For three months now, the NFL and its players have had a luxury that other sports leagues and athletes have not. COVID-19 has yet to claim a single game, or even training camp practice of theirs and, officially at least, only one preseason game has been cancelled to this point. They’ve gotten to watch everyone else do some things right, other things wrong, and plan ahead accordingly, while handling all of their business remotely.
You could hear the air coming out of that balloon on Friday afternoon, as the union convened a call of its membership.
No longer were the questions far-off hypotheticals. We’re less than three weeks away from the league’s first camp practices—scheduled to be held by the Chiefs and Texans (because they’re supposed to kick off the regular season on Opening Night) on July 25—and it wasn’t hard to hear change in the tenor of the conversation. At one point, in fact, no less of a star than three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt pressed the NFLPA brass on when the league’s plans for 2020 would be firmed up.
“We’re reporting exactly three weeks from tomorrow,” Watt said, with all of his peers listening. “We’re working our training programs around July 25. If this gets pushed back a month, that’ll change your entire mentality.”
Watt wasn’t the only guy on the line looking for answers. Many on the call were.
Here’s one: The NFL and NFLPA are operating as they are right now, and have been challenged to hammer out details, in large part because things are changing in our country on what feels like a day-to-day basis. Three weeks ago, it looked like America was working toward containing the spread of COVID-19. Now, not so much. So it’s really hard to say where we’re all going to be on July 25. Or July 28, when the other 30 teams report.
There is another thing I know after talking to people involved the last few days, and it may not be the most encouraging thing to say, based on how June went. I believe, because those guys inside believe, that the NFL and the 1,900 or so players who play in it are largely at the mercy of what happens around them. It’s why when those players do report, we’re certain to get dozens of positive tests. And trust me when I say everyone expects that.
It’s also why if America’s struggling with COVID-19 in a month, the league will be too, in its effort to get football back on the field.
Thus, the message that NFLPA assistant executive director for external affairs George Atallah wanted me to pass along on Saturday: “If you want football to start on time, wear a mask.”
I asked Atallah if that was addressing the players. He said no. It was for everyone.
So this was supposed to be my ease-into-vacation MMQB, but a lot happened the last few days, which is why I’m here, writing it from the living room of our vacation house. (Trust me, I’m not complaining … I know that’s the job.) Anyway, in here, you’ll find …
• More on the Washington nickname change.
• A first look at the NFS grades for the 2021 draft seniors.
• Ten Takeaways from a really weird offseason.
But we’re starting with the call on Friday, and what it means for where football is going in the fall.
About 45 minutes into the call, the subject of player safety came up. At that point the group discussed why a bubble would be impossible, given the amount of players involved, and the additional infrastructure needed to run a football team. In explaining it, ex-NFL linebacker Don Davis, now a senior director at the union, acknowledged the risk that every guy would be undertaking by deciding to strap up for the 2020 season.
He was then asked point blank if he’d play, given the circumstances.
“That’s a great question,” Davis answered. “We have 1,900 members, and not all of your 1,900 members are going to be comfortable with playing.… You all will have to make that decision, as a grown man.”
Then he was asked more directly if he, personally, would play.
“I’m gonna play,” he said, in response to the hypothetical. “I’m gonna do what I need to do so I can get my money.”
We’ve already seen cases of that decision going the other way in other sports. Dodgers pitcher David Price and Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman are opting out of the baseball season. Lakers guard Avery Bradley and Pacers star Victor Oladipo are opting out of the remainder of the basketball season. And how such a situation will be handled is one of a bunch of loose ends that need to be tied up before the green light comes on for football players to come back to work.
In an effort to make things as safe as possible for the guys who do make the decision to play in 2020, task forces from the league and union have been on calls with one another on pretty much a daily basis to set protocols that they’re confident will mitigate—not eliminate—risk. Here’s a quick rundown, with just 19 days left until the Chiefs and Texans start practicing, of what’s left for the league and union to agree on.
The opt-out. The league and union still have to discuss how they’ll go about handling players who decide not to play. The NFLPA is pushing for all players to have the chance to sit out the year if they’re uncomfortable participating, with their contracts tolling for 2020. Whether or not the league will try to limit that to at-risk players remains to be seen.
My guess is all players are given the option to sit out the year. We’ll see.
