Momentous Change Will Mark NFL Annual Meetings
PHOENIX — Usually, the media covering the annual NFL meetings, a Sunday-to-Wednesday affair, is into the story-manufacturing phase by about Monday. No such chance this week at the Arizona Biltmore, where a medium black coffee runs you $4.07. The slate of stuff:
Sunday night: NFL announces the hiring of a new chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills of Vanderbilt University. Sills, a neurosurgeon and the founder of the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center, presumably will focus on head trauma and what the league can do to limit it in a violent game.
Monday: Owners are slated to vote on the Raiders’ proposed move to Las Vegas. One source close to the process said Sunday it would be “a surprise” if the move wasn’t approved—and if you read commissioner Roger Goodell’s Friday night letter to the mayor of Oakland, I might raise “surprise” to “shock.” If it happens, this would end a 15-month period of franchise shifts, with the Rams, Chargers and Raiders moving, respectively, to Los Angeles, Los Angeles and Las Vegas since the start of 2016.
Tuesday: Houston coach Bill O’Brien and Denver coach Vance Joseph, at the annual AFC coaches’ breakfast, find new and exciting ways to no-comment questions about their interest in acquiring in-limbo Dallas quarterback Tony Romo.
Tuesday: Dallas owner Jerry Jones is slated to meet the press for his first official comments on Romo. Expect news, though I don’t know of what variety.
Tuesday: Owners, coaches, GMs to be briefed on the league’s time-saving proposals, including the one that changes the game the most: refs no longer going under the hood on replay but rather watching on a sideline tablet—and NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino for the first time retaining final authority on all replay rulings.
Wednesday: NFC coaches’ breakfast. Some new/cherubic faces—Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay—sidling up to the omelet station at the Biltmore, and surely some Kirk Cousins talk with Washington coach Jay Gruden.
Wednesday: Owners vote on Competition Committee proposals. (The vote could be squeezed into Tuesday.) Expect the Blandino final-say proposal to pass. “The competition committee was unanimous on this,” Goodell said this week on my podcast. “I think that holds a lot of sway in the room.”
Wednesday, early afternoon: Big black SUVs line up in the driveway of the Biltmore for the annual Owners Race to the Airport.
Now for a little bit of depth on a few of those stories.
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The NFL Ends a Relocation Era
I couldn’t find many (just one, actually) club officials or owners Sunday who thought the Raiders’ move wouldn’t be approved. The one was an AFC team official whose owner might vote against it simply because the owner thinks abandoning a rising team in America’s sixth-largest market—with some evidence that the revived Raiders could overtake the swooning Niners in the market, particularly with the 49ers playing 50 minutes to the south in Santa Clara now—for the 40th-largest market, Las Vegas. Obviously, Vegas has some unique aspects to it. But this would be the second rabid market in California in 2017 to lose a team for either a laissez-faire place (the Chargers leaving San Diego for Los Angeles) or a mystery place (the Raiders jumping from Oakland to Nevada).
“It is painful all the way around,” commissioner Roger Goodell told me Thursday in New York. “The first thing you think about is the fans. It's disappointment that we weren't able to get to a successful conclusion—I said that when the Chargers moved. We worked tirelessly to try to get an outcome that would allow the Chargers to stay there. We didn't get there, so I am disappointed in that. The same would be true if that is the case with the Raiders.
“We have sought to get stability for the Raiders for several years. This goes back several decades back into the early eighties and probably even into the seventies. We really want to figure out a way to make sure that all 32 teams have that stability and a stadium is a big component of that. When we don't get that done in our current market, it is a failure, a collective responsibility on all of us—us, the community, the team, and that is disappointing to us.”
Goodell clearly didn’t want to say it’s over to me. But it’s over. On Friday night, he sent a letter to Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf making it clear that Oakland’s last-ditch efforts to save the franchise were failing. “Despite all of these efforts, ours and yours, we have not yet identified a viable solution,” Goodell wrote. “It is disappointing to me and our clubs to have come to that conclusion.” On Sunday, Goodell told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio he felt the owners “will have a positive vote” for the Raiders, which can mean only one thing.
So Mark Davis appears to be following in the footsteps of his father. The late Al Davis spent 22 seasons in Oakland and couldn’t get a stadium deal done to his satisfaction. So he moved to Los Angeles in 1982; the Raiders stayed there until moving back in 1995. The Raiders, again, have spent 22 seasons in their second Oakland life, couldn’t get a stadium deal done to their satisfaction, and now the family heir will move the team south again. Southeast, actually.
For years the NFL treated anything in Las Vegas like it was poison. Two years ago, even, the league made Tony Romo cancel a fantasy football convention because it was to be held at a Las Vegas convention center that was on the same grounds as a casino. Now the league is poised to vote to put one of its 32 crown jewels, and one of its most storied franchises, in that same city.
On Thursday, I asked Goodell, “Why isn't the league put off by being in a place where there is legalized gambling?”
