Sealed With a Kiss
From Johnny Manziel's long wait on Thursday to Michael Sam's dramatic moment on Saturday, this year's NFL draft will go down in history. Plus, an NFC GM continues his trade prowess and a Ram infiltrates the Falcons' draft room
Where do you start after a weekend like this? Choose one:
- The Michael Sam saga, which couldn’t have been more dramatic if the Coen brothers had scripted it.
- The Johnny Manziel story, which blew every sports story out of the water for two days. Wait until you hear his Twitterverse dominance. It’s something like you’ve never seen.
- The Browns. The rags-to-riches-to-rags, bizarro-world, “Factory of Sadness” 24 hours that no Dawg Pounder will ever forget.
- Jerry Jones, 71, growing up before our very eyes.
- Buffalo going for broke, all in, chips to the center, and whatever other blah-blah-blah poker analogies you want to use about Doug Whaley putting his job on the line in his first full year as a GM.
- Damn these ridiculous, incredible, sick NFL draft TV ratings. The May draft might be here to stay. (#Sadface. #Giveusbackourspring.) Congrats to Jacksonville GM David Caldwell not only for drafting his quarterback of the future (the Jags hope), but also for putting the late draft into perspective and hoping Roger Goodell is listening. “I’m all for whatever is good for the league,” he said Saturday, “but I haven’t seen any indication that pushing the draft back is good for football. It sure didn’t help us at all.”
- It’s Trent Baalke’s drafting world, and we’re only visiting it.
- Footsteps by Jimmy Garoppolo. Tom Brady shakes.
My pick: Sam. An emotional, cool, explosive moment, with Sam getting the call from Rams GM Les Snead telling him he’d been drafted with the 249th pick. “Man, was he emotional,” Snead said Sunday morning. “I could feel it over the phone.” Snead handed the phone to coach Jeff Fisher, with Sam tearing up and slowly, slowly, slow folding over and weeping, his male partner there to comfort him. On national TV. It’s a scene we haven’t seen in American TV history (and certainly not in American sports history), thankfully running unedited and uninterrupted by ESPN. And then Sam kissed the man. The world is changing, and the Rams and Sam and the NFL and ESPN made a seminal moment of it Saturday. If you think that moment of Sam bending over and audibly weeping isn’t going to be replayed scores of times for sporting and societal reasons, you’re wrong. Way wrong.
“I could feel the pivot in history at that moment, with that phone call,” Snead said.
Late Saturday night, after the Rams finished signing their undrafted free agents, Fisher and COO Kevin Demoff sat in the coach’s office and read through the messages and Tweets of support. They read these words from President Obama: “From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove everyday that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are.” And this Tweet from Ellen Degeneres: “So proud of the @STLouisRams for showing there’s nothing to be afraid of.” And this from singer John Legend: “Congratulation to Michael Sam. It’s a victory for love.” And this from former Saint and current ALS beacon Steve Gleason: “Great moment in US sports history.”
Fisher and Demoff were moved by the reaction. “It was a reminder of the power of the NFL,” Demoff said, “and how we could use the power for something good.”
“I wish I could have digested it and take it all in,” said Snead. “I’ve never been part of a decision that brought people to tears. But I couldn’t really embrace the moment, because we were so close to the end of the draft, and we had to mute the TV so we could get going on our undrafted free-agent class.”
Sam will have a huge task ahead of him. Want the good news? Of the 53 men on St. Louis’ opening-day roster last year, 18 entered the league undrafted, and another three were seventh-round picks. And new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves the desperate underdog; a seventh-rounder on any roster is an underdog. The bad news: Incumbent ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long are franchise cornerstones, and sub William Hayes is a productive rusher. Those three are set in stone. There will be either one or two more defensive ends kept, and Sam was the only one drafted. It won’t help Sam that he probably won’t be a good special-teams player because his mediocre flexibility and quick-twitch movement. He’ll have to star in camp and the preseason as what Snead labels the “DPR”—designated pass-rusher.
But he’ll have a chance. And the Rams are perhaps the best spot for him. It’s two hours from where he went to school, and the media is largely friendly, and wherever he went Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper would have been part of the early days of training camp. The Rams know it, and Jeff Fisher can handle it. I will be surprised if Sam’s fate with the Rams is determined on anything other than whether he can be productive rushing the passer.
Johnny Football magnet.
Preamble to yet more words about Johnny Manziel, the 22nd pick in the NFL draft Thursday night: Between 7 p.m. and midnight Thursday, Twitter recorded approximately 2.5 million Tweets related to Manziel. In the same five hours, 519,000 Tweets were posted, combined, concerning LeBron James, the Miami-Brooklyn and Portland-San Antonio playoff games, and the NHL playoff games (Boston-Montreal, Anaheim-Los Angeles). Five times as many people Tweeted about Manziel alone as Tweeted about the four most important games of the night and the most charismatic athlete in America playing in one of the games—James. “That is a pretty wild stat,” Manziel said.
