You’re having a nice, relaxing summer and then, all of a sudden, it’s a Thursday night and Ben DiNucci pops on your television screen. Preseason football. Desperation sacks from bottom-of-the-rung fourth-stringers. Mike McCarthy feigning interest deep into the third quarter, trying to perfect his, We need to run the ball more despite my analytics awakening face. Meaningless booth chatter about Garrett Gilbert’s strong offseason. Football is here even if it’s not really here yet. It’s like the moment each spring when the local news starts warning you about cicadas. Your life is about to change for a little while.
It places some urgency on getting caught up. After spending a week bouncing between a few camps and getting reacquainted with the tidal wave of football news that’s about to hit once the Olympics end—speed-climbing is incredible, by the way—it’s clear we’re in for a strange 2021. Rarely has there been a training camp with this much heft and we’re only a few weeks in. There are established quarterbacks beginning to wiggle loose, preparing another tectonic shift. There are coaches making noise. There are legitimate red flags flying in a few camps. There are, obviously, some well-earned hype trains beginning to formulate at the station.
There are also conjured figments of nothingness being puffed up in areas of the country where there is not much football to discuss.
Let’s play a little game evaluating these stories for validity. Are they going to matter in a month? Six months? Let’s rate them on the Football Relevance Over Sustained Time scale, or FROST for short. (Also, inquire below as to how you can become FROST certified and help us determine future relevance.)
A score of 10 is highly relevant six months from now, where a score of zero means this is merely training camp flotsam.
• Josh Allen signs a $43 million per year contract
We’ll leave the contract minutiae to the aspiring lawyers. The relevant details, for now, are that Josh Allen signed a deal nestling him right underneath Patrick Mahomes at $43 million per year. Allen also has a better percentage of total guarantees and more practical guarantees at signing. It’s interesting how quickly the market bridged the gap between Russell Wilson’s $35 million and Deshaun Waton’s $39 million with Mahomes’s $45 million far outpacing the field. Since Mahomes’s deal was signed, Dak Prescott eclipsed the $40 million mark and Allen pulled the compensation high water mark further along.
Now, we have Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson awaiting deals, not to mention Aaron Rodgers theoretically coming up for a new contract again soon. Matthew Stafford only has one more year left on his contract after the 2021 season. Will the Browns and or Ravens allow Mayfield or Jackson to reset the market? Typically these things tend to inch along once a heap of quarterbacks are due to be paid at the same time, with one outlier swinging in to wreck the landscape again. Does Mayfield have a case that he’s worth more than Allen at this point? Does Jackson? Do either of them wait and gamble on their 2021 given how talented both rosters are? Do the Rams force themselves to pay Stafford handsomely again—he’s only 33!—adding to their already topheavy roster if he succeeds in McVay’s offense?
• Allen gets us one step closer to $50 million
• The deal forces a lot of teams with young quarterbacks they may be unsure about to make some high-risk, middle-reward investments
FROST Score: 9
• Trey Lance might beat out Jimmy Garoppolo in training camp
By now we’ve all seen the fadeaway deep pass to Trent Sherfield, which, for those who aren’t watching every throw in camp could solidify some conclusions. Lance hype has justifiably grown to the point where it has its own ecosystem and orbit. All of this benefits Kyle Shanahan, who is probably just as happy allowing the rest of the NFC West to guess when and if he’ll start Lance this season and force them to prepare for something they may not see.
The reason we’re scoring this a 10, though, is because Lance will start soon—those who know Shanahan describe a coach completely infatuated and creatively energized from Lance’s Pro Day circuit—and that will place a good quarterback on the trade market while also forcing teams to defend an offense we’ve never seen before. Shanahan’s offense with Lance is not going to be a redux of Shanahan’s Robert Griffin III offense—Griffin III and Lance are entirely different quarterbacks, and one might argue that Lance’s skillset more intimately marries with the outside zone. The league has spent years trying to simultaneously water down and stop what Shanahan is doing offensively, but Lance blows all of their plotting and imitation out of the water. Not one of the teams running the 49ers’ offense—Green Bay, Tennessee, Atlanta and the Jets, to name a few—have a quarterback with the size and speed element that Lance does (that includes Ryan Tannehill). The system already poses some significant mismatch advantages for non-mobile quarterbacks, allowing San Francisco to basically play 11-on-10 football. Lance tips the scales further, giving them a two-man advantage at the snap based on blocking schemes and play designs.
