MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — About an hour after the end of Super Bowl LIV, Mike Kafka’s voice started to crack when asked what it meant to deliver a title to Andy Reid. He wasn’t alone.
Bills coach Sean McDermott was misty as the game clock ticked down. Redskins coach Ron Rivera got goosebumps when Reid pulled his headset off. Bears coach Matt Nagy felt the way that he knew Reid felt about all the guys who’d worked for him through the years in Philadelphia and Kansas City.
If it seems like half of the professional football world wanted Reid to bring home the title, that’s probably not far off from the reality of the situation—and this is nothing against Kyle Shanahan or John Lynch or anyone else in San Francisco. Kafka, his quarterbacks coach; Nagy, once his quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in K.C.; and McDermott and Rivera, defensive assistants for him in Philly, were among hundreds of people rooting for him.
Andy Reid, in his 21st year as an NFL head coach, is finally a world champion.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Kafka, who played for Reid in Philadelphia before coming to coach for him in Kansas City. “It was one of the biggest things for me, one of my biggest goals. If I had an opportunity to help him win a world championship, I would do anything possible to do that. It gets me emotional thinking about it, because he gave me an opportunity here to be a part of it, which is huge. It’s awesome.
“There are no words to describe that man. It’s … Coach.”
Getting him there wasn’t easy. The Chiefs would need to overcome an uncharacteristically scattershot start from their hurricane of a 24-year-old quarterback. They’d need their much-maligned defense to stand tall. They’d need to, yes, manage the clock in a fourth quarter that will never be forgotten in Missouri.
For Reid on Sunday night, they did all those things.
The season is over! We’ve got Super Bowl LIV covered for you, and there’s more here too, including ...
• The team that’s drawing inspiration from the Niners’ rebirth.
• A position coach the Patriots will miss.
• The NFL’s Man of the Year.
But, of course, we’re starting with the Chiefs, and how they dug themselves out of a quite a hole in the fourth quarter to deliver the franchise’s first championship in a half-century and, maybe more important to the guys there, made Reid a champion.
Through three quarters of football at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, the Chiefs had been outgained 292–206. After each team had a series in the fourth quarter, and Kansas City took over at its own 17 with 8:53 left, that count was 314–237.
By just about every measure, San Francisco was having its way with the Chiefs. Nick Bosa was putting on an MVP-worthy performance in leading a defensive line that was seemed to have sucked the pride out of the K.C. offensive line, and Jimmy Garoppolo had, surprisingly enough, outplayed Patrick Mahomes. Up 20–10, the Niners were holding the dagger.
After a review overturned a Tyreek Hill catch on a second down with 7:13 left, the Chiefs found themselves in third-and-15, badly needing a spark of any kind with their season on the line. Did they ever get it.
But the story of the play—a call that the Chiefs go to plenty—starts in the second quarter, when it didn’t work.
“We set it up earlier in the game and [Hill] kind of got walled down and they covered it pretty well,” Kafka said. “Talking on the sideline, Pat liked the complement to that play, and Coach Reid dialed it up.”
On the original play, the Chiefs started in a 3-by-1 formation—three receivers to Mahomes’s left and one to his right. To the left were Sammy Watkins, Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Watkins ran an in-cut, Hill a post, and Kelce sat down on a drag over the middle. The Niners covered it, with Jimmie Ward taking away Hill’s post, Mahomes’s first read. Mahomes scrambled and threw the ball away.
This time, Mahomes figured, they’d have the Niners set up. And he was right.
On the third-and-15, the Chiefs lined up the same way they had in the first half. Watkins ran the same route he had previously. Kelce and Hill made it look like they were, too. Only this time, as both guys went into their breaks, and the defense recognized what was coming, things changed—as Kafka illustrated by scribbling in my notebook (below). Kelce, instead of sitting down in a soft spot in the 49ers coverage, stutter-stepped and darted across the middle. Hill took two steps inside, as if he were running to the post, then broke outside.
To Mahomes’s left, corner Emmanuel Moseley drove on Watkins’s route. Over the top, as Hill took his steps inside, Ward took two steps inside too, creating a huge hole in the corner of the Niners’ coverage with Moseley now underneath and Ward going to the middle of the field. Mahomes saw Ward’s false steps—Got ’em. And just as DeForest Buckner got through to floor Mahomes, again, he let the ball go into that open space in the Niners’ D.
Hill ran under it, easily collecting 44 yards and a first down—and all the momentum that the Chiefs couldn’t seize over the game’s first 53 minutes.
“They had a clue that we run that play a lot,” Kelce told me. “We’ve run it before. They were ready for it. Maybe overplayed it a bit [the first time], and the second time we had them thinking one way and we were gonna go the other … [We’ve got] full confidence in not only ourselves, but our play-caller Big Red back there. He does an unbelievable job putting us in positions to succeed, and no point is truer than that third-and-15."
That was just the start of a three-series explosion during which the Chiefs rolled up 175 yards and three touchdowns to turn a 20-10 deficit into a 31-20 win.
Truth is, there was no revelation in what Mahomes did at the end of the Super Bowl. It was more confirmation of what we should know by now: The Chiefs’ dynamo won’t drown when the waters get choppy. We saw it last year when he went blow-for-blow with Tom Brady in the AFC title game, and we saw it again in Kansas City coming back from 24 down against Houston in the divisional playoffs, and 10 down against Tennessee in the AFC title game.
So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at what started with that 44-yard bomb to Hill.
