PHOENIX, Az. – This morning at the annual NFL Meetings at the Arizona Biltmore hotel, NFL owners and top club officials will hear from the future. The future is a man named David Ellison, the CEO of a film and media company called Skydance Media, which will partner with the league and media arm, NFL Films to create the kind of content the NFL believes is the future.
Imagine a motion picture in theaters, or streaming in your home, with John David Washington and Michael B. Jordan starring as NFL players Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, two of the four men who integrated pro football a year before Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier. It’s the kind of story the NFL believes was never told with the Hollywood flair that the Robinson tale got.
NFL Films has been a vivid storyteller for decades. But the NFL has never been associated with the kind of scripted motion pictures, documentaries and star-driven projects that Skydance—one of the producers of “Top Gun: Maverick”—can do. This is the message Ellison will bring to the league today in a conversation with Ross Ketover of NFL Films. By the way, NFL Films is on board with the new venture, and will be part of the movie- and doc-making.
“We believed,” the NFL’s chief media and business officer Brian Rolapp said Sunday at the Biltmore, “that with how fans are watching the content they love, increasingly on all these streaming platforms, that football and sports was underrepresented relative to the demand that people want. So we said, ‘Let’s find somebody who sees the world the way we do and wants to create the world’s best sports content studio for scripted and unscripted content. Mainly focused on football, but also focused on any sports.”
Skydance debuts “Air,” the Michael Jordan/Nike story, this week. The example I gave of the movie about the Rams and Browns breaking the color barrier in football is just a figment of my imagination, but stories like that one are what the NFL and Skydance want. One other aspect of the partnership will be to spread NFL stories to a global audience, to viewers who haven’t been turned onto the NFL yet. One NFL executive told me the most important part of the partnership will be spreading NFL appeal to the globe.
This isn’t only a long-range plan, Rolapp said. “I think you’ll see some things this year, announcements of things we’re doing. Now we have an infrastructure to actually go make these great projects we’ve been thinking of.”
The annual meetings aren’t overflowing with news this spring. Bringing NFL projects to the big screen, and the small streaming screens, will be a venture worth watching.
On the agenda here and elsewhere, 32 days before the next tentpole event, the draft:
I’m a Thursday flex skeptic. I think it’ll take a lot of Goodell arm-twisting to pass.
I’m a bigger skeptic on football turning into rugby. But I don’t have a vote, and so it goes.
Roger Goodell’s contract will get extended. That should not be a surprise.
I’ve got a not-so-dark-horse for his successor. Likely to be later rather than soon.
Great Dan Snyder line by one team exec here Sunday: “It’s been a pox on our house now for a couple years, and it looks like it’ll continue.” No action on the potential Snyder sale is expected, but I did find out one interesting thing Sunday: As of now, the sale price is shy of the $7 billion Snyder reportedly was hoping for. What a surprise. He’s been such a great steward of this fine franchise.
Hearing good things about Bryce Young after his pro day last week. One team believes he plays bigger than his diminutive size.
Nothing going on with Lamar Jackson. I mean, the trail of news about Jackson has gone drier than an Arizona gulch.
Punters are invisible people too. Man, the league’s trying to make punts and punters and punt returners go away.
RIP, Jerry Green. Dick Vitale got all emotional remembering his friend.
I might argue that Cam Newton talks a much better game than he plays.
Mel Kiper, national treasure.
Eli Saslow, national journalism treasure.
On with the show.
NFL meeting niblets.
Ten of them.
1. The league really wants the Thursday flex. I’m dubious it’ll pass. We can all agree this seems insane. Moving a game from 1 p.m. Sunday to 8:20 p.m. Sunday is inconvenient, to say the least, for the fans in attendance. Moving it three days earlier, as is on the agenda for a vote here, is a punch in the face to the fans who’ve planned trips to see games and either won’t be able to see a game played three days earlier or will have lives turned upside down in order to do so. But I’m told this is something Roger Goodell really wants to have in his tool box, to prevent awful games for a partner already struggling with audience share, Amazon. But coaches hate the idea. “Really hate it,” one of them told me here Sunday. In discussions with those who want this to pass, one told me, “It might make sense to max it out at one per season.” It still will be bad for the product and for the fans in-stadium, but it is sensible to legislate not being able to do it more than once per year.
2. The Goodell contract. Roger Goodell, 64, is signed as commissioner through March 2024, and Adam Schefter reported last week he’s expected to get an extension. Whether that happens this week or at the May meetings, it seems to be a matter of time. Goodell is approaching a milestone in the annals of the 104-year-old pro game. By the time training camp begins, Goodell will have the second-longest tenure of any NFL commissioner since World War II. The longest tenures:
Pete Rozelle, Feb. 1960-Nov. 1989: 29 years, 9 months.
Paul Tagliabue, Nov. 1989-Sept. 2006: 16 years, 10 months.
Roger Goodell, Sept. 2006-present: 16 years, 7 months.
