Someone raised an interesting point last week, and I honestly can’t remember who it was, but the gist was simple: Maybe if Mike Mayock was still at NFL Network, we’d have a different opinion on Clelin Ferrell going fourth overall.
It’s a fair point, too. How the football-watching public perceives a prospect is shaped largely by the media, and the Raiders GM carried a big stick in that arena after two decades of breaking the draft down on TV. So when we talked on Thursday, I had to ask the new exec, with whom I worked for six years, how he’d have reacted to Ferrell at 4 if he was on a set in Nashville rather than in a war room in Northern California.
“I don’t think I would’ve been as surprised as a lot of the world,” Mayock said, with a laugh. “At the end of the day, people act like the thought wouldn’t occur to me to trade down and still get Cle. He was our guy, OK? And whether we got him at 4, 8, 10, it didn’t matter. He was gonna be our guy.
“He’s a foundation player. And even more importantly, he’s a three-down defensive end who can stick his hand in the dirt and play on run downs and pass downs. He’s not a guy who’s going to be a designated pass-rusher. He’s in there on every snap. And he’s gonna set the tone for us, as far as these young guys are concerned. I couldn’t wait to get to that pick.”
In my final “rumors” column that went up about three hours before the draft started, we did connect the Raiders to Ferrell. That was based on a couple tips I’d gotten. But, full disclosure, I didn’t think there was a chance they’d take him at 4, nor did the teams picking around them. In the end? I underestimated just how vital building around the right kind of guy—“our guy”—was going to be. I think most teams did, too.
So if there’s one thing that marks Mayock’s first class, that’s it, without question.
And here’s the thing: Mayock wasn’t even hiding it. He actually explained the “our guy” idea, repeatedly, before the draft. But saying it and driving it home like the Raiders did are two different things. And did Mayock ever drive it home, first with Ferrell, then with Alabama RB Josh Jacobs, then with Mississippi State S Johnathan Abram, then with Clemson CB Trayvon Mullen, and you get the picture.
Message sent. Message received. Over and over again.
“I felt like the entire draft was important that way,” Mayock said. “We had four of the first 35 picks, and I think if you look at those four picks, all of those guys share traits. They have a passion and a love for the game, and you can see it the way that they play. I think we were consistent throughout the draft, and I think we sent a message that Jon [Gruden] and I believe in.
“Yeah, Cle was very important, but we felt like the consistency of the entire draft was just as important.”
The good news for Raiders fans, in my mind—there’s a lot of rhyme and reason to what Mayock and Gruden are doing. I don’t know if it’ll work or not. No one really does.
But this plan, which Mayock took me through, does make some sense.
We’re still digging through a ton of draft nuggets in this week’s MMQB, and we’ve got a lot to get to. Among them:
• A look at the last three years of quarterback classes in the draft—and how those charged with evaluating quarterbacks would rank the prospects against one another.
• Why you should never believe the team that tells you its first-round quarterback isn’t going to play as a rookie.
• A player who slid 27 spots in the upper reaches of the draft, with the makeup of the draft class as a whole being the primary reason why.
• Why the Lions’ selection of T.J. Hockenson proves the value of relationships in the NFL.
• How the Ravens might have found their replacement for Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith.
• Colts GM Chris Ballard’s next find.
And much more. But we’re starting with maybe the most interesting GM in the NFL today, and how his first four months on the job went.
So how does Mayock know that he’d have approached the Ferrell pick differently from most analysts if he were on TV for it? Because in the fall, he was preparing for the draft as if that was just where he’d be—which is when he first got smitten with the two-time First Team All-American. Which, in turn, is to say he actually knows what he would have said, for a fact.
“If you remember when Chris Long got drafted by St. Louis, he was the second pick, and when they drafted him, I knew the kind of player they were getting,” Mayock said. “Now, they were never able to successfully bring other guys around him, but Chris Long played his butt off every snap of every game, he set a physical edge in the run game, he got his 7, 8, 9, 10 sacks, and he energizes a locker room.
