Now we turn our attention to what could be the most interesting draft story in a generation: Who falls in love with 5-foot-9 7/8 (in his stocking feet) quarterback Kyler Murray, who now seems likely to be the first athlete ever drafted in the top 10 in two sports?
To begin to answer the question, start at ground zero. Dispel what you think you know about Murray—unless, of course, you’ve scouted him thoroughly or saw every game Oklahoma played last season. Because a sub-5-10 quarterback who runs the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds, ran the ball 140 times last fall and has quickness in Tyreek Hill’s league would naturally be a scrambling, throw-on-the-run type of player, right?
“What percentage of the time,” I asked Oklahoma coach and Murray mentor Lincoln Riley the other day, “would you guess Kyler threw from the pocket this year?”
Riley thought for a few seconds.
“Eighty-five percent?” Riley said. “Ninety, maybe.”
Think of how amazing that is—a short quarterback who runs like a greyhound, and Riley called a similar percentage of designed passes from the pocket as many NFL teams with classic dropback passers would. Think of how the game has changed from a decade ago, when a fleet and smallish quarterback would basically be an option quarterback playing the game on the edges. Not Riley. Not with Murray. His runs? Mostly designed runs to takes advantage of a player with Vick-type tools.
Riley’s guess on Murray’s pocket throwing is pretty damn close to reality. Pro Football Focus charted the number of Murray’s pass plays in 2018 that came from the pocket. The number: 89 percent. So 336 of his 377 throws for Oklahoma last year came with Murray planted where he could survey the defense and pick his target.
No wonder so many GMs and scouts and friends in the pro coaching business swear by Riley. He had Michael Vick on his hands and coached him like he was Carson Wentz. Riley got Murray ready for the next level, but that’s not why he coached Murray, and called plays for him, the way he did. Riley never got tempted to turn Murray into Lamar Jackson despite Murray’s 4.39-second time in the 40, and Riley never had to call plays differently for Murray’s sightlines with a monstrous offensive line in front of him (6-5, 6-4, 6-5, 6-5 and 6-4 from left to right). Duke’s Daniel Jones, a fellow first-round prospect, is 6-5 and had 12 passes batted down last season. Missouri’s Drew Lock, 6-4, had eight. Murray had five.
So for the past two seasons, Riley has coached short quarterbacks into Heisman winners who became premier NFL prospects. (Baker Mayfield, at 6-foot 5/8, is 2 3/4 inches taller than Murray.) Riley said he called the same game for both players.
Phoning from Oklahoma the other day, Riley said: “Throughout all the years with both Baker and Kyler, I can’t ever remember there being a time where we said, We want to run this play, or use this scheme, or protect this way but we can’t do it because these guys are 5-10 or 6-foot instead of 6-4. It never really entered into the equation. I don’t think their pro coaches are going to think about it either.”
Riley watched the draft process last year culminate in Mayfield going number one. He watched the success Mayfield had as the dominant presence in helping the Browns from 0-16 to 7-8-1. He thinks Murray will have the same impact on his NFL team.
“I will be shocked,” Riley said, “if five players get their name called on draft day before Kyler.”
Sure is nice to have a quiet week in the OFF-season.
• Oklahoma center fielder Kyler Murray, the ninth pick in the 2018 MLB draft, spurns the A’s for the NFL.
• The Browns sign a tarnished hometown hero out of nowhere.
• New England makes an eyebrow-raising hire at defensive coordinator.
• Antonio Brown announces on Twitter, where all formal announcements in his world are made, that he’ll be moving on from the Steelers. The team has other ideas.
• A Super Bowl quarterback gets traded to play at the field of his greatest game.
• Jay Glazer throws out a whopper on Odell Beckham Jr.
• Did NBA commish Adam Silver get recruited so NFL owners could whack Roger Goodell?
• Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid make peace with the NFL (for millions, we assume).
• The Bengals can’t find a coach who wants to be Zac Taylor’s defensive coordinator.
• The Raiders seem headed to an unlikely city for their final pre-Vegas year: Oakland.
• Nick Foles heads toward Franchisetagville.
I’m sure I forgot five stories there. We’ll tackle many of these later in the column.
