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Carson Wentz Is Making the Most of What May Be His Last Shot

An inside look at how the QB is fitting in with his third team in three years. Plus, Ryan Fitzpatrick talks about his long career and the decision to walk away. And more on Alex Mack, Kyler Murray and a newsy week in June.

What stuck out about this particular moment on May 16, to Ron Rivera, is that it really wasn’t meant to stick out at all. It happened organically and, in coming that way, gave the Commanders’ coach another level of encouragement that his team did the right thing in trading for Carson Wentz back in March.

The setting was a country club in northern Virginia near the Potomac River, and the coaches had just knocked off the players after the players challenged them to go out earlier in the offseason. Four foursomes settled it on the golf course that afternoon, and Wentz was in the clubhouse afterward chopping it up with teammates Taylor Heinicke, Cole Holcomb, Kendall Fuller, Jonathan Allen, Joey Slye, Tress Way and Brian Johnson.

“And you watched him, and he integrated himself with everybody so easily. It was really cool to see,” said Rivera, who then added, “It sure looked natural to me. And it’s funny because I’ve heard a lot of things about what was said in Philadelphia, I heard a lot of things that were said in Indianapolis.”

For the record, Wentz and Heinicke won their match that Monday—beating offensive coordinator Scott Turner and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese.

But the bigger win for Wentz, really, took place on the 19th hole.

While Rivera wouldn’t dive into exactly what he was referencing, from Wentz’s experience with the Eagles and Colts, it doesn’t take too much digging to figure it out. Questions about how he relates with teammates have dogged him since his play first went the wrong way, toward the end of his time in Philly. It was never, to be clear, that Wentz was a bad guy. More so, it was how, and really whether, he was connecting with the guys like a quarterback should.

MMQB column graphic, featuring small photos of Carson Wentz, Ron Rivera and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

What the Commanders’ coach would say is why, when Washington pulled the trigger back on March 9, he punched the gas where so many others were tapping the brakes on Wentz’s capacity to become again what he was through his first four or so NFL seasons. Specifically, Rivera points to comments he saw, after the trade, from Indy’s alphas—T.Y. Hilton, Darius Leonard and Jonathan Taylor—on who the QB was as a player and as a person.

“Those quotes came out,” Rivera said, “And you were like, O.K., there’s more to the story.”

Rivera feels like he knows the rest now. Or more of it, at least.

Which is why, come this fall, he’s expecting more out of Wentz than most do.

It’s almost summer in the NFL, and that means we’re closing in on mandatory veteran minicamps. And that’s led to some more news in pro football the first week of June, which we’ll be covering in this week’s column. Inside this edition of The MMQB column, you’ll find …

• A reflective Ryan Fitzpatrick, as he walks off into the sunset.

• An appreciative Alex Mack, doing the same.

• More on the impact that Stephon Tuitt and Frank Gore had as players.

• A dive into where things stand between Kyler Murray and the Cardinals.

And a whole lot more. But we’re starting with the Commanders, their new quarterback and what’s shaping up to be a critical year for that seventh-year QB.

Carson Wentz watches fellow QB Taylor Heinicke hit a shot on the golf course.

Wentz watches Heinicke hit a shot during a golf outing with players and coaches.

/‘[=Few in the NFL have as much on the line as Wentz does over the next few months. Over the last 24 months, he’s gone from inextricable face of the franchise in Philly to reclamation project in Indy to, now, his own personal Last Chance Saloon in northern Virginia.

How he’s approaching that is much different than you might expect.

So many quarterbacks, and players, who have been in Wentz’s spot before find motivation in slights, and vow to play with the proverbial chip on their shoulder. And for some, that really works, with the doubt of others fueling resurgent play. Wentz, for his part, won’t knock others for that, and he’s certainly felt it from those who gave up on him. It’s just not him to use that the way some other players would.

“I don’t think he’s scarred as much. Did it hurt? I’m sure it did,” Rivera said. “But I also think because he’s a young man of faith that he looks at it as part of a plan.”

“There’s for sure a human side—the I wanna prove people wrong,” Wentz said. “But it’s what Coach said, being a man of God, a man of faith, this is a blessing. Playing this game is a blessing. It might not have gone the last couple years the way I saw it in my head. But to know that I’m still healthy, I’m still playing the game I love, and have an incredible family that supports me. And I come home and my wife and daughters, they don’t care if I threw five touchdowns or five picks—it doesn’t matter to them—is a blessing.

“Just knowing there’s a purpose and a plan in place, and for me to just, because of my faith, go out and play freely and have fun and enjoy it for as long as I can.”

The rest, he then said, “should take care of itself.”

And Wentz’s hope is by letting relationships happen in the aforementioned organic way, any questions others have lingering from whispers out of Indy and Philly will take care of themselves, too.

The day golfing was just one example of it. Another came the other day in the cafeteria, when coaches found him telling Chase Young and Montez Sweat about his kids over lunch.