“We are not changing our position as it relates to legalized sports gambling,” Goodell said. “We still don’t think it is a positive thing. We want to make sure that the integrity of our game is the primary concern and we do everything possible to protect that. And that people are watching it for the outcome, and they know that it is not being influenced by any outside influences. We are very determined to continue that, and we will; that's a first priority for us.
“I think also you have to realize the changes that are evolving in society on gambling. Second: I think Las Vegas has evolved as a city. It’s not just a singular industry. While it is still dominated by [the gambling industry], there is a lot of entertainment going there, including political conventions. Our leaders in government are all going there. You see it a lot of different ways where this city has become much more diverse as far as the industry and the events it is attracting. It is really an entertainment city now, much more broadly than it would have been thought even a decade ago, much less two or three decades ago. In our analysis, we've been able to look at Vegas and it is actually one of the fastest growing cities in the country. We project by 2037 that it will be the same size as Oakland. It isn't now, but it is continuing to grow rapidly.”
The population of Oakland proper really isn’t the issue; it’s the entire market. The sprawling San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose area had an estimated population of 8.71 million in 2015, about four times the population of the extended Vegas market. City size, really, isn’t that significant. It’s market size that matters.
Regarding gambling: It’s understandable in an era of dried-up public funding that the league is going to try to find a way to make its gambling rules work when Nevada politicians promised $750 million in public money toward a $1.7-billion domed stadium in Las Vegas. But the NFL will now face an interesting new problem. Instead of players in most NFL cities having a casino or two within driving distance, players on the Las Vegas Raiders could go out at night and choose from 76 casinos in Las Vegas alone, according to Vegasclick.com. Imagine being the security officials for the Raiders, and the NFL, in Vegas.
NFL people assume Raider fans will follow the franchise—especially if it keeps rising. I don’t doubt fans will support a winner. But Las Vegas is a mystery, and everyone knows it. The Black Hole was filled, even in the team’s decade-long awful period that just finished. Will the transients in Vegas, and those who come to gamble, stay for a Sunday afternoon football game? Will Raiders season-ticket-holders from California follow the team to Nevada? No one knows.
By the end of the day today, the NFL likely will have traded fervor in two California cities for shiny stadiums in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Add in the Rams, and these three transient franchises, in the past seven seasons, have combined to win zero division titles and one playoff game. They’d better just win, baby, or the honeymoons in shiny new places won’t last long.
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Is Dean Blandino Ready for the Heat?
In the 2014 playoffs, Dallas receiver Dez Bryant was ruled on the field to have caught a crucial fourth-down, fourth-quarter pass while trailing Green Bay, 26-21. The Packers challenged, and ref Gene Steratore went under the hood on the sideline to view replays, and consulted with the New York officiating command center, run by vice president of officiating Dean Blandino. But ultimately it was Steratore’s call.
Steratore overturned the call. Steratore announced to the crowd in Green Bay, and to the rest of America watching on TV, that the pass was incomplete. Steratore explained why. And after the game, Steratore issued a statement to a pool reporter further explaining the call.
If the NFL has its way (likely it will), and owners vote this week for new mechanics on replay reviews—and for Blandino to have the final authority on replay calls—think how that scenario will change:
• The ref on the field won’t walk up to 40 yards to a hooded monitor next to the stands. He will walk several yards to the nearest sideline, and a replay technician will bring him a tablet and headset, and he’ll watch replays and discuss the outcome with Blandino or his lieutenant, Al Riveron, at the command center in New York.
• The ref will consult but not make the final call.
• Blandino, the decider-in-chief, will be the one getting the grief on the overturn, not the ref who made the call and took responsibility in the stadium.
Between meetings at the Biltmore late Sunday afternoon, Blandino, the career office guy, swore he didn’t think the likely vote to give him replay power would be much of a change. (How likely? The influential Competition Committee endorses it unanimously.)
“I really don’t see it as a major difference compared to what we’ve been doing,” Blandino said. “Other than New York having the final say, we’ve been doing this for three years. It’s been a collaborative effort, with the ref giving input. Ultimately, we’ll make the final decision, but it doesn’t feel like any more pressure than what we’ve been handling since 2014. I don’t think it’s going to change very much. The logistics of the referee having the hand-held device [the tablet] is different, but it’s more efficient.”
In 2014, I spent part of an afternoon in the command center to see how the mechanics of the replay review system worked. It was intriguing to see the refs on the field consulting with the league office in New York, but it was also clear that there was some time to shave from the process. On a Giants-Cowboys review of a fumble/non-fumble play, Blandino was occupied and so Riveron took control of the play, watching it at one of the replay stations in the Art McNally GameDay Central room. It was soon ruled the Giants’ player didn’t fumble, but now there was the matter of ball placement. And instead of ref Jerome Boger taking charge of the situation, it was Riveron taking control, because he’d seen more angles of the play by the time Boger got under the hood. “Guys,” said Riveron, “let’s get this straight. Listen up, listen up. Put the ball down at the 46-and-a-half and let’s measure.” The measurement confirmed the placement. End of review. Time: 3 minutes, 41 seconds. Waaaay too long. Later, Blandino told me, “Let’s get to the point, versus taking the scenic route.”
