If you had questions about Marquise Goodwin’s conviction after he opted out of the 2020 season, the Eagles receiver hit social media Thursday to erase any lingering doubt.
“I’ve gotten so many messages and @‘s from ‘concerned’ fans telling me how stupid I am and that this COVID-19 isn’t that serious,” Goodwin wrote on Twitter. “I bet my bank account that there are 150k dead people that would argue different.”
What he wouldn’t bet was his family’s well-being on a football season being played.
In fact, once the opt-out was presented to Goodwin and his wife last week, the rest really became academic. Morgan Goodwin lost a prematurely born son in 2017, and unborn twin boys in 2018—the former due to an incompetent cervix, the latter after Morgan learned her abdominal cerclage was failing. In the first case, Marquise was away playing in a football game. In the second case, he had to fly back across the country to be with Morgan.
So in this case? The Goodwins were leaving nothing to chance. Marquise and Morgan now have a healthy five-month-old daughter named Marae, and when Marquise and I talked on Monday, it wasn’t hard to notice how present she was.
“You hear her in the background right now?” he said, as Marae chattered enthusiastically. “She’s over on the couch playing and getting her diaper changed. All this is something I really look forward to now.”
And after making his decision, he’s got a lot more of it to look forward to now.
The GamePlan is back! And we’re just getting off the ground for 2020 training camp. Travel’s still a week or two away, but that won’t keep us from covering a bunch of stuff in this week’s edition. Among those things …
• A preseason power ranking.
• How coaches and scouts see camp practices being different this year.
• The impact John Lynch may have on NFL front offices.
And we’re starting with the story of the one opt-out that may make you reconsider what you think of all opt-outs.
Goodwin, to be sure, isn’t the only opt-out hearing it on social media this week. Some might yell at Dont’a Hightower that he’s copping out on his teammates. Others would try and explain to Laurent Duvernay-Tardif that the virus isn’t that serious (which, if you know who Duvernay-Tardif is, is pretty hilarious). More could cross the line to say that these guys are ungrateful for what they have or self-centered for their decision.
Let’s just call Goodwin the opposite of that. He’s grateful to have his daughter and believes, considering the circumstances, the only self-centered call here would’ve been to play.
And after all he and Morgan have been through the last three years, maybe this conclusion really was written in the stars from the start. But back in March and April, when so much was unknown, Goodwin wasn’t looking to skip out on anything. He’d just signed with Philly, was deep into training for the fall, and overjoyed with the arrival of Marae.
Yes, he’d kept up on the spread of COVID-19, even if it hadn’t yet hit Texas, where he makes his offseason home, like it would months later. No, he wasn’t overly worried at the time that it would be much of a factor once football season arrived.
“Nah, I didn’t really think about that,” Goodwin said. “I focus on what’s going on today.”
But April turned to May, and May became June, and along the way, the Goodwins came to the point where what had once seemed like a far-off worst-case scenario was creeping into reality, and plans for the training camp and the season became a daily discussion point in their Dallas-area home. By July, Goodwin was a regular on NFLPA calls, with he and his wife in agreement that the only thing that’d save his season would be the ultimate moonshot.
That would be a vaccine that, of course, wouldn’t arrive nearly in time. Since it didn’t, and after all those long talks, Goodwin knew what he had to do.
“It was very obvious,” Goodwin explained, “I didn’t even have to think about it.”
That said, before they made their final call, they wanted to see the options the league and union put in front of them. Those came on Friday. By the next morning, the wheels were in motion, and Goodwin’s 2020 football campaign was about to end.
Goodwin’s a principled guy, so his handling of the news was executed methodically. He first called the Eagles’ director of player engagement, Paul Lancaster, with whom Goodwin had a relationship going back to his four years in Buffalo (2013-16), and in whom Goodwin had confided in the past. Lancaster advised Goodwin to do what he already knew to—handle it professionally.
The next call was to receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, who Goodwin worked with—virtually, of course—through the offseason months. Then, came the calls to GM Howie Roseman and coach Doug Pederson. Roseman, Goodwin says, “never tried to sway me in any way. He respected my decision as a man, because he knew my history, our losses.” And he and Pederson offered a common message.
“They both stressed to me that they can’t talk about football as family—our organization is a family—and then force me to come in and play football, knowing the situation,” Goodwin said. “They were very supportive.”
And that was reinforced after Roseman told Goodwin to give himself 24 hours to finalize the decision for himself. After that, Goodwin doubled back to check in with Pederson again. Pederson brought things back around to his own faith, and relationship with God, which struck one final chord with the veteran receiver.
“My respect for him went through the roof,” Goodwin said of the moment the two shared, as Goodwin officially said goodbye for 2020. “I always had great respect for him, because I’ve heard nothing but great things from players around the league who played for him. And when he mentioned God and his love for his family, and his love for the game, and his love for God, that really hit me hard. I’ll appreciate him forever.”