Those encounters are normal, of course. They’re also, Wentz recognizes, important, and for more reasons than what people in other places have been saying.

“For me, coming in here, it’s a whirlwind. It's a whirlwind for my family, it’s a whirlwind learning the playbook, learning the locker room,” Wentz said. “But I’ve said it in the midst of transition last year, this year, my favorite part of this game is just building relationships with the guys. Trying to do that amidst work and family life is always a tough thing to juggle, but this is the time of year to do that. So whether it’s golf or going to dinner, getting together and going on double dates with guys and their wives, things like that.

“So just being around the guys, getting to know them, build that relationship, because quite frankly a lot of these relationships will last long beyond football. I’ve got incredible friends that were teammates in Philly, incredible friends that were teammates in Indy, people that will be in my life forever, and that’s what you’re looking for.”

And getting what he’s looking for there, the thinking goes, should help him, and the Commanders, get what they’re looking for on the field.

There were a few reasons Washington was intrigued by Wentz when few others were back in January and February. It started with a visit Rivera paid D.C. icon Joe Gibbs in Charlotte in late January, with Gibbs telling Rivera the story of how he compiled a list of quarterbacks he’d want upon returning to the NFL in 2004 and, whether they were considered available or not, just started calling their teams to inquire about potential trades.

Such a strategy landed Mark Brunell for Gibbs that year and Wentz for Rivera this year. And what the Commanders saw in Wentz was some of the obvious (how his ability to push the ball downfield could unlock the potential of Washington’s speedy cadre of receivers), and some things a little less obvious (how his downturn last year coincided with the Colts becoming more run reliant on early downs behind Taylor, which seemed to knock Wentz off rhythm a little bit, and should be easy to correct).

“I think when you look at the way he played last year, and really over the course of his career, he’s a guy who’s a big, physical guy, and he’s gonna make a lot of big plays,” Turner said. “He’s a good athlete, and he can extend some plays with his strength and physicality, and then his ability to just push the ball down the field—he’s got a rare ability to do that, not many guys in the league can do it. The way we’ve built our offense, we’ve got some speed on offense, and I think having a guy like that really helps you get the most out of it.”

As such, in the minds of the Commanders, there wasn’t a ton of rebuilding that needed to happen in Wentz’s game—more so, it’d be about having the right personnel and the right scheme for Wentz, the kinds that would match his talents.

Accordingly, Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, and first-round pick Jahan Dotson, the latter of whom was acquired after Wentz, all run in the low 4.4s or faster. And Turner’s scheme, like his dad’s, values the ability of a quarterback to hang in the pocket and deliver the ball downfield. So at least on paper, this marriage looks like the right one for Wentz.

“I definitely felt the speed of the guys,” Wentz said. “It’s only been [six] practices, so you’re getting reps of everything. Obviously, we’re out here running the ball, screens, throwing quick game, trying to mix it up. We’re only taking so many shots. But the ones that are there, you can see the guys are putting speed on tape, and I’m feeling it even on routes on air. I believe it’s the start of something really fun, something really dynamic.”

And then, there’s the process he and Turner, and by extension Rivera and Zampese, are working through now, in finding what in the scheme itself Wentz is comfortable with, and what he doesn’t like, to try to tailor the offense to the quarterback. That, really, goes into an area that’s never been a problem for Wentz—his work ethic has always been above reproach, even when a lot of other things were sideways.

Where he might tell you now what he’s improved is extending that consistency across the board, in how he operates with even the most menial stuff.

“The most impressive thing is just the day to day, the way he’s built relationships with his teammates, and he’s consistently making plays,” Turner said. “That’s where you see it, making throw after throw, communicating with the guys, and not just the receivers or O-linemen, even bullsh---ing with the defensive guys in the building. He’s clearly one of the guys and he knows exactly what we’re trying to get done.”

“He’s brilliantly smart. He came in, got in his book and got to work,” Rivera added. “He’s just one of those guys that works at it. And in some respects, it was similar to when I was in San Diego and I saw the way Philip Rivers was, how smart Philip was. And this guy is smart. Watching Carson, it’s like, This guy’s got it, and he really did remind me of Philip to a degree. … It was really pleasing to see.”

If you listen to Turner or Rivera, or anyone on staff in D.C. for that matter, you can hear it. Everyone knows. Just as it’s on Wentz to build his relationships up in the locker room, it’s important for everyone else to reciprocate that. And that started the moment Wentz stepped out of a BMW SUV on March 16 in Ashburn to find the head coach waiting for him.

“Just know you’re coming somewhere you’re wanted,” Rivera told Wentz, as he walked his new quarterback through the doors that afternoon.

It was important in this case, because it always is for Rivera. But especially so when the quarterback he was bringing in had been dealt off in consecutive offseasons, by teams that talked a big game about their commitment to him.