It made sense to me that day that New York should make the call. By the time Boger went under the hood to review the play in question, by my count, Riveron had already spent 20 seconds or so at the monitor looking at the fumble/non-fumble. On most replay reviews, that’s enough to make a call. It’s redundant for a referee to then look at one or more of the same plays that already show the result. Now, there are going to be some plays that are painstakingly close that the ref and Blandino or Riveron could discuss. But they’re not the majority. This is not only more efficient, it’s the smarter choice for consistency of the calls.
Blandino said the only issue from the membership was something a bit conspiratorial. “The concerns that I’ve heard is, Who’s in the room?” Blandino said. “We’ve been very clear. Access to the room … As an NFL employee, you get a key card. That key card gets you in the building and it gets you to your floor. It does not get you in GameDay Central. You have to have a working function. There’s a select group that has access to that room, and that’s it. Everybody in there has a working function.”
I’d be surprised if this failed. It’s a better way to run replay, and it still leaves the ref on the field with input in extenuating circumstances, or in the event that the decision is so close the eyes of the referee could sway the call. Either way, it’d be a new way to run a game. A better way, I think. As one member of the Competition Committee told me on Sunday, this has been the aim of the system since the ref-command center combination was introduced in 2014, to have Blandino and his team be the final arbiters.
Now, regarding the time of game, Goodell has been known to call his staff while watching games at home on Sunday. Occasionally, he rails about time wasters and the back-to-back commercial breaks used after some touchdowns. So he formed a working group last year of league employees to examine all time-sucks. The measures owners will vote on here are a result of those meetings and studies. For instance, when commercial breaks in a quarter have been exhausted and a touchdown is scored, a 40-second clock will be started after the extra point or two-point conversion is attempted. Once that 40 seconds expires, the ball will be handed to the kicker, and a 25-second clock will start. If the kicking team doesn’t kick by the time the 25 seconds ticks off, a delay-of-game flag will be thrown. Formerly, there wasn’t a rule about timing between PATs and the ensuing kickoff.
“We have 156 plays in a game,” said Goodell. “We are not talking about changing that at all. What we are trying to do, and what I believe we'll be successful in doing, is making the game from an overall fan standpoint both in the stadium and at home more compelling. We won't judge ourselves simply on does the game go from 3:07 to 3:02. What we’ll judge ourselves on is did we make it more compelling by taking out some downtime?”
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PAT Leaps, Kickoffs Through Uprights, More
Also of note this week:
• Credit John Madden when the NFL this week votes to abolish the field-goal or PAT play in which a defender leaps over the center to try to block the kick. (Exciting, I know, but risky.) The abolition of the play is expected to be approved. Madden, in retirement, is co-chair of the NFL’s safety committee and chairs the NFL coaches subcommittee. Madden turns 81 on April 10. He’s still a mentor to Roger Goodell and others on football and football-safety matters. When the subject of the kick-block-leaper came up, Madden told the Competition Committee: “Why should we wait till somebody gets seriously hurt on a play like this before we do anything about it? It’s got to be outlawed.”
• Buffalo and Seattle advanced a proposal to allow a challenge on any play during the game, without increasing the number of challenges. In a season when cutting time of game is of importance, that one has no chance of passing.
• Could a rule pass that incentivizes a kickoff through the uprights? Possible. Washington proposed it, and the one worry is that a team like Denver, in high altitude where balls carry better, could have an edge for eight games a year. (I’m serious. That is a concern.) Under the proposal, a kickoff through the uprights would result in ball placement at the 20-yard line instead of the 25 on first down. This could be close, but I would guess it will not pass.
• Now here’s one out of left field: Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian suggested to Goodell at the Super Bowl that the overtime be shortened from 15 minutes to 10. Goodell liked it (safety reasons—fewer plays), as did the Competition Committee. It’s not a huge deal, but the two overtime games that ended in ties last year had 39 and 36 plays in the overtimes. Not a big deal, but if those two games had 26 and 24 plays, respectively, that would reduce the threat of injuries a bit.
• Regarding the addition of the “double-box” on the telecasts: NBC has used this on NASCAR while cars are circling the track, and on the Ryder Cup. NFL Network actually, quietly, experimented with the double-box in Week 16 last year, doing a commercial on half the screen and showing a team timeout in Houston-Cincinnati on the other half of the screen. I’d expect this to be used during some replay reviews in 2017, to see if the system works.