Then Carson Wentz called. Then, Zach Ertz. Then, DeSean Jackson. Then, his teammates from San Francisco started reaching out, and even some guys from his Buffalo days.
“The guys who were consistently texting me and have been in my corner and helped me through this,” Goodwin said. “It’s been a comforting time for me, because a decision that would be hard for a lot of people was really, really made easy for me because of the support I’ve had since I made that decision and went public with it.”
To be clear, Goodwin, an Olympian in the long jump in addition to all he’s accomplished as a football player, won’t exactly be hanging on the couch and downing Ho Hos this fall.
He’ll go forward with the workout regimen he’s adhered to through spring and summer—"I haven’t quite mapped it out yet, but working out and training is my lifestyle”—and his family will be seamlessly incorporated into that. Morgan is an elite track athlete herself, a former nine-time First-Team All-America at the Universtiy of Texas, so she’ll be out there. Goodwin has a quarterback too. His brother Rickey Pegeus (“the best athlete in our family,” Goodwin says) was a high school signal-caller, and has been throwing to him all offseason.
And Marae will be out there with them.
“That’s what’s special about this opportunity,” Goodwin said. “I try to pull positives out of every situation, and the big positive is I get to see my baby girl all day every day. She goes to the track with us, she’s in the weight room with us, I get to bathe her, I get to do all these things. And I have energy, I don’t have to be at the facility for 10, 12, 14 hours a day, staying and getting extra treatment, starting and doing extra with the team. I’m here.”
Goodwin’s also planning to spend more time with his mom, Tamina, and help her care for his sister Deja, who was born with cerebral palsy and is disabled. They live just 12 minutes away and, generally, Goodwin wouldn’t be able to see them more than maybe once or twice during his six-month season, wherever he was as a football player.
Therein, lies the whole idea here. First and foremost, Goodwin doesn’t want to have any regrets—either about exposing his loved ones to COVID-19, or about not taking advantage of an opportunity to give Marae something that he wasn’t fortunate enough to have.
“I get to see my baby’s development,” he said. “I get to change diapers, I get to be a real father, something that I didn’t have growing up. A lot of people don’t even know that about me, I grew up without a father. My father was never really a big part of my life, he ended up passing away a few years ago, my biological father. And the guy I consider my dad, he was incarcerated for a crime he didn’t even commit, which is part of the reason I protest.
“So I’ve never had that opportunity, to have my daddy. And for the next six months, I’m investing that into my baby girl. I don’t want her to grow up ever thinking that I chose work over her or that I chose to not be in her life.”
He also doesn’t want anyone to think he’s giving up football, because he’s not. He’s already arranging with Moorehead to be a part of the Eagles’ receiver meetings, as much as he can, through the coming months, and says he won’t have to watch Philly on TV because he’ll be studying their film.
As he explains it, “I’m still part of the team, I still have my playbook, I still have my Eagles gear. I just won’t be wearing the jersey and the helmet this year on the field, and the fans won’t get to see me in the midnight green.” He also believes that going through what he went through football-wise last year—he was on IR as his 49ers teammates made their Super Bowl run—prepared him mentally for what’s coming.
Then again, there’s very little doubt in his mind that there’ll be plenty he’ll miss.
“I didn’t walk away from football,” he said. “I just made a decision that was best for my family for this year. And I’ll be playing again next year, or whenever COVID is resolved. But I guess you could say the hardest thing for me is just not being able to play. Football is a game that I love and played and held dear to my heart since I was a 9-year-old little boy in West Texas that started playing football on the East Side [of Lubbock].
“It was a dream of mine to play in the league, and play a lot of years in the league. And here I am 20 years later still playing this game that I loved so much as a kid. And now, for the first time in my life, I’ll go a full year without playing. It’s tough.”
Tough, but Goodwin’s confident he’ll be able to live with his decision. And he knows, deep down, it’d have been much harder to do so with the alternative.
Camp’s here (sort of), so we’re going to go back to a more traditional power ranking this week. Call this my version of the preseason AP poll, but for NFL teams.
1) Chiefs (15-4): If the reigning champions have a legendary head coach and a 24-year-old quarterback who’s already got a regular season MVP and a Super Bowl MVP to his name, you’d really have to be trying to put someone else No. 1. I’m not gonna try.
2) Ravens (14-3): Challenges lie ahead for the Ravens, of course. The coaches have to keep moving the offensive scheme forward for Lamar Jackson, Jackson has to avoid injury (which is tough for a QB with the workload he carries), and a replacement for Marshal Yanda has to be found. But the foundation here remains rock solid.
3) 49ers (15-4): Losing DeForest Buckner is a blow, but the Niners were able to lock up Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward as a result, and bring in first-round pick Javon Kinlaw as a replacement. Trent Williams may be an upgrade at left tackle over franchise cornerstone Joe Staley, and I believe Jimmy Garoppolo’s going to take a leap forward in Year 2 off the ACL injury. Plus, Kyle Shanahan’s a top five coach.
