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Monday, March 12, 11 a.m. CT, start of the NFL’s legal tampering period, in the downtown Chicago office of agent Mike McCartney:

Indianapolis calls. Colts want free-agent center Ryan Jensen.
Tennessee calls. Jensen.
Kansas City calls. Jensen.
About 11:10, the first Kirk Cousins call. It’s Arizona GM Steve Keim.
Denver calls. Cousins.
Miami calls. Jensen.
The Jets call. Cousins.
Tampa Bay calls. Jensen.
Minnesota calls. Cousins.
It’s after 2 now, and McCartney has missed about 50 calls and texts.

On and on it went, for Cousins and Jensen and other free agents or trade targets in McCartney’s Priority Sports group—defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, quarterback Josh McCown, quarterback Trevor Siemian. Another client, Jags linebacker Paul Posluszny, was verging on retirement. After 48 hours of phones and texts and four-hour-sleep nights, McCartney went to the chiropractor Wednesday.

“You’re a wreck!” the chiropractor said, seeing and feeling McCartney all knotted up.

“You have no idea what I’ve been through the last two days,” McCartney said.

Anything in the NFL is old news if it happened 90 minutes ago, so covering something four days ago is so … ’90s. But indulge me. The Kirk Cousins story is still fresh to me, with lots of unanswered questions (Did the Jets get played? Was the fix in a month ago? Did the Broncos really not make an offer?) about the richest per-year contract in NFL history.

I’ve found the agent for Cousins, Mike McCartney, to be an honorable man in my dealings with him over the years. All of us in this business have to judge the people we come in contact with and make decisions on how much we trust them. Whenever McCartney has told me something, it’s been the truth. He mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago that he’d been keeping a journal on the Cousins negotiations, going back to the Washington days; he continued last week, when things got intense. So I asked him if he would run me through the Cousins sweepstakes, starting at 11 a.m. CT last Monday, when the NFL allowed agents and teams to begin negotiating. In an hour and 50 minutes on Saturday, he gave me his version of the events that led to Cousins’ three-year, $84-million fully guaranteed contract. A couple of things he would not discuss: He would not disclose any offers except the one that won—Minnesota. And though McCartney characterized the tenor of his talks with each team, he would not divulge privileged conversations with negotiators for any team.

At the beginning of the process, McCartney said, he and his staff produced a book for Cousins that detailed the seven teams he felt might be interested in Cousins once it was clear Washington was not going to make him a serious long-term contract offer: Arizona, Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Miami, Minnesota and the Jets. This winter he and Cousins had discussed in detailed phone calls each team—how close it was to competing for a title, who would coach him, the style of offense, the lifestyle of the area. And on Monday at 11, he wasn’t positive how many teams would call, but he had a good feeling that at least four would. He told each one to make its best offer. This was not going to last long. At the beginning of the process Monday, McCartney felt strongly that any of the four—Cards, Broncos, Jets, Vikings—could win. But he and Cousins, before any formal bids came, felt that probably Minnesota and the Jets had an edge. (More about that later.)

For Kirk Cousins and the Vikings, It Was About the Fit As Much as the Money

This process, McCartney decided, was going to be a silent auction. One offer per team. That would be it. Then a visit or two to a team (Cousins said he wanted to meet the coaches he’d be working with before signing anything); then a decision. “Kirk was not going to sign before he met the coaches and got a feel for the culture,” McCartney said.

It was a curious decision by McCartney. Cousins had waited more than two years for this chance to be on the open market. Now it was going to be a sprint? “I never used the words ‘silent auction,’” McCartney said Saturday, “but that’s what this was. I made it clear to each team that if they held back, it was going to hurt them.”

Two reasons McCartney wanted to do it this way: Because several teams had quarterback needs, he knew if one or two teams sensed they were out, Cousins’ market could deflate quickly. Teams are pragmatic; the fans want their GMs to shoot for the moon, but in this game of quarterback musical chairs, if one team had only one other quarterback it really wanted—Denver and Case Keenum, for instance (which was the truth)—and learned it wasn’t the front-runner, there’s a good chance it would exit quickly.

And a fully guaranteed deal was going to be a high priority. Surprisingly, this wasn’t a big problem with the teams wanting Cousins. “There will be no discounts,” McCartney said.

The pitches were strong, without many upsets. Arizona pushed its strong core of young premier players (David Johnson, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson). The Jets pushed their $100 million in cap room, the fact that offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates would continue the kind of system and game-planning that Cousins knew from Washington, and that he’d be a franchise quarterback in the biggest market in the league. The Vikings felt they had everything in place to win multiple titles except a premier quarterback—plus a new facility and a new stadium.

