As early as this morning, the Palm Beach County state attorney’s office is expected to issue a warrant for the arrest of Robert Kenneth Kraft, on two charges of soliciting a prostitute. The 77-year-old owner of the Patriots was among 25 johns who are alleged to have sought illicit services at Orchids of Asia day spa in Jupiter, Fla., not far from where Kraft keeps a home.
I’ve covered the NFL long enough to know not to throw around the word “unbelievable” too much to describe on-the-field or off-the-field acts. Along those lines, this story wasn’t “unbelievable” to me.
But the fact that it was to so many people explains the damage done to Kraft.
Kraft is the front-facing owner of the greatest dynasty of this, and maybe any, NFL generation. Every time you watch the Patriots on TV, you can bet there’ll be a shot of him in his suite, often with other recognizable faces. He was at the NBA’s All-Star weekend in Charlotte. He’s spent time with Meek Mill over the last year. He loves the spotlight and, until now, the spotlight has mostly loved him back.
On top of all that, the NFL has positioned him as a statesman of professional football. He has the requisite resources to command the respect of all his peers, and he has been a major player in league matters. He currently chairs the media committee and serves on the CEC, finance and NFL Network committees. He was the face of the 2011 lockout resolution. He’s been a sounding board for commissioner Roger Goodell.
And he’s now one of the guys busted at a day spa in a strip mall in South Florida.
To be clear, these charges would hit any owner’s reputation like a hurricane. It’ll hit Kraft harder not because of who he is, but because of whom he was made out to be.
I was looking forward all week to giving you a preview of the draft class ahead of the combine. And we’re going to give you that in this pre-Indy MMQB, plus
• A look at the real value of the compensatory picks you heard about on Friday afternoon.
• The comps that the Steelers are looking at to ascertain the trade value of star receiver Antonio Brown.
• Could Odell Beckham Jr. really be moved?
• The franchise-tag situation for key pass rushers.
• Explaining the fall of Christian Hackenberg, and why the correct pro-athlete comp for him might actually be ex-Yankee Chuck Knoblauch.
But we’re starting with the explosive news of Friday afternoon, and what it means.
The larger story here is the issue of human-trafficking. On Tuesday, Martin County (Fla.) sheriff William Snyder announced an investigation into a human trafficking ring involving illegal sex work at several day spas across the area. The victims involved were allegedly detained on site permanently and reportedly served up to 1,500 male clients a year.
The NFL is no stranger to the issue of human-trafficking. Not only have Super Bowl host cities fought against it annually, but four years ago, the Patriots donated $1.6 million to charities related to domestic violence and sex trafficking. That’s what makes this one so tough for Kraft to get around.
There’s no evidence Kraft knew that Orchids of Asia was part of a larger sex-trafficking ring, and through a Patriots spokesman, he’s plainly denied doing anything illegal. What’s harder to believe is that he didn’t know what he was getting himself into, walking into a place like that.
The cops say they have video of Kraft receiving sexual acts (that video has not yet been made public), but either way, Kraft is dealing with a big mess, as is the NFL—no stranger to its owners stepping in it. Even then, this one is different.
Before Colts owner Jim Irsay was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs in 2014, he’d been known to be eccentric, and he dealt with substance abuse in his past. Before SI exposed the workplace issues in Jerry Richardson’s Carolina, he’d already been positioned as a relic of a different era, an old man with outdated views in a lot of different ways.
All these scandals are bad, of course. And yet, to those in the general public, the Kraft case isn’t the same. Because of his carefully-constructed reputation. Because of his high profile. Because of the good he does, both on the field and off. Put simply, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Our Jenny Vrentas did a thorough rundown of what’s going on here for the site on Saturday. Here are a few other things to remember …
• In cases like this, law enforcement’s focus is on the traffickers. The women are seen as victims, and the punishment for the johns is the embarrassment of having to go through it. If the johns are famous, that’s a plus for the authorities, because it raises the profile of the case, and could create a deterrent for people on both sides of the transaction down the line.