• If the NFL is serious about limiting house ads on game telecasts, I’d be all for it. On my podcast this week, I brought it up with Goodell, and he talked about wanting to make the drama the late-game focus, not the league or network promotions. He said, “All of that is great. All of that is drama. That’s what we’re trying to get [networks and league merchandisers] to focus on, rather than seeing a promotion of, ‘This is how you buy a jersey,’ or ‘This is what’s going to be on the network next week.’ And we’re going to address that.”
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Kudos to Fox, and to Jay Glazer
A short conversation with the Journalist of the Week, FOX’s Jay Glazer, after he and his crew broke the story of Tom Brady’s stolen Super Bowl jersey being recovered in Mexico. Glazer later showed the video of Mauricio Ortega of Mexico’s La Prensa in and around the Patriots’ locker room, which implicated Ortega in the theft:
The MMQB: Tell me a moment that stunned you in the wake of the story.
Glazer: “It is so amazing how [Ortega] had it down to a science. He was a professional, acting like he belonged in the locker room, being very calm, very natural. He never fidgeted, never got nervous. We gathered a lot of video on him, obviously. When I showed it to Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman [of the Patriots], who were training at my gym in L.A., their reaction was incredible. It was like they’d been violated. ‘This guy was in our locker room and he didn’t belong! This is crazy!’”
The MMQB: How did you narrow it down to this one guy?
Glazer: “Seriously: just old-fashioned legwork from FOX, from the FBI, from Patriots security, NFL security, Mexican authorities. It is amazing. My bosses at FOX—Eric Shanks, who was huge through the whole process. He respected the NFL, and he respected the journalism that was being done. I remember being in his office when we realized it was this big figure in Mexican media, like if the editor of Sports Illustrated went to the World Cup and stole jerseys out of locker rooms there. Our jaws dropped. Seriously, I cannot say enough about how hard the team at FOX worked to get the footage and to get the story right. Joel Santos, one of our producers, and Ted Kenney going through hours of footage with our whole team. I know it’s corny, but just a real team effort.”
The MMQB: What’s the story mean to you?
Glazer: “I have never worked on anything like an international crime caper in my life. But that's what this was. You cannot be wrong on anything. Anything! At the end of it, though, we’re sports reporters. I am just happy at the end of the story one of the great players in NFL history gets something back that was stolen from him—and a game that was so significant to his family because of everything his mother was going through. I’m proud we were able to play some small part in getting that jersey back for him.”
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Quotes of the Week
—NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in a frank admission when I asked him Thursday if he was bothered by losing the passion of the San Diego fan base and possibly the Oakland fan base with the Chargers moving to Los Angeles and the Raiders seemingly bound for Las Vegas.
I say “frank” because I expected him to say the NFL will build fervent fan bases wherever its franchises are. Instead, he admitted the league will be missing something special being out of two supportive markets.
I can’t repeat this enough: The NFL is losing two of its best environments to play football—Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego and Oakland Coliseum. Both housed loud and intense crowds, win or lose (Oakland especially), and were the epitome of good home markets.
“Davis seems to be determined to move the team to Las Vegas, with a mindset hardened by the failure of Oakland to do anything until the Raiders were picking out drapes in their new house.”
—Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, on Oakland owner Mark Davis’s intentions on the even of the league meetings.
“You don’t have 32 starting-level quarterbacks in this league. You have about eight elites, and then you have the rest of the league. You have about eight, nine elite quarterbacks … He would be a starter on probably 20 of the teams in this league. But you’re telling me that you’re going to let other guys, you’re going to pick up some of these other guys and tell me that they’re starters?”
—Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, on Colin Kaepernick, to ESPN, via Pro Football Talk.
“We just felt we should put an end to it. We don’t think it’ll lead to more ties. Could it? It could. Are we concerned about that? No, we’re more concerned about player safety.”
—NFL Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay, on the proposal to change overtime in regular-season games from 15 minutes in duration to 10.
“I became the answer to a trivia question: Who started in place of Walter Payton in the only game he ever missed? I did. And we got destroyed by the Steelers. But I ran for 110 yards, which made me the answer to another trivia question: Who were the only players to rush for more than 100 yards against the 1975 Steel Curtain? The other: O.J. Simpson.”
—Former Bears running Mike Adamle, 67, who was diagnosed with dementia, to Dan Pompei in an enlightening and heartbreaking story for The Athletic.
It’s stories like this that are just so many bricks in the wall, and rightfully so, for parents who will not let their children play tackle football.
“Here is something Straight from the horse’s mouth … finding the best fit and helping a team win a championship is my main objective. I’m in no rush.”
—Free-agent running back Adrian Peterson, who turned 32 last week, in an extended Friday Tweet.
“I’m nervous, man. I’m just telling you, these things move … And we’re already at 1 o’clock basically, so … Okay, what do we got? [Pause. Listening.] … I got it all. … Just keep me posted. I’m like hyperventilating over here. … Yeah, so, it could happen in the next hour, next two hours, right? Are you going to send me, like, ‘Go?’ … Okay, I’m on the lookout. Thanksbuhbye.”