“He’s what I call a glue player. I looked at Ferrell back in September and October, and I watched three or four tapes and at the bottom of my notes, I wrote ‘glue/Chris Long.’ That’s the kind of guy, to me, who has more value than you can even put a number on. Chris hung in there, ended up in New England, gets a Super Bowl, goes to Philadelphia, gets another. Chris Long’s a glue guy. And I think Cle is also.”
So that, in a way, connects where Mayock was in the fall—watching kids on tape from his home in Philly—to where he wound up in the spring. But a lot happened in the time in between. And that’s why, in the wake of his first draft with Gruden, as they assembled a class in their image of what a Raider will be, I figured it would make sense to double back with Mayock now and fill in a bunch of the blanks.
Here, then, is the New World of Mike Mayock four months in, according to the man himself.
The biggest adjustment. When I asked Mayock for his biggest blind spot, he didn’t hesitate for a second. It was in pro scouting. And his responsibility in that area only grew when Raiders pro scouting director Dave Vandernat was fired in January. So really, while Mayock was hired for his work on the college side, the time from his start date to the March 13 open of free agency became a dead sprint through unfamiliar territory.
“I had to put aside everything else and just gear up with Jon on free agency,” Mayock said. “The thing that was really intriguing, there was more of a volume of work that had to be done—by position, by free agent. And the only way you could do that was by watching tape. Jon and I and [director of football research] David Razzano and Jon’s staff had to grind it pretty hard to get ready for free agency.”
As they did that, the Raiders’ cap people, led by Tom Delaney, worked to benchmark the market for every player, which didn’t do a ton to settle nerves. “The fear of the unknown for me was, ‘Wow, we’re talking about spending 20, 30, 40, 50 million dollars, a lot of it guaranteed, on these guys,’” Mayock said. “We needed to get it right.”
And just as quickly as a free-agent class headed by Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner and Tyrell Williams came together, it was over. “I just couldn’t believe how quickly deals were getting done the day of free agency,” Mayock said. “I just was like, ‘Oh my god.’ We took Trent Brown off the market immediately. And you look around the league and you’re like, ‘Wow, three-quarters of our board is already gone!’ ”
The relationship with Gruden. With all the work that needed to be done, and the game of catch-up being played, you might imagine that Mayock was keeping long hours. And as has been well documented, Gruden has always kept long hours. Over time, that’s where they bonded.
“The first month I was here, I was walking in the building and it’s 5:30 in the morning, and Jon’s already in there watching film, and I start watching film in my office,” Mayock said. “And after a few days, it’s, ‘This is crazy, why am I over here watching film and he’s over there?’ So I just started grabbing my coffee and going over there, and he and I would sit down and watch film.
“It was a really good lesson for me to see how he watches film, because everybody watches it a little differently. And Jon’s got just miles and miles and miles of cutups that he’s had his whole career. He can pull up cutups from 20 years ago just by clicking a button. The volume of work he does is mind-boggling. And I respect that.”
It was there, in the wee hours, that the more conservative Mayock and more aggressive Gruden worked to find common philosophical ground. There and …
The National Championship Game. A week after he was hired, Mayock made his first public appearance in a work setting, donning a Raiders parka at the national title game in nearby Santa Clara. That night, he saw two of his three first-round picks [Ferrell and Jacobs], and his second- [Mullen] and fifth-rounders [Hunter Renfrow] live. And as you might’ve guessed, that night was important.
“I felt it on the field before the game, these were the two best college programs in the country and have been for several years now,” Mayock said. “And when you walk around on the field before the game and watch these guys warm up, and you do your body types, you’re taking notes—they look like two NFL teams. I said it to somebody, I don’t remember who, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Man, if you just draft from these two teams, you’re gonna do well, forget the rest of the country.’
“I didn’t consciously set out to make that happen. But we got more and more impressed with these Clemson kids, as we met them, as people. We loved the Alabama tailback. And it worked out pretty well from our perspective.”
An underlying factor here, that Mayock affirmed in our talk: If you’re trying to build a certain championship atmosphere, it doesn’t hurt to have kids from the likes of Alabama and Clemson.
The scouts. This is where Mayock raised his voice a little. The Raiders dismissed scouting chief Joey Clinkscales and Vandernat shortly after the season, and knew more changes would come post-draft. And yes, Mayock did send scouts home a week before the draft to close the circle. But he told me only three of those guys were actually let go. A bunch of them are back at work now.