The preseason. This is fairly simple. The NFL wants two games—with each team playing one at home and one away—so every team can test both its home-stadium and travel protocols before doing it for real. And it wants those games played in what would’ve been the second and third full weekends of the preseason to allow for an acclimation period and a two-week period prior to the opener during which teams aren’t mixing.
There’s also, of course, revenue that’ll be lost if those games aren’t played, which, obviously, is no small issue to the owners. And I’m told plenty of coaches and GMs have told the league that having some preseason game action with which to determine a roster, and then ready it for Week, 1 would be huge for them—particularly with OTAs, minicamps and joint practices wiped out.
The players want to follow the guidance of the NFL/NFLPA joint committee for health-and-safety, which called for a three-week acclimation period before anyone even puts a helmet on. That timeline would make playing any preseason games pretty difficult (three weeks after July 28 is Aug. 18), especially if you want teams to be by themselves for the two weeks leading into the opener.
Additionally, and rendering the math there less relevant, the joint committee advised that the whole preseason be canceled, based pretty much on this question: Why are we creating 32 safe training-camp zones, and then mixing everyone for games that don’t count? It’s a fair point, and a reason why the players voted for their leadership to pursue the cancellation of all preseason games.
The worst-case scenarios. Really, I can’t imagine there’s much disagreement that a COVID-19 reserve list is going to be necessary. Simple math, again, can lead you here. If there’s a small outbreak and say 12 players test positive in mid-October, by which point teams are using most of their seven gameday inactive spots to stash guys with relatively minor injuries, everyone’s going to have a problem.
Could it be abused? Sure. Teams could use it to manage some of those minor injuries, passing players off as having symptoms to save a roster spot. But the downside on the other end is much worse—the NFL can’t have players not reporting symptoms for fear of being cut. Which is why, to both the league and union, allowing players to report without any unintended consequences is paramount.
There are two other questions on the periphery here. One would be how these injuries are classified. The union wants all positive COVID tests classified as football injuries, which would mean guys would get paid. The NFL might want leeway on that, particularly if a player was being irresponsible away from the facility. The second is figuring out what constitutes a big enough outbreak to force the forfeiture of a game.
On that one, it could be raw numbers (i.e. too big a percentage of the team can’t play). But I was given another that might be more likely—where a large number from a single position group gets wiped out (like, say, a bunch of offensive linemen), creating a player-safety issue.
Conduct detrimental. This term has become a buzzword in pro football. It allows teams to fine players and put them on notice for possible suspensions, and it could come into play here if players or coaches break the protocols.
I do think there’s a level of agreement on this one—as one source said, “The protocols are only as good as the people are willing to stick to them.” Most of this is common sense. Wear a mask at the grocery store. Don’t have gatherings of more than 10 people. Don’t go to the bar. And so on.
Thing is, the vast majority of NFL players are in their 20s, and a lot of them, for good reason, enjoy taking advantage of the status being a pro athletes gives them. Which makes this one easier said than done.
The money. Things have been pretty smooth between the NFL and union, and that’s mostly because until just recently the financial issues that need to be worked out hadn’t been discussed. And while discussion on the looming revenue shortfall has now begun, they haven’t waded into the heavy stuff quite yet.
That heavy stuff? With the revenue numbers expected to be way down this year, the formula on the 2021 cap is likely to spit out a relatively ugly number, and having the cap drop helps no one. It hurts owners, because it makes it tougher to plan. It hurts team-builders and coaches, because it’s almost certain to cause a bloodletting on a lot of rosters. It hurts players for very obvious reasons.
So I’d expect discussion soon to center on how the union and league will make sure that number is level. They could, potentially, borrow from this year. I think what’s more likely is that they borrow from 2022 and beyond, which will make negotiating long-term deals much more complicated for teams in the coming months (hence the boatload of premium young veterans who haven’t gotten their blockbuster second contracts yet).
And there are two points I’ll wrap up with here.
The first is that the communication is going to have to get better over the next few weeks.
The head athletic trainer will captain this whole effort for most teams, and I was told a story from one club a couple weeks ago—and this one’s from a really stable, well-run franchise—where the trainer asked the head coach if he had any details at all on how to proceed, the coach told him no, and the two wondered how it was possible that neither guy had a clue on where things were going with a little over a month left before camp.
