Wild-Card Weekend Tripleheaders, Cameras in Homes for Draft - Sports Illustrated

Wild-Card Weekend Will Feature Tripleheaders, Draft Prospects to Have Cameras in Homes, NFL Notes

On NFL conference calls this week, the league will finalize how a 14-team playoff works. The league also wants more players with cameras in-house during a virtual draft. And we approve of those sharing a little extra on social media these days.
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NFL business is moving forward, with the rest of country slowed to a crawl. So we are too…

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 The NFL has conference calls in place of the annual meeting, and the one today, with team presidents, went over the league’s certain-to-pass proposal to expand the playoffs to 14 teams. As we mentioned in the MMQB, the seeding system will not change: The four division champs will be 1-4 in each conference, and the wild cards will be 5-7, with the bracket reseeded after the wild-card round. Also, the new fifth and sixth games on wild-card weekend will go to NBC and CBS. What wasn’t as certain going into Monday was the scheduling of the games. But league officials gave the presidents the strong impression that the games will be part of a pair of weekend tripleheaders, with starts in the 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. ET hours. And while nothing’s set in stone, I’ve been able to confirm that’s the likely outcome of all this. So you can probably forget about the Friday night or Monday night ideas that have been floated.

 Another topic discussed on the call was how the draft is going to be pulled off on television, and one thing the league very clearly expressed a desire to do is involve more prospects in what’ll be a unique broadcast. To that end, I’m told that the league has already reached out to over 50 of the top players in the class on the idea. The execution of it will be interesting: The NFL’s plan is to send the players at-home kits, which will allow them a clean connection to the TV show. At a normal draft, the NFL would have around 22-27 players on site. So they’ve already sped right past the norm, and figure to keep going.

 Some fun feedback from the MMQB: I had one road scout reach out and mention that the IT problems teams are confronting now (trying to recreate offices powered by business-grade internet at home) show up as everyday issues for those on the college trail. In fact, this scout told me that he does a lot of his work at Starbucks, rather than at home, because the internet’s stronger there and better supports all the video he needs to watch. And he’s definitely not the only one. Like I said in the column, this would be a pretty relatable problem that these teams are facing.

 And I have some more names of guys that’ll be hurt by the lack of pro days and 30 visits too that crossed my desk past deadline. Highly-regarded defensive linemen Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina), Yatur Gross-Matos (Penn State) and Justin Madubuike (Texas A&M) all have issues teams want to reconcile, and haven’t been able to. Questions have hovered on Colorado WR Laviska Shenault’s speed, and he didn’t run at the combine, so now he won’t be able to get a verified time out there for teams. And with Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam, who posted a 4.49 in the 40 in Indy, there’s a disconnect between his potential and production that teams wanted answers on. Some of that can be answered for over FaceTime, but not all of it, and solid private workouts with teams sure would’ve helped his cause.

 The Houston Chronicle’s report that the Texans have offered Laremy Tunsil a deal at $18.5 million should come as no surprise. Philly’s Lane Johnson is at $18 million per year in new money, and Las Vegas’s Trent Brown is at $16.5 million per year, and those guys are right tackles. It’s fair to ask if Tunsil might be the first offensive lineman to get to $20 million per—a barrier that’s been broken already at the receiver, defensive tackle and edge defender positions. It’s also a window into how Houston’s building, with heavy investment in a tackle, and a top receiver jettisoned with demands in the same neighborhood.

 Gotta admit, I do like the sharing going on via social media with football figures cooped up at home like the rest of us. Over the last day alone, we got a look inside Sean Payton’s playbook, and George Kittle is planning to give fans a (virtual) spot next to him in his newly revised workout routine.

 The consensus continues to be that Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb are the draft’s two receivers most capable of being true No. 1s, and most probable to go first and second, in some order. But I wouldn’t rule out Jeudy’s Bama teammate Henry Ruggs sneaking past one or both of them. He’s emerged as a real wild card in the process, and is helped by the Chiefs’ success with a smaller, jet-quick receiver as their No. 1, in Tyreek Hill. In case you missed it, Ruggs ran 4.27 in Indy. And I’d heard he was disappointed with the time, which actually makes sense if you look and see his start wasn’t perfect.

 With the potential for a truncated run-up to the 2020 season, every little bit of institutional knowledge that a player has going into a new place should help. One example? Washington’s move to sign Ronald Darby, to fill the hole left by traded veteran Quinton Dunbar. No, Darby’s never played a game in Ron Rivera’s defense. But he spent most of the 2017 offseason learning Sean McDermott’s defense, before being dealt to Philly that August. And McDermott, of course, was a top Rivera lieutenant for six years in Carolina.

 Here’s hoping the $25 million contribution from Clippers owner Steve Ballmer to coronavirus relief efforts prompts some of the same from the NFL owner ranks. I’m not big on pointing fingers at people right after one of their peers does something like Ballmer did. All of it’s not going to happen simultaneously. But we can hope it sets off a chain-reaction that reaches into the football world.

 We’re two weeks into free agency and Cam Newton and Jadeveon Clowney are still out there. If you want to know how COVID-19 is affecting the market, it’s right there. No matter how big a star you are or profile have, if your background is complicated by injury, you were probably going to get hit by this. Clowney and Newton have been.

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