MMQB: Cam Newton to New England; Team Doctors Discuss COVID-19 Spread; More

What Norv Turner, Cam Newton’s last full-time offensive coordinator, told Bill Belichick about the former MVP. Plus, two former NFL team doctors talk about disease spread in an NFL locker room, we remember our friend Don Banks and much more.
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Cam Newton had told people over the last few months that he wasn’t really interested in going somewhere as a backup, nor did he feel he was at the juncture of his career where he’d want to be in a mentoring role for a younger quarterback. He’d also demonstrated he was willing to wait out the right situation.

That situation presented itself over the last few days.

Cam Newton’s a Patriot, and that’s a nuclear bomb for a Sunday night in June.

Here’s what I know—Bill Belichick and a number of New England offensive assistants called around on Newton, and the coaches who’ve worked with Newton the last few years really like him. I also know that Belichick has always had an affinity for players he has trouble defending, and the former NFL MVP is 100% that. Cam is 2–0 against New England, and 41-of-57 for 525 yards, six touchdowns and a single pick in those games.

In fact, all this made so much sense in plain sight that a couple days ago, Newton’s last full-time coordinator in Charlotte, Norv Turner, was asked by a friend where Cam would land, and Turner matter-of-factly answered, “Oh, he’s going to New England.” The ex-Panther play-caller didn’t actually know that was about to happen. But he figured it sure could.

Especially since he was one of the coaches Belichick called for a reference on Newton, with Turner offering a strong recommendation to the New England coach a couple months back.

“My whole deal is, when Cam was healthy, and we were there with him [in 2018], we were 6–2,” Turner said last night. “Just look at the tape—played his ass off. His issue was more health than anything else, and from what I understand, I don’t think these are health issues that he can’t overcome. He’s had the time off now. I think he’ll be great.”

And what does this mean for the Patriots? The first two things I thought of were fairly straightforward. First, as much as they may like Jarrett Stidham, there was enough uncertainty there that they weren’t just going to hand him Tom Brady’s old job, otherwise they’d have at least given him a run unopposed early in camp. Second, in the words of another coach who knows the people here well, “Bill was never punting on this season.”

So Newton’s there on a one-year deal, playing for a team that entered the weekend with less than $1 million in cap space, and I’d say it’s a fair bet that if he’s on the Patriots roster come September 13, it’ll be as the team’s starter. Also, obviously, this has huge potential to be the kind of win-win that past Belichick signings like Randy Moss and Darrelle Revis were.

“I think it’ll be really good for Cam,” said Turner. “And I think it’ll be good for the Patriots.”

And potentially bad for everyone who closed the book on the dynasty after Brady left.

I don’t know how this is all going to play out. What I do know is it’ll be worth watching.

SI FANTASY: Cam Newton's value in New England

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***

Well, as you might imagine, we had to call an audible to top my next-to-last MMQB before I go on my annual vacation down to Nantucket, and we’ve got plenty to get through. In this week’s edition …

• A tribute to our ex-co-worker Don Banks, from one of his best friends.

• An opportunity for the league to refresh its pipeline of minority coaches.

• Kyler Murray’s Cardinals camp, co-starring DeAndre Hopkins.

• Where both Tom Brady and Malcolm Jenkins erred this week.

And we’re starting, now that we have the Newton news taken care of, with a look ahead at the NFL summer. Specifically, how practical the COVID-19 guidelines the league laid out really are, with a couple ex-team docs to help us understand the logistics.

***

If you want to know how quickly a virus can spread within an NFL team, and how powerless a team can be to stop it, ex-Patriots team doctor Thomas Gill has a story for you.

He doesn’t remember exactly what it was in January 2007, he just recalls that something ripped through the New England locker room the week after the team upended the top-seeded Chargers in San Diego. So ahead of a trip to Indianapolis for the AFC title game, the doctors and trainers were managing the growing issue, and doing the best they could.

And if you want to believe some old legends about that Sunday afternoon, that even included fighting off some subterfuge coming from the opposition.

“The conspiracy theory—and this is all hearsay, I have no evidence—but everyone said [then Colts president] Bill Polian knew that we had a problem with the flu,” Gill said, laughing about it now. “There were a lot of guys that had been sick and were coming back from injury, and they said he thought if they kept the dome warm we’d get dehydrated. And I’ll be honest, we had a ton of guys cramping up. We were so good at hydrating and all that. We had more guys cramping up and getting dehydrated, it was so darn hot in that dome.

“I remember Rosey Colvin having a real problem. I do remember that was an issue. think I set a record for starting IVs that day, the number of guys cramping up and going down.”

You’ve probably heard the rest of that one. The Patriots built a 21–3 lead, led 21–6 at the break, and then Peyton Manning and the Colts came roaring back in the second half, to get the vaunted Patriots Monkey off their backs. Long story short, New England ran out of gas late, the Colts won 38–34, and Manning had his first championship two weeks later.

But this isn’t about that old rivalry, or even whether Polian did anything wrong.

It’s about how fast a problem like that can move through a football team, even one as drilled down on details as Belichick’s Patriots, and how little a team can do to stop it. In fact, New England dealt with it again last year, when they had to dispatch a second plane to their game in Houston, to fly their sick guys there separate from their healthy ones.