That’s a problem, and it was further reflected in a post on Pro Football Talk from over the weekend that mirrored what I’ve heard from a lot of guys. And it’s a problem largely as a result of negotiations being ongoing.
The second is that I believe, given everything that’s going on, the league and union have actually worked fairly well together on this—and that’s despite what I just said about the level of communication. They’re on the same page with their goals, to get a football season going and to minimize risk, and that’s obvious in how some elements of the plan have come together.
One example is deciding not to hole players up in dorms or hotels during training camp. I asked for the reasoning on that one, because I thought it might be an advantage to keep everyone in one place. But the counter I was given was pretty compelling, and is actually one thing the NFL’s taken from college football’s fits and starts thus far (the number of young, asymptomatic players being the other)—one guy gets sick and the hotel/dorm is suddenly a petri dish. So it totally makes sense to separate guys as much as you can.
Or it does so long as those guys are responsible, which brings us back to original point. The NFL and NFLPA can’t control everything. They can’t control their players when they go home. They also can’t control federal, state and local restrictions.
In fact, as of right now, based on New York law, a Buffalo Bills player who lives in Texas would have to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to work. Is it fair that, in this case, a player would have to show up on July 14, and may have trouble working out in the interim, for a July 28 camp start date? It’s not. And pro sports may well get an exemption on this one. But if that doesn’t happen, then that’s the reality for this hypothetical guy.
Which underscores the simple fact, again, that there’s still a ton of uncertainty in how this is all going to work. And that’s really because the same sort of uncertainty is hovering over the United States of America as we sit here on July 6.
So … we’ll see.
CHANGE IN WASHINGTON
Let me start here: Based on what I know, I’d be stunned if the Washington football franchise plays another game with the nickname they’ve had since 1933.
It’s over. Maybe they’ll have a new name by Sept. 13. If they don’t, my strong guess would be the team will go without a nickname for 2020 (call them Washington FC, as our own Conor Orr suggested, for the time being), rather than keeping the status quo. It’s fairly obvious we’ve passed the point of no return.
And you may have noticed over the last few months that the team name disappeared from The MMQB, including in places like power rankings or draft grades where we list all 32 teams. We didn’t make a huge deal of it, but two people deserve credit for it. The first is Peter King, the founder of the site, who stopped using the nickname on principle all the way back in 2013 (scroll down in this column and he followed it up here). That was his choice, by the way. He didn’t force it on anyone else, and I used the name routinely after joining the site in 2016, in large part because I didn’t see this as my stand to take.
Maybe I was wrong on that. Either way, it wouldn’t be too long before I didn’t have a choice. That’s because earlier this year SI’s new copy chief, Julie Kliegman, barred the use of the name across all SI publications as part of our new stylebook.
My feeling? It’s a football team, and people are offended by the name, so change it. It’s that simple. This wasn’t a small group of outrage mongers either. It was an entire race of people who’ve suffered many hardships in this country, and don’t need people like me telling them what to think. Nor do they need someone polling whether or not something is a racial slur when the dictionary defines it as a racial slur.
At the end of the day, we’re talking about a business that exists to put 11 overgrown adults at a time on a field to play a game of ball. And I love football. It puts food on the table for my family. But the world was never going to spin off its axis when the inevitable became the reality, and the time to change the name came.
I can tell you that commissioner Roger Goodell has been working hard with Washington owner Dan Snyder on this over the last couple weeks, and that work is expected to intensify in the coming days.
As for what I’d like to see happen, I think the right thing to do here is to engage the Native American community, and make sure the name reflects the franchise’s history (Braves was actually the original name), if that community wants it to. If they don’t, and want a clean break, that’s fine too. But I think the least the NFL and the team can do after all this is work with them to find solution.
After all, it was just seven years ago that Snyder said, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.”
Never came faster than a lot of people anticipated. And even if this was about Nike (which has its own issues on the human rights front, by the way) and FedEx (whose founder is a Washington minority owner) than doing the right thing, the right thing will now be done.
So now those guys playing a kid’s game in representation of D.C. and its surrounding area will be called something else. And it’s about time.
