The year was 2003. And while the Patriots had a title in their back pockets already, few had any idea what would unfold over the two decades to follow. Some thought Bill Belichick might’ve been the beneficiary of a single season sprinkled with fairy dust. Others believed the physically underwhelming Tom Brady was still just a system quarterback.
But behind closed doors, in the smallest of groups, the NFL’s future was on display.
Ted Johnson, a Patriot linebacker from 1996 to 2004, was there for this 7:30 a.m. captains’ meeting—a once-a-week ritual Belichick used to get the pulse of his locker room on Fridays—as the coach went around the room to hear player feedback on the game plan. Most guys addressed Belichick like a player would a coach. Brady, in this particular moment, didn’t, instead pushing back on where the conversation had gone.
Bill, I think we go up top on these guys a lot in the first, Brady said.
You’re right, Belichick responded. We’ll torch these a------- deep.
“The casual nature, the way he talked to Bill was so instinctive, so comfortable,” Johnson says. “It was shocking to me. You see that and let’s face it, Tom’s like a lot of people have been in that organization. He’s like Lawyer Milloy, maybe Ty [Law], maybe [Richard] Seymour. They all think, Yeah, I’m different, though. I’m Lawyer Milloy. Bill’s not gonna do that to me. Bill’s not gonna ask me to take pay cuts; he’s not gonna screw with my contract.
“Oh yes he will. He will.”
The lesson resulting from this particular anecdote is complex. It shows that Brady, as much as Belichick, was on the ground floor in building the Patriots into one of America’s greatest sports dynasties. It shows where the Patriots’ resolve that Brady would go from caretaker to superstar was born. It also shows how Brady earned his voice in the organization, in that Belichick so quickly agreed with him at a very early age.
But mostly, it showed why it’s been so hard the last two decades to figure who was most responsible for trips to nine Super Bowls, six championships and 17 division titles, and why the end was always going to be bumpy, with the line blurred between employee and partner.
This year, finally, with the guys apart for the first time since the turn of the century, it seemed like we’d get some answers. Maybe we have. Brady’s on a new team and has taken the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl, his 10th. Belichick, conversely, finished 7–9 and is going into a second consecutive offseason with a big question at the most important position.
Is that validating for Brady? Does it kill Belichick?
Over the last few days, we looked to answer those questions, going to guys who’ve been in the trenches with both. More than anything else, it brought insight like Johnson’s: Just based on the ultra-competitive nature of both, sure, they’re probably paying attention to the scoreboard on this one. But the truth is, neither would be what he is without the other.
By the time you read this I’ll be en route to Tampa—but we wanted to get you the Super Bowl LV mailbag. So here it is, and coming are answers to your questions on …
• The 18th week (17th game).
• The Colts’ QB plans.
• The Jets and Sam Darnold.
• The Niners and Jimmy Garoppolo.
• The offseason ahead.
• My old NCAA Football habits.
So let’s start with that simple question: Are Brady and Bill keeping score, like exes checking each other’s Instagram pages?
The answers varied.
“I don’t think they’re keeping score,” says Matt Cassel, a Patriots quarterback from 2005 to ‘08. “Tom is motivated to win. And win championships. If he couldn’t compete at a high level, he wouldn’t be out there. … I think Brady, at the end of the day, wants to win another Super Bowl, and he was going to Tampa because of the roster, the weapons; it gave him the best chance. That’s why he goes there. In terms of Bill, he’s ultra-competitive too, but I’m not sure the motivation is, ‘Oh, we gotta have a better record than them.’ ”
“I don’t know if that’s a big thing to them,” says Tedy Bruschi, a Patriots linebacker from 1996 to 2008. “There’s parts of both characteristics in both of them. … Tom, would you look back on New England and say, Look at you guys without me, you’re not making the playoffs? I just don’t think that’s the kind of guy he is. But there’s the guy that’s super highly competitive: I still got it; I told you. He’d never say that publicly, but would he think that once in a while? Sure. There’s little bit of both. I’d go with both. I’m not sure, I guess.”
