Josh Rosen’s Monkey’s Paw, Replacing the NFL Draft With Something Better, Penalty Flags Forever
1. As we approach Josh Rosen’s first start for Miami—presumably the last chapter of a W.W. Jacobs tale that began with a young man in Manhattan Beach circa 2006 clutching the monkey’s paw and wishing to one day be a starting quarterback in the NFL—another thought on this truly obscene football team.
Of the 40,000 problems with the Dolphins’ tank job: So much of football, for most positions, is physical, one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat. That requires a certain amount of competitive zeal. If you are going out there knowing you’re about to get trounced 40-0 in front of a live studio audience on what might one day be considered the worst team in NFL history, do you have the necessary motivation to perform your job at even a baseline level? That includes the offensive line that will be protecting Rosen against a formidable Cowboys pass rush on Sunday. This is as unfair as it gets for a young quarterback.
2. As you may have heard, Daniel Jones—aka “Danny Dimes,” because, prompted by an Eli Manning dare, he once ate an entire roll of 10-cent pieces—will make his first career start when the Giants visit Tampa this afternoon. It’s not an easy way to start things off: on the road, against a Todd Bowles defense that had three extra days to prepare, and with your No. 1 receiver still sidelined.
Still, he’s much more of a Pat Shurmur QB than the last guy was; they can move him around and maybe expand the offense a bit more. If nothing else, it will be fun to see what they have in store, and should give Giants fans something to get excited about. Aside from this “offseason highlight reel,” that is.
3. Of all the events that involve a sexagenarian strolling to a podium to read the name of a stranger every 10 minutes, the NFL draft is easily one of my three or four favorites. But there are two glaring problems with the draft that are playing themselves out right now.
First, especially when combined with the brain-dead rookie wage scale that both players and ownership should want to get rid of in the next CBA, the draft entices teams to do exactly what the Dolphins are currently doing, and that makes for a whole lot of bad football.
And second: It’s unfortunate yet understandable that fans are upset by player trade demands—illogical tribalism fuels the NFL (in the form of fandom), just like it does politics and which laundry detergent we choose (I’m a Biz man and if you prefer Fab then I hope you get hit by a city bus while playing Pokemon Go.) Those trade demands are a product of the draft forcing players to play four or five seasons for franchises that they maybe didn’t want to play for.
But we all love the draft (I genuinely do love the draft) and we don’t want to see it go away. But, but . . . what if we replaced it with something better.
Draft weekend becomes rookie signing weekend (but with a more catchy name). Every team gets a rookie wage pool to spend from, and in the interest of competitive balance the previous year’s non-playoff teams get a little more. Every first- and second-day signee gets a three-year deal, third-day signees get two years. And, basically, you have a free-agent free-for-all. Make every team wait until signing weekend to announce deals. Instead of announcing picks, you end up getting a weekend of teams announcing agreements with the rookies—the pacing is unpredictable, as is the fact that any team can announce a signing at any time.
Rookies get to sign with teams they want to play for. Would everyone sign with the Patriots and Cowboys? Maybe, but would they want to leave money on the table? And what about playing time; would, say, Tua Tagovailoa sign with the Patriots and be willing to spend the next half-century backing up Tom Brady? Or quality of team; would Tua take the immediate starting job in Miami and lose 40,000 games over the next three seasons?
Under this system: Non-playoff teams get a mild advantage, but not enough of one to encourage tanking. Players get to choose which team they want to play for. Fans get a more exciting weekend than the draft and know the rookies who choose their favorite team chose that team over the 31 other ones.
4. As you’ve likely noticed, there’s been an uptick in offensive holding calls. Just a good ol’ 81.6% uptick over the average number of offensive holding flags thrown over the past 10 seasons (according to the folks doing the Lord’s work over at nflpenalties.com).
2019: 4.42 per game
One justification for the increase in (and, oftentimes, advent of phantom) holding calls is that it’s offsetting those roughing the passer and pass interference flags that alter games and give officials a real sense of purpose in life. In other words, defensive coaches felt like there were too many flags on the defensive side of the ball. You might thinkg the obvious solution is to stop throwing flags at phantom penalties on the defense, especially at crucial moments in games. The league decided to go in a different direction, calling more phantom penalties on the offense, and thus creating the torrential downpour of yellow flags for which every fan yearns.
The logic is sound, and one I can relate to. For instance, I recently had a carpenter ant problem in my home. I could have hired an exterminator to rid myself of the aforementioned ants, but I felt the better path was to set a series of barely controlled fires within my home’s crawl space. And once the fires were no longer contained, I could have tried to douse the flames with water, discharge a fire extinguisher, or perhaps phone the fire department, but instead I hastily covered every inch of my home in a layer of asbestos. Anyway, all in all, I consider that night’s dinner party a success.
5. I’ve thought about this clip a lot over the past month or so.
6. The neat thing about Mason Rudolph’s first start will be a chance for the Steelers offense to become something a little more creative (or maybe even use some play-action—use more play-action!). One thing that has become abundantly clear over the first six quarters of the season, when Roethlisberger’s tendons and ligaments and bones were all fully intact, was that the spread-it-out, iso-route system the Steelers used to great success for years was no longer cutting it. You can do that when you have superior talent, but the departures of Le’Veon Bell then Antonio Brown have left Pittsburgh with a very ordinary corps of pass-catchers.
And the trip to San Francisco also presents a chance for the team to re-establish itself more firmly behind the defense and the run game. They’ve invested plenty in building up the D, and at some point the young guys have to take the next step. The run game has been a disappointment this year, but they still have one of the five best offensive lines in football. It's going to take something new to salvage this season.
7. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Elvis Costello!
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