For those who will want Goodell replaced—for any of myriad reasons—remember four things: He works for the owners, who are mostly happy with his performance; he has kept the game from any work stoppages that resulted in lost regular-season or playoff games, and this CBA doesn’t expire till early 2031; he has lorded over a league that dominates the sports landscape even when it’s not playing games; and there’s the matter of franchise values. Average value of a franchise in 2006, when he took over: $898 million. Denver sold last year for five times that. Washington could sell this year for seven times that. Plus, flourishing through COVID-19. That’s why you won’t hear anyone, even Goodell’s occasional league rivals like Jerry Jones, lobbying for a change at the top. Goodell is in a power position for a three- or four-year extension.
Trolling the Biltmore lobby Sunday morning, I ran into one high-ranking club official and asked about the Goodell extension. “Think back to 2006. If you told any owner they’d have 16 years of labor peace, labor deals that lasted into 2030, two teams in L.A., a great stadium in L.A., franchise values way up, they’d all sign for that. They’d more than sign for that.” He’s right—even with the ham-handed handling of the Daniel Snyder ruination of the Washington franchise. Goodell isn’t perfect. But his predecessors weren’t either. Rozelle had labor stoppages and a nonstop war with Al Davis. Tagliabue was late to the party on head trauma. Commissioners must be judged on the balance of their tenures.
3. Noto contendre? So who will replace Goodell when the day comes? Speculation will center on Brian Rolapp, as it should, and Troy Vincent if the league looks internally for Goodell’s replacement, with Rolapp having an edge among active league office execs. Some club executives—Mark Donovan (Kansas City), Tom Garfinkel (Miami), Kevin Demoff (Rams)—could surface as well. My not-so-dark horse is Anthony Noto, the CEO of personal finance giant SoFi, and former CFO of the NFL (2008-2010). Strong profile: West Point grad, masters at Wharton, former COO of Twitter. Noto, 54, left the league on very good terms, is a huge football fan, and knows how to make money. Right up the owners’ alley.
4. The Snyder story. Most league people don’t expect a resolution here. The feeling is it’s somewhere between likely and very likely that Snyder ends up selling the entire franchise and not just a piece. Here’s an interesting thing I found out Sunday: One source with significant financial knowledge about the league said Snyder is highly unlikely to get his dream price for the team–$7 billion. Snyder, this source said, is more likely to sell the full asset for something just over $6 million. Not bad. That’s still 7.5 times the price he paid for the franchise 24 years ago. How many businesses get that kind of returns over a quarter-century, particularly while running the business into the ground as Snyder has done?
5. I remember when punting mattered. Interesting that when Troy Vincent discussed punting on an NFL conference call Friday, his first comment was about how it is “the most penalized play, the most injurious play in the game.” Catch his drift? The NFL wants to significantly cut down on punts in the game. There’s a proposal here to have touchbacks on punts returned to the 25-yard line, not the 20-, in part to encourage teams with a fourth down near midfield to go for it instead of punting it away. But also because the returners parked around the 10-yard line might let more punts go in hopes that they bounce into the end zone.
6. Bryce Young helped himself more than C.J. Stroud in their pro days last week, from the sound of it. A rep of a team that will likely draft a quarterback this year told me Sunday: “If you watch Bryce Young, and you didn’t know he was 5’10”, you wouldn’t think about his height. It was a disadvantage from the tape I watched.” This team has Young as its top quarterback, for what it’s worth. I’d been told previously that Young, in not getting many passes batted down at the line, has a sense of playing bigger than he is. It’s just one of the factors that has to be weighing on Carolina as the Panthers consider what to do at number one—take Young, or take the quarterback five inches taller in Stroud. As of Sunday night, no team here had been in contact with the Panthers about trading the top pick, and it’d likely be a useless venture, at least now. Carolina has no interest in moving the pick.
7. The Lamar saga. Day 12 of Lamar Jackson on the rested free-agent market, and no news is bad news. Not a soul here is even whispering about the prospect of Jackson getting an offer sheet, and there’s no sign of talks between the Ravens and Jackson to try to rekindle contract discussions. All I can say is the Ravens had better, deep in the back of their pragmatic minds, start to consider veteran alternatives—and maybe even the rookie second- and third-round QB market.
8. Re the other rules proposals. I give the proposal to have a third QB active as an extra player on gamedays—call it The Brock Purdy Rule—a good shot to pass if the league can figure out a way to make it ironclad that only emergency QBs will be used as the third player. I am not optimistic about passage for the Rams’ proposal to make roughing-the-quarterback reviewable by replay. Solid point by Rams COO Kevin Demoff Sunday: “We’re not increasing the number of challenges per team, which stays at two. This is a call that often swings momentum in the game. I don’t understand why making it reviewable is so controversial.” He’s right, but too many teams in the league are against any expansion of replay.