Now that I have your attention, let’s start this section at 9:33 p.m. Thursday, with the three permanently fixed cameras on Manziel waiting to show his reaction as commissioner Roger Goodell steps to the podium. To Manziel’s left in the green room backstage at Radio City Music Hall is his 33-year-old agent and confidant, Erik Burkhardt.
“With the 13th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft,” Goodell says, “the St. Louis Rams select Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh.”
Manziel does not like to let people see him sweat. He knew his every move on this night would be scrutinized closely. But the Rams passing on him hurt. Because now he thought he’d be in for a free-fall. He turned to Burkhardt, and sort of out of the side of his mouth, said this:
“E.B., we’re screwed.”
I asked him about this over the phone Saturday night, when he was back home in Texas for 24 hours of relaxation. “I did tell Erik that,” he said. “I felt that way, because there was so much uncertainty after that. I felt really good about St. Louis. My workout with them was great. They spent a lot of time getting to know me and researching me, and I did well when they put me on the board with coach [offensive coordinator Brian] Schottenheimer. So yes, I have to admit, I was a little surprised there when they passed on me.”
“But,” I said, “what about Dallas at 16? You didn’t think that might happen?”
“No, not really,” he said. “After talking to [owner] Jerry Jones a little bit, I understand why they wouldn’t. I felt it would be crazy for the state, for them, and for me. I thought the whole thing would be hectic. Plus, Tony [Romo] is so great. It just wouldn’t have been a great fit. I knew that, and Jerry knew it too, I think.”
As the picks went by, starting soon after the Rams chose at 13, Cleveland GM Ray Farmer worked the phones, trying to find a partner to move up from their second pick in the round (26th overall) to grab Manziel. He couldn’t find a fit. Finally, with less than three minutes to go in Philadelphia’s 22nd slot, Farmer heard this from an Eagles representative over the phone: “If you’re not gonna jump in here, we’re gonna trade the pick right now.” It’s cloudy what his offer had been to this point, but now he had to sweeten it, and he offered the 83rd pick overall, a third-rounder, in addition to their pick four slots lower than Philly. Done deal. The Eagles liked that offer better than an offer from Minnesota, because the Vikings would have been moving up from 40.
And so here’s Johnny. But the Browns must have really loved the Manziel tape—because his workout with Cleveland brass 19 days before the draft was a mess. On Good Friday night, Browns coach Mike Pettine, GM Farmer, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains went to dinner with Manziel and Burkhardt at a country club outside of College Station, near the Texas A&M campus. “We worked out 10 quarterbacks and ate with all of them,” Pettine said Saturday night. “That’s the only meal we didn’t pay for.” The workout was set for 8 a.m. Saturday morning, so the Clevelanders and Manziel could make it home comfortably for Easter. One problem: no receivers. So a high school buddy, Shanahan and Burkhardt—in jeans and sneakers—were the pass-catchers. After the workout, which included some clanks off Burkhardt’s hands, the agent said to Manziel: “I’ve seen you better.”
“I’d be better,” Manziel said with a laugh, “if you could catch.”
“One thing I liked about our meeting,” said Pettine. “We talked about being prepared to handle the pressure and the demands of being an NFL quarterback, and he told us, ‘I’m equipped to handle it. I think I’ve handled it already.’ I think he’s right.”
Manziel was in Cleveland Friday and got handed his playbook—on a tablet—and examined the playbook on his trip home from Cleveland. Having a playbook will be different for him, because A&M didn’t give out playbooks, just weekly game plans. “It’s a bigger league and a bigger deal,” he said. “But I’m preparing the same way I always would. It’s football.”
Now about everything else Cleveland …
• What to do about Josh Gordon? Assuming Gordon is found to have tested positive in the NFL’s substance-abuse program (which ESPN reported Friday), he’ll likely be banned for somewhere between eight and 16 games. Gordon, 23, has been disciplined twice previously for testing positive: once by coach Art Briles at Baylor, and once by the NFL last summer, causing him to be suspended for the first two games of the season. Playing 14 games, he still led the league in receiving yards last year and was the first receiver in history to have back-to-back 200-yard receiving games, in weeks 12 and 13.
But now he could be more of a problem than he’s worth, the same way the immensely talented Justin Blackmon is turning out in Jacksonville. The Browns are trying to establish a winning program, and if they can’t trust their best player, which Gordon clearly is, they’re going to have a tough decision on their hands if and when he’s suspended, and when he returns. Gordon has two years left on his rookie contract. How can the Browns possibly know what to pay him in a second contract, having no idea if they can trust him from one week to the next? If Gordon did test positive, and knowing that a monster contract would likely be coming at the end of this season if he could stay clean, it’s either a measure of the depth of his problem or a measure of his immaturity. Or both.
• About passing on Sammy Watkins and all those receivers … Farmer told me that before the Browns made the trade with Buffalo to move from fourth to ninth in the first round, “We were very close to turning in the card. We very easily could have turned in the card with Sammy’s name on it.” I wondered if he would have regrets about passing on him and taking cornerback Justin Gilbert if Watkins turned into a Randy Moss-type talent. “Even if Sammy turns into Randy Moss, Justin Gilbert can be every bit as good as Patrick Peterson. That’s how much talent he has. And in the game today, I feel cornerbacks are as important as wide receivers, and maybe harder to find. So I have no regrets about it, no.”
