Maybe it was by accident that things came undone this year. That Antonio Brown’s relationship with Ben Roethlisberger crumbled, that JuJu Smith-Schuster winning the team MVP happened to set Brown off just as this season came to a close.
If it was, then the timing was awfully fortuitous for the superstar wide receiver.
Why? As the calendar turned from 2018 to ’19, the guaranteed money on the four-year, $68 million extension Brown signed two years ago was running out; all that was left, in essence, was three team options, at $15.125 million for 2019, $11.3 million for ’20 and $12.5 million for ’21. Those set a ceiling for how much Brown could make, without guaranteeing him much of anything.
So maybe Brown’s frustration with the Steelers organization legitimately boiled over this fall. I heard that Brown became increasingly detached as the season wore on, and not necessarily bad, but different around those in the building, and maybe it’s only coincidence that his detachment lines up with his financial situation changing.
Either way, lots of players are paying attention to what Brown just pulled off. The star wide receiver’s big score could have a ripple effect that reverberates in other cities in the not too distant future, mainly because what he just did—regardless of the motives or level of premeditation—worked.
With the trade to the Raiders, Brown went from $0 fully guaranteed to $30.125 million fully guaranteed. He went from $38.925 million over the next three years to $50.128 million. The APY (average per year) on that four-year extension jumped from $17 million to $19.8 million. And you better believe other players (and their agents) are taking notice of how he did it.
“What’s going to happen,” one prominent agent said Sunday afternoon, “is that superstar players are going to see that their only leverage is to force a trade and get a new deal from their new team.”
Michael Thomas is going into a contract year in New Orleans. Ditto for Amari Cooper in Dallas. Julio Jones has no more guaranteed money left on the two remaining years of his deal in Atlanta, and was promised by management last summer that he’d get new contract this year. Odell Beckham, believe it or not, is only a year away from being out of guarantees in New York.
What Brown just showed all of them is, if you’re a real superstar with leverage, being willing to get muddy can make you filthy rich. Which, truth be told, has been how it’s always worked in the NFL.
Excited for this week’s MMQB, with the beginning of the league year, and all it brings with it, around 60 hours away. We’ve got you with:
• A tick-tock account of how Eric Weddle became a Ram, an outcome that couldn’t have matched what he was looking for more perfectly.
• Why this is an extremely important week for the NFLPA, and one that could start to set the table for the 2021 lockout/strike/what it’ll be then.
• The reasons why the Chiefs would even look at the idea of trading Dee Ford.
• How pass-rushers are about to get paid.
• The reasons for Sunday trading.
• Along those lines, a couple players who could be moved as a result of it.
But we’re starting with the biggest story of the week, and 2019 so far.
After weeks of flying rumors—and a failed trade to the Bills—Brown finally got what we wanted from the Raiders, which was more money and to be away from Roethlisberger and his home of nine years. And he’ll take the reputation hit that comes with it. Let’s empty the notebook here one more time with a few facts on how it all went down.
The Raiders were identified by the Steelers as a trade partner early on.When I say early, I mean back before the Super Bowl, when Pittsburgh could still realistically expect a first-round draft pick in return. Oakland coach Jon Gruden loves veterans and openly discussed his team’s need for a No. 1 receiver after trading away Amari Cooper to the Cowboys. And Oakland had three first-round picks, thanks to the Cooper and Khalil Mack trades.
First-year GM Mike Mayock, very clearly, was disciplined about maintaining the team’s draft position (he holds four of the top 35 picks). But the Steelers had their eyes on the Raiders throughout.
Brown’s demands intensified as the saga dragged on.A week ago, teams involved were under the impression that the star receiver would need “tweaks” to his deal, not a complete overhaul. With the baseline being just $13 million for the next three years, tweaks, to most suitors, were doable. And if there were only to be tweaks, the Steelers likely would’ve had a robust market.
As Pittsburgh engaged teams last week, things changed. As we’ve said in a couple places over the weekend, teams negotiating with the Steelers came to discover that Brown wanted to be the highest-paid receiver in the NFL again. And all that came to a head with Buffalo moving toward an agreement with Pittsburgh, and getting permission to speak with agent Drew Rosenhaus about Brown’s contract.
The Bills’ deal blew up, and they weren’t the first team to bail because of the money.
