The news from John Schneider’s Wednesday interview on ESPN Radio in Seattle wasn’t that the Seahawks GM is listening to offers for star corner Richard Sherman.
It was that Schneider was talking so openly about it.
I’ve always argued to coaches and general managers that there is little gained or lost competitively in what they say to all of us in the media. But the fact is that because it happens so rarely—Schneider told radio hosts Brock Huard and Mike Salk that what “you’ve seen lately in the news is real”—a football exec simply confirming that he’s even listened to the idea of dealing a cornerstone is going to turn heads.
So I texted Sherman, and he gave me an answer that sounded remarkably similar to what his GM said: “Very little chance it happens, but both sides are listening. I honestly don’t have much more to say about it than what I’ve already said. We have a great relationship. … There is a lot of love and respect. There is no bad blood.”
As for the idea that the Seahawks might be sending him a message, Sherman quickly responded that he’s not taking it that way: “Not at all. I’m not in the least bit concerned about that.”
April is the time of the NFL calendar when you have to be careful parsing what you believe from what you hear. But at the very least, Schneider has swung open the door for business, and the Sherman trade story figures to linger at least until we know who’ll make up the Seahawks’ draft class at the end of the month.
In this week’s Game Plan, we’re going to dive in on Tony Romo, reheat a few leftovers from the annual meeting—including the reason for some of the, uh, buzz on marijuana emerging from it—and discuss where the expected top pick will be spending his draft night.
But we’ll start with the story that’s kind of come drip by drip over the past few weeks, before Schneider made it splash Wednesday.
Would it buck convention for a team in the middle of a championship window to deal a cornerstone, one who was arguably the face of the run to its only world title? Sure, it would. But Schneider and Pete Carroll aren’t prisoners to convention. They weren’t when they anointed a 5-foot-10 franchise QB, they weren’t when they dealt for Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin or Jimmy Graham, and they won’t be now.
So, as I understand it, the Seahawks are now looking at getting ahead of the aging of their core. Seattle has 10 players taking up 61 percent of its cap space—those guys count for a total of $101.26 million on the ’17 cap—and all 10 have played at least five NFL seasons. Seven of the 10 are 28 or older, and Earl Thomas and KJ Wright will make it nine of 10 before the season starts.
The idea here is to find a way to extend that aforementioned window, lots of solutions have been discussed, and the secondary is an easy place to start. Yes, the team’s identity has been built there, but Kam Chancellor is in a contract year, and Thomas and Sherman are up after 2018. Sherman and Chancellor turn 30 next spring. The three take up $32.156 million on Seattle’s cap. And this year’s draft is strong at both corner and safety.
That’s why Seattle had conversations at the combine involving Sherman—remember, Carroll’s scheme values safeties over corners—and let him know about it beforehand. It’s why the idea hasn’t come off the table yet. And it’s why Schneider didn’t seem to mind sending a signal affirming that over the Seattle airwaves.
For Sherman’s part, he’s seen players at his position like Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib enhance their Q-rating later in their careers by switching teams. It certainly won’t do any less to stoke his competitive fire.
So what teams would be most interested in dealing for Sherman? The Patriots and Raiders have been the two most mentioned as good fits, as both have needs at cornerback. But others could still emerge, especially in the days leading up to and after the draft. Remember, the draft is deep at cornerback, which complicates the market a bit for a potential Sherman trade.
And so it’ll come up plenty over the next few weeks. And with that, here are some other draft-related talking points worth watching as April 27 draws closer …
• WHO’S FALLING? From a talent standpoint, Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams is a Top 10 pick. I’ve heard him called a more explosive Bruce Irvin, and Irvin went 15th overall in 2013. But there’s the drug issue (Williams admitted at the combine to failing tests in college), and the gun charge, and a real question as to whether or not he’ll be able to grow past his problems. “He’s up there with the top pure pass rushers,” said one area scout assigned to the Tide. “The real question is his personality, and the trust factor with teams. The problems aren’t rare, it’s more whether the team can trust the person. Can he work through the problems? Is he smart enough to work through the problems?” Worth noting: Past personality issues with pass-rushers (Randy Gregory, Aldon Smith, Greg Hardy, Dion Jordan) aren’t helping Williams. I’d be surprised if he goes in the first round. And he may fall further than that.
