We could be looking at one of the all-time sleepy NFL meetings if the one thing that matters this week—the proposal to make overtime fair—doesn’t pass when it comes to a vote in Palm Beach, Fla.
I canvassed a few people at the meetings over the weekend. Some are sure the vote to mandate at least one possession per team in overtime will get the required 24 of 32 team votes and become law in 2023. “I think it passes easy,” one top team executive said.
I hope he’s right. With the rise of powerful offenses and franchise quarterbacks playing deep into the playoffs, the coin flip has grown too influential, when a touchdown on the first possession ends the game. Over the last 10 years, there have been 12 overtime playoff games, and the team that won the coin toss to start overtime has won 10. In seven of those games, the game was won on the first drive of overtime, so the loser of a flip of a coin never touched the ball in seven of the 12 games.
My gut feeling—and that is all it is—is that each team touching the ball in overtime of playoff games is likely to pass. But for regular-season games, I get a conflicting view. I’m hopeful, but less confident, it’ll pass for all 2022 games.
Here are the mechanics of what will happen at the meetings with the overtime rule: The Competition Committee will present its 120-page report on rules and the 2021 season to owners, GMs and coaches on Tuesday. There will be discussion on both overtime proposals. One is simple; each team would get at least one possession in overtime, and if it’s tied after those two possessions, next score wins. Two has a wrinkle; if Team A scores a touchdown and PAT on the first drive of overtime, Team B needs a touchdown and must attempt a two-point conversion after the TD. So game over after the second possession if both score TDs.
This is going to be hard enough to pass with just both teams getting a guaranteed possession in overtime. Owners and team bosses hate gimmicky, and the two-point proposal is a gimmick. I can’t see that having much traction.
I do get the just-play-defense side of thinking of those who opposes changing the rule. But I ask the same question all the time: How often does a team in overtime win the coin flip and choose to play defense? For the last 36 games that have gone to overtime, the answer is zero. For 36 straight NFL overtime games, the coin flip winner has taken the ball first. Why has no coach since Mike Tomlin three years ago—when his quarterback was Duck Hodges—chose to defend a goal and hand the ball to the other team to start overtime?
The commissioner is always influential on key rules changes. But I can’t get a feel which way he’s leaning on this one.
So we’ll see how this one goes. My bet is if it looks like more than eight teams oppose the change, the powers-that-be will propose a playoff-only fix. After two debacle finishes in the last four seasons—Patrick Mahomes not touching it in OT of the 2018 AFC title game, Josh Allen not touching it in the division playoff game at KC in January—I’d be surprised if it doesn’t pass for at least the playoffs.
Amazon football. Mystery is fun. And that’s what an Al Michaels-Kirk Herbstreit pairing is. The two men have no history, and as for how they’ll coalesce in the Thursday night booth this fall, I will guess pretty good. Michaels, 77, is a competitor; he’ll be intent on showing week after week he hasn’t lost his fastball. Regarding his partner, Michaels can make anyone sound good and smart. Herbstreit, the best college football analyst on TV, knows every eye and ear will be focused on him for the Sept. 15 opening game, and for a season of Thursdays after that. With the estimable Fred Gaudelli producing the games, it’s sure to be a seamless telecast on Amazon Prime, even if you might have trouble finding it. I won’t be surprised to see Amazon find a place for the growing importance of analytics on the Thursday telecasts. With the rise of analytics in 32 football buildings, it makes sense, when Brandon Staley goes for it on fourth-and-one from his own 18-yard line, to ask a top analytics person: “Was that smart?”
Roger Goodell. In his opening remarks to 700 club owners, coaches and top employees in Palm Beach on Sunday evening, Goodell celebrated the high the NFL is on—great competition in 2021 (each of the last seven playoff games decided by six points or less), playing well through the pandemic, with strong points about gains in diversity, equity and inclusion. If you were looking for him to say something strong about teams falling all over themselves to trade for a player with 22 civil cases involving sex charges, you’ll be disappointed. It went unmentioned. Lost opportunity there.
Bobby Wagner. Rams have legitimate interest, but not at Wagner’s price—he’s thought to be asking for about $11 million on a one-year deal. The 32-year-old linebacker is still playing very well, and he’d be a luxury item for the Super Bowl champs. If he wants to stay in the same division as the team that dropped him, Seattle, Wagner will have to recalibrate his asking price down. He may just find another team—Baltimore? Dallas?—with more money available.
Deshaun Watson. Not sure Watson changed any minds at his introductory press conference Friday. “I never did anything those people are alleging,” Watson said, one of three or four different ways of denying every sexual offense that he’s been accused. That’s a boldface clip-and-save in this story, particularly when a Houston police officer went on record after authorities investigated the cases and said the accusers were “credible and reliable.” Someone’s not telling the truth here. As for Watson’s fate, the NFL may do one of three things this year: put him on the commissioner’s exempt list (he’d be paid for a second straight season while sitting till the 22 sex-crime civil cases are decided); let him play while deferring discipline till the cases are done; or suspend him for some time this year regardless of the outcome of the cases. It’s a mystery as of this morning.
Jimmy and Dee Haslam. Not the most popular people at the league meetings on Sunday. I heard lots of grumbling from those who think a) trading six picks for a player who may be found guilty of heinous offenses or b) signing Watson to the richest guaranteed contract in league history and giving him an $80-million raise “stinks to high heaven,” as one team exec said. The Haslams had to know it was coming, and now that they’ve traded for and signed Watson, it’s not going away.
