Odell Beckham Jr. has told the Browns he will be present and accounted for when they begin their offseason program on Monday. And here’s the thing—even if Beckham couldn’t make it to Berea in time, that would have been OK, too.
Sound funny? If so, that’s because for players, this part of the NFL calendar—teams with new head coaches may begin offseason workout programs on April 1—is optional to begin with. Beyond that, Freddie Kitchens, the new head coach in Cleveland, understands that because the blockbuster trade for his new star wide receiver happened less than three weeks ago, Beckham had long-standing plans for this phase of his offseason to start on April 15, so he’s had to move things around to allow for his offseason to start two weeks earlier.
In the meantime Kitchens and Beckham have been texting. What’s important to Kitchens isn’t that he and his new star are together physically for a single day in the spring—it’s that they’re connected on another level when it really counts.
“Just like it is with everybody on our football team, he can trust me,” Kitchens said from his office on Friday. “I’m never going to betray their trust. I’m always going to shoot them straight. It’s never going to be ‘undecided’ on where I stand, they’re always going to know that in every situation they’re involved in. And every decision will be based on what’s best for our team.
“At the end of the day, I really truly feel, at the bottom of my heart, that’s all Odell wants. He wants to be able to trust somebody, and he wants somebody to be able to trust him. I think that’s what the kid wants. And that’s what he’s going to get here.”
Beckham’s attendance may be treated as a huge deal by those on the outside, but it won’t be internally by the Browns, as a new era begins. That era, of course, is being ushered with in perhaps the highest expectations Cleveland’s had for its football team since Bill Belichick was coach, which is, at least in part, because Beckham is now there.
We’re locked in for this week’s MMQB. In here, you’ll find:
• Adam Gase’s lessons taken from his 2018 season in Miami, and why it reinforced his belief that culture is such an important piece of team-building, as he gets going with the Jets.
• Breakdowns of the pro days for Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Missouri’s Drew Lock, Duke’s Daniels Jones and West Virginia’s Will Grier, through the eyes of coaches and scouts who were there—since we did the same for Kyler Murray’s pro day a few weeks back.
• Details on Greg Schiano’s departure from New England.
• An explanation of why the 2019 quarterback class matches up in an interesting way to the ’14 class.
• Signs that the AAF might be circling the drain.
But today, 2019 starts for the players on rosters of the Browns, Broncos, Dolphins and Buccaneers, all allowed to start early because they have new coaches (the Cardinals, Packers, Bengals and Jets kick off next week). Let’s start there.
All four of those teams have something worth watching right now. For Denver, it’s another turning of the page, behind Vic Fangio and Joe Flacco, in the midst of what’s seemed to be a four-year Super Bowl hangover. For Miami, it’s a total rebuild/buy-in to the type of program its divisional rival to the north has established over 19 years. For Tampa, it’s hope that years of roster-building will be brought to life by forever-young Bruce Arians.
Yet the next two months will be the most interesting in Cleveland.
This new era, to be sure, has created an atmosphere far different from what most of us have come to expect out of Northeast Ohio. In skepticism’s place is excitement, holes have been filled with stars, and when we usually hear about long-range plans for the far-off future, we’re now getting go-for-broke urgency.
Beckham and QB Baker Mayfield are part of a youthful base bursting with talent, built on the trove of assets ex-EVP Sashi Brown amassed, and assembled under the old-school eye for talent of GM John Dorsey. And starting Monday, it’s on Kitchens—who began the 2018 season as Cleveland’s running backs coach and was made interim offensive coordinator after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired—to put it all together.
“We’re better on paper than we were last year,” Kitchens says. “That doesn’t mean anything other than, we’re better on paper. I mean this from the bottom of my heart—there are a lot of teams out there that have talent, there are a lot of teams out there that have good players individually. There aren’t a lot of teams out there that play together as a team, where it means something to line up with each other.
“That’s where we’ve got to get to.”
