It’s a new year and a new decade, so for my New Year’s Day mailbag, I put together my NFL all-decade team. I vetted it with players and coaches I respect, and along the way, I received pushback on some of my takes and affirmation on others.
Because of how football is played now, I have three receivers and just one running back. And similarly, I grouped line-of-scrimmage players on defense as edge defenders/outside linebackers and interior linemen—that way, players who were really stand-up defensive ends (like Von Miller or Khalil Mack) and off-ball linebackers could be on this team.
We’ll get to your mail in a minute. First, my all-decade team …
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Patriots.
Three Super Bowl titles. Two MVPs. And a better decade than his first one, which is really saying something. Aaron Rodgers was great, too. Brady was a little better.
Running back: Adrian Peterson, Vikings/Cardinals/Saints/Redskins.
Marshawn Lynch and Shady McCoy merited some consideration, but Peterson won an MVP award this decade—which is borderline impossible for a non-QB in this era—and was twice first-team All-Pro and twice second-team All-Pro.
Wide receiver: Antonio Brown, Steelers/Raiders/Patriots; Calvin Johnson, Lions; Julio Jones, Falcons.
Johnson might be the one you could argue against here, since he only played six of the 10 years. But he finished those six with 538 catches, 8,548 yards and 62 touchdowns (averaging 90 catches, 1,424 yards and 10 touchdowns per year). The other two were tough to quibble with. Brown had 841 catches for 11,263 yards and 75 touchdowns over the decade, and Jones had 797 catches for 12,125 yards and 81 touchdowns. I did consider Larry Fitzgerald, who was still excellent on the front of this decade before settling into a more complementary role the last few years.
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots.
This may be the one position where I can’t think of a logical argument against giving it to a player.
Offensive tackle: Jason Peters, Eagles; Joe Thomas, Browns.
Thomas was a slam-dunk choice here—he made six first-team All-Pro teams between 2010 and ’17, then retired. Dallas’ Tyron Smith absolutely deserves mention here. He’ll have a Hall of Fame case when he’s done and was the anchor for some great Cowboy lines, but I gave it to Peters by a nose.
Offensive guard: Zach Martin, Cowboys; Marshal Yanda, Ravens.
The selection of Martin was pretty much academic. He was first-team All-Pro as a rookie, and has been either first or second team All-Pro every year of his career. So he makes it, despite having spent the first four seasons of the decade at Notre Dame. Picking Yanda wasn’t particularly difficult either. He made first or second team All-Pro six times in nine chances this decade, and was a key in some of the NFL’s most dominant run games—including the one he’s a part of now.
Center: Alex Mack, Browns/Falcons.
Pittsburgh’s Maurkice Pouncey, Dallas’ Travis Frederick, Philly’s Jason Kelce and Carolina’s Ryan Kalil are all worthy considerations. But at a position where reliability is paramount, Mack was a rock in both Cleveland and Atlanta, and was a big key to getting to the Falcons to the Super Bowl in 2016.
Edge/OLB: Khalil Mack, Raiders/Bears; Von Miller, Broncos; JJ Watt, Texans.
Watt’s won three Defensive Player of the Year awards and, despite his injury history of late, I think it’d be hard not consider him the most dominant defender of the 2010s. Mack’s won a defensive player of the year too, and has been first-team All-Pro three times. And Miller’s been first or second team All-Pro seven times in eight chances. The one time he missed, he was suspended for six games, then tore his ACL. So there was no keeping these three out.
Defensive Tackle: Aaron Donald, Rams; Fletcher Cox, Eagles.
Donald was at Pitt for the first four years of this decade—and he’s been so good since, that’s irrelevant. He’ll be named first-team All-Pro for the fifth straight year in a few weeks, and has twice been Defensive Player of the Year. Cox has made first or second team All-Pro four times over the last five years, and was the best player on a defense that won a Super Bowl.
Inside Linebacker: Luke Kuechly, Panthers; Bobby Wagner, Seahawks.
