Training camp is going to be different in 2020, and everyone knows that. But even that expectation won’t prevent This is Weird moments from constantly hitting those involved the next few weeks, and Bill O’Brien sure had one over the weekend.
On this day, the Texans rookies were assembled in the team’s reorganized bubble—about 20 of them, sitting at docks, spaced six feet apart and looking forward and at a pull-down video screen—and the seventh-year coach was addressing them. He was wearing a mask. They were wearing masks.
Normal, this was not.
“You have to wear a mask,” O’Brien said from his office Sunday morning. “It is scientifically proven that if you wear a mask, the chances of you getting [COVID-19] go down significantly. So you have to wear a mask. But when you’re wearing a mask in front of your team and you’re trying to speak, and that mask covers your mouth and your nose, that’s not the easiest thing in the world. It’s a different deal. It’s a different norm, and you have to keep plowing through and getting used to it, because it is what it is.
“You look out at the crowd, you see everybody spread out, all around the bubble, we’re in a corner of the bubble, got our video setup there, we’re showing video, PowerPoints, and we all have masks on. And it’s just different.But it’s necessary. It’s what we all have to do. And we’re all doing it because we want to play football.”
Welcome to the NFL’s new season, different from any season before.
Camp is underway in Kansas City and Houston. Veterans for the other 30 teams report on Tuesday. But it’ll be a while before you see what you’re used to seeing this time of year. For most teams, the first full-contact snap of summer is still three weeks away. Between now and then, there’ll be COVID testing, virtual meetings, more COVID testing, physicals, more COVID testing, strength-and-conditioning, more COVID testing and then football practice.
And among all 32 teams, and all the players on them, there’s that shared goal that O’Brien referenced of getting through all of it, to start and finish the year. It’s easy to see, even from that scene in the Houston bubble alone, that it’s going to take a lot of work to get there. Fact is, it’s taken a lot of work just to get here.
I’m back from vacation, and we’re back for my third season doing this column, and fifth at The MMQB. Normally, I’d tell you guys about the big plans we have for the year here. This year, all I’ll say is buckle up, because like everyone else, we’re going to have to adjust as we go. And along those line, this week in the column, we’re bringing you…
• A look at what training camp will look like.
• My insight into Saturday’s blockbuster Jamal Adams trade.
• A recap of the happenings while I was gone.
• Why taking hitting out of practice might become a trend.
But we’re beginning with the start of camp, which has already happened in two NFL cities.
The bubble isn’t the only part of the Texans’ operation that has been retrofitted for the current conditions. The team has rearranged its cafeteria and put in new showers for spacing. Wood flooring has been installed. Three locker rooms are ready to go—the home locker room at NRG Stadium, the visiting locker room and the cheerleaders’ locker room—to house the training camp roster.
And the Texans even had security director Brent Naccara, a former secret service agent, arrange for facial recognition on all the doors so the team could follow recommendations not to use the handles. So above all doors to the team’s offices, workout areas and meeting rooms in the stadium, and to the team’s practice area across the street, there are cameras. You look up, it recognizes you, the door opens—which can be a little strange.
“It is,” O’Brien said. “because sometimes two doors open up—the door, then the next door.”
But it’s also an illustration of the amount of work done ahead of the Texans veterans arriving to work two days ago.
Owner Cal McNair opened the checkbook for all this, and EVP of football operations Jack Easterby captained the operation, with close consultation from team doctor Geoff Kaplan (who the team named as its Infection Control Officer) and director of football operations Clay Hampton. Easterby laid out the plan, Kaplan handled the medical end of it, setting up testing and serving as a liaison to Bio-Reference Laboratories (which is handling NFL testing), and Hampton took care of the logistics and changes to the facility.
And all that does is give the Texans a shot to be at their best. From here, O’Brien and his staff will take the wheel, and over a half-hour break in the morning on Day 2 of camp, two days before 30 of 32 teams get their veterans in house, he and I discussed how he’s gotten ready for all the uncertainty on the road ahead.
Leaning on other coaches. This is where having been in the business for decades helps. In fact, part of the work in setting up the practice bubble for meetings was done through a few phone calls with Ohio State coach Ryan Day, who took O’Brien through what the Buckeyes had done to make their own indoor practice facility double as a meeting area in a safe way.
But information trade between NFL and college coaches is common. What’s less common, but what has happened this year, is information trade between coaches who are not just competitive with each other in the pros, but are in the same division. So it was that two of the guys O’Brien worked closest with to try to find the best way to solve all the new problems were Jaguars coach Doug Marrone and Titans coach Mike Vrabel. And another guy the Texans’ coach singled out as being helpful was his opponent in the season opener, Kansas City’s Andy Reid.
“It’s a close fraternity and guys really care about the game,” O’Brien said. “We all wanna win. But if one team gets shut down, that’s a problem, right? We all want to make sure our teams are able to play, we want to play the season, so everyone’s helping each other out. I think that’s a great thing about our game, we all have such respect for the game. And people wanna win on Sundays, but people also wanna make sure they’re doing the right thing by their colleagues.”
Bottom line, between those coaches, and people like Larry Ferazani and Dawn Aponte at the league office, and Don Davis at the union, O’Brien never felt like he was lacking for people to bounce things off of.
Experience counts, but only to a point. The other day, O’Brien and Marrone were having one of these conversations, and it turned toward O’Brien using his experience from places like Penn State and Maryland, and Marrone his from Syracuse and Georgia Tech, in making up for all the time they’ve already lost, and the lack of time ahead. In college, constraints on practice time are more stringent, and there is no preseason. That, they agreed, will help.
