- Also, keep an eye on Michael Thomas’s contract negotiations, Andy Reid’s successful coaching tree, why NFL replay needs to be more streamlined and more.
Wrapping up Conference Championship Sunday …
1. We discussed Tom Brady’s future in this week’s MMQB, and it’s worth pointing out something Bill Belichick said Friday about his own future with the Patriots when he was asked about Robert Kraft’s 25th anniversary as owner (Kraft bought the Patriots on Jan. 21, 1994): “We have a good setup here,” Belichick said. “He’s been very supportive, gives us great opportunity to go out and compete every week. We’ve done that. I hope we can continue it for a long time.”
Belichick doesn’t say things by mistake, so heed those last 10 words. They mesh with what I’d heard about Belichick’s coordinators, Brian Flores and Josh McDaniels, as they hit the job market earlier this month—my sense was neither had much clarity on when Belichick might be done. Those that know him say his passion for the game hasn’t waned in the least, and it doesn’t hurt that he has his operation wired to the point where it may not be turn-key, but it’s as close as an NFL team can be to that. I think everyone’s going to have to live with Belichick for a while longer—or everyone should at least brace for that. Apologies to the other 31 teams.
2. Also interesting was Brady and Belichick exchanging an ‘I love you’ on the field postgame. In the spring, I know Patriots upper management felt like the competitiveness and focus of their quarterback and head coach would help resolve the strife of the months prior. And they were right.
3. One thing the Patriots and Rams have in common? A very defined vision for players. New England has a much smaller draft board than most teams, one that, as it’s been explained to me over the years, is based on specific fit and projected role as much as raw talent. Los Angeles has a similarly defined talent-acquisition picture, zeroed in on what Sean McVay and Wade Phillips want at each position, which has allowed them to be liberal in dealing picks and still draft their targets later. The 2017 haul of Gerald Everett, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, John Johnson and Samson Ebukam is living proof of it. So yes, the Rams’ 2019 second- and third-round picks were sent off for Marcus Peters and Dante Fowler. But they’ll get two compensatory and thirds, and have confidence in their ability to unearth talent by turning over different rocks than other teams.
4. The Chiefs have a lot of work to do. First up is a decision on whether or not to franchise Dee Ford, which many around the NFL expect them to do. And then, they’ll have the chance to do deals for young stars Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones. As we mentioned in MMQB, both are going into contract years next year.
5. Give Andy Reid credit for developing coaches—his tree has long been one of the NFL’s most successful, and Eric Bienemy did well enough in his first year as OC to have a handful of teams put in for him in January. And behind Bienemy, Reid has his old Eagles backup QB Mike Kafka coming through the pipeline, with plans to make Kafka the next coordinator whenever he loses Bienemy. As for the other side of the ball, it’ll be interesting to see if changes come there. Bob Sutton is 67 years old and the defense wasn’t great this year. Also there were rumblings that ex-Jet coach Todd Bowles could land in Kansas City, had the timing worked out better (Bowles, obviously, is off the market now).
6. Michael Thomas’s contract negotiations should be fascinating. As great as they’ve been on offense, the Saints have only given one skill position player (other than Drew Brees) a deal averaging eight figures in their history. That was Jimmy Graham, and he was traded a year after signing that deal. Their philosophy more often than not has been to invest in the line, with the feeling that Brees can make the receivers and backs better. But Thomas is probably the best receiver that Brees has ever had.
7. Titans coach Mike Vrabel elevating his tight ends coach Arthur Smith to coordinator is very much a strike for continuity, and not just for Marcus Mariota, but for all the other guys who’ve been around as Tennessee has cycled through four OCs in five years. Smith is known in the building as smart and loyal, and has shown an ability to reach his players. It’s projection making him a playcaller, but a logical one given the circumstances.
8. I went after the officiating pretty hard on Monday morning, so here’s where I reel it back a little—I’ve seen the speed at which the game moves from field level, and it’s insane to me that people can make heads or tails of what’s going on. You have to train your eyes for it, and that becomes much harder if the target you’re training your eyes on is constantly moving (with rules always changing). So I’ll start here by saying the jobs these guys have are insanely tough.
9. So with that out of the way, it makes zero sense to me that, with the technology we have, the NFL still has the ref trudging over to the sideline to go under a hood. Do it in New York. Do it in the booth. Stop wasting time with that (and sorry if that’s an affront to Microsoft’s sponsorship tie-in). Why can’t all this be streamlined, like it is in college, in 2019? And why is it that we have 55-45 calls getting overturned, and obvious misses standing just based on what the competition committee decides should be reviewable? None of this makes sense and, like I said Monday morning, the league’s handling of it (which was suspiciously like how I’d handle getting in trouble in the sixth grade) made it much worse. Make everything reviewable, tie it to challenges so you don’t have endless reviews, and put a shot clock on the reviews so only the obvious misses get overturned. Done and done.
10. It’s Senior Bowl week, so here’s a nugget to leave you with—more NFL types are high on Missouri QB Drew Lock than you might think. I’m not saying he’ll wind up in the first round. I am saying he’s got a shot to take some pretty big steps starting this week, and I don’t think it’s out of the question that he gets there.
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