Tua Tagovailoa. Talk about pressure. No player in the 2022 season comes close to the weight on his shoulders that Tagovailoa has. After Miami‘s mega-trade for Tyreek Hill, Tagovailoa now has Hill and Jaylen Waddle as top-10-in-the-league receiving threats, along with ace tight end Mike Gesicki and a rebuilt backfield (Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert). Let’s get down to business with Tua and the deep ball. Last year, just 5.3 percent of his completions (14 of 263) were on balls thrown 20 yards or more past the line of scrimmage. Patrick Mahomes had 36 such completions. Tagovailoa was 30th in the league in 20-yard-plus attempts with 29. His two deep threats are 4.29- and 4.37-second 40 guys. And there will a microscope on the third-year quarterback to see if he can take advantage of their ability to break games open. Considering that Waddle cost Miami two first-round picks, and Hill cost five picks (including a first and second), Tagovailoa’s going to feel the hot breath of backup Teddy Bridgewater by Columbus Day if Waddle and Hill get off to mediocre starts.
Concussions. Since we clobber the NFL for all things head trauma, praise should be meted out when there is progress. I’m going to compare relative apples to apples here, using documented concussion figures from 2015 to 2019 and then 2021. (2020 is an outlier year because there were no preseason games due to the pandemic.) In preseason and regular-season practices and games in each year from 2015 to 2019, players suffered, in order, 275, 243, 281, 214 and 224 concussions; in 2021, the number was reduced to 187. My take on the biggest reason: Six years ago, about one-half of NFL players were using helmets strongly recommended by the league and players association. In 2021, that number rose to 99 percent of players using the highest-performing helmets.
Instant replay. Interesting data on replay from 2021: The average replay review took 2 minutes, 27 seconds—down 61 seconds from 2020. The league credits added authority given to replay officials and the New York command center—either can communicate with the on-field referee to point out a mistake—and the use in every stadium of “Hawkeye” video technology. The Hawkeye system allows desired replays to be seen much quicker instead being at the mercy of which replays are shown by the TV crews at games. That’s a big reason why there’s no rule change on the agenda at the meetings for anything involving replay.
A weird ABC/ESPN TV thing. Don’t know how I missed this. (I think we all missed it.) Part of the NFL’s new TV contract with the networks is that on one Monday night this year, ABC will telecast one game and ESPN will telecast a different one. It’s likely the starts will be staggered—perhaps by 15 or 20 minutes so there won’t be simultaneous halftimes, perhaps by a longer period of time to allow for each telecast to get maximum eyes on each one. Next year, ESPN and ABC will have three such Mondays. As to why, I really don’t know … but what seems the most sensible is to stagger the starts by, say, 75 minutes, so that the second game starts as the first is on the verge of halftime. No idea of the broadcast team on the second game, with of course Buck/Aikman on one of them. Might be a hoot to have the other game feature a Manningcast, with Peyton and Eli as the lone voices.
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. The new GM of the Vikings is an impressive guy. At his first league meetings as a GM, he took time Sunday to explain his philosophy about team-building in a time when the value of veterans stars and draft picks are changing drastically. I mentioned to him that I thought team construction was a continuum, with a GM having to constantly recalibrate how to build. “ ‘Continuum’ is a good word for it,” he said. “I think you’ve got to make sure you always know where your team is at all times. Sometimes you can deceive yourself.” I also liked two of the main things he was looking for when he interviewed head coaches: suppression of ego (“All that matters is what’s best for the team,” he said) and accountability for mistakes. You’re going to make some. In fact, you’ll make a lot. Admit them and move on, but don’t hide the mistake and then move on. Adofo-Mensah said he thinks the coach he chose, Kevin O’Connell, “has rare intellect and temperament.” Enjoyed my time with this Princeton grad you’ll be hearing a lot about.
An NFL record. If you watched much football last year, this won’t surprise you: Teams went for it on fourth down last year more than any other season. They converted 411 of 774 fourth-down tries, for an efficiency of .531. Talk about an explosion of risk-taking: In 2017, there were 1.89 fourth-down attempts per game. By 2021, that rose to 2.92 per game. I find this odd: The two teams with the fewest fourth-down tries last year both fielded mobile superstar quarterbacks. Seattle, with Russell Wilson, was four of 11 on fourth down. Kansas City, with Patrick Mahomes, was only 10 of 15. Andy Reid’s not a big fourth-down guy. In Mahomes’ four years as starter, KC’s gone for it an average of 14 times a year. That seems totally counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
I can tell what one of the big topics around the Breakers in Palm Beach will be this week, at least among football people: change. Architectural NFL change.
“I feel it,” veteran agent Drew Rosenhaus said Saturday. “Teams see what the Rams did. A few years ago, you’d never see trades for Matthew Stafford, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, Deshaun Watson, Von Miller. But you can trade big players, and you can trade lots of draft picks, and you can win.”
Case in point: The Tyreek Hill trade from Kansas City to Miami, for five draft picks, the other day. “A few years ago,” said Rosenhaus, the agent for Hill, “the odds of that trade happening would have been slim and none. Franchise players just weren’t moving then. But they are now.” Five draft picks for a non-quarterback—a player who immediately would get the richest contract (for the first three years) of a receiver, ever. That’s new. The change, just looking at the Dolphins, is plain to see.
Picks by Miami in the top 100 of the 2020 Draft: 6.
Picks by Miami in the top 100 of the 2021 Draft: 5.
Picks scheduled for Miami in the top 100 of the 2022 Draft: 0.
The backstory of the Hill deal highlights the sea-change in the NFL. Kansas City was negotiating actively with Rosenhaus for an extension for the speedy wideout. But GM Brett Veach wanted to keep his options open, and he wanted to do right by Hill, who’d been a huge part of the franchise’s Super Bowl teams. If KC could get a windfall including a couple of high picks, in a draft filled with good wideout prospects, a trade for a 28-year-old receiver might be smart. Veach gave Rosenhaus permission to sniff out interest in a trade for Hill and to discuss parameters of a deal, but nothing beyond that. Rosenhaus said he contacted 31 teams within a day after getting permission. Twelve had interest—even though they knew the financial ballpark.
