California and New York Opening Up for Sports is A Significant Step for the NFL

Fifty-six days after NFL facilities shut down in March, some are now ready to open their doors again in a limited fashion, and governors in California and New York have shared the most optimistic news yet about hosting regular season games. Plus, notes on Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Mitchell Trubisky and more.
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Good news to start this week …

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• That the governors of California and New York declared their states open for pro sports, without fans, is a very significant, positive step toward football in the fall. Those two states have been among the most restrictive from a rules standpoint. In fact, from an NFL perspective, Chargers, 49ers, Raiders and Bills were among the teams that won’t be able to start the process of re-opening their facility this week, by law. And the Rams—whose business HQ is in L.A. County—can't really either, since only their football building would be allowed to open, and coaches and players can't go in anyway. So where this light shining at the end of the tunnel is coming from is a big deal.

• Here’s something I was able to gather on the fans vs. no fans contingency: At least a couple teams that are facing the possibility of playing in empty stadiums in the fall would rather do that at home, than play their home games in someone else’s city. And there’s more than one reason why. First, they’d lose money from local sponsorships, and naming rights, without any way to recoup that, and they could make up a pretty good percentage of what they’d lose at the gate by tarping off seats with ads and/or green screening. Second, the idea of playing a 16-game schedule of road games, or basing them out of town for six months, is not appealing. So while there are the Cowboys/Rams, Chargers/Raiders and 49ers/Cardinals quirks baked into the schedule (and ties there, with Jerry Jones and Stan Kroenke carrying close business ties, and Chargers owner Dean Spanos having roots in Vegas), I’d anticipate every team will want to play its home games in its home stadium over putting them somewhere else. What I don’t know is whether or not the league office would force the issue in any of these cases.

• And obviously, the first component to all of this will be whether or not teams in areas most affected can have training camp at home. This is where I think there is a chance teams could pull up stakes for a few weeks. The phased re-opening plans for states like Washington (Seahawks), New Jersey (Jets/Giants), and Massachusetts (Patriots) show that even if things go very well, it’ll be a close call on whether some will be permitted to have the level of gathering (150-plus people) necessary to stage camp on time. In this week’s MMQB, we explored the idea that college campuses could host camps, and University of Arizona AD Dave Heeke was another who got back to me today to say it’d be difficult to have an NFL team coming in, given the circumstances. “We haven’t had that conversation to any depth this year,” he said, while mentioning that Arizona had talked to the Raiders in the past about having camp in Tuscon. “It would be pretty challenging, especially at a time when we’re not completely ready to bring our own team back, and we don’t have procedures and protocols for the student body coming back yet either. … Logically, you think about it, how could we reintroduce 100 of our own players, and then on top of that all the other student-athletes, plus an NFL team? It’d be very tricky, a big challenge, so to be honest we wouldn’t even be ready to explore that yet.”

• So tomorrow afternoon, the NFL will either pass or shoot down the measures to give teams draft-pick rewards for minority hires (we covered that extensively in this week’s MMQB too), and the more guys I’ve asked, the more I’m finding how much many of the coaches and scouts who are supposed to benefit from it … don’t like it. “Seems thrown together,” said one scouting director. “I don’t see it passing or, if it does, working. Draft position isn’t a threat to a billionaire.” Another added, when I presented him with my idea to add networking events (that’s in this morning’s column): “No doubt level of comfort is the issue. I personally feel like there are some things that only time will fix/improve. Rules like this are insulting and awkward. I do like the networking idea, as long as it’s done the right way it could be a good thing.” And here’s how one well-respected veteran coach saw it: “There has to be a better way! All coaches want is an opportunity to legitimately present themselves to the decision-makers. No one wants to be given anything or have any unfair advantage. Just want a fair shake, that’s all. If you get the job, you get the job. If you don’t, you don’t!” So, again, I’d present my idea to add events to the calendar that put rising young coaches and scouts, of all backgrounds, in front of owners. The young guys get the face time. The owners get a better understanding of the types of people running the football side from across the NFL. Everyone, it would seem, wins.