Okay. But to get no receiver in a good crop of them, knowing you might not have Josh Gordon all season—and maybe forever—is the problem I have. When you start a draft with 10 picks and get zero wideouts, and have to rely on either a blockbuster trade for a veteran or signing a damaged-goods free-agent like Santonio Holmes or Miles Austin, that’s wrong. “It’s still a maybe [about the Gordon ban],” Manziel stiff-upper-lipped. “I firmly believe coach Pettine and Ray Farmer will address it and put us in the best position possible.”
Now, I want to be clear about the job Farmer did. I thought he had a very good draft, with that one large asterisk. He got first-, fourth- and sixth-round picks in 2015 as well as long-term starters at quarterback, cornerback and tackle (in his opinion); if that happens, it’s executive-of-the-year drafting. Farmer moved decisively and without fear. He knew he’d get criticized for not picking a receiver, and he’s ready for it. “I’ll be candid here,” he said. “The real position to get a receiver would have been at 35, and we thought of it. There were receivers there we liked a lot. But we loved [Nevada tackle] Joel Bitonio at 35. He was clearly the highest-rated player for us then. Not another guy of his caliber, or even close, there. We stayed true to our board. Then we hoped one of the receivers we liked would have fallen to 71, but they were gone then. That’s the heartbreaking part of the draft. You like so many guys, and they get picked, and you say, ‘There goes another one.’ It hurts, but you can’t have everyone you want.”
I support trading out of the fourth pick, particularly if it means you get two high picks next year and a corner you feel is the best in the draft. So I would have made that deal. If it were me, I’d have taken a Marqise Lee or Jordan Matthews instead of Bitonio.
• How soon will Manziel supplant Brian Hoyer? The good thing for Manziel is that Hoyer doesn’t have a huge head start on him in working with Kyle Shanahan and the new offense—just one month. I’d be surprised if Manziel doesn’t win the job before the Sept. 7 opener at Pittsburgh, but whether he does or not, it won’t be long before he’s under center for good. “We’re not handing him the job,” Pettine told me. “It’s going to be an open and fair competition, and the best man will win.”
• Memo to Dawg Pounders happy with the Manziel pick: Stop cursing Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi. Just stop it. Do you know how much those two men helped you draft Manziel? With Banner and Lombardi running the 2013 draft, the Browns traded their fourth-round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for the Steelers’ third-round pick in 2014; that was the 83rd overall pick in this year’s draft. In September, Banner/Lombardi traded running back Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for the Colts’ first-round pick in 2014; that was the 26th overall pick in this year’s draft. On Thursday, Farmer traded those two picks—26 and 83 overall—to Philadelphia for the 22nd overall pick, the pick he used to draft Manziel.
One last point about Manziel: Imagine if he’d been drafted by the Rams at 13. Imagine the TV trucks, news helicopters, and Ellen DeGeneres and Deion Sanders and Chris Berman and Brian Williams at a May practice to see Manziel and Michael Sam. I think Sam’s in a good spot. Sam plus Manziel would have caused ESPN, NFL Network, Access Hollywood and Outsports to open news bureaus in the shadow of the Gateway Arch. Not too conducive to learning one’s trade.
So as much as Manziel must be questioning his weaponry now that Josh Gordon might be lost for the year, maybe the St. Louis thing wouldn’t have been any better. And don’t assume Manziel isn’t happy being with the Browns. I certainly don’t. He’s already fired up that Houston and Jacksonville, two teams that passed on him, are on Cleveland’s schedule this year. He seemed excited to start his me-against-the-world campaign in Cleveland this week.
Something he said, seriously, Thursday night when it was over and he was a Brown illustrates the fact that we’re dealing with a different cat here. “I kind of like the fact the Browns had the guts to pass on me twice, then come up to get me,” he said. It’ll be an interesting ride with Manziel for at least the next four years.
The Trent Baalke School of Trading is open. Still.
Now that we see the final product of what the Niners gave away and received in the Alex Smith trade from 14 months ago, we can judge one thing about San Francisco GM Trent Baalke: He is calculating, he is fast, and he knows how to set up his team for the future.
The result, first, of the 2013 trade of Smith to Kansas City for a pair of second-round draft picks. The two second-round picks, or their tributaries, were traded a total of five times over the past two drafts, and here’s how it shook out after this year’s draft.
QB Alex Smith
DL Tank Carradine (second round, 2013)
LB Corey Lemonier (third round, 2013)
LB Chris Borland (third round, 2014)
RB Carlos Hyde (second round, 2014)
WR Stevie Johnson (acquired for 2015 fourth-rounder)
* Lemonier was acquired in part with a tributary pick stemming from the Smith trade, and Johnson was acquired from Buffalo on Friday for a fourth-round conditional pick in 2015. That’s included here because San Francisco obtained a fourth-round pick in 2015 from Denver for the second-round pick that originally belonged to Kansas City—so the two picks, arguably, will end up canceling each other out.