“I felt it from the jump, honestly, within minutes of getting the call from [Colts GM] Chris Ballard about the trade, hearing from coach Rivera, he was very forthright, and couldn’t express his excitement more, which meant a lot to me,” Wentz said “It’s a huge transition, it’s a lot of things, it’s been well-documented, the ups and downs, and the being-caught-off-guard aspect of it. But coming in and talking to him right away, a guy, I know I’ve said this on record multiple times, I’ve had a ton of respect for from afar, meant a lot.”

Rivera wouldn’t waste much time before backing up his words with actions.

Soon after the trade, he and his wife Stephanie invited Wentz and his wife Madison out to spend a day at their place, and capped it with dinner at Dan and Tanya Snyder’s house. The Wentzes brought their daughters, so over the course of a few hours, the coach got to see his new quarterback interact with, first, his kids, and then his new boss. “He was just so natural and comfortable,” Rivera said. “I liked who he was.”

And it only buoyed Rivera’s feeling that he could succeed where Doug Pederson and Frank Reich couldn’t the last two years, and make his stay in Washington more than a stopover.

“This guy was 11–3 [in 2017] and blows his knee out trying to score a touchdown for his team,” the coach continued. “Dude was on course to be the league MVP. He had a good, solid year last year until the last two games when he got COVID. We all want to forget the good things, and point to this negativity, and you gotta go, What the hell? I remember when I was in Carolina coaching against him thinking, God, that guy’s a beast.”

Plenty of NFL folks, for better or worse, don’t think that version of Wentz is coming back. And the truth is, if it doesn’t happen in Washington, there probably won’t be another team that’ll hand him the keys the way the Commanders are now.

So there’s a lot riding on Wentz’s 2022, really, for everyone in Washington.

But for now, Wentz isn’t burdening himself with that. He’s in a different place now than he was at the end in Philly or beginning in Indy. The hope, all the way around, is that it results in his ability get different results this time around, too.

“I’m 29, I got two kids, I got a wife. My outlook on life looks different, my perspective, the things I value, the things we value as a family, everything’s different,” he said. “I also know who I am now, not that I didn’t then, it’s just I’ve grown up, I’ve matured, I know my interests, I know what I like. And at the same time, I’ve learned a lot of football, so I can adapt and adjust to playbooks easier every single year. It’s all different. I’m now one of the older guys in the locker room, walking in the first day here was like, O.K., I’m an old guy now.

“Things just change. Things look different.”

Soon enough, we’ll get to see if they really are different.

For now, at least, Rivera can say it is a little different than you, or he, might have heard.

Ryan Fitzpatrick puts his arms up to celebrate as a member of the Dolphins.


When I saw how Ryan Fitzpatrick’s retirement news landed this week, through a tweet from his ex-Bills teammate Fred Jackson, my first thought was how cool, and fitting, it was that the 39-year-old quarterback was more or less handing the mic to a guy he played with, and respected so much, to make the big announcement.

The funny thing is, as it turns out, that’s not what happened at all.

“Me and my oldest son made that … word cloud or whatever you want to call it,” Fitzpatrick said over the phone on Friday afternoon. “And I just sent it to a bunch of guys just to say thank you and how much I appreciated them. And Fred decided to tweet it out.”

Jackson, who was with Fitzpatrick for all four of his years in Buffalo, quickly realized what he’d done, as he watched the tweet go viral, and called his old quarterback to apologize. No apology was necessary.

“I just told him, No worries,” Fitzpatrick said. “If you look at that list, I mean Fred Jackson is the biggest font, and that is purposeful because he is and will always be my favorite teammate of all time. My son and I put all those names on there and tried to put everybody I ever played with, and I’m sure we missed a few. We tried our best. But the size of the name—everybody on there means something to me—but the biggest guys are the ones that had an enormous impact on me as a player and a human being.

“I wanted to make sure they saw and could feel my appreciation for what they did for me.”

And for Fitzpatrick, the list was long for a reason.

His decision really came about a month ago, and he leaves behind quite a legacy in the raw number of teams, coaches, players and fan bases he’s connected with. Once the seventh-round longshot out of Harvard, Fitzpatrick wound up making it out of camp with the remnants of the Greatest Show on Turf Rams in 2005, and played for nine teams over 17 years, starting games for every one of them.

So why walk away now? As Fitzpatrick explained it to me, three factors came into play …

1. The hip injury that knocked him out in Week 1 in Washington last year ended up being more serious than anyone thought it’d be at the time. “The initial thought was six-to-eight weeks because I had a torn labrum but after additional scans, four weeks after the injury, there was a lot more there that was a lot scarier than just the labrum,” he said. He’d developed what’s called avascular necrosis, which is defined as the death of bone tissue due to lack of blood supply. So the prospect of what that could happen if he kept playing was a factor. “I just wanted to get back as healthy as I could be,” he said, “being able to still continue to do stuff with my kids.”