• Even though the second-degree misdemeanor carries potential for a 60-day jail sentence, it’s more likely Kraft will face a fine. It also stands to reason that Kraft would want no part of the case actually going to court, so he will probably be motivated to settle. He could but does not have to appear in court, with the option there to have an attorney show for him.
• The greater issue for Kraft will be with the league. Because it’s more of a personal matter than any sort of workplace issue, the Patriots owner’s case lines up more succinctly with Irsay’s than it does Richardson’s. Irsay received the maximum allowable fine ($500,000) plus a six-game suspension. Such a suspension for Kraft would mean missing the team’s sixth banner-raising ceremony before a primetime Week 1 game, which would put the spotlight on the case again.
• Kraft was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame before this. I think he still gets there, based on a pretty crazy level of accomplishment, both on league and team levels. In fact, with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen going in this summer, plenty believed he was next in line. But there’s no question this could, at the very least, delay his entry.
• Could this hasten the eventual handoff of the team from Robert to son Jonathan? Kraft’s prideful, so I have a hard time imagining that he’ll slide off into the sunset with this as the last memory of his run as an NFL owner. But this situation will follow him around, and he could eventually decide he doesn’t want to deal with the scrutiny of being the team’s front man anymore.
Operating in the shadows would be a big change for Kraft. Three weeks ago at the Super Bowl in Atlanta, Kraft reveled on the big stage, rightfully proud of everything he’d done for the NFL and the world it lives in. He was seen as the ultimate winner, an ambassador for the NFL, a great philanthropist and a leader in pro sports.
There’s still time for him to be remembered as all those things again. But there’s something else now, too, he’ll be remembered for. And the Patriots owner will have to live with how the public decides to hold on to that part of his story, and how big a part it ends up being as a result of that.
That’s one thing that, in the end, won’t be for Kraft himself to decide. It’ll be up to the people who didn’t see this coming.
IT’S NFL COMBINE WEEK
I love the draft. Always have. Always will.
As most of you know, I’m a big college football guy and a big football-at-any-level guy, so the intersection of the NFL and its de facto minor league is right in my wheelhouse. The combine, which starts on Tuesday, is the unofficial kickoff to draft season.
To break it down for us, I brought in two guys you know—Daniel Jeremiah from NFL Network and Todd McShay from ESPN—and two guys you might not know—ex-Raiders director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales, who was dismissed in January but evaluated the class for Oakland in the fall, and ex-Titans college scouting director Blake Beddingfield, now director of football ops for the AAF’s Memphis Express.
We’ll hit all the themes, and we can start with what everyone wants to talk about …
KYLER MURRAY VS. DWAYNE HASKINS
Murray’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, said on Barstool’s Comeback SZN podcast that the Heisman winner now weighs 205 pounds. Jeremiah told me on Sunday he heard it was 203. And on Thursday morning, Murray will have to step on a scale and reveal the truth to all of us in one of the most anticipated weigh-ins of the combine.
“The size will be an issue some,” Clinkscales said. “But if he’s in shotgun a lot, he already has the ability to scan the field. I do think with his style of play, and his size—and I’m not necessarily talking about the height part of it, it’s that he feels he looks small —standing on a scale will be important. A 190-pound quarterback can only last so long in the National Football League.”
And if he’s really 203, like Jeremiah heard? Or 205, like Burkhardt said?
“I had two concerns with him. The first concern was commitment and focus, and the second was bulk,” Jeremiah said. “I heard he was 183, 185 during the season, all these weights. And then I heard from someone close to him, he’s 203. If we get to the combine, he’s 203 and he’s written a check to [Oakland] A’s [to return a portion of his signing bonus], then I’m not sure what else there is to be hung up on. …
“I think Kyler can do just about everything Dwayne can throwing the football, and there are just things Murray can do with his feet that Dwayne can’t.”
Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins was the presumed first quarterback to go until Murray Mania hit a couple weeks ago. As it stands now, Beddingfield, McShay and Clinkscales all put in their educated guesses that Haskins still is that guy, and will be drafted in front of Murray on April 26.
“But it wouldn’t shock me at all if it’s Kyler,” McShay says.