So too, for O’Brien, will having been Patriots offensive coordinator during the 2011 lockout, even if there are some distinct differences from this year to that one. “The only player I saw during the lockout was Matt Light, who was turkey hunting behind the stadium at Gillette,” he said. “In this deal here, we’ve had a ton of communication. We’ve been Zooming our faces off.”
And yes, the Texans would be a team seemingly at an advantage going into this year, with a veteran roster and coaching staff. But given how different this year has been, and will be, the real edge for someone like O’Brien may just be in piecing together all those separate experiences and staying flexible because things can and will change.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” he said. “The problem this year is none of us have experience with this. This is a first for everybody. This is such an unprecedented time.”
Making the most of the time you do have. Most on the outside may look at the eight-day strength-and-conditioning period (and it’s actually nine days, because there’s a day off tucked in there) as sort of a throwaway, but O’Brien doesn’t. Because he hasn’t had the players all offseason, it’s a chance to see where everyone is physically and test them mentally (in the classroom and walkthroughs) on how they absorbed in the spring.
“OTAs are important,” he said. “They’re important for teaching on the field, they’re important for strength-and-conditioning. And you just haven’t had that.”
And after the strength-and-condition phase is over, once actual practices start, there are really only three weeks before teams are into game week for the opener, which means the balance between giving everyone a shot and assessing your roster, and preparing those who will actually play in Week 1 for the opener, will be different than it has been before.
“It’s going to be a difficult year for younger players,” O’Brien said. “With no preseason games, and less practice, especially having no rookie minicamps and no OTAs in the spring, you’re gonna have to get down to who your team is faster than you have in the past and get your team ready to go, and do it in an intelligent way. I’ve had discussions with a lot of different guys on our team.
“One of our leaders is Dylan Cole. In 2017 he was a rookie tryout guy. He stood out to us and then we brought him on to the 90-man, and he played well in the preseason that year, and he made our team, and now he’s a special teams captain. That’s going to be hard for a guy to do this year. That’s just how I see it. It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just going to be more difficult.”
Everyone’s responsibility. The one thing I could very clearly sense in talking to O’Brien was his feeling of responsibility. One piece of that was just in being one of two teams to be first in diving into this new world of pro football, a world that all of us hope only exists for this single year.
“I know coach Reid feels the same way in Kansas City, we’re the first two teams because we play the early game, so we feel a definite responsibility to get this thing off on the right note and do it the right way,” he said. "And if we make a mistake, we have to correct it right away. We have inspectors coming in [Monday night] from the Players Association and the league that are gonna inspect our building and make sure it’s set up right.
“We’re not nervous about that but we want to make sure it’s right for them. We definitely feel the responsibility.”
And then, there’s the responsibility of being where the Texans are geographically.
“Houston’s been a hotspot,” O’Brien said. “One of our major things here is to make sure our players know that, and to calm their nerves a little bit, let them know we have a very clean facility and that the big key is that when they leave the facility, they can’t really go out to eat. They’ve gotta go home and they’ve gotta educate their families on how important it is to stay safe and stay healthy.”
And therein lies a pretty major key to all of this, and how O’Brien was going to address his team later on Sunday afternoon in their camp-opening Zoom meeting. It came up when I asked about how much this is riding on the players making the right decisions after they leave work for the day—which no amount of at-work protocols can account for.
“Really, what that’s going to be about is exactly what you just said. It’s gonna be about talking to our players about what we’ve done in the building but also saying that the most disciplined team away from the building is gonna be a team that’s gonna be there in the end,” O’Brien said. “The team that can leave the building and understand, ‘Hey man, for six months, can’t go out, can’t go to bars, can’t do the things that maybe I usually would do, even a Thursday night dinner.’ You’re gonna have to be as disciplined as you can be when it comes to that. I feel really good about our team. We have a very, very professional team.
“We’ve added some really good veterans on to this team, we’ve had some good veterans on this team, guys that really want to win, that care about winning. I’m really confident in our football team that we can be smart away from the building. But you’re right, you can’t control it. I’m not blind to that. We’ve got to educate our guys almost every single day on it.”
In building the team as they have, with culture a big emphasis this offseason, the Texans hope that the pressure to do right will come from the locker room as much as it does the coaches. And O’Brien named no fewer than 10 guys (from stars like Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt to newcomers like Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb) that he feels confident he can count on for that: “There’s no doubt that they’re going to police each other.”
Of course, most won’t need any reminder of the circumstances, and O’Brien got one more at the meeting with his rookies over the weekend. As he wrapped up, cleanup began, because that makeshift conference room they had set up? It, of course, sat on top of the team’s only indoor practice field, which meant that it was time for all the guys there to do their part.
“The meeting’s over, and everybody’s chipping in, wiping chairs, stacking chairs, because you’re on the field, and a lot of times you’re gonna be practicing there,” O’Brien said. “So if you’re having a walkthrough, everybody’s gotta wipe down the chair, stack the chair and clear it so you can do that.”
That, too, was a little weird. But everyone’s gonna have to get used to it.
AGREEMENTS BETWEEN THE NFL AND NFLPA
Alright, so you want to see what camp is going to look like? We’ve got that for you here, and I’m boiling it down as tightly as I can off the NFL’s internal memo, to make it digestible for all of you.
Days 1 and 2: COVID-19 testing/virtual meetings.
