On Minicamp Makeovers, a Sam Bradford Lesson, More
1. I think I see a trend emerging: the overhaul of rookie minicamps. Adam Gase eliminated the physical components for Dolphins rookies, focusing on overall acclimation to the NFL. The Jaguars, whose 2015 first-rounder, Dante Fowler Jr., tore his ACL just minutes into his first rookie minicamp session last season, also reduced practice time. Both are following Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who has done this for the last few seasons. The move mostly strikes me as intriguing because almost every NFL coach I have spoken to has complained of the diminishing practice time stipulated by the CBA and its affect on player development. Gase, however, actually believes this is good for overall progress. Since players are fatigued from strenuous pre-draft training and traveling, Gase believes mental training—not just classwork, but learning the ins and outs of being a pro on topics such as nutrition, financial planning and how to deal with the media—outweighs the benefits of physical exertion at this time of year and ultimately curb “rookie wall syndrome.” Are three days of pads-and-helmet play really worth risking multimillion dollar investments?
2. I think Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract stalemate will end exactly as Sam Bradford’s mini-holdout did: unceremoniously. Fitzpatrick feels jilted over the Jets’ free-agent offer of $7 million to $8 million a year, after seeing the likes of Bradford and Brock Osweiler sign for more than twice that amount this off-season—and Chase Daniel getting about that much in Philly as an ostensible backup—but he will realize that his suitable landing options have dried up and he doesn’t actually want to retire. He’ll re-sign with the Jets without any sense of satisfaction.
3. I think the most underrated free agent signing is Brian Hoyer to the Bears. Jay Cutler hasn’t played in all 16 games since 2009, and Hoyer is a significant upgrade from last year’s backup quarterback, Jimmy Clausen. Plus, Hoyer’s four-interception-two-fumble playoff implosion last season is an anomaly. He is solid, if unspectacular, and a good value at $2 million.
4. I think the more I examine the Josh Norman-Panthers divorce, the more I am confident in categorizing it as simply business. While business is cold, though, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting. I spent time with Norman last week (story to come), and he told me Carolina rescinding his franchise tag “felt like a gut punch.”
POST-DRAFT PODCAST: With Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling
5. I think in related news, Carolina defensive tackle Kawann Short is in line to make a lot of money, now that a contract extension dialogue has reportedly opened. Panthers GM Dave Gentleman told PFT Radio last week that the Norman decision “was a matter of resource allocation,” and philosophically, Gettleman has built his defenses around sturdy defensive lines and complementary linebackers. Short’s looming contract status had to have been a consideration for Gettleman when he cleared Norman from the books.
6. I think I’m torn on excessive reporting on pre-draft workouts. While most of the prospect-and-team pairings don’t amount to anything, one session can convince a team to select a player. We learned that in Kalyn Kahler’s story on the Jets selection of Christian Hackenberg, and in a piece I wrote about why the Jaguars fell in love with Myles Jack—or, more accurately, believed his knee was not a draft-deterrent.
7. I think in reporting on Jack’s draft slide, a quote from his UCLA coach, Jim Mora, resonated: “I sat in 25 draft rooms. And I can say not one time did we make one single decision based upon anything other than our information.” I firmly believe Jack’s candid quote about his knee did not alter his stock. Two days before the draft he told the New York Post, “Down the line, possibly I could have microfracture surgery—potentially. Who knows what will happen?”) Yes, teams were concerned that Jack alluded to new details to which they were not privy, but once his agent assured them that his client simply was reiterating information that was already available to them, teams maintained their assessment. The truth all along was this: Some teams were going to feel comfortable taking a player with Jack’s prognosis, others weren’t.
8. I think if you’re still skeptical of Mora’s stance, look no further than the Cowboys’ drafting of Jaylon Smith. As some teams backed off the talented linebacker rehabbing from a serious knee injury, Dallas surprisingly took Smith with their second-round pick. One of the largest reasons why: the surgeon who performed Smith’s surgery was Dan Cooper, the Dallas team physician. Cooper had intimate knowledge of the knee and told Cowboys brass that he believed Smith would have a full recovery, and soon.
9. I think it’s admirable that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is bridging the gap between the secretive nature of NFL play-calling and the media’s attempt to dissect it for public consumption. Zimmer will host his third annual film session for local media, educating scribes on X’s and O’s and presumably contributing to more informed coverage. I can’t see a downside, especially at this time of year when playbooks are fluid, but I also don’t know if many coaches will follow suit regarding Zimmer’s goodwill gesture.
10. I think I loved the fact that Carson Wentz flew in five of his North Dakota State friends to the NFL draft in Chicago (and another chose to make the 10-hour drive in his pickup truck). I met Wentz’s crew at Auditorium Theatre shortly after he was drafted by the Eagles, and I found this quote from the quarterback’s backup at North Dakota State, Easton Stick, fascinating: “It just couldn’t be a better fit for him, really. He can go out there and live in the sticks, and kind of get a way from it all, which is his dream. He’s a pretty simple guy. What you guys have read and what has been reported is all there is.” When I asked them if there’s anything America doesn’t know about Wentz, they answered: He’s really good at pool. And he’s obsessed with pancakes.