“Yeah, absolutely,” says Johnson. “I think [Brady]’s scratching an itch he’s had for a while; I really do. And so it’s very important for both these guys. Neither of them will say it directly. I think they are obsessed with trying to prove the other wrong right now. And I think you’re seeing it from Tom. He’ll never say it; Bill will never say it. But I think they’re both obsessed in their pursuit of proving they can win without the other.”
“Yes, absolutely,” says Dan Koppen, Brady’s center from 2003 to ‘11. “And I’m not saying that it’s malicious. They’re just both highly, highly competitive people. Regardless of who it’s against, they probably want to win more than anyone else. … And at the end of the day, they’re human. It doesn’t matter if you’re No. 1 or 53 on the roster, anytime you leave for whatever reason—and [Brady] wasn’t cut, but in a sense he was, because they could’ve brought him back at that price—there’s going to be that feeling there. … They’re human.”
And then there’s Rodney Harrison’s take. A Patriots safety from 2003 to ‘08, Harrison was a favorite of both Brady’s and Belichick’s, and initially keeps it conservative in saying, “When you spend 20 years with somebody and you’re directly connected with them, you’re always gonna pay attention and watch what they’re doing.”
But I know Harrison—a master of manufacturing motivation back in his playing days—has a little more than that. Which is why I ask, then, if it would push him if he’d accomplished what Brady did, only to see the team he did it with let him go.
“Absolutely,” Harrison says, laughing. “Tom’s like me. He’s gonna create motivation. O.K., they didn’t believe in me? O.K. They finally gave me weapons? This is what I’ve been saying. All that, yeah. I think Tom creates his motivation. Let me tell you something: My level of success was what it was, but I always had to find ways to motivate myself. Tom is way, way, way at the top. He constantly has to find ways to motivate himself, because of all the levels of success that that he’s had. … And Tom hears freaking everything.”
So our consensus answer here, I think, winds up being right where Harrison is. It’s not intentional, but these guys are so competitive about everything that … yes, of course they’re keeping score. After all, they keep score on everything. And the deeper we dive into it, the more it reveals about just who Brady is, and how his relationship with Belichick helped him get here, and where it’ll probably be after both are done doing what they’re doing.
One of Brady’s best personality traits has always been a remarkably simple one—he’s capable of being the star and, simultaneously, one of the guys. That’s been proven on a day-to-day basis with stories of introductions to new teammates (“Hi, I’m Tom”), little things he’d do to take care of guys (ex-Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich once told Brady he liked his watch, and a watch like it was in his locker the next day), and even how he’d always want in when his offensive linemen would play games during their down time.
But that would also bring out the other famous side of Brady, if things didn’t go his way.
“The offensive linemen played backgammon during the media period or when we had breaks,” says Koppen. “Tommy started to pick it up and wanted to play with us. So we ended up playing backgammon with Tommy. And he was still just learning to play the game. But he’s almost like OCD. When he gets something in his head and he’s not that good at it at the start, he’s gotta keep going, keep going, keep going.
“And if he’d lose a close game? He’d chuck that board clear across the room if he lost.”
Koppen’s not kidding, either. Brady, backgammon novice, would lose to an experienced player, literally pick up the board and throw it.
And that led to a lot of muffled snickering—“Oh yeah, we were dying laughing,” says Koppen—but also a window into Tom Brady, Psychotic Competitor. He was incapable of turning it off. There are more, too, like the time he took on Danny Amendola in Ping-Pong. Amendola was considered the team’s best at that particular game. But when Brady lost, that didn’t make it O.K. In fact, after scoring the winning point, Amendola, the story goes, heard Brady’s paddle whistle past his ear. He looked back at Brady, who was glaring at him.
Brady was in his late 30s at the time.
“Tom is such a competitive guy. He can shake your hand and pat you on the back,” Harrison says, “but he wants to destroy you. Tom wants to destroy you.”
Belichick is the same way, and the competitive tension between the two, for 20 years, wound up producing a sort of Molotov cocktail that blew up the record books, and the standards for coaching and playing the game as we knew them.
That part of the equation is fascinating, too, and goes back to Johnson’s story from the captain’s meetings and those private moments that showed how one guy would pretty regularly, if you were privileged enough to get behind the curtain, make the best in the other show up. For ex-Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, that came in seeing his boss, Belichick, going into Tuesday meetings with Brady to set the table for the week.