Day 3: Virtual meetings
Day 4: COVID-19 testing/virtual meetings.
Days 5–6: Physicals/daily COVID-19 testing begins.
Days 7–15: Eight days of strength-and-conditioning, walkthroughs.
Days 16–20: Four days of non-contact on-field ramp-up.
Day 21: Padded practices begin (max of 14, no more than three consecutive days at a time).
(One day off is built into the strength-and-conditioning period and one day off built into the on-field ramp-up.)
Basically, the best way to look at this is that the NFL is melding its spring and summer together. Direction for the first two days of the ramp-up is straight from the offseason Phase II rules (no helmets, no offense-vs.-defense drills), with the second two days of the ramp-up mimicking the rules from what would be a normal year’s mandatory full-squad June minicamp. And then you get a three-week camp.
That means, functionally, the Texans and Chiefs start spring-like football practices on Aug. 9, and “camp” on Aug. 14. For the other 30 teams, the former starts on Aug. 12, and the latter on Aug. 17. The cutdown is, as it normally would be, on Sept. 5.
And while we’re here, a few other notes from the NFL/NFLPA negotiations that wrapped up with both sides voting the revisions to the CBA through on Friday afternoon.
• Dr. Allen Sills gave NFL owners an impassioned plea to wear masks during the league’s call, and he pointed to some compelling evidence that we can all take for ourselves. There are a lot of doctors across America who have come in contact with thousands of the sick, and their wellness is a testament to the effectiveness of taking such precautions.
• On the other side, I think it’s important to mention NFLPA senior director of player affairs Don Davis, himself a former player. He was a steadfast voice on sometimes chaotic calls with hundreds of players on the line. He ended one last week with a strong message that players have to be tough in policing one another. At one point, he told the group, “If it was me playing, I’d be damned if someone else was gonna mess with my money.”
• NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has taken his share of criticism over the years, but keeping a force majeure clause out of the CBA proved to be huge here—and gave his union leverage that the basketball and baseball unions lacked. Bottom line, the fact that vested NFL players stood to have their full salaries locked in come Week 1 created huge liability for the owners, and gave the PA a great starting point.
• Also, Smith and commissioner Roger Goodell were speaking very regularly throughout, and had a good working rapport by all accounts, in making their way to a deal. The NFLPA’s Tom DePaso and NFL’s Jeff Pash were also key, and that this didn’t becoming overly vicious makes sense, since the two sides have been bargaining with each other pretty constantly for nearly two years straight—first working toward the CBA, and now on this.
• After the tumult in the executive committee during the last CBA negotiation, the union worked in solidarity here. One source called president J.C. Tretter’s work “Herculean,” considering his newness in the job. And I was told 49ers CB Richard Sherman and Titans LB Wesley Woodyard played huge roles in drawing a hard line on this year’s cap—thus, making sure that players taking the COVID-19 risk in 2020 weren’t going to get screwed.
• As part of working to the financial agreement that set a $175 million floor for next year’s cap, the sides did discuss four areas of growth coming where losses could be made up: new TV contracts, the 17th game, the expanded playoffs and the monetization of gambling. Any losses not accounted for in next year’s cap will be accounted for from 2022–24. But if the league makes what it thinks it can in those four areas, losses might not match what the expectation has been.
• The deadline for opt-outs still hasn’t been set yet. It will be seven days after the lawyers for the two sides finalize side letters to the agreement, and the lawyers are still working on those. As you may have seen, there’s a $350,000 stipend available to at-risk players opting out, and a $150,000 stipend for voluntary opt-outs. There’s also a mid-season opt-out, which players can use a narrow path to exercise (i.e. a family member falling ill, etc.).
• It’s expected that in the final agreement, all club personnel and league officials will be subject to the same responsibilities rules players are. Players are prohibited from attending indoor bars, night clubs, concerts, church services or house parties (with more than 15 people attending), and can be fined and lose game checks for doing so.
• Finally, I’d heard that Giants owner John Mara was a voice for the football people in these negotiations—which is interesting in that coaches and GMs often feel like they don’t have a voice in these rooms. It makes sense, too, since Mara serves with coaches and GMs on the league’s competition committee. And while we’re there, Reid, as O’Brien alluded to, was a pretty key voice for the coaches, as a sounding board for owners, in the process, too.
And now, it’s time to see how all this works.
WHILE I WAS AWAY …
Dak Prescott didn’t get screwed. In fact, that Prescott remains unsigned is actually a product of that. And to illustrate it, we’re going to, again, lay out the different scenarios ahead for Prescott.
Scenario 1: Prescott plays out his $31.409 million tender this year and becomes a free agent in March at age 27.
Scenario 2: Prescott is tagged again in the winter, which locks him in at $37.691 million for 2021. In this case, he makes $69.1 million over two years and, with that money in his pocket, hits the market in March 2022 at age 28.
Scenario 3: Prescott is tagged three times, with the 2022 tag set at $54.275 million. In this scenario, the Cowboys’ QB makes $123.4 million over three years (a hair over $41 million per) and hits the market in March 2023 at 29.
In all those cases, Prescott would take home a pile of cash, and then get a second bite of the apple as an unrestricted free agent before his 30th birthday. So, it was the Cowboys’ job to put something better than that in front of Prescott. They couldn’t quite do it. And it’ll be tougher to do next year, assuming they tag him again, because at that point, he’ll be considering two years at $35 million per or three years at $41 million per and free agency.
