The Daily Briefing Monday, March 19, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
The 2018 regular season will apparently open in Philly with the debut of KIRK COUSINS as a Viking. Cody Benjamin of CBSSports.com:
When the NFL announces its 2018 regular-season schedule, Minnesota Vikings fans will be in for a treat.
After watching their team go down in historic fashion at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, who not only trounced the Vikings’ oh-so-close shot at hosting their own Super Bowl appearance but then won the Super Bowl in Minnesota, they might be forced to start the new season against those same Eagles back in Philadelphia.
That’s according to SportsRadio 94 WIP’s Howard Eskin, who reported via Twitter on Monday that when the NFL schedule is released, the Eagles will host the Vikings to open the 2018 season on Thursday, Sept. 6.
The NFC Championship Game rematch had been speculated as a potential matchup for the league’s 2018 kickoff, but it makes for an especially intriguing opener considering how both the Vikings and the defending Super Bowl champions could look in September.
For one, Minnesota won’t have even a single quarterback from its NFC title bid in after reeling in free agency’s biggest prize in Kirk Cousins, who also faced the Eagles in Week 1 last season as the Washington Redskins’ starter. And the Eagles might or might not have their own quarterback, a rehabilitating Carson Wentz, available to start the season, making backup Nick Foles, the man who torched the Vikings secondary en route to the Super Bowl, a candidate to reprise his role against Mike Zimmer’s defense.
The Eagles are guaranteed to appear in the NFL’s first regular-season game of 2018 as defending Super Bowl champions. The NFL’s official schedule release figures to fall in mid- to late April.
Mike McCartney, the agent for QB KIRK COUSINS, tells Peter King the inside story of his new contract with the Vikings:
I’ve found the agent for Cousins, Mike McCartney, to be an honorable man in my dealings with him over the years. All of us in this business have to judge the people we come in contact with and make decisions on how much we trust them. Whenever McCartney has told me something, it’s been the truth. He mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago that he’d been keeping a journal on the Cousins negotiations, going back to the Washington days; he continued last week, when things got intense. So I asked him if he would run me through the Cousins sweepstakes, starting at 11 a.m. CT last Monday, when the NFL allowed agents and teams to begin negotiating. In an hour and 50 minutes on Saturday, he gave me his version of the events that led to Cousins’ three-year, $84-million fully guaranteed contract. A couple of things he would not discuss: He would not disclose any offers except the one that won—Minnesota. And though McCartney characterized the tenor of his talks with each team, he would not divulge privileged conversations with negotiators for any team.
At the beginning of the process, McCartney said, he and his staff produced a book for Cousins that detailed the seven teams he felt might be interested in Cousins once it was clear Washington was not going to make him a serious long-term contract offer: Arizona, Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Miami, Minnesota and the Jets. This winter he and Cousins had discussed in detailed phone calls each team—how close it was to competing for a title, who would coach him, the style of offense, the lifestyle of the area. And on Monday at 11, he wasn’t positive how many teams would call, but he had a good feeling that at least four would. He told each one to make its best offer. This was not going to last long. At the beginning of the process Monday, McCartney felt strongly that any of the four—Cards, Broncos, Jets, Vikings—could win. But he and Cousins, before any formal bids came, felt that probably Minnesota and the Jets had an edge. (More about that later.)
This process, McCartney decided, was going to be a silent auction. One offer per team. That would be it. Then a visit or two to a team (Cousins said he wanted to meet the coaches he’d be working with before signing anything); then a decision. “Kirk was not going to sign before he met the coaches and got a feel for the culture,” McCartney said.
It was a curious decision by McCartney. Cousins had waited more than two years for this chance to be on the open market. Now it was going to be a sprint? “I never used the words ‘silent auction,’” McCartney said Saturday, “but that’s what this was. I made it clear to each team that if they held back, it was going to hurt them.”
Two reasons McCartney wanted to do it this way: Because several teams had quarterback needs, he knew if one or two teams sensed they were out, Cousins’ market could deflate quickly. Teams are pragmatic; the fans want their GMs to shoot for the moon, but in this game of quarterback musical chairs, if one team had only one other quarterback it really wanted—Denver and Case Keenum, for instance (which was the truth)—and learned it wasn’t the front-runner, there’s a good chance it would exit quickly.
And a fully guaranteed deal was going to be a high priority. Surprisingly, this wasn’t a big problem with the teams wanting Cousins. “There will be no discounts,” McCartney said.
The pitches were strong, without many upsets. Arizona pushed its strong core of young premier players (David Johnson, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson). The Jets pushed their $100 million in cap room, the fact that offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates would continue the kind of system and game-planning that Cousins knew from Washington, and that he’d be a franchise quarterback in the biggest market in the league. The Vikings felt they had everything in place to win multiple titles except a premier quarterback—plus a new facility and a new stadium.