2. Those seven kids of his were also a factor in another way—with his oldest just having finished his freshman year of high school, Fitzpatrick didn’t want to have to move the family of nine again. They went with him with every move, save for the one to Miami. They stayed in Tampa for that one, and Fitz went back and forth those two years. “I just got a small, three-bedroom apartment,” he said, “And one of the bedrooms had three sets of bunk beds in it. When they came out and visited, they’d all sleep there.” So now, they’re readying to move from northern Virginia back to Fitzpatrick’s home state of Arizona, with plans to stay put. “Moving every year, it’s just getting harder and harder,” he said, “and at some point, it’s not gonna be fair to them as they get older.”

3. If he was going to keep going, it would’ve had to have been for an opportunity like last year’s in Washington, where a team was signing him to start. That opportunity hadn’t come and, given his injury and age, the likelihood it would wasn’t great.

“The combination of those three factors,” Fitzpatrick said, “made it a pretty easy decision.”

And as for the story of his career, we did get into that too.

One interesting part is how unlikely Fitzpatrick himself thought this would be, even a year before he was drafted. His junior year at Harvard was his first as a starter and, at that point, he figured his postgrad plans would be like those of most of his teammates. “They all essentially went to New York for a couple years, did investment banking or something in the financial world, and then figured out from there what direction they were really gonna go in,” he said. “I probably would’ve done the same thing.”

But that summer of 2004, before his senior season, his coach at Harvard, Tim Murphy, suggested that he go work as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy, where he’d get to see how he stacked up physically against quarterbacks from college football’s bluebloods (Georgia’s David Greene was one Fitzpatrick mentioned). “He wanted to show me you’re not too different than some of these guys,” he said.

The experience there buoyed Fitzpatrick to put everything he had into making the NFL over the 10 months to follow. Harvard went 10–0, and Fitzpatrick was Ivy League Player of the Year that fall.

But making it, and knowing you belong are two different things. And this is where Fitzpatrick really took advantage of the opportunity. The seventh-round pick started camp in 2005 as the Rams’ fourth-string quarterback. He made the team and moved up a rung. Then Marc Bulger got hurt. Then Jamie Martin went down against Houston. Which put Fitzpatrick in a huddle with Orlando Pace, Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce, down 17–0 to the Texans.

“We ended up winning the game in overtime,” he said. “So that was when I was like, I can definitely do this, I belong. And then I got a couple starts, and one of my next starts was no touchdowns and five interceptions against the Vikings. So for the next three years I heard that horn sound in my nightmares. So just as quickly as I knew I belonged and could do it, as it does to most human quarterbacks throughout their career, the game is so humbling too, it’s such a challenge every week.”

But the experience gave Fitzpatrick resolve, as did Bulger saying to him, after the Texans win, “You just earned yourself 10 years in the league.”

It turns out Bulger’s estimate was low. Few could’ve predicted the wild ride ahead, a ride that Fitzpatrick is incredibly grateful for. And one of the greatest gifts he took from it is the simple ability to relate with just about every player in an NFL uniform—save maybe, he says, for the high first-round pick who’s dealing with outsized expectations right away.

By the end, he’d been the roster longshot, backup trying to make it, established/highly paid core player, big-market quarterback, veteran stopgap and veteran backup, which gave him something to give almost any teammate he ever had.

“I kind of was in everyone’s shoes, no matter what point of a career they were at,” he said. “That made my perspective unique, and that was one of my favorite things, just sharing that with people and making sure the guys felt comfortable enough with me, and making sure I was approachable to where they could come and ask me some of those questions and we could talk about them. That was, especially towards the end, my last five, six, seven years, one of my favorite things about playing.”

And ultimately, it was one of the things that kept him in the game for his last half decade as a player. Because, believe it or not, after the bottom fell out with the Jets in 2016, he was pretty close to walking away.

“I had a miserable year, my second year in New York, didn’t want to play anymore, it was the first time ever that I hated it,” he said. “I hated football, just wasn’t fun for me anymore. That was really the first time where I was thinking I was done, I’m probably not gonna play anymore. And then Dirk Koetter called me, and I looked it up to see how far Tampa was from Disney World, and saw that it was an hour away.

“So I find with Tampa that you go live in Florida and be close to Disney for my family to experience that. Through that, I got into a game, my first year, Jameis hurt his shoulder, we were playing at Arizona, down 31–0. And that game there, just allowed me to completely remember why I play. I think we ended up losing 38–33, but the joy that I got in playing football was completely back. … From there, it was easier to continue to go.”

That allowed him to further harvest one of his favorite things about being an NFL player—the number of relationships he built through the game. Fitzpatrick told me the end of last week was phenomenal, because of the number of ex-teammates he got to hear from. “To know I’ll be remembered as a guy that they loved being around, that they can always count on, that’s it for me,” he said. “That makes me so happy.”

And that goes beyond the locker room, too. It extends into the communities he played in, really from the time his family put down roots in a Buffalo area neighborhood. It was there that the Fitzpatricks were part of Crock Pot Sundays—a sort of potluck dinner their whole neighborhood in western New York took part in after home games. And after that, everywhere the family went, they tried to make and keep those sorts of memories.