That’s why Kitchens emphasizes building trust with Beckham. No one’s clinching divisions or winning Lombardis in April, but that, between now and when the team breaks for summer in mid-June, is one thing he and his players can do. When Kitchens meets with the guys on Monday, this will be a central aspect of the speech he’s been waiting a lifetime to give: his first as an NFL head coach.
There’ll be tweaks, of course, specific to the 2019 Browns. But the things he’s always planned to say—things he thinks will appeal to Beckham and a lot of other guys and address all the expectations all at once—will be more prevalent.
“None of the voices outside that locker room matter,” Kitchens says. “At some point we need to build relationships in our locker room. I think we did a good job of that during the last part of last year, but no two teams are the same, no two teams stay the same. And the journey starts right now. The journey starts now. Now, are we going to win a championship in March? No. Are we going to win one April 1? No.
“But what we do collectively starting April 1, as far as forming our team, as far as who they are, and who they want to be identified as, it starts now.”
Of course, there were other things to discuss with Kitchens when we spoke on Friday, in regards to the Browns’ offseason program...
Baker Mayfield’s development
Eagles QB Carson Wentz made a huge leap from 2016 to ’17, when he was the front-runner for NFL MVP before tearing his ACL, and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes’s saw incredible growth from his last year at Texas Tech to winning league MVP in 2018. Could Mayfield maybe have the same sort of Year 2 breakthrough?
“Every offseason’s critical for each individual for different reasons,” Kitchens says. “But for a quarterback in particular, the time between the last game in college and first breath they get to take is so long. They’re right out of their college season, the draft, they’re in OTAs, into minicamps, into training camp and into the season. After the season is the first time they get to say, ‘What the hell was that?’
“So, of course, it’s a big offseason for him, from the standpoint of revisiting things he can get better at, and continuing to just keep his head down and get better, and seeing where we’re at six, seven months from now, and just continuing to develop as a player and as a leader.”
That said, as we talked, it was clear that Kitchens is ready to position Mayfield in a leadership role.
“Here’s one of the more impressive things, I thought, that carried over to the team: It was the innate ability to block out the noise,” Kitchens says. “Everything happens for a reason, and there was a lot of noise surrounding us last year, especially early on, and even later when people started tooting our horn a little bit. Our ability to block out all that is going to serve us well this year.”
As for how good Mayfield can be, Kitchens says, “I can’t answer that. Hopefully as good as he can possibly be. That’s all we want out of anybody.” But it’s not hard to hear the excitement in the coach’s voice about his quarterback.
The staff’s togetherness
Kitchens, to his credit, didn’t just go and hire old buddies to fill out his staff in Cleveland, instead surrounding himself with experience and credibility. Both OC Todd Monken and DC Steve Wilks have been head coaches (Monken at Southern Miss, Wilks with the Cardinals) and play-calling NFL coordinators. Mike Priefer brings 13 years as an NFL special teams coordinator into that role in Cleveland.
How will all of that fit together? Kitchens told me that to this point he feels fortunate it’s worked out as it has.
“To have these guys on this journey with me is really special,” he says. “One of the main jobs of the head coach is to set the environment of learning and for everyone in getting to know each other. I don’t have all the answers. If I did I wouldn’t need anyone else.”
The makeup of the staff is critical anywhere in the NFL. But it is even more so with a young team full of developing players, which, despite all the expectations, is still what the Browns are.
The storm waters ahead
Every NFL team is undefeated right now, and Kitchens has been around the NFL long enough to know that there’ll be something coming down the pike that’ll present his team with a crossroads before too long. He pointed to his experience as the tight ends coach of the 2008 Cardinals, a team that wound up in the Super Bowl, as proof.
“We had adversity, we were the worst team that ever played in the playoffs, that’s what everyone was saying,” Kitchens says. “Well, our adversity came the next-to-last game of the season, in Foxboro, when we got drilled by New England. They didn’t even make the playoffs, and they drilled us. Our team had to decide right then who we wanted to be. Every team faces adversity.
