It's my first post-draft mailbag, so let’s waste no time and jump right into your questions …
From Chochos O'Riley Xpe (@Chochos_ORiley): What if the LA and Vegas stadiums aren’t ready for the season?
Choschos, it’s a fair question, because there have been COVID-19 cases on the construction sites, and we’re a little over four months away from the start of the season. In the case of SoFi Stadium, which will house the Rams and Chargers, it’s hard to imagine the stadium not opening on time. It’s well over 90% done, and the initial projected completion date (late June) gave the teams plenty of cushion. Vegas’s Allegiant Stadium is a bit iffier, but it’s close enough to where, same as Inglewood, it’d be an upset if it didn’t get done by the fall.
But because these are such weird times, everything needs to be considered. In the case of L.A., if things get worse to where the Inglewood stadium isn’t done, it’s hard to imagine Gov. Gavin Newsom signing off on games being played. If somehow that needle is threaded? My guess is the Rams and Chargers would return to their temporary homes of the last few years.
The Raiders, on the other hand, would have to find some place else to play. UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium would take an investment well into eight figures to be ready for NFL games, and really hasn’t been cared for much as the school’s football program readied to join the Raiders at Allegiant the last couple years. The result? The Raiders would look at temp locales, with San Diego, San Antonio, Salt Lake City and Phoenix as possibilities.
From Colby West (@ColbyWest3): Will Dwayne Haskins improve upon year 1 in Washington?
Colby, I think so. Last year was rocky, even by that star-crossed franchise’s standards. As a result, Haskins had two different head coaches and two different play-callers in his first season, and is now preparing to play for his third head coaches and his third play-caller. On top of that, left tackle Trent Williams didn’t play in 2019, and the team’s leading receiver was third-round pick Terry McLaurin, Haskins’s college teammate who was every bit as new as the QB—and the only guy on the team with over 400 receiving yards.
Call me crazy, but I’m not sure those are the best conditions under which to evaluate a young quarterback. And after striking out on Amari Cooper and dealing off Williams, I’m not sure the cast around Haskins is going to be markedly better. But I do think coach Ron Rivera and coordinator Scott Turner will do their best to insulate Haskins, even while pushing him with the trade for Kyle Allen, who was with Rivera and Turner in Carolina.
And I think that stability will give Haskins a better chance, and I say that with all respect to Jay Gruden, Bill Callahan and Kevin O’Connell. The writing was on the wall for all those guys last year. Being at the beginning of something, rather than the end of something else, should benefit a lot of players in that place.
From Mike (@OfficalYoloSwag): Why didn't the Packers take a single impactful receiver in the 2020 draft?
Mike, I’m not picking on you in particular, but I always think it’s interesting when fans say they want their team to go best player available—and then are irate when a specific need isn’t addressed. And there’s a really simple way to look at this. As a team-building principle, most GMs look at free agency as a needs-based market and would say the draft shouldn’t be. In other words, if you don’t need, say, a linebacker, you’re not going to spend for one on the veteran market. But if a real good one’s sitting there for you in the draft, that’s different.
That, to some degree, can illustrate where Packers GM Brian Gutekunst was on Thursday. He told me, as the team saw it, with the draft moving into the mid-20s, with the exception of Utah State QB Jordan Love, the players they had with grades worthy of going 30th overall were all gone. That created a decision point. Get aggressive and go after Love, or hope he’d be there at 30, and if he wasn’t, aggressively try and deal out, with the risk you get stuck and overdraft someone there.
The Packers obviously chose in the moment to move up, giving up their fourth-rounder in the process. And after that, they did take two offensive skill players in Boston College RB A.J. Dillon and Cincinnati TE Josiah Deguara.
Now, I know everyone had receiver marked down as the Packers’ big need going in, and get why it’d be frustrating to see that left unaddressed coming out of the weekend. But, to me, this was really Gutekunst staying true to his board, and finding a potential Rodgers replacement, knowing he couldn’t count on being in position to get one again for a while. Maybe if Jalen Raegor or Brandon Aiyuk (two guys I’d connected to Green Bay the last couple weeks) were there, they’d be Packers now. That’s just not how it played out.
