Plus, why Cowboys fans should be a little worried about Dak’s postseason debut, the ridiculousness of Indy’s Gruden flirtation, why Deshaun Watson would have plenty to prove at the Senior Bowl and more
1a. The Chargers made a really good head-coaching hire in Anthony Lynn. And yet, there’s no way they won’t have the worst offseason of any NFL team.
Taking a more aerial view of the franchise’s move to L.A.: The Chargers will move from a city they wanted to be in. They will move to a city that they don’t want to be in. That city doesn’t want them, and they will be about the 17th most popular sports team, somewhere between Long Beach Poly football and Gaelic football’s Culver City Cougars. They won’t stay in the city that wants them, because taxpayers weren’t willing to give public money to a billionaire who’s part of an organization that makes more than $10 billion annually. They will serve as a tenant for a different franchise that doesn’t want them as a tenant. And until that other franchise’s new palace is ready, the Chargers will play in a stadium more appropriately suited for hosting a child’s birthday party than hosting an NFL game.
So in one way, Dean Spanos’s actions calls to mind a certain C. Montgomery Burns:
Although I don’t remember Monty Burns ever looking this foolish. Spanos and the NFL have put themselves in the rare position of looking greedy and incompetent. That’s not easy to do.
1b. Honestly, this is nothing short of utter humiliation for the Spanos family, the Chargers organization, and the NFL. I consider myself something of an out-of-the-box thinker, but the solution on this one seemed obvious: Owner with billions of dollars and organization with tens of billions of dollars should have figured out a way to fund a $1.8 billion stadium themselves.
1c. Even if you set aside the ethical argument against the practice of raising public funds to hand over to a billionaire, and even if you want to minimize that hotel taxes often have a negative effect on tourism, who would have footed the bill for the inevitable cost overruns on new stadium construction? And who would have footed the bill for the maintenance costs and upgrades the Chargers would surely be asking for a few years down the road?
San Diego will be fine; there’s plenty of stuff to do there and plenty of reasons to visit aside from eight football games a year. The biggest tragedy is the loss of this fight song:
1d. On the positive side: One thing that might get the fans in L.A. excited about the Chargers? Offset language precedent is coming to town! Wake up the kids and tell ’em all about it!
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2. I know stadiums are important. Big, gaudy, Jerruh-style palaces are nice for an owner’s ego, and they give a boost to the franchise’s estimated worth. (Friend of the show Jack Dickey had a good take on the NFL’s stadium fetish over on SI.com.)
But the gameday experience at a typical NFL game is still, to put it nicely, “crappy.” There’s the actual game, which is just better on TV (though perhaps augmented reality becomes a solution). For me though, as a lame-ass parent, the bigger problem is that NFL games tend to be NC-17 experiences. The NFL is a sport so often marketed to appeal to our base instincts. I’ve been to many games in many stadiums as a fan, and rarely have I heard Andy Benoit-esque conversations carrying on around me. It’s a lot of dudes who like collisions + drinking beer + ogling cheerleaders + loudly rooting for their team but even more loudly rooting against their team’s opponent. It’s a notch below the lowest common denominator. Like if the lowest common denominator had spent the morning huffing paint in a shed. It’s a giant bar. Most stadiums have family-friendly sections, and that’s all fine and good. But if the pub ropes off a “family section” in the back, I’m still not taking my kids there for dinner.
For the cost of bringing your family of four to a game to sit among the inebriated, you could buy your kids Sega Dreamcast, or a couple of Zunes, or whatever the hot new toy is. And on top of the money, there’s sitting in the elements (my pastiness makes the sun my greatest nemesis, but there’s also the cold, rain, etc.), the aggravation of traffic. The 45 minutes to get through the gate because everyone has to be patted down like you’re all about to step into Attica.
And don’t get me started on concessions and access to bathrooms. Forget about water if you’re at the Coliseum… How quickly this devolved into an Andy Rooney monologue.
So if you’re a Chargers fan and you miss going to the games, don’t. Just watch them on TV. It's still much better.
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3. I thought some things about the Falcons’ victory over the Seahawks:
a. Depending on how things go with the 49ers’ opening, I think three years from now there will be a few owners typing “I should have hired Kyle Shanahan” over and over and over again on their Remington typewriters while descending into madness.
b. Could you imagine if this team goes to the Super Bowl and keeps its entire coaching staff in place? Shanahan’s passing designs make magic out of Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, a couple of good backs and a bunch of utterly fungible warm bodies.
c. I know you’re not supposed to bet on offense, but this team might score enough points to win the Super Bowl. And the Pro Bowl.
d. In regards to Julio Jones’ aggravated toe injury, I share his pain. I ripped up my toe playing rec-league basketball four years ago and I aggravate it every other game now. But Falcons fans can be thankful that their best player isn’t a 5-foot-9, 37-year-old non-athlete who shies away from physical contact.
e. The DeShawn Shead injury was a shame. He’s emerged as a legitimate No. 2 corner this year.
f. Apparently the Seahawks addressed their dire offensive line situation last offseason in the same way that one might try to put out a fire by dipping kindling in gasoline and then gently throwing it at the fire. Maybe one day, George Fant, but not any day soon. Back to the drawing board.