Oakland basically bought themselves value.The key thing to remember here is that plenty of teams will yield big money for a great player. And they’ll also fork over high-end draft capital for one. But they’re mostly loath to do both at once. So once it became Brown for draft picks and a ton of draft capital, an already tepid market collapsed.
After the Bills talks came undone, only three teams reached out to the Steelers—the Raiders, Eagles, and Redskins. Considering this is the first player in NFL history to post six consecutive 100-catch seasons, that dearth of demand is stunning, and a clear illustration of where the situation had gone.
In the end, the reason the Raiders could get Brown for the No. 66 and No. 142 picks in the draft is because of their willingness and ability to reach a revision of the contract with Rosenhaus that satisfied Brown. And even they had their problems getting there. At one point on Saturday, it looked as if contract talks were on life support, only to be revived later in the day.
So the Raiders got their man and their bargain. Where does this leave the teams?
For the Steelers, they can now, finally, move forward after a couple years of drama fueled by Brown and Le’Veon Bell. They’ll have 10 picks in April’s draft, three in the top 66, and four in the top 100. That said, there’s no question that the return (or lack thereof) for Brown has to sting.
Then again, softening the blow, there’s Kevin Colbert’s draft record at the position. Over the last decade, he drafted Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Brown, Martavis Bryant and Smith-Schuster, all outside the top 60 picks. There’s a belief that 2018 rookie James Washington, last year’s No. 60 overall pick, could be the next Steelers receiver to blossom. Which gives you plenty of reason to believe Pittsburgh will be just fine at the position.
For the Raiders, it’s fair to say that Mayock and Gruden effectively used the cap space they had (more than $60 million) as a weapon to acquire a great player. Also, Gruden’s track record with older receivers, going back to the Jerry Rice/Tim Brown tandem he rode into contention with Oakland nearly 20 years ago, has been solid. And the Raiders maintained their controlling position on the first two nights of the draft.
The risk, of course, is that Brown’s issues at the end in Pittsburgh follow him to Oakland and become a problem for Derek Carr. And there’s also the chance that Brown, 31, goes into decline before Mayock and Gruden can get the roster in a position to seriously contend.
But if Brown is what he’s been on the field for the last nine years, and won’t be what he was elsewhere for the last two, this would shape up as a steal for the new braintrust.
WEDDLE’S WAIT ISN’T LONG
On a 75-minute, three-way phone call Saturday night, Eric Weddle, the newest Rams safety, and agent David Canter walked me through the many cool details of how his situation played out over the last nine weeks. But one detail I thought was particularly interesting was how Sean McVay played the closer on Friday morning.
Weddle met with McVay for two hours on Thursday, and the two were in the midst of a second meeting, one that lasted two-and-a-half hours on Friday morning, watching tape, when it happened. As Weddle explained to me …
McVay: Eric, where did you learn your intuition, the movements, who taught you this?
Weddle: I did it on my own.
McVay: What do you mean?
Weddle: I didn’t have a veteran to help me, I didn't have a guy to lean on when I was early in my career, I had to figure it out on my own.
McVay: Honestly, Eric, there’s not one player in this league that could do what you do.
Weddle: Exactly. That’s why I’m here, right?
“It was cool,” Weddle said over the phone. “You want to be the best at what you do. If not, I don't want to be around you. I don’t want to be with average, with good. That's not in my DNA. So when you have one of the best head coaches have that much respect for you and want you to be a part of what they have, it’s definitely humbling.”
Shortly after that interaction—McVay was referencing Weddle’s ability to communicate and disguise pre-snap, and how he competes and makes things hard on the quarterback—McVay said to Weddle, “You tell me what you want to do. If you want to get this done, let’s get it done.” The coach offered to slow-play it too, if Weddle wanted to take more trips. But by then, that wasn’t necessary.
“This is a dream scenario for me,” Weddle responded.
Here’s how they got there:
Evening of Jan. 6: The Ravens’ season ends with a 23–17 loss to the Chargers in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs, and Weddle tells the media that he’ll either play for Baltimore in 2019, or he’ll retire. Later that night, he sees his family off. He and his wife, Chanel, decided that this offseason they would move back to San Diego, their planned long-term home. Their four kids (Brooklyn, Gaige, Silver, Kamri) are set to start school there the next day.
Jan. 7: Weddle had texted new Ravens GM Eric DeCosta (just taking over for Ozzie Newsome and a driving force in getting Weddle to Baltimore in 2016): “Hey, I want to meet with you before I go back to California.” That meeting happens the day after the loss to Weddle’s former team. The two are close enough that DeCosta had Weddle write reports at one point. So they spend an hour just talking.