And as for perspective on how they’d rank with the ’17 class, McShay told me he’d have Haskins and Murray at 5 and 6, behind the four quarterbacks that went Top 10, but ahead of Lamar Jackson. Jeremiah said he has the same grade on Murray he did on Josh Allen, which would tie him for fourth, and he’d have Haskins behind those two, as well as Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, and Josh Rosen, but ahead of Jackson.
THE QUARTERBACKING FIELD
One general manager told me Sunday he believes Murray and Haskins are the only two starting quarterbacks in the class. Another GM agreed with that. And I didn’t get much pushback from our panel.
“I think it’s those two, then you’d be gambling,” said McShay. “I’d say [Missouri’s] Drew Lock is the best gamble, because he has all the tools, the athleticism, all that stuff. But coming from the spread, he’d have to learn to go through progressions, set protections, he only started with that last year [with Derek Dooley’s arrival at Mizzou]. And his decision-making is erratic and his accuracy is inconsistent.”
Duke’s Daniel Jones inspired skepticism. NC State’s Ryan Finley actually got more praise than I expected. And it sounds like those are the three with the best shot at going alongside Haskins and Murray.
“I don’t think it’s as pro football ready, given all the characteristics, as the class last year,” Clinkscales said. “I really do like Haskins, he’s a big, strong, physical kid with a big arm who probably has a little more mobility than you think. Obviously he’s just a one-year starter but so is Kyler Murray.”
That’s sort of the QB class in a nutshell—the top two have 28 college starts between them, while all five of last year’s first-rounders were multi-year starters.
THE BEST POSITION
Right now we’re all talking about Murray. But the scouts have been talking about the defensive line group and have been for quite some time. So when I ask what jumps out about this draft class to them, all four of our panelists gave the same answer.
“The depth of the D-line class, it’s an easy answer,” Beddingfield said. “It’s rare that you have that many players, players that can play in multiple defenses, that can play on all three downs. It’s a premium position, everyone’s looking for them, and this draft has a lot of them. It’s the numbers. More than the elite guys, there are just a lot of starting-caliber defensive linemen. A good group of players that can step right in.”
Ohio State’s Nick Bosa has been, and should remain at the top of the class because of his combination of talent and refinement (McShay said of Bosa’s use of his hands: “It’s martial arts almost, I don’t know how else to describe it”). Alabama’s Quinnen Williams is right there with him. And then there’s one other player right there.
“[Mississippi State’s Jeffrey] Simmons would make it three if he didn’t have the injury and the character stuff,” said McShay. “If not for the ACL,” Jeremiah affirmed, “Simmons is in that mix.”
Simmons, you may remember, was caught on video punching a woman during his senior year in high school. In the time since, his coaches at Mississippi State have sworn by him to scouts. But more recently, in training for the combine, he tore his ACL, which makes him as complicated a prospect as there is in this class.
Another thing that won’t help Simmons is the depth Beddingfield referenced. McShay says he heard Michigan’s Rashan Gary will run in the 4.5s at 280 pounds. Light-ish Houston DT Ed Oliver has game-wrecking potential. And three Clemson defensive linemen could go in the first round. Then there’s Mississippi State’s other DL, Montez Sweat, Florida’s Jachai Polite and … so on and so on.
“I’ve been doing this 20 years, and this the strongest I’ve seen top-to-bottom, in terms of d-tackles and edge guys,” McShay said.
THE NEXT GRONK?
Three of our four panelists raised Rob Gronkowski’s name when discussing Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson, and they did it in a “I’m not saying, I’m just saying” sort of way.
“I think Hockenson’s the cleanest player in the draft,” Jeremiah said. “There’s nothing that you’d want from that position that he doesn’t have. He has all of it. We just saw the value of in-line, ‘Y’ tight end in the playoffs. I’m not saying he’s Gronk. But he’s dominant in the run game, and it’s hard to find that without sacrificing athleticism. … To me, as a draft pick, he’s right in the middle of the fairway.”
He, his Iowa teammate Noah Fant (who’s more on a H-back type) and Alabama’s Irv Smith could land in the first round. What’s more, there’s depth into the second and third rounds at a position (with guys like Stanford’s Kaden Smith, BC’s Tommy Sweeney and Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger) that has been weak in the draft over the last few years.