“I never fired any of them. I didn’t. I sent them home,” Mayock said. “Listen to me, I sent them home, and I fired zero of them until the day after the draft. And then I notified a couple guys [that they were let go]. End of story. Nobody follows the story. Nobody cares. Everybody just wanted to report that Mayock sent everybody home.”
And while the idea that Mayock banished people had a totalitarian feel to it, the GM was actually very quick, in our conversation, to credit the work of assistant player personnel director Trey Scott and scouting coordinator Teddy Atlas. The latter, in fact, was “directly responsible” for the team’s seventh-round pick, Prairie View pass-rusher Quinton Bell, according to Mayock.
“When the rest of the league was hoping to sign him as a free agent, Teddy was at his pro day,” Mayock said. “He was a converted wide receiver who went to defensive end at Prairie View. And Teddy kept this kid alive for me. And he ends up being 6’4”, 240, ran 4.44, played one year at defensive end. The bottom line is those two guys helped me immensely throughout this whole process.”
The coolest part of the draft. I’ll let Mayock take this one.
“There were two things,” he said. “One is just the absolute joy that Jon Gruden has talking to the players on that phone call. I mean, I’m telling you, he couldn’t wait to get on the phone. And his joy and true excitement in welcoming these players to the team was awesome. I got excited and almost emotional just watching him do it.
“That’s one, and I think the other one is, we moved down a couple times in the second round, we moved from 35 to 38 to 40, and picked up a couple extra picks, and were able to keep our guy, Trayvon Mullen, who we wanted all along. Jon and I were connected on that. We were sweating through every pick, and it ended up working out. I think both of us really enjoyed that process.”
So now his first draft is in the books, and Mayock has turned the page and is working on getting a few hires done to fill out his staff. But allowing himself one last look in the rear-view mirror, the TV-guy-turned-GM remembered sitting on the North team bus en route to the Senior Bowl on Jan. 26.
“This is just for the Senior Bowl game, and I’m sitting there across from Jon [who was coaching the North], going, ‘OK! This is real, we’re about to go play a game,’” Mayock said. “Even though it was the Senior Bowl, you feel some skin in the game.”
And they did have some skin in that game, in the end. Four guys who played that afternoon were drafted by the Raiders (Abram, Renfrow, Isaiah Johnson and Foster Moreau), and three others were signed by the team as college free agents (Te’von Coney, Alec Ingold, Keelan Doss).
As was the case with the national title game, Mayock got a chance to see those kids up close, and that really does matter to him, for the same reason he sees getting his next set of hires right as vital, and values what he got in Ferrell and company in the draft. He hasn’t been working for teams the last 20 years, but he’s seen enough good ones to know what it takes, beyond what a stopwatch can tell him.
“My whole goal, my whole belief, is that people change circumstances,” Mayock said. “Not buildings, not anything else—it’s people. It’s the draft picks you bring in, it’s your coaching staff, it’s your scouting staff. And I’m excited about where we’re headed. I’m excited about the people we’re bringing in to this building. And I think everybody sees the opportunity and the energy that’s going on with the Raiders.”
By everybody, I’m thinking he didn’t mean the rest of us—those people who sat there just a little stunned with what he did with his first pick. And besides, in any other year, we might have understood it a little better.
How Would the Last Three QB Classes Have Graded Out Against Each Other?
We’ve spent so much time over the last couple months looking at this year’s quarterbacks vs. the potential bumper crop coming in 2020 that I figured it was time to get some perspective on the whole thing. The best way to do that, I thought, would be to compare this year’s class vs. the previous two, to see how the quarterbacks of 2017, 2018 and 2019 would have stacked up against each other.
A couple notes before we get into it: First, the 2018 class was really held above the others from a perception standpoint. The 2017 group was seen as full of risk, and this year was thought to be a down year for quarterbacks. Second, what we’re trying to ascertain isn’t where these players are now, but where they were in scouts’ minds when they were coming out.