“We had such a strong bond on that team—offense, defense, special teams, everything. It enabled us to handle the adversity we faced the next to last game of the year. We were equipped to handle that adversity.”
The moral, as Kitchens sees it, lies in how he answered when I asked how good the 2019 Browns can be (similar to how he answered the Mayfield question)— “I don’t know. I don’t know that.” You want his real answer? It goes back to the old Mike Tyson line: Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
“There’s going to be bumps in the road, there are going to be times when people call us out—we’re not good, it’s the same old same old,” Kitchens says. “I promise you this, we’re not going to be the same old same old. Hopefully our team will make the decision when we face that adversity, whenever it is, to decide right then who we’re going to be. You’re not be able to decide it until then.”
That brings us back to Kitchens addressing the players, Beckham included, and all the excitement surrounding his team. Sure, it’s April. But for the people in Cleveland, this has to feel like coming down the stairs and seeing the presents on Christmas day. For his part, Kitchens is pumped for another reason.
“I’m just excited to get everybody back,” Kitchens says. “I’m a football coach, so of course I want football players back and around. But there’s not going to be a Knute Rockne speech on Monday. It’s just part of the process of getting it started. Before you can get to where you want to go, before you can get on that journey, you have to start the journey. This is the start of it.”
As he said himself, no one can tell where all this is going next. What we do know is that, for that particularly team, how they get there probably won’t be boring.
WHAT’S BETTER THAN DRAFT SEASON? PRO DAY SEASON
A few weeks ago, we broke down Kyler Murray’s pro day from a number ofdifferent angles. So this week, I figured we’d turn it around and take a look at the next four guys on the list—Haskins, Lock, Jones and Grier. And to do it, I sought out offensive coaches who were on the ground for those workouts.
Want to hear what they had to say? Of course you do (s/o to my MMQB colleague Gary Gramling, whom I consider a pre-eminent pro day enthusiast) …
AFC assistant on Haskins (March 20): “I thought he threw it very well. … The ball jumped off his hand. What he did that helped him, even though he’s a bigger guy, and he’s not as athletic, he’s a little knock-kneed, whoever ran the workout did a nice job of making him throw off balance. You got a chance to see his feet, he had really good feet. So that was what you take, how good his feet looked, sliding left, sliding right, pushing up in the pocket, he maintained accuracy and solid throwing mechanics. … He walked down the line of scrimmage, talked to receivers, put them in spots. ... Some people liked that interaction. Great to see him lead a little, even if it was a little forced. … I liked the kid to begin with. This guy can rip it, he has a strong arm, and did a nice job throwing the football. And I was more impressed than what saw on tape with his feet for a big guy. … He comes to balance better than any of the [other] quarterbacks in this draft.”
Second AFC assistant on Lock (March 21): “You can see his athletic ability on tape, to see it live just solidifies what you saw on tape. You got see him move outside the pocket and throw on the run with accuracy. … He was accurate with the football but it didn’t come out spinning as well as you would have liked. It came out better at the combine. … He looked smooth dropping back and running the play-action ball fakes when he was under center. He is a guy that just has natural athletic ability.”
NFC assistant on Grier (March 21): “He’s got a good demeanor, and the ball jumps off his hand. A lot of confidence, a little bit of gunslinger. Physically, he threw the ball well. … I thought it matched up [with the tape], and I think the tape was good. … He had a good rapport with the one receiver, [David] Sills, they didn’t have a lot of seniors out there. … Haskins was one-year starter and, to be honest, when it comes down to it, Grier might be at these guys’ level. Murray’s a unique case, but after that, and Haskins, Grier may be third.”
Third AFC assistant on Jones (March 26): “I didn’t expect him to throw it as well as he did. He surprised me. He had a really good workout, I liked the drill work, how he was moving off the spot making throws, how he zipped the ball, how it carried outside the numbers … The accuracy was there. He was handicapped by his offensive line at times, and so it was good to see him throw on air, to see the strike point of the ball—he was running for his life a lot [last season]. On the deep comebacks, the out routes, the ball traveled. And he was yoked up, he’s big kid. The tape’s not as great, but the throwing was on par with the other guys. … He might be worth taking late in the first, and I didn’t think so initially, based on the tape. There’s something there.”