Denver? The Broncos didn’t make an offer. This went to McCartney’s reason for making this a silent auction: Denver liked Keenum, didn’t want to pay in the neighborhood of $30 million a year guaranteed for a quarterback with so many other prominent players to pay. It came down to this for John Elway: Keenum for $10 million to $12 million per year less than Cousins, and the Broncos knew near the start of the legal tampering period they could get Keenum. Ten hours into the period, Denver had reached agreement with Keenum on a two-year, $36 million guaranteed deal.
McCartney understood Elway’s approach—Elway didn’t want to be left at the altar. McCartney did think, What harm would it do to make an offer? But Elway liked Keenum a lot, and felt he couldn’t wait until Thursday or Friday to see if he’d get Cousins.
Meanwhile, McCartney found time to discuss the three offers with Cousins that afternoon. There were no others. They prioritized Minnesota, because the Vikings were amenable to making Cousins the highest-paid quarterback in the game, fully guaranteed, at about three years and $84 million, and they were the closest to winning now. But Cousins was firm that he wouldn’t sign until he met the coaches and staff—he did not know offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, and didn’t know quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski well. The Jets were two (thanks to Jeremy Bates, and, presumably, a higher offer), Arizona three. McCartney and Cousins had several conversations about all of the teams. But one point McCartney wanted Cousins to realize about the two teams was this: The Vikings were closer to winning right now, with a talented young base and the kind of team that could win when Cousins didn’t play his best. The Jets didn’t have as good a supporting cast, and so Cousins might have to be more of a team-carrier there. And in New York, there wouldn’t be the kind of patience there’d be in Minnesota if Cousins struggled.
McCartney did say last week that Cousins didn’t take the biggest deal, so that implies that the Jets offered more money than the Vikings. In fact, the Broncos felt sure that the Jets would be the highest bidders of the four teams.
At about 8 or 9 p.m., McCartney called the Vikings to tell them they’d be Cousins’ first visit on Wednesday night and Thursday, with no promises. By later that night, taking advantage of the two-hour time difference between Chicago and Arizona, McCartney told Keim that he couldn’t guarantee him a Cousins visit, and if he had to move on, he’d understand. On Tuesday at 9:15 a.m., McCartney called the Jets. The Jets wanted to be assured they’d get to make their case to Cousins one-on-one.
“That was a tough phone call,” McCartney said. “They were clearly frustrated. They wanted to be guaranteed a visit. I told them I couldn’t guarantee a visit, that if he goes to Minnesota and loves it, he could sign. They were not happy about that. I understand, but I told everyone all along what the rules were, and we abided by them.”
That set up a strange-bedfellows kind of conversation. The Jets’ veteran quarterback fallback was Josh McCown, a McCartney client. The Jets had to position themselves to make sure that when the music stopped and the musical chairs got filled, they’d still be able to get McCown—at least. By later that morning, Tuesday, they were talking McCown with McCartney. But Buffalo also was seriously interested in McCown, so the Jets put their best contractual foot forward there and ensured they’d keep the trusted veteran who played so well last year, at 38. McCown to the Jets, one year, $5 million signing bonus, $5 million salary. At 39, he’d make the most money of his well-traveled NFL career.
McCartney knew now that the visit by Cousins was vital—because they might not have great options if for some reason Cousins hated something about the Vikings. Minnesota sent its plane to Atlanta, where Cousins was spending time with his in-laws, Wednesday at the start of the free agency period—4 p.m. ET. Accompanied by Vikings GM Rick Spielman, Cousins and his wife, Julie, and son, Cooper, flew to Minneapolis to join a contingent of 13 for dinner Wednesday night, including owner Mark Wilf, coach Mike Zimmer, Spielman, DeFilippo and wife, Stefanski and wife, tight end Kyle Rudolph and wife, and wideout Adam Thielen and wife. Independently, Cousins’ mom and dad came in to help babysit Cooper and experience the moment, and that night McCartney got a call from Don Cousins. The Vikings had left two Cousins jerseys—Vikings purple, number 8, with COUSINS on the back—in the parents’ hotel room, one for dad and one for mom. “That’s the first time I ever got a jersey from a team,” Don Cousins told McCartney.
While Cousins was flying to Minnesota, two important things happened. McCartney worked out the final wrinkles in the contract; there would be no-trade and no-transition-tag clauses in the three-year deal, fully guaranteed. But McCartney couldn’t accept it without Cousins’ nod. Also while the plane was in the air: Spielman told Cousins the Vikings were finalizing a trade for Trevor Siemian of the Broncos. During the negotiations, McCartney had stressed to the Vikings how important a helpful backup quarterback would be to Cousins. What a coincidence—McCartney represents Siemian. Late Wednesday, Siemian was officially a Viking.
At 8:15 p.m., between the appetizer and the entrée, Cousins saw a text from McCartney, still in Chicago. The agent wanted to know how dinner was going.
An hour passed. Two hours.
At 10:37 p.m., Cousins texted back: “It’s going very well. Had a great dinner. Grateful for the opportunity.”