TOP SENIORS IN THE 2021 DRAFT
In years past, The MMQB has had draft week around this time of year. That’s in flux, because of all the uncertainty surrounding the college season. But I still wanted to give you something draft-related before I go, so I figure what better way than to introduce you to some of the 2021 class’s best.
Every year, one of the earliest signs that it’s time to get to work on the following year’s draft comes when teams receive the NFS (National Football Scouting) grades on the senior class. And we were able to dig around and get those for you.
A couple quick notes, before we get started. First, again, this is a list of seniors (sorry, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields). Second, the list isn’t any kind of consensus—in fact, it’s put together by a crew of younger scouts breaking into the business. Third, teams do use it, but really only as an early reference point.
How accurate is it? Last year, three of the eight players who got first-round grades (Justin Herbert, Javon Kinlaw, Derrick Brown) went in the first round (they happened to all be in the top 14), two more went in the second (Kristian Fulton, Raekwon Davis) and a sixth guy went in the third round Julian Okwara). Two others (Trey Adams, Jared Pinkney) went undrafted after really rough senior years.
And now that we have that out of the way, here is the scouting scale used by NFS …
9.0-plus=First overall pick/Hall of Fame
And here are the guys with first-round grades …
Trey Smith, G, Tennessee (6.91): Smith is a great story—he came back from a significant issue with blood clots in 2018—and a really, really good prospect. If he’s what he was in 2019, and he was first-team All-SEC last year, he’s a good bet to go in the first round.
Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr., DE, Wake Forest (6.81): Basham is a 6′ 5″, 275-pounder with 15.5 sacks on his resume who surprised a lot of people by returning for a fifth year in Winston-Salem. As is the case with Smith, a steady senior year should be enough to get him in the top 32.
Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern (6.61): The Wildcats’ right tackle goes into his senior year with 38 starts under his belt, and is projected in the NFS grades to swing inside as a pro. Slater’s all-conference on the field and academic all-conference off it.
Nico Collins, WR, Michigan (6.52): I’ll be honest, I was surprised to see Collins as the first receiver on this list. You’ll see why in a second. That said, he’s got an NFL body (6′ 4″, 222), and 75 catches for 1,361 yards and 13 TDs the last two years. Speed will be the question.
Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State (6.51): A former five-star recruit, Browning has flashed plenty as Swiss Army knife for the Buckeyes but hasn’t even been a full-time starter yet in a crowded linebacker room. He’ll have a shot to prove he can be more consistent as a senior.
Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama (6.51): Scouts I talk to love Smith—some think he was the best receiver on the team last year (Note: Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy were on the team). He had 1,256 yards and 14 TDs. The biggest knock on him? Size. He’s listed at 175 pounds.
On top of those six, 16 others broke a 6.0 grade. They are as follows:
6.41: Ohio State LB Pete Werner, Clemson RB Travis Etienne.
6.31: LSU LB Jabril Cox, Michigan RB Chris Evans.
6.21: Michigan DE Kwity Paye, Georgia LB Monty Rice.
6.06-6.11: Oklahoma State WR Tylan Wallace (6.11), Iowa WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6.09), Houston WR Marquez Stevenson (6.08), Northern Iowa OT Spencer Brown (6.07), Oklahoma State OT Teven Jenkins (6.06).
6.01: Georgia CB D.J. Daniel, Pitt DE Patrick Jones, Alabama RB Najee Harris, Ole Miss LB Lakia Henry, Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond.
And, as promised, my 10 takeaways to recap an NFL offseason consumed coronavirus.
I think the offseason workouts matter. And there are two in particular that I believe are worth your attention—both in the NFC South. Where a lot of quarterbacks held camps over a week or a weekend, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan staged months of workouts that more or less mimicked the field work that the Bucs and Falcons would normally get in OTAs and minicamp. Remember, these two were veterans for the 2011 lockout, so they’ve been through an offseason without an official team program before. This indicates they believe what I believe, that the blank canvass of this offseason gave everyone a chance to get way ahead of the competition. And when I talked to Ryan about that, he seemed pretty pleased with how it’s gone. “I feel really good about it,” he said. “And I think part of that comes from having so much continuity on our offensive side of the ball. We’ve got two new additions at the skill positions, in terms of Hayden Hurst and Todd Gurley. But other than that, it’s mostly the same guys back. So there’s not a new offense that we’re learning, it’s the same guys together, you can be really detailed on what you’re talking about. I feel really good about it from that sense, and we’ve got guys that are into it and willing to work and willing to put in the time and that makes it fun.” We’ll see how it translates to the fall. But as for how it’ll affect the summer, I don’t think there’s not much question that the Tampa and Atlanta offenses are in a better spot to hit the ground running for a weird and different camp for having done all this.