“The cool thing for me is it’s not one particular team, it’s not one particular position group, it’s not even just players or coaches. It’s equipment staff and it’s training staff and it’s executive assistants, it’s just this huge web of people throughout the last 17 years that I’ve been in contact with,” he said. “We’ve made these amazing friendships everywhere I’ve gone. I guess just the diversity of that web, and just how interesting and neat it’s been to be part of everybody’s lives is the part that’s been coolest for me.”

The hope is something similar is waiting for them in Arizona now.

Fitzpatrick says that, “In another life, I’m sure I’d love to do the coaching thing.” But the tug of, again, creating some more stability for his family will keep him away from that, at least for now. So the plan is to try to help players where he can with that encyclopedia of institutional knowledge he’s got, while also sharing some of that with the world on TV.

“The thing I always go back to, I’ve got 17 years of knowledge now in the NFL that if I don’t coach, does it just go to waste?” he said. “To me the broadcasting part is interesting because it allows me an outlet to share that with people. I don’t know if I’d be any good at it or not, but it’s something I’m thinking about. And that’s one of the main reasons to do it—I’ve got all these stories and experiences stored up I really think people would think were unique.”

It makes sense, of course, because the guy’s got quite a story to tell.

Alex Mack celebrates with Trent Williams.


Alex Mack was among the other players who officially hung ’em up this week, and his story’s pretty interesting too. Mack came into the league as the first draft pick of the Eric Mangini era in Cleveland, a selection that resulted from the Browns trading down a couple of times in 2009 (with the first deal being the one where the Jets moved up to get Mark Sanchez). He leaves as one of the best offensive linemen of his era, having made All-Pro three times for two franchises, and seven Pro Bowls for three teams.

And his exit from the NFL is a result of about four offseasons of contemplation. His goal coming into the league was to make it 10 years, he got there in 2018, and he’s taken stock every year since. He came close to walking away last year, but the Niners offered him the chance to play for Kyle Shanahan (whom he followed from Cleveland to Atlanta) again, compete for a championship, and not have the COVID-19 year of 2020 be his swansong, which was too much to pass up.

This time around, the decision to call it quits might have come sooner, had it not been for the heartbreaking way the Niners’ season ended in the NFC title game.

“It hurt,” Mack said Friday. “It hurt, that’s for sure. It’s so hard to win a Super Bowl, and I’ve gotten close twice now and it’s been 13 years. It’s such a monumental task that takes talent and luck and timing, it’s just one of those things that’s immensely hard. And every year for 13 years, I did absolutely everything I could to be the best player possible, and I got close twice. And the fact that it didn’t happen my last year, that isn’t ideal.

“But everybody loses, except one team. The numbers are so stacked against you. And that weighed into the equation. If we had won the Super Bowl, I think I would’ve been really quick to retire. It was, Does my body have another year to give it another go? And I landed on, No, it’s time, it’s time to walk away.”

That an accomplished and financially secure player would reach that sort of conclusion at 36 isn’t unusual. But Mack’s just a little different than most in that it wasn’t really the grind that pushed him away—“I actually enjoyed practicing,” he said. More so, it was, like he said, whether he felt like his body could tolerate another year.

“I had a really good time on the field, and I always have really loved football,” he said “It’s a lot of work; it’s hard and you’re tired. But it’s fun to be with the guys, and be at practice, and run around and push things. It just gets harder when your body hurts, to do that day-in and day-out, and be the player you want to be every time, with the immense pressure of preparing week-in and week-out.

“There are a lot of things that go into the season, you really have to be ready to go all in. There’s no half-effort. You have to be training your hardest, getting your body right, ready to put in the work in the film room. It is a monumental task of monotony to be good.”

And Mack just wasn’t ready to do that again. But he leaves grateful that the Niners gave him the shot last year and left the light on for him all offseason, and he’s excited to see what’s next, expecting it to involve football in some way—“I can’t just retire and do nothing. It won’t be that.”

While broadcasting, he said, is less likely for him than someone like Fitzpatrick, he shared his peer’s sentiment, that he sees himself as having too much to give to walk away from the sport he’s played his whole life altogether.

“I want to be involved in football for the rest of my life, there’s no question about that,” he said. “This game has given me too much to just walk away. ... I’ll find a way to stay involved, whether it’s coaching high school, pee-wee football or at a higher level. I like the game too much and put too much time and effort into it. It’s too much fun and too rewarding not to stay at least partially involved.”

As for what he wants to be remembered for, Mack kept it simple, saying he hopes the guys he played with can recall a lineman who gave all-out effort and really loved the game. I don’t think he’ll have to convince many people on either of those counts.

