Here’s a story from three years ago, about a normal scene in the draft room. A quarterback was up on the screen, and the debate was healthy, robust and all over the place.
One scout in the room had him graded as worthy of the first overall pick, while others had first-round grades on him but weren’t quite that strong. Others still marked him as a second- or third-round pick. And no one was really pounding the table, until a coach, who’d seen limited tape on the kid, declared, “I f---ing love this guy.”
He then launched into an explanation of what was so good about the player on the screen, bringing up many of the things that have manifested themselves the last couple years.
“And as he’s describing what’s so good about the guy,” said one person who was in the room that day, “I’m thinking to myself, ‘I just learned something.’”
The team didn’t draft the player, but it was prepared to, because in those few minutes a consensus had started to build. Detractors were moved off their spots a little. Those who liked him started to like him more. The process was working.
The player? Patrick Mahomes.
This week, in a memo to every team, the NFL declared that the draft will go forward as scheduled, April 23–25. The event won’t be held in Las Vegas, and whether or not teams will be able to use their facilities is up in the air. And there are valid arguments on both sides of whether the NFL should be going forward with it at all.
But this much we pretty much know—scenes like the one described above, which are common across the NFL every April, won’t be happening this year. What you see on your television may not look much different from what you see every year, sans the massive street party. The experience for all these teams over the next month, though, will be.
And that means, as the NFL steamrolls forward, the results might be too.
We’re now entering the third full week of our strange new reality, and the NFL offseason is moving ahead. So the MMQB is going to with it. In this week’s column, we’ve got…
• A list of highly-regarded draft prospects who will be negatively affected by the crisis.
• Details on how veteran players are handling this new reality.
• More on a real-life heroic move from the NFL player ranks.
• Nuggets on the continuing carousel of free agency.
But we’re starting with the league’s decision to move forward with the NFL draft.
On Tuesday, the owners will hold a conference call to replace parts of their annual meeting, which was supposed to kick off yesterday but was canceled a couple weeks ago. And it’ll start with an update from the league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allan Sills, and Dr. Dev Anderson, a professor at Duke who’s been the NFL’s point of contact at DICON (the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network).
Those are definitely different kinds of keynote speakers than the owners are used to hearing from this time of year, as these are definitely different times.
But those on Park Ave. have been leaning on them. Sills has been regularly leading calls among league officials the last few weeks and has been discussing criteria for re-opening team facilities and welcoming players back to work, since one of the first questions from, well, everyone has been what would prompt a return to business as usual. That won’t, however, be part of Tuesday’s discussion with the owners, for a pretty obvious reason.
The NFL, like the rest of us, has no idea when it’ll be time to put such a plan into motion.
That leaves the draft as the only thing on the 2020 ledger that the 32 teams can approach with any certainty. And while coaches, execs and scouts did not like how commissioner Roger Goodell threatened them with discipline for criticizing the NFL’s decision to go forward with the draft—“ridiculous and embarrassing” is what one AFC exec called the warning in last week’s memo—opinions are split on the actual call to keep the event where it is on the calendar, and everyone is moving forward as best they can.
Much will be different. Here are a few examples:
Draft meetings. Scenes like the one I described above are the one thing that came up consistently with the teams I spoke to. The ability for a general manager to advance a debate in the room by saying, “Let’s put on the tape and see,” is severely hindered, at best. And a lot of teams have these meetings with coaches and scouts all the same together, which allows for robust conversation and workshopping of disagreements like the Mahomes debate.
“Now, everyone will be there on video conference,” said one AFC GM. “We can’t sit in my draft room, me and my scouts, and watch Joe Burrow together. We may have some debate, and someone might say, ‘Hey, go watch this kid against Clemson and tell me he can’t do X or Y or Z. Or debate a guy, find a common opponent and settle it. Or with Senior Bowl guys, say, ‘Well, let’s watch them against same opponents’ and watch that right tackle against these two D-ends.
“It’s all going to have be independent film work, then discussing it.”
That, of course, is less efficient (though some believe it’ll make the opinions of scouts less biased), and may make it harder to get through as many guys as a team normally would with this sort of discussion. And that’s why teams are working through solutions, like projecting game tape into video conference, or having smaller breakout video conferences incorporating tape with individual area scouts and position coaches.
“We probably won’t do meetings as a, ‘Let’s watch these guys’ thing anymore,” said an AFC exec. “It’ll probably be more going to coaches and scouts and saying, ‘Watch these five guys, and come back and let’s talk about it.’”
The value of time on the road will rise. This is another thing that was unanimous: Teams that pound the pavement with good people in the fall will be rewarded. That means having high-level people (GMs, directors) out there in-season, and it also means having road scouts that have done the work and are reliable.
“More than any time since I’ve been a scout, we’re really going to be relying on our scouts,” said one NFC executive. “I mean, we’re really gonna be relying on them. They’ve had the interaction on the ground, they should know the kids.”
Another value in all that time on the road? The value of connections. When there’s a question on a prospect, now more than ever, having relationships with coaches and staff at different schools will be vital, so questions on character, injuries or overall ability can be answered honestly without someone needing to even start the car and go anywhere.
