Drew Brees, Sean Payton and the Level of Expectation for the Saints

Drew Brees, Sean Payton and the Level of Expectation for the Saints

Drew Brees and Sean Payton have played together in New Orleans for 13 years now—and they’re long past the ‘finishing each other’s sentences’ phase. The two recall what it was like in the early days and what has gotten them to where they are today (hint: communication). Also, checking in on Ryan Tannehill in Miami, previewing the trade action that we may or may not see around cut-down day, a conversation with new head coach Mike Vrabel and much more.
August 20, 2018

METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees didn’t just know it was coming. He knew when it was coming, and how Sean Payton was going to do it.

After losing consecutive games to start the 2017 season, a Saints team with minimal expectations went on an absolute tear. And seven games into what would become an eight-game winning streak, Brees could feel his teammates’ confidence starting to boil over and the buzz around the team growing strong enough to draw national attention. Payton, as a result, was growing antsy—and that could only mean one thing.

“You win a few games in a row, you sense the team is feeling good about themselves, and letting some things slide maybe they shouldn’t,” Brees said, smirking, in a quiet moment after practice on Wednesday. “And so I’m going to walk into the facility, and I’m going to expect to see mousetraps.

“And the message is going to be don’t eat the cheese—‘Hey, the media and your family and all these people are telling you how great you are, don’t eat it, that’s a trap. We still have a lot to prove, a lot of things to work on, we’ve got a bull’s eye on our chest, this is one of those games.’”

Sure enough, the mousetraps—one of Payton’s motivational tactics—were in the Saints’ practice facility that week.

Going into his 13th year as the Saints quarterback, Brees is well beyond the old cliché of being able to finish Payton’s sentences. At this point, he can basically anticipate and begin them, if he wants to. And the same goes the other way for a coach who bought relatively low on a quarterback with a blown out throwing shoulder in March 2006, and has reaped incredible benefits since.

“[As] a first-time coach, … you get that three-year period to have success and make a difference, and [Brees has] been—shoot—it couldn’t have worked out better,” Payton told me. “To have a guy who you know who is not only going to play at his level but lead at his level, be here before anyone and leave after everyone …”

Payton shook his head, maybe realizing just how valuable it is to have his best player represent all he wants in his program.

“No doubt,” Payton continued. “And if your best aren’t that way, it becomes more challenging.”

It’s facilitated a few rebuilds and restarts for Payton and the Saints over the last 13 years, the latest of which has the two going forward into what feels like a new beginning in New Orleans, Brees’s age (40 years old in January) be damned.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In this week’s MMQB, we’ll give you a look at Ryan Tannehill’s pressure points with the Dolphins, kick the tires on the trade market, get Mike Vrabel’s view on being a first-time head coach so soon after getting into the profession and much, much more.

We’re starting here, though, with something that hit me the other day—Brees and Payton have been together for just as long now as Dan Marino and Don Shula were in Miami, and for three years longer than the 10 seasons Joe Montana and Bill Walsh teamed up in San Francisco. In fact, if you look at the 11 Hall of Fame QBs to come into the NFL post-merger, just one has had a run like Brees has with Payton.

Here’s a look at those 11, and the head coach he played with for the longest …

Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll: 14 years
John Elway and Dan Reeves: 10 years
Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren: Seven years
Dan Fouts and Don Coryell: Nine years
Jim Kelly and Marv Levy: 11 years
Dan Marino and Don Shula: 13 years
Joe Montana and Bill Walsh: 10 years
Warren Moon and Jerry Glanville: Five years
Ken Stabler and John Madden: Nine years
Kurt Warner and Mike Martz: Four years
Steve Young and George Seifert: Eight years

Peyton Manning did play with offensive coordinator Tom Moore for 14 years, but never had one head coach for more than seven. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been together for 18 years, and Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin together for 12, but both Belichick and Tomlin are defensive coaches. So it’s hard to find a marriage of offensive guru and quarterbacking prodigy as enduring—Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy in Green Bay would qualify here—as the one Payton and Brees have cultivated.

“It’s outstanding,” Payton said. “I’ll say this’it doesn’t feel like 13, it feels like seven. But then, [Brees’s] children were here today and I’ll look over, and be like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how much Baylen’s grown or how much Bowen’s changed.’ And so I feel like we see age more in our children. When [my son] Connor comes to practice, Drew looks over, and here’s this guy who’s 6’ 1”, and when it all started he was six years old, a kid running around with a Star Wars light saber. So we see it our children.”