Rosenhaus slow-played any talks, hoping he could piggy-back off a Davante Adams contract if he signed in Green Bay or was dealt somewhere and did a new deal; that paid off when Adams signed a deal that would pay him $22.5 million a year over three years, with a paper value of $28 million average over five years. Now there was a target. Who would exceed those targets? (Though years four and five on these deals are mostly unguaranteed fantasy—deals will be re-done after three years or the player will be cut.)
Waiting on Adams turned out to be smart. The Jets, last weekend, offered a trade that Veach would have accepted. Rosenhaus knew the Jets were willing to pay Hill more than the Raiders paid Adams; importing Hill would give New York needed legitimacy for the franchise, and a needed weapon in the passing game. At the same time, there was another team, Miami, that Hill wanted and that had the ammo (in draft picks and cap space) to get him. Hill, and Kansas City, had some attractive options. Plus, on Tuesday, Veach offered Hill a surprisingly high number that had him seriously thinking about staying.
“There was a time Tuesday when I thought there was a really good chance we’d work out a deal and go back to Kansas City,” Rosenhaus said. “Next conversation with Tyreek, we talked about the advantages of playing in New York. Next conversation was pro-Miami; he calls it his home away from home. So I could have seen any of those outcomes last Tuesday. All the way through the process, Kansas City was awesome. They wanted to do right by Tyreek.”
On Tuesday night, Miami finally offered Veach a deal he wanted: first-, second- and fourth-round picks this year, and fourth- and sixth-rounders next year. Hill told Rosenhaus if the Dolphins (in a state with no state taxes) beat Kansas City’s offer comfortably, he’d prefer to go the Dolphins. By Wednesday morning, Rosenhaus had the deal he wanted: $72.2 million in the first three years ($5 million more than Adams), plus a $30-million average in new money over four years, even though, as I pointed out, the last two years are likely to not be kept in place.
So the deal got done. Ironically, in a draft rich with receivers, Green Bay and Kansas City have nearly identical resources to replace departed vets Adams and Hill. Green Bay’s first four picks: 22, 28, 53 and 59 overall. Kansas City’s first four: 29, 30, 50, 62. Plus, with multiple picks in the first four rounds and with the $22 million (approximately) in cap money saved for the next three years by not keeping Hill, Veach can go a lot of directions in addressing his two big need areas in the next month: wideout and defensive line.
When it was over, Hill was happy with the money and the locale. Kansas City was happy with the financial flexibility and the draft windfall. Everyone but the Jets had a bright side to see. Now Veach and Andy Reid have to trust that their scouts can find younger long-term weapons for Patrick Mahomes. The next month is huge for them.
I covered Matt Ryan’s draft night in Atlanta 14 years ago, and I thought he’d retire a Falcon. What a difference Deshaun Watson makes. The Falcons’ dalliance with Watson made Ryan want to seek a new home, and Indianapolis traded a third-round pick to the Falcons to acquire Ryan last week. My conversation, abridged, with the new Colts quarterback:
FMIA: Did you have any indication at the end of the season that you might not be back?
Ryan: “No, you know, I really thought I was going to be back. That was the feeling I got at the end of the year and in the exit meetings. Then it was a phone call from [coach] Arthur Smith, Sunday before everything went down, saying that he didn’t know how things were gonna shake out this week, making me aware of what was going on. And I appreciated it. He was honest. At that point, it was kinda wrapping your head around that. There’s disappointment and frustration for sure that sets in at that point.”
FMIA: After you got that phone call, did you think to yourself, it is irretrievably broken, even if they don’t get Deshaun Watson?
Ryan: “I think it was let’s see how it shakes out first. And so no options were off the table. The only way you can figure that out is to take a look into what the other situations are. It became clear when Deshaun did not come, it was on me to let them know that I wanted to seek other options. I told [owner] Arthur Blank that and he was great about it. The first one I wanted to explore was Indianapolis. I think the mindset really changed after the meeting that I had with Chris Ballard and Frank Reich.
FMIA: Zoom or in person?
Ryan: “Zoom. Over Zoom. But it’s amazing how comfortable that’s become in the last few years. That meeting was Saturday evening. I thought that Chris and his belief for how to build the football team, the type of players he wants, type of guys he wants in the locker room, what they’re about, his accountability for himself … Really appreciated that from him. And then Frank, talking about football, it was really energizing. I was upstairs in my house, in my office, and went downstairs to talk with my wife after. She was like, ‘Man you feel different, you look different.’ “
FMIA: What is it like in the span of four, five, six days when your life changes unexpected and massively?
Ryan: “You have the run of emotions, right? Of the shock, the disappointment, then the energy of looking into different things. I’ve always thought when you’re faced with big obstacles, you make the big things little. You chip away.”
FMIA: There’s something about you people don’t know. I saw it when I was pool reporter watching your practice before the Atlanta-New England Super Bowl. On Friday, I’ll always remember that day at practice, you really lit into [wideout] Taylor Gabriel. I think it was running the wrong way on motion or something. I remember that because that’s a side that nobody ever sees in you.
Ryan: “I think you have to know your guys, you know, and when they need to be locked in. And you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable, doing the things that might piss somebody off. Quite frankly, they might need to be pissed off to get the best or the most focused or whatever. I think a lot of people don’t get to see that side of me – but it’s there. That’s part of playing this position. There’s a responsibility that comes with leadership and playing this position. You have to get into that deep water and be uncomfortable and put it out there.”
FMIA: Thought much about how much longer you might play?
