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The 17th Game Is Clearly the Focal Point of the Whole CBA

Every concession from both sides on the CBA stems from the drive to add a 17th game. Plus, mailbag questions on Todd Gurley, Tua Tagovailoa, the XFL, Tom Brady's future and press box food.

In the NFL, there’s an old saying: Keep the main thing the main thing.

As we stand on the verge of another decade of labor peace, I can’t get that out of my head, and my reasoning is simple. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve discussed everything from the revenue split to pensions to how individual contracts will work under a reformatted NFL schedule, and the main thing is still the main thing.

My belief is the reason why opposition against the current CBA proposal has persisted lies therein. It’s the 17th game. Period. End of story.

It’s been clear from the start that players are leery about the idea of extending their season—creating another set of car crashes in a system that already called for 16 of them. And a lot of them knew that the owners’ strong desire to do that, in addition to their concern over further delaying the broadcast negotiation, created leverage.

So some players wanted the union to push for more, in just about every category.

You want 17 games? Fine. Then it’s on our terms.

And they did get more in some areas. The money in this deal is good, and if the goal is, “Let’s keep getting rich!” then the deal the union’s done is totally fine. But if you were looking for a game-changer, then this really isn’t that.

The franchise tag system is the same, as is the vesting schedule. There were tweaks to rookie contracts and the funding rule, but problems with those (team control over players for six or seven years, a crutch to use in not guaranteeing contracts) aren’t going away. And specific to the issue of 17 games, there are problems. The max number of padded practices in training camp was cut from 28 to 16, but offseason and in-season rules didn’t change.

All of that’s to say, this can positioned as a good deal, but not a great one. And given the circumstances, some players wanted to shoot for the moon—and they’re going to let that be known right up until the final vote is taken, some time in the next couple weeks.

Will it be enough to stop a deal? Probably not. But it will make for some interesting discussion, at the very least.

On to your mail…




From Gambling Avengers (@GamblingAvenge1): As part of the push for 17 games, has the league considered a second bye? Or the second bye before the Thursday games? Would seem to alleviate some of the safety concerns.

Gambling, my understanding is that the NFL and NFLPA have been working on the premise that it’ll be 17 games over 18 weeks, with each team getting one bye. Two byes made some sense to me throughout this, for health-and-safety reasons, and even the opportunity to move the Super Bowl to President’s Day Weekend. But I don’t think it’s happening because of, you guessed it, television.

The TV networks, and particularly the ones bidding on the Sunday afternoon slots, don’t want to the schedule stretched any more than it already has been. You already have three primetime windows pulling games away, and adding a second bye week to every team’s schedule will only make it more difficult to ensure solid early and late afternoon window lineups on a week-to-week basis. Which is why it’ll by 17 games over 18 weeks.

From arod (@arodismyname): Is Todd Gurley good as gone?

Arod, I don’t know. It’s a good question. Right now, only Gurley’s $7.55 million roster bonus is guaranteed, and $2.55 million of that can be offset (meaning if a team signed him for, say, $3 million, the Rams would only be responsible for paying him $5 million). Could the Rams swallow that? Sure. But is it worth doing that rather than just carrying him for $13.05 million in cash, or a number negotiated closer to his guarantee? Maybe.

My belief is the Rams don’t have a firm decision on this one yet. Sean McVay said himself on Tuesday that the team is still “working through” that call. Where the team stands on rising sophomore Darrell Henderson, you’d think, would play into that. Henderson, on paper, is an awfully good fit for McVay’s offense. But he didn’t produce much in his first year in it.

From Andre (@AndreCheezus): Why aren’t the Cardinals considering giving

@DavidJohnson31 30 WR snaps a game and 5-7 RB snaps

Andre, based on David Johnson’s contract situation, it makes sense for Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals to do all they can to get the most out of their 28-year-old tailback—and he’s proven versatile enough to play at those receiver spots. But I’m not sure whether that happens really boils down to Johnson’s ability to do it.