“Whenever somebody got the flu, got a respiratory bug, got diarrhea, an infectious problem, a gastroenteritis problem, we sent them home immediately,” Gill said. “And we would see them, from a medical perspective. But we sent them out of there, they weren’t allowed back in the locker room until they got better. It was probably 20 years ago now, when we didn’t have that protocol, it would go through the locker room very, very quickly.

“And so I think that’s pretty standard around the league [now]. I’ve been around plenty of teams that have literally lost six, seven, eight people at a time, for at least four or five days, because of the flu.”

You can probably imagine why Gill and I were discussing this topic the other day.

***

Let’s start here: COVID-19 didn’t wait until training camp to hit the NFL. Star players such as Von Miller and Zeke Elliott tested positive earlier in the offseason, and we know at least a third of the league’s 32 teams have had cases. This, of course, is before any team has had a single player—save for the guys who are rehabbing—back in the practice facility.

So mapping out what’s ahead starts with the acknowledgment that the coronavirus making a dent in the 2020 season is close to a fait accompli.

“Six weeks ago, I would’ve bet anyone any amount of money that every team will have it by the end of the season,” said Dr. David Chao, the Chargers team physician from 1996–2013. “I’ll make 32 individual bets, and I’ll win 32 of them. Everyone will have a player or a coach by the end of the season. At this point, I might move it up: By Week 1, there’s going to be a player or a coach on every team. We’re at about 10 right now. And players haven’t reported yet. When they report on the 28th, it’s gonna be numbers, numbers, numbers.

“I think it might be 32 out of the 32 then. It’ll be the lucky team that doesn’t have someone. Why? Because 90 [players] are coming in from all parts of the country, you have 25 coaches coming in from all parts of the country, and other team personnel as well. It’s inevitable.”

And if anyone in the NFL needed that driven home, what’s going on in college football has done that for them—Clemson’s reported 37 players testing positive, LSU quarantined 30 of its players and Texas announced it had 13 positive tests among football players, and those are just schools that chose to go public with the numbers.

These programs, by the way, have been back on campus for less than a month.

“The first thought I had was it’s probably mimicking the cities in which those players live,” said Gill, the Pats’ team doc from 1998–2014. “The South is having a huge uptick right now. It’s actually pretty remarkable, if you compare New York, Boston, which were the hotbeds early. I personally thought once warm weather came, it’d be the same thing that happens with a regular flu virus, there’d be a lot less cases. And I figured it’d especially that way in the South.…

“Now the good news on that, the data has pointed to the fact that when you do get it as a younger healthy person, it’s much less severe; there are much fewer hospitalizations, certainly less deaths. So if there is a silver lining, that’s what it is. There’s an uptick in the younger groups, not the older groups.”

To be sure, neither doctor is saying that this means football season is doomed.

Just like I badly want there to be a football season, I got the feeling that these guys want there to be a football season too. But the reality, at this point, is that over the last couple weeks the challenges looming for the NFL have become more complicated, with the virus surging in places like Florida and Texas, where so many players live in the offseason.

That’s why the time seemed right this week to dive into how this will work with a couple of guys who understand both medicine and the dynamics and challenges that NFL teams face. After talking to Gill and Chao, I was able to come away with a few conclusions.

The first key will be keeping COVID out. That seems self-explanatory. But the truth is that when the virus enters the building, the team loses control. Which is plenty reason for teams to be vigilant on who they’re letting in.

“The only way this can work, to be honest with you, you have to head it off before a player with COVID comes in the facility,” Gill said. “So it starts with testing.… Test 14 days prior to camp, and then theoretically, the player needs to self-quarantine from then until they come in, because you have that 14-day latency period, between when you might have it or not. And then you have to do the symptom check and you have to do the temperature check.

“So theoretically, if all that is in, and you prevent COVID from entering the building, then you can practice safely. But I think we’re fooling ourselves if we say, Well, if there’s someone who has COVID, we can keep other players safe on the field and in the locker room with these protocols. I don’t think that’s practical. Prevention is going to be everything.”

Creativity will be necessary. NFL coaches and players are creatures of habit and routine, and all of that will need to be shaken up to comply with the protocols the NFL laid out for camp in a nine-page memo a few weeks ago.

Will it be harder? Yes. Impossible? No. But norms will have to be broken, and schedules will probably look a lot different than they have in the past.

“The immediate solution might be where you have an offensive lineman next to a defensive lineman [in the locker room], and then another offensive lineman, and then spread it out by six feet,” Chao suggested. “Maybe from 8 to 9 a.m., I’m just making it up, is offensive locker room time, and that’s defensive position group meeting time. And then, maybe, from 9 to 9:30 is team meeting time, but it’s in the field house, or in the old San Diego facility, on folding chairs six feet apart with speakers on an auxiliary football field.

“And then maybe at 9:30 you flip, and it’s offensive meeting time and defensive locker room time. And by the way, the quarterbacks are gonna meet in the receiver room, so they can stay six feet apart. And the receivers are gonna meet in the O-line room so they can stay six feet apart. And the O-linemen are gonna meet in the team meeting room, so they can stay six feet apart. And if you don’t have that, maybe you go to the field house.”

All this will take resourcefulness, and a lot of masks. But it seems doable.