Ryan: “The most important thing is the passion, the energy, the want-to. I still have all of it. I’m not sure [I’ll have it for] four years, five years, six years. You know? Certainly doesn’t feel like one year, no. Absolutely not.”
In 2013, I had a chance to write about the real lives of NFL officials. I spent the week following the Gene Steratore officiating crew prior to and during a Baltimore-Chicago game at Soldier Field. Thursday was my day with head linesman Wayne Mackie, who was a New York City housing executive by day, an NFL officiating student by night.
I’ve never done a story as interesting (at least to me) as this one, because it was 16,000 words of the unknown. NFL officials are hidden under rocks. We don’t know much about their jobs, or the work they do during the week. I watched Mackie for the day on the job, then hustled home with him at night for his Ravens-Bears study time. His wife Tonya had Teriyaki salmon waiting for him when he got home shortly before 7.
Mackie, who went on to work in the league’s officiating department, died unexpectedly Thursday night in Florida, where he’d been working with league officials in advance of the NFL meetings. He was 62. “Truly one of the best people, and one of the best officials, I’ve been around in my life,” said Gene Steratore, the ref and crew chief that had Mackie as head linesman in 2013.
Why this day with Mackie stuck with me: It was a great illustration of how much work these part-time employees put in. He watched tape that night for three hours. He watched one thing very, very closely. He watched Baltimore and Chicago gametape for three-receiver sets. When he’d see one, he’d isolate on the middle man of the three, because that’s the head linesman’s assignment, the receiver in the middle. But if it wasn’t a pass, or if there weren’t three receivers on the field, he watched for the action around the closest tackle—is he on the line, is he grabby, does he move early, might he have to warn the tackle about a ticky-tack violation he sees. “There’s a lot to watch for,” Mackie told me that night. “What people don’t know about officials is how much they have to see away from the big plays. That’s what tonight is about. I’ve got to figure out how many three-receiver sets I’ll be seeing, and I want to see the tendencies of the tackles I’ll be watching.”
I learned so much that week. Mackie was an enthusiastic teacher. The way he watched tape, I could tell he loved his job the way an eagle-eye coach looking for a clue in his foe loves the minutiae of his. When I heard Mackie died, the first thing I thought of was, “What a professional.” That’s a nice legacy to leave.
You may remember the name Robert Klemko. When I started The MMQB, the football microsite at Sports Illustrated in 2013, he was one of my first hires. Great sleuth. Five years ago, he went to Mexico and, with Jenny Vrentas, reported on the sniffing out of the thief of the Tom Brady jersey after the Houston Super Bowl. Anyway … one day, Robert told me he wanted to be a war correspondent. Not for a career, but at some point in his life. Now, at 34, he’s doing it. As you read this, Klemko is in day two of his assignment somewhere in Ukraine, covering the Russian invasion of the country for the Washington Post.
The other day, he told me about his armor.
He travels with a 10-pound helmet and two eight-pound shields he’ll wear all day, front and back of his torso. If nothing else, when Klemko returns home after this assignment, he’s going to be in great shape, carrying 26 pounds of armor around for 16 hours a day.
The path to Ukraine … it’s different. But I admire it so much.
“I got into sports writing because I love football. I still love football. But gradually, I came to love reporting more,” he told me a couple of days before he left for Ukraine. “Writing about things that weren’t easy to write about and where you hit brick walls, whether they were people or circumstances. Trying to climb over them or go around them or go through them.
“I went to Kellen Winslow’s rape trial. It f—ed me up. But it also inspired me because I learned so much about the psychology of that crime and I was able to relay that to readers. He was convicted of raping homeless, indigent, elderly women. There was an aspect of the story that was like trying to answer the ‘What the hell is going on with this guy?’ question. And I learned a lot. I felt like readers learned a lot. I thought, after sitting in this court room and listening to all this, if I never sit in another press box again I’ll be happy.
“I think that instinct sort of lead me to where I am now. This is the ultimate brick wall in terms of reporting, risking your own personal safety in covering a mass casualty event. Part of me wants to see if I’m capable of bringing light and transparency and my talents to that sort of situation.”
The Post hired Klemko from SI as a sports investigative reporter, but he moved to news during the riots in Minneapolis and Louisville, and then he volunteered to be part of the coverage of the war in Ukraine. On Friday night, he flew close to the area (I’m not giving exact locations for security reasons), then met a “fixer,” a person who speaks Ukrainian and Russian and will be his escort in the area. Klemko will travel with a driver, a photographer and the fixer to work on stories, and likely will be in-country for about a month.
“I would like to come across as being very brave,” he said, “but I’m scared as hell.”
Respect for the danger is one of the things war correspondents over the years have written about. Love of the assignment is another. “When they asked for volunteers,” Klemko said, “I raised my hand. I’m in admiration of the work that the Washington Post and the New York Times and all of these other incredible organizations have done over there and the people that have the stones to do it. I’m hoping to live up to it and be a part of that club because if it weren’t for the people that have been covering this war objectively, we would have absolutely no idea what was going on over there.”
Klemko and wife Dana have a 10-month-old son, Jack. It hurts to leave them. Klemko knows the risks. It seems crazy to some, but not to me. I understand that for some people there are times in life you’ve got to take risks for the public good and to satisfy your own longing to bring light to some darkness. Godspeed, Klemko.
“When they’re calling this an investigation, I think it’s really a sham because it’s impossible to do a real investigation on both sides without getting in-depth information from both sides.”
—Michelle Simpson Tuegel, an attorney retained by sexual-abuse and -assault victims, to the Washington Post, on the Browns’ investigation into Deshaun Watson before they traded for him.