Back to my look at Murray the prospect. During the season, I don’t watch much college football at all, and I try to catch up after the season. Last week, I wanted to look at Murray the player, and so I watched every throw from his Big 12 title game against Texas (impressive), and from his playoff game against Alabama (less impressive). What stood out, as I wrote up top, is that Murray was a pocket passer at Oklahoma. This is the time of year—in fact, this exact week last year is when Browns GM John Dorsey got the reports from his senior advisers rating in order their top passers in the draft—that teams take their reports and begin to stack their draft boards. Teams that do a deep dive into Murray will find the same thing I did: Kyler Murray is not your father’s option quarterback. Throw after throw, from the pocket and pushed out of it, you can see he’s got plenty of arm, and an accurate one (69.0 percent in 2018), to reach receivers downfield—and a good touch on the shorter throws.
Now teams are going to have to decide whether an unfathomable idea a generation ago—drafting a sub-5-foot-10 quarterback high in the first round—is a cutting-edge idea today. Murray is not only a short quarterback. He’s slight. He’s got almost a Mookie Betts build. Russell Wilson’s less than an inch taller, but Wilson is built with a suit of armor. Murray’s built like an outfielder.
So what GM has the guts to pick Murray for his play, and his pedigree, and be confident size won’t wreck his career?
If you’re right, your team’s in the playoffs in 2020. If you’re wrong, you’re probably a road scout in 2022.
Either way, the fact that Murray is in the discussion to be a top-10 pick a year after a 6-foot quarterback went first overall and played well means the football world is changing. A lot.
“We wouldn’t be having this conversation 10 years ago,” Riley told me.
“I’m happy. Kudos to pro people, to talent evaluators and coaches. I think the NFL’s evolved. I think they’re getting out of this cookie-cutter mold and opening their eyes to guys who can play. Think about how many great talents potentially were out there that never got seen because they didn’t fit the cookie-cutter mold? Just watch Kyler play. He’s played quarterback most of his life, and he’s always been one of the shorter ones, so to him, it’s just football. Size doesn’t matter.”
The downside, of course, is risk of injury and how he’ll stack up against much bigger men. You could say, They’ll have to catch him first. Which is true. But NFL staffs are smart, and they’ll study how to pen in Murray and prevent him from breaking free; in the open field, his quickness and speed will be hard to match. But there was a play in the Alabama game, early, when Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings reached out as Murray seemed to be maneuvering by him in the pocket, and Jennings jerked him down by the sleeve with one hand. It was startlingly easy.
When the Chargers totally shut down Baltimore’s Jackson in the playoffs, they did it by trying to match his quickness—stunning the Ravens by playing seven defensive backs on 58 of 59 Baltimore snaps—and creating traffic everywhere he looked. Foes played some odd schemes on Mayfield too. So that will be a factor. But Murray’s stats can be deceiving. He did rush 10 times a game for 71.5 yards in 2018, but largely not on scrambles or options. He was not Jackson. Riley, I’m sure, will tell the coaches and GMs swarming to Norman, Okla., this spring that, if defenses want to keep him in the pocket, good. He’s shown he can win from there, with a 69-percent accuracy rate in 2018 and a stunning 11.6-yards-per-attempt average. (Eight yards is good. Nine would lead the NFL most years. The closest top quarterback prospect this season to Murray’s 11.6 yards-per-attempt: Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State, at 9.1.)
“His speed, obviously, is off the charts,” Riley said. “He’ll be the fastest quarterback in the NFL by a longshot the day he walks in the door. But on top of that, I think the things as a runner and athletically he brings, and his elite quickness, will be important. And then he just has a feel. He knows how to play the game. He knows when the moments are big and he needs to strain to get a first down. He’s not going to take unnecessary hits. He’s kind of got the body to withstand a few, but I almost compare him—I know this is high praise—but I mean, it’s almost kind of like a Barry Sanders effect. Yes I’m small for the position but I’m so athletic and so smart that I just rarely take big shots. Kyler took a lot less hits even than Baker did. A lot less. He was never really beat up after a game. The guy can stay healthy and he’s pretty smart. He’s got just a really, really unique skill set of having home-run speed but also home-run quickness to go with that.
“Now, would you be crazy to draft a guy like this and not use his athleticism? In my opinion, yes. But I think this guy can go and be in the pocket 75 percent of the time and be an extremely successful NFL quarterback. This guy can win from the pocket and that’s what makes him unique.
“And he just gets the game, man. He just understands the right time of when he needs to check down. He understands game situations. He’s played so much football in his life.
“I think too, in the NFL, I could see even giving people more problems than he did in college just because in our game, teams are used to seeing a pretty athletic quarterback almost every week.”