From Pranav Sriraman (@SWDTweets1): Who will succeed Drew Brees as the next franchise QB in NOLA? Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill?
Pranav, I’m not sure that the Saints know yet. The good news is, they’ve created options for themselves. They’ve got Hill under contract through 2021. They’ll get a chance to develop and evaluate Winston in-house for a year. Winston just turned 26. Hill turns 30 in August. One was the first overall pick just five years ago. The other has shown a lot of athletic potential the last couple years. And both get to work with Sean Payton and his staff.
That doesn’t mean either will be the long-term answer at quarterback. It might be someone else entirely. But it at least gives them a start on replacing Brees, should this be his final year. And keeps them from pigeon-holing themselves into a single offseason to find his successor. Doing that is how you wind up taking Christian Ponder 12th overall (ask Leslie Frazier about the effect that had on his career).
This, by the way, is also why I don’t mind the Packers moving aggressively to get Love. If your quarterback’s older and there’s a young guy available that you really like, better to get him and put him in the pipeline than to find yourself trying to talk yourself into a quarterback because you weren’t ready when your guy walked.
From Michael Christopher (@Bigdogz1318): Are you surprised jets took Becton over Wirfs, especially with the signing of Fant. Fant and Wirfs were similar athletically. What did you think of the rest of their draft? Braden Mann couple be special-teams game changer
Michael, only one thing surprised me about it—Mekhi Becton is way more boom-or-bust than Tristan Wirfs, and I know that GM Joe Douglas would love for his first pick to be a player he can point to, in what he’s looking for in guys. Becton’s tape was inconsistent, and there were questions about his ability to make weight, even over the last few months.
That said, what matters most is who the player becomes, and Becton absolutely has a chance to become a long-term answer at left tackle, and maybe even a top five player at the most important position on the offensive line, while there were questions about whether Wirfs was capable of playing the position at all (he was a right tackle in college, and some teams saw him as a guard).
Overall, all I can base the rest of the class on is where some of the guys were valued versus where they were taken, and it seems like the Jets did well in that department—you’re betting on the come on second-rounder Denzel Mims, Ashtyn Davis and Jabari Zuniga were good gets in the third round, and keep eye on fifth-rounder corner Bryce Hall, a really good player dinged because he’s been hurt and he’s not a burner.
I’ll leave the punter analysis to the experts.
From Al Gauthier (@508CaneFan): With summer training camp starting in less than 90 days, will they still be open to the public? How do you see the landscape of how the NFL markets fan friendly access while keeping players & fans safe?
Al, I honestly have no idea what our country will look like on June 1, let alone August 1. So I wish I had a better answer for you here, but I really don’t know if playing football on a practice field’s going to be feasible by then, so I’m really in the dark on whether or not it’s going alright to have crowds there to watch it. But I do think there’ll be some good test cases for the NFL to work off of.
NASCAR plans to start back up in May, and golf and baseball are working off plans to begin in June. That means, by the time we get to the middle of the summer, there should be pretty good indicators of what the NFL should do. Will there be galleries at golf tournaments by then? Crowds at baseball games? Tailgates at NASCAR events? These, of course, will be the things to watch.
I feel fairly comfortable in saying the first place you see crowds will not be at an NFL practice. There’s not anywhere near enough to gain, for anyone involved, to take that sort of risk. But if others are welcoming people back into their events, then the league will have some real decisions to make.
From John Martin (@jmm6078): Hi Albert, did Belichick’s dog Nike, do a better job than some of the other GM’s, if so name them and were u shocked to see Carolina go all D? Cheers John, UK.
If Kyle Dugger and Josh Uche wash out, it’s because Nike, per ESPN’s cameras, was running the Patriots’ draft on Friday night, right?
