It’s a rite of April. Draft chatter is at full buzz and no one knows what’s the truth and what’s just spin. Let’s cut through all that with five things to know as May 8 draws near. Plus, NFL Media’s new leader, 10 things and my journey to England
Five things you should know about the draft, 24 days before the first round begins:
1. You’d better go to the videotape if you want to see Jadeveon Clowney work out. Clowney won’t be doing any more individual workouts for NFL teams, apparently the result of Clemson tackle Brandon Thomas, a day-two NFL draft prospect, blowing out his knee in training for the draft two weeks ago. The Clowney camp has told at least three teams he won’t be working out for teams before the draft, preferring to let his on-campus Pro Day April 2 at South Carolina stand. I spoke to two general managers over the weekend about this, and one took exception to Clowney taking a pass on pre-draft team workouts and one didn’t. He still will visit teams and interview with coaches and GMs, but his next show-and-tell football performance will be after the draft in a mini-camp, with whichever team picks him. Now, I don’t think this will prevent a team that loves him from picking him, but it might be a small factor in the decision by a team on the fence about Clowney. As one of the general managers said, “I’d want the guy who’s going to be coaching him to put him through some of our drills, and see how he responds."
2. Ten players who touch the ball in the first round—and no runners. That’s how draft guru Gil Brandt sees it. Four quarterbacks and six wideouts in the top 32 for Brandt, if he had to pick it today. Contrast that to last year, when there was one quarterback, wideout or running back in the top 15—receiver/returner Tavon Austin, who went eighth to St. Louis. This year a very similar player in size and production, Brandin Cooks of Oregon State, could be the sixth wideout picked. Regarding the passers, Derek Carr of Fresno State joins the big three quarterbacks, and at receiver, the depth is so good that former unheralded guys like Cody Latimer of Indiana are creeping into view high in the second round now.
3. “I’m down to my 40th-ranked player, and I don’t have a running back picked yet.” That’s Brandt on this crop. It’s the diminished importance of the position, plus the fact that Trent Richardson looks like he should have been picked 103rd, not third, in 2012 based on his production so far. Teams have proven over and over they can find good backs on day three of the draft, and as rookie free agents.
4. Speaking of surprise players … The stunner this draft season is a quarterback who threw 83 passes as a Rutgers sophomore in 2010, then didn’t play college football in 2011 or 2012 as he transferred from Rutgers to Arizona to Pitt. “The hottest guy in the draft," Brandt of Tom Savage. How hot is he? Late last week Savage’s agent, Neil Schwartz, had to tell two teams who wanted to set up a visit or meeting with the quarterback that he didn’t have any time left to do so. “There are literally no days left on his calendar for him to go see any other teams," Schwartz said Saturday. The deadline for teams to host players or work them out is April 27, and by then Savage is scheduled to have either worked out for or had visits with 24 or 25 teams. That’s an amazing number of workouts and/or meetings … and when I say meetings with teams, I mean time with either the GM, coach, offensive coordinator or two or three of those. Savage is popular because he’s got an above-average NFL arm right now—some are calling it the best in the draft—and showed well over the last half of last season with a bad offensive line at Pitt. He spent Friday with the Oakland staff, and that’s a place he’d fit in well. Amazing to think a player so itinerant and with so little college success could be leap-frogging A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger. But there’s a good chance Savage will. Todd McShay had Houston taking Savage with the 33rd overall pick. Now there’d be a way to kick off the second day of the draft in style, with a stunner like that.
5. A few teams with quarterback needs have an interesting strategy. I’ve heard that at least four quarterback-needy teams—Houston (first pick), Jacksonville (3), Cleveland (4) and Oakland (5)—are strongly considering passing on quarterbacks with their first picks and waiting until their second or third selections. Simple reason: They’re not in love with any of the quarterbacks, and there are too many other good players who are surer things than a quarterback you have sincere doubts about. For that reason, there could be more quarterbacks taken in round two than round one. For instance, Jacksonville really likes Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, and he’d likely be there high in the second round when the Jags pick again, at 39.
