Robert Saleh: Nathaniel Hackett has a laundry list of stuff we’re really excited about

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos
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The Jets interviewed over 15 candidates to be their next offensive coordinator but they ended up going with former Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett.

In a Thursday press conference, head coach Robert Saleh said he was “really excited” about adding Hackett after looking at coaches from both the college and pro ranks.

“It was important for us to hire an experienced guy, someone who’s put it together several times — not at just one spot, but several spots,” Sales said, via SNY. “But when you look at Nathaniel and this team, we know we’re going to basically have a revamped offensive line. We’ve been talking about getting a veteran quarterback in here if we can. [We have] a really young group of skill guys.

“So, it was really important for us to have guys who have done it before — because of the conviction, because of the philosophy and having the recall and the scars, if you will, of being able to build what we think can be a really special offense.”

Saleh added that there should be some continuity within the scheme because, like former offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, Hacket has a background in the West Coast offense. Of course, Hackett worked under LaFleur’s brother, Matt, as the Packers’ offensive coordinator from 2019-2021.

“He’s got a proven history of being able to develop a run game in every stop that he’s ever been in,” Sales said. “He’s got a proven track record of tremendous relationships with all the quarterbacks he’s ever worked with. And he’s had success with all the quarterbacks that he’s worked with.

“So, there’s a lot of strengths with him. His commitment to complementary football, the experience, he’s an innovative teacher — he’s got a laundry list of stuff we’re all really, really excited about.”

If there’s any issue with what Saleh said, it’s that we all watched Hackett not reach any level of success with Russell Wilson as his quarterback with the Broncos in 2022. That team finished last in points and didn’t even score 30 points in a single game until after Hackett was fired.

Hackett previously called plays for Buffalo (2013-2014) and Jacksonville (2016-2018). His best offense finished No. 6 in yards and No. 5 in points in 2017. But otherwise, none of the offenses Hackett’s called plays for have finished in the top 15 in either category.

PFT’s conference championship game picks

AFC Championship - Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs
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Here we go.

Four teams left. Two spots in the Super Bowl up for grabs. It’s time to pick winners in games that could go either way.

Last week, MDS went 3-1 in the divisional round. I was 2-2.

This week, we disagree on both games. Our selections appear below.


49ers (+2.5) at Eagles

MDS’s take: Over the course of the full season, the Eagles have been the better team. But in the last couple of months, since Brock Purdy became the 49ers’ starting quarterback, the 49ers have been better. I don’t want to discount the great season Jalen Hurts and the Eagles have had, and playing in Philadelphia is an advantage, but I think the 49ers are playing better football than the Eagles right now, and I’m picking the upset.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Eagles 21.

Florio’s take: It’s still a quarterback-driven league. And Jalen Hurts is a far more accomplished quarterback than Brock Purdy. Yes, Purdy hasn’t lost a game yet. He also has yet to face a team like the Eagles, in a place like Philadelphia. Maybe he’ll make a clutch play that delivers a win. Maybe the 49ers are otherwise good enough that he won’t have to. Regardless, Hurts is the more proven quarterback, and I’ve got more faith in him to make a big play in a big spot, and/or to inspire his teammates at the right moment to do something that will make a difference. It will be a very slim difference.

Florio’s pick: Eagles 24, 49ers 23.


Bengals (+1) at Chiefs

MDS’s take: If Patrick Mahomes were 100 percent healthy, the Chiefs would be favored. With Mahomes’ ankle possibly affecting him, the Bengals have been the favorites for most of the week, and it’s tempting to pick them — especially considering how well Joe Burrow has played in the playoffs so far in his young career. And yet I think even with Mahomes hobbling, this Chiefs team has the kind of offense that can attack the Bengals’ defense, and I’m going to pick Kansas City.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 23, Bengals 17.

Florio’s take: The Bengals are salty. The Chiefs are salty. The teams are great. The quarterbacks are elite. But something has to give. The Bengals are down by three offensive linemen. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has an ankle injury. The Bengals did well last week with a depleted offensive line. Mahomes on one leg is still better than most quarterbacks. Here’s hoping for a classic. Another one that goes to overtime. And because I swore to myself (and at myself) after the Bengals thumped the Bills that I’d never pick against them again, I can’t start now.

Florio’s pick: Bengals 30, Chiefs 27 (OT).

Jets hire Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator

NFL: DEC 11 Chiefs at Broncos
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The Jets have found their new offensive coordinator.

The team announced the hiring of Nathaniel Hackett on Thursday morning. Hackett replaces Mike LaFleur, who left the team after the end of the regular season.