After the game Mahomes said he “didn’t play to my liking in that third quarter, but the guys believed in me and gave me confidence. We kept fighting”—and no one harder than Mahomes, who’d taken an absolutely beating to that point.
“He’s a warrior, man. He's a warrior,” Kelce said. “All those hits, that doesn't take a toll on him. He picks himself up, he goes on to the next play. He plays to his level every single time out there, man, and I love it."
Untracked after the big play, Mahomes gave the Chiefs plenty to love from there on out. Three plays after the Hill catch, he and Kelce teamed up to draw a 20-yard pass interference penalty on third-and-10. The play after that, he rolled out off play-action and found Kelce for an easy one-yard score to cut the Niners’ lead to 20–17.
When the Chiefs got the ball again, with 5:10, moving the ball was less of a problem: five yards to Hill, nine yards to Kelce, three yards to Hill, then a 38-yard dime down the right sideline to Watkins, and the Chiefs were in first-and-goal from the San Francisco 10. Mahomes would cap the drive with a swing pass off play-action to Damien Williams for a five-yard touchdown to give Kansas City its first lead of the second half, at 24-20.
Going into the final 10 minutes of the game, Mahomes was 18 of 29 for 172 yards, no touchdowns, two picks, and a 49.8 passer rating. From there on out, he was eight of 13 for 116 yards, two touchdowns and no picks for a 130.1 rating.
“That’s the best quarterback in the world,” defensive end Frank Clark told me. “I’ve been saying it for weeks. I don’t know why people don’t want to believe me. Guy don’t bend, he don’t break. We watch a lot of quarterbacks fold under that type of pressure. Guy is young. He's one of the youngest quarterbacks in the league doing this at the highest point. It's nothing about praise, hats off to that man. That man’s a champion. Champions forever.”
Of course, to make that happen, Clark & Co. had to do their part too.
As much as the offense struggled, the Chiefs' defense wasn’t exactly holding up its end of the bargain either going into the fourth quarter. At that point, the Niners had 109 yards on 17 carries, and Jimmy Garoppolo had thrown for 183 yards, a touchdown and a pick on 17-of-20 passing.
Kansas City was failing to set the edge, it was missing tackles, and something had to change. And yes, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo did tweak what the team was throwing at the Niners' offense to stop the bleeding, doing that in three ways:
1. More man coverage.
2. More frequent double-teaming of Niners TE George Kittle.
3. Plugging linebacker Reggie Ragland routinely, using him to fill a gap on run blitzes.
The rest, really, was about just being better fundamentally.
“I feel like those guys on the edge of the defense began to set the edge,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We had a lot of missed tackles, too, early on and we were able to clean that up."
“They kept us on our heels for a good three quarters,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said, as he rode the bus back to the team hotel. “It wasn’t until we got the game a little bit more on our side that we could do some things to dictate to them when we finally got ahead there. I give Kyle and his staff a lot of credit for what they did. We knew going into it they would try to test our edges and run the football, and they did it. We just didn’t have enough stops. … Thank god we got them to kick a couple field goals.”
But when it mattered most, Spagnuolo’s unit—completely rebuilt by GM Brett Veach this offseason around the new DC’s vision for it—stood tall. A three-and-out bridged the two Mahomes-fueled touchdown drives. And then came the point in the game last year’s Chiefs could never quite handle. It was time to close an opponent out.
Little wonder that it was Clark who came into the defensive huddle, as the Niners took over, down 24–20 with 2:44 left, with something to say.
“Man, let’s go be champs,” Clark said, recounting his words. “That was the only thing on each other’s minds—being champs. We didn’t want the moment to slip away. It could’ve easily slipped away at that point. We knew we weren't going to let it. We worked too hard to get to this point.”
That possession might not have looked great for the Chiefs to begin with— Garoppolo hit Kittle for eight yards and Kendrick Bourne for 16 to start it—but it was pretty when it ended. The group that once was a turnstile to victory for opposing offenses in these spots stiffened midfield, forcing three straight incompletions, before Clark ended it, and effectively the game, with a sack.
Two plays later, Williams was breaking a 38-yard touchdown run and the party was on in Kansas City. And in a lot of their places too.
To capture that, as I headed to locker room, I started to text guys Reid has worked with through the years, asking what Reid winning meant to them. A bunch of texts came back.
Nagy: “Great things happen to great people—Tonight proved that. One of the greatest coaches in the history of this league. He treats his players and coaches like family. You feel the love. It’s powerful and contagious. No one works harder. No one cares more. There’s no cutting corners. Hard work pays off. Persistence over resistance. Couldn’t have happened to a better human being.”
Rivera: “Just so happy for Coach knowing that he has solidified his legacy as a Future Hall of Fame coach, and [showed] that coaches who do it the right way and are good guys can win it all.… When they showed him putting that SB Championship Hat on I got chills!!!”
McDermott: “Sitting here tearing up, so happy for him and his family! Great man, great coach! He deserves this more than anyone I know. Did you see the last fourth down? I said to my wife, you see what the distance was? We both looked at each other in amazement. Look it up, there was another pretty significant fourth-and-26 years ago for Andy in the playoffs. I know this was meant to be and the good Lord has his hand on his family!”
John Harbaugh: It means the world. I never once heard him talk about it but saw how hard he worked for it. I’m SO happy for him and Tammy!
I did look up the fourth-and-26 for a refresher. On that play, in the 2003 divisional playoffs, Donovan McNabb and Freddie Mitchell hooked up for 28 yards to move the chains with 1:12 left. The Eagles wound up winning that game, 20–17, before losing to Carolina the next week in the NFC title game. The year after that, Reid went to his first Super Bowl, losing in the big game to an earlier-era Patriots team, and he hasn’t been back since.