One more thing: The great value in this draft will be from about 20 to 50. So guess what team is in great position to capitalize on the depth in rounds one and two? San Francisco, with the ability and the recent history of moving around so well. The rich-get-richer Niners hold the 30th, 56th, 61st, and 77th overall picks. If they want someone in the forties, they’ve got the currency to get him. The Browns are in good shape to do some damage too, with picks 26, 35, 71 and 83.
Get to know Brian Rolapp.
The chief operating officer of NFL Media is 41, a Mormon, a Brigham Young grad, checks Twitter before he does anything else in the morning, and you’ve probably never heard of him. But you need to know Brian Rolapp. As the NFL approaches its 95th season, Rolapp’s going to be among the handful of most important people charting the course of all things NFL as the game turns 100 and beyond. His importance will be not only determining the course of NFL Network as the successor to retiring president/CEO Steve Bornstein, but also in innovative new media ventures.
Rolapp is behind the invention of a new media tool the NFL will launch in August called NFL Now, which will be able to customize your NFL consumption to your favorite team, your fantasy team, your favorite NFL Films stuff from its vast vault—so that every day, multiple times, you’ll be able to check back to see the latest from all sources NFL.
Mostly, Rolapp seems exactly what Roger Goodell wants in his senior staff: a guy who respects tradition but isn’t married to it, loves new ideas and seeks new ways to keep the NFL on the cutting edge of how fans consume media.
“That’s one of the reasons that I like working here," Rolapp told me in a recent two-hour meeting. “I think it’s one of the reasons for the success of the league. I have this saying with my guys: ‘Only the paranoid survive.’ You evolve or die. There is no resting on your laurels here, because the minute you do that you are in jeopardy. Roger’s very good about instilling that."
To that end, Rolapp and Goodell take a trip each year, usually in August. They go to Silicon Valley to try to stay current with new technology. We discussed that, and other NFL media news.
The MMQB: The media world has changed, but TV obviously is your first priority.
Rolapp: The NFL is such a powerful entity, and it was really built on media. Pete Rozelle figured out long ago the power of television to build the sport. How do you create content for the predominant media platform of the day? In the old days it was television. Now it’s a lot more complicated than that. We always say, ‘It’s not old media and new media. It’s just media.’ You need to understand how the fans are consuming content and how they’re spending their time. You need to find out a way with your partners to deliver it to them. The secret of our sport is that we have all of these great media partners broadcasting games, promoting the games. It’s not just one. It’s CBS. It’s Fox. It’s NBC. It’s ESPN. It’s NFL Network. It’s DirecTV. And now, increasingly it’s things like Twitter, Microsoft, Verizon.
"The new partnership with CBS is important," Rolapp says. "This is about getting more fans exposed to Thursday Night Football.”
The MMQB: Why NFL Now?
Rolapp: Technology in all these things we’re talking about is a priority. NFL Now is a personalized video network that exists on any device you have. So you log in and say, ‘I like the Browns,’ and essentially you’ll have video content that’s customized and available to you, from NFL Films content, from news and highlights, to your fantasy players; you’ll have customized highlights for your fantasy players. It’s essentially embracing video and mobile, which is where the world is going. So we think that initiative is a really important one that we’ll continue to build and spend a lot of time on. The goal was to give fans access, wherever they are, to the NFL video—whether new or historic—personalized to them. That was the goal. It didn’t matter what device they used, a smart phone or iPad or smart TV, on a desktop computer. And NFL Films stuff … You can search for whatever you want, and finally we can mine that treasure trove that Steve and Ed Sabol built for 40 years.
The MMQB: How do you get your news?