9. Bobby Wagner. Some buzz here about the return of Wagner to Seattle on a one-year deal over the weekend for his age-33 season, his 12th in the league. This is not just Seattle bringing the highest-rated linebacker in football in 2022 (per PFF) back after his one-year detour to the Rams. It is a tribute to Wagner being mature and burning no bridges when he was a cap casualty with the Seahawks last spring, and to the Seahawks for knowing Wagner’s value to the franchise and the defense he helped become the Legion of Boom—and, frankly, to Wagner’s value to the 2023 team. Too often, long and valued relationships get thrown in the garbage because the business of football interferes, and Wagner was smart enough to understand the sport and the business to not burn those bridges. And it’s a tribute to Seattle GM John Schneider for how he handled Wagner since drafting him in the second round of the 2012 draft. The mutual respect drips from this return. Let it be a model for other great players and franchises.
10. On football as rugby. The NFL will very likely continue to allow ball carriers to be pushed from behind in 2023, defying the aesthetics of a sport that is not rugby and subjecting more quarterbacks to be treated like endangered objects in the middle of trash-compactors. Three reasons why the Competition Committee doesn’t have a proposal on the agenda to eliminate the play at this week’s meetings:
- Despite some opposition to the play, I’m told the league and the Competition Committee knew there were at least nine teams solidly against changing the rule that allows runners to be assisted from behind. Committee chair Rich McKay said Friday there are “certainly not” 24 teams that think the rule should be changed. Since at least 24 teams would have had to vote to change the rule, it was fruitless to bring it to a vote here.
- The Competition Committee was not unanimously for changing the rule. Under committee rules, that’s necessary to bring a rule out of committee for a vote by the 32 teams.
- There’s also pro-Eagles sentiment I’ve heard, sentiment that goes like this: The Eagles did nothing wrong. They played by the rules that were on the books, succeeded, and we’re not going to punish them for that.
It’s counter to the NFL’s on-and-on emphasis on player safety to not adjust this rule, or to eliminate it. Frankly, it’s mind-boggling. The Eagles had incredible success (they were 37 of 41 last year on QB sneaks, many of which featured two players pushing Jalen Hurts from behind), and Buffalo, Cincinnati and Baltimore also experimented with assisting the runner from behind. Coaches in Denver and Seattle have said they’ll work on the technique for 2023. When one successful team has a 90 percent success rate, as the Eagles did on the sneak, well, why wouldn’t other teams adopt it?
My problem, aside from the fact that it’s not a football play, is that it’s only a matter of time before a quarterback gets hurt on the play. In the Super Bowl, on one Hurts sneak, Kansas City sent a defensive lineman, missile-like, over the scrum at the line of scrimmage. How dangerous is a 290-pound projectile hurtling toward a quarterback? How fortunate is it that he, or Hurts, was not concussed on that play?
“There are people within the committee and people within the survey that weren’t big fans of the play and were concerned about the safety aspect of it,” McKay said.
So the NFL will wait until a quarterback gets hurt. Then it will take action, presumably—after the position the league has sworn to protect is diminished by an injury to, perhaps, a marquee player.
On Friday, I called a defensive assistant coach on a team that played the Eagles last season and asked about how they coached to defend the play. He said there are four keys: try to get the offensive line to false start by studying the Eagles’ cadence and drawing them to jump; “submarine” the offensive line by getting lower than the blockers and fire off aggressively at the snap; if necessary, as Kansas City did, go over the top to be physical with the quarterback; and studying the formation to see which center-guard hole can be divided by a rusher with a linebacker assisting him from behind, if need be.
“I think other teams will try to employ it, yes,” this assistant coach said. “And then after you do all that, I still think it’s important to hit the quarterback. It can be dangerous, but if it’s going to be legal to do, we’ve got to do something to try to stop it.”
One other thing, this coach said: “It’s hard, almost impossible, to simulate the play at full speed in practice. Too much of a chance of someone getting hurt.”
I think the NFL’s going to live to regret this inaction.
Jerry Green, 1928-2023. The only man to cover the first 56 Super Bowls felt too weak to cover Eagles-Chiefs this year, and so he watched from home in Michigan. The Detroit News readers were the poorer for it. Green died Thursday at 94.
In retirement, Green wrote occasionally on all sports for the paper’s website. A year ago, he wrote about one of his favorite subjects ever: Dick Vitale. At 93, needing oxygen because of a progressive lung disease, Green reached out to Vitale by text for an interview, wanting to tell the story of the former University of Detroit and Detroit Pistons coach recovering from cancer.
“He inspired me,” Vitale recalled Saturday. “I’m 83, still working, and a lot of my motivation, my inspiration, comes from people like Jerry Green, loving their job, still working. People say, ‘Relax! Go on vacation! You got enough money!’ It’s not about the money. My job is my medicine. I love it. Jerry was like that.”
What Green wrote about Vitale nearly a year ago:
And there was spoken a wondrous irony, for in this country and in much of the basketball-conscious world, Dick Vitale has been celebrated as an enchanting, enduring, knowledgeable speaker. Stories of his plight have gone national and international, the agonies of silence and the repulsing of cancer.
“I’m in the healing stages, so I can’t do games,” Vitale says. “For three months I felt totally trapped not being able to speak. I have been eating my heart out not being able to be at the big games.”
You do not have to be a rabid college basketball fan to appreciate Dick Vitale. Since 1979, after he left four rousing, successful, character-building seasons at U of D and a short tenure coaching the Pistons, Vitale has been the powerful image of ESPN.