• WHAT’S SAN FRANCISCO DOING? It’s the most asked question I’m hearing from teams, and Stanford pass-rusher Solomon Thomas has long appeared to be the leader in the clubhouse to go No. 2 after Cleveland takes Texas A&M freak Myles Garrett off the board. But I’d be surprised if GM John Lynch doesn’t make an effort to try and deal down and accumulate more draft capital. I’ve heard from a number of people that the Niners like Alabama LB Reuben Foster and LSU RB Leonard Fournette.
• WILL THE BEARS TAKE A SAFETY?Word is the Bears like both LSU’s Jamal Adams and Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, who are widely considered two of the best safety prospects to come out of the college ranks in years. The problem? It’s the idea of drafting a safety that high, and whether the impact will meet the price of the third pick in the draft. That would naturally make the Bears another candidate to at least explore trading down.
• IS ANYONE LOOKING TO TRADE UP? As of right now, the ranks are thin, and for a couple reasons. First, the quarterbacks haven’t built the momentum that Jared Goff and Carson Wentz did in 2016, and that position is usually a driver in major moves at the top of the first round. Second, as strong as this draft is, where it’s strong it’s also deep (receiver, tight end, corner, safety, edge rusher), so plenty of teams are thinking that the difference between, say, 5 and 15 or 10 and 20 isn’t huge.
• HOW WILL THE BACKS SHAKE OUT? I know a couple teams that like Dalvin Cook over Leonard Fournette, because of the 21st-century style of back Cook is. (It’s similar to why the Colts took Edgerrin James over Ricky Williams a generation ago.) And there are teams that like Joe Mixon, as a player, more than Cook. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said to me last week he wants a team that can run it when the opponent knows what’s coming. So would Fournette be in play at 4? I’m hearing Mixon is likely to go in round two or three. Whenever he goes, it’s a big and complex story. Add in Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara, and this historic class of backs will be pretty compelling to watch when we get to Philly.
• AND THE QUARTERBACKS? Remember, everyone believed the Jaguars were not taking a quarterback with the third pick in 2014. And then they did. So take that into account when I say that there’s very little buzz for the quarterbacks inside the top few picks, with Buffalo at 10 (yes, even with Tyrod Taylor under contract) being the earliest selecting team being connected to the group. This one, of course, will evolve in the coming weeks.
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FIRST AND 10
1. The vote on changing the celebration rules has been tabled, but commissioner Roger Goodell is privately advocating more leniency, telling those around him he believes it’s what’s best for players, officials and fans.
2. To that end, and potentially during draft week, the plan is for Goodell to meet with a cross-section of players—including some who’ve been habitual offenders —to discuss what makes sense in reforming the celebration rules.
3. I’d be stunned if the Krafts gave Bill Belichick the OK to sign Adrian Peterson. So Peterson’s visit, I believe, was just a two-way favor—creating some heat for Peterson, and the Pats putting some heat on unsigned RB LeGarrette Blount.
4. The NFL’s $50 million Amazon deal to stream Thursday Night Football live is worth your attention. It’s worth five times what last year’s Twitter deal was, and it’s likely a precursor for upcoming changes when the TV deals expire in 2022.
5. The Bills opened their offseason program this week, and what stuck out to players quickly is how straightforward and detail-oriented new coach Sean McDermott is. And, of course, they noticed the pool table was gone.
6. Also while we’re here, it’s worth noting that the players in Buffalo already see one on-field difference from the Rex Ryan regime. Per one vet, “You can see the schemes are simple, and intended to help the players play fast.”
7. I like the Rams signing veteran center John Sullivan. The team poured a ton of draft picks into the line the past few years, and having Sullivan and AndrewWhitworth aboard should help OL coach Aaron Kromer bring the young guys along.
8. Good creative move by the Eagles to replace Bennie Logan with the talented-but-inconsistent Timmy Jernigan. On paper at least, Jernigan is a better fit for Jim Schwartz’s attacking, upfield scheme than he was in Baltimore.
9. If I was Blake Bortles, the Jaguars bringing Deshaun Watson to Jacksonville this week would get my attention. And given that Tom Coughlin is in charge now, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the whole idea from the start.
10. Now that Tony Romo is out, the Broncos QB competition should be fascinating. New offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has always fit his scheme to his QB deftly, and so what he might be able to do for the talented-but raw Paxton Lynch merits watching.
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1. Could Tony Romo still come back? On his CBS conference call, the retiring Cowboys quarterback hardly closed the door on the idea that he could trade his blazer for a helmet in the fall. The next question, then, would be whether he’s capable of it. And my feeling is that will boil down to how he spends his downtime now that he’s a professional broadcaster.