Rolapp: My news source—and I’m just a focus group of one—my routine is I check Twitter first to figure out what’s going on. I look at that, then I look at some of the other news feeds that I have, and my email for things like ratings on the NFL Network, and then I get to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times. It’s all on my tablet. The newspapers are delivered to my office, but essentially I put my feet on them. They serve different purposes. They’re coasters for my Diet Coke at lunch. Then there’s other sites that I’ll go to. There’s Tech Crunch for example. All Things D—which has become ReCode. Mashable I’ll do. I do the football things. I do your site a lot. I’ll look at Pro Football Talk. So I go sort of general news, to industry/media news, to football industry news. Then in between is all the stuff internal—ratings from the network, ratings from the games before—all the internal sorts of things that I look at.
The MMQB: Where’s the growth in your business going to come from now?
Rolapp: In the NFL, there’s really two things when it comes to media. There’s the live games, which are as popular as ever. But there’s also a lot of growth in where a lot of these digital platforms and television platforms are fueling, and that’s what happens outside of the game—the Monday-Saturday throughout the week and in the offseason. Whether it’s people coming to get injury reports or getting what happened at practice, it’s getting the previews of the games, it’s the fantasy players. And in the offseason, the combine is as big as it’s ever been. Free agency is an event itself. The draft is on two networks and out-rates playoff games for the NBA on television. Training camp is getting bigger. There is no offseason.
The MMQB: What’s highest on your radar right now?
Rolapp: I think this new Thursday night package and making that work. This partnership with CBS is important. Thursday night football started as eight games on NFL Network, then it went to 13, and we really wanted to make sure that we thought this extra prime-time night of games could work competitively, could work from a schedule standpoint, could work from a fan’s standpoint, and we’re convinced it does. Some say, ‘Well, you can’t simulcast a game on two networks, that’s never been done before.' Or, 'You can’t do a short-term deal, that’s never been done before.’ We thought, ‘Well, no, we could.’ This is about getting more fans exposed to Thursday Night Football.”
The MMQB: Who will watch the game on NFL Network if they’re already on the bigger CBS station?
Rolapp: I don’t know. If it’s one person, I don’t want them to get lost because they can’t find it. If he’s conditioned to go to NFL Network, that’s fine. It might be one. It might be a million. You have two voices. Like with the draft: Some like Mike Mayock. Some like Mel Kiper. Well, don’t just give them one, give them both.
The MMQB: What is the future of NFL Network? Does it stay in L.A. or does it eventually come to the East Coast, to the NFL Films’ home in New Jersey?
Rolapp: We haven’t really looked actively at moving. It’s an expensive proposition. We’ll look at it. There’s a lot of advantages to being in L.A. There’s great access to the people you need to run a network—producers to talent and everything else. There are no immediate plans to move it, but there are no sacred cows. . . . There are very good arguments for moving it East—location to management, location to players. You have a concentration of teams. All of that is in there. It’s really down to, does that outweigh the cost it would take to do that? It’s really a business decision more than anything. One day will we have a team in L.A.? Will we have a stadium in L.A.?
The MMQB: What about the network itself? What do you want to see improve?
Rolapp: I think we’re happy with what’s working, but we can improve. There are so many alternatives now to get football and NFL information. We as a network need to find how we’re different. In my mind, it comes down to a few things. It starts with, we’ve got the greatest brand in sports, and that needs to be embraced in everything we do. Second: We really need to become the players’ and the coaches’ network. If that’s a place they want to watch, if that’s a place they want to be, if that’s a place they show up, the fan will know that. Third is providing inside access that no one else can provide. If we can do that, then we can deliver on not only what fans want, but it differentiates us from everyone else, and that’s who we should be. So that means that we’re re-looking at all of the programming. In this day and age you need to have programming that matters. I think in the future, there’s going to be, at best, 50 television networks that matter. At best. You better be one of them.
The MMQB: What do you do in Silicon Valley when you and Roger Goodell visit?
Rolapp: We go to a lot of tech companies. A lot of the big ones that you’ve heard of. Then we try to get a handful of people you’ve never heard of before. There’s a move in Silicon Valley—they understand the power of content and the power of our content. Maybe five years ago they weren’t sure if it was necessary yet.
The MMQB: What do you take away from there? Give me an example.
