The news came out in an awkward way, as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was patched into a conference call to announce DeMarcus Lawrence’s new contract. No follow-up questions were asked about Jones’s location and why he was there, so it flew under the radar as Dallas celebrated getting a big piece of team business done.
But the news that Jones was in Minneapolis on Tuesday as part of a collective bargaining session, along with a handful of other owners and almost the entire executive committee of the NFLPA, shouldn’t have flown under the radar. I’m told the parties spent roughly five hours with each other in a hotel attached to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Two years ago, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith sat with me on a set in Lower Manhattan, with cameras trained on him, and said that a 2021 lockout, 10 years after the last one, was a “virtual certainty.” That vibe wasn’t new; if you were listening close enough, you’d heard it before and you’ve heard it since. Have things changed? It’s too early to say that. But after doing a little digging, I can say there are two important things to take from this meeting.
• The owners opted out of the 2006 CBA in May ’08, which set the stage for the 2011 lockout. Conversely, the owners initiating this meeting now stands as the first major action ahead of the 2021 expiration of the ’11 CBA, and it’s fair to say the latter action sets a better tone all the way around than the former.
• The 2023 expiration of the broadcast deals is looming. One of the biggest issues that owners dealt with after the 2011 labor fight was the inability to strike new deals with the networks in the time being—and it’s an even bigger problem now. In 2011, there was three years of separation between the end of the labor deals and the end of the broadcast deals, and the runway this time around is just two years. Also, the changing media landscape—and involvement of deep-pocket streaming services like Amazon Prime and Netflix—should make negotiating the 2023 broadcast deals infinitely more complicated than the ’14 deals.
Something else that belies a lot of saber-rattling we’ve seen over the last eight years is that this CBA has generally been good for both sides. The league’s popularity has withstood a lot, the business has continued to grow and the players have better benefits, an easier offseason and more money (as evidenced by a cap that’s growing about $10 million per year) than ever before.
Nine years ago, it seemed everyone was spoiling for a fight. It’s not like that right now, but with so much on the line, it’s unlikely to stay that way all the way through these negotiations. However this meeting getting off to a good start is, well, a good start.
“We want to get a new deal done, but all players should continue to prepare for a work stoppage,” Niners corner/NFLPA executive committee member Richard Sherman said Wednesday night, via text. “Collective bargaining is difficult. But our executive committee has been working hard to make sure the issues that matter to all players are being addressed.”
In this week’s GamePlan, we’re going to hit you with some draft info, and we’re going to sort through your mail, like we always do on Thursday, answering questions on …
• The Redskins’ quarterback situation.
• The Chiefs’ handling of Tyreek Hill.
• The Steelers’ draft.
• Where the Giants are looking.
• What the Bengals will do with the No. 11 pick.
But we’re starting with the CBA, which is the ultimate macro issue for the league right now, as we wade through the micro moves of the offseason.
How are we in a position where the NFL and NFLPA are quietly making their way to the upper Midwest to have clandestine meetings, after all the public squabbling we’ve witnessed over the last decade? This goes back to the league’s mishandling of the anthem situation. Soon after a new policy was passed last May, stating that all players had to stand on the field during the national anthem, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reached out to the union, conceding the league’s mistake and asking for help in finding a better solution. Goodell and union executive director DeMaurice Smith worked together from there (the policy was frozen in mid-July), and built trust in the process.
As a result, as one owner characterized it a few weeks ago, “the relationship between the union and league, during De and Roger’s tenure, has never been better.”
In the last few months, staff from the league and union offices started dialogue on secondary issues related to the CBA in order to lay groundwork for the bigger, more important negotiations. The players had their annual meetings in early March, and the turnout was greater than any time in recent memory. The owners had theirs in late March. And the NFL then reached out to the union.
What are the biggest takeaways from the Minneapolis summit?
• Heavy hitters were there. Both Goodell and Smith attended. Among the owners making it: CEC members Jones, John Mara (Giants), Dean Spanos (Chargers), Clark Hunt (Chiefs) and Art Rooney (Steelers). And on the players side: Players Association president Eric Winston, as well as exec committee members Sherman, Sam Acho, Lorenzo Alexander, Zak DeOssie, Thomas Morstead, Russell Okung, Michael Thomas, Adam Vinatieri and, representing the retired players, Priest Holmes.