Denver? The Broncos didn’t make an offer. This went to McCartney’s reason for making this a silent auction: Denver liked Keenum, didn’t want to pay in the neighborhood of $30 million a year guaranteed for a quarterback with so many other prominent players to pay. It came down to this for John Elway: Keenum for $10 million to $12 million per year less than Cousins, and the Broncos knew near the start of the legal tampering period they could get Keenum. Ten hours into the period, Denver had reached agreement with Keenum on a two-year, $36 million guaranteed deal.

McCartney understood Elway’s approach—Elway didn’t want to be left at the altar. McCartney did think, What harm would it do to make an offer? But Elway liked Keenum a lot, and felt he couldn’t wait until Thursday or Friday to see if he’d get Cousins.

Meanwhile, McCartney found time to discuss the three offers with Cousins that afternoon. There were no others. They prioritized Minnesota, because the Vikings were amenable to making Cousins the highest-paid quarterback in the game, fully guaranteed, at about three years and $84 million, and they were the closest to winning now. But Cousins was firm that he wouldn’t sign until he met the coaches and staff—he did not know offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, and didn’t know quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski well. The Jets were two (thanks to Jeremy Bates, and, presumably, a higher offer), Arizona three. McCartney and Cousins had several conversations about all of the teams. But one point McCartney wanted Cousins to realize about the two teams was this: The Vikings were closer to winning right now, with a talented young base and the kind of team that could win when Cousins didn’t play his best. The Jets didn’t have as good a supporting cast, and so Cousins might have to be more of a team-carrier there. And in New York, there wouldn’t be the kind of patience there’d be in Minnesota if Cousins struggled.

McCartney did say last week that Cousins didn’t take the biggest deal, so that implies that the Jets offered more money than the Vikings. In fact, the Broncos felt sure that the Jets would be the highest bidders of the four teams.

At about 8 or 9 p.m., McCartney called the Vikings to tell them they’d be Cousins’ first visit on Wednesday night and Thursday, with no promises. By later that night, taking advantage of the two-hour time difference between Chicago and Arizona, McCartney told Keim that he couldn’t guarantee him a Cousins visit, and if he had to move on, he’d understand. On Tuesday at 9:15 a.m., McCartney called the Jets. The Jets wanted to be assured they’d get to make their case to Cousins one-on-one.

“That was a tough phone call,” McCartney said. “They were clearly frustrated. They wanted to be guaranteed a visit. I told them I couldn’t guarantee a visit, that if he goes to Minnesota and loves it, he could sign. They were not happy about that. I understand, but I told everyone all along what the rules were, and we abided by them.”

That set up a strange-bedfellows kind of conversation. The Jets’ veteran quarterback fallback was Josh McCown, a McCartney client. The Jets had to position themselves to make sure that when the music stopped and the musical chairs got filled, they’d still be able to get McCown—at least. By later that morning, Tuesday, they were talking McCown with McCartney. But Buffalo also was seriously interested in McCown, so the Jets put their best contractual foot forward there and ensured they’d keep the trusted veteran who played so well last year, at 38. McCown to the Jets, one year, $5 million signing bonus, $5 million salary. At 39, he’d make the most money of his well-traveled NFL career.


McCartney knew now that the visit by Cousins was vital—because they might not have great options if for some reason Cousins hated something about the Vikings. Minnesota sent its plane to Atlanta, where Cousins was spending time with his in-laws, Wednesday at the start of the free agency period—4 p.m. ET. Accompanied by Vikings GM Rick Spielman, Cousins and his wife, Julie, and son, Cooper, flew to Minneapolis to join a contingent of 13 for dinner Wednesday night, including owner Mark Wilf, coach Mike Zimmer, Spielman, DeFilippo and wife, Stefanski and wife, tight end Kyle Rudolph and wife, and wideout Adam Thielen and wife. Independently, Cousins’ mom and dad came in to help babysit Cooper and experience the moment, and that night McCartney got a call from Don Cousins. The Vikings had left two Cousins jerseys—Vikings purple, number 8, with COUSINS on the back—in the parents’ hotel room, one for dad and one for mom. “That’s the first time I ever got a jersey from a team,” Don Cousins told McCartney.

While Cousins was flying to Minnesota, two important things happened. McCartney worked out the final wrinkles in the contract; there would be no-trade and no-transition-tag clauses in the three-year deal, fully guaranteed. But McCartney couldn’t accept it without Cousins’ nod. Also while the plane was in the air: Spielman told Cousins the Vikings were finalizing a trade for Trevor Siemian of the Broncos. During the negotiations, McCartney had stressed to the Vikings how important a helpful backup quarterback would be to Cousins. What a coincidence—McCartney represents Siemian. Late Wednesday, Siemian was officially a Viking.

At 8:15 p.m., between the appetizer and the entrée, Cousins saw a text from McCartney, still in Chicago. The agent wanted to know how dinner was going.

No reply.

An hour passed. Two hours.

At 10:37 p.m., Cousins texted back: “It’s going very well. Had a great dinner. Grateful for the opportunity.”

