The Offseason of Tom: Where Brady Lands Will Have a Huge Impact on Several Other Teams

The combine is over and the new League Year is still a week away, but these are the hardly the doldrums. There’s plenty happening, from the Patriots’ QB situation—and its trickle-down effect—to the Titans’ decision on Ryan Tannehill to the CBA vote.
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On March 11, 2011, following a set of failed collective bargaining sessions, and on the doorstep of a lockout, the NFLPA decertified and filed a lawsuit against the NFL that was referred to, as a matter of legal course, as Tom Brady v. the NFL.(It was because his name was first in alphabetical order among 11 players, but follow me here.)

On March 9, 2020, the CBA is again in the news, and slowing league business, and as a result, another version of Brady v. the NFL is unfolding right in front of all of us.

This week, the players will vote on the new CBA, and uncertainty over whether or not it will pass has led many teams to play wait-and-see with players. The Patriots are one of those teams. And unfortunately for a lot of other players, until New England’s situation with Brady is resolved, many 2020 NFL dominoes will remain standing. Consider…

• The Titans’ situation with their own quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, is intertwined with the Pats’, because Tennessee is seen as a suitor for Brady. And the Titans are facing a deadline on Thursday—before the CBA voting window closes—to tag Tannehill.

• If the Titans were to zero in on Brady, with their roster in a win-now spot, Tannehill would have a market elsewhere, with the Raiders (and Jon Gruden) long believed to be intrigued. Should Las Vegas’s new team make a move on either Tannehill or Brady, then Derek Carr’s future would be thrown into flux.

• The Bucs are another suitor with a decision to make on their quarterback.. I don’t get the sense there’s been a huge effort to get a deal done with Jameis Winston, and Shaq Barrett is likely getting the team’s franchise tag. Assuming there’s no shift on that, what happens with Brady could be a factor for a number of free agent quarterbacks (like, say, Teddy Bridgewater).

• The Chargers will be in the mix, and whether or not Brady lands in L.A. would likely impact how they use their $48 million in cap space, not to mention what they will do with the sixth pick in the draft.

• San Francisco is lurking, though my sense toward the end of the week was that was more driven by the Brady side than the Niners themselves. Obviously, Jimmy Garoppolo’s future would be affected in the unlikely event that they make a move.

Add it up, and what we have here, clearly, is the Offseason of Tom. And yup, as such, I’m aware that anything we do on this offseason has to start there. So that’s where we’ll start.

***

If you feel like it’s taking forever for free agency to get here, you’re not alone. Lots of teams and players are with you. But the NFL’s probably getting what it wants, which is constant football conversation. We’ll contribute to it in this week’s MMQB with…

• A look at the problems with the CBA, and why it’ll probably pass anyway.

• Inside the Titans’ efforts to help during a scary week in Nashville.

• Lots of team-specific nuggets in the All-32 (including fun notes on the Browns, Cowboys, Jets and Dolphins).

But we’re starting with a mishmash of stuff, to fill the time between the combine (which has been over for eight days now) and the start of the new league year (nine days away).

***

And like I said, that has to start with Brady, so we will start with Brady.

To set things up—over the last couple days, I asked around with different coaches, scouts and agents to try to dig up interesting stuff they heard or saw in Indy that will impact what lies ahead. Of course, a bunch of what came back was related to Brady, which is pretty natural given the circumstances.

Here, then, are 15 things for the ’20 League Year.

1. Let’s start with Brady’s interest in the Niners, and you can ask yourself this question: If the greatest player of all-time wanted to play for you, wouldn’t you have to—whether he was 30 or 50—discuss it? I think that’s where the Niners are right now. What becomes of it, I don’t know. But I do know there’s been perception in league circles that Jimmy Garoppolo is on the clock, because Kirk Cousins is a free agent in 2021. (I still believe Brady landing in San Francisco is very unlikely, but maybe a significant return for Garoppolo would change the equation.)

2. My understanding is that the Titans have had contract talks with Tannehill. Is that significant? Well, it is in that it puts some weight behind their stated desire to have him back on the team in the fall. If the Titans tag him (again, that deadline is Thursday) or sign him, then obviously that takes them out of the running for Brady. So this should be an interesting week. It’s easy to say you’d take Brady over Tannehill for this season; 99% of the football-watching population probably would. But that doesn’t take into account age, and what Tannehill and OC Arthur Smith built last year. And it’s also fair to ask if the Titans should risk losing Tannehill without assurances that they’ll get Brady, which is probably where they’d be if they don’t have their incumbent either tagged or signed at the end of the week.