“That’s the other thing: I’ve spent more time on the phone than ever before in my career these last two weeks,” continued the exec. “You’re leaning on connections, your sources. You’d generally like to be in their office, maybe come up for 10 minutes after the workout. But if you’ve known a guy for 20 years, you may not need that face-to-face. And that’s what you’ll want, because normally 80% of it is face-to-face, 20% is over the phone. Now, it’ll be reversed, even more than that, where it’s 90% phone calls or FaceTime.”
Replacing the 30 visits. One team I talked to has had about 100 of the allowable draft calls—teams are permitted three per week with each prospect, with each call limited to an hour—via Zoom already. Another’s getting started tomorrow, but did dry runs last week. Soon, all will be conducting them because of the loss of what are commonly referred to as “30 visits,” the de facto job interviews that teams are allowed to fly up to 30 players in for.
The early returns? Well, a team can get a pretty good idea of a player’s mental aptitude and ability to learn over the technology. What’s harder is reading body language and presence. As one veteran scout said, “There’s an instinct you have ... you’re gonna miss that now.”
But the biggest thing lost is that teams, during those visits, are allowed to have kids meet with their doctors and trainers, and to put them through a physical to close their medical files. Not having the ability to do that—and we’ll get back to this—is an awfully big deal.
Building the board. This will affect some teams more than others—and it’s all based on the involvement of the staff. For a team like New England, where less than a handful of people actually see the board, the effect will be negligible. But other teams work in larger groups to get through close calls on players at certain positions.
That’s best done in draft meetings with everyone in one room, since you probably aren’t going to be sending your board around via email.
“When we’re building the board, we’re building it together,” said another NFC exec. “And a lot of thought goes into it. ‘Hey, what about this guy over this guy? Well, let’s see those two players covered by these players.’ And guys are looking at the board the whole time. It’s good to have fresh opinions, people challenging you on your opinion, because ultimately scouts are paid for opinions. It’s a huge part of the feedback for us. We want them to challenge us.”
Coaches' involvement. The Patriots, again, are a team that involves their coaches heavily in the draft, as are New England–connected teams like the Lions and Dolphins. The Bengals and Steelers are like that too, as are the Cardinals. Some teams that are aggressive in getting coaches involved earlier, at the Senior Bowl and the combine, will likely have more informed coaches now (the Rams and Broncos didn’t send theirs to Indy).
Here’s what’ll be common among all teams: Coaches’ work on prospects will be more affected than scouts’, mostly because coaches are at a much earlier stage of their process (having just jumped in, at the earliest, in January) than their personnel-side counterparts. That said—as is the case with all of these elements—teams are looking for, and some are finding, benefit in the change.
“Coaches might actually get to know players better because, honestly, they don’t have a ton to do,” said a third NFC exec, also referencing the likely cancellation of offseason programs. “There’s a whole lot more film coaches can through now since they’re not on the road or starting their offseason programs.”
“One of the hardest parts of business, this time of year, your coaches talk to buddies on other staffs on players that they haven’t watched, and they’re biased before they turn the film on,” said the AFC GM. “And most teams send their coaches to pro days. With less of that—because it’s easy to talk there, you’re around your friends in person—I do think we are going to get a truer feel for what coaches think.”
Medicals, medicals, medicals. This appears to be the biggest issue looming over everyone—and it’s especially big on players who either weren’t invited to the combine or are coming back from an injury. The annual combine recheck is usually a way to get updates. Without that, or 30 visits to tie up loose ends, teams are going to have to rely on information coming from the players, agents and others with a vested interest.
You’ve probably seen agent-generated videos on social media of prospects doing splits or box jumps or running 38-yard dashes (wink, wink) over the years. (Our Kalyn Kahler wrote about these Stupid Human Tricks last year.) Teams have always ignored those, and likely won’t put much more stock into them this year—even with agents already getting hyper-aggressive in sending them to GMs and coaches after their players had pro days canceled.
Medical information might be a little different, so long as it’s from a trusted place, like a doctor whom teams know, or the school itself. If the relationships are strong enough for a team to have its doctors and trainers call the doctors or school officials, even better.
“If you want to know how an ACL repair is going, you want your own doctors to put hands on him,” said the second NFC exec. “And we’re still working through that, to be honest, how to truly approach that. Maybe there’s enough information where your doctor can make his best estimate. And maybe if it’s a guy that has had multiple surgeries, you might shy away.”
That said, the idea of NFL teams having blind spots on players medically isn’t completely foreign either.
“We got the medical on all the combine players, which is good, and the select few rechecks we’d like to get, and medicals on the guys that didn’t go (to combine), those will be risks,” said a second AFC GM. “But I’ve talked to people in baseball, and they get no medical on guys coming in. Zero. We’ll have to rely on scouts and doctors. But there are a lot of guys you bring into your building you haven’t gotten hands on, especially undrafted guys.”
IT, IT, IT. So this part is weird, but relatable—team folks, through trial and error, are recognizing that home Wi-Fi and plugged-in, business-grade internet are two very, very different things. And the files that are being moved are massive. Streaming video, as one exec put it, “worked like a charm at the office, and then you get to your house, and it doesn’t work worth a damn.”
So team IT people are working to try to recreate what’s available in a football facility that’s had tens of millions of dollars of technology poured into in someone’s home office. Which doesn’t happen with someone snapping their fingers and making it so, no matter how much your high-speed connection at home may have you believing otherwise.