No red flags, McCartney knew; Cousins would have told him if there were. McCartney got on a plane Thursday morning for Minneapolis, and met Cousins at the Vikings’ facility. At 2:30 p.m., the long, strange trip of Kirk Cousins’ rise to being the highest paid player in NFL history was complete. He signed his contract.

“How awesome is this?” McCartney said to Cousins.

“This is great,” Cousins said, beaming. “I am so thrilled.”

“It took a lot to get here, bro,” McCartney said.

On Risk, Old Rules and How Kirk Cousins Laid The Groundwork To Forever Change NFL Contracts

It took two-and-a-half years, and contentious negotiations with Washington, and the football world telling McCartney and Cousins, the former fourth-round pick, that they were nuts for not taking Dan Snyder’s millions. Again and again. Understandable. Now Cousins was the richest player in NFL history, and McCartney could finally unclench. His chiropractor would approve.

“Was it worth it?” I asked.

“Hard to answer,” McCartney said on Saturday, taking a break from NCAA tournament viewing. “I do know he’s the face of a franchise in a great situation, on a team that has a chance to win the Super Bowl. I always told him, ‘I want you to be in a place where you look forward to going to work every day, you love the quarterback room, you love the culture, and your family loves where you live.’ I think we found that.”

Now it’s simple. Now all Kirk Cousins has to do is be great.

The Jets-Colts Trade

Before we analyze the winner and loser in the big weekend Jets-Colts deal (there is neither, by the way), I’ll make one prediction: There’s a good chance the Colts aren’t done trading yet. After dealing from three to six, I could see them moving down one more time before the April 26 first round. GM Chris Ballard said as much to his team’s website Saturday, and I can add a confirmation to that. Ballard’s going to try.

This deal: Indianapolis traded the third overall pick to the Jets for a first-rounder this year (sixth overall), two second-rounders this year (37th and 49th overall) and a second-round pick next year.

It’s pretty easy to say the Colts routed the Jets, getting three second-round picks to move three measly spots. But they’re three giant spots if you want to be assured of getting one of the top quarterbacks in this draft.


The earliest we’ll be able to make an educated guess on the outcome of the deal is in mid- to late-2019, when we’ve seen the quarterback the Jets pick play pro football, and we know if making that deal was worth Indy’s haul of four picks in the top 50, or whatever Colts GM Chris Ballard turns them into.

Two recent deals must be studied for precedent here:

• In 2012, Washington traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to the Rams for the second overall pick. Immense payment to move up four spots. In fact, on the Draft Trade Value Chart that some teams use (not religiously), Washington gave up 5,490 points of draft-pick value and acquired 2,600. But that was the price they had to pay to move up for Robert Griffin III. Griffin, of course, was a bust. So you’d think the Rams killed Washington on the trade. But with the trade of linebacker Alec Ogletree to the Giants this month, the Rams have only defensive tackle Michael Brockers left from the mega-trade with Washington. They made terrible use of the picks. If possible, considering so many dashed hopes, this was a trade that hurt both teams.

• In 2016, Philadelphia traded first-, third- and fourth-round picks in 2016, a first-round pick in 2017 and a second-round pick in 2018 to Cleveland to acquire the second overall pick in the ’16 draft, and a fourth-rounder in 2017. That first-rounder turned into Carson Wentz, who appears to be a franchise quarterback. Cleveland? It’s not over, but it’s not looking good so far. The five picks from Philadelphia have so far turned into 10 picks, and of the eight players the Browns have chosen so far, only one of them—safety Jabrill Peppers—appears to have a chance to be a top-flight starter. The highest pick, wideout Corey Coleman (15th overall, 2016) has been wholly unimpressive. Cleveland has the fourth and 64th picks this year to try to make this trade pay off.

That’s why it’s folly to say the Jets overpaid. What New York has done, in the wake of losing Kirk Cousins to the Vikings in last week’s free-agency derby, is settle for its second-best quarterback option. The Jets have assured themselves of one of the top four passers in the draft—either Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen or Josh Allen. My money’s on Mayfield, who could go from the pride of Norman to Broadway Baker.

The Jets Are Coming After Their Quarterback

The pressure on GM Mike Maccagnan? Immense. This could be it for him, his last chance in his fourth season to construct a winner. He blew his first shot at a quarterback of the future, taking Christian Hackenberg in the second round in 2016. Hackenberg has not played a single snap in either of the last two 5-11 Jets’ seasons, which is some indictment of him as a football player and of the management that drafted him. The Jets have been uber-focused on trading or drafting a quarterback since the start of the college football season last fall, and now that they’ve traded four usable pieces to move up to get one, Maccagnan simply has to get it right. This will be the Jets’ most important draft pick in years.

Ballard got a lot of “attaboy” calls/texts over the weekend, and rightly so. I had one GM tell me his team has about 70 players on its draft board rated as starter-quality, which strikes me as about right judging how teams have told me they’re judging this draft.