With that established, I sent out texts late Friday asking scouts and coaches who’d evaluated quarterbacks each of those years to rank their top five QBs over the last three drafts, based on where they had them graded coming out of college. I then took each of those lists and awarded points: five for a first-place vote, four for a second-place vote, and so on.
We got 11 ballots back, from 11 different teams. The results:
1T: Baker Mayfield, Browns 2017, 35 points (4 first-place votes)
1T: Sam Darnold, Jets 2017, 35 points (4 first-place votes)
3: Deshaun Watson, Texans 2016, 33 points (1 first-place vote)
4: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs 2016, 26.5 points (1 first-place vote)
5: Kyler Murray, Cardinals 2019, 18 points (1 first-place vote)
6: Josh Rosen, Cardinals 2018, 8.5 points
7: Mitch Trubisky, Bears 2017, 6 points
8: Daniel Jones, Giants 2019, 2 points
9: Dwayne Haskins, Redskins 2019, 1 point
Some more on the vote …
• Buffalo’s Josh Allen (2018) and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson (2018) were the only first-round picks not to get mentions. Jones and Haskins appeared on one ballot apiece. Rosen and Trubisky appeared on three each.
• Mayfield was the only quarterback to show up on every ballot. Darnold and Watson were both on 10 of 11. Mahomes missed the cut on two ballots (appreciate the honesty from those guys! Remember, this is how the scouts had these QBs graded entering the draft) and got half a fifth-place vote on another.
• An NFC exec—not from the Cardinals—had Murray No. 1. His explanation: “On tape, he was the best—the best combo of arm talent and dynamic athletic ability. Obviously you have to factor in size. But on tape, he was the best.” Pretty straightforward. Murray was in the top three on three ballots, and didn’t appear on four ballots.
• Only one non-first-round pick’s name was raised: Drew Lock (Denver 2019). Another exec told me he’d have had Lock sixth on his list.
This wasn’t meant to be scientific. It was 11 evaluators in a league with hundreds of them. So take it as a fun exercise that reflects the way a group of NFL types who study quarterbacks for a living would have stacked up the prospects from the past three years if grouped together.
YES, YOUR ROOKIE QB IS GOING TO PLAY THIS YEAR
While we’re on the subject of quarterbacks, what Cardinals GM Steve Keim said to my buddy Rich Eisen this week caught my attention. Rich asked him, straight up, if Kyer Murray will start Week 1 against the Lions.
Eisen: “You didn’t stutter.”
Keim: “We didn’t draft him one overall to ride the pine. I know it’s a lot to put on his back, but that’s why we drafted him. He’s a fierce competitor, and that’s what he did at Oklahoma [last] year. He put the team on his back. They didn’t have a great defense, and he knew he had to score on almost every series to give them a chance to win. I sort of like the chances there.”
Coach Kliff Kingsbury walked those comments back a little later in the week—it would be the first time since 2012 that a team named a rookie quarterback its starter so quickly (it happened with both Andrew Luck in Indy and Robert Griffin in Washington after they were drafted 1-2 that year). But Kingsbury probably didn’t have to. Because history tells us, one way or another, that Murray’s going to be the starter, and sooner rather than later.
I keep a chart of when first-round quarterbacks made their respective first starts, and what it shows is a sea change happened in 2008, when both the Falcons (Matt Ryan) and Ravens (Joe Flacco) made the playoffs with rookie signal-callers. Of note:
• From 2008 through last year, 32 quarterbacks went in the first round. Fifteen of them started in Week 1 of their rookie year.
• Seven more were starting inside the first four weeks, taking the number to 22 of 32 quarterbacks. Two more on top of that were starting Week 5, taking the number to 24, or three-quarters of the group. Some of those guys (Blake Bortles, Mitch Trubisky) were in despite strong declarations that they’d be redshirted.
• Only six first-round quarterbacks hadn’t started games by the midway point of their rookie year: Tim Tebow, Jake Locker, Johnny Manziel, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.
• Only two were really redshirted. One was Locker, who sat behind Matt Hasselbeck with the Titans as a rookie and got his first start in the opener of his second season. The other was Mahomes, who watched Alex Smith from the sideline for most of 2017 before getting the start in the Chiefs’ meaningless regular-season finale. The common thread between the two? Both were on contenders, which made sitting the younger quarterback more or less a non-issue.