Now the story. In the span of 22 minutes Friday, Baalke consummated three trades. One: He traded the 56th pick in the second round (the second Kansas City second-rounder) to Denver for the 63rd and 171st this year, and the Broncos’ fourth-round pick next year. Two: Baalke traded the 63rd and 171st picks just acquired from Denver to Miami for the 57th pick in the draft; Baalke got the player he would have picked at 56, Carlos Hyde, at 57 … while adding the fourth-rounder next year that replaced the pick used to get Stevie Johnson. Three: He traded his own second-round pick, 61st overall, to Jacksonville for the 70th and 150th picks.
Baalke explained that he and COO Paraag Marathe work the phone and line up prospective trades, and it was hectic because there were a couple of other teams calling in that 22-minute span trying to get one or more of the Niners’ picks at 56 and 61. “That span you talked about was a little bit of a grind,” Baalke said late Saturday night. “A lot of action, a lot of things to consider. Paraag’s the best in the business at lining things up, and then we make the decision. After we made the trade with Denver, I thought we might be able to get Carlos at 61, but then we called [Miami] at 57 and figured we could use what we got from Denver in this year’s draft and keep next year’s pick and move up to make sure we got him. And it allowed us basically to get our four back, which we used to trade for Stevie.”
This isn’t a case of San Francisco fleecing Denver. But it is an example of Baalke doing the smart thing and waiting until a needy team is either on the clock or frothing after a certain player. That was Denver with wide receiver Cody Latimer, whom the Broncos project to replace Eric Decker (who signed with the Jets as a free agent) right away. If he works out the way John Elway thinks, surrendering the four next year will be nothing.
Time will tell if Baalke made the haul worth it. The five pieces the Smith deal yielded:
- Carradine will get on the field healthy for the first time as a Niner this month. He missed all of last season with an ACL tear. He’ll be the third man in the 3-4 defensive end rotation with the aging Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, and move inside on some four-lineman snaps. He’s being groomed to start in the 3-4 scheme when Smith or McDonald are gone.
- Lemonier played 284 snaps, mostly subbing for the idle Aldon Smith last year, and will be in the outside-linebacker rotation with Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody, competing for time.
- Borland is an accomplished college player and produced an amazing 27 turnovers in his Wisconsin career. But he’s only 5-11½, and he could be a first-down player only (against the run). “It’ll be interesting to see if his game translates to the NFL,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. However, with NaVorro Bowman expected to be sidelined until at least November rehabbing a severe knee injury, there’s a spot on the Niners’ D at inside ’backer waiting to be won, and Borland will get a solid crack at it. “I’ve heard people talk about his size, and his short arms,” said Baalke. “But he’s a guy with instincts. All those short arms did somehow was rack up over 400 tackles in the Big Ten.”
- Hyde should be able to make the move from the Big 10 to the NFL much easier. He’s the heir to Frank Gore, a 230-pound bruiser with enough moves to be an every-down back. That is, if Gore ever slows down.
- Johnson is still only 27, but he had a down year last year with the Bills. He’s not the speedster the Niners sought this offseason to help de-pressurize Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree, but he should be a good third receiver and an adequate piece to San Francisco’s underachieving receiver group.
I asked Baalke about his feelings on the trade now that the chips are known. “Mixed emotions,” he said. “I have so much respect for Alex Smith and his family, and great regard for him as a player. He’s the epitome of a good man and teammate and a good player. I know the Kansas City Chiefs staff, and they are thrilled to have him. We’ll see how it works out for us. It’s still early.”
* * *
How to keep a draft secret: Make the knowledge circle very small.
One reason the TV ratings were so high (round one of the draft on ESPN and NFL Network, 8.7 rating; the LeBron playoff game and Bruins-Montreal hockey playoff games, combined, 3.8 rating) was the suspense. The first pick was cloudy until the end, and America was clueless about the third (Jacksonville) and fourth (Cleveland) picks. Could Johnny Manziel land at any of those places? Could he slide way down the board. Of course. So I made this point to Jacksonville GM Dave Caldwell on Saturday: You don’t like the May draft at all because it takes needed prep time from your rookies. But you, by keeping a secret so well, helped inflate the ratings. Caldwell chuckled at that. But it’s true.
Caldwell has known for some time—months, really—that he wanted to take Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles with the Jags’ first pick in the draft. But he told only coach Gus Bradley his thoughts, and as the team went through draft meetings, he’d go through the ratings with the coaches and scouts and never tip his hand about who he thought should be the pick. Last week, they pondered all the scenarios. He’d say, “How would we feel with Khalil Mack and Stephon Tuitt for our first two picks?” Or, “What about Jake Matthews and Teddy Bridgewater?”
I found it surprising that Caldwell and his former boss and mentor, Thomas Dimitroff, were discussing a trade of first-round picks. They had many discussions about swapping the third and sixth picks in the draft, with Atlanta handing Jacksonville a third-round pick to make the move. “I thoughtWednesday night we were going to get it done,” said Dimitroff. “But Thursday Dave called me and said, ‘We’re going to stay put and pick our guy.'” Whoever “our guy” was. Dimitroff never knew who Caldwell wanted until it was announced by Roger Goodell on stage at Radio City.
