The stage is officially set for Mariota-Winston Week 1. Plus, Adrian Peterson Vikings news, more on L.A. relocation possibilities and answering reader emails
Today is a good day for logic around the NFL. Because:
• The Tennessee Titans on Tuesday signed the second pick in the draft, quarterback Marcus Mariota, meaning that five days before the first practice of the NFL preseason, all 32 first-round picks have signed. Mariota, the Oregon quarterback destined to open the season as the Titans’ starter, signed for four years and about $22 million. For those who were worried that contract technicalities might make Mariota late for the start of camp, that was never going to happen. Mariota is a compliant guy, and Titans GM Ruston Webster is a get-‘er-done guy. Now there’s nothing stading in the way between Mariota and the starting job. And now there’s nothing standing in the way of Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston at 4:25 p.m. ET on the opening Sunday of their NFL careers. That is certainly not the game of the weekend in Week 1, the two worst teams in the league in 2014 meeting to open 2015. But there’s some drama when two franchise quarterbacks face off for the first game in what their teams hope will be 15-year careers piloting two teams very much in need of hope.
• Adrian Peterson and the Vikings continue to do all the right things. Peterson, 30, agreed to a re-worked (in his favor) contract with the Vikings that will ensure that he’ll have more guaranteed money in 2016—and that if he’s going to be the headline act in the first season of the new Vikings’ stadium next year, it’s going to cost the franchise a solid guarantee in order to do so. Although the figures were publicized, it would make sense for Minnesota GM Rick Spielman to guarantee the scheduled $5 million roster bonus within days after the season, meaning that if the team didn’t want Peterson in 2016, it would have to release him so he’d have time to play the free-agent field at the time when most teams had their full complement of free-agent money to spend. And if they pay him the bonus, surely the Vikings wouldn’t cut him before the season, meaning his $7.75-million base salary would be guaranteed too. (Vet salaries are guaranteed for the year if they’re on the opening-day roster.) So I’m sure this deal has much to do with the Vikings telling Peterson he’ll know very shortly after Super Bowl 50 if he’s sure to be a Viking in the year the franchise will host Super Bowl 51 … with a guarantee of $12.75 million to be the franchise star. The whole deal make sense, for both sides.
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• The MMQB, without meaning to, may have given the Rams another push on their road back to Los Angeles. I hope you saw Emily Kaplan’s story on our site about the apathetic reaction the potential NFL return to Los Angeles was getting by local citizens. “It’s been so long I stopped caring,” English teacher Katie Cole told Kaplan. The upshot of the story, at least the one I took from it, is that the area isn't burning with passion for the return of the NFL, gone since Christmas Eve 1994. Here’s why this story is better for the Rams than for either the Chargers or Raiders, both of whom have the same kind of wanderlust as the Rams: The Los Angeles area, as polls over the years have shown, won’t be a lock to support one team through thick and thin, never mind two. And what’s the team most likely to garner support early? Probably the Rams. They have the best remaining local fan base, from the looks of it. It’s not overwhelming support, to be sure, and who knows? The locals might be more enthusiastic to get a team with a quarterback. San Diego’s Philip Rivers, though he’ll be entering his 14th year and appears to not want to move to L.A., would be the best day one quarterback, and Oakland’s Derek Carr number two … but on the other hand, a former USC player (Jeff Fisher) would likely be coaching the Rams, and a franchise running back (Todd Gurley) would be a looming star, and the St. Louis defense could be good enough to be a playoff defense in 2016. When owners meet to discuss L.A. on Aug. 11 in Chicago, I think the weight of having to support two teams in a market that appears to be just fine with zero is going to fall on the shoulders of the owners, and they’re more likely to say, “Let’s just put one there for now” instead of opting for two. It’s just the safer move, even if it means stadium-poor San Diego and Oakland have to put up with bad venues for a year or two longer while each team considers other options. If the Rams are the golden franchise that gets to move, then St. Louis and San Antonio step to the front of the line for one of the dissatisfied California franchises, and then it’s back to ground zero for the two losers in the L.A. derby.
Now for your email...
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ON BRADY’S LEGACY. I simply don't understand the commentator-created "requirement" that evidence related to Tom Brady in Deflategate must meet the reasonable doubt standard of a criminal trial. Tom Brady has no more right to play than anyone else. If his team, or the league, thinks he is in need of discipline after an investigation then so be it. Let him go to court if he believes the CBA was violated. Does it mean nothing that he refused to cooperate? Does it mean nothing that according to all reports the footballs on the Colts side were just fine? Does it mean nothing that the NFL investigator used a standard of evidence common in civil suits?
Nobody is talking about sending Brady to jail, banning him from the HoF or anything of the like. This is a simple employee discipline thing and not a course of history level event.
Football is both a game and a business. Acting like this game has some deeper meaning in life and that a QB's perception of their own "legacy" requires protection respect by others is simply, well, silly.