They see it in the results, too. Brees has made 10 Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams since arriving to play for Payton. There have been nine 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history, and Brees has authored five of them. Meanwhile, the Saints have finished in the top four in total offense in all 13 of his New Orleans seasons except one, and they finished sixth in that one exception (2010). The Saints made the playoffs five times in 39 years pre-Payton/Brees. They’ve made it six times since, and won the team’s first Super Bowl.

All of this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s a cumulative effect that results from that mountain of accomplishment that few people in the history of the sport can understand like these guys can. So that instinct Brees has for Payton’s old motivational tricks? He’s got it for the coach’s playcalling and offensive innovation, too, which gives the Saints a leg up.

“I can anticipate a lot of what’s coming out of his mouth,” Brees says. “That’s communication throughout the week, but that’s also just history, and feeling how things are going throughout the course of the game and the momentum, and just knowing how he operates based on all those things that are happening. So when I can anticipate the playcalls, it really helps me visualize and stay one step ahead.

“That puts me in a really good place as far as confidence and momentum and communication with guys, and just the way we’re able to flow as an offense.”

On one play, it might be looking at the defense before the call comes into his helmet. On another, it may help him use the front end of the play clock to get to a teammate on what he’s looking for on the next play. And globally, the efficiency in communication is always there.

“He’s pretty good at remembering plays, very good at it. And I’ll be able to recall—hey, do you remember when we did this?” said PaytonThose things come up, and that bank of history is important. It makes it easier—‘Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re talking about.’ … It might even be a situation where we’re trying to draw someone offsides. There’s just a constant communication, a constant thinking, a constant preparation to win, to win, to win.”

NFL
It’s Now or Never for Marvin Lewis and the Bengals

Their foundation was laid back in 2006, when the Saints still hadn’t played a post-Katrina game in the Superdome, Brees was coming back from a shoulder surgery no quarterback had, and Payton was getting his first shot at being an NFL head coach—with a concept that’s more commonplace now, but was rarer in pro football then.

Forever, Brees and Payton have seemed like a perfect match, the hyper-aggressive play-caller paired with the gunslinger raised in a college spread. A piece of that, in fact, was manufactured. The starting point for these two was Payton doing what he could to make the offense work for Brees, rather than trying to make Brees fit into the offense that he’d built over six years as an NFL coordinator.

“Most first-year head coaches, especially offensive guys, would be like, ‘O.K., this is the way we’re doing it, my way or the highway, and you’re coming in and buying into it,’” Brees said. “And he certainly had discipline elements when he came in, he realized we had to clean house a little bit and bring in some new guys, and rebuild the foundation and the culture of the team.

“But from the x’s-and-o’s perspective of the offense, he basically looked at me and said, ‘We’re going to build this around you. I want to do what you’re good at. I want to do what you’re comfortable with.’ So he immediately started taking plays from my San Diego days that he had never had much experience with.”

From there? Brees remembers Payton asking, Do you like it? Do you love it? O.K., it’s in. You don’t like it? Alright, it’s out. And then, What did you guys call it? O.K., that’s what we’re going to call it. From there grew one of the best QB/coach relationships we’ve ever seen. Brees says that as a rookie he was told if he was lucky enough to last, he’d see four or five cycles of players come in and out around him. He and Payton have now seen about that many in their New Orleans years alone.

“Not at all do I ever take it for granted,” Payton said. “It seems like it’s flown by. It’s outstanding. There’s an evolution to the team. If you count up the number of receivers he’s played with, and tight ends, and running backs, and we’re constantly looking at new things offensively, and he’ll come up to the office and we’ll visit on a few topics … it’s unique, and certainly it’s not the norm.”


That brings us to 2018. The Saints’ starry sophomore class—fronted by corner Marshon Lattimore, tackle Ryan Ramczyk, safety Marcus Williams and tailback Alvin Kamara—has brought new life to the building, and it puts the franchise squarely in a championship window, something which Payton and GM Mickey Loomis implicitly affirmed with the move on draft day to get pass-rusher Marcus Davenport.

“For Drew and for me, it invigorates you,” Payton says. “You can’t help but get excited about [the younger players’] skill sets.”

Even with all those players still wet behind the ears, and the team was a miracle play away from playing in the NFC championship game. And yes, Payton and Brees understand the pressure that goes with being in a spot to win at the highest level—“We always feel that,” Payton says—and knowing this all won’t last forever.