Rolapp: Take a Green Bay Packers game—something like 25 million people will watch that. Well, the internet can’t sustain that right now. We were at a very prominent Silicon Valley company that basically showed us how one day it will, and that day is right around the corner. If 35 million people go to watch that game on the internet right now, it would crash. Broadcast is different because it’s one-to-many. Internet is one-to-one, and the pipe just fills out. There is this [Intel founder] Andy Grove quote, ‘There’s a fundamental rule in technology that whatever can be done will be done.’ It’s a healthy perspective for us because we have to plan for the day and understand that whatever you think technology can do, it will do.”
The MMQB: Will games on free TV ever go away?
Rolapp: Look, we have built a very good thing here by making NFL football available to as many people as possible. I don’t see free TV going away.
“There’s always danger of killing the sacred cow,” Rolapp says. “The trick is not allowing your concern for killing the sacred cow to paralyze you, and embracing change.”
The MMQB: Why is putting highlights on Twitter a good idea? Wouldn’t the networks be against that?
Rolapp: By having video on Twitter, it’s smart in giving fans what they want, but it’s also a good business proposition because it’s a sponsor for us. This is actually a way to make our business grow. By putting more of this content out there, the fan wins, and the advertisers win. You might be away from your television or you might decide that it wasn’t important to watch the Giants game, because maybe they’re not as competitive as you wanted them to be. When we actually tweet out that there’s a highlight of Eli Manning, you’re going to go back and watch that game. There’s all sorts of data that shows that too, where people forget that something’s on television and someone tweets out that they’re watching this, and then people go and they watch because they forgot about it or they recorded it. So it’s a way to get back in front of people.
The MMQB: You’re getting about $1 billion a year from DirecTV for Sunday Ticket, and that expires at the end of this season. Will you renew with DirecTV?
Rolapp: I think that’s a concept that is tried and true. There’s something for everyone there. DirecTV has been a really good partner. We’ve only really had one partner when it comes to this. They’ve been great. We’re right now in an exclusive negotiating period with them, and we’re talking to them about it. I think they have every intent to renew, and I think we have every intent to see that it works out. We haven’t reached the point [of a deadline] yet.
The MMQB: Is there any danger, as Mark Cuban says, of killing the sacred cow?
Rolapp: Like I said to you, only the paranoid survive. So, yeah, there’s always danger of killing the sacred cow. The trick is not allowing your concern for killing the sacred cow to paralyze you, and embracing change. There’s that other quote, I can’t remember who said it, it basically said if you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevancy even less.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
England is such a wonderful place, with kind and considerate people and the loveliest landscape. I rediscovered that on our trip to England for the burial of my brother Ken last week. Ken, 64, was a resident of the country since 1983 with his wife, Jane, who hails from northern England, and children. Ken died suddenly two weeks ago while on a walk with Jane.
I thought I would take a few moments to tell you about the funeral and my experience on the death of a second and last brother in four years—Bob died in 2010 of a heart attack—and the banding together of a community to help Jane. To me, it indicates there is still so much good in people, and I guess I’m a hopeless optimist and think things like overwhelming goodness are still possible in our world.
Ken and Jane lived first in England in a village called Kingsclere, about an hour west of London, in the area where the book “Watership Down" is set and the TV show “Downton Abbey" is filmed. Then they moved to another village 70 minutes north of London called Denton. He died on a visit to Kingsclere, and Jane decided that is where he would be eulogized and buried. It is a lovely little place, with a charming English pub called The Swan and a musty 1,000-year-old Church of England church, and a high hill with long footpaths where sheep graze and horses run overlooking the village. That’s where Ken and Jane used to take seven-mile walks.