“There are some guys that give you the ability to stretch the field,” Clinkscales said. “There are other guys that give you the versatility to line up and power the ball down the field, because they’re really good blockers, true Y guys. I think you’ll have a chance to get better pretty quickly at the tight end position.”
Beddingfield added, “Teams are gonna get a first-round caliber defensive lineman in the second round. And when teams value their board, they’ll see second-round caliber tight ends in the third round. There’s gonna be good value in that position.”
Like tight end, safety has been a position that’s had a rough class or three this decade, but starting with the 2017 class, headlined by Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker, we’ve seen a resurgence at that spot. And this class is no different.
There’s no Adams or Hooker. But there are good players everywhere. McShay says he has 14 guys with grades in the first four rounds, whereas the average for the three years prior to this one was 11. And what jumps out about them is how they’re built for the 2019 game.
“It’s a different group,” Beddingfield said. “They’ve evolved into the cover corner position in the NFL, because of how the passing game works, so you need guys who have coverage ability and can tackle. It’s the safety who can do it all. It’s a nice group of athletes that are coming.”
Among the top guys: Mississippi State’s Jonathan Abram, Delaware’s Nasir Adderly, Washington’s Taylor Rapp and Alabama’s Deionte Thompson. And I’ll add that a lot of the hard-core football people I respect love the heady, tough Rapp.
The depth at the position should be there, too, right into Day 3 of the draft, with guys like Boston College’s Will Harris, Kentucky’s Mike Edwards, Miami’s Jaquan Johnson and Utah’s Marquise Blair standing as potential values.
OFFENSIVE LINE HELP IS ON THE WAY
Jeremiah was the one guy who didn’t limit his answer to the above question—what stands out most about the class?—to the defensive line.
“You have premier big guys on defense, and the depth of big guys on offense, those two things jump out right away,” he said.
There’s no Anthony Munoz or Walter Jones or even Taylor Lewan type left tackle in the group. But there are a lot of interior linemen and swing tackles that could start on Day 1. “In the second round,” Jeremiah says, “I could see four of the Top 10 picks being interior linemen.”
That’s good, too, since the NFL is so hard up for offensive linemen that in the span of a week of free agency last year, Nate Solder became the highest paid tackle in NFL history, Andrew Norwell the highest paid guard, and Ryan Jensen the highest paid center. Getting a good starter on second- and third-round deals will, by comparison, feel like stealing.
WHAT’S NOT GOOD ABOUT THE CLASS?
In three words: The skill positions.
“It’s a pretty average year at wide receiver,” Clinkscales said. “You have to find a guy that fits the style and the mold that you’re looking for. You can probably say the same at running back this year, given that maybe the best running back coming out is a guy that really didn’t start at his school, the kid from Alabama. Those are the two obvious positions.”
Jeremiah happens to love that Alabama running back—Josh Jacobs.
“So I do have the one running back high, but after that, you might as well wait on them, because a guy in the second round’s not going to be different than a guy in the fourth,” he said. “The receivers, there two are freaks in their own way. Even after the lisfranc [injury], [Oklahoma’s] Marquise Brown’s tape is so good, I couldn’t move him down. And [Ole Miss’] DK Metcalf is the other freak, in a different way.”
If you have Twitter, you saw last week that it’s in a very un-receiver-like way. He’s more of an Incredible Hulk-style freak.
Which can bring us right back to where we started: whether Murray can look a little more Hulk-ish on Thursday than the scouts who went through Oklahoma thought he was back in the fall. More than you think could be riding on it.
1. The last few years, the idea of compensatory picks as currency has hit the mainstream to the point where some fans are now viewing the ones given at the bottom of the third round—which is as high as they go—as gold. The truth? Well … Here’s the complete list of players to be drafted with those picks in the last four years:
• 2015: Geneo Grissom (Patriots), Steve Nelson (Chiefs), Paul Dawson (Bengals)
• 2016: Graham Glasgow (Lions), Vincent Valentine (Patriots), Rees Odhiambo (Seahawks), Justin Simmons (Broncos)
• 2017: Cordrea Tankersley (Dolphins), Chad Williams (Cardinals), Rasul Douglas (Eagles), Jonnu Smith (Titans), Brendan Langley (Broncos), Nazair Jones (Seahawks), Trey Hendrickson (Saints), C.J. Beathard (49ers), James Conner (Steelers), Amara Darboh (Seahawks), Kendall Beckwith (Bucs).