Then, there’s the draft itself. For now, teams are adjusting. One team I spoke with will have three guys running meetings from someone’s house starting this week, with others video-conferenced in as needed; others will be doing meetings completely remotely. Continuing like this when draft weekend gets here will be more difficult.
During the draft, teams may assign a handful of people to work the phones, with each responsible for trade calls with, say, 5–10 teams. The GM and the head coach will be there, of course, as well as a director of player personnel type, the college scouting director and the cap guy. The pro scouting director is needed too, to track other team’s needs, which are usually on a separate board that helps to project picks and set up trades.
That’s six people without even getting past the first person on the coaching staff or the first person on the scouting staff, and all of these people, in theory, would have to be working the phones in this skeleton scenario. The teams I talked to, for the most part, said they’d need 10-15 people on hand to do the draft efficiently and as normal.
If that’s not possible? It could have a tangible effect on how the draft goes. Teams will probably be more risk-averse to begin with, because of the holes (medical and otherwise) in scouting reports, and because there’ll almost certainly be less time to get players ready to contribute, with the probable loss of offseason programs. If you have a patchwork draft-day setup affecting communication, you could see the same sort of caution on the trade market.
“That’s the hardest part,” said the second NFC exec. “Having the draft the same weekend’s OK, everyone will adjust. We have all the same information, and teams that did their homework will get through it. But the hardest part is, that weekend, there’s so much communication with other teams, with your pro scouting staff, your college staff. What does this team need? Who’ll come up and get this guard or receiver?
“There’s constant communication, guys on the phone. If you’re not in the same room, that’s going to be really difficult. The GM can only do so much.”
Or instead of seeing a lot of teams moving around the board on draft weekend, you may just see them, as one executive predicted, try and trade for vets to plug holes before the draft, knowing it’s less likely this year that a rookie will be able to fill an immediate need, and knowing that the draft is going to be hard enough as is.
So yes, the draft will go on.
But the idea that it’ll be the same? The people who really know what it’s like aren’t pushing that one.
PROSPECTS HURT BY OUR CURRENT SITUATION
Of course, there are specific players who now find themselves swimming upstream against the issues created by the cancellation of pro days, private workouts and 30 visits. One such group would be the draftable players who weren’t invited to the combine. Not having a neutral physical that every team can access will be a problem for some of them, not having testing numbers will create issues for others. For some, it might mean going undrafted.
Some of the bigger names will feel the pinch too. Here are a few….
Kentucky WR/Everything Lynn Bowden: A do-it-all player who filled in at quarterback last year at Kentucky, Bowden projects as a receiver in the NFL. But since he was used mostly in a gadget role in college, private workouts and a pro day would’ve been important to show how he fits in specific places as a pro. And he also didn’t run the 40 in Indy, which makes drafting him as an “athlete” a little more problematic.
LSU DE K’Lavon Chaisson: Chaisson, known as a raw player with a ton of potential to grow, chose not to work out in Indy. So he won’t get a chance to put numbers to the athleticism that’s his calling card.
Mississippi State CB Cameron Dantzler: A lanky and long corner, Dantzler’s big 2019 season intrigued NFL folks. Then he ran a 4.64 in the 40 at the combine. And he won’t have a pro day to make up for it.
LSU S Grant Delpit: Considered a sure-fire top 10 pick coming into 2020, a season marked with inconsistent play and shaky tackling has Delpit fighting to get anywhere close to that now. So he’ll have less of a chance to answer for that. Plus, he didn’t run in Indy.
Virginia CB Bryce Hall: There were questions about Hall’s speed to begin with. He was injured and couldn’t run at the combine. So now he’s left with no real avenue to answer those questions at a position where athleticism comes at a premium.
Penn State WR K.J. Hamler: Hamler’s game is speed. And in a deep receiver class, running like Alabama’s Henry Ruggs did in Indy could’ve separated him from the pack. He chose not to, opting to wait and run on PSU’s notoriously fast track instead. Which, now, he won’t get the chance to do.
Texas WR Collin Johnson: Once seen as a possible first rounder, the supersized Johnson got hurt and had disappointing 2019, then didn’t run at the combine because of a hip flexor injury suffered during training. Now, he won’t be able to full allay concerns about his health or his speed.
LSU TE Thaddeus Moss: The son of Randy had a Jones fracture in his right foot revealed at the combine, and underwent surgery as a result of that. Without medical rechecks, teams won’t have a chance to get a great look at his progress, which compounds the fact that he doesn’t have a workout on the books.
Fresno State G Netane Muti: He’s been pretty beat up injury-wise, and could’ve used the chance to show what he can do in position drills. He’d planned to go through those at his pro day.
Vanderbilt TE Jared Pinkney: He’s well-regarded as a player, but ran a 4.96 in Indy, and really could have used the do-over his pro day would have given him.
Tennessee DE Darrell Taylor: Similar to Chaisson, he’s a pass-rusher with big-time traits who didn’t work out at the combine—he missed drills due to a foot injury—and now won’t get the chance to quantify his athletic potential for teams.
And then, you have the obvious one: Tua Tagovailoa, who’ll have limited shots to show teams how he’s progressing in his rehab from hip surgery (he’d planned to have a pro day workout on April 9). But he’s not the only quarterback that’ll be hurt by all of this.