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4. I thought some things about the Patriots’ victory over the Texans:
a. That’s pretty much as bad as the Patriots can play offensively, and they still won by 18. It should serve as a nice tune-up for the AFC title game.
b. Jadeveon Clowney is a beast, and A.J. Bouye is rapidly becoming one of my favorite players. He was just monstrously improved this year. The Patriots offense played poorly on Saturday night, but the Texans D had a lot to do with it.
c. Of the 30 or so times a year that an F-bomb makes it through the television waves of an NFL broadcast, I feel like it’s Julian Edelman about 26 of those times.
d. Brock Osweiler isn’t going anywhere in 2017. No one’s trading for him, and the Texans would take a $25 million cap hit if they cut him. There’s no good reason they shouldn’t keep him on as a No. 2 QB in 2017, then let him go after the season when he would come off the books for virtually nothing. The Texans aren’t going to dip into free agency for a quarterback again this offseason, Tom Savage makes $750,000 next year, and a developmental rookie won’t make a whole lot more.
e. One thing in defense of Osweiler [ducks]: This is a very difficult system to pick up, especially in one abbreviated offseason. And on top of that, DeAndre Hopkins isn’t for every quarterback. He doesn’t create a lot of separation; he’s a contested catch guy. Learning to throw it to a guy who’s covered can be a tough mental hurdle for a QB, especially one who’s uncomfortable in every other facet of a new system.
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5. As good as he’s been this year, Dak Prescott is about to step into a different world. Playoff football has not been kind to rookie quarterbacks.
I think we all remember where we were on Sept. 19, 2004: the day Tommy Maddox took his last snap as an NFL starter. Ben Roethlisberger, who really wasn’t supposed to play that year, stepped in. The Steelers won all 14 of his regular-season starts to finish 15-1 and take the 1-seed in the AFC.
I’ve said a few times this year: There are a lot of similarities between 2004 Roethlisberger and 2016 Prescott. Both stepped into situations where they could be complementary pieces (the ’04 Steelers were built on defense and running the ball, the ’16 Cowboys are built on running the ball). Both are capable of making out-of-structure plays due to their size and athleticism. Both their first names are three letters long. Both were born in the United States. Both inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. And that is literally everything they have in common.
So rewind back to 2004 (actually, January 2005 if you want to be factually correct), Roethlisberger’s postseason debut. He was a different player. A significantly worse player. The Steelers were hosting the Jets, and Roethlisberger was suddenly tentative in the pocket and positively Tebow-esque with his accuracy. By all rights, the Steelers should have lost that game (Jets kicker Doug Brien missed field goals of 47 and 43 yards in the final two minutes of regulation, and Pittsburgh ended up winning in overtime).
The stage hasn’t been too big for Prescott at any point in 2016 (and starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, with Tony Romo waiting in the wings, is a big stage). But for a lot of young quarterbacks, postseason football is different.
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6. There’s no real logic in picking the Packers to win in Dallas on Sunday. The Cowboys are the better team, and they’re at home. If you’re picking the Packers, it’s simply because you expect Aaron Rodgers to keep standing on his head.
And yes, Rodgers is playing absurdly well at the moment. He is to quarterbacking what Justin Tucker is to kicking, and that is literally the highest compliment one can give.
But let’s say the Packers come out slow, like they did last week. The Giants have a great defense. But the Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie injury was huge in Lambeau; not only did the Giants lose their only capable slot corner, but also their flexibility to use Landon Collins in his best capacity: as a blitzer. (That exposed their inability to generate pressure with a four-man rush.) The Giants D with Rodgers-Cromartie is much better than Dallas’s, but without him I’m not sure there’s much separation between the two units. The Packers had negative-8 yards of offense through the first quarter, and 29 yards of offense with less than four minutes to go in the first half.
The only reason they weren’t fighting for their lives at halftime was because the Giants’ ill-conceived offense couldn’t generate any points, plus a Rodgers Hail Mary. That won’t be the case if the same scenario plays out in Dallas. If the Packers come out like they did a week ago, they’ll trail by multiple possessions at halftime. Then they are playing the game on the Cowboys’ terms. They’re going to ask a flawed defense to stand on its head and consistently stop the best run game in football. That’s a recipe for a loss, no matter what Rodgers can do in the second half.