All of that, too, is before considering what new deals like one for Deshaun Watson could do to the quarterback market between now and then. Like I said, provided he stays healthy and plays well, Prescott is no victim here. As Kirk Cousins can tell you—he’s got a pretty good shot at coming out of all this a very big winner.
While we’re there, you shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of tag deadline deals. That’s the NFL right now. As we’ve detailed, more than three months went by during which there were just three extensions done, period, across the NFL. And one of those three (Patrick Chung) was actually a pay cut.
Now, there’s been some activity since. Derrick Henry and Chris Jones got paid, as did Patrick Mahomes (we’ll get to them later in the column). But overall? Fourteen guys were franchised this year, and only two (Henry and Jones) wound up getting extensions, which marks the lowest rate since the flat-cap years early in 2011 CBA. And I think what we’ve seen with all this promises to continue for some time to come.
One reason for it is the uncertainty on the economics of the game going forward. Both teams and players are going to tread carefully, because we don’t know what the cap is going to look like over the next four or five years, nor is it as clear how big a boon the 17th game, new gambling money and the next set of television deals will be. Another reason is actually simpler. Some owners just don’t want to spend the cash right now.
That, by the way, doesn’t mean there’ll be no deals in the coming months. Some players are so valuable to their teams (see: Mahomes) that these circumstances bring yield signs, rather than stop signs. For most, though, grand financial aspirations will need to be put on the backburner for the time being.
The Patrick Mahomes deal is complicated, but it’s not. A smart club executive told me this truism once: Every player has a number that, in the course of a negotiation, he won’t be able to say no to. And it’s the team’s job to figure out where that number is, in order to get the best deal possible.
Evidently, Patrick Mahomes’s number was a half-billion. Or thereabouts.
We can argue about the structure (Mahomes will have to wait for the bigger cash payouts) and the full guarantee (the funding rule motivated the Chiefs to use a rolling-guarantee structure, for cashflow issues), and I could take you through all the reasons for it (I did do some of that in a quick-hitter column after the deal was done). But really, the bottom line is Mahomes is likely to see all of the $450 million in new money due between now and 2031.
And moreover, the facts here are the facts. Mahomes wants to play for Andy Reid, and is with a team that figures to be contending for the foreseeable future, and giving the club knowledge of the mega-contract it’ll be working around for the duration of the ’20s provides GM Brett Veach and Co. a leg up in sustaining that success.
For right now, the deal is $10 million—or 29%—clear of the next best deal in football on an average-per-year basis and protects Mahomes in creating massive penalties if K.C. were to bail early anytime soon (again, we detailed that in the prior column). That’s important, too, given a structure in which Mahomes won’t get to the biggest numbers in his contract as fast as most stars typically do.
Is there a chance that, in six years, the deal looks outdated? Yup, there is. Is there a shot that the coming gambling money and new TV deals goose NFL salaries? Uh huh. So, yes, there’s risk involved here for Mahomes. He signed away all of his prime earning years in one fell swoop, and in doing so put a finite monetary value on a 12-year stretch during which it seems the possibilities for him, as a player, are infinite.
That happened because the Chiefs found his number. They were creative, as were Mahomes’s agents, in giving him reasonable assurances that he’d be get all of that number, too, rather than just a percentage of it. It’s a unique deal for a unique player, and one that we don’t need to complicate too much.
The Washington Post story should command your attention. Here’s what I know about the story that led to the firing of Washington pro scouting director Alex Santos and his top assistant Richard Mann, and the resignation of team play-by-play man Larry Michael: It was hardly surprising to most who’ve been around the NFL. Which illustrates the larger issue at work here.
But I can’t speak to it at the level a woman working in the industry can, for obvious reasons. And so I thought it’d be better, this week, to have someone who can speak with that kind of authority explain her reaction to the story. Tania Ganguli’s one of my best friends in the business and a Lakers writer at the L.A. Times. Before she got there, she spent six years covering the NFL, first the Jaguars for the Florida Times-Union and then the Texans for the Houston Chronicle and ESPN. So she knows what women covering the NFL face.
She agreed to give me her reaction to the Post story. Here it is.
The story that Rihannon Walker shared about being sexually harassed at Prime 47 in Indianapolis rang so true to me that I could envision the dimly lit steakhouse with its crowded spaces as scouts and journalists filled the bar and spilled into the dining room. I could also envision seeing exactly what she feared: that when Alex Santos pinched her on the hip without her consent, competing reporters—men and women—watching from nearby would assume she welcomed the advance.
Nearly every woman working in sports has been harassed at some point in her career, whether she recognized it as such at the time or not. Many of us feel that unwanted advances, uncomfortable compliments and even unwelcome touches are just part of the job. If you don’t laugh it off, many of us think, you’ll lose credibility or trust in a boys’ club whose members are inherently suspicious of your presence.
We have to learn how to navigate the source who assumes you want his number for a date, when you actually want it for the same reason all your male colleagues want it—to develop a relationship that will help you write insightfully.
We have to learn how to gently turn down a source who might never cooperate with you again if he feels too harshly rejected.
We have to figure out what to do when a man touches us in a public setting and assumes that’s fine because he thinks, Why else would she be at a bar at the combine?
Many women working for teams and sports leagues feel the exact same way.
I have so much respect for Walker and Nora Princiotti for being willing to share their stories. They will help women who come after them understand that feeling sexualized or uncomfortable shouldn’t just be a normal part of covering the NFL or any sport.