That position is different to begin with, because teams looking at taking a QB in the first round usually pull out every stop to get to know all the prospects—from in-season scouting to the Senior Bowl and combine, to 30 visits and private workouts, and the unearthing of every little piece of information they can dig up. One GM told me this week that the order he had the quarterbacks in the year he took one changed between the combine and the draft. And I’d bet that’s not unusual, considering how deep quarterback scouting goes.
Under these circumstances? A lot of those opportunities are just gone. Which makes it harder to figure out if Tagovailoa can stay healthy, or Justin Herbert can be an alpha. Or why Jordan Love went so off the rails as a redshirt junior at Utah State. And that’s hard when you’re making a decision that your continued employment may ride on.
“I remember meeting all these kids, seeing them at a restaurant, on campus, getting all these different exposures to them, you see how they match up with each other,” said the GM. “With a pick that big, intangibles matter so much. We’ve all seen the quarterback who has all the physical tools, but you worried about intangibles, and it didn’t work out. That’s the part you have to sign off on. And you have to meet him, you have to have been around him to really know.”
That’ll make the next month tough on teams like the Dolphins and Chargers. And might make the idea of waiting until 2021—for a draft that’ll likely include Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields—look a little more attractive to those two teams, and a lot of others.
HOW PLAYERS ARE HANDLING THINGS
Last week, I reached out to a handful of players for my GamePlan column. And the stories that Kyle Allen, Richard Sherman and Mitch Schwartz brought to the table on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their lives were interesting, enough so that one of our editors, Mitch Goldich, suggested doing more of it.
I agreed and figured it was a good idea to hit up a few more guys. Mitch (Goldich, not Schwartz) was right—lots of players have interesting stories to tell. Here are three more of those…
Browns TE Austin Hooper, five-year NFL veteran
Hooper spent the end of February and beginning of March in Budapest, as part of ex-NFL tight end Gary Barnidge’s American Football Without Borders program—a trip during which a group of about 15 players traveled to spread the gospel of the sport, providing a free camp and coaching clinic, while working with disabled kids and doing some charity work. The free-agent-to-be spent nine days in Hungary.
On the way back he got the message about the seriousness of the coronavirus before most of us. On his layover in Amsterdam before returning to JFK, Hooper noticed the Dutch airport was filled with people in masks, and everyone keeping their distance. He and the guys he traveled with were dealt a sobering reality: If they didn’t make their flight, there was a chance they wouldn’t be getting back at all.
“When we got back, a lot of people were like, ‘Yeah, this is just the flu,’” Hooper said. “I’d say to them, ‘Yeah, no, that’s not it. This isn’t something to be played with, guys. Let’s take this seriously.’ … Everyone was nervous there, kept their faces covered, washed their hands, did everything they could to stay safe.”
That was right around when Northern Italy was being locked down, and getting to see the European reaction drove home what could—and would—be coming to the States soon. And with that in the back of his mind, Hooper’s own situation remained unresolved. After four years in Atlanta, he was set to hit the free agent market.
That part actually went fairly smoothly, since most of free agency happens over the phone anyway, and an agreement on a four-year, $42 million deal with Cleveland came shortly after the March 16 opening of the legal tampering period. But once that was done, things got back to being weird.
Hooper hasn’t made a decision yet on whether or not he’ll sell his place in Atlanta, and he's living, for now, with his parents in San Ramon, Calif. There, he’s part of a workout group that includes his college teammates Kyle Murphy (a Texans tackle) and Josh Garnett (a Lions guard), as well as free-agent TE Eric Swope.
Hooper has a strength coach who is local, so he has been able to get access to some weight equipment, but most of his work has come via bike rides and body-weight workouts. He’s using a nearby high school field to do agility drills and run routes.
“It’s definitely harder,” he said. “It’s less regimented, and it’s a lot different. It’s such a unique situation, we’ve all never had to deal with something like this, so we’re figuring it out as we go. … I signed in Cleveland without stepping foot in that state, and I don’t even know when I’ll be able to.”
As for that part of it, Hooper’s been texting with Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and has talked with Odell Beckham. Already, Hooper’s thinking about getting together with Mayfield and the rest of the Cleveland skill guys somewhere once it’s safe, to try to make up for what they’re likely losing in spring workouts.
For now, like everyone else, he’s doing what he can.
Patriots S Devin McCourty, 11-year NFL veteran
Like Hooper, when the sports world screeched to a halt two-and-a-half weeks ago, McCourty’s immediate future was uncertain. For the second time in his career, he was set to become a free agent. But once the Patriots picked up his brother Jason’s option, he had a pretty good idea he’d be staying put (something he detailed last week in the Players Tribune), after initially thinking he might be bound for the Giants or Dolphins.
And as he boarded a plane headed for LaGuardia at Miami International, after the NFLPA’s rep meeting in early March, he got, at once, a warning of what was to come and affirmation that staying in New England was the right call. Once he sat down, he noticed those to his right, to his left and in front of him all wiping down and sanitizing everything around their seats.
“So for me, it probably didn’t feel as weird, because I’m going back to the team I was already playing for. The physical, the medicals, I already knew I was O.K. there and that nothing new would really happen,” McCourty said. “But I remember thinking about all the other guys that were about to be out there, that couldn’t go visit teams, couldn’t take physicals, and it hit me, Man, this is gonna be different.”