• Another leftover from Matt Nagy (I have a lot of MMQB add-ons this week, I know): I asked the Bears coach if he’d brought up the example of Alex Smith, whom he coached in K.C., to Mitch Trubisky. Smith, of course, was given up on a bunch over his first six years in the league, before Jim Harbaugh arrived in San Francisco in 2011 to breathe life into what was a flagging career. “What I would say with Alex, here’s a No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, he’s being compared to Aaron Rodgers his whole career. Same thing, it’s never gonna leave Mitchell, being compared to Patrick [Mahomes] and Deshaun [Watson],” said Nagy, drawing a parallel in the draft classes. “That’s just the way it is, that’s never gonna change, there’s nothing that any of us can do to control that. But what we can control is how we play football, and what we do. We can’t worry about anything else. Alex, what I think is so special about Alex, he has a mental toughness to him, where he got through all of that, even past the point Mitchell’s in right now, after he went through a bunch of different coordinators. I was in the stands in San Francisco, with the Eagles, when he was getting booed off the field. But I’ve also seen him completely overcome that, come to Kansas City, and absolutely dominate in the win column. He always got criticized for being a quote/unquote game manager. I know, number one, if you talk to his teammates about what kind of competitor, and player he is, how much better he made them, they’d all tell you that was the case. It came with a lot of wins. Now, in 2017, had a 104.7 QB rating, and an aggressive and attacking mentality. So it took time, but he was persistent. We always talk about persistence over resistance. Be persistent, stick to it, stay mentally tough, and that’s where Mitch is at right now. We know he’ll step up to the challenge.”

• I think an underrated change that’ll be voted on this week, tucked into the tampering rule change proposals, was this one: “No club may include in any employment contract provisions restricting opportunities for upward mobility. Such clauses include a right to match; a designation of the moves to another club; or a commitment on the employee as a 'high-level' employee; a requirement for compensation if the employee moves to another club; or a commitment on the employee’s part to refuse any request to interview for a position with another club, or other limitations in addition to those established by this Policy. This does not prohibit a contractual commitment to promote the employee to a high-level employee as currently permitted.” This seems to be directly aimed at how the Patriots wrote Nick Caserio’s contract—in a way that allowed them to block him from interviewing with the Texans last year. New England wanted to put a similar clause in then-college scouting director Jon Robinson’s contract in 2013, Robinson refused, let his contract run, and went with Bucs GM Jason Licht to Tampa in 2014 as a result. Two years later, he became the Titans GM. So you can see where avoiding the clause benefitted Robinson, just as agreeing to it hurt Caserio. And so now, you won’t see these sorts of clauses anymore.

• Chargers coach Anthony Lynn’s revelation that the team considered Cam Newton isn’t surprising, given where the team was after deciding to let Philip Rivers go a few months ago. So why wouldn’t they pounce on him? This, again, comes down to how you’re stocking your quarterback room. Lynn and GM Tom Telesco had to keep the idea alive, in case they didn’t land one they liked in the draft. But now that they have, the development of Justin Herbert becomes a priority. And having a good veteran who’s been through this sort of thing before, in Tyrod Taylor, is valuable, and evidently more valuable to the team than what would be a bit of a dice roll on Newton.

• I do believe Frank Reich when he says he thinks Rivers will try to play multiple years in Indy (Rivers is on a one-year deal). I also believe Rivers when he says, while he’s taking things year-to-year, he’d love to go more than one. But I’ll bring up the point here that Rivers has mentioned being on a two-year timeframe this offseason, and he really wants to coach his sixth-grade son when he gets to high school, which tells me the plan here all along has been to play in 2020 and ’21 for the Colts. And that’s pretty valuable because, so long as he’s playing fairly well, it buys the team two years to find his successor.

• A few years ago, the NFL had a pattern of guys getting arrested for DUI and combatted that by strengthening its policies in that area. I’m going to suggest that now might be time to do something similar with its policies on guns. All four of the NFL arrests over the last week—and Cody Lattimer, Ed Oliver, Quinton Dunbar and Deandre Baker are innocent until proven guilty—involved guns. And it’s not like this is the first time we’ve seen football players in trouble for that stuff. So it’s probably worth the league making a point on it.

• We started with good news, let’s end this on good news—tomorrow is a big morning for the NFL. The league closed all team facilities on March 24. I don’t know that any of us expected it’d take this long, but Tuesday, 56 days later, the re-opening of those buildings will begin with the Falcons, Steelers, Texans, Chiefs, Cardinals and Colts swinging their doors open to a very limited number of staff. Here’s hoping there aren’t hiccups, and some momentum can, finally, start to roll in the right direction.

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