FMIA: Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin Welcomes Training Camp Tour To Latrobe With 3 Words—Bring It On

NFL: MAY 25 Pittsburgh Steelers OTA Offseason Workouts
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BULLETIN: The Deshaun Watson suspension will be for six games, per multiple media reports today. I’ve revised the column with some thoughts on where this story stands as of 9:30 a.m. ET today.LATROBE, Pa. — Mike Tomlin was back with the punters Saturday afternoon. When you ask those who’ve been around him for years, you [more]

FMIA: NFL Training Camp Tour Kicks Off With Las Vegas’ Hot, Hot New Offense And Buffalo’s Plans for Von Miller

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HENDERSON, Nev.—In the conference room adjacent to Raiders coach Josh McDaniels’ office, just after noon on Saturday, class was in session. The pupil in this 17-minute tutorial: quarterback Derek Carr. Every day—on the practice field, or in the hallways of the Raiders’ gleaming practice facility in suburban Las Vegas, anywhere they see each other—McDaniels finds [more]

Which quarterbacks are next up for new deals?

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With Kyler Murray becoming the latest quarterback to land a major contract, let’s take a look at who’s next to cash in, either this year or next. (Or, maybe, not at all.)

Lamar Jackson.

The Ravens quarterback spent months resisting the team’s overtures to do a long-term deal. Now, he wants to get his second contract. Complicating matters is that he has no agent. He has said that contracts signed by other quarterbacks don’t matter to him, which is a clear example of why he desperately needs an agent. Those other deals become precedent for his own, a bar that he should strive to meet or to exceed.

It’s a challenge to separate team from self when it comes to getting a fair contract. Some players get brainwashed by the idea that they owe it to the broader effort to leave extra meat on the bone. Other players recognize that their duty to themselves and their families is to maximize the value that they generate from playing football, because their time for doing so is extremely short. They have no equity in the business. They have only what they can squeeze from ownership and squirrel away in the bank.

Yes, it’s a team sport. But there definitely is a “me” in team when it comes to ensuring that full and fair value is generated by a player who has earned every penny he makes, and who is entitled to pursue as many pennies as he can from owners who have money to burn — and to buy superyachts with.

Russell Wilson.

Deshaun Watson leveraged the quasi-free agency he finagled for himself into a brand-new, market-setting deal. Wilson, who had only one place he truly wanted to play if not Seattle, didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to ask for more on the way through the door.

And that’s a smart move, because he’ll get even more after the 2022 season.

With the richest owner by far poised to buy the team, and with the team giving up so much in trade assets to get Wilson, he’ll get a market-value deal after the season. It likely will be fully guaranteed.

Is there a chance that injury or ineffectiveness hurts his value? Yes, but it’s slim. The Broncos essentially accepted the fact that Wilson will get a monster deal the moment the trade happened. By not doing it now, they know they’ll be paying him even more later.

That said, there’s a chance that the Wal-Mart clan will decide to make Wilson an offer he can’t and won’t refuse before the start of the 2022 regular season. Again, it will be cheaper to do it now than next year, and the terms could be so good for Wilson that he won’t want to carry the risk of having injury or subpar play cloud his value come next year.

Joe Burrow.

His window on a new contract opens at the conclusion of the 2022 regular season. Burrow already has earned his second deal. And who knows? He could be the first young quarterback to get his second contract after the final game of the regular season and before the start of the postseason, if the Bengals qualify for the playoffs again.

Burrow may face local pressure to “take less.” Hopefully, he won’t. He has transformed that franchise. He deserves everything he’s able to get. If they want to keep him for the long haul, they need to change their ways — and they possibly already are, given that they’re finally selling stadium naming rights.

That said, it may be difficult to get a fully-guaranteed deal, if owner Mike Brown simply can’t put a giant pile of cash into escrow. Maybe Burrow will be the first quarterback to hinge his compensation to a specific percentage of the cap. Thus, as it goes up, he get more — and his contract never becomes obsolete.

Justin Herbert.

Two great years, no playoff berths. That doesn’t matter. He’s already regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. If the Chargers want to keep him, they’ll have to pay up. Presumably after the 2022 season ends. If they won’t, someone else gladly will, now or later.

Jalen Hurts.

The Eagles have sent mixed signals, publicly and privately, regarding their commitment to Hurts. The commitment to the 2020 second-round pick seemingly was made when the Eagles traded for receiver A.J. Brown.

Here’s the question. Will Hurts deliberately take a second-tier deal in order to ensure that the Eagles will always have a solid team around him?

The fact that he wasn’t a first-round pick will bring his long-term status to a head sooner than otherwise. He’ll be a free agent in March 2024, unless the Eagles apply the franchise tag. His performance this season will go a long way toward helping the Eagles peg his future value. The challenge then will be getting on the same page with Hurts.

Tua Tagovailoa.

He’s also entering his third season. After it ends, he’ll be eligible for a new deal. It’s the ultimate upside for delivering on his potential, and for taking full advantage of the help he’ll have around him.

If he doesn’t step up, however, he could end up looking elsewhere for his second NFL contract, either if he’s released after the 2022 season or if he becomes a free-agent when his four-year rookie deal expires.

Baker Mayfield.

He’s on a one-year deal in Carolina. If he performs well, the Panthers will surely want to keep him. Others will become interested.

Surprisingly, the multi-million-dollar haircut Mayfield took to grease the skids out of Cleveland didn’t include a promise from the Panthers not to apply the franchise tag next year. If he overachieves this season, he may find himself blocked from the open market by the tag.

Jimmy Garoppolo.

Unless he signs a long-term deal as part of a trade to a new team, Garoppolo will become a free agent in March. That makes it critical for him to find a place where he can play — and play well — in 2022.

Daniel Jones.