We’ve been accused of shoveling charcoal into this hype furnace at an alarming rate, but it won’t look silly when Lance is lapping the field for offensive rookie of the year.
FROST Score: 10
• Joe Burrow is struggling during early portions of training camp
Early reports from Cincinnati describe Burrow as making uncharacteristic mistakes and wincing a bit on his injured knee. The Athletic noted that he lifted his leg up to avoid contact during a drill where players were not even rushing.
This should be expected. Burrow is a young adult who just saw his working life and childhood dream flash before his eyes. He played dutifully behind a threadbare offensive line last year and was a step ahead in the Rookie of the Year race despite having one of the least open sets of wide receivers in the NFL. So, it’s fair to say that any hesitancy is understandable, especially when the Bengals still did little to upgrade the offensive line in front of him this offseason.
Quarterbacks tend to work through this. Players coming off shoulder surgery need to work into a full throwing motion. Quarterbacks coming off ACL tears are often more hesitant to leave the pocket or avoid traffic laterally. Thankfully the Bengals are holding him out of the preseason, which should allow him to take the proper pace through his recovery progression.
It’s important to remember that Burrow tore his MCL and PCL back in November. If the Bengals are interested in avoiding a battered Andrew Luck scenario; they may not even be considering Burrow for the first few weeks of the season anyway. He’s getting rest. The team is structuring practices toward different throw depths. And, so many times in practice, the defense knows where the ball is going, which artificially inflates pick numbers. So there is a lot of context to what we’re seeing and a lot of unknown to sort through.
We’ll take our chances on Burrow eventually making a sound recovery so long as the Bengals stay out of his way.
FROST Score: 2
• Jordan Love’s first preseason action could be a harbinger of decisions to come
There wasn’t a preseason last year, so Jordan Love will see his first extended action on Saturday against the Texans. While we’re in agreement that Love is not as good as Aaron Rodgers, what we’re interested in finding out is how well he can play within the scheme. Green Bay’s offense is incredibly friendly for boot-able quarterbacks who can make good decisions on the run. Because of their success running the ball and their incredibly talented offensive line, Love will have a leg up on other “rookie” quarterbacks diving into a more traditional offense.
Let’s say Love finishes the preseason with a 70% completion rate, 5 touchdowns and no interceptions. Let’s say he looks polished enough that a few QB-needy teams phone the Packers this offseason. How does that change the calculus moving forward? Rodgers is allegedly guaranteed to be dealt after the season. How much easier is that to do when you have capable hands succeeding him?
On the flip side, what if Love struggles to complete half his passes, throws two touchdowns and four picks? Does Green Bay spend the season quietly kowtowing to Rodgers in the hopes that they can solve his issues of alleged disrespect? While the team obviously has their internal scouting report on Love and understands his capabilities, perception can change quickly once the rest of the NFL world gets to see what the Packers are seeing.
FROST Score: 8
• Kirk Cousins, Lamar Jackson refusing the vaccine
This is not a forum for which to criticize players who are refusing the vaccine. While those who are vaccinated may disagree with the choice, it is a choice nonetheless. Kirk Cousins very publicly has stated that he will not receive the vaccine, which, for a player who encounters nearly all walks of life in the facility, is a tremendous disadvantage from a coaching standpoint. Which is part of the difficulty, right? Would coaches be as adamant about players getting vaccinated if it didn’t represent as much of an advantage? Do players feel that not-so-subtle hidden motivation and does that in any way contribute to their hesitancy (or apathy) toward the vaccine?