It was, indeed, and McCourty resolved to try and get ahead of that. He’d bought a Peloton earlier in the year, and that helped, but he knew that, from a strength-training perspective, he’d have to be creative. Normally, living in North Jersey this time of year, McCourty works out with guys like Jets WR Quincy Enunwa and ex-teammate Chris Hogan at a gym called Freak Strength. The owner/coach there, Mike Guadango, offered to let clients borrow equipment before they had to close, and the Patriots safety took some exercise balls and medicine balls. Likewise, the NFLPA has arranged for players to get discounted weight-room stuff, though having no one to set it up makes that complicated.
Some innovation has been involved too, and McCourty’s worked with Guadango and Patriots strength coach Moses Cabrera on ideas. He’s focusing more on band work and body-weight exercises now, and has mixed in some new drills—one has him walking up and down the stairs in his house with giant packs of water.
Having a three-year-old daughter and a son about to turn two home around the clock (something a lot of us are navigating now) has added yet another element to the picture for the 32-year-old. And there are things, like regular massages, that he just can’t recreate right now. But as he sees it, older vets should have an advantage whenever the doors open back up.
“It sucks for the young guys,” McCourty said. “For me, after my rookie year, we had the lockout. I went to Rutgers and did those workouts, and I wouldn’t have to do that now. I didn’t know enough about how to train, I had to have someone showing me. It’s hard for younger guys, guys that stay in the city they play in. To get that advantage veterans have, you’re not gonna have it.
“The one good thing is Moses giving our guys workouts. But even that’s so tough, because you’re responsible for so many guys, and most guys have some routine work with someone different they do to get things done. So that’s a little advantage that comes with experience. Of course, with youth, your body adjusts better. So it’ll be interesting to see that play out.”
But there’s no question that, in deciding to stay put, McCourty’s positioned himself well.
Texans C Greg Mancz, six-year NFL veteran
Mancz was with McCourty at the union rep meeting in Miami and flew from there back to Houston to have an arthroscopic procedure done on his ankle and tie up some loose ends at his apartment before heading to Arizona, where he makes his offseason home.
By the time all that was done, everything had changed, and Mancz was staying in Texas. The gym he usually works out at in Phoenix—Exos—has been shut down for two weeks, which made the decision easy, given that he’s coming off surgery. So rather than training in a high-end facility and passing time by hiking the mountains in Arizona, like he normally would be this time of year, Mancz is making do with a far less lavish setup.
He’s turned the guest bedroom in his apartment, which is where his mom stays when she comes into town for games, into a home gym. He went to Academy and Walmart and Dick’s to find what he could, and came away with weight-adjustable dumbbells, bands and a pull-up bar. And for conditioning, he’s using the steep inclines along Buffalo Bayou near his apartment to run hills.
“The whole thing’s nuts,” he said. “But it’s sort of weirdly nice. I can control the music, listen to what I want to. And I found a buddy to run the hill with, do plyometrics with. But the weight thing is, as athletes, we’re always in a group, everything’s sort of communal. And right now, you can’t do that. You really can’t be with anybody.”
The challenges for linemen are a little different, of course. And for Mancz, that starts with finding a way to keep weight on, which has always been a struggle. To maintain 300 pounds, the 27-year-old estimates he has to take in 4,700-4,900 calories per day. At first, it was easy—the Texans’ cafeteria remained open for players to get breakfast and lunch, which was one reason why Mancz stayed.
But once the NFL ordered facilities closed, that changed, and that meant Mancz was like everyone else, just hoping the grocery store would have what he needed.
“Our local grocery store, HEB, has been amazing,” he said. “They’ve done such a good job keeping the shelves stocked, I can’t thank them enough. I’m sure it’s very stressful for them, but because of them, food has not been a problem. And I’m 300 pounds, so it takes a lot for me to say that.”
Mancz’s girlfriend is a chemical engineer at Dow, so she’s working through the crisis too, and the veteran interior lineman is trying to take a day-to-day approach with it. The Texans have an app that feeds him workouts that work around the limitations everyone’s facing. If there’s one thing he’s worried about, it’s what most big men are concerned with: losing strength without the advantages of having a full weight room.
But even there, Mancz has contingency plans. Fellow lineman Nick Martin has a squat rack, and J.J. Watt has a full gym, and so he figures there are resources there—with the caveat that he and his teammates will continue to be careful about it. The silver lining, as he sees it, is what he hopes to get out of the time he has now.
“On a personal note, I’m talking to my family a lot more, communicating better than I was,” Mancz said. “Football-wise, I think this will be an advantage for guys who’ve played in the league. As much as OTAs were a necessity, to get everyone together and on the same page, it’s nice not to have that wear on your body. And whenever this ends, guys will be excited to get back in the building.”
That much, we can say for sure.
DREW AND BRITTANY BREES STEP UP
I don’t know if there’s a great way to properly put into context the generosity of Drew and Brittany Brees, in the wake of last week’s $5 million donation made for relief in their adopted home state of Louisiana. So I’ll let Brees take it away, with what he told ABC’s Robin Roberts on his motivation to give as much as he did.
“Because there are so many people in need right now,” he said. “Obviously, this is such an unprecedented time, and such uncharted territory, and I know that we’re all as a country trying to figure it out as we go along, constantly trying to stay in tune to what’s being ordered, and what’s being asked of you to do. I think just the fact that you have so many people out there that have lost their jobs, at least for the time being, and especially when you look at the state of Louisiana. We are a small business state, we are a hospitality state, and those are the industries that have been hit the hardest. So many people are without right now.