The Giants didn’t pick up his fiffth-year option. The 2019 top-10 pick enters a contract year. If he becomes the guy the Giants thought he’d be three years ago, he’ll get a long-term deal or the franchise tag.

Ryan Tannehill.

He’s got two years left on his current deal. He was absent from some of the voluntary offseason program, possibly in an effort to get an adjustment. After this season, the Titans may have to make a long-term decision. Which may be one of the reasons why they drafted Malik Willis.

Matt Ryan.

He has two years on his contract, as he enters his first season with the Colts. If he delivers, the team may want to give him a big pile of money in order to ensure that he’ll be around for a few more seasons.

Tom Brady.

The GOAT will be a free agent in 2023. He’ll be able to pick his next team, unrestricted and unfettered. And with $37.5 million per year waiting for him from Fox, he’ll be able to tell anyone who wants him to keep playing that, in order to get him, they’ll have to pay him more than what he’d be getting to not actually play.

PFT mini-mailbag

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Sometimes, I’ll do a PFT mailbag with more than a dozen questions answers. That’s usually more than my attention span can take. I’ll assume you feel the same way.

So I decided to do a short version of the usual slow-Sunday mailbag today. I am embarking on it with a plan to answer only five or seven questions from those posed via the response to a call for inquiries on Twitter. We’ll see if I can stick to it.

Away we go.

From @PFTPMPosse: It feels like EVERYBODY has known for a while that Mike Zimmer didn’t like Kirk Cousins, so why did the Vikings keep re-signing him? No other options, even though it feels like there are more great QBs than ever before, and they are changing teams regularly?

The Vikings originally signed Cousins to a three-year deal in 2018. After two seasons, the Vikings extended the deal to get cap relief and certainty beyond 2020. After two more seasons, the Vikings did it again.

Zimmer’s feelings for Cousins don’t mesh with how the organization feels about him. That disconnect likely became the focal point for the dysfunction that eventually got both Zimmer and G.M. Rick Spielman fired.

As to the availability of other quarterbacks, who would the Vikings have gotten if they’d gotten rid of Cousins? Deshaun Watson? Russell Wilson? Jimmy Garoppolo? Baker Mayfield? Carson Wentz? Matt Ryan? There weren’t many options who were obviously better than Cousins, and his $35 million guaranteed salary for 2022 could have made it hard to trade him without the Vikings picking up some of the salary.

So they decided to continue the all-in play with Cousins, and to hire a coach who would be far more likely to work well with Cousins. That’s surely one of the biggest reasons why Kevin O’Connell is there, and why Jim Harbaugh isn’t.

Will it work? That’s one of the most interesting questions of the next season or two.

From @NeilWatchesPFT: Should the NFLPA negotiate a better injury recourse for players to take when franchise tagged? It’s a tool that shifts ALL of the injury risk from the team onto the player with 0 recourse if they get a career-ending injury.

The problem with negotiating is that, to get something, something else has to be given up. The NFL, if it were even inclined to entertain any major changes to the franchise-tag process, would want a significant concession. The union would then have to decide whether to yield on some other term in order to enhance the terms of the franchise tag.

It’s unfortunate. For the players who get restricted by the tag, it’s unfair. And the fact that those players don’t hit the market on the first day of free agency and set a new bar hurts other players, indirectly.

Despite a few advances that have helped the players, the tag has remained in place for nearly 30 years. I don’t expect it to change in the next 30 — unless the players tie those revisions to something like expanding the regular season to 18 games, a possibility mentioned by @PMGUKColt in a separate question.

From @leepers500: What would it take for the NFLPA to reach parity with the NBA and MLB and force player’s contracts to be guaranteed? Is it pointless as we all know now that contracts are kind of guaranteed money plus Monopoly money?

It’s a one-contract-at-a-time arrangement. That’s why other owners weren’t happy with the five-year, $230 million, fully-guaranteed deal that the Browns gave to quarterback Deshaun Watson. It potentially sets a new bar for other quarterbacks, starting with Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson — or maybe Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.

If all player contracts were guaranteed, most contracts would be shorter. And there would be a significant unintended consequence arising from long-term, fully-guaranteed deals for veteran players. If the player’s performance dips, through injury or otherwise, money that could go to the guys who are actually getting it done gets tied up on players who aren’t earning it. In a salary-capped system, that hurts the players who are doing the work while someone else gets the money.

That’s probably one of the reasons why Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti isn’t thrilled about the Watson contract. Given Lamar’s playing style, he may not be the same guy in the final year or two of a five-year, fully-guaranteed deal.

From @aredzonauk: What’s more likely, the Cowboys win the Super Bowl or a guest appearance by @AaronRodgers12 on PFT Live?

It’s more likely that any/every team will win any/every Super Bowl than Rodgers ever appearing on PFT Live. Unless we agree in advance that I’ll call in sick that day. Or unless NBC agrees to suddenly pretend I don’t exist. That would probably do it.

I still think Rodgers and I have more in common than he realizes, other than the fact that he’s a world-class athlete and I am the exact opposite. He has a good sense of humor. He likes Scotch and tequila. He likes The Office. He likes to read, or at least to act like he likes to read. Regardless, I think with a bottle of booze and a couple of cigars, we’d have a much better time than he’d imagine.

Then again, his expectations would be very low.

From @ovohmar: Would you be interested in joining a dynasty league?

Those assholes at Pardon My Take (and I say that lovingly) have me so nervous about being set up to have them yell at me, “No one gives a shit about your fantasy team” that I can’t even consider this question without wondering whether it’s all part of a ruse aimed at getting me to step right into it, again.

From @downmamabear: If Jimmy G. is not traded before Friday does it mean the Niners have doubts with Lance as a starter? Or is it just the market situation?