CULTURE IS CRUCIAL FOR GASE IN NEW YORK
Adam Gase knows he didn’t get everything right in his first go-round as an NFL head coach; otherwise he’d still be in Miami. There’s plenty he’ll try to apply now with the Jets, but there’s something from his time in Miami on which he’s not backing down.
Gase was the point man for the Dolphins’ cultural overhaul last year, sending away Ndamukong Suh, Jarvis Landry and (a little earlier than that) Jay Ajayi, in favor of strong locker room presences like Danny Amendola, Frank Gore and Albert Wilson. Not only would he do it all over again the same way, but he’s also taking the principle of that approach with him to New York.
“That was one of the first things we talked about [in the interview with the Jets],” Gase says. “I don’t think I’ll ever change from that. Someone told me a few years back, ‘Don’t prostitute talent for culture.’ That’s stuck with me. And I agree with that. Watch the team that just won the Super Bowl, they’ve done a great job for a long time, to where they have the right locker room and those guys play together, and they win together.
“With a lot of teams that end up going deep in the playoffs, it’s a consistent thing.”
Did it show up in the Jets’ splashy offseason? For the most part, yes. If you look at the team’s big-ticket targets (C.J. Mosley, Le’Veon Bell, Jamison Crowder), all were offered significant deals at one point or another by their original teams.
That’s not to say that the free-agent market is the ideal place to build your team, but the Jets had the cap space (a result, in part, of barren drafts three to five years ago), and a quarterback on a rookie deal, which made the idea of being aggressive so obvious to GM Mike Maccagnan and owner Christopher Johnson that they plainly told Gase it’d happen when he was interviewing for the head coaching job. Then it became about finding the right guys.
“It’s nice to know that the team wanted to keep that player,” Gase says. “That’s why free agency is interesting nowadays, because you don’t see the top-tier guys get away from the team they’re with. When it happens, and they’re an A-type player, that’s rare. You see a lot of the second-tier guys get first-tier money, because the pool is not the same. And I think this was a rare year with top-tier guys that were actually in free agency.”
There’s no question the Jets had to pay sticker price on these guys. But Gase made similar moves last year in Miami, and based on how that went, plus what he knows about this first crop of Jets free agents. the head coach feels good about New York’s newest players. If this winds up being a more talented version of the Gore/Amendola/Wilson group from 2018, he’ll be just fine with the investment.
“I think if we didn’t have the locker room that we had [last year], we’re not 7–9,” Gase says. “Those guys stuck together, they kept fighting. Guys would go down, and guys would try to step up and do the right thing. We just kind of ran out of bullets. … We were headed into the last three games of the year and we were in it. It just didn’t work out the way we needed it to.”
1. Talking to an NFC assistant coach this week, he suggested to me that, in how the draft is setting up for the quarterbacks, this year reminds him of 2014. How? “In that you’re not really sure how these guys are going to come off the board.” It’s indicative of a class that has a lot of uncertainty wrapped into it—the presumptive two at the top were both one-year starters in college, and those guys aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there is no consensus in how those after Murray and Haskins will fall.
If 2014 is your guide, things could get a little wild. That year, there was speculation that UCF’s Blake Bortles could fall into the 20s, before he went third overall. Johnny Manziel was the 22nd pick. Teddy Bridgewater went through a bit of a freefall, before the Vikings dealt up to get the fifth-year option on him by taking him at the bottom of the first round. And then the two guys who’ll probably go down as the best in the class—Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo—went in the second round. So … buckle up?
2. The Raiders will do their tire-kicking on the quarterbacks this week. Coach Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock will work out Murray in Dallas on Monday, I’m told, and they’ll work out Haskins on Tuesday in Columbus. Doing those two back-to-back should bring pretty good perspective in comparing them. The staff, of course, has really good background on Lock already, having coached him in the Senior Bowl.