3. We’ll have more on the Chargers’ trade for guard Trai Turner later, but the idea that teams could make moves to set up an attractive situation for Brady before free agency is interesting. One team working on it? I’ve heard the Patriots have been sniffing around the trade market for receivers and tight ends—which isn’t hugely unusual but is noteworthy given Brady’s desire to play with a better supporting cast than he had in 2019.

4. Philip Rivers-to-the-Colts is being treated like a fait accompli by a lot of people from rival teams. But Rivers isn’t the only quarterback who will be available and has close ties to the Indy coaching staff: Nick Foles (played for Frank Reich in Philly) and Marcus Mariota (very close with TEs coach Jason Michael) do, too.

5. Heard this from multiple people, and one scout put it simply, in answering my question: Washington actually could take Tua. Do I believe that the Redskins will draft Tagovailoa? I don’t know yet. What I do know is that the current Redskins staff is just getting to know Dwayne Haskins, and having the second pick puts that staff in a unique position to draft a blue-chip quarterback if they see fit. Or trade the pick for a haul. Or take Ohio State DE Chase Young. Either way, I think you’ll see a significant Redskins contingent at Tagovailoa’s Pro Day in April. I’ve been told they’ll do all the work as if they are taking a quarterback at two. Which doesn’t mean much yet, other than that they’re being diligent about it.

6. Another Tagovialoa nugget: One exec told me he’d heard some teams have the Tide star ahead of LSU’s Joe Burrow. Conversely, after doing last week’s GamePlan column, it seemed pretty evident that teams have far fewer questions with Burrow than any other quarterback in this year’s class.

7. At the other end of the spectrum, I had a prominent agent say to me Sunday that he doesn’t think teams like Utah State’s Jordan Love quite as much as the media does. (I told him that was reflected in that GamePlan column, too.) There are lots of doubts about Love—but they tend to come with an acknowledgment of how talented the kid is.

8. On the free agency front, the one persistent thing—and we mentioned this in two columns last week—is that veteran receivers could face a soft market because the draft is so strong at the position. Amari Cooper should get paid. After that? A.J. Green gets tagged, Larry Fitzgerald is going back to Arizona, and then you have older players like Emmanuel Sanders and Randall Cobb, guys with red flags like Robby Anderson, and former first-rounders with untapped potential like Breshad Perriman and Nelson Agholor. It could be that we see some one-year “prove it” deals as a result of teams deciding they can find answers in April rather than March.

9. But don’t mark anything related to free agency down in stone quite yet. Most teams held their cards close to the vest in Indy, moreso than usual, because of that gap between combine and free agency.

10. We’ve got a fun follow-up on our note last week that Bengals DE Sam Hubbard has become an important conduit between the team and LSU QB Joe Burrow. Given all the buzz over whether or not Burrow wants to be a Bengal, the Cincinnati staff has tapped its 24-year-old pass-rusher for information. Turns out Burrow and Hubbard spent a good chuck of Super Bowl week in Miami together. Add that to the fact that Burrow has asked other teams that have been interviewed him about the Bengals, and it’s fair to say both sides are doing their fair share of tire-kicking.

11. I thought this one was interesting: “(Patrick) Mahomes isn’t going to do a deal early just because the Chiefs want to.” And the Chiefs do want to. But waiting for the CBA, and maybe even the broadcast deals, might make the most sense for Mahomes. NFL economics could change fairly significantly in the next year or so, and no one would stand to benefit more than the Kansas City dynamo if that happens.

12. Some good players are going to make it to market by virtue of being up at the same time as star teammates. The Cowboys have Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and Byron Jones. The Titans have Tannehill, Derrick Henry and Jack Conklin. The Niners have Arik Armstead, Jimmie Ward and Sanders. You can’t tag all of them. You can’t re-sign all of them. And so some of those guys will be switching teams.

13. There are lots of questions lingering out there on the future of the Jaguars, and this point was raised to me: The 2017 team was built with young, premier talent at the premier positions on defense, with Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler manning the edge positions, and Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye on the corners. With Ngakoue now looking to force his way out, it’s altogether possible that Jacksonville will be without any of those guys in the fall of 2020.