The attorney for the 22 women who have filed civil suits claiming sexual impropriety by Watson said that neither he nor the women were contacted by the Browns. The football team claimed it didn’t want to interfere in the investigation of Watson by authorities.
“We got a comprehensive perspective of all the cases.”
—Cleveland GM Andrew Berry, on investigating Watson.
“We’re capitalistic, in a world where things get overlooked. And that’s not always the best aspect for morality, but it is a fact of life.”
—Doug Shabelman, CEO of Burns Entertainment, to Dan Kaplan of The Athletic, on the prospect of damage done to the Cleveland Browns brand by the signing of tarnished QB Deshaun Watson. Shabelman advises companies on endorsements.
“Under Mr. Snyder, the Commanders risk becoming a pariah franchise.”
—The Washington Post editorial board, in a piece last week.
“It’s tough. But when someone comes to you with a lot of money, feelings change a bit.”
—Tyreek Hill, on leaving Kansas City for the riches of Miami.
“At age 63, I know me, and I need to be around football. But whether it’s an NFL team, whether it’s doing television, or, in all honesty, I could go coach the defensive backs at Haverford School right down the street and be really happy. When the right opportunity comes, I think I’ll know.”
—Mike Mayock, fired Raiders GM, to Dan Patrick on Friday about his future.
Biggest cap numbers for NFL players, 2022:
1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta — $40.5 million^
2. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee — $38.6 million
3. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City — $35.8 million
4. Kirk Cousins, Minnestota — $31.4 million
5. Jared Goff, Detroit — $31.2 million
6. TJ Watt, Pittsburgh — $31.1 million
7. Chris Jones, Kansas City — $29.4 million
8. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay — $28.5 million
9. Carson Wentz, Washington — $28.3 million
10. Leonard Williams, New York Giants — $27.3 million#
^ Matt Ryan’s cap hit for the team he left, Atlanta, is the biggest cap hit of any player in the league this year. There has never been so much dead money left by any departing player in NFL history.
# Leonard Williams has a higher cap number this season than Tom Brady, Aaron Donald, Josh Allen and Matthew Stafford. Noted.
For those Miami fans revved up and thinking the Fins will be going toe-to-toe with the Bills for AFC East supremacy this year, I bring you this factoid:
Buffalo and Miami met three times in calendar year 2021 (including the final game of the 2020 season on Jan. 3, 2021). The Bills won by 30, 35 and 15 points, an average of 26.7 points per game.
Maybe Tyreek Hill can add four touchdowns a game against the Bills.
Think about how famous you have to be to walk onto the stage at the Oscars, slap the presenter in the face, sit back down, curse loudly at him twice, and not get kicked out or stopped
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) March 28, 2022
The ESPN football writer tweeting precisely what I was thinking when Will Smith attacked Chris Rock onstage at the Oscars just before 11 Eastern Time on Sunday night.
One final time with the greatest of all time! pic.twitter.com/x85I66kOV1
— Cris Collinsworth (@CollinsworthPFF) March 21, 2022
Collinsworth, paying homage to his longtime partner, Al Michaels, from their last game together, the Super Bowl, six weeks ago. Michaels was hired by Amazon to do Thursday night games this season with Kirk Herbstreit.
Me restructuring my contract just to have Tyreek Hill burn me everyday in practice 🤡🤡
— Byron Jones (@TheByronJones) March 25, 2022
Jones is a cornerback for the Dolphins.
That Jimmy and Dee Haslam were not there to answer questions in person is ridiculous. I know they will do a Zoom. It is not the same, given how huge this transaction is and how serious the questions surrounding it are. If they couldn’t make it in person today, wait until they can
— Judy Battista (@judybattista) March 25, 2022
Battista covers the league for NFL.com and NFL Network.
As I’ve told my kids…
My college GPA: 4.0
My major: Revisionist History
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) March 26, 2022
Farmer covers the NFL for the Los Angeles Times, and is occasionally humorous.
Spoiler alert: there’s not https://t.co/9e2eNYFrXo
— Bo Jackson (@BoJackson) March 24, 2022
Jackson is the best player many of you never saw.
Lots of opinions about Deshaun Watson and me. In fact, I’ve never had more mail sent to me at NBC on one issue since I got here four years ago. So the mail is a bit longer this week. Find me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @peter_king.
I heard from a few women with thoughts like this. From Donna Abramczyk of Broadview Heights, Ohio: “I am 51 years old and have been a fan of the Browns for as long as I can remember. I survived The Drive, The Fumble, Art Modell’s move, the quarterback carousel and years of heartbreak post-move. I’m just not sure my loyalty to this team can survive Watson. I’d rather lose with players that I can respect than win with one I don’t at such an important position. I’ve been waiting my whole life for a Super Bowl, but right now, I don’t think I’d be able to enjoy one if we get there.”
You’re not alone, Donna.
What about Ben? From Tom, of Cleveland Heights: “What bothers me about your column is the fact that you ignore what Ben Roethlisberger did. You even applauded Roethlisberger for his fine behavior in a tweet. Why?”
Roethlisberger was accused in connection with sexual incidents in 2009 and 2010. In neither case was he charged. In April 2010, Roger Goodell suspended him for six games in 2010; that suspension, on appeal, was reduced to four games. Roethlisberger served the four games. The tweet you mention was from May 5, 2012, 25 months after his suspension. In those 25 months, Roethlisberger did not do anything to put himself on the police blotter. I wrote: “Last words on Roethlisberger from me: Never charged/convicted, served NFL ban. By all accounts been a standup guy since.” Watson could turn out to be the same. If, two years after his cases are adjudicated and Watson has been cleared of all charges criminal and civil, and if he has a clean life on an off the field, and if I’m still doing this job then, I should do for Watson in the social space what I did for Roethlisberger. Let’s see how everything plays out. For those who put out that tweet with the intent of branding me either as a racist (defend the white guy, crucify the black guy) or as being anti-Cleveland, you should know the whole story of it, and then you can decide if I’m racist or I hate Cleveland, or both.