Hackett spent the first 15 games of the 2022 season as the head coach of the Broncos, but he was fired with two weeks left in the season after he made a series of in-game blunders and was unable to put together a capable offense after the offseason trade for Russell Wilson.

The Jets had their own disappointing Wilson at quarterback in 2022, but the Hackett hiring is likely to lead to speculation about the team moving on from Zach Wilson this offseason. Hackett was the offensive coordinator in Green Bay before taking the Broncos job and his arrival with the Jets will have some people thinking about the AFC East team trying to make a trade for Aaron Rodgers this offseason.

There were similar thoughts in Denver when Hackett was hired, but that obviously didn’t come to fruition. Whether Rodgers comes to New Jersey or not, the Jets will be hoping that Hackett avoids a repeat of his on-field results with the Broncos.

Tampering in advance of free agency is already happening

NFL: AUG 25 Preseason - Chiefs at Bears
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The recent decision by Buccaneers (for now) quarterback Tom Brady to get testy on his own podcast in response to a question he wasn’t even asked seemed to be, if nothing else, an effort to keep prying eyes away from the inevitable tampering with Brady that will happen in the coming weeks.

Per a source with knowledge of the current dynamics, tampering already is happening.

Not as to Brady, as far as we know. But at least one impending unrestricted free agent already has been hearing from a team interested in signing him. Presumably, it’s happening with others.

It happens through the players’ agents. The agents constantly speak to General Managers, executives, and coaches. As long as folks are discreet about it, no one ever knows.

And while the tampering process reaches a fever pitch every year at the Scouting Combine, the upcoming Senior Bowl week provides the first opportunity to get everyone in the same place at the same time. Sooner than later, agents for players due to become free agents will know the teams that have interest, in the event the player doesn’t sign a new deal with his current team.

That makes it easier for the agent to map out negotiations with the current team. And even though it’s a violation of the rules for other teams to be talking to the agent, it’s smart for the agent to gather as much information as possible regarding the client’s options.

Tampering happens all the time. Teams rarely complain about it, because they all do it. Trouble arises only when a team is too blatant about it, or when the league decides to make an example of someone.

The league generally doesn’t like to do it. Because the league doesn’t like to broadcast to the world that the sport is rife with cheating. If enough people outside the sport figure that out, the NFL suddenly will have to worry about legislators, regulators, and/or prosecutors poking around in the NFL’s business.

Bengals-Chiefs point spread shifts again, now even after good news on Patrick Mahomes

Kansas City Chiefs v Cincinnati Bengals
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The Chiefs opened as favorites in the AFC Championship Game. The the line shifted and the Bengals became favorites. And now neither team is favored.

Bengals-Chiefs is listed as even at multiple sports books, a rare Vegas line meaning that there’s currently no difference between betting straight-up and against the spread.

The reason for all the line movement is the Patrick Mahomes injury: Early in the week, bettors thinking Mahomes’ sprained ankle was going to seriously affect him put big money on the Bengals. But after Mahomes was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and video surfaced of him appearing to move around well on the practice field, more bets have come in on the Chiefs.

That line may continue to move this week, especially if there’s any new news on Mahomes’ ankle. But suffice to say, the betting odds view this game as one of the closest, hardest to predict big games that we’ve ever seen.

Cowboys whack five assistant coaches, so far

NFL: JAN 16 NFC Wild Card - 49ers at Cowboys
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The best argument for the Cowboys keeping coach Mike McCarthy is that he presided over consecutive 12-win seasons. That argument presumably would also apply to the various members of the coaching staff who now find themselves out of work.

In addition to senior defensive assistant George Edwards and running backs coach Skip Peete, the Cowboys have parted ways with offensive line coach Joe Philbin, assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett, and assistant head coach Rob Davis, according to Clarence E. Hill, Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

As PFT noted earlier in the week, the contracts had expired for all but four members of the coaching staff. But it’s still a firing, as a practical matter, to not offer them new contracts.

And it makes me wonder whether something else is going on behind the scenes. Something like owner Jerry Jones discreetly lining up the replacement for the head coach before firing the head coach, because Jones will fire the head coach only if he gets the replacement Jones wants.

In unrelated (or not) developments, Sean Payton’s candidacy with the four teams that had expressed interest in his services seems to have become bogged down, by something.

Seahawks players not happy that Pete Carroll is not a coach of the year finalist

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Heading into the 2022 season, the Seahawks were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. Trading Russell Wilson away suggested that they were beginning a rebuild, and the betting odds put their over/under win total at just 5.5 games, third-worst in the NFL.