The 49ers have repeatedly bungled the quarterback position over the past five years, from passing on Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft to trading for Garoppolo instead of waiting for Kirk Cousins in free agency to saying “no thanks” to Tom Brady in 2020 to making a desperate move to the No. 3 overall pick in the draft in 2021. Currently, they have to decide whether to trade or maybe even cut Garoppolo, or whether to continue to carry his gigantic cap number while waiting for a trade opportunity to surface. Once he passes a physical, he has no guaranteed pay unless he’s on the Week One active roster. If, however, he ends up suffering a season-ending injury in training camp or the preseason, the team will be on the hook for his full pay.

Garoppolo should want out now, so that he has a fair chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere. However, he’d benefit from a possible season-ending injury to a starter elsewhere, since that team possibly would be willing to pay all or most his full freight in 2022. Otherwise, he’s not seeing anything close to that money, especially if he’s cut after the preseason concludes.

Absent an injury, the 49ers will have a hard time getting significant value of Garoppolo — and he’ll have a hard time getting much of a salary — given that the Panthers got Baker Mayfield for a fifth-round pick and $5 million. The question is whether Garoppolo is truly willing to play along with waiting for an injury that may not happen.

From @glrush13: What team or teams in the league do you feel has the largest range of outcomes this season meaning which team or teams would you not be surprised if they turned out to be good or just stink?

In the NFC, I’d put the Vikings and Saints in that bucket. They both could be great, and they both could have the wheels fall off. Ditto for the Seahawks; I tend to think they’ll be better than many expect.

In the AFC, I think the Steelers will be better than people expect, primarily because they usually exceed low expectations. I also think that the three teams in the AFC West other than the Chiefs (Broncos, Raiders, Chargers) can be Super Bowl contenders or bottom-dwellers. The Dolphins also are a team that could have a very wide range of potential outcomes, with the outcome largely hinging on the play of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

From @GamblingAvenge1: What is the difference in the disciplinary process between Calvin Ridley and Deshaun Watson? You keep saying this is the first test of the new system.

That’s a great question, with a simple answer. Ridley was suspended under the gambling policy. Watson will be suspended, if at all, under the Personal Conduct Policy. The “new system” relates to the conduct policy, not the gambling policy. As to the former, an independent disciplinary officer conducts the hearing and makes the initial decision on punishment. As to the latter, the Commissioner retains full control.

New report links Sean Payton to Dolphins, Chargers, Cowboys for 2023

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Sorry, Panthers. You apparently didn’t make the cut, again.

The team that tried (twice) and failed (twice) to get quarterback Deshaun Watson previously was linked to former Saints coach Sean Payton for 2023. The team’s official response was something less than a full-throated denial.

Regardless, Payton widely is believed to be destined to return to coaching in 2023. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, citing an unnamed source close to Payton, lists the Dolphins, Chargers, and Cowboys as teams that could draw Payton’s interest in 2023.

The source added the catch-all “among other teams,” so there may still be hope for the Panthers and other potentially interested teams.

The main factors for Payton are, per Jackson: (1) warm weather; (2) a roster that can contend; and (3) control over personnel decisions.

The Cowboys already are on the short list to pursue Payton, despite the ongoing efforts of owner Jerry Jones to put the kibosh on the subject. (As reported in Playmakers, the Cowboys nearly hired Payton in 2019.)

The other two teams are surprising. Although the source told Jackson that Payton would never lobby for a job that’s already filled, Jason Garrett serve as head coach of the Cowboys when the pieces were put in place behind the scenes for the Cowboys to hire Payton. So even if he wouldn’t “lobby,” he also wouldn’t slam the door in the face of an owner who is interested in hiring him, regardless of whether that owner currently has a coach under contract.

Jackson, given his beat, focuses on the Dolphins. Despite the fact that the story was grossly underreported (in large part because reporters working for ESPN and NFL Network flatly ignored it), the Dolphins’ clandestine pursuit of Payton and quarterback Tom Brady was one of the biggest developments of the offseason. Jackson doesn’t slam the door on the possibility of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross rekindling his interest in Payton, if the team disappoints under first-year coach Mike McDaniel.

If would be awkward to say the least, and it would be expensive. But if Ross wants Brady and if Brady wants Payton, buying out McDaniel’s contract becomes part of the cost of doing business.

And that’s the thing to remember. Brady will be a free agent in 2023. The Payton-Brady partnership could still happen in Miami next year. Frankly, McDaniel doesn’t deserve to be saddled with that speculation before he ever coaches a single game. Anyone who pays any attention to the NFL knows that anything can happen, however.

If not Payton-Brady, it could be Payton-Herbert. Or Payton-Prescott. Wherever Payton goes (and he likely will be coaching somewhere in 2023), he’ll want to be in a place that has a quarterback, because that will be the most important factor in Payton’s effort to become the first coach in league history to win a Super Bowl with two different franchises.

FMIA Guest: 30 Ideas On Improving NFL, From New Rules To Relegation

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Peter King is on vacation until July 18, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today’s guest is you, the reader, with 30 ideas on improving NFL.Many times over the years I’ve found myself thinking, I’ve got some smart people who write to me. So [more]

Taking a closer look at the NFL’s case against Deshaun Watson

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The NFL and the NFL Players Association spent three days last week submitting evidence and argument regarding the question of whether Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should be suspended to start the 2022 season and, if so, the number of games he’ll miss. Judge Sue L. Robinson eventually will issue a decision, subject to an appeal by either party (unless she finds that no discipline should be imposed at all).

So what was the NFL’s actual case against Watson? It’s one thing to repeatedly insist on a suspension of at least one year. It’s another to have the evidence that, when combined with the Personal Conduct Policy, will justify that kind of a punishment.

When considering the sheer number of accusations against Watson, it’s hard not to think something happened that would justify a suspension. With 24 lawsuits filed (20 have been settled) and, per the New York Times, at least 66 different women hired via social media for private massages — and given the admission that Watson had sexual encounters with at least three of the women who sued him — it seems reasonable to conclude that Watson had a habit of arranging private massages with strangers and trying to steer the massages toward consensual sexual encounters.