STARTING PLAYERS IN THE 2018 NFL DRAFT INTERLUDE.Interesting question. Queried about how many starting-caliber players they felt were in this draft, six scouting people or GMs over the weekend came back with these figures: 35, “40 to 50,” “about 70,” 73, “75-ish,” 83 and 111. I asked because I wanted to figure out whether it made sense for the Colts to try to trade down one more time.

ASTERISK TO STARTING PLAYER INTERLUDE. One of those teams said if you considered “situational starters” like third corners or slot corners, slot receivers or slotback/receiver types like Christian McCaffrey, he’d add 32 players to his team’s total.

The Colts very much need to maximize this draft. It’s likely their roster is the weakest in the rising AFC South. Ballard knows he needs quantity in this draft. That’s why if he could turn the sixth pick into something in the 10 to 12 range and add another second-rounder, I believe he’d do it. At six, he’d likely have a chance at pass-rusher Bradley Chubb or guard Quenton Nelson. At 11, let’s say, he’d have a chance at a desperately needed rangy linebacker like Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds. A second trade would mean Ballard would have turned the third overall pick into five players who would have a chance to start from this one trade alone.

Colts’ picks in the top four rounds now: 6, 36, 37, 49, 67, 104. If I were Ballard, I might trade down from 6 to Buffalo at 12 if the Bills would deal the 53rd overall pick and maybe the 96th pick as well—seeing that the price for a quarterback is more of a premium. But of course, this is probably a night-of-the-draft deal, because the Bills would have to see a quarterback they’d want here.

Baker Mayfield’s Pro Day Was All About What Happened Behind the Scenes

It’s such an inexact science, and the Rams’ and Browns’ hauls from their big deals show it’s great to get the picks, but you’ve got to be smart enough to use them well. As much as Andrew Luck’s return is the story of 2018 for the Colts, a very close second is what Ballard does with his five starter-caliber picks in the top 70 (as of this morning) in April.

I like what the Bills did

Free agency is a tortuous process, because even when you think you’ve made a great deal, you’ve got this feeling deep down: What if the money spoils this guy? Or what if we’re overrating him after a small sample size?

So take this with caution, Bills Mafia. But your general manager, Brandon Beane, had a good week, from my view of it. To recap: He got the first pick in the third round for a quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, he was clearly ready to move on from; Beane also paid interesting young quarterback A.J. McCarron for two years what the Jets paid Josh McCown for one ($10 million); and Beane gambled that coach Sean McDermott can make talented but meh defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (five years, $50 million) shine again. At the same time, Beane was trying to keep his promise to owners Kim and Terry Pegula: fix the bloated salary cap he’d taken over 10 months ago. He’d do it, he vowed, after two seasons, and so part of his decisions this year included pinching pennies so he could clean up the cap by the opening of the 2019 league year.

I spoke with Beane on Friday afternoon about the big decisions he and coach Sean McDermott had made.

MMQB: You got Cleveland to take all of Tyrod Taylor’s salary, and got the first pick in the third round. How?

Beane: “We wanted to find a spot for him, not to just put him somewhere. We were open and honest with him and his agent. Sometimes these situations can get salty, but here, everybody wanted to do the right thing and not be confrontational. Getting the 65th pick was huge. Patience was the key. I am very happy how it worked out for the Bills and for Tyrod, and the financial part was a part of it. When it’s all said and done, we’re going to have about $45 million in dead money this year. That was part of my plan—to eat all of it, or as much as we could, this year.”

MMQB: You waited out the quarterback market, from the looks of it, and got McCarron for good value—two years, $10 million.

Beane: “We did due diligence there. Every dollar we spend there is a dollar less we can spend somewhere else. We didn’t want to get into chase mode. We had different guys we thought would fit, A.J. being one of them. One word we heard over and over from people who had coached him or known him. like Hue Jackson: competitor. That was music to my ears. He’ll fit here.”

MMQB: Star Lotulelei for medium defensive tackle price—was he a target from the beginning?

Beane: “I was part of the crew that drafted him in Carolina. One word for him: selfless. Luke Kuechly will rave about Star, because he allowed Luke to run free. For us, I believe Star can be a two-and-a-half-down player, playing some third downs.”

Let's Have a Smarter Conversation About the Giants Trading Odell Beckham Jr.

MMQB: Looks like you have the ammo to move up in the draft again and get one of the quarterbacks. Will you trade again?

Beane: “The truth? Most of these quarterbacks I’ve only spent 15 minutes with. [At the combine, each team can meet with prospects for a maximum of 15 minutes per player.] I haven’t spent enough time to have an opinion about any of them yet, honestly. I actually sent a little note to our [scouts] yesterday. We got six weeks to get our board together. I am not there yet, knowing if we can or will move up again. I want Sean to get to know all of them. We’re just keeping an open mind. Where we’re at, we’ve got the picks, we've got the draft capital. I’m not ready to pull the trigger.”