No red flags, McCartney knew; Cousins would have told him if there were. McCartney got on a plane Thursday morning for Minneapolis, and met Cousins at the Vikings’ facility. At 2:30 p.m., the long, strange trip of Kirk Cousins’ rise to being the highest paid player in NFL history was complete. He signed his contract.
“How awesome is this?” McCartney said to Cousins.
“This is great,” Cousins said, beaming. “I am so thrilled.”
“It took a lot to get here, bro,” McCartney said.
It took two-and-a-half years, and contentious negotiations with Washington, and the football world telling McCartney and Cousins, the former fourth-round pick, that they were nuts for not taking Dan Snyder’s millions. Again and again. Understandable. Now Cousins was the richest player in NFL history, and McCartney could finally unclench. His chiropractor would approve.
“Was it worth it?” I asked.
“Hard to answer,” McCartney said on Saturday, taking a break from NCAA tournament viewing. “I do know he’s the face of a franchise in a great situation, on a team that has a chance to win the Super Bowl. I always told him, ‘I want you to be in a place where you look forward to going to work every day, you love the quarterback room, you love the culture, and your family loves where you live.’ I think we found that.”
Now it’s simple. Now all Kirk Cousins has to do is be great.
NEW YORK GIANTS
I think the Giants will go quarterback at two, but as one NFL GM told me Saturday: Just imagine the Giants taking Saquon Barkley. They’d have Odell Beckham, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley. Wow! Respectively, they’d be 25, 23 and 21 years old.
But there is also this from King:
I think the Justin Pugh signing in Arizona makes the core that GM Jerry Reese left for Dave Gettleman with the Giants even worse. Pugh’s defection means that only one of Reese’s 45 picks in the six drafts from 2008 to 2013 is still on the team. (If you guessed Jason Pierre-Paul, you win.) Amazing: The number is 0-for-22 in the last three of those drafts—2011, 2012, 2013. Gettleman’s got a very tough road replenishing a thin roster.
A Redskins signing reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network:
#Redskins and Orlando Scandrick have agreed to a 2-year deal worth a max value of $10M, source said. From Dallas to a rival.
Sean Payton says Saints owner Tom Benson stood up to bullies in the NFL office:
“When I got suspended for the season in 2012 over the alleged bounties in our games, it was a big shock to all of us. There was pressure from people in the league and the league office—I’m not going to say who—to fire me. Mr. Benson was resolute. ‘We’re not doing that,’ he said. ‘He doesn’t deserve that.’”
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says the Cardinals’ deal with QB SAM BRADFORD is not as insane as first reported:
Two years ago, Sam Bradford signed a two-year, $36 million deal with the Eagles. Last week, he signed a two-year, $40 million deal with the Cardinals.
If it sounded too good to be true, there’s a reason for that. It is.
The full-breakdown of the supposed two-year, $40 million shows that it’s really a one-year deal, with a team-held option for 2019. The option must be exercised by the third day of the 2019 league year; at that time, he gets a fully-guaranteed roster bonus of $10 million and a fully-guaranteed base salary of $7.5 million.
So to get $17.5 million next year (plus $2.5 million in per-game roster bonuses), Bradford will have to earn his $20 million in 2018. And by $20 million, of course, I mean $15 million. As Gantt previously noted, a full $5 million of Bradford’s supposed $20 million haul in 2018 is tied to Bradford actually being able to suit up and play in each and every game.
It’s still not bad at all that Bradford got $15 million guaranteed for a supposedly degenerative knee. But Case Keenum‘s $18 million per year on a two-year deal suddenly looks a lot better if Bradford gets to $20 million per year only if he plays in every game of both years. Keenum gets $25 million fully guaranteed at signing, and the whole $36 million is guaranteed for injury.
So if Keenum tears an ACL in training camp and for some reason can’t play for two years, he gets $36 million. If that happens to Bradford (again), he gets $15 million. Which seems a lot more fair and equitable given their respective performances from a year ago in Minnesota.
Peter King is among the minority who like the decision to ink RB JERICK McKINNON for big money, calling it one of the three best signings so far.
• Running back Jerick McKinnon (four years, $30 million) to the Niners. A little rich, but McKinnon’s just 25, he blocks, he’s very physical for a 5’9″ back, and he can catch; he had six, six, seven and 11-catch games last season. Kyle Shanahan already installed him as his starter.
The other two were CB PATRICK ROBINSON by the Saints and DT MUHAMMAD WILKERSON by the Packers.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
With CB AQIB TALIB and CB MARCUS PETERS already on the roster, the Rams continue their quest to sign irksome but talented defenders, apparently in the belief that 71-year-old Wade Phillips can coach anyone. Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
The New Orleans Saints suddenly have more competition if they’re hoping to sign Ndamukong Suh.
The 31-year-old defensive tackle is planning to take a visit with the Los Angeles Rams as his free-agent tour continues, according to a report from Yahoo Sports.
Suh has already reportedly met with the Saints and Tennessee Titans, and there’s reportedly mutual interest with the Seattle Seahawks, too.