But that apparently wasn’t the evidence the league presented. After interviewing only 12 of the women who have made allegations against Watson, the league presented evidence as to five persons who provided massages to Watson. The 24 lawsuits, the 66 or more strangers who were retained for private massages, and the allegation made in at least one of the lawsuits that the actual number exceeds 100 apparently weren’t part of the case against him.

The NFL’s case focused on five people. And, as PFT reported last week, that evidence included no proof of violence or threats or any type of physical conduct that would constitute actual assault.

The Personal Conduct Policy expressly prohibits “assault and/or battery, including sexual assault or other sex offenses.” If there’s no sexual assault, that specific provision of the policy hasn’t been violated.

And that’s the provision that creates a baseline suspension of six games per offense. Here’s the key language of the policy: “With regard to violations of the Policy that involve: (i) criminal assault or battery (felony); (ii) domestic violence, dating violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence; or (iii) sexual assault involving physical force or committed against someone incapable of giving consent, a first violation will subject the violator to a baseline suspension without pay of six games, with possible upward or downward adjustments based on any aggravating or mitigating factors.”

Without proof of “sexual assault involving physical force or committed against someone incapable of giving consent,” there’s no violation of that specific provision. (It’s possible that the league will try to argue that the circumstances suggest that the persons were not capable of giving consent, but that typically refers to someone who is underage or incapacitated in some way, for example, someone who is unconscious due to alcohol or drug consumption.)

Absent evidence of an actual sexual assault, the league’s case rests on two catch-all provisions at the bottom of a list of bullet points in the policy: (1) “conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person”; and (2) “conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL personnel.” The argument would be that Watson’s habit of trying to steer massages toward sexual encounters falls within either or both of these prohibitions.

But that’s where the lack of discipline for Patriots owner Robert Kraft complicates the league’s case. If no action was taken against Kraft for having a massage that allegedly became a sexual encounter, how can the league discipline Watson for the same thing?

The difference, of course, is that the evidence against Watson ultimately centers on the fact that he allegedly tried, repeatedly, to make massages into sexual encounters. Kraft was never accused of doing that, by anyone.

For the NFL, that may be the best, strongest argument to present to Judge Robinson in the written briefs due next week. Watson, they’ll argue, posed a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another and/or undermined or put at risk the integrity of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL personnel by repeatedly arranging private massages and trying to make them into sexual encounters.

It’s unclear whether this practice was firmly established in the evidence submitted at last week’s hearing. Although the NFL focused on five women, Watson could have been questioned at length on the full extent of his habit. Did he admit that he tried to make massages into sexual encounters? If he denied it, was his testimony credible?

Then there’s the question of whether the NFL may have deliberately scaled back the effort to create the impression that Watson’s behavior extended so broadly in light of the lawsuit filed Monday (the timing may have been not coincidental) against the Texans for allegedly knowing about Watson’s alleged habit and taking no steps to protect the women who eventually found out during the massages that he would try to make it something else.

While it’s impossible to know the specific extent of the league’s argument based on an alleged habit of making massages into something other than massages without seeing the full transcript of the hearing, that could be the key to determining whether Judge Robinson would have a way to distinguish Watson’s behavior from Kraft’s and to impose discipline based not on any actual assault but on the alleged practice of trying to make massages into sexual encounters.

The answers will appear in Judge Robinson’s written decision. She’ll need to craft a ruling that clearly explains her factual findings and that outlines in basic terms the way the Personal Conduct Policy applies to those facts to result in discipline. Absent proof of sexual assaults and given that the Kraft precedent makes it very difficult to punish Watson for engaging in massages that became consensual sexual encounters, Judge Robinson likely will be able to discipline Watson only if she finds that he was engaged in a habit of trying to make massages into sexual encounters, and if she believes that this behavior runs afoul of either or both of the two catch-all prohibitions of the Personal Conduct Policy.

That’s why the NFL’s effort to discipline Watson is so different from the criminal process (which resulted in no indictments) and the civil lawsuits that are still pending. For the league, the controlling principles appear in the Personal Conduct Policy. The facts will be determined by Judge Robinson, based on the evidence that was presented to her.

She’ll make the decision. If she chooses to impose any discipline at all, the league will have to decide whether to appeal to the Commissioner for a greater punishment. But the factual findings made by Judge Robinson are, by rule, binding on the Commissioner.

Whatever the final outcome, it will need to be explained in a way that that will be understandable and satisfactory to those who may have a hard time reconciling the 24 lawsuits and the evidence suggesting that Watson had a habit of arranging manages and trying to make them into sexual encounters with something less than a one-year suspension.

Which teams should be thinking about making a run at Baker Mayfield?

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For weeks, two teams have been linked to Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield — the Panthers and the Seahawks. With all teams in position to study film from offseason workouts and with plenty of teams perhaps not having clear answers at the position, which teams should be at least pondering the possibility of a potential upgrade from their current projected starter to Mayfield?

On this weekend featuring not much actual news, now is as good a time as any to try to identify the universe of teams that should at least be thinking about Mayfield. Here they are, in no particular order.

The Browns.

If Judge Sue L. Robinson decides that Deshaun Watson should miss the entire season, or if on appeal the Commissioner makes that ruling, the Browns will need a quarterback for all of 2022. Mayfield makes the most sense, on paper. Unfortunately, the bridge between Baker and the Browns has been obliterated. The only way to mend fences would be for the Browns to offer him more money and an unimpeded path to the open market in 2023. Even then, it’s probably not enough.

The Steelers.

When the Steelers made quarterback Kenny Pickett the 20th overall pick in the draft, the door seemingly slammed on the possibility of Mayfield making a beeline to the ‘Burgh if he’s ultimately cut by the Browns. But with Pickett by all appearances not ready to play, isn’t Mayfield (if healthy) a better option than Mitch Trubisky? Mayfield definitely is. And while that would be an intriguing answer for 2022, it could throw a wrench in the plans for 2023, if the Steelers have a great year with Mayfield. Some would call that a good problem to have.