Then, the conversation moves to Weddle’s future, and DeCosta is up front about it, saying Weddle will likely have to take a pay cut to stay. Weddle was up front too—he said he didn’t think he should have to. “But it was good,” Weddle says. “It was never heated. … I have a great relationship with him and the organization, I loved every second of it. I want to make sure everyone knows, there's no hatred, there's no bitterness.”
Later on Jan. 7: Weddle asks Canter to come to breakfast at the Blue Moon Cafe in Baltimore. The two are exceptionally close—Canter credits Weddle with saving his business by coming aboard before the 2007 draft, and Weddle calls Canter “my best friend.” When Canter arrives, with luggage in tow for his return trip to Florida, Weddle says, “I don’t know if I’m gonna be here next year.”
Canter responds, “What? You just had the number one defense in football. You’re going to the Pro Bowl.” Weddle says, “Eric told me that maybe he and [contract negotiator Pat Moriarty] would reach out to you and just discuss a pay cut.” DeCosta later confirms that for Canter, who doesn’t really believe the Ravens will go through with it. But the two are firm—they won’t take a pay cut in Baltimore.
Feb. 27-March 4: Canter heads to Indianapolis for the combine, and while he requests to meet with DeCosta there, it doesn’t happen. In part because of that, Canter’s thinking, Weddle’s crazy. No way the Ravens go through with it. He texts Weddle much the same—“Dude, you’re crazy. It makes no sense.”
March 5, 1 p.m. ET: While on the phone with franchise-tagged Cowboy DeMarcus Lawrence, Canter sees DeCosta’s caller ID pop up, and the agent takes the call. DeCosta cuts right to the chase: “I just want to let you know, I had a great conversation with Eric, and we’re going to release him.” Indeed, DeCosta and Weddle talked, with DeCosta telling the safety, “this may be the hardest thing I ever have to do in my career.”
“Then he was like, I’m going to call David,” Weddle says. “I was like ‘I can call him for you, it’s no big deal.’ He was like, ‘No, out of respect to you and David, I want to call him, I want to tell him. So immediately, within five seconds, David got the call.”
March 5, 1:30 p.m. ET: Weddle calls Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, head coach John Harbaugh and secondary coach Chris Hewitt to say his goodbyes. Meanwhile, Canter is calling the rest of the league with the news of Weddle’s cut and says he got responses from 29 head coaches and 24 GMs. “I purposefully made sure I counted them up,” he says. He wanted to show Weddle the reaction.
Canter says now, “I’ve never had anything close to that response,” and he told Weddle, “If you want to play, based on those responses, there will be interest there.”
March 6, morning: Canter has the Giants, Titans, Bucs, Texans, Chiefs and Bears interested in Weddle, with the Falcons and Eagles calling to say they love him but only had a limited role to offer. So Canter and Weddle come up with three criteria: a chance to win, proximity to San Diego and a baseline of $5 million for 2019.
“At $5 million, you're still in the starting safety range, and for 34 years old that that’s a significant deal,” Canter says. “There's a commitment on the team side. And in football the only way teams show their commitment is money.”
March 6, 4 p.m. ET: Weddle and Canter are anxiously anticipating his release becoming official with the release of the league’s daily personnel notice. Canter tells Weddle, “It’s gonna be get pretty crazy here at 4:05, 4:08, when the waiver wire comes out.” And then it comes out—but all they hear are crickets. Canter’s VP of analytics and research, Brian McIntyre, texts, “Eric’s not on the personnel notice.”
Canter texts DeCosta. DeCosta says there was a clerical error and Weddle would be on there on Thursday. “I was straight salty,” Canter says. “Here I am telling teams on Tuesday night, Eric’s getting cut. And now a day-plus later and there's nothing out there. My word is all I have in this business.”
March 6, 5:30 p.m. ET: Canter, who’s now at his son’s drum lesson, gets a text from Rams GM Les Snead, who says that the Ravens had just announced the move and explains that by the letter of the new law, that’s good enough to allow another team to set up a visit.
At this point, Canter had received what he thought were courtesy return texts from McVay and Rams COO Kevin Demoff, and he figured the Rams weren’t interested. But Snead—who was out of town—said they were and that he’d circle back after he got a better look at what was out there and returned to Los Angeles. Canter figures he getting the run-around, and he texts Weddle, “The Rams are out.”