Which, of course, only makes this, for those around him, that much more meaningful.
“He’s such a good guy, he’s such a good coach,” Mathieu said. “He gives us our space, he lets us be ourselves. We have a lot of personality in this locker room. He lets us believe in that. Hats off to him. He does a lot not only for the players but the coaches as well. … We’re proud all the way around.”
As they should be.
It took 21 seasons, 15 trips to the playoffs, 10 division titles, seven appearances in conference title games and a second trip to the Super Bowl, but he made it. For everyone who ever worked with Reid, there’s satisfaction in that. And when it happened, so many sought him out. Spagnuolo was among the first to get there, on the sideline just after he got the Gatorade—“Man, it was so great to see how happy he was.”
For the next few days, he’ll deservedly hear from so many others. My guess? They’ll all have a similar message, telling him how grateful they are.
“It’s the type of person he is,” GM Brett Veach said. “He is authentic, he’s real. And you know this—it’s not about wins and losses. It’s about making each other better, and there’s a teachable moment in everything. He cares about people. I think it’s easy to see how much he cares about people. Everybody loves the guy.”
For sure, he’s made a lot of people in Kansas City better over the last few years.
Sunday was a pretty great way to reward him.
WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR THE 49ERS
There will be plenty to break down in the coming weeks over this Niners loss. And while I have to get another look at the game, surely questions on Shanahan’s conservative approach in the field two minutes of the first half and his decision to kick a 42-yard field goal on a fourth-and-two in the third quarter will come up.
Here, I figured we’d take care of what’s ahead for the Niners this offseason. So these are three stories to watch as we get closer to March:
• The Niners have a decision to make on DL Arik Armstead, a pending free agent who figures to cash in big time. With DeForest Buckner also in need of a new deal—2020 is the option year on his rookie contract—my guess is Armstead walks and Buckner, eventually, gets locked up.
• Similarly, they have to make a call on Emmanuel Sanders, who figures to want one more big payday. He turns 33 in March, and was excellent for the Niners after being traded from Denver in September. The Niners have a nice stable of young receivers, with Deebo Samuel (who was great in the Super Bowl), Dante Pettis, Jalen Hurd and Kendrick Bourne all having potential to do more.
• Extending Kittle with a year left on his deal makes a ton of sense, but a new deal won’t come cheap.
PATRICIA’S SENIOR MOMENT
Matt Patricia probably didn’t need much of shot in the arm to get back to work after a 3-12-1 campaign, but he sure got one as he was arriving in Alabama to coach in the Senior Bowl. And it came from an unlikely source: one of the two teams that couldn’t afford to send many people down there for an event that doubles as the kickoff to the offseason for most NFL folks.
That team, San Francisco, had something bigger than the Senior Bowl to focus on. But 12 months ago, the Niners were in the same position the Lions found themselves in this year, with a quarterback injury having ruined a season that started with high hopes, and a date to coach in the Senior Bowl that came about thanks to a lofty position in the draft order.
“I texted Kyle [Shanahan] and I texted John [Lynch] right after the game was over, ‘Hey, congratulations, super excited for you guys,’” Patricia told me Friday afternoon. “Both of them hit me back right away and it was one word for the game: ‘Thanks.’ The rest of it was the message about the Senior Bowl and not being disgruntled about it, taking advantage of it. ‘You’re gonna love the week by the time you’re done. We got so much out of it.’
“It was almost like a reset for me. You almost needed it, because I’m generally not happy if we’re not playing, especially on championship weekend. It was almost like a reset where, These guys are right. Let’s go back and make the most of this week, get everything out of it and let's learn and build our team next year.”
It’s easy to forget now, but there was good reason for Detroit to have high hopes over the first quarter of the 2019 season. The Lions started 2-0-1, beating two 2018 playoff teams along the way, and were nip-and-tuck with the Chiefs before falling in Week 4. The bye was in Week 5. The Monday officiating fiasco in Green Bay was in Week 6. Matthew Stafford was lost for the season before Week 10.
And when you lose nine games in a row to close the year, eight of them after the Stafford injury, it may be hard to find a positive. But there actually was one, that also mirrors the Niners’ rough 2018. The improvement in the locker room aligning with Patricia’s program, apparent in the fast start to the year, sustained through the final two months.
“Give credit to our players, regardless of everything that went on. It felt like the guys just wanted to win,” Patricia said. “They just wanted to try and work and grind it out. They wanted to learn. They wanted to do everything they could to make the team better. From Day 1 to the last day of the season, I thought the work ethic was the same. Just that constant mentality of trying to improve and work hard and trying to go out and compete.
“Even with what we went through this year, that showed up on Sundays. The record was not good. We are what our record is. There’s no getting away from that. But I do feel like the guys, they worked hard. They really tried to do everything they could.”
Patricia’s learned plenty about his quarterback this year, too. In the spring, Stafford would show up early in the morning, at 5 or 6, to replicate the work others would do later in the day, and be there for the team meeting before leaving to be with his ailing wife, who was recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor. In the fall, he played through pain that was worse than most people know before his back injury finally got the best of him. In the process, Patricia saw who his quarterback is.
Stafford still needs to go through his normal check-ups, but the Lions are hopeful that he’s out of the woods on this particular injury.
