Why CBA Negotiations Hit a Snag, What to Watch for at the Combine and What Tom Brady’s Future Might Hold

How the owners and the NFLPA ended up considering a new CBA that neither side was fully sold on, and where we go from here. Plus, a full combine breakdown, physical freaks to watch, draft needs for all 32 teams and much more.
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Over the last two weeks, the little twists of the knife have popped up.

On Feb. 12, it was Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill saying that “we can do 17 games and it’s not going to impact the safety and the health of the players.” Six days later, it was a statement from the league, after owners approved a CBA proposal they’d negotiated with the union, that ended with what sounded vaguely like a threat.

“Since the clubs and players need to have a system in place and know the rules that they will operate under by next week, the membership also approved moving forward under the final year of the 2011 CBA if the players decide not to approve the negotiated terms,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the process and our partners at the NFLPA, we will have no further comment at this time."

Then, later that evening, there was the revelation, via a tweet from NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero, that an additional game check for players on existing deals would be awarded, but capped at $250,000—meaning any player making more than $4.25 million in that year on a deal that’s already signed wouldn’t get the full freight for the extra work, something that, on the surface, wasn’t going to save teams much money.

What all these things did feel like, to a lot of players, was the owners trying to make a point and once again show the guys who work for them who’s in charge.

Now, I don’t think that was the owners’ intent. But given the history of the relationship here, I can’t blame any player with more than a couple of years in the league for feeling that way, because, for them, it’s a pretty familiar feeling, one that NFL players get a lot.

And remember who these guys are. Just to make it to the NFL, you have to be wildly talented and very driven. As a result, you’re probably pretty prideful too.

So if you felt that way again, and more than once, over a two-week period, and as you were feeling that way, a new 10-year agreement that was going to govern your career seemed to be getting rushed through the system, what would you do? How would you react?

The answer, I believe, is why we are where we are now, with the union’s executive committee having voted not to recommend the NFL’s proposal to its membership, and the union’s ranking officers having decided to put off player rep and general player votes until this week.

And here’s how critical what’s ahead is: I’m told all 32 player reps and 11 executive committee members are expected to be at Tuesday’s summit with league officials, as are the eight members of the NFL’s Management Council Executive Committee (Mike Brown, Clark Hunt, Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, John Mara, Mark Murphy, Art Rooney and Dean Spanos).

What happens from there will help chart the next year, at least, of pro football.

***

It’s combine week! And before the happenings of the weekend, we were going to give you a jam-packed combine preview. That stuff is still here, it’s just a little lower in the column. Down there, you’ll find …

  • A comprehensive preview of the draft class, where I take all I’ve heard to a couple of buddies of mine, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah and ESPN’s Todd McShay, to help organize the group we’ll be watching this week.
  • A complete list of combine freaks who you should be watching this week.
  • More on Tom Brady’s impending free agency, and what I think the key will wind up being in whether he stays in or leaves New England.
  • Sky judge!
  • And more.

But we’re starting with the story that will be front and center for my first couple of days in Indianapolis.

***

So what happened last week? Well, the truth is, neither side was uniformly comfortable with the CBA proposal.

NFL owners met at the Conrad in lower Manhattan on Thursday to vote through the deal, and my understanding is that things weren’t as smooth as they might’ve seemed. Some pushed back on the work rules, citing what their coaches have told them about it affecting the quality of the game. Others felt like there was no need to give the players more money than they were getting in the 2011 CBA. Others still wanted to push for 18 games.

Maybe that’s why the group took the rare measure of voting by secret ballot, which barely ever happens among NFL owners. The proposal, in the end, did wind up passing, but the vote wasn’t unanimous.

The players then picked it up with a conference call Friday that originally was supposed to be an in-person meeting at the union office in D.C. Six of 11 executive committee members (I’m told the six were Mark Herzlich, Russell Okung, Richard Sherman, Mike Thomas, Adam Vinatieri and Ben Watson) voted against recommending the proposal. The discussion from there lasted almost three hours.

Saints linebacker Demario Davis spoke up and told those listening that because it was a 10-year deal, players needed to understand every inch of it before approving, which gave some pause about going forward. Later, Broncos kicker Brandon McManus raised the idea of having the executive committee and player reps meet with league officials—something that hadn’t happened since last summer.

And now, here we are.