• 2018: Mason Cole (Cardinals), Jordan Akins (Texans), Isaac Yiadom (Texans), Dorian O’Daniel (Chiefs).
… There are good players in that mess of names, of course. But Conner is the only one of the 22 to make a Pro Bowl to this point. In fact, he’s the only one of 34 third-round comp picks to make it this decade. Which is just something to keep in mind, when you’re weighing whether your team should let a player go, and may be thinking, “Well, we’ll just get a good comp pick back anyway.” Remember, those third-rounders are compensation for the most highly paid free agents. (By the way, the best comp pick of all-time probably will always be the 199th pick in the 2000 draft... I’m sure you guys know who that is.)
2. Why the increased picks in 2017? That was the first year that comp picks were allowed to be traded, which certainly affected how they were valued by teams. Another factor? The last couple weeks, you’ve heard more and more that, rather than cutting players, teams were “declining options” on guys like Pierre Garçon, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Terrance Williams, because more teams are structuring contracts that way. Why? Because if you cut a player, he doesn’t go into the comp pick formula. If you decline his option, he does. And more than just teams being smarter about the CBA, it’s something players should pay attention to when negotiating contracts—doing these deals this way actually creates incentive for teams to whack guys.
3. I’d be stunned if the Steelers woke up one morning and decided to stand down on what they want in exchange for Antonio Brown. One reason why is that they have as sharp an analytics team as any in the NFL, with Omar Khan, Samir Suleiman and Karim Kassam all invested in that area. Another is that GM Kevin Colbert isn’t going to proceed with fear (see: Bell, Le’Veon).
What might the Steelers want? Let’s look at a few comprobable trades: Oakland got a first-round pick for Amari Cooper in October, and Brandin Cooks fetched a first-rounder for New Orleans in 2017, then another for New England last March. And both of those players were nearing the end of rookie contracts. Brown, on the other hand, has $39 million over three years left on his deal (which is a bargain, even if another team has to guarantee some of it to appease the star receiver).
4. Speaking of high-end receivers on the trade market, I don’t think the Giants are going to start actively shopping Odell Beckham Jr., but I do think they’ll listen to offers. The 26-year-old has a balanced contract that would be easy to move—he’s due $17 million this year and $15 million per over the four years (2020-23) following that, taking him past his 31st birthday and three years into the next CBA.
Why would it make sense to move him? The Giants finally, last November, conceded publicly what had been apparent – a rebuild was overdue, and there was no need to keep chasing the fluky playoff campaign of 2016. “I’m not sure it’ll be a quick fix,” is how owner John Mara put it. It means the team is going to get younger. It means the team is probably transitioning quarterbacks soon. It means the franchise needs draft capital. And it’s pretty easy to see how dealing Beckham could serve them in all three of those areas, as great of a player as he is.
5. In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to watch which pass rushers get franchise-tagged. The Chiefs (Dee Ford), Seahawks (Frank Clark), Texans (Jadeveon Clowney) and Cowboys (Demarcus Lawrence) will meet with the reps for their players this week at the combine in Indianapolis and kick the tires on getting a deal done before the March 5 deadline to franchise players.
Of the four, my guess is that Kansas City and Ford have the best shot at finding a compromise. Conversely, I’m told Lawrence plans to sit out through the spring—his tag number, as a repeat tag-ee, is a robust $20.572 million—if he doesn’t get a long-term deal. Chances are, if his camp and the Cowboys can’t hammer out an agreement, he’ll sign that tender at some point between the July 15 deadline to negotiate a multi-year contract and the opener—although I’m sure he’ll threaten to sit like Bell did this year in the interim.