It is my solid opinion that Dick Vitale did more for the creation of ESPN — which bills itself as the worldwide sports leader — than any other broadcaster. Or producer, director, camera-lugger or executive.
On Saturday, Vitale credited Green—and another Detroit sports writing legend, Joe Falls—for helping launch his national career. “Jerry and Joe Falls both took a liking to me, and started writing these great things about me, and I think their columns got me to the Pistons,” Vitale said. “They also taught me something about the media that I’ve always remembered: When you rip a guy, show up the next day. Let them see you. Today, there are so many guys, radio, TV, social media, who rip guys and never met ‘em, never see ‘em. That’s easy. But they faced the consequences.
“Terrific human. Jerry had a heart of gold. I tried to get him to come over to write basketball, but he loved football. I’ll miss him.”
I don’t think I’ll last that long.
— Longtime Detroit News football writer and columnist Jerry Green, on many occasions, on the prospects of living to see his hometown Lions make the Super Bowl. Green died Thursday at 94.
I remember when Mark Cuban said, ‘Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.’ I disagreed with him. I thought the NFL would never cross over into something like that … This is too much. This is a bridge too far.
— Mike Florio, on the “PFT Live” show Friday, on the NFL reportedly considering flex scheduling for Thursday Night Football—meaning that a Sunday game could be moved to three days earlier, with all the ramifications that portends.
As time goes by, we realized that we just wanted different things, and now we have a choice to make. That doesn’t mean you don’t love the person. It just means that in order for you to be authentic and truly live the life that you want to live, you have to have somebody who can meet you in the middle, right? It’s a dance. It’s a balance.
When you love someone, you don’t put them in a jail and say, ‘You have to live this life.’ You set them free to be who they are, and if you want to fly the same direction, then that’s amazing.
— Gisele Bundchen, in a profile by Michelle Ruiz in Vanity Fair, on the dissolution of her marriage to Tom Brady.
I have always cheered for him, and I would continue forever. If there’s one person I want to be the happiest in the world, it’s him, believe me. I want him to achieve and to conquer. I want all his dreams to come true. That’s what I want, really, from the bottom of my heart.
— Bundchen, to Ruiz, on Brady.
He won round one.
— Mike Trout, after Angels teammate Shohei Ohtani struck him out to earn the save in Japan’s 3-2 win over the USA team in the title game of the World Baseball Classic.
“Ain’t 32 m———— better than me,” Cam Newton said the other day on social media, announcing that he would be throwing at the Auburn Pro Day.
So let’s see if that’s so, based on recent performance. I enlisted the help of Stathead, the service that allows you to enter criteria over a number of years and get a ranked list of players. Newton turned 30 in May 2019. He has played sparingly since—just 22 starts in four years, and none in 2022.
I decided to compare him to all peers. I entered the following criteria: minimum 500 attempts, all seasons combined since 2019. Some 46 quarterbacks qualified as having thrown at least 500 passes since opening day 2019.
How Newton ranks among the 46 quarterbacks with at least 500 throws over the past four seasons:
Passer Rating: 77.1, 45th. Only Zach Wilson (70.9) is worse.
Completion percentage: 61.9 percent, 38th.
Yards per pass attempt: 6.7, 33rd.
Passing yards per game: 152.3, 44th.
“Tell me how these randoms keep getting jobs!” Newton says on Twitter while gleefully dancing around with a big smile.
Since 2019, they all have better numbers than Newton in all four of those passing categories.
Evidently there are 32, umm, quarterbacks, better than Newton.
Got a quiz for you.
Name the three current head coaches who have scored the most touchdowns in NFL games.
Think about it, and meet me down at eight, in 10 Things I Think.
Wednesday, 2:52 p.m., midtown Manhattan, crossing Madison Avenue at 48th Street:
Fortyish man passes me and, five seconds later, I hear: “PEEDUH KING! WHEN ARE WE GETTIN’ OUR GUY WITH THE JETS!”
I know what the guy’s saying. Everyone wants to know, including me.
“Soon! If the Packers get reasonable!” I say.
That’s a guess, but it sounds like Green Bay wants a first rounder in the deal for Aaron Rodgers. I wouldn’t give it without conditions. But of course, walking in New York City, there’s not much time for depth.
Go to the chiefs 😂😂 https://t.co/FP9RhAgMex
— Ty Hill (@cheetah) March 23, 2023
Tyreek Hill with the funniest Tweet of the week. Think about it.
Ohtani’s pregame speech:
“Let’s stop admiring them. … If you admire them, you can’t surpass them. We came here to surpass them, to reach the top. For one day, let’s throw away our admiration for them and just think about winning.” https://t.co/Y12PQ6EBHL
— Dylan Hernández (@dylanohernandez) March 21, 2023
Hernandez covers baseball for the LA Times, and captured Shohei Ohtani’s great speech to his Japanese teammates before they won the World Baseball Classic.
Now Ohtani and Trout go play winter ball in Anaheim.