And this one is a little different than the conflicts we’ve seen in the past. There aren’t two sides to this fight. There are three. After calling around Saturday and Sunday, here are their points of view.

NFL/owners: The league’s feeling was that it was worth conceding on even the revenue split in order to get a deal done. The reason why isn’t complicated: The sooner the CBA gets done, the faster the league can move on to the broadcast deals, and then monetizing gambling. They believe, simply, they’re in a sweet spot to go forward with the networks. The ratings are great, the economy is humming.

Conversely, the fear is this won’t last forever. In fact, some in the league worry, in the short term, about what Bernie Sanders's winning the Democratic nomination might do to the stock market and how that would affect the environment to do business. If the NFL is bound for a lockout in 2021, will the money be the same? Then, there’s the fact that the NFL itself is bracing for the election to do damage to its ratings, as was the case in 2016.

All of that has the NFL itchy to get pen to paper with networks that are eager to negotiate.

And it’s led to the league's feeling it has given the players a strong offer—adding jobs through expanded rosters and practice squads (and giving veterans spots on the practice squads), increasing minimum salaries and giving the players an extra percentage point of the revenue split. There’s also a strong belief that, with a deal now, the players will easily hit a kicker that pushes their share from 48% (up from 47% now) to 48.5%.

If the league gets to $20 billion over the life of this CBA, over 10 years, it estimates the players will have raked in $2.5 billion for that extra 1.5%, or $8 million per team per year. And one involved party told me that, depending on how the TV deals are structured, the cap should jump 30-35 percent over the next three years, which would have it creeping closer to $300 million.

In short, the owners believe this is a win-win.

Union senior staff: This includes union executive director DeMaurice Smith, president Eric Winston and the lawyers who worked to hammer out this deal over the last seven or eight months. They’re for it too, and they’re proud of the result of all this.

They believe they flipped one issue (the 17-game schedule) and wound up with gains in roughly 50 other areas. They also think they followed the mandate they got from their board of reps last March, which was to serve the “core players,” the NFL’s rank and file. With higher minimums, expanded rosters and veteran practice-squad spots, they have, indeed, worked to take care of the league’s everymen.

There’s also a need on their part to educate the players better, which I think they understand. One example would be the issue of players on existing deals getting an extra game check—with the league agreeing to do it, with a cap of $250,000. That last part, as we mentioned earlier, became a huge issue. It still is.

And what was frustrating about that for the NFLPA’s senior staff was until two weeks ago, there was no extra game check coming, period. They had to fight to get even the capped extra payment, and they were happy to come away with it. But it wasn’t remotely seen that way when the agreement’s structure was publicized.

On the flip side, there’s fear in the union office that, absent a deal, the NFL is going to try to do the TV deals anyway, because of its own fear of the Sanders and TV ratings issues. If that happens, the leverage will disappear, and a lockout will become more likely. So there very much is an expiration date on the union’s gains in drug policy, commissioner discipline and veteran minimum increases. In fact, it might be as soon as this week.

Players against the deal: The last time even players on the executive committee, let alone the 32 player reps, were in the room for negotiations was last summer. A lot has changed since then, and so digesting some of this for those guys was, to put it slightly, a little jarring.

Here’s an example: Back in July and August, players tried to push the idea of getting eight years of post-career health coverage, when the standard had been five. The owners, I’m told, were open to considering it. The problem is, from there, many of those players had seasons to play, and so they fell off the negotiating grid for a half year. And when this deal came across their desk, they saw it was back down to five years.

So it’s not hard to see where some players would look at an important issue like that, one that would hurt the owners a little, and see it vanish from the ledger, then find that owners were making concessions that most believe weren’t important to them (i.e. work rules), and roll their eyes. I can’t blame them for that either.

And thus, for those guys, 17 games remains an issue, as is the fact that allowing players to vest earlier in a 17-game world wasn’t addressed, and that the funding rule wasn’t repealed altogether. What I can’t say is whether this was the union keeping its talks under wraps or not communicating fully with its leadership. One way or the other, I sensed a disconnect on that, which is why so many were stunned thumbing through the terms last week.

***

So what happens next? I’m really not sure. I had one person inside predict to me that the players would get a couple of minor concessions from the owners and then probably vote either late Tuesday or Wednesday.

That sort of olive branch, I think, would go a long way. The problem is the owners might have to break character a little to do it.