“I think for Brittany and I, the most important thing was fulfilling some of their most basic needs, and mainly being able to feed those families. And being able to feed the kids of health-care workers that are on the front lines, having to drop their kids off at daycare as they go to work and save lives, we want them to go to work and know their kids are taken care of. We want the seniors to know they are taken care of. These are some of their most basic needs, and yet I think that continues to give them hope, to let them know there are people that are caring for them, looking out for them, knowing that we’re all gonna get through this together.”
There are lots of great things about what Brees did, but here’s one that stuck out to me: It can be a multiplier. It puts subtle pressure on the billionaire who may be ready to give a couple hundred thousand to give more. It nudges other star athletes to get more involved. It brings to light what’s needed to the general public in the every day world, and may push some of those who can’t give nearly that much to do something.
To me, that makes this an awesome show of leadership from one of the greatest players to ever play the position that requires the most of that in all of sports.
So thanks to Brees. And here’s hoping the ripple effect his gesture promises to create comes to pass.
1) This would’ve been the week of the annual meeting, and there’ll be conference calls in lieu of those. On Monday, the league will hold one with team presidents to brief them on matters that’ll be discussed and voted on Tuesday. And then, on Tuesday, the owners will hold their own call, as has been the plan since the annual meeting was called off, to keep the ball moving on league business. The biggest voting matter will be expanding the playoffs—which is expected to pass easily. The league will also vote on the new TV setup for the wild-card round, which will now include six games, and other procedures (such as seeding) for a 14-team playoff. Per the meeting agenda, the league has negotiated deals with CBS and NBC to broadcast the two new wild-card games, and will vote on that, as well as a resolution to extend its streaming agreement with Amazon through 2022. And the proposed seeding system exists largely unchanged: The four division champs in each conference will be seeded 1–4, with the wild cards seeded 5–7. There will also be an update on the draft, explaining where the league sees itself now and where it envisions being on April 23, and an update to wrap up the new CBA from the management council. All of that, of course, will be proceeded by the updates from the medical experts, Sills and Anderson.
2) The Rams’ approach is shifting. There’s no question that, given how they’ve collected high-end stars the last few years, the Rams have become top-heavy. And that can make it more difficult to fill out the middle class. So consider what they’ve done thus far this offseason to try to balance themselves out a little better—and, as they see it, their shuffling along the defensive front is proof of that. For what Dante Fowler cost the Falcons per year, the Rams are getting both Leonard Floyd and A’Shawn Robinson. Is there risk? Sure. Floyd didn’t live up to expectations in Chicago, and Robinson didn’t live up to expectations in Detroit. But both have high-end talent. Floyd played for the Rams’ new DC, Brandon Staley, in Chicago, and Robinson has experience, both in college and the pros (under Nick Saban and Matt Patricia), playing in the kind of diverse, flexible defense that Staley plans to employ. And on top of that, the Rams probably will get a third-round comp pick for Fowler, and don’t lose anything in that equation by signing Floyd, since Floyd was cut. They’ll need those picks and the affordable labor too, given the amount of draft and cap capital they’ve spent on their core. Will all this work? Again, Floyd and Robinson were let go by their first NFL teams for a reason. More important, in my mind, is seeing the next phase of how the Rams are putting their roster together, which is pretty interesting.
3) You can see something in the Patriots’ plan, in who they re-signed. When New England re-signed Matt Slater and Devin McCourty, two of the four most tenured players on the roster, my immediate thought was that these weren’t the acts of a rebuilding team. And I’ll raise my hand now—I was looking at it the wrong way. There was, in fact, the mass exodus of older players that many expected from one of the oldest rosters in the league. Bill Belichick most certainly is resetting. And in doing so, my belief is that keeping McCourty and Slater is an effort to keep messengers of the program in place. And it didn’t take McCourty long to show me he’s embracing that: “We’ve lost guys before. Nobody of [Tom] Brady’s stature, but what are we supposed to do? Throw the whole season in the tank? We’ll all see that as a challenge. This season won’t be like it was. He’s the best player in the history of the league and he’s leaving, so it’s not gonna be the same. But I’m excited to see what it is.” And while he knows the sort of responsibility that he, Slater and others like Julian Edelman and Patrick Chung now shoulder, he also sees opportunity for the generation of Patriots right after his. “I think in the beginning, guys will look to us more. Tom’s been a huge figurehead forever and he’s gone now,” McCourty said. “But I also think it’s an opportunity for guys like James White, David Andrews, guys who’ve been offensive captains the last two to three years. They’ve been leaders, but no one cared about the captains on offense other than Tom. Now they get to step up and be different kinds of leaders. The effect it had on me when [Vince] Wilfork left, and Mayo retired, for me, as a defensive player, those guys were even bigger figures than Tom. When I was younger, I was scared to mess up, because that’s Wilfork there and you didn’t want to let him down. And then I remember when Mayo left, it was, who the hell’s gonna be the leader? I stepped up, [Don’t’a] Hightowear stepped up. And I’m excited to see how that plays out on offense.” As we all are.