Mayfield started for three seasons in Norman, Murray one. Riley was Mayfield’s offensive coordinator for two years and head coach for one, then the head coach and play-caller for Murray last year. I asked Riley to compare them. The confidence, the feel for the game, the competitive gene—pretty much the same in both.
“Baker’s a lot more outwardly emotional and exuberant and more outspoken,” Riley said. “Kyler’s got a little bit more of a quiet intensity. The effect is similar. When they’re in the huddle, the other guys believe they’re going to win.”
“I’ve got this pet theory,” I said to Riley. “It would be great for him to go to New England, or a place where he could have a role in the offense for a couple of years while getting his body built up, where there’s a good system in place, an excellent teaching offensive coordinator. What do you think the best situation for him would be?”
Riley: “I got asked the same thing about Baker. I really believe Kyler is going to succeed no matter what. In a situation where he’s gonna go in and play, I think he’d be a very similar sparkplug for a place like Baker was. If it’s a place that’s maybe been down a little bit. I think he’s so dynamic that he’s I think going to pick it up and do well. I think he’s also proven that if the situation is … he has to play behind somebody, or have a little time to learn, that he will handle that well and use that to an advantage. Knowing what I know, I don’t have a reservation about either scenario with this kid.”
The next two mileposts for Murray: The NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis with team interviews Feb. 28 and March 1, and his workout (assuming he does work out for teams) on the field of Lucas Oil Stadium on March 2. That would be NFL Network must-see TV. Then his Oklahoma Pro Day on March 12 in Norman, which could be the most well-attended Pro Day ever (by teams and an increasing number of nomadic media that now make big Pro Days part of the pre-draft reporting circuit). As one NFL scout told me last week, “The Pro Day won’t be that significant to the teams interested in him. The private workouts, and private meetings with Murray on the board and talking football … those are the things that will really matter.”
If I’m Arizona, I’m strongly considering Murray—Josh Rosen and all. If you hire Kliff Kingsbury as coach, and he loves Murray more than Rosen, flip Rosen to a team for a mid to low-first-rounder. I hear the Raiders are fascinated with Murray. If so, could Oakland flip Derek Carr to Jacksonville or Miami or Washington or the Giants and pick Murray—and how bizarre would it be to see Murray playing his home games on the field of the Oakland A’s for one season? If I’m New England, I’m looking long and hard at Murray, for three reasons: Tom Brady will be 42 the next time he takes a snap, the Patriots have enough currency (six picks in the top 101 of this draft, plus next year’s first-rounder) to move into the top 10 if he slips a bit, and Murray could sit and learn while getting physically prepped to be a long-term quarterback.
It’s all tempting with such a compelling player.
“March 12 might be the biggest Pro Day ever,” I said to Riley.
“It’ll be a zoo,” he said.
Same as the next nine weeks, all the way up to the draft.
There is far more we don’t know about the Colin Kaepernick/NFL/collusion settlement than we know, because the terms of the deal announced Friday are confidential and have not leaked. So it’s wrong to knock Kaepernick for caving, because we don’t know what his options were; if he and his counsel felt they faced a certain loss in the case to be heard by arbitrator Stephen Burbank, why just take the loss without dinging the NFL? It’s wrong to assume the NFL felt it was going to lose the case and thus settled; if that were the case, why would Kaepernick have taken a deal?
I know three things that influence my opinion of the case:
• One: When the depositions given by NFL people in the case were complete, those inside the league felt confident that nothing was said by a league executive or employee that could be deemed damaging enough to prove the case that two or more teams colluded to limit Kaepernick’s NFL employment. Very confident. Maybe that’s right; maybe it isn’t. Now, in the time between the end of the depositions and now, could some attorney have told Roger Goodell or his top legal lieutenant, Jeff Pash, that they might have liability with something in one or more of the depositions? I don’t know that. But the big reason why so many who covered this story were surprised was because they didn’t see it coming—that’s how confident the NFL was in its case.
• Two: The NFL is coming off a strong season, with no mega-controversies (till the woefully handled missed pass-interference call in the NFC title game, with the league office’s clumsy attempt to bury it by ignoring it for 10 days) and an uptick in TV ratings and an influx of new stars like surprising young MVP Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley. The Bears and Rams and Chargers lifted dormant or down markets. Concussions were down a significant 23 percent year over year, giving hope that the game can be made safer. Roger Goodell mostly stayed out of sight during 2018, which turned out to be a pretty good strategy—fans didn’t have the commissioner on whom to focus their anger. With all that giving the NFL momentum this offseason, it’s probably a smart investment for the league to make the Kaepernick problem go away.