That was a sudden retirement, Joe Thomas

Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas, one of the great players of his day at any position, will formally announce his retirement today after playing every Browns snap for 10-and-a-half seasons—from the time he was drafted in 2007 to the afternoon in October when he snapped a tendon in his arm and was lost for the remainder of the year.

But it’s not his torn triceps driving him away from football, or the prospect of a cushy TV job for FOX or ESPN, though both are knocking at his door, and he’s a candidate for a three-man booth at one of the two networks this fall. It’s his left knee. Four knee surgeries have left him with a bone-on-bone situation in the knee. It got so painful in the past couple of years that at times it was intolerable to even stand at practice—so he spent practices inside the trainers’ room. The knee was so bad that Thomas considered an experimental procedure that would have inserted baby cartilage in the knee. The knee was so bad that the only way he was able to play the first seven games last year was pre-season Platelet-Rich Plasma injections that made the pain in his knee tolerable.

The fact that Thomas was a Brown for his entire career, even though he had one legitimate chance to join a Super Bowl contender (Denver), is impressive enough. The fact that he played through the immense knee pain and never missed a snap until he tore his triceps last year should be enough to earn him a statue in Cleveland.

When Thomas speaks today, I don’t expect him to concentrate on the negative—the knee pain that required him to take so many pain-killers over the last few years, or the fact that in his last 10 seasons, the Browns never had a winning record. (In fact, if Thomas makes the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he’d make it having played on teams with a .287 winning percentage. It’s believed that would be the worst of any player or coach to gain Hall entry.) I think, knowing Thomas some, he’s more likely to crack a few jokes and try to make those in the room feel they’re not at a sad event. Rather, they’ll be at a celebration of one of the greatest Browns in modern Cleveland history.

Quotes of the Week


“It stings. I tried to tell the guys in there, ‘This is life. It can’t define you. You enjoyed the good times, and you’ve got to be able to take the bad times. When you step into the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, big losses, great wins. And you have to deal with it.’ That’s the job. I don’t know what to say but that was a thorough butt-whipping.”

—Virginia coach Tony Bennett, facing the music to Tracy Wolfson after top-ranked Virginia got blown out by Maryland-Baltimore County Friday night, the first time a number one seed lost in the NCAA tournament to a 16 seed.

Bad game by a coach and his team. Good post-game performance by the coach.


“Trump is firing people like he’s trying to get under the salary cap.”

—Michael Che, on “Saturday Night Live,” about the president’s week.


“A lot of us have been there six, seven, eight years, and his philosophy is more built for college. Four years, guys rotate in, rotate out, and so we had kind of heard all his stories. We had kind of heard every story, every funny anecdote that he had. And honestly because he just recycles them.”

—New 49er and former Seahawk Richard Sherman, on the ThomaHawk podcast, the podcast hosted by former Browns Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins, on Seattle coach Pete Carroll.

That’s not going to go over well in the Seahawks’ offices.


“I think it's a shame on me if the money only helps the Solder family. My belief is that this money has been entrusted to me not for the personal comfort and security, but for an actual impact that we can have on our community and the people around us. I'm just such an imperfect person—I'm going to make mistakes, so I have to rely on Jesus. We have all through our suffering with our son and everything that goes on in life, so we have to do the same thing with our rejoicing and when things are going well, we have to rely on him. … It's nothing about us having a bigger house, a nicer car, anything like that. So shame on me if it's just about us.”

—Giants free-agent left tackle Nate Solder, who signed a four-year, $62 million contract to leave the Patriots, on his financial plans. Solder’s two-year-old son, Hudson, is battling kidney cancer.

Solder’s going to make a lot of fans with that quote. What a wonderful attitude to have.


“If you go back and look at the schedule, generally we got one of the worst NFL games each week. You’re trying to make something sound interesting and exciting that isn’t. For me, part of it was just the way the booth was set up the last two years. It was really geared around Jon Gruden. That’s not unusual, TV really is an analyst-driven medium. Jon had a particular set of skills that he did really well, and foremost among them was analyzing the play, breaking down the play. Here’s why they ran that play, here’s why it worked, here’s what this guy did or didn’t do. It was really football heavy, X-and-O heavy, and I think most play-by-play guys, all play-by-play guys, would’ve felt like a bit of a bystander.”

—Former ESPN play-by-play man Sean McDonough, to WEEI in Boston. ESPN announced that McDonough will be returning to college football announcing from the NFL booth this fall.


“When I got suspended for the season in 2012 over the alleged bounties in our games, it was a big shock to all of us. There was pressure from people in the league and the league office—I’m not going to say who—to fire me. Mr. Benson was resolute. ‘We’re not doing that,’ he said. ‘He doesn’t deserve that.’”