“Bill would meet with Tommy to go over the opponent’s defense, their personnel, their players, their strengths and weaknesses, and what they were doing, especially coverage-wise,” Weis says. “Every week, he had to grind to get to that point where he could talk to Tommy with that level of knowledge and expertise. At the same time, Tommy, if he didn’t do the same, he’d fall by the wayside and the separation in preparation becomes big.
“And it never was. They’re both driven by each other.”
That’s one example. There are lots of them.
From the 30,000-foot view, really, having Belichick as a coach very much suited the cerebral, tough, resourceful Brady—all the best parts of his game were highlighted by the coach. Conversely, Brady enabled the Patriots’ program, with his willingness to take hard coaching and less money, and play the game a certain way.
“The whole Patriot mantra, Bill’s mantra—no days off, no practices off—that was Tommy,” Koppen says. “He was out there to get better, and work on his craft every day. And if you weren’t pulling your weight and working hard, or had a bad practice, he was gonna tell you about it. He held people accountable. That’s the leader he was out on that field.”
Cassel remembers seeing it first hand, too. One offseason, early in his career, Cassel decided to take advantage of a real-estate seminar that was being offered to players, to try and set himself up for post-football life. Brady found out about it and was perplexed.
Cassel, if you don’t put 100% into this, you won’t make it, Cassel remembers Brady telling him. There’s no better job than the one you have.
On one level, Brady was giving his friend advice on how to make it as an NFL player. On another, almost unknowingly, he was the lead missionary in selling the Church of Belichick. Because, in so many ways, he embodied its ideals.
“Tom epitomized the Patriot Way,” Cassel adds. “You have to have leaders that buy in, and Tom was that guy that held the torch. And it was all the time, from the offseason program on through. My rookie year, and this is after his third Super Bowl, where a lot of guys might take it easy, to see the way Tom worked in the weight room, in the classroom, there was no part of Tom that was getting comfortable. There was no going through the motions.
“He bought in, and that allowed Bill to coach the way he wanted to coach. … It was a great marriage because Brady had the utmost respect for Bill and understood he was a part of the system itself, in establishing it and keeping it going.”
Which is why, really, those who were there have so much trouble separating the two.
“I don’t know if they unlocked one another; I think they served one another,” ex-Patriots exec Scott Pioli says. “They both brought things to the other that improved the other, and there were so many other factors involved. People are viewing this in totality at the end, but if you look back at it contextually at different times, it’s not what people are trying to make it. It’s so unfair. What I hate about it is people are trying to divide the relationship.
“They served one another. All of us served there. Didn’t matter what your place was on the chart. At different times, everybody served.”
The difference this year is that they’re serving others, rather than each other.
Pioli has paid close attention to what Brady’s new teammates have said, with some familiar markings showing up consistently. The words of Tampa’s young defensive leader, Devin White, resonated most, as they came up on the Bussin’ with the Boys podcast: “With a guy like Tom Brady, there’s only one expectation, and that’s winning.”
To Pioli, what White said shows the Buccaneers have gone from “being fanboys of Tom to having genuine reverence” for him. Which, in turn, brings proof in just how far Tampa has come. Which has translated between the lines.
“I see a degree of confidence,” Pioli says. “I see a team that continues to play smarter football. The penalties started to reduce. The turnovers started to reduce. They’ve played a better brand of football. They got confident quickly when they saw his competitive energy. And you’re looking at a guy who was a leader to graybeards like Bryan Cox and Willie [McGinest] and Anthony Pleasant.
“Twenty years later, guys like Devin White are looking to him. They play like they trust their leader. They have more confidence due to his presence.”
Pioli and I then look at the math. Cox and Pleasant were born in 1968. White was born in 1998. Brady’s leadership has literally stretched across generations.
Which means in a way, the ability to create competitive energy in those captains’ meetings 17 years ago is now being passed down to guys young enough to be the children of some of the players who were in that room. If Brady, as his ex-teammates say, was the Patriot Way, then the new Buccaneer Way is starting to reflect what Belichick and Brady honed for so many years in those private moments.