Clown show. From Mike Shereck: “When you get on your soapbox, as you are all too prone to do, you begin to look like a clown. Your position on Deshaun Watson is a joke, feigning upset. What I find most offensive is your woke, feminized, ‘What about the 22 women.’ Watson was not charged with any crimes. End of story … These women worked in massage parlors. Come on, we know what goes on in Asian Massage parlors.”
So professional masseuses are prostitutes. Quite a level-jump, Mike. I believe that most masseuses are professionals, and most NFL players use massage professionals for relief of pain and preparation for games. You seem to assume that the 22 women who have accused Watson of impropriety are gold-digging women with bad intent. I don’t feel that way.
Innocent until proven guilty. From Francesco Sigoni, of Paris, France: “I have to call you out on this one. You write Watson is “innocent until proven guilty” and then immediately proceed to treat him the opposite way, saying no team should touch him. The presumption of innocence is a pillar of civilisation and we must uphold it, even when it’s difficult: it means no asterisks, no ‘but’ or ‘if,’ whatever we think of it – innocent is innocent. As of today, Watson is as innocent of mistreating women as you and I. Since there are no outstanding criminal charges against him, unless something new comes up, he will always remain innocent.”
I understand, and I think defending the presumption of innocence is good. But the issue is this: If down the road the Browns learn that even one of those 22 cases results in a conviction of Watson, there’s nothing they can do about the $230 million they’ve committed to him. Why not say to him: We hope you become our long-term starting quarterback, and when these 22 cases have been properly adjudicated, and you’re innocent as you say, we want to trade for you and allow you to play under your existing contract while we adjust to each other. Francesco, what has Deshaun Watson done to earn an $80-million guaranteed raise in the year he did not play football?
Good column. From Vince Darcangelo, of Boulder, Colo.: “Your column this week reminded me why I fell in love with your column a quarter-century ago. Your take on Watson and the Browns is spot on. Shame on the Browns and the NFL, and good on you for calling them out (and Washington, too).”
Thank you. I don’t think it was that controversial, but I guess many people did.
He’s done. From Pete Bigelow: “Four-decade Browns fan here. I hung in there during the years with no team. I’d rather return to that broken-hearted era than continue rooting for an organization that employs this senior leadership and quarterback. I’m done. I won’t do it. They’re devoid of character and decency. I will not disrespect my wife and daughter by ever again bringing them through the stadium gates. I will not debase myself so that I can enjoy a few more victories or even a Super Bowl.”
Tough call, I’m sure, Pete. Thanks for writing.
He’s done too. From Joe Hibpshman: “The Deshaun Watson deal … is my moment of clarity. I was raised on football. I idolized football players growing up. I was a volunteer football coach in my community for two decades. I preached being good teammates and being good citizens and trying to do the right thing to my players. I am not disgusted with Deshaun Watson. He will have jurisprudence and his day in court, public or otherwise. I am however disgusted that the Browns, or any other club, would go to such great lengths to ensure that he receives as much compensation as possible. So I’m out. Unfortunately, not needing NFL news and views will end my association with your column. Thank you for all the years we spent together.”
Joe, I can tell this come from the heart. Thanks for writing.
What would you do? From Jim Kloss, of Paradise Valley, Ariz.: “You decry the NFL for allowing Watson to be traded and presumably to play. But you fail to state what would be your preferred result.”
I did state it. I said 31 teams should have risen up and said they should boycott signing him until they know the full scope of what they’re dealing with—until they know the outcome of the 22 cases against him.
This is a tough call, the attorney says. From Chad Emerson: “As a former practicing attorney and big NFL fan, I agree this is an incredibly complex situation. These type allegations must be vigorously investigated. At the same time, fairness to the accused is a cornerstone to our legal system … Does the fact that Mr. Watson has now faced two separate and, independent grand juries and neither have returned any charges against him, affect your opinion on this matter? I also I think it’s important to note that Mr. Watson has never been accused or certainly charged with these types of allegations in the past so this is not a situation of potential recidivism.”
Chad, he could be innocent of every charge. My point, and I said it clearly in what I wrote, is that the Browns have guaranteed Deshaun Watson $2.7 million a game to play for them for the next five years. That’s $230 million, guaranteed. They are trusting that he is telling them the truth and that 22 women are not telling the truth—or they are hoping that the 22 women cannot prove what they are charging. If you ran a business, and you could hire one of the best people at his job for the highest salary anyone in your business has ever made, with 22 lawsuits hanging over him, would you guarantee his salary for the next five years and hire him?
1. I think of the four high-ranking college quarterbacks who had their Pro Days last week, the one who impressed onlookers the most was Liberty’s Malik Willis. Powerfully built, ball comes out of his hand strong, throws a good deep ball, high-energy guy whose zeal is infectious. With the draft 31 days away, we’ll hear a lot more bad rumors about who loves Willis very soon. For now, this is how I see teams and the quarterback market in the first round:
• Detroit (2). Doubt it. Too much doubt cast on Jared Goff if Lions pick a QB.
• Houston (3 or 13). Possible, but I’d bet against it. There’s legit optimism in Davis Mills, and giving him a one-year trial seems smart before going all-in on a quarterback in 2023 … if necessary.
• Carolina (6). Bingo. On April 9, 2016, Kenny Pickett announced he was committing to Temple and coach Matt Rhule, enrolling for the 2017 season. Eight months later, Rhule took the Baylor job and Pickett backed out the commitment and went to Pitt. Is the love still there? Or do Rhule and GM Scott Fitterer have eyes for another QB, maybe Malik Willis?