6. One leftover piece from the story I did with Lincoln Riley this week … I asked the Oklahoma coach when he first got the inkling that his former quarterback, Kyler Murray, may be wavering even a little bit on the deal he struck to play baseball for the Oakland A’s: “I thought the whole time, depending on how he played and how the year went, if football became a realistic option, that it was at least going to be a decision he was going to [have to] make, it was at least going to be a conversation. And I think probably around mid-season, when you kind of looked back at the first half of the season and see what he’d done, how he’d improved, the way he’d played, I felt like there was a chance he could have a special year and that we could have a special year as a team, and he could really position himself well, so long as he’d keep improving through the year, which he did. I’d say you’re kind of in the moment during the year, but midseason, around our bye week, I kind of started thinking in my mind that he was probably going to have a tough decision to make.”
It’s not wholly surprising, either. Word among scouts, even when they thought he was going to play baseball, was that Murray preferred football. If that’s true, I’m sure Riley knew it. And if he knew that, it’s not hard to figure why he’d be guessing that Murray might waver in the end.
7. Todd Gurley was in the news again this week, with Rams teammate C.J. Anderson saying Gurley was more banged up than he let on. When a story like this pops up —Anderson describes an injury that was chronic—and the player in question is a running back, it’s hard not to think about his football mortality. I still think Gurley has a lot of good days left, but some of the Rams’ logic in paying Gurley early, rather than waiting, is showing. They paid him at 23 years old, and gave him $40 million over the first three years of the deal (last year, this year and 2020). Then, they’re out of the guarantees, and ’21 (age 27), ’22 (28) and ’23 (29) are essentially affordable team options. Contrast that to Bell’s situation, where the Steelers dealt with drama the last three years, and wound up having to budget over $26 million in cap for 15 regular season games and a single playoff game. Now, Pittsburgh did make a solid attempt to extend Bell, so they’re not the only ones at fault here. But it’s not hard to see where the Rams did well with Gurley’s contract.
8. The Bengals finally have themselves a defensive coordinator, in Giants secondary coach Lou Anarumo, and I’ve heard that people there should expect a pretty good sense of familiarity. The guts of Anarumo’s defense will be of ex-Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s scheme—Anarumo coached under ex-Zimmer lieutenants Kevin Coyle and Vance Joseph in Miami, so it’s not hard to connect the dots. From there, the plan is for Anarumo to sprinkle in elements of what he learned coaching for Giants coordinator James Bettcher last fall. That unit, you might not know, pressured almost 60% of the time on first and second down in 2018.
9. I think Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski is right to believe that Gary Kubiak’s presence will help Kirk Cousins in his second year in Minnesota. Kubiak’s a Mike Shanahan guy, and Shanahan believed Cousins was a franchise-quarterback fit in his system. The results, under Shanahan protégé Sean McVay in DC, are good evidence of that, too.
10. At this point, it’s hard not to feel for ex-Jet Christian Hackenberg, who was benched by AAF Memphis Express coach Mike Singletary on Saturday night after throwing two picks in a loss to the Orlando Apollos (Zach Mettenberger was the relief pitcher there, in case you’re wondering). The downward spiral continues for the 2016 second-round pick—a spiral that really started with where he was drafted.
Hackenberg was thrown in the NFL ocean as the fourth quarterback taken that year as a player whose mechanics came undone after Bill O’Brien left Penn State following his freshman season suddenly facing a new set of expectations. Those who were there concede now he could’ve used a couple years on a practice squad. Instead, he started missing, and under scrutiny from inside and outside the organization, could never stop the bleeding. (If you want to simplify it, he developed the yips.) If his first three weeks in the AAF are any indication, his situation might pan out more like Chuck Knoblauch’s—incurable. It’s also more proof that, for better or worse, a player never lives down the spot he was drafted.
… OF THE WEEK
“AB is arguably the hardest worker I’ve ever been around. It comes through his competitive nature, desire. ... You could never ask anything more of that guy. He wanted to do it all, all the time. What more could you ask for?” — Ex-Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
After Haley arrived in Pittsburgh,I remember talking with Haley about Antonio Brown, and he said, “this guy is Terry Glenn.” He liked Brown more than ex-Steeler Mike Wallace when few others did, and oversaw his development (receivers have always been a specialty of Haley’s) as Brown went from good to great to elite. And he’s not lying. Part of Brown’s dichotomy is that for a guy who can tear a team apart, he gives everything he has to the game. As we wrote in January, he was frustrated with others who hadn’t made the commitment he had.
