Back when he was The Turk for the 2001 Ravens on Hard Knocks, or rolling the dice in letting his Baltimore contract run out to pursue career advancement, or breaking through with a VP job in Philly, this would probably have qualified as the last place Joe Douglas would expect to reach the top rung of the NFL’s scouting ladder.
But there he was two Fridays ago, when it all came together.
“This is crazy,” Douglas said from his new office on Thursday. “I was in my house. But because there was so much commotion going on with the kids—there were kids everywhere—I was walking around back and forth upstairs and I was on and off the phone. And I went to my room and there's a desk in our bedroom and I was sitting at the desk, and then the kids would run in and I’d walk out.
“So finally I barricaded myself in my youngest daughter's room. I had to have my phone calls, and get some peace and quiet, so I shut the door. And I'm sitting on my daughter's bed in a room with pink walls.”
And that’s where he processed everything: the initial rumors of interest from the Jets in April, all the tumult that organization had gone through since, his interview five days earlier, and the negotiations over the 48 hours or so prior that promised to set his family up financially for decades to come. The decision coming would be life-changing for his family. For Douglas it was 19 years in the making. All of it, right there in a place that wasn’t exactly stirring thoughts of third-and-2.
“Making the decision to be a New York Jet,” Douglas said. “I hung up the phone and looked around. I was like, ‘Wow, I never thought it’d go down like that.’ It was pretty funny.”
The decision wasn’t easy. Douglas knows the vast majority of personnel men only get one shot at being a GM, and the Eagles’ success and stability gave him flexibility to be patient. He’s also aware that the job in front of him has its challenges—he’s the fourth guy to serve in the position for the franchise this decade, and there are reasons for that. But he’s at peace now. Douglas is the Jets' new GM. It’s full steam ahead.
The NFL’s summer vacation starts now, but this is a 52-week-a-year column, and so we’ve got plenty coming to you in this mid-June MMQB:
• Kyle Rudolph on the most unsettling few months of his NFL career.
• A look at this weekend's black quarterback summit, from the man who organized it.
• An appreciation for late Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.
• More on the Patriots-Texans dustup.
And we’ve got a bunch to get to in wrapping manadatory minicamps. But we’re starting with the team that probably had an eventful six weeks during what’s normally the NFL’s quiet time.
Here’s the other thing Douglas did 10 days ago while he was sitting there in his daughter’s bedroom: He canceled his vacation.
Normally, coaches and scouts go to their lake houses or beachfront properties in the middle of June to shut it down for a month or so. Douglas had plans, as he always does.
Now? He went to North Carolina for his mom’s 80th birthday this weekend—the one thing he didn’t take off the calendar. He checked back into the hotel where he's spent the past week, he’ll be back in the office Monday, and he’ll be there right on through the return of all the football people in mid-July.
“This is a lot different than most of my summers,” he said. “I’d tell you in the past, I'd usually be getting ready to head to Outer Banks or maybe Ocean City, Md. for a couple of days with the family and kids. That's not happening.”
There’s a lot to catch up on. Ahead of his interview two weeks ago, Douglas watched tape of four games of the Jets defense and six of the Jets offense from last year, so he could speak with some depth at his meeting with acting owner Christopher Johnson.
Since then, he’s learned more. He’s gotten to know Johnson and an organization that looked, at least to us on the outside, like a five-alarm fire in mid-May. He’s gotten through most of the team’s 2019 tape. He’s acquainted himself around the building. And he’s gained some perspective. Over about an hour on Thursday, Douglas and I covered that perspective, top to bottom. What can we distill for you from the conversation?
Leaving Philly wasn’t easy. And it wasn’t just because there were some pratfalls waiting for him 90 minutes north in Jersey. It was also because of where the Eagles are, which both promised to insulate his place as a hot young executive and provide chances to compete for championships.
“I really feel like that franchise, that football team, they're firing on all cylinders,” Douglas said. “It's as deep of a team as I've ever seen there. And that's including the ’17 team. There's a lot of good going on. And so that made it a really tough decision.”
The next question, obviously: Why did he leave? That relates back to the Saturday night dinner and Sunday interview he had with Johnson.