Both these guys are the prototype nerve-center-of-the-defense middle ’backers, and each has captained the sort of unit that has staying power beyond a single particular year. Since they came into the league together in 2012, the two have combined for nine appearances on the first-team All-Pro list in 14 chances.
Cornerback: Darrelle Revis, Jets/Buccaneers/Patriots/Chiefs; Richard Sherman, Seahawks/49ers.
Revis defined his position for this generation—a true shutdown corner who was the best player on defenses that made deep playoff runs with two different franchises. At his peak, there was not a player in the league better at their position than he was at his. And Sherman won a back-and-forth (in my head) between the Legion of Boom’s top cover guy and Cardinals star Patrick Peterson. Both are deserving. Sherman’s big plays in the biggest spots (the 2013 NFC title game comes to mind) were my tiebreaker.
Safety: Earl Thomas, Seahawks/Ravens; Kam Chancellor, Seahawks.
Yup, all three of the Legion of Boom’s rocks make the list. Earl Thomas made first or second-team All-Pro five times, and his range on the back end as a centerfielder played a huge piece in facilitating Pete Carroll’s defensive style. And Chancellor was the heart and enforcer of those great units—his hit on Wes Welker in Super Bowl XLVIII will go down as one of the most memorable plays in the history of the big game. Eric Berry deserves a look here, and you could even make a case for Ed Reed based on how good he was in 2010, ’11 and ’12, but both Thomas and Chancellor were defining players for a historic defense.
Kicker: Justin Tucker, Ravens.
No need to expound on this one. Easy.
Punter: Johnny Hekker, Rams.
Hekker is a first-team All-Pro four times this decade—no question here.
Kick Returner: Devin Hester, Bears/Falcons/Ravens/Seahawks
Punt Returner: Julian Edelman, Patriots
Special teamer: Matthew Slater, Patriots
Hester makes consecutive All-Decade teams for two reasons. He was still really good the first half of this decade. And the kick return has been marginalized since—we really don’t have that one great returner in the league now. Edelman was electric early in his career on punts, which absolutely bought him time to develop as a receiver. And Slater was an easy pick for the the special teamer slot. He’s made eight Pro Bowls and four first-team All-Pro lists this decade.
From SWC75 (@salvaje50): Do you think OBJ stays in Cleveland?
It’s an interesting question, SWC. Odell Beckham was good, not great, this year, and a few opposing coaches have told me Cleveland made itself easier to defend because it was clear the staff had to placate the receivers with touches —which took away from an offense that should’ve been built around its best player … Nick Chubb.
It’s also difficult to expect Beckham to be a changed man in nine months. Next season will be his seventh in the NFL, and he is what he is. Does that hamstring the new coach’s ability to establish the sort of program he wants? How will Beckham affect Baker Mayfield’s development? And will his presence prevent the new staff from building an offense around Chubb?
These are all questions that need to be answered. Until we know who the next coach is, though, it’s impossible to know what’ll happen with Beckham.
From A.J. DeMello (@humorousfiend): When will the Raiders get rid of Carr?
A.J., I think “get rid of” is the wrong way to term what the Raiders are going to do in this situation going forward. As I see it, Carr gives them a viable option at a fair rate who’s under contract for three more years (his non-guaranteed cash: $19 million in 2020, $19.625 million in 2021, $19.878 million in 2022). That gives them flexibility to move year-to-year in the draft with a marginal quarterback need, and they can pounce whenever a player that qualifies as an upgrade falls into their lap.
This year the Raiders have the No. 12 and No. 19 picks. Joe Burrow will be long gone. Could Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert fall into that range? I have my doubts, but if one does, you could consider it. The great thing, though, is that if it doesn’t happen, they just take the best available, and they’re still OK at quarterback. Not a terrible spot to be in, if you’re Mike Mayock.
From Dan Novak (@dan31676): Can you see Jack Del Rio developing Chase Young similarly as he did with Khalil Mack and Von Miller?