14. This point was raised to me, and it’s fascinating: Both Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers are outspoken critics of the new CBA, and its failure to get through would mean players wouldn’t be able to do deals like the most recent ones those two QBs signed. The 30% rule prohibits a player’s base salary from going up more than 30% in any future years, which serves as a killer for deals that are heavy on signing bonus money for cap purposes. Rodgers’ deal, signed in 2018, includes a $57.5 million signing bonus. And next year, his base jumps from $1.1 million to $14.7 million. Similarly, Wilson’s deal, signed last April, included a $65 million signing bonus, and his base goes from 5 million to $18 million next year. Where did the 30 percent rule come from? It’s part of the Final League Year rules that are in every CBA, which serve as a motivator for both sides to get a deal done.

15. That’s one reason that the CBA getting voted down would really hurt the market. And we’re getting to that.

We can wrap this up right where we started it, with four simple words describing where we’re all at: Everyone’s waiting for Brady.

***

THE CBA VOTE COULD BE TIGHT

The NFLPA’s annual rep meeting kicked off in Key Biscayne, Fla., on Sunday, and it was a feisty start to the union’s summit. One source called it a “pretty emotional first day,” full of tense deliberations between those who helped to broker the proposed CBA and those against it passing. And in the end, I’m not sure anyone there finished Day 1 with a great idea on whether the deal would pass after voting closes on Thursday at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Rather than belaboring all that, let’s go over what I know...

• Most in the union view this as a deal that moves the ball forward financially, and represents a bump from what they got in 2011. So if the goal is, “Let’s keep getting rich!” then this does the trick. If you were looking for a game-changer, and some players were, this isn’t that.

• The union does believe it followed the mandate set forth last year by the executive committee, which was to take care of the “core” players. All players on the minimum would get a $100,000 raise in 2020.

• Most against the deal argue that—considering the rush the owners were in to do the deal and move on broadcast talks, and that they’re getting a 17th game for their trouble—the players had rare leverage this time around and should’ve demanded more.

• It’s also notable that just about every method of player control in the 2011 CBA (franchise tags; RFA tenders; affordable, lengthy of rookie contracts; service time to free agency) remained essentially unchanged. And rules against holding out are much tougher than they were before. Along the same lines, it’s fair to say the owners don’t care that much about the areas in which they made concessions, like drug testing and work rules.

• On the flip side, union executive director DeMaurice Smith had to work with the reality of the situation—knowing his players would almost certainly not be O.K. with enduring a lengthy work stoppage, no matter what they might say now, to get what they want. That the NFL is keenly aware of that doesn’t help matters.

• If the deal doesn’t get done, the league has intimated to the union that it would move forward with the TV deals. And if those aren’t as good because of the potential for labor war, I have an idea who the owners might try to get back at for it.

• The union did work-stoppage prep with the players on Sunday. They’ll vote for a new president on Tuesday, and an opponent of the proposed CBA, Panthers OT Russell Okung, is the only player to have announced his candidacy thus far. Whether it’s Okung or someone else, it’d seem the players would have to elect a fighter. When the vote happens, the players still won’t know whether the proposed CBA has passed, meaning they’ll have to consider the chance they’re voting for the guy who’ll lead them through a work stoppage.

• It was noted in the meeting that some of the deal’s most notable critics (Wilson, Rodgers, J.J. Watt) were not in attendance.

Now, I’d thought all along that the deal would probably pass just based on the fact that 60% of players are on the league minimum (a much higher percentage than in other sports). Those players benefit big-time in this CBA, and they benefit right away, and given the short shelf-life the great majority of NFL guys have, most have historically taken a take-what-you-can-get-while-you-can-get-it approach to these things.

But after talking to a bunch of agents on Sunday, I was less sure of that. They mentioned the strong influence that players like Okung and Richard Sherman, and Rodgers and Wilson have with their clients. And they emphasized how social media is a bellwether for that generation, and how loud and convincing the no votes have been on Twitter and other platforms in advance of it.

So we’ll see what happens. I still think it gets through. But it should be relatively close.

***

THE TITANS LEND A HELPING HAND

The Brady story has hovered over the Titans’ offseason and will continue to until the team resolves its quarterback situation. But at least for a few days last week, all of that took a backseat as deadly storms ripped through Middle Tennessee, killing 24 people, and displacing many more in North and East Nashville. The Titans didn’t waste time getting out to help.