But then, there’s that massive backlog of experience, which gives you as good a reason as any to believe that these Saints have a great chance to live up to the newfound level of expectation everyone has for them. And not, for that matter, to take the cheese.


Andy Benoit sits down with Saints’ All-Pro Cam Jordan to review a playoff game against the Panthers and learn the secrets of what makes him one of football’s premier pass rushers


I rolled into Miami the day after Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill tossed rookie Kalen Ballage out of the offensive huddle for blowing an assignment in pass protection. After hearing that, I wondered if it had anything to do with the culture cleanse through which Adam Gase put the team this offseason—with guys like Ndamukong Suh and Jarvis Landry out, and Danny Amendola, Robert Quinn and Frank Gore in.

The big question I had became simple … Is having a more workman-like group around him helping Tannehill become more forceful as a leader?

“He was already going in the right direction—‘the best way for me to be an effective leader is to play well,’ which he did in ’16,” coach Adam Gase told me. “We were really starting to get things going, he was being more vocal, more aggressive in getting things the way he wanted them. And then he got hurt. … He came back for the spring, and in training camp, then I noticed he was a lot more aggressive.

“He was very direct in how he wanted things done, and he wasn’t afraid to say anything to anybody. When we lost him, we kind of lost a lot of that. That was really trending in the right direction for us.”

So they’re resetting, in a way, to where they were last summer, when everyone here was convinced Tannehill was ready to deal in 2017. That was before he tore his ACL, before the team went 6-10, before Hurricane Irma bumped the team’s first game of the season and before Chris Foerster’s episode, and before the team kicked the tires on this year’s draft class of quarterbacks.

Therein, in other ways, things aren’t quite the same. Tannehill’s 30 years old now, and doesn’t have another dollar fully guaranteed on a contract that runs through 2020. Another tough year could lead owner Stephen Ross to making more changes. And as Miami looked at guys like Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen, there’s been plenty of room for people down there to envision quarterback being one of them.

“Obviously, things could’ve changed, and it would’ve been hard,” Tannehill said. “But it doesn’t affect how I approach my job, how I approach my preparation. I was rehabbing in the spring, going through that process, and it didn’t really affect anything. Obviously, putting a vote of confidence in me does feel good, but it doesn’t change how I go about my business. I want to keep that urgency about myself, like we did draft somebody.”

And he added, “That’s part of what happened with [Ballage]. As an offense, I want us to keep our urgency. Time is ticking. It’s going to be regular season before we know. We’re three weeks into camp now. We can’t be missing assignments on basic things. And that’s urgency we have to take and attack every single day with it.”

As for the knee, Tannehill’s wearing a brace on it now—he wasn’t in 2016 when he suffered a partial tear, but was last summer when he tore it through—and says that’s more for prevention (lots of QBs do wear ACL braces over their lead leg for that reason) than anything else. “I don’t think there are any more hurdles,” he said, “The spring was a little bit of the hurdle for me, just getting back to playing football.”

So that means he can focus on the hurdles he would any other year, which figure to have an impact on the direction of the Dolphins moving forward.

Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending ACL tear on Aug. 3, 2017.

Mark Brown/Getty Images

The final roster cut-down is now less than two weeks away (Sept. 1), which means you’ll hear plenty of talk in the coming days about players landing on the trade block. There’s a good chance nothing seismic happens, and, using Jets quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Raiders holdout Khalil Mack as examples, here’s why.

Let’s start with Bridgewater. The Jets love how he’s played, he has supporters on the coaching staff, everyone loves his comeback story and on paper, he’s turned into a nice trade asset for a team that’s committed long-term to Sam Darnold, who’s maintained the inside track to start on Sept. 10 in Detroit.

The problem is, what team is going to come get him? Bridgewater is on a one-year deal, and he probably won’t re-sign without a promise to start in 2019. How many teams are in position to give him that? How many teams even have an opening at quarterback right now?

It’s hard to envision someone giving up more than something in the middle rounds, if the plan isn’t to start Bridgewater. If there’s an injury somewhere, circumstances change, of course—the Browns gave up a third-round pick for Tyrod Taylor, with a year left on his deal, to be a placeholder for the No. 1 pick. But for now, Bridgewater would just be a competitive piece without any years on his deal for someone else.

