, Alabama.
9. Jaguars: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson.
10. Browns: Andrew Thomas, OL, Georgia.
11. Jets: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama.
12. Raiders: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida.
13. 49ers (from Colts): CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma.
14. Buccaneers: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma.
15. Broncos: A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson.
16. Falcons: K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU.
17. Cowboys: Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama.
18. Dolphins (from Steelers): Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama.
19. Raiders (from Bears): Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama.
20. Jacksonville (from Rams): Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina.
21. Eagles: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State.
22. Vikings (from Bills): Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU.
23. Patriots: Austin Jackson, OL, USC.
24. Saints: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU.
25. Vikings: Raekwon Davis, DT, Alabama.
26. Dolphins (from Texans): Patrick Queen, LB, LSU.
27. Seahawks: Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State.
28. Ravens: Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado.
29. Titans: Michael Pittman Jr., WR, USC.
30. Packers: Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama.
31. 49ers: Marlon Davidson, DL, Auburn.
32. Chiefs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU.
There are plenty of aspects of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that benefit the NFL. There is one provision, or lack thereof, that could significantly benefit the NFL Players Association in the event that there’s no football season in 2020.
The NBA’s CBA has a so-called force majeure provision, which has resulted in an agreement that players will take less money moving forward to compensate the league for games that ultimately will be lost to the pandemic. The NFL’s CBA does not have a force majeure clause.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith confirmed that fact during a Wednesday videoconference with reporters.
“We don’t have a provision,” Smith said. “It’s clear under the CBA. . . . We’re bound by a contract [and] certainly it has provisions in it that are different than other sports, and that’s just a fact.”
It’s a fact the works in favor of the players in the event that negotiations occur regarding when, where, and how 2020 games will be played, because the NFLPA has the ability to take the position that, regardless of whether any, some, or all games are canceled, the players are due to receive their full salaries.
Smith also pointed out that “it’s clear what happens under the CBA in the event of cancellations.”
He’s referring to this provision that appears on page 82 of the 2020 CBA, under the heading “Cancelled Games”: “If one or more weeks of any NFL season are cancelled or [All Revenue] for any League Year substantially decreases, in either case due to a terrorist or military action, natural disaster, or similar event, the parties shall engage in good faith negotiations to adjust the provisions of this Agreement with respect to the projection of [All Revenue] and the Salary Cap for the following League Year so that [All Revenue] for the following League Year is projected in a fair manner consistent with the changed revenue projection caused by such action.”
This provision applies to the setting of the salary cap for next year, not for the current year. So, basically, the “Canceled Games” clause creates a mutual obligation to negotiate a salary cap for 2021 based on the revenue losses in 2020. This means that, in theory, the players can indeed expect full payment for 2020, with the understanding that the negotiations culminating in a 2021 salary cap will be influenced dramatically by the fact that the teams had no revenue but still paid full salaries to players in 2020.
Regardless, the absence of a force majeure provision gives the NFLPA significant leverage when it comes to the inevitable negotiations regarding the shape and the contours of the 2020 season. And the fact that the players arguably would be entitled to full pay even if no games are played will give the union a significant voice when deciding the strategy for playing games this season.
If that seems harsh to the league’s interests, there are two realities to consider. First, the league will surely develop an argument that it won’t have to pay players in 2020 if there’s no season (despite the absence of a force majeure clause). Second, this is the deal that the league negotiated. Time and again, fans and media shrug in response to provisions that impair player interests and blame the union for not agreeing to a deal that contains better terms. If the league has to pay the players for 2020 due to the absence of a force majeure clause, that’s something that could have been avoided when hammering out the deal.