The Panthers.

They’re reportedly still haggling with the Browns over the amount of money the two teams would pay toward Mayfield’s 2022 guaranteed salary of $18.8 million. At some point, the logjam needs to be broken. If the Panthers wait too long, one of these other teams may snatch him.

The Falcons.

Baker Mayfield is a better option than Marcus Mariota. Maybe the Falcons will come to terms with that during the slow weeks. Maybe they’ll realize that it won’t get any easier to get people to buy tickets and attend games absent a quarterback who plays well enough to make an NFC South also-ran into a potential contender.

The Seahawks.

Despite periodic reports of significant interest, they’ve done nothing to demonstrate it clearly and conclusively. Maybe they’re simply playing the cards close to the vest in the hopes that he’ll eventually be released. Regardless, the Seahawks are doing a good job of selling the idea that they’re comfortable with Geno Smith or that new darling of the U.S. Open, Drew Lock.

The Saints.

They were one of the teams pursuing Deshaun Watson. That necessarily makes them a potential contender for Mayfield, despite the presence of Jameis Winston. Maybe the Saints genuinely believe that Winston when healthy is better than Mayfield when healthy. Reasonable minds definitely would differ on that point.

The Lions.

Those familiar with this specific web destination may remember that I’ve been trying to type this one into existence. Mayfield is better than Jared Goff. Period. And Mayfield much better fits the current vibe that coach Dan Campbell is trying to create than the California kid who landed in what must feel to him like Bizarro Oz.

The Giants.

The new power structure didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on Daniel Jones. Although they refuse to explain it this way, they basically are betting that he won’t be good enough to make them want to apply the much pricier franchise tag in 2023. Isn’t Mayfield better and more accomplished than Jones? Yes and yes. If the Giants aren’t sold that Jones will be the guy for 2023, why not grab Mayfield now and see if he can become the future for a team that is still trying to adequately replace Eli Manning?

The Texans.

They claim to be all in with Davis Mills. And, in fairness to Mills, he’s possibly working his way toward a fairly high ceiling. Still, if the goal is to win now, Mayfield is the better option. And while they could have had him as part of the Watson trade, the Browns likely would have placed too much value on Mayfield at the time. As part of a separate transaction, the Texans possibly could get him for a lot less.

The 49ers.

Could the best bridge to the Trey Lance era not be Jimmy G. but Baker Mayfield? Maybe. But they’ll be far better off letting Lance commence the process of becoming the best version of himself that he eventually will be.

The Dolphins.

I know I said I’d list the teams in no particular order, but I saved this one for last. TuAnon won’t like this, one bit. But let’s be fair. Mayfield, when healthy, can do much more than Tua has ever done. And with Mike McDaniel drawing up the plays, Mayfield could be exactly what the Dolphins need to hit their full potential in 2022 and beyond. If they can get him for cheap, they definitely should consider it. Even if they won’t.

That’s the full list. It probably means he’ll end up with a team that didn’t make the cut. Regardless, if he’s healthy, Mayfield has the ability to be very good. He could be the difference between making the playoffs and not qualifying. He could be the difference between one-and-out and winning a playoff game or two. Don’t let a 2021 season marred by a nasty Week Two shoulder injury cloud that reality.

It’s a July 4 weekend PFT mailbag, since nothing else is going on

MLB: MAY 29 Mets at Dodgers
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It’s currently as slow as it gets, as far as NFL news goes. So it’s the perfect time to unplug, to relax, to reflect.

Screw that. Let’s create some content the easiest way possible — by asking the audience to identify the topics.

Yes, it’s mailbag time. A staple of the quiet times. A way for me to satisfy my daily habit of hunting and pecking through several thousand words, because that’s what I’ve done every day for the last 20 years and will keep doing as long as my fingers cooperate with my brain, and as long as my brain makes some reasonable degree of sense. (“That hasn’t stopped you yet.”)

On Sunday morning, I put out a call for questions on Twitter (@Profootballtalk), and I picked through the best ones. Or at least the ones I felt like answering. Regardless, here are the questions I picked and the answers I pecked.

From @PFTPMPosse: With Dr. Sills pointing out that punt returns are now the “most dangerous play,” how could/would/should the NFL make it safer without eliminating what’s often one of the most exciting plays (like they did when they all but eliminated the kickoff return)?

Several years ago, the NFL began the process of getting fans ready for changes to the punt play. Nothing has happened yet, and it’s unclear where or how the changes would begin. For the kick return, the league tried several different strategies, from moving up the kickoff point (to increase touchbacks) to moving the default possession spot from to 20 to the 25 (to incentivize touchbacks) to ultimately overhauling the formation for the kicking team and the receiving team in order to finally reduce the thing that makes the play so dangerous — two players running full speed at each other and colliding, with an instinctive dip of the helmet just before impact and maximum pressure applied to the cervical spine.

What can really be done to make the punt safer? The goal would be to identify the source of the risk (high-speed, unimpeded collisions of players moving in opposite directions) and to work backward to eliminate it. It won’t be easy when talking about what ultimately is a play from scrimmage, a play that needs to retain the ability to become a fake punt at any time, without notice.

The fact that nothing has been tried yet underscores the challenge inherent to making the punt play safer without introducing a new universe of potential unintended consequences. The easiest approach, frankly, would be to get rid of the punt play altogether. When a team would otherwise punt, the other team takes possession 40 yards away (but never inside its own 20).

Or maybe the punt play ends wherever the ball is caught or comes to rest, with perhaps five or 10 yards added to the result for the receiving team to simulate a return. However, that would eliminate the need for the gunners, allowing teams to have maximum protection for every punt — and greatly reducing the chances of a block.