“He's doing great,” Patricia said. “I love this guy. He’s unbelievable. Great player, better person. Just amazing. … For him, to be as consistent of a person as he was, speaks to his credit. With everything going on in his life, he was the same guy every day. Thankfully. He never wanted to miss anything. I’m like, ‘You’re good here. You don't need to worry about this today.’ He’s like, ‘Nah, I’ll be there.’ Unbelievable.”
Now, if the Lions can keep Stafford upright, what we saw early in 2019 might become more prevalent.
NEW ENGLAND LOSES A KEY COACH
The moment for Dan Koppen didn’t come until his second training camp. The Patriots were having their annual season-ticket-holder practice inside Gillette Stadium, and the reigning champions’ starting center had no idea what was waiting for him. He didn’t think he’d lagged much that night and, with the team in the dog days of summer, all the work was starting to run together anyway.
But afterward he got an earful from his position coach. “After that practice, he gathered the offensive line and got that last word in—and it was for me,” Koppen said on Sunday morning. “He said everything you could imagine under the sun, right in my face. And I’m not taking it personally, but he’s telling me this sucked and that sucked. He called me out right in front of my teammates. And you know what? It was warranted. … He wasn’t trying to hurt feelings, it wasn’t because he likes to yell. He did it because he was trying to get the most out of me.”
That was Dante Scarnecchia, in a nutshell: tough, unrelenting and brutally honest.
The 72-year-old offensive line coach, a position coach Bill Belichick found so valuable that he saw fit to lure him from retirement four years ago, called it quits for the second time this week. And assuming this is it, Scarnecchia will go down as an impact player in perhaps the greatest NFL dynasty of them all.
Proof? Consider the group he coached in 2004, one that helped win the Patriots’ third title, and paved the way to a 1,635-yard season from Corey Dillon. The left tackle [Matt Light] was a second-round pick. The center [Koppen] was a fifth-rounder. The right guard [Stephen Neal] was a college wrestler. The left guard [Joe Andruzzi] was a free agent signed after being released by the Packers, a former undrafted free agent, and an NFL Europe alum. The right tackle [Brandon Gorin was a seventh-round pick in 2001 who didn’t make the Chargers’ roster in ’02.
Scarnechhia could always find a way to make it work, which gave Belichick flexibility in how he built his teams. And he could always find a way to work because he was a complete coach: able to teach fundamentals and scheme, developing players individually and collectively getting them ready for game.
“The way he taught, the fundamentals out on the field, or the scheme in meetings, whether it was basic concepts or complicated ones, he had a way of teaching that everyone could understand, regardless of what level,” Koppen said. “He always had something new for you. There are a lot of coaches, they can show you, but they can’t explain it. Or they can put in on the screen, but on the field, it’s not as easy for them.
“He was one of the guys where whatever he had to coach, in practice, making an adjustment in-game, he was able to communicate it, he was able to coach it.”
In turn, it did take a certain kind of guy to play for him—one who could take the kind chewing out that Koppen got on the summer night in 2004, and one who was smart enough to take the hard coaching they got from a guy who would be seen running gassers by himself after a camp practices.
“You had to be smart, you had to be able to work well with those guys around you,” Koppen said. “He always had goals for the offensive line up in the meeting room, and one was for everyone to see the game through the same set of eyes. You had to work with each other, you had to be smart. The other thing—you had to be tough. It was a grind. It’s not like during an offensive period or special teams period, you got a break. There was no off period.
“There was no down time with Scar. You were always doing something, physically or mentally, out on field. He made us tough. And we were in shape too. We saw a lot of people get tired at the end of games.”
Which may be one more reason why Scarnecchia was a part of making the Patriots their best when it mattered most.
CALAIS CAMPBELL IS THE MAN
It wasn’t tough to see how hard a time Calais Campbell had keeping it together as he accepted the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award on Saturday night at NFL Honors. As I watched him, I wondered was what going through his head. When I talked to him Sunday, the answer made a ton of sense.
“The main thing that brings out emotion in that moment is knowing how proud my dad would be,” the Jaguars defensive end said over the phone, on his way to the Super Bowl. “And that’s something that means so much to me, because my father’s been there for me. Knowing the whole world knows his name and what he stood for, he wouldn’t care about that. But to me, that means a lot because of the man he was and what he represented.
“Just knowing that all his efforts for me to help me be who I am today, this feels good to have this moment and share it with him."
Campbell’s father, Charles, died when he was 17. But like Calais said, the lessons he learned from Dad are apparent all these years later in who he’s become.
Campbell, his mother, Nateal, and his seven siblings formed the CRC Foundation in 2009, naming it after Charles. The foundation’s mission is teach life lessons to young people and empower them to be leaders. Every year Campbell hosts a youth football camp and a shopping spree for local kids called Christmas with Calais. He also makes semi-weekly visits to a middle school as part of his book club and is very involved in team-led community efforts on several levels.
Campbell said that what excites him most about winning the award is “what comes next.” He also hopes that part of that future is younger players getting themselves more involved in the community.
“A lot of guys do come and we talk through it,” Campbell said. “The biggest thing is figuring out what you care about, what you want to make a difference in. One thing I think is most important is realizing that other people are doing great things. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but just figure out where you want to make a difference and who’s doing that already and how you can add value in different places.
“This platform we have, that the NFL gives us, is incredible. The ability to go and talk to a kid and know he’s hanging on every word I say just because of the game I play, he’s gonna really listen to me if I can talk to him and bring change. That’s not something I take lightly.”
One other thing that makes it meaningful to Campbell is Payton’s name. His high school coach, Ryan Mullaney, was an NFL teammate of Payton’s, so he’s heard Sweetness stories since he was a teenager.