And yes, I know you guys wanna hear more about football. So we’ll give you that now.

***

DRAFT SEASON IS HERE

So last year, we did this with McShay and Jeremiah, and this year I figured we’d do it again, but with a little twist. I cover the NFL draft almost year-round now. I love the draft, because it combines two things I love—the NFL and college football.

That means I spend a lot of time over the year compiling draft info, and by this point I always have a really solid feel for how the class might be seen.

Because of that, I figured it might be most effective to try to run some stuff by these guys that I’ve heard from eight months of following things closely and talking to scouts and execs. That, plus some general questions, resulted in a couple of great conversations (one of which, with Jeremiah, you can hear in podcast form).

With that in mind, here’s an introduction to a 2020 draft class that you’ll be getting much better acquainted with this week.

Joe Burrow’s not Tom Brady, but ... I’ve heard the comp enough, and for long enough (it goes back to early fall for me), from scouting types, that I had to check it out.

“Yeah, and I’m already prepared for the backlash on Twitter, because I know it’s coming,” Jeremiah said. “Because at the combine when they ask me for my comparison, how does this sound—you say somebody’s a more athletic version of the greatest football player of all-time. Look, Kevin Faulk is there at LSU, he played with Brady, he’s been around Joe Burrow, he’s told every scout that comes through there, this guy is just like Tom.

“Mechanically, he’s just like Tom. He functions in an offense where we just talked about getting guys in the route, good decisions, accuracy, all that stuff, very similar to Tom. He looks just like him.”

Why was it just for a year? Jeremiah explained that Burrow was playing in an offense that didn’t fit him in 2018, with lots of seven-man protections that crowded him in the pocket and didn’t allow him to play point guard. Then, LSU pass-game coordinator Joe Brady (now in Carolina) arrived and everything changed. He unlocked Burrow’s ability by going to more five-man protections, which gave Burrow space to move and options to distribute to.

As for the concern that it was only one year, or that his production was inflated by Brady and a rock-star supporting cast, McShay affirmed the legitimacy of those questions. But, he added, both Georgia and Clemson had plenty of time to prepare for Burrow and those nights didn’t go well for them.

“Georgia had time to prepare and knew what they were getting and still gave up 37,” McShay said. “Now, they were beat up defensively .... [But] Clemson had plenty of time to prepare and they’re good defensively, and they have one of the best coordinators in the country and he dropped 42 on them. So I can argue both sides of that thing.”

Tua’s clearly No. 2. In fact, McShay said in breaking down the difference between Burrow and Tagovailoa, it was health that gave Burrow the nod. The tape, he added, probably went the other way.

“If you gave me a crystal ball, and you were to promise that for 10 years, they both would be healthy, I would take Tua,” McShay said. “I think he has Drew Brees–like qualities. And I think he fits perfectly in today’s NFL, in terms of quick-twitch, the ability to extend, decisive and the elite accuracy. But Burrow’s right there .… When I watch Burrow and Tua, it’s like a totally different level of play than [Oregon’s Justin] Herbert, [Utah State’s Jordan] Love or anyone else in this class.”

Now, this is where there was a consensus between McShay and Jeremiah, but there have been some NFL folks that have told me they see it differently, and view Herbert—who is, to be fair, a very polarizing prospect among evaluators—as just as good, or better than those two. My two panelists here just aren’t buying that, and they do have some company in that thought.

“I have Tua [at 2], and if the medical was clean, it’s a pretty significant difference for me,” said Jeremiah. “Based off of ability, I have Tua second, and then the fascinating debate for me is Love and Herbert. I have them right next to each other. I think Jordan Love is a more natural thrower. He’s very fluid, he’s very explosive, he can make plays off platform, you can move him off his spot, he can still make some things happen.”

Love threw for 3,402 yards and 20 TDs last season, but he also had 17 interceptions.

Love threw for 3,402 yards and 20 TDs last season, but he also had 17 interceptions.

The Jordan Love whispers are out there. And they’d indicate that the kid has a chance to be Patrick Mahomes. Here’s the reason why: In 2017, there were teams that loved Mahomes and buried that fact as best they could to improve their shot of getting him. Some suspect teams will do the same with Love, who’s more mistake-prone, but also more aggressive and daring than the sometimes-cautious Herbert.