Having Jack Del Rio as defensive coordinator and Ron Rivera as head coach in Washington would be a very good result for Chase Young. And looking at it four months out, it does appear to be the most likely result. The Redskins are picking second, the Bengals are picking first with a quarterback need and a quarterback worthy of going that high, LSU’s Joe Burrow, sitting there for them.
Young comes very prepared too—not just an athletic freak, but a polished defensive end having learned at the foot of Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson. So Del Rio and Rivera’s biggest task would be finding the best way to get the most out of a young pairing of Montez Sweat and Young that, athletically, may be unmatched in all of football. Pretty cool place to be for all of them.
From Craig Ginsberg (@CraigAdamG): Any possibility Mike Zimmer winds up back in Dallas if Minnesota wants to cut ties?
Craig, this is something I wouldn’t totally rule out, but I see as unlikely at this point. The Joneses do love Zimmer, and obviously have a ton of background with him. But I think their charge, if they do go through with firing Garrett, will be finding someone who can be a strong program builder, and can grow with the young core.
Zimmer is 63 years old, and his greatest strengths are his ability to develop players, and put together and call a defense. I’m not totally sure he lines up with what the Joneses would be looking for. But like I said, they love him, so never say never.
From Nealseph (@CapitolTitans): AJ Brown OROY?
I did consider this when putting in my MMQB ballot this week, Neal. Ultimately, I put him third behind Oakland RB Josh Jacobs and Arizona QB Kyler Murray. Why? Well., the big thing was the burden on each guy. The Raiders built their offense around Jacobs, and he rushed for 1,150 yards and 11 touchdowns, ripping off 4.8 yards per carry. Murray was a Day 1 starter at quarterback and threw for 3,722 yards, 20 touchdowns and just 12 picks, and rushed for another 544 yards and four scores.
Brown’s numbers were super impressive too—52 catches for 1,051 yards (20.2 yards per catch!) and eight touchdowns. But he was able to develop naturally into the offense, where the other guys were thrown in the fire and counted on right away, which certainly creates another layer in degree of difficulty.
From Kurt Reming (@kurtreming): If Gronkowski decides to play next year, is he a free agent?
No, Kurt, he’s not. He still has a year left on his Patriots contract, and is on their reserve list, which is why he had to report by late November to be eligible to play in the playoffs.
From Stephen Bunda (@TSN1200Bunda): What's more likely for Jameis Winston? Franchise tag, extension with Tampa Bay or ends up on another team?
Stephen, I’d say the franchise tag remains the most likely conclusion for Winston. The Bucs have nothing at quarterback behind him, and going into the offseason without an answer on the roster or a top-10 pick would be tough. They can hit him with the non-exclusive tag, which’ll cost them around $27 million, allow them to kick the can down the road at the position, and not preclude them from doing anything in the draft.
And when we get to the draft? Well, based on what Bruce Arians likes in quarterbacks, Herbert falling to them at No. 14 could be interesting.
From William Carbonetto (@CarboTuc): With Marrone and Caldwell back for another year in Jacksonville, what moves do they need to make in order to have a winning season?
William, the big thing is the quarterback position, as it’s been for many years for the Jaguars. They’ll have to make a call on whether or not they can go forward with Gardner Minshew as starter, and figure what to do with Nick Foles, who’s got $15.125 million fully guaranteed coming to him in 2020. Minshew’s cash—he’s due $585,000 in cash, and has a $633,000 cap hit in 2020—eases Foles’s financial burden, but it’s still not an ideal spot to be in. The team also has to make decisions on pricey veterans like Marcel Dareus, Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye and Andrew Norwell.
That will determine Jacksonville’s approach towards 2020. Given that Caldwell and Marrone will fighting for their jobs, and owner Shad Khan mentioned making the playoffs next year in his statement, you’d think they’d be be all in for 2020 in football ops. We’ll see what happens.
From Derek (@DerekJThibeault): Why Rivera in Washington? Not that good a resume. And who really gets the Browns job... It won’t be Josh McDaniels.