4) Cam’s worth the risk, at this point. My buddy Greg Bedard reminded me the other day of the story I did with Cam Newton last summer, before we knew how his 2019 would play out, and I remember coming away from talking with the then-Panthers quarterback thinking of how much it’d seemed like he’d grown. “I’m playing my best football of my career, because I know what I’m doing,” Newton told me then. “I’m not guessing. Coach [Ron Rivera] has created an environment where you’ve got a bunch of selfless, talented guys, and that’s key to winning. No matter how good you are, everybody’s working towards the greater good of the team. And for me, being the quarterback, obviously a lot more responsibility is thrust on what I’m supposed to be doing. But it’s not pressure, because I know what I’m supposed to be doing.” I had a lot of fun writing that one, because it showed how a staff had tailored its way to how a star player learned, and emphasized getting the most out of him. In a funny way, I think that actually may be part of why Newton has had trouble finding a new home, because of the feeling you do have to sell out to go and sign him, and set things up a certain way to get the most out of him. Teams just aren’t so willing to do that with a banged-up player they can’t put through a physical, and that’s understandable. This probably isn’t a guy you slip in the back door like the Titans did Ryan Tannehill last year or the Raiders did Marcus Mariota this year. But if some team were willing to do that? The payoff could be huge, and that’s even with the acknowledgment that, in this case, failing might mean starting all over at the position a year from now. (And you may be asking if Washington would be involved, given Rivera’s presence there. I wrote it a couple times last week; I’m told they are not planning on pursuing Newton, which is mainly based on where they are as a franchise, in the beginning stages of building a new program.)
5) Jameis is, too. And you can group Jameis Winston and Newton here because the price has to come way down on both right now. But if you’re a team like Pittsburgh or even Green Bay, with an older quarterback on the roster and shaky depth, why wouldn’t you take a flyer on a guy like this, and just see where it goes? Worst case, he’s gone within a year. Best case, you’re working to keep him around beyond 2020, because there’s a future there. I don’t think the idea of it is all that different than what the Saints did to acquire Teddy Bridgewater two summers ago. The difference, in this case, is you don’t have to give up a draft pick to do it. And there’d be mutual benefit too. Winston would do well to find himself with a stable, winning organization, and get a year or two of development to restore his name.
6) The Chargers’ quarterback plan looks pointed toward draft day. Going into the offseason, the vibe was that the Chargers were going to look in one of two directions in replacing Philip Rivers: either get Tom Brady, or pair Tyrod Taylor with a rookie. The former is out, and the latter is now in play. L.A., as best it can, will do all of the attendant homework on Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa. And that, in itself, may rule out a run at Newton, which makes a lot of sense on paper, at least unless the decision-makers wind up believing the draft prospects aren’t worth hitching their job security to. Newton’s never been anything but a focal point. He was a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school. He spent one year at Florida, and after that starred at Blinn Junior College, won the Heisman at Auburn, went first overall in the draft and started from Day 1 in Carolina. It’s fair to ask—as we did alluded to earlier, in saying you aren’t gonna slip Newton in the backdoor—how he’d handle being a de facto placeholder, and what that might mean for your starter’s development. It’s also instructive to point out that Taylor’s already served in that role, having done so in 2018 in Cleveland after the Browns drafted Mayfield.
7) Myron Rolle resurfaced this week, for the best reason. And he’s doing much more meaningful work than he would’ve, had he made it in the NFL. You may remember Rolle as the third-team All-America safety at Florida who won a Rhodes Scholarship, took a year off from football to attend Oxford, then was drafted in the sixth round the next year (2010) by the Titans. Rolle’s now a neurosurgery resident at one of America’s most prestigious hospitals, Massachusetts General, and did a story with ESPN’s Wright Thompson this week on what he’s seeing on the front lines of our country’s coronavirus battle. “Our bed space, our operating rooms even may be turned into ICUs because there are so many people that are positive with COVID-19 or are suspected of having it,” Rolle told Thompson. “I’d say our supplies are pretty limited right now and dwindling. … I went down to the emergency department, and as I was walking through the emergency department, I was seeing so many individuals with respiratory distress and respiratory compromise, and the numbers are staggering, Our neurosurgical floor has been transformed into a floor just for COVID-19 patients.” I can tell you that, being from here, and having been treated at Mass General (my primary care was there for a couple decades), that this particular hospital, one of America’s best, would be that taxed is crazy. Great job by Thompson on the story. And thanks again, Myron.
8) I came across an interesting receiver comp this week that’s not perfect, but I think it is relevant to how the Texans have handled this offseason. Randall Cobb’s turning 30 this summer, so it’s fair to ask how much more he’s got in the tank—and I get that. Still, a few things jumped out at me when I was pointed to the comparison between Cobb and his ex-teammate in Dallas, Amari Cooper. Last year, Cobb had 55 catches for 828 yards and three touchdowns. Cooper, three years and 10 months younger, had 79 catches for 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns. Cooper got $100 million over five years, with $20 million even in each year of his new Dallas deal. Cobb’s getting $10.125 million this year, $8.625 million in 2021 and $8.25 million in 2022 from Houston. Is Cooper that much better than Cobb? I’d say no. And when it mattered most, in a win-or-else game against the Eagles in December, the old Dallas staff kept Cobb, and not Cooper, on the field. Now, again, I understand why you keep Cooper—upside’s a huge part of that. It’s just that when I look at the totality of this, poaching Cobb hits me as a very New England move by Bill O’Brien, who was once the Patriots receivers coach. The Patriots have more often than not valued balance over star power at the skill positions, and Cobb’s the sort of guy who, in his affordability and versatility, can help Houston get there. Which, come to think of it, Kenny Stills and Will Fuller are capable of too.