We’ve known for a couple of months now that Frank Gore was retiring and signing a one-day contract with the 49ers to make it official. San Francisco went through with the pomp and circumstance of it this week, and every time Gore’s name and longevity comes up, I think of a stat line from two decades ago that’s still absolutely astounding to me. From Gore’s freshman year at Miami:

11 games, 62 rushes, 562 yards, five touchdowns, 9.1 yards per carry.

Gore did that as an 18-year-old who got to campus that summer, for a national title team that also had Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Najeh Davenport in its backfield. And I think it underscores something we forget a lot—the dude was immensely, immensely talented. Of course, the rest of the story’s incredible too. Gore never fulfilled his promise as a collegian, because he tore his left ACL in 2002 and again in ’03. And his final season, in ’04, he was coming off all that on a team that wasn’t nearly as good as the Hurricanes had been when Gore was younger. Then, entering the NFL in ’05 with two knees and two shoulders that had been reconstructed, plenty of teams (including the Niners, initially) failed him on physicals before San Francisco took a chance on him at the top of the third round. So the amount to overcome was huge, and the accomplishment of playing 16 years at his position, and winding up third all-time in rushing yards (16,000 even) is mind-boggling. And Gore should take his bows for it. But I hope everyone remembers, too, how damn talented he was, and how amazing he was to watch at his peak, when the Niners built a Super Bowl offense around him. Happy trails, Frank.

Stephon Tuitt’s retirement was the other one this week, and he shouldn’t be forgotten. He was a very good player for a long time and a foundation piece of the Steelers’ defensive line for a decade, alongside Cam Heyward. How he exited was definitely different, but the circumstances he outlined make it understandable (we’ll get to those in a minute). This week, in the locker room, Steelers players told the media almost uniformly that they were surprised by the announcement. Most figured that, though Tuitt missed the first two phases of the offseason program, he’d report for OTAs. When he didn’t, they wondered what was up.

“When we found out, we were kind of caught off guard,” fellow DL Tyson Alualu said. “Like I have always said, As long as he’s good, we’re good. Selfishly, we want him here on the team. He makes us that much better. But if he’s in a good place—and when we talked to him, he sounds at peace—we’re happy for him.”

In a tweet, Tuitt said that in the aftermath of the tragic death of his brother, and his recent graduation from Notre Dame, he felt like he was being “called to move beyond the sport of football.” I did reach out to talk to him, but was told he’d leave it at what his statement said on the decision. And I can respect wanting to go out like that. Here’s hoping that, as his teammates said, he finds peace in whatever he winds up doing next.

Kyler Murray showing up at the Cardinals’ facility this week became a big deal, but it actually wasn’t his first appearance there this offseason. Murray, I’m told, actually reported for work for a couple of days of the team’s Phase II work, earlier in the offseason, and popped in for an OTA day the week before, too. So why show up, in full, last week? Mostly, Murray did because that’s when all the veteran players had agreed to report. Most of the offensive line, tailback James Conner, and other older guys weren’t there until last week anyway, meaning the team has its quarterback for the part of the offseason program that counts. And it’s good news, too, given where things were a few months ago. My understanding is there was never really bad blood between Murray and his coaches, or even GM Steve Keim, but he felt like he needed to be aggressive in pursuing a contract then. He was promised, repeatedly, that the team would try to get an extension done in the summer. So now the ball is in owner Michael Bidwill’s court. And Murray is actually in position to benefit from having waited, with Deshaun Watson, Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford having done megadeals since Murray’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, dropped the infamous precombine statement laying out where the quarterback’s camp stood.

The Eagles front-office shuffle deserves your attention. And mostly because it marks at least a cosmetic change to the way GM Howie Roseman has had the personnel department set up the last few years, with player personnel and football operations siloed off, and vice presidents heading each group. Here are a few notes to help contextualize the changes …

• The Eagles haven’t had an assistant GM in the past, and now they have two, having promoted vice presidents Alec Halaby and Jon Ferrari into those roles. So why do it? And why do it with two guys from the same side of the building? My sense is, with a lot of new blood coming in on the scouting side, it was important for Roseman to promote people internally, and both Halaby and Ferrari are deserving. They’ll run football ops, like Catherine Raîche and Andrew Berry did the last few years.

• There are really six guys heading up scouting: ex-Jags GM Dave Caldwell, ex-Broncos VP Matt Russell, new directors of player personnel Chuck Walls (hired from Cleveland) and Alan Wolking (an internal promotion), director of scouting Brandon Hunt (hired from Pittsburgh) and senior director of college scouting Anthony Patch. Caldwell’s and Russell’s executive experience, and Patch’s experience in Philly, should help with Walls, Wolking and Hunt being candidates to ascend to the top scouting role. And while Patch, Caldwell, Russell and Wolking don’t live in Philly, the technological advances of the last few years should make it pretty easy for each to stay intimately involved. (Walls and Hunt are moving to Philly, and will be working from the office.)