March 6, 5:55 p.m. ET: Snead texts Canter again: “Where do you want to be financially?” Canter tells Snead that $5 million was the baseline, and Snead asks if he can get Weddle in the building on Thursday. Canter texts Weddle and says the Rams want to send a car and have him in the building on Thursday between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. local time. Then Canter texts McIntyre: “He’s gonna be a Ram.”
Canter had two other teams—one was the Bears—champing at the bit to get the first visit. But now, they’ll have to wait. “From the onset, the Rams were the top choice for what we wanted,” Weddle says, citing the criteria. “There's no denying that.”
March 7, 4:15 p.m. ET: Wanting to time the visit so it happened when Weddle was officially cut, the Rams’ car service arrived at 1:15 PT, or just after the personnel notice—this time with his name on it—came out. The one hang-up now? Weddle still hasn’t 100% decided whether or not he’s actually going to play in 2019. That decision comes on the three-hour ride from San Diego to L.A.
During an interview he did with Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, he’s asked what the game means to him. “In answering that question, I immediately got the urge and the fire and the challenge to go out and be great again,” he says. “And from there on in, I knew I was playing again, whether it was the Rams or someone else.”
Weddle had one other overriding thought on the long ride up I-5 related to old buddy Phillip Rivers. “My first thought was that we’re definitely not making this drive every day.” Rivers does do it from San Diego, although the Chargers’ facility in Costa Mesa is considerably closer to San Diego than the Rams’ facility in Thousand Oaks, clear on the other side of Los Angeles.
March 7, 7:40 p.m. ET: Weddle arrives at the Rams facility and heads to meet with McVay, with his guard up. He loved the Cowboys as a kid, and talked to them as a free agent in 2016, only to walk away from an offer that wasn’t quite what he expected. As a result of that experience, he won’t put the cart before the horse, perfect as things may seem.
He and McVay were together for two hours, and Weddle saw assistant head coach Joe Barry, who was with him in San Diego, as well as secondary coaches Ejiro Evero (who went to the same high school as Weddle) and cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant. He also runs into defensive coordinator Wade Phillips; the two just missed one another in San Diego, but Weddle ran a version of Phillips’s defense for nine years as a Charger.
March 7, 10 p.m. ET: Dinner was set for 6 p.m. local time at Mastro’s in Thousand Oaks. Weddle and the Rams’ contingent get there an hour late. Weddle, McVay, Phillips, Barry, Evero, Pleasant and tackle Andrew Whitworth make up for it by spending three hours in the place, eating and talking and having a good time.
March 8, 1:30 a.m. ET: Canter reaches out to Weddle. “Dude, what’s going on?” he says, not having heard from his client all night. Weddle says, “I knew within two minutes I wanted to be here.” But Canter still hasn’t heard from the team. So he texts the Rams’ chief contract negotiator, Tony Pastoors. “I’ll send something in the morning,” Pastoors responds.
Canter had informed Olivier Vernon that he was being dealt from the Giants to the Browns earlier in the evening, and had just been waiting to hear from Weddle after that. So he’s salty again. He stayed up all night for what?
March 8, 6:30 a.m. ET: Canter wakes up and starts to jot out a deal.
March 8, 9 a.m. ET: Weddle is back at the Rams’ facility again to meet with McVay.
March 8, 11:30 a.m. ET: The car service arrives at the Rams’ facility for Weddle. The safety hits up his agent—“Did they send you an offer?” Canter says no and figures the car means Weddle is going home without a deal. The truth is, the car is there to take him to the hospital to have his physical done.
After Weddle arrives at the hospital, Pastoors reaches out with a handful of proposals. Every proposal has a picture of Weddle and Canter on it—“I give Tony a lot of credit for keeping it light,” Canter says. And simultaneously, the Bucs come out of nowhere with a substantial offer. “Don’t you just really want to get this done with the Rams?” Canter asks Weddle.
“At the end of the day, it’s McVay, it Phillips, it’s the Rams, and they were two series away from potentially beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl,” Canter says. “And Eric was like ‘Yeah, let’s just get it done.’”
March 8, 12:30 p.m. ET: As negotiations near agreement, Canter has two requests. First, he wants—in keeping with an old Rams tradition—to have palindromes in the contract. “What? Who cares?” Weddle says. “I care, and I want them in the contract,” Canter responds. So the base salary and all the incentives, as Canter requested, are palindromes.