On Friday, the teams sent three busloads of people, carrying about 15 players, GM Jon Robinson, coach Mike Vrabel, all of Vrabel’s assistants and their wives, and a bunch more staff, into the affected areas. They split into three groups—one handed out pizza, one handed out water and the third went from lot to lot, asking if there was anything they could do to help.

Punter Brett Kern, heading into his 12th year as a Titan, was part of the third group. At one point, they came across a house that a tree had fallen on. There were about 20 guys with him, and four or five with chainsaws—and even with all that manpower and equipment, it took 40 minutes to clear the tree. Which, in Kern’s mind, illustrated just how much work there is to do.

“To go through these areas—and I’ve got three kids, and took my son down there just to have him help me—and see these kids that may not have much to begin with and now they’re homeless,” Kern said. “They’re just trying to find their next meal, some clothes to wear. Seeing all these people displaced, that now have nothing, it puts a lot in perspective, with the things that I take for granted. It makes you thankful for what you have.”

It’s fair to say that’s the way most of the guys who went out there—and there would have been more if it weren’t a time when most players are out of town—felt after Friday.

And it really started with a realization of how serious the storms were. Kern is from the Buffalo area. He didn’t grow up with these sorts of natural disasters and hadn’t seen anything like this in over a decade living in Nashville. “I’ve heard a lot of tornado sirens,” he said, “but I’ve never seen something like this, with the destruction so close.”

Likewise, safety Kevin Byard, who is from the Atlanta area, had no experience with tornadoes either. He’d heard about the storms, but was “being naïve” in thinking it wasn’t anything out of ordinary. Then, around 2 a.m. early Tuesday morning, he heard what sounded like the wind smacking the side of his house in West Nashville. “I started to get scared,” Byard said. “This was like a movie.”

Kern got woken up by his wife, who was on the phone with her sister, a cop in the area. The punter and self-proclaimed “weather nerd” went into one of the apps on his phone and saw how close the storm was going to come to his in-laws. It wound up missing them by less than mile.

A lot of others weren’t so lucky, and that’s who the Titans were aiming to help. And when they did, they were left with some jarring images.

Byard saw the top floor of a house lying intact on the ground, with the first floor completely gone. He also had a talk he with a lady in her late 40s, whose roof was gone after a tree fell through it. That talk happened on her front lawn, where her car was sitting, destroyed beyond recognition.

“My big takeaway is that people have to realize, if you have the opportunity to wake up with a roof over your head, you’re blessed,” Byard said. “You see a lot of negativity on a daily basis, and it’s easy to see that negativity and not think about a lot of what we have, we take for granted.… Having what so many of us have is truly a blessing. That’s perspective I’m going to take for the rest of my life: Love your own life.”

Titans staff, players and coaches went out again on Sunday, meeting with people in the community at a local Kroger at noon to hand out more supplies in another ravaged neighborhood. Kern brought his 10-year-old son and, on their way, they saw a church downtown that had been completely flattened. Some people were gathered on the property, so Kern asked what they needed.

Kern and his son then went to Costco, picked up 75 flashlights, 30 blankets, and a bunch of battery packs, and brought them back to the church. And Kern hopes his kid took note.

“I hope this puts things in perspective for him, to be thankful for what we have,” Kern said, “and understand if we have the time and resources to help, that’s what we should be doing. Bringing him down there showed him the power of a tornado, so if one hits where we live, we need to take it seriously. And then the other part is just to serve other people.”

Obviously, the work’s far from done in Nashville, but the Titans have pledged to keep helping. For her part, owner Amy Adams Strunk donated $1 million to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

If you want to help, that organization’s web site is a good place to start.

***

THE ALL-32

Outside all the Brady hysteria…. Looking forward at the 49ers’ offseason, thanks to the Dee Ford and Emmanuel Sanders trades, John Lynch and Co. have no picks between the first and fifth rounds. That alone makes them a prime trade-down candidate at 31, and they could have suitors coming up to get the fifth-year option on a young QB (as Minnesota did in 2014 with Teddy Bridgewater and Baltimore did in 2018 with Lamar Jackson).

Keep an eye on the Bears looking to augment their roster with a trade over the next couple months. Their cap situation will make it tough to be too active on the free agent market, but if there are players late in their rookie contracts made available, that’s one place where GM Ryan Pace could creatively improve what remains a win-now roster.

Green, who is likely to be tagged by Cincy, has been sidelined by injuries since December 2018.