On the Panthers, John, the only thing that surprises me about it is that the Panthers didn’t address the offensive line somewhere along the line. That said, they have two former top 50 picks at receiver, a top 10 pick with a rich new contract at tailback, and a quarterback they just gave a deal to at $21 million per year. Resources have been allocated to the offense in a very big way, so this was always going to be a defense-heavy draft.
And what I really like about it is that they picked a bunch of guys who fit Matt Rhule’s profile. That’s most apparent in Derrick Brown, the seventh pick and one of the safest bets of all the draft eligibles. Brown was a four-year star at Auburn, the ultimate program guy who went back to school in 2019 because he loved his experience in the SEC. He’s also the rare example of a player who made such a decision as a prospective top 15 prospect, invited all the attendant scrutiny, and improved his stock in the process.
Southern Illinois S/LB Jeremy Chinn and Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos are two more who bring solid football character, and on-field upside, to the table. So I like the class in the sense that there’s a pattern to the picks.
From Chris Welter (@weltdog83): Now that Rivera and K Smith have had the chance to work together through FA and the draft, do you see Rivera promoting Smith to GM? It seems they have developed a strong relationship during this time and work well together unlike previous combo of Gruden and B Allen.
Chris, I would’ve classified this a coin flip before the combine, and now it seems as if it’s probably more likely Washington goes forward with Kyle Smith as the top personnel guy in the building. That may not mean he gets the general manager title. But the sense I got is that, while Ron Rivera remains the top guy on the football side, Smith did a really nice job setting the table and has the new coach’s ear on scouting matters.
Washington also really felt like the draft fell nicely for them, beyond just getting Chase Young with the second pick— WR/RB Antonio Gibson, OT Saahdiq Charles and WR Antonio Gandy-Golden should all have a shot to be on-field contributors in Year 1.
Now, in my view, the one thing that could have shaken things up a little would’ve been if Panthers GM Marty Hurney wanted to come to D.C. to reunite with Rivera. But as of now, it seems like both Rivera and Hurney are OK with where they’re at, so I’d bet on the status quo. That was also before Rivera and Smith were able to build a relationship, which is an important piece to all of this too.
And it’s worth mentioning here too that I believe there would’ve been some movement in the scouting world this week if it were a normal year. It’s not. So I see less of that coming, especially at the top levels, where running a real search for new execs would be very tough.
From Johannes Schneider (@jocoolwu): Will there be NFL Global Games in 2020? Seems unlikely in these times to send multiple teams to other countries.
Johannes, I tend to think that it’s unlikely we’ll be in a place in the fall where we’re sending hundreds of people on planes overseas and to Mexico, and back, without significant concern. And this is one of those situations where—given that the league might not be able to have full (or any) crowds there, and the festival the NFL puts on around these games will be difficult to pull off—risk will almost certainly outweigh reward. So I’d guess the international slate gets called off for 2020.
The question is when they make a decision on that. As of right now, the Dolphins, Falcons and Jaguars (twice) are set to give up home games to play in the U.K., but their opponents haven’t been set yet, nor have teams been identified for the Mexico City game. So canceling these trips soon, before the schedule comes out, would affect just three teams. If they put a schedule out with international games on it, and call those games off after that, it’d affect nine teams. So the schedule release will create one decision point on this one.
From big blue for life!! (@sld150): Who is showing the most interest in Clowney? And when do you expect him to sign?
Big Blue, I continue to think his best option will be to return to Seattle, and play in a defense that fits him, on a one-year deal. Sticking with the Seahawks will give him a big stage, and the chance to showcase what he’s capable of in a rugged division. And if he stays healthy and produces, he can come back and try to cash in next March, when he’ll have just turned 28. Add to that the fact that the time to acclimate to a new team is cut down for everyone changing locales this offseason, and I think it’d be the right move for him.
As for when he’ll sign? With the draft done and acquisitions no longer counting against the comp-pick formula, really, there’s no milepost that’s critical between now and camp that would create urgency. Maybe the Seahawks having to make a decision on someone like Everson Griffen generates that. Otherwise, it’s anyone’s guess.
Of course, they just gave his number away, so …