“Even just within five minutes, your first instinct is like, ‘Christopher Johnson is a really good man,’” Douglas said. “He's extremely genuine. He's extremely sincere. He's a direct communicator. He believes in a lot of the same things I believe in when it comes to the successful teams—people, chemistry, teamwork, selflessness. The more I talked with him, the more I knew.”
Of course, Christopher Johnson will eventually hand the reins back to his older brother Woody, whenever Woody returns from his appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the UK. That could happen as soon as next year, and it was a concern of most of the candidates who considered the job. It sounds like Douglas at least got it addressed. Asked if he was concerned about it, Douglas said, “No. Without going into the details, I feel good about the situation, and I feel great about Christopher.”
He doesn’t see this as a teardown. Douglas was part of one with the Bears in 2015. “[GM] Ryan [Pace] has done an amazing job in Chicago,” Douglas says. And Douglas was also part of a job that required more fine-tuning than fumigation, alongside Howie Roseman in Philly three years ago. It’s clear how he sees this one, in relative terms.
“It was not a teardown there, and I don't think it's a teardown here,” Douglas said. “And frankly, those two are much better situations than when me and Adam [Gase] walked into in Chicago in ’15.”
There are some pretty valuable lessons he’s taking from the infancy of Roseman’s reemergence atop the Philly football operation, and that’s how important it is to bring the building back together after a tumultuous couple years. Within a couple months, the Eagles extended veterans Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Vinny Curry and Malcolm Jenkins. And that summer, they got star DT Fletcher Cox done too.
“[Roseman] knew the building was fractured,” Douglas said. “He knew that the players needed a safe harbor. And he wanted to send a message to the homegrown players that if you do right, you're going to be cared for—we're not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And I think that went a long way.”
When I asked Douglas if he felt like he had to bring the building back together like Roseman did in Philly, he answered that he didn’t want to judge those that came before him. But, very clearly, and regardless of what happened before, he knows the building needs to be together.
“With all the highs and the lows and the adversity you face, it's just important to have strong relationships and try to cultivate strong relationships around the building, not just on the personnel side or the coaching side but really around the building,” Douglas said. “We're all in this together. We're all pulling in the same direction and everyone wants to feel part of it. So I think that's important, to have a building unified.”
He has watched a lot of Darnold. We mentioned that Douglas watched six games of the Jets on offense and four on defense before his interview. The reason for the disparity is he wanted to have a feel for the quarterback. So he looked at two early-season games of Darnold’s, then the Jets’ final four games, the four that came after the now-22-year-old returned from a foot injury.
“Sam did a really nice job coming back from injury,” Douglas said. “Just seeing him seeing him, he's not a guy that hung onto the ball for very long. He's able to go through his progressions quickly, I like his feet in the pocket, I like his pocket awareness, he's got a nice quick release, ball spins out of his hands, he throws an accurate ball, he can escape. … So he’s an interesting guy. I mean, he’s a good player.”
While he was digging through Darnold, Douglas saw what he believes is a better-than-advertised group of skill players. Robby Anderson, in particular, impressed Douglas, especially when the new GM popped in the Denver tape from October. “He's a tough weapon for defenses to match up with, he can get behind you and he can challenge the defense vertically. That was a very pleasant surprise.”
Douglas added the tape also confirmed the things he, and the Eagles, liked about tight end Chris Herndon before the 2018 draft. And, having been in the AFC North and NFC East, he has plenty of background competing against new additions Jamison Crowder (“really savvy, quick, really good route-runner”) and Le’Veon Bell (“probably one of the best running backs in football”).
The defense is strong up the gut. This one is obvious, based on investment. The Jets will line up two top-5 picks on the inside of their defensive line, two big-ticket free-agent signings as off-ball linebackers, and two top-40 picks at safety. They should be good through the middle of the defense. And they are, as Douglas sees it.
“You talk about baseball teams, you want to build from the inside out, I think this defense is strong, strong up the middle,” he said.