I want to close by saying there are many good men in these spaces as well. I have dear friends who I met covering football—reporters, PR people, team executives, scouts, players, coaches and owners—and many who I work with now as I cover the Lakers for the L.A. Times, who reached out to me about this story.
They were both horrified and unsurprised to learn about the conduct described in the story. I appreciated that Tony Wyllie, a man I respect greatly who had an impossible job as the former PR director for the Washington football team, pushed for an investigation into Walker’s situation.
I loved covering the NFL. I’m hopeful the Post’s story will make it a more inclusive environment.
The allegations against Jets owner Woody Johnson are also significant. On Wednesday, CNN reported that Johnson, on leave from his football job as he serves as U.S. ambassador to the U.K., has made racist and sexist remarks repeatedly during his term in London. And that was on the heels of a Wall Street Journal report detailing his work to influence the U.K. government to push a British Open bid for the Donald Trump-owned Turnberry course.
There were anecdotes in the CNN story, too. One alleged that Johnson questioned why Black History Month was necessary. Another accused Johnson of opining that the “real challenge” facing the Black community was Black fathers leaving their families. Yet another explained that staffers struggled to get Johnson on board for International Women’s Day, with the Jets owner asking why he had to work on a “women’s event.”
The NFL, for its part, directed questions on the matter to the state department.
Interestingly enough, I think where this goes next may lay at the feet of the Jets’ players. This isn’t exactly like the situation involving Clippers owner Donald Sterling a few years back—there was a longer, more sinister track record with Sterling, plus audio recordings—but there is one major parallel. Johnson, like Sterling, is now alleged to have made derogatory comments about Black people as an owner in a majority Black sport.
And a big part of Sterling’s ouster, as I remember it, in 2014, was the pressure coming from the Clippers’ players themselves, with coach Doc Rivers supporting them. We’ve already seen Jamal Adams (now a former Jet) say something. If there’s a groundswell to follow that, it’d certainly make it pretty uncomfortable for everyone involved to have Johnson go forward as owner. Just like it became impossible for the Clippers to move forward with Sterling in charge.
So keep an eye on how all those players choose to handle this.
THE ADAMS BLOCKBUSTER
Another sign this is a different year—a blockbuster deal the magnitude of the Jets/Seahawks whopper is the fourth item in a July column. And don’t get it mixed up, this one could be a franchise-shifter for both teams.
The terms are pretty straightforward. The Seahawks get Adams and a 2022 fourth-round pick. The Jets get a 2021 first-rounder, a 2021 third-rounder, a 2022 first-rounder and safety Bradley McDougald.
The process, likewise, wasn’t too complicated. The teams, I’m told, have been discussing a trade for about a month and a half, so there’s been a pretty fair understanding on what it might take to get it done. But Seahawks GM John Schneider, I’m told, wanted clarity on the future of the cap, given all the unknowns ahead, and so the NFL and NFLPA striking their deal on Friday really became the trigger to make a hypothetical a reality.
Over the last 24 hours, Schneider talked to Jets GM Joe Douglas, and Douglas spoke with Adams’s agent Kevin Conner (basically confirming signing Adams would be impossible), and it wound up getting done. Here, then, is some background on the logic for both teams.
In the Seahawks’ case, this was really the final piece to the rebuild of the secondary that Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas once headlined. Between corners Shaquill Griffin, Tre Flowers and Quinton Dunbar, and safeties Quandre Diggs and Marquise Blair, there was already a ton of promise. And in Adams, Seattle feels like it gets a smaller, more versatile version of Chancellor, who can be the alpha in the secondary that Kam once was.
Seattle also loved Adams coming out of LSU, and the more homework they did, the more they saw an uber-competitor who was perfect for Pete Carroll’s program. The Seahawks also filled needs on multiple fronts, in that Adams can affect the quarterback as a blitzer, and cover the NFC West tight ends (George Kittle, Tyler Higbee) they’ve struggled with of late.
Now, the haul going out was huge. But the Seahawks view picks a little differently than most teams—seeing them more as capital than anything else, and thus seeing this as a chance to trade chips in for a Hall of Fame type of talent. And if you want to put numbers on it, that can be done.
If the Seahawks are slotted 25th overall the next two years, per the draft value chart many teams use, those two picks (at 720 apiece) add to 1,440 points. Throw in the 25th pick in the third round (145 points) and you’re up to 1,585 points. Adams was the sixth pick in the draft, and the sixth pick is worth … 1,600 points. (For the sake of the argument, we’ll call the fourth-rounder involved here what Seattle got for McDougald.)
Now, the counterargument here is obvious. The Seahawks only have Adams under contract for the next two years, and he’s been handed the kind of leverage Laremy Tunsil and Jalen Ramsey had after they were traded on rookie deals last year. Which means keeping Adams long-term is going to be pricey. But if he’s the Chancellor or Troy Polamalu (remember, he played for Carroll at USC) type of presence Seattle thinks he can be, it’ll be worth it.
In the Jets’ case, the picks coming in give Joe Douglas a shot to shape his rebuild through the draft, which is his comfort zone as a scout. After Adams lit up the entire organization last week (the owner on Twitter, and coach Adam Gase to the New York Daily News), it was again clear how far astray the team/player relationship had gone. And if you’re Douglas, in that spot, you have to consider the likelihood of that getting fixed (low) in order to do a fair deal with Adams.
So if Douglas looked at it and figured it’d take a couple years to get the team where he wanted it, it had to be important to ask this question: Will he even still be here for that?
