Plus, the Chiefs’ shocking front-office shake up, David Carr’s little bro gets paid, Winston vs. Mariota, and a thought experiment about the Falcons’ Super Bowl LI play-calling
1. I think that if you haven’t yet read the Outsports piece about Ryan O’Callaghan, you should go do that right now. The lede of the piece is absolutely harrowing, as Cyd Zeigler writes: “Ryan O’Callaghan’s plan was always to play football and then, when his career was over, kill himself.” O’Callaghan, the former Patriots and Chiefs offensive tackle, hid his sexuality from the world for 27 years. He only played football because he thought that the hyper-masculine sport would conceal that he was gay. He told no one—not friends, not family, not teammates—until after his six-year NFL career ended because of injuries, and even then he only came out to a Chiefs team psychologist after he had developed an addiction to prescription painkillers and was seriously contemplating ending his life. The lengths O’Callaghan went through to hide his true self for nearly three decades is often times hard to stomach, and it’s a reality nobody should ever have to live through.
But there is a happy ending. When O’Callaghan came out, the Chiefs organization, and especially GM Scott Pioli, was incredibly supportive, to the point where O’Callaghan felt like there was no reaction at all. Nothing changed in his interpersonal relationships, nothing changed in how his NFL colleagues treated him—and that’s how it should be. But it’s not what O’Callaghan expected, especially not in the NFL, with its often-antiquated thinking. And now, after nearly 27 years of living with crippling fear and self-loathing, O’Callaghan’s life is in a very different place and he’s on the road to recovery with his addiction. O’Callaghan is sharing his story now in hopes it helps others in the LGBT community, and has said that he is “pretty positive that [NFL] teams would accept a gay player.” That shouldn’t be a newsworthy thing to say in 2017, but here we are. Read the story. It’s important.
2a. The Chiefs shocked the NFL community yesterday by announcing that they were parting ways with general manager John Dorsey, moments after they announced they were extending head coach Andy Reid. Dorsey is one of the most respected front office execs in the NFL, and will likely not be wanting for a job for very long. That this move came after the Chiefs let director of football operations Chris Ballard—widely considered to be a front office star-in-the-making—take the Colts GM job in January makes it even more peculiar. I think I have no idea what is going on in Kansas City.
2b. Also: I don’t think it is related, but Jeremy Maclin revealed to Adam Schefter on his podcast that he was cut by Dorsey via a voicemail left on his phone when he was on an airplane. As Maclin pointed out, he was cut so late on a Friday that his free agency wouldn’t be official until Monday, anyway. So Dorsey could have waited and told him on Saturday or Sunday, in a real conversation, and it would have had no deleterious affect for the franchise or the player. I think that would have been the professional and decent thing to do. Both of these decisions are confounding.
3. With the news of Derek Carr’s record-breaking contract extension yesterday, I can’t help but think about how remarkable Carr’s career has been. And that’s not because he is an emerging superstar (which he is), or that he has provided stability and hope to a Raiders franchise that had been woebegone and snake-bitten for over a decade (which he has). What always stands out to me when I think about Derek Carr’s career is that his older brother is David Carr.
Carr the Elder is one of the more infamous “busts” in NFL history, a sobriquet I never found particularly fair when you consider the team he was drafted by and the offensive line he played behind. (Being the quarterback for the Texans in those days was almost the same existence as being a tackling dummy.) Carr the Younger watched his brother live through that NFL life, heard him get ridiculed by fans and the media, and saw how that experience affected him. And yet here is the younger Carr, reshaping the narrative around the family name. It’s really a remarkable turn around. I am a sucker for redemption stories, and the Carr brothers have a good one.
4. With that said, I think Carr’s title as the highest paid player in NFL history will be a very transient one. Nowadays, the highest paid player in NFL history is whichever quarterback has most recently signed a new contract. Derek Carr’s $25 million per year just narrowly edged Andrew Luck’s extension from last year, in which he received $24.6 million per year (although Luck’s guaranteed money is still higher). In a league where success is directly correlated to having a star quarterback, a team that has that quarterback is forced to cough up whatever amount of money it costs to keep him. And that number will keep rising. The market has now been set by Carr’s extension. But it will be re-set when Matthew Stafford signs his extension, and then when Matt Ryan does the same shortly thereafter, and then probably Aaron Rodgers after that.
5. I think if I were a Jets fan I’d be devastated that the Patriots signed David Harris two weeks after New York unceremoniously cut him. Harris was with the Jets for 10 seasons, was a consummate professional and one of the team’s locker room leaders. Now he’s with the Jets’ archrival, where he will undoubtedly be a welcome and productive addition to Bill Belichick’s defense, one that will likely hold the Jets to single-digit points in both of their matchups this season. Remember that in 2014, Belichick had a glowing review of Harris, saying before a game vs. New York: “I have a lot of respect for David Harris… He’s a very instinctive player… He’s been very consistent, durable, dependable, productive over a long period of time.” If you’re the Jets, you don’t cut a player that Bill Belichick went out of his way to extol. It’s a great pickup for the Pats, and it’s a straight shot to the groin for the Jets faithful.