“Walter Payton was the epitome of the ideal football player, and the NFL has done an incredible job making this award so prestigious, making it so sought after that when you win it, it's a badge of honor you wear proudly,” Campbell said. “I never did any community work to try to win an award. I do it because I love the kids, but at the same time, I know when you get an award like this, it makes everything you want to do so much easier. “
Which is a good thing for everyone.
If 49ers DBs coach Joe Woods is moving on to Cleveland to become defensive coordinator, then Kris Richard would make some sense to replace him. Richard is great with the secondary and could give Kyle Shanahan a natural, in-house replacement for Robert Saleh, should the defensive coordinator land a head-coaching job in 2021.
Heading into the offseason, Bears fans should be cognizant of the tight end position. Chicago has invested there, and things really haven’t worked out with Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton. Matt Nagy’s offense is very tight-end friendly, which could make it an attractive destination for free agents like Hunter Henry, Austin Hooper or even ex-Bear Greg Olsen.
Last week when talking about Cincinnati drafting Carson Palmer in 2003, scouting chief Duke Tobin pointed out to me that Bengals owner Mike Brown has always valued a quarterback who can strike downfield. “He had tremendous deep ball accuracy, which is one thing that Mike has always fancied,” Tobin said. “Enough arm strength and downfield accuracy. … That’s what he really has always taken to, guys that can make the big plays in games and not have to travel the length of the field every time.” In light of that, and with Oregon’s Justin Herbert one of four players Tobin told me they’re considering with the first pick (joining Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Chase Young), and considering some of the politics potentially involved, stay tuned.
Good news for Bills fans this week, with the team informing Erie County that they will not be exercising an opt-out clause in their lease. The club is now bound to stay in Orchard Park through the 2023 season, and here’s hoping that they can work something out between now and then to ensure the Bills are there a lot longer than that. That’s a good market for the league to be in, with a unique fan base.
Commissioner Roger Goodell offered some pointed words about the Bowlen family squabbling over who will be the controlling owner of the Broncos going forward. “I don’t think [Pat Bowlen would] be happy about the public disputes that are going on,” Goodell said. “He established the trust to make sure there was an orderly transition of the franchise if something should happen to him. Unfortunately, that did, and Pat wanted to make sure the franchise was in good hands, in good management.” The league and club officials have favored Bowlen’s daughter Brittany to lead the team next. As a result, Brittany’s sisters, Beth and Amie, have taken action to try to remove the Pat Bowlen Trust from power. This makes you wonder if, eventually, the best conclusion for the family as a whole would be to just sell the team.
I like the Browns’ hire of Alex Van Pelt as offensive coordinator. Van Pelt played quarterback in the NFL, has called plays before and was an important piece of Mike McCarthy’s staff in Green Bay, serving as a buffer at times between McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. All that should make him a valuable resource to a guy, in Kevin Stefanski, who became a head coach after just one year as a coordinator.
The Buccaneers’ brewing quarterback situation has flown under the radar somewhat. The franchise-tag period (February 25-March 10) will be interesting for the franchise—do they take care of Jameis Winston that way (at a cost of about $27 million) or try to get him to take less than that? My sense is, given his druthers, Bruce Arians would have Winston back in 2020. But it has to make sense from a business standpoint for the team.
I had Josh Jacobs as OROY but have no problem with Cardinals QB Kyler Murray winning it. The degree of difficulty at quarterback for a rookie is at a different level than it is at tailback. So while I think Jacobs’ year is more impressive, if others are doing this on a scale because of that, then I understand it.
Obviously, there’s a lot of (warranted) focus on the Chargers’ quarterback situation, but I don’t think Joey Bosa’s contract situation should be ignored. He’s shown a willingness to hold a hard line in the past, and the market for premier pass rushers has crossed the $20 million per threshold. That one could get a little complicated.
It’ll cost the Chiefs around $16 million to franchise defensive tackle Chris Jones. They shouldn’t hesitate to do that.
The Colts’ hire of Mike Groh makes sense, with Frank Reich bringing his former staffmate over from Philadelphia. Groh is great with receivers (Indy promises to have some turnover there this offseason) and worked extensively with Reich in devising Philly’s third-down offense in 2016 and ’17. I’m told the Colts did this without a specific role worked out for Groh yet. Which is smart, and what good teams do—they took advantage of a shot to get a talented individual into their building.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott told Dan Patrick this week that he never really saw his camp and the team this close to a contract negotiation last year which runs counter to what we’ve heard publicly from the team. And now, Prescott has good reason to slow play his next move. The nonexclusive franchise tag number for 2020 will be around $27 million, and the exclusive figure will be well over $30 million. And if Mahomes does a new deal, it’ll probably be a market-changer. So having taken four years of injury risk on, Prescott can afford now to be patient.
Dolphins owner Steve Ross was right—signing Tom Brady doesn’t fit with where Brian Flores and Chris Grier are in the rebuild process. After a year cleaning the cap out and accumulating draft capital, acquiring a 43-year-old quarterback wouldn’t make much sense. Trying to trade up for Joe Burrow? Or drafting Tua Tagovailoa? Those things would make more sense.
I like the ideas the Eagles have had over their offensive coordinator search. KC’s Mike Kafka, San Francisco’s Mike McDaniel and Mike LaFleur, and USC’s Graham Harrell are all good coaches with good ideas, but none wound up being available for hire. And now, we’re three weeks from the combine, and Doug Pederson is still looking. Which isn’t the end of the world, but it’s not ideal, since assistant coaches generally don’t become available in February.