You are who your best players are. Our own Jenny Vrentas wrote a couple years ago on the impact that Belichick MF’ing Brady has on the rest of the Patriots—which is one way Brady sets the tone for everyone (as he once texted Bill O’Brien, he wants to be coached). The flip side of that? If you entitle your quarterback, others with a natural sense of entitlement (which plenty of athletes have) probably won’t back off it.
The idea of my school’s old ball coach, Urban Meyer, at LIV, is pretty outstanding.
I’m sorry we keep harping on it, but it sure does feel weird that their story ended with this: Jaguars 45, Steelers 42 in the 2017 AFC Divisional Round.
Oliver’s taken a pretty good beating over the last three months, so it’s gotten easy to forget the freaky John Randle-type stuff he’s capable of. But we shouldn’t let that happen. I had a top NFC exec tell me last summer that the Houston star looked to him like an inside ’backer in the open field. Here, in his own way, my old buddy/colleague Lance reiterates the thought.
SIX FROM SATURDAY
1. The first time I ever talked to him, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach told me what Wes Welker’s patented move at parties was. I can’t repeat it here, but I can say that I’ve loved the guy ever since. And so I’m jealous of the Washington State kids who get to take “Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategies with Professor Leach this spring.
2. Speaking of Leach guys, if the Cardinals and USC both play well offensively in 2019, then you can bet Trojans OC Graham Harrell (a former Packers and Jets backup) will become a name to watch as a potential NFL coordinator.
3. After last week’s injury to Duke star basketball player Zion Williamson, the NFL’s and NBA’s draft rules were thrust into the spotlight again. So why won’t the NFL rule change? Simple. The owners like the setup now, for obvious reasons: they get at least three years of evaluation before the players go pro, and some of those players arrive as ready-made stars. And the union is led by veteran players, who could see jobs taken away by younger guys. If this is an issue of collective bargaining, which the courts ruled it was in the cases of Ohio State’s Maurice Clarett and USC’s Mike Williams in 2004, there really isn’t anyone picking up the bat for the Trevor Lawrences of the world.
4. The new Miami punter is hilarious.
5. Sources say that Major Applewhite turned down a job with the Jets to become an Alabama analyst, because Applewhite’s goal is to become a head coach in college again. Working with Nick Saban is not a bad step to take to try and get there.
6. Ready for me to say something nice about Michigan? Good on Jim Harbaugh for taking his team on interesting spring trips. This year, the Wolverines are going to South Africa. What a great experience for those kids to experience a different culture.
S/O TO …
My dog Gunner, for scaring the crap out of me and my whole family by disappearing for about 90 minutes on Sunday night. I drove like a maniac through our town, yelling his name out my car window while cruising at about 20 MPH for a good 45 minutes, then went stomping through the woods. Where did I find him? Hiding under a tree in our backyard. We were in Florida all last week, and my wife thinks Gunner was carrying out revenge for leaving him here with her parents. If so … well-played.
I wound up not filing this thing until almost 2:30 a.m. ET (second s/o to my wonderful editor Bette Marston for putting up with me so consistently).
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Be careful this week about listening to anyone saying they should change the drills at the combine or move the event to another city. The reason: The teams and scouts and combine officials themselves prize data collection and consistency.
This event is the only chance for the scouts to get apples-to-apples 40s and verticals and shuttles and bench presses, and can compare them to others across the years without having to adjust anything. Everyone has to interview in the same environment, lift in the same environment and run in the same environment. And that’s an important piece of it.
The other is the medical piece. This year, 337 players were invited to the combine—that is a ton of physicals to do in four days, but Indy and its hospitals have had a lot of practice, and they have the routine down pat. The last thing the teams want is for the event to be moved to a new city, and complicating the gathering of what most teams regard as the most important info they get out of it.
As for the fun stuff—who’ll run what, jump what, etc.—I’ll see you guys in the Monday Afternoon Quarterback for more on that.
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