— Jason Gay (@jasongay) March 22, 2023
Gay, the Wall Street Journal columnist, after Ohtani and Trout had an all-time classic meeting in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic.
Life moves fast 👇 https://t.co/tZ4Q3wMt4b
— NYPost_Cannizzaro (@MarkCannizzaro) March 21, 2023
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @peter_king.
Thinks Thursday night flex is a great idea, which I don’t. From @JeffRowan10s on Twitter: “Enough with the crocodile tears over the live fans. There ARE such things as refunds. With two week’s notice, folks can get their money back and it’s a reasonable trade-off. On balance, Thursday flex scheduling is good for the game.”
Sorry, Jeff. It’s laughable to think that, for fans who attend games, that getting your money back, as you say, is a “reasonable trade-off” for a game moving from Sunday to Thursday. This is a bad idea for players and a bad idea for fans who attend games.
Thinks I cheap-shotted the Jets by pointing out they have zero players who were Jets on New Year’s Day 2019. From Marty Levine, of Vancouver: “That was a cheap shot. There’s turnover as a function of organizational incompetence (Jets between 2011 and 2019), and turnover born of necessity. You’re too smart and experienced not to understand what’s happened between 2019 and 2023.”
My point was about the years and years and drafting and signing players who weren’t good enough or were dissatisfied because of the constant losing. The reasons the Jets have been in the current morass is because of things like this: In five drafts from 2014 to 2018, they drafted 40 players, at least a small number of whom should be the veteran backbone of a team. All 40 are gone. Now, the one good thing that came out of that: Joe Douglas made a trade in dealing the oft-injured Jamal Adams for what turned out to be Alijah Vera-Tucker and Garrett Wilson, two building blocks for the franchise. But Douglas is like those road crews you see in northern cities after a harsh winter, using patch job after patch job to get the road whole. As I write in 10 Things, Douglas’ 2021 draft is looking pretty shaky as we speak.
Thinks my Bears logic is flawed. From Dennis Ross: “There is a significant flaw in your (and perhaps Ryan Poles’) thought that their accumulation of future draft capital positions them to go after one of next years’ two supposed generational QB talents if Justin Fields doesn’t pan out. The Bears’ trade of the first pick this year was unusual in two respects: 1) the Bears have a quarterback they believe in; and 2) there isn’t a consensus generational talent in this year’s draft. Unless those conditions repeat next year, the teams holding the first two picks will never trade them, regardless of how much draft capital the Bears could throw at them.”
A couple of thoughts, Dennis. The Bears have two first-round picks next year, their own and Carolina’s. How do you know where those picks will be? We don’t know how the quarterback dominoes will fall in 13 months, so the only thing Poles can do is to try to be in the best position he can be next year. You’re right—it might not be good enough to get a great quarterback. But there’s no way to know that now. The Bears, if I had to guess, are going to have two of the top 12 or 15 picks in the draft next year. There’s really no way to know anything about the 2024 draft right now, so no one can know if they’re “positioned” to get anything. But I’d rather have two first-round picks than one, or none.
What an intelligent fellow! From Stephen Clements: “As an elderly Englishman, obsessed with the NFL since it was first shown over here in 1982, I love reading your column. The strange thing is I have no idea what you are talking about from the moment you step away from football. Google is helping me increase my knowledge of America, but often I am left in the dark, particularly with baseball references, and your beer obsession goes right over my head. And yet I read every word, every week. You must be doing something right.”
Now that is a high compliment, Stephen. Thanks so much. I hope some of the American non-sports stories I highlight help you understand a bit about our strange land.
I didn’t make a 1 to 32 list. From Shai Plonski: “I get that it was 32 thoughts on 32 teams, but it also seemed like a ranking on how they’ve done. I root for the Cowboys, so they’re the ones I know. Brandin Cooks at a $12 million cap hit for this year (and signed for next year) for two low draft picks, Stephon Gilmore trade for a fifth-rounder, no more Zeke and his $10 million on the cap … all smart and shoring up the depth of the team where they are weak. It’s hard to understand your list.”
I never said it was a 1 to 32 list, just that I had 32 thoughts. The bottom 17 were in alphabetical order. I don’t see how you divined that I put the 32 teams in my order of how they’ve done in free agency.
Bullish on WHOOP. From John Chandler of White Marsh, Md.: “You mentioned you’re using the WHOOP app and device and was wondering what you think. I checked it out a few weeks ago but ultimately held off because of a few concerns. I’m mid-forties. One of the few sports my body still lets me play is volleyball, and my concern is how obtrusive is the wrist band?”
Hey John, it doesn’t feel obtrusive to me. It tells you a great deal, daily, about your fitness and normal health metrics that have made me think about things like drinking, sleep, and exercise. For instance, when I drink a couple of glasses of wine in the evening, I notice that my sleep is disrupted and my resting heart rate while sleeping is about 75. The other night, I did not drink and went to bed at 9:05. My resting heart rate was 59, and I slept 8 hours, 10 minutes with two interruptions. It’s just a little reminder that everything you do reflects on your health readings. For me, at 65, it’s a good set of reminders to get every day, sort of a way that this version of Big Brother watches over me. Along with my pedometer feature on the iPhone, it keeps me in line most days.