Green, who is likely to be tagged by Cincy, has been sidelined by injuries since December 2018.

The Bengals made the decision soon after the season ended that they’d franchise A.J. Green, and clearly that bounced the ball back into their star receiver’s court. Green forever looked up to Larry Fitzgerald, admiring how Fitzgerald became an icon playing his whole career for one franchise. But more recently, he’s had his share of frustration. So assuming the Bengals hit him with the tag between now and Thursday, the next question will be whether the 31-year-old shows up at all in the spring for the team’s offseason program. And right now, I believe that to be a very real question.

Love Bills coach Sean McDermott rewarding defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier with the assistant head coach title. For one, Frazier has been a valuable resource in a bunch of different ways for McDermott. For another, it’s a signal to other teams of Frazier’s ability to be a head coach again, even at 60 years old.

The Broncos' deal for A.J. Bouye almost certainly spells the end for Chris Harris in Denver. And that means leaves Von Miller and Derek Wolfe as the only starters left from the 2015 defense that won Super Bowl 50—and Wolfe is 30 and set to hit the open market in nine days. That, I’d say, underscores while a great defense can create a championship window for a team, that window usually doesn’t stay open for long. That Broncos defense really came together in 2014, with the signings of Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward. They were one-and-done that first year, won the Super Bowl in their second year, and never even made the playoffs again. Four years later, Miller, the Super Bowl MVP, is the only one left. Now, contrast that with the window a great quarterback can create, and you’ll see why there’s such an inequity in pay.

It makes sense that the Browns would be in on tackle Trent Williams. I’m told ex-GM John Dorsey checked in on a weekly basis to try to pry Williams, and got a flat no on each occasion from the Redskins brass. In fact, it never even got to the point where compensation was discussed. Additionally, Baker Mayfield and Williams, both Oklahoma guys, were in contact, and Williams reinforced the point that the Skins weren’t dealing him. The Cleveland staff has turned over, of course, but the opening at that position remains. And with the draft’s top tackles showing out in Indy like they did, Cleveland’s not guaranteed the one they like makes it to the 10th pick.

If the Buccaneers are going to wind up with Tom Brady or Teddy Bridgewater, it’ll be interesting to see how Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich tweak their system. Arians’s style has always called for big, sturdy quarterbacks taking deep drops, absorbing punishment and getting the ball downfield. That’s not Brady’s game, and it’s not Bridgewater’s game. So if there’s an adjustment for one of those guys, maybe this is where offensive coordinator Leftwich really puts his stamp on the tried-and-true Arians formula.

Some good insight into Kyler Murray’s rookie season in the Cardinals’ in-house video series, “Flight Plan.” And you get a window into Larry Fitzgerald’s place in the organization too, and his role as elder statesman. Just before the opener against the Lions, the cameras showed Fitzgerald finding Murray in the tunnel as the offense was being introduced, and telling him, “I love you. We’ll be with you all day.”

Two big moves by the Chargers this week. One was inking running back Austin Ekeler to a four-year extension, which effectively ends Melvin Gordon’s time in L.A. Another was trading Okung for five-time Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner, who’s still 26. If the Chargers can fill their new left tackle opening creatively in the next nine days (Williams? Andrew Whitworth? Jason Peters?), they’ll have addressed one area that would’ve been an issue for a free-agent quarterback like, say, Tom Brady.

Good on Chiefs coach Andy Reid for promoting Mike Kafka to passing-game coordinator. Teams were interested this year in hiring Kafka as offensive coordinator, given the success Kansas City has had, the development of Patrick Mahomes and the pipeline there that’s produced Doug Pederson, Matt Nagy and Eric Bieniemy. One organization was the Eagles. And while Reid didn’t officially block Kafka, it was relayed to Philly that he would block him if the Eagles put a request in. It’s understandable why teams do these things with coaches who are under contract, and it’s also understandable why a coach would be ticked when it happens. So the promotion serves as an acknowledge that the Chiefs prioritized keeping Kafka, which certainly helps a guy who many believe will be a head coach some day.

Colts QB Jacoby Brissett did pretty much all he could do when he was asked Saturday about the rumors swirling in Indy by ESPN’s Dianna Russini. Channeling his New England background, he said, “I’m just doing my job.” Philip Rivers, Nick Foles and Marcus Mariota are among the veterans with natural connections to the Colts coaching staff, and the team also holds the 13th pick in the draft.