Second, Canter wanted clauses named after family members. So the Chanel No. 13 and Chanel No. 14 clauses are incentives tied to playing time and playoff wins in 2019 and ’20. The Brooklyn, Gaige, Silver and Kamri Ice Cream Sunday clause (a tribute to his tradition of having ice cream after wins) is tied to playing time, making the Pro Bowl and playoff wins.
Pastoors didn’t fight on that one. “It was really cool for David to think of that and to think about my kids and what they mean to me and what they mean to David,” Weddle says. “I mean, that’s kind of in a nutshell is what our relationship is. To think of those kinds of things, in that moment, is definitely pretty special.”
March 8, 4:32 p.m. ET:
There’s a story to that tweet, too. Weddle’s phone was broken, and he forgot his Twitter password, so he couldn’t even have Canter log in to his account to announce the deal. Canter had all those LA’s saved in his drafts for that moment, and decided to copy and paste them on his own timeline, which was how the whole thing was announced to the football world.
So it was done. Weddle is playing for the coach he wanted to play for, in the city he wanted to play in, for the team his dad grew up rooting for, at a stadium he dreamt of playing in as a Southern California kid. And as an added bonus, he and Chanel get free babysitting—Weddle’s parents still live where he grew up, in Rancho Cucamonga.
“I said this to a bunch of my buddies, just sitting back, how my career has come full circle and what amazing opportunity I have,” Weddle said. “To be back home, to play for an amazing organization that my dad was a die-hard fan of growing up. And he gets to be able to cheer for his son in that Rams uniform. Being close enough to home and the emotions of it, they weren’t really in the mix and then all of sudden things changed and boom they’re the lead dogs now. … It’s a dream come true.
“I can’t even express how I felt in that moment or even now. I wish it was April 15 and I could get to the team and get working with my guys.”
Pretty good bet, too, that McVay can’t wait to see what that looks like either.
1. This is an important week for the NFLPA with its annual rep meetings happening in South Florida. Last year, around 100 players came; yesterday, as the meetings kicked off, about 200 players were present. The current CBA expires in 2021 which means a potential work stoppage is now less than two years away, and the Players’ Association has already made moves. One would be the so-called Madden fund—socking away licensing money—to try and influence its members to build the financial wherewithal to lose paychecks in 2021. In 2011, the owners’ leverage was in the knowledge that the rank-and-file player would not be willing to miss games for the greater good, and the union has to find a way to change that. The union tried similar tactics a decade ago. The difference this time around is that it’s starting earlier, and with more aggression. We’ll see where it goes. In the meantime, the increased involvement is a good thing for the PA.
“I hope the guys get all the information player leadership wants to give,” union president Eric Winston texted late Sunday night. “But importantly, I want to hear from the guys. What they care about, what they think is important, what they want.”
2. It’s worth mentioning here that the wildcat tactics of Brown and Mack and Aaron Donald over the last year aren’t exactly new. In the NFL, superstar players who go to the mat get rich moreso than players unwilling to. You just see it less often now, largely because the 2011 CBA increased penalties for holding out exponentially. What guys like Mack and Donald have figured out is that, if you’re a superstar, many of the fines will be forgiven, accrued seasons aren’t as important as getting a huge payday, and withholding services remains the most effective way to make a team sweat. And it’s fair to say that Mack and Donald’s success emboldened Brown to fight like he did, even if his situation is a little different (trade demand v. holdout).
3. The case of Chiefs pass-rusher Dee Ford will be worth watching now, particularly with Justin Houston officially gone. So why is Kansas City willing to part ways with a guy who posted 13 sacks last year? As I understand it, with new DC Steve Spagnuolo in town, Ford might not have a home in the base defense or even the early-down sub packages, because of his issues holding up against the run. That’s not to say Ford can’t play for Spagnuolo—he’s a high-end pass rusher, and in today’s NFL there’s great value in that, even if it’s all you do. But if Ford will be just a situational player for Spags, it’s hard to justify giving him a contract in the range of what, say, Von Miller is making. Or even to pay him the $15.5 million attached to the linebacker tag (since he was a ’backer last year). From what I’m hearing, he would go for a second-round pick. The Packers and Niners remain in the mix, but both want to wait until after the first wave of free agency is complete, so they can take a look at pass rushers there, before getting more serious on the Chiefs star.