If rookie quarterbacks are going to start, they’ll have to win jobs fast. Bengals coach Zac Taylor conceded as much to me—I wouldn’t be surprised if he names Joe Burrow starter on Day 1 of camp—when we spoke a few weeks ago, and it’s not hard to see the logic here. You’re going to have less time to get ready for your opener, and fewer reps for everyone (and that especially goes for reps in pads). With that in mind, coaches have to give everyone the best chance to win on that first Sunday, and having a starting quarterback in place and building around him is a part of that. Having the guy in place early, of course, is preferable. In the case of the Bengals, I’ve had it explained to me that the coaches’ efforts to position Burrow as the starter to his teammates and within the offense have been pretty transparent. Burrow knows it. Ryan Finley knows it. I think the announcement will be a formality. In the cases of Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, my sense is things have been less that way. Which makes it a little more likely the Dolphins and Chargers go with their veteran options at the position (Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor, respectively).
The new coaches will be at a disadvantage too. And I know we’ve continually referenced 2011, but it can be instructive here too—in explaining that this is a difficult, not impossible, situation. The eight new coaches in 2011: Jim Harbaugh (13-3, NFC title game appearance), John Fox (8-8, AFC West champs), Mike Munchak (9-7), Jason Garrett (8-8), Hue Jackson (8-8), Ron Rivera (6-10), Pat Shurmur (4-12) and Leslie Frazier (3-13). Four of the eight were internal promotions, for what that’s worth, and that group accounts for three of the five records of .500 or better here. Fox had been a head coach the nine previous years. And that leaves the most interesting guy on the list—Harbaugh. I remember vividly the creativity Harbaugh showed that summer, with ideas he’d taken from his experience as a college head coach. At that level, the time constraints are far more draconian than in the NFL, so he knew how to work around the fact that he wouldn’t have as much going into his first year in San Francisco. (One example: basically running two separate practice at once during camp.) Which is why, as far as how camp works, I’m most interested to see how new Panthers coach Matt Rhule does it.
The NFL and NFLPA have to feel pretty good the CBA got done. The interesting thing—I was told the impact of COVID-19 actually came up as the league and union were trying to push the new collective bargaining agreement, and that’s notable because that was well before most of America knew just what we were dealing with. The owners were fearful of what the virus might mean for the world’s economy (they also warned players what Bernie Sanders’s momentum in the Presidential campaign might do to the stock market—yup, feels like a long time ago), and explained that less prosperous times would make a labor deal much more difficult to negotiate ahead of upcoming talks on new broadcast deals. That thought has wound up becoming prescient. Doing business in the current environment won’t be easy for anyone. But with the decade-long CBA in place, at the very least, the NFL is playing from way ahead of where it would’ve been.
The pandemic’s effect on players has been profound, and will likely continue to be. Since March 23, the 32 NFL teams have a done a total—again, a total—of three extensions with their own players. Texans OT Laremy Tunsil. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey. Patriots S Patrick Chung. That’s it. And really, Chung’s deal was a pay cut. On top of that, none of the 15 players tagged in March have landed a long-term deal. The reason here is pretty simple: The revenue shortfall coming because of the prospect of empty stadiums in the fall, etc. means teams don’t want to hand out cash, and they don’t know where the salary cap is going to be from 2021 going forward to ’23 or ’24. Before all this—and based on the new CBA, looming broadcast deals and an influx of gambling money—the thought was the cap could break $300 million within five years or so. Now? The 2021 cap figure is almost certainly going to come in lower than this year’s cap, and just to get it on the level of the 2020 cap, the league and union will probably have to agree to borrow from future years. So where we should have had prosperity and a fair amount of fiscal certainty, we have chaos. And until all these owners have a better idea of what the future will look like, my guess is it’s going to be slow-going on the contract front.