There’s some argument over how preventable spread would be on the field. For his part, Chao thinks by managing time players spend huddling or standing around together, the on-field risk can be cut down.

“We don’t have research on how much virus is spewed out when you tackle somebody,” he said. “And we may be surprised. I don’t know. But the current data suggests it’s viral load over time. Think of it this way: You have to be in the presence of a bunch of the virus to get it, it’s not like one particle gets you. It’s not like you go out into the sun for one minute and you get sunburned. It’s that you’re in the sun for a prolonged period of time.

“Now, are you in the sun at high noon, or at 8 a.m., or 5 p.m.? That makes a difference. Do you have sunscreen on? That makes a difference too. It’s about viral load, that’s how you get it. And this is why in some ways, the team environment at the facility is more dangerous than gameday, based on how typical teams are housed and meet and are in locker rooms.”

Gill, conversely, sees more risk in the unavoidable contact during practices and games.

“I gotta be honest, I just don’t see how you can mitigate the risk practicing football,” Gill said. “The whole reason to do masks is, if someone did have COVID and he coughs, the aerosolized virus sticks around for like a half hour, believe it or not, these micro-droplets. So it’s gonna be there, it’s gonna be in the atmosphere.”

There’s no argument that a special COVID-19 reserve list is needed. And that’s one both these docs were passionate about—and that’s as much as anything about encouraging players to report symptoms and take care of themselves in a sport that, culturally, has long encouraged players fighting through whatever they’re faced with.

Creating a short-term COVID IR would allow teams to replace sick players on the roster, without exposing those sick players to risking their livelihoods over it.

“Is there potential for abuse and people using it for an ankle sprain? Sure,” Gill said. “But there should be a 14-day IR for this year, where if someone tests positive or has symptoms, they immediately get put on that 14-day IR. Because what’s going to happen, you’re gonna have players worried about losing their jobs who aren’t going to report symptoms. And they’re gonna say, ‘Well, if I tell them I’m sick, then the guys pushing me for my job will be here, so I’m not going to tell anyone.’

“If you tell them, ‘Look, your job is guaranteed for the next 14 days, we’re going to put you on ice right now, but we don’t have to cut you,’ that would be the single best way to have medical staffs, teams and players really be up front. Protect the players, protect the team, protect the roster, that’s really something I feel pretty strongly about.”

Messaging to players and coaches will be important. For a ton of reasons, the bubble concept we’re seeing in the NBA isn’t feasible in the NFL. That means coaches and players are going to go home, come back to work and travel for games. That adds another layer of challenges for the teams—to convince their people, and in particular their players, to be judicious outside of the facility to best prevent bringing the virus into the facility.

How that message is delivered will be important.

“Instead of rules, rules, rules, rules, tell them, This is the goal, this is why you have to do X, Y and Z,” Chao said. “If you’re going out to dinner with your family, great, go sit on a patio, that’s relatively safe. Or if you’re going to a family birthday party, this is how to do it. Give them solutions. As opposed to giving them rules, rules, rules, I’d be getting their buy-in and explaining to them what’s important. And to stick to those principles when you’re outside the facility, because everyone wants what’s best for the team.

“I think that’s the most effective way. Treat them like adults. Treat them like men.… Part of it is telling them the truth, why we’re separating them. Because the players probably have the question—Well, I’m tackling somebody, so why are you worried about me wearing a mask or staying six feet apart? You have to explain to them why it’s important, so when they go home they can carry out the principles.”

Gill remained skeptical that’ll work.

“I think the older players will get it, I really do,” Gill said. “But younger players, especially right out of college—all you have to do is look at the beaches in South Florida, I just don’t think younger population is particularly worried about it. With all the education, you do the best you can, but the I think chance of that being effective is very minimal. … I think what you have to do is tell them, Listen, the problem is if you test positive, you’re not going to be able to play. That’s a more powerful deterrent.”

Herd immunity could be a factor. And I know this isn’t 100%—there’s still so much we don’t know about COVID-19. But I felt kinda stupid asking these guys about the premise that teams getting the virus early could be at an advantage later, and Gill responded, “It doesn’t sound stupid at all.”

“It’s like the kid who grows up and is never exposed to peanut butter,” Gill said. “When I was growing up, we ate peanut butter, and nobody had a peanut butter allergy. Now, kids are so protected, you aren’t exposing them to anything, and having them live in this hyper clean state. There’s more allergies, more peanut allergies, more asthma, because kids aren’t exposed to things early, they don’t develop immunity. It’s the same thing. …

“Older people, people with respiratory problems, I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about younger, healthy people. Exposing them to someone who might be an asymptomatic carrier, there’s a school of thought that this might help prevent them developing the immunity. If you have COVID going through some teams right now in a significant way, does that mean there’s a higher likelihood they’ll be immunologically protected later in the season? Sure. That’s just basic immunology.”

Chao agreed in part, but added the caveat that, “Immunity is not always binary, yes or no.… Immunity isn’t always absolute.”

The head athletic trainer is going to be important. Chao mentioned how vital ownership, upper football management and head coaches will be in this fight over the coming months. Gill, on the other hand, focused on the one person who figures to be the COVID gatekeeper for every team.