So when the Seahawks went 9-8 and made the playoffs, head coach Pete Carroll deserved a lot of credit. And many of his players weren’t happy that Carroll wasn’t named a coach of the year finalist on Wednesday.

Responding to a tweet from the NFL that listed five coaches — Nick Sirianni, Kyle Shanahan, Brian Daboll, Sean McDermott and Doug Pederson — as coach of the year finalists, Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs spoke up for Carroll.

“Man I don’t understand how Pete isn’t a finalist!” Diggs wrote. “Not a top 5 coaching job with a team everybody expected to be sorry? Y’all killed me last year when I said “Pete told me we’re not rebuilding we’re trying to win now!” once i re-signed!”

Multiple teammates retweeted Diggs’ post in support.

Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, who was named on Wednesday as one of the finalists for the NFL’s comeback player of the year award, was more succinct in making the same point. Smith replied to the tweet listing the coach of the year finalists with the words, “Peter Clay Carroll.” Multiple teammates approvingly retweeted that tweet as well.

Carroll has never won the NFL’s coach of the year award and has never even come close in the voting. He was named college football coach of the year in 2003 at USC.

Aaron Rodgers links his current villain status to Big Pharma

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As it turns out, the argument that Damar Hamlin secretly died and was replaced by a double on Sunday wasn’t the craziest shit I heard today.

Thanks to Jimmy Traina of SI.com, who listened to Tuesday’s musings from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers so that others (like me) wouldn’t have to, Rodgers suggested at one point that the negative coverage he has received in recent months flows directly from Big Pharma.

Specifically, Rodgers tied negativity directed to him to media sponsored by the three providers of the COVID vaccine, given that Rodgers refused to get one — and then lied about it.

“If you take the right sound bite from the right thing and it’s a station that may or may not have in the past been brought to you by Pfizer they gotta make sure their villain gets cast in the correct light,” Rodgers told Pat McAfee and A.J. Hawk on Tuesday. “And whether or not they’re sponsored by Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, whatever it might be, when you go up against some of those powers that be, put yourself in the crosshairs, they’re gonna paint you a certain way. And that’s what the media did to me a couple of years ago. That’s fine. That’s their prerogative. That’s what they wanted to do.”

If Big Pharma was giving out big (or small) checks for calling out Rodgers for playing a Greg Brady “exact words” game with reporters so that he could enjoy the benefits of being vaccinated in 2021 without actually being vaccinated, mine must have gotten lost in the mail. For me, the criticism was about the decision to lie about his status, and then to show up in the press room without a mask, in direct violation of league rules.

The rules were the rules. The NFL and the NFL Players Association negotiated them. If Rodgers didn’t like the rules, he shouldn’t have played. Instead, he defied them until he tested positive.

I didn’t like what he did. I didn’t appreciate the blatant dishonesty. I didn’t agree with the juvenile game of “gotcha” he played with reporters by saying “yeah, I’ve been immunized” when asked whether he’d gotten the vaccine.

For people who are really smart (like Rodgers), there’s an obligation to be intellectually honest. In 2021, Rodgers used his smarts in a failed effort to outsmart others.

I don’t need a check from Big Pharma to say that. I’ll do it for free. He lied. He knows he lied. And now he’s trying to obfuscate his lie by pushing a stupid-ass conspiracy theory that anyone who speaks ill of him isn’t doing it because they genuinely believe he lied but because they’re getting paid to do it.

Patrick Mahomes was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice

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In his Wednesday press conference, head coach Andy Reid said quarterback Patrick Mahomes would probably do everything in the day’s practice.

But, he added, “We’ll see.”

It turns out Reid didn’t need the qualifier, as Mahomes was a full participant on Wednesday.

That means Mahomes took all of his usual reps, despite suffering a high ankle sprain during Saturday’s victory in the divisional round over the Jaguars. Not that it was ever really a question, but Mahomes being a full participant on Wednesday is a great sign for his availability for the AFC Championship Game.

Mahomes said he would continue to test his right ankle day after day to see what he’ll be capable of this weekend.

The Chiefs had three more players listed on their injury report. Receiver Mecole Hardman (pelvis) was back on the field as a limited participant. Linebacker Willie Gay (toe) and running back Jerick McKinnon (ankle) were full participants.

De Smith: NFL has “probably been the largest group of bullies” in American labor history

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's Super Bowl Press Conference
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Outgoing, eventually, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith isn’t bashful about stirring things up. When Smith recently appeared on The Pivot podcast, he brought a big-ass spoon.

Via Sports Business Daily, Smith said that fans “don’t understand” the battle between the NFL and its players.

