Sorry about the delay … Tree fell, onto power lines, over our driveway. Then the generator went out, and the tree is still sitting there on what I believe are live wires, because there was a pretty crazy power surge in our house when the rest of the neighborhood got restored. So hopefully when you read this I won’t be in a fire. I wish I was kidding. I’m actually filing this at 10:48 p.m. ET, using the wifi in my car. Let’s go …
• Christian McCaffrey’s new four-year, $64 million deal—and more than half of the new money on that contract is guaranteed—is interesting from a couple different angles. And we can start with the idea of giving a tailback a massive second deal, the kind of investment that’s proven in the past to be regrettable for other deals. So why did Carolina do it? For a couple reasons. One, they view him as more than just a back, and that’s backed up by the 303 catches he has over his first three years in the pros. And two, he earned it. As one of the team’s best players, he’s carried a heavy load his first three years, and has consistently been one of the team’s hardest workers and best leaders. When a new coach comes in, he’ll often send a message with the first player he pays, or the first player he drafts, in holding that player up as indicative of the kind of guy he wants. McCaffrey certainly is that kind of guy. (And it’s why, honestly, I see someone like Auburn’s Derrick Brown being the team’s first draft pick under the new regime.
• The other thing that’s interesting here is what it means for other players. We mentioned this in last week’s Monday Afternoon Quarterback: Five of the top 12 backs in scrimmage yards in 2019 were Class of 2017 draftees, now eligible for new contracts for the first time. And certainly you’d think the other four (Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon and Alvin Kamara) paid keen attention to McCaffrey’s payday, as I’d bet James Conner and Aaron Jones did as well.
• I’d keep an eye on the Buccaneers potentially drafting a quarterback in April, which would not be unlike when the Broncos signed Peyton Manning in March 2012 and drafted Brock Osweiler a month later. Obviously, Tampa Bay will eventually need an heir to Tom Brady, and it’d make sense to get one in-house who’ll get the benefit of learning from him. And there are a couple raw, big-armed prospects out there in Utah State’s Jordan Love and Washington’s Jacob Eason, who could slip a little in the draft, and also could use a redshirt year or two to develop.
• Good on the league and union finding suitable solutions for the offseason. One big key was what was an obvious move throughout—which was to make sure no team would get an advantage over another based on its state’s response to the pandemic. So similar to how the NFL said that if any team was unable to use its facility for the draft because of stay-at-home orders, then no team would be able to use its facility, it’ll take stay-at-home orders being lifted in every state that has an NFL team for anyone to get into a team facility this spring. The chances of that happening? Yeah, it’s not happening.
• From a nuts-and-bolts perspective, what you need to know is that teams can begin Phase I of offseason programs this Monday. Teams with new head coaches can then work the next four weeks consecutively, with a voluntary “virtual minicam” mixed in. The rest can pick a three-week block within those four weeks for Phase I. Phase II can start May 18 with more involved on-field “virtual workouts,” and that part of the schedule will include the usual mandatory minicamp, which will, barring a miracle, also be held virtually. Teams have to wrap all this by June 26. So everyone will get the month they normally get to get away in the summer.
• The Patriots’ coaching staff moves of this offseason will have an impact, to be sure, on the most important question of 2020 for the team, and that’s what will happen with the quarterback position. I’m told new assistant Jedd Fisch was hired to coach quarterbacks, and that’s where his focus has been. Mick Lombardi was assistant quarterbacks coach last year, and did a lot of work with then-rookie Jarrett Stidham. Lombardi’s focus has shifted since to receivers, the position Joe Judge handled on offense last year, which would qualify as a bit of a promotion, given that Josh McDaniels also works intimately with the quarterbacks. So Fisch, in Year 1 in Foxboro, could be a pivotal figure on the staff, especially if New England drafts another—and I think they might—and carries three into the season (with veteran Brian Hoyer also in the mix).
• As the Lions meet with quarterback prospects, it’s worth noting they went through the same paces last year, holding the eighth overall pick. They wound up taking tight end T.J. Hockenson. But I was told at time, they were one of the teams the Giants thought might take Daniel Jones (Washington was another) between the sixth and 17th overall, prompting Dave Gettleman to just take him with the first of those picks, rather than risk waiting to get him with the second of them. In that case, you could argue, the perception, real or otherwise, caused another non-quarterback to fall to Detroit’s spot. In this case? It might help drum up a mark for the third overall pick. Or maybe it’s genuine interest. We’ll see.
• Thumbs up to the Colts for their uniform adjustments. It’s subtle, clean, and honors tradition. There wasn’t any need to go too far with a classic look, and they didn’t. And I’m hoping the Browns go back to one when they unveil their new look.
• USC’s Austin Jackson is a name to file away for draft night. We all know who the top four tackles are (Mekhi Becton, Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills, Andrew Thomas). And since those four will likely be gone in the first 11 picks or so, tackle-hungry teams might get antsy and bite on the next one, particularly during a year in which big men might be considered less of a risk, under these different circumstances (it’s easier to go strictly on tape with linemen). The consensus is Jackson is that next one, and he’s done well through the pre-draft process to cement that.
• To follow up on my MMQB lead, I did ask Trent Dilfer if he’d be nervous about Tua Tagovailoa’s health if he was a team. He answered like this: “No. I think you can put all that in one bucket. He tried to be superman too often. He’s a guy who knows he can turn a bad play into a good, and he takes unnecessary hits because of it, the Mississippi State injury especially. He should’ve gotten rid of that ball way before he even got hit. With a lot of guys that take more hits than they should, when they learned to, I hate to say give up on a play, but not try to turn every play into a home run, they tend to stay a lot healthier.”
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