“Without a doubt, the most important guy in every building is gonna be the head athletic trainer. Period,” Gill said. “And the Patriots are lucky with Jim Whelan, he’s the best in the business. But they’re the ones. It’s like during training camp, when they have to make sure every player’s weighed before and after every practice to make sure they’re not losing too much water, they’re the ones that’ll be keeping track of everybody’s temperature, everybody’s symptoms, everybody’s distancing, everybody’s masks.

“One hundred percent, it’s the head athletic trainer. I don’t envy those guys. They had almost an unperformable job beforehand, it is gonna be a really huge challenge moving forward. At the end of the day, they’re the ones that are gonna have to enforce all the rules, nobody else.”

***

So that probably seems like a lot to digest, and it’s really only the start of it. Plus, things are going to change between now and the late July camp report date—we just aren’t sure how yet.

In simpler terms: Whatever’s happening in America COVID-wise will probably give you a pretty good idea of how manageable the virus will be for the NFL, once actual football is getting played.

“I didn’t expect to see this big uptick we’ve seen in the South,” Gill said. “I thought April, May, June, once we were trending in the right direction, I thought to myself, ‘This is good news for the NFL, I think there’s a good chance they’ll be able to do it.’ You’ve got the best medical people in the world working with the NFL. But the reality of this virus is, there’s no way to protect yourself against every possible thing. So I think there’s gonna be a problem.

“Let me put it this way—the NFL will mirror what’s going on in society at that time. That’s the best way to put it.”

And that means the league will have to continue to adjust as roadblocks surface, and in some cases try to forecast those roadblocks before they hit the pavement. One example would be in how they handle the preseason—Chao suggested the idea you cancel two weeks of games, but not necessarily the first two.

Instead, he said, you’d cancel Weeks 1 and 4, with the latter allowing for teams not to mix with one another for the two weeks leading into the opener, which on paper would both allow for teams to test travel and home stadium protocols in Weeks 2 and 3, and give themselves the best chance at having full roster going into September. And from there, you just hope things don’t get worse, with a second wave of COVID possible in-season.

“Way back in March, when everyone thought sports were done for a year, I said I’m more optimistic the NFL will start on time in Week 1 in September than I am of them finishing the season without issues, especially come December and January,” Chao said. “I’d stand by that. I think we’re gonna start on time, but how it goes nobody really knows. My fingers are crossed and I’m hopeful. But yeah, there are gonna be some outbreaks. The question is how you manage it.”

And this much we know—that will remain the question for some time to come.

***

"Donnie Brasco" (second from right) and Farmer (far right) had bit parts alongside Mark Wahlberg in the movie Invincible.

"Donnie Brasco" (second from right) and Farmer (far right) had bit parts alongside Mark Wahlberg in the movie Invincible.

REMEMBERING DON BANKS

It’s still hard for a lot of us to believe Don Banks is gone, and that’s because of how alive he always was while he was here. I can still remember my last conversation with him—I was driving up Route 128 near Boston, and he and I were talked over the phone about his new gig in Vegas—like it happened yesterday. And just on that call alone, it was so clear what we all knew when he passed away a few weeks later.

Don had so much more to give.

That especially went for his relationships with those closest to him. So when he was named the 2020 Dick McCann Award winner, which will gain Banks admission into the writer’s wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I thought most of how happy his wife, Alissa, and his sons, Matt and Micah, must’ve been to see it. And that’s why, when I thought of how we should honor him in this space, on his old site for 16 years at SI, I figured we’d get someone close to him to do it.

Long-time Los Angeles Times football columnist Sam Farmer (last year’s McCann winner) was one of Banks’s oldest buddies on the NFL beat. I asked Sam on Thursday at 2:51 p.m. and he answered at 2:52: “I’d be honored to.” So here’s Farmer on Banks:

A year ago, Don Banks died in Canton.

Now, he’ll live forever there.

Don is winner of the 2020 Dick McCann Award for writing, meaning his name will be memorialized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As sad as it is that he won’t be around to realize this honor, it’s a great and deserving tribute to a phenomenal reporter, incisive writer and loyal friend to so many.

Don and I were very close, so much so that our spouses referred to us as “road wives,” as we’d hang out together when we were in the same city covering training camps, games, the combine, the draft and owners meetings. We had a similar sense of humor. We knew all each other’s stories, yet still laughed in the retelling of them. We all have those types of friends.

If I needed to bounce a funny line off someone, I called Don. If he needed to brainstorm about a story, he’d call me. Even though we were competitors, we trusted each other with sensitive information, knowing that the other guy wouldn’t take that and use it to his advantage. Trust is in short supply these days.

People trusted Don. Coaches, general managers, players. He was unflinching in his storytelling, and didn’t aim to make his subjects happy. But he wrote it as he saw it, avoided taking cheap shots and was exceedingly honest and fair. If he made someone mad—and that happened from time to time—he didn’t shrink from them in the locker room. He’d go right back to them the next day and hear them out. Don showed up.

He was great at doing impersonations, and not the obvious ones a lot of people do. He did brief, spot-on impressions of Paul Tagliabue, [longtime NFL PR man] Greg Aiello and Denny Green. He did a perfect rendition of NFL writer John McClain’s smoky Texas drawl. I know Don mimicked me and the way I lean forward at the keyboard and purse my lips when I write, but he’d never do it for me. He’d get sheepish when I’d ask him to.