• Early indications are that, aside from setting up for the media deals, stadium credits are going to be important for owners. These funds help teams finance construction or renovation of stadiums, coming from the total revenue pot (of which the players get a percentage). That fund, as part of the 2011 CBA, was capped, and the owners hit their cap after the Vikings stadium went up, so the financing wasn’t available for the new Los Angeles stadium.
• The percentage of total revenue will be the priority of the players; whatever they might give in the area of stadium credits, they’ll probably look to get back there. This, obviously, is where the deal is made. (The fact that the digital media part of the financial equation will be more of a priority for the players means the math will have to change some.)
• I’m not going to say franchise tags are a non-factor for the players’ side—these things are always moving targets—but at this point, that’s the reality. Over the last four years, a total of 11 players (fewer than three per year) played on the tag, which is a small percentage of the 2000 or so players that play in the NFL in a given year. So I’d expect rules that affect all players (like the length of rookie deals, limits on how quickly teams/players can renegotiate and the player performance pool) will be a much bigger deal for the union.
• A good example of moving targets: Entering the 2011 talks, the personal conduct policy was big for the players, but by the end, it wasn’t—players decided that protecting guys who’d run afoul shouldn’t be a huge priority. Take that as a reminder that, at this point, everything should be taken with a grain of salt. Right now, something high on the players’ list would be protecting what they won in 2011, primarily in the areas of benefits, offseason rules and the revenue split.
Obviously, this agreement isn’t going to come together overnight. There’ll be pain (hopefully not as much as the last time around), and there’ll be disagreement. But as starts go? This one was a lot better than the last time around.
OK, enough with the labor stuff. Want some draft info? Here you go …
• There’s been plenty written about Dwayne Haskins here over the last few months, including information from Ohio State coaches Ryan Day and Urban Meyer and, the other day, his Elite 11 coach, ex-NFL QB Trent Dilfer. With a lot of buzz out there on his stock right now, I texted one of his receivers, Terry McLaurin, to get his take. Here’s what the Buckeye team captain came back with:
“I think he’s the best QB in the draft. Now is a time people are starting to overanalyze I feel like. His numbers were great and he can make all the throws. He’s grown immensely as a leader too. So whoever drafts him will see that. And he will prove them right sooner rather than later. I couldn’t imagine why he’d be falling anyways.”
• One thing there’s little question about—Missouri’s Drew Lock has won teams over with his personality, which seems to be quelling concerns on his consistency as a collegian.
“It’s his demeanor,” said one AFC scouting director. “He’s unflappable, just has a ton of confidence. Part of the issue with rookie quarterbacks, you’re throwing a lot at them, they start to make mistakes, they get in their own head. … You get sense from Lock, he’ll be unfazed by all that. Like he’ll throw three picks in a game, and come back and think he’s the s--- still.”
As it’s been explained to me, he has a rare ability to toggle that confidence while still coming like a really normal guy. Remember, Jon Gruden and the Raiders coached him all week at the Senior Bowl—this isn’t to say they’ll draft him at No. 4, but I have heard Gruden really liked Lock’s swagger.
• I wouldn’t want to fight D.K. Metcalf or race him, but I can’t find many teams that like him nearly enough to take him in the first round. Nor do I think there are many good options at the wide receiver position, period. We mentioned Monday how the Colts signing Devin Funchess was, in part, an acknowledgement that weren’t answers there for them in the draft, in the way of starting-level receivers, and I don’t Indianapolis is alone. A bunch of teams, in fact, could look at next year’s receiver crop (Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and DeVonta Smith, Tennessee’s Tee Higgins, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, Colorado’s Laviska Shenault), and try to find a way to kick the can down the road in 2019 like the Colts have.
• I get a sense from teams that the overall rankings of players hasn’t changed much since the end of the college season. There are two guys at the top of the class: Ohio State DE Nick Bosa and Alabama DT Quinnen Williams. LSU LB Devin White is close to that caliber, too—with him, it’s a matter of positional value. And Kentucky LB Josh Allen isn’t far off either, I’ve just had a hard time placing him in the draft order, maybe because he doesn’t fit everyone the same way the other three guys do. As always, quarterbacks certainly could affect how these guys come off the board.
From Strick 9 (@SpiderStrick): What percentages would you give to Washington trading for Rosen, or trading up for Haskins?
To me, these are all moving targets. If you’re asking if it’s dealing the No. 15 pick for Rosen vs. a short trade up for Haskins, give me the latter. If it’s dealing a No. 2 or 3 for Rosen vs. a move up into the top three for Haskins, that’s a little spottier.