4) Saints (13-4): I’m baffled when people look at Drew Brees’s age and act like New Orleans’s whole roster is on the back nine. The truth is the Saints’ draft record over the last four years has been off the charts, to the point where Brees doesn’t need to carry the team at all anymore. The baseline here is double-digit wins.
5) Eagles (9-8): I was bullish on Philly’s roster going into last year, and it’s still really good. Much here rides on Carson Wentz’s health. But this team is rock solid along the lines of scrimmage, even without Brandon Brooks, and that’s usually enough to keep you in it every week in the NFL.
THE BIG QUESTION
How will training camp be different?
After talking to coaches and execs about this, I do think we’ll see some pretty clear and obvious differences. Here are a few …
• Starting jobs will be clarified more quickly. Teams have much less time to get players ready, so with three weeks of camp leading into a game week (and without preseason games or joint practices to test guys), there won’t be time to dillydally with the proverbial “camp battles.”
• Starters will get the reps. This relates to that too. Again, there are only so many manhours you’ve got before the opener, and the best thing for the team in a lot of these cases will be to use them to help the starters get ready.
• The disappearance of the camp body. The truth is, there are a good number of guys in each training camp every year, when the roster is at 90, who are there to be tossed into traffic. This year, there won’t be as much of a need for that guy, who in the past would help you get through preseason games, and with the management of older veterans.
• Aggressive schedule with contact. Some teams, I believe, will max out their allotment of 14 fully-padded practices to try and get guys ready, and to better get a read on young players. Thing is, to do that within a three-week span, factoring in rules about consecutive days of practice and days in pads, there will be a lot of hitting in a relatively short stretch. (I think other teams will back off their guys.)
• Shorter actual practice sessions. If you’re ratcheting up the intensity in practice, you can’t go for as long, which might mean the amount of time spent on the field could be, to some degree, reduced. Which would be another way that rookies would lose a shot to earn jobs or playing time.
• Multiple sessions happening at once. This is what you’d see at the college level and something that’s really only possible when the rosters are at 80 or 90—simultaneous practices or walkthroughs happening on adjacent fields to maximize reps.
WHAT NO ONE’S TALKING ABOUT
The value of the ex-player in an organization.
This week, the Niners finalized a five-year deal to reward GM John Lynch for his work over the last three years—and it’s clearly well-deserved. Lynch helped shepherd San Francisco from a totally broken situation to the Super Bowl in short order. And as would be the case with any GM, stocking the roster was a big part of it. He worked in concert with Kyle Shanahan to build a very sound, very sustainable group.
But Lynch’s ability to do that wasn’t what drew Niners owner Jed York to ex-All-Pro safety in the first place. Hell, Lynch’s experience in scouting was limited to shadowing his friend John Elway a few times in Denver. No, the pull for York with Lynch was Lynch’s leadership skill and ability to pull people together, which was critical at the time for a franchise that had become badly fractured.
And pull people together Lynch has. He hired a strong scouting department, headed by VP of player personnel Adam Peters (a product of Elway’s staff in Denver), and his work has helped allow the arms of the operation run by Shanahan and EVP of football operations Paraag Marathe to sing in concerts with the group that he and Peters head up.
Which is similar to what Elway did in his early years in Denver—you may remember the Broncos icon was brought aboard, first and foremost, to get the different parts of that organization back on the same page.
So now, we’ve seen Elway do this in Denver and win a Super Bowl, and Lynch do it and get to one in San Francisco, and it sure makes you wonder who might be the next team to lure an ex-player to come in as an organizational unifier. It’s long been believed that Peyton Manning has designs on such a role, and I’d doubt he’s the only one. Troy Aikman is one guy that I believe would be good for it. Lynch’s old teammate Ronde Barber is another.
There are more, too, and so it should be interesting to see if anyone else looking for a franchise makeover goes looking for their own John Elway or John Lynch.
THE FINAL WORD
We’re going to hear more about outbreaks across all sports the next few weeks—you’ve heard the stories from the Marlins, Rutgers and Michigan State—and if you want to know how NFL teams are looking at it, focus more on what happens from here, and not what’s already gone down.
The bottom line is that the NFL and its teams knew there were going to be positive tests and opt-outs and knew that it wouldn’t take much to trigger an outbreak somewhere.
The challenge will be if and how a sports team can come out of it and return to competition. We’ve already seen major-conference football programs at Ohio State, North Carolina, Kansas and Kansas State forced to shut down workouts, and all have resumed since. NFL teams looked at those cases, and they’ll look at the more recent ones too, to try and figure how to effectively manage what will inevitably happen somewhere in pro football.
That, to me, is the key here. A pro football franchise, especially one living outside a bubble, isn’t going to kill the virus. But what teams can do is minimize risk and manage problems as they arise. And learn from others who prove to do that well.
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