I’m convinced that Don’s ability to do those impersonations is related to his skills as a reporter and storyteller. He could pick up on the smallest of details, traits that would escape the notice of most people. He was like that with a story, too. He saw beyond the obvious.

Don and I would bicker like brothers, too. Once, when he was between full-time jobs, I let him share my Super Bowl hotel room with me in Houston. He needed those sound effects from his phone in order to sleep—the wind, the ocean, a babbling brook. By the end of the week, I wanted to toss the damned thing out the window.

Then, under intense deadline pressure at the game, he’d craft a beautiful story with a fully developed angle that none of the 5,000 other reporters had, a unique tale in a sea of sameness.

I was there when Don died, having received the 2019 McCann Award. My wife, Paige, and I were one floor above him in the Canton Courtyard. His wife, Alissa, texted me just before noon Sunday, the day after the enshrinement ceremony. Don was supposed to have landed in Boston, but Alissa hadn’t heard from him since the night before. That was highly unusual, as Don was always good about keeping in touch. He had died in his sleep.

Paige called the front desk, the manager went to check on Don’s room, and that terrible day unfolded from there.

But before he went to bed the night before, Don texted me about the ceremony: “Very cool, road wife. Very cool. Make sure you find time at some point to read my tweet. I was lavish with my praise and it was heartfelt! Proud and happy for you, old friend.”

Back at you, buddy.

***

Longtime Packers assistant Moss led the L.A. Wildcats to a 2–3 record before the XFL shut down operations.

Longtime Packers assistant Moss led the L.A. Wildcats to a 2–3 record before the XFL shut down operations.

ADDING TO THE MINORITY COACH PIPELINE

So I have to give colleague Conor Orr credit for this idea—he and I were talking the other day, and we eventually got to the realization that the NFL has an interesting opportunity this summer to infuse its pipeline of minority coaches.

We all know the deal here, and I’ve written about it a few times over the last couple weeks. There are only three minority head coaches, two offensive coordinators and two QB coaches in the NFL going into this season, and the league itself has conceded that it’s a problem. In fact, just last week, it partnered with the Black College Football Hall of Fame to stage the third annual Quarterback Coaching Summit, which was designed to attack that issue.

And that brings us to the opening the league will have in July and August. With training camps being so different, and work in smaller groups being necessary in some spots, it certainly stands to reason that teams may need an extra coach or two for the summer.

Over the years, there have been internship programs to fill those needs. But with even more on everyone’s plate this time around, I think this could be a chance for the league to get some coaches who are between jobs, and have experience, back on the field, So I made some calls, and came up with a list of some coaches who could be resources for teams in a most unusual summer.

There are some obvious names, like former head coaches Hue Jackson and Steve Wilks, and ex-Cowboys assistant Kris Richard, who need no introduction. My aim here is to give you some who could benefit from some exposure—and there was actually one guy who was going to be on the list (new Chargers intern Cedric Williams) who’s already been plucked for such a role.

Jerricho Cotchery: Cotchery had a great rep as a player, and spent his last three years as the Panthers’ assistant receivers coach.

Bryan Cox: The ex-Dolphins linebacker last worked in the league for the Falcons in 2016, and took some time off from coaching, but could absolutely bring some energy and fire to a team after that break.

Jethro Franklin: A career defensive line coach, Franklin’s got the respect of his peers and has bounced back and forth between the NFL and the major college level.

Curtis Fuller: A secondary coach by trade, Fuller has also worked some on special teams and with linebackers. And, at just 41 years old, he has over a decade of NFL coaching experience.

Jimmie Johnson: A former NFL tight end himself, Johnson coached the position for 13 years in the league, helping to develop Kyle Rudolph into an All-Pro in Minnesota.

Pepper Johnson: Johnson was out of football for a while after winning three rings in 13 years with New England, then spending a year in Buffalo and two with the Jets. He’s done stints the last two years in the AAF and XFL (he was a coordinator for the first time there), and could be a real asset for someone.

Shaun King: The ex-Bucs quarterback was part of the staff that was dismissed at USF last year, but he got four years of coaching under his belt there and obviously has experience at the most important position on the field.

Ty Knott: He was on a staff with Winston Moss and Pepper Johnson in the XFL, and has coached in the NFL on both sides of the ball (defense in New Orleans, offense in Green Bay), while also having two years as a director of player development (in San Francisco).

Winston Moss: Moss was at one point considered to be on the fast track to becoming a head coach. He was a top Packers assistant for all of Mike McCarthy’s 13 years and his assistant head coach for the final 12. This spring, he became a head coach—in the XFL. No question, Moss should be back in the NFL soon.

Darren Perry: The ex-NFL safety has 16 seasons of coaching experience at that level, working with defensive backs, and is steeped in the old Steeler system, having worked for years with Dick LeBeau and Dom Capers.

One note here, too: On this list, we’ve accounted for every position, with the exception of offensive line (since, again, Cedric Williams got hired in L.A.) So there’s plenty of flexibility here for teams to get help where they need it.