The Cowboys’ negotiation with Amari Cooper won’t be easy. Cooper, not the team, was the one who wanted to wait on an extension when the subject was broached last summer, and the idea was simple: He felt like he could capitalize on the market changing before he hit free agency. The result? It has. Both Michael Thomas and Julio Jones have set new financial benchmarks since. And Cooper didn’t wait this long just to take a discount.

It’s worth paying attention to the Dolphins’ position on Tagovailoa. I don’t know what their medical people are telling the football people. I do know if there’s trepidation there, then it’d be a big ask to expect GM Chris Grier to spend a good chunk of the capital he’s amassed to bring Tagovailoa to Miami. And like we said last week, it’s worth noting that owner Steve Ross has been on the ground for much of this (he was at LSU/Bama and Bama’s bowl game), and independently brought up the health issue when asked about Tua.

The Eagles’ decision to let Jason Peters test free agency opens the interesting possibility that they could upgrade the line, maybe at one of the guard spots, with the team now set to have an affordable left tackle (Andre Dillard) for at least the next two seasons. GM Howie Roseman believes deeply in building through the lines, so I’d expect he’ll at least weigh his options for bolstering the unit with Peters likely on his way out.

It was interesting to hear Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff talk, indirectly, about trading up for Ohio State DE Chase Young this week on Atlanta radio—and it reminded me of 2014 scuttlebutt that Dimitroff was looking at dealing up for Jadeveon Clowney. Dimitroff’s always been interesting in the true outliers among prospects, and the pre-injury Clowney was one. Young, it appears, is another.

Was interesting reading the theory that the Giants could wait to re-sign Leonard Williams, and game the system so they would send a fifth-rounder, rather than a fourth-rounder, along with a third-rounder for the Jets to complete last fall’s trade. Indeed, if Williams isn’t signed before the start of the league year (March 18), then the fourth-rounder in the deal becomes a five. So Williams could agree to a deal, the Giants could put the transition tag on him to be safe, and the two sides could push a new deal over the goal line on March 19, and improve the team’s war chest of picks.

The Jaguars’ starting corners as of today: Tre Herndon and D.J. Hayden.

We’ve kicked around the Jets’ offensive line overhaul here. And something I heard the other day underscores how massive it could be: GM Joe Douglas is open to the idea of having five new starters on opening day. I’m not sure I can remember that ever happening. In the end, I think chances are that guard Brian Winters retains his spot (he’s actually the only incumbent under contract), and maybe some other holdover defaults into another position somewhere on the line. But the idea of totally starting fresh illustrates the change that’s coming.

With Lions’ emphasis on culture over the last couple years, some of the Patriots’ free agents on defense should be monitored. It’s hard to see LB Kyle Van Noy going back to Detroit, where he spent two-and-a-half years, but both Devin McCourty and Jamie Collins were important pieces of past Matt Patricia defenses, and both could be affordable because of their age (each guy is in his 30s).

The Packers’ decision to move on from TE Jimmy Graham would likely be connected (as we pointed out last week) to their confidence in landing a top-shelf replacement. Austin Hooper will be the top veteran out there on the market.

That Panthers QB Cam Newton is throwing at the team facility (he posted pictures on Instagram the other day) is significant. If you thought a trade or your release were imminent, you’re not probably doing that. And I have to think Matt Rhule’s direct, to-the-point style probably would work with Newton, based on the coaches who Newton has worked well with over the years.

The Patriots’ approach to most free agent endeavors in the past has looked a little like this: Put out 20 offers, each on the low end, show respect to the player, and tell him that it’s there for him if he can’t do better. Then, maybe two or three come back, and those two or three wind up representing really good deals for the team, with players, naturally, attracted to the chance to compete for a title. So here’s the question: If Tom Brady’s gone, does that still work? We may find out soon.

As we consider the options the Raiders might have to create competition for Derek Carr at the position, with former first-round picks like Ryan Tannehill and Jameis Winston out there, it’s funny to look back and see Jon Gruden’s QB camps with some of the guys. (Check out Tannehill here and Winston here.) It also reminds you how much background he’s got on so many of them, having had them as draft prospects and worked with them as a broadcaster.

How the Rams handled Whitworth’s free agency will be a pretty good tell on how they feel about guard Joe Noteboom. For a while now, they’ve been outwardly confident that they had Whitworth’s successor in-house, in the 2018 third-round pick. Now, they’ll have a chance to show that confidence if Whitworth’s market gets too hot, and the idea of moving the 24-year-old from guard gets real.