Again, he’s a great story, and he’s better than some guys who’ll start in 2018. But it’s easy to see why, for now, it’ll be tough for the Jets to drum up a market. The Eagles only got what they did two years ago for Sam Bradford as a result of Bridgewater’s injury. It would seem something like that would have to happen elsewhere for the Jets to get a significant haul this time around.

• KAHLER: How it all fell apart between Su’a Cravens and Washington

As for Mack, this goes back to looking at the conditions that have to exist with another team for a deal to be done. That club trading for him would have to give up not just premium draft capital, but also a market-busting contract for the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.

There’s not much of a chance that another team would give up pick-wise what it would take to get Mack without some sort of assurance that he’d be doing a long-term deal in his new home. And you can raise the fact that the franchise tag would be an option for that team, but that assumes Mack would report to a new home without a new deal, which seems unlikely.

Is there a team out there willing to give up a first-round pick (and maybe another pick), plus more than $20 million per year, with $60 million or so fully guaranteed, to get Mack? Maybe there is. He’s an incredible player, but that’s a hefty price for anyone who doesn’t play quarterback. For now the discussion is moot, as I understand it. Inquiries about Mack’s availability from other NFL outposts have been quickly met with a no.

And, hey, I know it’d be fun to see some guys moving around in a couple weeks, and the trade market certainly took on a new look this offseason, thanks to a raft of aggressive young GMs. I still wouldn’t hold your breath on much high-end action.


A quick Q&A with new Titans coach Mike Vrabel …

The MMQB: What has been the biggest adjustment to becoming a head coach?

Vrabel: “You mentioned the staff—it’s critical to hire a good staff, guys that are loyal, guys that are willing to share your message throughout the team and their unit and their position group. I asked if they could do three things. Can they teach? Can they develop? And can they inspire the players to have confidence and trust to do their job. I think we do have those guys. I’m excited about our staff, and more excited about our players, I love our players. And then the adjustment for me really is when to allow guys to coach, and then when to make sure that, hey, this is what I want done, and this is kinda how I want it done. There’s a fine line. Dean [Pees] and Matt [LaFleur] have been great, and Craig Auckerman coordinating their units. And it’s just being able to allocate my time in certain areas, and being around and being noticed, being in a special teams meeting, being in an offensive line meeting, just making sure that everyone understands that their job is critical to our success.”

The MMQB: I’ve heard you say to the players—I’ve been every one of you, the mid-round pick, the young special teamer, the veteran, the free agent, the older guy. What kind of leg up did that give you?

Vrabel: “It gives me an in. It gives me a way in to the club. But after that, I’m going to have to earn their respect in the way I coach this team, handle situations, handle discipline and make sure the guys are doing what’s best for the team. Really, the fact that I used to be one of those guys—being in different situations, as a young player, a veteran player, a free agent, on and on—it gives me an in, but that’s about it.”

The MMQB: Did you think you’d make it here this fast when you went into coaching seven years ago?

Vrabel: “No. It happened fast. But I didn’t think that being 43 years old and having a freshman in college would happen fast. I can remember being 30, and thinking, ‘Yeah, I’ll be 42 and Tyler [Vrabel’s son who is a freshman offensive tackle at Boston College] will be in college.’ Well, I was 42 and Tyler’s in college, and I just turned 43. It all happens fast.”


… OF THE WEEK

Tweet

We’re in the midst of officials figuring out how to enforce the new helmet rule, and it could take a while for them to get there. Ultimately, I’d guess this penalty becomes like a holding call—officials could call it much more often than they do, but there are letter-of-the-rule infractions that are routinely let go. As Sherman’s tweet indicates, it’ll probably be a messy ride getting there.

Meme

I don’t know if this qualifies as a meme, but it’s pretty funny that these seemingly off-the-cuff comments from Jalen Ramsey have numbers that line right up with them. Speaking of those comments…

Quote

“I think [Buffalo Bills draft pick Josh] Allen is trash. I don't care what nobody say. He's trash. And it's gonna show too. That's a stupid draft pick to me. We play them this year, and I'm excited as hell. I hope he's their starting quarterback. He played at Wyoming. Every time they played a big school—like, they played Iowa State, which is not a big school in my opinion because I went to Florida State, and he threw five interceptions, and they lost by a couple touchdowns or something like that. He never beat a big school. If you look at his games against big schools, it was always hella interceptions, hella turnovers. It's like: Yo, if you're this good, why couldn't you do better? He fits that mold, he's a big, tall quarterback. Big arm, supposedly. I don't see it, personally.”