So thank you, Steve Keim, for being honest. And take anything anyone else says about not starting a rookie with a grain of salt. Maybe it’s not the plan now. But history says it’s going to happen.
1. We were writing here plenty in the run-up that this year’s draft would be volatile once a handful of elite defensive players came off the board, and it was, almost right away. Ed Oliver was the last DL in that upper group, going ninth to Buffalo. The Steelers then traded up to get LB Devin Bush at 10. And that put Cincinnati in position to take Alabama tackle Jonah Williams, who wasn’t expected to the Bengals at 11. Now, let’s say the Giants had taken edge rusher Josh Allen at 6. If that happened, Williams would’ve been a serious consideration for Jacksonville at 7 (though I think it probably would’ve been Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson). Let’s say Williams goes there. Then, I’m told, the Bengals would’ve been picking between Oklahoma G Cody Ford and B.C. G Chris Lindstrom. Long story short, Ford had a real chance to go 11th overall. He didn’t. And he slid all the way into the second round, where Buffalo traded up to get him with the 38th pick. The cost of that? Last year’s 11th pick, Dolphins S Minkah Fitzpatrick, got $16.45 million guaranteed. The 38th pick, Bucs RB Ronald Jones, got $4.50 million guaranteed. The good news for Ford is that if he can play, he’ll get to his second contract quicker.
2. How about this: The Lions only talked to T.J. Hockenson once during the pre-draft process. That was at the combine. They didn’t work him out privately. They didn’t visit with him on campus. They didn’t have him in for a “30” visit. And Detroit taking him eighth overall anyway, without completing tipping its interest, is the power of relationships at work. There’s the obvious connection between Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and any Patriot-centric operation. But it’s deeper than that. After Hawkeyes offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz got done playing, he went to work with the Patriots, and got his start in scouting alongside then-assistant pro scouting director Bob Quinn, who’s now the Lions GM. He worked with Quinn for a few months, then went over to coaching, where he was on staff with Matt Patricia, eventually becoming the tight ends coach for a young Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. So, to summarize, the younger Ferentz has intimate relationships with both Quinn and Patricia, and those guys probably see Hockenson’s position through an awfully similar lens. Which meant that the tire-kicking on Hockenson didn’t have to be too extensive.
3. The Ravens had their rookie minicamp this weekend, and the name I’ve been continuously told to watch in Eric DeCosta’s first draft class has been third-round edge rusher Jaylon Ferguson of Louisiana Tech. And that’s coming out the last few days, too. Ferguson showed some stiffness in drills before the draft, and a bad three-cone time led to doubts regarding his ceiling. But his college production was through the roof: He finished his college career with 45 sacks. And with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith gone, there should be opportunity for Ferguson to get in the rotation among edge defenders quickly.
4. Here’s another third-round pick to keep an eye on: Colts LB Bobby Okereke. The coaches are already excited about his potential coming out of minicamp. And the team viewed it as a priority to find an athlete to pair with Darius Leonard at the position, which is why C.J. Mosley was one of two first-wave free agents that GM Chris Ballard made a serious run at. Okereke can’t be expected to duplicate Leonard’s rookie accomplishments—he was First Team All-Pro in 2018—but the Colts saw a lot of same the things in him that attracted them to Leonard last April, including instincts, intelligence and long arms. Indy had Okereke on a tier with Utah’s Cody Barton, behind top-10 picks Devin White and Devin Bush. And while Okereke (4.59 in the 40) isn’t as freakish athletically as White or Bush, he is bigger and longer than them. Which, in fact, was what Leonard had over top-10 pick Roquan Smith last year. So keep an eye on Okereke.
5. I asked Senior Bowl chief Jim Nagy for his first impression on the 2020 class after his team’s initial study, and he came back with this: “It’s going to be thin on the offensive line.” That would help explain the OL land rush in this year’s draft—12 of the first 48 picks were offensive linemen. The logic, of course, is simple. If you know next year’s going to be wasteland, you better get your guys this year, and teams did that aggressively. Half of the aforementioned dozen were the subject of trade-ups. On the flip side, it seems plenty of other teams passed on a mediocre crop of receivers this year, waiting for an expected WR banner year in 2020 (Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, Clemson’s Tee Higgins, Colorado’s Laviska Shenault). And that showed up in another Senior Bowl metric—Nagy said eight receivers who played in his game this year went undrafted, which was by far the highest number of any position.