• Atlanta (8). Logical, now that Marcus Mariota is being handed the reigns (presumably) for a full season for the first time since 2018. If Arthur Smith loves a QB, I bet the Falcons dive in.
• Seattle (9). I hear all the love for Drew Lock being professed in the Pacific Northwest. I’m not buying it.
• Washington (11). I guess the presence of Carson Wentz precludes taking one.
• Baltimore (14). No, the Ravens aren’t taking one. But GM Eric DeCosta never met a deal he didn’t like. Big question: If Steeler GM Kevin Colbert calls, looking for a tradeup for Malik Willis, would the Ravens do a deal?
• Philadelphia (15, 16 or 19). Ditto Baltimore. Ditto trade-happy Howie Roseman.
• Pittsburgh (20). I keep wondering: How high would they have to trade up to be sure of getting Willis? All along, we thought the Steelers would be in a good spot to take a quarterback, with the market so lousy this year. But Carolina and Seattle are danger zones for the Steelers. I doubt sincerely they can sit at 20 and feel confident about getting the QB of their dreams.
• Detroit (32). Now it wouldn’t surprise me to see a free-faller go to the Lions here if they’re in love with him.
2. I think the league will schedule a great game for the Amazon Prime Thursday night season-opener in Week 2 on Sept. 15. The NFL will want this new partner to get off to a strong start. Last year, the first three games on the Thursday night slate involved six teams that all had losing records in 2020. I’d bet a lot that doesn’t happen this year.
3. I think I agree with the Niners being patient on the Jimmy Garoppolo front. Someone’s very likely to need a quarterback before the start of the regular season. Something’s going to happen—an injury, a retirement, something. No hurry to decide anything till Labor Day.
4. I think, judging by the reaction to every free-agent signing, I can confidently report that only one of the 9 million has been widely criticized: Jacksonville signing wideout Christian Kirk, who strikes no one as a number one receiver, to a four-year, $72-million contract. The fact that every other signing is either great or underrated or incredible must mean that every team has been monumentally improved, and no team will finish with a losing record this fall.
• Both missed time due to injuries in 2021.
• Smith-Schuster is 25, Valdes-Scantling 27.
• In 2018 through 2020, S-S caught 250 balls for 2,809 yards, while V-S caught 97 for 1,723 yards.
• Smith-Schuster signed a one-year deal with Kansas City for $3.25-million plus incentives. Valdes-Scantling signed a three-year deal for $30-million—he’s likely to earn $17 million in the first two years of the deal.
6. I think I do not understand those finances. I also think Smith-Schuster will be more productive in 2022.
7. I think the AFC West owns a lot of things these days. It’s the best division in football, and probably the best division in the 20 years since the NFL went to eight four-team divisions. It also owns draft sites. 2022: Vegas. 2023: Kansas City.
8. I think we’re getting to that point of the spring when a man’s thoughts turn to the NFL lid-lifter Sept. 8 at SoFi Stadium. Who will be the foe for the Super Bowl Rams in the first game of the 2022 NFL season? A few barely educated thoughts. The Rams have nine homes game this year, and the two most attractive non-division games have Buffalo and Dallas coming off division-winning seasons and traveling to L.A. Usually I’d bet against either of those as the opener; both have major value as big doubleheader games in Fox or CBS late-Sunday windows, or as prime-time considerations for NBC. But this year, I’d bet that every game would be in play. Last year, NBC’s Thursday opener ratings for Dallas-Tampa were up 26 percent over the previous year (Houston-Kansas City), and the last thing the league and NBC want is a ratings crash for the first game of the season. There’s one other factor: NBC views the first weekend as a Thursday-Sunday combo platter, so it will want to be competitive with the combined number of whatever the Thursday opener and Sunday night opener turn out to be. I won’t be surprised to see a mega-draw like Dallas on Sunday night, with the league being able to keep Cowboys-Rams for later in the season. But we’ll see.
9. I think there’s something else to consider: The league schedule-makers benefit from a strong AFC West and slightly less strong NFC West this year. The Rams play the AFC West this year, with the Broncos and Raiders at home. So the league could put Russell Wilson’s first game as a Bronco in the season-opener, or Davante Adams’ first game with the suddenly explosive Raiders, or an NFC Championship rematch with the Niners … if it decides to hold onto the Dallas and Buffalo games. My guess: Denver at L.A. in game one of 272. Emphasis on “guess.”
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. I have known Marla Ridenour, a well-respected Browns and NFL beat reporter, for most of my professional life. How tough, but how important, it is for her to reveal this awful part of her past in the Akron Beacon Journal.
b. The headline: “Browns’ Deshaun Watson trade trigger past for sexual assault victims. I am one of them.” Wrote Ridenour:
This is not about Watson’s guilt or innocence. Two Texas grand juries have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, the latest on Thursday. No matter the resolution, that will be forgotten when Watson wins games and perhaps takes the Browns to their first Super Bowl.
This is about victims who are reliving unspeakable acts of violence because of the way the Browns have embraced Watson.