• Three: This comes from an excellent summation of the legality of the settlement from the University of New Hampshire’s associate dean of the School of Law, Michael McCann, writing for Sports Illustrated: “The loser of Burbank’s award could have challenged it in federal court, thereby creating public records with detailed information about the grievance. The NFL has long tried to avoid the discovery process and disclosure of any discovery.” Smart. So even if the NFL were to win the arbitration, Kaepernick could have appealed, and attorney Michael Geragos could have filed to force an appeals court to open up the NFL’s depositions.
In the end, if you’re talking a just way for this to end and you believe (as I do) that Kaepernick is likely to never play in the NFL again, he deserves a multi-million-dollar settlement, if that’s what he got. He did exacerbate what was a dicey situation already with his own actions, once wearing socks with pigs dressed as police officers. There were times when critics saw him as more interested in being a victim than a football player. Regardless, he didn’t deserve to be shunned by 32 teams.
I’ll always think Kaepernick hasn’t found NFL employment in 25 months because of business reasons, not football ones. I believe some teams have had interest in signing Kaepernick as a backup quarterback who may have been able to work his way into the starting job—on some teams—when the noise died down. But interested coaches and GMs with some franchises would have had to battle the business side of the organization and possibly the owner to get the deal done. That wouldn’t have to happen in a place like New England. If Bill Belichick wanted Kaepernick, I’ve got to think owner Robert Kraft would agree to let him make that move. (Maybe that’s why that rumor got some legs over the weekend, though I couldn’t find any confirmation of any interest by New England in Kaepernick.)
In the end, this became about more than whether Kaepernick’s free-wheeling style of play would fit a particular offense. It became about business, and whether Kaepernick would have indelibly affected the bottom line over the football product.
In my opinion, those issues are more specious than real, but I’m not the one running a team. It’s an unfulfilling end to the Kaepernick/NFL saga, if this is it. But we don’t get to choose the end that seems most satisfying or fair.
During the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, I’ll be doing a fun fan event with Colts coach Frank Reich. It’s open to the first 100 lucky folks who find such a thing worth $50 to see and experience. The details:
Event: An Evening with Frank Reich and some media folk.
When: Friday, March 1, 5-7 p.m.
Where: Sun King Brewery, 135 North College Ave., Indianapolis (less than a mile from the heart of downtown Indy).
Cost: $50, which includes one 16-ounce beer.
What: I’ll have a conversation with Reich from 5-5:30 pm, and he’ll answer questions from fans till 5:45 sharp. Then he’ll have combine business to tend to, and I’ll spend an hour with friends in the national press answering all your questions about the combine and related football business.
How to get tickets: Visit this page and buy yours today. We will sell only 100 tickets.
The evening benefits … All ticket revenue will be funneled to Ascent 121, an Indiana agency specializing in trauma recovery services for teen victims of human trafficking.
Every year at the combine for the past eight, we’ve done an event to bring football to local fans and to raise money for a local cause. This year, I’m thrilled that Reich, coming off a tremendous rookie season piloting the Colts to the playoffs, will join the show to share some stories about the 2018 Colts and a rich football life.
Any questions? Contact me. Excited to see you in Indianapolis at a great local brewery, Sun King.
“Kyler Murray is the kind of player who can take you to the playoffs or get hurt his second game. He is exciting and a great college player, but he is undersized and a big part of his game is mobility, and mobile quarterbacks in the NFL don’t last very long … I would be hesitant [to draft him].”
—Former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson, to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
“I was raised to play quarterback.”
—Kyler Murray, announcing last week he would turn his efforts to preparing for the NFL Draft, disappointing the Oakland A’s, who made him the ninth pick of the MLB Draft last June.
“How many owners do you need to prove collusion?”
—Players Coalition co-founder Malcolm Jenkins, in a Tweet on Friday after the Collin Kaepernick settlement in the NFL in his collusion case.
“I think Joe Flacco is actually a very elite quarterback.”
—Candidate Donald Trump, in 2015, asked if Joe Flacco is elite.
“Should the Browns sign him?”
—ESPN radio host Jason Fitz, in a segment on CFL defensive lineman Cory “Poop” Johnson. He was given the nickname “Poop” in college, at Kentucky, after he said to WLEX TV that his weight fluctuated so much because he defecated up to five times a day.
Michael McCann, Sports Illustrated’s legal analyst and the associate dean of the University of New Hampshire School of Law, wrote an excellent primer on the Colin Kaepernick settlement with the NFL Friday. On Saturday, McCann reflected on the lessons learned from the case.