6. I actually love what Bears coach Matt Nagy did with his rookie kickers the other day at minicamp. In case you missed it, he had each of the eight invited guys kick 43-yard field goals—one shot—in front of all their teammates, with the media watching. The distance wasn’t a mistake. It was the mark from which Cody Parkey missed his game-winning attempt in last year’s playoffs, and Nagy affirmed afterward that each of the contenders for Parkey’s old job was aware of that. The result wasn’t great. Only two of the eight kicks went through. But the effect, I think, is good. Whoever wins that job is going to have Chicago’s kicking failure of last year hanging over his head to a degree. So you better find someone who can handle it. As one team staffer I texted Sunday explained it, “We all need to crave pressure. Not just the kickers. Every player, every coach. We’re not running from that field goal miss. We’re embracing it.” And I think they’re doing the right thing.
7. It’s now been 11 days since the Tyreek Hill audio surfaced. He’s still on the Chiefs roster. The league, which is investigating, hasn’t commented. And it’ll certainly be interesting to see what happens next. We went over this last week, but it’s pretty fair to guess that a lesser player would’ve been shown the door weeks ago. It’s also fair to think the Chiefs presume some other team (and probably multiple teams) would put a claim in on Hill (who’s due just $2.03 million) if he hits waivers, and that’s a part of the equation as well. I don’t think it’s unfair to hold Kansas City to a higher standard, based on the fact that they assumed the risk with Hill in the first place, just took another risk in trading for Frank Clark, and are less than seven months out from the Kareem Hunt fiasco. Yes, there’s gray area in Hill’s situation. But I don’t see it as license for the Chiefs to try to find a way to hold on to Hill.
8. Tuesday’s a big day, and you might not even realize it—that’s when free-agent signings stop counting against the compensatory-pick formula, which could generate offers for some of the older guys on the market (like Ndamukong Suh, Ziggy Ansah and Eric Berry). Historically, the Ravens, Cowboys, Packers, Patriots and Rams have been the league’s most comp-pick conscious teams. And considering the losses some of those teams had in free agency (Trent Brown, Tre Flowers, Za’Darius Smith, C.J. Mosley, Rodger Saffold, Lamarcus Joyner), it makes sense that they’d wait for the deadline to pass, if they wanted to move on any of the top available guys. Remember, the comp-pick formula is based on net gain/loss, so every addition hurts your chances of getting rewarded next April.
9. Tom Brady said again to Jimmy Kimmel this week what he’s said in the past about how the Patriots compensate him: “I've always felt, for me in my life, winning has been a priority. And my wife makes a lot of money. I'm a little smarter than you think. Actually, it’s a salary cap. You can only spend so much, and the more that one guy gets is less for others. And from a competitive advantage standpoint, I like to get a lot of good players around me." That’s fine, of course. Here’s what’s interesting: Brady actually doesn’t have to do much of anything to get into the upper reaches of quarterback pay. If he plays the year out, unless Jarrett Stidham is the 2019 reincarnation of, well, Brady himself, the Patriots will have to franchise their quarterback in 2020. And we already know, because of his high-end cap number for 2019, what his franchise tag number will be next year: $32.4 million. So Brady could either just play on that tag, and force the team to tag him again in 2021, at $38.88 million, or do a long-term deal off these leverage points. Add the two tag numbers together, by the way, and you get to $71.28 million, which is better than the $35 million per that Russell Wilson just signed for.
10. Listen to Bobby Wagner when he says this could be his last season in Seattle, because that’s certainly possible. And it’s not that the Seahawks are OK with letting him walk, or that Wagner wants to go. It’s all market conditions. It’s always been hard to tag off-ball linebackers, because the franchise number there is based on what a handful of pass-rushing hybrid-end types are getting. And deals done by C.J. Mosley and Kwon Alexander have pushed the market for the former closer to the market for the latter. Add to that the fact that Seattle just got its other long-term linebacker, K.J. Wright, done at $7 million per, and doing Wagner’s deal is significantly more complicated than it was six months ago, which is always the risk in waiting for a team.