And that’s one reason why you make the move. The upshot is considerable. The team now has five picks in the first three rounds next year, and four first-rounders over the next two years, and all of those signify cost-controlled assets over a period in which there’ll be a lot of cap uncertainty, and the team may have to pay its young quarterback.
The hard part, of course, will be hitting on all those picks. But Douglas was hired on his reputation as a respected scout who came up working the college trail, and this most certainly puts him in position to build a team that’ll have financial flexibility going forward as Sam Darnold comes of age. Also, the team still has another good young safety, in Marcus Maye, on the roster, who should combine with McDougald to soften the on-field blow.
And in Adams’s case, well, this is a walk-off grand slam. He gets to play for a contender, and for one of the best defensive back gurus of the last few decades in the NFL (just check Carroll’s credentials), and he has all that leverage. So he’ll probably wind up rich and happy, which, if we’re being honest, is where we all wanna be.
WHY REMOVING TACKLING FROM PRACTICE COULD BECOME A TREND
You’ve heard a lot of bellyaching over the relative shortage of contact practice NFL players will get ahead of the 2020 season, but there’s one place I know where all of that won’t garner much sympathy. And that place is Hanover, N.H.
It’s been a decade since Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens eliminated live tackling in practice from his program altogether, and it was only a couple years after that, that he and his staff decided to pull live blocking from practice with it. So he’s not guessing when he tells you that he knows that what NFL coaches will be working with this August and early September (that maximum of 14 padded practices) is manageable.
He’s done it himself. Moreover, he continues to do it, by choice.
“The greater adjustment would probably be on the coaches’ end,” Teevens said Wednesday. “I think the players will find that they're fresher. And my sense, if you're forced to go through something like this, when you come out the other side, you're probably going to do more of what you had just done and realize that maybe you don't have to do it the other way.
“And I say that because I asked some coaches on my staff who will be head coaches, and I've asked them all, they were all initially opposed, ‘If you took over a program now, would you do anything different?’ To a man, it’s ‘No.’”
How this happened at Dartmouth is pretty straightforward. Teevens, a coach from the old school, had followed Dr. Bennet Omalu’s findings on CTE. The program had gone through issues with injuries, some concussive, in practice. On the field, the Big Green was struggling, and the coach was going into the final year of his contract. So ahead of the 2010 season, Teevens pulled the trigger on the initial set of changes. The results have been undeniable.
• This is Teevens’s second stint as Dartmouth’s coach. The school brought him back in 2005. He went 9-41 from 2005–09. He’s gone 70–30 since, winning at least eight games (Dartmouth plays a 10-game schedule) five times. Over the last six years, as Dartmouth’s gone all-in on this, the Big Green have gone 47–13 with two Ivy League titles.
• Per Teevens, the team’s injury rate has plummeted since, particular in the area of concussions. “We're the most successful team in the Ivy League over the past seven years,” he said, “and our injury rate is the lowest by far.”
• The 2018 season was a particular glowing example of it. Twenty-one of Dartmouth’s 22 starters that year didn’t miss a single game or practice, and the team logged zero in-season surgeries. That’s right: Zero. That team finished 9–1, and was a five-point loss at Princeton away from the program’s first unbeaten season in two decades.
Now, it’s not like this was just a matter of cutting out hitting. Teevens and his staff had to be creative to make it work.
So they spent the time they used to use for live drills working on technique, and drilling the details. Eventually that led to using the robotic tackling dummies the program has become famous for. But more than just that, it was really the coaches trusting that they had tough guys to begin with, and using resources, in turn, to make them sound. “I’d venture to say we tackle more than anybody in the country,” Teevens said. “We just don't tackle each other.”
In the area of blocking, the idea, really, wound up being the same. In offensive drills, defensive players hold the bags for linemen. In defensive drills, offensive lineman are carrying the bags as they block. It’s still competitive, and Teevens and his staff still go 1s-vs.-1s, it’s just that the carnage is not the same.
The other part of this was selling it. Just as there were some coaches who were skeptical at first, players were too. Teevens remembers an all-league linebacker named Will McNamara who came to him and said, I’m calling B.S. on this one. Weeks later, Teevens recounts, McNamara doubled back and said to the coach, “I honestly feel fresher going to the games at the college level than I did in high school.”
And Teevens himself had concerns. While he put up a strong front, he admits now that he was “scared to death” going into the first game after implementing all this. He was most worried the offense would fumble on contact, and the defense would miss tackles, which is why he’d harped on those things that summer. Turns out, it didn’t take much time to find that the worries were unfounded.
“First quarter,” Teevens said.
In the end, he figured out that doing it this way made his coaches better teachers, and his players fresher and more technically sound and, then, his teams better. It also naturally became a point of emphasis that each guy take care of his teammates in practice. And with the success that’s followed, it’s become a recruiting tool with parents—proof that Teevens and his staff will look out for their kids.
“They look at the success and the championships and so forth, then, ‘Well, wow, I want to be a doctor and I want to be a linebacker, and they get guys doing that,’” Teevens said. “And it's healthy. So that's helped us immensely. Probably the biggest question I have from families is, ‘How do you do it?’ But people nationally are starting to move in that direction. And I think the pace can be picked up.
“And certainly, if the NFL is going to limit the length of preseason and amount of contact in preseason, it's going to be reflected in the drop in injury in preseason, and healthier guys going on into the regular season. Then I think people will take note.”
And in case you’re wondering, really, pro football kind of already has. NFL execs, including VP of football operations Troy Vincent, have met with Teevens in recent years to discuss all of this.