—New Orleans coach Sean Payton, in his column on the late Tom Benson for The MMQB on Friday.

That’s a “wow” to me. But Payton said that, yes, more than one person of influence wanted Benson to fire him.

Stat of the Week

When I think of a career comp for Trevor Siemian, who was traded from Denver to Minnesota on Thursday, I think of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Siemian may not end up as experienced as Fitzpatrick, or with as long a career, but they remind me of each other—bright, humble, excellent students of football, good-enough arms, good teammates as backups.

So I did a little research on their similarities, and it turned out a bit … well, “eerie” is probably the best word to describe the comparison:




Brainy College Attended



Draft Year



Draft Round



Overall Pick



Career Rating



Career Completion %




6'2", 220

6'2.5", 218

Factoids That May Interest Only Me


The Saints have a sleep room in their football facility in Metairie, La.

As Sean Payton explained in his column for the The MMQBafter the death of owner Tom Benson on Thursday, Benson was a generous sort for all things football, and, well, let Payton tell the story:

“Lots of coaches in the NFL periodically will sleep one or two nights in the office. With Mr. Benson, the challenge was getting the sleeping bag rolled or the couch folded up prior to him walking down the hall in the morning. He hated our offices looking sloppy. So he ended up footing the bill in 2016 for a high-tech sleep room at our facility—climate-controlled, built-in chargers for phone, blackout shades on the window and door. No more excuses for a sloppy office. The coaches loved it.”


The Dolphins issued this news release last Thursday, on the second day of the league year:

MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins today announced they have acquired center Daniel Kilgore and a 2018 seventh-round pick (227th overall) from San Francisco in exchange for a 2018 seventh-round pick (223rd overall).

Do you find anything odd about it?

Kilgore, the Niners’ starting center last year, was traded to the Miami Dolphins for improvement of four slots in the middle of the seventh round of the draft. The last round.

That is as close to a negligible return as anything in NFL history.

Kilgore was acquired for 1.3 points of draft value on the NFL Draft Value Trade Chart, made famous by the Cowboys around the time Jimmy Johnson took over as coach/trader in 1989. The 223rd pick is worth 2.3 points; the 227th pick is worth 1.0.


Interesting road traveled by the Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers (and the nickname alone is worth thousands of words in this column), as judged by these results during the year:




Colgate 93, UMBC 88


Towson 78, UMBC 65


Albany 83, UMBC 39


Vermont 81, UMBC 53


UMBC 74, Virginia 54

Tweets of the Week







Pod People

From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.

This week’s conversations: “Tom vs. Time” producer, director and cinematographer Gotham Chopra, former Browns and Eagles executive Joe Banner, and Nicki Jhabvala, who covers the Broncos for the Denver Post.

• Chopra on whether he thinks the Patriots’ Big Three (Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft) is on the verge of a split: “... I mean, it’s an 18-year marriage, and it’s been an incredibly successful run, but there’s a lot of intensity and a lot of pressure, and a lot of big personalities. And Tom is one of them. That hasn’t been easy, and I find it interesting that by the end of the season, that all kind of faded away, because when you get to the end of the season, no matter what is going on, everyone sort of gets on the same page and focuses. Again, they had another incredible run. And that’s what he says at the end—is like, this is a very different offseason for him. And I think, that’s not necessarily what happened during the season. It’s the fact that he’s got three growing kids, a wife who’s like, ‘You know, I’ve kind of been putting stuff on hold for a while, and I wanna go out and do my thing now too.’ And so Tom’s juggling a lot of things, and I think that’s basically what he says at the end: I gotta recalibrate. I have to find that conviction again. I think he will, but, you know, this idea that he’s going to play for four or five more seasons… I mean, this is just me, the guy who’s been around him for a while now. I just have a hard time envisioning that, to be candid. But we’ll see. I do think that these next few weeks and months are a critical time for him.”

• Chopra on whether he has doubts that Brady will play in 2018: “No. You know, I’ve seen Tom’s process, and I think there’s very little doubt that he will eventually, this season, find that thing that will get him back and really amped for next season. This past year was very unsatisfying in terms of how it ended, and so I don’t necessarily envision him leaving that as the last taste to hold onto.”

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think these are my 2018 (Very Early) Free Agency Awards:

Three Best Decisions

• Cornerback Patrick Robinson (four years, $20 million) to the Saints. Robinson resuscitated his career in Philadelphia last season, becoming one of the best slot corners in football and starting the Eagles on their way to the NFC title-game rout with a pick-six interception. I like the contract much more than Tennessee paying the flawed Malcolm Butler $12 million a year. Robinson started 12 games in the slot and seven games outside for the Eagles. Versatile piece for Dennis Allen in the rising New Orleans defense.

• Running back Jerick McKinnon (four years, $30 million) to the Niners. A little rich, but McKinnon’s just 25, he blocks, he’s very physical for a 5'9" back, and he can catch; he had six, six, seven and 11-catch games last season. Kyle Shanahan already installed him as his starter.

• Defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson (one year, $5 million) to the Packers. He was a $10-million-a-year player two years ago, and he screwed it up, and now he’s got a season to save his career, on a one-year prove-it contract, with a chip the size of a boulder on his shoulder. I like his chances to reward Green Bay.

Three Worst Decisions

• Arizona giving quarterback Sam Bradford one year and $20 million … with $15 million guaranteed. This is the way I would have made this deal, if I were Arizona: $5 million in bonuses and base salary, $1 million bonus for every start. If Bradford’s healthy, he earns $21 million. If not, he doesn’t eat up valuable cap space. And if Bradford finds a better deal elsewhere, let him go. I really like Bradford as a player, when he plays. But that’s the rub. He’s 19-19 over the past five years, and has missed more starts (42) than he’s made (38). I like the player, but not the contract.

• The Patriots letting left tackle Nate Solder get away. All the rest of the free-agent defections from New England are forgivable. Not this one, not with a slow quarterback who will play the 2018 season at 41.

• Kansas City giving wideout Sammy Watkins three years and $48 million. He’s had one 1,000-yard season out of four in the NFL, and no 10-touchdown seasons, and he caught 39 balls last year in an extremely wideout-friendly offense with the Rams. My jaw hit the floor when I saw this money.

NFL Free Agency 2018 Guide and Tracker: Suh to the Rams

2. I think—gut feeling—that Buffalo will try hard to move up in the first round to the Giants’ spot at two. Now that the Jets pick third, the Bills know there’s a good chance the top three picks will be quarterbacks. How can Buffalo risk waiting until four and, presumably, dealing with Cleveland to move up? Dangerous.

3. I think this is a really fun offseason, one of the best of the 34 NFL offseasons I’ve seen in my years covering the league.

4. I think this is an interesting history lesson: Exactly 25 years ago this week, NFL free agency dawned—and I was on a plane with Reggie White covering it. 

5. I think the Giants will go quarterback at two, but as one NFL GM told me Saturday: Just imagine the Giants taking Saquon Barkley. They’d have Odell Beckham, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley. Wow! Respectively, they’d be 25, 23 and 21 years old.

6. I think Deadspin’sDom Cosentino did a good job putting the Richard Sherman contract into perspective the other day. There were many hatchet jobs done on the deal—among them a surprise critic in the highly respected Joe Thomas, who said Sherman got “absolutely crushed” by the 49ers—that most saw as Sherman, representing himself, getting ripped off by the Niners. It’s true that Sherman’s deal, with only $3 million fully guaranteed, is fair game for scrutiny. A few points to make:

• A couple of things Sherman told me eight days ago in his only interview before the Niners introduced him at a press conference seemed significant. He really wanted to negotiate his own deal, in part for the experience of it. And take this for what it’s worth, but he said he wanted to be fair to the Niners, coming back from Achilles surgery, and to be sure that he earns the money he makes as a 30-year-old cornerback.

• If Sherman is healthy for 16 weeks and on the Niners’ active roster and plays 90 percent of the snaps, he’ll earn $10 million in 2018.

• One of the criticisms was over playing time. San Francisco pays Sherman a $1 million bonus if he plays 90 percent of the snaps on defense this season. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe called that 90-percent figure “insanely high.” Why? In the eight games before Sherman snapped his Achilles in 2017, here were his per-game numbers, per Pro Football Focus: 82 snaps played out of 82 plays in game one, 49-49 in game two, 73-73 in game three, 58-60 in game four, 74-74 in game five, 59-59 in game six, 71-71 in game seven, 60-63 in game eight. That’s 526 snaps, out of 531 Seattle defensive plays. In the first half of his age-29 season, Sherman played 99.1 percent of the Seattle defensive plays. In the previous three seasons, he played 98.8 percent, 98.3 percent and 97.8 percent. How, exactly, is it “insanely high” to have an incentive threshold of 90 percent to earn an extra $1 million?

• Think of the word “incentive” and the word “bonus.” This $1 million clause protects the team in case Sherman isn’t healthy enough or good enough to play every week at something near his previous level. And isn’t that what an incentive clause should be? If Sherman does what he’s done in the past, he’ll make the money. If he doesn’t, he won’t. I do not understand what is wrong or unfair or insane with that.

7. I think the Bengals should wave good-bye to Vontaze Burfict, in the wake of the news that he’s appealing a four-game PED suspension. Burfict was more trouble than he was worth two years ago, and he has continued to give the Bengals problems. At some point you’ve got to say to your locker room: Enough crap with this guy.