That Falcons owner Arthur Blank brought up left guard as a need spot—most owners generally aren’t getting into the weeds of offensive-line talk in the offseason—underscores how big a part of 2020 the line is for Atlanta. Before the start of last offseason, GM Thomas Dimitroff promised Blank that he’d get the line fixed, and he spent two first-round picks on linemen to do it (Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary). Now, after some injury issues in 2019, both Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn need for the return to come on those investments, because the most powerful guy in the building, clearly, is watching it closely.
New Giants coach Joe Judge got a vote for the assistant coach of the year award that went to Ravens OC Greg Roman. Without giving away who it was, I will say the vote carries some weight with me. And I’ll couch it as a good sign for Giants fans.
Interesting that Maurice Jones-Drew said on local radio this week that Jaguars star DE Yannick Ngakoue should’ve had his contract situation resolved a long time ago. Internally in Jacksonville, and with Ngakoue’s camp, blame for that has routinely been placed at the feet of former EVP of football operations Tom Coughlin.
When it comes to how the Jets handle their own free agents, remember GM Joe Douglas worked in both Baltimore and Philadelphia. The Eagles and Ravens are among the NFL’s most adept at gaming the comp-pick formula, which means letting guys like Robbie Anderson and Jordan Jenkins walk could have a real benefit to it, in Douglas’ eyes.
The Lions have only one player they’ve drafted and developed on a big second contract—CB Darius Slay—and it should illustrate one pretty obvious reason why they’ve struggled to compete consistently.
Good note from long-time Packers beat reporter Rob Demovsky—(Green Bay’s good injury luck resulted in a hefty bill in per-game roster bonuses. Per Demovsky’s report, the Packers owed 13 players $5.288 million in those bonuses (out of a maximum of $5.85 million). This, of course, was another factor in Green Bay being able to get to 13–3 all year on the margins, and I’m sure it’ll be another motivator for GM Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur to keep their staff from getting fat and happy in any way after that trip to the NFC title game.
Panthers QB Cam Newton said this week he wants back in on Carolina, and has communicated that to new coach Matt Rhule. Here’s what really matters: Newton’s health. As owner David Tepper told me back in December, Newton’s physical ability to become the player he once was again will play a role in whether or not he comes back. And that he won’t be fully healthy, following surgery, before the start of the league year in March certainly won’t make the team’s decision on him any easier.
It’s not hard to look at the Niners’ success and wonder about the Patriots’ decision-making at receiver. Both Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders were seen as strong New England fits, and each was passed over for another receiver (N’Keal Harry for Samuel, Mohamed Sanu for Sanders) when the opportunity arose to get them.
The Raiders make more sense for Tom Brady, from a football standpoint, than you may think. They’ve got a really good line, and the kinds of inside weapons (slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, tight end Darren Waller) that Brady’s always favored. And Jon Gruden’s always wanted a lot of volume in his scheme, which Brady would enable, and has a track record of winning with aging quarterbacks (Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson).
I’ll take one option off the table for the Rams, as they look to fix their offensive line—center John Sullivan, who started in Super Bowl LIII, won’t be coming back. I have two sources on that: my eyes. Ran into Sullivan the other day and he looks like he’d be small for a linebacker at this point. He told me he’s tipping the scales at 235 pounds right now and feels awesome physically.
Lamar Jackson winning MVP unanimously, really, was a triumph for a lot of people in the Ravens’ organization. Making the move to get him at the bottom of the first round was far from an obvious call in 2018. And getting to the point where they were convicted enough to do it was a process, one that started with actually doing the legwork. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino told me a couple months back, “The one thing I really respect about the Ravens, they were the only group that came in and spent time with me and my staff. They were with me for two hours, their quarterback coach, their head of scouting, a whole group of them.” That they were the only group to do that is kind of eye-opening, too.
Great job by the Outside the Lines crew in telling Redskins QB Alex Smith’s story. After he broke his leg in 2018, Smith told Jeremy Schaap that he was heavily sedated for weeks as he battled a life-threatening condition called Sepsis, and “[the] next thing I remember is waking up several weeks later faced with the decision of amputation or limb salvage at that point.” Pretty scary stuff.
The Saints still don’t have a decision from Drew Brees, and it’s not like they need one right now. But it’s notable that we’re now four full weeks separated from the end of New Orleans’ season without that. Last year, it took Brees 12 days to make his intentions public.
Russell Wilson’s declaration that free agency is the area that’s “very, very key to getting those superstars” for the Seahawks shouldn’t be ignored. Wilson’s camp has shown frustration over personnel in the past, and every word from him is measured. And A.J. Green and Amari Cooper are among those set to be free in March.
After everything we’ve seen from Antonio Brown (and to a lesser degreem Le’Veon Bell), the job that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has done shouldn’t be ignored. His ability to manage big personalities and troubled guys has long given Pittsburgh the ability to cast a wide net in finding talent, with GM Kevin Colbert’s staff empowered to take chances that others can’t. This, in fact, is part of the Steelers model. Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll gave Pittsburgh the same sort of edge during their eras.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien’s experience in the college game gives him good background in being able to run an entire football operation at the NFL level (as does having watched Bill Belichick do it in New England). At Penn State, O’Brien oversaw every facet of the football program, so this isn’t his first time doing it. And though he was named GM this week, he has really served in that sort of capacity since June, with scouting department heads Matt Bazirgan and James Liipfert, among others, reporting directly to O’Brien, and O’Brien working in lockstep with new EVP of football operations James Liipfert.