Derek, I’d tell you that Rivera does have a good resume—he handled a lot in his nine seasons in Carolina. He started with a rookie quarterback and a rebuild, went through a GM change and cap purge, and was forced to be the franchise forward-facing spokesman during the Greg Hardy mess. He made a Super Bowl and won three division titles, and the Panthers were contending more off than they weren’t over his final seven seasons in charge.
All of that is why he’s a really good fit for what the Redskins need. They need someone there who can set the tone for an organization, who isn’t afraid to be its face and who can manage crisis. Rivera, very clearly, fits that bill.
Also, I disagree with you on Josh McDaniels. Two scenarios I could see in Cleveland right now, and one involves McDaniels, with either Nick Caserio or Dave Ziegler coming with him New England to run the scouting side. The other would have Eagles VP Andrew Berry, Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski and Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta (in a role similar to what he’s doing now) together.
From Kyle Smith (@Kyle_Smith1087): Is there any way that the Bengals don’t go Joe Burrow?
Sure, Kyle. Young is a generational prospect—along the lines of Mario Williams or Julius Peppers or Jadeveon Clowney. And he’s probably more refined at this point than the other three were coming out of college. So if you’re not wild about Burrow—and there are some questions on him—there’d be logic to saying, let’s just take a potential superstar and wait until next year for our quarterback.
There’s also a reason why some teams will wait for next year at quarterback. And he has long hair, is 6-foot-6, and wears No. 16 for Clemson.
From Bryon Evje (@bryon_evje): Best NFL fit for Matt Rhule?
Bryon, I think the best fit on paper would be the Panthers, and the Panthers are interested. The reason why is that there’s flexibility in how they’ll be structured going forward, and new owner David Tepper is open to ideas on that. If a coach is coming from college, where the program is arranged is his image, that seems pretty ideal. That said … I still think the Giants are most likely to land him.
Rhule is from the New York area. He’s worked, albeit briefly (for one year, 2012), for the organization. And he’s got the sort of demeanor that should work there. I don’t think he goes unless everything’s right—he knows the bad there as well as he knows the good. But if the Giants modernize the operation a little, and freshen up a staff that has too many people who’ve been in their jobs for too long, then I think he has a hard time saying no to them.
Really, that puts it on the Giants. Part of the reason Rhule is leery about how a place might be set up is because of what he went through last year with the Jets. I personally think that John Mara is plenty capable of proving his franchise isn’t that.
From Locked On Colts Podcast (@LockedOnColts): Will the #Colts be targeting a QB in the first round of the draft?
Locked On, I think “targeting” might be a little strong at this point—but I certainly believe Chris Ballard will study the quarterbacks hard, like he did for the Chiefs in 2016 before leaving for Indianapolis (and four months before Kansas City traded up to get Patrick Mahomes). And so he’ll know Tagovailoa and Burrow and Herbert, and Jordan Love and Jacob Eason well by the time April gets here.
To me, it’s going to be whether a guy available a) represents an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett and b) is someone Ballard and Frank Reich feel comfortable tying their job security to. Remember, when you take one in the first round, that’s kind of it. You usually don’t get a do-over on that. The good news here is in the previous paragraph. Things worked out OK for the team in question the last time Ballard dove into studying QBs with real purpose.
From Danny (@bettheover85): Team with best chance to stop the Ravens?
Danny, I’m starting to wonder if the only one in the AFC is the Chiefs—and that’ll ride on Kansas City’s defensive improvement from November and December holding up in January and the offense getting closer to what it was last year on a consistent basis. Under those conditions, Patrick Mahomes and Co. are capable.
The Patriots can’t be ruled out either, of course. But I look at home their offense played in December on the whole, how the defense slumped a little against Miami, and how the road getting there (vs. Tennessee, at Kansas City) could wear them down a little, and it’s hard to conjure a scenario that has New England arriving in Miami in four weeks.
That said … Bill Belichick’s still there, and Tom Brady is too, so I wouldn’t go ruling anything out either.
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