• I would expect we’ll see someone in the VP of player personnel spot in 2023, and I don’t think scouting is going to be a less prevalent part of the operation now, despite what the titles might lead you to believe. Yes, Halaby’s new title makes him the NFL’s highest-ranking personnel man with a purely analytics background. But the Eagles have been heavy on analytics since the ’90s, so the involvement of data in the equation isn’t at all new here.

So what’s the sum of all this? Roles, and how one guy fits with the next, could still be a bit fluid. But if you look closely at the titles, you’ll see a mix of trying to take care of guys who’ve got pelts on the wall for the team already, and Roseman doing what he needed to in order to get good people from other places. Which is where I’d say that I do believe there are a lot of good people in place, and the trick now will be working through how they’re organized.

Tom Brady reacts after holing out from the fairway on the seventh hole during The Match.

Tom Brady’s comments after The Match were interesting. In case you missed it, here’s what the Buccaneers’ quarterback said, sitting for an interview with Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, on his decision to return to football in 2022.

“At this stage, it’s like 55% yes and 45% no,” Brady said on TNT. “It’s not 100–0. That’s just the reality. It’s not that I’m not 100% committed, it’s just as soon as I make the commitment to do it, it’s like, ‘Ugh. Alright, here we go.’ It’s like running a marathon. You can’t decide two weeks before the marathon, ‘Hey, I’m going to start running.’ We got right to free agency, and I felt some pressure to do it and talked to the team and organization, and it all worked out.”

To me, this was the genius in how the Buccaneers handled the situation. Where Brady was wavering on playing in Tampa, and thinking of San Francisco or Miami, the Bucs were firm in their messaging that if Brady would play, it’d be in Tampa. You heard it repeatedly at the combine. Brady’s rights weren’t going to be traded. And Jason Licht and Bruce Arians knew then that free agency provided a real deadline—because if Brady didn’t make a decision by the start of it, there could be a mass exodus of veteran players, given the team’s uncertainty at the most important position on the field. So for Brady that meant either make a decision, or risk coming back and playing on a depleted roster. He made his choice. The Bucs got their quarterback.

The comments made by Aaron Rodgers were less interesting. I think Rodgers has made it pretty clear for a while now that he’s sort of moving year-to-year at this point. And he did it again in responding to what Brady said.

“I think about [retirement] all the time,” Rodgers said “And I resonate with what Tom said about the mindset of 55–45. When you commit, you’re 100%. The older you get, the interests change and the grind, I think, wears on you a little bit more, and the football part, that’s the easy part. That’s the joy. It’s the other stuff that wears on you and makes you think about life after football. Tommy obviously set the bar so high with playing so many years, but I can definitely see the end coming.”

Rodgers hasn’t always been consistent with points he’s made. But that right there? It’s pretty much 100% consistent with what we’ve heard from him the last few years.

Derek Carr’s pretty excited to play for Josh McDaniels. If you missed our story Friday on the new-look Raiders, I’d encourage you to check it out. And one thing I left on the cutting room floor was the specifics on why Carr is so excited to work with McDaniels. When I talked with him for the story a couple weeks back, I let him explain how the coach brings his offensive acumen to life.

“He was doing it all offseason. He did it today,” Carr said. “He’s so far ahead and it’s kind of how my mind works. And it’s why me and [Jon] Gruden got along so well. With Josh, we’ll be doing a play, but we see one step, two steps, three steps down the road. What if they do this what if we do this and then they do this? So he’s stopping plays, and it’s so intriguing to me, because it’s how my mind works. He’s like now, We check this, and they do this, you gotta be ready to do this.

“And it’s like, We haven’t even talked about that yet, but he can’t help himself. It’s so awesome because the faster and the farther we can go with our minds and playing at that level, the quicker we’re going to be on the same page and the quicker we’re going to be able to play faster come the season.”

I’m pretty excited to see what the Raiders offense, which was already pretty good last year, looks like a few months from now.

I don’t know why Rusty Hardin is publicly speaking about the particulars of Deshaun Watson’s case. But we saw it in a few different places last week. A comment he made on Houston radio Friday about “happy endings” not being illegal went viral (and he had to walk that one back). And then on Sunday, USA Today published a story quoting Hardin as saying that Watson paid a Houston spa owner $5,000, because the owner asked for help and Watson is a “nice guy.”

I checked in with a couple of lawyer friends on all this Sunday and asked what the logic could be for Hardin to do this. The answer, they said, would almost have to be Hardin feeling the need to correct a narrative that’s floating around that could, eventually, affect how a jury looks at Watson. Either way, I’m not sure to what degree this will affect the NFL’s investigation, which is more or less complete. The important deadline ahead, as we said last week, is the July 1 date set for pretrial discovery. It makes sense for the league to wait until then to make a decision on 2022 sanctions (with the acknowledgment that the lawsuits stretching past this season will mean the league will leave open the possibility that it alters sanctions down the line with any new information that becomes available).