—ESPN information man Adam Schefter, on the first day of free agency, on a call mining for information on the crazy Brock Osweiler-to-Cleveland trade three hours before he broke the story, as relayed by Tim Rohan of The MMQB.
Rohan (words) and John DePetro (video) hit a home run on the first of The MMQB’s “24 Hours” series in 2017. The regular feature on our site will pull back the curtain on a day in the life of an interesting figure in pro football.
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Stats of the Week
Interesting byproduct of NFL injury research from 2016: This was the least-injurious season for starting quarterbacks in at least 12 years. Charting games missed due to injury by starting quarterbacks over the past four seasons:
The average number of games per season missed by starting QBs since 2004: 75.
The NFL defines this statistical category as being games missed by the declared starting quarterback of a team. So even though, for example, Cody Kessler did not open 2016 as the starting quarterback, he was knocked out of two games that he started (concussions) and missed a total of four games because of them. Those count on this list.
Why so low in 2016? Could be an outlier. Could be the start of a trend. The Competition Committee believes it’s because defensive players are getting wiser about late hits on quarterbacks, and officials are watching hits on quarterbacks with more focus, because the league office is harping on it so much.
Per Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, NFL coaches threw the challenge flag an average of 5.38 times in the 2016 season. Bill Belichick was dead last of the 32 coaches in challenge flags thrown. He threw one. “Overall, I haven’t really had many issues at all with the officiating,” Belichick told Reiss.
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Factoids That May Interest Only Me
The most interesting factoid from my podcast with Roger Goodell, recorded Thursday: The difference in average time of 2016 games, from the officiating crew that worked the shortest games to the crew that worked the longest, was seven minutes per game. Thus the desire to vote on two things involving officials: referees no longer traipsing to the hooded replay monitor next to the stands but rather getting the replays on a tablet.
In Unbreakable, the West Hollywood gym of Jay Glazer, Aaron Rodgers was training on Friday. “He’s been here about a month pretty regularly,” Glazer reports. He says that most players in the gym this offseason—Glazer has a slew of them—have a set schedule with trainers for working out. But Glazer said Rodgers was told, basically, Whatever you’re doing seems to be working. Keep doing it. We don’t want to screw you up.
Per The MMQB’s Tim Rohan, Le’Veon Bell of the Steelers put out his first album on Friday. There is a song on it called “Shrimp Bayless.”
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
This is the way to handle a cancelled flight:
Delta 2154, JFK to Phoenix, Saturday, Gate 66, Delta Terminal, at 8 a.m … Full flight. About 7:50, pilot comes to gate area and announces the plane has a mechanical issue and cannot be flown. Very apologetic. Says they’ll look for a new plane and keep us posted on exactly what will happen … Muttering, unhappiness. Gate agent tells everyone he’ll be in touch whenever he knows something … A few minutes later, gate agent announces drinks and snacks available for free. Locusts descend, politely … Maybe 20 minutes later, gate agent says a plane has been found, it’s in the hangar, and they’re going to roll it out as soon as possible, and please don’t leave the gate area … I call Delta to try to save a seat on a connector soon, because I fear spending five hours in JFK. Agent books me on a connector through Salt Lake City. Says let us know which flight you’d like within the hour … Plane arrives at Gate 67 around 9:10. Crew boards. I call Delta and cancel the connecting flight … We board. Aisle seat of exit row is comfy, excellent working environment. Depart at 9:53 a.m.
Land in Phoenix at 11:59 am.
Shuttle to car rental facility. Leave Hertz lot with car at 12:33 p.m.
In seat at Tempe Diablo Stadium at 1:06 p.m., in time to see the leadoff batter for the D-Backs, A.J. Pollock, fly out to right off Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs. It’s 78, sunny. Big crowd … I look out to center field. Trout. It’s a good day.
Nice job, Delta.
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Tweets of the Week
My thoughts re: @Kaepernick7? Teams don't currently view him as a starting QB, and NFL teams accept ZERO distractions from their backup QBs.— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) March 25, 2017
Sources: #Saints coach Sean Payton & Johnny Manziel were spotted together Super Bowl week, at breakfast. They discussed a return to football— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 23, 2017
No caption needed! pic.twitter.com/p9EIg4RbXW— Steve Smith Sr. (@89SteveSmith) March 25, 2017
We stand in full support of the #USWNHT players in their pursuit of fairness and equality.— DeMaurice Smith (@DeSmithNFLPA) March 25, 2017
These women understand inequality when they see it and are expressing their right to be treated fairly as athletes and workers. #USWNHT— DeMaurice Smith (@DeSmithNFLPA) March 25, 2017
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From “The MMQB Podcast with Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversations: Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian and Tennessee GM Jon Robinson.