I am one of them.
c. Ridenour’s description that follows is riveting.
d. This is such a complex topic, obviously, but the feelings of those who have been abused cannot be minimized.
e. Stunner of the Week: Ash Barty, the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, retired from tennis … at 25.
f. Maybe things like this shouldn’t be so startling when they happen. How do we know what total absolute devotion to something, anything means to a person? Imagine the drive, the focus, the single-mindedness it takes to be the greatest in the world at something … and imagine if you wake up one morning, or wake up every morning for a month, and think: I want other things in my life. I don’t want to be all tennis, all the time. I’ve made $24 million doing this, and now I want to do something else.
g. The BBC on Ash Barty’s decision. Listen to Barty:
“I know that people may not understand it. I’m okay with that. Because I know that Ash Barty the person has so many dreams she wants to chase after that don’t necessarily involve traveling the world, being away from my family, from my home, which is where I’ve always wanted to be.”
h. Good for you, Ash Barty.
i. Story of the Week: Chico Harlan of the Washington Post with a fascinating what’s-next tale of the hundreds of thousands of people streaming out of Ukraine: “They made the choice to flee Ukraine. But next question is where to go.”
j. Imagine your life is turned upside down and you’re evicted, essentially, from your country, and you’ve got to decide … right now … what to do and where to go. Wrote Harlan, who is fantastic:
PRZEMYSL, Poland — The stream of people keeps arriving, safe at last in Poland, and for many, the next stop is a shuttered shopping mall four miles from the border. That’s where they encounter a place that some volunteers call the “decision room.”
It’s less a room than a bank of chairs, crammed among a sea of cots, near what used to be the mall’s supermarket. Now, it’s a riot of activity: volunteers, European national flags, information booths for various countries, and refugees trying to make sense of the staggering choices at hand.
“Free transport to Estonia,” one sign reads. “Free housing 90 days” in Denmark, reads another, posted in front of a whiteboard listing the buses departing daily: for Zurich, Dresden, Munich, and so many other cities that are everywhere but Ukraine.
“A lot of refugees start crying right then and there,” feeling overwhelmed, said Greta Ostrowska, one of the center’s coordinators.
k. College Basketball Nugget of the Week: Former Kentucky women’s basketball player Treasure Hunt has entered the transfer portal.
l. That’s one of the great names in our country.
m. Universal Feature Story of the Week: Chad Finn of the Boston Globe on the last high school game his daughter played, and what the aftermath of it is for player and parents.
n. This story is so perfect. Finn writes with the feeling I wish I could have when chronicling my two daughters’ softball and field hockey exploits 20 years ago. (Say it ain’t so. But it is so, and I’ve got the grandchildren photos all over the house to prove it.) He gets it. I’ll always believe the greatest sports events I’ve attended are those my daughters, not Tom Brady or Jerry Rice, played in. And the ache Chad Finn feels when it’s over is hauntingly familiar.
o. See if you feel it too. Writes Finn, after days of Leah Finn mourning an upset loss in the Maine state girls basketball tournament:
Eventually her sad haze began to lift. Attention turned to spring lacrosse, and the multi-state pursuit of a prom dress, and those other obligations and joys unique to senior year. The basketball successes, including a state championship sophomore year completed just a couple of weeks before COVID turned the world inside-out, surged to the front of her memory with a renewed appreciation. We could have done without the reminder, but it is inspiring how resilient and mature teenagers can be.
Me, I’m still caught in the flashbacks and the echoes, and I know I’m not alone among our parent group. One dad told me he drove by the school gym recently and caught himself tearing up when it dawned on him that he had no reason to go there anymore. Part of the reason it’s so hard letting go, we agreed, is because the end of basketball portends many other senior-year final scenes for which we are in no way prepared. Say, has anyone ever proposed 13th grade?
p. How great is that writing?
q. Can Saint Peters play again tonight? And tomorrow night?
r. Betting is hard, and there’s a reason why I don’t do it. Saint Peter’s was an 18-point dog against Kentucky and won; an 8.5-point dog against Murray State and won; a 13-point dog against Purdue and won. So I can’t fathom then, with North Carolina favored by 8 against Saint Peter’s on Sunday, how anyone could bet the money line against Saint Peter’s. I don’t know. Gambling is insane to me.
s. My great friend Jack Bowers is a Dukie. His wife Karin went to UNC. Blue Devil-Tar Heel games are not fun in their house. “I might have to find a sensory deprivation tank next Saturday,” Jack texted, mindful of UNC-Duke in the Final Four semis next week. How amazing is it that, for Coach K, the career all comes down to beating the team eight miles away?
t. I can’t believe Italy is out of the World Cup. Losing to North Macedonia … I mean, wow. So I ask myself: WWGWT? What Would Grant Wahl Think?
u. I asked the greatest soccer writer I know, and this is what Grant Wahl thinks:
In soccer, more than in any other sport, the better team can lose. Italy, the four-time World Cup winner and last year’s European champion, won’t be going to this year’s World Cup after losing 1-0 at home to (wait for it) North Macedonia on Thursday. The World Cup is a global tournament and rightly gives spots to teams from every continent. That limits Europe to 13 of the 32 places, which means there’s little margin for error in the qualifying tournament.
Italy finished behind Switzerland in its qualifying group after penalty expert Jorginho failed to convert a last-minute penalty against the Swiss in November that would have earned Italy a World Cup berth. That sent Italy into the European playoffs, which this cycle means having to win two one-game showdowns instead of home-and-home two-game playoffs.
Enter North Macedonia, which Italy outshot 32-4. But all that matters is putting the ball in the net, and the Macedonians’ 92nd-minute goal did the trick. Soccer can be a cruel sport. Italy is missing the World Cup for the second straight time, and it’s a reminder that nothing in the world’s game is ever just handed to you.
v. Thanks, Grant. Knew you’d have the right perspective.
w. No matter what Will Smith did before Sunday night, no matter what he does after Sunday night, I predict the first graf of his obit in the New York Times years from now will begin, “One of Hollywood’s shining stars in the first quarter of this century, Will Smith, who stunned an international audience at the 2022 Oscars by slapping Chris Rock onstage as millions watched, died Wednesday.”
Will Smith slapped Chris Rock.
Onstage! At the Oscars! Whoa!
That really happened?