“We learned that Kaepernick had something on the league. That to me is important because so many had dismissed him as being bitter, or that his case was frivolous. The arbitrator, Stephen Burbank, dismissed the NFL’s attempt for summary judgment, meaning that the case could go on and that there was at least some evidence. And now the NFL settled with him, so he must have had something. The NFL didn’t settle with Tom Brady or Ezekiel Elliott or Adrian Peterson.
“We didn’t learn exactly what either side had, of course, but we do know the league wants to avoid scenarios in which owners are testifying under oath. Owners and the league like control, but you’re testifying in a deposition, you’re not in control, and you can say something that even if on its face isn’t damaging could be taken as such. Maybe they didn’t say, ‘We colluded,’ but it certainly could have been something damaging to the league’s brand. Reading the tea leaves in this case, I would bet something in what was said could have been damaging to the NFL, even if the league didn’t lose the case.”
I asked: Do you think the decision to settle for what’s likely huge money affects Kaepernick’s reputation and standing as a freedom fighter?
“I don’t think it does. For one thing, the burden for him to prove collusion is really high. He had to show the clear preponderance of evidence was in his favor or he would lose, even if Burbank was sympathetic to his cause. And if he lost, he would lose both marketability and credibility. This is a player who sounds like, from past actions, he will take some of this settlement to help social causes. The fact that they settled, the fact that there was a jump ball, is certainly a credit to Kaepernick and his case.”
Whatever you end up thinking about Joe Flacco’s tenure in Baltimore, I would urge you to remember what he did six years ago, in the postseason of his fifth NFL year.
He beat Andrew Luck by 15 in a wild-card game. He made the throw of his life to help beat Peyton Manning, in 2-degree wind chill in Denver, by three in a divisional game. He beat Tom Brady by 15 in the AFC Championship Game in Foxboro. He beat the broiling-hot Colin Kaepernick by three in the Super Bowl.
Flacco, easily, had one of the best postseasons by a quarterback in history. Who beats two of the top five quarterbacks ever, in the span of eight days, both in hostile road environments?
I covered that divisional game in Denver on a Saturday afternoon that became Saturday night, a 4-hour, 11-minute slugfest. The game was tied at 7, at 14, at 21, at 28, and … well, I’ll tell you how it got tied at 35 in case you don’t recall.
With 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter and Denver up 35-28, Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell called into Flacco’s helmet in the deafening roar of a crowd anticipating a trip to the AFC title game: “Scat right 99 … “ with some other signaling words behind it. Flacco loved it. Four receivers, two left and two right, all running go routes.
As I stood in the end zone (in Denver, in the last couple of minutes, media can stand on the field, out of the way, to see the end of the game), I saw Denver pass-rushers Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers both pressure Flacco, who stepped up and flung it high and far into the Denver night. Man, it was a high ball. And when it came down, it nestled into the arms of Jacoby Jones for a 70-yard touchdown.
The stadium got church-sermon quiet in the matter of about three seconds. Seventy yards away from the Baltimore sideline, I could hear the shrieks of the Ravens players. Jones found Flacco and screamed: “SMOKIN’ JOE!”
In the sixth quarter—or second overtime—Justin Tucker, with the wind chill dipping below zero, drilled a 47-yard field goal to win it 38-35.
I will always remember Flacco after that game. Smiling, fairly happy, but with him, you could never tell just how happy. His backup, Tyrod Taylor, seemed more thrilled, honestly.
Then the win in Foxboro. Coach John Harbaugh afterward called him “Brady-like … When we scouted him, so many times you look at a player and you say, ‘Is this going to be too big for him? Is the stage going to be too big?’ Never. It never has been.’’
Then the win in the Super Bowl, in New Orleans. Flacco told me after that game, at a family party in Huck Finn’s restaurant in the French Quarter, that his idol growing up was Joe Montana. (How many kid quarterbacks have said that? Only all of them.) That caused me to go back to my hotel room in the wee hours of Monday morning to see how Flacco’s postseason compared to Montana’s finest one.
Not far off, as it turned out.
So … I get that Flacco has been a mediocre quarterback since then, in part due to injury. He’s 43-42, with one playoff win (albeit in Pittsburgh) since that night in Huck Finn’s. But I guess I’m a glass-half-full guy. Elite or not, Flacco deserves to be remembered as the man who delivered a Super Bowl title to Baltimore. And when the Ravens picked him 18th out of Delaware in 2008, I guarantee if you’d told owner Steve Bisciotti he’d win one Super Bowl with Flacco in 11 seasons, he’d have signed for it right then.