• Polian, the GM of the expansion Carolina Panthers in 1995, on the late quarterback Steve McNair, and picking between McNair and Kerry Collins in the first round: “Now Steve was an absolutely arresting talent. I have never seen a guy throw the ball better than Steve McNair. He was outstanding. And he was outstanding in every other way and he was Johnny Manziel long before Johnny Manziel was ever thought of. He was more scintillating than Johnny Manziel because he could do more things. He could hit it at 60 yards at a string. We knew we were taking either Steve McNair or Kerry Collins. We get through all the psychological testing and we found out that Steve had a little bit of a learning disability. While not debilitating or disqualifying in any way, it would put him in a position where he was going to be slower to develop. We were in a situation where we had to sell PSLs and we were going to try to come out of the box really good … We thought Kerry was ready to play sooner and I was a little concerned that because Steve ran so much, he would get hurt. And it did take Steve awhile in Tennessee but of course, when he got it he was tremendous and we remained good friends until his unfortunate passing.”
• Polian on the choice between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf with the first pick of the 1998, when he was GM of the Colts: “I queried the scouting staff and it was 50/50 split right down the middle. So I said, okay, we are going to go back and look at all the film and we'll start from scratch, ground zero … We get to March and as much as I told everybody to block out the noise, you couldn't. Because it was, my Lord! It was like the Russians and Trump it seemed like every day. It was all anybody ever talked about. Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning? So the things we had heard were, with Peyton, number one, he is a poor athlete. Number two, he has a weak arm. Number three, he is a product of the system. To this day I don't know what that meant. But we went down to work them both out and we found out that Peyton is a much better athlete than you think. He just looks awkward but he's not. Secondly, he throws a terrifically tight ball. Really a good spiral. Every once and awhile he would throw a duck, but I found out that was only because he gripped the ball too tight on certain occasions. Two days later we go work Ryan Leaf out and he was out of shape and I remember saying to Tom Moore, ‘Holy mackerel. Peyton’s arm is much stronger.’ All these misnomers about Leaf existed out there in the ether. And then, I have to take you back to the combine, Leaf blew us off, he missed our appointment. Leigh Steinberg said that I had given him the wrong time. That's not true and Leigh has since came clean on it, I'm glad he did after all these years. So we hadn't interviewed Leaf. Peyton came in, he had his yellow legal pad, he sits down. Remember you only have 15 minutes to interview. We get through the pleasantries and he says, ‘I have a few questions if you don't mind.’ So he begins to ask us a ton of questions, about the offense, about the city, how we view things, how we view his role in the organization, etc. All of a sudden the horn blows. BLOOP. It's over. He gets up, he says, ‘Thanks guys, I really appreciate it, great meeting you.’ And walks out. I turn to our personnel director and Jim Mora and said, ‘He just interviewed us!’ Little did we know that is what we could expect for the next 14 years! We get through the workouts and we are interviewing Ryan, and Jim Mora says to him, 'We have minicamp opening on such and such date, and that's the first date you are allowed to report and I want to let you know, because if we take you, we are looking forward to having you there.' And he said, 'Well, I can't make it.' And the room went silent. Ryan says, 'Well, we have this trip planned to Las Vegas, my buddy and I, and we've had it planned for about a year, so I will be about four days late.' Jim didn't say anything. Jim said nothing to me. He didn't have to.”
• Polian on his last pre-draft interaction with Manning: “He gets up to leave, shakes hands and walks out and he says, 'I just want to leave you with this thought. If you pick me, I promise we will win a championship. If you don't, I promise I'll come back and kick your ass.’”
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think I’d like to salute my 1984 Wilmington College dorm-mate, Jack Brennan, on his retirement (Friday) from his job as the public relations director of the Bengals. Those days in training camp (at least in Cincinnati), the beat writers and coaches and executives of the team lived on the ground floor of the players’ dorm. Jack, then of the Cincinnati Post, was across the hall from me. Fun times. He morphed into the Bengals’ media guy for the last 23 years of his career, and he was one of the most easy-going, efficient, get-it-done guys I dealt with in the league. Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com got Carson Palmer, the Bengals’ first pick in 2003, to riff on Jack, and I liked what he said, because I know it to be true: “Jack took me under his wing and was a mentor to me. [Dealing with the media] isn’t something I was comfortable with and I’m still not. But he made it as pleasant as it possibly could. Being from Los Angeles, I was in a new market and he took the time to educate me. He’d let me know if I made a mistake, and if I said something he liked, he’d pat me on the back. He’s got a lot of knowledge because he’s been on both sides of it and you knew it. Even in the most crazy, chaotic weeks he was always rock-steady.” You’ll be missed in the business, Jack, as a person and a professional.