On the weekend Ken died, he and Jane had been staying with their close friends Alison and Mark Wray. The Wrays took in the rest of the immediate family, joining Jane. The rest of us, there for a few days, stayed either in rooms above The Swan or in a nearby hotel. My wife, Ann, and sister, Pam, came from the states, along with Ken’s very good friend from William & Mary, Tim Groves from Cambridge, Mass. We’d gather during the day at the Wrays’ home on a quiet street (every street in Kingsclere is quiet), up to 22 of us from around Europe and America, crammed into the dining area and spilling into the kitchen, and Alison and Mark would put out a dizzying array of food that they worked all week to prepare. “This is what friends do," Alison said. “I wouldn’t want Jane to be anywhere else at a time like this." Spinach-lentil-and-feta pie the first day, either meat or vegetable lasagna the second day, either asparagus or tomato-and-onion quiche the third day, and the toasts with the merlot and the Old Speckled Hen, and the fresh bread, and the pasta salad, and the conversations with people from Spain and Connecticut and Massachusetts and England … well, I wish the dinners of two hours had lasted four. And I wish we had more than one evening at The Swan, where the Bowman and the Theakston and Guinness—with no TV, no music, just conversation—flowed.
“Where ye from?" said one of the locals at the bar.
“New York," I said. “The city."
“This must be prettih slow," he said.
“I love it," I said. “Love your village." Which made him happy.
The bar’s 11-year-old black lab, Jake, burrowed into us for some of our crisps. (Potato chips.) “Jake! No!" the guy at the bar said. Jake lay down and waited, hopefully. He got lucky only once, with one dropped crisp.
Jane’s an organizer. Last Monday, the women of the family and the village gathered at St. Mary’s Church to prepare the old place for a proper funeral. Kirsty, the partner of the Wrays’ son and a florist-in-training, brought seven buckets of fresh flowers, and the women made eight bouquets to place on the walls, four on each side, and large arrangements to greet the mourners at the entry of the church and more in and around the pulpit. The church hall was prepared for a reception afterward, with large photoboards of Ken’s life arranged by his son Adam. (One of my favorites is the King boys, with neckbeards, from 1978. Unfortunately, you can see that one here.) Everywhere I looked were neighbors from the village, scurrying about, making the church as homey as a centuries-old church could be made to look. Six, eight, 10, 12 villagers, there to help, to do anything Jane or Kirsty asked. They just came. Mark and I delivered the funeral wreath, made in the Wrays’ garage that morning by Jane for the top of the light pine casket, to the tiny funeral home.
Jane and Adam spoke at the funeral, stupendously and emotionally, never faltering. After the service, we walked eight-tenths of a mile to the cemetery, where six men in black suits lowered Ken’s casket into the ground. The funeral home wanted us to go in hearses; Jane said she wanted to walk, because she and Ken walked everywhere. So we walked. The cemetery, wind-whipped, is on a hill that overlooks a soccer field and much of the village. It’s where Jane and Ken buried their stillborn daughter, Sally, two decades ago. Ken and Jane were walking to this place, to visit Sally’s grave, when he collapsed and died, and so it was right that Ken would be buried here. The vicar said some nice things, and invited us to throw dirt onto the coffin if we wished. A few of us did. Jane threw Ken’s sweat-stained three-decade-old Yankees cap (he was a very serious Yankee fan) on top of the casket. And then we walked back to the church hall.
On the last full day of his life, Ken went to a wine-tasting and bought a case of pink champagne. So of course the 80 or so folks who crammed into the reception toasted Ken with the champagne he and Jane, both retired, would have used for their Champagne Friday tradition. As the last of three King brothers, I did the toast, clumsily. I was grateful for a squeeze on the left arm from Jane when I faltered at one point. I just wanted her, and everyone in the room, to know what a full and happy life Ken lived, and how incredibly grateful the American side of the family was for the goodness of the British side, and how Jane so generously had enriched all of our lives.
Afterward, Jane wanted to walk the Watership Down route, the seven miles she and Ken so often had walked. So a group of 18 of us went out, including Ken’s 14-month-old grandson, Thomas, alternately on my back and the backs of others, and on a glorious afternoon we trod the seven miles they so often did. We walked the walk, Ken’s walk. It’s one of the prettiest places in the world, full of high grass and acres of yellow flowers and green pastures and birds I didn’t know. On and on, and I never thought, Lord, I’m tired. When are we going to head back?
