TAMPA — I’m still here! (Until about 8 p.m. local time.) ...
• Every year, there are little moves that wind up paying big dividends—and one came for the champion Bucs on the first night of the draft. It seemed unlikely going in that any of the class’s top four tackles (Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs) would fall to them. In fact, just about everyone was convinced that two would go in the first eight or nine picks, then the Jets and Browns would pick off whoever was left at 10 and 11. Didn’t work out that way. When the Jets hit the clock at No. 10, only Thomas had been picked. And while that 10/11 turn went as expected, the surplus allowed for one tackle, Wirfs, to make it through. The Raiders, set to pick 12th, were heavily invested at tackle. They took Henry Ruggs there, leaving just the Niners (who were prepared to trade for veteran Trent Williams) between Tampa Bay and Wirfs. Then came the curveball—with the Bucs getting info that Miami was working on a trade up from No. 18 to land a tackle, urgency ramped up for the Bucs' brass. So they called the Niners, who liked Javon Kinlaw to take DeForest Buckner’s roster spot, but knew there was a good chance they wouldn’t get him at No. 18. That gave the Bucs an in to appeal to the Niners that they could just flip spots, which would allow San Francisco to get Kinlaw and some extra capital. Long story short, the Bucs flipped places with the Niners for a fourth-round pick, with a seven coming back the other way. The Niners got Kinlaw. And the Bucs got Wirfs, who legitimately played at an Offensive Rookie of the Year level for Tampa Bay all year (he’s actually PFF’s highest-rated rookie tackle since 2009). Would the Bucs have made it this far without Wirfs? It’s hard to say. But there’s no question that the offensive line became a bedrock for what would become a championship team, and Wirfs was a big reason why. So, yeah, it was worth that fourth-rounder.
• The biggest decision facing the Bucs right now might be which free agent to franchise—they’ll have the space to tag someone, but you only get one of those, and there are two young guys on the roster (Chris Godwin and Shaq Barrett) who are very worthy of it. My sense is Godwin is the more likely of the two, for a few reasons. One, as a second-time tag Barrett’s number (around $19 million) would be considerably more expensive than Godwin’s (about $16 million). Two, Godwin is considerably younger. He turns 25 in February; Barrett turns 29 in November. Three, keeping Godwin helps to keep the quarterback happy. Normally, I’d advocate for the line-of-scrimmage player over the skill-position guy in a situation like this. But this is one where I can see why the Bucs will probably opt to tag Godwin. And maybe they’ll wind up keeping both. It’ll just be tough, with each set up to be a pretty hot commodity if either makes it to the open market
• My favorite fact from Super Bowl LV: All four touchdowns were scored by players acquired after Tom Brady. The Bucs traded for Rob Gronkowski, who scored twice, back in April; they brought in Leonard Fournette in September; and signed Antonio Brown in October. All three signed with Tampa in large part because of Brady’s presence. And it underscores a pretty simple point. Brady makes Tampa a destination for players looking to go ring-chasing, and that’ll include both guys on the back end of their careers and those who are looking to reestablish their stock. It’s a nice edge to have—and one New England leveraged effectively for a lot of years—for a team that figures to lose a key guy or two.
• This Super Bowl was really the second straight in which the Chiefs’ offensive line had its issues. A part of that, of course, was injury (both Eric Fisher and Mitch Schwartz missed the game). Part of it was attrition (Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out, and K.C. lost pivotman Mitch Morse a couple offseasons back). And part of it is that the team has gotten a little long in the tooth up front. Fisher is 30 and will be coming back off Achilles surgery. Schwartz will be 32 and going into a contract year. Thirty-year-old center Austin Reiter is a free agent this offseason. And maybe Duvernay-Tardif will come back, but he turns 30 this week, too. Obviously, a big part of the Chiefs getting obliterated by the Bucs’ defensive line in Super Bowl LV was circumstantial. That said, add this all up, and it’s pretty clear K.C.’s probably going to have to make some tough calls in this area.
• The Chiefs’ cap situation is always worth watching. Their top six figures for 2021 (Frank Clark, Patrick Mahomes, Chris Jones, Tyrann Mathieu, Tyreek Hill and Fisher) add to $123.2 million. Add in three more guys on eight-figure cap numbers (Travis Kelce, Anthony Hitches, Schwartz), and that total climbs to more than $157 million. Which means some creative management of finances will be needed with the cap expected to land between $175 million and $195 million, and is probably ahead for a team that always finds a way.