That underscores a fact that’s often ignored—these calls aren’t just player vs. player. If you get Rosen for a No. 3 pick, and you’re paying him $6.24 million over the next three years, that’s not the same as giving up multiple picks, including your first-round for Haskins, then paying him $6 million or $7 million per. There’s the investment. There’s also the fact that when taking a big swing at quarterback in the first round almost certainly means you won’t be taking another one for a while.
(Although Arizona may disprove that.)
From Dan Heiserman (@HeisermanDan): If Tyreek Hill is cleared legally, did the extension ship sail already or is there a legit chance he stays?
I think the Chiefs will proceed carefully with a player who they were prepared to pay upwards of $20 million per. What does that mean? Well, even if Kansas City was going to pay him in that case, my guess is the team would try to load the contract up with language to protect against something else happening. And even if he’s cleared, I think the Chiefs will draft some insurance, maybe in the form of Oklahoma WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown—a dynamo who times fast, plays even faster and has tape that compares to what DeSean Jackson looked like coming out of Cal. That’s the same Jackson, by the way, who was drafted by Andy Reid in 2008.
From George Smith (@GSmitty10): Who do ya think The Steelers get at No. 20? Thank you.
Pittsburgh still hasn’t adequately replaced Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker, so finding his replacement is a priority. Now, the bad news: NFL teams love LSU’s Devin White. The Steelers were never going to be in a position to take him, but his standing as a potential top-five pick pushes Michigan’s Devin Bush (the perfect Shazier replacement) up the board.
After that, there’s a dropoff at the position. Alabama’s Mack Wilson, a good player who can’t run like White and Bush, is next and probably goes in the second round. I’d expect the Steelers go defense at No. 20 (they’re too good at finding skill players later, and the offensive line is fine), but it’ll probably be at another spot. Maybe a corner, maybe a defensive linemen.
From Logan Free (@daddy_freeman4): What Ohio State player will the Saints pick up this year? Is there a possibility we could get Parris Campbell late in Round 2?
I know you’re kidding, but I’m serious when I say it wouldn’t surprise me to see one of the three Buckeye receivers land in New Orleans. Campbell and Terry McLaurin likely go somewhere on Friday (Rounds 2-3) and Johnnie Dixon after that, and they’d make some sense for a team that doesn’t have a ton of needs, but may need to cover itself ahead of contract talks of another ex-OSU receiver, that being Michael Thomas.
And based on how Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, and Vonn Bell have panned out, I guess it’s not a bad bet for them.
From fob75x (@fob75x1): Do the Jets take best available at No. 3 or trade down for extra picks?
The Jets would love to bail out of there and recoup the second-round pick they lost as part of the Sam Darnold trade. On paper, if you use the draft chart, the Giants trading up from 6 should do at least that much. The problem here is that this year’s quarterback class isn’t last year’s quarterback class, which has made it much harder for the Jets to drum up a market.
If they stay at No. 3, and Kyler Murray and Nick Bosa are the first two picks, Quinnen Williams becomes the chalk pick, even if his game might be a little redundant to Leonard Williams’s. If Bosa and Williams are gone, Kentucky’s Josh Allen probably makes the most sense—and based on need and fit in Gregg Williams’s defense (he’s not unlike Anthony Barr), he might actually go in front of Williams.
It’s not ideal, of course, how this all sets up for the Jets. But the worst case still has them walking away with one of the few blue-chippers in the class.
From Scott Bedford (@cougarcy72): Hakeem Butler, where you think he’s going?
I’ve seen some of the analytics-community love for Butler. The scouts I’ve talked to aren’t as high on him. I did enjoy watching him in college, and he’s got a big body and some nice traits to work with, clearly. So I think he goes somewhere in Round 2.
This, again, is not a very good year for receivers. My old buddy Daniel Jeremiah tweeted on Wednesday that he thinks there might be just one receiver off the board in Round 1. I’d concur.
From Matt Marcil (@Mattymarcilson): Where is Grier going?.Would love to see him in a Pats jersey.
Everyone seems to love the kid. The question with Grier is more about where his ceiling as a player is. I’ve talked to some coaches who feel like the West Virginia product isn’t far off from the QBs at the top of the class (or that he is one of them), but that’s a commentary on the class, too.
It also illustrates how it’s a crapshoot this year—like it was in 2014—trying to forecast how the quarterbacks come off the board. And if you consider the ’14 and ’19 class alike, the lesson from ’14 would be that guys down the line might wind up being the best players. That year, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater went in the first round. After that? Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo.