3. To some degree, the hand-wringing over Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury’s idea to give his players five-minute “phone breaks” seems like it’s more directed at Kingsbury himself than the policy. The Wall Street Journal did a story on then-49ers coach Jim Tomsula—ever the innovator—doing something very similar back in 2015. Other teams have too, in an effort to create the best learning environment for a generation brought up with phones in their hands and distractions abundant. (I’m 39 years old, and I often feel like I have the attention span of my Australian shepherd. I can’t imagine growing up with all this stuff.) I think Kingsbury is trying to do all he can to get through to his players, as a lot of other coaches are.
4. I’m not here to tell you that Greg Schiano’s abrupt departure from the Patriots isn’t unusual. It’s a tough pill for New England to swallow in an offseason full of change. But I think the statement he released—saying family was a driving factor in his decision—was truthful. His high school-aged daughter is a big-time women’s soccer recruit, and his twin sons are playing college football. That made displacing his family and diving into the job in Foxboro tough. Maybe he’ll have some regret down the line on leaving the staff of his close friend Bill Belichick, but my sense is that he feared there’d be deeper regret if he went the other way, which is something we can all respect.
5. Why are the Patriots so close to the cap despite their lack of high-profile spending? In my gloomy-outlook column on them from November (which makes me look like a real genius now), I referenced the tough decisions that appear to be coming. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore and Dont’a Hightower were set to be on the books for a combined $77.65 million in 2019, and all five of those guys would be 29 or older on opening day. When things looked bleak for New England, it appeared that at least a couple of those guys would be gone.
Well, the Patriots won the Super Bowl, and the only tough call made was by Gronkowski, who walked away. If you take out Gronk and put in right tackle Marcus Cannon (who turns 31 in May), the combined total for the top five was $73.674 million. Then Gilmore restructured, which brought the total down to about $68 million, which is still 36% of the salary cap. Add that to higher-than-normal spending on special-teamers, and some strikeouts on draft picks that would give you cheap labor, and that’s why they’re here, and struggling to find good free-agent values. Which, of course, may not matter by the time we get to January.
6. One takeaway from the last 10 days or so: The relationship between Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, quietly, is in as good a place as it’s been in a long time, maybe going all the way back to when the last labor deal was struck. The turning point, as I understand it, came last summer, when Goodell conceded to the union that the owners made mistakes in pushing the anthem policy through in May 2018. From there the league and union worked together on how to deal with the anthem—ultimately deciding to leave it alone. Does that mean there’s a great chance of labor peace in 2021? It does not. But with a deal in place that’s been pretty good for both sides on the whole, there’s at least reason for hope. And that’s with the caveat that the Goodell/Smith relationship has turned on a dime in the past, so the two could be one storm away from going back to square one.
7. While we’re there, AAF majority owner Tom Dundon publicly hung responsibility for the league’s survival on the NFLPA. The truth is that the union and AAF had been in pretty consistent contact for weeks, and the union was surprised that Dundon spoke publicly the way he did. It certainly doesn’t make the NFLPA anymore likely to help, when it would take an amendment to the CBA for that to happen. And what difference would it make? Yes, the level of play in the new league would probably improve a little. But would the general public be any more apt to watch if the 58th guy on the Giants or Eagles roster was allocated to the Birmingham Iron or Memphis Express? I don’t think so. And plenty are speculating that the real reason Dundon bought the league was for the gambling technology that he could take and test with his hockey team, the Carolina Hurricanes.
8. Since we’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop with Josh Rosen, I figured I’d seek out informed opinion on the Cardinals quarterback’s rookie year. Here’s one personnel man, who works on the pro scouting side, answering whether what happened in 2018 was on the player or those around him:
“I think it was a mix of both. He’s definitely talented and, from a quarterbacking standpoint, he can do everything you need him to. He was hindered by the lack of weapons around him, the lack of protection he had. But when he started to get hit, you’d question his overall toughness. He started to look at the rush, you could tell he didn’t want to be hit anymore. Then what didn’t help was the change in coordinator, and that the next coordinator couldn’t put in his own offense because everything was on the fly. … Just a bad situation for a rookie quarterback. You definitely saw the good, in why they drafted him. No one questions the physical ability. It’s the mental part of it. He processes and learns it well, but people keep questioning toughness and leadership.”