“The ability just jumps off the screen, he has got a live, live arm,” Jeremiah said. “The Mahomes thing, that was the comparison coming into this year after he was coming off a big 2018—this is gonna be the next Pat Mahomes. Needed a little bit of refinement, but there was a lot to get excited about. The thing that’s different I’d say—and this is coming from somebody who whiffed on Mahomes—Mahomes last year, I think he was 41 touchdowns, 10 picks. So he’s plus-31 in turnovers. Jordan Love was plus-3.

“There was a significant difference in the production with the two players.”

That said, it’s easy for these guys to see where someone would get smitten.

“Herbert’s more NFL-ready now,” McShay said. “Love lost nine guys on the offense, his coordinator, his head coach, it was a mess this year and he had some ugly tape. Air Force was ugly. Wake Forest was ugly. But I think if developed probably over the next year or two years, he has a chance to be one of the surprises from this year’s class.

The best position is obvious. In fact, when I asked McShay what position was best, I told him I knew the answer, and just needed him to say it: “receiver.” McShay said he has eight receivers in his top 27 overall, and 20 with first-, second- or third-round grades. Likewise, Jeremiah says he has 22 or 23 in that category, where in a normal year he’d have 12-14.

***

COMBINE FREAKS

Over the weekend, I sent out a couple dozen texts to scouts and college scouting directors asking them to forecast who the stars of the drills will be at the combine this week. Call them my DK Metcalf All-Stars.

Washington WR Salvon Ahmed: Let’s start with a sleeper for you—Ahmed could run the 40 in the mid-4.3s, which should help a kid who weighs around 200 pounds at 5' 11" build some momentum heading into spring.

Notre Dame WRs Chase Claypool and Chris Finke: Claypool should run and jump well for a receiver who is 6' 4" and 230 pounds. And Finke could break 40 inches in the vertical. Both should further prove the depth of the class.

Cal S Ashtyn Davis: Davis was a walk-on in two sports at Berkeley. His second sport? Track, in which he won the Pac-12 110-meter hurdles title, which means it stands to reason he’ll be pretty comfortable running and jumping in Indy.

Texas WR Devin Duvernay: He’ll fly, and he isn’t the only receiver on this list with wheels.

Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa: The criticism against this potential first-rounder is that he isn’t overly “twitchy.” A vertical around 38 inches and broad jump at about 10' 5" could send teams back to the tape to make sure about that.

Utah DT Leki Fotu: He’s perhaps the strongest player in the draft. That doesn’t always translate on the bench press. But it might.

Oklahoma DT Neville Gallimore: Known for his athletic ability, scouts are expecting Gallimore to post a freakish time for a 300-pounder. We’ll see if the Canadian prospect can deliver on that.

Penn State WR K.J. Hamler: Another receiver with wheels, and DeSean Jackson potential.

Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray: Murray will come in at close to 240 pounds and look like a monster physically, and he should burn through the 40.

Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah: Word is that Okudah is going to run in the low-4.3s. Which is wild for a corner who’ll check in at around 6' 1" and 200 pounds.

LSU LB Patrick Queen: The expectation is that he’s going to profile athletically close to how ex-teammate Devin White, the fifth pick last April, did.

TCU WR Jalen Reagor: File Raegor with Hamler and Duvernay on “4.30 Watch.”

Alabama WR Henry Ruggs: Ruggs ran 4.26 for scouts at Bama’s junior pro day last spring. Could he threaten John Ross’s record?

Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons: You know how versatile he is. His testing should show why. One college scouting director forecast to me that he’ll run low 4.4s and his “jumps are gonna be nuts.”

Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam: He may not be the toughest football player on planet earth, but he’s going to look good when tested in Indy, and that may be enough, given the state of this year’s tight ends class.

Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs: He’s got a shot to be the first tackle off the board, and he’s got the physical gifts to back up the idea of it. I heard over the weekend that he’s a 440-pound bench. Which translates into … probably a good showing on the bench this week.

***

ALL-32

Since the combine is this week, we’re dedicating the All-32 to the draft, and giving you one position where every team could use an infusion of youth. Here we go …

49ers: Defensive back. San Francisco doesn’t have a ton of wiggle room cap-wise, and the Niners have two free agents (Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward) who broke out in contract years. The D-line will be fine without Armstead, if it comes to that, given the talent they have there. The secondary is older in some spots, unproven in others, and could use some reinforcements.