To me, this is more about whether or not the Cardinals sign Kenyan Drake to a new deal. Drake rushed for 643 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games after being traded to Arizona, and if the Cardinals bring him back, at the price it’ll cost, he’s back as starter. And if that’s how it is, Kingsbury and Co. will have to creatively find ways to incorporate Johnson, and get the most out of the eight-figure investment they’ve made in him.

From Eric Thomas (@airickthomas): Any chance lions take Tua?

From Josh Polley (@JdayneP): Okudah, Brown, or Simmons? Which is the best fit for the #Lions?

Let’s combine these two questions. No, I don’t think the Lions are taking Tua Tagovailoa. And I know some speculation in league circles over this relates back to the team kicking the tires on some quarterbacks before the 2019 draft (Daniel Jones was one). But I believe the Lions now in their stated commitment to Matthew Stafford for 2020, and that’s because of what the powers-that-be think of him, and the financial commitment already made.

As for the second question, I actually think all four of those guys would be in play. Auburn DT Derrick Brown is probably the best prospect of the three—and a bit closer to Chase Young as a player than you might think. Jeff Okudah, a blue-chip corner, would fit a need the best for the Lions. And Isaiah Simmons, as versatile a linebacker as you’ll see, is intriguing in that he looks made to play in Matt Patricia’s Patriot-like scheme.

Then, there’s what neither of you guys mentioned: If Tagovailoa’s draft stock gets hotter, the value of the Lions’ pick goes through the roof. And with quarterback-hungry teams like the Dolphins and Chargers within the first six picks, they may not even need to drop too far to capitalize.

From mm (@meek858): What whispers are you hearing at the combine regarding how the Chargers plan to address their QB position? Surely they cannot go into Sofi Stadium with Tyrod Taylor as their starter…

MM, I am anticipating that the Chargers make a run at Tom Brady, but for it to be viable, I think a couple things need to happen. One, new offensive coordinator Shane Steichen will have to adjust his offense to look more like what Brady’s been running in New England—which I think he would be capable of. Then, they’d need to convince Brady they’ll fix their offensive line (signing Patriot free-agent Joe Thuney wouldn’t be a bad step). And after that, I think they have to show they’ll align with his family and business needs.

Maybe all that comes together. Maybe it doesn’t.

If the Chargers don’t land Brady, then I think the most likely scenario is that Anthony Lynn and Co. move forward with Tyrod Taylor as a bridge starter, and they look very hard at the top quarterbacks in the draft class. Since they’re picking sixth, there’s no guarantee that one they like winds up falling to them. And with Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields expected to come out next year, I’d think waiting might be an option too.

That’d be tough from a business standpoint, of course, given the Chargers’ situation and the massive stadium they’ll be trying to fill. But it would make some football sense.

Kahlil Lewis XFL

From Max S. (@MxGraffiti): How do you think the NFL feels about the early XFL success?

NFL teams have absolutely quietly kept an eye on the XFL. And first and foremost, that’s because there’s talent three. Football has long needed another developmental league (in addition to Canada), and for the second straight year, they have one in the spring. That’s a good thing for teams and players on the fringe, no doubt about it. That said, I don’t think the NFL is lining up to help fund this sort of operation—just look how they shuttered NFL Europe when it wasn’t making money—without financial gains that’ll be tough to attain.

Where I do think they’ll pull from the league is with the rules. I personally think the PAT system is too gimmicky for the NFL. But the kickoff innovation should be adopted yesterday. There are lot of coaches that have been, for a variety of reasons, sensitive over what’s looked like the slow death of the kickoff in the pros. It feels like this is the NFL’s chance to pump life into one of football’s most exciting plays and reverse that trend.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, at the very least, the league experiments with it in the preseason. And I wouldn’t mind them just putting the rule in, on maybe a trial basis.

From John Worrall (@john_worrall): What can the Redskins expect as an offer to move to the number 2 pick? Not that they should necessarily accept the offer, but what's the acceptable ballpark?