From KnightWhoSaysNih (@KonSeanneryy): If someone trades into the top five for Haskins and Murray goes first, who do think the Giants take at No. 6? Let’s say the other three players selected in front of them are Bosa, Quinnen, and Allen.
I like these games. So I’ll play.
The Giants have needs everywhere and are still a couple drafts away from being real contenders. Add that to GM Dave Gettleman’s history, and this sets up as a very real “best player available” situation, unless he loves a quarterback So if those three defensive players are gone, and two quarterbacks are off the board, I think it becomes simple. Either he loves Daniel Jones or Drew Lock, or takes White.
From Neil Fisher (@fatfish59): Hello from the U.K. Which team is most likely to trade for the Jets first round pick at 3. Giants, Bengals, Redskins?
Lots of Jets’ trade-down questions this week, so I’ll answer a second one for you guys. Of those three, I’d say Redskins, Giants, Bengals. Washington first, because I think they’d be the most likely to move for a quarterback. Giants second, because they could move, but while I’m told not to rule it out, they have zero history of trading with the Jets. And the Bengals third, because I think they sit tight.
Speaking of the Bengals …
From JT (@BengalBucks3): Bengals. What do they do?
As we explained earlier, the Bengals very much could be in play for a quarterback at No. 11. Dalton’s in a contract year, and ownership may want something to jolt a flat-lining fanbase. And Mike Brown’s never been afraid to go in on Buckeyes, so it’s not that tough to see Haskins appealing to him.
If it’s not a quarterback? Keep an eye on Bush. The Michigan linebacker would fill a need at the position (Particularly with Vontaze Burfict gone) and for speed on defense.
From BradyForcesJetsFansToCry (@Pats_1988): Hi Albert, if Fant and Hockenson are gone at pick 32 for the Pats, which TE prospects would fit in NE? What do you hear about Kahale Warring and Foster Moreau from Scouts? Thx and best regards from Austria.
Did I pick this question because it came from Austria? Maybe.
Let’s start with T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant—even though there’s almost no shot the Patriots will be in position to actually draft the former. I think this is where Bill Belichick’s relationships could come into play. Obviously, starting with the Ferentz family, there are all sorts of connections there. And in the fall, word was that the staff in Iowa City loved Hockenson and wasn’t nearly as wild about Fant.
Would that keep the Patriots from taking Fant? Maybe not, but it’s something to consider. After those guys, one that makes sense to me would Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr., another guy from a Belichick connected program. Thing is, Smith’s probably an ‘F’ (move) tight end in the pros. So New England then might need to take another one (Ole Miss’ Dawson Knox) to play the in-line tight end spot.
Could they use two of their six picks in the first two rounds on tight ends, even after signing Austin Seferian-Jenkins this week? Well, they took both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010, and spent two first-round pick in a three-year span (Daniel Graham in ’02, Ben Watson in ’04) on the position before then. So I wouldn’t rule it out.
From Dan Leduc (@SaultSteeler85): Would you consider the possibility of the Redskins trading for Carr, if the Raiders are keen on drafting a qb? What would it cost the Skins if that were a possibility. ... Instead of the popular Rosen rumor.
If the Raiders took a quarterback fourth overall, Derek Carr’s potential availability would be interesting for a team like the Redskins. And the one team I’d heard Carr connected to on the trade front over the last year (Jacksonville) already filled its need there. Plus, there’s the fact that the Raiders coach is the brother of the Redskins coach, which means the Redskins would probably get good info on the QB.
So … we’ll see. I still think it’s most likely, if they add a quarterback, it’s via the draft. But I wouldn’t rule out Rosen or Carr.
From Herb (@herb2929): I am in a fantasy dynasty league that drafts from rookies every year. Who is your top WR and RB in the draft fantasy-wise this year?
And here’s a great one to wrap the week up with! So Herb, my running back would be Alabama’s Josh Jacobs, the reason being that I think he’s the most ready to contribute, as a receiver and blocker, in the passing game, which will likely mean he’s on the field more than most others. And fantasy, as I understand it, is largely based on how much opportunity guys are getting.
As for the receivers, I love Marquise Brown as a player, much more than the other guys. And we’ve seen offensive players developed by Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley contribute quickly upon getting to the league (Baker Mayfield, Joe Mixon, Orlando Brown, Mark Andrews), so I have to think he’ll assimilate well to the NFL game.
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