“Football-wise, it’s been amazing to me to watch him transform a culture,” Bruschi says. “You could see it, how he’d had enough in that Chicago game. It affected him so much to where he’s tongue-lashing guys. I mean, that wasn’t, Come on guys; we have to make the right decisions. To me, that was, You guys have no clue what’s going on and what I’m trying to do. That’s what that type of yelling was, and that type of emotion to where it affected him so much he doesn’t know how many downs are left.
“So getting to that point—and then all of the sudden from that point on, them sort of figuring it all out together through the leadership of Tom? This isn’t the NBA, man. One player’s not supposed to make this much of a difference. But you can tell culturally, coaching-wise, certain things are just more important to the Buccaneers now.”
Penalties in Tampa were down from a league-high 134 in 2019 to 96 this year. Turnovers were down from a league-high 41 to 17. And that’s just the sort of impact Belichick would want to have on a team, if he were to go from one place to another. So in a certain way, it’s Brady bringing the Patriot Way with him. Because, really, it’s the Brady Way now, too.
That’s why it’s so hard to separate these two—as much as they might’ve clashed late in their two-decade run, their football belief system remains largely synced up. The cool thing is, regardless of what happens Sunday, we should get to see these two run parallel to one another for at least another year, and maybe longer than that.
And while none of these guys would go so far as to say Brady’s success in 2020 will drive Belichick in 2021, they also wouldn’t deny a pride factor being at work with both guys. The coach, in fact, already showed that, to those around him, a long time ago. Brady went down in the first quarter of the first game of 2008, coming off the Patriots’ 18–1 year, and Belichick got an 11–5 year out of the group that No. 12 left behind.
“It was a statement year for him,” says Cassel, the quarterback who replaced Brady. “People would point to it—Yes, he’s one of the best coaches ever, but the asterisk is he has the best quarterback to ever play. So the fact that you go into the season, and starting in Week 1, you’re without your franchise quarterback, and you go in with a guy that hadn’t started a game since high school, and then go 11–5? He took a lot of pride in that.”
All the same, no one would blame Brady for taking pride in going 11–5 in his first post-Belichick season—and that the 11–5 team in question caught fire in the playoffs (Belichick’s 11–5 team didn’t even make the playoffs) and got to the Super Bowl only adds to it.
So, sure, Brady’s probably got the personal scoreboard in the back of his head, and this is probably satisfying, deep down, for him on that level. As Bruschi says, “Those two have memories like elephants,” which makes it pretty unlikely that either forgets even the smallest detail of what led to the breakup last year—or why it was time.
“The mental toughness of Tom, the fact he was able to deal with being coached by Bill for two decades is an accomplishment in itself,” Koppen says. “The ability Bill had to CONSTANTLY push a player—and you can put constantly in all caps—it’s relentless. Bill doesn’t change. He constantly pushes you, and that helps you see your faults. There’s a part of this where someone had to have changed, for the split to have happened. The person that changed was Tom. And I can say that because I guarantee you the one that didn’t was Bill.”
“Deep down, whether they admit it or not, they both knew they needed each other really badly,” Johnson says. “I think Tom knew deep down, if I stick with this guy, I can accomplish things no other quarterback ever has. And I think Bill knew that this was the perfect guy for him—smart, can adapt week-to-week, thinks his way through the game—his perfect quarterback. Forever, it was, I know I need this guy. They both realized that. And then it got to a point where it’s so refined, they’re both these super computers.
“And they’d accomplished all they could together. Tom could say, I know Bill, how he thinks, how he operates—I’m gonna teach these guys how Bill thinks. They both needed each other for so long. And now both, at the end, want to show they can do it on their own. And if they can, it sends them into another stratosphere.”
That brings you a deeper truth here.
What we’re seeing with Brady is, in one way, indicative of his singular greatness as a football player. And in another, it’s the highest compliment possible for what he and Belichick worked to build, with so many others, in those meeting rooms in Foxboro.
All those Super Bowls later, everything they learned, from each other, is still winning.
And now, let's get to your mail ...