If there’s a team that can appeal in a very personal way to Tom Brady, it’s probably the Titans. Mike Vrabel went through his own separation from New England, and that one wasn’t pretty all the way through either. So it’d be pretty easy for Vrabel to say to Brady, “Come over here, and we’ll show them who you are” (in more colorful language, probably), and it’s easy to see that appealing to Brady on a human level.
The offseason just started, but the Vikings have two big wins—hiring Gary Kubiak to succeed Stefanski as offensive coordinator, and getting assistant GM George Paton back after Stefanski tried to lure him to Cleveland. Keeping people like that in the building means Minnesota can hit the ground running on what’ll be a very, very important season for the team.
1. The Joe Burrow question. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has chosen to work with Jordan Palmer for his predraft training, and that’ll add a layer of intrigue to what had looked like a pretty open-and-shut case that he’ll go to Cincinnati with the first overall pick. Palmer played for the Bengals, as did his big brother Carson, who was the last Bengal selected first. Carson also was pretty critical of the franchise this week, offering a very public warning to Burrow about going to Cincinnati.
“That’s why I wanted out: I never felt like the [Bengals’] organization was really trying to win a Super Bowl, and really chasing the Super Bowl,” Palmer said on CBS Radio’s Damon Amendolara Show. “Because that’s what today’s day and age is. The game today is, you can’t just hope you draft well and not go after free agents and you just end up in the Super Bowl. You gotta go get it. And I then went and played for Michael Bidwill in Arizona, and Michael was all about winning. Everything was about winning. The culture was about winning. And we—very fortunately—the year before I got to Arizona, I think they won a couple games, or three or four games. And Michael Bidwill dug his feet in the ground, and I saw an owner say, ‘We’re gonna go after this. And we’re gonna do what it takes to win.’”
Coincidence or not, Burrow later in the week said, “You want to go No. 1. But you also want to go to a great organization that is committed to winning. Committed to winning Super Bowls.”
At the very least, the train of thought between two seems similar. And at the very least, Burrow is going to have access to every piece of information on how the Bengals have been run. That, I believe, makes Tobin a key figure. Carson Palmer said in another interview that he has a lot of respect for the job Tobin does, so I’d guess it’d be on Tobin to show Burrow that winning at the highest level is possible in Cincinnati. And maybe it sounds weird that the team has to sell a player on going first overall. But that might be where we are right now.
2. The Tom Brady question. So far, there have been rumors of the Bradys checking out a prep school in Nashville, buying property in Connecticut and pictures of Brady with Raiders owner Mark Davis at a UFC fight. And it’s not even Valentine’s Day yet. So … buckle up. This won’t stop until Brady’s under contract, somewhere, for 2020.
My belief is that years, not dollars, were at the heart of Brady’s displeasure with last summer’s negotiations—that landed him an $8 million raise for 2019, but nothing beyond that. In the end, word was that Brady would’ve liked to do a reasonable deal that would take him to the end of his career. That didn’t happen. So now, it becomes about respect. In a perfect world, I do think Brady would love to finish up in New England. But this situation is very delicate, and you can tell the Kraft family knows this—Robert went out of his way in that TMZ video to say he hoped Brady would be back. And I don’t think it’s a mistake, either, that we’re hearing and seeing a lot regarding Brady’s whereabouts now. His camp needs the perception to be that Brady is ready to leave, because even now there are those who doubt that he’ll actually pull the trigger.
3. The Chargers make the right move by extending Anthony Lynn. The truth is, Lynn would’ve loved an extension last year, when the crosstown Rams gave Sean McVay one. So it’s good on the Chargers for not wavering on giving him one, even after a pretty disappointing 5–11 season. Lynn did plenty to earn a raise in going 9–7 and 12–4 in his first two despite pretty adverse conditions, and has mostly kept a really good staff around him intact (with the one exception being the midseason move last year to replace offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt with quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen). He’s guided the team through a move, and an awkward home-stadium situation, as well as what seems like an annual epidemic of injuries. And with the team going into its new stadium, and at least weighing a quarterback change, Lynn’s steady hand is going to be valuable.
4. CBA talks keep moving forward. Both sides understand how delicate things are, but there’s absolutely been progress 13 months from the expiration of the 2011 CBA. In the process, the framework of the new calendar for a 17-game model is starting to taking shape. I’m told that, for TV reasons, the league will likely stick to having one bye week, rather than two, for each team. In addition, the preseason schedule would be cut to three games (and maybe eventually to two) when the 17-game model goes in, and there would be significant changes to the structure of training camp, with some modifications to the offseason program of each team as well. I did ask if the league wanted to move the Super Bowl to President’s Day weekend and got a “probably not” on that. There’s work to be done on this part of it, but it seems like the league and union are fairly far along, meaning that the financial concessions the league makes to the players (and maybe the players getting to their magic number of 48% of total revenue) are probably the biggest thing left.
5. Vegas planning begins. Good piece by LVSportsBiz.com this week on how the league is planning to deal with all the entanglements that come with having a team in Las Vegas. One thing that caught my eye: The league is pushing back hard on using images of sports books or sports betting in any promotion of the Raiders’ arrival. Winning over places like L.A. and Vegas for the league will be/has been about breaking peoples’ habits. In L.A., the NFL had to convince fans who lived there for 20 years without a team to get off their couches and come to games, or care about watching one L.A. team or the other when they’ve gotten the best game every week on TV for so long. In Las Vegas, they’ll have to convince people to come in … from the sportsbooks. That’s how pro football is consumed in Vegas. So that’s their competition now. Which is why I wonder if, eventually, and as attitudes towards gambling continue to change, there will be a sportsbook in the Raiders’ stadium to combat that. And if there’s one in the Raiders’ stadium, you better believe other owners are going to want to have one in theirs, too. So we’ll see where that goes.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINE
1. Credit to the Lakers for handling an impossible week with grace and class. I don’t believe there was any right or wrong way to handle a tragedy like Kobe Bryant’s death, but everything they did (from remaining silent at first, to postponing a game, to the ceremony on Friday night) seemed appropriate. At least to me.