Bears: Offensive line. Tight end’s the biggest need on offense, but you figure they might spend to fix that one in free agency. The line, on the other hand, is getting older at the tackle spots and just lost Kyle Long to retirement.

Bengals: Quarterback. No need to overcomplicate this. A quarterback to build around is what Zac Taylor wants, and needs, most.

Bills: Wide receiver. This one’s fairly simple, too. Buffalo has been reliant on older players at the position, in John Brown and Cole Beasley, and will be on the lookout for young talent there if they can’t sign a front-line free agent—assuming they go big-game hunting in that area—with the embarrassment of cap space they take into the offseason.

Broncos: Defensive line. Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris and Adam Gostis are all free agents. Chances are, all three won’t be back. And even if they were to return, Denver could stand to have some developmental guys in the pipeline behind them.

Browns: Offensive line. In particular, tackle. Cleveland just needs help here, and that’s along with the fact that their best guys (Joel Bitonio and Chris Hubbard) aren’t far off from 30. I’d expect this will be addressed both in the draft and free agency.

Buccaneers: Cornerback. Quarterback might seem the obvious one. But the Bucs have had a number of swings and misses on corners over the last few years—Vernon Hargreaves being the most prominent—so it wouldn’t be a stunner to see the team look at someone like LSU’s Kristian Fulton in the middle of the first round.

Cardinals: Tight end. I debated putting the offensive line in here, but tight end seems to be a more pressing need, even for a team that doesn’t use them all the time. Maxx Williams is O.K. there. Maybe they make a play for a free agent. Maybe they find someone young to develop—though, as our draft guys said, this isn’t the best year to be looking for a tight end coming out of the college ranks.

Chargers: Quarterback. The offensive line’s got some serious questions, too—and those will become even more prominent if Russell Okung’s not back in 2020. But with Philip Rivers at the coat check on his way out the door and Tyrod Taylor probably nothing more than a veteran bridge, L.A. will be on the lookout for the next franchise guy.

Chiefs: Cornerback. Kansas City never really sufficiently replaced Marcus Peters, instead stop-gapping the position with retreads like Bashaud Breeland and Steven Nelson. It’s time now to find better long-term solutions. And with Patrick Mahomes’s contract looming, the team is going to have to fill some high-end positions like this one with cheap young talent.

Colts: Wide receiver. How the Colts handle their quarterback situation this offseason will be fascinating, but Jacoby Brissett gives them, at least, a younger guy who can operate the offense. As for who he’s throwing the ball too? Receiver is one position that GM Chris Ballard hasn’t gone all-in on fixing quite yet. So maybe this is the year he tries to pluck a guy with No. 1 receiver potential.

Cowboys: Cornerback. Byron Jones is probably gone. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis are entering contract years. Mike Nolan’s an aggressive defensive coordinator. And with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper up, the team’s cap space could dry up quickly. Receiver could become a need if Cooper departs. Corner probably will be one regardless of what happens.

Dolphins: Offensive line. Quarterback is the obvious place for Miami to look in the draft. But it would be easy to tread water with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen for the time being. The offensive line is a different story—I don’t know that there’s one player in the current group whom the team’s brass would view as a long-term starter (Michael Dieter and Jesse Davis might have a shot).

Eagles: Cornerback. Philly was in the running for Jalen Ramsey, and inquired on Darius Slay and other corners at the trade deadline last year, so there’s no question this looms as a priority for the team this offseason. And that’s regardless of what the team does with Ronald Darby.

Falcons: Running back. With Devonta Freeman’s future in doubt, Atlanta lurks as a team that could pluck from a good-not-great crew of backs in the middle of the second round. Remember, Matt Ryan was at his very best when Freeman and the run game were rolling, and having a stud back there would also help a developing offensive line.

Giants: Defensive difference-makers. Too broad? Maybe. But whether it’s a do-everything linebacker (Isaiah Simmons), lockdown corner (Jeff Okudah) or game-wrecking defensive lineman (Derrick Brown), GM Dave Gettleman needs to find someone, should he stick at No. 4, to make an impact on that side of the ball.

Jaguars: Tight end. What you’ll continually hear is that Doug Marrone wants to play with heavier sets to create a more imposing offense—and he’ll need better tight ends on hand to pull that off. The problem is, as you read above, this isn’t the year to be looking for one.