4. Lots of teams put money away for this offseason, looking at the pass-rusher class and figuring there’d be rare opportunity to fill a need at a premium spot. Then, Ford, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark, Lawrence and Grady Jarrett got tagged. Still I don’t expect pass-rusher-hungry teams to back down, and that means rumors of numbers getting crazy on the market are flying. Patriots edge rusher Trey Flowers could get into the $17 million per neighborhood. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see Washington’s Preston Smith get $14 million or $15 million per, or to Baltimore’s Za’Darius Smith top $12 million per.
5. This, of course, made the Rams’ ability to get Dante Fowler’s contract done before the legal tampering period kicks off on Monday pretty eye-opening. I’m told Fowler expressed his desire to stay in Los Angeles. And it stands to reason that, in Phillips’s edge-rusher-friendly scheme, and playing next to Aaron Donald, the 24-year-old could break through in 2019, and set himself up for a big payday in 2020. He did make some big plays for the team last year (particularly in the NFC title game). Now, as has been the story for much of his career, he’ll need to learn to be more consistent. Either way, the team’s decision to give up a third-round pick this year and a fifth-rounder next year for the former third overall pick looks a little bit better tonight.
6. In last week’s GamePlan, I mentioned the strong market for Washington’s Jamison Crowder, whose APY could wind up getting into eight figures. After asking around at the end of the week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tampa’s Adam Humphries up around there, too. It’s almost impossible for the Bucs to go there, given what they’re paying Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, and the fact that promising young stud Chris Godwin will eventually need to be rewarded, which explains why they’re letting him go. And if you put Humphries together with Crowder, and you see what’s happening to the value of the slot receiver, a decade after Wes Welker brought the role into a new level of prominence in the NFL.
7. With the free agent class very weak in spots, don’t be surprised to see some veterans swapped over the next couple days as teams try to avoid paying big in a soft market. The Giants/Cleveland deal of this week is a great example of what we could see more. The Browns landed the 28-year-old Vernon, who’s making $15.5 million this year, and $15.5 million next year, none of it guaranteed, which they see as better than splurging on one of the aforementioned pass rushers in free agency. And then Giants get the 28-year-old Kevin Zeitler, who’ll run them an affordable, non-guaranteed $10 million this year, and the same next year (his number goes to $12 million in 2021). That’s as opposed to pursuing/giving big guarantees to the 33-year-old Ramon Foster or 30-year-old Rodger Saffold in free agency.
8. The Jets dealing for Kelechi Osemele on Sunday was smart for similar reasons. A two-time Pro Bowler, Osemele’s still 29, younger than Saffold or Foster, and comes in at $10.2 million this year, and $11.7 million next year, which is affordable compared to what Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell got last March, and what free agent linemen will likely get this week. And that money’s not guaranteed, making it well worth it for the Jets to flip fifth- and sixth-rounders with the Raiders.
9. So could there be bigger names coming? Corner is another position that’s considered weak (word is that Ronald Darby, even coming off an ACL injury, could bring in over $12 million per) where teams could get creative. To that end, I’m told teams have been calling the Vikings asking about trading for corners Xavier Rhodes and Trey Waynes. The former is absolutely better than any of this year’s free agents at the position, and the latter may be too. Now, Minnesota’s not giving those guys away. But for the right price …
10. It’s pretty exciting to look at the Colts core, and their resources ($101.5 million in cap space, nine draft picks, three of which are in the first two rounds), and think of what could be the next few months. But I wouldn’t expect GM Chris Ballard and crew to be overly aggressive in free agency. Maybe he lands a big fish. What I believe is more likely is for Indy to work the edges of the market for complementary pieces, with the expectation that the core will continue to come from the draft, and a priority on not choking out the development of the younger set with high-priced vets from elsewhere.
… OF THE WEEK
“Arm strength? He can make all the throws. Vision? It’s hard to read vision in this offense but you do see him sit there and have poise in the pocket and be able to see the field. And in running ability, guy is an excellent runner with the football. I think he’s got Russell Wilson arm strength and Russell Wilson running ability. I think this guy has got all the potential in the world to be a successful quarterback in the National Football League. And [Patrick] Mahomes—let’s bring up Mahomes for a second. Compare him and Mahomes on the college tape, I put this guy ahead of Mahomes.”
NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly on Kyler Murray. This was Casserly’s second run at it, after his more critical look earlier in the week was panned by a pitch-fork-and-torch internet mob. So where’s the truth? Here’s what I heard on Murray’s meetings … Several teams didn’t talk much football with him. Those clubs found him introverted and to himself at first, but left feeling like he was a very confident kid that was a little quiet. Those who did put him on the board that I spoke to said he wasn’t great in that area, but added that as a one-year starter who split his focus with baseball for part of college. So he’s got some work to do to get better there. And that is to say that Casserly wasn’t as far off base as some made him out to be.
And we can play this game with my old buddy David Moore forever. The Raiders were shaking the couch cushions to find money to fund Mack’s guarantees, yet pulled out the bank card on the fly with Brown, who was only paid by Pittsburgh in the first place because of an unwillingness to pay Wallace. And so on and son on.
Just to set up the next section …
Smith-Schuster’s not Brown yet, but I think he’s got the ability to eventually get there. Remember, Brown took a while—and a lot of elbow grease—to become the player he is today. AB’s insane work ethic should never be lost in all his craziness as a personality. If Smith-Schuster lasts as long and works as hard as Brown? He’s gonna be really, really good. And I’ll say good enough, at least, to soften the blow of losing an all-time great.
Ex-Lions G TJ Lang. Lots of blood on NFL streets on Friday. Good to see an old veteran having fun with his own newfound unemployment. (And good on Detroit for giving him a proper good bye.)
Bears G Kyle Long. Interior offensive linemen are pretty funny.
S/O to …
Chargers DE Isaac Rochelle, who has a pretty awesome hobby.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINES
1. Leaving Neverland, the two-part HBO documentary that details alleged sexual assault that two men endured from Michael Jackson, reminded me how obvious it was that something weird was happening with Jackson in the 1990s, and how creepy that ranch was. It’s unbelievable and horrifying how many people looked the other way.
2. As the Brown saga dragged on last week, a number of executives brought up how the way NBA stars do business is starting to affect the NFL. Few believe it’s a coincidence that LeBron James wound up on the scene for Brown’s two-month pushback against the league establishment, via Brown’s appearance on James’s HBO TV show The Shop.
3. I went to school in a place like Austin, and let me tell you, it is very, very hard for a legend the magnitude of Vince Young to get publicly tossed aside the way Young was by the University of Texas this week.
4. I haven’t watched nearly enough of Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, and I intend to fix that once the NBA playoffs start—even if this was a little weird.
5. Injured Duke star Zion Williamson’s build has reminded me of someone else’s this entire college basketball season. This week I realized who—he’s like a 6' 7" Khalil Mack.
6. Nice work by my buddy Pete Thamel and the crew over at Yahoo! on the story about LSU coach Will Wade discussing a ‘recruting’ offer. Not at all a shocker that college basketball might be a little dirty.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Because free agency is kicking off this week, we’re going to make this “What the Players Need to Know.” And what the players need to know—and their union already does—is that it’s time to take aim at the NFL’s archaic funding rule, which is only in place to serve as a crutch for teams to sidestep having to give players fully guanteeed dollars.
I’m gonna try not to get lost in the weeds here. So this is how it works …
• Every dollar an NFL team fully guarantees that’s not due to a player at signing must be funded to the league office. That means, for example, whatever’s unpaid by the Raiders (we’ll come back to them) of the $30.125 million they’re guaranteeing Brown has to be accounted for in a check that goes into an escrow account.
• The rule is there because there was a time when there was legit concern about teams making payroll, and funding all guarantees ensured that players would get plaid. It’s been a long time since those were legit concerns.
• The rule has given safe harbor to teams that want to avoid guaranteeing money on contracts. They’ll cry poor, cite cashflow issues, and then either offer injury-only guarantees (that almost never pay off) or rolling guarantee structures that penalize the team for bailing from their players earlier, while often not making it that difficult for teams to bail.
If I’m the players, this is a pretty easy one. Go to the owners, and ask what possible benefit anyone is getting out of the rule, and why it’s still in place. There isn’t a good answer to those question. And ridding the NFL of it would be a pretty major step towards at least getting a little more money guaranteed.
Remember, there’s no CBA out there that forces teams to or prohibits teams from guaranteeing contracts. If it’s going to happen, this has to happen the old fashioned way, contract by contract. And pushing this dumb rule out of the sport would be a smart place to start.
Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.