[infobox id="47099-2" float="right"]BRADY DOESN’T DESERVE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. Maybe there is a reasonable doubt with respect to the depressurization of the footballs…but the fact remains that Brady was uncooperative, had secret, lengthy conversations with at least one of the ball boys in question, and this is an organization with a history of bending/breaking the rules. Why are you giving him ANY benefit of the doubt?
My only point about Brady is that I do not believe that anyone has proven that Tom Brady told Patriots employees to deflate footballs under the minimum requirement in the NFL rulebook. That is my sole argument for why the NFL has gone overboard in its punishment of Brady and the Patriots. This is not about me trying to say that we need to protect the legacy of an all-time great. It’s about the simple fact that I don’t think enough evidence has been presented to prove Brady guilty.
UNDER PRESSURE. Now that we're on the eve of finding out the result of Brady's appeal, maybe you can shed some light on the rationale for the air pressure rule. Why was this rule created? Was it intended to prevent one team from gaining a competitive advantage or was it created for some different purpose? Marshawn Lynch has been fined for violating a rule requiring players to be accessible to the media. Is Lynch gaining a competitive advantage by violating that rule? Is the air pressure rule akin to that, a rule to ensure conformity and a homogeneous product or is it truly closer to stealing signals and videotaping your opponent's practice? If Lee McPhail could overturn the ump and let George Brett's HR stand, since Brett gained no advantage through the use of pine tar, maybe there's hope for Goodell yet.
—David, Merrick, N.Y.
The Marshawn instance is a violation, but it’s not a violation of a competitive, on-field rule. It is a violation of the general player's contract that requires NFL players to reasonably cooperate with the news media. The Brady instance is a football violation. I think what happens in a case like Brady’s is that people begin to look for other tangential examples of other players and other violations that really do not apply. I think this is all about the difference of opinion between those who believe that the circumstantial evidence in the Brady case is enough to convict him. I do not.
WHY WAIT? I've been reading your column for years and enjoy your insights. However, please correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you spend the first few months of this year, writing in multiple articles and tweets, that the NFL should've ruled in a quicker manner regarding Brady and deflated footballs? Now, in "Ten Things" you suggest in #2 and #4 that it should wait until after this season ends? Why the change?
—Michael G., Amarillo, Texas
It’s very simple. I believe that just as Wells took too long to collect and publish his data, that the NFL could be doing the Patriots and Brady a grave disservice by now not waiting to see what the evidence will say when air pressure in footballs is measured for the 267 regular and postseason games this year. That’s why I think the league needs to take the games this year to see for the first time in its history what the effect of weather is on footballs used in games. Of course this will elongate the process. But if elongating the process helps the league get to the truth then I am for it.
RELOCATION ACTUALLY IS A BIG DEAL. I have disagreed with you before but this is the first time I've felt compelled to respond. I realize that for the fans of 29 of the 32 NFL teams the topic of relocation has little impact on them, and therefore is of little interest. For the fans of the Chargers, Raiders and Rams that reside in their current cities, however, this is a significant issue. The people of St. Louis have embraced the Rams since they moved here in 1995—including through more years than not where the team's performance has been putrid. Your characterization of the issue is dismissive and frankly rather disappointing.
—Alan F., St. Louis
[infobox id="47099-3" float="right"]Alan F. and others who wrote in, I certainly didn’t mean to be dismissive. I just meant to say that play-by-play of franchise relocation over a several-year period gets to be pretty boring. That is the stage where we are right now, even though occasionally I am going to write about it (such as at the top of this column). But in general, I’m not going to be concentrating on the minutia of these franchise shifts as the 32 NFL teams head off to camp. If I felt that the readers were interested and clamoring for me to be talking to politicians and stadium developers and club officials about this, then I would. But I get very few requests for more coverage of franchise relocation.
THIS IS THE LIONS YEAR. How about a tweetup on August 10 when you're in Allen Park? I would love to have a beer with you. You included my letter in your mailbag two years ago about my daughter having the chance to meet Matthew Stafford. We'll be there again, this time with my youngest daughter. It's an annual trip now. We wouldn't miss it for the world. They've drank the kool-aid! They love it though. Sports has a way to bring people together. Especially Lions' fans—there's something there about being a fan of a long suffering team. This is our year. That's the attitude we all feel for our Lions. We assume the worst, but always hope for the best. It has to be our turn eventually. We have tons of fans like that and they are some of the nicest and most giving fans that I've ever had the privilege to be around. Maybe that's what draws us in. Nice, friendly, supremely passionate fans. We're here for good and I'm so glad that I was able to give that to my daughters. This is what fans do.
What a beautiful email. We are going to do a couple of tweetups along the way on this trip. I don’t know if one will be in Detroit yet, but please make sure that you get my attention that day at training camp. I would love to talk to you and meet your daughters. I really liked reading your words because they illustrate how important the game is to so many people and, in turn, how important it is that we in our business do a good job in relating what is going on with the 32 teams to people like you. So thank you, and I look forward to seeing you in Michigan.
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