Julio Jones Watch has ended, and Aaron Rodgers Watch is just cranking up …
• In this week's MMQB column, we broke down how the Packers can excuse Rodgers’s absence from minicamp this week, and not fine him the allowable $93,085. They’ll have no such feasible option once they get to training camp, if they want to protect themselves on his bonus money—and the $50,000 per day they’d be required to assess in fines at that point cannot, by rule, be forgiven. So a line could be drawn in the sand in the coming days, assuming Rodgers doesn’t unexpectedly pop into town. And if the Packers stick to how they’ve handled this the last few months, I can’t imagine they’d go through with drawing that line in the sand. From the communication on the Jordan Love situation in April 2020 to Rodgers’s feelings on how the team has been constructed, this has clearly gotten personal for the quarterback. Once that became clear, the Packers have done just about everything possible to mend fences. They’ve flown to California. They’ve offered a new contract. They’ve spoken publicly about wanting him back even as he thumbed his nose at them, and walked away from a $500,000 workout bonus by skipping OTAs. Rodgers’s resolve to walk away from that amount is hard evidence that another $93k won’t faze him. So really, fining Rodgers would simply be about making him pay for his absence. Moreover, it would run counter to all the work the Packers have done to try and get Rodgers back on board—in effect making an example of him because they can. Which is to say I don’t think Rodgers is there this week, and I’d be surprised to see the Packers fine him for that.
• I wouldn’t read too much into Russell Wilson’s decision to show up at Seahawks OTAs this week. Weeks back he came to peace with the fact that he’d be in Seattle in 2021, and his absence thus far had little to do with his previous friction with the team. He (as well as Bobby Wagner) stayed away as part of the NFL/NFLPA fight over spring working conditions—Seattle was one of the 10 or so teams that didn’t have a deal between players and coaches for veterans to come in. And now, with minicamp next week, Wilson (and again, Wagner, too) is simply moving the work he’d done with some of the Seattle skill guys back to the team facility to work out some final kinks and get with the team before training camp.
• One leftover from all the Julio Jones business: Yesterday wasn't the Titans' first talk with Jones. The Falcons granted Tennessee permission to talk directly to the receiver in the days leading up to the trade. The Titans wanted to know more about Jones’s situation in Atlanta, and what he was looking for in a new team. Jones told the Titans he just needed a fresh start, and wanted to go to a place with a good locker room that had a chance to win. Another point he made, “I love football, and nothing’s more important to me than my teammates.” I know this: GM Jon Robinson and coach Mike Vrabel in Tennessee feel pretty strongly about the culture they’ve built in Tennessee, so hearing that sentiment from Jones had to be music to their ears. And as such, I’m pretty sure they weren’t going to bring in someone with the kind of star power Jones has that wasn’t a strong fit for the group they have.
• And a leftover from my talk with Giants coach Joe Judge—I asked if his feelings for the players played into his end-of-season rant on Philly lying down in Week 17 against Washington, which ended any shot his team had at winning the NFC East. His answer was pretty interesting: “It really had nothing to do with our team. It had nothing to do with the Eagles either. It had nothing to do with us making the playoffs. Our record was such that we didn’t deserve it. We were 6–10. We gotta be better. There was no point where it was woe is us, that’s the furthest thing from what it was. My whole thing was the players all watched that, guys around the league watched that, and they asked me in turn, ‘Would you ever do this? Would you ever tank a game?’ And I had to tell them in a squad meeting, ‘No, we would never do that. We’re never gonna intentionally lose a game. We’re not ever going to do that, we’re not going to disrespect the game.’ But to me, what I was talking about, with the players involved, the families involved, it wasn’t just our team, it was the entire league. I just never pictured in the last game of the year, guys that I’ve asked to do everything throughout the entire course of Zoom meetings and COVID and lockouts and daily testing and all that stuff, I could just never picture looking those guys in the eye and saying, trust me, and then not putting them in a position to have success with their work. My whole message was simply about the respect for the game and the people involved in the game. Look, we didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs.” So in case any thought this was about sneaking into the playoffs with double-digit losses, that wasn’t what Judge was getting at.