• One last thing from the Super Bowl: When I talked to Tom Brady Sr. Sunday around midnight, we discussed his year, and his wife Galynn’s year. They both got COVID-19, and Tom Sr. was hospitalized for it. “We're just so grateful and thankful for this whole process,” Brady Sr. said. “We had a tough year with the COVID. But I will tell you that out of the difficulty comes, for me, a real appreciation that every day is the best day of my life. And I always kind of thought that, but COVID and how close it took me to the edge, just sharpens my appreciation for everyday living. Galynn feels the same way. We are so, the word that keeps coming back is we're just grateful. Whatever's thrown in front of us, so many people have had so many difficult times. We've lost 425,000 people. Gosh, for us, we're alive and healthy and our family is happy and together. That's all that really counts." Amen.
• One follow-up on the quarterback carousel stuff from the Monday column: I’ve been asked a bunch about whether Marcus Mariota is a worthy, Ryan Tannehill–style reclamation project. So I went to people who have been around him. The answer I got is that it pretty much comes down to his health. “He’s not fixable if you’re plugging him into a run-of-the-mill offense,” said one veteran evaluator. “He’s capable of doing something else for you, if not for the fact that he’s always hurt. If he were playing for the Ravens, and I’m not just saying it’s only them—I think they’ve done an awesome job with Lamar Jackson—he could be a Pro-Bowler. But he’d get hurt, and that’s the Catch-22. Short of that, it’s just getting lucky, and his being durable all of the sudden.” The evaluator then added, “He can throw it, he’s accurate, he’s got good enough arm strength. The problem in a conventional offense, when the bullets are firing and things happen fast, his instinct is to be so conservative. He’s terrified to make a mistake, so he’ll come off his progressions and check the ball down, or he panics. When things get dirty, he abandons progressions, and that’s an instinctive thing. I’m not sure at this point that’s correctable.” I’ll be interested to see if he gets another shot to start somewhere then, considering all this. Based on what’s out there, it does seem like a worthy dice roll for someone to throw a mid-round pick at the Raiders for him.
• The Bears’ promotion of John DeFilippo to pass-game coordinator (he’ll retain his title as quarterbacks coach too) is interesting, given his connection to Carson Wentz. I’ve heard that DeFilippo believes he can “fix” Wentz, if he is willing to dive into overhauling his mechanics—something other teams would too if they were to acquire the former second-overall pick. And DeFilippo was Wentz’s position coach in Philly for two years (2016 and ‘17).
• Seeing the idea floated that they could move the coaching hiring cycle to after the Super Bowl got me thinking: What would that mean for unemployed and college coaches? Would the NFL really be able to keep those guys from taking a job and building a staff in January? And would those guys become more appealing because they could have the pick of the litter in assembling a staff, and start work with the January college All-Star games. It could be a very relevant question in 2022 with, potentially, an unemployed Super Bowl winner (Doug Pederson) and very hot college coach (Iowa State’s Matt Campbell) on the market. (If you can’t tell, I know it’s unfair, but I think they’ll keep it where it is, and maybe tweak rules to try and create more equity for coaches in the playoffs.)
• Joe Judge’s hire of Rob Sale as offensive line coach is notable in that it’s another coach coming who has history with the Giants coach (they were together at Alabama from 2009-11). If you look at Judge’s staff, and the Giants’ draft last year, you’ll see the emphasis there. And I believe Judge’s squabbles with ex-OL coach Marc Colombo only strengthened his resolve to keep the place as aligned as possible, with guys who speak the same language he does.
• I’d like to finish the MAQB with a word on my ex-colleague, Chris Wesseling, who passed away last week at the age of 46. I don’t think there’s a better way to describe Wess than to say literally everyone liked the guy. There wasn’t a bad bone in his body. And I know people say that sort of thing when people pass, but I really mean it here. I’d known him going back to when he was doing work for Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk, and with RotoWorld, and we became co-workers when he joined NFL Media in 2013. I can tell you that as he twice battled cancer, when I’d check in, he was so positive that you couldn’t help but think he wasn’t just going to beat it, but run the score up on that horrible disease. He did once. Sending my best to his wife Lakisha and son Linc. Rest easy, buddy.