From Ricker81 (@D_Ricker81): Any more info on how the 17th week will work? Are they rotating it by division? Will it be pairing by conference standings? Curious how it will look.
Ricker, the answer is yes, the framework for the 17th game on each team’s schedule has been worked out. It’ll be an interconference game (AFC vs. NFC) against a team that finished in the corresponding place to yours in a certain division—and the division matches will rotate with the regular interconference schedule. Each division will be matched with the division in the other conference it played two years prior.
So, for example, Washington, champion of the NFC East, will play all the teams in the AFC North next year, and the first-place team in the AFC East (Buffalo). In 2022, Washington will play all the teams in the AFC South, and the team in the corresponding position in the AFC West. Then in 2023, the Football Team will play all the teams in the AFC East, and the team in the corresponding spot in the AFC North. That, of course, is presuming the owners rubber-stamp going forward with the 17th game in 2021, as they’re expected to.
As for the home/away element, that’ll alternate by year by conference—so one year all the AFC teams will get their 17th game at home, and the next all the NFC teams will get their 17th game at home, so it’s equitable in the chase for playoff spots.
From Richard Addy (@addytheyounger): Is the NFL generally low on Garoppolo, and will that stop the 49ers from using him to trade for a QB?
Richard, I don’t know if I’d say the NFL is generally low on Jimmy Garoppolo. More so, I think he’s seen in the class of guys like Jared Goff and Derek Carr. Fair or not, those quarterbacks are seen as players who succeed if everything’s right around them—but not the type who can lift teammates up and make up the difference for holes on the roster. That’s not an insult, either. But it’s not as good to be that guy as it used to be.
I can point to two reasons. No. 1, I think it’s easier to find a league-average quarterback in the draft than it used to be, which cuts down on the value of the good-not-great passers. No. 2, teams are certainly starting to wonder out loud if the emergence of Patrick Mahomes at the top of the sport is going to make it tougher to win with those sorts of QBs at the helm. Is it possible that, say, Joe Flacco or Eli Manning or a second-year Russell Wilson wouldn’t be enough, like they have been over the last 10 years? It sure is.
So no, the NFL isn’t necessarily low on Garoppolo. What he’s facing is more a question of what it’ll take to win in the league over the next 10 years, and how hard or easy he becomes to replace as younger quarterbacks continue to filter into the league.
From Gary (@NotTheP0lice): Behind Jimmy Garoppolo, who is the most likely 49ers QB next year? Bonus: Would Kyle Shanahan move off of Jimmy G for Sam Darnold? Thanks!
Gary, I’d say, if the Niners were to move off of Jimmy G., it will be in an effort to get younger at the position. So it could be someone like Sam Darnold—who I think the Niners like, though I’m not sure to what degree—or a draft pick. Which I think answers your bonus question too.
From Murphy (@t12murphy): When you play NCAA on your preferred console do you start with Ohio State or do you start with a mid-major team like Tulane or Rutgers and work your way up?
Thank you for asking, Murph! My move was generally, when I got the game, to play a season with Ohio State right off the bat. Normally, that would end in a national title, and eventually you get to the point where you’re too good for it to be fun playing with an elite team like that. Which is why my next move would usually be to take a downtrodden program in a major conference in dynasty mode and build that team up.
It gave me a good chance to show that I wasn’t just an X’s-and-O’s genius, but also capable of reinventing recruiting as we knew it. As you may have heard, I was partly responsible for the rise of the slot receiver. (I’m not gonna say it was all me, I’m too humble for that.)
From Jonny Ellis (@jonnyellis29): If Colts didn't offer the first-round pick for Stafford, do you think Chris Ballard has a specific target in mind they are eyeing up?
Hey Jonny, I think Chris Ballard has a very well-defined plan to move forward with, because he always has something thoroughly thought-out cooking. And I’ve said from the start here that, based on Ballard’s history, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he went the rookie route rather than the veteran path. That applied before the Stafford trade, and it applies now. I just don’t think he’s going to marry his team financially to a QB he doesn’t fully believe in.