Getting coaches to move more in that direction has obviously been a bit of a tougher sell. Maybe, thanks to these wild circumstances we’re all in, we see that change a little the next few weeks.
Alex Smith deserves huge credit for making it this far. That was one gruesome injury he suffered, and the fact that he’s been cleared by any doctor to play football less than two years later is miracle of modern science. Here’s the thing, though—he still hasn’t been cleared by Washington’s doctors. I’m told he is scheduled to take a physical with the team Monday and has been a part of meetings throughout. I also know that with this sort of injury, it’d hardly be a surprise to see the team start him slowly (lots of players post-surgery start camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list as a precaution). So my feeling is that this will be a wait-and-see situation. At any rate, the team now has a pretty intriguing room at the position, with a 23-year-old first-round pick (Dwayne Haskins) and 24-year-old with experience in the system (Kyle Allen) now potentially being joined by a very accomplished and respected veteran. Add in Smith’s track record working with younger quarterbacks (both Colin Kaepernick and Patrick Mahomes loved him), and I’d say this constitutes a healthy situation at a key spot going into Ron Rivera’s first year.
I don’t think the cancellation of the supplemental draft got enough attention. During my break I tweeted out the full memo that went out to teams to inform them of the league’s decision on that. There wasn’t much there—"Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL may elect each year to hold or not to hold a Supplemental Draft. We have discussed whether to hold a Supplemental Draft with the CEC, which concluded that, in light of current conditions, the League should not hold a Supplemental Draft this year.” That was it, and it only fueled speculation among scouts that the NFL was concerned that a boatload of players would look to bail on their college teams, given the uncertainty surrounding the season at that level. And assuming there’s a kernel of truth in that idea, that should inform you on how the NFL will handle its business with the powers-that-be in college football and the 2021 draft. I’d expect the league to do all it can to accommodate the major conferences playing their seasons out, with as many players still on those rosters as possible. It’s in the NFL’s best interest to protect its de facto minor league, one that doubles as an absolute marketing machine in making players famous ahead of the draft and their entrance into the big leagues. So if that means moving the draft back next year to accommodate a spring college season? It wouldn’t shock me in the least to see it, no matter how much chest-pounding Park Ave. may do in saying they won’t move their biggest offseason event.
The quarantine quarterback is actually a pretty decent idea. I had a good conversation on Sunday morning with veteran agent Mike McCartney, who explained the concept he’s discussed with teams on his own free agent quarterbacks. Teams could carry these guys on their rosters, trust them to get the physical work they need to away from the facility, and have them in on all the meetings virtually. Those teams could either have those guys living at home, and fly them in as needed, or ask them to move to the team’s city for the season and hole up at an apartment nearby. For the players? Getting paid $12,000 per week (vets on the expanded practice squad will make $204,000 for the year) to fill that role seems like good work if you can get it. “It just makes too much sense,” McCartney said. “That’s an extremely inexpensive insurance policy at the most important position, and it gives you a guy who not just knows the offense but is keeping up with the intricacies of the game plan every week.” And the team would be protecting against the doomsday scenario of a COVID-19 outbreak wiping out the quarterback room on a Friday, two days before a game. So anyway, McCartney’s been working on this with experienced clients like Josh McCown (who you could connect to staffs in Philly and Chicago, and who lives in Charlotte) and Drew Stanton (who you can connect to Arizona, Tampa and Dallas). And certainly, those two aren’t the only guys who’d be qualified for that sort of role.
The Pro Bowl might be on death’s doorstep. The NFL and NFLPA were shaking the proverbial couch for quarters to make up for the looming revenue shortfall, and they found areas where pay now can be deferred to try and manage the salary cap going forward. One was the performance-based pay program. Another was in the checks players on the best teams get for the playoff bye week. And then, there’s the Pro Bowl. The league already has had enough trouble trying to get players to participate in its all-star game. Now, with the potential they’d be playing the game and waiting years to be paid for it? It’s just another reason for guys to sit out an event that’s become progressively less and less legitimate over the years. It is, of course, still an honor for players to be picked for it. But once a guy’s been once or twice, the lure of playing goes away, and the attrition that happens every year diminishes the meaning of being picked (since so many guys can claim being called “Pro Bowlers”.) Add all this to the obvious COVID risk of playing an all-star game, full of guys from all over the country, and I’d say the idea that the game will be played in January is iffy at best. And if it goes away this year, I think it’s fair to ask if there’ll be any motivation to bring it back.
The Titans’ contract for Derrick Henry is a win for both sides. Tennessee, because of its style of play, had to some degree boxed itself in here. Do I think Henry gets a four-year, $50 million deal if he hits the open market? I do not. But the fact is that the 6' 3", 238-pound wrecking ball is more valuable to the Titans than he would be to anyone else, because he facilitates that style of play. Tagging Henry twice would’ve cost Tennessee $22.6 million, so the Titans guaranteed a little less than $3 million more than that over the first two years to get the two extra years of team control on the back end. And in the end, on an average per year basis, they’re paying him about what they’re paying starting guard Rodger Saffold, and making him around the 100th-highest paid player in football. As for Henry, he gets more than he otherwise would have because he’s playing for a team for which he’s a tremendous fit. So, like I said, I think this is a reasonable, win-win deal for everyone. And it’ll be interesting to see how it might affect what Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon and Alvin Kamara get, because it’s certainly well short of Zeke Elliott/Christian McCaffrey territory.