9) Dak Prescott’s deal will get done and its length may be the key. I don’t think, if I were a Cowboys fan, I’d be overly worried about Prescott’s future with the team. Yes, he could go the Kirk Cousins route, but there was far more acrimony in that negotiation than there has been in this one. In the end, the Cowboys get deals done, and quarterback deals get done, so this one will be done. So where can the middle ground be found? I believe that the length of the deal is key. Dallas loves getting guys locked up on very long-term deals. Tyron Smith once did an eight-year extension that went, on paper, for 10 years. Zeke Elliott signed a five-year extension that lasts seven years on paper. Zach Martin signed a six-year extension that has seven years on paper. And Jaylon Smith’s five-year extension covered seven years. Dallas wants to get Prescott secured in a similar fashion, and is willing to pay to do it. But the truth is, that’s not in Prescott’s best interest. It’s in his best interest to do a deal of around four years, that gets him his guaranteed money, but also allows for an earlier renegotiation to account for what the new TV deals and the monetization of gambling will do to the salary cap. And in this case, the Cowboys may have to acquiesce. In a way, it’s not unlike where the Seahawks were with Russell Wilson. Wilson’s camp has rumbled about a baseball-style contract. Seattle wanted to do something more conventional. The middle ground, in each of Wilson’s two big-money negotiations, was doing a standard, top-of-the-market QB contract over a shorter term. That’s worked for everyone. It kept Seattle from blowing up the market, and from having to answer for doing a deal with Wilson differently than it would with other stars. And it guarded Wilson from falling too far behind the market at his position. That kind of win-win is out there for Dallas and Dak—if the Cowboys are willing to relent on years, and Prescott will do the same on overall money.
10)You’re right to pay attention to the Bengals’ aggression. Cincinnati has been uncharacteristically generous with its free-agent dollars in signing big-ticket items like Trae Waynes ($14 million per), D.J. Reader ($13.25 million per) and Vonn Bell ($13.25 million), after tagging A.J. Green at $17.87 million for 2020. The idea? Well, getting better, first and foremost. But it’s also sending a good internal message that the brass doesn’t think the current team is as far off as last year’s 2-14 record would suggest. And if it shows a commitment to winning to a certain draftable quarterback who may have had some questions about that, then even better. (I’ll bet Joe Burrow is paying attention.)
SIX FROM THE SIDELINES
I want to use this part of the column to say some thank yous this week. So thank you to…
1) Our doctors and nurses. My wife is a nurse at Boston Children’s and probably won’t be happy I’m putting her in here. But she’s given me her first-hand account of what it’s like where she works, in a section of Boston loaded with hospitals, and I’ll just say that people in the medical field are real-life heroes. That goes for every day, but especially these days.
2) Our grocery store clerks. They’re right in the line of fire, probably seeing a greater variety of people every day than anyone right now. And if I were them, I’d be awfully nervous. But most, at least the ones I’ve come in contact with, aren’t showing it.
3) Our delivery truck drivers and mail carriers. Whether it’s UPS, Fedex or the U.S. Postal Service, these people are more important than they ever have been, for a lot of different reasons. And there’s obvious risk in what they’re doing.
4) Our news media. I love football, and love covering it, but the reality that we work in the toy store of journalism is always obvious at times like this. I have so much respect for the people in our business that run right into the burning building that everyone is trying to escape. (Shout out to MMQB alum Robert Klemko, on that note, for his work for the Washington Post on COVID-19, with boots on the ground in Vegas and Seattle.)
5) Our restaurateurs. In an industry with thin margins, these folks really need our business, and lots of the places I’ve been have been very creative and upbeat in trying to attract customers to get takeout. Above all else, they seem to be exceptionally careful about social distancing, which we can all appreciate. (The Foodsmith in Duxbury, Mass.—run by Boston Herald alum Laura Raposa, by the way—was especially incredible last week.)
6) Our politicians. And I’m not gonna get political here and bash anyone in particular, because that’s not what you came here for. What I will do is say I’m grateful to live in a state that was very aggressive and very early in taking precautions. So thank you, Gov. Charlie Baker, for that.
… And by the way, this isn’t to exclude anyone (police and teachers deserve to be on the list, too). Those were just six groups of people I felt compelled to show gratitude to—it’s nothing more than that.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
My buddy Perloff facing the situation I was dodging all week, before I finally embraced it and let my kids on the Periscope on Friday afternoon.
It actually doesn’t look that unnatural for ol’ Gardner.
Good for Lynch, having some fun with it.
These keep getting better.
Damn right, Don.
Irsay has taken a lot of crap over the years, but I really do think, deep down, he’s a pretty decent guy. And you can actually see that here.
I like the early signs here, and the emphasis on the powder blue.
I’ll make this simple. I don’t like the L.A. logo. I do like the Ram head, and think it should be the primary logo. And if the colors are a precursor to going back to the unis of the 1980s, I’d be all for that.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
We’ve got just 24 days until the draft, which feels like it’s coming fast. We’re gonna have more on it this afternoon in the MAQB, and of course all over the site for the next three weeks.
So don’t worry. If you’re looking for your escape from all the bad news out there, we’ve got a lot of that coming.
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