• The Bills’ decision to keep camp at home should not be read as another team deciding against going away in the summer. Under the league’s current protocols, the team just wasn’t going to be able to create the locker room and meeting room space it needed at St. John Fisher in Rochester, where the franchise has held 20 camps (2000–19). With the clock ticking, the Bills set a deadline of last Friday to make a final call, and the league really made that call for them in sticking with, for now, many of 2020’s COVID-19 protocols (the NFL is working through revising them with the union). I’m told that GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott will likely look to go away again in 2022. Both guys are believers in going away, with both having done it annually in Buffalo and Carolina (Wofford), and McDermott having done it in Philly (Lehigh) too. But it’s hard to ignore that this brings the dwindling number of teams taking their camps off premises even further down. Right now, the Colts (Fishers, Ind.), Cowboys (Oxnard, Calif.), Chiefs (St. Joseph, Mo.), Panthers (Spartanburg, S.C.), and Washington (Richmond, Va.) are the only five set to go off campus, and Washington is only doing it for five days this year. The Steelers’ intention is to go back to Latrobe, but they're working through challenges now not dissimilar to what the Bills faced, and are a maybe. That would be six, unless you count the Chargers and Packers, who largely have their camps at home, but have some off-site elements (practice fields for the former, dorms for the latter). And with the continued scaling back of what camp really is now, and the amount of infrastructure teams have to move, I get why they’re staying. But as a guy who really liked going to places like Flagstaff (which was a clear No. 1 for me) and Napa and Bethlehem and Mankato, it’s a shame seeing that part of the NFL calendar going away.
• Because I’m one of the suckers who gets pulled into Zillow rabbit holes regularly, I thought this story from 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, on the warning he offered Trey Lance’s family before they went to find the 21-year-old quarterback a place, was worth sharing: "We were hanging out and they were going to look for houses and things like that. I told him, 'Don't be too depressed. Everyone is very upset after the first couple of days and you realize you've got to change what you were looking for.' And they're like, 'No, everyone's told us.' I'm like, 'No, everyone told me, you'll see, it's real.’” ESPN reporter Nick Wagoner piggybacked off that with this, in a story he did on it—the average home listing in Santa Clara, where the Niners are headquartered, is $1.795 million. Green Bay? It’s $231,000. That means, on paper, a Packer rookie’s dollar will go 7.8 times further than a 49er rookie’s dollar, even though the average lot size in Green Bay (14,000 sq. feet) is double the average lot size in Santa Clara (7,000 sq. feet). And for what it’s worth, based on contract slots, Lance will make about 2.9 times what the Packers’ first-round pick, Eric Stokes, taken 26 picks later, will make. Which … makes Stokes in Green Bay wealthier than Lance in Santa Clara? Alright, that’s enough math for today.
• The Ravens’ handling of replacing Orlando Brown has been pretty smart. They have 32-year-old Alejandro Villaneuva this year at $8 million, and will basically be paying 29-year-old Ju’Wuan James $500,000 to rehab. So they get the former for this year, and will be able to choose between the two next—with Villaneuva on the books, for now, at $6 million and James at around $8 million. And that’ll buy them time to find a long-term answer at the position. As we detailed a couple weeks ago, the Ravens really have taken a liking to bringing in third-contract vets, because there’s a level of affordability, professionalism and predictability with them. This is another case of that, and in doing it this way Baltimore was able to get a really solid draft-pick return for Brown, and not pay him the $20 million per year he wanted.
• My buddy Ian Rapoport over at NFL Network reported earlier Monday that the Buccaneers have redone deals for coach Bruce Arians and GM Jason Licht (I can confirm as much), and those are well-deserved. The job Arians did in working through the early issues fitting Tom Brady into his offense, then making Brady’s own has been overlooked. And Licht, for all the problems the Bucs had over his first six years, put together the roster that attracted Brady to Florida last spring, and has found a way to keep it together—while hitting on draft picks like Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield who are ready to play for a title team right away.
• Speaking of Arians, Jaguars coach Urban Meyer unleashed a little B.A.-style honesty last week in calling D.J. Chark “a big guy who played little” last year. I think this is something people are going to learn about Meyer—he’s brutally honest with and about players. I know I saw it following him for eight years at Ohio State, and I’d guess this is just the start of it manifesting. I can say that, for the most part, handling things confrontationally has worked for Meyer, in getting more out of players. Just like it’s worked for Arians.
• Figured we’d end with a nice note on T.J. Olsen, son of former Panthers TE Greg Olsen. Kid looks great for having come out of that type of surgery, and he sure does have a lot of people behind him now.
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