Update: Ndamukong Suh tells me he is planning to visit the #Rams. Another rising contender officially in the mix.
A first-team All-Pro in 2010, 2013 and 2014, Suh is the best player remaining on the free-agent market. He spent the past three years with the Miami Dolphins, but they cut him last week to create cap space.
The Saints hosted Suh in New Orleans on Friday night and Saturday, and as he flew from New Orleans to Nashville on Saturday, he posted a video on social media briefly discussing his visit.
“What’s up everybody?” Suh said in the video. “Was down South, super excited about the opportunity down there. Lots to think about and on to the next one on the tour.”
CB RICHARD SHERMAN says Pete Carroll only has four years’ worth of material:
“A lot of us have been there six, seven, eight years, and his philosophy is more built for college. Four years, guys rotate in, rotate out, and so we had kind of heard all his stories. We had kind of heard every story, every funny anecdote that he had. And honestly because he just recycles them.”
—New 49er and former Seahawk Richard Sherman, on the ThomaHawk podcast, the podcast hosted by former Browns Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins, on Seattle coach Pete Carroll.
That’s not going to go over well in the Seahawks’ offices.
Peter King has no use for the signing of WR SAMMY WADKINS:
Kansas City giving wideout Sammy Watkins three years and $48 million. He’s had one 1,000-yard season out of four in the NFL, and no 10-touchdown seasons, and he caught 39 balls last year in an extremely wideout-friendly offense with the Rams. My jaw hit the floor when I saw this money.
Peter King on the big deal between the Colts and the Jets:
Before we analyze the winner and loser in the big weekend Jets-Colts deal (there is neither, by the way), I’ll make one prediction: There’s a good chance the Colts aren’t done trading yet. After dealing from three to six, I could see them moving down one more time before the April 26 first round. GM Chris Ballard said as much to his team’s website Saturday, and I can add a confirmation to that. Ballard’s going to try.
This deal: Indianapolis traded the third overall pick to the Jets for a first-rounder this year (sixth overall), two second-rounders this year (37th and 49th overall) and a second-round pick next year.
It’s pretty easy to say the Colts routed the Jets, getting three second-round picks to move three measly spots. But they’re three giant spots if you want to be assured of getting one of the top quarterbacks in this draft.
The earliest we’ll be able to make an educated guess on the outcome of the deal is in mid- to late-2019, when we’ve seen the quarterback the Jets pick play pro football, and we know if making that deal was worth Indy’s haul of four picks in the top 50, or whatever Colts GM Chris Ballard turns them into.
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The Colts very much need to maximize this draft. It’s likely their roster is the weakest in the rising AFC South. Ballard knows he needs quantity in this draft. That’s why if he could turn the sixth pick into something in the 10 to 12 range and add another second-rounder, I believe he’d do it. At six, he’d likely have a chance at pass-rusher Bradley Chubb or guard Quenton Nelson. At 11, let’s say, he’d have a chance at a desperately needed rangy linebacker like Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds. A second trade would mean Ballard would have turned the third overall pick into five players who would have a chance to start from this one trade alone.
Colts’ picks in the top four rounds now: 6, 36, 37, 49, 67, 104. If I were Ballard, I might trade down from 6 to Buffalo at 12 if the Bills would deal the 53rd overall pick and maybe the 96th pick as well—seeing that the price for a quarterback is more of a premium. But of course, this is probably a night-of-the-draft deal, because the Bills would have to see a quarterback they’d want here.
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Colts GM Chris Bradford notes that he couldn’t bring himself to match some of his rivals’ crazy free agent deals. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
The Indianapolis Colts entered free agency with plenty of salary-cap space to go on a shopping spree. General manager Chris Ballard elected to keep his cash.
The Colts made one lone move since free agency opened, adding ex-Raiders defensive end Denico Autry. Not exactly a splash signing.
After pulling off a trade with the New York Jets for the No. 3 overall pick, Ballard said his strategy of staying quiet in free agency was conscious, despite getting outbid for several players.
“Look, one of our goals — we looked in free agency, and we just didn’t feel like we were at a point to where we wanted to add some of the guys at the price that they were at,” Ballard told the team’s official website over the weekend. “And we need to add some young talent to this roster. So the ability to have seven players here in the next two years that are all going to be first- and second-round picks was attractive to us.”
Ballard’s decisions the past week have spoken volumes on two fronts: 1) He’s confident Andrew Luck will be ready for the season, and 2) the previous regime left him a bare cupboard. He wants to stock it with young players, not bridge adds.
The Colts aren’t one addition on either side of the ball away from contending for a Super Bowl. Ballard knows he must make systematic moves to set his team up for the future. The Colts could have overpaid for one of the second-fiddle receivers who got some whopping contracts in the past week — the last man running the show made many splashy moves. Instead, Ballard will focus on a draft-and-develop approach.
Adding to his draft stockpile while remaining inside the top 10, made the trade with the Jets easy from the Colts’ perspective.
