There is not much going on in the NFL right now. But there is more than nothing. And so to kick off this week’s mailbag, I thought I’d offer up a look at what’s actually happening during the deadest time on the NFL calendar as we stand a little over a month out from training camps. Buckle up, it’s gonna be a roller coaster ride the next few weeks… (not really…)
NFL Rookie Transition Program (this week): Two years ago, the NFL did away with its annual Rookie Symposium and created this successor for it, which is run by the individual teams in their home cities. Each of the 32 clubs has the ability to tailor it however they want (one team took its players to go see the local MLB team play, and the Titans’ Twitter feed featured their rookies’ tour of Nashville), but 15 topics are mandatory as part of the training. Among them: league policies; player benefits and resources; player expectations, including media responsibilities and workplace standards; social responsibility; mental health and fitness; culture, values and history of the club and league; rules changes going from college to pro. The league went to this format in 2016 to include all rookies (the symposium was for drafted players only) and better prep guys for the city in which they’ll actually live and the franchise for which they’ll actually play, rather than just prepping them for the NFL in general.
Fourth of July Weekend (June 30-July 4): This used to be a problem for NFL teams, the same way Memorial Day weekend was a problem. But as we mentioned in last week’s MMQB, there’s been less trouble over the past couple years on what used to be a very nervous few days for the league’s coaches and GMs.
Supplemental Draft (July 11): This year there are three entrants—Western Michigan CB Sam Beal, Virginia Tech CB Adonis Alexander and Mississippi State S Brandon Bryant. After asking around the last couple days, I think there’s a pretty decent chance that two of the three get drafted.
All had academic issues. And all had other background flags that teams have had to sort through. Beal and Alexander each could’ve gone as high as the second or third round from a talent standpoint, but there are maturity concerns for both. Alexander, as I’ve heard him described, is a Seattle-type corner, while Beal is a more versatile and better cover guy, but lacks bulk and could be a liability in the run game. I think those guys have a shot to get drafted.
I’d be surprised if Bryant is taken. He’s more of an athlete than a football player to begin with, and had serious discipline issues both on and off the field. We’ll have more on these three soon.
And in case you don’t know, here’s how the supplemental draft works: If a team drafts a player, it surrenders the supplemental pick it used in the next year’s college draft. So if a team picks, say, Beal in the fourth round, their fourth-rounder next year is gone. The last time multiple guys were picked in a supplemental draft was 2010 (Harvey Unga, Bears; Josh Brent, Cowboys). A total of three guys have been selected in the eight years since. Those three: Terrelle Pryor in 2011, Josh Gordon in 2012 and Isaiah Battle in 2015.
Annual Official Clinic (July 12-15): It’s a big one on the calendar for the referees, always, but more so this year with the new helmet rule going into place. There’s some gray area out there in what will separate a 15-yarder from an ejection.
Franchise Tag Deadline (July 16): If a tagged player isn’t signed to an extension by 4 p.m. ET on July 16, his team can’t sign him to a new deal until after its 2018 season ends. Four players are left on tags: Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence ($17.143 million), Lions DE Ziggy Ansah ($17.143 million), Rams S Lamarcus Joyner ($11.287 million) and Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell ($14.5 million).
Because each guy can make really good money and then either play on richer tags (the first three for 120% of that rate; Bell, as a three-time tag-ee, at the QB tag number) in 2019 or hit free agency in March, there’s a chance zero deals get done. Ansah has injury issues, Bell’s number outpaces the tailback market by a mile, Lawrence broke out just last year and the Rams have a number of deals to do.
But don’t rule anything out. Two years ago, the chance that the Jets and Muhammad Wilkerson would strike a deal seemed small in late June. Then GM Mike Maccagnan put together something creative around the Fourth of July, and suddenly things were moving. That could happen in one of these cases.
This year, we also have the ongoing Jerry Richardson and Jameis Winston investigations and the Julian Edelman appeal.
Now, on to your mail …
From Matt Johnson (@MattJoh34256679): Do teams really mean it when they say that they’ll sit their rookie QBs behind the starter? Or do they know the rookie will eventually play?
I’ve actually charted this over the years, and the truth is that the idea of “redshirting” your first-pick quarterback almost never works out. I believe the turning point came in 2008, when Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco led Atlanta and Baltimore to the playoffs. In the eight draft classes between 2000 and ’07, 21 quarterbacks went in the first round. Only two (David Carr and Kyle Boller) started the first game of their rookie year.
In the 10 draft classes since, 14 of 27 first-round QBs started in Week 1 as rookies. Eight more started games within the first half of their rookie years. And only one, Jake Locker, didn’t start a game at all in Year 1. Locker and Patrick Mahomes were really the only two true redshirts (Mahomes started a Week 17 throwaway game last year), and in both cases, it was because the team was contending.
Bottom line: Unless the teams in question (Browns, Jets, Bills, Cardinals, Ravens) get good veteran quarterback play and are in the race until the end, chances are, we’ll see Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson.
From Brian Vaccaro (@bvac5): Which team has the deepest roster in the NFL?
One thing that was interesting pre-draft was hearing how highly scouts thought of the Saints’ and Jaguars’ rosters—two teams that came into 2017 without much expected, then had a bunch of young players break out—in explaining that each had the flexibility to move without pushing needs. That’s a reminder that things can change quickly, and those two teams plus the Vikings deserve mention here.