Douglas hit all the obvious ones. He just said, “golly,” when Leonard Williams’s name came up, mentioned that Avery Williamson was on Philly’s radar as a 2018 free agent, called Jamal Adams “as fierce a competitor as you'll find in this league”, and noted how he was in Baltimore when C.J. Mosley was drafted in 2014. But beyond just that, he added, “I was pleasantly surprised with their interior depth.” He knew ex-Steeler NT Steve McLendon from his Raven days, and liked DT Nathan Shepherd coming out in 2018. Both those guys showed up in his evaluation of what will be behind Leonard Williams and third overall pick Quinnen Williams. Again, Douglas doesn’t feel like he’s starting from scratch.
There was good reason for Douglas to call off his annual away time over the next few weeks, and it’s not just professional. The Jets’ North Jersey home is, as Douglas puts it, “right at the point of uncomfortable” in distance from his home in South Jersey, about 90 minutes away (without traffic). So he and his wife have been huddling on moving a little ways up the I-95 corridor this summer.
“I never wanted to be a sleep-in-the-office guy, not when I have little kids,” Douglas says. “This game keeps you way enough.”
And it will in the interim, too, with Douglas planning to be in the office daily right until the start of camp. He had his first personnel meeting with the coaches on Wednesday. Now, with most of the football staff off, he’s going to try to use the next few weeks to forge relationships with those on the business side.
That will happen when Douglas takes breaks from his study, which has moved to practice tape from the spring (both OTAs and minicamp) “I've watched tape from last year, but I haven't watched this team all together.” There are obvious holes on the roster, to be sure, in the areas Douglas didn’t mention above (corner, edge rusher, offensive line). He’ll get to work on solutions for those.
He’ll also be communicating with Gase, whose work, along with John Fox and Vic Fangio, with that barren Chicago roster in ’15 certainly left an impression on Douglas, enough that the new head coach’s presence became a draw. “I know what kind of coach he is,” he said. "I know that I can make it work with Adam.”
Eventually, he’ll get to take a breath and let it all sink in. That hasn’t happened quite yet, and maybe it won’t for a while. But he knows, and knew back when he was staring at those pink walls, what he signed up for. And considering where the Jets have been the last few months, there’s a lot of work to do.
PAT BOWLEN'S LEGACY AND THE BRONCOS' FUTURE
The story is from the John Fox era, with the Broncos coming off a good year but maybe not a great one. Owner Pat Bowlen gathered his senior football staff for a dinner just after it ended. There, he called for a toast.
Here’s to a Super Bowl next year! Or else!
It wasn’t meant in a mean-spirited way, and wasn’t taken that way by John Elway, Fox, or any others in attendance. Rather, it was just who Bowlen was as a boss. He cared about his people, but he never relented from demanding the very best of them. He delivered it in a sort of kidding-but-not-kidding tone, one that got the message across without ruining the spirit of the evening. And it wasn’t long before the Broncos were champions again.
Bowlen passed away on Thursday, at the age of 75. He owned the Broncos for 35 years, running them for the first 30 before Alzheimer’s left him unable to lead the day-to-day business of the football team. His legacy can, in a bunch of ways, be encapsulated in the above anecdote. And it’s a legacy with a long list of accomplishments. Among them:
• Seven trips to the Super Bowl under four different coaches, and three world titles in 35 seasons. Denver is also tied with the Patriots and Steelers for the fewest losing seasons (seven) over that time.
• Former NBC exec Dick Ebersol called Bowlen the “father of Sunday Night Football”, using his key role in NFL broadcasting to help move the league’s showcase primetime event from Monday Night in 2006. Bowlen was also a leader, along with Jerry Jones, in getting FOX (then known as little more than the home of The Simpsons) involved in the NFL in the early ’90s.
• As native of Wisconsin and adopted Canadian, Bowlen became deeply entrenched in the Denver community, which in turn identified with its local NFL team. He was the only owner among the 123 major North American sports teams to fund his own branch of the Boys and Girls Club, paying operating costs that are now over a quarter-million dollars annually.
• He was a pretty good athlete in his own right, having played for the Oklahoma freshman football team in college, then Canadian Junior Football’s Edmonton Huskies, before getting into triathlons. In 1984, he finished in the top 200 in the Ironman in Hawaii, among close to 1,500 participants.
You’ll hear more about him in the coming months, of course, with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame slated for August. And that’s deserved, of course—he took a franchise that had been nondescript before his arrival and turned it into one of the NFL’s brand names, while more recently helping to bridge the old and new schools in ownership circles.