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7. Every offseason, I feel like the owner who most shows you his ass is whomever chases Jon Gruden. So, take it away, Jim Irasy…
Rumors true: Colts owner Jim Irsay did pursue Jon Gruden, but Gruden resisted overtures, league sources tell ESPN. Gruden staying in TV.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 14, 2017
I don’t want to say Gruden can’t coach, but let’s do our best Matlock impression and examine this more closely: Gruden hasn’t coached a game since the George W. administration (Jeff Garcia was his quarterback!). After winning the Super Bowl in which the Raiders forgot the opposing coach knew all their plays, Gruden went six games under .500 in the regular season and failed to win a playoff game over six seasons. He was an offensive coach who had kinda meh offenses—some might say middling at best, you might argue good considering the mediocre talent, but no one is looking back on those teams and having their face melted by the power of Ernest Graham.
He’s been out of the game. At this point, Gruden is “guy on TV.” That’s not a qualification for running an organization. If you wanted what Gruden brings from a football standpoint, you should have just hired Sean McVay. He took another job, but surely he’d have been willing to listen if you gave him a chance to work with Andrew Luck.
As for the Colts, I’m not sure where you go from here. Surely, you can’t go forward with Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson now that the Gruden Affair has gotten out (and you had to know it was going to get out). I imagine that somewhere there’s a stained Culver’s napkin with the following names scrawled on it:
Handsome fella from Friday Night Lights
Craig T. Nelson
Cast and crew of Big Bang Theory
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8. While I’m all about retread coaches, I do like the McVay hiring for the Rams. Though I fear it is going to take some kind of black magic to get Jared Goff back on track.
Goff never should have seen the field this season. Dak Prescott had a perfect situation in Dallas; for all intents and purposes he was often playing seven-on-seven, rarely having to lower his eyes. Goff was on the opposite end of the spectrum. Playing behind a line so inept at blocking that they’d start a tic-tac-toe game by putting an X in the top middle space, Goff was completely overwhelmed as a rookie. By the end of the year, he was taking the snap and looking only at the pass rush, a bright and garish warning sign that a young QB is on the verge of being ruined.
McVay oversaw one of football’s most well-designed passing offenses in Washington. But there’s only so much you can do if your quarterback doesn't look up to see it.
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9a. Daniel Jeremiah is right: If Deshaun Watson wants to be considered by the Cleveland Browns, he should absolutely go through practices at Senior Bowl.
Monday night’s performance against Alabama was wonderful, but there was little he could do to improve his draft stock. That Clemson offense has little in common with the one he’ll be asked to operate in the NFL. And if winning big collegiate games while running a Mickey Mouse offense was a recipe for NFL success, we’d be gearing up for this afternoon’s showdown between Vince Young’s Titans and Tim Tebow’s Broncos, and talking about how Johnny Manziel’s Browns were going to be a hot Super Bowl pick next year.
(It’s probably time to stop citing “performances against X college defense” as a way to assess QB prospects. If you want to pump up Watson’s two games against Alabama, then you also must acknowledge that Chad Kelly had two performances that were just as good, one of them in a victory at Tuscaloosa. Even before his knee injury, Kelly was not a first-round prospect, around the league or, if you care, in the media. Nick Marshall might have had the best performance any QB has had against Nick Saban, accounting for more than 500 yards of offense at Tuscaloosa! Marshall is the Jets’ No. 4 cornerback. So, no, two good games against Alabama does not prove much of anything as far as NFL prospects go.)
So here’s where we stand with Watson: He’s a great dude and a leader of men, he’s mastered a one-read offense, he has a good-not-great arm, he has the slight frame that will discourage any team that drafts him from using him as a runner. Since he doesn’t have overwhelming physical talent, the question is whether he can master a multi-progression passing game. He shouldn’t be expected to do that in 2017. But can he in 2018, or 2019? Is he going to learn at the same rate as Dak Prescott, or the same rate as Bryce Petty?
Watson is a developmental prospect. Expectations will be low at the Senior Bowl. He doesn’t have to prove he can grasp an NFL offense right away. All he has to do is prove he’s capable of learning.
9b. We go through this every year, but it’s worth repeating since people seem to constantly forget: Practices are what’s important at Senior Bowl.
9c. If you want to educate yourself on Watson in regards his NFL potential, I strongly recommend Emily Kaplan’s piece on the panel of NFL minds she gathered to watch Watson on Monday night: Mike Shanahan, Randall Cunningham and Josh McCown. (Or, just keep citing box score numbers from college games.)
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9.5. Surely, if you are here, you also read/watch/follow/like/love Peter King and already know the big news for PK and his family. I haven’t seen any of the Monday column at this point, but surely he’ll fill everyone in on the details.
I will simply say this, on behalf of all of us here at Gameday 10 Things: PK’s grandson is a cute baby. An absurdly cute baby. Like, that’s what Jimmy Garoppolo must have looked like as a baby.
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10. I think, at 4:36 p.m. ET, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play. Ladies and gentlemen, Faith No More…
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