For what it’s worth, this particular scout agreed that trading for Rosen, given the talent, would be a very worthy gamble for a team like New England or the Chargers, that has an older starter, and probably won’t be bad enough to draft an heir to the throne high any time soon.
9. One thing to watch: I’m told that Richard Sherman was at no better than 80% last year, and he only got there after significant improvement in early November, right around when the Niners played the Giants. As such, San Francisco expects a much-improved version of the former All-Pro, which would give the roster a boost at a position where Ahkello Witherspoon struggled last year and Jason Verrett was added last month. Another thing that should help: Sherman had surgery to have sutures, initially put in as part of the rehab process, removed from his heel after the season, and he’s felt a lot better since.
10. There can always be more than one dimension to a free-agent signing, so I think it’s worth at least paying attention to the fact that new Rams linebacker Clay Matthews has some experience playing inside. Remember, over the last year Los Angeles lost both Mark Barron and Alec Ogletree at the position. And while the Rams like Cory Littleton, depth could be stressed there. For now, there’s no plan to play Matthews off the line. But as a guy who’ll likely see a lot of his time as a passing-down pass rusher, is it possible he could moonlight in an old role of his in a pinch? Sure.
… OF THE WEEK
“When you have a quarterback as talented as Russell Wilson is, you have to have balance. At times, I think we ran the ball maybe a little bit too much, and that’s kind of hard to say as a lineman. But it worked for us, it worked for us for a long time. The guys up front, they leaned on us, they leaned on Chris Carson [and the] stable of backs we had. … I think Russ, we got to use him as much as possible next year. He obviously had his best statistical year even with us running the ball as much as we did, but the balance is there, and I’m looking forward to it.”
— Seahawks LT Duane Brown on NFL Network.
I understand where Brown’s coming from here, I do. But I just look at Seattle’s investment—in fixing the offensive line, in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, in their stable of running backs—and it just looks like it’d be hard to turn away from what’s been the team’s identity since Pete Carroll arrived in 2010. And last season it really did work until Seattle’s playoff ouster.
What’s more, we’re now seeing smart teams (like New England) zigging to a pass-happy NFL’s zagging, and Seattle is well-positioned to do the same.
To me, too many people simply equate offensive creativity and innovation to throwing the ball, and so fans and the public get frustrated easily with what they may perceive as an old-school approach. But they shouldn’t. And so I don’t think you’ll see a marked change in the vision Carroll’s always had for his offenses.
That does not look like a defensive lineman, but it is. And anyone who’s followed Houston DT Ed Oliver the last three years knows the kid is a freak show. The question now, really, is his fit. Fair or not, some teams will look at his size, and say he’d have trouble a finding home in their base defense. Which doesn’t mean he’s not a great player, just that it affects his value. So then what? Do you change who you are for one player? Or do you ding his grade because he’s not your type? It’s not as easy a thing for teams to work through as a lot of people make it out to be. Aaron Donald is worth adjusting everything you do to accommodate. Is Oliver? We’ll see.
My old NFL Network colleague Kara Henderson’s husband/Rams GM Les Snead was pumped to see Auburn’s win in Sunday’s regional final to advance to the NCAA Final Four. You’ll notice that the former Tigers tight end is wearing a Virginia hat in support of his son, who’s heading there this summer as a recruited walk-on linebacker. The two schools are set to play Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET in the Final Four. As someone who went to Ohio State from a Michigan family, I can appreciate what’s happening in the Snead house right now.
(Henderson, by the way, went to Duke. The family was an R.J. Barrett missed free throw and a little luck in OT away from making it 3-of-4 under one roof.)