2019 is the 60th season of the Denver Broncos, a franchise with three road playoff wins in history.
Joe Flacco has seven road playoff wins.
Two factoids about baseball in the Kyler Murray family:
In 1992, Calvin Murray, Kyler’s uncle, was the seventh player picked in the first round. Picked sixth overall: Derek Jeter.
In 2000, on the final day of the regular season, Calvin Murray, playing center field for the Giants, hit a game-winning grand slam off 2000 Cy Young winner Randy Johnson of Arizona. That’s one of only eight home runs Murray hit in his career, and, presumably, he told his nephew that just because you get drafted high in baseball doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great major-leaguer.
One of the fun things about traveling for a newspaper nerd like me is USA Today’s “50 States” page. Every weekday, the paper has a news blip from every state. Traveling Friday, I found these two gems on the back page of the news section:
• NORTH CAROLINA. Windsor—Drivers were startled Wednesday to see a hungry bear that got stuck in the back of a garbage truck and took a ride down U.S. Route 17.
• MAINE. Skowhegan—Organizers of the Maine Moose Festival say Guinness World Records has signed off on its record-setting attempt featuring 1,054 people simultaneously moose-calling.
To comment on the column, or to say anything about anything, you can reach me by email.
Regarding the makeup of the Hall of Fame selection committee. From Mike G.: “Would or do you think it would be fair to have a Hall of Fame selection committee made up of an equal number of journalists, former players and veteran broadcasters?”
It’s an idea worth considering … or maybe a group including former coaches, front-office officials, a pro scout or two, Hall of Fame players and media. The one thing the Hall is careful about, which I think is a good idea, is ensuring there is not a particular regional or team bias. I could see, for example, fans and team officials in Minnesota and Detroit being concerned that its candidates would not be treated fairly if there were one rep from those two areas (either a former player or media member or team official) and, say, three from Chicago or Green Bay. An amalgam of a committee is something that’s a good idea, though.
You froth over the Patriots too much, King. From Robert J.: “I was a young fellow during the Steelers dominant years, and have the scrapbooks to prove it. I remember the media coverage distinctly. Sports Illustratedled the parade, and I immersed myself in everything I could find about them. Now, I can tell you with absolute assurance that there was nowhere near the hype, hysteria, and general worship going on with the Pats. I respect their achievements and anticipate more, but why have the media become cheerleaders since the halcyon days of the Steelers? Is that the media’s role in the new age? To lead the applause? The Steelers got respect, not reverence or hosannas. Nobody went to their house for dinner. And I must respectfully submit that at times you are on the bandwagon too. Would Paul Zimmerman have done this?”
Thanks for your thoughtful note, Robert. At the risk of me doth protesting too much, a few points:
• There was probably 20 percent of the amount of media covering the NFL in the seventies than there is today. The players and coaches were not as readily available on any team then, and rarely were there “inside” stories done in the offseason, or after the Super Bowl. I tell people this all the time: If there are four or five or six times the amount of media covering something now, and a major story like the Patriots winning six times in one era occurs, it’s going to be covered so dominantly that everyone’s going to scream, “ENOUGH!” The media fawned over the Steelers too, I suspect (though I was in college at the time and can’t say for sure). The quintupling of media coverage, or whatever it is, makes the coverage so incredibly cacophonous.
• Paul Zimmerman wrote long and complimentary stories about Chuck Noll (a two-part story; they had wine at his house in Pittsburgh) and Jack Lambert (and probably more, but those are two famous ones that I recall). He thought the Steelers were the best team of the last 50 years.
• The point of my job, and the point I would ask you to consider in this competitive business, is to bring you stories about athletes that you might not find anywhere else. If anyone had an offer to visit Tom Brady at his home in Montana a week after the Super Bowl, or Julian Edelman at his home in LA a week after the Super Bowl, I can assure you they would take it, the same way I did.
• Regarding the Patriots: No team in one long era has won six championships with the same QB and coach and owner in history … and this team is doing it in the free agency era when it’s hard to keep teams together, and this particular team did it after losing prime free agents Nate Solder and Malcolm Butler last offseason. No team since free agency began in March 1994 in its unrestricted form has won more than two titles with the same quarterback. Denver, Pittsburgh and the Giants each won twice with the same QB in the last 25 years. The Patriots have six. It’s a special era that I don’t believe will be repeated in my lifetime.