I’ll always remember the day, vividly. It’s the kind of day every person would hope for at the end of his or her life, in the kind of village where every person would hope to be remembered. A perfect day.
I just thought of one more thing: Adam, and Jane’s brother Steve made a soundtrack of 53 songs Ken loved for the reception and as a keepsake. As the mix played after the last dinner at the Wrays’ home a few hours after the funeral, I noticed one of Ken’s favorites was playing.
Quotes of the Week
“We are disappointed to learn of the incident today involving Aldon Smith. As this is a pending legal matter and we are still gathering the pertinent facts, we will have no further comment."
—San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke, who has to be at the end of his rope with Aldon Smith, his troubled Pro Bowl pass rusher. Smith, police said, was belligerent with authorities at Los Angeles International Airport Sunday afternoon and allegedly said he had a bomb.
“It was a little emotional. I have spent my life here."
—New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur, 42, the NHL’s all-time winningest netminder, after a 3-2 win over Boston on Sunday in Newark. His contract is up, and Cory Schneider is the Devils’ long-term goalie. So Sunday’s win is probably the last of his 23-year run in New Jersey.
“I don’t really buy ‘Draft Day’—it’s a shallow and evasive movie …”
—Highly respected movie critic A.O. Scott of the New York Times, on the new movie about the NFL draft. Scott reports the movie was made “with what appears to be the very enthusiastic—not to say domineering—cooperation of the NFL.”
"We have talked about keeping our own players and this is a positive for us. Alex is a quality person and player that truly brings to life what playing like a Brown means."
—Cleveland GM Ray Farmer, upon matching Jacksonville’s five-year, $42 million offer sheet for center Alex Mack, meaning Mack will remain a Brown for at least the next two seasons.
Stat of the Week
We learned from the free-agent chase of offensive linemen this year that tackles aren’t the only golden children, and that teams will pay for quality on the line, and teams are freer with guaranteed money than they’ve been in the past. Of the eight players who signed for $30 million or more, the top four in gross dollars had every cent of the first two years guaranteed, now that Alex Mack is in the fold. Examining the value of the top offensive linemen on the market this season:
|Player||Pos.||2014 team||Contract||Guaranteed in first 2 years||Percent guaranteed in first 2 years|
|Branden Albert||LT||Miami||5 years, $47 million||$20M||100%|
|Alex Mack||C||Cleveland||5 years, $42 million||$18M||100%|
|Eugene Monroe||LT||Baltimore||5 years, $37.5 million||$17.5M||100%|
|Jared Veldheer||LT||Arizona||5 years, $35 million||$13.5M||100%|
|Roger Saffold||RG||St. Louis||5 years, $31.7 million||$8M||53.3%|
|Zane Beadles||LG||Jacksonville||5 years, $30 million||$12.45M||100%|
|Austin Howard||RT||Oakland||5 years, $30 million||$9.9M||66.9%|
|Anthony Collins||LT||Tampa Bay||5 years, $30 million||$9M||75%|
Note: The last two columns represent the amount of guaranteed money each player earns over the first two years of the deal, and the percentage of the total money in the first two years that is guaranteed. By my definition, a guarantee is a full guarantee, not just a guarantee if the player is injured and cannot play.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
A couple, from Stanford’s spring game Saturday:
1. Barry Sanders, son of Barry Sanders, led all rushers with 12 carries for 68 yards, including one juking 29-yarder. The junior from Oklahoma City is competing to win the starting running back job and didn’t hurt himself Saturday. One of the competitors for the job: Ricky Seale, whose dad, Sam Seale, played a decade in the NFL as a cornerback.
2. Free safety John Flacco, brother of Joe, intercepted starting quarterback Kevin Hogan and returned the pick 58 yards for a touchdown. John Flacco is a fifth-year senior, a former New Jersey high school valedictorian who majors in biomechanical engineering.
Tweets of the Week
4 years a slave
— BrandonSpikes51 (@BrandonSpikes51) April 9, 2014
Jennifer Garner isn't doing a very good job of managing the Browns' salary-cap room.