Last November, just before Romo asked for the opportunity to win his job back from Dak Prescott—a request that was denied—Romo put on a show for his coaches. Playing Ben Roethlisberger on the look team—the Cowboys had Pittsburgh that week—Romo flashed all the athleticism and arm talent that fueled his breakneck style of play for 14 years as a Cowboy. “It was clear he could make all the throws he’d made in the past,” said one Dallas staffer. “He was very aggressive, made some decisions I’m sure he wouldn’t have in a game, but it was scout team, so there was little consequence. He had some pocket collapsing situations with the backup OL vs. the first DL, and his accuracy, arm strength, and vision all looked up to his standard. There was some rush, working with some receivers he hadn’t before, but the elements were there.” From what little tape Romo had over the past two years, others teams saw glimpses too. “From the little bit he played in 2015,” said one rival defensive coach, “yeah, it still looks like he has something left in the tank.”
Now, the flip side of this would be Romo’s will to play. As I mentioned in my Wednesday column, Romo didn’t show up to camp the past few years in peak condition. And while he could work his way to where he needed to be, to some on the Dallas staff, that was the first sign that his desire to play was beginning to wane. It is, in fact, one reason why those staffers took Romo’s flirtation with the TV networks seriously from the start. And that was when he actually had a season to prepare for. Now that he doesn’t? It’s fair to wonder whether or not he’d even be physically ready to play in September or October. Could he be? I think so. Will he be? That much is up to him.
2. What’s left in Lynch’s tank? The idea of the Raiders adding Marshawn Lynch for what could be their swan song in his hometown of Oakland is awfully poetic on paper. In practice … we’ll see. Lynch only played in seven games in 2015, and rushed for a career-low 417 yards on 111 carries at a career-low 3.8-yard per clip. He’ll be 31 in two weeks, and his punishing, upright style hasn’t historically been sustainable for aging backs. Still, I think he has a chance.
I don’t think the question is whether or not he’s finished—it’s if he can stay in one piece. In other words, if he’s healthy and in fighting shape, he can still be a force, but that right there is one big if. He battled abdomen, hamstring and calf injuries that limited him to seven games in 2015, but according to those who faced him, what they got wasn’t far off from vintage Lynch. Remember, he was playing behind a struggling line, and Russell Wilson didn’t come alive until after Lynch began his extended stay on the shelf at the end of November and through December. One defensive coach whose team played Lynch in 2015 explained, “Russell made some big plays running it and extending plays, but the game plan was still to stop the run game first. Maybe he wasn’t at the same level as he was in 2014, but we still felt like we needed three guys to tackle him. So done? No. We had to sell out, completely commit to stopping the run to minimize his damage. We hit him pretty good.” One staffer from another 2015 Seattle opponent put it succinctly: “He was still their offense.”
In his last regular season game as a Seahawk, Lynch averaged 5.3 yards per carry against a good Arizona defense. When he came back for the divisional playoffs, the Panthers took a quick lead on Seattle, which limited the Seahawks’ ability to lean on the run game. Lynch finished that one with 20 yards on six carries. The bottom line here? The Raiders need to manage him right, but can probably still squeeze good production out of a player who has nearly 300 fewer career carries—about a full season’s worth—than his draft classmate Adrian Peterson.
3. The NFL’s marijuana issue, and what it means for the future. Last weekend, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported that the league’s 32 owners held a meeting amongst themselves at the larger annual meeting in Arizona to discuss sensitive issues on the future of the league. And there, Florio reported, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spoke about lifting the league’s ban on marijuana in light of changing attitudes nationwide towards the drug. That’s interesting, and not just because there are plenty of players who find their own ways around the league’s policy on marijuana. Sources say the same subject was on the docket for the union’s player rep meeting, also in Arizona, the week before.
So both sides are talking about it. Now, it’s not like this is a show-stopping issue for either side, but there’s acknowledgement that simple discussion over it is one thing that could spark CBA extension talks. A potential change to offseason rules—we reported last week on how a group of four head coaches met with the league to talk about that in Arizona—is another. From the NFL’s view, the current CBA has worked, which is why the league is very open to the idea of revising some policies and procedures, and tacking on a few more years to the current deal, perhaps to get it past the 2022 expiration of the current television deals. What the league has told the union it won’t do is negotiate different CBA issues piecemeal.