The NFL had its reckoning on diversity in its coaching and front-office ranks. And my feeling is the league office itself has put forth a really strong effort to keep the pipeline healthy and give its teams every resource possible to pick good minority candidates to be head coaches and general managers. Now, it’s up to the teams. We’ll see in January what kind of impact all of this has had. What is obvious is this: With rule changes preventing teams from blocking promising young guys, more awareness of good candidates coming, more network opportunities available and the Rooney Rule expanded, there are definitely more avenues now than there ever have been for teams to fix all the lopsided numbers we’ve seen of late.
While we’re there, I think we’re going to remember the players’ video of May for some time to come. Credit goes here to Saints WR Mike Thomas who, with the help of NFL Media’s Bryndon Minter, pulled off a concept that was brilliantly conceived and brilliantly done. The league office has heard a lot of complaints from players over the years. This wasn’t that. This was, in the aftermath of the NFL faceplanting on its post-George Floyd statement, giving commissioner Roger Goodell a solution. And in the process, it was also forcing Goodell to pick a side, after what the league put out initially came off as another attempt to straddle the fence. “So on behalf of the National Football League, this is what we the players would like to hear you state,” 19 star players said in unison, on the video. “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systemic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter.” Less than 24 hours later, Goodell read the statement. And if you go back and look at the recent history of the league, that marked a pretty significant pivot for those at 345 Park.
The most compelling trade of this offseason, to me, has to be DeAndre Hopkins going from Houston to Arizona. There are a bunch of reasons why the Texans did it, and we don’t need to rehash every single one of them (money, practice habits and fit were among them). What’s interesting to me is where it leaves both teams. The Texans now find their foundation more through the lines of scrimmage than at any point in Bill O’Brien’s six years there, and I think in that way the roster’s makeup is more in line with his belief system than it ever has been. That doesn’t mean it’s the best roster he’s had. But I do believe it’s a pretty balanced team that should position Deshaun Watson well going into Year Four. Meanwhile, on the other end, you have the Cardinals doing what the Rams, Eagles and Chiefs did the last few years, in trying to capitalize on a highly-drafted quarterback playing on a rookie deal, and loading up Kyler Murray’s arsenal (Hopkins joins Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and three receivers from the 2019 draft). How does this play out? I can’t wait to see.
This offseason may have changed the way the NFL does business in a big way. And I think more is on the way—I’ve already heard from scouts unsure of what their fall is going to look like, given that major college football programs may not be swinging the doors open to NFL teams like they have in the past. Some of these guys are concerned that owners may not want to go back to investing as much as they did previously on the scouting trail, with all the money they’ll save in 2020 between the scores of cancelled pro days and looming canceled school calls in the fall. On the upside, it does seem like a lot of coaches got new perspective this spring, in learning that is possible to work from home a little more and, in doing so, balance life a little better. And it also made most of the guys I talked to appreciate what they have when they are at work a little more. “I just think the change in everything that’s taken place for all of us as citizens of this country, this is something … it’s a pandemic,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, who had COVID-19 in March. “From a perspective standpoint, you appreciate some of the smaller things. I’m kind of a people person, and I like being around people, so the Zoom works, and the Webex meetings work, and yet it still doesn’t replace being there in a room with a staff, talking to people. So you get used to that, I think we’ve become a little bit better listeners because of it, because in order to communicate, via the internet like that, it requires you to listen a little bit better, because there certainly are pauses in communication.” But, he’d continue, it’ll be pretty nice when everyone is back together.
We can keep this one simple—the Brady/Belichick breakup will be the biggest storyline when we reconvene. In a normal year, that would mean hordes of media descending on Tampa and Foxboro for Day 1 of camp. This year? Who knows what it’ll mean. What we do know is that seeing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick apart after they achieved historic success over two decades together will be something to behold. And all the stories on the periphery have only made the whole thing juicier. Brady bringing Rob Gronkowski to Florida with him. Belichick signing Cam Newton after months of speculation about how ready Jarrett Stidham is. Brady revving up those offseason workouts in Tampa after a few years of skipping out on Patriot OTAs. This one’s gonna be a blast to follow.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINE
1) The Cleveland Indians’ decision to start discussion on the future of their nickname raises a lot of questions about the future of other teams’ names—the NFL’s Chiefs and MLB’s Braves would be two—and where we’re going with all this. And I think that’s good reason to dig into Florida State’s Seminole nickname and relationship with the tribe of the same name. People on both sides have worked to make the moniker a point of pride for everyone involved, rather than any sort of insult, to the point where many of the gameday rituals are based on Native American traditions that honor the tribe. Again, I think working with the Native community is the first step in all of this, and FSU has a huge head start on everyone in that regard.