As for what comes next, nothing will change in the immediate future. Bowlen laid out a plan before he got sick, naming team president Joe Ellis as “controlling owner delegee” while the possibility of one of the Bowlen kids taking over is fleshed out. If one of the kids proves worthy, it will be Ellis, team general counsel Rich Slivka and attorney Mary Kelly making the decision, as trustees, to hand over control.
The most likely to get it (by a comfortable margin) is 29-year-old Brittany Bowlen, a Notre Dame graduate and Duke MBA. She’s taken part in a rotational program at the league office, and worked for the Broncos on the business side during the championship 2015 season. She’s currently working at the consulting firm McKinsey and Co., with plans to take a business-side executive role with the Broncos early on in the 2019 season.
But for the time being, the team will operate as it has for the last five years, with Ellis acting as owner. But Brittany Bowlen’s focus on and drive towards filling her father’s shoes, eventually, has at least created the perception that this is more “when” than “if”. And whenever it does happen, she’ll have some big shoes to fill.
THE BLACK QUARTERBACK CLUB SUMMIT
Quincy Avery, as a personal quarterbacks coach, is as self-made as they come—he started as a volunteer at UCLA. He’s deeply invested in every kid he’s taken under his wing. It’s his livelihood, and his influence has grown to the point where NFL quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson, Dwayne Haskins and Josh Dobbs have entrusted their mechanics to him. Over the weekend, he took that influence to a different level.
Avery staged the first Black Quarterback Club summit in Atlanta, bringing NFL and college players to Atlanta to work with a group of 72 high school quarterbacks. They did two days of on-field work, but maybe most impactful was the symposium held on Friday night, which brought to light the reasons why Avery decided to put the event together in the first place.
Really, this was an outgrowth of an incident from last September. The Texans’ clock management was an issue at the end of a loss to Tennessee, and an East Texas school superintendent responded by posting this to Facebook: “That may have been the most inept quarterback decision I've seen in the NFL. When you need precision decision making you can't count on a black quarterback.”
“No one knows how to respond to something like that,” Avery said Sunday night. “But on a smaller scale, that kind of thing is happening day-in and day-out. … I’ve been working with so many guys, in college, the NFL, these things they’re struggling with, the issues they have, from being one of the only black guys in the room because there are so few black quarterbacks, coordinators and quarterbacks coaches.
"It’s a unique situation to them at the quarterback position. They don’t always have someone to go to, to provide them with the advice on how to handle situations like that. So I thought we should get the NFL guys, and get Warren [Moon] together to share their perspective.”
Avery says the response he got from those he reached out to was immediate; they wanted to jump on board and help. Some, like Cam Newton and Jameis Winston, had scheduling conflicts but showed support. Others did make it. Watson, Dobbs and EJ Manuel were there, as were Moon and college quarterbacks Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma) and D’Eriq King (Houston).
The hope is that the event will grow over the next few years, and Avery’s plan is to try and use it to address a number of issues that he thinks still hold people back. One is with the pipeline of backup quarterbacks—while eight of the league’s 32 starters are black, just 14 of the 88 backups currently on 90-man rosters are. Another is the relative dearth of black quarterbacks coaches and OCs. Both issues, he knows, are complex and will take time to solve.
“It starts at the high school level,” Avery said. “I think we have a long way to go before we see everyone as just a quarterback, so we have to keep putting people in leadership positions—head coaches, offensive coordinators, quarterbacks coaches. … I think we can do a better job of advocating for these guys, to get them in that room from the time they’re quality control coaches.”
Avery got to see Watson address the situation with the superintendent head on, and Watson addressed it in front of the campers on Friday. “He knew he could’ve gone back after him, but he talked about being the example, it was important for him to be the bigger person.” Watson then had an in-depth talk with Hurts on what he’ll be facing in a year’s time, when his college eligibility is up.
Avery knows, too, that there may be questions about exclusivity of the event. He says he wants to create a safe space for younger kids, where they can speak freely and not feel like they are being judged. He had coaches of all races doing the on-field work, but insulated the symposium portion of the event. And he hopes the guys found value in it.
