MAQB: Alex Smith’s Offseason, Fake Crowd Noise, Watt vs. Bosa Brothers and More

News and notes from around the NFL, including more detail on Alex Smith’s progress, what game broadcasts could look like, more from Ryan Pace on Bears' training camp, Pete Carroll on Antonio Brown and two superstar pairs of brothers.
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We’re now less than a week away from the first real practices, and eight days from everyone being on the practice field. So let’s go …

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• I think there’s been some misunderstanding on Washington QB Alex Smith—with some thinking that he just showed up out of nowhere last week. I’m told he batted 1.000 on attendance during the team’s virtual offseason program and, obviously, has been a part of everything since reporting for camp, save for any of the on-field stuff (Washington put him on active/PUP after his physical, which basically saves them a roster spot as he works back to being game ready). What does that mean? Well, my understanding is Dwayne Haskins will still take the first snap of training camp, whether Smith is out there or not. We’ll see what happens from there. Remember, this isn’t Smith’s first rodeo. He worked with young quarterbacks that would replace him in both San Francisco (Colin Kaepernick) and Kansas City (Patrick Mahomes), so he’s navigated these sorts of waters before.

• Watching the NBA over the weekend made me curious about how you might see the NFL game presented differently in the fall, so I hit up a few executives on Monday to ask how they saw it. As it turns out, this part of the equation has been put largely in the hands of the league’s broadcast partners. Also, a couple things differentiate the NFL from the NBA. First, the league will be playing in empty stadiums (like MLB and the Premier League are), whereas the NBA was basically building what amounted to sound stages around basketball courts from scratch. Second, football is shot differently than basketball is, with the first few rows of the stands less visible in shots of game action than they are in basketball. “You won’t see much above the seat covers at our games,” said one NFC executive. That said, what the networks are hard at work on now is actual crowd noise, which is something they absolutely can study watching the other leagues on TV (and in some cases, are a part of producing for those other leagues).

• Speaking of the seat covers, in late June the NFL approved teams being able to plaster advertising on tarps that can hang over the first eight rows of the stands—but with a twist. Teams can’t go out and sell spot ads to whoever. The space has to go to companies that were corporate partners of the team going back before June 1. So the measure, as it turns out, was more to preserve local sponsorship dollars than it was to generate new revenue.

• The Niners’ dice roll on tight end Jordan Reed—who played for Kyle Shanahan in Washington, and has had his career thrown off track since by serious concussion issues—really does illustrate the stock the team’s brass puts in the position. Shanahan and GM John Lynch have drafted one in three of their four years in San Francisco, while cycling through vets like Garrett Celek and Levine Toilolo there. Which is to say that if Reed can still play, Shanahan gives him a really good shot to do it at a high level, even with the league’s best at the position, George Kittle, already on hand.

• We’ve mentioned a couple times now how we knew nine of the top 10 picks in April’s draft (Joe Burrow being the exception) were going really high before the 2019 season started—which shows how some guys probably could miss this season (especially when you consider how understandable the decision would be) and be OK next year. Who are those guys? A preliminary list I came up with (in alphabetical order): Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman, LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase, Clemson RB Travis Etienne, Penn State LB Micah Parsons, Miami DE Gregory Rousseau, Oregon OT Penei Sewell, Alabama WR Devonta Smith, Alabama CB Patrick Surtain, Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle, Ohio State CB Shaun Wade, Florida State DT Marvin Wilson. Alabama LB Dylan Moses, coming off injury, could play his way on to the list, and there are other running backs (Bama’s Najee Harris is one) who might want to save the mileage. And as of now, three quarterbacks are in that mix, too—Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.

• One thing that was interesting from my conversation with Bears GM Ryan Pace was how he explained some of the creative meeting room changes the team has implemented. Squad and offensive and defensive unit meetings will be held in the team’s field house, with player work stations set six yards (rather than six feet) apart. The normal team meeting room will be the offensive line room this year. And the outside linebacker room will be a posh viewing suite the team has for sponsors, overlooking the practice fields. Obviously, given the circumstances, all of this is necessary. But there is a drawback—Matt Nagy and his staff have to build in travel time as they schedule out the day. “The coaches have had to build in a lot of time for that, when you have time restraints as it is, when you’re testing people in the morning,” Pace said. “So there’s just been a lot of logistical planning in that, because we have meetings scattered over the whole complex.”

The Bears' offensive meeting area.

The Bears' offensive meeting area.

• A good sign that the COVID-19 system is working to a reasonable degree—Dolphins LB Jerome Baker was cleared three days after going on the COVID list, and Bears DL John Jenkins and Vikings LB Anthony Barr were brought back four days after going on. That’s a manageable timeframe in which to get guys back, for now. When we get to the regular season, all this gets a little more interesting.

• The Seahawks have kicked over rocks on Antonio Brown for over a year now, so when coach Pete Carroll talked about Brown on Monday, it was worth listening. “It’s a very complex situation,” he said. “We just need to see how it fits somewhere down the road. That’s all I got for you.” And that, clearly, is a case of leaving the door ajar.

• During his conference call with the local media on Monday, Joey Bosa was asked about he and his brother Nick potentially becoming the first defensive brothers to score $100 million deals—and he responded, “T.J. Watt might beat us there.” And Bosa was right, Watt became eligible for a new deal for the first time this offseason and, after finishing third in DPOY voting in 2019, will probably get one between now and the start of the final year of his rookie deal (2021). And that in itself is pretty nuts to think about, that in a couple years, we’ll have two sets of brothers at that financial level.

• The Jets’ decision to move on from Brian Winters couldn’t have come at a better time for Buffalo—just as the team was processing the loss of starting guard Jon Feliciano for a good chunk of the 2020 season with a pec injury. Credit to Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott for moving aggressively to make sure the environment around Josh Allen remains healthy.

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