We’ve got, as always, quick-hitter takeaways to wrap up the week. Here are those …

• Another addendum to the Raiders’ piece this week, on their relationship building efforts—this weekend, the team hosted rookie-year bootcamp for draft picks and their families, to try to welcome them to the organization.

• And one leftover from The Match—Mahomes’s relatability in these sorts of settings is incredible and should continue to serve him well in continuing to cash in off the field. And Coors Light, for the record, is a performance enhancer on the golf course.

• I’m excited to see what Tua Tagovailoa can do with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle at his disposal. And I have some advice for him after last week I feel very qualified to give: Worrying about what people are saying on Twitter isn’t very productive.

• Jets coach Robert Saleh dropped this in our conversation a couple weeks ago: “Denzel Mims looks fantastic, and we’re excited to see how he progresses.” I think Mims has work to do to make the roster, given all the moves the Jets made in the offseason, so it’s good for the Jets to see the former second-rounder isn’t going down without a fight.

• The Falcons should take those red helmets (which are sweet) and pair them with some ’80s era red jerseys, once the supply chain allows for it.

• Good on Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown for speaking publicly about gun violence. People with platforms who are willing to say something can make a difference.

• The Dolphins have had Mike Gesicki watch tape of George Kittle as a blocker over the last couple of months—showing how far Kittle came from his rookie year to now in that area, and showing how much of a difference in made in what teams could to do to him as a receiver. And he’s been a willing pupil.

• Good to see the Steelers’ players speaking openly about the job Brian Flores is doing as a teacher. I think, given a little time to reflect, Flores will be dynamite whenever his second chance as a head coach comes.

• Tavon Austin is a great example of the NFL truism that the league doesn’t quit on speed.

• The Browns’ mandatory minicamp, set for next week, sets up a very interesting fork in the road for both team and player in the Baker Mayfield saga.


1. The Stanley Cup final will be a good chance for the casual hockey fan (that’s me!) to get a good, long look at the Avs’ 26-year-old superstar, Nathan MacKinnon. And a good shot for the sport to start to try bring his name further into the mainstream.

2. Headline on CNN late Sunday night: 10 mass shootings in two days.

3. It sure feels like the crisis point with NIL is fast approaching in college football. The NCAA and Power 5 conferences created this problem by sitting on their hands, when it was incredibly obvious that the government was moving on the issue. And they’re exacerbating it now by continuing to do … nothing. Players are getting paid one way or another. It’s time for the powers that be to figure out how it’ll be done.

4. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t wave the white flag on the Red Sox in March like I did last year.

5. The NBA Finals sure have the look of a six- or seven-game series. But it’s pretty weird how so many of these series this year, even if they do go six or seven games, wind up being a string of blowouts. And I have to think the way teams launch threes nonstop has to be a factor there.

6. Rafael Nadal’s one tough customer. A foot or rib injury would not be pleasant to play tennis through. And that dude just won French Open (for the 14th time) playing through both.


Mangini did more good things in two stints as a head coach than most people realize. And I have an interesting story on him I’m saving for the MAQB. You’ll get that in a few hours.

Somehow I missed this when it happened, but that’s pretty outstanding.

Solid prebeard rendition of Fitz.

I don’t want this story to die.

Love that Tyler Lockett is willing to talk about this publicly. If it makes one person that wouldn’t have otherwise gotten help go do it … then his decision to step out was 100% worthwhile.

Like I said earlier, happy to see Brown and Hurts speak up.

Just an incredible segment.

And this was a pretty funny idea.

Technically not NFL-related, but still really good.

Most impressive play by a fullback I’ve seen since Ray Griffin was clearing dudes out for Darnell Jefferson back in the ’90s.

Good to see Sean Payton agrees.

Baldy does a great job here in paying tribute to Mack.

Not gonna lie—this graphic’s pretty mesmerizing.


Eleven of the NFL’s 32 teams (Lions, Packers, Colts, Raiders, Rams, Vikings, Patriots, Giants, Steelers, Seahawks, Bucs) have their veteran minicamps this week, with most of the others going next week (the Dolphins were last week, the Eagles aren’t having one).

What does the minicamp consist of? The rules are similar to OTAs: Practices can be competitive, and include 11-on-11 play, but they aren’t padded and contact is strictly prohibited. The difference is twofold. One, players can be in the building for 10 hours, up from four for the rest of Phase III of the offseason program. And two, the practices are mandatory and teams can fine guys who don’t show up.

The fine for missing the first day is $15,980, the second day is $31,961, and the third day is $47,936, for a total of up to $96,877. Teams do have the option to forgive the fines if they so see fit (they don’t have that option during training.

So really, this is the last big ramp-up before the league goes on break ahead of the late July start of training camps. Which means, now, we really are starting to get close.

More NFL Coverage:

Josh McDaniels Explains the Lessons He’s Learned
100 Bold Predictions for the 2022 NFL Season
There Will Never Be Another Frank Gore
• Former Raiders Star Vann McElroy on His Hometown of Uvalde