“I just hope they take the conversations on all the things they’re going through, and help out the next guy,” Avery said. “I want them to say, ‘Come out with me, let me help you out,’ and do it not only on the field, but also off the field. The older guys should be mentors for the younger guys, and that’ll trickle down to the high school level. The quarterback’s the most important guy.”
KYLE RUDOLPH TALKS NEW DEAL
Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph knows what everyone was thinking, that eventually he’d be Foxboro-bound. His contract, as it stood, was easy to walk away from. Minnesota had cap issues. Rudolph played for ex-PatriotS OC Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. And New England had a new, Gronkowski-sized hole at his position. He gets it.
“I don't know how real those trade possibilities were,” Rudolph said the other night when I asked about it. “But, like you said, I played for Charlie. So for me, I've kind of followed that organization from afar since 2008 when I got my first Notre Dame playbook and we watched cut-ups from the Patriots offense that we were running. I have a huge amount of respect and appreciation for what they've done over the last two decades. But I don't know that there was ever any real opportunity there.
“Obviously the speculation is going to be there because of their situation at my position and then our team's cash/cap situation and my salary. So there was kind of just a natural, like, ‘Hey, Kyle’s familiar with the offense, he played for a coach that was a coordinator there.’”
Maybe it would have been fun to see it, but we now know it will stay a hypothetical. That’s because last week, Rudolph signed a four-year, $36 million deal, which helps the Vikings cap-wise (they had about $610,000 in space before this) and opens the real possibility the 29-year-old will be able to retire having played for only one franchise.
It’s the result that Rudolph wanted all along. And with it done, I spoke to Rudolph about what the last few months have been like…
MMQB: Did you let your mind wander to the idea of playing elsewhere?
Kyle Rudolph: “I think, for the first time in my career, there really wasn't certainty in an offseason. Every year to this point, I knew what was going to happen, where I was going to be. Obviously, everyone knew our cash situation, our cap situation. So there were times that they couldn't figure something out, where I thought, ‘Obviously, I'm the easy guy to move.’ Now, the more I got familiar with our situation and talking to [GM] Rick [Spielman] and to the Vikings, they made it very clear early on that that wasn't something that they wanted to do. So I talked about it a few times through the process. That it made it easier on me to—it's cliche to say, but—just focus on football.”
MMQB: I’d assume your kids are too young for this to have affected them…
KR: “Yeah the kids have no idea. I think the person it was hardest on was my wife. She has our kids enrolled in school in the fall here. I think in our industry, change is always hardest on the spouses, because I'd go to work every day, I'd be in the facility, I'd be busy, I'd be making new friends as teammates and [my wife would be] kind of thrown into a completely different city not knowing anyone, not being in an environment where they’re meeting new people. So the possibility of change, I think it was definitely hardest on my wife.”
MMQB: Was the disappointing 2018 season a motivator to want to stay?
KR: “I think that’s kind of motivated [all the] guys, I know I speak for myself, but also throughout the entire locker room. It's been interesting here in the last five years. It's like we have a down year, then we win the division, make the playoffs, then we have a down year, then we win the division, make the NFC championship game, then we have a down year. So how do we bounce back? How do we handle not meeting expectations? I think that's motivating guys to work harder this offseason and get back to how close we were in 2017.”
MMQB: Did you learn anything about the business side of the game in this?
KR: “I feel like I’m a player who kind of has a good feel and understanding for the business side of our sport. The biggest thing that I can take from the last few months, I could put my trust in people that I felt like had my best interests in mind. And that's not always the case with guys in our league. And every player, every individual is different, and every organization. But for me I truly trusted [agent Brian Murphy] and Athletes First, and I truly trusted Rick, Rob [Brzezinski, EVP of football operations] and the Vikings organization. They told me that it was important for me to stay here and we told them that it was important to us to stay here. And at that point, I could leave it at that. I could focus on football. I could worry about offseason workouts, OTAs, being at minicamp today, and I think the biggest thing is, a lot of time in our business, in the sport of football, the business side sucks. And you know a lot of people are hury by the business side. And I think for me personally I feel extremely blessed and fortunate.”
MMQB: So you get the deal done, any call or text you get stand out?