It’s difficult to know for sure since so many players aren’t talking about it. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, but the aftershock is being felt. Lamar Jackson, for instance, has missed eight practices after his positive COVID test. Cousins missed a handful of practices, the Vikings have altered their meeting spaces, and Cousins has said they will meet outside all season if they have to (in the Minnesota winter!). The two quarterbacks may end up being the flashpoint for some heavily awkward moments. While I think the as quarterbacks go, so does their team narrative is a bit overplayed—I would hope, for example, that no one anywhere ever decides to do or not do something because Kirk Cousins does or doesn’t do it—the choice of a high-profile player to not vaccinate could contribute to all sorts of passive aggression in the workplace. Look at all of the hurdles the Vikings have leapt through just to accommodate him so far.
Not to get too spacy here, but an NFL season is a collection of vibes. Players need to love and care for one another; appreciate one another. While it’s not impossible during issues of diametric opposition—players, after all, put aside their differences during the most turbulent political stretch in modern history—who’s to say that chemistry is not impacted by one player viewing another player as not doing something that could protect everyone’s family?
FROST Score: 10
• Joe Judge and Robert Saleh
Newsday did an interesting piece this week on the juxtaposition between Robert Saleh, the Jets’ new head coach, and Joe Judge, the Giants’ second-year coach. Saleh was asked about running laps and doing pushups as a form of punishment just a day after Judge made a display of 100-yard sprints and sets of 30 pushups as punishment and discussed his preference for mutual respect and teaching moments. I was there for Judge’s much-discussed punishment laps, which occurred after a defensive player knocked down Giants running back Corey Clement, then Evan Engram knocked down that defensive player, then Logan Ryan knocked down Evan Engram. A low-key brawl ensued, with quarterback Daniel Jones ending up in the fracas, which heightened the overall level of concern about the otherwise banal (and quite common) training camp fight. I don’t think it’s responsible to draw a direct line from this moment to the recent retirement of three veteran Giants players Zach Fulton, Joe Looney and Todd Davis. Though the narrative, especially in the wake of Kelvin Benjamin’s release (he had some choice words about Judge and his hard attitude) is starting to cement in the minds of people who don’t pay attention for a living.
Here’s why I think it’s important, even if it’s incorrect to simply couch Judge as some hardass cosplayer: Players are watching. NFL players are watching. Collegiate players are watching. Owners looking to hire a new coach at some point are watching. And if Judge succeeds, so too does the ability for coaches to continue reaching into their past—the days of endless wind sprints, push-ups, up-downs and rope climbs—for guidance. Judge seems like one of the last, and certainly youngest, coaches who tries to maintain a bit of that Parcells-ian, Coughlin-ian flare. If he fails, so does the whole milieu. The Matt LaFleurs, Brandon Staleys and Saleh’s of the world become the expectation.
If he succeeds, there are going to be a dozen far less well-meaning clones crawling out of the woodwork looking to recreate the Junction Boys for attention.
FROST Score: 8.5
• Kyle Pitts, Elijah Moore, Rondale Moore and some other young playmakers are turning heads in training camp
This has been a good draft class for those of us who enjoy thumbing through Instagram and watching attention-span-hacking clips of rookies making acrobatic catches. It seems, more than most, Kyle Pitts (Falcons), Rondale Moore (Cardinals) and Elijah Moore (Jets) are the receivers garnering the most attention. Training camp is built for outliers who have elite size and or speed, which makes sense. Some of the drills we’re seeing produce these highlight catches force defensive backs to cover a big-bodied Pitts or force defenders to keep track of the speedy (and deceptively strong) Moore, who has myriad ways to win during a practice rep.
While we’re not suggesting these players won’t be good come regular season, the parameters change. They are no longer on an individual stage but forced to overcome the collective banalities of their offenses and the limitations of their quarterbacks. Every play is not about getting them the ball like most drills are designed to do. Pitts likely has the best chance of carrying the hype over given his size and ability to post up on smaller defenders. Strength and size are largely undefeated at the NFL level when a player has that type of body control.
FROST Score: 1
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