8. I think the Justin Pugh signing in Arizona makes the core that GM Jerry Reese left for Dave Gettleman with the Giants even worse. Pugh’s defection means that only one of Reese’s 45 picks in the six drafts from 2008 to 2013 is still on the team. (If you guessed Jason Pierre-Paul, you win.) Amazing: The number is 0-for-22 in the last three of those drafts—2011, 2012, 2013. Gettleman’s got a very tough road replenishing a thin roster.

9. I think we absolutely should praise middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, who in 11 years was a great professional, leader and football player. He played 148 games, mostly as the nerve center of the Bills and Jags defenses. Classic player. He could have played in the ’50s, ’80s or today. Not a lot of players can say they sacked Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees and intercepted Tom Brady and Cam Newton. Posluszny can. Good luck to him in retirement.

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. Story of the Week: by Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, an extended interview with O.J. Simpson, and it’s a very good one. (But what would you expect from Tim Graham?)

b. Simpson on Colin Kaepernick: “I think Colin made a mistake. I really appreciate what he was trying to say. I thought he made a bad choice in attacking the flag. I am a firm believer in doing what you think is right, but I would always stand for the flag.”

c. Congrats to Graham for pursuing Simpson and finally getting him to meet for an interview—even though Simpson put questions about the 1994 double murder off-limits.

d. Cool inside story of the week: by Marc Tracy of the New York Times, on the grand tradition of the Duke basketball team managers.

e. Not to get all Dukie on you or anything, but here’s a good read on what keeps Mike Krzyzewski going, from the great John Feinstein. Lessons in here for everyone.

f. Best story of the week on an athlete we’ve never heard of but we definitely should have: by Lindsay Crouse of the New York Times, on American marathoner/doctor Chris Zablocki.

g. Nice lead by Crouse: “One of the fastest American marathon runners right now is a 29-year-old doctor in rural Connecticut who doesn’t have a coach, doesn’t have a sponsor and doesn’t run with a watch. He trains alone, as long as feels right, with ‘only the trees for teammates,’ he says. In the past seven years he has raced 47 marathons, winning 19 of them.”

h. No Pac-12 teams make it past round one of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. That stuns me. I’m not much of a college basketball fan, but wow.

i. Replay is bad enough in the NFL. It is a killer in the NCAA tournament. It took 11 minutes, 42 seconds to play 8.9 seconds in the Marshall upset of Wichita State.

j. I watched most of Buffalo-Kentucky on Saturday. I love seeing true underdogs plays with ferocity, which is exactly what Buffalo did in a loss. No fear. Tremendous effort in a loss.

k. Coffeenerdness: Never, ever take away the smoked butterscotch latte, Starbucks.

l. Beernerdness: Never, ever stop brewing beer, Four Peaks Brewing of Tempe.

m. This is why Yahoo’s Pete Thamel, formerly of Sports Illustrated, is so good.

n. After the UMBC win Friday night, Thamel got coaches from the low-mid-major America East Conference on the phone. He finished interviewing them after midnight. When I checked my phone at 5:13 a.m. Saturday (I’m a bad sleeper), there was Thamel’s story. Great enterprise reporting. Aimed to speak to five America East coaches after 11 p.m. ET. Went five-for-five. Now that’s some good reporting. Story was live by 2 a.m.

o. Colgate at USF, CBI postseason tournament. I mean, why? Why does a team travel 3,000 miles cross-country, so that 1,339 people could show up in the University of San Francisco’s campus gym to see a 72-68 basketball game on Wednesday night? I guess it’s a free country, but it seems insignificant bordering on wasteful.

p. Very best wishes, Gary Myers of the New York Daily News, on whatever is next for you. Gary’s been a valuable peer and friend over the years, and his Sunday notes column has been a staple for me.

q. You as well, Jim Trotter, a former colleague of mine at SI.Jim leaves ESPN with some great TV stories and experience under his belt, and he’ll be a great addition for someone.

r. Nice week for the president. He fired the Secretary of State of the United States of America—who is only the most single most important person aside from the president in dealing with world affairs—on Twitter before speaking to him. What a great guy, Donald Trump. Firing people, not to mention one of the most important people in the free world, on social media. Then the president fired the former deputy director of the FBI, career law-enforcement officer Andrew McCabe, days before he’d have qualified for his pension, apparently because the president felt McCabe was too close and too sympathetic to former FBI director James Comey. (Also: NBC reported in January that Trump, in a conversation with McCabe, called McCabe’s wife “a loser” when she lost an election for a Virginia state senate seat.) All week, news of the legal fight between porn star Stormy Daniels and Trump over their alleged 2006 affair filled TV shows and the internet and front pages nationwide.

s. Just another week in the life of our country, 2018. Are we planning to wake up anytime soon?

t. Former CIA director John Brennan spoke for all people on the right side of history Saturday, using the president’s favorite medium, Twitter, thusly as he addressed the president: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America...America will triumph over you.”

u. Wish I were that eloquent.

The Adieu Haiku

Not sure it’s true, but
many around league see Jets
focused on Baker.

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