Ballard’s history in Kansas City is a good guide on that. As the top lieutenant on GM John Dorsey’s staff, he helped build the Chiefs up for four years around Alex Smith as the Chiefs quietly kept an eye out for their next quarterback. Ballard helped find that player, Patrick Mahomes. And by the time he was draft-eligible, the roster was put together to the point where they could use picks to move up from 27 to 10 as a sort of disposable income.
This, of course, was never the plan for the Colts. The plan for Indy was to build around Andrew Luck. But absent that, you could argue he’s in the place the Chiefs were in 2017, just as Ballard was leaving for Indy. The roster’s loaded with young talent, the team’s slotted pick is in the 20s and there are enticing options at quarterback coming from the college ranks.
From Scrapple Eater EagleEagle (@Gilbone444): Do you like the Eagles HC hire?
Scrapple, I think one thing people need to remember on Nick Sirianni: His time was most certainly coming. Did he land a head coaching job earlier than most expected him to? Yes, he most certainly did. Was there any doubt that, with another strong year or two, he’d be solidly in the mix, and more than just a curiosity for the 2022 and ’23 hiring cycles? There was not. He’s sharp. He’s diligent. He’s energetic. He’s connected to a winning program.
So maybe he’s a year or two early, and it’ll be interesting to see what sort of effect that has on his first year in Philly. Everyone knows coaching there is a little different. Single losses are treated like losing streaks locally, and the guys covering the team don’t lead the league in breaks cut for coaches—which is to say any honeymoon will be short.
And yes, I know, that sort of thing shouldn’t matter. But it can if you let it. We’ll see how Sirianni handles the … uniqueness … of coaching in Philly.
From Invisible Man (@KFernelis): Why so many different stories on Watson and the Texans? Is he traded?
Invisible, Deshaun Watson’s a superstar. That’s why there are so many different stories. The idea of someone like Watson being traded is the sort of thing that makes the internet go. Just a sniff of the possibility, and it’s automatic that dozens of uniform Photoshops will be on Twitter within minutes.
Will it happen? I don’t know. What I do know is that, at least the last time I checked, Watson isn’t responding to the Texans’ attempts to get in touch with him, and the Texans aren’t responding to teams trying to fish in that pond. To gain any sort of idea of what’ll happen next will take movement on those fronts. And the Texans don’t really have to do anything yet, because it’s not like Watson’s value will plummet if they don’t move him soon.
From KnightWhoSaysNih (@KonSeanneryy): Any idea what the 2021 cap will be and when that will be announced?
Knight, it’s everyone’s intention to get the cap as close as they possibly can to the $198.2 million it’s at now. That’s what’s best for everyone. Teams don’t want to have to gut their rosters to get in compliance. Players don’t want to be cut. Free agents don’t want to see a market that promises to completely choke out the middle class. And the NFL doesn’t want a massive level of player movement happening in an unnatural way.
The key to avoiding all that, I believe, will be the negotiation of the new broadcast deals. If new contracts are agreed to before the start of the league year, the owners can use that as an impetus to smooth the cap, as they did at the start of the old CBA. In fact, the importance of getting there, via new deals with the networks, was brought up in the fall on owner calls, during which it was emphasized as a key to avoid the expected 2021 bloodletting.
So we’ve got an important month on that front coming.
From CJ Bagby (@cjbcool): From the GMs or scouts you talk to, what is the biggest concern with these opt-out players? What will be the protocols for free agency next month per COVID?
CJ, I think the question with the older opt-outs, like the New England thirtysomethings (Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon) is whether they’ve got the motivation to come back in 2021. With others, there’ll be the obvious things to wonder about, centering how rusty guys might be coming back, and what they’ll have to do to reacclimate to the game after a year away.
On free agency, I’d bet it’ll be similar to last year, where most of it happens virtually, with perhaps some more solutions to help players get their physicals after agreeing to terms. Also worth noting: The combine is usually an important week for … uh … exploratory conversations. That being gone will change things, in how business gets done.
From Eric Lancet (@ELancet): Chances Darnold is back with the Jets? Sounds like Joe Douglas won’t mortgage the team’s future for Watson.