Let’s start here: The Redskins should take Chase Young second overall. Bringing aboard the freakish edge rusher has a chance to unlock the Washington defensive front the same way Nick Bosa kicked the 49ers front into overdrive last year. Like San Francisco did before taking Bosa, the Redskins have a plethora of former first-rounders on their D-line (Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan), who could have their collective dynamic changed with the addition of a special talent.

But if I’m going to play your game, I’d say I’d be looking for a haul from either the Dolphins or Chargers, at 5 or 6, approximating what the Redskins themselves gave up to go get Robert Griffin III in 2012. Washington gave up the sixth pick that year, a 2012 second-round pick, and first-rounders in 2013 and ’14 to jump four spots.

In this case, like that one, the team coming up would be coming up for a quarterback. The difference here is in 2012, when the Rams dealt down, they weren’t walking away from a prospect like Young (Trent Richardson went third and Matt Kalil fourth that year).

From Stephen G (@Stephen26497576): Before knowing what happens at the combine, which players do you think have the most on the line as far as draft position based on their combine performance?

Tagovailoa’s the obvious one—how team doctors see his medicals will be important. There are guys presumed to be really fast, like Alabama WR Henry Ruggs, who will have to run really fast in Indy to validate their superhero reputations. There are others, like Colorado WR Laviska Shenault, who have been great players that are presumed to be slow, that could be really helped by a good 40 time.

The interviews will be really important for Washington QB Jacob Eason, who will have to answer questions surrounding his maturity that stem back to his time at Georgia. Utah State QB Jordan Love’s time on the board, to show how much football he knows, will be watched, and his explanation for a late-season arrest will be scrutinized by teams trying to figure out whether to roll the dice with another enticing talent.

And the overall workout will be big for Louisville’s mammoth tackle, Mekhi Becton, to show what kind of shape he’s in and how he carries his weight. So there are a few.

From Back2Beantown (@Back2Beantown): Where do you see Tom Brady signing?

Back2, I feel like I have a different opinion every day. Today? Give me 40 percent New England, 40 percent Tennessee, and 20 percent for the field. And I don’t think Brady knows quite yet what he’s going to do, which is why, in my opinion, it’s so important that he and Bill Belichick sit down.

Here’s what I know: Tom Brady is amenable to returning to Foxboro under the right terms. Bill Belichick is amenable to having Tom Brady back in Foxboro under the right terms. And now, it’s up to them to figure out whether those terms can mesh. That doesn’t mean the rest isn’t relevant—there’d still be a contract to work out—but getting there, I think, would make a huge difference.

It’s also possible that the Patriots decide to rip the Band-Aid off, disband an aging defense, start to build assets up and get a young quarterback they really like, in Jarrett Stidham, into a competition for a starting job, in which case bringing Brady back would make a lot less sense for everyone. In that case, I think playing for his good buddy Mike Vrabel—who could sell Brady on sticking it to Belichick together—seems more likely.

We’ll see. All I know is March 18 can’t get here fast enough.

From Ian Fitzsimmons (@Ianfitzespn): Best and worst press box food spread in the @nfl in your opinion is?

My buddy Fitz asked me this on ESPN Radio the other night. So if you already heard my answer, you can disregard this one. But here goes…

1) Dallas: The food’s fantastic, the dining area’s spacious, and the beer taps go on in the fourth quarter. Jerry Jones wanted AT&T Stadium to be palatial in every regard, and it definitely is in that press box.

2) Philadelphia: Usually good variety, an area for snacks and drinks, and a carving station adds up to an edgy press corps getting fat and happy. Or at least, the Eagles give themselves a better shot at that result.

3) Pittsburgh: Like the team on the other side of Pennsylvania, they’ve got a carving station next to a loaded buffet line, which goes a long way on this list.

4) Seattle: Food’s generally good, and there’s a Starbucks in the press box.

And I told Fitz this the other night: I’m not ranking the worst. Mostly because that would be complaining about free food, which seems like a bad idea.

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