“Plus, being able to pick up the two 2s (second-round picks) this year and the 2 (second-round pick) next year, it gives us four picks this year in the top-50 picks of the draft, and then three picks next year — you know, one in the first, and two in [the] second,” Ballard said. “So it gives us a chance to really replenish our young talent, and to start to building a core of young talent that we need to do.”
Dropping down again in the first round could corral even more picks for a team that has more holes than difference-making bodies.
Ballard’s plan to draft and develop is a tried-and-true method that doesn’t earn praise in March but could set up the franchise for the long haul. The key to the equation is nailing the bevy of selections Ballard acquired.
Take this with caution, Bills Mafia. But your general manager, Brandon Beane, had a good week, from my view of it. To recap: He got the first pick in the third round for a quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, he was clearly ready to move on from; Beane also paid interesting young quarterback A.J. McCarron for two years what the Jets paid Josh McCown for one ($10 million); and Beane gambled that coach Sean McDermott can make talented but meh defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (five years, $50 million) shine again. At the same time, Beane was trying to keep his promise to owners Kim and Terry Pegula: fix the bloated salary cap he’d taken over 10 months ago. He’d do it, he vowed, after two seasons, and so part of his decisions this year included pinching pennies so he could clean up the cap by the opening of the 2019 league year.
Peter King is amazed at how unvaluable Miami’s new center is:
The Dolphins issued this news release last Thursday, on the second day of the league year:
MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins today announced they have acquired center Daniel Kilgore and a 2018 seventh-round pick (227th overall) from San Francisco in exchange for a 2018 seventh-round pick (223rd overall).
Do you find anything odd about it?
Kilgore, the Niners’ starting center last year, was traded to the Miami Dolphins for improvement of four slots in the middle of the seventh round of the draft. The last round.
That is as close to a negligible return as anything in NFL history.
Kilgore was acquired for 1.3 points of draft value on the NFL Draft Value Trade Chart, made famous by the Cowboys around the time Jimmy Johnson took over as coach/trader in 1989. The 223rd pick is worth 2.3 points; the 227th pick is worth 1.0.
Gotham Chopra, who did the “Tom vs. Time” series, has some thoughts that seem to imply the end of it all is sooner, not later:
• Chopra on whether he thinks the Patriots’ Big Three (Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft) is on the verge of a split: “… I mean, it’s an 18-year marriage, and it’s been an incredibly successful run, but there’s a lot of intensity and a lot of pressure, and a lot of big personalities. And Tom is one of them. That hasn’t been easy, and I find it interesting that by the end of the season, that all kind of faded away, because when you get to the end of the season, no matter what is going on, everyone sort of gets on the same page and focuses. Again, they had another incredible run. And that’s what he says at the end—is like, this is a very different offseason for him. And I think, that’s not necessarily what happened during the season. It’s the fact that he’s got three growing kids, a wife who’s like, ‘You know, I’ve kind of been putting stuff on hold for a while, and I wanna go out and do my thing now too.’ And so Tom’s juggling a lot of things, and I think that’s basically what he says at the end: I gotta recalibrate. I have to find that conviction again. I think he will, but, you know, this idea that he’s going to play for four or five more seasons… I mean, this is just me, the guy who’s been around him for a while now. I just have a hard time envisioning that, to be candid. But we’ll see. I do think that these next few weeks and months are a critical time for him.”
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Peter King can’t figure out why the Patriots let T NATE SOLDER walk:
The Patriots letting left tackle Nate Solder get away. All the rest of the free-agent defections from New England are forgivable. Not this one, not with a slow quarterback who will play the 2018 season at 41.
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The Patriots have added WR CORDARELLE PATTERSON. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Cordarrelle Patterson is on the move.
Patterson, the speedy kick returner and receiver, has been traded from the Raiders to the Patriots as first reported by Pardon My Take.
The 27-year-old Patterson spent four years in Minnesota and made some big plays but also never emerged as the kind of wide receiver the Vikings hoped he would be. He spent last year in Oakland and is now heading to New England, where he would likely be primarily a special teams player.
Patterson was originally drafted with a first-round draft pick the Patriots traded to the Vikings. Patterson has said he felt “snubbed” by Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and used that as motivation. Now Belichick has made clear that he wants Patterson on his side.
NEW YORK JETS
Peter King on the pressure on the Jets:
The pressure on GM Mike Maccagnan? Immense. This could be it for him, his last chance in his fourth season to construct a winner. He blew his first shot at a quarterback of the future, taking Christian Hackenberg in the second round in 2016. Hackenberg has not played a single snap in either of the last two 5-11 Jets’ seasons, which is some indictment of him as a football player and of the management that drafted him. The Jets have been uber-focused on trading or drafting a quarterback since the start of the college football season last fall, and now that they’ve traded four usable pieces to move up to get one, Maccagnan simply has to get it right. This will be the Jets’ most important draft pick in years.