Ironically, Atlanta would have picked Jake Matthews at three; the Falcons got him at six. And Bortles would have been Jacksonville’s pick at three or six.
“All along Gus knew, and late in the process, we clued in [owner] Shad [Khan],” said Caldwell. “But there was just too much at stake to risk anyone finding out and possibly jumping us. I’m quiet by nature, so it wasn’t hard for me. I wasn’t saying a word. I love Thomas. I’d say 99 percent of the time when we talk, I tell him everything and bounce things off him. But not this time.”
Bad for us in the media. Good for the ratings, and insurance-good for getting Bortles.
“The reason I didn’t take the trade is there were so many teams that wanted quarterbacks—at one, four, five, seven and eight, and they were all within striking distance of us,” Caldwell said. “I just kept thinking, ‘One of those teams has to see what we were seeing in Bortles.’ So let’s say we move back and make a deal. What are we going to take in the third? A guard? [Jacksonville did use a third-round pick on guard Brandon Linder of Miami.] You can find guards. You can’t find the quarterback you think fits your team best. So in the end it wasn’t a hard decision for us.”
Bill Polian and Dimitroff trained Caldwell well. It may take until 2016 before we know for sure if Caldwell’s quarterback decision is right, because the Jags may redshirt Bortles for the entire 2014 season.
* * *
War room visitor of the week.
The son of St. Louis GM Les Snead, Logan Snead, is a buddy of Max Blank (son of Falcons owner Arthur Blank) in seventh grade in Atlanta. So Logan got invited to spend draft night in the Falcons’ draft room with Max on Thursday, and he wore tan slacks and a sharp blue shirt—Rams colors—for the evening.
Interesting: The son of the Rams’ GM inside another team’s draft room. Snead, of course, used to work for Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, and the two are good friends.
“Hey Logan,” Dimitroff said to the boy at one point, “you kidding me with the gold and blue clothes?”
“I’m quietly repping the Rams,” Logan said.
Writer’s note: I spent time with the Falcons during the draft. My report on what Atlanta did, and how it is adjusting things in the wake of its 4-12 debacle last season, will appear on this site later this week.
Quotes of the Week
“With the 249th pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams select Michael Sam, defensive end, Missouri.”
—NFL vice president of game operations Mike Kensil, announcing a historic pick late in the draft on Saturday evening. Very good for Kensil, who is the ultimate loyal NFL soldier. Now, whenever history looks back on this moment, it will be Kensil’s voice and words that welcome the first openly gay player into the NFL.
“If it was A.J. McCarron and Katherine Webb kissing, no one would say anything. But we’ve been documenting the NFL draft for 35 years, and we’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve never seen a man and a man. My instincts were to just let it roll.”
—Veteran ESPN NFL producer Seth Markman, whose job it was to determine what pictures from the draft America got to see over the weekend, and who let the video of Michael Sam and his partner kissing run at length.
More on Markman’s decision in Ten Things I Think I Think.
“It’s not the usual development guy behind an accomplished quarterback. He’s a celebrity. He’s Elvis Presley.”
—Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who admitted when the Cowboys picked at number 16 in the first round that Johnny Manziel was the highest-rated player on their board. But he didn’t pick Manziel because of the team’s investment in Tony Romo and because of the Presley/distraction/mayhem/Cowboys/America’s Team factor.
“I’ve known from day one my pad level sucks.”
—Falcons second-round draft pick Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota.
Tell us what you really think about your pad level, Ra’Shede.
“Mike Glennon is the Bucs’ quarterback of the future here.”
—Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith, after the Bucs passed on Johnny Manziel in the first round.
Wh-wh-wh-what? What about Josh McCown being signed, and what about the serious pursuit of Manziel?
“This is gonna be a great relationship. Thanks for pulling the trigger, coach.”
—Giants fourth-round running back Andre Williams of Boston College, taking a call from Giants coaches upon learning he’d been drafted by the team.
The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas was in the Williams home when he got picked, and she’ll be writing the latest installment in an offseason-long series on Williams in the coming days. As a cute aside, when Williams got off the phone with Tom Coughlin, Vrentas reports, his mom bear-hugged him and said: “Now you’re Andre the Giant!”
Stat of the Week
Terrance West might be the best story of anyone in the draft. The running back from Towson (Md.) was picked 94th overall, by Cleveland, in the third round. West’s story: He got no scholarship offers out of a Baltimore city high school or after a year of prep school. He walked on at Morgan State and then Maryland, and couldn’t get a spot on either team. He walked on at a third school, Towson, and stuck in 2011. How about that: The man who couldn’t earn a jersey at Morgan State is a top-100 pick in a rich NFL draft.