The changes that ultimately saved the kickoff came from the efforts of special-teams coordinators to reimagine the play. It will take much more than that to properly address the punt play, since too many changes could make it too easy to accomplish a fake punt, or too hard to do so.

From @aredzonauk: Now that he is satisfied contractually & financially will Aaron Rodgers have the same motivation for 2022?

The satisfaction from his new contract comes, in my view, from the neutralization of the threat posed by Jordan Love‘s presence. When Love arrived via the first round of the 2020 draft, Rodgers assumed he’d have another year or two in Green Bay before the Packers moved on. Now, after a pair of MVP seasons, Rodgers has won. Love is irrelevant. Rodgers won’t be pushed out; he’ll leave on his own terms.

Rodgers recently admitted that he thinks about retirement “all the time.” His contract is structured to allow him to retire after any given season, without financial complications. He surely enters each season at this point viewing it potentially as his last.

At this point, his best motivation should come from a desire to win another Super Bowl. That will be harder to accomplish without Davante Adams. In a weird sort of way, Adams leaving reduces the pressure on Rodgers, since yet another failure by the Packers to get to the Super Bowl will be blamed not on Rodgers but on the Packers — even if Rodgers yet again becomes far too conservative in the postseason, rather than letting it rip and not worrying about throwing an interception or two.

Regardless, some would say that if you’re openly talking about retirement, you’ve already retired. Maybe, in Rodgers’s mind, it was enough to beat back the challenge presented by the drafting of Jordan Love, and to stick around for another year or two as a reminder to the front office that, even if he can’t win a second Super Bowl, he emerged as the victor in one of the strangest power struggles we’ve ever seen between player and team.

From @MikeLeeTaylor: If NFL owners were upstanding citizens with high standards they would follow then they would expel Dan Snyder in a heartbeat. They haven’t. So how bad are the owners?

The issue isn’t about how good or bad the owners are. The owners are greedy. Teams get sold to the highest bidder. Really, the only qualification to own an NFL team is to have enough money to win the auction. It doesn’t matter if the owner knows about football, cares about football, cares about people, cares about anything other than getting a return on the investment.

The owners haven’t tried to get rid of Snyder for a couple of simple reasons. First, he would fight them tooth and nail, suing everyone and taking the legal fight wherever he had to take it. Second, he quite possibly knows enough about other owners to create real problems for them via media leaks or other strategies aimed at airing out dirty laundry.

Some think Snyder leaked the Jon Gruden emails. (Obviously, Snyder is one of the people who had access to them.) If Snyder did, that would be one hell of a warning shot to anyone who would dare to mess with him.

From @Whitediculous: How long do you think it will take for a suitable trade partner to step up for Baker Mayfield and who do you think it will be?

It’s already taken too long. The question becomes whether the Browns can finalize a deal before the start of training camp. If not, the question becomes whether they can persuade Mayfield to stay away until a trade opportunity emerges.

He shouldn’t. He should insist on showing up and practicing and being part of the team. He should demand the opportunity to practice. Even if (or especially since) it means that he’d risk suffering an injury that would cause his trade value to plummet.

That’s his only leverage at this point. Agitation. But if he pushes it too far, the team could try to release him for reasons other than skill, injury, and cap. If he’s cut for “personal conduct which, in the reasonable judgment of the Club, adversely affects or reflects on the Club,” Mayfield’s $18.8 million would disappear. Even if he’d eventually win a grievance on the issue, the money could be tied up for a couple of years.

Regardless of how it plays out, it’s already a mess. The only question is whether the Browns and/or Mayfield can find a way to cooperate just enough to land the plane on a trade that has seemed inevitable for weeks, but that hasn’t come close to happening.

For Mayfield, it’s about much more than his guaranteed salary for 2022. It’s about setting himself up for a solid contract in 2023. The longer he’s a non-playing member of the Browns, the harder that becomes.

From @USCHolmey: Is the NFL going to make an NBA-style minor league for college-age kids? Or are they gonna wait for someone else to do it?

The NFL treads lightly when it comes to potentially undermining the free farm system known as college football. The NFL tries to get kids to stay in college, not leave. So it would be highly unlikely that the league would have any involvement in the creation of a professional league that provides an alternative to college football.

Besides, the NIL explosion makes it harder to attract players from major college programs. Now that college football players are making money, they don’t need to play in a minor league in order to get paid.

That said, if any of the various other pro football leagues ever become truly profitable, look for the NFL to swoop in and buy it up. Even if the NFL stays away from college players, the NFL won’t stay away from money. If a lesser pro league ever starts making enough of it, the NFL will want in.

From @briankleinertz: How successful does Mike McCarthy have to be to remain Cowboys coach in 2023?

Round of eight at a minimum, since the team hasn’t gotten any farther than that since 1995. With Sean Payton destined to return to coaching in 2023, it may take a berth in the NFC Championship to save McCarthy.

Yes, owner Jerry Jones keeps trying to throw water on the idea of Payton supplanting McCarthy. Jones is doing that to reduce the pressure on McCarthy.

It’s already known that Jones nearly hired Sean Payton in 2019. (The whole story appears in Playmakers.) Jones surely still wants him. But Jones surely doesn’t want to concede 2022 in order to get Payton. Payton will be there when 2023 rolls around, and Jones will be able to make a move for him.

Unless McCarthy does enough to make Jones not interested. It could take an NFC title-game appearance for that to happen.

From @proxygotcaught: I’ve not been hyped for Raider football for a long time. I have a feeling this year they might actually exceed my expectations.

The NFL is always better when the Raiders are good. They haven’t been good in 20 years, with just a pair of one-and-done playoff appearances in two full decades.

Yes, there’s currently reason for hope. Unfortunately, they belong to the AFC West. In most other divisions, they’d be the favorite to win it. In the AFC West, it will be a major struggle to just secure a wild-card berth.