— Bart Hubbuch (@HubbuchNYP) April 9, 2014
I sort of wish Oscar Pistorius would stop crying. Jeez. Enough.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) April 10, 2014
Cool! Today's date is a palindrome. 4/10/2014
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) April 10, 2014
They’re right: It was cool. It would also be a palindrome if you made it “4-10-14.”
There's like an 80% chance if Draft Day tanks at the box office, the Browns fire Mike Pettine
— Eric Stangel (@EricStangel) April 13, 2014
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think I owe so many of you thanks for your kind wishes—and I owe Greg Bedard much more than that for filling in for me last week and writing this column—after the death of my brother. I appreciate the texts, emails and tweets. And now we’ll continue on.
2. I think this is the way Jacksonville could have forged a contract that Cleveland would not have matched with center Alex Mack: agree to pay him $15 million in the first year, fully guaranteed, with the option to quit the deal after one year. Many of you on Twitter have made the point over the past couple of days that Cleveland matching Jacksonville’s offer sheet means there couldn’t have been an offer to entice Cleveland to let Mack go. Well, there could have been, but the Jaguars didn’t go far enough in their offer to make Browns GM Ray Farmer blink.
3. I think all three sides in this deal won.
a. Mack won because he gets $18 million fully guaranteed over two years and the chance to be an unrestricted free agent at age 30 in 2016 (he’s never missed a start in five years), and he will have his third season at $8 million guaranteed if he gets a disabling injury in either 2014 or ’15.
b. Cleveland won because the Browns keep a rock-solid player and leader in the middle of their offensive line for what will be about 7.8 percent of their 2014 cap and 6 percent of their cap in 2015. Now the Browns don’t have to explain to their fan base why they let a top player at his position, a home-grown one, walk.
c. Jacksonville won because the Jags showed their fan base they’re serious about bidding, reasonably, for good players. My only quibble with the Jags is they took a swing at Mack, but they had to know it was virtually certain the Browns would match. I have an ulterior motive in this from Jacksonville’s standpoint: In two years, if the Jags find and develop a quarterback and are a contender, Mack could look at them and remember the favor they did him by offering him $18 million fully guaranteed for two seasons, and he could think about opting out of the last three years in Cleveland to sign in Jacksonville. We shall see.
4. I think the only blip on the Cleveland radar from this issue is Mack had to put himself out on the market and force the Browns to pay him market value for a top-five center, and if you’re Mack, a smart guy, you have to be thinking: The team I’ve played every game for at a high level had a ton of cap room available and didn’t choose to pay me until its hand was forced. I’ll remember that in two years.
5. I think the same thing about the Colin Kaepernick incident in Miami—whatever exactly it was, and we don’t know exactly what it was yet—as I thought about the Ray Rice incident in New Jersey in February: I’ll make a judgment when all the information is in, when we know whatever the full investigations unveil. In the Rice case, for instance, we know what the video showed when he exited an elevator with his unconscious fiancée, but we don’t know what other video evidence shows, and we do know there is some other pertinent video related to the incident. The point is, there’s no need for any final judgment on April 14, on either story.
6. I think the news nugget of the week—reported by NFL Media’s Albert Breer—was Johnny Manziel scoring a 32 on the Wonderlic test. That’s five points higher than Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson scored once upon a time, and probably goes a way toward confirming that Manziel could digest any offense.
7. I think the least surprising thing about the football world in the past few days is that Shawne Merriman has signed to do something with World Wrestling Entertainment.
8. I think I don’t know how much traction this story got in my absence, but I know how hard Jenny Vrentas and Emily Kaplan of The MMQB worked on it, and I think it’s the most comprehensive and reasoned discussion of what Native Americans think about the “Redskins" controversy. I urge you to take a few minutes and read it.