***

TEN TAKEAWAYS

Between what Tom Brady and Malcolm Jenkins said this week, I think pro football players came off as a little tone deaf. I really like and respect both guys. But Brady quoting FDR as if America was fighting through a rash of pulled hamstrings probably didn’t send the best message to younger football players across America, and I’m not sure how I’d digest what Malcolm Jenkins said if I was a guy on the fringes of the NFL hoping for a fair shot at competing for a roster spot this summer. The bottom line is, Brady could’ve gotten his work in with his new teammates—quarterbacks like Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, Jimmy Garoppolo, Josh Allen and Matthew Stafford have—without kicking mud on the idea that doing so carried some risk (or insinuating that taking COVID-19 seriously constitutes fear-mongering). And the notion that football is “non-essential” is probably harder to process for your run-of-the-mill punt team gunner, or your low-level team employee or your stadium worker, than it is for a player like Jenkins, who’s going into his 12th NFL season and whose career earnings hover around $60 million. He’s right that football’s not essential. But there are a lot of people whose livelihood revolves around it, who aren’t in the same position he is to take a year off.

The Jamal Adams situation isn’t going away. We detailed last week the slow-moving nature of the market for veteran players—just three have signed extensions with their teams (Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey, Texans OT Laremy Tunsil, Patriots S Patrick Chung). That has to do with the uncertainty of the cap going forward, and it has to do with teams being unwilling to spend the cash, too, with a revenue shortfall now a near-certainty. And I’d say both are major factors in where the Jets stand on Adams. But there’s also the fact that, really, this is GM Joe Douglas’s first big player negotiation. Yes, he signed a free-agent class, but this is a team captain and a homegrown top 10 pick that has inarguably panned out. So there’s an element of tone-setting here too. How will the Adams situation color future negotiations with star players? How will it impact the way players unhappy with their deals approach the team? Remember, Adams has two years left on his contract. There are lots of teams who, as a matter of policy, won’t negotiate with guys that far out. I’d bet on the Jets staying patient on this one.

Kyler Murray seems to be doing all he can to justify the high expectations he’s facing, coming off his Rookie of the Year 2019 season. And that was punctuated with a minicamp he and his agent Erik Burkhardt put together for Cardinals players earlier this month in suburban Dallas. Murray paid to fly in a substantial crew of Arizona skill position guys, put them up at a hotel, and took care of their meals over a four-day period during which the group worked to build an on-field rapport after a spring full of virtual meetings. The workouts were held on the practice fields at Murray’s alma mater, Allen High School (if you want to know how seriously they take football there, click here), and the spacious environment allowed for distancing, with masks and hand sanitizer available for the players. Maybe most notable was the presence of DeAndre Hopkins—this was the first time that he and Murray had met in person, and the two stayed late after each of the workouts to work on hand signals and checks, and get some extra throws in. I’d imagine that all this will have some on-field impact when the Cardinals get to camp in the summer. But I know for certain that Murray’s motivation to do it, and the turnout he got (guys like Christian Kirk and Kenyan Drake made the trip too), are pretty good signs on where he is going into his second year.

Most of what I’ve heard on Dwayne Haskins this offseason has been overwhelmingly positive. The weight loss is part of it. My talk with his throwing coach, Quincy Avery, is part of it. The creativity of his offseason—Avery got him with chess pro Seth Makowsky this spring to do mental conditioning work—is part of it. The drills he ran with receivers/draft classmates Terry McLaurin and Kevin Harmon in D.C. is part of it. And what I’ve heard from the coaches in Washington is, too. Then, there was this from team exec/legend Doug Williams: "I don't care who came out this year, last year, there's not a quarterback that's come out in the last two years that has the ability—from an arm strength standpoint and arm talent—that Dwayne Haskins has.” Now, does any of this mean Haskins is going to break through, like a lot of other recent second-year quarterbacks have? It does not. The team has a big ol’ hole to fill at left tackle, and he won’t be throwing to an all-star team either. But I still believe there’s plenty to work with here, especially since Haskins seems to have done a lot of growing up over the last year (he’s always been a pretty good, genuine kid, according to those around him). And when I asked Ron Rivera, it sure sounded like he agrees with me on that. “It’s been very encouraging, just watching and listening,” Rivera said. “I do watch what’s going on on Twitter, just to see, and a lot of guys post stuff. And he’s one of those guys that puts some good stuff out there, and you can see he’s trying to take a leadership role with some of the young guys, so that’s been good to see.” The hard part comes next, of course. But in a different offseason, Haskins seems to have done all he can to position himself for the summer.

A back injury cost Stafford the second half of the 2019 season and ended his consecutive starts streak at 136 games.

A back injury cost Stafford the second half of the 2019 season and ended his consecutive starts streak at 136 games.

I’d be comfortable buying stock in Matthew Stafford right now. Via his wife’s Instagram account, he spent part of this week working out with teammates, and it wasn’t the first time. He also had a crew out to California, pre-coronavirus, to get work done. And this will be Year 2 for him in Darrell Bevell’s offense, after a pretty promising start last year in the scheme—through eight games, Stafford had thrown 19 touchdowns against just five picks, was maintaining a career-best 106.0 passer rating and was on pace for 5,000 passing yards. Plus, Kenny Golladay, T.J. Hockenson and Kerryon Johnson are all a year older, and D’Andre Swift is getting added to the mix, with a promising line in place. Health, of course, is a question, and has been a lot for Stafford. But if he’s upright, there’s every reason to expect big things from the 32-year-old, and that he’s getting all that work in now is just a small piece of the equation.