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Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com with thoughts about the difference in approach between the Bills and Jets:
The Bills aren’t ready to move up in the draft because they haven’t finished their quarterback evaluation. The Jets opted not to wait — if they indeed moved to No. 3 to get their first top-five quarterback since Rex Ryan landed the guy he dubbed the Sanchize.
Assuming for now that the Jets flip-flopped with the Colts to get a quarterback, the Jets necessarily feel strongly enough about at least three rookie quarterbacks as of right now to justify making any of them potentially the team’s first true franchise quarterback since Joe Namath. It’s one thing to fall in love with one, maybe two. But to feel strongly enough about three different options that they’d give up three second-round picks now to get in position to pick one of them (possibly, the guy they’d put at No. 3 on the list) seems odd, to say the least.
That’s one of the reasons why it makes sense to ponder the question of whether the Jets moved to No. 3 in order to get running back Saquon Barkley. A lifelong Jets fan whose father has a Jets tattoo, Barkley arguably is the best plug-and-play option at the top of the draft. With a win-now vibe in New York, Barkley will be more relevant to that goal than a quarterback who’ll be stuck on the shelf behind Josh McCown and maybe Teddy Bridgewater.
It’s also possible that the Jets opted to move up without a specific, finalized wish list. With the Bills obviously interested in climbing to the top five, the Colts may have persuaded the Jets that, if they didn’t jump now, the Bills would. So the Jets made the move, and they’ll figure out what to do with the pick between now and April 26, as if they’d earned the No. 3 spot all along.
That potential dynamic opens the door to another possibility that can’t be ruled out. If the Jets ultimately conclude that there are fewer than three players deemed worthy of the No. 3 overall pick, the Jets could trade down without someone else.
There’s still no consensus quarterback hierarchy, and once the first two picks go a player at the very top of some other team’s draft board will be sitting there, ready to be drafted. The Jets at that point would be trading not the pick but a clear, defined, actual player. If a player the Jets covet is gone, trading down could be the best option.
For now, the Jets won’t be telling anyone what they plan to do. Nor should they. It’s important to say nothing regarding their plans, both in order to avoid being leapfrogged and to persuade the fan base and the media that, ultimately, they got precisely what they wanted.
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Dan Graziano of ESPN.com praises CB TRUMAINE JOHNSON for his big-money deal:
Trumaine Johnson played the franchise game as well as Kirk Cousins did
Quarterbacks get the headlines, so everybody knew that Cousins played his way through two straight franchise-tag seasons in Washington before hitting free agency this offseason and collecting his three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million deal from Minnesota. But Johnson was doing the same thing with the Rams at the less-heralded position of cornerback.
Johnson played on a $13.925 million franchise tag with the Rams in 2016 and a $16.742 million franchise tag in 2017. Franchising him for a third straight year would have cost the Rams $24.108 million, so they didn’t do that, and he signed with the Jets for a deal with a top-line value that comes in at five years, $72.5 million. But the best part of Johnson’s deal is the structure. He is absolutely guaranteed to make $34 million of that $72.5 million.
Johnson’s $20 million signing bonus is the highest ever for a cornerback and the eighth-highest ever for a non-quarterback. He’ll make that, plus a fully guaranteed $6 million salary this year and a fully guaranteed $8 million salary in 2019. His $11 million salary in 2020 is guaranteed against injury, and it guarantees fully if he’s still on the roster on the third day of the 2020 league year. Which means, if he’s healthy, the Jets will have to decide pretty early whether to pay him $11 million in 2020 or send him back out onto the market at age 30.
You need to have a fair bit of patience and self-belief if you’re going to play the franchise-tag game the way Johnson and Cousins did. But if you do, it can pay off. From 2016-19, Johnson will end up having made $64.7 million in fully guaranteed money over four years — an average of $16.175 million a year, for a cornerback.
THIS AND THAT
Count Joe Montana among the advocates of medical marijuana found by Javier Hasse of Playboy. Eugene Monroe also has an interesting perspective:
I’m meeting up with a huge—massive, actually—former National Football League player. He’s smiling, clearly doing fine, not in acute pain. We’re here to talk about weed, maybe even share a joint. “Thanks for meeting me,“ he says. “We really need to get this story out there. The best way to get things done is through a collaborative effort.”
This footballer’s story goes something like this: At one point during his career, he suffered a serious injury that required surgery. His coach wanted him to get back on the field as soon as possible, so he opted for a shorter rehabilitation period than the one recommended. He asked his doctor for strong painkillers to deal with the “discomfort.”
“Strong painkillers,” of course, is a synonym for prescription opioids, which are now at the center of a national health crisis. Opioids do help curb pain, but relief comes at a high cost. They’re addictive and have side effects that range from vomiting to respiratory depression. They also take between 15,000 and 20,000 American lives from each year.
After months of uncomfortable symptoms, a friend of the NFL player suggested he ease his pain with cannabis, so he gave it a shot. It was extremely effective in reducing his soreness, its side effects imperceptible. Unsurprisingly, the NFL was not happy with him using a drug classified as Schedule I by the Drug Enforcement Agency, so the $2.5 billion organization gave him an ultimatum: quit cannabis or quit football.