Last fall, he averaged 26 carries a game for Towson. He ran for 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns. Yes, 41 rushing touchdowns. His busiest games:
|North Carolina Central||31||139||2|
|William & Mary||30||157||2|
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
On day two of the draft, Cleveland defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil (Towson class of 2001) and assistant linebackers coach Brian Fleury (Towson class of 2003) wore Towson shirts to work. And when Towson running back Terrance West was picked by the Browns in the third round, O’Neil and Fleury stood and sang, “Hail Towson,” the school’s fight song. It goes something like this:
Hail to the Towson Tigers.
We’re true to the black and gold!
Fight on with courage.
Now and forever.
Victory strong and bold!
Slot receivers the Patriots have loved:
In 2009, New England drafted the 5-10, 198-pound Julian Edelman, a former option quarterback who ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, and brought him to camp as a slot receiver and returner candidate. He was a seventh-round pick of New England, 232nd overall.
In 2014, New England drafted the 5-8, 190-pound Jeremy Gallon, a former option quarterback who ran a 4.49 40-yard dash, and will bring him to camp as a slot receiver and returner candidate. He was a seventh-round pick of New England, 244th overall.
The number of players from some schools drafted over the weekend:
2: Coastal Carolina, Florida Atlantic University, Georgia Southern.
1: McGill (Canada), Maine, Princeton, Saginaw Valley State, Marist, Concordia-St. Paul, Lindenwood (Mo.), Pittsburg State, South Dakota, Bloomsburg.
Number 90’s in Houston Texans history since 2006:
- 2006-2011: DE Mario Williams, first pick in the 2006 draft.
- 2012: Mister Alexander, undrafted free agent.
- 2013: Unused.
- 2014: DE Jadeveon Clowney, first pick in the 2014 draft.
Seattle fullback Kiero Small, 5-8½ and 252 pounds (now there’s Don Nottingham reincarnated), drafted in the seventh round from Arkansas, said he has broken 26 face masks in on-field collisions.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Last Tuesday afternoon, I was aboard Delta flight 6196 from LaGuardia Airport in New York to Nashville. We had just touched down in Tennessee when the woman in front of me, about 55 I’d guess, began to cry. Evidently, she was looking at her phone upon landing and got some distressing news. The crying was a few little sobs at first, and then it got louder, and a few moments later, she got someone on the phone and lost control.
“I just can’t believe it!” she said between sobs. “I should have gotten here yesterday! I’m too late. Oh, noooooo! My God! What happened?”
It went on for two or three minutes. Clearly, someone close to her died within the last couple of hours, and the woman was distraught to have missed the final moments … and the chance to say goodbye. As we got to the gate, her crying continued unabated. The guy next to her acted like nothing was happening. Never even glanced over at the woman. She rose to collect her things. Just then, the flight attendant in front of the aircraft walked down the aisle to her and said, “I am so sorry for you. Do you need a hug?”
“YES!” the woman in mourning said, and nearly collapsed into the flight attendant’s arms. They hugged for maybe 10 seconds, and then it was time to go.
Leaving the plane, I passed the flight attendant and said, “That was one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen a flight attendant do.”
Tweets of the Week
Excited to be a part of the Minnesota Vikings organization. Looking forward to helping them win a Super Bowl.
— Kain Colter (@KainColter_2) May 10, 2014
The Northwestern quarterback and college players union organizer was signed by the Vikings as an undrafted free-agent Saturday night. What a day for the NFL: Within 90 minutes of each other, the NFL welcomed its versions of Harvey Milk and Samuel Gompers.
Carlos Hyde is a nice pick, but he doesn’t know that Frank Gore will never die.
— gregg rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) May 10, 2014
Jim Harbaugh has been the coach of the 49ers for the last three years. He likes Gore a lot.
Gore at 28: 16 games, 282 carries, 1,211 yards, eight touchdowns.
Gore at 29: 16 games, 258 carries, 1,214 yards, eight touchdowns.
Gore at 30: 16 games, 276 carries, 1,128 yards, nine touchdowns.
Which leads me to …
Frank Gore Factoid of the Week That Should Interest Every Niner Fan
Gore, who turns 31 on Wednesday, needs 1,270 yards to pass O.J. Simpson on the NFL’s all-time rushing list.
Draft Day, it seems, was a documentary.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) May 9, 2014
“Draft Day,” starring Kevin Costner, has as part of its plot the Browns bypassing the best quarterback in the draft, picking another player, then trading back up to a higher pick in the first round. The only thing missing is the parallel story: Costner never picked the quarterback. Ray Farmer did.
— EJ Manuel (@EJManuel3) May 9, 2014
This was tweeted exactly one minute after the stunning trade that netted Manuel and the Bills the best wide receiver in the draft, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.
— MissingMtnBrew (@MissingMountain) May 9, 2014
#Bucs GM Jason Licht got some advice from Rays manager Joe Maddon: “The box is a lonely place to be. You’ve got to think outside of it.”
— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) May 10, 2014
Not to be all baseball-centric on a football weekend or anything, but I would read “The Philosophy of Joe Maddon” book. What an interesting guy.