KR: “I think it was just overall the outpouring of support both via text message and phone call from friends and family, and also from social media and Vikings fans, how many people are truly happy that we are sticking around. Also being able to go on the radio first thing this morning with Coach Weis. He was the first person that I talked to this morning after I signed. He's a guy that's played a huge part in my career and helped get me to this point in my career. So to be able to go on his show [Tuesday] morning on Sirius Radio, it was cool. And that was something that I'm glad I was able to do.”
1. The Patriots/Texans showdown-that-never-was over Nick Caserio was interesting, and the fallout may not be finished. I’m told that the clause Caserio had in his contract that Texans owner Cal McNair referenced was one that prevented him from interviewing for jobs with other teams, and that term was secured as part of Caserio getting a raise somewhere along the line. What’s really interesting is that the Patriots have offered the same terms to others on the scouting side in the past to try to keep their staff in place. On one hand, it’s smart business to try to use leverage in a negotiation to establish continuity in a traditionally unstable industry. On the other, I can’t imagine it goes over great with someone like Caserio, who’s near the end of his deal and could view the Texans GM job as a unique opportunity for all the reasons we laid out last Monday. So why were the Patriots so hard-charging on this one? I don’t think there are issues between the Kraft and McNair families. I do, however, think there’s a little something there between the Patriots and new Houston EVP Jack Easterby, who left in the aftermath of Robert Kraft being charged in Florida and let it be known that was one reason why. And the resulting fallout to come? It will be interesting to see what Caserio does when his contract is up. And what the Texans do next.
2. While we’re there, my money right now would be on Houston moving into 2019 with Bill O’Brien leading the football operation, and director of player personnel Matt Bazirgan and director of college scouting James Liipfert heading up the personnel side and reporting to O’Brien. It may not be how the Texans drew it up, but this GM search was clearly a coordinated run at Caserio—the team interviewed ex-Browns GM Ray Farmer and ex-Lions GM/current Niners exec Martin Mayhew last weekend, then halted the process while it awaited permission on the top target. The Texans have to know it will be tough to find the right guy externally at this point in the calendar, especially considering perception of how the organization has handled it. It might make the most sense to go forward with the status quo, let Caserio’s contract expire, then try and hire him. Or call the Patriots back and offer a draft pick (I don’t think that’s happening, but it might be worth a shot if you’re McNair).
3. One more on the Texans: The team is vehemently denying the discrimination charges of ex-security coordinator Jeff Pope. Sources say Pope was fired for falsifying payroll documents, seeking overtime pay for hours he didn’t work. And those inside the organization have defended ex-GM Brian Gaine on this one, saying he doesn’t deserve this on his way out the door.
4. Impressive work by Howie Roseman to hold the Eagles' scouting staff together in the wake of Joe Douglas’s departure, and good on him for promoting guys who were being pursued for promotions elsewhere. Sources say the Jets put in requests to interview both director of player personnel Andy Weidl and director of college scouting Ian Cunningham. The Eagles blocked both from interviewing, then promoted the two—Weidl to VP of player personnel, and Cunningham to assistant director of player personnel. Both guys are very highly regarded and could be GMs within a few years, so Roseman giving them each a bump in title is significant. Also significant is Roseman himself regaining the GM title that he held from 2010-14. In all, nine scouts/cap guys were promoted by the Eagles last week.
5. I thought of this when I was sorting through all the different moves this week: Good on Sean McVay for letting so many of his guys go, when he could’ve blocked them for doing so, over the last two years. He let offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur go to Tennessee so he could call plays last year, even though it wasn’t an on-paper promotion, and LaFleur wound up getting the Packers job 12 months later. Simultaneously, he let quarterbacks coach Greg Olson go to Oakland as Jon Gruden’s OC, knowing Olson’s family was in the Bay Area. That opened the door for Zac Taylor to take a more prominent role and, ultimately, to leave and become head coach in Cincinnati (McVay, of course, couldn’t have stopped that one if he wanted to). Over and over again, the Rams coach has operated with the best interests of the people around him in mind, which is part of what makes him great. And any conversation you have with him on one of his guys will start with, “I’d hate to lose him, but …” To be clear, I don’t have a huge problem with people being held to their contracts. But how McVay has run things in L.A. makes it pretty easy to see why people would want to work there.