Jets: Offensive line. This almost goes without saying: The team played with Kelvin Beachum at left tackle and Ryan Kalil at center, which would’ve been awesome five years ago. Taking still-newish Jets GM Joe Douglas to overhaul his offensive line may be as safe a bet as there is this offseason.

Lions: Safety. I’d have gone running back, if you’d told me Kerryon Johnson’s health issues would persist. But the more pressing issue is at the safety spot, something that came to life after the team dumped Quandre Diggs before the trade deadline. It’s an important position in Matt Patricia’s defense, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lions address it somewhere on Day 2.

Packers: Offensive tackle. David Bakhtiari turns 29 in the fall, and Bryan Bulaga’s a free agent. So while the temptation here is to say the need would be at receiver, the team at least has a good developmental guy there in Marquez Valdes-Scantling. If Bulaga bolts, then this becomes a pressing need. And even if returns, they could use a swing tackle they could groom behind both their guys at the position.

Panthers: Linebacker. Because Matt Rhule is new, Carolina really could go any which way. But there’s a real need at linebacker, where Luke Kuechly’s old place in the middle is now vacant, and the newly re-signed Shaq Thompson is really the only front-line guy. I’d be surprised if Rhule didn’t push for this spot to be addressed.

Patriots: Tight end. There have been few occasions over the last 20 years where Bill Belichick has been caught as short-handed at a position as he was last year at tight end. The smart money says he won’t let it happen again—and there’s a good chance he pulls multiple levers to find the right guys to fill the hole.

Raiders: Wide receiver. Jon Gruden traded Amari Cooper, then struck out on Antonio Brown. The Raiders paid Tyrell Williams, who had 42 catches, 651 yards, and six TDs last year. Hunter Renfrow has some promise. But the Raiders need more for whoever their quarterback is going to be in 2020.

Rams: Offensive line. Getting Andrew Whitworth back would help in the short-term, but the Rams really have a need to find young talent for their offensive front, and that was underscored by how Jared Goff played for most of last year. Fixing this will likely be L.A.’s first priority this offseason.

Ravens: Linebacker. The team lost C.J. Mosley last March, and had to bring Josh Bynes in during October to settle down what had become a bit of an undisciplined defensive front. GM Eric DeCosta could eye someone like LSU’s Patrick Queen to man the middle. Remember, there was a year between Ray Lewis’s retirement and Mosley’s arrival, and so getting Mosley’s heir this year would follow that timeline.

Redskins. Offensive tackle. Washington shouldn’t settle at No. 2—taking Chase Young is the right play, unless someone blows you away with an offer for the pick. But after that, it’d make sense for the team to look at tackles, especially if Trent Williams isn’t back after missing all of 2019.

Saints: Cornerback. Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple are likely gone, and the team has long been looking for the right bookend to star corner Marshon Lattimore. Is it a crazy pressing need? Maybe not. But New Orleans has a pretty stacked roster, so you have to look hard to find issues.

Seahawks: Offensive tackle. Duane Brown is 34 and Germain Ifedi is a free agent, which certainly making this position look like one worth addressing.

Steelers: Quarterback. Pittsburgh eventually has to get the next guy in the pipeline, and a raw prospect in need of development—like Jordan Love or Washington’s Jacob Eason—could be appealing, even if it means spending a first-round pick on someone to sit behind Ben Roethlisberger for a couple years. The Steelers generally draft too low to get one of the truly elite, so rolling the dice on one of those two might make sense.

Texans: Cornerback. Houston told you how dire the need here was last year with in-season acquisitions like Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves. The latter is up, as is Bradley Roby, and Conley will be in a contract year in 2020. Also, the Texans don’t have a first-round pick, so they’ll have to do their work here on Day 2 of the draft.

Titans: Cornerback. Tennessee could go through a significant overhaul at the position, with Logan Ryan a free agent and Malcolm Butler a cut candidate. That would leave Adoree Jackson as the team’s top player at the position. And with the Titans needing to allocate money for whoever their quarterback is and Derrick Henry, this could be a spot best shored up in the draft.

Vikings: Cornerback. Xavier Rhodes is probably gone. Trae Waynes is a free agent. The Vikings are tight to the cap. Mike Zimmer really values corners. You do the math.

