Heading into Week 2 of the offseason…
1. Kareem Hunt is a Brown, and there are plenty of people who are surprised by this move, even considering the fact that Cleveland GM John Dorsey originally drafted Hunt in Kansas City. Hunt was released by the Chiefs in late November after a video surfaced that appeared to show the running back striking a woman in a Cleveland hotel last February. The NFL’s investigation is still ongoing, and the league has not yet decided if he will be suspended under the personal conduct policy. Upon signing with the Browns on Monday, Hunt was returned to the Commissioner’s Exempt List.
Hunt going back home to Northeast Ohio may not be what’s best for him. In Kansas City, before last February’s incident and until his ouster in December, Hunt had the reputation of a player who was respectful and hard-working in the building, but who had issues with alcohol and anger management outside it. And drinking had caused issues for him going back to his time at Toledo (though, at the time, his 4.6 in the 40 and the level of competition he played against were seen as bigger strikes against him).
The upside for Cleveland? Even though the Browns have Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson under contract through 2021, Dorsey and Co. are buying low on a talented kid, and the presence of Chubb and Johnson gives them the flexibility to cut bait whenever. And stocking the running game for a young quarterback is never a bad idea. The bigger question in this case is whether signing Hunt is worth the franchise’s compromised image?
2. Kyler Murray’s decision to play pro football is still reverberating, so I’ll reiterate what I’ve written the last few months—most football people I talk to see him as a second- or third-round prospect, with a good chance at going in the first round based on his position.
“I think he’d have to go to a perfect situation,” said one AFC exec, who knows Oklahoma’s program well. “And it might be there for him—I think the game’s going to the Big 12, that’s where the league’s going right now on offense. That’s why I like Kliff [Kingsbury] and Lincoln [Riley] as offensive coaches. But he’s still a really, really small person.”
That is, very much, what everyone has to wrap their arms around here. Murray isn’t just shorter than every quarterback currently in the NFL, he’s also slight. The best size comp I’ve heard on him is Doug Flutie. Could Flutie succeed in today’s NFL? I know he’d tell you he absolutely could, and Murray could prove that out. What’s fascinating about Murray is if he was 6' 4" and 225 pounds, he’d probably be the first pick in the draft. That’s what everyone said about Baker Mayfield last year, and then he became the first pick. But Baker was generationally accurate, operated from the pocket consistently, and is considerably bigger than Murray. So Murray’s got a bunch of questions to answer. I’m excited to see how he does that.
3. I don’t know if all of it was intentional, but Murray looks masterful in how he handled the last year. In June, when the A’s took him ninth overall, he had no football leverage. So he secured a $4.66 million bonus and the freedom to play football for another year—and take that year to get some football leverage. With that money in his back pocket, all he did was go and win the Heisman Trophy. That allowed him to pursue football, which it sounds like is what he wanted to do all along. Good for Murray, that he could pull this off and, in the end, pursue what he dreamed of all along.
4. Two housekeeping things on Murray. One, per NFLPA records, he still hasn’t hired a football agent. (UPDATE: Murray has hired Erik Burkhardt of Select Sports Group as his football agent.) There has been some buzz that his baseball agent, Scott Boras, may have someone in mind for him. And two, the baseball question won’t totally go away now. I’d expect teams to ask him, What if you’re available in the second or third round? If we take you there, are you still playing? Another question he should expect to hear: If football doesn’t go well early, will you stick with it? His argument there, of course, could easily be that he had to wait until his fourth year to become a full-time starter as a collegian.
5. Lots of reasons for folks to be happy that Panthers S Eric Reid got a three-year, $22 million deal from the team on Monday. But don’t mix this part up: He earned it. The coaching staff saw him as an ideal movable piece—he plays deep, underneath, at nickel linebacker, and man up tight ends and backs—for a defense that demands its safeties do multiple things. And he was a great mentor for a young corps of corners, helping fellow LSU Tiger Donte Jackson in particular.