Ten Things I Think I Think
I think these are my quick-hit thoughts on the draft:
a. Hey Mike Silver! Good choice, being in St. Louis! Why wasn’t I that smart?
b. Ryan Mallett might turn out to be a fine pro, but I don’t know how you’d know that after this three-year disappearing act with New England. He’s one for four, 17 yards, zero touchdowns, one pick. Career rating: 5.2.
c. Thus, Jimmy Garoppolo.
d. The Bengals traded up in the fourth round to take center Russell Bodine, who could start right away. According to Bengalologist Geoff Hobson, that’s the third time in the team’s 47-season history (and first time since 2002) that the Bengals have traded up in any draft.
e. May draft: “I haven’t met anyone in the league who likes it. Not coaches, not scouts, not GMs,” said Mike Mayock on air Saturday evening.
f. I know, having watched a lot of the draft on TV, what Niners CEO Jed York meant when he Tweeted near the end of round three: “Day 2 of the draft is over. Now we can watch the last 15 minutes of the draft on TV.” The NFL delayed the picks too often and for too long, and all for the TV show. Not a fan.
g. Classic boom-or-bust pick by Seattle in the fourth round: defensive end Cassius Marsh of UCLA had 35 tackles behind the line in the past two seasons, started 36 games, and plays with the drive Pete Carroll will love.
h. Washington traded the pick to Dallas that the Cowboys used to draft a replacement for DeMarcus Ware—Demarcus Lawrence, pass-rusher from Boise State. So the pass-rusher Washington enabled Dallas to have will now chase Robert Griffin III twice a year.
i. Thought the Bills overpaid in acquiring running back Bryce Brown from Philly (a fourth-rounder next year that can turn into a third depending on performance), but look at it this way: Buffalo essentially traded Stevie Johnson, who was out the door, and fetched a four from San Francisco, for Brown.
j. Kudos to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald for nailing the Dolphins’ first-round pick, long-shot Tennessee tackle Ju’Wuan James, days before the draft. Great job on an unlikely direct hit.
k. And kudos to Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus. On Friday morning he wrote that San Francisco would be the perfect fit for the being-shopped Stevie Johnson. Four hours later Buffalo traded Johnson to the Niners.
l. Good for the Dolphins for fining and suspending defensive back Don Jones for being an idiot on Twitter after Michael Sam got drafted.
2. I think Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III’s season-opener just got a lot more interesting. He’ll have to face J.J. Watt coming from the left, Jadeveon Clowney from the right. On the road, in roaring Reliant Stadium. Yikes. Put on your track shoes, Robert.
3. I think, speaking of season-openers, I’ll be glued to the super-fast Brandin Cooks, the Saints’ first-rounder, on the rug inside the Georgia Dome. To me, that’s the game of the day on Sunday afternoon in Week 1: Have the Falcons done enough on defense to stop the Saints from scoring a ton with that scary offense? The biggest new Saint on opening day in Atlanta in 17 weeks, however, might be New Orleans’ second-rounder, 6-3 corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste, because if the Saints can’t match up with Julio Jones they might have to score 48 instead of 28 to win.
4. I think I watched a lot of draft-weekend TV, and the biggest star to me was Rich Eisen. He’s come a long way—and I don’t mean because he was ever no good. He’s always been good. But when he left ESPN to go to NFL Network, I thought, “My God, the guy’s going to be co-opted by the league, and he’s going to be Mr. Houseman.” And we all know that he, as the face of NFLNet, has to do a lot of things that border on overt promotion for the league. But it’s “NFL” Network. He knew that when he took the job.
This weekend he was John Stockton to his smart football panelists—Mike Mayock is simply the best, and Daniel Jeremiah was good too (except when giving every team a glowing report card after the draft, because draft report cards the night of day three are the height of folly)—and he was really good in challenging his panel in the 240s, when Michael Sam was still on the board. Eisen asked, incredulously, how a Marist defensive end (Terrence Fede) could be picked at 234, with the SEC defensive player of the year, Sam, still on the board. The answer is complicated; Fede is a legitimate prospect, and he deserves credit for working his way into being draftable. But it’s a smart question, a question all of America was asking, and good for Eisen for pressing his football men on it.
5. I think, not to try to get in Richard Deitsch’s kitchen or anything, but I applaud, too, Seth Markman, ESPN senior coordinating producer for NFL programming. He’s the man who runs ESPN’s NFL studio shows, and he’s the one who had to make the calls about the Michael Sam video—including him weeping like a baby when he got the call from the Rams that he was drafted, and including the stunning kiss with his boyfriend that all of America got to see. Turns out the video was tape-delayed by a few minutes, and Markman told me Saturday night he never had a chance to see the tape before it rolled.
ESPN was following Sam with a camera because he is being given the “Arthur Ashe Courage Award” at the ESPYs this year. Markman said all day, as Sam waited to be picked, the ESPN truck outside Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan had a live feed of his draft gathering, but just before the Rams picked, the feed went out. The camera on site was still recording the video of the moment, but the ESPNers in the truck weren’t seeing it. Finally, when the satellite feed came back up a couple of minutes after the pick, the video of Sam getting the phone was available, and Markman didn’t have time to view it—the news was so fresh and so immediate, he just had to run the video. “My job is to document the moment,” Markman said. The moment was too real not to. ESPN will get a mountain of criticism for airing two gay men kissing, but the network shouldn’t. ESPN aired reality. It was gripping TV.