… OF THE WEEK
“You’re always trying to find an answer to the quarterback position. You can’t wait till you don’t have one. We’ve been working on it, and you’re always working on it. We feel good about what we have in Drew and his ability over the next couple years to continue to grow and make some strides. Hopefully, he’s that guy for the future.
— Broncos GM John Elway on drafting Drew Lock.
What I love about how Denver has approached the quarterback position this offseason is that it hasn’t given up much future flexibility whatsoever, while taking two swings at getting it right. Joe Flacco is on a middling non-guaranteed quarterback contract for the next three years (at $21 million per), from which the Broncos can bail at any point. And they took Lock in the second round this year, which doesn’t really preclude them from taking a QB in the first round in the next year or two. So maybe Flacco or Lock hits big. If not, Denver can still be in the Tua Tagovialoa or Justin Herbert business next year, or the Trevor Lawrence business the year after that.
“One of the things I want to do here is provide value for anything the coaching staff needs me to do. Wherever I can fit in and help this team win games, that’s my mentality.”
— Ravens sixth-round QB Trace McSorley.
That was the former Penn State QB’s answer when asked about playing another position, and I have to say, it’s refreshing to hear a kid who’s been a quarterback his whole life, and started for three years at the position at a college football blueblood, talk that way. Maybe it’s because, as a sixth-round pick, he has to talk that way. I don’t care. There are a lot of kids who wouldn’t say that. And it affirms what you’ve heard about McSorley as a competitor. I can tell you first-hand that, like John Harbaugh said, rooting against him (as an alum of a rival school) could make you hate him. But he absolutely sounds like the kind of kid you’d love if he were on your side.
This was pretty good, even if Rashan Gary cooked up some decent reasoning for wanting 52 (reverence for Matthews, and 5 minus 2 equaling his college number, 3). And it’s actually true that teams will take numbers of great players out of rotation for a couple years to honor them, with the acknowledgment that actually retiring numbers in football is logistically tougher than in other sports. So Clay actually could have a little bit of a legit beef on this one.
Not sure how you wouldn’t love seeing this—Steelers LB Ryan Shazier, still just 18 months out from spinal surgery, dancing at his wedding this weekend. Seeing what he’s done, it’s hard to rule anything out for his future.
I’m guessing this is a six-figure play off Brady breaking Matt Damon’s window in a stunt for Kimmel’s show, and Danny Amendola actually wasn’t that far off from making this happen. Would’ve been cooler if he did.
This was really good to see all the way around, from Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs. Charles, by the way, finished his career 56th on the all-time rushing list, just behind Terrell Davis. And there absolutely was a period (2009-13) where he was a top-five guy at his position. I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer. But he was a damn good player.
This is not real. But it’s kind of funny anyway.
Credit where it’s due—Brady’s getting better at tweeting. And by the way, there are five of his ex-backups in that picture, including one who went on to become his current backup (Brian Hoyer). Also, two of the former teammates of his in this crew now happen to be NFL head coaches, which is kind of crazy. While we’re there …
That’s Tom Brady’s body man. And I actually got confirmation on Sunday that he wasn’t joking here. It’s true. He did what a lot of us would’ve done in that situation, and tossed a winning ticket away. At 65-to-1. Ouch.
S/O to …
Rams CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, who’ll probably always be known for that play in the Superdome, for finishing his degree at USC. Great seeing these sorts of stories, especially when they’re about fulfilling a promise to a family member, as this one is.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINES
1. Saw this absurd stat on Sunday morning, from an April 24 story on 24/7: Nick Saban has more first-round picks than losses in his 12 seasons at Alabama. It was 26 first-rounders and 21 losses when that story went up. It’s 29 first-rounders and 21 losses now.