Eric, I really don’t know. What I do know is that the Jets dipped their toe in the water on Matthew Stafford, and other teams know about it. And whether or not it was their intention, that could smoke out potential suitors for Darnold. That’s a good thing even if the Jets aren’t really looking to move Darnold. It should give them a chance to at least understand what his value is.
As for Watson, the Jets are probably like a lot of other teams—interested if he becomes available, pending the price. I will say that they’re better positioned to go get him than maybe anyone else. They can offer two current-year first-rounders (No. 2 and No. 23) as part of the package and have multiple first-round picks next year to dangle, too. On top of that, Darnold himself would be able to tell Houston: We can give you the chance to get any quarterback in the draft other than Trevor Lawrence, or you can have Darnold.
It’s been a rough couple of years for the Jets, no doubt. But looking at all the above, you can see the position of strength they’re working from on this one.
From michael christopher (@Bigdogz1318): If the Jets do move on from Darnold, do you think it will be before free agency to get maximum value or during the draft where Jets lose their leverage. Also does Fields still have a chance to be second pick because of bigger upside then Wilson?
Michael, the timing of it is really interesting—because everything is relative to the draft. If I’m Joe Douglas, I set a firm mid-March deadline to have a complete quarterback plan in place. That means assessing Darnold, assessing the availability of Watson and having as complete a picture as possible of who Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance are relative to Darnold (with all the contractual factors put in the equation too).
It’s important because if you are going to put the second pick or Darnold up for auction, you want to have as many suitors as you possibly can, and that means moving while teams are still dealing with uncertainty at the position. Once we get into the middle of March, teams will start to move with their plans, and prospective buyers will start to evaporate.
There’s a parallel for this one, too. The Rams actually moved the second pick in early March of 2012 to Washington for a lot of these reasons—and wound up getting three first-round picks and a second-round pick in return with Robert Griffin III as the prize going to Washington.
From Pat Flaherty (@PatFlats): Does the acquisition of Goff prevent the Lions from taking a QB in the first round of the draft?
Pat, in a word, no. My feeling is Detroit will do a thorough job evaluating Fields, Lance and Wilson, in case one or more of them fall to No. 7. What having Jared Goff does for Detroit is it allows the Lions the latitude to wait, if a quarterback they like isn’t there. And that’s really what Dan Campbell wanted—a player at that position who he felt was more than just a Band-Aid. Goff certainly can be, like Smith was in K.C.
From Shedrick Carter (@shedrickcarter2): We know that there will be a lot of cuts to the “middle class” of vets. When do you expect to see those cuts start to happen?
Shedrick, yes, there should be. Normally those would start to ramp up right after the Super Bowl, and I think some of the obvious ones will come in March. But I’d guess that a lot of teams are going to wait for at least a little while to get a better read where the cap falls. Which kind of sucks for the players who are in that metaphorical waiting room.
Players, of course, if they’re going to be cut, would rather be cut early so they can get ahead of the market.
From Moose Block (@moose_block): How has the pandemic affected how you cover this year’s SB? What’s your day like on Super Bowl Sunday?
Moose, well, for one I just got to Tampa. Normally, I’d be here on the Sunday previous and in town for eight days. It’s Wednesday now, and I haven’t even checked into my hotel yet. I’m getting there and, by Sunday, I hope things are relatively normal from here, but the reason for the later arrival is relatively simple. There was no need to come in early. Most of the events leading into the game have been curbed. A lot fewer people will be in town in general. And the teams are treating this like a normal game week.
The Chiefs actually don’t even get here until Saturday. Now, there are a few things still happening. The commissioner has his press conference on Thursday. The Hall of Fame vote will be revealed on Saturday. But this is going to be a different Super Bowl, no doubt.
As for game day, normally, I have some TV/radio obligations pregame—when the Patriots are in the game, I do the pre- and postgame shows on site—and get to the stadium maybe four hours before kickoff, depending on where that stuff has me. And it may not quite be the kind of all-nighter that I pull on regular-season Sundays, but I’ll definitely be up until the wee hours hammering away at the column.
I’ll say that, at the end of any season, as much as I love football (it’s why I do this for a living), there is a sense of relief in getting to the finish line. And this year, definitely even more so. I think pretty much anyone who works in or around the NFL would agree with that.