1. I think I wonder this as we see more and more legislation aiming to minimize the importance of the kicking game in pro football: When will special teams coaches go extinct? They’re not going away in toto, of course. But as one special teams coordinator asked me the other day, after seeing a spate of new rules to further lessen the impact of the kicking and punting games, “How long before an owner asks a coach, ‘Why are we paying $1 million for a guy who coaches eight plays a game?’” Consider that teams now have two or three coaches devoted to the kicking game, and this guy’s onto something. How long before it’s one?
2. I think I think there are passionate people about their jobs, and then there is Mel Kiper—62 going on 25.
3. I think these are three excellent nuggets from Kiper, and imagine the words coming out from him in that staccato, Kiperian, lightning-fast way:
- “I’m looking at 35 to 40 corners that I think will play in the league out of this draft,” Kiper said the other day. “Deepest position in the draft.” Think about that. About 85 percent of draftees make practice squads or active rosters coming out of camps. So imagine 220 rookies make a team or a practice squad this year. And imagine 38 corners are in that group. That would mean 17 percent of the rookies who make it out of camp are corners—for a position that produces three of 23 “starters,” if you consider the nickel corner a starter. That’s 17 percent of the make-it rookies for three spots.
- Kiper’s very bullish on Ole Miss corner Emmanuel Forbes. “Fourteen career interceptions, six pick-sixes—one off Will Levis this year. He’s 6’1”, ran a 4.35 at the combine, missed only one game in his career and it wasn’t for an injury.” Where do I sign? Only problem is, Forbes is thin as a rail, 166 pounds.
- Kiper on Florida QB Anthony Richardson: “He was superman against Utah, just incredible. And then the next week against Kentucky, he completes 40 percent of his passes, throws a couple picks. There were times this year where he flashed it again, but there were times this year where he’s missing layups. Then he’s missing throws in the middle of the field. He’s missing throws deep. Missing throws to all levels. Missing, like I said, bubble screens. He’s bouncing it to the left, bouncing it to the right. Low with the throw, high. That’s the inconsistency with accuracy that bothers you … I think the time he needs will be provided by a team like Seattle, a team that can allow him time. He’s only got 13 career starts. That’s it! That’s a red flag. Again, the inexperience is a factor against him. But if you can let him, I say let him sit, watch and learn. People say, ‘Ah, you can’t do that!’ Well, you have done it. Patrick Mahomes sat for a year. K? He’s still young. He’s only 21 years of age. I think Seattle would be perfect, with Geno Smith there. If Geno continues to be great, then Anthony Richardson waits. If Geno’s just a one-year wonder, then you got Anthony developing. It’s kind of a win-win. It’s a bonus pick for Seattle in the Russell Wilson trade. I think Seattle, to me, on paper, logically, thinking it out, would be the perfect spot for him.”
4. I think it’s stunning to see the transformation of the Panthers, and particularly the Carolina offense, in six months. The Panthers from opening day 2022 to March 2023:
*The WR configuration is anyone guess, and Shi Smith, still a Panther, could be in it. It’s entirely possible that a three-receiver set will include three players who did not play in the Panthers’ 2022 opener against Cleveland. Neither Terrace Marshall nor Laviska Shenault played in the opener last season.
5. I think I won’t be surprised, unless Seattle takes him at five, if Jalen Carter drops out of the top 10. I view Seattle as a team that isn’t as scared off by players with character concerns as some other teams are. I asked the coach of a team outside the top 10 who is very interested in Carter and has researched him. The issue with Carter’s alleged involvement in speeding in connection with the accident that killed two people from the Georgia program is worrying, he said, and his team is still looking into that. “There are concerns there,” this coach said, “and I don’t know where we’ll end up on that. But as far as football goes, I don’t view the concerns there that would prevent us from drafting him. I’ve heard about him not practicing hard. I understand, and that could be an issue. But he’s such a freak of nature.” The point: talent shrinks big issues.
6. I think the Jets’ 2021 draft is looking pretty grim after the trade of wide receiver Elijah Moore to the Browns Wednesday. (Moore plus the 74th overall pick to Cleveland for the 42nd) The Jets had three picks in the top 100 in 2021: quarterback Zach Wilson (second overall), guard Alijah Vera-Tucker (14th overall), and Moore (34th overall). Wilson’s rep has been severely tarnished through two seasons. Vera-Tucker’s a plus-player but missed the last three months last season with a torn triceps. Now Moore’s gone. This trade means three things:
- The Jets found Moore an underachieving pain in the rear end, and you have to wonder what didn’t show up in the scouting process about Moore the person or Moore’s character. You could say, Douglas did a good job, getting the 42nd pick for him, but I’d say a couple of things about that. Dumping the 32nd pick of 2021, with 4.35 speed, after two lousy seasons is bad business. And Douglas didn’t pick up an extra pick here—he moved up 32 spots. Valuable spots, of course. But early third-round picks are valuable, and the Jets are without theirs now.