The Chris Jones deal signifies the Chiefs have largely identified their core group going forward. There are currently 10 guys (discounting G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who opted out) on the Kansas City roster making $8 million or more per year: Mahomes, Jones, DE Frank Clark, WR Tyreek Hill, S Tyrann Mathieu, LT Eric Fisher, TE Travis Kelce, LB Anthony Hitchens, WR Sammy Watkins and RT Mitchell Schwartz. Some will move off the roster in the coming years. Others will stay on. But this marks now, particularly with Mahomes coming off his rookie deal, how the team-building paradigm will have to shift. The composite APY of those 10 is $156.32 million, leaving little breathing room going forward, long-term, for the team to fill out the other 43 spots on the roster. That should make draft picks more valuable to the team going forward, and certainly shrinks the margin for error that GM Brett Veach and his department will face in addressing holes. That said, looking at that group of players, I’d say this qualifies as a good problem to have.
Big shoutout to Duvernay-Tardif. I don’t know if the guy will ever play football again. But if he were to walk away today in order to help those in need in the face of a worldwide pandemic, that is one hell of a way to go. So salute to him. (Here’s a first-person piece he wrote for The MMQB in April.)
The Dolphins are a great example of how the option to cut to 80 now or wait will be used differently by different teams. In case you haven’t seen the rule, it’s pretty easy to explain. Teams have two options. They can either cut down to 80 now. Or they can stay at 90, and go split-squad until they cut to 80—with the deadline to do so being Aug. 16. If a team does go split-squad, the rules say that one side will be vets; the other will rookies, first-year players, injured guys and select backup quarterbacks. And if you have a veteran team, that split-squad option might be alright. But if you’re young, and Miami is really young, then you’re going to want to have your draft picks (the Dolphins have six guys picked in the Top 70) with the larger group to better prepare them to play come Week 1. And that especially goes if you have a rookie quarterback you might want to give a shot to play Week 1 too.
I think there’s more proof now that Mike Zimmer was made to wait too long for his shot, which many of us knew before the Vikings hired him. The coach signed his third contract with the team this week, this one extending him through 2023, which would be his 10th season with the team. The 64-year-old, hired into the job at the ripe old age of 57, was a perpetual bridesmaid on the coaching circuit before then, and for a very specific reason, one that could be instructive for owners even now: He often pissed teams off in the interview by being overly honest in what he thought of them. That, for better or worse, is who Zimmer has always been. He just needed someone who actually wanted to be told what they were doing wrong, and he found that person in Minnesota GM Rick Spielman in early 2014. I remember asking Spielman about that a couple years later. He laughed, and said, “That's what appealed to me most. I loved that. I was like, God, this is awesome. There's no bull----! We probably spent 16 hours interviewing him. We spent a lot of time together. And that's probably the one thing that drew us to him, how blunt he was." Fifty-seven wins and three playoff appearances later, if you’re a team looking for a coach, here’s the lesson for teams he turned off, blunt as Zimmer himself: Stop being so sensitive.
I don’t think enough people are paying attention to the coaches’ health in all this. They’re older than the players. Many have underlying conditions. And beyond all of that, since they’ll be meeting with each other, and their individual groups of players, they may have more potential to spread COVID-19 than anyone else in these buildings. I can tell you, a lot of them are concerned about all of this. It’s reason enough for all of them to take the protocols they’ve been given, complicated as they are, very seriously. We’ve all talked about the potential for a team’s quarterback room or offensive line being wiped out. What if a team loses its head coach and a coordinator in one fell swoop. It’s not crazy to consider.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINE
2) Clippers guard Lou Williams saying that he just went to Magic City in Atlanta to pick up some food is priceless. Regardless of how good the wings there are.
3) Oklahoma’s decision to move up its opener against Missouri State is an intriguing one, in how it creates some scheduling flexibility for the program. And it means we get football a week sooner.
4) I hope the great sports fans in Buffalo—no matter what my buddy and podcast partner Andy Gresh thinks of them—get a shot to attend a Blue Jays game while the Jays are there. That ballpark is a pretty cool one too. And if you didn’t know, it actually was the first of the retro parks, predating Camden Yards by four years.
5) I haven’t followed it that closely, but it sure seems like the NHL is doing a lot right in its restart plan.
6) I didn’t like the Seattle Kraken name at first. But it’s growing on me, and the uniforms are sick. Now, here’s hoping Seattle gets a basketball team to put in that arena, too.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
All the best to my ex-colleague and friend Chris Wesseling. We’re all behind you, bud.
If you don’t get this reference, that might mean I’m getting old.
Very creative work by the Chiefs’ PR crew.
It didn’t seem like great form to me. But I’m not going to tell Von Miller that, either.
Best live reaction to a trade I can remember.
Again, he did win in this situation.
I know this: Carroll’s gonna let Adams be himself. And as you can see, that means there’s a good chance things get pretty entertaining.
In case you want some football to look forward too, Chiefs-Ravens is on Sept. 28. Two months from Tuesday.
And more reason to be excited for the fall.
The league and union have been bracing for dozens of positive tests to start camp, given that they’re onboarding around 3,000 players, so this is probably just the start.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
My camp travel is in flux. I plan to keep you guys posted on this, but travel will obviously be different this year than most, and we’re working through all of this with the knowledge that actual football practices are still a couple weeks away.
That said, you can count on us covering all the weirdness that’s coming the next few weeks. And know that, eventually, we’ll be doing that on location, too.
See you guys this afternoon for the return of the MAQB.
• Question or comment? Email us.