• There were some pretty critical things said and written about the Patriots during Spygate and Deflategate as well. My point, overall, is that I think the coverage is justifiable.
1. I think, as usual, what appears to be a lucrative free-agent market with a ton of money to spend will be denuded soon after the ability to tag players begins Tuesday. Pass-rushers like Frank Clark (Seattle), Dee Ford (Kansas City) and DeMarcus Lawrence (Dallas) are very likely to get franchise-tagged. Houston is likely to do the same with the super-talented Jadeveon Clowney entering his sixth NFL season (he’ll play 2019 at the young age of 26), but I’m skeptical of the Texans reaching a long-term deal with him because he’s not the worker bee some others on that defense are. But that could change. Clowney is very productive, and if he stays that way making a million a game on the tag in 2019, Houston could change its tune.
2. I think the more Antonio Brown tweets, the more he scares off potential suitors. (That’s not just something I think. In the case of one team, it’s something I know.)
3. I think I wouldn’t get too fired up about “quarterback of the future” Joe Flacco in Denver. He is no more of a lock to make it beyond one year with the team than Case Keenum was—as it turned out. I could see the Broncos picking a quarterback in the draft this year, and high. Maybe Missouri’s Drew Lock or Duke’s Daniel Jones, somewhere between Denver’s first-round pick (10th overall), though I doubt they’d use this pick for a passer, and its second-round pick (41st overall). No question in my mind John Elway will pick a young quarterback this year or next.
4. I think, as unlikely as it sounds that Odell Beckham Jr., will be traded, as Jay Glazer (who formerly trained Beckham at his NFL-centric gym in Los Angeles) predicted the other day, I am putting stock in it. I have learned a few things about NFL news-gathering, and one is to not doubt Jay Glazer. He doesn’t report pablum, and remember what could be the genesis of this: Glazer had teams calling the Giants about Beckham last year. Could teams flush with cap cash be tempted anew? We’ll see.
5. I think, regarding the whispers of some influencers in the NFL feeling out Adam Silver for his interest in the NFL commissioner’s job before Roger Goodell signed long-term in late 2017, as reported by ESPN: Surprised in one sense, because the owners have been fairly solid behind Goodell, even in the bad times. Not surprised in another sense, because “fairly solid” is not “rock solid.” The fractious Jerry Jones/Goodell rift in 2017 could have led to a phone call to Silver … and to the new deal the league announced in December 2017. I’ll always think the Jones divisiveness back then pushed the other owners to that lucrative Goodell extension.
6. I think the upshot of Kareem Hunt signing with Cleveland is you can assume:
• He’s deep in treatment for whatever ailed him in Kansas City, or the Browns wouldn’t have signed him.
• He’s agreed to be on a one-strike-and-you’re-out discipline leash in Cleveland, or the Browns wouldn’t have signed him.
• He understands the Browns will never consider signing him long-term until he gets through this season without incident.
• The Browns are willing to take the brickbats in the public eye for signing a man who has abused a woman in exchange for the benefit of a low-cost, 23-year-old NFL rushing champion with a lot to prove.
One more thought: The NFL has proven, again, that it is more comfortable signing men who hit women than men who kneel in social protest. That got lost this week, but it’s true. (For the record, I’m all in favor of second chances, and I’m in favor of the Browns’ decision to sign Hunt if he has proven—as the team claims—that is repentant and working on his behavior. I just don’t think what Kaepernick has done deserves a trip to sporting Siberia forever.)
7. I think it’s fair to throw shade at Bill Belichick for making Greg Schiano his defensive coordinator after Schiano’s Ohio State defense imploded in 2018 and Schiano wasn’t retained in Columbus. I’ve always felt Schiano has been over-lampooned in his career. Those who marginalize Schiano’s job at Rutgers have no idea what an awful program it was when he took it over. Eleven wins in the five years before he took over in 2001, and Schiano got Rutgers as high as seventh in the AP poll five years into his run there. Then he took over for Raheem Morris, who’d cratered in Tampa, and he inherited a quarterback, Josh Freeman, who never put in the time required for a quarterback to be great. Schiano certainly was too autocratic for his own good there, but two years to establish a program when the quarterback’s fighting you all the way is just not enough time. Then getting run out of Tennessee before ever coaching a game because of a media firestorm and unsubstantiated connections to the Penn State sex-abuse scandal, and then his tenure at Ohio State, clouded by very shaky defensive performance that checkered his tenure. He’ll have to do one thing in New England: Run Belichick’s defense, controversy-free, working for a man who respects him greatly. I like Schiano’s chances to do that.