2) I think the difference in opinion from NBA players and coaches on how to proceed are probably reflective of what we’ll see in all team sports over the next few months. And that plus a high level of roster churning to be expected in every league as a result of the pandemic, I believe, will lead to any championship won in this calendar year being seen differently from other years. I’m sure we’ll all be super rational about it.
3) Very interesting decision by five-star hoops recruit Makur Maker to commit to Howard for the 2021-22 season. That’s a groundbreaking development for HBCUs. Something like that happening in football, I’d say, is less likely. Mostly because the structure of the sport is so different (if Maker’s dynamite as a freshman, he can just go to the NBA from there), and because the fortunes of football players seem to ride more on how they develop in college, and at what level that’s happening.
4) S/o to the Bundesliga—they made it through the finish of their season without a single known case of COVID-19. That’s pretty incredible, and a testament to a very tightly-wound set of protocols (a few guys were punished for breaking them). That said, this was in Germany, a country that, by all accounts, has handled all this much better than we have.
5) Meanwhile, the MLS bubble seems to be crumbling, and baseball’s path back has been through an absolute minefield. And it all makes me think back to the talk I had with the two ex-team docs last week, and how much of this is more reflective of our country’s place in the pandemic, than that of the individual sports. “I think there’s gonna be a problem,” said Dr. Thomas Gill, the ex-head physician of the Patriots. “Let me put it this way—the NFL will mirror what’s going on in society at that time, that’s the best way to put it. If we get a second wave and things continue as they are in the South, it’d be hard for me to see how they could protect each other in a sport with such close contact. I think that would be surprising.”
6) I hope everyone had a good, if different, Fourth of July. Generally I’d do a military-themed column this week, but the timing of the holiday sort of upended that. So I would like to say thank you to all of those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. And this year, you can include our brave healthcare workers alongside our soldiers.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
Teddy Bridgewater’s always been a pretty easy guy to root for.
Reason No. 43,553 never to mess with Coach O.
I was in my fourth or fifth year covering the NFL and one league exec gave me three words to guide my coverage: “Follow the money.” He was right. Whether it’s looking into something like this, or a simple player transaction, the trail of cash will always take you where you need to be.
I still remember the cookout I was at when news of Steve McNair’s death broke in 2009, and how out of left field that one seemed to be. And 11 years later, I’m not sure McNair’s properly appreciated for the grittiness, the toughness or the competitiveness he brought to the table every week.
As the King of the Dropped Word, I’d like an edit button. So wear a mask.
Promising Cal Berkeley-bound senior, but always still Oakland’s own.
The game at field level always looks like a blur, and Kyler Murray is a blur.
Still looks crazy.
One thing I really respect about Newton—he’s secure enough in himself where he doesn’t care to work overtime to correct misperceptions. What he does care about is what his coaches and teammates think of him. And Olsen’s just one of example of the many who’ll be rooting for him post-Carolina.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
It’s vacation time! So, like I said, I’m writing this one on location, as a result of what was a pretty busy July 3, NFL-wise.
First, I want to thank everyone for sticking with us through a really different offseason. I won’t ever forget this one. And honestly, I had no idea what to expect when the pandemic took hold, but I enjoyed being able to tell the types of stories we told the last few months—even if you’d always rather have the face-to-face interaction with the guys you cover. A big shout out to all the coaches and execs who managed all this, and had so much off-the-wall insight to share this spring.
Second, I’m not leaving you hanging. We’ll have a couple guest columnists while I’m gone, and I’m really pumped to give you a series of podcasts over the next few weeks that’ll give you insight from some of the more powerful football decision-makers in the NFL.
Third, so I’m clear, I really, really hope we get football in the fall, both college and pro. You guys can trust I’m with you on that.
And I’ll see everyone in a few weeks.
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