The offense will be very good. The defense will be the real question. In the end, the Raiders may have to emerge with more points in more than a few high-scoring games in order to get to the postseason. However it plays out, it should result in many exciting games for the Raiders in 2022.

From @aShotofVitaminE: How does revenue sharing work, practically? For example, if a person can’t stand Jerry Jones, does Jerry still get money when that person buys Vikings tickets or watches Packer games on TV?

Revenue sharing has three major components: (1) TV deals; (2) league-wide sponsorship deals; and (3) the visiting-team pool from ticket sales (roughly one third of ticket revenue, after expenses are removed by the home team). Without revenue sharing, some teams would make many millions more than other teams, and it would throw the entire league out of balance — possibly fracturing it into multiple leagues.

If, for example, the teams did their own TV deals, the Cowboys would sell the rights to their home games for at least $1 billion per year. What would a team like the Jaguars get for their home games? Hint: A lot less than $1 billion.

So, yes, Jones always gets his cut. As does every owner. Without revenue sharing, Jones would actually get A LOT more than he already does.

From @ericandteddy: Are you still being asked to throw the opening pitch for the Pirates?

The moment passed before we got down to the specific business of picking a day for it. My wife wasn’t a fan of it, since there’s no upside. I either get on the mound and groove one into the catcher’s mitt (big deal) or I put one into the dirt or into the crotch of a bystander (BIG deal). Besides, I would have spent all summer fretting about it until it happened. If it ever occurs (and maybe it will next year), the best way for it to unfold will be quickly, so I won’t have much time to obsess over screwing it all up and wishing I’d never done it.

From @aredzonauk: Will we see a new version of Russell Wilson emerge in Denver?

New version? No. New utilization? Yes.

In Denver, Wilson will get what he has wanted for years in Seattle. The offense will be designed just for him. In Seattle, it most definitely was not.

Not many quarterbacks enjoy that status. It’s reserved for the best of the best: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers. It’s not about a player fitting the system. The system fits the players. The system is the player.

In Seattle, Wilson fit the system. In Denver, Wilson is the system. Whether it works will go a long way toward justifying, or contradicting, Seattle’s persistent refusal to make Wilson the centerpiece of the offense.

From @Jamesbondrose: What’s your prediction for the Miami Dolphins this season, with respect to the new coach, Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill?

Mike McDaniel will do a great job of designing and picking plays aimed at getting the most out of his players. And he could draw it all up well enough to maximize Tua’s talents and minimize his weaknesses. The question will be, inevitably, whether Tua can make a big throw in a big spot with a big game on the line.

Jimmy Garoppolo checked all the boxes in the same offense the Dolphins will be running. But when the time came to deliver in the clutch, Garoppolo couldn’t. Tua will get his chance. Time will tell whether he’ll get it done.

As to Hill, his recent comments about his perceived lack of opportunities last year in Kanas City will resonate if/when he’s not getting 10 touches or more per game. McDaniel undoubtedly will ensure that his best player has every chance to contribute. But if defenses manage to figure out how to neutralize Hill or to nudge the action toward other players, how will Hill react? It’s a fair question, now that we know what he thought about his total involvement in the Kansas City offense last year.

Bottom line? The Dolphins could be very good this year. In many respects, it all comes down to how Tua performs, especially in key moments when he needs to make something happen with his arm.

From @Landman44: Who will be the best FA WR signing that is currently on the street right now?

Without question, it’s Odell Beckham Jr. The question is when he’ll be healthy, and whether the team that he joins will be in position to get the most out of his services as the postseason approaches and unfolds.

From @ZebrastripesUsa: Herbert or Burrow? Who would you rather start a franchise with?

I’d take either in a heartbeat. Justin Herbert has the better overall physical skills. Burrow has the better overall intangibles, at least for now.

The next challenge for Herbert will be to take command of his team. To inspire teammates who react well to inspiration. To hold accountable teammates who react well to being held accountable. He needs to get as many other players as possible to perform at the same level he does at all time, the way Burrow seems to have done in Cincinnati.

Herbert will get there. When he does, I’ll take him. For now, I’ll take Burrow.

From @mintchris77: Do you think Thursday nights on Amazon will be a success? I wonder if people want to switch to a streaming device rather than just being able to pull up the game on regular TV.

It depends on how “success” is defined. The NFL has chosen to shift one of its three prime-time games per week from three-letter broadcast TV to a streaming platform. And the NFL is committed to getting as many people as possible to change their viewing habits on Thursday nights.

Will it happen right away? Probably not. It will take time. It will take plenty of promotional dollars. It will take creativity.

It won’t be easy. The NFL has made a couple of early-morning London games available as streaming-only options in the past. In 2015, the NFL exaggerated the audience for a Yahoo-only free stream of a Bills-Jaguars game. In 2017, the NFL never released the viewership numbers for a Yahoo-only free stream of Ravens-Jaguars, and all that that implies.

It will be very interesting to see how the information about the Amazon streams is released and characterized by the NFL. There will be a temptation to make the glass seem half full, even if it’s actually closer to empty. Part of the effort to get more people to watch will be to convince people that many are already watching. It could require careful scrutiny to get to the truth, as it often does when trying to get look behind Big Shield.

From @PFTPMPosse: How can the NFL justify releasing these massive reports supposedly telling us everything when it comes to investigations of players (sometimes teams), and yet hide behind BS when it comes to oligarch investigations?

It can’t. But it does. It’s one of the great skills of the Commissioner, who has sold with a straight face the ridiculous notion that anonymity for some current or former Washington employees can be achieved only by providing secrecy as to the entire investigation.

All anyone can do is call BS, repeatedly, and hope that the right people with the right power to compel a different approach will take notice and action. For now, that’s the House Oversight Committee. They’re pushing to get to the truth, and they should.