“The league has probably been the largest group of bullies in the labor market in the history of labor in America,” Smith explained. “We have a great business and it’s a multibillion-dollar business and yes, we’ve had people declare war on labor forever, but I don’t know of another business in America that has antitrust exemptions, they answer to no one, . . . there’s no board of directors, there’s no transparency, there’s no oversight. The only people who can ever stand up to the National Football League [are the players].”

Even then, the players will only do so much. As Smith acknowledged, the NFLPA’s “real leverage” comes from the ability to “withhold our services.” But it’s not easy to get players to do that.

“It just comes down to an issue of will,” Smith said. And the reality is that most players will not sacrifice the ability to play football and the ability to get paid to play football in the name of some broader, long-term objective.

And it’s more than that. Smith wants players to stop engaging in gratuitous promotion of the NFL.

“Stop giving away things for free,” Smith said. “When you put your jersey or something else on your Instagram post, I think that’s great . . . but you know who loves it more than you? The NFL and the team. They’re getting full promotion about how much you love the game and how much you love them without them paying you a cent.”

Smith actually described the push and pull between the NFL and the players as a “battle between good and evil,” and that Commissioner Roger Goodell is “not there for the players.”

The NFL continues to benefit from the fact that the fans tend to line up behind the teams, and thus the owners, because players come and go and teams don’t. It makes it easier for the owners to impose their will, because if the players ever exercise their will, the fans will be more upset with the players than the owners.

Frankly, the league could squeeze the players even more than they have. It’s almost as if the league goes a little easy on the players in order to keep the mismatch from becoming even more obvious than it is.

Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown not on Eagles’ practice report

Green Bay Packers v Philadelphia Eagles
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Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and receiver A.J. Brown both said Wednesday they were good to go for this week. The team’s practice report confirmed that.

Neither player is on the practice report.

Hurts missed two games after injuring his right shoulder in Week 15. He returned in Week 18 but didn’t come off the practice report until last week.

Hurts said Wednesday that he’s “felt better, but it doesn’t really matter.”

Brown appeared to be dealing with a lower body injury late in Saturday’s win over the Giants, but the injury was not disclosed and apparently won’t be. He called himself “good to go.”

Every player on the Eagles’ 53-player roster took part in Wednesday’s walkthrough practice. Only right tackle Lane Johnson (groin) and nickel cornerback Avonte Maddox (toe) were limited.

That’s good news for Maddox, who has not played since a toe injury on Christmas Eve against the Cowboys.

Patrick Mahomes on injured ankle: It’s feeling good so far

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Jacksonville Jaguars v Kansas City Chiefs
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After head coach Andy Reid told reporters in his Wednesday press conference that quarterback Patrick Mahomes would probably do everything at the day’s practice, Mahomes himself took to the podium and said his injured right ankle is progressing.

“It’s doing good. A few days of treatment, a few days of rehab,” Mahomes said. “Excited to be on the practice field and kind of test it out and see where I’m at. But, it’s feeling good so far.”

Mahomes, who suffered a high ankle sprain during the first half of the divisional-round victory over the Jaguars, said he began treatment on the ankle right after Saturday’s win.

“I was able to do some extra testing, just to make sure everything was good the night after the game. And then get a few things done to help the treatment kind of start off,” Mahomes said. “And then the next few days has kind of been an all-day thing where you’re either doing treatment, or rehab, or watching film.

“But it’s a full-day thing where you’re trying to make sure you’re obviously prepared for the Bengals and the great football team — mentally and physically.”

Mahomes went through a similar ankle sprain in Week One of the 2019 season and then in Week Two threw four touchdown passes in a victory over the Raiders. But that injury was to his left ankle.

“Especially when you have different ankles at the quarterback position, you’re planting and throwing off different stuff,” Mahomes said. “So, the last one, it was the leg that I landed on, so I had to find other ways to throw where I could land and keep it in the right spot. This time, I’ll have to find ways to be able to push off and still be able to make throws the right ways. So, definitely similar in a sense but different limitations and stuff that I’ll have to work through.”

Mahomes noted his ankle is feeling better than he thought it would, as he was visibly in pain during the game. But he’s gotten significantly better over the last couple of days. Multiple reporters noted Mahomes was not wearing a walking boot at his press conference, and there was no visible limp when he walked in and out of his press conference.

“I’ll push a little bit today, and then the next day, and then the next day again and see what I can do to not re-aggravate the injury, obviously, but to push it to see what I’ll be able to do on Sunday,” Mahomes said.

We’ll see what kind of listing the Chiefs give Mahomes — whether full or limited — on the team’s first injury report of the week later on Wednesday.