- The Jets now hold the 42nd and 43rd picks, one of which is likely to be used in the trade for Aaron Rodgers. Say that happens. Say the 42nd pick goes to Green Bay. Then the Jets pick, overall, 13th and 43rd … and then not again till midway through the fourth round, 112th
- Mecole Hardman replaces the speed and, the Jets hope, the deep-threat possibility that Moore never was. Hardman still has the chance to show that explosiveness. But Hardman, over 25 games in the past two years, caught balls for 990 yards and 11.8 yards per reception. Not surprising Kansas City let him walk. There’s one other part of this story that means something: Moore was on the cap this year for $1.47 million. Hardman signed for one year with a max deal of $6.5 million. Let’s say he actually sees $5 million of it. The Jets have added a speed guy Kansas City let walk after an injury-plagued season but have surrendered the advantage of a comfortable rookie contract, and Hardman will eat up perhaps $3-million-to-$4-million more for a parallel player. All in all, it’s a shaky deal.
7. I think the more I hear about the Jets’ pursuit of Aaron Rodgers, the more it’d scare me—unless, and this is a big “unless”—it involves at least a verbal agreement that he plays in 2024 as well.
8. I think you might be surprised at the answer to the question about touchdowns scored by NFL coaches. The most is by linebacker/special-teamer/very-occasional-tight end Mike Vrabel. The list:
- LB Mike Vrabel, 13 (12 receiving, 1 pick-six)
- TE Dan Campbell, 11 (receiving)
- LB DeMeco Ryans, 1 (fumble return)
- LB Ron Rivera, 1 (fumble return)
Note: Frank Reich threw 47 passing TDs and Doug Pederson threw 12 in their NFL lives, but neither scored a touchdown. Todd Bowles, Kevin O’Connell and Sean Payton (replacement player, 1987) also played in the NFL but did not score.
9. I think, still, one of the most amazing factoids about the 1987 replacement games (the three-week period when NFL players went on strike and teams signed full teams of replacements to play games to satisfy their network TV requirements) is that Sean Payton played three games at quarterback in relief for Mike Ditka and the Bears. In the first one, he threw for 51 yards and was sacked four times by a blitzing Buddy Ryan defense at Philadelphia.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Saddest sporting moment of the week: the realization that it will be three years before the World Baseball Classic happens again. What a show it was.
b. Shohei Ohtani of the world champion Japan team won two games in the series, homered, beat out an infield hit with Vince Coleman speed and got the save in the tense 3-2 championship game win over the United States. In the United States. By striking out Mike Trout—on three swings and misses. Man.
c. Story of the Week: Eli Saslow of the New York Times, in his first piece after leaving the Washington Post, on the incredible hardship faced by a mom-and-pop sandwich shop (literally mom and pop) trying to stay open as an island in the middle of a huge homeless encampment.
d. Saslow is so great because he goes to the heart of his stories and finds the reality of modern America, and it’s quite often an ugly reality. This story is heartbreaking—and necessary.
e. Writes Saslow:
He had been coming into work at the same sandwich shop at the same exact time every weekday morning for the last four decades, but now Joe Faillace, 69, pulled up to Old Station Subs with no idea what to expect. He parked on a street lined with three dozen tents, grabbed his Mace and unlocked the door to his restaurant. The peace sign was still hanging above the entryway. Fake flowers remained undisturbed on every table.
He picked up the phone and dialed his wife and business partner, Debbie Faillace, 60.
“All clear,” he said. “Everything looks good.”
“You’re sure? No issues?” she asked. “What’s going on with the neighbors?”
He looked out the window toward Madison Street, which had become the center of one of the largest homeless encampments in the country, with as many as 1,100 people sleeping outdoors. On this February morning, he could see a half-dozen men pressed around a roaring fire. A young woman was lying in the middle of the street, wrapped beneath a canvas advertising banner. A man was weaving down the sidewalk in the direction of Joe’s restaurant with a saw, muttering to himself and then stopping to urinate a dozen feet from Joe’s outdoor tables.
“It’s the usual chaos and suffering,” he told Debbie. “But the restaurant’s still standing.”
f. Chaos and suffering. Read the story. It defines chaos and suffering.
g. Eli Saslow, a singular figure in American journalism today.
h. Tech Story of the Week: Nicole Nguyen of the Wall Street Journal on “the problem with your dying AirPods:” The problem is the batteries inside those little rascals can’t be replaced.
i. Writes Nguyen:
I have the first-generation AirPods Pro and, after about three years of constant calls, music and podcast playing, I can use them for less than an hour before the “womp womp” low-battery sound plays.
Hundreds of millions of these wireless in-ear sets are sold every year, with AirPods and AirPods Pro being the most popular, according to analytics firm Counterpoint Research. Their lithium-ion batteries—similar to what powers smartphones and other electronics—degrade over time. Because earbuds are so small, their batteries tend to die faster, typically within a few years, and there’s no easy way to replace them.