To the various folks who’ll ask whether Congress has better things to do, it does. But it’s capable of doing multiple things at once. Besides, not once during his testimony before the Committee did the Commissioner ever suggest that Congress shouldn’t be looking into these matters.

It should be. The NFL benefits greatly from its broadcast antitrust exemption, a gift from Congress in the early ’60s. Its teams finagle hundreds of millions in taxpayer money for stadium construction and renovation. And it’s the one property that can bring millions of viewers together at the same time to watch the same thing. Some businesses are too big to fail. The NFL is definitely too big to ignore.

Without the Oversight Committee, there would be no effort at all to force the NFL to abandon its goofy argument for refusing to release information. Even the best efforts of the Oversight Committee may not be enough. But at least they’re trying. Hopefully, more external voices will set aside their own interests and join in the cry for transparency.

Joe Delaney lost his life trying to save three young boys, 39 years ago today

USA TODAY Sports

Every year on June 29, we remember Joe Delaney. Every year on June 29, many hear his story for the first time.

Joe Delaney was 24. He had played two years in the NFL, with the Chiefs. He rushed for 1,121 yards as a rookie, immediately becoming one of the bright young stars in the NFL. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Due to injury, he appeared in eight games during his second NFL season.

Joe Delaney and his wife, Carolyn, had three young daughters. On June 29, 1983, three young boys Joe Delaney didn’t know had gotten into a two-acre, man-made pond. They were struggling. They needed help. Joe Delaney jumped in to help them.

I can’t swim good, but I’ve got to save those kids,” Joe Delaney said. “If I don’t come up, get somebody.”

One of the boys managed to get out of the pond. The other two boys drowned. Joe Delaney drowned, too. Here’s the original Associated Press story regarding Delaney’s death.

It happened 39 years ago today. Every year on June 29, we remember the heroism and selflessness of Joe Delaney. We also remember the tragedy, for Delaney, for his wife, for their children, and for the rest of his family and friends. He was 24. He acted without thought or hesitation. Those boys needed help, and Joe Delaney sprang into action.

In 2020, Marvin Dearman, the diver who retrieved Joe Delaney from the pond, successfully lobbied for a permanent memorial to Delaney at Chennault Park in Monroe, Louisiana, the site of the incident.

“It’s never left my mind,” Dearman said at the time. “Basically, he died in my arms, and it’s something I’ve never forgotten.”

It personally comes to mind for us every June 29. The world needed Joe Delaney then. The world could definitely use a few more Joe Delaneys now. Hopefully, remembering Joe Delaney today will inspire others to do what needs to be done regardless of the potential consequences, especially because in most situations doing the right thing includes consequences far less permanent and severe than the ultimate sacrifice Joe Delaney made, 39 years ago today.

FMIA Guest: Paul Burmeister On USFL Being A ‘Fork In The Road’ For Players And What’s Next For Upstart League

USFL Week Six - Pittsburgh Maulers v New Orleans Breakers
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Peter King is on vacation until July 18, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today’s guest is Paul Burmeister, a play-by-play voice and studio host for NBC Sports.By Paul BurmeisterThe United States Football League just became the first alternative spring football league in 20 years [more]

NFL announces training camp start dates for all 32 teams

NFL: AUG 25 New England Patriots New York Giants Joint Training Camp
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It’s a quiet patch in the NFL schedule right now, but it won’t be long before fields are filled with players.

The NFL released training camp start dates for all 32 teams on Thursday and we’re less than a month away from players reporting to camps around the league. Rookies will report to work for the Bills and Raiders on July 18 with eight more teams welcoming their first-year players the next day,

The Raiders, who play the Jaguars in the Hall of Fame Game, will be the first team to have all of their players report. That will be on July 20 while the Jaguars will have July 24 as their full-squad reporting date.

All of the reporting dates can be found here:

ARIZONA

Rookies 7/21; Veterans 7/26

ATLANTA

Rookies 7/19; Veterans 7/26

BALTIMORE

Rookies 7/19; Veterans 7/26

BUFFALO

Rookies 7/18; Veterans 7/23

CAROLINA

Rookies and Veterans 7/26

CHICAGO

Rookies 7/23; Veterans 7/26

CINCINNATI

Rookies 7/23; Veterans 7/26

CLEVELAND

Rookies 7/22; Veterans 7/26

DALLAS

Rookies and Veterans 7/26

DENVER

Rookies and Veterans 7/26

DETROIT

Rookies 7/23; Veterans 7/26

GREEN BAY

Rookies 7/22; Veterans 7/26

HOUSTON 

Rookies 7/24; Veterans 7/26

INDIANAPOLIS

Rookies 7/23; Veterans 7/26

JACKSONVILLE

Rookies and Veterans 7/24

KANSAS CITY

Rookies 7/22; Veterans 7/26

LAS VEGAS

Rookies 7/18; Veterans 7/20

L.A. CHARGERS

Rookies 7/19; Veterans 7/26

L.A. RAMS

Rookies 7/23; Veterans 7/23

MIAMI

Rookies 7/19; Veterans 7/26

MINNESOTA

Rookies 7/24; Veterans 7/26

NEW ENGLAND

Rookies 7/19; Veterans 7/26

NEW ORLEANS

Rookies 7/19; Veterans 7/26

N.Y. GIANTS 

Rookies 7/19; Veterans 7/26

N.Y. JETS

Rookies 7/19; Veterans 7/26

PHILADELPHIA

Rookies and Veterans 7/26

PITTSBURGH

Rookies and Veterans 7/26

SAN FRANCISCO

Rookies and Veterans 7/26

SEATTLE 

Rookies and Veterans 7/26

TAMPA BAY

Rookies 7/23; Veterans 7/26

TENNESSEE 

Rookies 7/23; Veterans 7/26

WASHINGTON

Rookies and Veterans 7/26