And just for fun, here’s a look at which positions are listed the most above, keeping in mind that specific needs like OT/OL or CB/DB are counted separately to include each team just once:

CB: 8
OL: 5
OT: 3
QB: 3
TE: 3
WR: 3
LB: 2
DB: 1
DEF: 1
DL: 1
RB: 1
S: 1

***

TOP FIVE

Big few weeks coming for Tom Brady. After kicking this around with some people the last few days, here’s what I think should determine the Tom Brady Saga—a real, honest sitdown between the quarterback and his head coach. It hasn’t happened yet. Unless Brady has the appetite to go to Indy this week, it won’t happen during the combine either. But at this point, that’s what needs to happen. My understanding is Bill Belichick hasn’t closed the door on Brady returning, nor has Brady determined he’s moving on. My guess? I think Belichick has a set of terms under which he’d bring Brady back. I think Brady has a set of terms under which he’d come back. And the two sides need to figure out if they can make those two things mesh. What I do know is that this isn’t all about money. Like I’ve written over the last few months, Brady’s displeasure with last summer’s negotiation with the team was rooted in the lack of years, not the lack of money he got. He was hoping for a deal that would double as a raft to the shores of retirement. You can see why it’d be frustrating for him that it didn’t happen. You can also understand why the team would be hesitant to do something like that. So now, it’s up to the two guys who’ll determine this to figure out whether they can make each other’s needs match up again. One other thing I’d mention: I wouldn’t expect to see ownership get involved. And there’s a logical reason why I doubt it’d happen. That’s because if it did, that would basically work to poison the Belichick/Brady relationship, which is good for no one. So, to me, this really comes down to those two guys. We’ll see what they do.

Prescott threw for 4.902 yards last year—one yard short of Tony Romo’s team record.

Prescott threw for 4.902 yards last year—one yard short of Tony Romo’s team record.

This is not the time for Dak to take less. I feel comfortable saying that Dak Prescott will be the Cowboys’ quarterback in 2020. I don’t know whether that’ll be on the franchise tag or a long-term deal. But I do know this: Prescott shouldn’t have to apologize to anyone for asking for more. To this point, Prescott has made just over $4 million as a pro. He’s taken on 64 starts of injury risk. The Cowboys could’ve bought back some of that risk from him by signing him last season, and rightfully asked for him to take a little less on a long-term deal. They tried, too. It didn’t work. So now, having made it through four years healthy, Prescott has maximized his earning power, with a tag coming, and negotiations on long-term deals traditionally pricey in that sort of spot. Should he get $40 million per year? I’m not sure the Cowboys will go that far. But given the circumstances, and knowing what could be coming down the pike with Patrick Mahomes (I’m not equating the two, but Mahomes still has two years left on his rookie contract), it makes sense to at least start there, if you’re Prescott.

Sky Judge in play. Mark Maske of the Washington Post reported over the weekend that the coaches subcommittee plans on making another play at instituting a sky judge for 2020 with the competition committee at the combine this week. And I’ll say this—this isn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing. Members of the competition committee, NFL EVP of football operations Troy Vincent among them, have been discussing the idea with coaches pretty consistently, and the plan to bring this back up at the combine was kicked around pretty seriously in the fall. And that makes sense, because when the coaches huddled in March at the league’s annual meeting and came up with an alternative plan for reviewing pass-interference calls, the hope was it’d be the first step toward getting to the sky judge, which they almost uniformly want. Another optimistic sign, from then, was the support the idea was getting from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who’s continued as a proponent of leveraging technology differently and considering a wide-ranging overhaul of how games are officiated. So I’d say keep an eye on this one. Big developments are unlikely this week. But things could be set up for the next owners meeting, in March in Palm Beach.

Ravens taking care of their own. Good on Baltimore for rewarding defensive coordinator Wink Martindale with a new three-year deal. Martindale’s been at the forefront of the reimagining of the Baltimore defense, which kicked into high gear ahead of the 2018 season, and put more in the hands of players to make adjustments, which better allowed for the unit to deal with what the spread-out, motion/movement-heavy offenses throw at a defense. But it’s more than just that—part of this goes back to why Baltimore has long been seen as a good place for coaches and scouts to work. Yes, coaches and scouts have been blocked from leaving in the past. But in a lot of those circumstances, guys have gotten raises, or increased responsibility to move their careers forward. In this one, Martindale simply didn’t get the head-coaching shot he wanted, and the Ravens made sure he knew how his contributions were seen. Gestures like that tend to pay off for teams in the long run.