Andy Reid: Patrick Mahomes will probably do everything in Wednesday’s practice

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Jacksonville Jaguars v Kansas City Chiefs
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There’s some good news on the injury front when it comes to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Head coach Andy Reid said in his Wednesday press conference that Mahomes participated in Kansas City’s morning walk-through and is set to practice in the afternoon.

His exact practice status — full or limited — is to be determined. But Reid noted Mahomes could be full when the injury report comes out later in the day.

“We’ll see,” Reid said. “I think he’ll do probably everything, but we’ll see.”

Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half of Saturday’s divisional-round victory over the Jaguars. While he missed some time in the second quarter, he played the entire second half. Reid and Mahomes have maintained since Saturday that Mahomes will play in the AFC Championship Game against the Bengals this week.

Reid said he’d like to see how Mahomes functions in Wednesday’s practice, though the quarterback did well in the walk-through.

“He’s had injuries before, so he can bank on that past experience that he’s had. But he’ll do fine,” Reid said. “It’s just a matter of making sure that he’s safe — as safe as you can be out there on a football field.”

Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, Justin Jefferson are the AP MVP finalists

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Jacksonville Jaguars v Kansas City Chiefs
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There is one clear frontrunner for the Associated Press Most Valuable Player award.

But there is also a non-quarterback among the contenders.

Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts, Buffalo’s Josh Allen, and Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson are the five finalists for this year’s MVP.

Mahomes, who was named PFT’s MVP earlier this month, is the frontrunner. As the quarterback for the AFC’s No. 1 seed, he received 49 of the 50 first-place votes for the AP’s All-Pro team. That list is often a good indication of what’s to come in MVP voting.

In his fifth season as a starter, Mahomes led the league with a career-high 5,250 passing yards and 41 touchdowns. He also completed a career-high 67.1 percent of his passes and finished with a 105.2 passer rating.

Burrow had an outstanding third season, completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 4,475 yards with 35 touchdowns and 12 interceptions — good for a 100.8 passer rating. He led Cincinnati to consecutive division titles for the first time since 1981 and 1982.

With Hurts in the starting lineup this season, the Eagles went 14-1. The quarterback passed for 3,701 yards with 22 touchdowns and six picks while also rushing for 760 yards with 13 touchdowns.

Allen and the Bills flamed out in the postseason, but the Bills still won the AFC East with the league’s No. 2 offense. He threw for 4,283 yards with 35 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, though he also had 13 fumbles with five lost in the regular season.

As a receiver, Jefferson clearly elevated the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins. In his third season, Jefferson finished the regular season with the league lead in receptions (128) and receiving yards (1,809). There was a time when it looked like Jefferson might break the single-season receiving yards record held by Calvin Johnson, but that did not end up happening.

The AP MVP will be awarded during NFL Honors on Feb. 9.

Brandon Beane: Bengals have advantage of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase on rookie contracts

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills
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Bills General Manager Brandon Beane says one of the reasons it’s tough to keep pace with the Bengals is that Cincinnati has its best players on inexpensive rookie contracts, while Buffalo does not.

“They right now are on the advantage of a rookie quarterback contract,” Beane said of Joe Burrow. “They had some lean years, and without getting too much into their build, I don’t want to suck bad enough to have to get Ja’Marr Chase. He’s a heck of a talent, I’d love to have him, but you got to go through some lean years to do that. They were able to get Burrow No. 1 and Chase [No. 5] and those guys are on their rookie deals. We’re paying Stefon Diggs a pretty hefty number. We’re paying Josh Allen a pretty hefty number. So there is the constraints of the cap. They have a really good team and they’ve got some good young players. We’re gonna try to get as many players as we can through the draft and through free agency, but again, our cap situation is a little different.”

Beane said the NFL has not told teams what the 2023 salary cap will be, but Beane expects the Bills to be over it heading into the offseason. That means the Bills’ first priority will be making moves to get under the cap, rather than signing expensive free agents.

“We’re going to have to get under the cap by moves, roster cuts. . . . There’s not gonna be a Von Miller signing or something like that. We’re going to have to work to get under the cap so we can operate this year,” Beane said.

Beane said there are moves that the Bills can make to reduce salary cap hits this year, but those moves end up pushing salary cap hits into future seasons, so Beane doesn’t want to make too many such moves.

“I don’t want to in two years be $100 million over the cap, like we’ve seen teams have to do. I’m not looking to do that,” Beane said.

Burrow will likely sign a lucrative contract extension this year, and Chase likely next year, so the Bengals won’t have that advantage for long. But for now, it’s an advantage that makes Beane jealous of the Bengals’ situation.