But I’d still say the Eagles are at the top of the league. Winning it all without your left tackle (Jason Peters), middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks) and quarterback (Carson Wentz) is absurd. All three guys are back this year, and Philly’s additions (Haloti Ngata, Mike Wallace, Michael Bennett) match up well against its losses (LeGarrette Blount, Trey Burton, Beau Allen, Vinny Curry, Torrey Smith, Brent Celek).
Add the potential of 2017 redshirt Sidney Jones (a potential top-15 pick before he blew his Achilles during a pre-draft workout) and second-round pick Dallas Goedert, and consider the strength of the team in the trenches, and it’s pretty simple. The Eagles are loaded.
From Dylan Goldman (@djgoldman35): Do the Jaguars repeat as AFC South champs? Which team in that division is their biggest challenger?
The AFC South could become the toughest division in football, not long after being the worst. The Titans added Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis, and drafted Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry, and I think the job GM Jon Robinson has done the last couple years will shine through under Mike Vrabel. The Colts are a healthy Andrew Luck away from being as good as they’ve been since Peyton Manning retired.
But I think the answer has to be Houston. Getting Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt back is obviously enormous. So too is the return of Whitney Mercilus, who flashed big-time in the spring. And my sense is that the Texans feel like they’re deeper than they had been. Remember, Houston won the division two years ago with a total mess at quarterback. They had the No. 1 defense in football then, without Watt.
And maybe they’ll be too much for the Jaguars in 2018. We’ll see. Playing with expectations is different, and Blake Bortles remains a question mark. Like we said a second ago, Jacksonville’s roster is overflowing with talent. If Bortles plays well, winning the whole thing isn’t out of the question. But it’s not also not that hard to envision a young team taking a momentary step back. We’ve seen it before.
From Terrence Davis (@CoachT Davis): Is there another long tenured assistant coach out there that’s applied for multiple HC jobs and never gotten a sniff, a la Bruce Arians?
The first name that comes to mind is Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. He was an underrated key to the success of the Jim Harbaugh 49ers. He has a whopping 32 years of NFL coaching experiences, and he’s spent 18 of those seasons as a coordinator for five different franchises.
Fangio turns 60 in August, so he’ll be the same age during the next hiring cycle that Arians was when he finally got his shot with the Cardinals. And like Arians, he’s always had a rep for being a top-shelf teacher and tactician.
What he doesn’t have going for him is the side of the ball he coaches on. The trend of hiring offensive gurus in general, and quarterbacks guys in particular, certainly helped Arians get his shot, and Fangio is a life-long defensive coach. Then again, hiring an older defensive coach who got passed over time and again did work for the Vikings.
From Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL): How does Adam Gase go from that group of wonder kids, that now seems to only include Shanahan and McVay, to a guy that is a Vegas favorite to getting fired? Especially in a season quarterbacked entirely by backup options.
I’d agree that based on last year’s weird circumstances—from Ryan Tannehill’s injury to Chris Foerster’s bizarreness to Hurricane Irma—Gase deserves a mulligan. I still believe he’s regarded among the most respected offensive minds in the sport, and that counts for a lot in (as we alluded to a second ago) such a quarterback-driven league.
That said, this offseason has been largely about bringing in his type of guys, and purging the team of some talent that happened to be self-centered. I think it had to happen, and Gase was right to do it. But when you’re waving goodbye to big names like Ndamukong Suh and Jarvis Landry, ownership will be watching the result closely, and you’re putting your rear end on the line. We’ll see how all that plays out.
From Sage Rosenfels (@SageRosenfels18): What’s the best Boston-based movie ever made?
Alright, Sage …. The easy answer is Good Will Hunting. And I like it fine. But my memories of it are scarred a little. It came out my senior year in high school, which meant that by the next fall, when I was moving to Ohio for college, everyone had seen it, and everyone thought they knew what people from Boston sounded like.
Here’s the thing: I don’t have the accent, nor do 99% of the people I grew up with. But my entire freshman year, I had to answer why I didn’t sound like Ben Affleck in that movie, even though in real life he doesn’t have the accent either. There are, in fact, a lot of people from metro Boston who don’t have it. But over and over and over, Why don’t you have the accent?
Asking me why I don’t have the accent is basically the same as asking someone from Summit, N.J. why they don’t sound like they’re from the Bronx. So Good Will Hunting is a really good movie, but that’s a problem that’s tough for me to get around, especially since I know the people in the movie are from Boston and are faking Boston accents.
My answer is Black Mass. I love the Whitey Bulger story and have read a few books on the Irish Mob in Boston. The Departed is really good too, as is The Town (the bank they crashed the armored car into is my old Laundromat in the North End). And Ted.
From Tony Wheat (@TonyJWheat): What do you do with yourself as an NFL reporter during the 6 weeks down time? Vacation? Research and prep? A bit of both?
This week and next I’m still working, and bothering people who are on vacation. My Monday column—the new MMQB—will run this Monday and on July 2. Then, I go to Nantucket for two weeks, my cousin’s wedding in Detroit is over the weekend of July 14-15, and we’ll be back shortly thereafter. Camps open late that week, and we’ll be out there, and have a big camp kickoff MMQB on July 23.
This is a good spot to thank everyone for the feedback over the last three weeks during as we transition. I know I appreciate it, and keep any comments you’ve got (good or bad) coming. Like I’ve said, we’re gonna tinker and tweak, and make it the best experience we can for all of you.
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