Ramsey to GQ’s Clay Skipper

First things first, I love the honesty (even if was Iowa, not Iowa State, that Allen played), and I’ll never tell a player who wants to speak his mind to shut up. That said, I think there are two sides to this for the Jaguars. On one hand, coach Doug Marrone has made a real effort to let players be themselves and show their personalities. On the other, my sense is that it’s the volume of these kinds of things that prompted Marrone to come down on Ramsey for fighting and then cursing at the media last week—he had to show his star corner, and the rest of the team, that there is a line. It’s a fine line, to be sure, but Marrone’s been able to walk it over the last 20 months.

Video

The Jets liked Jamal Adams’s swagger as much as his talent when the team drafted him sixth overall in 2017. And now that he’s not a rookie anymore, we’re all getting to see a lot more of that swagger.

S/O to …

Bengals QB Andy Dalton. There’s nothing not to like about what’s happened between Dalton, his wife Jordan and the Bills fan base since New Year’s Eve. After Dalton’s touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd that afternoon in Baltimore eliminated the Ravens from the playoffs and propelled the Bills into the postseason for the first time in 18 years, Bills fans reacted by flooding Dalton’s foundation with donations. This week, Andy and Jordan announced they’d be returning the favor by donating $415,000 to the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo. Just a great story all the way around.

NFL
Bills Fans’ Generosity: Meet the Families Being Helped by Donations to Andy Dalton’s Foundation

OFF-FIELD ISSUES

1. Heard that SummerSlam was last night, and it kind of made me miss being the 10-year-old trying to convince his parents to order the pay-per-view.

2. On Friday night, it seemed like the reporting on the Ohio State football situation took a turn from confronting a very serious issue to rubbernecking a really ugly divorce.

3. At Fenway the other night, I realized an amazing stat: the Orioles are more than 50 games out of first in the AL East with 40 games left.

4. The amount of construction in Nashville is staggering, and it’s going to look like a different place in five years. I remember hearing that when the NFL went to Jacksonville, the league thought the city was going to be the next Atlanta. Seems like it was right about another big Southern metropolis coming, but it just had the wrong city.

5. Zion Williamson looks like he’s a forward in Myles Garrett’s body. Watching him at Duke is going to be a blast.


TEN TAKEAWAYS

1. Some buzz from training camps I hit this week … Miami’s pumped about how third-year corner Xavien Howard is coming along. The Dolphins have big questions at the position, and if Howard’s summer translates to the fall, that would go a long way to making the rest fall into place. … The Texans have to sort out who will be the third receiver behind DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller over the next few weeks. Keep an eye on fourth-round pick Keke Coutee, out of Texas Tech. He’s made an impression, and a push for playing time. … Speaking of rookie receivers, Saints third-round pick Tre’Quan Smith is in great position to get on the field alongside Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn in Payton’s offense. He made a circus catch the day I was watching New Orleans practice, and I was assured that was no isolated incident. … And here’s another rookie to watch: Titans pass-rusher Harold Landry. The second-round pick flashed in the team’s preseason opener, and he’s been stringing good days together in camp. The Titans felt like he had the natural ability to be a top-15 pick before injuries contributed to a just-OK final year at Boston College. … Jason Pierre-Paul looks like the old JPP to Bucs people, and he showed it in his work in Tampa Bay-Tennessee joint practices last week going against the Titans’ stud left tackle, Taylor Lewan.

2. We mentioned the trade market. It’s still a little ways off from really heating up, but a number of teams are sniffing around for offensive line help. The reason why has been on everyone’s TV over the last couple of weeks—depth at those positions is spotty. So if your team has a few spare big guys, the return could actually be pretty good.

3. I asked J.J. Watt for his early opinion on the new helmet rule. Here’s his answer: “Obviously, we’ve had the refs come in and talk to us about it, we’ve learned about it. The biggest thing I’ve learned is just play the game. And in the preseason especially, you have to see how they’re calling it, understand what they’re trying to do with it. But if you let it change your game, it can really throw you off. You try to play the game as you can anyway, it’s not like I’m trying to be harmful out here. So you play, and then you learn as you go on how they’re calling it and if you have to change your game. But as of right now, I don’t see any reason why I would need to. … Of course, it’s all going to come down to how they want to officiate. I’m not even 100% sure they know exactly how they’re going to. It’s going to come down to how the ref and crews handle it, what they call and don’t call. They’re in a tough spot, you could call one on every play if you want, helmets are going to touch on every single play. Do you want to call it on every play and have a flag on every single play for 100 plays? That’s their decision.” Like I said last week, I think enforcement is the biggest issue, not the rule itself. Things happen so fast (San Francisco’s Raheem Mostert’s hit on Houston’s Tyler Ervin on a punt is a good example) that it’s hard to officiate anyway, and probably even tougher for the officials knowing the emphasis on the rule.