2. Given that, I figured I’d look up other coaches who’ve won national titles this decade and how they compare. It turns out only Urban Meyer does. He had 14 first-rounders and nine losses in seven years at Ohio State. Dabo Swinney has had 11 first-rounders and 30 losses in 10 years at Clemson. Jimbo Fisher had nine first-rounders and 23 losses in eight years at Florida State. And Gene Chizik had two first-rounders and 19 losses in four years at Auburn. Swinney, of course, has gotten stronger over the course of his decade, and is rolling now. But Saban is just ridiculous.
3. Is it me, or did Country House actually benefit from Maximum Security’s interference? It sure looked that way to me.
4. The end of the Bruins/Blue Jackets game on Saturday night was the best of what playoff hockey can be. Big stakes, and big turns through the last 10 minutes. Game 6 is Monday night at 7 p.m., which is interesting for people up here in my corner of the country, because Game 4 of Bucks/Celtics tips an hour later. Tough spot for us, I know.
5. I know it’s probably not going to happen, but man, it would be cool to see Kawhi Leonard keep going with that Raptors team, no matter what happens in these playoffs.
6. I’m all for these sorts of confrontations before football games.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
This week, the deadline to exercise fifth-year options on the 2016 rookie class for 2020 came and went, and a new standard was set. This year’s group had the lowest number picked up of any since the current rookie salary system went into effect back in 2011. Thus far, six sets of first-round picks have been subject to fifth-year option decisions. Here’s the tally, by year, of options picked up:
Class of 2011 (’14 decisions): 19
Class of 2012 (’15 decisions): 21
Class of 2013 (’16 decisions): 18
Class of 2014 (’17 decisions): 23
Class of 2015 (’18 decisions): 20
Class of 2016 (’19 decisions): 17
What does that tell us? Well, some this year were easy one way (Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Zeke Elliott, Joey Bosa) or the other (Darron Lee, Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson), and some weren’t even decisions at all (Corey Coleman, Paxton Lynch, both already gone from their drafting team). But it did seem like fewer teams were willing to take fliers on guys they may hold out hope for (Karl Joseph, Germain Ifedi), or gamble on injured guys (Jack Conklin).
These options hadn’t been seen over the years as particularly high risk. They’re guaranteed only for injury—meaning so long as the guy can pass a physical the following March, the team still held the right to walk away from him without financial penalty. That’s why, in the past, teams have picked up options only to cut guys a year later (Robert Griffin, Eric Ebron and D.J. Fluker are three examples).
Now, as we said, that’s less common. Here are a few reasons why:
The rise of the comp pick: More teams are valuing compensatory picks, and taking a flier means risking losing out on one of those. If you decline an option on a player, you can collect a comp pick for him if he walks the next year. If you pick up his option and then cut him, you don’t get credit for him. So if you’re a team that’s playing the comp-pick game (again, more are now), that adds a real element of risk in exercising an option.
History: There simply aren’t many examples of a team declining an option and a player making out like a bandit because of it. Usually, in that circumstance, the player winds up on a one-year deal the following year, or on a multiyear deal below the value of the option. With more guys in that spot, maybe things will change. But as teams see it now, the option numbers aren’t a value for guys they’re iffy on.
The franchise and transition tags as an option: Take Conklin as an example, and let’s imagine that the numbers are the same next year as this year. The option would be $12.52 million on him. His franchise tag number would be $14.07 million. So for the $1.5 million difference, the team won’t have to worry about injury, and have the option to take the comp pick the next year. More teams believe that’s worth it.
Premium positions v. other spots: Conklin’s option number for next year would, on its own, make him the highest-paid right tackle in football. And the Titans would be negotiating a long-term deal off that number. Ifedi would be, as an outside-the-top-10 lineman, in line for more than $10 million, putting him near the top of the guard market. It’s one thing to go to those lengths for a quarterback or a corner or a pass rusher or a left tackle. Short of that, it’s harder to justify.
So what you need to know is that the NFL’s thinking is evolving, and it’s showing in this area, as it has in a number of others. As is the case with a lot of league trends, analytics seep into the equation (importance of cap space, com picks), as does job turnover (new GM/coach means less attachment to old picks).
The result? There are a bunch of good, talented players now playing for contracts in 2019, and the 2020 free-agent crop could be better for it in the end.
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