Dolphins experiencing a fair amount of turnover after Brian Flores’s first year. There’s no disputing that Flores did a nice job in guiding what was a hollowed-out team through what was a season of change in Miami. And now we know next year will be a season of change, too. Both of his coordinators—OC Chad O’Shea, fired, now in Cleveland, and DC Patrick Graham, allowed to leave to become Giants DC—are gone, as is the assistant head coach (Jim Caldwell) he appointed last February. And over the weekend, Flores tabbed his receivers coach, Karl Dorrell, to replace Caldwell as assistant head coach, only to have Dorrell take the University of Colorado job a day later. Miami also has new linebacker, defensive line and assistant offensive line coaches. That’s a lot of change. But credit Flores for moving decisively, and having most of the piece in place heading into combine week, ahead of an offseason that’ll be critical for the franchise.

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SIX FROM THE SIDELINES

1) Really interesting interview that ex-Memphis blue-chip recruit James Wiseman did with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, that touches on how the NCAA affects the lives of kids with its rules. In basketball, those folks do have the argument that there are avenues for 18-year-old stars to make money (mostly overseas), if they don’t want to go to college. Which makes the dynamic a little different than in football.

2) Powerful gesture from Bill Russell, the ultimate Celtic, wearing Kobe Bryant’s jersey at Staples Center on Sunday.

3) Fun fact about Dorrell: He’s the guy who gave Kyle Shanahan his first job as a coach, bringing him aboard as a grad assistant in 2003 after Shanahan finished up at Texas. Shanahan parlayed that into a quality control job with Jon Gruden in Tampa in 2004.

4) S/o to ESPN’s Michele Steele, for pointing out that the Astros opened up their first post-scandal spring training with stadium workers “stealing” signs from fans that made fun of the team for… stealing signs.

5) Is it me, or are the debates becoming less debates, and more people waiting for their turn to fire off rehearsed lines? The other night was entertaining, but I’m not sure we learned a whole lot we didn’t already know about the candidates.

6) There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more tiring than a full day at Disney World while responsible for multiple young kids.

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BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET

…in the first degree.

“In all honesty, I don't feel that what I've done is a crime. And I think it's illogical and irresponsible for you to sentence me to prison. Because, when you think about it, what did I really do? I crossed an imaginary line with a bunch of plants.” – George Jung.

I wanna see what that thing is capable of, and I’m not even kidding.

This kickoff format is going to be remembered as the XFL 2.0’s greatest contribution to the game. Again, I’m not even kidding.

I feel like MDS is talking for a lot of people. It doesn’t seem like the XFL is hitting the wall that the AAF seemed to slam into last spring. We’ll get some more ratings later today.

I remember thinking Veach saying this was crazy. Not so crazy, in the end. (Underrated part of the whole thing: Veach was signaling to everyone that Mahomes could handle whatever expectation you put on him, by not tiptoeing around it.)

Speaking of Mahomes, this is pretty cool.

I saw GM Jason Licht and receiver Mike Evans chime in on this, too. Sad story.

***

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

News of certain coaches—or even entire staffs—not going to Indy this week has been trickling out. And I gotta say, that’s a damn shame, even if the league’s money-grab move of shifting the event to prime time has made it less functional for them from a football perspective.

Historically, this event has been the only one where every person from the football ops side of every team is in one place in one time. (The Senior Bowl comes closest.)

That’s always made it useful from a networking perspective for coaches and scouts, young and old, and I’ve witnessed dozens of relationships coming together in Indy that later became working partnerships. It’s dinner and drinking, of course, but that’s part of the job, as it is in so many other businesses—my dad, for example, goes to trade shows where the same sort of stuff happens.

The NFL community shrinks when you’re there, and it’s good for everyone to be around everyone else for a few days for a million different reasons. Bottom line, anyone who thinks this week is just about college kids running around in spandex is missing part of the point of the whole thing.

And those who get the whole point of it? I think they’ll understand what I’m trying to say here.

Unfortunately, the next step for those who don’t will be taking it out of Indy altogether.

We can get into what’s bad about that another time.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.