This is the story I heard numerous times while reporting on how the NFL is coming to terms with marijuana’s increasing favorability and legalization at a time when the league is under deep scrutiny for subjecting its players to more injuries such as concussions. In 2017, more NFL players were diagnosed with concussions than in the previous five years, with 281 cases, according to Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer.
But it’s not only head and brain injuries; footballers routinely suffer a range of medical issues and procedures, from knee surgeries to shoulder injuries to anxiety. No matter the diagnosis, however, the treatment always seems to be the same: pharmaceutical drugs.
This January, a few weeks after legalized adult use of recreational marijuana took effect in California, Green Roads World, an online seller of CBD oil products, announced it had partnered with the North American Premier Basketball League, a minor sports league. Starting this year, the CBD supplier will work with the NAPB to advise on CBD-based treatments for sports injuries. This relationship is groundbreaking, as it is non-existent in major league sports.
As Eben Britton, a former offensive tackle with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Chicago Bears, tells me, “I suffered a long list of injuries throughout my career, from dislocating my shoulder and sciatica to torn muscles and ligaments all over my body. Every guy in the league suffers these kinds of injuries and the way it’s handled is handfuls, bottles and vials of opiates like Vicodin and Percocet and anti-inflammatories, which are toxic on the body.”
Painkillers affected Britton’s liver, kidneys and digestive system. They made him feel “crazy or really angry,” caused insomnia and brought about “hideous withdrawal symptoms,” he says. “I woke up at three in the morning with sweat, chills and pain in my stomach.”
“Opioids nearly killed me. Cannabis pulled me out of a dark place when the NFL dream died.”
Eugene Monroe, a former offensive tackle with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens, began experiencing pain around 2006, while playing college football. As with many footballers, Monroe suffered a knee injury that required surgery. After his operation, doctors prescribed him opioids and anti-inflammatories, he tells Playboy. “When I look back at my pharmaceutical drug use while playing ball, and especially since I hurt my knee in 2006, I’ve been on a steady regimen of anti-inflammatory drugs and intermittent one of pain killers, muscle relaxers and a multitude of different prescribed medicines to push through what was the aftermath of my injury.”
Growing up, Monroe was firmly opposed to marijuana, having seen people go to jail for it. “But, as I came to see how many people benefitted from it, I had to put what I believed in the backburner and get educated on its benefits, all around,” he says. “I quickly came to the realization that it was something that could have real applications for athletics.”
Drugs like Cataflam and high injectable doses of Toradol caused Monroe, as one might expect, undesirable side effects. “For me, it was lethargy and fatigue. I found myself in meetings needing to sip on coffee just to stay awake,” he says. Furthermore, the pills generated gastrointestinal issues, creating the need to take “more pills to cover up the symptoms that the pain pills were causing.”
Many of the injured players I talked to said they had requested permission from the NFL to medicate with cannabis. The League’s Jeff Sessions-approved response was always the same: Athletes don’t smoke weed.
There is some truth to the idea that “jocks don’t really smoke,” Ricky Williams, a former running back for the New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins, Toronto Argonauts and Baltimore Ravens, tells me at Viridian Capital Advisors’ Cannabis Investment Series at New York City’s John Jay School of Criminal Justice. “Growing up in Southern California, cannabis was always around. But I was a jock, so I didn’t really smoke. Even in college, I didn’t partake in smoking very often,” he says.
The thing is, smoking is not the only way to consume cannabis. A large percentage of medicinal users don’t smoke the plant but rather recur to ingestion methods like edibles or vaporizing. “This is important because there is a lack of education and knowledge around weed. We know in this day and age that smoking is becoming the least prominent method of cannabis ingestion; it’s a thing of the past,” Monroe says.
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In order to show just how effective cannabis has been in treating sports injuries, I spoke to numerous football players, in addition to Britton, Monroe and Williams, about their ailments and treatments. When I conceived this story, I imagined only a few former players would come forward to talk publicly about a subject as controversial as marijuana use in sports. But the response was overwhelming, and as these excerpts from my interviews prove, consensus for the League to embrace medicinal cannabis is, like the legal weed market, growing faster than ever.
EBEN BRITTON, FORMERLY JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AND CHICAGO BEARS
“Cannabis eased my pain, but also put me in a state of healing and relief. It relieved my anxiety and the stress of being injured and unable to compete in this highly-competitive environment that I’ve been grooming myself for during my entire life.”
RICKY WILLIAMS, FORMERLY NEW ORLEANS SAINTS, MIAMI DOLPHINS, TORONTO ARGONAUTS, BALTIMORE RAVENS
“Unlike traditional medicine that just makes everything magically better, cannabis requires some consciousness and some effort, supplementing it with other wellbeing-oriented activities like acupuncture or yoga. I like to talk about my life experience in the hopes that other people with some level of celebrity are willing to be honest about their experience with cannabis and get the word out so other people feel more comfortable telling their story, coming out of the closet.”