Love what Ravens D.C. Wink Martindale in particular, and the staff in general, did this spring in bringing in a long list of speakers to keep things lively over Zoom. You may have heard about this earlier in the week, with John Harbaugh having brought in Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Steve Smith to address the team, and Martindale digging deep to get guys like Larry Holmes, Ryan Howard, Julius Erving, Rex and Rob Ryan, and Baltimore mayoral candidate Brandon Scott in from outside football to talk to his defensive guys. I was able to get some notes on the messages the players got, and there was some cool stuff in there. Former Navy SEAL commander Mark McGinnis told them that soldiers care more about their relationships than their status, and broke down his characteristics for a great team—focus, trust and communication. He said, what he told his SEALs, was to, “Earn your trident every day.” Kentucky coach John Calipari asked why the Ravens couldn’t have eight All-Pros on defense, then answered, “servant leadership.” He said that he felt like his job was to make players uncomfortable in practice, and told the Ravens what he tells his Wildcats: “Forget about the score, it’s about who’s in control.” Dr. J emphasized humility and perspective in life. And Scott told them that the biggest failure of politicians before him came because they were thinking about their next job before they had it. Of course, you can argue how big a difference it’ll make for the Ravens to have had all these people in. But there are two things I really like about it. One, the guys who are listening can take the lessons past their football lives, and making time for that shows them that the coaches give a crap about them. Two, mixing it up is a good way to keep guys engaged during a time in which it would have been easy for anyone to space out, with everything done through a computer screen. So to me, this was a pretty good use of the time the league gave everyone.

There’s an in interesting lesson in the Chiefs’ contract impasse with Chris Jones. Whenever a team makes a big splash by acquiring a player from somewhere else, there will be ripples coming from within. A year after K.C. traded first- and second-round picks to Seattle for pass-rusher Frank Clark, then signed him to a five-year, $105.5 million contract, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the building that would call the move a mistake. And really, it wasn’t one. Clark made an immediate impact as the Chiefs’ once-dreadful defense improved, and was one of the best players on the field for the franchise’s first Super Bowl win in a half-century. But even now, the impact of giving Clark what they did, which is what it was always going to take to get him signed (the franchise tag set the bar for comp, and Dallas’s DeMarcus Lawrence set the bar for money), is being felt. Jones wants $21 million per year, or thereabouts, and that figure isn’t something he and his camp pulled out of the sky. When the Chiefs paid Clark, they set the floor for Jones, who, obviously, could look at what they were giving someone from the outside, and wonder what that should mean for the earning power of someone who’d actually built up some capital inside the building before it was time to actually get paid. And so if you ask me whether or not Jones is going to get a deal by the July 15 deadline for one, I think it boils down to the Chiefs’ willingness to go to $21 million per with Jones, which is a result of their willingness to go there with Clark.

Trent Williams getting a no-tag provision for 2021 is pretty interesting. And not just because the Niners have always been pretty good with the contract stuff—I’d think there may come a point where they approach him about a deal before the season is over. But just the idea he could make it to the market could have an effect on how left tackles are paid. For a few years, good-not-great tackles (Nate Solder, Trent Brown, etc.) made it to the market, and nudged the numbers forward a little, right in the range of $16 million per season. Then, a great tackle, in Laremy Tunsil, got paid at a different level altogether ($22 million per). Now, the ability of Williams to get to the market gives him the leverage to ask for, well, pretty much whatever, and that’s something he did at the end in Washington—I was told at one point he asked for quarterback money, which is part of why things were in such an untenable spot there for so long. So where does this go? We’ll see. I just know that the NFL always seems to need more left tackles than it has, and that’s evidenced by teams with designs on contending this year (Chargers, Broncos) going into the summer without answers they’re completely comfortable with at the position. And yes, Williams badly wanted to play for Kyle Shanahan, and maybe that’ll be enough where this isn’t an issue for the Niners. But if Williams is focused on maximizing his value and taking one more big bite of the NFL’s financial apple, that clause in his new Niners deal has created an open road for him to get there.

I think Drew Brees deserves credit for taking action like he has in the aftermath of his comments on the anthem last month. A lot of guys have written checks—and remember, Brees has too (he made a $5 million donation in the face of rising COVID-19 cases in Louisiana a few months ago). In this case, the quarterback and his wife Brittany will serve as sponsors and participate in the Black College Hall of Fame’s Road to Equality event. And seeing that reminded me of how Saints LB Demario Davis told me that he planned to handle the situation with Brees a few weeks ago. “We’re all gonna be judged by our actions, and my goal is to help him and all my teammates be able to turn their desire into being able to help the community with their actions,” Davis said. “And I’ve always seen myself in that light. That’s the best role I can play. So he and everyone else will have a tremendous opportunity to turn their words into action, because there’s a tremendous amount of need. That can start immediately.” And it has.

So we had our first team sport take the field Saturday, and the 22 players from the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns of the NWSL all took knees during the anthem and wore Black Lives Matter shirts. If you haven’t heard of the teams, that’s OK. I hadn’t either. But it’s fair to guess the NFL is paying attention to what happened there, and has a pretty firm idea of what’s coming on the second weekend in September. It may not wind up being everyone. But there’s going to be a lot of kneeling. And the brilliance of the players’ video of a few weeks ago, as we detailed then, is that it forced NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to pick a side. He picked the players’ side. Which means now, he’ll have to let the players protest as they see fit in September, or risk being branded a phony in their ranks forever. And I’m gonna give Goodell the benefit of the doubt here—I believe he was being genuine in his response video, and will allow the guys to demonstrate. How each individual team handles that is, of course, the next layer to the story.