9. I think more teams should do the human thing, the thing GM Doug Whaley and the Buffalo Bills are doing with the Easter holiday coming up and the draft pushed back two weeks on the calendar from last year: The Bills are giving their scouts and draft personnel a week off to be with their families, and to halt this paralysis-by-over-analysis that happens when you give more time to a process that already lasts a month too long. Good for the Bills.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Remembering a most painful anniversary this week, as the city of Boston heads into an emotional week of remembering the three who died and the 264 who were injured in the Boston Marathon bombing a year ago. Peace to everyone there.
b. What a hockey game Union (N.Y.) and Minnesota played for the NCAA championship. I watched much of it. End-to-end action for three periods, and a school with 2,200 students and zero athletic scholarships and one NHL draft choice (Union) beating a school with full scholarships and 51,000 students and 14 NHL draft choices. The score was Union 7, Minnesota 4, in Philadelphia. What effort and raw enthusiasm, on the ice and in the stands. Cool stuff.
c. I am a Nutmegger. The first 18 years of my life I lived in Connecticut. And so I have followed UConn sports closely over the years. I saw none of either basketball championship game, but the Huskies of both genders did their state proud last week. Congrats to the UConn men and women. Nine titles for the women now, and four for the men in the last 15 years. That is pretty amazing for a university in Storrs, Conn.
d. Atlantic Coast Conference fathers must be so pleased about excluding UConn from the ACC. What a smart decision, listening to Boston College, which never wanted a rival as dangerous in recruiting and in games as UConn in the ACC. BC got its wish, and UConn now toils in some conference invented to give some athletic orphans a port in the NCAA storm.
e. Boston College men’s basketball in the past four seasons: 52-74, zero national titles.
f. UConn men’s basketball since 2009: 104-41, two national titles.
g. Well, BC sure has a pretty campus.
h. Coffeenerdness: I couldn’t drink Starbucks while in the hinterlands of England. My brother worked for three decades for Whitbread, which bought Costa Coffee. So I drank Costa. “Starbucks had a chance," Ken told me on our visit in March. “We went looking for a coffee company a few years ago, and Starbucks could have been it. But they drove too hard a bargain, and so we bought Costa." Costa is at least on equal footing with Starbucks there now, and I had a few Flat Whites over there, with an extra shot. A Flat White is like a latte, with the espresso and milk mixed together better than a latte.
i. Beernerdness: Felt like a bit of an ugly American doing it, but had too much Guinness and too little of the local ales in England. Guinness was darn good, as always.
j. Read that a Red Sox fan booed Jacoby Ellsbury on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium and called him a traitor. Well, okay. I don’t see it that way, at all, as a follower of the Red Sox. Ellsbury grew up in Oregon, went to Oregon State, got drafted by the Red Sox, climbed the ladder in the Red Sox system, played seven years for the Red Sox, lived in Oregon every off-season, and his contract expired. He wasn’t nurtured in the Sox-Yanks cauldron of the northeast. As a free agent, why should he be allowed to sign with any team except the Yankees? I don’t blame him one iota for signing with the Yankees—I don’t like it, but I don’t blame him—if the Yankees paid him the most money, and they overwhelmingly did.
k. Saw “20 Feet From Stardom" on the trip home from England. What a tremendous movie. Those poor women, basically getting ripped off for such memorable work. Excellent storytelling too, particularly on “Gimme Shelter” backup singer Merry Clayton’s story.
l. I really want to see that LBJ play on Broadway. Anyone seen it? How is it?
m. I am a basketball doofus, but if you gave me a vote for the professional team of the century, I’d pick the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich and his guys are amazing. You can’t keep them down.
n. Good luck, Jim Kelly, as you head into your second week of chemotherapy and radiation, battling the cancer in your head.
o. Bubba Watson seems like the coolest of guys. Congrats to him on a second Masters win. He celebrated by going to Waffle House with his wife. How awesome is that?
p. And you, Martin Brodeur … You are my Player of the Week, for your 688th and probably final win as a New Jersey Devil, 3-2 over Boston Sunday. You’ve been great to watch over the past 23 years.
The Adieu Haiku
Bedard can’t Haiku.
But what a job last Monday.
I got Wally Pipped!