Someday, your buds will end up in a drawer, recycle bin or, worse, landfill. AirPods are one of the many tech products we buy each year that die well before we want them to.”
j. Want to see the country? Join the University of Cincinnati basketball team. In the span of 11 days ending Wednesday, the Bearcats played in three time zones and four states: Fort Worth (conference tournament), Cincinnati (home, NIT), Hempstead, N.Y. on Long Island (NIT) and Orem, Utah (NIT).
k. Great Journalism Idea of the Week: Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, who got just-retired vet catcher Stephen Vogt, who caught 6,000 major-league innings, to dish on the habits and memories of catching 15 pitchers of all skills in his career:
l. In this business, ideas win. They always win. Kepner’s one of the writers I read and always admire because he thinks of good stories, not just the Captain Obvious ones. He caught the big stars and ambidextrous one, Pat Venditte.
m. Kepner with Vogt on his buddy Chris Archer:
We were in Double-A together and then Triple-A, and then we made our debut the same year. And we lived in the same hotel during September of 2012; he rode home with my wife, my daughter and me every night back to the hotel, so we really got to know each other and got close. And then I got designated for assignment that next spring — and the next time we met back up on the same field was our first inning of our first All-Star Games.
Ned Yost told me I had the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, and I didn’t even realize who I was going to catch. So I run out there to catch the fourth and I look out and, sure enough, here comes Chris Archer. For me, it was such a special moment, obviously personally, but also to share it with somebody you came up with through the minor leagues. When you play together like that, you may not talk all the time, you may not see each other for a while — but you’re family.
n. So many of these vignettes are gold. Just gold.
o. Reporting of the Week: Robert Klemko of the Washington Post on how the Memphis Police Department, under fire for some of its officers’ roles in the death of Tyre Nichols, cut corners and relaxed standards to recruit officers. With the sensitivity around the Memphis police, imagine how in the world Klemko could have gotten nine former and current officers to talk about problems in the department. They had to know their jobs were in jeopardy if they were discovered to have talked to Klemko.
p. Wrote Klemko:
“They baby these recruits and do everything they can to help them pass the tests so they don’t lose the body,” said Brian McNamee, a former Memphis police lieutenant and supervisor of training for the department from 2019 to 2021. “That’s a problem. If somebody can’t pass the tests and can’t grasp the material, you don’t want them on the streets policing you.”
The department didn’t respond to repeated requests for information about the recruits, policy changes and incidents described in this article. Davis, the chief, and Strickland, the mayor, declined interview requests. Rallings, the former police chief, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Memphis academy, which requires more hours of instruction than state standards, still produced hundreds of quality cops over the seven-year period, the current and former officers said. But dozens of less skilled, poorly trained students joined them in graduation, they said.
One student graduated the academy in 2017 after multiple allegations of wrongdoing — including accusations of sexually harassing an instructor, the former instructors said. He resigned two years later after turning off his body camera during a traffic stop and shooting a fleeing suspect, according to department records.
q. Profile of the Week: Owen Amos of the BBC on a wrongly convicted man, released after 27 years in prison in Missouri, finally smelling fresh air.
r. Amos on Bobby Bostic, who had a strange ally in earning his freedom—the judge who sentenced him:
After almost 10,000 nights in a cell, November 8, 2022, was Bostic’s last. But he was too busy dreaming of freedom to sleep. Instead, he spent the long, dark night packing his cell. He left his possessions for other prisoners but kept one thing. His typewriter held too many memories – too many stories—to leave behind.
At sunlight, with his cell packed, he looked at the board setting out which prisoners were moving cells. Next to his name was one word: released.
“It wasn’t real until I seen the words,” he says. “When I did, it was like music to my soul.”
“His departure now a reality, Bostic put on his going-home outfit. After 27 years in grey prison-wear, he had chosen a three-piece blue suit.”
“It represents the new chapter of my life,” he says. “The new business of life.”
Twenty-five years earlier, Judge Evelyn Baker told Bostic he would “die in the department of corrections”. But now, at 7:30 on a November morning, Bobby walked out of prison a free man, his suit and smile as bright as the Missouri sunshine.
As he did, a woman in a black hat stepped forward to hug him. Her name was Judge Evelyn Baker.
s. Excellent set-up to a dramatic moment by Amos.
t. Hey Greeny: Get well soon. We need you back and better than ever.
u. (Mike Greenberg had a heart procedure and will be on the shelf for a bit.)
v. “Not bad for a bunch of nerds,” Princeton’s Blake Peters said after the Tigers fell short of the Elite Eight Friday night. Which means they won two games in the tournament. Which is what makes March Madness so cool. That, and seeing San Diego State beat the so-called best team in the tournament, Alabama, Friday night.
w. RIP Willis Reed. What a hero to generations of New Yorkers.
x. And RIP, Joe Pepitone. What a life, from a high school gunshot wound to “Seinfeld.” Bruce Weber’s obit in the New York Times tells all:
y. Re his “Seinfeld” fame:
z. One of the most incredible things about this, or any other, college basketball season is that a week from tonight, Florida Atlantic or San Diego State will be playing for the national championship.
Flexing Thursday games
is hugely fan-unfriendly
Don’t do it, Roger.