And a bonus 11th takeaway, since news broke after I filed my story! I’m having trouble getting too worked up over the Patriots’ penalties, levied in the wake of the video-taping situation in Cincinnati. New England was fined $1.1 million and docked a third-round pick for recording the Bengals’ sideline from the Paul Brown Stadium press box, as part of a profile on a pro scout for an in-house video series. I believe the Patriots when they say it was a bad misunderstanding on the part of the crew on hand. I also know that because of the nature of the violation, and the Patriots’ history with this stuff, the league had to come down on them. They have no room for error on these matters, and lost the benefit of the doubt over a decade ago. And that’s really it. It’s over. I can’t believe it took this long.

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SIX FROM THE SIDELINE

1) Kylin Hill can take a bow. The Mississippi State running back—perhaps the highest-profile athlete the state has right now, and a legit NFL prospect—threatened to leave the program last week if the state flag still included the confederacy’s emblem on it in the fall. We may never know how much that had to do with the state legislature actually voting to remove it. But that he had the stomach to do that, and that the state moved soon after he spoke up, is something he can be enormously proud of.

2) I enjoyed Don Van Natta’s Backstory on The Decision, and I agree that the concept was a seminal moment for both athletes and the way they’re covered in this country. The handling of the actual announcement, and lack of empathy for Cleveland that LeBron James and his people showed back then, is what everyone remembers. And to be sure, they walked right into that, and deserve all the criticism they got for it. But the idea of an athlete controlling his message and content has most certainly exploded since then, and James and Maverick Carter were on the forefront of all of it.

3) I guess Florida isn’t the safest place for a sports bubble anymore, and unfortunately it sounds like NBA players might not have to go far off the perimeter to come into contact with COVID-19.

4) MLB’s mess underscores something I’ve learned covering sports labor over the last decade plus—when things are bad, fans don’t really care whose fault it is. All they care about is that the games are being taken away. And generally, that seems to lost on a lot of people involved, but it’s the truth. As such, regardless of who’s at fault, both MLB owners and players look like horse’s rear ends right now.

5) Is it possible hockey comes out of this looking better than the other pro league in this country? Their playoffs are always outstanding, and there’s been pretty limited infighting among those involved.

6) Want some TV to watch [that may or may not be a little trashy]? I’m through two episodes of Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, and I’m totally hooked.

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BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET

Thanks to Colts star Darius Leonard for sharing. The more that stuff’s exposed, the better.

This was really well-done. And even if it’s not an NFL tweet, a bunch of guys in it will be in the league soon enough.

It’s a funny video, but it’s pretty reflective of who Lamar Jackson is. In fact, as I said last week, the biggest thing that stuck out to me on the MVP from my conversations with him last fall was remarkably simple: The guy loves and is very loyal to his teammates.

Sure feels, even now, like a lot changed that night.

I picked this one out for Vick’s 40th because I just remember how revolutionary he was as a collegian—there really weren’t other quarterbacks like him back then. There have been a few since, of course. But the idea of that kind of athlete at QB, with that kind of cannon, seemed so rare at the time.

That move will always get Tre Boston a happy birthday from me.

S/o to my wife for keeping me updated on Ole Blue and the chickens on Jay’s farm.

Don’t worry Haha, I don’t blame you. I’d be the hell out of there too.

We mentioned James’s empire, and it’s worth mentioning that his agency, Klutch, reps both Chase Young and Jeffrey Okudah (Damarious Bilbo is their direct agent), which is a pretty good start for the Lakers’ star in crossing over to the business of football.

Double dutch has pros?

Not very nice.

Perfect.

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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

With much of the league shut down the next couple weeks, the next big date on the calendar is July 15—the deadline for tagged players to do long-term deals with their teams. And to update you, here’s a look at the status of the 15 guys who are in that mix.

Signed franchise tag: Steelers OLB Bud Dupree, Vikings S Anthony Harris, Titans RB Derrick Henry, Chargers TE Hunter Henry, Ravens OLB Matthew Judon, Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, Washington G Brandon Scherff, Patriots G Joe Thuney and Giants DE Leonard Williams.

Unsigned franchise tag: Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett, Bengals WR A.J. Green, Chiefs DT Chris Jones, Jaguars DE Yannick Ngaukoe and Broncos S Justin Simmons.

Signed transition tag: Cardinals RB Kenyan Drake.

I’m on record as saying Prescott gets done. But he might be the only one. And because of the slow pace of any sort of talks, I doubt trades happen either—teams are only going to fork over big capital to get one of these guys, like the Chiefs (Frank Clark) and 49ers (Dee Ford) did last year, if they can get them locked up contractually, which can’t happen post-July 15. (If someone is moved, I’d imagine it’ll be Ngaukoe.)

Maybe there’s a flurry of activity coming. But based on how business has been done during the pandemic league-wide (we’ve only seen three contract extensions since March 23), due to a mountain of financial uncertainty, that seems pretty unlikely.

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