2. LeBron James’s speech was pretty awesome too. Here’s a pretty amazing fact: James and Bryant combined to appear in 16 of the last 20 NBA Finals, and played in separate conferences the whole time they were in the league together, and never went against each other for a championship.
3. Good move by the University of Miami, hiring Ed Reed as coach Manny Diaz’s new chief of staff. No one is more passionate about football, or more knowledgeable about players, than Reed. I also know he cares deeply about his alma mater, which is important too.
4. Since National Signing Day is this week, it’s interesting now to look back at where certain players ranked. The recruiting services mostly do a really good job. But the Super Bowl quarterbacks weren’t exactly expected to get here when they were teenagers, if you looked at their profiles from high school. By the 247 composite, Mahomes was the 398th-ranked recruit in America in 2014, 50th in Texas, and 22nd among pro-style quarterbacks. Garoppolo, meanwhile, was 2,034th overall in the 2020 class, 57th in Illinois, and 67th among pro-style quarterbacks.
5. I haven’t really dived into college hoops yet, but it sure looks to me like the Big 10 is stacked.
6. I don’t cover baseball, but Dusty Baker sure seems like exactly the kind of guy the Astros needed to hire coming off of the sign-stealing mess.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
More from Wade soon.
Bill can definitely get away with this.
Miami wins again.
Reaction to the halftime show was … colorful.
It sure is
Imagine if the Bills made it.
… Back from his junior year in high school.
… And now.
And before we wrap up, thanks again to everyone for another great year of the MMQB.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
So now we have the five modern-day enshrinees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2020 class: former Broncos safety Steve Atwater, ex-Rams WR Isaac Bruce, former Vikings/Seahawks guard Steve Hutchinson, ex-Colts RB Edgerrin James and ex-Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. We also know that some guys who didn’t make it, like Tony Boselli, Alan Faneca and Richard Seymour, might have a chance down the line.
And to best illustrate the process (and be sure to check out Gary Myers’s column on this too), I decided to reach out to a couple guys I know well that have decades under their belts on the panel: ex–Boston Globe columnist Ron Borges and former Dallas Morning News columnist Rick (Goose) Gosselin. My question was simple: What stuck out most about this year’s vote? Here are their answers.
Gosselin: “After two consecutive classes with three first-ballot Hall of Famers, it was heartening to see the committee address some worthy candidates who had been waiting patiently for this call from Canton—not to mention the bust and gold jacket. Steve Atwater had been waiting 16 years for this moment, and Isaac Bruce and Edgerrin James six years apiece. Hopefully this is a positive sign for other long-time candidates still in the queue like Tony Boselli, Alan Faneca and John Lynch.”
Borges: “This appeared to me to have become, for the most part, a cleanup year. There were four safeties, three offensive linemen and three wideouts. Some, but not all, had waited a long time and to an extent those who waited the longest went forward. We broke the logjam at safety by putting in two and at least began the process of three offensive linemen by enshrining Hutchinson. That leaves Faneca and Boselli going forward, but at least they did not negate each other. Same was true with the safeties, although personally I didn’t feel Polamalu is a first-ballot guy. That’s no disrespect to him and should not be seen as a feeling he is not a Hall of Famer. He ism but he could certainly have waited, as historically most enshrinees have done.
“The reason is when first year guys ‘jump the line,’ it pushes other deserving players farther out and, in the end, is the reason we have 60 All-Decade players now drowning in the Senior Pool. As a longtime member of that committee, the nine of us look upon it as the ‘dead pool,’ because once a player ends up there it is nearly impossible to get out, with only one or two seniors being nominated per year.
“I was extremely happy for Steve Atwater. It was his 16th year of eligibility and he played a style that is no longer allowed, which is to say a physical, intimidating menace in the middle of the field. The safety’s job then was to be a force against the run and be someone who made receivers coming across the middle pay a heavy price for doing so. That the committee recognized how good he was at a job that is no longer in vogue spoke well for the committee.
“It was also a positive to induct Isaac Bruce, the longest-waiting wide receiver, although it is baffling to me how five members of the Rams' Super Bowl team from the start of the new century are in while only ONE player from the Patriots team that beat them and then went on to win three Super Bowls in four years has been enshrined. I was hopeful defensive tackle Richard Seymour would become the second and disappointed he only made it to the final 10, but he is only in his third year of eligibility and has twice been a finalist so the odds are good that eventually he makes it in.
“Lastly, the committee did a good job of recognizing all that Edgerrin James meant to Peyton Manning’s Colts. He was a terrific runner, good receiver and excellent (and willing) blocker. He also had the Hall of fame tweet of the day when he wrote, ‘From Gold teeth to a Gold Jacket.’”
Want more? Goose and Borges, along with fellow Talk of Fame podcaster Clark Judge, got all their thoughts in one place on the video here.
And with that, we’re on to the offseason. You won’t be waiting long—I’ll see you all this afternoon for the MAQB.
Question or comment? Email us at email@example.com.
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