6. They didn’t use to grow receivers like this.
(Or at least they haven’t since David Boston flamed out.)
7. I’m all for the 2019 season opener—the first game of the NFL’s 100th season—happening at Lambeau Field and involving the Bears. Makes all the sense in the world.
8. We have some leftovers from my time with Devin and Jason McCourty (check out the full interview in this week’s MMQB). One thing I found particularly interesting was the level of detail that Bill Belichick gives his players. You’ve probably seen the NFL Films clip by now of Belichick concerned over the roof closing at Mercedes Benz Stadium before the Super Bowl, then consulting special teams coach Joe Judge on it. As it turns out, Devin McCourty has an example of Belichick being that way paying off.
“I remember my rookie year, we played Jets late in the season, and Bill came up to me in pregame and said, ‘Do you feel that? The wind is blowing this way, so if they’re trying to throw a ‘9’ route, going towards the lighthouse, the wind will carry it back inside, so make sure you get your head around. The ball won’t get there, the wind is too strong.’” McCourty recalled. “And I remember running and turning around, and the ball just came right to me. Easy interception. He was right.” And you can actually see it at 3:45 mark of this YouTube clip.
9. One thing Belichick always gets credit for, rightfully, is how he can morph his offenses and defenses from one thing to the next week-to-week. It was a huge factor in the Super Bowl. What usually goes unsaid, though, is how it takes a certain type of player to make that work. Devin conceded to me Friday that there have been years when the Patriots didn’t have that (he brought 2017 as one example. This year? They had it in spades.
“I’d say last year, it was harder for us to be able to jump from all zone to all man the way we were able to do it this year, personnel-wise,” Devin McCourty said. “Steph [Gilmore] and Malcolm [Butler] are great players, but they’re more man guys. So you can have the best player, but having guys that are able to think and do different things, it helps. People don’t usually talk about that, they talk about the scheme, or this was a great call by the d-coordinator or Bill, but you need guys like Kyle Van Noy, like [Dont’a] Hightower, that can play down at outside linebacker, can play off the ball, Trey Flowers plays on the end and at 3-tech, because now it’s alright, we move Trey Flowers from end to 3-tech, dang, we’re blocking a whole different type of guy in here and now we’re in a different front. It’s harder to deal with, but you can’t do that unless you have guys that are physically versatile and also mentally can be like, ‘yeah, I’m not what I do 80% of the time, I’m in my other role.’”
10. And finally, I did ask both McCourtys about retirement. Here’s Jason: “For me, right now, I’m just hanging out with the kids and the wife. I’m a free agent, so it’s a matter of letting due process take place. So however that shakes out, we’ll see. Whatever happens, and if me and my wife are sitting there talking and saying, ‘man, this is an awesome opportunity, let’s go play’, great. At the same time, if the middle or end of March comes and you’re like, ‘this isn’t really what I thought for Year 11,’ then you start to think, ‘alright, let’s really discuss what we want to do.’ Do we want to take advantage of these opportunities or do we want to just say, no that’s not worth it? For me, family’s the most important thing, so between me and my wife, it’s figuring it out. But ideally, I’d say right now, yeah, I plan on playing football.”
And Devin: “I just want to rest right now and see how I feel. I think after the Media Night, people thought I was more retiring over anything. And I just said I would think about it. For me, I just want to see my body get healthy and feel better, and see how I feel. My wife already said she doesn’t want to see me stay at home yet, so I already got one going against me on being at home. … When Deion [Sanders] asked me that, I’d never said that. He came up to me and was like, ‘People are saying if you win this game, you might retire.’ I’d never said that. And the way he said it, I was like, ‘damn, people think that?’ So I was like, ‘this is a special year.’ No matter how much I play, I don’t know if I’ll ever have a year more special than this. Playing with [Jason] for the first time, we’re in the Super Bowl together, my mom, snow angels on the field …”
Both twins said this was their favorite year in football. But it makes sense both will take their time to make a decision.
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