4. While we’re on the Texans, here’s coach Bill O’Brien on Deshaun Watson coming back from his ACL tear: “If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t think he had anything. … He did it at Clemson, and he told me when he came back pretty quickly from the Clemson injury, I remember [Clemson head coach] Dabo [Swinney] telling me that it didn’t even seem like he had a knee injury. I feel the same way. We’ve watched him in camp, obviously he’s not getting hit in camp, but that’s the same with every quarterback in the league. I think he’s been good, footwork’s been good, he’s able to plant on the knee, I feel good about him.”

5. Bills rookie Josh Allen looked very solid the other night in extended action, and it’s worth paying attention to the progress he’s made with his feet. I’m not sure he showed the ability to avoid the rush and reset, as he did in Cleveland on his touchdown throw to Rod Streater, much at Wyoming. And it looks like coordinator Brian Daboll and quarterbacks coach David Culley’s lesson are being applied, which is an awfully good early sign.

6. Good to see that Josh Gordon is ready to return to practice. We all know what the Browns receiver is capable of. The good thing, to me, is that as Hue Jackson and Todd Haley have gone about building the offense, and they consider anything that they get from Gordon to be a bonus. Based on his history, that’s the smartest way to approach it—prep Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins and Antonio Callaway for bigger roles, and adjust to what Gordon can give you on the fly.

7. Jerry Jones said this week that he and the Cowboys don’t need to see any more of Ezekiel Elliott in the preseason, based on his performance this spring and summer. Everyone I’ve talked to agrees that they’ve seen a locked-in guy over the last four months, ready to get back to being the workhorse he was for Dallas in 2016. We’ve said this before—he’s probably not the happy-go-lucky guy he was as a rookie, but those in Dallas have seen a guy playing, and working, with an edge.

8. It looks like Bears tight end Adam Shaheen dodged a bullet with what looked like a significant ankle injury the other night—and that’s important for Chicago and new head coach Matt Nagy’s offense. All you have to do is look to the Eagles and Chiefs to see how important the tight end is to Nagy. The Bears love what they’ve been getting from Shaheen, Trey Burton and Dion Sims, and it’s big that the group will go forward (mostly) intact.

9. I understand Washington turning over all the rocks it can to stock the running back room following Derrius Guice’s season-ending ACL tear, and Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall getting nicked up the other night, particularly with what Alex Smith can bring in the option game. But man … it’s weird to see Adrian Peterson’s and Jamaal Charles’s names in what amounts to a tryout for a roster spot. (Although the Cardinals coaches felt like Peterson had something left to give a team as first- and second-down back, if he wanted to keep playing, which he apparently does.)

10. Paxton Lynch not making the Broncos roster in his third year would be pretty nuts. I initially thought there must not be much of a precedent for a quarterback being cut two years after being drafted in the first round. Then I remembered it’s happened twice this decade to the Browns.


FIVE-DAY FORECAST

We’re close to decision time on whether or not rookie quarterbacks will start in Week 1—most of those calls will come over the next eight or nine days.

At this point, we know Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson will sit, at least early on. The remaining TBDs are in New York (Sam Darnold), Arizona (Josh Rosen) and Buffalo (Josh Allen).

Like we said earlier, while Bridgewater has support, Sam Darnold still has the best shot at winning the Jets job. Given the injury to A.J. McCarron, you can now say the same for Allen in Buffalo. Meanwhile, in Arizona, Sam Bradford’s done a solid job holding off Josh Rosen.

And you’ll have a chance this weekend to monitor all of that. The Jets meet the Giants (for the coveted Snoopy Trophy!) on Friday night, while the Bills host the Bengals and the Cardinals visit the Cowboys as part of a national TV doubleheader on Sunday.

This, folks, is as good as it gets when it comes to preseason football. And I’m not even being slightly sarcastic saying that.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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