6. Remember I said this (and if I’m wrong, I’m wrong): Packers CB Jaire Alexander has a good shot at being All-Pro, and maybe first-team All-Pro, in his second NFL season. He’s had a sparkling spring and has a coach, in coordinator Mike Pettine, who has a long history of making his corners (Darrelle Revis in New York, Stephon Gilmore in Buffalo, Joe Haden in Cleveland) shine. The cool part for Green Bay is, as GM Brian Gutekunst’s first draft pick, Alexander arrived after the team traded down and back up in the first round 2018, and picked up an extra 1 this year as a result. The Packers wound up using that pick, 30th overall, as part of a package to go up and take safety Darnell Savage with the 21st pick in April.
7. The Ravens lost a lot on defense, and it won’t be easy to replace C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle and Terrell Suggs. That said, one thing that was obvious throughout the offseason program was that, what Baltimore lost in experience they’ve picked up in speed, part of a concerted effort over the last two years to get faster on that side of the ball. Older additions Earl Thomas and Pernell McPhee look like they’ve got plenty left in the tank. Linebacker Peanut Onwuasor has gotten more vocal in the absence of Mosley. And Timmy Williams and Willie Henry look ready to take a step forward up front. Add that to a strong, deep group of corners and, while they might not be what they were last year, there’s optimism that the dropoff will be manageable.
8. Niners WR Marquise Goodwin’s continued interest in making it to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo (he won the U.S. Olympic Trials in the long jump in 2012 and competed in the London Games) has overshadowed a really strong spring he had to kick off his third year playing for Kyle Shanahan. He’s playing with confidence and, at 28, could be ready to take another step forward in his seventh NFL season. And he’s not the only one: Tevin Coleman has taken advantage of his opportunities on that side of the ball too, with other guys coming back from injuries, and looks like he’s grown up since Shanahan had him in Atlanta three years ago. Jimmy Garoppolo, returning from his ACL tear, could have a group around him that’s quite a bit better than the one he carried through the end of the 2017 season.
9. The Saints were without first-, third- and fourth-round picks (thanks to trades for Marcus Davenport, Teddy Bridgewater and Eli Apple) going into this year’s draft, which, of course, heightens the importance of the selections they did have. And their undrafted free agent class. Along those lines, I’d keep an eye on linebacker Kaden Ellis (seventh round) and edge rusher Carl Granderson (UDFA). Both have quickly made an impression on their coaches, and both will have a shot at winning roles when the pads go on in the summer.
10. Really interesting analysis from Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune here, detailing how the Vikings have $211.638 million in cap charges lined up for 2020 season. If you follow the money for your NFL answers—and it’s always smart to do it that way—this signifies Minnesota being as all-in for 2019 as any other team. And it also makes you wonder, with Kyle Rudolph taken care of, what the Vikings might say if a corner-hungry team made a phone call on someone like Xavier Rhodes.
... OF THE WEEK
“I think we are going to play the very best player, and I know we are dancing around the words there. Right now, Eli [Manning] is getting ready to have a great year and Daniel [Jones] is getting ready to play. You see what happens with it. We feel good about where Eli is. He is our starting quarterback and we have a young player that we think is going to be an outstanding player, getting himself ready to play.’’
Giants coach Pat Shurmur to the New York media on Tuesday. Pressed on his words, Shurmur steadfastly refused to shut down the idea that there will be a quarterback competition in camp come August. So what to make of this? That Jones has done enough to fight for playing time, and that’s it for now. But acting as if Jones couldn’t win the job is to ignore all kinds of history on first-round quarterbacks who were supposed to be redshirted, only to be in the lineup in Week 1. If Jones is clearly the better player, the locker room will know it. And Shurmur will have to make the tough call to put a franchise icon on the bench. That’s how the NFL works. We’ll know more when we see, in six weeks or so, how the first-team reps are split up.
“He knows the system better than we do. He can get us into any play at any time and then he has the ultimate weapon in the exit button.”