LEONARD MARSHALL, FORMERLY NEW YORK GIANTS, NEW YORK JETS AND WASHINGTON REDSKINS; TWO-TIME SUPER BOWL CHAMPION
“I tried it [at Louisiana State University, in 1979] and immediately set it aside not knowing that it would come to help me in the latter years of my life. While playing in the National Football League was a tremendous amount of fun, it was also was a costly journey on my body—in particular, with respect to bodily pain, cognitive impairment and/or traumatic brain injury. My dear friend Ryan Kingsbury played a significant role in my introduction to the plant, which has helped me with areas such as pain, short-term memory loss, resistance to light, sleep deprivation and mood swings. I’m a much better person to be around while using CBD.”
JOE MONTANA, FORMERLY SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AND KANSAS CITY CHIEFS AND FOUR-TIME SUPER BOWL CHAMPION
“Legalization is picking up steam on a global level and I feel like now is the time to spread information about the curing capabilities of this plant. As with any medicine, increased accessibility comes with the need for education. Cannabis eased my pain. It also put me in a state of healing and relief.”
In an interview with WEEI’s Kirk & Callahan Show in Boston, Sean McDonough has all kinds of reasons why he is no longer the voice of Monday night football:
There are few assignments more coveted in sports broadcasting than being named the voice of “Monday Night Football.” But Sean McDonough, who held the post for two years, insists he’s happier without it.
ESPN announced last week it was replacing McDonough in the MNF booth. McDonough spoke out about his departure for the first time in an interview Thursday with “Kirk & Callahan.”
“I say that after a lot of reflection and mostly a lot of belief that, ultimately, what is the most important thing in life is to be happy,” McDonough said. “As much as it was a great honor to be the voice of ‘Monday Night Football’ –– and you guys know me well enough, and certainly a lot of my friends and family do –– it wasn’t a tremendous amount of fun the last two years. When I took my ego out of it, when the conversation about a reboot of MNF came up, when I took the ego part of it out, and rationalized it, I really could be fine with not being the voice of MNF, then it became easy. I love college football. For me, it’s more fun, and that’s a personal taste.”
As an announcer, McDonough says he enjoys setting the scene and telling personal stories, which didn’t mesh with the MNF telecast. The broadcast was centered around analyst Jon Gruden’s football insight, which McDonough says made him inconsequential at times.
The longtime play-by-play also managed to sneak in a shot at MNF’s lackluster slate of games.
“If you go back and look at the schedule, generally we got one of the worst NFL games each week. You’re trying to make something sound interesting and exciting that isn’t,” he explained. “For me, part of it was just the way the booth was set up the last two years. It was really geared around Jon Gruden. That’s not unusual, TV really is an analyst-driven medium. Jon had a particular set of skills that he did really well, and foremost among them was analyzing the play, breaking down the play, ‘here’s why they ran that play, here’s why it worked, here’s what this guy did or didn’t do.’ It was really football heavy, X and O heavy, and I think most play-by-play guys, all play-by-play guys, would’ve felt like a bit of a bystander.”
When Gruden first left ESPN, McDonough says he thought he would remain part of MNF. But it quickly became apparent ESPN had other plans.
Despite their philosophical differences, McDonough says he maintains a friendship with Gruden, who’s now head coach of the Raiders. McDonough also dispelled the report that ESPN replaced him because the NFL thought he was too critical of the product.
“I know there are people within the NFL who probably wish I talked less about the officiating, or whatever it was that rankled them. I was assured by people at ESPN as they were considering a reboot that that wasn’t really an issue,” he said. “I’d like to think ESPN would ignore that. When you pay the league $2 billion per year, you ought to be able to pick who your own announcers are.
McDonough will return to calling college football for ESPN, which was his primary assignment prior to getting shifted to MNF. He will also contribute to the network’s college basketball and Masters coverage.
Veteran play-by-play voice Joe Tessitore will take McDonough’s seat on MNF.
What annoyed the DB was McDonough droning on with personal stories/media guide filler after the ball was snapped, so that he always seemed to be catching up with the play, not leading from in front.
And the peculiar body language and props on the stand ups.
And infringing on the analyst’s role with opinion like the obvious nature of giving Jim Caldwell a new contract.
Interesting in the above is the hint the NFL was nudging ESPN into making the change.
Peter King on the depth of the draft:
STARTING PLAYERS IN THE 2018 NFL DRAFT INTERLUDE. Interesting question. Queried about how many starting-caliber players they felt were in this draft, six scouting people or GMs over the weekend came back with these figures: 35, “40 to 50,” “about 70,” 73, “75-ish,” 83 and 111. I asked because I wanted to figure out whether it made sense for the Colts to try to trade down one more time.
ASTERISK TO STARTING PLAYER INTERLUDE. One of those teams said if you considered “situational starters” like third corners or slot corners, slot receivers or slotback/receiver types like Christian McCaffrey, he’d add 32 players to his team’s total.