2. I think there’s one thing to add to what Joe Thomas wisely tweeted (in Tweets of the Week, above) about Colin Kaepernick still being unemployed 17 days into free agency: Think owners. Think of owners having to approve contracts of signees. Think of even quarterback-needy teams going to owners to sign off on signings. Think, for instance, of Houston. Think of the owner there, Bob McNair. TV cameras find McNair in his box at Texans home games, and who is sitting next to him, very often? Former President George H.W. Bush. Think of his private life; McNair is huge in the Republican Party, and according to USA Today, he has contributed more than $3 million to the campaigns of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. Think of Houston GM Rick Smith going to McNair and asking about signing Kaepernick, saying something like, We’re not sure if he’s going to start or be third-string, but we’d like to bring him to camp and see what he’s got and see if he’s a fit for our offense. Think of what McNair would think. McNair is one of the nicest men in the league—truly. But he’s not signing a man who knelt for the national anthem last year. I’m not defending that thought, the thought that Kaepernick doesn’t have the right to do that. He certainly does. I will defend it forever. But owners have the right, then, to not sign him when he comes available as well. You know how Kaepernick can fix that? Talk. Say something. We have heard nothing from Kaepernick since the end of the season. If my professional life were on the line, I know I’d take a proactive stance and make sure people know exactly where I stand. NFL owners, GMs and coaches have no idea what they would be getting in Kaepernick right now. All football? Part-time football and part-time protestor? What? Say something, Colin.
3. I think if we take away the emotion of this story—are teams blackballing Colin Kaepernick?—and bring the story down to football, the one thing that is undeniable about Kaepernick is that he does not attempt the throws into downfield windows like some of the consistent veteran quarterbacks. This is not to say he can’t do that; it is simply to say he bypasses throws the Tom Bradys and Drew Breeses and Russell Wilsons will try (and complete, often). You’ll look at Kaepernick’s 16-to-4 touchdown-to-pick ratio in 2016 and think he’s efficient in a sea of badness in San Francisco. But people who watch the tape think otherwise. They see a jittery guy in the pocket who either doesn’t, or won’t, make downfield throws that other quarterbacks do. The thing is, it’s easy to say he’s getting blackballed based on 2012 and 2013. But life changes. Priorities change. Who is he now? The people Kaepernick needs to convince have no idea who he is right now.
4. I think you can just feel Deshaun Watson rising.
5. I think it is absolutely absurd, still, that Vernon Davis will get fined and flagged for scoring a touchdown in an NFL game and celebrating by faux tossing the football over the crossbar as if it’s a free throw. Man, loosen up, NFL.
6. I think I can’t get over what a great job that was by Jay Glazer and his FOX team, combing through hours of video in a Where’s Waldo search for clues in the Tom Brady jersey caper. I don’t want to come across as a fan boy here, and I realize Glazer had home-court advantage; FOX owned much of the video he and the team combed through to get to the bottom of the story. But that is great journalism there. FOX should be proud of Glazer, and of those who helped him on this story.
7. I think it was smart for Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to write for Time about autism, and what our elected officials should do about it. Lurie speaks cogently about the bitter divisiveness in Washington and then about the disease that is felt in so many American families: “We have the opportunity, right now, to do what America is great at: devoting the best minds and necessary resources to tackle the human puzzles that cause so much suffering. Artificial intelligence, computer science, advanced data mining, biomedical science, genetics … the list goes on and on where our country is at the forefront and our people are ready to engage. All we are lacking is leadership. Imagine if Republicans and Democrats put down their swords just for a day to create a comprehensive multi-disciplinary, multi-occupational effort to solve the mysteries of Autism and uncover groundbreaking treatments.” Smart, and needed, writing by a voice that should be heard.
8. I think they’ll never say it, particularly with all the ramifications. But the Jets sure look like a team playing for opening day 2018. A stopgap veteran quarterback (Josh McCown), a dumping of veteran contracts (Revis, Mangold, Marshall, etc.), no aggressiveness in free agency while the Patriots keep getting better. Mind you, I think there’s nothing at all wrong with this. And this is true whether the Jets pick a quarterback with the sixth overall pick or not. No quarterback in this draft will hit the ground running in 2017 anyway.
9. I think the draft is a month from today. I’d like to invoke the mercy rule. Have it April 6. That way, we won’t have to read or hear or watch another month of speculation on 9,000 draft-related things—and hey, The MMQB will contribute to that, blatantly, because it’s big news. NFL teams simply don’t need that long to study the draft.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Good story by Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic on 20-year-old Devin Booker’s 70-point game for the Phoenix Suns on Friday night. “I always live by my motto, ‘shoot your next shot like you made your last one,’” Booker told Haller. Interesting primer on who Booker is and how he plays.
b. This is sort of a football thought: Tiki Barber ran the Jerusalem Marathon this month, a hilly killer of a marathon, the former running back’s fifth. “It’s unique because it’s not organized the way races are in America,” Barber said. “It was amazing running through the old city and seeing so many historic places. At one point, I ran with a Giants’ fan who moved to Jerusalem 12 years ago and we talked football. A punishing run, but fun, and beautiful.” Good for Barber, finding a sporting life after football.