8. I think, FYI, you should know how Kyler Murray compares, height-wise, to his NFL peers as he preps to be measured at the combine in 11 days. Keep in mind that Murray, measured at Oklahoma in stocking feet before last season, was 5-9 7/8.:
Patrick Mahomes, 6-2 1/8.
Baker Mayfield, 6-0 5/8.
Drew Brees, 6-0 1/4.
Russell Wilson, 5-10 5/8.
Just for the record.
9. I think I am full of happiness this morning for one of my former Sports Illustrated peers, Austin Murphy, who wrote so eloquently of his slide out of journalism and into driving an Amazon delivery truck over the holidays for The Atlantic. Murphy last week took a job for one of the great medium-sized papers in America, the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat. Excited for Murphy, and for all of us. We get to read him regularly again.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Basketball Story of the Week: Ben Goliver of the Washington Post, on Charles Barkley’s smart and pointed attack on the NBA for its trend toward superteams and a caste system of rich and poor in basketball.
b. Column of the Week: by Ken Belson and Kevin Draper of the New York Times, a reasoned and smart analysis of the Kaepernick settlement and what it means for the league. Smart, because it makes the point that social issues and perception were very likely drivers for the league, even if the league thought it likely that it could win the case against the unemployed quarterback.
c. Story of the Week: from James Wagner of the New York Times, on one of my favorite companies. It’s a story about the family of sports reference sites run by Sean Forman out of a Philadelphia church, of all places. Cool story. Hard to believe he has only 11 employees.
d. Pro Football Reference is a godsend. If you cover this sport, you absolutely cannot do without it. Thank you, Sean Forman. And thank you for inventing it in 2000, Doug Drinen (which I didn’t know till reading it in Wagner’s story).
e. Football Story of the Week: by Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, a look at how Antonio Brown has changed—and not for the better—over the years in Pittsburgh.
f. Kaboly, a Steelers’ beat guy, has a theory that Antonio Brown the good guy became A.B. the mega-star. I’m not in the locker room so I cannot testify to that. But it’s an interesting theory—and Kaboly is the first to advance that Brown has changed.
g. Writes Kaboly: “It’s sad that Antonio Brown has become A.B. We are now going to remember A.B. as a stunningly talented football player who got swallowed up by fame and greed. A.B. is going to be remembered as an egotistical jerk who cared about nothing but his stats and his money. And that’s a shame, because he wasn’t like that when he was Antonio Brown.”
h. It’s behind a pay wall, but I hope you’ll consider subscribing. So many good people with so much valuable reporting, at The Athletic.
i. This is taking in some ground, but has any towering, influential figure in our culture crashed and burned worse than Bill Cosby?
j. Comedian, TV star, cool guy, major influencer to the African-American community, mentor to many … then convicted of giving Quaaludes to at least one woman to have sex with her (scores more accused him of forcing himself on them), sentenced to three-to-10 years in prison, and now, from prison, calling himself a political prisoner and comparing himself to Gandhi and Mandela.
k. Go away. Forever.
l. I’m so glad I have people in my life—my wife and daughters and Don Banks most notably—who tell me when I’m being a jerk. Cosby obviously never had that, until a judge did it.
m. I live in New York City, and I do not know enough about the Amazon decision to abandon the city as one of its two new business hubs to feel strongly one way or the other. But my temptation is to say to all those in the area who opposed it: You don’t make progress in this American economy by spurning the most successful company in the country offering to bring 25,000 well-paid jobs into an area of the city that could use development … even when you see the purported outrageousness of a city and state giving $3 billion in tax breaks to a monolith.
n. When you’re competing against other cities willing to give Amazon better deals than even that one, a $3-billion investment for a $25-billion gain in local spending and benefits seems pretty logical to me.
o. Beernerdness: Visiting with family in San Francisco over the weekend, we stopped into a beehive of activity at Barebottle Brewing, a superb little craft-beer venue with kids and dogs and food trucks. Delightful. Including the Humphry Slocombe’s Secret Breakfast white nitro stout, a play on a local ice cream purveyor’s bizarre vanilla ice cream with bourbon and corn flakes. It sounded so weird that I just had to have it. It was very good—not as thick as many stouts, but with a strong first taste of vanilla. Had to share it, though—16 ounces was just too much.
Kaep fought the power.
No clear winner or loser.