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald on rookie QB Kyler Murray. Murray, of course, ran a cousin of Kliff Kingsbury’s system playing for Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, which only should make him more of a safe bet to start Week 1 against the Lions.
Watch out, Bill.
This has all the great elements of a fantastic Hard Knocks season, from Jon Gruden to Mike Mayock to Mark Davis to Antonio Brown to Richie Incognito to Vontaze Burfict and so on. I just wonder how much cooperation they’ll get from a team that really didn’t want to do it. Past seasons have flopped not because there weren’t interesting elements to the teams, but because the teams have pushed back on access. Conversely, last year’s Browns season was great because we got to see what was real. Will the Raiders let Films in on that? I have my doubts. In fact, you wonder if the fight this year will be football staff vs. the cameras.
Wonder how the search is coming along? I guess we’ll have to wonder no longer. Updates from O.J. coming.
One of the guys from Phish (Mike Gordon) went to my high school, outside Boston. So it was kind of weird seeing him celebrate the Bruins’ loss. Although there’s a decent that he has no idea who the Blues beat.
… But this was absolutely awesome: 11-year-old Laila Anderson, a Blues fan the team has adopted during her battle with the rare immune disease HLH, lifting the Cup on the ice in Boston. Good for her, and good for the Blues for getting her to Massachusetts and making this happen.
Looks like he’s getting after it, but who’d have the, uh, stomach to cut Brett Hull off at a St. Louis bar?
And there’s the goalie who was nails in Game 7. More on him in a minute.
It’s amazing what the Texas Tech basketball team has done for Little Nas X.
Gronk for what he continues to do. I’ve heard stories from my wife, who works in the cardiac ICU at Boston Children’s, about how engaged the former Patriots tight end is when he visits that place. And this is another example of it. Yup, he gave $25,000 to Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Maine in the video. But just as important are the looks on all those kids’ faces, some of whom are facing unimaginable circumstances. It’s pretty obvious how much Gronk gets out of doing it. And it should be, considering that he’s continuing to do so even without having a team telling him he should.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINES
1. I love Kawhi Leonard’s game and take back anything negative I may have said about him the last few years. There isn’t much he doesn’t do a very, very high level.
2. Maybe the Anthony Davis trade shouldn’t bother me. But I just hate seeing a franchise that’s been a certifiable dumpster fire for the last half-decade being rewarded with the best player of this generation last summer, and the best big man in the NBA this summer, because the sun shines more in their backyard than in anyone else’s.
3. Great job with the magazine story on Davis’s agent, Rich Paul, by our own S.L. Price. Craziest thing to me, from a journalism perspective: that Paul said all those newsmaking things to Price in March, and they held for over two months. It’s also a good example, for any young reporter, of the importance of news in absolutely everything we do. A story like that is on steroids, from a exposure standpoint, when it generates the kind of news that Price’s did.
4. It kind of sucks that a team like the Pelicans can’t have both Davis and Zion Williamson. But with all those assets, they’re about as interesting a team as there is in the NBA for the next five years, especially considering that such a unique player is coming with the first pick.
5. Jordan Binnington is a good example of why the NHL playoffs are one of the best postseasons in sports. Going into Blues/Bruins, a ton of people who know way more hockey than I do said the biggest advantage either team had was Boston’s edge in goal. That played out to some degree in the series, with Binnington getting dragged in Games 3 and 6. But what Binnington somehow summoned in Game 7 was as incredible as it was out of nowhere, as good a clutch performance as you’ll see in sports. And the kind of story that isn’t that unusual in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
6. Congrats to Gary Woodland. And I think that’s really about all I have to say about the U.S. Open.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
I’ve got two more MMQBs to go before I disappear to Nantucket for a couple weeks, and since we’re into my second year with the column I’d love your feedback on what you like—in this column, the MAQB column that we launched in the fall and have rode through the offseason, my Thursday GamePlan column, or anything else on the site. You can get us on any of that at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And even through the dead period to come, we’ll have you covered. In the couple weeks I’m gone, there will be Monday morning columns, and we’ve got a few more themed weeks on tap—we’re rolling back Draft Week again in early July after a pretty good run with it last summer. Hope everyone had a great Father’s Day, and we’ll see you guys in a few hours, with the MAQB coming.
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