6. Remember when there was a fervid debate heading into the 2015 draft: Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota? Remember how we said we’d end up be judging their careers against each other for the next 15 years? History told us that one of the two would end up a bust, while the other would be a star. Two seasons later, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Both Winston and Mariota have been very solid starters in the league, and both have tremendous potential that they have not yet come close to reaching. And I think that this coming season will be a very interesting and important one for both quarterbacks.
With the Titans signing Eric Decker—to add to a dynamic receiving corps of Rishard Matthews and rookies Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor—they now have one of the more well-rounded offenses in the NFL. (Tennessee still has tight end Delanie Walker and the running back duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, plus a revamped offensive line.) The Bucs, meanwhile, got some new toys for Winston to play with in DeSean Jackson and rookies Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard. And he still has Mike Evans, a bonafide stud, and Doug Martin, a bell-cow back when healthy, at his disposal. I expect both QBs to take a huge leap in their development this season, and I think that they might both get the first playoff berths of their careers. But will one emerge as the clear leader in the completely contrived competition between the two as a result of their draft position? We’ll see.
7. Devonta Freeman said that if he had “stayed in the [Super Bowl], I would have got MVP.” I think that is an interesting thought experiment. For those of us in the press box for the second half of Super Bowl LI, there was much bewilderment about why Freeman wasn’t getting the ball more after slicing up the Patriots D in the first half. So I can understand where he is coming from with his feelings of what could have been. But I’ve seen this situation being compared to the Marshawn Lynch-Russell Wilson dynamic in Seattle a few years back, and I’m not sure I’d go that far. Matt Ryan was the league MVP last year, and the Falcons were an aggressive, pass-first team. They ran the offense that their identity was built around, in the most important half of their season, because they thought it gave them the best chance to win. Obviously that didn’t work out, and it’s easy to look back now and think about what they could have done differently.
I spoke with Mike Martz about this very idea a couple months ago. Martz, if you’ll remember, received similar criticism for his play calling in Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Rams lost to the Patriots. In defense of Kyle Shanahan and the Falcons, Martz said: “You have to be in their shoes, you have to have the time spent in the meeting rooms and practice. It’s totally different from what we see. If that’s what they thought was the best way to win, God bless them. It just didn’t work out. I would never second guess what they did.”
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8. What is Phil Jackson doing? Kristaps Porzingis is the best thing to happen to the Knicks franchise in 30 years, and now the Zen Master is openly, brazenly, idiotically shopping him around. For a second, let’s disregard the fact that it’s a bad basketball decision to trade a superstar-type player on his rookie deal. What’s even more concerning for the Knicks is that Jackson has decided to handle all of the franchise’s business through the media, instead of behind closed doors, making it so no free agent will ever want to play for the team again. First, Jackson alienated Carmelo Anthony in a wholly unnecessary and public way. Now, he’s pissed off a basketball unicorn. On Wednesday, Jackson addressed concerned Knicks fans by saying, “I think we know what we’re doing,” and, literally, not one person believed him. I think that never has someone who felt the need to declare that they “know what they are doing” actually known what they are doing.
Even more concerning, from a selfish perspective, is if the Knicks really do trade Porzingis all of New York will riot. They’d have to enact martial law. It’d be like the 1977 blackout riots, except this time James Dolan will be forced to hide in an underground bunker and despondently play his kazoo alone.
9. I’m going to take this temporary bully pulpit I have here and send my heartfelt congratulation to Emily Kaplan, who is leaving the MMQB to be ESPN’s new national hockey writer. For the uninitiated, Emily and I shared an office back in the old Time & Life Building, from the very first day I started at Sports Illustrated in July of 2014 (Room 31-115 for life!). I think that Emily is one of the best reporters I’ve ever worked with and also one of my favorite people. It is no secret that I am not an NHL person (my hockey knowledge spans no further than The Mighty Ducks; I constantly wonder why the knuckle puck is not utilized more), but I truly cannot wait to see what Emily does with that beat. I guarantee she’ll have creative and wholly original story ideas and be writing compelling features in no time, and I am looking forward to picking up a new sport as a result.
10. I think I am looking forward to heading down to dear old UVa tomorrow for the wedding of my college roommate, Matt Ellis, and his high school sweetheart, Sarah Webster. Matt and I were on the same dorm floor (Johnson third for life!) our first year in Charlottesville and—despite me being a northern punk and him being from Virginia (Northern Virginia, he’d correct me)—I quickly realized that he was the only one on the floor who I could talk to about sports. He’s a smart, knowledgeable and true sports fan, with only a few scorching hot takes (our Cal Ripken Jr. vs. Derek Jeter debates over the years have gotten heated). When we lived together our second year, he was one of the first ones to encourage me when I initially stated my ridiculous desire to break off the pre-med path I was on to be a sports writer. Sarah has put up with Matt’s insufferably depressing sports fandom (he’s a fan of the Wizards, Nationals, and Washington football team) for their entire adult lives, and is a saint for that reason and many more. I can’t wait to be back in the ’Ville tomorrow to celebrate the special day with you both, and wish you all the happiness for the rest of your days.
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