I’ll repeat what I said last week, that the Ravens don’t see Marshal Yanda’s return as being anything close to a sure thing. So would Baltimore invest in a free agent to replace him? Generally, it hasn’t been their way. All five of their starting linemen last year were homegrown (four draft picks, and an undrafted free agent).

Whoever the quarterback is, I’d expect the Redskins to look hard at the receiver market. Amari Cooper is one player to watch. DC area native Stefon Diggs could be another, if the Vikings ever show a desire to deal him (they really haven’t to this point).

The Saints’ decision to put a first-round tender on Taysom Hill is pretty reasonable, if you think about it. It’ll cost New Orleans close to $5 million to do it. It’d cost them about $3.5 million to tender him at the second-round level. I don’t think anyone touches Hill with a first-rounder as the comp. For a second-rounder? That’s possible. And so having the peace of mind that you’ll get Hill back, and get to develop him as a quarterback for another year, is well worth the $1.5 million. Especially with Teddy Bridgewater leaving.

He’s not always the most popular figure, but give Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer credit—he put both receiver D.K. Metcalf and tight end Will Dissly in position to contribute early in their careers, getting past questions about Metcalf’s route-running and Dissly’s ability in the passing game. As a result, those guys have bought time to keep growing, and the future around Russell Wilson looks brighter than it did a year ago.

We’ll find out a little about how the Steelers feel about former first-rounder Terrell Edmunds’s development in how they handle the impending free agency of another safety, Sean Davis. The 2016 second-round pick started 31 games in his second and third seasons before getting hurt last year.

The Texans’ re-signing of defensive tackle Brandon Dunn was effectively the end of the line for D.J. Reader in Houston. Reader’s going to get really, really rich in free agency, and Dunn’s new contract is an acknowledgment of that, with the team preparing to make up for what it’s about to lose.

The Titans’ decision to draft an injured Jeffrey Simmons last year is looking good now. Simmons seems poised to develop into a star, and the 2020 draft class at defensive end is very thin. Had Simmons been in this year’s draft class, and healthy, he’d be right there among the small class of elite players available (Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Isaiah Simmons, Derrick Brown).

Given some of the conjecture out there over the last week, it’ll certainly be interesting to see where the Vikings’ future with Kirk Cousins goes. If I were Cousins, and I knew that the Niners could be an option next year, I’m not sure I’d sign anything right now.

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TOP FIVE

1. Bouye’s deal is a good one for the Broncos. Denver GM John Elway is certainly looked at differently than he was even three years ago, thanks to the rut the franchise has found itself in of late. But give him credit for the deal he pulled off to bring home A.J. Bouye this week—it was a really good one. Bouye can still play, he’s two years younger than Chris Harris, and better than some of the guys who’ll get more than he makes in free agency next week. Really, this is a good example of making the most of a bad situation. Last October, the Broncos knew Emmanuel Sanders was gone. So with half-a-season left on his contract, they dealt him to San Francisco for third- and fourth-round picks, with a fifth-rounder going back. Elway then flipped that fourth-rounder for Bouye, who’s signed for the next three years. Does this mean the Broncos are suddenly a contender? Nope. But it’s an example of a team maximizing its assets during a lost season.

2. Todd Gurley’s trade value serves as a cautionary tale. And this isn’t just about drafting a running back high. It’s also about drafting a player seen as a “one contract guy” (some saw, for example, Jags LB Myles Jack this way in 2016, due to an arthritic condition in his knee). Gurley’s now through five NFL seasons, and would’ve been the end of his rookie deal, as a first-round pick, had he not done an extension in the summer of 2018. The Rams took the risk on him in the 2015 draft, despite a preexisting arthritic condition, and extended him coming off a season in which he won Offensive Player of the Year honors. Could they have gone forward with him on his rookie deal? Maybe. But at the time, they were readying for Aaron Donald’s second summer holdout, and had a lot of mouths to feed, plus doing a deal early would allow them an early exit from it. So they did the deal. And now, they’re paying the toll for it. But, from my view, it’s not crazy to say it was worth it for the team. They went to the Super Bowl the year Gurley signed it, his presence helped them develop their young quarterback and he was big in Sean McVay establishing his program. And therein lie the complications with the “one-contract guy” you may find high in the draft.