6. I think Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie might have gotten two of the 10 best players in this draft, when history looks at it. Buffalo pass rusher Khalil Mack (who didn’t look too thrilled to be a Raider, by the way) and Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr are going to be franchise cornerstones. The Carr part, of course, assumes that he can be protected, and McKenzie could have gotten more O-line help with his eight picks than a single guard, third-rounder Gabe Jackson of Mississippi State.
7. I think it’s hard to not like what Pittsburgh did. Ryan Shazier can be next in the line of outside rushers (and five or six teams wanted him badly in the late teens or 20s) developed by Dick LeBeau. Stephon Tuitt has the body type to be a 3-4 Steeler end, good against the run and with potential to rush the quarterback. The fastest player in the draft, Dri Archer, will be used as a Darren Sproles type—very good value at 97 overall. The boom-or-bust pick is Clemson wideout Martavis Bryant, a 4.4-speed long-strider at 6-3 ¾. Will he be Limas Sweed? Or will he work to become a complete and more physical receiver, which Ben Roethlisberger needs badly right now? Either way he’s a good fourth-round risk.
8. I think Bill Belichick doesn’t have a lot of love for the internet. As he told longtime Pats beat man Tom Curran: “You should go talk to the geniuses that are online. I don’t know. My Face, Your Face, Instant Face.”
9. I think I am so pleased that Bill Nunn, who scouted for the Steelers for 46 years and died last Tuesday night at 89, had his moment in the sun on draft weekend. One of his protégés, Buffalo GM Doug Whaley, used advice from Nunn (“Do not ever be afraid to make a big move if you believe in it strongly”) as one of the spurs to deal his 2015 first- and fourth-round picks to simply move up five spots to take the No. 1 player on the Bills’ draft board, wideout Sammy Watkins of Clemson. Think of the significance. The biggest trade of the 2014 draft happened 48 hours after Nunn died—and it was pulled off by two African-American general managers …. Whaley and Ray Farmer of the Cleveland Browns.
Importantly, Nunn mentored Whaley from the time Whaley was a 23-year-old intern in the scouting department of the Steelers in the mid-’90s. “I’m glad you brought that up,” Whaley told me when we spoke late Thursday night. “I want to talk about how much Bill Nunn meant to my career, and my life.”
Whaley knows he has taken a colossal gamble by dealing so much to simply move up five spots. But he’s okay with it. At first I was not. But here’s how I see it. The number one player on Buffalo’s board was Watkins. Buffalo had the ninth pick in the draft. They used two prime picks next year to move up five spot to get him, and let’s face it—the first-round pick, judging by recent Bills history, could be a top 10 pick. This is not a move I would have made, but if you have to pay two number one picks to get the best player on your draft board at a crucial position for your team, I can see why Whaley did it.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. “We’re gay. We have boyfriends.” That was the reaction of Brooklyn center Jason Collins when told Michael Sam and his partner kissed on national TV Saturday.
b. We need to care about Boko Haram and the Nigerian abductions. We’re a civilized society, and we need to act.
c. Welcome to the world, Nicholas Alexander Marvez (son of FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez). Nicholas Alexander weighed 7 pounds, 7 ounces, and was born at 1:13 p.m. Tuesday. “I have some new favorite numbers in my life, not to mention a healthy baby boy,” Marvez emailed over the weekend. “Overwhelming.” Alex will be a great dad. I can’t wait to see Nicholas’ mullet in a few years.
d. That was a hit in the Yu Darvish near no-hitter, the ball that dropped between the second baseman and right fielder. The scorer gave Alex Rios an error, and I agree with Harold Reynolds: That looked like the kind of play that 95 percent of official scorers would call a hit if a no-hitter wasn’t on the line.
e. Saw “The Grand Hotel Budapest.” Very cute and quirky. Not the best movie of the year, but two hours well spent.
f. Anyone notice this NHL oddity? Each Western Conference playoff series (Anaheim-Los Angeles, Chicago-Minnesota) was tied 2-2 entering Game 5 of the Wild-Hawks series Sunday night. All four games of Kings-Ducks had been won by the visitors. All five games of Wild-Blackhawks have been won by the home team.
g. Coffeenerdness: Thanks, Bongo Java in Nashville, for the great latte the other day. Artfully done.
h. Beernerdness: Tried the Yazoo Pale Ale the other night in Nashville. That is one fresh, hoppy, crisp beer. Looked like a good local craft beer scene in Nashville. I hope to experience more of it one day.
i. Did ump Laz Diaz embarrass himself the other night in the Yankees-Angels game or what? Amazing tht baseball lets umps get away with looking so foolish, egging on pitchers and managers—which is exactly what Diaz did.
j. May 7 in Atlanta: 94 degrees on my rental car’s dashboard. Did I miss spring?
The Adieu Haiku
Sam’s a Ram. What now?
The buzz will die down. And then:
Can he sack QBs?