A few hours after the game on Sunday night, I asked Snead who he’s going to root for on Saturday. He texted over the raw video from his wife’s tweet, which I took as a good sign that it’ll be father vs. son in that semifinal.
I’m with my buddy/NBC Sports Boston colleague Tom E. Curran on this. Belichick isn’t showing his issue with reporters here, so much is he is his disdain for the league and its contrived dog-and-pony shows. The coaches breakfast is certainly one of those, and so if Bill can twist the knife a little bit? He’ll do it gladly, and bring his best scowl for the occasion.
… Like we said earlier.
Follow this thread from PFF’s Sam Monson for details on the video we posted above.
1. Sean Payton deserves the victory lap. He spearheaded change, even when things looked bleak for it, and put aside his own personal reason for wanting it. Other coaches who deserve a h/t: Belichick and Andy Reid for leading a two-and-a-half hour coaches session on Monday, and Jason Garrett and John Harbaugh, the appointed leaders in reforming replay.
2. Give Goodell credit too. Things got tenuous a few times in the room, and I’m told Garrett, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and Goodell were largely responsible for keeping everyone focused on the right things. Ultimately, this is one of those spots where the commissioner should be acting as a steward of the game, not an agent of the owners. And Goodell did.
This one looked like a lot of work.
S/O TO …
Middle Tennessee State G Chandler Brewer. The 2019 draft prospect somehow kept his cancer diagnosis a secret for almost a year, from everyone except his coaches, close friends and family. Even his teammates, or at least most of them, didn’t know. That would be crazy for anyone, but especially a guy playing his last year of college football who could be affected by it, and may want to use it to explain any struggles he might have. Our Conor Orr did a great job writing his story.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINES
1. “Billions” is the best show on TV, and I have no clue what’s second.
2. I missed the Elizabeth Holmes story as it was happening, but saw the “20/20” on it two Fridays ago, and I’ll watch the HBO doc tonight. You should, too. The story is crazy.
3. It’s impossible to look at LeBron James’s first year in Los Angeles positively, and if I’m a high-end franchise-player type in the NBA, I don’t think I’d jump at the chance to be his sidekick in 2019-20. He’ll be 35 in December and is taking up huge cap space through his 37th birthday. There’s no telling what he’ll be on the back end of that deal. Maybe he’ll fine, maybe he won’t. But there’s plenty of uncertainty there.
4. I’m not a basketball expert, but I think it’s easier to project Ja Morant into the NBA than it is Zion Williamson. It feels like it’s going to take some creativity to get the most out of Williamson at the next level.
5. Fascinating story by Marc Carig here. And I don’t want to be that guy … But can you imagine what the reaction would be if the NFL’s owners were passing around a championship belt for keeping spending down?
6. It’s amazing how the names coaching college basketball stay the same. Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo, who faced off in Sunday’s East regional final, have been in their current jobs, between them, for 63 seasons. Here’s context for that: Izzo got the Michigan State job the year Belichick was fired in Cleveland, and Krzyzewski got to Duke 15 years before that.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
We’re into the final phase of the draft process—in-house visits and on-campus workouts, which are the most intimate looks at players that teams will get. These can represent signs of genuine interest, and they can also be smokescreens to make everyone else believe interest is there.
The private workouts are often about figuring out how a player might fit into a specific scheme or within a specific program. Sometimes, it’s about making a college pass rusher play on his feet or a spread-offense tight end get in a three-point stance. Other times, it’s about working him hard and seeing how he responds.
The team-facility visits, conversely, can’t include workouts, and teams are limited to 30 of them. Because they’re limited, they are often about getting to know a high-end prospect, or they have to do with medical condition or character. Team doctors are allowed to take a closer look at players during these visits, which often explains why a guy who got seriously hurt in college may have a ton of visits. Players with off-field issues will often have plenty of invites as well, as teams try to figure out whether or not he’s worth the risk.
If you see a player with a long list of pre-draft visits, the reason may be more complicated than expected.
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