So the desire to get some change based on how the nation’s feelings on marijuana have changed the past six years, and how the results of the scaled-back offseason program have played out, could help both the union and league get ahead of another work stoppage at the beginning of the next decade. The biggest winner if that happens, of course, would be all of you.
4. Relocation game over? Lost in all the recent Las Vegas news, and the L.A. relocations before that, was the bitter part of what were bittersweet conclusions for three franchises. NFL vice president Eric Grubman was put in front of the league’s Los Angeles effort a few years back, and became a de factor spokesman for 345 Park’s work in trying to find stadium solutions for the Chargers, Raiders and Rams. And so I asked if he was disappointed not to find solutions in San Diego, Oakland or St. Louis.
“It’s very disappointing to me personally and professionally,” Grubman answered. “Each of those markets has passionate fans, and each of those markets has the building blocks to support professional sports franchises and those building blocks didn’t get put together. And I was one of the people who tried, so it’s hard not to be disappointed to try in three places and not get any of them done.”
For Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt, who has grown into one of the NFL’s most influential voices over the past half-decade, these changes hit home in that they came at the expense of his long-time division rival cities. “Going back a year, year-and-a-half ago, I was hopeful we’d have as little relocation as possible,” Hunt told me. “And that’s just personal perspective on my part, those teams have great fan bases and I think the league is better served for teams to stay in their markets. We recognized it was likely a team was going to go to LA, there was momentum on that, and I hoped we’d have one team go to LA and that’d be it. So I’m disappointed with the way it turned out, particularly since two of the teams are our divisional rivals. We have great history with both those franchises that’ll continue but in different markets.”
Of course, I’m sure all that is little (or no) consolation to the angry people in the three cities the NFL just abandoned. But I think it’s important to know that this wasn’t exactly viewed as a roaring success in every corner of the league.
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OFFSEASON LESSON TO LEAVE WITH YOU
Myles Garrett won’t be within a thousands miles of the NFL-appointed draft capital of Philadelphia when the Browns (presumably) make him the first overall pick. And because this is even news in the first place, I’ll use this as your reminder for the week: The NFL draft is big business. And it should also show that there’s hay here to be made for everyone, players included.
So rather than being where the league would like him to be, Garrett plans to spend draft night around family and friends in his hometown of Arlington, Texas, and he’ll do it with the NFLPA helping to recreate much of what he may miss being at the big show.
Garrett told his agent, Bus Cook, a while ago that he wanted to stay home on April 27, and afford more people close to him the chance to experience the night with him. Cook then mentioned that to the union, and the union came up with the idea to run the show through ACE Media, which launched in September 2015 as an extension of their for-profit arm, Players Inc. Plans are well underway.
“This is something we’ve wanted to do for a while,” NFLPA president Eric Winston said Wednesday afternoon. “We wanted to give guys the opportunity where they don’t feel like they have to go to the draft, they can have the day at their house and host all their family and friends, but still be able to capture it for them. And to have Myles Garrett, maybe the first pick, do it is awesome.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll be producing something pretty cool for Myles and ACE.”
ACE is still in its infancy, but the concept upon launch was to find a way to capture the off-field lives of players, and the execution of the concept has already had a few trial runs.
The media arm partnered with E! to produce the dating show Chasing Kelce, which starred Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, and has also worked with Spotify to set up a players playlist exchange. And it’s involved players, like Seattle’s Michael Bennett, who have an interest in getting into this type of media post-career.
How they’ll handle Garrett’s draft night is still up in the air. ACE may stream it live, or just do produced content. And to what level ACE will make its access to Garrett exclusive is still to be worked out.
But it’s clear here that Winston and Co. envision this being a launching point. Winston spent his draft night at home in Texas, and having that experience in 2006 is part of his motivation. He wants others to have the option to do it without worrying about not being able have the record of it being on-site would give them.
Garrett will be the only one ACE does this for this year. But there’s a good chance that the union will grow this in 2018 to where ACE is doing multiple players at multiple sites.
“He’s just the start, we hope to do a lot of this in future drafts,” said Winston. “This doesn’t apply to Myles, but the opportunity to not have to go to the draft and sit through two hours of not being picked, and have it not just be your parents and brothers and sisters, but also all your friends and, since you can’t bring everyone to the draft, that’s what we want to give them.
“We hope this will allow all the notoriety they’d want, but share it with everyone that played a part in it.”
And if it works out, Garrett won’t just be doing that, but also helping build a burgeoning piece of a union he’ll soon be a part.
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