c. Steve Hartman of CBS has a knack for telling great stories, and for giving exercise to tear ducts. He was on Long Island the other day to do a stirring story on a freshly minted police office with two prosthetic legs.
d. I am a Nutmegger, and I understand the NCAA wanting to drum up max interest and make max money in the women’s Division I basketball tournament. But you have to win six games to win the tournament. And this is the second year in a row the first four games for UConn are played in the state of Connecticut (first two in Storrs, third and fourth in Bridgeport). Is that fair? I mean, UConn would win these games if they were played in Yellowknife. But it’s a pretty big edge for UConn to play in its backyard for four games, particularly against foes from 3,000 miles away this weekend, UCLA and Oregon.
f. Don’t criticize a kid with great aspirations asking a reasonable question at a big-time press conference. Just don’t. You can’t win. You shouldn’t win.
g. TV Quiz: What was the TV name of the district attorney who opposed Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) in “Perry Mason” for the 10 years (1957 to 1966) of the series? Answer down below.
h. Coffeenerdness: I know I wrote you a love letter earlier in the column, Delta. But the coffee. Please make it richer, darker, something more significant than what you now brew.
i. Beernerdness: Tempe Diablo Stadium is the perfect spot for a ballgame on a 79-degree sunny day, in part because of the beer stand between home and third base. That Four Peak Brewing Peach Ale (Tempe, Ariz.) is a gem. A fruit-infused beer is only good when it’s not overwhelming, and this peach ale has a hint, a whiff, of Arizona peach (native peaches, the brewery says) in a low-alcohol, easy-drinking ale. Very nice.
j. Baseball is so scientific. D-Backs at Angels, Saturday, Kole Calhoun up for the Angels, shortstop Nick Ahmed shifts maybe 25 feet out onto the grass in right field, between the first and second baseman, both playing deep. I mean, for Kole Calhoun? And later, the shift was on for Danny Espinoza.
k. Regarding the World Baseball Classic: I liked it and watched a lot of it. Mostly the U.S. games. But I saw enough of the Puerto Rican team to know we are seeing a star grow up before our eyes: Francisco Lindor. What range, what power, what poise. Cleveland, you’ve got a gift.
l. Congrats to our guys. A one-and-done tournament is tough to make much of a judgment about the national teams of baseball powers. But the rules are the rules, and we won the games we had to win, and good for us. Biggest upshot as it pertains to the MLB season? Pitcher Marcus Stroman, the tournament MVP, may be graduating to a big-time pitcher. The Blue Jays will be better than anyone thinks, in part because of Stroman.
m. I could give two craps about how baseball teams celebrate, and I don’t think the mode of celebration means one little thing about the quality of baseball or quality of baseball players.
n. You didn’t demand, I deliver anyway. The roster for my Montclair Pedroias ballclub in our 12-team rotisserie baseball league in New Jersey (our 20th season): The sticks: Freddie Freeman, Greg Bird, Brian Dozier, Corey Seager, Nick Castellanos, The Panda, Yasmani Grandal, Mookie Betts, CarGo, Billy Hamilton, Carlos Beltran. The hurlers: Carlos Martinez, Masahiro Tanaka, Kenta Maeda, Gerrit Cole, Taijuan Walker (yikes: killed by the Angels on Saturday, including a moonshot home run by Pujols), Jordan Zimmerman, Tyler Glasnow … Kelvin Herrera, Andrew Miller, Jim Johnson, Ryan Madson.
o. Thoughts? I see a fifth-place finish in my future. Need saves. Need power (though Bird has seven homers this spring and will play every day for the Yankees).
q. And no, the fan was not Matt Patricia.
r. We have a President now rooting for the healthcare system of the United States to “explode” after he couldn’t get the votes to overhaul it. So glad we’re all trying to do the right thing for the people of this country, and pulling in one direction.
s. Gonzaga, in the Final Four. And not by a cheapie either. Good for them, and good for Spokane.
t. Nice job, Michael Bidwill of the Cardinals, sending a $10,000 check to a needy prep football banquet in St. Louis—though your franchise hasn’t played there for three decades.
u. Good to see you at PFT, Michael Gehlken.
v. The Devils made the playoffs in 17 of Martin Brodeur’s first 19 seasons, and then he turned 40, and played two more middling seasons for them. With the team now eliminated from playoff contention, it’s the fifth straight year New Jersey hasn’t made the postseason, after the 17-in-19 run.
w. TV Quiz answer: Hamilton Burger. Credit for one of the greatest TV names in history goes to the man who wrote the “Perry Mason” novels, Erle Stanley Gardner. How he came up with that moniker, I do not know. But it is wonderful. And the actor who played Burger, William Talman, was a perfect pitbull of a DA. The show, by the way, had the best TV-show theme music of all time.
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The Adieu Haiku
Like father, like son.
Legacy move, Mark Davis.
Just Steve Wynn, baby.
(H/T to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times)
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