With his girlfriend, SI Swimsuit model Camille Kostek, by his side, Gronk seems rather content in retirement.

With his girlfriend, SI Swimsuit model Camille Kostek, by his side, Gronk seems rather content in retirement.

3. We’re a year out from Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. And there’s no real sign that he’s even thinking about coming back, which has him on the same path Calvin Johnson and Patrick Willis once they walked. Both those guys were continually asked about returning after early retirements too, and neither ever did. So what does it mean? This is just the new reality with star players. Early retirement is more viable of an option than ever before, and for three reasons, all of them good for players.

• Players are making more money, so naturally they need football less.

• Players are thinking about post-football career plans earlier than ever, which makes the idea of giving up playing less daunting.

• Players are more educated about what continuing to play can do/is doing their bodies.

Again, to me, this is great for players, and ultimately for football, too, despite what doomsdayers might say. Simply, the healthier players are leaving the game, the better it is for the NFL’s future.

4. Patrick Mahomes said he didn’t know how to read defenses until midway through last season. Mahomes’s admission on HBO’s The Shop underscores why more teams are looking for playmakers at the position—and more and more football people believe that the old prototype for quarterbacks is dying. (I got that sentiment a bunch when discussing Washington’s Jacob Eason for last Thursday’s GamePlan column.) Mahomes’s ability to create and make up for what he didn’t know bought him time to develop, and most quarterbacks coming into the NFL now, based on the way the game is played in college, need that time. If a quarterback can’t do that? There’s a decent chance that his confidence will be shot, and the people that drafted him will be fired before he figures it out. So yes, it’s scary that Mahomes said that. But there’s also a good lesson in there for everyone to pay attention to.

5. First Tony Romo, now Peyton Manning. Disney’s crashing Brinks Trucks into the living rooms of former quarterbacks, and they forced CBS to drive one to Romo’s doorstep. That says it all about where the networks are, and why the owners are jumping over each other to finish the CBA and get to the broadcast negotiations. Big TV is ready to spend and seemingly confident that going all-in on the NFL in this manner is a really good bet. Totally makes sense that the league would see that and want to take full advantage of it.

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SIX FROM THE SIDELINE

1. The Nets’ situation is hilarious. The team is overachieving and in the playoff picture, the coach’s system worked so well that he just got extended. And then, suddenly, that coach, Kenny Atkinson, got thrown overboard. So maybe the earth really is flat.

2. What LeBron James is doing at 35 years old is absolutely, positively incredible. I’m going to enjoy watching him in the playoffs, because there’s no telling how much longer we’ll get to see him play.

3. It’d be interesting to see if scouts happen to make it to either the spring games of either Clemson (April 4) or Ohio State (April 11). Both are before the draft, and could give quarterback-needy teams a shot to look at Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields throw live, and contrast them against the 2020 draft class at the position.

4. Myles Brennan is the leader to replace Burrow at LSU, and it’ll be fascinating to see how this works out. The lingering worry that some of Burrow’s incredible production was a result of the Tigers’ system. Pass-game coordinator Joe Brady’s gone too, but his fingerprints are still all over that offense.

5. The images of empty soccer stadiums in Italy were pretty chilling. 

6. And while we’re there, the idea that the coronavirus could affect the draft is a valid one. We’re still a long ways from that, and it’s certainly possible (hopefully probable) that this worldwide issue will be resolved by then. But given the open nature of the event, and number of people that attend it, it’s clear the NFL’s gotta keep an eye on this.

BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET

I hope we’re allowed to laugh at this?

That sums up the week nicely.

Just because.

Thanks, Kevin. I was a freshman in college when Becton was born.

When I sent texts out to scouts and coaches asking for the most interesting/different thing they heard in Indy, one AFC exec referenced this NSFW response. Which is a fair answer.

I think Brady’s enjoying all this.

And Julian Edelman, too.

My old buddy Rich has done so much good over the years for St. Jude’s, and I know firsthand that the people who work in these children’s hospitals may be the closest thing we have on earth to angels (I’m married to one). So a big s/o to Eisen, and NFL Network, and bringing so much good out of this quirky tradition.

“Dude, you’ll never believe who I saw walking out of the makeup store at the mall!”

If you’ve pulled away with the pump attached once, you’ll never not do this again. Trust me.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

We still have nine days to go until free agency starts. Just remember that, if it starts to sound like everyone’s starting to repeat themselves this week.

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